News Notes

July 22, 2022

Toddler grabs gun and shoots self in the leg in east Wichita.

1st US polio case since 2013 identified in NY.

Brutal heat from Phoenix to Boston triggers alerts.

NASA photos reveal Lake Mead at lowest point since 1937.

Wichita police officers suspended after racist, homophobic texts.

July 4, 2022

Fed’s inflation fight made tougher by state relief efforts. Bloomberg columnists, reminding us that the only way the Fed knows to fight inflation is to hurt the people at the bottom of the economy, so obviously, when states like California try to help them cope with inflation, the Fed’s just going to have to try harder.

July 3, 2022

Officer who killed unarmed man in ‘swatting’ incident promoted.

July 2, 2022

George Will: Business beware, ‘stakeholder’ capitalism is progressivism. Of course, Will doesn’t mean that as a compliment, but the companies are public inventions, so why shouldn’t they consider the interests of workers, customers, and the public, as well as the greedy and often short-sighted “owners.”

News Notes

June 30, 2022

Powell: ‘No guarantee’ Fed can tame inflation, spare jobs. In other words, no guarantee the Fed can do its job — not that it’s ever cared much about that jobs bit. Lots of factors joined to create inflation, but the only tool the Fed has to fight it is to put people out of work.

Crypto tax cheats likely to get relief as crackdown hits snag.

June 29, 2022

Gas prices are starting to fall – here’s why that’s a bummer. Retail pump prices have dropped 10-15 cents in the last week, partly reflecting a drop in crude oil prices from $120 to $110 per barrel. Nonetheless, other articles play up inflation fears. Also note: US trade deficit narrows, stock market falls.

June 28, 2022

Pompeo launches digital ad focusing on religious freedom. Title is the least interesting thing here. More interesting to follow the money behind it. We don’t actually find out here, but do learn that since leaving office, Pompeo has worked for the Hudson Institute, also with American Cener for Law and Justice, and has a PAC that has raised $5.5 million, and spent $3 million, mostly “to the Virginia-based firm Targeted Victory, for fundraising consulting and advertising.”

White House dodges calls to use federal property for abortions. I’ve long thought that the Veterans Administration should offer abortion services at its hospitals. I was originally thinking that they would be hard to picket (the VA hospital here in Wichita owns a huge tract of land), but there are lots of good reasons.

June 27, 2022

Did corporate greed fuel inflation? It’s not biggest culprit. Perhaps. But it’s always there, pressing every advantage. And why make excuses for it? It’s fundamental to the whole system. I wonder who’s paying for all these recent articles trying to deny the role of greed in rising prices? Doesn’t the sensitivity suggest there may be something to the charges?

June 24, 2022

Wall Street faces billion-dollar losses on sinking buyout debt. This comes from private equity deals, where banks provide the leverage for lucrative buyouts, leaving the companies burdened with debt. The PE firms them strip the companies, leaving the banks holding the bag when the companies go bankrupt.

June 21, 2022:

Biden considers federal gas tax holiday. That’ll really show Americans . . . how little gas is taxed. Forgoing 18.4 cents per gallon will cut prices about 3%.

Affidavit describes what led to fatal Wichita shooting in argument over dog waste. So much for “an armed society is a polite society.”

Noam N Levey: 100 million people in America are saddled with health care debt.

June 17, 2022:

Thousands of cattle die due to heat stress: Mostly in southwest Kansas, as temperatures soared over 100F this week. Such temperatures are not uncommon later in the summer, but this week was unusually humid, which kept temperatures from dropping much at night. “This is a very unique and unfortunate event.”

Prison sentence for an who shot best friend in head at Wichita apartment in 2019. Pleaded guilty to voluntary manslaughter, after originally maintaining the discharge was accidental.

June 5, 2022:

Henry Olsen: GOP midterm wave is set; Democrats can’t change it: Cook Political Report is predicting Republicans will gain 20-35 House seats this fall, to which Olsen adds: “If history is any guide, that number will almost surely increase by Election Day.” He cites 2010 as an analogous example, where Republicans picked up 63 seats.

Texas electric rates have surged over 70%. That’s compared to a year ago. It is “the highest average rate since Teas deregulated electricity over two decades ago.” That seems to be mostly attributable to natural gas prices, but that only accounts for 44% of Texas electricity. On the other hand, the 38% from wind and solar is relatively stable.

June 4, 2022:

Wichita man charged with murder in weekend shooting that left another man dead: RG, 27, walking his dog, got into a verbal argument with EH, 30, and fired several times, also at a bystander.

Ex-Trump adviser arrested on contempt charge: Peter Navarro, for refusing to testify before Congress regarding Jan. 6. Funniest line was when Navarro said, “I was a distinguished public servant for four years!”

Jay Ambrose: Rebuild the family to stop school shootings. E.g., “fatherless children are more likely to drop out of high school, commit crimes, kill themselves and go jobless. The worst households are often dysfunctional to the point that children are ignored, rejected and abused. . . . A missing father can mean missing lessons in masculinity for the boy, less security, less self-respect, it is said, and this is common for shooters.”

Andreas Kluth: Psychology has just the label for Putin’s KGB-created mind: Deformation professionelle, because once someone is trained in an occupation (in Putin’s case, as “a spook”), that defines how he views the world, leaving him “cynical, paranoid, vengeful, unscrupulous and ruthless. And above all, mendacious.”

Grim stretch of shootings continues at church, funeral: Three dead (including shooter) at Cornerstone Church, in Ames, Iowa. Two shot at Graceland Cemetery in Racine, Wisconsin, during a funeral for a man who was “fatally shot by police following a foot chase after an attempted traffic stop.”

May 31, 2022:

Two Wichita teens die after shooting, hit and run at graduation party, police say: Police also complain, “lack of cooperation has made the investigation difficult to determine all the details of the case.”

Wichita man, 30, dies after argument during dog walk turns into shooting, police say.

NRA board reelects LaPierre despite scandal. LaPierre has headed the group for 30 years. He has been charged with misusing millions of dollars of the nonprofit’s assets.

Agatha hits southern Mexico coast as strongest may hurricane. Sidebar: Agatha remnants could spawn Alex, 1st Atlantic storm. Agatha is in the Pacific, but heading east across the narrowest part of Mexico, which would allow the storm to re-energize over the Gulf of Mexico.

NATO Pushes Its Logic (and Luck?)

Anatol Lieven‘s recent articles[1] point out that the escalating tensions between Russia and the US over Ukraine could be negotiated away simply enough: by agreeing that Ukraine should remain neutral, with no prospect of membership in NATO (similar to the 1955 agreement where Austria was recognized as neutral in the Cold War division of Europe), and by implementing a 2015 agreement to provide some degree of autonomy for the Russian-aided separatist region of Donbass. Both of these seem like painless deals for the US, and offer Putin a degree of face-saving political cover. That matters mostly because Russia overreacted to the 2014 “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine by supporting separatist groups, and got away with it clean in Crimea, less successfully in Donbass. I don’t quite understand why this is a big deal for Putin, but backing down is never easy. On the other hand, the US is the one that’s seriously overstretched and deluded in this conflict.

NATO should have been phased out after the fall of the Soviet Union, but instead sought to perpetuate itself through expansion, eventually resurrecting the Russian hostility it was meant to defend against. The key question no one is asking is whether Ukraine (or any other state) is safer in or independent of NATO. During the 1950s, Austria and Finland chose to stay out of NATO, and their neutrality was respected by the Soviet Union. Most Eastern European countries signed up for NATO not because they feared Russia but because NATO was presented to them as a stepping stone to entry in the European Union. That was mostly an economic problem for Russia, as historic trading partners looked away from Russia and toward Western Europe. But as NATO expanded, the US became more negative and more militant toward Russia — especially in the use of sanctions targeting not just the state but prominent individuals. Most ominously, the US has developed a false sense of security as they’ve tightened the noose around a Russia that is seemingly incapable of responding in kind.

It’s worth remembering why NATO was created in the first place. The “Allies” (principally the US and the Soviet Union) had defeated Nazi Germany in WWII, with American and Russian armies meeting in and dividing Germany, both intent on pacifying Europe and favoring their own interests. But occupation of Europe was expensive and potentially alienating. Under NATO, the US effectively took command of all of the military resources of western Europe, assuring that as they were rebuilt they would remain subservient to US foreign policy. But to make NATO attractive, the US had to posit an external threat. The “spectre of communism” sufficed, what with Russian armies still occupying central and eastern Europe, and labor movements in the west (especially in Italy and France) still feeling solidarity with the Soviets. The Soviet Union responded by organizing the Warsaw Pact and locking down the “Iron Curtain,” although Yugoslavia and Albania, ruled by indigenous anti-Nazi resistance movements, resisted control from Moscow.

The resulting “Cold War” served US business interests in several important ways. First, “red scares” in the US and elsewhere helped suppress and in some cases break labor movements. Second, it became clear after WWII that Britain and France could no longer afford their colonial empires — especially with their militaries circumscribed by NATO — plus there was the risk that continued colonial rule would fuel independence movements led by communists, much as communists had led anti-fascist resistance movements during (and even before) WWII. The result was that by 1960 nearly all European colonies had been handed over to pliable local oligarchies, bound to the US and their former masters through business interests and arms deals. There were, variations along the way: the US encouraged Britain and France to fight against independence movements led by communists, especially in Malaya and Vietnam. On the other hand, independent action, like Britan and France in the 1956 Suez War, was forbidden.

One can debate whether NATO in 1949 was a good or bad idea — I’d argue that it was profoundly bad, both for Americans and for everyone else — but the more pertinent question is why NATO didn’t close up shop when the Warsaw Pact disbanded and the Soviet Union split up. Aside from losing their pet enemy, by then decolonization was complete, the whole world (except for a handful of “rogue states” — ones that the US bore long-standing grudges against but that, unlike China, were small enough to dismiss) was integrated into the neoliberal order, and Europe itself had lost all interest in militarism and empire, its many nation states melting into the EU. Nothing NATO did after 1991 had to be done by NATO — the US-led coalition against Iraq in 1990 had been organized under the UN, with broad support, and that could just as well have been the model for subsequent NATO interventions in Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, and/or Libya (if supportable cases had been made; with NATO the US was the only decider, so could get away with flimsier excuses and callous acts that ultimately made matters worse; NATO managed to stay out of Iraq, as Germany, France, and Turkey refused to cooperate, but that didn’t stop Bush from proclaiming his “Coalition of the Willing”). And, in due course, NATO has managed to push Russia around enough to create the enemy it needs to justify itself. That’s a consequence that was totally unnecessary, yet today threatens the world, as anti-Putin propaganda channels Cold War propaganda into a kind of brain freeze that affects many Democrats as much as it does Republicans (who at least profit from selling arms, fomenting hate, and smashing the working class).

For an example of that “brain freeze,” see Alexander Vindman/Dominic Cruz Bustillos: The Day After Russia Attacks: What War in Ukraine Would Look Like — and How America Should Respond. The most telling line here is the summary dismissal of Lieven’s arguments: “Presuming that diplomacy fails, there are three scenarios that could play out.” All of the imagined scenarios start with more-or-less-limited Russian advances into Ukrainian territory (much of which isn’t currently controlled by the Kiev regime). Some other references in the piece: “Kremlin’s network of malign influence”; “marshal a unified response to Russian aggression”; “if Russian military action is a given”; “impose additional costs on Russian invaders and contribute to deterrence when paired with other actions”; “avoiding a one-on-one military confrontation with Russia while punishing Russia for creating this harsh new reality.” By the latter, they mean that Ukrainians should bear the pain of America’s demonization and isolation of Russia, which the US can continue at no risk to its own interests. Isn’t is rather late to still believe that American intentions are always benign? Let alone that events always break favorably for the US?

Americans have been feeding off their own propaganda since the early days of the Cold War (or maybe since the Monroe Doctrine, but the quantity and quality took a huge leap in the 1950s, and became increasingly deranged through Nixon and Reagan and Clinton and Bush, to the point where US foreign policy gyrates between schizophrenia and dementia. Obama was a believer who still tried to rationalize fringe cases, leading to half-hearted openings to Cuba and Iran, but never questioning something as sacrosanct as NATO, so he wound up promoting conflict with Russia and China. Trump was a cynic, but even when he dissed NATO, his only aim was graft, so he effectively changed nothing, other than to expose “US interests” as self-serving. This needs to change, but Biden’s team is reflexively locked into the mythology, and the left has deprioritized foreign affairs given the need to advance domestic goals and oppose Republicans. But also note that the ability of the US to dictate craziness to its “allies” has long been diminishing, and could collapse. It’s one thing to blackball inconsequential countries like North Korea and Cuba; quite another to bite off one as large and connected as China, where sanctions may push nations to isolate the US instead. Russia is dangerous because no one knows the limits of possible US bullying, least of all Washington.

Moreover, it’s not coincidental that as NATO is putting the screws to Russia, the US is “pivoting” its military stance to face China. The current demonization of Russia and China is every bit as manufactured as the Cold War was, and predictably falls into the same rhetoric and logic. Why it’s happening is rather harder to understand, given that China and (especially) Russia are governed by the same sort of repressive oligarchs that the US has been happy to do business with all along. It’s possible that it’s no more than a scam by the politically influential arms industry to sell more arms. That was pretty clearly the point of NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, where nations were led to believe that if they joined NATO (and bought new weapons systems) they’d get a chance to join the EU. And that, in turn, has created a cycle of aggressive pettiness that seems to be coming to a head.

Another point that should be made is that Putin (and Xi) are far from political geniuses. The US (and not just Trump) is leaving them a lot of moral high ground they aren’t showing much consideration for. Part of this is that they misjudged Trump as someone they could deal with, oligarch to oligarch. Worse was Putin’s election meddling, which served mostly to make Democrats more irrationally anti-Russian. The obvious thing would be to offer serious arms limitation talks, while trying to shift international conflict resolution back to the UN (which Russia and China would have to buy into, and which the US could still veto, but responsibility for failures there would be clearer). I could go on and on, especially if we allowed for some positive attitude adjustment on both sides. China doesn’t need to treat the Uighurs as brutally as it does, and doesn’t need to keep pressure on Taiwan. Russia doesn’t need to help its clients repress democracy movements, or to annex bits of neighboring territory. The US doesn’t need Ukraine in NATO or the EU. All sides need to cut back on the cyberwarfare. Russia did a good thing last week in arresting the REvil hacker group, but they’re not getting any credit because the US propaganda machine only ratchets toward war. All three could benefit from a change of heart that prioritizes peace, openness, and mutual respect and support over zero-sum antagonism.

[1]: Anatol Lieven articles referred to above:

There is also a recent interview with Lieven. While he’s being quite reasonable, he doesn’t seem to appreciate that NATO’s very existence, with or without Ukraine, is geared toward provoking ever greater disharmony with Russia, nudging us ever closer to war. Even well short of war, bad things happen, like Russia’s efforts to influence US elections, and recent US political efforts from both Republicans and Democrats to punish Russia for supposed transgressions. Also see Blinken’s response to Russia NATO demand is frankly disturbing. I think it’s clear by now that both sides have painted themselves into corners from which reasonable compromises will seem like politically crippling signs of weakness.

Bob Dole (1923-2021)

Former Kansas politician and Republican majordomo Robert J. Dole has died at 98, after a long and eventful life that caused immeasurable damage to American society and politics. I remember him mostly for running one of the most scurrilous political campaigns in Kansas history, when he narrowly defeated Bill Roy for his second Senate term in 1972. Dole was the first Republican in Kansas to find a way to politicize abortion and exploit the bigotry and confusion around the issue. That was the first year I voted, and not a single person I voted for — not even the Republican who was certainly the lesser evil running against Democratic Sheriff/Attorney General Vern Miller — won. It was also the last time I voted until 1996, and I found myself with another chance to vote against Dole. That time, at least, I was more successful, not that Bill Clinton was much of a prize.

They say that when one dies, if you can’t say something nice don’t say anything at all. I rarely follow that advice, but in Dole’s case I actually can say a few nice things (even if I have trouble limiting myself). Here goes:

  1. In 1952, Bob Dole attended my Uncle Allen’s funeral. Dole was in the state legislature at the time, from Russell, probably not in the same district Allen lived but not far. He didn’t know Allen, but saw good politics in going to the funerals of veterans, and Allen had been in the Navy during WWII. I don’t remember it at all, but that was probably the only time Dole and I shared the same roof. He had already figured out how to exploit his war injuries for political gain, as he would continue to do throughout his career.
  2. Dole could be funny. I usually regard that as a redeeming human quality, as well as a sign of intelligence (as I recall John Allen Paulos’ book, I Think, Therefore I Laugh). My favorite line of his was when he saw a group picture of former presidents Carter, Ford, and Nixon, and quipped “See no Evil, hear no Evil, and Evil.” But I read a piece today with a selection of his humor, and few of his other zingers hold up. I also read about the teary eulogy he gave at Nixon’s funeral. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he stopped regarding Nixon as Evil, as he did plenty in service of Evil throughout his career. But before Watergate, Nixon was clearly Dole’s role model of a politician on the make. They had very similar backgrounds, ambitions, and trajectories, although Nixon got there quicker, and more fatefully.
  3. Dole was probably the last person ever to make what used to be a common quip about the Democrats being the War Party. This was in a 1996 debate, and while Clinton may have been flattered, the moderator and the press were clearly baffled. The history was that Democrats had led the country into and through two world wars, and into stuck wars in Korea and Vietnam that were ultimately disengaged by Republicans (although Nixon took his bloody time). For much of that time, Republicans tended to be “isolationist” (a term invented to disparage those who prefer to mind their own business), but that started to shift with the rise of the anti-Communist crusaders like Nixon, Joe McCarthy, and Barry Goldwater. By the time you get to Reagan, Republicans had embraced militarism so utterly that Dole’s quip fell on deaf ears, while anti-war Americans had shifted to the Democratic Party, only to be frequently betrayed by their leaders. No doubt Dole was just desperately racking his brain for a debate point, but I found his choice somewhat charming.
  4. Dole spent most of his career as an extreme partisan hack, but when he finally did decide he wanted to leave a legacy, he came up with the Americans With Disabilities Act. Which is to say, he realized that the way to be remembered for doing something good was, in the New Deal/Great Society manner, to add to the “entitlements” of a class of people discriminated against. This suggests he was still cognizant of the values system that dominated the pre-Reagan era, even though he had spent almost all of his political career fighting against it. I’ve seen ADA called the last bipartisan act. In other words, it was the last time Republicans ever attempted to use government to help people (although given how many disabled were victims of war, the law also paid tribute to militarism).

But that’s all I have. I’ve never understood why people credit him with anything more. (The biggest critical lapse was by Tom Carson, who treats him as a humble folk hero in his otherwise brilliant novel, Gilligan’s Wake.) He pulled Kansas hard to the right, and for a long time remained an outlier, at least compared to decent Republican senators James Pearson and Nancy Kassebaum. It was only with the rise of Sam Brownback and Todd Tiahrt in the 1990s that Dole started to look moderate, but their demagoguery on abortion starts with Dole’s 1972 campaign. After his loss in 1996, he settled into the comfortable life of a Washington shill, never using what little political stature he had achieved to try to stem the Republican slide into and beyond Trumpism. He served his party, and was rewarded with wealth and fame and flattery and forbearance. Now he’s being showered with flowery eulogies, a symptom of the same mental collapse as we witnessed with Colin Powell and John McCain — rivals in the sweepstakes to see who could make the most mileage (and moolah) out of unfortunate military careers. And what did you get for all his success? Fucked.

Rapid Response

I’ve made next to no effort to read post-mortem analysis of Tuesday’s elections, and don’t see any reason to start now. What I was hoping for was that Democrats would hold on to New Jersey and Virginia governorships and legislatures, and maybe pick up a contested congressional seat in Ohio (where Republicans have been overperforming ever since they put those new voting machines in for the 2004 election). Had that happened, it would basically say that even if voters are dissatisfied with Democrats they at least recognize that they’d be much worse off with Republicans. As you know, that didn’t happen, although the NJ governorship was held by Democrat Philip Murphy (in something of a nail-biter). The lesson I draw from all of this is that Democrats need to communicate and campaign better. In particular, they need to drive home the point that there is no effective difference between Trump and any other Republican on any ticket anywhere.

No More Mister Nice Blog has written several good posts on just this theme. In particular, see Democrats Need to Develop Rapid Response 2.0. He starts off quoting Greg Sargent on a “lopsided communications imbalance” by which “Youngkin and his allies have pumped . . . raw right-wing sewage directly into the minds of the GOP base, behind the backs of moderate swing voters, via a right-wing media network that has no rival on the Democratic side.” Blogger SM notes:

What Democrats need to do is disrupt the messaging of the right. They need a sense of what’s being said in the right’s propaganda channels and they need to respond to it fast, before the messaging reaches voters in the middle. They need to debunk dishonest allegations and they need to make the dishonesty the story.

The 1992 Bill Clinton campaign was known for a “rapid response” capability that didn’t allow bad news to fester. Democrats need to recognize that Fox News is the Republican Party, and that they need to treat messaging on Fox as if it’s messaging from Republican campaigns. (Because it is.) They need to see propaganda campaigns like this coming and they need to counter such campaigns as fast as they can.

The facile explanation for Democratic losses is Biden’s recent drop in the favorability polls, which crossed negative around August 27. That slide started with the fall of Kabul, which had become inevitable at least since Obama’s “surge” failed to gain any traction in 2009-10, or for many of us since Fall 2001, when GW Bush responded to Osama Bin Laden’s dare and blundered into the “graveyard of empires.” I gave Biden much credit for sticking to his withdrawal schedule, and thought he defended the decision ably (if not as eloquently as one might wish for). But who in the public eye had his back? Republicans enjoyed a purely opportunistic feast of demagoguery at Biden’s expense. Since then the right-wing talk machine has been harping on things like gasoline prices, while the media has been focused on the efforts of two marginal senators to sabotage an important (and if people properly understood it better a potentially very popular) piece of legislation, making Democrats look hapless.

While it may be difficult to get an airing in the fracas-oriented mainstream media, it really shouldn’t be hard for sensible people to make meaningful comparisons Democrats, who are honestly proposing real solutions to critical problems, and Republicans, who offer nothing but complaints and paeans to magical thinking. Even more so between Biden and his Republican predecessor. Last week’s trip to Europe for G20 and COP26 should have been seen as a triumph of statesmanship, in stark contrast to the amateur hour histrionics of Trump’s foreign meetings. The G20 agreement to pursue minimum global taxation of corporations, for instance, wasn’t even on the agenda as long as Trump was president. The pledges on deforestation may not amount to much, but can you even imagine Trump caring a whit?

Trump is so ridiculous and vile he’s like a prophylactic around the mass of the Republican Party (at least those who haven’t made public spectacles of themselves, like Louie Gohmert, Matt Goetz, Marjory Taylor Greene, and Ted Cruz), protecting their reputations from his stain. But for all practical purposes, there is very little difference Trump and the average Republican conservative in Congress. SM has a post on this: The Number of Bad Republicans Is Much Greater Than One. His first piece of evidence is a Twitter thread from Diana Butler Bass (links in post) about “Bad stuff that happened in Virginia the last time we had a GOP governor” (each of these is backed by links to articles):

  • Remember the Virginia ultrasound bill forcing vaginal probes controversy?
  • UVA professors were investigated for teaching climate science.
  • Gov Bob McConnell reinstated Confederate History Month.
  • The GOP worked to subvert every environmental policy in the books.
  • The 2013 candidate for Lt Gov ran a campaign based on Democrats being the Antichrist.

SM concludes:

But this is my ongoing complaint about the Democrats: They’re up against a party of extremists whom much of the country regards as moderate, while Democrats are a mostly moderate party that’s regarded by far too many voters as extreme. Regarding the latter, Democrats like Joe Biden and Kyrsten Sinema, in different ways, send the message, “I’m moderate — I’m not like those Democrats you don’t like,” which got them elected but reinforces the Democrats-as-extremists stereotype. And when Democrats focus on Trump as a uniquely evil figure, that reinforces the belief that most Republicans are fine, decent, responsible right-centrists.

Still, what bothers me isn’t that the Republicans have become the real extremists, but that the ideas that motivate their extremism are so dysfunctional. In simpler times I might offer you a list here, but now it would take a book. They have no idea how the economy works. They have no concern for what unfettered business does to the environment, let alone the climate. They hold all but the rich in contempt, yet are convinced their attitudes will never provoke redress. After all, they figure they got all the guns. Every time you give them a piece of power, they cost us valuable time and often exacerbate the problems.

Still, as disasters go, Tuesday’s elections didn’t do a huge amount of damage. They are a wake up call for Democrats, a warning that we need to work smarter and help each other out more, and take seriously the need to explain to people why we offer hope for the future, and why Republicans don’t. And by the way, the elections did bring some victories. Here in Wichita, three progressives were elected to the city council (a net gain of two). On the other hand, the school board took a step backward, as Republicans organized a partisan slate in a nominally non-partisan election and flipped three (of four) seats, one thanks to a split among better candidates. That promises to be the end of Critical Race Theory in the Wichita Public Schools (not that there was any), but also the end of mask mandates.

The Struggle Over the Veterans Health Administration

There are huge asymmetries between America’s two political parties. One of the most maddening is how quickly Americans forget when Republicans screw things up, which is all the time, and for the simplest of reasons. The one big idea that Republicans have is that they should hobble government, to turn its functions over to private enterprise, and to free business from oversight and regulation. When Republicans prevail, three things inevitably happen: businesses turn predatory, they take greater risks in pursuit of profit, and they dump their wastes and mistakes onto the public. Well, make that four: they concentrate wealth among the already rich, while making a mockery of our belief in justice.

But if that’s so obvious, why do we keep forgiving them? Why give them another chance, as happened in 1994 and 2010, when Republicans reclaimed the House only two years after being swept out of the Presidency? And after Trump’s mob made an even greater mess, why do pundits still expect a Republican resurgence in 2022? In other words, why when Republicans screw up, so many of us trust Democrats even less to fix the mistakes?

There are two ways to look at this question, and both are relevant. On the one hand, few people understand how things actually work, which leaves us vulnerable to half-truths and convenient homilies backed by special interest groups. On the other hand, Republicans have built a relentless propaganda machine that is constantly attacking Democrats, not just for real shortcomings but for all sorts of fantastical crimes that are only rooted in the fevered imaginations of right-wing pundits. Democrats have long been ineffective at countering either of these thrusts. Explaining how things work is too boring, and responding to madness in kind is too disrespectful, so again and again they stand blinded and take the beating. If only they had opponents who were sensible and sincere, but that’s exactly what Republicans aren’t.

If you want a concrete example, took at Suzanne Gordon and Jasper Craven: The VA Is Ripe for Right-Wing Attacks. Here’s How Biden Can Stop Them. In the 1990s under Clinton-appointee Kenneth Kizer, the VHA had become the highest-performing, most cost-effective organization in the sad-but-glitzy universe of American health care, but since 2001 Republicans have been picking it apart — while flooding the system with new casualties — making it easy to air complaints about slow service and other shortcomings. The key sentence here is this:

The right knows how to undermine veterans’ health care while simultaneously winning political points on the negative outcomes their own policies have wrought.

That is, in short, the magic Republican formula: mess things up and blame the Democrats. This overlooks the one great advantage VHA has: it is non-profit, the closest thing the US has to a NHS. It can, in short, dispense with profit measurements and solely pursue health outcomes, with strong confidence that a healthier system will save money in the long run. The problem I see is that VHA is limited to veterans for its patient pool, and the percentage of the American public that serves in its armed forces is small and dwindling. Right now, VHA is having trouble serving veterans in remote areas, because the patients are too few and far between. But the system could grow considerably if we let more people use it. It could, for instance, offer its services like an HMO, at attractive prices (at compared to private insurance). One could transition from its current patient limits by adding other public employees (who, very often, provide more useful services than does the military). Not that I like the idea of limiting it to a subset of the public — least of all to the military caste many Americans like to fetishize. An expanded National Health Service could provide a nice “public option” alternative to the private sector, whose profit-seeking approaches the predatory. An easy path here would be to make VHA an option for Medicaid.

Of course, before any such thing can happen, we have to get past the mental obstacle course Republicans have laid (and Democrats have way too often fallen for). In the 1990s, the VHA proved that capable and conscientious leadership, safe from political corruption, can deliver superior health care services. That is government at work for you, in sharp contrast to politicians who serve a private sector system that is based on market failures and run like an extortion racket. But Republicans will deny that, and blame their own failures on everyone else (like their efforts to crucify public servants like Anthony Fauci). And they seem credible, because who is cynical enough to imagine that Republican intentions are as malign as their results? An increasing number, but not yet enough to definitively reject Republican rhetoric, even among Democratic leader who should know better than anyone what they are facing.

By the way, the “Here’s how Biden can stop them” section is by far the weakest in the article. All they suggest appointing a “talented undersecretary.” That would help, but we need a more fundamental sea change in thinking about what, and whom, government is for.

Notes on Everyday Life

I started writing about politics and society in 1972, when I joined a small group in St. Louis intent on publishing a underground paper, called Notes on Everyday Life. We worked on it two years, publishing a dozen tabloid issues (or so, probably less). The title reflected our critical theory that politics permeated every facet of culture, and everything everyday had implications for politics. Dialectics were fashionable, and provided a model of complex interactions. As in any political group, there were endless discussion. My career in rock criticism started in those debates.

In the mid-1970s, I moved on: got a job, made some money, got married, had friends, learned a new trade, struggled with various health problems, got past my wife’s death, kept reading (mostly science). I started thinking about politics again around 1990, when I started with my second wife. She grew up on the left, and had never wavered in her commitments, something I admired her for even though I rarely lived up to her model. We were, at least, philosophically compatible. And I was appalled by the Reagan turn to the right, even though I wasn’t an obvious victim. (As I explained to people at the time, the only growth industry in America was fraud.) My alarm continued to grow through the 1990s until September 2001, when G.W. Bush grabbed his megaphone on “ground zero” and vowed vengeance on anyone who dared challenge the power and hubris of America’s ruling class.

I had started blogging a bit before then, but mostly just noting trivia like what I thought of records and movies. Since then I’ve written several million words on political issues. At some point, I remembered my old St. Louis publication, and registered the domain name. This is the third or fourth iteration of a website there. My plan is to write occasional short notes of relevance here, not just on obvious political matters but also on broader cultural concerns — since they remain linked, probably more obviously so than at any point in my life. Not to put too fine a point on it, that’s because the post-Reagan Republicans have become dedicated degraders and destructors of civilization itself. They hate you, and they mean to hurt you. It has never been more urgent to stand up to their attacks. The only way I know how to do that is through reason, so that’s what this website is for.

I started working on the Internet back in the mid-1990s. My previous sites have been crafted using my own tools and coding, so this one, based as it is on the free software WordPress, is a bit of learning curve. Some things I expect to be easier, and some more frustrating. I hope to be able to write more short pieces, on a more timely basis. I also expect that I’ll be able to slip in some older excerpts from my previous 20 years of writing. In theory, this tool also supports collaboration more easily than my other sites. I’d especially like to see some of my old comrades join in.

This post is a divider. Anything dated before is a previously written piece (probably lightly edited, maybe with more recent comments). Anything later was initially posted here.