Sunday, March 3, 2024

Speaking of Which

I started this early, on Wednesday, maybe even Tuesday, as I couldn't bring myself to work on anything else. There's a rhythm here: I have twenty-some tabs open to my usual sources, and just cycle through them, picking out stories, noting them, sometimes adding a comment, some potentially long. By Friday night, I had so much, I thought of posting early: leaving the date set for Sunday, when I could do a bit of update.

I didn't get the early post done. Sunday, my wife invited some friends over to watch a movie. I volunteered to make dinner, and that (plus the movie) killed the rest of the day. Nothing fancy: I keep all the fixings for pad thai on hand, so I can knock off a pretty decent one-dish meal in little more than an hour. And I had been thinking about making hot and sour soup since noticing a long-neglected package of dried lily buds, so I made that too. First actual cooking I had done in at least a month, so that felt nice and productive.

This, of course, feels totally scattered. I'm unsure of the groupings, and it's hard for me to keep track of the redundancies and contradictions. And once again, I didn't manage to finish my rounds. Perhaps I'll add a bit more after initially posting it late Sunday night. But at the moment, I'm exhausted.

My wife mentioned an article to me that I should have tracked down earlier, but can only mention here: Pankaj Mishra: [03-07] The Shoah after Gaza. Mishra grew up in a "family of upper-caste Hindu nationalists in India," deeply sympathetic to Israel, so his piece offers a slightly distant parallel to what many of us who started sympathetic only to become dismayed and ultimately appalled by what Israel has turned into. Beyond that, the piece is valuable as a history of how the Nazi Judeocide -- to borrow Arno Mayer's more plainly factual term in lieu of Holocaust or Shoah -- has been forged into a cudgel for beating down anyone who so much as questions let alone challenges the supremacy of Israeli power.

There is also a YouTube video of Mishra's piece.

On Facebook, I ran across this quote attributed to Carolina Landsmann in Haaretz:

We (Israelis) continue to approach the world from the position of victim, ignoring the 30,000 dead in Gaza, including 12,000 children, assuming that the world is still captive to its historic guilt toward Israel without understanding that this is over. The era of the Holocaust has ended. The Palestinians are now the wretched of the earth.

It's impossible to go back to the pre-Oct 7 world. To the blame economy between the Jews and the world, which gave the former moral immunity. Enough; it's over. Every era draws to a close. The time has come to grow up.

There was a time, and not that long ago, when I still thought that the experience of victimhood would still temper the exercise of Israeli power: sure, Israel was systematically oppressive, and Israeli society was riddled with the ethnocentrism we Americans understand as racism, but surely they still had enough of a grip on their humanity to stop short of genocide. That's all changed now, and it's coming as quite a shock -- no doubt to many Israelis as they look at their neighbors, but even more so to Americans (not just Jews but also many liberals who have long counted on Jews as allies).

It's hard to know what to do these days, beyond the call for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire, and the constant need to remind anyone who's still echoing the Israeli hasbara that it's genocide, and by not opposing it, they're complicit. It may be unfair to go so far as to make placards about "Genocide Joe" -- he's just in thrall, having fully adapted to the peculiar gravity of the Israel lobby when he arrived in Washington fifty years ago -- as there is still a difference (maybe not practical, but certainly in spirit) between him and the people in Israel (and some Republicans in Congress) who really are committed to genocide. But in times like this, nice sentiments don't count for much.

Another important piece I noticed but skipped over on Sunday: Aaron Gell: [03-03] Has Zionism lost the argument? "American Jews' long-standing consensus about Israel has fractured. There may be no going back." There is a lot to unpack here. It's worth your time to read the interview with Ruth Wisse, with her absolutist defense of Israel, then the digression where the author considers the charge that Jews who doubt Israel are becoming non-Jews, ending in a reference to the Mishnah, specifically "by far the hardest to answer: If I am only for myself, who am I? Many Zionists long justified their project as providing a haven from anti-semitism, but their exclusive focus on their own issues, turning into indifference or worse towards everyone else, has finally turned Israel into the world's leading generator of anti-semitism.

Wisse insists that "the creation of the state changes the entire picture, because now to be anti-Zionist is a genocidal concept. If you're an anti-Zionist, you're against the existence of Israel . . . the realized homeland of nine million people." But later on, Gell notes: "I've spoken to dozens of anti-Zionists over the past few months, and not a single one thought Israel should cease to exist." They have various ideas of how this could be done, in part because they've seen it work here:

American Jews are justifiably proud to live in a successful multiethnic democracy, imperfect though it is. As citizens of a nation in which Jews are a distinct minority, we owe our well-being, our prosperity, and, yes, perhaps our existence to the tolerance, openness, and egalitarianism of our system of government and our neighbors. No wonder we shudder at Israel's chauvinism, its exclusionary nationalism, its oppression. It's all too obvious how we'd fare if the United States followed Israel's lead in reserving power for an ethnic or religious majority. Seen in this light, what's surprising isn't that some American Jews are anti-Zionists; it's that many more aren't.

I've been reading Shlomo Avineri's 1981 book (paperback updated with a new preface and epilogue 2017), The Making of Modern Zionism: The Intellectual Origins of the Jewish State, which offers a highly sympathetic survey of most of the reasons people have come up with to justify and promote Zionism. I'm still in the last profile chapter, on David Ben Gurion, before the initial epilogue, "Zionism as a Permanent Revolution." Immediately previous were chapters on Jabotinsky (who built a cult of power based on fascist models and used it to flip the script on race, promoting Jews as the superior one) and Rabbi Kook (who reformulated Zionism as God's will).

Ben Gurion's major contribution was the doctrine of "Hebrew labor," where Jews would fill all economic niches in the economy, leaving native Palestinians excluded and powerless. This was a significant change from the usual practice of settler colonialism, which everywhere else depended on impoverished locals for labor. Ben Gurion's union bound Jews into a coherent, self-contained, mutual help society, including its own militia, well before it was possible to call itself a state. But in doing so, he excluded the Palestinians, and plotted their expulsion -- his endorsement of the 1937 Peel Commission plan, his campaign for the UN partition plan, and finally his "War of Independence," remembered by Palestinians as the Nakba.

Ben Gurion was an enormously talented political figure, and his establishment of Israel through the 1950 armistices, the citizenship act, and the law of return, was a remarkable achievement against very stiff odds. He might have gotten away with it, but he couldn't leave well enough alone. He always wanted more, and he cultivated that trait in his followers. And while he feared the 1967 war, his followers launched it anyway, and in the end -- even as his fears had proven well founded -- he delighted in it. Like Mao, he so loved his revolution he kept revitalizing it, oblivious to the tragedy it caused. I expect the book, with its "permanent revolution" epilogues, will end on that note.

There is a lot of wishful thinking in the early parts of Avineri's book -- most obviously, Herzl's fairy-tale liberalism, but also the socialism of Syrkin and Borochov, which could have been developed further in later years, but it's appropriate to end as it does, with the real Israeli state. Great as he was, Ben Gurion made mistakes, and in the end the most fateful was allowing Jabotinsky and Kook, or more precisely their followers, into the inner sanctumm, from which they eventually prevailed in shaping Israel into the genocidal juggernaut it has become. The path from Jabotinsky to Netanyahu is remarkably short, passing straight through the former's secretary, the same as the latter's father. The other intermediaries were Ben Gurion's rivals of 1948, Begin and Shamir, who became favored tools in driving the Palestinians into exile, and future prime ministers.

Less obvious was Ben Gurion's decision to invite the Kookists into government, but what politician doesn't want to be reassured that God is on his side? Rabbi Kook was succeeded by his son, Zvi Yehuda Kook, whose Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful) was the driving force behind the West Bank settlements, leading directly to Smotrich and Ben Gvir. The first casualty in Ben Gurion's schemes was the socialism that unified the Yishuv in the first place. That was what gave Israel its foundational sense of justice, a reputation that is now nothing but ruins.

Initial count: 174 links, 8,842 words. Updated count [03-05]: 193 links, 10,883 words.

Top story threads:


Israel vs. world (including American) opinion: This week we lead off with a singular act of self-sacrifice, by an American, an active duty serviceman, Aaron Bushnell, in front of the Israeli embassy in Washington. I feel like I should add an opinion, but I don't really have one. My inclination is to view him as just another casualty of the more general madness, so not a hero or martyr or even a fool, but I'm also not so callous as to look the other way -- especially when so many people do have things to say.

Other stories:

  • Spencer Ackerman: [03-28] The anti-Palestinian origins of the War on Terror: Interview with Darryl Li, who wrote the report Anti-Palestinian at the core: The origins and growing dangers of US anti-terrorism law.

  • Ammiel Alcalay: [02-28] War on Gaza: How the US is buying time for Israel's genocide: "As the US ambassador to the UN recently made clear in a rare moment of honesty, Washington is fully committed to facilitating Israel's destruction of the Palestinians."

  • Kyle Anzalone: [03-01] US vetoes UN resolution condemning Israel for flour massacre.

  • Muhannad Ayyash: [02-26] Boycotting Israel could stop the genocide: At this point, this is probably just wishful thinking: "the world must ensure Tel Aviv's legal, economic and political isolation." The nice thing about BDS was that it provided a forum for grass-roots organizing against the apartheid regime in Israel: something that individuals could start and grow, and eventually recruit more powerful organizations, while ultimately appealing to the better consciences within Israel itself. That it worked with South Africa was encouraging.

    But it was always going to be a much more difficult reach in Israel -- I could insert a half-dozen reasons here -- and it never came close to gathering the collective moral, let alone financial, force it had with South Africa. Now, about all you can say for it is that it allowed people of good will to express their disapproval without promoting even more violence. I would even agree that it's still worth doing -- Israel deserves to be shamed and shunned for what it's doing, now more than ever. And, as we witness what Israel is doing, many more people, indeed whole nations, may join us.

    But will boycotting stop the genocide now? Maybe if the US and NATO banded together and put some serious teeth in their threats, some Israelis might reconsider. But sanctions usually just push countries deeper into corners, from which they're more likely to strike back than to fold. I'm not about to blame BDS for Israel's rampant right-wing -- their racism dates back further than any outsider noticed -- but they would claim their ascent as the way of fighting back against foreign moralizers. Even if we could count on eventually forcing some kind of reconciliation, the people in power in Israel right now are more likely to double down on genocide. It's not like anyone in the Nazi hierarchy saw the writing on the wall after Stalingrad and decided they should call the Judeocide off, lest they eventually put on trial. They simply sped up the extermination, figuring it would be their enduring contribution to Aryan civilization.

    • Jo-Ann Mort: [02-28] BDS is counter-productive. We need to crack down on Israeli settlements instead: "A future peace depends on drawing a line between Israel proper and the illegal settlements in Palestinian territory." This article is so silly I only linked to it after the Ayyash piece above. It does provide some explanation why BDS failed, but it doesn't come close to offering an alternative. Israel has been continuously blurring and outright erasing the Green Line ever since 1967. (It started with he demolition of the neighborhood next to the Al-Aqsa Mosque's western wall, just days after the 7-day war ended.) There is no way to force Israel to do much of anything, but few things are harder to imagine them acceding to is a return to what from 1950-67 were often decried as "Auschwitz borders."

  • Phyllis Bennis:

  • Amena ElAshkar: [02-28] Gaza ceasefire: Talk of an imminent deal is psychological warfare. I haven't bothered linking to numerous articles about an imminent ceasefire deal because, quite frankly, possible deals have never been more than temporarily expedient propaganda, mostly meant to humor the hostage relatives and the Americans. If Israel wanted peace, they could ceasefire unilaterally, and having satisfied themselves that they had inflicted sufficient damage to restore their Iron Wall deterrence, leave the rubble to others to deal with. The hostages would cease to be a bargaining chip, except inasmuch as not freeing them would keep much needed international aid away. So why is Netanyahu negotiating with Hamas? Mostly to squirrel the deal, while he continues implementing his plan to totally depopulate/destroy Gaza.

  • Paul Elle: [02-26] The Vatican and the war in Gaza: "A rhetorical dispute the Church and the Israeli government shows the limits -- and the possibilities -- of the Pope's role in times of conflict." On the other hand, if you look at the Pope's recent comments on "gender theory," you'll realize that he has very little to offer humanity, and that a Church that follows him could be very ominous. (For example, see [03-02] Pope says gender theory is 'ugly ideology' that threatens humanity.) Sometimes I'm tempted to take heart in that the Catholic Church is one of the few extant organizations to predate, and therefore remain somewhat free of, capitalism. But in it the spirit of Inquisition runs even deeper.

  • Madeline Hall: [02-28] Israeli genocide is a bad investment: For one thing, Norway has divested its holdings of Israeli bonds.

  • James North:

  • Peter Oborne: [02-27] These ruthless, bigoted Tories would have Enoch Powell smiling from his grave: "The recent spate of vile anti-Muslim rhetoric from the Tories shows they have decided that stoking hatred against minorities is their only way to avoid electoral annihilation." Also in UK:

  • Charles P Pierce: [02-29] The US has enabled Netanyahu long enough: "Two democracies, hijacked for alibis."

  • Vijay Prashad: [02-14] There is no place for the Palestinians of Gaza to go.

  • Barnett R Rubin: [03-02] Redemption through genocide: "The ICJ ruled that Israel's Gaza campaign poses a plausible and urgent threat of genocide. Future historians of Jewish messianism may recount how in 2024 "redemption through sin" became "redemption through genocide," with unconditional US support."

  • Sarang Shidore/Dan M Ford: [02-29] At the Hague, US more isolated than ever on Israel-Palestine.

  • Adam Taylor: [02-29] Democrats grew more divided on Israeli-Palestinian conflict, poll shows. Interesting that the Democratic split has always favored "take neither side," from a peak of 82% down to 74% before Gaza blew up -- the 12% drop since looks to be evenly split. Republicans, on the other hand, never had any sympathy for Palestinians, and became more pro-Israeli since (56% would "take Israel's side," vs. 19% for Democrats).

  • Philip Weiss: [02-28] PBS and NPR leave out key facts in their Israel stories: "Pundits and reporters in the mainstream media have a double standard when it comes to Israel and all but lie about apartheid, Jewish nationalism, and the role of the Israel lobby."

America's empire of bases and proxy conflicts, increasingly stressed by Israel's multifront war games:

  • Juan Cole: [03-03] How Washington's anti-Iranian campaign failed, big time.

  • Dave DeCamp: [02-29] US officials expect Israel to launch ground invasion of Lebanon: "Administration officials tell CNN they expect a ground incursion in late spring or early summer." The logic here is pretty ridiculous, and if it's believed in Washington, you have to wonder about them, too. Israel had a lot of fun bombing Lebanon in 2006, but their ground incursion was a pure disaster. There's no possible upside to trying it again. The argument that Netanyahu will, for political expediency, enlarge the war in order to keep it going "after Gaza," overlooks their obvious desire to "finish the job" by doing the same to Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank.

  • Sasha Filippova/Kristina Fried/Brian Concannon: [03-01] From coup to chaos: 20 years after the US ousted Haiti's president.

  • Jim Lobe: [03-01] Neocon Iraq war architects want a redo in Gaza: "Post-conflict plan would put Western mercenaries and Israel military into the mix, with handpicked countries in charge of a governing 'Trust.'" Pic is of Elliott Abrams, who was the one in charge of US Israel policy under Bush, and who pushed Sharon's unilateral withdrawal of settlements from Gaza, so that Gaza could be blockaded and bombed more effectively. That directly led to Hamas seizing power in Gaza, so one could argue that Abrams already had his "redo in Gaza."

The Michigan primaries: Of minor interest to both party frontrunners, so let's get them out of the way first. Trump won the Republican primary with 68.1% of the votes, vs. 26.6% for Nikki Haley, splitting the delegates 12-4 (39 more delegates will be decided later). Biden won the Democratic primary with 81.1% of the vote, vs. 13.2% for an uncommitted slate, which was promoted by Arab-Americans and others as a protest vote against Biden's support for Israel's genocide in Gaza. Marianne Williamson got 3%, and Dean Phillips 2.7%. Everyone's trying to spin the results as much as possible, but I doubt they mean much.

Next up is "Super Tuesday," so here's a bit of preview:

Trump, and other Republicans:

Mitch McConnell, 82, announced he will step down as Republican Leader in the Senate in November. This led to some, uh, appreciation?

  • Ryan Cooper: [02-29] Mitch McConnell, Senate arsonist.

  • Jack Hunter: [02-29] Sorry AP: Mitch McConnell is no Ronald Reagan: "The paper deploys the usual neoconservative trope that their foreign policies are the same. They are not." Still, I hate it when critics think they're being so clever in claiming that old Republicans were so sensible compared to the new ones. Reagan's "willingness to talk to America's enemies" didn't extend much beyond Russia, and that only after the door had been opened by Gorbachev. He left nothing but disasters all over Latin America and the Middle East through Iran and Afghanistan.

  • Ed Kilgore: [02-29] Mitch McConnell's power trip finally comes to an end.

  • Ian Millhiser: [02-29] How Mitch McConnell broke Congress.

  • John Nichols: [02-29] Good riddance to Mitch McConnell, an enemy of democracy: Sorry to have to break this to you, but he isn't going anywhere. He'll serve out the rest of his six-year term. He's not giving up his leadership post out of a sudden attack of conscience. He's doing it so some other Republican can take over, and possibly do even worse things than he would have done. By holding out until November, he's giving Trump the prerogative of hand-picking his successor -- assuming Trump wins, of course.

  • David A Graham: Mitch McConnell surrenders to Trump: That's more like it, but at least he's given himself some time. If Trump wins in November, there'll be no fighting him. And if Trump loses, why should he want to be the one stuck cleaning up the mess?

  • Andrew Prokop: [02-28] How Mitch McConnell lost by winning.

  • Jane Mayer: [2020-04-12] How Mitch McConnell became Trump's enabler-in-chief: Sometimes an old piece is the best reminder. Had McConnell a bit more foresight and backbone, he could have swung enough Republican votes to convict Trump over Jan. 6, and followed that with a resolution declaring Trump ineligible to run again, according to the 14th Amendment -- such a resolution was discussed at the time, and would undoubtedly be upheld. Sure, it would have been unpopular among Republicans at the time, but popular will has almost never entered into McConnell's political calculus.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Zack Beauchamp: [02-27] Biden has been bad for Palestinians. Trump would be worse. "On Israel, the two are not the same." Probably true, but this really isn't much comfort. Biden is effectively an Israeli puppet, with no independent will, or even willingness to caution Netanyahu in public, and as such has had no effect on moderating Israel's vendetta -- and may reasonably be charged with not just supporting but accelerating it. For instance, Biden did not have to send aircraft carriers into the region, threatening Iran and provoking Yemen and Lebanon. Nor did he have to accelerate arms deliveries when a ceasefire was obviously called for. As for Trump, sure, he doesn't even know the meaning of "caution." He is largely responsible for Netanyahu believing that he can get away with anything.

    • Dave DeCamp: [03-03] Poll: Majority of Democrats want a presidential candidate who opposes military aid to Israel: With Marianne Williamson unsuspending her campaign, there actually is one, but will anyone find out?

    • Isaac Chotiner: [02-28] Does the Biden administration want a long-lasting ceasefire in Gaza? Interview with John Kirby, Biden's National Security Council spokesman, explaining that Biden only wants whatever Netanyahu tells him to want. It's like a form of hypnosis, where Hamas is the shiny object that so captures America's gaze that it will support Israel doing anything to it wants as long as it's saying it's meant to eliminate Hamas. Sure, Biden understands that Palestinians are suffering, and he implores Netanyahu to make them suffer less, but he can't question his orders.

      The key to this is that he buys the line that Hamas is a cancer that can be excised from the Palestinian body politic, allowing Israel to regain its security. I hesitate to call that the Israeli line: sure, they developed it with their targeted assassinations (they go back at least as far as Abu Jihad in 1988), but Israelis never claimed one strike would suffice -- they tended to use metaphors like "mowing the grass"). It was only the Americans, with their romantic conceits about their own goodness and the innate innocence of ignorant savages, that turned this systematic slaughter into magical thinking. Israelis don't think like that. They understand that Hamas (or some other form of militant backlash) is the inevitable result of their harsh occupation. And, their consciences hardened by constant struggle (including their carefully cultivated memory of the Holocaust), they're willing to live with that brutality.

      If they can't distinguish Hamas from the mass of people they've emerged from, they see no reason to discipline their killing. They figure if they destroy enough, the problem will subside. Even if it inevitably erupts again, that's later, and they'll remain eternally vigilant. There are no solutions, because they don't want to accept the only possible one, which is peaceful coexistence. But silly Americans, they need to be told stories, and it's amazing what they'll swallow.

    • Mitchell Plitnick: [03-01] Biden memos show Palestine advocacy is working: "Two recent presidential orders show the Biden administration is feeling the heat from months of protests against his support for Israel's genocide in Gaza."

    • Alexander Ward: [03-01] 'We look 100 percent weak': US airdrops in Gaza expose limit to Biden's Israel policy.

    • Fareed Zakaria: [03-01] Biden needs to tell Israel some difficult truths. Only he can do it.

    • Erica L Green: [03-03] Kamala Harris calls for an 'immediate cease-fire' in Gaza: Promising title, but fine print reveals it's only the "six-week cease-fire proposal currently on the table," and that she's calling on Hamas, not Israel, the ones who are actually doing all of the firing, and who have already broken off talks on that particular proposal. A cease fire, especially where the war is so one-sided, doesn't need to be negotiated: just do it (perhaps daring the other side to violate it, but the longer it lasts, the better). Sure, prisoner exchanges have to be negotiated, but not cease-fire, which is just common sense.

  • Frank Bruni: [03-03] How Democrats can win anywhere and everywhere.

  • Michelle Goldberg: [03-01] The Democrat showing Biden how it's done: Gretchen Whitmer, governor of Michigan. This follows on recent columns by Goldberg:

  • Ezra Klein: [02-16] Democrats have a better option than Biden: Starts by heaping considerable praise on Biden and his accomplishments of the last three-plus years, then lowers the boom and insists that he should step aside, not so much because one reasonably doubts that he can do the job for more years, but that he's no longer competent as a candidate. (Never mind that Trump is far from competent, in any sense of the term. He's a Republican, and one of our many double standards, we don't expect competency from Republicans, or for that matter caring, or even much coherence.) He goes into how conventions work, and offers a bunch of plausible candidates. It's a long and thorough piece, and makes the case as credibly as I've seen (albeit much less critically of Biden than I might do myself).

    Klein's columns are styled as "The Ezra Klein Show," which are usually just interviews, but this one is monologue, with multiple references to other conversations. He's had a few other interviews recently with political operatives, a couple adding to his insight into Democratic prospects, plus a couple more I'll include here. (Also see the pieces I listed under Ukraine.)

  • Paul Musgrave: [03-03] An inside look at how Biden's team rebuilt foreign policy after Trump: Review of Alexander Ward: The Internationalists: The Fight to Restore American Foreign Policy After Trump.

  • Bill Scher: [02-29] "Nightmare in America": How Biden's ad team should attack Trump: "In 1984, Ronald Reagan's reelection campaign ran a series of ads that evoked how different life felt in America compared to under his opponent's administration four years prior. Today, Joe Biden should do the same." Sure, there's something to be said here, if you can figure out how to say it. But Trump's going to be pushing the opposite spin, in many cases on the same set of facts, all the while pointing out the extraordinary efforts his/your enemies took to hobnob his administration and persecute him since he was pushed out of office. He's just as likely to embrace the Left's notion of him as their worst nightmare. Note that page includes a link to a 2020 article, which also cites Reagan: Nancy LeTourneau: Are you better off than you were four years ago?

  • John E Schwarz: [03-01] Democratic presidents have better economic performances than Republican ones.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Ukraine War:

  • Connor Echols: [03-01] Diplomacy Watch: Russia could be invited to Ukraine-led peace talks. I don't really buy that "Ukraine's shift is a sign of just how dire the situation is becoming for its armed forces," but I do believe that Russia can more/less hold its position indefinitely, that it can continue to exact high (and eventually crippling) costs from Ukraine indefinitely, and that it can survive the sanctions regime (which the US is unlikely to loosen even in an armistice. All of this suggests to me that Zelensky needs to approach some realistic terms for ending the war, then sell them as hard to his "allies" as to Putin, and to the rest of the world.

  • Anatol Lieven/George Beebe: [02-28] Europeans' last ditch clutch at Ukrainian victory: "France's Macron raised the idea of Western troops entering the fray, others want to send longer range missiles."

  • Olena Melnyhk/Sera Koulabdara: [02-29] Ukraine's vaunted 'bread basket' soil is now toxic: "Two years of war has left roughly one-third of its territory polluted, with dire potential consequences for the world's food supply."

  • Will Porter: [02-28] Russia claims first Abrams tank kill in Ukraine.

  • Ted Snider: [03-01] How the West provoked an unprovoked war in Ukraine. The ironies in the title at least merit quotes around "unprovoked." The important part of the story is the relatively underreported period from March, 2021 when Biden added $125 million of "defensive lethal weapons" on top of $150 million previously allocated under Trump, up to the eve of the March 2022 invasion, when "Putin called Ukraine 'a knife to the throat of Russia' and worried that 'Ukraine will serve as an advanced bridgehead' for a pre-emptive US strike against Russia." It is unlikely the US would ever launch such a strike, but Ukraine had by then given up on the Minsk accords and was preparing to take back Donbas. Had they succeeded, Crimea would be next, and that (plus excessive confidence in his own military) was enough for Putin to launch his own pre-emptive attack.

  • Marcus Stanley: [02-28] Biden officials want Russian frozen assets to fund Ukraine war: "Not only will this prolong the conflict, but rock confidence in the Western-led world economic system."

  • Ishaan Tharoor: [02-28] Foreign troops in Ukraine? They're already there.

  • Ezra Klein:

  • [2022-03-01] Can the West stop Russia by strangling its economy? Transcript of an interview with Adam Tooze, doesn't really answer the title question but does provide a pretty deep survey of Russia's economy at the start of Putin's invasion of Ukraine. One minor note: I think Tooze said "Kremlinologists" where you read "the criminologists of the modern day have five, six, seven, eight different groups now that they see operating around Putin."

    PS: Unrelated to Russia, but for another Klein interview with Tooze, see: [2022-10-07] How the Fed is "shaking the entire system".

Around the world:

Other stories:

Lori Aratani: [03-01] Boeing in talks to reacquire key 737 Max supplier Spirit AeroSystems: Boeing spun the company off in 2005, including the Wichita factory my father and brother worked at for decades.

Marina Bolotnikova/Kenny Torrella: [02-26] 9 charts that show US factory farming is even bigger than you realize: "Factory farms are now so big that we need a new word for them." Related here:

Rosa Brooks: [02-20] One hundred years of dictatorship worship: A review of a new book by Jacob Heilbrunn: America Last: The Right's Century-Long Romance With Foreign Dictators [note: cover has it "America First" in large white type, then overprints "Last" in blockier red].

Daniel Denvir: [02-28] The libertarians who dream of a world without democracy: Interview with Quinn Slobodian, who wrote the 2018 book Globalists: The End of Empire and the Birth of Neoliberalism, and most recently, Crack-Up Capitalism: Market Radicals and the Dream of a World Without Democracy.

Adam Gopnik: [02-19] Did the year 2020 change us forever? "The COVID-19 pandemic affected us in millions of ways. But it evades the meanings we want it to bear." A review, which I haven't finished (and may never) of the emerging, evolving literature on 2020.

Sean Illing: [03-03] Are we in the middle of an extinction panic? "How doomsday proclamations about AI echo existential anxieties of the past." Interview with Tyler Austin Harper, who wrote about this in the New York Times: The 100-year extinction panic is back, right on schedule. I could write a lot more on this, especially if I referred back to the extinction controversies paleontologists have been debating all along, but suffice it to say:

  • Short of the Sun exploding, there is zero chance of humans going extinct in the foreseeable future. People are too numerous, widespread, and flexible for anything to get all of us. (Side note: the effective altruist focus on preventing extinction events is misguided.)
  • Human population is, however, precariously balanced on a mix of technological, economic, political, and cultural factors which are increasingly fragile, and as such subject to sabotage and other disruptions (not least because they are often poorly understood). Any major breakdown could be catastrophic on a level that affects millions (though probably not billions) of people.
  • Catastrophes produce psychological shocks that can compound the damage. By far the greatest risk here is war, not just for its immediate destruction but because it makes recovery more difficult.
  • People are not very good at evaluating these risks, erring often both in exaggeration and denial.

The Times piece led to some others of interest here:

Chris Lehman: [03-01] Border hysteria is a bipartisan delusion: "Yesterday, both President Biden and Donald Trump visited Texas to promise harsher immigration policies."

Andrea Mazzarino: [02-27] War's cost is unfathomable. I mentioned this in an update last week, but it's worth mentioning again. She starts by referring to "The October 7th America has forgotten," which was 2001, when the US first bombed Afghanistan, following the Al-Qaeda attacks of that September 11. In 2010, Mazzarino founded the Cost of War Project, which, as economists are wont to do, started adding up whatever they could of the quantifiable costs of America's Global War on Terror and its spawn. Still, their figures (at least $8 trillion and counting, and with debt compounding) miss much of the real human (and environmental) costs, especially those that are primarily psychic.

For instance, would we have the gun problem that we have had we not been continuously at war for over two decades? Would our politics have turned so desperately war-like? Certainly, there would have been much less pressure to immigrate, given that war is the leading producer of refugees. Without constant jostling for military leverage, might we not have made more progress in dealing with problems like climate change? The list only grows from there.

One constant theme of every Speaking of Which is the need to put aside the pursuit of power over and against others and find mutual grounds that will allow us to work together cooperatively to deal with pressing problems. There are lots of reasons why this is true, starting with the basic fact that we could not exist in such numbers if not for a level of technology that is complex beyond most of our understandings and fragile, especially vulnerable to the people who feel most unjustly treated. Our very lives depend on experts who can be trusted, and their ability to work free of sabotage. You can derive all the politics you need from this insight.

Michelle Orange: [03-01] How the Village Voice met its moment: A review of Tricia Romano's The Freaks Came Out to Write, a new "oral history" (i.e., history presented in interview quotes). I rushed out and bought a copy, and should probably write my own review, even if only because she left me out. More:

Rick Perlstein: [02-28] Kissinger revisited: "The former secretary of state is responsible for virtually every American geopolitical disaster of the past half-century."

Deanne Stillman: [02-21] Mothers, sons, and guns: Author wrote a book about Lee Harvey Oswald and his mother, recounted here, in light of high school shooter Ethan Crumbley and his mother, Jennifer Crumbley, who was convicted for her role leading up to the shootings.

David Zipper: [03-01] Driving at ridiculous speeds should be physically impossible: As someone who grew up with a great love of auto racing, I'd argue that driving at ridiculous speeds has always been physically impossible, even as limits have expanded with better technology. Of course, "ridiculous" can mean many different things, but I'd say that's a reason not to try to legislate it. I've long thought that the 55 mph speed limit was the biggest political blunder the Democrats made, at least in my lifetime. (Aside from Vietnam.) Not only did it impose on personal freedom -- in a way that, say, European levels of gasoline taxes wouldn't have done -- but it induced some kind of brain rot in American auto engineering, from which Detroit may never have recovered. (I can't really say. After several bad experiences, I stopped buying their wares.)

Ironically, this political push for mandating "speed limiters" (even more euphemistically, "Intelligent Speed Assistance") on new cars is coming from tech businesses, who see surveillance of driving as a growth area for revenue. This fits in with much broader plans to increase surveillance -- mostly government, but it doesn't end there -- over every aspect of our lives. Supposedly, this will save lives, although the relationship between speeding and auto carnage has never been straightforward, and much more plausible arguments (e.g., on guns) go nowhere. My great fear here is that Democrats will rally to this as a public health and safety measure, inviting a backlash we can ill afford (as with the 55 mph speed limit, which helped elect Reagan).

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