Sunday, February 18, 2018
Late. No time for an introduction. This is what I came up with in
a day of checking the usual sources. Obviously, there's much more to
report, but the framework remains the same.
Some scattered links this week:
Matthew Yglesias: The 4 stories that drove politics this week:
A gunman killed 17 at a Florida high school; All the different
immigration bills failed in the Senate; The White House's Rob Porter
story unraveled; There were a bunch of other scandals:
including expense abuses at EPA and VA. Other Yglesias pieces:
Andrew J Bacevich: The War That Will Not End: Review of Steve
Coll's new book, Directorate S: The C.I.A. and America's Secret
Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan, effectively a sequel to his
2004 book Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan,
and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001:
it's oft remarked that "9/11 changed everything," but as far as
America's perverse interest in Afghanistan is concerned, 9/11 was
merely a convenient dividing line for two lengthy volumes on the
same tale of ignorance, arrogance, and misadventure. Bacevich's
opening paragraph is chilling:
Steve Coll has written a book of surpassing excellence that is
almost certainly destined for irrelevance. The topic is important,
the treatment compelling, the conclusions persuasive. Just don't
expect anything to change as a consequence.
Bacevich notes that the American delusion continues past the
scope of Coll's book, quoting Mike Pence's recent pronouncement,
"I believe victory is closer than ever before."
And by the way, US military forces are deployed many more places.
The only reason people noticed Niger, in the central Sahara, is that
four US soldiers were killed there last year. For a long report:
Rukmini Callimachi, et al.: 'An Endless War': Why 4 U.S. Soldiers Died
in a Remote African Desert.
Alexia Fernandez Campbell: This is America: 9 out of 10 public schools
now hold mass shooting drills for students. As the conclusion states,
"This trend is super depressing." I don't actually recall any of those
"duck and cover" atomic attack drills back in the 1950s, even though we
all knew that Wichita was a prime target, with military industries, an
Air Force base, and a ring of Titan missile silos. I do recall drills
for fires and tornadoes -- neither was very likely, but not unheard of.
One thing about drills is that they tend to normalize and routinize the
threat. We stopped doing atomic bomb drills not because the threat went
away but because we realized such drills really didn't do any good. And
while I imagine fire and storm drills have continued, the main thrust
there has long been prevention: build safer buildings, and prevent fire
hazards. On the other hand, mass shooting drills seem to be driven by
the fear that nothing can be done to prevent such incidents -- that
they are as inevitable as storms and earthquakes. That's pretty much
the gist of
Josh Marshall: Our Collective Impotence Feeds the Power of Guns,
but it shows a lack of political will to face the mythology that's
built up around guns and killing (see Taibbi, below). By the way,
one of the myths is exploded in
Paul Ratnet: Just 3% of Americans own more than half of the country's
Joyce Chen: Donald Trump's Alleged Affair With Playboy Playmate: 6 Things
We Learned. This is a separate story from the one Chen reported on in
Stormy Daniels Details Alleged Donald Trump Fling: 8 Things We Learned,
although the "things" are pretty much all of a piece. Still, some details
may gross you out; e.g.: "Trump told Daniels that he believed his wealth
and his power are linked to his hair."
Ryan Cooper: The rise and fall of Clintonism: Reviews two books --
Michael Tomasky: Bill Clinton and Amie Parnes/Jonathan Allen:
Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton's Doomed Campaign -- but the
books themselves don't fully support the author's overarching thesis,
nicely summed up in his conclusion:
In the context of postwar politics, the upper class accommodated itself
to a truce in the class war, for about three decades. But when the system
came under strain, the elites launched a renewed class war, leveraging
stagflation to destroy and devour the welfare state. Clintonism could
work in the early stages of that process, buoyed by the economic bubble
of the 1990s. But when the inevitable disaster struck, it would become
an anchor around the neck of the Democratic Party -- and it remains one
to this day.
Thomas Frank's Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party
of the People? provides a more trenchant critique of Clintonism, but
Cooper's outline occasionally adds something.
Masha Gessen: Trump Has Created an Entire Class of People Who Are Never
Many Americans understand how important it is for every person in this
land to feel safe. The most commonly advanced argument for sanctuary
cities (or towns, or states) is that immigrants must feel safe reporting
crimes -- they must know that the police will not be monitoring their
immigration status. This is the simplest expression of the thesis that
none of us are safe unless all of us are safe.
Trump seems to understand this instinctively. Tyrants -- or aspiring
tyrants -- thrive when populations feel unstable and under threat. His
Administration's ongoing attack on sanctuary cities is more than the
belligerent demand for total compliance: it is part of an effort to
insure that some of us are never safe, in order to insure that no one
is ever really safe.
Rakeen Mabud/Eric Harris Bernstein: Does America believe in public
infrastructure anymore? Yglesias explains the mechanics of Trump's
infrastructure proposal above, but one thing he doesn't make clear
enough is that the only real reason for designing the plan that way
is to pave the way for auctioning off public works to private owners,
allowing them to set up toll traps to recoup their investments and
to further line their pockets. Such a scheme should be laughable but
lots of people have been snowed by the argument that the public can't
be trusted to safeguard let alone advance the public interest, so
we're better off handing the job over to private interests. Give it
a mere minute's thought and you'll realize that's nuts, yet I read
an op-ed in the Wichita Eagle (some "Fox News contributor," I forget
who) arguing that the TVA and other government properties should be
Paul Krugman: Trump Doesn't Give a Dam:
And even the $200 billion is essentially fraudulent: The budget proposal
announced the same day doesn't just impose savage cuts on the poor, it
includes sharp cuts for the Department of Transportation, the Department
of Energy and other agencies that would be crucially involved in any real
infrastructure plan. Realistically, Trump's offer on infrastructure is
That's not to say that the plan is completely vacuous. One section says
that it would "authorize federal divestiture of assets that would be better
managed by state, local or private entities." Translation: We're going to
privatize whatever we can.
Krugman also wrote:
Budgets, Bad Faith, and 'Balance'.
Andrew Prokop: The new Mueller indictments tell us a lot about Russian
trolls: The link promised "What Mueller's new Russia indictments
mean -- and what they don't." The indictments seem to show that various
Russians were acting as internet trolls, spreading false information
to influence the 2016 elections, but doesn't directly tie them either
to Putin or to Trump. None of the Russians are likely to be arrested
or tried, so I suspect this is merely the foundation to something else.
There was, by the way, another new indictment, a Richard Pinedo, of
which we know very little; see
David Kurtz: Mueller Playing It So Damn Close to the Vest. Next
on the burner, see
Emily Stewart: Rick Gates is reportedly about to plead guilty to
Also, in light of the indictments, Nate Silver tries to factor
How Much Did Russian Interference Affect the 2016 Election? He
doesn't come up with an answer, but he does note "the magnitude of
the interference revealed so far is not trivial but is still fairly
modest as compared with the operations of the Clinton and Trump
campaigns" and "thematically, the Russian interference tactics were
consistent with the reasons Clinton lost." In other words,
"the Russians were at least adding fuel to the right fire." Still,
I'm struck by how much more the Trump and Clinton campaigns spent --
$617 million by Trump and pro-Trump super PACs, $1.2 billion by
Clinton. Alignment between Trump and Russia doesn't prove collusion,
but it is some form of symbiosis. As for Clinton, the burning issue
remains what did she do with all that money? And why didn't she get
more value for what she spent? That's the same question I was left
with after reading Shattered. Also, note that other Russian
activities haven't been factored in here -- e.g., the DNC email hacks,
which many believe to have been Russian work but haven't been proven.
Of course, it's not just the Russians who meddle in other people's
elections. For a primer, see
Scott Shane: Russia Isn't the Only One Meddling in Elections. We Do It,
Richard Silverstein: If Israeli Police Take Down Bibi, Don't Expect Much
Good to Come of It: Pretty detailed explanation of the corruption
case against Netanyahu.
Matt Taibbi: If We Want Kids to Stop Killing, the Adults Have to Stop,
Over two decades ago, I traveled to a city in the Russian provinces
called Rostov-On-Don to interview a psychiatrist named Alexander
Bukhanovsky, now deceased, was famous. If you've seen the movie
Citizen X, about the capture of serial killer Andrei Chikatilo,
Bukhanovsky was the guy played by Max Von Sydow. He was the Soviet
Union's first criminal profiler.
One of the first things he said was that both Russia and America
produced disproportionate shares of mass killers.
"Giant militarized countries," he said, "breed violent populations."
Bukhanovsky at the time was treating a pre-teen who had begun killing
animals. He told me this young boy would almost certainly move on to
killing people eventually. He was seeing more and more of these cases,
Nikolas Cruz, the 19 year-old just arrested for shooting and killing
17 people in Parkland, Florida, supposedly bragged about killing animals.
He reportedly even posted photos of his work on Instagram.
There will be lots of hand-wringing in the coming days about gun
control, and rightfully so -- it's probably easier to get a semi-automatic
rifle in this country than it is to get some flavors of Pop Tarts -- but
with each of these shootings, we seem to talk less and less about where
the rage-sickness causing these massacres comes from.
The single most salient fact of life during my lifetime -- nearly
seventy years -- is that the US has continuously been at war abroad.
Even during the decade between the approximate end of the Cold War
and the advent of the War on Terror, the militarist ethos was so
imbued in American thought that we came up with "humanitarian"
rationales for a half-dozen interventions (Iraq, Somalia, Bosnia,
Haiti, Colombia, Kosovo, East Timor, what'd I miss?). And since
2001, that attitude has hardened into an obsession with targeting
and killing individuals. Taibbi notes:
In an era of incredible division and political polarization, military
killing is the most thoroughly bipartisan of all policy initiatives.
Drone murders spiked tenfold under Obama, and Trump has supposedly
already upped the Obama rate by a factor of eight. The new president
apparently killed more civilians in his first seven months in office
than Obama did overall, making use of our growing capacity for
"We are killing these sons of bitches faster than they can grow
them now," a CIA official reportedly told a subordinate with glee
some years back. Another CIA vet told the Washington Post
the agency had become ""one hell of a killing machine." . . .
These aren't just scenes from bad movies. They're foundational
concepts in our society. We're conditioned to disbelieve in the
practicality of nonviolence and peace, and to disregard centuries
of proof of the ineffectiveness of torture and violence as a means
On the other hand, we're trained to accept that early use of
violence is frequently heroic and necessary (the endless lionization
of Winston Churchill as the West's great realist is an example here)
and political courage is generally equated with the willingness to
use force. JFK's game of nuclear poker with Nikita Khruschev is another
foundational legend, while Khruschev is generally seen as a loser for
having backed down. . . .
Gun control? I'm all for it. But this madness won't stop until we
stop believing that killing makes us strong, or that we can kill
without guilt or consequence just by being "precise." What beliefs
like that actually make us is insane and damaged, and it's no surprise
that our kids, too, are beginning to become collateral damage.
Note that the Florida shooter wasn't a veteran, but was in ROTC, so
war and the military were very much on his mind. Also that the gun used
in the Florida shooting, and indeed in many recent mass shootings, was
designed for America's wars abroad. See:
Tim Dickinson: All-American Killer: How the AR-15 Became Mass Shooters'
Weapon of Choice. Also related:
Marcus Weisgerber: Obama's Final Arms-Export Tally More Than Doubles