Speaking of * [0 - 9]

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Speaking of Which

PS: Added the Demillo paragraph, which I had intended to include in this post.

I tried answering Crocodile Chuck's letter last week, but I focused on the big question of inflation, but skipped past his "We didn't vote for WWIII" line. He wrote back, ominously:

Get your affairs in order

WWIII is baked in (Blinken, Nuland must have paid off Erdogan, too)

ps the US will never defend tiddlers like the Baltic States, FIN. They're using them as tripwires, plus, as market expansion for the US's hideously expensive and complex weapons systems. The USA's endgame is to break up RUS into statelets, as a prelude to the Main Event: to do the same to CHI

Chuck is a longtime reader and correspondent, an American familiar with my old St. Louis stomping ground, who sensing doom moved across the Pacific -- and not the only one I know who did that. I doubt I'd be identified as an optimist, but this is a bit too paranoid for me. I seriously doubt that there is any cloistered segment of the American deep state that has anything approaching a serious plan to dismantle China or the Russian Federation. And yeah, I believe there is some kind of "deep state," which ensures continuity of American imperial strategy regardless of changes in elected officials. I just don't think they're that smart or competent. They strike me as more like some bundle of conditioned reflexes, which always return to the old mantras of strength, control, dominance, and hegemony. That said, one of their core beliefs is any degradation of supposed enemies is a zero-sum win for America. So they always see prying former Soviet Republic into the American orbit as desirable, regardless of how Russia may react. They'd love to break Xinjiang and Tibet off China, too, but China doesn't seem to be as fragile as Russia, so for that they have to be contented with Taiwan and jockeying over South China Sea islands. Needless to say, such people are dangerous, and given a free hand they could well start WWIII. But, thus far at least, the system has constrained them. Is anything different now?

Well, a couple things are. The Cold War was built around Kennan's notion of containment, where the US never directly threatened the Soviet Union itself, and generally left it a free hand in dealing with recognized satellites. There were some disputes on the margins (Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, later Afghanistan), but both sides kept them to the margins. This worked partly because although Russia sympathized with anti-colonial liberation movement, they didn't control or depend on them; meanwhile, the US was primarily concerned with continuing the western exploitation of the colonial world (replacing the old powers with globalized companies and local cronies), and didn't need to get too greedy. (Indeed, western companies were quite delighted with the business deals China offered them.) But when the Soviet Union disbanded, America's Cold Warrior got even more greedy and arrogant, with Russia in particular getting the short end of the stick. And with every US effort to nibble a bit more on Russia's borders, the American threat to and contempt for Russia grows more existential. The administration is not completely unaware of this, and seems to be trying to draw a fine line between protecting Ukraine and provoking Russia, and the Americans monitoring that line aren't necessarily the most prudent people possible. Many things they've approved have crossed lines Russia has proclaimed. While none of them have yet led to a really catastrophic response (ranging from Russian attacks outside Ukraine -- e.g., Putin ally says Moscow could torpedo Dutch ports: 'Europe is not invincible' -- to nuclear weapons). On the other hand, other NATO countries, and Ukraine itself, seem less circumspect.

Another thing that I find especially disturbing is how conflict with Russia has become ideologized, especially among Democrats, who have become unusually hawkish. The tendency here is to treat Putin as an aggressively anti-democratic force, both within and beyond Russia, which puts a premium on stopping him sooner rather than later. There is some evidence for this -- the 2016 election interference looms especially large for Democrats -- but beyond ethnic Russians and a few allied groups (as in Transnistria and Abkhazia) it's hard to see Russian nationalism having much appeal. But by taking Putinism as ideology, you're imagining much higher stakes than there are, and that's dangerous.

Chuck wrote me again, making four points which I'll try to condense:

  1. There is no "diplomatic progress"; "Biden, Blinken, Nuland" are happy to "fight to the last Ukrainian."
  2. Zelensky is just another oligarch ("worth $200M before Feb. 24"), likely to be a billionaire soon from skimming off US aid.
  3. The "whole thing" is "USA's 'Last Gasp Grasp' to remain a hyperpower," it "has blown up in its/their face[s]," but covered by by "the greatest PsyOp in history," as reported by a brainwashed media ("NYT, WaPo").
  4. The "spike in energy prices is a net transfer of wealth" to "Exxon et al." Then he notes that "50-100M ppl on Earth are starving as a result," and dares call it "genocide."

The third point is the most contentious one here. It's true that Biden and Blinken wanted to reëstablish the US as a world leader -- their slogan was "America's back" -- after Trump's "America first" agenda damaged relationships with Europe while surrendering large chunks of US foreign policy to Israel and Saudi Arabia. Defense of Ukraine was one way to do that, especially in Europe (though not so much elsewhere). I'm not totally clear on the facts, but suppose for the sake of argument the US and Zelensky goaded Putin into his invasion of Ukraine, and therefore deserves some share of blame for the war (although it was Putin who took the bait). How has the war blown up in America's face. Sure, it's cost America a lot of money -- both the state in terms of aid, and the private sector in various kinds of losses and inflation -- but why shouldn't Biden consider that a price worth paying for democracy in Ukraine? (Or for greatly increased US arms sales, and all the other dividends that accrue to America's increased stature among its "allies"?) Granted, it's cost other people and nations more, but since when has the US factored that sort of thing into its calculation? Maybe in the long run those costs will catch up and be regretted, but the zero-summers in the war departments think Russia's losing, so musn't the US be winning?

The other points I've made variants of myself, but I saved the last line for separate treatment: "We all would have been better off under Trump [under whom this never would have happened]." What wouldn't have happened? The invasion? Trump applauded Putin when he did it, so hard to see that as a deterrent. Maybe had Trump not promised support to Ukraine, Zelensky would have been more accommodating, and that might have satisfied Putin, but not according to the logic Putin has given for his decision. Then there's the scenario where Trump vacillates, suggesting Putin has a clear hand to invade, but the Deep State then bullies Trump into fighting, at which point Trump tries to show how tough he is, and blows everything up. Trump's entire foreign policy repertoire is a mix of the worst of Nixon ("mad man" theory) and Agnew ("bag man" corruption). You really don't know what you're going to get, but you can be sure it won't be thought out, and no one will have the slightest idea what the consequences will be.

Still, even if Trump had somehow avoided the war, a second term would have left us so much worse off in so many other areas, it's just mind-boggling to contemplate. By the way, I ran across this Trump quote, a response to Fox News asking him what he'd do differently from Biden in Ukraine:

Well, what I would do, is I would, we would, we have tremendous military capability and what we can do without planes, to be honest with you, without 44-year-old jets, what we can do is enormous, and we should be doing it and we should be helping them to survive and they're doing an amazing job.

If this isn't a simple endorsement of Biden's "amazing job," the only thing it suggests he'd do differently is to send US planes in to enforce some kind of "no-fly zone" -- something Biden has ruled out, because he realizes it doesn't just risk but amounts to direct war with Russia, with all the attendant risks of further escalation to nuclear war. Trump may have been personally inclined to let Putin roll over Ukraine, but when Putin invaded Trump's whole security team would have goaded him to action, and because he wants to be seen as a tough guy, he would have wussed out and went with the flow, projecting his contradictions ever more incoherently.

More on Ukraine, Russia, and Biden's foreign policy:

  • New York Times: [07-03] As City Falls, Ukraine's Last Hope in Luhansk Falls With It: Lysychansk, captured a week after Sievierodonetsk. On the other hand, Ukraine has made some progress in the southeast, recovering Snake Island, and some land between Mykolaiv and Kherson.
  • Connor Echols: [06-24] Diplomacy Watch: How much is the US focused on it? Not much, but nobody's ruling out; they're just no acting as if they expect anything to happen. Echols also has a piece on MEAD: [06-29] Wait, is there really a new US-led air defense alliance in the Middle East?
  • Robin Wright: [07-01] The West Debuts a New Strategy to Confront a Historic "Inflection Point" NATO met in Madrid last week, and used the occasion to condemn and to taunt Russia, and China too. To a large extent, this was Putin's fault: for invading Ukraine, which demonstrated graphically that Russia did not respect boundaries, making its threats much more ominous, but also for demanding that NATO back down and away, as if he was afraid of them. The result was that NATO gave him much more to worry about: alliance with Sweden and Finland, a massive military buildup in countries like Estonia and Poland. Putin gave NATO something it long lacked: a reason to exist. Meanwhile, NATO has given Putin even more reason to panic. One should add that in the heat of the moment, NATO is aso setting its eyes on China, engaging South Korea and Japan to join as some kind of affiliated members. There also seems to be a NATO-like deal brewing around the Persian Gulf, combining the Arab monarchs with their new buddies in Israel to confront Iran. While all of this could be view as a massive revival of the Cold War Pax Americana, it seems just as likely that the US could lose control of its more rambunctious allies (as with the Saudis in Yemen, a war that America is inextricably bound to but seemingly has no say over). Similarly, while Ukraine has no obligations to NATO, Zelensky seems to be in the more powerful position: assured nearly unlimited support, without any strings attached, free to fight at long as he wants. Given how NATO has grown during the war, expect no pressure from there: they're acting as if they expect to war to go on forever.

The Supreme Court term came to an end last week, with a stunning series of rulings as the Bush-Bush-Trump-appointed 6-3 majority is flexing its muscles. The January 6 Committee is demonstrating in increasing detail how Trump tried to end democracy by fraud and, failing that, by force, but these Court rulings finally prove that the poison was administered earlier, in the form of those three (and hundreds of lesser) Court appointments, even if the killing stretches out over the years. As bad as this year's rulings were, it's almost certain that worse are still to come.

How bad was this term? Mark Joseph Stern explains: [06-30] Why Today Felt Like the Most Hopeless Day of the SCOTUS Term gives us a quick rundown of what the Court ruled:

Consider the issues that SCOTUS has resolved this term -- the first full term with a 6-3 conservative supermajority. The constitutional right to abortion: gone. States' ability to limit guns in public: gone. Tribal sovereignty against state intrusion: gone. Effective constraints around separation of church and state: gone. The bar on prayer in public schools: gone. Effective enforcement of Miranda warnings: gone. The ability to sue violent border agents: gone. The Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gases at power plants: gone. Vast areas of the law, established over the course of decades, washed away by a court over a few months.

Stern continues:

There is no serious risk of another branch overriding these decisions. The squabbling among our elected representatives is, increasingly, a sideshow, with the court nudging along the decline of voters' ability to shape their democracy. One-third of the court was appointed by a president who lost the popular vote, yet the majority evinces not a shred of caution about overriding the democratic branches or its own predecessors on the bench. It imposes Republican policies far more effectively than the Republican Party ever could. Real power in this country no longer lies in the people. It resides at the Supreme Court.

There is much more worth reading in this piece. For instance, he concedes that Roberts "split the baby" in Biden v. Texas, reversing an egregious lower court ruling that prevent Biden from rescinding Trump's executive order of his "Remain in Mexico" policy. This "looks like a victory for the President. And it is, but only in the sense that five justices took one small step back from the abyss of total judicial lawlessness." He goes on, noting that "texturalism" and "originalism" are guiding ideologies for the right-wing justices only when they can be twisted to support their political prejudices. He concludes:

At the end of her West Virginia dissent, Kagan wrote that the court "appoints itself -- instead of Congress or the expert agency -- the decisionmaker on climate policy." She added: "I cannot think of many things more frightening." The limits of Kagan's imagination, though, are no match for this supermajority. The Supreme Court will give us many, many more reasons to fear it in the coming years. In one sense, this term marked the culmination of multiple decadeslong crusades against liberal precedent. But this was not the grand finale of the conservative revolution. It was the opening act.

More on the Supreme Court and its recent rulines, including abortion:

January 6 Committee: The surprise hearing with Cassidy Hutchinson, who was Mark Meadows' Chief of Staff, provided the best view yet into the White House on the day. The title that sums it up most succinctly is Walter Shapiro: [06-28] President Trump Was a Violent Maniac Behind Closed Doors. Other pieces of note:

Jonathan Chait: [07-01] The Democratic Party Needs Better Moderates: "The centrists have lot of complaints but no solution." Isn't that mostly because they're usually carrying water for business interests? I've said many times they have to move left, because that's where the solutions are. But it's not impossible to imagine moderate programs that make tangible progress on major problems but also respect established business interests and/or cultural concerns. There's little doubt that the left would support serious, practical compromises. (Medicare-for-All advocates in Congress all voted for ACA.) There's also a category that should be very popular among moderates, as it's especially strong among independents and laps into both political parties, but strangely gets no attention (at least among the elected, regardless of party): the political influence of money. Won't someone run with that? Chait cites a piece by Jason Zengerle: [06-29] The Vanishing Moderate Democrat, which argues "their positions are popular," but two 1990s presidential wins for Bill Clinton, while losing decades-long control of Congress, doesn't seem like much proof. For another take on Zengerle see: Ryan Cooper: [06-30] 'Moderate' Democrats Are Anything But.

Robert Christgau: [06-29] The Big Lookback: Hillary Clinton. New introduction for a piece published on October 11, 2016, when it still looked like the nomination of Hillary Clinton for president might work out. It didn't, and that's probably the source of the moment's temptation to say "I told you so" (but for many of us it just underscores her failure). I never doubted that we would have been better off had Hillary won (although it's easy now to overlook that given how she most happily ran on her superior Commander-in-Chief cojones, she could have turned truly awful). Much of the piece focuses on excoriating third parties -- Democrats expect to own the left's votes without doing anything to earn them -- combined with a snide dismissal of Bernie Sanders that only comes up short of a vicious attack because he appreciates Sanders campaigning not just against Trump but for Clinton. Like Christgau, I soured on third parties after 2000, but that was less because I saw Gore's loss as a huge step back (which it turned out to be) than because I realized then that the only path to power for the left would be through the Democratic Party, if simply for the reason that's where the voters most interested in joining us are stuck. (That was clearest here in Kansas, where Gore got over 10 times as many votes as Nader [37.2% to 3.4%], despite the DP not raising a finger to help Gore.) Still, I've never felt the slightest temptation to blame anyone on the left for the Democratic Party's failures, especially when you have candidates like Gore, Kerry, and the Clintons veering to the right figuring that's where they'll find more votes (or at least more donor money). I understand the logic that says "lesser evils are still evil," even if I don't think that's a maxim to live by. (I don't doubt for a moment that Gore would have responded to 9/11 by unleashing the War on Terror, and I rather doubt that he would have stopped short of invading Iraq -- remember, he voted for the 1990-91 war on Iraq, supported Clinton's repeated bombing, and had überhawk Joe Lieberman as his VP. I also doubt he would have fared any better at war. On the other hand, he wouldn't have eviscerated FEMA before Katrina, and he wouldn't have appointed Alito or Roberts to the Supreme Court. In between, there's a lot of iffy policies, not least his sometimes principled, sometimes compromised concern about global warming.) More importantly, I know that when the Democrats sell out or go crazy -- which happened a lot under Clinton, and again under Obama -- the tiny fragment of the left that refused to vote for them will be among the first to stand up for what's right. Still, everyone mourns in their own way -- even those of us who foresaw the Supreme Court threat as far back as the Bork nomination.

Ryan Cooper: [07-01] Mitch McConell Once Again Takes Advantage of Democratic Fecklessness: Examples of how the Democrats are hamstrung by Senate rules and maneuvers, which they don't have the numbers to overcome (and in two particular cases don't seem to have any desire to get anything done). Meanwhile, McConnell can hold out offers of very limited bipartisan support for extortionate prices. And in the end, Democrats will get blamed (and in many cases will blame themselves) for such failures.

Dexter Filkins: [06-20] Can Ron DeSantis Displace Donald Trump as the G.O.P.'s Combatant-in-Chief? The Florida governor has gotten a lot of press, much touting him as the Trumpiest of all the contenders who could pick up the Republican torch should Trump himself falter. Sample:

In a twenty-minute speech, he described an America under assault by left-wing élites, who "want to delegitimize our founding institutions." His job as governor, he said, was to fight the horsemen of the left: critical race theory, "Faucian dystopia," uncontrolled immigration, Big Tech, "left-wing oligarchs," "Soros-funded prosecutors," transgender athletes, and the "corporate media." In Florida, he said, he had created a "citadel of freedom" that had become a beacon for people "chafing under authoritarian rule";

Margaret Hartmann: [07-03] Read the Nastiest Lines From Trump's $75 Burn Book: It's called Our Journey Together, a bunch of pictures with captions evidently written by Trump himself (you can tell because they're stupid and nasty). By the way, Hartmann's The Drama-Lover's Guide to the New Trump Books has been updated [06-29].

Robert Hitt: [06-30] Robocallers Still Have Your Number: "The FCC has implemented new rules, but the decades-old problem requires stronger tactics." This seems like the sort of nuisance problem it should be relatively easy to solve. We get 30+ unwanted phone calls per day on the land line, or presumably unwanted as we don't pick up unrecognized caller ids. Why not automatically kick those calls to a monitoring service, and when a caller's count rises above some modest threshhold, kick off an investigation aimed at shutting them down? Sure, only some of those calls are clearly aimed at fraud, but solicitations for funds are every bit as intrusive, and can feel like harassment. I'd like to see a crackdown on all forms of intrusive advertising, but this is a good place to start (and unlike radio and TV, doesn't require a rethinking of how those industries can be financed). Advertising isn't free speech. Even when it isn't intended fraud, it's much more akin to assault. (Hacking is a similar problem, which isn't taken seriously by the people who could put a stop to it. My server has to fend off hundreds of attacks every day.)

Paul Krugman: Interesting but varied set of pieces here, some in response to books he's been reading:

  • [06-27] Why Did Republicans Become So Extreme? He dates this to the 1990s, when Republicans went to such extremes to paint Bill Clinton as some kind of monster, even though he barely split hairs with them on policy, and often reinforced their arguments by adopting their logic. I think what happened was that after Bush won so easily in 1988, they couldn't imagine ever losing the presidency again, and were shocked when they did next time out. Of all the memes, the most telling was how they regarded him as an usurper, someone who took what was rightfully their. Then they discovered that getting nastier somehow got them more votes, enough to flip Congress in 1994, and the die was cast from that point on. Of course, in this they were egged on by the billionaires that funded the "vast right-wing conspiracy" and their Fox propaganda organ. Every time they won again, they doubled down on their most reactionary policies, which invariably blew up in their faces, but not without moving the country significantly to the right. And every time they lost (usually after horrendous wars and recessions), they doubled down again and got even nastier, and bounced right back. That worked in 2010, and it's clearly what they're trying to do this year. Whether it works again depends on how dumb the voters really are. The jury's out on that question.
  • [06-28] Technology and the Triumph of Pessimism: That's a big and interesting question, and he has the advantage of an advance copy of Brad De Long's book, due in September, Slouching Towards Utopia (one I'm almost certain to order; De Long is an economist very close to Krugman), which covers the years 1870-1920: two lifetimes end-to-end (5 generations?), during which our understanding of nature and society was totally upended, the result being that we're increasingly estranged and befuddled by it all, in most cases clinging to older ideas ill fit to the modern world, a mismatch that has led to all sorts of anomalies. So I've mostly thought about this question in terms of philosophy (or religion and psychology), but economics may work too, just with more numbers. Krugman provides a link to a profile of Robert J Gordon, who thinks the age of extreme change is winding down. (His big book is The Rise and Fall of American Growth, which I bought but never got around to reading.) I've imagined this same idea configured as an S-curve, with a steep upward slope from 1900-2000, tapered off on both ends.
  • [06-30] Crazies, Cowards and the Trump Coup: This one was snatched from last week's headlinse, concluding "Republicans are now a coalition of crazies and cowards. And it's hard to say which Republicans present the greater danger."
  • [07-01] Wonking Out: Taking the 'Flation" Out of Stagflation: Key line here is "most economists believe expected inflation is an important determinant of actual inflation." The Fed believed this, and raised interest rates rather sharply. But while prices are still rising, expectations of future price increases appear to be slacking, so we may be quickly torn between the desire to stop inflation and the need to keep the economy from stagnating (a play on the 1970s term stagflation).

Daniel Larison: [07-01] Another round of talks fail as the Iran nuclear deal appears to be slipping away: "JCPOA opponents planted political poison pills to prevent reentering the deal and Biden is letting them get away with it." You'd think that restoring JCPOA would be a no-brainer. It was a key diplomatic achievement for Obama. Trump violated it for no good reason. While Obama (wrongly, I think) took pains to provide a smooth continuity in foreign policy when taking over from Bush, there's no reason for Biden to follow suit. (He certainly hasn't with Ukraine and NATO.) Coming to an understanding with Iran would not only solve one problem, it would make America look more capable of reason elsewhere. Besides, with Russian oil off the world market, the easiest fix to drive prices back down would be to let Iran back in. On the other hand, Biden is heading off to Israel and Saudi Arabia, no doubt to supplicate like Trump did. Also see:

Rebecca Leber: [06-27] The biggest myths about gas prices: Six of them, generally useful but I'd quibble with "Myth 2: Oil companies are price-gouging American consumers." Oil companies are always greedy, always price-gouging, at least within the limits of competition (which is still healthier than it is in most industries). If they weren't, they'd lower their margins to cushion the price shocks, but if they can keep their margins as costs increase, their profits go way up, and that's what we're seeing. I also think that it's likely that there is a massive behind-the-scenes lobbying effort to get articles (like this one) to counter the intuitive idea that oil companies are making out like bandits. I've seen dozens of such articles, which given the push from Bernie Sanders and others for a "windfall profits tax" (as was implemented in the 1970s) is something they'd have a serious interest in promoting. By the way, for a broader review of the role of greed in capitalism, see Nathan J Robinson: [06-20] Is Capitalism Built on Greed? (Executive summary: yes.)

Andrew Marantz: [06-27] Does Hungary Offer a Glimpse of Our Authoritarian Future? Viktor Orbán is certainly popular among elements of the US right that are in any way aware of their fellow fascists around the world -- Steve Bannon and Tucker Carlson are obvious examples, but the author also mentions J.D. Vance and Rod Dreher as admirers, and Ron DeSantis as someone who could fit the bill. Orbán came to my attention quite a while ago, and what struck me most was how he used the power of a freak landslide election to consolidate long-term control of the nation, including passing an extensive legal framework that could only be undone by a super-majority: the use of such gimmicks to guarantee right-minority control struck me as very Republican -- although viewed as Orbánist it should seem even more un-American. Choice lines:

Even Trump's putative allies will admit, in private, that he was a lazy, feckless leader. They wanted Augustus; they got a Caligula. . . . What would happen if the Republican Party were led by an American Orbán, someone with the patience to envision a semi-authoritarian future and the diligence and ruthlessness to achieve it?

Elizabeth Nelson: [07-14] Difficult Man: 'Kitchen Confidential' and the Early Days of Anthony Bourdain's Legacy.

Tory Newmyer: [07-03] Bill to grant crypto firms access to Federal Reserve alarms experts: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand is in on this graft (along with a Republican from Wyoming; looks like Wyoming already as some sweetheart deals with crypto grifters). I'm not sure what all the ramifications are, but making crypto "too big to fail" sounds like an awful idea, especially given that it's not actually good for anything (legal, anyway).

Andre Pagliarini: [07-01] Live From Brazil: A Clueless Tucker Carlson: "Fox News's chief wingnut has spent all week fawning over authoritarian President Jair Bolsonaro and making absurd, ignorant statements about the country." Worth remembering here that Carlson is also infatuated with Hungary's Viktor Orbán: see Viktória Serdült: [02-01] Tucker Carlson Has Become Obsessed With Hungary. Here's What He Doesn't Understand.

Annie Proulx: [06-27] Swamps Can Protect Against Climate Change, if We Only Let Them. "Wetlands absorb carbon dioxide and buffer the excesses of drought and flood, yet we've drained much of this land."

Nathan J Robinson: ]07-01] The Incredibly Disturbing Texas GOP Agenda Is a Vision for a Theocratic Dystopia. Too much here to even start getting into, but make sure to check out the contrasting pictures of car-free downtown Ljubljana, Slovenia, and "fucking Houston." And while most of the planks reduce to variants on complete-lawless-freedom-for-me and prohibition-on-you, sometimes it just gets weird, like "enshrining a right to cryptocurrency in the Texas Bill of Rights." Evidently, someone told them crypto is "a right-wing hypercapitalistic technology built primarily to amplify the wealth of its proponents through a combination of tax avoiance, diminished regulatory oversight and artificially enforced scarcity," and they said, "wow, give me some of that."

Walter Shapiro: [06-27] 1989-2001: America's Long Lost Weekend: "From the fall of the Berlin Wall to 9/11, we had relative peace and prosperity. It was an opportunity to salve some festering national wounds. We squandered it completely -- and helped give rise to the crises we're dealing with today." One nugget here is that in his speech accepting the 2000 Democratic presidential nomination, Al Gore spent all of one sentence talking about climate change -- a problem that Gore understood well enough to write a book about in 1992 (Earth in the Balance), but didn't seriously return to until 2006 (An Inconvenient Truth). Shapiro previously covered this territory in [2019-04-29] The Lasting Disappointment of the Clinton Presidency.

Alex Skopic: [04-20] Winston Churchill, Imperial Monstrosity: Not sure how I missed this before, but Tariq Ali has finally released a book we always knew he was uniquely qualified to write, Winston Churchill: His Times, His Crimes. Few people realize this, but Churchill was a uniquely malign force in 20th century politics (he actually got his start at the end of the 19th, his first taste of war -- which he relished -- in the Sudan at the most lop-sided massacre European imperialists ever engineered, followed by a tour of the Boer War in South Africa, where he learned to love concentration camps). During WWI he dreamed of starving all of Germany to death, while he was more directly responsible for the disastrous attack on Gallipoli. He was a diehard defender of the British Empire, yet largely responsible for the most tragic decisions of its retreat: the religious division of Ireland, Palestine, and India, creating conflicts that killed millions and more or less persist to this day. He can even claim credit for starting the Cold War (with his "iron curtain" speech -- he did have a knack for rhetoric). And that's just the broad outline. Ali adds more details, including Churchill's role in the Bengal Famine during WWII. Also a discussion of the mythbuilding that kept elevating Churchill from one disaster after another. By the way, Ali has another recent book: The Forty-Year War in Afghanistan: A Chronicle Foretold, compiled from concurrent writings and wrapped up with a new introduction (probably a well-deserved "I told you so").

Jeffrey St Clair: [07-01] Roaming Charges: Whatd'Ya Expect Us to Do About It? Argues that Democrats, given advance notice of Alito's ruling overturning Roe v. Wade, should have spent that time coming up with a coherent response, including executive orders, to fight back, but instead seem to have spent the time formulating fundraising letters. I've seen a lot of similar recriminations, especially against the "gerontocracy." Not entirely fair, but a predisposition to compromise with an opposite side that can never be satisfied does lead to a lot of backpedaling (and frequent falls on one's ass). Much more, of course, including a line suggesting that maybe the intent, which the Court couldn't discern, of the Clean Air Act was in its title. St Clair also reprinted a 2005 column co-written with Alexander Cockburn on the author of Roe v. Wade's demise: Holy Alito!

Jennifer Szalai: [06-29] 'Why We Did It' Is a Dark Ride on the 'Republican Road to Hell': Review of Republican political operator Tim Miller's book, about why Republicans more or less enthusiastically lined up behind Trump after his 2016 election win. Pretty much as I suspected: they were so desperate to win they abandoned all scruples. Reviewer suggests pairing this with another book by a Republican operative, Stuart Stevens: It Was All a Lie: How the Republican Party Became Donald Trump.

By the way, Covid new cases topped 100,000/day on May 17, and have remained at or above that level ever since, making the last six weeks the fourth highest peak period on record. The number of cases had dropped under 30,000 on March 21. Deaths are up 24% over 14 days ago.

Closing tweet, seems to be related to Jeff Bezos: "If the Biden administration is out of touch with Billionaires, imagine how the average American worker feels."

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Speaking of Which

I suppose after the Roe v. Wade reversal, I have to write one of these, if only as a placeholder in the notebook. As usual, the best place to look on Supreme Court rulings is with Ian Millhiser. Start with: [06-24] The end of Roe v. Wade, explained. As Millhiser notes, this ruling has little to do with legal theory -- it's been increasingly clear for some time that the "conservative majority" is just making shit up (in that, Gore v. Bush back in 2000 was a harbinger) -- but reflects a political coup accomplished through decades of the right scheming to pack the Court with their cultists. I wrote a bit about the politics in a recent Facebook comment to a post by Greg Magarian, a law professor at Washington University, in St. Louis, where I studied for a couple of years). Magarian wrote:

No institution in the United States has taken a harder line against abortion rights than the Catholic Church.

As of 2018, Catholics made up just under a quarter of the U.S. population. About half of them -- just over a tenth of the total population -- typically vote Republican.

Seven of the nine Supreme Court Justices are Catholic. Six of those seven (all but Sotomayor) are Republicans -- two thirds of the total Court.

Those six Catholic Republican Justices make up the entire right-wing majority that voted to uphold the Mississippi abortion law and -- except for Roberts -- to overturn fifty years of abortion rights precedent.

This is what Kavanaugh refers to as "neutrality."

My comment:

Back around 1970, in "The Emerging Republican Majority," Kevin Phillips argued that Republicans would become the majority party if they could flip two traditionally Democratic constituencies -- southern Baptists and northern Catholics. They did this by orchestrating a cultural backlash, most obviously based on race but abortion gave them a way to use religion. (The Schlafly backlash against women's rights was also a factor.) I've long viewed Missouri as the laboratory for this transformation. In the 1950s the state was solidly Democratic, but regionally divided: the cities and river valleys on the D side, the northern plains and the Ozarks on the other. The Danforths share a lot of the credit/blame for this transformation. It took another 20 years for Missouri's anti-abortion politics to spread to Kansas (in the 1990s, although Bob Dole jumped the gun in 1972), where WASP Republicans had easily ruled since the 1860s (aside from a brief Populist interlude) and had no need of such scheming. The Republican use of select Catholic doctrines has mostly been purely cynical (although there are cases of conservatives converting, like Sam Brownback, whose devotion to the cause is more devoutly evil). As for the Catholic dominance of the Supreme Court, that seems to be an artifact of the Federalist Society's control of the nominee list, which was largely a reaction to Souter's apostasy after he joined the court. Conservatives had seen many seemingly solid WASP nominees turn into liberals after joining the Court, and wanted to put a stop to that. I haven't looked into just why the FS almost exclusively nominates Catholics, so I'm reluctant to speculate as to why, other than to note that they have much in common with cults.

Millhiser also wrote a deeper historical piece that you should read: [06-25] The case against the Supreme Court of the United States. I recently picked up a copy of Millhiser's book on this same topic, Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted. One thing few people realize now is how fortunate those of my age cohort (the "boomers") were to grow up in a period when the Court was expanding individual rights against the tyranny of the politically connected elite. Those days are gone, and outrage against "Supreme Injustice" is coming back. Life was certainly easier and less fraught when we didn't need to worry about the Supreme Court taking our rights away.

Some more links on the Supreme Court this week:

  • Zack Beauchamp: [06-24] At least Clarence Thomas's odious Dobbs concurrence was honest. I'm not sure "honest" is the word we're looking for here. Maybe you could say it was "candid" or "revealing" (a subhed is "How Thomas exposed the majority's incoherence"). It's a commonplace to say that "you can't negotiate with terrorists," but isn't the real lesson that you can't compromise with people who are always coming back for more. Thomas may not be a terrorist, but he's sure relentless in his determination to make America bleaker and more cruel.
  • Margaret Carlson: [06-25] Apocalypse Now: Abortion, Guns, and the Supreme Court: "Welcome to the new, horrifying normal."
  • Irin Carmon: [06-24] The Dissenters Say You're Not Hysterical.
  • Jonathan Chait: [06-24] Now We See What Happens When Social Conservatives Take the Wheel: "The Christian right's power finally becomes real." Well, yes and no. They'll still feel like outsiders until they get their way on dozens of other issues. But the right-wing Court has already given them several other victories -- like allowing them to claim a religious exemption against conforming to laws they don't like, and forcing states to subsidize their exclusivist schools -- and no doubt more are coming. This is not a bad time to review Chris Hedges' 2007 book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America. Wouldn't be a bad time for him to update it, either.
  • Michele Goodwin: [06-26] No, Justice Alito, Reproductive Justice Is in the Constitution. Author is a law professor, and author of Policing the Womb: Invisible Women and the Criminalization of Motherhood. Last year she wrote a piece relevant here: I Was Raped by My Father. An Abortion Saved My Life.
  • Melissa Gira Grant: [06-24] The Fight for Abortion Rights Must Break the Law to Win: This article makes me squeamish, because it shouldn't have to be this way. But the struggles for civil rights, for labor rights, women's rights, the environment, against the war machine, both in the US and nearly everywhere else, have often ran up against the written law and its hired thugs. One reason I'm squeamish could even be that the anti-choice movement has so often resorted to criminal behavior on their own -- the assassination of Dr. George Tiller is one we here in Wichita will never forget or forgive.
  • Jake Grumbach/Christopher Warshaw: [06-25] Many states with antiabortion laws have pro-choice majorities. But do they have functioning democracy?
  • Carl Hulse: [06-24] Kavanaugh Gave Private Assurances. Collins Says He 'Misled' Her. Well, it's not like anyone else was fooled.
  • Natasha Ishak: [06-25] Trigger laws and abortion restrictions, explained. Also: In 48 hours of protest, thousands of Americans cry out for abortion rights.
  • Ankush Khardori: [06-24] Trump's Big Payback. Easy to write: "Donald rump delivered his end of the bargain he made with Republican elites and voters years ago. Support me despite my corruption, my gross personal failings and transgressions, and my persistent debasement of the presidency, and I'll do your bidding on the issue closest to your hearts: abortion." No doubt that was true for some people, but lots of Trump voters liked his corruption, failings, transgressions, and especially debasement. They may or may not have cared about abortion, but politics is a package business: you have to buy it all, even if you wish you could throw much of it away. If 2016 was a straight up referendum on abortion, Hillary Clinton would have won, but other factors tipped the election, and history isn't forgiving.
  • Caroline Kitchener: [06-25] Roe's gone. Now antiabortion lawmakers want more.
  • Ezra Klein: [06-26] The Dobbs Decision Isn't Just About Abortion. It's About Power. Interview with Dahlia Lithwick. Transcript here.
  • Josh Kovensky: [06-24] Alito Changed Next to Nothing From the Leaked Draft: That was a question that occurred to me but I hadn't seen answered elsewhere. The leaked draft, you may recall, sounded completely bonkers, yet Roberts and Kavanaugh continued to support the finding, even while trying to qualify it in their own opinions.
  • Claire Lampen: [06-24] Life After Roe Starts Now: "The Supreme Court decision ensures a health-care crisis that will ripple out across the country." Last paragraph starts: "Despite positioning themselves as 'pro-life,' conservatives show painfully little concern for the children and families their laws will force into existence." Examples follow.
  • Jill Lepore: [06-24] The Supreme Court's Selective Memory. It didn't take long to realize that when Scalia spoke of "originalism," he simply meant whatever he happened to think at the time. Scalia's no longer here to channel what the Founders originally thought, but his heirs are equally adept at reinventing the past.
  • Ian Millhiser: [06-23] The Supreme Court's new gun ruling means virtually no gun regulation is safe: "New York State Rifle v. Bruen is poorly reasoned. But its implications are potentially catastrophic." Millhiser also wrote: [06-21] The Supreme Court tears a new hole in the wall separating church and state.
  • Rani Molla: [06-24] 5 ways abortion bans could hurt women in the workforce.
  • Nicole Narea: [06-24] The end of Roe is only the beginning for Republicans, and [06-25] Republicans are eyeing a nationwide abortion ban. Can they pull it off?
  • Charles P Pierce: [06-24] The Hard Right Has Gotten What It Paid For: "The Court's decision on Friday was a victory for clinic bombers, murderous snipers, stalkers of doctors, and vandals of all kinds." Points to the deep connection between the Koch network and the Federalist Society, brokering some kind of deal that swung the 2016 presidential election. Also: "States will be in conflict the way they haven't been since the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850."
  • Nia Prater: [06-24] 'A Woman Has No Rights to Speak Of': Read Liberals' Supreme Court Dissent.
  • Nathan J Robinson: [06-24] The Supreme Court Is Coming Dangerously Close to Complete Illegitimacy. Robinson also wrote back when the draft opinion was leaked [05-07] The Atrocious Reasoning of Samuel Alito.
  • Greg Sargent/Paul Waldman: [06-24] 5 big truths about the Supreme Court's gutting of Roe:
    1. The court's decision is both straightforward and incredibly sweeping.
    2. The court is only getting started.
    3. Democrats need a fundamental rethink to meet this moment.
    4. Democrats must make very clear promises about what's next.
    5. Democrats must make this stick -- hard -- politically.
  • Dylan Scott: [06-24] The end of Roe will mean more children living in poverty. Curious how "pro-life" concerns end at birth. Scott also wrote: [06-24] The dire health consequences of denying abortions, explained.
  • Adam Serwer: [06-25] The Constitution Is Whatever the Right Wing Says It is.
  • Jia Tolentino: [06-24] We're Not Going Back to the Time Before Roe. We're Going Somewhere Worse: "We are entering an era not just of unsafe abortions but of the widespread criminalization of pregnancy."
  • Jillian Weinberger: [06-24] How the US polarized on abortion -- even as most Americans stayed in the middle.
  • Jessica Winter: [06-25] The Supreme Court Decision That Defined Abortion Rights for Thirty Years: "The centrist, compromising view of reproductive rights in Planned Parenthood v. Casely helped clear the path to overturn Roe v. Wade."
  • Kate Zernike: [06-25] How Did Roe Fall "Before a Decisive Ruling, a Powerful Red Wave." Singles out the 2010 mid-terms, where Republicans flipped a majority of state legislatures, which they then used to gerrymander districts, rig elections, and introduce an endless stream of bizarre laws. The focus on abortion was just one of many areas where they relentlessly pushed the envelope of what was acceptable, sane even (guns too). "Over time the attack on Roe has become more than an attack on abortion; it has become an attack on democracy."
  • Mary Ziegler: [06-24] If the Supreme Court Can Reverse Roe, It Can Reverse Anything. Or, as seems increasingly the case, just make shit up. Those of us old enough to remember right-wingers complaining about liberals "legislating from the bench" are finding this new regime exceptionally bizarre.
  • [06-25] 18 Ways the Supreme Court Just Changed America: Various "thinkers" at Politico weigh in, with takes all over the place. At least a third of these are blatantly ridiculous. Even the ones who seem justifiably alarmed don't seem to have a firm grasp of reality. I am especially disturbed by the pictures, here and elsewhere, of the "Students for Life protesters." Who are these women? And how did they get tangled up in this cynical political conspiracy? They seem so happy, failing so completely to grasp that abortion is always an exception, where the rules they think they can impose through their wishes break down in rare but real tragedy. Such naive belief must be delicious, but turns blind and cruel when backed up with the force of law.
    • 'People who seek abortions will seek to circumvent these laws.'
    • Young people 'won't see this country as a democracy.'
    • 'This decision will push abortion to the center of every political race in the country and polarize U.S. politics even more.'
    • This decision will 'give both parties an opportunity to move toward the center on abortion.'
    • 'The court's invalidation of Roe v. Wade will fire the starting gun on yet another wave of overtly violent conflict.'
    • 'In a post-Roe America, I am hopeful that our society will rebuild, and out communities will heal.'
    • 'It's hard to see how the issue will do much at the national level.'
    • This decision will 'place the reproductive health of Black women and other women of color at great risk.'
    • 'The American people will be forced to talk to one another, reason together.'
    • Expectant parents will not be able to fully use the powerful tools and knowledge of genetic testing and prenatal screening.
    • The decision will 'exacerbate the partisan and regional division on abortion that is already in place.'
    • 'There will be civil war.'
    • The anti-abortion movement will 'look to the conservative justices for protection for fetal personhood.'
    • The court could craft 'a new, more modern and justice-focused decision upholding the right to abortion.'
    • 'Conservatives must urgently embrace a whole-life approach.'
    • 'Making abortion illegal will not materially affect the number of abortions.'
    • 'A trajectory of many years of laws that increasingly see women's health and autonomy as secondary to those of fetuses.'
    • 'Abortion opponents will not be appeased until abortion is entirely eliminated.'

Since we're here, some other stories, briefly noted:

Ukraine: The war grinds on, with Russia continuing to make small gains in Luhansk, including their capture of Severodonetsk, and little interest from either side in ending the war. Some stories:

  • Katrin Bennhold/Jim Tankersley: [06-26] Ukraine War's Latest Victim? The Fight Against Climate Change. It's hard to wean yourself while you're panicking to get more to make up for lost access to Russian oil and gas. E.g.: Germany will fire up coal plants again in an effort to save natural gas.
  • Andrew Cockburn: [06-24] Why Sanctions Always Fail.
  • Jen Kirby: [06-23] Russia's territory in Europe is the latest source of Ukraine war tensions: Kaliningrad is a majority-Russian (87%) city and territory on the Baltic Sea, named in 1946 when the Soviet Union started redesigning the borders of eastern Europe. Before, the city was known as Köningsberg, at least after it became part of Prussia in 1525 (or 1657, following a short Swedish occupation). After 1918, it remained part of Germany, but was separated by a Polish corridor. In 1946, 100,000 Germans were expelled, and by 1948 400,000 Russians had moved in, so Stalin decided to keep it as part of the RFSFR instead of giving it to Lithuania (which separates it from Russia, but the Lithuanian population is only 0.4%). However, the land barrier is giving Lithuania an excuse to disrupt land transportation between Russia and Kaliningrad. This strikes me as an unnecessary provocation and a dangerous escalation of the sanctions regime. [PS: Needless to say: [06-24] Russia Blames US for Lithuania's Kaliningrad Embargo.]
  • Anatol Lieven: [06-20] Ukraine minister Kuleba accuses critics of being 'enablers of Putin': His is a name you should recognize when it appears in outlandishly hawkish op-eds. I give Biden some credit in not playing Bush's "either you're with us or against us" ultimatum, but Kuleba has no such cares. He is having the time of his life.
  • Branko Marcetic: [06-24] Western Sanctions on Russia Aren't Working as Intended: They started with an overestimation of the costs to Russia, and an almost complete ignorance of the self-costs they would produce. They helped to rally public support for Putin in Russia, while they've undercut political support at home -- e.g., their contribution to inflation is hurting Biden, even if support for the war hasn't eroded. I'm not surprised. I've always thought that the best excuse for sanctions was that they were a way to feel like you're doing something to Putin short of directly escalating a war that could easily become worse.
  • John P Ruehl: [06-24] The Ukraine War's Role in Exacerbating Global Food Insecurity.
  • Liz Sly: [06-25] Russia will soon exhaust its combat capabilities, Western assessments predict. So there's light at the end of the tunnel? Excuse me if I've heard that one before. Unless NATO starts reinforcing troops (which would be a really bad idea), Russia has significantly more resources that it can continue to bring to bear (assuming Putin still wants to).

Inflation: Look: Democrats worked hard to save the economy from collapse during the pandemic, both in early 2020 when the stock market plunged so bad even Republicans were willing to play along, and in early 2021 when they pushed a serious stimulus bill through to get things moving again. The reforms weren't targeted as precisely as possible, so some people came out of the crisis better off than before, while others barely survived. But Republicans had nothing to offer, other than their bitter opposition, which along with a couple of chickenshit Democratic senators eventually brought better prospects to a halt. Meanwhile, the disruptions caused (and still being caused, e.g., in China) by the pandemic messed up supply chains, and sudden shifts in supply and demand got converted into higher prices -- the same sort of price gouging we saw early in the pandemic. All this adds up to higher consumer prices (aka inflation, although many economists tie the word more closely to higher wages, which is what they really get worked up about).

  • Ahmari Anthony: [02-10] The Meat Industry's Middlemen Are Starving Families and Farmers.
  • Kate Aronoff: [06-24] Inflation Is Scrambling Joe Biden's Brain. Biden's embraced the idea of a "gas tax holiday," where the savings wouldn't amount to much, and almost certainly go not to consumers but to companies profit lines. Kevin T Dugan: [06-22] Joe Biden, Oil Man notes that Republicans oppose Biden's proposal, not wanting to give Biden any credit for lowering prices, especially given that they may already be declining.
  • Michael Hudson: [06-22] The Fed's Austerity Program to Reduce Wages. Politicians may cite higher consumer prices as inflation, but the only inflation the Fed takes seriously is wages, not least because the only tool the Fed has to combat inflation is to put people out of work, to make workers desperate enough to accept less. As for the rest: "The Fed is all in favor of asset-price inflation." Also note: "The economy cannot recover as long as today's debt overhead is left in place. Debt service, housing costs, privatized medical care, student debt and a decaying infrastructure have made the U.S. economy uncompetitive."
  • Paul Krugman: [06-23] Beware the Dangers of Sado-Monetarism.
  • Phillip Longman: [06-20] It's the Monopoly, Stupid: "Unchecked corporate power is fueling inflation."
  • Alexander Sammon: [06-21] Skyrocketing Rent Is Driving Inflation.

Eric Alterman: [06-24] Will the Oligarchs Who Own the US Media Save Democracy? Don't Bet on It.

Justin Elliott/Jesse Eisinger/Paul Kiel/Jeff Ernsthausen/Doris Burke: [06-21] Meet the Billionaire and Rising GOP Mega-Donor Who's Gaming the Tax System: Susquehana founder and TikTok investor Jeff Yass.

Ben Jacobs: [06-23] Donald Trump's cuckoo coup: By all rights, the January 6 Committee hearings should be dominating the news this week. Thanks to Republican non-participation, we've never seen Congressional hearings this clear and focused, so free of cant and obfuscation. Sure, the net result is pretty much what we understood at the time: an understanding that led almost immediately to Trump's second impeachment. Jacobs also wrote: [06-22] A new right-wing super PAC is attacking Liz Cheney as a "DC diva". More on the hearings:

  • David Brooks: [06-08] The Jan. 6 Committee Has Already Blown It: Doesn't take much to be a "right-centrist" pundit these days, does it? He moans that "these goals are pathetic." Why bother investigating things that merely happened? Why not ask for the impossible? "We need a committee that will preserve democracy on Jan. 6, 2025, and Jan. 6, 2029." But isn't part of the threat to 2025 and 2029 the fact that a lot of people still don't understand the horror of Jan. 6, 2021? Maybe it won't do any good to explain it again, calmly and thoroughly, as the Committee is trying to do, but does Brooks have a better idea? Not this week.
  • Jen Chaney/Benjamin Hart: [06-26] What Has Made the January 6 Hearings Such Great Television?
  • Richard L Hasen: [06-24] No One Is Above the Law, and That Starts With Donald Trump. I remember hearing that phrase a lot when Clinton was president. Much less so with Bush. And while it's something one would like to think is true about Trump, he seems to have proven that he is, if not above the law, at least beyond its reach. On the other hand, even if it were possible to indict and convict Trump on any of hundreds of possible charges, don't think that would prove the justice system in America is, you know, just. Just lucky, which at the moment it isn't.
  • Robert Kuttner: [06-23] The Consequences of Indicting Trump. With right-wingers complaining that the January 6 Committee hearings are a "show trial," it's interesting to imagine how a real trial would be different. For one thing, the power of subpoena and the penalties for perjury would be stronger. The most likely problem is that defining the crime would be more difficult: it is obvious that Trump's efforts to cling to power skitted around all sorts of malfeasances, but he was operating in territory where no one had ever ventured before, and which hadn't been anticipated and coded into law. The other obvious problem is selecting a jury that would be able to judge the case precisely on the merits, without fear of future reprisals. And while the case itself could be presented in non-political terms, it won't be heard that way, at least by the public. Even Kuttner spends much more time speculating on political ramifications.
  • Charles P Pierce: [06-23] There's Always One Guy in the Office Who Will Act on the Boss's Worst Ideas: In Trump's DOJ, that turned out to be Jeffrey Clark. Also: Trump's Misfit Goons Simply Could Not Shut Up About What They Were Doing.
  • Nathan J Robinson: [06-16] The Dangers of Praising Mike Pence and Liz Cheney: "Democrats need to stop praising horrible neoconservatives."

Kathryn Joyce: [06-24] 'National Conservative' manifesto: A plan for fascism -- but it's not hypothetical. Document, came out of a conference last fall, hard to tell how seriously to take it, but one speaker sequence mentioned here suggests it's not just a few "think-tankers": Rick Santorum, Nigel Farage, Mark Meadows.

Jen Kirby: [06-23] Afghanistan's staggering set of crises, explained: "Almost a year after Kabul's fall and the US's withdrawal, the economy remains in free fall, and the country faces a near-constant humanitarian disaster." Why do you think it was any better when the US military was ensconced in Kabul? Granted, it probably looked better to Americans, with their governmment pumping up a bubble around them, but if it was so great why did the people let the Taliban back in? Not unpredictably, US sore-loserdom has set in, with the US seizing Afghan assets abroad, and refusing to provide humanitarian aid for a crisis large of its own making. Continued US hostility also gives away any change at leverage that engagement might offer. This only plays into the hands of the most reactionary elements of the Taliban, who much like reactionary elements here are the least competent of all possible administrators. Of course, the US has played the sore-loser card many times before. North Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Syria, and Iran are countries we once supposedly cared for but stand today as monuments to America's hurt vanity. One reason this has popped up again is that Afghanistan was hit by an earthquake last week, killing at least 1,000. See: Adam Weinstein: [06-24] Earthquake poses test of US resistance to the Taliban.

Rohan Montgomery: [06-26] The First Item on the G7 Agenda Should Be to Cancel the Global South's Debt: "The simplest way to fight global warming and injustice at the same time would be for the world's richest countries to end the vicious debt cycle that forces poor countries to exploit natural resources." Of course, it's not going to happen. The reason the G7 is the G7 is that they're happily collecting rent from the rest of the world. Also that most of the rent doesn't go to the governments, but to the moguls and oligarchs those governments serve. After WWII it became clear that Western Colonialism wouldn't be sustainable, so they came up with a new way to continue the exploitation without the political visibility. That was debt, which along with intellectual property rents keeps the Global South down.

Nicole Narea: [06-21] What Eric Greitens's "RINO hunting" ad means for the Missouri Senate race. Gross, gratuitous violence, sure, but isn't it weird when Greitens huffs: "Order your RINO Hunting Permit today!" Here he is, urging followers to commit crimes, but insisting that they need a permit first? And who exactly is issuing these permits?

Nicole Narea: [06-24] Congress passes a landmark gun control package: "Landmark" is a bit of a stretch, as it doesn't do much -- so little a handful of Republicans went along with it, perhaps confident after the Supreme Court's gun ruling this week that the courts will strip it down even further. On that angle, see [06-24] So is Bruen the reaso a few Republicans went along with a gun bill?

Jim Robbins/Thomas Fuller/Christine Chung: [06-15] Flooding Chaos in Yellowstone, a Sign of Crises to Come.

Jeffrey St Clair: [06-24] Roaming Charges: The Anal Stage of Constitutional Analysis.

Raymond Zhong: [06-24] Heat Waves Around the World Push People and Nations 'To the Edge'.

Daily Kos headlines:

I've started following Rick Perlstein's Twitter feed. Here's one highly a propos:

The rationalizations you'll be hearing right-wingers slinging for all the misery their ideas are about to loose on the world will be epic. More and more people will realize how surreal their mental world can be. The fever will not "break"; the fever is the whole enchilada.

I also follow Zachary Carter, whose book The Price of Peace is one of the best I've read in the last couple years, but I take exception to this:

Feels a lot like a crisis of inaction. Bad things keep happening and Biden can't or won't respond. Today's Roe repeal is the sort of thing that could be a political opportunity for Democrats, but the party has no plausible plan to do anything about it.

But aren't there several plausible plans in play: blue states are passing legislation codifying support for abortion rights, and offering sanctuaries; Congress could do the same if Democrats had slightly larger majorities; with larger majorities, the Supreme Court itself could be reformed (the subject of an op-ed by Jamelle Bouie: How to Discipline a Rogue Supreme Court. Sure, some Democratic plans in the past haven't worked out so well, like Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign, which was at least partially sold on the need to prevent the right-wing takeover of the Supreme Court.

There are other areas where Biden and the Democratic leadership are coming off as more inept, not least because they are conflicted. There is no good solution for inflation without also considering all other economic factors, including inequality and the environment, and sane people have serious disagreements about what to do when there. Also on the Ukraine War and many other foreign policy disasters, which are the end result of decades of bad policy and missed opportunities. The simple fact is that any time a Democrat gets elected president -- and that only seems to happen after a Republican has made a total botch of the world -- that Democrat is going to be hit with multiple crises that have been gestating over long periods of time, then hampered by not having the power or the good will to do what really needs to be done. Somehow Republicans get a free pass on blame, and new chances to fuck things up even more, knowing that Democrats will have to clean up their messes, and will be found wanting for doing so, which will kick off yet another cycle of rage and retribution.

The 2022 elections will ultimately come down to one question: do voters want the emotional satisfaction of punishing the Democrats for everything that's gone wrong, or will they wise up to the fact that Republicans have nothing constructive to offer, and that the only way to actually fix our problems is to give Democrats the power to do so? If the latter, of course, we'll have to keep a close eye on them, but at least we'll be dealing with people who recognize problems and are willing to reason about how best to solve them.

I've been reading Matthew Yglesias since he started blogging, at least up to the point when he went to Substack and started charging monthly (and also writing columns for Bloomberg, which for all I know probably has its own paywall). I sometimes wonder whether I should at least follow his Twitter feed, but sometimes a tweet like this leaks through:

I mean the obvious answer is that Hillary Clinton should have adopted more moderate positions on issues in 2016, allowing her to win slightly more votes and become president. That's the central failure of Democratic strategy over the past decade.

I'm hard pressed to recall what "more moderate position" she didn't adopt in 2016. As Jeet Heer noted, for VP she picked "a pro-life Catholic man like Tim Kaine." Was that meant to reassure us that she'd fight to the end to protect abortion rights? Besides, she did win "slightly more votes," but lost the election because she didn't win them where she most needed them. Folks who voted for Trump because they thought he's "fight for them" were foolish and stupid, but they got the body language right -- the mistake was in thinking Trump identified with them. But Hillary, despite all her sabre-rattling, was never going to "fight" for anyone. She was always going to bend over for the highest bidder. And thanks to our two-party system, she was all that stood between Trump and us.

One last tweet, from Barack Obama, hitting key points succinctly enough to be worth quoting:

Today, the Supreme Court not only reversed nearly 50 years of precedent, it relegated the most intensely personal decision someone can make to the whims of politicians and ideologues -- attacking the essential freedoms of millions of Americans.

One more thing: I'd like to quote a particularly good paragraph by No More Mr. Nice Blog, which starts with a quote from a Ross Douthat column I didn't think worth citing above:

I guess whenever liberals are doing anything more than sending money to organizations we hope will sustain our civil rights, that's "radicalization" in Douthat's eyes. Yes, we're angry, and we're in the streets. But why does Douthat believe the anti-abortion movement will need "durable majority support"? Universal background checks and an assault weapons ban have "durable majority support." Higher minimum wages have "durable majority support." Roe itself had "durable majority support." The right doesn't care. The right knows how to hold on to power without having any popular positions, and the right also knows how to gum up the works when it temporarily loses power so it will regain power quickly. The right doesn't need a popular stance on abortion, any more than it needs a popular stance in guns or wages. It just needs to cling to power by any means necessary.

Ever since Biden took office and the Democrats tied up the Senate, we've been seeing Republicans put on a master class in "clinging to power" and "gumming up the works" -- often with the help of self-hating Democrats and a mainstream media that keeps legitimizing Republicans no matter what they say or do.

He goes on, quoting Douthat again, then responds:

The people on the right who are "hostile to synthesis, conciliation and majoritarian politics" aren't "forces," they're the entire right. Even the ones who drew the line at returning an unelected president to office believe that the right should do whatever it can get away with, national consensus be damned.

And (there's no point in me inserting the Douthat quotes, because you can imagine them already):

Stop snickering. He really believes this. He thinks it's actually possible that a movement almost monomaniacally devoted to punitive acts will do a 180 and empathetically expand aid to poor parents in the name of conservatism. . . . Yes, once again Douthat is digging in the dung pile of the contemporary right, convinced that there must be a compassionate-conservative pony in there somewhere.

He also quotes from that "NatCon Manifesto" (see Kathryn Joyce link above).

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Speaking of Which

Late Saturday start, with no aim other than to blow off some steam (starting with the Cineas piece below). This is a very troubling, very unpleasant time. While it's never been more clear how destructive the Republican Party from top to bottom has become, we're stuck with a Democratic Party which is increasingly conflicted and befuddled, where we're stuck with factions which not only don't get along but are often seen putting their own narrow interests ahead of everyone else. And at the top, well, as one headline put it: Biden Survives Bike Fall After Failed Backpedaling Attempt. The only thing I'm grateful there is that the headline is literal, and not some horrendous metaphor. I have no time or desire to try to draw up a list, but since I don't say any more about it below, the stupid dilly-dallying over the war in Ukraine is worth mentioning. Somewhere I read that Zelensky is unwilling to resume negotiations until August, when he hopes to be in a better position. Meanwhile, the NATO chief is projecting the gravy train (err, the war) will go on for years. Meanwhile, Biden is headed to Saudi Arabia hat-in-hand to beg for lower gas prices, rather than seeking relief from the countries (Iran and Venezuela) the US is sanctioning for disrespecting the empire. And the Senate (Graham and Menendez, of course) wants to shovel an extra $4.5 billion to Taiwan to piss off China. Nonetheless, even the worst Democrats are orders of magnitude less awful than the Republicans, so here we are, struggling to help Biden get back up on that bicycle (ok, that's a metaphor).

Kate Aronoff: [06-17] Biden Wrote a Stern Letter to Oil Refiners. His Government Should Take Over the Industry Instead. I've occasionally said that the biggest mistake America ever made was to allow the oil industry to be private. The profit motive led to a vast squandering of natural resources. (The Spindletop fiasco is a classic example, where the biggest find to date was pumped dry in three years, during which oil prices totally collapsed.) But also, that decision gave us oil millionaires/billionaires, who have been a political menace ever since. Still, Biden's letter doesn't inspire much faith in the greater wisdom of the public sector, as he's mostly looking for politically expedient price relief, without little if any concern for the longer term consequences. Recent price rises, which are still less than half what Europeans pay, are mostly due to a supply crunch caused by US sanctions against Russia, Venezuela, and Iran. One could argue that price increases (although not the foreign policy that's led to them) are a good thing, in that they will incentivize people and business to use less oil and gas. (Of course, the smart way to do this would be to plan tax increases well into the future, so the expectation of higher prices is set, without the immediate pinch, but Americans don't like planning, so you get movement through poorly understood panics instead.)

There is much more that could be said about nationalization, but it's an issue with no short-term chances, so no real urgency. Socialists have been overly fond of nationalization in the past, and overly reticent of late. I think there are cases where it would be a good idea, but I'm not sure what they are, or whether oil is one (regulatory and tax policy are other options, and there is a big question about stranded assets -- a lot of "wealth" is in the form of untapped oil reserves, which may turn out to be worth a lot less than current appraisals).

Christina Carrega: [06-15] The land of the free leads the world in incarceration. Why?

Sewell Chan/Eric Neugeboren: [06-19] Texas Republican Convention calls Biden win illegitimate and rebukes Cornyn over gun talks.

Fabiola Cineas: [06-15] There's no freedom without reparations. The article has problems even defining a reparations program, which should be a clue as to why it isn't a viable political agenda. If politics is the art of the possible, reparations is something else (perhaps a rhetorical device which promises to go away with suitable inducements?). But impossibility is only one of the problems with reparations. More importantly, it is simply the wrong answer to the problem -- even if you accept that the problem (the persistence of poverty and prejudice among descendants of victims of slavery and legal discrimination) is an important one that should be addressed seriously. It is wrong because it imagines the past can somehow be repaired. It is wrong because it compounds injustice, by assessing damages from people who weren't responsible to compensate people who weren't immediately affected. It is wrong because it assumes one can redress inequities without addressing inequality. A much better solution is to aim to bar discrimination and promote equality across the whole of society, regardless of past conditions, even if you have to proceed piecemeal. And it is wrong because it inevitably produces a backlash. The most obvious example is the reparations imposed on Germany after WWI, but the backlash against "affirmative action" in the 1970s should be cautionary enough. It wasn't a bad idea when the economy was booming for everyone, but as inequality increased and businesses turned against their workers, it became a wedge issue for separating the white working class (many of whom were descendants of immigrants who arrived in America well after the Civil War).

It's also wrong because it is rooted in a fundamental misconception about what justice can and cannot do, and that misconception seems to be increasingly rampant these days. Justice cannot change the past, It can (to some extent) exact revenge for recent past events, but revenge never heals, rarely soothes, and often misses its target completely. And while justice can be harsh on individuals (especially powerless ones), it is rarely up to dealing with larger groups, let alone corporations and political parties, or worst of all, national leaders who launched wars. Bill Clinton made headlines in his rush to put Ricky Ray Rector to death, but never had to face justice for his bombing of a pharmaceutical factory in Sudan, or his repeated bombing of Iraq, or his even more devastating sanctions to starve Iraqi children. And he's just one example, and certainly not the worst. The International Criminal Court might sound like a good idea, but what kind of justice do you have when you almost never bring the guilty parties. (Sure, they did prosecute Slobodan Milosevic over Kosovo, but it was Wesley Clark, under Bill Clinton (again!), who ran the bombing campaign against Serbia, killing up to 2,000.

I have no objection to impressing upon all Americans how despicable slavery was, and how systematically and often violently both officials and ad hoc groups terrorized "free" blacks after the Civil War. I'd go so far as to say that it's important to acknowledge all unsavory acts over centuries by American state(s) and people. While the arguments for reparations start with explaining this history, and should be applauded for that, the framework of reparations recasts history as political, inviting reaction. While it's true that reparations need not be a zero-sum game, but it is easily understood as such: a transfer of wealth from the public (which through taxes means everyone, in an economy where most people are vulnerable) to an arbitrarily selected few. The left's key political proposition is to help nearly everyone, fairly and equally, but reparations can easily be twisted into an argument for putting certain minorities ahead of an increasingly fragile and frightened majority.

Needless to say, reparations for any one issue raises questions about other past injustices, of which they are many. There has, for instance, been some reparations for Japanese-Americans interned during WWII. There is something to be said for the symbolic effect of admitting past wrongs, and that may be all some reparations advocates are working for. Similarly, I don't see much harm in suing police departments for wrongful deaths, especially where prosecution is impossible. Sometimes it even works to sue a corporation (as with Purdue Pharma), but such cases have to be pretty egregious, and they're no substitute for better regulation to prevent such disasters from happening. While the right to sue is one important safeguard for justice, I fear we've gone way overboard, resulting in a justice system which is arbitrary and inconsistent.

Elizabeth Dwoskin: [06-19] Peter Thiel helped build big tech. Now he wants to tear it all down. Another billionaire who thinks his money entitles him to run (or ruin) the world.

Chris Haberman: [06-18] Mark Shields, TV Pundit Known for His Sharp Wit, Dies at 85: I remember watching him on NPR square off against David Brooks, in the latter's Bush-toady phase. He didn't impress me much, but Brooks developed a reputation as slime that has stuck to him, even as he's tried to distance himself from more reptilian Republicans.

Roxana Hegeman: [06-17] Heat stress blamed for thousands of cattle deaths in Kansas. It wasn't extraordinarily hot, but the combination of heat and humidity killed over 2,000 cattle, in a preview of the sort of killing heat waves likely to be common as global temperatures rise. Probably not the first such example, but this one hit especially close to home.

Ian Millhiser: [05-15] Democracy in America is a rigged game.

Timothy Noah: [06-17] Was Nixon's Guilt as Obvious as Trump's Is? Not much here on Trump, but then you already know about the Jan. 6 Committee's evidence. Focus is more on whether Nixon ordered the Watergate break in, as opposed to merely covering up the excessive zeal of his crew, and Noah presents a fairly strong case why we should think so, even with no one coming out and admitting it. For one thing, Nixon ordered similar break ins. For another, Nixon was directly involved in more crimes than you can shake a stick at -- Noah has several examples of campaign finance violations, and there was still the back channel promises to derail negotiations that might have ended the Vietnam War in 1968 (Nixon's prosecution of the war in Vietnam and extension to Cambodia will always remain in my mind his supreme crime, on a level with the worst monsters of the 20th century). One can go much deeper into the Nixon/Trump comparisons -- as Woodward and Bernstein tried to do last week -- but they will mostly show that however cunning and unscrupulous Nixon was in exceeding his authority and venturing beyond the law, he was conscious of what he was doing, and aware of what he was risking. Trump, on the other hand, aspired to do much worse, but lacked the managerial chops to pull it off. In the end, he was hoisted by his own words, as testified to by his ridiculous "advisers," and by the acts of his most outrageous fans. That the latter were (probably) disconnected and acting autonomously doesn't excuse him; it underscores how irresponsible and damaging his lies and cult had become. Noah ends with an indictment of the media, for letting Nixon fade gently once he resigned, instead of digging to get to the bottom of all the evil he had done. Their failure then has been compounded with Trump now. We should by now understand that Nixon and Trump are two types who should never be allowed even remotely near presidential power. Yet the media was so smitten with both, they not only failed to expose their crimes, they never admitted their own complicity in letting them fester until the crimes became impossible to ignore.

Gina Schouten: [05-24] Why We're Polarized, Part 1. The first of four notes on Ezra Klein's Why We're Polarized, by a Harvard philosophy professor. The others are [05-31] Part 2, [06-08] Part 3: Moving on to Institutions, and [06-15] Part 4: The Last one, about Party Differences. The latter focuses on how the Republicans have cultivated a monolithic identity, which is continually reaffirmed ever more starkly, while the Democrats are bound to be a loose coalition with divergent interests, united only by their fear of Republicans.

Samantha Schmidt: [06-19] Gustavo Petro, former guerrilla, will be Colombia's first leftist president.

Jeffrey St Clair: [06-17] Roaming Charges: A River Ran Through It: Title refers to Yellowstone, the first patch of America reserved as a National Park, a place where you can still observe relatively unsullied nature. Well, nature struck back, and now the Park is closed. "They called it a 1000-year flood. It will probably happen four more times in the next 50 years." In other stories, he notes that Republicans flipped a House seat (TX-34), in a district that is 84% Latino. (I see here that turnout was 7.34%, so you'd think there would be room for improvement in November, but that's pretty embarrassing. For more on this, see GOP Win Says More About Filemon Vela Than a South Texas 'Red Wave'.) That's the first of a number of incendiary lobs at the Democrats (especially the pathetic idolization of Liz Cheney and Mike Pence). There's also this little gem:

Uvalde police have hired a private law firm to fight requests to release the bodycam footage of the school shooting because they claim it could be used by other shooters to determine "weaknesses" in cop response to crimes.

Evidently they have no plans to examine the footage themselves to help figure out how to correct for the "weaknesses" it reveals.

Emily Stewart: [05-15] Stopping inflation is going to hurt: "The economy will feel worse before it feels better." Well, that's largely because the fight against inflation is being led by the Fed, and they see their job as helping bankers by turning the screws on borrowers and consumers. There are other possible approaches, especially given that a major driver of inflation is the Ukraine War, and that has nothing at all to do with interest rates. Same thing for monopoly rents and supply chain kinks, although slack demand will eventually reduce those pressures -- while further discouraging businesses from developing more capacity, which would help drive prices down. Also on inflation:

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Sunday, June 12, 2022

Speaking of Which

I don't feel like doing a general survey this week, but I felt like jotting down a quote from Sebastian Haffner's 1938 memoir, Defying Hitler -- Brian Eno recommended the book recently so I thought I'd give it a try. Haffner is a pseudonym for a young German lawyer (Referendar, basically a clerk in the courts system), from a professional class family, with centrist politics breaking against the Nazis (as opposed to the many centrists who broke the other way). From page 224:

Nationalism -- that is, national self-reflection and self-worship -- is certainly a dangerous mental illness wherever it appears, capable of distorting the character of a nation and making it ugly, just as vanity and egoism distort the character of a person and make it ugly.

I don't know which German word was translated as "self-reflection," but I imagine it has more to do with mirror-gazing than with any sort of mental self-scrutiny. Aside from that quibble, this is a pretty apt definition. I've often noted that political appeals to patriotism work mostly as flattery, as least for those who identify with the nation, and who use that identity to elevate themselves apart from others, who are easy then to characterize as enemies.

The paragraph continues:

In Germany this illness has a particularly vicious destructive effect, precisely because Germany's innermost character is openness, expansiveness, even in a certain sense selflessness. If other peoples suffer from nationalism it is an incidental weakness, beside which their true qualities can remain intact; but in Germany nationalism kills the basic values of the national character. That explains why the Germans -- doubtless a fine, sensitive and human people in healthy circumstances -- become positively inhuman when they succumb to the nationalist illness; they take on a brutal nastiness of which other peoples are incapable. Only the Germans lose everything through nationalism: the heart of their humanity, their existence, their selves. This illness, which damages only the external features of others, corrodes their souls. A nationalist Frenchman can still be a typical (and otherwise quite likable) Frenchman. A German who yields to nationalism is no longer a German. What he achieves is a German Empire, maybe even a Great or Pan-German Empire -- but also the destruction of Germany.

Haffner underestimates the pathology of nationalism in other countries, while failing to note that one thing that made German nationalism so ominous was that Germany was a large and powerful country that could invoke the memory of past empires. In small countries, nationalism may be equally distasteful, but it's more likely to assume a defensive crouch. (Nationalists in Ukraine may be as personally noxious as Russian nationalists, but the aggressor there is the one with size, power, and history.)

Haffner also credits Germans with more cosmopolitanism than seems warranted. As recently as 1918, Germany was a monarchy with a powerful military caste, a landed aristocracy, and an industrial and commercial autocracy, bent on imperial conquest. It shouldn't be surprising that many Germans who had bought into such delusions would seek out dynamic new leaders -- rather than admitting that the ideas themselves were rotten. (This was well before Britain and France were forced to abandon their overseas empires.)

On the other hand, you can plug "America" into this paragraph and it makes more sense. American history has its share of blemishes and warts, but what we remember fondly, what we most of us identify as distinctively American, has come from the left: ending slavery, expanding democracy, equal rights, free speech, opportunity for immigrants, freedom to develop and create and prosper -- things that the right has sought at every juncture to hinder. Take those things away, as America's self-identified nationalists want to do, and America will, like Germany in the Nazi years, become a bitter, hardened, hollow shell of itself.

It's unnerving to read this section the week the House Select Committee on January 6 chose to unveil their findings. The thing I find most disturbing isn't what happened at the time, but how Republicans (especially on Fox News) are reacting. However briefly, at the time many Republicans, including Congressional leaders Kevin McCarthy and Mitch McConnell, instinctively sought to distance from the rioters and the inciters. But most of them have since reversed course, finding excuses first for Trump, eventually for the rioters. But what I heard after the Committee presentation was how many of them (especially on the Fox payroll) have adopted the rioters, most explicitly as martyrs to the Republican cause. While the insurrection was happening, I never for a moment doubted that it would be put down, that Congress would reconvene, and that the election results would be confirmed. My reasoning was simple: those were still things that the people believed in, regardless of the outcome. But seeing how so many Republicans have embraced both Trump's lies and the rioters' crimes, I'm less certain they will defend democracy next time around.

Back around the time GW Bush was reëlected in 2004 I bought a copy of Richard J Evans' The Coming of the Third Reich, figuring it was time to brush up on the signs of how a nation could come to embrace fascism. It's still on the shelf. Bush self-destructed shortly after the election. Initially, he decided to use his mandate to wreck Social Security, which I knew would backfire, due to technical obstacles built into its design, and also politically. His wars got worse, leading to sacking Rumsfeld and sidelining Cheney. Katrina hit, and suddenly a "heckuva job" wasn't enough. Congress went to the Democrats in 2006, ending any chance of going after Social Security. Then the banking system collapsed, and with it the economy. Bush finished his term with the lowest approval rating of any president ever.

While I never got to Evans' book, I did wind up reading Bejmanin Carter Hett's The Death of Democracy: Hitler's Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic, which covers the same ground in half as many pages (Haffner's corresponding section is less than half that long, but includes the now-familiar names). And I've read a good deal more specifically about the Nazis, as well as more broadly about fascism (e.g., Robert Paxton's The Anatomy of Fascism, which narrowly excludes "conservatives" like Francisco Franco, who are still fascists in my book).

As a leftist, I'm exceptionally sensitive to the slightest whiff of fascism, so points of similarity tend to resonate with me: each one implies the likelihood of others, and cumulatively they add up to a diagnosis. Still, it only matters if the insight scores political points. (We do still oppose fascists, don't we?) And most people are reluctant to use The F Word -- liberals because they're extra-careful to respect political differences, and conservatives because, well, it cuts too close to the bone. But with Trump and his fan base, we keep getting closer (e.g., see Zack Beauchamp: The January 6 hearings showed why it's reasonable to call Trump a fascist).

My considered view is that Trump is a Fascist, at least as long as he gets to be Der Führer/Il Duce, but America isn't ready for a Fascist dictatorship, and he isn't smart/skilled/driven enough to make it happen. On the other hand, the number of Americans who would welcome a Trump dictatorship has probably doubled in the last six years. That's scary, but still not a huge number. And while they have a lot of guns, Trump militia like the Proud Boys are a long ways from being able to terrorize "the left" like the SA did -- not least because the police and courts, bad as they are, are unlikely to roll over like their German equivalents. What Trump, like Hitler and Mussolini, does have up his sleeve is deep support from conservative elites, who thus far are right in their belief they can pull the puppet strings (at least where it matters, on taxes, regulation, and the courts). Hitler was especially ruthless where it came to consolidating power. Trump has no idea how to do that -- not that he wouldn't applaud giddily if someone slew his enemies.

In Trump's wake, there seems to be renewed interest in Richard Nixon, especially his conspiracy to cover up Watergate. For example, see: Woodward and Bernstein thought Nixon defined corruption. Then came Trump. If Trump seems worse than Nixon now, it's largely because Nixon (and Reagan and Bush-Cheney and dozens of lesser Republicans) set the bar so low. The concept behind Watergate was the exact same one that led Trump's staff to meet with Russians, and the dump of DNC emails was as damaging as anything they hoped to dig up at Watergate. The two were morally equivalent. Nixon and Trump shared several traits. Both lusted for power, and neither had any scruples about pursuing it. Both believed that as president they were above the law. (As Nixon put it, "When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.") Both cultivated lists of enemies, and hurt themselves pursuing vengeance. Nixon broke new ground in raking in campaign money, and in manipulating the media. Trump followed suit, and probably topped him at both. (While Nixon seems to have been interested in money only for the power it could bring, Trump was after more money.) Nixon initiated the agenda of packing the Supreme Court, and Trump brought it to fruition. Nixon designed the reactionary political realignment (start from his "silent majority") which Trump kicked up to another level.

Trump left policy to his minions, who pursued corruption like never before, causing grave damage to the very concept of public service. Nixon was much more engaged, especially in foreign policy, where what he did was much worse. Nixon's escalation in Vietnam, and especially his "incursion" into Cambodia, were among the worst war crimes of the Post-WWII era. His coup in Chile was also murderous, just on a smaller scale, but forever a stain on America's reputation as a champion of democracy. Nixon still gets a lot of credit for his opening to China, but defense mandarins may be second-guessing him there. He was also responsible for promoting the regional power ambitions of countries like Iran and Saudi Arabia -- thinking both would be allies against the Soviet Union, they turned out to have their own agendas, with blowback.

Nixon also presided over the decision to ignore peak oil, replacing declining domestic oil production with imports, leading to the oil price shocks of the 1970s. One nearly immediate impact was that the trade surpluses the US had enjoyed for decades turned negative in 1970, never (so far, at least) returning. That produced a drag on the economy, and jump started the trend to ever greater inequality -- Republicans stoked this at every opportunity since, while Democrats did little to halt the trend. Longer term, Nixon's decision to keep gas cheap only accelerated today's climate crisis.

Finally, we should mention the one ridiculous piece of Nixon's foreign policy that Trump was especially suited for: the "madman theory," where the US tries to intimidate rivals by feigning insanity. Nixon was never quite insane enough to pull it off, although Reagan's careless rhetoric nearly did lead to a nuclear confrontation. But Trump was so volatile his military leaders went behind his back to reassure foreign leaders the US won't nuke them.

Speaking of Watergate, we've watched the first three episodes of the eight-episode Starz series Gaslit, which focuses on the turbulent marriage of Martha and John Mitchell (Julia Roberts and Sean Penn -- the latter under massive makeup, leaving only his grin and voice recognizable, and producing more cognitive dissonance by playing him as such a horndog), with major parts for John Dean (Dan Stevens, juggling his insecurity and scruples while pursuing his own romance) and G. Gordon Liddy (Shea Wigham, psychotic). They seem to be keeping their facts straight, while taking liberties with the characters -- mostly making them much funnier than you figured, and therefore much more interesting to watch. (Martha Kelly as Nixon secretary Rose Mary Woods is especially note-perfect. Brian Geraghty, who played a sociopathic kidnapper in The Big Sky, reprises that character as a "minder" assigned to keep Martha Mitchell from talking to the press.) We've started but never finished several recent series on recent political figures (Mrs. America, Impeachment: American Crime Story), but this one we are enjoying. Also note that historian Rick Perlstein is on board to keep the facts straight.

On the back story, this just appeared: Manuel Roig-Franzia: During Watergate, John Mitchell Left His Wife. She Called Bob Woodward.

Here are a few more links. I haven't made any effort to collect on the Jan. 6 hearings, or on Ukraine, nor do I have more to say about guns. (Breaking news is that some kind of deal has been made in the Senate, but that still doesn't guarantee passage.) I also avoided pieces on the economy, which are hard to sort out or make sense of. We seem to be stuck with more and more inflation, even if there's a recession, which Wall Street and the Fed seem to be in a race to trigger. Also nothing on elections (American, anyhow).

One gun story I don't have a link for -- it's in today's Wichita Eagle -- is Kris Kobach explaining how he gives his children "a chance to shoot a deer" once they turn 7. His preferred gun is the AR-15, because it's designed to minimize the kickback, making it easier for children to handle. He also likes the AR-15 for coyotes (probably because it improves the chances of hitting one without having to aim carefully). He doesn't describe this as hunting, and doesn't mention what they do with the carcass (assuming they hit something), so maybe they're just not very good shots. My father took us hunting, but we never held a gun until well into our teens, and then it was a single-shot bolt-action .22 rifle. He also had shotguns, and I shot them a few times later, but never liked hunting or target shooting. I'm reminded, though, of a story a few years back, when a small girl was given an Uzi at an Arizona shooting range, and lost control of the gun, killing her instructor. The story also notes that all three Republican candidates for KS Attorney General favor arming teachers. One is quoted about how "an armed society is a polite society." (I wonder what evidence they have. I haven't noticed many police becoming more polite once they realize a suspect is armed.) If elected, Kobach has vowed to target the ACLU, and to set up a whole task force dedicated to suing the Biden administration. He's nothing but a terrorist with a Harvard Law degree.

Jon Lee Anderson: [06-06] Can Chile's Young President Reimagine the Latin American Left?

Andrew Bacevich: [06-07] The F-Word (The Other One): Fascist, of course. I could have slipped this link in above inasmuch as the author offers his opinion (and several others) on whether Trump is a Fascist. ("My own inclination is to see him as a narcissistic fraud and swindler." Sure enough, and bad enough, don't you think?) But the bone he wants to pick is with Timothy Snyder: [05-19] We Should Say It. Russia Is Fascist. Snyder is a historian of 20th Century Eastern Europe, whose hatred for Nazi Germany is only matched by his loathing of Soviet Russia, leading him to identify strongly with anyone caught up in their savage machinery: Bloodlands is his big history book, but he's also written political tracts which try to defend liberal democracy against its modern foes, who are invariably rooted in the region's totalitarian past. In this, he's found that mapping his targets to Fascism is all it takes (QED), so that's what he does with Putin. On some level, this is more satisfying than the pundits who try to pigeonhole him as a Marxist (no evidence of that), the ghost of some Tsar (or Rasputin), or (more commonly) as a diehard KGB spook. No doubt Putin shares some traits with Fascists, but most are common to many right-wingers (nationalism, reactionary cultural tastes, a heavy hand defending the order), and few offer any insight into why Putin decided to invade Ukraine, or what he wants to achieve. Rather, the F-Word is a label which argues he needs to be stopped, because his aggression is insatiable. Bacevich is historian enough to debate the 1930s vs. now, but his reticence to use the F-Word may owe more to his wariness of getting caught into an inevitable war trap. Because in the end, war is what Snyder wants, and he wants it now, in Ukraine, against Putin, because he sees that conflict as some sort of cosmic struggle. ("If Russia wins in Ukraine, it won't just be the destruction of a democracy by force, though that is bad enough. It will be a demoralization for democracies everywhere.") Bacevich knows better than to give into that kind of ideological blackmail.

Jonathan Chait: [06-10] Republicans Respond to January 6 Hearings by Defending Trump: No remorse, no accountability. Probably much more like this. Probably more even worse. Trump's own: "January 6 was not simply a protest, it represented the greatest movement in the history of our country to Make America Great Again."

Jason Ditz: [06-10] Syria's Damascus Airport Shuttered After Major Israeli Attack.

Matt Ford: [06-08] The Supreme Court Keeps Chipping Away at Your Constitutional Rights. "What recourse do ordinary citizens have when federal agents violate their rights? After Wednesday, not much." Also on this, Ian Millhiser: [06-08] The Supreme Court gives lawsuit immunity to Border Patrol agents who violate the Constitution.

Sarah Jones: [06-09] Democrats Need a Vision. Fast. I meant to write more about this, but for now will merely note it. Also in this vein: Jason Linkins: [06-11] You Deserve the Good Life. Democrats Should Promise to Deliver It.

Ed Kilgore: [06-10] Rick Scott Backtracks, But His Plan Is Still Ultra-MAGA Madness: I only note this because I wrote a long critique of Scott's manifesto, in case I want to update it later. The main change seems to be an attempt to dodge the charge that he wants to raise income taxes, but he's made up for it by finding new ways to demean poor folk.

Markos Kounalakis: [06-09] The US Should Recognize Belarus's Government in Exile: Why? Because Putin isn't paranoid enough about US intentions on his border? (Or as the author puts it: "Recognizing Tikhanovskaya's government in exile would force Russia to worry about its western flank as it attacks eastern Ukraine.") Author also wants "to designate Russia a state sponsor of terror (SST)." The net effect would be to add insult to injury, making it even harder to negotiate peace. But the general principle just underscores how arrogant the US is in believing it has the right to pass judgment on who represents other countries.

William LeoGrande: [06-10] Biden's 'Summit of the Americas' showcases failed Cold War worldview: In excluding Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, another example of the US presuming it has the right to pass judgment on the political choices of other countries. Also Rosa Elizalde: [06-10] Storms at the Summit of the Americas.

Edna Mohamed: [03-25] Lowkey says he will 'not be silenced on Palestine' after push to remove him from Spotify: I've had this tab open for quite a while, meaning to check him out. Finally did last week (he's still on Spotify, also Napster), and will have reviews tomorrow. For whatever it's worth, "Long Live Palestine" is a small part of his repertoire -- at least compared to neoliberalism, or war in Iraq. (He was born in London, but his mother came from Iraq.)

Nick Parker/Bryan Pietsch: [06-12] 31 tied to hate group charged with planning riot near LGBTQ event in Idaho.

Christian Paz: [06-11] Can blaming corporate greed save Democrats on inflation? Let's concede that as far as 2022 is concerned, inflation is a political issue of some import. What Democrats need to be able to do is argue that they can deal with it better (for most people) than Republicans can, and corporate greed is an issue that should break their way, and is worth hitting on otherwise. Where Biden is most responsible for inflation is for letting the Russia-Ukraine War drag on, which is constricting the world market for food and fuel. I don't expect people to grasp that point, but peace could make a dramatic change in two of the most obvious categories.

Jeffrey St Clair: [06-10] Roaming Charges: The Politics of Limbo.

Robert Wright: [06-12] A case study in American propaganda: The Institute for the Study of War (aka the Kagan Industrial Complex).

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Sunday, June 5, 2022

Speaking of Which

I started today reading this tweet by John Cardillo:

If we removed every Democrat from politics today we'd be the freest, strongest, safest, healthiest, wealthiest, fastest growing, and most stable powerful nation the world has ever known.

Our cities and the world at large would be peaceful and prosperous.

Leftists are a cancer.

The happiest edit would just be to just swap in "Republicans" for "Democrats" and "fascists" for "leftists," but that's not quite right. If you got rid of all of the Republicans in Congress, you'd still pitched debates over most important issues. You'd still have a long list of legacy problems, which Democrats would approach with different plans and urgencies, but at least most Democrats are able to admit when a problem exists, and to entertain the possibility of different solutions. Still, few Democrats would make that edit. All democracies have legitimate opposition parties. Wanting to purge one is an attack not just on that party but on democracy itself.

Still, it's hard to see how this Republican omnipotence could work. First, how could you arrive at it other than by excluding most of the people Republicans hate? Then wouldn't you have to convince the people you've excluded to not resist, either by resigning themselves to be ruled over by people who hate them, or by incarcerating or killing them.

Then there's the matter of whether Republican policies, given a free hand to implement them, actually do the things the tweet claims. For instance, if more guns made us safer, wouldn't the US already be the safest country in the world by now? Republicans are opposed to pretty much any reform of the private health care system, which is unique in the world and a long ways from making us the healthiest nation. And we've seen repeatedly that economic growth increases when Democrats have more power, not less. Maybe there's some wiggle room Republicans can claim definitions of "freest" and "strongest," but I can think of lots of ways we are neither. Conservatives tend to view life as a zero-sum game, so they expect their freedom, wealth, etc., to come at someone else's expense. And while you may expect that the superlatives touted in the first line should apply to everyone, conservatives only care for peak values, as their primary concern is social hierarchy.

I also don't get the cancer analogy. Despite my quip above, I don't see fascism as a cancer either. Cancer is a disease that eats you out from the inside. Racism is more like a cancer. Inequality too. Capitalism can be like a cancer if you don't keep it in check. One could say the same thing of bureaucratic government. But isn't fascism an external attack on the body, like bedbugs or bubonic plague? Sure, the left has on occasion tried to lead revolutions against entrenched orders that ruled through violent repression, but self-identified socialists have mostly been mild reformers -- and these days there is hardly other kind. The term simply means that we value an equitable society above the individual pursuit of wealth and power. (Republicans like to condemn the much broader class of all Democrats as socialists, by which time the term has lost all meaning. The term seems to have some cachet given their past success with red-baiting.)

But I suppose there is one reason conservatives may view socialism as cancerous rather than simply an external threat: socialists insist that it is possible to change social and economic relations, and that idea is corrosive to the principle that social hierarchy is natural and necessary to good order. As with religious dogmas, the first instinct is not to reason with them but to stamp them out. Further proof of this is how right-wingers have increasingly attacked reason and science to keep their followers from doubting their orders.

Maggie Astor: [05-31] Trump Policies Sent US Tumbling in a Climate Ranking: As you may recall, The Trump Administration Rolled Back More Than 100 Environmental Rules. The full impact of those changes accrues over much longer timespans, and in many cases may be irreversible. This includes some (but not all) of what amounted to a war against the very idea of climate change, and the science behind it. Trump also sent a powerful message to the rest of the world not to take climate change seriously, so although the US fell more than most nations in this ranking, the effect extended far beyond US boundaries (as should be expected, given that air flow is global). Economics recognizes what are called opportunity costs: losses that are incurred indirectly, when comparing how resources could have been used better than they were. Especially in the climate domain, it is likely that opportunity costs will swamp the actual damage Trump caused (which is itself a huge burden). For a primer on opportunity costs, see John Quiggin's book Economics in Two Lessons: Why Markets Work So Well, and Why They Can Fail So Badly -- the title refers to Henry Hazlitt's famous Economics in One Lesson, the second lesson that Hazlitt missed being the impact of opportunity costs. Speaking of Quiggin, relevant here is his post on Climate change after the pandemic. Also on climate change:

Ross Barkan: [06-01] The War in Ukraine Can Be Over If the US Wants It: It must have seemed deliciously ironic to start this piece with two nonogenarians from opposite ends of the political spectrum agreeing on the most eminently practical path to ending the war: in particular, the need to give Putin a face-saving exit path, by ceding Ukrainian claims to Donbas and Crimea (preferably with some sort of referendum that makes the concessions look like self-determination -- Zelensky and Biden also need a face-saving exit path). Many observers, including Anatol Lieven and Fred Kaplan, have settled on this basic compromise, as I have myself. Barkan's additional point here is also right: US arms and economic support for Ukraine should be tied to a desire and willingness to negotiate an end to the war. "Diplomacy is not appeasement. It is the only way out."

Philip Bump: [05-31] What if -- and bear with me here -- John Durham doesn't have the goods? Bump also wrote [06-01] A brief history of failed efforts to make Trump the Russia probe's victim. The special counsel has been investigating the tip that led the FBI to look at possible collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russia about twice as long as Robert Mueller took to investigate Russia's electioneering, the various actual contacts made between Trump's people and various Russians, and the sundry attempts to cover up what did or did not happen, during which time he not only wrote a report but also obtained dozens of indictments and a fair number of convictions (many subsequently pardoned by Trump). Durham has brought one charge against a former Clinton lawyer, Michael Sussmann, who was acquitted last week. Bump may be giving Durham more credit than he deserves, but does a good job of summing up I'd be more tempted to describe as Bill Barr's parting effort to piss on the incoming Biden administration. (One thing Republicans understand is how much fun you can have investigating the opposition, which is also why they've fought efforts to investigate them, from Mueller to the Jan. 6 committee, so doggedly.) Of course, the story doesn't end with Durham's failures. He did what he was supposed to do, which is to generate some flak that will be taken as gospel by whoever still has an axe to grind over "the Russiagate hoax" -- Trump-lovers, sure, but especially Hillary-haters. For example, see Peter Van Buren: [05-30] Hillary Was In on Russiagate. Matt Taibbi probably has a whole file on this theme.

I've been pretty critical of Hillary, but don't have the interest or inclination to be a hater. I don't doubt the fact of Russian interference in the 2016 election. I think it was a dumb move on Putin's part, but he was probably right that Hillary would be more aggressive in sanctioning and marginalizing Russia. (She was, after all, Secretary of State under Obama when US Russia policy started to change.) He was also right that Trump's vanity, bigotry, and corruption could be played, but didn't get much out of it, given that Trump never cared enough to wrestle foreign policy from the neocons who've dominated it the last 20-30 years. (He might have had a better chance had he managed to keep Bannon and Flynn, who were among the Blob's first victims in his advisers.) But he was wrong in thinking nobody would notice or care. When Trump won, Clinton's fan club rushed to distribute blame elsewhere, and Putin was the easiest possible villain. Too easy.

I've resisted the "Russiagate" tide since its inception, not because I thought it was a hoax, but because it fed into two degenerate trends. First, it distracted from looking at other reasons Clinton lost, most importantly the piss-poor record New Democrats -- including Obama, who stocked his administration with so many he might as well have been a charter member -- had accumulated. And second, because it made conflict and possibly war with Russia much more likely (QED Ukraine). Also:

Kate Kelly/David D Kirkpatrick: House Panel Examining Jared Kushner Over Saudi Investment in New Firm: This kind of corruption was what I expected them to start investigating after the 2018 wins, and step up as new stories of payback and payouts emerge. We're talking $2 billion here, you know.

John E King: [05-28] Joan Robinson Changed the Way We Think About Capitalism. Profile of the path-breaking economist (1903-83), who collaborated with Keynes while keeping alive a connection to Marx, argues her "creative and heterodox thinking has much to offer us."

Sarah Jones: [06-04] White Christian Nationalism 'Is a Fundamental Threat to Democracy': Interview with Philip S Gorski and Samuel L Perry, authors of The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy. Chris Hedges covered much of this same ground in his 2007 book, American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America, although as a minister Hedges is more insistent on separating religion from fascism. I'm sympathetic to his position, but not committed: it seems to me that "white Christian nationalists" are fascists first and foremost, their religion not so much telling them what to do as reassuring them that their prejudices are right and just, that they are impervious to critics, who are by definition not just wrong but evil. Jones also wrote: [06-03] Little Martyrs: A nihilistic religion worships the gun.

Júlia Ledur/Kate Rabinowitz: [06-02] There have been over 200 mass shootings so far in 2022. The actual number in the article is 232, which is actually down a bit from 240 at this point in 2021, but way above any previous year (155 in 2020). The killing of four people in Tulsa was the 20th since the much more publicized killing of 19 children an two teachers in Uvalde, Texas. I get the problem, and would like to see something done about it, but I don't see how Biden urges Congress to act on guns in rare prime-time address helps politically. It just reinforces the Democrats want to take your guns away and leave you defenseless as they take over the country and brainwash everyone to adopt their wokeness -- never mind that that's not even remotely in the cards, let alone that it doesn't make any fucking sense. Guns and crime (and make no mistake: guns are a big part of the crime problem) are a problem, but not a top-five, maybe not a top-ten problem (just off the top of my head: inequality, war, climate, political corruption, pollution, racism, personal debt, bad health care, bad education, crumbling infrastructure, rampant fraud and deceit, disinformation (maybe move that one up), worker powerlessness (maybe move that one up, too), the imminent loss of the right to birth control, whatever the term is for the fact that one political party has totally lost its grip on reality. Of course, these problems all intersect, and guns makes many of them worse: the Buffalo shooting was white supremacy, the Tulsa one was about health care, I don't know what Uvalde was about (beyond blood lust; you could say mental illness, but it would be easier to get rid of the guns). More on guns, shootings, etc.:

Alexander Sammon: [06-02] Why Are Police So Bad at Their Jobs? "It's not just Uvalde. Cops nationwide can't stop crimes from happening or solve them once they've occurred." Seems like a good question, although the answer is unlikely to be obvious or simple -- and once that touches on many interests and prejudices. I'm less bothered by "can't stop crimes from happening" -- not a job anyone can reliably do -- than "solve them once they've occurred" (maybe we're too hooked on the brilliant sleuths of tv?). But just for an example, following a near-dozen shootings here in Wichita over Memorial Day weekend, the police chief was arguing for more money to pay more overtime to put more police on the streets. How can that possibly result in less gunplay? Back when a few people started talking about "defund the police," they actually had some serious ideas about employing other people to address a broader number of social problems, instead of dumping all those cases on police to sort out. But few people heard those ideas. The more common reaction was to superfund the police, giving them more tools of war. Uvalde is likely to wind up as a case example of how that kind of thinking fails. [PS: See Alex Pareene: [06-02] What Do Cops Do?] Sammon also wrote: The RNC's Ground Game of Inches: "Inside the secretive, dubious, and extremely offline attempt to convert minorities into Republicans." Once you've decided the key to successful campaigns is trickery, never miss one." Also on the Republican ground game, Charles P Pierce: [06-01] They're Ratf*cking at Every Level. They're Ratf*cking in Every Direction. Also [06-02] Republicans Have Secured Their Gerryanders Through a War of Institutioal Attrition. Also, a reminder of what happens when they cheat their way into power: [06-02] You'll Be Shocked to Learn Trump's Social Security Bigwigs Immiserated Poor and Disabled People.

Jeffrey St Clair: [06-03] Roaming Charges: Tears of Rage, Tears of Grief. Quotes a David Axelrod tweet on how "The inexplicable, heart-wrenching delay in Uvalde underscores the indispensable role of police." St Clair adds: "Every police atrocity -- either by actions (Floyd, Taylor, Brown), negligence or incompetence -- will inevitably be used as a justification for more police power." He also quotes Brendan Behan: "I have never seen a situation so dismal that a policeman couldn't make it worse."

Emily Stewart: [06-02] Might I suggest not listening to famous people about money? Why, indeed, listen to celebrities about anything they're obviously being paid to endorse?

David Wight: [05-31] How the Nixon Doctrine blew up the Persian Gulf, undermined US security: He's specifically referring to the bit where Nixon and Kissinger decided to recruit regional powers with the latest US weapons, thinking they might provide a proxy barrier against the Soviet Union after the American fiasco in Vietnam. Two main recruits were Iran (still under the once-pliant but then megalomaniacal Shah) and Saudi Arabia (just starting its campaign to spread Wahhabism to would-be Jihadis). What could go wrong? What didn't? Both undertook their own agendas, which after the revolution in 1979 clashed. Iran has ever since been regarded as a hopeless enemy, although the Saudis and their followers have actually done more material damage to the US. The obvious lesson is that the US always thinks it can control its proxies, but never can. The most wayward offender is Israel, which not only enjoys carte blanche from America, but actively undermines the American political sphere.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Speaking of Which

PS: Added section at end [05-30], originally part of Music Week.

I had a notion to write another 5-6 paragraphs to update my 23 Theses on Ukraine, but that remains a pretty accurate account of how and why Putin invaded Ukraine, and what it means. But all I really want to add at this point is a brief (and certainly incomplete) list of reasons the war in Ukraine is a colossal disaster for all concerned -- and, indeed, for many who initially felt uninvolved and disinterested.

  1. Most obviously, there's the loss of lives, the maiming, and the vast destruction of property, including critical infrastructure, in Ukraine itself. Credible numbers are hard to find. Then there is the disruption of everyday life -- about 6.7 million refugees have left Ukraine, while many more have been displaced but are still in the country. Ukraine's economy has been devastated. Every day the war continues adds to those losses, most of which will never be recovered.

  2. The economic losses both in Ukraine and in Russia (thanks to sanctions) have already impacted economies all around the world, causing shortages as exports (especially food and oil) are taken off the market, and depressing imports (except where subsidized from abroad, like arms to Ukraine). People in wealthy countries can compensate by bidding up prices, an effect felt even in the US, which is largely self-sufficient in food and oil. Poor countries are hit even harder. Less important, but capital flows are also impacted, and foreign assets (both in Russia and elsewhere) are politically vulnerable.

  3. The war has led to two booms in arms sales. The obvious one is arms sent to Ukraine for use against the invading Russians. (Russia is more self-sufficient in arms, although they could be buying more arms from China.) As many of these arms come from stockpiles, there is pressure to replenish those, so the boom will likely extend beyond the end of the war (assuming there is one). The less obvious one is that many US allies have committed to building up their own armed forces. This is especially true of Germany and Japan -- something especially disquieting for those of us old enough to recall what happened last time they embraced militarism (or who were gratified when they turned away from militarism after WWII). The war has also heightened the push to get Taiwan to buy more arms, to ward off a possible (but still very unlikely) invasion by China. The worst lesson politicians think they've learned from this war is their renewed belief in the efficacy of arms. This keeps them from understanding why the war happened, prevents them from understanding how to get beyond it, and wastes a tremendous amount of wealth while making the world a more dangerous place.

  4. Russia had a long history of respecting neutrality pacts with neighboring countries like Finland and Austria, such that one could ask the question: is Ukraine safer neutral or in NATO? Given Russia's efforts to influence elections in Ukraine, and especially given their intervention in 2014, Ukraine's status as neutral was messy. Also, the unacknowledged loss of territory to Russia (Crimea) and pro-Russian separatists (Donbas) made it hard for NATO to extend protection to Ukraine. However, Russia's invasion has made NATO membership seem more desirable, as evidenced by applications to join from Sweden and Finland. As NATO is essentially an arms bazaar, provoking Russia is paying dividends to American gun runners. Russia has long viewed the expansion of NATO as a threat, and indeed the larger NATO has become, the more pointedly anti-Russian it has become. Before, Russia might have argued for scaling back NATO as an unnecessary provocation, but having played into NATO's game by invading Ukraine, the lost ground will be nearly impossible to regain. And needless to say, those who profit by NATO have no incentive to not press their advantage.

  5. It is unclear what, if any, damage sanctions against Russia have done -- other than disrupting mutually beneficial trade relations. The ruble has effectively rebounded against initial panic. Shortages may cause pain for the Russian people, but that has rarely convinced any government to change course. Nor do the targeted oligarchs seem to have much influence over Putin. Sanctions had never been tried on such a large and self-sufficient country, so this is an experiment, and far from certain of success. Moreover, the fact that Russia was already heavily sanctioned by the US before the war doesn't offer much hope that an end to the war will free them from sanctions.

  6. To end sanctions and/or restrain NATO expansion, Russia needs to negotiate directly with the US and its security partners. Russia has very little leverage on either count. (Russian sanctions against Americans are largely regarded as a joke.) Putin has adjusted his war aims to focus on where he does have leverage, which is by capturing Ukrainian territory. Russia's military campaign hasn't impressed, but they currently hold about twice as much Ukrainian territory as they held before the invasion. Zelensky and American hawks seem to think they can take that territory back. (See Ukraine Blasts Suggestions It Should Concede Territory for Peace.) But unless Putin loses his will to fight, it's hard to see any way to force him to concede. Territorial compromise seems to be the only way out. Categorically rejecting it condemns Ukraine to indefinitely long and increasingly destructive war.

  7. Many shibboleths of security doctrine have been discredited by this war (or should have been, if adherents weren't so locked in to their belief structure). Neither the US nor Russia can afford to conduct the sort of "total war" fought in WWII, but that limitation has hardly sunk in. Russia, substantially as is, will survive the war, as will the US, unless both sides resort to the unthinkable. As survival is not in doubt, both sides should recognize the need to work together after the war, yet neither side is showing much recognition of that. Estimates of deterrence have proven absurdly wrong. It's not even clear that NATO has deterred Russian advance over the last 75 years. It's just as likely that Russia has had no interest in testing NATO's boundaries, at least until the prospect of NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia appeared -- two nations that Russia had long, complex, and confused relationships with. Without any real capacity to leverage power or fear, conflicts are left to fester.

  8. The war has taken some Russian oil and gas off the market, resulting in higher prices. Given the worldwide need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, that should be a good thing, but the sudden disruption has created a political panic, which threatens to derail climate change efforts. The longer the war lasts, the worse this effect becomes. For example, rushing through drilling permits now will add to production for decades to come. (This has also been used as an argument to shift to nuclear power, which had been in broad decline in much of the world, e.g. Germany.)

  9. There is a thin line between schadenfreude and sadism, and increasing numbers of people are crossing it. I admit to celebrating the losses of Russian troops on Ukrainian territory, where they have no legitimate business, and I have little sympathy for the plight of Russian citizens caused by sanctions, but I anticipate both ending with the war, and no further animosity (at least on my part). But I fear more and more people have crossed the line, and expect to keep punishing (some prefer to say degrading) Russia well into the future, regardless of how the war ends.

  10. Proxy forces tend to gain power and autonomy as a conflict drags on, and often turn out to be obstacles in settling conflicts. We see this with Zelensky, in his shift from begging for weapons for defense to demanding more powerful weapons that can be used to reverse Russian gains. But we also see this on the other side, as Donbas separatists demand that Russia become even more aggressive. Zelensky's refusal to discuss territorial compromise is a major stumbling block to a negotiated settlement.

  11. One big thing Americans (in particular) fail to understand is that there is no world order. Peace and commerce depend on cooperation of all the world's major countries. It may be possible to blackball a small country like North Korea, but Russia is way too big and way too powerful to be snubbed and excluded, as seems to be the intent of the US and much of Europe right now. This is even more so of China, which Blinken recently identified as the greater threat, following Obama's much touted "pivot to Asia" and Trump's fits of hostility. Climate change is only the most obvious problem where cooperation from Russia and China is necessary going forward, so we should be careful not to burn any bridges we cannot easily rebuild.

  12. We should beware that foreign policy is often rooted in domestic political conflicts. Putin has gambled heavily on military success, and would lose stature without a face-saving settlement. (We tend to discount this by exaggerating his authoritarian power, but the fact remains that his annexation of Crimea was extremely popular in Russia, which helped him cement his power.) Biden has made a comparable gamble in supporting Ukraine so vigorously. While Biden's move is very popular within the Washington security bubble ("the blob"), the costs of the war are much less popular, and will only get worse, regardless of the outcome. Thus far, Democrats have remained united behind Biden -- even ones we'd normally expect to be more dovish -- probably because Putin has been so thoroughly tarnished with his (successful?) attempt to undermine democracy in 2016. Republican opposition is more scattered, with some hoping to sabotage Biden, some simply smitten with Putin (and other "strong man" leaders around the world, especially Viktor Orban), and Rand Paul with his isolationism. I suspect that one reason Democrats hope to defend democracy in Ukraine is that they recognize democracy is under attack in America. However, the threat here isn't Putin over there; it's Republicans here, and the costs of saving Ukraine may rebound to hurt here. After all, nothing is more corrosive to freedom and democracy than war.

One could, of course, say much more about each of these, and add more points. The gist is that the sooner this war is resolved, and preferably on principles that benefit ordinary people and not just the armed powers, the better. Links to some recent Ukraine War pieces:

By the way, police in Wichita killed someone named Gregario Banuelos, who was reportedly walking "aggressively" toward police. There is little doubt that this will be ruled "justifiable homicide": he had a gun, which was technically illegal given that he had been convicted of a felony, and he had outstanding warrants for other felony charges, and most of all that he had fired shots earlier in the altercation. But police were responding to a domestic violence complaint. It only escalated because everyone was armed.

It seems like every day I read something in the local paper about an arrest or conviction, and nearly all of them involve felons possessing guns illegally. Sure, once caught for something else, they get charged, and that adds a bit of time to prison sentences, but they've made it so easy to buy guns in Kansas that you can count on every criminal being armed. Certainly, the police count on that, which is one reason they're so trigger-happy. This particular case may not bother anyone, but they add up, and poison the entire atmosphere.

PS: In another incident in Kansas, a deputy shot and killed a suspect, wanted on a felony warrant, who had a holstered handgun and didn't obey orders to the officer's satisfaction. The deputy fired wildly enough to also shoot a bystander. [Story here.] I also ran across this story: Bystander Who Intervened in Shooting of Officer Was Fatally Shot by Police. Now who, exactly, is the "good guy with a gun"?

Ben Armbruster: [05-26] Senior Israeli military official: Iran deal exit was a mistake: Easy to forget that after many years of Israel whining hysterically about the prospects of Iran developing nuclear weapons, Obama took their concerns seriously enough to actually negotiate an arrangement that would protect Israel from their worse fears, only to find that Netanyahu didn't want that. Most likely all he really wanted was to string the US along for aid at levels the US offers to no one else. Then Trump did what Netanyahu said he wanted, and tore up the deal, leaving Israel once again exposed. Of course, the retired General quoted here -- it is not unusual for Israeli security officials to change their tune after retiring -- holds a minority position in Israel. A more characteristic story comes from Trita Parsi: [05-23] Was the assassination in Iran another Israeli effort to sabotage JCPOA?

Ross Barkan: [05-25] President Mike Pence Would Be Worse Than Trump: "Beware any attempt to rehabilitate him." Strictly in policy terms, that's an argument I'm sympathetic to, but Trump really showed no interest in policy once he became president. For him, the job was a publicity platform, and that's all he really cared about. So here's the counterargument: Pence ran the transition team, selected the personnel, and had a major say in whatever policy proposals got pushed (mostly through executive orders that Trump dutifully signed), so we've already seen what a Pence presidency would be like, at least in substantive terms. Trump's value-added was how he dominated the news and cultivated his increasingly deranged followers. Surely, in that regard, he did more damage than Pence ever could have, so it's hard to say that Pence along would be worse than Trump. On the other hand, he would be very bad. We know that because he's already shown us.

Ed Kilgore: [05-24] Perdue Ends Flailing Campaign With Racist Remarks About Stacey Abrams: Specifically, "Perdue accused Abrams, who is Black, of 'demeaning her own race.' He also suggested she is not a true Georgian, though she's lived in the state since 1989: 'Hey, she ain't from here. Let her go back to where she came from. She doesn't like it here.'" Abrams moved to Georgia from Mississippi when she was still in high school, which is to say her parents moved her. I'd advise caution against overreacting to innuendo, but there's no nuance here: Perdue is simply being grossly racist. PS: Here's Charles P Pierce's take: [05-24 There's No Democrat Alive Who Makes Republicans More Nervous Than Stacey Abrams Does.

Nicholas Lemann: [05-23] Would the World Be Better Off Without Philanthropists? Reviews several books, most notably Emma Saunders-Hastings: Private Virtues, Public Vices: Philanthropology and Democratic Equality.

Nicole Narea: [05-25] What we know about the Uvalde elementary school massacre: "An 18-year-old gunman killed 19 students and at least two adults at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, on Tuesday, just 10 days after another mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, New York, that claimed the lives of 10 people." Those were just the two most newsworthy mass shootings of recent weeks, not just due to the number of killed but the way they were targeted. I'm afraid I didn't have much of a reaction, but if you still care, try the video in Jimmy Kimmel becomes emotional after Texas shooting. Even if you don't care, forward to about 6:15 for the video clip they assembled out of massacre headlines and Republican campaign advertisements. Some time ago, I decided that prohibiting people from owning small guns and rifles (and I really don't include AR-15s in that category, any more than I'd include other weapons of mass destruction, like automatic machine guns, bazookas, flame-throwers, RPGs, mortars, howitzers, and tanks -- which are effectively banned, to little or no public complaint) wasn't worth the trouble, for much the same reason I opposed prohibition of liquor, tobacco, drugs, gambling, or other "vices" (none of which I approve of). I can see where some people may think they need a gun for self-defense, and I've known many people who used rifles (but not hand guns, let alone machine guns) for hunting. In most cases those people don't present a real threat to other people. But guns are not just a personal vice, their whole purpose is to intimidate, injure, and often kill other people, and the more people who have them, the more likely they are to be used to harm others. I personally doubt that the legitimate uses of guns outweigh their risks and liabilities, but too many people disagree to make prohibition painless, and many of those are so single-mindedly devoted to gun proliferation that gun control has become a sure political loser in much of the country (especially where I live). So I have no desire to press the issue, except to note that most pro-gun arguments are incredibly stupid, often tinged with sociopathic malice. The culture around guns has become so toxic that the only surprise is that many more people aren't killed every day. (And yes, I know the numbers -- if you don't, see the pieces below -- but divide them by 390 million guns and even shocking numbers become vanishingly small.)

After the Uvalde shooting, Ted Cruz argued that the solution is to post an armed guard at the entrance to all schools, and lock all the other doors. Tweet from Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez: "40% of Uvalde's city budget goes to police. The school district had its own police force. This is what happened. After decades of mass shootings, there is 0 evidence that police have the ability to stop them from happening. Gun safety and other policies can." Also on Twitter is this graph of Mass shootings in the US. Within a week of the massacre, Repubican politicians trekked to the NRA Convention in Houston to reaffirm their allegiance to the gun culture:

  • Natasha Ishak: [05-28] Days after school shooting, Republicans defend gun rights at NRA convention: Led by Donald Trump, who "began his speech by mocking Republican officials for pulling out of the event." (Texas governor Greg Abbott suddenly decided he had more pressing matters than attending, but sent a video message.) When someone noted that the NRA banned guns for Trump's speech, a friend noted: "Banning guns is do-able, banning mentally ill people is not."

Aja Romano: [05-20] Why the Depp-Heard trial is so much worse than you realize: "Amber Heard is just the first target of a new extremist playbook." Not the sort of thing I care about, so I've ignored it to date, other than libel suits are a tool the rich use to insulate themselves not just from criticism but from scrutiny. When Trump was running for president in 2016, he seriously proposed changing the laws to make it easier for people like him to sue people like you -- it was one of the few policy proposals he seemed to be really into. I'm not aware of him trying to get that done, perhaps because someone pointed out that he'd be playing defense as much as offense -- even as it is, few people in American history have been more litigious (cf. James D Zirin's book, Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 Lawsuits). Besides, he was able to use the presidency (and a shockingly pliant press) as a unique platform both for libeling others and for deflecting criticism as "fake news." Compared to him, the Depp-Heard trials are small potatoes. The main point of this piece is how social media has been used to vilify Heard, and presumably to intimidate other women standing up to powerful men. Still, short on background, for which see Constance Grady: [05-04] Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, and their $50 million defamation suit, explained. Also, Romano has another background piece that ties in somehow: [2021-01-07] What we still haven't learned from Gamergate.

Jonathan Shorman: [05-27] How far will Kansas go to fight Biden? If elected AG, Kobach promises a dedicated unit: Forget about crime in Kansas. If Kobach wins his race to become Attorney General, he'll dedicated his office to filing ridiculous nuisance suits against the Biden Administration. This isn't new -- Texas and Oklahoma have broken ground here, and other Republican states have pitched in, including Kansas under Derek Schmidt (running for governor this year). Kobach's background is with ALEC, the right-wing think tank dedicated to formulating model legislation for Republican states (most famously the "stand your ground" laws; ALEC guarantees that bad ideas will propagate everywhere). With the courts increasingly stacked in favor of Republicans, lawsuits have become the cutting edge of extremism. And no one has a longer track record for getting his laws thrown out as unconstitutional as Kobach. You'd think his incompetency would mitigate the threat, but it's getting hard to believe that with this Supreme Court sanity and/or decency will win out.

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-27] Roaming Charges: The End of the Innocents. Among other insights, notes that the Assault Weapons Ban ended in 2004, just as the Iraq War was blowing up. "Violence abroad breeds violence at home." Also notes that "90% of all firearm deaths for children 0-14 years of age in high-income countries occur in the US." Republican Sen. Ron Johnson blamed "liberal indoctrination" for school shootings. "We stopped teaching values. Now we're teaching wokeness. We're indoctrinating our children with things like CRT." In Texas?

Matt Taibbi: [05-27] Shouldn't Hillary Clinton Be Banned From Twitter Now? This could have been edited down to a largely valid critique of Clinton playing up "Russiagate" as a shield for her own malfeasance and belligerence, and could even have looked further into how all the Russia-baiting that Clinton Democrats engaged in before and after the 2016 election helped poison the atmosphere that led by Putin's gamble in Ukraine. But Taibbi's chronic both-sides-ism, or maybe just his penchant for a grandiose headline, led him to equate Clinton with Trump. An even worse example of this is his recent (mostly paywalled) Bush is Biden is Bush, where Bush's recent Iraq War gaffe is turned into "his recent honesty malfunction," while he actually goes way beyond the identity of his title, adding: "Biden is just a less likable, more deranged version of Dubya, a political potted plant behind which authoritarians rule by witch hunt and moral mania, with Joe floating on a somehow even fatter cloud of media protection than Bush enjoyed after 9/11. Today's Biden is Bush, a helpless, terrified passenger dragged on a political journey beyond his comprehension, signing his name whenever told to appalling policies, like a child emperor or King George in the porphyria years. It's obvious, but no one will bring it up, but the usual reason, i.e. because Trump." Neither Bush nor Biden are what you'd call eloquent speakers or elegant thinkers, but there's little evidence that their policies are unwitting (even if occasionally ill-informed), and while some things like Bush's torture policy can be considered appalling, the president who most often crossed that line was Trump (e.g., in his child separation policy). It's fine with me to criticize Biden for lots of things, but Taibbi is making a fundamental error in not recognizing that Democrats and Republicans are fundamentally different and opposed, that the former still operate in a moral and reasonable world that the latter have totally abandoned.

Nick Turse: [05-23] Decades of US military aid has been a disaster for Nigerians. Turse has been covering AFRICOM since its inception, and seems to be just about the only one. He also wrote: [03-30] The military isn't tracking US-trained officers in Africa. Perhaps because tracking US-trained officers in South America was so embarrassing? Also on Africa: Vijay Prasad: [05-27] The Rise of NATO in Africa.

Once again, I find myself rushing to get this posted, allowing me a brief break before compiling Music Week and moving on with my life. Anyhow, as Professor Zanghi used to put it, basta per ora!

PS: Added this [05-30]:

I also wanted to beat Bill Scher: [05-16] The Deeply Flawed Narrative That Joe Biden Bought with a heavy stick. The notion that Obama was a master of practical politics is little short of risible, but using that flimsiest of arguments as a cudgeon against Biden for having attempted (and, thus far, mostly failed) something more ambitious is sinister. Many of the people who think that Obama's star has dimmed (even ones who personally admire him) do so because we realize that his legacy of failure left us with a nation that was willing to give Donald Trump a try. I wish Biden was better able to overcome the damage that Trump (and others, of both parties) did, but it's hard to see how slamming Biden for being too ambitious helps. I also wanted to take a look at another piece of less-than-friendly advice for Democrats, from Matthew Yglesias: [04-14] Moderate Democrats should be popularists. Also saying something similar is Ezra Klein: [05-29] What America Needs Is a Liberalism That Builds. Often these days one gets the impression that the only thing "moderate" Democrats want to do is to chastise us for wanting government to actually do things that help the people who they depend on for votes.

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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Speaking of Which

No desire, or even special reason, for doing this again this week, but Sunday afternoon I decided to jot down a somewhat humorous link (I think it was the Nia Prater, below), and it just snowballed from there. I may have been predisposed to work on this, because I work up with the thought that if Zelensky is Churchill, would there be a Clement Attlee coming around to put Ukraine back together again -- assuming there's ever an end to the war, which doesn't seem to be on Zelensky's agenda (or Biden's, or Putin's). Actually, Attlee was part of Churchill's coalition government during WWII, and probably had more to do with holding the country together than Churchill's big speeches. When forced to choose between leaders in 1945, they overwhelmingly picked Attlee, and that's how they got the welfare state that Thatcher worked so hard to destroy.

I also woke up with some thoughts on inflation, but didn't find a framework to elaborate them. (I considered Robert Shapiro's The Truth About Inflation, and wanted to work in something Paul Krugman said dismissing the impact of monopolies -- I think the point went something like: if companies really had monopoly pricing power, they would have already used it, so that can't be causing new inflation; but isn't exploiting your pricing power to its limit inherently risky, given that customers will push back even if they don't have good alternatives? On the other hand, if everyone else is raising prices, monopolies get some camouflage, and therefore less blame.

[PS: Added a couple items after initially posting. In particular, I wanted to respond to Mitt Romney's apocalyptic op-ed piece.]

Chas Danner: [05-22] Welcome to the Next COVID Wave. For more stats, look here. New case counts have risen steadily since dropping under 30,000 on March 21. Two months later, they're up to 108,610 (+54% 14-day). The hospitalized count is +34% (to 24,681). Deaths are still down (-15% to 312), but the total US death count topped 1,000,000 a couple days ago (and as they note, "many cases go uncounted in official reports, the true toll is likely even higher than these figures suggest"). Danner also notes: "But this wave of new infections is also significantly larger than official case counts suggest, since many cases are either being detected using at-home tests that are never reported, or are asymptomatic and not being detected at all." Also on COVID-19:

Liza Featherstone: [05-21] There Was a Lot of Good News in This Week's Primaries. No mention of the Republican primaries that totally dominated national news.

Chip Gibbons: [05-21] It's Always the Right Time to Call George W Bush a War Criminal. Well, even he's doing it.

Paul Glastris: [05-13] Memo to Democrats: Bust the Credit Card Cartel. Visa and Mastercard control over 80% of the market. Limiting their "spiraling fees" is presented as a win for small merchants, and that's who the big winners would be, but the effects could trickle down. Democrats might also take a look at usury laws (if they can find any). It's easy to figure out that payment systems (and for that matter all forms of retail banking) can be made a lot less expensive than they currently are. The only loser would be the big bank monopolies, which sounds to me like a plus. As I recall, the most intensely lobbied bill in ages was one between banks and retailers over ATM purchase fees. Billions of dollars rode on that law, and none of it was offered to customers.

Ed Kilgore: [05-19] Oklahoma Outdoes Itself in Race to Wipe Out Abortion Rights: You can check the article for the details. The one point I want to add is that this shows what can and will happen if/when Republicans are allowed to govern/rule without checks and balances. I used to think that the only thing that kept Reagan popular was that when he said popular-but-stupid things (which he did all the time) was that they had no immediate impact, so seemed harmless at the time. (We are still paying for many things the Reagan administration did, from undermining labor unions to ending the "fairness doctrine" to subsidizing jihadis in Afghanistan. The seeds of today's inflation crisis were planted by Reagan and the early-1980s Fed.) Republicans are very adept at telling [some] people what they want to hear, but are clueless about the disastrous consequences of turning their rants and cant into policy. (At least one assumes ignorance, since the only alternative explanation is misanthropy.)

Anne Kim: [05-20] Don't Laugh Off Rick Scott's Nutty Plan for America. The Florida Senator is in charge of the GOP's Senate campaign slush fund, so he wrote up a manifesto on what a Republican majority would like to do to America -- he called it his "11 point plan to rescue America." I wrote about this at some length here, a piece worth reviewing, especially if you still think that Donald Trump (or Ron DeSantis or Matt Gaetz) is the most deranged Republican in Florida. The point most folk have seized on is Scott's proposal to raise income taxes on everyone below the current income threshold, to make sure they "have some skin in the game." Of course, nearly all of those people already pay payroll taxes (a form of income tax the rich are exempt from), but even those who don't, who merely live here, have plenty of bare skin exposed to the malfeasances of the state.

Ian Millhiser: [05-19] A wild new court decision would blow up much of the government's ability to operate: "The US Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit's decision in Jarkesy v. SEC would dismantle much of the system the federal government uses to enforce longstanding laws." As it happens, I spent a lot of time last week complaining about government not doing more to confront the rising tide of fraud[*] in America -- ranging from the constant harassment of unsolicited phone calls to friends who got scammed out of most of their retirement savings and virtually everything involving cryptocurrency. This ruling basically says the government can't do anything pro-active to stop fraud. Robert Kuttner also wrote about this ruling [05-20]: Another Sweeping Far-Right Court Ruling.

[*] I've been complaining about this since the Reagan 1980s, when I identified fraud as America's only boom industry.

Alex Pareene: [05-16] The Disastrous Legacy of the New Democrats: "Clintonites taught their party how to talk about helping people without actually doing it." Review of Lily Geismer's Left Behind: The Democrats' Failed Attempt to Solve Inequality. This is more up-to-date, but Thomas Frank hit most of the points in his 2016 book, Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People. Unfortunately, Frank's timing was off: appearing when it did, the book helped paint Hillary as crooked without considering the alternative. Frank's 2004 book (What's the Matter With Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America) also backfired: he made a big deal about how Republicans talked up culture war issues but in the end only passed tax cuts and deregulation bills; the effect was that the culture war hawks started holding Republicans responsible for delivering, and they have (e.g., on abortion and guns).

We can now see that the New Democrats were intellectual captives of the Reagan right. They echoed the same free market/small government, which helped make them seem more sensible than they were. What Clinton, Gore, et al. thought they could do was run government in such a way that it would be more profitable for business, raising donations from the rich while making it seem benign enough they wouldn't lose too many of the people they depended on for votes. In many ways, what they did worked out exactly as planned. Economic growth was much stronger in the Clinton and Obama years than under any Republican president, and somewhat more widely distributed, but the rich did so well that inequality continued to spread. And Clinton and Obama managed to lose Congress after two years (while getting re-elected to a second term without regaining Congress), so they had excuses not to pass much-needed programs. And Republicans kept moving ever further right, not just economically but more ominously adopting culture war reaction, which helped to scare the Democratic base into staying loyal. Biden won the 2020 nomination on a tsunami of anti-Trump fear, but also because he was rooted in the Old Democrats, his flexibility made him acceptable beyond the still-powerful New Democrat elites.

Catherine Porter/Constant Méheut/Matt Apuzzo/Salam Gebrekidan: [05-21] The Ransom: The Roots of Haiti's Misery: Reparations to Enslavers: This goes some way to explaining why Haiti has remained one of the world's poorest countries.

Nia Prater: [05-18] Trump Wants Dr. Oz to Copy Him and Declare Victory Before the Race Is Called. Oz hasn't, at least so far, because he hasn't lost yet, and nothing says "loser" louder than emulating Trump's loss rant.

David Remnick: [05-20] Remembering Roger Angell, Hall of Famer: Author of many a New Yorker essay on opening baseball seasons, died at 101 on Friday. I read a couple of his books (long ago). Article includes select links.

Claudia Sahm: [05-22] Unemployment affects everybody too: "Inflation is high, and unemployment is low. What does that mean for Americans? If you listen to the talking heads, you'd think it's all about inflation. But that's wrong."

Alex Shephard: [05-20] Madison Cawthorn's Defeat Isn't Going to Change the GOP: Some people would like to think that even Republicans have enough sense of decency to turn on "an embarrassing extremist." Cawthorn easily qualified, but what did him in was that he ran up against other established power interests in the party. This reminds me of how Kansas Republicans turned on Tim Huelskamp. They didn't care when he emerged as a Tea Party firebrand, but he did cross a line when his libertarianism led him to vote against the subsidies that the farmers he represented. They replaced him with "moderate" Roger Marshall, who has since gone on to become one of the Trumpiest members of the US Senate. [PS: Charles P Pierce also understands this point [05-18]: Republicans in Disarray? Well, They Certainly Aren't Trying to Root Out the Crazy.]

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-20] Roaming Charges: Search, Destroy and Replace. Usual wealth of nuggets here, including a slam on Bernie Sanders for career-long support of the military-industrial complex. (Still, calling him a hawk is a bit unfair. Also unfair: "Biden was a pre-Clinton Clintonite without any of Bubba's political skills.") But this one is quote no one else seems to have noticed:

Alito: "the domestic supply of infants relinquished at birth or within the first month of life . . . had become virtually nonexistent."

So, he's trying to use his judicial power to create a more viable market for babies? And that's constitutional? Sounds more like trafficking.

Simon Tisdall: [05-21] Apocalypse now? The alarming effects of the global food crisis. Supply and demand for food is delicately balanced in the best of times. War in Ukraine has disrupted this balance. Those with enough money can adjust by paying higher prices. All those without enough money can do is to do without (although historically war is another common response). Climate change is another vector of disruption -- potentially much more severe, intractable even. George Monbiot [05-19] wrote essentially the same article: The banks collapsed in 2008 -- and our food system is about to do the same.

Mary L Trump: ]05-20] Mark Esper's Fascinating Revelations Would Have Been Far More So in Real Time: Also notes similarly belated testimony by John Bolton and Bill Barr ("had [they] spoken up when it mattered, history could be different"). But their decision not to speak up then was strategic: each entered the Trump administration with personal agendas, which they were free to pursue only as long as they obsequiously catered to Trump's vanity. Crossing that line would have risked aborting their agenda -- easy to come up with another dozen names who got nixed for sharing instances of or comments about Trump's gross incompetence. What's lost in all this is how truly horrible the private agendas of Esper, Bolton, and Barr really were.

Zeynep Tufecki: [05-19] We Need to Take Back Our Privacy: If/when the Republican-packed Supreme Court takes away the individual right to terminate pregnancy, where does that leave the constitutional right to privacy that Roe v. Wade was based on?

Ukraine: I'm still pleased with every report of Russia getting knocked back, but in real terms, Russia has gained significant ground in the south (including Kherson and Mariupol, important seaports, leaving only Odesa under Ukrainian control), and they haven't lost any ground in Donetsk or Luhansk -- if anything they've picked up a bit -- while over 20% of the people have fled abroad, and the rest of the country has been bombed. It's hard to see how this will ever end except through some kind of negotiated treaty. While the war is certainly costing Putin, Russia can afford to continue much longer than Ukraine or even the US can.

  • Masha Gessen: [05-18] Inside Putin's Propaganda Machine.
  • Fred Kaplan: [05-16] Why Finland Joining NATO Is More Shocking Than Anyone Realizes.
  • Mitt Romney: [05-21] We Must Prepare for Putin's Worst Weapons: There is so much deranged thinking here you have to pinch yourself to remember that this is a guy who nearly half of America wanted to control the nuclear arsenal -- an option he is only too eager to employ given the slightest provocation. He opposes any restraint in arming Ukraine, arguing: "Failing to continue to support Ukraine would be like paying the cannibal to eat us last." He wants NATO to intervene directly in Ukraine, and he's willing to expand the conflict to World War: "Further, we could confront China and every other nation with a choice much like that George W. Bush gave the world after Sept. 11: You are either with us, or you are with Russia -- you cannot be with both." So who's the cannibal now? By the way, why does anyone think that Putin calling the collapse of the Soviet Union the "greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century" implies "his life's ambition" is to restore Russian power over the territories of the former Soviet Union? (And given his nationalism, isn't the Tsardom the more obvious goal?) Putin has done a lot of despicable, underhanded things in 20+ years of power, but if his goal was empire restoration, he's been awfully coy about it. Maybe the "catastrophe" was just an explanation of the adversity his predecessors left him with.
  • Tom Stevenson: [05-11] America and Its Allies Want to Bleed Russia. They Really Shouldn't. Details how the US has escalated its support for Ukraine, while shying away from negotiations, gambling that a longer war will weaken Russia, and that somehow that will be a good thing. This argument is basically what I was trying to say above, except that I think that boxing Russia into a corner is not just impractical, it's likely to blow up.
  • Lorenzo Tondo: [05-22] Ukraine rules out any ceasefire deal that involves ceding territory to Russia. I've long felt that loss of Russian-controlled territory in Donbas and Crimea would be a plus for the rest of Ukraine, both ending the conflict and giving them a free hand to reorient to Europe. In the best scenario, you could allow fair votes on alignment in each of the regions (possibly in more than Russia actually holds). The war, with all the refugees, makes such votes messier, but it's a small price to pay for ending a conflict which has hampered Ukraine since 2014. On the other hand, Putin has no need to cease fire without some face-saving concession. (Merely dealing on sanctions, which the US has little if any motivation to do, seems much less likely to work.) Zelensky (and his backers in Washington?) may feel like he's winning, but the war is destroying his country, while the sanctions are no more than inconveniences for most Russians.)
  • Edward Wong/Michael Crowley: [05-19] US Aims to Cripple Russian Oil Industry, Officials Say: The thing about this is that it's a pretty long-term project, suggesting that the US is looking to prolong the war, and to never really settle it, so that Russia (at least under Putin, or anyone else like him, which is to say any prospective Russian leader) can never hope for normal relations with the West. We should find that kind of thinking really disturbing. But then we should already be disturbed, as the article notes that Trump imposed sanctions on China, Vietnam, and UAE for purchasing or transporting Iranian oil.

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Sunday, May 15, 2022

Speaking of Which

I started yesterday with two pieces that I thought I'd like to file for future reference, then suddenly found myself with enough of a mass to want to push it out immediately. Nothing systematic below, just a few things that grabbed my eye.

Abortion: [05-14] With fear and fury, thousands across US rally for abortion rights.

  • Rebecca Gordon: [05-15] I Had an Abortion and Now I'm Not Ashamed: Repost from 2019. A big part of the anti-abortion crusade has been to shame women who have had abortions, playing up any possible regrets. My first wife had an abortion (or possibly several, but one I was responsible for). I wasn't in any mental state to care for a child, but more pressing at the time was her chronic illness -- one that killed her 3-4 years later. My late sister had an abortion when she was very young, and unprepared to raise a child. I know of several other similar cases, including women who (like my sister) later had much wanted and loved children. I'm also old enough to have known women who were forced to give birth, only to have their babies trafficked to strangers. I also grew up knowing families with children with severe birth defects -- most of those families shouldered their burdens courageously, but the tragic consequences often took a severe toll. I find it shocking how successful the right has been at overturning this fundamental right. But a good part of that success is due to our reluctance to talk about it.
  • Sarah Jones: [05-13] The Abortion Converts: We used to be anti-abortion. Why did we change out minds? "The anti-abortion movement had to erase what it could not explain, minimize whatever challenged it, in order for the fetus to take precedence over the person who carried it. A perspective as rigid as ours was doomed to conflict with reality. Conversion is not the loss of belief, but rather its transference. Like myself, other converts found the anti-abortion view is incompatible with the mess and the pain of real life."

Karin Brulliard: [05-14] The Colorado River Is in Crisis, and It's Getting Worse Every Day.

Chas Danner: [05-15] Ten Dead After White-Supremacist Gunman Attacks Buffalo Supermarket. Also note: [05-15] The Slight Difference Between Payton Gendron's Radicalization and the Radicalization of the Average Fox Viewer. Of course, Gendron was not the only shooter in the news: [05-15] Shooter kills one and injures five at California church.

Jonathan Guyer: [05-13] The killing of Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, explained. She was reporting for Al Jazeera, and wearing a vest that clearly marked her as "PRESS." There is little chance that she was killed by anyone other than an Israeli sniper, just as there is little chance that Israel will officially admit it, even less that the killer will be punished. Adding insult to injury, Israeli police attacked the funeral procession with batons and stun grenades. Oh, by the way, White House says it "regrets the intrusion" into Shireen Abu Akleh's funeral, but it doesn't condemn Israeli police actions. Also, Richard Silverstein wrote about this [05-11] here and [05-13] here and [05-13] here: "If you are Palestinian, you can't even die in peace." As Silverstein notes, "55 Palestinian journalists [Israel] murdered since 2000."

Margaret Hartmann: [05-09] The Drama-Lover's Guide to the New Trump Books: Useful compendium of some of the dumber and more outrageous revelations of the latest spate of insider Trump books, although one still suspects they're leaving most of the really bad shit out. Indeed, the really bad shit was rarely the embarrassing bloopers the Clown-in-Chief blurted out. The real problem was the behavior from underlings that Trump enabled, but which often went unseen because all journalists' eyes were glued on Trump.

  • Ben Jacobs: [05-14]: The Insurrection That Didn't Happen: Review of a book by New York Times reporters Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, This Will Not Pass, following three key Republican leaders after Jan. 6 (Kevin McCarthy, Liz Cheney, and Mitch McConnell), detailing how critical all three were of Trump at the time, and how two of them crawled back into Trump's good graces.

Ian Millhiser: [05-12] Two GOP judges just stripped social media companies of basic First Amendment rights. The Supreme Court will ultimately decide which crackpot theories they think they can get away with, but Republican judges in lower courts will test them.

Charles P Pierce: [05-13] I'm Not Convinced We'll Ever Get Back to Normal, Regulated Capitalism in This Country: Mostly about how the meatpacking industry defied lockdowns despite extremely high Covid rates early in the pandemic. What caught my attention was the subhed: "That disappeared into the depth of a business-school syllabus sometime in the 1980s." It's long been clear to me that the main purpose of BS education (especially MBA programs) is disabuse students of the notion that ethics has any role in business. Pierce's conclusion: "The intellectual rot afflicting our business communities and the economics professions in general is deep and well-established. Something has gone bad in a very big way."

Nathan J Robinson: [05-13] Why This Computer Scientist Says All Cryptocurrency Should "Die in a Fire": Interview with Nicholas Weaver.

Alex Shephard: [05-09] Donald Trump's Brazen Bid to Control MAGA Minds: Mostly about TRUTH Social ("a mess . . . but it still could work out to be a killer grift"). "There has never been an ex-presidency quite like this, in which a former president simultaneously lays the groundwork for another campaign while also attempting to make as much money as possible. The result is an ethical minefield."

Jeffrey St. Clair: [05-13] Roaming Charges: Caught in a Classic Trap.

Ukraine: Nothing very significant has changed in Ukraine since I wrote my 23 Theses on Ukraine, so I don't have a lot more to add. What has happened has been a lot more of the same: devastation and tragedy. The US and its "allies" have continued to pump more arms into Ukraine, and the Ukrainians appear to be using them effectively, not that much has changed along the battle lines. Both sides keep digging in, not least to their prejudices. The sanctions that were supposed to punish Russia have had little if any effect on Putin's will. Meanwhile, no progress has been made at negotiating an end to the conflict, or at least none is evident. And there is a very real risk that hawks both in the US and Ukraine think they can win something, so they have no interest in realistic negotiations. Thus far, Biden has been able to draw a fine line between firm resistance and reckless escalation. If his latest $33 billion (now $40 billion) aid package leads to talks that achieve something, it will be worthwhile. Of course, it could just as well adds fuel to a neverending conflagration. What I am sure of is that this whole war could have been avoided with a more sensible foreign policy, built around the need for cooperation and peace, and not on the now-discredited doctrine that "might makes right."

  • Richard Falk: [05-13] Ideological Silos of Left and Right: Missing the Point in Ukraine.
  • Paul Kane: [05-15] The list of anti-Ukraine Republican lawmakers is quickly growing: "Two months ago, three voted against the first pro-Ukraine bill. This week, 57 opposed a request for weapons and humanitarian aid." Meanwhile, Rand Paul is leading the opposition in the Senate, which won't stop the $40 billion bill, but has already slowed it down. They don't yet have a coherent critique of the war, but Democrats should worry that they'll get blamed as the "pro-war" party, as they did in 1968.
  • Anatol Lieven: [05-13] Finland and Sweden will join NATO at the expense of everything: I'm not as alarmed at this as Lieven is, but I don't see it as in any way helpful either: supporting anti-Russian sanctions might help apply economic pressure on Russia, but expanding NATO when the pressing need is to negotiate an end to the war in Ukraine isn't helpful. NATO is predicated on raising the spectre of Russia as a threat, which is why Russia is so sensitive to NATO. Whether their fear is rational or not is beside the point: as Ukraine shows, the fear can lead to war. So we don't need more fear; we need less. (Fortunately, Turkey is muddying the issue for now.) I should also point out Lieven's [04-27] piece: The horrible dangers of pushing a US proxy war in Ukraine. The more Ukraine is able to militarily resist Russian aggression, the more American hawks want to pile on, to degrade and further humiliate Russia. The dangers of that approach should be obvious.
  • Matti Maasikas: [] When Reality Bites: Author, the EU Ambassador to Ukraine, is right that "it is not too soon to start thinking about what comes next," but we could use some better thinking. He starts with "Too soft a reaction to the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas was just one of the mistakes the EU (and the West in general) made." Too soft? Instead of working out an arrangement where the disaffected regions could go their own way, Ukraine (supported by escalating US sanctions) locked in a civil war opposed by Russia, which eventually deteriorated to the point Putin decided to intervene militarily. Even now, the author insists, "first, we must help Ukraine win this war." Win? The damage so far goes way beyond anyone ever winning anything.
  • Casey Michael: [05-12] Ukraine's Corrupt Oligarchs Are Looking Toward the West to Rehab Their Reputations: "Some of the grifters who paved the way for the Russian invasion of Ukraine want to be seen as being on the right side of the war."
  • John Quigley: [05-09] I led talks on Donbas and Crimea in the 90s. Here's how the war should end. Key factoid here I wasn't aware of was that in the early 1990s there was a movement for independence for Crimea, even without any real support from Moscow.
  • David Wood: [05-10] The Trauma of Ukraine's Civilians Will Haunt Them, and Us, for Generations.

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Sunday, May 8, 2022

Speaking of Which

I had little desire to open this up, and don't expect anything thorough, but there were a couple things I wanted to take note of.

I finally finished Louis Menand's The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War, with mixed feelings about what was included and what got skipped or skimmed over, but it did bring back a lot of memories of the world I was born into. Appropriate that it ended with Vietnam. He notes:

Vietnam not only shattered the image of American invincibility. It meant that a whole generation grew up looking on the United States as an imperialist, militarist, and racist power. The political capital the nation accumulated by leading the alliance against fascism in the Second World War and helping rebuild Japan and Western Europe it burned through in Southeast Asia.

Unfortunately, he doesn't end there. He ends with two paragraphs about an English journalist named James Fenton, bemoaning how after the Americans left the Communists took over in 1975 they turned the country into a Stalinist hellhole. I couldn't help but think that maybe if they hadn't had to fight for 30+ years against Japan, France, and the United States, they wouldn't have turned out so hard.

That chapter starts out with the 1960s student movement, with Tom Hayden and Mario Savio even before the war became a galvanizing issue. That led to the revelations that the CIA had been funding student groups for propaganda purposes. Many people involved didn't know or care. Diversity of opinion even worked to advantage, as an illustration of freedom vs. the thought control practiced on the other side of the Iron Curtain. (The walls helped make the West look free, which is part of the reason Eastern Europe, and later Ukraine, turned so hard against Russia.) But how free are you when on critical matters the things you believe are on the approved list? Menand picks out an interesting quote from Christopher Lasch:

Both as symptom and as source, the campaign for 'cultural freedom' revealed the degree to which the values held by intellectuals had become indistinguishable from the interests of the modern state -- interests which the intellectuals now served even while they maintained the illusion of detachment. . . . The American press is free, but it censors itself. The University is free, but it has purged itself of ideas. The literary intellectuals are free, but they use their freedom to propagandize for the state. The freedom of American intellectuals as a professional class blinds them to their un-freedom.

I came along at a time when we were starting to see through the haze of ideology and the deceit of power. The workings of the CIA, and how they led to the disaster in Vietnam, were partly exposed, and efforts were made to reform, but the old culture returned, more devious and deluded than ever. It's impossible to dismiss US schemes to influence Ukraine, because that's exactly what the US has always done, or tried to do, at least since WWII. And when you hear people parrot US talking points, you can't tell whether they're paid to shill or just conditioned to go along with them. This leads to the massive irony that democracy is permitted to exist in countries where people can be trusted not to use it, and denied in countries where the leaders actually fear public opinion.

America is becoming like the world in that respect. We are divided between Democratic and Anti-Democratic parties. The latter is the one preoccupied with repression and thought-control, the one obsessed with purging schools of any hint of free thinking, the one that still hopes to cling onto power by training pious, obedient cadres. The former, or at least the nostalgic Cold War faction which still controls the levers of power, knows they don't have to be that controlling. They understand that diverse people can be trusted with a little freedom, because in the end most of them will agree on the right things anyway. And if, say, some strange idea takes root and becomes popular, they're flexible enough to absorb it and carry on.

The war in Ukraine has largely deadlocked, but there's still enough to note to give them their own section:

Edward Alvarez: [05-07] Why We Should Not Admire Zelensky: I suspect someone could write a critique which takes the Ukrainian leader to task on at least two points: his intransigence in the runup to the war, and his reticence to negotiate a cease fire leading to an agreement to partition Ukraine (preferably through plebiscites). This doesn't dig deep enough to be that article. Moreover, you'd have to raise the question of what (if any) options Putin offered. Even now, while it's possible to imagine a deal that both sides should be willing to accept, it's not obvious which side is dragging this out. It could be that Zelensky's success at begging for arms will swell his head, leading to demands that only prolong the war, I worry more about the donors, with much less risk, seeing continued war as a bonanza.

George Beebe: [04-29] Tell us how this war in Ukraine ends.

Stephen Kinzer: [05-02] These countries are willing to risk US ire over Russia-Ukraine: "The Global South is not intimidated and has increasingly refused to ally with the West on sanctions and condemnations."

Jen Kirby: [05-04] Are sanctions against Russia working? Hard to tell. Clearly, the sanctions put in place after Russia annexed Crimea didn't deter this war. If anything, they promoted it. Will more sanctions bring Russia to sue for peace? Litte evidence of that so far. Otherwise, it's mostly an exercise in arrogance (the belief that we are entitled to judge and punish malefactors) and gratuitous sadism (the actual effect of sanctions on most people).

Paul Krugman: [04-28] America, Again the Arsenal of Democracy: I like FDR more than most Americans, both because and in spite of knowing a good deal about him. Still, this is wrong on more levels than I can count, word for word in any permutation. Maybe not as wrong as Wilson's "war to make the world safe for democracy," when the US went to war to support the Tsar of Russia and the world's two largest colonial empires. But the bigger problem is that supplying arms to Britain and the Soviet Union didn't help end the war. Rather, it sucked the US in, by giving reason to Japan to attack Pearl Harbor, and to Hitler to declare war on the US. It may be that Germany and Japan were so hell-bent on empire that we would have had to fight them sooner or later regardless, but sooner was what we got for feigning peace while feeding war. Given the way WWII turned out, many people applauded FDR for his vision and bold leadership. Krugman ends his piece wondering whether Biden will get due credit for his staunch defense of democracy in Ukraine. Depends a lot on how much escalation he provokes from Putin, who under no conceivable scenario is going to capitulate as gracefully as Hitler. Also depends on whether Biden manages to save democracy in America, which at the moment seems like the taller order. [Also see Tooze, below.]

Anatol Lieven: [05-03] Reckless and ruthless? Yes. But is Putin insane? No. A distinction that doesn't offer much comfort. Putin's decision to start the war was based on several severe misconceptions: about what Russia could do, what the US couldn't, how welcoming Ukrainians would be, and why small bits of land and people mattered. And even if he admits he was wrong on those counts, his decision to double down rather than suing for peace is yet another hint he's not fully grounded.

Dave Lindorff: [05-03] War Secretary Austin Wants a Long War in Ukraine, Not a Quick Peace.

Paul McLeary/Lara Seligman: [05-05] 'There is no going back': How the war in Ukraine has pushed Biden to rearm Europe. Loose lips at NATO and the Pentagon. We have to ask, is this really something we want to be doing? St. Clair [see below] cites this bit:

"We think it's time to move on from this forward presence concept based on the tripwire approach," the NATO diplomat said, where a small number of NATO troops are stationed in Eastern Europe, to a larger footprint that could actually halt any Russian incursion. The idea is to move from "deterrence by punishment to deterrence by denial," the official said.

How is it possible to install a "deterrence by denial" force in such a way that it won't be interpreted by Russia as a first strike force? For that matter, isn't is stupid now to talk about deterrence of any stripe so soon after such theories failed to deter Russia from invading Ukraine? Here's another quote from a Pentagon "International Security Affairs" head: "The U.S. government's objective in this crisis relative to Russia . . . is that Russia ends this crisis as a strategic failure." But massive strategic failures on both sides hasn't ended the war yet. And if the US can't admit as much, why are they waiting for Russia to throw in the towel.

Rajan Menon: [05-05] Human catastrophe, flowing from Ukraine and across the globe. Most obviously, 12.8 million Ukrainians have been displaced, with 5.4 million leaving the country. Economic damages fans out from there: the displaced need to be fed and sheltered, even those who stayed are unable to go about their normal business; one-third of Ukraine's infrastructure has been damaged or demolished; sanctions against Russia affect costs elsewhere, and inflation spreads the pain even farther.

Adam Tooze: [04-18] Azovstal - Mariupol's final battlefield. History of the big steel plant in the news. Tooze also wrote a pretty detailed history of the conflict before it blew up: [01-12] Putin's Challenge to Western hegemony - the 2022 edition. More recently: [05-04] Is escalation in Ukraine part of the US strategy? Subhed: "The aim of the billions committed through the Lend-Lease plan could tip the geopolitical balance. History may be about to repeat itself." More pointed is this line: "It is a calculation so cold-blooded that it is little wonder that we want to dress it up in half-remembered histories of the second world war, in which the happy ending is assumed without the necessary sacrifices ever being spelled out."

Some other links and comments. Again, I'm not making any attempt to be thorough or systematic:

Rachael Bedard: [05-07] The Radical Life of Kathy Boudin: "She became infamous for her involvement in acts of political violence. Then she found her way out of the abyss."

Fabiola Cineas: [05-03] Florida's new election police unit is the scariest voter suppression effort yet.

David Dayen: [04-26] Will Inflation Break the News? "The greatest threat to democracy from media isn't disinformation, it's the paywall." I'm sorry for all you "content providers" out there who want to make a living off your earnest thinking and writing, but the marginal value of information is very thin, unless you're in a position to profit from it. But who makes a living from good citizenship? Dayen imagines people will cut back on their subscriptions as inflation eats into their income, and it's hard to argue otherwise. That's already true of entertainment (like Netflix), and most people get a lot more there than they will ever get from subscribing to Matt Taibbi or Matthew Yglesias or many others. I can imagine a day coming when I feel the crunch and give up most or all of my subscriptions (with the side bonus of never writing this column again). But is this any way to run a democracy? By the way, Dayen also wrote (no paywall, but you have to beat down a pop-up): [05-05] Means-Testing Student Debt Relief: Big Hassle, No Results.

Sean Illing: [04-24] Michael Lewis on why Americans don't trust experts. More reason to plug his book, The Fifth Risk. Who knew that the government employs competent people looking out for you?

Sarah Jones: [05-04] Why Are Conservative Men So Scared of Cat Ladies? Jones also weighs in on the Supreme Court: [05-04] The Supreme Court Is a Tool for Tyrants.

Robert Kuttner: [05-04] The Fed's Dilemma: They hiked short-term interest rates half a point, because that's the only hammer they have to attack inflation, even when it's not caused by low interest rates, when the main effect of an interest rate is to slow business down and put people out of work (at a time when the economy is already shrinking due to war and supply chain issues). Oh, and this is Jay Powell (Trump's Fed Chair) doing this. You know, the guy Biden was talked into renominating because he finally understood that the Fed's job wasn't limited to fighting inflation: growing the economy and increasing employment also matters. Until, evidently, you get that second term.

Jamie Martin: [04-28] The US Wants to Tackle Inflation. Here's Why That Should Worry the Rest of the World.

Ian Millhiser: [05-03] 4 things we know, and one big thing we don't, on the draft opinion overruling Roe v. Wade. Millhiser covers the Supreme Court as comprehensively as anyone, so he's the obvious reporter/critic to look to. The "big thing" is whether a majority will continue to stand behind Alito's "maximalist" opinion. One option might be to concur with Alito's judgment but with a less sweeping opinion. One thing I've gotten from reading Millhiser is how sloppy and contorted the reasoning of right-wing judges has become lately as they try to invent legal theories to support their agenda. Another is that right-wingers seem to have unlimited resources to file ridiculous suits to harass others. Indeed, the recent avalanche of laws that depend on right-wing vigilantes for enforcement show their confidence in this tactic. Millhiser followed this piece up with:

  • Ian Millhiser/Li Zhou/Nicole Narea: [05-03] What happens next if the Supreme Court strikes down Roe.
  • Ian Millhiser: [05-03] The case against the Supreme Court of the United States: "The Court was the midwife of Jim Crow, the right hand of union busters, and the dead hand of the Confederacy, and is now one of the chief architects of America's democratic decline." The way I've often put it: we've been fortunate to have lived during a rare period where the Supreme Court sought to broaden our constitutional rights. Of course, by "we" I mean people more or less my age (71). The Court's been leaning back rightward at least since the 1980s, when Scalia and Thomas were installed with an explicit political agenda. But for much of US history the Court has had a malign influence, and the current majority is likely to become one of the worst ever.
  • Ian Millhiser: [05-06] If Roe v Wade falls, are LGBTQ rights next?

A few more links on Alito v. Roe v. Wade:

Jason Samenow: [05-08] Texas toast: Heat crushed records Saturday and will swell northward: Wichita hit 90F today for the first day this year, and forecast calls for 4-5 more 90+ days, so this is too close for comfort.

Jeffrey St Clair: [05-06] Roaming Charges: Playing for Keeps: Opens with a sizable section on abortion politics, so I could have filed it there, but also includes significant points on Ukraine, and more. Includes this Trump quote (per Mark Esper): "We could just shoot some Patriot missiles [into Mexico) and take out the [drug] labs, quietly. No one would know it was us." Come on, no one would even suspect it was anyone else. Charles Pierce [05-02] has more from the Esper book: Mark Esper Didn't Think Voters Deserved to Know That Trump Wanted to Turn DC Streets Into My Lai? ("The Secretary of Defense thought this information would better serve his bank account two years later.")

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Speaking of Which

Having eschewed links for my 23 Theses on Ukraine piece Tuesday, I figured I should acknowledge a few other pieces sooner rather than later. I also received several questions on the article, so published my answers here.

Of course, we start off with Ukraine:

Andrew Bacevich: [04-16] Robert Kagan: American passivity led to the Russia-Ukraine crisis: "Always nimble, the pro-war raconteur is again making arguments for preventative war, just more obliquely." I wrote more about Kagan (and his wife, Victoria Nuland, a major player in the American weaponization of Ukraine) in the Q&A (link above). What Bacevich calls Kagan's "flexibility" is something far more sinister. Kagan is arguing that Putin wouldn't have attacked Ukraine if only the US had intimidated Russia sufficiently beforehand. How we could have done that short of nuclear war isn't explained, nor is why any lesser intimidation would have worked. Kagan is so wedded to the use of force, the only world he can imagine is one of masters and slaves.

Hannah Beech/Abdi Latif Dahir/Oscar Lopez: [04-24] With Us or With Them? In a New Cold War, How About Neither. It turns out that a lot of countries, especially in "the global south," want nothing to do with a pissing match between the US and Russia. I doubt this means specific approval of Russia's attack, but they recognize that the US has committed similar crimes, and that they can do little if anything about either. One thing I do give Biden some credit for is that he hasn't pulled out the either-you're-with-us-or-against-us ultimatum (which GW Bush asserted in the War on Terror). I suspect he hasn't done it because his people know it wouldn't work and could backfire.

Paul Elie: [04-21] The Long Holy War Behind Putin's Political War in Ukraine: I can't claim to understand this, but evidently since the Russian Orthodox Church was rehabilitated with the end of communism in 1991 the Russians have been plotting to control Ukraine, which gives them some kind of common cause with Putin. In 2018, a Ukrainian Orthodox Church broke off, as an alternative to Russian control.

Nicholas Grossman: [04-24]: Arming Ukraine Is the Path to Peace: Article blocked, so I'm just going from the excerpt, which mostly is an attack on Noam Chomsky, and a seriously stupid one at that. I can see an argument for arming Ukraine because you want to cripple the Russian invasion, to turn it back or simply to make it so painful Russia thinks twice before trying anything like that again, but that's no path to peace. The only way you get to peace is through negotiation, and the only viable basis for negotiation is justice, which is not determined by the relative balance of arms and terror.

Luke Harding: [04-16] How Zelenskiy's team of TV writers helps his victory message hit home.

William D Hartung/Julia Gledhill: [04-17] The New Gold Rush: How Pentagon Contractors Are Cashing in on the Ukraine Crisis. "Even before hostilities broke out, the CEOs of major weapons firms were talking about how tensions in Europe could pad their profits."

Mike Lofgren: [04-11] No, Russia's Ukraine Invasion Isn't "Our Fault": Identifying with America there, but I can accept the title. He does push his luck with the subhed: "Russia's aggression stems from its history and political culture, not NATO expansion or the post-Cold War settlement." The worthwhile part of the article is the one that explores Russia's history and political culture:

Since Peter the Great, Russia has presented itself as a great power and as sophisticated as western Europe. . . . This facade has never quite concealed deep-seated cultural insecurity, the feeling that poor Russia will forever remain backward and disrespected. This dichotomy animated debate among the 19th-century intelligentsia, dividing between Westernizers embracing Europe and Slavophiles who rationalized Russia's intractable differences with the West as the mark of spiritual superiority.

This schism carried into the Soviet era in the guise of a debate between the merits of world revolution versus socialism in one country, a difference of opinion brought violently to a halt by Stalin's xenophobia and denunciation of "rootless cosmopolitanism" (a largely anti-Semitic euphemism).

Today, Putin still benefits from the cultural backlash against the extreme economic insecurity of the post-Soviet 1990s. His rehabilitation of Stalin is complete, and those who document Stalin's crimes are persecuted. An inward-looking, defensive Slavophilia flourishes under the rubric of Eurasianism, a hodgepodge of geopolitical ramblings whose chief proponent is Putin's Rasputin-like court philosopher, Alexander Dugin.

This isn't quite right. "Socialism in one country" wasn't a theory that won out so much as a tactical retrenchment after revolutions in more advanced capitalist countries failed, leaving Russia isolated in a hostile world. One unfortunate side-effect was that Communist Parties in the West were reduced to acting as Soviet agents, which undermined any possibility of local success. Also, I'm not aware of any "complete rehabilitation" of Stalin, not that there is no nostalgia for the Soviet Union -- where, unlike modern Russia, the state was (in principle, if not always in fact) for the betterment of the masses -- and Stalin has some credibility for winning WWII. Dugin, by the way, is featured in Masha Gessen's The Future Is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia. As I tried to explain in my "23 Theses" piece, I think psychology has a lot to do with why Putin invaded. Someone else, for instance, with no designs beyond his borders, could have decided that NATO was a purely defensive alignment, and simply ignored expansion. But Putin was too prideful and/or paranoid to ignore NATO expansion and other measures that impacted Russia (like sanctions, and support for Ukraine vs. Russian separatist regions). No doubt the war wouldn't have happened had Putin approached his disputes with the West more constructively. On the other hand, shouldn't the US and its allies deserve some kind of reproach for not anticipating how serious the conflict might get? And for not attempting to defuse the conflict? Once Putin started amassing troops near the Ukraine border, Biden went all stick, no carrot, and since the war started, Biden has escalated repeatedly, while ignoring the obvious need for talks around a cease fire.

The early part of Lofgren's article is mostly a counter to John Mearsheimer (presumably his Economist piece John Mearsheimer on why the West is principally responsible for the Ukrainian crisis, tucked safely behind a paywall). Mearsheimer stipulates up front: "There is no question that Vladimir Putin started the war and is responsible for how it is being waged." But then he goes into why Putin did so. I haven't read what he says, but have my own theories. I will say that although Mearsheimer is often sharp on critiquing American policy, his "realist" prescriptions don't offer much improvement. The goal of US foreign policy shouldn't be a narrow focus on national interests, but a broad effort to build cooperation between nations, because there's no safe way to enforce the New World Orders stategists are so enamored with.

PS: Another headline I noticed from Economist: [04-23] Poland's prime minister says the West's appeasement of Vladimir Putin must stop. First paragraph leads off with Neville Chamberlain at Munich in 1938, adding "the analogies with the present situation are striking." One might argue that Putin needs NATO to keep hawks like Mateusz Morawiecki reigned in, although it's also possible that the security offered by NATO is what allows the hawks to shoot off their mouths.

Josh Marshall: [04-21] Failing at the Basics: Cites a poll that says 54% of Americans think Biden hasn't been tough enough on Russia over Ukraine. I'd draw three inferences from this number: they don't understand what Biden has done, which has been pretty aggressive within some finely calculated restraints; they don't understand how dangerous going beyond those constraints could be; and they're hung up on a totally bullshit idea of toughness. Marshall sees this (like dozens of other things) as a failure of messaging, but the message he wants Democrats to pound home is how friendly Trump and many other Republicans have been to Putin over recent years (e.g., "why just three years ago they were helping Presidents Trump and Putin conspire against Ukraine and the United States").

Kevin Martin: [04-22] With Humanity on the Brink, Should We Trust Deterrence Theory, or Disarmament? Above all else, the lesson we need to draw from Ukraine is that the shibboleths of post-WWII defense theory simply don't work. You know the clichés: peace is guaranteed by strength, we cannot negotiate with enemies so the only way we can stop them is through deterrence. I suspect the list of things that Ukraine has proven wrong is quite long -- not least, almost everything we thought about sanctions. A rethink is in order, which would lead us back to the common sense notion that the way to prevent future wars is to forego the arms races that lead to them, and understand the value of mutual respect.

Alfred McCoy: [04-19] How to End the War in Ukraine: "A Solution Beyond Sanctions." McCoy's scheme is to use the European Court to order Russia to pay reparations for damage to Ukraine, and to collect those reparations by garnishing oil and gas revenues. It's hard to see how this would work, but the 20% rate he proposes would presumably leave Russia enough profit to not just shut delivery down. Still, it feels like a tariff, which is effectively a tax on European consumers. Hard to see where anyone comes out of that deal feeling whole.

Bill Scher: [04-12] Don't Let Putin's War Break the UN: Starts with Zelensky questioning why Russia hasn't been stripped of its permanent Security Council seat (with its veto power). Doesn't mention that Russia has already been suspended from the UN Human Rights Council (by the UN General Assembly, which isn't subject to vetoes, but carries much less weight than the Security Council). Explains the history of how that arrangement came about. The more basic point is that without Russia (or for that matter China and the US) there is no United Nations. The UN would cease to be a forum for resolving international conflicts (inefficient as it is), and instead be one for advancing them.

Jeffrey St Clair: [04-22] Roaming Charges: Runaway Sons of the Nuclear A-Bomb: Bullet points, but more intuitive insight than most: "Winning wars is no longer the point, prolonging them is -- that's where the money's made and what the fog of war is meant to obscure." Way down he quotes Walter Benjamin: "Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right [to material improvement], but instead a chance to express themselves." Sounds like a lot of Republicans these days, with the proviso that now (as then) only some people are entitled to express themselves, and only in certain ways. Evidently, St Clair also wrote [04-10] The Politics of Lesser-Imperialism [behind some kind of paywall], which takes to task the segment of the "anti-imperialist left" that is rallying behind Russian war propaganda because they think it counters the "greater imperialism" of the US.

It's a weird kind of anti-imperialism that writes amicus briefs for a regime that Lenin and Trotsky would have been toiling night and day to overthrow. Of course, the briefs themselves never dig too deep before hitting the bedrock of their own absurdity. Instead, they function as a kind of meme factory, endlessly the shallow tropes of the day, such as "false flags over Ukraine." In a month, the Ukraine war has yielded up so many allegations of "false flags" that the assertions themselves begin to seem like false flags: the bodies on the streets of Bucha were staged; the bombed Mariupol theater was being used by the Azov battalion; the Kramatorsk train station was hit by Ukrainian rockets. And on and on . . .

The US bears responsibility for all of the carnage now unfolding. All right. Likely true. To a degree. Now what? Overthrow the US? Godspeed. . . . The Left -- especially the international Left -- used to see capitalism as the unifying threat, the systemic enemy. But you rarely hear it talked about these days, even though its fangs are sharper than ever. Perhaps that's because the old socialist powers have cashed it in and joined the mad scramble to commodify all that remains. Communist China now boasts 1002 billionaires, 400 more than the cutthroat capitalists in the US. To paraphrase Mao: who's running with the imperialist dogs now?

Yes, we know NATO is bad news. I've been writing about NATO's belligerent and criminal actions for nearly 40 years now, including weekly dispatches on its wars in Serbia, Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. I've written about NATO's provocative creep ever-eastward. Its remorseless campaign to bully, bleed and isolate Russia at any cost. And yet. While the war in Ukraine had many co-authors, it only had one agent.

Putin may have been tempted, lured, baited or even duped into invading Ukraine. He may have been lied to by his own generals and spymasters. He may not be the grand strategists so many thought. But he alone pulled the trigger. His tanks crossed the border. His bombs destroyed city blocks, hospitals, train depots. His army is occupying foreign ground. . . .

But here's what's worse. In rationalizing Putin's crimes in Syria and Ukraine, the anti-imperialist left in effect validates America's own in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya.

Matt Taibbi: [04-19] America's Intellectual No-Fly Zone: This starts off citing an interview, Noam Chomsky on How to Prevent World War III. Chomsky points out that the US has two options: either negotiate a settlement with Putin, which would mean unpleasant concessions to give Putin a self-respecting way out, or keep fighting until Putin submits (while hoping, presumably, he won't respond to existential threats with nuclear weapons). Biden's lack of interest in negotiation, as well as his charges of war crimes and his escalations at every turn, suggest the US has settled on the second approach, regardless of risk. It certainly is the one that plays best in the madhouse of US foreign policy rhetoric (which is full of praise for the braveness of Ukrainians, with much less concern for their lives). Taibbi enters to monitor the reaction to Chomsky, which is to judge him "a genocide-enabling, America-hating Kremlin stooge." [Would like to read more, but Substack subscription required.]

Anton Troianovski: [04-17] Atrocities in Ukraine War Have Deep Roots in Russian Military. Of course, it's not just Russians with deep roots.

Robert Wright: [04-11] The Blob has won the Ukraine framing war: I don't particularly like the term "Blob." It was coined by Obama adviser Ben Rhodes to deride other security/foreign policy mandarins he disagreed with, but it's not like he or Obama made much of a break with the main stream of thought that came out of American preëminence after WWII, navigated the Cold War, and took a turn toward increased militarism after the demise of the Soviet Union. Conservatives and liberals both took that turn, their different rationales converging on the steadfast belief that American might makes/reflects right, with so little concern for the possibility that something might go wrong that their skeptics could call themselves "realists." Not that there was never disagreement on tactics, but at critical junctures, like the invasion of Iraq, the Blob could be distinguished from everyone else. When Biden pulled out as Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, we saw the Blob attempt to rise up to smite him, but all they had to work with was hindsight -- it's not like anyone could imagine invading again would work better this time. Besides, having gotten in a few blows, there would be more crises in the future, and now Ukraine has come along, fitting neatly into a story line they've been spinning ever since they got bored with the Middle East and started looking for more lucrative prey. Wright focuses on one particular framing of Ukraine: "this idea that America is fighting a global war on behalf of democracy and freedom." He points out "six big problems":

  1. It's a lie. The US has a long history of subverting democracy abroad, as well as arming autocrats to attack their own people (and in some cases, like Saudi Arabia now, or Iraq in the 1980s, to attack others).
  2. It warps our view of the world, sometimes blinding us to the very problems we claim to want to solve. Ukraine is not exactly the poster-child for democracy.
  3. It short circuits critical self-examination. "The more you make authoritarianism the crime, and the less you make invasion the crime," the more excuse you claim for America's own invasions.
  4. It undermines respect for international law. Which the Blob has long denigrated, partly out of fear of prosecution, but mostly because they can't stand the idea that their own operations could be limited by mere rules.
  5. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we're defending democracy in Ukraine, why not elsewhere? Sure, you can point to other cases where the Blob has stylized conflicts as being democracy vs. autocracy (Venezuela, Nicaragua, Iran, Russia, to pick four cases where there are elections that are little if any more compromised as elections are in the US).
  6. It could doom the world to a future of chaos and suffering. "Regular readers of this newsletter know what's coming." Regular readers of my blog, too, so we'll let this one go at that.

One point that I will add is that Biden may be more inclined than the average Blobster to focus on democracy vs. autocracy, because that is a struggle that is being waged domestically as Republicans (the would-be autocrats) try to undermine and rig elections, much as they have managed to rig the economy in favor of owners against workers, of companies against customers, and corporations against mere citizens. Of course, stopping Russia in Ukraine won't help most Americans at all. As a letter put it: "Democrats are anxious to seize on an issue where they are not playing defense, as they are on inflation, gas prices, identity politics in elementary school, and crime."

Wright also wrote: [04-20] The Ukraine War Speech Code. The "code" is a prohibition against considering the possibility that NATO expansion had something to do with Putin's decision to invade Ukraine. As Wright puts it: "The party line being that if your assessment of the causes of this war is much more nuanced than 'Putin is a bad man,' you're dangerously misguided." Wright argues that if you want to blame Putin solely for invading Ukraine, you should phrase it in terms of international law, where no US provocation excuses what he did. (Nor does the incontrovertible fact that the US violated the same international law in invading Iraq in 2003. But haven't we reach the point where very few of us still think that was a good idea? Maybe more respect for international law would save us future embarrassments like that.) On the other hand, we should still talk about how the US prodded and provoked Putin to the point where he made his criminal decision, and how we didn't make a serious effort to defuse the situation through diplomacy before the war was launched, because that reflects back on US decision making: specifically, on why the Blob's core beliefs keep getting us into conflicts we can't figure our way out of.

The latest installment of Wright's Nonzero Newsletter [04-22] Earthling also makes some interesting points. There's a chart based on January polling of how people in Donbas might vote between various stay-in-Ukraine vs. align-with-Russia options, which indicates that a slight majority would vote to stay, but most of those were in formerly Kyiv-controlled areas. In Russian-controlled areas, a vote would tip the other way (and the present offensive is designed to increase Russian-controlled area, while driving others away). There's also a chart on who is to blame for the war. In the US about 60% blame Russia, and 20% blame the US. That's closer than I would have expected, especially given how one-sided the news coverage is. But my guess is that at least half of those are Trumpists. The only nation polled where more people blame the US than Russia is China.

For what it's worth, while looking for some insight into the Blob concept, I ran across these historical links:

  • David Samuels: [2016-05-05] The Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama's Foreign-Policy Guru: A profile of Ben Rhodes, at the time Obama's "deputy national security adviser for strategic communications." He is credited with coining the term Blob for figures in the "American foreign policy establishment," including: "Hillary Clinton, Robert Gates, and other Iraq-war promoters from both parties who now whine incessantly about the collapse of the American security order in Europe and the Middle East."
  • Alex Ward: [2010-12-08] The revenge of the blob: "Presidents Obama and Trump kept the nation's foreign policy establishment at arm's length. President-elect Biden has warmly embraced it."

  • Sarah Lyall: [2021-09-16] For Some, Afghanistan Outcome Affirms a Warning: Beware the Blob: "The chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan exposed the shortcomings of views within the foreign policy establishment, also known as 'The Blob.'"
  • Robert Wright: [2021-10-11] Toward a Unified Theory of Blob-dom: This is where Wright lays out his Blob definitions.

Cathy Young: [04-13] What Really Happened in Ukraine in 2014 -- and Since Then: "A close look at the lies and distortions from Russia apologists and propagandists about the roots of the Ukraine War." Fairly deep review from 2014 forward, although the subhed pretty much admits that the "no tribal prejudices" motto isn't quite right.

And here are some other timely stories:

Karen Attiah: [04-20] Why Britain's deal with Rwanda on migrants is so repulsive: Boris Johnson's solution to immigrants seeking asylum is to round them up and dump them in an already-overpopulated, land-locked country in central Africa, one with a "well-documented history of human rights abuses." Still, I wonder how many white Ukrainians he'll deport there. Attiah also wrote [03-24] William and Kate's colonial Caribbean tour was cringeworthy.

Bloomberg: [04-21] Eight-hour blackouts hit India after hottest March since 1901: Article blames a shortage of coal, but isn't the real problem too much coal?

Paul Blumenthal: [04-15] What Jared Kushner's $2 Billion Saudi Payout Says About the Post-Presidential Hustle. In the long history of presidential graft, there's never been anything remotely like this.

Kyle Chayka: [04-21] Why Would Elon Musk Want to Buy Twitter? How about: "as a means for himself and others to continue influencing vast audiences without interference"? Related: Kevin T Dugan: [04-21] Elon Musk Enters His Rupert Murdoch Phase.

Leilah Danielson: [04-17] AJ Muste Was a Prophet of the 20th-Century US Left: I've often reminded that our late friend Diane Wahto used to sign her email with a quote from Muste: "There is no way to peace. Peace is the way."

Jason Ditz: [04-22] Turkey Seeks to Bar PKK From North Iraq Border: While you've been so bothered with Russia trying to intimidate Ukraine to stop them from disrespecting Russia (or whatever it is Putin thinks his principled stand is), Turkey has been doing the same thing in Iraq: crossing the border to attack Iraqi Kurds he regards as some kind of threat. You're not so bothered there, probably because it's been so lightly reported, but it's the same principle: big country using force to intimidate small neighboring country. It should be every bit as illegal, but when you're a big country, you figure you're above all that.

Molly Fischer: [03-28] Galay Brain: On Adam Tooze.

Shane Goldmacher: [04-17] Mar-a-Lago Machine: Trump as a Modern-Day Party Boss: "Hoarding cash, doling out favors and seeking to crush rivals, the former president is dominating the GOP, preparing for another race and helping loyalists oust officials who thwarted his attempted subversion of the 2020 election."

Sean Illing: [04-24] Michael Lewis on why Americans don't trust experts: "How a society that is so good at creating knowledge can be so bad at applying it." If you've read Lewis's book The Fifth Risk, you'll have a pretty good idea what he's on about, but you'll still want to read this for more examples. But if you're one of those Republicans who believes Reagan's joke about government is gospel truth, you won't have any fucking idea.

Michael Kruse: [04-16] The One Way History Shows Trump's Personality Cult Will End: "An expert on autocracy assesses how far America as slipped away from democracy." Interview with Ruth Ben-Ghiat.

Jane Mayer: [04-16] The Slime Machine Targeting Dozens of Biden Nominees: Spelunking another dark money right-wing organization, which goes by the initials AAF.

Bill McKibben: [04-22] This Earth Day, We Could Be Helping the Environment -- and Ukraine: A hedgehog, his one big idea about climate change lets him turn every topic back into his topic. So, he figures, Russia's war on Ukraine is financed by oil. Stop using oil (especially Russian oil, but why stop there?) and the war it funds will no longer be possible. If only we had thought of this before getting into such a mess.

Dana Milbank: [04-19] DeSantis saves Florida kids from being indoctrinated with math: In a supposedly transparent but otherwise mysterious process, Florida has rejected 54 math textbooks, most for allegedly including "critical race theory" or other "prohibited topics."

Ian Millihser: [04-19] The Trump judge's opinion striking down the airplane mask mandate is a legal disaster. We're fortunate so far that the Supreme Court conservative majority (except for Alito and often Thomas) still make an effort to cast their political decisions in terms that recognize legal understanding, but this is a prime example of a lower Trump judge just inventing stuff for political reasons. Millhiser also wrote [04-23] Ron DeSantis's attack on Disney obviously violates the First Amendment.

Rick Noack/Michael Birnbaum/Elie Petit: [04-24] France's Macron wins presidency, holding off Le Pen's far-right threat to upend Europe and relations with Russia. Breaking news as I'm trying to wrap this post up. Split is 59-41 percent, which is less than 5 years ago.

Charles P Pierce: [04-18] The Republican Undead Walk Among Us. Just Look at Scott Pruitt: "The ethically challenged former EPA administrator wants to join the Senate." Replacing Jim Inhofe. Who says you can't do worse? Pierce writes a lot of short pieces worth reading. Another that stands out [04-22] Marjorie Taylor Greene Was the Most Non-Credible Person I've Seen on a Witness Stand in Decades. Also [04-20] Mallory McMorrow Had Two Options After She Was Called a 'Groomer.' She Chose to Swing Back. Seth Myers could features her speech in his segment, "The Kind of Story We Need Right Now."

Nathaniel Rakich: [04-21] The Extreme Bias of Florida's New Congressional Map. The map in question produces 18 seats that are R+5 or more, vs. 8 seats that are D+5, and 2 competitive seats between.

Matt Shuham: [04-22] Bannon's GoFundMe Border Wall Buddies Plead Guilty While He Lives Free With Trump Pardon.

Richard Silverstein: [04-18] Ramadan and the Road to War . . . and Perdition, and [04-19] Biden Sends US Diplomats to Israel on Fool's Errand: Looks like Israel is gearing up for one of their periodic "mowing the grass" onslaughts in Gaza. The parallels to Ukraine are strong. Putin only wishes he could bottle up Ukraine like Israel has done to Gaza. But perhaps Israel wouldn't be so callous and overbearing if the US and its allies applied sanctions against Israeli aggression like they're doing to Russia. I'm less certain that sending defensive weapons to Gaza, like NATO is doing for Ukraine, would help, but that's mostly because Israel is a nuclear power (like Russia).

Adam Weinstein: [04-18] Deadly Pakistan strikes in Afghanistan reflect growing cross-border tensions: Like Turkey/Iraq, another case of cross-border aggression, supposedly rationalized by Afghanistan providing a sanctuary for TPP fighters against Pakistan.

Daily Log

Fragment on Blob cut from above:

On the downside, it blurs the (rather narrow) range of differences among the "American foreign policy establishment" (a more generous term which still conveys some sort of self-selected clique able to exert a consistent direction in administrations of both political parties). I tend towards a finer-grained taxonomy, chiefly: neocons (idealists in love with military power and little if any concern for how that impacts others), neoliberals (same, except they do claim to care, hence they're also known as "humanitarian interventionists"), and realists (non-idealists, who try to tie policies to material interests, not caring how they impact others except as that affects the possible success of the policies). This implies a 2x2 matrix, one dimension for ideologist vs. pragmatist, the other self-centered vs. respectful of others, but the Blob excludes the fourth corner (pragmatic but respectful of others). A proper taxonomy would find more variants: e.g., is Henry Kissinger a "realist," as neocons often charge, or something different, some kind of monarchist throwback, but for all practical purposes, he always winds up well within the Blob; or Ben Rhodes, who coined the term Blob to denigrate other people, but who winds up Blob-adjacent more often than not; or Peter Navarro, who we can use as a proxy for a Trumpist "America First" mindset that for Trump himself never developed beyond the stage of "irritable mental gestures." Still, the Blob coalesces at critical intervals, especially in the decision to invade Iraq.

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