September 2, 2022

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


Biden Gambles That 'We the People' Still Exist: Countering Trump's antidemocratic movement isn't a normal political challenge. (Anne Applebaum, SEPTEMBER 2, 2022, The Atlantic)

The principles of classical liberalism that underlie the American political system emerged in an era, the late 17th century, when people were exhausted by violent religious wars. The philosophy that eventually created our democracy was therefore designed to "lower the temperature of politics," as Francis Fukuyama has recently written, to take issues of existential truth off the table so that people could live in safety. In liberal democracies, citizens were persuaded to adopt a culture of moderation, restraint, and adherence to the rule of law; respect for the rights of others to think what they want; support for independent courts, checks and balances, and neutral institutions such as election boards. None of that has necessarily been very inspiring to people who want high emotion, feelings of unity, or moral crusades in public life. In Liberalism and Its Discontents, Fukuyama argues that the values of liberal democracy are by definition "thinner than those offered by societies bound by a single religious doctrine," and he is right.

This is the deep source of the most serious problem facing Joe Biden, and not just Joe Biden: how to energize citizens to defend moderation, how to create excitement about institutions that were designed not to be exciting, how to build enthusiasm for the political center--the people of all political beliefs who still respect the rules and understand why they are important. Above all, how to get Americans to see that the challenge presented by the "MAGA Republicans," as the president called them in his speech last night, is not a normal political challenge. Trump's political movement is not a threat to liberal democracy because of its beliefs about taxes, spending, welfare, immigration, energy policy, or even abortion, however vehemently some Americans might disagree with them. Nor is it threatening because it is conservative, for it is not conservative in the traditional sense at all.

MAGA Republicans are rather a threat because their leader does not accept the outcome of elections when he loses them; because he does not believe that the rule of law applies to him; because he does not adhere to the culture of restraint, tolerance, and moderation; and because he is now seeking to help elect other politicians who feel the same way. In their drive to change the political system, and to ensure that they can retain power even if they lose, Trump's followers have verbally and sometimes physically attacked Capitol police officers, election workers, the FBI, the Department of Justice, and civil servants. He and his acolytes use violent language, and they inspire violence in return. As Biden put it last night, they "tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people. This time, they're determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people."

One of the more useful aspects of the speech is all the guys self-identifying as who he was warning about. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Hypocrite Biden's speech was about one thing only -- trying to bait Trump (John Podhoretz, September 1, 2022, NY Post)

Joe Biden has become America's leading troll -- and he's trolling Donald Trump. The president's supposedly grand speech in "defense of democracy" under attack by "Trump and the MAGA Republicans" was hardly a visionary call to renew our commitment to the Republic.

If it had been the highfalutin speech we were promised, Biden wouldn't have spent ludicrous time praising himself for things like prescription-drug costs and burn-pit health coverage. No, this speech was nakedly, even comically, designed not to elevate but to offend -- to poke and taunt and push his predecessor and his predecessor's camp followers and acolytes into firing back about how evil Biden is.

Biden wants Trump angry, and loud, and silencing every other voice but his own. It's not an accident that Biden's rise and the Democratic enthusiasm surge has come in tandem with Trump once again at the top of the American news agenda over the past six weeks. Biden knows he won in 2020 by successfully making the election a referendum on Trump. Nothing would make him happier than having the 2022 election continue in that vein.

For that to happen, he needs Trump and his Trumpies to be seduced into yelling and screaming and tweeting and arguing that the 2020 election needs to be re-run and that people who stormed the Capitol need to be apologized to and whatever other damn-fool argle-bargle comes out of their mouths and fingers.

Imagine allowing yourselves to be so easily manipulated by two doddering old men?  

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


China tightens control over civil society amid rising nationalism (Deutsche-Welle, 9/02/22)

Apart from using nationalism to achieve certain political goals, Teng Biao said Chinese authorities' attempt to interfere with citizens' personal choices is a phenomenon that typically happens in a totalitarian country. "While many people will resent the government's intervention, the majority of the Chinese people are unable to criticize the authorities' improper behavior," he stressed.

"Although many people feel very worried about the logic behind the kimono incident in Suzhou, such reflection and worry will not become mainstream. Fervent patriotism and anti-Japanese sentiment are much stronger," the lawyer added.

Wang from HRW and Guo from the University of Toronto both believe that by stirring up nationalistic sentiment, Beijing wants to create a social echo chamber in China where there is no space for alternative voices, say experts. "Many people are afraid of being targeted by nationalistic netizens online, so they choose to remain quiet," Wang said. "One of the effects of nationalism is the chilling effect."

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


U.S. adds solid 315,000 jobs in August (Courtenay Brown, 9/02/22, Axios)

America had another month of solid job gains: The economy added 315,000 jobs in August, while the unemployment rate ticked up to 3.7% as more workers entered the labor force, the government said on Friday. [...]

The Fed has been bracing for some heat to come out of the labor market. It has raised interest rates at a historically rapid pace in a bid to squash elevated inflation. This report offers some good news as wage growth slowed -- and more workers entered the workforce, helping ease the tightness in the labor market.

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


I Am Spartacus (PETER KIRSANOW, September 2, 2022, National Review)

Last night, I watched as our infirm commander in chief railed into the night against MAGA Republicans, an apparent subhuman race of miscreants who pose a clear and present threat to our democracy. I was sufficiently alarmed by the speech that I felt compelled to conduct a self-analysis and was devastated to conclude that I am a MAGA Republican.

Sadly for him, Spartacus was his opposite: a warrior for the immigrant be treated as Roman citizens. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


William Barr, on Fox, says there's no legitimate reason for classified docs to be at Mar-a-Lago and doubts Trump declassified (Sonnet Swire, 9/02/22, CNN)

Former Attorney General William Barr appeared on Fox News on Friday to say there is no "legitimate reason" for classified documents to have been at Mar-a-Lago and cast doubt in the idea that they had somehow been declassified.

"No. I can't think of a legitimate reason why they should have been - could be taken out of government, away from the government if they are classified," Barr said of the documents found at former President Donald Trump's Florida resort.

Posted by orrinj at 12:42 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


Tide on the turn: the waning influence of authoritarian regimes around the world (Evgenii Dainov, 9/02/22, Deutsche-Welle)

[A]ny historian worth his or her salt will tell you that dictatorship, economic prosperity and growing international influence cannot exist side by side for long. Either the dictatorship has to go, or the prosperity and influence begin to dwindle. This is what has happened to China. As the dictatorship has grown stronger, the country's prosperity and influence have waned.

Today, China admits to a debt that is over 250% of its GDP (Greece was declared bankrupt at 127%). China experts warn that there is additional hidden debt, which is around 44% of the admitted debt. Add all this up and we are talking about a total debt in the region of 350% of GDP -- a completely incredible and totally untenable situation.

Plain-clothed security personnel scuffle with demonstrators outside a People's Bank of China building in Zhengzhou, China July 10, 2022
China's declining prosperity: security personnel scuffle with demonstrators during a protest over the freezing of deposits by some rural-based banks in Zhengzhou in July

When dozens of provincial banks became unable to serve their customers recently, tanks were sent in to protect the banks from the incensed population.

Xi Jinping wants to be re-elected General Secretary of his party. Yet he cannot afford to stand in that election as the man on whose watch the economy went "belly up," as the Americans say. He has obviously decided to "do a Putin," in other words to mobilize support with belligerent behavior.

We no longer see a China that is confident that the future is hers. We see a failing authoritarian regime on the verge of panic. [...]

Only 10 years ago, while China looked like the great economic power of the future, Russia seemed to be a hegemonic geopolitical power in the making. Back in 2006, it had even cobbled together an international alliance called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China, joined by South Africa in 2010), the stated aim of which was to end global American hegemony in the field of advanced technology. The original BRIC states also vowed to undermine the international standing of the US dollar by producing their own BRIC currency. In Europe, Russian hybrid "soft power" was taking over politics, culture and the media.

By 2020, however, it was becoming clear that the BRICS alliance was unable to achieve any of its stated aims. BRICS had not superseded the Americans in the field of advanced technology nor managed to dent the US dollar.

Meanwhile, Russia's version of "soft power" was also beginning to fizzle out. Trump lost the election in the US, and in Europe, authoritarian and populist parties sustained and (in some cases) financed by Putin were rapidly losing ground.

In 2017, Emmanuel Macron won the French presidential elections against Putin ally Marine Le Pen, running on a modern, progressive, non-nationalist platform. In the Bavarian elections of 2018, the far-right AfD party, instead of sweeping the board as expected, was undermined by the Greens, which became the second most powerful party.

In 2019, the Strache scandal decapitated the Austrian far right. In Poland and Hungary, the regimes began losing control of big cities in local elections. Finally, despite much pre-election bombast, the European far right did not win the 2019 elections to the European Parliament.

Europeans were turning Putin's friends out of power, replacing them with centrist-liberal-green coalitions. In 2021, the far-right was thrown out of parliament in Bulgaria, as people elected to power a progressive center-green coalition. Two months previously, Germany had elected a left-green-liberal coalition government. [...]

Against this backdrop, the FBI's raid on Trump's home is a signal not only that the political time of such men (why does it always seem to be men?) has passed, but also that, as their political futures disappear, what awaits them are criminal charges.

People like Putin, Xi Jinping and their imitators will be around for a long time. But theirs is not the future. The "tide in the affairs of men" has turned. Now it is our job to take it "at the flood," securing a future in which government of the people, by the people, for the people remains dominant.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Plan to launch Montreal-to-Boston train service gains steamThe overnight sleeper train would also make stops in Portland, Old Orchard Beach, and Durham, N.H. (Christopher Muther, September 1, 2022, Boston Globe)

A long-delayed proposal to connect Montreal to Boston via an overnight sleeper train appears to be back on track as proponents of the service, along with elected officials from Quebec, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont gathered Thursday in rural Quebec to throw their collective political weight behind it.

"This is a brilliant time for us to reconvene and make this vision a reality," said state Senator Richard Bennett of Maine, a Republican from Oxford. "The expansion of passenger rail is of great interest throughout Maine, across both political parties." [...]

The route would be on existing freight tracks owned by multiple rail companies. Discussions with railways are at a preliminary stage, Pepin said. Despite all of that, the sleeper train has become a popular topic of conversation in Quebec. (Even a border crossing guard expressed excitement about the possibility.) It's hard not to be drawn to the concept: A train with a club car, a dining car, and sleeper cars is the stuff of Agatha Christie novels and recalls the glamorous age of train travel.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Amazing: US credibility still intact a year after Afghanistan withdrawal: It's time for hawks to face the facts: 'Credibility' arguments are both analytically absurd and dangerous for American interests. (Daniel Larison, 9/02/22, Responsible Statecraft)

Hawks denounced the withdrawal from Afghanistan for many reasons, but one of their recurring complaints was that it threatened to wreck U.S. credibility in the world.

According to the standard hawkish view, withdrawing from a failed war signals weakness and a lack of resolve, which in turn causes allies to lose confidence in U.S. commitments to protect them and encourages adversaries to become aggressive on the assumption that the U.S. is unwilling or unable to oppose them. Hawks hold to a quasi-mystical view of credibility where a withdrawal anywhere invites aggression everywhere, and they then try to blame the withdrawal for causing whatever goes wrong anywhere else in the world afterwards.

In the year since the last U.S. forces departed Afghanistan, the record clearly shows that the hawks were panicking over nothing, and that the hawkish credibility argument is nothing more than an ideological fantasy. Policymakers should remember this the next time they are inclined to heed blood-curdling warnings about the need to maintain credibility by going to war or staying bogged down in one.

Leaving Afghanistan was supposed to deal a fatal blow to U.S. credibility with global consequences. But today, one looks in vain for the adverse effects that they predicted. U.S. alliances are no weaker, and allies are arguably more reliant on the U.S. and more trusting of its promises than before.

For so long as we keep peoples dependent on us we prevent them from growing up.
Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ukrainian offensive is achieving far more than it appears (Paul Wallis, September 2, 2022, Digital Journal)

Ukrainian moves toward Kherson are steady but not hurried. These are good tactics. They're also symptomatic of the military reality. The Russians have been progressively less able to counter Ukrainian attacks on any level, including precision artillery strikes from HIMARS, ground and air attacks.

The Ukrainian air force is flying again, which it wasn't able to do when Russia had air superiority. Russian artillery dominance is much less of a factor outside of Donbas. The much-predicted big Russian pincer attack in the east never really happened.  Those troops are still in those positions, but there's no future in the attack anymore.

A bogged-down Russia fighting a much more agile and far more active Ukraine can only have one outcome in military terms. The initiative is well and truly Ukraine's. The extremely patient demolition of Russian supplies by Ukraine is clearly paying off. This has been done at a relatively extremely low cost to the Ukrainians and a very high price to the Russians.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


REMARKS BY PRESIDENT BIDEN ON THE CONTINUED BATTLE FOR THE SOUL OF THE NATION (President Joe Biden, September 1, 2022, Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

THE PRESIDENT:  My fellow Americans, please, if you have a seat, take it.  I speak to you tonight from sacred ground in America: Independence Hall in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
This is where America made its Declaration of Independence to the world more than two centuries ago with an idea, unique among nations, that in America, we're all created equal.
This is where the United States Constitution was written and debated.
This is where we set in motion the most extraordinary experiment of self-government the world has ever known with three simple words: "We, the People."  "We, the People."
These two documents and the ideas they embody -- equality and democracy -- are the rock upon which this nation is built.  They are how we became the greatest nation on Earth.  They are why, for more than two centuries, America has been a beacon to the world.
But as I stand here tonight, equality and democracy are under assault.  We do ourselves no favor to pretend otherwise.
So tonight, I have come this place where it all began to speak as plainly as I can to the nation about the threats we face, about the power we have in our own hands to meet these threats, and about the incredible future that lies in front of us if only we choose it.
We must never forget: We, the people, are the true heirs of the American experiment that began more than two centuries ago.
We, the people, have burning inside each of us the flame of liberty that was lit here at Independence Hall -- a flame that lit our way through abolition, the Civil War, Suffrage, the Great Depression, world wars, Civil Rights.
That sacred flame still burns now in our time as we build an America that is more prosperous, free, and just.
That is the work of my presidency, a mission I believe in with my whole soul.
But first, we must be honest with each other and with ourselves. 
Too much of what's happening in our country today is not normal.
Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our republic.
Now, I want to be very clear -- (applause) -- very clear up front: Not every Republican, not even the majority of Republicans, are MAGA Republicans.  Not every Republican embraces their extreme ideology.
I know because I've been able to work with these mainstream Republicans.
But there is no question that the Republican Party today is dominated, driven, and intimidated by Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans, and that is a threat to this country.
These are hard things. 
But I'm an American President -- not the President of red America or blue America, but of all America.
And I believe it is my duty -- my duty to level with you, to tell the truth no matter how difficult, no matter how painful.
And here, in my view, is what is true: MAGA Republicans do not respect the Constitution.  They do not believe in the rule of law.  They do not recognize the will of the people. 
They refuse to accept the results of a free election.  And they're working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election deniers to undermine democracy itself. [...]
They promote authoritarian leaders, and they fan the flames of political violence that are a threat to our personal rights, to the pursuit of justice, to the rule of law, to the very soul of this country.
They look at the mob that stormed the United States Capitol on January 6th -- brutally attacking law enforcement -- not as insurrectionists who placed a dagger to the throat of our democracy, but they look at them as patriots.
And they see their MAGA failure to stop a peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 election as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections.
They tried everything last time to nullify the votes of 81 million people.  This time, they're determined to succeed in thwarting the will of the people.
That's why respected conservatives, like Federal Circuit Court Judge Michael Luttig, has called Trump and the extreme MAGA Republicans, quote, a "clear and present danger" to our democracy.
But while the threat to American democracy is real, I want to say as clearly as we can: We are not powerless in the face of these threats.  We are not bystanders in this ongoing attack on democracy.
There are far more Americans -- far more Americans from every -- from every background and belief who reject the extreme MAGA ideology than those that accept it.  (Applause.)
And, folks, it is within our power, it's in our hands -- yours and mine -- to stop the assault on American democracy.


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


NSW backs pumped hydro projects promising 60 hours of energy storage (Sophie Vorrath, 2 September 2022, Renew Economy)

Five pumped hydro projects promising a combined energy storage capacity of up to 60 hours have been given a financial leg-up by the New South Wales government, as the state races to replace its ageing coal fleet and shift to renewables. [...]

The funding, just under $50 million in total, aims to help pumped hydro developers to cover upfront costs and encourage investment from the private sector to back the state's target of at least 2GW of new long duration storage by 2030.

Pumped hydro could deliver 100 percent renewable electricity (Eric C. Evarts, APRIL 3, 2019, Green Car Report)

A new study by researchers at the Australian National University have identified 530,000 sites around the world suitable for pumped hydro storage that can store up to 22 million gigawatt hours of electricity--coincidentally about what other studies show would be needed to support a reliable electric grid powered entirely by renewable energy. 

The storage would be needed to take full advantage of renewable wind and solar power even when consumers are not demanding peak power, and then supply that power back to the grid at times when they do.