Archive for June, 2020

Why does big business back Black Lives Matter?

June 29, 2020

JP Morgan Chase in solidarity with Black Lives Matter. (Via The Saker)

Why are big corporations so solidly behind the George Floyd protests?

Apple replaced all of the radio stations on its music app with a single stream playing “Fuck the Police” on #BlackOutTuesday to show support for the protests.  Lego pulled advertising for its police-related toys.  Executives of JP Morgan Chase were photographed “taking a knee” to show support for the George Floyd protests.

Amazon, General Motors, McDonald’s, Target and other big corporations all issued statements supporting the protests.  The companies that held back are in the minority, and have been called on to explain themselves.

The two big Black Lives Matter organizations – the Black Lives Matter Global Network (not to be confused with the Black Lives Matter Foundation) and the Movement for Black Lives – have been pulling in millions of dollars in foundation grants for years.

In 2015, Borealis Philanthropy, established the Black-led Movement Fund to attract gifts from major philanthropists, George Soros’ Open Society Foundations. In 2016, the Ford Foundation, announced a $40 million donation to the Movement for Black Lives for “capacity strengthening.

Last summer Ford and Borealis announced “a six-year  pooled donor campaign aimed at raising $100 million for the Movement for Black Lives coalition,” to which BLM is a central part, to support organizing efforts.f

I wasn’t able to find out exactly how much money Black Lives Matter groups have received from foundations and corporate donors, nor how much they received from grass-roots small donors.  Whatever the exact amounts, the two top groups seem to be well-funded.  The Movement for Black Lives itself announced $6.5 million in grants to local BLM organizers.

Again: Why do big corporations and wealthy philanthropists give such support for this particular cause?

The most obvious answer is: Because it is right and just.  Abuse of poor and black people by police is real, it has been going on for a long time, and it is time to end it.

Another answer is: Because it is popular.  Public opinion polls show this.  Support for the protests improves their reputations.

But there is more to it than that.  Another reason is that the Black Lives Matter movement, unlike, say, the labor movement, is no threat to cooperate revenues, profits or dividends nor to CEO salaries and bonuses.

The current anti-racism movement is not an attack on what used to be called the power structure.  Its representatives see think the source of evil is the racism of white people in general.  Its solution is to change the attitudes of white people, and to silence those it can’t change.

The movement seeks to suppress not only actively racist white people, but white people who are unwilling to be affirmatively anti-racist or who inadvertently say or do things that are perceived as racist.

This attitude is, in my opinion, a threat to basic freedoms, and also counter-productive.  If you can’t frankly discuss issues, how can you address them? It also distracts attention from the real racists.  But it is not a threat to corporate power and profit.

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Rapping Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks

June 27, 2020

Dr. Seuss’s Fox in Socks Rapped Over Dr. Dre’s Beats on kottke.org

The old radicalism and the cultural revolution

June 24, 2020

The old-time left-wing radicalism, which sought economic change, is being replaced by a new radicalism, which seeks cultural change.

The old radicals thought the basic problem is that a tiny elite monopolizes wealth and power.  The new radicals think the basic problem is that dominant groups, such as whites and males, oppress marginalized groups, such as blacks and women.

The George Floyd protests show how the new radicalism has taken hold.  They are bigger and involve more people than anything in my adult lifetime, including the late 1960s and early 1970s.

A real and great evil, the abuse of black people by police, is opposed not only by black people, but by middle-class white people and, nominally at least, by corporate America as well.

Ross Douthat wrote a great column in the New York Times about Bernie Sanders as the last representative of the old-time radicalism and his eclipse by the new radicalism.

Here are some highlights:

[It was argued that a] left that recovered the language of class struggle, that disentangled liberal politics from faculty-lounge elitism and neoliberal economics, could rally a silent majority against plutocracy and win.  The 2016 Sanders primary campaign, which won white, working-class voters who had been drifting from the Democrats, seemed to vindicate this argument.

The 2020 Sanders campaign, however, made it look more dubious, by illustrating the core challenge facing a socialist revolution: Its most passionate supporters — highly educated, economically disappointed urbanites — aren’t natural coalition partners for a Rust Belt populism, and the more they tugged Sanders toward the cultural left, the easier it was for Joe Biden to win blue-collar votes, leaving Sanders leading an ideological faction rather than a broader working-class insurgency.

Now, under these strange coronavirus conditions, we’re watching a different sort of insurgency challenge or change liberalism, one founded on an intersectional vision of left-wing politics that never came naturally to Sanders.  Rather than Medicare for All and taxing plutocrats, the rallying cry is racial justice and defunding the police.  Instead of finding its nemeses in corporate suites, the intersectional revolution finds them on antique pedestals and atop the cultural establishment.

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The test of reality

June 23, 2020

For decades, the USA and other rich nations have had the luxury of dealing with self-created problems.’

Some were self-created (deregulation of finance, foreign intervention), some symbolic (the border wall, Confederate statues) and some imaginary (the Russiagate plot).

Now, however, we’re up against real things.  Pandemics don’t care about public opinion polls.  Climate change doesn’t care about the limits of the politically possible.

Some nations are demonstrating the resiliency needed to rise to these challenges.  Some aren’t.  In a few years, we’ll have the results of real-life experiments as to what works and what doesn’t.

My hope is that we Americans will learn from experience.  My fear is that we will be unable to endure the pain of facing reality and the consequences of what we have allowed our rulers to do.

COVID-19 is the quiz, climate change is the final exam by Jeff Masters for Yale Climate Connections.

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Muslims in India scapegoated for the pandemic

June 21, 2020

Muslims in India are being accused of deliberately spreading the coronavirus.  By stirring up prejudice against India’s largest religious minority, Prime Minister Narendra Modi solidifies his own political power and escapes blame for the spread of the disease.

The treatment of Muslims in India is a major human rights crisis.  Modi advocates an Indian nationalism based on the Hindu religion.  He says Muslims cannot be patriotic because their holy places are located outside India.

Nationalism based on religion is dangerous because it tells people that they should regard themselves, collectively, as sacred.  They are asked to, in effect, worship themselves.  They are asked to give the nation the kind of unconditional loyalty that would be due to a superhumanly wise and good infinite being, and to exclude those not part of the nation from human sympathy.

Modi’s government has drawn up a new refugee law that admits fast-tracks admission Christians, Buddhists and other types of believes, but excludes Muslims. It has suspended self-government in Kashmir, the only majority-Muslim state under Indian rule.

It also is drawing up a new citizenship list, and asking Indians to provide proof of citizenship—a big hardship for poor people.  Muslims fear it may be aimed at them.  There have been a number of lynchings of Muslims, mainly on suspicion of having eaten beef.

Modi was chief minister of Gujarat state in 2002 during a three-day anti-Muslim riot.  By some estimates, as many as 2,000 were killed.  Mobs engaged in vandalism, looting and rape, 230 mosques and 274 Muslim shrines were destroyed and thousands were made homeless.

Modi was barred from entering the United States in 2005 under the International Religious Freedom Act, which denies visas to officials guilty of “severe violations of religious freedom.”  He is reportedly the only foreigner barred under this law.

Since being elected Prime Minister of India in 2014, he was welcomed by both President Obama and President Trump.

The U.S. government is trying to form an anti-Chinese alliance, with India, Japan and Australia the key members.

Because of this, we Americans are likely to hear a lot about the persecuted Muslim Uighurs in China’s far west Xinjiang province and very little about Muslims in India.

The Uighurs, like the Tibetans, are being forcibly assimilated into the Chinese culture by brutal means.  But in Modi’s India, the Muslims will never be assimilated.  They will be forever outcasts and targets of persecution, like Jews in Tsarist Russia, African-Americans in the USA during the Jim Crow era or Central Asian migrants in the Russia of today.

LINKS

The Rise of Narendra Modi by Zahir Mohammad for Boston Review (2013)

Inside Delhi: beaten, lynched and burned alive by Hannah Ellis-Petersen for The Guardian.

How Indian Muslims are being scapegoated for the coronavirus by Namrata Kolachalam for Slate.

India’s treatment of Muslims and migrants puts lives at risk during COVID-19 by Jay Ramasubramanyan for The Conversation.

Bears at play

June 20, 2020

Unbundle the police, and license the police

June 19, 2020

What does the slogan, “defund the police,” actually mean?  It can mean anything from changing budget priorities to shutting down police departments.  There also is a middle ground, which I call “unbundle the police.”

In the USA, local and state governments have been defunding public education, road maintenance and many other functions of government, while largely leaving police budgets untouched, just as the national government has been defunding scientific research, the social safety net and the like while leaving the military budget untouched.

The moderate advocates of “defund the police” simply advocate a shift in priorities: Cut the police budget and shift funds to education, social work, infrastructure and other public needs.

But there are those who think that American police departments have become so dysfunctional and abusive that they simply should be shut down.  These are mainly activists who’ve been struggling for police reform for years, and been thwarted at every turn by the police brotherhood.

The “unbundle the police” approach is an alternative to abolishing the police.  Rather it means a downsizing of the duties of the police.

The police, along with the military, are the only public servants authorized to use deadly force in the performance of their duties.  But how many of the duties the police now perform require that power?

Maybe the best way to defund the police would be to stop paying police to do things that can be done by someone without a gun, a Taser and club.

Economist Alex Tabarrok, for example, asks why the police are in charge of road safety.

It’s an unacknowledged peculiarity that police are in charge of road safety. Why should the arm of the state that investigates murder, rape and robbery also give out traffic tickets?  Traffic stops are the most common reason for contact with the police.

I (allegedly) rolled through a stop sign in the neighborhood and was stopped.  It was uncomfortable–hands on the wheel, don’t make any sudden moves, be polite etc. and I am a white guy.  

Traffic stops can be much more uncomfortable for minorities, which makes the police uncomfortable.  Many of the police homicides, such as the killing of Philando Castile happened at ordinary traffic stops.  But why do we need armed men (mostly) to issue a traffic citation?

Don’t use a hammer if you don’t need to pound a nail. Road safety does not require a hammer.  The responsibility for handing out speeding tickets and citations should be handled by a unarmed agency.

Put the safety patrol in bright yellow cars and have them carry a bit of extra gasoline and jumper cables to help stranded motorists as part of their job—make road safety nice.  Highways England hires traffic officers for some of these tasks (although they are not yet authorized to issue speeding tickets).

Similarly, the police have no expertise in dealing with the mentally ill or with the homeless—jobs like that should be farmed out to other agencies.

Notice that we have lots of other safety issues that are not handled by the police.  Restaurant inspectors, for example, do over a million restaurant inspectors annually but they don’t investigate murder or drug charges and they are not armed.  Perhaps not coincidentally, restaurant inspectors are not often accused of inspector brutality, “Your honor, I swear I thought he was reaching for a knife….”.  [snip]

Defunding the police, whatever that means, is a political non-starter. But we can unbundle the police.

Source: Marginal REVOLUTION

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Police reforms that won’t change much

June 18, 2020

In size and scope, the Black Lives Matter protests against police killings are like nothing else in my adult lifetime.

Unjustified police killings are just an extreme example of the routine abuse experienced by poor and black people at the hands of police, which in turn is just of the ways in which poor and black Americans are abused.  Protesting police killings is just a start, but it’s a good place to start.

Public opinion polls show that a majority of Americans of all races are fed up with the way police treat poor and black people.  Yet, at the same time, only a minority want to get rid of policing all together.  The majority, including a majority of black people, just wants police to do their jobs.  But is this even possible?

Click to enlarge.  Source: 8can’twait

Click to enlarge. Source: Campaign Zero.

Very few people in any occupation want activities to be scrutinized by outsiders.  Physicians and lawyers hardly ever report malpractice by other physicians and lawyers.  We newspaper reporters do not react well to ombudsmen scrutinizing our writings.

We feel that nobody understands what we do except each other.  When we see one of our own kind make a big mistake, our reaction is, “There but for the grace of God go I!”  But the police are a special case.

The sociologist Max Weber defined the state as the institution that has a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence.  Two institutions are given the legal power to use deadly force—the military externally, the police internally.

Power corrupts.  The power to order people around, and the authorization to use deadly force, are a temptation that a lot of people cannot resist.  It stands to reason that police work will attract the wrong kind of person.

Statistics indicate that the rate of spousal abuse is four times as high among police officers as among the general public.  Maybe potential abusers are attracted to police work; maybe the strain of police work leads men to become abusers.  But it stands to reason that someone who is abusive at home will be abusive on the street.

Police typically consider themselves a warrior brotherhood.  They think they are misunderstood and abused by the voting public and their elected representatives, and do not feel compelled to obey.  In local politics, they are the nearest equivalent to the military-industrial complex and secret intelligence agencies—the so-called “deep state”—on the national scene.

The issue is not rules they should follow.  The issue is how to get them to follow rules.

This is not just a problem of African-Americans and other minorities.  Black Americans are 2.5 times more likely to be killed by police than white Americans.  But a non-Hispanic white American is 26 times more likely to be killed by police gunfire than a German is in Germany.  Police killings are numerous in Montana, West Virginia and Wyoming, where victims are almost always white.  The Black Lives Matter protest movement may be saving white lives as well as black lives.

I don’t want to make sweeping generalizations about police.  I don’t have either the personal experience or the research work to do that.  I am sure there are many police officers who quietly do their jobs without abusing anybody.  But the response of police departments to high-profile abuse cases, past and present, shows the strength of resistance to change.

In other words, changing the rules is not enough.

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Snapshot of the coronavirus recession

June 17, 2020

 

Click to enlarge.

It’s going to take more than reopening to repair the damage.

Correction

June 16, 2020

Lee Fang was not fired from his job at The Intercept, and Matt Taibbi did not say he was. I misquoted Taibbi in my post “The American Press Is Destroying Itself.”

A brief history of objectivity in American news

June 16, 2020

[This is a replacement for my half-baked, deleted comment on the previous post.]

We talk about objective news reporting as if it were an age-old professional standard that everybody had always accepted.  In fact, it is a fairly recent development, very much related to economic considerations.

Most people in the 19th century USA would have been surprised to be told that journalists should not be opinionated.  Newspapers typically were organs of political parties and got their revenue from government printing contracts when their party was in power.

Other newspapers were organs of the local business community, or of churches, or of political reformers.  Others made money from being sensational or entertaining.

That doesn’t mean that all journalism of that era was of a low quality.  The Federalist Papers were first published as newspaper articles.  The Lincoln-Douglas debates were published in full in newspapers.  Mark Twain got his start as a newspaper reporter.  The muckrakers of the early 20th century exposed corruption in government and politics, and provided ammunition for the progressive reform movement.

Adolph Ochs’ New York Times made a point of separating news and opinion.  He saw his mission as providing accurate information that people in business could use as a basis for making decisions.

So did the Associated Press.  The AP served a consortium of newspapers.  Its mission was to provide news that could be run in any newspaper verbatim, no matter what the newspaper’s political slant.  This meant (1) a high standard of accuracy and (2) no opinions that differed from the consensus view.

I started working on newspapers in late 1958 when this was the standard of professionalism. Ideally, nobody reading an article would know what the reporter’s opinion was.

Getting a byline over a news article was rare because, in theory, good reporters would all report the news in the same neutral.  The byword was, “You report what you know, you don’t report what you think.”

Opinion belonged on the the editorial page, not the front page (although many readers didn’t know the difference).

This was good discipline for reporters starting out.  I bent over backwards to be fair to views I thought were clearly wrong and later, when I learned more about the topic, I was very glad I did.

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‘The American press is destroying itself’

June 14, 2020

Correction: Lee Fang was not fired from his job at The Intercept.  I misread Matt Taibbi’s article.

Yes, it is.  Matt Taibbi wrote a great article about how editors and publishers at the top levels of American journalism are giving up professional standards of accuracy and fairness in order to advance goals such as unseating Donald Trump and ending racial prejudice.

He tells, for example, of the investigative reporter Lee Fang, who was fired from his job at The Intercept, who was forced to apologize in a humiliating way for quoting a black man who said he was concerned about crime as well as police abuse, and for pointing out that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. opposed violence.

All this, it was decided, represented a degree of racism that was unacceptable, and that canceled out all the good reporting on he had done.

Taibbi pointed out similar episodes concerning the New York Times, the Philadelphia Inquirer and Variety, but the case of The Intercept was especially ironic because it was founded as an outlet for news stories about corporate and governmental abuse that the NYT and the like feared to discuss.

All this, as Taibbi pointed out, is counter-productive, even on its own terms.  The American people are losing confidence in the press.  Becoming openly propagandistic is going to destroy what little credibility they have.

Taibbi himself was in line to become an editor of The Intercept when it was formed, but he reconsidered and kept his job at Rolling Stone.  More recently he quit that job and went into business as one-line subscription service called Reporting by Matt Taibbi.

He made such a name for himself that he can write and publish without submitting his work to a gatekeeper.   But that’s not possible for the mass of journalists in fear of losing their jobs.

LINKS

The American Press Is Destroying Itself by Matt Taibbi.  Indeed it is.  And It’s not just the press.

Has the American Left Lost Its Mind? by Nathan J. Robinson for Current Affairs [Added 6/16/2020]  A rebuttal.

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Is there an alternative to defunding the police?

June 13, 2020

Source: Gallup Poll via Freethink.

Note that the figures in the last line of the HuffPost/YouGov poll are reversed.  The correct figure is that 57 percent oppose defunding the police and 27 percent favor it.  Among black people, the figure is 49 percent opposed, 29 percent in favor; among whites, 60 percent opposed, 29 percent in favor.

HuffPost also found that most people take “defund the police” to mean drastic reductions in police budgets rather than complete abolition.

Law-abiding people who live in poor, majority-black neighborhoods complain about being harassed by police.  At the same time, they complain about getting less police protection than people in affluent, majority-white neighborhoods.  They don’t want the police to stay away.  They just want them to stop behaving like an occupying army.

My question is whether the worst police departments are reformable.  There are those who think they can’t be.

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This time it really is different

June 12, 2020

I didn’t see this coming.

I never expected the George Floyd protests to be so large and to have such an impact.

They haven’t won yet.  The tide could yet recede.  Rogue police departments are strongly entrenched.

But they’re closer to changing policing in the USA than I would have thought possible just a couple of months ago.

They demonstrate that positive change is possible, even when the two major U.S. political parties offer only a choice of evils.

The protests are remarkable for their size and scope, for the fact that they continue day after day and for the fact that the powers that be are afraid of them.

The protests are remarkable for the interracial character in all aspects, good and bad.  The first person arrested for setting fire to a Minneapolis police station was white.

I think that police abuse of power is a great evil, and I applaud those who are doing something about it.

Still, when you consider that the USA is failing to respond adequately to the coronavirus pandemic, to the economic recession and to catastrophic storms, floods and fires caused by climate change, it is surprising that police killings are the issue that sparked protests.  I write this as an observation, not a criticism.

I think the reason is the great change in white Americans’ attitude toward race and racism that has taken place in just the past five or ten years.  The writer Matthew Yglesias calls this The Great Awokening.

This change did not come out of nowhere.  Anti-racism activists in colleges, liberal churches and the major newspapers and broadcasters have been working to change the attitudes of white people toward race, and they have succeeded.

A majority of white Americans recognize that racism is a problem, and a majority of liberal white Democrats are more hard-line on racial issues than average black people are.

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Is the word ‘thug’ a racial slur?

June 11, 2020

In a group discussion the other night, I was surprised to be told that the word “thug” is a racial slur.

To me, “thug” meant a brutal, violent person, regardless of race.  I think of police who beat handcuffed prisoners as thugs.

My dictionary backs me up.  Its definition of thug is: (a) a violent person, usually a criminal; (b) a member of a religious organization of robbers and assassins in India.

The rapper Young Thug

But when I did a Google Image search on the world “thug,” nine out of the first 10 hits were images of black people, including a rapper known as Young Thug.

The linguist John McWhorter also said that “thug” is a racially-charged word.  It once was a race-neutral term, he said, but its meaning has changed.

I see I need to be careful about how I use the word.  I don’t think I am bowing to “political correctness.”  I just want to be sure to avoid language that causes people to misunderstand my meaning.

Sometime back, I had conversations with teachers who loved the book, “Little Black Sambo,” as children and felt put upon because they could not teach it.

They had good intentions.  But students and teachers who heard the word “Sambo” would not have understood their good intentions..

I worked for 40 years on newspapers, and one thing I learned was that it is the responsibility of writers to make themselves understood, not the reader’s to guess my meaning.

If a reader misunderstood what I wrote, that showed that I failed to make myself clear.  Saying the reader should have understood was not an option.

What I need now is a substitute race-neutral term that means brutal, violent person.

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, liberals and progressives said the words “law and order” were code words for racism.  No doubt many white people who complained about crime were prejudiced against black people.

But violent crime and property crime in that era were increasing rapidly.  In this case, the policing of language shut down conversation about a serious problem.

I understand the argument that street crime, if it is committed by a poor black person, is a lesser crime than financial crime typically committed by a rich white person.

I agree that a looter who steals the stock of a small business does less harm than a financial speculator who destroys a thousand small businesses.

If you think that this is an excuse for the looter, go ahead and make that argument.  But don’t shut down discussion by objecting to my language.

It is one thing to object to the assumption that young black men as a group are brutal and violent.  It is another to excuse brutality and violence by forbidding language that refers to it.

George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four wrote about a world in which language was manipulated in such a way that certain ideas could not be expressed.

I worry about this.  But I will no longer use of the word “thug.”

Kirkpatrick Sale’s bet on the world of 2020

June 11, 2020

The Luddites in action

Back in 1995, Kevin Kelly, the editor of Wired magazine, made a bet with Kirkpatrick Sale, the critic of technology.  The bet was that, by the year 2020, technology would have produced a much better world.

Kevin Kelly believed then and still believes that technological progress will automatically produce a better world.  Kirkpatrick Sale believed the opposite.  He thought then and still believes that the world has been on the wrong course since Columbus’s voyages in 1492.

My old friend in Texas called my attention to a 2019 article, in which Sale described the bet and told how he foresaw the world going wrong:

First, an economic collapse. I posited that it might take the form of a worldwide currency devaluation, in which the dollar loses its standing as the world’s reserve currency and becomes effectively worthless even in this country, and a global stock-market crash and depression.

Second, a political collapse, with upheavals both within nation-states and between. I saw the collapsed economy leading to maybe the bottom fifth of society in the developed world, no longer bought off with alcohol and drugs and celebrity and consumerism, rising up in rebellion and creating havoc and disarray throughout; at the same time a similar rebellion of the poor nations, no longer content to take the crumbs from the table of the rich, and simultaneously fighting violent guerrilla wars and flooding into the developed nations to escape their misery.

And finally, perhaps over-arching, an environmental collapse, in which global warming and ozone depletion, for example, made some areas like Australia and Africa unlivable and caused ice packs to melt, and old diseases, released from melting ice and deforested swamplands, mixed with new and spread deadly infections to all continents.

Source: CounterPunch.org

Kirkpatrick Sale’s predictions haven’t come true, at least not completely, but they seem much more probable than Kevin Kelly’s faith in inevitable technological progress.

I have to say, though, that, in 1995, I would have bet on Kelly’s side.

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The rising tide of censorship

June 10, 2020

Michael Moore was interviewed on Rolling Stone’s Useful Idiots podcast about the campaign to suppress the film, “Planet of the Humans,” a critique of the environmental movement.

It actually was taken down from YouTube for a few days because of a bogus concern about copyright.  Moore is a successful celebrity and was in a position to fight back.  As he pointed out, a younger filmmaker, in the same position as Moore when he made “Roger and Me,” wouldn’t have been able to do so.

Taibbi pointed out on his web log that this is part of a growing pattern of censorship.

The significance of the Moore incident is that it shows that a long-developing pattern of deletions and removals is expanding. The early purges were mainly of small/fringe voices on either the far right or far left, or infamously fact-challenged personalities like Alex Jones.

The removal of a film by Moore – a heavily-credentialed figure long revered by the liberal mainstream – takes place amid a dramatic acceleration of such speech-suppression incidents, many connected to the coronavirus disaster.

A pair of California doctors were taken off YouTube for declaring stay-at-home measures unnecessary; right-wing British broadcaster and trumpeter of shape-shifting reptile theories David Icke was taken off YouTube; a video by Rockefeller University epidemiologist Knut Wittknowski was taken down, apparently for advocating a “herd immunity” approach to combating the virus.

These moves all came after the popular libertarian site Zero Hedge was banned from Twitter, ostensibly for suggesting a Chinese scientist in Wuhan was responsible for coronavirus.

In late April, the World Socialist Web Site – which has been one of the few consistent critics of Internet censorship and algorithmic manipulation – was removed by Reddit from the r/coronavirus subreddit on the grounds that it was not “reliable.” The site was also removed from the whitelist for r/politics, the primary driver of traffic from Reddit to the site.

Then in early May, at least 52 Palestinian activists and journalists were removed from Facebook for “not following community standards,” part of a years-long pattern of removals made in cooperation with the Israeli government.

On May 13, human rights activist Jennifer Zeng noted that YouTube was automatically deleting Chinese-language references to terms insulting to the Chinese government, like gongfei, or “communist bandit.” Congressional candidate Shahid Buttar complained an interview with Walker Bragman about Democrats supporting surveillance powers was removed by YouTube.

Evan Greer of the speech advocacy group Fight for the Future had a post flagged by Facebook’s “independent fact checkers”—in this case, that noted pillar of factuality, USA Today – dinging him for a “partly false” claim that the Senate had voted to allow warrantless searches of browsing history.

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Is green technology a mirage?

June 9, 2020

If a problem cannot be solved, it may not be a problem, but a fact.  [Attributed to Donald Rumsfeld]

It is possible to ignore reality, but it is not possible to ignore the consequences of ignoring reality.  [Attributed to Ayn Rand]

A new Michael Moore movie, “Planet of the Humans,” is an attack on the renewable energy movement.  Environmentalists by and large are outraged, and some demanded the movie be suppressed.

It actually was taken down from YouTube for 11 days, but it’s back up now.  If it is taken down again, you can view it on the Planet of the Humans Home page.

It runs for 100 minutes, which is a long time to watch something on a computer screen.  But it held my interest, and maybe it would hold yours, too.

In the first part of the movie, director Jeff Gibbs shows that solar panels and windmills are built through energy-intensive industrial processes and that they are made of materials such as high-grade quartz and rare earths that are scarce and non-renewable.

Solar panels and windmills wear out and have to be replaced.  In one scene, he visits Daggett, California, which pioneered in the development of solar and wind energy.  He sees a wasteland of dilapidated panels and windmills, because the pioneers couldn’t afford to keep them up.

And they don’t even fully replace fossil fuels.  Because of variability of sun and wind, backup electrical generators have to keep spinning, and the ones that aren’t hydroelectric use coal, gas and nuclear fuel.

In the second part, he looks at the environmental destruction caused by biomass energy.  There is no gain from freeing yourself from dependence on coal companies and embracing logging companies.

He makes a big point of pointing out the corporate ties of environmental organizations such as the Sierra Club and of environmentalists such as Al Gore, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Richard Branson and even Bill McKibben.

He questions the whole premise, promoted by advocates such as Al Gore, that it is possible for middle-class Americans to enjoy our current material standard of living simply by adopting a new technology.

Fossil fuels made possible a world with an exponentially increasing population with the average individual using an ever-increasing amount of fuel and raw materials, Gibbs said.  Such a world isn’t sustainable, he said.

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Camden, N.J., police force was disbanded

June 8, 2020

George Floyd protest in Camden, NJ.  (Cherry Hill Courier-Post)

Some Black Lives Matter protestors are demanding that their local police departments be disbanded.  This actually was done in Camden, N.J., in 2013, with good results.

Camden, with a present population of just under 74,000, is just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Despite its small size, it was famous for its high crime rate.

Its murder rate was five times as great as Philadelphia’s and 18 times as great as New York City’s.

Police in Camden took an average of one hour to respond to 911 calls, which is six times the national average.

The city paid out millions of dollars in damages to citizens whose convictions were overturned because of planted evidence, false reports and other forms of police misconduct,

Then the city dissolved its police force and invited Camden County to form a new force.

According to Jim Epstein, writing in Reason magazine, the new force was more effective because it wasn’t bound by the old union contract.

Civilians were hired to do the desk jobs, and all police officers were sent out to walk beats.  Advanced surveillance technology is pinpoint the location of any gunshot and the nearest police car.  Recruiters sought candidates with inter-personal skills, and training emphasized community-building tactics.

This may not be exactly what the Black Lives Matter protestors had in mind.  I think some of them were thinking more of replacing professional police with beefed-up neighborhood watch patrols or something like that.  But they probably would approve of the results.

Based on Epstein’s report, I think the biggest change is a change in thinking.  Too many police think of themselves as a warrior brotherhood.  They think like a military force whose goal is domination.

The new force, by all accounts, has a “protect and serve” mentality.  This makes all the difference.

Camden is still an extremely poor community.  Its murder and violent crime rates are still relatively high.  There are problems still to be worked out, the Cherry Hill Courier-Post reported; many have to do with the inexperience of many members of the new force.

And there would be problems in trying to duplicate their effort with populations and police departments as large as Minneapolis’s or Chicago’s.

Still, it shows that bad policing is not a given.  It is possible to do something about it.

There was no civil disorder in Camden as a result of Black Lives Matter demonstrations.  The police, in fact, participated.

LINKS

How Cops Are Beating Crime in America’s Poorest City by Jim Epstein for Reason.

Revisiting Camden by Alex Tabarrok for Marginal REVOLUTION.

As chaos engulfed Philadelphia, peace reigned across river in Camden by Phaedra Trehan for the Cherry Hill (NJ) Courier-Post.

Do We Need More Police or Better Police? by Daniel Bier for Freethinker.  Interesting research and analysis.  [Added Later]

Camden Is Not a Blueprint for Disbanding the Police by Rann Miller for Truthout.  [Added 6/17/2020]  Important.

Racism and immigration in today’s Russia

June 8, 2020

Sweeping attacks on migrant workers in Russia amid COVID-19 pandemic by Andrea Peters for the World Socialist Web Site.

Unsafe mass protests can spread the virus

June 7, 2020

[Update 6/21/2020] Evidently outdoor protests were not as dangerous as feared.

It Doesn’t Look As If the George Floyd Protests Are Causing a Coronavirus Spike by Fred Kaplan for Slate.

Of course outdoor gatherings of people wearing masks are different from indoor gatherings of people unmasked.

Nicholas A. Christakis, a Yale professor whose specialty is how human biology and health are affected by social networks, wrote a Twitter thread about how mass protests can promote the spread of the coronavirus.

While protestors have the right to risk their own lives, they are likely to spread the disease into their own communities if infected.

He said it is possible to mitigate risk by means of masks and social distancing.  He also called upon police to avoid the use of tear case and to not throw protesters together in crowded cells.

Certain fundamental Protestant and Pentecostal churches have held services in defiance of social distancing rules.  Some members have become infected and some have died.

People who gather in mass protests risk the same fate.  The virus is a blind force of nature.  It doesn’t care if your religion is true or your cause is just.  It will spread just the same to you and, through you, to the people you care about.

During the urban riots in late 1960s and early 1970s, we US Americans talked about “long, hot summers.”  Now we’re looking forward to a summer of public unrest and mass protests against the backdrop of a pandemic, an economic crisis and a bitterly-contested presidential election.  Interesting times!

LINKS

Suddenly Public Health Officials Say Social Justice Matters More Than Social Distance by Dan Diamond for POLITICO.

Nicholas A. Christakis Thread: “I want to go on record with obvious point…”

Nicholas A. Christakis Thread Reader.  A copy.

The Perils of Writing a Provocative Email at Yale by Conor Friedersdorf for The Atlantic.

A World Historical Tragedy by Rod Dreher for The American Conservative.

Greta Thunberg urges climate protests to move online because of coronavirus outbreaks by Justine Caima for The Verge.  [Added Later]

The misleading ‘elephant curve’ graph

June 6, 2020

Click to enlarge.

This widely-circulated graph supposedly shows that the great growth in income of the world’s richest 1 percent is justified because the world’s poorest people also are making great gains under the present system.

The problems of poor and middle-class people in rich countries are supposedly a necessary sacrifice to make this happen.

What makes this chart misleading is that it deals with percentages rather than amounts (dollars, euros, etc.)  So a tiny gain in income for a poor person in, say, Bangladesh or Sudan is a large percentage, even though it is a small amount.

Annotations by the famous French economist Thomas Piketty, in his book, Capital and Ideology, show the true picture.  The poorest 50 percent of the world’s population got only a one-eighth share of the growth in world income over a 38-year period.

The next 49 percent, even though their proportionate gain was less, enjoyed more than sixth-tenths of the amount of the gain.  The world’s richest 1 percent got more than a quarter of the gain.  The richest 0.01 percent got the biggest proportionate gain of all.

The graph does show that the poorest 50 percent of the world’s population made some gains.  A lot of that consists of progress in just one country, China.  A lot of it may consist of people moving from a barter economy to a money economy, and from the “informal” off-the-books economy to the visible economy.

Many of the world’s poorest people may be slightly better off than they were 40 years ago. It’s possible. Even if this is so, there should be a better way to improve their lot than the trickle-down system illustrated by this chart.

LINKS

World Poverty Is NOT Decreasing by Ian Welsh.

No, the World Isn’t Getting Better for Everyone by Ian Welsh.

Worldwide inequality report shows gap between rich and poor by Sam Meredith for CNBC

Thomas Piketty on inequality in education

June 5, 2020

In the present-day USA, young people are told they have no economic future unless they have college educations.  Unless their parents are relatively affluent, the only way they can afford tuition is to go into debt—debt that literally can follow them all their lives.

Many of the top jobs in management, academia and government are only open to graduates of prestigious colleges.  So the educational system reinforces inequality.

Thomas Piketty

Thomas Piketty, in his new book Capital and Ideology, shows that this pattern exists across the Western world, including his native France.

It wasn’t always this way, he noted.  During the decades following the Second World War, the progressive and socialist political parties opened up higher education to working people in a way that hadn’t been done before.

Many of the beneficiaries of these programs became leaders of the moderately progressive and socialist parties.  They became what Piketty called the Brahmin Left, an educational elite, which, according to him, lost touch with the wage earners without college degrees.  He said in an interview:

If you look at education policies, in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, there was a relatively egalitarian platform of investing in primary and secondary education for all and bringing everyone to the end of secondary school. Gradually, in the 1980s and 1990s there was the rise of higher education, but this egalitarian platform has been abandoned in some cases.

There is a lot of hypocrisy in terms of access to universities. I show in the book that if you look at a country like the United States, there is data now available on the relationship between parental income and access to education that shows if your parents are poor, you still have a 25% chance to enter higher education, but when your parents are rich, you have a 95% chance.

Actually, this is understating the impact on equality of opportunity because of course the universities that those with rich parents have access to are not the same as the universities that those with poor parents have access to.

If you look at the amount of education investment, you find that even in a supposedly more egalitarian public system like France, the picture is unequal.

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Thomas Piketty on corporate co-determination

June 5, 2020

I’ve written a good bit about Thomas Piketty’s new book.  Click on the Capital and Ideology tag to read my previous posts about it.  In this post, I’m going to discuss his ideas on corporate governance.

Great corporations typically begin with an individual who has a vision—a Steve Jobs, a Walt Disney, a George Eastman, a Henry Ford, a Soichiro Honda or a Jack Ma.

The drive and creativity of the individuals make the companies what they are.  Over time, though, the companies devolve into authoritarian bureaucracies, little junior watered-down versions of the Soviet Union.

Click to enlarge.  Source: Oxford Law Faculty

The goal of reform would be how to prevent corporate abuse without stifling enterprise and beneficial innovation.  Piketty’s solution is to adopt German-Scandinavian co-determination, under which corporations of a certain size have to allow employees to choose a certain number of corporate directors.

In Germany, according to Piketty,  all firms with more than 2,000 employees must reserve half the seats on their oversight committees to worker representatives.  All firms with 500 to 1,999 employees must reserve a third of their oversight committee seats to worker representatives.  There also are factory committees with union representatives who have a say one work rules and training.

However, in Germany, the oversight committees only supervise day-to-day operations of companies.  Policy is set by directorates, on which workers have no representation.

Other countries reserve one-third of seats for workers on companies of a certain size.  In Sweden, the threshold is 35 employees; in Norway, 50 employees; in Austria, 500 employees.

In April 2018, according to Wikipedia, U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin, Elizabeth Warren and Brian Schatz sponsored the Reward Work Act,  which would amend federal legislation to require all companies listed on national stock exchanges to have one-third board representation for workers.  Polls showed majority support among Americans for the measure.

In August 2018, Elizabeth Warren sponsored a new Accountable Capitalism Act that would require 40 percent of the board of directors be elected by employees in federal corporations with taxable incomes over $1 billion.

In Britain, the Bullock Report in 1977, during the Harold Wilson administration, called for co-determination in big businesses based on the formula 2x + y. In this, workers and stockholders would have equal representation on boards of directors, but there would be two government representatives to break a tie.  It never became reality.

In practice, even though workers have a voice, the final authority rests with the owners.  I think there still is a benefit to having worker representatives.

Employees usually know things about how companies operate that the top managers don’t.  This can be valuable in avoiding the Stupidity Paradox, in which layers of bureaucrats demand good news and truthful information doesn’t filter up.

It’s also good for employees, especially union representatives, to have access to the same information that top management has.  Of course all these desirable goals can be thwarted by a sufficiently cunning and authoritarian management.

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Thomas Piketty on equality through taxation

June 4, 2020

Thomas Piketty’s Capital and Ideology is the most comprehensive study I know about the causes of economic inequality.  He gathered a vast amount of data and made sense of it.  To read my comments on his research, click on this, this, this and this.

In the last chapter, he outlined proposals for a “participatory socialism” to make society less unequal.  He saw three main ways to do this: (1) taxation, (2) reform of corporate governance and (3) educational reform.  This post will be about taxation.  I will take up the other two later.

His plan is based on steeply graduated income taxes, inheritance taxes and new taxes on wealth.  These were to be used to finance a wealth endowment of 60 percent of average wealth to every citizen at age 25 and a guaranteed income of 60 percent of average income.

He does not make absolute equality his goal, but he would allow a much narrower band of inequality than exists today.

I’ve long been indignant at the growing extremes of inequality in my country and the abuses of power of the very rich.  Reading Piketty forces me to think about just how much equality I want and how much I would give up to attain it.

Piketty wrote in earlier chapters of Capital and Ideology about how higher taxes have often been the key to greater national power and wealth.

One of history’s mysteries is how it was that European nations could defeat great Asian empires, such as the Ottoman Empire, the Mughal Empire in India or the Manchu (Qing) Dynasty in China, when, prior to the Industrial Revolution, they were equal in wealth and technology to the European nations.  It was the Chinese, for example, who invented gunpowder.

Piketty’s answer is that the Europeans gained an advantage through a higher level of taxation.  Tax revenue across Europe and Asia prior to the modern era was roughly 1 to 2 percent of national income.  This gave a king or emperor enough revenue to reign, but not to exercise tight control over his realm.

This changed in Europe, during the wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, when military competition forced kings to increase their revenues to 8 to 10 percent of national income.

Click to enlarge

The greater revenue enabled kings to become absolute monarchs, exercising almost as much control over their citizens as a 20th century president or prime minister.  It also enabled them to put armies in the field that the Turks, Persians, Indians, Chinese and Japanese could not match.

Western governments’ revenue was bumped up again in the early 20th century, to 30 to 50 percent of national income.  This made possible the total wars of the early 20th century.  But it also gave governments enough money to pay for universal public education, old age pensions, public health and the other services of the welfare state.

This was only tolerable because the Western nations had grown rich enough that their people could give up a big fraction of their incomes to government and still enjoy a high material standard of living.

It would not have been possible in, say, France in the time of Louis XIV.  The taxes he levied to finance his wars reduced the peasantry to misery and, in some cases, starvation (because the nobles enjoyed most of the national income, but paid no taxes).

The same conditions may exist in poor African countries today.  But in rich Western countries, it is technologically and economically feasible to raise taxes revenues to 50 percent of national income, which is necessary for PIketty’s program.

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