Sunday, April 2, 2023
Speaking of Which
I opened this file by linking to Jeffrey St Clair's latest "Roaming
Charges" piece (way down below), because any time he writes one of his
columns, I feel duty-bound to link to it. Not that we see eye-to-eye
on everything. I could certainly do without the gratuitous sniping at
Bernie Sanders (even if he occasionally has a point). But he's never
tried to critique both parties from some imaginary point in the middle,
so when he does hold Democrats to account, he never tries to blur the
distinction by making Republicans seem a bit less evil.
[PS: Although further down he
berates Biden as "old, tired, powerless, out of ideas and lacking any
genuine outrage," then turns around and says, "One thing you have to
admire about Trump is that he didn't give up pursuing his agenda, no
matter how debased it was . . . people liked that he was a fighter."
That strikes me as unfair to Biden, who evinces far more outrage than
I think is politically savvy, and inaccurate on Trump, who never had
an agenda to fight for, aside from symbolic gestures like the wall,
and whose ineffectiveness had more than a little to do with his lack
of compassion or conviction. Anyone who values Trump as a fighter
has a fleeting grasp of reality.]
I may be more
inclined to pull my punches for the sake of partisan solidarity, but
I have to respect his principles, not least because they come with
important insights. This week's column starts with one so important
it needs to go here, on top, before you get distracted with what's
likely to be a veritable tsunami of political bullshit. (I'm writing
this on Friday, before collecting the rest, so it'll be easy to
check my prediction.) He opens as follows (my bold):
The US is not going to solve its gun violence epidemic until it
addresses its war violence epidemic. There's a reason the AK-15
has become the weapon of choice for post-Gulf War shooters. Blame guns
if you must, but start with the war culture that has indoctrinated so
many people to crave them, not, I suspect for self-protection, but for
the projection of power in a society where the individual is left with
For three decades, we have saturated our society with
government-sponsored violence, where every type of killing is
officially sanctioned, including that of children. We've committed
infanticide with impunity from Kandahar to Belgrade. The sniper and
the drone have become cultural icons, grotesque symbols of the
Predictably, the chickens that have come home to roost haven't only
been the relatives of the victims, but also the children of
perpetrators, nurtured on fear, bloodshed and high-capacity
ammo. They've been reared to see people in uniform -- from Mosul to
Memphis -- kill with impunity. The lessons seem to have taken
I've said the first sentence before, probably many times. The rest
just drives home the point, not that you couldn't add volumes more.
I have no fondness for guns, and wouldn't mind if they were totally
banned. (I don't mind people who hunt, as many of my recent ancestors
did, but even there I could imagine a program where people rent hunting
guns when they obtain their in-season licenses. Among other things, it
would match guns to game. I could also see letting people target shoot,
but renting the guns there, too. Again, you'd get a better match. And,
really, it wouldn't be any more onerous than having to rent shoes at
the bowling alley -- I assume they still do that, as it's been a while.)
But politically that's not going to happen, at least any time soon, at
least as long as many people feel like they need to own guns, and are
willing to live with the inevitable costs. What anti-gun people need
to do is to shift some mind, to get people to realize that they don't
need (and shouldn't want) guns.
A big part of the reason for my indifference or resignation to the
dearth of gun control is that I really don't like the instinct that
drives so many people to ban anything they don't like. That was the
driving ideology behind prohibition, including the war on drugs, and
creates bad side-effects as well as not working very well. I suppose
there are limits to my preference for never banning anything: we still
have bans on fully-automatic machine guns and artillery, and it makes
sense to keep tight regulation on toxic chemicals and explosives. And
while I'd cut way back on criminal penalties for drugs, I'd like to
see enough regulation to keep them from being commercialized.
I have a somewhat similar position on immigration. I think most
immigration is driven not by wonderful economic opportunities in
America, but by the spread of violence that is largely backed or
motivated by America's global projection of power, and by the global
financial system that continuously works to extract profit from the
rest of the world (often protected by American arms). If you want to
limit immigration, the most effective thing would be to reduce the
fear and hunger elsewhere that drives people here. (Needless to say,
you can substitute Europe for America in the preceding sentences and
still make perfect sense. And Europe and America are linked in that
way, such that the political/economic powers in each no longer
discriminate in favor of own interests.) So my argument to anyone
who wants to restrict immigration is to start by reforming the
foreign policies that drive people to come here. Oh, and by the
way, also climate policies, given that changing climate is likely
to be the biggest driver of migration in coming decades.
Of course, I know people (my wife, for one) who want no limits on
immigration, as they believe that every person should have the right
to live wherever they see fit. I don't have a strong argument against
that position, but I can see a sensible one. Borders act as baffles,
which aren't impermeable but do so some extent allow nations to work
on their own problems independently of other nations and pressures.
While America may look like some kind of paradise to outsiders, it
isn't. We have a lot of work to do to make it more livable and vital
for the people who already live here, and adding more people makes
Sure, maybe not a lot: I accept that the long-term benefits
of adding immigrants are real, that the short-term costs aren't as bad
as is commonly assumed (or wouldn't be if we didn't allow them to be
exploited so badly), and that the idea that America's culture will be
undermined by unassimilable aliens is a fantasy. On the other hand,
we're hard pressed now to build the political will to make the changes
we so sorely need, and there's little reason to think that higher
immigration levels might help. Note that the biggest turn to the left
in American history was during the 1930s, when immigration was close
to nil. On the other hand, recall that 5 (of 16) Republican presidential
candidates in 2016 had at least one foreign-born parent.
What I do see as priorities on immigration are that people who have
been here for quite some time need to be accepted and documented, and
not be treated as "illegals"; also that migrants who do come to America
need to be treated humanely and efficiently, not just for their own
sakes but because the way we've been treating them just makes us all
that much more barbaric.
Top story threads:
Trump: The former president pulled away from the pack this
week, by getting indicted, by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, in a case
that involves the famous "hush money" payment to porn star Stormy
Daniels, or perhaps more technically the hidden audit trail of the
payment, but with the indictment (still sealed) of 30 items, it
seems likely that the charges will go further into an extensive
pattern of corrupt business practices.
You might start by watching
Jimmy Kimmel, because, as
he insists, Trump's indictment is "historic and it's funny." He only
had an hour or two to prepare (poor Seth Myers missed it completely),
but he makes some good points. Also, once again, I love it that
virtually his whole audience is excited by the news. I'm so used to
being in a fringe minority that I find it very heartening to see a
crowd of normal people clearly aware of just how horrible Trump has
been (and still is).
Nicole Narea/Ian Millhiser: [03-31]
Your biggest questions about Trump's indictment, answered: "Here's
what happens next."
Zack Beauchamp: [03-31]
The best precedent for Trump's indictment is (gulp) Israel: Sure,
no nation has more experience with indicting its political leaders,
but Trump hasn't pushed his situation nearly as far as Netanyahu has.
To make the two analogous, Trump would have to win in 2024, and make
every day January 6 all over again.
Igor Derysh: [03-31]
Trump reportedly "caught off guard" by 34-count indictment -- melts
down all night on Truith Social. My instinct is to be agnostic
about indicting Trump (or anyone else, at least anyone I've heard
of), not just because "innocent until proven guilty," and not just
because I never care much for the details, but also because I don't
have much faith that justice works in America. If Trump acted like
a normal defendant, which is to say hid behind lawyers who exercised
some care not to inflame the situation, that would probably be the
end of my interest. After all, why get heavily invested in something
(like his impeachments) that isn't likely to pan out. On the other
hand, when he squirms like a stuck pig, that's something I can enjoy.
Not that I usually go in for Schadenfreude, but regardless of whether
he's ultimately a convicted felon, he's clearly a malign political
force, and quite simply a bad person. Perhaps the squirming is just
the mark of a thin-skinned, narcissistic egomaniac, but it feels
like at least a taste of justice.
By the way, Salon is having a lot of fun consulting various
"experts" on whatever it is they know about the Trump indictment.
Examples as of [04-02]:
Experts: Bragg has "very strong case";
Expert: Indictment won't help Trump;
Expert: Charges show Trump not a "king";
Experts rip DeSantis' extradition threat;
Haberman: Ex-Trumpers "quietly cheering";
Legal experts: Trump will fight back;
Right freaks out over Trump indictment.
Also, a while back [02-24]
"Threatening a prosecutor is a crime": Experts say Trump's Truth
Social post could badly backfire.
Chris Hedges: [03-31]
Yes, Donald Trump has committed many crimes -- but that's not why he
faces prosecution: "Like Richard Nixon, Trump is being punished
for his sins against the dominant order, not his most serious ones."
Mostly true: if I had to rank his crimes, I'd start elsewhere, but
suppressing the Storm Daniels story a week before the 2016 election
may have been one that was necessary to secure his win, making the
later crimes possible. There's no doubt that the story was juicy
enough the media would have gone crazy with it, possibly drowning
out the last round of Clinton email hoopla. Sure, most of his
supporters would have laughed it off, but he won the electoral
college by a very slim margin.
The part that's untrue is that he
is being tried for upsetting "the dominant order." That's an odd,
imprecise term, but most of the rich and powerful were perfectly
happy with all the perks and favors Trump cut them. Even when they
found him embarrassing, they were more worried that he'd get voted
out and the gravy train would stop (although, let's be real, most
of them know how to extract favors from Democrats as well). While
Trump occasionally said things that were off base, he did so little
on his own that he never was much of a threat. In particular, his
much bruited antiwar sentiments led to ever larger defense budgets
and an acceleration of random drone attacks, while he tore up many
more treaties than he negotiated. And while it's true that most
Democrats came to really despise him, the few cases they brought --
including two politically-doomed impeachments -- were constructed
narrowly and solidly based. We haven't seen the Manhattan DA case
yet, but given how reluctant Alvin Bragg was to charge Trump, he
probably has a solid case.
Since Hedges mentioned Nixon, let's talk about him for a minute.
Maybe I was just at an impressionable age when he became president,
but I've always thought he was the most evil politician in American
history. He's the only one I've truly hated, and I still blame much
of what I deplore most in Reagan, Bush, and even Trump on him. When
I was trying to figure out what I thought about capital punishment,
he was my test case: if we can't execute Nixon, where's the justice
in executing anyone else? It really just reduces to a power dynamic:
states kill the people too powerless to stop them, and let the rest
go free. I remember thinking about death, and concluding that as
long as Nixon goes first, I'm willing to deal with it. Yet basically
what happened was that after Nixon resigned, and after Ford pardoned
him, he became harmless. He didn't become a hermit. He wrote his
self-serving books, and enjoyed the rest of his life in relative
comfort, but he never really bothered us after that. So, sure, it
wasn't justice that Nixon never had to pay for his crimes. But it
was effective, just to keep him away from the levers of power that
made his crimes so calamitous.
Now maybe the same thing could have happened with Trump, but
here he is, running for president again, threatening revenge on
everyone who slighted him over the years, inspiring and exhorting
his coterie of followers to build new crimes on top of his. Never
mind remorse, he is utterly without shame or conscience. He still
describes himself as "the most innocent man in American history."
It is quite possible that had he meekly retired into his mansion,
none of the charges -- and now that the ice is broken, I have
little doubt that there will be more -- would have been brought.
You can object that makes them political, but Trump is the one
who made them political: he is the one who made them urgent and
necessary. Had he simply retired, he would have been as harmless
as Nixon. But by fighting on, several prosecutors decided they
had to make clear to the public what kind of man (what kind of
criminal) he really is.
Hedges' other implication: that one shouldn't be prosecuted
for a lesser crime once one has committed a greater one, is too
ridiculous to address. I rather doubt that's even the rule in
divinity school, where Hedges studied, but I'm dead certain
that no lawyer in America would try to use that as a defense.
Ben Jacobs: [03-31]
Trump's indictment has united the Republican Party in apocalyptic
rage. Well, they see every rage as apocalyptic.
Samaa Khullar: [03-31]
Manhattan DA accuses GOP of "unlawful political interference" in Trump
case: If you want to talk about "unprecedented," tell me the last
time a committee of Congress tried to insert itself into a state or
local prosecution, demanding to expose and interrogate a case before
it has been tried? I like the British term for this sort of thing:
"attempting to pervert the course of justice." Khullar also wrote: [03-31]
Fox News stokes fears of political "violence" over Trump indictment.
Tori Otten: [03-31]
Republicans' Only Defense Against the Trump Indictment: George Soros:
Mostly in the context of the "Soros-backed Manhattan District Attorney."
I shouldn't have to explain the anti-semitic tropes of singling Soros
out everywhere. And it's not like left-leaning pundits are going around
deriding Republicans as "Koch-backed" or "Adelson-backed" (even though
both of those guys, at least before the latter died, held conventions
attended by dozens of Republicans hoping to kiss the ring). [OK, full
disclosure, back when he was a Congressman, I did refer to "Mike Pompeo
(R-Koch)," but that connection was much more direct than Soros ever gets
to anyone, and I was contrasting Pompeo to "Todd Tiahrt (R-Boeing)."]
Andre Pagliarini: [04-01]
What the Right-Wing Freakout Over Trump's "Banana Republic" Indictment
Is Really About. Meanwhile, Jair Bolsonaro return to Brazil, and
his own possible prosecution for a wide range of crimes.
Ramesh Ponnoru: [04-02]
Trump's indictment will warp our politics for years to come:
I only mention this piece only because it strikes me that Trump's
indictment may well be viewed as belonging to the "warp for years
to come" that started with Republican attempts to use civil and
criminal suits against Clinton in the 1990s. If this seems to be
harsher on Trump, it's because he's left so much more evidence to
prosecute him with -- and possibly because his "lock her up"
campaign slogan amounted to taunting.
Andrew Prokop: [03-30]
Donald Trump has been indicted. The hush money case against him,
explained. The story, updated many times, from a staple post.
But until people see the actual indictment, it's hard to speculate
on how strong the case is. Prokop also wrote: [04-01]
How to tell when an investigation is politicized. His criteria
seem to be: how similar is this to the Kenneth Starr prosecution of
Clinton? He doesn't really know, but that isn't stopping him from
spreading FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt). Of course, anything
involving Trump is bound to be politicized, as Trump will blame
political motives, and likely realizes that his offenses are seen
as part of his political persona. This leads to a second question
which Prokop doesn't ask: should people with political motives be
exempt from prosecution? As someone long identified as a leftist,
I can't think of any such precedent. I'm especially annoyed by the
line: "if they can go after Trump, they can go after anybody."
Where have these people been? They've been going after anybody
for well over a century. It's only people like Trump who felt
themselves above the law, immune from prosecution.
Alex Shephard: [03-30]
Did Trump Do Worse Things? Sure. But This Indictment Is a Great
Start. Shephard also wrote: [03-31]
A Field Guide to the Right's Hysterical and Desperate Response to Trump's
Indictment. I always get a kick out of the line (attributed here to
Vivek Ramaswamy, but I've probably heard it 20 times so far): "If they
can do it to Trump, they can do it to you." Of course, if you committed
the same crimes Trump is charged with, they always could have "done it
to you" -- and wouldn't have given it a second thought. What's new is
that they're even, finally doing it to Trump.
Perry Stein/Shayna Jacobs: [03-31]
Trump lashes out against New York judge who will hear his criminal
Asawin Suebsaeng/Adam Rawnsley: [03-29]
Trump Asks Advisers for 'Battle Plans' to 'Attack Mexico' if
Michael Tomasky: [03-31]
What Trump and Republicans Don't Understand About the Law.
Brett Wilkins: [03-31]
'This P*ssy Grabbed Back': Stormy Daniels Speaks Out After Trump
Li Zhou: [03-31]
The indictment adds to a long list of times Republicans have backed
Trump. List is admittedly "non-exhaustive."
Inspirational tweet (sure, we're all criminals, which makes
it so unfair when any of us get charged):
Lauren Boebert: If they charge President Trump for his
crimes, they could charge any of us for our crimes. The rule of law
means nothing to these people.
PS: I was later surprised that I didn't come up with anything
on Trump's post-indictment fundraising. A quick search revealed:
Other Republicans: DeSantis, McCarthy, and the rest simply
couldn't keep up last week.
Israel: If we were keeping something like the "doomsday
clock" on the question of when does Israel turn genocidal, I wouldn't
put it a few minutes before midnight (like the Bulletin of Atomic
Scientists does), but this week it definitely moved past noon.
Ben Armbruster: [03-29]
Lawmakers ask Biden to investigate Israel's use of US arms: The law
says that "American weapons sales cannot be used to commit human rights
abuses," but Israel has long gotten a free pass.
Haim Bresheeth-Zabner: [03-31]
Israel's rightwing government represents the Judaization of Zionism.
"The statistics are clear: Israel is safely on its way to becoming a
Jewish version of the Islamic Republic." It is worth remembering that
before 1948, the Zionist movement was overwhelmingly secular, even in
its "revisionist" Jabotinsky wing, while religious Jews in Palestine
(going back centuries) tended to be anti-Zionist. However, Ben-Gurion
decided he wanted the imprimatur of the rabbis, so cut a deal to let
religious parties into the government. Their numbers increased with
the immigration of Jews from Arab states, and they developed their
own peculiar vision of Zionism, especially as they led the post-1967
settler movement. They cemented their gains by being power brokers,
switching between Labor and Likud governments depending on who gave
them the best deal. As their power grew, there was a secular backlash
a few years back, but by then the division between Jews and Palestinians
was so deep that even secular Jews couldn't bridge it. In the latest
elections, Netanyahu was so desperate to return to power (and to keep
out of jail) that he effectively surrendered the government to his
religious party partners, giving them effective power even though
they still only represent a minority of Israeli Jews.
Ryan Cooper: [03-30]
The Occupation Is Eating Israeli Democracy.
Ruth Margalit: [03-29]
Israel's transformative protest movement.
Jonathan Ofir: [03-31]
Meet Avichai Buaron, the new Likud lawmaker who advocated for 'extermination
camps' for Israel's enemies. Richard Silverstein also wrote
about this: [03-30]
New Israeli MK Advocated Death Camps for Palestinians.
Shira Rubin: [04-02]
Israel to form national guard proposed by far-right minister Ben Gvir.
Israel is not exactly lacking for internal security organizations, but
this one would report directly to Ben Gvir, who "has been convicted
dozens of times for charges that include support for terrorist
organizations and anti-Palestinian incitement." I don't see this
working out well. Even Hitler eventually moved to disband the SA
(Sturmabteilung, aka "brown shirts") when they got out of hand.
Philip Weiss: [03-28]
US media turn on Netanyahu (finally) for meddling in US policy.
Cites important articles by Sharon Pardo/Yonatan Touval: [03-23]
Netanyahu Has Made Israel a US Adversary; and James Bamford:
The Trump Campaign's Collusion With Israel (which I commented on
last week). Weiss also wrote: [04-01]
'Soft gloves' police treatment of Jewish protesters reveals Israeli
Jeff Wright: [03-12]
'Til Kingdom Come unpacks the power and politics of Christian Zionism:
Documentary film by Maya Zinshtein. Wright also wrote a review of
another recent film: [04-02]
The Law and the Prophets offers a master class on Israel's
control of Palestinians.
Syria, Iraq, Iran, etc: A couple late items on the 20th
anniversary of the Bush invasion of Iraq, but also a sudden rash
of articles about the region (mostly about blowing it up).
Sina Azodi/Arman Mahmoudian: [03-28]
Iran's historic interdependence with Russia takes a turn -- over
Dave DeCamp: [03-30]
Milley Says the US Should Attack Iran's IRGC Quds Force. I think
he means in Syria (and possibly Iraq), as opposed to directly attacking
Iran, but he could be more specific. The US mission in Syria has always
been schizophrenic, and it's become increasingly pointless as Assad has
tightened control over almost all of the country. Of course, Israel is
doing the same thing: see [03-31]
Israel strikes Damascus for second time in 24 hours, kills IRGC officer.
Daniel Larison: [03-31]
Centrist DC think tank: US should threaten war, regime change in
Iran: CNAS (Center for a New American Security), no names here,
but I suppose "centrist" means that the Democrats are even hawkier
than the Republicans (it wouldn't be hard to staff a roster like
Ted Galen Carpenter: [03-31]
Syria episode shows how contractors still used to fight America's
Blaise Malley: [03-28]
Iraq War cheerleader reunion: it wasn't the failure you think it was:
"Robert Kagan claims US standing across the globe is just fine. The
rest of the world wants 'more America, not less.'" Some names here
have new books I've been noting recently, including Robert Kagan,
Stephen Hadley, and Melvyn Leffler. Kagan, by the way, also figures
prominently in Medea Benjamin/Nicholas JS Davies: [03-17]
The Not-So-Winding Road from Iraq to Ukraine.
James North: [04-01]
An Iraqi writer's brilliant book shows how the 2003 US invasion detonated
20 years of awful violence: Review of Ghaith Abdul-Ahad: A
Stranger in Your Own City: Travels in the Middle East's Long War.
The author was a young architect in 2003. He became a translator/fixer
for foreign journalists, went on to write and photograph his own
articles (mostly for Guardian), and remained on the front
lines at least through the fight with ISIS in 2017: "no American
or European writer could have done this."
Philip Weiss: [03-22]
The US establishment's fever to smash Iraq must not be forgotten.
Ukraine War: Both sides continue to publicly build up their
cases that they cannot be defeated, and that they can continue to fight
indefinitely. We're supposed to be impressed by that?
Blaise Malley: [03-31]
Diplomacy Watch: Privately, experts ask White House 'what's the longer-term
David Atkins: [03-29]
Trump, DeSantis Say They Just Want Peace in Ukraine. Don't Fall for
It. I started to write something about this piece, then tore it
up, because it's too easy to get sucked into a rathole about the
insincerity of "fascists for peace." But I came back to it, because
I hate the idea of attacking anyone for "just wanting peace," even
characters as execrable as the headline. I also hate the practice
of dredging up the reluctance of many Americans to get involved in
WWII, even if Charles Lindbergh and "the original 'America First'
crowd" were Nazi symps (except to point out that Trump's father
attended a notorious 1939 pro-Nazi rally in Madison Square Garden).
Having read a lot of history on the subject, I'm probably more
attuned to incipient fascism than most, but Nazi/Fascist charges
only obscure the causes and stakes of the Ukraine war (as, for
that matter, do high-minded paeans to democracy), and act mostly
as pro-war recruiting signals. (For example, this page provides
links to two 2014 pieces by Ed Kilgore:
Russia as the New Fascist Threat, and
Ukraine and the Sudeten Analogy. Kilgore, of course, is one of
those liberals whose neverending "search for monsters to destroy"
led him to support the Bush War in Iraq.)
I also object to the assumption that the real (or only) reason
Trump, DeSantis, and other Republicans have for opposing US support
for Ukraine -- if that's what they're doing; describing Ukraine as
"a regional conflict" doesn't reflect the official line but isn't
all that inaccurate -- is that they are Putin fans/fools. There is
a long and honorable tradition in American politics, going back to
George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, and articulated most famously
by John Quincy Adams, of military entanglements around the world.
This tradition was unfairly lampooned as "isolationism" during the
intoxication of WWII and the rise of the Cold Warriors afterwards,
but we now have 75 years of evidence suggesting that restraint and
peaceful diplomacy and commerce would have been a wiser course.
Granted, Trump's actual presidency gives us no reason to believe
that he understands what it takes to avoid the wars he claims not
to believe in. Indeed, history will record that he made a complete
botch of Ukraine during his four years as president.
Jonathan Guyer: [03-29]
What US weapons tell us about the Russia-Ukraine war: As the
chart makes clear, arming Ukraine is overwhelmingly an American
project. What isn't clear is how much arms like tanks are meant
to advance a negotiating position or just an offensive hoping to
reclaim Russian-occupied territory, because neither Ukraine nor
the US seems to have a coherent negotiating position.
Fred Kaplan: [03-27]
What Putin's Latest Nuke Announcement Really means: "It's all just
for show -- but it could backfire."
Ivan Nechepurenko/Anatoly Kurmanev: [04-02]
Influential Russian Military Blogger Is Killed in St Petersburg
Jake Werner: [03-31]
What Biden means when he says we're fighting 'global battle for
democracy': So, you see, he's hosting this Summit for Democracy,
which among other oddities included a panel featuring Narenda Modi
and Benjamin Netanyahu, leaders in legislating ethnocracies, which
deny fundamental rights to minorities, while still pretending to
Joshua Yaffa: [03-31]
The unimaginable horror of a friend's arrest in Moscow: Wall
Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich was arrested and charged
with espionage. Even if true, it's hard to imagine that reporting on
Russia is more damaging than descending into hostage-taking. For more,
see Connor Echols: [03-30]
Ex-CIA official: No way detained WSJ reporter is a US spy. Also
Jonathan Guyer: [03-30]
The first US journalist was just arrested in Russia since the Cold
Dean Baker: [04-01]
The Social Security Scare Story Industry: One of those scare
stories showed up in my local paper. I'm not surprised at how few
people actually understand how Social Security works, but you'd
think the ones who write on it for major news chains would show
some initiative. The real future problem with Social Security and
Medicare is whether we elect politicians who understand the need
to take care of the elderly and infirm, or we elect a bunch of
jerks (i.e., Republicans) who don't care and can't be bothered.
Baker also wrote: [03-29]
The Silicon Valley Bank Bailout: The Purpose of Government Is to
Make the Rich Richers #63,486. I don't think he's actually
counting, but feels like the right ballpark.
Shirin Ghaffary: [03-31]
Elon Musk wants to fill your Twitter feed with paid accounts:
As of April 15, "Twitter will only recommend content from paid
accounts in the For You tab, the first screen users see when they
open the app." That sounds like it will be 100% advertising. The
alternative to "For you" is "Following," which actually gives me
something more like what I expected: tweets from people I follow,
plus ones those people forward. I've been looking at my own view
stats, and I'm pretty disgusted with what I'm seeing: my tweets
announcing "Speaking of Which" posts are ultimately viewed by a
bit less than 15% of my followers. "Music Week" announcements get
more views, but still only about 50% of my followers (or that's
what the total works out to: they usually get a retweet or two,
so that helps the spread). Consequently, I'm questioning the whole
utility of the platform. And I suspect that that in a few weeks a
blue checkmark will be recognized as a stigma instead of as proof
of authenticity. They're really just pissing on their brand.
Drew Harwell: [04-02]
Twitter strikes New York Times' verified badge on Elon Musk's
orders: "The Times and other news organizations say they won't
pay for the icon, which [was originally] designed to protect against
impersonation." Evidently, they haven't removed all the blue checks
yet, probably to obscure the question of how many suckers have paid
up, but after the Times publicly refused to pay up, Musk decided to
make an example of them.
Prem Thakker: [03-31]
Sorry Elon, No One Cares About Losing Their Blue Checkmark on
Twitter. There's a list here of famous publishers opting out.
This flows into a another piece: "Twitter Admits It's Been Forcing
Elon Musk on Your Timeline." I recently clicked on "Following"
instead of the default "For you," and the Musk tweets have (so
William Hartung: [03-26]
The Pentagon's Budget from Hell: Congress Has Been Captured by the
Arms Industry: "The ultimate driver of that enormous spending
spree is a seldom-commented-upon strategy of global military overreach,
including 75 U.S. military bases scattered on every continent except
Antarctica, 170,000 troops stationed overseas, and counterterror
operations in at least 85 -- not, that is not a typo -- countries
(a count offered by Brown University's Cost of War Project."
Sean Illing: [03-30]
The media wants the audience's trust. But is it being earned?
Interview with Brian Stelter, who wrote Hoax: Donald Trump, Fox
News, and the Dangerous Distortion of Truth. Illing has a point:
"So it's not that Fox doesn't have a right-wing bias; it's that it
primarily exists to flatter the delusions of its audience, and
they do it even when they know it's bullshit." That's an insight
that could apply to other media companies, which are all defined
by their ability to corral and exploit a predictable audience.
But Fox's audience is more deluded than most, and it's easy to
push their buttons. Moreover, they've captured a political party,
which means they can make much of the news they report, and give
their audience a rooting interest.
Robert Kuttner: [03-28]
What Comes After Neoliberalism? "We are winning the battle of
ideas. We have a long way to go before we win the politics." I
hear an echo here of one of my pet ideas: I believe that the New
Left won the "battle of ideas" in the 1970s, resulting in sweeping
changes to how we think about war, race, sex, the environment, and
consumer rights, but part of that constellation of ideas was a
profound mistrust of power, as well as a sharp critique of the
previous generation of liberals (especially those who brought us
the Cold War and the hot war in Vietnam), so very little effort
got made to secure liberation with political power. (The New Left
was also divided on labor unions, which after Taft-Hartley had
largely abandoned the struggle to organize poor workers, and
which mostly exercised their power within the Democratic Party
to support the warmongers.) The result is that we've seen much
erosion on these fronts, even though there's little popular
support for the reaction.
A big part of this erosion can be ascribed to elements in the
Democratic Party who tried to craft a "kindler, gentler" version
of neoliberalism -- with scant success, given that any time they
tried to make something decent out of market solutions, Republicans
were there to wreck their efforts. (Clinton claimed he had crafted
a good welfare reform bill, only to find it passed by a Republican
Congress wrapped up in "a sack of shit." Obamacare didn't fare
much better.) It's true that there are new ideas gaining purchase
among Democrats (some even embraced by Biden, who the neoliberal
faction settled on as their "anybody but Bernie" candidate), but
it's premature to claim that they've gained the upper hand over
What is clear, though, is that neoliberalism has
failed, both as an economic doctrine and as a political movement.
As for the terminology problem, I'm inclined to go with democracy:
we need a political order that puts people ahead of profit, that
puts industry and commerce to work for the betterment of everyone.
The key to doing that is to give everyone more rights, so they
can take back the state and redirect it for the general welfare.
The Republicans ran on exactly that platform in 1860: "Vote yourself
a farm; vote yourself a tariff!"
Jack McCordick: [03-29]
How Big Business Hijacked Freedom: Interview with Naomi Oreskes
and Erik M Conway, authors of The Big Myth: How American Business
Taught Us to Loathe Government and Love the Free Market. Telling
that the issue that originally set the NAM (National Association of
Manufacturers) off was their opposition to child labor laws.
Ian Millhiser: [03-30]
The lawsuit that threatens everything from cancer screenings to birth
control, explained: "A notoriously partisan judge has launched a
new attack on one of Obamacare's key provisions."
More on the courts:
Matt Ford: [03-30]
It's 2023, and Conservatives Are Still Trying to Sue Obamacare Out of
Existence. Judge Reed O'Connor "struck down a major part of the
Affordable Care Act on Thursday. . . . O'Connor was the favored
destination of such suits for years: He has found the ACA to be
unconstitutional, either in whole or in part, at least four times
now, leaving the appellate courts to clean up his many messes."
Charles P Pierce: He cranks out
several posts every day, most worth reading (many I could have
filed in various spots above):
Paul Rosenberg: [04-02]
What crisis of democracy? Scholar Larry Bartels says the real crisis
is corrupt leaders: Shorter title: "Maybe we just elect bad people."
Interview with Bartels, who wrote Democracy
Erodes From the Top: Leaders, Citizens, and the Challenge of Populism
in Europe. Focus is on European leaders like Viktor Orban and
Giorgia Meloni, but key point applies to American political leaders
as well, especially Donald Trump, who didn't exactly run as an
authoritarian but exercised his power as arbitrarily and capriciously
as he could get away with, resulting in a quite striking erosion of
democratic norms and expectations.
Jason Samenow: [03-26]
How Mississippi's tornadoes unfolded Friday night and why they were
so deadly: I read this piece with considerable interest, having
grown up in what used to be called "tornado alley": roughly an oval
from a bit south of Oklahoma City to a bit north of Wichita, spreading
out maybe a hundred miles east and west. After a large tornado wiped
out the small town of Udall, about 20 miles southeast of Wichita,
when I was 5 or 6, Kansas got its act together and built a pretty
robust tornado warning system. The frequency of tornados declined
over the last decade or two, shifting east and south, but until then
the grim statistic was that despite getting many fewer tornados than
Kansas, the state with by far the most tornado deaths was Mississippi.
That's what happens when your state hates you. I haven't looked at
those stats recently, but with the climate shift on top of America's
most decrepit state government, the situation can only have grown
worse (despite the fact that at the national level, weather forecasting
has gotten markedly better). More tornado reports this week:
Kelefa Sanneh: [03-27]
How Christian is Christian nationalism? This is a question that I,
as someone who doesn't believe in, and for that matter distrusts, both
Christianity and nationalism, am indifferent to, yet perversely curious
about. The latter is probably because I once had what I felt to be a
pretty sound grounding in at least one strain of Christianity, and I
suspect that most self-professed Christian nationalists have a very
different understanding. This piece reviews a couple books: Paul D
Miller's The Religion of American Greatness: What's Wrong With
Christian Nationalism; and Stephen Wolfe's The Case for Christian
Dylan Scott: [03-31]
The number of uninsured Americans is about to jump dramatically for
the first time in years: "Starting April 1, states will begin
removing millions of people off Medicaid's rolls as a pandemic-era
program that kept them enrolled expires."
Jeffrey St Clair: [03-31]
Roaming Charges: Spare the AR-15, Spoil the Child. Beyond the
Nashville shooting story (noted in introduction), see the excruciating
long list of failures in America's so-called justice system, as well
as a few obvious comments about the ICC, and numerous other stories
that should make you stop and think. Much more, including a link to
Pharoah Sanders in 2011.
I don't feel like elevating this to the "major story" section, but
if I catch more links on guns, hang them here:
Hannah Allam: [03-27]
The radicals' rifle: "Armed groups on the right and left exploit
the AR-15 as both tool and symbol." Left? Well, they found some, and
they've bought guns to defend against "real threats," by which they
mean the gun nuts on the right.
Ben Beckett: [03-31]
The Right Is Flat-Out Admitting It Doesn't Care About Gun
Violence. The right don't care whether you, or your children,
live or die. The right don't care if you're miserable. The right
thinks the world can go to hell, and they'll carry on as oblivious
Emily Guskin/Aadit Tambe/Jon Gerberg: [03-27]
Why do Americans own AR-15s: Polling as to why misses the obvious
category (although some of the given categories are subsets): "because
I'm an asshole." Other factors are largely as expected. Note that only
8% of US adults overall have served in military, but 28% of AR-15 owners
have, as have 18% of other gun owners. Hunting is not a reason for 52%
of AR-15 owners. The other 48% are lying and/or assholes (the two are
Alex Horton/Monique Woo/Tucker Harris: [03-27]
Varmints, soldiers and looming threats: See the ads used to sell the
AR-15. One ad reads: "Consider your man card reissued."
N Kirkpatrick/Atthar Mirza/Manuel Canales: [03-27]
The Blast Effect: "This is how bullets from an AR-15 blow the body
Jonathan Swan/Kate Kelly/Maggie Haberman/Mark Mazzetti: [03-30]
Kushner Firm Got Hundreds of Millions From 2 Persian Gulf Nations:
Now, this is how you do graft. Moreover, it's unlikely that he'll ever
get prosecuted for the "stupid shit" that keeps tripping Trump up.
Li Zhou: [03-30]
Why train derailments involving hazardous chemicals keep happening:
"another train has derailed and caught fire in Minnesota." Also:
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