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Links and Notes for February 19, 2021

Published by marco on

Below are links to articles, highlighted passages[1], and occasional annotations[2] for the week ending on the date in the title, enriching the raw data from Instapaper Likes and Twitter. They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts. YMMV.

[1] Emphases are added, unless otherwise noted.
[2] Annotations are only lightly edited.

COVID-19

The dominance of the UK variant of the coronavirus threatens a massive surge in cases in the United States by Benjamin Mateus (WSWS)

“According to McClatchy News, the Biden administration is considering imposing domestic travel restrictions, especially on Florida, which has the highest number of B.1.1.7 variants detected in the country.”
“Dr. Eric Feigl-Ding, a Harvard epidemiologist and health economist, explained that what we are seeing with the COVID-19 cases in the US is the end of one pandemic and a beginning of a second one with the more contagious and lethal B.1.1.7 lineage, which will be dominant in mid-March. “We will be soon slammed very hard,” he tweeted.”
“With school reopening and relaxation presently underway, these numbers will only take a turn for the worse. And as data on schoolchildren shows they are a critical factor for community spread, it has become clear that the Democrats will be using them as kindling to build an enormous fire.”
“Dr. Deepti Gurasani, a clinical epidemiologist from the Queen Mary University of London, has been vocal against an early reopening of schools and warned the prime minister that March 8 looked premature and unrealistic. “We are in a very, very precarious position. Parents and children have made huge sacrifices because of schools being closed to most children. It’s very important we don’t squander this,” she told the Guardian. She went on to add that evidence indicates young schoolchildren are twice as likely as adults to be the first case in a household, and once they are infected, twice as likely to transmit the virus as adults. She called returning children to schools when community transmission was still high a “recipe for disaster.””
“Last week saw the Super Bowl being celebrated in Florida. Many who had traveled there for the game have returned home and possibly brought the B.1.1.7 variant with them.”
“CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who assured teachers that schools were safe, and teachers didn’t need to be vaccinated, […]

Nice. Really nice. A refreshing change from the harshness of the Trump administration.


Cuba’s COVID-19 Vaccines Serve the People, Not Profits by W.T. Whitney (CounterPunch)

Cuba is the only vaccine manufacturer in Latin America; there are none in Africa. The only state-owned entities producing the leading vaccines are those of Cuba and Russia.”
“100 million doses of Sovereign II are being prepared, enough to immunize all 11 million Cubans, beginning in March or April. The 70 million remaining doses will go to Vietnam, Iran, Pakistan, India, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Nicaragua.
Income generated by vaccine sales abroad will pay for health care, education, and pensions in Cuba just as happens with exports of medical services and medicines.”
“Not requiring extremely cold storage, as do the U.S. vaccines, the Cuban vaccines are suited for areas without adequate refrigeration capabilities.
Interferon, an antiviral agent developed in Cuba, produced in China, and used throughout the world, prevents many Covid – infected patients from becoming critically ill.”
“Epidemiologists at Duke University report that, “While high-income countries represent only 16% of the world’s population, they currently hold 60% of the vaccines for COVID-19 that have been purchased so far.” Cuban journalist Randy Alonso reports that only “27 percent of the total population of low and middle income countries can be vaccinated this year.”


“Shame on You, New York Times!” Scientists Speak Out Over Media Disinformation on China by Alan Macleod (MintPress News)

“Unfortunately, “political crap” has been getting in the way of an effective COVID-19 response since the outbreak began in late 2019. While most of the media, including The New York Times, has constantly claimed China intentionally covered up the coronavirus for political gain, the world’s medical and scientific community has been adamant that Beijing’s response was exemplary. A statement published in The Lancet, often considered the world’s most prestigious medical journal, commended China’s “remarkable” effort in “working diligently and effectively to rapidly identify the pathogen behind this outbreak, putting in place significant measures to reduce its impact, and sharing their results transparently with the global health community.””
“It also condemned the “conspiracy theories” about a possible man-made COVID-19 origin, noting that the “overwhelming” evidence for this strain of the coronavirus originates in wildlife. Dr. Michael Ryan, Executive Director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, also lauded China’s actions, claiming he had “never seen the scale and commitment of an epidemic response.” “The challenge is great, but the response has been massive and the Chinese government deserve huge credit for that response and for the transparency in which they have dealt with this,” he added.”
“This is not how COVID-19 has been presented in Western media, with China overwhelmingly presented as having failed to contain its international spread.”

Finance & Economy

“Our society is sick:” The Lancet condemns American capitalism

“But The Lancet’s meticulously-researched report, boasting over a dozen distinguished authors, goes far beyond condemning the record of Trump alone. It argues that the nearly half million dead in the US from COVID-19 should be added to the toll of the “missing Americans” whose deaths were attributable to the rise of social inequality over the course of the past four decades. The Lancet report presents both the pandemic and the Trump administration as the outcome of deeper and more profound tendencies in American society.
“The Lancet concludes, “The disturbing truth is that many of President Trump’s policies do not represent a radical break with the past but have merely accelerated the decades-long trend of lagging life expectancy that reflects deep and longstanding flaws in US economic, health, and social policy. These flaws are not only evident in faltering longevity … but also in the widening gaps in mortality across social class.”
“[…] the USA lags behind other high-income nations and how long these cross-national gaps have been in the making. Life expectancy in the USA was average among high-income nations in 1980, by 1995, it was 2.2 years shorter than the average of other G7 countries, and by 2018, the gap had widened to 3.4 years.”
“By 2014, the life expectancy of the wealthiest 1% of men was 15 years longer than that of the poorest 1%.”


The Top 1% of Americans Have Taken $50 Trillion From the Bottom 90%—And That’s Made the U.S. Less Secure by Nick Hanauer & David M. Rolf (Time Magazine)

“According to a groundbreaking new working paper by Carter C. Price and Kathryn Edwards of the RAND Corporation, had the more equitable income distributions of the three decades following World War II (1945 through 1974) merely held steady, the aggregate annual income of Americans earning below the 90th percentile would have been $2.5 trillion higher in the year 2018 alone. That is an amount equal to nearly 12 percent of GDP—enough to more than double median income—enough to pay every single working American in the bottom nine deciles an additional $1,144 a month. Every month. Every single year.
“But look straight into the eyes of the elephant in the room, and it is impossible to deny the many ways in which our extreme inequality—an exceptionally American affliction—has made the virus more deadly and its economic consequences more dire than in any other advanced nation. Why is our death toll so high and our unemployment rate so staggeringly off the charts?”
“Even inequality is meted out unequally. Low-wage workers and their families, disproportionately people of color, suffer from far higher rates of asthma, hypertension, diabetes, and other COVID-19 comorbidities; yet they are also far less likely to have health insurance, and far more likely to work in “essential” industries with the highest rates of coronavirus exposure and transmission.”
“[…] imagine how much safer, healthier, and empowered all American workers might be if that $50 trillion had been paid out in wages instead of being funneled into corporate profits and the offshore accounts of the super-rich.”
“This was the era in which America built the world’s largest and most prosperous middle class, an era in which inequality between income groups steadily shrank (even as shocking inequalities between the sexes and races largely remained).”
“As a result, the top 1 percent’s share of total taxable income has more than doubled, from 9 percent in 1975, to 22 percent in 2018, while the bottom 90 percent have seen their income share fall, from 67 percent to 50 percent.”

And then they turn around and complain that they have to pay a larger share of taxes. You took all the income!

“In 2018, the combined income of married households with two full-time workers was barely more than what the income of a single-earner household would have earned had inequality held constant.”
“Two-income families are now working twice the hours to maintain a shrinking share of the pie, while struggling to pay housing, healthcare, education, childcare, and transportations costs that have grown at two to three times the rate of inflation.”
“But around 1975, this extraordinary era of broadly shared prosperity came to an end. Since then, the wealthiest Americans, particularly those in the top 1 percent and 0.1 percent, have managed to capture an ever-larger share of our nation’s economic growth—in fact, almost all of it—their real incomes skyrocketing as the vast majority of Americans saw little if any gains.”
“On average, extreme inequality is costing the median income full-time worker about $42,000 a year. Adjusted for inflation using the CPI, the numbers are even worse: half of all full-time workers (those at or below the median income of $50,000 a year) now earn less than half what they would have had incomes across the distribution continued to keep pace with economic growth. And that’s per worker, not per household.
“[…] the most appropriate counterfactual for all the groups in this table would be the aggregate counterfactual for “All Groups”: a median income of $57,000 a year for all adults with positive earnings ($92,000 for full-time prime-age workers). That would be the income for all workers at the 50th percentile, regardless of race or gender, had race and gender inequality within distributions been eliminated, and inequality between distributions not grown. By this measure we can see that in real dollars, women and nonwhites have actually lost more income to rising inequality than white men, because starting from their disadvantaged positions in 1975, they had far more to potentially gain. Per capita GDP grew by 118 percent over the following four decades, so there was plenty of new income to spread around. That the majority of white men have benefited from almost none of this growth isn’t because they have lost income to women or minorities; it’s because they’ve lost it to their largely white male counterparts in the top 1 percent who have captured nearly all of the income growth for themselves.”
“Thus, by far the single largest driver of rising inequality these past forty years has been the dramatic rise in inequality between white men.”
“[…] the economy we’ve built over the past 45 years has been more unequal to some than to others. But below the 90th percentile, even college graduates are falling victim to a decades-long trend of radical inequality that is robbing them of most of the benefits of economic growth.”
“[…] workers. COVID-19 may have triggered our current crisis, but it wasn’t its only cause. For even had our political leaders done everything right in the moment, our response to the pandemic would still have been mired in the footprint of extreme inequality: a $50 trillion upward redistribution of wealth and income—$297,000 per household—that has left our families, our economy, and our democracy far less capable of fighting this virus than in other advanced nations.”
“[…] the $50 trillion transfer of wealth the RAND report documents has occurred entirely within the American economy, not between it and its trading partners. No, this upward redistribution of income, wealth, and power wasn’t inevitable; it was a choice—a direct result of the trickle-down policies we chose to implement since 1975.
“We chose to cut taxes on billionaires and to deregulate the financial industry. We chose to allow CEOs to manipulate share prices through stock buybacks, and to lavishly reward themselves with the proceeds. We chose to permit giant corporations, through mergers and acquisitions, to accumulate the vast monopoly power necessary to dictate both prices charged and wages paid. We chose to erode the minimum wage and the overtime threshold and the bargaining power of labor. For four decades, we chose to elect political leaders who put the material interests of the rich and powerful above those of the American people.
The central goal of our nation’s economic policy must be nothing less than the doubling of median income. We must dramatically narrow inequality between distributions while eliminating racial and gender inequalities within them. This is the standard to which we should hold leaders from both parties. To advocate for anything less would be cowardly or dishonest or both.”


GameStop Missed All the Fun by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“[…] if your love of Bitcoin is connected to your distrust of big banks, you will not want to keep Bitcoins at BoNY Mellon. But it is perhaps irrelevant in practice: The asset managers and corporate treasurers don’t care about trustlessness and decentralization and disintermediating the financial system. They buy Bitcoin because they like it as a store of value, a financial asset like any other; they look at their menu of possible investments to try to optimize for risk-adjusted return, and Bitcoin is now firmly on the menu and, sometimes, part of the optimal choice set. And so they go to their custody bank and say “I have 30 bonds and 40 stocks and 10 commodity futures and 20 Bitcoins, take care of it for me.” And the custody bank, now, does.”
“If you work for a car company and learn that it’s buying euros, you can still buy euros, not just because the euro is not a commodity (it’s a currency—as Bitcoin isn’t quite—though it kind of is?), but also because the euro is in a sense bigger than your company. What you learn about your company’s position probably isn’t that material to the euro market, and also you aren’t necessarily buying euros as a speculative trade; maybe you’re buying them because you’re going on vacation in Europe. If you work for a company and it buys gasoline for its delivery trucks, you can still buy gas for your car. Obviously in this case (1) Tesla’s announcement that it bought Bitcoin was predictably material for Bitcoin and (2) price speculation is a major reason that people buy Bitcoin, but it does feel like there’d be difficult line-drawing exercises.”
The estimated sum is $23.2 billion, and it’s the amount that the hedge fund managers on Bloomberg’s annual list of the top 15 earners collectively made in 2020, a year that will loom large in the annals of Wall Street. Amid Covid-19, Black Lives Matter, Brexit and more, almost all of these money managers would have become billionaires in a single year – had most of them not been billionaires already. The biggest winner, Chase Coleman, gained $3 billion personally in 2020, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.”
“Another answer I will give you is that investment banks love mergers because they create more fee opportunities, so why not have your SPAC structure encourage extra mergers?”


Meme Stocks Will Come With a Warning by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“If your company is worth $30 a share, and all of a sudden it is selling at $200 a share, it seems … wrong … to sell stock to the public at $200 a share. That last sentence is not the law, and in various ways it doesn’t even make sense. (Who’s to say what your stock is “worth,” if not the market? Somebody is buying stock at $200 a share, which means somebody is selling it—why not you?) Selling overpriced stock—stock that you know is overpriced, that everyone knows is overpriced—is not in itself securities fraud. It just makes people nervous.
“In an ATM offering, you sell stock on the exchange, and people buy it on the exchange. You don’t know who you’re selling to, and they don’t know who they’re buying from. One day they are enthusiastically buying stock, on the exchange, from other people who own it and want to sell it. The next day they are enthusiastically buying stock, on the exchange, from you, without noticing the transition. There is no practical way to slap a warning label on the stock. You slap a warning label on the prospectus, you put the prospectus on the SEC website, everyone is in some notional way warned, but the enthusiasm that caused your stock price to increase also ensures that no one will actually read the warning.
The SEC here, in its hypothetical response to a hypothetical meme-stock prospectus, wants to make sure that companies say “this is garbage and you’d be an idiot to buy it” in the proper font and in sufficient detail, because that is what the SEC does. I am not sure it matters here.”
“There is a general view in finance that sitting at the center of a lot of order flow is valuable in itself, that it gives you information and clout that you can turn into money. That roughly describes Goldman Sachs Group Inc.’s business model, or Citadel Securities’. Why not Reddit too?
“Careful students of market microstructure will note that retail investors largely don’t trade on the exchange but get internalized. Still. The basic mechanism is “high-frequency traders buy at the bid from the issuer on the exchange, then sell to retail at (or inside) the offer via internalization.””

No special reason for highlighting. I just like that I comprehend this immediately after a few weeks of intense study.

“This is a well-known internet phenomenon: The best way to get the right answer is not to ask a question, but to confidently assert the wrong answer.”


Elon Musk Picks the Money Now by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“So, “Gamestonk!” And red satin shorts blessed by Musk sell at a huge markup on Ebay. And I have written about Signal Advance Inc., a penny stock that soared 5,100% after Musk tweeted “Use Signal,” about an entirely unrelated app. That stock is still up 350% from where it was before Musk tweeted a month ago. It is an Elon Musk cargo cult; a coordination game—“if we all buy this it will go up, so let’s all buy it”—inspired by an arcane reading of apocryphal Musk scripture. Also Tesla Inc. stock trades at 1,210 times trailing earnings, is another fact that might be relevant here.
“Mr. Markus, who no longer works on dogecoin, couldn’t believe code he wrote in three hours on a Sunday gave rise to a cryptocurrency worth billions of dollars in total market value.”
“Money and value are coordination games; what we use for money depends on the channels that we use to coordinate social activity. Once society was mediated by governments, and we used fiat currency. Now society is mediated by Twitter and Reddit and Elon Musk, so, sure, Dogecoin.”
“In general, one thinks of corporate treasury funds as being invested conservatively in cash equivalents so that they’re always there for a rainy day, but if you have a lot of money, or even just a lot of ability to raise money cheaply, I suppose you can be aggressive. Instead of earning roughly nothing in a bank account, your money can earn … well, Bitcoin is up about 50% year-to-date.”

On the other hand, a lot of these things work great as long as the market never drops anymore. When it does—or the vaunted Bitcoin volatility once again works both ways—then that no longer seems like a hot idea. Everything’s a good idea if the market only ever goes up.

Musk is in the nice position of being able to spend billions of dollars buying assets in liquid anonymous markets, and then make those assets go up just by tweeting about them. If you can do that, you should! If you can buy a thing secretly, announce “I own the thing,” reliably cause the thing’s price to go up a lot, and then—if you want—sell the thing secretly, then that’s a great business right there. Talk about clean energy; that’s a perpetual motion machine.”
“As an accounting matter, your Bitcoins can lose value, but never gain (until you sell them). If you run, you know, a normal company that is valued on its earnings, this might make Bitcoin unattractive.
“That strikes me as a completely correct analysis: There is an internet community that you can join by, essentially, losing money by buying GameStop at the top, and that community is pretty fun, so bored suburban teenagers are using their pizza money to join it.”
“Other problems related to short selling—short squeezes, naked shorting, “short-and-distort” attacks—have more basis in reality, but they share the characteristic that, if you are reading about them, there is a very high likelihood that what you are reading is crazy. There are measured, empirically grounded articles and enforcement actions about naked shorting, but they are vastly outnumbered by financially illiterate conspiracy theorizing about it. People really do not like short selling.”


Wealth Inequality: Should We Care? by Dean Baker (CEPR)

“I have never considered wealth a very good measure of inequality for several reasons. Wealth depends on financial asset values (e.g. stocks and bonds) that fluctuate wildly; Wealth can be a very bad measure of people’s economic circumstances; Wealth and social insurance are very direct substitutes. There is also the very important issue of wealth translating into political power. I will get into that at the end of this essay.”

This is a strong point, although Musk and Bezos have outsize influence and power because of their assets. They can’t cash them in with devaluing them, but they can use the fake value as collateral. If Bezos were to cash in everything, his fortune would shrink as he was cashing out because he was cashing out.

The large part of their wealth is illiquid and cannot be liquidated without destroying it. But that’s not to say that they don’t have power or advantage. They can convert it to liquid by getting gigantic easy credit lines.

Remember the movie Man with a Million (where a man is given a million-pound note for a month, but no other money. He leverages its influence to a prominent position).

“For my part, I find it hard to get too upset about fluctuations in wealth that are likely to be temporary. There was not a fundamental change in the structure of the economy that caused the soaring wealth of the last ten months. In all probability it is a temporary fluctuation that will be reversed. (I’m not making stock market predictions, so I’m not advising everyone to go short.)”
“In fact, many of the poorest people by this wealth measure, both internationally and nationally, are recent graduates who have taken out student loans. While many of these recent grads will have trouble paying off their debts, most won’t.”

I find this to be one of the rare specious arguments made by Baker, since he doesn’t acknowledge earning potential. That’s a form of value. It’s not guaranteed, but it’s pretty safe. (Baker actually addresses this point later in the essay.)

“I probably have more wealth than the bottom 20 percent of the world’s population. That isn’t because of my great wealth, it is simply due to the fact that I have some positive wealth and the bottom 20 percent taken as whole does not.”

That’s a good argument, I guess. But a lot of that negative wealth wasn’t a voluntary investment. Student debt with good earning prospects is fundamentally different from medical debt with none. One was incurred voluntarily and the other was imposed.

The money in a retirement account is included in standard calculations of wealth. Traditional pensions generally are not. (We can impute values for these pensions, but this is generally not done in most wealth calculations.) This leads to a story where we would say that a person with a 401(k) is much wealthier than a person with a traditional pension, even if they have no better prospects for retirement income.”
“The extent to which wealth is needed in each of these areas depends on how we structure our system of social supports. As noted, a good Social Security and pension system makes it unnecessary to accumulate a substantial amount of wealth in retirement. In the case of unemployment, if we have a healthy system of unemployment insurance, most workers can be kept whole through stretches of unemployment.”
“There is nothing intrinsically desirable about homeownership. People want security of tenure, so they know they can’t just be thrown out of their home on the whim of a landlord. They also want protection against unexpected jumps in rents. Both of these protections can be provided in a legal system that treats renters as full citizens.
“There is a similar story with wealth being accumulated to meet other needs, such as health care costs and college tuition.”
“It is also worth noting that house prices do sometimes fall, as folks who lived through the collapse of the housing bubble should know well. The idea that the wealth people have in a house will inevitably increase is simply wrong.”
“Policies to support the accumulation of wealth for low and middle-income families will almost always be seen as alternatives to policies for better systems of social support. It is clear that the wealth accumulation track is better for the financial industry. The track of stronger social supports is likely to be better for almost everyone else.
“The super-matches for campaign contributions that several cities have put in place and are part of the last Congress’s HR1 political rights bill are a great start. These proposals match small dollar contributions by many multiples (HR1 puts the match at six to one) in exchange for candidates limiting their big dollar contributions.
“When the fees from managing individual funds within an account are added in, many people pay close to 2.0 percent of their fund’s value to the financial industry each year.


Bitcoin over $50,000 as Wall Street surges by Nick Beams (WSWS)

“Fed chairman Jerome Powell has said the surge on Wall Street and the rampant speculation is not due to the policies of the Fed and that other factors are at work.

“This fiction has been refuted by those directly involved in the financial markets. Marty Fridson, the chief investment officer at Lehmann Livian Fridson Advisors said it all came back to the intervention by the Fed.

““It gives investors the sense that they can buy with impunity. The Fed is effectively putting a floor under the prices of anything they buy right now.”

“And there is no sign the Fed will change course from its massive market interventions, notwithstanding the warnings it is creating a dangerous financial bubble.”

“[…] the increase in the supply of government bonds tends to lower their price and increase their yield or interest rate (the two have an inverse relationship)—a tendency which has already started to emerge with the incremental rise in the 10-year Treasury bond rate to around 1.3 percent from its lows of less than 1 percent last year. It has been noted that only a relatively small rise in rates could trigger a collapse in the financial house of cards.

Upward pressure on interest rates as a result of increased government debt means that the Fed must intervene in the market to buy up more bonds and keep interest rates down, thereby further fuelling the Wall Street speculation.”

Public Policy & Politics

New York Times science writer Donald McNeil Jr. is latest victim of identity politics frenzy by Fred Mazelis (WSWS)

“Among a significant and noisy number of Times writers and staff, however, Baquet’s denunciation of McNeil was far from sufficient. In effect, they demanded a new “trial” of the journalist, on the same charge. Some 150 staff signed a letter that complained that “we have given a prominent platform—a critical beat covering a pandemic disproportionately affecting people of color—to someone who chose to use language that is offensive and unacceptable by any newspaper’s standards.”

“Heavily involved in this effort was Nikole Hannah-Jones, the creator of the since-discredited 1619 Project published by the Times in 2019, as well as John Eligon, described by the newspaper as “a national correspondent covering race.””

[…] the letter insisted that the matter of racist intent was “irrelevant.” “[W]hat matters,” the letter went on, “is how an act makes victims feel; [McNeil’s] victims weren’t shy about decrying his conduct on the trip.”

““Victims”? This is the realm of “microaggressions,” part of the dogma and practice of identity politics in the corporate world and academia, a well-honed and frequently used technique to settle scores and part of the frenzied competition for jobs, perks and other privileges.

This is probably closer to the truth. McNeil had a prominent and lucrative position from which he was unlikely to be moved in other ways. There was almost certainly a young friend lined up to replace his old ass. The woke angle is just a lever to get the job done.

“That the paper apparently altered its course in relation to this incident as a result of public pressure is a further worrying signal. The Times’ readers depend upon its journalists and editors to be able to carry out their work without fear that a lone errant statement may cost them their job.””
“The fate of McNeil expresses the backward and destructive logic of identity politics, embraced and promoted by the Times with increasing ferocity in recent years. Everything is viewed through a racial prism, one that assumes racism is unchanging and everywhere. The aims here are to spread confusion and division, especially within the working class, and also to cultivate a new and more “diverse” upper middle class base in order to defend the interests of American capitalism. The dishonest weaponizing of racial epithets in this manner has absolutely nothing to do with fighting racism and discrimination. On the contrary, it is directed toward whipping up communal tension and division and must be exposed and opposed.”


Neom − The Line to Oblivion by Séamus Malekafzali (SubStack)

“Absurdities building and building until they became incalculable did not stop it. Sheer determination, incomprehensible amounts of money, and unquestioned power have willed it into existence. Despite the derision of many in the outside world, Neom is a farce slowly becoming a reality.”
“The almost cyberpunk-sounding name carried on its back the weight of two great civilizations, “Neo” from Ancient Greek, and “M” from Mustaqbal, the Arabic word meaning “future.” It would be a decades-long odyssey costing over $500 billion to make a comparatively underdeveloped part of Saudi Arabia, larger than the entire State of Israel, into one of the world’s greatest cities.
“Flying cars. Animatronic dinosaurs. Robot maids. Android fights. Drone armies. Genetic engineering. Weather at the beck and call of the city authorities. An artificial moon to enlighten the night sky next to the one crafted by God. It is impossible to list out every detail outlined in the consulting firm documents,”
“It was a figment of imagination, with elements out of films such as The Fifth Element, Real Steel, and Star Wars, that would have been laughed out of any serious infrastructure plan. But through the forces of Gulf money and power, MbS had willed into existence the ability to get top-dollar consulting firms to draw up plans for it anyway.
“In 2019, despite no Aramco IPO yet to support it, Neom began construction on its first stage: Neom Bay. Within a month, an airport was constructed with daily flights to Riyadh and 5G technology, the first airport anywhere on Earth with”
“He asks the viewer to consider the startling effects that climate change will bring to cities all over the world, and if it is sustainable to continue sacrificing nature for development. Muhammad bin Salman says that he has the solution. The Line. A city of one million people, in a 105-mile long straight line.
“The Line would be an entirely pedestrianized city within the Neom superproject. A city-within-a-city with no cars, no streets, no carbon emissions. 95% of its nature would remain intact. Every citizen would be able to fulfill their daily needs within a five-minute walk, but high-speed transportation would allow traversing the entire length of the city within 20 minutes. The city would exist on three layers, the fully-pedestrianized layer above, the infrastructure to keep the city working hidden below, and a level just below that to accommodate the subway system.”
“The hubris of a monarch with near-absolute power, going on Google Earth and choosing to construct a city the size of an entire country because he saw an empty-looking part of the map, is impossible to dilute from the source.”


The Neoracists by John McWhorter (Persuasion)

“Third Wave Antiracism, becoming mainstream in the 2010s, teaches that racism is baked into the structure of society, so whites’ “complicity” in living within it constitutes racism itself, while for black people, grappling with the racism surrounding them is the totality of experience and must condition exquisite sensitivity toward them, including a suspension of standards of achievement and conduct.”
“The self-contradiction of these tenets is crucial, in revealing that Third Wave Antiracism is not a philosophy but a religion.
“This and so much else is a sign that Third Wave Antiracism forces us to pretend that performance art is politics. It forces us to spend endless amounts of time listening to nonsense
“On that, Third Wave Antiracism guru Ibram X. Kendi has written a book on how to raise antiracist children called Antiracist Baby. You couldn’t imagine it better: Are we in a Christopher Guest movie? This and so much else is a sign that Third Wave Antiracism forces us to pretend that performance art is politics. It forces us to spend endless amounts of time listening to nonsense presented as wisdom, and pretend to like it.
“I want to teach my kids the reality of their lives in the 21st rather than early-to-mid-20th century. Lord forbid my daughters internalize a pathetic—yes, absolutely pathetic in all of the resonances of that word—sense that what makes them interesting is what other people think of them, or don’t.”
“Third Wave Antiracism exploits modern Americans’ fear of being thought racist, using this to promulgate an obsessive, self-involved, totalitarian and unnecessary kind of cultural reprogramming.
“[…] there is nothing correct about the essence of American thought and culture being transplanted into the soil of a religious faith. Some will go as far as to own up to it being a religion, and wonder why we can’t just accept it as our new national creed. The problem is that on matters of societal procedure and priorities, the adherents of this religion—true to the very nature of religion—cannot be reasoned with. They are, in this, medievals with lattes.”
“I am not arguing against the left. I am arguing against a particular strain of the left that has come to exert a grievous influence over American institutions, to the point that we are beginning to accept as normal the kinds of language […]”
“One segment is the New York Times-reading, National Public Radio-listening people of any color who have innocently fallen under the impression that pious, unempirical virtue-signaling about race is a form of moral enlightenment and political activism, […]”
“Citing John Stuart Mill at Third Wave Antiracists serves no purpose because they are operating under the influence of a religion. Our current conversations waste massive amounts of energy in missing the futility of “dialogue” with them. Of a hundred fundamentalist Christians, how many do you suppose could be convinced via argument to become atheists? There is no reason that the number of people who can be talked out of the Third Wave Antiracism religion is any higher.”
“My interest is not “How do we get through to these people?” We cannot, at least not enough of them to matter. The question is “How can we can live graciously among them?” We seek change in the world, but for the duration will have to do so while encountering bearers of a gospel, itching to smoke out heretics, and ready on a moment’s notice to tar us as moral perverts.
“The author and essayist Joseph Bottum has found the proper term, and I will adopt it here: We will term these people The Elect. They do think of themselves as bearers of a wisdom, granted them for any number of reasons—a gift for empathy, life experience, maybe even intelligence. But they see themselves as having been chosen, as it were, by one or some of these factors, as understanding something most do not. “The Elect” is also good in implying a certain smugness, which is sadly accurate as a depiction.”
The Elect are, in all of their diversity, sucking all the air out of the room. It must stop.”


Want to Reverse Inequality? Change Intellectual Property Rules. by Dean Baker (The Nation)

“Unfortunately, policy prescriptions usually turn to various taxes directed at the wealthy and very wealthy. While making our tax structure more progressive is important, most of the increase in inequality comes from greater inequality in before-tax income, not from reductions in taxes paid by the rich.
The effect of these changes was to transfer money from the bulk of the population to the relatively small group of people in a position to benefit from them, either because of their skills in software, biotechnology, and other areas, or because of their ownership of stock in companies that benefit from these rules.”
“The contracting process for Moderna’s vaccine may have been chaotic and less transparent than desirable, since it was overseen by the Trump administration, operating in an emergency situation, but ”
“The contracting process for Moderna’s vaccine may have been chaotic and less transparent than desirable, since it was overseen by the Trump administration, operating in an emergency situation, we did nonetheless manage to get a highly effective vaccine in record time. This is a clear case of direct government funding of research that proved to be effective. We need to keep this example in mind as the Biden administration develops its foreign policy agenda, especially its relationship with China. Biden has already complained about China’s stealing “our” intellectual property. This sets the stage for potential conflicts that are not at all in the interest of the vast majority of the American people.
“That means that we don’t stand to lose anything if companies in China don’t honor Pfizer’s patents on a drug or Microsoft’s copyrights on software. In fact, if we are bothered by inequality, we really should not be upset that those at the top will have somewhat less income because China is not honoring their intellectual property claims.
We should not ramp up hostility to China simply to give still more money to the ultra-wealthy. In fact, we should be going in the opposite direction. Rather than walling off knowledge with patent and copyright monopolies, we should be pooling our technology with cooperative, open-source research. This would be desirable in most areas, but especially in health and climate technologies.”
“The same principle applies to technologies combating global warming. China is now the world leader in the deployment of wind and solar energy, as well as in sales of electric cars. We need to develop these technologies as quickly as possible. That is likely to occur if the United States and other countries pay for research and allow it to be freely shared, rather than allow private corporations to wall off their progress with patent monopolies.”

Instead we’d rather let our rich gain further advantage than to give up our familiar racism and xenophobia and work together to confront existential threats . We are truly a toxic culture. I bet the Elect are chirpily, reflexively, and unquestioningly anti-China.

“It would be tragic if the protection of IP was a major cause of a cold war with China. It would be even more tragic if progressives were leading the charge.”


Is Westernisation fact or fiction? The case of Japan and the US by Jon Davidann (Aeon)

“If 21st-century world trends are any indication, we might have badly overstated Westernisation’s influence and achievement. The success of the non-Western response to COVID-19, especially in East Asia, where countries have remained open while containing the virus, shows the strength of regions outside the West.
“He argued that the Japanese could create a national spirit of independence only by installing a sense of autonomy among individual Japanese. But this could happen only after the Japanese destroyed the inflexible system of loyalty to one’s lord leftover from the Tokugawa period.
“After the Meiji Restoration – a short civil war that overthrew the Tokugawa regime in 1868 – the new government revamped the political, economic and educational systems, and the military, while reducing Samurai power. They succeeded in all these domestic endeavours, centralising their political control and military power in Tokyo, instituting mandatory education for all Japanese subjects, ending the special status of the Samurai class, and banning the wearing of Samurai swords in public.
“Fukuzawa addressed the immediate concern about Japan’s independence in a second book, An Outline of a Theory of Civilization (1875). This book, like his first, is considered one of the most important in Japan’s history.
“The Japanese responded to this fear with a campaign to protect their own values, beginning in the 1910s-20s with the intellectual Yoshino Sakuz(o-)’s Democracy Movement (Minponshugi). Yoshino’s case illustrates how different groups in Japan, liberal intellectuals and conservative military supporters, clashed over Westernisation. Mislabelled a Westerniser, Yoshino wanted to adapt (not imitate) Western-style democracy to the Japanese monarchy’s requirements, replacing popular sovereignty with the emperor’s benevolent rule.
“The experience of East Asians in threading the needle of Westernisation, compromising and assimilating where they need to while keeping their cultural core intact, has today allowed them to prosper and move to the head of a transforming global order.”

The following was a footnote from the author about why he’d rather westernization not be capitalized:

“The finding of the essay that the idea of westernisation is a fiction produced by groups of westerners at times in the service of western domination places a demand upon critical thinkers not to recapitulate western hegemony and replicate mythology by using capitals for all things western.”


The War on Privacy by Matt Taibbi (SubStack)

“it’s “problematic” to countenance platforms that allow large numbers of people to assemble in non-monitored, “shadow” social networks, where they can spread “misinformation” and wreak, potentially, a “ton of havoc.” Countless stories have been written on the theme of what speech should be “allowed,” as if they are the ones who should be doing the allowing.

Are you allowed to hold a networking event or have friends over without recording everything? And, I guess, submitting it to the authorities? Do you have to have an Alexa enabled? What about a Zoom call with friends? Should you invite a monitor? If you don’t, you’re hiding something.

“This is how we’ve traveled in just two and a half years from banning Alex Jones to calling for crackdowns on all unmonitored or less-monitored spaces, from podcasts to the aforementioned Clubhouse to encrypted platforms like Signal and Telegram to Parler, even to Substack, which ludicrously is beginning to come under fire as a purveyor of unapproved thought.”

There is such thing as a private conversation?

“Let’s agree that all private spaces must have their windows thrown open, so that New York Times reporters can sit watching for transgressions. I disagree with this creeptastic point of view, but let’s admit it, for sake of argument.”
“While self-styled heroes of anti-fascism at places like the New York Times have been outing the likes of “Jules,” “Fab,” and “Chloe” for the crime of listening to the word “retard,” the exercise of actual political power has more and more become a black box, and nobody in these newsrooms seems to care.
These culture warriors are collectively making a clear statement: Personal privacy is dangerous, official secrecy is not. They seek total transparency when it comes to our personal beliefs and opinions, and oppose it for governments or tech monopolies.”
“The new #Resistance politics marries aggressive interventionist foreign policy and secret government with a strain of pseudo-leftist thinking that despises privacy of any kind, as a hidey-hole for bigotry, sexual violence, and “sedition.”

Caveat: they value their own privacy, of course. They always do.

“We now take it as a given that we’re surrounded at all times by white supremacy and patriarchal oppression, which curiously exists everywhere but inside the CIA, NSA, FBI, the banking sector, etc.
“Suddenly leakers are villains, and even genuine documents full of true information are regularly christened “misinformation,” if they have the wrong political impact.”
Civil liberties are now widely understood to be a canard, protecting racists and disinformation agents, and high priests of journalism, like Columbia Journalism School Dean Steve Coll, are clear that free speech has been “weaponized,” especially in the form of information that passes between individuals without the benefit of the media’s contextualizing efforts.”
“We can’t even permit certain individuals or groups to continue communicating just because they have large, enthusiastic audiences willing to support such relationships, as those free assemblies might lack the aristocratic refinement to ensure adherence to what Coll calls “our principles.””


The Journalistic Tattletale and Censorship Industry Suffers Several Well-Deserved Blows by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“A new and rapidly growing journalistic “beat” has arisen over the last several years that can best be described as an unholy mix of junior high hall-monitor tattling and Stasi-like citizen surveillance. It is half adolescent and half malevolent. Its primary objectives are control, censorship, and the destruction of reputations for fun and power. Though its epicenter is the largest corporate media outlets, it is the very antithesis of journalism.”
“Just as the NSA is obsessed with ensuring there be no place on earth where humans can communicate free of their spying eyes and ears, these journalistic hall monitors cannot abide the idea that there can be any place on the internet where people are free to speak in ways they do not approve.
“They do it in part for power: to ensure nobody but they can control the flow of information. They do it partly for ideology and out of hubris: the belief that their worldview is so indisputably right that all dissent is inherently dangerous “disinformation.” And they do it from petty vindictiveness:”
“In other words, journalists, desperate for content, have flagged Clubhouse as a new frontier for their slimy work as voluntary hall monitors and speech police.”
“The participants in Clubhouse have tried to block these tattletale reporters from eavesdropping on their private conversations precisely because they see themselves as Stasi agents whose function is to report people for expressing prohibited ideas even in private conservations.
“Just take a second to ponder how infantile and despotic, in equal parts, all of this is. This NYT reporter used her platform to virtually jump out of her desk to run to the teacher and exclaim: he used the r word! This is what she tried for months to accomplish: to catch people in private communications using words that are prohibited or ideas that are banned to tell on them to the public. That she got it all wrong is arguably the least humiliating and pathetic aspect of all of this.

Also, I don’t see the NYT forcing her out at any point. Or demoting her. She’s doing the Lord’s work. I feel like the film Election foretold this pattern of behavior, personified in its lead Tracy Flick (Reese Witherspoon).

“And the use of that term [retarded] in the sub-Reddit was not just ubiquitous but fascinating: layered with multiple levels of irony and self-deprecation. Sociologists could, and should, study how that term was deployed by those Redditors and what role it played in forming the community that enabled them to strike a blow against these hedge funds.”
To publicly tattle on adults who utter the term without any minimal attempt to understand or convey context and intent is malicious, disgusting and sociopathic. But this is now the prevailing ethos in corporate journalism. They have insufficient talent or skill, and even less desire, to take on real power centers: the military-industrial complex, the CIA and FBI, the clandestine security state, Wall Street, Silicon Valley monopolies, the corrupted and lying corporate media outlets they serve. So settling on this penny-ante, trivial bullshit — tattling, hall monitoring, speech policing: all in the most anti-intellectual, adolescent and primitive ways — is all they have. It’s all they are.”
“ In 2002, McNeil won the 1st place prize from the National Association of Black Journalists for excellence in his reporting on how the AIDS crisis was affecting Africa.”
“Just think about that: New York Times employees, who are unionized, demanded that management punish a fellow union member more harshly than management wanted to. In 2002, McNeil won the 1st place prize from the National Association of Black Journalists for excellence in his reporting on how the AIDS crisis was affecting Africa. Now his forty-five-year career and reputation are destroyed — at the hands of his own colleagues — because “intent is irrelevant” when using off-limit words.”
“The overarching rule of liberal media circles and liberal politics is that you are free to accuse anyone who deviates from liberal orthodoxy of any kind of bigotry that casually crosses your mind — just smear them as a racist, misogynist, homophobe, transphobe, etc. without the slightest need for evidence — and it will be regarded as completely acceptable.
“[…] that does not entitle you — especially as an ACLU lawyer — to just go around casually branding people as “closely aligned to white supremacists” who have never remotely demonstrated any such affinity, just because you feel like it, because you crave the power to destroy your adversaries, or are too slothful to engage their actual views.”
“I can ignore these kinds of accusatory smears, or scorn and ridicule them and their practitioners — and I do — because they have no power over me. But consider how many people in journalism or other professions whose positions are less secure are rightly terrorized by these lowlife tactics, intimidated into silence and conformity.


Why Online Dems Hate Jimmy Dore! w/ Glenn Greenwald by Jimmy Dore (YouTube)

A wonderful tirade by Glenn Greenwald. 22.5 minutes of pure gold. He talks far too quickly for me to even attempt a transcript.


Glenn Greenwald On Censorship + Neera Tanden’s Greatest Hits by Useful Idiots (YouTube)

Matt Taibbi: They’re trying to establish a decorative baseline for what American government looks like going forward. So: troops on the street in Washington, show trials of outgoing leaders, I think it’s a necessary part of our decor going forward.”

Greenwald was talking about journalists these days avoiding the hard work for several reasons: they have to maintain a Twitter feed and churn out quick content, so it’s very hard, if not impossible, to work for weeks or months on a single, worthwhile story. They don’t seem particularly bothered by this, though, for the most part, since taking the low-hanging fruit is lucrative for them and it makes them feel good, like they’ve brought justice somehow—but always to soft targets, with their efforts carefully managed away from any real power structure.

At 51:00:

“They have no interest at all in investigating Goldman Sachs or derivative traders or short sellers or hedge funds or monopolists in Silicon Valley, let alone … when do you ever hear, on CNN, or MSNBC or on the NYT op-ed page anyone, ever, talking about the evils of the CIA. Ever. […] It’s not even on their radar […] They’re obsessed with the Proud Boys, Q-Anon, and meme-makers on 4-Chan. Those are the power centers that they care about. And all of the others are ones that they’re in bed with, and aligned with, and captive to.”

Greenwald is truly a formidable opponent. Devastating. Relentless. Eloquent. No wonder they hate him so much.


Rush Limbaugh, Who Should Have Stayed Jeff Christie by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“Rush told them a different story. They were plenty smart. After all, they had chosen to listen to the smartest person in history. When he praised himself, he was actually praising his audience. They ate it up. He was a pioneer of the audience-optimization model of media — identify an audience, observe its obsessions, then vomit your demographic’s self-image back across the airwaves in big chunks, in between ad blocs. Jacking off your target market’s hangups was an innovation back then, and he had the skill to turn his broadcast studio into a second Oval Office.”
The Republicans needed him, and he delivered, selling his audience out to a partisan con that among other things convinced a generation of Middle American listeners that their enemies were poor minorities and immigrants whose hunger for tax dollars was being stoked by “race hustlers” on the Democratic side.”
“[…] what Rush clearly loved above all was being a performer, and he’d hit on a Faustian bargain that gave him a gigantic audience and the adulation of millions. All he had to do in return was have no morals at all and embrace a sociopathic programming concept.


Being Wrong in Elite Jobs Doesn’t Have Any Consequences by Dean Baker (CEPR)

“There is no shortage of economists, policy types, and columnists (e.g. Kristof’s colleague at the NYT, Thomas Friedman) who have made this mistake. However, the idea that any of them would face serious career consequences for this sort of massive failure is viewed as absurd. Even to suggest it is seen as mean-spirited vindictiveness.

“So, we live in a society where the dishwasher can get fired in a minute for breaking the dishes. The same is the case for the custodian that doesn’t clean the toilet. But the highly paid workers at the top of their profession face no career risk from making huge mistakes with massive consequences for society.


Conor Friedersdorf: Stand Against Left-Wing and Right-Wing P.C. by Nick Gillespie (Reason)

At 18:40, Gillespie asks Friedersdorf what he thinks of firing in the case of a Valentine’s Day card going around the Los Angeles police department that features a picture of George Floyd with the caption “You take my breath away”.

Friedensdorf: This is a care where—first, just analytically, is this an attempt to adjudicate a truth proposition? Is this an attempt to engage in civic discourse? Where, if we control this kind of speech, then we’re going to be less able to arrive at the truth in any way? No. It’s certainly not that. Second, does it relate at all to the job of the person that we would ostensibly fire? And, if you’re in a police department, your ability to do your job is inextricably tied to the trust you have in the community. […] To me, this is an easy case.”

Gillespie: Part of the argument about Parler, and this gets thrown in the face of conservatives—in particular, right-wingers—where they’ll say I’m being canceled because a private company is kicking me off of their private platform—Twitter, YouTube, or whatever, or Amazon Web Serves, which hosts a site like Parler—says, ‘you know what? We don’t want to do business with you because we think you suck.‘

“And conservatives, if we’re talking about gay couples coming for wedding cakes to a baker, the conservative will say, oh, you know what? Bake your own cake. Or go find another baker. And then when this happens… but, would you agree that—and I think this is where this is kind of going—kind of legally, and maybe philosophically, … you know people have the right to, mostly, refuse opening their house, maybe not their business, but their house, to unwanted guests.

“So, like, I open my Twitter door and you come and shit all over the carpet. I tell you to leave. That’s not a problem. But, would you agree that we lose something when we become so brittle that every time somebody disagrees with us, we call the police. Have them escorted out of the house and then try to do everything to make sure they can’t talk to anybody else.


Texans receive exorbitant electricity bills after winter storm by Trévon Austin (WSWS)

“Griddy customers pay a monthly fee of $9.99 and then pay for the spot cost of the energy at the time of day which it is used, allowing for the skyrocketing of bills this week.

“How in the world can anyone pay that? I mean, you go from a couple hundred dollars a month … there’s absolutely no way‚ it makes no sense,” Williams said.

“KHOU 11 also cited a customer who had a bill of over $1,000 for her 700-square foot apartment. Another couple tweeted a picture of a bill for over $3,800, noting, “Using as little as possible 1,300 sq. ft. house and this is my bill. How is this fair. I only paid $1200 for the whole 2020.””

That is literally what deregulation means. It means no consumer protection. People only see the upside of lower initial prices. They are also forced into these deals because they have no money, and no other choices.

Total deregulation is as stupid as total no-technology. Of course you want some technology. You want running water and sewage and vaccines and communications. But we shouldn’t be ruled by technology; we should rule it. We do that with regulation.


Half of Texas without clean water as state and federal governments look the other way by Chase Lawrence (WSWS)

Biden’s response is similar to the Bush administration’s response to Hurricane Katrina, which wreaked havoc in New Orleans and surrounding areas in 2005, during which the Republican administration ignored the suffering of hundreds of thousands of residents of Louisiana.

“Biden has barely said anything, only stating on Friday that he will sign a “major” disaster declaration sometime soon and would perhaps visit the state in the middle of next week. As with the initial efforts, his disaster declaration likely entails little of significance to Texans.”

“While some natural gas producers have had a freeze because wells stopped working, Comstock is already ramping up production and charging $15 to as much as $179 per thousand cubic feet, as opposed to a last quarter average of $2.40 per thousand cubic feet. President and Chief Financial Officer Roland Burns stated Wednesday that “obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot.””

Literally disaster-profiteering. Nothing to see here.

Science & Nature

Culture

Philosophy

The Panmnemonicon by Justin E.H. Smith (SubStack)

“We ordinarily suppose that, on a stroll of the mind backwards into the past, memory leaves off, and history begins, where the self itself leaves off: you can’t remember stuff from before you were born, obviously, and so once you hit that absolute boundary, you have no choice but to rely on third-person documentary sources, and that’s what we call history.”
“No knowledge replaces what was heard and seen and felt before anything was known, but only ever adds topsoil to the bedrock of those primary sensations.”
“We know for a fact, anyhow —experiments with laboratory mice have proven as much— that trauma can be transmitted epigenetically: the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of a sufficiently tormented mouse will turn out as anxious and jittery as their ancestor was.”
“We are living human beings, and if history has shaped us in ways we had no power to control, we may still wish at least to control the way this shaping is articulated in the present.
“Most of the adepts of vaporwave were too young to have ever had a first-hand experience of pastel triangles and palm-tree motifs in a suburban mall in, let us say, Anaheim, California, and the most common YouTube comment on their preferred works in the genre is a variation of: “Listening to this is like remembering something you know never happened to you personally”. We might call such an experience “epimemetic”. The baby mouse experiences the epigenetic anxiety of its long-dead great-grandmother. The baby internet user, in the early twenty-first century, experiences the nauseating boredom of a long-abandoned mall, and relishes it.
“This expectation, that the panmnemonicon is eventually going to be able to recover everything, is at the same time a dream of epimemetic dissolution, in which I have no memory that is not shared, just as increasingly I have no present experience that is not surveilled.

Technology

Programming