Sunday, August 7, 2022

Speaking of Which

After the Kansas referendum on abortion rights, I figured I should post something this week. I've felt all along that the amendment would be defeated in a fair election, while also recognizing that nothing in the wording or scheduling of this issue was meant to be fair. Some of my reasoning is explained below. Of course, even the margin won't alter the will of the anti-abortion forces to come up with some other way to strip Kansans of their rights. The next big battle will be in November, when Kansas elects a new governor: the Republican legislature will continue to pass outlandish bills, but if Democrat Laura Kelly wins they'll have to override her veto. (Republicans currently hold a "veto-proof" majority, but just barely, so we'll also be closely watching minor shifts there.)

Underreported below is the Ukraine War, which continues to grind on, with Ukraine making minor progress in the South toward Kherson, and Russia trying to expand its Donbas enclaves. The war itself has mostly degenerated to long-distance shelling. (Most alarming: Rocket attacks at Zaporizhzhia power plant raise fears of 'nuclear catastrophe'.) Meanwhile, no reported interest on any side for cease fire and talks (other than allowing one ship of grain to leave Odesa).

In late-breaking news, [08-07] Senate approves Inflation Reduction Act, clinching long-delayed health and climate bill, with concessions to Manchin and Sinema, including Republicans block cap on insulin costs for millions of patients (vote was 57-43 in favor of the cap, but in our great democracy that wasn't enough). Vox has an explainer. Also Rebecca Leber: The Senate just passed one of the biggest bills to fight climate change, ever.

Spencer Ackerman: [08-01] First Impressions on the Execution of Ayman al-Zawahiri. Author calls his blog "Forever Wars," of which this is another mark in the forever timeline. Like many other markers, this could be used as a pivot point to exiting the process which generates future terrorists faster than it can wipe them out. Related:

David Badash: [08-06] Rick Scott tells CPAC Democrats' policies are 'evil,' the 'militant left' is the 'enemy' and the 'greatest danger we've ever faced': I've been reading Heather Cox Richardson's history of the Republican Party, To Make Men Free, which recounts Republican claims that Democrats were set on destroying the country going back to the 1870s. (Evidently, the red baiting started immediately after the 1871 Paris Commune, although the Federalists made similar complaints about the Jacobins in the 1790s.) With the New Deal in the 1930s, when it was the Democrats who saved America from the greatest economic collapse in American history, Republican hysteria only became more strident. That Republicans like Scott are dialing their madness up even more now just shows that even they recognize that they have no solutions for our increasingly perilous problems. Of course, Scott was just warming up the crowd for the main event. See Bob Brigham: [08-07] Trump at CPAC: 108 minutes in speech filled with 'unapologetic fascism'.

Peter Baker: [08-04] U.S. Offer to Swap Russian Arms Dealer for Griner Highlights Uncomfortable Choices: The arms dealer is Viktor Bout, arrested in and extradited from Thailand on charges that could just as easily be levied against hundreds of American arms merchants, but the US is one of the very few nations with the means and will to pursue such cases. Brittany Griner, at least, was in Russia when she committed her "crime" -- one which, until recently, the US would have prosecuted her for, though she's enough of a celebrity she would likely have gotten off lightly in our vastly unequal system of justice. (Jeffrey St Clair, link below, notes that "Griner's 9.5-year sentence is actualy 6 months less than John Sinclair got for possession of 2 joints in Michigan in 1971.) In Russia, however, her celebrity may be working against her: while her incarceration isn't winning Putin any "hearts and minds," it does remind us he still wields considerable power. Still, I didn't flag this piece because I want to weigh the relative merits of injustice here and there, or the delicate balance of incentives involved in prisoner swaps. I just want to remind you that the world would be simpler and fairer if we had an international law and protocol that allowed political prisoners to go into exile if they find willing host countries. Both Bout and Griner would easily qualify, without all the messiness of negotiations. And the US wouldn't embarrass itself trying to extradite Julian Assange. PS: Some background history: Here are some prisoner swaps that freed Americans.

Zack Beauchamp:

Nina Burleigh: [07-31] Right-Wing Extremists Are Making Fiction Come True: "Can Democrats craft a winning message off a smorgasbord of misogynist madness?"

Kevin Carey: [08-03] Why Is America Fractured? Blame College, a New Book Argues. Review of Will Bunch: After the Ivory Tower Falls. I recall Bunch writing a good book about how bad Ronald Reagan was: Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future (2009).

Amy Cheng: [08-05] Indiana passes near-total abortion ban, the first state to do so post-Roe; Amber Phillips/Tom Hamburger: [08-06] Abortion law in Indiana leads to fallout for state, politics; Ellen Francis: [08-06] 'Not her body, not her choice': Indiana lawmakers on abortion ban: One thing the Kansas vote didn't do was to dissuade Indiana Republicans from passing the first post-Dobbs abortion ban law. For a summary, see Amanda Marcotte: [08-05] Republicans learn the lesson of Kansas: Indiana takes repulsive abortion debate behind closed doors.

Fabiola Cineas: [08-05] Why the Justice Department made a move in the police killing of Breonna Taylor. It may not be possible to prosecute cops for going on a wanton killing spree, but that doesn't excuse them from filing false and misleading paperwork.

Ryan Cooper:

  • [08-02] The Federal Reserve is risking disaster for U.S. workers: "Impoverishing the American people is the worst way to deal with inflation." After the U.S. economy shrunk for two consecutive quarters -- a well-known (but now we're told incomplete) definition of recession, the Federal Reserve hiked its base interest rate another 0.75%, "the biggest such move since the early 1980s, when it intentionally contributed to a massive recession and crushed the American labor movement to fight price increases."
  • [08-03] Republicans Just Exposed Their Greatest Weakness: "Only a deranged political party votes against health care for wounded veterans out of pure spite." Sure, Senate Republicans got shamed into reversing course, but we should remember their instincts.

Matt Ford:

David Gelles: [08-05] How Republicans Are 'Weaponizing' Public Office Against Climate Action: "A Times investigation revealed a coordinated effort by state treasurers to use government muscle and public funds to punish companies trying to reduce greenhouse gases." Sometimes "evil" is not hyperbole.

Tareq S Hajjaj/Yumna Patel: [08-05] 10 Palestinians, one child, killed in Israeli attack on Gaza. Israel decided they could assassinate one of the leaders of Islamic Jihad. The rest were collateral damage. Islamic Jihad "retaliated" with some rockets (which didn't hit anyone), so expect Israel to escalate its slaughter. For updates: [08-06] Gaza's only power plant shuts down as Israeli airstrikes continue; and [08-07] Gaza death toll climbs to 43 amid ceasefire reports.

Steph Herold: [08-03] Hollywood's Role in Stigmatizing Abortion. Good article as far as it goes, but it misses one key point, which is that abortions don't work as stories: typically, a woman has a few bad days fretting over the decision, then makes it, does it, and gets on with her life. A rare example where you saw exactly that was in Prime Suspect, where it took up no more than 5 minutes in a season about something else. However, had that happened in the movie Juno, that would have been the end of the story -- instead, it turned into this really ridiculous fairy tale of a young-but-actually-loving couple generously giving their baby away to a rich-but-likable older couple. It's easy to think of movies that helped people get past traditional bigotry, racism and homophobia, but that's because they could build relatable stories around them. Those stories are a big part of why the right so hates Hollywood. But abortion isn't that kind of story, so it's always been easiest just to ignore it.

Fred Kaplan: [08-02] Nancy Pelosi Just Lit a Match at the Dynamite Factory. On the House Speaker's much publicized trip to Taiwan, occurring as it does as the Biden administration has been talking up China as a potential enemy while bankrolling a major war in Ukraine. Also:

  • Ross Barkan: [08-02] Nancy Pelosi Is Creating a Global Military Crisis for No Reason at All.
  • Connor Echols: [08-01] As Pelosi Taiwan visit looms, Menendez bill would 'gut' One China policy.
  • Ben Freeman: [08-04] How the Taiwan lobby helped pave the way for Pelosi's trip.
  • Robert Wright: [08-02] How the war in Ukraine could lead to war in Taiwan: "A wartime psychology knows no bounds." Unfortunately, the paywall kicked in before he could explain why, so here's my guess: Xi could, for instance, decide that with the US stretched bankrolling Ukraine, this may be the most advantageous opportunity China ever gets to seize Taiwan. I could point out that would be stupid, and that China has rarely been that stupid in the past (their war against Vietnam was an exception), but history is rife with blundering war calculations.
  • Sina Azodi/Christopher England: [08-06] Pelosi's Taiwan visit and the limits of American strategy: "It's time for American leaders to stop framing international politics as a competition between democracies and autocracies." One can debate whether the US even has a coherent foreign policy. Empirically, it looks more like, in Lionel Trilling's phrase, a smattering of irritable mental gestures. "Democracy vs. autocracy" has never been a principle, but it's often a propaganda trope -- irresistible as long as you group America among the democracies (but that, too, can be debated).
  • Michael D Swaine: [08-05] China retaliates with snap suspension of dialogues with US. This includes discussions about climate change. As St Clair notes below, "If global warming hits 2C, it could "double" the flooding costs in China compared to 1.5C." Sounds like that should be a much bigger concern for all sides than the egos bruised by Pelosi's visit.
  • Chris Buckley/Amy Chang Chien/John Liu: [08-07] After China's Military Spectacle, Options Narrow for Winning Over Taiwan. Pelosi's trip was foolish, but so is Xi's reaction. Hitherto, China has always shown patience in dealing with border issues (e.g., Hong Kong and Macau), and they've constructed their military primarily as a defensive force. It seemed clear before that the only way Taiwan would reunite with mainland China would be voluntarily, but that became even more unlikely after the crackdown on Hong Kong, along with the repression in Tibet and Xinjiang. Taiwan has only been part of China for 4 years over the last 120, and China was far from whole at the time (1945-49, when Mao ruled much of the country, but not Taiwan). Russia's attack on Ukraine, and the US/NATO response, reduce the prospects for Chinese military takeover even more. I'd say the gig is up, but until Beijing admits as much, why try to goad or humiliate them?

Ezra Klein: [08-07] I Didn't Want It to Be True, but the Medium Really Is the Message: A dive into some media theorists (especially Marshall McLuhan and Neil Postman), finding they were onto something. Klein covers the same territory in his interview with Sean Illing [07-26] How We Communicate Will Decide Whether Democracy Lives or Dies. Illing interviews book authors for Vox, but having co-written a book (The Paradox of Democracy: Free Speech, Open Media, and Perilous Persuasion, with Zac Gershberg), he contrived for Margaret Sullivan to interview him: [07-31] Free speech is essential for democracy. Could it also be democracy's downfall?.

Jonathan Martin: [08-07] Liz Cheney Is Ready to Lose. But She's Not Ready to Quit. I'm ready for her to lose, too, but I wouldn't be surprised if she survives: people in Wyoming don't like to be told what to do, even by morons like Trump. And while I don't mind giving her credit for her work on the January 6 Committee, we should be clear that if she managed to survive and recast the Republican Party in her image, it wouldn't be one iota better than the degenerate party she declaims. Also: Liz Cheney's Latest Fans: Democratic Donors: What a waste!

Jane Mayer: [08-06] State Legislatures Are Torching Democracy: Ohio, for example.

Casey Michel: [08-04] The Kleptocrat Who Bankrolled Rudy Giuliani's Dive for Dirt on Biden: Dmitro Firtash.

Ian Millhiser: [08-02] The uncomfortable problem with Roe v. Wade. A fairly deep and useful background piece on Roe v. Wade and its recent overturn, touching on questions of due process and enumerated vs. unenumerated rights. Much of this will be familiar to readers of Millhiser's Injustices: The Supreme Court's History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

Viet Thanh Nguyen: [07-22] Asking "What About . . . ?" Is Essential to Achieving Justice: "Selective empathy prevents us from making connections." War in Ukraine is most obviously on his mind, but he offers examples going back to the 1864 Sand Creek massacre (which reminded me of a crusade in medieval Europe, where the order was to kill everyone, leaving it to God to sort the innocent from the guilty). From Vietnam, he notes that Lt. William Calley was convicted of murder at My Lai, but "a considerable portion of the American people sympathized more with the American murderer . . . than with the Vietnamese dead." With this in mind, feel free to read Masha Gessen: [08-01] The Prosecution of Russian War Crimes in Ukraine, where Ukrainians have identified 25,000 cases so far, but I'd wager none of them involve victims of Ukrainian firepower, even among their own people. Sure, one might argue that none of these crimes would have occurred had Russia not invaded, so Putin bears a unique responsibility there, but it also seems clear that Ukraine and its suppliers and cheerleaders haven't put a lot of effort into negotiating an end to this war. And once again, Americans are especially conspicuous among the self-sanctifiers.

Alex Pareene: [07-11] The Never-Ending War on the Woke: "Or what the Democratic center has failed to learn over the past three decades." Or what it's learned all too well: that the more threatening Republicans seem, the better they can deliver on their own value-proposition, which is to keep the left down, so "centrist" Democrats can deliver greater profits to the rich donors they cultivate. Pareene starts with the example of 1994, where at least some of Clinton's strategists cheered on the Gingrich revolution as a way to neutralize the "dead wood" Democrats who had dominated Congress as far back as any of them could remember. Having demolished the Party (and especially its labor base), liberal Democrats had little choice but to rally behind Clinton in 1996, and a second term that sowed seeds for the disastrous Bush terms to follow. Obama's 2014 debacle followed suit, not least because he stocked his administration with Clintonian "centrists." And now Biden is widely expected to blow 2022 as badly. But I'd submit that things are different this time. The only constant is that the "centrist" hacks are still working to prevent change, but who's listening to them any more? How can anyone seriously believe that Democrats would do better if only they were more racist? (E.g., see Eric Alterman: [08-05] It's Not Wokeism That Threatens Our Democracy.)

John J Pitney Jr: [08-05] Democrats Are Running as Opposition Party: "This year, the Supreme Court and Trump have made it possible for Democrats to run as a check on Republican extremism."

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [07-29] How Bill Gates Makes the World Worse Off: Interview with Linsey McGoey, author of No Such Thing as a Free Gift: The Gates Foundation and the Price of Philanthropy (2015), and The Unknowers: How Strategic Ignorance Rules the World (2019).
  • [07-19] We Need to Get Serious About Universal Access to Shade.
  • [07-13] Are Web3 and Crypto Just a "Grift Pouring Lighter Fluid on Our Already-Smoldering Planet"?: Interview with Molly White, who follows this stuff on her Web3 is going just great website, where you can find articles like "India frees assets of WazirX, Binance's Indian exchange" and "Michael Saylor steps down as MicroStrategy CEO as the company reports a $918 million impairment charge on Bitcoin holdings" and "After five years in prison for a Ponzi scheme and a lifetime ban from the pharmaceutical industry, Martin Shkreli announces his new venture: a web3 drug discovery platform."
  • [08-04] Against Liberalism: A review of Luke Savage's forthcoming book, The Dead Center: Reflections on Liberalism and Democracy After the End of History. I read a number of left critiques of liberalism c. 1970 (e.g., Robert Paul Wolff's The Poverty of Liberalism), but have softened my views as conservatives equated liberals with the left and sought to destroy both. I figured that gave us some common ground, and that liberal ideals were prerequisite to left development, but it's still aggravating when liberals' ambitions stop with their own personal freedom. (Adam Gopnik's A Thousand Small Sanities is a good example I've read; Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal at least offers some economic insight that liberalism might be more broadly beneficial.) Still, most leftist critiques these days use the term "neoliberalism" to define their target, as we no longer care to argue with the old liberal virtues (e.g., Wolff's chapter in A Critique of Pure Tolerance), but still find plenty fault in their economic concerns. Savage's book appears to be more topical: a collection of pieces on political figures who often disappoint but are still better than the Republicans they promise to save us from. On the other hand, their faults are more easily explained by corruption than by ideology. PS: Following the link to the publisher, I found several more books that continue the left critique of "centrist" Democrats, like Robert Eisenberg: The Center Did Not Hold: A Biden/Obama Balance Sheet, and a pair of fake-confessionals before and after the 2016 disaster: My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency (by Doug Henwood), and How I Lost by Hillary Clinton ("based on her own words in speeches and emails, a devastating indictment of a disastrous election defeat . . . introduced and annotated by Joe Lauria").

Kevin Roose: [08-06] Don't Expect Alex Jones's Comeuppance to Stop Lies: The trial went against Jones, ordering him to pay $45 million to parents of children murdered at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. I'm not much in favor of defamation lawsuits, but Jones crossed a lot of lines, and did so knowingly and maliciously, so some kind of comeuppance is in order. "But, even if Mr. Jones's career is ruined, his legacy of brazen, unrepentant dishonesty will live on -- strengthened, in some ways, by the knowledge of exactly how far you can push a lie before consequences kick in."

Richard Silverstein: [08-05] Aipac Pumps $30-Million into Democratic Primaries to Defeat Israel Critics. Israel not only interferes with US elections more than Russia, they don't even try to hide it.

Sarah Smarsh: [08-03] Why the Defense of Abortion in Kansas Is So Powerful. Author grew up here, and wrote a powerful memoir that was especially conscious of the hardships and dim prospects endured by teenage mothers (Heartland: A Memoir of Working Hard and Being Broke in the Richest Country on Earth). More pieces on the Kansas vote:

  • Miranda Moore: [08-01] Follow the Money: Who Is Funding Kansas Abortion Amendment Ads? Most of the pro-amendment money came from Catholic groups, especially Archdiocese of Kansas City, KS ($2.4 million). It is interesting that the business groups that typically fund Republicans in Kansas didn't put much effort into this (although their money may just be hidden, especially through Kansans for Life; presumably abortion isn't a hot button issue for the Koch Network -- supposedly libertarian, but they've never had qualms about supporting extreme anti-abortion zealots like Mike Pompeo). Some PACs supported the NO campaign, but the largest chunk came from individual donations ($2.3 million).
  • Mitch Smith: [08-02] Millions in Advertising Help Shape Closely Watched Abortion Vote in Kansas.
  • Maggie Astor/Nate Cohn: [08-03] Here's how abortion rights supporters won in conservative Kansas.
  • Nate Cohn: [08-04] Kansas Result Suggests 4 Out of 5 States Would Back Abortion Rights in Similar Vote. Not sure what the methodology is here.
  • Ed Kilgore: [08-04] Kris Kobach Is Making Yet Another Comeback Attempt: He just won a three-way Republican primary for Attorney General with 42% of the vote. As his yard signs make clear, he's not interested in fighting ordinary crimes. He wants to use the AG office to "Sue Joe Biden!"
  • Amanda Marcotte: [08-03] Kansas abortion win is a wake-up call: Americans do not want GOP bans.
  • Rani Molla: [08-03] 4 charts that show just how big abortion won in Kansas: Sorry to be picky, but I only count 3 charts. Big one is that turnout was up 50% from 2020 and more than double from most recent primaries. The Republicans deliberately decided to tie the vote to the primary instead of waiting for November to skew the electorate in their favor: Kansas Democrats almost never have competitive primaries, so few Democrats bother to vote, and independents (30% of total) aren't allowed to vote in primaries so never show up (about 100k did this time). While voter turnout was record-high, it was still down 32% from the 2020 presidential election, so motivation was arguably a factor. But turnout was only down 11% from 2018. PS: As of July, registered voters number 1,929,972, so voter turnout on Amendment was 47.7% (920,671); Republican voter turnout was 53.4% (455,182 / 881,882); Democratic voter turnout was 56.8% (281,546 / 495,574); Independent turnout (counting registered Libertarians) was 31.6% (183,943 / 582,516). Voter turnout in the 2020 primary was 34.2%; in the 2020 general election, the turnout was 70.9%. In 2018, the primary turnout was 27.1%, and the general election (voting for governor but not president) was 56.4%.
  • Ed Kilgore: [08-05] Kansas Shows the Potential Power of Pro-Choice Republican Voters: Starts with a Steve Kornacki tweet that argues that "at least 20% of R's were No's." I'm sure that's right. Before Roe, Kansas had legalized abortion, and that was mostly Republicans (Democrats actually tended to be anti-abortion, which turned out to be a problem in 1994, when KS had an anti-abortion Democratic governor, and anti-abortion Republicans like Sam Brownback took over the GOP). On the other hand, the title is misleading. Pro-choice Republicans have been totally purged from offices in KS, so they have zero power over the party. All they can actually do is defect: a number have, including some once-prominent names, but most keep voting for Republicans who will leave no stone unturned in their campaign to end reproductive rights (a term I'm not wild about, but appropriate here given how Brownback is opposed to all forms of birth control, and to any medical use of stem cells).
  • Harold Meyerson: [08-03] Kansans to Alito: F*ck You. "Americans, it appears, don't like their rights taken away."
  • Bill Scher: [08-05] The Ads That Won the Kansas Abortion Referendum. I got a bit snippy when I read the subhed (of course, Scher would complain about "progressive pieties"; he always does), but that was not only ground we could win on, it was ground worth defending. The sign in our front yard read "Stand for Liberty; Vote No." The Republicans were trying to take that away, so it made perfect sense to call them on it.
  • Peter Slevin: [08-07] Blueprinting the Kansas Abortion-Rights Victory.
  • Tessa Stuart: [08-05] Her Team Helped Beat Back Kansas' Abortion Ban. Here's What She Wants Other States to Know: Interview with Ashley All of Kansas for Constitutional Freedom, shows a very nuanced (and I think accurate) understanding of politics in Kansas.
  • Kathleen Wallace: [08-04] What Happened in Kansas: Common Sense, Common Ground.
  • Jonathan Weisman/Katie Glueck: [08-05] Republicans Begin Adjusting to a Fierce Abortion Backlash: Yeah, but then look at what they did in Indiana (noted above). "For Republicans, one problem might be the extensive trail on the issue they left during the primary season." On the other hand: [08-03] 'Your Bedroom Is on the Ballot': How Democrats See Abortion Politics After Kansas.

Jeffrey St Clair: [08-05] Roaming Charges: The Mad-Eyed Lady of Pac Heights. I've been recommending his columns regularly, figuring his insights make up for his occasional lapses of taste and decorum. But his opening screed on Pelosi and Taiwan goes way beyond my own criticisms, and I never care for his regular potshots at Bernie Sanders (even if one also hits Rand Paul). So, fine, skip the first half, and read about Brianna Grier. Also the one about the Oklahoma Board of Education.

Amy B Wang: [08-03] Sen. Johnson suggests ending Medicare, Social Security as mandatory spending programs: This tells us two things: one is that Johnson doesn't have the vaguest idea how Medicare and Social Security work, so he has no idea how hard it is to replace them with any other even remotely acceptable scheme; the other is that he wants to kill them, but for now he'll settle for being able to hold them ransom every year so they can extort concessions, like Republicans currently do with the debt limit. If people understood what he was asking for, public support would be less than 5% (although it could still be a majority of the people who donate to his campaign, especially if weighted by how much). Which raises another question: Michelle Cottle: [08-07] Why Is Ron Johnson Still Competitive Despite, You Know, Everything?

Li Zhou/Natalie Jennings: [08-03] 4 winners and 1 loser from the Kansas, Missouri, Arizona, and Michigan primaries: I don't think I've commented on any primary elections before this week, and I don't have much to say here. The only races I'm seriously interested in are ones that pit D vs. R, and it doesn't much matter to me which D or which R. So while I would have preferred Andy Levin and Lucas Kunce to have won their primaries, I'll happily take the less promising Democrats who won, and mildly dissent from the notion of "Loser: Progressives." As for "Winner: Democratic meddling in GOP races," I think that's dubious tactically, but it matters little to me whether Peter Meijer or his Trump-backed challenger won. I'm also dubious about how big a trend that is, or whether cross-voting D's had much effect. I know Democratic-leaners here in KS who register R so they can vote in contested and more consequential primaries, but I've never heard of one voting for the more toxic candidate (e.g., Kris Kobach). In any case, the numbers are so vanishingly small it's hard to see them ever having any effect. Perhaps when it comes to donors, it's more of a thing, but no more likely to work. Amy Davidson Sorkin: [08-03] A Bad Democratic Bet in the GOP Primaries talks mostly about Peter Meijer's primary loss, but if he really wanted Democrats to support him, shouldn't he have switched parties? And short of that, why should we care? And if this really is a thing, is there any reason not to think that Republican donors aren't doing the same thing to Democrats?

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