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Sunday, May 28, 2023

DeSantis accused of ‘catastrophic’ climate approach after campaign launch | Ron DeSantis | The Guardian

DeSantis accused of ‘catastrophic’ climate approach after campaign launch

"Republican ‘trying to out-Trump Trump’ on climate, expert says, as governor says he rejects the ‘politicization of the weather’

ron DeSantis
Environmental groups have taken aim at DeSantis over a record on climate they say is no better than Donald Trump’s, his rival for the Republican presidential nomination. Photograph: Wade Vandervort/AFP/Getty Images

Ron DeSantis has been accused of a “catastrophic” approach to the climate crisis after he launched his campaign for US president by saying he rejects the “politicization of the weather” and questioning whether hurricanes hitting his home state of Florida have been worsened by climate change.

DeSantis, the Republican Florida governor who announced his bid for the White House via a glitch-heavy Twitter stream on Wednesday, has previously dismissedconcerns about global heating as “leftwing stuff” and he expanded upon this theme during a Fox News interview following his campaign launch.

“People tried to say when we had [Hurricane] Ian that it was because of climate change but if you look at the first 60 years from 1900 to 1960 we had more major hurricanes hit Florida than the 60 years since then,” DeSantis told his interlocutor, the former Republican congressman Trey Gowdy.

“This is something that is a fact of life in the Sunshine state. I’ve always rejected the politicization of the weather.”

Climate scientists have said that while it is true that hurricanes have not become significantly more frequent due to climate change, there is good evidence that the heating of the ocean, now at record levels, as well as the atmosphere is causing storms to rapidly intensify and become more powerful.

A study in the wake of Hurricane Ian, which pulverized roads and buildings in Florida last year, causing $112bn in damages and around 150 deaths in total in the US, found that climate change worsened the storm’s extreme rainfall by around 10%.

Michael Mann, a climate scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, said that DeSantis’s stance towards climate science is “classic projection”.

“It is Ron DeSantis who is engaged in the ‘politicization of the weather’ by denying basic, established science – the intensification of tropical storms with human-caused warming of the oceans.”

Mann added that DeSantis has favored fossil fuel interests over Florida’s, a state acutely vulnerable to sea level rise and more powerful storms that has “been placed directly in harm’s way by the devastating consequences of fossil fuel burning and the resulting warming of our planet”.

Environmental groups have also taken aim at DeSantis over a record on climate they say is no better than Donald Trump’s, his rival for the Republican presidential nomination.

While governor, DeSantis has adopted bills banning Florida’s cities from adopting 100% clean energy goals and barred the state’s pension fund from making investment decisions that consider the climate crisis due to what he called a corporate attempt to “impose an ideological agenda on the American people”. He has also attacked the US military for being “woke” for warning about the national security risks posed by climate impacts.

“The cost of taking his anti-climate record to the national stage as president would be catastrophic,” said Pete Maysmith, senior vice-president of campaigns for the League of Conservation Voters. “DeSantis has already made clear he would unleash his war on climate science, clean energy jobs, and strong pollution safeguards against clean air and clean water.”

During his elections to Congress and to the Florida governor’s mansion, DeSantis has taken more than $1m in campaign donations from the oil and gas industry, with his campaign committee receiving $2m just last year from Club for Growth, a conservative organization that successfully agitated for the US to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement when Trump was president.

“We need fossil fuels,” DeSantis said at an event in March. “You can’t just get rid of them unless you guys want to pay a lot more for energy.”

However, the governor’s supporters argue that he has forged strong environmentalist credentials in Florida, signing bills to beef up the state’s resilience to sea level rise and pledging billions of dollars to restore the ailing Everglades, which has been besieged by agricultural development and, increasingly, climate change.

This record could have been the basis for a pragmatic alternative to Trump and help appeal to voters increasingly alarmed by rising temperatures, according to Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman who now advocates for a conservative response to the climate crisis.

“He’s done some things in Florida designed to address the problem of climate change, he could’ve been the post-Trump successful governor, the solver of problems,” said Inglis.

“But instead he’s choosing to be more of the anti-woke warrior than Trump. He’s slugging it out in the Trump lane which is really a terrible mistake. I’m hearing from Republicans in Florida ‘why is he choosing this path?’

“He could’ve said, ‘Hey, we are dealing with this climate issue in Florida, let’s lead the world on this.’ Instead he’s trying to out-Trump Trump.”

Inglis said that while some senior Republicans fret they will lose out on a younger generation of climate-concerned voters, they still risk being beaten in primary races by candidates that back Trump’s ongoing embrace of climate denialism.

“People like (House of Representatives speaker) Kevin McCarthy know that young conservatives want action on climate change and even if Trump wins he will be a lame duck by 2026 and the party could start moving on by then,” said Inglis.

“The trouble is, the scientists say we don’t have the time to wait for that. That really is the problem.”

DeSantis accused of ‘catastrophic’ climate approach after campaign launch | Ron DeSantis | The Guardian

Opinion | How the Internet Shrank Musk and DeSantis - The New York Times

How Twitter Shrank Elon Musk and Ron DeSantis

A blurry head-and-shoulders image of Ron DeSantis.
Damon Winter/The New York Times

"If you had told me several months ago, immediately after Elon Musk bought Twitter and Ron DeSantis celebrated a thumping re-election victory, that DeSantis would launch his presidential campaign in conversation with Musk, I would have thought,intriguing: The rightward-trending billionaire whose rockets and cars stand out in an economy dominated by apps and financial instruments meets the Republican politician whose real-world victories contrast with the virtual populism of Donald Trump.

The actual launch of DeSantis’s presidential campaign, in a “Twitter Spaces” event that crashed repeatedly and played to a smaller audience than he would have claimed just by showing up on Fox, instead offered the political version of the lesson that we’ve been taught repeatedly by Musk’s stewardship of Twitter: The internet can be a trap.

For the Tesla and SpaceX mogul, the trap was sprung because Musk wanted to attack the groupthink of liberal institutions, and seeing that groupthink manifest on his favorite social media site, he imagined that owning Twitter was the key to transforming public discourse.

But for all its influence, social media is still downstream of other institutions — universities, newspapers, television channels, movie studios, other internet platforms. Twitter is real life, but only through its relationship to other realities; it doesn’t have the capacity to be a hub of discourse, news gathering or entertainment on its own. And many of Musk’s difficulties as the Twitter C.E.O. have reflected a simple overestimation of social media’s inherent authority and influence.

Thus he’s tried to sell the privilege of verification, the famous “blue checks,” without recognizing that they were valued because of their connection to real-world institutions and lose value if they reflect a Twitter hierarchy alone. Or he’s encouraged his favored journalists to publish their scoops and essays on his site when it isn’t yet built out for that kind of publication. Or he’s encouraged media figures like Tucker Carlson and now politicians like DeSantis to run shows or do interviews on his platform, without having the infrastructure in place to make all that work.

It’s entirely possible that Musk can build out that infrastructure eventually, and make Twitter more capacious than it is today. But there isn’t some immediate social-media shortcut to the influence he’s seeking. If you want Twitter to be the world’s news hub, you probably need a Twitter newsroom. If you want Twitter to host presidential candidates, you probably need a Twitter channel that feels like a professional newscast. And while you’re trying to build those things, you need to be careful that the nature of social media doesn’t diminish you to the kind of caricatured role — troll instead of tycoon — that tempts everyone on Twitter.

That kind of diminishment is what the Twitter event handed to DeSantis, whose choppy launch may be forgotten but who would be wise to learn from what went wrong. There’s an emerging critique of the Florida governor that suggests that his whole persona is too online — that his talk about wokeness, wokeness, wokeness is pitched to a narrow and internet-based faction within the G.O.P., that he’s setting himself to be like Elizabeth Warren in 2020, whose promise of plans, plans, plans thrilled the wonk faction but fell flat with normal Democratic voters.

I think this critique is overdrawn. If you look at polling of Republican primary voters, the culture war appears to be a general concern rather than an elite fixation, and there’s a plausible argument that the conflict with the new progressivism is the main thing binding the G.O.P. coalition together.

But it does seem true that the conflict with progressivism in the context of social media is a more boutique taste, and that lots of anti-woke conservatives aren’t particularly invested in whether the previous Twitter regime was throttling such-and-such right-wing influencer or taking orders from such-and-such “disinformation” specialist. And it’s also true that DeSantis is running against a candidate who, at any moment, can return to Twitter and bestride its feeds like a colossus, no matter whatever Republican alternative the Chief Twit might prefer.

So introducing himself in that online space made DeSantis look unnecessarily small — smaller than Musk’s presence and Trump’s absence, shrunk down to the scale of debates about shadowbanning and Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act. The Florida governor’s best self-advertisement in a primary should be his promise to be more active in reality than Trump, with his claim to be better at actual governance made manifest through his advantage in flesh-pressing, campaign-trail-hitting energy.

The good news for DeSantis is that he doesn’t have billions invested in a social media company, so having endured a diminishing introduction he can slip the trap and walk away — toward the crowds, klieg lights and the grass.

For Musk, though, escape requires either the admission of defeat in this particular arena or else a long campaign of innovation that eventually makes Twitter as big as he wrongly imagined it to be.

Ross Douthat has been an Opinion columnist for The Times since 2009. He is the author, most recently, of “The Deep Places: A Memoir of Illness and Discovery.” @DouthatNYT  Facebook"

Opinion | How the Internet Shrank Musk and DeSantis - The New York Times

Did Biden Find Reasonable Middle in Debt Limit Deal or Give Away Too Much? - The New York Times

In Pursuit of Consensus, Did Biden Find the Reasonable Middle or Give Away Too Much?

"The deal to raise the debt ceiling bolsters President Biden’s argument that he is committed to bipartisanship, but it comes at the cost of rankling many in his own party.

President Biden speaking into a microphone while raising his left hand.
Having reached an agreement with Speaker Kevin McCarthy, President Biden now must face tough questions from members of his own party.Kenny Holston/The New York Times

By Peter Baker

Peter Baker, who has covered the last five presidents, reported from Washington.

After weeks of tense wrangling between the White House and House Republicans, the fiscal deal reached on Saturday to raise the debt ceiling while constraining federal spending bolsters President Biden’s argument that he is the one figure who can still do bipartisanship in a profoundly partisan era.

But it comes at the cost of rankling many in his own party who have little appetite for meeting Republicans in the middle and think the president cannot stop himself from giving away too much in an eternal and ephemeral quest for consensus. And it will now test his influence over fellow Democrats he will need to pass the deal in Congress.

The agreement in principle that he reached with Speaker Kevin McCarthy represents a case study in governing for Mr. Biden’s presidency, underscoring the fundamental tension of his leadership since the primaries in 2020 when he overcame progressive rivals to win the Democratic nomination. Mr. Biden believes in his bones in reaching across the aisle even at the expense of some of his own priorities.

He has shown that repeatedly since being inaugurated two and a half years ago even as skeptics doubted that cross-party accommodation was still possible. Most notably, he pushed through Congress a bipartisan public works program directing $1 trillion to building or fixing roads, bridges, airports, broadband and other infrastructure; legislation expanding treatment for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits; and an investment program to boost the nation’s semiconductor industry, all of which passed with Republican votes.

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This is not a moment, however, in which bipartisanship is valued in the way it was when Mr. Biden came up through the Senate in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. His desire to position himself as the leader who can bring together a deeply divided country is at the heart of his case for a second term next year. But it conflicts with the interests of many Democrats who see more political benefit in standing firm against former President Donald J. Trump’s Republican Party and prefer to draw a sharper contrast for their own elections in 2024 when they hope to recapture the House.

“The agreement represents a compromise, which means not everyone gets what they want,” Mr. Biden said in a written statement issued late Saturday night as the deal was being announced. “That’s the responsibility of governing.”

Most importantly from Mr. Biden’s point of view, the agreement averts a catastrophic national default that could have cost many jobs, tanked the stock markets, jeopardized Social Security payments and sent the economy reeling. He is banking on the assumption that Americans will appreciate mature leadership that does not gamble with the nation’s economic health.

Understand the U.S. Debt Ceiling

What is the debt ceiling? The debt ceiling, also called the debt limit, is a cap on the total amount of money that the federal government is authorized to borrow via U.S. Treasury securities, such as bills and savings bonds, to fulfill its financial obligations. Because the United States runs budget deficits, it must borrow huge sums of money to pay its bills.

But many on the political left are aggravated that Mr. Biden in their view gave into Mr. McCarthy’s hostage-taking strategy. The president who said the debt ceiling was “not negotiable” ended up negotiating it after all to avoid a national default, barely even bothering with the fiction that talks over spending limits were somehow separate.

Liberals were pushing Mr. Biden to stiff the Republicans and short-circuit the debt ceiling altogether by claiming the power to ignore it under the 14th Amendment, which says the “validity of the public debt” of the federal government “shall not be questioned.” But while Mr. Biden agreed with the constitutional interpretation, he concluded it was too risky because the nation could still go into default while the issue was being litigated in the courts.

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And so, much to the chagrin of his allies, the bargaining of recent weeks was entirely on Republican terms. While details were still emerging this weekend, the final agreement included no new Biden fiscal initiatives like higher taxes on the wealthy or expanded discounts for insulin. The question essentially was how much of the Limit, Save and Grow Act passed by House Republicans last month would the president accept in exchange for increasing the debt ceiling.

But Mr. Biden succeeded in stripping the Limit, Save and Grow Act significantly down from what it originally was, to the great consternation of conservative Republicans. Instead of raising the debt ceiling for less than one year while imposing hard caps on discretionary spending for 10 years, the agreement links the two so that the spending limits last just two years, the same as the debt ceiling increase. While Republicans insisted on predicating the limits on a baseline of 2022 spending levels, appropriations adjustments will make it effectively equivalent to the more favorable baseline of 2023.

As a result, the agreement will pare back anticipated spending over the decade just a fraction of what the Republicans sought. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the caps passed by House Republicans last month would have trimmed $3.2 trillion in discretionary spending over 10 years; a rough New York Times calculation suggests the agreement reached by Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy might cut just $650 billion instead.

Moreover, while Mr. Biden did not advance many new Democratic policy goals in the agreement with Mr. McCarthy, he effectively shielded the bulk of his accomplishments from the first two years of his presidency from Republican efforts to gut them.

Speaker Kevin McCarthy, center, talking with Representative Garret Graves, left. In the foreground is Representative Patrick McHenry.
Just as Mr. McCarthy knows he will lose potentially dozens of Republicans disappointed in the accommodations he made, the president expects many in his own party to vote against the final product as well.Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

The Republican plan envisioned revoking many of the clean energy incentives that Mr. Biden included in the Inflation Reduction Act, eliminating additional funds for the Internal Revenue Service to chase wealthy tax cheats and blocking the president’s plan to forgive $400 billion in student loans for millions of Americans. None of that was in the final package.

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Indeed, the I.R.S. provision offers an example of Mr. Biden’s deal-making. As a token concession to Republicans, he agreed to cut around $10 billion from the additional $80 billion previously allocated to the agency, but most of that money will be used to avoid deeper cuts in discretionary spending sought by Republicans.

One of the touchiest areas for Mr. Biden’s progressive allies was the Republican insistence on imposing or expanding work requirements on recipients of social safety-net programs, including Medicaid, food assistance and welfare payments for families. Mr. Biden, who supported work requirements on welfare in the 1990s, initially signaled openness to considering the Republican proposals, only to face a fierce blowback from Democrats.

On Friday night, even as the deal was coming together, the White House issued a sharp statement accusing Republicans of trying to “take food out of the mouths of hungry Americans” while preserving tax cuts for the wealthy — a broadside aimed as much at reassuring restive liberals as assailing hard-line conservatives.

The final agreement between Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy includes no work requirements for Medicaid, but does raise the age for people who must work to receive food aid through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, to 54 while eliminating requirements for veterans and homeless people. The agreement moderates Republican provisions to expand work requirements for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

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The challenge now for Mr. Biden is selling the compromise to his fellow Democrats. Just as Mr. McCarthy knows he will lose potentially dozens of Republicans disappointed in the accommodations he made, the president expects many in his own party to vote against the final product as well. But he needs to deliver enough Democrats to offset G.O.P. defections to forge a bipartisan majority.

Members of the House Progressive Caucus standing on a stage in front of American flags and House of Representatives flags.
Members of the House Progressive Caucus holding a news conference on the dangers of a default.Haiyun Jiang/The New York Times

Within minutes of the deal being announced on Saturday night, the White House sent briefing materials and talking points to every House Democrat and was following up on Sunday with telephone calls. “Negotiations require give and take,” the talking points said. “No one gets everything they want. That’s how divided government works. But the president successfully protected his and Democrats’ core priorities and the historic economic progress we’ve made over the past two years.”

Mr. Biden has been here before. As vice president, he was President Barack Obama’s chief negotiator in several fiscal showdowns, but he so aggravated fellow Democrats who thought he gave away too much that Senator Harry M. Reid of Nevada, then the party leader in the Senate, effectively barred Mr. Biden in 2013 from negotiations over a debt ceiling increase.

Kicking a vice president out of the room, of course, is one thing. Mr. Biden is now the president and the leader of his party heading into a re-election year. It’s his room. And he is managing it on his own terms, like it or not.

Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent and has covered the last five presidents for The Times and The Washington Post. He is the author of seven books, most recently “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021,” with Susan Glasser. @peterbakernyt  Facebook"

Did Biden Find Reasonable Middle in Debt Limit Deal or Give Away Too Much? - The New York Times

Debt Ceiling Takeaways: What’s in the Deal - The New York Times

Initial Takeaways From the Spending and Debt Ceiling Deal

"Details are trickling out about the accord that could avert a default on the national debt. Here’s what to know.

The exterior of the Capitol dome against a blue sky.
The Capitol building, which was the site of many news conferences on the debt-ceiling talks this past week.Haiyun Jiang for The New York Times

President Biden and Speaker Kevin McCarthy reached an agreement on Saturday to raise the debt ceiling while imposing new restraints on federal spending. If approved by Congress, it will end a partisan deadlock and avert a potentially devastating national default.

The deal will not only resolve the high-octane dispute over debt and spending issues that has gripped Washington for weeks but also enact important changes in environmental permitting, work requirements for social safety-net programs, and Internal Revenue Service tax enforcement.

The accord, described as an agreement in principle that was cemented during a telephone call between Mr. Biden at Camp David and Mr. McCarthy back in Washington, still needs to be translated into formal legislative language before it is deemed final. Details were only beginning to trickle out Saturday night, and many questions remained outstanding.

But here are some takeaways based on the information initially made available.

The debt ceiling would be increased until 2025, after the next election.

The federal government reached the $31.4 trillion debt ceiling set by law in January, but the Treasury Department has been using various accounting tricks to avoid breaching it. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen said on Friday that her department would run out of those measures by June 5, at which point the government would not be able to meet its obligations.

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The deal sealed by Mr. Biden and Mr. McCarthy would raise the debt ceiling for two years to take it beyond the 2024 election, so neither would have to address the issue again in the current term. Republicans had originally proposed one year. Both sides are banking on winning the 2024 election and being in a stronger political position when the ceiling is reached next time.

Understand the U.S. Debt Ceiling

What is the debt ceiling? The debt ceiling, also called the debt limit, is a cap on the total amount of money that the federal government is authorized to borrow via U.S. Treasury securities, such as bills and savings bonds, to fulfill its financial obligations. Because the United States runs budget deficits, it must borrow huge sums of money to pay its bills.

Domestic spending would be capped, but not as much as Republicans wanted.

Mr. McCarthy’s Republicans insisted that any increase in the debt ceiling be conditioned on spending cuts, so the agreement he reached with Mr. Biden would limit certain programs to last the same two years for which the debt ceiling would be raised. Republicans had originally sought a 10-year time frame for spending limits but agreed to the shorter horizon.

The deal holds nondefense spending in 2024 at roughly its 2023 level and increases it by 1 percent in 2025, in part by redirecting funding from other programs. Among other things, the agreement would cut about $10 billion out of the $80 billion that Mr. Biden previously secured to help the I.R.S. go after wealthy tax cheats, and would use that money to preserve domestic programs that otherwise would have been cut.

Some of the billions of dollars left over from the Covid-19 pandemic relief package passed shortly after Mr. Biden took office would be clawed back. A New York Times analysis suggests the limits will reduce federal spending overall by about $650 billion over a decade — a fraction of the cuts Republicans originally sought — if spending grows at the anticipated rate of inflation after the caps lift in two years.

Defense, Social Security, Medicare and veterans’ programs would be shielded.

The agreement would protect the military and entitlements like Social Security and Medicare from spending cuts imposed on other parts of government. It would also fully finance medical care for veterans, including expanded services for those exposed to toxic burn pits.

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The deal would effectively preserve substantial increases won by the Biden administration over the last two years in areas like Title I education funding for low-income students, Child Care and Development Block Grants, cancer research and other priorities of the president. It would leave intact Mr. Biden’s efforts to forgive $400 billion in student loan debt in coming decades, although that faces a challenge in the Supreme Court. But it would include none of the tax increases on the wealthy and corporations that Mr. Biden sought in his original budget proposal.

Some recipients of government assistance would face new work requirements.

New work requirements would be imposed on some recipients of government aid, including food stamps and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. Among other things, the agreement would limit how long people under 54 without children could receive food stamps, although those limits would expire in 2030 unless renewed by Congress. The package would also expand food stamp access for veterans and homeless people.

Major energy projects would be granted a streamlined review process.

Environmental permitting for major energy projects would be streamlined. A single lead agency would be charged with developing a single review document according to a public timeline. The agreement would enact these changes without curtailing the overall scope of the current review process, cutting down the statute of limitations, imposing barriers to standing or taking away injunctive relief or other judicial remedies.

Peter Baker is the chief White House correspondent and has covered the last five presidents for The Times and The Washington Post. He is the author of seven books, most recently “The Divider: Trump in the White House, 2017-2021,” with Susan Glasser. @peterbakernyt  Facebook"

Debt Ceiling Takeaways: What’s in the Deal - The New York Times

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Kissinger at 100: New War Crimes Revealed in Secret Cambodia Bombing Tha...

Henry Kissinger turns 100 this week. He should be ashamed to be seen in public | Bhaskar Sunkara and Jonah Walters | The Guardian

Henry Kissinger turns 100 this week. He should be ashamed to be seen in public | Bhaskar Sunkara and Jonah Walters

"Henry Kissinger turns 100 on Saturday, but his legacy has never been in worse shape. Though many commentators now speak of a “tortured and deadly legacy”, for decades Kissinger was lauded by all quarters of the political and media establishment.

A teenage Jewish refugee who fled Nazi Germany, Kissinger charted an unlikely path to some of the most powerful positions on Earth. Even more strangely, as national security adviser and secretary of state under Nixon and Ford, he became something of a pop icon.

Back then, one fawning profile of the young statesman cast him as “the sex symbol of the Nixon administration”. In 1969, according to the profile, Kissinger attended a party full of Washington socialites with an envelope marked “Top Secret” tucked under his arm. The other party guests could hardly contain their curiosity, so Kissinger deflected their questions with a quip: the envelope contained his copy of the latest Playboy magazine. (Hugh Hefner apparently found this hilarious and thereafter ensured that the national security adviser got a free subscription.)

What the envelope really contained was a draft copy of Nixon’s “silent majority” speech, a now-infamous address that aimed to draw a sharp line between the moral decadence of antiwar liberals and Nixon’s unflinching realpolitik. 

The actual top-secret work he was doing in the 1970s aged just as poorly. Within a few short years he masterminded illegal bombings in Laos and Cambodia and enabled genocide in East Timor and East Pakistan. Meanwhile, Kissinger was known among Beltway socialites as “the playboy of the western wing”. He liked to be photographed, and photographers obliged. He was a fixture on gossip pages, particularly when his dalliances with famous women spilled into public view – like when he and the actor Jill St John inadvertently set off the alarm at her Hollywood mansion late one night as they stole away to her pool. (“I was teaching her chess,” Kissinger explained later.)

While Kissinger gallivanted with Washington’s jet set, he and Nixon – a pair so firmly joined at the hip that Isaiah Berlin christened them “Nixonger” – were busy contriving a political brand rooted in their supposed disdain for the liberal elite, whose effete morality, they claimed, could lead only to paralysis.

Kissinger certainly disdained the antiwar movement, disparaging demonstrators as “upper-middle-class college kids” and warning: “The very people who shout ‘Power to the People’ are not going to be the people who take over this country if it turns into a test of strength.” He also scorned women: “To me women are no more than a pastime, a hobby. Nobody devotes too much time to a hobby.” But it’s indisputable that Kissinger held a fondness for the gilded liberalism of high society, the exclusive parties and steak dinners and flashbulbs.

High society loved him back. Gloria Steinem, an occasional dining companion, called Kissinger “the only interesting man in the Nixon administration”. The gossip columnist Joyce Haber described him as “worldly, humorous, sophisticated, and a cavalier with women.” The Hef considered him a friend, and once claimed in print that a poll of his models revealed Kissinger to be the man most widely desired for dates at the Playboy mansion.

This infatuation didn’t end with the 1970s. When Kissinger turned 90 in 2013, his red-carpet birthday celebration was attended by a bipartisan crowd that included Michael Bloomberg, Roger Ailes, Barbara Walters, even “veteran for peace” John Kerry, along with some 300 other A-listers.

An article in Women’s Wear Daily reported that Bill Clinton and John McCaindelivered the birthday toasts in a ballroom done up in chinoiserie, to please the night’s guest of honor. (McCain, who spent more than five years as a POW, described his “wonderful affection” for Kissinger, “because of the Vietnam war, which was something that was enormously impactful to both of our lives”.) The birthday boy himself then took the stage, where he reminded guests about the “rhythm of history” and seized the occasion to preach the gospel of his favorite cause: bipartisanship.

Kissinger’s capacity for bipartisanship was renowned. (Republicans Condoleezza Rice and Donald Rumsfeld were in attendance early in the evening, and later in the night Democrat Hillary Clinton strode in through a freight entrance with open arms, asking: “Ready for round two?”) During the party, McCain gushed that Kissinger “has been a consultant and adviser to every president, Republican and Democrat, since Nixon”. McCain probably spoke for everyone in the ballroom when he added: “I know of no individual who is more respected in the world than Henry Kissinger.”

In fact, much of the world reviles Kissinger. The former secretary of state even avoids visiting several countries out of fear that he might be apprehended and charged with war crimes. In 2002, for example, a Chilean court demanded he answer questions about his role in that country’s 1973 coup d’├ętat. In 2001, a French judge sent police officers to Kissinger’s Paris hotel room to serve him a formal request for questioning about the same coup, during which several French citizens were disappeared.

Around the same time, he cancelled a trip to Brazil after rumors began circling that he would be detained and compelled to answer questions about his role in Operation Condor, the 1970s scheme that united South American dictatorships in disappearing one another’s exiled opponents. An Argentinian judge had already named Kissinger as one potential “defendant or suspect” in a future criminal indictment.

But in the United States, Kissinger is untouchable. There, one of the 20th century’s most prolific butchers is beloved by the rich and powerful, regardless of their partisan affiliation. Kissinger’s bipartisan appeal is straightforward: he was a top strategist of America’s empire of capital at a critical moment in that empire’s development.

Small wonder that the political establishment has regarded Kissinger as an asset and not an aberration. He embodied what the two ruling parties share: the resolve to ensure favorable conditions for American investors in as much of the world as possible. A stranger to shame and inhibition, Kissinger was able to guide the American empire through a treacherous period in world history, when the United States’ rise to global domination sometimes seemed on the brink of collapse.

The Kissinger doctrine persists today: if sovereign countries refuse to be worked into broader US schemes, the American national security state will move swiftly to undercut their sovereignty. This is business as usual for the US, no matter which party sits in the White House – and Kissinger, while he lives, remains among the chief stewards of this status quo.

The historian Gerald Horne once recounted a story about the time Kissinger nearly drowned while canoeing beneath one of the world’s largest waterfalls. Tossed in those churning waters, the statesman was finally forced to confront the terror of losing control, of facing a crisis in which even his own incredible influence could not insulate him from personal disaster. But the panic was only temporary – his guide righted the boat, and Kissinger again escaped unscathed.

Perhaps time will soon accomplish what the Victoria Falls failed to do so many decades ago.

  • Bhaskar Sunkara is the president of the Nation, the founding editor of Jacobin, and the author of The Socialist Manifesto: The Case for Radical Politics in An Era of Extreme Inequalities

  • Jonah Walters is a freelance writer and postdoctoral fellow at the UCLA Institute for Society and Genetics"

Henry Kissinger turns 100 this week. He should be ashamed to be seen in public | Bhaskar Sunkara and Jonah Walters | The Guardian