Archive for May, 2021

Abraham Lincoln on trial for racism

May 31, 2021

Standing Lincoln sculpture in Chicago’s Lincoln Park

I was brought up to revere Abraham Lincoln as the Great Emancipator.  But in recent years, I’ve read more and more claims that, in fact, he was just a white racist.

Last year some of the Black Lives Matter protestors toppled statues of people they considered symbols of American’s racist past.

They didn’t stop with Confederate generals, but went on to destroy statues of iconic American statesmen, up to and including Abraham Lincoln himself.

In Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot appointed a Monuments Project advisory committee to evaluate the city’s public statues, and the committee produced a list of 41 as possible candidates for removal.

The list includes five statues of Abraham Lincoln, as well as two of George Washington, one each of Benjamin Franklin and Ulysses S. Grant, and various French explorers, Civil War generals, generic Indians and other notables, plus plaques commemorating the first white settlers of the region.

The committee did not list Chicago’s statue of Stephen A. Douglas, Lincoln’s great opponent on the issue of slavery, but it said it might recommend other statues for removal later on.

The Indictment

The case against Abraham Lincoln is as follows.

During his whole political career, he never was an abolitionist.  In fact, he went out of his way to assure white Southerners that he had no intention of abolishing slavery where it was.

Instead he was a supporter of the Free Soil movement, which opposed adding new slave states to the Union.  The Republican Party was founded to support Free Soil

Some Free Soilers were abolitionists, but others were outright white racists and many didn’t care one way or the other about slavery in the South.  Their objection was to free workers having to compete with slave labor.

Lincoln in many of his public statements despaired of white people and black people living together peaceably with equal rights.

Like many others of his day, he hoped that black Americans could emigrate to Liberia, a quasi-independent African nation established by the USA for that purpose.

Once elected President, his priority was to save the Union, not to abolish slavery.

He only issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862 when the Confederacy seemed about to win recognition from Britain and France, as a means of rallying progressive world opinion to the Union side.

Even then, the proclamation only applied to areas under control of the Confederacy.  It freed not one slave in Maryland, Kentucky, Missouri or any other area under Union control.

The defense

Opposition to the spread of slavery was a big deal.  Both opponents and defenders of slavery believed that, without new territory for slave-worked plantation agriculture, slavery would die out in the USA.

That’s why, after Lincoln’s election, seven Southern states declared their independence before he was even inaugurated.

He did not try to entice these states back into the Union through compromise.  Instead he asserted federal authority by ordering the resupply of Fort Sumter in the harbor of Charleston, S.C.

His priority was to save the Union.  If the Union had not been preserved, there would have been no possibility of abolishing slavery.

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The old crow and the young crow

May 29, 2021

ABOUT CROWS

by John Ciardi

The old crow is getting slow;

the young crow is not.

Of what the young crow does not know,

the old crow knows a lot.

At knowing things, the old crow

is still the young crow’s master.

What does the old crow not know?

How to go faster.

The young crow flies above, below,

and rings around the slow old crow.

What does the fast young crow not know?

WHERE TO GO.

Sources: Spiritually Speaking & Cory Doctorow

Court rules against SBA minority preferences

May 28, 2021

The Cincinnati-based Sixth Circuit of Appeals ruled that a provision of President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, designed to grant preferences to minority-owned small-restaurant owners for COVID relief, are unconstitutional

The specific provision struck down was part of the law’s $29 billion Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant program for small, privately owned restaurants struggling to meet payroll and rent due to the COVID crisis.

The law grants priority status in filing for aid to restaurants that have 51 percent ownership or more by women, veterans and specific racial and ethnic groups. 

The court ruled that the COVID relief program violates the Fourteenth Amendment, which guarantees equal protection of the laws, because it effectively requires struggling businesses owned by white males or certain other ethnicities and nationalities to go to the back of the line.

The lawsuit was filed by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, a nonprofit conservative law firm, on behalf of Jake’s Bar and Grill in Harriman, Tennessee. 

The bar is co-owned by Antonio Vitolo, who is white, and his wife, who is Hispanic.  If the wife’s ownership had been 51 percent instead of 50 percent, they would have qualified for preference. 

The decision by the three-judge panel was 2 to 1.  Circuit Judge Bernice Bouie Donald, who’s African-American, filed a dissenting opinion.  She said the record shows that minority groups have lagged behind in getting access to SBA loans and the law is a reasonable remedy.

“The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which centuries of intentional discrimination and oppression of racial minorities have been eradicated,” she wrote. “The majority’s reasoning suggests we live in a world in which the COVID-19 pandemic did not exacerbate the disparities enabled by those centuries of discrimination.”

Circuit Judge Amul Thapar, who is the son of an Asian Indian immigrant, said there are race-neutral remedies for racial disparities.  If minorities had trouble getting access to capital or credit during the pandemic, then give preferences to all who have been denied capital or credit, he wrote.  Or simply give priority to all who have not yet received coronavirus relief funds.

Judge Donald said this would be cumbersome to administer, and would delay getting needed funds to small businesses who need it most.

Judge Thapar also criticized the definition of which minority groups are eligible and which aren’t. 

As Glenn Greenwald noted, every minority group in the chart below is eligible for preferences under SBA rules, even though many are doing better than the average American or average white American.  Among those excluded are refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, who most certainly have a lot of problems.

Hat tip to Glenn Greenwald. Click to enlarge.

I think Judge Thapar’s ruling is right and just, and has a good chance of being upheld by the Supreme Court.  If it is, conservative judges will have done President Biden a political favor by taking this divisive issue off the table for the 2022 elections.

LINKS

Appellate Court Strikes Down Racial and Gender Preferences in Biden’s COVID Relief Law by Glenn Greenwald.

Decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Antonia Vitolo and Jake’s Bar & Grill vs. Isabella Casillas Guzman, administrator of the Small Business Administration.

The limits to growth

May 28, 2021

Stein’s Law: If something cannot go on forever, someday it will stop.

I’ve completed a series of posts about China’s technological and economic progress, and how the United States may be falling behind.

The problem with framing things in this way is that, in the long run, there are limits to economic growth and someday the race will have to come to an end.

So maybe, instead of asking how we Americans can avoid being overtaken and left behind by the Chinese, I should have been asking how to disconnect from a economic system that requires ever-increasing consumption and create one based on sustainability and security.

Can we disconnect from an economic system that requires ever-increasing consumption and create one based on sustainability and security?

Even though I am not particularly extravagant by American standards, a sustainable world would require a greater degree of austerity than I have ever experienced.

I am one of the lucky ones.  Millions of Americans live in dire poverty even by world standards and millions more live in a precarious state where they could sink into dire poverty at any moment.  How could they be expected to embrace austerity.

Any political program based on shared sacrifice because “we’re all in this together” requires a certain basic economic justice in which there is no gross exploitation, and a certain economic security in which nobody has to fear being without food, shelter or medical care.

This would only be a starting point, and we Americans are a long way from this starting point.  And time is running out.

I think the pandemic, severe storms, wildfires and other emergencies of the past few years are just the beginning.

We as a nation are not coping well with these emergencies.  People on the left and right are losing confidence in our governing institutions with good reason.

I hope for reform that will create a better-functioning government and a greater degree of social justice, and then it will be possible to tackle the long-range issues. 

Of course none of this can be accomplished unless we bring a stop to the forever wars.

A long, complicated and difficult agenda!

But the alternative is a slow decline, followed by a sudden collapse, followed by something else.

The something else might resemble Bolshevism or fascism, evolving into something resembling ancient despotism or medieval feudalism. 

Ideally, the something else could be radically decentralized democracy, with communities providing for most of their own basic needs.

Or maybe something good will happen that I can’t even conceive of.  One can hope.

I admit I don’t have any personal plan for dealing with what I foresee except to continue to enjoy my pleasant life and hope that the crisis doesn’t happen during my lifetime.  (I’m 84.) 

I do not act on what I think I know.  Do not follow my example.

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The enduring strength of Chinese culture

May 27, 2021

The Han Chinese are one of the oldest, largest and most unified of the world’s ethnic groups.  Their current success is not only due to their government’s policies, but the enduring strength of their culture.

For many centuries, the Chinese had a claim to be the world’s most advanced culture.  Marco Polo, who visited China in the late 13th century, was astonished at the wealth and wonders of China, including transformative inventions such as gunpowder, the magnetic compass, the printing press and paper money.

The purpose of the voyages of Christopher Columbus were to establish a sea route so Europeans could buy Chinese tea, porcelain (valuable dishware is still called “china”), silk and other manufactured products without going through intermediaries.

But then as now, there was a trade deficit.  As the Emperor Qianlong told the British McCartney mission in 1792-1794, the Europeans didn’t manufacture anything that the Chinese needed.  The British response was the Opium Wars.

Chinese culture was shaped by Confucius (Kung Tze), who taught the importance of duty, loyalty and responsibility—not individual self-expression.

Confucianism is based on five filial relationships—father to son, teacher to student, older brother to younger brother, older friend to younger friend and ruler to subject.

Society is seen as an extended patriarchal family.  Sons, students and subjects owe loyalty to their fathers, teachers and rulers.  Fathers, teachers and rulers have a responsibility to mentor and provide for their sons, students and subjects.

These are not equal relationships, but they are reciprocal relationships.  There is a historic Chinese belief that subjects have a right to rebel against rulers who have lost the “mandate of Heaven.”    

Government service throughout Chinese history was based on passage of examinations, a process that in theory and frequently in practice eliminated old-boy networks and provided opportunity for the poor but talented.

The Chinese have a history of absorbing not only their subjugated peoples, but their conquerors, such as the Mongols and Manchus, through intermarriage and cultural assimilation.  We can see this process going on now, with the Tibetans and Uighurs.

We Americans see diversity as our strength.  We attract people from all over the world, with different talents and ideas, and they all supposedly contribute to the common good.

But this only works if there is a unity underlying the diversity.  Bringing diverse people together in one place accomplishes nothing unless they have a common purpose.  Otherwise it is better to be unified and homogeneous, like the Chinese.

Belief in filial virtues means Chinese typically have strong family ties.

In some cultures, excessive loyalty to family can be a weakness.  Enterprising family members are held back by their duty to provide for their non-enterprising members.

But it can be a strength if the family is united in an ambition to be a dynasty.  The fictional Kee family in James Michener’s Hawaii, with its hard-driving matriarch, Char Nyuk Tsin (“Auntie Chow’s Mother), is an example of this.

Amy Chua’s “tiger mother” is almost a caricature of this.

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The greatness of Deng Xiaoping

May 26, 2021

Arguably Deng Xiaopeng was the greatest Chinese statesman of the 20th century.  Ezra Vogel wrote a biography of Deng, and discusses it in the video above.  I found the video highly enlightening, and maybe you will, too.

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China pioneers digital currency

May 26, 2021

Coming up: a blood moon and a lunar eclipse

May 25, 2021

Wonders never crease.  A blood moon, a “supermoon” and a lunar eclipse will happen together on May 26.

Blood Moon – Red Moon – Total Lunar Eclipse by Apama Kher for timeanddate.com.

A “supermoon” and a lunar eclipse are both happening on May 26 – Here’s Why by Brian Resnik for Vox.

Super Lunar Event: Supermoon! Red Blood Lunar Eclipse All Happening at Once – Here’s What It Means by Shannon Schmoll for SciTech Daily.

Ivermectin, an ignored Covid miracle drug

May 24, 2021

Invermectin is an anti-viral, anti-inflammatory drug that is cheap, effective against COVID-19 and already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

It has been approved for use in 20 countries, including India, Brazil and Mexico.

Yet the World Health Organization and U.S. Food and Drug Administration do not recommend it.  Many American physicians refuse to prescribe it, including some cases in which patients are dying.

News about it has been suppressed.  Even announcements by health ministries of Brazil and Slovakia have been canceled by social media, as has a YouTube video of testimony of Dr. Pierre Kory, a leading Ivermectin expert, before a congressional committee.

I learned about Ivermectin’s through a link on the Naked Capitalism web log to an article by a journalist named Michael Capuzzo.

I’m not a physician or medical expert, but the evidence presented by Capuzzo in his article, by Dr. Kory in his testimony, and by a team of physicians in a peer-reviewed article is so strong I can’t see how it can be refuted.

Why the opposition to use of this drug?   Nick Corbishley, writing for Naked Capitalism, suggested three possible reasons.

# As a generic, ivermectin is cheap and widely available, which means there would be a lot less money to be made by Big Pharma if it became the go-to medicine against covid.

# Other pharmaceutical companies are developing their own novel treatments for Covid-19 which would have to compete directly with ivermectin. They include ivermectin’s original manufacturer, Merck, which has an antiviral compound, molnupiravir, in Phase 3 clinical trials for COVID-19.  That might explain the company’s recent statement claiming that there is “no scientific basis whatsoever for a potential therapeutic effect of ivermectin against COVID-19.”  The company also flagged up “a concerning lack of safety data in the majority of studies.”  Despite its obvious conflict of interest, Merck’s objections were recently cited by WHO in a statement aimed at browbeating India’s government into withdrawing its approval of ivermectin.

# If approved as a covid-19 treatment, ivermectin could even threaten the emergency use authorization granted to covid-19 vaccines. One of the basic conditions for the emergency use authorization granted to the vaccines currently being used against covid is that there are no alternative treatments available for the disease. As such, if ivermectin or some other promising medicine such as fluvoxamine were approved as an effective early treatment for Covid-19, the vaccines could be stripped of authorization.

Source: naked capitalism

I can think of an additional reason: the tribal nature of politics these days.  President Donald Trump criticized the WHO and CDC and speculated about unconventional therapies for COVID-19.  So anybody who is skeptical about WHO and CDC recommendations supposedly is an ignoramus who doesn’t “believe the science.”

LINKS

‘I Don’t Know of a Bigger Story in the World’ Right Now Than Ivermectin by Nick Corbishley for Naked Capitalism.

The Drug That Cracked Covid by Michael Capuzzo for Mountain Home.  It’s a real commentary on things that this article was published in a obscure regional magazine rather than the New York Times or The Atlantic.

Testimony of Pierre Kory, M.D., on Dec. 8, 2020, before the Homeland Security Committee on early treatment of COVID-19.

Review of the Emerging Evidence Demonstrating the Efficacy of Ivermectin in the Prophylaxis and Treatment of COVID-19 by Drs. Paul Marik, Pierre Kory, Joseph Varon, Gianfranco Umberto Meduri, Jose Iglesias and five others for the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance.  These guys are heroes.

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How did China become so mighty?

May 24, 2021

Image via Debating Europe

When I was a schoolboy in the 1940s, I felt sorry for the poor Chinese.

I was taught they were doomed to famine because their enormous population—400 million—exceeded the carrying capacity of the land.

The saying was that if the Chinese marched four abreast past a given point, they would march forever, because by the time the first 400 million had passed, there would be another 400 million behind them.

All this was too bad, because the Chinese were a highly civilized people and in some ways very wise.  For example, they paid their doctors when they were well and not when they were sick.  But, so I was taught, they were hopelessly behind the times.

Now China has a billion more people than it had then.  While some of them, especially the rural villagers, are poor by European and North American standards, none are in danger of starvation anytime soon.

The fertility rate of Chinese women is below the replacement rate, so the imaginary columns of marching Chinese would end at some point.

And much more importantly, the Chinese in many ways have replaced us Americans as pace-setters for world progress.  Charts in my previous post show some benchmarks of Chinese progress

The Chinese are the world’s top manufacturing nation and top exporting nationTheir technology is highly advanced.

During the past 20 years in particular, the USA has been struggling with self-created problems–military overstretch, governmental paralysis, racial conflict, while the Chinese have gone from strength to strength.

China’s rise does not, in and of itself, threaten American independence and prosperity.  The reason we Americans should be concerned is that China’s rulers reject America’s professed ideas of democracy, free-market economics and human rights, and yet are moving ahead while we Americans are falling behind.

China’s mercantilism

Click to enlarge.

China’s economic takeoff began shortly after the death of Mao Zedong, when the government shifted from a centrally-planned economy of state socialism to be loosely-guided economy of capitalist mercantilism.

Mercantilists do not believe in unrestricted free enterprise and they especially do not believe in unrestricted free trade.  Instead they believe in supporting industry by means of infrastructure improvements, protective tariffs and other subsidies.

This was the policy of Alexander Hamilton in the USA, of Friedrich List in Germany and of Deng Xiaopeng in China. 

It has been the policy of many countries, not always successfully.  But the Chinese made it work.

American companies were allowed to operate in China, using Chinese labor and gaining access to the huge Chinese market.  But they were subject to certain conditions.  They had to employ Chinese workers—not just blue-collar workers, but engineers and managers.  They had to allow some Chinese ownership.

And, most importantly, they had to transfer technological know-how to the Chinese.

Other countries besides the Chinese set conditions for entering their markets.  When I reported on business for my local newspaper, I was told by Kodak and Xerox managers that these companies had branch plants in Mexico because the Mexican government would not allow them to see film or copies in Mexico unless there was a certain amount of ”value added” in that country.

China represents an extreme and the USA represents another extreme. 

The Chinese government wants foreign investment to add to that country’s industrial base.  The U.S. government doesn’t care.  About 98 percent of foreign direct investment in the United States consists of purchase of existing assets, not investment in new capacity.

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China, the emerging superpower: in charts

May 24, 2021

The USA still has the world’s largest gross domestic product, but that may not mean as much as it seems.  It includes useless and harmful spending as well as useful spending.

China is by far the world’s leading manufacturing nation.

It is overtaking the United States as the world’s leading trading nation.

China’s global reach is being extended by its “belt and road intiative.”   China intends to finance pipelines, railroads, highways, seaports and other transportation infrastructure so as to economically integrate the whole of Eurasia, with China as the hub.  Admittedly, much of what’s shown on the maps is still on the drawing board, but even if the plan is only partly carried out, it could have a big impact.

Click to enlarge.

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Things fall apart

May 23, 2021

In the USA, the dominant forces in both major political parties reject basic principles that are necessary to the democratic process.

Republicans seek to hold onto political power by suppressing the vote of certain demographic groups.

Democrats seek to hold into power suppressing the expression of certain opinions.

Not all Republicans are blindly loyal supporters of Donald Trump. But no Republican politician are afford to be a critic of Trump.

Not all Democrats are committed to so-called “woke-ism.” But no Democratic politician can afford to be a critic of the new ideology.

My evaluation of the two parties’ leadership is that, at this point in history, MAGA Republicans are crazier, but Woke Democrats are more dangerous, because they have powerful institutions behind them—the national security establishment, the elite universities and the leading newspapers and broadcasters.

Ezra Klein Interviews Nicole Hammer in the New York Times.

Nicole Hammer, a scholar who follows the conservative movement, says the Republican Party is “post-policy.”  She says the hard core of the Republican Party is committed to nothing except to supporting Donald Trump, no matter what he says and does, and opposing the Democratic leaders, no matter what they say and so.

It is remarkable how many commentators hark back to the United States of the 1850s, and the vain attempts back then to avert a civil war.  A significant number of people in that era, and also in the Western nations before the two world wars, were frustrated, apprehensive and ready to go to war and settle things, as they thought, for once and for all.

Reflections on the Upheaval in France by N.S. Lyons for The Upheaval.

In April, 20 retired French generals published a letter denouncing “the disintegration that is affecting our country” caused by woke-ism and failure to integrate France’s Muslim minority.   This letter and a follow-up letter were signed by a total of more than 287,000 people, including 2,000 serving soldiers.

A public opinion poll indicates that a majority of French people support the soldiers’ letter.  The whole article is interesting.

They all fall by Sam Kriss for Idiot Joy Showland.  Some reasons for the failure of Jeremy Corbin and left-wing populism in England.

Inside the Military’s Secret Undercover Army by William M. Arkin for Newsweek.

Corporate Media’s Double Standard: They Attack Whomever They Want, But You Cannot Criticize Them by Glenn Greenwald.

Big Corporations Now Deploy Woke Ideology the Way Intelligence Agencies Do–As a Disguise by Glenn Greenwald.

House Democrats, Targeting Right-Wing Cable Outlets, Are Assaulting Core Press Freedoms by Glenn Greenwald.

The Sovietization of the American Press by Matt Taibbi for TK News.

American conservatives and Republicans don’t have a great record of defending First Amendment rights.  But that doesn’t mean they are fair game for censorship. 

There used to be a saying that a conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged.  Well, then, a liberal is a conservative who’s been canceled.

The Danger of the Moment by Bob Bauer for Lawfare.  [Added 5/28/2021]  Republican voter suppression didn’t begin or end with Donald Trump.

There are degrees of infinity

May 22, 2021

I suspect that infinity is something that the human mind cannot grasp.

I am certain that infinity is something that my particular mind cannot grasp.

Trump blocked from bringing U.S. troops home

May 20, 2021

Then-president Donald Trump sent a secret memo to the Pentagon after he lost the election pushing them to withdraw US troops stationed around the world, according to a new report.

One of Mr Trump’s closest aides, John McEntee, handed a handwritten note to retired Army Colonel Douglas Macgregor on 9 November 2020, saying: “This is what the president wants you to do.”

The note said to “get us out” of Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. It instructed the Colonel to “complete the withdrawal from Germany,” and to “get us out of Africa,” according to new reporting by Axios.

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A lot of people have worried about what happens if you get a reckless President who goes to war on impulse.  Are there legal or governmental mechanisms to stop him?

With President Trump, there was a different problem.  He impulsively tried to end wars.  And there were institutional mechanisms that stopped him.

Writers of an article on Axios told how all through his administration, he wanted to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria, and how the generals resisted him and told him it couldn’t be done.

It isn’t as if Donald Trump was a consistent lover of peace.  He broke the agreement President Obama and other foreign leaders had negotiated with Iran.  He stopped the normalization of relations with Cuba.

He left the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty with Russia and opposed renewal of the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), thereby increasing the possibility of nuclear war.

But at the same time, he wanted to wind down all the wars that the Obama administration had been waging.

Anytime he made a step, there was something to stop him—some atrocity story, later discredited, or some leak from Pentagon or intelligence source explaining why this would be a disaster.

Then, in his lame duck period, he wanted to order all troops withdrawn from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Germany and “Africa” before Joe Biden was sworn in.

In typical Trump fashion, he at first did not issue the order himself.  Instead he told an underling to tell the generals that was what he wanted.

The generals, quite reasonably, wanted a written order, and after some fumbling the order was issued.  By then, it was too late.

This was being done in secret.  There would have been a rebellion in Congress, not to mention the Washington press corps, if this had been known.

This is partly a story of Trump’s incompetence and weakness.  Recall that the Mueller investigation could not produce evidence that he obstructed the Russiagate investigation because he was never organized enough or forceful enough to actually obstruct anything.

But it is also a story of how Washington is biased toward war.  President Obama was more savvy than Trump, but he didn’t think he was able to overcome the generals’ resistance to ending the war in Afghanistan.

Continuous war is now normal.  It is the default position.  It no longer needs a justification, other than avoiding the humiliation of defeat.  We Americans depend on a war economy to create jobs, generate business profits and fund scientific research.

As in Germany in the time of Bismarck and Kaiser Wilhelm, as in many South American and Middle East countries today, the military is an independent or semi-independent part of government with its own policy.

President Biden decided to renew START, which would have expired in February.  He set a new deadline with withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, but there are reports that the U.S. will continue to intervene there by means of flying killer drones and covert operations.

Whether he will ramp up the new cold war with Russia and China, or wind down other wars, remains to be seen.  I’m not hopeful, but maybe he’ll surprise.

A President determined to end the forever wars would have to have an iron will.  He would have to face the possibility of being a one-term President.

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Glenn Greenwald in Brazil

May 19, 2021

SECURING DEMOCRACY: My fight for Press Freedom and Justice in Bolsonaro’s Brazil by Glenn Greenwald (2021)

Glenn Greenwald’s new book tells the story of his latest exploit, the publication in 2019 of leaked information exposing corruption and abuse of power in Brazil, his adopted country.

His reporting on leaked information about abuses of power by President Jair Bolsonro and Justice Minister Sérgio Moro threatens their political power.

The risks he faces—prison and death—are possibly greater than in 2013, when he helped publish Edward Snowden’s leaked information about abuses of power by the NSA, CIA and Britain’s GCHQ.

I’ve long been an admirer of Greenwald, and Securing Democracy is doubly interesting to me because it tells something of his back story.

I started reading his blog, Unclaimed Territory, in the mid-2000s.  Its theme was the Bush administration’s abuse of power.

When Barack Obama succeeded George W. Bush, Greenwald held Obama to the same strict standard that he applied to Bush.  This won him a following across the political spectrum.

Greenwald was, and is, very lawyer-like.  His writing focused on the relevant law and facts, without any evident personal bias.  His judgments were without fear or favor.

In fact, I don’t know Greenwald’s political beliefs, beyond a general belief in democracy, freedom of speech and equal justice under law.

I followed Greenwald as his blog was picked up by Salon, then as he became a columnist for The Guardian.

I didn’t know at the time that he was (1) gay and (2) living in Brazil.

In the book, he told how, after quitting his job in a New York law firm in 2005, at age, he went to Rio de Janeiro to unwind on its famous Ipanema beach. 

A volleyball knocked over his drink, and a handsome 20-year-old man named David Miranda came up to apologize.

It was love at first sight, and they’ve been together ever since.  It is like an ideal love relationship out of Plato’s Socratic dialogues—a mature older man loving and mentoring a handsome and noble younger man.

Miranda grew up in a favela, one of the squatter shantytowns that have grown up around Brazil’s big cities. 

Favela residents typically live in shacks build of scrap wood, bricks and other scavenged materials.  They usually lack electricity, a public water supply or sewerage, although residents sometimes tap into the electrical grid illegally.

Drug gangs have more power in the favelas that the legal government does, Greenwald wrote.  They also are sometimes invaded by private militias financed by wealthy right-wing Brazilians.

Miranda was born in a favela to a poor woman who worked as a prostitute.  He never knew his father.  His mother died when he was five, and he was raised by an aunt, until he left home at age 13.

At first he slept in the street, but, by means of hard work, talent and charm, he had worked his way up to a stable job in offices at the time he met Greenwald.

After they met, Miranda got through junior high and high school, then got a degree in marketing from a top Brazilian university.

Miranda’s ambition was to design and promote video games.  Greenwald was unimpressed by that ambition, until Edward Snowden told him that he got his first ideas of duty, morality and purpose by playing video games as a child.

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HRW calls Israel an apartheid state

May 17, 2021

Human Rights Watch, in its new report, A Threshold Crossed, presented some powerful graphics to illustrate its claim that Israel is an apartheid state.

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William Walton’s “Belshazzar’s Feast”

May 16, 2021

Musical Interlude: “On the Path of Decent Groove” | Belshazzar’s Feast by Yves Smith for Naked Capitalism.  Click on this link for the lyrics.

Jimmy Stewart tells a joke

May 15, 2021

Truth-teller Craig Murray sentenced to prison

May 14, 2021

Craig Murray

Craig Murray was once a career civil service in the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.  He lost his job because of truth-telling.  Now he faces prison because of reporting on his blog.

He lost his foreign ministry job because, as ambassador to Uzbekistan, he was overly concerned about torture of dissidents in that country and insufficiently supportive of the “war on terror.”

He has continued to be a champion of human rights.  He was one of the few journalists to report daily on the extradition trial of his friend, Julian Assange.

Now he has been sentenced to eight months in prison for his reporting on the trial of Alex Salmond, the former leader of the Scottish National Party.

Salmond was charged with 13 counts sexual abuse and acquitted on all of them. Murray, who is himself an advocate of Scottish independence, said the charges arose from a factional right within the Scottish National Party.

He was charged with contempt of court on the grounds that his coverage of the trial on his blog, combined with other public and / or private information, could have led to “jigsaw identification” of the women who made the original complaints.

This week he was sentenced to eight months in prison.  He is in poor health, which would be affected by a prison term. 

He is temporarily free while he appeals the case.  All his reporting on the trial has been deleted from his blog by court order.

Journalists for mainstream publications who presumably created other pieces of the puzzle have not been charged.  A public opinion survey indicates that a small percentage of the public think they can identify the complainants, but none of them name Murray as their source.

Murray thinks his real offense was his claim that the charges against Salmond were politically motivated.

I don’t have a strong opinion about Scottish independence one way or the other.  And I haven’t followed the Salmond case closely enough to make a case that the charges against him were politically motivated, although I have my suspicions.

I do think it is clear that Murray is being wronged.  If you think so, too, you might consider clicking on his blog link below and contributing to his defense fund.

LINKS

Appeal for Defense Funds by Craig Murray.

My Medical Records by Craig Murray.

The Troubling Sentencing of Craig Murray by Alexander Mercouris for Consortium News.

Anger at Craig Murray’s eight-month sentence for Alex Salmond trial reports by Greg Russell for The National.

‘Wokeness’ and the backlash against liberalism

May 13, 2021

During most of the history of the Western world – that is, of nations with a Catholic or Protestant heritage – it was taken for granted that you cannot have a unified society unless you have unified morality supported by an official religion.

Much blood was shed in order to impose or maintain that unity.

Sometime around the end of the Wars of Religion in the 17th century, the idea of what we now call liberalism emerged.

That idea was that we agree to disagree, and unify around rules that enable people of different religions and different heritages to live together in peace. The central liberal virtues were freedom, reason and toleration.

The history of the Western world since then has been an expansion of tolerance to include more and more marginal groups.

This expansion has generated backlash – blood-and-soil nationalism, Bolshevism and fascism.

All these movements are based on narrow, but valid, ideals,such as social justice and patriotism.  All, to my mind, represented the failure of liberalism.  But as substitutes for religion, none of them provides the consolation of Christianity or any other universal religion.

“Wokeness,” too, is based on narrow, but valid, ideals – inclusiveness and alertness to social injustice.  In and of themselves, these are all good things.  The problem is that “wokeness” can be a fanatic, persecuting ideology.

Now you may think that it is a foolish exaggeration to compare “wokeness” in all its forms to totalitarian ideologies such as Bolshevism and fascism. 

You’re not in danger of being put in a concentration camp for misgendering someone; you’re not in danger of being stood up against a wall and shot for objecting to diversity training.

And many things that are done in the name of “wokeness” are good.  We can all benefit from examining ourselves for biases; we can all benefit from being more culturally sensitive.  The Black Lives Matter movement may actually succeed in bringing about reform of policing.

Also, as a practical matter, the “woke” movement is far from the worst threat to civil liberties.  “Wokeness” is not responsible for the USA Patriot Act, the torment of Julian Assange, policing for profit, support for foreign governments with death squads, and much more.

But the perpetrators of all these other abuses are hypocrites.  They pretend to be defenders of the U.S. Constitution and a “rules-based” international order.  They don’t reject freedom and democracy in principle.

What we’re seeing in the USA is a broad and deep mass movement — the biggest such movement in my adult lifetime, including the civil rights movement of the Sixties — that explicitly rejects the premises of liberalism.

I remember back in the Fifties people defended McCarthyism on the grounds that it wasn’t as bad as Stalinism.  Well, that was true, but it was possible to be against both. 

Loss of jobs and destruction of reputations for saying the wrong thing, or having the wrong attitude, are not the worst things in the world, but they’re no joke, either.  They signify the rejection of the liberal compact — the idea that you have your ideas, I have my ideas and that is our individual right.

Hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of young people think of the rights to freedom of speech or to due process of law as obstacles to the achievement of a just society.  This is no small thing.

Many are full of rage, for understandable reasons.  They face a bleak future in an unforgiving economy.  But their rage is directed against almost random targets, not against the powers that be.  In fact, the powers that be can deploy “wokeness” to divert attention from themselves.

What the prevalence of “wokeness” shows is the failure of liberalism to inspire loyalty.  Maybe this was an inherent weakness all along.  Maybe what’s doing on today is an unfolding of weaknesses that were there all along.  If so, wishing for a revival of liberalism will not revive it. 

LINKS

Excesses of Wokeness

A Witch Hunt on Instagram by Katherine Jebsen Moore for Quillette.

Jordan Peterson at McMaster University: ‘Don’t let them provoke you’ on YouTube.

Stop Firing the Innocent by Yascha Mounk for The Atlantic.

We All Live on Campus Now by Andrew Sullivan for New York magazine.

Analyses of Wokeness

The Elect: the Threat to a Progressive America from Anti-Black Antiracism by John McWhorter on his It Bears Mentioning Substack blog..

Postmodernism and the Faith of Social Justice by James Lindsay and Mike Nayna for New Discourses.

The Successor Ideology by Ross Douthat, Coleman Hughes, Wesley Yang and Reihan Salam for the Manhattan Institute.

The Enduring Relevance of Czeslaw Milosz’s ‘The Captive Mind’ by Robin Ashenden for Quillette.

Two poems by Billy Collins

May 12, 2021

Forgetfulness

by Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go

followed obediently by the title, the plot,

the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel

which suddenly becomes one you have never read,

never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor

decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,

to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye

and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,

and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,

the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,

it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,

not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river

whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,

well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those

who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night

to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.

No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted

out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

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The case for economic nationalism

May 11, 2021

Political scientist Thomas Ferguson often points out that the United States, unlike other rich nations, has never had a labor party—a political party dedicated to the cause of organized labor.

Instead, Ferguson says, the conflict of political parties in the USA is a conflict of business interests—protectionism vs. free trade, tight money vs. low interest rates, public works vs. low taxes and so on.

That’s not to say that wage earners have no stake in the outcome of elections. Some business interests are more favorable, or less unfavorable, to working people than others.

It is just that no political party or political faction gets far without the backing of some business interest. Labor unions reached the height of their political power during the New Deal, but even in that era, they were only one seat at the table along with others, such as the oil industry (then aligned with Democrats), the real estate industry and so on.

Bernie Sanders tried and failed to make the Democratic Party into a labor party. Now Republicans such as Tom Cotton, Josh Hawley and Marco Rubio hope to win the allegiance of working people through a political program called “national conservatism.”

It is basically the program of Alexander Hamilton, Henry Clay and William McKinley.  If you squint your eyes, it also includes much that Donald Trump talked about doing.

The idea is to concentrate on rebuilding American industry, which of course would be good for manufacturers and investors but also for working people, and not just factory workers.

The elements of such a program would include:

  1. Public-private partnerships to improve technology and productivity.
  2. Use of tariffs to protect key American industries, but also maintain access to key raw materials.
  3. Rejection of trade treaties or international institutions that limit national economic sovereignty
  4. A strong focus on competing with China.
  5. A massive public infrastructure program to rebuild and maintain roads, bridges, harbors, airports, railroads, dams and levees, the electrical grid and water and sewerage systems
  6. Investment in scientific research.
  7. An end to regime change wars and reduction in military spending.
  8. An end to weaponized economic sanctions
  9. Control of unauthorized immigration.
  10. Support for public education, with an emphasis on vocational training and STEM – science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
  11. Tax credits as an alternative to welfare programs.

What is left out?  Stronger labor unions.  A inflation-adjusted minimum living wage.  Reductions in energy use and consumption to fight climate change.

Politically, this is a more feasible program than the Green New Deal.  It probably would be better than what we have now.

In particular, I think anyone who believes in democratic governance has to be a nationalist to some extent, because, at the present moment in history, national governments are the highest level of institutions over which voters have any influence.

I think the world needs more, rather than less, international cooperation, but that’s different from having the world run by the World Trade Organization, International Monetary Fund and global corporations.

Would economic nationalism solve our problems?  No, not by a long shot.  But it could be a step in the right direction. 

LINKS

Rebooting the American System on American Compass, a symposium including essays by Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton.

The Bully Platform , a review of Josh Hawley’s biography of Theodore Roosevelt for American Compass.

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Jambalaya

May 9, 2021

COVID-19 links and comments: May 8, 2021

May 8, 2021

Click to enlarge. Source: ScienceDirect

Why DId It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid? by Zeynep Tufekci for The New York Times.  The importance of airborne transmission of the virus, rather than droplets, has been known for many months, but the WHO and CDC have been slow to admit it.

If the importance of aerosol transmission had been accepted early, we would have been told from the beginning that it was much safer outdoors, where these small particles disperse more easily, as long as you avoid close, prolonged contact with others.  We would have tried to make sure indoor spaces were well ventilated, with air filtered as necessary.  Instead of blanket rules on gatherings, we would have targeted conditions that can produce superspreading events: people in poorly ventilated indoor spaces, especially if engaged over time in activities that increase aerosol production, like shouting and singing.  We would have started using masks more quickly, and we would have paid more attention to their fit, too.  And we would have been less obsessed with cleaning surfaces. 

Our mitigations would have been much more effective, sparing us a great deal of suffering and anxiety.

The difference between droplets and aerosols is like the difference between raindrops and fog.  Droplets fall to the ground and sick to surfaces.  Aerosols float in the air indefinitely. 

If you’re out of doors, and not in a tightly-packed crowd, you’re not in much danger from aerosols.  But if you’re in a poorly ventilated space for a long period of time, you’re going to breathe the same air as other people in that space, no matter how far apart you are.

This makes a big difference in how you protect yourself from the virus.  For example, masks are important indoors.  Outdoors, not so much.

To see this misunderstanding in action, look at what’s still happening throughout the world. In India, where hospitals have run out of supplemental oxygen and people are dying in the streets, money is being spent on fleets of drones to spray anti-coronavirus disinfectant in outdoor spaces.  Parks, beaches and outdoor areas keep getting closed around the world.  This year and last, organizers canceled outdoor events for the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C.  Cambodian customs officials advised spraying disinfectant outside vehicles imported from India.  The examples are many.

Meanwhile, many countries allowed their indoor workplaces to open but with inadequate aerosol protections.  There was no attention to ventilation, installing air filters as necessary or even opening windows when possible, more to having people just distancing three or six feet, sometimes not requiring masks beyond that distance, or spending money on hard plastic barriers, which may be useless at best.  (Just this week, President Biden visited a school where students were sitting behind plastic shields.) 

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Success and failure in fighting the pandemic

May 6, 2021

Eric Berne, a famous psychiatrist, wrote that there is a psychological difference between winners and losers.  The winner’s goal is victory, and the winner hopes and expects to win despite any temporary defeats.  The loser’s goal is to avoid defeat, and the loser fears and expects to lose despite any temporary victories.

It seems to me that there is a similar sorting of winners and losers among countries in regard to the pandemic.  There were some nations who sought to eradicate the virus, and largely succeeded.  There are others who sought to bring down the rate of infection to something they could live with, like polio before the Salk vaccine.

A few countries, mainly in the Far East, including China, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea [1] and Japan, had a goal of eradicating the disease, and largely succeeded. 

Their lockdowns, if they had any. were short and sharp.  Their governments by and large used the lockdowns to track down and quarantine persons who were infected before the disease took hold and there were too many to trace.  Many cut off air travel to countries that were centers of the disease.

Here in the USA, the initial reaction was to dismiss COVID-19 as just a more severe version of the ‘flu.  Michael Lewis has a new book coming out, The Premonition, about how Americans in authority failed to react.

In January and February of 2020, hundreds of Americans in Wuhan, China, were flown back to the U.S. Considering how many people had died of COVID-19 in China at that point,  it would have made sense to test those Americans who were coming back.  But according to Lewis and his sources, then-CDC Director Robert Redfield refused to test them, saying it would amount to doing research on imprisoned persons.  [snip]

According to Lewis’ reporting, the CDC basically had two positions on the pandemic early on.  Early on it was that there was nothing to see here — that this is not a big deal.  It’s being overblown.  And then there was this very quick pivot when it started spreading in the U.S. and the position became it’s too late and there’s nothing we can do.

Source: NPR

The United States had partial lockdowns.  Some Americans were able to work from home or, like me, had sufficient retirement income to stay at home.  Some lost their livelihoods and were forced into poverty.  Some had no choice but to continue working, many under extremely unsafe conditions.

The center of infection in the USA was New York City, and the source of the infection was passengers arriving by air from virus hot spots in Europe.  This was known at the time.

It should have been possible to take the temperatures of incoming passengers, given COVID tests for those running a fever and quarantined or sent back those who tested positive. 

But neither Gov. Andrew Cuomo or Mayor Bill de Blasio did this.  They would have been severely criticized if they had, because the seriousness of the problem would not have been obvious.  Instead they waited until the problem did become obvious.

At first we were told that the virus spreads in droplets, and we needed to be careful to keep our distance even out of doors, and to avoid touching surfaces including touching our faces. 

Now we know that the virus spreads as a kind of mist, and you are at risk anytime you are indoors for a long time in a space without good ventilation, even if you are six feet from anybody else.  But we still act as if the problem was droplets.

The good thing is that vaccines were developed faster than many people expected, but many of us Americans don’t want to get vaccinated.  The idea of getting to “herd immunity” has been quietly dropped.

Sadly, the USA is not an outlier.  The virus is hanging on in other countries, including rich countries, just as much as here, while it is spreading to India and other poor countries.

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