The New Italian Prime Minister, Putin's Forced Annexation of Ukrainian Territory, and Capitalism's Body Count - Dinner Table Digest № 25
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Today we’ve got a rich selection of political material coming your way. We start first with a conservative defense of newly-elected Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, before considering Vladimir Putin’s proclamation of the annexation of four Ukrainian territories into Russia in light of theories about how wars end. We end with a close look at capitalism’s body count in India.
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Giorgia Meloni isn’t far-Right – she just says what we all think - Allison Pearson, Christopher Howse, Judith Woods, Michael Deacon, Bryon Gordon - The Telegraph
When conservatives tell us that we're overreacting to concerns of fascism, we should probably wake up and see the forest through the trees.
While there are valid concerns about the fascist origins of Meloni’s party, what I hear when I listen to her are mainstream Conservative values. Here is a politician who speaks up for the family and the nation. She opposes globalisation which turns men and women into faceless units of consumption. She says yes to secure borders and no to mass migration, yes to sexual identity and no to the alphabetti spaghetti of gender politics.
Why are these views of millions of middle-of-the road people now called “far-Right”? It’s because the Left, while failing consistently at the ballot box, has assumed control of political nomenclature. That way they alone get to decide who is virtuous and who is Boris Johnson. For two and a half years, they called Boris “far-Right” and then they met Liz Truss.
Far-Right now translates as “anyone I don’t agree with who is, ergo, not a nice person”. Reporting for Channel 4 News on the recent clashes in Leicester between groups of Hindus and Muslims, Darshna Soni attributed the violence to “Right-wing ideology politics imported from the sub-continent”.
It made a change from blaming Brexit, I suppose.
Two religious groups with strong tribal affiliations, who live here but still hate each other, is not a comfortable story for those with a leftist outlook. Bring on the “far-Right” bogey monster!
And so as a result of this Orwellian appropriation of the “truth”, we have a society in which Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, declares he is ready for government but cannot say what a woman is because believing in biological sex is unfashionable.
A society where a “charity” called Mermaids gives breast binders to confused young girls, without their parents’ knowledge, and all the best people think that supporting this charity is showing marvellous tolerance rather than the utmost cruelty and stupidity. A society where mothers nursing their newborns are called “chest-feeders” because some NHS trusts fret that calling a mother a mother will offend against the prevailing orthodoxy.
If saying all of these examples are crackers and wicked makes you “far right” then too bad. Sono Giorgia Meloni. I am a woman. I am a mother.
“Fires will be kindled to testify that two and two make four … We shall be left defending … the incredible virtues and sanities of human life.” Spot on, G K Chesterton, Sir. We are indeed left defending common sense as if our children’s lives depended on it, which they rather do.
Millions of us agree with Giorgia Meloni, and we’re not far-Right. Just right.
Vladimir Putin’s speech ‘celebrating’ the annexation of four Ukrainian territories into Russia was aimed directly at the West. The speech, which was deranged and hyperbolic, underscored his ‘willingness’ to use ‘all weapons at his disposal’ should the United States attack any part of Russia, including the four annexed territories. Here are two tweets from a thread that ever westerner should read, a thread which sets up the seemingly over-the-top title of the next article
What if We’re Already Fighting the Third World War with Russia? - Susan B Glasser - The New Yorker
Vladimir Putin doesn’t have a history of backing down. Indeed, if his previous actions show anything, it’s that he is willing to escalate the situation, should he feel cornered.
So, yes, I’m skeptical when I hear the latest round of “exit ramp” talk. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from watching Putin all of this time, it’s that he is not one to walk away from a fight or back down while losing—escalation is his game, and by now he is very, very practiced at it. As the Moscow Times put it, in a fascinating piece of reporting from inside the Kremlin, “Putin always chooses escalation.”
On Thursday, I spoke with the Russia expert Fiona Hill. She told me she believes there’s an element of self-delusion to much of the current commentary about the possibility of Washington and the West continuing to back Ukraine while avoiding conflict with Putin—who, after all, launched his war against Ukraine not in February but eight years ago when he invaded the country and illegally annexed the Crimean Peninsula. As far as Hill is concerned, we are already fighting in the Third World War, whether we acknowledge it or not. “We’ve been in this for a long time, and we’ve failed to recognize it,” she said.
Her chilling thought raises a searing question about U.S. policy: If the goal is to avoid a conflict in which we are already fighting, then does the rest of Washington’s approach to Russian aggression need to be reconsidered? Hill’s line of thinking is one reason that there are increased calls from many Russia watchers not to kowtow to Putin’s demands at a moment when both his weaknesses and those of his system have been so clearly revealed.
How the War in Ukraine Might End - Keith Gessen - The New Yorker
While the above piece was sufficiently alarmist, this one, while also somewhat alarmist, looks more closely at the theory behind how wars end. I was introduced too the theory behind how wars end and their ethical after-effects when I was in university by my eventual M.A. advisor, Brian Orend, and while he is not quoted in this piece, I recognize many of the ideas in the piece from many of our conversations in his office about the (eventual) end of the war in Afghanistan. In a conversation with some friends about what the next few months of the war in Ukraine might look like, I had suggested that, in Putin felt sufficiently cornered, he may attempt a targeted nuclear strike inside Ukraine. It turns out that I am not alone in my worries.
In a terrifying blog post, Goemans’s former student Branislav Slantchev laid out a few potential scenarios. He believes that the Russian front in the Donbas is still in danger of imminent collapse. If this were to happen, Putin would need to escalate even further. This could take the form of more attacks on Ukrainian infrastructure, but, if the goal is to stop Ukrainian advances, a likelier option would be a small tactical nuclear strike. Slantchev suggests that it would be under one kiloton—that is, about fifteen times smaller than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. It would nonetheless be devastating, and would almost certainly lead to an intense reaction from the West. Slantchev does not think that NATO would respond with nuclear strikes of its own, but it could, for example, destroy the Russian Black Sea Fleet. This could lead to yet another round of escalation. In such a situation, the West may be tempted, finally, to retreat. Slantchev urged them not to. “This is it now,” he wrote. “This is for all the marbles.”
“Branislav is very worried,” Goemans told me, “and he is not a scaredy-cat.” Goemans was also worried, though his hypothetical time line was more extended. He believes that the new Russian reinforcements, however ill-trained and ill-equipped, and the onset of an early winter will pause the Ukrainian campaign and save the Russians, for the moment. “People think it’s going to be over quickly, but, unfortunately, war doesn’t work like that,” he said. But he also believes that Ukraine will resume its offensive in the spring, at which point the same dynamic and the same dangers will be back in play. “For a war to end,” Goemans said, “the minimum demands of at least one of the sides must change.” This is the first rule of war termination. And we have not yet reached a point where war aims have changed enough for a peace deal to be possible.
Free market genocides: The real history of trade - Yves Smith - Monthly Review
If you know me at all, you know that I have been very critical of capitalism for a long time. I was 'corrupted,' yes, by reading Karl Marx, which you can read about here:
At the same time, I have long been critical of the political left's inability to communicate its ideas to the broader public without coming across as condescending assholes who overwhelm their opponents with often meaningless data, this article being yet another example. After spending some time in this article, which, I think, has a very worthy thesis, I began to weary of the many insult-adjacent, rather snide comments the author constantly directed at hypothetical readers who might disagree with him. It read far more like a polemic, a preaching to the converted, than it did a serious argument meant to persuade me of a particular claim about capitalism.
I also spent some time perusing Monthly Review, and was dismayed to find, once again, the regrettable decision of left/far-left movements to side with and openly support Russia's genocidal, imperialist war on Ukraine. For a group of folks that so loudly proclaims the need to read Marxist theory, I'm flabbergasted that so many seem to think that Putin's moves on Ukraine are in any way, shape, or form an attempt to reform Communist Soviet Union.
There is a lot to be said about the argument being made by Yves Smith. It's just too bad that it is placed as a polemic in a magazine that so obviously has it wrong about Ukraine. Leftists, we can do better!
By ignoring such noxious nightmares of distributional sins, neoliberalism operates like a nerdier form of imperialism (with extra-advanced emperor’s new-clothes tailoring courtesy of Pinkering pundits, in our era’s version of Kipling’s conscientious conquerors—“The Bright Man’s Burden”—cognitive supremacy (assessed by flimsy tests like SAT scores) grants divine rights to hugely disproportionate share of global resources, and control of how horribly slowly the not-so-bright looser-layers can gain. …
As Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights has written: “Growth alone, without far more robust redistribution of wealth, would fail to effectively tackle poverty.” Indeed based on historic trends “it would take 200 years to eradicate poverty under a $5 a day line and would require a 173-fold increase in global GDP.” The current global economy is already busting biosphere boundaries—to ignore this and presume that the global economy can grow 170 times larger is plain science denial. There are remarkably twisted ironies in Pinkering rationalists choosing to ignore the basic facts of ecology and earth sciences.
If you are sincere in your concern for the world’s poor and haven’t encountered these facts before, you might consider finding alternative sources of information. Your education and media has failed you. It is not hard to refute the rational-optimist plutocrat-pampering narrative (but that has been too much effort for far too many journalists and pundits who prefer to sell you self-flattering soothing conscience-management fairy tales).
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