Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Matthew Rose, Philosophers of the Radical Right

At Amazon, Matthew Rose, A World after Liberalism: Philosophers of the Radical Right.

Mikhail S. Gorbachev, Reformist Soviet Leader, Is Dead at 91

One of the biggest, most important leaders of the second half of the 20th century. He wrought monumental change, literally bringing about the end of the post-WWII Cold War era.

At the New York Times, "Adopting principles of glasnost and perestroika, he weighed the legacy of seven decades of Communist rule and set a new course, presiding over the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the U.S.S.R.":

Mikhail S. Gorbachev, whose rise to power in the Soviet Union set in motion a series of revolutionary changes that transformed the map of Europe and ended the Cold War that had threatened the world with nuclear annihilation, has died in Moscow. He was 91.

Mikhail S. Gorbachev, whose rise to power in the Soviet Union set in motion a series of revolutionary changes that transformed the map of Europe and ended the Cold War that had threatened the world with nuclear annihilation, has died in Moscow. He was 91.

His death was announced on Tuesday by Russia’s state news agencies, citing the city’s central clinical hospital. The reports said he had died after an unspecified “long and grave illness.”

Few leaders in the 20th century, indeed in any century, have had such a profound effect on their time. In little more than six tumultuous years, Mr. Gorbachev lifted the Iron Curtain, decisively altering the political climate of the world.

At home he promised and delivered greater openness as he set out to restructure his country’s society and faltering economy. It was not his intention to liquidate the Soviet empire, but within five years of coming to power he had presided over the dissolution of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. He ended the Soviet debacle in Afghanistan and, in an extraordinary five months in 1989, stood by as the Communist system imploded from the Baltics to the Balkans in countries already weakened by widespread corruption and moribund economies.

For this he was hounded from office by hard-line Communist plotters and disappointed liberals alike, the first group fearing that he would destroy the old system and the other worried that he would not. It was abroad that he was hailed as heroic. To George F. Kennan, the distinguished American diplomat and Sovietologist, Mr. Gorbachev was “a miracle,” a man who saw the world as it was, unblinkered by Soviet ideology.

But to many inside Russia, the upheaval Mr. Gorbachev had wrought was a disaster. President Vladimir V. Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” For Mr. Putin — and his fellow K.G.B. veterans who now form the inner circle of power in Russia — the end of the U.S.S.R. was a moment of shame and defeat that the invasion of Ukraine this year was meant to help undo.

“The paralysis of power and will is the first step toward complete degradation and oblivion,” Mr. Putin said on Feb. 24, when he announced the start of the invasion, referring to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Mr. Gorbachev made no public statement of his own about the war in Ukraine, though his foundation on Feb. 26 called for a “speedy cessation of hostilities.” A friend of his, the radio journalist Aleksei A. Venediktov, said in a July interview that Mr. Gorbachev was “upset” about the war, viewing it as having undermined “his life’s work.”

When he came to power, Mr. Gorbachev was a loyal son of the Communist Party, but one who had come to see things with new eyes. “We cannot live this way any longer,” he told Eduard A. Shevardnadze, who would become his trusted foreign minister, in 1984. Within five years he had overturned much that the party held inviolable.

A man of openness, vision and great vitality, he looked at the legacy of seven decades of Communist rule and saw official corruption, a labor force lacking motivation and discipline, factories that produced shoddy goods, and a distribution system that guaranteed consumers little but empty shelves — empty of just about everything but vodka.

The Soviet Union had become a major world power weighed down by a weak economy. As East-West d├ętente permitted light into its closed society, the growing class of technological, scientific and cultural elites could no longer fail to measure their country against the West and find it wanting.

The problems were clear; the solutions, less so. Mr. Gorbachev had to feel his way toward his promised restructuring of the Soviet political and economic systems. He was caught between tremendous opposing forces: On one hand, the habits ingrained by 70 years of cradle-to-grave subsistence under Communism; on the other, the imperatives of moving quickly to change the old ways and to demonstrate that whatever dislocation resulted was temporary and worth the effort.

It was a task he was forced to hand over to others when he was removed from office, a consequence of his own ambivalence and a failed coup against him by hard-liners whom he himself had elevated to his inner circle.

The openness Mr. Gorbachev sought — what came to be known as glasnost — and his policy of perestroika, aimed at restructuring the very underpinnings of society, became a double-edged sword. In setting out to fill in the “blank spots” of Soviet history, as he put it, with frank discussion of the country’s errors, he freed his impatient allies to criticize him and the threatened Communist bureaucracy to attack him. Still, Mr. Gorbachev’s first five years in power were marked by significant, even extraordinary, accomplishments:
■ He presided over an arms agreement with the United States that eliminated for the first time an entire class of nuclear weapons, and began the withdrawal of most Soviet tactical nuclear weapons from Eastern Europe.

■ He withdrew Soviet forces from Afghanistan, a tacit admission that the invasion in 1979 and the nine-year occupation had been a failure.

■ While he equivocated at first, he eventually exposed the nuclear power-plant disaster at Chernobyl to public scrutiny, a display of candor unheard-of in the Soviet Union.

■ He sanctioned multiparty elections in Soviet cities, a democratic reform that in many places drove stunned Communist leaders out of office.

■ He permitted the release of the confined dissident Andrei D. Sakharov, the physicist who had been instrumental in developing the Soviet hydrogen bomb.

■ He lifted restrictions on the media, allowing previously censored books to be published and previously banned movies to be shown.

■ In a stark departure from the Soviet history of official atheism, he established formal diplomatic contacts with the Vatican and helped promulgate a freedom-of-conscience law guaranteeing the right of the people to “satisfy their spiritual needs.”

But if Mr. Gorbachev was lionized abroad as having helped change the world — he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 — he was vilified at home as having failed to live up to the promise of economic change. It became widely said that in a free vote, Mr. Gorbachev could be elected president anywhere but the Soviet Union.

After five years of Mr. Gorbachev, store shelves remained empty while the union disintegrated. Mr. Shevardnadze, who had been his right hand in bringing a peaceful end to Soviet control in Eastern Europe, resigned in late 1990, warning that dictatorship was coming and that reactionaries in the Communist Party were about to cripple reform.

Peter Reddaway, an author and scholar of Russian history, said at the time: “We see the best side of Gorbachev. The Soviets see the other side, and hold him to blame.”

A Son of Peasants

There was little in his early life that would have led anyone to believe that Mikhail Gorbachev could become such a dynamic leader. His official biography, issued after he became the new party chief, traced the well-traveled path of a good, loyal Communist.

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was born on March 2, 1931, in Privolnoye, a farming village in the Stavropol region of the Caucasus. His parents were genuine peasants, earning their bread by the sweat of their brows. During his infancy, the forced collectivization of the land turned a once-fertile region into “a famine disaster area,” the exiled writer and biologist Zhores A. Medvedev wrote in a biography of Mr. Gorbachev.

“The death from starvation was very high,” he added. “In some villages, all the children between the ages of 1 and 2 died.”

Misha, as Mikhail was known, was a bright-eyed youngster whose early photographs show him in a Cossack’s fur hat. He grew up in a house of straw held together with mud and manure and with no indoor plumbing. But his family was well respected among the Communist faithful. Mr. Gorbachev wrote in his book “Memoirs” that both his grandfathers had been arrested for crimes against the Czarist state.

Still, the family’s embrace of Soviet ideology was not all-encompassing; Mr. Gorbachev’s mother and grandmother had him baptized...

Still more.


Bed Bath & Beyond to Close 150 Stores, Cut Staff, Sell Shares to Raise Cash

Probably, the most poorly managed major corporation in the country right now. They're close to going out of business.

My wife worked there briefly, years ago, but quit just a few weeks into the job. My wife's got 30 years of retail sales and management experience, so if she quit that job so fast, something was totally fucked up. 

At WSJ, "Home-goods seller to lay off 20% of corporate, supply-chain workers":

Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. BBBY -21.30%▼ said it would close roughly 20% of its namesake stores, cut its workforce and bring in fresh cash to stabilize the business through the holiday season as the retailer confronts plunging sales.

The home-goods seller is attempting to trim costs and raise money as it tries to correct recent operating missteps and navigate a challenging economic environment. It has been burning through its cash reserves for several quarters, and a shopper exodus has shaken investor and vendor confidence.

On Wednesday, executives and directors attempted to assuage its uneasy partners. In a business update, they said the company secured commitments for more than $500 million in financing and could potentially sell as many as 12 million shares of common stock to raise money. They also pledged to overhaul the assortment of goods in the company’s stores, focusing more on national brands after spending millions to develop private-label goods.

“While there is much work ahead, our road map is clear and we’re confident that the significant changes we’ve announced today will have a positive impact on our performance,” said Sue Gove, a board member who is serving as interim chief executive.

Bed Bath & Beyond’s stock fell 21% in Wednesday trading, as the plan to sell shares could dilute the holdings of existing shareholders. The stock, a favorite among meme investors, has lost more than half its value over the past two weeks.

As of Wednesday, the company’s market value was roughly $750 million. At its peak in June 2012, the company had a valuation of more than $17.3 billion, according to FactSet data.

Founded more than 50 years ago, the Union, N.J., company had several decades of rapid growth as it became known for its big-box stores stockpiled with merchandise and 20%-off coupons. In recent years, it has wrestled with falling sales and shifting strategies.

In 2019 activist investors ousted the chain’s founders and revamped the board, saying its leaders had failed to modernize the stores and capitalize on the rise of e-commerce. Mark Tritton, a former Target Corp. executive, joined the company in 2019 and sought to turn around the retailer by pushing deeper into private-label brands, among other initiatives. Those brands, however, weren’t well-received by shoppers and were hindered by pandemic-related supply-chain constraints.

Bed Bath & Beyond’s board ousted Mr. Tritton in June and installed Ms. Gove, a retail-restructuring consultant, as interim CEO. The company is working with search firm Russell Reynolds Associates to find a permanent CEO, and said Wednesday that the search process is continuing.

The retailer received another blow in August when billionaire activist Ryan Cohen sold his 10% stake in the company, about six months after acquiring his shares. The company’s stock, which had been rallying in previous weeks, slid after individuals followed Mr. Cohen’s selloff.

The business update came just days after the end of the company’s latest quarter, which showed the issues facing the retail chain. Comparable sales—reflecting sales at stores open at least a year—fell 26% in the quarter ended Aug. 27. The company’s operations also burned through about $325 million of its cash reserves during the period.

While the company plans to release its full second-quarter financial report on Sept. 29, preliminary results show that the money it is bringing in the door is leaving quickly. And the new financing only provides a short runway for the turnaround effort, analysts say.

The more than $500 million infusion, led by JPMorgan Chase & Co. and asset manager Sixth Street Partners, includes $375 million from a new loan and the expansion of a credit line. The Wall Street Journal had previously reported the company was near a new loan deal.

The new arrangement will reduce the debt exposure of the JPMorgan credit line by more than half while Bed Bath & Beyond retains access to about $800 million in borrowing capacity. The company said it ended the latest quarter with about $200 million in cash and investments...


Biden Will Summon His Supporters to Wage a War For the 'Soul of the Nation' Against Republicans Who Are 'Semi-Fascists' and a 'Threat to Democracy'

At AoSHQ, "If someone starts talking about political violence, and you try to talk him down, he'll say 'This country was founded upon revolutionary violence' and something like 'The right of the people to rebel against a tyrant is written out in black and white in the Declaration of Independence'."

Monday, August 29, 2022

Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks & White Liberals

At Amazon, Thomas Sowell, Black Rednecks & White Liberals.

U.S. Teacher Shortage: How Bad Is It?

Well, there seems to be no shortage of purple magenta-haired woke elementary school teachers grooming children across the country, but heh, I'm sure it's a problem. I mean, with the low pay, lousy benefits, anger at bureaucratic idiot bosses, the leftist ideological takeover of the schools, and everything else FUBAR with the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, who can blame them? 

At the New York Times, "How Bad Is the Teacher Shortage? Depends Where You Live":

Urgently needed: teachers in struggling districts, certified in math or special education. Perks: maybe a pay raise, or how about a four-day week?

The new fall semester has just begun in Mesa, Ariz., and Westwood High School is short on math teachers.

A public school that serves more than 3,000 students in the populous desert city east of Phoenix, Westwood still has three unfilled positions in that subject. The principal, Christopher Gilmore, has never started the year there with so many math positions open.

“It’s a little bit unnerving,” he said, “going into a school year knowing that we don’t have a full staff.”

Westwood, where most students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch, is one of many public schools across the United States that are opening their doors with fewer teachers than they had hoped for. According to one national survey by Education Week, nearly three-fourths of principals and district officials said this summer that the number of teaching applicants was not enough to fill their open positions. Other surveys released this year have suggested that parents are deeply concerned about staffing and that many more teachers are eyeing the exits.

But while the pandemic has created an urgent search for teachers in some areas, not every district is suffering from shortages. The need for teachers is driven by a complicated interplay of demand and supply in a tight job market. Salary matters, and so does location: Well-paying suburban schools can usually attract more candidates.

If anything, experts say, the recent pandemic turmoil can be expected to worsen old inequities.

“It’s complex, and it does go back before the pandemic,” said Desiree Carver-Thomas, an analyst with the Learning Policy Institute. “Schools serving more students of color and students from low-income families bear the brunt of teacher shortages, oftentimes.”

For many years, it has also been particularly hard to find teachers for subjects like math and special education, or to fill spots at rural schools. And there has always been a dire need for more teachers of color in the United States. According to federal data collected during the school year ending in 2018, nearly 80 percent of public schoolteachers were white. Most of their students were not.

In Arizona, where starting salaries for teachers are lower than the national average, the shortages are “severe” across the board, said Justin Wing, an assistant superintendent of human resources for Mesa Public Schools, the district where Mr. Gilmore works.

“I feel like it’s been that way for probably at least 10 years,” said Mr. Wing, who is also an analyst for the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association. But this year, he added, seems even worse.

He attributes the problem in part to low pay, and he has watched districts in neighboring states, like Texas and Nevada, rub salt in the wound by advertising their teaching salaries on social media and on billboards along Arizona highways.

According to Mr. Wing’s data from the last school year, nearly four-fifths of teaching positions (measured in terms of full-time equivalencies) in Arizona schools had to be covered in less-than-ideal ways — by support staff, for example, or teachers in training.

And nearly one-third of positions remained vacant altogether, which often meant that existing teachers had to take on more classes.

The challenge for struggling districts is to cover positions in a way that not only fills seats but also serves students, said Tequilla Brownie, the chief executive of TNTP, a nonprofit that provides consulting services for districts on staffing and student achievement.

“Everybody right now is just talking about, frankly, warm bodies,” she said. “The quality of teachers still matters. You never will get to quality if you don’t get to quantity first.”

Over the past two years, several states including New Mexico, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi have tried to address or pre-empt shortages by raising teacher salaries.

Others have loosened certification requirements. In Arizona, a new law makes it easier for aspiring teachers without bachelor’s degrees to gain work experience in the classroom. In Florida, where state officials last year reported more than 4,000 teacher vacancies, some military veterans can be granted temporary teaching certificates.

And in some rural districts, where raises may be out of reach, school officials are putting entire school days on the chopping block.

In Missouri, where teachers receive among the lowest salaries on average in the country, John Downs, the superintendent of the rural Hallsville School District, said that the pool of qualified applicants has all but dried up in recent years. A few days before the start of the school year, positions in speech language pathology and math were still unfilled.

This year, Hallsville schools are trying to entice educators with a four-day workweek. “We’re competing against more affluent districts who can offer more lucrative salary benefit packages,” Mr. Downs said. “So we decided we needed to think outside of the box.”

Hallsville is not alone. In Missouri, 25 percent of all districts will be on a four-day schedule this fall. The condensed week is common in New Mexico, Colorado, Oregon, Idaho and South Dakota, and is beginning to emerge in other states like Texas...
Still more.

Ukraine War Is Depleting U.S. Ammunition Stockpiles, Sparking Pentagon Concern

At WSJ, "The level of one type of combat rounds in storage is ‘uncomfortably low,’ says a defense official":

WASHINGTON—The war in Ukraine has depleted American stocks of some types of ammunition and the Pentagon has been slow to replenish its arsenal, sparking concerns among U.S. officials that American military readiness could be jeopardized by the shortage.

The U.S. has during the past six months supplied Ukraine with 16 U.S. rocket launchers, known as Himars, thousands of guns, drones, missiles and other equipment. Much of that, including ammunition, has come directly from U.S. inventory, depleting stockpiles intended for unexpected threats, defense officials say.

One of the most lethal weapons the Pentagon has sent are howitzers that fire high-explosive 155mm ammunition weighing about 100 pounds each and able to accurately hit targets dozens of miles away. As of Aug. 24, the U.S. military said it had provided Ukraine with up to 806,000 rounds of 155mm ammunition. The U.S. military has declined to say how many rounds it had at the start of the year.

In recent weeks, the level of 155mm combat rounds in U.S. military storage have become “uncomfortably low,” one defense official said. The levels aren’t yet critical because the U.S. isn’t engaged in any major military conflict, the official added. “It is not at the level we would like to go into combat,” the defense official said.

The U.S. military used a howitzer as recently as last week to strike at Iranian-backed groups in Syria, and the depletion of 155mm ammunition is increasingly concerning for a military that seeks to plan for any scenario.

The Army said the military is now conducting “an ammunitions industrial base deep dive” to determine how to support Ukraine while protecting “our own supply needs.” The Army said it also asked Capitol Hill for $500 million a year in upgrade efforts for the Army’s ammunition plants. Meanwhile, the service is relying on existing contracts to increase production of ammunition, but it hasn’t signed new contracts to account for the higher amounts it will need to replenish its stocks, according to Army officials.

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Army Gen. Mark Milley has been conducting monthly reviews of the U.S. arsenal to determine whether the readiness levels are still appropriate given the needs for the ammunition in Ukraine, according to U.S. military officials. The U.S. last week provided Ukraine with a different size howitzer ammunition, 105mm, a reflection, in part, of the concern about its stocks of 155mm ammunition, the officials said.

The looming ammunition shortage isn’t for lack of funds, according to those familiar with the issue. The U.S. announced this week that it was setting aside nearly $3 billion for long-term aid intended to help Ukraine, bringing the total spent on weaponry for the country to $14 billion, and the Biden administration’s Pentagon budget request for next year is $773 billion.

“This was knowable. It was foreseeable. It was forewarned, including from industry leaders to the Pentagon. And it was easily fixable,” said Mackenzie Eaglen, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington.

What is needed, she said, is for the government to spend money to fix the problem.

“There are some problems you can buy your way out of,” she said. “This is one of them.”

The Pentagon’s buying process generally starts with the military determining its requirements, which are then reviewed and then bids solicited from the private sector. But since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, industry officials have complained that the Pentagon hasn’t always communicated those requirements, which often change, creating delays, and leaving defense contractors unable to prepare for more production.

Dormant supply lines often can’t be switched on overnight, and surging production of active lines can take time. Companies are already producing 155mm ammunition, but not at the capacity yet that the Pentagon will need to replenish its stocks...


Sunday, August 28, 2022

Jeremy W. Peters, Insurgency

At Amazon, Jeremy W. Peters, Insurgency: How Republicans Lost Their Party and Got Everything They Ever Wanted.

The Unmaking of American History by the Woke Mob

For the full background, see "Presentism, Race and Trolls," at Inside Higher Ed.

From Dominic Green, at WSJ, "Progressive scholars increasingly abandon the past to focus on present-day politics":

Academic historians are losing their sense of the past. In his August column for the American Historical Association’s journal, Perspectives on History, James H. Sweet warned that academic history has become so “presentist” that it is losing touch with its subject, the world before yesterday. Mr. Sweet, who is the association’s president and teaches at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, observed that the “allure of political relevance” is drawing students away from pre-1800 history and toward “contemporary social justice issues” such as “race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, capitalism.” When historians become activists, he wrote, the past becomes “an evidentiary grab bag to articulate their political positions.”

Mr. Sweet knows his audience, so he did his best to appease the crocodile of political correctness. He denounced Justice Clarence Thomas for a gun-rights decision that “cherry-picks historical data” and criticized Justice Samuel Alito for taking the word “history” in vain 67 times in his Dobbs abortion opinion. But Mr. Sweet also pointed out that Nikole Hannah-Jones’s “1619 Project” isn’t accurate history, and that “bad history,” however good it makes us feel, yields bad politics. “If history is only those stories from the past that confirm current political positions, all manner of political hacks can claim historical expertise.”

History’s armies of nonacademic readers will find this obvious and undeniable. Mr. Sweet’s academic peers, however, tore him to pieces on Twitter, accusing him of sexism, racism, gratuitous maleness and excessive whiteness.

“Gaslight. Gatekeep. Goatee,” said Laura Miller of Brandeis University, detecting patriarchal privilege written on Mr. Sweet’s chin. Benjamin Siegel of Boston University, who thinks his politically correct profession is “leveraged towards racist ideologies,” called the essay “malpractice.” Dan Royles of Florida International University accused Mr. Sweet of “logical incoherence,” which is academic-speak for “idiot.” Kathryn Wilson of Georgia State detected an even more heinous error, “misrepresentation of how contemporary social justice concerns inform theory and methodology.”

Other users accused Mr. Sweet of using a rhetorical device called the “white we,” pitching for a guest slot on Tucker Carlson’s show, and writing “MAGA history.” Many called any questioning of the “1619 Project” racist. David Austin Walsh of the University of Virginia advised historians to support the project regardless of whether they thought it good history, because criticism would be “weaponized by the right.”

Mr. Sweet responded with the bravery that defines the modern academic. He apologized on the AHA’s website for the “harm to colleagues, the discipline, and the Association” that his “ham-fisted attempt at provocation” had caused, especially to his “Black colleagues and friends,” and begged that he be allowed to “redeem” himself.

The AHA, which had done nothing to stem the tide of insults from its members, prevented nonfollowers from commenting on its Twitter feed, because, it said, “trolls” and “bad-faith actors” had joined the debate. One of the bad-faith actors was a racist agitator, Richard Spencer. His contribution, alarmingly, was hardly trolling. Mr. Spencer pointed out that Mr. Sweet was merely repeating the advice of the eminent 19th-century historian Otto von Ranke, who told historians to go into the archives and tell history “as it really happened.” We know a profession is in trouble when it takes the worst kind of amateur to state the obvious.

“To be ignorant of what occurred before you were born is to remain always a child,” Cicero once wrote. “For what is the worth of a human life if it is not woven into the life of our ancestors by the record of history?” Even Ms. Hannah-Jones would agree with that. The AHA’s activist wing, however, disagrees. Like Cicero, who was both a politician and a historian, they see history as a rhetorical resource. Unlike Cicero, they see nothing good in their people’s history and only wickedness in their ancestors.

When the purpose of history changes from knowledge of the past to political power in the present and future, historians become mere propagandists. Academics who succumb to the sugar rush of activism lose their sense of balance. Meanwhile, the AHA’s annual reports show that undergraduates and graduates are voting with their enrollments, with a related decline in job opportunities for holders of new doctorates. In 2016-17 alone, undergraduate enrollment fell by 7.7%. The number of new doctorates fell by about 15% between 2014 and 2019, and the number of job openings has halved since 2008. The latest AHA Jobs Report is a threnody of “program closures, enrollment declines, and faculty layoffs.” Signs of stabilization, it reckons, are a “false floor.” Why study history if all it equips you for is a nasty and crowded climb up the greasy pole of academic preferment? Much easier to pursue activism through the modish triad of sex, race and gender studies.

All of which tends to confirm Mr. Sweet’s observations about the perils of presentism and activism...


Student Debt Forgiveness Will Make the Problem Worse (VIDEO)

Here's the beautiful Inez Feltscher Stepman (currently my crush on Twitter), for Prager Univerity:


On Instagram.

How China Could Choke Taiwan

 At the New York Times, "How China Could Choke Taiwan's Economy With a Blockade":

China is honing its ability to blockade Taiwan, giving Beijing the option of cutting off the self-ruled island in its campaign to take control of it.

For decades, Beijing has had its sights on Taiwan, the self-governing island that China claims as its own. It has built up the People’s Liberation Army with the goal of ultimately taking Taiwan, if efforts to unify peacefully fail. It has modernized its forces, developing the world’s largest navy, which now challenges American supremacy in the seas around Taiwan.

While China likely still lacks the ability to quickly invade and seize Taiwan, it could try to impose a blockade to force the island into concessions or as a precursor to wider military action. In this scenario, China would attempt to subdue Taiwan by choking it and its 23 million people in a ring of ships and aircraft, cutting it off physically, economically and even digitally.

China tried to use its military exercises this month to signal confidence in the People’s Liberation Army’s ability to encircle Taiwan. The military fired ballistic missiles into the waters off Taiwan, 80 miles off China’s coast, sending at least four high over the island itself, according to Japan, and conducted exercises in zones closer to the island than ever before.

In “The Science of Strategy,” a key textbook for People’s Liberation Army officers, Taiwan is not mentioned, but the target is clear. The textbook describes a “strategic blockade” as a way to “destroy the enemy’s external economic and military connections, degrade its operational capacity and war-fighting potential, and leave it isolated and unaided.”

During this month’s exercises, China avoided more provocative moves that could have triggered a more forceful response from Taiwan. But it still sought to convey real menace, putting Taiwan on notice about the risks of not meeting Beijing’s demands.

“I think they have shown their intentions, encircling Taiwan and countering foreign intervention,” said Ou Si-fu, a research fellow at the Institute for National Defense and Security Research, which is affiliated with Taiwan’s Defense Ministry. “Their assumption was ‘Taiwan can be isolated, and so next I can fight you.’”

Real Blockade Would Seek to Repel U.S. Forces

After Speaker Nancy Pelosi defied Beijing’s warnings and visited Taiwan on Aug. 2, China retaliated by deploying warplanes, ships and missiles for 72 hours of drills. It declared six exercise areas around Taiwan, including off the island’s eastern coast, in an effort to project its power farther from the Chinese mainland.

The exercises were not a full-scale rehearsal. In a real blockade, the 11 missiles that China fired into seas around Taiwan would have served little military purpose because they were designed to strike land targets, not ships. China did not roll out its most advanced weaponry. It flew planes near Taiwan, not over it. Although three of the sea zones China had designated for exercises intruded on territorial waters claimed by Taiwan, in practice Chinese missiles and ships avoided those waters.

“This is political warfare,” said Drew Thompson, a senior fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore who formerly worked in the Pentagon. “The political aspect of what they do is sometimes more important than the actual training that they’re undertaking.”

An actual blockade would involve hundreds more ships and aircraft, as well as submarines, trying to seal off Taiwan’s ports and airports and repel possible intervention by warships and planes sent by the United States and its allies.

In a blockade, China would also need to control the skies. China has an array of naval and air bases on its east coast opposite Taiwan, and many more up and down its coast. The Chinese military could also try to shoot down enemy planes with surface-to-air missiles, or even strike at U.S. bases in Guam and Japan.

China’s military strategists see a blockade as a strategy that gives them flexibility to tighten or loosen a noose around Taiwan, depending on Beijing’s objectives.

China could impose a limited blockade by stopping and screening ships, without attacking Taiwan’s ports. Given Taiwan’s dependence on imports of fuel and food, even a temporary blockade could shock the island politically and economically, allowing China a forceful way to press its demands.

“This makes it possible to start and stop once Taiwan ‘learns its lesson,’” said Phillip C. Saunders of the National Defense University, who is a co-editor of a new collection of essays assessing Chinese military choices for Taiwan.

But the People’s Liberation Army trains for a blockade that “would be violent and would generate a lot of international costs,” Mr. Saunders said. In that scenario, China could use a blockade to support an attempt at a full invasion. That step could unleash a potentially protracted and devastating conflict, as well as a major international backlash against China that would bring it economic damage and political isolation.

The uncertainties of the outcome from any war at sea and in the air would be immense for all involved.

China Sees Information as a Key Battleground

In a real conflict to seize Taiwan, China would also seek to control the information landscape. It could use propaganda, disinformation, cyberwarfare and other tools in the hope of drumming up support at home and sowing fear and discord in Taiwan and across the world.

During the recent exercises, the People’s Liberation Army put out a torrent of videos, pictures and reports that blurred the line between propaganda and misinformation. The campaign included footage of jet fighters taking off, missiles fired, warships on patrol and a hospital train ferrying troops, all intended to show a force ready for combat. But it also appeared to exaggerate Chinese capabilities by depicting its forces as bigger and closer to Taiwan than they were in reality.

Chinese military planners regard cyberwarfare as important in any conflict, and experts say that in a real conflict China would use cyberattacks to try to knock out Taiwan’s communications and even paralyze some of its weapons. “Whoever controls information and controls the internet will have the whole world,” the Chinese military’s main textbook on strategy says, citing the late American futurist, Alvin Toffler.

During Ms. Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the island experienced sporadic, unsophisticated cyberattacks of unclear origin, creating more nuisance than disruption. At least four Taiwanese government websites endured brief cyberattacks. Hackers took over electronic displays at several 7-Eleven stores and at the Xinzuoying train station in Kaohsiung to display messages condemning Ms. Pelosi.

“The sneaky visit of the old witch to Taiwan is a serious provocation to the sovereignty of the motherland. Those who actively welcome it will eventually be judged by the people. The blood ties of the same race are hard to cut and will continue to be bonded together, and the great China will eventually be unified!”

In an actual conflict, China could also try to sever or disable undersea cables that carry about 90 percent of the data that connects Taiwan to the world, some military experts on the island said. The cables’ “main weak point is where they emerge from the bottom of the sea,” said Mr. Ou, the Taiwanese researcher.

Cutting Taiwan’s undersea cables would also spark chaos affecting other interconnected countries in the region, such as Japan and South Korea.

China Is Creating a New Normal Even after completing this month’s large-scale drills, the People’s Liberation Army has continued to intensify its presence in the Taiwan Strait. Chinese military forces have increased their flights over the so-called median line, an informal boundary between the two sides that they had rarely crossed in the past.

These flights signal a new normal for Chinese military activity closer to Taiwan, underscoring Beijing’s position that it does not accept the island’s claims of sovereign boundaries. Increasingly frequent and close-up exercises also raise the risk that Taiwan could become desensitized and be caught by a surprise attack. It would take minutes for a jet screaming across that line to be over the island if it stayed its course, instead of turning back as the aircraft do now.

“Maybe in the future this kind of action will be like the frog being cooked in boiling water,” said Shu Hsiao-huang, a researcher at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research. “This kind of harassment may become the norm.”

China’s Strategy in the Skies Near Taiwan

In the first three weeks of this month, China dispatched more than 600 military aircraft to buzz the airspace near the island, an unprecedented jump in these flights.

“As the United States and external forces, including Taiwan independence forces, make constant provocations, exercises will become more intense and more frequent, broader in time and scope,” said Song Zhongping, a military commentator in Beijing who is a former Chinese military officer.

China has in recent years made more and more military flights into Taiwan’s Air Defense Identification Zone, a space bigger than the island’s sovereign airspace, as a controlled way of demonstrating Beijing’s anger with Taiwan. Now, by intruding daily into the zone, China’s forces are also potentially attempting to wear down Taiwanese air force planes and pilots. Among the flights recorded by Taiwan this month, many have been fighter jets, but surveillance planes, helicopters and other craft have also been identified...

Saturday, August 27, 2022

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Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism

At Amazon, Christopher Lasch, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations.

'Brand New Cadillac'

"I said, 'Jesus Christ, where'd you get that Cadillac?!!'"

The Clash

The Backlash Politics of Dobbs May Come to Haunt Republicans in November

I have to own up to it: At the time of the Court's decision in June inflation and the economy were so bad I thought the Dobbs decision would fade as an important issue for voters in the midterms. Actually, not at all. Inflation's now easing a bit --- and gas prices especially --- and we certainly aren't falling into the much predicted recession amid Federal Reserve rate hikes.

Republicans are still expected to take the House majority, but it's not likley to be a tsumami wave election.

At the Los Angeles Times, "Abortion issue has deflated Republicans’ hopes for November; question now is how badly":

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court ruling overturning Roe vs. Wade and ending the nationwide guarantee of abortion rights achieved a goal the Republican Party had pursued for more than four decades. Now, the bill has come due, at a price much higher than many Republicans expected.

Since the ruling in June, Democrats have done significantly better than expected in special elections, culminating Tuesday with a victory in a race for a vacant congressional seat in upstate New York that strategists on both sides thought the Republican would win.

Combine those results with polls that show Democratic Senate candidates leading in a half dozen swing states plus a surge of women registering to vote this summer in several states, and you have the evidence that has caused nonpartisan analysts to drastically scale back their expectations for GOP victories this fall.

Democrats, despondent over President Biden‘s dismal job approval ratings, had feared a wipeout this fall. Now, they have a strong chance of keeping narrow control of the Senate, perhaps even adding a seat to their majority. The House still seems likely to flip to the GOP, but the prospect of Republicans sweeping to a big majority has dissipated.

The possibility of Democrats saving their current tiny majority is “not out of the question,” David Wasserman, whose forecasts for the nonpartisan Cook Political Report have a wide following in both parties, said Wednesday on Twitter.

None of that means Democrats can start popping Champagne corks — Biden remains unpopular, inflation and the economy still top voters’ list of concerns and the political climate could shift again before November. For now, however, the evidence for a resurgence of Democratic fortunes is strong.

A closer race for the House

For the House, few polls look at specific races this far in advance of the election. Instead, surveys frequently ask people which party’s candidate they would vote for if the election were held now. That question, referred to as the generic ballot, has provided a fairly reliable tool to forecast elections for many years.

Before the Supreme Court decision, Republicans had just over a two-and-a-half point lead on that question, according to the average of polls produced by the FiveThirtyEight web site. The GOP’s standing began to decline shortly after the court’s ruling, and Democrats now lead the average by about a half point. In many recent polls, the Democratic lead has been larger, ranging as high as eight points among registered voters in a recent survey by the Republican firm Echelon Insights.

Caveats: Because of gerrymandering, the overall House map tilts slightly Republican. Because of that, if the two parties were to split the nationwide vote for the House evenly, Republicans would be almost certain to take the majority. In 2020, Democrats won the overall House vote by about three percentage points, which yielded their current four-vote majority.

Moreover, the generic ballot is just that, generic. It can give a rough guide to the vote for the House nationwide, but isn’t designed to say anything about specific congressional districts. Out of the country’s 435 congressional districts, only about 50-60 are competitive. Republicans need only increase their numbers by five seats to take the majority, and Democrats are defending a lot more competitive turf than the GOP this year. The political forecasting site run by Larry Sabato at the University of Virginia lists 27 House races as tossups, including three in California. Of those, Democrats now hold 21.

Special elections this summer have bolstered the polling evidence. Before the Supreme Court decision, Republican candidates in special elections ran well ahead of the mark that former President Trump had set in their districts in 2020 — results that boosted GOP hopes for a big wave.

Since the abortion decision, the picture has flipped. In four contests this summer, Democrats consistently have out-performed what Biden did in their districts two years ago.

Abortion isn’t the only issue helping Democrats: Inflation likely peaked in June, and gas prices have dropped all summer. Biden’s job approval has rebounded a bit. Democrats succeeded this month in passing major legislation on climate change and healthcare, which could help mobilize their voters. Biden’s announcement of debt relief for millions of student-loan borrowers could similarly motivate a large Democratic constituency, although it could also rile up Republican opponents.

But abortion rights were the center of the campaign waged by Pat Ryan, the Democratic candidate in Tuesday’s New York special election, and Democratic candidates nationwide likely will copy what he did. Meantime, some Republican candidates have begun scrubbing their websites to remove previous statements supporting abortion bans.

The issue could have its strongest effect in 22 competitive districts in six states — California and Michigan, where abortion referendums will be on the ballot, and Texas, Wisconsin, Georgia and Ohio, where sweeping bans have been enacted that a majority of the state’s voters oppose, according to Natalie Jackson, director of research at the Public Religion Research Institute, who has closely studied public opinion on abortion.

Democratic advantage in the Senate

Individual candidates matter more in Senate races than in the House because voters tend to know more about them. That’s added to Republican difficulties this year.

“Candidate quality has a lot to do with the outcome” in Senate contests, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell ruefully noted in recent comments in his home state of Kentucky in which he sought to lower expectations for what his side could accomplish.

In Arizona, Georgia, Pennsylvania and Ohio, Republicans have picked Senate candidates backed by Trump who have significant problems.

They’re likely to do the same in New Hampshire when that state holds its primary in mid-September. The leading Republican candidate in the state, retired Gen. Don Bolduc, has defended Confederate emblems as a “symbol of hope,” fanned anti-vaccination theories and repeatedly made false claims about the 2020 election...


Student Loan Plan Will Feed Inflation, Hurt Dems Politically

From Kim Strassel, at WSJ, "Student Debt Forgiveness Is Biden’s Bluto Moment":

His plan will feed inflation and hurt him politically.

If political moves received letter grades, Joe Biden’s student loan “forgiveness” mark might rank down there with the Deltas of “Animal House.” Think of it as the president’s Bluto moment.

In case the White House missed it, Democrats had recently been getting it together. After an 18-month food fight over the Biden agenda, the party finally united to pass the Inflation Reduction Act. It suckered spend-happy Republicans into passing a semiconductor bill that vulnerable Democrats could brag about back home. The left has successfully fanned fears on abortion, putting GOP candidates on the back foot. And Donald Trump is in the headlines—right where they want him.

Then along comes Blutarsky, and seven years of college down the drain. It would be hard to fashion a program that carries more political risk for less political reward. In the name of paying off that powerful voting bloc known as “overeducated and underemployed deadbeats,” Mr. Biden is dumping on his own inflation message, dividing his party, and insulting any American who has ever worked, saved or paid a bill.

Inflation remains voters’ biggest worry, and they understand Washington’s role in feeding it. Only recently they watched General Motors and Ford hike the prices of electric vehicles by $6,000 to $8,500—roughly pacing the $7,500 tax credit the Biden “inflation reduction” law bestows. Cause, effect. Millions of American parents read Mr. Biden’s Wednesday loan announcement as news that they will be paying $10,000 more for tuition next year (and the year after that, and after that) as colleges reap the loan windfall.

Inflation remains voters’ biggest worry, and they understand Washington’s role in feeding it. Only recently they watched General Motors and Ford hike the prices of electric vehicles by $6,000 to $8,500—roughly pacing the $7,500 tax credit the Biden “inflation reduction” law bestows. Cause, effect. Millions of American parents read Mr. Biden’s Wednesday loan announcement as news that they will be paying $10,000 more for tuition next year (and the year after that, and after that) as colleges reap the loan windfall.

It won’t stop with college inflation, even Democratic economists warn. Every $20,000 of loan forgiveness is $20,000 the favored college forgiven can blow on urban loft refits or Hawaiian vacations. “Pouring roughly half [a] trillion dollars of gasoline on the inflationary fire that is already burning is reckless,” Jason Furman, the Obama administration’s top economist, tweeted. Americans already doubted Mr. Biden’s new climate and health law would do much to lower prices, but they’ll draw a direct line from the loan bailout to further price hikes. A CNBC poll says nearly 60% of Americans fear this handout will make inflation worse.

The plan rips a new fissure in the Democratic Party, as nonsuicidal members run for cover. Maine Rep. Jared Golden called loan forgiveness “out of touch.” New Hampshire Rep. Chris Pappas said this is “no way to make policy.” Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet noted that the plan doesn’t address the underlying problem of rising tuition. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, running for the Senate, said the forgiveness “sends the wrong message to the millions of Ohioans without a degree working just as hard to make ends meet.”

What unites these Democrats? Each is in a competitive race, and they clearly already see the potential to alienate large cross-sections of the American electorate. Sure, loan forgiveness may benefit up to 40 million people, and energize Gen Zers and some millennials to vote for the Democrats they were going to support anyway. What about the other 220 million voting-age Americans who are being asked to float the upper crust’s seminars on gender identity and social justice?

Democrats desperately need suburban voters this fall. Those would be the same suburban parents who are already furious over school closures and woke education, who scrimped and saved to pay through the nose for college, and who now look like chumps as they prepare to pay more. The CNBC poll finds that 65% of those 35 to 64—prime college-parent age—feel loans should be forgiven for no one or only for those in need (the Biden plan favors top earners). That share is even higher—78%—for those over 65.

Party leaders have fretted for years over how to handle Democrats’ cratering support among the working class. This is the answer? The loan handout is a thumb in the eye to every American who went to trade school, got an apprenticeship, took out private loans to start a small business, or simply went to work—and now must not only grind out a living and keep up with inflation but cover the poor financial decisions of the college elite...


The Mar-a-Lago Affidavit: Is That All There Is?

At the Wall Street Journal, "The redacted 38-pages add to the evidence that the FBI search really was all about a dispute over documents":

A federal judge on Friday released a heavily redacted version of the FBI affidavit used to justify the search of Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home, and we can’t help but wonder is that it? This is why agents descended on a former President’s residence like they would a mob boss?

It’s possible the redactions in the 38-page document release contain some undisclosed bombshell. But given the contours of what the affidavit and attachments reveal, this really does seem to boil down to a fight over the handling of classified documents. The affidavit’s long introduction and other unredacted paragraphs all point to concern by the FBI and the National Archives with the documents Mr. Trump retained at Mar-a-Lago and his lack of cooperation in not returning all that the feds wanted.

A separate filing making the case for the redactions, also released Friday, focused on the need for witness and agent protection from being publicly identified. That filing also contains no suggestion of any greater charges or a larger investigation than the dispute over his handling of the documents.

As always with Mr. Trump, he seems to have been his own worst enemy in this dispute. He and his staff appear to have been sloppy, even cavalier, in storing the documents. Classified records found in boxes were mixed in with “newspapers, magazines, printed news articles, photos, miscellaneous print-outs, notes,” and presidential correspondence, the affidavit says. This fanned suspicion that important documents were still floating around the house, where bad actors hanging around the Mar-a-Lago resort might pilfer them.

The affidavit also contains references to comments by Mr. Trump and his associates that didn’t tell the truth about what was classified or what he had turned over to the National Archives before the search. This appears to have frustrated the bureau enough that it felt he might be guilty of obstruction of justice by his lack of cooperation. To put it another way, the FBI thought Mr. Trump was behaving badly, as he so often does.

But that didn’t mean the FBI and Justice Department had to resort to a warrant and federal-agent search that they knew would be redolent of criminal behavior. They had to suggest probable cause of criminal acts to get their extravagant warrant, which they knew would create a political firestorm.

Instead they could have gone to a district court and sought an order for the proper handling and storage of documents. It surely would have been executed. If Mr. Trump then failed to comply, he could have been held in contempt. On the evidence in the warrant and the affidavit, and even based on the leaks to the press so far which all focus on the demand for documents, the search on Mar-a-Lago was disproportionate to the likely offense...



On Instagram:

Reuben Jonathan Miller, Halfway Home

At Amazon, Reuben Jonathan Miller, Halfway Home: Race, Punishment, and the Afterlife of Mass Incarceration.

Republicans, Once Outraged by Mar-a-Lago Search, Become Quieter as Details Emerge

 At the New York Times

In the minutes and hours after the F.B.I.’s search of former President Donald J. Trump’s residence in Florida this month, his supporters did not hesitate to denounce what they saw as a blatant abuse of power and outrageous politicization of the Justice Department.

But with the release of a redacted affidavit detailing the justification for the search, the former president’s allies were largely silent, a potentially telling reaction with ramifications for his political future.

“I would just caution folks not to draw too many conclusions,” Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia, a Republican, said on Fox News. It was a starkly different admonition from his earlier condemnations of what he said were “politically motivated actions.”

Some Republicans will no doubt rally around Mr. Trump and his claim that he is once again being targeted by a rogue F.B.I. that is still out to get him. His former acting White House chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, said on Twitter that “this raid was, in fact, just about documents,” which he called “simply outrageous.” Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona and an ardent Trump ally, was on the right-wing broadcaster Newsmax denouncing the F.B.I. as politically biased, though he notably did not defend the former president’s possession of highly classified documents.

But generally, even the most bombastic Republicans — Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, Jim Jordan of Ohio — were at least initially focused elsewhere. Ms. Greene was posting on Friday about border “invasions.” Ms. Boebert noted on Twitter the anniversary of the suicide bombing of U.S. service members at the airport in Kabul, Afghanistan. Mr. Jordan was focused on an interview with Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook founder. None tweeted about the affidavit.

The accusations against Mr. Trump have become increasingly serious. Classified documents dealing with matters such as Mr. Trump’s correspondences with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were stored in unsecured rooms at Mar-a-Lago, The New York Times reported this month. The untempered attacks on the F.B.I. after the initial search led to threats against federal law enforcement, opening up Republicans — long the self-proclaimed party of law and order — to charges from Democrats that they were trying to “defund” the agency.

And voters are again distracted by Mr. Trump in the political spotlight, even as Republicans try to direct their attention toward the economy and soaring inflation on a day when the Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said efforts to control rising prices would exact pain on Americans.

All of this could mean that enough Republican voters grow weary of the division and drama around Mr. Trump and are ready to move on...


Washington State Patriotism

On Twitter:

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre Smears Republcans as 'Fascists'

On Twitter:

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, Revolution and Dictatorship

At Amazon, Steven Levitsky and Lucan Way, Revolution and Dictatorship: The Violent Origins of Durable Authoritarianism.

Corrina K.

She's beautiful.

On Instagram.

Biden, Without Congressional Authority, Announces He's Forgiving Student Loans For His Voters -- And Claiming That the 'Emergency' Powers He Has Due to Covid Allow Him to Act As a Tyrant, Apparently Forever

PREVIOUSLY: "Biden's Student Loan 'Forgiveness' Is an Abuse of Power."

At AoSHQ, "Note that Biden already declared an end to the covid emergency when he canceled Trump's Remain in Mexico policy, and his CDC just announced that we're effectively back to normal. But Biden won't formally say the "emergency" is over -- so he can continue acting as tyrant when he finds it politically useful to do so."

Biden's Student Loan 'Forgiveness' Is an Abuse of Power

PREVIOUSLY: "Outrage! Biden to Cancel $10,000 in Student Debt for Those Making Less Than $125,000 or Less Per Year."

From Dave Harsanyi, at the Federalist, "… not to mention a moral hazard, counterproductive, and fundamentally immoral."

Outrage! Biden to Cancel $10,000 in Student Debt for Those Making Less Than $125,000 or Less Per Year

This is fucking outrageous.

My grad school loans are just now nearly paid off --- 23 years after I finished my Ph.D. at UCSB. Is Old Joe going to make the debt relief retroactive, for the millions upon millions of judicious and hard-working Americans who made good on the debt they took out? 

Completely un-American, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell slammed debt cancellation as "socialist."

At the Los Angeles Times, "Biden will cancel $10,000 of student debt for many borrowers":

Individuals earning less than $125,000 annually would qualify for relief and those who received Pell grants could receive an additional $10,000.

WASHINGTON — President Biden moved Wednesday to cancel $10,000 in student debt for individuals earning less than $125,000 annually while extending a pause on loan repayments for all borrowers through the end of the year, all as part of a broader effort to overhaul the federal system and ease financial burdens for the middle class.

Biden’s action will also make people who received Pell grants to help cover the cost of college eligible for up to $20,000 in loan relief. And a new income-based repayment cap will ensure borrowers pay no more than 5% of their monthly income toward their undergraduate loans as long as they aren’t behind on payments. Some analysts believe that change may prove even more significant than the debt forgiveness.

Lamenting that “an entire generation is now saddled with unsustainable debt” because the cost of higher education has skyrocketed in recent years, Biden described his action as a matter of economic fairness that will “provide more breathing room for people” and boost America’s competitiveness.

“My plan is responsible and fair. It focuses the benefit on middle-class and working families. It helps both current and future borrowers and it will fix a badly broken system,” Biden said. “It’s about opportunity. It’s about giving people a fair shot.”

The overall package, which Biden said will benefit 43 million Americans, is a win for activists who have pushed for such action as a matter of economic fairness. But the amount of debt Biden has decided to erase is less than many activists had sought, complicating an issue the White House hopes will boost Democrats in the midterm election and drawing criticism from both parties. While progressives had hoped Biden would go even further, Republicans and some moderate Democrats bristled at the price-tag, asserting that spending an estimated $400-600 billion to cover the forgiven loans would exacerbate inflation.

“This announcement is gallingly reckless — with the national debt approaching record levels and inflation surging, it will make both worse,” said Maya McGuinness, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a Washington organization that opposes the student loan forgiveness program.

Biden, who returned from a two-week vacation Wednesday morning, had vowed to act before Aug. 31, when the latest pandemic-driven moratorium on federal student loan payments runs out. He said this extension would be the last one and that payments would resume in January 2023.

“It’s time for the payments to resume,” he said.

President Trump first suspended payments in March 2020, and Biden has granted four extensions. So far, the suspensions have cost the federal government more than $100 billion. More than 40 million Americans owe a collective $1.6 trillion in federal student loans.

A fight over student loans could slow the Democrats’ recent momentum and threaten their coalition’s cohesion. The president and his party have seen their poll numbers rise in recent months, buoyed by a series of events that have altered the political landscape in their favor.

The Supreme Court’s late June decision overturning Roe vs. Wade alienated women across political lines. The high-profile hearings further illuminating Trump’s key role inciting the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection received broad television coverage and hardened perceptions of Republicans as the more extreme party. And Democrats’ passage of three major bills — a climate, prescription drug and tax overhaul, new funding to boost domestic manufacturing of microchips and enhanced healthcare for veterans exposed to toxic chemicals on the battlefield — has shown the public that Biden is far from a do-nothing president.

Before the abortion decision, the Jan. 6 hearings and the flurry of new legislation, some senior Biden aides believed significant student loan debt forgiveness was one of the few measures that could excite the Democratic base and help the party survive a tough election cycle. Despite public and private pressure from Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Biden has long questioned whether forgiving as much as $50,000 in debt would be prudent.

Schumer spoke by phone with Biden on Tuesday night “to make a final push to the president to cancel as much student loan debt as he can,” according to a Democrat familiar with the conversation. On Wednesday, Schumer and Warren sought to quell criticism from the left, issuing a joint statement heralding Biden’s final decision as a historic first step.

“With the flick of a pen, President Biden has taken a giant step forward in addressing the student debt crisis by cancelling significant amounts of student debt for millions of borrowers. The positive impacts of this move will be felt by families across the country, particularly in minority communities, and is the single most effective action that the President can take on his own to help working families and the economy,” their statement said. “No president or Congress has done more to relieve the burden of student debt and help millions of Americans make ends meet. Make no mistake, the work — our work — will continue as we pursue every available path to address the student debt crisis, help close the racial wealth gap for borrowers, and keep our economy growing.”

Some activists also cheered the announcement. “Today, with President Biden’s announcement, 12 million American borrowers have had their educational debts erased,” said Melissa Byrne, executive director of We the 45 Million, a group that advocates for student debt forgiveness. “This is a historic first step — establishing the clear authority that the president has to cancel student debt — but this should just be the beginning.”

But key Democratic constituencies, including young voters, Black Americans and civil rights groups like the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People, have pushed hard for more forgiveness, and may be disappointed.

Derrick Johnson, president of the NAACP, had blasted Biden in a statement Tuesday, stating that if reports of the president having settled on $10,000 in debt forgiveness are correct, “we’ve got a problem,” likening the decision to past federal policies that have been detrimental to Black people...

I took out zero loans for my Bachelor's degree. I worked, and hard. At Fresno State, where I took my B.A. political science, I worked 35 hours a week pumping gas at the local Chevon station, not far from my dad's house. It was 2:00 to 9:00pm Sundays through Thurdays, and 4:00pm to Midnight on Fridays and Saturdays. I started that job at $4.25 miniumum wage, only getting bumped once with a raise to $4.75. On my days off I'd stay on campus all day, after classes, going to the cafeteria, the library, and the student union to hang out and study. My time was completely taken up and I had little for nightlife. I met my future wife in my last year, and she moved to Santa Barbara with me (before we were married) after I was accepted into the Ph.D. program. 

I paid my dues. 

In graduate school I ended up taking out about $65,000 to $70,000 total. I could have borrowed much, much more, but I was careful. I worked weekends (again at a Chevron station in downtown Santa Barbara) my first year in the program. I could've borrowed more, but my (future) wife and I didn't want to get too deep into debt. We had no idea I'd get a full four-year ride starting in my second year, the U.C. Regents Fellowship, which paid for everything. That was merit based, by the way. I fucking earned that fellowship by kicking ass that first year. I have great memories and wouldn't take back a thing.

I know, though, my story is like so many others, folks who themselves and their families scrimped and saved just for the chance to attend college, much less a Ph.D program. *That's the American way.* If Republicans don't campaigh the hell out of this issue they're bloody stupid. LOTS of folks will be pissed that their working- and middle-class tax dollars are going toward debt bailouts for college graduates who make more than they do, and will make way more in the future. 

It's class warfare. It's a fundamental violation of society's social contract, and bitterly unfair. 

Still more at that top link.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning

Caroline Elkins, Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain's Gulag in Kenya.

Vicki and Randy Weaver

The FBI killed Vicki Weaver at Ruby Ridge in 1992, on August 22nd, the second day of an 11-day siege.

Randy Weaver died earlier this year.

On Twitter, a thread:

The day before, agents had murdered their 14 year old son Samuel.

They also shot Randy, smeared his name to the public and put him on trial.

Why did they do this?

Because ATF agent Kenneth Fadeley pressured Randy into selling him two sawed-off shotgun.

Their case was so bad that jurors exonerated Randy of everything but a failure to appear charge.

But the damage was already done.

This is a federal surveillance photo of Vicki shortly before she was murdered.

Snipers were ordered to kill any armed male who left the Weaver home.

When they killed Vicki, she was in her home, holding their infant daughter.

All of this over the length of a shotgun barrel.

The Weaver family did not deserve to be destroyed.

Sadly, they are just another casualty of the federal police state, and yet another example of why it must be dismantled.

Abolish the ATF, the FBI, and every other agency that government uses as weapons against peaceful people.

Rest in peace to Randy, Vicki and Samuel Weaver, and my condolences to the Weaver family.


NOTE: if you advocate for gun control, you de facto advocate for many more families being destroyed by police and federal agents.

Many more children and mothers murdered.

Your advocacy for gun control is advocacy for massive amounts of gun violence against innocent people.

Miranda's Thick Season

Not sure what that is exactly, though I love the photo.

On Twitter.

Plus, more on video

Monday, August 22, 2022

Chris Stirewalt, Broken News

At Amazon, Chris Stirewalt, Broken News: Why the Media Rage Machine Divides America and How to Fight Back.

Anne Hathaway for Interview

Man, she's as hot as ever.

See, at Interview, "Anne Hathaway Answers 20 Questions From Her Friends and Fans."

Conservatives Obsessed With Mar-a-Lago Raid Got Rolled on Democrats' Inflation Reduction Act


At Politico, "‘We got rolled’: How the conservative grassroots lost the fight with Biden because it was focused on Trump":

The former president’s presence on the political landscape is making it harder to launch a modern day Tea Party movement.

In years past, it would have been a political Waterloo moment for Republicans: President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats racing frantically to finalize sweeping legislation to hike taxes on corporations and spend trillions on climate change and health care subsidies.

But instead of mounting a massive grassroots opposition to tank or tar the Inflation Reduction Act, conservatives and right-wing news outlets spent the past week with their gaze elsewhere: the FBI’s search of Donald Trump’s Palm Beach mansion.

Hundreds of them gathered instead outside Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in South Florida to protest what they viewed as an egregious example of federal government overreach. Back in Washington, conservative activists did rally against the bill and targeted vulnerable Democrats in ads. But even the main organizers conceded that they had little time to muster the opposition-party gusto of years past.

“Everything was moving so fast, the tax provisions were being debated on the fly, so there was very little time for groups to do that in-depth grassroots pushback like we saw during Obamacare,” said Cesar Ybarra, vice president of policy at conservative grassroots organization FreedomWorks. “To create buzz in this town and for it to penetrate across America, you need more time. So yeah, we got rolled.”

Far from a singular lapse, last week’s split-screen of the Mar-a-Lago search and the passage of the IRA provided a telling portrait of pistons that move modern Republican politics. Whereas conservative activism has, in past cycles, been driven by opposition to Democratic-authored policies or actions — from Obamacare to TARP— the modern version has been fed by culture-war issues and, more often than not, Trump himself.

“I think anytime you have FBI agents setting a new precedent by raiding a former president’s home, that’s going to get a lot of attention, compounded by Liz Cheney getting annihilated in her primary,” said former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who set the prior template for policy-centric midterm catapults with the GOP’s famed Contract with America in 1994.

For Democrats, the current paradigm is a boon, politically. The party hailed the passage of the IRA as a major victory they plan to capitalize on moving into the midterms. They argue that uniform Republican opposition to the bill was hypocrisy — Trump once championed several of its provisions. They view the popularity of the IRA and absence of sustained pushback as a guarantee that this won’t be an electoral albatross like Obamacare was for the party in 2010.

“You’re not having town halls with people screaming about Medicare drug negotiations. It’s very hard to object to a bill that invests a lot of money in clean energy,” said Matt Bennett, the executive vice president for public affairs at the Democratic centrist think tank Third Way.

Republicans argue that the bill will prove more beneficial to them in November, specifically the provision to hire and retain more IRS agents. And they quibble with the idea that the right wasn’t outraged or organized, arguing that the bill was pared back precisely as a result of activist pushback. Far from being two separate threads, they see the IRA and the Mar-a-Lago search as intertwined.

“The timing of the bill happening the same week as the former president’s residence was raided, and you had the split screen of, well, if they could do that to him, they could do that to you, and here’s this bill with 87,000 IRS agents being funded,” said Jessica Anderson, the executive director of the conservative Heritage Action for America. “I think we’re going to look back and see that it really lit a match for people with the distrust for government at an all-time high.”

Merissa Hamilton, an activist with FreedomWorks, said the increase in funding for the IRS has already been energizing grassroots efforts. Before the bill was passed, Hamilton organized protests with dozens of activists in front of the Phoenix office of Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz), one of the most vulnerable Senate Democrats.

“We feel even more detached from our representation than we ever have before because there was no time to get any public input,” said Hamilton. “It’s a big deal when you’re doubling the size of a federal agency. It screams something that’s designed to be punitive against people.”

But others in the party conceded that policy fights are no longer driving activism, at least to the degree they once did. In a Twitter thread, Brian Riedl, an economist with the conservative-leaning Manhattan Institute, said the right’s more recent apathy on economic policy “is partially a focus on culture & troll wars, partly a post-Trump identity crisis. And a lot of Democrats simply learning to avoid the economic policy prescriptions that most drive conservative rebellions.”

The money flow may tell an even more compelling story about a grassroots movement more geared toward Trump than congressional Republicans.

In the wake of the FBI’s search of Trump’s home, Trump’s Save America PAC reportedly raked in millions in the following days, according to The Washington Post. Elsewhere, meanwhile, the main Republicans running in marquee Senate races have struggled to build small-dollar donor networks, forcing the National Republican Senatorial Committee to slash ad spending and campaigns and operatives to panic.

Ohio Democratic Senate nominee Tim Ryan has brought in more than $9.1 million compared with GOP challenger J.D. Vance’s $1 million. Just over 9 percent of the money Vance raised for his primary campaign account between April and July came from contributions from individuals, and less than a fifth of that amount was from un-itemized small-dollar donors (those who gave less than $200). Of Ryan’s donations, 46 percent came from small-dollar donors.

In Pennsylvania, GOP nominee Mehmet Oz has largely self-funded his campaign, with less than 30 percent of his total receipts last quarter coming from individual contributors. Of that amount, just 18 percent came from small-dollar donors, compared with more than half for Democratic nominee John Fetterman, who brought in more than twice what Oz did.

And in Arizona, donations from individuals made up about 75 percent of GOP nominee Blake Masters’ total haul between April and July, versus 95 percent for Kelly. More importantly, the Democratic incumbent outraised Masters by more than $12 million last month, with 45 percent of the amount he raised from individuals coming in the form of small-dollar donations...

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The Underappreciated Risks of Catastrophic Escalation

From Johm Mearsheimer, at Foreign Affairs, "Playing With Fire in Ukraine":

Western policymakers appear to have reached a consensus about the war in Ukraine: the conflict will settle into a prolonged stalemate, and eventually a weakened Russia will accept a peace agreement that favors the United States and its NATO allies, as well as Ukraine. Although officials recognize that both Washington and Moscow may escalate to gain an advantage or to prevent defeat, they assume that catastrophic escalation can be avoided. Few imagine that U.S. forces will become directly involved in the fighting or that Russia will dare use nuclear weapons.

Washington and its allies are being much too cavalier. Although disastrous escalation may be avoided, the warring parties’ ability to manage that danger is far from certain. The risk of it is substantially greater than the conventional wisdom holds. And given that the consequences of escalation could include a major war in Europe and possibly even nuclear annihilation, there is good reason for extra concern.

To understand the dynamics of escalation in Ukraine, start with each side’s goals. Since the war began, both Moscow and Washington have raised their ambitions significantly, and both are now deeply committed to winning the war and achieving formidable political aims. As a result, each side has powerful incentives to find ways to prevail and, more important, to avoid losing. In practice, this means that the United States might join the fighting either if it is desperate to win or to prevent Ukraine from losing, while Russia might use nuclear weapons if it is desperate to win or faces imminent defeat, which would be likely if U.S. forces were drawn into the fighting.

Furthermore, given each side’s determination to achieve its goals, there is little chance of a meaningful compromise. The maximalist thinking that now prevails in both Washington and Moscow gives each side even more reason to win on the battlefield so that it can dictate the terms of the eventual peace. In effect, the absence of a possible diplomatic solution provides an added incentive for both sides to climb up the escalation ladder. What lies further up the rungs could be something truly catastrophic: a level of death and destruction exceeding that of World War II.


The United States and its allies initially backed Ukraine to prevent a Russian victory and help negotiate a favorable end to the fighting. But once the Ukrainian military began hammering Russian forces, especially around Kyiv, the Biden administration shifted course and committed itself to helping Ukraine win the war against Russia. It also sought to severely damage Russia’s economy by imposing unprecedented sanctions. As Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin explained U.S. goals in April, “We want to see Russia weakened to the degree that it can’t do the kinds of things that it has done in invading Ukraine.” In effect, the United States announced its intention to knock Russia out of the ranks of great powers.

What’s more, the United States has tied its own reputation to the outcome of the conflict. U.S. President Joe Biden has labelled Russia’s war in Ukraine a “genocide” and accused Russian President Vladimir Putin of being a “war criminal” who should face a “war crimes trial.” Presidential proclamations such as these make it hard to imagine Washington backing down; if Russia prevailed in Ukraine, the United States’ position in the world would suffer a serious blow.

Russian ambitions have also expanded. Contrary to the conventional wisdom in the West, Moscow did not invade Ukraine to conquer it and make it part of a Greater Russia. It was principally concerned with preventing Ukraine from becoming a Western bulwark on the Russian border. Putin and his advisers were especially concerned about Ukraine eventually joining NATO. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov made the point succinctly in mid-January, saying at a press conference, “the key to everything is the guarantee that NATO will not expand eastward.” For Russian leaders, the prospect of Ukrainian membership in NATO is, as Putin himself put it before the invasion, “a direct threat to Russian security”—one that could be eliminated only by going to war and turning Ukraine into a neutral or failed state.

Toward that end, it appears that Russia’s territorial goals have expanded markedly since the war started. Until the eve of the invasion, Russia was committed to implementing the Minsk II agreement, which would have kept the Donbas as part of Ukraine. Over the course of the war, however, Russia has captured large swaths of territory in eastern and southern Ukraine, and there is growing evidence that Putin now intends to annex all or most of that land, which would effectively turn what is left of Ukraine into a dysfunctional rump state.

The threat to Russia today is even greater than it was before the war, mainly because the Biden administration is now determined to roll back Russia’s territorial gains and permanently cripple Russian power. Making matters even worse for Moscow, Finland and Sweden are joining NATO, and Ukraine is better armed and more closely allied with the West. Moscow cannot afford to lose in Ukraine, and it will use every means available to avoid defeat. Putin appears confident that Russia will ultimately prevail against Ukraine and its Western backers. “Today, we hear that they want to defeat us on the battlefield,” he said in early July. “What can you say? Let them try. The goals of the special military operation will be achieved. There are no doubts about that.”

Ukraine, for its part, has the same goals as the Biden administration. The Ukrainians are bent on recapturing territory lost to Russia—including Crimea—and a weaker Russia is certainly less threatening to Ukraine. Furthermore, they are confident that they can win, as Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov made clear in mid-July, when he said, “Russia can definitely be defeated, and Ukraine has already shown how.” His U.S. counterpart apparently agrees. “Our assistance is making a real difference on the ground,” Austin said in a late July speech. “Russia thinks that it can outlast Ukraine—and outlast us. But that’s just the latest in Russia’s string of miscalculations.”

In essence, Kyiv, Washington, and Moscow are all deeply committed to winning at the expense of their adversary, which leaves little room for compromise. Neither Ukraine nor the United States, for example, is likely to accept a neutral Ukraine; in fact, Ukraine is becoming more closely tied with the West by the day. Nor is Russia likely to return all or even most of the territory it has taken from Ukraine, especially since the animosities that have fueled the conflict in the Donbas between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government for the past eight years are more intense than ever.

These conflicting interests explain why so many observers believe that a negotiated settlement will not happen any time soon and thus foresee a bloody stalemate. They are right about that. But observers are underestimating the potential for catastrophic escalation that is built into a protracted war in Ukraine...

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