Friday, October 22, 2021

The Soul of Moderation

Drawing by Hugh Lofting of Dr, Dolittle and his creatures, with the Pushmi-Pullyu at left.

Another day, another confusing story on the mysterious views of Senator Sinema. Yesterday, a leaker speaking to Politico asserted that she had agreed to accept some kind of tax program to fund somewhere around $2 trillion for the reconciliation bill—

"Senator Sinema has agreed to provisions in each of President Biden's four proposed revenue categories — international, domestic corporate, high net worth individuals, and tax enforcement — providing sufficient revenue to fully pay for a budget reconciliation package in the range currently being discussed."

— A source familiar with the discussions

—but then House Ways and Means chair Richard Neal came away from a 40-minute conversation with her on the subject unsure whether she had anything specific in mind at all, though he was convinced she was ready to make a deal:

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Stop Trying to Make Fetch Happen


Former U.S. president Donald Trump launches 'TRUTH' social media platform

Says some of the more measured coverage, from Reuters. Well, not exactly. Actually, it's that he will launch it, as soon as the company that's going to create it exists, after the finalization of a merger between the Trump Media and Technology Group (TMTG) and a company called Digital World Acquisition Corp, a "special acquisition company", the singular purpose of which is to buy TMTG for $293 million and list it on NASDAQ. Unless some shareholder in the acquisition company, run by former investment banker Patrick Orlando decides to take their shares back, and Orlando's track record in setting up special acquisition companies or SPACS is not a long or hope-inspiring one:

Orlando, who has worked at Deutsche Bank and BT Capital Markets, has launched at least four SPACs and has plans for two more, according to his firm's website and regulatory filings.

But none of the SPACs have completed a deal yet. A China-based SPAC that Orlando led failed last month to complete a merger with Giga Energy Inc that would have valued the transportation solutions provider at $7.3 billion, because it could not deliver the cash required, according to regulatory filings.

My bold. Also, TMTG, or as Trump Jr. called it yesterday in a Fox News interview,

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

The End of Economics



I've been having a hard time thinking any thoughts about anything relevant other than what's happening in Congress, which is far too noisy at this point for me to think I understand anything, and my "ideas" about money, which nobody likes, too intangible and abstract for most regular readers but raw and downright backwoodsy from the standpoint of more refined visitors, and I meant my promise that the previous post would be the last one.

But I did bump into a kind of back door, which I'll get to below, to a part of the discussion that's more or less concrete and interesting, the ancient history part where, as you may or may not remember, the theory of the origin of money I hammered together out of old bits of scrap metal out in the shed turned out to be awfully similar to the brilliant and highly controversial theory developed by the anarchist anthropologist David Graeber in his 2014 Debt: The First 5,000 Years, except his had vast amounts of exemplification, archaeological and documentary (some of it reputedly wrong), backing it up.  

Friday, October 15, 2021

Hi, It's Stupid: The Last Post on Modern Monetary Theory


Statue from 2009 by the late William Fawke, in the Garden of Heroes and Villains, Warwickshire, via Ellen Herold's Pinterest.

Hi, it's Stupid to say Modern Monetary Theory is all wrong, but I just can't help myself.

George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne, the great Irish philosopher midway between Locke and Hume, argued brilliantly that things don't exist—I mean things, material objects, the out-there stuff we see and touch, in that you can have a perfectly coherent picture of the universe without them: all you need are minds, full of perceptions, and that's enough. Things corresponding to the perceptions don't have to be there. "Berkeley's system," says the Stanford Encyclopedia mildly,

while it strikes many as counter-intuitive, is strong and flexible enough to counter most objections.

Which made Dr. Samuel Johnson, the irascible lexicographer whose portrait serves as my avi, pretty mad. Because obviously the theory was revolting to his stolid English soul, but he didn't even know how to participate in the discussion. One day as he was leaving a church with his future biographer, James Boswell, they started chatting about it, Boswell observing that "though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it." As they spoke, they passed a big stone along the path and Johnson turned to give it a powerful kick, no doubt hurting his foot: "Thus I refute it!" 

Meaning, more or less, GTFOOH, are you telling me this doesn't exist? Deze nutz!

This is my problem with so-called Modern Monetary Theory. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

For the Record: Quarrelsome

Monday got a text from the dentist reminding me of an appointment on Wednesday. Which seemed vaguely odd because the last visit wasn't very long ago, I didn't think. Woke up this morning in some anxiety about getting there in time, looked back at my phone, and the appointment was for Wednesday, February 16. What is the possible use of a reminder for an appointment four months away? Who does that??? 

Anyway if I seem unusually quarrelsome today, maybe you can chalk it up to that and forgive me.

My dentist is actually a very gentle and conversible Iranian, not this kind of dentist.

Scarcity mentality

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Literary Corner: Party of Contempt


Facial expression of contempt. Via Wikipedia.

Smart Enough

by Charles Ernest Grassley

I was born at night,
but not last night. So if
I didn’t accept the endorsement
of a person that’s got ninety-one percent
of the Republican voters in Iowa,
I wouldn’t be too smart.
I’m smart enough to
accept that endorsement.
(Via Des Moines Register, 10 October, reporting Trump's rally Saturday, in which he generously endorsed Senator Grassley's bid for re-election, from Grassley's grateful response.) 

That's remarkably candid. The 88-year-old candidate wants to make sure everybody knows he's only got one reason for sharing the stage with the monster. 

He doesn't mind showing his contempt for his voters ("I'm only doing this because you're idiots") and he doesn't mind showing his contempt for Trump ("I'm only doing this because my voters are idiots"), which is surely mutual ("You're only doing this because I'm stronger than you"). Then there's Jeff Kaufman, chair of the state Republican party, suggesting Grassley has only done one thing of any importance in his 45 years in Congress, though he did it three times in the last four years, a job you could easily program a computer to do: "It’s pretty easy to introduce Chuck Grassley. All I need is three words, folks. Three words: Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett. Let’s say it together. Gorsuch, Kavanaugh, Barrett."

So much contempt. Contempt for poor people, contempt for college graduates, contempt for city dwellers, contempt for immigrants, but such open contempt for each other.

Monday, October 11, 2021

Goodbye, Columbus

Happy Indigenous Peoples' AND Italian-American Heritage and Culture Day! I thought I'd reposted my own favorite Columbus Day post, from 2017, but I never have, so here it is:

No rapist, Amerigo Vespucci, in yellow tights, chastely declines a proffer of women in Honduras, 1497. Illustration by Theodor de Bry, ca. 1592, via Wikipedia.

An interesting wrinkle in this year's pro–Columbus Day noise is the suggestion that if you don't like Columbus Day you must be allied with the Ku Klux Klan. Why? Is the Klan supporting a national holiday honoring our indigenous peoples?

Sadly, no. It's all about identity politics, and the Klan's denial of the Italians' ethnic pride. As we read from Jarrett Stepman at Heritage Foundation's Daily Signal:
Much of the modern rhetoric about Columbus mirrors attacks lobbed at him in the 19th century by anti-Catholic and anti-Italian groups like the Ku Klux Klan.
In fact, Columbus Day became a nationally celebrated holiday following a mass lynching of Italians in New Orleans—the largest incident of lynching in American history....
As the pro-Columbus website The Truth About Columbus points out, the Ku Klux Klan worked to stop Columbus Day celebrations, smash statues, and reverse his growing influence on American culture.
According to The Truth About Columbus, in the 1920s, the Klan “attempted to remove Columbus Day as a state holiday in Oregon,” burned a cross “to disturb a Columbus Day celebration in Pennsylvania,” and successfully “opposed the erection of a statue of Columbus in Richmond, Virginia, only to see the decision to reject the statue reversed.”
Attempts to quash Columbus failed, but they have re-emerged in our own time through the actions of far-left groups who want to see his legacy buried and diminished forever.

Question to Radio Yerevan: Is it true that the lynching of 11 Italian immigrants in New Orleans in 1891 was the worst lynching in American history?

Sunday, October 10, 2021

The Ends Justify the Means Test


Trigger warning: I'm going to do a little agreeing with Joe Manchin here, on the question of what they call means testing, or income- and wealth-based restrictions on who gets government assistance:

Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia has a ready retort to fellow Democrats who say shrinking the party’s social safety net bill will mean depriving vulnerable populations of critical resources: Limit access to every program in the ambitious measure to only those Americans who need it most.

Or maybe not so much Manchin as Tim Kaine of Virginia, 

“In the same way that we have higher tax rate on people who make more, I think some programs should phase out on people who make more,” he said.

Still, lawmakers need to be mindful of complexity, Mr. Kaine cautioned, and some programs are more conducive to such limits than others. For example, the push for universal prekindergarten and community college access should be treated as an extension of the public school system, which is open to all comers, Mr. Kaine said.

This is an issue I used to be very hot and heavy on a year or two ago, with the advent of Yangism and the Universal Basic Income that was not actually going to be an income for anybody, and would in my view operate to increase economic inequality: the poorer you were, the more of your lousy $1000 a month you would have to spend on bare necessities, while the rich could invest all of it, for instance putting it in the kids' college fund (poor parents don't have college funds), and directly widening the wealth gap.

Friday, October 8, 2021

For the Record: Stupid Senator Tricks


Thomas Nast, 1872, "A Few Washington Sketches—In the Senate", via Senate Collection (where you can embiggen the image more effectively than here).

This thread has achieved something like virality, even as the issue seems to have been put aside for the next couple of months.

Another day, another stupid Republican senator:

Thursday, October 7, 2021

Green Lanternism


I've never been an aficionado of the Green Lantern, and one of the things I didn't know about him, or them, since there is apparently a whole Green Lantern lineage, sometimes coexisting in an intergalactic Green Lantern Corps managed by the Guardians of the Universe, was this thing in the earlier phases of development in which his magic power ring didn't protect him from attacks with wood, or vegetable matter in general. This is blamed on the very first Green Lantern, or first one on Earth at any rate, in ancient China, one Yalan Gur. Wikipedia explains,

Power ultimately corrupted this early Green Lantern, as he attempted to rule over mankind, which forced the Guardians to cause his ring to manifest a weakness to wood, the material from which most Earth weapons of the time were fashioned. This allowed the Chinese peasants to ultimately defeat their corrupted "champion". His ring and lantern were burned and it was during this process that the "intelligence" inhabiting the ring and the lantern and linking them to the Guardians was damaged.

And the ring and lantern retained this wood vulnerability when they were picked up by the original American Green Lantern, Alan Scott, but it didn't transfer to his successors, beginning in 1959 (Hal Jordan's lantern was vulnerable to the color yellow instead, and the entire topos of Kryptonite knockoffs eventually disappeared from the series).

This story sheds a whole new light on the Green Lantern Theory of the Presidency, a popular myth discovered by Dartmouth professor Brendan Nyhan, as Ezra Klein reported it in Vox in 2014:

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

For the Record: Debt Ceiling

This is something I started contemplating in July that's really starting to come into focus, and I'd never quite finished the story:

Which means...

Monday, October 4, 2021

Ho de ho

At one point, [Stephanie] Grisham says Graham kicked a White House staffer out of Bedminster "so he could take her room."

"Senator Freeloader was sitting at a table by the pool, a big grin on his face, lapping up the goodies he was getting like some potentate," Grisham writes. "He said to me with a creepy little smile, 'Isn't this great? Man, this is the life.'" (David Edwards/Raw Story)

Sunday, October 3, 2021

For the Record: Cheap Shots

Married father of four and notorious pickup artist Corey Lewandowski, left, catches 'em all. How does he do it? Sheer Republican animal magnetism. "Mrs. Odom stated that over the course of the dinner, Mr. Lewandowski tried to hold her hand, and she pushed his hand away. He touched her leg, and she moved it away. He grabbed her napkin off her lap and tried to touch her leg again, and she pulled her dress over her leg, to move his hand away and cover her skin," Odom’s attorney wrote in the statement. "He touched her back and she tried to get away," the statement continued. "He described an area where he was sore from a workout, on the side of his butt, but he demonstrated this by touching her there—on the upper side of her rear end. Lewandowski tried to touch her approximately 10 times, and Mrs. Odom always rebuffed him." (Politico; composite photo via New York Post.)

I too was surprised by reports of Corey Lewandowski admitting to stabbing murders in the course of his amorous pursuit of Mrs. Trashelle Odom at a Republican fundraiser, in defiance of efforts to restrain him on the part of Governor Noem, who may be or have been his girlfriend, until I heard the event was held at a Benihana's:

More weekend miscellanea below the fold.

Saturday, October 2, 2021

Why I Hate The New York Times: Centripetality

Josh Gottheimer gets a commitment from the Speaker, 24 August. Via.


Josh Marshall does an excellent job of skewering the dreadful New York Times reporting on what happened yesterday on Capitol Hill, according to which the House's failure to vote on the "BIF" (Bipartisan InFrastructure bill, though it's getting less bipartisan every day as its few Republican supporters dwindle in number and commitment) is a "significant setback" for Biden's agenda produced by a "liberal revolt" and a "humiliating blow to Biden and Democrats" ("Something's Very Wrong With the Times"):

The president’s goal throughout has been both bills. They both have to pass. The last week has appeared to be on a steady course toward decoupling the two bills, passing the BIF bill and then facing negotiations over a reconciliation bill with no leverage at all over the two Senate holdouts who seem increasingly happy to let the reconciliation bill die on the vine. This is far from over. But what really happened is that the threat to kill the BIF bill got the two holdouts or at least Joe Manchin to actually start negotiating. What the Times calls a “significant setback” and a “humiliating blow” is actually the two bills being recoupled which has been the White House’s aim literally for the entire time.... But the outcome of yesterday is th[e] first good news supporters of the President’s agenda have gotten in days. Not seeing that means having a profoundly distorted understanding of the most basic dynamics at play here.

But he's not so clear on what exactly is wrong with the paper—what exactly is the profound distortion, and where does it come from? 

Friday, October 1, 2021

Of the Waking of Brooks There Is No End

Pope David bestows Nihil Obstat on the Biden agenda. Image by Driftglass.

In his latest near-miraculous achievement, President Biden, who had already turned David Brooks into a bleeding-heart liberal, has made him actually good at it. That is, not only has he come out with a plea to Democrats to pass the whole reconciliation package ("This Is Why We Need to Spend $4 Trillion"), but he's come up with a fairly original, and very Brooksian argument for it, the kind of thing he's been misapplying to "compassionate conservative" policy proposals ever since I started reading him, and it's really kind of, umm, right:

The Democratic spending bills are economic packages that serve moral and cultural purposes. They should be measured by their cultural impact, not merely by some wonky analysis. In real, tangible ways, they would redistribute dignity back downward. They would support hundreds of thousands of jobs for home health care workers, child care workers, construction workers, metal workers, supply chain workers. They would ease the indignity millions of parents face having to raise their children in poverty....

Thursday, September 30, 2021



Apparently there's an actual reason for the deadline today on the infrastructure bill: I heard about it on the radio from Brooklyn Rep. and House Democratic Caucus chair Hakeem Jeffries, but the details came out in the Washington Post on Tuesday: it's the Federal Highway Administration, which funds road-building programs all over the country, and which isn't budgeted out of annual congressional appropriations but the Highway Trust Fund, usually from gas tax receipts, with an authorization from Congress for several years at a time that is running out, as it happens, tonight. The infrastructure bill, which the Senate passed back in August, reauthorizes the Highway Trust Fund (as well as adding many billions of dollars to the fund), and unless it's passed in the House and signed by the president by midnight, it shuts down, not exactly an emergency (projects have state funds that should generally keep them going) but inconvenient for some thousands of workers who could get furloughed. At the same time as the government itself would if they couldn't pass the continuing resolution today (but apparently that's now definitely happening).

Meanwhile, Manchin threw an interesting curveball yesterday, complaining that the Build Back Better plan is "fiscal insanity" and offering a somewhat more granular view of what he'd like to do instead:

Wednesday, September 29, 2021

The Mustache of Conciliation and Compromise


Old Tom Friedman bothsidesing the Democrats internally ("Do Democrats Have the Courage of Liz Cheney?"):

I have only one question for them: Are you ready to risk a lot less than Liz Cheney did to do what is necessary right now — from your side — to save our democracy?

Because, when one party in our two-party system completely goes rogue, it falls on the other party to act. Democrats have to do three things at the same time: advance their agenda, protect the integrity of our elections and prevent this unprincipled Trump-cult version of the G.O.P. from ever gaining national power again.

It is a tall order and a wholly unfair burden in many ways. But if Cheney is ready to risk everything to stop Trump, then Democrats — both moderates and progressives — must rise to this moment and forge the majorities needed in the Senate and House to pass the bipartisan infrastructure bill (now scheduled for a Thursday vote in the House), a voting rights bill and as much of the Build Back Better legislation as moderate and progressives can agree on.

I guess Rep. Gottheimer (leading the tiny rump in the House who say they won't vote for the human-insfrastructure bill unless they get to vote for the structural-infrastructure bill first, but refuse to say whether they will vote for the former if they get their way on the latter) might think he's already doing the same kind of thing as Cheney when she voted to impeach Big Donald—fearlessly bucking his party.

Tuesday, September 28, 2021

New Bottle For Old Whine


Graphic by The Heckler, June 2011, in honor of legendary Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, quoted as saying, "Surprisingly, my tears are slightly peachy with a touch of licorice."

People somewhat exercised by this big article in The Atlantic by a psychiatrist, Sally Satel, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, "The Experts Somehow Overlooked Authoritarians on the Left":

In the 1950 book The Authoritarian Personality, an inquiry into the psychologicalmakeup of people strongly drawn to autocratic rule and repressive politics, the German-born scholar Theodor W. Adorno and three other psychologists measured people along dimensions such as conformity to societal norms, rigid thinking, and sexual repression. And they concluded that “the authoritarian type of human”— the kind of person whose enthusiastic support allows someone like Hitler to exercise power—was found only among conservatives. In the mid-1990s, the influential Canadian psychologist Bob Altemeyer described left-wing authoritarianism as “the of political psychology—an occasional shadow, but no monster.” Subsequently, other psychologists reached the same conclusion....

Actually Adorno was not a psychologist but offered a sociological perspective to the team, and made a relatively small contribution (to five of the 23 chapters). And I don't think it's correct to say they "concluded" that authoritarianism was found only among conservatives; rather, rightwing authoritarianism was what the mostly American psychologists ( Else Frenkel-Brunswik, Daniel Levinson, and Nevitt Sanford) set out to study, carefully weeding out the contrast with revolutionary leftism that was a key to the original Frankfurt School project:

Saturday, September 25, 2021

For the Record: Del Rio Truthers


Bringing takeout from Ciudad Acuña to the family in Del Rio. Photo by Jordan Vonderhaar/Getty Images via The Guardian.

Obviously the fact that Trump was being replaced by a less racist and anti-immigrant president encouraged more people to join in from January 2021 onward, but the movement was already happening.

Friday, September 24, 2021

Literary Corner: Nothing Is More Controversial

His Purple Mountain Majesty. Banner of Cawthorne's House website, which claims he is "proudly serving the mountains of Western North Carolina". 


About Nothing

by Rep. Madison Cawthorn

The Left wants you to ask questions
about nothing.


Because nothing
is more controversial
than the truth.

Sadly, no. I'm the one who wrote, or at any rate edited, that. In Cawthorn's original, the last three lines are overstuffed with syllables and devoid of meaning:

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Daddy, Where Do Border Patrols Come From?


Photo via Veterans Administration website We Are the Mighty.

I know now what unconscious process made me look up the official founding of the Border Patrol when I saw that tweet, not because I already knew about it, but because I didn't know about it and wondered why—I've often dipped into the history of immigration and immigration enforcement on the blog, and you'd think I would have heard of how the Border Patrol got started.

The main reason I hadn't heard about it, as it turns out, was that it happened at the same time as everything else, in 1924, during the Coolidge administration, when they passed the first general immigration law in the form of the National Origins Act; before that, the Mexican border was essentially open, Mexican and US citizens going back and forth across the border freely, unhindered except by customs agents collecting import duties on both sides. 


Two of these states are Arizona and West Virginia. Via Data For Progress.

I'm starting to get too anxious. I'm anxious about going back to the office, which I keep putting off week by week, not because I think we won't be adequately protected against Covid (the protocols look very good) or not wisely but too well protected (hybrid Zoom meeting today had unmasked people gathered around my desk that I haven't sat in for 19 months, and I knew everybody was vaccinated) but because I'm afraid I may have become too weird. Or incompetent (I've had two tech emergencies in two days that involved endless hours of head-desking panic before I realized they involved tasks I've figured out and done before). Or unable to skip my mid-afternoon nap.

And I'm really anxious about politics, with the sense that, as Steve says, 

Monday, September 20, 2021

Drumbeat of Derision


Shorter David Frum ("What the Never Trumpers Want Now"):

Sadly, the Trumpery has turned us loyally principled Republicans into political exiles, with nowhere to go. I'd love to move in to the Democratic camp, but it isn't really suitable for a loyally principled Republican as it is. Frankly, it's almost as bad as Trump. Can't you fix it up a little? Here is my list of demands.

Well, no, that isn't exactly what he says. In the first place he's not so ill-mannered as to make it all about himself. What he says is more along the concern-troll lines of claiming that Democrats won the 2018 and 2020 elections, to the extent they did win them, because of anti-Trump Republicans coming over to their side, and if Democrats want to keep winning they must rely on those guys rather than on a "base-first strategy", because the Democrats' is "not coherent or big enough".

The former cultural core of the GOP is exiting the party. The Democrats should keep those voters in their corner....

By "former cultural core" he means "the college-educated, the professional, the suburban", which "will, if permitted, realign American politics",  and he offers five ideas for things Democrats could do to hang onto them:

1. Campaign on Republican vote suppression and gerrymandering instead of Democratic programs to improve people's lives: 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Strudel Poodle


Not much information, perhaps, but plenty of kürtőskalács. Via Taste Atlas.

I don't know if Roy, Left Blogistan's preeminent Rod Dreher scholar, has seen this testimony of what Dreher did on his three-month Hungarian junket, so I want to make sure it gets posted somewhere:

Dreher, who we caught in  early August complaining about how the Western press smears Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán as a fascist when they don't bother to learn the first thing about what Orbán has actually done—

this write-by-numbers Atlantic piece on how the 2022 election might be the last time to stop Hungary from turning into an Orban autocracy. It’s typical of the coverage you see in the Western media: no interest at all in trying to understand the nuances of the issues in play. It’s all Magyar Man Bad. As I have said repeatedly, if you come to Hungary with an open mind, and spend any time, you may not come away thinking pro-Orban thoughts, but you will come away realizing that the situation here is far, far different from the picture you see in the Western media.

—hasn't bothered to learn the first thing about what Orbán has actually done.

I mean literally: Rodsplaining Hungarian freedom of expression to Hungary's only remaining independent media outlet:

Thursday, September 16, 2021

This One Weird Trick


On Monday, Robert Kuttner/The American Prospect reported a really interesting little development in the reconciliation negotiations: the idea for a kind of finesse that would allow both Senator Manchin and the House progressives to claim a victory.

The idea his Hill sources were telling him about involved a key element of the Build Back Better proposals, the extension of the American Rescue Plan's one-year fully funded child tax credit for $3000 per child ($3600 for a child under six), the second installment of which went out to households yesterday, and which is temporarily cutting our child poverty rate by nearly half. The House Ways and Means proposal is to keep it going through 2025 and then reduce it to $1000, which would be a shame (reducing the reduction in child poverty to 8%), but making the full credit "permanent" (i.e., though 2030) would cost another $700 billion.

Tuesday, September 14, 2021

For the Record: Big Buttons and Illegal Orders

Trump and His Big Buttons, via the Australian site Green Left.

With reference to what is presumably the finale of Bob Woodward's Trump Trilogy, Fear (2018), Rage (2020), and now Peril (to be released next Tuesday), now featuring a collaborator in the person of a WaPo colleague, Republican whisperer Robert Costa—

The advance promotion of the book from CNN offers a pretty interesting story of the very last days of the term, following the episode, just after the election, where Trump signs an order to withdraw all the US troops from Afghanistan before Biden's inauguration, by 15 January, as we've sort of known since May. Among other things, it's done in secrecy from the government, under the urging of Stephen Bannon, who's back in the scene urging Trump toward the real coup, and in tandem with the firing of defense secretary Mark Esper and all sorts of attendant intrigue in which Trump seems to be trying to seize some kind of power over DoD. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Mark Milley and some others are able to stop the precipitous move in Afghanistan (if you think Biden's withdrawal from Afghanistan three months after the agreed date was dangerously rushed and poorly planned, you'll agree that this proposal was at least a couple of orders of magnitude worse), but Milley is spooked by this evidence of Trump's ability to sneak around the normal channels, while CIA director Gina Haspel is suspecting Trump could order an attack on Iran, and going on to ask, "He is acting out like a six-year-old with a tantrum... This is a highly dangerous situation. We are going to lash out for his ego?"

Literary Corner: Vulnerable to the Reliability

I call this his "deer in the headlines" look. Via Fox News.

If the Supreme Court really comes up with a way of finding the Texas Posse Postcoitum Act constitutional, I'm going to demand that New York State enact a bill deputizing private citizens to enforce libel law by filing suits against liars on behalf of reality itself, and spend the rest of my life hunting bounties, $10,000 at a clip from all the Republicans I can catch. 

I'm not sure I'll go after Senator Manchin, because his stupid act is getting so convincing I'm not at all sure he's lying, as in this interview with Dana Bash at CNN:

The Urgency That We Have

by Joseph Manchin III

What's the urgency? What's
the urgency that we have? It's not
the same urgency that we have
with the American Rescue Plan. We
got that out the door quick, it was
about $2 billion — $2 trillion. And
on top of that, all the things we
have got with the CARES package,
everything leading up to that. So,
we have done an awful lot and there's
still an awful lot of people that need help.
But you have 11 million jobs that aren't
filled right now. 8 million people are still
unemployed. Something's not matching up.
Don't you think we ought to hit the pause
and find out? The vulnerability that we have,
Dana, right now, we don't know what is happening
with this COVID. It's awful, coming back
the way it is with a vengeance. And
we don't know about inflation. We know
it's running rampant right now. I can tell you,
in West Virginia, inflation's running rampant.

And, on top of that, the challenges we're
going to have, geopolitical challenges.
Shouldn't we be prepared?

Saturday, September 11, 2021

1/6 Is What They Claimed 9/11 Was


Confederates under General Jubal Early in Maryland, getting uncomfortably close to the Capitol in 1864. Via Smithsonian.

With regard to that Spencer Ackerman op-ed ("How Sept. 11 Gave Us Jan. 6") that Steve is talking about this morning, I have a narratological take: namely, that Ackerman is right to bring the episodes of 9/11 and 1/6 together, but does it the wrong way when he treats one as the cause and the other as an effect. Ratherm, they belong to two entirely different stories, in paradigmatic rather than syntagmatic relation (that is, to be compared, not connected), and what we can learn about one from the other is not what Ackerman thinks.

The story of 9/11 is the story that begins in the years from 1979, when the USSR lost its war in Afghanistan and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards took the hostages in the US embassy, to 1990, when Saddam Hussein attempted to conquer Kuwait as the USSR hurtled toward dissolution; it's the story of how the American rightwing sought an enemy to replace the Cold War Soviets and discovered it in militant Islam. It was a terrible story, in its ignorance of the diversity and conflict among Muslims and its narcissistic certainty that everything is "about us", but when Osama bin Laden finally succeeded in destroying the World Trade Center in 2001 it seemed, for a while, to be really true.

Friday, September 10, 2021

No True Religionist


Painted lacquer basket from an Eastern Han tomb of what was the Chinese Lelang Commandery in what is now North Korea (1st-2nd century B.C.E.), illustrating historical paragons of the virtue of filial piety. Via Wikipedia.

David F. Brooks is shocked-shocked to find that authoritarians have been using religion as a justification for their abusive ways, not only in places with actual dictators like Russia and China, but right here in the United States of America! Luckily, he quickly realizes that the ones in the US and Germany are basically faking it ("When Dictators Find God"):

Even wannabe authoritarians in America and Western Europe are getting in on the game. The international affairs scholar Tobias Cremer has shown that many of the so-called Christian nationalists who populate far-right movements on both sides of the Atlantic are actually not that religious.

They are motivated by nativist and anti-immigrant attitudes and then latch onto Christian symbols to separate “them” from “us.” In Germany, for example, the far-right group that aggressively plays up its Christian identity underperforms among voters who are actually religious.

I don't know how carefully Brooks read the linked thing, but it wasn't actually so much about the far right as the normal conservatives, the Christian Social Union (CSU) of Bavaria, which is partnered with the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) of the other 15 states, Chancellor Merkel's party, and which has been known for its  strict adhesion to Roman Catholic social policy (there aren't a lot of Protestants in Bavaria) since its founding in 1945. That's 73 years when the party's faithful Christianity was never questioned, up to the 2018 state legislative election when it found itself threatened by the neofascist Alternativ für Deutschland (AfD):

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Playing Position



Shana Tova and happy Labor Day! I'm upstate enjoying some R&R including some woods (lovely, dark, but fortunately not that deep), and trying not to worry about the Wall Street Journal story, of which I've only seen Steve's report, suggesting that the Democrats are going to give up on tax justice as they work through the reconciliation instructions to spend that $3.5 trillion, which I'm guessing (see above) wouldn't make them feel too sad over at WSJ. 

Nobody else seems to have been picking up on it—I mean, within our own bloggy circle, or out there in the magazines we read—and it's consistently remarkable how little discussion there is anywhere of the tax side of the Biden program, which I myself, as you know, am obsessed with. That is, I get why Democrats might be leery of talking about it, knowing how Republicans would be inclined to manipulate the discussion, as they normally do, making it sound like everybody's taxes are set to go up, as opposed to a relatively small portion of the top 2% (an individual earning $387,116, where the 98th percentile starts, won't see a rise in income tax, nor will a couple in the 99th percentile at $531,020; and you have to be earning $1,000,000 to get hit by the rise in the capital gains tax to a marginal rate of 39.6%). But Republicans aren't on the whole talking about it either, not the politics of it, neither concern trolling ("our Democrat friends will regret this gigantic assault on the middle class") nor handicapping its chances in Congress in the way WSJ just broached.

Saturday, September 4, 2021

Shit Show


Photo via Curious Historian.

Looks like the only Trump business that isn't falling apart is grifting from Republicans: the Washington hotel is empty, and though they've found another broker to try to sell the lease ($3 million a year), they've lowered the asking price from $500 million to $400 million and still found no takes after two months, they're under legal attack in New York and Washington, and, in the latest, tenants in Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue can't pay their rent:

Inside Trump Tower, swank suit-maker Marcraft Clothes once rented the entire 18th floor, outfitting its offices with fireplaces, mahogany-lined closets and two bars for schmoozing customers.

But then Marcraft fell $664,000 behind on rent and went out of business last year — its assets having dwindled to $40.75 in a checking account and “1,200 damaged coats,” according to court filings.

One floor up, a business school once led by Kardashian family matriarch Kris Jenner was consumed by lawsuits, falling $198,000 behind on payments to Trump Tower by October 2020, according to court papers. And on the 21st and 22nd floors, the company that made Ivanka Trump shoes racked up $1.5 million in unpaid rent, according to a lawsuit that the Trump Organization filed this year.

But there's one tenant, this WaPo story says, that's definitely paying its bills: the Make America Great Again PAC, which took over space on the 15th floor previously occupied by the Trump campaign in March, for a monthly rent of $37,541.67, though nobody is known to actually do anything there.

Friday, September 3, 2021

For the Record: Manchin (with bonus rantlet)



Thursday, September 2, 2021

Facts on the Ground


Image credit to Getty via The Atlantic.

My new reality show is called Fogg the Abortion Bounty Hunter. Somewhere in relatively rural west Texas, there's a longhaired faithful Christian ex-con plagued by ex-wives just struggling to put it together for himself, and this is how he's doing it, pantysniffing, alongside his eccentric posse, starting with the attorney sidekick who files the lawsuits through which the law is supposed to operate, where you get that bounty of up to $10,000, paid by the defendants if you win the case, for suing somebody involved in procuring an illegal abortion (they're practically all illegal in Texas now, it's almost impossible to get a legal abortion unless you started planning it before you got pregnant).

And then the guys who know the local doctors and nurses and Uber drivers taking passengers to Mexico or New Mexico, and cross-tabs between bartenders and pharmacists maybe, since they want a fix on the girls who are fornicating without protection. That's where, as they say, the money is (though you're not allowed to sue the women themselves).

Maybe as an incredibly poignant plot point for the first season he finds himself pursuing his own daughter, after one of the ex-wives drives her to Mexico.

My alternative take on the whole repulsive situation is that the new law isn't exactly meant to work as advertised; I mean, that the Texans don't expect any bounty hunting to take place. Respectable abortion providers inside the state will be complying with the law, abominable ones know how to take care of themselves, and there won't be any lawsuits. It's not a route the traditional Christian boyfriend wants to follow, to allow her to get her abortion and then turn around to try to make $10K out of it. It's a law made for cartoon characters like my friend Fogg there, and they're fictional.

But for the Supreme Court, that's ideal, because it means they'll never have to commit themselves. I'm not sure everybody gets that, but the reason they didn't bother to give for refusing to grant a temporary injunction against the new law is a completely valid one, stupid but valid: that they can't really evaluate the law until they have a lawsuit, filed by somebody with standing to do it. So rather than making their own decisions, they can turn the case they've been handed over to the "shadow docket" and simply refuse to hear it. Meanwhile, it's established as a kind of law that hasn't been rejected by the Supreme Court, inviting 20 or 22 red states to emulate it and provide "facts on the ground", like the illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank that seem to be possible because there's no place to effectively challenge them.

What interests me is the increased use of mechanisms like the shadow docket (the same way the Biden eviction moratorium was ended yesterday) where one party to a dispute gets their way, but nobody is seen to be making a decision. That's a bit scary.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Neoconservative Denial

Afghanistan National Institute of Music (ANIM).

I want to stop, but maybe just one more column, this one from Robert Kagan of the Kagan dynasty, co-founder with Dr. William Kristol of the Project for a New American Century, and prophet of neoconservatism, as he defined it in 2008, as a kind of political faith going back to 1776 and Alexander Hamilton, whose tenets are

a potent moralism and idealism in world affairs, a belief in America’s exceptional role as a promoter of the principles of liberty and democracy, a belief in the preservation of American primacy and in the exercise of power, including military power, as a tool for defending and advancing moralistic and idealistic causes, as well as a suspicion of international institutions and a tendency toward unilateralism. 

(Though the quotation he uses to bring Hamilton to his side is pretty distorted, when he claims that "Hamilton, even in the 1790s, looked forward to the day when America would be powerful enough to assist peoples in the 'gloomy regions of despotism' to rise up against the 'tyrants that oppressed them"; in fact what Hamilton said, not in the 1790s but 1784, had no reference to "assisting" anybody in the future—merely to the young US already then setting an inspiring example, by its underdog victory in the Revolution: "The influence of our example has penetrated the gloomy regions of despotism, and has pointed the way to inquiries, which may shake it to its deepest foundations.")

But is, anyhow, very anxious at the moment from his (officially ex-neoconservative—he now identifies as "'liberal' and 'progressive' in a distinctly American tradition") position as Washington Post opinionist to assure us (contra WaPo's national security columnist, Greg Jaffe, who writes about the "hubris" of the American project) that the effort in Afghanistan was no effort in "advancing moralistic and idealistic causes" ("It wasn’t hubris that drove America into Afghanistan. It was fear."):

Monday, August 30, 2021

View From Nowhere


Spectroscope, British Library collections, via SolvingForPattern.

Peter Baker,  the New York Times reporter so devoted to the View From Nowhere that he notoriously refuses even to take sides in secret by casting a ballot in an election, has a characteristic take on the withdrawal from Afghanistan: that angry partisans missed a chance to find a compromise between the extreme positions, that US forces should withdraw or US forces should not withdraw ("All In or All Out? Biden Saw No Middle Ground in Afghanistan."):

“There was only the cold reality of either following through on the agreement to withdraw our forces or escalating the conflict and sending thousands more American troops back into combat in Afghanistan, lurching into the third decade of conflict,” Mr. Biden said as the Taliban seized Kabul this month.

Critics consider that either disingenuous or at the very least unimaginative, arguing that there were viable alternatives, even if not especially satisfying ones, that may not have ever led to outright victory but could have avoided the disaster now unfolding in Kabul and the provinces.