Sunday, December 3, 2023

Speaking of Which

I spent some time today crafting a Q&A on "two fundamental flaws in your thinking" about Hamas, Palestine, and Israel. It draws on my comment to the De Luca/Cavazuti piece on Hamas, below. There is, of course, zero chance that Biden's going to tell Netanyahu: hey, maybe Hamas has a point after all, so let's talk about it a bit, before we get too carried away with this war thing.

Like I said, zero chance. Which leads me to ask an even deeper question: what's the use of having all this wealth and power if it just locks you into doing senseless things that are stupid and cruel? I can see where Hamas might use their power to do something so self-destructive, because they don't have enough power to get noticed otherwise. But Israel and the United States have so much wealth and power, they could actually put it to some good, and people would love it. Instead, they just blow things up and kill and starve people. And maybe they wonder a bit why so many people despise them, but not so much really, because no one else has the power (or the death wish) to stop them.

Top story threads:

Israel: The "pause" for exchanging prisoners (aka hostages) ended on Friday, with Israel immediately resuming its bombardment of Gaza. The number of Palestinians confirmed killed and the number of displaced passed the total levels of the 1948-50 war (aka Nakba) -- although the displaced are still locked in besieged Gaza, instead of scattered in the exile Israel is working so hard to promote. The euphemism "ethnic cleansing" has become a common term for the forced expulsion of people from their homes (in Gaza, many of which were already refugee encampments, set up as temporary during the 1948-50 war). But the more formal legal term is "genocide," which is still the most accurate description of the war Israel is waging, and of the professed intentions behind this war. The whole world should find this alarming, especially those in the democracies that have long given Israel their support, even in its project to turn a haven for oppressed Jews into a fortress of ethnic supremacy.

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Henry Kissinger: He died, a nice round 100 years old, elites sucking up to him to the very end. Which raises the question: who is the new worst person in the world? (Here's a reddit thread, which still needs some work -- although I'd keep Murdoch and Netanyahu for the short list, maybe Putin too. More fun is who Kissinger succeeded? If not his partner-in-crime, Nixon, I'd nominate Winston Churchill, who exceeded Kissinger not only in the amount of damage he caused, but also in the amount of praise -- if not necessarily money -- he collected along the way. One difference was that people kept forgetting Churchill's disasters, allowing him more chances, whereas Kissinger's crimes were studiously documented (as will be evident below), even though people in power never seemed to care.

Other stories:

Tim Alberta: [12-01] The bogus historians who teach evangelicals they live in a theocracy: "A new book on the Christian right reveals how a series of unscrupulous leaders turned politics in to a powerful and lucrative gospel." That would be Alberta's own book: The Kingdom, the Power, and the Glory: American Evangelicals in an Age of Extremism.

Jeremy Barr: [11-30] MSNBC draws backlash for canceling Mehdi Hasan show. Also:

Ryan Cooper:

Chas Danner/Nia Prater: [12-01] George Santos has been expelled from Congress: Live updates. The House vote was 311-114: Democrats voted 206-2 (2 present) to expel; Republicans 112-105 to not expel. The measure required a two-thirds supermajority (282 votes). Five Republicans (including Kevin McCarthy) and three Democrats (including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) did not vote.

Silvia Foster-Frau/N Kirkpatrick/Arelia R Hernández: [11-16] Terror on Repeat: "A rare look at the devastation caused by AR-15 shootings."

Penelope Green: [11-30] Larry Fink, whose photographs were 'political, not polemical,' dies at 82. I noted Larry's death last week, and complained that the New York Times didn't have an obituary up. (When his sister, Elizabeth Fink, died a few years back, her obituary appeared, at least briefly, above that of Yogi Berra.) Here it is, complete with a nice selection of his photographs ("the chilly anomie of Manhattan's haute monde, the strangeness of Hollywood royalty and the lively warmth of rural America").

Jeet Heer: [11-26] Garry Wills and the real Kennedy curse: Unfortunately, this is a 1:43:30 podcast with no transcript, so I can't imagine myself slogging through it, but I want to at least note that my interest was piqued by "our shared love for Garry Wills's The Kennedy Imprisonment, a revelatory book about not just the Kennedy family but also the nature of 'great man politics.'" I've read a number of Wills's books, starting (long ago) with Nixon Agonistes: The Crisis of the Self-Made Man, which at the time I saw as a brilliant dissection.

Anita Jain: [12-01] How Franklin Roosevelt tamed Wall Street: Review of Diana B Henriques: Taming the Street: The Old Guard, the New Deal, and FDR's Fight to Regulate American Capitalism. Over the course of American history, there have been few cases where presidential leadership actually meant something, but the most brilliant of all was Roosevelt's handling of the banking panic in the first weeks of his administration. He ordered a "banking holiday" to stop the withdrawals, and addressed the nation via radio, where he explained in authoritative detail how banking worked, why it was vulnerable to panics, and how they can be avoided with a little patience. When he reopened the banks, the panic had subsided, but he still moved quickly to pass a new law to make sure such panics wouldn't happen again (as they had regularly throughout American history). This law was the Carter-Glass Act, which worked brilliantly -- especially federal deposit insurance -- for 65 years, until Citibank got the Republican Congress and Clinton to repeal it, a mere ten years before the biggest banking crisis since 1933. This was the cornerstone of Roosevelt's famous "100 days," which remains the "gold standard" for what Democratic government can do with a large majority in Congress and business back on their heels. (And yes, one of the most important things they did was get rid of the gold standard, which had become a dead weight on the world economy.)

A good book to read on this is Adam Cohen: Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America. As someone who was born in 1950, I grew up with little sense of what Roosevelt accomplished, even though it was all around me. Democrats were way too modest. This contrasts starkly with the Republicans' systematic efforts to memorialize Lincoln and Reagan.

Sarah Jones: [11-29] The infidel turned Christian: "When Ayaan Hirsi Ali renounced Islam for atheism, her conversion made her a global star." Now, she's reinventing herself.

Ezra Klein: [12-03] The books that explain where we are in 2023. A noble undertaking, but a hard one for anyone to read enough to undertake. None here that I've read, but half or so I've reported on. Still, isn't it a bit strange that when he looks for a book on Israel, all he comes up with is Ari Shavit's 10-year-old My Promised Land? I did read a substantial extract from that book, where he describes in considerable detail the 1948 expulsion of Palestinians from Lydda and Ramle -- we'd call that "ethnic cleansing" these days -- and rationalizes it as essential to the founding and glory of his beloved Israel.

I could complain that much more has been written on Israel/Palestine since then, but the book I still most recommend came out in 2004: Richard Ben Cramer's How Israel Lost: The Four Questions. The most enduring of those questions is why Israel keeps pushing the parameters of a peace settlement beyond what Palestinians are willing to accept. But he also has some insights as to why Palestinian leaders have proven so inept at negotiating with Israel.

More book lists/reviews:

Keren Landman: [11-29] US life expectancy no longer catastrophic, now merely bad.

Clay Risen: [11-30] Pablo Guzmán, Puerto Rican activist turned TV newsman, dies at 73: A name I recognize from back in the 1970s, involved with a group called the Young Lords.

Nathan J Robinson: [11-28] Why you should primarily focus on your own country's crimes: "Why don't U.S. activists focus on the crimes of the Chinese government? Because we're responsible for what is done in our name, and what we can most affect." Well, also because echoing a moral critique by Americans in power is taken to ratify and promote hostile foreign policies that often only make the problems worse, and in any case are beyond what the US should be doing abroad. And also because, regardless of how pure your intentions are, you're not likely to be heard beyond the din of American saber-rattling. As for other countries that are allied with America (like Israel and Saudi Arabia), you have no business interfering with them, but you can certainly question why the US helps them oppress their own people.

Aja Romano: [11-17] The Crown increasingly becomes a fantastical apologetic for the royal family.

Jeffrey St Clair: [12-01] Roaming Charges: The Dr. Caligari of American Empire: Title refers to Kissinger, the opening subject here, with much more to follow.

Washington Monthly: [11-28] Remembering Charlie Peters: A useful compendium of articles and other tributes occasioned by the death of Washington Monthly's founder and long-time editor. I cited James Fallows: Why Charlile Peters matters last week. No need to list them all here, since that's what this article is for, but let me point out:

Clinton Williamson: [11-23] You have "the right to be lazy": "Paul Lafargue's anti-work manifesto is newly relevant in a time when the very idea of labor is changing." Lafargue (1842-1911) published his book in 1883.

Scattered tweets:

Ryan Grim:

The irony of conflating anti-zionism with antisemitism is that in the beginning, zionism's most essential backers, the British government, supported zionism because they were actively antisemitic and wanted to make sure Jewish refugees from Russian pogroms didn't come to Britain

Richard Yeselson:

Eye for an eye is now twenty eyes for one eye. And ever trending up. Gotta stop. Hamas' taking of the first eye was horrific. How much more horror will Israel and the US now inflict in response? Gaza is being vaporized. For what?

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