Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Social Construction of Babies


Christ in Limbo, by an unnamed follower of Hieronymus Bosch, ca. 1575. Via Wikipedia.

I think the really important thing about the "frozen embryos are babies" fiasco is the way it revealed that everybody actually knows they are not, right down to Nikki Haley and Donald J. Trump. This is something I've been thinking about for quite a while, not really reducing it to writing beyond the occasional Twitter thread, and I thought I might make it an occasion for laying my argument out at some length.

I mean, the Alabama case makes it especially clear. Haley and Trump really aren't aware that they know it, and if you ask the Republicans in a given sample straight out, "Are frozen embryos babies?", they may well give you the pious, but senseless, answer that Haley and Trump initially did, but if you make them think a bit about it instead, they'll realize easily enough that there's nothing morally wrong with throwing unneeded embryos in the garbage (if probably not getting that it's really better to donate them to scientific research). They'll just have an awfully hard time explaining why.

Because practically everybody knows that blastocysts are not children, and for that matter (in my opinion) that embryos and fetuses are not in and of themselves persons in anything like the legal sense either, though we may not realize we know it, or be able, if we do, to give it a philosophical explanation. Almost everybody sees one contradiction or another in the idea that every abortion is a murder. Almost nobody thinks a ten-year-old girl should be forced to carry a child begotten by a rapist uncle or father, almost nobody thinks a woman with a tubal pregnancy should have to let it kill her, and it's forbidden by Jewish law as well.

It's only maniacs like that Alabama chief justice who will stick to the original story; Trump got an adviser to come up with an alternative cliché, while Haley had to grasp at the straw of her own personal reality, even if it meant quietly acknowledging that Major Haley has in the course of his life jerked off for medical purposes into a plastic cup, probably at least twice, first testing the sperm count, then supplying the sperm (reader, there's no shame in that—I've done the test myself, though in our case IVF turned out not to be necessary):

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Joe Did What? Signs of Spring

I can't fault the movement in Michigan's Democratic primary tomorrow, mostly I think of Arab Americans but also of other Muslim and/or Black and/or young people, to vote for uncommitted delegates instead of the Biden slate, in protest against Biden's perceived lean toward Israel in the Gaza conflict—I mean, I can and will complain that they're reading Biden wrong, but I think it's right for them to communicate the distress on behalf of the Palestinians in Palestine as well as the Palestinians in Dearborn.

We've been told repeatedly, and rightly, about how traumatized Israelis have been by the horrible events of October 7, but I'm not sure how much the broader US public is getting on what's been happening to Arabs in Gaza and the Occupied Territories of the West Bank since October 8, but the number of killed in Gaza is now approaching 30,000, that's well over one out of every 100 people, not to mention those starving and killed by the lack of medical care and polluted drinking water.

The 1200 dead of October 7 were killed in unspeakably disgusting ways. I don't usually use the term "barbaric" because I think it's unfair to barbarians to suggest they are somehow similar to Colonel Chivington's force at the Sand Creek Massacre of around 150 Cheyenne and Arapaho people in 1864

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

A Little Night Narratology


Got fixated on a peculiar detail of the government case against Alexander Smirnov, the main witness in the Republican complaint according to which Hunter Biden and Joe Biden took $5 million each in bribes from Hunter's Ukrainian employer, Mykola Zlochevsky, and nobody else seems to be paying attention to it. 

Smirnov, a double agent working for Russian intelligence services and the FBI, gave the latter the story of the bribery, with advice as to how they could go about gathering evidence to back it up, and the Bureau gave it to Rep. James Comer and Senator Charles Grassley, who hoped to use it as a gigantic and appalling climax to their attempt to impeach the president, except, as we now know, when the special prosecutor found a moment to check the story out (34 months after receiving it), it turned out to be completely bogus, Smirnov's invention or that of his Russian handlers, and the Republicans' impeachment case, such as it was, is smashed to pieces, Smirnov is now under indictment for his deceit, and the prosecutor is trying to have him detained before trial, as a flight risk.  

It's in that document, special counsel David Weiss's request to deny bail to Smirnov, that the story of his collaboration with Russians emerged publicly for the first time, in the context of Weiss's long-delayed investigation of Smirnov's allegation—a story of Russian intelligence services promulgating disinformation to help elect Donald Trump to the presidency, which is, as you know, one of my favorite kinds of stories to tell, and the first big one of the 2024 campaign—so of course I was looking at it, and noticed this narrativium-packed paragraph (where Public Official 1 is the president and Businessperson 1 is his son):

Monday, February 19, 2024

Carpe Narrativium

President Lincoln with a serving of Salmon P.  Chase. "Tod" is a reference to Ohio governor David Tod, who declined Lincoln's invitation to take over from Chase as treasury secretary. Not finding a decent credit or even a damned date, but guessing 1864. 

Happy Presidents Day (Benjamin Dreyer says no apostrophe) to those who observe it, which my radio station did this morning by asking listeners to report whether they'd ever voted enthusiastically for rather than against a candidate in a presidential election, with a sense of excitement and hope. The response was overwhelmingly Democratic, which is a bit unusual on this show for this kind of topic, I thought, and mostly oriented to charisma, as you might expect, with references to John (and Robert Sr.) Kennedy and Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, with a McGovern here and a Sanders there, and even a sweet warm tribute to Biden from a woman with Irish affiliations. But no McCain on the one hand or Trump on the other representing the love languages of Republicans. Perhaps it was hard for the Trumpies to make sense of the question, since what they love about their candidate is so tightly tied to the hatreds they believe he shares with them.

I kind of would have wanted to call in myself, or at least send in a text, just to illustrate for the public how it's possible to get emotional over an idea as opposed to an aura, and might well have tried, but I was in the shower. I was particularly stimulated because of the show's previous segment, an interview with the Belgian philosopher Ingrid Robeyns, on her newly published book, Limitarianism: The Case Against Extreme Wealth, which is just what it sounds like, an argument in favor of capping the amount of money an individual can control, like no billionaires, or Plato's proposal in The Laws that no citizen should be more than four times as wealthy as the poorest ones, although that turns out to be a bit spoiled in the details, as in his plan for a Cretan city to be called Magnesia, where every family will be granted an equal plot of land:

Two-thirds of the annual harvest of the land lot will be reserved for the members of the family and their slaves, and one-third is subject to compulsory sale to alien residents, that is, the metics, and foreign visitors. The reason for this regulation of distribution of the annual harvest is the fact that in Plato’s Cretan city the citizens are not allowed to work in any kind of profession of paid labour, which has to be done by metics. And as by the principle of ideopragy [sic: should be "idiopragy" meaning an extremely restrictive version of everybody sticking to their own thing] the citizens of Magnesia are not allowed to have more than one profession, that is, as farmers on their lots, they cannot become craftsmen or traders on the markets at the same time.

Yes, they've got non-citizens—slaves, and migrants (metoiki) as well—to whom the inequality rules don't apply. (By way of comparison, in the equally idealized Hebrew communities of Deuteronomy, migrants will be subsidized along with widows and orphans out of the taxes collected from landowners by the Levite priesthood/bureaucracy.)

Anyway, that, in point of fact, is what I'd have liked to have talked to old Brian about, as a bit of a limitarian myself, ever since the Occupy movement of 2011 followed by the appearance of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century in 2013-14. That was a big deal, though hardly anybody seems to want to talk about it any more except for a few economists. 

Nobody mentioned Piketty's name or the Occupy protests on the radio today (though Piketty has written a very nice blurb for Robeyns's book, as has our Substack friend John Quiggin, to whose blog Crooked Timber Robeyns has contributed), but the moment was colossal for me, and I waited a long time for a politician to start addressing it. That was Elizabeth Warren, who I voted for in the 2020 primary. Biden's plans in the campaign didn't talk much about the theory, but matched it in practical terms: he was calling for hikes in income, capital gains, and payroll taxes on individuals with incomes over $400,000, plus increases in corporate tax, to raise $3.3 trillion over the coming decade; and increases in the generosity of the Child Tax Credit and Dependent Tax Credit, at least for the duration of the Covid-19 pandemic, as a way of directly redistributing income from high to low. The latter would see incomes rise by 10.8% for the bottom fifth and 3.6% for the next fifth in 2021, while incomes for the top 99th percentile would fall by 11.3%. That's what I'm talking about! And that's why I was excited about voting for Biden. 

And of course other things, like his straightforward condemnation of the Trump administration's handling of the George Floyd protests—

“Look, the presidency is a big job. Nobody will get everything right. And I won’t either. But I promise you this. I won’t traffic in fear and division,” Biden said. “I won’t fan the flames of hate. I will seek to heal the racial wounds that have long plagued this country – not use them for political gain.”

and of their catastrophic mistakes on the Covid crisis

As COVID-19 swept across our country, Trump bungled testing, leaving us with persistent shortages and delays even now. And, Trump inexcusably failed to get protective equipment to the heroes on the front lines of this fight, opting to side with corporate lobbyists instead of heeding Vice President Biden's call to fully invoke the Defense Production Act to mobilize our economy to fight the virus.... Even after months of abject failure on COVID-19, Trump still refuses to take the threat seriously, repeatedly claiming that it will simply "disappear" even as he and his allies attack public health officials and undermine the basic measures we need to control the virus.

    But every decent Democrat would have managed those things; it was the tax ideas that really got to me. I thought he was by far the most radical presidential candidate I'd ever seen with a chance of winning.

    And they weren't just campaign promises, either; after the election, as the incoming administration began preparing its 2021 agenda, they worked closely with Warren and her Pikettyan advisers Emanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman to craft a plan of even greater scope, the original "Build Back Better". Not that Biden could have brought it to reality, with the obdurate senators Sinema and Manchin determined to prevent it, but it was such an inspiring list of ideas, and he really did get a good deal of it done, as I've been arguing all over the place. 

    And just today, surfacing at Brad DeLong's site, some extremely convincing evidence of how it's been working so far to decrease economic inequality:

    The chart from a recent post by Arindrajat Dube at Project Syndicate, "Credit Bidenomics For Rising US Wages".

    It's not a lot, but it's real. The first time since the 1960s that real wage inequality in the US has declined over a substantial period. And that's why I'm eager to vote for him again, too.

    Which is in turn why I keep harping, if you'll forgive me, on the Biden-is-old frenzy. I'm just this side of seeing it as a conspiracy:

    Shitheads like Cenk Uygur too, for that matter. Is this whole thing a trick to replace Biden with an attractive, well-spoken, otherwise unimpeachably liberal tax-hater?

    Heather Cox Richardson, as it happens, celebrated Presidents Day with a piece on Abraham Lincoln in the presidential election year 1864, when he looked like he was in real trouble—no polling in those days, but there was a wide belief he was going to lose, not because he was too old, but because the war was going very badly, and the party's radical wing felt he was moving too cautiously, both on the prosecution of the war effort and the  were plotting to replace him with the treasury secretary, Salmon P. Chase. He fought that challenge off in June, but another one was rising from those who thought Lincoln was too radical himself:

    Thurlow Weed, New York’s kingmaker, thought Lincoln was far too radical. Weed cared deeply about putting his own people into the well-paying customs positions available in New York City, and he was frequently angry that Lincoln appointed nominees favored by the more radical faction.

    That frustration went hand in hand with anger about policy. Weed was upset that the Republicans were remaking the government for ordinary Americans. The 1862 Homestead Act, which provided western land for a nominal fee to any American willing to settle it, was a thorn in his side. Until Congress passed that law, such land, taken from Indigenous tribes, would be sold to speculators for cash that went directly to the Treasury. Republicans believed that putting farmers on the land would enable them to pay the new national taxes Congress imposed, thus bringing in far more money to the Treasury for far longer than would selling to speculators, but Weed foresaw national bankruptcy. 

    Even more than financial policy, though, Weed was unhappy with Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, which moved toward an end of human enslavement far too quickly for Weed.

    While the Union Democrats were converging on a still more conservative candidate, General George McLellan, whose supporters

    rejected the new, popular measures the national government had undertaken since 1861—the establishment of state colleges, the transcontinental railroad, the new national money, and the Homestead Act—insisting on “State rights.”

    Needless to say, Lincoln did win that election (partly by pulling in a Democrat as vice presidential candidate, Andrew Johnson, which now looks maybe like not such a great move), as the war finally turned around (people loved the state colleges and the railroad and the Homestead Act—the inflationary Greenback was not so popular). 

    Cox Richardson's apparent insinuation, that maybe Joe Biden might still pull it off, isn't outlandish. Inflation is under control, in spite of last week's blip. Russia is terrifying, with their murders and space nukes, and Trump can't stop offering them "whatever the hell they want". The threat of a national abortion ban at 16 weeks is real. There's a Do-Nothing Congress that makes the 1948 Republicans look normal. Infrastructure is nevertheless getting built, good jobs are still plentiful. There's been real reform on assault weapons and drug prices. Biden's conduct in Israel will look infinitely less awful if his bet pays off and his alliance with the hostage families defeats Netanyahu. Forgiven student loans add up to $37.7 billion and there's more to come. Trump will have at least one criminal conviction, hopefully two, before November. Kamala Harris gets more and more visible and she's looking great.

    Obviously it's not a sure thing, and obviously it's scary. Trumpism informed by the lessons they learned since the last round is a horrible danger. Maybe we should start organizing against the threat, to the civil service and the Justice Department. What Democrats should stop doing is pinning our hopes on a deus ex machina, or a miracle constitutional provision, or a savior out of the blue; we have to learn how to live with the situation that exists, and enjoy whatever advantages it offers. Biden's qualities as president, whatever the polls are saying, are among the advantages; he's really good at it. If voters aren't clear about that, tell them. Biden should tell them too, no doubt, and media should report it when he does. If they refuse because they'd rather concern troll, call them out! This garbage from Nate Silver shouldn't pass without criticism:

    Biden is doing whatever he can to seize the narrative, maybe it's not good enough, though I think the press ghosting him is a bigger problem than that. Don't throw up your hands in despair. Do whatever you can. Thus spake the poaster.

    Cross-posted at the Substack.

    Thursday, February 15, 2024

    Late Style in Biden


    Adlai Stevenson and Mayor Richard J. Daley at the podium in the 1956 Democratic convention, via Chicago Collections

    Heard Mr. Damon Linker on the radio this morning plugging a post he'd sold to The Atlantic, recycled from his Substack ("Notes From the Middleground"), where he argues that the only way to defeat psychopath Donald Trump is for President Biden to drop out of the race to reelect himself, right away. Apparently (he's a little light on the procedural details), we'll just carry through all the primaries electing an insuperable majority of Biden delegates, except when they get to Chicago on August 19 they'll be able to vote for anybody they want.

    Except the one they're pledged to, of course, who won't be running. It'll be just like that other Chicago convention, in 1968! Good times! And not at all guaranteed to elect the Republican, the way the other one elected Richard Nixon. Linker kept saying on the radio "But Nixon barely won!"—which is formally true, he had to split the racist vote with the independent candidacy of George Wallace; I guess he thinks Trump will really get beat in the way Nixon almost did, by his fellow anti-vaxxer Robert F. Kennedy Jr., though I don't know which states he thinks Kennedy will win (Wallace's were five in the Deep South; AR, LA, MS, AL, and GA).

    Or not exactly. When Lyndon Johnson dropped out of the race at the end of March (not the middle of February), it was a pretty different kind of race from this year's. For one thing, only 13 states had presidential primary contests of the kind that dominate today, two of them owned by "favorite sons" who would hold the delegates in reserve until the convention, and Johnson's designated successor, Vice President Humphrey, was able to accumulate enough delegates to win without personally entering any primaries, with LBJ's expert help in the traditional smoke-filled rooms of states conventions and caucuses, and "delegate primaries" where Uncommitted had an excellent chance of winning.

    Johnson had had just one serious opponent, Eugene McCarthy of Minnesota, at the time of the New Hampshire primary,  but McCarthy's extraordinary second place finish there, 50-42, was the thing that persuaded LBJ's former attorney general Senator Robert Kennedy to enter the race (too late to enter any of the April primaries), and that was the thing that persuaded Johnson to make his extraordinary decision to withdraw in Humphrey's favor. 

    Then came the trauma of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, while McCarthy and Kennedy were battling it out in Indiana. And then, of course, on June 5, while he was celebrating his victories in California and South Dakota, Robert Kennedy was murdered too, with the consequence, which seemed almost like a secondary matter, that Humphrey would certainly win the nomination—there would be no "brokered convention" like the good old days going back to as recently as 1960, but there would be a deeply distressed and alienated community of the young and the Black (12% of the people dying in Vietnam were African American, but nearly all of them were young men of every race), whose rages and fears would not be represented on the convention floor but rather in the street theater and accompanying police riot (and more "unrest" for the northeastern and western Republicans to focus their racism on as an alternative to the Southern-style version, as "law and order" voters for Nixon and Agnew, following the urban riots of 1967).

    I don't know exactly how Linker is imagining what's going to happen now if the party decides to obey him: he mentions half a dozen plausible candidates including obligatory diversity representatives (Whitmer's a woman, Warnock is Black, Shapiro is Jewish, Polis is gay, it's like an updated World War II combat movie) plus the white male multimillionaires he's most interested in (Pritzker and Newsom)—not gonna lie, I like them all fine myself, even the rich ones, but what are they going to do? Hold a series of 12 debates? How will it connect to the ongoing selection of Biden delegates in the primaries from March through June? Will there be a poll race in lieu of primaries going on at the same time, maybe eliminating a candidate every couple of weeks? It's a little too reminiscent, for my money, of this year's parade of Republican candidates not-named-Trump, an occasion for the press to keep changing its mind every so often about who's hot and who's not, not an occasion for somebody to democratically emerge, as Biden himself emerged four years ago in the South Carolina primary. I don't know what it is, but among the Republicans this year it was an occasion for people to notice that Trump wasn't there and the press was just being fools.

    And what will happen in the convention itself, in the system designed by George McGovern for his own 1972 campaign that has endured until now, where it's a TV spectacle of unity? Are we going back to yet a third Chicago convention, in 1956? (Adlai Stevenson, the 1952 nominee, won by a mile over his rivals in the first ballot, but it took three ballots to nominate a vice presidential candidate, with an unexpectedly fierce competition between Estes Kefauver and the very young senator John F. Kennedy.) Will the state delegations be marking their space with those tall signs? What if they haven't got a decision? Will there be a real contest? Could it last 103 ballots like the 1924 convention? (They lost too, as did Stevenson.) What will the backroom dealing be like, and will we ever know? Will we feel a nostalgia of our own for the thing we've lost, the primary process in which democracy is made a part of the selection? (Primaries were invented in the Progressive era, in a reaction against the corruption of the 19th-century process; Linker thinks they yield the wrong answer.)

    I'll tell you one thing: if it's a movie, and it might as well be, and you want it to end with a bang, you couldn't do better than having the convention deadlocked, and winding up dragging Biden onto the floor, because he's the character who brings the coalition together, male and female, Black and white, union members and wage slaves, woodchucks and immigrants, Boomers and Zoomers. In spite of the way some of us may be feeling at the moment on a specific issue here and there (I'm betting the migration question and the Gaza question will look somewhat different to us in August, I'll get into that in later posts). 

    One of the biggest things Biden exemplifies is what's good about being old; he's got what the late Edward Said described as a "late style" (Said was thinking especially of Beethoven) completely different from his maturity 30-odd years ago: spare and cantankerous, gnarly, with too many ideas to finish any of them, with

    the power to render disenchantment and pleasure without resolving the contradiction between them 

    I'm not even kidding, that's why his policy prescriptions are so good. We'll start recognizing it, I hope, the way the Viennese public recognized Beethoven at the premiere of the ninth symphony, when he insisted on conducting though he was too deaf to know what was going on, and the concertmaster had to push him to turn around and take his bow when it was over—the tempo in his mind was slower than the tempo the musicians were using—but the audience understood the extraordinary character of the music they were hearing, and roared with applause he couldn't hear. I’m even drawing an analogy between Beethoven’s deafness and Biden’s stutter, as part of an explanation.

    Cross-posted at the Substack.

    Wednesday, February 14, 2024

    Literary Corner: NATO as Protection Racket


    NATO map by CBS News.

    Until I Came Along

    by Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States of America

    NATO was busted until I came along.
    You don't pay your bills, you get no protection.
    It's very simple. I said,
    ‘Everybody’s gonna pay.’ They said, ‘Well,
    if we don’t pay, are you still
    going to protect us?’
    I said, ‘Absolutely not.’

    They couldn’t believe the answer.
    One of the presidents of a big country
    stood up and said, 'Well, sir,
    if we don't pay and we're attacked
    by Russia, will you protect us?'
    'No, I would not protect you.
    In fact, I would encourage them
    to do whatever the hell they want.
    You got to pay. You got to pay your bills.'

    NATO actually does have bills, for its political headquarters and command structure in Brussels, which belong not to any specific country but to the organization as a whole, and various programs it runs, for a some €3.3 billion in 2023, or 0.3% of the members' total defense spending, and these are paid for with member contributions, on a sliding scale according to the wealth of the particular country: the two biggest being the US and Germany, at just over 16% each, with Britain and France coming next at 11% and 10% respectively, and so on, down to Montenegro, paying a bit under 0.03% of the budget.

    It's not a whole lot of money, in reality, and NATO has never been busted, as Trump puts it. It's also not what Trump is talking about. But Trump does not know that

    Ah but I was so much older then


    Dr. Jill Biden celebrating her 70th birthday at Rehoboth Beach. Smiler on the right evidently not ex-president Donald J. Trump, who probably hasn’t climbed on a bike since his political views were fixed around 1977. Photo by Jim Watson/AFP via Getty, from Peop

    To some commentators, President Joe Biden is an ostensibly nice old guy you couldn’t easily get a jury to convict of the crime of holding on to documents he wasn’t supposed to have, partly because there isn’t any evidence he was doing it on purpose, but also because even if he was guilty he’d probably be able to convince them he was just forgetful.

    To others, he’s the most radical leftist president since at least Harry S. Truman, who refuses to let up on his determination to boost labor union membership, tax the wealthy, lift children out of poverty, protect minority voting rights, declare jubilees on student debt and medical debt, rework the immigration system so those empty counties in the Great Plains can pick up some of the population they so desperately need from among the homeless and tempest-tossed, put an end to the use of carbon fuels, and establish a Palestinian state in the Middle East.

    Don’t @ me on any of those examples unless you want a sandbag heaved at your head. I am aware that Biden has not accomplished all his presidential aims.

    The first set of more-or-less facts (no doubt pretty frustrating to Republican prosecutors) is now being served up as evidence for a different and unrelated case, medical rather than legal according to which he’s suffering from advanced dementia, and it’s time to send him to a farm upstate and turn the executive responsibilities over to somebody more popular among the nonpartisan or unlabeled.

    I went through some of the second set of facts back in early September, toward the conclusion that if that’s what octogenarian presidents do, maybe we need more octogenarian presidents, if only because of the three big bills, as I wrote then:

    • the American Rescue Plan, which not only spent billions on bringing COVID under control with vaccine distribution and school reopening (people somehow can’t remember that it was under the Trump administration that all the school closings took place) but devoted much of its $2 trillion to those $1400 stimulus checks and the (unfortunately temporary) expansion of the Child Tax Credit that cut child poverty in our country by 50%;
    • the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act bringing $550 billion in new spending on everything from the nation’s waterways and transit systems to its airports and electric grid, electric vehicle charging stations, and zero- and low-emissions buses and ferries (far from the original proposal of $3.4 trillion, but try finding something to compare it to that actually did happen over the last generation or two); the first serious gun control legislation in decades (toughening requirements for the youngest gun buyers, keeping firearms out of the hands of more domestic abusers and helping states implement “red flag” laws, along with funding for mental health and violence intervention programs and school safety initiatives);
    • the Chips & Science Act spending $280 billion to fund expanding the nation’s semiconductor industry to help keep pace with Chinese competition and scientific research in areas like artificial intelligence, biotechnology and quantum computing, with “regional innovation and technology hubs” bringing jobs and economic growth to the most distressed parts of the country (that’s the bit that so amazed David Brooks, who’s always moaning about the Rust Belt but never thought of anything that could be done about it);
    • and the “Inflation Reduction Act” making our largest ever investment in combating climate change—putting the US on track to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade, together with investments in environmental justice, conservation and resiliency programs, plus allowing the government to negotiate prescription drug prices for seniors on Medicare, something we’ve been screaming for forever, extending federal health insurance subsidies, and capping out-of-pocket costs for insulin at no more than $35 per month for Medicare beneficiaries, which is even contributing to the reduction of inflation! and
    • TAXING THE RICH with new taxes on big corporations, setting a minimum corporate tax of 15%, and new funding for the Internal Revenue Service in an effort to crack down on tax evasion, reducing the federal budget deficit by about $300 billion over 10 years.

    That last number is now estimated at $561 billion—$851 billion if the IRS funding is renewed, which Republicans in Congress will stop if they can. And it’s only a down payment on what could be achieved in inequality reduction with a cooperative legislature (which I realize we’re not too likely to get out of the 2024 elections—on the other hand we should also be thinking about what we’ve got to defend out of the current term, and what we have to lose if the Democratic candidate loses, and the threats of the Republican candidate who claims he only aims to be dictator for a day).

    When I was worried about Biden’s age, back in early 2020, it was more about his brain habits than the physiology; the habits of a lifetime as senator from the banking industry that is such a dominant part of Delaware’s economy, the eager befriender of unreconstructed Southern Democrats trying to knit the party back together after the McGovern debacle in the 1970s, the opponent of busing, the crusader for incarceration and against “welfare as we know it” in the 1990s, the Cold Warrior who didn’t necessarily understand what had happened to the Cold War, and so on. I was also among those who really liked Biden as vice president, for the thing he brought to Obama’s campaigns and governing style, as epitomized in the apparent “gaffe” (carefully calculated, IMO) where he pushed the administration to move in favor of same-sex marriage, but I wasn’t sorry he decided not to run in 2016. (In terms of “progressive” cred, I thought Hillary Clinton had more; Biden had more in common with triangulating Bill than she did.)

    But watching Biden work his way through the 2020 campaign convinced me that he was well adapted to the present: his deep attention to the Black vote (as we moved into the George Floyd summer), and the policy collaboration he gradually moved into with Sanders and Warren (and, I can’t ever say this enough, Warren’s pro-equality economists, Saez and Zucman, who were key designers of the Build Back Better program). I really began to think of him as the candidate who was young enough, next to stodgy young Buttigieg, Klobuchar, and Yang. And others have noticed—like Thomas Zimmer—the people crying about Biden’s age are pretty old, or at least pretty tired, themselves:

    in recent days, spurred by the Hur report, it has come in a particularly forceful, aggressive fashion from a political spectrum that I would describe as the center to as far right as you can go within the – ostensibly – anti-MAGA camp: From establishment conservatives, the center-right and people who self-identify as liberals, but with a distinctly anti-left/anti-“woke” bend, which plausibly puts them, labels aside, at the center of the political discourse. Specifically, I want to dissect the “Biden too old” arguments that have come out in the New York Times – from the already mentioned stable of opinionists (Douthat, Stephens, Dowd) and the paper’s editorial board, plus a reaction from Damon Linker, who is prominently holding down that liberal centrism space, titled “What the Hell is Wrong with the Democrats?

    You know right? There are points where some of us might want to criticize Biden, as with his willingness to sacrifice asylum seekers by making the initial “credible fear interview” somewhat harder to pass, and he’s definitely taking too long to tell Binyamin Netanyahu to go fuck himself while tens of thousands (including dozens of hostages captured from Israel) die under Israeli bombs as part of his plan to force Netanyahu into allowing the establishment of a Palestinian state. That’s not what’s driving this.

    Something tells me the crying about Biden’s age is coming from people who think he’s too effective on these economic issues, is all I’m saying.

    Cross-posted from the Substack.

    Sunday, February 11, 2024

    Friday, February 9, 2024

    Court and Snark


    Photo by Julia Nikhinson/Getty Images, via CNBC.

    It's looking pretty clear from this morning's oral arguments in the Supreme Court, and falling out pretty much as I expected: Trump's appeal against his disqualification in the Colorado primary election will succeed, and I'm predicting that the appeal he's supposed to submit Monday against the DC ruling on his presidential immunity will be denied, without arguments, by May 12, for trial to begin no later than June 1 (per the flow chart created by Just Security). 

    In fact the fix appears to be a little bit in, not exactly in a bad way, not on Trump's behalf but on those of the nine Justices, united as we've never seen them in their desire to avoid deciding whether Trump had "engaged in" an insurrection or not. Roberts practically wailed: "Counselor, you're saying that somebody, presumably us, would have to develop rules for what constitutes an insurrection?"

    Oh noes, not more work!

    One of the most remarked features of the arguments was how little interest anybody, attorneys on both sides or Justices, showed in talking about that. They were openly avoiding talking about it in favor of just about anything else, mostly the technicalities the Constitution doesn't mention at all, of how Amendment 14 Section 3 is supposed to be administered.

    I think a lot of people are missing how this is a problem for the three "liberal" Justices as well. To keep it short, they have a likely choice between  a 6-3 decision suggesting Amendment 14 Section 3 really doesn't mean anything at all and a 9-0 decision leaving the question open—where I think they're going, which is to lay the burden on the Amendment's neglected Section 5,

    Saturday, February 3, 2024

    Pundits Get Over Yourselves


    Donerail, by McGee out of Algie M., after winning the 1913 Kentucky Derby, with jockey Roscoe Goose. There weren't enough tables at Churchill Downs that year, so he had to walk three miles to get to the course before the race. That was one big reason why the owner, Thomas P. Hayes, did not bet on him, but he paid off 91-1. That was news. Via Wikipedia.

    I can't believe the fatuity of the horserace coverage of the South Carolina Democratic primary, which Joe Biden appears to have won with a comfortable 96.2 percent on a 2 percent turnout. It's moderately fun that that grifter Marianne Williamson appears to have beaten out Minnesota "problem solver" Dean Phillips for second place by almost 500 votes (giving her a big 2.1% to Phillips's 1.7), but even that doesn't actually mean anything. It certainly doesn't mean that people like Williamson better than Phillips, any more than the other way around. Nobody cares even slightly about either of them and the difference is pure statistical noise.

    It's not good news for Joe Biden. It's not bad news for Joe Biden. It's not news at all. It's not news that Joe Biden has won, he doesn't have any actual competition (in 2020 it was Sanders, Steyer, Buttigieg, and Warren, candidates with some kind of real identity and interests and constituencies). It's not news that only 2 percent of the Democratic voters managed to come out, there was little reason to bother given the predetermined outcome. It says absolutely nothing about how they will feel in November when Biden has an opponent with a chance of winning. I mean, as a Biden supporter I'm not at all sorry that 125,000 people managed to come out in spite of the fact that there was virtually nothing at stake, but I'm not excited or gratified or relieved either. The incredibly unlikely did not occur. It rarely does. Also the sun set at 5:15, as predicted. I'm not sorry about that either, I'm really glad, in fact. If it hadn't, that would have been news. But that's as far as it goes.

    Friday, February 2, 2024



    Son and daughter of Gaza's first professional photographer, Kegham Djeghalian (whose shadow is in the foreground), on the beach sometime in the late 1950s or early 1960s, via Vice

    This morning, an international group of 800 civil servants, mostly working in foreign ministries, coordinated by participants in the Netherlands, European Union federal institutions, and the United States and joined by individuals from those governments plus 10 other EU countries and the United Kingdom, released a formal declaration of concerns and  to their countries' and institutions' policies on the ongoing horror in the Gaza Strip. 

    I heard about it on BBC; it's also reported in The New York Times (gift link here), though not in my view very well. The signers are anonymous, out of fear of retaliation (as one State Department veteran told The Times). They are not resigning in protest, but rather doing what they regard as their proper work in public, as they have been doing internally up to now: