An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Monday, September 7, 2020
Nearly everything here was complete late Sunday night, but I was having trouble framing the comics, and felt the need to write a bit of introduction, so I decided to sleep on it. Found the Trump tweet and the Carter quote after I got up. Added a couple links while wrapping up, but all articles that date from Sunday or earlier. I managed to find a few pieces on the late David Graeber, but none yet on Kevin Zeese, a lawyer and (like Graeber) another prominent Occupy figure, who died suddenly on Sunday. Music Week will probably be delayed a day this week. These delays weren't planned, but happy Labor Day.
Here are a pair of New Yorker cartoons that go a long ways toward illustrating and explaining the cognitive disconnect between Republicans and Democrats these days. The third was posted by Mary Anne Trump (her caption), and picked up from a friendly Facebook feed:
Having family and friends in the Portland area, I've seen numerous contrasting pictures like this, which makes the news media fixation on fires and looting seem all the more anomalous. I wrote a comment under the latter picture:
I suppose I may sound condescending or patronizing, but I started narrow-minded and provincial and made my own way into and around the cosmopolitan world, often finding open doors and welcoming faces -- a tendency toward kindness which my old world actually prided itself on. I won't deny that cosmopolitans have their own prejudices, which may appear as hostile but more often sympathetic. It's as easy to find liberals who accept the idea that their opposites are clinging to a way of life threatened by the modern world. I don't think that is true. At any rate, I don't see the gap as unbridgeable, although one needs to reject the political incentives that drive us apart. And while both sides have attempted to make hay by appealing to the prejudices of their bases, as we see above, it's the Republicans who have most gravely distorted reality.
One more clause I wish to draw your attention to is "they think they can bludgeon into submission." It doesn't work like that. The world we live in is so complex and interconnected that the only way we can manage it is through massive cooperation, which depends on good faith and respect, which depends on justice for all. No people submits forever, but all people can join together in an order which is universally viewed as fair and just. Might doesn't make right, and the more brutally and viciously it is employed, the more resistance it generates, the more harm it winds up doing to all concerned. I could cite hundreds of examples. I doubt I could find an exception. Even seemingly complete domination either perpetuates indefinitely (e.g., Israel over Palestine) or ends with integration (America and the Indians, albeit imperfectly).
I'll add one more related point to this: there has been much talk recently about democracy ending in America, but note that such an end would not ensure that the immediate victors will stay in power and enjoy their privileges indefinitely. It merely means that change can only occur through violence, at great collateral cost. As I recall, Winston Churchill used to say "democracy is the worst possible form of government, except for all the rest." What he meant was that while he didn't like having to submit to the will of the people, he preferred that to losing his head (the pre-democratic method of disposing of unwanted monarchs). The British people regularly grew tired of Churchill and voted him out, only to vote him in again as their memories faded. Democracy in America has worn thin and ragged over recent decades, with most of the blame due to the influx of money -- something both parties bear responsibility for, but only the Republicans defend the practice as a class prerogative, and Republicans have made the most conspicuous efforts to tilt the table in their favor, exploiting the unequal representation locked into the Constitution, and using their legislative clout to further gerrymander districts. And this year, Trump has created doubts about the integrity of the voting process, such that neither side is likely to believe the count, no matter what it is.
One thing you won't see much of below is reports on polls and other voting irregularities. Partly because there is a lot of wild-eyed speculation going on, but mostly because I have little faith that anything we say now will have any predictive significance for November. One thing that was interesting was that the contested Massachusetts Democratic primary brought out an unprecedented huge vote for a primary. That is one data point suggesting that the November vote won't be significantly suppressed by the pandemic.
Got up this morning and first thing I read was this paragraph from Zachary D Carter: The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes, which does a nice job of framing what I wrote above:
I took a shine to Marxism back in the late 1960s, but gave up on it by the mid-1970s, not because I changed my mind but because the insights I had gained there had become second nature, while I lost anything more than a passing commitment to the political program. I moved from opposition to one specific war (Vietnam) to a general pacifism, and I increasingly appreciated the value of incremental reforms versus sharp breaks. I became more tolerant, which is not to say uncritical, of liberals, and I found much that I actually liked in Keynes. (Robert Skidelsky's 2009 book, Keynes: The Return of the Master, offered a good introduction.) He sought to resolve conflicts by arguing ideas, and he retained a radical understanding of the good life which has eluded most economists -- so much so that they refer to their trade as "the dismal science." The quote above was in the section discussing his book, The Economic Consequences of the Peace (1919). Reading Keynes on the arrogant, ignorant, and pompous politicians of the day sheds comparable light on Trump today. Looking forward to discussion of Keynes' view of the future of work, which somehow still remains in our future, assuming we get that far.
Some scattered links this week:
Dean Baker: Trump's 'America First' vaccine agenda may leave us last: "By using the usual patent monopoly framework rather than international open-source collaboration, the coronavirus vaccine may prove both elusive and more costly for Americans."
Peter Baker/Maggie Haberman: Trump fans strife as unrest roils the US.
BBC: International Criminal Court officials sanctioned by US. "The Hague-based ICC is currently investigating whether US forces committed war crimes in Afghanistan."
Zack Beauchamp: Donald Trump is inciting violence. "His audience is tens of millions of people. Only a tiny percentage need to act to severely disrupt this country's politics."
Jake Bittle: This is what Trumpism after Trump looks like: Profile of Laura Loomer, "proud Islamophobe," QAnon supporter, Republican nominee for Congress.
Rosa Brooks: What's the worst that could happen? This is rather ridiculous: war gaming various election scenarios, under the aegis of a group that calls itself the Transition Integrity Project, hiring "players" like Bill Kristol and John Podesta to simulate how R and D strategists would react to the various scenarios.
Fabiola Cineas/Sean Collins/Anna North: The police shooting of Jacob Blake, explained: "Blake's shooting has inspired intense protests, a professional sports strike, and fiery rhetoric from President Trump."
Patrick Cockburn: Trump at the RNC: Echoes of Saddam.
Aaron Ross Coleman:
Also worth linking to some of David Graeber's work (also see the listing at The Anarchist Library):
Matt Ford: The Republicans' absurd quest to turn Biden into Trump: "The president's reelection campaign is now an obsessive exercise in psychological projection." Another way to look at this: has there ever in history been a better time for someone like Trump to run against an incumbent president like Biden? Only one problem with that scenario.
Andrew Freedman/Diana Leonard: Heat 'rarely ever seen' is forecast to roast West by the weekend, with wildfires still burning. Freedman followed this up with: California faces record-setting 'kiln-like' heat as fires rage, causing injuries.
Susan B Glasser: The 2020 election, a race in which everything happens and nothing matters: "If a pandemic that has killed nearly two hundred thousand Americans can't significantly hurt Trump's support, can anything?"
Hallie Golden/Mike Baker/Adam Goldman: Suspect in fatal Portland shooting is killed by officers during arrest. Of course, unlike, Kyle Rittenhouse, who shot three and killed two BLM protesters in Kenosha, but was taken into custody live. Michael Forest Reinoehl, "antifa supporter," now unable to testify what happened in the shooting he is accused of. Article quotes Attorney General William Barr: "the streets of our cities are safer." Isn't that what they always say after the police kills a "suspect"?
Elizabeth A Harris/Alexandra Alter: Trump books keep coming, and readers can't stop buying. Picture collects 19 book covers. I haven't read any of those, although I have read a dozen others (see below). The article notes that "in the last four years, there have been more than 1,200 unique titles about Mr. Trump, compared to around 500 books about former President Barack Obama and his administration during Mr. Obama's first term." I tried to publish a fairly exhaustive list of Trump books on May 16, including a few advance notices on books that were scheduled up through October, but my list ran out at 294. Some they mentioned that I missed:
Most of those are recent releases (Woodward's is due Sept. 15, Lozado's Oct. 6), but Klein's screed simply slipped my net. I should do another books post. Not sure what more there is to net, but there is: John W Dean: Authoritarian Nightmare: Trump and His Followers, and (of course) Donald Trump Jr: Liberal Privilege: Joe Biden and the Democrats' Defense of the Indefensible. For whatever it's worth, here are a few books I did read (on Trump, his administration, and/or the 2016 election, as well as a few less Trump-centric but still topical tracts, most recent first):
More pieces on Trump books:
Benjamin Hart: Black man died of asphyxiation after officers placed hood on him: "Rochester police put a 'spit hood' over Daniel Prude's head, then pinned him to the ground for two minutes. Seven officers have now been suspended."
Eoin Higgins: The Bush rehabilitation trap: "Democrats' insistence on redeeming pre-Trump Republicans will corrupt the party's agenda and spoil the chance for real social reform." Another excuse to link to: Will Ferrell returns to SNL as George W Bush, with a reminder: "I was really bad." Maybe I'd start cutting Bush some slack if he goes on air and admits as much. Still, such contrition wouldn't erase his actual record -- especially the warmongering, which is the one trait of his presidency he can't fob the blame off on the far-right Republicans Cheney staffed his administration with. Still, even his efforts to work with Democrats to solve common problems, like No Child Left Behind and Medicare D, have proven disastrous. Laura mentioned an article about Obama's "biggest mistake," and I immediately thought of several, most importantly his reluctance to repeatedly blame the damaged conditions he inherited on Bush. Not doing so gave Republicans a pass, allowing them to paint the fruits of their failed ideology as somehow being Obama's fault. That doomed Democrats in the 2010 elections, and all the Republicans had to do from then on was to obstruct -- which he also failed to clearly pin responsibility for. Obama's second biggest mistake was proclaiming Afghanistan "the right war," and wasting his first term trying to get it on track. Third was failing to repeal the Bush tax cuts in 2009 when he had the votes to do so. He spent the rest of his terms fighting debt fear and austerity pressures that would have been greatly relieved if he had restored those taxes. But the "biggest mistake" the article pointed to was the bombing of Libya -- see Stephen Kinzer: Obama's 'Biggest Mistake' is still wreaking havoc. The quotes actually come from Obama, but all he meant was "his failure to anticipate the after-effects," not the bombing itself. In failing to appreciate that belligerent acts have logical consequences, Obama proved to be as ignorant and reckless as his predecessor.
Michael Hudson: How an "act of God" pandemic is destroying the West: The US is saving the financial sector, not the economy. In fact, now that the financial sector appears safe from its March panic, the Republicans seem to be done with everyone else.
Harmeet Kaur: Covid-19 has killed more law enforcement officers this year than all other causes combined. "At least 101 officers have died from Covid-19, while at least 82 have died by other means, as of Thursday, according to ODMP. . . . Gunfire is the second-highest cause of death, which has killed at least 31 officers this year." Meanwhile, the number of people killed by police: 679 so far this year, 1,013 in the past year.
Sunil Khilnani: Isabel Wilkerson's world-historical theory of race and caste: Review of Wilkerson's new book, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, where a central argument is that India's long-established caste system -- outlawed in the Indian Constitution of 1950 -- provides insights into racism in America (and, what the hell, Nazi Germany).
Natasha Korecki/Christopher Cadelago: With a hand from Trump, the right makes Rittenhouse a cause célèbre.
Robert Kuttner: The Biden do not reappoint list: "A third succession of Wall Street Democrats would be a disaster. Here are the names to look out for." Larry Summers, Peter Orszag, Mike Froman, Steve Rattner, Jeff Zients, Bruce Reed, plus a list of big names like Mike Bloomberg and Jamie Dimon and another of "lesser names." Since this piece was published, Zients was added as "co-chair" to Biden's transition team. See: Alex Thompson: Biden transition team shapes up with Obama-Biden alum hires.
Nancy LeTourneau: Trump's attack on Booker would be laughable if it wasn't so racist.
Eric Lipton: How Trump draws on campaign funds to pay his legal bills.
Michael Luo: American Christianity's white-supremacy problem: "History, theology, and culture all contribute to the racist attitudes embedded in the white church." There's plenty of this to go around, but Christian churches were incubators for abolitionism in the 19th century, and committed clergy and laity have been prominent in every antiwar and civil rights movement since.
David J Lynch/Carol D Leonnig/Jeff Stein/Josh Dawsey: Tactics of fiery White House trade adviser draw new scrutiny as some of his pandemic moves unravel. Fiery? Some new euphemism for "full of shit"?
Bill McKibben: How fast is the climate changing?: It's a new world, each and every day: Is McKibben's flair for hyperbole really helping? He has a knack for taking an isolated insight and blowing it up into a gross generalization, effectively obliterating his insight. Something a reasonable person could argue: practically every day we discover some new incident that helps reveal the greater depths of climate change. That's not the same as saying the world is changing every day. For most of us, most of the time, that's simply untrue, or at least untrue in terms that register with our senses. McKibben got into this habit with the title of his first book on climate change, The End of Nature. His argument there was that we can never know nature because we've changed the climate. In some sense he was onto something, but that's because humans have used technology to alter and dominate nature in many ways -- releasing greenhouse gases to raise air temperature was merely one of many ways, if anything, one of the least conscious of the many changes. On the other hand, he totally loses track of one of nature's most significant characteristics, which is its ability to evolve in response to changes, ranging from astronomical to human. Of course, he isn't the only environmentalist to have such anthropocentric conceits about the world. The very phrase "save the Earth" has all sorts of hidden assumptions about what kind of Earth it is one wants to "save." Surely you know that the Earth is almost all rock, and totally oblivious to changes on its surface. Surely you realize that life didn't need human beings for nearly four billion years, and could carry on happily should humans disappear.
Max Moran: Mick Mulvaney: A frustrated wrecking ball: "The former top Trump official is seething that civil servants want to do their jobs well."
I would have edited that last line to say "work" instead of repeating "exist." Also:
Nicole Narea: How Trump made it that much harder to become a US citizen.
Timothy Noah: Wall Street's greedy indifference to human misery: "The disparity between the soaring stock market and struggling Americans perfectly epitomizes the country's grotesque inequality."
JC Pan: Rotting produce, vacant luxury apartments, and fake scarcity in a pandemic: "Leaving essentials like food and shelter to the whims of the market produces an extreme kind of disorganization." At the very least, this shows that markets don't respond very quickly or aptly to unpredicted events.
James Pasley: Trump frequently accuses the far-left of inciting violence, yet right-wing extremists have killed 329 victims in the last 25 years, while antifa members haven't killed any, according to a new study. I suppose the killing of a Trump militia man in Portland might be the first, if not self-defense, which will be hard to prove after police killed the alleged shooter.
Kevin Peraino: When America's Cold War strategy turned corrupt: Pretty much from its inception. After all, the point was to defend and promote business around the world, not least against its foes in labor. Review of Scott Anderson: The Quiet Americans: Four CIA Spies at the Dawn of the Cold War -- a Tragedy in Three Acts. Covers the years 1944-56; the spies are Michael Burke, Edward Lansdale, Peter Sichel, and Frank Wisner.
Andrew Prokop: The debate over whether unrest will help Trump win, explained.
John Quiggin: The economic consequences of the pandemic: Title for a book he's working on, which has recently spawned two articles: Have we just stumbled on the biggest productivity increase of the century?, on shifting work from office to home, and The end of the goods economy. Two more recent notes by Quiggin: What's with the stock market?, and Intangibles = monopoly.
Emily Rauhala/Yasmeen Abutaleb: US says it won't join WHO-linked effort to develop, distribute coronavirus vaccine.
Kate Riga: In first interview since FBI firing, Strzok frets about Trump-Russia unknowns; and Eric Tucker: Strzok calls attacks from Trump 'outrageous' and 'cruel'. Fired FBI counterintelligence agent Peter Strzok starts to flog his Sept. 8 book: Compromised: Counterintelligence and the Threat of Donald J Trump. More:
David Roberts: Big Oil's hopes are pinned on plastics. It won't end well. "The industry's only real source of growth probably won't grow much." Related:
Giovanni Russonello: Jazz has always been protest music. Can it meet this moment? Related: Alan Scherstuhl: Jazz is built for protests. Jon Batiste is taking it to the streets.
Michael J Sandel: Disdain for the less educated is the last acceptable prejudice: He's talking about among Democrats. As Donald Trump and many more attest, prejudices are rampant within the Republican Party -- maybe more against the highly educated but against the less educated as well, even as Republicans occasionally flatter the latter in order to con them. Sandel wrote The Tyranny of Merit: What's Become of the Common Good, the latest of a series of books that debunk the idea that we should be ruled by "the best and the brightest" (as David Halberstam dubbed the Kennedy meritocrats) -- Chris Hayes' Twilight of the Elites: America After Meritocracy is the one I read and recommend, but Daniel Markovits: The Meritocracy Trap: How America's Foundational Myth Feeds Inequality, Dismantles the Middle Class, and Devours the Elite adds to the critique. One thing Sandel notes is that Joe Biden "is the first Democratic nominee in 36 years without a degree from an Ivy League university." Still, he seems to be confusing education with "credentialism" -- his word, an interesting choice given how Jane Jacobs took the shift in focus from education to credentials to be a sure sign of Dark Ages Ahead. While many Democrats have made the mistake of seeing education as the key to advancement and therefore a painless answer to inequality -- Robert Reich was a pioneer in this regard -- but what makes that a mistake is ignoring all other factors. For instance, it's safe to say that the dearth of blue collar workers in Congress has more to do with lack of money and connections than prejudice. At least most Democrats see education as a universal desire and opportunity, and knowledge and science as general virtues -- unlike many Republicans, who find free thinking suspiciously dangerous. Also see:
Greg Sargent: These old quotes from Trump make his attacks on Biden look even more pathetic: "Violence on a president's watch is only his fault when that president is Barack Obama."
Walter Shapiro: America is not reliving 1968: "Sure, Donald Trump is harnessing Richard Nixon's law and order rhetoric, but that doesn't mean it will work."
Alex Shephard: The media is falling for Trump's law and order con.
Timothy Snyder: What ails America: Specifically, a diary of botched medical care.
Roger Sollenberger: Ted Cruz seeks abortion pill ban, claims pregnancy is not "life-threatening".
Jeffrey St Clair: Roaming charges: Sometimes they choke: Usual grabbag of points and asides, but I was struck by the chart (from 538) which argues that Biden has to win the popular vote by more than 3 points to reach a 50% chance of winning the electoral college. Next item shows the gerrymandered map of a "suburban Houston" House district. Then after some Markey-Kennedy points, he notes that the Postal Servie paid $14M to XPO Logistics, a company USPS head Louis DeJoy has a significant stake in, over the last 10 weeks. Also, I wanted to quote this:
Other notes include that the US trade deficit reached its highest level in 12 years, and that "peak oil" is back, with US production on the decline again, after reaching its second peak (the first was in 1969).
Emily VanDerWerff: One good thing: Stephen Colbert is looser, funnier, and angrier in quarantine.
Libby Watson: Covid patients are receiving eye-popping bills. It's not all Trump's fault. "His plan to help with hospital charges is poorly designed. But even a well-crafted plan would have been no match for our inept health care system."
Peter Wehner: Why Trump supporters can't admit who he really is:
Michael Patrick Welch: Lake Charles was destroyed by Hurricane Laura. America has already moved on. "Like Katrina before it, Hurricane Laura has exposed disturbing inequalities -- and the rest of the nation's fundamental indifference."
Ben White: Trump's rebound story meets mounting bankruptcies: "Local business site Yelp found that 55 percent of the firms that closed during the worst of the pandemic beginning in March are now permanently shuttered."
Jill Wine-Banks: Don't forget about the Steve Bannon indictment. Seems like there may be more to come.
Matthew Yglesias: Donald Trump is the president: "Whose America is it, explained." After noting that while campaigning in 2016, Trump said: "the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end. Beginning on January 20, 2017, safety will be restored." Trump never explained how he would work his magic, but he didn't. "Murder is on the rise again after ticking down for a few years, and acts of looting and vandalism are occurring in cities across the country." Subheds: