Speaking of * [0 - 9]

Tuesday, July 16, 2024


Speaking of Which

I'm starting this introduction on Tuesday, already two days late, ignoring for now the new news pouring in, especially from the RNC. Due to my Mid-Year Jazz Critics Poll project, I wasn't able to start until Saturday, at which point I started with the long introduction to the Biden section. After that, I scrounged up a few quick links to seemingly important stories. The alleged Trump shooting -- I'm not denying it, but I'm not fully buying it either -- had just happened, so I had to spin off a section on that. Monday the Cannon ruling on the Trump documents case came down, so I had to note that. If I find out that Hamas and Netanyahu agreed to a cease fire deal -- I've heard that, but as I'm writing this I haven't seen any confirmation -- I'll note that too. (But thus far I've been smart to ignore past rumors of impending agreement.)

A couple days ago, still with Biden very much on my mind, I thought I'd begin this introduction with a spur-of-the-moment tweet I posted:

Unsolicited advice to the ruling class: can someone point out to Biden that being president and running are two different full-time jobs. He should pick one, like the one we need someone to focus on and do well, right now. He could set a model we should add to the Constitution.

Looking it up now, I see that it only has 97 views, with 0 replies, forwards, or likes. It seems like views have been steadily declining, although the number of followers (640) is about double from a long plateau about a year ago.

One thing that stimulated my thought was when I saw several folks pushing a constitutional amendment to impose a maximum age limit on presidents. (Search doesn't reveal a lot of examples, but here's one.) I have no time to argue this here, but I've often worried about the accumulation of arbitrary power in the presidency -- especially war-making power, but there are other issues here -- and with in the development of a political personality cult (Reagan is the obvious example, with Trump even more so, but they at least remained aligned with their party, while Clinton and Obama used their office to direct their party to their own personal fortunes, a shift that worked to the detriment of other Democrats).

Banning self-succession (second consecutive terms) wouldn't fix all of the problems with the presidency, but it would help, especially in terms of democracy. I won't go into details here, but there should also be limits on nepotism (spouses, children, possibly more), and major campaign finance reforms. Whether you keep the two-term total limit is optional -- eliminating it may get rid of the often stupid "lame duck" argument. But I also suspect that people will have little appetite for returning a non-incumbent ex-president.

One more point: if presidents can't run again, maybe they'll actually put their political instincts aside and settle into actually doing their jobs. Trump is the obvious worst-case example: the first thing he did after inauguration in 2017 was to file as a candidate for 2020, and he returned to holding campaign rallies a month or two later. Given how temperamental his judgment was, we are probably lucky that he turned out to be so oblivious to actually doing the job, but that's hardly something we can count on saving us again. Even more competent presidents were repeatedly distracted by political duties -- ones they were, as a requirement for selection, more interested in, if not necessarily better at.

At this point, the essential skill sets of campaigners and administrators have diverged so radically that it's almost inconceivable that you could find one person for both jobs. I could imagine a constitutional change where whoever wins the presidency has to appoint someone else (or maybe a troika) to run the executive government, while being personally limited to symbolic public service, like the King of England, or the President of Israel. But the amendment I proposed above should be a much easier sell, especially given the mess we're in now.

Fortunately, we don't actually need the amendment this year. All we need is for Biden to drop out. As I explain below, there are lots of good reasons for him to do so. This is one more, and if he grasped it, would be a principled one.


About 10 PM Tuesday, time to call it quits for this week. I may pick up a few adds while I'm working on the similarly delayed Music Week, but I expect to be extremely busy on deadline day for the Mid-Year Jazz Critics Poll (up to 78 ballots as I write this). No doubt I'll have to do a lot of cross-checking next week to keep from repeating stories. But the big ones, rest assured, will return, pretty much as they are here, so what's below should give you a leg up on everyone else.


Top story threads:

Israel:

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

Israel vs. world opinion:

  • Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: [07-12] We must understand Israel as a settler-colonial state: I'd go a bit deeper and say we can only understand Israel if we start from acknowledging that it is primarily a settler-colonial state. I'm not saying this because I think "settler-colonial state" means we should automatically condemn Israel, and especially not to argue that the only solution is expulsion ("go back where you came from" just won't do here). But identifying it as such puts Israel into a conceptual framework that really helps explain the options and choices that Israeli political leaders made -- many of which do indeed deserve approbation -- as well as providing a framework to see some way of ending the conflict on terms that most people can find agreeable. I would add that among settler-colonial states, Israel is exceptionally frustrated, which is why it has turned into such a cauldron of interminable violence.

  • Marcy Newman: [07-13] The reluctant memoirist exposes the academy: "At a time when Palestine activism and free expression at U.S. universities are under attack, Steven Salaita's new memoir disabuses us of the notion that these universities are anything other than hedge funds with a campus."

  • James North: [07-10] Israel's leading paper says its own army deliberately killed Israelis on October 7. But in the US media: silence: "Israel ordered the 'Hannibal Directive' on October 7 by ordering the killing of captive Israeli soldiers and civilians. But the U.S. media continues to hide the truth."

  • Alice Rothchild: [07-14] The destruction of healthcare in Gaza and the scientific assessment of settler colonial violence: "The Jewish Voice for Peace Health Advisory Council held a distinguished panel of experts that addressed the settler colonial determinants of health in light of the Gaza genocide." Following up on these documents:

  • Philip Weiss: [07-14] Weekly Briefing: The 'NYT' justifies Israeli slaughter of civilians as necessary tactic: "The New York Times says Israel has been 'forced' to massacre Palestinian civilians because Hamas militants hide in bedrooms. The U.S. used such justifications for massacres in Vietnam."

Trump:

Well, this happened:

  • [Vox]: [07-14] Who shot Trump? What we know about the assassination attempt. [PS: This piece has been updated after I wrote the following, as more information was released, such as the identities of the people shot, including the alleged shooter.] "This is what happened at the Butler rally, as we understand it right now." As I understand it, shots were fired during a Trump rally. Trump dropped to the ground. When he appeared again, there was blood on his face. Secret Service surrounded him, and moved him off the platform. The people around him jerked when he did, but afterwards mostly looked confused. He tweeted later that he had been shot, nicked in the ear. (From his head angle at the time of the shot, it must have come from the far side -- not from the crowd, or from the gallery behind him.) Reports are that two people wound up dead -- one the alleged shooter, and another person, still unidentified, and two more people were injured. It's not clear where those people, including the shooter, were, or what the timing of were. One report says the shots came from an "AR-type" gun.

    I'll link to more pieces as I collect them. But knowing only what is in here (and having watched the video provided), my first reaction is that a real assassination attempt like this would be very hard to pull off, but would be very easy to fake (assuming you could imagine that anyone involved would be willing to do so, which with this particular crew isn't inconceivable; still, the risk of faking it and then getting exposed seems like it should be pretty extreme). No need to jump to that conclusion, but I'm pretty sure the "grassy knoll" squad is going to jump all over this story. More Vox pieces are collected in: Donald Trump targeted in assassination attempt.

  • Zack Beauchamp:

  • Constance Grady: [07-15] The pure media savvy of Trump's first pump photo, explained by an expert: "It's his brand now." The interview goes into the making of other iconic photos, as well as Trump's history of seizing on moments like this.

  • Jeet Heer:

  • Murtza Hussain: Will this make Trump more popular? "Assassination attempts targeting populist leaders have had a track record of boosting their popularity."

  • Sarah Jones: [07-15] God's strongman.

  • Ed Kilgore: [07-15] Trump assassination attempt makes 2024 election more bonkers than ever: "But will it cinch a victory for him?" Evidently, "many Republicans are already saying the bullets that nearly killed Donald Trump have clinched his return to the White House."

  • Natasha Lennard: The only kind of "political violence" all U.S. politicians oppose.

  • Eric Levitz:

  • Stephen Prager: [07-16] 'Political violence' is all around us: "Condemning 'political violence' rings hollow coming from politicians who are highly selective in the violence they deplore. We should oppose it consistently."

  • Aja Romano: [07-15] The Trump assassination attempt was a window into America's fractured reality. I'm not sure whether the subhed is a conclusion or just a premise: "The shooting wasn't staged, but conspiratorial thinking has become widespread in our paranoid age." You know, the latter truism doesn't prove "the shooting wasn't staged." It just suggests that we shouldn't jump to that conclusion.

  • Helen Santoro/Lucy Dean Stockton/David Sirota/Joel Warner: Pennsylvania GOP fought a ban on the gun used in Trump shooting.

  • Timothy Messer-Kruse: [07-15] The myth of the magic bullet: He doesn't weigh in on the Trump shooting, but takes on the more general idea, that a single bullet can change history for the better. I rather doubt his assertion that "there would still be a MAGA movement" without Trump, because no matter how much fuel of "white resentment" had accumulated, it still took a spark to set it off, and it's hard to find a leader with Trump's particular mix of ego and ignorance. But he is right when he says, "Trump is not a threat to democracy as much as he is a symbol of its deepening absence."

On Monday, Trump announced his pick for vice president: JD Vance:

  • Zack Beauchamp: [07-15] What J.D. Vance really believes: "The dark worldview of Trump's choice for vice president, explained."

    Vance has said that, had he been vice president in 2020, he would have carried out Trump's scheme for the vice president to overturn the election results. He has fundraised for January 6 rioters. He once called on the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into a Washington Post columnist who penned a critical piece about Trump. After last week's assassination attempt on Trump, he attempted to whitewash his radicalism by blaming the shooting on Democrats' rhetoric about democracy without an iota of evidence.

    This worldview translates into a very aggressive agenda for a second Trump presidency. In a podcast interview, Vance said that Trump should "fire every single mid-level bureaucrat" in the US government and "replace them with our people." If the courts attempt to stop this, Vance says, Trump should simply ignore the law.

    "You stand before the country, like Andrew Jackson did, and say the chief justice has made his ruling, now let him enforce it," he declares.

  • Aaron Blake: [07-15] The risk of J.D. Vance: "Trump went with the MAGA pick. But the 2022 election suggests that might not be the right electoral one."

  • Jonathan Chait: [07-15] J.D. Vance joins ticket with man he once called 'America's Hitler': "Apparently he meant it as a compliment."

  • Ben Jacobs: [07-15] J.D. Vance on his MAGA conversion: "Trump's man in Ohio once called him 'America's Hitler,' but there's an explanation."

  • Sarah Jones: [07-15] Hillbilly shapeshifter: "Re-reading J.D. Vance's memoir." This came out earlier this year, but gets an update for the moment.

  • Ed Kilgore: [07-15] J.D. Vance as VP means Trump picks MAGA over 'unity'. What does "unity" even mean? Trump has complete control. He doesn't need to compromise with anyone. One might ask why he would pick a double-crossing weasel, but Trump probably figure he's on top of that game. Maybe Kilgore is just trying to plug the Intelligencer liveblog: So much for 'national unity': RNC live updates. Republicans don't need "unity": they believe they're the only ones who count, so they already are "unity" -- now if they can just get rid of everyone else, they'll be set (and America will be great again, like it was when the other people didn't count).

  • Daniel Larison: [07-15] What will Vance do for Trump's foreign policy? "The Ohio senator's ideology is hard to nail down as he has vacillated between restraint and interventionism."

  • Steve M: [07-15] J.D. Vance probably hates you more than Trump does: "It is clear that Vance is an angry, nasty person whose contempt for the people he doesn't like is bone deep." Also:

    Now that Trump has chosen Vance, I expect Democrats to focus on the mean tweets Vance posted about Trump before he became a Trump fan. I don't see the point -- politicians (and non-politicians) change their minds about people all the time. Kamala Harris said harsh things about Joe Biden during the 2020 campaign. George H.W. Bush attacked Ronald Reagan's economic ideas in the 1980 campaign. I think it's more important for voters to know how much contempt Vance has for everyone who disagrees with him or does things he doesn't like. I have kids, so he hates me. Maybe he hates you too.

  • Veronica Riccobene/Helen Santoro/Joel Warner: J.D. Vance wants police to track people who have abortions.

  • Ross Rosenfeld: The scary message Trump sent by choosing J.D. Vance: "The Ohio senator is a sycophant who will never challenge or question his boss -- not even to defend American democracy."

Of course, the Trump news doesn't end there.

  • Sasha Abramsky: [07-14] A brief history of Trump and violence: "But that can't be allowed to erase the long, ugly history of Trump's dalliance with violence."

  • David Atkins: [07-08] Pay attention to Trump's every cruel and crazy syllable: "All eyes are on President Biden's words, but Trump is getting meaner and increasingly bonkers each day."

    Let's look at just a few recent examples.

    1. Trump wants to make poor migrants fight each other for sport.
    2. Trump wants to ban electric cars because someone in an electric boat might get eaten by a shark.
    3. Donald Trump wants to ban all vaccine mandates in schools, which would include polio, measlesl, etc.
    4. Trump wants to end meaningful elections in the United States.
    5. Trump thinks the end of Roe v Wade was "amazing" and brags that he was "able to kill Roe v. Wade.
  • Elizabeth Austin: [07-13] Trump's Democrats-support-infanticide trope is an infuriating lie: "Republicans like the soon-to-be GOP presidential nominee are mocking every woman who got that horrible call from the obstetrician and made the tragic decision to end a hopeless pregnancy."

  • Christopher Fettweis: [05-15] Trump's big idea: Deploy assassination teams to Mexico: "His plan to kill drug kingpins to solve the American opioid crisis will backfire dramatically."

  • Chris Lehman: [07 -11] Donald Trump's new strategy: act normal: "With the opposition in disarray, Trump and his campaign have begun exhibiting unusual restraint in hopes of expanding his support."

  • Clarence Lusane: [07-12] Who thinks Donald Trump is racist? "Other racists, that's who!"

  • Nicole Narea: [07-15] A right-wing judge just threw out a case against Trump in a brazen abuse of power: "The classified documents case against Trump hits another major setback before the 2024 election." Why?

    In her ruling, Cannon argued that because Smith had not been appointed a special counsel by the president and confirmed by the Senate, his appointment violated the Constitution's Appointments Clause. . . .

    Cannon's ruling, which relies on a stringent reading of the Constitution and represents a brazen break with precedent, has come under heavy criticism from legal scholars. Under her ruling, the appointment of prior special counsels would have also come into question, from Archibald Cox, who investigated the Watergate scandal that led to President Richard Nixon's resignation, to Robert Mueller, who investigated Russian interference in the 2016 election.

    I'm sure there will be more on this next week. Well, for now, this one is worth quoting at length:

    • Steve M.: [07-15] The death of America is steady rot:

      We think we'll lose democracy and the rule of law suddenly if Donald Trump becomes president again. We think the edifice will be destroyed like the Twin Towers on 9/11: the planes hit the buildings, and without hours they collapsed in on themselves.

      But our system is like a house that's rotting room by room. The foundation has cracks. There are termites. The roof leaks. One room after another has become uninhabitable.

      We've lost the federal courts. The would-be murderers of America already have the federal bench they need to sustain the horrible America they want. A second Trump presidency won't really worsen the federal bench -- it will only fix it in place in its current form for several more decades. I'm 65, and I'll never live to see a federal bench that isn't an extremist Republican legislature in robes.

      Through gerrymandering, we lost democracy in many state legislatures years ago. In states like North Carolina, Wisconsin, and Texas, liberals and moderates add up to more than 45% of the electorate and have exactly none of the legislative power, because of gerrymandering. This happened long before Trump and there were no "Death of Democracy" front-page headlines.

      If Trump wins in November, he and the thugs of Project 2025 might take a wrecking ball to what's left of the house. But already several rooms are closed off. It's unsafe to live in them. And even if Trump loses, or wins and doesn't follow through with the worst ideas his backers have proposed, many rooms in the house will continue to rot.

      A lot of this rot can be traced back to Reagan in the 1980s, when a brief majority of Americans put sentiment and emotion over reason and practicality, and ceded power to the people Kurt Anderson called Evil Geniuses (subtitle: The Unmaking of America: A Recent History), and for that matter to the conspiracies -- to use a word we've systematically been trained to abjure -- of the 1970s that many others have written about (off the top of my head: Rick Perlstein, Jane Mayer, Max Blumenthal, Kim Phillips-Fein, Laura Kalman, Nancy McLean, Jeff Madrick). For sure, part of the blame lies with Democrats, like Carter and Clinton, who thought they could beat the Republicans at their own game, and some to with Democrats like Obama and Biden, who chose to play along rather than rouse the people to defend their rights against relentless Republican assault.

      M's point is absolutely right. Bad choices often take years, sometimes decades, to manifest themselves. To cite two examples where the elapsed time was too short to cloud causality, the distance from Reagan's deregulation of the S&L industry to its collapse was 6-8 years. The distance from Clinton's repeal of Carter-Glass and the deregulation of derivatives -- changes mostly championed by Republicans like Phil Gramm, but Clinton signed off on them -- was 8-10 years. Longer, more insidious time frames are even more common. I recall George Brockway tracing the financial madness circa 2000 back to an obscure banking law Republicans passed after their fluke congressional win in 1946 -- the same one that gave us Taft-Hartley, which had little effect on unionized auto, aircraft, steel, etc., workers through the 1960s but led to their collapse from the 1980s on. Similarly, there are blunders from the early Cold War that still haunt us (like the overthrow of Iran in 1953).

      We've been systematically starved of democracy for decades now: ever since campaigns became media circuses, increasingly in thrall to the sponsor class. Maybe now that the strangulation has become so obvious -- the only choice we've been allowed is between the two least popular, and quite arguably the two least competent, politicians in America -- we'll finally realize our need to struggle to breathe free. Or maybe we'll just fucking die. After all, we're about 90% buried already.

. . . And other Republicans:

  • Sasha Abramsky: [07-02] Will Arizona be MAGA's last stand? "Trump needs the state's votes to win. But after its highest court revived an 1864 law that bans abortions, all bets are off."

  • Hassan Ali Kanu: [07-11] No, Trump and GOP have not 'softened' on abortion, women's rights: "The language change in their platforms is nakedly dishonest bait and switch."

  • Sarah Jones: [07-14] The authoritarian plot: "At the National Conservatism conference, Republicans mix with racists ranting about 'post-white America.'"

  • Steve M: I have a couple more of his posts elsewhere, but let's go to town here:

    • [07-13] First thoughts on the shooting (updated): Starts with his own prediction tweet: "Every rank-and-file Republican voter believes this was an assassination attempt ordered by President Biden. Trump will soon start pouring gasoline on the flames by stating this as if it's fact." Update shows it's happening even ahead of Trump's provocation. He does have them well trained.

    • [07-13] Project 2025: the gaslighting is well underway.

    • [07-13] Fear the all-powerful left! "The fever dreams of the propaganda-addled crazies at the Heritage Foundation are hilarious."

    • [07-12] Are Biden's poll numbers impervious to bad news, like Trump's? I think the upshot here is that while people may not know what (or whom) to believe, they've become so wary of being lied to that they reject any news, probably from any source, leaving them impervious to change. If you're a journalist/pundit, you may think it's your job to adjust to new facts, but if you're not, it's just fucking noise, almost all of which can be discounted.

    • [07-11] New York Times editorial: Trump is bad -- but the Republican Party is awesome! That editorial was titled Trump is not fit to lead.

      Not a single Democrat is cited in this editorial. I understand that that's the point -- the ed board members, if you asked them about this, would say, "We're making the point that even Trump's fellow Republicans know he's unfit" (though no Republican in good standing dares to say that). But this is also a sign that the Times ed board agrees with the Republican Party's decades-long campaign to "other" Democrats. Our political culture accepts the GOP's assertion that Democrats aren't really Americans.

    • [07-10] Dear Democrats: You know people can hear you, right? (updated):

      It's been thirteen days since the June 27 debate. On each of those thirteen days, the top news story in America -- not just in the monomaniacal New York Times, but everywhere -- has been "Christ, That Joe Biden Is Really, Really Old. He Can't Possibly Win. He Has to Step Aside. Has He Done It Yet?" Other stories, including stories that could have been very damaging to Donald Trump, were fully or partly buried. And still Democrats can't muscle Biden out, persuade him to leave the race, or stop talking about it and get behind him. . . .

      I think Democrats believe it's okay for this to play out in public for two weeks -- two weeks of bad headlines for the man who now seems certain to be the nominee -- because of a fundamental misunderstanding of politics that hurts them in other areas as well. They think this is fine because they think voters pay attention to politics only in the last couple of months before an election. That's the reason most Democrats don't bother with messaging unless it's election season, while Republicans engage in messaging every day of every year.

      I'm not personally super bothered by the protracted process, but clearly this has given Trump and the Republicans a whole month of big PR wins, from the June 27 debate all the way through the end of the RNC, especially as, in response to the shooting incident, Democrats have wisely decided to pull their ads, and keep their powder dry. But if the election was next week, this would have been a total disaster for the Democracy. (Maybe not for the small-d concept, but that's what they called the Party back in Jackson's day, and that's what Will Rogers meant when he said he wasn't a member of an organized political party: he was a democrat.) But at some point soon-ish, they really have to get the act together and turn this mess around. I don't see how they can do that without first jettisoning Biden, who is the indelible personification of a much greater crisis in democratic faith.

    • [07-09] The press doesn't have a "bias toward coherence" -- it has a bias toward Republicans.

  • Shawn Musgrave: Trump's camp says it has nothing to do with Project 2025 manifesto -- aside from writing it.

  • Timothy Noah: The GOP platform perfectly reflects the lunacy of Trump's party: "I read it so you don't have to: It's an unconditional surrender to the cult of Trump, and its plan to reduce inflation is laughable."

  • Rick Perlstein: [07-10] Project 2025 . . . and 1921, and 1973, and 1981: "Terrifying blueprints for the next Republican presidency are a quadrennial tradition." Perlstein points out that aside from all the truly evil stuff you've possibly read about elsewhere, there is also a lot of confusion and in-fighting going on. For example:

    The section about Russia in the State Department chapter -- the author is an old hand of the High Reaganite wing of the Republican foreign-policy guild; a "globalist," if you will -- emphasizes that the Russia-Ukraine conflict "starkly divides conservatives," with one faction arguing for the "presence of NATO and U.S. troops if necessary," while the other "denies that U.S. Ukrainian support is in the national security interest of America at all."

    This misunderstanding is important. The silence, so far, on those parts, indicts us. These are great, big, blinking red "LOOK AT ME" advertisements of vulnerabilities within the conservative coalition. Wedge issues. Opportunities to split Republicans at their most vulnerable joints, much as when Richard Nixon cynically expanded affirmative action requirements for federal building projects, in order to seed resentment between blue-collar building trades Democrats and Black Democrats.

    And yes, there is plenty of blunt insanity, too. But, bottom line, this is a complicated document. "Conservatives in Disarray" is precisely the opposite message from that conveyed by all the coverage of Project 2025. But it is an important component of this complexity, and why this text should be picked apart, not panicked over, and studied both for the catastrophes it portends and the potential it provides.

  • Andrew Prokop: [07-13] Project 2025: The myths and the facts: "The sweeping conservative plan for Trump's second term is very real. Here's what it actually says."

  • Prem Thakker: GOP platform doesn't mention the word "climate" once -- even after hottest year on record.

Biden

Evidently Biden's age was already an issue in 2008, when Barack Obama picked him for Vice President. The thinking was that his age would balance off Obama's youth, that the position would cap off an already long and distinguished political career, and that he'd be too old to mount a serious run in 2016, leaving the field open for Hillary Clinton.

But when Clinton lost to Donald Trump -- let that sink in for a moment, folks -- Biden convinced himself that he could have done better, and set out to prove it in 2020. And he was a flop, his age dulling the charisma he never really had in the first place, but with Bernie Sanders a year older age wasn't so much an issue, and with Sanders winning, Biden became the only credible option to stop him, and the donor wing of the Democratic Party were desperate to do that.

After derailing Sanders, defeating Trump should have been the easy part, but somehow Biden managed to make even that look hard fraught. He won, but not decisively enough to lead Congress, or to squelch Trump's big lie about a rigged/stolen election. Trump has, if anything, loomed larger in American politics than Biden, even as president, could do. While that is testimony to several alarming tendencies in public opinion -- and media that both panders to and cashes in on controversy -- one cannot help but suspect that Biden's age is part of the problem.

At any rate, it's the part that people focus on once they realize that there is a problem that it could plausibly explain. They do that because it's tangible, something they have lots of experience with or at least observing. It's also something you can base expectations on, because it's inevitably progressive: if age seems to be a problem now, you can only expect it to get worse. Many Democrats, especially one who have closely bound their careers to Biden, have worked hard to hide evidence and deflect discussion of Biden's age -- even from Biden himself. But once you see it, as most people did in his June 27 debate with Trump, it's hard to revert to denialism. It's like the zit you never noticed, then found you can't avert your eyes from. Pretty soon you wind up with the Emperor's New Clothes.

As the following links will show, Democrats are divided: Biden and his closest allies still think that if they hold firm, he can ride the story cycle out, and by November refocus the campaign on beating back the immense threat of a Trump win; many others are skeptical and/or worried sick; a few actually see that replacing Biden with a younger, more dynamic, and hopefully much sharper candidate -- Harris seems to fill that bill, and is well-placed to step in, but there could be dozens of good options -- opens up an opportunity to not just eke out a win in November but deliver a crushing blow to Trump and his crony fascists.

As I've probably made clear over the last couple weeks, I'm skeptical, but also in the latter camp. I'm not really capable of the sort of despair that sees Biden, even as decrepit as he obviously is, losing to Trump -- despair in the future tense, as anticipation of a horrible turn of events, something very different from the sickening feeling when such events happen (as I remember all too well from November 2016). That part is just faith, still intact even if waiting to be shattered.

But my skepticism takes many forms. The one I'm most certain of is that if Biden remains in the race, he will commit a fair number of age-related gaffes and blunders, maybe including what wouldn't be his first fall, and that every time he does, his age will return as the paramount media obsession, shifting attention from the real and present threat of Trump. I don't know how many votes that will cost Biden, but it is a risk, and also a major opportunity cost. We need Democrats to win not just to stop Trump and shore up the somewhat liberal wing of the militarist oligarchy that Biden aligns with, but to actually address real problems, helping an overwhelming majority of Americans through very troubling times.

Another form of skepticism is suggested by my rather sour turn of phrase in that last line. I gravitated toward the new left in the late 1960s, and since then I've been as acutely critical of the Democratic Party as I've been of the Republicans, even as I've most often voted for Democrats, figuring them to be not just lesser evils but occasionally good for modest reforms. Either is reason enough to vote Democratic. (It's not like your vote is good for much else.) But if you're on the left (or anywhere else excluded from access to power), you might also consider voting a tactical choice: you're going to spend the next four years in opposition anyway, but which issues would you rather protest against? Biden, or any other Democrat with a chance, will leave you plenty to argue against.

One thing I can say about age is that it mellows you out. My critical analysis is as radical (in the sense I originally got from a 1966 book titled The New Radicals) as ever, but my appetite for conflict has really dimmed, and I'm willing to appreciate almost any tad of ameliorative reform. I chalk much of my personal change up to aging, and I suspect similar things happen to most people, including politicians like Biden. As I've noticed, Biden is the only president in my lifetime who turned out better than I expected (well, until Gaza, which is hard to excuse). Part of that is that he came in with really low expectations. Part of it may be that he's old enough to remember the pre-Carter, pre-Reagan, pre-Clinton Democrats -- even though he seemed totally simpatico with them, you know how old people lose recent memories before they lose formative ones? There's no one else like him in the Democratic Party these days. (Sanders is old enough, but never was that kind of Democrat. He was much better, which is why he remains so much sharper.) I do worry that whoever replaces Biden will be just another neoliberal shill. But even where Biden's heart is in the right place -- and, let's face it, it isn't always -- he's lost his ability to persuade, to lead, and to listen.

So my considered view is that we need to move him out, and start working on viable future. Even if Biden sticks and wins -- and I'll vote for him, despite thinking he really belongs in a Hague Court -- he's only going to get older, more decrepit, less credible, more embarrassing, and less effective as he struggles to hang on past his 86th birthday. And if he dies, resigns, or has to be removed, his replacement will enter with a much reduced mandate. Dump him now, elect his replacement, elect a Congress that's willing to do things, and the next four years will start looking up.


I guess that's more of an editorial than an introduction. I wrote it before collecting the following links:

  • Intelligencer: [07-09] Biden resistance appears to be waning in Congress: For a brief period, this publication seemed convinced that Biden is persevering in his fight to stay atop the Democratic Party ticket.

  • Sasha Abramsky: [07-10] An open letter to the president of the United States: "There are worse things in life than a comfortable retirement."

  • Michael Arria: [07-09] Biden was already a vulnerable candidate because of the genocide: "Biden was already plummeting in the polls before his disastrous presidential debate with Trump. The reason was his ongoing complicity in the Gaza genocide and the Uncommitted movement."

  • David Atkins: [07-11] I'm a DNC member and a public opinion professional. It's highly unlikely Biden can win: "Only one person can build on the administration's accomplishments, have unfettered access to funds and ballot lines, and do so without wasting precious time. Her name is Kamala Harris." Another long-time, major Biden apologist breaks ranks.

  • Rachel Bade/Eugene Daniels/Ryan Lizza: [07-11] Playbook: What Obama and Pelosi are doing about Biden. Report here is that George Clooney showed his op-ed to Obama before he ran it, and did not receive any objection. "Obama's team declined to comment." Pelosi seems to be maneuvering behind the scenes, but "out of respect for Biden and national security writ large" thought he should hang on through the NATO summit. Now (my thinking here), with the shooting, it would make sense to wait until after the RNC shuts down.

  • Joseph Contreras: [07-06] What Joe Biden could learn from Nelson Mandela about knowing when to quit: "Unlike the beleaguered U.S. president, the South African leader did not want to be an 81-year-old head of state and served only one term."

  • Keren Landman: [07-11] The controversy over Biden and Parkin's disease, explained.

  • Eric Levitz:

  • Andrew Prokop:

    • [07-09] Is it undemocratic to replace Biden on the ticket? "Biden says the primary voters picked him. Is there more to democracy than that?" What kind of democracy was that? Practically nobody ran against Biden in 2024 because the campaign finance system lets donors pick who can run, and they didn't dare cross Biden -- especially after Democrats canceled Iowa and New Hampshire, which historically have been wide open and have a history of upsets, and which Biden lost badly in 2020, in favor of running South Carolina first, the sourc of Biden's breakthrough win in 2020.

    • [07-11] What Biden's news conference did, and didn't, clear up: "The presser went fine. But the Democratic defections continued."

    • [07-14] Will Trump's shooting change everything? Or surprisingly little? "Two theories on the political impact of the Trump assassination attempt." The Trump campaign will try to spin this in to a big deal, blaming it all on the left and championing Trump as a life-risking fighter for true Americans, who want nothing more than to make their beleaguered nation great again. But it doesn't change the issues, or stakes, one iota.

    • [07-15] Did Trump's shooting save Biden's nomination? "Democratic defections have slowed, but Biden isn't out of the woods yet." Perhaps I should re-read this more carefully, but on first scan, absolutely nothing in this piece makes any sense to me.

  • Kaleigh Rogers: [07-12] Americans were worried about Biden's age long before the debate. Background from the poll-watchers at 538, who also produced:

  • Luke Savage: [07-12] The Biden problem has been years in the making: "As concerns mount over Biden, the Democratic Party reminds us this isn't a democracy."

  • Bill Scher:

    • [07-05] I've defended Biden for years. Now, I'm asking him to withdraw: "After waiting too long to reassure the public of his mental fitness, the president is sinking in the polls with little hope for recovery. But he can resign with grace and make history." Scher has long struck me as the most diehard Biden apologist in the Washington punditocracy, and indeed he was one of the few to have reserved hope after the debate (see: A wasted opportunity for Biden (but still time for redemption)). So this appears as a significant retreat. And he's followed with:

    • [07-09] How Kamala can win (without mini-primary madness).

    • [07-12] Wilson didn't resign. The world suffered. Biden need not repeat that mistake: "Wilson hid an incapacitating stroke from the public and fatally compromised his mission to establish a functional League of Nations. Once again, global peace and democracy precariously rely on a president reluctant to face a personal health crisis." Well, that's another whole can of worms, and while it's always fun to argue about Wilson, his case is really not relevant here. I will say that Wilson was a very complex but tragically flawed character, often invoked in arguments that reduce him to caricature. My own argument is that his failure to sell Americans on the League of Nations -- which was evident before his stroke took him out of action -- had no real bearing on the coming of WWII, but his failures at Versailles did (as Britain and France cast aside his anti-imperialism and insisted on punitive reparations over his better sense).

  • Jeffrey St. Clair:

    • [07-12] Running on empty: Very good coverage on Hurricane Beryl here, but this is mostly on Biden, starting with a Chris Hayes quote: "Biden is a decent man who has done nothing wrong. He has not got caught in a scandal -- he's just aging." To which St. Clair responds: "The real scandal is that liberals don't see arming a genocide as a scandal." I'm inclined to compartmentalize and see opposing Netanyahu's genocide in Gaza and opposing Trump in America as both critically important but separable matters, and I'm even willing to cut Biden some slack, as he is a potential solution to both -- although in the latter he's mostly proven hapless, in the former, which is something he could do something about on his own, he's drifted into criminal negligence. But clearly Hayes misspoke, and he, at least, should have known better. We've seen many attempts to use flattery to tempt Biden to quit (e.g., George Clooney, Thomas Friedman, Paul Krugman, David Remnick, Matthew Yglesias), but it hasn't worked, and it's hard to see why it would. This seems more like the time for brutal honesty. If you must, sugar-coat it as tough love, but save the huzzahs for after he does "the right thing."

    • [07-15] Big Boy Biden in his own words: He starts by quoting some of the praised heaped on Biden for his press conference performance, like Andrew Bates: "To answer the question on everyone's minds: No, Joe Biden does not have a doctorate in foreign affairs. He's just that fucking good." That leaves St. Clair wondering:

      After hearing these encomia, I had to check myself. This is Joe Biden they're talking about, right? The same Joe Biden who voted for the Iraq War, the most disastrous foreign policy debacle in US history? The same Joe Biden who backed the overthrow of Qaddafi, turning Libya into an anarchic war zone dominated by slave trading gangs? The same Joe Biden who provoked and now refuses to seek an end to a bloody, stalemated war in Ukraine? The same Joe Biden who has continued Trump's Cuban embargo and tariffs on China? The same Biden who has spent the last 3.5 years pandering to the bone-sawing Saudi regime he called a "pariah" state during his 2020 campaign? The same Biden who refused to renegotiate a nuclear agreement with Iran? The same Biden who has armed a genocide in Gaza that may end up claiming over 200,000 Palestinian lives? The same Biden who could barely string together two complete sentences a couple of weeks ago?

      Adding, "An unlikely transformation, IMHO." So then he reads the White House transcript, and quotes it liberally, although his best line is in his introduction: "Biden's answers reminded me of some of Samuel Beckett's later works exploring the thought patterns of a decaying mind."

  • Alexander Stille: We learned everything we needed to know about Biden in 1988: "His stubborn refusal to heed wise advice, and bottomless belief in his own greatness, were on display in his first campaign for president."

  • Michael Tomasky: [07-12] Democrats: "He was better than the debate" is not remotely good enough: "In Trump world, they're thinking landslide. Democrats need to act and talk Biden into stepping aside, and soon."

  • p>Cenk Uygur: [07-11] Biden will not be the nominee: "The Young Turks host has long predicted Biden's campaign would implode. He explains why it wasn't obvious to everyone, and predicts what will happen next." Nathan J Robinson interviews him.

And other Democrats:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War and Russia:

America's empire and the world:


Other stories:

Zack Beauchamp: [07-10] What the world can learn from Indian liberalism: "The intellectual Pratap Bhanu Mehta explains how liberalism grew out of 3,000 years of Indian history."

Roger Kerson: [07-09] You think this year's presidential conventions will be crazy? 1924's fights over the Ku Klux Klan were wilder.

Katie Miles: [07-08] "She usually won." Remembering Jane McAlevey, 1964-2024. Also:


Initial count: 146 links, 9355 words. Updated count [07-16]: 193 links, 9436 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): Biden.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, July 8, 2024


Speaking of Which

Posting this a day late, only partly because I tried slipping in the Afterthoughts post. Late Monday night, and I'm dead tired, pretty sure I didn't complete my rounds, but at this point if I fail to post I'll just waste another day. Expect Music Week on Tuesday, plus some late additions here (and maybe on the Sunday-dated but Monday-posted Afterthoughts as well). On the other hand, my mid-year jazz critics poll needs some work too, and should probably be considered a more urgent priority.

Nice to see elections leaning left in UK, France, and Iran. That should probably be a bigger story.

A few more extras below, but the big one is the comment on Matthew Yglesias, reiterating the case that Democrats need to replace Biden. That's also the subject of a long addition to last week's Afterthoughts.

In Tuesday's Music Week, written after this post but before I'm adding this section, I mentioned a couple Biden-related pieces that appeared after closing this:

None of this even mentions the seemingly important (if true) Ben Jacobs: [07-09] How the Democratic movement to dump Biden went bust. Or Nia Prater: [07-09] Why is the Squad backing Biden so forcefully? As Yglesias explained in his piece, the calculation for Democratic politicians is different than the one for journalists and pundits. New York Magazine, which published a number of pieces extremely critical of Biden (probably all op. cit. through my links above) has gotten so into circling the wagons, they've gone into live blog mode: Biden resistance appears to be waning in Congress. On the other hand, Eric Levitz: [07-09] is back with another piece: The arguments for Biden 2024 keep getting worse.

I'll probably return to those next week, but they relate to recent chatter below.

Late adds from ex-twitter:

  • Zachary D Carter: [07-09] Ths issue is Biden's age, and he gets older every day. It's not a scandal you can wait out until another media cycle. It will be a dominant campaign issue every day of the week until November. [This was in response to:]

    • Clara Jeffery: [07-09] What happens when the next press conference or interview goes awry. Or the barrage of battering polls keeps growing? Or swing district Dems openly panic?

      There is no "put it behind us" moment that the Biden camp hopes for/hopes to persuade Dems there is.

  • Eric Levitz: [07-09] Running Biden at this point means taking on his liabilities AND Harris's without enjoying any of the benefits of putting her at the top of the ticket (e.g. having a nominee who is much younger and more eloquent than the GOP's). [This was in response to:]

    • Marc Caputo: Trump stepping up criticisms of Harris, saying Biden chose her as an "insurance policy" because she's such a bad replacement that Biden would never be forced to step down.

  • Aaron Rupar: [07-08] [Reply to a 4:19 clip of "Jon Stewart reacts to Joe Biden's defiance over calls to step aside" -- worth watching, less for the plan, which isn't how it's going to work, than but the jokes, which hit their targets, thus demonstrating that they are real.] Stewart ignores that:

    1. There was a whole ass Democratic primary election
    2. Kamala Harris is the VP and the only Biden alternative that makes sense
    3. A thunderdome convention would do anything but "unify" the party

    I'm glad he had a chance to vent though

    [The primary was a sham, where nobody but Biden had a chance, because no one else had the money to run. Replacement could be anyone the money people agree on, but Harris is the easy pick. And the Party will unify behind virtually anyone, as Biden has already proved. Stewart ends with a clip where Biden is asked if any other Democrats could beat Trump, and his reply is "about fifty of them."]

  • Ian Millhiser: [09-10] If you're concerned that the press is paying too much attention to Joe Biden's age, and not enough to Donald Trump's unfitness for the job of president, I know one very simple thing that Biden could do that would take his age off the table in the November election.

  • Zachary D Carter: [07-12] Every Biden appearance from now until November will be an evaluation of his acuity. Even if he does ok, he's trapped in a losing issue for the campaign, the same way talking about abortion hurts Trump regardless of where he positions himself. Hard to see how he flips the polls.

  • Rick Perlstein: [07-12] So many of his statements end with him trailing off, exasperated, with something like "never mind"--these placeholders he sticks in when his brain can't summon up further thought. I'm not even suggesting something clinical. I can only say it comes off SOUNDING incapacitated.

Nathan J Robinson tweeted: "Wild to me that people like Matt Yglesias and the Pod Save America guys are now more publicly critical of Biden than the Squad." Jacob Shell pointed out, as Yglesias did in his post: "It's professionally cheap for a pundit and professional expensive for a politician." But it's not just that: Biden's replacement is going to be hand-picked by a cabal of moneyed insiders, then forced on a convention of delegates pre-selected for their loyalty. That person, who may well be Harris, will re-energize the party, but also will consolidate centrist control, and by winning (especially if winning decisively) will make it harder for the left to compete in 2028. The Squad represent very safe Democratic seats. If Biden wins, he will owe them, and if he loses, they will survive and be better positioned to rescue the Party moving forward. I'm not saying they're putting cynical self-interest ahead of the Party any more than any other politician -- if you're in a swing district, dumping Biden may simply be a matter of survival. But not everyone's in the same boat, with the same options. And they do have one point that is absolutely correct: we need to fight Trump, not among ourselves. If I thought the Biden thing would blow over, I'd happily join them. But I really don't see it blowing over, so the only realistic option is for Biden to drop out, and let someone who's up to the task take over.

By the way, a lot of really dumb comments attached to Robinson's tweet, especially by people trying to factor Israel in (e.g., "The Squad can't risk Kamala becoming president because of her husband's ties to Israel"). Lots could be said about this, but I'll leave it at this shows a remarkable ability to compartmentalize issues and political choices, especially given how centrist Dems collaborated with AIPAC to exterminate the Squad.


Initial count: 139 links, 7096 words. Updated count [07-11]: 163 links, 9377 words. -->

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): on music.


Top story threads:

Israel:

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

  • Nicholas Kristof: [07-03] How Biden has gotten in the way of fighting starvation in Gaza.

  • Blaise Malley: [07-03] By the numbers: US Gaza pier prject appears sunk.

  • Robert A Pape: [06-21] Hamas is winning: He's some kind of counterterrorism guru, with books like Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005), and Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism and How to Stop It (2010), following earlier tomes like Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War, which was all the rage when it came out (1996). My wife wants me to listen to 11 minutes of his interview by Doug Henwood, but so far all I've found is this, with a link to an hour-long podcast that's supposed to be "wherever podcasts are" (like here?. I haven't read the article either, because it's paywalled behind a publication site that publishes crap like this:

    Pape's article title (and for that matter his book titles) suggest he has a very naive, very addled concept of winning. Granted, I'm starting from the default position that nobody can ever win at war, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is deluding themselves, most likely by failing to recognize most of the costs one will eventually have to pay. Pape may well agree with much of this -- he certainly understands that Israel's collective punishment of Gaza is raising more opposition, and more desperate opposition, than they're able to kill off. It's not just that the violence could -- and sooner or later probably will -- rebound against Israel. It's just peculiar to think of either Israel's immediate offensive gains or its likely eventual denouement as winning for everyone.

    And especially for Hamas, which I'm inclined to believe -- admittedly with little evidence to back me up -- is no longer a real force, just a spectre conjured up by Israel as an excuse to continue genocide. I'm not saying that when Israel sends troops into some enclave in Gaza, they're not going to get fire returned. Just not much, and not from a coherent military or political force. Admittedly, I don't have much data to go on, so Pape might be helpful in that regard. On the other hand, how can he know much more than what Israel tells him? And why should he or we believe any of that?

  • Brett Wilkins: [07-04] Senior Israeli lawmaker suggests nuclear attack on Iran: Avigdor Liberman, the guy who's not in Netanyahu's coalition because it isn't far-right enough for him. (Actually, it's probably just because he hates Netanyahu. While he has no other redeeming qualities, who can't sympathize with him on that?) Still, he's basically saying that the problem with Israel is that the government isn't stark-raving bonkers enough.

  • Sharon Zhang: [06-28] Biden releasing part of bombs shipment to Israel that was paused over Rafah raid: "The administration appears to have totally thrown away its 'red line' on Rafah, two months after the invasion."

Israel vs. world opinion:

  • Mohammad Jehad Ahmad: [07-07] Silenced at school: NYC public schools chancellor suppresses Palestinian voices: "New York City Public Schools has been suppressing Palestinian narratives and activism. NYC Educators for Palestine has attempted to meet with Chancellor David Banks for months, but he keeps dodging our meeting."

  • Akbar Shahid Ahmed: [07-02] 12 Biden administration reseignees blast 'intransigent' Gaza policy: "Joe Biden 'has prioritized politics over just and fair policymaking' on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, former government officials argued in their first joint statement since quitting."

  • Michael Arria: [07-04] The Shift: School's out, but attacks on student protesters continue.

  • Muhannad Ayyash: [07-06] A hollow Palestinian state: "Spain, Ireland, and Norway recently made headlines for recognizing the State of Palestine. But the only effective policy for any state recognizing Palestine is also the diplomatic and economic isolation of the Israeli state. There is no other way." I would phrase this somewhat differently. There is no legitimate and/or sovereign Palestinian state to recognize, so it's an empty gesture -- admittedly, one that disrespects Israel, and may be worth doing just for that, but is insufficient to effect any change in Israel, which after all is the only place change can meaningfully occur.

  • Helena Cobban:

  • Ayça Çubukçu: [05-01] Many speak for Palestine: "The solidarity movement doesn't hav e a single leader -- and doesn't need one."

  • Joseph Levine: [07-06] If you support Israel in the middle of a genocide, you're an awful person. I don't agree with this, but that's because I recognize that many basically good people subscribe to bad political opinions, mostly because they are misinformed and/or habitually focus on the wrong things (which makes them easily misled). I might even go so far as to say that there are no bad people: only people who believe bad things, often for bad reasons (like to dominate and demean other people). But it's almost always a mistake to reify bad politics into bad people -- only making sense when the politics totally consumes the person. This article led me to an older one worth noting:

    • Randa Abdel-Fattah: [2023-12-27] On Zionist feelings: "The feelings and fragility of Zionists are used as a rhetorical shield to deflect from the reality of Palestinian genocide. I refuse to provide reassurances to placate and soothe Zionist political anxieties." I'm more indulgent of Zionist feelings than most critics of Israel, and I have my reasons, but I also understand this viewpoint. Starts with a quote from Edward Said: "Since when does a militarily occupied people have the responsibility for a peace movement?" Since the more instinctive war movement has repeatedly failed against a massively more powerful oppressor? Fighting back, understandable and even inevitable, reduces you to their level, not that they don't respond by sinking even lower. A peace movement, on the other hand, gains moral high ground, and challenges them to do better. Admittedly, Israel has never taken that challenge. All they do is designed to provoke violence, because that's the level they want to fight on. And, to circle back around, those who want that don't just have bad politics but are fairly seen as bad people.

  • Mitchell Plitnick: [07-05] Liberal Zionists answer the Gaza genocide by appealing for 'nuance': "Liberal Zionists are trying to rehabilitate Israel's image among young U.S. Jews after the Gaza genocide by appealing for 'nuance' and sending them to indoctrination camps. But these attempts ring more hollow than ever." Hard to scan for something as elusive as "nuance" in an article like this. As near as I can tell, the subjects here (Liberal Zionists in America) insist on being taken as fundamentally decent liberals, while excusing their distinctly illiberal views of anyone critical of Israel, mostly by treating "Arab nationalism" and "Islamic fundamentalism" every bit as rigidly as their opponents generalize about Zionism and Colonialism. Of course, they're right that their thought can be more nuanced than others appreciate, but the same is true for the others, who they reject with blanket generalizations -- like the syllogism that: Hamas is evil and can only be stopped with death; Hamas is an intrinsic tendency for Palestinians; therefore we will only be safe when all Palestinians are killed. That, in a nutshell, is current Israeli policy. Adding "nuance" may help obscure the issue, but won't change it.

    Plitnick, along with Marc Lamont Hill, is co-author of the book Except for Palestine: The Limits of Progressive Politics (2022), which goes deep into why many good people on the left in America have a blind spot for Israel. I don't know whether this addresses the second group of people, those who started with left/liberal sympathies but snapped hard to the right, often triggered by some crisis over Israel. The neocons, who rose to power under Clinton and GW Bush, provide some prime examples, but there are many more.

  • Richard Rubenstein: [07-02] Israel in Gaza: The Jewish break with Zionism: or, "Zionism as ethnic chauvinism."

  • Barnett R Rubin: [01-04] False Messiahs: "How Zionism's dreams of liberation became entangled with colonialism."

  • Philip Weiss: [07-07] Weekly Briefing: Normalizing genocide. The article itself briefly cites lots of other articles I've already cited. "Genocide" is such a hard, definitive term, so the idea is to break it up into smaller, softer, more ambiguous acts, spread out over time to lessen the shock, an aid to denial for those so inclined. But making it all seem normal is going to be a tall order. This article elicited a comment worth noting:

    The psychology of denial is important to understand: Jews tend to identify with Israel the way people identify with their families, says Joseph Levine. Well, many, many people eventually come to the realization that their father was an abusive drunk, their mother was manic-depressive and their siblings bullied them but they stuck around because admitting to themselves the real situation is just too painful -- I think that's the situation we're dealing with re Israel.

  • Omar Zahzah: [07-07] Why Big Tech's control of social media cannot stop anti-colonial resistance.

Election notes:

Joe Biden (post-debate):

  • Sasha Abramsky: [07-03] Running Biden against Trump is just plain irresponsible: "If American democracy is on the line, as Democrats have rightly insisted, why nominate someone who has trouble keeping up with his opponent." Or how about this: why nominate someone who is living proof that democracy is already lost?

  • Zachary D Carter: [06-10] Inflation is not destroying Joe Biden; "But something is!" Pre-debate piece I've been meaning to mention, but re-read it given what you know now.

  • Jonathan Chait:

    • [07-06] Biden's norm-shattering response to the post-debate crisis: "The problems are ethical, not just political." Chait cites two examples that while "not illegal" he finds ethically troubling: bringing convicted felon son Hunter in as one of his close family advisers (a circling of the family wagons that reminds Chait of Trump), and Biden's unwillingness to submit to cognitive screening. The thing is, you not only have to consider the literal merits, but how they will be spun, in a political media environment that quite frankly is not inclined to favor Biden.

    • [07-08] The Democrats who care more about their careers than beating Trump: "Biden bets his party doesn't have the guts to confront him." As long as you're talking politicians, that's probably a good bet, at least at first. But the people who decide who runs and who cannot are the big donors, and they'll still have careers either way. Politicians may be waiting for their signal. When they do, expect all the tails to wag.

  • George Clooney: [07-10] I love Joe Biden. But we need a new nominee. This matters, both as personal observation from someone who has access very few of us can match, and as the author is not a "low cost" pundit but a high value donor -- one of the people I often claim are actually pulling the strings. Also see the letters, at least the first one (another close witness). The third (terrified Harris will lose) and the fourth (he's just an actor, so who cares?) not so much.

  • Nate Cohn: [07-03] The debate hurt Biden, but the real shift has been happening for years. There's also this interview with Cohn:

    • Isaac Chotiner: [07-04] Nate Cohn explains how bad the latest polling is for Joe Biden. This is in in a nutshell:

      Joe Biden is a badly wounded candidate whom voters dislike, and who voters think isn't capable of handling the Presidency. And while Donald Trump isn't a political juggernaut by any stretch, and is maybe every bit as weak as he was four years ago, at least at the moment, Joe Biden does not have the broad appeal necessary to take advantage of it.

  • Matthew Cooper: [07-05] If Biden quits the race, he should resign the presidency: "Being a lame duck for seven months would be far worse for him -- and us -- than leaving office and propelling Vice President Harris to the Oval Office." Sorry, but this is really stupid. Running for president and being president are two very different things, and really demand different skill sets (not that there's any way we can fix that). Running for president demands that be able to engage with public and press, being articulate and decisive in difficult circumstances, every day between now and November. You'll need to convince voters that you will serve them, and will be able to continue to serve, clearly and coherently, for another four years. Nobody believes that Biden can or even should do that. That's a tall order, maybe even an impossible one, for anyone. Even in his prime, Biden never had those skills. He only got elected thanks to a series of fluke circumstances: first as the least objectionable compromise to stop Sanders from winning the Democratic nomination, and then as the only alternative to Trump. And while it may have seemed plausible that he could repeat given similar circumstances -- above all, a rematch with Trump -- some critical elements have changed beyond repair (like Biden having to own his own record, battered as he's been by four years of relentless Republican villification, with his own skills clearly diminished in his 80s).

    On the other hand, what's so hard about finishing his term? As president, he needs to attend a few meetings, ask questions, sign orders he has staff to prepare, do the occasional meet and greet. He doesn't have to give speeches or press conferences. He doesn't have to fly overseas. If, as reported, his sweet spot is 10-to-4, why can't that be his work day? And if he ever does have to answer that 3AM call to start WWIII -- you may recall that as Hillary Clinton's "commander-in-chief test" -- just wake him up and brief him. That's a situation smarter people would never allow to happen, but if he did, how much worse could he be than Clinton or any of his predecessors?

    As for being called a "lame duck," that's something that stupid people (or opportunists trying to dupe stupid people) are going to do anyway. Ignore them. (Actually, the 22nd Amendment should have banned consecutive terms. They didn't think of that because there was a long tradition of major presidents serving two -- and until FDR only two -- terms, and because in 1947-51 presidential election campaigns only took up a couple months, as opposed to the billionaire-funded multi-year marathons of late. They also had no idea all the crap journalists would spread about "lame ducks.")

    Let's assume that Biden has to withdraw from the nomination. As far as the country is concerned, there should be no problem with him finishing out the term he was elected to. But if he did so, Kamala Harris would become president. As she is most likely his replacement as nominee, would becoming president help or hurt her candidacy? I don't see how it would help. It would give her a bigger plane to campaign from, and offer a few nice photo-ops (world leaders and such, look presidential). But it would put a lot of demands on time she needs to campaign. And it would saddle her more closely with Biden's legacy, which despite some real accomplishments remains pretty unpopular. I also suspect that a Biden resignation wouldn't spin well: it will be taken as a disgrace, affirming all the charges against Biden, and tainting his legacy -- a legacy that Harris will need to burnish in order to win.

  • Chas Danner:

  • Arthur Delaney: [07-05] Reps. Seth Moulton, Mike Quigley latest Democrats to call on Joe Biden to quit race: "The dam hasn't broken, but there's a steady drip of statements from Democrats skeptical of Biden being the Democratic nominee."

  • Ed Kilgore: [07-08] Was Biden's debate worse than Access Hollywood? I suppose what he's trying to say is that candidates can win despite embarrassing incidents along the way. I don't know or care which was worse, but I can think of several reasons why this will cause Biden more trouble: Access Hollywood may have impugned Trump's character, but he didn't have much to lose in the first place; also it's an old story, not present, so something Trump might have matured out of (as opposed to something that only gets worse with age); and while most of us might prefer to have a president who's not an asshole, some people actually regard that as a plus. On the other hand, debating is supposed to be a core competency for presidential aspirants, and is suggestive of how a person might handle an unexpected crisis, as is almost certain to happen. Also, the debate was an explicit opportunity for Biden to show that years of suppositions and innuendos about Biden's mental agility, tied to his age, were wrong. Biden's performance would seem to have confirmed them -- with his ever-increasing age by far the most obvious cause. Perhaps worse still, this implied that Biden's past denials were also false, casting considerable doubt on his reliability and truthfulness.

    Trump recovered because the the DNC mail dumps changed the fickle media's story line, then came Comey's announcement that he was re-opening the Clinton email investigation, which itself might have faded had the Stormy Daniels story not been bought off. But henceforth, every time Biden debates, he will be haunted by this performance, and every time he doesn't debate, that too works against him. Either way, Biden is trapped. If he doesn't drop out, this is going to be very painful to watch.

  • Ezra Klein: [06-30] This isn't all Joe Biden's fault.

  • Paul Krugman: [07-08] Please, Mr. President, do the right thing.

  • Chris Lehman:

  • Eric Levitz:

    • [07-05] In an ABC interview, Biden charts a course for Dems' worst-case scenario: "The president appeared too frail to defeat Trump and too delusional to drop out."

      No interview or stump speech can erase these revelations. The news media will not stop scrutinizing the copious evidence of Biden's senescence. The Trump campaign will not forget that it now possesses a treasure trove of humiliating clips of Biden's brain freezes and devastating quotes from the president's allies. Given this climate and the candidate's limitations, it is not plausible that Biden can surge in the polls between now and November. . . .

      The Biden who spoke with ABC News Friday night was enfeebled, ineloquent, egotistical, and intransigent. He was a man who appeared both ready and willing to lead his party into the wilderness. Asked how he would feel if he stayed in the race and Trump were elected, Biden replied, "I'll feel as long as I gave it my all and I did the goodest job as I know I can do, that's what this is about."

      Wasn't that how Hillary Clinton felt after losing? I've never forgiven her for losing to Trump, and probably never will. Biden will be even worse, because doubts about him are so widely and deeply expressed, so far in advance of the actual vote.

    • [07-07] Biden is leading Democrats toward their worst-case scenario: Appears to be a slight edit of the previous article.

  • Daniel Marans: [07-06] Voters had issues with Biden's age long before the debate. That's why Democrats are worried.

  • Nicole Narea: [07-03] Forget four more years. Is Biden fit to serve now? Was he ever fit? What does that mean? Let's take care of the nomination first: that's the position that needs to be filled, with someone who can handle the immediate requirements and very probably continue to do so four years out. After that, if he can finish his term with dignity, shouldn't we show him that much respect? He'd certainly be under a lot less pressure and stress if he wasn't also running for a second term.

  • Olivia Nuzzi: [07-04] The conspiracy of silence to protect Joe Biden: "The president's mental decline was like a dark family secret for many elite supporters."

  • Evan Osnos: [07-06] Did Joe Biden's ABC interview stanch the bleeding or prolong it?

  • Tyler Pager: [06-30] Biden aides plotted debate strategy for months. Then it all collapsed. "The Biden team gambled on an early debate and prepared intensively at Camp David, but advisers could not prevent the candidate's stumbles onstage." Pager also reported on:

  • Nia Prater: [07-08] Read Biden's I'm-not-going-anywhere letter to House Democrats. Following up:

  • Andrew Prokop: [07-03] Leaks about Joe Biden are coming fast and furious: "The recent reports about the president's age and health, explained."

  • David Schultz: [07-03] Biden's abysmal debate.

  • Nate Silver:

  • Norman Solomon: [07-02] Who you gonna believe, Biden loyalists or your own eyes and ears?

  • Brian Stelter: [07-03] Did the media botch the Biden age story? "Asleep at the wheel? Complicit in a cover-up? The real story is far more complicated -- and more interesting." Or "Sorry, Ted Cruz, there are more than two options."

  • Michael Tomasky:

  • Benjamin Wallace-Wells: [07-08] Joe Biden is fighting back -- but not against Trump, really: Then what the hell is he good for?

  • Joan Walsh: Biden did not save his presidency on ABC: "An uneven interview with George Stephanapoulos was too little, too late -- and maybe a bit too churlish."

  • Matthew Yglesias: [07-08] I was wrong about Biden: I followed Yglesias closely for many years, but after he won that "neoliberal shill of the year" contest (I think it was 2019), quit Vox, started buckraking at Substack, and wrote that opportunisticaly Friedmanesque book (One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger), about the only time I read him these days is when he gets one of his Bloomberg columns syndicated (and they're rarely much good). He's a smart guy who knows a lot, but he's also a calculating bastard who's especially adept at spotting trends and triangulating them with an eye toward profit. So it's no surprise that he (unlike his Vox-cofounder Ezra Klein, another smart triangulator) bought the Biden second term plan hook, line and sinker, or that Biden's debate performance, for once in his life he's eating crow. Or maybe twice: he started out as a big Iraq war booster.

    But enough with shooting the messanger. Let's try reading the message. It's long, methodologically sound, meticulously thought out, and damning. For instance, consider some facts:

    Biden isn't doing press conferences. He's using teleprompters at fundraisers. The joint appearances with Bill Clinton or Barack Obama look like efforts to keep attention off the candidate. It's not just that he's avoiding hostile interviews or refusing to sit with the New York Times, he isn't even doing friendly-but-substantive shows with journalists like Ezra Klein or Chris Hayes. It was a while ago now that I talked to him, and though it went well, I haven't heard recent rumors of many other off-the-record columnist chats. The seemingly inexplicable decision to skip the Super Bowl interview is perfectly explicable once you see the duck. In a re-election year, a president needs to do two different full-time jobs simultaneously, and Biden was really struggling with that. Apparently foreign governments were sitting on some anecdotes that have now leaked, which I wouldn't have thought possible.

    But the biggest data point that I blew off was a recent and totally unambiguous one.

    Five days before the debate, someone who'd seen Biden recently at a fundraiser told me that he looked and sounded dramatically worse than the previous times they'd seen him -- as recently as six months ago -- and that they were now convinced Biden wouldn't be able to make it through a second term. I blew that warning off and assumed things would be fine at the debate.

    That goes a bit beyond the facts I wanted to show, but you can see where he's going. The next paragraph begins: "Now that Biden apologists like me are discredited in the eyes of the public," then segues into a good point we needn't dwell on here. The next section is more important: "The media climate is going to get worse." He offers some details, but if you at all understand how the media works, you can imagine the rest, and then best double it for what you're too decent to even imagine the media doing. [Insert shark metaphor here.]

    Yglesias moves on to a "What comes next?" section, where he reminds us what a calculating bastard he is:

    Columnists calling on Biden to step down provide, in my view, are a small boost to Trump's election odds and a minuscule increase in the odds that Biden actually steps aside. I think we have to say it anyway, because this is journalism and we owe a duty of truth to our audience. But in narrow cost-benefit terms, the public criticism of Biden has negative expected value.

    Elected officials have a different set of responsibilities. I've seen some people express frustration that Barack Obama came out with such a strong statement of support for Biden. But Obama slagging Biden in public would have been a boon to Trump and accomplished nothing. Same for Chuck Schumer and Hakeem Jeffries and Nancy Pelosi and everyone else who matters. These are politicians, and they do not share journalists' obligations of candor.

    But what they do in private does matter, and I hope they do the right thing.

    The main thing I would add to this is that the election isn't until November (or, with early voting, mid-October?), so even if it takes until the Convention to replace Biden, there will still be plenty of time to unite behind the nominee and the ticket before anything real happens. Until then, it's just hot air (or maybe just tepid). The media cares, because they want you to think that every moment, every minute shift and sway, portends great importance, but that's just their business model. There are good reasons to replace Biden sooner rather than later -- it's painful to watch Biden and his cadres squirm, and we would be much happer spending the time exposing and deprecating Trump and the Republicans -- but it's a process, and that takes time. (I'm not even bothered by it not being a very democratic one, although it does mean that the elites who control this process will be held responsible should they fail.)

    Let me close here by quoting a reader comment:

    So long as Biden remains the nominee, we're going to keep getting hammered on age and mental decline.

    As soon as Harris is the nominee, we can hammer Trump on age and mental decline.

    I'd rather play the second game.

    Indeed, as long as Biden is the nominee, this is going to be one long, miserable election, where we're stuck playing defense, on grounds that aren't really defensible. Sure, we still might eek out a win, but best case is it's going to be close, which means that the administration will be hobbled for four more years, its leadership decrepit, while getting blamed for disasters that have been brewing for decades. On the other hand, replace Biden, and you reverse the tide, and go on the offense: throw the whole anti-Biden handbook (not just age and imbecility, but cronyism and corruption, egotism, vanity, the whole ball of wax) back at Trump, and go after all the Republican toadies fawning all over him. Wouldn't you rather kick some ass? We have time, but we won't have it forever.

Trump:

  • Margaret Hartmann: [07-08] What the Jeffrey Epstein documents reveal about Donald Trump.

  • Jeet Heer: [07-05] Why aren't we talking about Trump's fascism? "Joe Biden has created a distraction from the existential question that should define this election." I don't see this as a problem. Some people understand what fascism means, especially historically. Most of them are fascinated enough to debate the fine points, but all of them already have weighed Trump out on the F-scale, so there's no real need to engage them on the issue. (Most are opposed, even ones who dismiss the charge on technical grounds, and none are likely to view Trump more negatively if you make them better understand the case that Trump is a fascist.) A second group of people only understand that aside from a couple of known and long gone historical examples, "fascist" is a slur, mostly used by people on the left to attack people not on the left. To convince people that Trump is a fascist and therefore bad, you first have to teach them what fascism is and why it is bad, which is a lot of excess work, and will probably wind up making them think that you are a Marxist (which if you actually know this stuff, you probably are). There are lots of more straightforward ways to argue that Trump is bad than that he specifically is a fascist, so for those people the effort ranges from inefficient to counterproductive. Then there are the people who will accept your analysis and embrace it, deciding that fascist Trump is even cooler than regular Trump.

    Heer's article is a good example of why we shouldn't bother talking about Trump and fascism. Heer is part of that first group, so he not only likes to talk about fascism, he sees fascism as the prism that illuminates Trump's myriad evils. However, once he introduces the terminology, we forget what the article was meant to about -- that Biden's incompetence has become a distraction from the real issue, which is the very real disaster if Trump is elected -- and fixate on the single word (which as I just said, is either understood but redundant, or misunderstood and therefore irrelevant, so in either case ineffective). So Heer's article doesn't expose Biden's distraction but merely adds to it.

  • Nicholas Liu: [07-08] Trump runs from Project 2025, claims not to know what it's about: "The former president is trying to distance himself from a plan drafted by his own former aides."

  • Shawn Musgrave: Trump camp says it has nothing to do with Project 2025 manifesto -- aside from writing it.

  • Marc A Thiessen: How Trump can make NATO great again. No time to read this, but the fusion of author (aka "Torture Boy"), concept, and title blew my mind.

And other Republicans:

And other Democrats:

  • Sarah Jones: [07-03] A socialist's case for Kamala Harris: I'd tread carefully here. The decision on the Democratic ticket is going to be made by people who fear and hate socialists even more than Trump, and you don't want them to turn on Harris just because she's one of the less bad compromises available. She as much as admits this with her last line: "But if I can't get what I want this year, I'd rather settle for Harris."

  • Osita Nwanevu: [07-08] Democrats don't just need a new candidate. They need a reckoning. "Democrats will be impotent messengers on democracy as long as they remain beholden to the feudal culture this crisis has exposed." Right, but it isn't going to happen, certainly not this year. The Democratic left didn't challenge Biden this year, basically for three reasons: it's nearly impossible to reject an incumbent president running for a second term; their relationships with Biden were engaging enough that they saw him as a path for limited but meaningful reform, which they valued more than just taking losing stands on principle; and they are more afraid of Trump and the Republicans than ever. Conversely, Biden is running not because he's uniquely qualified to beat Trump, but because he was uniquely positioned to prevent an open Democratic primary that could have nominated a Democrat who might be more committed to the voters than to the donors. But now that cast is set. Even if the convention is thrown open, the people voting there are almost all beholden to Biden. So while Biden will not survive as the nominee, he and his big donors will pick his successor, and when they do, every Democrat who doesn't want to risk Trump will line up, bow, and cheer. The reckoning will have to wait, probably until crisis forces it.

  • Prem Thakker: Every Democrat other than Joe Biden is unburdened by what has been: "As voters look for another option, alternative Democratic leaders poll similarly or even better than Biden -- even without name recognition."

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War and Russia:

America's empire and the world:


Other stories:

Margot Roosevelt: [07-07] Jane F. McAlevey, who empowered workers across the globe, dies at 59: "An organizer and author, she believed that a union was only as strong as its members and trained thousands "to take over their unions and change them."

Books

Jedediah Britton-Purdy: [07-02] The Creed: "How did Americans come to worship the Constitution?" Review of Aziz Rana, The Constitutional Bind: How Americans Came to Idolize a Document That Fails Them.

  • Aziz Rana: [05-30] Democracy was a decolonial project: "For generations of American radicals, the path to liberation required a new constitution, not forced removal." I ran across this essay slightly after finding the book review. While there is a common point, this goes in a different direction.

Leah Hunt-Hendrix/Astra Taylor: [07-02] For a solidarity state: "The state structures society. It can make us more prone to care for one another."

Sean Illing: [07-07] How the 1990s broke politics: "Inside the GOP's transition from the party of Reagan to the party of Trump." Interview with John Ganz, author of When the Clock Broke: Con Men, Conspiracists, and How America Cracked Up in the Early 1990s.

Osita Nwanevu: [03-11] The divided president: "Who's in charge in the Biden White House?" This is a bit dated, a review of Franklin Foer, The Last Politician: Inside Joe Biden's White House and the Struggle for America's Future. I bought the book at the time, figuring it might shed some light on some things (mostly involving foreign policy) that I didn't adequately understand), but never got around to it, and I'm in no hurry these days.

Marshall Steinbaum: X thread: "There's a little book I recommend to anyone who's trying to get a handle on what's going on in American politics this week." The book is Nancy McLean, Democracy in Chains: The Deep History of the Radical Right's Stealth Plan for America. The book is mostly about economist James Buchanan, and how his and similar careers have been sponsored by right-wing networks, especially that of the Kochs. I read the book when it came out, and thought it was pretty good. Buchanan's early ties to the anti-desegregation movement were especially striking -- how easily we forget how reflexively racist many people were in the 1950s -- and the Koch funding was something I was rather familiar with. (I even received some myself, back when I typeset reprints of a couple Koch-sponsored reprints of Murray Rothbard books.) I'm less clear on Buchanan's economic theories, which seemed rather trivial. Maybe "stealth plan" was a bit of an oversell: much of it was public, and some of it barely qualified as a plan -- throwing money at something could just as well be seen as another of those "irritable mental gestures" Lionel Trilling saw in most "conservative thought." Still, this kicked up a flurry of protest over McLean's book, including some from people I generally respect (e.g., Rick Perlstein), so I took some notes:

Music, etc.

Nick Paumgarten: [07-01] Alan Braufman's loft-jazz séance.

Michael Tatum: [07-09] A downloader's diary (53): Much more than capsule reviews, major takes on Beyoncé, Nia Archives, Zawose Queens, Carly Pearce, Fox Green, and much more. Pearce and Fox Green also appear here:

Midyear Lists:


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Sunday, July 7, 2024


Speaking of Which: Afterthoughts

Back during my careerist, apolitical middle ages, I read a number of business/management books (also, more often, popular science, and sometimes science fiction -- those were the good ol' days), and one point that stuck with me was the observation that in and coming out of meetings, there are two kinds of people: those who give you their reactions immediately, and those who need a day or two to process and come up with better reactions. I quickly recognized that I'm one of the latter.

I'm pretty sure the book was Robert Townsend's Further Up the Organization, which I probably got more from than I did from The Communist Manifesto and Minima Moralia combined, although from Walter Benjamin's Illuminations and John Berger's Ways of Seeing would be close. Some major things I got from Townsend are the value of employee ownership, and a deep loathing for nepotism -- points that have repeatedly been reinforced by real-world experience. There's also a quote about the Ottoman Empire that I'd have to look up to do justice, but the gist is that when you lose your reputation for justice, you lose everything. That quote comes as close as anything to explaining why I spend so much time harping on how important it is that Israel and America have so thoroughly disgraced themselves in Gaza (and, sure, not just in Gaza).

Anyhow, before my digression, I just wanted to introduce this concept, which may or may not become a regular feature -- depends on how much free time I have, which if this week is any example is likely to be not much. It's been taking me so much time to round up my weekly Speaking of Which compendiums, often of late requiring an extra day (or two?), that I wind up just throwing them out, with no more than a quick, minimal spell check. Then I have to pivot for Music Week, which is mostly a matter of collecting bits I had written more leisurely (or carelessly) during the week, and that usually breaks the mood until Friday or so when I get going on the next Speaking of Which. Lately, Music Week day has given me a chance to fix the typos my wife always finds, and add a few items that slipped my net, but I never have the time and perspective I need to refine, clarify, and polish what I wrote in such haste.

That led me to the idea of doing a midweek "Afterthoughts" post, where I look back through the previous week's roundup with somewhat refreshed eyes, pick out a few salient items that I think could use more (by which I think I mean deeper) commentary. I could then add anchors and links to go back and forth between Speaking of Which and Afterthoughts. As I reread, I'll probably catch and fix a few mistakes, perhaps editing some particularly awkward passages. While Afterthoughts will offer the occasional link, I imagine that I'll add new ones I to the old file, or save them for the following week. That will entail keeping multiple files open (and raises the question of whether I should make the work-in-progress file visible).

Another digression (maybe I should invent some markup for these?): I have on occasion done that, and I'm usually rather pleased with what I find there. That gets me to imagining that someone could pull out a book's worth of particularly notable nuggets, but the only people who have given them a look so far have thrown up their hands in dismay (my wife and her publisher friends). When I do it myself, I'm tempted to edit, rarely for points but the writing can always be sharpened up. I've collected most of my post-2000 writings into book files, but they are pretty massive (the four political volumes up to 2020 total 2.86 million words; not collected there yet, Speaking of Which, since June 2021, would add another 800 thousand words).

Anyhow, that's the concept. Unfortunately, I wasted 2-3 days after coming up with the idea without actually doing the work. But I left a placeholder for this post when I opened the next Speaking of Which draft file, so I feel obliged to post something here. (It works this way for technical and historical reasons I won't bore you with, possibly because doing so might expose my inept design.) But as this is being written on Sunday, all I can hope for is make a quick pass and post tonight, with everything else delayed a day (or, perhaps like last week, more).


Zack Beauchamp: Sometimes I think I should write up an annotated list of books on Israel, but the number that I have read quickly becomes mind-boggling -- especially when you start thinking about the various angles and tangents. But this one cuts to the heart of the matter: not so much as to what happened -- which tends to be a long list of indictments -- as to what was going through Israeli when they acted as they did.

One imagines there could be a similar reading list for how Palestinians think, but they've had so few viable options that it really wouldn't tell us much. As Americans, we've been brought up to think that we have a large degree of freedom within which we can deliberately live our lives. Even here, much of that is illusion (or delusion), but Palestinians have never had any meaningful degree of political freedom: not under the Ottomans, or the British, or the Egyptian/Jordanian occupations of Gaza and the West Bank from 1948-67, or under Israel (in or out of the Green Line, with or without the gang rule of Fatah/Hamas), or for exiles in Lebanon, Syria, the Gulf, etc.

I dug out Ben Cramer's book a few weeks ago. I wanted to find a story I remembered him using -- one about teaching a dog to speak -- but so far it's escaped me. On the other hand, I have reread many passages, and I'm always struck by how easily he gets to unobvious but essential points. One of those is that of all the world's many problems, this conflict should be one of the easiest to solve -- pace Christgau, who throws up his hands in despair after declaring it "the cruelest and most gruesome international conflict of my adulthood." I pick my around that line, but Ben Cramer simply offers an answer: just start by showing Palestinians some respect, and see how they adjust. I have little doubt that they will, but that's because I'm aware that there are many more strands of thought among Palestinians beyond the only ones Israelis recognize: those who fight (like Hamas), and those who surrender (like Fatah, not that even they have so little self-respect that they can satisfy Israel).

I've read quite a bit on Israel over the years: enough that I can pull up a historical reference for almost any situation, so quickly that I frequently circle back instead of offering immediate reactions to atrocities that no understanding of historical context can excuse. But mostly I'm writing on the basis of models I've formed and refined over many years, that give me insight into things people say and do, and how they are perceived and reacted to. I suppose this started fifty years ago, when I was first smitten with philosophy, and through it psychology and sociology (and economics?).

It's been a long time since I ever attempted to articulate it, but I have been thinking more about stories and models lately: most people understand things through stories -- or so we're told by political and advertising consultants, who one suspects prefer them because they see them as ways to manipulate, and as such to compensate their clients and earn their premium. And, if you're interested in practical politics, that's often a game you have to play. Models are harder to sell, because they simply give you insight into how things actually work, and most importantly, that many of the things selfish people would pay for -- like riches, power, status, glamor, fame, notoriety -- come with hidden costs that make them worth much less than you'd like to think.

But read on. The models will come to you.

About last Thursday's debate: I collected a huge number of links, as most center-to-left pundits took the matter seriously and had an opinion to air (and often not just an axe to grind). I didn't bother much with right pundits, as what could they possibly say worth taking seriously? So while I started the post with a general idea of what was going on, and how it might play out, I was fine with letting this play out. And it did, pretty definitively. Biden is toast. He's lost all credibility as a candidate, and if the Democrat clique around him somehow manage to keep him as their candidate, they will lose all credibility and, as soon as possible, control of the party. Even if he sticks and wins, which given his opposition isn't impossible, he and they will get no credit for the feat. All they will get is condemnation for the risk they're running by sticking with a candidate who has clearly lost the faith and trust of his own voters.

That it isn't official yet is probably because the insiders haven't yet agreed on a succession plan. There's been very little reporting on this so far, because it's not the sort of thing inside power brokers dare brag about. But it's pretty obvious if you understand how things work. And what's happened is pretty simple. . . .

PS: Insert my model of US political parties here, then explain how the powers in the Democratic Party have used Biden as a prophylactic against the left. An open political process stood a chance of tilting the nomination toward someone on the left -- probably not Sanders, due to age, but someone would have moved in that direction. On the other hand, it would be very difficult for anyone to challenge an incumbent president, so running Biden essentially shut down the primary process, Now, even if Biden sensibly withdraws, the convention will be controlled by Biden's backers, ensuring that they will come up with a candidate favorable to their business interests. I wrote a version of this for tomorrow's post: e.g., the comments on Cooper and Yglesias.

I've been thinking along these lines for quite some time now. To reiterate:

  1. Both parties basically do two things: raise money, and compete for votes. Aside from unions, which faded significantly after 1980, that meant they had to appeal to the rich, and then take those resources and somehow fashion promises that would appeal to enough other people to win elections. Donors mostly want the same thing, which is to make more money, so both parties have to be credibly pro-business, but parties can appeal to different voters, and try to differentiate themselves accordingly (without offending their donors).

  2. The main differentiation between the two parties is over the issue of whether can and should take an active role in helping people (which, for the donors, includes businesses) or shouldn't even try, but rather should restrict itself to protecting property and repressing people's baser instincts and subversive ideas. You already know which parties match up with which descriptions. They both have problems reconciling donors and voters, and those problems are most acutely felt by party insiders.

  3. Parties are not like firms, where owners have clear control direct from the top, through a board and hired management. Nor are they democratic, like a union (although they could be, and that's something Democrats should consider). They're more like co-ops, which in theory belong to everyone but in practice are dominated by a few people who worm their way into positions where they control access to resources and information. They're often referred to as elites, but cadres would be a more appropriate term (I could also go with professional political operatives, to put a somewhat finer point on it). Cadres may seem like elites, but that's mostly because they wind up being operatives of the real elites: the donors. But while they are usually aligned with elite donors, like the managerial class, they have bureaucratic interests of their own, like self-preservation.

  4. The cadres struggle to balance the conflicting demands of donors and voters, leading to different strategies. Republicans flagrantly appeal to rich, then try to line up voters who will defer to the rich and overlook their own economic interests, expecting little or nothing from government. Democrats take a different tack, trying to woo voters with promises of better services, but they also have to find and keep donors willing to go along with their programs. Both strategies are dysfunctional, but that could fill up a book.

  5. One problem of special relevance here is that in their relentless supplication to donors, Republicans are corrupt in principle, while Democrats are corrupt in practice. Somehow the latter seems to bother people more than the former. Probably because to Democratic voters, corruption seems like betrayal, leading them to distrust their leaders. Republicans also see Democratic corruption as betrayal, because it benefits others, but accept their own corruption as serving their party and its ideals.

  6. In the 1970s, unions were declining, and business started pumping huge amount of cash into politics. That led to the Reagan 1980s, which in turn led to a desperate realignment within the Democratic Party, where success was often linked to becoming even more pro-business than the Republicans. That shift was led by Clinton, backed by middling Democrats like Biden, and picked up by Obama. Not only were they pro-business, they turned the Party into a platform for their own personal agendas, with no regard for developing bottom-up party strength. (Both Clinton and Obama came in with legislative majorities, then suffered massive mid-term losses, rebounding to win unproductive second terms without Democratic Congresses. The sole exception was in 2006, when Howard Dean -- who coined the term "democratic wing of the Democratic Party" -- built a party that won Congress, only to see Obama cashier him and lose everything.)

  7. Obama picked Biden as VP as a peace offering to Hillary Clinton, who was thus assured that she could run for president after Obama, without having to fight off his VP. She got her clear lane, raised massive money, and still lost, to one of the worst Republicans imaginable. She barely survived Bernie Sanders' challenge in the primaries, mostly by slim margins in states with strong Democratic machines. In 2020, after Sanders won the first two primaries, with Bloomberg so panicked by a possible Sanders win that he spent nearly a billion dollars on his own hapless candidacy, the Party cadres rallied all of their support behind Biden, and eeked out a win, mostly through terror of a second Trump term.

  8. Biden hadn't come remotely close in his previous presidential campaigns, was already considered too old to run in 2016, and was neither inspiring nor graceful in 2020, but managed a loudly disputed win in 2020. He had no business running for a second term, but Trump was running, and the rematch appealed to him. Moreover, as an incumbent, his renomination would be a lock, it would keep his donors happy, and for Party cadres, it would preclude another challenge from the left -- one that risked reorienting the Party from its donors to the people. Besides, the left wasn't all that unhappy with Biden (although Gaza risked becoming a sore point), so as long as he seemed capable, pretty much everyone was willing to go along. But mostly it was cadre fear of open primaries that drove his candidacy. The Democratic Party pledged to save democracy in 2024, but dared not indulge in it.

  9. I don't know who insisted on the debate, but it offered a sanity check as to Biden's competency. Most likely his donors wanted to see him in action, to reassure themselves he could do the job. In any case, he failed abysmally. The good news is that he could still be replaced. The bad news is that he's left the Party in control of cadres committed to him, because they have no other option. Hence the current stall, denial, misdirection, and dissembling, which assumes Democrats are even more gullible than Republicans (a tall order, given that they're still backing Trump). The worse news is that many Democrats are so terrified they're willing to stick with a plan that has repeatedly failed rather than risk change.

I don't mind advising patience, but the notion that Biden will still be the nominee in September, much less in November, is too horrible to contemplate. The measuer of this is not whether you would still vote for Biden over Trump in November. Of course you would, as would anyone who recognizes Trump for even a fraction of what he is. The question is how do you want to beat Trump? You want to beat him not just on how bad he is, but on how much better you are.

You need a candidate who can stand up to him, who can argue back, who can hit him so hard and so fast that he's the one who looks like a doddering, senescent idiot. And, let's face it, that candidate isn't Joe Biden. If we could get a fair vote on it, I'm pretty sure most Democrats would agree, and come up with someone better. But thanks to Biden and the cadres, only they get to decide this year. If they get it wrong, they will lose all credibility, and we'll have to rebuild the Democratic Party from scratch, as a union of voters. Meanwhile, we'll suffer for their hubris. And next time, we'll understand much better what we're fighting for.


Changes I made to the file:

  • Tareq S Hajjaj: missing link.
  • Hoda Osman: botched link tag.
  • Moved Prem Thakker under Blaise Malley's "craziest 'pro-Israel' budget amendments."
  • Zack Beauchamp: bold-faced book authors.
  • Andrew Prokop: typo.

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Sunday, June 30, 2024


Speaking of Which

After missing last week, I knew I had a lot to catch up on here. I also got interrupted several times. It took longer than expected to wrap up my piece on bassist William Parker (see: Celebrating bassist William Parker's lifetime of achievement). I had two other internet projects that required significant amounts of attention (one was an update to Carola Dibbell's website, announcing a new printing of her novel, The Only Ones; the other was setting up a framework for a Jazz Critics Mid-Year Poll, which still needs more work). We also had trips to the ER and various doctors (including a veterinarian). So no chance of getting done on Sunday night. I'm not really done on Monday, either, but I'm dead tired and more than a little disgusted, so this will have to do for now.

That will, in turn, push Music Week back until Tuesday, which is just as well.


Before I really got started, the debate happened -- I couldn't be bothered to watch, my wife got disgusted and switched to a Steve Martin movie -- and I haven't (yet, as of noon 06-28) read any reviews, but I wanted to grab these tweets before they vanish:

Rick Perlstein: The main argument on the left was that he was a bad president. That was incorrect.

Tim Price: The left is going to be in big trouble for being right too early again.

Another scrap picked up on the fly from fleeting social media:

Greg Magarian: [06-27] Democratic Party establishment, relentlessly, for eight months: "You stupid kids need to stop criticizing Biden! If we get four more years of Trump, it's all your fault!"

Democratic Party establishment, tomorrow morning, set your clock by it: "You stupid kids need to fix this! If we get four more years of Trump, it's all your fault!"

Because of course it's never their fault.

In a comment, Magarian added:

I don't know the best process for replacing Biden. There's no playbook for this. The biggest question is whether the party should essentially try to crown Harris, either by having Biden resign the presidency or by having him stay and endorse her. But this is kind of the point of my post: the onus here shouldn't be on Biden's critics. The party is supposed to exist to win elections. They're royally screwing this one up. I want to know what they're going to do.


Initial count: 290 links, 11720 words. Updated count [07-03]: 320 links, 16021 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): on music, Christgau.


Top story threads:

Israel:

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

Israel vs. world opinion:

About last Thursday's debate:

When the Biden-Trump debates were announced, I jotted down the following:

Ed Kilgore: [05-24] Is Biden gambling everything on an early-debate bounce? My read is that the June debate is meant to show Democrats that he can still mount a credible campaign against Trump. If he can -- and a bounce would be nice but not necessary -- it will go a long way to quelling pressure to drop out and open the convention. If he can't, then sure, he'll have gambled and lost, and pressure will build. But at least it will give him a reference point that he has some actual control over -- unlike the polls, which still seem to have a lot of trouble taking him seriously.

I'm writing this before I go through the paces and collect whatever links I deem of interest, which will help me better understand the debate and its aftermath, but my first impression is that Biden failed to satisfy Democrats that he is really the candidate they need to fight off Trump in November. I'll also note that my expectation was to see a lot of confirmation bias in reactions. I'd expect people who dislike Biden and/or Trump, for any reason, to find faults that fortify their feelings, while people who are personally invested in their candidates will at least claim to be vindicated. Hence, the easy way to scan this section is to look for reactions that go against type.

Debate tweets:

  • Zachary D Carter: Donald Trump is delivering the second-worst presidential debate performance I've ever seen.

And more post-debate tweets:

  • Zachary D Carter: [06-30] If Biden refuses to step aside it will not be an act of high principal or strong character. He did not just have a bad night. He is not fit for the job and stayuing in the race would be the worst kind of vanity and betrayal.

  • Laura Tillem: [06-30] He did terrible in the debate because he gags when he has to pretend to support abortion rights or universal health care.

  • holly: [06-28] If you want to see Joe Biden in his prime, just go back and watch footage of him calling Anita Hill a liar and ensuring that we'd have to deal with Clarence Thomas forever.

  • Moshik Temkin: [06-28] Worth recalling that the only reason Biden is President now is because, after he finished 5th in NH Dem primary in 2020, Obama persuaded all the other candidates to drop out and endorse Biden in order to stop Bernie Sanders, who was in 1st place (and crushing Trump in the polls)

  • John Ganz: Dude they just gotta roll the dice with Harris.

Plus I scraped this from Facebook:

  • Allen Lowe [07-02]: Cold medicine my a##. On my worst day during chemo and radiation I made more sense than Biden did at that debate; coming out of the anaesthetic after a 12 hour surgery with half of my nose removed I could have debated Trump more coherently; after they pulled a tube out of of my arm at 4 in the morning after another (8 hour) surgery, causing me to scream in the worst pain of my life and curse like a sailor, I would have remembered more accurately what I last said and organized my thoughts more clearly. The night I was born and ripped from my mother's womb I was better prepared than Biden was (my first words were "Henry Wallace!").

    This guy must go. Go. Go.

    This whole thing has, honestly, made me lose all respect for Biden, as he continues to place his personal ego and "legacy" ahead of the country. As Carl Bernstein reports [on YouTube], aides have privately reported a Biden loss of coherence and noticeable cognitive slippage occurring "15 to 20 times" in the last year.

Election notes:

Trump:

And other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Jonathan Alter: [06-28] How the Democrats should replace Biden: This seems ok to me, aside from the snootiness of dismissing Sanders and Warren out of hand and seeking to ban "anyone from the Squad." That they've already limited the electorate to Biden's hand-picked supporters is rigged enough without having to rub it in.

  • Aaron Blake:

  • Abdallah Fayyad: [06-29] LBJ and Truman knew when to quit. Will Biden? "Some lessons from the two presidents who walked away."

  • Margaret Hartmann: [07-01] All the gossip on the Biden family's postdebate blame game.

  • David Klion: [06-19] The lifelong incoherence of Biden's Israel strategy: "The president's muddled policy course in the Middle East is angering voters across the political spectrum -- and it could usher Trump back into the White House."

  • Eric Levitz:

    • [06-19] Biden's ads haven't been working. Now, he's trying something new. Written before the debate: "President Joe Biden's odds of reelection may be worse than they look. And they don't look great."

    • [06-28] How Democrats got here: "Democrats really need to choose electable vice presidents." This might have gone deep into the sorry history of vice presidents and vice-presidential candidates, few of whom could be described as "electable" -- at least as Levitz defines it to exclude Biden and Harris, which is the point of his article.

      Unfortunately, the last two Democratic presidents did not prioritize political chops when selecting their veeps.

      Barack Obama didn't choose Joe Biden because he thought that the then-Delaware senator would make a great Democratic nominee in 2016. To the contrary, by most accounts, Obama thought that Biden would be a totally nonviable candidate by the time his own hypothetical presidency ended. And he reportedly selected Biden precisely for that reason. . . .

      Biden's choice of Kamala Harris in 2020 was even more misguided. When he made that choice in August 2020, there was little basis for believing that Harris was one of the most politically formidable Democrats in the country.

      There's a lot that could be said about this, most of which comes back to the poor conception of the office (both in the Constitution and when revised after the emergence of political parties led to the 1800 fiasco and the 12th Amendment). The VP has to do three things, which require three very different skill sets, especially since the presidency has grown into this ridiculous imperial perch: they have to add something to the campaign (e.g., "Tippecanoe and Tyler too"); once elected, they have to behave themselves innocuously, for which they are sometimes given busy work (LBJ's Space Race, Pence's Space Force, Gore's Reinventing Government) or sometimes just locked in a closet (remember John Nance Garner?); and if the president dies, they're thrust into a role they were rarely prepared for, with no real, personal political mandate (some, like Tyler and Andrew Johnson, were wretched; a few, like Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson, thrived; but most were just mediocre, including the two others who went on to win full terms: Calvin Coolidge and Harry Truman).

      I accept that Obama's pick of Biden was part of a deal to give the 2016 nomination to Hillary Clinton. The Clintons had turned the Democratic Party into a personality cult. Obama rode a popular backlash against that, but Obama was no revolutionary: he wanted to lead, but was willing to leave the Party to the Clintons. We now know that wasn't such a good idea, but after a very divisive primary, in the midst of economic and military disaster, it was at least understandable.

      The Harris nomination made at least as much sense in 2024. The "little basis" line is unfair and inaccurate. She won statewide elections in the most populous and most expensive state in the country. Her resume entering 2016 was similar to and every bit as strong as Obama's in 2008. She had enough financial backing to organize a top-tier presidential campaign. She floundered, because (unlike Obama) she was outflanked on the left (Sanders and Warren), while hemmed in on the right (Klobuchar, Buttigieg, Bloomberg, and Biden). But she wasn't incompetent (like Biden already was), and her position and standing made her the logical choice to unite the party. And sure, her affirmative action points may have helped a bit with the left -- at least she wasn't another Tim Kaine, or Al Gore -- without the tokenism raising any hackles with the donors.

      Sure, Harris polls poorly now, but that's largely because Biden never put her to good use: she could have taken a more prominent role in cajoling Congress, which would have given her opportunities to show her mettle fighting Republicans, and she could have spelled Biden on some of those high-profile foreign trips (especially confabs like G7 and NATO); instead, they stuck her with the tarbaby border issue. Having wasted those opportunities, I can see wanting to go with some other candidate, one with a bit more distance from Biden. But I'm not convinced that she would be a weak, let alone losing, candidate. And while I give her zero credit for those affirmative action tick boxes, I can't see holding them against her, either. And as for the people who would, well, they were going to vote for Trump anyway, so why appease them?

  • Nicole Narea:

  • Evan Osnos: [06-29] Biden gets up after his debate meltdown: Good. But are people talking about that, or the meltdown? Even if they could flip the message back to "Biden's really ok," that would still be a huge deficit. We need people talking about how awful Trump is. Even if you can't impress on many people how bad his policies are, he gives you lots of other things you can fixate on.

  • Christian Paz:

    • [06-26] We rewatched the 2020 Trump-Biden debates. There's so much we didn't see coming. "The five most telling moments and what they foreshadow ahead of this week's rematch."

      1. Trump calls the 2020 election rigged and doesn't commit to accepting the results
      2. Roe v. Wade is nearly forgotten
      3. Trump gets defensive on immigration
      4. No one is worried about inflation
      5. Everyone is worried about Russia, Ukraine, or China, but for the wrong reasons
    • [06-26] What about Kamala? "The vice president has taken on an expanded role in the last few months. Now Biden needs her more than ever."

  • Rick Perlstein: [07-03] Say it ain't so, Joe: "With democracy itself on the ballot, a statesman with charactger would know when to let go of power."

  • Andrew Prokop: [06-28] Will Biden be the nominee? 3 scenarios for what's next.

  • Bryan Walsh: [07-01] Democrats say Trump is an existential threat. They're not acting like it. "If the stakes of the 2024 election are as great as the party says, there's no excuse for inaction."

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

  • Dean Baker:

    • [06-17] We can't have a new paradigm as long as people think the old one was free-market fundamentalism. He's on solid ground pointing out that most profits in our current economy are effectively rigged by monopolies (either government-minted, like patents, facilitated through favors, or just tolerated with lax enforcement), it's less clear to me what this is about:

      • Farah Stockman: [06-17] The queen bee of Bidenomics: On Jennifer Harris. Back when Trump started flirting with tariffs, I tried to make the point that tariffs only make sense if they are exercised in concert with a coherent economic development plan. Biden has, somewhat fitfully, moved in that direction, so that, for instance, tariffs and content rules can be seen as nurturing domestic production of EVs, helping the US develop them into world-class exports, as opposed to simply providing shelter for high prices (which was the net effect of Trump's corrupt favoritism). Whether this amounts to a paradigm shift is arguable, as government sponsorship of private industry has always been part of the neoliberal position (most obviously in arms and oil).

    • [06-20] NAFTA: The great success story: Compares Mexican-to-American GDP figures since 1980, showing that the gap has increased since NAFTA, putting Mexicans even more behind. What would be helpful here is another chart showing income inequality in both countries. It has certainly increased in the US since NAFTA, and probably in Mexico as well.

  • Kevin T Dugan: [06-18] Nvidia is worth as much as all real estate in NYC -- and 9 other wild comparisons.

  • Corey Robin: [06-29] Hayek, the accidental Freudian: "The economist was fixated on subconscious knowledge and dreamlike enchantment -- even if he denied their part in this relationships."

Ukraine War and Russia:

America's empire and the world:


Other stories:

Noam Chomsky: Briefly in the news after false reports that he had died at 95 -- see Brett Wilkins: [06-18] Manufacturing Obituaries: Media falsely reports Noam Chomsky's death -- which led to a quick burst of posts, including a couple of his own, still vibrant and still relevant:

William Hartung: [06-25] An AI Hell on Earth? Silicon Valley and the rush toward automated warfare.

Sean Illing: [06-23] What nuclear annihilation could look like: "The survivors would envy the dead." Interview with Annie Jacobsen, author of Nuclear War: A Scenario.

Joshua Keating: [06-16] The world is running out of soldiers: Good. Soldiering is a losing proposition, no matter what side you think you are on. I'm not sure that Keating is right that "wars are getting more common and militaries are building up." I'll grant that war business is booming, and that the costs -- both to wage and to suffer war -- are way up, but aren't costs supposed to be self-limiting? One cost, which is finding people dumb and/or desperate enough to enlist, certainly is, and that's a good thing. Somehow some related pieces popped up:

  • Jack Hunter: [06-18] Congress moves to make Selective Service automatic: "Raising the specter of the draft, this NDAA amendment seems ill-timed." Actually, no one's advocating to bring back the draft. All the amendment does is simplifying the paperwork by leaving it to the government to sign people up, giving people one less awful thing to do. Simpler still would be to eliminate registration, and the whole useless bureaucracy behind it.

  • Edward Hasbrouck: [06-29] A war draft today can't work. Let us count the ways.

Jacob Kushner: [06-23] The best plan to help refugees might also be the simplest: "More refugees live in cities. Could cash help them rebuild their lives?"

Dave Lindorff: [06-28] Assange is finally free as America, Britain, Sweden and Australia are shamed.

Also, some writing on music:

Robert Christgau: [06-26] Xgau Sez: June, 2024: Several things of possible interest here, but I wanted to comment on this interchange:

[Q] On October 18, you tweeted a defense of Israel citing a well written piece which postulated that the hospital bombing committed one week after 10/7 was actually not committed by Israel. You stated that prior to this evidence, you were "profoundly disturbed" that such a thing could happen. So now here we are, over half a year later, after tens of thousands of deaths and countless hospital bombings which have all undeniably been committed by Israel--and you haven't said a single word? It's one thing for you to have stayed quiet on the issue completely, but you only speak up when Israel can be protected? Bob, what is wrong with you? How are you not profoundly disturbed as the death toll of innocent civilians reaches nearly 40,000 with no clear end in sight? The last thing I ever expected from my decades of following your works was for you to be so spineless. I refuse to believe you only actively stand for something when the narrative suits your desires. -- Brandon Sparks, America

[A] Anyone but a genuine expert who writes about the appalling Gaza war risks being incomplete and probably wrong. I cited that hospital bombing story because that early there seemed some reason for hope that the war would resolve itself with a modicum of sanity. It wasn't yet clear just how appalling Netanyahu would prove to be--or, I will add with my hands shaking, Hamas either. The "lots" I know is too little and in public at least I intend to say as little as possible. I've long believed in a two-state solution and this war is easily the cruelest and most gruesome international conflict of my adulthood. But it hasn't yet turned me into a full-bore anti-Zionist, because as an American of German extraction with many dozens of Jewish friends, I've spent too much of my life taking anti-Semitism seriously to put it on any sort of back burner now.

Christgau has been a good friend for close to fifty years, and a friend of my wife's even longer (he introduced us), and we're generally pretty simpatico politically, drawing on similar class and cultural backgrounds and experiences -- although he's eight years older than I am, which is enough for him to look up to other people as mentors (especially Greil Marcus, whose view of Israel and Gaza I wrote about here, and probably the late Ellen Willis, who was left of Marcus but still a devoted Zionist) and to look down on me as a protégé (not that he doesn't respect what I have to say; he's often a very astute reader, but still doggedly fixed in his beliefs).

After what Marcus wrote, we gave him credit for publishing this letter, and not for simply shirking it off. But while his cautious and self-effacing tone evaded our worst expectations, nearly every line in his answer is wrong in some fundamental sense, just not in the manner of Marcus (ridiculous, hypocritical accusations cloaked in a storm of overwrought emotion and self-pity), but mostly by pleading ignorance and accepting it as bliss. To wit:

  1. "Anyone but a genuine expert . . . risks being incomplete and probably wrong." If you know any history at all, you must know that in 1948 Israel expelled 700,000 Palestinians, driving many of them into Gaza (more than the previous population of Gaza), leaving them under Egyptian rule until Israel invaded and occupied Gaza in and ever since 1967, and that under Israeli rule, they were denied human rights and subject to multiple waves of violent repression, a dire situation that only got worse when Israel left Gaza to the circumscribed gang rule of Hamas. Under such circumstances, and having repeatedly failed to appeal to Israel's and the world's sense of justice, it was only a matter of time before Hamas resorted to its own violence, since nothing less could move Israel.

    If you don't know the history, you might not have understood the Hamas revolt on Oct. 7, but you would have observed that the revolt was limited and unsustainable, because Hamas had nothing resembling a real army, few modern arms, no arms industry, no safe haven, no allies. It may have come as a shock, but it was no threat. Israel killed or repelled the attackers within a couple days. After that, virtually all of the violence was committed by Israel, not just against people who had desperately fought back but against everyone in Gaza, against their homes, their farms, their utilities, their hospitals. Since Hamas was powerless to stop Israel, even to make Israel pay a further price for their war, the only decent choice Americans had was to inhibit Israel, to back them down from the genocide their leaders openly avowed. There was nothing subtle or complex about this.

  2. "There seemed some reason for hope that the war would resolve itself with a modicum of sanity": Really? Israel, following the example of the British before them, has always punished Palestinian violence with disproportionate collective punishment. The Zionist leadership embraced what is now commonly called "ethnic cleansing" in 1937, as they embraced the Peel Commission plan to forcibly "transfer" Palestinians from lands that Britain would offer for Israel. From that point on, genocide was woven into the DNA of Zionism. The only question was whether they could afford to discredit themselves to the world (which, by 2023, really just meant the US). When Biden vowed unlimited, uncritical support, Israel was free to do whatever they wanted, sane or not, with no fear of reprisal, isolation, and sanctions.

  3. "It wasn't yet clear just how appalling Netanyahu would prove to be": Granted, few Americans have any real appreciation for Israeli politics, especially given the extent to which most Israeli politicians misrepresent themselves to Americans. Still, you have to be awful naïve not to understand where Netanyahu came from (he was born royalty on the fascist right: his father was Jabotinsky's secretary) and where he would go any time he got the chance (ever farther to the right). Sure, he was more circumspect than his partners Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, who were free to say what he actually wanted to do. Even before the Oct. 7 revolt, their coalition was curtailing Palestinian rights within Israel, and was encouraging and excusing a campaign of terror against Palestinians in the West Bank, while Gaza was being strangled, and the only relatively liberal courts were being neutered. Outrage over Oct. 7 was immediately turned into license to intensify operations that were already ongoing.

  4. "I've long believed in a two-state solution": "Two states" isn't a belief. It's just something people talk about to keep people separated into rival, hostile blocs. Give them equal power and they would be at each other's throats, but with unequal power you have one standing on the other's neck. "Two states" started out as a British idea, tried disastrously first in Ireland then in India. Israelis endorsed the idea in 1937 (Peel Commission) and in 1947 (UN Partition Plan), but when they had the chance to actually build a state, they went with one powerful state of their own, and prevented even a weak Palestinian state from emerging: Jordan and Egypt were given temporary control of chunks of Palestine, their population swelled with refugees from ethnic cleansing in Israel's captured territories, then even those chunks were regained in 1967, when Israel was finally strong enough to keep their people confined to impoverished stans.

    True, the "two state" idea recovered a bit in the 1990s, as bait to lure corrupt "nationalists" into policing their own people, but few Israelis took the idea seriously, and after Sharon in 2000, most stopped pretending -- only the Americans were gullible enough to keep up the charade. You can dice up territories arbitrary to provide multiple states with different ethnic mixes allowing multiple tyrannies, but that kind of injustice only leads to more conflict. The only decent solution is, as always, equal rights for everyone, however space is allocated. Imagining othewise only shows how little you know about human nature.

  5. "Easily the cruelest and most gruesome international conflict of my adulthood": The American wars in Indochina and Korea were worse by almost any metric. The oft-genocidal wars in and around India and the eastern Congo certainly killed more people. Even the CIA-backed "white terror" in Indonesia killed more people. Israel's wars are more protracted, because they feed into a self-perpetuating culture of militarism, but while the latest episode in Gaza is off the charts compared to any of these catastrophes, but averaged out over the century since British imperialism gave force to the Balfour Declaration, Israel's forever war has been fairly well regulated to minimize its inconvenience for Israelis. It persists only because Israelis like it that way, and could be ended easily if they had any desire to do so.

  6. "But it hasn't yet turned me into a full-bore anti-Zionist": You don't have to be an anti-Zionist to oppose genocide, or to oppose a caste system where given or denied rights because of their birth and parents. Admittedly, those behaviors are deeply embedded in the fabric of actually-existing Zionism, but there have been alternative concepts of Zionism that do not encourage them, and even actual Zionists have resisted the temptation to such barbarism more often than not. You can be Israeli, or you can love Israel and Israelis and wish nothing more than to keep them safe and respected and still oppose the racist and genocidal policies of the current regime. Indeed, if you are, you really must oppose those policies, because they do nothing but bring shame on the people you profess to love and cherish. And you can do this without ever describing yourself as pro-Palestinian, or in any way associating yourself with Palestinian nationalists -- who, quite frankly, have made a lot of missteps over the years, in the worst cases acting exactly like the Israelis they claim to oppose.

  7. "Because as an American of German extraction with many dozens of Jewish friends, I've spent too much of my life taking anti-Semitism seriously to put it on any sort of back burner now." Again, you can be Jewish, or you can love and respect Jews, and still oppose Israel's policies of racism and genocide. You can find ample reason within Judaism, or Christianity, or any other religion, or secular humanism, socialist solidarity, or simple human decency, to do so. And you can and should be clear that if the roles were reversed you would still oppose racism and genocide, and seek to protect and sustain victims of those policies.

    This is actually quite easy for people of the left to do, because the definition that identifies us on the left is that we believe that all people deserve equal political, economic, and human rights. It is harder for people on the right, who again by definition believe that some people are chosen to rule and that others are commanded to serve, or at least not annoy or inconvenience their betters by their presence. They are likely to be divided, depending on whether they identify with the people on top or on the bottom, and they are likely to be the worst offenders, because they also believe that the use of force is legitimate to promote their caste and to subdue all others.

    There is a form of gravity involved in this: if you're under or excluded from the dominant hierarchy, you tend to move left, because your self-interest is better served by universal rights and tolerance than by the slim odds that you can revolt and seize power. This is why almost all Jews in America lean left -- as do most members of most excluded and/or disparaged minorities, pretty much everywhere. Israel is different, because right-wing Jews did manage to seize power there, and as such have become a glaring example of why the right is wrong.

    Zionists have worked very hard to obscure the inevitable divide between rightist power in Israel and left leanings in the diaspora, and for a long time, especially in America, they've been remarkably successful. I'm not going to try to explain how and why, as the key point right now is that it's breaking down, as it is becoming obvious that Israel acts are contrary to the political and moral beliefs of most Jews in America -- that there is any significant support for Israel at all can only be attributed to denial, lies, and the rote repetition of carefully crafted talking points.

    One of those talking points is that opposition to Israel's wars and racism reflects and encourages anti-semitism, thus triggering deep-seated fears tied back to the very real history of racism and genocide targeting Jews -- fears that, while hard to totally dismiss, have been systematically cultivated to Israel's advantage by what Norman Finkelstein calls "the holocaust industry." Some people (and Marcus presents as an example) grew up so traumatized that they are completely unreachable (which is to say, disconnected from reality) on Israel. Others, like Christgau, are just enmeshed in sympathy and guilt -- although in his case, I don't see what other than his name binds him to German, much less Nazi, history and culture (for instance, the Christian church he often refers to was Presbyterian, not Lutheran, not that Lutheranism is all that Teutonic either; in music about all I can think of is that he likes Kraftwerk and Kurt Weill, but who among us doesn't?).

    That Zionists should be accusing leftists, including many Jews, of being anti-semitic is pretty ripe. Zionism was a minority response to the rising tide of anti-semitism in 19th century Europe, which insisted that anti-semitism was endemic and permanent -- something so ingrained in Euopean culture that could never be reformed by socialist political movements or tolerated by liberalism, a curse that could only be escaped from, by retreating to and fortifying an exclusively Jewish nation-state, isolated by an Iron Wall.

    But along the way, Zionists learned to play anti-semitism to their advantage. They pleaded with imperialists to give them land and to expel their unwanted Jews. They pointed Christians to the prophecy in Revelations that sees the return of Jews to the Holy Land as a prerequisite for the Second Coming. (David Lloyd George was one who bought that line. In America today, Postmillennial Dispensationalists are the staunchest supporters of Zionism, and every last one of them relishes the Final Solution that eluded Hitler.) They negotiated with Nazis. They lobbied to keep Jews from emigrating to America. They organized pogroms to stampede Arabic Jews to ascend to Israel. They stole the shameful legacy of the Holocaust and turned it into a propaganda industry, which plies guilt to obtain deferrence and support, even as Israel does unto others the same horrors that others had done to Jews.

    Opposition to anti-semitism is a core belief of liberals and the left in America. This is because such forms of prejudice and discrimination are inimical to our principles, but it's gained extra resonance because Jews tend to be active in liberal/left circles, so non-Jews (like Christgau and myself) know and treasure many of them. Nearly all of us are careful, sometimes to the point of tedium, to make clear that our criticisms of Israel are not to be generalized against Jews. In this, we are helped by the many Jews who share our criticisms, and often, like the group Jewish Voice for Peace, lead the way. But not everyone who criticizes Israel exercises such care, and not everyone does so from left principles, and those are the ones who are most likely to fall back on anti-semitic tropes and popularize them, increasing the chances of an anti-semitic resurgence. That would be bad, both politically and morally, but no form of opposition to tyranny justifies the tyranny. We need to understand that the offense is responsible for its opposition, and to seek its solution at the source: Israel's racist and genocidal behavior.

    So if you're really concerned that this war may make anti-semitism more common, the only solution is to stop the war: in practical terms, to demand a ceasefire, to halt arms deliveries to Israel, to insist that Israel give up its claims to Gaza (if anything is clear by now, it's that Israel is not competent to administer Gaza), to organize aid and relief, and to open a dialogue with Israel to come to some sort of agreeable solution where everyone can live in peace, security, and hopefully prosperity with full and equal rights. The main reason for doing this is that it's the right thing to do, for pretty much everyone, but if you're primarily concerned about anti-semitism, that is one more reason to sue for peace.

    In this age where kill ratios exceed 100-to-1, and the starvation ratio is infinite, I'm not going to pretend that the psychic trauma the war is causing for Israelis, for Jews, and for philo-semitic Americans somehow balances off against the pain and suffering that is being inflicted on Palestinians, but that traums is real, and needs to be addressed and relieved, and only peace can do that. And in this particular conflict, only Israel can grant peace. Until they choose to do so, all focus should be directed on those who are responsible for this war: for fighting it, for supporting it, for excusing it, and for letting them get away with it.

I guess that last point ran away from me a bit, while still leaving much more to be said. More succinctly: to whatever extent Israel is able to identify its war with Jews in general, and to equate opposition to its war with anti-semitism, the prevalence and threat of anti-semitism will grow. To stop this, stop the war. If anti-semitism is the issue you really care about, stopping the war is the only thing that will help you.

People on the left, by definition, are opposed to the war, and are opposed to anti-semitism, and see their opposition to both as part of the same fight. People on the right are often confused, crazy, and/or sick. You may or may not be able to help them, but know that they are much less dangerous in times of peace and good will than in times of war and turmoil, so again the imperative is to stop the war. And if you, like Christgau (and even Marcus) hate and fear Donald Trump (who's firmly on the right for all three reasons), same prescription: stop the war.

One last point: you don't have to specifically care about Jews on this matter. I'm addressing these points to people who do. While I think it would be more helpful to protest in ways that help gain support from people who are initially sympathetic to Israelis -- e.g., I think a lot of Palestinian flag waving isn't very helpful -- I understand that people can come to the right conclusion from all sorts of reasoning. What matters most is that we all demand a ceasefire, and an end to Israel's mistreatment of Palestinians.

David A Graham: Doug Emhoff, first jazz fan: "The second gentleman gets the beauty and meaning of the genre."

Chris Monsen:

  • [06-19] Midweek pick, June 19th, 2024: Okka Disk: A reminder of Bruno Johnson's Milwaukee-based avant-jazz label, noting that "perhaps a deep dive into their output would be in order at a later date." For what little it's worth, I started working on Ken Vandermark & Friends: A Consumer Guide back around 2004, as it seemed like a good follow up to my A Consumer Guide to William Parker, Matthew Shipp, et al., but I didn't get very far. My database does contain 66 albums released by Okka Disk, 55 with grades, of which the following rated A- or higher:

    • Jim Baker/Steve Hunt/Brian Sandstrom/Mars Williams: Extraordinary Popular Delusions (2005 [2007])
    • Peter Brötzmann/Toshinori Kondo/Massimo Pupillo/Paal Nilssen-Love: Hairy Bones (2008 [2009])
    • Caffeine [Ken Vandermark]: Caffeine (1993 [1994])
    • FME [Vandermark]: Underground (2004)
    • FME: Cuts (2004 [2005])
    • Triage [Dave Rempis]: Twenty Minute Cliff (2003)
    • Triage: American Mythology (2004) [A]
    • School Days [Vandermark]: Crossing Division (2000)
    • School Days: In Our Times (2001 [2002])
    • Steelwool Trio [Vandermark]: International Front (1994 [1998])
    • Ken Vandermark/Kent Kessler/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Nate McBride/Wilbert De Joode: Collected Fiction (2008 [2009])
  • [06-26] Midweek pick, June 26th, 2024: Gayle, Graves and Parker's WEBO: What I'm listening to to calm my nerves while writing about Gaza and Biden.

Phil Overeem: June 2024: Halfway there + "old reggae albums I'd never heard before were my June salvation."

Robert Sullivan: [06-24] The Sun Ra Arkestra's maestro hits one hundred: "Marshall Allen, the musical collective's sax-playing leader, is celebrating with a deep-spacey video installation during the Venice Biennale."

Werner Trieschmann: [06-20] Fox Green score hat trick with excellent third album, Light Over Darkness.

Midyear Lists:

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Saturday, June 22, 2024


Speaking of Which

I woke up Thursday morning with my usual swirl of thoughts, but the one I most felt like jotting down is that I prefer to take an optimistic view of the 2024 elections, contrary to the prospect of doom and gloom many rational people fear. I find it impossible to believe that most Americans, when they are finally faced with the cold moment of decision, will endorse the increasingly transparent psychopathology of Donald Trump. Sure, the American people have been seduced by right-wing fantasy before, but Reagan and the Bushes tried to disguise their aims by spinning sunny yarns of a kinder, gentler conservatism.

Even Nixon, who still outranks Trump as a vindictive, cynical bastard, claimed to be preserving some plausible, old-fashioned normality. All Trump promises is "taking back" the nation and "making America great again": empty rhetoric lent gravity (if not plausability) by his unbridled malice toward most Americans. Sure, he got away with it in 2016, partly because many people gave him the benefit of doubt but also because the Clinton spell wore off, leaving "crooked Hillary" exposed as a shill for the money-grubbing metro elites. But given Trump's media exposure, both as president and after, the 2024 election should mostly be a referendum on Trump. I still can't see most Americans voting for him.

That doesn't mean Trump cannot win, but in order to do so, two things have to happen: he has to make the election be all about Biden, and Biden has to come up seriously short. One can ponder a lot of possible issues that Biden might be faulted for, and come up with lots of reasons why they might but probably won't matter. (For example, the US may experience a record bad hurricane season, but will voters blame Biden for that and see Trump as better?) But we needn't speculate, because Biden already has his albatross issue: genocide in Gaza. I'm not going to relitigate his failures here, but in terms of my "optimistic view," I will simply state that if Biden loses -- and such an outcome should be viewed not as a Trump win but as a Biden loss -- it will be well deserved, as no president so involved in senseless war, let alone genocide, deserves another term.

So it looks like the net effect of my optimism is to turn what may look like a lose-lose presidential proposition into a win-win. We are currently faced with two perilous prospects: on the one hand, Biden's penchant for sinking into foreign wars, which he tries to compensate for by being occasionally helpful or often just less miserable on various domestic policies; on the other, Republicans so universally horrible we scarcely need to list out the comparisons. Given that choice, one might fervently hope for Biden to win, not because we owe him any blanket support, but because post-election opposition to Biden can be more focused on a few key issues, whereas with Trump we're back to square one on almost everything.

But if Biden loses, his loss will further discredit the centrist style that has dominated the Democratic Party at least since Carter. There are many problems with that style, most deriving from the need to serve donors in order to attract them, which lends them an air of corruption, destroying their credibility. Sure, Republicans are corrupt too, even more so, but their corruption is consistent with their values -- dog-eat-dog individualism, accepting gross inequality, using government to discipline rather than ameliorate the losers -- so it comes off as honest, maybe even courageous. But Democrats are supposed to believe in public service, government for the people, and that's hard to square with their individual pursuit of power in the service of wealth.

So, sure, a Trump win would be a disaster, but it would free the Democrats from having to defend their compromised, half-assed status quo, and it would give them a chance to pose a genuine alternative, and a really credible one at that. I'd like to think that Democrats could get their act together, and build that credible alternative on top of Biden's half-hearted accomplishments. It would be nice to not have to start with the sort of wreckage Trump left in 2021, or Bush left in 2009, or that other Bush left in 1993 (and one can only shudder at the thought of what Trump might leave us in 2029). But people rarely make major changes based on reasoned analysis. It usually takes a great shock to force that kind of change -- like what the Great Depression did to a nation previously in love with Herbert Hoover, or like utter defeat did to Germany and Japan in WWII.

If there was any chance that a Trump win in 2024 would result in a stable and prosperous America, even if only for the 51% or so it would take for Republicans to continue winning elections, we might have something to be truly fearful of. But nothing they want to do works. The only thing they know how to do is to worsen problems, which are largely driven by forces beyond their control -- business, culture, climate, war, migration -- and all their lying, cheating, and outright repression only rub salt into the wounds. When people see how bad Republican rule really is, their support will wither rapidly.

The question is what Democrats have to do to pick up the support of disaffected Trumpers. One theory is to embrace the bigotry they showed in embracing Trump. A better one would be promise the grit, integrity, independence, and vision that Trump promised by couldn't deliver on, partly because he's a crook and con man who never cared, but largely because he surrounded himself by Republicans who had their own corrupt and/or deranged agendas.


I had more thoughts I wanted to write up, mostly involving what I like to think of as dialectics, but which can be defined as how seemingly stable states can suddenly be transformed into quite different states. One example was how Germans went from being Nazis to fawning Israelphiles, while Israelis became the new Nazis. Alas, no time for that here, but the theme is bound to recur.


I didn't get around to gathering the usual links and adding my various comments this week. Better luck next time.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, June 16, 2024


Speaking of Which

I picked up a couple new projects this week, which has put me in a dither, but I got up Sunday morning and stuck with this, making my usual rounds (though not much time on X), and figure I've collected and written enough. (Would be nice to add some more music mid-year lists, but I may add them in a Monday update.)

I'm reading Steve Hahn's Illiberal America: A History, well into the chapter on neoliberals who proved their "neo" by going "il" -- quite a bit of Bill Clinton there, but not so much Buchanan/Perot, who pop up in a book review toward the end here. No doubt there's still a lot of Trump to come.

PS: Laura Tillem reposted a poem she wrote for "a poetry slam, for international day of peace celebration in Wichita."


Initial count: 202 links, 9,929 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): on music.


Top story threads:

Israel: This remains, as it has since the Hamas revolt on Oct. 7, 2023, our top story, both in terms of its overall impact and the extent and volatility of news coverage. After going through several permutations, I've found it useful to break the stories up into three groups. This one covers the political concerns and the conflicts within Israel (including Gaza, and neighboring areas like Lebanon that Israel is in direct conflict with). We should be clear that what the IDF is doing in Gaza is genocide, and is intended as such. We should also be clear that Israel practices systematic discrimination and sporadic terror against Palestinians outside of Gaza which, while not rising to the intensity of genocide, should be universally condemned.

The most common word for these policies and practices is "apartheid" -- a word used by South Africa to describe their peculiar implementation of racist segregation, drawn largely on the American example. While there are subtle differences in Israel's implementation, the word is good enough for practical use. One major problem with genocide in Gaza is that it provides cover for increasing violence in the broader practice of apartheid.

The second section concerns diplomatic relations between Israel and the US, and political directives regarding Israel within the US. Israel's ability to carry out genocide in Gaza is directly related to US military, political, and diplomatic support, and this extends to efforts to suppress free speech and to influence elections within the US. (It is, for instance, impossible to see AIPAC as an American interest group given that it operates in lockstep with Israeli foreign policy.)

Student demonstrations, on the other hand, fall into a third subject grouping, "Israel vs. world opinion." This also includes the ICC/ICJ genocide cases, world diplomatic activity aside from that by Israel and the US, and more general discussions of what charges of genocide and antisemitism mean.

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

  • As'ad AbuKhalil: [06-11] Biden's Saudi deal.

  • Michael Arria:

  • Ramzy Baroud: [06-15] America crawls further into global isolation by backing Gaza genocide.

  • Jonathan Chait: [06-08] Why on Earth is Chuck Schumer inviting Netanyahu to address Congress? "It's hard for me to think of an explanation for Schumer's action other than sheer spinelessness."

  • Isaac Chotiner: [06-11] Is Biden's Israel policy cynical or naïve? "Evaluating eight months of the President's attempt to moderate Netanyahu's bombing campaign in Gaza." Interview with Matt Duss, of the Center for International Policy, former chief foreign-policy adviser to Bernie Sanders. Worth quoting at length when asked "what can you imagine a different Democratic Administration doing?":

    Well, I think a different Democratic Administration could have taken this issue more seriously before October 7th. That's not to say we needed another round of the usual peace process. But there have been alarms sounded about Gaza for many, many years by international N.G.O.s; certainly by Palestinians, constantly; by Israeli security officials; by members of Congress, including my former boss. The idea that we could just kind of kick the Palestinians into the corner and manage the problem without any real consequences -- that was revealed as a fantasy on October 7th.

    After October 7th, I hope and think any Democratic Administration would've done immediately what President Biden did: show full support, full solidarity, and really spend time with what occurred on October 7th in all its horror, and stand by Israel as it defended its people.

    At some point though, and fairly quickly, it became clear that what was going to be carried out in Gaza was not just self-defense. It became clear very quickly that this was a war of revenge. We have countless statements from Israeli government officials, many of which have been collected in South Africa's case in the International Court of Justice, which includes accusations of genocide. And we can see with our own eyes the kind of tactics that are being used on densely populated civilian areas in Gaza. A different Democratic Administration might've taken that much more seriously and acted with much more urgency much sooner.

    It's hard to imagine what a different Democrat could have done pre-October 7th. Obama, who almost certainly knew better, managed next to nothing helpful in eight years. There have been ways for an American president to impress upon Israel the need to take some constructive steps, but there has been little political urgency to do so, especially given the influence of pro-Israel donors in our oligarchic political system. While Sanders certainly knows better, I doubt he would have risked whatever political capital he had to bang his head against against a very recalcitrant Netanyahu.

    The next two paragraphs fairly describe what Sanders did, but ineffectively without the portfolio of the presidency. The rush to rally to Israel's defense was nearly universal in Washington, although what was really needed was to lean hard -- starting in private -- against Israel's armed response, as it was instantly clear that the intent would be genocidal, and that would lock Israel into a disastrous public relations spiral while doing virtually nothing for Israel's long-term security.

    One more point to stress here: Biden's failure to anticipate and correct for Israel's horrific response -- indeed, his failure to comprehend the problem despite following Israel closely for over fifty years -- is not simply attributable to the corrupt influence of the Israel lobby. It is deeply ingrained in America's own habitual response to security issues, which especially with the neocons under Clinton and Bush took Israel as the model for managing the threat of terrorism.

  • Zachary Cohen/Katrie Bo Lillis: [06-07] CIA assessment concludes Netanyahu is likely to defy US pressure to set a post-war plan for Gaza.

  • Juan Cole: [06-15] How Netanyahu and fascists in his coalition shot down the Biden peace plan.

  • Joshua Keating: [06-12] The perplexing state of Gaza ceasefire negotiations, explained: "The problem is that it's not clear either side wants a ceasefire." Beware of explanations that start off with a patently false subhed. Literally every single Palestinian, even ones claiming to represent whatever's left of Hamas, want a ceasefire, and have been pleading for one ever since the rupture on Oct. 7 was closed. It's Israel that doesn't want a ceasefire, which is due to three factors: the first is that they're doing well over 99% of the firing, and they like those odds; they also think that the more Palestinians they kill, and the more of Gaza they destroy and render uninhabitable, the closer they'll be to their goal, which is the complete the removal of Palestinians from Eretz Israel; and as long as the US is willing to provide ammo and run diplomatic cover, they see no need for restraint, let alone for disengagement. Much of Netanyahu's power in Israel is tied to the reputation he's built as someone who can cower American presidents, and in that regard, Biden has been a very dependable ally.

    The "negotiations" also involve hostages, but this, too, is very asymmetrical. Hamas took 250 during the Oct. 7 attacks, not so much to exchange them for Palestinians imprisoned by Israel (thousands of them, a number which has increased rapidly since Oct. 7) as to inhibit Israel's attacks. In short, their value was to press for a truce (Hamas likes the term "hudna"), but trades for temporary ceasefires and prisoners offer little respite and diminished protection. And now, after eight months, with half of the hostages exchanged, and many more killed by Israeli fire, the remaining hostages are down to about 80. And at this point, Netanyahu is unwilling to give up his war just to get hostages back. If anything, the hostages do Netanyahu more good if "Hamas" keeps them, as they give him an excuse to keep attacking. At this point, Palestinians would be better off just freeing the hostages, in the probably vain hope that doing so might generate some good will. But that's hard for "Hamas" to do, because without the hostages, do they even exist any more?

    More on Biden's proposal and the "negotiations":

    • Dave DeCamp:

    • Adam Hanieh: [06-14] Why the fight for Palestine is the fight against US imperialism in the region: There is a lot of useful history in this piece, but I don't particularly subscribe to its thesis and drift. US imperialism was real enough but has become increasingly incoherent, especially once it lost its Cold War compass in the 1990s, so that these days it's mostly a sleazy game of graft, with a hugely expensive logistics network but no coherent vision, at least beyond nursing a few old grudges (like Iran and North Korea). British colonialism is even more of a ghost. That you can find echoes and innuendos in Israel is no surprise, but these days it's the Israelis who are pulling American and British strings, for their own purposes, with hardly any regard for whatever the West may want. The article claims that Israel and the Gulf monarchies are "two pillars [that] remain the crux of American power in the region today." But they're really just playing their own games, as likely to trip the US up as to help it.

    • David Hearst: [06-14] Blinken is dragging the US ever deeper into Israel's quagmire.

    • Adam Johnson: [06-11] Media keeps playing along with fiction there is an "Israel ceasefire deal" "Don't squint too hard, one may notice Israel is clear they have no intention to 'end the war.'" By the way, Johnson also published an interesting piece by "a Palestinian-American quantitative researcher focusing on disinformation and censorship in mass media," under the pseudonym "Otto": [2023-11-15] "Massacred" vs "Left to Die": Documenting media bias against Palestinians Oct 7-Nov 7: "A quantitative analysis of the first month of conflict, reveals how dehumanization is baked into the ideoogical cake of cable news."

    • Fred Kaplan:

      • [06-12] Why there's so much confusion about the Israeli peace plan: Uh, because as articulated it's not actually an Israeli plan. Because there is no Israeli plan -- not for peace, anyway. And since permanent conflict with periodic acts of war doesn't much need forethought, there's no plan for that either.

      • [06-13] Hamas's counteroffer is neither realistic nor serious. But only if you start from the assumption that Israel's demands -- which, though never clearly articulated, are roughly: Hamas frees all the hostages, gives up its struggle for Palestinian rights, and surrenders its leader for summary execution -- are the very definition of serious and realistic. In any normal world, the argument that Israel should withdraw its military from Gaza and refrain from further attacks would be completely reasonable.

    • MEE Staff: [06-13] Hamas demands Israel end Gaza blockade as part of ceasefire deal.

    • Mitchell Plitnick: [06-15] Blinken's lies about Hamas rejecting a ceasefire reveal the Biden administration's true intentions: "The Biden administration is playing a shell game with the Gaza ceasefire that aims to trick the Democratic base into thinking meaningful action is taking place to end fighting while still allowing Israel to continue its genocidal campaign."

    • Ishaan Tharoor: [06-12] Israel shrugs at Palestinian civilian casualties. So does Hamas. "In new report, Hamas's leader in Gaza is said to describe Palestinian civilian deaths as 'necessary sacrifices.'" I'm inclined to dismiss anything attributed to Hamas, as I regard them as a spent force, one at present only being propped up by Israel in their need to identify an enemy not quite as inclusive as every Palestinian. But the idea that martyrdom is preferable to subjection and slavery runs deep in the human psyche, so we shouldn't be surprised to find it articulated by Hamas speakers (especially ones removed from the fray). We should reject such sentiments, of course, but also be clear that the blame for them, and for the sacrifices they demand, belongs squarely on those whose power has made only those choices seem possible.

    • Spencer Ackerman: [06-03] 'Phase 2': The shape of Israeli rejectionism to come: "Biden has declared that Israel's reasonable war aims have been achieved. Netanyahu is in no position to agree."

  • Jim Lobe: [06-12] That stinks: Global opinion of US goes down the toilet.

  • Blaise Malley: [06-14] GOP trying to drive wedge between Dems with Israel votes.

  • Stephen Semler: [06-12] Washington is not telling truth about the Gaza pier: "They say food is 'flowing' to the people, but data shows the opposite."

    • Tareq S Hajjaj: [06-14] The story of the US 'floating dock' built from the rubble of Gaza's homes: "The U.S. said it was constructing a floating pier off Gaza's coast to deliver humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza. However, the real reason it exists is to protect American interests in the region."

    • Ahmed Omar: [06-11] Gaza resistance sources say fear is rising US pier will be used for forced displacement of Palestinians: "Critics warn the U.S.-constructed pier off Gaza's coast is being used for military purposes. Now a source in the Gaza resistance says there are indications it will be used to facilitate the forced displacement of Palestinians." They have good reason to be fearful. Most of the Palestinian refugees in Beirut were stampeded onto British ships in Jaffa, as they fled the indiscriminate shelling by the Irgun in 1948, the Israelis having their preference for killing all Palestinians at Deir Yassin. With Egypt resisting their efforts to drive Gazans out through the Sinai, the pier and the ever-obliging Americans will increasingly look like some kind of final solution.

  • Emily Tamkin:

  • Prem Thakker: House votes to block US funding to rebuild Gaza.

Israel vs. world opinion:

Election notes:

Trump:

And other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Yasmeen Abutaleb: [06-16] Biden, Obama warn of Trump dangers in star-studded L.A. fundraiser.

  • David Atkins: [06-07] Democrats should run against the Supreme Court: "And they should take on more than the overturning of Roe v. Wade. They ought to campaign against the whole Trump-enabled, rights-stealing, gift-taking conservative supermajority." Of course they should, and to some extent they clearly are, although their message hasn't been fully articulated yet. But it shouldn't be: if we win, we're going to pack the Court. It should be to win big in Congress and the Presidency, then pass popular laws, daring the Court to strike them down. Either the Court will back down, or discredit itself. Either way, win more elections, and appoint better judges. Eventually, like FDR, you will win.

  • Zachary D Carter: [06-10] Inflation is not destroying Joe Biden.

  • David Dayen:

  • Chauncey DeVega:

  • Pramila Jayapal: [06-03] The Congressional Progressive Caucus agenda for 2025.

  • Eric Levitz: [06-13] Biden is on track to beat inflation and lose the presidency: "The data on prices is getting better, but the public's disapproval of the president remains unchanged."

  • David Masciotra: [06-14] Hillary Clinton, truth teller: "Republicans, the media, and plenty of Democrats were shocked -- shocked! -- to hear her say anti-Israel protestors don't know Middle Eastern history and to suggest prejudice might animate a large swatch of Trump voters." As soon as I saw this title, my mind offered a quick edit to the title: "truth teller for sale." Of course, that's not totally accurate: she is so attuned to the whims and wishes of her donors that she doesn't have to wait for the checks to clear. But is what she says about those who protest against Israeli policies true? I don't doubt that she's a very smart person who has been thoroughly schooled in the fine arts of hasbara, but I'm pretty sure I know a lot more Middle Eastern history than she does, and for good measure I'd drop American history into the mix. (Actually, her quote seems to be "that most 'young people' don't know the history of 'many area of the world, including our own country.'")

    Or at least, I understand what I know a lot better than she does. Not for a minute did I ever think invading Iraq would be a good idea. As for other protestors, some may be less knowledgeable, but some know even more than I do: for instance, the author picks on Juan Cole ("an academic popular with the hard left who consistently defends the brutality of Iran and flirts with antisemitism" -- link on Iran, which actually goes to a 2006 article by neocon-convert Christopher Hitchens, but not on antisemitism), who has written many useful books on the region and who runs a website that has consistently earned its "Informed Comment" moniker for more than 20 years.

    While understanding history can help you sort out arguments, which side you take depends more on how you respond to one very simple question: does the sympathy/respect you feel for Jews in Israel allow for or deny sympathy/respect for Palestinians? Or you can reverse the question either way (swap the people, or swap the sentiment to "disdain/disinterest"). Any way you slice it, people who respect all others as people will recoil from the treatment of Israelis against Palestinians, and therefore be critical of the current Israeli regime. History may help you to understand why this particular state happened, and maybe even how it might be changed. It will certainly suggest much about what happens if the current hatreds are allowed to continue and fester. But whether you care depends more on what kind of person you are. And Hillary Clinton's insensitivity and arrogance tells you much about what kind of person she is, which is someone whose only guiding principle is the pursuit of power. The willingness to say unpleasant things in that cause doesn't make you an oracle. It may just mean you're an asshole.

    By the way, Masciotra doesn't stop with Clinton's shilling for the Israel lobby. He still wants to defend her 2016 campaign "basket of deplorables" gaffe, which even she apologized for at the time. He seems to think that if she hadn't spilled the beans, nobody would have realized that lots of racists supported Trump because they recognized in him a fellow racist. (Clinton didn't put it that precisely. She said "deplorable" instead of racist, a code that her fellow liberals recognized while it just seemed snobby to the racists. And by saying "many" she got taken for "most," leaving the rest free to take umbrage over the generalization.) He also bothers to quote and defend Clinton's "truth" about Bernie Sanders: "Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him. He got nothing done." You'd think that a truther would be more concerned with what Sanders was proven right about than with how much lobby-backed legislation he lent his name to, but evidently not. What did Clinton ever accomplish that wasn't in the service to well-heeled lobbyists? I mean, aside from losing an election to Donald Trump?

  • Nicole Narea: [06-11] Biden's overlooked campaign to protect Americans from Big Business: "Many Americans are focused on inflation, but from Big Tech to junk fees, Biden is advancing a pro-consumer agenda." I think this sort of thing is very important, and a very stark contrast to the Trump embrace of kleptocracy, fraud, and business criminality (which, as should be clear by now, he not only enables and excuses, but has vast experience engaging in).

  • Christian Paz: [06-12] Are LGBTQ voters about to abandon Biden? One of those things I refuse to worry about. If Democrats could ever figure out how to get most of the votes from all the people who would be better served by Democrats rather than Republicans winning, they wouldn't have to subdivide their message into constituent identity groups, many of which don't want to hear about each other, let alone what they perceive as pandering to others. On the other hand, if you do identify as a member of a group Republicans are orchestrating hate against, are you really going to hurt yourself just so you can spite Biden? At some point between now and November, you're going to have to wake up and smell the sewer, and decide whether drown in it or escape. Then do the grown up thing and vote.

  • Stephen Prager:

  • Michael Tomasky: [06-14] There's a new "silent majority" out there -- and it is not conservative: "Ever since Richard Nixon used the phrase, it's been a Republican thing. But the Republicans are the extremists now, and the Silent Majority isn't what it was in 1969." I think there's a lot to be said for this point, but it's hard to figure out how to use it.

  • Dylan Wells: [06-15] Meet the 24-year-old trying to solve Biden's problems with young voters: "Eve Levenson, the Biden campaign's national youth engagement director, may have one of the hardest jobs in American politics." Maybe because it's defined by a meaningless artifact of polling?

Hunter Biden: The jury convicted him on all three counts, with a possible maximum sentence of 25 years in jail. I'm surprised that I find this as disturbing as I do. I never liked the father, and find the son to be nothing but nepotistic scum. But he was charged with a crime that shouldn't be illegal, and convicted on evidence that shouldn't be admissable, only because Republicans in Congress (and the Special Prosecutor's office, and evidently the courts) through a hissy fit when he agreed to plead the charge down to near-nothing (more of a compromise than he should have had to do). That the jury went along with this sham is just more evidence of how rigged the system is against defendants. Moreover, because the defendant isn't Trump, Democrats are biting their tongues and expressing their pride in a very corrupt justice system, while Biden won't consider a pardon because he believes that would look bad (like he's playing politics with justice) -- totally the opposite of what Trump has done all along.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

  • American Prospect: Their June 2024 issue promises to expose: "How Pricing Really Works: The many innovations corporations have devised to get you to pay more." Here are some articles:

    • [06-14] The underbelly of the grocery store: "Nothing you see on the shelves is there by accident." How "junk fees, price-fixing, shrinkflation, personalization, and data collection -- come together at the grocery store. Every product's placement, every advertisement, every coupon is a function of marketing wizardry and hardball tactics, in a bid for the eyes and wallets of consumers."

    • [06-14] Lina Khan: Extraction exterminator: "The Federal Trade Commission chair plays a key role in preventing exploitative pricing schemes from taking root." An interview.

    • Bilal Baydoun: [06-14] Taming the pricing beast: "The government has a variety of strategies to protect the public from price-gouging and information advantages over the consumer."

    • David Dayen: [06-04] One person one price: "Digital surveillance and customer isolation are individualizing the prices we pay."

    • David Dayen/Lindsay Owens: [06-03] The age of recoupment: "How power, technology, and opportunity have come together to gouge consumers."

    • Jarod Facundo: [06-12] War in the aisles: "Monopolies across the grocery supply chain squeeze consumers and small-business owners alike. Big Data will only entrench those dynamics further."

    • Luke Goldstein: [06-05] Three algorithms in a room: "A growing number of industries are using software to fix prices. Law enforces are beginning to fight back."

    • Sarah Jaffe: [06-07] The urge to surge: "Businesses are hiking prices to take advantage of consumers. They learned it from Uber."

    • Hassan Ali Kanu: [06-06] Loaded up with junk: "Extra profits are the only explanation for many fees businesses charge."

    • Robert Kuttner: [06-13] Fantasyland general: "Hospital pricing is impenetrable to consumers and regulators alike. The result: increased costs and profits, and wasteful reliance on armies of middlemen."

    • Joanna Marsh: [06-10] The one-click economy: "Digital subscriptions are here to stay. What should we do about that?"

    • Kalena Thomhave: [06-11] What we owe: "The big banks behind the rising cost of credit."

Ukraine War and Russia:

America's empire and the world:

  • Jess Craig: [06-12] We're in a new era of conflict and crisis. Can humanitarian aid keep up? "Utter neglect of displaced people has become the new normal."

    Last year, more than 360 million people worldwide needed humanitarian assistance. To cover the costs of aid, the United Nations appealed to global donors -- primarily governments but also philanthropic individuals and institutes -- for a record $56 billion.

    But even as humanitarian needs peaked, funding for aid dwindled to its lowest levels since 2019. Less than half of that $56 billion was raised. As a result, the gap between global humanitarian funding needs and donor contributions reached its highest level in more than 20 years.

    And that's not the worst part. What funding was available was not allocated equitably across the world's crises. Conflicts in the Global South went vastly underfunded. Last week, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), a major humanitarian organization, published its annual ranking of the world's most neglected displacement crises. Nine of 10 were in Africa.

  • Ellen Ioanes:

    • [06-10] Why Europe is lurching to the right: "Far-right parties made big gains in EU Parliament elections -- and that's already having an effect." One thing I'll admit is that I've never had the slightest understanding of how the EU Parliament works or what, if anything, it is capable of doing. As near as I've been able to figure out, the EU seems to be a cloistered bureaucracy mostly concerned with economic matters, tightly controlled by a neoliberal oligarchy that is very well insulated against possible encroachments from the Democratic left -- who when they do manage to win elections, get beat down like Syriza in Greece. It is similarly unclear whether the right can have any real impact in the EU Parliament, although I suppose it might afford them an arena the one thing they specialize in, which is irritable gesticulating. Also on the EU elections:

    • [06-13] The fracturing of South African politics, explained: "What the defeat of the party that ended apartheid means for South Africa."

  • Hafsa Kanjwal: [06-13] How India is implementing the 'Israel model' in Kashmir.

  • Peter Oborne: [06-11] Tory Britain is about to fall. But what follows could be far worse: "The Conservatives have traditionally acted as a buffer against fascist forces. But after the impending electoral defeat, Farage and the far right are poised to win control of the party."

  • Vijay Prashad: [06-07] Migrating workers provide wealth for the world.


Other stories:

Erin Blakemore: [06-08] Tens of millions of acres of cropland lie abandoned, study shows: "The biggest changes took place around the Ogallala Aquifer, whose groundwater irrigates parts of numerous states, including Colorado, Texas and Wyoming."

Vivian Gornick: [06-06] Orgasm isn't my bag: A review of Trish Romano: The Freaks Came Out to Write: The Definitive History of the Village Voice, the Radical Paper That Changed American Culture. If it seems like I'm collecting reviews of this book, perhaps that means I should write my own. I read it, and perhaps more importantly, I lived it -- starting as a clueless subscriber in the 1960s.

Balaji Ravichandran: [06-12] Imperialilsm isn't in the past. Neither is the damage it did. A review of Charlotte Lydia Riley: Imperial Island: An Alternative History of the British Empire. Few subjects are more deserving of "a withering indictment" than the British Empire. The "damage done" to the rest of the world has been extensively documented, although little of it has sunk into the Churchill-worshipping cliques in the US and UK. What's far less well understood are the lingering distortions within British politics, and not just for the feedback immigration, which has become conspicuous of late.

Nathan J Robinson: [2018-12-07] Lessons from Chomsky: "Some things I've learned from his writings . . ."

Becca Rothfeld: [06-13] Donald Trump didn't spark out current political chaos. The '90s did. Review of John Ganz: When the Clock Broke: Con Men, Conspiracists, and How America Cracked Up in the Early 1990s. Histories of 1990s US politics tend to feature the main event of Gingrich vs. Clinton, but I can see where focusing on fringe-crazy might offer some insights. Also on Ganz:

Music and other arts:

David Hajdu: [06-11] Seeing ourselves in Joni Mitchell: Review of Ann Powers' "deeply personal biography of Joni Mitchell": Traveling: On the Path of Joni Mitchell. For another review:

Brad Luen: [06-16] Semipop Life: A very high shelf.

Michael Tatum: Books read (and not read): June 2024: I jumped straight to Trish Romano's The Freaks Came Out to Write, as that's the one I've actually read.

Midyear reports: I've been factoring these into my metacritic file.


A friend posted this on Facebook:

I am super critical of Biden's kneejerk support for Netanyahu but I agree 100% with my friend Linda L. Gebert who write this . . . "Please anyone, tell a young person that not voting or voting for a third-party candidate will only help Trump win -- we have to vote for Biden if we want to preserve women's health rights, our healthy economy, good relations with leaders of other countries, etc. . . ."

I offered this comment:

Rather than trying to weigh out positives and negatives on issues, or pondering the curse of lesser-evilism, another way to approach this is to accept that whoever wins is going to do lots of things that you oppose, so ask yourself who would you rather protest against? Biden's not so great on anything you mentioned, but at least with him, you don't have to start with arguments that even Biden agrees with.

I also added a link to Nathan J Robinson: No Leftist Wants a Trump Presidency.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, June 9, 2024


Speaking of Which

I'm posting this after 10PM Sunday evening, figuring I'm about worn out, even though I've only hit about 80% of my usual sources, and am finding new things at a frightening clip. I imagine I'll add a bit more on Monday, as I work on what should be a relatively measured Music Week. There is, in any case, much to read and think about here. Too much really.

I have two fairly major pieces on Israel that I wanted to mention before I posted Sunday night, but didn't get around to. They're big, and important, enough I thought about putting them into their own post, but preferred to stick to the one weekly post. I didn't want to slip them into the regular text as mere late finds, so thought I'd put them up here first, easier to notice. But I already wrote a fairly lengthy intro, which I think is pretty good as an intro, so I finally decided to put the new pieces after the old intro, and before everything else.


I thought I'd start here with a quote from Avi Shlaim, from his introduction to one of the first books to appear the Oct. 7, 2023 attacks from Gaza against Israel and Israel's dramatic escalation from counterterrorism to genocide (Jamie Stern-Weiner, ed.: Deluge: Gaza and Israel from Crisis to Cataclysm):

The powerful military offensive launched by Israel on the Gaza Strip in October 2023, or Operation Swords of Iron to give it its official name, was a major landmark in the blood-soaked history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It was an instant, almost Pavlovian response to the Hamas attack on Israel on October 7. The attack caught Israel by complete surprise, and it was devastating in its consequences, killing about 300 Israeli soldiers, massacring more than 800 civilians, and taking some 250 hostages. Whereas previous Hamas attacks involved the firing of rockets from the Gaza Strip on southern Israel, this was a ground incursion into Israeli territory made possible by breaking down the fence with which Israel had surrounded Gaza. The murderous Hamas attack did not come out of the blue as many believed. It was a response to Israel's illegal and exceptionally brutal military occupation of the Palestinian territories since June 1967, as well as the suffocating economic blockade that Israel had imposed on Gaza since 2006. Israel, however, treated it as an unprovoked terrorist attack that gave it a blank check to use military force on an unprecedented scale to exact revenge and to crush the enemy.

Israel is no stranger to the use of military force in dealing with its neighbors. It is a country that lives by the sword. Under international law, states are allowed to use military force in self-defense as a last resort; Israel often employs force as a first resort. Some of its wars with the Arabs have been "wars of no choice," like the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948; others have been "wars of choice," like the Suez War of 1956 and the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Wars are usually followed by the search for a diplomatic resolution of the conflict. When one examines Israel's record in dealing with the Arabs as a whole, however, the use of force appears to be the preferred instrument of statecraft. Indeed, all too often, instead of war being the pursuit of politics by other means, Israeli diplomacy is the pursuit of war by other means.

Also, a bit further down:

Deadlock on the diplomatic front led to periodic clashes between Hamas and Israel. This is not a conflict between two roughly equal parties but asymmetric warfare between a small paramilitary force and one of the most powerful militaries in the world, armed to the teeth with the most advanced American weaponry. The result was low-intensity (but for the people in Gaza, still devastating) conflict which took the form of primitive missiles fired from inside the Gaza Strip on settlements in southern Israel and Israel Defense Forces (IDF) counter-insurgency operations designed to weaken but not to destroy Hamas. From time to time, Israel would move beyond aerial bombardment to ground invasion of the enclave. It launched major military offensives into Gaza in 2008-09, 2012, 2014, 2021, 2022, and 2023.

Israeli leaders used to call these recurrent IDF incursions into Gaza "mowing the lawn." This was the metaphor to describe Israel's strategy against Hamas. The strategy did not seek to defeat Hamas, let alone drive it from power. On the contrary, the aim was to allow Hamas to govern Gaza but to isolate and weaken it, and to reduce its influence on the West Bank. Israel's overarching political objective was to kep the Palestinian Authority and the Hamas government geographically separate so as to prevent the emergence of a unified leadership. In this context, Israel's periodic offensives were designed to degrade the military capability of Hamas, to enhance Israeli deterrence, and to turn the civilian population of Gaza against its rulers. In short, it was a strategy of managing the conflict, of avoiding peace talks, of using the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah as a sub-contractor for Israeli security on the West Bank, and of containing Palestinian resistance within the open-air prison of the Gaza Strip.

Shlaim opens the next paragraph with "This strategy lay in tatters following the Hamas attack," but that's just a momentary reflection of Israeli histrionics plus a bit of wishful thinking. The latter was based on the hope that Israelis would recognize that the old strategy had backfired, and needed to be revised. But the histrionics were at most momentary, and quickly evolved into staged, as Netanyahu and his gang realized the attacks presented a opportunity to escalate the conflict to previously unthreatened levels, and in the absence of meaningful resistance have seen little reason to restrain themselves.

Israel has a very sophisticated propaganda operation, with a large network of long-time contacts, so they sprung immediately to work, planting horror stories about Hamas and Palestinians, while pushing rationales for major war operations into play, so Israel's habitual supporters would always be armed with the best talking points. That they were so prepared to do so suggests they know, and have known for a long time, that their actions and programs aren't obviously justifiable. They know that their main restraint isn't the threat of other powers, but that world opinion will come to ostracize and shame them, like it did to South Africa. It's not certain that such a shift in world opinion will sway them -- the alternative is that they will shrivel up into a defensive ball, like North Korea, and there would certainly be sentiment in Israel for doing so (here I need say no more than "Masada complex").

Israel has, indeed, lost a lot of foreign support, including about 80% of the UN General Assembly. But though all of that, the US has remained not just a reliable ally to Israel, but a generous one, and a very dutiful one, even as Israel is losing support from the general public. Netanyahu is Prime Minister by a very slim and fractious coalition in Israel, but when he speaks in Congress, he can rest assured that 90% of both parties will cheer him on -- a degree of popularity no American politician enjoys.


I meant to include these two major pieces, but missed them in the rush to post Sunday night.

Adam Shatz: Israel's Descent: This is a major essay, structured as a review of six books:

While most of these books go deep into the history of Zionist attempts to claim exclusive representation for the Jewish people -- a topic Sand previously wrote about in The Invention of the Jewish People (2009) and The Invention of the Land of Israel (2012) -- and that features further down in the review, the first several paragraphs provide one of the best overviews available of the current phase of the conflict. I'm tempted to quote it all, but especially want to note paragraphs 4-8, on why this time it's fair and accurate to use the term "genocide":

But, to borrow the language of a 1948 UN convention, there is an older term for 'acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group'. That term is genocide, and among international jurists and human rights experts there is a growing consensus that Israel has committed genocide -- or at least acts of genocide -- in Gaza. This is the opinion not only of international bodies, but also of experts who have a record of circumspection -- indeed, of extreme caution -- where Israel is involved, notably Aryeh Neier, a founder of Human Rights Watch.

The charge of genocide isn't new among Palestinians. I remember hearing it when I was in Beirut in 2002, during Israel's assault on the Jenin refugee camp, and thinking, no, it's a ruthless, pitiless siege. The use of the word 'genocide' struck me then as typical of the rhetorical inflation of Middle East political debate, and as a symptom of the bitter, ugly competition over victimhood in Israel-Palestine. The game had been rigged against Palestinians because of their oppressors' history: the destruction of European Jewry conferred moral capital on the young Jewish state in the eyes of the Western powers. The Palestinian claim of genocide seemed like a bid to even the score, something that words such as 'occupation' and even 'apartheid' could never do.

This time it's different, however, not only because of the wanton killing of thousands of women and children, but because the sheer scale of the devastation has rendered life itself all but impossible for those who have survived Israel's bombardment. The war was provoked by Hamas's unprecedented attack, but the desire to inflict suffering on Gaza, not just on Hamas, didn't arise on 7 October. Here is Ariel Sharon's son Gilad in 2012: 'We need to flatten entire neighbourhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn't stop with Hiroshima -- the Japanese weren't surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too. There should be no electricity in Gaza, no gasoline or moving vehicles, nothing.' Today this reads like a prophecy.

Exterminationist violence is almost always preceded by other forms of persecution, which aim to render the victims as miserable as possible, including plunder, denial of the franchise, ghettoisation, ethnic cleansing and racist dehumanisation. All of these have been features of Israel's relationship to the Palestinian people since its founding. What causes persecution to slide into mass killing is usually war, in particular a war defined as an existential battle for survival -- as we have seen in the war on Gaza. The statements of Israel's leaders (the defence minister, Yoav Gallant: 'We are fighting human animals, and we will act accordingly'; President Isaac Herzog: 'It is an entire nation out there that is responsible') have not disguised their intentions but provided a precise guide. So have the gleeful selfies taken by Israeli soldiers amid the ruins of Gaza: for some, at least, its destruction has been a source of pleasure.

Israel's methods may bear a closer resemblance to those of the French in Algeria, or the Assad regime in Syria, than to those of the Nazis in Treblinka or the Hutu génocidaires in Rwanda, but this doesn't mean they do not constitute genocide. Nor does the fact that Israel has killed 'only' a portion of Gaza's population. What, after all, is left for those who survive? Bare life, as Giorgio Agamben calls it: an existence menaced by hunger, destitution and the ever present threat of the next airstrike (or 'tragic accident', as Netanyahu described the incineration of 45 civilians in Rafah). Israel's supporters might argue that this is not the Shoah, but the belief that the best way of honouring the memory of those who died in Auschwitz is to condone the mass killing of Palestinians so that Israeli Jews can feel safe again is one of the great moral perversions of our time.

A couple paragraphs later, Shatz moves on to "Zionism's original ambition," which gets us into the books, including a survey of how Israel's supporters have long sought to quell any Jewish criticism of Israel, eventually going so far as to declare it anti-semitic. I find this particular history fascinating, as it provides some counterweight to the claim that Zionism was intrinsically racist and, if given the power and opportunity, genocidal. Just because this is where you wound up doesn't mean this is where you had to go.

Again, there is much to be learned and thought about everywhere in this article. Let's just wrap up with a few more choice quotes:

  • But the tendency of Israeli Jews to see themselves as eternal victims, among other habits of the diaspora, has proved stronger than Zionism itself, and Israel's leaders have found a powerful ideological armour, and source of cohesion, in this reflex. [This has made them] incapable of distinguishing between violence against Jews as Jews, and violence against Jews in connection with the practices of the Jewish state.

  • Today the catastrophe of 1948 is brazenly defended in Israel as a necessity -- and viewed as an uncompleted, even heroic, project.

  • The last eight months have seen an extraordinary acceleration of Israel's long war against the Palestinians.

  • Benjamin Netanyahu is a callow man of limited imagination . . . [but] his expansionist, racist ideology is the Israeli mainstream. Always an ethnocracy based on Jewish privilege, Israel has, under his watch, become a reactionary nationalist state, a country that now officially belongs exclusively to its Jewish citizens.

  • But this was no accident: conflict with the Arabs was essential to the Zionist mainstream. . . . Brit Shalom's vision of reconciliation and co-operation with the indigenous population was unthinkable to most Zionists, because they regarded the Arabs of Palestine as squatters on sacred Jewish land.

  • This moral myopia has always been resisted by a minority of American Jews. There have been successive waves of resistance, provoked by previous episodes of Israeli brutality: the Lebanon War, the First Intifada, the Second Intifada. But the most consequential wave of resistance may be the one we are seeing now from a generation of young Jews for whom identification with an explicitly illiberal, openly racist state, led by a close ally of Donald Trump, is impossible to stomach.

  • For all their claims to isolation in a sea of sympathy for Palestine, Jewish supporters of Israel, like the state itself, have powerful allies in Washington, in the administration and on university boards.

  • For many Jews, steeped in Zionism's narrative of Jewish persecution and Israeli redemption, and encouraged to think that 1939 might be just around the corner, the fact that Palestinians, not Israelis, are seen by most people as Jews themselves once were -- as victims of oppression and persecution, as stateless refugees -- no doubt comes as a shock.

  • Operation Al-Aqsa Flood thrust the question of Palestine back on the international agenda, sabotaging the normalisation of relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia, shattering both the myth of a cost-free occupation and the myth of Israel's invincibility. But its architects, Yahya Sinwar and Mohammed Deif, appear to have had no plan to protect Gaza's own people from what would come next. Like Netanyahu, with whom they recently appeared on the International Criminal Court's wanted list, they are ruthless tacticians, capable of brutal, apocalyptic violence but possessing little strategic vision. 'Tomorrow will be different,' Deif promised in his 7 October communiqué. He was correct.' But that difference -- after the initial exuberance brought about by the prison breakout -- can now be seen in the ruins of Gaza.

  • Eight months after 7 October, Palestine remains in the grip, and at the mercy, of a furious, vengeful Jewish state, ever more committed to its colonisation project and contemptuous of international criticism, ruling over a people who have been transformed into strangers in their own land or helpless survivors, awaiting the next delivery of rations.

  • The 'Iron Wall' is not simply a defence strategy: it is Israel's comfort zone.

There is a lot to unpack here, and much more I skipped over -- a lot on US and other protesters, even some thoughts by Palestinians -- but for now I just want to offer one point. If Israel had responded to the Oct. 7 "prison break" with a couple weeks (even a month) of indiscriminate, massive bombardment, which is basically what they did for the first month, then ended it with a unilateral cease-fire, with the looming threat to repeat if Hamas ever attacked again, their wildly disproportionate response would have more than reestablished their "deterrent" credibility.

Those who hated Israel before would have had their feelings reinforced, but those who hadn't hated Israel wouldn't have turned against Israel. (Sure, some would have been shocked by the intensity, but once it ended those feelings would subside. The UN, the ICJ, the ICC wouldn't have charged Israel. The word genocide would have gone silent. The protests would have faded, without ever escalating into encampments and repression. Israel could have washed its hands of governing Gaza, leaving the rubble and what, if anything, was left of Hamas to the international do-gooders, and simply said "good riddance."

The Shatz article helps explain why Israel didn't do that. It is strong on the psychology that keeps Israelis fighting, that keeps them from letting up, from developing a conscience over all of the pain and hate they've inflicted. But it misses one important part of the story, which is the failure of the Biden administration to restrain Israel. Over all of its history, Israel has repeatedly worked itself into a frenzy against its enemies, but it's always had the US to pull it back and cool it off, usually just before its aggression turns not just counterproductive but debilitating. You can probably recite the examples yourself, all the way up to GW Bush and Obama, with their phony, half-hearted two-state plans. Often the restraint has been late and/or lax, and no Israeli ever publicly thanked us for keeping them from doing something stupid, but on some level Israelis expected external restraint, even as they plotted to neutralize it. So when they finally went berserk, and Biden wasn't willing to twist arms to tone them down, they just felt like they had more leeway to work with.

So the piece missing from the Shatz article is really another article altogether, which is what the fuck happened to America, who in most respects is a decent human being, and the rest of America's political caste (some of whom aren't decent at all), couldn't generate any meaningful concern much less resistance against genocide vowed and implemented by Israel? There's a long story there, as deep and convoluted as the one behind Israel, but it should be pretty obvious by now if you've been paying any attention at all.

The second piece I wanted to mention is:

Amira Haas: [06-04] Starvation and Death Are Israel's Defeat. I'm scraping this off Facebook, because the original is behind a paywall. My wife read this to our dinner guests recently, which made me a bit uneasy, because I don't like the use of the word "defeat" here (see my Ali Abunimah note below), although I suppose there could be some language quirk I'm missing, like the difference between "has lost" and "is lost." Israel has not lost the war, but Israel is very lost in its practice. Still, I take this mostly as a cri de coeur, and am grateful for that.

Israel was defeated and is still being defeated, not because of the fact that at the start of the ninth month of this accursed war, Hamas has not been toppled.

The emblem of defeat will forever appear alongside the menorah and flag, because the leaders, commanders and soldiers of Israel killed and wounded thousands of Palestinian civilians, sowing unprecedented ruin and desolation in the Gaza Strip. Because its air force knowingly bombed buildings full of children, women and the elderly. Because in Israel people believe there is no other way. Because entire families were wiped out.

The Jewish state was defeated because its politicians and public officials are causing two million three hundred thousand human beings to go hungry and thirsty, because skin ailments and intestinal inflammation are spreading in Gaza.

The only democracy in the jungle was overwhelmingly defeated because its army expels and then concentrates hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in increasingly smaller areas, labeled safe humanitarian zones, before proceeding to bomb and shell them. Because thousands of permanently disabled people and children with no accompanying adults are hemmed in and suffering greatly in those targeted humanitarian areas.

Because mounds of garbage are piling up there, while the only way to dispose of them is to set them on fire, spouting toxic emissions. Because sewage and excrement flow in the streets, with masses of flies blocking one's eyes. Because when the war ends, people will return to ruined houses chock full of unexploded ordnance, with the ground saturated with toxic dangerous substances. Because thousands of people, if not more, will come down with chronic diseases, paralyzing and terminal, due to that same pollution and those toxic substances.

Because many of those devoted and brave medical teams in the Gaza Strip, male and female doctors, nurses, ambulance drivers and paramedics and yes -- including people who were supporting Hamas or on its government's payroll -- were killed by Israeli bombs or shelling. Because children and students will have lost precious years of study.

Because books and public and private archives went up in flames, with manuscripts of stories and research lost forever, as well as original drawings and embroidery by Gazan artists, which were buried under the debris or damaged. Because one cannot know what else the mental damage inflicted on millions will bring about.

The defeat, forever, lies in the fact that a state that views itself as the heir of the victims of genocide carried out by Nazi Germany has generated this hell in less than nine months, with an end not yet in sight. Call it genocide. Don't call it genocide.

The structural failure lies not in the fact that the G-word was affixed to the name "Israel" in the resounding petition filed by South Africa at the International Court of Justice. The failure lies in the refusal of most Israeli Jews to listen to the alarm bells in this petition. They continued supporting the war even after the petition was filed in late December, allowing the petition's warning to become a prophecy, and for doubts to be obliterated in the face of additional cumulative evidence.

The defeat lies with Israel's universities, which trained hordes of jurists who find proportionality in every bomb that kills children. They are the ones providing military commanders with the protective vests, of repeated cliché: "Israel is abiding by international law, taking care not to harm civilians," every time an order is given to expel a population and concentrate it in a smaller area.

The convoys of displaced people, on foot, in carts, on trucks overloaded with people and mattresses, with wheelchairs carrying old people or amputees, are a failing grade for Israel's school system, its law faculties and history departments. The debacle is also a failure of the Hebrew language. Expulsion is "evacuation." A deadly military raid is an "activity." The carpet bombing of entire neighborhoods is "good work by our soldiers."

Israel's monolithic nature is another reason for and proof of utter defeat, as well as being emblematic of it. Most of the Jewish-Israeli public, including opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu's camp, was taken captive by the notion of a magical total victory as an answer to the October 7 massacre, without learning a thing from past wars in general and from ones against the Palestinians in particular.

Yes, the Hamas atrocities were horrific. The suffering of the hostages and their families is beyond words. Yes, turning the Gaza Strip into a huge depot of weapons and ammunition ready to be used, through an imitation of the Israeli model, is exasperating.

But the majority of Israeli Jews let the drive for revenge blind them. The unwillingness to listen and to know, in order to avoid making mistakes, is in the DNA of the debacle. Our all-knowing commanders did not listen to the female spotters, but they mainly failed to listen to Palestinians, who over decades warned that the situation cannot continue like this.

The seeds of defeat lay in protesters against the judicial overhaul rejecting the basic fact that we have no chance of being a democracy without ending the occupation, and that the people generating the overhaul are the ones striving to "vanquish" the Palestinians.

With God's help. The failure was inscribed back then, in the first days after October 7, when anyone trying to point out the "context" was condemned as a traitor or a supporter of Hamas. The traitors turned out to be the real patriots, but the debacle is ours -- the traitors' -- as well.

In looking this piece up, I found another at Haaretz worth notice for the title:

Dahlia Scheindlin: [06-10] Will the real opposition stand up: Is anyone trying to save Israel from Netanyahu, endless war and isolation? "Benny Gantz's unsurprising departure from the Netanyahu government won't strengthen the opposition, because Israel barely has one worthy of the name."

The Shatz piece doesn't have links, but a casual reference there to "philosemitic McCarthyism" led me to search out this piece:

Susan Neiman: [2023-10-19] Historical reckoning gone haywire: "Germans' efforts to confront their country's criminal history and to root out antisemitism have shifted from vigilance to a philosemitic McCarthyism that threatens their rich cultural life."

That, in turn, led me to Neiman's recent review of Shatz's book The Rebel's Clinic: The Revolutionary Lives of Frantz Fanon:

Susan Neiman: [06-06] Fanon the universalist: "Adam Shatz argues in his new biography of Frantz Fanon that the supposed patron saint of political violence was instead a visionary of a radical universalism that rejected racial essentialism and colonialism."


Initial count: 209 links, 12260 words. Updated count [06-10]: 235 links, 15800 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): on music.


Top story threads:

Israel: As I'm trying to wrap this up on Sunday, I must admit I'm getting overwhelmed, and possibly a bit confused, by the constant roll call of atrocities Israel is committing. There appears to be not just one but several instances of mass slaughter at Nuseirat refugee camp. There is also "late news" -- later than the earliest reports below -- including the Benny Gantz resignation, that are captured in various states of disclosure below. While I've generally tried to group related reports, that's become increasingly difficult, so my apologies for any lapses in order. These are truly trying times. And yet the solution of a simple cease-fire is so blindingly obvious.

America's Israel (and Israel's America): The Biden administration, despite occasional misgivings, is fully complicit in Israel's genocide. Republicans only wish to intensify it -- after all, they figure racism and militarism are their things.

  • Janet Abou-Elias: [06-06] Who's minding the stockpile of US weapons going to Israel? "Congress has further weakened constraints on a special DOD arms reserve, which is spread over multiple warehouses and lacks a public inventory."

  • Michael Arria: [06-06] The Shift: Netanyahu is going back to Washington: "Benjamin Netanyahu's upcoming speech to Congress will be his fourth, giving him the most of any foreign leader. He's currently tied with Winston Churchill at three. He was invited by the leadership from both parties. Who says bipartisanship is dead?" More on the Netanyahu invite:

  • Matthew Mpoke Bigg: [06-05] Here's a closer look at the hurdles to a cease-fire deal: "Neither Israel nor Hamas have said definitively whether they would accept or reject a proposal outlined by President Biden, but sizable gaps between the two sides appear to remain." NY Times remain masters at both-sidesing this, but Israel is the only side that's free to operate deliberately, so lack of "agreement" simply means that Israel has refused to cease-fire, despite what should be compelling reasons to do so. More on the Biden (presented as Israel) proposal:

    • Ali Abunimah: [05-31] Biden admits Israel's defeat in Gaza: Author seeks to poke Biden in the eye, but quotes Biden's actual speech, adding his annotation. Mine would differ, but the exercise is still worthwhile. I'd never say Israel has been defeated in Gaza, except perhaps to say that Israel has defeated itself (although I'd look for words more like degraded and debilitated, as I hate the whole notion that wars can be won -- I only see losers, varying in the quantities they have lost, but less so the qualities, which afflict all warriors).

      I haven't been following his publication, but I've been aware of Abunimah for a long time. He's written a couple of "clear-eyed, sharply reasoned, and compassionate" books on the subject: One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impassed (2007: not remotedly agreeable to Israel, but not wrong either, and would have "avoided all this mess" -- quote's from a Professor Longhair song, about something else, but hits the spot here); and The Battle for Justice in Palestine (2014; my Books note was: "tries to remain hopeful")

    • Fred Kaplan:

  • Sheera Frenkel: [06-05] Israel secretly targets US lawmakers with influence campaign on Gaza War: "Israel's Ministry of Diaspora Affairs ordered the operation, which used fake social media accounts urging U.S. lawmakers to fund Israel's military, according to officials and documents about the effort."

  • Ellen Ioanes: [06-05] What happens if Gaza ceasefire talks fail. "Nearly 40 Palestinians in Rafah will die each day due to traumatic injuries if Israel continues its incursion, according to a new analysis." How they came up with that figure, which they project to 3,509 by August 17, boggles the mind. Israel has been known to kill more than that with a single bomb. And note how they're breaking out "traumatic injuries" into a separate category, presumably to separate them out from starvation deaths and who knows what else? For that matter, "traumatic" is about a pretty tame generic word for blown to bits and/or incinerated, which is what Israel's bombs are actually doing, as well as burying bodies under tons of rubble. When we commonly speak of trauma, usually we mean psychological injuries -- something which in this case no one has come close to quantifying.

    And can we talk about this passive-voiced "if talks fail." Biden announced what he called "Israel's plan," and Hamas basically agreed to it, so who is still talking? The thus-far-failing talks Ioanes alludes to here are exclusively within Israel's war cabinet, where failure to agree to anything that might halt the war is some kind of axiom.

  • Alon Pinkas: [06-06] Biden wants an end to the Gaza war. But he is finally realising Netanyahu will block any attempts at peace. This has been more/less the story since about a month into the war. although it took Biden much longer to dare say anything in public, and he's still doing everything possible to appease Israel. If, after a few weeks of their savage bombing of Gaza, Israel had unilaterally ceased fire, no one would doubt their deterrence. Everyone would have understood that any attack on them would be met with a disproportionately savage response. They could then have turned their backs and walked away, simply dumping responsibility for Gaza and its people, which they have no real interest in or for, onto the UN. The hostages would have been freed, even without prisoner swaps. The ancillary skirmishes with Hezbollah and the Houthis would have ended. Months later, no one would be talking about genocide, or facing charges from the ICC. Israel's relations with the US would be unblemished. And Israel's right-wing government would still have a relatively free hand to go about its dispossession of and terror against Palestinians in the West Bank. This didn't happen because Biden didn't dare object to Israel's genocidal plans, because he's totally under their thumb -- presumably due to donors and the Israel lobby, but one has to wonder if he just doesn't have a streak of masochism. Even now that he's writhing in misery, he still can't bring himself to just say no.

  • Mitchell Plitnick: [06-08] The Biden administration must stop Israel before it escalates in Lebanon: "There are dangerous signs Israel intends to escalate attacks on Lebanon and raise the stakes with Hezbollah. If it does, the risk of a regional war grows enormously. The only way out is to end the fighting in Gaza." More evidence that the theory of deterrence is a recipe for disaster. To rally American support, Israel has tried to paint its genocide in Gaza as a sideshow to its defense against Iran, the mastermind behind the "six front" assault on Israel -- because, well, Americans hate Iran, and are really gullible on that point. To make this war look real, Israel needs to provoke Hezbollah, which is easy to do because Hezbollah also buys into the theory of deterrence, so feels the need to shoot back when they are shot at. This is close to spiraling out of control, but a ceasefire in Gaza would bring it all to an abrupt close. A rapprochement between the US and Iran would also be a big help, as it would knock the legs out from under Israel's game-playing.

  • H Scott Prosterman: [06-06] How Trump and Netanyahu are tag-teaming Biden on Gaza.

    Before these men served, no Israeli leader had ever dared to interfere in US electoral politics. Trump openly campaigned for Bibi. It's almost as if they ran on the same ticket in 2020. The political survival of both men is dependent on generating political outrage among their bases, because they have nothing else to run on.

  • Philip Weiss:

    • [06-02] Weekly Briefing: The political and moral consequences of hallowing Trump's verdict while nullifying the Hague: "Joe Biden wants it both ways. He wants Democrats to stop criticizing genocide but he also wants the Israel lobby's support. Thus, he has a ceasefire plan in one hand, and an invitation to Netanyahu, a war criminal, to speak to Congress in the other." Pretty good opening here:

      Joe Biden is trying to end the war in Gaza. He's not trying that hard. But he's trying.

      Biden knows that the Democratic base is on fire. He knows that for a certain bloc of voters in American society -- Genocide is not acceptable. Sadly, most people will go along fine with a genocide. That's what history tells us and what the U.S. establishment is demonstrating right now. Samantha Power wrote a whole book about the Sarajevo genocide and launched a great career but now she's a top Biden aide and just keeps her head down. It's not fair to single her out -- because all the editorial writers and politicians have a similar stance. It's a terrible thing that so many civilians and babies are being killed by American weaponry in Gaza, but hey, look what Hamas did on October 7. That's the ultimate in whatabboutery. What about Hamas? While we are burning up civilians.

    • [06-09] Weekly Briefing: 274 Palestinian lives don't matter to the Biden administration: "A week culminating with the massacre of 274 Palestinians in Gaza provided further evidence -- though none is needed -- that anti-Palestinian bias is simply a rule of American politics, and today maybe the leading rule."

    • [06-09] 'Allow me to share a story that touched me deeply' -- Harry Soloway on Palestinian resistance.

Israel vs. world opinion:

  • Yuval Abraham/Meron Rapoport: Surveillance and interference: Israel's covert war on the ICC exposed: "Top Israeli government and security officials have overseen a nine-year surveillance operation targeting the ICC and Palestinian rights groups to try to thwart a war crimes probe."

  • Yousef M Aljamal: [06-07] Israel's progression from apartheid to genocide: "The unfolding genocide in Gaza is the latest chapter in Israel's attempt to remove Palestinians from their land. All those calling for a ceasefire should join in the longer-term efforts to dismantle Israeli apartheid."

  • Michael Arria: [06-03] San Jose State University professor says she was suspended over her Palestinian activism: "Last month Sang Hea Kil, a justice studies professor at the San Jose State University, was placed on a temporary suspension because of her Palestine activism."

  • Ramzy Baroud: [06-06] End of an era: Pro-Palestinian language exposes Israel, Zionism.

  • Reed Brody: [06-06] Israel's legal reckoning and the historical shift in justice for Palestinians.

  • Chandni Desai: [06-08] Israel has destroyed or damaged 80% of schools in Gaza. This is scholasticide: This is another new word we don't need, because it just narrows the scope of a perfectly apt word we're already driven to use, which is genocide. The lesson we do need to point out is that genocide isn't just a matter of counting kills. If the goal is to ending a type of people, it is just as effectively advanced to destroying their homes, their environment, their culture and historical legacy. Counting the dead is easy, but much of the devastation is carried forward by its survivors, and those impacts are especially hard to quantify.

  • Connor Echols/Maya Krainc: [06-04] House votes to sanction ICC for case against Israeli settlers: "The bill, which is unlikely to pass the Senate, would punish US allies and famous lawyer Amal Clooney."

  • Richard Falk:

  • Abdallah Fayyard: [06-05] It's not Islamophobia, it's anti-Palestinian racism: "Anti-Palestinian racism is a distinct form of bigotry that's too often ignored."

  • Joshua Frank: [06-05] It's never been about freeing the hostages: "Israel's scorched-earth campaign will cruelly shape the lives of many future generations of Palestinians -- and that's the point."

  • Philippe Lazzarini: [05-30] UNRWA: Stop Israel's violent campaign against us. How violent?

    As I write this, our agency has verified that at least 192 UNRWA employees have been killed in Gaza. More than 170 UNRWA premises have been damaged or destroyed. UNRWA-run schools have been demolished; some 450 displaced people have been killed while sheltered inside UNRWA schools and other structures. Since Oct. 7, Israeli security forces have rounded up UNRWA personnel in Gaza, who have alleged torture and mistreatment while in detention in the Strip and in Israel.

    UNRWA staff members are regularly harassed and humiliated at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank including East Jerusalem. Agency installations are used by the Israel security forces, Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups for military purposes.

    UNRWA is not the only U.N. agency that faces danger. In April, gunfire hit World Food Program and UNICEF vehicles, apparently inadvertently but despite coordination with the Israeli authorities.

    The assault on UNRWA has spread to East Jerusalem, where a member of the Jerusalem municipality has helped incite protests against UNRWA. Demonstrations are becoming increasingly dangerous, with at least two arson attacks on our UNRWA compound, and a crowd including Israeli children gathered outside our premises singing "Let the U.N. burn." At other times, demonstrators threw stones.

    PS: The day after this op-ed was published, Israel replied as directly and emphatically as possible: [06-06] Israel strike on Gaza school kills dozens. Israel claims "the compound contained a Hamas command post." Perhaps Netanyahu should brush up on The Merchant of Venice, where the "wise judge" allowed that Shylock could take his "pound of flesh" but could spill no blood in the process. Of course, Netanyahu is unlikely to get beyond the thought that Shakespeare was just being antisemitic. On the other hand, the notion that one wrong does not allow you to commit indiscriminate slaughter isn't novel.

  • Natasha Lennard/Prem Thakker: Columbia Law Review refused to take down article on Palestine, so its board of directors nuked the whole website.

  • Eric Levitz: [06-03] Israel is not fighting for its survival. I mentioned this piece in an update last week, but it's worth reiterating here.

  • Branko Marcetic: [06-03] The corporate power brokers behind AIPAC's war on the Squad: Their investigation "reveals the individuals behind AIPAC's election war chest: nearly 60% are CEOs and other top executives at the country's largest corporations." I haven't cited many articles so far on AIPAC's crusade against Democrats who actually take human rights and war crimes seriously, but they are piling up. Bipartisanship is a holy grail in Washington, not because either side treasures compromise but because a bipartisan consensus helps to exclude critics and suppress any further discussion of an issue that those in power would rather not have to argue for in public. Cold War and trade deals like NAFTA are other classic examples, but support for Israel has been so bipartisan for so long it defines the shape of reality as perceived all but intuitively by politicians in Washington. But apartheid and genocide are unsettling this equation, disturbing large numbers of Democratic voters, so AIPAC is reacting like its Israeli masters, by cracking the whip -- the same kneejerk reaction we see when university administrators move to arrest protesters. Both are turns as sharply opposed to the basic tenets of liberal democracy as liberal Democrats routinely accuse Republicans of. That both are driven primarily by the extraordinary political influence of money only exposes the sham that our vaunted democracy has become under oligarchy.

  • Qassam Muaddi: [06-03] Against a world without Palestinians: "If the world as it is cannot abide Palestinian existence, then we will have to change the world." This piece makes me a bit queasy, but I recognize that is largely because I've never accepted the conditions under which it was written, and always preferred to think of Palestinians as just another nationality, like all others, with its harmless parochial quirks. But the effort to deny them recognition, and to erase their memory, has been a longstanding project in Israel.

    In early days, this was done through pretense (see A land without a people for a people without a land and denial (see Golda Meir's oft-repeated There was no such thing as Palestinians). Norman Finkelstein wrote about all that in Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict (1995; revised 2003), especially his critique of Joan Peters' 1984 book, From Time Immemorial.

    Another book that was very insightful at the time (2003) was Baruch Kimmerling: Politicide: Ariel Sharon's War Against the Palestinians -- reissued in 2006 with the new subtitle, The Real Legacy of Ariel Sharon. Kimmerling's precise meaning is still operative, although since then the methods have become much cruder and more violent. Sharon, of course, would turn in his grave at the suggestion that he engaged with tact. I'll never forget the expression on his face when Bush referred to him as "a man of peace." Even if you dispute that the Gaza war fully counts as genocide, it is impossible to deny that politicide is official policy.

    I'm sure there are more recent books on the subject, like Rebecca Ruth Gould: Erasing Palestine: Free Speech and Palestinian Freedom (2023), which deals specifically with the canard that "pro-Palestinian" statements should be banished as anti-semitic. But another aspect of this piece is the notion that the Palestinian survival is redemptive, potentially for everyone. I can't say one way or the other, but I will say that this reminds me of a book I read very shortly after it came out in 1969: Vine Deloria, Jr.: Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. As an American, I find it completely natural to think of Zionism as a settler-colonial movement, as was European-settled America. There are many aspects to this: if I wanted to launch a career as a scholar, I'd research and write up some kind of global, comparative study of how other settlers and natives viewed the American-Indian experience. (Sure, there's enough for a book just on Israel, but I'd also like to see some bit on Hitler's use of America's "frontier myth.")

    Suffice it for now to draw two points here. The first is that what permanently ended Indian violence against settlers was the US army calling off its own attacks, and restraining settlers from the free reign of terror they had long practiced. Indians were "defeated," sure, but they would surely have regrouped and fought back had they been given continued cause. The second is that "Custer died" is pretty damn generous given all of the sins it's been allowed to redeem.

  • Jonathan Ofir: [06-02] Netanyahu is back and leading the polls, all thanks to the ICC: "In Israel, a potential arrest for crimes against humanity can help boost the popularity of a politician. That itself is a telling indictment."

  • Edith Olmsted: [04-27] Pro-Israel agitator shouts 'kill the Jews,' gets everyone else arrested: "Around 100 protesters were arrested on Saturday at a pro-Palestine encampment at Northeastern University, but not the one whose hate speech got everything shut down."

  • James Ray: [06-05] Do you condemn Hamas? How does it matter? This was a question every concerned thinking person was asked at the moment of the October 7, 2023 attacks, although there was never any forum by within which disapproval of Hamas could have affected their acts. There were, at the time, many reasons why one might "condemn Hamas," ranging from the pure immorality of armed offense to the political ramifications of provoking a much more powerful enemy, including the probability that Israelis would use the attacks as a pretext for unleashing much greater, potentially genocidal, violence of their own. But even acknowledging the question helped suppress the real question, which is whether you approve of the way Israel has exercised power over Gaza and wherever Palestinians continue to live.

    Many of us who have long disapproved of Israel's occupation were quick to condemn Hamas, only to find that our condemnations were counted as huzzahs for much more devastating, much more deadly attacks, a process which continues unabated eight months later, and which will continue indefinitely, until Israel's leadership (or its successors) finally backs off, either because they develop a conscience (pretty unlikely at present) or some calculation that the costs of further slaughter can no longer be justified. Given this situation, I think it no longer makes any sense to condemn Hamas, as all doing so does is to encourage Israel to further genocide.

    I'm not even sure there is a Hamas any more -- sure, there are a couple blokes in Syria who once had connections with the group, and who continue to negotiate to release hostages they don't actually have, but for practical purposes what used to be Hamas has dissolved back into the Palestinian people (as Israel makes clear every time they allegedly target "high value" Hamas operatives while killing dozens of "human shields" -- something which, we should make clear, Israel has no right to do). If, at some future point, the war ends, and Palestinians are allowed to form their own government -- which is something they've never been permitted to do (at least under Israeli, British, Ottoman, or Crusader rule) -- and some ex-Hamas people try to reconstitute the group, that would be a good time to condemn them. Otherwise, focus on who's responsible for the devastation and violence. It's not Hamas.

    In this, I'm mostly responding to the title. The article is a bit more problematical, as it does a little arm-chair analysis of "when armed struggle becomes material necessity." Clearly, a number of the Palestinian groups listed here decided that it did become necessary, and they proceeded to launch various attacks against Israeli power, of which Oct. 7 was one of the most dramatic (at least in a long time; the revolt in 1937, and the war in 1948, were larger and more sustained; the 2000-05 intifada killed slightly fewer Israelis over a much longer period of time). Still, before one can condemn the resort to armed struggle, one needs to ask the questions: Were there any practical non-violent avenues for Palestinians to redress their grievances (of which they had many)? It's not obvious that there were. (Short for a long survey of who missed which opportunities for opportunities for peace -- as the oft-quoted Abba Eban quip comes full circle.)

    I was thinking of a second question, which is how effective have all those efforts at armed resistance been? The answer is not very, and the prospects have probably diminished even further over time, but that's easier for someone far removed like myself to say than for someone who's directly involved. But in that case, the question becomes: how desperate do you have to be to launch a violent attack against a power that's certain to inflict many times as much violence back at you? If you've been following the political dynamics within Israel, especially with the rise of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, but also for the long decline of Labor (starting with the assassination of Rabin) through the rise of Netanyahu, with the marginalization of the corrupt and pliant PA and the exclusion of Hamas, Palestinian prospects for achieving any degree of decent human rights have only grown dimmer. During this period, I believe that most Palestinians favored a non-violent appeal to world opinion, hoping to shift it to put pressure on Israel through BDS. However, thanks to Israel's machinations, Hamas maintained just enough privacy and autonomy in Gaza to stage an attack, with nothing other than fear as a constraint, so they took matters into their own hands. I feel safe in saying that a democratic Gaza would never have launched such an attack. Which is to say that responsibility for the attack lay solely on Israel, for creating the desperate conditions that made the attack seem necessary, and for not allowing any other peaceable outlets for their just grievances.

    One should further blame Israel for post-facto justifying the Hamas attack. This is a point that Israelis should understand better than anyone, because they have been trained to celebrate the uprising of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto, even though it was doomed from the start. I don't want to overstate the similarities, but I don't want to soft-pedal them either. Such situations are so rare in history as to necessarily be unique, but they do excite the imagination. Although Israel has vowed to destroy Hamas, they seem to be doing more than anyone to build Hamas up, to restore their status as the Palestinians who dared to fight back. Because Israel has never really minded a good fight. It's peace they really cannot abide -- and that is what makes them responsible for all of the consequent injustice and violence, the first of many things you should blame Israel for.

    And as Hamas -- at least as we understand it -- wouldn't exist but for Israel, when you do condemn Hamas, make sure it's clear that the blame starts with Israel.

  • Hoda Sherif: [06-06] 'The generation that says no more': Inside the Columbia University encampments for Palestine: "Students at Columbia University continue to disrupt business as usual for Gaza and have birthed a radical re-imagining of society in the process."

  • Yonat Shimron: [04-29] How unconditional support for Israel became a cornerstone of Jewish American identity: Interview with Marjorie N. Feld, author of The Threshold of Dissent: A History of American Jewish Critics of Zionism.

  • Tatiana Siegel: [06-06] Hollywood marketing guru fuels controversy by telling staffers to refrain from working with anyone 'posting against Israel': The Hollywood "black list" returns.

Trump:

  • Charlie Savage/Jonathan Swan/Maggie Haberman: [06-07] If Trump wins: Nothing new here that hasn't been reported elsewhere, but if you find the New York Times a credible source, believe it. (I should write more on this piece next week.)

  • David Corn: [06-06] Trump's obsession with revenge: a big post-verdict danger.

  • Michelle Cottle/Carlos Lozada: [06-07] The 'empty suit' of Trump's masculinity: With Jamelle Bouie and David French.

  • Chas Danner: [06-06] Trump can no longer shoot someone on fifth avenue. Well, his "New York concealed carry license was quietly suspended on April 1, 2023, following his indictment on criminal charges," leading him to surrender two guns, and move one "legally" to Florida. If he shoots someone on Fifth Avenue, he could be charged with illegal possession of a firearm, but if he could previously get away with murder, it's hard to see him more worried now.

  • Maureen Dowd: [07-28] The Don and his badfellas. She has fun with this, but seems to get to an inner truth:

    Trump is drawn to people who know how to dominate a room and exaggerated displays of macho, citing three of his top five movies as "The Good, the Bad and the Ugly," "Goodfellas" and "The Godfather."

    As a young real estate developer, he would hang out at Yankee Stadium and study the larger-than-life figures in the V.I.P. box: George Steinbrenner, Lee Iacocca, Frank Sinatra, Roy Cohn, Rupert Murdoch, Cary Grant. He was intent on learning how they grabbed the limelight.

    "In his first big apartment project, Trump's father had a partner connected to the Genovese and Gambino crime families," said Michael D'Antonio, another Trump biographer. "He dealt with mobbed-up suppliers and union guys for decades.

    "When Trump was a little boy, wandering around job sites with his dad -- which was the only time he got to spend with him -- he saw a lot of guys with broken noses and rough accents. And I think he is really enchanted by base male displays of strength. Think about 'Goodfellas' -- people who prevail by cheating and fixing and lying. Trump doesn't have the baseline intellect and experience to be proficient at governing. His proficiency is this mob style of bullying and tough-guy talk."

  • Abdallah Fayyad:: [06-04] Trump's New York conviction is not enough: "If the federal government wants to uphold democracy and the rule of law, it can't leave convicting Trump to the states."

  • Phil Freeman, in a [06-01] Facebook post, summed up Trump's post-verdict appearances almost perfectly (assuming you get what by now must be a very esoteric reference):

    Donald Trump is officially in his "Lenny Bruce reading his trial transcripts to audiences that came in expecting jokes" era. Hope everyone's ready for five solid months of rambling, self-pitying speeches about how unfair everyone is to him, 'cause that's what's coming, from today till November 5.

  • Matt Ford: [06-09] The right's truly incredible argument for weakening consumer safety: "A baby products company and an anti-woke activist group are trying to weaken a critical consumer watchdog agency. If one of their cases reaches the Supreme Court, we're all in trouble."

  • Michelle Goldberg: [06-07] Donald Trump's mob rule: Starts with an anecdote from Peter Navarro, currently in prison for contempt of Congress, describing how his Trump ties "make him something of a made man," both with guards and inmates. "One of the more unsettling things about our politics right now is the Republican Party's increasingly open embrace of lawlessness. Even as they proclaim Trump's innocence, Trump and his allies revel in the frisson of criminality."

    There's a similar dichotomy between Trump and his enemies: He represents charismatic personal authority as opposed to the bureaucratic dictates of the law. Under his rule, the Republican Party, long uneasy with modernity, has given itself over to Gemeinschaft. The Trump Organization was always run as a family business, and now that Trump has made his dilettante daughter-in-law vice chair of the Republican National Committee, the Republican Party is becoming one as well. To impose a similar regime of personal rule on the country at large, Trump has to destroy the already rickety legitimacy of the existing system. "As in Machiavelli's thought, the Prince is not only above the law but the source of law and all social and political order, so in the Corleone universe, the Don is 'responsible' for his family, a responsibility that authorizes him to do virtually anything except violate the obligations of the family bond," [Sam] Francis [a white nationalist who has become posthumously influential among MAGA elites] wrote. That also seems to be how Trump sees himself, minus, of course, the family obligations. What's frightening is how many Republicans see him the same way.

  • Sarah Jones: [06-06] The anti-abortion movement's newest lie: Are they going after contraception next?

  • Ed Kilgore:

    • [06-06] GOP primaries prove Trump has thoroughly dominated the party.

    • [06-08] Trump doubles down on plan for huge spending power grab.

      But arguably some of the most important second-term plans involve Team Trump's dark designs on the so-called swamp of the federal bureaucracy. Their interest in tearing down the civil service system is well-known, along with a scheme to fill vacant positions created by mass firings of non-partisan professional employees and their replacement via a so-called Schedule F of political appointees chosen for all the top policy-making jobs in the executive branch. The purpose of placing these MAGA loyalists throughout the bureaucracy isn't just to ride herd on such bureaucrats as remain in federal departments and agencies. These new commissars would also serve as Trojan Horses charged with advising the Trump high command on how to eliminate or disable executive branch functions the new order dislikes or can do without.

  • Ben Mathis-Lilley:

  • Kim Phillips-Fein: [06-04] The mandate for leadership, then and now: "The Heritage Foundation's 1980 manual aimed to roll back the state and unleash the free market. The 2025 vision is more extreme, and even more dangerous." This is part of an issue on Project 2025, which includes pieces like:

  • James Risen:

  • Greg Sargent: Trump's bizarre moments with Dr. Phil and Hannity should alarm us all.

  • Alex Shephard: [06-06] The billionaires have captured Donald Trump.

  • Matt Stieb: [06-09] The time Trump held a national security chat among Mar-a-Lago diners: "When he strategized about North Korea on a golf-resort patio, it was an early indication of how crazy his administration would get."

  • Ishaan Tharoor: [05-31] Netanyahu and Putin are both waiting for Trump: "Some foreign leaders may be holding out for a Trump victory." It's not just that they can expect to be treated more deferentially by Trump. It's also that they have a lot of leverage to sabotage Biden's reëlection chances, which are largely imperiled by the disastrous choices Biden made in allowing wars in Ukraine and Gaza to open up and to drag on indefinitely.

  • Michael Tomasky: It's simple: Trump is treated like a criminal because he's a criminal.

And other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Jeet Heer: Showing contempt for young voters is a great way for Democrats to lose in November: "Hillary Clinton's arrogance already lost one election. And if Joe Biden follows her example, it can easily cost another."

  • Annie Linskey/Siobhan Hughes: [06-04] Behind closed doors, Biden shows signs of slipping: "Participants in meetings said the 81-year-old president performed poorly at times. The White House said Biden is sharp and his critics are playing partisan politics." My wife found this very disturbing, but I find it hard to get interested, beyond bemoaning the obvious obsession of much of the media and some of the public with his age. Perhaps some day I'll write out my thoughts on aging politicians, but I don't feel up to it now, and expect I'll have many opportunities in the future. But I do have a lot of thoughts, which lead to a mixed bag of conclusions: about Biden (who I've never liked, and am very chagrined with over certain key policies), Democrats (who are so terrified, both of Trump and of their own rich donors, that they're unwilling to risk new leadership), the presidency (where the staff matters much more than the head or face), and the media (which has turned that face into some kind of bizarre circus act, relentlessly amplifying every surface flaw), and maybe even the people (we suffer many confusions about aging). Also on this:

    • Angelo Carusone tweeted about this piece: "The person who wrote that deceitful WSJ attack piece on Biden age is the same reporter who a few years ago (while at WaPo) had to delete a tweet for taking a jab at Biden as he visited his late son, wife and daughter's graves."

    • Greg Sargent: [06-06] Sleazy WSJ hit piece on Biden's age gets brutally shredded by Dems: "After a new report that dubiously hyped President Biden's age infuriated Democrats, we talked to a leading media critic about the deep problems with the press this sage exposes."

  • Blaise Malley: [06-05] 'We are the world power': Biden offers defense of US primacy: "In TIME interview, president talks up foreign policy record, offers few details on what second term would hold."

  • Nicole Narea: [06-04] Biden's sweeping new asylum restrictions, explained: "Biden's transparently political attack on asylum put little daylight between him and Trump." Some more on immigration:

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

  • Paul Krugman: Famed economist and New York Times token liberal columnist, I've paid very little attention to his columns of late, but thought a quick catch-up might be in order. His more wonkish pieces, especially on the recurring themes of inflation and budgets, are informative. And while he seems especially loathe to criticize Biden from the left, he is pretty clear when he focuses on the right.

Ukraine War and Russia:

  • Connor Echols: [06-07] Diplomacy Watch: What's the point of Swiss peace summit? It's not to negotiate with Russia, which won't be attending. Zelensky has a "10-point peace plan, which demands the full expulsion of Russian troops from the country and the prosecution of top Kremlin officials," which suggests he still thinks he can "win the war." I seriously doubt that, while I also see that Ukrainians have much more to lose if the war is prolonged.

  • Dave DeCamp: [05-30] France may soon announce it's sending troops to Ukraine for training.

  • Joshua Keating: [06-05] The US tests Putin's nuclear threats in Ukraine: "Allowing Ukraine to fire Western weapons into Russia strengthens an ally, but risks violating an unknown red line." I thought the "red line" was pretty loudly proclaimed. They're basically testing whether Putin is serious (which has usually been a bad idea, but the idea of him escalating directly to nuclear arms is pretty extreme, even for him). Also, it really isn't obvious how taking occasional pot shots inside Russia "strengthens Ukraine." Russia has more capability to strike Ukraine than vice versa, so once you factor the reprisals in it's unlikely that there will be any net gains, or that such gains could actually be realized through negotiation. And since negotiation is really the only avenue for ending this war, that's where the focus should really be.

  • Constant Méheut: [06-09] Ukrainian activist traces roots of war in 'centuries of Russian colonization': "One Ukrainian researcher and podcaster is a leading voice in efforts to rethink Ukrainian-Russian relations through the prism of colonialism." Mariam Naiem. I don't doubt that there is some value in this approach, but I can also imagine overdoing it. We tend to view colonialism through a British prism, perhaps with variations for France, maybe even Spain/Portugal, each of which varied, although the power dynamic was similar.

  • Theodore Postol: [06-05] Droning Russia's nuke radars is the dumbest thing Ukraine can do: "Attacks on the early warning system actually highlights the fragility of peace between the world's nuclear powers."

  • Reuters: [06-05] Russia to send combat vessels to Caribbean to project 'global power,' US official says: "Naval exercises spurred by US support for Ukraine are likely to include port calls in Cuba and Venezuela, says official." Nothing to be alarmed of here. (My first thought was how Russia sent its Baltic Sea fleet all the way around Africa in 1905, only to have it sunk in the Sea of Japan, an embarrassment that triggered the failed revolution of 1905.) But it does show that the era where only "sole superpower" US was arrogant enough to try to project global naval power is coming to a close. Also:

    • Guardian: [06-06] Russia nuclear-powered submarine to visit Cuba amid rising tensions with US. By the way, The Guardian remains a reliable source for news and opinion with an anti-Russian slant, as evidenced by:

    • Pjotr Sauer:

    • Léonie Chao-Fong: [06-05] Putin says Trump conviction 'burns' idea of US as leading democracy: Funny guy.

    • Patrick Wintour: [06-08] 'We're in 1938 now': Putin's war in Ukraine and lessons from history. The Guardian's "diplomatic editor," this could become a classic in the abuse of history for political ends, although he offers a nice feint in this:

      As Christopher Hitchens once wrote, much American foolishness abroad, from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq, has been launched on the back of Munich syndrome, the belief that those who appease bullies, as the then British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, sought to do with Adolf Hitler in Munich in 1938, are either dupes or cowards. Such leaders are eventually forced to put their soldiers into battle, often unprepared and ill-equipped -- men against machines, as vividly described in Guilty Men, written by Michael Foot, Frank Owen and Peter Howard after the Dunkirk fiasco. In France, the insult Munichois -- synonymous with cowardice -- sums it up.

      But then he quotes Timothy Snyder, and reverts to the stereotype that Putin is Hitler's second coming, an expansionist so implacable that he will continue besieging us until we finally gather up our courage and fight back. The problem here isn't just that Putin is not Hitler, but that this isn't even a valid portrait of Hitler, who had specific territorial ambitions that were conditioned by his times and place -- when "the sun never sets on the British Empire," presided over by a country no larger or more developed than Germany, while the vast land mass to Germany's east looked to him like the American West, promising Lebesraum for the superior Aryan race. Putin may conjure up the occasional odd fantasy of Peter the Great or Vlad the Impaler, not something we can take comfort in, but in an unconquerable world, nationalism is a self-limiting force, which falls far short of the ambitions of Hitler or the inheritance of Churchill.

  • Ted Snider: [06-04] Why Zelensky won't be able to negotiate peace himself: "The way out is to transcend bilateral talks to include moves toward a new, inclusive European security architecture."

America's empire and the world:


Other stories:

Associated Press: [06-06] Charleston bridge closed as out-of-control ship powers through harbor: In South Carolina, another 1,000ft ship, narrowly avoided knocking down another major bridge, as happened in Baltimore recently.

Kyle Chayka: [05-29] The new generation of online culture curators: "In a digital landscape overrun by algorithms and AI, we need human guides to help us decide what's worth paying attention to." This isn't meant as an advertisement, but perhaps it is an idea for one:

The onslaught of online content requires filtering, whether technological or human, and those of us who dislike the idea of A.I. or algorithms doing the filtering for us might think more about how we support the online personalities who do the job well.

Ivan Eland: [06-03] Finding a foreign policy beyond Biden and Trump: "There has to be an option that would allow the US to engage and protect its interests without aggressive primacy."

Tom Engelhardt: [06-04] Making war on Planet Earth: The enemy is us (and I'm not just thinking about Donald Trump).

AW Ohlheiser: [06-06] Why lying on the internet keeps working. Reviews, or at least refers to, a forthcoming book: \ Renée DiResta: Invisible Rulers: The People Who Turn Lies Into Reality, with what I suppose is a second-order subhed: "If You Make It Trend, You Make It True."

Kelsey Piper: [06-07] Where AI predictions go wrong: "Both skeptics and boosters are too sure of themselves."

Tejal Rao: [06-07] His 'death by chocolate' cake will live forever: "The chief Marcel Desaulniers, who died last month, had an over-the-top approach to dessert, a sweet counterpoint to the guilt-ridden chocolate culture of the time."

Music and the arts:

Mike Hale: [06-05] 'Hitler and the Nazis' review: Building a case for alarm: "Joe Berlinger's six-part documentary for Netflix asks whether we should see our future in Germany's past."

Tom Maxwell: [04-12] How deregulation destroyed indie rock across America: "On the corporate capture of regional radio stations." What happened with The Telecommunications Act of 1996, enacted by Newt Gingrich and signed by Bill Clinton: "The act . . . became a checkered flag for a small number of corporations to snap up commercial radio stations across the country and homogenize playlists." Excerpted from Maxwell's book, A Really Strange and Wonderful Time: The Chapel Hill Music Scene: 1989-1999.

Michael Tatum: A Downloader's Diary (52): June 2024.

Midyear reports: I've been factoring these into my metacritic file.


My nephew Ram Lama Hull dredged up a 2016 Facebook "memory" where he wrote "I'm likely voting 3rd party, and encourage everyone in Kansas to do the same." He didn't say who, but had a libertarian streak as well as the family's left-leanings. However, this year he writes:

I've changed my stance. I still stand by this as a general principle, but I voted Democrat in 2020, and will do so in 2024: even if my vote doesn't shift the electoral college results, I want to do my part to push for a Democratic mandate in the popular vote.

I added this comment:

I moved back to KS in 1999. In 2000, I voted for Nader, figuring that the Gore campaign was so invisible he might not even get as many votes as Nader. Bush won bit (58.04%), while Nader only got 3.37%, less than one-tenth of Gore's 37.24%. I drew two conclusions from this: one is that Kansas has a very solid minority that will show up as Democrats no matter how little effort one makes to reach them. (You can also see this in Moran's Senate results, where he rarely cracks 60% despite outspending his opponents as much as 100-to-1.) And second, if you ever want to get to a majority, you have to first win over your own Democrats. I'm very upset with Biden at the moment over his foreign policy (not just but especially Israel), but by now I've become pretty used to lesser-evilism.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, June 2, 2024


Speaking of Which

I never bother looking for an image for these posts, but sometimes one pops up that just seems right. I picked it up from a tweet, where Ron Flipkowski explains: "Trump bus crashes into a light pole today on the way to Staten Island rally for Trump." Dean Baker asks: "How fast was the light pole going when it hit the Trump bus?"

I need to post this early, which means Sunday evening, rather than the usual late night, or not-unheard-of sometime Monday. I did manage to check most of my usual sources, and wrote a few comments, going especially long on Nathan Robinson on Trump today. But no general or section introductions. Maybe I'll find some time later Monday and add some more links and/or comments. If so, they will be marked as usual. Worst case, not even Music Week gets posted on Monday.


Initial count: 184 links, 9173 words. Updated count [06-05]: 194 links, 9598 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): Nathan Robinson on Trump; on music.


Top story threads:

Israel:

America's Israel (and Israel's America): The Biden administration, despite occasional misgivings, is fully complicit in Israel's genocide. Republicans only wish to intensify it -- after all, they figure racism and militarism are their things.

Israel vs. world opinion:

Election notes:

Trump: Guilty on all counts!

  • Intelligencer Staff: Donald Trump found guilty on all counts: live updates. Titles will change with updates: on [05-31] this turned into "Trump will appeal: Live updates." This seems to have picked up the baton from what has long been the best of the "live update" posts on the trial:

  • Sasha Abramsky: Trump's "tough guy" act is put to the test: "The former president's felony conviction follows weeks of Trump repositioning himself as a politically persecuted martyr -- and an American gangster."

  • Maggie Astor: [06-02] Lara Trump, RNC leader, denounces Larry Hogan for accepting Trump verdict: So much for Reagan's "11th commandment."

  • Zack Beauchamp: [05-30] Why the ludicrous Republican response to Trump's conviction matters: "Republicans are busy attacking the legitimacy of the American legal and political system." Not that there's no room for critiquing how it works, including who it favors and why it's stacked against many others, but Republicans have staked out many positions as the party of criminality. In Trump they have their poster boy.

  • Ryan Bort: [05-31] Trump is cashing in on his criminal conviction.

  • Ben Burgis: [05-31] The rule of law being applied to Trump is good.

  • Sophia Cal: [06-02] Guilty verdict fuels Trump's push for Black voters: Because they know what it feels like to be victimized by the criminal justice system? It's going to be hard to spin this as anything but racist.

  • Jonathan Chait:

    • [05-30] Trump's conviction means less than you might think: Once again, his instinct is to argue with imaginary readers, about whom he knows bupkis. It could just as easily mean more than you think. Sure, "a lot depends on what happens next." And, I dare say, on what happens after that. He dwells on analogies of negligible value, like foreign leaders who wound up in jail (but thankfully skipping over ones who returned to power, like Lula da Silva, or Berlusconi -- a better match for Trump), but has an amusing paragraph on one of Trump's heroes, Al Capone. But before making that obvious point ("life isn't fair, nor is the legal system," but it's better to get a habitual criminal on a technicality than to let him get away with everything), Chait gets the story straight:

      In a global sense, Trump's conviction in a court is not just fair but overdue. He has been flouting the law his entire adult life. Trump reportedly believed he enjoyed legal impunity due to his relationship with Manhattan's prosecutor, though the basis for that belief has never been established. The extent of his criminality has oddly escaped notice, perhaps overshadowed by his constant offenses against truth and decency, or perhaps because people tend to think stealing is a crime when you aim a gun at a clerk but not when you create phony companies and bilk the Treasury.

      Once he ascended to the presidency, Trump's criminality only grew. He issued illegal orders constantly, flummoxing his staff. He attempted (with unrecognized partial success) in turning the powers of the Justice Department into a weapon against his enemy, which was in turn an expression of his criminal's view of the law: as an inherently hypocritical tool of the powerful against the weak.

      The incongruity of the Manhattan case as the venue for Trump's legal humiliation is that it did not represent his worst crimes, or close to it. The case was always marginal, the kind of charge you would never bring against a regular first-time offender. It was the sort of charge you'd concoct if the target is a bad guy and you want to nail him for something.

    • [05-31] Does the conservative rage machine go to 11? "Republicans are now so angry, they want a candidate who will threaten to lock up his opponent." You understand, don't you, that they're just working the refs, like they always do. They're also normalizing the behavior they claim to be victimized by. They don't see a problem with prosecuting political opponents. They just think they should be immune, while everyone else is fair game.

    • [05-30] Bush torture lawyer John Yoo calls for revenge prosecutions against Democrats: "Poor, innocent Donald Trump must be avenged."

  • Ryan Cooper: [05-31] Alvin Bragg was right, his critics were wrong: "A jury of his peers agreed that Donald Trump deserved to be prosecuted in the Stormy Daniels case."

  • David Corn: [05-30] Trump loses a big battle in his lifelong war against accountability: "His 34 guilty convictions turn this escape artist into a felon."

  • Susan B Glasser: [05-31] The revisionist history of the Trump trial has already begun: "The ex-President's war on truth has an instant new target: his guilty verdict."

  • Margaret Hartmann:

  • Elie Honig: [05-31] Prosecutors got Trump -- but they contorted the law. Former prosecutors and persistent naysayer, admits "prosecutors got their man," but adds: "for now -- but they also contorted the law in an unprecedented manner in their quest to snare their prey."

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-31] How Trump will campaign as a convicted criminal. Premature to write this now, at least until sentencing, and even then there must be some possibility that he'll get some temporary relief from some appellate judge. Eugene Debs ran for president in 1920 when he was in jail, but he couldn't campaign (and his vote totals were way down from 1916 and especially 1912). McKinley never left his front porch in 1896, so that might be a model -- lots of surrogates, backed with lots of money -- if he's stuck at home, but why would a judge allow a convict a free hand to keep doing what got him into legal trouble in the first place? Do drug dealers get to keep dealing until they've exhausted appeals? I've never heard of that. But then I've never seen a criminal defendant treated as delicately or deferentially as Trump before.

  • Eric Levitz: [05-31] The best -- and worst -- criticisms of Trump's conviction: "The debate, explained." This is very good on the technical aspects of the case, and pretty good on the political ones. On purely technical grounds, I could see finding for Trump, although I still have a few questions. The charges that Bragg and/or Merchan are biased and/or conflicted amount to little more than special pleading for favorable treatment. Still, it's hard to avoid the impression that, regardless of the exact laws and their customary interpretations, this case derives from a deeply unethical act that had profoundly damaging consequences for the nation. Cohen already did jail time for his part in this fraud, so why should we excuse Trump, who he clearly did his part for?

    All along, Trump has acted guilty, but unrepentant, arrogantly playing the charges for political gain. There has never been a case like this before, not because Trump used to be president, but because no other defendant has ever pushed his arrogance so far. It's almost as if he was begging to get convicted, figuring not only that he would survive his martyrdom, but that it would cinch him the election. I might say that's a bold gamble, but insane seems like the more appropriate word.

  • Errol Louis: [06-01] The courage of Alvin Bragg's conviction: "Despite the many doubters, the Manhattan DA's steady methodical approach to prosecuting Donald Trump prevailed."

  • Amanda Marcotte: [05-31] Trump is no outlaw, just a grubby, sad criminal.

  • Anna North: [05-31] We need to talk more about Trump's misogyny: "Stormy Daniels reminded us that it matters."

  • Andrew Prokop: [05-30] The felon frontrunner: How Trump warped our politics: "This is the moment Trump's critics have been dreaming of for years. But something isn't right here." There's something very screwy going on here, but this article isn't helping me much.

  • Hafiz Rashid: [05-31] Jim Jordan launches new idiotic crusade after Trump guilty verdict: He wants to subpoena the prosecutors to "answer questions" before his House committee. Scroll down and find another article by Rashid: Trump's most famous 2020 lawyer is one step closer to complete ruin: "Things are suddenly looking even worse for Rudy Giuliani."

  • Andrew Rice: [05-31] What it was like in court the moment Trump was convicted: "Suddenly, the whole vibe changed."

  • Greg Sargent: Trump's stunning guilty verdict shatters his aura of invincibility.

  • p>Alex Shephard: Trump's historic conviction is a hollow victory.

  • Matt Stieb/Chas Danner: [05-31] What happens to Trump now? Surprisingly little. If you ever get convicted or a felony, don't expect to be treated like this. He's still free on bail, at least up to sentencing on July 11 ("just four days before the Republican National Convention starts"). Meanwhile, his political instincts seem to be serving him better than his lawyers are: "Though the campaign's claims have not been verified by FEC filings yet, they say Trump raised an historic $34.8 million in the hours since his conviction."

  • Michael Tomasky: Susan Collins's really dumb Trump defense reveals the GOP's sickness: "The only thing that was more fun yesterday than watching the Trump verdict come in was watching Republicans and assorted right-wingers sputter in outrage."

  • Maegan Vazquez/Tobi Raji/Mariana Alfaro: [06-02] After Trump's conviction, many Republicans fall in line by criticizing trial.

  • Amanda Yen: [06-01] Trump Tower doorman allegedly paid off in hush-money scandal has advice for Trump: Based on a New York Daily News exclusive interview with Dino Sajudin. Scroll down and you also see: [06-03] Trump trial witnesses got big raises from his campaign and businesses.

  • Li Zhou/Andrew Prokop: [05-30] Trump's remaining 3 indictments, ranked by the stakes: "A quick guide to Trump's indictments and why they matter."

More Trump, and other Republicans:

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Heath Brown: [06-01] An insurrection, a pandemic, and celebrities: Inside Biden's rocky transition into the White House: An excerpt from a new book, Roadblocked: Joe Biden's Rocky Transition to the Presidency.

  • David Dayen: [05-29] The three barriers to Biden's re-election: "Price increases, a broader economic frustration built over decades, and an inability to articulate what's being done about any of it."

  • Gabriel Debenedetti: [05-30] Does Trump's conviction mean this is a new campaign? "Biden's team hopes it will start a month of contrasts that reframe the race." This is going to be tricky. For instance, all I had heard about Robert De Niro's speech outside the trial was about how he was attacking "pro-Palestinian protesters" -- a claim that has been denied, although the denial seems to have been about something else. One painful memory I have was how in the late months of his 1972 campaign, George McGovern latched onto Watergate as his big issue, and sunk like a rock.

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-30] Biden needs disengaged, unhappy voters to stay home: My first thought was that this is dumb, useless, and if attempted almost certain to backfire. The idea that the more people you get to vote, the more than break for Democrats, dates mostly from 2010, when a lot of Obama's 2008 voters stayed home and Republicans won big. However, the 2010 turnout was almost exactly the same as 2006, when Democrats won big. So while presidential elections always get many more voters than midterms, the partisan split of who's disengaged and/or unhappy varies. However, it probably is true that unhappy and/or ignorant (a more telling side-effect of being disengaged) voters will break for Trump, as they did in 2016 and 2020, so there is one useful piece of advice here, which is don't provoke them (e.g., calling them "baskets of deplorables"). Of course, that's hard, because Republicans are using everything they got to rile them up, and it's not like they won't invent something even if you don't give them unforced errors. So the real strategy has to still be to engage voters on the basis of meaningful understanding and building trust.

  • Eric Levitz: [05-28] One explanation for the 2024 election's biggest mystery: "A theory for why Biden is struggling with young and nonwhite voters." Subheds: "Biden is losing ground with America's most distrustful demographic groups; The Biden 2024 coalition is short on 'tear it all down' voters; Why the Biden presidency might have accelerated low-trust voters' rightward drift."

  • Bill Scher: [05-23] Another Biden accomplishment: 200 judges and counting. Scher also featured this in his newsletter: [05-23] How Democrats are winning the race for the lower courts.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

  • Marina Dias/Terrence McCoy: [05-28] The climate refugee crisis is here: "Catastrophic flooding in southern Brazil has forced hundreds of thousands of people from their homes. Many say they won't go back."

  • Heather Souvaine Horn: You'd be amazed how many people want big oil charged with homicide: Yes, I would, not least because it suggests they don't understand what homicide means (cf. Israel, which is committing homicide on a massive scale, enough so that it has its own word). "A new poll shows overwhelming support for holding oil and gas companies accountable via the courts." Now, that makes more sense. It may not be the right way to do it, but it's a more immediately accessible mechanism than moving politically to write new regulations to address the problems more directly.

  • Umair Irfan: [05-29] How one weather extreme can make the next one even more dangerous: "We're in an era of compound natural disasters."

  • Mitch Smith/Judson Jones: [06-02] From Texas to Michigan, a punishing month for tornadoes: "More than 500 tornadoes were reported, the most of any month in at least five years, uprooting homes and disrupting lives in cities small and large." May is the most common month for tornadoes, with an annual average of 275.

Economic matters:

  • Dean Baker:

  • Idrees Kahloon: [05-27] The world keeps getting richer. Some people are worried: "To preserve humanity -- and the planet -- should we give up growth?" Review of Daniel Susskind: Growth: A History and a Reckoning, also referring back to other books on growth and degrowth. I've long been sympathetic to degrowth arguments, but I don't especially disagree with this:

    As our economy has migrated toward the digital over the material and toward services over goods, the limits to growth have less of a physical basis than World3 had anticipated. In fact, the most serious limits to growth in the U.S. seem to be self-imposed: the artificial scarcity in housing; the regulatory thickets that tend to asphyxiate clean-energy projects no matter how well subsidized; the pockets of monopoly that crop up everywhere; a tax regime incapable of cycling opportunity to those most in need. The risk of another Malthusian cap imposing itself on humanity appears, fortunately, remote. Meanwhile, the degrowthers' iron law -- that economic growth is intrinsically self-destructive -- has become less and less plausible. "One can imagine continued growth that is directed against pollution, against congestion, against sliced white bread," Robert Solow, a Nobel Prize-winning economist at M.I.T., declared in a rebuttal to "The Limits to Growth" half a century ago.

    It should be obvious that some economic activities are not just useful but essential, while others are wasteful or worse. Whether the sum is positive or negative doesn't tell us which is which, or what we should be doing. The other obvious point is that growth does not balance off inequality, even though many on the Democratic of the spectrum favor pro-growth policies in the hope that they might satisfy both donors and workers. But the usual impact is just more inequality.

  • Whizy Kim: [05-29] What's really happening to grocery prices right now: "Target and Walmart are talking about their price cuts. How big of a deal is it?"

Ukraine War and Russia:

America's empire and the world:


Other stories:

Memorial Day: When I was growing up, folks in my family called it Decoration Day. We visited cemeteries close to the family, or more often sent money to relatives to place flowers on family graves -- many of which served in the military, but few who were killed in wars (which were few and infrequent before 1941, and perpetual ever since). So I always thought of the holiday as an occasion for remembering your ancestors -- not to glory in their wars, or to snub folks who got through their lives without war. Although, I suppose if you have to think about war, it's best to start with the costs, starting with the dead. But they don't end with our cemeteries.

Michael Brenes: [05-31] How liberalism betrayed the enlightenment and lost its soul: A review of Samuel Moyn: Liberalism Against Itself: Cold War Intellectuals and the Making of Our Times.

Dana Hedgpeth/Sari Horwitz: [05-29] They took the children: "The hidden legacy of Indian boarding schools in the United States."

Eóin Murray: [06-01] Without solidarity, the left has nothing: Actually, the left would still have a persuasive analysis of how the world works (along with a critique of the right's failures and injustices), combined with the appropriate ethics. The problem is translating that analysis into effective political action, and that's where the book reviewed here, Astra Taylor and Leah Hunt-Hendrix: Solidarity: The Past, Present, and Future of a World-Changing Idea comes into play.

Rick Perlstein: [05-29] My political depression problem -- and ours: "Granular study of the ever-more-authoritarian right didn't demoralize the author as much as reaction from the left." I'll keep this open, and no doubt write about it some day, probably closer to the election, because I figure there's no point in me panicking about that right now.

Nathan J Robinson:

  • [05-31] Trump's worst crimes remain unpunished: "Trump's policies killed many people in the United States and around the world. Hush money is the least of his crimes. But an honest confrontation of his worst offenses creates complications for a political class that commits crimes routinely." I wouldn't say the hush money case is "the least of his crimes." Even if we limit ourselves to the indicted ones -- not even the tip of a very large iceberg -- I'd rank it above his sloppy handling of classified documents. The hush money case is a good example of how Trump does business, using legal chicanery to dishonestly manipulate what we know about his business and person. (Admittedly, the documents case also provides crucial insights into his pathological character. I wouldn't say that, in itself, should be illegal, but for someone with his political profile, the cover up matters.)

    But for sure on the main point, and not just because no American can ever be prosecuted for the worst things presidents can do -- the criminal justice system in America is designed to protect the property and persons of the rich, and only marginally to regulate and discipline the rich themselves (who are threats to themselves as well as to the public, but are accorded many courtesies denied to less fortunate offenders).

    Still, I wouldn't lead with the number of people who died, either by his command (e.g., through drone strikes) or his incompetence (his mishandling of Covid-19 looms large here, but I'd also factor in how his policies toward Israel and Ukraine contributed to wars there, and I'd consider a few more cases, like Iran and North Korea, that haven't blown up yet, but still could). But that's mostly because I'm more worried about how he's corrupted and steered public political discourse. And that's not just because I fear the end of democracy -- if you follow the money, as you should, you'll see that that ship has already sailed -- but because he has, for many (possibly most) people, soiled and shredded our sense of fairness and decency, including our respect for others, and indeed for truth itself.

    While Trump doesn't deserve sole credit or blame for this sorry state of affairs -- he had extensive help from Republicans, backed by their "vast right-wing conspiracy," who saw his cunning as an opportunity to further their graft, and by naïve media eager to cash in on his sensationalism -- he has been the catalyst for a great and terrible transformation, where he sucked up all the rot and ferment the right has been sowing for decades, stripped it of all inhibitions, and turned it into a potentially devastating political force.

    I've never been a fan of "great man" history, but once in a while you do run across some individual who manages to do big things no one else could reasonably have done. My apologies for offering Hitler as an example, but I can't imagine any other German implementing the Holocaust -- fomenting hatred to fuel Russian-style pogroms, sure, but Hitler went way beyond that, exercising a unique combination of personal ambition, perverse imagination, and institutional power. Trump, arguably, has less of those qualities, although clearly enough to do some major damage.

    But the comparison seems fanciful mostly because we know how Hitler's story ended. Try putting Trump on Hitler's timeline. Four years after Hitler became chancellor was 1937, with the Anschluss and Kristallnacht still in the future -- war and genocide came later, and while there were signs pointing in that direction, such prospects were rarely discussed. One can argue that Trump made less progress in his first term than Hitler in 1933-37, mostly due to institutional resistance, but also lack of preparation on his part -- Hitler had a decade after the Munich putsch failed, during which he built a loyal party, whereas Trump found himself depending on Reince Preibus and Mike Pence for key staffing decisions. The one advantage Trump gained in four years out of power is that he's prepared to use (and abuse) whatever power he can wangle in 2024. So one shouldn't put much trust in his past failures predicting future failure. He wants to do things we can't afford to discount.

    By the way, Robinson points out something I had forgotten, that he had previously written a whole book on Trump: Trump: Anatomy of a Monstrosity, which came out a bit too late, on Jan. 17, 2017, but was reprinted with an afterword in time for the 2020 election, under a new title: American Monstrosity: Donald Trump: How We Got Him, How We Stop Him (which only seems to be available direct from OR Books). By the way, since I was just speaking of Hitler, let's slip the following 2018 article in out of order:

  • [2018-07-04] How horrific things come to seem normal: This tracks how Hitler was covered in the New York Times, from November 21, 1922 (p. 21, "New popular idol rises in Bavaria") to 1933:

    Here's a final tragic bit of wishful thinking from his appointment as chancellor in 1933: "The composition of the cabinet leaves Herr Hitler no scope for the gratification of any dictatorial ambition."

    Let's hope future historians are not driven to compile a similar record for Trump -- although I wouldn't be surprised to find books already written on the subject.

  • [05-28] No leftist wants a Trump presidency: "Let's be clear. The right poses an unparalleled threat. Left criticism of Democrats is in part about preventing the return of Trump."

  • [05-30] The toxic legacy of Martin Peretz's New Republic: Interview with Jeet Heer, who "has written two major essays about the intellectual legacy of the New Republic magazine's 70s-2000s heyday" (actually 1974-2012): From 2015 The New Republic's legacy on race; and [05-14] Friends and enemies: "Martin Peretz and the travails of American liberalism." Heer actually likes Peretz's memoir, The Controversialist: Arguments With Everyone, Left, Right and Center.

  • [05-29] Presenting: The Current Affairs Briefly Awards!: "The best, the worst, and everything in between." I won't attempt to excerpt or synopsize this. Just enjoy, or tremble, as the case may be.

  • [04-15] Why new atheism failed: I was surprised to see him publish outside his own journal, then surprised again to find that this is a "subscriber only" article. It's probably similar to this older one: [2017-10-28] Getting beyond "new atheism"; or for that matter, what he has to say about the subject in his books, Responding to the Right: Brief Replies to 25 Conservative Arguments, and The Current Affairs Rules for Life: On Social Justice & Its Critics.

Li Zhou: [05-31] The MLB's long-overdue decision to add Negro Leagues' stats, briefly explained. The statistics come from 1920-48, so there is still a large patch of history between 1870-1920 that is unaccounted for, and the official seasons were much shorter (60 vs. 150 games), so counts are suppressed. We can't replay history, but this helps understand it.

Also, some writing on music/arts:

Ryan Maffei: {03-28] Somebody explain the early '80s to me (in popular-musical terms, of course). Facebook thread, collecting 205 comments. I don't have time to focus on this, but wanted to bookmark it for possible future reference. The 1980s were my personal desert years. In 1980 I moved from NYC to NJ, gave up writing for jobs writing software, bought very little beyond Robert Christgau's CG picks -- maybe 50-75 LPs a year, only moving into CDs relatively late (well after moving to Massachusetts in late 1984). In the mid-1990s I started buying lots more CDs, and doing a lot of backtracking (before my initial heavy 1970s period, also all jazz periods), but never really filled in the numerous holes in my 1980s, so I still have some unquenched curiosity this may help with. By the way, this comment, from Greg Magarian, was the one that caught my eye:

Just love. I can't pretend to be dispassionate; '80-'89 for me were junior high, high school, college. Every day was discovery. All flavors of UK punk fallout. Following Two Tone and UB40 into original ska and reggae. US indie rock flowering everywhere and coming to stages near me. MTV exposing me to everything from MJ to Faith No More. Record store bargain bins that tricked my white urban ass into exploring soul and country. Coaxing my friends on a hunch at the multiplex to ditch The Karate Kid for Purple Rain and being changed forever. Checking out any early hip-hop 12-inch I could get my hands on. Bad Dylan and good Springsteen. 60s nostalgia as a romantic ideal. Warming up to superstar albums through their five or six durable singles. Making mixtapes for girls. Borrowing records to tape from friends and friends of friends and dudes whose apartments I stumbled into.

Li Zhou: [05-29] The Sympathizer takes on Hollywood's Vietnam War stories: "HBO's new miniseries centers Vietnamese voices -- and reframes the consequences of war." I can't say as I enjoyed watching it, but I suppose it wrapped up better when the two time tracks finally converged, and I got used to the annoying tick of showing events in multiple varying versions to reflect the vagaries of memory. Zhou likes that it introduces Vietnamese voices to a genre that's seen a lot of American navel-gazing, but it's still impossible to show any generosity to Vietnamese communists -- The Three Body Problem was even harsher in its depiction of Chinese communists. My wife tells me the novel is brilliant, and that there's more story left, so I expect another season. I read Viet Thanh Nguyen's Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War, and he's clearly a very smart and basically decent guy.

Listening blogs:

Mid-year reports:

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Sunday, May 26, 2024


Speaking of Which

[Updated 2024-05-28. New sections and major edits flagged, like this.]

I woke up one morning last week flooded by what felt like deep thoughts. Of course, I never got around to writing them down, and most have proven fleeting, but one stuck with me as important enough to use an an introduction here. It's that, in negotiations, one should always try to do the right thing. In games, that means seeking out the maximum positive sum (or, if you are starting in deep trouble, as is often the case, the minimum negative sum).

You may have trouble quantizing, but any mutual gain will do, as would a mutual loss that doesn't seem disparate. They key is that both sides should feel some satisfaction, even if it's only relative to where one entered negotiations. This matters because not only does one have to solve a current problem, but one hopes to prevent a future recurrence. Any negotiation that ends with one side feeling aggrieved is likely to be rejoined later, when prospects become more favorable.

The simplest model I can think of here is what we might call the social contract. In unequal situations, one side may be able to dominate and take from the other, who being demeaned will be resentful and seek to redress the situation, possibly flipping roles only to be targeted again. Humans do not readily submit to other humans, so it takes extra effort not just to obtain but to maintain unequal ranks, while the rewards for doing so diminish. Hegel understood this well enough in theory, but he also had the real world example of American slavery to draw on.

Yet many people, especially in positions of power, still think they can use their power to force the submission of others, thereby preserving their advantages. They may get away with it for a fairly long time, but never without cost, and sometimes at great risk of revolt and revolution. This desire to dominate was long thought to be as essentially human as rebellion, but it can be tempered by reason if one is willing to think things through. Unfortunately, the sort of people who start and fight wars are sadly deficient in that respect.

Real world cases can be tricky. You need to sort out what really matters, and understand how various options will play out. On the other hand, you need to steer away from positions that will cause future resentment. A good rule of thumb here is that anything that exploits a power advantage or intends to preserve or develop one is likely to backfire. Unfortunately, most thinking by US and other powers is based on the assumption that power provides leverage for imposing unequal settlements. This delays negotiations, and leads to bad agreements.

Specifics vary from case to case. I write about Ukraine most weeks. The battleground is deadlocked, with both sides capable of extending the war indefinitely. Ukraine's maximalist goal of retaking all of its pre-2014 territory is unrealistic. Russia's goals and minimum requirements are less clear, in part because the US is fixated on weakening and degrading Russia on the theory (groundless as far as I can tell) that Putin is obsessed with expanding Russian territory and/or hegemony. I think it's more likely that Putin is concerned to halt or limit US/EU threats to Russia's security and economy, which have been manifested in NATO expansion, EU expansion, and sanctions against Russian business interests. If that's the case, there are opportunities to trade various chits for favors in Ukraine, especially ones that longer-term will reduce US-Russia tensions.

That doesn't mean that Putin will be willing to give up all of Ukraine. Crimea and Donbas had Russian ethnic majorities before the broke away in 2014, and given the chance would almost certainly have voted to join Russia. As a nationalist, Putin is concerned with the fate of Russian ethnic minorities beyond his borders -- such people had been secure in the Soviet Union, but became vulnerable when the SSRs broke away and themselves became more nationalist. Besides, having made the move into Ukraine, and having conquered and held additional territory (which is now also heavily Russian), he's very unlikely to walk away empty-handed.

All this suggests to me that a deal would be possible -- perhaps not win-win but one that lose-loses a lot less than continuing the war -- if we start looking for a more equal settlement, as opposed to the current strategy of hoping the next offensive adds some leverage while nearing the other side to exhaustion. Not only has that thinking failed both sides utterly, the prospect of an inequitable settlement would only serve to encourage future conflicts.

Same principles should apply elsewhere, and will inform my comments when I get to them.


I'm getting to where I really hate website redesigns, all of which are immediately disruptive, making it harder to find things. While you expect to get past that after a bit of learning curve, it often turns out to be a permanent condition. The Wichita Eagle changed to a more "web friendly" design recently, as opposed to their previous newspaper page scans (which they still have now, but buried in the back, behind lots of spurious junk). I suppose regular articles are a bit easier to read, and flipping past them is a bit faster, but still, I'm almost ready to quit them -- which would be a loss for Dion Leffler, and various restaurant and road openings and closings, but not much more.

One of my regular stops is Vox, and their redesign is so disruptive I'm bothering to mention it here. (They explain some of this here, but they merely assert that the "sleek, updated design [makes] it easier for you to discover and find all of the journalism you love." It doesn't.)


Posting this end-of-Sunday, not really complete, but there's quite a bit here. I'll add some more on Monday.

Initial count: 185 links, 11,242 words. Updated count [03-28]: 217 links, 14,446 words.

Local tags (these can be linked to directly): Louis Allday; Fred Kaplan; Sarah Jones; on music.


Top story threads:

Israel:

  • Mondoweiss:

  • Middle East Monitor: Live Updates: Famine imminent in northern Gaza amid Israel's closure of crossings, media office warns: Plus numerous other stories.

  • Wafa Aludaini: [05-25] The slaughter of Palestinian scholars in Gaza is a deliberate Israeli tactic.

  • Ruwaida Kamal Amer: [05-21] Cementing its military footprint, Israel is transforming Gaza's geography: "As Israel expands a buffer zone and erects army bases in the Strip, Palestinians fear the permanent loss of their homes and land."

  • Kavitha Chekuru: Hundreds of Palestinian doctors disappeared into Israeli detention.

  • Emma Graham-Harrison: [05-28] Tanks reach centre of Rafah as attacks mount and Israel's isolation grows.

  • Ryan Grim:

  • Tareq S Hajjaj: [05-27] Rafah massacre: how Israel bombs displaced Gazans in their tents: "The Israeli army bombed Gazans in their tents in the 'safe zone' where it told them to go. Eyewitnesses told Mondoweiss most of the dead were burned alive or decapitated and dismembered. Many of them were children." I don't want to pile on a late-breaking story, but:

  • Shatha Hanaysha: [05-23] Jenin resistance defiant as Israeli army kills 12 Palestinians in raid. I'm not much into celebrating resistance against a force as overwhelmingly powerful, insensitive and cruel as the IDF, but it is human nature to resist such force, by whatever means are available ("necessary," the term one first thinks of here, implies hope and purpose that aren't always easy to see).

  • Fred Kaplan: I included these links, meaning to write more about them, but ran out of time on Sunday, leaving them as stubs. Again growing weary on Tuesday, I'll add a couple brief notes, but there is much more I'd like to say. (Maybe you can find it elsewhere in this or previous weeks' posts? [PS: Ok, I wound up writing quite a bit anyway.])

    • [05-13] Why Israel and Hamas still do not have a cease-fire: "There are only three ways out of the war." Nothing very deep here. His three ways are universal rules for all wars: one side wins; both sides give up and settle; some more powerful third party gets fed up and threatens to knock heads, forcing a settlement. You can provide an easy list of examples, as long as you're willing to count lots of costs as some kind of win. The problem is that these scenarios assume you have war between two relatively autonomous sides, and that if victory is not possible, both sides are willing to accept the continued existence of the other.

      Those assumptions are simply wrong. There is no Hamas army, or Palestinian army. It is not even clear that Hamas exists, at least beyond some public figures outside of Gaza, their assertion that they hold a small number of Israelis, and occasional bursts of small arms fire and the occasional rocket, which are no threat, and evidently no inhibition, to Israel. That Hamas only exists to give Israel an excuse -- one that at least its still-gullible allies in the US and elsewhere will cling to -- for its systematic demolition and depopulation of Gaza. In other words, this isn't a war. It just looks like one because Israel is fighting it with advanced weapons of war, none of which Hamas or any other Palestinians possess: planes, missiles, drones, heavy artillery, tanks, ships, surveillance, AI-based targeting, a huge number of trained fighters, an advanced military-industrial complex, and a steady stream of billions of dollars of reinforcements from the US, and if all that fails they still have a nuclear arsenal.

      If Hamas had those things, you could legitimately call this a war, and you'd find that Israel suddenly has reasons for wanting it to end. That's when the risks to both sides are high enough that they start negotiating. However, when it's just Israel shooting fish in a barrel, why should Israel negotiate? Worst case scenario is you run out of fish, but that's not something Israelis have ever had to worry about. And no matter how much we decry their intents and practices as genocidal, Israelis are very different from the Nazis who set the standard for genocide. Israelis may think they were chosen by God -- some do, some don't, the difference scarcely matters -- they don't see themselves as a master race, and don't seek to drive others into slavery. They see themselves as eternal victims, so the best they can hope for isn't a Final Solution -- it's simply to drive the others away, to push them back and out from their safe fortress (their Iron Wall, Iron Dome, etc.). Nor do they worry that they are training others to hate them, to come back and seek revenge, because they know deep down that others will hate them anyway, that this condition is eternal, as is their struggle to defend themselves.

      We can kick around various hypotheticals, but the bottom line is that this war only ends when Israel decides to stop prosecuting it, either because the costs exceed what they're willing to pay, or because they grow sick and tired, and ashamed, of the slaughter. Neither of those are likely to happen as long as the US is willing to foot the bills and run diplomatic interference. If the US and Europe were to seriously threaten to flip against Israel, they might decide that the conflict isn't worth the trouble, and start to make amends. That's probably the best-case scenario: nothing less will get Israel's attention. Nothing more is practically possible -- no nation, regardless of how powerful they think they are, is going to overthrow Israel by arms. (The US tried that with Afghanistan and Iraq, and failed. Russia tried that with Ukraine, and failed. China tried that with Vietnam, and failed. Every case is slightly different, but none of those had the nuclear weapons Israel has. And while the US has pushed sanctions to their limit against North Korea, they've thought better than starting a major war.)

      Israelis may not mind being sanctioned back into a shell, like North Korea has endured. They're certainly psychologically prepared for it. But they've also been living la dolce vita for many decades, largely on the American taxpayer's dime, so may be they will see that they have real choices to make, and being ostensibly a democracy, they may even be able to make their own.

    • [05-21] Why Netanyahu's war cabinet is existentially divided: "The Israeli prime minister refuses to plan for life after the war in Gaza."

    • The simplest explanation is that he doesn't want the war to end, ever. Israel has fought continuously since 1948 (or really since 1937), along the way building up a military, a police and spy system, courts, and a civil society that knows how to do nothing else. They've cultivated a psyche that is hardened by fear and hate, one that only experiences pleasure in inflicting pain on others. They need those others. If they didn't exist, they'd have to hate them -- and in many case they have. If they didn't have those others, they'd turn their hate on each other, because that's what the psyche demands. If Hamas still exists today, that's because Israel needs Hamas as its pretext for fighting Palestinians in Gaza. And if Israel is slow-rolling the genocide in Gaza, it's because it gives them cover for ethnic cleaning in the West Bank. Hitler set an impossible standard in thinking he could reach a Final Solution. Netanyahu wants something far deadlier, which is Permanent Revolution. But we still call it genocide, because to the victims it looks much the same.

  • Ken Klippenstein/Daniel Boguslaw: [04-20] Israel attack on Iran is what World War III looks like: "Like countless other hostilities, the stealthy Israeli missile and drone strike on Iran doesn't risk war. It is war."

  • Akela Lacy: The AIPAC donor funnels millions to an IDF unit accused of violating human rights: "The battalion has a dedicated US nonprofit to support its operations -- whose president is supporting AIPAC's political agenda."

  • Haggai Matar: [05-20] Israeli military censor bans highest number of articles in over a decade: "The sharp rise in media censorship in 2023 comes as the Israeli government further undermines press freedoms, especially amid the Gaza war."

  • Loveday Morris: [05-26] Far-right Israeli settlers step up attacks on aid trucks bound for Gaza.

  • Orly Noy: [05-23] Why Israel is more divided than ever. I wish, but I doubt it. Author is chair of B'Tselem, a group that has done heroic work in documenting the human rights abuses of the occupation.

  • Jonathan Ofir: [05-27] Netanyahu's response to the ICC invokes another genocidal biblical reference: "Netanyahu's rant against the ICC quoted a biblical verse that warns against the dangers of not completely wiping out your enemy's society. It doesn't take much to figure out what this means for Israel's genocidal war on Gaza."

  • Prem Thakker: The State Department says Israel isn't blocking aid. Videos show the opposite.

America's Israel (and Israel's America): The Biden administration, despite occasional misgivings, is fully complicit in Israel's genocide. Republicans only wish to intensify it -- after all, they figure racism and militarism are their things.

Israel vs. world opinion: From demonstrations to ICC indictments, and backlash again.

  • Nasser Abourarme: [05-25] The student uprising is fighting for all of us: "Palestine has ignited our planetary consciousness once again, and it is the student movement that refuses to let genocide become our new normal.".

  • Louis Allday: [05-24] Four points on solidarity after the Gaza genocide: I don't agree with this, and I'm rather disappointed that Mondoweiss would print it. Allday writes: "We must support the struggle of the Palestinian people to abolish Zionism, no matter the means they choose to do it." I'm inclined to be cautious about articulating what other people think and feel, but I object to every clause in that sentence, and to each of the four points the author goes on to make -- "Palestinians have a right to armed resistance"; "Zionism is irredeemable"; "we will not police our slogans"; and "'Israel' must come to an end." The problems here are grammatical, logical, moral, and political. I hate to trot out Lenin, not least because I never actually read his book, but this reminds me of a style of thought he dismissed as "an infantile disorder."

    To go back to the sentence: "the Palestinian people" assumes a unity that does not exist and therefore cannot be supported without contradiction; "abolish Zionism" is a category disorder (you can do lots of things to Zionism, like reform or reject or ridicule it, but you cannot abolish it); and it always matters what means you use, because your means define you as much as your ends. As for the points:

    1. "Palestinians have a right to armed resistance": I believe that people should have both negative ("freedom from") and positive ("freedom to") rights, but armed resistance is neither. The best you can say for it is that it's a bad habit humans have picked up over the ages, made only worse by advanced technology. I can see why some people may feel they have no better option than to resort to it, and I can see why some Palestinians think that, and I see little point in condemning them when they have no better options, and I can't see that Israel has closed or frustrated all other options. So I see little point in blaming Hamas for their violent uprising, as it mostly reflects Israel's responsibility for the conditions. But I refuse to dignify it by calling it a right. For the same reasons, I deny that Israel has a "right to defend itself" -- if anything, Israel's claim is worse, because they do have other less destructive options. Self-defense may get you an acquittal or pardon in court, but we don't have to pretend it's some kind of right to justify that. It could just be grounds for mercy. No one has a right to mercy, but some powers, especially when concerned with their own legitimacy, grant it anyway. By the way, it's fine with me if you reject armed resistance on purely moral grounds. My view here is a bit more nuanced, but in some book I read a pretty emphatic "thou shalt not kill," and that sounds to me like a pretty sound rule to live by.
    2. "Zionism is irredeemable": I'm pretty well convinced that the way Israelis are behaving today flows quite logically from the way Zionism was originally articulated by Pinsker and Herzl and rendered into political form by Ben-Gurion, Jabotinsky, and Kook (each of those, plus a dozen lesser known figures, has a chapter in Shlomo Avineri's The Making of Modern Zionism. So I would be inclined to chuck the whole conceptual legacy out, but that doesn't mean that it cannot be reformed. While I have no personal investment in Zionism, there are other isms I can imagine recovering from their tarnished pasts. And in any case I'd never say that any group of people, including fascists and white supremacists (mentioned here because they appear in the text), who are absolutely irredeemable.
    3. "We will not police our slogans": This one is probably what got me thinking of Lenin. If you can't police yourself, you certainly don't deserve to police anyone else.
    4. "'Israel' must come to an end": I don't technically disagree with "the Zionist entity commonly known as Israel is a settler colonial project sustained by U.S. imperialism for its own purposes," but I would never put it in those terms, because I don't want people to take me for a moron. I hardly know where to start here, but in any case I'll wind up with a political point, which is that this isn't going to happen, not even close, isn't even desirable, and any efforts to bring it about will only make you look stupid and cruel, reflecting adversely on any decent thing you might reasonably aim at.

    I suppose I've known all along that this kind of "thinking" exists, but so far I've only run across rough sketches of it in obvious Israeli propaganda, so I've been reluctant to credit it at all. (Could this be a plant? That's always been a suspicion with "Palestinian" resistance literature, because "false flag" operations run as deep in Israeli history as tactical hasbara.) I've occasionally thought of writing a piece on "Why I've never identified as pro-Palestinian (but don't care if you do)," which would review the checkered history of Palestinian nationalism, including the oft-repeated arguments that Jews can and should be expatriated from Israel, and explain why I find them every bit as reprehensible as Israel's not-merely-rhetorical efforts to control, incarcerate, expel, and/or kill Palestinians. One could include charts to show how much of each both sides have done, and how they stack up. (Palestinians aren't innocents in this regard, but the ratios are pretty sobering.) It's quite possible to describe yourself as pro-Palestinian and not buy into all of the dead baggage of the nationalists, so I don't assume that identifying yourself as that implies that you're simply out to flip the tables. But that's not a linkage I make for myself.

    What I'd like to see is everyone live wherever they want, with equal rights, law, and order for all within whatever state they live in (one, two, many?). Also, as a safety valve, with a right to exile, both for Israelis and Palestinians (and ideally for everyone else). I imagine that if given the chance most Palestinians (though maybe not the leaders of Hamas or Fatah) would welcome such a world, but most Israelis are still wedded to their dreams of self-rule achieved through forever war against the antisemitic hordes, so they will reject it as long as they can. And no one can force Israel to change, so the best we can do is negotiate a bit, appeal to what's left of their humanity, shame them for their obvious crimes, negotiate a bit more, find "do the right thing" compromises that give and take a little but in the right direction. They're not crazy, and they're not stupid. (Although I'm not so sure about some of the Americans.) They have some legitimate concerns, which deserve respect, but we also have to be firm that we will not let them con us (as they try to do incessantly, and have often gotten away with). This is a noble task that will require diligence and sensitivity and skill -- traits the author here, and anyone anywhere near his wavelength, manifestly lacks.

    One more point: "solidarity" doesn't mean you should follow the other lemmings into the abyss. It means you should look for common themes between your complaints and the complaints of others, to see if you can join forces in ways that help you both. Chances are, you share opponents who are already at work keeping you divided and conquered, and you can improve your tactics based on your shared experiences.

    "Empathy" is a much rawer emotion, where you experience some other's plight as impacting yourself. While it's good to be able to imagine how other people feel, the emotion can sometimes overwhelm, leading you to sympathize with counterproductive rhetoric and tactics. Empathy can motivate commitment, which is one reason movement put so much effort into garnering it, but solidarity requires thinking, analysis, deliberation, and calculated action. Empathy can lash out, and temporarily make you feel good, but it rarely works, especially against opponents who are practiced in dealing with it. On the other hand, solidarity can work.

  • Linah Alsaafin: [05-23] Why students everywhere have been jolted awake by Israel's brutality.

  • Michael Arria:

  • Ramzy Baroud: [05-23] With Biden's bear hug of Israeli atrocities, world's view of American democracy craters.

  • M Reza Benham: [05-24] Lifting the veil: Demystifying Israel: Recalls a movie, The Truman Show, where the lead character was trapped and filmed in a stage set he took to be the real world, until he discovered otherwise.

  • Ghousoon Bisharat: [05-24] 'The international legal order needs repair -- and Gaza is a part of this': "Al Mezan director Issam Younis explains the obstacles and opportunities for Palestinians following major interventions from the world's top courts."

  • Juan Cole:

  • Jonathan Cook: [05-24] The message of Israel's torture chambers is directed at all of us, not just Palestinians: "'Black sites' are about reminding those who have been colonised and enslaved of a simple lesson: resistance is futile."

  • Owen Dahlkamp: [05-24] Inside the latest congressional hearing on campus antisemitism: "Students for Justice in Palestine called the hearing 'a manufactured attack on higher education' as Republicans criticized universities for negotiating with protesters."

  • Harry Davies/Bethan McKiernan/Yuval Abraham/Meron Rapoport: [05-28] Spying, hacking and intimidation: Israel's nine-year 'war' on the ICC exposed. This is a major article. Should be a big story. Davies also wrote:

  • Moira Donegan: [05-24] Congress's latest 'antisemitism' hearing was an ugly attack on Palestinian rights: "The real purpose of this nasty political farce is to pressure US universities to crack down on criticism of Israel."

  • Richard Falk: [05-22] Why ICC bid for arrest warrants is a bold and historic move: "Unsurprisingly, the announcement has fuelled a misplaced rhetoric of outrage from Israel and its allies."

  • Michael Gasser: [05-22] A tale of two commencements: How Gaza solidarity encampments are changing the way we see university education: "Indiana University's 'Liberation Commencement' was a celebration of the students' brave commitment to fighting powerful institutions and their involvement in challenging Zionism and the Palestinian genocide."

  • Amos Goldberg/Alon Confino: [05-21] How Israel twists antisemitism claims to project its own crimes onto Palestinians: "What Israel and its supporters accuse Palestinians of inciting, Israeli officials are openly declaring, and the Israeli army is prosecuting."

  • Murtaza Hussain: Can a US ally actually be held accountable for war crimes in the ICC?

  • Ellen Ioanes/Nicole Narea: [05-21] Why ICC arrest warrants matter, even if Israel and Hamas leaders evade them: "The role of the International Criminal Court and the limits to its authority, explained."

  • David Kattenburg: [05-24] UN expert: 'Very little hope' of Israel abiding by ICJ order to stop Rafah invasion.

  • Nichlas Kristof:

    • [05-24] Biden's chance to do the right thing in Gaza: "In a speech in Warsaw two years ago, President Biden declared that 'the great battle for freedom' is one 'between a rules-based order and one governed by brute force.' Now we'll see whether he meant it." No evidence of that yet. Previously wrote:

    • [05-18] Invading Rafah doesn't help Israel.

    • [04-19] What happened to the Joe Biden I knew? "During the Darfur genocide and humanitarian crisis two decades ago, then-Senator Joe Biden passionately denounced then-President George W Bush for failing to act decisively to ease suffering. Biden expressed outrage at China for selling weapons used to kill and maim civilians, and he urged me to write columns demanding the White House end needless wretchedness." As you may recall, "genocide in Darfur" was a big Israeli talking point at the time, as the Israelis never missed an opportunity to portray Arabs as mass killers, and Sudan counted as an enemy of Israel. Silly Kristof for thinking that Biden actually cared about humanity, when he was, as always, simply doing Israel's bidding.

    • [03-16] President Biden, you have leverage that can save lives in Gaza. Please use it.

  • Akela Lacy: October 7 survivors sue campus protesters, say students are "Hamas's propaganda division": Say what?

  • Natasha Lennard: University professors are losing their jobs over "New McCarthyism" on Gaza.

  • Eldar Mamedov: [05-22] More European countries recognize Palestine: "The moves by Ireland, Norway, and Spain point to a Europe-wide frustration with futility of the current process." It's hard to recognize a "nation" that doesn't legitimately exist, but these moves to at least Israel has lost all credibility to millions of people it has effectively rendered stateless and homeless.

  • Paul Rogers: [05-28] These inhumane attacks on Rafah are no accident. They're central to the IDF's brutal, losing strategy.

  • Imad Sabi: [05-22] In memory of an Israeli lawyer who never lost her moral purpose: "Tamar Pelleg-Sryck worked tirelessly to defend Palestinian detainees like me in a profoundly unjust system."

  • Bernie Sanders: [05-23] The ICC is doing its job.

  • Tali Shapiro: [05-20] Israel's extortion leaflets and NameCheap: How to do corporate accountability during a genocide: "Arizona-based internet domain company NameCheap ended all service to Russia over the invasion of Ukraine but has now registered an Israeli website targeting Palestinian children. Activists are calling out the company's complicity in war crimes." Psychological warfare has been around at least since WWII, but is rarely commented on. For instance, did you know this?

    On Friday Israel dropped another set of leaflets on Gaza. Israel's use of leaflets for its psychological torture of the besieged Palestinian population is well known in these genocidal days.

    Ominous, gloating, taunting, and sadistic messaging is the lingua franca of these leaflets, which Israel claims is a humanitarian effort to evacuate the civilian population. Some of the most common leaflet content are calls to contact Israel's secret service with information on Hamas or the Israeli hostages. The purpose of these particular leaflets is twofold: the coercion of protected civilians to obtain information (which is a violation of the law of armed conflict); but most of all, to undermine the trust and cohesion of a community under siege and annihilation.

    Friday's leaflets took the intel-gathering genre to another level, when the army included messaging of extortion and a list of children, among them toddlers as targets, with the threat to reveal personal information such as criminal records, extramarital affairs, and queer identities.

  • Abba Solomon/Norman Solomon: [05-26] The dead end of liberal American Zionism: "In 2024, the meaning of 'pro-Israel, pro-peace' is macabre: J Street supports US military aid to Israel as it carries out a genocide. Liberal American Zionism has revealed itself to only be a tool for the subjugation of the Palestinian people." The authors refer back to a 2014 article they wrote -- The blind alley of J Street and liberal American Zionism -- and they seem entitled to an "I told you so" today. Just as I've never described myself as pro-Palestinian, I've also never claimed to be pro-Israeli, but I can see where other people might wish to combine their pro-peace and pro-nationalist sentiments. The problem is that they have to make a complete break not just with the Netanyahu gang -- as undoubted pro-Israelis like Schumer and Pelosi have done -- but with the entire apartheid/militarist regime. I can imagine some people coming to that view purely from their sympathy and concern for Israel, because it's obvious to me that not just the genocide but the entire history of occupation is something that Israelis should be ashamed of and shunned for. Anyone like that, even with zero regard for suffering of Palestinians, wouldn't deserve to be called a "tool for the subjection of Palestinians." But if you see J Street as some kind of AIPAC-Lite, meant to promote a sanitized Israel for squeamish American liberals, its mission is dead now, because the fantasy Israel it tried to present has been irreversibly exposed.

  • Christopher Sprigman: [05-23] Why universities have started arresting student protesters. "Over the past couple of months, more than 2,000 students have been arrested at colleges and universities around the US for protesting Israel's bombardment of Gaza." For starters, "It isn't because today's pro-Palestinian students are particularly violent or disruptive." This article kicks around several theories, but the obvious one is that Israel doesn't have a rational defense of genocide, so they hope to bury the charges under a bogus story of antisemitism and stir up a bit of violence then can easily blame on Palestinians. Why university administrators would go along with this is a story that probably has a money trail.

  • Ishaan Tharoor:

  • Simon Tisdall: [05-25] Call to prosecute Benjamin Netanyahu for war crimes exposes the west's moral doublethink: Someone at the Guardian needs remedial help in writing headlines: the article criticizes Biden, Sunak, and others for their attempts to undermine and impugn the ICC, not the Court for doing its job (finally).

  • Marc Tracy: [05-23] Ari Emanuel condemns Netanyahu, drawing boos at Jewish group's gala.

Election notes:

The Libertarian Party: Not normally worth my attention, but they had a convention last week, and some ringers showed up (originally I filed these under Trump):

Trump, and other Republicans: Let's start off with another quote from Richard Slotkin's A Great Disorder: National Myth and the Battle for America (pp. 385-386):

MAGA-constituencies have therefore embraced extreme measures of voter suppression, gerrymandering, and legislative control of election certification. In this regard, MAGA is building on values and practices already rooted in the conservative movement. As political scientists Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein have argue, since the 1990s the GOP has been "ideologically extreme, scornful of compromise; unmoved by conventional understanding of facts, evidence and science; and dismissive of the legitimacy of its political opposition." Its agenda has been formulated as a canon, most tenets of which predate Trump: Grover Norquist's No-Tax Pledge, the Kochs' No Climate Change Pledge, the NRA's absolute rejection of gun safety, Right to Life's rejection of abortion under any circumstances, the anti-immigration bloc's No Amnesty Pledge. Its "Southern Strategy" dealt in dog-whistle racism to rouse resistance to social welfare programs. It has generally opposed the extension of social welfare programs and voting rights.

Trump exaggerated those tendencies by an order of magnitude, and his cult of personality gave them shape, color, and the aura of insurgent populist heroism. Government was not just a problem to be minimized, but an administrative state to be deconstructed. Dog-whistle racism became explicit in the defamation of Mexican and Black people, and in the display of sympathy for White Power vigilantes. Climate change was not just a hoax, but a "Chinese hoax." Faced with global pandemic, inescapable evidence of dangerous climate change, a public outcry for racial and social justice, and defeat at the polls, Trump chose repression over recognition.

But Trump also shifted the focus of conservative politics from the neoliberal economic policies of Reagan and the two Bushes to the culture war policies of Pat Buchanan.

That paragraph goes on with Christopher Rufo and Ron DeSantis and the war against woke. One should note that Trump is no less neoliberal than Reagan or the Bushes: he'd just prefer to saddle Clinton, Obama, and Biden with blame for the side-effects of policies Republicans have consistently supported since Nixon. Granted, Trump is a bit heretical with the odd tariff, but the economic effects are trivial, the targets are jingoist, and the beneficiaries dovetail nicely with his graft.

By the way, I meant to include more from the end of Slotkin's book, but that will have to wait until next week.

Actual trial news is skimpy: the defense rested quickly (without Trump testifying), and the judge took the rest of the week off to prepare for final arguments and jury instructions on Monday. Still leads off here, followed by other articles:

  • Nia Prater: [05-21] What happened in the Trump trial today: The defense rests: I've been using this "running recap of the news" for much of the trial, but it's fallen off Intelligencer's front page for lack of an update. [PS: updated 4:57PM 05-28, now "Closing time."] Presumably it will get one when final arguments are given. Meanwhile, it's still a good backgrounder. Also (again, thin this week):

  • Eric Alterman: [05-17] How can this country possibly be electing Trump again? "How the media has failed, and what the Democrats need to do."

  • Jamelle Bouie: [05-24] Trump's taste for tyranny finds a target:

    Trump's signature promise, during the 2016 presidential election, was that he would build a wall on the US border with Mexico. His signature promise, this time around, is that he'll use his power as president to deport as many as 20 million people from the United States.

    "Following the Eisenhower model," he told a crowd in Iowa last September, "we will carry out the largest domestic deportation operation in American history."

    It cannot be overstated how Trump's deportation plan would surely rank as one of the worst crimes perpetrated by the federal government on the people of this country. Most of the millions of unauthorized and undocumented immigrants in the United States are essentially permanent residents. They raise families, own homes and businesses, pay taxes and contribute to their communities. For the most part, they are as embedded in the fabric of this nation as native-born and naturalized American citizens are.

    What Trump and his aide Stephen Miller hope to do is to tear those lives apart, rip those communities to shreds and fracture the entire country in the process.

  • Jonathan Chait: [05-23] Karl Rove frets RFK Jr. is stealing 'wacko' voters from Trump: Isn't that rather like Willie Sutton's rationale for robbing banks? Not much substance here, mostly just a chuckle as Chait is firmly Team Biden. But it occurs to me that if RFK Jr. really wanted to do some damage to Biden, what he has to do is flip 180° on Israel, and wrap that up with his anti-empire, anti-militarist views into a serious critique of the mostly-shared Biden/Trump geopolitics. The one thing a third-party candidate most needs is an urgent issue where the two major parties are joined at the hip, and that issue right now is genocide. (And sure, that won't help him with Trump voters, but he still has crazy for them.)

  • Callum Jones: [05-28] Vivek Ramaswamyu uses Buzzfeed stake to demand staff cuts, conservative hires.

  • Juliette Kayyem: [05-23] Trump's assassination fantasy has a darker purpose: "The ex-president's stories of his own victimization make violence by his supporters far more likely."

  • Ed Kilgore: [05-24] Trump guilty verdict would feed election-denial claims. Well, so would an acquittal, or a hung jury. That die was set when he was indicted. Trump certainly thinks that the indictments are proof of a vast conspiracy to get him, and millions of people are happy to believe whatever he says, which guarantees that charging him with anything will get turned into a political circus and raise all sorts of questions about impartial juries and free speech and the political inclinations and entanglements of judges, all of which are certain to be played to the hilt for Trump's political purposes. I could imagine prosecutors with good political instincts deciding that it's not worth all that much trouble to go after Trump, especially on the specific cases they have here.

    That they waited nearly three years after he left office before moving certainly suggests that they were reluctant to take on this fight. They didn't go after Nixon after he resigned -- Ford's peremptory pardon gave them a convenient excuse, but wasn't binding on state prosecutors, and could have been challenged in court. But Nixon never so much as hinted at running again, while Trump is. So, sure, the optics do suggest that he's being prosecuted to derail his campaign, but so is his defense designed to promote his campaign. I have no idea who's winning, or will win, this very strange game. From a purely political standpoint, I've never been sure it was good strategy. (I am pretty certain that the Ukraine impeachment was a bad move, but the Jan. 6 one was well-founded, and that McConnell missed an opportunity there to get Trump disqualified under the 14th amendment, precluding a 2024 run, and probably sparing Trump the indictments -- which all in all would have been a good deal for everyone.)

    Still, I understand that prosecutors like to (no, live to) prosecute, and I have no doubt that they have very strong legal cases. And I do like that in the courtroom, Trump has to come down from his high horse and show some submission to the court. It is one thing to say "nobody's above the law," but that Trump has to show up and shut up, even if he nods off and farts a lot, gives us a graphic illustration of the point. But as for Kilgore's point, the only thing that would stop feeding election-denial claims would be for media like himself to stop airing them.

  • Nicholas Liu: [05-23] Louisiana Republicans declare abortion pills a "dangerous substance," threaten prison and hard labor: "Under the proposed law, people found in possession of the pills could face up to five years behind bars."

  • Clarence Lusane: [05-19] Black MAGA is still MAGA: "Trump's racism and authoritarianism should be disqualifying."

  • Amanda Marcotte: [05-24] Trump's "Biden the assassin" fantasy is pure projection.

  • John Nichols: [05-24] The soulless hypocrisy of Nikki Haley: "Haley has abandoned her opposition to Trump for political expediency." Seriously, did you ever think for a minute that she would "never Trump"? Still, doesn't (yet) strike me as much of an endorsement. Sort of like me sheepishly admitting I'll vote for Biden, despite some really serious issues I have with him. Also see:

  • Timothy Noah: [05-23] Here's what Trump and the GOP really think about the working class.

  • Andrew Prokop: [05-21] Why Trump's running mate could be the most important VP pick of our time: I don't really buy this, but it would take another article to explain all the reasons why. VPs matter very little unless one gets promoted, in which case they're usually mediocre (Coolidge, Truman) to disastrous (Tyler, Andrew Johnson), the exceptions being Teddy Roosevelt and Lyndon Johnson (who, like Coolidge and Truman, won a term in their own right). True that Trump's odds of finishing a second term are below-average, but he'd be hard pressed to pick a VP even worse than he is, or one much better.

  • Matthew Stevenson: [05-24] Trump's three penny media opera: The machinations of TMTG, the Trump Media shell corporation.

  • Robert Wright: [05-24] Why Trump is worse than Biden on Gaza (and maybe much worse).

  • The New Republic: What American Fascism would look like: "It can happen here. And if it does, here is what might become of the country." A weighty topic for a special issue, but how seriously can we take a publisher when all the art department could come up with is a bronze-tone Donald Trump head with a somewhat more tastefully clipped Hitler mustache? The articles:

    The first piece in this batch I read was the one by Brooks, partly because I found the title confusing -- do liberals really fantasize about the military? I mean, aside from herself? -- but she's actually pretty clear, if not especially satisfactory, in the article: the military won't rise up to hand Trump power, or otherwise instigate a coup, but if Trump does gain power more or less legitimately and issues clear orders, there is no reason to doubt that they will act on his behalf. The notion that they might act independently to stop Trump is what she dismisses as "liberal fantasy."

Biden and/or the Democrats:

  • Christopher Cadelago/Sallyl Goldenberg/Elena Schneider: [05-28] Dems in full-blown 'freakout' over Biden. Mostly seems to mean party operatives and fundraisers. I don't know if these reports are credible, but the writers are certainly freaking out:

    "The most diplomatic thing I hear from Democrats is, 'Oh my God, are these the choices we have for president?'"

  • Kate Conger/Ryan Mac: [05-24] Elon Musk ramps up anti-Biden posts on X. One of the authors also contributed to:

  • David Dayen: [05-21] Pelosi may back industry-friendly House crypto bill: "The industry has become a major spender in political campaigns, and the most prodigious fundraiser among Democrats is taking notice." I hate crypto, and this is one of the reasons. Democrats have to raise money just like Republicans do, but when they do they manage to look extra dirty, and nothing's dirtier than crypto.

  • Gabriel Debenedetti: [05-25] When Joe Biden plays pundit: "A close reading of what the president really thinks about 2024 -- at least what he's telling his donors." There's an old joke that Minnesota has two seasons: winter and road repair (which is really just recovering from and preparing for winter). Politicians also have two seasons: one, which never really ends, where they appeal to donors, and another, for several weeks leading up to an election, when they try to appeal to voters. Then, as soon as the votes are counted, it's back to the donors. Successful politicians may try to juggle both, but donors are more critical -- they basically decide who can run and be taken seriously, plus they're always in touch, whereas voters only get one shot, and even then can only choose among donor-approved candidates -- so they get most of the attention. Having wrapped up the nomination early, Biden has time to focus on the donors, raising his war chest. His anemic polls can wait until September, when the voters finally get their season.

  • Ed Kilgore:

    • [05-21] The Biden campaign has a Trump-fatigue problem. Don't we all have a Trump-fagigue problem? Come November, the big question on voters' minds should be what can I actually accomplish with my vote? In 2016, middle-of-the-road voters seized the opportunity to get rid of Hillary Clinton. This time, they have to seriously ask themselves whether they want to finally rid themselves of Donald Trump? Sure, lots of people love him, but they've never been close to a majority. Some people prefer him, but do they really want all the attention and scandal and agita and strife? And while he's sure to claim yet another election was stolen, how many times can he whine before people shrug and leave him to the wolf? Sure, he could threaten to run again, but even William Jennings Bryan was done after losing thrice. Plus he still has those indictments. He has to fight them in order to keep running, but if he gives up the run, it's almost certain he could plea bargain them for no jail time -- and really, how bad would house arrest, which is probably his worst-case scenario, at Mar-a-Lago be?

    • [05-24] Is Biden gambling everything on an early-debate bounce? My read is that the June debate is meant to show Democrats that he can still mount a credible campaign against Trump. If he can -- and a bounce would be nice but not necessary -- it will go a long way to quelling pressure to drop out and open the convention. If he can't, then sure, he'll have gambled and lost, and pressure will build. But at least it will give him a reference point that he has some actual control over -- unlike the polls, which still seem to have a lot of trouble taking him seriously.

  • Joan Walsh: [05-20] Biden fared well as Morehouse. So you didn't hear about it. The upshot seems to have been that the administrators as well as the protesters were on best behavior, and that Biden (unlike some politicians in recent memory) didn't make matters worse.

Legal matters and other crimes:

Economic matters:

  • Luke Goldstein: [05-22] The raiding of Red Lobster: "The bankrupt casual restaurant chain didn't fail because of Endless Shrimp. Its problems date back to monopolist seafood conglomerates and a private equity play." Isn't this always the case? Cue link to:

  • John Herrmann: [05-24] How Microsoft plans to squeeze cash out of AI: "The same way it always has with most everything else -- by leveraging our PCs."

  • Michael Hudson: [05-24] Some myths regarding the genesis of enterprise. Author has a series of books on economic development in antiquity, most recently The Collapse of Antiquity, as well as the forthcoming The Destiny of Civilization: Finance Capitalism, Industrial Capitalism or Socialism. Two pull quotes from the latter:

    The decline of the West is not necessary or historically inevitable. It is the result of choosing policies dictated by its rentier interests. . . . The threat posed to society by rentier interests is the great challenge of every nation today: whether its government can restrict the dynamics of finance capitalism and prevent an oligarchy from dominating the state and enriching itself by imposing austerity on labor and industry. So far, the West has not risen to this challenge.

    There are essentially two types of society: mixed economies with public checks and balances, and oligarchies that dismantle and privatize the state, taking over its monetary and credit system, the land and basic infrastructure to enrich themselves but choking the economy, not helping it grow.

Ukraine War and Russia:

  • Connor Echols: [05-24] Diplomacy Watch: Ukraine pushes for direct NATO involvement in war: "As Kyiv's battlefield position worsens, the West faces a dangerous choice." As I understand it, they're talking about providing trained NATO personnel to run defensive anti-aircraft and anti-missile systems, which would counter the long-range bombing threat and stabilize the current stalemate. That doesn't sound like such a bad idea, as long as it is used to support a reasonable negotiation process. This war was always going to be resolved through negotiations, and has lasted so long only because both sides have unrealistic goals and are afraid of compromise. On the other hand, without a negotiation process, this would just be another hopeless escalation, threatening a wider and even more severe war.

  • Jonathan Chait: [05-23] Trump tells Putin to keep Wall Street Journal reporter hostage through election: "Putin 'will do that for me, but not for anyone else.'" As Chait notes, "by openly signaling to Putin that he does not want Gershkovich to be freed before the election, [Trump] is destroying whatever chances may exist to secure his release before then." As Robert Wright noted (op cit), Republican presidential candidates have a track record of back-channel diplomatic sabotage (Nixon in 1968, Reagan in 1980), but few have ever been so upfront and personal about it. One might even say "nonchalant": like his assertion that he alone could end the Ukraine war "in a day," this seems more like evidence of his own narcissism than political calculation. (Even if he were to placate Putin, Zelensky and his European fan base wouldn't fold immediately.) This got me looking for more pieces on Trump, Russia, and Ukraine:

    • Isaac Arnsdorf/Josh Dawsey/Michael Birnbaum: [04-07] Inside Donald Trump's secret, long-shot plan to end the war in Ukraine. For what it's worth, I think the land division is pretty much a given -- the notion that "to cede land would reward Putin" is just a rhetorical ploy to fight on endlessly, while the ruined, depopulated land is as much a burden as a reward -- but there is still much more that needs to be carefully negotiated, including refugee status, trade, sanctions, arms reduction, and future conflict resolution. I would like to see plebiscites to confirm the disposition of land, preferably 3-5 years down the line (well after refugees have returned or resettled; probably after Ukraine has joined the EU, allowing open migration there; allowing both sides to show what they can do to rebuild; but probably just confirming the present division -- as anything else would make both leaders look bad). Needless to say, Trump has no skills or vision to negotiate any such thing, as his "one day" boasts simply proves. Unfortunately, Biden hasn't shown any aptitude for negotiation, either.

    • Veronika Melkozerova: [04-18] Why Donald Trump 'hates Ukraine': "The once and possibly future president blames the country for his political woes."

    • Lynn Berry/Didi Tang/Jill Colvin/Ellen Knickmeyer: [05-09] Trump-affiliated group releases new national security book outlining possible second-term approach. The group calls itself the America First Policy Institute:

      The book blames Democratic President Joe Biden for the war and repeats Trump's claim that Putin never would have invaded if Trump had been in office. Its main argument in defense of that claim is that Putin saw Trump as strong and decisive. In fact, Trump cozied up to the Russian leader and was reluctant to challenge him.

      I wouldn't read too much into this. The group appears to be about 90% Blob, the rest just a waft of smoke to be blown up Trump's ass. Trump would probably approve of Teddy Roosevelt's foreign policy motto ("speak softly but carry a big stick"), but like everything else, his own personal twist -- a mix of sweet talk and bluster -- is much more peurile, and unaffected by reason and understanding, or even interests beyond his personal and political finances. North Korea is the perfect example, with Trump's full, ungrounded range of emotions accomplishing nothing at all, which was the Blob position all along. Same, really, for Ukraine. Regardless of his rants and raves, when pressed Trump will tow the line, as in [04-18] Donald Trump says Ukraine's survival is important to US.

    • Jeet Heer: Will Vladimir Putin and Benjamin Netanyahu bless Donald Trump with an October Surprise? "Unlike Joe Biden, the former president benefits from international turmoil."

  • Joshua Keating: [05-22] How worried should we be about Russia putting a nuke in space? About as worried as we should be if the US or any other country did it.

America's empire and the world: I changed the heading here, combining two previous sections (with major cutouts above for Israel and Ukraine), as it's often difficult to separate world news from America's imagininary empire and its actual machinations.


Other stories:

Daniel Falcone: [05-24] In Memoriam: H Bruce Franklin (1934-2024): Historian (1934-2024), see Wikipedia for an overview of his work and life, including political activism starting with opposition to the Vietnam War. His books started with one on Melville, with others on science fiction, prison, fish, and most of all, war. His most recent book, Crash Course: From the Good War to the Forever War (2018; paperback 2024), looks especially interesting, as much as memoir as history. This reprints an interview from 2018. I also found for following by Franklin (several adapted from Crash Course):

  • H Bruce Franklin: [As are the following uncredited pieces.] [2022-08-31] Why talk about loans? Let's quote some of this:

    Vice President Agnew (not yet indicted for his own criminal activities) was even more explicit. Speaking at an Iowa Republican fund-raising dinner in April 1970, Agnew argued that there was too high a percentage of Black students in college and condemned "the violence emanating from Black student militancy." Declaring that "College, at one time considered a privilege, is considered to be a right today," he singled out open admissions as one of the main ways "by which unqualified students are being swept into college on the wave of the new socialism."

    Later in 1970, Roger Freeman -- a key educational adviser to Nixon then working for the reelection of California Governor Ronald Reagan -- spelled out quite precisely what the conservative counterattack was aimed at preventing:

    We are in danger of producing an educated proletariat. That's dynamite! We have to be selective on who we allow to go through higher education. If not, we will have a large number of highly trained and unemployed people.

    The two most menacing institutional sources of the danger described by Freeman were obviously those two great public university systems charging no tuition: the University of California and the City University of New York. Governor Reagan was able to wipe out free tuition at the University of California in 1970, but that left CUNY to menace American society. The vital task of crippling CUNY was to go on for six more years, outlasting the Nixon administration and falling to his appointed successor, Gerald Ford.

  • [2022-01-19] Ready for another game of Russian roulette?

  • [2021-12-03] Ocean winds: Bringing us renewable fish with renewable energy. One of his many books was The Most Important Fish in the Sea: Menhaden and America (2007).

  • [2020-08-14] August 12-22, 1945: Washington starts the Korean and Vietnam Wars. After Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and Japan's surrender, "allied" troops (including British and French) entered and started their occupation.

  • [2020-08-06] How the Fascists won World War II.

  • [2019-09-20] How we launched our forever war in the Middle East: In July 1958 Eisenhower sent B-52s into Lebanon.

  • [2014-08-03] Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and American militarism: A review of Paul Ham: Hiroshima Nagasaki.

  • [2014-07-16] America's memory of the Vietnam War in the epoch of the forever war.

  • [2003-01-16] Our man in Saigon: A review of the film The Quiet American, based on the Graham Greene novel.

  • [2000] Vietnam: The antiwar movement we are supposed to forget.

  • [1991] The Vietnam War as American science fiction and fantasy.

  • [2022-09-01] H Bruce Franklin's most important books: Interview of Franklin with Doug Storm. When asked about "the Second World War as a good war," Franklin replied:

    No, unfortunately, we lost that war. We thought we were fighting against militarism, fascism, and imperialism. If so, we lost. We lost partly because of how we fought that war, using air attacks on civilian populations as a main strategy. This strategy climaxed with us exploding nuclear bombs on the civilian population of two Japanese cities. That is how we lost the good war.

Connor Freeman: [05-21] The passing of a Republican anti-war, anti-AIPAC fighter: "A veteran himself, Rep. Pete McCoskey railed against the Vietnam War, and continued to question US interventions until his death on May 8."

Sarah Jones:

Max Moran: [05-19] I don't think Jonathan Chait read the book on 'Solidarity' he reviewed: "The New York Magazine pundit spent 2,900 words criticizing a book with no resemblance to the one which prompted his piece." I previously wrote about the Chait piece here.

Virtually none of [Solidarity] is about how liberals need to pipe down and praise leftists more. I don't think intra-elite discursive norms come up at all, except in passing. As far as I can tell, Chait only got the idea that the book's "core tenet" is liberal-policing from one-half of one paragraph of a Washington Post feature about the book, in which Hunt-Hendrix mentions Chait and his contemporary Matt Yglesias as examples of public figures whom she hopes read the book's fourth chapter on conservatives' "divide-and-conquer strategy." That chapter mostly discusses organized right-wing efforts like the Southern Strategy, not the topic preferences of contemporary pundits.

This may come as a shock to Chait, but I don't think that Hunt-Hendrix or Taylor think about him -- or figures like him -- very much at all. Their book's actual argument is that individuals, and even groups of individuals cohered around a common identity, are not the protagonists of history. To Hunt-Hendrix and Taylor, it's only when dedicated groups of people stand up, sacrifice, and risk blood and teeth for other dedicated groups of people, who then return the favor, that society advances and complex problems can be solved. The point is mutual interdependence, in all its messiness and beauty. By contrast, Chait's singular focus on the nobility of liberals standing up to leftists not only has nothing to do with the book's argument, it's self-centered in a way directly opposed to the real thesis of Solidarity. Chait doesn't seem to realize this.

By the way, Jonathan Chait has a new piece that is even more at odds with reality and common sense: [05-28] Anti-Israel protesters want to elect Trump, who promises to crush protesters: "Why Rashida Tlaib is joining the one-state horseshoe alliance." I'm not up for debunking or even debugging this concoction, where even the facts that aren't wrong -- very clearly Trump would be even worse for peace than Biden; most likely if Tlaib "called for the voters to punish Joe Biden at the ballot box" she meant in Democratic primaries, not by voting for Trump, which would be self-punishment -- they are assembled in ways that are utterly disingenuous. I did try looking up "one-state horseshoe alliance," but all I found was a theory, which looks rather like an EKG of Chait's brain.

Anna North: [05-24] Birth control is good, actually.

Christian Paz: [05-24] 3 theories for America's anti-immigrant shift: "A recent poll suggests a reversal in a decades-long trend of the public warming to immigrants. What's causing the shift?" The theories are:

  1. It's the politicians
  2. It's the economy
  3. It's the "law-and-order" mindset

In other words, it's the politicians, who sometimes try to deflect attention to the other bullshit points. And it's only certain politicians, although they have relatively a free run, because it's an issue without a strong countervailing lobby. A lot of us aren't bothered by immigration, but wouldn't mind slowing it down, especially if that shut up the Republicans. Of course, nothing will, because the split is precisely the kind Republicans can exploit, and thereby put less committed Democrats on the defensive. Needless to add, but Republicans couldn't get away with this if the media wasn't helping them at every step.

Rick Perlstein: [05-22] Influencers against influencers: "The TikTok generation finds its voice."

Jeffrey St Clair:

Liz Theoharis/Shailly Gupta Barnes: [05-21] Don't grind the faces of the poor: "The moral response to homelessness."

Also, some writing on music:

Dan Weiss:

  • [05-20] What was it made for? The problem with Billie Eilish's Hit Me Hard and Soft: "She's overwrought and over you."

  • [05-26] Take my money, wreck my Sundays: The 30 best albums of 2024 so far (#30-21): First sign I've seen of "so far" season, with two sets of allegedly better albums coming later in the week: 3 here I haven't heard yet, 1 of those still unreleased; Lafandar (22) currently my number 1 non-jazz, but only 1 more album on my A-list (Maggie Rogers), and some well below (Still House Plants at B-), but 3 more on Christgau's A-list that I shortchanged (Rosie Tucker, Yard Act, Vampire Weekend). I hope the author here ("RIOTRIOT," aka Iris Demento, aka Dan Ex Machina, not to be confused with either of the same-named drummers) won't charge me with deadnaming again.


Phil Freeman posted this on Facebook:

Was interviewing an artist roughly my own age yesterday and at one point one of us said to the other, "If you think America is the most divided it's ever been right now, all that tells me is that you weren't alive in the Seventies, when you had all the chaos of the Sixties but none of the hope."

Several interesting comments followed, including:

  • Chuck Eddy: I was born in 1960, and I definitely can. I guess I'm mainly going with my gut here -- the '70s definitely didn't *feel* anywhere near as verging on Civil War to me as current times do. Could be that's just a byproduct of being much older now, combined with where I was then vs now, but I don't think so. (As for Reagan, I mainly associate him with the '80s, but then again I never lived in California. That terrorist acts seemed to largely come from the Left then rather than the Right might play into my gut feelings as well.)

  • James Keepnews: And yet, how quickly Nixon's support evaporated when it became clear he would be impeached, whereupon he resigned in advance of that happening (the House still voted to impeach him after he left office). Two impeachments in and some criminal convictions to come, and Trump's supporters are only more rabidly supportive of him, and at least poll as a majority of American voters -- that's extremely different from anything that occurred during the 60's/70's in the US.

  • Sean Sonderegger: Nixon was terrible but he also created the EPA. Reagan was much worse but doesn't really come close to Trump.

  • Jeff Tamarkin: I was in my 20s throughout most of the '70s and I despised Nixon, as most people my age did. I despised the right-wingers who voted for him and what they stood for. But never once did I think of Nixon as the leader of a gigantic cult or of his voters as cult members who would support him regardless of what he did or said. I never thought Nixon could destroy democracy and the United States itself, with the blind support of millions. Trump is the most dangerous president we've ever had and the greatest threat to our future. The way he's stuffed the Supreme Court with radical maniacs alone is threatening as hell as hell. I'll take a breath of relief the day he finally keels over from stuffing too many cheeseburgers down his orange face.

I finally wrote my own comment:

I don't remember the '70s as being devoid of hope. I thought we won most of the big issues -- if not all the elections, at least most of the hearts and minds. Nixon signed the EPA not because he wanted to but because he realized that fighting it was a losing proposition, and Nixon would do almost anything to not lose. The conservative movement that gained ground in the '80s was mostly clandestine in the '70s. The late '60s, on the other hand, felt more desperate. Of course, it was easier to be hopeful (or desperate) in your 20s than in your 70s. Objectively, Trump may be worse than his antecedents, but they're the ones that prepared the ground he thrives on -- such direct links as Roger Stone and Roy Cohn not only tie Trump to their history but to the very worst characteristics in that history. But those characters have always existed, and done as much harm as they were allowed to do. The nation has been perilously divided before -- you know about the 1850s, but divides were as sharp in the 1930s, 1890s, and 1790s as in the 1960-70s. You can make a case that the right is more ominous now then ever -- the secession of 1861 was more militarized, but was essentially defensive, while the right today seeks total domination everywhere -- but I can still counter with reasoned hope. The future isn't done yet.

Ask a question, or send a comment.

Monday, May 20, 2024


Speaking of Which

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

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


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


Top story threads:

Israel:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Mitchell Plitnick:

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

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

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

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

Israel vs. world opinion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Harari's piece elicited some commentary:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Ellen Ioanes:

  • Sarah Jones:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Timothy McLaughlin:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

America's increasingly desperate and pathetic empire:

Election notes:

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

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

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

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

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

Biden and/or the Democrats:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Legal matters and other crimes:

Climate and environment:

Economic matters:

Ukraine War:


Other stories:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, some writing on music:

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

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

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

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

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


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