Monday, May 20, 2024

Speaking of Which

We've had company this weekend, a welcome distraction from the usual news-and-music grind. I predicted I wouldn't post this week, but went ahead and opened the draft file before our guest arrived, and wrote a fairly long comment on an especially deranged post by Greil Marcus, so that's the centerpiece of the section below that I call "Israel vs. world opinion" -- or, as I know it, owing to the keyword I use to search out this particular section, "@genocide." The expected shortfall of time led me to mostly just note article titles, and more often than usual to quote snippets.

Still, by Sunday evening, I figured I had enough I should go ahead and post what I have, noting that it's incomplete -- I've yet to make my usual rounds of a number of generally useful web sites -- and allowing that I might do a later update. However, by the time I got back to it Sunday night, I was too tired to wrap up the post. So this is basically Sunday's post on Monday, abbreviated, but there's still quite a bit here.

Initial count: 118 links, 7602 words. Updated count [05-21]: 155 links, 9283 words. Local tags: Greil Marcus; Aryeh Neier; on Trump (Slotkin quote); on music.

Top story threads:


America's Israel (and Israel's America):

  • Geoffrey Aronson: [05-16] There is no 'plan for Palestine' because Israel doesn't want one: "Washington is dealing on a completely different plane than Tel Aviv, which has never supported Arab sovereignty, period." He talks about the two obvious wars: the war on the ground (to destroy Gaza), and the one for world opinion (at least to keep US support lined up), but also a third, poorly defined, "war after the war." The plainest statement of the latter is a quote from Danny Ayalon: "If the PLO wants to quit, Israel will look for international or local forces to take charge of the PA, and if they can't find them and the PA collapses, that will not be the end of the world for Israel." You might be able to find more optimistic quotes -- fantastical pablum from Americans, disingenuous accord from Israelis try ing to humor the Americans -- but nothing to take seriously. Israel has never sanctioned any version of democratic self-rule for Palestinians, and it's going to take much more arm-twisting than Americans are capable of before they do. On the other hand, without political rights, Palestinian leadership will never be able to negotiate a viable, lasting deal with Israel. Which is, of course, exactly as Israel would have it, because they don't want any kind of deal. All they actually want is to grind Palestinians into dust.

  • Michael Arria: [05-15] Biden is sending Israel another $1 billion in weapons: "The move comes days after a State Department report that documents likely international humanitarian violations by Israel." I thought I read somewhere that this package would be for longer-term supplies, so doesn't violate the dictate against invading Rafah, but the details here suggest otherwise: "The package includes roughly $700 million for tank ammunition, $500 million for tactical vehicles, and $60 million in mortar rounds." That's exactly what they would be using in Rafah.

  • Mohamad Bazzi: [05-09] Will Biden finally stop enabling Netanyahu's extremist government?

  • Medea Benjamin/Nicholas JS Davies: [05-19] Forget Biden's "pause": Israel is destroying Gaza with a vast arsenal of US weapons.

  • Julian Borger: [05-17] Supplies arrive in Gaza via new pier but land routes essential, says US aid chief.

  • Eli Clifton: [05-16] Biden's Gaza policy risks re-election but pleases his wealthiest donors: "Courting rich pro-Israel supporters at the expense of a significant swath of voters may cost the president in November."

  • Dave DeCamp: [05-16] House passes bill that would force Biden to give paused bomb shipment to Israel. Also:

  • Connor Echols: [05-13] Only our enemies commit war crimes: "A half-based report highlights the double standard US officials use for Israel."

  • Melvin Goodman: [05-17] Friedman, Biden and US weapons sales to Israel. "Friedman" is NY Times columnist Thomas, who led the parade of Israeli mouthpieces denouncing Biden's "pause" of delivering some bombs to Israel. Interesting factoid here:

    Biden did not want to make a public announcement because he didn't want a public blowup. It was the Israelis who leaked the news in order to embarrass Biden and notify their U.S. supporters; this forced Biden to go public on CNN in order to stress that the United States would not be a part of any major military operation in Rafah. Friedman was either being disingenuous or didn't understand the background of Biden's comments.

  • Yousef Munayyer: Israel policy could cost Biden the White House -- and us democracy.

  • Mitchell Plitnick:

  • Jeffrey St Clair: [05-17] Follow the missiles.

    The US has long been Israel's largest arms merchant. For the last four years, the US has supplied Israel with 69% of its imported weapons, from F-35s to chemical munitions (white phosphorus), tank shells to precision bombs. Despite this, the Biden administration claims not to know how these weapons are put to use, even when they maim and kil American citizens.

    This piece includes a pretty detailed chronicle of the "war" from October 7 to the present.

  • Jason Willick: [05-20] If Biden thinks Israel's liberals are doves, he's dreaming: "Prominent progressive Yair Golan says Netanyahu is a 'coward' for not taking out Hamas earlier." I have very low regard for Willick, but don't doubt that he's tuned in here.

Israel vs. world opinion:

  • Nikki McCann Ramirez: [05-20] International criminal court seeks arrest warrants for Netanyahu, Hamas leaders: This just broke, so I'm pinning this one piece at the top of this section, but will stop there. Expect more next week. I will say that while Hamas leaders have much less reason to accept the legitimacy of the ICC or to expect a fair trial, it would be interesting to see them try to defend themselves in court, where I think they have a much more reasonable case than Israel's leader do. It would also set an example for Netanyahu and the Israeli leaders to follow -- one they will do anything to avoid following.

    One of the stranger immediate reactions was this tweet from Aaron David Miller:

    The ICC decision, especially if warrants are issued, has strengthened Netanyahu; lessened prospect of Biden's pressure on Israel; ensured Israel won't cooperate with the PA, validated Netanyahu's circle the wagons, and helped prolong war. A dangerous and destructive diversion.

    This is basically the same argument that says prosecutors shouldn't indict Trump because doing so will only make his followers even more upset. It shows no faith that the judicial process can work credibly. Miller was a State Department negotiator for Israel/Palestine from 1988-2003, accomplishing nothing permanent, before moving on to one of those comfy think tank posts where he continues to be trotted out as an "expert" on why Israel is always right and there's nothing you can do about it. Nathan J Robinson commented on Miller's tweet: "In fact, I notice that very few of the negative responses to the ICC deal with the actual evidence that Israel violated the laws of war." This is another example of the old lawyer line, "if you don't have the law and you don't have the facts, pound the table."

  • Zaina Arafat: [05-14] The view from Palestinian America: "In Kholood Eid's photographs of Missouri, taken six months into the war in Gaza, the quiet act of documenting life is a kind of protest against erasure."

  • Michael Arria: [05-17] Morehouse says it will shut down commencement if students protest Biden speech. Related here:

  • Robert Clines: [05-18] The 'ancient desire' to kill Jews is not Hamas's. It's the West's. Author is a historian who has written on this before; e.g., in A Jewish Jesuit in the Eastern Mediterranean: Early Modern Conversion, Mission, and the Construction of Identity.

  • Juan Cole: [05-17] South Africa v. Israel on Rafah genocide: Endgame in which Gaza is utterly destroyed for human habitation.

  • Zachary Foster: Hard to tell how much he has in his archive, but here's a sample:

  • Yuval Noah Harari: [05-13] Will Zionism survive the war? One of Israel's most famous intellectuals, author of the bestselling Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, followed up with some dabbling in futurology. I haven't really looked at his work, so I have no real idea much less critique of what he's all about. This, at least, is a thoughtful piece, wishing for a kinder, gentler Zionism, but ultimately warning of something even darker than the bigotry he attributes to Netanyahu:

    After 2,000 years, Jews from all over the world returned to Jerusalem, ostensibly to put into practice what they had learned. What great truth, then, did Jews discover in 2,000 years of study? Well, judging by the words and actions of Netanyahu and his allies, the Jews discovered what Vespasian, Titus and their legionnaires knew from the very beginning: They discovered the thirst for power, the joy of feeling superior and the dark pleasure of crushing weaker people under their feet. If that is indeed what Jews discovered, then what a waste of 2,000 years! Instead of asking for Yavneh, Ben Zakkai should have asked Vespasian and Titus to teach him what the Romans already knew.

    Harari's piece elicited some commentary:

    • Yoav Litvin: [05-16] Yuval Noah Harari's odyssey into a parallel Zionist universe: "Pseudo-intellectual idol to the masses, Yuval Noah Harari's imaginary Ziounism is so far-fetched he may as well be living on another planet."

    • Robert Booth: [2023-10-24] Yuval Noah Harari backs critique of leftist 'indifference' to Hamas atrocities: "Sapiens author among 90 signatories to statement of dismay at 'extreme moral insensitivity.'" This was typical of the insistence that excoriated anyone who mentioned Israel without starting with an explicit condemnation of Hamas -- which Israeli leaders took as approval for their genocidal war, even if the rest of the statement advised caution or reflection.

      He highlighted a letter signed by the actors Tilda Swinton and Steve Coogan and the director Mike Leigh calling for "an end to the unprecedented cruelty being inflicted on Gaza" without specifically condemning the Hamas assault, although it condemned "every act of violence against civilians and every infringement of international law whoever perpetrates them."

      "There is not a single word about the massacre [of 7 October]," Harari said.

      One of the few other signatories mentioned is David Grossman, who has a long history of instinctively rallying to Israel's war drums, only to later regret his fervor.

    • Yuval Noah Harari: [04-18] From Gaza to Iran, the Netanyahu government is endangering Israel's survival: "Israel is facing a historic defeat, the bitter fruit of yeras of disastrous policies. If the country now prioritizes vengeance over its own best interests, it will put itself and the entire region in grave danger."

  • William Hartung: [05-14] Democracy versus autocracy on America's campuses.

  • Ellen Ioanes:

  • Sarah Jones:

  • David Kattenburg: [05-16] South Africa returns to the ICJ to demand a stop to the Israeli genocide in Gaza: "South Africa returned to the ICJ to argue for an immediate halt to Israel's genocidal assault on Gaza warning that a full Rafah invasion is 'the last step in the destruction of Gaza and its Palestinian people.'"

  • Eric Levitz: [05-15] Make "free speech" a progressive rallying cry again: "Protecting radical dissent requires tolerating right-wing speech." Examples here involve anti-genocide protests and their backlash, specifically "how Israel hawks have coopted social justice activists' ideas about speech and harm."

  • Greil Marcus: [05-10] Ask Greil: May 10, 2024: As someone long and rather too intimately familiar with his political views, I'll start by saying that he's the last person on earth I wanted to hear spout off on Hamas and Israel. I'll also note that what he wrote here is almost exactly what I expected him to write, not that I don't have difficulty believing that any intelligent, knowledgeable, and generally decent person could actually believe such things. But I was struck by how eloquent his writing was, and by how clearly he focused on the single idea that keeps him from being able to see anything else:

    The Hamas massacres removed the cover of politeness and silence and disapproval that has if never completely to a strong degree kept the hatred and loathing of Jews that is an indelible and functional part of Western civilization, a legacy of Western civilization, covered up. Now the cover is off, and we are seeing just how many people hate Jews, have always hated Jews, and have waited all their lives for a chance to say so.

    We should be clear here that the people he's accusing of having "always hated Jews" aren't Palestinians or Arabs, but Americans, few of whom have ever shown any prejudice against Jews, but whose sense of equanimity has brought them to demonstrate against six months of relentless war Israel has waged against the people it previously corralled into the tiny Gaza Strip. What Marcus has to say about that war is wrong in fact and even worse in innuendo, but such rote reiteration of Israeli propaganda points doesn't help to explain why Israelis have acted as they have.

    For example, Marcus writes: "Every death of a person in Gaza is a win for Hamas." So why does Israel keep giving Hamas wins? Arguably, it's because Israel wants to make and keep Hamas as the voice of Palestinian resistance, because they want an opponent they will never have to negotiate with, one that they can kill at will, excusing all the collateral damage that ensues. The only way that makes any sense is if you assume that all Palestinians are Hamas, or will be Hamas, because their true souls are bound up in thousands of years of hatred for Jews, which would drive them to join Hamas (or some other Judeocide cult) sooner or later, even if they were unable to point to specific offenses of the Israeli state. Of course, there is very little evidence that any of this is true, let alone that the IDF is the only force preventing this paranoid worst-case logic from playing out.

    But Marcus doesn't really care about any of those details. He only cares about one thing, which is the idea, evidently locked in by childhood trauma -- his story of getting his hand stabbed with a pencil, and the coincidence of something similar having happened to his father also as a child -- that the only thing protecting him, his family, and the Jewish people he exclusively identifies with -- from genocide is the existence of a tiny but mighty Jewish State thousands of miles away from where he actually lives (and has lived without further incident for seventy-some years now). He may think he cares about others, but the moment any of them -- even fellow Jews who do respect and care for non-Jews -- dares to criticize or even doubt Israel, they are dead to him.

    It should be noted that Marcus is not uncritical of Netanyahu -- unlike, say, the leaders of AIPAC and ADL, who can be counted on to do the bidding of whoever Israel's Prime Minister is, as their real concern is political, ensuring that the US is the submissive partner -- but he buys the party line on Hamas, Palestinians, and Iran completely, and he has not the slightest doubt of Israel's war strategy, whatever they say it may be. And since the party line says that any doubt or criticism of Israel is antisemitic, and since all antisemitism is aimed at the annihilation of all Jews, any such deviation must be treated as a matter of life-and-death.

    I hate reducing political choices to psychology, but his trauma story makes that much clear. Marcus is hardly alone in surrendering judgment to trauma, but not everyone who supports Israel in such a blinkered fashion has that excuse. Christian Zionists seem to be really into the Armageddon story, which Israel advances but does not turn out well for Jews. They overlap with two more explicit groups of Israel boosters: kneejerk militarists (like Lindsey Graham and Tom Cotton), who have been especially vocal in support of genocide, and MAGA-fascists, who love the idea of mob violence against Palestinians. None of those groups have the slightest concern about antisemitism, other than perhaps relief that their pro-Israel stances seems to point the charges elsewhere.

    While it's possible that some American Jews are as misanthropic as the pro-Zionist groups I just mentioned -- the Kahanist movement, for one, actually started in America -- most Jews in America are liberal and/or leftist, both to protect their own freedom and to enjoy the social benefits of a diverse and equitable society. And they are common and visible enough within liberal and/or leftist circles that nearly everyone else of their persuasion has close, personal ties with Jews, and as such have come to share their historic concerns about antisemitism.

    But we've also opposed the denial of civil rights in the US and in the apartheid period of South Africa, so we've been greatly troubled by evidence of similar discrimination in Israel. Current demonstrations recognize that Israel's leaders have crossed a line from systematic discrimination and denial to massive destruction and starvation, a level of violence that fits the legal definition of genocide. Those demonstrating include people who have long been critical of Israel -- the expulsion of refugees and Israel's refusal to allow them to return to their homes dates from 1948. Given how long a movement against Israel's occupation and caste system has been growing, it is only natural that the first to come out against genocide are those who have long opposed that system -- many people who are fond of Palestinian flags, but also explicitly Jewish groups like Jewish Voice for Peace.

    But the demonstrations also welcome people who have long sympathized with Israel but who are deeply disturbed by the recent turn of events. I would not be surprised to see people who identify as exclusively with Israel as Marcus does come out to demonstrate against genocide, the rise of mob violence in the West Bank, the underlying apartheid regime, the increasingly extremist right-wing settler movement, and the militarist security establishment that have taken hold in Israel, and attempt to direct whatever influence America has toward steering Israel back onto a path that can eventually lead to a just and lasting peace. Because if anything has become clear over the last six months, it's that the current leadership clique in Israel is driving the nation's reputation to ruin. And their constant equation of antizionism and antisemitism is damaging the reputation of Jews worldwide. So even if the latter is all you care about, it behooves you to press Israel to ceasefire and to start making amends. There is no way they can kill their way out of the pickle they've gotten themselves into.

    One more point, and it's an important one. While I doubt that the sort of trauma that Marcus claims is common among American Jews, it is much more common among Israelis. Partly this is because they are more likely to have experience terror attacks (direct or, much more often, through others they emphasize with), but also because Israel's political powers have deliberately orchestrated a culture of fear and dread. (For example, see Idith Zertal's 2005 book, Israel's Holocaust and the Politics of Nationhood. Tom Segev's The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust is also useful here, as is Norman Finkelstein's The Holocaust Industry: Reflections on the Exploitation of Jewish Suffering. Americans, especially Jews and their liberal/left sympathizers, are not immune to this effect. There is a Holocaust Museum in Washington not because Americans have any particular insight into the history but as a tool for keeping us in line.)

    I've been following these psychological currents for a long time. They're a big part of the reason why I believe the current war will eventually take a huge psychic toll on the people who were stampeded into supporting it, much like WWII did to Germany and Japan (albeit with no prospect of Americans and Russians settling the score). My view here was largely informed by Tom Segev's 1967, which showed quite clearly an extraordinary division within Israel, between an elite that was supremely confident in their ability to destroy the united Arab armed forces, and a people who were driven to abject terror by the widely advertised prospect of doom (a return of the Holocaust). The sudden victory produced tremendous uplift in both camps: the elites became even more arrogant, achieving levels of hubris unmatched since the heights of Axis expansion (US neocons, marching into Baghdad while dreaming of Tehran and Pyongyang, had similar fantasies, but never even realized their Israel envy); while the masses succumbed to the right-wing drift of fear and fury as their leaders repeatedly flailed and double down on force as the only solution.

    By the way, Marcus also strongly endorsed the following truly hideous piece:

    • Bret Stephens: [05-07] A thank-you note to the campus protesters. What he's thankful for is that demonstrators have done things that people like him could characterize as the work of "modern-day Nazis," although his conviction is such that he hardly needs facts to spin tales any which way he wants. So his "thank you" is really just a literary device, all the better to fuck you with.

  • Emad Moussa: [05-07] Israel is a broken society. And it's not just Bibi to blame: "Israel's allies are snubbing Netanyahu to cloak their complicity in genocide."

  • Timothy McLaughlin:

  • Aryeh Neier: Is Israel committing genocide? A founder of Human Right Watch, who (as he explains at great length), has always been very cautious about using the word genocide, and whose group has always been very scrupulous about citing Hamas crimes as balancing off Israel's more extensive human rights abuses, finally has to admit that what Israel is doing in Gaza does in fact constitute genocide. This is worth quoting at some length:

    In late December, when South Africa brought to the ICJ its accusation that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza, I did not join some of my colleagues in the international human rights movement in their support of the charge. . . . I thought then, and continue to believe, that Israel had a right to retaliate against Hamas for the murderous rampage it carried out on October 7. I also thought that Israel's retaliation could include an attempt to incapacitate Hamas so that it could not launch such an attack again. To recognize this right to retaliate is not to mitigate Israel's culpability for the indiscriminate use of tactics and weapons that have caused disproportionate harm to civilians, but I believe that Hamas shares responsibility for many of Israel's war crimes. . . . And yet, even believing this, I am now persuaded that Israel is engaged in genocide against Palestinians in Gaza. What has changed my mind is its sustained policy of obstructing the movement of humanitarian assistance into the territory.

    As early as October 9 top Israeli officials declared that they intended to block the delivery of food, water, and electricity, which is essential for purifying water and cooking. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant's words have become infamous: "I have ordered a complete siege on the Gaza Strip. There will be no electricity, no food, no fuel, everything is closed. We are fighting human animals and we act accordingly." The statement conveyed the view that has seemed to guide Israel's approach throughout the conflict: that Gazans are collectively complicit for Hamas's crimes on October 7.

    Since then Israel has restricted the number of vehicles allowed to enter Gaza, reduced the number of entry points, and conducted time-consuming and onerous inspections; destroyed farms and greenhouses; limited the delivery of fuel needed for the transport of food and water within the enclave; killed more than two hundred Palestinian aid workers, many of them employees of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), the principal aid provider in the blockaded territory before October 7; and persuaded many donors, including the United States, to stop funding UNRWA by claiming that a dozen of the agency's 13,000 employees in Gaza were involved in the October 7 attack or have other connections to Hamas.

    I started using the word genocide much earlier, because it was clear to me from the very beginning of the October 7 that Israel was primed and intent on committing genocide, and that the only thing that might stop them would be world opinion and their own (mostly callused) consciences. Indeed, within 24 hours, many prominent Israeli figures, and more than a few American ones, were talking unambiguously about genocide. So perhaps I figured raising the charge was one of the few things reasonable people of good and fair will could do to elicit that conscience. Even now, that the charge has been amply documented, the one obvious thing that Israel can still do to start to clear its name is to cease fire, to stop the incursions, to permit aid to enter Gaza, and to allow for a future political system there that does not involve any form of Israeli control.

    I have no problem with condemning the Hamas attacks on October 7, or for that matter much of what Hamas has done over the last thirty-plus years, on moral and/or political grounds, but I don't see much urgency or import in doing so. I've thought a lot about morality and politics this year, and reluctantly come to conclude that one can only condemn people who had options. I started with thinking of Brecht's line, "food first, morals later." What better options did Hamas (or any Palestinians) have? Nothing that seemed to be working.

    Israel, on the other hand, has had lots of options. They liked to chide Palestinians for "never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity for peace," but just when were those opportunities? And if they were opportunities, why did Israel withdraw them? It's long been clear to me that Israel is the one that wants to keep the conflict going forever.

  • Jonathan Ofir: [05-18] Unpacking the Israeli campaign to deny the Gaza genocide: "A recent media flurry over the number of Palestinians killed in Gaza amounts to nothing more than genocide denial. This campaign to discredit the Gaza health ministry is simply a strategy to allow the Gaza genocide to continue." One note here:

    Israel knows fully well that there is a difference between a body count and full identification. It took it many weeks to identify the bodies of the dead after the Hamas-led October 7 attack, and in mid-November, Israel actually reduced its rough estimate of 1,400 to around 1,200, and later to 1,139. The reduction of roughly 200 bodies from the count was due to hundreds of bodies being burned beyond recognition -- where 200 were then said to have been Palestinians and not Israelis, as earlier assumed. This was undoubtedly due to Israel's own indiscriminate bombing on October 7, also killing an unknown number of its own citizens.

    Counting bodies, whether they are burned beyond recognition or not, is a much more straightforward task than actually identifying them, and with Israel's methods of heavy bombing of civilians, the latter can become an enormously complex task. Gaza has been undergoing genocide since October 7, while Israel has since counted and identified its dead under relatively peaceful circumstances. Israelis may say that they have been at war since then, but the war on Gaza has had little bearing on the functioning of Israeli forensics teams. Gazans have to count their dead under fire constant fire, with Gaza's health system all but decimated, not to mention with thousands still under the rubble.

    That Israel should simply exclude any count of Palestinian dead is itself telling. It is still not clear how many of the Israeli dead on Oct. 7 were actually killed by Israeli "friendly fire."

  • Ilan Pappé: [05-21] I was detained at a US airport and asked about Israel and Gaza for 2 hours. Why? Israeli historian, based in UK, has written a bunch of important books on Palestinian history and Israeli politics, the best known The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006)

    , followed by The Biggest Prison on Earth: A History of the Occupied Territories. Also notable are shorter primers: The Idea of Israel: A History of Power and Knowledge (2014); (2017); Ten Myths About Israel (2017; a new edition is scheduled for 17 September 2024).
  • Rick Perlstein: [05-15] Can we all get along? "A Q&A with Eman Abdelhadi, a Palestinian University of Chicago professor, about encampments, dialogue, and mutual respect."

  • Vijay Prashad: [05-17] A semester of discontent: The students who camped for Palestine.

  • Philip Weiss: [05-19] Weekly Briefing: Biden is risking reelection over Gaza to please donors, the mainstream media reports.

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

Trump, and other Republicans: I'm reading Richard Slotkin's A Great Disorder: National Myth and the Battle for America, which covers the whole sweep of American history, but mostly as a prelude to current political disorders, what at least one writer below has started calling the Trumpocene. Here's a sample that nails a key point, then drives it home with examples (pp. 297-299):

Narcissism is an enduring pattern of behavior marked by obsessive concentration on the self, an excessive demand for admiration, and a lack of compassion or empathy. When a narcissist's need for approbation is not met, he or she will typically feel deeply aggrieved, even persecuted. Narcissists then seek power so they can control those around them, including family and colleagues. But no degree of domination ever completelysatisfies their need, so the power drive becomes authoritarian and (in the absence of empathy) verges on the sociopathic.

Trump exhibits all of these traits. His Twitter feeds and speeches are rife with variations on "only I can fix it": "I am the only one who can Make America Great Again. . . . Nobody else can do it." "Nobody will protect our Nation like Donald J. Trump." "5000 ISIS fighters have infiltrated Europe. . . . I TOLD YOU SO! I alone can fix this problem!" "I am hoping to save Social Security without any cuts. I know where to get the money from. Nobody else does." His followers read that self-assurance as a mark of authenticity -- he truly believes even the most extravagant claims he makes about himself. . . .

The effectiveness of Trump's speaking style owes a good deal to his narcissism. In press interviews, rally speeches, and Twitter rants, he follows no logic but his own free associations. In 2019 Trump was asked about his failure to get funding for his "beautiful" border wall, and the separation of parents and children crossing the border. He begins with a statement contrary to fact (implying he has actually built his wall), tosses a word salad, and ends with a "definition" that reads like a joke: "Now until I got the wall built, I got Mexico because we're not allowed, very simply, to have loopholes and they're called loopholes for a reason, because they're loopholes." His speeches are full of banalities endlessly repeated -- how great he is, how he'll increase jobs or destroy North Korea "like you've never seen before," he's going to fix it, fake news, Crooked Hillary -- but his followers respond with enthusiasm.

Let's start, again, with his porn star hush money trial.

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Harold Meyerson: [05-14] Swing voters prefer Democrats. Just not Joe Biden.

  • Ramesh Ponnuru: [05-14] Democrats could sweep the 2024 elections -- and make major policy changes. Need I note that this column is by a right-winger, hoping to panic Republicans into rallying behind Trump. The giveaway is "make major policy changes." I can imagine Democrats sweeping the 2024 elections, but doing anything significant with their win is the tough one. In any imaginable scenario, there will still be enough Democrats tightly bound to lobbyists and their interests, blocking any real reform, much as Manchin and Sinema did with recent Democratic Senate "majorities."

  • Stephen Prager: Democrats, contempt will not win you the election: Photos here of Hillary Clinton and John Fetterman.

  • Andrew Prokop: [05-15] Biden's surprise proposal to debate Trump early, explained.

  • Bernie Sanders: [05-15] We're in a pivotal moment in American history. We cannot retreat: "Clearly, our job is not just to re-elect Biden." This is basically a stump speech, but a remarkably decent and sensible one. It reminds me of the opportunity mainstream Democrats forsook when they got scared and abandoned Sanders for Biden in 2020.

    • Ed Kilgore: [05-17] Bernie Sanders makes incredibly gloomy case for reelecting Biden. Well, that's the case Biden has left himself with, and there's little point pretending otherwise. There are many little things that Biden could have done better, but his foreign policy mistakes are glaring, starting with his disinterest in defusing conflicts with unfriendly states like Iran and North Korea, his provocations of China and Russia, his unwillingness to negotiate peace in Ukraine, and especially his utter failure to mitigate Israel's genocidal mania, those are the sort of mistakes with grave consequences that can ruin him. You can't just pretend this isn't happening.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Other stories:

Reza Aslan: [04-15] Religiosity isn't done changing our world: An interview with the author ("one of the foremost scholars of religion in America") about "Jesus the revolutionary, Palestine, and the continued growth of religion in the world."

Fabiola Cineas: [05-15] Why school segregation is getting worse.

Alec Israeli: [05-19] Slavery, capitalism, and the politics of abolition. A review of Robin Blackburn: The Reckoning: From the Second Slavery to Abolition, 1776-1888. This is "the capstone volume to Blackburn's decades-long project chronicling the rise and fall of slavery in the Americas," following The Overthrow of Colonial Slavery, 1776-1848 and The Making of New World Slavery: From the Baroque to the Modern, 1492-1800, as well as related studies like The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights An Unfinished Revolution: Karl Marx and Abraham Lincoln.

John McPhee: [05-13] Tabula rasa: The fourth article in a series (links in article) on writing. Starts with a discussion of Wordle, which is not one of his more inspired subjects, but informs you that he likes to start with "ocean" but has tried less likely words that I must admit never occurred to me.

Katya Schwenk: [05-18] The law may be coming for Boeing's fraud: "At the end of the Trump administration, Boeing cut a sweetheart deal to avoid prosecution for deceiving regulators about a faulty flight system that caused crashes. New allegations of greed and negligence may finally bring the company to justice."

Julia Serano: [04-23] The Cass Review, WPATH files, and the perpetual debate over gender-affirming care. Noted, not that I have anything meaningful to say on the subject. Pull quote: "Gender-affirming care is the only thing that has positively helped trans youth thus far, and abandoning it now isn't a passive or neutral solution -- it's an active and conscious decision to subject these children to antiquated social and medical interventions that have already been scientifically shown to be ineffective if not downright harmful."

Jennifer Szalai: [05-08] Can a 50-year-old idea save democracy? A review of Daniel Chandler: Free and Equal: A Manifesto for a Just Society, which "makes a vigorous case for adopting the liberal political framework laid out by John Rawls in the 1970s."

Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [05-13] Class consciousness for billionaires: "We used to think the rich had a social function. What are they good for now?" We did? I remember reading a biography of Jay Gould when I was quite young, and it pretty much permanently disabused me of the notion that rich people contributed anything of value to society, and left me with even more contempt for the people who inherited their money (and, in this case, frittered it away to nothing very quickly). Review of Guido Alfani: As Gods Among Men: A History of the Rich in the West. By the way, the publisher page led me to another book, more promising I thought, so I looked for a review:

Also, some writing on music:

Richard Brody: [05-14] New releases make old jazz young again: on Alice Coltrane, The Carnegie Hall Concert; Sonny Rollins, Freedom Weaver: The 1959 European Tour Recordings; Art Tatum, Jewels in the Treasure Box: The 1953 Chicago Blue Note Jazz Club Recordings; and Charles McPherson, Reverence (actually a new recording, though the saxophonist is 83).

Robert Christgau: [05-15] Consumer Guiide: May, 2024.

Christian Iszchak: [05-17] An acute case: 17 May 2024.

Brad Luen: [05-19] Semipop Life: Moving past years.

Amanda Petrusich: [05-17] The anxious love songs of Billie Eilish.

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