In his 1959 book, “Common Sense and Nuclear Warfare,” philosopher Bertrand Russell likened nuclear brinksmanship among nations to the game of “chicken,” which he said is “practiced by some youthful degenerates.”
Two drivers race cars toward each other on a straight road. “As they approach…mutual destruction becomes more and more imminent. If one of them swerves from the white line before the other, the other, as he passes, shouts ‘Chicken!’, and the one who has swerved becomes an object of contempt,” Russell wrote.
Washington’s new game of chicken is the standoff between President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy over raising the nation’s debt limit. If they remain on their current courses, the US could default on its debt for the first time ever, potentially destabilizing the world’s safest investment, jolting stock markets, throwing hundreds of thousands of people out of work and halting Social Security and other benefit payments.
Not to worry, said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a veteran of debt limit battles. “America is not going to default, and for whatever may have been said publicly after the meeting yesterday, the fact of the matter is, an agreement will be reached between Joe Biden and Kevin McCarthy, and the country will not default” McConnell told CNN’s Manu Raju Wednesday.
Former President Donald Trump advised Republicans at a CNN town hall to hold out in order to get Democrats to accept steep spending reductions, saying, “If they don’t give you massive cuts, you’re going to have to do a default.” Trump also predicted Democrats would “cave” to prevent a disaster.
In the game of chicken, Biden and McCarthy don’t fit anyone’s notion of “youthful degenerates,” but the logic of their political positions dictates that they keep driving toward a collision until the last minute. McConnell’s reassurance that all will work out in the end is validated by history, but that doesn’t mean this time couldn’t be different.
Julian Zelizer pointed out that “McCarthy is an extraordinarily weak Speaker” with a slim majority. He is “unnecessarily taking the entire country to the edge of a fiscal cliff by refusing to support a standalone vote to increase the debt ceiling” and “letting himself be pushed around by the most radical elements of an already radicalized House Republican caucus.”
Writing for Roll Call, David Winston argued that the public, bruised by the worst inflation in four decades, is now more supportive of limiting federal spending. “What the president and Hill Democrats ignore is the fact that the debt ceiling debate this year is fundamentally about fiscal discipline — exactly what McCarthy and other Republican leaders are trying to interject into both the debt ceiling negotiations and the budget process.”
Trump town hall
Trump, the early frontrunner for the GOP nomination for president, answered questions at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire but conceded nothing, despite his legal and political troubles.
Trump “failed to acknowledge the very real pain felt by so many Americans – including the millions who voted for him,” Paul Begala wrote. “There was not a hint of empathy for the heroic cops who were brutally attacked on January 6. Not a mention of the struggling rural families wrestling with the demon of opioid abuse. Not a word of thanks for veterans and their families. Not a thought for the tens of millions of women whose rights have been rolled back by Trump-appointed Supreme Court justices – just triumphant boasting about how he was the GOP president who actually delivered on the overturning of Roe v. Wade,” noted Begala.
“The town hall audience – selected on the basis of their intention to vote in the Republican primary in New Hampshire – appeared to be made up mostly of Trump fans. The crowd generally cheered Trump and his sentiments disparaging whichever woman was in his crosshairs,” added Filipovic.
“The targeting of E. Jean Carroll was particularly egregious, considering that a jury just penalized Trump to the tune of $5 million for what they found to be his sexual abuse of Carroll and his defamation of her for calling her claims a ‘hoax’ and a ‘con job.’ At the town hall, he again denied Carroll’s claims, and then turned her into a joke, cruelly laying into her while his fans cheered and jeered.”
To Scott Jennings, a performance that “may turn off most American voters – particularly critical suburban independents in swing states … will thrill many Republican primary voters who love to see him bulldoze his way through questions from CNN and other mainstream outlets. … you have to understand that Trump speaks a language that is understood by his biggest supporters and most GOP primary voters but is not and has never been understood by the media or the Democrats.”
“This is not a test,” Ashley Allison warned. “Donald Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican Party, and on Wednesday night there was an audience of voters applauding for him in New Hampshire.”
“Speaking to them, Trump wouldn’t say he regrets January 6. He wouldn’t say which country he wants to win the war – Russia or Ukraine. Trump wouldn’t say he would not sign a national abortion ban. He wouldn’t say he lost the 2020 election. Trump even thought the US should default on its debt.”
Biden’s camp was reportedly thrilled at Trump’s extreme utterances, figuring the video clips of his comments will prove useful in campaign ads if there’s a Trump-Biden rematch. But there was a lesson for Republicans as well.
“The spectacle of the town hall,” wrote John Avlon, “just might cause more Republicans – who are, after all the deciders, in this primary process – to step up and speak out about the unique danger Donald Trump represents. … The CNN town hall compelled a much broader audience to confront the fact that Donald Trump remains, in the words of Mitt Romney, ‘completely untethered to the truth’ — and utterly unfit for office.”
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Clarence Thomas’ nondisclosures
The string of recent revelations about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’ failure to disclose gifts and other financial relationships mystifies law professor emeritus Steven Lubet. “As a Supreme Court justice, Thomas routinely interprets complex statutes that affect millions of Americans, priding himself on close adherence to the text,” Lubet wrote. “It beggars belief that he could repeatedly misinterpret plain statutory requirements and simple instructions on his annual disclosure reports.”
As ProPublica reported, GOP donor and real estate magnate Harlan Crow paid the private school tuition of the justice’s grandnephew. Mark Paoletta, a close friend of Thomas, argued that the payments didn’t have to be reported because they were gifts to the student, not the Thomases. But Lubet countered that “there’s no question Crow’s largesse financially benefited Thomas by saving him, as a legal guardian, from making hefty tuition payments on his own.”
Sunday’s election in Turkey partly revolves around whether 69-year-old President Recep Tayyip Erdogan can maintain his two-decade-long rule over the economically challenged nation. But it’s also a piece of a larger geopolitical story about the future role of a strategically placed power, “not entirely in the West or the East,” as Elmira Bayrasli noted, which “successfully brokered a deal between Russia and Ukraine to export grain out of Ukraine. Erdogan has long been eager to catapult Turkey to be a regional player and has been eager to bring the warring sides to negotiate peace.”
“A strident Turkey, not completely aligned with the West and the gatekeeper to Russia and Ukraine’s only shipping outlet over the Black Sea, makes it a credible broker for both sides.”
Frida Ghitis noted that the stakes in the election are high. “Turkish voters will decide if after 20 years of increasingly autocratic rule, they want to re-elect Erdogan, a man whose democratic credentials are as questionable as his commitment to NATO,” Ghitis wrote. Combine Erdogan’s equivocal views on NATO with Trump’s repeated questioning of the alliance and that adds up to a serious threat to the long-term survival of the West’s military might.
E. Jean Carroll’s victory
A Manhattan jury awarded writer E. Jean Carroll a $5 million judgment in her civil defamation and battery lawsuit against Trump on Tuesday.
“Carroll’s victory amplifies a larger trend in the legal landscape involving allegations of sexual assault,” wrote legal analyst Caroline Polisi. “Post-#MeToo, courts are more and more willing to allow for the presentation of powerful evidence indicating a pattern of predatory behavior by the defendant – evidence that was once routinely excluded in both civil and criminal trials…”
“The victory for Carroll sends a clear message to serial sexual predators: that they can and will be confronted with their previous conduct in court, even if that conduct has never been litigated or criminally charged.”
Megyn Kelly’s mistake
The sickeningly familiar ritual of a mass shooting played out again last weekend when eight people were killed at a Texas outlet mall. “America is the only country on earth where this happens with such regularity,” observed Jill Filipovic.
Yet former Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly tweeted that “the gun debate” is “over…We need to face reality, okay? The states that have the strictest gun laws—New York, California, Connecticut, where I am now—have had multiple mass shootings in this past decade. They don’t work any better than the states that have lenient gun laws like Texas.”
As Filipovic wrote, “This is not true, and it’s a prime example of why conservative talking points on guns are so infuriating: they’re often misleading manipulations of the data…”
“In fact, states with lax gun laws have higher rates of mass shootings than those with stricter laws. And more restrictive gun laws are associated with less gun violence generally: mass shootings, but also homicides and suicides. … Any debate on this issue has to start with the facts.”
George Santos’ indictment
Rep. George Santos appeared in court to face a 13-count indictment Wednesday. It turns out that “Santos was even more incompetent as an alleged criminal than he is as a congressman,” wrote Norman Eisen, Josh Stanton and Fred Wertheimer.
“Prosecutors cited emails and text messages that demonstrate how Santos misled individuals about what they were contributing money to and how those funds would be spent to benefit his candidacy, before using that money for personal expenses such as designer clothes.”
“The indictment also lays out how he blatantly misrepresented his finances in documents filed with the House and engaged in a scheme to collect unemployment insurance benefits from the New York Department of Labor at a time when he was in fact employed by an investment firm with a six-figure salary…”
It doesn’t look good for Santos. “Despite his bluster about fighting it out, with such an extensive record of evidence weighing against him, he would be well advised to resign from Congress and negotiate a plea deal.”
Title 42, a Trump-era pandemic policy expired Thursday as the Biden administration braced for a surge of migrants at the southern border. At the root of the crisis are questions about who has the freedom of movement across borders and who doesn’t, wrote Anna Lekas Miller.
“As we move into a new era of immigration enforcement, it is time to question what is really causing the ‘crisis’ at the border – and how we imagine a world beyond it. Is it the people who have fled war, economic crises and, increasingly, the disastrous impact of climate change? Or is the true crisis a world that won’t grant them freedom of movement in the first place?”
Daniel Penny, a 24-year-old US Marine veteran, surrendered to New York police last week on manslaughter charges in the chokehold death of 30-year-old Jordan Neely on a subway train. The case led journalist Issac Bailey to explore the way people reckon with homelessness in big cities.
“When I got to New York in late December, I largely went along with the status quo, an acceptance of the routine dehumanization of fellow human beings, fellow human beings like Neely and an estimated 68,900 others … I quickly perfected the art of rendering the homeless all but invisible, much more concerned about my own convenience — will the train get me to my destination on time? — than their plight.”
“I’m angry that Neely was killed in front of other riders who did not appear to intervene to prevent his death. I’m just not certain my actions over the past several months were much better than theirs.”
“All I did was buy a homeless Black man a sandwich and a drink and gave others a few dollars to feel better about my daily acceptance of their routine dehumanization. I didn’t kill Neely. But I didn’t do much to save him, either.”
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The happiness trap
“We live in a world obsessed with happiness,” wrote Monica C. Parker. Companies have chief happiness officers, countries have gross national happiness measures and consumers are urged to seek happiness as a supreme good, Parker noted. All that is fine except for the fact that “in a world fixated on happiness, people are so chronically unhappy.”
Maybe the pursuit of happiness is a mistake. “Why not pursue wonder? Each of us has experienced wonder. It’s as universal an emotion as happiness and fear. Everyone knows the goosebumpy feeling we get viewing a grand vista or seeing children take their first steps. It’s an experience that makes us feel like a small part of a bigger system, and that, in turn, makes our problems seem smaller, too.”
“Wonder makes us more creative and more desirous of studying the world around us. It makes us humble, less materialistic, more generous and better community members.”