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Sunday, August 7, 2022
Speaking of Which
After the Kansas referendum on abortion rights, I figured I should post something this week. I've felt all along that the amendment would be defeated in a fair election, while also recognizing that nothing in the wording or scheduling of this issue was meant to be fair. Some of my reasoning is explained below. Of course, even the margin won't alter the will of the anti-abortion forces to come up with some other way to strip Kansans of their rights. The next big battle will be in November, when Kansas elects a new governor: the Republican legislature will continue to pass outlandish bills, but if Democrat Laura Kelly wins they'll have to override her veto. (Republicans currently hold a "veto-proof" majority, but just barely, so we'll also be closely watching minor shifts there.)
Underreported below is the Ukraine War, which continues to grind on, with Ukraine making minor progress in the South toward Kherson, and Russia trying to expand its Donbas enclaves. The war itself has mostly degenerated to long-distance shelling. (Most alarming: Rocket attacks at Zaporizhzhia power plant raise fears of 'nuclear catastrophe'.) Meanwhile, no reported interest on any side for cease fire and talks (other than allowing one ship of grain to leave Odesa).
In late-breaking news, [08-07] Senate approves Inflation Reduction Act, clinching long-delayed health and climate bill, with concessions to Manchin and Sinema, including Republicans block cap on insulin costs for millions of patients (vote was 57-43 in favor of the cap, but in our great democracy that wasn't enough). Vox has an explainer. Also Rebecca Leber: The Senate just passed one of the biggest bills to fight climate change, ever.
Spencer Ackerman: [08-01] First Impressions on the Execution of Ayman al-Zawahiri. Author calls his blog "Forever Wars," of which this is another mark in the forever timeline. Like many other markers, this could be used as a pivot point to exiting the process which generates future terrorists faster than it can wipe them out. Related:
David Badash: [08-06] Rick Scott tells CPAC Democrats' policies are 'evil,' the 'militant left' is the 'enemy' and the 'greatest danger we've ever faced': I've been reading Heather Cox Richardson's history of the Republican Party, To Make Men Free, which recounts Republican claims that Democrats were set on destroying the country going back to the 1870s. (Evidently, the red baiting started immediately after the 1871 Paris Commune, although the Federalists made similar complaints about the Jacobins in the 1790s.) With the New Deal in the 1930s, when it was the Democrats who saved America from the greatest economic collapse in American history, Republican hysteria only became more strident. That Republicans like Scott are dialing their madness up even more now just shows that even they recognize that they have no solutions for our increasingly perilous problems. Of course, Scott was just warming up the crowd for the main event. See Bob Brigham: [08-07] Trump at CPAC: 108 minutes in speech filled with 'unapologetic fascism'.
Peter Baker: [08-04] U.S. Offer to Swap Russian Arms Dealer for Griner Highlights Uncomfortable Choices: The arms dealer is Viktor Bout, arrested in and extradited from Thailand on charges that could just as easily be levied against hundreds of American arms merchants, but the US is one of the very few nations with the means and will to pursue such cases. Brittany Griner, at least, was in Russia when she committed her "crime" -- one which, until recently, the US would have prosecuted her for, though she's enough of a celebrity she would likely have gotten off lightly in our vastly unequal system of justice. (Jeffrey St Clair, link below, notes that "Griner's 9.5-year sentence is actualy 6 months less than John Sinclair got for possession of 2 joints in Michigan in 1971.) In Russia, however, her celebrity may be working against her: while her incarceration isn't winning Putin any "hearts and minds," it does remind us he still wields considerable power. Still, I didn't flag this piece because I want to weigh the relative merits of injustice here and there, or the delicate balance of incentives involved in prisoner swaps. I just want to remind you that the world would be simpler and fairer if we had an international law and protocol that allowed political prisoners to go into exile if they find willing host countries. Both Bout and Griner would easily qualify, without all the messiness of negotiations. And the US wouldn't embarrass itself trying to extradite Julian Assange. PS: Some background history: Here are some prisoner swaps that freed Americans.
Nina Burleigh: [07-31] Right-Wing Extremists Are Making Fiction Come True: "Can Democrats craft a winning message off a smorgasbord of misogynist madness?"
Kevin Carey: [08-03] Why Is America Fractured? Blame College, a New Book Argues. Review of Will Bunch: After the Ivory Tower Falls. I recall Bunch writing a good book about how bad Ronald Reagan was: Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (2009).
Amy Cheng: [08-05] Indiana passes near-total abortion ban, the first state to do so post-Roe; Amber Phillips/Tom Hamburger: [08-06] Abortion law in Indiana leads to fallout for state, politics; Ellen Francis: [08-06] 'Not her body, not her choice': Indiana lawmakers on abortion ban: One thing the Kansas vote didn't do was to dissuade Indiana Republicans from passing the first post-Dobbs abortion ban law. For a summary, see Amanda Marcotte: [08-05] Republicans learn the lesson of Kansas: Indiana takes repulsive abortion debate behind closed doors.
Fabiola Cineas: [08-05] Why the Justice Department made a move in the police killing of Breonna Taylor. It may not be possible to prosecute cops for going on a wanton killing spree, but that doesn't excuse them from filing false and misleading paperwork.
David Gelles: [08-05] How Republicans Are 'Weaponizing' Public Office Against Climate Action: "A Times investigation revealed a coordinated effort by state treasurers to use government muscle and public funds to punish companies trying to reduce greenhouse gases." Sometimes "evil" is not hyperbole.
Tareq S Hajjaj/Yumna Patel: [08-05] 10 Palestinians, one child, killed in Israeli attack on Gaza. Israel decided they could assassinate one of the leaders of Islamic Jihad. The rest were collateral damage. Islamic Jihad "retaliated" with some rockets (which didn't hit anyone), so expect Israel to escalate its slaughter. For updates: [08-06] Gaza's only power plant shuts down as Israeli airstrikes continue; and [08-07] Gaza death toll climbs to 43 amid ceasefire reports.
Steph Herold: [08-03] Hollywood's Role in Stigmatizing Abortion. Good article as far as it goes, but it misses one key point, which is that abortions don't work as stories: typically, a woman has a few bad days fretting over the decision, then makes it, does it, and gets on with her life. A rare example where you saw exactly that was in Prime Suspect, where it took up no more than 5 minutes in a season about something else. However, had that happened in the movie Juno, that would have been the end of the story -- instead, it turned into this really ridiculous fairy tale of a young-but-actually-loving couple generously giving their baby away to a rich-but-likable older couple. It's easy to think of movies that helped people get past traditional bigotry, racism and homophobia, but that's because they could build relatable stories around them. Those stories are a big part of why the right so hates Hollywood. But abortion isn't that kind of story, so it's always been easiest just to ignore it.
Fred Kaplan: [08-02] Nancy Pelosi Just Lit a Match at the Dynamite Factory. On the House Speaker's much publicized trip to Taiwan, occurring as it does as the Biden administration has been talking up China as a potential enemy while bankrolling a major war in Ukraine. Also:
Ezra Klein: [08-07] I Didn't Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message: A dive into some media theorists (especially Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman), finding they were onto something. Klein covers the same territory in his interview with Sean Illing [07-26] How We Communicate Will Decide Whether Democracy Lives or Dies. Illing interviews book authors for Vox, but having co-written a book (The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion, with Zac Gershberg), he contrived for Margaret Sullivan to interview him: [07-31] Free speech is essential for democracy. Could it also be democracy's downfall?.
Jonathan Martin: [08-07] Liz Cheney Is Ready to Lose. But She's Not Ready to Quit. I'm ready for her to lose, too, but I wouldn't be surprised if she survives: people in Wyoming don't like to be told what to do, even by morons like Trump. And while I don't mind giving her credit for her work on the January 6 Committee, we should be clear that if she managed to survive and recast the Republican Party in her image, it wouldn't be one iota better than the degenerate party she declaims. Also: Liz Cheney's Latest Fans: Democratic Donors: What a waste!
Jane Mayer: [08-06] State Legislatures Are Torching Democracy: Ohio, for example.
Casey Michel: [08-04] The Kleptocrat Who Bankrolled Rudy Giuliani's Dive for Dirt on Biden: Dmitro Firtash.
Ian Millhiser: [08-02] The uncomfortable problem with Roe v. Wade. A fairly deep and useful background piece on Roe v. Wade and its recent overturn, touching on questions of due process and enumerated vs. unenumerated rights. Much of this will be familiar to readers of Millhiser's Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.
Viet Thanh Nguyen: [07-22] Asking "What About . . . ?" Is Essential to Achieving Justice: "Selective empathy prevents us from making connections." War in Ukraine is most obviously on his mind, but he offers examples going back to the 1864 Sand Creek massacre (which reminded me of a crusade in medieval Europe, where the order was to kill everyone, leaving it to God to sort the innocent from the guilty). From Vietnam, he notes that Lt. William Calley was convicted of murder at My Lai, but "a considerable portion of the American people sympathized more with the American murderer . . . than with the Vietnamese dead." With this in mind, feel free to read Masha Gessen: [08-01] The Prosecution of Russian War Crimes in Ukraine, where Ukrainians have identified 25,000 cases so far, but I'd wager none of them involve victims of Ukrainian firepower, even among their own people. Sure, one might argue that none of these crimes would have occurred had Russia not invaded, so Putin bears a unique responsibility there, but it also seems clear that Ukraine and its suppliers and cheerleaders haven't put a lot of effort into negotiating an end to this war. And once again, Americans are especially conspicuous among the self-sanctifiers.
Alex Pareene: [07-11] The Never-Ending War on the Woke: "Or what the Democratic center has failed to learn over the past three decades." Or what it's learned all too well: that the more threatening Republicans seem, the better they can deliver on their own value-proposition, which is to keep the left down, so "centrist" Democrats can deliver greater profits to the rich donors they cultivate. Pareene starts with the example of 1994, where at least some of Clinton's strategists cheered on the Gingrich revolution as a way to neutralize the "dead wood" Democrats who had dominated Congress as far back as any of them could remember. Having demolished the Party (and especially its labor base), liberal Democrats had little choice but to rally behind Clinton in 1996, and a second term that sowed seeds for the disastrous Bush terms to follow. Obama's 2014 debacle followed suit, not least because he stocked his administration with Clintonian "centrists." And now Biden is widely expected to blow 2022 as badly. But I'd submit that things are different this time. The only constant is that the "centrist" hacks are still working to prevent change, but who's listening to them any more? How can anyone seriously believe that Democrats would do better if only they were more racist? (E.g., see Eric Alterman: [08-05] It's Not Wokeism That Threatens Our Democracy.)
John J Pitney Jr: [08-05] Democrats Are Running as Opposition Party: "This year, the Supreme Court and Trump have made it possible for Democrats to run as a check on Republican extremism."
Nathan J Robinson:
Kevin Roose: [08-06] Don't Expect Alex Jones's Comeuppance to Stop Lies: The trial went against Jones, ordering him to pay $45 million to parents of children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. I'm not much in favor of defamation lawsuits, but Jones crossed a lot of lines, and did so knowingly and maliciously, so some kind of comeuppance is in order. "But, even if Mr. Jones's career is ruined, his legacy of brazen, unrepentant dishonesty will live on -- strengthened, in some ways, by the knowledge of exactly how far you can push a lie before consequences kick in."
Richard Silverstein: [08-05] Aipac Pumps $30-Million into Democratic Primaries to Defeat Israel Critics. Israel not only interferes with US elections more than Russia, they don't even try to hide it.
Sarah Smarsh: [08-03] Why the Defense of Abortion in Kansas Is So Powerful. Author grew up here, and wrote a powerful memoir that was especially conscious of the hardships and dim prospects endured by teenage mothers (Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth). More pieces on the Kansas vote:
Jeffrey St Clair: [08-05] Roaming Charges: The Mad-Eyed Lady of Pac Heights. I've been recommending his columns regularly, figuring his insights make up for his occasional lapses of taste and decorum. But his opening screed on Pelosi and Taiwan goes way beyond my own criticisms, and I never care for his regular potshots at Bernie Sanders (even if one also hits Rand Paul). So, fine, skip the first half, and read about Brianna Grier. Also the one about the Oklahoma Board of Education.
Amy B Wang: [08-03] Sen. Johnson suggests ending Medicare, Social Security as mandatory spending programs: This tells us two things: one is that Johnson doesn't have the vaguest idea how Medicare and Social Security work, so he has no idea how hard it is to replace them with any other even remotely acceptable scheme; the other is that he wants to kill them, but for now he'll settle for being able to hold them ransom every year so they can extort concessions, like Republicans currently do with the debt limit. If people understood what he was asking for, public support would be less than 5% (although it could still be a majority of the people who donate to his campaign, especially if weighted by how much). Which raises another question: Michelle Cottle: [08-07] Why Is Ron Johnson Still Competitive Despite, You Know, Everything?
Li Zhou/Natalie Jennings: [08-03] 4 winners and 1 loser from the Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, and Michigan primaries: I don't think I've commented on any primary elections before this week, and I don't have much to say here. The only races I'm seriously interested in are ones that pit D vs. R, and it doesn't much matter to me which D or which R. So while I would have preferred Andy Levin and Lucas Kunce to have won their primaries, I'll happily take the less promising Democrats who won, and mildly dissent from the notion of "Loser: Progressives." As for "Winner: Democratic meddling in GOP races," I think that's dubious tactically, but it matters little to me whether Peter Meijer or his Trump-backed challenger won. I'm also dubious about how big a trend that is, or whether cross-voting D's had much effect. I know Democratic-leaners here in KS who register R so they can vote in contested and more consequential primaries, but I've never heard of one voting for the more toxic candidate (e.g., Kris Kobach). In any case, the numbers are so vanishingly small it's hard to see them ever having any effect. Perhaps when it comes to donors, it's more of a thing, but no more likely to work. Amy Davidson Sorkin: [08-03] A Bad Democratic Bet in the GOP Primaries talks mostly about Peter Meijer's primary loss, but if he really wanted Democrats to support him, shouldn't he have switched parties? And short of that, why should we care? And if this really is a thing, is there any reason not to think that Republican donors aren't doing the same thing to Democrats?
Sunday, July 31, 2022
Speaking of Which
Mostly just noting things this week, although I couldn't help but make the occasional comment.
Louis Anslow: [07-31] Peter Thiel's Candidates Are More Unabomber Than Tech Bro.
Emily Badger/Margot Sanger-Katz/Claire Cain Miller: [07-28] States With Abortion Bans Are Aong the Least Supportive for Mothers and Children. No surprises here.
Dean Baker: [07-29] The Semi-Conductor Bill and the Moderna Billionaires. Unlike Republicans, Democrats at least try to do good things. But they seem incapable of doing them in ways that don't create windfalls for the already-rich. Baker doesn't draw this conclusion, but has examples that point that way (e.g., the "chips" bill).
Zachary D Carter: [07-29] On Economics and Democracy. A good, general lesson about the New Deal, Keynes, and now. He also suggests that Republicans today are no worse than Democrats were in 1931, so if they could just come up with their own FDR, they could conquer all. But he doesn't nominate any candidates.
Rachel M Cohen: [07-27] The big upcoming vote on abortion rights in Kansas, explained. Also Peter Slevin: [07-30] The first post-Roe vote on abortion.
David Dayen: [07-28] Cut Off Private Equity's Money Spigot. "It is genuinely hard to find a more destructive economic force in America today than the private equity industry."
Andrew Desiderio: [07-28] Pelosi and China: The making of a progressive hawk. An oxymoron? Or just a moron? Related: [07-25] US Officials Grow More Concerned About Potential Action by China on Taiwan. These soto voce concerns are exactly what the Biden administration was doing with Russia prior to the invasion. They can be viewed as taunting or goading, daring China to verify their predictions. Seems especially foolish as long as the war with Russia is going on. Haven't the armchair generals learned that two-front wars are something to avoid?
David Friedlander: [07-25] Why Republicans Stopped Talking to the Press.
Lisa Friedman/Jonathan Wiseman: [07-27] Delay as the New Denial: The Latest Republican Tactic to Block Climate Action.
Jonathan Guyer: [07-29] What think tank drama tells us about the US response to Russia's war: Also see Politico's report: Atlantic Council cuts ties to Koch-funded foreign policy initiative. Koch has his fingers in a number of foreign policy initiatives -- the only one I'm familiar with is the Quincy Institute, which is headed by conservative anti-war historian Andrew Bacevich, and has published many articles I have cited over the years -- including Stand Together, and the Stimson Center, which will take over the Koch-financed NAEI (New American Engagement Initiative). NAEI's previous home was the Atlantic Council, which is largely funded by European governments and "is pro-NATO by design." What seems to be happening is that the think tanks are under increasing pressure to line up behind Ukraine and against Russia. Two related notes: Matthew Rojansky ("director of the Kennan Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center") was blackballed from possible appointment to Biden's NSC because he wasn't hawkish enough on Russia (see Biden won't bring on board controversial Russia expert); Joseph Cirincione, a leading expert on nuclear proliferation, charging the Quincy Institute with pro-Russian bias (see America's Top Anti-War Think Tank Is Fracturing Over Ukraine). Robert Wright has written a detailed review of Cirincione's charges: Anti-war think tank attacked.
Michael Hudson: [07-29] American Diplomacy as a Tragic Drama.
Dhruv Khullar: [07-25] Living Through India's Next-Level Heat Wave.
Robert Kuttner: [07-29] Another Airline Merger That Would Worsen Inflation: JetBlue buys Spirit Airlines.
Sharon Lerner: [06-30] How Charles Koch purchased the Supreme Court's EPA decision.
Ron Lieber: [07-26] The Case of the $5,000 Springsteen Tickets: Welcome to "dynamic pricing."
Ian Millhiser: [07-25] Gavin Newsom's plan to save the Constitution by trolling the Supreme Court.
Judith Newman: [07-26] The Power of Negative Thinking: Quotes Whitney Goodman: "Positivity lingo lacks nuance, compassion and curiosity."
Rick Perlstein: [07-22] They Want Your Child: "How right-wing school panics seek to repeal modernity and progress." Or, more pointedly: "What they're after is crushing the power of their children -- and all of ours -- to choose their own life: to, in other words, acquire the ability to become free." As Perlstein explains, conservative panics over education are a perennial: he cites instances back to 1923, but could have noted the prohibitions against teaching slaves to read and write. The flip side of this fear that liberals are training students to think for themselves is the belief that good, conservative education can train students who will grow up to respect social hierarchies. (Michael B Katz's The Irony of Early School Reform explains how mid-19th century Massachusetts proponents of mandatory universal education sold their program as a way to "socialize" Irish immigrants.) I've personally found that coercive education is as likely to produce rebellion as obedience, but maybe that's just me. One thing it's not capable of doing is stopping the clock.
Jeremy W Peters: [07-29] Fox News, Once Home to Trump, Now Often Ignores Him: It's been more than 100 days since Fox last interviewed Trump. Given that Fox is the real power in Republican politics, this may mean that Rupert Murdoch has decided to move on. However, Fox was cool on Trump early in the 2016 campaign, so I'm reluctant to read much into this.
Jake Pitre: [07-29] The Internet Doesn't Have to Be This Bad. Review of Jonathan Crary: Scorched Earth: Beyond the Digital Age to a Post-Capitalist World.
Mitchell Plitnick: [07-28] AIPAC declares war on any support of Palestinian human rights.
Alexander Sammon: [07-25] It's Time for Public Pharma: Not the worst idea, but better still would be to end drug patents. Development and testing would be funded through public sources (which could be pooled across nations, as the benefits should be shared by all nations), with funding targeted to medical needs, and all information publicly shared. Approved drugs could then be manufactured competitively, with strict limits on marketing.
Jeffrey St Clair: [07-29] Roaming Charges: Tell Tom Joad the News.
Peter Wade: Trump Sides With Russia Over Brittney Griner.
Robert Wright: A couple pieces from his archive:
Sunday, July 24, 2022
Speaking of Which
Started to jot down a few links with even fewer comments more than a week ago, and added some more (with longer comments, but not always) over the weekend.
PS: Added link and notes to Jeffrey St Clair piece below.
Andrew Bacevich: [07-14] Imperial Detritus: After the American Century: Cites, and responds to, Daniel Bessner: Empire Burlesque: What comes after the American Century? Both start with Henry Luce's 1941 coinage of "the American Century," from shortly before the US entered WWII. Luce's essay, rooted in his own peculiar history as a child of missionaries growing up in China, has become emblematic of a major shift in American thinking about the world, as initial fretting over German and Japanese encroachments in Africa and Asia would limit American interests gave way to the realization that by winning WWII (and bankrupting the UK and France) the US could have it all (cf. Stephen Wertheim: Tomorrow the World: The Birth of U.S. Global Supremacy). That left the problem of Communist-led national liberation movements, which is what the Cold War was fought against. We can debate how successful it was, and why it wasn't, but 80 years later it's increasingly clear that the U.S. is a spent force, still ominous but incapable of deciding much less imposing its will. Bessner wants to revive the pre-Luce tradition of restraint, citing Washington and JQ Adams as founding "restrainers." (As Wertheim points out, the term "isolationist" was invented as a pejorative for those who still adhered to traditional American norms, which favored "open door" trade over the colonial prerogatives claimed by European imperial powers. "Isolationists" didn't want to hide from the world; they simply wanted to deal with the world on its own terms, not through the barrel of a gun.)
Zack Beauchamp: [07-23] CPAC goes to Israel: Well, Ben Shapiro anyway. "Who is really learning from whom?" The far-right loves Israel's ethnocracy, its cruel repression of the Palestinians, and its quasi-random violence against its neighbors (e.g., [07-21] Israeli Airstrikes Kill Five Syrian Soldiers Near Damascus), and Israelis like American money with no strings attached and veto protection in the UN, but while Israel has picked up some of the artifacts of neoliberalism, no one's in a big hurry to dismantle their welfare state. So it's hard to see someone like Shapiro as doing anything more than stroking their egos. Speaking of which, J.D. Vance took his Ohio Senate campaign to Israel: [07-24] Inside the GOP Freakout Over JD Vance's Senate Campaign.
Bonnie S Benwick: [07-24] Diana Kennedy, cookbook author who promoted Mexican cuisine, dies at 99. I'm not much for Mexican cuisine, but when I decided to buy a serious book on the subject, I picked out Kennedy's The Art of Mexican Cooking.
Matthew Cappucci: [07-22] Why the Dust Bowl was hotter than this heat wave, despite global warming. I've long known that a lot of high temperature records here in Wichita were set in 1936. We've had a couple years in the last 20 that have come close. In 2011, we had 53 days of 100F+. In 2012, we had 36, and in 2000, we had 33. The median since 2000 is 9. We've had 11 through July 23, so we're above average, but not on a record-setting pace. (Forecast is for 100F+ the next 4 days, which will make it 15.) The big difference between now and the 1930s is that so far we've been spared the drought that's struck most points further west -- although most climate models point to a dryer Kansas, which combined with the depletion of the Ogalalla Aquifer could turn western Kansas back into a dust bowl. The article explains "why the Dust Bowl doesn't disprove climate change," lest you be tempted to draw that inference.
David Dayen: [07-18] The Impossible, Inevitable Survival of the Trump Tax Cuts: "How Democrats went from unanimous opposition to an unpopular policy to doing nothing about it in the five years since it became law."
Eleanor Eagan: [07-20] Democrats Need to Fight for a Government That Works: Given that Republicans are always out to cripple government (at least the part that actually works for people), the Democrats' future depends on two things: convincing people that the government can be a blessing, and that Democrats are the only ones who can run government for the benefit of the people. I wouldn't define this, as the author does, strictly on the basis of money appropriated, but that may suffice as a first approximation. Meanwhile, Ryan Cooper: [07-20] Republicans Have Created a Pro-Life Dystopia.
Catie Edmondson: [07-14] Republicans Oppose Measure to Root Out White Supremacy in the Military.
Henry Giroux: [07-22] The Nazification of American Education: Inflammatory title, but then you see the picture of Ron DeSantis and remember, oh yeah, him: indeed, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. Then comes a Theodor Adorno quote from 1959: "I consider the survival of National Socialism within democracy to be potentially more menacing than the survival of fascist tendencies against democracy." Of course, DeSantis doesn't call his program "nazification." His term is "patriotic education." He views the schools first and foremost as "propaganda factories" (Giroux's apt term). Second half of the article reviews how Hitler changed education in Nazi Germany. See if you can spot the common threads.
Mark Hannah: [07-18] It's time for a US push to end the war in Ukraine: Well, it's way past time, but the situation is bad and only going to get worse.
Michael Holtz: [07-22] Harvesting Wheat in Drought-Parched Kansas. One caveat here is that Wichita, which is the center of the state's wheat belt, we're actually about +3 inches of rain above normal this year. Still, the U.S. Drought Monitor map shows us "D0 (Abnormally Dry)." There is more severe drought in western Kansas, but without irrigation not much wheat is grown there.
Fred Kaplan: [07-10] Boris Johnson Diminished Britain on the World Stage: "He promised to make the UK great again. Instead, he left it as just another US sidekick." One thing about former empires is how they preserve the conceit that they should still exercise sway over their former dominions, as if the countries they plundered still owe them deference. You see this in places like Iran and Turkey. You see this with France and Russia poking their noses into former colonies. You see this in Japan and Germany, even though they've explicitly renounced empire-building. You saw this in fascist Italy and Germany, even though the empires they aimed to revive were more than a thousand years removed. But no country exceeds Britain for self-delusion. Ever since Churchill, British leaders seem convinced that they haven't lost an empire, just conned the US into doing their heavy lifting.
Meryl Kornfield: [07-22] Rio Grande runs dry in Albuquerque for the first time in 40 years.
Ian Millhiser: [07-21] The Supreme Court just let a Trump judge seize control of ICE, at least for now: "Apparently President Biden isn't in charge of the executive branch anymore." This is very bad.
Sara Morrison: [07-22] Amazon wants to be your doctor now, too: "The e-commerce giant is buying One Medical for $4 billion."
Steven Mufson: [07-12] Republicans threaten Wall Street over climate positions.
Olivia Nuzzi: [07-14] Donald Trump on 2024: 'I've Already Made That Decision': "The only question left in the former president's mind is when he'll announce."
Evan Osnos: [07-18] The Haves and the Have-Yachts.
Fintan O'Toole: [07-08] Boris Johnson has vandalised the political architecture of Britain, Ireland and Europe.
Kasha Patel: [07-12] Second glacier avalanche in a week shows dangers of a warming climate. Meanwhile: [07-13] Temperatures soar to 115 in Europe as heat wave expands. Also: [07-14] Unforgiving heat wave in Texas and Southern Plains to worsen next week.
Yumna Patel: [07-23] Israeli Supreme Court rules citizens can be stripped of status for 'breach of loyalty'.
Dave Philipps: [07-14] With Few Able and Fewer Willing, US Military Can't Find Recruits: "Fighting headwinds from the pandemic, the tight labor market and demographic shifts, the armed forces may fall further short of enlistment quotas this year than they have in decades."
Charles P Pierce: [07-22] The Secret of the Jan. 6 Hearings Is That None of It Changes What the GOP Is Now: "Or what it's been for a very long time now." The hearings often play like a lifeline to sane Republicans, but real Republicans know that everyone coöperating with the Committee and/or expressing reservations about Trump is traitorous RINO scum.
Brian Resnick: [07-12] Why the new James Webb Space Telescope images are such a big deal. Also: Farhad Manjoo: [07-14] The Web Telescope Restored (Some of) My Faith in Humanity.
Ingrid Robeyns: [07-04] How to write a good public philosophy book. Author is working on one provisionally titled Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth.
Bernie Sanders: [07-14] The Great Microchip Corporate Giveaway.
Jonathan Schell: [07-24] A Niagara Falls of Post-9/11 Violence: Reprint, with new introduction by Tom Engelhardt, of a 2014 post, which itself was a posthumous reprint of a piece from Schell's 2003 book, The Unconquerable World. I read the book when it first came out, and found it somewhat wanting: a great (indeed, prophetic) title, but the book itself got lost in arcane discussions of sovereignty, and failed to detail the many reasons the world is unconquerable. Still, the analogy to 1914 is again worth pondering. That war officially started with Austria-Hungary invading Serbia, supposedly in response to the assassination of its Archduke, but the key decision that made the war possible, and that caused it to spread so rapidly across Europe, was the "blank check" Germany incited Austria-Hungary with. So far, Biden has stopped short of acceding to Zelensky's demand for his own "blank check," but he's coming close (see White House Approves 16th Weapons Transfer to Ukraine, Total Security Aid Now Over $8 Billion; meanwhile, the recipient of such largesse is more focused on keeping the arms coming than on ending the war: Zelensky Rejects Any Ceasefire With Russia).
Robert J Shapiro: [07-21] The Case for Bill Clinton's Economic Record: "No, progressives, the former president wasn't some neoliberal corporatist helping the rich. Clinton delivered the strongest economy of the past half century and helped working families." Second bit is mostly true, but by weakening unions (remember NAFTA? Shapiro doesn't) and unraveling the safety net (remember "welfare reform"?) the gains that working families made in the late 1990s were easily wiped out in the Bush recessions. The first bit is bullshit. The whole New Democrat concept was the conceit that they could grow the economy more than Republicans, and in doing so they could make the rich even more so. And they were right: the rich never had it so good as under Clinton. He made them tons of money, and left a legacy -- Greenspan, ending Carter-Glass, tax-exempting internet commerce -- that continued to make them money (especially after the Bush tax cuts let them keep more of it). Neoliberalism may not be the ideal term to describe what Clinton did, but what he did was very much within the broader neoliberal game plan. And the epithet sticks because it reminds us that liberals like Clinton (and Obama) did as much to rig the economy for the rich as their Republican opponents ever did.
Alex Shephard: [07-22] The Right-Wing Media Celebrated Biden's Covid Diagnosis. Also: Abdul El-Sayed: [07-21] Biden's Covid Diagnosis and the GOP's Endless Cynicism. By the way, Covid cases are up 19% over 14 days, (129,136), and deaths are up 38% (444).
Katie Shepherd: [07-14] Texas sues Biden administration for requiring abortions in medical emergencies. I read an op-ed last week about how we should stop talking about the possibility that abortion bans could interfere with women getting treatment for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages, assuring us that none of the bans would interfere with life-saving medical care. Biden tried to codify that reassurance in an executive order. So Texas is suing Biden, in a case that will ultimately be decided by the Federalist Society judges. Panic now?
Jeffrey St Clair: [07-22] Roaming Charges: The Sky Is Frying: If you only follow one link here, make it this one. The introduction on global warming is superb (at least until he veers off with "this was the week Joe Manchin performed a late-term abortion on the fetal remains of Biden's already grossly inadequate climate plan"). After he gets to other subjects, note this: "In 2008, before the Citizens United ruling (another Alito opinion), billionaires contributed $31 million to federal political campaigns. In 2020, billionaires contributed $1.2 billion." Can we really claim to have "freedom of speech" when it's impossible to get a word heard over the megaphones of billionaires? PS: I missed this one from the previous week: Roaming Charges: The Screams of the Children Have Been Edited Out. Quite a bit there on the 10-year-old rape victim who had to go out of Ohio to get an abortion. Much more, of course. One item I was struck by was: "The state of Arizona spends only 6% of its welfare budget on helping poor families, and 61% of it on harassing and punishing poor families through Child Protective Services." Arizona also has a law that "requires 'civilian' oversight boards to be composed of 100% police or former police." Then there's this chart on "Life expectancy vs. health expenditure." Caption: "The Genius of the American Health Care System: Spending more to die younger."
Michael Stavola: [09-21] Toddler grabs gun and shoots self in the leg in east Wichita. Also (from 2017): Boy, 5, shoots himself to death, the KC area's 11th such shooting since 2013. Isn't the NRA mantra "if guns were outlawed, only outlaws would have guns"? Wouldn't that be better?
Matt Stieb: [07-12] John Bolton Admitted on National TV That He Helped Plan Coups. Just none that were even temporarily successful.
Veronica Stracqualursi: [07-22] Newsom signs California gun bill modeled after Texas abortion law: I can't deny that the same idea occurred to me moments after I read about the Texas law, but after a bit of reflection I realized that's a dumb idea. Note that the ACLU is already on the case.
Lena H Sun/Mark Johnson: [07-21] Unvaccinated man in Rockland County, NY, diagnosed with polio: "This is the first US case of polio in nearly a decade." Meanwhile: WHO declares monkeypox a global health emergency as infections soar.
David Weigel: [07-23] On the campaign trail, many Republicans talk of violence. Shortly after adding this, I ran across an ŕ propos meme which said: "Stay away from people who act like a victim in a problem they created."
Tweet from Barbara Res on the late Ivana Trump:
Greg Magarian post on Facebook:
Sunday, July 10, 2022
Speaking of Which
Just a few scattered links this week, then I spent a whole day writing an afterword that tripled the length.
One small note from Twitter, where Marc Masters created a meme from three Kathleen Parker headlines:
Back during WWII, the OSS (the predecessor of the CIA), came up with a term to describe American leftists who warned about the growing threat of Nazi Germany, some of whom were so bothered they volunteered to fight for Spain against Franco and his German and Italian allies. They were called "premature anti-fascists," as if sensible people should hold up and wait until some line-crossing moment when anti-fascism suddenly became fashionable. I always thought that the earlier people recognized problems, the better, but Parker clearly isn't that perceptive. So how come she's a widely syndicated columnist?
Zack Beauchamp: [07-06] How conservatism conquered America -- and corrupted itself: Reviews three books, but the author seems to be working toward a book of his own. The books are: Matthew Rose, A World After Liberalism; Matthew Continetti, The Right; and Tim Miller, Why We Did It. The problem with Rose's illiberal "thinkers" is that hardly anyone on the right understands them, or cares about maintaining ideological continuity between Nazis and today's Republicans. To the extent that people on the right have any ideology, it's closer to the "classic liberalism" of Hayek, Rand and Koch than the völkish romance of Spengler. It's true that the right never had a problem with libertinage-for-us and the-jackboot-for-you. But they didn't become corrupt with Trump. They were corrupt from the start. Trump's only innovation was that he was utterly shameless about it, which came off to his followers as authenticity and candor. The right has always wanted to speak for the freedom to be cruel.
Lindsay M Chervinsky: [07-07] Garland Has to Prosecute Trump for January 6 to Restore Faith in the Justice Department: Problem is it won't work, and more likely will backfire. It will inevitably look political, and Trump is very unlikely to be convicted, so while it may be fun to watch him squirm, it would be a waste of effort. Moreover, even if successful, it's way short of what it would take to "restore faith." Part of the problem is that the obvious charges like seditious conspiracy are bullshit political laws, even if you define them narrowly and document them rigorously. What I would like to see is a Special Prosecutor charged with investigating a wide range of corruption charges, ranging from the scandals that sunk Pruitt and Zinke to the hundreds of millions Jared Kushner got from the Saudis. Even where charges can't be filed, it would open some eyes to get a thorough accounting of the most thoroughly corrupt administration in American history.
Fabiola Cineas: [07-07] What we know about the deadly police shooting of Jayland Walker: "Akron police officers released body camera footage of the killing that raises questions about excessive force." Excessive? Walker was unarmed. Police shot 90 rounds, and hit Walker 60 times.
Ryan Cooper: [07-07] President Biden Is Not Cutting the Mustard: "Young people are abandoning him in droves because he won't fight for their rights and freedo."
Michelle Goldberg: [07-07] The Delightful Implosion of Boris Johnson. She admits to Schadenfreude, but bad as Johnson was, hard to avoid a bit of jealousy that UK Conservatives could put down a dysfunctional leader, while Republicans don't dare touch Trump. The following pieces often return to this theme:
Jonathan Guyer: [07-05] Inside Ukraine's lobbying blitz in Washington: It's inconceivable running a war in Washington without greasing some palms.
Margaret Hartmann: [07-08] Shinzo Abe, Former Prime Miniser of Japan, Is Assassinated. But isn't it kind of strange that 80% of the article are reproductions of tweets from world leaders, as if any of them have anything at all interesting to say? It's hard to convey how exceptional any shooting is in Japan, where there was only one murder-by-gun in all of 2021. More info:
Ellen Ioanes: [07-09] Protests force Sri Lanka's leaders to resign: "Entrenched corruption and a political dynasty may keep them in power, though."
Paul Krugman: [07-08] Wonking Out: Rockets, Feathers and Prices at the Pump: Finally admits that, "yes, market power can worsen inflation." A paper by Mike Konczal and Niko Lusiani seems to have finally convinced him. Krugman also wrote That Was the Stagflation That Was, where he notes that: "The wholesale price of gasoline has fallen about 80 cents a gallon since its peak a month ago. Only a little of this plunge has been passed on to consumers so far." You still believe all of those articles about how greed has nothing to with gas prices?
Ian Millhiser: [07-09] The post-legal Supreme Court: "The highest Court in the most powerful nation in the world appears to have decided that it only needs to follow the law when it feels like it."
Kate Riga: [07-06] Kansas Republicans Scheduled Big Abortion Vote for Low-Turnout Primaries. Will It Backfire? If Republicans thought their amendment would be popular, they wouldn't have scheduled it on a typically low-turnout primary day, and they wouldn't be lying so much about what it means.
Corey Robin: [07-09] The Self-Fulfilling Prophecies of Clarence Thomas: "For decades, Thomas has had a deeply pessimistic view of the country, rooted in his reading of the Fourteenth Amendment. After the Supreme Court's recent opinions, his dystopia is becoming our reality." Robin has written several books on the reactionary right, including a whole one on The Enigma of Clarence Thomas.
Jeffrey St Clair: [07-08] Roaming Charges: Knocked Out and Re-Loaded. Some of the gun violence statistics actually managed to take me aback. One is that "124 people die every day in the US in acts of gun violence." That works out to 45,260 per year, which is about what I knew, but breaking it down per day makes it seem more inexorably relentless. The other is that we've had "320 mass shootings, putting 2022 on track to finish as one of the deadliest years in US history." But that works out to about 2 per day, which may be par, but feels like less than we hear about many days. St Clair also linked to the following:
The possible political book keeps evolving in my mind. Last week I was debating between writing a Speaking of Which and working on an outline. I decided I could do the former then maybe tack the outline on at the end, but didn't get to it. This week, well, I had a bit of time, so did a quick brain dump on my latest thinking. Titles aren't great, but here's what the structure looks like:
I've written outlines of American History in Four Eras several times (e.g., at some length on Jan. 27, 2019, but also on June 10, 2018, June 2, 2019, Jan. 19, 2000, March 9, 2020, May 31, 2020. The original insight was that US history could be broken up into four long eras of partisan dominance, each starting with a major two-term president and each ending with a disastrous one-termer: Jefferson-to-Buchanan, Lincoln-to-Hoover, Roosevelt-to-Carter, and Reagan-to-Trump. (Washington-to-Adams also fits that criteria, except for length.) In each of these, the dominant party's long rule was interrupted by loss to two opponents: in the Jefferson-Buchanan period, Whigs won by running ex-generals (Harrison and Taylor), but they died in office, having little effect; the other eras were interrupted by two-term each (Cleveland and Wilson, Eisenhower and Nixon, Clinton and Obama; note that none were consecutive, unlike Roosevelt-Truman and Reagan-Bush).
Several things are interesting about all this. One is that the exceptions tried to maneuver under and around the hegemony of the dominant party. Eisenhower and Nixon accepted the "big government" New Deal paradigm, although they sought to undermine it at the edges. Clinton and Obama bought into the pro-business, militarist, "end-of-big-government" Reagan mythology, even if they tried to soften its harsh prescriptions. The earlier periods are messier to map, and one might be tempted to split them. Jackson marks a pretty clean break in the first era; McKinley is the right time to divide the second, but Bryan's takeover of the Democratic Party may have been the more important shift, producing progressive movements in both parties, reflected variously by T. Roosevelt and Wilson. The point I want to draw out here is how operating under the hegemony of a dominant party may be practical politics, it doesn't help you prepare for the crisis that occurs when the dominant party fails.
Another thing is that each era starts with a crisis resulting in a massive shift of power -- in terms of Congress, Reagan is anomalous, but by 1980 the presidency had become so powerful that gave him a lot of leeway. The first three of those eras were marked by initial shifts to the left -- Reagan, again, is the exception, and the Reagan era is again anomalous in that it along represented a turn against a broader and more inclusive democracy. We have to ask how that was even possible.
The answer would appear to be that in all eras, as politics returns to normal, people are less engaged, and special interests worm their way in, exploiting a deeply ingrained (even if very unpopular) tendency toward corruption. After all, getting rich has been a common aspiration and a matter of national pride since colonial days. The Grant and Harding administrations were perhaps the most famously corrupt, and while it's easy to blame them on inattentive leaders, they occurred at points when business was finding government favor especially lucrative (railroads and oil, respectively). But the Republican Party has always looked to government as a source of private riches (in 1860, the campaign slogan urged farmers to vote themselves free land, and manufacturers to vote for tariffs). By the time you get to Reagan and the "greed is good" decade, this penchant for corruption was baked into their DNA. Every Republican administration from Nixon on has been wracked by corruption scandals. We'll return to this frequently throughout the book.
The second section follows the Republicans from the freak election of 1946 (which among other things passed Taft-Hartley) on. We can talk a bit about the Goldwater right, but Richard Nixon is the key figure, because he's the one who taught the party to do whatever it takes, no matter how deceitful, unscrupulous, or plain illegal, to win. We'll look at Kevin Phillips' The Emerging Republican Majority, and how Republicans welded several reactionary factions into a solid base. We'll look at how that base allowed them to recover from defeats when their policies blew up disastrously. And we'll show how those decisions, while allowing them to claim and hang onto considerable power, despite repeated proof of their inability to govern wisely or even competently. Indeed, each time they lose, they bounce back more vicious and insane than ever.
Another thing we need to talk about here is the structure of the Republican Party: particularly, the donor networks, their think tanks and university alliances, the lobbies, allied groups like the NRA, their propaganda organs, and their influence on "mainstream media."
The third section introduces the Republicans' most intractable enemy: reality. Republicans are masters at crafting rhetoric that flatters their supporters and excoriates their imagined enemies (the "radical left"), but their deeply ingrained corruption keeps them from facing their real problems (especially problems they themselves created). In this section, we take a handful of sample subjects, explain briefly how they work, how they eventually break down, and why the Republicans have no solution for them. This chapter could grow into a massive book of its own, so it is important to pick relatively obvious cases. Some possibilities: health care, climate, trade, immigration, civil service, information, education, public welfare, war, justice.
These are all big subjects, so I'm inclined to start with some common threads. First, I'd emphasize how much the world has changed in my lifetime, especially since my grandfather's before me (he was born in 1895). This new world is much more complex, and much harder to understand, especially in its complex interdependency. As a practical matter, we have to delegate large parts of responsibility to experts, and they have to be trustworthy. That's hard in any case, but all the more difficult in a hyper-individualistic society largely driven by the profit motive, with its consequent levels of inequality and injustice.
The individual topics are big and deep, and risk swallowing up our available attention. One approach that may help is to limit analysis to Republican approaches. We don't have to solve health care or climate; just show that Republicans won't, can't, and are only likely to make the situation worse. Chapters two and three should demolish any hope that Republicans might face up to and overcome the problems of the modern world.
The fourth chapter is about and for the Democrats. It starts with some history, a survey of how Democrats have reacted to Republican attacks, probably going back (briefly) to 1946, but mostly we have to deal with the Reagan-Bush-Trump era. That involves spending some time with the New Democrats, to make two important points: one is that their concessions to the Republicans failed politically, both to gain ground in the center and to hold their own base; the other is that they failed to solve major problems, or even to help us understand why such problems matter and persist. Clinton and Obama may have made the world a little better than they found it, but they did not prepare the voters to keep it better, and to keep on working to make it better. Otherwise they would not have lost their Congressional majorities after two years, nor been succeeded by such manifestly incompetent and disastrous presidents as Bush and Trump.
The rest of this chapter is meant to help Democrats campaign more effectively. After all, they are the only alternative to Republicans, who are hopelessly compromised. (Third-party prospects can be easily dismissed.) If we look at real interests, we should be able to show that Republicans favor a vanishingly small minority, which in a democracy should quickly be rendered powerless. We can even point out that Republicans understand this, as they've as much as admitted by their anti-democratic efforts (voter suppression, gerrymandering, unlimited money, etc.; these points may fit just as well in the 2nd chapter). The main way they get away with it is due to their ability to convince voters (who are notoriously ill-informed, and rarely able to grasp complex problems and policies) not to trust Democrats. The only way out of this is for Democrats to show voters that they care about their voters, that they are open and honest and not beholden to special interests. They need to be seen as approachable and sincere. They need to be regarded as fair and just. While this may seem like a high bar, in practice they only need to be seen as clearly better than the Republicans, so by all means point out when Republicans betray public trust, or otherwise attempt to deceive and manipulate voters, such as by appealing to their prejudices.
This chapter is likely to turn into a hodge-podge of political advice, ranging from how to counter stereotypes about Democrats to how to avoid overreacting to problem issues. I won't try to sketch out a list here, but every day I read the paper I run across cases that could be handled better. As critical as I am of businesses, we need them and they need to be profitable, so any policy that hits them needs to be considered carefully. Most policy questions involve tradeoffs, and one needs to be sensitive to all concerned. But "all concerned" needs to include the public, and (even harder to factor in) the future. We need to recognize what we don't (or can't) know, and we need the flexibility to adjust when things don't work out as expected. We need to avoid getting too caught up in our own rhetoric and logic. We need to understand that it's impossible to change things immediately, and that changing things too fast is disruptive and upsetting. On the other hand, that's no excuse for doing nothing.
The fourth chapter will avoid discussions of policy specifics, but it may get into philosophical principles. Democrats need to align themselves more firmly in favor of individual freedom and responsibility, but they also need to be more sensitive to the corrosive effect of power imbalances. Inequality would be less of a problem if it were possible to mitigate the differences in power. Often the easiest way to do this is to create countervailing power forces.
The fifth chapter is reserved for policy matters. I expect that this will eventually be cut from the book, possibly to be spun off into another, but for the time being, it is a place to move policy thoughts out into. I have a lot of policy ideas that I think would be good for Democrats and for the country and the world, but they are outside of the present Overton Window, so they have no value in a book of practical politics. Ending intellectual property and replacing it with a system of public grants and free licenses is a relatively clear example. (Even so, it involves some fairly deep changes in how we think about creativity, incentive, and the public interest.)
The "Introduction" and/or "Afterword" are needed to fit the body of the book into a particular political context. At this point, it's impossible to write this and release it before the November 2022 election, which is likely to significantly alter the landscape.
I've been kicking around ideas for a political book as far back as the late 1990s. I even took some time off then to work on a draft. I had studied philosophy and sociology in college, but made a career out of software engineering. It occurred to me that one could apply engineering discipline to many political issues without succumbing to the hack mechanistic simplifications common to the genre. Perhaps my personal background would help figure out what might and might not work. But I wasn't satisfied with what I came up with, and shelved it. After 9/11/2001, I took a renewed, more urgent interest in politics, and started blogging. I was dead set against the War on Terror from the very start. By 2004, I saw the need for a narrowly-focused polemic Case Against the Republicans, but missed the election window. Still, I kept turning the ideas around my mind, mostly thinking of a longer time frame. I've been fond of utopian writing since my late teens, so I found the title The Way Things Ought to Be very appealing. (Unfortunately, Rush Limbaugh used it, in a 1992 book that turned out to mostly be an insane rant against Anita Hill.) I've long been struck by the extent of change over the last 150 years, and felt that people everywhere had done a poor job of adjusting their thinking to cope with the times. But while bad ideas were everywhere, really dangerous ones were concentrated in the Republican Party, so I tended to vacillate between focus on urgent vs. important matters. While Obama was president, it seemed more important to think long, but when Trump lucked out, an urgent sense of impending doom took over. In early 2020, I again narrowed the focus and opened a file for A Letter to the Democrats, which I started by copying the "four eras" outline. I hoped to close the door on the Reagan-to-Trump era, and open a new one -- sure Biden didn't rise to the standards of Jefferson, Lincoln, and Roosevelt, but history has never been a mechanical cycle. I imagined a short book, with the four eras for historical background, and a second part closer to chapter four above. I had a short window, and blew it. After the election, it took some time for me to think through the second and third chapters, which again return the focus onto the Republican threat. For a while, the third was "The Way the World Works," but while reading Vaclav Smil's similar title it occurred to me that "Breaks" would be better than "Works." Republicans break things.
It's not that I have had writer's block. I have millions of words written in my various notebook/blog files (collected in 4 huge volumes here), but at this stage I have no confidence in my ability to pull an actual book together. Perhaps it's just a psychotic "will to fail"? But I do think this outline makes sense, and there's no shortage of material to flesh it out -- once you get going, the harder thing is to decide where to stop. The target audience would be active Democrats, who by now fear Republicans as much as I do, but are hard-pressed to formulate effective tactics to oppose them. I have no experience in doing so, but can draw on a lifetime of observing Democrats fuck up and sell out short. The 2016 debacle was not because America was too conservative, but because a critical sliver of the public so distrusted Hillary that they were willing to take a chance on Trump. Incredibly stupid that was, but that's why we need smarter critics.
Sunday, July 3, 2022
Speaking of Which
PS: Added the Demillo paragraph, which I had intended to include in this post.
I tried answering Crocodile Chuck's letter last week, but I focused on the big question of inflation, but skipped past his "We didn't vote for WWIII" line. He wrote back, ominously:
Chuck is a longtime reader and correspondent, an American familiar with my old St. Louis stomping ground, who sensing doom moved across the Pacific -- and not the only one I know who did that. I doubt I'd be identified as an optimist, but this is a bit too paranoid for me. I seriously doubt that there is any cloistered segment of the American deep state that has anything approaching a serious plan to dismantle China or the Russian Federation. And yeah, I believe there is some kind of "deep state," which ensures continuity of American imperial strategy regardless of changes in elected officials. I just don't think they're that smart or competent. They strike me as more like some bundle of conditioned reflexes, which always return to the old mantras of strength, control, dominance, and hegemony. That said, one of their core beliefs is any degradation of supposed enemies is a zero-sum win for America. So they always see prying former Soviet Republic into the American orbit as desirable, regardless of how Russia may react. They'd love to break Xinjiang and Tibet off China, too, but China doesn't seem to be as fragile as Russia, so for that they have to be contented with Taiwan and jockeying over South China Sea islands. Needless to say, such people are dangerous, and given a free hand they could well start WWIII. But, thus far at least, the system has constrained them. Is anything different now?
Well, a couple things are. The Cold War was built around Kennan's notion of containment, where the US never directly threatened the Soviet Union itself, and generally left it a free hand in dealing with recognized satellites. There were some disputes on the margins (Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, later Afghanistan), but both sides kept them to the margins. This worked partly because although Russia sympathized with anti-colonial liberation movement, they didn't control or depend on them; meanwhile, the US was primarily concerned with continuing the western exploitation of the colonial world (replacing the old powers with globalized companies and local cronies), and didn't need to get too greedy. (Indeed, western companies were quite delighted with the business deals China offered them.) But when the Soviet Union disbanded, America's Cold Warrior got even more greedy and arrogant, with Russia in particular getting the short end of the stick. And with every US effort to nibble a bit more on Russia's borders, the American threat to and contempt for Russia grows more existential. The administration is not completely unaware of this, and seems to be trying to draw a fine line between protecting Ukraine and provoking Russia, and the Americans monitoring that line aren't necessarily the most prudent people possible. Many things they've approved have crossed lines Russia has proclaimed. While none of them have yet led to a really catastrophic response (ranging from Russian attacks outside Ukraine -- e.g., Putin ally says Moscow could torpedo Dutch ports: 'Europe is not invincible' -- to nuclear weapons). On the other hand, other NATO countries, and Ukraine itself, seem less circumspect.
Another thing that I find especially disturbing is how conflict with Russia has become ideologized, especially among Democrats, who have become unusually hawkish. The tendency here is to treat Putin as an aggressively anti-democratic force, both within and beyond Russia, which puts a premium on stopping him sooner rather than later. There is some evidence for this -- the 2016 election interference looms especially large for Democrats -- but beyond ethnic Russians and a few allied groups (as in Transnistria and Abkhazia) it's hard to see Russian nationalism having much appeal. But by taking Putinism as ideology, you're imagining much higher stakes than there are, and that's dangerous.
Chuck wrote me again, making four points which I'll try to condense:
The third point is the most contentious one here. It's true that Biden and Blinken wanted to reëstablish the US as a world leader -- their slogan was "America's back" -- after Trump's "America first" agenda damaged relationships with Europe while surrendering large chunks of US foreign policy to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Defense of Ukraine was one way to do that, especially in Europe (though not so much elsewhere). I'm not totally clear on the facts, but suppose for the sake of argument the US and Zelensky goaded Putin into his invasion of Ukraine, and therefore deserves some share of blame for the war (although it was Putin who took the bait). How has the war blown up in America's face. Sure, it's cost America a lot of money -- both the state in terms of aid, and the private sector in various kinds of losses and inflation -- but why shouldn't Biden consider that a price worth paying for democracy in Ukraine? (Or for greatly increased US arms sales, and all the other dividends that accrue to America's increased stature among its "allies"?) Granted, it's cost other people and nations more, but since when has the US factored that sort of thing into its calculation? Maybe in the long run those costs will catch up and be regretted, but the zero-summers in the war departments think Russia's losing, so musn't the US be winning?
The other points I've made variants of myself, but I saved the last line for separate treatment: "We all would have been better off under Trump [under whom this never would have happened]." What wouldn't have happened? The invasion? Trump applauded Putin when he did it, so hard to see that as a deterrent. Maybe had Trump not promised support to Ukraine, Zelensky would have been more accommodating, and that might have satisfied Putin, but not according to the logic Putin has given for his decision. Then there's the scenario where Trump vacillates, suggesting Putin has a clear hand to invade, but the Deep State then bullies Trump into fighting, at which point Trump tries to show how tough he is, and blows everything up. Trump's entire foreign policy repertoire is a mix of the worst of Nixon ("mad man" theory) and Agnew ("bag man" corruption). You really don't know what you're going to get, but you can be sure it won't be thought out, and no one will have the slightest idea what the consequences will be.
Still, even if Trump had somehow avoided the war, a second term would have left us so much worse off in so many other areas, it's just mind-boggling to contemplate. By the way, I ran across this Trump quote, a response to Fox News asking him what he'd do differently from Biden in Ukraine:
If this isn't a simple endorsement of Biden's "amazing job," the only thing it suggests he'd do differently is to send US planes in to enforce some kind of "no-fly zone" -- something Biden has ruled out, because he realizes it doesn't just risk but amounts to direct war with Russia, with all the attendant risks of further escalation to nuclear war. Trump may have been personally inclined to let Putin roll over Ukraine, but when Putin invaded Trump's whole security team would have goaded him to action, and because he wants to be seen as a tough guy, he would have wussed out and went with the flow, projecting his contradictions ever more incoherently.
More on Ukraine, Russia, and Biden's foreign policy:
The Supreme Court term came to an end last week, with a stunning series of rulings as the Bush-Bush-Trump-appointed 6-3 majority is flexing its muscles. The January 6 Committee is demonstrating in increasing detail how Trump tried to end democracy by fraud and, failing that, by force, but these Court rulings finally prove that the poison was administered earlier, in the form of those three (and hundreds of lesser) Court appointments, even if the killing stretches out over the years. As bad as this year's rulings were, it's almost certain that worse are still to come.
How bad was this term? Mark Joseph Stern explains: [06-30] Why Today Felt Like the Most Hopeless Day of the SCOTUS Term gives us a quick rundown of what the Court ruled:
There is much more worth reading in this piece. For instance, he concedes that Roberts "split the baby" in Biden v. Texas, reversing an egregious lower court ruling that prevent Biden from rescinding Trump's executive order of his "Remain in Mexico" policy. This "looks like a victory for the President. And it is, but only in the sense that five justices took one small step back from the abyss of total judicial lawlessness." He goes on, noting that "texturalism" and "originalism" are guiding ideologies for the right-wing justices only when they can be twisted to support their political prejudices. He concludes:
More on the Supreme Court and its recent rulines, including abortion:
January 6 Committee: The surprise hearing with Cassidy Hutchinson, who was Mark Meadows' Chief of Staff, provided the best view yet into the White House on the day. The title that sums it up most succinctly is Walter Shapiro: [06-28] President Trump Was a Violent Maniac Behind Closed Doors. Other pieces of note:
Jonathan Chait: [07-01] The Democratic Party Needs Better Moderates: "The centrists have lot of complaints but no solution." Isn't that mostly because they're usually carrying water for business interests? I've said many times they have to move left, because that's where the solutions are. But it's not impossible to imagine moderate programs that make tangible progress on major problems but also respect established business interests and/or cultural concerns. There's little doubt that the left would support serious, practical compromises. (Medicare-for-All advocates in Congress all voted for ACA.) There's also a category that should be very popular among moderates, as it's especially strong among independents and laps into both political parties, but strangely gets no attention (at least among the elected, regardless of party): the political influence of money. Won't someone run with that? Chait cites a piece by Jason Zengerle: [06-29] The Vanishing Moderate Democrat, which argues "their positions are popular," but two 1990s presidential wins for Bill Clinton, while losing decades-long control of Congress, doesn't seem like much proof. For another take on Zengerle see: Ryan Cooper: [06-30] 'Moderate' Democrats Are Anything But.
Robert Christgau: [06-29] The Big Lookback: Hillary Clinton. New introduction for a piece published on October 11, 2016, when it still looked like the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president might work out. It didn't, and that's probably the source of the moment's temptation to say "I told you so" (but for many of us it just underscores her failure). I never doubted that we would have been better off had Hillary won (although it's easy now to overlook that given how she most happily ran on her superior Commander-in-Chief cojones, she could have turned truly awful). Much of the piece focuses on excoriating third parties -- Democrats expect to own the left's votes without doing anything to earn them -- combined with a snide dismissal of Bernie Sanders that only comes up short of a vicious attack because he appreciates Sanders campaigning not just against Trump but for Clinton. Like Christgau, I soured on third parties after 2000, but that was less because I saw Gore's loss as a huge step back (which it turned out to be) than because I realized then that the only path to power for the left would be through the Democratic Party, if simply for the reason that's where the voters most interested in joining us are stuck. (That was clearest here in Kansas, where Gore got over 10 times as many votes as Nader [37.2% to 3.4%], despite the DP not raising a finger to help Gore.) Still, I've never felt the slightest temptation to blame anyone on the left for the Democratic Party's failures, especially when you have candidates like Gore, Kerry, and the Clintons veering to the right figuring that's where they'll find more votes (or at least more donor money). I understand the logic that says "lesser evils are still evil," even if I don't think that's a maxim to live by. (I don't doubt for a moment that Gore would have responded to 9/11 by unleashing the War on Terror, and I rather doubt that he would have stopped short of invading Iraq -- remember, he voted for the 1990-91 war on Iraq, supported Clinton's repeated bombing, and had überhawk Joe Lieberman as his VP. I also doubt he would have fared any better at war. On the other hand, he wouldn't have eviscerated FEMA before Katrina, and he wouldn't have appointed Alito or Roberts to the Supreme Court. In between, there's a lot of iffy policies, not least his sometimes principled, sometimes compromised concern about global warming.) More importantly, I know that when the Democrats sell out or go crazy -- which happened a lot under Clinton, and again under Obama -- the tiny fragment of the left that refused to vote for them will be among the first to stand up for what's right. Still, everyone mourns in their own way -- even those of us who foresaw the Supreme Court threat as far back as the Bork nomination.
Ryan Cooper: [07-01] Mitch McConell Once Again Takes Advantage of Democratic Fecklessness: Examples of how the Democrats are hamstrung by Senate rules and maneuvers, which they don't have the numbers to overcome (and in two particular cases don't seem to have any desire to get anything done). Meanwhile, McConnell can hold out offers of very limited bipartisan support for extortionate prices. And in the end, Democrats will get blamed (and in many cases will blame themselves) for such failures.
Dexter Filkins: [06-20] Can Ron DeSantis Displace Donald Trump as the G.O.P.'s Combatant-in-Chief? The Florida governor has gotten a lot of press, much touting him as the Trumpiest of all the contenders who could pick up the Republican torch should Trump himself falter. Sample:
Margaret Hartmann: [07-03] Read the Nastiest Lines From Trump's $75 Burn Book: It's called Our Journey Together, a bunch of pictures with captions evidently written by Trump himself (you can tell because they're stupid and nasty). By the way, Hartmann's The Drama-Lover's Guide to the New Trump Books has been updated [06-29].
Robert Hitt: [06-30] Robocallers Still Have Your Number: "The FCC has implemented new rules, but the decades-old problem requires stronger tactics." This seems like the sort of nuisance problem it should be relatively easy to solve. We get 30+ unwanted phone calls per day on the land line, or presumably unwanted as we don't pick up unrecognized caller ids. Why not automatically kick those calls to a monitoring service, and when a caller's count rises above some modest threshhold, kick off an investigation aimed at shutting them down? Sure, only some of those calls are clearly aimed at fraud, but solicitations for funds are every bit as intrusive, and can feel like harassment. I'd like to see a crackdown on all forms of intrusive advertising, but this is a good place to start (and unlike radio and TV, doesn't require a rethinking of how those industries can be financed). Advertising isn't free speech. Even when it isn't intended fraud, it's much more akin to assault. (Hacking is a similar problem, which isn't taken seriously by the people who could put a stop to it. My server has to fend off hundreds of attacks every day.)
Paul Krugman: Interesting but varied set of pieces here, some in response to books he's been reading:
Daniel Larison: [07-01] Another round of talks fail as the Iran nuclear deal appears to be slipping away: "JCPOA opponents planted political poison pills to prevent reentering the deal and Biden is letting them get away with it." You'd think that restoring JCPOA would be a no-brainer. It was a key diplomatic achievement for Obama. Trump violated it for no good reason. While Obama (wrongly, I think) took pains to provide a smooth continuity in foreign policy when taking over from Bush, there's no reason for Biden to follow suit. (He certainly hasn't with Ukraine and NATO.) Coming to an understanding with Iran would not only solve one problem, it would make America look more capable of reason elsewhere. Besides, with Russian oil off the world market, the easiest fix to drive prices back down would be to let Iran back in. On the other hand, Biden is heading off to Israel and Saudi Arabia, no doubt to supplicate like Trump did. Also see:
Rebecca Leber: [06-27] The biggest myths about gas prices: Six of them, generally useful but I'd quibble with "Myth 2: Oil companies are price-gouging American consumers." Oil companies are always greedy, always price-gouging, at least within the limits of competition (which is still healthier than it is in most industries). If they weren't, they'd lower their margins to cushion the price shocks, but if they can keep their margins as costs increase, their profits go way up, and that's what we're seeing. I also think that it's likely that there is a massive behind-the-scenes lobbying effort to get articles (like this one) to counter the intuitive idea that oil companies are making out like bandits. I've seen dozens of such articles, which given the push from Bernie Sanders and others for a "windfall profits tax" (as was implemented in the 1970s) is something they'd have a serious interest in promoting. By the way, for a broader review of the role of greed in capitalism, see Nathan J Robinson: [06-20] Is Capitalism Built on Greed? (Executive summary: yes.)
Andrew Marantz: [06-27] Does Hungary Offer a Glimpse of Our Authoritarian Future? Viktor Orbán is certainly popular among elements of the US right that are in any way aware of their fellow fascists around the world -- Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson are obvious examples, but the author also mentions J.D. Vance and Rod Dreher as admirers, and Ron DeSantis as someone who could fit the bill. Orbán came to my attention quite a while ago, and what struck me most was how he used the power of a freak landslide election to consolidate long-term control of the nation, including passing an extensive legal framework that could only be undone by a super-majority: the use of such gimmicks to guarantee right-minority control struck me as very Republican -- although viewed as Orbánist it should seem even more un-American. Choice lines:
Elizabeth Nelson: [07-14] Difficult Man: 'Kitchen Confidential' and the Early Days of Anthony Bourdain's Legacy.
Tory Newmyer: [07-03] Bill to grant crypto firms access to Federal Reserve alarms experts: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is in on this graft (along with a Republican from Wyoming; looks like Wyoming already as some sweetheart deals with crypto grifters). I'm not sure what all the ramifications are, but making crypto "too big to fail" sounds like an awful idea, especially given that it's not actually good for anything (legal, anyway).
Andre Pagliarini: [07-01] Live From Brazil: A Clueless Tucker Carlson: "Fox News's chief wingnut has spent all week fawning over authoritarian President Jair Bolsonaro and making absurd, ignorant statements about the country." Worth remembering here that Carlson is also infatuated with Hungary's Viktor Orbán: see Viktória Serdült: [02-01] Tucker Carlson Has Become Obsessed With Hungary. Here's What He Doesn't Understand.
Annie Proulx: [06-27] Swamps Can Protect Against Climate Change, if We Only Let Them. "Wetlands absorb carbon dioxide and buffer the excesses of drought and flood, yet we've drained much of this land."
Nathan J Robinson: ]07-01] The Incredibly Disturbing Texas GOP Agenda Is a Vision for a Theocratic Dystopia. Too much here to even start getting into, but make sure to check out the contrasting pictures of car-free downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia, and "fucking Houston." And while most of the planks reduce to variants on complete-lawless-freedom-for-me and prohibition-on-you, sometimes it just gets weird, like "enshrining a right to cryptocurrency in the Texas Bill of Rights." Evidently, someone told them crypto is "a right-wing hypercapitalistic technology built primarily to amplify the wealth of its proponents through a combination of tax avoiance, diminished regulatory oversight and artificially enforced scarcity," and they said, "wow, give me some of that."
Walter Shapiro: [06-27] 1989-2001: America's Long Lost Weekend: "From the fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11, we had relative peace and prosperity. It was an opportunity to salve some festering national wounds. We squandered it completely -- and helped give rise to the crises we're dealing with today." One nugget here is that in his speech accepting the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination, Al Gore spent all of one sentence talking about climate change -- a problem that Gore understood well enough to write a book about in 1992 (Earth in the Balance), but didn't seriously return to until 2006 (An Inconvenient Truth). Shapiro previously covered this territory in [2019-04-29] The Lasting Disappointment of the Clinton Presidency.
Alex Skopic: [04-20] Winston Churchill, Imperial Monstrosity: Not sure how I missed this before, but Tariq Ali has finally released a book we always knew he was uniquely qualified to write, Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes. Few people realize this, but Churchill was a uniquely malign force in 20th century politics (he actually got his start at the end of the 19th, his first taste of war -- which he relished -- in the Sudan at the most lop-sided massacre European imperialists ever engineered, followed by a tour of the Boer War in South Africa, where he learned to love concentration camps). During WWI he dreamed of starving all of Germany to death, while he was more directly responsible for the disastrous attack on Gallipoli. He was a diehard defender of the British Empire, yet largely responsible for the most tragic decisions of its retreat: the religious division of Ireland, Palestine, and India, creating conflicts that killed millions and more or less persist to this day. He can even claim credit for starting the Cold War (with his "iron curtain" speech -- he did have a knack for rhetoric). And that's just the broad outline. Ali adds more details, including Churchill's role in the Bengal Famine during WWII. Also a discussion of the mythbuilding that kept elevating Churchill from one disaster after another. By the way, Ali has another recent book: The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold, compiled from concurrent writings and wrapped up with a new introduction (probably a well-deserved "I told you so").
Jeffrey St Clair: [07-01] Roaming Charges: Whatd'Ya Expect Us to Do About It? Argues that Democrats, given advance notice of Alito's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, should have spent that time coming up with a coherent response, including executive orders, to fight back, but instead seem to have spent the time formulating fundraising letters. I've seen a lot of similar recriminations, especially against the "gerontocracy." Not entirely fair, but a predisposition to compromise with an opposite side that can never be satisfied does lead to a lot of backpedaling (and frequent falls on one's ass). Much more, of course, including a line suggesting that maybe the intent, which the Court couldn't discern, of the Clean Air Act was in its title. St Clair also reprinted a 2005 column co-written with Alexander Cockburn on the author of Roe v. Wade's demise: Holy Alito!
Jennifer Szalai: [06-29] 'Why We Did It' Is a Dark Ride on the 'Republican Road to Hell': Review of Republican political operator Tim Miller's book, about why Republicans more or less enthusiastically lined up behind Trump after his 2016 election win. Pretty much as I suspected: they were so desperate to win they abandoned all scruples. Reviewer suggests pairing this with another book by a Republican operative, Stuart Stevens: It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump.
By the way, Covid new cases topped 100,000/day on May 17, and have remained at or above that level ever since, making the last six weeks the fourth highest peak period on record. The number of cases had dropped under 30,000 on March 21. Deaths are up 24% over 14 days ago.
Closing tweet, seems to be related to Jeff Bezos: "If the Biden administration is out of touch with Billionaires, imagine how the average American worker feels."
Sunday, June 26, 2022
Speaking of Which
I suppose after the Roe v. Wade reversal, I have to write one of these, if only as a placeholder in the notebook. As usual, the best place to look on Supreme Court rulings is with Ian Millhiser. Start with: [06-24] The end of Roe v. Wade, explained. As Millhiser notes, this ruling has little to do with legal theory -- it's been increasingly clear for some time that the "conservative majority" is just making shit up (in that, Gore v. Bush back in 2000 was a harbinger) -- but reflects a political coup accomplished through decades of the right scheming to pack the Court with their cultists. I wrote a bit about the politics in a recent Facebook comment to a post by Greg Magarian, a law professor at Washington University, in St. Louis, where I studied for a couple of years). Magarian wrote:
Back around 1970, in "The Emerging Republican Majority," Kevin Phillips argued that Republicans would become the majority party if they could flip two traditionally Democratic constituencies -- southern Baptists and northern Catholics. They did this by orchestrating a cultural backlash, most obviously based on race but abortion gave them a way to use religion. (The Schlafly backlash against women's rights was also a factor.) I've long viewed Missouri as the laboratory for this transformation. In the 1950s the state was solidly Democratic, but regionally divided: the cities and river valleys on the D side, the northern plains and the Ozarks on the other. The Danforths share a lot of the credit/blame for this transformation. It took another 20 years for Missouri's anti-abortion politics to spread to Kansas (in the 1990s, although Bob Dole jumped the gun in 1972), where WASP Republicans had easily ruled since the 1860s (aside from a brief Populist interlude) and had no need of such scheming. The Republican use of select Catholic doctrines has mostly been purely cynical (although there are cases of conservatives converting, like Sam Brownback, whose devotion to the cause is more devoutly evil). As for the Catholic dominance of the Supreme Court, that seems to be an artifact of the Federalist Society's control of the nominee list, which was largely a reaction to Souter's apostasy after he joined the court. Conservatives had seen many seemingly solid WASP nominees turn into liberals after joining the Court, and wanted to put a stop to that. I haven't looked into just why the FS almost exclusively nominates Catholics, so I'm reluctant to speculate as to why, other than to note that they have much in common with cults.
Millhiser also wrote a deeper historical piece that you should read: [06-25] The case against the Supreme Court of the United States. I recently picked up a copy of Millhiser's book on this same topic, Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted. One thing few people realize now is how fortunate those of my age cohort (the "boomers") were to grow up in a period when the Court was expanding individual rights against the tyranny of the politically connected elite. Those days are gone, and outrage against "Supreme Injustice" is coming back. Life was certainly easier and less fraught when we didn't need to worry about the Supreme Court taking our rights away.
Some more links on the Supreme Court this week:
Since we're here, some other stories, briefly noted:
Ukraine: The war grinds on, with Russia continuing to make small gains in Luhansk, including their capture of Severodonetsk, and little interest from either side in ending the war. Some stories:
Inflation: Look: Democrats worked hard to save the economy from collapse during the pandemic, both in early 2020 when the stock market plunged so bad even Republicans were willing to play along, and in early 2021 when they pushed a serious stimulus bill through to get things moving again. The reforms weren't targeted as precisely as possible, so some people came out of the crisis better off than before, while others barely survived. But Republicans had nothing to offer, other than their bitter opposition, which along with a couple of chickenshit Democratic senators eventually brought better prospects to a halt. Meanwhile, the disruptions caused (and still being caused, e.g., in China) by the pandemic messed up supply chains, and sudden shifts in supply and demand got converted into higher prices -- the same sort of price gouging we saw early in the pandemic. All this adds up to higher consumer prices (aka inflation, although many economists tie the word more closely to higher wages, which is what they really get worked up about).
Eric Alterman: [06-24] Will the Oligarchs Who Own the US Media Save Democracy? Don't Bet on It.
Justin Elliott/Jesse Eisinger/Paul Kiel/Jeff Ernsthausen/Doris Burke: [06-21] Meet the Billionaire and Rising GOP Mega-Donor Who's Gaming the Tax System: Susquehana founder and TikTok investor Jeff Yass.
Ben Jacobs: [06-23] Donald Trump's cuckoo coup: By all rights, the January 6 Committee hearings should be dominating the news this week. Thanks to Republican non-participation, we've never seen Congressional hearings this clear and focused, so free of cant and obfuscation. Sure, the net result is pretty much what we understood at the time: an understanding that led almost immediately to Trump's second impeachment. Jacobs also wrote: [06-22] A new right-wing super PAC is attacking Liz Cheney as a "DC diva". More on the hearings:
Kathryn Joyce: [06-24] 'National Conservative' manifesto: A plan for fascism -- but it's not hypothetical. Document, came out of a conference last fall, hard to tell how seriously to take it, but one speaker sequence mentioned here suggests it's not just a few "think-tankers": Rick Santorum, Nigel Farage, Mark Meadows.
Jen Kirby: [06-23] Afghanistan's staggering set of crises, explained: "Almost a year after Kabul's fall and the US's withdrawal, the economy remains in free fall, and the country faces a near-constant humanitarian disaster." Why do you think it was any better when the US military was ensconced in Kabul? Granted, it probably looked better to Americans, with their governmment pumping up a bubble around them, but if it was so great why did the people let the Taliban back in? Not unpredictably, US sore-loserdom has set in, with the US seizing Afghan assets abroad, and refusing to provide humanitarian aid for a crisis large of its own making. Continued US hostility also gives away any change at leverage that engagement might offer. This only plays into the hands of the most reactionary elements of the Taliban, who much like reactionary elements here are the least competent of all possible administrators. Of course, the US has played the sore-loser card many times before. North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Syria, and Iran are countries we once supposedly cared for but stand today as monuments to America's hurt vanity. One reason this has popped up again is that Afghanistan was hit by an earthquake last week, killing at least 1,000. See: Adam Weinstein: [06-24] Earthquake poses test of US resistance to the Taliban.
Rohan Montgomery: [06-26] The First Item on the G7 Agenda Should Be to Cancel the Global South's Debt: "The simplest way to fight global warming and injustice at the same time would be for the world's richest countries to end the vicious debt cycle that forces poor countries to exploit natural resources." Of course, it's not going to happen. The reason the G7 is the G7 is that they're happily collecting rent from the rest of the world. Also that most of the rent doesn't go to the governments, but to the moguls and oligarchs those governments serve. After WWII it became clear that Western Colonialism wouldn't be sustainable, so they came up with a new way to continue the exploitation without the political visibility. That was debt, which along with intellectual property rents keeps the Global South down.
Nicole Narea: [06-21] What Eric Greitens's "RINO hunting" ad means for the Missouri Senate race. Gross, gratuitous violence, sure, but isn't it weird when Greitens huffs: "Order your RINO Hunting Permit today!" Here he is, urging followers to commit crimes, but insisting that they need a permit first? And who exactly is issuing these permits?
Nicole Narea: [06-24] Congress passes a landmark gun control package: "Landmark" is a bit of a stretch, as it doesn't do much -- so little a handful of Republicans went along with it, perhaps confident after the Supreme Court's gun ruling this week that the courts will strip it down even further. On that angle, see [06-24] So is Bruen the reaso a few Republicans went along with a gun bill?
Jim Robbins/Thomas Fuller/Christine Chung: [06-15] Flooding Chaos in Yellowstone, a Sign of Crises to Come.
Jeffrey St Clair: [06-24] Roaming Charges: The Anal Stage of Constitutional Analysis.
Raymond Zhong: [06-24] Heat Waves Around the World Push People and Nations 'To the Edge'.
Daily Kos headlines:
I've started following Rick Perlstein's Twitter feed. Here's one highly a propos:
I also follow Zachary Carter, whose book The Price of Peace is one of the best I've read in the last couple years, but I take exception to this:
But aren't there several plausible plans in play: blue states are passing legislation codifying support for abortion rights, and offering sanctuaries; Congress could do the same if Democrats had slightly larger majorities; with larger majorities, the Supreme Court itself could be reformed (the subject of an op-ed by Jamelle Bouie: How to Discipline a Rogue Supreme Court. Sure, some Democratic plans in the past haven't worked out so well, like Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, which was at least partially sold on the need to prevent the right-wing takeover of the Supreme Court.
There are other areas where Biden and the Democratic leadership are coming off as more inept, not least because they are conflicted. There is no good solution for inflation without also considering all other economic factors, including inequality and the environment, and sane people have serious disagreements about what to do when there. Also on the Ukraine War and many other foreign policy disasters, which are the end result of decades of bad policy and missed opportunities. The simple fact is that any time a Democrat gets elected president -- and that only seems to happen after a Republican has made a total botch of the world -- that Democrat is going to be hit with multiple crises that have been gestating over long periods of time, then hampered by not having the power or the good will to do what really needs to be done. Somehow Republicans get a free pass on blame, and new chances to fuck things up even more, knowing that Democrats will have to clean up their messes, and will be found wanting for doing so, which will kick off yet another cycle of rage and retribution.
The 2022 elections will ultimately come down to one question: do voters want the emotional satisfaction of punishing the Democrats for everything that's gone wrong, or will they wise up to the fact that Republicans have nothing constructive to offer, and that the only way to actually fix our problems is to give Democrats the power to do so? If the latter, of course, we'll have to keep a close eye on them, but at least we'll be dealing with people who recognize problems and are willing to reason about how best to solve them.
I've been reading Matthew Yglesias since he started blogging, at least up to the point when he went to Substack and started charging monthly (and also writing columns for Bloomberg, which for all I know probably has its own paywall). I sometimes wonder whether I should at least follow his Twitter feed, but sometimes a tweet like this leaks through:
I'm hard pressed to recall what "more moderate position" she didn't adopt in 2016. As Jeet Heer noted, for VP she picked "a pro-life Catholic man like Tim Kaine." Was that meant to reassure us that she'd fight to the end to protect abortion rights? Besides, she did win "slightly more votes," but lost the election because she didn't win them where she most needed them. Folks who voted for Trump because they thought he's "fight for them" were foolish and stupid, but they got the body language right -- the mistake was in thinking Trump identified with them. But Hillary, despite all her sabre-rattling, was never going to "fight" for anyone. She was always going to bend over for the highest bidder. And thanks to our two-party system, she was all that stood between Trump and us.
One last tweet, from Barack Obama, hitting key points succinctly enough to be worth quoting:
Ever since Biden took office and the Democrats tied up the Senate, we've been seeing Republicans put on a master class in "clinging to power" and "gumming up the works" -- often with the help of self-hating Democrats and a mainstream media that keeps legitimizing Republicans no matter what they say or do.He goes on, quoting Douthat again, then responds:
And (there's no point in me inserting the Douthat quotes, because you can imagine them already):
He also quotes from that "NatCon Manifesto" (see Kathryn Joyce link above).
Sunday, June 19, 2022
Speaking of Which
Late Saturday start, with no aim other than to blow off some steam (starting with the Cineas piece below). This is a very troubling, very unpleasant time. While it's never been more clear how destructive the Republican Party from top to bottom has become, we're stuck with a Democratic Party which is increasingly conflicted and befuddled, where we're stuck with factions which not only don't get along but are often seen putting their own narrow interests ahead of everyone else. And at the top, well, as one headline put it: Biden Survives Bike Fall After Failed Backpedaling Attempt. The only thing I'm grateful there is that the headline is literal, and not some horrendous metaphor. I have no time or desire to try to draw up a list, but since I don't say any more about it below, the stupid dilly-dallying over the war in Ukraine is worth mentioning. Somewhere I read that Zelensky is unwilling to resume negotiations until August, when he hopes to be in a better position. Meanwhile, the NATO chief is projecting the gravy train (err, the war) will go on for years. Meanwhile, Biden is headed to Saudi Arabia hat-in-hand to beg for lower gas prices, rather than seeking relief from the countries (Iran and Venezuela) the US is sanctioning for disrespecting the empire. And the Senate (Graham and Menendez, of course) wants to shovel an extra $4.5 billion to Taiwan to piss off China. Nonetheless, even the worst Democrats are orders of magnitude less awful than the Republicans, so here we are, struggling to help Biden get back up on that bicycle (ok, that's a metaphor).
Kate Aronoff: [06-17] Biden Wrote a Stern Letter to Oil Refiners. His Government Should Take Over the Industry Instead. I've occasionally said that the biggest mistake America ever made was to allow the oil industry to be private. The profit motive led to a vast squandering of natural resources. (The Spindletop fiasco is a classic example, where the biggest find to date was pumped dry in three years, during which oil prices totally collapsed.) But also, that decision gave us oil millionaires/billionaires, who have been a political menace ever since. Still, Biden's letter doesn't inspire much faith in the greater wisdom of the public sector, as he's mostly looking for politically expedient price relief, without little if any concern for the longer term consequences. Recent price rises, which are still less than half what Europeans pay, are mostly due to a supply crunch caused by US sanctions against Russia, Venezuela, and Iran. One could argue that price increases (although not the foreign policy that's led to them) are a good thing, in that they will incentivize people and business to use less oil and gas. (Of course, the smart way to do this would be to plan tax increases well into the future, so the expectation of higher prices is set, without the immediate pinch, but Americans don't like planning, so you get movement through poorly understood panics instead.)
There is much more that could be said about nationalization, but it's an issue with no short-term chances, so no real urgency. Socialists have been overly fond of nationalization in the past, and overly reticent of late. I think there are cases where it would be a good idea, but I'm not sure what they are, or whether oil is one (regulatory and tax policy are other options, and there is a big question about stranded assets -- a lot of "wealth" is in the form of untapped oil reserves, which may turn out to be worth a lot less than current appraisals).
Christina Carrega: [06-15] The land of the free leads the world in incarceration. Why?
Sewell Chan/Eric Neugeboren: [06-19] Texas Republican Convention calls Biden win illegitimate and rebukes Cornyn over gun talks.
Fabiola Cineas: [06-15] There's no freedom without reparations. The article has problems even defining a reparations program, which should be a clue as to why it isn't a viable political agenda. If politics is the art of the possible, reparations is something else (perhaps a rhetorical device which promises to go away with suitable inducements?). But impossibility is only one of the problems with reparations. More importantly, it is simply the wrong answer to the problem -- even if you accept that the problem (the persistence of poverty and prejudice among descendants of victims of slavery and legal discrimination) is an important one that should be addressed seriously. It is wrong because it imagines the past can somehow be repaired. It is wrong because it compounds injustice, by assessing damages from people who weren't responsible to compensate people who weren't immediately affected. It is wrong because it assumes one can redress inequities without addressing inequality. A much better solution is to aim to bar discrimination and promote equality across the whole of society, regardless of past conditions, even if you have to proceed piecemeal. And it is wrong because it inevitably produces a backlash. The most obvious example is the reparations imposed on Germany after WWI, but the backlash against "affirmative action" in the 1970s should be cautionary enough. It wasn't a bad idea when the economy was booming for everyone, but as inequality increased and businesses turned against their workers, it became a wedge issue for separating the white working class (many of whom were descendants of immigrants who arrived in America well after the Civil War).
It's also wrong because it is rooted in a fundamental misconception about what justice can and cannot do, and that misconception seems to be increasingly rampant these days. Justice cannot change the past, It can (to some extent) exact revenge for recent past events, but revenge never heals, rarely soothes, and often misses its target completely. And while justice can be harsh on individuals (especially powerless ones), it is rarely up to dealing with larger groups, let alone corporations and political parties, or worst of all, national leaders who launched wars. Bill Clinton made headlines in his rush to put Ricky Ray Rector to death, but never had to face justice for his bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, or his repeated bombing of Iraq, or his even more devastating sanctions to starve Iraqi children. And he's just one example, and certainly not the worst. The International Criminal Court might sound like a good idea, but what kind of justice do you have when you almost never bring the guilty parties. (Sure, they did prosecute Slobodan Milosevic over Kosovo, but it was Wesley Clark, under Bill Clinton (again!), who ran the bombing campaign against Serbia, killing up to 2,000.
I have no objection to impressing upon all Americans how despicable slavery was, and how systematically and often violently both officials and ad hoc groups terrorized "free" blacks after the Civil War. I'd go so far as to say that it's important to acknowledge all unsavory acts over centuries by American state(s) and people. While the arguments for reparations start with explaining this history, and should be applauded for that, the framework of reparations recasts history as political, inviting reaction. While it's true that reparations need not be a zero-sum game, but it is easily understood as such: a transfer of wealth from the public (which through taxes means everyone, in an economy where most people are vulnerable) to an arbitrarily selected few. The left's key political proposition is to help nearly everyone, fairly and equally, but reparations can easily be twisted into an argument for putting certain minorities ahead of an increasingly fragile and frightened majority.
Needless to say, reparations for any one issue raises questions about other past injustices, of which they are many. There has, for instance, been some reparations for Japanese-Americans interned during WWII. There is something to be said for the symbolic effect of admitting past wrongs, and that may be all some reparations advocates are working for. Similarly, I don't see much harm in suing police departments for wrongful deaths, especially where prosecution is impossible. Sometimes it even works to sue a corporation (as with Purdue Pharma), but such cases have to be pretty egregious, and they're no substitute for better regulation to prevent such disasters from happening. While the right to sue is one important safeguard for justice, I fear we've gone way overboard, resulting in a justice system which is arbitrary and inconsistent.
Elizabeth Dwoskin: [06-19] Peter Thiel helped build big tech. Now he wants to tear it all down. Another billionaire who thinks his money entitles him to run (or ruin) the world.
Chris Haberman: [06-18] Mark Shields, TV Pundit Known for His Sharp Wit, Dies at 85: I remember watching him on NPR square off against David Brooks, in the latter's Bush-toady phase. He didn't impress me much, but Brooks developed a reputation as slime that has stuck to him, even as he's tried to distance himself from more reptilian Republicans.
Roxana Hegeman: [06-17] Heat stress blamed for thousands of cattle deaths in Kansas. It wasn't extraordinarily hot, but the combination of heat and humidity killed over 2,000 cattle, in a preview of the sort of killing heat waves likely to be common as global temperatures rise. Probably not the first such example, but this one hit especially close to home.
Ian Millhiser: [05-15] Democracy in America is a rigged game.
Timothy Noah: [06-17] Was Nixon's Guilt as Obvious as Trump's Is? Not much here on Trump, but then you already know about the Jan. 6 Committee's evidence. Focus is more on whether Nixon ordered the Watergate break in, as opposed to merely covering up the excessive zeal of his crew, and Noah presents a fairly strong case why we should think so, even with no one coming out and admitting it. For one thing, Nixon ordered similar break ins. For another, Nixon was directly involved in more crimes than you can shake a stick at -- Noah has several examples of campaign finance violations, and there was still the back channel promises to derail negotiations that might have ended the Vietnam War in 1968 (Nixon's prosecution of the war in Vietnam and extension to Cambodia will always remain in my mind his supreme crime, on a level with the worst monsters of the 20th century). One can go much deeper into the Nixon/Trump comparisons -- as Woodward and Bernstein tried to do last week -- but they will mostly show that however cunning and unscrupulous Nixon was in exceeding his authority and venturing beyond the law, he was conscious of what he was doing, and aware of what he was risking. Trump, on the other hand, aspired to do much worse, but lacked the managerial chops to pull it off. In the end, he was hoisted by his own words, as testified to by his ridiculous "advisers," and by the acts of his most outrageous fans. That the latter were (probably) disconnected and acting autonomously doesn't excuse him; it underscores how irresponsible and damaging his lies and cult had become. Noah ends with an indictment of the media, for letting Nixon fade gently once he resigned, instead of digging to get to the bottom of all the evil he had done. Their failure then has been compounded with Trump now. We should by now understand that Nixon and Trump are two types who should never be allowed even remotely near presidential power. Yet the media was so smitten with both, they not only failed to expose their crimes, they never admitted their own complicity in letting them fester until the crimes became impossible to ignore.
Gina Schouten: [05-24] Why We're Polarized, Part 1. The first of four notes on Ezra Klein's Why We're Polarized, by a Harvard philosophy professor. The others are [05-31] Part 2, [06-08] Part 3: Moving on to Institutions, and [06-15] Part 4: The Last one, about Party Differences. The latter focuses on how the Republicans have cultivated a monolithic identity, which is continually reaffirmed ever more starkly, while the Democrats are bound to be a loose coalition with divergent interests, united only by their fear of Republicans.
Samantha Schmidt: [06-19] Gustavo Petro, former guerrilla, will be Colombia's first leftist president.
Jeffrey St Clair: [06-17] Roaming Charges: A River Ran Through It: Title refers to Yellowstone, the first patch of America reserved as a National Park, a place where you can still observe relatively unsullied nature. Well, nature struck back, and now the Park is closed. "They called it a 1000-year flood. It will probably happen four more times in the next 50 years." In other stories, he notes that Republicans flipped a House seat (TX-34), in a district that is 84% Latino. (I see here that turnout was 7.34%, so you'd think there would be room for improvement in November, but that's pretty embarrassing. For more on this, see GOP Win Says More About Filemon Vela Than a South Texas 'Red Wave'.) That's the first of a number of incendiary lobs at the Democrats (especially the pathetic idolization of Liz Cheney and Mike Pence). There's also this little gem:
Evidently they have no plans to examine the footage themselves to help figure out how to correct for the "weaknesses" it reveals.
Emily Stewart: [05-15] Stopping inflation is going to hurt: "The economy will feel worse before it feels better." Well, that's largely because the fight against inflation is being led by the Fed, and they see their job as helping bankers by turning the screws on borrowers and consumers. There are other possible approaches, especially given that a major driver of inflation is the Ukraine War, and that has nothing at all to do with interest rates. Same thing for monopoly rents and supply chain kinks, although slack demand will eventually reduce those pressures -- while further discouraging businesses from developing more capacity, which would help drive prices down. Also on inflation:
Sunday, June 12, 2022
Speaking of Which
I don't feel like doing a general survey this week, but I felt like jotting down a quote from Sebastian Haffner's 1938 memoir, Defying Hitler -- Brian Eno recommended the book recently so I thought I'd give it a try. Haffner is a pseudonym for a young German lawyer (Referendar, basically a clerk in the courts system), from a professional class family, with centrist politics breaking against the Nazis (as opposed to the many centrists who broke the other way). From page 224:
I don't know which German word was translated as "self-reflection," but I imagine it has more to do with mirror-gazing than with any sort of mental self-scrutiny. Aside from that quibble, this is a pretty apt definition. I've often noted that political appeals to patriotism work mostly as flattery, as least for those who identify with the nation, and who use that identity to elevate themselves apart from others, who are easy then to characterize as enemies.
The paragraph continues:
Haffner underestimates the pathology of nationalism in other countries, while failing to note that one thing that made German nationalism so ominous was that Germany was a large and powerful country that could invoke the memory of past empires. In small countries, nationalism may be equally distasteful, but it's more likely to assume a defensive crouch. (Nationalists in Ukraine may be as personally noxious as Russian nationalists, but the aggressor there is the one with size, power, and history.)
Haffner also credits Germans with more cosmopolitanism than seems warranted. As recently as 1918, Germany was a monarchy with a powerful military caste, a landed aristocracy, and an industrial and commercial autocracy, bent on imperial conquest. It shouldn't be surprising that many Germans who had bought into such delusions would seek out dynamic new leaders -- rather than admitting that the ideas themselves were rotten. (This was well before Britain and France were forced to abandon their overseas empires.)
On the other hand, you can plug "America" into this paragraph and it makes more sense. American history has its share of blemishes and warts, but what we remember fondly, what we most of us identify as distinctively American, has come from the left: ending slavery, expanding democracy, equal rights, free speech, opportunity for immigrants, freedom to develop and create and prosper -- things that the right has sought at every juncture to hinder. Take those things away, as America's self-identified nationalists want to do, and America will, like Germany in the Nazi years, become a bitter, hardened, hollow shell of itself.
It's unnerving to read this section the week the House Select Committee on January 6 chose to unveil their findings. The thing I find most disturbing isn't what happened at the time, but how Republicans (especially on Fox News) are reacting. However briefly, at the time many Republicans, including Congressional leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, instinctively sought to distance from the rioters and the inciters. But most of them have since reversed course, finding excuses first for Trump, eventually for the rioters. But what I heard after the Committee presentation was how many of them (especially on the Fox payroll) have adopted the rioters, most explicitly as martyrs to the Republican cause. While the insurrection was happening, I never for a moment doubted that it would be put down, that Congress would reconvene, and that the election results would be confirmed. My reasoning was simple: those were still things that the people believed in, regardless of the outcome. But seeing how so many Republicans have embraced both Trump's lies and the rioters' crimes, I'm less certain they will defend democracy next time around.
Back around the time GW Bush was reëlected in 2004 I bought a copy of Richard J Evans' The Coming of the Third Reich, figuring it was time to brush up on the signs of how a nation could come to embrace fascism. It's still on the shelf. Bush self-destructed shortly after the election. Initially, he decided to use his mandate to wreck Social Security, which I knew would backfire, due to technical obstacles built into its design, and also politically. His wars got worse, leading to sacking Rumsfeld and sidelining Cheney. Katrina hit, and suddenly a "heckuva job" wasn't enough. Congress went to the Democrats in 2006, ending any chance of going after Social Security. Then the banking system collapsed, and with it the economy. Bush finished his term with the lowest approval rating of any president ever.
While I never got to Evans' book, I did wind up reading Bejmanin Carter Hett's The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic, which covers the same ground in half as many pages (Haffner's corresponding section is less than half that long, but includes the now-familiar names). And I've read a good deal more specifically about the Nazis, as well as more broadly about fascism (e.g., Robert Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism, which narrowly excludes "conservatives" like Francisco Franco, who are still fascists in my book).
As a leftist, I'm exceptionally sensitive to the slightest whiff of fascism, so points of similarity tend to resonate with me: each one implies the likelihood of others, and cumulatively they add up to a diagnosis. Still, it only matters if the insight scores political points. (We do still oppose fascists, don't we?) And most people are reluctant to use The F Word -- liberals because they're extra-careful to respect political differences, and conservatives because, well, it cuts too close to the bone. But with Trump and his fan base, we keep getting closer (e.g., see Zack Beauchamp: The January 6 hearings showed why it's reasonable to call Trump a fascist).
My considered view is that Trump is a Fascist, at least as long as he gets to be Der Führer/Il Duce, but America isn't ready for a Fascist dictatorship, and he isn't smart/skilled/driven enough to make it happen. On the other hand, the number of Americans who would welcome a Trump dictatorship has probably doubled in the last six years. That's scary, but still not a huge number. And while they have a lot of guns, Trump militia like the Proud Boys are a long ways from being able to terrorize "the left" like the SA did -- not least because the police and courts, bad as they are, are unlikely to roll over like their German equivalents. What Trump, like Hitler and Mussolini, does have up his sleeve is deep support from conservative elites, who thus far are right in their belief they can pull the puppet strings (at least where it matters, on taxes, regulation, and the courts). Hitler was especially ruthless where it came to consolidating power. Trump has no idea how to do that -- not that he wouldn't applaud giddily if someone slew his enemies.
In Trump's wake, there seems to be renewed interest in Richard Nixon, especially his conspiracy to cover up Watergate. For example, see: Woodward and Bernstein thought Nixon defined corruption. Then came Trump. If Trump seems worse than Nixon now, it's largely because Nixon (and Reagan and Bush-Cheney and dozens of lesser Republicans) set the bar so low. The concept behind Watergate was the exact same one that led Trump's staff to meet with Russians, and the dump of DNC emails was as damaging as anything they hoped to dig up at Watergate. The two were morally equivalent. Nixon and Trump shared several traits. Both lusted for power, and neither had any scruples about pursuing it. Both believed that as president they were above the law. (As Nixon put it, "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.") Both cultivated lists of enemies, and hurt themselves pursuing vengeance. Nixon broke new ground in raking in campaign money, and in manipulating the media. Trump followed suit, and probably topped him at both. (While Nixon seems to have been interested in money only for the power it could bring, Trump was after more money.) Nixon initiated the agenda of packing the Supreme Court, and Trump brought it to fruition. Nixon designed the reactionary political realignment (start from his "silent majority") which Trump kicked up to another level.
Trump left policy to his minions, who pursued corruption like never before, causing grave damage to the very concept of public service. Nixon was much more engaged, especially in foreign policy, where what he did was much worse. Nixon's escalation in Vietnam, and especially his "incursion" into Cambodia, were among the worst war crimes of the Post-WWII era. His coup in Chile was also murderous, just on a smaller scale, but forever a stain on America's reputation as a champion of democracy. Nixon still gets a lot of credit for his opening to China, but defense mandarins may be second-guessing him there. He was also responsible for promoting the regional power ambitions of countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia -- thinking both would be allies against the Soviet Union, they turned out to have their own agendas, with blowback.
Nixon also presided over the decision to ignore peak oil, replacing declining domestic oil production with imports, leading to the oil price shocks of the 1970s. One nearly immediate impact was that the trade surpluses the US had enjoyed for decades turned negative in 1970, never (so far, at least) returning. That produced a drag on the economy, and jump started the trend to ever greater inequality -- Republicans stoked this at every opportunity since, while Democrats did little to halt the trend. Longer term, Nixon's decision to keep gas cheap only accelerated today's climate crisis.
Finally, we should mention the one ridiculous piece of Nixon's foreign policy that Trump was especially suited for: the "madman theory," where the US tries to intimidate rivals by feigning insanity. Nixon was never quite insane enough to pull it off, although Reagan's careless rhetoric nearly did lead to a nuclear confrontation. But Trump was so volatile his military leaders went behind his back to reassure foreign leaders the US won't nuke them.
Speaking of Watergate, we've watched the first three episodes of the eight-episode Starz series Gaslit, which focuses on the turbulent marriage of Martha and John Mitchell (Julia Roberts and Sean Penn -- the latter under massive makeup, leaving only his grin and voice recognizable, and producing more cognitive dissonance by playing him as such a horndog), with major parts for John Dean (Dan Stevens, juggling his insecurity and scruples while pursuing his own romance) and G. Gordon Liddy (Shea Wigham, psychotic). They seem to be keeping their facts straight, while taking liberties with the characters -- mostly making them much funnier than you figured, and therefore much more interesting to watch. (Martha Kelly as Nixon secretary Rose Mary Woods is especially note-perfect. Brian Geraghty, who played a sociopathic kidnapper in The Big Sky, reprises that character as a "minder" assigned to keep Martha Mitchell from talking to the press.) We've started but never finished several recent series on recent political figures (Mrs. America, Impeachment: American Crime Story), but this one we are enjoying. Also note that historian Rick Perlstein is on board to keep the facts straight.
On the back story, this just appeared: Manuel Roig-Franzia: During Watergate, John Mitchell Left His Wife. She Called Bob Woodward.
Here are a few more links. I haven't made any effort to collect on the Jan. 6 hearings, or on Ukraine, nor do I have more to say about guns. (Breaking news is that some kind of deal has been made in the Senate, but that still doesn't guarantee passage.) I also avoided pieces on the economy, which are hard to sort out or make sense of. We seem to be stuck with more and more inflation, even if there's a recession, which Wall Street and the Fed seem to be in a race to trigger. Also nothing on elections (American, anyhow).
One gun story I don't have a link for -- it's in today's Wichita Eagle -- is Kris Kobach explaining how he gives his children "a chance to shoot a deer" once they turn 7. His preferred gun is the AR-15, because it's designed to minimize the kickback, making it easier for children to handle. He also likes the AR-15 for coyotes (probably because it improves the chances of hitting one without having to aim carefully). He doesn't describe this as hunting, and doesn't mention what they do with the carcass (assuming they hit something), so maybe they're just not very good shots. My father took us hunting, but we never held a gun until well into our teens, and then it was a single-shot bolt-action .22 rifle. He also had shotguns, and I shot them a few times later, but never liked hunting or target shooting. I'm reminded, though, of a story a few years back, when a small girl was given an Uzi at an Arizona shooting range, and lost control of the gun, killing her instructor. The story also notes that all three Republican candidates for KS Attorney General favor arming teachers. One is quoted about how "an armed society is a polite society." (I wonder what evidence they have. I haven't noticed many police becoming more polite once they realize a suspect is armed.) If elected, Kobach has vowed to target the ACLU, and to set up a whole task force dedicated to suing the Biden administration. He's nothing but a terrorist with a Harvard Law degree.
Jon Lee Anderson: [06-06] Can Chile's Young President Reimagine the Latin American Left?
Andrew Bacevich: [06-07] The F-Word (The Other One): Fascist, of course. I could have slipped this link in above inasmuch as the author offers his opinion (and several others) on whether Trump is a Fascist. ("My own inclination is to see him as a narcissistic fraud and swindler." Sure enough, and bad enough, don't you think?) But the bone he wants to pick is with Timothy Snyder: [05-19] We Should Say It. Russia Is Fascist. Snyder is a historian of 20th Century Eastern Europe, whose hatred for Nazi Germany is only matched by his loathing of Soviet Russia, leading him to identify strongly with anyone caught up in their savage machinery: Bloodlands is his big history book, but he's also written political tracts which try to defend liberal democracy against its modern foes, who are invariably rooted in the region's totalitarian past. In this, he's found that mapping his targets to Fascism is all it takes (QED), so that's what he does with Putin. On some level, this is more satisfying than the pundits who try to pigeonhole him as a Marxist (no evidence of that), the ghost of some Tsar (or Rasputin), or (more commonly) as a diehard KGB spook. No doubt Putin shares some traits with Fascists, but most are common to many right-wingers (nationalism, reactionary cultural tastes, a heavy hand defending the order), and few offer any insight into why Putin decided to invade Ukraine, or what he wants to achieve. Rather, the F-Word is a label which argues he needs to be stopped, because his aggression is insatiable. Bacevich is historian enough to debate the 1930s vs. now, but his reticence to use the F-Word may owe more to his wariness of getting caught into an inevitable war trap. Because in the end, war is what Snyder wants, and he wants it now, in Ukraine, against Putin, because he sees that conflict as some sort of cosmic struggle. ("If Russia wins in Ukraine, it won't just be the destruction of a democracy by force, though that is bad enough. It will be a demoralization for democracies everywhere.") Bacevich knows better than to give into that kind of ideological blackmail.
Jonathan Chait: [06-10] Republicans Respond to January 6 Hearings by Defending Trump: No remorse, no accountability. Probably much more like this. Probably more even worse. Trump's own: "January 6 was not simply a protest, it represented the greatest movement in the history of our country to Make America Great Again."
Jason Ditz: [06-10] Syria's Damascus Airport Shuttered After Major Israeli Attack.
Matt Ford: [06-08] The Supreme Court Keeps Chipping Away at Your Constitutional Rights. "What recourse do ordinary citizens have when federal agents violate their rights? After Wednesday, not much." Also on this, Ian Millhiser: [06-08] The Supreme Court gives lawsuit immunity to Border Patrol agents who violate the Constitution.
Sarah Jones: [06-09] Democrats Need a Vision. Fast. I meant to write more about this, but for now will merely note it. Also in this vein: Jason Linkins: [06-11] You Deserve the Good Life. Democrats Should Promise to Deliver It.
Ed Kilgore: [06-10] Rick Scott Backtracks, But His Plan Is Still Ultra-MAGA Madness: I only note this because I wrote a long critique of Scott's manifesto, in case I want to update it later. The main change seems to be an attempt to dodge the charge that he wants to raise income taxes, but he's made up for it by finding new ways to demean poor folk.
Markos Kounalakis: [06-09] The US Should Recognize Belarus's Government in Exile: Why? Because Putin isn't paranoid enough about US intentions on his border? (Or as the author puts it: "Recognizing Tikhanovskaya's government in exile would force Russia to worry about its western flank as it attacks eastern Ukraine.") Author also wants "to designate Russia a state sponsor of terror (SST)." The net effect would be to add insult to injury, making it even harder to negotiate peace. But the general principle just underscores how arrogant the US is in believing it has the right to pass judgment on who represents other countries.
William LeoGrande: [06-10] Biden's 'Summit of the Americas' showcases failed Cold War worldview: In excluding Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, another example of the US presuming it has the right to pass judgment on the political choices of other countries. Also Rosa Elizalde: [06-10] Storms at the Summit of the Americas.
Edna Mohamed: [03-25] Lowkey says he will 'not be silenced on Palestine' after push to remove him from Spotify: I've had this tab open for quite a while, meaning to check him out. Finally did last week (he's still on Spotify, also Napster), and will have reviews tomorrow. For whatever it's worth, "Long Live Palestine" is a small part of his repertoire -- at least compared to neoliberalism, or war in Iraq. (He was born in London, but his mother came from Iraq.)
Nick Parker/Bryan Pietsch: [06-12] 31 tied to hate group charged with planning riot near LGBTQ event in Idaho.
Christian Paz: [06-11] Can blaming corporate greed save Democrats on inflation? Let's concede that as far as 2022 is concerned, inflation is a political issue of some import. What Democrats need to be able to do is argue that they can deal with it better (for most people) than Republicans can, and corporate greed is an issue that should break their way, and is worth hitting on otherwise. Where Biden is most responsible for inflation is for letting the Russia-Ukraine War drag on, which is constricting the world market for food and fuel. I don't expect people to grasp that point, but peace could make a dramatic change in two of the most obvious categories.
Jeffrey St Clair: [06-10] Roaming Charges: The Politics of Limbo.
Robert Wright: [06-12] A case study in American propaganda: The Institute for the Study of War (aka the Kagan Industrial Complex).
Sunday, June 5, 2022
Speaking of Which
I started today reading this tweet by John Cardillo:
The happiest edit would just be to just swap in "Republicans" for "Democrats" and "fascists" for "leftists," but that's not quite right. If you got rid of all of the Republicans in Congress, you'd still pitched debates over most important issues. You'd still have a long list of legacy problems, which Democrats would approach with different plans and urgencies, but at least most Democrats are able to admit when a problem exists, and to entertain the possibility of different solutions. Still, few Democrats would make that edit. All democracies have legitimate opposition parties. Wanting to purge one is an attack not just on that party but on democracy itself.
Still, it's hard to see how this Republican omnipotence could work. First, how could you arrive at it other than by excluding most of the people Republicans hate? Then wouldn't you have to convince the people you've excluded to not resist, either by resigning themselves to be ruled over by people who hate them, or by incarcerating or killing them.
Then there's the matter of whether Republican policies, given a free hand to implement them, actually do the things the tweet claims. For instance, if more guns made us safer, wouldn't the US already be the safest country in the world by now? Republicans are opposed to pretty much any reform of the private health care system, which is unique in the world and a long ways from making us the healthiest nation. And we've seen repeatedly that economic growth increases when Democrats have more power, not less. Maybe there's some wiggle room Republicans can claim definitions of "freest" and "strongest," but I can think of lots of ways we are neither. Conservatives tend to view life as a zero-sum game, so they expect their freedom, wealth, etc., to come at someone else's expense. And while you may expect that the superlatives touted in the first line should apply to everyone, conservatives only care for peak values, as their primary concern is social hierarchy.
I also don't get the cancer analogy. Despite my quip above, I don't see fascism as a cancer either. Cancer is a disease that eats you out from the inside. Racism is more like a cancer. Inequality too. Capitalism can be like a cancer if you don't keep it in check. One could say the same thing of bureaucratic government. But isn't fascism an external attack on the body, like bedbugs or bubonic plague? Sure, the left has on occasion tried to lead revolutions against entrenched orders that ruled through violent repression, but self-identified socialists have mostly been mild reformers -- and these days there is hardly other kind. The term simply means that we value an equitable society above the individual pursuit of wealth and power. (Republicans like to condemn the much broader class of all Democrats as socialists, by which time the term has lost all meaning. The term seems to have some cachet given their past success with red-baiting.)
But I suppose there is one reason conservatives may view socialism as cancerous rather than simply an external threat: socialists insist that it is possible to change social and economic relations, and that idea is corrosive to the principle that social hierarchy is natural and necessary to good order. As with religious dogmas, the first instinct is not to reason with them but to stamp them out. Further proof of this is how right-wingers have increasingly attacked reason and science to keep their followers from doubting their orders.
Maggie Astor: [05-31] Trump Policies Sent US Tumbling in a Climate Ranking: As you may recall, The Trump Administration Rolled Back More Than 100 Environmental Rules. The full impact of those changes accrues over much longer timespans, and in many cases may be irreversible. This includes some (but not all) of what amounted to a war against the very idea of climate change, and the science behind it. Trump also sent a powerful message to the rest of the world not to take climate change seriously, so although the US fell more than most nations in this ranking, the effect extended far beyond US boundaries (as should be expected, given that air flow is global). Economics recognizes what are called opportunity costs: losses that are incurred indirectly, when comparing how resources could have been used better than they were. Especially in the climate domain, it is likely that opportunity costs will swamp the actual damage Trump caused (which is itself a huge burden). For a primer on opportunity costs, see John Quiggin's book Economics in Two Lessons: Why Markets Work So Well, and Why They Can Fail So Badly -- the title refers to Henry Hazlitt's famous Economics in One Lesson, the second lesson that Hazlitt missed being the impact of opportunity costs. Speaking of Quiggin, relevant here is his post on Climate change after the pandemic. Also on climate change:
Ross Barkan: [06-01] The War in Ukraine Can Be Over If the US Wants It: It must have seemed deliciously ironic to start this piece with two nonogenarians from opposite ends of the political spectrum agreeing on the most eminently practical path to ending the war: in particular, the need to give Putin a face-saving exit path, by ceding Ukrainian claims to Donbas and Crimea (preferably with some sort of referendum that makes the concessions look like self-determination -- Zelensky and Biden also need a face-saving exit path). Many observers, including Anatol Lieven and Fred Kaplan, have settled on this basic compromise, as I have myself. Barkan's additional point here is also right: US arms and economic support for Ukraine should be tied to a desire and willingness to negotiate an end to the war. "Diplomacy is not appeasement. It is the only way out."
Philip Bump: [05-31] What if -- and bear with me here -- John Durham doesn't have the goods? Bump also wrote [06-01] A brief history of failed efforts to make Trump the Russia probe's victim. The special counsel has been investigating the tip that led the FBI to look at possible collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia about twice as long as Robert Mueller took to investigate Russia's electioneering, the various actual contacts made between Trump's people and various Russians, and the sundry attempts to cover up what did or did not happen, during which time he not only wrote a report but also obtained dozens of indictments and a fair number of convictions (many subsequently pardoned by Trump). Durham has brought one charge against a former Clinton lawyer, Michael Sussmann, who was acquitted last week. Bump may be giving Durham more credit than he deserves, but does a good job of summing up I'd be more tempted to describe as Bill Barr's parting effort to piss on the incoming Biden administration. (One thing Republicans understand is how much fun you can have investigating the opposition, which is also why they've fought efforts to investigate them, from Mueller to the Jan. 6 committee, so doggedly.) Of course, the story doesn't end with Durham's failures. He did what he was supposed to do, which is to generate some flak that will be taken as gospel by whoever still has an axe to grind over "the Russiagate hoax" -- Trump-lovers, sure, but especially Hillary-haters. For example, see Peter Van Buren: [05-30] Hillary Was In on Russiagate. Matt Taibbi probably has a whole file on this theme.
I've been pretty critical of Hillary, but don't have the interest or inclination to be a hater. I don't doubt the fact of Russian interference in the 2016 election. I think it was a dumb move on Putin's part, but he was probably right that Hillary would be more aggressive in sanctioning and marginalizing Russia. (She was, after all, Secretary of State under Obama when US Russia policy started to change.) He was also right that Trump's vanity, bigotry, and corruption could be played, but didn't get much out of it, given that Trump never cared enough to wrestle foreign policy from the neocons who've dominated it the last 20-30 years. (He might have had a better chance had he managed to keep Bannon and Flynn, who were among the Blob's first victims in his advisers.) But he was wrong in thinking nobody would notice or care. When Trump won, Clinton's fan club rushed to distribute blame elsewhere, and Putin was the easiest possible villain. Too easy.
I've resisted the "Russiagate" tide since its inception, not because I thought it was a hoax, but because it fed into two degenerate trends. First, it distracted from looking at other reasons Clinton lost, most importantly the piss-poor record New Democrats -- including Obama, who stocked his administration with so many he might as well have been a charter member -- had accumulated. And second, because it made conflict and possibly war with Russia much more likely (QED Ukraine). Also:
Kate Kelly/David D Kirkpatrick: House Panel Examining Jared Kushner Over Saudi Investment in New Firm: This kind of corruption was what I expected them to start investigating after the 2018 wins, and step up as new stories of payback and payouts emerge. We're talking $2 billion here, you know.
John E King: [05-28] Joan Robinson Changed the Way We Think About Capitalism. Profile of the path-breaking economist (1903-83), who collaborated with Keynes while keeping alive a connection to Marx, argues her "creative and heterodox thinking has much to offer us."
Sarah Jones: [06-04] White Christian Nationalism 'Is a Fundamental Threat to Democracy': Interview with Philip S Gorski and Samuel L Perry, authors of The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy. Chris Hedges covered much of this same ground in his 2007 book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, although as a minister Hedges is more insistent on separating religion from fascism. I'm sympathetic to his position, but not committed: it seems to me that "white Christian nationalists" are fascists first and foremost, their religion not so much telling them what to do as reassuring them that their prejudices are right and just, that they are impervious to critics, who are by definition not just wrong but evil. Jones also wrote: [06-03] Little Martyrs: A nihilistic religion worships the gun.
Júlia Ledur/Kate Rabinowitz: [06-02] There have been over 200 mass shootings so far in 2022. The actual number in the article is 232, which is actually down a bit from 240 at this point in 2021, but way above any previous year (155 in 2020). The killing of four people in Tulsa was the 20th since the much more publicized killing of 19 children an two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. I get the problem, and would like to see something done about it, but I don't see how Biden urges Congress to act on guns in rare prime-time address helps politically. It just reinforces the Democrats want to take your guns away and leave you defenseless as they take over the country and brainwash everyone to adopt their wokeness -- never mind that that's not even remotely in the cards, let alone that it doesn't make any fucking sense. Guns and crime (and make no mistake: guns are a big part of the crime problem) are a problem, but not a top-five, maybe not a top-ten problem (just off the top of my head: inequality, war, climate, political corruption, pollution, racism, personal debt, bad health care, bad education, crumbling infrastructure, rampant fraud and deceit, disinformation (maybe move that one up), worker powerlessness (maybe move that one up, too), the imminent loss of the right to birth control, whatever the term is for the fact that one political party has totally lost its grip on reality. Of course, these problems all intersect, and guns makes many of them worse: the Buffalo shooting was white supremacy, the Tulsa one was about health care, I don't know what Uvalde was about (beyond blood lust; you could say mental illness, but it would be easier to get rid of the guns). More on guns, shootings, etc.:
Alexander Sammon: [06-02] Why Are Police So Bad at Their Jobs? "It's not just Uvalde. Cops nationwide can't stop crimes from happening or solve them once they've occurred." Seems like a good question, although the answer is unlikely to be obvious or simple -- and once that touches on many interests and prejudices. I'm less bothered by "can't stop crimes from happening" -- not a job anyone can reliably do -- than "solve them once they've occurred" (maybe we're too hooked on the brilliant sleuths of tv?). But just for an example, following a near-dozen shootings here in Wichita over Memorial Day weekend, the police chief was arguing for more money to pay more overtime to put more police on the streets. How can that possibly result in less gunplay? Back when a few people started talking about "defund the police," they actually had some serious ideas about employing other people to address a broader number of social problems, instead of dumping all those cases on police to sort out. But few people heard those ideas. The more common reaction was to superfund the police, giving them more tools of war. Uvalde is likely to wind up as a case example of how that kind of thinking fails. [PS: See Alex Pareene: [06-02] What Do Cops Do?] Sammon also wrote: The RNC's Ground Game of Inches: "Inside the secretive, dubious, and extremely offline attempt to convert minorities into Republicans." Once you've decided the key to successful campaigns is trickery, never miss one." Also on the Republican ground game, Charles P Pierce: [06-01] They're Ratf*cking at Every Level. They're Ratf*cking in Every Direction. Also [06-02] Republicans Have Secured Their Gerryanders Through a War of Institutioal Attrition. Also, a reminder of what happens when they cheat their way into power: [06-02] You'll Be Shocked to Learn Trump's Social Security Bigwigs Immiserated Poor and Disabled People.
Jeffrey St Clair: [06-03] Roaming Charges: Tears of Rage, Tears of Grief. Quotes a David Axelrod tweet on how "The inexplicable, heart-wrenching delay in Uvalde underscores the indispensable role of police." St Clair adds: "Every police atrocity -- either by actions (Floyd, Taylor, Brown), negligence or incompetence -- will inevitably be used as a justification for more police power." He also quotes Brendan Behan: "I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse."
Emily Stewart: [06-02] Might I suggest not listening to famous people about money? Why, indeed, listen to celebrities about anything they're obviously being paid to endorse?
David Wight: [05-31] How the Nixon Doctrine blew up the Persian Gulf, undermined US security: He's specifically referring to the bit where Nixon and Kissinger decided to recruit regional powers with the latest US weapons, thinking they might provide a proxy barrier against the Soviet Union after the American fiasco in Vietnam. Two main recruits were Iran (still under the once-pliant but then megalomaniacal Shah) and Saudi Arabia (just starting its campaign to spread Wahhabism to would-be Jihadis). What could go wrong? What didn't? Both undertook their own agendas, which after the revolution in 1979 clashed. Iran has ever since been regarded as a hopeless enemy, although the Saudis and their followers have actually done more material damage to the US. The obvious lesson is that the US always thinks it can control its proxies, but never can. The most wayward offender is Israel, which not only enjoys carte blanche from America, but actively undermines the American political sphere.
Sunday, May 29, 2022
Speaking of Which
PS: Added section at end [05-30], originally part of Music Week.
I had a notion to write another 5-6 paragraphs to update my 23 Theses on Ukraine, but that remains a pretty accurate account of how and why Putin invaded Ukraine, and what it means. But all I really want to add at this point is a brief (and certainly incomplete) list of reasons the war in Ukraine is a colossal disaster for all concerned -- and, indeed, for many who initially felt uninvolved and disinterested.
One could, of course, say much more about each of these, and add more points. The gist is that the sooner this war is resolved, and preferably on principles that benefit ordinary people and not just the armed powers, the better. Links to some recent Ukraine War pieces:
By the way, police in Wichita killed someone named Gregario Banuelos, who was reportedly walking "aggressively" toward police. There is little doubt that this will be ruled "justifiable homicide": he had a gun, which was technically illegal given that he had been convicted of a felony, and he had outstanding warrants for other felony charges, and most of all that he had fired shots earlier in the altercation. But police were responding to a domestic violence complaint. It only escalated because everyone was armed.
It seems like every day I read something in the local paper about an arrest or conviction, and nearly all of them involve felons possessing guns illegally. Sure, once caught for something else, they get charged, and that adds a bit of time to prison sentences, but they've made it so easy to buy guns in Kansas that you can count on every criminal being armed. Certainly, the police count on that, which is one reason they're so trigger-happy. This particular case may not bother anyone, but they add up, and poison the entire atmosphere.
PS: In another incident in Kansas, a deputy shot and killed a suspect, wanted on a felony warrant, who had a holstered handgun and didn't obey orders to the officer's satisfaction. The deputy fired wildly enough to also shoot a bystander. [Story here.] I also ran across this story: Bystander Who Intervened in Shooting of Officer Was Fatally Shot by Police. Now who, exactly, is the "good guy with a gun"?
Ben Armbruster: [05-26] Senior Israeli military official: Iran deal exit was a mistake: Easy to forget that after many years of Israel whining hysterically about the prospects of Iran developing nuclear weapons, Obama took their concerns seriously enough to actually negotiate an arrangement that would protect Israel from their worse fears, only to find that Netanyahu didn't want that. Most likely all he really wanted was to string the US along for aid at levels the US offers to no one else. Then Trump did what Netanyahu said he wanted, and tore up the deal, leaving Israel once again exposed. Of course, the retired General quoted here -- it is not unusual for Israeli security officials to change their tune after retiring -- holds a minority position in Israel. A more characteristic story comes from Trita Parsi: [05-23] Was the assassination in Iran another Israeli effort to sabotage JCPOA?
Ross Barkan: [05-25] President Mike Pence Would Be Worse Than Trump: "Beware any attempt to rehabilitate him." Strictly in policy terms, that's an argument I'm sympathetic to, but Trump really showed no interest in policy once he became president. For him, the job was a publicity platform, and that's all he really cared about. So here's the counterargument: Pence ran the transition team, selected the personnel, and had a major say in whatever policy proposals got pushed (mostly through executive orders that Trump dutifully signed), so we've already seen what a Pence presidency would be like, at least in substantive terms. Trump's value-added was how he dominated the news and cultivated his increasingly deranged followers. Surely, in that regard, he did more damage than Pence ever could have, so it's hard to say that Pence along would be worse than Trump. On the other hand, he would be very bad. We know that because he's already shown us.
Ed Kilgore: [05-24] Perdue Ends Flailing Campaign With Racist Remarks About Stacey Abrams: Specifically, "Perdue accused Abrams, who is Black, of 'demeaning her own race.' He also suggested she is not a true Georgian, though she's lived in the state since 1989: 'Hey, she ain't from here. Let her go back to where she came from. She doesn't like it here.'" Abrams moved to Georgia from Mississippi when she was still in high school, which is to say her parents moved her. I'd advise caution against overreacting to innuendo, but there's no nuance here: Perdue is simply being grossly racist. PS: Here's Charles P Pierce's take: [05-24 There's No Democrat Alive Who Makes Republicans More Nervous Than Stacey Abrams Does.
Nicholas Lemann: [05-23] Would the World Be Better Off Without Philanthropists? Reviews several books, most notably Emma Saunders-Hastings: Private Virtues, Public Vices: Philanthropology and Democratic Equality.
Nicole Narea: [05-25] What we know about the Uvalde elementary school massacre: "An 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and at least two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, just 10 days after another mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, that claimed the lives of 10 people." Those were just the two most newsworthy mass shootings of recent weeks, not just due to the number of killed but the way they were targeted. I'm afraid I didn't have much of a reaction, but if you still care, try the video in Jimmy Kimmel becomes emotional after Texas shooting. Even if you don't care, forward to about 6:15 for the video clip they assembled out of massacre headlines and Republican campaign advertisements. Some time ago, I decided that prohibiting people from owning small guns and rifles (and I really don't include AR-15s in that category, any more than I'd include other weapons of mass destruction, like automatic machine guns, bazookas, flame-throwers, RPGs, mortars, howitzers, and tanks -- which are effectively banned, to little or no public complaint) wasn't worth the trouble, for much the same reason I opposed prohibition of liquor, tobacco, drugs, gambling, or other "vices" (none of which I approve of). I can see where some people may think they need a gun for self-defense, and I've known many people who used rifles (but not hand guns, let alone machine guns) for hunting. In most cases those people don't present a real threat to other people. But guns are not just a personal vice, their whole purpose is to intimidate, injure, and often kill other people, and the more people who have them, the more likely they are to be used to harm others. I personally doubt that the legitimate uses of guns outweigh their risks and liabilities, but too many people disagree to make prohibition painless, and many of those are so single-mindedly devoted to gun proliferation that gun control has become a sure political loser in much of the country (especially where I live). So I have no desire to press the issue, except to note that most pro-gun arguments are incredibly stupid, often tinged with sociopathic malice. The culture around guns has become so toxic that the only surprise is that many more people aren't killed every day. (And yes, I know the numbers -- if you don't, see the pieces below -- but divide them by 390 million guns and even shocking numbers become vanishingly small.)
After the Uvalde shooting, Ted Cruz argued that the solution is to post an armed guard at the entrance to all schools, and lock all the other doors. Tweet from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: "40% of Uvalde's city budget goes to police. The school district had its own police force. This is what happened. After decades of mass shootings, there is 0 evidence that police have the ability to stop them from happening. Gun safety and other policies can." Also on Twitter is this graph of Mass shootings in the US. Within a week of the massacre, Repubican politicians trekked to the NRA Convention in Houston to reaffirm their allegiance to the gun culture:
Aja Romano: [05-20] Why the Depp-Heard trial is so much worse than you realize: "Amber Heard is just the first target of a new extremist playbook." Not the sort of thing I care about, so I've ignored it to date, other than libel suits are a tool the rich use to insulate themselves not just from criticism but from scrutiny. When Trump was running for president in 2016, he seriously proposed changing the laws to make it easier for people like him to sue people like you -- it was one of the few policy proposals he seemed to be really into. I'm not aware of him trying to get that done, perhaps because someone pointed out that he'd be playing defense as much as offense -- even as it is, few people in American history have been more litigious (cf. James D Zirin's book, Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits). Besides, he was able to use the presidency (and a shockingly pliant press) as a unique platform both for libeling others and for deflecting criticism as "fake news." Compared to him, the Depp-Heard trials are small potatoes. The main point of this piece is how social media has been used to vilify Heard, and presumably to intimidate other women standing up to powerful men. Still, short on background, for which see Constance Grady: [05-04] Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, and their $50 million defamation suit, explained. Also, Romano has another background piece that ties in somehow: [2021-01-07] What we still haven't learned from Gamergate.
Jonathan Shorman: [05-27] How far will Kansas go to fight Biden? If elected AG, Kobach promises a dedicated unit: Forget about crime in Kansas. If Kobach wins his race to become Attorney General, he'll dedicated his office to filing ridiculous nuisance suits against the Biden Administration. This isn't new -- Texas and Oklahoma have broken ground here, and other Republican states have pitched in, including Kansas under Derek Schmidt (running for governor this year). Kobach's background is with ALEC, the right-wing think tank dedicated to formulating model legislation for Republican states (most famously the "stand your ground" laws; ALEC guarantees that bad ideas will propagate everywhere). With the courts increasingly stacked in favor of Republicans, lawsuits have become the cutting edge of extremism. And no one has a longer track record for getting his laws thrown out as unconstitutional as Kobach. You'd think his incompetency would mitigate the threat, but it's getting hard to believe that with this Supreme Court sanity and/or decency will win out.
Jeffrey St Clair: [05-27] Roaming Charges: The End of the Innocents. Among other insights, notes that the Assault Weapons Ban ended in 2004, just as the Iraq War was blowing up. "Violence abroad breeds violence at home." Also notes that "90% of all firearm deaths for children 0-14 years of age in high-income countries occur in the US." Republican Sen. Ron Johnson blamed "liberal indoctrination" for school shootings. "We stopped teaching values. Now we're teaching wokeness. We're indoctrinating our children with things like CRT." In Texas?
Matt Taibbi: [05-27] Shouldn't Hillary Clinton Be Banned From Twitter Now? This could have been edited down to a largely valid critique of Clinton playing up "Russiagate" as a shield for her own malfeasance and belligerence, and could even have looked further into how all the Russia-baiting that Clinton Democrats engaged in before and after the 2016 election helped poison the atmosphere that led by Putin's gamble in Ukraine. But Taibbi's chronic both-sides-ism, or maybe just his penchant for a grandiose headline, led him to equate Clinton with Trump. An even worse example of this is his recent (mostly paywalled) Bush is Biden is Bush, where Bush's recent Iraq War gaffe is turned into "his recent honesty malfunction," while he actually goes way beyond the identity of his title, adding: "Biden is just a less likable, more deranged version of Dubya, a political potted plant behind which authoritarians rule by witch hunt and moral mania, with Joe floating on a somehow even fatter cloud of media protection than Bush enjoyed after 9/11. Today's Biden is Bush, a helpless, terrified passenger dragged on a political journey beyond his comprehension, signing his name whenever told to appalling policies, like a child emperor or King George in the porphyria years. It's obvious, but no one will bring it up, but the usual reason, i.e. because Trump." Neither Bush nor Biden are what you'd call eloquent speakers or elegant thinkers, but there's little evidence that their policies are unwitting (even if occasionally ill-informed), and while some things like Bush's torture policy can be considered appalling, the president who most often crossed that line was Trump (e.g., in his child separation policy). It's fine with me to criticize Biden for lots of things, but Taibbi is making a fundamental error in not recognizing that Democrats and Republicans are fundamentally different and opposed, that the former still operate in a moral and reasonable world that the latter have totally abandoned.
Nick Turse: [05-23] Decades of US military aid has been a disaster for Nigerians. Turse has been covering AFRICOM since its inception, and seems to be just about the only one. He also wrote: [03-30] The military isn't tracking US-trained officers in Africa. Perhaps because tracking US-trained officers in South America was so embarrassing? Also on Africa: Vijay Prasad: [05-27] The Rise of NATO in Africa.
Once again, I find myself rushing to get this posted, allowing me a brief break before compiling Music Week and moving on with my life. Anyhow, as Professor Zanghi used to put it, basta per ora!
PS: Added this [05-30]:
I also wanted to beat Bill Scher: [05-16] The Deeply Flawed Narrative That Joe Biden Bought with a heavy stick. The notion that Obama was a master of practical politics is little short of risible, but using that flimsiest of arguments as a cudgeon against Biden for having attempted (and, thus far, mostly failed) something more ambitious is sinister. Many of the people who think that Obama's star has dimmed (even ones who personally admire him) do so because we realize that his legacy of failure left us with a nation that was willing to give Donald Trump a try. I wish Biden was better able to overcome the damage that Trump (and others, of both parties) did, but it's hard to see how slamming Biden for being too ambitious helps. I also wanted to take a look at another piece of less-than-friendly advice for Democrats, from Matthew Yglesias: [04-14] Moderate Democrats should be popularists. Also saying something similar is Ezra Klein: [05-29] What America Needs Is a Liberalism That Builds. Often these days one gets the impression that the only thing "moderate" Democrats want to do is to chastise us for wanting government to actually do things that help the people who they depend on for votes.