Monday, February 28, 2022

Note on Whataboutism

Protesters in Venceslas Square, Prague. Photo by AFP-Yonhap via The Korea Times. It's getting very international.


Wild day yesterday, starting with the radio news that President Zelenskyy had rejected a Russian request to start peace negotiations in Belarus (Belarus, he said, was contributing to the Russian invasion and wasn't a neutral country) and going on to the news that he'd changed his mind after a call from President Lukashenka assuring him that Belarus would not be sending any missiles, planes, or helicopters across the border as long as the talks went on: 

“I will say frankly that I do not really believe in the outcome of this meeting, but let them try to make sure that no citizen of Ukraine has any doubt that I, as a president, did not try to stop the war,” Mr. Zelensky said.

Meanwhile, Russia's diplomatic isolation continued to grow: Germany announced that it would reverse decades-old policy and start contributing lethal assistance to Ukraine—antitank missiles and Stingers—and the chorus of countries ready to cut Russia out of the Swift bank transfer system grew to include Japan and Hungary. Europe and Canada joined to ban Russian planes from their airspace. As I noted yesterday, important classical music figures like Putin's pal Valery Gergiev are unable to perform outside Russia; the national Polish and Swedish soccer teams are likewise refusing to play against Russia in the World Cup heats. Ukraine filed criminal charges against Russia in the International Criminal Court, and demanded Russia's expulsion from the United Nations Security Council (no, that's not going to happen). Switzerland—Switzerland!—has tossed its I-don't-know-how-many-centuries tradition of unbreakable neutrality and joined the EU in imposing financial sanctions on Russia, and may even be sending weapons. Oil monster BP is outright dumping a $25-billion stake in Rosneft:

Saturday, February 26, 2022

What Did You Do in the War, Dad?

I won the war against Russian fascism last night, going to my first concert since 2019: brother-in-law's brother-in-law had tickets to the Vienna Philharmonic at Carnegie Hall and couldn't go, so he passed them to me, and I was feeling kind of funny about going, because the conductor was Valery Gergiev, longtime artistic director of the Mariinsky Theater in St. Petersburg, where he became friends with the then deputy mayor, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, in 1992, which has been pretty good for his career (he's been the third wealthiest Russian on the Forbes list of celebrities), but it hasn't been so good for his reputation internationally when he's appeared in Putin's campaign ads, denounced the members of the Pussy Riot group, or failed to address the Russian "gay propaganda" law of 2013 making it a crime to distribute "propaganda of non-traditional sexual relationships", which has led to protests when he appears in New York, one of which I witnessed a while back (I felt like I was crossing a picket line), as well as dark questions about the relationship between art and power, as Alex Ross (whose account I am shamelessly stealing from here) told New Yorker readers in reference to a 2013 Gergiev performance of Dmitry Shostakovich's 8th symphony:

We have read many accounts of Shostakovich’s life under Stalin, his terror-stricken accommodations with the Soviet state. How should we react when this composer’s music is led by a conductor who has entered his own pact with authority, who has even spoken approvingly of the politics of fear? There is no clear answer to that question. We have all made our compromises with power; everywhere, the noblest artistic strivings are circumscribed by social conditions that make them look hypocritical and hollow. But the historical ironies surrounding Valery Gergiev are becoming uncomfortably intense.

Anyway, in the end, I got to go to the concert and Gergiev didn't get to conduct it. I should have known—it was reported in The Times on Thursday: Gergiev is canceled. 

Vienna dumped him for the orchestra's current US tour, he's losing gigs in Milan and perhaps Munich and Rotterdam, and last night he was replaced by the genial Canadian Yannick Nézet-Séguin, music director of the Metropolitan Opera, while the very young Korean pianist Seong-Jin Cho stepped in for the Russian Denis Matsuev (who has expressed support for the annexation of Crimea). It was a kind of schlocky program but one that goes beautifully with the famous warmth and richness of the Vienna band and the Carnegie acoustics, of the two most warhorsy of Rachmaninov's warhorses, the second piano concerto and second symphony, and it worked really really well.

It also started really late, I guess because we had to enter in single file in a line stretching almost around the block as everybody's vaccination status was verified, and it wasn't surprising at the end when Nézet-Séguin turned to the audience and said, "You want an encore? Come back tomorrow night!" It was a giddy, funny moment, and it honestly did feel like a feeling of victory for Ukraine, leaving us tired and a little punch-drunk but happy, as if we actually had been at a well-fought battle, against the grim forces trying to overwhelm us in this dark time.

Friday, February 25, 2022

From Psychopathy to Psychosis

Miniature from the 15th-century Radziwiłł Chronicle history of Kievan Rus', showing Vladimir I of Kiyiv threatening to kill his consort Rogneda of Polotsk, while their son Prince Izyaslav defends her. Via Wikimedia Commons.

We all know about Lord Acton and that thing that power does and absolute power does absolutely, which certainly applies to President Putin, but there's something even more dangerous than that: power gives you a false sense, overconfidence bias, that you know what's going on, absolute power makes you delusional. 

Seva Gunitsky is one of the authors, with Adam Casey, of a piece that appeared three weeks ago in Foreign Affairs that I wish I'd seen before I started making predictions about Ukraine, "The Bully in the Bubble: Putin and the Perils of Information Isolation", the burden of which is that Putin, like Xi Jinping, Nicolás Maduro, Recep Tayyib Erdoğan, and a scarily increasing host of others, practices what the authors call a "personalist" rule, in which government proceeds not from an ideological framework or a particular power/interest structure but simply from one person, not just an autocrat, but one focused on acting out his own needs and desires, whatever they may be. Trump is inclined to be a personalist too, which is what his authoritarian party hired him for, but he's too personally incompetent to actually carry the thing out; Putin has seemed to us to be the super-competent opposite, a kind of Lord Vetinari, the skilled and efficient Patrician of Ankh-Morpork, trained assassin and polymath, master of detail, only much nastier of course. But on Earth, as opposed to Discworld, even the most able personalist ruler faces pitfalls that are nearly impossible to escape:

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Literary Corner: Potato-in-Chief

Convinced Putin gave Trump this present just to force him to be photographed grasping an object with both hands, which always makes him look like somebody who has trouble using two hands at a time. Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images via NPR.

The brethren are pretty flummoxed by the Retired Emperor coming out to tell everybody, in an interview with Clay Travis and Buck Sexton (surely that's a bluegrass duo) about how "smart" and "savvy" it is of President Putin to go through with this invasion of territory he already controls and what a "genius" he is, making him sound like the bought-and-paid-for Russian asset we've been telling you he is for the past six years.

Of course that's unpossible! There must be some other explanation, of which my current favorite is the view that Trump's peculiar enthusiasms are irrelevant, since they had no effect on his foreign policy, which he had nothing to do with:

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Campaign For Nonvoters


GDP growth January 2019 to January 2022

Commenter Cheez wrote in re Saturday's post:

That "majority" must be based on the third of eligible voters who so far can't be bothered. Is there any evidence that these groundhogs can be relied on to choose uncomfortable reality over a snug and cosy fantasy? I wonder how much is known about these people, what they care about, what sort of threat would finally make them pay attention to their civic duty, as voting (and serving on a jury) used to be referred to as.

And a majority can be ignored if they do not contest being ignored. It's going to take an existential threat to get people's attention. For the Democratic Party, it should be the outright theft of a presidential election: 2000 didn't do it but Republicans had a veneer of sanity then. It's going to take some unholy blend of Gilead and Idiocracy to get apathetic non-voters to ask "wha happened?" .

My response:

choose uncomfortable reality over a snug and cosy fantasy?

I don't think you can build a bigger majority than we had in 2018 on fear of dictatorship, if that's what you mean. We did do pretty well out of sheer negative partisanship in 2020--more people thinking Republicans are bad than thinking Democrats are bad--but that was a presidential year, with Trump personally embodying the bad. The majority I have in mind is the one that favors minimum wage hikes, family leave and subsidized day care, electric cars, and taxing the rich.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Democrats in Disarray


Seven factions? That's what I call disarray!

Meanwhile Mike Allen for Axios is gunning for "the Squad":

The hard-left politics of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and the so-called "Squad," once a dominant theme for vast numbers of elected Democrats, is backfiring big-time on the party in power, top Democrats tell us.

Why it matters: The push to defund the police, rename schools and tear down statues has created a significant obstacle to Democrats keeping control of the House, the Senate and the party’s overall image.

"It's what we've been screaming about for a year," said Matt Bennett, c0-founder of center-left Third Way, which launched Shield PAC to defend moderate Democrats.

Siri, how many is a "vast number"? Also, what does "center-left" mean in an organization that rejects leftness in its very name? The total "top Democrats" cited in the article are two, Matt Bennett here and the famously bipartisan Problem Solver Josh Gottheimer, how "top" is that? No actual issue in which Democrats were defeated is mentioned—issues mentioned in the article are in San Francisco and Minneapolis, where Republicans really have no pull at all, and the issue in San Francisco wasn't one of those "woke" ones anyway.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

For the Record: I Say It's Spinach


Drawing by Kaamran Hafeez, originally in The New Yorker but I don't have a date, via Fine Art America.

AP finally found a couple of Democrats in a diner, and the results aren't pretty:

Some Democrats in rural Pennsylvania are afraid to tell you they’re Democrats.

The party’s brand is so toxic in the small towns 100 miles northeast of Pittsburgh that some liberals have removed bumper stickers and yard signs and refuse to acknowledge publicly their party affiliation. These Democrats are used to being outnumbered by the local Republican majority, but as their numbers continue to dwindle, those who remain are feeling increasingly isolated and unwelcome in their own communities.

“The hatred for Democrats is just unbelievable,” said Tim Holohan, an accountant based in rural McKean County who recently encouraged his daughter to get rid of a pro-Joe Biden bumper sticker. “I feel like we’re on the run.”

The article's basic thrust, not about how Republicans have been driven insane by the vicious lies of Rupert Murdoch's media and the sermons of Southern Baptists, but rather how Democrats "have a problem" ("symptomatic of a larger political problem threatening the Democratic Party heading into the November elections"), outraged our friend @drvolts, late of Wonkette, in a terrific polemical thread, like


Friday, February 18, 2022

Old News vs. Wrong News—Why Not Both?

There's a Marx Brothers movie—maybe Horse Feathers?—with a mook who has this face of invincible rectitude. What a shyster.

Margot Cleveland at The Federalist indicts

5 Media Lies About The Latest Special Counsel Revelations

Lie no. 1 is the claim that "it's just those crazed right-wingers" who think the Durham investigation uncovered evidence that somebody was being paid by the Hillary Clinton campaign before the campaign existed to "spy" on Trump Tower and the pinging with the Alfa Bank server thing.

Indeed, several writers are cited as calling this a rightwing "furor", from Charlie Savage at the New York Times through Brian Stelter at CNN to Hillary Clinton herself:

And what makes it a lie? Cleveland doesn't cite any of the alleged liars:

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Joe Did What? The Second Time Around


Imagery of a war scare.

Yesterday on NPR, when I was half asleep during an interview with the career diplomat John Herbst, who was ambassador to Ukraine from 2003 to 2006 and now runs the Atlantic Council's Eurasia Center, I heard a reference to something like "the last time Russian troops surrounded Ukraine and an invasion seemed imminent, in April 2021,"  and I was kind of wait, what?

Because that's less than a year ago, and I don't remember anything about it, and almost nobody else does either, as far as I can tell, and I really don't think it was widely reported in the US. When I finally got around to looking it up, Dr. Google sent me, not to The New York Times or Washington Post, but the Natsional'nyy Instytut Strategichnykh Doslidzhen' (National Institute of Strategic Studies, and I'm not sure I'm transliterating it right) in Kiyiv, which has an excellent report on "The Russian and Ukrainian Spring 2021 War Scare", in English, that tells me more or less what I needed to know: In March 2021 Ukrainian intelligence were alarmed by an unusual concentration of Russian troops and hardware forming along the Russian-Ukrainian border, and at the end of the month the US European Command raised its alertness leve from "possible crisis" to "potential imminent crisis". 

Monday, February 14, 2022

You Come Here, You Drink Trump

"Forty-Five" cocktail (Wyoming whiskey, Demerara, orange bitters, Diet Coke, garnished with "two American beef sliders"), $45, at 45 Wine and Whiskey, burgers not shown.

Shane Goldmacher and Eric Lipton at The New York Times seemingly giddy with pleasure at how enthusiastically The Former Guy is taking care of business:

For Mr. Trump, the monetization of his post-presidency represents a return to his roots. He expertly leveraged his celebrity as the host of “The Apprentice” and his image as a decisive businessman to build credibility when he first entered politics. Now, he is executing the same playbook, only in reverse: converting a political following that provided hundreds of millions of dollars in small campaign contributions into a base of consumers for all things branded Trump.

Right. Years ago he turned his imaginary skills as the manager of a long string of real estate and tchotchke-selling businesses, based not on success (all the businesses actually failed) but rather his performance as that character on a TV drama, into a successful campaign for the presidency of the United States. Now he's turning his imaginary skills as president (in fact he is by common consent of historians, political scientists, and most normal people the worst president we've ever had) into actual success selling tchotchkes and profiting from real estate.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

War News


Pine forest near Klavdievo, Borodianka Raion, Kyiv Oblast, Ukraine. Photo by Aymayna Khikari via Wikimedia Commons.

Friday, February 11, 2022

Ain't Gonna Work on Maggie's Form No More

A Twitter friend sent me the following by DM yesterday evening, and I didn't notice it until later:

Does @maggieNYT’s latest change your opinion any?

My opinion of what? I assume she must have posted another obnoxious, defensive tweet, and it's so bad I'll really stop coming to her defense myself, like she's my girlfriend and the scales will fall from my eyes and I'll ask for my ring back.

Look, she's not my girlfriend. I've never met her and it's unlikely I ever will. If I saw her at the smoked fish counter at Barney Greengrass I would pretend, as I always do with celebrities, that I didn't recognize her. I don't want to know her. More important, I really need for people to start distinguishing between the profoundly stupid question, "Is X a Good Person or a Bad Person?" and the important question, "Is a thing that X is doing having a good or useful or pleasing impact or a bad or unhelpful or ugly impact? and what do we need to do about it?

Thursday, February 10, 2022

For the Record: We Had All the Information We Needed


So Maggie Haberman's aptly titled biography of The Former Guy is about to drop, and they're teasing it, as is the custom, with a sample scabrous anecdote—how Trump clogged White House toilets with the bits of torn-up official documents, as if the cops were knocking and he was getting rid of his stash of coke. So what's got everybody riled up? This new evidence of Trump's knowing, continuous violation of the Presidential Records Act? Hell no, everybody's mad at Maggie for presumably waiting till now to publish the story so she could cash in on it.

Everybody, that is, except some old bloggers:

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Republicans and Drugs


As Liddle Marco gets Trumpier and Trumpier, I get angrier and angrier:

I guess it should be clear that he does not in fact assume anything of the sort—he knows perfectly well that methamphetamine users are typically white (in proportions ranging from 54 percent in San Jose to 94 percent in Portland), with Latin users constituting a majority in Los Angeles and a substantial second place elsewhere, and crystal meth smokers, with the characteristic "meth mouth", are very much among those who can transmit diseases like hepatitis by sharing pipes and would benefit, along with the general public health, from a program distributing clean pipes. 

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

You're Kidding Me

 Southern Border Parole Policy 

Whoa! You're kidding me, right?

Two wrongs don't make a right

Yes, it's Redhand, and this is one of my unhappily rare posts here.  The spirit is willing, but my septuagenarian career as an immigration lawyer keeps me far, far busier than I'd like.  ("All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.")  However, this development is so interesting that its takes precedence over my long-ago-promised post about dysfunction in the immigration court system. (An evolving work-in-progress.)

A large percentage of my work is devoted to asylum claims, and it's probably what I'm best known for.  Prior to the Trump Administration's attempted (and largely successful) dismantling of the system for processing asylum claims near our borders, there were reasonably well-understood procedures for processing individuals appearing at U.S. ports of entry (POE) ("arriving aliens") or points of illegal border entry (present in the United States without authorization after entry at a place other than a POE).  Note, these latter folks  are popularly known in the trade as "EWIs" (those who "Entered Without Inspection.")

For the Record: What Is Capitalism

Class Strugle--The board game. Via Wikipedia.

Covering some ground I'm afraid we may have covered before—

Monday, February 7, 2022

A Game of Thrones


Via ESPN, October 2011. 

People saying The Former Guy incriminated himself last week with his remarkable statement wishing Pence had "overturned the Election" 

"If the Vice President (Mike Pence) had 'absolutely no right' to change the Presidential Election results in the Senate, despite fraud and many other irregularities, how come the Democrats and RINO Republicans, like Wacky Susan Collins, are desperately trying to pass legislation that will not allow the Vice President to change the results of the election? Actually, what they are saying, is that Mike Pence did have the right to change the outcome, and they now want to take that right away. Unfortunately, he didn't exercise that power, he could have overturned the Election!"

are misreading the way he and his ghostwriter are thinking: the "overturning" he's talking about would not be a crime at all, but simple justice, to his mind, because he's better attuned to sports than democracy. 

Sunday, February 6, 2022

For the Record: Gunga Dinesh Holds Forth on the Demonstrations in Ottawa


Video screenshot via CTV News.

Lumpenproletarier living in a false consciousness promoted by the pet intellectuals of the bourgeoisie is something Marx waa pretty familiar with, though I don't know if he would have identified it with white nationalism (arising among white trash told they could at least be proud of not being Black in the Old South) as easily as we can today.

For the Record: Legitimate Political Discourse


Cool variant on Lévi-Strauss's famous analysis in which the stories of the Theban cycle are shown as simultaneously present in the myth, like the voices in a musical score. Via John Phillips, National University of Singapore.

That's after Claude Lévi-Strauss, the totem hero of structural anthropology, who said that mythology is "bon à penser", "good to think", in the same way as we say certain foods are "good to eat". In the same way, structural anthropology itself can be "good to think"  I've been working on an example that's interesting, I think, with reference to gloomy comparisons between the 1923 Nazi coup attempt in Munich and the 2021 Republican coup attempt in Washington—it's gloomy because it gets the relationship upside down.

Friday, February 4, 2022

For the Record: Good News for Joe Biden—Why That's Bad News for Joe Biden

Remember that Dana Milbank piece about how unfairly the press treats Biden as opposed to Trump at the beginning of December?

Even the extraordinary news that jobless claims had dropped to the lowest level in 52 years came with a qualifier: “BUT, BUT, BUT  don’t expect [the numbers] to immediately change Americans’ negative perceptions of the economy.”

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman taking it, as she seems to take most things, as a personal attack on her, had a pretty snippy subtweet response, to which I happened to respond myself:

Because all year, if you were reading, the "mainstream media" had been highlighting monthly job numbers coming in under expectations as DISASTERS FOR BIDEN and, in the very same stories, just whispering the fact that the previous month's numbers were much better than originally reported.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Ukraine Blogging


Weird message from Mr. Tucker Carlson a while back that was tagged by some observers, I think correctly, as of Russian origin:

It's easy to call it propaganda, but I'm finding myself inclined to think of it as something a little bit different, really a message from Putin, one in the Whataboutist mode, seriously, asking for just a little understanding, bro—the Russian Federation really is kind of surrounded on its west, by NATO members some of which control nuclear weapons, all along the western borders of Russia or Belarus or Ukraine from Estonia to Turkey, from the north end of the Gulf of Finland to the eastern end of the Black Sea, members of an alliance that was specifically designed 70-odd years ago to thwart Russian movements in that direction.