Sunday, February 4, 2024

Speaking of Which

No introduction for now. I really need to be working on other things. This is driving me crazy. Right now, all I really want is to move it out of the way.

Initial count: 141 links, 4726 words. Revised: 146 links, 5723 words.

After posting, I ran into a couple items that merit additional comments, mostly because they exemplify the kind of shoddy thinking that promotes war (or vice versa).

Harlan Ullman: [01-31] We don't need a Tonkin Gulf Resolution for the Red Sea. Headline is ok, but the hawks don't need one because Biden is escalating the war on his own authority -- as presidents have tended to do ever since the "blank check" war authorization Johnson secured in 1964. But nearly everything else here is wrong-headed or at least seriously muddled. The bit that got to me was "Hamas' Oct. 7 attack on Israel, diabolically designed to elicit an Israeli overreaction." He seems to be saying that Israel had no agency in the matter. And now the Houthis, having "plagiarized Hamas' Oct. 7 attack," have tricked the US into bombing Yemen, risking escalation into a broader regional war -- for which, no doubt about this, Ullman will find sinister designs in Tehran.

Of course, there is a perverse kernel of truth to this: Israel and the U.S. are such dedicated believers in security through deterrence that they feel obliged to meet any challenges with overwhelming force, with scarcely a thought given to collateral victims, let alone to how the resulting atrocities damage their credibility and their own psyches. But given their massive investments in intelligence gathering, in war gaming, and in propagandizing, it's hard to accept that their warmaking is merely a conditioned reflex, something that a marginal ideologue with a martyr complex could simply trigger. (As Laura Tillem put it: "Bin Laden was a hypnotist who said look into my eyes, you will now pour all your resources down the drain.")

Rather, they must somehow believe that terror suffices to suppress the aspirations of the disempowered people who inconveniently occupy parts of the world they feel entitled to rule. Still, they feel the need to paint themselves as innocent victims -- a claim that is only plausible in the wake of a sudden outburst, which is why Netanyahu on 10/7, like Bush on 9/11, seized the opportunity to take the offensive and do horrible things long dreamed of but rarely disclosed.

By the way, Ullman lays claim to have been the guy who thought up the "shock and awe" strategy that promised to instantly win the war against Saddam Hussein. It didn't, perhaps because only the dead were truly shocked and awed. The rest simply learned that they could survive, and resolved to fight on. But imagine, instead, the kind of people who got excited by the Powerpoint presentation. Those were the people, from Bush to the Pentagon to their affiliated "think tanks," who, intent on proving their own superiority, brought death and havoc to 20 countries over 20 years. Most were genuinely envious of Israel, which they saw as the one government truly free to impose its superior power on its region and their unfortunate peoples. So now that Israel has finally moved from systematic discrimination reinforced withsporadic terrorism to actual genocide, they're giddy with excitement. Ullman advises them to "act boldly to cripple Houthi and Islamic militant capabilities," but he's also advising a measure of stealth, unlike the "real men go to Tehran" crowd.

The second piece I wanted to mention came from Democracy Today: [02-05] U.S. & Israel vs. Axis of Resistance: Biden Strikes New Targets in Middle East as Gaza War Continues. The transcript includes an interview with Narges Bajoghli, an "expert" who likes to throw about the term "Axis of Resistance." Evidently, this is enough of a thing that it has its own Wikipedia page (as does Iran-Israel proxy conflict, linked to under "Purposes for the Axis"). The term "Axis of Resistance" is internally incoherent and externally malicious. "Axis" implies organization and coordination of a power bloc, which hardly exists, and even where possible is informal. "Resistance" is something that arises locally, wherever power is imposed. Palestinians resist Israeli power, wherever it is felt, sometimes violently, mostly non-violently, but in Israeli-controlled territories to little or no effect. When Israel occupied Lebanon, resistance was generated there as well, most significantly coalescing into Hezbollah. Resisters may come to feel solidarity with others, and may even help each other out, but resistance itself is a limiting function of power. "Axis of Resistance" was nothing more than a rhetorical twist on Bush's "Axis of Evil." What makes the term dangerous is that it's being used to organize a coherent picture of an enemy that Israel can goad America into waging war against. (Israelis have no wish to be the "real men" invading Iran, but would be happy to cheer Americans on, especially as a hopeless war there would deflect qualms about genocide.)

Bajoghli isn't as fully aligned with the hawks as Ullman is, but inadvertently helps them by buying this significant propaganda line. A realistic analysis would see that there are obvious opportunities to breaking up this "axis": Iran wants to end its isolation, and be able to trade with Europe and America (as, it was starting to do before Trump broke the nuclear deal and reimposed sanctions); Assad would do virtually anything except surrender power for stability; Yemen and Lebanon have been wracked by civil wars for decades, mostly because local power is fragmented while foreign powers have been free to intervene. These and many other problems could be solved diplomatically, but what has to happen first is to turn the heat down, by demanding a ceasefire in Gaza and beyond, along with discipline against the pogroms in the West Bank. Israel needs to see that their dreams of a "final solution" to the Palestinians are futile: there is no alternative to living together, in peace, with some tangible sense of justice. Not everyone on every side is going to like that, but a democracy of all should be able to come to that conclusion.

Top story threads:


Israel vs. world opinion:

America's expansion of Israel's world war:

Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats: I meant to note this, but wasn't sure which piece to link to. But, for the record: [02-04] Biden nets landslide victory in South Carolina Democratic primary, over 95% of votes. That compares to about 55% in New Hampshire, where his opponents actually campaigned, but he needed an unofficial write-in campaign.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:

Around the world:

Other stories:

Emily Bazelon: [02-01] The road to 1948: A panel of six historians -- Nadim Bawaisa, Leena Dallasheh, Abigail Jacobson, Derek Penslar, Itamar Rabinovitch, and Salim Tamari -- offer insights into the 1920-48 period, when Palestine was a League of Nations mandate trusted to Britain, which had occupied it during WWI, displacing the Ottoman Empire. I'm most familiar with this period from Tom Segev's One Palestine, Complete: Jews and Arabs Under the British Mandate (2001), although I've read numerous other books on the period. There are things I'd quibble with here, but it's generally useful information.

Jules Boykoff/Dave Zirin: [01-29] Israel and Russia have no place in the 2024 Paris Olympics: I'm tempted to say the US should have no place either, but I'm not totally sure whether that should be due to US support for genocide in Gaza, for US agitation for war elsewhere, and/or simply for commercial crassness and nationalistic yahoo-ism. But note that South Africa was banned from 1968 until the end of the apartheid regime, and Israel has long crossed that line.

Mike Catalini: [01-31] Man accused of beheading his father in suburban Philadelphia home and posting gruesome video online: The father is Michael F. Mohn, a civil servant working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The son is Justin Mohn:

Mohn embraced violent anti-government rhetoric in writings he published online going back several years. In August 2020, Mohn published an online "pamphlet" in which he tried to make the case that people born in or after 1991 -- his birth year -- should carry out what he termed a "bloody revolution." He also complained at length about a lawsuit that he lost and encouraged assassinations of family members and public officials.

In the video posted after the killing, he described his father as a 20-year federal employee. He also espoused a variety of conspiracy theories and rants about the Biden administration, immigration and the border, fiscal policy, urban crime and the war in Ukraine.

Aside from the murder, sounds like a pretty solid Republican. The lawsuit he lost, by the way:

In 2018, Mohn sued Progressive Insurance, alleging he was discriminated against and later fired from a job at an agency in Colorado Springs because he was a man who was intelligent, overqualified and overeducated. A federal judge said Mohn provided no evidence to indicate he was discriminated against because he was a man -- in the length of his training or in being denied promotions to jobs. Progressive said it fired him because he kicked open a door. An appeals court upheld the finding that Mohn did not suffer employment discrimination.

Maybe we should start a regular feature on right-wing crime, and how Republicans have encouraged and/or rationalized it:

Fabiola Cineas: [02-01] Conservatives have long been at war with colleges: "A brief history of the right's long-running battle against higher education." Interview with Lauren Lassabe Shepherd, author of Resistance From the Right: Conservatives and the Campus Wars in Modern America.

David Dayen: [01-29] America is not a democracy: "The movement to save democracy from threats is too quick to overlook the problems that have been present since the founding." On the other hand, focusing on structural faults that were build into the Constitution directs attention to issues that have no practicable solution, while ignoring what is by far the most pervasive affront to democracy, which is the influence of money, how the system caters to the rich while confusing issues for everyone else. The simplest test of whether government is democratic is whether it is reflective of and responsive to the needs of the vast majority of its citizens. America's is not.

Rebecca Jennings: [02-01] Everyone's a sellout now: "Everybody has to self-promote now. Nobody wants to." One result: "You're getting worse at [your art], but you're becoming a great marketer for a product which is less and less good."

Whizy Kim: [01-31] How Boeing put profits over planes: "The fall of Boeing has been decades in the making."

Dylan Matthews: [02-01] How Congress is planning to lift 400,000 kids out of poverty. The House passed a bill 357-70 which revives the child tax credit, which has the headline effect, but the bill also includes tax breaks for businesses, which is what it took to become "bipartisan."

China Miéville: [01-31] China Miéville on The Communist Manifesto's enduring power. Interview with the author of A Spectre Haunting: On the Communist Manifesto. I read the book recently, right after Christopher Clark's massive Revolutionary Spring: Europe Aflame and the Fight for a New World: 1848-1849. It didn't add a lot of detail on the role of the proletariat in the 1848's revolutionary struggles, but it did remind me of the synthesis of clear thinking and human decency that informed the founding of the socialist movement.

Kevin Munger: [01-29] "The Algorithm" is the only critique of "The Algorithm" that "The Algorithm" can produce: A bookmark link, as this seems possibly interesting but requiring more attention than I can muster at the moment. It ties to Kyle Chayka's book Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture. Chayka has a previous book (2020), The Longing for Less, where the subtitle has changed from Living With Minimalism to What's Missing From Minimalism in the recent paperback edition. Shorter is Munger's "The Algorithm" does not exist.

Brian Murphy: [01-31] Anthony Cordesman, security analyst who saw flaws in U.S. policy, dies at 84: "Dr. Cordesman saw the seeds of defeat in Iraq and Afghanistan planted by U.S. policymakers." Of course, I prefer critics who were more prescient earlier, but insiders -- "he described himself as a tepid supporter of the Iraq invasion" -- who are willing to harbor doubts are better than those with no doubts at all.

Timothy Noah: That judge is right. Elon Musk isn't worth what Tesla pays him. For more (and the actual numbers are jaw-dropping) on this:

Christian Paz: [02-02] What we're getting wrong about 2024's "moderate" voters: "The voters who could decide 2024 are a complicated bunch." Paz tries to salvage the term "moderate" by splitting the domain -- by which, less prejudically, he means people with no fixed party affiliation -- into three groups: the "true moderates," the "disengaged," and the "weird." The prejudice is that any time you say "moderate," you're automatically contrasting against some hypothetical extreme that you can thereby reject. But while the people who use the term -- almost never the "moderates" themselves, who prefer to think of themselves as sober, sensible, respectful of all viewpoints, and desiring pragmatic, mutually satisfactory compromises -- like to think they complimenting the "moderates," they're implying that they don't truly believe in what they profess (otherwise, why are they so willing to compromise?).

Rick Perlstein: [01-31] A hole in the culture: "Why is there so little art depicting the moment we're in?"

Brian Resnick: [01-31] The sun's poles are about to flip. It's awesome -- and slightly terrifying.

Ingrid Robenys: A professor of political philosophy at Utrecht University, has a new book: Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth, leading to:

Nathan J Robinson: Including interviews at Current Affairs:

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