Sunday, April 30, 2023

Speaking of Which

PS: Added the Kessler piece below (under Trump).

Started early, mostly just to grab some of the early Tucker Carlson reactions. Then I focused more on the Book Roundup. I've been pretty unhappy the last couple days, but keep finding links, and things to write about. Hoping to wrap this up as soon as possible.

Although I say some nice things about Biden in his section, pay extra attention to the world sections. Biden's foreign policy is not an absolute, unmitigated disaster, but the mitigations are minor, especially compared to the threats that of so much focus on power, and the arrogance that comes from that.

Top story threads:

Fox and fiends (mostly Tucker Carlson): As you know, Carlson was fired Monday morning, effective immediately, with Brian Kilmeade lined up as a temporary replacement. CNN followed almost instantly by firing Don Lemon. A couple days later, ABC fired FiveThirtyEight guru Nate Silver. And there was more (see Stieb).

Trump: E. Jean Carroll's defamation case against Trump is in a court room, being argued. The case is a poor proxy for a charge of rape, which happened about 25 years ago.

Kevin McCarthy, terrorist, sociopath, nincompoop: What else would you call someone who wants to destroy the economy along with the government?

  • Alex Shephard: [04-28] Kevin McCarthy Is Not Good at This: "The 'budget' passed by House Republicans is terrible for the party politically." Well, he did get his hostage note passed by the House, but in no scenario will he come out of this looking like anything but a heel. Threatening to default, like shutting down the government, has backfired every time Republicans have tried it, but somehow Republicans like McCarthy can't resist the moment in the spotlight. If they could, they could quietly cut all the spending they wanted in the coming year's appropriations process. It might seem harder, because the lobbyists will be all over his case, but it's his leverage according to the constitution. But default over spending that's already been passed is just terrorism.

  • Peter Wade: [04-30] Ted Cruz Maligns Biden, Claims He Is 'Behaving Like a Terrorist' with Debt Ceiling: Talk about the kettle calling the pot black. "The senator also called White House staffers 'little Marxists with no experience in the real world."

  • Li Zhou::

Other Republicans:

Biden: He announced that he is running for reŽlection in 2024, so I figured I should give him a section, as I've been giving Trump (and sometimes DeSantis) for several months now. Surely there would be an outpouring of articles praising his accomplishments and auguring future hope? Well, not so much. One thing only I noticed is that this breathes a faint bit of hope into my theory about political eras: that each starts with a major two-term president (Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, Reagan) and ends with a one-term disaster (John Adams, Buchanan, Hoover, Carter, Trump). Biden still seems like a stretch, but he wouldn't be as much of an anomaly as Reagan, whose whole era is the only one to witness a retreat of fundamental rights. But also, Biden is the only president in my lifetime who has impressed me beyond expectations. (True, I have no memory of Truman, and was at best ambivalent about Eisenhower and Kennedy. Johnson I now see did some good, but far worse was his war in Vietnam. Nixon, well, you know about Nixon.)

Ukraine War:

World at Large:

  • Michael Barnett/Nathan Brown/Marc Lynch/Shibley Telhami: [04-14] Israel's One-State Reality: It's Time to Give Up on the Two-State Solution: Introduction to a new book, a collection of essays edited by the author, called The One State Reality: What Is Israel/Palestine?. Mitchell Plitnick wrote about it here: [04-21] The one-state reality goes mainstream, as did Philip Weiss: [04-26] White House officials know Israel is an apartheid state, but they can't say so. This insight isn't particularly new: it's hard to think of anyone other than Washington diplomats who've talked about "two-state solution" since 2012, which is the date of a book I read: Ariella Azoulay/Adi Ophir: The One-State Condition: Occupation and Democracy in Israel/Palestine. As for "apartheid," Jimmy Carter: Palestine Peace Not Apartheid came out in 2006. So I'm not surprised to find that prospects for separating the former West Bank into an independent Palestinian state have been demolished: that's been the plan since 1967, as was made clear by Avi Raz: The Bride and the Dowry: Israel, Jordan, and the Palestinians in the Aftermath of the June 1967 War. What does surprise me is that nobody talks about the obvious two-state division, which breaks Gaza off as an independent state. Palestinians don't like this, presumably because they see it as a divide-and-conquer policy, aimed as finalizing the subjugation of the Palestinian West Bank. And Israelis don't like it, because it would mean recognizing that there is a legitimate Palestinian state. But it would end the current "open air prison," and allow at least some Palestinians to get on the path of becoming a normal country. That at least is a separable, solvable problem. Sure, that would leave Israel's foundational problem (call it apartheid for lack of a sufficient alternative), with little chance of solution, but why not fix what you can do now?

  • Tanya Goudsouzian: [04-28] What would it take to recognize the Taliban? While I would like to see many of the concessions the US and others are demanding, I doubt you get there in one initial step, or ever unless you offer some basic level of recognition.

  • Michael T Klare: [04-26] A US-China War Over Taiwan? "What will happen when China invades Taiwan, as so many in Washington believe is inevitable?" But why should we credit anything people in Washington think about China? What gives them such special insight? One thing we should know is that China has been very patient as well as very stubborn about territorial claims. They patiently negotiated their takeover of Hong Kong and Macau, which they could easily have occupied (as India, for instance, grabbed Goa). I don't like the elaborate fiction they have insisted on regarding "one China" and/or their claim to Taiwan (which has only been part of China for 4 years since 1895, and a very divided China at that), but the push to arm Taiwan and turn it into a satellite dependent on the US for its security seems very clearly meant as aimed at China. And it is precisely the sort of move that could provoke China to unseemly action.

  • Dan Lamothe/Joby Warrick: [04-22] Afghanistan has become a terrorism staging ground again, leak reveals. As Robert Wright points out, the headline here is misleading, in such a way as to imply "that this amounts to an indictment of President Biden's decision to withdraw from Afghanistan -- that, just as his critics had warned, turning Afghanistan over to the Taliban has turned it into a playground for anti-American terrorists." The "terrorists" in question identify as ISIS, although how closely (if at all) they are affiliated with ISIS in Syria isn't clear. The enemy of the Afghan ISIS is the Taliban, if the US had any interest in countering ISIS terrorism, they would recognize and work toward stabilizing the Taliban regime. It is, after all, the de facto government there, and there's nothing practical the US can do to alter that, so huffing off in a snit helps no one. PS: See Robert Wright: [04-29] No, Afghanistan has not become a 'staging ground for terrorists'.

  • James Park: [04-28] What the Biden-Yoon summit left out: "Nuclear saber rattling hasn't changed North Korea's behavior in the past and it likely won't now." As best I recall, it's mostly made it worse. One of the clearest lessons we should but haven't learned from Ukraine is that deterrence doesn't work: more precisely, it can be safely ignored by countries that have no interest in attacking you in the first place (which includes the Soviet Union for the entire duration of the Cold War), while it presses countries that think they can get away with it into acting more boldly (as Russia did in Ukraine). The lessons from North Korea itself should be even clearer. Ever since 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed and with it the security umbrella and life support Russia provided, North Korea has been desperately flailing, threatening at times and otherwise accommodating, trying to protect its security and enter into trade that could revive a moribund economy. The US and/or South Korea has sometimes started to engage, which lowered the threat level, then backed out and double crossed North Korea, which lead to increased threats. Why? This seems monumentally stupid to me, but the war gamers in Washington may figure a threatening North Korea is better for their budgets, plus it keeps Japan and South Korea in the US orbit, which matters when you're ulterior motive is to muscle China around.


Other stories:

Chas Danner: [04-29] Texas Family Gunned Down by Neighbor in Yet Another Horrific Shooting.

David Dayen: [04-18] Big Tech Lobbyists Explain How They Took Over Washington: "An amazing research paper unearths how the tech industry invented the concept of digital trade and sold it to government officials."

Daniel Gilbert: [04-29] Moderna's billionaire CEO reaped nearly $400 million last year. He also got a raise.

Ethan Iverson: [04-10] The End of the Music Business.

Jay Caspian Kang: [04-04] The case for banning children from social media: Not a subject I particularly want to think about, at least right now, but bookmarked for future reference. I will say that throughout history, banning something is a good way to get people to do it anyway, and make them more anti-social and anti-civil in the process. Also that we tend to be overprotective of children, while at the same time making it harder for people of all ages to overcome mistakes and recover their lives. Also that the real problem with social media is commercial capture, and if you want to work on something, start there: if, for instance, you severely limited data capture, banned selling it and/or using it for advertising, and made advertising strictly opt-in, you could drive most of the bad actors off the Internet, and solve most of the problems associated with them. Just a few thoughts off the top of my head. I'm sure much more could follow. And perhaps this is just me, but I was miserable as a child, in many ways that access to the Internet (even in the benighted form of today's social media) would probably have helped.

Robert Kuttner: [04-26] The Soaking at Bed Bath & Beyond: "Who bought up all that stock, as the retailer was on the route to bankruptcy?"

Joel Penney: [04-29] Right-wing media used to shun pop culture. Now it's obsessed with it. I'm not so sure about the first line, given how popular music from rock and roll in the 1950s to hip-hop in the 1980s were met with hysterical denunciations from self-appointed guardians of decency, but sure, it seems to be getting both more trivial and more frantic. Part of that may be the perception that popular culture trends have become so broad, so ubiquitous that all the right can do is rant and rail -- also feeds into their general sense of victimhood and grievance. I remember back in the 1970s it seemed like a big insight to understand how politics permeated cultural artifacts. (One famous example was How to Read Donald Duck.) But while the right managed to claw back (or cling to) political power, culture has continued its popular (if ever more varied) drift, and "high culture" is hardly even a term anymore (maybe "highbrow," but even that may be showing my age).

Still, I can't help but be amused watching right-wingers discover bits of formerly left-wing methodology, exposing hidden political memes in everyday cultural artifacts. But haven't they been doing that all along? It's just funnier now that symbols of satanism have given way to the currently more alarming curse of wokeness.

Adam Rawnsley/Jim Laporta: [04-27] The Online Racists Stealing Military Secrets: Jack Teixiera: If he's to be believed, you can't call him a whistleblower, because he wasn't trying to expose secrets that needed further scrutiny. He was just showing off to his friends, which turns out to be a part of a broader complex of pathological personal traits: the guns, the racism, etc. People have wondered why the military gave someone like him such access to top-secret material. Perhaps they should wonder about the mutual attraction between the military and people like him, or, say, Timothy McVeigh, or Michael Flynn. I'm not a big fan of a culture where the most basic principle is the necessity of following orders, but at least that's an ordering principle. Just recruiting psychotics who think they should answer to "higher powers" is crazy.

And speaking of crazy, while I didn't think much of the revelations at first, the more we get into them, the more bizarre they become. I've long suspected that secret classifications were more meant to keep the truth from ourselves than from supposed enemies. And the big secret here is that nobody in a position of power seems to know what they're doing.

Jeffrey St Clair: [04-28] Roaming Charges: Nipped and Tuckered: Starts with Carlson, but has surprisingly little to add, other than his observation that: "Tucker Carlson seems to be a truly weird person. His obsessions -- filth, bizarre animal stories ('sex crazed pandas' and 'psycho raccoons'), obesity, bodily excrescences, the subliminal gender messages in candy, testicle tanning -- which he regularly inflicted on his audiences, range far beyond the usual tabloid grotesqueries and border on the pathological."

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