Finding myself in the story of race

March 22, 2018

As a young newspaper reporter just starting out in the early 1960s, I once found myself covering the same event as a reporter for the Baltimore Afro-American.

He remarked to me that he was a member of the “black press” and I was a member of the “white press.”

I didn’t say anything, but I thought he was mistaken.  He served the black community of Baltimore; I served the entire community around Hagerstown, Md.

But then, as I thought about it, I recalled that not one black person was employed in my newsroom, and probably never had been.  In fact, not one black person worked in the entire building, and that was true for the entire time I worked there.

Having achieved this insight, I promptly forgot it.   It never occurred to me to raise the issue.

I wrote in favor of civil rights and against racial discrimination whenever the opportunity arose during my 40 years on newspapers.

But there were weeks, maybe months, at a time when I never thought about race or myself being white.   If I weren’t white, I wouldn’t be able to do that.   Awareness of racial attitudes would be a survival skill that I wouldn’t be able to do without.

I thought about this after reading Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving, a liberal white women from Massachusetts whose aim is to make other white people more self-aware.

Her accounts of her limitations and misunderstandings have been “cringe-worthy” by reviewers, but as I look back on my own life, I think my well-meaning blunders were as cringe-worthy as hers.


Debby Irving wrote that the cultural values of middle-class white people make us unable to understand poor people or black people.

I learned the truth of this 15 or so years ago when I undertook to be a chauffeur for Bernice Cook, a poor black member of my church.  She lacked a car and so depended in public transportation to go shopping or keep medical appointments.   Things that I could do in an hour with a car took her the best part of a day without one.

We got to know each other fairly well.  I experienced culture shock the first time Bernice asked me for money.  I was taught as a boy that the one thing you must never, ever do is to ask people for money, except maybe for blood relatives and then only in the direst emergency.

The reason I felt I had no moral right to ask anyone for money is that I recognized no moral obligation to give money to others in need.  My assumption was that everybody ought to be able to look out for themselves.

Bernice’s day-to-day life was a continuing series of emergencies.   She was poor and she did not hoard resources.  She was willing to share everything she had with others in crisis, and so she had a moral right to ask for help from others.

Actually, she lived by the ethic of the Gospels, which is to give to those in need and take no thought of the morrow.  Many poor people are like that.   Come to think of it, the pagan Romans sneered at Christianity as a religion of slaves, poor people and women.

Living by the teachings of Jesus is not feasible for me as a middle-class person.  I could not do it and continue to be middle-class.  The best I can do is to live by the ethic of the Stoics—do my duty, keep my promises, tell the truth (or at least refrain from lying) and not whine about it.

Read the rest of this entry »

What well-meaning white liberals don’t see

March 21, 2018

I was brought up to judge people by their individual qualities, and not by their race, religion, nationality, level of income or level of schooling.  I can honestly say I have made a good faith effort to do that throughout my lie.

But this is not enough.

Ignoring race, or poverty, makes me blind to the things that black people or poor people have to struggle with that I don’t.

And if I judge people, I judge them by my own criteria, which are conditioned in ways I don’t think about by my race, religion and all the rest.

I thought about this after reading Waking Up White: And Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving (2014), which is about her coming to understand how her attitudes were formed by the fact that she’s white.

She worked as an arts administrator in the Boston area, then taught in the public schools when her own children enrolled in school.  She was always bothered by the fact that, despite her good will, she never was quite able to reach the black community in her arts promotion or black students as a teacher.

This changed in 2009, when she took a course called “Racial and Cultural Identity” at Wheelock College and woke up to the reality of white privilege..

Since then she’s been on a quest to deepen her new understanding of race and share her understanding with others.   Her book is full of honest admissions of failure to understand the viewpoints of black people.

She thought nothing of going to a school principal and asking her children be assigned to a particular teacher, and never wondered why so few black parents did this.  But when she mentioned this to black parents, she found that the majority of them were unaware that this was even something you could do.

A little Haitian girl in her class frequently left her seat to help other students in their work.  Irving at first perceived this as cheating and only later came to realize that in the Haitian culture, unlike in the white American culture, children are taught to help others and not to compete.

She said the main barriers to honest black-white communication are:

  1.  Unawareness by white people of their white identity and how it shapes their values and assumptions.
  2.  The assumption by white people that overt racism and racial discrimination are a thing of the past, and that whites and blacks are now on a level playing field.
  3.   Unwillingness of “nice” white people to speak their minds frankly, for fear of giving offense or seeming foolish.
  4.   Fear of black people of bad consequences if they fail to conform to the expectations of white people.
  5.   The assumption by educated white people that they have the right, responsibility and knowledge to solve the problems of black people.
  6.   White middle-class belief in individualism, self-sufficiency and competitiveness, which leads us to disrespect those whose primary values are solidarity, community and mutual aid.

To break through these barriers, liberal white people need more humility and willingness to listen, we need to be more honest with ourselves and other people, and we need to have the courage to make fools of ourselves and admit mistakes.   The last part of her book has useful tips for white people on things to say and things not to say.

Read the rest of this entry »

Did leaked Facebook data swing the 2016 vote?

March 18, 2018

[Last updated 3/22/2018]

Video added 3/19/2018

The Guardian published an article about how a company called Cambridge Analytica used unauthorized data obtained from Facebook to help swing the 2016 election to Donald Trump.

The Facebook “likes” and other data were used to draw psychological profiles of individual voters, who were then targeted with messages based on those profiles.

A year or so ago, I made a post, based on an earlier article in The Guardian and an expose by the Real News Network, about how Steve Bannon and the Trump campaign used Cambridge Analytica to identify idealistic liberals, young women and African-Americans in key states, and feed them information to discourage them from voting for Hillary Clinton.

Many people question whether such manipulation was possible on a significant scale.  I am not qualified to say.

The thing is, targeted messages don’t have to work every time, or even most of the time—just enough times to tip the balance.   And the technology is being constantly improved, so even if they didn’t make a difference in 2016, they may affect the next election and the one after that.

I don’t have good ideas as to what to do about this.   It is not unethical to send accurate information to someone you think will respond to it.  Does it become unethical when the information and its target are chosen by an artificial intelligence program?  At the very least, we the people ought to be able to know where the messages come from.

Afterthought [3/20/2018]

After thinking this over for a couple of days,  I’m of two minds about Cambridge Analytica and similar companies.

Read the rest of this entry »

Happiness on Vimeo

March 17, 2018

I came across this while looking for something else.

Russiagate, Hillary Clinton and the Democrats

March 14, 2018

Russia Collusion: Hillary Clinton, DNC & FBI are the real stars by Michael Doran for National Review.  [Added 3/15/2018]  A plausible account of how Christopher Steele and Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson created and sold the Russiagate story.  Long but interesting.

Christopher Steele as Seen by the New Yorker by Philip Giraldi for The Unz Review.  [Added 3/15/2018]

Russia Didn’t Abuse Facebook—It Used It Exactly As Intended by Joshua Geltzer for Wired.  [Added 3/15/2018]

Is Trump the New Clinton? by Musha al-Gharbi for The Baffler.  [Added 3/15/2018]

It’s okay to negotiate with North Korea

March 13, 2018

It isn’t wrong to negotiate with tyrants and terrorists.  It is wrong to prop them up with money and weapons, but it isn’t wrong to negotiate with them when the alternative is mutually destructive war.

But if you have no plan to get rid of them or if there’s no assurance that their successors will be any better than they are, then sooner or later you have to deal.

President Nixon negotiated with Mao Zedong and ended the Cold War with China.   President Reagan negotiated with Mikhail Gorbachev and ended the Cold War with the USSR.

President Trump’s willingness to negotiate with Kim Jong-un is a good thing, not a bad thing.  I think the odds are against success, but you never know.

Donald Trump

The reason I think the odds are against success is that the U.S. goal is for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons, and, if I were Kim, I never would agree to that.

Kim in the past has said his government would never give up nuclear weapons so long as the United States refused to sign a peace treaty ending the Korean Conflict of 1950-1953 or to guarantee it would not attack North Korea.

The implication is that if a peace treaty was signed, and if the U.S. government renounced the use of force against North Korea, Kim would consider giving up nuclear weapons.

But without nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them, there is no way North Korea can deter an attack by the United States, except maybe by the threat of a massive attack with conventional weapons on Seoul, which is just across the border.

Would negotiations with the United States even by on the table if North Korea didn’t already have nuclear weapons?

President Trump is talking about renouncing the U.S. nuclear weapons agreement with Iran.  How could Kim be sure he wouldn’t renounce an agreement with North Korea?

Maybe Kim would agree to give up nuclear weapons in return for a guarantee against attack by China and/or Russia.  Is this something the U.S. government would want?

Read the rest of this entry »

Cats watching over human babies

March 10, 2018

Modernization and an angry world

March 8, 2018

These are notes for a presentation to the Bertrand Russell Forum of Rochester, NY, at Writers & Books Literary Center, 740 University Ave., at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 8, 2018.

There’s no denying that world is full of angry people.

There are angry blood-and-soil nationalists, for whom love of country is like a religion, demanding their supreme loyalty. They are angry because they think their nations are under attack.

There are angry religious fanatics, for whom loyalty to a creed is a form of nationalism, defined by opposition to other creeds. They are angry because they think their religions are under attack.

There are angry and violent individuals, whose free-floating anger doesn’t appear to be linked to any larger movement or cause.

Pankaj Mishra wrote in Age of Anger: a History of the Present that most of this anger has a common cause—disappointment with the promise of modernity.

The promise of modernity is that if you give up your outworn prejudices, superstitions and customs, if you embrace science, reason and commerce, if you leave home, get an education and join a wider world, you will not only prosper, but you will be free to choose the course of your life..

The anger, Mishra wrote, comes from those for whom this promise was not kept, or who didn’t believe it in the first place.

The angry men—almost all of them are men—are not people clinging to a traditional way of life. They are men who long for something they lack.

This goes back a long time. It was felt by millions of people in Europe and North America in the 19th century and also billions in Asia and Africa in the 20th and 21st, who were uprooted from village communities and left to fend for themselves in an unforgiving global economy.

The promise of an improved material standard of living was kept for some of us—educated middle class people in North America and Western Europe, and, during the 20th century, great masses of working people.

But it is not humanly possible that the majority of the people in China and India, let alone Africa and the rest of the world, will ever be able to consume as much of the world’s resources as prosperous Americans and Europeans do. And even if they could, that might not compensate for what they have lost.

Read the rest of this entry »

The heroic teachers’ strike in West Virginia

March 7, 2018

The USA in many ways has reverted to the Gilded Age of the 1890s, in which the economic and political systems are operated for the benefit of big business and a tiny group of rich people.

The striking West Virginia teachers are in the same boat as workers in the 1890s.  Their strike is illegal.  They are outside the protection of the National Labor Relations Act.   Anytime they strike, their whole futures are at risk

All they have going for them are their own solidarity and courage, and the support of public opinion and other workers.   But they have forced the Governor of West Virginia to agree to their 5 percent pay raise.   They still haven’t won a rollback in health insurance increases.

There is a lot to be learned in the way the West Virginia teachers organized their movement.   They organized all the public school employees, not just the teaching staff.   They reached out to parents and students, to make sure no student would go hungry for lack of a school lunch.

I have long believed that things in the USA cannot go on as they are forever, and I have long looked for signs of change—the Wisconsin public employees’ demonstrations, the Occupy Wall Street movement, the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign.

All these movements, in their different ways, represented working people striving for something better.  All were beaten back.   Is the West Virginia teachers’ strike the breakthrough?  We’ll see.


The Lesson From West Virginia Teachers: If You Want to Win, Go on Strike by Miles Kampf-Lassin for In These Times.

 Notes on the West Virginia Teachers’ Strike of 2018 by Lambert Strether for naked capitalism.

Lessons, Successes, Failures of the West Virginia Teachers Strike by Bruce A. Dixon for Black Agenda Report [Added 3/8/2018]

Democrats allow Trump a dictator’s power

March 6, 2018

Lee Camp, writing for Truthdig, pointed out that Democrats in Congress have no qualms about giving President Donald Trump the powers of a dictator.  Instead of standing up for the American people, he said, corporate-owned Democrats have strengthened the president.

The Democrats have helped, voted for, and often argued in favor of all of the following:

  1. Giving Trump unlimited war powers.
  2. Giving Trump unlimited trade negotiation powers.
  3. Giving Trump unlimited surveillance powers.
  4. Giving Trump the power to lock someone up indefinitely without a trial or charges under the National Defense Authorization Act.
  5. Giving Trump the power to assassinate American citizens without a trial or charges.
  6. Giving Trump’s administration full control of our election system infrastructure.

If this is considered “resistance,” then I don’t want to be a part of it. I’d rather spend my time resisting the “Resistance” and thereby taking this dictator’s toolkit away from Donald Trump.

Source: Truthdig

Most of my Democratic friends are obsessed with Trump.  Every discussion of politics veers to the most recent foolish thing Trump has said or done.

They hope and expect that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller will prove that Trump is in league with the Russian government and provide grounds for impeachment.

Even if that works out, which I doubt, they’re then faced with President Mike Pence, who from a liberal Democratic standpoint is just as bad as Trump on matters of policy, but more effective.

On matters of policy, there’s little difference between Trump and the dominant faction in the Republican Party.

On fundamental questions of war and peace, Constitutional rights and economic policy, there is no fundamental difference between Republican and Democratic leaders in Congress.

That’s why some Democrats in Congress would rather allow Trump the powers of a dictator than to set limits on the power of a future Democratic President.

It’s true that, out of the six items, only the war powers and the surveillance powers were voted on during the Trump administration.

That doesn’t matter.  When you vote to remove restraints on Presidential power, you have empowered all Presidents, present and future—not just to the one you happen to like.


Six Ways the ‘Resistance’ Gave Trump a Dictator’s Toolkit by Lee Camp for TruthDig.

Russiagate, Trump, Putin, Mueller and Targeting Dissent by Matt Taibbi for Rolling Stone.

Trade war tactics and strategy

March 5, 2018

Reuters reported that the European Union is considering applying 25 percent tariffs on American motorcycles, bourbon and blue jeans, if President Trump imposes new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Motorcycles, bourbon and blue jeans?  Kevin Drum of Mother Jones explained the significance.

Hmmm.  Harley-Davidsons are made in—what?  Wisconsin, right?  In Menomonee Falls, actually, about 50 miles from Janesville, where Paul Ryan lives.  The Jim Beam bourbon distillery is in Clermont, Kentucky, about 20 miles from Mitch McConnell’s house in Louisville.  Levi’s is headquartered in San Francisco, about two miles from Nancy Pelosi’s house.

I think that’s a pretty funny example of trade war tactics.

Skating on thin ice

March 3, 2018

I wouldn’t advise trying this.

Americans and Russians in deadly clash in Syria

March 2, 2018

Update 3/5/2018:  According to this article in Der Spiegel, Russians didn’t participate in the attack and few of them were killed.   If that’s so, how did the other version of events originate?  Fog of war, or something more sinister?  At this point, I don’t know what to believe. 

During the whole of the Cold War, American and Soviet troops never engaged in direct combat.   But early last month, Russian mercenaries attacked a U.S. position in Syria, and an estimated 100 to 300 Russians were killed.

The Russian troops reportedly were employed by a private company funded by a Russian named Yevgeny Prigozhin, who also funded the company accused of illegally meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

U.S. troops and an allied militia called Syrian Democratic Forces were protecting an oil refinery at Deir Ezzor in eastern Syria.   The SDF position was attacked by Syrian government forces along with by Russian troops employed by the Wagner PMC (private military company).

U.S. forces counter-attacked with artillery, air strikes and drone strikes, smashed the attacking force and didn’t suffer any casualties themselves.

The Russian government said no Russian government troops were involved.  All the Russians in the battle were private individuals who were in Syria for their own reasons, the government said.

The U.S. government also had no official comment, but since then journalists have written a good bit based on off the record comments by U.S. intelligence and Treasury officials.

Yevgeny Prigozhin, known at “Putin’s chef,” got his start as a hot dog vendor, then the owner of a chain of restaurants, a caterer to the Kremlin and then a caterer to the Russian armed forces.   He owns two companies, Concord Management and Consulting and Concord Catering.

Both he and his companies were indicted on charges related to interfering in the 2016 election, and he and his companies are on the U.S. sanctions list.

He reportedly is an investor in Wagner PMC, which was founded by Dmitry Utkin, also on the U.S. sanctions list.  Wagner PMC reportedly employed the “green men,” troops without insignia who engineered the Russian takeover of Crimea and supported Russian-speaking separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Prigozhin allegedly owns or controls Evro Polis, a Russian company that has been promised a 25 percent share of oil and gas revenues in territories recaptured by the Syrian government from the Islamic State (ISIS).  Evidently Wagner PMC’s mission is to help secure these territories, and that was the reason for the attack.

I can see why Vladimir Putin might work with a private individual such as Yevgeny Prigozshin.   I don’t think Russians are any more willing than Americans to see their sons drafted to fight wars in distant countries for obscure purposes.  Hiring mercenaries solves this political problem, and also provides a way to deny responsibility if thing go wrong.

But what if it is the other way around?  What if this whole operation is to serve the business strategy of a Russian oligarch?  This is a dangerous situation, because both the Russian and U.S. governments could be sucked in a conflict they didn’t intend or expect.

Read the rest of this entry »

Deaths of despair in America

March 1, 2018

Economists Angus Deaton and his wife, Anne Case, are authors of a study showing the increase in the rate suicide, and also of other “deaths of despair,” among middle-aged white Americans.

The mystery is why there’s no such trend among black and Hispanic Americans, or among Europeans, even though many of them are struggling economically as much or more than white Anglo Americans.

Deaton and Case, in an interview shown in the video above, saw the rising suicide rate as a failure of social and spiritual bonds, and not just a failure of public policy.

They speculated that some white Americans are failed by their religion.  He said many evangelical churches downplay social support because they believe salvation is an individual relationship with God.

I think this is a stretch, and they don’t provide any evidence for this.   My impression—admittedly based on limited experience—is that strict conservative churches provide at least as strong social support as mainstream churches.

The isolated ones would be the ones who think they don’t need a church community because they have an individual relationship with God.   This was true of J.D. Vance’s troubled family, which he described in Hillbilly Elegy.  When trouble comes, his family didn’t have any support system beyond each other.

Of course, all other things being equal, unbelievers suffer just as much or more from lack of a church community.

I think we white Anglo Americans are brought up to think that society is basically fair and that anything that happens to us is our own fault.   We’re taught to keep trying despite setbacks, and not to give up.  This is good—up to a point.

My guess is that black and Hispanic people on average are more aware that life is unfair and that they don’t invest so much of their self-esteem in being breadwinners.

My other guess is that life is more meaningful to those who join in solidarity with others to fight for change.

In an interview linked below, Deaton said the problem is not economic inequality as such.   It is fairness, he said.  It is not unjust for someone to get rich by creating something of value.   What matters is how you get rich.

He said the problem is that so many of the economic elite get rich through what he called “rent seeking”—extracting money from people without contributing anything of value.  The health insurance industry is an example of this.

Monopoly or “oligopoly” (control by a small number of firms) are a big part of the problem, he said.  Lack of competition results in lower inflation-adjusted wages, higher prices, fewer jobs and slower productivity growth.   Self-described progressives and conservatives ought be able to in fighting monopoly.


Angus Deaton on the Under-Discussed Driver of Inequality in America: “It’s Easier for Rent-Seekers to Affect Policy Here Than in Much of Europe”, an interview for Pro-Market, the blog of the Stigler Center of the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.

Mortality and morbidity in the 21st century by Anne Case and Angus Deaton for the Brookings Institution (2017).   This is their most recent study of “deaths of despair.”

War in the heart of America

February 28, 2018

During my lifetime, I’ve read a fair amount about the Civil War, but two books that I read during the past few weeks bring home its reality in a new way.

They show how different the war was to people at the time than it seems in the light of history, and how events could have turned out differently from the way they did.

It was not inevitable that the war would last as long as it did, that the North would win or that slavery would have been abolished even if the North had won.

The two books are IN THE PRESENCE OF MINE ENEMIES: War in the Heart of America (2003) and THE THIN LIGHT OF FREEDOM: The Civil War and Emancipation in the Heart of America (2017) both by Edward L. Ayers.

His window into the war is a collection of source material—letters, dairies, newspaper accounts and the like from two communities— Franklin County, Pa., and Augusta County, Va.—collected over a period of decades as part of a special project of the University of Virginia.

The two counties are at opposite ends of the Great Valley running north and south between the Blue Ridge and the Appalachians, which was a major battleground of the war.

They were more alike than they were different.   Both consisted of prosperous small farms and small towns.  Augusta was different from the plantation South; Franklin was more typical of the North.

Ayers began with accounts of the 1859 celebration of the Fourth of July in the two counties.   The white people of both considered themselves loyal to the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.   Both wanted to preserve the Union.  Neither wanted to abolish slavery.

Yet within a few years they were at war and hated each other.   Reading these books helps me understand places such as Bosnia and Lebanon, which differing peoples can live together in peace for generations, yet, in a short period of time, be brought to the point of killing each other.

In the 1860 election, Augusta County supported the Constitutional Union party, which was pro-slavery, but anti-secession.  Franklin County supported the Republican Party, which was anti-slavery on only one point—that slavery should be barred from United States territories, in order to protect Northern white workers from competition with slave labor.

Slaveowners in the Deep South saw this as an ultimate threat, because no new slave states would have been admitted to the Union, which in the long run would have made slaveowners a politically powerless minority.

In Virginia, delegates from Augusta County voted against secession.  But as secession proceeded, the question changed from favoring the Union vs. secession to favoring the North vs. the South.  Once the decision was made, the anti-secession delegates fought bravely the Confederate Army or otherwise supported the war wholeheartedly.

The white people of Augusta County were willing to break up the Union in order to preserve slavery.  The white people of Franklin County became willing to abolish slavery in order to preserve the Union.   Black people in both counties had their own w

None foresaw how long the war would last, how many lives would be lost nor what the result would be.

Read the rest of this entry »

‘Remind me why socialism is so great again’

February 22, 2018

Economist Mark J. Perry, who posted this chart on the American Enterprise Institute’s Ideas blog, argued that prices are highest in the economic sectors that are most heavily regulated.

Said he:  “Remind me of why socialism is so great again.”

One possible explanation is Baumol’s Cost Disease, the tendency of the cost of human services to rise relative to the cost of manufactured goods.  That’s not the whole story.

The fact is that European countries that most Americans would consider socialist have free or affordable medical care and free or affordable higher education.   And it is not a case of costs being shifted from patients and students onto taxpayers.

Overall costs of health care and higher education are less in so-called socialist European countries (I write “so-called” because most of them have self-described conservative governments).

The reasons why health care costs less in those European countries than in the USA is that there are no for-profit insurance companies standing between the patient and the physician, that European countries control prescription drug prices and that the incomes of physicians and other health care providers are less.

My guess is that European universities provide a no-frills education without spending huge sums on sports stadiums and student amenities.  My other guess is that their hospitals and univerities are not so top-heavy with highly-paid administrators.

In and of itself, government regulation is neither good nor bad.  It depends on what is being regulated, how it is being regulated and in whose interest it is being regulated.


Chart of the day (century?): Price changes 1997 to 2017 by Mark J. Perry for AEI Ideas.

Mark Perry Has Never Heard of William Baumol by ProGrowth Liberal for Angry Bear.

The revolt of the ‘places that don’t matter’

February 21, 2018

The basic political split, not just in the USA but across the Western world, is between the regions that are thriving under globalization and those that aren’t, according to a new a study.

The thriving areas embrace what I call neoliberalism.  The left-behind areas embrace what Andrés Rodríguez-Pose, the author of the study, calls populism.

In his view, the split between rich regions and poor regions is more politically significant that the differences between rich and poor individuals within these regions.

The split is cultural as well as economic.  The rich regions reflect the culture of what Chris Arnade calls “the front-row kids,” who value education, cosmopolitanism and upward mobility, and the “back-row kids,” who put greater value on family, religion and community.

Rodríguez-Pose uses the word populism to mean any kind of revolt against the economic and political elite, whether in the form of right-wing nationalism or left-wing radicalism.   From his standpoint, they’re both bad.   His solution is wiser economic policies by the political and economic elite.

A populist is one who is on the side of the people against the elite, or claims to be.  The all-important question is how you define “the people”.   Right-wing populists define “the people” in terms of race, ethnicity and heritage.  Left-wing populists define “the people” as the working people.   I think that, in the long run, the only alternative to right-wing populism will be left-wing populism.


How the ‘Places That Don’t Matter’ Fueled Populism by Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg.

The revenge of the places that don’t matter, but Andrés Rodríguez-Pose for VoxEU, the policy portal of the Centre for Economic Policy Research.

Suicide Rate Highest in Decades, but Highest in Rural America by Mark Maciag for Governing.

Diversity is not a substitute for justice

February 20, 2018

Racial and cultural diversity is a good thing.

Adolph Reed Jr.

I, a straight white male, benefited from diversity during my college days in two ways.

I won a college scholarship because I was the only applicant from a small town below the Mason-Dixon line, and because I was one of the few applicants for this particular scholarship who took tests in the humanities rather than the sciences.

The other way I benefited was in meeting a more diverse group of people than I had known before.  I never had a meaningful conversation with anyone who was not white or Christian until I went to college (in the 1950s) and meeting people of different backgrounds was an important part of my education.

But diversity is not a substitute for social justice.  Diversity will not, in and of itself, end plutocracy or war or police brutality or unemployment or divisiveness.

The reason so many powerful people and institutions embrace diversity and reject social justice is that diversity leaves the existing structure of political and economic power intact.   Diversity is a good thing.  But it’s not enough.


Diversity: A Managerial Ideology by Darel E. Paul for Quillette.  Hat tip to Alex Small.

Black Politics After 2016 by Adolph Reed Jr. for (Emory College).  This is long, but well worth reading.

The Political Economy of Anti-Racism by Walter Benn Michaels for (Emory College).  A companion piece to Reed’s article, it also is well worth reading.

Maybe ‘Russian influence’ ads were just clickbait

February 19, 2018

A blogger called Moon of Alabama argued, plausibly, that the so-called “Russian influence” campaign was just individual Russians posting clickbait on the Internet to generate ad revenue.

His argument is consistent with the facts, as outlined in the indictment.   The only way to settle it would be if one of the 13 Russians charged by Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller would volunteer to come to the United States and stand trial, which is highly unlikely.

A lot of false news originates this way.  Somebody makes up something striking and posts it hoping to get a lot of views.

When I first read about Mueller’s charges, I thought that I had some more-or-less solid facts.   But, no.  I still can’t say I know what basis there is for the Russiagate charges, or if there is any basis at all.  It’s still the same wilderness of mirrors.   I feel I’m back where I started.


Later [2/20/2018]  Re-reading the indictment, I am reminded that, if the allegations are true, this was a highly organized effort, much more than the typical individual Internet troll’s attempt to generate clickbait.   Most Russians in 2016 feared Hillary Clinton and were sympathetic to Donald Trump, so the effort could have had a dual purpose—to make money and undermine Clinton.

If I had it to do over, I would have pondered the indictment a little more and Internet commentary a little less, and written one post and not four.

Later [2/21/2018]  Well, maybe not so highly organized.  The more analysis I read, the less certain I feel of the basis for the Mueller indictments or anyting else.


Text of the Grand Jury indictments.

Mueller Indictment – The “Russian Influence” Is a Commercial Marketing Scheme by Moon of Alabama.

Robert Mueller’s America—A Farce Wrapped in Hypocrisy by Publius Tacitus for Sic Semper Tyrannis.  [Added 2/21/2018]

A Lesson in Political Sociology for Robert Mueller, a Lesson in Warfare for Dimitry Peskov by John Helmer for Dances With Bears. [Added 2/21/2018]

The Fundamental Uncertainty of Mueller’s Russia Indictments by Masha Gessen for The New Yorker.  [Added 2/21/2018]

Russiagate and the lost hope for peace

February 19, 2018

Prior to the 2016 election, Vladimir Putin said he would welcome the election of Donald Trump because Trump advocated better relations with Russia.

But, as Robert W. Merry of The American Conservative pointed out, any faint hope of that happening was snuffed out by the exposure of Russian attempts to influence the election by means of fake posts on social media.   The Russians shot themselves in the foot.

Most of us Americans have no perspective on this because we don’t know, or choose to ignore, the extent of our own government’s meddling in foreign countries.

U.S. meddling not only includes propaganda, open and covert, but taking sides in civil wars and outright invasions of foreign countries whose leaders oppose U.S. policy.

I don’t argue the U.S. government should tolerate violations of American election law by foreigners in order to atone for American sins abroad.  I do say this should not be used as an excuse for risking war or suppressing dissent.

Read the rest of this entry »

How much impact did Russian media ads have?

February 18, 2018

Double click to enlarge

I have to admit that the extent of Russian propaganda on U.S. social media was more than I assumed.  Maybe I shouldn’t have been, given that I’d once posted links about the extent of the Russian propaganda effort.

I don’t use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or other social media myself.

I’m curious to know how far these ads reached and how much impact they had.

I’d like to ask American viewers of this blog to comment on the following questions—

  • Have you ever seen any of the ads above or below before?
  • Have you ever received anything from american veterans, Army of Jesus, Being Patriotic, Blacktivist, Born Liberal, LGBT United, Secured Borders or Stop AI (all invaders)?
  • If you did receive anything like this, what did you think of it?  Do you think it would influence people you know?

Of course, from the legal standpoint, it doesn’t matter whether these ads had a big impact or a small impact.   All that matters is whether certain individuals broke American law.

Click to enlarge

Read the rest of this entry »

Russiagate and the Mueller indictments

February 17, 2018

Friday’s Grand Jury indictments of 13 Russians and three Russian organizations indicate that Russian meddling in the 2016 elections went far beyond mere Russian propaganda on social media.

But there were no charges of knowing collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian agents.

Russians allegedly entered the United States under false identities, impersonated Americans on social media and organized political rallies on behalf of fake organizations—all to promote the candidacy of Donald Trump or discredit his opponents.

They are charged with violating American laws on campaign financing, registration of foreign agents, identity theft and fraud.

All this is within Special Prosecutor Robert S. Mueller’s mandate to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election.  He is not like a Kenneth Starr in the Whitewater investigation, fishing for anything that can be used against the President.

There’s no question that Vladimir Putin welcomed the candidacy of Donald Trump.   He promised to improve relations with Russia, and, as Putin said, why wouldn’t the Russian government welcome that?   That’s not evidence of a Trump-Putin plot to rig  the 2016 elections

If there really was such a plot, this would be grounds for an impeachment.   But this is so improbable as to be virtually impossible.

All the information that has come out about Trump campaign officials trying to set up meetings with Russians is, to me, evidence against collusion.   If the fix were really in, Trump would have ordered his underlings to stay as far away as possible from Russians.

The real problem is the way the Russiagate issue is being exploited politically.

It is being used as a justification for military confrontation with Russia in Ukraine, Syria and other countries.   A confrontation at worst risks an accidental nuclear war and at best creates a useless conflict which brings no benefit to Americans.

It is being used as a justification for censorship of Americans, particularly leftists, whose views supposedly serve the interests of Russia.  I suppose this would include me, as a blogger who voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic primary and the Green Party in the general election.  I think about the 1950s and 1960s, when progressives who supported civil rights or labor rights were accused of following the Communist Party line.

Read the rest of this entry »

Learning to be happy while living within limits

February 12, 2018

Back in the 1990s, when I was still working as a newspaper reporter, I was assigned to write a feature article on people who had embraced “voluntary simplicity” as a way of life.

I thought that, given the state of the local economy then, there might be larger numbers of people who were experiencing involuntary simplicity.

I had the same thought when I listened to an excellent talk by Emrys Westacott last November as part of the annual UNESCO World Philosophy Day lectures at St. John Fisher College here in Rochester, N.Y., and later read his book, THE WISDOM OF FRUGALITY: Why Less Is More—More or Less  (2016).

He pointed out that the great majority of philosophers in both the Western and Eastern traditions endorse frugality as a way of life.

Be content with what you have, they say; don’t expect happiness from material goods. Instead you should seek simplicity, or self-sufficiency, or purity, or closeness to nature.

There’s a difference between a frugal person, and a poor person.  Frugal people live the way they do out of choice.  Poor people may or may not be have a worse material standard of living than frugal people, but they are worse off in either case because they are forced to make sacrifices they didn’t choose.

Philosophers have had different reasons for advocating frugality, not all of them compatible with each other.

Benjamin Franklin said thrift is necessary to get ahead in life.  Henry Thoreau said caring about stuff separates you from nature.  Epicurus said that the less you think you need, the happier you can be.  The ancient Spartans said needing a lot of stuff makes you weak.   Jesus of Nazareth said you should not seek riches, but rather the Kingdom of Heaven. The Buddha said something similar.

Westacott, with great clarity, examined these arguments, and more, and also the counter-arguments.

Read the rest of this entry »

All the movies that won special effects Oscars

February 10, 2018

How to tell the ‘flu from a cold

February 9, 2018

This doctor’s hilarious chart reveals the very simple way to tell if you’ve got the ‘flu or just a cold by Tom Michael for The Sun.  (Hat tip to naked capitalism)

What is influenza, how contagious is it, what are the symptoms, how can you avoid it, and has anybody died from the ‘flu in the UK? by Lauren Windle and Emma Lake for The Sun.

Cold versus flu, explained by Julia Belluz for Vox.  [Added 2/10/2018]  (Hat tip to Mike the Mad Biologist.)