Speaking of * [0 - 9]

Sunday, June 9, 2024

Speaking of Which

I'm posting this after 10PM Sunday evening, figuring I'm about worn out, even though I've only hit about 80% of my usual sources, and am finding new things at a frightening clip. I imagine I'll add a bit more on Monday, as I work on what should be a relatively measured Music Week. There is, in any case, much to read and think about here. Too much really.

I have two fairly major pieces on Israel that I wanted to mention before I posted Sunday night, but didn't get around to. They're big, and important, enough I thought about putting them into their own post, but preferred to stick to the one weekly post. I didn't want to slip them into the regular text as mere late finds, so thought I'd put them up here first, easier to notice. But I already wrote a fairly lengthy intro, which I think is pretty good as an intro, so I finally decided to put the new pieces after the old intro, and before everything else.

I thought I'd start here with a quote from Avi Shlaim, from his introduction to one of the first books to appear the Oct. 7, 2023 attacks from Gaza against Israel and Israel's dramatic escalation from counterterrorism to genocide (Jamie Stern-Weiner, ed.: Deluge: Gaza and Israel from Crisis to Cataclysm):

The powerful military offensive launched by Israel on the Gaza Strip in October 2023, or Operation Swords of Iron to give it its official name, was a major landmark in the blood-soaked history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was an instant, almost Pavlovian response to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. The attack caught Israel by complete surprise, and it was devastating in its consequences, killing about 300 Israeli soldiers, massacring more than 800 civilians, and taking some 250 hostages. Whereas previous Hamas attacks involved the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip on southern Israel, this was a ground incursion into Israeli territory made possible by breaking down the fence with which Israel had surrounded Gaza. The murderous Hamas attack did not come out of the blue as many believed. It was a response to Israel's illegal and exceptionally brutal military occupation of the Palestinian territories since June 1967, as well as the suffocating economic blockade that Israel had imposed on Gaza since 2006. Israel, however, treated it as an unprovoked terrorist attack that gave it a blank check to use military force on an unprecedented scale to exact revenge and to crush the enemy.

Israel is no stranger to the use of military force in dealing with its neighbors. It is a country that lives by the sword. Under international law, states are allowed to use military force in self-defense as a last resort; Israel often employs force as a first resort. Some of its wars with the Arabs have been "wars of no choice," like the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948; others have been "wars of choice," like the Suez War of 1956 and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Wars are usually followed by the search for a diplomatic resolution of the conflict. When one examines Israel's record in dealing with the Arabs as a whole, however, the use of force appears to be the preferred instrument of statecraft. Indeed, all too often, instead of war being the pursuit of politics by other means, Israeli diplomacy is the pursuit of war by other means.

Also, a bit further down:

Deadlock on the diplomatic front led to periodic clashes between Hamas and Israel. This is not a conflict between two roughly equal parties but asymmetric warfare between a small paramilitary force and one of the most powerful militaries in the world, armed to the teeth with the most advanced American weaponry. The result was low-intensity (but for the people in Gaza, still devastating) conflict which took the form of primitive missiles fired from inside the Gaza Strip on settlements in southern Israel and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) counter-insurgency operations designed to weaken but not to destroy Hamas. From time to time, Israel would move beyond aerial bombardment to ground invasion of the enclave. It launched major military offensives into Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Israeli leaders used to call these recurrent IDF incursions into Gaza "mowing the lawn." This was the metaphor to describe Israel's strategy against Hamas. The strategy did not seek to defeat Hamas, let alone drive it from power. On the contrary, the aim was to allow Hamas to govern Gaza but to isolate and weaken it, and to reduce its influence on the West Bank. Israel's overarching political objective was to kep the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government geographically separate so as to prevent the emergence of a unified leadership. In this context, Israel's periodic offensives were designed to degrade the military capability of Hamas, to enhance Israeli deterrence, and to turn the civilian population of Gaza against its rulers. In short, it was a strategy of managing the conflict, of avoiding peace talks, of using the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah as a sub-contractor for Israeli security on the West Bank, and of containing Palestinian resistance within the open-air prison of the Gaza Strip.

Shlaim opens the next paragraph with "This strategy lay in tatters following the Hamas attack," but that's just a momentary reflection of Israeli histrionics plus a bit of wishful thinking. The latter was based on the hope that Israelis would recognize that the old strategy had backfired, and needed to be revised. But the histrionics were at most momentary, and quickly evolved into staged, as Netanyahu and his gang realized the attacks presented a opportunity to escalate the conflict to previously unthreatened levels, and in the absence of meaningful resistance have seen little reason to restrain themselves.

Israel has a very sophisticated propaganda operation, with a large network of long-time contacts, so they sprung immediately to work, planting horror stories about Hamas and Palestinians, while pushing rationales for major war operations into play, so Israel's habitual supporters would always be armed with the best talking points. That they were so prepared to do so suggests they know, and have known for a long time, that their actions and programs aren't obviously justifiable. They know that their main restraint isn't the threat of other powers, but that world opinion will come to ostracize and shame them, like it did to South Africa. It's not certain that such a shift in world opinion will sway them -- the alternative is that they will shrivel up into a defensive ball, like North Korea, and there would certainly be sentiment in Israel for doing so (here I need say no more than "Masada complex").

Israel has, indeed, lost a lot of foreign support, including about 80% of the UN General Assembly. But though all of that, the US has remained not just a reliable ally to Israel, but a generous one, and a very dutiful one, even as Israel is losing support from the general public. Netanyahu is Prime Minister by a very slim and fractious coalition in Israel, but when he speaks in Congress, he can rest assured that 90% of both parties will cheer him on -- a degree of popularity no American politician enjoys.

I meant to include these two major pieces, but missed them in the rush to post Sunday night.

Adam Shatz: Israel's Descent: This is a major essay, structured as a review of six books:

While most of these books go deep into the history of Zionist attempts to claim exclusive representation for the Jewish people -- a topic Sand previously wrote about in The Invention of the Jewish People (2009) and The Invention of the Land of Israel (2012) -- and that features further down in the review, the first several paragraphs provide one of the best overviews available of the current phase of the conflict. I'm tempted to quote it all, but especially want to note paragraphs 4-8, on why this time it's fair and accurate to use the term "genocide":

But, to borrow the language of a 1948 UN convention, there is an older term for 'acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group'. That term is genocide, and among international jurists and human rights experts there is a growing consensus that Israel has committed genocide -- or at least acts of genocide -- in Gaza. This is the opinion not only of international bodies, but also of experts who have a record of circumspection -- indeed, of extreme caution -- where Israel is involved, notably Aryeh Neier, a founder of Human Rights Watch.

The charge of genocide isn't new among Palestinians. I remember hearing it when I was in Beirut in 2002, during Israel's assault on the Jenin refugee camp, and thinking, no, it's a ruthless, pitiless siege. The use of the word 'genocide' struck me then as typical of the rhetorical inflation of Middle East political debate, and as a symptom of the bitter, ugly competition over victimhood in Israel-Palestine. The game had been rigged against Palestinians because of their oppressors' history: the destruction of European Jewry conferred moral capital on the young Jewish state in the eyes of the Western powers. The Palestinian claim of genocide seemed like a bid to even the score, something that words such as 'occupation' and even 'apartheid' could never do.

This time it's different, however, not only because of the wanton killing of thousands of women and children, but because the sheer scale of the devastation has rendered life itself all but impossible for those who have survived Israel's bombardment. The war was provoked by Hamas's unprecedented attack, but the desire to inflict suffering on Gaza, not just on Hamas, didn't arise on 7 October. Here is Ariel Sharon's son Gilad in 2012: 'We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima -- the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing.' Today this reads like a prophecy.

Exterminationist violence is almost always preceded by other forms of persecution, which aim to render the victims as miserable as possible, including plunder, denial of the franchise, ghettoisation, ethnic cleansing and racist dehumanisation. All of these have been features of Israel's relationship to the Palestinian people since its founding. What causes persecution to slide into mass killing is usually war, in particular a war defined as an existential battle for survival -- as we have seen in the war on Gaza. The statements of Israel's leaders (the defence minister, Yoav Gallant: 'We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly'; President Isaac Herzog: 'It is an entire nation out there that is responsible') have not disguised their intentions but provided a precise guide. So have the gleeful selfies taken by Israeli soldiers amid the ruins of Gaza: for some, at least, its destruction has been a source of pleasure.

Israel's methods may bear a closer resemblance to those of the French in Algeria, or the Assad regime in Syria, than to those of the Nazis in Treblinka or the Hutu génocidaires in Rwanda, but this doesn't mean they do not constitute genocide. Nor does the fact that Israel has killed 'only' a portion of Gaza's population. What, after all, is left for those who survive? Bare life, as Giorgio Agamben calls it: an existence menaced by hunger, destitution and the ever present threat of the next airstrike (or 'tragic accident', as Netanyahu described the incineration of 45 civilians in Rafah). Israel's supporters might argue that this is not the Shoah, but the belief that the best way of honouring the memory of those who died in Auschwitz is to condone the mass killing of Palestinians so that Israeli Jews can feel safe again is one of the great moral perversions of our time.

A couple paragraphs later, Shatz moves on to "Zionism's original ambition," which gets us into the books, including a survey of how Israel's supporters have long sought to quell any Jewish criticism of Israel, eventually going so far as to declare it anti-semitic. I find this particular history fascinating, as it provides some counterweight to the claim that Zionism was intrinsically racist and, if given the power and opportunity, genocidal. Just because this is where you wound up doesn't mean this is where you had to go.

Again, there is much to be learned and thought about everywhere in this article. Let's just wrap up with a few more choice quotes:

  • But the tendency of Israeli Jews to see themselves as eternal victims, among other habits of the diaspora, has proved stronger than Zionism itself, and Israel's leaders have found a powerful ideological armour, and source of cohesion, in this reflex. [This has made them] incapable of distinguishing between violence against Jews as Jews, and violence against Jews in connection with the practices of the Jewish state.

  • Today the catastrophe of 1948 is brazenly defended in Israel as a necessity -- and viewed as an uncompleted, even heroic, project.

  • The last eight months have seen an extraordinary acceleration of Israel's long war against the Palestinians.

  • Benjamin Netanyahu is a callow man of limited imagination . . . [but] his expansionist, racist ideology is the Israeli mainstream. Always an ethnocracy based on Jewish privilege, Israel has, under his watch, become a reactionary nationalist state, a country that now officially belongs exclusively to its Jewish citizens.

  • But this was no accident: conflict with the Arabs was essential to the Zionist mainstream. . . . Brit Shalom's vision of reconciliation and co-operation with the indigenous population was unthinkable to most Zionists, because they regarded the Arabs of Palestine as squatters on sacred Jewish land.

  • This moral myopia has always been resisted by a minority of American Jews. There have been successive waves of resistance, provoked by previous episodes of Israeli brutality: the Lebanon War, the First Intifada, the Second Intifada. But the most consequential wave of resistance may be the one we are seeing now from a generation of young Jews for whom identification with an explicitly illiberal, openly racist state, led by a close ally of Donald Trump, is impossible to stomach.

  • For all their claims to isolation in a sea of sympathy for Palestine, Jewish supporters of Israel, like the state itself, have powerful allies in Washington, in the administration and on university boards.

  • For many Jews, steeped in Zionism's narrative of Jewish persecution and Israeli redemption, and encouraged to think that 1939 might be just around the corner, the fact that Palestinians, not Israelis, are seen by most people as Jews themselves once were -- as victims of oppression and persecution, as stateless refugees -- no doubt comes as a shock.

  • Operation Al-Aqsa Flood thrust the question of Palestine back on the international agenda, sabotaging the normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, shattering both the myth of a cost-free occupation and the myth of Israel's invincibility. But its architects, Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, appear to have had no plan to protect Gaza's own people from what would come next. Like Netanyahu, with whom they recently appeared on the International Criminal Court's wanted list, they are ruthless tacticians, capable of brutal, apocalyptic violence but possessing little strategic vision. 'Tomorrow will be different,' Deif promised in his 7 October communiqué. He was correct.' But that difference -- after the initial exuberance brought about by the prison breakout -- can now be seen in the ruins of Gaza.

  • Eight months after 7 October, Palestine remains in the grip, and at the mercy, of a furious, vengeful Jewish state, ever more committed to its colonisation project and contemptuous of international criticism, ruling over a people who have been transformed into strangers in their own land or helpless survivors, awaiting the next delivery of rations.

  • The 'Iron Wall' is not simply a defence strategy: it is Israel's comfort zone.

There is a lot to unpack here, and much more I skipped over -- a lot on US and other protesters, even some thoughts by Palestinians -- but for now I just want to offer one point. If Israel had responded to the Oct. 7 "prison break" with a couple weeks (even a month) of indiscriminate, massive bombardment, which is basically what they did for the first month, then ended it with a unilateral cease-fire, with the looming threat to repeat if Hamas ever attacked again, their wildly disproportionate response would have more than reestablished their "deterrent" credibility.

Those who hated Israel before would have had their feelings reinforced, but those who hadn't hated Israel wouldn't have turned against Israel. (Sure, some would have been shocked by the intensity, but once it ended those feelings would subside. The UN, the ICJ, the ICC wouldn't have charged Israel. The word genocide would have gone silent. The protests would have faded, without ever escalating into encampments and repression. Israel could have washed its hands of governing Gaza, leaving the rubble and what, if anything, was left of Hamas to the international do-gooders, and simply said "good riddance."

The Shatz article helps explain why Israel didn't do that. It is strong on the psychology that keeps Israelis fighting, that keeps them from letting up, from developing a conscience over all of the pain and hate they've inflicted. But it misses one important part of the story, which is the failure of the Biden administration to restrain Israel. Over all of its history, Israel has repeatedly worked itself into a frenzy against its enemies, but it's always had the US to pull it back and cool it off, usually just before its aggression turns not just counterproductive but debilitating. You can probably recite the examples yourself, all the way up to GW Bush and Obama, with their phony, half-hearted two-state plans. Often the restraint has been late and/or lax, and no Israeli ever publicly thanked us for keeping them from doing something stupid, but on some level Israelis expected external restraint, even as they plotted to neutralize it. So when they finally went berserk, and Biden wasn't willing to twist arms to tone them down, they just felt like they had more leeway to work with.

So the piece missing from the Shatz article is really another article altogether, which is what the fuck happened to America, who in most respects is a decent human being, and the rest of America's political caste (some of whom aren't decent at all), couldn't generate any meaningful concern much less resistance against genocide vowed and implemented by Israel? There's a long story there, as deep and convoluted as the one behind Israel, but it should be pretty obvious by now if you've been paying any attention at all.

The second piece I wanted to mention is:

Amira Haas: [06-04] Starvation and Death Are Israel's Defeat. I'm scraping this off Facebook, because the original is behind a paywall. My wife read this to our dinner guests recently, which made me a bit uneasy, because I don't like the use of the word "defeat" here (see my Ali Abunimah note below), although I suppose there could be some language quirk I'm missing, like the difference between "has lost" and "is lost." Israel has not lost the war, but Israel is very lost in its practice. Still, I take this mostly as a cri de coeur, and am grateful for that.

Israel was defeated and is still being defeated, not because of the fact that at the start of the ninth month of this accursed war, Hamas has not been toppled.

The emblem of defeat will forever appear alongside the menorah and flag, because the leaders, commanders and soldiers of Israel killed and wounded thousands of Palestinian civilians, sowing unprecedented ruin and desolation in the Gaza Strip. Because its air force knowingly bombed buildings full of children, women and the elderly. Because in Israel people believe there is no other way. Because entire families were wiped out.

The Jewish state was defeated because its politicians and public officials are causing two million three hundred thousand human beings to go hungry and thirsty, because skin ailments and intestinal inflammation are spreading in Gaza.

The only democracy in the jungle was overwhelmingly defeated because its army expels and then concentrates hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in increasingly smaller areas, labeled safe humanitarian zones, before proceeding to bomb and shell them. Because thousands of permanently disabled people and children with no accompanying adults are hemmed in and suffering greatly in those targeted humanitarian areas.

Because mounds of garbage are piling up there, while the only way to dispose of them is to set them on fire, spouting toxic emissions. Because sewage and excrement flow in the streets, with masses of flies blocking one's eyes. Because when the war ends, people will return to ruined houses chock full of unexploded ordnance, with the ground saturated with toxic dangerous substances. Because thousands of people, if not more, will come down with chronic diseases, paralyzing and terminal, due to that same pollution and those toxic substances.

Because many of those devoted and brave medical teams in the Gaza Strip, male and female doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and paramedics and yes -- including people who were supporting Hamas or on its government's payroll -- were killed by Israeli bombs or shelling. Because children and students will have lost precious years of study.

Because books and public and private archives went up in flames, with manuscripts of stories and research lost forever, as well as original drawings and embroidery by Gazan artists, which were buried under the debris or damaged. Because one cannot know what else the mental damage inflicted on millions will bring about.

The defeat, forever, lies in the fact that a state that views itself as the heir of the victims of genocide carried out by Nazi Germany has generated this hell in less than nine months, with an end not yet in sight. Call it genocide. Don't call it genocide.

The structural failure lies not in the fact that the G-word was affixed to the name "Israel" in the resounding petition filed by South Africa at the International Court of Justice. The failure lies in the refusal of most Israeli Jews to listen to the alarm bells in this petition. They continued supporting the war even after the petition was filed in late December, allowing the petition's warning to become a prophecy, and for doubts to be obliterated in the face of additional cumulative evidence.

The defeat lies with Israel's universities, which trained hordes of jurists who find proportionality in every bomb that kills children. They are the ones providing military commanders with the protective vests, of repeated cliché: "Israel is abiding by international law, taking care not to harm civilians," every time an order is given to expel a population and concentrate it in a smaller area.

The convoys of displaced people, on foot, in carts, on trucks overloaded with people and mattresses, with wheelchairs carrying old people or amputees, are a failing grade for Israel's school system, its law faculties and history departments. The debacle is also a failure of the Hebrew language. Expulsion is "evacuation." A deadly military raid is an "activity." The carpet bombing of entire neighborhoods is "good work by our soldiers."

Israel's monolithic nature is another reason for and proof of utter defeat, as well as being emblematic of it. Most of the Jewish-Israeli public, including opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu's camp, was taken captive by the notion of a magical total victory as an answer to the October 7 massacre, without learning a thing from past wars in general and from ones against the Palestinians in particular.

Yes, the Hamas atrocities were horrific. The suffering of the hostages and their families is beyond words. Yes, turning the Gaza Strip into a huge depot of weapons and ammunition ready to be used, through an imitation of the Israeli model, is exasperating.

But the majority of Israeli Jews let the drive for revenge blind them. The unwillingness to listen and to know, in order to avoid making mistakes, is in the DNA of the debacle. Our all-knowing commanders did not listen to the female spotters, but they mainly failed to listen to Palestinians, who over decades warned that the situation cannot continue like this.

The seeds of defeat lay in protesters against the judicial overhaul rejecting the basic fact that we have no chance of being a democracy without ending the occupation, and that the people generating the overhaul are the ones striving to "vanquish" the Palestinians.

With God's help. The failure was inscribed back then, in the first days after October 7, when anyone trying to point out the "context" was condemned as a traitor or a supporter of Hamas. The traitors turned out to be the real patriots, but the debacle is ours -- the traitors' -- as well.

In looking this piece up, I found another at Haaretz worth notice for the title:

Dahlia Scheindlin: [06-10] Will the real opposition stand up: Is anyone trying to save Israel from Netanyahu, endless war and isolation? "Benny Gantz's unsurprising departure from the Netanyahu government won't strengthen the opposition, because Israel barely has one worthy of the name."

The Shatz piece doesn't have links, but a casual reference there to "philosemitic McCarthyism" led me to search out this piece:

Susan Neiman: [2023-10-19] Historical reckoning gone haywire: "Germans' efforts to confront their country's criminal history and to root out antisemitism have shifted from vigilance to a philosemitic McCarthyism that threatens their rich cultural life."

That, in turn, led me to Neiman's recent review of Shatz's book The Rebel's Clinic: The Revolutionary Lives of Frantz Fanon:

Susan Neiman: [06-06] Fanon the universalist: "Adam Shatz argues in his new biography of Frantz Fanon that the supposed patron saint of political violence was instead a visionary of a radical universalism that rejected racial essentialism and colonialism."

Initial count: 209 links, 12260 words. Updated count [06-10]: 235 links, 15800 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): on music.

Top story threads:

Israel: As I'm trying to wrap this up on Sunday, I must admit I'm getting overwhelmed, and possibly a bit confused, by the constant roll call of atrocities Israel is committing. There appears to be not just one but several instances of mass slaughter at Nuseirat refugee camp. There is also "late news" -- later than the earliest reports below -- including the Benny Gantz resignation, that are captured in various states of disclosure below. While I've generally tried to group related reports, that's become increasingly difficult, so my apologies for any lapses in order. These are truly trying times. And yet the solution of a simple cease-fire is so blindingly obvious.

America's Israel (and Israel's America): The Biden administration, despite occasional misgivings, is fully complicit in Israel's genocide. Republicans only wish to intensify it -- after all, they figure racism and militarism are their things.

  • Janet Abou-Elias: [06-06] Who's minding the stockpile of US weapons going to Israel? "Congress has further weakened constraints on a special DOD arms reserve, which is spread over multiple warehouses and lacks a public inventory."

  • Michael Arria: [06-06] The Shift: Netanyahu is going back to Washington: "Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming speech to Congress will be his fourth, giving him the most of any foreign leader. He's currently tied with Winston Churchill at three. He was invited by the leadership from both parties. Who says bipartisanship is dead?" More on the Netanyahu invite:

  • Matthew Mpoke Bigg: [06-05] Here's a closer look at the hurdles to a cease-fire deal: "Neither Israel nor Hamas have said definitively whether they would accept or reject a proposal outlined by President Biden, but sizable gaps between the two sides appear to remain." NY Times remain masters at both-sidesing this, but Israel is the only side that's free to operate deliberately, so lack of "agreement" simply means that Israel has refused to cease-fire, despite what should be compelling reasons to do so. More on the Biden (presented as Israel) proposal:

    • Ali Abunimah: [05-31] Biden admits Israel's defeat in Gaza: Author seeks to poke Biden in the eye, but quotes Biden's actual speech, adding his annotation. Mine would differ, but the exercise is still worthwhile. I'd never say Israel has been defeated in Gaza, except perhaps to say that Israel has defeated itself (although I'd look for words more like degraded and debilitated, as I hate the whole notion that wars can be won -- I only see losers, varying in the quantities they have lost, but less so the qualities, which afflict all warriors).

      I haven't been following his publication, but I've been aware of Abunimah for a long time. He's written a couple of "clear-eyed, sharply reasoned, and compassionate" books on the subject: One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impassed (2007: not remotedly agreeable to Israel, but not wrong either, and would have "avoided all this mess" -- quote's from a Professor Longhair song, about something else, but hits the spot here); and The Battle for Justice in Palestine (2014; my Books note was: "tries to remain hopeful")

    • Fred Kaplan:

  • Sheera Frenkel: [06-05] Israel secretly targets US lawmakers with influence campaign on Gaza War: "Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs ordered the operation, which used fake social media accounts urging U.S. lawmakers to fund Israel's military, according to officials and documents about the effort."

  • Ellen Ioanes: [06-05] What happens if Gaza ceasefire talks fail. "Nearly 40 Palestinians in Rafah will die each day due to traumatic injuries if Israel continues its incursion, according to a new analysis." How they came up with that figure, which they project to 3,509 by August 17, boggles the mind. Israel has been known to kill more than that with a single bomb. And note how they're breaking out "traumatic injuries" into a separate category, presumably to separate them out from starvation deaths and who knows what else? For that matter, "traumatic" is about a pretty tame generic word for blown to bits and/or incinerated, which is what Israel's bombs are actually doing, as well as burying bodies under tons of rubble. When we commonly speak of trauma, usually we mean psychological injuries -- something which in this case no one has come close to quantifying.

    And can we talk about this passive-voiced "if talks fail." Biden announced what he called "Israel's plan," and Hamas basically agreed to it, so who is still talking? The thus-far-failing talks Ioanes alludes to here are exclusively within Israel's war cabinet, where failure to agree to anything that might halt the war is some kind of axiom.

  • Alon Pinkas: [06-06] Biden wants an end to the Gaza war. But he is finally realising Netanyahu will block any attempts at peace. This has been more/less the story since about a month into the war. although it took Biden much longer to dare say anything in public, and he's still doing everything possible to appease Israel. If, after a few weeks of their savage bombing of Gaza, Israel had unilaterally ceased fire, no one would doubt their deterrence. Everyone would have understood that any attack on them would be met with a disproportionately savage response. They could then have turned their backs and walked away, simply dumping responsibility for Gaza and its people, which they have no real interest in or for, onto the UN. The hostages would have been freed, even without prisoner swaps. The ancillary skirmishes with Hezbollah and the Houthis would have ended. Months later, no one would be talking about genocide, or facing charges from the ICC. Israel's relations with the US would be unblemished. And Israel's right-wing government would still have a relatively free hand to go about its dispossession of and terror against Palestinians in the West Bank. This didn't happen because Biden didn't dare object to Israel's genocidal plans, because he's totally under their thumb -- presumably due to donors and the Israel lobby, but one has to wonder if he just doesn't have a streak of masochism. Even now that he's writhing in misery, he still can't bring himself to just say no.

  • Mitchell Plitnick: [06-08] The Biden administration must stop Israel before it escalates in Lebanon: "There are dangerous signs Israel intends to escalate attacks on Lebanon and raise the stakes with Hezbollah. If it does, the risk of a regional war grows enormously. The only way out is to end the fighting in Gaza." More evidence that the theory of deterrence is a recipe for disaster. To rally American support, Israel has tried to paint its genocide in Gaza as a sideshow to its defense against Iran, the mastermind behind the "six front" assault on Israel -- because, well, Americans hate Iran, and are really gullible on that point. To make this war look real, Israel needs to provoke Hezbollah, which is easy to do because Hezbollah also buys into the theory of deterrence, so feels the need to shoot back when they are shot at. This is close to spiraling out of control, but a ceasefire in Gaza would bring it all to an abrupt close. A rapprochement between the US and Iran would also be a big help, as it would knock the legs out from under Israel's game-playing.

  • H Scott Prosterman: [06-06] How Trump and Netanyahu are tag-teaming Biden on Gaza.

    Before these men served, no Israeli leader had ever dared to interfere in US electoral politics. Trump openly campaigned for Bibi. It's almost as if they ran on the same ticket in 2020. The political survival of both men is dependent on generating political outrage among their bases, because they have nothing else to run on.

  • Philip Weiss:

    • [06-02] Weekly Briefing: The political and moral consequences of hallowing Trump's verdict while nullifying the Hague: "Joe Biden wants it both ways. He wants Democrats to stop criticizing genocide but he also wants the Israel lobby's support. Thus, he has a ceasefire plan in one hand, and an invitation to Netanyahu, a war criminal, to speak to Congress in the other." Pretty good opening here:

      Joe Biden is trying to end the war in Gaza. He's not trying that hard. But he's trying.

      Biden knows that the Democratic base is on fire. He knows that for a certain bloc of voters in American society -- Genocide is not acceptable. Sadly, most people will go along fine with a genocide. That's what history tells us and what the U.S. establishment is demonstrating right now. Samantha Power wrote a whole book about the Sarajevo genocide and launched a great career but now she's a top Biden aide and just keeps her head down. It's not fair to single her out -- because all the editorial writers and politicians have a similar stance. It's a terrible thing that so many civilians and babies are being killed by American weaponry in Gaza, but hey, look what Hamas did on October 7. That's the ultimate in whatabboutery. What about Hamas? While we are burning up civilians.

    • [06-09] Weekly Briefing: 274 Palestinian lives don't matter to the Biden administration: "A week culminating with the massacre of 274 Palestinians in Gaza provided further evidence -- though none is needed -- that anti-Palestinian bias is simply a rule of American politics, and today maybe the leading rule."

    • [06-09] 'Allow me to share a story that touched me deeply' -- Harry Soloway on Palestinian resistance.

Israel vs. world opinion:

  • Yuval Abraham/Meron Rapoport: Surveillance and interference: Israel's covert war on the ICC exposed: "Top Israeli government and security officials have overseen a nine-year surveillance operation targeting the ICC and Palestinian rights groups to try to thwart a war crimes probe."

  • Yousef M Aljamal: [06-07] Israel's progression from apartheid to genocide: "The unfolding genocide in Gaza is the latest chapter in Israel's attempt to remove Palestinians from their land. All those calling for a ceasefire should join in the longer-term efforts to dismantle Israeli apartheid."

  • Michael Arria: [06-03] San Jose State University professor says she was suspended over her Palestinian activism: "Last month Sang Hea Kil, a justice studies professor at the San Jose State University, was placed on a temporary suspension because of her Palestine activism."

  • Ramzy Baroud: [06-06] End of an era: Pro-Palestinian language exposes Israel, Zionism.

  • Reed Brody: [06-06] Israel's legal reckoning and the historical shift in justice for Palestinians.

  • Chandni Desai: [06-08] Israel has destroyed or damaged 80% of schools in Gaza. This is scholasticide: This is another new word we don't need, because it just narrows the scope of a perfectly apt word we're already driven to use, which is genocide. The lesson we do need to point out is that genocide isn't just a matter of counting kills. If the goal is to ending a type of people, it is just as effectively advanced to destroying their homes, their environment, their culture and historical legacy. Counting the dead is easy, but much of the devastation is carried forward by its survivors, and those impacts are especially hard to quantify.

  • Connor Echols/Maya Krainc: [06-04] House votes to sanction ICC for case against Israeli settlers: "The bill, which is unlikely to pass the Senate, would punish US allies and famous lawyer Amal Clooney."

  • Richard Falk:

  • Abdallah Fayyard: [06-05] It's not Islamophobia, it's anti-Palestinian racism: "Anti-Palestinian racism is a distinct form of bigotry that's too often ignored."

  • Joshua Frank: [06-05] It's never been about freeing the hostages: "Israel's scorched-earth campaign will cruelly shape the lives of many future generations of Palestinians -- and that's the point."

  • Philippe Lazzarini: [05-30] UNRWA: Stop Israel's violent campaign against us. How violent?

    As I write this, our agency has verified that at least 192 UNRWA employees have been killed in Gaza. More than 170 UNRWA premises have been damaged or destroyed. UNRWA-run schools have been demolished; some 450 displaced people have been killed while sheltered inside UNRWA schools and other structures. Since Oct. 7, Israeli security forces have rounded up UNRWA personnel in Gaza, who have alleged torture and mistreatment while in detention in the Strip and in Israel.

    UNRWA staff members are regularly harassed and humiliated at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. Agency installations are used by the Israel security forces, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups for military purposes.

    UNRWA is not the only U.N. agency that faces danger. In April, gunfire hit World Food Program and UNICEF vehicles, apparently inadvertently but despite coordination with the Israeli authorities.

    The assault on UNRWA has spread to East Jerusalem, where a member of the Jerusalem municipality has helped incite protests against UNRWA. Demonstrations are becoming increasingly dangerous, with at least two arson attacks on our UNRWA compound, and a crowd including Israeli children gathered outside our premises singing "Let the U.N. burn." At other times, demonstrators threw stones.

    PS: The day after this op-ed was published, Israel replied as directly and emphatically as possible: [06-06] Israel strike on Gaza school kills dozens. Israel claims "the compound contained a Hamas command post." Perhaps Netanyahu should brush up on The Merchant of Venice, where the "wise judge" allowed that Shylock could take his "pound of flesh" but could spill no blood in the process. Of course, Netanyahu is unlikely to get beyond the thought that Shakespeare was just being antisemitic. On the other hand, the notion that one wrong does not allow you to commit indiscriminate slaughter isn't novel.

  • Natasha Lennard/Prem Thakker: Columbia Law Review refused to take down article on Palestine, so its board of directors nuked the whole website.

  • Eric Levitz: [06-03] Israel is not fighting for its survival. I mentioned this piece in an update last week, but it's worth reiterating here.

  • Branko Marcetic: [06-03] The corporate power brokers behind AIPAC's war on the Squad: Their investigation "reveals the individuals behind AIPAC's election war chest: nearly 60% are CEOs and other top executives at the country's largest corporations." I haven't cited many articles so far on AIPAC's crusade against Democrats who actually take human rights and war crimes seriously, but they are piling up. Bipartisanship is a holy grail in Washington, not because either side treasures compromise but because a bipartisan consensus helps to exclude critics and suppress any further discussion of an issue that those in power would rather not have to argue for in public. Cold War and trade deals like NAFTA are other classic examples, but support for Israel has been so bipartisan for so long it defines the shape of reality as perceived all but intuitively by politicians in Washington. But apartheid and genocide are unsettling this equation, disturbing large numbers of Democratic voters, so AIPAC is reacting like its Israeli masters, by cracking the whip -- the same kneejerk reaction we see when university administrators move to arrest protesters. Both are turns as sharply opposed to the basic tenets of liberal democracy as liberal Democrats routinely accuse Republicans of. That both are driven primarily by the extraordinary political influence of money only exposes the sham that our vaunted democracy has become under oligarchy.

  • Qassam Muaddi: [06-03] Against a world without Palestinians: "If the world as it is cannot abide Palestinian existence, then we will have to change the world." This piece makes me a bit queasy, but I recognize that is largely because I've never accepted the conditions under which it was written, and always preferred to think of Palestinians as just another nationality, like all others, with its harmless parochial quirks. But the effort to deny them recognition, and to erase their memory, has been a longstanding project in Israel.

    In early days, this was done through pretense (see A land without a people for a people without a land and denial (see Golda Meir's oft-repeated There was no such thing as Palestinians). Norman Finkelstein wrote about all that in Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (1995; revised 2003), especially his critique of Joan Peters' 1984 book, From Time Immemorial.

    Another book that was very insightful at the time (2003) was Baruch Kimmerling: Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War Against the Palestinians -- reissued in 2006 with the new subtitle, The Real Legacy of Ariel Sharon. Kimmerling's precise meaning is still operative, although since then the methods have become much cruder and more violent. Sharon, of course, would turn in his grave at the suggestion that he engaged with tact. I'll never forget the expression on his face when Bush referred to him as "a man of peace." Even if you dispute that the Gaza war fully counts as genocide, it is impossible to deny that politicide is official policy.

    I'm sure there are more recent books on the subject, like Rebecca Ruth Gould: Erasing Palestine: Free Speech and Palestinian Freedom (2023), which deals specifically with the canard that "pro-Palestinian" statements should be banished as anti-semitic. But another aspect of this piece is the notion that the Palestinian survival is redemptive, potentially for everyone. I can't say one way or the other, but I will say that this reminds me of a book I read very shortly after it came out in 1969: Vine Deloria, Jr.: Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. As an American, I find it completely natural to think of Zionism as a settler-colonial movement, as was European-settled America. There are many aspects to this: if I wanted to launch a career as a scholar, I'd research and write up some kind of global, comparative study of how other settlers and natives viewed the American-Indian experience. (Sure, there's enough for a book just on Israel, but I'd also like to see some bit on Hitler's use of America's "frontier myth.")

    Suffice it for now to draw two points here. The first is that what permanently ended Indian violence against settlers was the US army calling off its own attacks, and restraining settlers from the free reign of terror they had long practiced. Indians were "defeated," sure, but they would surely have regrouped and fought back had they been given continued cause. The second is that "Custer died" is pretty damn generous given all of the sins it's been allowed to redeem.

  • Jonathan Ofir: [06-02] Netanyahu is back and leading the polls, all thanks to the ICC: "In Israel, a potential arrest for crimes against humanity can help boost the popularity of a politician. That itself is a telling indictment."

  • Edith Olmsted: [04-27] Pro-Israel agitator shouts 'kill the Jews,' gets everyone else arrested: "Around 100 protesters were arrested on Saturday at a pro-Palestine encampment at Northeastern University, but not the one whose hate speech got everything shut down."

  • James Ray: [06-05] Do you condemn Hamas? How does it matter? This was a question every concerned thinking person was asked at the moment of the October 7, 2023 attacks, although there was never any forum by within which disapproval of Hamas could have affected their acts. There were, at the time, many reasons why one might "condemn Hamas," ranging from the pure immorality of armed offense to the political ramifications of provoking a much more powerful enemy, including the probability that Israelis would use the attacks as a pretext for unleashing much greater, potentially genocidal, violence of their own. But even acknowledging the question helped suppress the real question, which is whether you approve of the way Israel has exercised power over Gaza and wherever Palestinians continue to live.

    Many of us who have long disapproved of Israel's occupation were quick to condemn Hamas, only to find that our condemnations were counted as huzzahs for much more devastating, much more deadly attacks, a process which continues unabated eight months later, and which will continue indefinitely, until Israel's leadership (or its successors) finally backs off, either because they develop a conscience (pretty unlikely at present) or some calculation that the costs of further slaughter can no longer be justified. Given this situation, I think it no longer makes any sense to condemn Hamas, as all doing so does is to encourage Israel to further genocide.

    I'm not even sure there is a Hamas any more -- sure, there are a couple blokes in Syria who once had connections with the group, and who continue to negotiate to release hostages they don't actually have, but for practical purposes what used to be Hamas has dissolved back into the Palestinian people (as Israel makes clear every time they allegedly target "high value" Hamas operatives while killing dozens of "human shields" -- something which, we should make clear, Israel has no right to do). If, at some future point, the war ends, and Palestinians are allowed to form their own government -- which is something they've never been permitted to do (at least under Israeli, British, Ottoman, or Crusader rule) -- and some ex-Hamas people try to reconstitute the group, that would be a good time to condemn them. Otherwise, focus on who's responsible for the devastation and violence. It's not Hamas.

    In this, I'm mostly responding to the title. The article is a bit more problematical, as it does a little arm-chair analysis of "when armed struggle becomes material necessity." Clearly, a number of the Palestinian groups listed here decided that it did become necessary, and they proceeded to launch various attacks against Israeli power, of which Oct. 7 was one of the most dramatic (at least in a long time; the revolt in 1937, and the war in 1948, were larger and more sustained; the 2000-05 intifada killed slightly fewer Israelis over a much longer period of time). Still, before one can condemn the resort to armed struggle, one needs to ask the questions: Were there any practical non-violent avenues for Palestinians to redress their grievances (of which they had many)? It's not obvious that there were. (Short for a long survey of who missed which opportunities for opportunities for peace -- as the oft-quoted Abba Eban quip comes full circle.)

    I was thinking of a second question, which is how effective have all those efforts at armed resistance been? The answer is not very, and the prospects have probably diminished even further over time, but that's easier for someone far removed like myself to say than for someone who's directly involved. But in that case, the question becomes: how desperate do you have to be to launch a violent attack against a power that's certain to inflict many times as much violence back at you? If you've been following the political dynamics within Israel, especially with the rise of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, but also for the long decline of Labor (starting with the assassination of Rabin) through the rise of Netanyahu, with the marginalization of the corrupt and pliant PA and the exclusion of Hamas, Palestinian prospects for achieving any degree of decent human rights have only grown dimmer. During this period, I believe that most Palestinians favored a non-violent appeal to world opinion, hoping to shift it to put pressure on Israel through BDS. However, thanks to Israel's machinations, Hamas maintained just enough privacy and autonomy in Gaza to stage an attack, with nothing other than fear as a constraint, so they took matters into their own hands. I feel safe in saying that a democratic Gaza would never have launched such an attack. Which is to say that responsibility for the attack lay solely on Israel, for creating the desperate conditions that made the attack seem necessary, and for not allowing any other peaceable outlets for their just grievances.

    One should further blame Israel for post-facto justifying the Hamas attack. This is a point that Israelis should understand better than anyone, because they have been trained to celebrate the uprising of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto, even though it was doomed from the start. I don't want to overstate the similarities, but I don't want to soft-pedal them either. Such situations are so rare in history as to necessarily be unique, but they do excite the imagination. Although Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, they seem to be doing more than anyone to build Hamas up, to restore their status as the Palestinians who dared to fight back. Because Israel has never really minded a good fight. It's peace they really cannot abide -- and that is what makes them responsible for all of the consequent injustice and violence, the first of many things you should blame Israel for.

    And as Hamas -- at least as we understand it -- wouldn't exist but for Israel, when you do condemn Hamas, make sure it's clear that the blame starts with Israel.

  • Hoda Sherif: [06-06] 'The generation that says no more': Inside the Columbia University encampments for Palestine: "Students at Columbia University continue to disrupt business as usual for Gaza and have birthed a radical re-imagining of society in the process."

  • Yonat Shimron: [04-29] How unconditional support for Israel became a cornerstone of Jewish American identity: Interview with Marjorie N. Feld, author of The Threshold of Dissent: A History of American Jewish Critics of Zionism.

  • Tatiana Siegel: [06-06] Hollywood marketing guru fuels controversy by telling staffers to refrain from working with anyone 'posting against Israel': The Hollywood "black list" returns.


  • Charlie Savage/Jonathan Swan/Maggie Haberman: [06-07] If Trump wins: Nothing new here that hasn't been reported elsewhere, but if you find the New York Times a credible source, believe it. (I should write more on this piece next week.)

  • David Corn: [06-06] Trump's obsession with revenge: a big post-verdict danger.

  • Michelle Cottle/Carlos Lozada: [06-07] The 'empty suit' of Trump's masculinity: With Jamelle Bouie and David French.

  • Chas Danner: [06-06] Trump can no longer shoot someone on fifth avenue. Well, his "New York concealed carry license was quietly suspended on April 1, 2023, following his indictment on criminal charges," leading him to surrender two guns, and move one "legally" to Florida. If he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue, he could be charged with illegal possession of a firearm, but if he could previously get away with murder, it's hard to see him more worried now.

  • Maureen Dowd: [07-28] The Don and his badfellas. She has fun with this, but seems to get to an inner truth:

    Trump is drawn to people who know how to dominate a room and exaggerated displays of macho, citing three of his top five movies as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "Goodfellas" and "The Godfather."

    As a young real estate developer, he would hang out at Yankee Stadium and study the larger-than-life figures in the V.I.P. box: George Steinbrenner, Lee Iacocca, Frank Sinatra, Roy Cohn, Rupert Murdoch, Cary Grant. He was intent on learning how they grabbed the limelight.

    "In his first big apartment project, Trump's father had a partner connected to the Genovese and Gambino crime families," said Michael D'Antonio, another Trump biographer. "He dealt with mobbed-up suppliers and union guys for decades.

    "When Trump was a little boy, wandering around job sites with his dad -- which was the only time he got to spend with him -- he saw a lot of guys with broken noses and rough accents. And I think he is really enchanted by base male displays of strength. Think about 'Goodfellas' -- people who prevail by cheating and fixing and lying. Trump doesn't have the baseline intellect and experience to be proficient at governing. His proficiency is this mob style of bullying and tough-guy talk."

  • Abdallah Fayyad:: [06-04] Trump's New York conviction is not enough: "If the federal government wants to uphold democracy and the rule of law, it can't leave convicting Trump to the states."

  • Phil Freeman, in a [06-01] Facebook post, summed up Trump's post-verdict appearances almost perfectly (assuming you get what by now must be a very esoteric reference):

    Donald Trump is officially in his "Lenny Bruce reading his trial transcripts to audiences that came in expecting jokes" era. Hope everyone's ready for five solid months of rambling, self-pitying speeches about how unfair everyone is to him, 'cause that's what's coming, from today till November 5.

  • Matt Ford: [06-09] The right's truly incredible argument for weakening consumer safety: "A baby products company and an anti-woke activist group are trying to weaken a critical consumer watchdog agency. If one of their cases reaches the Supreme Court, we're all in trouble."

  • Michelle Goldberg: [06-07] Donald Trump's mob rule: Starts with an anecdote from Peter Navarro, currently in prison for contempt of Congress, describing how his Trump ties "make him something of a made man," both with guards and inmates. "One of the more unsettling things about our politics right now is the Republican Party's increasingly open embrace of lawlessness. Even as they proclaim Trump's innocence, Trump and his allies revel in the frisson of criminality."

    There's a similar dichotomy between Trump and his enemies: He represents charismatic personal authority as opposed to the bureaucratic dictates of the law. Under his rule, the Republican Party, long uneasy with modernity, has given itself over to Gemeinschaft. The Trump Organization was always run as a family business, and now that Trump has made his dilettante daughter-in-law vice chair of the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party is becoming one as well. To impose a similar regime of personal rule on the country at large, Trump has to destroy the already rickety legitimacy of the existing system. "As in Machiavelli's thought, the Prince is not only above the law but the source of law and all social and political order, so in the Corleone universe, the Don is 'responsible' for his family, a responsibility that authorizes him to do virtually anything except violate the obligations of the family bond," [Sam] Francis [a white nationalist who has become posthumously influential among MAGA elites] wrote. That also seems to be how Trump sees himself, minus, of course, the family obligations. What's frightening is how many Republicans see him the same way.

  • Sarah Jones: [06-06] The anti-abortion movement's newest lie: Are they going after contraception next?

  • Ed Kilgore:

    • [06-06] GOP primaries prove Trump has thoroughly dominated the party.

    • [06-08] Trump doubles down on plan for huge spending power grab.

      But arguably some of the most important second-term plans involve Team Trump's dark designs on the so-called swamp of the federal bureaucracy. Their interest in tearing down the civil service system is well-known, along with a scheme to fill vacant positions created by mass firings of non-partisan professional employees and their replacement via a so-called Schedule F of political appointees chosen for all the top policy-making jobs in the executive branch. The purpose of placing these MAGA loyalists throughout the bureaucracy isn't just to ride herd on such bureaucrats as remain in federal departments and agencies. These new commissars would also serve as Trojan Horses charged with advising the Trump high command on how to eliminate or disable executive branch functions the new order dislikes or can do without.

  • Ben Mathis-Lilley:

  • Kim Phillips-Fein: [06-04] The mandate for leadership, then and now: "The Heritage Foundation's 1980 manual aimed to roll back the state and unleash the free market. The 2025 vision is more extreme, and even more dangerous." This is part of an issue on Project 2025, which includes pieces like:

  • James Risen:

  • Greg Sargent: Trump's bizarre moments with Dr. Phil and Hannity should alarm us all.

  • Alex Shephard: [06-06] The billionaires have captured Donald Trump.

  • Matt Stieb: [06-09] The time Trump held a national security chat among Mar-a-Lago diners: "When he strategized about North Korea on a golf-resort patio, it was an early indication of how crazy his administration would get."

  • Ishaan Tharoor: [05-31] Netanyahu and Putin are both waiting for Trump: "Some foreign leaders may be holding out for a Trump victory." It's not just that they can expect to be treated more deferentially by Trump. It's also that they have a lot of leverage to sabotage Biden's reëlection chances, which are largely imperiled by the disastrous choices Biden made in allowing wars in Ukraine and Gaza to open up and to drag on indefinitely.

  • Michael Tomasky: It's simple: Trump is treated like a criminal because he's a criminal.

And other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Jeet Heer: Showing contempt for young voters is a great way for Democrats to lose in November: "Hillary Clinton's arrogance already lost one election. And if Joe Biden follows her example, it can easily cost another."

  • Annie Linskey/Siobhan Hughes: [06-04] Behind closed doors, Biden shows signs of slipping: "Participants in meetings said the 81-year-old president performed poorly at times. The White House said Biden is sharp and his critics are playing partisan politics." My wife found this very disturbing, but I find it hard to get interested, beyond bemoaning the obvious obsession of much of the media and some of the public with his age. Perhaps some day I'll write out my thoughts on aging politicians, but I don't feel up to it now, and expect I'll have many opportunities in the future. But I do have a lot of thoughts, which lead to a mixed bag of conclusions: about Biden (who I've never liked, and am very chagrined with over certain key policies), Democrats (who are so terrified, both of Trump and of their own rich donors, that they're unwilling to risk new leadership), the presidency (where the staff matters much more than the head or face), and the media (which has turned that face into some kind of bizarre circus act, relentlessly amplifying every surface flaw), and maybe even the people (we suffer many confusions about aging). Also on this:

    • Angelo Carusone tweeted about this piece: "The person who wrote that deceitful WSJ attack piece on Biden age is the same reporter who a few years ago (while at WaPo) had to delete a tweet for taking a jab at Biden as he visited his late son, wife and daughter's graves."

    • Greg Sargent: [06-06] Sleazy WSJ hit piece on Biden's age gets brutally shredded by Dems: "After a new report that dubiously hyped President Biden's age infuriated Democrats, we talked to a leading media critic about the deep problems with the press this sage exposes."

  • Blaise Malley: [06-05] 'We are the world power': Biden offers defense of US primacy: "In TIME interview, president talks up foreign policy record, offers few details on what second term would hold."

  • Nicole Narea: [06-04] Biden's sweeping new asylum restrictions, explained: "Biden's transparently political attack on asylum put little daylight between him and Trump." Some more on immigration:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

  • Paul Krugman: Famed economist and New York Times token liberal columnist, I've paid very little attention to his columns of late, but thought a quick catch-up might be in order. His more wonkish pieces, especially on the recurring themes of inflation and budgets, are informative. And while he seems especially loathe to criticize Biden from the left, he is pretty clear when he focuses on the right.

Ukraine War and Russia:

  • Connor Echols: [06-07] Diplomacy Watch: What's the point of Swiss peace summit? It's not to negotiate with Russia, which won't be attending. Zelensky has a "10-point peace plan, which demands the full expulsion of Russian troops from the country and the prosecution of top Kremlin officials," which suggests he still thinks he can "win the war." I seriously doubt that, while I also see that Ukrainians have much more to lose if the war is prolonged.

  • Dave DeCamp: [05-30] France may soon announce it's sending troops to Ukraine for training.

  • Joshua Keating: [06-05] The US tests Putin's nuclear threats in Ukraine: "Allowing Ukraine to fire Western weapons into Russia strengthens an ally, but risks violating an unknown red line." I thought the "red line" was pretty loudly proclaimed. They're basically testing whether Putin is serious (which has usually been a bad idea, but the idea of him escalating directly to nuclear arms is pretty extreme, even for him). Also, it really isn't obvious how taking occasional pot shots inside Russia "strengthens Ukraine." Russia has more capability to strike Ukraine than vice versa, so once you factor the reprisals in it's unlikely that there will be any net gains, or that such gains could actually be realized through negotiation. And since negotiation is really the only avenue for ending this war, that's where the focus should really be.

  • Constant Méheut: [06-09] Ukrainian activist traces roots of war in 'centuries of Russian colonization': "One Ukrainian researcher and podcaster is a leading voice in efforts to rethink Ukrainian-Russian relations through the prism of colonialism." Mariam Naiem. I don't doubt that there is some value in this approach, but I can also imagine overdoing it. We tend to view colonialism through a British prism, perhaps with variations for France, maybe even Spain/Portugal, each of which varied, although the power dynamic was similar.

  • Theodore Postol: [06-05] Droning Russia's nuke radars is the dumbest thing Ukraine can do: "Attacks on the early warning system actually highlights the fragility of peace between the world's nuclear powers."

  • Reuters: [06-05] Russia to send combat vessels to Caribbean to project 'global power,' US official says: "Naval exercises spurred by US support for Ukraine are likely to include port calls in Cuba and Venezuela, says official." Nothing to be alarmed of here. (My first thought was how Russia sent its Baltic Sea fleet all the way around Africa in 1905, only to have it sunk in the Sea of Japan, an embarrassment that triggered the failed revolution of 1905.) But it does show that the era where only "sole superpower" US was arrogant enough to try to project global naval power is coming to a close. Also:

    • Guardian: [06-06] Russia nuclear-powered submarine to visit Cuba amid rising tensions with US. By the way, The Guardian remains a reliable source for news and opinion with an anti-Russian slant, as evidenced by:

    • Pjotr Sauer:

    • Léonie Chao-Fong: [06-05] Putin says Trump conviction 'burns' idea of US as leading democracy: Funny guy.

    • Patrick Wintour: [06-08] 'We're in 1938 now': Putin's war in Ukraine and lessons from history. The Guardian's "diplomatic editor," this could become a classic in the abuse of history for political ends, although he offers a nice feint in this:

      As Christopher Hitchens once wrote, much American foolishness abroad, from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq, has been launched on the back of Munich syndrome, the belief that those who appease bullies, as the then British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, sought to do with Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938, are either dupes or cowards. Such leaders are eventually forced to put their soldiers into battle, often unprepared and ill-equipped -- men against machines, as vividly described in Guilty Men, written by Michael Foot, Frank Owen and Peter Howard after the Dunkirk fiasco. In France, the insult Munichois -- synonymous with cowardice -- sums it up.

      But then he quotes Timothy Snyder, and reverts to the stereotype that Putin is Hitler's second coming, an expansionist so implacable that he will continue besieging us until we finally gather up our courage and fight back. The problem here isn't just that Putin is not Hitler, but that this isn't even a valid portrait of Hitler, who had specific territorial ambitions that were conditioned by his times and place -- when "the sun never sets on the British Empire," presided over by a country no larger or more developed than Germany, while the vast land mass to Germany's east looked to him like the American West, promising Lebesraum for the superior Aryan race. Putin may conjure up the occasional odd fantasy of Peter the Great or Vlad the Impaler, not something we can take comfort in, but in an unconquerable world, nationalism is a self-limiting force, which falls far short of the ambitions of Hitler or the inheritance of Churchill.

  • Ted Snider: [06-04] Why Zelensky won't be able to negotiate peace himself: "The way out is to transcend bilateral talks to include moves toward a new, inclusive European security architecture."

America's empire and the world:

Other stories:

Associated Press: [06-06] Charleston bridge closed as out-of-control ship powers through harbor: In South Carolina, another 1,000ft ship, narrowly avoided knocking down another major bridge, as happened in Baltimore recently.

Kyle Chayka: [05-29] The new generation of online culture curators: "In a digital landscape overrun by algorithms and AI, we need human guides to help us decide what's worth paying attention to." This isn't meant as an advertisement, but perhaps it is an idea for one:

The onslaught of online content requires filtering, whether technological or human, and those of us who dislike the idea of A.I. or algorithms doing the filtering for us might think more about how we support the online personalities who do the job well.

Ivan Eland: [06-03] Finding a foreign policy beyond Biden and Trump: "There has to be an option that would allow the US to engage and protect its interests without aggressive primacy."

Tom Engelhardt: [06-04] Making war on Planet Earth: The enemy is us (and I'm not just thinking about Donald Trump).

AW Ohlheiser: [06-06] Why lying on the internet keeps working. Reviews, or at least refers to, a forthcoming book: \ Renée DiResta: Invisible Rulers: The People Who Turn Lies Into Reality, with what I suppose is a second-order subhed: "If You Make It Trend, You Make It True."

Kelsey Piper: [06-07] Where AI predictions go wrong: "Both skeptics and boosters are too sure of themselves."

Tejal Rao: [06-07] His 'death by chocolate' cake will live forever: "The chief Marcel Desaulniers, who died last month, had an over-the-top approach to dessert, a sweet counterpoint to the guilt-ridden chocolate culture of the time."

Music and the arts:

Mike Hale: [06-05] 'Hitler and the Nazis' review: Building a case for alarm: "Joe Berlinger's six-part documentary for Netflix asks whether we should see our future in Germany's past."

Tom Maxwell: [04-12] How deregulation destroyed indie rock across America: "On the corporate capture of regional radio stations." What happened with The Telecommunications Act of 1996, enacted by Newt Gingrich and signed by Bill Clinton: "The act . . . became a checkered flag for a small number of corporations to snap up commercial radio stations across the country and homogenize playlists." Excerpted from Maxwell's book, A Really Strange and Wonderful Time: The Chapel Hill Music Scene: 1989-1999.

Michael Tatum: A Downloader's Diary (52): June 2024.

Midyear reports: I've been factoring these into my metacritic file.

My nephew Ram Lama Hull dredged up a 2016 Facebook "memory" where he wrote "I'm likely voting 3rd party, and encourage everyone in Kansas to do the same." He didn't say who, but had a libertarian streak as well as the family's left-leanings. However, this year he writes:

I've changed my stance. I still stand by this as a general principle, but I voted Democrat in 2020, and will do so in 2024: even if my vote doesn't shift the electoral college results, I want to do my part to push for a Democratic mandate in the popular vote.

I added this comment:

I moved back to KS in 1999. In 2000, I voted for Nader, figuring that the Gore campaign was so invisible he might not even get as many votes as Nader. Bush won bit (58.04%), while Nader only got 3.37%, less than one-tenth of Gore's 37.24%. I drew two conclusions from this: one is that Kansas has a very solid minority that will show up as Democrats no matter how little effort one makes to reach them. (You can also see this in Moran's Senate results, where he rarely cracks 60% despite outspending his opponents as much as 100-to-1.) And second, if you ever want to get to a majority, you have to first win over your own Democrats. I'm very upset with Biden at the moment over his foreign policy (not just but especially Israel), but by now I've become pretty used to lesser-evilism.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

Speaking of Which

I never bother looking for an image for these posts, but sometimes one pops up that just seems right. I picked it up from a tweet, where Ron Flipkowski explains: "Trump bus crashes into a light pole today on the way to Staten Island rally for Trump." Dean Baker asks: "How fast was the light pole going when it hit the Trump bus?"

I need to post this early, which means Sunday evening, rather than the usual late night, or not-unheard-of sometime Monday. I did manage to check most of my usual sources, and wrote a few comments, going especially long on Nathan Robinson on Trump today. But no general or section introductions. Maybe I'll find some time later Monday and add some more links and/or comments. If so, they will be marked as usual. Worst case, not even Music Week gets posted on Monday.

Initial count: 184 links, 9173 words. Updated count [06-05]: 194 links, 9598 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): Nathan Robinson on Trump; on music.

Top story threads:


America's Israel (and Israel's America): The Biden administration, despite occasional misgivings, is fully complicit in Israel's genocide. Republicans only wish to intensify it -- after all, they figure racism and militarism are their things.

Israel vs. world opinion:

Election notes:

Trump: Guilty on all counts!

  • Intelligencer Staff: Donald Trump found guilty on all counts: live updates. Titles will change with updates: on [05-31] this turned into "Trump will appeal: Live updates." This seems to have picked up the baton from what has long been the best of the "live update" posts on the trial:

  • Sasha Abramsky: Trump's "tough guy" act is put to the test: "The former president's felony conviction follows weeks of Trump repositioning himself as a politically persecuted martyr -- and an American gangster."

  • Maggie Astor: [06-02] Lara Trump, RNC leader, denounces Larry Hogan for accepting Trump verdict: So much for Reagan's "11th commandment."

  • Zack Beauchamp: [05-30] Why the ludicrous Republican response to Trump's conviction matters: "Republicans are busy attacking the legitimacy of the American legal and political system." Not that there's no room for critiquing how it works, including who it favors and why it's stacked against many others, but Republicans have staked out many positions as the party of criminality. In Trump they have their poster boy.

  • Ryan Bort: [05-31] Trump is cashing in on his criminal conviction.

  • Ben Burgis: [05-31] The rule of law being applied to Trump is good.

  • Sophia Cal: [06-02] Guilty verdict fuels Trump's push for Black voters: Because they know what it feels like to be victimized by the criminal justice system? It's going to be hard to spin this as anything but racist.

  • Jonathan Chait:

    • [05-30] Trump's conviction means less than you might think: Once again, his instinct is to argue with imaginary readers, about whom he knows bupkis. It could just as easily mean more than you think. Sure, "a lot depends on what happens next." And, I dare say, on what happens after that. He dwells on analogies of negligible value, like foreign leaders who wound up in jail (but thankfully skipping over ones who returned to power, like Lula da Silva, or Berlusconi -- a better match for Trump), but has an amusing paragraph on one of Trump's heroes, Al Capone. But before making that obvious point ("life isn't fair, nor is the legal system," but it's better to get a habitual criminal on a technicality than to let him get away with everything), Chait gets the story straight:

      In a global sense, Trump's conviction in a court is not just fair but overdue. He has been flouting the law his entire adult life. Trump reportedly believed he enjoyed legal impunity due to his relationship with Manhattan's prosecutor, though the basis for that belief has never been established. The extent of his criminality has oddly escaped notice, perhaps overshadowed by his constant offenses against truth and decency, or perhaps because people tend to think stealing is a crime when you aim a gun at a clerk but not when you create phony companies and bilk the Treasury.

      Once he ascended to the presidency, Trump's criminality only grew. He issued illegal orders constantly, flummoxing his staff. He attempted (with unrecognized partial success) in turning the powers of the Justice Department into a weapon against his enemy, which was in turn an expression of his criminal's view of the law: as an inherently hypocritical tool of the powerful against the weak.

      The incongruity of the Manhattan case as the venue for Trump's legal humiliation is that it did not represent his worst crimes, or close to it. The case was always marginal, the kind of charge you would never bring against a regular first-time offender. It was the sort of charge you'd concoct if the target is a bad guy and you want to nail him for something.

    • [05-31] Does the conservative rage machine go to 11? "Republicans are now so angry, they want a candidate who will threaten to lock up his opponent." You understand, don't you, that they're just working the refs, like they always do. They're also normalizing the behavior they claim to be victimized by. They don't see a problem with prosecuting political opponents. They just think they should be immune, while everyone else is fair game.

    • [05-30] Bush torture lawyer John Yoo calls for revenge prosecutions against Democrats: "Poor, innocent Donald Trump must be avenged."

  • Ryan Cooper: [05-31] Alvin Bragg was right, his critics were wrong: "A jury of his peers agreed that Donald Trump deserved to be prosecuted in the Stormy Daniels case."

  • David Corn: [05-30] Trump loses a big battle in his lifelong war against accountability: "His 34 guilty convictions turn this escape artist into a felon."

  • Susan B Glasser: [05-31] The revisionist history of the Trump trial has already begun: "The ex-President's war on truth has an instant new target: his guilty verdict."

  • Margaret Hartmann:

  • Elie Honig: [05-31] Prosecutors got Trump -- but they contorted the law. Former prosecutors and persistent naysayer, admits "prosecutors got their man," but adds: "for now -- but they also contorted the law in an unprecedented manner in their quest to snare their prey."

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-31] How Trump will campaign as a convicted criminal. Premature to write this now, at least until sentencing, and even then there must be some possibility that he'll get some temporary relief from some appellate judge. Eugene Debs ran for president in 1920 when he was in jail, but he couldn't campaign (and his vote totals were way down from 1916 and especially 1912). McKinley never left his front porch in 1896, so that might be a model -- lots of surrogates, backed with lots of money -- if he's stuck at home, but why would a judge allow a convict a free hand to keep doing what got him into legal trouble in the first place? Do drug dealers get to keep dealing until they've exhausted appeals? I've never heard of that. But then I've never seen a criminal defendant treated as delicately or deferentially as Trump before.

  • Eric Levitz: [05-31] The best -- and worst -- criticisms of Trump's conviction: "The debate, explained." This is very good on the technical aspects of the case, and pretty good on the political ones. On purely technical grounds, I could see finding for Trump, although I still have a few questions. The charges that Bragg and/or Merchan are biased and/or conflicted amount to little more than special pleading for favorable treatment. Still, it's hard to avoid the impression that, regardless of the exact laws and their customary interpretations, this case derives from a deeply unethical act that had profoundly damaging consequences for the nation. Cohen already did jail time for his part in this fraud, so why should we excuse Trump, who he clearly did his part for?

    All along, Trump has acted guilty, but unrepentant, arrogantly playing the charges for political gain. There has never been a case like this before, not because Trump used to be president, but because no other defendant has ever pushed his arrogance so far. It's almost as if he was begging to get convicted, figuring not only that he would survive his martyrdom, but that it would cinch him the election. I might say that's a bold gamble, but insane seems like the more appropriate word.

  • Errol Louis: [06-01] The courage of Alvin Bragg's conviction: "Despite the many doubters, the Manhattan DA's steady methodical approach to prosecuting Donald Trump prevailed."

  • Amanda Marcotte: [05-31] Trump is no outlaw, just a grubby, sad criminal.

  • Anna North: [05-31] We need to talk more about Trump's misogyny: "Stormy Daniels reminded us that it matters."

  • Andrew Prokop: [05-30] The felon frontrunner: How Trump warped our politics: "This is the moment Trump's critics have been dreaming of for years. But something isn't right here." There's something very screwy going on here, but this article isn't helping me much.

  • Hafiz Rashid: [05-31] Jim Jordan launches new idiotic crusade after Trump guilty verdict: He wants to subpoena the prosecutors to "answer questions" before his House committee. Scroll down and find another article by Rashid: Trump's most famous 2020 lawyer is one step closer to complete ruin: "Things are suddenly looking even worse for Rudy Giuliani."

  • Andrew Rice: [05-31] What it was like in court the moment Trump was convicted: "Suddenly, the whole vibe changed."

  • Greg Sargent: Trump's stunning guilty verdict shatters his aura of invincibility.

  • p>Alex Shephard: Trump's historic conviction is a hollow victory.

  • Matt Stieb/Chas Danner: [05-31] What happens to Trump now? Surprisingly little. If you ever get convicted or a felony, don't expect to be treated like this. He's still free on bail, at least up to sentencing on July 11 ("just four days before the Republican National Convention starts"). Meanwhile, his political instincts seem to be serving him better than his lawyers are: "Though the campaign's claims have not been verified by FEC filings yet, they say Trump raised an historic $34.8 million in the hours since his conviction."

  • Michael Tomasky: Susan Collins's really dumb Trump defense reveals the GOP's sickness: "The only thing that was more fun yesterday than watching the Trump verdict come in was watching Republicans and assorted right-wingers sputter in outrage."

  • Maegan Vazquez/Tobi Raji/Mariana Alfaro: [06-02] After Trump's conviction, many Republicans fall in line by criticizing trial.

  • Amanda Yen: [06-01] Trump Tower doorman allegedly paid off in hush-money scandal has advice for Trump: Based on a New York Daily News exclusive interview with Dino Sajudin. Scroll down and you also see: [06-03] Trump trial witnesses got big raises from his campaign and businesses.

  • Li Zhou/Andrew Prokop: [05-30] Trump's remaining 3 indictments, ranked by the stakes: "A quick guide to Trump's indictments and why they matter."

More Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Heath Brown: [06-01] An insurrection, a pandemic, and celebrities: Inside Biden's rocky transition into the White House: An excerpt from a new book, Roadblocked: Joe Biden's Rocky Transition to the Presidency.

  • David Dayen: [05-29] The three barriers to Biden's re-election: "Price increases, a broader economic frustration built over decades, and an inability to articulate what's being done about any of it."

  • Gabriel Debenedetti: [05-30] Does Trump's conviction mean this is a new campaign? "Biden's team hopes it will start a month of contrasts that reframe the race." This is going to be tricky. For instance, all I had heard about Robert De Niro's speech outside the trial was about how he was attacking "pro-Palestinian protesters" -- a claim that has been denied, although the denial seems to have been about something else. One painful memory I have was how in the late months of his 1972 campaign, George McGovern latched onto Watergate as his big issue, and sunk like a rock.

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-30] Biden needs disengaged, unhappy voters to stay home: My first thought was that this is dumb, useless, and if attempted almost certain to backfire. The idea that the more people you get to vote, the more than break for Democrats, dates mostly from 2010, when a lot of Obama's 2008 voters stayed home and Republicans won big. However, the 2010 turnout was almost exactly the same as 2006, when Democrats won big. So while presidential elections always get many more voters than midterms, the partisan split of who's disengaged and/or unhappy varies. However, it probably is true that unhappy and/or ignorant (a more telling side-effect of being disengaged) voters will break for Trump, as they did in 2016 and 2020, so there is one useful piece of advice here, which is don't provoke them (e.g., calling them "baskets of deplorables"). Of course, that's hard, because Republicans are using everything they got to rile them up, and it's not like they won't invent something even if you don't give them unforced errors. So the real strategy has to still be to engage voters on the basis of meaningful understanding and building trust.

  • Eric Levitz: [05-28] One explanation for the 2024 election's biggest mystery: "A theory for why Biden is struggling with young and nonwhite voters." Subheds: "Biden is losing ground with America's most distrustful demographic groups; The Biden 2024 coalition is short on 'tear it all down' voters; Why the Biden presidency might have accelerated low-trust voters' rightward drift."

  • Bill Scher: [05-23] Another Biden accomplishment: 200 judges and counting. Scher also featured this in his newsletter: [05-23] How Democrats are winning the race for the lower courts.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

  • Marina Dias/Terrence McCoy: [05-28] The climate refugee crisis is here: "Catastrophic flooding in southern Brazil has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Many say they won't go back."

  • Heather Souvaine Horn: You'd be amazed how many people want big oil charged with homicide: Yes, I would, not least because it suggests they don't understand what homicide means (cf. Israel, which is committing homicide on a massive scale, enough so that it has its own word). "A new poll shows overwhelming support for holding oil and gas companies accountable via the courts." Now, that makes more sense. It may not be the right way to do it, but it's a more immediately accessible mechanism than moving politically to write new regulations to address the problems more directly.

  • Umair Irfan: [05-29] How one weather extreme can make the next one even more dangerous: "We're in an era of compound natural disasters."

  • Mitch Smith/Judson Jones: [06-02] From Texas to Michigan, a punishing month for tornadoes: "More than 500 tornadoes were reported, the most of any month in at least five years, uprooting homes and disrupting lives in cities small and large." May is the most common month for tornadoes, with an annual average of 275.

Economic matters:

  • Dean Baker:

  • Idrees Kahloon: [05-27] The world keeps getting richer. Some people are worried: "To preserve humanity -- and the planet -- should we give up growth?" Review of Daniel Susskind: Growth: A History and a Reckoning, also referring back to other books on growth and degrowth. I've long been sympathetic to degrowth arguments, but I don't especially disagree with this:

    As our economy has migrated toward the digital over the material and toward services over goods, the limits to growth have less of a physical basis than World3 had anticipated. In fact, the most serious limits to growth in the U.S. seem to be self-imposed: the artificial scarcity in housing; the regulatory thickets that tend to asphyxiate clean-energy projects no matter how well subsidized; the pockets of monopoly that crop up everywhere; a tax regime incapable of cycling opportunity to those most in need. The risk of another Malthusian cap imposing itself on humanity appears, fortunately, remote. Meanwhile, the degrowthers' iron law -- that economic growth is intrinsically self-destructive -- has become less and less plausible. "One can imagine continued growth that is directed against pollution, against congestion, against sliced white bread," Robert Solow, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at M.I.T., declared in a rebuttal to "The Limits to Growth" half a century ago.

    It should be obvious that some economic activities are not just useful but essential, while others are wasteful or worse. Whether the sum is positive or negative doesn't tell us which is which, or what we should be doing. The other obvious point is that growth does not balance off inequality, even though many on the Democratic of the spectrum favor pro-growth policies in the hope that they might satisfy both donors and workers. But the usual impact is just more inequality.

  • Whizy Kim: [05-29] What's really happening to grocery prices right now: "Target and Walmart are talking about their price cuts. How big of a deal is it?"

Ukraine War and Russia:

America's empire and the world:

Other stories:

Memorial Day: When I was growing up, folks in my family called it Decoration Day. We visited cemeteries close to the family, or more often sent money to relatives to place flowers on family graves -- many of which served in the military, but few who were killed in wars (which were few and infrequent before 1941, and perpetual ever since). So I always thought of the holiday as an occasion for remembering your ancestors -- not to glory in their wars, or to snub folks who got through their lives without war. Although, I suppose if you have to think about war, it's best to start with the costs, starting with the dead. But they don't end with our cemeteries.

Michael Brenes: [05-31] How liberalism betrayed the enlightenment and lost its soul: A review of Samuel Moyn: Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times.

Dana Hedgpeth/Sari Horwitz: [05-29] They took the children: "The hidden legacy of Indian boarding schools in the United States."

Eóin Murray: [06-01] Without solidarity, the left has nothing: Actually, the left would still have a persuasive analysis of how the world works (along with a critique of the right's failures and injustices), combined with the appropriate ethics. The problem is translating that analysis into effective political action, and that's where the book reviewed here, Astra Taylor and Leah Hunt-Hendrix: Solidarity: The Past, Present, and Future of a World-Changing Idea comes into play.

Rick Perlstein: [05-29] My political depression problem -- and ours: "Granular study of the ever-more-authoritarian right didn't demoralize the author as much as reaction from the left." I'll keep this open, and no doubt write about it some day, probably closer to the election, because I figure there's no point in me panicking about that right now.

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [05-31] Trump's worst crimes remain unpunished: "Trump's policies killed many people in the United States and around the world. Hush money is the least of his crimes. But an honest confrontation of his worst offenses creates complications for a political class that commits crimes routinely." I wouldn't say the hush money case is "the least of his crimes." Even if we limit ourselves to the indicted ones -- not even the tip of a very large iceberg -- I'd rank it above his sloppy handling of classified documents. The hush money case is a good example of how Trump does business, using legal chicanery to dishonestly manipulate what we know about his business and person. (Admittedly, the documents case also provides crucial insights into his pathological character. I wouldn't say that, in itself, should be illegal, but for someone with his political profile, the cover up matters.)

    But for sure on the main point, and not just because no American can ever be prosecuted for the worst things presidents can do -- the criminal justice system in America is designed to protect the property and persons of the rich, and only marginally to regulate and discipline the rich themselves (who are threats to themselves as well as to the public, but are accorded many courtesies denied to less fortunate offenders).

    Still, I wouldn't lead with the number of people who died, either by his command (e.g., through drone strikes) or his incompetence (his mishandling of Covid-19 looms large here, but I'd also factor in how his policies toward Israel and Ukraine contributed to wars there, and I'd consider a few more cases, like Iran and North Korea, that haven't blown up yet, but still could). But that's mostly because I'm more worried about how he's corrupted and steered public political discourse. And that's not just because I fear the end of democracy -- if you follow the money, as you should, you'll see that that ship has already sailed -- but because he has, for many (possibly most) people, soiled and shredded our sense of fairness and decency, including our respect for others, and indeed for truth itself.

    While Trump doesn't deserve sole credit or blame for this sorry state of affairs -- he had extensive help from Republicans, backed by their "vast right-wing conspiracy," who saw his cunning as an opportunity to further their graft, and by naïve media eager to cash in on his sensationalism -- he has been the catalyst for a great and terrible transformation, where he sucked up all the rot and ferment the right has been sowing for decades, stripped it of all inhibitions, and turned it into a potentially devastating political force.

    I've never been a fan of "great man" history, but once in a while you do run across some individual who manages to do big things no one else could reasonably have done. My apologies for offering Hitler as an example, but I can't imagine any other German implementing the Holocaust -- fomenting hatred to fuel Russian-style pogroms, sure, but Hitler went way beyond that, exercising a unique combination of personal ambition, perverse imagination, and institutional power. Trump, arguably, has less of those qualities, although clearly enough to do some major damage.

    But the comparison seems fanciful mostly because we know how Hitler's story ended. Try putting Trump on Hitler's timeline. Four years after Hitler became chancellor was 1937, with the Anschluss and Kristallnacht still in the future -- war and genocide came later, and while there were signs pointing in that direction, such prospects were rarely discussed. One can argue that Trump made less progress in his first term than Hitler in 1933-37, mostly due to institutional resistance, but also lack of preparation on his part -- Hitler had a decade after the Munich putsch failed, during which he built a loyal party, whereas Trump found himself depending on Reince Preibus and Mike Pence for key staffing decisions. The one advantage Trump gained in four years out of power is that he's prepared to use (and abuse) whatever power he can wangle in 2024. So one shouldn't put much trust in his past failures predicting future failure. He wants to do things we can't afford to discount.

    By the way, Robinson points out something I had forgotten, that he had previously written a whole book on Trump: Trump: Anatomy of a Monstrosity, which came out a bit too late, on Jan. 17, 2017, but was reprinted with an afterword in time for the 2020 election, under a new title: American Monstrosity: Donald Trump: How We Got Him, How We Stop Him (which only seems to be available direct from OR Books). By the way, since I was just speaking of Hitler, let's slip the following 2018 article in out of order:

  • [2018-07-04] How horrific things come to seem normal: This tracks how Hitler was covered in the New York Times, from November 21, 1922 (p. 21, "New popular idol rises in Bavaria") to 1933:

    Here's a final tragic bit of wishful thinking from his appointment as chancellor in 1933: "The composition of the cabinet leaves Herr Hitler no scope for the gratification of any dictatorial ambition."

    Let's hope future historians are not driven to compile a similar record for Trump -- although I wouldn't be surprised to find books already written on the subject.

  • [05-28] No leftist wants a Trump presidency: "Let's be clear. The right poses an unparalleled threat. Left criticism of Democrats is in part about preventing the return of Trump."

  • [05-30] The toxic legacy of Martin Peretz's New Republic: Interview with Jeet Heer, who "has written two major essays about the intellectual legacy of the New Republic magazine's 70s-2000s heyday" (actually 1974-2012): From 2015 The New Republic's legacy on race; and [05-14] Friends and enemies: "Martin Peretz and the travails of American liberalism." Heer actually likes Peretz's memoir, The Controversialist: Arguments With Everyone, Left, Right and Center.

  • [05-29] Presenting: The Current Affairs Briefly Awards!: "The best, the worst, and everything in between." I won't attempt to excerpt or synopsize this. Just enjoy, or tremble, as the case may be.

  • [04-15] Why new atheism failed: I was surprised to see him publish outside his own journal, then surprised again to find that this is a "subscriber only" article. It's probably similar to this older one: [2017-10-28] Getting beyond "new atheism"; or for that matter, what he has to say about the subject in his books, Responding to the Right: Brief Replies to 25 Conservative Arguments, and The Current Affairs Rules for Life: On Social Justice & Its Critics.

Li Zhou: [05-31] The MLB's long-overdue decision to add Negro Leagues' stats, briefly explained. The statistics come from 1920-48, so there is still a large patch of history between 1870-1920 that is unaccounted for, and the official seasons were much shorter (60 vs. 150 games), so counts are suppressed. We can't replay history, but this helps understand it.

Also, some writing on music/arts:

Ryan Maffei: {03-28] Somebody explain the early '80s to me (in popular-musical terms, of course). Facebook thread, collecting 205 comments. I don't have time to focus on this, but wanted to bookmark it for possible future reference. The 1980s were my personal desert years. In 1980 I moved from NYC to NJ, gave up writing for jobs writing software, bought very little beyond Robert Christgau's CG picks -- maybe 50-75 LPs a year, only moving into CDs relatively late (well after moving to Massachusetts in late 1984). In the mid-1990s I started buying lots more CDs, and doing a lot of backtracking (before my initial heavy 1970s period, also all jazz periods), but never really filled in the numerous holes in my 1980s, so I still have some unquenched curiosity this may help with. By the way, this comment, from Greg Magarian, was the one that caught my eye:

Just love. I can't pretend to be dispassionate; '80-'89 for me were junior high, high school, college. Every day was discovery. All flavors of UK punk fallout. Following Two Tone and UB40 into original ska and reggae. US indie rock flowering everywhere and coming to stages near me. MTV exposing me to everything from MJ to Faith No More. Record store bargain bins that tricked my white urban ass into exploring soul and country. Coaxing my friends on a hunch at the multiplex to ditch The Karate Kid for Purple Rain and being changed forever. Checking out any early hip-hop 12-inch I could get my hands on. Bad Dylan and good Springsteen. 60s nostalgia as a romantic ideal. Warming up to superstar albums through their five or six durable singles. Making mixtapes for girls. Borrowing records to tape from friends and friends of friends and dudes whose apartments I stumbled into.

Li Zhou: [05-29] The Sympathizer takes on Hollywood's Vietnam War stories: "HBO's new miniseries centers Vietnamese voices -- and reframes the consequences of war." I can't say as I enjoyed watching it, but I suppose it wrapped up better when the two time tracks finally converged, and I got used to the annoying tick of showing events in multiple varying versions to reflect the vagaries of memory. Zhou likes that it introduces Vietnamese voices to a genre that's seen a lot of American navel-gazing, but it's still impossible to show any generosity to Vietnamese communists -- The Three Body Problem was even harsher in its depiction of Chinese communists. My wife tells me the novel is brilliant, and that there's more story left, so I expect another season. I read Viet Thanh Nguyen's Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, and he's clearly a very smart and basically decent guy.

Listening blogs:

Mid-year reports:

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

Speaking of Which

[Updated 2024-05-28. New sections and major edits flagged, like this.]

I woke up one morning last week flooded by what felt like deep thoughts. Of course, I never got around to writing them down, and most have proven fleeting, but one stuck with me as important enough to use an an introduction here. It's that, in negotiations, one should always try to do the right thing. In games, that means seeking out the maximum positive sum (or, if you are starting in deep trouble, as is often the case, the minimum negative sum).

You may have trouble quantizing, but any mutual gain will do, as would a mutual loss that doesn't seem disparate. They key is that both sides should feel some satisfaction, even if it's only relative to where one entered negotiations. This matters because not only does one have to solve a current problem, but one hopes to prevent a future recurrence. Any negotiation that ends with one side feeling aggrieved is likely to be rejoined later, when prospects become more favorable.

The simplest model I can think of here is what we might call the social contract. In unequal situations, one side may be able to dominate and take from the other, who being demeaned will be resentful and seek to redress the situation, possibly flipping roles only to be targeted again. Humans do not readily submit to other humans, so it takes extra effort not just to obtain but to maintain unequal ranks, while the rewards for doing so diminish. Hegel understood this well enough in theory, but he also had the real world example of American slavery to draw on.

Yet many people, especially in positions of power, still think they can use their power to force the submission of others, thereby preserving their advantages. They may get away with it for a fairly long time, but never without cost, and sometimes at great risk of revolt and revolution. This desire to dominate was long thought to be as essentially human as rebellion, but it can be tempered by reason if one is willing to think things through. Unfortunately, the sort of people who start and fight wars are sadly deficient in that respect.

Real world cases can be tricky. You need to sort out what really matters, and understand how various options will play out. On the other hand, you need to steer away from positions that will cause future resentment. A good rule of thumb here is that anything that exploits a power advantage or intends to preserve or develop one is likely to backfire. Unfortunately, most thinking by US and other powers is based on the assumption that power provides leverage for imposing unequal settlements. This delays negotiations, and leads to bad agreements.

Specifics vary from case to case. I write about Ukraine most weeks. The battleground is deadlocked, with both sides capable of extending the war indefinitely. Ukraine's maximalist goal of retaking all of its pre-2014 territory is unrealistic. Russia's goals and minimum requirements are less clear, in part because the US is fixated on weakening and degrading Russia on the theory (groundless as far as I can tell) that Putin is obsessed with expanding Russian territory and/or hegemony. I think it's more likely that Putin is concerned to halt or limit US/EU threats to Russia's security and economy, which have been manifested in NATO expansion, EU expansion, and sanctions against Russian business interests. If that's the case, there are opportunities to trade various chits for favors in Ukraine, especially ones that longer-term will reduce US-Russia tensions.

That doesn't mean that Putin will be willing to give up all of Ukraine. Crimea and Donbas had Russian ethnic majorities before the broke away in 2014, and given the chance would almost certainly have voted to join Russia. As a nationalist, Putin is concerned with the fate of Russian ethnic minorities beyond his borders -- such people had been secure in the Soviet Union, but became vulnerable when the SSRs broke away and themselves became more nationalist. Besides, having made the move into Ukraine, and having conquered and held additional territory (which is now also heavily Russian), he's very unlikely to walk away empty-handed.

All this suggests to me that a deal would be possible -- perhaps not win-win but one that lose-loses a lot less than continuing the war -- if we start looking for a more equal settlement, as opposed to the current strategy of hoping the next offensive adds some leverage while nearing the other side to exhaustion. Not only has that thinking failed both sides utterly, the prospect of an inequitable settlement would only serve to encourage future conflicts.

Same principles should apply elsewhere, and will inform my comments when I get to them.

I'm getting to where I really hate website redesigns, all of which are immediately disruptive, making it harder to find things. While you expect to get past that after a bit of learning curve, it often turns out to be a permanent condition. The Wichita Eagle changed to a more "web friendly" design recently, as opposed to their previous newspaper page scans (which they still have now, but buried in the back, behind lots of spurious junk). I suppose regular articles are a bit easier to read, and flipping past them is a bit faster, but still, I'm almost ready to quit them -- which would be a loss for Dion Leffler, and various restaurant and road openings and closings, but not much more.

One of my regular stops is Vox, and their redesign is so disruptive I'm bothering to mention it here. (They explain some of this here, but they merely assert that the "sleek, updated design [makes] it easier for you to discover and find all of the journalism you love." It doesn't.)

Posting this end-of-Sunday, not really complete, but there's quite a bit here. I'll add some more on Monday.

Initial count: 185 links, 11,242 words. Updated count [03-28]: 217 links, 14,446 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): Louis Allday; Fred Kaplan; Sarah Jones; on music.

Top story threads:


  • Mondoweiss:

  • Middle East Monitor: Live Updates: Famine imminent in northern Gaza amid Israel's closure of crossings, media office warns: Plus numerous other stories.

  • Wafa Aludaini: [05-25] The slaughter of Palestinian scholars in Gaza is a deliberate Israeli tactic.

  • Ruwaida Kamal Amer: [05-21] Cementing its military footprint, Israel is transforming Gaza's geography: "As Israel expands a buffer zone and erects army bases in the Strip, Palestinians fear the permanent loss of their homes and land."

  • Kavitha Chekuru: Hundreds of Palestinian doctors disappeared into Israeli detention.

  • Emma Graham-Harrison: [05-28] Tanks reach centre of Rafah as attacks mount and Israel's isolation grows.

  • Ryan Grim:

  • Tareq S Hajjaj: [05-27] Rafah massacre: how Israel bombs displaced Gazans in their tents: "The Israeli army bombed Gazans in their tents in the 'safe zone' where it told them to go. Eyewitnesses told Mondoweiss most of the dead were burned alive or decapitated and dismembered. Many of them were children." I don't want to pile on a late-breaking story, but:

  • Shatha Hanaysha: [05-23] Jenin resistance defiant as Israeli army kills 12 Palestinians in raid. I'm not much into celebrating resistance against a force as overwhelmingly powerful, insensitive and cruel as the IDF, but it is human nature to resist such force, by whatever means are available ("necessary," the term one first thinks of here, implies hope and purpose that aren't always easy to see).

  • Fred Kaplan: I included these links, meaning to write more about them, but ran out of time on Sunday, leaving them as stubs. Again growing weary on Tuesday, I'll add a couple brief notes, but there is much more I'd like to say. (Maybe you can find it elsewhere in this or previous weeks' posts? [PS: Ok, I wound up writing quite a bit anyway.])

    • [05-13] Why Israel and Hamas still do not have a cease-fire: "There are only three ways out of the war." Nothing very deep here. His three ways are universal rules for all wars: one side wins; both sides give up and settle; some more powerful third party gets fed up and threatens to knock heads, forcing a settlement. You can provide an easy list of examples, as long as you're willing to count lots of costs as some kind of win. The problem is that these scenarios assume you have war between two relatively autonomous sides, and that if victory is not possible, both sides are willing to accept the continued existence of the other.

      Those assumptions are simply wrong. There is no Hamas army, or Palestinian army. It is not even clear that Hamas exists, at least beyond some public figures outside of Gaza, their assertion that they hold a small number of Israelis, and occasional bursts of small arms fire and the occasional rocket, which are no threat, and evidently no inhibition, to Israel. That Hamas only exists to give Israel an excuse -- one that at least its still-gullible allies in the US and elsewhere will cling to -- for its systematic demolition and depopulation of Gaza. In other words, this isn't a war. It just looks like one because Israel is fighting it with advanced weapons of war, none of which Hamas or any other Palestinians possess: planes, missiles, drones, heavy artillery, tanks, ships, surveillance, AI-based targeting, a huge number of trained fighters, an advanced military-industrial complex, and a steady stream of billions of dollars of reinforcements from the US, and if all that fails they still have a nuclear arsenal.

      If Hamas had those things, you could legitimately call this a war, and you'd find that Israel suddenly has reasons for wanting it to end. That's when the risks to both sides are high enough that they start negotiating. However, when it's just Israel shooting fish in a barrel, why should Israel negotiate? Worst case scenario is you run out of fish, but that's not something Israelis have ever had to worry about. And no matter how much we decry their intents and practices as genocidal, Israelis are very different from the Nazis who set the standard for genocide. Israelis may think they were chosen by God -- some do, some don't, the difference scarcely matters -- they don't see themselves as a master race, and don't seek to drive others into slavery. They see themselves as eternal victims, so the best they can hope for isn't a Final Solution -- it's simply to drive the others away, to push them back and out from their safe fortress (their Iron Wall, Iron Dome, etc.). Nor do they worry that they are training others to hate them, to come back and seek revenge, because they know deep down that others will hate them anyway, that this condition is eternal, as is their struggle to defend themselves.

      We can kick around various hypotheticals, but the bottom line is that this war only ends when Israel decides to stop prosecuting it, either because the costs exceed what they're willing to pay, or because they grow sick and tired, and ashamed, of the slaughter. Neither of those are likely to happen as long as the US is willing to foot the bills and run diplomatic interference. If the US and Europe were to seriously threaten to flip against Israel, they might decide that the conflict isn't worth the trouble, and start to make amends. That's probably the best-case scenario: nothing less will get Israel's attention. Nothing more is practically possible -- no nation, regardless of how powerful they think they are, is going to overthrow Israel by arms. (The US tried that with Afghanistan and Iraq, and failed. Russia tried that with Ukraine, and failed. China tried that with Vietnam, and failed. Every case is slightly different, but none of those had the nuclear weapons Israel has. And while the US has pushed sanctions to their limit against North Korea, they've thought better than starting a major war.)

      Israelis may not mind being sanctioned back into a shell, like North Korea has endured. They're certainly psychologically prepared for it. But they've also been living la dolce vita for many decades, largely on the American taxpayer's dime, so may be they will see that they have real choices to make, and being ostensibly a democracy, they may even be able to make their own.

    • [05-21] Why Netanyahu's war cabinet is existentially divided: "The Israeli prime minister refuses to plan for life after the war in Gaza."

    • The simplest explanation is that he doesn't want the war to end, ever. Israel has fought continuously since 1948 (or really since 1937), along the way building up a military, a police and spy system, courts, and a civil society that knows how to do nothing else. They've cultivated a psyche that is hardened by fear and hate, one that only experiences pleasure in inflicting pain on others. They need those others. If they didn't exist, they'd have to hate them -- and in many case they have. If they didn't have those others, they'd turn their hate on each other, because that's what the psyche demands. If Hamas still exists today, that's because Israel needs Hamas as its pretext for fighting Palestinians in Gaza. And if Israel is slow-rolling the genocide in Gaza, it's because it gives them cover for ethnic cleaning in the West Bank. Hitler set an impossible standard in thinking he could reach a Final Solution. Netanyahu wants something far deadlier, which is Permanent Revolution. But we still call it genocide, because to the victims it looks much the same.

  • Ken Klippenstein/Daniel Boguslaw: [04-20] Israel attack on Iran is what World War III looks like: "Like countless other hostilities, the stealthy Israeli missile and drone strike on Iran doesn't risk war. It is war."

  • Akela Lacy: The AIPAC donor funnels millions to an IDF unit accused of violating human rights: "The battalion has a dedicated US nonprofit to support its operations -- whose president is supporting AIPAC's political agenda."

  • Haggai Matar: [05-20] Israeli military censor bans highest number of articles in over a decade: "The sharp rise in media censorship in 2023 comes as the Israeli government further undermines press freedoms, especially amid the Gaza war."

  • Loveday Morris: [05-26] Far-right Israeli settlers step up attacks on aid trucks bound for Gaza.

  • Orly Noy: [05-23] Why Israel is more divided than ever. I wish, but I doubt it. Author is chair of B'Tselem, a group that has done heroic work in documenting the human rights abuses of the occupation.

  • Jonathan Ofir: [05-27] Netanyahu's response to the ICC invokes another genocidal biblical reference: "Netanyahu's rant against the ICC quoted a biblical verse that warns against the dangers of not completely wiping out your enemy's society. It doesn't take much to figure out what this means for Israel's genocidal war on Gaza."

  • Prem Thakker: The State Department says Israel isn't blocking aid. Videos show the opposite.

America's Israel (and Israel's America): The Biden administration, despite occasional misgivings, is fully complicit in Israel's genocide. Republicans only wish to intensify it -- after all, they figure racism and militarism are their things.

Israel vs. world opinion: From demonstrations to ICC indictments, and backlash again.

  • Nasser Abourarme: [05-25] The student uprising is fighting for all of us: "Palestine has ignited our planetary consciousness once again, and it is the student movement that refuses to let genocide become our new normal.".

  • Louis Allday: [05-24] Four points on solidarity after the Gaza genocide: I don't agree with this, and I'm rather disappointed that Mondoweiss would print it. Allday writes: "We must support the struggle of the Palestinian people to abolish Zionism, no matter the means they choose to do it." I'm inclined to be cautious about articulating what other people think and feel, but I object to every clause in that sentence, and to each of the four points the author goes on to make -- "Palestinians have a right to armed resistance"; "Zionism is irredeemable"; "we will not police our slogans"; and "'Israel' must come to an end." The problems here are grammatical, logical, moral, and political. I hate to trot out Lenin, not least because I never actually read his book, but this reminds me of a style of thought he dismissed as "an infantile disorder."

    To go back to the sentence: "the Palestinian people" assumes a unity that does not exist and therefore cannot be supported without contradiction; "abolish Zionism" is a category disorder (you can do lots of things to Zionism, like reform or reject or ridicule it, but you cannot abolish it); and it always matters what means you use, because your means define you as much as your ends. As for the points:

    1. "Palestinians have a right to armed resistance": I believe that people should have both negative ("freedom from") and positive ("freedom to") rights, but armed resistance is neither. The best you can say for it is that it's a bad habit humans have picked up over the ages, made only worse by advanced technology. I can see why some people may feel they have no better option than to resort to it, and I can see why some Palestinians think that, and I see little point in condemning them when they have no better options, and I can't see that Israel has closed or frustrated all other options. So I see little point in blaming Hamas for their violent uprising, as it mostly reflects Israel's responsibility for the conditions. But I refuse to dignify it by calling it a right. For the same reasons, I deny that Israel has a "right to defend itself" -- if anything, Israel's claim is worse, because they do have other less destructive options. Self-defense may get you an acquittal or pardon in court, but we don't have to pretend it's some kind of right to justify that. It could just be grounds for mercy. No one has a right to mercy, but some powers, especially when concerned with their own legitimacy, grant it anyway. By the way, it's fine with me if you reject armed resistance on purely moral grounds. My view here is a bit more nuanced, but in some book I read a pretty emphatic "thou shalt not kill," and that sounds to me like a pretty sound rule to live by.
    2. "Zionism is irredeemable": I'm pretty well convinced that the way Israelis are behaving today flows quite logically from the way Zionism was originally articulated by Pinsker and Herzl and rendered into political form by Ben-Gurion, Jabotinsky, and Kook (each of those, plus a dozen lesser known figures, has a chapter in Shlomo Avineri's The Making of Modern Zionism. So I would be inclined to chuck the whole conceptual legacy out, but that doesn't mean that it cannot be reformed. While I have no personal investment in Zionism, there are other isms I can imagine recovering from their tarnished pasts. And in any case I'd never say that any group of people, including fascists and white supremacists (mentioned here because they appear in the text), who are absolutely irredeemable.
    3. "We will not police our slogans": This one is probably what got me thinking of Lenin. If you can't police yourself, you certainly don't deserve to police anyone else.
    4. "'Israel' must come to an end": I don't technically disagree with "the Zionist entity commonly known as Israel is a settler colonial project sustained by U.S. imperialism for its own purposes," but I would never put it in those terms, because I don't want people to take me for a moron. I hardly know where to start here, but in any case I'll wind up with a political point, which is that this isn't going to happen, not even close, isn't even desirable, and any efforts to bring it about will only make you look stupid and cruel, reflecting adversely on any decent thing you might reasonably aim at.

    I suppose I've known all along that this kind of "thinking" exists, but so far I've only run across rough sketches of it in obvious Israeli propaganda, so I've been reluctant to credit it at all. (Could this be a plant? That's always been a suspicion with "Palestinian" resistance literature, because "false flag" operations run as deep in Israeli history as tactical hasbara.) I've occasionally thought of writing a piece on "Why I've never identified as pro-Palestinian (but don't care if you do)," which would review the checkered history of Palestinian nationalism, including the oft-repeated arguments that Jews can and should be expatriated from Israel, and explain why I find them every bit as reprehensible as Israel's not-merely-rhetorical efforts to control, incarcerate, expel, and/or kill Palestinians. One could include charts to show how much of each both sides have done, and how they stack up. (Palestinians aren't innocents in this regard, but the ratios are pretty sobering.) It's quite possible to describe yourself as pro-Palestinian and not buy into all of the dead baggage of the nationalists, so I don't assume that identifying yourself as that implies that you're simply out to flip the tables. But that's not a linkage I make for myself.

    What I'd like to see is everyone live wherever they want, with equal rights, law, and order for all within whatever state they live in (one, two, many?). Also, as a safety valve, with a right to exile, both for Israelis and Palestinians (and ideally for everyone else). I imagine that if given the chance most Palestinians (though maybe not the leaders of Hamas or Fatah) would welcome such a world, but most Israelis are still wedded to their dreams of self-rule achieved through forever war against the antisemitic hordes, so they will reject it as long as they can. And no one can force Israel to change, so the best we can do is negotiate a bit, appeal to what's left of their humanity, shame them for their obvious crimes, negotiate a bit more, find "do the right thing" compromises that give and take a little but in the right direction. They're not crazy, and they're not stupid. (Although I'm not so sure about some of the Americans.) They have some legitimate concerns, which deserve respect, but we also have to be firm that we will not let them con us (as they try to do incessantly, and have often gotten away with). This is a noble task that will require diligence and sensitivity and skill -- traits the author here, and anyone anywhere near his wavelength, manifestly lacks.

    One more point: "solidarity" doesn't mean you should follow the other lemmings into the abyss. It means you should look for common themes between your complaints and the complaints of others, to see if you can join forces in ways that help you both. Chances are, you share opponents who are already at work keeping you divided and conquered, and you can improve your tactics based on your shared experiences.

    "Empathy" is a much rawer emotion, where you experience some other's plight as impacting yourself. While it's good to be able to imagine how other people feel, the emotion can sometimes overwhelm, leading you to sympathize with counterproductive rhetoric and tactics. Empathy can motivate commitment, which is one reason movement put so much effort into garnering it, but solidarity requires thinking, analysis, deliberation, and calculated action. Empathy can lash out, and temporarily make you feel good, but it rarely works, especially against opponents who are practiced in dealing with it. On the other hand, solidarity can work.

  • Linah Alsaafin: [05-23] Why students everywhere have been jolted awake by Israel's brutality.

  • Michael Arria:

  • Ramzy Baroud: [05-23] With Biden's bear hug of Israeli atrocities, world's view of American democracy craters.

  • M Reza Benham: [05-24] Lifting the veil: Demystifying Israel: Recalls a movie, The Truman Show, where the lead character was trapped and filmed in a stage set he took to be the real world, until he discovered otherwise.

  • Ghousoon Bisharat: [05-24] 'The international legal order needs repair -- and Gaza is a part of this': "Al Mezan director Issam Younis explains the obstacles and opportunities for Palestinians following major interventions from the world's top courts."

  • Juan Cole:

  • Jonathan Cook: [05-24] The message of Israel's torture chambers is directed at all of us, not just Palestinians: "'Black sites' are about reminding those who have been colonised and enslaved of a simple lesson: resistance is futile."

  • Owen Dahlkamp: [05-24] Inside the latest congressional hearing on campus antisemitism: "Students for Justice in Palestine called the hearing 'a manufactured attack on higher education' as Republicans criticized universities for negotiating with protesters."

  • Harry Davies/Bethan McKiernan/Yuval Abraham/Meron Rapoport: [05-28] Spying, hacking and intimidation: Israel's nine-year 'war' on the ICC exposed. This is a major article. Should be a big story. Davies also wrote:

  • Moira Donegan: [05-24] Congress's latest 'antisemitism' hearing was an ugly attack on Palestinian rights: "The real purpose of this nasty political farce is to pressure US universities to crack down on criticism of Israel."

  • Richard Falk: [05-22] Why ICC bid for arrest warrants is a bold and historic move: "Unsurprisingly, the announcement has fuelled a misplaced rhetoric of outrage from Israel and its allies."

  • Michael Gasser: [05-22] A tale of two commencements: How Gaza solidarity encampments are changing the way we see university education: "Indiana University's 'Liberation Commencement' was a celebration of the students' brave commitment to fighting powerful institutions and their involvement in challenging Zionism and the Palestinian genocide."

  • Amos Goldberg/Alon Confino: [05-21] How Israel twists antisemitism claims to project its own crimes onto Palestinians: "What Israel and its supporters accuse Palestinians of inciting, Israeli officials are openly declaring, and the Israeli army is prosecuting."

  • Murtaza Hussain: Can a US ally actually be held accountable for war crimes in the ICC?

  • Ellen Ioanes/Nicole Narea: [05-21] Why ICC arrest warrants matter, even if Israel and Hamas leaders evade them: "The role of the International Criminal Court and the limits to its authority, explained."

  • David Kattenburg: [05-24] UN expert: 'Very little hope' of Israel abiding by ICJ order to stop Rafah invasion.

  • Nichlas Kristof:

    • [05-24] Biden's chance to do the right thing in Gaza: "In a speech in Warsaw two years ago, President Biden declared that 'the great battle for freedom' is one 'between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.' Now we'll see whether he meant it." No evidence of that yet. Previously wrote:

    • [05-18] Invading Rafah doesn't help Israel.

    • [04-19] What happened to the Joe Biden I knew? "During the Darfur genocide and humanitarian crisis two decades ago, then-Senator Joe Biden passionately denounced then-President George W Bush for failing to act decisively to ease suffering. Biden expressed outrage at China for selling weapons used to kill and maim civilians, and he urged me to write columns demanding the White House end needless wretchedness." As you may recall, "genocide in Darfur" was a big Israeli talking point at the time, as the Israelis never missed an opportunity to portray Arabs as mass killers, and Sudan counted as an enemy of Israel. Silly Kristof for thinking that Biden actually cared about humanity, when he was, as always, simply doing Israel's bidding.

    • [03-16] President Biden, you have leverage that can save lives in Gaza. Please use it.

  • Akela Lacy: October 7 survivors sue campus protesters, say students are "Hamas's propaganda division": Say what?

  • Natasha Lennard: University professors are losing their jobs over "New McCarthyism" on Gaza.

  • Eldar Mamedov: [05-22] More European countries recognize Palestine: "The moves by Ireland, Norway, and Spain point to a Europe-wide frustration with futility of the current process." It's hard to recognize a "nation" that doesn't legitimately exist, but these moves to at least Israel has lost all credibility to millions of people it has effectively rendered stateless and homeless.

  • Paul Rogers: [05-28] These inhumane attacks on Rafah are no accident. They're central to the IDF's brutal, losing strategy.

  • Imad Sabi: [05-22] In memory of an Israeli lawyer who never lost her moral purpose: "Tamar Pelleg-Sryck worked tirelessly to defend Palestinian detainees like me in a profoundly unjust system."

  • Bernie Sanders: [05-23] The ICC is doing its job.

  • Tali Shapiro: [05-20] Israel's extortion leaflets and NameCheap: How to do corporate accountability during a genocide: "Arizona-based internet domain company NameCheap ended all service to Russia over the invasion of Ukraine but has now registered an Israeli website targeting Palestinian children. Activists are calling out the company's complicity in war crimes." Psychological warfare has been around at least since WWII, but is rarely commented on. For instance, did you know this?

    On Friday Israel dropped another set of leaflets on Gaza. Israel's use of leaflets for its psychological torture of the besieged Palestinian population is well known in these genocidal days.

    Ominous, gloating, taunting, and sadistic messaging is the lingua franca of these leaflets, which Israel claims is a humanitarian effort to evacuate the civilian population. Some of the most common leaflet content are calls to contact Israel's secret service with information on Hamas or the Israeli hostages. The purpose of these particular leaflets is twofold: the coercion of protected civilians to obtain information (which is a violation of the law of armed conflict); but most of all, to undermine the trust and cohesion of a community under siege and annihilation.

    Friday's leaflets took the intel-gathering genre to another level, when the army included messaging of extortion and a list of children, among them toddlers as targets, with the threat to reveal personal information such as criminal records, extramarital affairs, and queer identities.

  • Abba Solomon/Norman Solomon: [05-26] The dead end of liberal American Zionism: "In 2024, the meaning of 'pro-Israel, pro-peace' is macabre: J Street supports US military aid to Israel as it carries out a genocide. Liberal American Zionism has revealed itself to only be a tool for the subjugation of the Palestinian people." The authors refer back to a 2014 article they wrote -- The blind alley of J Street and liberal American Zionism -- and they seem entitled to an "I told you so" today. Just as I've never described myself as pro-Palestinian, I've also never claimed to be pro-Israeli, but I can see where other people might wish to combine their pro-peace and pro-nationalist sentiments. The problem is that they have to make a complete break not just with the Netanyahu gang -- as undoubted pro-Israelis like Schumer and Pelosi have done -- but with the entire apartheid/militarist regime. I can imagine some people coming to that view purely from their sympathy and concern for Israel, because it's obvious to me that not just the genocide but the entire history of occupation is something that Israelis should be ashamed of and shunned for. Anyone like that, even with zero regard for suffering of Palestinians, wouldn't deserve to be called a "tool for the subjection of Palestinians." But if you see J Street as some kind of AIPAC-Lite, meant to promote a sanitized Israel for squeamish American liberals, its mission is dead now, because the fantasy Israel it tried to present has been irreversibly exposed.

  • Christopher Sprigman: [05-23] Why universities have started arresting student protesters. "Over the past couple of months, more than 2,000 students have been arrested at colleges and universities around the US for protesting Israel's bombardment of Gaza." For starters, "It isn't because today's pro-Palestinian students are particularly violent or disruptive." This article kicks around several theories, but the obvious one is that Israel doesn't have a rational defense of genocide, so they hope to bury the charges under a bogus story of antisemitism and stir up a bit of violence then can easily blame on Palestinians. Why university administrators would go along with this is a story that probably has a money trail.

  • Ishaan Tharoor:

  • Simon Tisdall: [05-25] Call to prosecute Benjamin Netanyahu for war crimes exposes the west's moral doublethink: Someone at the Guardian needs remedial help in writing headlines: the article criticizes Biden, Sunak, and others for their attempts to undermine and impugn the ICC, not the Court for doing its job (finally).

  • Marc Tracy: [05-23] Ari Emanuel condemns Netanyahu, drawing boos at Jewish group's gala.

Election notes:

The Libertarian Party: Not normally worth my attention, but they had a convention last week, and some ringers showed up (originally I filed these under Trump):

Trump, and other Republicans: Let's start off with another quote from Richard Slotkin's A Great Disorder: National Myth and the Battle for America (pp. 385-386):

MAGA-constituencies have therefore embraced extreme measures of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and legislative control of election certification. In this regard, MAGA is building on values and practices already rooted in the conservative movement. As political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have argue, since the 1990s the GOP has been "ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition." Its agenda has been formulated as a canon, most tenets of which predate Trump: Grover Norquist's No-Tax Pledge, the Kochs' No Climate Change Pledge, the NRA's absolute rejection of gun safety, Right to Life's rejection of abortion under any circumstances, the anti-immigration bloc's No Amnesty Pledge. Its "Southern Strategy" dealt in dog-whistle racism to rouse resistance to social welfare programs. It has generally opposed the extension of social welfare programs and voting rights.

Trump exaggerated those tendencies by an order of magnitude, and his cult of personality gave them shape, color, and the aura of insurgent populist heroism. Government was not just a problem to be minimized, but an administrative state to be deconstructed. Dog-whistle racism became explicit in the defamation of Mexican and Black people, and in the display of sympathy for White Power vigilantes. Climate change was not just a hoax, but a "Chinese hoax." Faced with global pandemic, inescapable evidence of dangerous climate change, a public outcry for racial and social justice, and defeat at the polls, Trump chose repression over recognition.

But Trump also shifted the focus of conservative politics from the neoliberal economic policies of Reagan and the two Bushes to the culture war policies of Pat Buchanan.

That paragraph goes on with Christopher Rufo and Ron DeSantis and the war against woke. One should note that Trump is no less neoliberal than Reagan or the Bushes: he'd just prefer to saddle Clinton, Obama, and Biden with blame for the side-effects of policies Republicans have consistently supported since Nixon. Granted, Trump is a bit heretical with the odd tariff, but the economic effects are trivial, the targets are jingoist, and the beneficiaries dovetail nicely with his graft.

By the way, I meant to include more from the end of Slotkin's book, but that will have to wait until next week.

Actual trial news is skimpy: the defense rested quickly (without Trump testifying), and the judge took the rest of the week off to prepare for final arguments and jury instructions on Monday. Still leads off here, followed by other articles:

  • Nia Prater: [05-21] What happened in the Trump trial today: The defense rests: I've been using this "running recap of the news" for much of the trial, but it's fallen off Intelligencer's front page for lack of an update. [PS: updated 4:57PM 05-28, now "Closing time."] Presumably it will get one when final arguments are given. Meanwhile, it's still a good backgrounder. Also (again, thin this week):

  • Eric Alterman: [05-17] How can this country possibly be electing Trump again? "How the media has failed, and what the Democrats need to do."

  • Jamelle Bouie: [05-24] Trump's taste for tyranny finds a target:

    Trump's signature promise, during the 2016 presidential election, was that he would build a wall on the US border with Mexico. His signature promise, this time around, is that he'll use his power as president to deport as many as 20 million people from the United States.

    "Following the Eisenhower model," he told a crowd in Iowa last September, "we will carry out the largest domestic deportation operation in American history."

    It cannot be overstated how Trump's deportation plan would surely rank as one of the worst crimes perpetrated by the federal government on the people of this country. Most of the millions of unauthorized and undocumented immigrants in the United States are essentially permanent residents. They raise families, own homes and businesses, pay taxes and contribute to their communities. For the most part, they are as embedded in the fabric of this nation as native-born and naturalized American citizens are.

    What Trump and his aide Stephen Miller hope to do is to tear those lives apart, rip those communities to shreds and fracture the entire country in the process.

  • Jonathan Chait: [05-23] Karl Rove frets RFK Jr. is stealing 'wacko' voters from Trump: Isn't that rather like Willie Sutton's rationale for robbing banks? Not much substance here, mostly just a chuckle as Chait is firmly Team Biden. But it occurs to me that if RFK Jr. really wanted to do some damage to Biden, what he has to do is flip 180° on Israel, and wrap that up with his anti-empire, anti-militarist views into a serious critique of the mostly-shared Biden/Trump geopolitics. The one thing a third-party candidate most needs is an urgent issue where the two major parties are joined at the hip, and that issue right now is genocide. (And sure, that won't help him with Trump voters, but he still has crazy for them.)

  • Callum Jones: [05-28] Vivek Ramaswamyu uses Buzzfeed stake to demand staff cuts, conservative hires.

  • Juliette Kayyem: [05-23] Trump's assassination fantasy has a darker purpose: "The ex-president's stories of his own victimization make violence by his supporters far more likely."

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-24] Trump guilty verdict would feed election-denial claims. Well, so would an acquittal, or a hung jury. That die was set when he was indicted. Trump certainly thinks that the indictments are proof of a vast conspiracy to get him, and millions of people are happy to believe whatever he says, which guarantees that charging him with anything will get turned into a political circus and raise all sorts of questions about impartial juries and free speech and the political inclinations and entanglements of judges, all of which are certain to be played to the hilt for Trump's political purposes. I could imagine prosecutors with good political instincts deciding that it's not worth all that much trouble to go after Trump, especially on the specific cases they have here.

    That they waited nearly three years after he left office before moving certainly suggests that they were reluctant to take on this fight. They didn't go after Nixon after he resigned -- Ford's peremptory pardon gave them a convenient excuse, but wasn't binding on state prosecutors, and could have been challenged in court. But Nixon never so much as hinted at running again, while Trump is. So, sure, the optics do suggest that he's being prosecuted to derail his campaign, but so is his defense designed to promote his campaign. I have no idea who's winning, or will win, this very strange game. From a purely political standpoint, I've never been sure it was good strategy. (I am pretty certain that the Ukraine impeachment was a bad move, but the Jan. 6 one was well-founded, and that McConnell missed an opportunity there to get Trump disqualified under the 14th amendment, precluding a 2024 run, and probably sparing Trump the indictments -- which all in all would have been a good deal for everyone.)

    Still, I understand that prosecutors like to (no, live to) prosecute, and I have no doubt that they have very strong legal cases. And I do like that in the courtroom, Trump has to come down from his high horse and show some submission to the court. It is one thing to say "nobody's above the law," but that Trump has to show up and shut up, even if he nods off and farts a lot, gives us a graphic illustration of the point. But as for Kilgore's point, the only thing that would stop feeding election-denial claims would be for media like himself to stop airing them.

  • Nicholas Liu: [05-23] Louisiana Republicans declare abortion pills a "dangerous substance," threaten prison and hard labor: "Under the proposed law, people found in possession of the pills could face up to five years behind bars."

  • Clarence Lusane: [05-19] Black MAGA is still MAGA: "Trump's racism and authoritarianism should be disqualifying."

  • Amanda Marcotte: [05-24] Trump's "Biden the assassin" fantasy is pure projection.

  • John Nichols: [05-24] The soulless hypocrisy of Nikki Haley: "Haley has abandoned her opposition to Trump for political expediency." Seriously, did you ever think for a minute that she would "never Trump"? Still, doesn't (yet) strike me as much of an endorsement. Sort of like me sheepishly admitting I'll vote for Biden, despite some really serious issues I have with him. Also see:

  • Timothy Noah: [05-23] Here's what Trump and the GOP really think about the working class.

  • Andrew Prokop: [05-21] Why Trump's running mate could be the most important VP pick of our time: I don't really buy this, but it would take another article to explain all the reasons why. VPs matter very little unless one gets promoted, in which case they're usually mediocre (Coolidge, Truman) to disastrous (Tyler, Andrew Johnson), the exceptions being Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson (who, like Coolidge and Truman, won a term in their own right). True that Trump's odds of finishing a second term are below-average, but he'd be hard pressed to pick a VP even worse than he is, or one much better.

  • Matthew Stevenson: [05-24] Trump's three penny media opera: The machinations of TMTG, the Trump Media shell corporation.

  • Robert Wright: [05-24] Why Trump is worse than Biden on Gaza (and maybe much worse).

  • The New Republic: What American Fascism would look like: "It can happen here. And if it does, here is what might become of the country." A weighty topic for a special issue, but how seriously can we take a publisher when all the art department could come up with is a bronze-tone Donald Trump head with a somewhat more tastefully clipped Hitler mustache? The articles:

    The first piece in this batch I read was the one by Brooks, partly because I found the title confusing -- do liberals really fantasize about the military? I mean, aside from herself? -- but she's actually pretty clear, if not especially satisfactory, in the article: the military won't rise up to hand Trump power, or otherwise instigate a coup, but if Trump does gain power more or less legitimately and issues clear orders, there is no reason to doubt that they will act on his behalf. The notion that they might act independently to stop Trump is what she dismisses as "liberal fantasy."

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Christopher Cadelago/Sallyl Goldenberg/Elena Schneider: [05-28] Dems in full-blown 'freakout' over Biden. Mostly seems to mean party operatives and fundraisers. I don't know if these reports are credible, but the writers are certainly freaking out:

    "The most diplomatic thing I hear from Democrats is, 'Oh my God, are these the choices we have for president?'"

  • Kate Conger/Ryan Mac: [05-24] Elon Musk ramps up anti-Biden posts on X. One of the authors also contributed to:

  • David Dayen: [05-21] Pelosi may back industry-friendly House crypto bill: "The industry has become a major spender in political campaigns, and the most prodigious fundraiser among Democrats is taking notice." I hate crypto, and this is one of the reasons. Democrats have to raise money just like Republicans do, but when they do they manage to look extra dirty, and nothing's dirtier than crypto.

  • Gabriel Debenedetti: [05-25] When Joe Biden plays pundit: "A close reading of what the president really thinks about 2024 -- at least what he's telling his donors." There's an old joke that Minnesota has two seasons: winter and road repair (which is really just recovering from and preparing for winter). Politicians also have two seasons: one, which never really ends, where they appeal to donors, and another, for several weeks leading up to an election, when they try to appeal to voters. Then, as soon as the votes are counted, it's back to the donors. Successful politicians may try to juggle both, but donors are more critical -- they basically decide who can run and be taken seriously, plus they're always in touch, whereas voters only get one shot, and even then can only choose among donor-approved candidates -- so they get most of the attention. Having wrapped up the nomination early, Biden has time to focus on the donors, raising his war chest. His anemic polls can wait until September, when the voters finally get their season.

  • Ed Kilgore:

    • [05-21] The Biden campaign has a Trump-fatigue problem. Don't we all have a Trump-fagigue problem? Come November, the big question on voters' minds should be what can I actually accomplish with my vote? In 2016, middle-of-the-road voters seized the opportunity to get rid of Hillary Clinton. This time, they have to seriously ask themselves whether they want to finally rid themselves of Donald Trump? Sure, lots of people love him, but they've never been close to a majority. Some people prefer him, but do they really want all the attention and scandal and agita and strife? And while he's sure to claim yet another election was stolen, how many times can he whine before people shrug and leave him to the wolf? Sure, he could threaten to run again, but even William Jennings Bryan was done after losing thrice. Plus he still has those indictments. He has to fight them in order to keep running, but if he gives up the run, it's almost certain he could plea bargain them for no jail time -- and really, how bad would house arrest, which is probably his worst-case scenario, at Mar-a-Lago be?

    • [05-24] Is Biden gambling everything on an early-debate bounce? My read is that the June debate is meant to show Democrats that he can still mount a credible campaign against Trump. If he can -- and a bounce would be nice but not necessary -- it will go a long way to quelling pressure to drop out and open the convention. If he can't, then sure, he'll have gambled and lost, and pressure will build. But at least it will give him a reference point that he has some actual control over -- unlike the polls, which still seem to have a lot of trouble taking him seriously.

  • Joan Walsh: [05-20] Biden fared well as Morehouse. So you didn't hear about it. The upshot seems to have been that the administrators as well as the protesters were on best behavior, and that Biden (unlike some politicians in recent memory) didn't make matters worse.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Economic matters:

  • Luke Goldstein: [05-22] The raiding of Red Lobster: "The bankrupt casual restaurant chain didn't fail because of Endless Shrimp. Its problems date back to monopolist seafood conglomerates and a private equity play." Isn't this always the case? Cue link to:

  • John Herrmann: [05-24] How Microsoft plans to squeeze cash out of AI: "The same way it always has with most everything else -- by leveraging our PCs."

  • Michael Hudson: [05-24] Some myths regarding the genesis of enterprise. Author has a series of books on economic development in antiquity, most recently The Collapse of Antiquity, as well as the forthcoming The Destiny of Civilization: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism. Two pull quotes from the latter:

    The decline of the West is not necessary or historically inevitable. It is the result of choosing policies dictated by its rentier interests. . . . The threat posed to society by rentier interests is the great challenge of every nation today: whether its government can restrict the dynamics of finance capitalism and prevent an oligarchy from dominating the state and enriching itself by imposing austerity on labor and industry. So far, the West has not risen to this challenge.

    There are essentially two types of society: mixed economies with public checks and balances, and oligarchies that dismantle and privatize the state, taking over its monetary and credit system, the land and basic infrastructure to enrich themselves but choking the economy, not helping it grow.

Ukraine War and Russia:

  • Connor Echols: [05-24] Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine pushes for direct NATO involvement in war: "As Kyiv's battlefield position worsens, the West faces a dangerous choice." As I understand it, they're talking about providing trained NATO personnel to run defensive anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, which would counter the long-range bombing threat and stabilize the current stalemate. That doesn't sound like such a bad idea, as long as it is used to support a reasonable negotiation process. This war was always going to be resolved through negotiations, and has lasted so long only because both sides have unrealistic goals and are afraid of compromise. On the other hand, without a negotiation process, this would just be another hopeless escalation, threatening a wider and even more severe war.

  • Jonathan Chait: [05-23] Trump tells Putin to keep Wall Street Journal reporter hostage through election: "Putin 'will do that for me, but not for anyone else.'" As Chait notes, "by openly signaling to Putin that he does not want Gershkovich to be freed before the election, [Trump] is destroying whatever chances may exist to secure his release before then." As Robert Wright noted (op cit), Republican presidential candidates have a track record of back-channel diplomatic sabotage (Nixon in 1968, Reagan in 1980), but few have ever been so upfront and personal about it. One might even say "nonchalant": like his assertion that he alone could end the Ukraine war "in a day," this seems more like evidence of his own narcissism than political calculation. (Even if he were to placate Putin, Zelensky and his European fan base wouldn't fold immediately.) This got me looking for more pieces on Trump, Russia, and Ukraine:

    • Isaac Arnsdorf/Josh Dawsey/Michael Birnbaum: [04-07] Inside Donald Trump's secret, long-shot plan to end the war in Ukraine. For what it's worth, I think the land division is pretty much a given -- the notion that "to cede land would reward Putin" is just a rhetorical ploy to fight on endlessly, while the ruined, depopulated land is as much a burden as a reward -- but there is still much more that needs to be carefully negotiated, including refugee status, trade, sanctions, arms reduction, and future conflict resolution. I would like to see plebiscites to confirm the disposition of land, preferably 3-5 years down the line (well after refugees have returned or resettled; probably after Ukraine has joined the EU, allowing open migration there; allowing both sides to show what they can do to rebuild; but probably just confirming the present division -- as anything else would make both leaders look bad). Needless to say, Trump has no skills or vision to negotiate any such thing, as his "one day" boasts simply proves. Unfortunately, Biden hasn't shown any aptitude for negotiation, either.

    • Veronika Melkozerova: [04-18] Why Donald Trump 'hates Ukraine': "The once and possibly future president blames the country for his political woes."

    • Lynn Berry/Didi Tang/Jill Colvin/Ellen Knickmeyer: [05-09] Trump-affiliated group releases new national security book outlining possible second-term approach. The group calls itself the America First Policy Institute:

      The book blames Democratic President Joe Biden for the war and repeats Trump's claim that Putin never would have invaded if Trump had been in office. Its main argument in defense of that claim is that Putin saw Trump as strong and decisive. In fact, Trump cozied up to the Russian leader and was reluctant to challenge him.

      I wouldn't read too much into this. The group appears to be about 90% Blob, the rest just a waft of smoke to be blown up Trump's ass. Trump would probably approve of Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy motto ("speak softly but carry a big stick"), but like everything else, his own personal twist -- a mix of sweet talk and bluster -- is much more peurile, and unaffected by reason and understanding, or even interests beyond his personal and political finances. North Korea is the perfect example, with Trump's full, ungrounded range of emotions accomplishing nothing at all, which was the Blob position all along. Same, really, for Ukraine. Regardless of his rants and raves, when pressed Trump will tow the line, as in [04-18] Donald Trump says Ukraine's survival is important to US.

    • Jeet Heer: Will Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu bless Donald Trump with an October Surprise? "Unlike Joe Biden, the former president benefits from international turmoil."

  • Joshua Keating: [05-22] How worried should we be about Russia putting a nuke in space? About as worried as we should be if the US or any other country did it.

America's empire and the world: I changed the heading here, combining two previous sections (with major cutouts above for Israel and Ukraine), as it's often difficult to separate world news from America's imagininary empire and its actual machinations.

Other stories:

Daniel Falcone: [05-24] In Memoriam: H Bruce Franklin (1934-2024): Historian (1934-2024), see Wikipedia for an overview of his work and life, including political activism starting with opposition to the Vietnam War. His books started with one on Melville, with others on science fiction, prison, fish, and most of all, war. His most recent book, Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War (2018; paperback 2024), looks especially interesting, as much as memoir as history. This reprints an interview from 2018. I also found for following by Franklin (several adapted from Crash Course):

  • H Bruce Franklin: [As are the following uncredited pieces.] [2022-08-31] Why talk about loans? Let's quote some of this:

    Vice President Agnew (not yet indicted for his own criminal activities) was even more explicit. Speaking at an Iowa Republican fund-raising dinner in April 1970, Agnew argued that there was too high a percentage of Black students in college and condemned "the violence emanating from Black student militancy." Declaring that "College, at one time considered a privilege, is considered to be a right today," he singled out open admissions as one of the main ways "by which unqualified students are being swept into college on the wave of the new socialism."

    Later in 1970, Roger Freeman -- a key educational adviser to Nixon then working for the reelection of California Governor Ronald Reagan -- spelled out quite precisely what the conservative counterattack was aimed at preventing:

    We are in danger of producing an educated proletariat. That's dynamite! We have to be selective on who we allow to go through higher education. If not, we will have a large number of highly trained and unemployed people.

    The two most menacing institutional sources of the danger described by Freeman were obviously those two great public university systems charging no tuition: the University of California and the City University of New York. Governor Reagan was able to wipe out free tuition at the University of California in 1970, but that left CUNY to menace American society. The vital task of crippling CUNY was to go on for six more years, outlasting the Nixon administration and falling to his appointed successor, Gerald Ford.

  • [2022-01-19] Ready for another game of Russian roulette?

  • [2021-12-03] Ocean winds: Bringing us renewable fish with renewable energy. One of his many books was The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America (2007).

  • [2020-08-14] August 12-22, 1945: Washington starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan's surrender, "allied" troops (including British and French) entered and started their occupation.

  • [2020-08-06] How the Fascists won World War II.

  • [2019-09-20] How we launched our forever war in the Middle East: In July 1958 Eisenhower sent B-52s into Lebanon.

  • [2014-08-03] Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and American militarism: A review of Paul Ham: Hiroshima Nagasaki.

  • [2014-07-16] America's memory of the Vietnam War in the epoch of the forever war.

  • [2003-01-16] Our man in Saigon: A review of the film The Quiet American, based on the Graham Greene novel.

  • [2000] Vietnam: The antiwar movement we are supposed to forget.

  • [1991] The Vietnam War as American science fiction and fantasy.

  • [2022-09-01] H Bruce Franklin's most important books: Interview of Franklin with Doug Storm. When asked about "the Second World War as a good war," Franklin replied:

    No, unfortunately, we lost that war. We thought we were fighting against militarism, fascism, and imperialism. If so, we lost. We lost partly because of how we fought that war, using air attacks on civilian populations as a main strategy. This strategy climaxed with us exploding nuclear bombs on the civilian population of two Japanese cities. That is how we lost the good war.

Connor Freeman: [05-21] The passing of a Republican anti-war, anti-AIPAC fighter: "A veteran himself, Rep. Pete McCoskey railed against the Vietnam War, and continued to question US interventions until his death on May 8."

Sarah Jones:

Max Moran: [05-19] I don't think Jonathan Chait read the book on 'Solidarity' he reviewed: "The New York Magazine pundit spent 2,900 words criticizing a book with no resemblance to the one which prompted his piece." I previously wrote about the Chait piece here.

Virtually none of [Solidarity] is about how liberals need to pipe down and praise leftists more. I don't think intra-elite discursive norms come up at all, except in passing. As far as I can tell, Chait only got the idea that the book's "core tenet" is liberal-policing from one-half of one paragraph of a Washington Post feature about the book, in which Hunt-Hendrix mentions Chait and his contemporary Matt Yglesias as examples of public figures whom she hopes read the book's fourth chapter on conservatives' "divide-and-conquer strategy." That chapter mostly discusses organized right-wing efforts like the Southern Strategy, not the topic preferences of contemporary pundits.

This may come as a shock to Chait, but I don't think that Hunt-Hendrix or Taylor think about him -- or figures like him -- very much at all. Their book's actual argument is that individuals, and even groups of individuals cohered around a common identity, are not the protagonists of history. To Hunt-Hendrix and Taylor, it's only when dedicated groups of people stand up, sacrifice, and risk blood and teeth for other dedicated groups of people, who then return the favor, that society advances and complex problems can be solved. The point is mutual interdependence, in all its messiness and beauty. By contrast, Chait's singular focus on the nobility of liberals standing up to leftists not only has nothing to do with the book's argument, it's self-centered in a way directly opposed to the real thesis of Solidarity. Chait doesn't seem to realize this.

By the way, Jonathan Chait has a new piece that is even more at odds with reality and common sense: [05-28] Anti-Israel protesters want to elect Trump, who promises to crush protesters: "Why Rashida Tlaib is joining the one-state horseshoe alliance." I'm not up for debunking or even debugging this concoction, where even the facts that aren't wrong -- very clearly Trump would be even worse for peace than Biden; most likely if Tlaib "called for the voters to punish Joe Biden at the ballot box" she meant in Democratic primaries, not by voting for Trump, which would be self-punishment -- they are assembled in ways that are utterly disingenuous. I did try looking up "one-state horseshoe alliance," but all I found was a theory, which looks rather like an EKG of Chait's brain.

Anna North: [05-24] Birth control is good, actually.

Christian Paz: [05-24] 3 theories for America's anti-immigrant shift: "A recent poll suggests a reversal in a decades-long trend of the public warming to immigrants. What's causing the shift?" The theories are:

  1. It's the politicians
  2. It's the economy
  3. It's the "law-and-order" mindset

In other words, it's the politicians, who sometimes try to deflect attention to the other bullshit points. And it's only certain politicians, although they have relatively a free run, because it's an issue without a strong countervailing lobby. A lot of us aren't bothered by immigration, but wouldn't mind slowing it down, especially if that shut up the Republicans. Of course, nothing will, because the split is precisely the kind Republicans can exploit, and thereby put less committed Democrats on the defensive. Needless to add, but Republicans couldn't get away with this if the media wasn't helping them at every step.

Rick Perlstein: [05-22] Influencers against influencers: "The TikTok generation finds its voice."

Jeffrey St Clair:

Liz Theoharis/Shailly Gupta Barnes: [05-21] Don't grind the faces of the poor: "The moral response to homelessness."

Also, some writing on music:

Dan Weiss:

  • [05-20] What was it made for? The problem with Billie Eilish's Hit Me Hard and Soft: "She's overwrought and over you."

  • [05-26] Take my money, wreck my Sundays: The 30 best albums of 2024 so far (#30-21): First sign I've seen of "so far" season, with two sets of allegedly better albums coming later in the week: 3 here I haven't heard yet, 1 of those still unreleased; Lafandar (22) currently my number 1 non-jazz, but only 1 more album on my A-list (Maggie Rogers), and some well below (Still House Plants at B-), but 3 more on Christgau's A-list that I shortchanged (Rosie Tucker, Yard Act, Vampire Weekend). I hope the author here ("RIOTRIOT," aka Iris Demento, aka Dan Ex Machina, not to be confused with either of the same-named drummers) won't charge me with deadnaming again.

Phil Freeman posted this on Facebook:

Was interviewing an artist roughly my own age yesterday and at one point one of us said to the other, "If you think America is the most divided it's ever been right now, all that tells me is that you weren't alive in the Seventies, when you had all the chaos of the Sixties but none of the hope."

Several interesting comments followed, including:

  • Chuck Eddy: I was born in 1960, and I definitely can. I guess I'm mainly going with my gut here -- the '70s definitely didn't *feel* anywhere near as verging on Civil War to me as current times do. Could be that's just a byproduct of being much older now, combined with where I was then vs now, but I don't think so. (As for Reagan, I mainly associate him with the '80s, but then again I never lived in California. That terrorist acts seemed to largely come from the Left then rather than the Right might play into my gut feelings as well.)

  • James Keepnews: And yet, how quickly Nixon's support evaporated when it became clear he would be impeached, whereupon he resigned in advance of that happening (the House still voted to impeach him after he left office). Two impeachments in and some criminal convictions to come, and Trump's supporters are only more rabidly supportive of him, and at least poll as a majority of American voters -- that's extremely different from anything that occurred during the 60's/70's in the US.

  • Sean Sonderegger: Nixon was terrible but he also created the EPA. Reagan was much worse but doesn't really come close to Trump.

  • Jeff Tamarkin: I was in my 20s throughout most of the '70s and I despised Nixon, as most people my age did. I despised the right-wingers who voted for him and what they stood for. But never once did I think of Nixon as the leader of a gigantic cult or of his voters as cult members who would support him regardless of what he did or said. I never thought Nixon could destroy democracy and the United States itself, with the blind support of millions. Trump is the most dangerous president we've ever had and the greatest threat to our future. The way he's stuffed the Supreme Court with radical maniacs alone is threatening as hell as hell. I'll take a breath of relief the day he finally keels over from stuffing too many cheeseburgers down his orange face.

I finally wrote my own comment:

I don't remember the '70s as being devoid of hope. I thought we won most of the big issues -- if not all the elections, at least most of the hearts and minds. Nixon signed the EPA not because he wanted to but because he realized that fighting it was a losing proposition, and Nixon would do almost anything to not lose. The conservative movement that gained ground in the '80s was mostly clandestine in the '70s. The late '60s, on the other hand, felt more desperate. Of course, it was easier to be hopeful (or desperate) in your 20s than in your 70s. Objectively, Trump may be worse than his antecedents, but they're the ones that prepared the ground he thrives on -- such direct links as Roger Stone and Roy Cohn not only tie Trump to their history but to the very worst characteristics in that history. But those characters have always existed, and done as much harm as they were allowed to do. The nation has been perilously divided before -- you know about the 1850s, but divides were as sharp in the 1930s, 1890s, and 1790s as in the 1960-70s. You can make a case that the right is more ominous now then ever -- the secession of 1861 was more militarized, but was essentially defensive, while the right today seeks total domination everywhere -- but I can still counter with reasoned hope. The future isn't done yet.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 20, 2024

Speaking of Which

We've had company this weekend, a welcome distraction from the usual news-and-music grind. I predicted I wouldn't post this week, but went ahead and opened the draft file before our guest arrived, and wrote a fairly long comment on an especially deranged post by Greil Marcus, so that's the centerpiece of the section below that I call "Israel vs. world opinion" -- or, as I know it, owing to the keyword I use to search out this particular section, "@genocide." The expected shortfall of time led me to mostly just note article titles, and more often than usual to quote snippets.

Still, by Sunday evening, I figured I had enough I should go ahead and post what I have, noting that it's incomplete -- I've yet to make my usual rounds of a number of generally useful web sites -- and allowing that I might do a later update. However, by the time I got back to it Sunday night, I was too tired to wrap up the post. So this is basically Sunday's post on Monday, abbreviated, but there's still quite a bit here.

Initial count: 118 links, 7602 words. Updated count [05-21]: 155 links, 9283 words. Local tags: Greil Marcus; Aryeh Neier; on Trump (Slotkin quote); on music.

Top story threads:


America's Israel (and Israel's America):

  • Geoffrey Aronson: [05-16] There is no 'plan for Palestine' because Israel doesn't want one: "Washington is dealing on a completely different plane than Tel Aviv, which has never supported Arab sovereignty, period." He talks about the two obvious wars: the war on the ground (to destroy Gaza), and the one for world opinion (at least to keep US support lined up), but also a third, poorly defined, "war after the war." The plainest statement of the latter is a quote from Danny Ayalon: "If the PLO wants to quit, Israel will look for international or local forces to take charge of the PA, and if they can't find them and the PA collapses, that will not be the end of the world for Israel." You might be able to find more optimistic quotes -- fantastical pablum from Americans, disingenuous accord from Israelis try ing to humor the Americans -- but nothing to take seriously. Israel has never sanctioned any version of democratic self-rule for Palestinians, and it's going to take much more arm-twisting than Americans are capable of before they do. On the other hand, without political rights, Palestinian leadership will never be able to negotiate a viable, lasting deal with Israel. Which is, of course, exactly as Israel would have it, because they don't want any kind of deal. All they actually want is to grind Palestinians into dust.

  • Michael Arria: [05-15] Biden is sending Israel another $1 billion in weapons: "The move comes days after a State Department report that documents likely international humanitarian violations by Israel." I thought I read somewhere that this package would be for longer-term supplies, so doesn't violate the dictate against invading Rafah, but the details here suggest otherwise: "The package includes roughly $700 million for tank ammunition, $500 million for tactical vehicles, and $60 million in mortar rounds." That's exactly what they would be using in Rafah.

  • Mohamad Bazzi: [05-09] Will Biden finally stop enabling Netanyahu's extremist government?

  • Medea Benjamin/Nicholas JS Davies: [05-19] Forget Biden's "pause": Israel is destroying Gaza with a vast arsenal of US weapons.

  • Julian Borger: [05-17] Supplies arrive in Gaza via new pier but land routes essential, says US aid chief.

  • Eli Clifton: [05-16] Biden's Gaza policy risks re-election but pleases his wealthiest donors: "Courting rich pro-Israel supporters at the expense of a significant swath of voters may cost the president in November."

  • Dave DeCamp: [05-16] House passes bill that would force Biden to give paused bomb shipment to Israel. Also:

  • Connor Echols: [05-13] Only our enemies commit war crimes: "A half-based report highlights the double standard US officials use for Israel."

  • Melvin Goodman: [05-17] Friedman, Biden and US weapons sales to Israel. "Friedman" is NY Times columnist Thomas, who led the parade of Israeli mouthpieces denouncing Biden's "pause" of delivering some bombs to Israel. Interesting factoid here:

    Biden did not want to make a public announcement because he didn't want a public blowup. It was the Israelis who leaked the news in order to embarrass Biden and notify their U.S. supporters; this forced Biden to go public on CNN in order to stress that the United States would not be a part of any major military operation in Rafah. Friedman was either being disingenuous or didn't understand the background of Biden's comments.

  • Yousef Munayyer: Israel policy could cost Biden the White House -- and us democracy.

  • Mitchell Plitnick:

  • Jeffrey St Clair: [05-17] Follow the missiles.

    The US has long been Israel's largest arms merchant. For the last four years, the US has supplied Israel with 69% of its imported weapons, from F-35s to chemical munitions (white phosphorus), tank shells to precision bombs. Despite this, the Biden administration claims not to know how these weapons are put to use, even when they maim and kil American citizens.

    This piece includes a pretty detailed chronicle of the "war" from October 7 to the present.

  • Jason Willick: [05-20] If Biden thinks Israel's liberals are doves, he's dreaming: "Prominent progressive Yair Golan says Netanyahu is a 'coward' for not taking out Hamas earlier." I have very low regard for Willick, but don't doubt that he's tuned in here.

Israel vs. world opinion:

  • Nikki McCann Ramirez: [05-20] International criminal court seeks arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Hamas leaders: This just broke, so I'm pinning this one piece at the top of this section, but will stop there. Expect more next week. I will say that while Hamas leaders have much less reason to accept the legitimacy of the ICC or to expect a fair trial, it would be interesting to see them try to defend themselves in court, where I think they have a much more reasonable case than Israel's leader do. It would also set an example for Netanyahu and the Israeli leaders to follow -- one they will do anything to avoid following.

    One of the stranger immediate reactions was this tweet from Aaron David Miller:

    The ICC decision, especially if warrants are issued, has strengthened Netanyahu; lessened prospect of Biden's pressure on Israel; ensured Israel won't cooperate with the PA, validated Netanyahu's circle the wagons, and helped prolong war. A dangerous and destructive diversion.

    This is basically the same argument that says prosecutors shouldn't indict Trump because doing so will only make his followers even more upset. It shows no faith that the judicial process can work credibly. Miller was a State Department negotiator for Israel/Palestine from 1988-2003, accomplishing nothing permanent, before moving on to one of those comfy think tank posts where he continues to be trotted out as an "expert" on why Israel is always right and there's nothing you can do about it. Nathan J Robinson commented on Miller's tweet: "In fact, I notice that very few of the negative responses to the ICC deal with the actual evidence that Israel violated the laws of war." This is another example of the old lawyer line, "if you don't have the law and you don't have the facts, pound the table."

  • Zaina Arafat: [05-14] The view from Palestinian America: "In Kholood Eid's photographs of Missouri, taken six months into the war in Gaza, the quiet act of documenting life is a kind of protest against erasure."

  • Michael Arria: [05-17] Morehouse says it will shut down commencement if students protest Biden speech. Related here:

  • Robert Clines: [05-18] The 'ancient desire' to kill Jews is not Hamas's. It's the West's. Author is a historian who has written on this before; e.g., in A Jewish Jesuit in the Eastern Mediterranean: Early Modern Conversion, Mission, and the Construction of Identity.

  • Juan Cole: [05-17] South Africa v. Israel on Rafah genocide: Endgame in which Gaza is utterly destroyed for human habitation.

  • Zachary Foster: Hard to tell how much he has in his archive, but here's a sample:

  • Yuval Noah Harari: [05-13] Will Zionism survive the war? One of Israel's most famous intellectuals, author of the bestselling Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, followed up with some dabbling in futurology. I haven't really looked at his work, so I have no real idea much less critique of what he's all about. This, at least, is a thoughtful piece, wishing for a kinder, gentler Zionism, but ultimately warning of something even darker than the bigotry he attributes to Netanyahu:

    After 2,000 years, Jews from all over the world returned to Jerusalem, ostensibly to put into practice what they had learned. What great truth, then, did Jews discover in 2,000 years of study? Well, judging by the words and actions of Netanyahu and his allies, the Jews discovered what Vespasian, Titus and their legionnaires knew from the very beginning: They discovered the thirst for power, the joy of feeling superior and the dark pleasure of crushing weaker people under their feet. If that is indeed what Jews discovered, then what a waste of 2,000 years! Instead of asking for Yavneh, Ben Zakkai should have asked Vespasian and Titus to teach him what the Romans already knew.

    Harari's piece elicited some commentary:

    • Yoav Litvin: [05-16] Yuval Noah Harari's odyssey into a parallel Zionist universe: "Pseudo-intellectual idol to the masses, Yuval Noah Harari's imaginary Ziounism is so far-fetched he may as well be living on another planet."

    • Robert Booth: [2023-10-24] Yuval Noah Harari backs critique of leftist 'indifference' to Hamas atrocities: "Sapiens author among 90 signatories to statement of dismay at 'extreme moral insensitivity.'" This was typical of the insistence that excoriated anyone who mentioned Israel without starting with an explicit condemnation of Hamas -- which Israeli leaders took as approval for their genocidal war, even if the rest of the statement advised caution or reflection.

      He highlighted a letter signed by the actors Tilda Swinton and Steve Coogan and the director Mike Leigh calling for "an end to the unprecedented cruelty being inflicted on Gaza" without specifically condemning the Hamas assault, although it condemned "every act of violence against civilians and every infringement of international law whoever perpetrates them."

      "There is not a single word about the massacre [of 7 October]," Harari said.

      One of the few other signatories mentioned is David Grossman, who has a long history of instinctively rallying to Israel's war drums, only to later regret his fervor.

    • Yuval Noah Harari: [04-18] From Gaza to Iran, the Netanyahu government is endangering Israel's survival: "Israel is facing a historic defeat, the bitter fruit of yeras of disastrous policies. If the country now prioritizes vengeance over its own best interests, it will put itself and the entire region in grave danger."

  • William Hartung: [05-14] Democracy versus autocracy on America's campuses.

  • Ellen Ioanes:

  • Sarah Jones:

  • David Kattenburg: [05-16] South Africa returns to the ICJ to demand a stop to the Israeli genocide in Gaza: "South Africa returned to the ICJ to argue for an immediate halt to Israel's genocidal assault on Gaza warning that a full Rafah invasion is 'the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people.'"

  • Eric Levitz: [05-15] Make "free speech" a progressive rallying cry again: "Protecting radical dissent requires tolerating right-wing speech." Examples here involve anti-genocide protests and their backlash, specifically "how Israel hawks have coopted social justice activists' ideas about speech and harm."

  • Greil Marcus: [05-10] Ask Greil: May 10, 2024: As someone long and rather too intimately familiar with his political views, I'll start by saying that he's the last person on earth I wanted to hear spout off on Hamas and Israel. I'll also note that what he wrote here is almost exactly what I expected him to write, not that I don't have difficulty believing that any intelligent, knowledgeable, and generally decent person could actually believe such things. But I was struck by how eloquent his writing was, and by how clearly he focused on the single idea that keeps him from being able to see anything else:

    The Hamas massacres removed the cover of politeness and silence and disapproval that has if never completely to a strong degree kept the hatred and loathing of Jews that is an indelible and functional part of Western civilization, a legacy of Western civilization, covered up. Now the cover is off, and we are seeing just how many people hate Jews, have always hated Jews, and have waited all their lives for a chance to say so.

    We should be clear here that the people he's accusing of having "always hated Jews" aren't Palestinians or Arabs, but Americans, few of whom have ever shown any prejudice against Jews, but whose sense of equanimity has brought them to demonstrate against six months of relentless war Israel has waged against the people it previously corralled into the tiny Gaza Strip. What Marcus has to say about that war is wrong in fact and even worse in innuendo, but such rote reiteration of Israeli propaganda points doesn't help to explain why Israelis have acted as they have.

    For example, Marcus writes: "Every death of a person in Gaza is a win for Hamas." So why does Israel keep giving Hamas wins? Arguably, it's because Israel wants to make and keep Hamas as the voice of Palestinian resistance, because they want an opponent they will never have to negotiate with, one that they can kill at will, excusing all the collateral damage that ensues. The only way that makes any sense is if you assume that all Palestinians are Hamas, or will be Hamas, because their true souls are bound up in thousands of years of hatred for Jews, which would drive them to join Hamas (or some other Judeocide cult) sooner or later, even if they were unable to point to specific offenses of the Israeli state. Of course, there is very little evidence that any of this is true, let alone that the IDF is the only force preventing this paranoid worst-case logic from playing out.

    But Marcus doesn't really care about any of those details. He only cares about one thing, which is the idea, evidently locked in by childhood trauma -- his story of getting his hand stabbed with a pencil, and the coincidence of something similar having happened to his father also as a child -- that the only thing protecting him, his family, and the Jewish people he exclusively identifies with -- from genocide is the existence of a tiny but mighty Jewish State thousands of miles away from where he actually lives (and has lived without further incident for seventy-some years now). He may think he cares about others, but the moment any of them -- even fellow Jews who do respect and care for non-Jews -- dares to criticize or even doubt Israel, they are dead to him.

    It should be noted that Marcus is not uncritical of Netanyahu -- unlike, say, the leaders of AIPAC and ADL, who can be counted on to do the bidding of whoever Israel's Prime Minister is, as their real concern is political, ensuring that the US is the submissive partner -- but he buys the party line on Hamas, Palestinians, and Iran completely, and he has not the slightest doubt of Israel's war strategy, whatever they say it may be. And since the party line says that any doubt or criticism of Israel is antisemitic, and since all antisemitism is aimed at the annihilation of all Jews, any such deviation must be treated as a matter of life-and-death.

    I hate reducing political choices to psychology, but his trauma story makes that much clear. Marcus is hardly alone in surrendering judgment to trauma, but not everyone who supports Israel in such a blinkered fashion has that excuse. Christian Zionists seem to be really into the Armageddon story, which Israel advances but does not turn out well for Jews. They overlap with two more explicit groups of Israel boosters: kneejerk militarists (like Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton), who have been especially vocal in support of genocide, and MAGA-fascists, who love the idea of mob violence against Palestinians. None of those groups have the slightest concern about antisemitism, other than perhaps relief that their pro-Israel stances seems to point the charges elsewhere.

    While it's possible that some American Jews are as misanthropic as the pro-Zionist groups I just mentioned -- the Kahanist movement, for one, actually started in America -- most Jews in America are liberal and/or leftist, both to protect their own freedom and to enjoy the social benefits of a diverse and equitable society. And they are common and visible enough within liberal and/or leftist circles that nearly everyone else of their persuasion has close, personal ties with Jews, and as such have come to share their historic concerns about antisemitism.

    But we've also opposed the denial of civil rights in the US and in the apartheid period of South Africa, so we've been greatly troubled by evidence of similar discrimination in Israel. Current demonstrations recognize that Israel's leaders have crossed a line from systematic discrimination and denial to massive destruction and starvation, a level of violence that fits the legal definition of genocide. Those demonstrating include people who have long been critical of Israel -- the expulsion of refugees and Israel's refusal to allow them to return to their homes dates from 1948. Given how long a movement against Israel's occupation and caste system has been growing, it is only natural that the first to come out against genocide are those who have long opposed that system -- many people who are fond of Palestinian flags, but also explicitly Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace.

    But the demonstrations also welcome people who have long sympathized with Israel but who are deeply disturbed by the recent turn of events. I would not be surprised to see people who identify as exclusively with Israel as Marcus does come out to demonstrate against genocide, the rise of mob violence in the West Bank, the underlying apartheid regime, the increasingly extremist right-wing settler movement, and the militarist security establishment that have taken hold in Israel, and attempt to direct whatever influence America has toward steering Israel back onto a path that can eventually lead to a just and lasting peace. Because if anything has become clear over the last six months, it's that the current leadership clique in Israel is driving the nation's reputation to ruin. And their constant equation of antizionism and antisemitism is damaging the reputation of Jews worldwide. So even if the latter is all you care about, it behooves you to press Israel to ceasefire and to start making amends. There is no way they can kill their way out of the pickle they've gotten themselves into.

    One more point, and it's an important one. While I doubt that the sort of trauma that Marcus claims is common among American Jews, it is much more common among Israelis. Partly this is because they are more likely to have experience terror attacks (direct or, much more often, through others they emphasize with), but also because Israel's political powers have deliberately orchestrated a culture of fear and dread. (For example, see Idith Zertal's 2005 book, Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood. Tom Segev's The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust is also useful here, as is Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. Americans, especially Jews and their liberal/left sympathizers, are not immune to this effect. There is a Holocaust Museum in Washington not because Americans have any particular insight into the history but as a tool for keeping us in line.)

    I've been following these psychological currents for a long time. They're a big part of the reason why I believe the current war will eventually take a huge psychic toll on the people who were stampeded into supporting it, much like WWII did to Germany and Japan (albeit with no prospect of Americans and Russians settling the score). My view here was largely informed by Tom Segev's 1967, which showed quite clearly an extraordinary division within Israel, between an elite that was supremely confident in their ability to destroy the united Arab armed forces, and a people who were driven to abject terror by the widely advertised prospect of doom (a return of the Holocaust). The sudden victory produced tremendous uplift in both camps: the elites became even more arrogant, achieving levels of hubris unmatched since the heights of Axis expansion (US neocons, marching into Baghdad while dreaming of Tehran and Pyongyang, had similar fantasies, but never even realized their Israel envy); while the masses succumbed to the right-wing drift of fear and fury as their leaders repeatedly flailed and double down on force as the only solution.

    By the way, Marcus also strongly endorsed the following truly hideous piece:

    • Bret Stephens: [05-07] A thank-you note to the campus protesters. What he's thankful for is that demonstrators have done things that people like him could characterize as the work of "modern-day Nazis," although his conviction is such that he hardly needs facts to spin tales any which way he wants. So his "thank you" is really just a literary device, all the better to fuck you with.

  • Emad Moussa: [05-07] Israel is a broken society. And it's not just Bibi to blame: "Israel's allies are snubbing Netanyahu to cloak their complicity in genocide."

  • Timothy McLaughlin:

  • Aryeh Neier: Is Israel committing genocide? A founder of Human Right Watch, who (as he explains at great length), has always been very cautious about using the word genocide, and whose group has always been very scrupulous about citing Hamas crimes as balancing off Israel's more extensive human rights abuses, finally has to admit that what Israel is doing in Gaza does in fact constitute genocide. This is worth quoting at some length:

    In late December, when South Africa brought to the ICJ its accusation that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza, I did not join some of my colleagues in the international human rights movement in their support of the charge. . . . I thought then, and continue to believe, that Israel had a right to retaliate against Hamas for the murderous rampage it carried out on October 7. I also thought that Israel's retaliation could include an attempt to incapacitate Hamas so that it could not launch such an attack again. To recognize this right to retaliate is not to mitigate Israel's culpability for the indiscriminate use of tactics and weapons that have caused disproportionate harm to civilians, but I believe that Hamas shares responsibility for many of Israel's war crimes. . . . And yet, even believing this, I am now persuaded that Israel is engaged in genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. What has changed my mind is its sustained policy of obstructing the movement of humanitarian assistance into the territory.

    As early as October 9 top Israeli officials declared that they intended to block the delivery of food, water, and electricity, which is essential for purifying water and cooking. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant's words have become infamous: "I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly." The statement conveyed the view that has seemed to guide Israel's approach throughout the conflict: that Gazans are collectively complicit for Hamas's crimes on October 7.

    Since then Israel has restricted the number of vehicles allowed to enter Gaza, reduced the number of entry points, and conducted time-consuming and onerous inspections; destroyed farms and greenhouses; limited the delivery of fuel needed for the transport of food and water within the enclave; killed more than two hundred Palestinian aid workers, many of them employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the principal aid provider in the blockaded territory before October 7; and persuaded many donors, including the United States, to stop funding UNRWA by claiming that a dozen of the agency's 13,000 employees in Gaza were involved in the October 7 attack or have other connections to Hamas.

    I started using the word genocide much earlier, because it was clear to me from the very beginning of the October 7 that Israel was primed and intent on committing genocide, and that the only thing that might stop them would be world opinion and their own (mostly callused) consciences. Indeed, within 24 hours, many prominent Israeli figures, and more than a few American ones, were talking unambiguously about genocide. So perhaps I figured raising the charge was one of the few things reasonable people of good and fair will could do to elicit that conscience. Even now, that the charge has been amply documented, the one obvious thing that Israel can still do to start to clear its name is to cease fire, to stop the incursions, to permit aid to enter Gaza, and to allow for a future political system there that does not involve any form of Israeli control.

    I have no problem with condemning the Hamas attacks on October 7, or for that matter much of what Hamas has done over the last thirty-plus years, on moral and/or political grounds, but I don't see much urgency or import in doing so. I've thought a lot about morality and politics this year, and reluctantly come to conclude that one can only condemn people who had options. I started with thinking of Brecht's line, "food first, morals later." What better options did Hamas (or any Palestinians) have? Nothing that seemed to be working.

    Israel, on the other hand, has had lots of options. They liked to chide Palestinians for "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace," but just when were those opportunities? And if they were opportunities, why did Israel withdraw them? It's long been clear to me that Israel is the one that wants to keep the conflict going forever.

  • Jonathan Ofir: [05-18] Unpacking the Israeli campaign to deny the Gaza genocide: "A recent media flurry over the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza amounts to nothing more than genocide denial. This campaign to discredit the Gaza health ministry is simply a strategy to allow the Gaza genocide to continue." One note here:

    Israel knows fully well that there is a difference between a body count and full identification. It took it many weeks to identify the bodies of the dead after the Hamas-led October 7 attack, and in mid-November, Israel actually reduced its rough estimate of 1,400 to around 1,200, and later to 1,139. The reduction of roughly 200 bodies from the count was due to hundreds of bodies being burned beyond recognition -- where 200 were then said to have been Palestinians and not Israelis, as earlier assumed. This was undoubtedly due to Israel's own indiscriminate bombing on October 7, also killing an unknown number of its own citizens.

    Counting bodies, whether they are burned beyond recognition or not, is a much more straightforward task than actually identifying them, and with Israel's methods of heavy bombing of civilians, the latter can become an enormously complex task. Gaza has been undergoing genocide since October 7, while Israel has since counted and identified its dead under relatively peaceful circumstances. Israelis may say that they have been at war since then, but the war on Gaza has had little bearing on the functioning of Israeli forensics teams. Gazans have to count their dead under fire constant fire, with Gaza's health system all but decimated, not to mention with thousands still under the rubble.

    That Israel should simply exclude any count of Palestinian dead is itself telling. It is still not clear how many of the Israeli dead on Oct. 7 were actually killed by Israeli "friendly fire."

  • Ilan Pappé: [05-21] I was detained at a US airport and asked about Israel and Gaza for 2 hours. Why? Israeli historian, based in UK, has written a bunch of important books on Palestinian history and Israeli politics, the best known The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006)

    , followed by The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories. Also notable are shorter primers: The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge (2014); (2017); Ten Myths About Israel (2017; a new edition is scheduled for 17 September 2024).
  • Rick Perlstein: [05-15] Can we all get along? "A Q&A with Eman Abdelhadi, a Palestinian University of Chicago professor, about encampments, dialogue, and mutual respect."

  • Vijay Prashad: [05-17] A semester of discontent: The students who camped for Palestine.

  • Philip Weiss: [05-19] Weekly Briefing: Biden is risking reelection over Gaza to please donors, the mainstream media reports.

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

Trump, and other Republicans: I'm reading Richard Slotkin's A Great Disorder: National Myth and the Battle for America, which covers the whole sweep of American history, but mostly as a prelude to current political disorders, what at least one writer below has started calling the Trumpocene. Here's a sample that nails a key point, then drives it home with examples (pp. 297-299):

Narcissism is an enduring pattern of behavior marked by obsessive concentration on the self, an excessive demand for admiration, and a lack of compassion or empathy. When a narcissist's need for approbation is not met, he or she will typically feel deeply aggrieved, even persecuted. Narcissists then seek power so they can control those around them, including family and colleagues. But no degree of domination ever completelysatisfies their need, so the power drive becomes authoritarian and (in the absence of empathy) verges on the sociopathic.

Trump exhibits all of these traits. His Twitter feeds and speeches are rife with variations on "only I can fix it": "I am the only one who can Make America Great Again. . . . Nobody else can do it." "Nobody will protect our Nation like Donald J. Trump." "5000 ISIS fighters have infiltrated Europe. . . . I TOLD YOU SO! I alone can fix this problem!" "I am hoping to save Social Security without any cuts. I know where to get the money from. Nobody else does." His followers read that self-assurance as a mark of authenticity -- he truly believes even the most extravagant claims he makes about himself. . . .

The effectiveness of Trump's speaking style owes a good deal to his narcissism. In press interviews, rally speeches, and Twitter rants, he follows no logic but his own free associations. In 2019 Trump was asked about his failure to get funding for his "beautiful" border wall, and the separation of parents and children crossing the border. He begins with a statement contrary to fact (implying he has actually built his wall), tosses a word salad, and ends with a "definition" that reads like a joke: "Now until I got the wall built, I got Mexico because we're not allowed, very simply, to have loopholes and they're called loopholes for a reason, because they're loopholes." His speeches are full of banalities endlessly repeated -- how great he is, how he'll increase jobs or destroy North Korea "like you've never seen before," he's going to fix it, fake news, Crooked Hillary -- but his followers respond with enthusiasm.

Let's start, again, with his porn star hush money trial.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Harold Meyerson: [05-14] Swing voters prefer Democrats. Just not Joe Biden.

  • Ramesh Ponnuru: [05-14] Democrats could sweep the 2024 elections -- and make major policy changes. Need I note that this column is by a right-winger, hoping to panic Republicans into rallying behind Trump. The giveaway is "make major policy changes." I can imagine Democrats sweeping the 2024 elections, but doing anything significant with their win is the tough one. In any imaginable scenario, there will still be enough Democrats tightly bound to lobbyists and their interests, blocking any real reform, much as Manchin and Sinema did with recent Democratic Senate "majorities."

  • Stephen Prager: Democrats, contempt will not win you the election: Photos here of Hillary Clinton and John Fetterman.

  • Andrew Prokop: [05-15] Biden's surprise proposal to debate Trump early, explained.

  • Bernie Sanders: [05-15] We're in a pivotal moment in American history. We cannot retreat: "Clearly, our job is not just to re-elect Biden." This is basically a stump speech, but a remarkably decent and sensible one. It reminds me of the opportunity mainstream Democrats forsook when they got scared and abandoned Sanders for Biden in 2020.

    • Ed Kilgore: [05-17] Bernie Sanders makes incredibly gloomy case for reelecting Biden. Well, that's the case Biden has left himself with, and there's little point pretending otherwise. There are many little things that Biden could have done better, but his foreign policy mistakes are glaring, starting with his disinterest in defusing conflicts with unfriendly states like Iran and North Korea, his provocations of China and Russia, his unwillingness to negotiate peace in Ukraine, and especially his utter failure to mitigate Israel's genocidal mania, those are the sort of mistakes with grave consequences that can ruin him. You can't just pretend this isn't happening.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Other stories:

Reza Aslan: [04-15] Religiosity isn't done changing our world: An interview with the author ("one of the foremost scholars of religion in America") about "Jesus the revolutionary, Palestine, and the continued growth of religion in the world."

Fabiola Cineas: [05-15] Why school segregation is getting worse.

Alec Israeli: [05-19] Slavery, capitalism, and the politics of abolition. A review of Robin Blackburn: The Reckoning: From the Second Slavery to Abolition, 1776-1888. This is "the capstone volume to Blackburn's decades-long project chronicling the rise and fall of slavery in the Americas," following The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848 and The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800, as well as related studies like The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln.

John McPhee: [05-13] Tabula rasa: The fourth article in a series (links in article) on writing. Starts with a discussion of Wordle, which is not one of his more inspired subjects, but informs you that he likes to start with "ocean" but has tried less likely words that I must admit never occurred to me.

Katya Schwenk: [05-18] The law may be coming for Boeing's fraud: "At the end of the Trump administration, Boeing cut a sweetheart deal to avoid prosecution for deceiving regulators about a faulty flight system that caused crashes. New allegations of greed and negligence may finally bring the company to justice."

Julia Serano: [04-23] The Cass Review, WPATH files, and the perpetual debate over gender-affirming care. Noted, not that I have anything meaningful to say on the subject. Pull quote: "Gender-affirming care is the only thing that has positively helped trans youth thus far, and abandoning it now isn't a passive or neutral solution -- it's an active and conscious decision to subject these children to antiquated social and medical interventions that have already been scientifically shown to be ineffective if not downright harmful."

Jennifer Szalai: [05-08] Can a 50-year-old idea save democracy? A review of Daniel Chandler: Free and Equal: A Manifesto for a Just Society, which "makes a vigorous case for adopting the liberal political framework laid out by John Rawls in the 1970s."

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [05-13] Class consciousness for billionaires: "We used to think the rich had a social function. What are they good for now?" We did? I remember reading a biography of Jay Gould when I was quite young, and it pretty much permanently disabused me of the notion that rich people contributed anything of value to society, and left me with even more contempt for the people who inherited their money (and, in this case, frittered it away to nothing very quickly). Review of Guido Alfani: As Gods Among Men: A History of the Rich in the West. By the way, the publisher page led me to another book, more promising I thought, so I looked for a review:

Also, some writing on music:

Richard Brody: [05-14] New releases make old jazz young again: on Alice Coltrane, The Carnegie Hall Concert; Sonny Rollins, Freedom Weaver: The 1959 European Tour Recordings; Art Tatum, Jewels in the Treasure Box: The 1953 Chicago Blue Note Jazz Club Recordings; and Charles McPherson, Reverence (actually a new recording, though the saxophonist is 83).

Robert Christgau: [05-15] Consumer Guiide: May, 2024.

Christian Iszchak: [05-17] An acute case: 17 May 2024.

Brad Luen: [05-19] Semipop Life: Moving past years.

Amanda Petrusich: [05-17] The anxious love songs of Billie Eilish.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 13, 2024

Speaking of Which

Started this mid-week, but spent most of two days working on that stupid DownBeat Jazz Critics Poll, so I'm picking it up again Saturday afternoon.

Late Sunday evening I pretty much completed my rounds, but still wanted to circle back and write something about Jonathan Chait and "punching left," so figured that could wait for Monday. That'll probably push Music Week back another day, but in times like these, who care about that? (With a normal cutoff, rated count would have been +52.)

One thing I did manage to do was to spend some time reviewing, ostensibly to catch accumulated formatting errors, but the exercise let me write some section intros and identify some places where I should seek out more reports. I'm always in such a rush to get this over and done with that I rarely consider how much better it could be with a little editing.

I wound up spending much of Monday on the long Chait comment. That lead to a couple other section, but no time for a significant review. On to Music Week tomorrow. Perhaps there will be a few minor updates here as well, but don't expect much next week.

Initial count: 228 links, 11661 words. Updated count [03-15]: 238 links, 12105 words.

Top story threads:


Israel and America: The relationship got rockier as Israel rejected a cease-fire/hostage deal Biden was banking on, and insisted on going through with their ground operations in Rafah, where many refuges from elsewhere in Gaza had fled. Biden, in turn, held back certain arms shipments, leading Israel to turn up domestic pressure on American politicians.

Israel vs. world opinion: Includes reports on US campus protests/encampments, sometimes met with police violence as Israel would rather suppress dissent than to face criticism.

Antisemitism: Looks like we have enough this week to break this out separately, especially the notion that any criticism of Israel, even for crimes against humanity as grave as genocide, should be rejected as promoting anti-semitism. So says a bill passed a week ago by the House, a view that Biden embraced in his big Holocaust Museum speech.

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Other stories:

Alex Abad-Santos: [05-08] Eurovision is supposed to be fun and silly. This year is different. "Eurovision doesn't want to be about Israel-Palestine, but amid protests and boycotts, it might not have a choice."

Sam Adler-Bell: [05-06] Between victory and defeat: "How can the left escape burnout?" Review of Hannah Proctor: Burnout: The Emotional Experience of Political Defeat.

Perry Bacon Jr/Kate Cohen/Shadi Hamid: [05-09] Are politics replacing religion in American life? "And what is gained and lost as our country stops going to churches, synagogues and mosques?"

Claire Biddles: [05-10] Steve Albini believed in a democratic music industry: Albini (1962-2024), who was best known as an engineer and rock producer, died last week. Here's a discogrpaphy.

  • Amanda Petrusich: [05-11] The beautiful rawness of Steve Albini.

  • Steve Albini: [1993-12] The problem with music: "Imagine a trench filled with decaying shit." An old article, belatedly pointed out to me. Very technical on how the business works, or worked then. No real idea how much it has changed. Well, the technology is probably better/cheaper, but the economics are unlikely to be any less brutal. Self-releasing and -promoting is one path increasingly taken.

Jonathan Chait: [05-10] In defense of punching left: The problem with 'Solidarity': Less a review of than a polemic against the recent book by Leah Hunt-Hendrix & Astra Taylor: Solidarity: The Past, Present, and Future of a World-Changing Idea. I bought the book, and will get to it in due course, but I hardly needed them to caution me against "punching left" or especially to point out that Chait is a prime example of a liberal pundit who seems to show much more passion and take much more delight in not merely criticizing but flat-out attacking the left than he ever shows when he reacts to the right. He's far from alone in this regard, and he's nowhere near the worst, but I've had to call him on it numerous times of late. It happens often enough I could probably collect the cases and turn them into a full essay like the Anti-Dühring.

I don't have the appetite to attempt that here, but can't help but leave a few scattered notes. First thing to point out is that here, at least, he is careful to present well-organized and respectable arguments. He is very clear on what he believes. Even where I disagree, I find no reason to doubt his sincerity or integrity. I do have some doubts about his characterization of the book and of the left in general. I haven't read this one, but I've read most of Taylor's books, and have rarely found fault in them, and often been impressed by her brilliance. As for the rest of the left, there is a wide range of reasonable opinion, especially as you move away from the core principle, which is that we favor equality and mutual aid, and oppose hierarchy and forced order.

A personal aside may be in order here. My politics firmed up in the late 1960s when, largely driven by opposition to the Vietnam War, I discovered the New Left -- which had no truck with the old left, but still embraced core left principles, and came equipped with a sophisticated critique of capitalism, its liberal ideology, its conservative detritus, and its fascist activists. Within the New Left, I was relatively sympathetic to anarcho-libertarians (probably because I had absorbed some of the hyper-individualism and anti-statism that ran deep in the American West) but I also had a keen sense of the value of unions and solidarity (my father was in the union, although he was not very heroic about it). I've been pretty consistent in those views for more than fifty years, but I've evolved in several respects. The most relevant here is that I've become more tolerant of well-intentioned liberals -- except when they go to work for the war party (as Chait did in endorsing the Bush war in Iraq).

One suspicious thing Chait writes here is this:

One important distinction between the two tendencies is that liberals tend to understand policy as a search for truth and politics as a struggle to bring a majority around to their position, while leftists understand politics as a conflict to mobilize the political willpower to implement the objective interests of the oppressed.

Leaving the first clause aside for the moment, the second is equally true of conservatives if you replace "oppressed" with "rich and powerful." It's less clear what the replacement would be for liberals, but it's probably something more self-interested than "truth." Historically, liberals fought against aristocracy by appealing to universal benefits as rights -- probably what Chait meant by "truth" back there -- but as they gained power, they started to find they had more common bonds with the owners, who tempted them to turn on the workers. This habit of "punching left" emerged as early as the revolutions of 1848, where workers supported liberal challenges to aristocracy and autocracy, only to be betrayed.

The left is no less concerned with truth than liberals think they are, but we do have cause to be wary of people who spout high-minded rhetoric but don't deliver results beyond their own elite aspirations. We don't deplore "punching left" because we're thin-skinned and unwilling to debate reason, but because we see it as a signal to the right that liberals are happy to serve the right by marginalizing and controlling the left.

And please note here that under "punching left" I'm not talking about airing out differences over tactics -- the ever-roiling debates over when to compromise on what and with whom -- or even over principles. I'm talking about cases where liberals like Chait deliberately distort arguments to support right-wing programs and to impugn the integrity and principles (and sometimes even sanity) of the left. For example, Chait writes:

An additional problem is that each activist issue-group can itself be pulled left quickly by its most committed members. (The stakes for staying on good terms with the left on Israel have quickly escalated from opposing the occupation to opposing Israel's existence in any form to, increasingly, refusing to condemn the murder of Israeli civilians). The dynamic is magnified when every component of the left is expected to endorse the demands of every other.

The parenthetical is essential here, as a cascading series of ridiculous assertions backed by nothing more than the escalating torrent of rhetoric. As someone, typically of people on the left, opposed to war, I certainly condemn the murder of Israeli citizens; likewise, I have no problem whatsoever with an Israel that provides equal rights to everyone who lives there (or for that matter who has a reasonable claim to return there); and my one complaint on the occupation is that it deprives people of those equal rights -- one might imagine a counterfactual where occupation of the West Bank might have afforded Palestinians more equitable rights than they enjoyed under the Jordanian monarchy, but that is not what Israel did ever since the 1967 war.

The before and after sentences are simply Chait's way of complaining that extreme-leftists use "solidarity" as a means of ever-radicalizing thought control, driving them away from the "truth" and "enlightenment" of his pristine liberalism. That he refuses to be bullied like that is, well, respectable, but that he thinks that's what is happening is paranoid and more than a little vile. Maybe the old CP had that kind of disciplined followers, but today's left is as scattered and unorganizable as Will Rogers' Democrats. I take it that the point of Solidarity (the book) is to try to convince people that a little effort at coherence would be of practical value, but I find it impossible to believe that veterans of Occupy Wall Street open democracy meetings -- David Graeber wrote about them in The Democracy Project -- can fancy themselves as the new bolsheviks. (The only "new bolsheviks" are whoever's crafting right-wing talking points these days -- it used to be Grover Norquist's weekly roundtable -- which are then picked up and dutifully repeated by Fox News, politicians, social media, and whoever else is on the party line.)

PS: Even before I finished the above, Chait attacked again: [05-13] No, your pet issue is not making Biden lose: "It's inflation, not Israel or class warfare." Chait and Ed Kilgore (see his article above) are like tag-team wrestlers, jumping in one after another with their assertions that hardly anyone really cares about genocide in Gaza, so, like, nothing to look at here, just "the desire of a tiny number of left-wing activists to leverage the issue," and that "siding with the unpopular protesters would not address the source of Biden's unpopularity." (Bill Scher is another one, over at Washington Monthly.)

The question of why Biden is so unpopular is complicated and, as far as I can tell, poorly understood by anyone (myself included). But I can tell you two things of which I am fairly certain.

One is that even being proximate to a disaster leaves you with an odor that is hard to shake, and there is no way to spin any possible outcome of Israel/Gaza as anything but a disaster. Everyone involved looks bad, some for what they did, some for what they didn't do, some for just witnessing, the rest for ignoring the obvious. Israel has set impossible goals for itself, and even if they could achieve those goals, they wouldn't solve their problem, which is ultimately that they've turned their whole country, and everyone associated with them, into a colossal embarrassment. It's going to take decades, and that means decades of new people, to recover. Biden will never erase this stain from his reputation. All he can do now is to change course, and start to make amends.

The other thing is that, unlike inflation or class warfare, Israel is something he can actually do something about. Israel cannot afford to continue this war, at this level, without American support, and Biden can stop that. Netanyahu has a very weak hold on power, and Biden can nudge him down and out. Israel's leadership may be evil, but they're not stupid. They can see there's no way out of this. They're just playing on borrowed time, because no one has stepped in to put an end to this insanely horrible war. But Biden can do that. And the real problem with Chait, Kilgore, et al., is that they're trying to give Biden cover, allowing him to waste time and dig himself an ever deeper grave. This has turned into the world's deadliest "Emperor's New Clothes" parable. If you can't see that, all I can do is pity you.

And while writing these last paragraphs, this tweet came in:

  • David Klion: Speaking for myself at least, I am not happy about this. I do not want Trump to be president again, and I do believe he would be worse in all respects including on Palestine. That's why I've been sounding the alarm about Biden's indefensible approach to Palestine for 7 months.

Steve Chawkins/Hailey Branson-Potts: [05-08] Pete McCloskey, antiwar candidate who took on Nixon, dies at 96. I remember when he was first elected to the House, and quickly established himself as one of the Republicans' firmest opponents of the Vietnam War.

Bryce Covert: [04-09] The toxic culture at Tesla: "The factory floors at America's top seller of electric vehicles are rife with racial harassment, sexual abuse, and injuries on the job."

Thomas B Edsall: [05-08] The happiness gap between left and right isn't closing: "Why is it that a substantial body of social science research finds that conservatives are happier than liberals?" This isn't a new discovery (or should I say conceit, as it's invariably advanced by conservatives?): the article here links back to a 2012 piece by Arthur C Brooks: Why conservatives are happier than liberals, and more recently to Ross Douthat: [04-06] Can the left be happy?. (Liberals and leftists may well concede the point as individuals but point to studies of whole societies, which always show that more people are happier in more equitable societies.) Steve M asks the key question on the Edsall piece: If right-wingers are happy, why are they so angry?

Edsall devotes most of his lengthy column to the question of whether liberals are miserable because they think the world treats certain groups poorly. He seems to agree that that's the case.

He points out that conservatives also have problems with the world as it is. However, they don't turn sad -- they just get angry: [examples]

So research suggests that they're angrier than liberals, but they're also happier than liberals. Edsall seems to accept the notion it's possible to stew in anger while feeling quite happy.

So, why not? Don't people get some kind of adrenalin rush out of fighting? Even I got some kind of charge as the anti-genocide demonstrations turned more confrontational. And while I perhaps should be worried about the repression, it mostly just makes me want to fight back. It's not that I don't understand the dialectics of violence and non-violence well enough, but one does get sick and tired of being lectured that "when they go low, we go high." That doesn't seem fair.

Right-wingers seem to be able to escape the inhibitions of reason and taste, and just indulge their passions. They've found a way to take pleasure in other people's pain. We're not like that. We can anticipate, and rue, consequences of our actions. We see problems before they're widely acknowledged, and sure, that makes us sad -- especially given the blissful ignorance of those who fancy themselves as conservatives (or, back when I was growing up, as establishment liberals) -- but it also makes us determined, and that requires us to temper the anger that comes with recognizing injustice. But humans are wired to pursue happiness, so sometimes we do that too. And when that does happen, forgive us. We mean well, and would do better if only we weren't so often confronted with happy-angry mobs who hate us and most everyone else.

Abdallah Fayyad: [05-06] America's prison system is turning into a de facto nursing home: "Why are more and more older people spending their dying years behind bars?"

Jacqui Germain: [05-13] Student debt stories: High interest, debt strikes, generational debt, and more.

Constance Grady: [05-07] Why the Met Gala still matters: "Turns out the first Monday in May is the perfect value for celebrity image-making." I generally like Vox's "explainers," not least because they offer a suitably balanced hook upon which to hang more specific articles. But whatever degree of wry amusement this hideous event may have held for me in the past, that moment has long passed.< By the way:/p>

Aljean Harmetz: [05-12] Roger Corman, 98, dies; prolific master of low-budget cinema.

John Herrman: [05-05] Google is staring down its first serious threats in years. Subheds: A monopoly at risk; The AI search dilemma; Search is a nightmare now.

Harold Meyerson: [05-06] Who created the Israel-Palestine conflict? "It wasn't really Jews or Palestinians. It was the US Congress, which closed American borders 100 years ago this month." Blaming the Johnson-Reed Act of 1924 is kind of a cheap shot, but bear with him. Before 1914, 85% of Jewish emigres moved to the US, vs. 3% to Palestine. After 1924, the number of Jewish immigrants to the US fell, as the bill designed, to a trickle.

Nicole Narea: [05-12] America's misunderstood border crisis, in 8 charts: "For all the attention on the border, the root causes of migration and the most promising solutions to the US's broken immigration system are often overlooked."

By the way, this is just a stray thought that occurred to me and seemed worth jotting down -- although I can't begin to do it justice here. The US immigration system covers two distinct cases, and their mix does much to confuse the issue. On the one hand, we have immigrants seeking opportunities (mostly economic), coming from stable and even wealthy nations as well as more troubled ones (from which the advantages may seem more obvious). On the other, we have refugees seeking asylum. In theory, the latter could be just as happy somewhere (anywhere?) else. As one of the charts here shows, applications for asylum have trended up since 2014 (except for a 2020-21 Covid dip, but sharply thereafter), so they're a bit part of why immigration (especially "the border") has become a hot blowback issue.

If we actually had, or wanted, some kind of "rules-based international order," a pretty simple way of dealing with the global refugee problem would be to implement a "pay-or-play" scheme, where rich countries could pay poorer countries -- presumably that's the way it would actually work -- to provide sanctuary as needed. Refugees would have rights, including an option of applying for legal immigration to any country willing to consider them. The expense would provide some motivation to negotiate terms for returning refugees, and for curtailing the wars and discriminatory processes that generate most refugees, as well as economic and climate impacts. If we do nothing to better manage migration, the latter will almost certainly make the current crisis even worse.

I'm not a big fan of "pay-or-play" schemes, but they're relatively flexible, easy to implement, minimally intrusive. It could partly be funded by imposing taxes on trade and/or currency of countries producing refugees, which would give them incentive to treat their people better and stop driving them away. This would also be a start toward a much needed system of capital transfers from rich to poor countries, and could provide a framework for equalizing labor markets -- the EU has been a pioneer in both -- but wouldn't require buy in from the start.

I should also mention that I've long been pushing the idea of a "right to exile," which would provide a safety valve for people in countries that are prone to mistreating their people. That would allow anyone who is being incarcerated or punished to appeal to go into exile, provided there is another country willing to accept that person. Again, many details need to be hashed out, and universal agreement will be take some work -- e.g., such a right would almost certainly empty Guantanamo; the US regularly complains about people it thinks are being detained unjustifiably, but also practices what it preaches against.

Nathan J Robinson:

Kenny Torrella:

Dan Weiss: [05-06] The definitive guide to hating Drake: "Enjoy the rap battle of the century, because we've never seen anything like this before." I don't doubt that he's right, but I've never ran across a rap feud I couldn't ignore before, and it saddens me should prove the exception. I am minimally aware that many critics dislike Drake (with at least some sinking into hate). I've heard most of his records, though his early ones sounded promising, his later ones not so much, but I've never heard reason to rail against him. Part of that may be because I'm pretty oblivious to popular success, and barely cognizant of celebrity gossip press -- I gather he's had quite a bit of both.

Colin Woodard: [04-06] Disordering our national myths: "The Founders, the Pioneers, the Movement, the Lost Cause -- the more driving myths one identifies, the more our true national character is obscured." Review of Richard Slotkin: A Great Disorder: National Myth and the Battle for America.

I'm midway through this book, and thus far I'm very impressed and pleased with what I've read on subjects I've read a lot on recently (as well as long ago). As for the reviewer's complaints, I'll have to withhold judgment, but for now I'm very skeptical of the notion that there is any such thing as "our true national character": these states may be united, but never without dissent, and many countercurrents run deep, mythologized or not. But intuitively, trying to understand current politics through its mythic dimensions makes a lot of sense to me.

PS: Reading further, I see that Woodard's unhappiness derives in large part from his own competing theory, which he lays out in his own book Union: The Struggle to Forge the Story of United States Nationhood, where his "different paradigm" reduces the story to "a struggle between two national myths," so between uplifting faith in liberal democracy and the dead weight of slavery, racism, and authoritarianism. (Here's a review by David W Blight.) Slotkin's "disorder" is due to his attempt to trace more mythic threads, and show how they're used by later politicians (Trump, of course, but also Obama) like a readymade toolkit.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Speaking of Which

Opened draft file on Thursday. First thing I thought I'd note was some weather stats here in Wichita, KS. High Wednesday was 89°F, which was 17° above "normal" but still 2° below the record high (from 1959; wild temperature swings from year to year are common here). Should be cooler on Thursday, but above average for the rest of the forecast.

Year-to-date precipitation is 5.48 in (well below 7.50 normal; average annual is 34.31, with May and June accounting for 10.10, so almost a third of that; last year was 3.29 at this point, finishing at 30.8). Year totals seem to vary widely: from 2010, the low was 25.0 (2012), the high 50.6 (2016), where the median is closer to 30 than to 35.

Growing degree days currently stands at 435, which is way up from "normal" of 190. That's a pretty good measure of how warm spring has been here. As I recall, last year was way up too, but the summer didn't get real hot until August. The global warming scenario predicts hotter and dryer. I figure every year we dodge that, we just got lucky. The more significant effect so far is that winters have gotten reliably milder (although we still seem to have at least one real cold snap), and that we're less likely to have tornados (which seem to have moved east and maybe south -- Oklahoma still gets quite a few).

I started to write up some thoughts about global warming, but got sidetracked on nuclear war: my initial stimulus was George Marshall's 2014 book, Don't Even Think About It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change, but when I groped for a title, all I came up with was Herman Kahn's "Thinking About the Unthinkable," so I did. I got eight pretty decent paragraphs in, without finding a way to approach my point.

The next thing I thought I'd do was construct a list of the books I had read on climate change, going over how each contributed to the evolution of my thought. But that proved harder than expected, and worse still, I found my thinking changing yet again. So I took a break. I went out back and planted some pole beans. My parents were displaced farmers, so they always kept a garden, and I remember their Kentucky Wonders as much better than any grocery store green beans. So I've had the model idea forever, but never acted on it before. No real idea what I'm doing, but when it's 89° on May 1, I'm certainly not planting too early.

I should have felt like I accomplished something, but I came back in feeling tired, frustrated, and depressed. I decided to give up on the global warming piece, and spent most of the rest of the day with the jigsaw puzzle and TV. Hearing that Congress passed a law banning criticism of Israel as antisemitic added to my gloom, as I contemplated having to take my blog down, as I can't imagine anything as trivial as publishing my thoughts being worth going to jail over.

But for the moment, I guess I can still publish the one new thought I did have about global warming, or more specifically about how people think about global warming. I've always meant to have a section on it in the political book -- it would be one of 5-8 topics I would examine as real problems. I'm constantly juggling the list, but it usually starts with technological change, which is the principal driver of change independent of politics, then on to macroeconomics, inequality, market failures (health care, education, monopolies), externalities (waste byproducts, not just climate change), something about justice issues (fraud, crime, freedom), and war (of course).

The purpose of the book isn't to solve all the world's problems. It's simply to help people think about one very limited problem, which is how to vote in a system where Democrats alone are held responsible for policy failures, and therefore need to deliver positive results. (Republicans seem to be exempt because they believe that government can only increase harm, whereas Democrats claim that government can and should do things to help people. Earlier parts of the book should explain this and other asymmetries between the parties.)

Anyhow, my new insight, which Marshall's book provides considerable support for without fully arriving at, is that climate change is not just a "wicked issue" (Marshall's term) but one that is impossible to campaign on. That's largely because the "hair suit" solutions are so broadly unappealing, but also because they are so inadequate it's hard to see how they can make any real difference. Rather, what Democrats have to run on is realism, care, respect, and trust.

Which, as should be obvious by now, is the exact opposite of what Republicans think and say and do. Showing that Republicans are acting in bad faith should be easy. What's difficult is offering alternatives that are effective but that don't generate resistance that makes their advocacy counterproductive -- especially given that the people who know and care most about this issue are the ones most into moralizing and doomsaying, while other Democrats are so locked into being pro-business that they'll fall for any promising business plan.

Obviously, there is a lot more to say on this subject -- probably much more than I can squeeze into a single chapter, let alone hint at here.

PS: Well after I wrote the above, but before posting Sunday evening, I find this: 40 million at risk of severe storms, "intense" tornadoes possible Monday. The red bullseye is just southwest of here, which is the direction tornadoes almost invariably come from. I'm not much worried about a tornado right here, but it's pretty certain there will be some somewhere, and that we'll get hit by a storm front with some serious wind and hail.

I'm also seeing this in the latest news feed: Wide gaps put Israel-Hamas hostage deal talks at risk of collapse, which is no big surprise since Netanyahu is making a deal as difficult as possible. Little doubt that he still rues that Israel didn't kill all the hostages before Hamas could sweep them away, as they've never been the slightest concern for him, despite the agitation of the families and media.

I saw a meme that a Facebook friend posted: "If you object to occupying buildings as a form of protest, it's because you disagree with the substance of the protest." He added the comment: "No, you don't have some rock-solid principle that setting up tents on grass is unacceptably disruptive to academic life. You just want people to continue giving money to Israel." I added this comment:

Not necessarily, but it does suggest that you do not appreciate the urgency and enormity of the problem, or that university administrators, who have a small but real power to add their voices to the calls for ceasefire, have resisted or at least ignored all less-disruptive efforts to impress on them the importance of opposing genocide and apartheid. This has, in its current red-hot phase, been going on for six months, during which many of us have been protesting as gently and respectfully as possible, as the situation has only grown ever more dire.

I was surprised to see the following response from the "friend":

Wait, what? It sounds like we're on the same side of this one. My post just points out that people critiquing the protest methods don't actually care about that and just oppose the actual goals of the protests.

To which I, well, had to add:

Sounds like we do, which shouldn't have come as a surprise had you read any of the thousands of words I've written on this in every weekly Speaking of Which I've posted since Oct. 7, on top of much more volume going back to my first blogging in 2001. I've never thought of myself as an activist, but I took part in antiwar protests in the 1960s and later, and have long been sympathetic to the dissents and protests of people struggling against injustice, even ones that run astray of the law -- going back to the Boston Tea Party, and sometimes even sympathizing with activists whose tactics I can't quite approve of, like John Brown (a distant relative, I've heard). While it would be nice to think of law as a system to ensure justice, it has often been a tool for oppression. Israel, for instance, adopted the whole of British colonial law so they could continue to use it to control Palestinians, while cloaking themselves in its supposed legitimacy (something that few other former British colonies, including the US, recognized). Now their lobbyists and cronies, as well as our homegrown authoritarians, are demanding that Americans suppress dissent as Israel has done since the intifada (or really since the first collective punishment raids into Gaza and the West Bank in 1951). Hopefully, Americans will retain a sufficient sense of decency to resist those demands. A first step would be to accept that the protesters are right, then forgive them for being right first. I'm always amused by the designation of leftist Americans in the 1930s as "premature antifascists." We should celebrate them, as we now celebrate revolutionary patriots, abolitionists, and suffragists, for showing us the way.

In another Facebook post, I see the quote: "Professional, external actors are involved in these protests and demonstrations. These individuals are not university students, and they are working to escalate the situation." This is NYPD commissioner Edward Caban, and is accurate as long as we understand he is describing the police. The posts pairs this quote with one from Gov. Jim Rhodes in 1970: "These people move from one campus to the other, and terrorize a community. They're the worst type of people that we harbor in America. These people causing the trouble are not all students of Kent State University." As I recall, the ones with guns, shooting people, were Ohio National Guard, sent into action by Gov. Rhodes.

More on Twitter:

  • Tony Karon: Israel's ban of Al Jazeera is 2nd time I've been part of a media organization banned by an apartheid regime. (1st was SA '88) I'm so proud of that! It's a sign of panic by those regimes at the their crimes being exposed, a whiff of the rot at the heart of their systems . . .

  • Jodi Jacobson: [Replying to a tweet that quotes Netanyahu: "if we don't protect ourselves, no one will . . . we cannot trust the promises of gentiles."] For the 1,000th time: Netanyahu Does. Not. Care. About. The. Hostages.
    He never did. They said so at the outset.
    He wants to continue this genocide and continue the war because without it, he will be out on his ass, and (hopefully) tried for war crimes.

  • Joshua Landis: Blinken and Romney explain that Congress's banning of TikTok was spurred by the desire to protect #Israel from the horrifying Gaza photos reaching America's youth that has been "changing the narrative."
    [Reply to a tweet with video and quote: "Why has the PR been so awful? . . . typically the Israelis are good at PR -- what's happened here, how have they and we been so ineffective at communicating the realities and our POV? . . . some wonder why there was such overwhelming support for us to shut down potentially TikTok."]

  • Nathan J Robinson: [Also reacting to the same Romney quote}: In this conversation, Romney also expresses puzzlement that people are directing calls for a cease-fire toward Israel rather than Hamas. He says people don't realize Hamas is rejecting deals. In fact, it's because people know full well that Israel refuses to agree to end the war.

    There's an incredibly unpersuasive effort to portray Hamas as "rejecting a ceasefire." When you read the actual articles, inevitably they say Hamas is rejecting deals that wouldn't end the war, and Israel refuses to budge on its determination to continue the war and destroy Hamas

    What Romney is really wondering, then, is how come Americans aren't stupid enough to swallow government propaganda. He thinks the public is supposed to believe whatever they're told to believe and is mystified that they are aware of reality.

  • Jarad Yates Sexton: [Reposted by Robinson, citing same Romney/Blinken confab]: This is an absolutely incredible, must-watch, all-timer of a clip.
    The Secretary of State admits social media has made it almost impossible to hide atrocities and a sitting senator agrees by saying outloud that was a factor in leveraging the power of the state against TikTok.

  • Yanis Varoufakis: Israel's banning of Al Jazeera is one aspect of its War On Truth. It aims at preventing Israelis from knowing that what goes on in Gaza, in their name, which is no self defence but an all out massacre. An industrial strength pogrom. Genocide. The West's determination to aid & abet Israel is a clear and present danger to freedoms and rights in our own communities. We need to rise up to defend them. In Israel, in our countries, everywhere!

    [PS: Varoufakis also pinned this tweet promoting his recent book, Technofeudalism, with a 17:20 video.]

Initial count: 192 links, 11,072 words. Updated count [05-06]: 208 links, 12,085 words.

Top story threads:

Israel: Before last October 7, a date hardly in need of identification here, I often had a section of links on Israel, usually after Ukraine/Russia and before the World catchall. Perhaps not every week, but most had several stories on Israel that seemed noteworthy, and the case is rather unique: intimately related to American foreign policy, but independent, and in many ways the dog wagging the American tail.

Oct. 7 pushed the section to the top of the list, where it has not only remained but metastasized. When South Africa filed its genocide charges, that produced a flurry of articles that needed their own section. It was clear by then that Israel is waging a worldwide propaganda war, mostly aimed at keeping the US in line, and that there was a major disconnect between what was happening in Gaza/Israel and what was being said in the UN, US, and Europe, so I started putting the latter stories into a section I called Israel vs. World Opinion (at first, it was probably just Genocide -- Robert Wright notes in a piece linked below that he is still reluctant to use the word, but I adopted it almost immediately, possibly because I had seriously considered the question twenty-or-so years ago, and while I had rejected it then, I had some idea of what changes might meet the definition).

I then added a section on America and the Middle East, which dealt with Israel's other "fronts" -- Iran and what were alleged to be Iranian proxies -- in what seemed to be an attempt to lure the US into broader military action in the Middle East, the ultimate goal of which might be a Persian Gulf war between the US and Iran, which would be great cover for Israel's primary objective, which is to kill or expel Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. (Israel's enmity with Iran has always had much more to do with manipulating American foreign policy than with their own direct concerns -- Trita Parsi's book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States explained this quite adequately in 2007. The only development since then is that the Saudis have joined the game of using America's Iran-phobia for leverage on America.) As threats there waxed and waned, I wound up renaming the section America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire, adding more stories on military misdeeds from elsewhere that would previously have fallen under Ukraine or World.

Now campus demonstrations have their own section, a spin-off but more properly a subset of genocide/world opinion. Needless to say, it's hard for me to keep these bins straight, especially when we have writers dropping one piece here, another there. So expect pieces to be scattered, especially where I've tried to keep together multiple pieces by the same author.

Also note that TomDispatch just dusted off a piece from 2010: Noam Chomsky: Eyeless in Gaza.

Anti-genocide demonstrations: in the US (and elsewhere), and how Israel's cronies and flaks are reacting:

Israel vs. world opinion:

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

  • Stan Cox: [04-28] Eco-collapse hasn't happened yet, but you can see it coming: "Degrowth is the only sane survival plan." Author of a couple books: The Green New Deal and Beyond: Ending the Climate Emergency While We Still Can (2020, pictured, foreword by Noam Chomsky), and The Path to a Livable Future: A New Politics to Fight Climate Change, Racism, and the Next Pandemic (2021). I'm sympathetic to degrowth arguments, but liberals/progressives have long taken as axiomatic that the only path to equality is through focusing on growth, so the mental shift required is massive. Still, as Cox points out, there is a lot of thinking on degrowth. I'll also add isn't necessarily a conscious decision: every disaster is a dose of degrowth, and there are going to be plenty of those. What we need is a cultural shift that looks to rebuild smarter (smaller, less wasteful, more robust). Growth has been the political tonic for quite a while now, it's always produced discontents, which we can and should learn from.

  • Jan Dutkiewicz: [05-02] How rioting farmers unraveled Europe's ambitious climate plan: "Road-clogging, manure-dumping farmers reveal the paradox at the heart of EU agriculture."

  • Umair Irfan: [05-01] How La Niña will shape heat and hurricanes this year: "The current El Niño is among the strongest humans have ever experienced," leading to its counterpart, which while generally less hot can generate even more Atlantic hurricanes. To recap, 2023 experienced record-high ocean temperatures, and an above-average number of hurricanes, but fewer impacts, as most of the storms steered well out into the Atlantic. The one storm that did rise up in the Gulf of Mexico was Idalia, which actually started in the Pacific, crossed Central America, reorganized, then developed rapidly into a Category 4 storm before landing north of Tampa. The oceans are even hotter this year.

  • Mike Soraghan: [05-05] 'Everything's on fire': Inside the nation's failure to safeguard toxic pipelines.

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Other stories:

Michelle Alexander: [03-08] Only revolutionary love can save us now: "Martin Luther King Jr.'s 1967 speech condemning the Vietnam War offers a powerful moral compass as we face the challenges of out time."

Maria Farrell/Robin Berjon: [04-16] We need to rewild the internet: "The internet has become an extractive and fragile monoculture. But we can revitalize it using lessons learned by ecologists." Further discussion:

Steven Hahn: [05-04] The deep, tangled roots of American illiberalism: An introduction or synopsis of the author's new book, Illiberal America: A History. (I noted the book in my latest Book Roundup, and thought it important enough to order a copy, but haven't gotten to it yet.) Alfred Soto wrote about the book here and here (Soto also mentions Manisha Sinha: The Rise and Fall of the Second American Republic: Reconstruction, 1860-1920, and Tom Schaller/Paul Waldman: Whire Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy). Also see:

John Herrman: [05-05] Google is staring down its first serious threats in years: "The search giant now faces three simultaneous challenges: government regulators, real competition, and itself."

Sean Illing: [04-28] Everything's a cult now: Interview with Derek Thompson "on what the end of monoculture could mean for American democracy." This strikes me as a pretty lousy definition:

I think of a cult as a nascent movement outside the mainstream that often criticizes the mainstream and organizes itself around the idea that the mainstream is bad or broken in some way. So I suppose when I think about a cult, I'm not just thinking about a small movement with a lot of people who believe something fiercely. I'm also interested in the modern idea of cults being oriented against the mainstream. They form as a criticism of what the people in that cult understand to be the mainstream.

Given that "cult" starts as a term with implied approbation, this view amounts to nostalgia for conformism and deprecation of dissent, which was the dominant ("mainstream") view back during the 1950s, when most Americans were subject to a mass culture ("monoculture," like a single-crop farm field, as opposed to he diversity of nature). Thompson goes on to castigate cults as "extreme" and "radical" before he hits on a point that finally gets somewhere: they "tend to have really high social costs to belonging to them."

I'd try to define cults as more like: a distinct social group that follows a closed, self-referential system of thought, which may or may not be instantiated in a charismatic leader. One might differentiate between cults based on ideas or leaders, but they work much the same way -- cults based on leaders are easier, as they require less thinking, but even cults based on ideas are usually represented by proxy-leaders, like priests.

By my definition, most religions start out as cults, although over time they may turn into more tolerant communities. Marxism, on the other hand, is not a cult, because it offers a system of thought that is open, critical, and anti-authoritarian, although some ideas associated with it may be developed as cults (like "dictatorship of the proletariat"), and all leaders should be suspect (Lenin, Stalin, and Mao providing obvious examples). Nor is liberalism fertile ground for cults, nor should conservatism be, except for the latter's Führersprinzip complex.

Since the 1950s mass monoculture has fragmented into thousands of niche interests that may be as obscure as cults but are rarely as rigid and self-isolating, and even then are rarely threats to democracy. The latter should be recognized as such, and opposed on principles that directly address the threats. But as for the conformism nostalgia, I'd say "good riddance." One may still wish for the slightly more egalitarian and community-minded feelings of that era, but not at the price of such thought control.

Whizy Kim: [05-03] Boeing's problems were as bad as you thought: I've posted this before, but it's been updated to reflect the death of a second whistleblower.

  • Annika Merrilees/Jacob Barker: [05-05] Why Boeing had to buy back a Missouri supplier it sold off in 2001: So, Spirit wasn't the only deal where Boeing outsmarted themselves? "Meanwhile, President Joe Biden's administration is pushing an $18 billion deal with Israel for up to 50 F-15EX fighter jets, one of the largest arms deals with the country in years." (And guess who's paying Israel to pay Boeing to clean up one of their messes?)

Rick Perlstein: [05-01] A republic, if we can keep it.

Nathan J Robinson: Catching up with his articles and interviews, plus some extra from his Current Events:

  • [04-09] Gated knowledge is making research harder than it needs to be: "Tracking down facts requires navigating a labyrinth of paywalls and broken links." Tell me about it. Specific examples come from Robinson writing an afterword to a forthcoming Noam Chomsky book, The Myth of American Idealism: How U.S. Foreign Policy Endangers the World. He also cites an earlier article of his own: [2020-08-02] The truth is paywalled but the lies are free: "The political economy of bullshit." Actually, lots of lies are paywalled too. Few clichés are more readily disprove than "you get what you pay for."

  • [04-11] Can philosophy be justified in a time of crisis? "It is morally acceptable to be apolitical? Is there something wrong with the pursuit of 'knowledge for knowledge's sake'?" Talks about Bertrand Russell and Noam Chomsky, as distinguished academics who in their later years -- which given their longevity turned out to be most of their lives -- increasingly devoted themselves to antiwar work, and to Aaron Bushnell, who took the same question so seriously he didn't live long at all.

  • [04-16] What everyone should know about the 'security dilemma':

    The security dilemma makes aspects of the Cold War look absurd and tragic in retrospect. From the historical record, we know that after World War II, the Soviet Union did not intend to attack the United States, and the United States did not intend to attack the Soviet Union. But both ended up pointing thousands of nuclear weapons at each other, on hair-trigger alert, and coming terrifyingly close to outright civilization-ending armageddon, because each perceived the other as a threat.

    Some people still think that deterrence was what kept the Cold War cold, but it wasn't fear that prevented war. It was not wanting war in the first place, a default setting that was if anything sorely tried by threat and fear. If either country actually wants war, deterrence is more likely to provoke and enable.

  • [04-18] The victories of the 20th century feminist movement are under constant threat: Interview with Josie Cox, author of Women Money Power: The Rise and Fall of Economic Equality.

  • [04-19] Palestine protests are a test of whether this is a free country.

  • [04-23] You don't have to publish every point of view: "It's indefensible for the New York Times to publish an argument against women's basic human rights." Which is what they did when they published an op-ed by Mike Pence.

  • [04-26] We live in the age of "vulture capitalism": Interview with Grace Blakely, author of Vulture Capitalism: Corporate Crimes, Backdoor Bailouts, and the Death of Freedom. Evidently Boeing figures significantly in the book.

  • [05-02] The Nicholas Kristof theory of social change: "The New York Times columnist encourages protesters to stop atrocities by, uh, studying abroad." This is pretty scathing, admitting that Kristof seems to recognize that what's happening in Gaza is horrific, but with no clue of how it got this way or how to stop it. Robinson writes:

    Actually, I'm giving him too much credit here by suggesting he actually has a theory of change. For the most part, he doesn't even offer a theory for how his proposed actions are supposed to make a difference in policy, even as he patronizingly chides protesters for their ineffectiveness. He doesn't even try to formulate a hypothetical link between studying abroad in the West Bank and the end of Israel's occupation, even as he says university divestment from Israel will do nothing. (He seems to demonstrate no appreciation of how a plan to try to isolate Israel economically resembles the strategy of boycotts and sanctions against South Africa, which was important in the struggle against that regime's apartheid. But divestment from Israel will only, he warns, "mean lower returns for endowments.") He pretends to offer them more pragmatic and effective avenues, while in fact offering them absolutely nothing of any use. (The words "pragmatism" and "realism" are often used in American politics to mean "changing nothing.")

    Also worth reiterating this:

    In fact, far from being un-pragmatic, the student Gaza protesters have a pretty good theory of power. If you can disrupt university activity, the university administration will have an interest in negotiating with you to get you to stop. (Brown University administrators did, although I suspect they actually got the protesters to accept a meaningless concession.) If you can trigger repressive responses that show the public clearly who the fascists are, you can arouse public sympathy for your cause. (The civil rights movement, by getting the Southern sheriffs to bring out hoses and dogs, exposed the hideous nature of the Jim Crow state and in doing so won public sympathy.) It's also the case that if protesters can make it politically difficult for Joe Biden to continue his pro-genocide policies without losing support in an election year, he may have to modify those policies. Politicians respond to pressure far more than appeals to principle. . . .

    The protesters are doing a noble and moral thing by demonstrating solidarity with Gaza and putting themselves at risk. Because Israel is currently threatening to invade the Gazan city of Rafah, where well over a million Palestinians are sheltering, it's crucially important that protesters keep up the pressure on the U.S. government to stop Israel from carrying out its plans. Given the Palestinian lives at stake, I would argue that one of the most virtuous things anyone, especially in the United States, can do right now is engage in civil disobedience in support of the Gaza solidarity movement. And correspondingly, I would argue that one of the worst things one can do right now is to do what Nicholas Kristof is doing, which is to undermine that movement by lying about it and trying to convince people that the activists are foolish and misguided.

  • [05-03] The ban on "lab-grown" meat is both reprehensible and stupid: I must have skipped over previous reports on the bill that DeSantis signed in a fit of performative culture warring, and only mention it here thanks to Robinson, even though I dislike his article, disagree with his assertion that "factory farming is a moral atrocity," and generally deplore the politically moralized veganism he seems to subscribe to. (Should-be unnecessary disclaimer here: I don't care that he thinks that, but think it's bad politics to try to impose those ideas on others, even if just by shaming -- and I'm not totally against shaming, but would prefer to reserve it for cases that really matter, like people who support genocide.) But sure, the law is "both reprehensible and stupid." [PS: Steve M has a post on John Fetterman (D-PA) endorsing the DeSantis stunt. I've noticed, but paid little heed to, a lot of criticism directed at Fetterman recently. This also notes Tulsi Gabbard's new book. I'm not so bothered by her abandoning the Democratic Party, but getting her book published by Regnery crosses a red line. Steve M also has a post on Marco Rubio's VP prospects. I've always been very skeptical that Trump would pick a woman, as most of the media handicappers would have him do, nor do I see him opting for Tim Scott. I don't see Rubio either, but no need to go into that.]

  • Alex Skopic/Lily Sánchez/Nathan J Robinson: [04-24] The bourgeois morality of 'The Ethicist': "The New York Times advice column, where snitching liberal busybodies come to seek absolution, is more than a mere annoyance. In limiting our ethical considerations to tricky personal situations and dilemmas, it directs our thinking away from the larger structural injustices of our time." I'm sure there's a serious point in here somewhere, but it's pretty obvious how much fun the authors had making fun of everyone involved here.

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-03] Roaming Charges: Tin cops and Biden coming . . . "As America's liberal elites declare open warfare on their own kids, it's easy to see why they've shown no empathy at all for the murdered, maimed and orphaned children of Gaza. Back-of-the-head shots to 8-year-olds seem like a legitimate thing to protest in about the most vociferous way possible . . . But, as Dylan once sang, maybe I'm too sensitive or else I'm getting soft." I personally have a more nuanced view of Biden, but I'm not going to go crosswise and let myself get distracted when people who are basically right in their hearts let their rhetoric get a bit out of hand.

After citing Biden's tweet -- "Destroying property is not a peaceful protest. It is against the law. Vandalism, trespassing, breaking windows, shutting down campuses, forcing the cancellation of classes and graduations, none of this is a peaceful protest." -- he quotes from Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter From a Birmingham Jail.":

I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Council-er or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says "I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I can't agree with your methods of direct action;" who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man's freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a "more convenient season."

I think it's safe to say that no protester wants to break the law, to be arrested, to go to jail, to sacrifice their lives for others. What protesters do want is to be heard, to have their points taken seriously, for the authorities to take corrective action. Protest implies faith and hope that the system may still reform and redeem itself. Otherwise, you're just risking martyrdom, and the chance that the system will turn even more vindictive (as Israel's has shown to a near-absolute degree). We all struggle with the variables in this equation, but the one we have least control over is what the powers choose to do. As such, whether protests are legal or deemed not, whether they turn destructive, whether they involve violence, is almost exclusively the choice of the governing party. And in that choice, they show us their true nature.

Some more samples:

  • Columbia University has an endowment of $13.6 billion and still charges students $60-70,000 a year to attend what has become an academic panopticon and debt trap, where every political statement is monitored, every threat to the ever-swelling endowment punished.

  • Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich: "We must obliterate Rafah, Deir al-Balah, and Nuseirat. The memory of the Amalekites must be erased. No partial destruction will suffice; only absolute and complete devastation." While chastizing college students for calling their campaign an "intifada," Biden is shipping Israel the weapons to carry out Smotrich's putsch into Rafah . . .

  • The pro-Israel fanatics who attacked UCLA students Tuesday night with clubs and bottle rockets, as campus security cowered inside a building like deputies of the Ulvade police force, shouted out it's time for a "Second Nakba!" Don't wait for Biden or CNN to condemn this eliminationist rhetoric and violence.

  • In the last 10 years, the number of people shot in road rage incidents quadrupled. Two of the three cities with the highest [number] of incidents are in Texas, Houston and San Antonio.

This week's books:

Michael Tatum: [05-04] Books read (and not read): Looks like more fiction this time.

David Zipper: [04-28] The reckless policies that helped fill our streets with ridiculously large cars: "Dangerous, polluting SUVs and pickups took over America. Lawmakers are partly to blame."

Li Zhou: [05-01] Marijuana could be classified as a lower-risk drug. Here's what that means.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Speaking of Which

I started working on this around Wednesday, April 17, anticipating another long and arduous week. But I thought I'd be able to get in a Book Roundup before posting, so I numbered my draft files accordingly. When that didn't happen (which was like the second or third week in a row), I decided to hold back Speaking of Which and Music Week until I posted the Book Roundup. That turned out to be Thursday, April 25. This draft has picked up a few new pieces along the way, but I'm only getting back to it in earnest on April 26.

I thought then I might try to wrap it up in a day, but was soon overwhelmed by all the new material I had missed. So now it's slipped to Sunday, making this a two-week compilation, but at least putting me back on the usual schedule. Another thought I had on resuming was that I should write an introduction to summarize my main points. Probably too late to do anything like that this week, but over the last couple days, I've expanded on many of these pieces where the articles seemed to call for it. So I'll leave it to you to fish out the essential summaries.

I decided to push this out Sunday evening, even though I didn't quite manage to hit all the sources I wanted. Perhaps I'll catch some misses on Monday, while I'm working on the also delayed Music Week. They'll be flagged, as usual, like this paragraph. (Note that my initial counts are about double typical weeks, which makes this easily the longest Speaking of Which ever. So while I've been slow posting, I haven't been slacking off.)

A few noted tweets:

  • Tanisha Long: Nothing radicalizes a generation of debt burdened young people like sending 26 billion dollars to fund a genocidal terror state.
    [To which, The Debt Collective added]: Telling generations of young people that there isn't enough money for free college or free healthcare and then spending billions to commit the gravest assault on Gaza really does elicit a very particular type of rage.

  • Robert Wright: [Reacting to headline: Democrats Upbeat After Sudden Wins on Ukraine and Auto Worker] This is naive. The only way the Ukraine funding becomes a political asset for Biden is if there's a peace deal before November. Otherwise Trump has him right where he wants him: spending tax dollars on an endless war.

  • Tony Karon: [Commenting on a Jewish Voice for Peace tweet] Shkoyach! It's actually anti-Semitic to conflate Jews with Israel - all my adult life I've been an anti-Zionist Jew, because I want no part of an apartheid state whose existence is based on sustained racist violence on the people it displaced and subordinated.

    Some who've been raised to put a blue-and-white calf above Jewish values now dread Israel being recognized as a genocidal apartheid state. They're not unsafe, they're uncomfortable. But 10000s of Jews stand up for Palestinian freedom - because it's the Jewish thing to do.

    [Tweet links to their statement: We're fighting to stop a genocide. Slanders against our movements are a distraction.]

  • Nathan J Robinson: Joe Biden might want to read about what happened to one of his Democratic predecessors who also presided over a war unpopular with young people and had a party convention scheduled in Chicago.

  • Max Blumenthal: Genocide friendly gentile gov Greg Abbott swore allegiance to a foreign apartheid state
    UT students are under occupation
    [photo of Abbott in wheelchair with kippah prostrating himself to the temple wall is emblematic of America's political class; I still have to ask, why does this play so well to basically antisemitic Christian nationalists?]

  • Greg Sargent: Agree with this from @lionel_trolling: Trump's trial "cuts him down to size" and reveals him as "a common, banal criminal."
    FWIW, we did a pod episode with polling on how the trial makes Trump look "grubby" and "small" and why this wrecks his aura.

    In the criminal trial in Manhattan and the Supreme Court oral arguments, the two different sides of Donald Trump are fully on display. On the one hand, in Alvin Bragg's criminal trial, we have Trump-in-himself: he's a petty conman, a quasi-gangster, who lives in a world of pornstars and pay offs to tabloids. There he's an old man who is falling asleep in court. And maybe not because he's aging either: the Trump trial is actually kind of boring; it's quotidian sleaze that can't break through the news about Gaza and the student protests. People have criticized Bragg's decision to prosecute Trump, but it occurred to me that maybe there's a quiet brilliance in the move; it cuts Trump down to size and shows him to the world to be just what he is: a common, banal criminal. It even made me wonder at the wisdom of my insistence on Trump's fascistic qualilties. Does not that just add to his myth? Perhaps he is just kind of a nothing.

    There is no reason to think Trump's trial helps him outside his MAGA base.
    "He is not the alpha. He is falling asleep. HE is subjected to censure," says @anatosaurus. He looks "small" and his conempt for the law . . .

  • Ryan Grim: [commenting on an Ari Fleischer counterfactual that "If Students for Trump launched encampments at colleges . . . every student would be immediately arrested, discipline and the camps torn down"] If cops started beating up and arresting a bunch of college Trump supporters the left would probably chuckle at the irony but oppose the abuse and defend their basic rights. I certainly would do both, and that's ok.

Greg Magarian reports from Washington University, St. Louis:

If you've been wondering about the content of pro-Palestinian campus protests, I just got back from one. Things I did NOT hear or see: (1) Even the barest aspersion cast on Jewish people or any Jewish person. The only appearance of the word "Jew" or any variation thereon was as a self-identifier (e.g., "Jews Against Genocide"). (2) Even the barest deviation from peacefulness and good order. If you haven't been to a public protest, I can tell you that protest organizers know their work well. They're way too disciplined to indulge "rioting." (3) Anything that a reasonable person could construe as a call for violence against Israeli civilians. Resistance to occupation, Palestinian self-determination, anti-Zionism? Sure. Every human being has the right to speak up and out for their own aspirations. This movement is about equal Palestinian humanity -- no more, no less.

Magarian also posted this video and comment:

This is what my university did today. It was a peaceful protest. The university administration decided to respond with violence. Wash U's support for Israel has gotten much easier to understand: institutions that believe might makes right, that have no problem stomping on anyone who gets in their way, have to stick together.

Also see this post on St. Louis by Tinus Ritmeester (not sure how I got into the "with others" list, but thanks), which also includes a longer report from Megan-Ellyia Green.

Also, note this protest sign: "Over 200 zip-tied Palestinians found executed in a hospital & you are upset at our protest???"

A Howard Zinn quote is making the rounds again: "They'll say we're disturbing the peace, but there is no peace. What really bothers them is that we are disturbing the war."

Initial count: 317 links, 15,302 words. Updated count [05-01]: 328 links, 16,177 words.

Top story threads:


Israel vs. Iran:

Israel vs. world opinion: First, let's break out stories on the rising tide of anti-genocide protests on American university campuses:

  • Spencer Ackerman: [04-25] Now the students are "terrorists": "Politicians and administrators are playing the 9/11 Era hits against students protesting a genocide -- and want to badly to kill them."

  • Michael Arria:

  • Narek Boyajian/Jadelyn Zhang: [04-25] We are occupying Emory University to demand immediate divestment from Israel and Cop City.

  • Nandika Chatterjee: [04-16] Republican Senator Tom Cotton urges followers to attack pro-Palestine protesters who block traffic.

  • Fabiola Cineas: [04-18] Why USC canceled its pro-Palestinian valedictorian: "As the school year winds down, colleges are still grappling with student speech."

  • Julian Epp: [04-16] Campus protests for Gaza are proliferating -- and so is the repression.

  • Henry Giroux: [04-26] Poisoning the American mind: Student protests in the age of the new McCarthyism.

  • Luke Goldstein: [04-26] Pro-Israel groups pushed for warrantless spying on protesters.

  • Chris Hedges: [04-25] Revolt in the universities: Also note: [04-25] Princeton U. police stop Chris Hedges' speech on Gaza.

  • Caitlin Johnstone: [04-26] Will quashing university protests and banning TikTok make kids love Israel?

  • Sarah Jones:

  • Ed Kilgore: [04-26] The GOP is making campus protests a 2024 law-and-order issue: At last they've finally found a law that they want to enforce. And they sure aren't afraid of looking like authoritarian thugs in doing so. That's the rep they want to own.

  • Branko Marcetic: [04-24] Why they're calling student protesters antisemites: "They want us talking about anything other than the genocide in Gaza."

  • James North: [04-20] The media is advancing a false narrative of 'rising antisemitism' on campus by ignoring Jewish protesters.

  • Nushrat Nur: [04-20] Long live the student resistance: "University administrators fail to understand that student activists have glimpsed a remarkable future in which Palestinian liberation is possible. The Gaza Solidarity Encampment at Columbia University is an inspiration to stay the course." Or maybe they do understand, and just don't want to see it happen?

  • Andrew O'Hehir: [04-28] Columbia crisis: Another massive failure of liberalism: "Columbia's president capitulated to the right-wing witch hunt -- and only made things worse."

    I intend to work my way back around to the instructive case of Columbia president Minouche Shafik, who apparently believed she could galaxy-brain her way around the protest crisis -- and avoid the fate of ousted Harvard president Claudine Gay, among others -- by capitulating in advance to the House Republicans' witch-trial caucus, taking a hard line against alleged or actual antisemitism, and finally calling the cops on her own students. Spoiler alert: None of that was a good idea, and she probably didn't save her job anyway.

    When he returns to Shafik, he nominates her "if you wanted to choose one individual as the face of 'neoliberalism' for an encyclopedia netry." But more important is this:

    First of all, it's more accurate to say that the media-consuming public is riveted by the contentious political drama surrounding those scenes of campus discord than by the protests themselves, which are a striking sign of the times but hardly a brand new phenomenon. . . . It's also worth noting that America's extraordinary narcissism -- another quality shared across the political spectrum -- creates a global distortion effect whereby the deaths of at least 34,000 people in a conflict on the other side of the world are transformed into a domestic political and cultural crisis. Nobody actually dies in this domestic crisis, but everyone feels injured: Public discourse is boiled down to idiotic clichés and identity politics is reduced to its dumbest possible self-caricature.

    I hate the both-sides-ism here: I don't doubt the shared narcissism and symbol-mongering, but "on the other side of the world" a nation with a long history of racial/ethnic discrimination and repression has advanced to the systematic destruction of a large segment of its people -- the applicable legal term here is "genocide" on a level with few historical analogues. So the dividing line -- opposing the practice of genocide, or supporting it mostly by trying to obscure the issue -- is very real and very serious, even if none of the American protesters are living in terror of their own homes, food sources, and hospitals being bombed. Moreover, while Israel/Gaza may be literally as distant as Congo, Myanmar, or Ukraine, it is a lot closer emotionally, especially for American Jews, who are most sharply divided, but also for any American who believes in equal rights, in freedom and justice for all -- people who would normally support the Democratic Party, but now find themselves torn and ashamed by a President who seems aligned and complicit with the forces committing genocide.

  • Katherine Rosman: [04-26] Student protest leader at Columbia: 'Zionists don't deserve to live': "After video surfaced on social media, the student said on Friday that his comments were wrong." I dropped the name, because after the retraction, why should he have to live in Google fame forever just for a casual remark? But the New York Times considers this news, because it fits their mission as purveyors of Israeli lines, especially larded with further comments like "it's one of the more blatant examples of antisemitism and, just, rhetoric that is inconsistent with the values that we have at Columbia" and "there's a danger for all students to have somebody using that type of rhetoric on campus." Doesn't that just echo the official rationale for having all those students arrested?

    Personally, I would never think such a thing, much less say it, nor would most of the people offended enough by genocide to show up at a protest, but really who are we to make a major issue out of such sentiments? There's a Todd Snider lyric that captured a very common, if not quite ubiquitous, credo, which is "in America, we like our bad guys dead."

    If some guy goes berserk and starts shooting up a school or church, then is shot himself, we rarely count him among the victims. We have presidents who go order the assassination of prominent political figures, then go on TV and brag about their feats, expecting a bump in the polls. As for Israelis, they're clearly even more bloodthirsty than we are. But we should all drop whatever we're doing and condemn some guy who fails to empathize with people who are furthering genocide?

    We're fortunate so far that few people who oppose what Israel has been doing view its architects and enablers and fair-weather friends with anything remotely resembling the fear, loathing, and malice Israel has mustered. That's especially true in America, where so few of us are directly impacted, leaving us free to moralize as we may. But human nature suggests such luck won't hold. The longer this war, which is purely a matter of Netanyahu's choice, goes on, the more desperate become, the more despicable Israelis will appear, the more the violence they've unleashed, the more hatred will wash back on them. And when it does, sure, decry and lament those who fight back and their victims, but never forget who started this, who sustained it, and who could have stopped it at any point and started to make amends. (And surely I don't need to add that the bomb started ticking long before Oct. 7.)

  • James Schamus: [04-23] A note to fellow Columbia faculty on the current panic: "The current 'antisemitism panic' at Columbia University is manufactured hysteria weaponized to quell legitimate political speech on campus and give cover to the larger project of ethnic cleansing in the West Bank and, now, of course, Gaza."

  • Bill Scher: [04-25] The divestment encampments don't make any sense: "The demand that universities unload any investments having to do with Israel is half-baked and bound to fail." Really? Granted, the investment money at stake isn't enough to cause Israel to flinch, but the very idea that anyone -- much less elite institutions in Israel's most loyal ally -- would choose to dissociate itself from Israel on moral grounds is likely to sow doubt elsewhere. Otherwise, why would Israelis go into such a tizzy any time they hear "BDS"? But more importantly, divestment is a direct tie between the university and Israel, and one that can be discretely severed by university administrators who discover that doing so is in their best interest. Divestment gives protesters a tangible demand, and it is one that universities can easily afford, so it offers a chance for a win. Moreover, the dynamic is pretty easy to understand, because we've done this sort of thing before. The odds of success here are much better than anything you might get from trying to lobby your representative, or for boycotting a store that sells Israeli hummus. Also, this shows that students are still organizable (and on long-term, relatively altruistic grounds), probably more so than any other segment of society, despite generally successful efforts to reduce higher education to crass carreerism. Despite the dumb pitch, the article's back story on South Africa gives me hope. Sure, this generation of Israeli leaders is more Botha than De Klerk, but so was De Klerk until he realized that a better path was possible. That's going to be harder with Israel, mostly because they still think that what they're doing is working. The protests show otherwise, and the more successful they are, the better for everyone.

    [PS: Per this tweet, the philosophy department chair at Emory University says, "Students are the conscience of our culture."]

  • Matt Stieb/Chas Danner: [04-28] University protests: the latest at colleges beyond Columbia.

More on the Israel's propaganda front, struggling as ever to mute and suppress the world's horror at the genocide in Gaza and to Israel's escalation elsewhere from apartheid to state/vigilante terror.

  • Michael Arria:

  • Zack Beauchamp: [04-16] Tucker Carlson went after Israel -- and his fellow conservatives are furious: "Carlson mainstreamed antisemitism for a long time, and conservatives seemed not to care. Then he set his sights on Israel." When it comes to dunking on Carlson, I don't much care who does it:

    • Daniel Beaumont: [04-26] The Big Bang: Israel's path to self-destruction.

    • M Reza Benham: [04-26] Manipulation politics: Israeli gaslighting in the United States: "A country does not become cruel overnight. It takes intent, years of practice and strategies to effectively hide the cruelty." Dozens of examples follow, especially on Israel's master of American politicians. "Israeli gaslighting has reached into and exerted influence in almost every segment of American society. Consequently, Israel has grown into an entity unbound by borders, exempt from international law and able to commit genocide with impunity." Also note: "And while Israel continues its intense bombing in Gaza, Biden signed legislation on 24 April allocating another $26.4 billion for Tel Aviv to continue its atrocities."

    • Ronen Bregman/Patrick Kingsley: [04-28] Israeli officials believe ICC is preparing arrest warrants over war: "The Israeli and foreign officials also believe the court is weighing arrest warrants for leaders from Hamas." That would be consistent with past efforts to charge both sides with war crimes, but it opens up an interesting possibility, which would be for Hamas leaders to surrender to the ICC for trial, which would presumably protect them from Israeli assassination, and would largely satisfy Israel's demands that Hamas's leadership in Gaza be dismantled. It would also give them a chance to defend themselves in public court, where they could make lots of interesting cases. It would show respect for international law, even if it demands sacrifice. And it would put Israel on the spot to do the same. I'd like to see that.

    • Jonathan Chait: [04-17] Conservatives suddenly realize Tucker Carlson is a lying Russian dupe: "What changed?" I don't quite buy the idea that Carlson is a "Russian dupe" but he has so little redeeming social value that I don't care what you call him. Still, you have to wonder, when Israel starts losing the antisemites, what will they have left?

  • Jonathan Cook: [04-26] How an 'antisemitism hoax' drowned out the discovery of mass graves in Gaza.

  • Dave DeCamp:

  • Connor Echols: [04-24] Israel violating US and international law, ex officials say: "An independent task force has given a detailed report of alleged Israeli war crimes to the Biden administration."

  • Thomas L Friedman:

    • [04-26] Israel has a choice to make: Rafah or Riyadh: I suspect that most Israelis regard Friedman as nothing more than a "useful idiot," which is to say he's useful when he says what he's supposed to -- as when he repeated their "six front" theory in an attempt to entice Biden into launching a war of distraction with Iran -- and an idiot when he tries to think for himself and to offer them advice. [Cue famous Moshe Dayan quote.] This is an example of the latter, though you can hardly blame Friedman, since this is based on things he was told to think. Some day the relevant secrets will be revealed, and we'll all have a good laugh over how Trump and Biden got played over the Abraham Accords -- or how Kushner played everyone, since he wound up with billions of Saudi money for a deal that never had to happen. Israel never cared the least bit for any of them, but went along with Qatar and Morocco because they were totally harmless deals that cost them nothing and helped manipulate the Americans (much like their phony war with Iran, which the deals propose to turn into some grand alliance).

      The Saudis couldn't quite stoop that low because they still have some self-respect -- they are, after all, the trustees of Mecca and Medina -- but strung Kushner along with cash, and more generally the Americans with potentially lucrative arms deals. But if Friedman's choice is real, Israel would much rather demolish the last Palestinian city in Gaza, rendering it uninhabitable for whoever manages not to be killed in the process, than have a chance to play footsie with the decadent but despised Saudis. But they may also suspect it isn't really real, because it's always been so easy to manipulate the Americans and their Arab friends, who've always proved eager to accommodate whatever Israel wants.

    • [04-16] How to be pro-Palestinian, pro-Israeli and pro-Iranian. While the title suggests that Friedman might be capable of thinking creatively, searching out some kind of mutually beneficial win-win-win solution, pinch yourself. By "pro-Iranian" he means anti-Ayatollah, which is to say he's no more prepared to deal with the real Iran than Netanyahu and Biden are. And by "pro-Palestinian" he means totally domesticated under a fully compliant Palestinian Authority, as separate-and-unequal as any imaginary reservation. Sure, by "pro-Israeli" he probably means free of Netanyahu, but he'd be less of a stickler on that point.

  • Binoy Kampmark: [04-28] Israel's anti-UNRWA campaign falls flat.

  • Naomi Klein: [04-24] We need an exodus from Zionism: "This Passover, we don't need or want the false idol of Zionism. We want freedom from the project that commits genocide in our name." Klein spoke at a Passover seder in Brooklyn:

  • Alan J Kuperman: [04-16] Civilian deaths in Gaza rival those of Darfur -- which the US called a 'genocide'.

  • Judith Levine: [04-25] Why we need to stop using 'pro-Palestine' and 'pro-Israel': "The safety and security of Palestinians and Jews are interdependent, so we should use language carefully." Good luck with that. I know I try to be precise and respectful in my terminology, but it's always a struggle: we are necessarily talking about groups of people, despite every grouping, whether self- or other-identified, having exceptions and individual variations that undermine every attempt to generalize. At some point, you have to concede the impossibility of the task, and admit not just that the terms are imprecise but that we shouldn't put so much weight on them.

    I've considered writing an article on this: "Why I've never called myself 'pro-Palestinian,' but I don't care if you do." Part of what I feel here is that Palestinian nationalist groups, even ones nominally on the left, have a sorry history of ambition and exclusion which I've never approved of in principle, and have found to be counterproductive politically. But mostly, I don't trust any nationalism, even one that would presume to include me among the elect. (Although I've found that people who would divide us into nations will continue to subdivide so that only their own clique comes out on top, which somehow never saw me as fit for their supremacy.)

    On the other hand, I've never doubted that Palestinians should enjoy the same human rights as everyone else, provided they accord the same rights to others. But most people who describe themselves as pro-Palestinian believe exactly that. Their self-label is meant to convey solidarity with people they rightly see as oppressed, people they hope to advance not to dominance but to equal rights. I don't think that this is the clearest way of expressing their support, but who am I to object to such tactical quibbles? I felt much the same way when Stokely Carmichael started talking about Black Power. Sure, like all power, that could be abused, but for now the deficit was so great one had little to worry about. And the trust expressed would only help to build the solidarity the movement needed.

    By the way, see the Robert Wright article below for a story along these lines, where Norman Finkelstein suggests that when saying "From the river to the sea," it would be clearer and safer to say "Palestinians" will be free" instead of "Palestine." That makes sense to me, but as Wright noted, he was immediately followed by another speaker, who repeated the standard line and got bigger applause. I could see giving up after that, but isn't that the worst of all scenarios?

  • Sania Mahyou: [04-26] Inside the first French university encampment for Palestine at Sciences Po Paris.

  • Stefan Moore: [04-23] Israel's architect of ethnic cleansing: "The spectre of Yosef Weitz lives on." Now there's a name I know, but haven't heard of in a while. Weitz was head of the Land Settlement Department for the Jewish National Fund, which was the Zionist entity charged with buying up parcels of Palestinian land as Jewish immigrants sought to take over the country. In 1937, after the Peel Commission recommended that Palestine be partitioned with forced transfer, Weitz became head of the Jewish Agency's Population Transfer Committee, so he was the original bureaucratic planner of what became the Nakba.

  • Colleen Murrell: [04-26] How the Israeli government manages to censor the journalists covering the war on Gaza.

  • James North: [04-15] A secret internal 'NYTimes' memo reveals the paper's anti-Palestinian bias is even worse than we thought. North has been documenting reporting bias and outright propaganda in the NY Times long enough he can't possibly be as surprised, let alone shocked, as says. NY Times, regardless of pretensions to high-minded objectivity, has always been a party-line organ. Still, it's nice to be able to see explicit directions and reasoning on terminology, rather than just having to sniff out the distortions. For more on this, see the original leak story, and more:

  • Kareena Pannu: [04-17] How the UK media devalues Palestinian lives: "The UK media's coverage of the killing of World Central Kitchen workers shows how much Palestinian life is devalued."

  • Vijay Prashad: [04-24] Elites afraid to talk about Palestine: "The Western political class has used all tools at its disposal to support Israel's genocide while criminalizing solidarity."

  • Fadi Quran/Fathi Nimer/Tariq Kenney-Shawa/Yawa Hawari: [04-17] Palestinian perspectives on escalating Iran-Israel relations. Many interesting points here; e.g., from Kenney-Shawa:

    Iran's highly-choreographed attack achieved exactly what it intended, gaining valuable intel on Israeli, American, and regional air defense capabilities, costing Israel and its US benefactors over $1 billion in a single night, proving Israel's dependency on the US, and further eroding Israel's image of military invincibility. In doing so, Iran also sent a clear message that its drones and missiles could cause significantly more damage if launched without warning, while still preserving a window for de-escalation.

    Also, from Hawari:

    For Netanyahu, picking a fight with Iran was the only thing that could save him from near-certain political demise. As the Gaza genocide rages on, the Israeli military remains unable to secure its stated objective: the eradication of Hamas and the return of the hostages. This, in addition to the fact that he faces major corruption charges and overwhelming domestic opposition to his leadership, makes Netanyahu at his most dangerous.

    The Israeli prime minister has, for years, built his political career on arousing fear of Iran and its nuclear capabilities among the Israeli public. Internationally, the Israeli regime has long positioned itself as a Western bulwark against Iran and tied its security to that of Western civilization itself. Netanyahu has also exploited Palestine-Iran relations to justify Israel's continued oppression of the Palestinian people as a whole. This is a narrative that has particularly taken hold during since the start of the current genocide.

    This was published by Al-Shabaka, which bills itself as "the Palestinian Policy Network." Some other recent posts:

  • Balakrishnan Rajagopal: [01-29] Domicide: The mass destruction of homes should be a crime against humanity.

  • Jodi Rudoren: [04-05] Why an immediate ceasefire is a moral imperative -- and the best thing for Israel. Editor-in-chief of Forward, she's made some progress since her October 9, 2023 column, where she wrote: "The coming days and weeks will be awful. Israel has no good options." I don't mean to rub it in, but there was one good option back then. Give her credit for finding it eventually. Too many others are still pretending they can't do otherwise.

  • Robert Tait: [04-27] Sanders hits back at Netanyahu: 'It is not antisemitic to hold you accountable'. His own piece:

  • Philip Weiss:

  • Robert Wright: [04-26] This feels like Vietnam: I mentioned this piece under Levine above, for its discussion of language. The analogy to the Vietnam War protests has been noted elsewhere but is still has a long ways to go:

    The last two weeks have been more reminiscent of the Vietnam War era than any two weeks since . . . the Vietnam War era. After the mass arrest of students at Columbia University failed to squelch their anti-war protest encampment, the attendant publicity helped inspire protests, and encampments, at campuses across the country.

    We're nowhere near peak Vietnam. As someone old enough to dimly remember the protests of the late 1960s (if not old enough to have participated in them), I can assure you that college students are capable of getting way more unruly than college students have gotten lately.

    I can't do this subject justice here, so will limit myself to two points. One is that thanks to the AIPAC-dominated political culture in Washington, both parties are totally aligned with Israel, although few in either party did so from core beliefs. This matters little on the Republican side (where core beliefs tend to be racist, violent, and repressive), but leave Democrats more open to doubt and persuasion. Lacking any better political base, that's what demonstrations are good for, and why there's hope they may be effective. It's also worth noting that Occupy Wall Street, which was pretty explicitly anti-Obama but not in any way that could benefit the Republicans, had at least two major successes: one was popularizing the "1%" line to highlight inequality; the other was in making student debt relief a tangible political issue -- one that Biden has finally embraced.

    The other point is that it will be important both to the protesters and to the Democrats to keep the demonstrations focused and not allow the sort of descent into chaos that Republicans exploited with Vietnam. (And which, as we've already seen with Abbott in Texas, and with the recent anti-BLM police riots, they are super-psyched to exacerbate now.) I'm reminded here of Ben-Gurion's famous "we will fight the White Paper as if there is no war, and fight the war as if there is no White Paper." His tact allowed him to win both fights, which is to say he fared much better than Johnson and Daley did in 1968.

    Needless to say, there will be more pieces like this coming our way:

  • Dave Zirin: [04-26] How the US media failed to tell the story of the occupation of Palestine: Interview with Sut Jhally.

PS: For some reason I no longer recall, I happened to have had a tab open to a piece from Spiked, so I took a look at their home page. It seems to be a right-wing UK site -- Wikipedia traces its roots to "Living Marxism," but also also notes support from Charles Koch -- but whatever it's clearly in the bag for Israel now, with articles on: "Iran, not Israel, is escalating this war"; "Is it now a crime to be a Jew in London?"; "Hamas apologism has taken Australia by storm"; "The Islamo-left must be confronted"; as well as a lot of articles about "gender ideology" and "woke capitalism" and one on "Why humanity is good for the natural world." Right-wingers seem to be inexorably drawn to Israel.

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

Trump, and other Republicans: Trump's New York porn-star hush-money trial has started, so let's go there first:

More Republicans in the news (including more Trumps):

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Charles M Blow: [04-17] The Kamala Harris moment has arrived.

  • Gerard Edic: [04-23] Why is the Biden administration completing so many regulations? "The answer is the Congressional Review Act, which Republicans in a second Tumpp presidency could use to further attack the administrative state. Finalizing rules early protects them from this fate."

  • Jordan Haedtler/Kenny Stancil: [04-16] Democrats must start to distinguish themselves on insurance policy: "Amid a crisis for homeowners, Democrats have done little while Republicans pursue an agenda of bailouts and deregulation." I think, and not just due to climate change, insurance will become the number one political issue in America, as private industry is no longer able to charge enough to cover the necessary payouts (and still make the profits they expect).

  • Ed Kilgore: [03-18] This year's Democratic Convention won't be a replay of 1968: Didn't I say as much last week?

  • Paul Krugman:

    • [04-09] Stumbling into Goldilocks.

    • [04-23] Ukraine aid in the light of history: Compares the current vote to Lend-Lease in 1941, which most Republicans opposed before Pearl Harbor rallied them to war. Doesn't allow that they might have had good reasons for doing so, and accepts uncritically that Lend-Lease proved to be the right thing to do in 1941, implying that reasons then and there are still valid here and now. That case is pretty weak on almost every account, not that history between such unlike cases offers much guidance anyway.

    • [04-25] Can Biden revive the fortunes of American workers?: "He's the most pro-labor president since Harry Truman." I had to laugh at that one. Truman was very anti-union after the war ended in 1945, and his threats against strikers probably contributed to the debacle of 1946, which gave Republicans a majority in Congress, which (with racist southern Democrats) they used to pass Taft-Hartley over his veto. He recovered a bit after that, but no subsequent Democat made any serious efforts -- even when Johnson seemed to have a favorable Congress -- to reverse the damage. I'm not sure Krugman is technically wrong, but he's talking about slim margins at both ends.

  • Harold Meyerson: [04-15] Biden's Gaza policy could create a replay of Chicago '68: If Israel is still committing genocide in Gaza, Biden will certainly face (and deserve) protests, but will Chicago police riot again? -- that was, after all, the real story in 1968, and much of the blame there goes directly to Mayor Richard Daley.

  • Ahmed Moor: [04-17] As a Palestinian American, I can't vote for Joe Biden any more. And I am not alone: "The president's moral failure in Gaza has taken on historic proportions, like Lyndon Johnson's in Vietnam before him." I understand the sentiment, and I think Biden's team should take the threat of defections like this one -- and it's not just Palestinians who are thinking like that -- and get their act together. But come November, no one's just pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli or any other single thing. Politics is complicated, and ideal choices are hard to come by.

  • Timothy Noah: Yes, Joe Biden can win the working-class vote.

  • David Smith: [04-28] 'Stormy weather': Biden skewers Trump at White House correspondents' dinner: One of the few favorable things I had to say about Trump's presidency is that he sidelined this annual charade of chumminess. And it's not like the White House press has been doing Biden many favors over the last three years. But I guess the material writers came up with this year was too good to miss?

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Russia/Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Taylor Swift: New album dropped, presumably a major event. I've been too busy to focus on it, but will get to it sooner or later.

Other stories:

Daniel Brown: [04-19] Oldest MLB player turns 100: Roomed with Yogi Berra, stymied Ted Williams: I clicked on this because I had to see who, after having noted the deaths of Carl Erskine (97) and Whitey Herzog (93) earlier in the week. And the answer is . . . Art Schallock! Not a name I recall, and I thought I knew them all (especially all the 1951-55 Yankees, although 1957 was the first year that actually stuck in my memory) Previous oldest MLB player was George Elder, and second oldest now is Bill Greason -- neither of them rings a bell either, but the next one sure does: Bobby Shantz!

Robert Christgau: [04-17] Xgau Sez: April, 2024: Perhaps because I'm disappointed I get so few questions my way, I thought I'd add a couple personal notes to his answers:

  1. I haven't actually read more Marx than Bob admits to here (at least not much more, and virtually nothing since I shifted focus circa 1975), so like him I'd refer inquisitive readers to the now quite long and deep tradition -- although at this point I'm not exactly sure where I'd start. (I started with historians like Eugene Genovese, art critics like John Berger, and economists like Paul Sweezy, followed by a lot of Frankfurt School, especially Walter Benjamin.) But his recommendation of Marshall Berman's Adventures in Marxism has me intrigued, so I think I'll order a copy. I have, but have never read, Berman's All That Is Solid Melts Into Air, which came out after I lost interest (long story, that), but has always struck me as the probably closest analogue to the book I sometimes imagined writing on Marx (had my career gone that direction: working title was Secret Agents, after a Benjamin quip about Baudellaire). But I did read, and much admired, Berman's first book, The Politics of Authenticity: Radical Individualism and the Emergence of Modern Society, which gets us at least half way there. (By the way, while I largely blanked out on Marxism after 1975, I broke the ice recently with China Miéville's A Spectre Haunting, which was like meeting up with an old friend.)

  2. Bob didn't search very hard for an answer to the question about "immediate astonishment" -- he checked off several 2023 records, then remembered two formative experiences from from sixty years earlier -- but had he consulted me, I could have reminded him of one: I was present when he opened and immediately played Marquee Moon, and I was even more impressed by the intensity of his reaction than I was by the music I was hearing. Although I had read much in the Voice about Television, I had never heard anything by them, so for me it took time to adjust.

    For me, the most obvious answer was another record I first heard in Bob's apartment: Ornette Coleman's Dancing in Your Head, which was an even more obviously perfect title than The Shape of Jazz to Come. As for real early records, which for me started around 1963, everything I bought was already baited with singles I already loved, but the first album side I really got into was on my fourth purchase, Having a Rave-Up With the Yardbirds -- the hits were on the first side, but I came to like the raves on the second side even more (above all the cover of "Respectable"). But I couldn't tell you if that was "instantaneous." I did buy Sgt. Pepper when it came out, with much hype but no presold singles, and I quickly came to love it as much as anyone else did.

  3. We didn't go to the 1994 Rhode Island festival, but Bob and Carola stayed with us in Boston before and after, so we were among the first to hear their unmediated reaction before it was sanitized for print. I've heard the Richie Havens dis so many times, both from Bob and from Laura Tillem, that I wondered whether they had shared the same traumatic concert experience, but she says not.

Tom Engelhardt: [04-21] A story of the decline and fall of it all. The editor-first, writer-as-the-occasion-arises, who has done more than anyone else over the last twenty years to help us realize that the American Empire is failing and floundering and never was all that useful let alone virtuous in the first place, has entered his 80s, feeling his own powers also dwindling, and growing more morose, as so many of us do. I'm tempted to quote large swathes of this article, but instead, let me do some editing (almost all his own words, but streamlined):

If Osama Bin Laden were still alive today, I suspect he would be pleased. He managed to outmaneuver and outplay what was then the greatest power on Planet Earth, drawing it into an endless war against "terrorism" and, in the process, turning it into an increasingly terrorized country, whose inhabitants are now at each other's throats.

As was true of the Soviet Union until almost the moment it collapsed in a heap, the U.S. still appears to be an imperial power of the first order. It has perhaps 750 military bases scattered around the globe and continues to act like a power of one on a planet that itself seems distinctly in crisis: a planet that itself looks as if it might be going to hell, amid record heat, fires, storms, and the like, while its leaders preoccupy themselves with organizing alliances and arming them for Armageddon.

It's strange to think about just how distant the America I grew up in -- the one that emerged from World War II as the global powerhouse -- now seems. Yet today, the greatest country on Earth (or so its leaders still like to believe), the one that continues to pour taxpayer dollars into a military funded like no other, or even combination of others, the one that has been unable to win any war of significance since 1945, seems to be coming apart at the seams, heading for a decline and fall almost beyond imagining.

I'm reminded here that Tom Carson, reviewing 1945 from the cusp of 2000, declared that the worst thing that ever happened to America was winning World War II. He might well have added that the second worst thing was the collapse of the Soviet Union: the essential ally in winning WWII, the opponent that allowed the Cold War to remain stable, and the void the US has spent thirty-plus years trying to fill in, and ultimately resurrect, with fantasies of imperial glory. I'd add that the third worst thing is the genocide in Gaza, where the Holocaust has returned in the form of America's spoiled, even more brattish and brutish Mini-Me.

Like Engelhardt, I've been fortunate to have lived my whole life in, and mostly conscious of, this arc. I'm a bit younger: I was born the week China entered the Korean War, ending the American advance and hopes of swift victory, so it was perhaps a bit easier for me to see that the remainder was all downhill. I was struck early on by the arrogance of power -- a familiar phrase even before William Fullbright used it as a book title -- and even earlier by the hypocrisy of the powerful. One of the first maxims I learned was "power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." I was an introspective child, cursed with the ability to see deep into myself, and to approximate what others see, even over vast time and space. I was schizophrenic. I embraced radicalism, searching for roots, and found reason, a way of constructing frameworks for understanding. As a method, it was so incisive, so clear, so aware, that I had to put it aside for decades just to try to live a life, but it never left me, nor I it, as two decades of notebooks (most reorganized here) should attest.

Céline Gounder/Craig Spencer: [04-16] The decline in American life expectancy harms more than our health. Related:

  • Michael Hiltzik: [2023-04-05] America's decline in life expectancy speaks volumes about our problems. I may have cited this article before. The county map looks familiar. On a state level, lower average age of death lines up pretty close to Republican votes, although within those states, powerless Democratic enclaves (e.g., in Mississippi and South Dakota) are hit worst of all.

Constance Grady: [04-11] Why we never stopped talking about OJ Simpson.

John Herrman: [04-19] How product recommendations broke Google: "And ate the internet in the process." A long time ago, I put a fair amount of thought into what sort of aggregate information modeling might be possible with everyone having internet connections. Needless to say, nothing much that I anticipated actually happened, since business corruption crept into every facet of the process, making it impossible to ever trust anyone. It may look like the internet made us shallow and venal and paranoid, but that's mostly because those were the motivations of the people who rushed to take it over.

Jonathan Kandell: [04-19] Daniel C Dennett, widely read and fiercely debated philosopher, dies at 82: "Espousing his ideas in best sellers, he insisted that religion was an illusion, free will was a fantasy and evolution could only be explained by natural selection."

Whizy Kim: [04-17] Boeing's problems were as bad as you thought: "Experts and whistleblowers testified before Congress today. The upshot? "It was all about money."

Eric Levitz: I originally had these scattered about, but the sheer number and range suggested grouping them here.

  • [04-12] What the evidence really says about social media's impact on teens' mental health: "Did smartphones actually 'destroy' a generation?" Reviews Jonathan Haidt's book, The Anxious Generation: How the Great Rewiring of Childhood Is Causing an Epidemic of Mental Illness. Hard to say without not just having read the book but doing some extra evidence. Haidt seems like a guy who tries to look reasonable so he can sneak a conservative viewpoint in without it being dismissed out of hand. Levitz seems like a smart guy who's a bit too eager to split disputes down the middle. I suspect there are other factors at work that don't fit anyone's agenda.

  • [04-13] Don't sneer at white rural voters -- or delude yourself about their politics: "What the debate over "white rural rage" misses." Refers to the Tom Schaller/Paul Waldman book, White Rural Rage: The Threat to American Democracy, which has been much reviewed, including a piece cited here by Tyler Austin Harper: An utterly misleading book about rural America. Levitz makes good points, nicely summed up by subheds:

    1. Rural white people are more supportive of right-wing authoritarianism than are urban or suburban ones
    2. Millions of rural white Americans support the Democratic Party
    3. Rural white Republicans are not New Deal Democrats who got confused
    4. The economic challenges facing many rural areas are inherently difficult to solve.
    5. Most people inherit the politics of their families and communities

    Further reading here:

  • [04-19] Tell the truth about Biden's economy: "Exaggering the harms of inflation doesn't help working people."

  • [04-23] The "feminist" case against having sex for fun: "American conservatives are cozying up to British feminists who argue that the sexual revolution has hurt women."

  • [04-24] Trump's team keeps promising to increase inflation: "Voters trust Trump to lower prices, even as his advisers put forward plans for increasing Americans' cost of living." Four steps:

    1. Reduce the value of the US dollar
    2. Apply a 10 percent tariff on all foreign imports
    3. Enact massive, deficit-financed tax cuts
    4. Shrink the American labor force

Rick Perlstein:

  • [04-17] The implausible Mr Buckley: "A new PBS documentary whitewashes the conservative founder of National Review." Hard to imagine them rendering him even more white. Also on Buckley:

  • [04-24] My dinner with Andreessen: "Billionaires I have known." First of a promised three-part series, "because you really need to know how deeply twisted some of these plutocrats who run our society truly are." Then after sharing the story of their meeting, he concludes: "There is something very, very wrong with us, that our society affords so much pwoer to people like this."

Jeffrey St Clair: [04-19] Roaming Charges: How to kill a wolf in society.

Michael Tatum: Books read (and not read): First post on the author's new blog, "Michael on Everything." Nice supplement to my own last week Book Roundup, especially as he catches books I missed, and writes about them with much more care.

Astra Taylor/Leah Hunt-Hendrix: [03-12] What is solidarity and how does it work?: Introduction to the authors' book, Solidarity: The Past, Present, and Future of a World-Changing Idea. Related:

Li Yuan:

  • [04-08] What Chinese outrage over '3 Body Problem' says about China: "Instead of demonstrating pride, social media is condemning it." The review also inadvertently says much about America, like how we insist on cartoonishly simple framing of Chinese history, and how we insert more westerners into a Chinese story to make it more "relatable" and still expect them to be thankful for their leftovers. I'm critical enough of America's own chauvinists and sanitizers of history that I disapprove of the same things in other countries -- e.g., the Turkish taboo against so much as mentioning the Armenian genocide -- and I don't doubt that there is some of this same spirit in much of the Chinese reaction. But that hardly give us the right to dictate how they should view their own history, especially as we have so little sense of it.

  • [02-29] China has thousands of Navalnys, hidden from the public. Of this I have no doubt. Every political system, no matter how coercive, breeds its own dissent. Countries that tolerate and even encourage dissent are often better off, and tend to look down their noses at those who don't, but all countries adjust as they see fit. Unfortunately, many think they can solve their problems through repression, and we have no shortage of people who think like that in America.

Li Zhou: [04-18] Jontay Porter's lifetime NBA ban highlights the risks of sports gambling. Also, evidently, the lure. Jeffrey St Clair says: "People who watch NBA or NHL games are hit with as many as three gambling ads per minute."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, April 14, 2024

Speaking of Which

My company left Saturday afternoon, so I didn't really get started on this until then. Sunday I started feeling sick, and ran out of energy. No idea whether Monday will be better or worse, so I figured I might as well post this while I can. Maybe I'll circle back later. Big news stories are pretty much the same as they've been of late, so you pretty much know where I stand on them.

Not a lot of music this week, but if I'm up to it, I'll try to post what I have sometime Monday. Another pending problem is that I'm unable to send email, and Cox doesn't seem to have anyone competent to work on the problem until Monday.

Notable tweets:

  • Yousef Munayyer [04-03]: Joe Biden knows backing Israel's genocide in Gaza could cost him the election he says American democracy depends on.
    Joe Biden doesn't care.
    Imagine hating Palestinians so much as a US president that you'd throw away American democracy for it.

  • Steve Hoffman [04-10]: [meme]: Christians warn us about the anti-Christ for 2,000 years, and when he finally shows up, they buy a bible from him.

  • Rick Perlstein [04-10]: I mean, protecting criminal presidents from accountability actually is perfectly on-brand for an organization devoted to the legacy of Gerald Ford. [link: Famed photographer quits Ford over Liz Cheney snub]

Initial count: 188 links, 6,611 words.

Top story threads:


Israel vs. Iran:

Israel vs. world opinion:

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

Robert F Kennedy Jr: And suddenly we have a cluster of stories on the third-party candidate:

Trump, and other Republicans: But first, let's open up some space to talk about abortion politics:

We can also group several stories on Trump's court date on Monday in New York:

That hardly exhausts their capacity for senseless cruelty, starting with their Fearless Führer:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Jonathan Chait:

  • David Dayen: [04-10] TSMC chips deal promotes the logic of Biden's industrial policy.

  • John Nichols: [04-05] More than half a million Democratic voters have told Biden: Save Gaza! "The campaign to use 'uncommitted' primary votes to send a message to Biden has won two dozen delegates, and it keeps growing." I'm sorry, but these are not impressive numbers. And it is telling that you don't actually have a candidate -- one more credible than the underappreciated Marianne Williamson, that is -- leading the challenge (as Eugene McCarthy did in 1968). The obvious difference is that Americans were more directly impacted by war in Vietnam than they are now in Gaza: even though many of us are immensely alarmed by Israel's genocide, its impact on our everyday life is very marginal. Also, Biden is widely seen by Democrats (if rarely by anyone else) as the safe option to defend against Trump, who most Democrats do regard as a clear and present danger. The main reason there is that the all-important donor class seems to be satisfied with Biden, but would surely throw a fit (as Bloomberg did in 2020) if anyone like Sanders or Warren made a serious run for the nomination. Also, perhaps, that back in 1968, few people really understood how bad throwing the election to a Republican would turn out to be.

  • Evan Osnos: [04-06] Joe Biden and US policy toward Israel.

  • Matt Stieb: [04-11] Biden's leverage campaign against Bibi isn't producing dramatic results.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [04-12] Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine risks losing the war -- and the peace: "It's now unclear if the US Congress will ever manage to send more aid to Kyiv."

  • Dave DeCamp:

  • John Mueller: [04-09] Ukraine war ceasefire may require accepting a partition: "Kyiv wound likely see significant economic and political benefits -- and move closer to the West -- from a cessation of hostilities." This has become obvious a year ago, but after Ukraine recovered territory along the northeast and southwest fronts in late 2022, they held out big hopes for their much-hyped "spring offensive" of 2023. Nine months later, the "gains" were slightly negative. Since then, most of the action has been away from the unmovable front: notably drone attacks on Russian oil refineries and on Ukrainian power plants. Which is to say, punitive terror attacks, reminders of the ongoing cost of war that have no bearing on its conclusion. Before the war, there were two basic options: one was the Minsk agreements, which would have unified Ukraine but given Russian minority rights that could have kept western Ukraine from moving toward economic integration with Europe; the other was to allow secession following fair referendums, which would almost certainly have validated the secessionists in Crimea and Donbas (but probably not elsewhere). In a divided Ukraine, the west could more easily align with Europe, while the east could keep its Russian ties. Either of these would have been much preferable to the war that maximalists on both sides insisted on.

  • John Quiggin: [04-03] Navies are obsolete, but no one will admit it: Examples here start with Russia's Black Sea Fleet, which seems to have provided little beyond Ukrainian drone target practice, and the US Navy in the Red Sea, which hasn't been able to thwart Houthi attacks on Red Sea shipping (Suez Canal traffic is down 70%).

Around the world:


OJ Simpson: Famous football player, broadcaster, convicted criminal (but famously acquitted on murder charges), dead at 76. I'm not inclined to care about any of this, but he did elicit another round of articles:

Other stories:

William J Astore: [04-11] There is only one spaceship earth: "Freeing the world from the deadly shadow of genocide and ecocide."

Charlotte Barnett: [04-10] Declutter, haul, restock, repeat: "The content creators making a living by cleaning one purs tower, acrylic plastic box, and egg organizer at a time."

Emmeline Clein: [04-12] How capitalism disordered our eating: "From Weight Watchers to Ozempic, big business profits off eating disorders and their treatments."

Russell Arben Fox: [04-10] Thinking about Wendell Berry's leftist lament (and more). The Berry book is The Need to Be Whole: Patriotism and the History of Prejudice. Also segues into a discussion of Ian Angus: The War Against the Commons: Dispossession and Resistance in the Making of Capitalism. The destruction of the commons is a major theme in Astra Taylor's The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart, including a critique of the famous "tragedy of the commons" theory that I was unaware of but long needed. Scrolling down in Fox's blog, I see a couple pieces I had read in the Wichita Eagle. (He teaches here in Wichita, and I believe we have mutual friends, but as far as I know he's not aware of me.)

Robert Kuttner: [04-09] The political economy of exile: Searching for safe havens from Trumpism, or escaping from "shithole countries" if you're rich enough.

Michael Ledger-Lomas: [04-14] The outsize influence of small wars: Review of Laurie Benton's book, They Called It Peace: Worlds of Imperial Violence. These "small wars" were mostly directed by European powers against their would-be colonies, most fought with a huge technological edge which complemented their legal scheming, distinguishing them from the large wars Europeans fought against each other. That's pretty much the same definition Max Boot used in his book, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power.

Walter G Moss: [04-14] 2024 US anxieties and Hitler 1933: "Here is a friendly reminder that all it would take for Trump to be elected is a series of mistakes by the electorate -- many of them not especially earthshaking." I figured this was a bit far-fetched to include in the section on Trump, the Republicans, and their more mundane crime interests, but Hitler-Trump comparisons are a parlor game of some interest for those who know more than a little about both. Speaking of parlor games for history buffs, Moss previously wrote:

Yasmin Nair: [03-27] What really happened at Current Affairs? This looks to be way too long, pained, deep, and trivial to actually read, but maybe some day. And having thrown a tantrum or two of my own way back in the days when I slaved for someone else's parochially leftist journal, it may even hit close to home. From my vantage point, Nathan J Robinson is a smart, sensible, and prodigious critic, and Current Affairs is one of my more reliably insightful sources as I go about my weekly chores. That such qualities can go hand-in-hand with less admirable traits is, well, not something I feel secure enough to cast stones over.

John Quiggin: [03-29] Daniel Kahneman has died.

Ingrid Robeyns: [04-13] Limitarianism update: Author of the recent book, Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth, with links to reviews, interviews, etc. Comments suggest that the concept is better than the title.

Luke Savage: [04-13] The rich: On top of the world and very anxious about it: "The small handful of ultrawealthy winners are firmly ensconced in their positions of privilege in power. Yet so many of them seem haunted by the possibility that maybe they don't deserve it."

Robert Wright: [04-12] Marc Andreessen's mindless techno-optimism.

Li Zhou: [04-10] The Vatican's new statement on trans rights undercuts its attempts at inclusion.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, April 8, 2024

Speaking of Which

I don't have much time to work with this week. Writing this on Friday, I expect that the links below will be spotty. I also doubt that I'll have many records in the next Music Week, although that can run if I have any at all.

My company left Saturday morning, headed to Arkansas for a better view of the eclipse on Monday, so I finally got a bit of time to work on this. I collected a few links to get going, then spent most of Sunday writing my "one point here" introduction, and adding a few more links. I got a little over half way through my usual source tabs before I had to call it a day. On Monday, I tried to pick up where I had left off -- not going back to the tabs I had hit on Sunday, but picking up the occasional Monday post as I went along. Wound up with a pretty full post, dated Monday. I marked this paragraph as an add, because it's a revision to my original intro.

This should go up before I go to bed Monday night. Music Week will follow later Tuesday. Very little in it from before Saturday, but I've found a few interesting records while working on this.

But I do want to make one point here, which is something I've been thinking about for a while now.

I've come to conclude that many of us made a fundamental error in the immediate aftermath of October 7 in blaming Hamas (or more generally, Palestinians) for the outbreak of violence. Even those of us who immediately feared that Israel would strike back with a massive escalation somehow felt like we had to credit Hamas with agency and moral responsibility -- if not for the retaliation, at least for their own acts. But what choice did they have? What else could they have done?

But there is an alternate view, which is that violent resistance is an inevitable consequence of systematic marginalization, where nonviolent remedies are excluded, and order is violently enforced. How can we expect anyone to suffer oppression without fighting back? So why don't we recognize blowback as intrinsic to the context, and therefore effectively the responsibility of the oppressor? I don't doubt that Israelis were terrified on October 7. They were, after all, looking at a mirror of their own violence.

It's pretty obvious why Israel's leaders wanted to genocide. The Zionist movement was born in a world that was racist, nationalist, and imperialist -- traits that Zionists embraced, hoping to forge them into a defensive shield, which worked just as well as a cudgel to impose their will on others. What distinguishes them from Nazis is that they're less driven to enslave or exterminate enemy races, but that mostly means they see no use for others. In theory, they'd be satisfied just to drive the others out -- as they did with the Nakba -- but in practice their horizons expand as the settlements grow.

The question isn't: why genocide? That's been baked in from the beginning. The question is why they didn't do it before, and why they think they can get away with it now. The "why not" is bound to be speculative, and I don't want to delve very deep here, but I can imagine trying to sort it out on two axes, one for the people, the other for the cutting-edge political leaders. For the people, the scale runs from respect for one's humanity, and dehumanizing others. Most Israelis used to take pride in their high morality, but war and militarism broke that down (with ultra-orthodoxy and capitalism also taking a toll). As for the leaders, the scale is based on power: the desire to push the envelope of possibility, balanced off by the need to maintain good will with allies.

Ben Gurion was a master at both: a guy who took as much as he could (even overreaching in 1956 and having to retreat), and was always plotting ahead to take even more (as his followers did in 1967, meeting less resistance from Johnson). Begin pushed even further, although he too had to retreat from Lebanon under Carter before he found a more compliant Reagan. Netanyahu is another one who constantly tested the limits of American allowance, only to find that Trump and Biden were pushovers, offering no resistance at all. Genocide only became possible as Palestinians came to be viewed by most Israelis as subhuman, while Netanyahu found his power to be unlimited by American sensitivity.

So, while Israel has always been at risk of turning genocidal, what's really changed is America, turning from the "good neighbor" FDR promised to Eisenhower's "leader of the free world" to Reagan's capitalist scam artists to Bush's "global war on terror" to the Trump-Biden cha-cha. I chalk this up to several things. The drift to the right made Americans meaner and politicians more cynical and corrupt. The neocons came to dominate foreign policy, with their cult for power that could be rapidly and arbitrarily deployed anywhere -- as Israel did in their small region, Bush would around the globe. The counter-intifada in Israel and the US wars on terror drove both countries further into the grip of dehumanizing militarism, opening up an opportunity for Netanyahu to forge a right-wing alliance with America, while AIPAC held Democrats like Obama and Biden in check. Trump automatically rubber-stamped anything Netanyahu wanted, and Biden had no will power to do anything but.

By the time October 7 came around, Americans couldn't so much as articulate a national interest in peace and social justice. But there was also one specific thing that kept Americans from seeing genocide as such: we had totally bought into the idea that Hamas, as exemplary terrorists, were intrinsically evil, could never be negotiated with, and therefore all you could do to stop them is to kill as many as you can. It wasn't a novel idea. America has a sordid history of assassination plots until the mid-1970s, when the Church Committee exposed that history and forced reforms. But Israel's own assassination programs expanded continuously from the 1980s on, and American neocons envied Israel's prowess. Under Bush, "high value targets" became currency, and Obama not only followed suit, he upped the game -- most notably bagging Osama Bin Laden.

There's a Todd Snider line: "In America, we like our bad guys dead." That's an understatement. Dead has become the only way we can imagine their stories ending. We long ago gave up on the notion that enemies can be rehabilitated. In large part, this reflects a loss of faith in justice, replaced by sheer power, the belief that we are right because we have the might to force them to tow the line. That was the attitude that Europe took to the South in the 19th century. That was the attitude Germany and Japan made World War with.

That attitude was discredited -- Germany and Japan were allowed to recover as free and peaceful nations; Africa and Asia decolonized; the capitalist world integrated, first with a stable divide from the communists, then by further engagement. There were problems. The US was magnanimous to defeated Germany and Japan, but in turning against the Soviet Union, and in assuming security responsibility for the former European colonies, and in maintaining capitalist hegemony over them, Americans lost their faith in democracy and justice, and embraced power for its own sake. And when that failed, they turned vindictive toward Korea, Vietnam, Cuba, and elsewhere.

The Israelis were adept students of power. They learned directly from the British colonial system, with its divide-and-conquer politics, and its use of collective punishment. They worked with the British to defeat the Palestinian revolt of 1937-39, and against the British in 1947-48. They drew lessons from the Nazis. They learned to play games with the world powers, especially with the US. Trita Parsi's book, Treacherous Alliance, is a case study of how they played Iran off for leverage elsewhere, especially with the US. The neocons, with their Israel envy, were especially easy to play.

So when October 7 happened, all the necessary prejudices and reflexive operators were aligned. Hamas were the perfect villains: they had their roots in the Muslim Brotherhood, which qualified them as Islamists, close enough to the Salafis and Deobandis who Americans had branded as terrorists even before 9/11; they had become rivals with the secular PLO within the Occupied Territories, especially after Israel facilitated Arafat's return under the Oslo Accords -- a rivalry which led them to become more militant against Israel, which Israel intensified by assassinating their leaders; when they finally did decide to run for elections, they won but the results were disallowed, leading to them seizing power in Gaza, which Israel then blockaded, "put on a diet," and "mowed the grass" in a series of punishing sieges and incursions; along the way, Hamas managed to get a small amount of aid from Iran, so found themselves branded as an Iranian proxy, like Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen -- Israel knew that any hint of Iranian influence would drive the Americans crazy.

Not only was Hamas the perfect enemy, Israel and the United States had come to believe that terrorists were irrational and fanatical, that they could never be negotiated with, and that the only way to deal with them was by systematically killing off their cadres and especially their leaders until they were reduced to utter insignificance. The phrase Israelis used was that their goal was to make Palestinians realize that they were "an utterly defeated people." When I first heard that phrase, a picture came to mind, of the last days of the American Indian campaigns, when the last Sioux and Apache surrendered to be kept as helpless dependents on wasteland reservations.

On its founding, Israel kept a British legal system that was designed to subjugate native populations, to surveil them, and to arbitrarily arrest and punish anyone they suspected of disloyalty. They discriminated legally against natives, limiting their economic prospects, curtailing their freedom, and punishing them harshly, including collective punishments -- a system which instilled fear of each against the other, where every disobedient act became an excuse for harsher and more sweeping mistreatment.

After Hamas took control of Gaza, those punishments were often delivered by aircraft, wielding 2,000-pound bombs that could flatten whole buildings. Hamas responded with small, imprecise rockets, of no military significance but symbolic of defiance, a way of saying we can still reach beyond your walls. Israel always responded with more shelling and bombing, a dynamic that repeatedly escalated until the horror started to turn world opinion against Israel. Having made their point, Israel could then ease off, until the next opportunity or provocation sent them on the warpath again.

The October 7 "attack" -- at the time, I characterized it, quite accurately I still think, as a jail break followed by a brief crime spree. In short order, Israel killed most of the "attackers," and resealed the border. The scale, in terms of the numbers of Israelis killed or captured was much larger than anything Palestinians had previously managed, and the speed was even more striking, but the overall effect was mostly symbolic, and the threat of more violence coming from Gaza dissipated almost immediately. Israel had no real need to counterattack. They could have easily negotiated a prisoner swap -- Israel had many times more Palestinians in jail than Hamas took as hostages, and had almost unlimited power to add to their numbers. But Israel's leaders didn't want peace. They wanted to reduce Palestinians to "an utterly defeated people." And since there was no way to do that other than to kill most of them and drive the rest into exile -- basically a rerun of the Nakba, only more intense, because having learned that lesson, Palestinians would cling even more tenaciously to their homeland.

That's why the immediate reaction of Israel's leaders was to declare their intent to commit genocide. The problem with that idea was that since the Holocaust, any degree of genocide had become universally abhorrent. To proceed, Israel had to keep the war going, and to keep it going, they had to keep their ideal enemy alive, long enough to do major devastation, making Gaza unlivable for anywhere near the 2.3 million people who managed to live through decades of hardships there, with starvation playing a major role in decimating the population.

In order to commit genocide, Israel had to supplement its killing machinery with a major propaganda offensive, because they remembered that what finally stopped their major wars of 1948-49, 1956, 1967, and 1973, and their periodic assaults on Lebanon and Gaza, was public opinion, especially in America. But Netanyahu knew how to push America's buttons. He declared that the only thing Israel could do to protect itself -- the one thing Israel had to do in order to keep this mini-Holocaust from ever happening again -- was to literally kill everyone in Hamas.

And Americans fell for that line, completely. They believed that Hamas were intractably evil terrorists, and they knew that terrorists cannot be appeased or even negotiated with. And they trusted that Israelis knew what they were doing and how best to do it, so all they really had to do was to provide support and diplomatic cover, giving Israel the time and tools to do the job as best they saw fit. And sure, there would be some collateral damage, because Hamas uses civilians as human shields -- it never really occurring to Americans that those super-smart, super-moral Israelis can't actually tell the difference between Hamas and civilians even if they wanted to, which most certainly they do not. And if anything does look bad, Israel can always come up with a cover story good enough for Americans to believe. After all, Americans have a lot of practice believing their own atrocity cover up stories.

The hostage situation turned out to be really useful for keeping the spectre of Hamas alive. There is no real way for Americans to evaluate how much armed defense Hamas is still capable of in Gaza -- their capability to attack beyond the walls was depleted instantly as they shot their wad on October 7 -- so the only reliable "proof of existence" of Hamas is when their allies show up for meetings in Qatar and Cairo. And there's no chance of agreement, as the only terms Israel is offering is give up all the hostages, surrender, and die. But by showing up, they affirm that Hamas still exists, and by refusing to surrender, they remind the Americans that the only way this can end is by killing them all.

And while that charade is going on, Israel continues to kill indiscriminately, to destroy everything, to starve, to render Gaza unlivable. And they will continue to do so, until enough of us recognize their real plan is genocide, and we shame them into stopping. We are making progress in that direction, as we can see as Biden starts to waver in his less and less enthusiastic support, but we still have a long ways to go.

The key to making more progress will be to break down several of the myths Israel has spun. In particular, we have to abandon the belief that we can solve all our problems by killing everyone who disagrees with us. Second, we need to understand that killing or otherwise harming people only causes further resentment and resistance. People drunk on power tend to ignore this, but it's really not a difficult or novel idea: as Rabbi Hillel put it, "That which is hateful unto you, do not do to your neighbor."

Moreover, we need to understand that negotiated agreement between responsible parties is much preferable to the diktat of a single party, no matter how powerful that party is. It's not clear to me that Israel needs to negotiate an agreement with Hamas, because it's not clear to me that Hamas is the real and trusted agent of the people of Palestine or Gaza, but some group needs to emerge as the responsible party, and the more solid their footing, the better partner they can be.

Israel, like the British before them, has always insisted on picking its favored Palestinian representatives, while making them look foolish, corrupt, and/or ineffective. Arafat may only have been the latter, but by not allowing him to accomplish anything, Israel opened up the void that Hamas tried to fill. But Hamas has only had the power it was able to seize by force, and even then was severely limited by what Israel would allow, in a perverse symbiotic relationship that we could spend a lot of time on -- Israel has often found Hamas to be very useful, so their current view that Hamas has to be exterminated seems more like a line to be fed to the Americans, who tend to take good vs. evil ever so literally.

Initial count: 217 links, 12,552 words.

Top story threads:


Israel vs. world opinion:

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes: There were presidential primaries on April 2, all won as expected by Biden and Trump: Connecticut: Trump 77.9%, Biden 84.9%; New York: Trump 82.1%, Biden 91.5%; Rhode Island: Trump 84.5%, Biden 82.6%; Wisconsin: Trump 79.2%, Biden 88.6%; also Delaware has no vote totals, but gave all delegates to Trump and Biden. The next primary will be in Pennsylvania on April 23.

Trump, and other Republicans:

I've been reading Tricia Romano's oral history of The Village Voice, The Freaks Came Out to Write, and ran into a section on Wayne Barrett, who started reporting on Trump in the 1970s, and published the first serious book on Trump in 1992. The discussion there is worth quoting at some length (pp. 522-524):

TOM ROBBINS: Wayne appreciated the fact that Trump could be a serious player, given his willingness to play the race card, which was clear from his debut speech that he was gonna go after illegal immigrants and Mexicans. As long as you're going to outwardly play the race card in the Republican primary, you can actually command a lot. And Wayne understood that. He was surprised as the rest of us the way that Trump just mowed down the rest of the opposition and that nobody could stand up to him.

WILLIAM BASTONE: He knew that Trump was appealing to something that was going to have traction with people and that wasn't just a passing thing. I said, "Wayne, don't you think people see through this and they understand that he's really just a con man and a huckster and a racist?" The stuff goes back, at that point, almost thirty years with his father and avoiding renting apartments to Black families in Brooklyn.

And he was like, "No, that's gonna be a plus for him, for the people that he's going to end up attracting." I was like, "You're crazy, Wayne. You're crazy."

There was talk that he may have used racially charged or racist remarks when he was doing The Apprentice. And I said, "So Wayne, if it ever came out that Trump used those words or used the N-word?" And Wayne said, "That would be good for him." He was totally right. And then nine months later, he's talking about shooting people on Fifth Avenue. Trump understood that "there's really nothing I can do [wrong] because these people hate the people I hate, and we're all gonna be together."

TOM ROBBINS: When I was at the Observer, I had a column in there called Wise Guys. And at that point, Trump was talking about running for president. This was 1987, that was thirty years before he actually ran, almost. He was focused on this from the very beginning. And none of us took him seriously. . . .

As someone who worked with the tabloid press for a long time, the people who invented Trump were all those tabloid gossip reporters who dined out from all of his items over the years and who reported them right up until the time he ran for president. This is one of the great unrecognized crimes of the press. We in the tabloid press created Trump; it wasn't Wayne. Wayne was going after him.

JONATHAN Z. LARSEN: This is the media's Frankenstein's monster. Trump would call, using a fake name, saying, "I'm the PR guy for Donald Trump. I really shouldn't be telling you this, but he's about to get divorced, and he's got three women he's looking at. There's Marla Maples. There's so-and-so." Very often the people that he was speaking to recognized his voice. They loved it. It was free copy.

Barrett really did have some incredibly good information on Trump, how he built Trump Tower. The head of the concrete union was mobbed up. There was this crazy woman who bought the apartment just underneath Donald Trump's because she was sleeping with the concrete guy, and she wanted to install a pool. It's astonishing, the stuff he got. It's a national treasure now that we have Wayne Barrett's reporting. As soon as Trump became president, everybody was picking through all of Wayne's files.

The ellipsis covers a section on Barrett's Trump book, and stopped before a section on Barrett's horror watching the 2016 returns. By then Barrett was terminably ill, and he died just before Trump's inauguration. I remember reading about Trump in the Voice back in the 1970s, so I was aware of him as a major scumbag, but I took no special interest in him otherwise. Anything I did notice simply added to my initial impression.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Aaron Blake: [04-05] Gaza increasingly threatens Democrats' Trump-era unity.

  • Ben Burgis: [04-04] Democratic voters are furious about US support of Israel.

  • Rachel M Cohen: [04-01] You can't afford to buy a house. Biden knows that.

  • Page S Gardner/Stanley B Greenberg: [03-15] They don't want Trump OR Biden. Here's how they still can elect Biden. "Our new survey of these voters shows the president can still win their support."

  • Robert Kuttner: [04-04] Liberals need to be radicals: "The agenda for Biden's next term must go deeper to restore the American dream." The substance here is fine, but why resort to clichés? The "American dream" was never more than a dream. One can argue that we should dream again, and work to realize those dreams for everyone. Back in the 1960s, the first real political book I bought was an anthology called The New Radicals, edited by Paul Jacobs and Saul Landau, and I immediately saw the appeal of the word "radical" for those who seek deep roots of social problems, but nowadays the word is mostly used as a synonym for "extremist." But perhaps more importantly, I've cooled on the desirability for deep solutions (revolutions) and come to appreciate more superficial reforms. I would refashioned the title to say that "liberals need to be leftists," because the liberal dream of freedom can only be universalized through solidarity with others, and is of little value if limited to self-isolating individuals.

  • Tim Miller: [04-05] Joe Biden is not a "genocidal maniac": "And it's not just wrong but reckless and irresponsible to say he is." I agree with the title, but I disagree with the subhed. Genocide wasn't his idea, nor is it something he craves maniacally. But he is complicit in genocide, and not just passively so. He has said things that have encouraged Israel, and he has done things that have materially supported genocide. He has shielded them in the UN, with "allies," and in the media. I've thought a lot about morality lately, and I've come to think that it (and therefore immorality) can only be considered among people who have the freedom to decide on their own what to say and do. Many people are severely limited in their autonomy, but as president of the United States, Biden does have a lot of leeway, and should be judged accordingly.

    I realize that one might argue that morality is subordinate to politics -- that sometimes actual political considerations convince one to do things that normally regard as immoral (like going to war against Nazi Germany, or nuking Hiroshima) -- but the fundamentals remain the same: is the politician free to choose? One might argue that Biden's initial blind support for Israel was purely reflexive -- lessons he had learned over fifty years in AIPAC-dominated Washington, a reflex shared by nearly every other politician so conditioned -- but even so, as president Biden had access to information and a lot of leeway to act, and therefore should be held responsible for his political, as well as moral, decisions.

    Miller goes on to upbraid people for saying "Genocide Joe." He makes fair points, but hey, given the conditions, that's going to happen. Most of us have very little power to influence someone like Biden -- compared to big-time donors, colleagues, and pundits, all of whom are still pretty limited -- so trying to shame him with a colorful nickname is one of the few things one can try. In a similar vein, we used to taunt: "Hey, hey, LBJ; how many kids did you kill today?" And sure, LBJ was more directly responsible for the slaughter in Vietnam than Biden is in Gaza, but both earned the blame. Biden, at least, still has a chance to change course. If he fails, he, and he alone, sealed his fate.

  • Elena Schneider/Jeff Coltin: [03-29] Pro-Palestinian protesters interrupted Biden's glitzy New York fundraiser: "The event padded Biden's cash advantage, but laid bare one of his biggest weaknesses." The Biden campaign's response seems to be to try to exclude potential protesters:

    • Lisa Lerer/Reid J Epstein/Katie Glueck: [04-07] How Gaza protesters are challenging Democratic leaders: "From President Biden to the mayors of small cities, Democrats have been trailed by demonstrators who are complicating the party's ability to campaign in an election year." By the way, better term here than in the Politico piece: you don't have to be "pro-Palestinian" to be appalled by genocide. You can even be consciously pro-Israel, someone who cares so much for Israel that your most fervent desire is to spare them the shame of the path Netanyahu et al. have set out on.

  • Washington Monthly: [04-07] Trump vs. Biden: Who got more done? The print edition has a series of "accomplishment index" articles comparing the records of the two presidents. You can probably guess the results, especially if you don't count corruption and vandalism, the main drivers of the Trump administration, as accomplishments:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

The bridge:

Beyoncé: Cowboy Carter: I played the album (twice), and will present my thoughts in the next Music Week. I figured I was pretty much done with it before I started collecting these, but thought it might be interesting to note them:

Other stories:

Hannah Goldfield: [04-08] In the kitchen with the grand dame of Jewish cooking: Gnoshing with Joan Nathan.

Luke Goldstein: [04-02] The in-flight magazine for corporate jets: "The Economist has channeled the concerns of elites for decades. It sees the Biden administration as a threat."

Stephen Holmes: [04-04] Radical mismatch: A review of Samuel Moyn: Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times.

David Cay Johnston: [04-05] Antitax nation: Review of Michael J Graetz: The Power to Destroy: How the Antitax Movement Hijacked America, explaining "how clever marketing duped America into shoveling more tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations."

Sarah Jones:

Natalie Korach/Ross A Lincoln: [04-05] Meta blocks Kansas Reflector and MSNBC columnist over op-ed criticizing Facebook: "The company says Friday afternoon that the blocks, which falsely labeled the links as spam, were due to 'a security error.'" A Wichita columnist also wrote on this:

Orlando Mayorquin/Amanda Holpuch: [04-07] Southwest plane makes emergency landing after Boeing engine cover falls off. And just when I thought I'd get through a week with no Boeing stories. Then I noticed I had two more waiting:

Rick Perlstein: [04-03] Joe Lieberman not only backed Bush's war; he also helped make Bush president: "A remembrance of this most feckless of Democrats."

Nathan J Robinson: And other recent pieces from his zine, Current Affairs:

Jeffrey St Clair: [04-04] The day John Sinclair died: "The poet, musician, writer, pot liberator, raconteur, Tigers fan, jazzbo, political radical, producer of MC5, founder of the White Panthers and occasional CounterPunch, John Sinclair died this week at 82."

Michael Stavola: [04-03] Wichitan involved in deadly swatting arrested after reportedly doing donuts in Old Town: This story, where Wichita Police murdered Andrew Finch, keeps getting sicker. The trigger man not only got off, he's since been promoted, even after the city agreed to pay $5 million to the victim's family, while they managed to pin blame on three other pranksters. There's plenty of blame to go around. Not even mentioned here is the gun lobby and their Republican stooges who did so much to create an atmosphere where dozens of trigger-happy cops are dispatched to deal with an anonymous complaint, totally convinced that everyone they encounter is at likely to be armed and shoot as they are.

Carl Wilson: [03-25] Sweeping up kernels from Pop Con 2024. Includes links to key presentations by Robert Christgau, Michaelangelo Matos, Glenn McDonald, De Angela L Duff, Alfred Soto, and Ned Raggett.

I scribbled this down from a Nathan J Robinson tweet: "very interesting discussion of how, during World War I, attrocities attributed to German soldiers were used to whip people into a frenzy and create an image of a monstrous, inhuman enemy -- atrocities that later turned out to be dubious/exaggerated, well after the fighting stopped." That was followed by a scan from an unidentified book:

. . . stated that the Germans had systematically murdered, outraged, and violated innocent men, women, and children in Belgium. "Murder, lust, and pillage," the report said, "prevailed over many parts of Belgium on a scale unparalleled in any war between civilised nations during the last three centuries." The report gave titillating details of how German officers and men had publicly raped twenty Belgian girls in the market place at Liège, how eight German soldiers had bayoneted a two-year-old child, and how another had sliced off a peasant girl's breasts in Malilnes. Bryce's signature added considerable weight to the report, and it was not until after the war that several unsatisfactory aspects of the Bryce committee's activities emerged. The committee had not personally interviewed a single witness. The report was based on 1,200 depositions, mostly from Belgian refugees, taken by twenty-two barristers in Britain. None of the witnesses were placed on oath, their names were omitted (to prevent reprisals against their relatives), and hearsay evidence was accepted at full value. Most disturbing of all was the fact that, although the depositions should have been filed at the Home Office, they had mysteriously disappeared, and no trace of them has been found to this day. Finally, a Belgian commission of enquiry in 1922, when passions had cooled, failed markedly to corroborate a single major allegation in the Bryce report. By then, of course, the report had served its purpose. Its success in arousing hatred and condemnation of Germany makes it one of the most successful propaganda pieces of the war.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, March 31, 2024

Speaking of Which

This is another week where I ran out of time before I ran out of things I needed to look up. Further updates are possible, although as I'm writing this, I'm pretty exhausted, so I'm tempted to call it done.

First thing to add on Monday is: Jonathan Swan: [04-01] Trump's call for Israel to 'finish up' war alarms some on the right: Assuming this isn't an April Fool, as Israeli journalist Ariel Kahana puts it, "Trump effectively bypassed Biden from the left, when he expressed willingness to stop this war and get back to being the great country you once were." As Trump put it, "You have to finish up your war. You have to get it done. We have to get to peace. We can't have this going on." Kahana continued:

"There's no way to beautify, minimize or cover up that problematic message."

Trump aides insisted this was a misinterpretation. A campaign spokeswoman, Karoline Leavitt, said that Mr. Trump "fully supports Israel's right to defend itself and eliminate the terrorist threat," but that Israel's interests would be "best served by completing this mission as quickly, decisively and humanely as possible so that the region can return to peace and stability."

Trump wants it both ways: he wants to be seen as tough as possible -- there is no indication that "finish it" couldn't include simply killing everyone, but he recognizes that free time to do whatever Israel wants is in limited supply. So is American patience, because it is finally sinking in that this genocide is bad for America's relationships with the world, not just for Israel.

The article includes a good deal about and from David M. Friedman, who was Trump's ambassador to Israel, but could just as well be viewed as Netanyahu's mole in the Trump administration.

Mr. Friedman has gone much further than Mr. Kushner, who seemed to be only musing. Mr. Friedman has developed a proposal for Israel to claim full sovereignty over the West Bank -- definitively ending the possibility of a two-state solution. West Bank Palestinians who have been living under Israeli military occupation since 1967 would not be given Israeli citizenship under the plan, Mr. Friedman confirmed in the interview.

Of course, Trump wouldn't put it that way -- he'd never admit to going to the left of any "radical left Democrat," although he has occasionally scored points by avoiding extreme right Republican positions (like demolishing Social Security and Medicare). But peace isn't a position exclusive to the left. The trick for Trump, following Nixon in 1968, is to convince people that the tough guy is the best option for "peace with honor." It's hard to see how Trump can sustain that illusion, especially given that he has zero comprehension of the problem, and nothing but counterproductive reflexes. (Nixon didn't deliver either.)

Nathan Robinson tweeted on this piece, adding:

I have this wild notion that Trump might conceivably run to Biden's left on Israel-Palestine in the general election, like he did with Hillary and Iraq.

Elsewhere, Robinson noted:

Trump has always understood that the American people don't care for war. That was crucial to his successful campaign against Hillary in 2016. He's been unusually quiet for a Republican on Israel-Palestine, probably in the hopes it will be a big disaster for Biden.

I figured I'd add more to this post, but got bogged down with Music Week, then other things, so this will have to do. I doubt I'll get much done over the next two or three weeks, as we have various company coming and going. Not that there won't be lots to write about, as Tuesday's Mondoweiss daily title makes clear: [04-02] Israel kills 7 international aid workers in central Gaza, passes law banning Al Jazeera.

Initial count is actually pretty substantial: 183 links, 9,891 words. Updated count [04-02]: 196 links, 11,509 words.

Top story threads:


  • Mondoweiss:

  • AlJazeera: For quite some time I've been leading off with the daily logs published by Mondoweiss, but they didn't appear on Saturday and Sunday, so let these fill in. You can search for other possible daily updates, which Google suggests includes: Palestine Chronicle, Haaretz, IMEMC, Al Mayadeen, Palestine Chronicle, Times of Israel, Roya News, TASS, Jerusalem Post, Al-Manar TV Lebanon, UNRWA. Other news organizations that provide live updates include: AlJazeera, CNN, Guardian, Washington Post, New York Times, ABC, I24News, CNBC, Middle East Monitor.

    • [03-30] Day 176: List of key events: "Israeli attacks kill dozens of Palestinians including 15 people at a sport centre where war-displaced people were sheltering."

    • [03-31] Day 177: List of key events: "Gaza's Media Office says Israel has committed 'a new massacre' by bombing inside the walls of a hospital in Deir el-Balah."

  • Kaamil Ahmed/Damien Gayle/Aseel Mousa: [03-29] 'Ecocide in Gaza': does scale of environmental destruction amount to a war crime?: "Satellite analysis revealed to the Guardian shows farms devastated and nearly half of the territory's trees razed. Alongside mounting air and water pollution, experts say Israel's onslaught on Gaza's ecosystems has made the area unlivable." Let's say this loud: This is one of the most significant pieces of reporting yet on the war. War crime? Sure, but specifically this is compelling proof of intent, as well as fact, of genocide. The purpose of ecocide is to kill, perhaps less directly than bombs but more systematically, more completely. And driving people away? Sure, Israel will settle for that, especially as they're making it impossible for people who flee to return.

    Before this war, I must admit that I pictured Gaza as this chunk of desert totally covered by urban sprawl: you know, Manhattan's population in an area only slightly larger. Ever since the Nakba swept a couple hundred thousand Palestinians into refugee camps there, Gaza has had to import food. But any food they struggled to produce locally helped, especially as the population grew, and as Israel, as they liked to boast, "put Gaza on a diet." So small farms helped, and greenhouses even more. Israel has gone way out of their way to destroy food sources, much as they've destroyed utilities, hospitals, housing. While the news focuses on the top line deaths figure -- well over 30,000 but still, I'm sure, quite seriously undercounted -- Israel has shifted focus to long-term devastation.

  • Ammiel Alcalay: [03-26] Israel's lethal charade hides its real goals in plain sight: "Forget Israel's stated goals about destroying Hamas. Its real, undeclared goal has always been to make Gaza uninhabitable and destroy as many traces of Palestinian life as possible."

  • Nada Almadhoun: [03-26] A volunteer doctor in Gaza faces her patients' traumas along with her own: "I am in my final year in medical school and have seen hundreds of critical cases as a volunteer doctor during Israel's genocidal assault on Gaza. The traumas I have seen in my patients are no different from those I have experienced myself."

  • Zack Beauchamp: [03-29] The crisis that could bring down Benjamin Netantyahu, explained: "Netanyahu has till Sunday evening to present a fix to Israel's controversial conscription law. If he fails, his government likely fails with him." Genocide isn't controversial, but this [drafting yeshiva students] is? Actually, special status for ultra-orthodox Jews has been a fault line in Israeli politics ever since 1948 -- arguably Ben-Gurion's biggest mistake was bringing them into his government. But the stakes over conscription has grown over time, and are especially acute in times of high mobilization, like now.

  • Sheera Frenkel: [03-27] Israel deploys expansive facial recognition program in Gaza. They've been doing this in the West Bank for some time. Israel is also developing an export business for surveillance technology, handy for authoritarian regimes everywhere. Some earlier reports on this:

  • Tareq S Hajjaj: [03-25] The story of Yazan Kafarneh, the boy who starved to death in Gaza.

  • Ghada Hania: [03-30] 'No, dear. I will never leave Gaza.'

  • Ellen Ioanes/Nicole Narea: [03-25] Gaza's risk of famine is accelerating faster than anything we've seen in this century: "Everyone in Gaza is facing crisis levels of hunger. It's entirely preventable." In case you're wondering where he ever got such idea, Israel negotiated the exile of PLO members from Beirut, putting them on ships, most heading to Tunisia. Before that, British ships transferred large number of Palestinians from Jaffa to Beirut. So that's one thing the pier could be used for -- if the US can line up anywhere to deposit the refugees.

  • Chris Hedges: [03-18] Israel's Trojan Horse: "The 'temporary pier' being built on the Mediterranean coast of Gaza is not there to alleviate the famine, but to herd Palestinians onto ships and into permanent exile."

  • Ameer Makhoul: [03-25] While eyes are on Rafah, Israel is cementing control of northern Gaza: "Israel is building infrastructure to carve up Gaza, prevent the return of displaced Palestinians, and change the geographical and demographic facts on the ground."

  • Orly Noy: [03-23] Hebrew University's faculty of repressive science: "The suspension of Palestinian professor Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian empties all meaning from the university's proclaimed values of pluralism and equality."

  • Jonathan Ofir: [03-26] Another Israeli soldier admits to implementing the 'Hannibal Directive' on October 7: "Captain Bar Zonshein recounts firing tank shells on vehicles carrying Israeli civilians on October 7. 'I decide that this is the right decision, that it's better to stop the abduction and that they not be taken,' he told Israeli media outlets."

  • Meron Rapoport: [03-29] Why do Israelis feel so threatened by a ceasefire? "Halting the Gaza war means recognizing that Israel's military goals were unrealistic -- and that it cannot escape a political process with the Palestinians."

Israel vs. world opinion:

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

Trump, and other Republicans:

  • Zack Beauchamp: [03-28] How MAGA broke the media.

  • Jonathan Chait: [03-30] Republican billionaires no longer upset about insurrection: "The absurd rationalizations of Trump's oligarchs."

  • Chas Danner: [03-30] Trump is into kidnapped Biden shibari: Refers to "a truck tailgate meme about kidnapping President Joe Biden, tying him up with rope, and tossing him in the back of a pickup." Trump seems to approve.

  • Igor Derysh:

  • Tim Dickinson: [03-25] 'Bloodbath,' 'vermin,' 'dictator' for a day: A guide to Trump's fascist rhetoric.

  • Liza Featherstone: Donald Trump's crusade against electric vehicles is getting racist.

  • Francesca Fiorentini: [03-29] Handmaids of the patriarchy: "Republicans offer a lesson in how not to win women back to their party."

  • Shane Goldmacher/Maggie Haberman: [03-26] Trump isn't reaching out to Haley and her voters. Will it matter? Link to this article was more explicit, quoting Steve Bannon: "Screw Nikki Haley -- we don't need her endorsement." But as the article notes, many Republicans who once grumbled about Trump wound up "bending the knee."

  • Sarah Jones: [03-29] The time Trump wished everyone a 'Happy Good Friday': "Trump doesn't have to be pious. He doesn't have to understand what holy days mean to his supposed co-religionists. He just has to infuriate their enemies -- and he's good at that."

  • Robert Kuttner: [03-27] The corrupt trifecta of Yass, Trump, and Netanyahu: "Yass's payoffs to Trump are part of his efforts to destroy democracy in the US and Israel, while helping China."

  • Adam Lashinsky: [03-25] Trump's new stock deal is just another pig in a poke:

    I don't give investment advice. But I assure you that a company with $3.4 million in revenue and $49 million in losses over the past nine months is not worth $5 billion. Buy into shares of any company with those numbers and you are certain to be taken for a sucker.

    That Donald Trump will be the one doing the bamboozling means that investors in his public media company might as well be making a political donation to his campaign or contributing to a Trump legal defense fund instead.

  • Julianne Malveaux: [03-31] Those ridiculous retiring Republicans: Four Republican Reps have resigned this year -- Kevin McCarthy (CA), Bill Johnson (OH), Ken Buck (CO), and Mike Gallagher (WS) -- unable to cope with a party that eats its own.

  • Andrew Marantz: [03-27] Why we can't stop arguing about whether Trump is a fascist: Review of a new book on the question, Did It Happen Here? Perspectives on Fascism and America, edited by Daniel Steinmetz-Jenkins. Without having read the book, I can probably rattle off a dozen arguments for and against, but to matter, you not only have to have some historical background but also an interest in certain possible political dynamics and outcomes -- which makes it a question those on the left are both inclined to ask and answer affirmatively: from where we stand, knowing what we know, Trump and his movement are indeed very fascist, at least inasmuch as they hate us and wish to see us destroyed, as have all fascists before them. However, that's mostly useful just to us, to whom labeling someone a fascist suffices as a sophisticated and damning critique. Others' mileage may vary, depending on what other questions they are concerned with, and how Trump aligns or differs from his fascist forebears. One such question is does knowing whether Trump is a fascist help you to oppose him? It probably does within the left, but not so much with others.

  • Amanda Marcotte: [03-26] Trump loves to play the victim -- NY appeals court bailout shows he's the most coddled person alive: "There appears to be no end of breaks for a spoiled rich boy who has never done a decent thing in his 77 years."

  • Dana Milbank: [03-29] Trump can't remember much. He hopes you won't be able to, either. Too bad Trump's opponent doesn't seem to have the recall and articulation to remind people.

  • Ruth Murai: [03-30] Donald Trump stoops to lowest low yet with violent post of Biden: "Let's call it what it is: stochastic terrorism."

  • Timothy Noah: Trump's unbearable temptation to dump his Truth Social stock: "Would he really screw over MAGA investors to cover his gargantuan legal debts? Don't bet against it."

  • Rick Perlstein: [03-27] The Swamp; or, inside the mind of Donald Trump: "His orations about migrants are a pastiche of others' golden oldies. Exhibit A: the lie that migrants are sent from prisons and mental institutions."

  • Catherine Rampell:

    • [03-25] Two myths about Trump's civil fraud trial: So, after a judge cut down and postponed the full bond requirement that every other defendant has had to live with, Trump "shall live to grift another day." The myths?

      First, that Trump's white-collar cases are "victimless" and therefore not worth enforcement. And second, that every lawsuit and charge against him plays into his persecution narrative, thereby strengthening him as a presidential candidate.

      Both criticisms are off-base, at least in a society that values rule of law.

    • [03-29] The internet was supposed to make humanity smarter. It's failing. I wasn't sure where to file this, but a quick look at her examples of internet stupidity led me to the simplest conclusion, which is under her other article on Trump. But I'm tempted to argue that the problem is less the internet than who "we" are. I personally haven't the faintest sense that the internet has made me dumber. I use it to fact check myself dozens of times each week, which I couldn't have done before it. This very column is ample evidence of the internet's ability to make extraordinary amount of information widely available. I couldn't do what I do without it. Indeed, I couldn't know what I know. There are problems, of course. The internet is an accelerator of all kinds of information, right and wrong, good and bad, or just plain frivolous. It's also a great diffuser, scattering information so widely that few people have common references. (Unlike when I was growing up, and everyone knew Edward Murrow, and a few of us even knew I.F. Stone.) Of course, those properties sound more neutral than they are. The internet can be viewed as a market, which has been severely skewed to favor private interests over public ones. That's something we need to work on.

  • Eugene Robinson: [03-28] Trump's Bible grift is going to backfire: I think his reasoning -- "some of them might actually read it" is way off base. I mean, who actually reads the Bible? I never did. I'm not sure I knew anyone who did. I remember being shocked when I found out it was included in the list of the "Great Books" curriculum: the very idea that you could just sit down or curl up and read it through, like Plato's Republic and Dante's Inferno. All we ever did was hunt for quotes -- preferably short ones -- that we could use as an authority, because that's what everyone used the Bible for. And even if your quote-hunting goes long and deep, it's not like you're open to discovery; it's usually just confirmation bias. So no, I don't think there's any reason to think that people fool enough to buy a Bible from Trump are going to wise up. The best I'm hoping for is that they become embarrassed at having fallen for such an obvious con.

  • Jennifer Rubin:

    • [03-20] We ignore Trump's defects at our peril: An obvious point, but not just the defects -- the whole package is profoundly disturbing. I included this column for the title, but it's mostly a q&a, starting with one about the Schumer speech calling for new elections in Israel, which she answers with a real howler: "The United States and Israel generally avoid influencing each other's domestic politics, so this was quite a shock to some." Ever hear of Sheldon Adelson? Granted, it's mostly Israel interfering with America -- maybe AIPAC has American figureheads, but they always march to the orders of whoever's in power in Israel -- but I can think of examples, even if they're mostly more subtle than Schumer.

    • [03-24] Other than Trump, virtually no one was doing better four years ago. By the way, this is a bullshit metric. It was pushed hard by Reagan in 1984, knowing that America had been mired in a Fed-induced recession in 1980, but was then rebounding as interest rates dropped. Carter wasn't blameless for the recession -- he had, after all, appointed Volcker -- and Reagan did goose the recovery with his budget-busting tax cuts and military spending, but that's overly simplistic. Same today, although the depths of the 2020 recession were so severe that Biden couldn't help but look good in comparison. That, as Rubin notes, some people can't see that is a problem, potentially a big one if amnesia and delusion lead to a second Trump term. So yeah, Democrats need to remind us of Trump's massive failures, and real things accomplished under Biden (even though many of them, like infrastructure, haven't had much impact yet).

      But we should be aware of two flaws in the argument: one is that it takes a long time to fully understand the impact of a presidency; the other is that one's personal effect is often misleading. Personally, I did great during the Reagan years, but maybe being 30-38 had something to do with that? But we now know that the most significant political change was the uncoupling of wages and productivity increases -- something that was made possible by a major shift of leverage from labor to business -- which more than any other factor (including tax cuts and growing trade deficits) massively increased inequality. I didn't fully understand that at the time, but I did detect that something had gone terribly wrong, when I would quip that America's only growth industry was fraud. While I could point to a number of examples at the time, it took longer to realize that Bill Clinton was one of them -- a point that many Democrats still haven't wised up to. But even today, some people can't even see the fraud Trump peddles.

  • Margaret Sullivan:

  • Sophia Tesfaye: [03-31] Trump unloads on Republican "cowards and weaklings" in Easter Sunday meltdown.

  • Katrina vanden Heuvel: [02-27] If Trump wins, he'll be a vessel for the most regressive figures in US politics: "A Trump presidency would usher in dark consortium dedicated to stripping millions of Americans of our freedoms."

  • Amy B Wang/Marianne LeVine: [03-27] Trump has sold $60 bibles, $399 sneakers and more since leaving office.

  • George F Will: [03-29] These two GOP Senate candidates exemplify today's political squalor: Kari Lake (AZ) and Bernie Moreno (OH). This is a tough read, and I'm not sure it's all that rewarding -- e.g., he refers to Moreno's opponent, Sherrod Brown, as "a progressive reliably wrong -- and indistinguishable from Trump," as he tries to find the most extremely right-wing vantage point possible from which to attack Republicans like Trump who aren't pure enough. But at least from that perspective, Will doesn't imagine pro-business Democrats to be "radical communists."

    For what it's worth, I regard Will as the most despicable of all the Washington Post columnists -- a group that once included Charles Krauthammer and still gives space to Marc Thiessen -- his interest in baseball has always been genuine and occasionally thoughtful. I'm not up for this at the moment, but if you're so inclined: You can't get thrown out for thinking, so take a swing at George Will's baseball quiz. (I might have once, but question 2 offers as an option a player I've never heard of: Adam Dunn, who it turns out hit 462 home runs, but clearly isn't the answer. Despite that bit of ignorance, I'm pretty sure I would have gotten that question right. I suspect I could figure out most of the combinations, but most of the rest are too obscure even for me in my prime.)

  • Amanda Yen: [03-31] Trump just won't stop attacking hush-money judge's daughter: "It's the fourth time he's gone after Judge Juan Merchan's daughter in the past week."

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

  • Dean Baker: Sorry for the bits, here and elsewhere, where sentences tend to tumble down hills as each clause reveals a premise that you should know but probably don't, hence requiring another and another. I know that proper form is to start from the premises and build your way up, but that's a lot of work, often winding up with many more points than the one you wanted to make. I do that a lot, but two examples here are especially egregious: each could be turned into a substantial essay (but who wants to read, much less write, one of those?).

    • [03-26] Relitigating the pandemic: School closings and vaccine sharing. There's been a constant refrain about how school closings have irrevocably stunted the intellectual growth of children. Baker mostly checks their math, rather than taking on the bigger issue of whether the nose-to-the-grindstone cult that took over policy control under the guise of "No Child Left Behind" (which, sure, wasn't all that different from the "rote learning" that dominated the first century of mass education, and like all test-driven regimes was all about leaving children behind, at least once their basic indoctrination has been accomplished -- the whole point of mass education in the first point [see Michael B Katz: The Irony of Early School Reform]).

      At some point, I should write more about education, including how hard I find it to reconcile my political belief in universal free education with my grim view of what we might call our actually-existing system. For now, I'll just point out that Astra Taylor's brilliant section on curiosity in her book The Age of Insecurity: Coming Together as Things Fall Apart. Fifty-some years ago, I tried to figure out why my own educational experience had been so disastrous, which led me through books like those by Katz (op. cit.), Paul Goodman (Compulsory Mis-Education and the Community of Scholars), Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed), and Charles Weingarten and Neal Postman's Teaching as a Subversive Activity.

      Baker then goes on to talk about America's peculiar system for developing vaccines against Covid-19, which was to focus on the most expensive, most technically sophisticated, and (to a handful of private investors) most profitable system possible, making it unlikely that the world could share the benefits. It is some kind of irony that America ultimately suffered more from the pandemic than any other "developed" nation -- other aspects of our highly politicized profit-driven health care system saw to that, but it was by design that in every segment the poor would suffer worst, in health, and indeed in education.

    • [03-27] There ain't no libertarians, just politicians who want to give all the money to the rich. Responding to the Wallace-Wells column on Argentina's new president, Javier Milei -- you may recall that before he was elected, I predicted he'd quickly become the worst president anywhere in the world; let's just say he's still on that trajectory, although he's been slowed down a bit by the gravity of reality, so he's not yet as bad as he would be if he had more power (a phenomenon I trust you observed close enough with Donald Trump):

      Baker explains:

      The piece talked about how Milei calls himself as an anarchist, with the government just doing basic functions, like defending the country and running the criminal justice system. Otherwise, Milei would eliminate any role for government, if he had his choice.

      It is humorous to hear politicians make declarations like this. As a practical matter, almost all of these self-described anarchists would have a very large role for the government. What they want to do is to write the rules in ways that sends income upwards and then just pretend it is the natural order of things.

      The "natural order of things" is what conservatives are all about, as long as they're the ones on top of the totem pole. The more common word used for Milei is libertarian, which is how people on top like to think of themselves as being free (they turn conservative when they look down, and realize that their freedom depends on repressing, even enslaving, others). Michael Lind was onto something when he said that libertarianism had actually been tested historically; we tend to forget that, because the term at the time was feudalism. Charles Koch is the great American libertarian -- I know more about his fantasy world than most, because I used to typset books for him during his Murray Rothbard period -- and no one more exemplifies a feudal lord.

      Baker goes on to reiterate his usual shtick starting with patents, continuing on to a pitch for his book, Rigged (free online, and worth the time).

    • [03-28] Profits are still rising, why is the Fed worried about wage growth?

    • [03-29] Social Security retirement age has already been raised to 67.

    • [03-31] Do we need to have a Cold War with China?: Responds to a Paul Krugman column -- Bidenomics is making China angry. That's okay. -- that I didn't see much point of including on its own. Much more detail here worth reading, but here's the end:

      The basic point here is that we should care a lot about our relations with China. That doesn't mean we should structure our economy to make its leaders happy. We need to implement policies that support the prosperity and well-being of people in the United States. But we also need to try to find ways to cooperate with China in areas where it is mutually beneficial, and we certainly should not be looking for ways to put a finger in their eye.

  • Ryan Cooper: [02-07] Why were inflation hawks wrong? "Economists like Larry Summers predicted that bringing inflation down would require a large increase in unemployment. It didn't."

  • Inequality.org: [03-24] Total US billionaire wealth is up 88 percent over four years.

  • David Moscrop: [03-29] Welcome to a brave new world of price gouging: "Sellers have always had access to more information than buyers, and 'dynamic pricing,' which harnesses the power of algorithms and big data, is supercharging this asymmetry."

  • Alex Moss/Timi Iwayemi: [03-29] Senators' latest attempt to enrich Big Pharma must not prevail: "Patents are meant to encourage actual innovation, not monster corporate profits." Given how little bearing patents have on actual innovation, you'd think that argument would have dropped by the wayside, but the profits are so big those who seek them will say anything.

  • Kenny Stancil: [03-27] Jerome Powell's fingerprints are on the next banking crisis: "Not only did Federal Reserve chair Jerome Powell's post-2016 regulatory rollbacks and supervisory blunders contribute significantly to the 2023 banking crisis, his current opposition to stronger capital requirements is setting the stage for the next crisis."

  • Yanis Varoufakis: [03-28] "Debt is to capitalism what Hell is to Christianity": Interview by David Broder with the Greek economist, who has a new film series where he explains "how elites used the financial crisis to terrorize Europe's populations into submission."

Ukraine War: Further details, blame, and other ruminations about the Moscow theatre terror attack have been moved to a following section. Worth noting here that if you're a war architect in Kyiv or Moscow (or Washington), the terror attack is bound to look like a second front, even if the two are unconnected. With the war hopelessly stalemated, both sides are looking for openings away from the front: Russia has increased drone attacks in Ukrainian cities far from the front (in one case, infringing on Polish air space); Ukraine has also sent drones over the Russian border, as well as picked off targets in Crimea and the Black Sea, and seems to have some capacity for clandestine operations within Russia. The result has been a dangerous bluring of respect for "red lines," which could quickly turn catastrophic (nuclear weapons and power plants are the obvious threats, but lesser-scale disasters are possible, and could quickly turn into chain reactions).

The only possible answer has always been to negotiate a truce which both sides can live with, preferably consistent with the wishes of the people most directly affected (which in the case of Crimea and most of Donbas means ethnic Russians who had long opposed Ukraine's drift to the West). Also, the Biden administration needs to discover where America's real interests lie, which is in peace and cooperation with all nations. The idea that the US benefits by degrading and isolating Russia is extremely short-sighted. (Ditto for China, Iran, and many others the self-appointed hyper-super-duper-power thinks it's entitled to bully.)

  • Connor Echols: [03-29] Diplomacy Watch: NATO, Russia inch closer to confrontation.

  • David Ignatius:

    • [03-29] Zelensky: 'We are trying to find some way not to retreat'. Even with the most sympathetic interviewer in the world, he's starting to sound pathetic. For another example of Ignatius trying to champion a loser, see:

    • [03-19] Liz Cheney still plays to make a difference in the election. Sorry for the disrespect -- I do have some, for Zelensky and Cheney (though maybe not for Ignatius), but I couldn't resist the line. Both have maneuvered themselves into positions that appear principled but are untenable, with their options limited on both ends. Zelensky's matters much more. When he was elected, he had to make a choice, either to try to lead a reduced but still substantial nation into Europe and peace, or fight to regain territories that had always opposed the European pivot. He chose the latter, and failed: the chances of him winning any substantial amount of territory back are very slim, while the costs of continuing the war are daunting (even if the US and Europe can continue to support him, which is becoming less certain). But if he's willing to cut his losses, the deal to end the war is distasteful but pretty straightforward. And so is the entry of the Ukraine that he still controls into Europe. Of course, doing so will disappoint the war party (especially Ignatius, and count Cheney in there, too). As for Cheney, I don't see any options. She has no popular support to maneuver, and no real moral authority either.

  • Robert Kagan: [03-28] Trump's anti-Ukraine view dates to the 1930s. America rejected it then. Will we now? The dean of neocon warmongers tries to pull a fast one on you. While there is some similarity between Trump's MAGA minions and Nazi sympathizers of the late 1930s -- still not as obvious as the direct line between Fred and Donald Trump -- the much derided "isolationists" of the pre-WWII period spanned the whole political spectrum, as they were rooted in the traditional American distrust of standing armies and foreign entanglements, along with hardly-isolationist ideas like the Monroe Doctrine and the Open Door Policy.

    Such views weren't rejected: even Roosevelt respected them until Japan and Germany declared war, forcing the US to join WWII. As the war turned, some highly-placed Americans saw the opportunity (or in some cases the necessity) of extending military and economic power around the globe, especially seeing as how Europe would no longer be able to dominate Africa and Asia, especially with communists, who had taken the lead in fighting the Axis powers, spearheading national liberation movements.

    The elites who promoted American hegemony had first to win the political argument at home. They did this by branding those who had rejected Wilson's League of Nations as "isolationists," the implication being that their opposition was responsible for World War's return, and by stirring up a "red scare," which played the partition of Europe, the revolution in China, and the Korean War into a colossal Cold War struggle, while also helping right-wingers at home demolish the labor movement, and turning American foreign policy into a perpetual warmaking machine. Kagan, like his father and his wife, is a major cog in that machine, as should be obvious here.

  • Joshua Keating: [03-28] Therer's a shadow fleet sneaking Russian oil around the world. It's an ecological disaster waiting to happen. "The world's next big maritime catastrophe could involve sanctions-dodging rustbuckets." Not something the Ukraine hawks will ever think to worry about, but sounds to me like another good reason to settle real soon now.

  • Blaise Malley: [03-25] Would House approve 'loaning' rather than giving Ukraine aid?: "There's a new plan afoot to do just that, even if Kyiv cannot repay it."

  • Jeffrey Sachs: [03-25] Crude rhetoric can lead us to war: "The US, Russia, and China must engage in serious diplomacy now. Name calling and personal insults do nothing for the peace effort. They only bring us closer to war."

Putin and Bush shared a common bond, and a temporary alliance, in the early 2000s, as both were struck by "terror attacks" from Islamic groups, blowback to their nations' long historical efforts to dominate and/or exploit Muslims (which for Russia goes back to wars against Turks and Mongols, extending to Russia's conquest of the Caucusus and Central Asia, their Great Game with the UK, later replaced by the US; for Americans it's mostly been driven by oil and Israel since WWII, although the legacy of the Crusades still pops up here and there). In recent years, Russia's "war on terror" has taken a back seat to its war in Ukraine, but the problem flared up again when gunmen killed 143 concert-goers at Moscow's Crocus City Hall.

We shouldn't be surprised that when a historically imperialist ruler takes a nationalist turn, as Putin did in going to war to reassert Russian hegemony over Ukraine, that its other minority subjects should get nervous, defensive, and as is so much the fashion these days, preëmptively strike out.

The attack was claimed by ISIS-K, and Russia has since arrested four Tajiks in connection with the crime. One should not forget that in the 1980s, the US was very keen not only on arming mujahideen to fight in Afghanistan against Russia but on extending the Islamist revolt deep into the Soviet Union (Tajikistan).

  • Francesca Ebel: [03-27] As death toll in Moscow attack rises to 143, migrants face fury and raids.

  • Richard Foltz: [03-26] Why Russia fears the emergence of Tajik terrorists.

  • Sarah Harmouch/Amira Jadoon: [03-25] How Moscow terror attack fits ISIL-K strategy to widen agenda against perceived enemies.

  • Ellen Ioanes: [03-28] ISIS-K, the group linked to Moscow's terror attack, explained.

  • Ishaan Tharoor: [03-27] Putin sees Kyiv in Moscow terrorist attack. But ISIS is its own story. I'm reminded here of something in the afterword to Gilles Kepel's Jihad: The Trial of Political Islam -- a book that appeared in English in 2003, but had been written and published in French, I think before 9/11 -- about how political Islam (including Al-Qaeda) was in serious decline after 2000, and 9/11 was initially a desperate ploy for attention and relevance (what American footballers call a "hail Mary pass").

    By the way, the first thing I did after 9/11 -- I was visiting friends in Brooklyn on that date, and one was actually killed in WTC, so it hit pretty close to home -- was to go to a bookstore and scrounge around for something relevant to read that would give me some historical context. The book that I found that came closest (but not very close) to satisfying my urge was Barbara Crossette's The Great Hill Stations of Asia, probably due to my intuition that the terror attacks were deeply rooted in the imperialist (and racist) past, but that specific story was too far in the past to be of much help. The book I really wanted to find was Kepel's, which told me everything I needed to know. So yeah, I find it plausible that ISIS-K wanted to kick Russia just to remind them that they have unfinished business. I don't doubt that Hamas wanted to kick Israel in the same way -- also reminding Saudi Arabia who they were about to get in bed with. Terrorists aren't very good at calibrating those kicks, so sometimes they get more reaction than they really wanted. But do they really care? Overreaction is often the worst possible thing an offended power can do, as 9/11 and 10/7 have so painfully demonstrated.

Around the world:

  • Caroline Houck: [03-29] A very bad year for press freedom: Playing up the year-and-counting detention of Evan Gershkovich in Russia, but there are other examples, including many journalists killed by Israel not just recently but "over the last two decades." On Gershkovich, see:

  • Vijay Prashad: [03-26] Europe sleepwalks through its own dilemmas: With the episodic rise of the right in America, where each fitful advance has tattered and in some cases shredded not just the social welfare state but our entire sense of democracy, solidarity, cohesion, and commonwealth, lots of Americans have come to admire Europe, where social democracy for the most part remains intact. On the other hand, what we see in European politics, at least for those of us who see anything at all, is often bewildering and unnerving. Don't these people realize how fortunate they have been? Yet in many areas, as Prashad notes here, they seem to be blind and dumb, just following whatever the direction is coming from Washington and Davos, despite repeated failures.

  • David Smilde: [03-22] Candidate registration is becoming a purge of Maduro's opposition.

The bridge:


Other stories:

Joshua Frank: [03-28] As the rich speed off in their Teslas: Of life and lithium.

Sam Levin: [03-27] Joe Lieberman, former US senator and vice-presidential nominee, dies at 82. More on Lieberman:

Gideon Lewis-Kraus: [03-25] You say you want a revolution. Do you know what you mean by that? Reviews two books: Fareed Zakaria: Age of Revolutions: Progress and Backlash from 1600 to the Present; and Nathan Perl-Rosenthal: The Age of Revolutions: And the Generations Who Made It, which is more focused on the years 1760-1825.

Jeffrey St Clair: [03-29] Roaming Charges: Nowhere men: Remembering Joe Lieberman, then onto the bridge and other disasters.

Mari Uyehara: [03-25] The many faces of Viet Thanh Nguyen: "The Vietnamese American writer's leap to the mainstream comes at a moment that demands his anti-colonialist perspective."

I've cited this article before, but my wife reminded me of it yesterday and went on to read me several chunks. The article is by Pankaj Mishra: The Shoah after Gaza. It's worth reading in whole, but for now let me just pull a couple paragraphs out from the middle:

One of the great dangers today is the hardening of the colour line into a new Maginot Line. For most people outside the West, whose primordial experience of European civilisation was to be brutally colonised by its representatives, the Shoah did not appear as an unprecedented atrocity. Recovering from the ravages of imperialism in their own countries, most non-Western people were in no position to appreciate the magnitude of the horror the radical twin of that imperialism inflicted on Jews in Europe. So when Israel's leaders compare Hamas to Nazis, and Israeli diplomats wear yellow stars at the UN, their audience is almost exclusively Western. Most of the world doesn't carry the burden of Christian European guilt over the Shoah, and does not regard the creation of Israel as a moral necessity to absolve the sins of 20th-century Europeans. For more than seven decades now, the argument among the 'darker peoples' has remained the same: why should Palestinians be dispossessed and punished for crimes in which only Europeans were complicit? And they can only recoil with disgust from the implicit claim that Israel has the right to slaughter 13,000 children not only as a matter of self-defence but because it is a state born out of the Shoah.

In 2006, Tony Judt was already warning that 'the Holocaust can no longer be instrumentalised to excuse Israel's behaviour' because a growing number of people 'simply cannot understand how the horrors of the last European war can be invoked to license or condone unacceptable behaviour in another time and place'. Israel's 'long-cultivated persecution mania -- "everyone's out to get us" -- no longer elicits sympathy', he warned, and prophecies of universal antisemitism risk 'becoming a self-fulfilling assertion': 'Israel's reckless behaviour and insistent identification of all criticism with antisemitism is now the leading source of anti-Jewish sentiment in Western Europe and much of Asia.' Israel's most devout friends today are inflaming this situation. As the Israeli journalist and documentary maker Yuval Abraham put it, the 'appalling misuse' of the accusation of antisemitism by Germans empties it of meaning and 'thus endangers Jews all over the world'. Biden keeps making the treacherous argument that the safety of the Jewish population worldwide depends on Israel. As the New York Times columnist Ezra Klein put it recently, 'I'm a Jewish person. Do I feel safer? Do I feel like there's less antisemitism in the world right now because of what is happening there, or does it seem to me that there's a huge upsurge of antisemitism, and that even Jews in places that are not Israel are vulnerable to what happens in Israel?'

One thing I want to add here is that liberal- and left-democrats often take great pains to make clear that their criticism of Israeli government policy, and of the people who evidently support those policies, does not reflect or imply any criticism of Jews in America, who are not represented by the Israeli government, even if they are deeply sympathetic to Israel. We are also very quick to point out that many of those most critical of Israel, both in the US and in Israel itself, are Jewish, and often do so out of principles that they believe are deeply rooted in Judaism.

We do this because our fundamental position is that we support free and equal rights for all people, regardless of whose human rights are being asserted or denied. But we're particularly sensitive on this point, because we know that many of our number are Jewish, so we are extra aware of when their rights have been abused, and of their solidarity in defending the rights of others.

So we regard as scurrilous this whole propaganda line that accuses anyone who in any way disagrees with Israeli policy with antisemitism. We are precisely the least antisemitic people in America. Meanwhile, the propaganda line seems to be aimed at promoting antisemitism in several ways: it tells people who don't know better to blame all Jews for the human rights abuses of Israel; it also reassures people who really are antisemites that their sins are forgiven if they support Israel; and it reaffirms the classic Zionist argument that all Jews must flee the diaspora and resettle in Israel -- the only safe haven in a world full of antisemitism. (It is no coincidence that many of Zionism's biggest supporters have been, and in many cases still are, antisemites. Balfour and Lloyd George were notorious antisemites. Hitler himself approved the transfer of hundreds of thousands of German Jews to Palestine.)

While none of this is hard to understand, many people don't and won't, so it's very likely that some will take their fear and anger over genocide out on Jews. We will denounce any such acts, as we have always done. And as we have, and will continue to, heinous acts by Israel. But we should be aware that what's driving this seemingly inevitable uptick in "antisemitism" is this false propaganda line, perpetrated by Israel and its very well heeled support network -- including most mainstream media outlets, and virtually the entire American political elite. So when people insist you step up and denounce antisemitism, do so. But don't forget to include the real driving force behind antisemitism these days: the leaders of Israel.

While I was looking for a quote to wrap up this post, I ran across a Richard Silverstein tweet that fits nicely here:

Genocide is an unpardonable sin before God in Judaism, regardless of who are the victims or the perpetrators. Israel's crimes are not in my name as a Jew, nor in the name of Judaism as millions of my fellow Diaspora Jews know it.

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