Hey! Check This Out–the Politics Edition (2022)

A thread posts or links about current events that don’t warrant a separate thread.

The first one I have is an NYT article about U.S. law firms cutting ties with clients–Russian oligarchs, specifically. That’s the good news. Apparently, Putin’s invasion is enough for these firms to put their values or at least their reputation ahead of profits. (Then again, if there wasn’t such strong public backlash, they may not have cut ties.) The bad news is that these wealthy oligarchs will likely find some firm, in the U.S. or West, to take them as clients. This is likely to be an ongoing weakness in the U.S. and Europe. I really hope I’m wrong about this last point.

13 thoughts on “Hey! Check This Out–the Politics Edition (2022)

  1. Is the West Laissez-Faire About Economic Warfare? from War on the Rocks. I thought this was an interesting article, although I need more time to process it. One main idea is that the use of sanctions in lieu of using the military can have significant effects on global economic system, and can actually instigate aggressive behavior. For example, the article explains the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in the 30s in this way:

    The Japanese military elite believed that “the fate suffered by imperial Germany — a national model since the Meiji restoration — at the hands of the Allied blockade had grave implications for their own country.” The invasion of Manchuria was intended to “create a resource-intensive industrial base” in order to give Japan the means to resist sanctions during a “future continuous war.”

    Countries will not only consider military actions to make them resilient to economic warfare, but they may not fully integrate their economy with the global one, which will likely make the global economy less efficient.

    There’s more to digest, but I will mention one other point. The article suggests that the West and other countries that use economic warfare with a “shoot-first-ask-questions-later” approach–that is they’re not really thinking carefully about political and economic implications and consequences these effects will have.

    Here’s another War on the Rocks article that discusses the ways in which economic sanctions can lead to riskier actions.

    ***

    On a related note, the first article references another interesting article from the Guardian about a way to deal with inflation now. Again, I’m not sure I fully understand it, but the author suggests the use of price controls as temporary measure, to deal with inflation. She points to the use of price controls after WWII, where the situation was similar (e.g., bottlenecks in supply chain, pent up demand, companies raising prices to increase profits). My vague understanding is that the government implementing price controls on certain products, preventing companies for gouging consumers, will slow inflation, giving time to resolve other issues leading to inflation (like supply chain problems).

  2. To get a better understanding of inflation, I tried reading op-eds by economists like Paul Krugman and Lawrence Summers. I found them too difficult for me to understand. Fortunately, the following podcasts helped.

    First, NYT’s The Daily had a podcast explaining inflation in the 1970s. The one big takeaway for me: Inflation becomes a huge problem once businesses and consumers begin to believe inflation is something that will continue into the future–that is, people expect prices to continue to rise–to the degree that their present behavior changes. Specifically,

    The seller asks more than he needs, helping to cover the cost increase that’s sure to come. And the buyer buys now because the price will only get worse later.

    People began to change the way they thought about their money, the way they thought about inflation.

    Why aren’t people saving these days?

    The psychology is, well, tomorrow everything is going to cost me more. It’s an inflation cycle, so I better buy now and the heck with saving.

    So Americans began to feel like their money wasn’t going to go as far because prices were so high and they began to ask for higher wages to cover their rising expenses. And you saw that as companies had to pay more, they started charging more to cover their costs. And we ended up in a situation where prices and wages were in this upward spiral and they were kind of chasing each other.

    In other words, a vicious cycle begins. And once that occurred, the way to stop this–slowing down the economy by raising interest rates–was a long, painful process.

    (There’s a ominous part that pertains to Biden. Carter appointed Paul Volker as the FED chair–in spite, or because of, the fact that Volker said he’d raise interest rates, evenn if it would slow the economy. The plan worked–eventually–but in the short term it caused economic pain. My impression was that this contributed significantly to Jimmy Carter’s 1980 loss to Reagan. Carter may have sacrificed his presidency for something that ultimately was best for the country. I hope Biden doesn’t have to be in that position.)

    The second podcast is from the Ezra Klein show, specifically his recent interview with Larry Summers. I’m not finished with this, but what I listened to was helpful.

    I still don’t think I have a great grasp of the causes and solutions for the current inflation, but these two podcasts helped a lot.

  3. How Politics Poisoned the Evangelical Church from Tim Alberta in theAtlantic.

    This is an in-depth report about politics and the evangelical church–mostly focusing on the deleterious impact of Trumpism on the evangelical chuch–although it also features pastors who have pushed back against this, as well as pastors who have attempted to be apolitical in their churches.

    The article is thorough and balanced, but it just occurred to me that they don’t factor in progressive Christians. Is there a way that Progressive politics poisons or hurts the church? I’m wary of promoting political positions, either on the right or left, in churches–particularly if they’re attached to specific public policies. It can be really hard to know which ones are appropriate for Christians to embrace and to what degree the church should embrace them.

    In any event, I think this is a good article for American Christians to read and discuss.

  4. No Atheist Has Done This Much Damage to the Christian Faith from Peter Wehner in theAtlantic

    Sadness was the first reaction I felt when I read this, as well as other articles, like the one from Russell Moore in Christianity Today (with an even more dramatic title, “This is the Southern Baptist Apocalypse”).

    I also felt sad when I heard the Catholic church sex abuse scandals as well, and, at the time, while I suspected this wasn’t exclusive to the Catholic church, this recent scandal strengthens this impression to the degree that I know suspect similar types of abuse occur in most large, religious organizations.

    If this impression is accurate, then we need to examine the factors that are contributing to this. My guess is that it has to do with power–specifically, when an individual and/or an organization gains this kind of power. the probability of these type of abuses increase. I would guess sexual abuse would be more frequent if males are in power. Finally, religious leaders who have the trust of their members will likely find themselves in intimate discussions with members who are vulnerable. Forgive this next point if it’s crude and unseemly, but if the members are physically attractive, I would guess this likely increases the chance of sexual abuse.

    My sense is that if we don’t identify the cause of this and address them, they will happen again. On a more pessimistic note, I feel like these abuses have gone on, maybe from the beginning of time, so to speak.

  5. They are Preparing for War WaPo interview of a person who studies insurgencies within a country happen. Basically, I’m talking about the way civil wars begin, but I think “civil war” will turn people off. It did for me. I saw this interview a while ago, but never read it because of those words. The idea that a civil war might break out in the U.S. was too much even for me.

    The scholar, Barbara Walter, addresses this, saying that against a government with a strong military, civil war looks more like an insurgency–with small groups choosing targets to attack–not unlike a terrorist group (if I recall correctly).

    Anyway, I recommend reading this.

    Here are some passages that stood out for me.

    Walter mentions analyzing data of civil wars from other countries, in an attempt to identify patterns. Here’s what they found:

    But only two factors came out again and again as highly predictive. And it wasn’t what people were expecting, even on the task force. We were surprised. The first was this variable called anocracy (note:
    this refers to a scale that measures the degree to which a government is autocratic versus democratic)…. And what scholars found was that this anocracy variable was really predictive of a risk for civil war. That full democracies almost never have civil wars. Full autocracies rarely have civil wars. All of the instability and violence is happening in this middle zone. And there’s all sorts of theories why this middle zone is unstable, but one of the big ones is that these governments tend to be weaker.
    They’re transitioning to either actually becoming more democratic, and so some of the authoritarian features are loosening up. The military is giving up control. And so it’s easier to organize a challenge. Or, these are democracies that are backsliding, and there’s a sense that these governments are not that legitimate, people are unhappy with these governments. There’s infighting. There’s jockeying for power. And so they’re weak in their own ways. Anyway, that turned out to be highly predictive.

    And then the second factor was whether populations in these partial democracies began to organize politically, not around ideology — so, not based on whether you’re a communist or not a communist, or you’re a liberal or a conservative — but where the parties themselves were based almost exclusively around identity: ethnic, religious or racial identity.

    That’s when I started to follow the data. And then, watching what happened to the Republican Party really was the bigger surprise — that, wow, they’re doubling down on this almost white supremacist strategy. That’s a losing strategy in a democracy. So why would they do that? Okay, it’s worked for them since the ’60s and ’70s, but you can’t turn back demographics. And then I was like, Oh my gosh. The only way this is a winning strategy is if you begin to weaken the institutions; this is the pattern we see in other countries. And, as an American citizen I’m like, These two factors are emerging here, and people don’t know.

    (emphasis added)

    On the GOP covering up the 1/6 insurrection:

    And what has been surprising, actually, is how hard the Republican Party has worked to continue to deny it and to create this smokescreen — and in many respects, how effective that’s been, at least among their supporters. Wow: Even the most public act of insurrection, probably a treasonous act that 10, 20 years ago would have just cut to the heart of every American, there are still real attempts to deny it. 

    The CIA has a manual for insurgency, breaking it into three stages

    And the first stage is pre-insurgency. And that’s when you start to have groups beginning to mobilize around a particular grievance. And it’s oftentimes just a handful of individuals who are just deeply unhappy about something. And they begin to articulate those grievances. And they begin to try to grow their membership.

    The second stage is called the incipient conflict stage. And that’s when these groups begin to build a military arm. Usually a militia. And they’d start to obtain weapons, and they’d start to get training. And they’ll start to recruit from the ex-military or military and from law enforcement. Or they’ll actually — if there’s a volunteer army, they’ll have members of theirs join the military in order to get not just the training, but also to gather intelligence.

    And, again, when the CIA put together this manual, it’s about what they have observed in their experience in the field in other countries. And as you’re reading this, it’s just shocking the parallels. And the second stage, you start to have a few isolated attacks. And in the manual, it says, really the danger in this stage is that governments and citizens aren’t aware that this is happening. And so when an attack occurs, it’s usually just dismissed as an isolated incident, and people are not connecting the dots yet. And because they’re not connecting the dots, the movement is allowed to grow until you have open insurgency, when you start to have a series of consistent attacks, and it becomes impossible to ignore.

    (emphasis added)

    What we’re heading toward is an insurgency, which is a form of a civil war. That is the 21st-century version of a civil war, especially in countries with powerful governments and powerful militaries, which is what the United States is. And it makes sense. An insurgency tends to be much more decentralized, often fought by multiple groups. Sometimes they’re actually competing with each other. Sometimes they coordinate their behavior. They use unconventional tactics. They target infrastructure. They target civilians. They use domestic terror and guerrilla warfare. Hit-and-run raids and bombs. We’ve already seen this in other countries with powerful militaries, right? The IRA took on the British government. Hamas has taken on the Israeli government. These are two of the most powerful militaries in the world.

    And they fought for decades. And in the case of Hamas I think we could see a third intifada. And they pursue a similar strategy.

    Here it’s called leaderless resistance. And that method of how to defeat a powerful government like the United States is outlined in what people are calling the bible of the far right: “The Turner Diaries,” which is this fictitious account of a civil war against the U.S. government. It lays out how you do this. And one of the things it says is, Do not engage the U.S. military. You know, avoid it at all costs. Go directly to targets around the country that are difficult to defend and disperse yourselves so it’s hard for the government to identify you and infiltrate you and eliminate you entirely.
    The analogy is smoking. If I started smoking today, my risk of dying of lung cancer or some smoking-related disease is very small. If I continue to smoke for the next 10, 20, 30, 40 years, my risk eventually of dying of something related to smoking is going to be very high if I don’t change my behavior. And so I think that’s one of the actually optimistic things: We know the warning signs. And we know that if we strengthen our democracy, and if the Republican Party decides it’s no longer going to be an ethnic faction that’s trying to exclude everybody else, then our risk of civil war will disappear. We know that. And we have time to do it. But you have to know those warning signs in order to feel an impetus to change them.

  6. Q&A with Alan Dershowitz from Isaac Chotiner in the New Yorker

    I laughed out loud, several times while reading this.

    At several junctures in this interview, I genuinely wondered if this was a real interview, and not some satire or parody. (But wasn’t Alan Dershowitz actually answering the questions?) The next thought I had: Since the interview is lightly edited, the New Yorker is distorting the interview for comedic effect.

    To me, both explanation seem just as plausible as the notion that these are real responses from Dershowitz. Judge for yourself, but if this is real, the guy’s ego and arrogance are something else (and his cluelessness).

  7. How the GOP May Move on from Trump

    Yesterday’s WaPo editorial by Greg Sargent suggested that the GOP may attempt to sideline Trump and pivot away from him–namely, to quietly disable Trump’s ability to win office, behind the scenes, while publicly speaking out against him. This method occurred with Sen. Joe McCarthy, Nixon, and even the 1995 Oklahoma bombing incident. In the first two examples, the GOP wanted to move on from the candidates, but not alienate their voters who were energized by those individuals. In the case of the Oklahoma City bombing, the GOP didn’t want to alienate far-right militias and others with strong anti-government sentiments.

    In the case of Trump, the GOP may attempt to pivot to another candidate–like Ron Desantis–while claiming the Democrats unfairly tarnished Trump. Now, I would be happy if the GOP sidelined Trump, but if this approach would be reckless and irresponsible in my view. Trump has stirred up the GOP base, undermining their trust in election and the press–based on falsehoods, and the GOP politicians know this. But they don’t want to alienate the base, by telling them the truth. Telling them the truth would be a robust way they could help preserve our democracy, but it would also politically damage them. Ultimately, they would be attempting to benefit from voters whipped up by lies and demagoguery, primed for violence. How would this be different from better than Trump?

    (Aside: If this plan is correct–and I can see it in the comments of some conservatives–then it partly explains the GOP reaction to Liz Cheney. She’s ruining this plan. But I think she’s acting responsibly, ultimately unwilling to risk our democracy, while the Republicans preferring to take that risk, playing a dangerous and foolish game. They basically did the same thing with Donald Trump and that got us to 1/6, among other things.)

  8. Most third parties have failed. Here’s why ours won’t. WaPo editorial by David Jolly, Christine Todd- Whitman, and Andrew Yang

    Why won’t this party help Trump or a Trumpist Republican win the election? To me that’s the question. And based on their op-ed, I think it could happen. Here’s how. Part of their way of winning is to promulgate the idea that Democrats and Republicans are both, equally inadequate–which is what I think many Trump voters want to believe.

    This is nonsense, in my view. The Republicans have accepted authoritarianism, if not embraced it. The Democrats have not. If you are patriotic and care about American democracy, you should help all Americans understand this; because too many Americans do not; they think both parties are equally bad–that is, corrupt, dishonest, etc. I believe this is a big reason the Trump debacle occurred and a big reason American democracy is currently in jeopardy.

    This third party will have to push this false equivalence, and I’m afraid they may help the forces that threaten our democracy.

  9. On the senate filibuster

    This letter from 400+ scholars (recommended by James Fallows of theAtlantic) calls for reforming the filibuster.

    Over the last 30 years, nearly 80 percent of bills blocked by the filibuster were bipartisan, with the average supported by five senators from the other party; and almost a quarter of all filibustered bills in the last 16 Congresses were supported by senators who represented over 60 percent of the U.S population.

    This dynamic is untenable for a democracy. A government unable to produce results that significant majorities of the public elect their representatives to deliver is no longer a representative government.

    While I mostly agree with this, I’m also wary about it for a couple of reasons. First, we don’t live in a direct democracy, by design–my understanding is that the Founders strongly opposed direct democracy. Elected representatives would make the decisions they deemed best for the society–which means that they would make decisions that were unpopular, at least some of the times. This is a feature, not a bug. On the other hand, representatives have to be sensitive to their voters wishes, because if they didn’t voters can replace them. That is, they can’t simply ignore the will of the voters’, and to do so too frequently does seem like a problem. The voters, ultimately, can accept or condemn a representative for ignoring their wishes.

    And this seems like the bigger problem. Voters continue to vote for politicians, even when they’re ignoring the popular will. In other words voters are big part of the problem–but not entirely. I think the press, the information environment, as well as role money plays in campaigns also hinder the way voting holds politicians accountable. If we could effectively address these issues, perhaps the filibuster would not be such a problem?

    On a related note, if Democrats won more senate seats, I tend to think the scholars likely wouldn’t be protesting so vociferously. To be fair, I agree that needing a supermajority to pass regular legislation needs to be changed, and I do think these scholars would support that. I’m not sure if they’d feel the same sense of urgency, though.

    This leads to my second point–namely, I’m uncomfortable about the possibility that these complaints stem from Democrats failing to winning enough elections. If this is the driving factor, I feel like the Democrats, and their supporters, should focus on doing what it takes to win more seats–including in red states–rather than focus on ending something like the filibuster. (This kind of reminds me of the way Republicans try to suppress the vote, instead of changing their policies and campaigns to win more voters to their side. To be clear, I’m not saying there is an equivalence between the two. What’s similar is that both parties should put more of their efforts in winning over American voters to their side.)

    As Hamilton cautioned, minority vetoes in Congress would “destroy the energy of the government” by keeping it in “a state of inaction.” We fear that faith in our democracy will continue to decline as long as such novel roadblocks beyond what the Framers designed remain in place.

    I just want to comment here that the GOP found success by branding government as a problem (not the solution, according to Reagan). But we seem to have gotten to a perverse point where Republicans benefit more when government seems or is ineffective rather than the opposite. This incentivizes Republicans to employ obstructionist tactics, when the other party is in power–especially since voters haven’t really punished them for this.

  10. I take polls with a grain of salt, but I really hope voters’ top concern is the threat to democracy. That would really boost my spirits and make me feel good about my fellow countrymen.

    However, in the same poll, I believe the GOP has a two point lead over Democrats, in terms of voter preference. This raises questions as to whether voters’ top concern are threats to democracy. It could also suggest a failure in the news media–i.e., their “both sides” coverage obscures the threat the GOP poses to democracy.

  11. I don’t usually recommend articles from people who I know little about. I’m going to make an exception now–although I should say that I read the article because someone I tend to respect and trust recommended it. (Matt Glassman, and I found Glassman’s twitter account from more well-known journalists, former/current professionals in government, and people of this sort.)

    Here’s the tweet that got me to read the article:

    The writer is from Sri Lanka, but grew up in Canada and the U.S. He’s experienced a coup in his country, and so he’s writing from that perspective. It reminds me of a post written by a Venezuelan that I really liked. That one gave recommendations for defeating a populist leader. This one explains that America has experienced a coup, and is still not out of hot water. One last thing, he infuses his article with the type of irreverent humor I associate with stand-up comics, which readers may enjoy. (Note: It was written on Nov. 10, 2020.)

    Here’s a passage that I liked:

    Your Republicans have set forces into play they cannot possibly understand and certainly cannot control. And they don’t even want to. To them, chaos is a ladder.

    This is the point. You have taken an orderly system balancing a whole lot of chaos and fucked with it. I don’t know how it’s going to explode, but I can promise you this. It’s going to explode.

    This is precisely why we have elections, and why both sides accept the results. To keep the chaos at bay. The whole point is that you have a regular, ritual fight rather than fighting all the time. Once one side breaks ritual then you’re on the way to civil war. Once you break the rules then chaos ensues. What exactly happens? I don’t know. It’s chaos.

    Here’s a video the author made shortly after 1/6/21:

  12. Articles and other sources on Gov. DeSantis sending immigrants to Marth’s Vineyard.

    Ron DeSantis Can’t Troll His Way Into the White House from David Frum in theAtlantic

    Frum’s piece is really informative, not just about DeSantis’s move, but about immigration, specifically those seeking asylum, and the challenges surrounding it.

    And what Miles Taylor says below is…I don’t have the words anymore. In the old days, something like this would be unthinkable.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.