Sunday, July 30, 2023

Speaking of Which

Started early enough, but once again this is chewing up Sunday evening. While I'm having a lot of trouble getting my own projects organized, it's almost therapeutic to stumble across a piece and write a few off-the-cuff comments.

Here's a Patriotic Millionaires meme, picturing Ronald Reagan, saying: "In 1984 I lowered the top income tax rate from 70% to 28%. Then I imposed the first ever income tax on social security benefits to make up for it."

Top story threads:

Trump, DeSantis, and other Republicans: I've generally ignored the horserace articles, even the snippy ones about DeSantis's faltering (or rebooting, take your pick) campaign. Trump got back into the news cycle, provoked with additional indictments, which elicited the usual vicious incoherence. Elsewhere, Republicans have been very busy in their endless quest to hurt people and screw up the future.

  • Zack Beauchamp: [07-28] Republicans are threatening to sabotage George W Bush's greatest accomplishment: It's a program I admit I hadn't heard of, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), which "has saved as many as 25 million lives," and "is currently supporting treatment for over 20 million people who depend on the program for continued access to medication." So, just the sort of thing today's Republicans want to kill, all the more so since it gives them an opportunity to repoliticize AIDS and trash Anthony Fauci as one of the great monsters of our time. And if Bush's legacy gets trampled along the way, well, it turns out that he was just RINO scum all along.

  • Jonathan Chait:

    • [07-26] Ron DeSantis's Nazi outreach is a strategy, not an accident.

    • [07-26] Conservatives have a new master theory of American politics: I'm always intrigued by theories, as they imply thinking, even when they derive from the right, where such skills have atrophied if ever they existed. This one's based on what Chait's calling Longmarchism, which argues that the Left has, over decades, implemented a "long march through existing institutions," infiltrating and capturing them to such an extent that only a political revolt by right-thinking Americans can restore the nation as God intended. Chait points to Christopher Rufo's America's Cultural Revolution: How the Radical Left Conquered Everything (reviewed here) and Up From Conservatism: Revitalizing the Right After a Generation of Decay, an essay collection edited by Arthur Milikh. Chait does a decent job of debunking this nonsense, but a few points could be clearer:

      1. There is no control structure on the left -- nothing remotely resembling the cells Communists and Birchers tried to set up long ago, nor even anything similar to the economic ties Koch, Thiel, etc., have set up to direct the right. (Koch was a Bircher, so that kind of thinking comes naturally to him. The right would like you to think of Soros in those terms, but he's just an old philanthropist, throwing money at worthwhile causes, and not just political ones.)

      2. The ideas that the right so objects to are less the result of conscious political propaganda than common reactions to situations that most people face. People become anti-racist because they don't like the effects of racism. As America has become more diverse, tolerance and respect have become more necessary, if just to get by and to get along. Even businesses understand that. (If the left really had infiltrated corporate America, wouldn't we have also changed their views on profits, on unions, on pollution, etc.?)

  • Tim Dickinson: [07-29] These Christian nationalists want to stone adulterers to death: "Aspiring theocrats want to install Old Testament justice in America." Interesting that the first person I thought of after seeing the headline was Newt Gingrich. Dickinson also wrote: [07-28] Vivek Ramaswamy is on the rise. So are Christian nationalist attacks on his religion: He's Hindu, but this is the first I've heard of anyone giving him grief for it. He seemed to get along swimmingly at a recent Christian confab in Iowa. I can remember when Protestants could get really worked up over points of theology -- my Grandmother, for instance, told me that the Lutherans she grew up with were "worse than the Catholics" -- but nowadays the only thing good Christians need to agree on is the others they all hate in common.

  • Robert Downen/Carla Astudillo: [07-25] Ken Paxton's far-right billionaire backers are fighting hard to save him: Otherwise it's sunk cost: buying an Attorney General only to see him impeached.

  • Kate Kelly/David Perlmutt: [07-30] Inside the party switch that blew up North Carolina politics: Tricia Cotham, who ran as a pro-abortion Democrat, then switched to the Republicans to override an anti-abortion bill veto. You've long known that there is little Republicans wouldn't do to steal elections, but Trojan horse candidates are a new low.

  • Ed Kilgore: [07-24] First Republican debate: Who's in, who's banned, who's boycotting: The Fox News debate is on August 23. It shouldn't be hard to find something better to do on that day (though probably not outside).

  • Kelly McClure: [07-29] Judge throws out Trump's lawsuit against CNN. Trump sued CNN for $475 million for defamation. For more details, see Andrew Zhang: [07-29] Judge dismisses Trump's 'Big Lie' lawsuit against CNN. Evidently "big lie" isn't recognized as a Nazi trademark, so can be used by others to refer to other big lies. Trump also objected to being called "Hitler-like," which either means he's a little touchy or he's holding out for something stronger. The lawsuit was dismissed "with prejudice," which is technical jargon judges use for "you're wasting my time." No mention in these articles for CNN's countersuit against Trump for calling them "fake news." Maybe they didn't feel like wasting the judge's time suing?

  • Ian Millhiser: [07-27] What's new in the new indictment against Donald Trump? "Trump allegedly tried to destroy evidence in the federal case involving classified documents."

  • Nicole Narea/Li Zhou: [07-27] Your 5 biggest questions about Trump's latest indictment, answered. Not really. My first one is whether the revised indictment would push his court date out, and that wasn't broached. I'd expect his lawyers to make such a motion. The whole thing about whether Trump might go to jail isn't very clear. My impression is that, unlike the New York hush money case, everyone who's been convicted of the crimes Trump is charged with here has gotten a jail term. (For a "legal scholar" view, see Tom Boggioni: [07-29] Trump 'may die in prison' if he doesn't strike a deal after 'shocking' new charges.) The authors ask whether it's even possible to jail Trump, given his Secret Service protection. But why does he even need extra protection if he's in jail? (Sure, laugh, but aren't jails supposed to be the safest places in America?) If not, maybe you can find a higher security facility, like Guantanamo? Or maybe cut a deal with the British and exile him to Saint Helena, like Napoleon? He might even like that idea, at least until he got there. (Maybe he could build a luxury golf resort there, and it would be a pilgrimage destination.)

  • Tori Otten: [07-28] Madman Trump promises to run for President from prison if he's convicted. It's been done before (Eugene Debs in 1920), but "it is unclear how things would work if Trump won." Author also wrote: [07-28] Elise Stefanik wins the prize for stupidest Trump indictment reaction.

  • Catherine Rampell: [07-27] A year after Dobbs, House GOP proposes taking food from hungry babies: The concerns of the "pro life" begin at conception, and pretty much end with delivery.

  • Adam Rawnsley/Asawin Suebsaeng: [07-26] Trump struggles to find enough lawyers to handle his many indictments: Reminds me that when Duke Ellington was asked how he kept such a great orchestra together for so many decades, he confided a secret: "I pay them." Maybe Trump should try that. Maybe he should also try to be a better client. I heard somewhere that MAGA really stands for "make attorneys get attorneys."

  • Zachary Siegel: [06-27] Their kids died of fentanyl overdoses. Republicans can't wait to exploit it. "Grieving parents are at risk of becoming mere props in the latest chapter of America's twisted war on drugs."

  • Molly Taft: [07-21] The GOP darling who claims fossil fuels are good for humanity: Alex Epstein, who's written the books The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels (2014) and Fossil Future, and insists that oil is "a wonderful, live-sustaining product," while deriding "wasteful, unreliable solar and wind schemes." Koch loves him.

  • Michael Tomasky: [07-28] Trump is an extremely dumb fascist: "The latest criminal indictment highlights his idiocy -- but also the threat he still poses to American democracy." He points out that "fascism is a sensibility far more than it is a political program." Trump certainly has that sensibility, no matter how much one might quibble over his political alignment with historic fascists. And dumb? Very. The one thing he has is instincts, which are disturbingly popular, but not very original, given how easy they were to pick up from Fox and the like.

  • John Wagner/Amy B Wang: [07-26] Giuliani not contesting making false statements about Georgia election workers.

  • Scott Waldman: [07-26] Conservatives have already written a climate plan for Trump's second term. They call this "Project 2025," and describe it as not a white paper but a "battle plan," to implement as soon as a Republican is sworn in as president in 2025. "It would block the expansion of the electrical grid for wind and solar energy; slash funding for the Environmental Protection Agency's environmental justice office; shutter the Energy Department's renewable energy offices; prevent states from adopting California's car pollution standards; and delegate more regulation of polluting industries to Republican state officials."

  • Brett Wilkins: [07-26] DOJ sues Greg Abbott over "barbaric" Rio Grande buoy barrier: I'd be more inclined to charge him with attempted murder, then add further charges with each additional victim. That may not fly, given that those specific charges are usually filed by states, but the feds must have something along those lines. Or they could just extradite him to The Hague, to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. Of course, he'd probably use that for a campaign ad. For more, see Nicole Narea: [07-25] Biden is taking Texas to court over its floating border barrier.

Biden and/or the Democrats: Note separate pieces on Hunter Biden and Robert F Kennedy Jr much farther down. There are also pieces under various topics, including Ukraine, Israel, and the military. Democrats have enough excess baggage without having to pile it all on here.

  • EJ Dionne Jr: [07-30] The GOP pays a price for its extremism. But Biden does, too. He means, Biden pays a price for the GOP's extremism; not that there's anything extremist about Biden. He blames this on the media's habit of repeating whatever Republicans say, even if only to debunk it afterwards. "A two-minute report on a congressional hearing will inevitably air whatever charges some right-wing committee chair makes. They lodge in people's memories no matter what might be said during those 120 seconds to debunk them." Dean Baker suggests a better approach: "Actually, competent reporters would simply report that Republicans on a House committee repeated long-debunked lies about President Biden and son: full stop."

  • Rebecca Leber: [07-26] Biden's $250 billion lure to clean up the dirty legacy of fossil fuels. One section here is subtitled: "Balancing ambition, exhaustiveness, and speed will make all the difference." Sounds difficult, and given the pervasive influence of moneyed interests in all facets of American politics, it will be a tough trick for Democrats to pull off, but at least they try to balance off a broad range of interests. Handing this over to the Republicans is a sure recipe for disaster.

  • Eric Levitz: [07-28] The 'AOC Left' has achieved plenty. Rejoinder to Freddie deBoer: [07-25] AOC is just a regular old Democrat now, a piece that I found too cloying to cite on its own.

  • Josh Marshall: [07-28] Age, the blue sky and that enduring question of 'is Joe Biden too old?' Of course he is. But it's not like with athletes, where losing a step off the dribble or a couple feet off the fastball can wipe you out. He needs to pace himself, surround himself with good people, get help when he needs it, and prepare to bow out if/when it gets to be too much. And if needed, there is a clear succession plan in place (which unfortunately involves a couple old-timers from Congress, but odds of getting to them are rather slim). Assuming Kamala Harris is his running mate again, it would be reassuring for her to step up, and for him to let her. But the underlying situation is that Democrats have decided not to risk another open primary in 2024. If they did, there would be a fight between left and corporate wings of the party, and Biden uniquely disarms that gap. The left has a lot of popular issues to run on, but the system (and not just the DNC) is rigged against them -- e.g., Bloomberg spent $500 million on a suicide mission just to keep Sanders from getting the nomination in 2020; this year No Labels is a ready-built stalking horse for the Bloomberg class -- and the risk of letting any Republican (much less Trump) back in so grave that few progressives are willing to risk backing anyone better than Biden. The age issue will fade in the general election, where Teams R & D will rally to their side. And if, perchance, Republicans wind up nominating someone younger than Trump, Biden can always roll out Reagan's disarming quip, that he "won't hold his opponent's inexperience against him."

The Supreme Court:

Climate and Environment:

  • Matthew Cappucci: [07-25] Violent storms tear through Europe with 'gargantuan' hail in Italy.

  • Judith Deutsch: [07-27] What is the 'cost' of climate change? My eyes quickly glaze over when I read pieces like this, where the point seems to be: incalculable but certainly much more than we can afford. But it raises many more questions, like what is the distribution of costs? And how much of those costs are actually charged to those responsible for them? The answer to the latter is certainly very little. While one can imagine schemes to bring the two closer in line, I'm doubtful that they can ever get even moderately close.

  • Laura López González: [07-25] What you need to know about killer humidity. Quotes Jeff Goodell, whose latest book is The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet: "A wet bulb temperature of 95 degrees -- which basically means both outdoor air temperature and humidity levels are high -- is the upper end of human adaptability to humid heat. Beyond that, our generates heat faster than it can dissipate it." You may be familiar with that wet bulb temperature (35°C) from Kim Stanley Robinson's The Ministry for the Future, where it finally motivates a long list of reforms.

  • Umair Irfan: [07-26] What "record-breaking heat" actually means.

  • Pablo Manriquez: [07-27] 100 degree days, wildfires . . . to Congressional Republicans, nothing to see here.

  • Bill McKibben:

    • [07-11] Is it hot enough yet for politicians to take real action? Not really, but that's mostly because politicians can't take real action on something as big and independent as the climate or the economy. They can, at best, nudge it a bit. The question is whether they can recognize the need, and find something they can do that might lead to that nudge. As far as I can tell, there is one party that sees the problem, and for them, virtually every bit of news reinforces that view. And there's one party that doesn't see the problem at all, or if they admit to, don't see any possible solution. (See Manriquez above.) The next question is, when new people start to see the problem, will they also be willing to select the one party that takes the issue seriously?

    • [07-26] Heat waves and the sweep of history.

  • Alissa J Rubin: [07-29] A climate warning from the cradle of civilization: "Every schoolchild learns the name: Mesopotamia -- the Fertile Crescent, the cradle of civilization. Today, much of that land is turning to dust."

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols:

  • Dave DeCamp: [07-27] Ukraine's Parliament votes to extend martial law, pushing back elections: So Ukrainians, and by extension their supporters in the West, are fighting for democracy, but they can't have it until their present leaders have met their war aims?

  • Fred Kaplan: [07-27] Ukraine's new stategy against Russia: "Why Ukraine had to reboot its summer offensive." So it hasn't worked, but they're making adjustments, and both sides continue to inflict damage. Kaplan's conclusion: "the war remains, in some ways, what it has been almost from the beginning: a competition to see which side gives up first." Unfortunately, that conception only gives both sides reason to keep fighting.

  • Daniel Larison: [07-26] Did the US know the Ukraine offensive might fail, and if so, when? Some prominent Americans are still in denial: e.g., Democratic Senators Mark Kelly and Tammy Duckworth: [07-24] We've been on the front lines. We know what Ukraine needs. More and fancier weapons, of course. That piece in turn led me to David Axe: [02-20] Some of the best weapons in the world are now in Ukraine. They may change the war. They haven't, at least yet. Even if Ukraine, at considerable cost, manages to gain some ground back this summer, it's hard to see a military path to the "victory" they desire. And what about those "best weapons in the world"? They're not looking so hot -- more like what you should expect when the arms industry is in corrupt embrace with a military that has only tested their wares in places like Afghanistan and Somalia. "Refusing to negotiate with an adversary, whether out of pride or ideological hostility to diplomacy, is usually self-defeating."

  • Eve Sampson/Samuel Granados: [07-22] Ukraine is now the most mined country. It will take decades to make safe. Maybe the US should have signed that international treaty outlawing the use of mines, which would have put some pressure on Russia and Ukraine to conform. Same for cluster bombs. The "ordnance contamination" map reminds us that the problem isn't just mines. All kinds of shells and bombs can fail to explode, lying in wait for a future disturbance. "The sheer quantity of ordnance in Ukraine is just unprecedented in the last 30 years. There's nothing like it."

  • Katrina vanden Heuvel/James Carden: [07-28] When facts cut through the fog of war: "As the Ukraine counteroffensive grinds on, conditions on the ground are now too obvious to ignore. Is it time for talking, yet?" Of course. It's never not been time to talk. Just as it's always been obvious that no definition of victory could justify the costs war has exacted on both sides.


Around the world:

Other stories:

Dean Baker:

  • [07-25] Why we do this crap: Review of The Ends of Freedom, by Mark Paul. Not a new idea -- Baker cites Franklin Roosevelt and Martin Luther King as predecessors -- but the argument here is that a bunch of basic economic needs should be provided as rights (work, housing, education, health care, basic income and banking, a healthy environment), wrapping up with a final chapter ("How Do We Pay for It?").

  • [07-21] The Chinese need to stay poor because the United States has done so much to destroy the planet: John Kerry went to China last week to scold them for not doing enough to limit greenhouse gases (see: China's Xi rebuffs Kerry's call for faster climate action), even though one may legitimately wonder what sort of example the US set during its period (now distantly remembered) of comparable economic growth. Although the Chinese economy has grown very fast in recent years, its per capita income is still way below the US, so it shouldn't surprise us that its political leaders feel the need to make up the difference. And in any case, China seems much more committed to reducing emissions than the US is -- what with the still-powerful Republicans actively sabotaging any effort the Biden administration makes. As Baker notes, "China is by far the world leader in wind energy, solar energy, and electric cars." He adds: "If we did want an opportunity to put our money where our mouth is, the United States could adopt a policy of making all the technology that is develops fully open-source, so that everyone in the world could take advantage of it, without concerns about patent monopolies or other protections."

Ben Burgis: [07-28] The Pentagon budget is obscene, even without the right-wing culture-war amendments. It's also untouchable politically, especially as Democrats have, for various reasons, become its biggest supporters.

  • Connor Echols: [06-26] Proposed military slush fund would risk new boondoggles.

  • Binoy Kampmark: [07-28] Dotty domains: The Pentagon's Mali typo leak affair.

  • Branko Marcetic: [07-29] NATO's expansion into Asia is the mother of bad ideas: Not a fine turn of phrase, but yes, a very bad idea. I could easily list five, maybe ten, instances where NATO would only make the situation worse. Taiwan is the big one, as it would shatter the "one China" fictions that seem to be so important to the Beijing regime. I'd also worry about the bad smell of Europe's former imperialists joining together to "protect" their favored "allies" in Asia and elsewhere.

  • George Will: [07-26] It's time to end the 'era of Great Distraction': I'm not suggesting you read him, but wanted to note that this is what they're calling the Global War on Terror these days: a Great Distraction that caused us to lose focus on the big threats we need to spend trillions preparing for war with: Russia and China. Ends with an ominous warning, so you'll know that he's serious: "Time will tell -- soon -- whether we have refocused too late."

John Ehrenreich: [07-30] The making of Robert F Kennedy Jr: A long, critical, but not totally unsympathetic review of the fringe presidential candidate's public life. (I went with the subtitle above; the actual published title suggests that someone at Slate is eager to throw both author and subject under the bus.)

Jonathan Guyer: [07-24] The dark -- and often misunderstood -- nuclear history behind Oppenheimer, explained by an expert: Christopher Nolan's new Oppenheimer movie, serendipitously paired with Barbie, produced a bunch of links last week. This interview with Alex Wellerstein, author of Restricted Data: The History of Nuclear Secrecy in the United States, adds substantially to the discussion. Turning to the present, he says: "If you disengage, then the only people who are really making decisions on this issue are going to be the people who have a lot to gain from it. And that's how you end up in a situation with arms races, when the military, Congress, and contractors are making a lot of the decisions."

  • Kai Bird: [07-17] The tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer: By the co-author of the book the movie is based on.

  • Aja Romano: [07-24] Barbieheimer: Destroyer of worlds, savior of cinema. Reminds me of an old Minutemen album, Project: Mersh, where the cover image is a bunch of marketing types sitting with coffee and charts, and one of them exclaims, "I got it! We'll have them write hit songs." After several years of doldrums, with big budgets going almost exclusively to superhero fantasies, it's like someone decided to roll the dice on making good films on topics people could take seriously. Sure, there have been some decent films the last few years, but I can't remember when two films like these were the industry's major product rollouts at the same time. Also see David Dayen: [07-28] Barbenheimer reveals the drastic choices of Hollywood executives: "The big opening weekend contrasts with everything the studios have been doing for the last couple of decades."

  • Ryu Spaeth: [07-25] Who are the Japanese in Oppenheimer? I was intrigued by the title, as I was surprised that there were any. After reading the article, my surmise was right, unless they dug up some documentary reels of devastated Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But if the question is about the decision to kill so many people with such a "cruel" (Hirohito's word) weapon, we should entertain the question of just who we thought they were. It's hard for Americans now to appreciate how racist Americans then were regarding all Asians (though perhaps a bit less hard than it was in the years BT [Before Trump]). John Dower wrote about this in War Without Mercy.

  • Jonathan Stevenson: [07-28] Why 'Oppenheimer' matters: "The father of the atomic bomb still speaks to the danger of complacency."

  • Alissa Wilkinson: [07-27] The nuclear bomb's enduring, evolving place in pop culture.

Sarah Jones: [07-27] Walking out of the Dream Factory: Writers and actors are still on strike, as are many others.

Elias Khoury: [07-28] Anti-imperialism is both morally correct and absolutely necessary for the left.

Eric Levitz: [07-25] Why elite colleges do affirmative action for the rich. He means why elite colleges perpetuate the elite class system by favoring the rich -- especially through legacy admissions -- but the affirmative action programs that were just outlawed also existed to benefit the rich, because that's what elite colleges are all about. Related:

  • Fabiola Cineas: [07-25] Affirmative action for white college applicants is still here: I rather wish he wouldn't call it "affirmative action," which can be read as an attempt to score points by reassigning a deprecating term, like "corporate welfare" or "socialism for the rich." Most likely he just means it as irony, as Ira Katznelson did with his book title, When Affirmative Action Was White, which showed how many New Deal programs, including Social Security, were written to avoid benefiting blacks.

Carlos Lozada: [07-18] A look back at our future war with China: Lozada was book review editor at the Washington Post, since graduated to opinion writer at the New York Times, but he's still just digesting books. There are a lot of books on developing conflicts between the US and China, many assuming that superpower conflicts are inevitable and likely to blow up in war. The books he touches on here have titles like Destined for War, Danger Zone, 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, and The Avoidable War. Also Party of One, whose loose cannon author argues that "Xi's China is brash but brittle, intrepid but insecure, . . . a would-be superpower in a hurry, eager to take on the world while wary of what may come."

Dylan Matthews: [07-28] How "windfall profits" from AI companies could fund a universal basic income: "Companies like OpenAI and Google could make unthinkable profits from successful AI. Will they share the wealth?" Silly question. Given his hypothetical, he probably means: "will we tax it from them?" Although the question too obvious to ask is: "why should we give it to them in the first place?" Such profits depend on monopoly pricing, and that is a grant the government gives to companies, for reasons that are increasingly difficult to explain let alone justify. The other point hardly anyone is making is that nearly all of the misuses we can envision for AI are tied to its commercial exploitation. There are lots of good reasons for slowing AI down, which is why lots of people are talking about regulations. But regulating AI monopolies is going to be incredibly difficult, both technically and politically. It would be much simpler to limit the money flow, which would allow us to make more judicious decisions on how we use it.

Note that I'm not arguing against the author's "global UBI" proposals. They have some merits, but aren't dependent on this particular tax stream.

  • Alexander C Karp: [07-25] Our Oppenheimer moment: The creation of AI weapons. CEO of defense contractor Palantir Technologies, so he's selling, but mostly he's worried that engineers might grow a conscience, as Oppenheimer did (belatedly, maybe). "The preoccupations and political instincts of coastal elites may be essential to maintaining their sense of self and cultural superiority but do little to advance the interests of our republic." On the other hand, putting nukes on autopilot . . .

  • Sara Morrison: [07-27] The tricky truth about how generative AI uses your data.

Rani Molla: [07-25] A UPS strike would have been worse than you think. I'm pleased to see this strike not happening. Of course, my sympathies would have been with the union members had they struck, as I am with all unions, almost all of the time. But I'm a bit worried that a rash of strikes could provoke a backlash, as happened in 1946, leading to a Republican Congress passing Taft-Hartley (with enough racist Democratic support to override Truman's veto; unfortunately, Truman spent a lot of his time leading up to 1946 badmouthing strikers, who had spent WWII under wage controls while defense contractors were guaranteed cost-plus-10% profits).

Sara Morrison: [07-24] Welcome to X, the wannabe "super app" formerly known as Twitter. It's not only hard to imagine Musk's "super app" taking off, it's hard to comprehend what kind of ego could think it has a chance. One of the core problems of capitalism is that people don't have enough money to satisfy all the people who want to take it away. Back when Microsoft was top dog, they spoke of a "vig," which is a piece of all the commerce on the internet, much like what you'd pay your local mafiosi for protection. That didn't go over well, then other companies came along, each with its own angle to take a cut.

Musk faces two big problems. One is "first mover advantage," which is the tendency of first entrants to dominate the markets they open up. This is especially true where network effects are critically important: Google, Facebook, Twitter, and many others became unstoppable once they gained enough users that their networks became their strongest selling points. (And mostly they did this by offering services for free, a point Musk doesn't seem to understand.) The other is coming up with a new angle that's so incredibly attractive that people will sell their souls and worldly possessions to get in on it. After 25 years of fevered competition, how many great, and exploitable, ideas are left? Facebook thought they had one in VR, but how's that worked out? And everybody's hot for AI, but that's many different things to various people -- many of them mere productivity enhancements, to be bundled into other products and services.


Nicole Narea: [07-26] What the new Fed interest rate hike might mean for the economy: For starters, it shows that Powell's still willing to give recession a chance? Related:

Claire Potter: [06-28] The right's campus culture war machine: "How conservatives built a formidable network for ginning up scandal in higher education." Review of Amy J Binder/Jeffrey L Kidder: The Channels of Student Activism: How the Left and Right Are Winning (and Losing) in Campus Politics Today, and Bradford Vivian: Campus Misinformation: The Real Threat to Free Speech in American Higher Education. One difference is that left student politics is spontaneous and local, whereas right organizes students for broader political purposes. As the pull quote puts it: "Conservatives are playing a long game that treats youth as junior partners in a larger political enterprise. They pay students more and invest heavily." A couple more quotes:

But what both books show is that the right is better positioned to take advantage of the scandals -- some provoked and others resulting from poor decisions -- that do erupt. National student organizations are better at channeling students with conservative leanings into professional activism aimed at creating bad press for higher education. Right-wing media is so effective at seizing on and amplifying controversies, making sure that the distortions that proliferate on social media become the focus of higher education coverage, that mainstream news organizations are often just covering the coverage rather than investigating events. The networks that sustain the campus culture wars are not only powerful and well-financed; they operate far beyond campus. . . .

As it turns out, however, conservatives are much better than liberals at recruiting and training students. Conservatives have "managed to build an elaborate, well-funded organizational space," Binder and Kidder write, "that galvanizes young supporters and grooms future leaders by pulling them outside the confines of campus" and into paid work that sets them up for postgraduation careers as movement conservatives.

Nia Prater: [07-24] Can last-ditch lawsuits kill congestion pricing in New York? I really hope so. I don't feel up to the full rant now, but I really hate the whole idea. (And to the extent that it is championed by liberals I fear it will be a political disaster, not unlike the 55 mph speed limit. On the other hand, I wouldn't be terribly opposed to the idea that Paul Goodman proposed in 1949: banning all cars from Manhattan.) For what it's worth:

  • Paul Krugman defends the congestion pricing plan here: [07-24] An act of vehicular NIMBYism. I'm not convinced. For the case he's talking about, you could simply raise the existing toll, without having to do whatever they're planning on doing to collect and police the tax. If you carry this logic to extremes, everybody's car will have to be tracked everywhere, and everyone will eventually get billed for the congestion they cause. The effect is to turn every road into a toll road. There's a simpler way to tax people for road use, which is to tax gasoline, as we've done forever (but evidently it's more agreeable to levy phantom tolls than to raise the gas tax; there's also another whole scheme to tax miles instead of gas, arguing that only taxing gas would give electric cars a free ride -- why don't we just consider that a feature?).

It's no accident that the vogue for solving policy problems with economic cost-benefit solutions began when inequality started kicking off. Any time you make something depend on the ability to pay, you drive inequality upward. There may be cases where that's easier than other solutions, but as a general rule, it not only favors the rich, it drives people to become rich, by penalizing people who aren't. It also undermines the idea that government should provide free services. And if services for some reason have to be rationed for some reason, it makes their distribution unfair.

Andrew Prokop: {07-26] The drama over Hunter Biden's plea deal, explained. The judge threw Republicans in Congress a lifeline to continue their harping on the president's troubled son. Jonathan Chait [07-28] argues that The Democrats can't wave away their Hunter Biden problem, but why not? It's just noise coming from Republicans who have nothing better to rant about. It's not part of the value proposition to be decided in the 2024 elections. Hunter Biden is hardly the only presidential scion to trade on his family name while getting into drugs and other sleaziness. Consider George W Bush, who is arguably worse because he got into politics after he supposedly cleaned up. (You might say his past related to his character, and there's something to that, but it was really Dick Cheney's character that should have bothered us.) What's unique about Hunter Biden is that he's being prosecuted for infractions that would barely have warranted a wrist slap for anyone else (ok, at least for any wealthy, competently-lawyered white male). Of course, by all means, feel free to tackle such sleaze in general (which includes certain Supreme Court justices).

Jeffrey St Clair: [07-28] Roaming Charges: Fighting our real enemies. Starts with stories about the late Sinéad O'Connor. I don't have any, and barely remember her music, but they make for better reading than her obituary (or this one). He also reprinted her 2013 piece: It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.

PS: I took a break from the above to read Phillip Maciak: [07-28] Behind the rage of Raylan Givens, on the TV series Justified: City Primeval (we've watched three episodes so far). The essay touches on race privilege, the sketchy relationship between policing and justice, and the deep anger of machismo, but it's also fiction, and entertainment (a lot of both).

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