Sunday, May 28, 2017
Three fairly prominent figures died in the last couple days -- at
least prominent enough to warrant articles in the Wichita Eagle: Jim
Bunning, Greg Allman, and Zbigniew Brzezinski. Naturally, I go back
furthest with Bunning. I became conscious of baseball in 1957, when
I was six, and for many years I could recite the all-star teams from
that (and practically no other) year. Bunning was the starting pitcher
for the AL, vs. Curt Simmons for the NL. That was the year Cincinnati
stuffed the ballot boxes, causing a scandal by electing seven position
players to the NL team. Commissioner Ford Frick overruled the voters
and replaced Gus Bell and Wally Post with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.
In my memory, he also picked Stan Musial over Ted Kluszewski at 1B
and Eddie Matthews over Don Hoak at 3B, but he stopped short and didn't
pick the equally obvious Ernie Banks vs. Roy McMillan. According to the
Wikipedia page, Musial actually won, and Hoak (and McMillan and
2B Johnny Temple and C Ed Bailey) started. My memory of the AL team
somehow lost 1B Vic Wertz (no idea who played there, since I was
pretty sure it wasn't Moose Skowron, on the team as a reserve) and
2B Nellie Fox (I thought Frank Bolling, who didn't make the team --
Casey Stengel liked to stock his bench with Yankees, so he went with
Bunning won the game, pitching three scoreless innings while
Simmons walked in two runs. Biggest surprise from the game summary
was that Bell pinch-hit for Robinson (no doubt the only time that
ever happened, despite being teammates for many years) and came up
with a two-run double. Bunning had his best season in 1957, going
20-8, although he also won 19 in 1962, and after he was traded to
Philadelphia in 1964 had three straight 19-win years, winding up
with a 234-184 record and a lot of strikeouts (2855). He played
during a period (1955-71) when W totals were especially depressed --
I worked out a system for adjusting W-L totals over the years but
don't have the data handy (one significant result was that Cy Young,
Walter Johnson, and Warren Spahn came out with almost identical
adjusted W-L totals). But also Bunning spent most of his career as
the star on losing teams, so that also reduced his career standing.
Still, a marvelous pitcher. He was also one of the more militant
leaders in the baseball players union, but after he retired he
turned into an extreme right-wing crank and got elected to the
Senate from Kentucky, where his two terms went from dismal to worse.
If there was a Hall of Fame for guys kicking the ladder away after
they used it, he'd be in.
I have far less to say about Allman, but nothing negative. His
most recent albums were engaging and enjoyable, and early in his
career he contributed to some even better ones.
People much younger than me might remember Brzezinski for his
biting criticism of GW Bush's Iraq fiasco. He was the Democrats'
original answer to Henry Kissinger, a foreign policy mandarin with
a deep-seated hatred of the Soviet Union and anything even vaguely
communist, and he seemed to be the dominant force that bent Jimmy
Carter's his initial foreign policy focus on human rights toward
an unscrupulously anti-communist stance. Still, decades later, after
the fall of the Soviet Union, even after Carter wrote his essential
book Palestine Peace Not Apartheid, Carter stuck to his line
that his signature peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was driven
primarily by his desire to curtail Soviet influence. It's not that
Brzezinski offered any real break from the rabid anti-communism of
previous administrations so much as he kept Carter from changing
course, and in their Iran and Afghanistan policies they set the
stage for everything the US has butchered and blundered ever since --
including Trump's "Arab NATO" summit last week.
Last week when I was reading John D Dower's new book The Violent
American Century: War and Terror Since World War II I ran across
a paragraph I wanted to quote about how Reagan both adopted and extended
policies begun under the Carter administration, while simultaneously
belittling and slandering Carter. It seemed to me that we are witnessing
Trump making the same move. But since then Zbigniew Brzezinski died,
so I figure in his honor I should start with the previous paragraph:
Although Carter failed in his bid for a second term as president his
"doctrine" laid the ground for an enhanced US infrastructure of war,
especially in the Greater Middle East. Less than two months after his
address, Carter oversaw creation of a Rapid Deployment Joint Task
Force that tapped all four major branches of the military (army, navy,
air force, and marines). Within two years, this evolved into Central
Command (CENTCOM), responsible for operations in Southwest Asia,
Central Asia, and the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, initiating what
one official navy historian called "a period of expansion unmatched in
the postwar era. Simultaneously, Carter's national security adviser
Zbigniew Brzezinski launched the effective but ultimately nearsighted
policy of providing support to the Afghan mujahedeen combating Soviet
forces in their country. Conducted mainly through the CIA, the
objective of this top-secret operation was in Brzezinski's words, "to
make the Soviets bleed for as much and as long as is possible."
Carter's successor Ronald Reagan inherited these initiatives and
ran with them, even while belittling his predecessor's policies. In
his presidential campaign, Reagan promised "to unite people of every
background and faith in a great crusade to restore the America of our
dreams." This, he went on -- in words that surely pleased the ghost of
Henry Luce -- necessitated repudiating policies that had left the
nation's defense "in shambles," and doing "a better job of exporting
If Trump seems less committed to "exporting Americanism" than Reagan
(or Luce, who coined the term/slogan "American century"), it's not for
lack of flag-waving bluster, arrogance, or ignorance. It's just that
decades of excoriating "weak leaders" like Carter, Clinton and Obama,
and replacing them with "strong" but inept totems like Reagan, the
Bushes, and Trump have taken their toll. The lurches toward the right
have weakened the once-robust economy and frayed social bonds, and
those in turn have degraded institutions. And while it's easy to put
the blame for this decay on a right-wing political movement dedicated
to the aggrandizement of an ever-smaller circle of billionaires, the
equally important thing I'm noticing here is how completely Carter,
Clinton, and Obama internalized the logic of their/our enemies and
failed to plot any sort of alternative to the right's agenda, which
ultimately has less to do with spreading "the American way of life"
than with subjugating the world to global capital. Indeed, it appears
as though the last people left believing in Luce's Americanism are
the hegemonic leaders of the Democratic Party.
I wound up completely exhausted and disgusted from last week's
compilation of Trump atrocities (see my
Midweek Roundup). I know I said, shortly after Trump's inauguration,
that "we can do this shit every week," but I'm less sure now --
not to mention I'm doubting my personal effectiveness.
In particular, the Montana election loss took a toll on my psyche.
Then I saw the following tweet (liked by someone I thought I liked):
"I wonder what Bernie has learned from his massive loss and that of
his scions, Mello, Feingold, Teachout, Thompson, Quist. Probably
nothing." Quist, in Montana, ran anywhere from 6-12% ahead of Clinton
(at least in the counties I've seen). So did Thompson here in Kansas.
They lost, but at least they ran, they gave voters real choices, and
they got little or no support from the Clinton-dominated national
party (which has made it their business to reduce party differences
to a minimum, even as the Republicans stake out extreme turf on the
right). The others I haven't looked at closely, but Bernie wasn't
the one who lost to Donald Trump. What lessons should he learn from
those defeats? Offer less of an alternative? Take his voters for
granted? Further legitimize the other side? Clinton Democrats have
been doing those things for 25 years now, and look where they've
Meanwhile, a few quick links, probably little commentary -- but
these things pretty well speak for themselves.
Some scattered links this week in Trump world:
Esme Cribb: Trump Lashes Out at Media Upon Return to US: 'Fake News
Is the Enemy!' I can remember when "fake news" was self-identified,
the successor of what we used to call satire, its fakeness intended to
help sharpen a point. Now, for Trump at least, it's just any report you
don't want to face up to. But already Trump has done so much he needs
to deny that he's broadening his targets. For more, see
Peter Maas: Donald Trump's War on Journalism Has Begun. But Journalists
Are Not His Main Target. The "main targets" referred to are sources,
those disclosing to journalists what Trump's administration is doing.
If government was "of, by, and for the people," you'd think it would be
ok for said people to see just what was happening, but that's not in
Trump's scheme of things. Also:
Olivia Nuzzi: Trump's Love-Hate Relationship With Anonymous Sourcing.
David Dayen: Trump's "America First" Infrastructure Plan: Let Saudi
Arabia and Blackstone Take Care of It
Chauncey DeVega: 'We Have an Obligation to Speak About Donald Trump's
Mental Health Issues . . . Our Survival as a Species May Be at Stake':
I think there's something to speak about here -- it all has a certain
perverse satisfaction -- but I'm skeptical that it will do any good,
and I think it's been a big mistake all along to focus on Trump and
not on the Republican policies he's committed to (especially the ones
he explicitly attacked before the election).
Henry Farrell: Thanks to Trump, Germany says it can't rely on the United
States. What does that mean? Another view:
David Frum: Trump's Trip Was a Catastrophe for US-Europe Relations.
Also on the NATO meeting:
Fred Kaplan: The Tussle in Brussels. And then there's:
Elisabeth Braw: Germany Is Quietly Building a European Army Under Its
Rebecca Gordon: Trump Is Trying to Cover Up His Lies by Destroying
Information: "For an administration that depends on ignorance,
public knowledge is enemy number one."
Maggie Haberman/Glenn Thrush/Julie Hirschfeld Davis: Trump Returns to
Crisis Over Kushner as White House Tries to Contain It: So it turns
out that Kushner omitted multiple meetings with various Russians when
he applied for his security clearance. Also that he tried to set up
some kind of "back channel" communications link with Russia that would
bypass normal security protocols. Many more stories on Kushner, like:
Jeet Heer: Why Trump Is a Salesman With Autocrats and a Slumlord
With Allies. Heer also wrote, back on May 15,
Donald Trump Killed the "Indispensable Nation." Good! ("Trump
has ushered in a new era of American hegemony, one in which the
hegemon is adrift, mercurial, and utterly irresponsible.") Both
of these pieces are sidelong glances at a "superpower" which
expects the world to bow and cater to its whims without expecting
or getting much of anything in return -- well, beyond catching
some of the chaos mean indifference engenders.
Paul Krugman: It's All About Trump's Contempt
Cezary Podcul: Trump's New Bank Regulator: Lawyer Who Helped Banks
Charge More Fees: "Keith Noreika helped big banks avoid state
laws protecting consumers. As head of the Office of the Comptroller
of the Currency, he now has the power to override those state laws."
Michael D Shear/Mark Landler: Trump Ends Trip Where He Started; At Odds
With Alies and Grilled on Russia: In particular, he got several
earfulls on his refusal to endorse the Paris climate accords. He says
he will make a decision on that next week -- sure, he's spent the last
two years campaigning against it, but he's already broken dozens of
campaign promises. One wonders whether any of the other G7 leaders
added credible threats. I haven't heard anyone propose this, but why
shouldn't the other 194 nations that signed the accord levy sanctions
on nations that refuse to cooperate on what is truly a global problem?
For one thing, sanctions would have a real effect in lowering emissions --
most obviously by depressing the American economy. They could go further
and freeze US assets. They could deny airspace rights to US flights,
especially by the military (a significant global polluter).
Matt Shuham: WH Budget Chief: 'I Hope' Fewer People Get Social Security
John Wagner/Robert Costa/Ashley Parker: Trump considers major changes
amid escalating Russia crisis
Stephen M Walt: What's the Point of Donald Trump's Afghan Surge?
Five questions for McMaster. Meanwhile:
Ruchi Kumar: War in Afghanistan Is Killing Children in Record Numbers
Also a few links less directly tied to Trump, though mostly still
to America's bout of political insanity:
Andrew J Bacevich: The Beltway Foreign-Policy 'Blob' Strikes Back
Ari Berman: Democrats Are Launching a Commission to Protect American
Democracy From Trump: Trump's first (and thus far only) special
commission was launched to investigate "election integrity" -- i.e.,
why so many likely Democrats were allowed to vote. That threatens to
hit the Democrats where they live, so in this case at least they're
doing something on their own. I think they should be doing a lot more
of this, including running a "shadow cabinet" that continually tracks
everything the Trump billionaires and lobbyists are up to.
Linda J Bilmes: Iraq and Afghanistan: The $6 trillion bill for America's
longest war is unpaid
Michelle Chen: Why Are Canada's Prescription Drugs So Much Cheaper
Jason Ditz: US Is Killing More Civilians in Syria Air War Than Assad
Is: Thought I'd mention this since I read a Charles Krauthammer
column last week (look it up if you want it) that decried Assad's
"genocidal war" in Syria. By the way:
Samuel Oakford: US officials confirm their Coalition allies have
killed 80 civilians -- but none will accept responsibility.
David Hajdu: Bold-Sounding Things: "Doesn't every political resistance
need a soundtrack?"
Daniel Politi: White Supremacist in Portland Kills Two Men Who Tried
to Stop His Racist Rants: This in turn elicited a deep background
Alana Semuels: The Racist History of Portland, the Whitest City in
Carol Schaeffer: How Hungary Became a Haven for the Alt-Right
Matt Taibbi: The Democrats Need a New Message: This was Taibbi's
reaction to the Democrats' loss to billionaire/goon Greg Gianforte
in the Montana special election. It's worth noting that Democrat Rob
Quist ran 13% points better than Hillary Clinton did in November,
although I can also note that local Democrats have won a number of
statewide races in the not-too-distant past, so I had reason to be
more optimistic here than in the Kansas race (Gianforte won this one
by 6.5%; Ron Estes won in KS by 6.8%). I think the key paragraphs
Unsurprisingly, the disintegrating Trump bears a historically low
approval rating. But polls also show that the Democratic Party has
lost five percentage points in its own approval rating dating back
to November, when it was at 45 percent.
The Democrats are now hovering around 40 percent, just a hair
over the Trump-tarnished Republicans, at 39 percent. Similar surveys
have shown that despite the near daily barrage of news stories pegging
the president as a bumbling incompetent in the employ of a hostile
foreign power, Trump, incredibly, would still beat Hillary Clinton
in a rematch today, and perhaps even by a larger margin than before.
To be sure, prospects for Democrats look better further out, but
that's because most people haven't been paying attention to all the
shit Republicans are pulling, and in most cases the adverse effects
won't hit home for months or even years, by which time it will be
too late. Still, one reason people haven't been paying attention is
that Democrats keep talking about Trump personally rather than the
Republicans universally, and a large segment of Americans have shown
themselves to be impervious to anything you say about Trump.
As for the old message, Taibbi cites
Jeff Stein: Study: Hillary Clinton's TV ads were almost entirely
Hillary Clinton's campaign ran TV ads that had less to do with policy
than any other presidential candidate in the past four presidential
races, according to a new study published on Monday by the Wesleyan
Clinton's team spent a whopping $1 billion on the election in all --
about twice what Donald Trump's campaign spent. Clinton spent $72 million
on television ads in the final weeks alone.
But only 25 percent of advertising supporting her campaign went after
Trump on policy grounds, the researchers found. By comparison, every other
presidential candidate going back to at least 2000 devoted more than 40
percent of his or her advertising to policy-based attacks. None spent
nearly as much time going after an opponent's personality as Clinton's
Clinton's ad strategy had, I think, the perverse effect of inoculating
Trump against further personal attacks and not framing issues that the
Democrats could follow up on post-election. It conveyed to voters that
issues don't matter -- only personalities and character -- and as such
Clinton offered little help down-ballot. Conversely, most Republican
money was spent down-ballot, and that created a powerful momentum to
capture Congress as well as to elect Trump. But then the Clintons have
a long history of sabotaging their party mates -- all the better to
concentrate their deal-making opportunities with donors (as well as
their retirement bonuses).
For a more optimistic accounting of Montana, see:
Matthew Yglesias: Republicans' 7-point win in last night's Montana
election is great news for Democrats; for more pessimistic views, see:
Andrew O'Hehir: Wake Up, Liberals: There Will Be No 2018 'Blue Wave,' No
Democratic Majority and No Impeachment; and
Ed Kilgore: 6 Takeaways From Montana's Special Election.
Rebecca Traister: Hillary Clinton Is Furious. And Resigned. And Funny.
And Worried. "The surreal post-election life of the woman who would
have been president." Long piece, not unsympathetic, not without
interest, especially on problems of sexual politics. You might also
be interested in
Katie Serena: Hillary Clinton Roasts Donald Trump in Wellseley College
Commencement Speech, where she "even took a whack at humor,"
introducing herself as "the former president of the Wellseley College
Young Republicans" and reminiscing about "how she and her peers were
'furious' over the election of Richard Nixon." She could have used
some of that fury lately, but instead she's "OK."
Joan C Williams: The Dumb Politics of Elite Condescension: Author
also has a book, White Working Class: Overcoming Class Cluelessness
Dave Zirin: A Lynching on the University of Maryland Campus, and
Why I Called the Murder of Richard Collins III a Lynching.
What a bummer this is all turning into. Nor can I say it's different
than I expected. And it's really unhealthy to go through life with so
many occasions to say "I told you so."