An occasional blog about populist politics and popular music, not necessarily at the same time.
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Sunday, August 28, 2022
Speaking of Which
OK, here's another week. Apologies for the occasional repetition, and less-than-ideal sorting. I keep finding more shit, and eventually it stinks up the place. As I recall, Warren Wake used to call this sort of thing "shovelware."
Wrapping up, I saw this tweet from Steve M. (who, if you ever look at Twitter, you should be following):
That was attached to a Fox segment where the hosts were discussing "a Missouri school board plan to allow teachers to spank students with parental consent." But it could have referred to damn near everything they do. They're evil, and millions of people have become meaner and dumber for exposing themselves to their shameless propaganda.
Steve M's blog is also worth following. I don't pay very close attention to primary elections, but he tells me pretty much all I need to know (and then some). Recent stories:
He also writes some at Crooks & Liars:
Also from Rick Perlstein (also worth following), our foremost historian of the US right:
When Obama won in 2008 and I saw that Volcker was his top economic adviser, I cringed. Volcker became Chair of the President's Economic Recovery Advisory Board (until 2011, when he resigned and was replaced by former GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt). Perhaps even more consequential for Obama were economists Lawrence Summers and Jason Furman, who got a mention below.
I've also seen tweets of Senators Lindsey Graham and Josh Hawley threatening riots if Donald Trump is charged and arrested. One tweet, by Tim Hannan, asks: "Is that a threat? Or are you insinuating someone should get away with crimes because there is a threat of violence? Or are you finally admitting Donald Trump can cause riots?"
Dean Baker: [08-22] Bernie Sanders Makes the Washington Post Oped Page: We Don't Need Government-Granted Patent Monopolies to Finance Drug Research: I followed the link to Caleb Watney/Heidi Williams: [08-22] Drug pricing reforms can hurt innovation. Here are 3 ways to prevent that. But one of those three ways proposes extending monopoly rights, so you're better off sticking with Baker, who's pushed this issue hard for many ears now. Moreover, I think it could be pushed harder than even Baker does. I'd say that all drug development should be publicly funded, that the science developed should be shared, and that the testing should be open sourced. I'd also point out that while it would be cheaper and more productive in the long run for the US to replace all private funding, drugs are by their nature an international product. One could negotiate international agreements to share much of the cost of development. The result would be more competition than at present, including manufacturing, which would no longer be tied to patent rights. Also:
Zack Beauchamp: [08-24] How do we know who's winning in Ukraine? The real answer is that there is no winning in this or any other war. There is a map if you think territory matters much: Russia has consolidated gains in the east and southeast, north of Luhansk, and west of Donetsk to Kherson, linking up the breakaway regions of Crimea and Donbas. Early in the war, Ukrainian forces concentrated on defending the major cities of Kyiv and Kharkiv, offering little resistance on the southern front, as Russian forces invaded from Crimea. The move to expand west from Donbas didn't happen until later, after Russia gave up on Kyiv, and refocused on Mariupol. The map shows Ukrainian counteroffensives, which have gained a small amount of ground east of Kharkiv and north of Kherson, but the current map isn't much different from one 2-3 months ago. It's hard to see much ground changing hands from here on, but the destruction of fighting a stalemated war could increase. US weapons shipments to Ukraine have shifted to missiles and drones that can attack sites well beyond the fronts (potentially risking attacks inside pre-war Russia -- already started in disputed Crimea). Russia still has the ability to attack anywhere in Ukraine, even as far removed from the battle lines as Lviv and Odesa. Of course, the map doesn't account for lives ended or maimed, for the destruction of infrastructure and other property, the dislocation of millions of people, the economic costs, for Russia the costs imposed by severe sanctions, which also redound to hurt the rest of the world economy, and for the US and its "allies" many billions of dollars that could have been used for real problems but are being wasted on unnecessary war, one that will only harden feelings and darken prospects for many years to come. So, yes, it's hard to tell who's winning, because that's the wrong question.
Tom Boggioni: [08-28] Truth Social is headed for bankruptcy. Also:
Kevin Carey: [08-24] Biden's big new student loan forgiveness plan, explained. This will be a test of whether an eminently reasonable centrist compromise can survive politically, where the left position is that education, at least in state-supported colleges and universities, should be a right as far as a student wants to take it, and the right position is that people who can't afford to pay for higher education should remain in penury until the last dime of their debt is accounted for. As a practical matter, the right position is untenable, which is why we have a hopeless maze of rules and programs for offering and (in some cases) excusing debt, which several generations of students have been forced into as state austerity has relentlessly fobbed off public investment in favor of private debt. For someone my age, college was mostly affordable, debt was minimal (but I still hated every bit I had to pay off, and not just because I got screwed out of a degree), and there were decent-paying alternative careers (I managed). Later generations, however, faced fewer options, and more obstacles, and the result is that most of this country suffers under the dead weight of politically-induced debt, which is possibly the single main reason generations after mine have had to face declining opportunities -- and nowadays even declining life expectancies. My big complaint about this plan is that it doesn't address the present and future problem of more people having to take on ridiculous debt just to get the bare education they need -- and we need for them to have -- not just to prosper but to survive. Beyond that, sure, the limits are too low, and the means-testing is discriminatory and provocative, but this is a meaningful step, one we have to defend, one that we must because the arguments we're going to be hit with are seductively wrong and ultimately destructive, and have to be overcome to make any further progress.
Steve Coll: [08-27] A Year After the Fall of Kabul: Coll wrote the book on Afghanistan (Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001) before everyone else did and he had to write another (Directorate 5: The CIA and America's Secret Wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan), so he's the obvious choice for this assignment. However, his subhed misses the point: "For the Biden Administration, supporting the Afghan people without empowering the Taliban is the foreign-policy case study from hell." First, the Taliban are already in power, so the worry about "empowering" them is pure crap. Second, the only way the US can "support the Afghan people" is through the Taliban. Anything else is war, and the last thing the Afghan people need is more war. The only conclusion possible from US policy since the Taliban seized power is that the US doesn't want -- and probably never wanted -- to help Afghans. Otherwise, they'd put their bruised egos aside and offer something respectful and constructive.
Ryan Cooper: [08-23] The Big Bet on Natural Gas Is Blowing Up in the World's Face: "It's not clean, it's not cheap, and it's not a bridge fuel to anyplace good." Still, the article is mostly about Russian gas, which has become a political chip in the Ukraine War, which as is so often the case is used to reinforce another separate point. Sure, gas is not clean -- burn it and you get carbon dioxide and water, don't and you're leaking a more potent greenhouse gas -- but it's a lot cleaner than coal, both in its energy equation and in the impurities that also get released by burning it. That led to the "bridge fuel" argument, which made more sense in the 1990s, when wind and solar were more expensive than they are now. I'll have more to say about this under Krugman, below.
David Dayen: [08-19] The Real Inflation Reduction Acts. On the Inflation Reduction Act: "The policies here are fine, but too much of Democratic political positioning involves concealment, and I think it generates natural but unnecessary skepticism." On the other hand, he offers the Ocean Shipping Reform Act of 2022 (OSRA 2022) as an example of a law which lowers prices by increasing competition.
Igor Derysh: [08-24] Florida GOP primary loser Laura Loomer cries fraud: "I'm not conceding because I'm a winner". If that last word was a blank, what would you fill in? I suspect the most common pick would be "jackass" (or something comparable but probably more scabrous). If you can stand more on Loomer, see Ali Breland: [08-24] Laura Loomer Loses GOP Primary, Opportunity to Vie for Most Racist Congressperson.
Thomas B Edsall: [08-24] When It Comes to Eating Away at Democracy, Trump Is a Winner. One of those NY Times writers who's taken the newsletter bug, but tends to go for quantity rather than quality, devoting much of his pieces to quoting the latest academic studies of things he's used to covering as news -- I'm reminded here of Karl Rove's taunt about the "reality-based community" being reduced to studying what Rove's crowd were creating through their actions. Edsall studies Trump like that, which makes him useful as a summarizer of conventional wisdom, but a somewhat less than acute critic. For another recent example, see: [08-03] Trump Has Big Plans for 2025, and He Doesn't Care Whether You Think He'll Win, where he points out: "This is no idle threat; Trump has taken some lessons from his first term." His conclusion: "Trump is not just going to walk away and let other candidates stir his toxic political brew." As Trump continues to dominate the news, some more pieces:
Amy Goodman: [08-24] "War Poisons Everybody": Remembering Howard Zinn on His 100th Birthday: He was a historian, died in 2010 at 87, best known for his A People's History of the United States, but I remember him as a peace activist back in the 1960s (I don't recall whether I read his 1967 book Vietnam: The Logic of Withdrawal, but that's about when I first became aware of him. This collects several interviews from 2001-09.
Gabrielle Gurley: [08-25] Democrats in Danger of Missing the Marijuana Moment.
Ed Kilgore: [08-22] Ludicrous Kansas Abortion Recount Could Be the Wave of the Future. After losing their anti-abortion referendum by a 59-41 margin, a couple of its proponents insisted on forcing a recount. It was only a partial recount, because they couldn't raise enough money to pay for a full one. But they tried anyway, because they couldn't imagine losing an election in a state they were sure they had locked up. Surprisingly enough, they did manage to nudge the margin 93 votes in their direction, leaving the No margin at 165,000.
Daniel Larison: [08-26] Whose war is the US fighting in Syria, and why? With ISIS demolished, the persistence of US forces in Syria is beginning to remind me of stories of Japanese soldiers creeping out of the jungles of New Guinea to resume a war they hadn't heard had ended 20-30 years before. I would have been as happy as any of you had the Assad regime fallen in the Arab Spring, but that didn't happen, and hanging out and taking pot shots like outlaw bands isn't going to change a thing. Also see:
Andrew Latham: [08-22] What if China is not rising, making it more dangerous? Review of Hal Brands and Michael Beckley: Danger Zone: The Coming Conflict with China, the latest of a steady stream of books on how China threatens US global supremacy, inevitably leading to conflict and perhaps escalating to war -- because the one thing American experts on China and Russia cannot conceive of is the US adopting a less commanding and confrontational global stance. The twist here is that the authors see the escalation risk coming not from China's hubristic ambition to rule the world, but from the sense that aggression is the only way to save China from its internal contradictions and decline. Others have argued that much, and their track record of predicting declines in Chinese economic growth is abysmal. The net combination suggests America needs urgently to prepare for war (which will be sold as deterrence, because we all know how well that works). On the other hand, their historical analogies should give us pause: were Germany in 1914 and Japan in 1941 really suffering such a degree of decline that they saw no alternative to war? In 1914 some Germans thought their odds against Russia were better then than they might be a decade hence, but the underlying assumption was one of German expansion. Japan in 1941 may be an easier case, but that's only because Japan started its war in 1937, against China, and that war was faltering, compounded by the American oil and steel embargo. On the other hand, if you want to point to a declining empire desperate to score military points, isn't the US the obvious candidate? Is it really a coincidence that a year after the debacle in Kabul, the US is back in the driver's seat with the bankrolling of Ukraine against Russia?
Andrea Mazzarino: [08-14] A Military Rich in Dollars, Poor in People: "And the Frayed Social Safety Net That Goes With It." Military recruitment seems to be down, and will probably drop more if people can get an education otherwise. Meanwhile, services for veterans keep becoming more expensive, even as they benefit an ever-smaller segment of society. Coming out of WWII, it was easy to expand benefits for veterans: because there were so many, those programs had broad (if imperfect) affects. Those days are over. And while both parties give lots of lip-service to veterans, only the Democrats are inclined to do anything about it, and they're under increasing pressure not to limit their programs to veterans.
Harold Meyerson: [08-26] 'Pro-Life': America's Most Patently Absurd Misnomer: "The relationship between anti-abortion states and concern for human life is certifiably inverse."
Nicole Narea: [08-25] DACA is in jeopardy. Can the Biden administration save it?
Anne Nelson: [08-26] A Rare Peek Inside the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy: Recently uncovered documents reveal the inner workings of the Council for National Policy ("a secretive network of powerful conservatives").
Yasmin Rafiei: [08-25] When Private Equity Takes Over a Nursing Home.
Zach Rosenthal/Mary Beth Gahan/Annabelle Timsit: [08-22] At least one dead after Dallas area hit by 1-in-1,000-year flood. This follows three more 1-in-1,000-year rain events, in St. Louis, eastern Kentucky, and southeastern Illinois.
Greg Sargent/Paul Waldman: [08-25] Leaked audio of a billionaire GOP donor hands Democrats a weapon.
Robert J Shapiro: [08-22] Yes, Americans Are Better Off Under Biden: "Households have seen a stunning rise in employment and income, even considering inflation." We're going to be seeing more pieces like this, as there should be -- one thing Democrats have never been much good at is "tooting their own horn." But one shouldn't get smug and complacent here. Everything good that Democrats have done since Biden took office could have been done better with more Congressional support, which means getting more Democrats elected. And people need to understand that their future depends on their political support. Shapiro also wrote [08-22] Forget FDR. Biden Is a Major President in His Own Right. Related here:
Jeffrey St Clair: [08-26] Roaming Charges: Nuclear Midnight's Children: Starts with the nuclear peril in Ukraine, which segues into a rather scathing attack on those who've used recent natural gas shortages as reason enough to revive the nuclear power industry. (Personally, I'm open-minded about nuclear power, but think advocates have to come up with agreed solutions on several problems first: what do you do with radioactive waste? how do you prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons? and how do you prevent reactor sites from acts of war?)
He quotes a Lawrence Summers tweet: "Every dollar spent on student relief is a dollar that could have gone to support those who don't get the opportunity to go to college." So much wrong with this it's hard to know where to start, but I'd start by questioning whether the people who came out of college with debt actually got the "opportunity to go to college." If you get my drift, you'd see that student loan relief is precisely going to the people who Summers claims to be advocating for. Beyond that, every expense on anything can be opposed as an opportunity cost to something else one would rather see. Do we need to start comparing lists? St Clair's comment offers one example: "Just retitle your degree a Toxic Asset -- which it probably is -- and the entirety of the loans that paid for it will be forgiven with interest in no time." He then points out that the average size of PPP loans to businesses "forgiven without a bleat from Summers or anyone else" was $109,000. He follows that up with a list of members of Congress who got their loans forgiven: one as high as $4.3 million, but the line that pops out for me is Matt Gaetz ($476,000). He also notes that "Trump had more then $280 million in loans forgiven and failed to pay taxes on most of the money he pocketed." Also this:
Chris Stirewalt: [08-28] What I Learned About Media Rage After Getting Fired From Fox. He was political editor at Fox News when they called the 2020 election for Biden. Interesting that he survives currently as a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. This piece was excerpted from his book Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America & How to Fight Back.
Margaret Talbot: [08-28] Justice Alito's Crusade Against a Secular America Isn't Over: "He's had win after win -- including overturning Roe v. Wade -- yet seems more and more aggrieved. What drives his anger?"
Kenneth P Vogel/Shane Goldmacher: [08-022] An Unusual $1.6 Billion Donation Bolsters Conservatives: The guy's name is Leonard Leo, operating through a group called the Marble Freedom Trust. Also see the Washington Post editorial [08-28] A $1.6 billion donation lays bare a broken campaign finance system.
Sarah Vowell: [08-28] What's With All the Fluff About a New Civil War, Anyway?
Bryan Walsh: [08-28] Americans keep moving to where the water isn't: After all, "the housing is cheaper and plentiful -- but climate change and extreme weather are worsening."
I've been reading Tariq Ali's new book on Winston Churchill. I've never read any of Churchill's books, nor any of the numerous hagiographies, but I've gathered a pretty comprehensive view of the man over the years -- enough so that I can picture him set in a Mt. Rushmore-like monument of the great monsters of the 20th century (Hitler, Stalin, and Mao are, for us Americans at least, automatic picks, but can't you just imagine Churchill poking his mug out in Theodore Roosevelt's cranny, behind Hitler and Stalin to his left, and flanked by Mao on his right? Ali's subtitle was His Times, His Crimes, and Ali's 432 pages don't come close to exhausting the subject.
One omission I expected something on was the Greco-Turkish War (1919-22), which broke out after Kemal defied the terms of Ottoman surrender to create an independent Turkish Republic. Britain was exhausted after the Great War, but encouraged Greece to grab as much of Asia Minor as possible, with disastrous consequences. Churchill was Secretary of State for War and Air in this period (1919-21), and as such was directly responsible for ordering poison gas in Iraq (in case you ever wondered where Saddam Hussein got such an idea). His role in the Greco-Turkish War would have been a bit more indirect, but it was exactly the sort of thing he would have done. The book does include material on Churchill's scheme to attack the Ottoman Empire at Gallipoli in 1915 (which cost him his post as First Lord of the Admiralty), and on Britain's role in defeating the anti-Nazi resistance in and after WWII. (One thing I'm skeptical of is Ali's tendency to treat the post-1945 Labor government of Clement Attlee and Ernest Bevin as a mere extension of Churchill's government -- which they were part of until the 1945 elections, when Churchill tried to hog the glory and got soundly booted out of government. Greece does seem to be one case where Attlee followed through on decisions Churchill had initially made. On the other hand, Churchill was lucky to be spared having to deal with independence in India and Palestine -- not that Attlee and Bevin handled either at all well.)
Still, I've learned a few things I hadn't previously known here. Consider this paragraph (p. 365):
Of course, I was aware of a long affinity of antisemites for Zionism. Arthur Balfour, the British minister who attached his name to the declaration of Britain's intent to establish a "Jewish homeland" in Palestine, was well known as an antisemite. From the beginning, From the very beginning, Zionists assumed that antisemitism was so ingrained in Europe that safety can only be gained by leaving Europe. Theodor Herzl and his followers rarely missed an opportunity to pitch Zionism to imperial powers as a way of solving their "Jewish problem." Zionists scored their big diplomatic breakthrough not because Britain was enlightened but because it wasn't. But even with the British, the idea was less to get rid of their own Jews than to build a supposedly loyal white colony with refugees from Eastern and Central Europe (of course, that also helped deflect them from entering the UK). The first modern European state to seek to expel Jews was Nazi Germany, so as soon as Hitler seized power, the Zionist Yishuv started negotiating exit visas for Jews to immigrate to Palestine. This became the Fifth Aliyah (1929-39, a period when Jewish immigration came mostly from Germany). Even so, the numbers were limited by the British and by the Yishuv itself. During this period, Germany was still considering other forced emigration schemes, like expelling Jews to Madagascar or Siberia, so the surprise isn't that Nazis would approve of Zionism, but that they viewed it as a possible "final solution." It wasn't until later that Nazis realized that expulsion was unworkable, so they settled on extermination, giving the word Endlösung its current, bitter tone.
PS: For a recent piece on the tortured relationship of Zionism and antisemitism, see Peter Beinart: [08-26] Has the Fight Against Antisemitism Lost Its Way? People with informed misgivings about Israel's treatment of Palestinians are routinely charged with antisemitism, even if they are Jewish (or dismissed as "self-hating Jews") or progressives who fully support the right of Jews to live in their own countries. Meanwhile, most classic antisemites have become fervent supporters of Israel -- especially Christians who view the establishment of Israel as a prophesied step toward the apocalypse, when true Christians will rise to heaven, and Jews, well, won't. (My grandfather was one such person; I remember that from a conversation we had when I was a child. David Lloyd George was another such person. He was the Prime Minister of the UK who issued the Balfour Declaration committing Britain to creation of a "Jewish homeland.")
In its early days, the suggestion that criticism of Israel was antisemitic cut the Zionists some slack, especially among the left, where people were especially sensitive to classic antisemitism. But 75 years after the founding of Israel, 55 years after the seizure of Gaza and the West Bank (whose occupants are still denied basic human rights), 40 years after Israel's cruel and senseless attack on Lebanon, 20 years after the last even remotely progressive Israeli government, it's gotten hard for Jews and others used to living in peace and prosperity away from Israel to feel any sort of obligation to defend the racist thugs who run Israel these days. Yet it is true that we are seeing not just a rise in anti-Israeli feeling these days, but a totally separate rise in anti-Jewish agitation. People my age can still keep this straight, but I fear younger people will be confused, with "antisemite" reduced to an epithet to use arbitrarily. This is not unlike recent propaganda turn in Russia and Ukraine arguing over which side has the Nazis.
I'm off on a bit of a tangent here, so let me return to Beinart:
One more point: what bothers me about Americans who offer blind, dogmatic support to Israel has less to do with their support for oppression and injustice abroad -- of course I disapprove, but I generally don't think Americans should moralize over other nation's internal affairs -- but because I fear that they see Israel as a model for the United States: in their construction of a repressive and racist domestic regime, and in the violence and subversion they so readily resort to when facing other countries. The U.S. has gone way too far down those paths already, and we need to reverse course and treat our own people and the rest of the world with newfound respect and charity. And sure, the latter point suggests that even if we don't go so far as to criticize Israel for its sins against human rights and international peace, at least we stop enabling and subsidizing its worst impulses.