Why do zebras have black-and-white stripes?

May 24, 2023

It’s strange, when you stop and think about it.  What’s the advantage of black-and-white stripes?

Jordan Peterson explains the Darwinian reasons, and why they matter to us humans.

How to construct an identity

May 21, 2023

Source: Incidental Comics.

The case against “diversity equity inclusion”

May 18, 2023

“Diversity equity inclusion” is the cowbird of progressivism.  It crowds out ideals of equal justice for all individuals and a more equal society overall.

The DEI principle is equal representation for all groups within the various ranks of society, no matter how grossly unequal those ranks are.  It is, or at least can be, a way to legitimize extreme inequality of wealth and power.

True progressives want to close the gap between the highest and lowest paid employees in corporations or institutions.  They want to disempower the elites and empower the multi-racial working class.

Advocates of DEI want to achieve a balance of group representation within the present system of inequality.  That is, top management and professional positions in a firm should, ideally, be 50 percent female, 15 percent African-American, 20 percent Hispanic and the appropriate percentages for the LGBTQ+ categories.

Now, in principle, it is possible to be an advocate of DEI in an organization and still favor better pay for janitors and service workers and advocate for labor unions.

In practice, this is rare to non-existent.  Almost every large corporation, non-profit corporation or government agency has a DEI program.  The vast majority of pro-DEI organizations are anti-union.

If an CEO adopts a DEI policy, that is a shield from criticism for being anti-union, a polluter or employing sweatshop labor abroad.

That’s why adopting a DEI program is an almost automatic response of corporate leaders who are attacking for doing or saying something offensive to African-Americans or other minorities.  It is a new name for tokenism.

No doubt many executives sincerely believe DEI programs are just, beneficial and necessary.  But no doubt many others consciously use DEI programs to divide and rule.

The question is power.  No executive wants to have to deal with pressure from a labor union, environmental organization or other group they don’t control.  Far better, from the executive’s standpoint, to have program administered by the organization’s Human Resources department.

I remember how, back in the 1990s, I was a member of a Newspaper Guild local, whose contract included a provision that unfair treatment based on race, religion and sex was legitimate grievance.  We wanted to expand the contract to include the right of gay and lesbian persons to non-discrimination.

Nothing doing, management said.  Our policy is treat gay and lesbian employees  fairly, but we don’t want it to be a contractual right, we want it to be something that is a matter of choice for us.

At this point, however, without taking back anything I’ve already written, I do agree that some types of DEI programs do some good under some circumstances.  I will now consider arguments for DEI and the extent to which I accept them.

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The equality-equity box cartoon

May 15, 2023

Equality is treating everybody alike.  Equity is giving everybody what they need, or deserve.  

Which is better?  The box cartoon presents the argument for equity in a very clear way.  My answer is that the answer depends on what the fence stands for and what the boxes stand for.

Suppose we use the cartoon to represent just one facet of society—public education.  It could be medical care, or welfare benefits, or any governmental or societal allocation of benefits and resources.  But let me just give this one example.

I take the top of the fence to represent lack of literacy, numeracy and other basic skills children need to learn.  The tall person represents gifted children, the middle person represents average children and the small person represents underprivileged children or children with learning disabilities.  The boxes represent educational resources, especially how much attention they get from individual teachers.

Equity says you don’t need to bother much about the gifted children, who are able to learn (that is, to see over the fence) on their own.  You give a moderate amount of attention to the average children, because that’s all they need.  Your main focus should be on the underprivileged and handicapped children, because they need the help the most.

I agree with this — up to a point.  It is a fact that children who need help the most, very often get the least.  This is wrong.  

But the issue is complicated.

My sister-in-law was a public school teacher in California at a time when there was a mandate that all students should be able to pass tests that showed a certain basic minimum attainment for their grade level.  She didn’t think the standard was  unreasonably high.

However, my sister-in-law found herself concentrating on a few under-performers, and particularly to one kid who was resistant to schooling itself.  She reached the point where she worried about neglecting the needs of the class as a whole.

I know that the claim that some children are virtually uneducable can be an excuse for giving up of them without really trying.  I assure you my sister-in-law wasn’t a person to give up.  

Nevertheless, it is a fact that some children are virtually uneducable, at least with the resources and in the framework of public education today.

Another issue: Do we really want to leave the gifted students to fend for themselves?  Or do we want them to be able to develop their gifts to the maximum?

Education is not just an individual benefit, for the purpose of boosting someone’s future earning power.  I want all my fellow citizens to have access to good education because that is necessary for the common good.

I want to live in a country with a functioning democracy, a civilized society and also a functioning work force, and this is not possible under the dominion of ignorance.  For this reason  I never complain about paying school taxes.

We want (or at least I want) our outstanding scientists, technicians, engineers and mathematicians, and also our artists, musicians, writers, social scientists, political leaders and military commanders, and even our athletes and entertainers, to achieve high levels of excellence, because this benefits us all.

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What is this thing called ‘woke’?

May 12, 2023

Conservatives and some liberals are upset about an ideology called “woke.”  Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida says Florida is a place that “woke” comes to die.

Many of my friends say there is no such thing as “woke.”  They say it is just an insulting re-branding of long-standing liberal ideals of individual freedom and social justice.

I don’t agree.  There has been a cultural /ideological revolution in 21st century USA, and “woke” is the blanket term used to refer to its many facets.

You don’t think there has been a revolution?   Consider the following statements.

  • Marriage is a sacred bond between a man and a woman.
  • A woman is an adult human female.
  • Every American citizen has the right to equal treatment regardless of race,  religion or ethnicity – no more and no less.
  • It’s OK to be white.

None of these statements would have been considered controversial 15 or 20 years ago.  Most people would have been baffled as to why you would have bothered to say them.

Or consider these words and phrases: Whiteness.  Gender assigned at birth.  Heteronormativity.  Intersectionality.  Cisgender.  Misgender.  Gender binary.  Identity group.  De-platforming.

These represent a new vocabulary for a new way of thinking.  

My purpose in writing this particular post is not to refute all the ideas that come under the heading of  “woke,” but to point out that they represent fundamental changes in thinking about important things.

Some parts may be good, some parts may be bad, some parts may be good up to a point and counterproductive beyond that point, and some points are used by plutocrats and militarists to divide and rule.

It is unreasonable to expect people to adopt this new way of thinking without giving them a reasoned argument in favor.

And it is a grave mistake to enlist in a new culture war without understanding exactly what the stakes are.

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The Democrats’ argument against progressivism

May 9, 2023

Dmitri Mehlhorn is an influential Democratic operative I never heard of and you probably haven’t either.

He is a supporter of the effort by Democratic leaders and funders to defeat progressive Democrats in primaries.

Ryan Grim, D.C. Bureau Chief for The Intercept news service, invited him onto his news show to find out “what arguments are being made in meetings we’re not invited to.”

I summarize his remarks because one should always be aware of the strongest arguments on the opposing side.

Mehlhorn’s argument is that there are three categories of potential voters:

  1. Those who think voting can help their friends make things better.
  2. Those who think voting is a waste of time.
  3. Those who think voting can help prevent their enemies from making things worse.

The Bernie Sanders campaign was based on the assumption that if you could propose things that would actually make things better, potential voters would move from category (2) to category (1).

This didn’t happen. and isn’t a realistic strategy, Mehlhorn said.  National elections are a battle between voters in category (3) who may possibly draw in voters from category (2).

Mehlhorn himself is in category (3).  He thinks everything should be subordinate to the goal of defeating Donald Trump.

He thinks the way to do that is to bring together the broadest possible coalition of anti-Trump politicians, from Liz Cheney to Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, and the way to do that is find common ground that everyone can agree on.

For example, Democrats are campaigning for abortion rights, a live issue because of the overturning of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision.

But they have not tried to enact the principles of Roe v. Wade into law.

That was the politically right choice, according to Mehlhorn.  It is better to campaign against Republicans for wanting to deny abortions to young teenage girls who are victims of rape, and make that the issue.  Then Democrats could proceed step-by-step to broadening abortion rights

Mehlhorn may be right.  The last “hope and change” candidate was Barack Obama, and his administration disillusioned a lot of his supporters by its failure to keep Obama’s promises.

But I hate to think that he is, and I hate to think that the top Democratic leadership think he is right.

Nuclear war, financial collapse, climate catastrophes, the surveillance state and pandemics are urgent threats.  We don’t have 20 years to fool around.

But if the maximum that is politically possible is less than the minimum that is needed, change will have to come from streets, not the ballot box.

By that, I mean strikes, boycotts, sabotage and mass protests, both violent and non-violent, leading to at least a threat of revolution.

This is not something I advocate.  The outcomes of revolutions are unpredictable and even revolutions that ultimately produced good results, such as the American Revolution and the French Revolution, were not something I would have wanted to live through.  But I have a sense that some sort of blowup is coming.


How Democratic insiders are thinking about 2014 by Ryan Grim.  I recommend reading the whole thing.  It is a good example of a civil conversation between two individuals who genuinely want to understand the other’s point of view.

No, Covid hasn’t gone away: Links & comments

May 8, 2023

Covid isn’t over.  This is what we still need to be doing.


We need multiple mitigations because no single one works perfectly

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control have declared “Emergency Over” regarding Covid.

They say you don’t have to take any precautions except keeping your vaccinations up to date. That’s politically expedient, but Covid is what it is, and isn’t paying attention to political pronouncements.

You May Be Early, but You’re Not Wrong: a Covid Reading List by Jessica Wildfire for OK Doomer.

There’s no permanent immunity from this virus.  Each time we catch it, this virus attacks our hearts and minds.  It weakens us. It tries to kill us. It imprints on us, so a future variant has a better shot next time.

That next time could be a few months later.

Here are the key points:

  1. You can catch Covid multiple times.

  2. Reinfections are common, not rare.

  3. Breakthrough infections are common.

  4. Covid can kill you months after you recover.

  5. It can cause brain damage.

  6. It can cause blood clots and heart attacks.

  7. It doesn’t spare children.

  8. Vaccines help, but only some.

  9. Masks work.

Here are some links to medical studies collected by Jessica Wildfire.

Long-term neurological outcomes of COVID-19 from Nature Medicine.  Anybody can get Long Covid.

Long Covid after breakthrough SARS-Cov-2 inflection from Nature Medicine.  Vaccines help, but not as much as everyone thinks.

SARS-CoV-2 promotes microglial synapse elimination in huma brain organoids from Molecular Psychiatry.  Covid eats your brain.

Excess risk for acute myocardial infraction mortality among the COVID-19 pandemic from the Journal of Medical Virology.  Covid can kill healthy young people.  It’s giving them heart attacks.

Immunological dysfunction persists for 8 months following mild-to-moderate SARS-CoV-2 infection from Nature Immunology.  Covid attacks your immune system.  You don’t develop immunity.  You lose it.

ACE2-independent infection of T lymphocytes by SARS-CoV-2 from Signal Technology and Targeted Therapy.  Covid kills T cells.  It makes you more vulnerable to other diseases.

Distinguishing features of Long COVID identified through immune testing from a Yale preprint.  Every Covid infection runs a risk of weakening your immune system.  It can even reactivate old viral inflections.

Immune boosting by B.1.1.529 (Omicron) depends on previous SARS-CoV-2 exposure from Science.  One Covid infection sets up another.  We’re not building immunity.

Covid and Acute Neurological Complications in Children from Pediatrics (American Academy of Pediatrics).  Children aren’t safe from Covid.  They need protection.

Post-COVID-19-associated morbidity in children, adolescents and adults: A matched cohort study including more than 157,000 individuals with COVID-19 in Germany from PLOS Medicine.   Covid isn’t like a cold.  Children shouldn’t catch it.

Lifting Universal Masking in Schools – Covid-19 incidence among Students and Staff from the New England Journal of Medicine.  Masks work.

Acute and postacute sequelae associated with SARS-CoV-2 reinfection from Nature Medicine.  If you got Covid once, you’re not in the clear.  It’s not over.

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Austerity, fascism and the ‘science’ of economics

May 5, 2023

THE CAPITAL ORDER: How economists invented AUSTERITY and paved the way to FASCISM by Clara E. Mattei (2022)

Back in the 17th and 18th centuries, physicians had a universal remedy for serious illness.  It was to bleed the patients until they improved.

Mainstream economists have a similar prescription for national economic woes.  It is called “austerity.” The elements are holding down wages, letting prices rise, cutting public spending (except on the military and police) and raising taxes (except on the rich).

Austerity contributes as much to economic health as bleeding to biological health.  That is to say, austerity has, so far as I know, an unbroken record of failure in promoting economic recovery. So why hasn’t the economics profession abandoned austerity, as the medical profession abandoned bleeding?

That is because the purpose of austerity is not what its proponents say it is.

Clara E. Mattei, an economist herself, wrote this book to expose austerity’s overlooked, though not hidden, agenda.

She did it in an original way, by looking at the imposition of economic austerity in the immediate aftermath of World War One in two countries, Britain and Italy.

Among the victorious allies, these two countries were at opposite extremes.

Britain was the center of a vast empire comprising nearly a quarter of the world’s population and land era.  It was Europe’s leading industrial and financial power.  It was the birthplace of Adam Smith and free-market economic liberalism.  And it was known for being politically stable.

Italy, in comparison, was poor, powerless and backward.  Revolutionary parties were strong and had a good chance of coming to power. 

The Great War, as people then called it, upset a lot of people’s assumptions about how economies worked.  

Governments found the law of supply and demand worked too slowly for effective war mobilization.  Central planning with price controls worked much better.  

People began to think similar policies might achieve the goals of peace.   Some of them acted on their high hopes.

In the years immediately following the war, Britain seemed on the verge of radical change, and Italy on the verge of revolution.

Change was prevented by taking economic policy out of the hands of voters and into the hands of supposed economic experts.  In Britain, this was done by legal means.  In Italy, it required a violent coup by Mussolini’s Fascists.

But the actual economic policies followed by the two countries were similar.  Mattei pointed out how Mussolini was praised by Britain’s leading mainstream economists.

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The new American power elite

April 29, 2023

THE NEW POWER ELITE by Heather Gautney (2023)

Heather Gautney, a sociology professor and policy adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders, has undertaken to update and improve upon C. Wright Mills’ classic 1956 work, The Power Elite.

In some ways, she succeeded; in others, not.  

Mills analyzed three power elites – corporate, military and governmental.  He showed how they were largely independent of public accountability and public control, and were unrepresentative of the public at large.

Gautney contends that there is actually only one elite, an oligarchy of wealth, to which other elites are subordinate.  

The secret of this elite, she writes, is that it has persuaded the rest of us to accept neoliberal ideology. Neoliberalism is the principle that the interests of lenders and investors must be protected no matter what the costs.

She also says that while Mills described the origins, nature and sources of elite power, he failed to show how elites influenced policy and what they specifically did that was against the public interest.

Her book is just the opposite.  It is light on big-picture systemic analysis, but provides a vast mosaic of elite corruption, scandal, failure, exploitation and manipulation.

I found the cumulative effect of her examples coming one right after the other – bam! bam! bam! – to be powerful, even though I already knew about almost all of them.  I can only imagine the impact on those to whom all this is new.

But she failed to notice certain important things – notably the emergence of a new power center based on secret police and covert intelligence agencies, influencing elections, journalism and social media.

Also, her book is overly Trump-centric.  Trump is rich, powerful and destructive, but he is not at the center of the American elites.  Members of the real power elite regard him as a nuisance and a disrupter who has to be gotten rid of.


The New Power Elite opens with brief accounts of the U.S.-backed coup in Chile in 1973 and the New York City bankruptcy in 1975.  Both were examples of the suspension of democracy (the Pinochet dictatorship, a banker-run receivership) to protect business interests, which is the core of neoliberalism.

Chapters 1-3 are about The State.  They tell of the misdeeds and failures of presidential administrations from the late 1970s to the present.  For me, reading them was a trip down memory lane – supply-side economics, the air traffic controllers’ strike, “grand bargains” on Social Security, NAFTA, Workfare, the Patriot Act, Abu Ghraib, Enron, No Child Left Behind, the Katrina disaster, “too big to fail” bailouts, Obamacare, tax cuts for the rich, COVID-19 failures, Build Back Better…all milestones on a downward path.

Gautney sees Donald Trump as a culmination of leadership failure.  His election was made possible by the failures of Bill Clinton, G.W. Bush and Barack Obama.  But, as she notes, Trump was not on the side of the people who voted for him.  

He immediately broke his promises to protect Social Security and raise taxes on the rich.  He appointed ridiculously unqualified people to head departments, defunded vital government functions and kept the country in a constant uproar over irrelevant issues.  

He has driven the U.S. political, financial, journalistic and academic establishments crazy.   Since 2016, American politics has been about their fight to bring down Trump.  They are using all possible means except dealing with the unaddressed problems that enabled him to be elected in the first place.  

The long chain of failed impeachments, indictments and legal actions against Trump remind me of the Russian aristocracy’s attempt to kill Rasputin.  The repeated bungling and failure would be comical if so much wasn’t at stake.

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The American power elite

April 26, 2023

THE POWER ELITE by C. Wright Mills (1956)

C. Wright Mills was a sociologist who wrote like a novelist.  Both these traits are shown in his great work, The Power Elite, which was about the structure of American power. 

Mills did a detailed study of the men (all of them were white men) who occupied the top position in the great American corporations, in the military and in governmental administrations.  He also compiled lists of the 90 richest Americans of 1900, 1925 and 1950.  

These were the individuals who made the fundamental decisions that determined whether there would be peace or war, full employment or widespread unemployment and the priorities of the nation as a whole.

He concluded that members of these elites were not representative of the American people in their social origins, they had goals and incentives that didn’t coincide with the interests of the American people, and they were not accountable to the American people.

The corporate elite emerged in the years following the Civil War and was in full bloom by 1900.   Back then, Mills’ research showed, a typical corporate CEO was a company founder, an heir of a company founder or a lawyer or some other expert hired by the board of directors for his expertise.

By 1950, the typical corporate CEO was someone who had come up through the ranks of a corporation, Mills found.  He was someone whose goals and viewpoint on life were formed by the corporation itself, which were a desire to preserve the corporation and increase its profitability.

Most of them had college educations, which the majority of the public did not.  Most of them came from well-off backgrounds, but even the ones born into poor backgrounds were shaped by the views of their peers.

Even the public had come to regard business success as the supreme value.  Corporate structures have not proved to be as durable as they seemed to Mills, but the cult of success remains

The military elite emerged during World War Two.  Before then, Mills said, the Army and Navy were separate from the rest of society and proud of being non-political.  But in the 1940s, they emerged as key decision-makers, a strong shaping force in the economy and a political force.

Even more than the corporate elite, members of the military elite had a special identity, which was shaped by education at West Point or Annapolis and by rising through the ranks.

Mills noted that the top military leaders exercised their power and influence in secret, which meant that there was little or no check on it.  Decisions of peace and war were made without public knowledge or public accountability.

There also was what President Eisenhower was to call the military-industrial complex.  Generals, corporate executives and top politicians were part of the same social circles.

The military remains a strong power, but it has, to an extent, been superseded by the power of the secret intelligence and power agencies.  As Mills noted, the power to act without accountability is a strong power.

The third important power structure is the power of governmental administration, but it is different from the other two.  

Governmental administration became powerful as a result of the New Deal and World War Two, but it never was an independent power.  Civil servants had no voice in policy.  That was set by appointed officials who usually were chosen as representatives of particular economic interests.

There was nothing in the USA like the British Foreign Office or the Exchequer, which had their own views on policy and provided continuity during different administrations.  

In the USA, for example, experts on China were driven out of the Foreign Service by political demagogues, Mills wrote.  Ambassadors were almost all political appointees, rewarded for their service to political parties.

Other governmental departments also were subject to politics, which was dominated by business interests.

American power elites have evolved and mutated, but there is a clear from the elites of the early USA to the elites of Mills’ day, and from Mills’ elites to those of present-day America.

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Another case where journalism is a crime

April 24, 2023

Alina Lipp, an independent journalist reporting from Donbass, has had her assets frozen and her father’s assets frozen by the German government as punishment for reporting on Ukrainian misdeeds in Donbass.

She said she has been that she is under a criminal investigation on charges that potentially could result in a three-year prison sentence. She said she was told her own testimony was not wanted.

The video above shows her telling her story. Notice the monument with the children’s toys around it. This is a monument to children killed as a result of Ukrainian bombardment of Donbass, with their names and ages.

Although the video was put up recently, it evidently was made last summer, because that was when she received the notification.

Alina Lipp, who’s 29, is the daughter of a Russian father and a German mother.  She is a member of the Green Party and once hoped for a political career.

Lipp studied sustainable governance at the Leuphana University Lüneburg, focusing on environmental studies.  She hoped for a political career as a member of the Greens party.

But after the change of government in Ukraine, she went in 2016 to see for herself what was going on.  She said she found, among other things, that most of the residents of Crimea considered themselves Russians and were glad to be part of Russia.

I’m not sure of her exact comings and goings.  She has evidently gone back and forth between Germany and Crimea, and Germany and Donbass, a number of times, and also spent time in Russia.  Her dad has meanwhile moved to Crimea.

She set up her own Telegram channel to report from the region.  She said she was the only German journalist reporting from the region.  

Not only the German government, but also most of the German press condemned her reporting, she said, without anyone going to see for themselves.

She is being investigated by the Centre for Combating Internet Hate Crimes of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Lüneburg, Germany.

The Composite Eye newsletter reported she is formally charged with trying “to stir up a psychological climate, also among the population of the Federal Republic of Germany, to cause divisions in society and to destroy social cohesion due to at least distorted and sometimes false ideas.”

The prosecutor referred to Lipp’s statements on her Telegram channel, namely for saying the population of Donbass supported Russia’s “special operation,” and for speaking of a genocide in the Donbass region, where a civil war that has been ongoing for the past eight years.

Correctiv, a network of investigators, alleged that Lipp had ties with the Russian Foreign Ministry.  But she rejects the accusation, saying she reports on what she sees.

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Germany debates freedom of expression

April 24, 2023

The following article is from the German Internet magazine Telopolis.  It seems as if a number Germans in high places, like their counterparts in the USA, lack understanding of the basic concept of freedom of speech.

The article was forwarded to me by my Internet pen pal Desdemona, who provided the machine translation into English.



April 23, 2023  

By Alexander Horn

With the Democracy Promotion Act, civil society is to become a bulwark against extremism. However, it is an attack on citizens, freedom of expression and democracy. A guest post.

With the planned Democracy Promotion Act, the federal government is issuing a devastating testimony to the citizens. Civil society in Germany is currently not the “bulwark against xenophobic and racist activities” that Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Interior Minister Nancy Faeser (both SPD) want so much.

“Racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Gypsyism, hostility towards Islam and Muslims, queer hostility, misogyny, sexism, hostility towards the disabled and extremism such as right-wing extremism, Islamic extremism, left-wing extremism as well as hatred and hate speech” are ever-increasing problems, according to the government draft.

In addition, “the spread of conspiracy ideologies, disinformation and denial of science […], but also hate and hate speech on the Internet as well as multiple discrimination and threats are constantly increasing”.

The problem are the citizens?

With the Democracy Promotion Act, the federal government is making it all too clear that it does not trust the citizens to counteract these developments themselves.

On the contrary, the “model of an open, pluralistic and diverse society” that worked some time ago has “come under increasing pressure” in recent years.

The government draft does not show at any point that the “anti-democratic and misanthropic phenomena” addressed have actually increased, nor is an explanation given as to why this could be.

Instead, it is postulated that a situation has arisen “that poses an increasing threat to the free democratic basic order and social cohesion”.

Finally, there is the grave suspicion that the citizens are not only too passive to give social development a positive direction, but that they themselves – or at least a relevant part of them – have become a problem for democracy.

Have the citizens become more susceptible to anti-democratic and misanthropic attitudes, so that, as stated in the draft law, “[a] anti-democratic attitude and a rejection of state institutions is becoming evident in parts of society”?

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Evgeny Prigozhin and the Wagner Group

April 24, 2023

“Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways; but the point is to change it.” The channel “Herald of the Storm” not only analyzes the problems of Russia and the world, but also gives answers to the question “What to do?”  ==from Vestnik Buri’s “about” page.

This video was produced by one Andrey Rudoy as part of the Russian-language Vestnik Buri YouTube channel.  I found it on Matt Taibbi’s Russian Dissidents page.

It’s a good portrait of Evgeny Prigozhin, who began life as a petty criminal and rose to be a powerful oligarch and head of the Wagner Group, a supposedly private military company that’s doing a lot of the fighting in Ukraine.  

It also shows the underside of Russian power and autocracy.

Prigozhin’s path to power began when he established himself as Putin’s personal chef and caterer for important state dinners.  Eventually Putin gave him a contract to provide food service for Russian schools.  

According to Rudoy, there were so many protests about the bad food that he lost that contract, but got a new contract to provide food service for the Russian military.

One of his enterprises was a “troll farm,” which employed large numbers of young Russians to spread propaganda on the Internet.  Hillary Clinton blamed them for contributing to her loss in the 2016 presidential election.

Another was the Wagner Group, a supposedly private military group for hire.  It did a lot of work in Africa, and fought for the Assad government in Syria.  Now it is a key part of the Russian military force in Ukraine.

By all accounts, it is a hard-bitten group something like the French Foreign Legion.  The Wagner Group recruited in prisons, although Prigozhin claims this has stopped, and I have heard that it advertises on pornography sites.  

Like the Ukraine’s Azov fighters, the Wagner Group is found of Nazi symbols.  Prigozhin recently announced the Wagner group will not take prisoners of war.  This is in response to videos of Ukrainian troops executing Russian POWs.

According to Rudoy, “Putin’s Chef” is now head of the most combat-ready military force in the Ukrainian war, issuing pardons, running his own media empire, and reportedly plotting the creation of an ultra-conservative movement that exploits anti-oligarchic rhetoric.

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How CIA lies affect U.S. politics, foreign policy

April 22, 2023

During the 2020 election campaign, Hunter Biden absent-mindedly left a computer in a repair shop and forgot about it.

The computer contained incriminating information about how Hunter used his influence with his father, Joe Biden, on behalf of corrupt oligarchs in Ukraine.

But 51 U.S. intelligence officers signed a letter saying the information had all the hallmarks of a Russian disinformation campaign.  It turned out they were wrong.  The information was genuine.

There already was circumstantial information of the corrupt relationship, but the computer provided documentary evidence.

Now it turns out that the then CIA deputy director, Mike Morrell, circulated the letter and obtained the signatures after Antony Blinken, then part of Biden’s campaign team, now Secretary of State.

He admitted this in sworn testimony for the House Judiciary Committee.  This has gotten little attention so far.  

I expect the Democrats’ defense will be that Blinken didn’t make a direct request, but only dropped broad hints.  And the intelligence agency heads didn’t claim to have any evidence of Russian interference.  They were just expressing their opinions.  So you could argue that it was all an innocent mistake, although a big one.

But as the two Alecs – Alex Christofourou and Alexander Mercouris – point out, this is history repeating itself.  The whole Russiagate investigation was launched based on false information, the Steele Dossier, which had been commissioned by the Hillary Clinton campaign and was released in an attempt to reverse the outcome of the 2016 election.

Since 2016, Democratic politics has been all about linking the opponents of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden to Vladimir Putin.   The danger of all this, as the two Alecs point out, is that all this spills over into foreign policy.

If Putin commands forces that are capable of undermining American democracy from within, if every manifestation of discontent stems from Russians “sowing chaos,” then there can be no peace, and Biden’s goal of ruining Russia is correct.

The two Alecs are probably right.  If there had not been a Russiagate conspiracy, there might not have been a war in Ukraine.  There is no issue leading up to the war that couldn’t have been settled by reasonable compromise.

There is a parallel with the Bush administration’s lies about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.  As with Russiagate, every specific allegation was disproved.  But that didn’t stop the momentum for war.


News Blackout in Effect by Matt Taibbi for Racket News.

New Testimony Reveals Secretary Blinken and Biden Campaign Behind the Infamous Public Statement on the Hunter Biden Laptop, a press release from the House Judiciary Committee.

Letter to Antony Blinken from the chairs of the House Judiciary Committee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

Public Statement on the Hunter Biden E-mails by 51 intelligence officials (2020)

Ex-CIA Chief Led Campaign to Smear Hunter Biden Laptop Story as Russian Disinfo by Connor Freeman for Antiwar.com.

State Dept. silent on Blinken role in ‘spies who lied’ letter by Steven Nelson for the New York Post.

Time to Get Spies Out of Politics by Matt Taibbi for Racket News.  [Added 04/25/2023]

Four indicted for ‘weaponized’ free speech

April 21, 2023

Four members of an obscure black radical organization called the African People’s Socialist Party have been indicted on charges of acting as “unregistered illegal agents of the Russian government.

The basis of the charge is that they took a pro-Russian position concerning the conflict in Ukraine, and they allegedly have taken donations from a Russian named Alexander Ionov, who allegedly was working for two Russian espionage agents, also indicted.

Omali Yeshitela

“Russia’s foreign intelligence service allegedly weaponized our First Amendment rights – freedoms Russia denies its own citizens – to divide Americans and interfere in elections in the United States,” said Assistant Attorney General Matthew G. Olsen of the Justice Department’s National Security Division.

Caitlin Johnstone noted that Omali Yeshitela, the founder and chairman of the African People’s Socialist Party and one of the four Americans named in the indictment, has denied ever having worked for Russia.

She wrote that earlier this month before charges were brought against him, the Tampa Bay Times quoted him as saying, “I ain’t ever worked for a Russian. Never ever ever ever. They know I have never worked for Russia. Their problem is, I’ve never worked for them.”

But as Johnstone pointedly asked: What if he had?

It is not a crime to oppose U.S. policy and agree with Russian policy.  It is not a crime to associate with Russians.

That is a question that was settled in Cold War days.  The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the government had no right to prosecute someone simply for belong to the Communist Party or following the Communist Party line, so long as the person otherwise obeyed the law.

The basic principle is that the law only punishes criminal acts, not the expression of opinions.  

The APSP is pretty small potatoes, not a threat by any stretch of the imagination.  

According to press accounts, the most notable thing iy did in St. Louis was to raise money for public basketball courts and in St. Petersburg, was to support an unsuccessful candidate for city council.

What this says to me is the prosecution hopes to set a precedent that can be used against bigger and better-known targets in the future.

I don’t think it is a coincidence that the DOJ targeted an organization of radical black people.  This plays to an unconscious prejudice of some white people that African-Americans can’t think for themselves, that they are easily manipulated by propagandists.

The DOJ is right about one thing.  Freedom of speech is a weapon.  It is one of the most powerful weapons that we the people have against abuse of power.  If it is taken away from one of us, it becomes that much easier to disarm the rest of us.


US charges Russians, Americans for ‘malign Russian influence campaign’ by Al Jazeera.

Biden DOJ Indicts Four Americans for ‘Weaponized’ Free Speech by Caitlin Johnstone.

U.S. Citizens and Russian Intelligence Officers Charged with Conspiring to Use U.S. Citizens as Agents of the Russian Government, the Department of Justice press release.

Glenn Greenwald’s Twitter thread.  [Added 04/23/2023]

Three St. Louisians charged with pushing Russian propaganda by Chad Davis for St. Louis Public Radio.

St. Petersburg Uhuru members indicted in Russian influence case by Dan Sullivan for the Tampa Bay Times.

Miscarriage of justice

April 19, 2023

The Case of Steven Donziger: Supreme Court Liberals Turn Judges into Prosecutors by Eve Ottenberg for Counterpunch.

The feral hog population explosion

April 18, 2023

Millions of wild pigs roam Texas, the South and California.  They are a menace.   All the efforts to date to eradicate them have failed.

They destroy croplands. They root up lawns and gardens. They destroy wildlife habitat. Their feces pollute streams.  They cause thousands of auto accidents.  They spread disease.  

They do damage in non-obvious ways.  Their rooting in the earth is a serious contributor to soil erosion.  They wear down telephone poles by rubbing against them for the creosote, which is an insecticide for fleas. 

This is not a joke.

The epicenter of the hog population explosion is Texas, where there the estimated feral hog population is 3 million to 4 million. 

I posted about this 10 years ago.  The problem was serious then.   An article in the current Texas Monthly shows that it is worse now.

Feral hog territory

Swine are an invasive species, brought to the North American continent by Hernando de Soto and other early Spanish explorers and conquistadors.  

Pigs were bred for centuries to have a high fertility rate.  A sow can birth a litter of six to eight piglets every seven months.  Also, swine are considered the most intelligent mammals except for primates.

In the Old South, it was customary to let pigs run wild and fence in crops, rather than fence in the hogs.  Meanwhile sports hunters imported ferocious European wild boars, which got loose and interbred with the existing wild hog population.

Few people worried about this until population growth reached a tipping point.

Many things have been tried to eradicate feral hogs—hunting, trapping, poison and contraceptive bait.  In Texas, they may be hunted year-round without a license, and hunting them from helicopters is legal.  But they continue to spread.

I am not making this up.


Can Anything Stop the Feral Hog Invasion? by Lauren Larson for Texas Monthly. 

Who Can Stop These Adorable Pigs? by Jesse Hirsch for Modern Farmer.  From 2013.  Unfortunately still relevant.

Flying creatures, great and small

April 15, 2023

Some flying creatures are orders of magnitude smaller than a mosquito.  Others stand as tall as a human being.  Some extinct creatures were the size of a small airplane.

The variety of nature is wonderful, and seemingly—but only seemingly—inexhaustible. 

GOP hawks, Trump advocate invading Mexico

April 14, 2023

Alexander Ward of Politico reported that—

A growing number of prominent Republicans are rallying around the idea that to solve the fentanyl crisis, America must bomb it away.

In recent weeks, Donald Trump has discussed sending “special forces” and using “cyber warfare” to target cartel leaders if he’s reelected president and, per Rolling Stone, asked for “battle plans” to strike Mexico.  Reps. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) and Mike Waltz (R-Fla.) introduced a bill seeking authorization for the use of military force to “put us at war with the cartels.” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said he is open to sending U.S. troops into Mexico to target drug lords even without that nation’s permission. And lawmakers in both chambers have filed legislation to label some cartels as foreign terrorist organizations, a move supported by GOP presidential aspirants.

via Politico.

Daniel Larison pointed out—

The supporters of attacking the cartels have unsurprisingly not thought through the predictable negative consequences that their war would have.  

Among other things, it would cause huge numbers of people to flee the areas where the U.S. launches attacks, and many of them would probably try to seek refuge in the United States. If they think the migrant crisis is bad now, this would be practically guaranteed to make it much worse.

The intensified violence and displacement would further destabilize Mexico, and it would likely make U.S. cities along the border much less safe.

The U.S. is usually insulated from most of the worst spillover effects of its unnecessary wars because it has fought almost all of them on the other side of the world, but that won’t be possible when the war is on our doorstep.  

Even if many Americans don’t care that intervening in Mexico would be flagrantly illegal and wrong, they will care when it blows up in our faces.

via Eunomia.

Larison also wrote—

In recent weeks, more members of Congress have expressed their support for using force against the cartels, including Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga).  In a recent interview with Steve Bannon, Taylor Greene said, “The real drum we should be beating for war is the one against the Mexican cartels, because that’s the one I’m beating.” 

Military intervention against the cartels is a fundamentally unserious and reckless proposal that will not remedy any drug-related problems that our country has.  At best, it is a bad answer to a real problem, and at worst it is a desperate exercise in distraction and demagoguery.  Further militarization of the drug war is the worst thing that the U.S. could do.  [snip]

Read the rest of this entry »

Generational reparations are a bad idea

April 12, 2023

Image via Huffington Post

I did a post a little over a month ago on proposals for reparations for descendants of enslaved people in the United States, and how they might work. I promised then to give my own opinion in a later post. Here it is.

The legacy of slavery is like an invisible scar in the American body politick. If you were a man from Mars, visiting the USA and observing the position of black American citizens, you would not be surprised to learn they were former slaves.

If I could wipe out that legacy by giving up a certain amount of money, even a very large amount, I would do so. But that is not a possibility. It is not possible to change history. We who want a better world have to start from where we are.

Reparations for slavery is a wedge issue. It divides blacks from whites, blacks from other minority groups and blacks from blacks. It is a program that would redistribute wealth from poor Haitian immigrants to the likes of Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey.

Making distinctions among people based on ancestry (not just race) is unjust. It just as unfair to take two poor, oppressed people and confer benefits on one because they were a descendant of enslaved people as it would be to confer benefits on one because they were a descendant of titled aristocrats.

Almost all human beings, except for a few kings and aristocrats, are descendants of poor oppressed people. There is not enough money in the world to compensate us all.

In fact, there is not enough money in the USA to meaningfully repay all the descendants of American slaves for their ancestors’ labor.

Advocates of reparations say that they have no objections to reparations for descendants of other oppressed groups, such as American Indians. Nor do they object to universalist programs, such as Medicare for all, that would benefit everyone. They just want to be first in line.

But in practice, there is only a limited amount of wealth to be distributed. There is not enough money to meet the maximum claims for reparations, let alone set up reparations programs for additional groups.

And social reformers have only a limited amount of time, energy and commitment to give. If they make reparations a primary goal, then universalist programs become a secondary goal, or not a goal at all.

I’m speaking now of generational reparations programs. I am most certainly in favor of compensating living victims of racial discrimination and other illegal and unjust practices.

Read the rest of this entry »

Being Trans: a friend’s perspective

April 8, 2023

Perette is an old and good friend of mine.  I think this video of hers deserves wide circulation.  If you’d like to know more about Perette and her views, click on this link to her web page.

The truth about those Russian kids’ camps

April 3, 2023

[Update 04/05/2023]. It seems that some children are being evacuated from the Ukrainian war zone indefinitely and placed in Russian foster homes.  Some of them are orphans.  There is no evidence that this is being done against the will of parents.

Russia says ready to return children if parents ask for them by the South China Morning Post.

  • The International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing him of the “unlawful deportation” of Ukrainian children to a network of camps inside Russia. The warrant was based on a report by the Yale Humanitarian Research Lab center, which is funded by the U.S.  State Department.
  • U.S. journalist Jeremy Loffredo visited one of Russian government-sponsored camps in question.  At the Donbas Express, located just outside of Moscow, Loffredo met youth from war-torn regions who were flourishing thanks to free music instruction, and grateful to be in a secure environment.  
  • A Grayzone review of the Yale HRL report found the paper’s content contradicted many claims contained in the ICC warrant.  It also undercut incendiary statements its director, Nathaniel Raymond, issued during media appearances.
  • In an interview with Loffredo, Yale HRL’s Raymond further contradicted allegations he made in a CNN interview about a massive “hostage situation” underway in Russia, acknowledging that most of the camps he researched were “teddy bear”-like cultural programs.  He also disclosed his collaboration with U.S. intelligence.

ICC’s Putin arrest warrant based on State Dept. funded report that debunked itself by Jeffrey Loffredo and Max Blumenthal for The Grayzone.


Russia’s President Vladimir Putin and Maria Alekseyevna Lvova-Belova, commissioner of children’s rights, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of kidnaping thousands of Ukrainian children and taking them to Russia to be Russianized.

An investigation by the Grayzone has shown this to be the opposite of the truth.  The children are from families in Ukraine who consider themselves Russian.  

They are fighting to prevent their children from being forcibly Ukrainianized – that is, forbidden to speak the Russian language, attend the Russian Orthodox Church and learn about Russian culture.

The children went to Russia temporarily, with their parents’ consent, to enjoy musical education and to be temporarily safe from life in a war zone.

Jeremy Loffredo, a journalist, was in Russia in November, 2022, and happened to visit one of these camps, the Donbass Expresss, not knowing it was to be the subject on an international criminal case.   He saw happy children, singing and learning to play musical instruments.  True, they sang Russian songs

Loffredo then checked the Yale HRL report, on which the charges are based.  The writers of the report never visited the youth camps, never attempted to contact parents and did all their research online.

Yet the report does not deny the basic truth of what Loffredo said – that at least many of the children went to the camps with their parents’ consent, took part in harmless “teddy bear”-like programs and returned home.

The real threat to the children is war – not just the 2022 Russian invasion, but the civil war that started in 2014 with Ukraine’s anti-Russia coup.  The way to protect the children is to end the war.   The indictment makes that harder to do.

Russia doesn’t recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC.  Neither does the USA.

[Update 04/25/2023.  Another view.  I don’t regard Foreign Policy magazine as an impartial source, but the facts seem more ambiguous than I had assumed.

Rescue Efforts Underway for Ukrainian Children Taken to Russia by Liz Cookman for Foreign Policy.]

Why is U.S. college debt still such a problem?

March 30, 2023

I’m old.  I can remember the 1950s, when it was possible for an American from a family of average income to attend college and emerge free of debt.

Tuition was free in the University of California system and at City College (now City University) of New York.  Tuition at other public university systems was usually affordable.

Middle class families could save up for college.  Students from working-class families could earn tuition through a combination of summer jobs and part-time jobs.

That’s not to say college education was open to everyone.  You had to pass an entrance exam, which not everybody could do, and you had to maintain your grades, which not everybody could do.

But that was okay.  A hard-working person of average ability – at least if the person was white and male – could get a job with a livable wage without need of a college degree.  

(I’m not saying discrimination against minorities and women was unimportant.  I’m making the point that affordable higher education is not an impossibility.)

I feel sorry for young people today – and by young, I mean people age 50 and under.  They’ve been told that the only way they can get decent jobs is by earning four-year college degrees.  

But tuition is extremely high, and it is rising.  The only way most applicants can afford college is to borrow money. Usually  their mentors (although this is changing somewhat) tell them not to worry about going into debt because the value of a college degree will be worth it.

They go out into the world not with a clean slate, but with tens of thousands of dollars to pay off.  This limits their options.  They can’t, as I did, start out in a relatively low-wage job because it is something they like, and hope to work their way up.

If they hit some setback, where they can’t make their payments, debt can mushroom into hundreds of thousands of dollars.  And unlike other kinds of debt, it is not dischargeable though bankruptcy.

There is seldom or no attempt to assess credit-worthiness.  It is the sub-prime mortgage crisis all over again.

Colleges can charge sky-high tuition because students can borrow to pay it.   Lenders don’t have to worry about credit-worthiness because the borrowers, in most case, can’t get out of debt.  It’s a racket.

Chart One.

About 45 million Americans, just under one in five adults, owe a total of $1.76 trillion in student loans, according to an information service called NerdWallet.  Those age 35 to 49 are the group with the greatest amount of high debt ($200,000 and more). 

That’s more than 10 times as much as student loan debt in 2009, even though student enrollment has declined 11 percent since 2011.

Read the rest of this entry »

Minimum wages around the world

March 29, 2023

Click on Visual Capitalist for a larger map.

These look like very big changes

March 28, 2023

These charts are from a Twitter thread by Matt Stoller, who thinks they are causally connected.

[Added 4/3/2023]  My online friend Bill Harvey called my attention to a good discussion of these trends by Krystal Ball and Saagar Enjeti on Breaking Points.