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Links and Notes for March 26th, 2021

Published by marco on

Updated 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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.


Brasilien ist eine Gefahr für die Weltgesundheit by Fee Anabelle Riebeling (20min)

Although I don’t recall seeing a similar article about “Die USA ist eine Gefahr für die ganze Welt” when they went over 300,000 and were cruising to 400,000 per day.

However, Brazil has no vaccine because the USA told them not to take Sputnik V. So no protection from getting the disease again, in a different mutation,

“Weiteres Problem: P.1 ist in der Lage, die durch frühere Infektionen gewonnene Immunabwehr zu umgehen. Bereits in der ersten Welle infizierte Personen, steckten sich ein zweites, manche sogar ein drittes Mal an.”

7 cases since January is no reason to panic. Not exponential. Individual.

“Hier tauchte die Variante erstmals im Januar auf. Insgesamt wurde sie laut dem Bundesamt für Gesundheit BAG in der Schweiz bis jetzt sieben Mal nachgewiesen.”

Coronavirus-Update #80: Dritte Welle ohne Impfung nicht beherrschbar by NDR Ratgeber (YouTube)

I didn’t do a transcript this time, but I took notes on the general gist of what was discussed. See the YouTube page for a meticulous breakdown.

At 30:00, Drosten talks about the inevitability of B.117 taking over Germany. There are not enough tests to stop the virus. There were never enough tests, even last year (as incorrectly discussed in many talk shows.) Those were different tests. Germany is not going to get enough tests to really warrant a lockdown stop. And it’s also not going to have enough vaccine.

At 42:00, he recommended that maybe parents should back off on their own travel plans, as long as their kids are in school. E.g. don’t go to Mallorca. That would be a way of minimizing contamination. Instead of just taking part in all of the possible ways to expose yourself, you could limit yourself a bit. That is, of course, unlikely to happen.

At 47:00, he described the situation as “brenzlig”. We need to vaccinate. People are going to die.

At 56:00 He noted that we have enough data now and the B.117 mutation is definitely more dangerous. It’s not yet clear that it’s 60-70% deadlier, but it’s looking that way. So it’s more contagious and deadlier and the people are done with the lockdown and are going to walk face-first into this thing.

At 59:00, Drosten noted that the research coming from England is excellent. Germany has a lot to learn from them as far as generating such precise and clean results at such a tempo.

At 1:38:00 He discussed some good news. He thinks that we’ll need an update of the vaccine, but almost certainly only one in the near- to mid-term. After that, we should be able to stick with a single vaccine for a good long while (that is his hope, based on the data). At the same time, we’ll have to see who should get an annual or biennial booster—but certainly not everyone will need one.

Sputnik V: EU Sacrifices Its Citizens by the Thousands on the Altar of Anti-Russia Point-Scoring by Alan Macleod (MintPress News)

“Publicly, the EU has already dismissed Russia’s global COVID-19 vaccine supply as a propaganda stunt. “We should not let ourselves be misled by China and Russia, both regimes with less desirable values than ours, as they organize highly limited but widely publicized operations to supply vaccines to others,” said President of the European Council Charles Michel, adding “Europe will not use vaccines for propaganda purposes.””

Breathtaking. That’s Europe for you: no vaccine for anyone else—not even for itself, as Germany’s vaccination has stalled nearly completely. Switzerland has nothing. Russia and Cuba and China are selling the vaccine at cost and offering it to everyone—but that’s not sincere; it’s a power grab. It’s propaganda, trying to convince you that they’re good and nice, when it’s really your own government in Europe that isn’t getting you a vaccine anytime soon that is good and nice and looking out for your best interests.

“The United States has also spent much of the last year attempting to suppress the development and global rollout of Sputnik V. A report from the Department of Health and Human Services boasted that one of its primary achievements of 2020 was working with a host of other government agencies to combat the “malign influence” of Russia in the Americas. The primary example it cites was “persuading Brazil to reject the Russian COVID-19 vaccine.”

But now Brazil has no vaccine because papa didn’t give them any. And the pandemic is raging with dangerous mutations over there right now.

“Add that to Western hoarding of vaccines and the blocking of an intellectual property waiver that would have allowed poor countries to produce the vaccine for cost price, it seems clear that U.S. and EU actions have led to the deaths of countless thousands of people in the Global South already.”
In 2012, only 2% of Americans saw Russia as their greatest geopolitical threat. Today, that number is 26%, topped only by a massive spike in anti-China sentiment.”

This is a music video mocking the Austrian government’s opening of its ski areas with regard only for making money, without regard for COVID-19.

Tommy Tellerlift und die Fangzauner Schneebrunzer − 'Ischgl-Fieber' by ZDF Magazin Royale (YouTube)

The full show is here:

Wie Ischgl zum Corona-Cluster wurde! by ZDF Magazin Royale (YouTube)

Economy & Finance

I teach high school, which means I explain things to idiots every day. If you still don’t understand call options, I got you (Reddit)

The original comment was deleted, for some reason, but there’s a copy in this comment.

This person is more long-winded than even I am as a teacher. I think it could be summarized more succinctly, but the information buried in there is good.

By the end of the explanation, you will have the (correct) impression that the practice of trading options, for most traders, has absolutely nothing to do with fundamentals. That is, fundamentals are interesting in order to find options of value, but they’re not essential in a frothy, upward-trending market.

By the time you’ve actually got options, you’re just watching abstract numbers on a board and couldn’t care less whether the company underlying the stocks underlying your options actually produces real value. That’s why the word “derivative” is very apropos.

It reminds me of watching a cricket match by tracking the stats and, in particular, keeping an eye on the run rate. The run rate is number of runs per over. As the match grinds to its conclusion, the run rate inexorably rises and you know the team won’t win.

People who trade options have as much to do with actual value in the stock market as people who find traffic lights in captchas have to do with training an AI. Only incidentally, like a tiny drop on a stone in a cave.

Goldman Analysts Work Too Hard by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

But last month, there were 1.9 trillion transactions on O.T.C. markets, an increase of more than 2,000 percent from a year earlier, according to data from the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority, a self-regulatory group that oversees brokerage firms. The lack of oversight makes penny stocks easy targets for scammers, which has long accounted for their unsavory reputation. But risk can also be a draw for thrill seekers or those who fear they’ve missed a market boom that is creating wealth all around them.”
“Penny-stock trading, for them, is a fun game of skill and chance, and the skill involved is specifically figuring out who is lying about what and why. It’s like poker, an enjoyable gambling pastime that depends on the ability to spot deception, and that is more enjoyable precisely because you get to match wits with people trying to trick you. Penny stocks are where the extremely wary go to get eaten.”
“Penny stocks are a casino; sure your expectation is negative, but (1) you might win! and (2) the goal is to enjoy yourself, have fun with your friends, and exercise and develop your gambling skills, while losing. Are casinos a scheme to part gamblers from their cash? Yes, sure, of course they are, but they are also entertainment, and most gamblers understand that.

The real scam was the housing market, not penny stocks. Penny stocks is a non-story as far as fleecing people.

“There is an argument that index funds are just not very good voters, on a lot of questions; they do not have all the right incentives to get informed and maximize shareholder value. (There are other, weirder arguments that we talk about a lot, arguments that they have incentives to maximize something other than shareholder value: Because they own all the companies, index funds might want to do things like reduce competition between them rather than maximize each company’s value.) Perhaps both they and others would be better off if they sold their votes to someone who cared more.
“BofA notes that since about 95% of total Bitcoin is owned by the top 2.4% of addresses with the largest balances, it’s “impractical as a payments mechanism or even as an investment vehicle.” But that makes it a good speculative vehicle: There just isn’t very much of it for sale, so the price is very sensitive to relatively small events, so it’s exciting.”

Fed pledges to continue flow of ultra-cheap money to Wall Street by Nick Beams (WSWS)

“The overriding message to Wall Street was that the speculation can continue because the Fed will not cut off the flow of ultra-cheap money any time soon. Another indication of the extent of that speculation came yesterday with a report that investment in special purpose acquisition companies (SPACs) had already surpassed last year’s record fund-raising in just the first quarter of this year.
While Wall Street continues to rake in money had over fist, there are growing concerns in some circles that a crash is coming. In a recent article published in the National Interest, former IMF official Desmond Leach, now a resident fellow at the free market American Enterprise Institute, warned that the US economy is now a giant bubble.”
“[…] “very risky borrowers, especially in the highly leveraged loan market and in the emerging-market economies, can raise money at interest rates not much higher than those at which the US government can borrow.””

Illegal Content and the Blockchain − Schneier on Security by Bruce Schneier

“Many who buy cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum don’t bother using the ledger to verify their purchase. Many don’t actually hold the currency outright, and instead trust an exchange to do the transactions and hold the coins. But people need to continually verify the blockchain’s history on the ledger for the system to be secure. If they stopped, then it would be trivial to forge coins. That’s how the system works.

And that’s why it draws so much power. Not just for mining but by…breathing.

“Once someone adds something to the Bitcoin ledger, it becomes sacrosanct. Removing something requires a fork of the blockchain, in which Bitcoin fragments into multiple parallel cryptocurrencies (and associated blockchains). Forks happen, rarely, but never yet because of legal coercion. And repeated forking would destroy Bitcoin’s stature as a stable(ish) currency.”

Hahahahaha. Bitcoin is not a currency in any real sense. It is a barter item, like gold or silver. It doesn’t exist though, and it has a weensy little volatility problem. People think that because it’s trending upward now, it will always do so, even though no-one can explain why people value it. Maybe it doesn’t matter. But when the hot air goes out of the market and people flee to value…where do you think people will go? To a virtual asset that’s also cratering? Hey, maybe it will stay up there, like the popularity of religion. I can explain that a bit better than e-currencies, actually.

“Other countries with similar governmental and media ecosystems — Russia, Singapore, Myanmar — might consider following suit, creating multiple national Bitcoin forks.”

Hahaha no really, not the US? C’mon Schneier, do you really have so little imagination about the country that you actually live in? You think that only those bad countries would split the blockchain if it was to their advantage? I can imagine that, in the current political climate, you’d just have to add the word nigger or trannie to the blockchain and watch the fur fly. Bitcoin would be canceled inside of a day.

I find the lack of introspection about America on the part of so many security people pretty pathetic, actually. How can you call yourself a reliable security researcher if you constantly mention threats from other state actors, as if they were the ones doing most of the online hacking? It’s just not serious to not include the U.S. in the list of actors who’d do something like that.

“This could easily change if Bitcoin becomes a popular way to share child sexual abuse material. Simply having these illegal images on your hard drive is a felony, which could have significant repercussions for anyone involved in Bitcoin. Whichever scenario plays out, this may be the Achilles heel of Bitcoin as a global currency. If an open network such as a blockchain were threatened by a powerful organization — China’s censors, Disney’s lawyers, or the FBI trying to take down a more dangerous botnet — it could fragment into multiple networks. That’s not just a nuisance, but an existential risk to Bitcoin.

He keeps calling it a currency when it’s not really usable as one. You can’t make contracts using BitCoin or one side or the other would be screwed within a year. Hell, it’s grown so much this year that if you’d agreed to pay your rent in BitCoin, your rent would have doubled within just the first quarter. Stop saying it’s a currency.

“Its goal is to create a world that replaces cultural power with cryptographic power: verification in code, not trust in people. But there is no such world. And today, that feature is a vulnerability. We really don’t know what will happen when the human systems of trust come into conflict with the trustless verification that make blockchain currencies unique.

Greensill Didn’t Just Finance Supply Chains by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“Much of it went to financing “prospective receivables” from “prospective buyers.” That is, there would be some steel company that did not buy coal from Bluestone, and Bluestone and Greensill would agree that probably it should and some day it would, and they would figure that, well, if it did buy coal from Bluestone, it would probably buy like $15 million worth, and so Greensill would lend Bluestone that $15 million. And then Greensill would eventually collect the $15 million from the steel producer, if and when it did buy coal from Bluestone. This sounds a little like I’m kidding but I’m absolutely not […]
They used the term “Account Debtors” to refer to steel companies that didn’t owe Bluestone or Greensill anything, were not Bluestone customers, and possibly had never heard of Bluestone or Greensill. It’s pretty bold! “Greensill Capital understood that most of the Account Debtors were not existing customers of Bluestone,” says the complaint.”
Greensill basically gave Bluestone a payday loan for a job Bluestone hadn’t yet applied for. The result, of course, is that Bluestone had to keep rolling over the short-term loans: From the inception of the RPA Program, as amounts purportedly came “due” under the RPA Program Documentation, Greensill Capital would “roll” amounts owed by Bluestone.”

The Big Biden Move on Health Care and Making Medicare for All Affordable − Center for Economic and Policy Research by Dean Baker (CEPR)

“For a person in the oldest age group (55 to 64), the average cost of a silver plan without the ARA subsidies would be $12,900 a year. However, the ARA caps the payment at 8.5 percent of income, which means this person would pay just $4,250 for a silver plan, a savings of $8,650 a year. Even a person earning $100,000 would only pay $8,500 a year for a silver plan under the ARA, a savings of $4,400 a year. In short, for the vast majority of people, the ARA makes health care far more affordable than the subsidy schedule in the ACA. Under the ARA, these expanded subsidies only apply to the remainder of 2021 and 2022, but many hope that they can be made permanent.
“This sort of move away from employer-provided insurance would be a great thing. There is no reason to want an employer to be an intermediary in workers’ insurance. Also, the link between employment and insurance creates the difficult situation we saw during the pandemic, where people who lose their job also lose their insurance. So, if enhanced subsidies in the exchanges substantially lessens the reliance on employer-provided insurance, that should be seen as a positive development.
“This will be a positive development, since it will move us away from a system where people’s insurance depended on their employment. But it also means that the cost of the subsidies will grow much larger through time. It is essential to have measures in place that will contain costs so that health care does not become an unaffordable burden for the country. The routes for containing costs are well-known, but the affected industry groups are very powerful. This will be a difficult battle.”

Goldman CEO Wants His Bankers Back at Work by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“If you are going to de-emphasize the partnership culture and focus on cost control, I think it must be because you don’t believe that as much anymore? I think it’s because you have looked around and said, look, our investment bankers and traders bring in revenue in part because they work at Goldman, not because they’re so special; they’re selling the capacities of the firm rather than doing their own personal magic. The value is created by the seat, not the person sitting in it, as trading managers sometimes say.”
“The literal benefit of what you get out of the thing kind of doesn’t matter. The utility is knowing that you own it and, to some extent, everyone else knowing that you own it. It’s sort of like how your name could be on a little plaque at MoMA under some beautiful, important piece of art that you lent to the museum, except thanks to the blockchain, thanks to the ledger, that plaque at MoMA can now be visible to the entire world.”
“Disclosure, I went to Harvard, and I enjoyed that as an aesthetic experience; like, I got drunk on the quad and made lifelong friends and took a class where I translated Latin prose into Greek and had a special key to a special reading room in a big library. But there’s no doubt that that is a somewhat archaic and unusual form of aesthetic enjoyment. Possibly like hanging oil paintings in your living room? Whereas the Harvard diploma is fairly straightforwardly translatable into money and social status. Possibly like NFTs?”
“[…]some NFT entrepreneur jumps in and says “aha we’ve made a token of this painting, buy it from us!” Why? They don’t own the painting. They own the NFT, because they minted it, but that’s kind of trivial; anyone can mint an NFT on anything.
“You spend $100 million on $800-strike weekly options, Reddit goes crazy with glee, the stock triples, the options still expire worthless, and the next week you rip off a billion-dollar at-the-market offering and your retail investors line up to give you cash because you have proved that you are one of them. This is not conventional corporate finance advice but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Everything is like this now!”

Understanding Coinbase by Byrne Hobart (The Diff)

“Achieving the right balance between ideological purists (who are more likely to build something new) and mercenaries (who are more likely to put together a version of it that a) more than a handful of people will use, and b) that will turn a profit) is a challenge that many tech companies have to navigate.”
“[…] a company like Coinbase has to navigate the fact that what is “revolutionary” to a crypto fan is somewhere between “destabilizing” and “an existential threat” to other parts of the financial system—including the parts that are charged with keeping the system stable.”
“News about breaches is a leading indicator of their consequences, but it’s also a lagging indicator of attackers’ capabilities: the news hits when they get caught, not when they succeed, which means the worst security-related headlines will arrive after the worst attacks are over. This makes it very complicated to call peaks and troughs in the security business cycle.”

Public Policy & Politics

Why Putin’s Pipeline Is Welcome in Germany by Pat Buchanan (Antiwar.com)

“Quite obviously, the Germans do not see Putin’s Russia as the military threat it was in the Cold War. And Berlin has come to believe that, even if it falls short of its commitments to spend more on defense, the Americans are bluffing. They are not going to leave Europe or NATO.”

“Why does Angela Merkel not take seriously US threats to pull our troops out of Germany, if the Germans won’t cancel Nord Stream 2 or pony up more for defense?

“Because Merkel thinks the Americans are bluffing about going home from Europe, and thinks the Russia of Vladimir Putin is not the Russia she knew in the days of the GDR.

“Is she wrong?”

This is pretty much a spot-on analysis. Pat Buchanan would be a better Secretary of State than Anthony Blinken.

This is an excellent interview with Noam Chomsky.

Chomsky on the 'joke' of 'Russian interference' and the savagery of US sanctions by The Grayzone (YouTube)

Now that the election is over, Chomsky is no longer saying dumb things about electing Biden. Now he’s back to noting how unutterably evil U.S. policy is under Biden (as it has been under every president).

Chomsky even had to point out that Trump was right when he said “we’re all killers”, noting that this was a more honest response to the question about whether Putin is a killer than the one that Biden gave.

Roaming Charges: I, the Juror (Jeffrey St. Clair)

Noam Chomsky: “Israeli intervention in US elections vastly overwhelms anything the Russians may have done, I mean, even to the point where the prime minister of Israel, Netanyahu, goes directly to Congress, without even informing the president, and speaks to Congress, with overwhelming applause, to try to undermine the president’s policies – what happened with Obama and Netanyahu in 2015.”

A California Law Allows Union Organizers To Invade Farms Without Permission. This Lawsuit Wants To Change That. by John Stossel (Reason)

I didn’t read this article, but I’ve heard about this. The word “invade” is very provocative here. If you have workers who are being exploited to the point that they don’t have any time to organize—effectively a captive population—then how do you organize if you don’t have time?

The law allows for making time so that the process of organization can even start. Otherwise, the terrible situation that organizing could ameliorate would be exactly the thing that prevented organizing to address the problem.

It’s cute and neat for those who don’t want anyone to organize, but it’s not good for people and society. If you have a place that employs people, then maybe you should be subject to scrutiny to verify employment conditions and counseling.

Video: US Escalates New Cold War as Diplomatic Gloves Come Off, with Carl Zha by Behind the Headlines (YouTube)

I am not kidding. The U.S. lectured China at their latest summit with this gem:

“A confident country is able to look hard at its own shortcomings and constantly seek to improve. And that is the secret sauce of America.”

I wouldn’t even have known how to respond to that. The Idiocracy is fully bloomed.

The Chinese diplomat responded:

“I think we thought too well of the United States. We thought that we would follow the necessary diplomatic protocols. U.S. does not have the qualification to say that it wants to speak to China from a position of strength. You are not even qualified to say such things 20 or 30 years back.”

At 15:00: Carl Zha notes that the conference ended quite poorly, with the U.S. and China making separate statements. However, while the rest of the world covered both statements, U.S. Media didn’t cover the Chinese statement.

At 18:00 Carl Zha says that the Chinese people support their government to a much larger degree than that U.S. support (where Congress is and has been abysmal for quite some time). See Statista or Ballotpedia for more information.

At 25:00, Zha discusses Biden’s frailty, saying of the Democrats that “they chose this old man.”

Here’s the video they were talking about.

Joe Biden falls 3 times while boarding plane by Press TV (YouTube)

In fairness, it was pretty windy. This on the day after Putin wished Biden good health. Putin cursed him! Putin wouldn’t fall over in a stiff breeze, though.

At 34:00 Zha said, that he’d read a Russian … who was amazed that America would choose to antagonize Russia and China at the same time. He responded that (quick transcription),

“[…] our leaders are not the smartest bunch. I take it back. These elites are very smart about taking grift from the military-industrial complex. They don’t care if America has a bad relationship with Russia or China. What does that impact them personally? Nothing. They benefit from increasing tensions with Russia and China. That increases their funds from Lockheed Martin, etc. That’s all they care about. They talk about American interests, but they only care about their own personal interests.”

At 57:00 Zha says that Blinken was making a statement for U.S. media rather than talking to the Chinese diplomats, which is why they got some pushback. Blinked was completely undiplomatic and was grandstanding for his own country’s media for domestic political points rather than discussing salient points with the Chinese after having browbeaten them into having a summit on non-neutral territory.

At 59:30 Dan says that China has 1/6 of the average GDP per-capita, yet has eliminated extreme poverty

This is, of course, by the very weak definition of “extreme poverty” accepted by the U.N. … but, the U.S. can’t even clear that bar, with 6x the GDP per captita—because it’s much, much more unequal. Don’t waste your breath complaining about the Chinese oligarchs who run everything if you’re an American—focus on those much closer to home who put their Chinese counterparts to shame.

Chris Hedges is always a great interview. Here, he’s interviewed by Briahna Joy Gray & Virgil Texas of the Bad Faith podcast.

Politics is a Game of Fear: The Chris Hedges Interview by Bad Faith (YouTube)

At 42:00 Hedges answers the question of where is today’s Malcom X?

“Probably locked up. You should see the students I have. I teach to Rutgers. I’ve said it many times—and people think I’m just being nice to black people—but it’s totally true. My students could bury the kids I’ve taught at Princeton. There’s no comparison. The whole level of discussion begins at a place that the kids in Princeton are not even cognizant of—because they don’t even know how to ask the questions. Because these people understand America. They understand the judicial system. They understand white supremacy. They know institutional racism. They know why the police are militarized—and that it has nothing to do with, of course, with justice. It’s because these places have been stripped of all meaningful employment and prisons and police are the two primary forms of social control.

“They’re locked up. Especially if they’re people of color.”

At 1:17:30, he says “I think the solution is to stop asking what the solution is, and to start asking what the moral imperative is.”

At 1:20:00, he says “I don’t think you can understand America if you don’t read James Baldwin. He was fierce. He was such a fierce truth-teller. And so incredibly prophetic.”

Top US admiral warns war with China over Taiwan “much closer than most think” by Peter Symonds (WSWS)

“It is not Chinese “aggression” that threatens a devastating nuclear war between China and the US, but rather the relentless US military build-up throughout Asia. Combined with naval provocations in the South and East China Seas and trade war measures against China, this has dramatically escalated geopolitical tensions. Aquilino, Davidson and McMaster all used the alleged threat posed to Taiwan to justify their demands for a further major expansion of armaments and military spending for the US Indo-Pacific command.
“Over the past decade, US actions, particularly under the Trump administration, have destabilised the inherently unstable and highly-charged issues surrounding Taiwan’s status. Trump threatened to tear up the One China policy if China did not make economic concessions. He greatly boosted arms sales to Taiwan and increased the number of US warships passing through the Taiwan Straits.
“In his confirmation hearing, Aquilino applauded steps taken by Taiwan to develop its own missiles. On Thursday, Taiwan’s Defence Minister Chiu Kuo-cheng declared that the country was now mass producing long-range missiles—that is offensive weaponry—capable of striking deep inside the Chinese mainland. The missile program is developing three more models as “a priority.””
“A number of Taiwanese-controlled islets, all heavily fortified, lie just kilometres off the Chinese coast. Any move by the US to establish military ties or a military presence on Taiwan would be regarded in Beijing as a major threat to its security. Economically, Taiwan plays a central and highly sensitive role in the production of the world’s semiconductors.

And there we have the real reason: trade dominance in chips. The U.S. just doesn’t care about a war with China as long as it (A) is in China and (B) gets them their tech for building more useless shit, like cars or missiles. Whether it goes nuclear is not an overriding concern. Money is an overriding concern.

Firing the EU Commission President, a real Green New Deal, and burning issues by DIEM25 (YouTube)

At 09:30, Yanis Varoufakis says that if we don’t stop this rush to austerity, “we are going to have Dragis everywhere.” (not just in Italy, where Mario Dragi has been, once again, installed as technocrat running the economy, seemingly without democratic input).

At 20:00, Juliana Zita says, talking about the response to COVID, “we say that they failed, but I ask whether they ever had the goal to save people?”

At 34:00, Yanis again, describes how to strike and reverse the incentives.

This is an interview by Abbie Martin of the incredibly well-informed Eugene Puryear on AFRICOM and U.S. interests on the continent of Africa.

A Guide to US Empire in Africa: Neocolonial Order & AFRICOM by Empire Files (YouTube)

At 15:00:

“They did not want Lumumba […] the country starts to break apart. […the Belgians] tracked down Lumumba, they captured him, and then they executed him. And they then instituted a regime that was maybe one of the most brutal, kleptocratic, resource-extraction regimes in the history of the 20th century. […] The role of the U.S. is … late 50s, early 60s … and it’s a major role because were trying to shape the impact of the emerging colonial African states to make sure that they were not truly a counterweight to the imperialist agenda and the colonialist agenda. Which meant that, even though the colonies were gone, the basic role that these countries played in the world economy would remain the same and that’s as, essentially, resource-extraction hubs.”

At 19:00:

“The generous thrust of the Freedom Charter was, at the very least, strongly social-democratic, if not socialist, society that they were projecting out for South Africa, which is, of course, the wealthiest country inside of Africa. […] the U.S. especially was very afraid of a non-negotiated solution in South Africa, because the most likely scenario would be the ANC would take over. They are, in fact, many of them, socialists and communists, and they would immediately ally with Zambia, Namibia, Angola, and Mozambique which were, themselves, also socialist and communist and they would create basically another Soviet Union in southern Africa.”

At some other point, he notes that “As Michael Parenti often says, ‘these countries aren’t underdeveloped, they’re over-exploited.‘”

A discussion of Yasha’s research into the way that Soviet Jews were enticed to go to Israel, but were ultimately disappointed by the racism and poverty in 1989 and the decade thereafter.

Racism in Israel, anti-Soviet propaganda, and weaponization of immigrants − with Yasha Levine by The Grayzone (YouTube)

 We're sorryAt 11:00, Max says

“The discrepancy in testimony reminds me a lot of Curveball, or the Kuwaiti ambassador’s niece Nayirah, who testified with the coaching of something like 16 public-relations firms hired by the Kuwaiti embassy that Saddam Hussein’s men were taking babies off incubators in Kuwait. And then we had the Libyan rape narrative, Viagra being given to Qaddafi’s men. So all of these were carried out through groups that are cultivated by U.S. intelligence […]”

At 24:00, Yasha says

“You know, look, the Soviet Union was obviously not the hellscape that people think it was. People lived happy lives. Some people were less happy with the government and less happy with the society that they lived in. There were a lot of problems with it. There are a lot of people in America who aren’t happy with the society that they live in. It shows you, it’s not like a concentration camp…the idea that the Soviet Union was a concentration camp, that everybody was just like, … if you cut a hole in the barbed wire, that everyone would just rush out of there. That’s just not true. It’s a society with a lot of problems. I’m critical of the Soviet Union, but it was functional in a lot of ways, there were a lot of positive aspects to it. People led happy, meaningful lives out there. There’s also this idea that, once you leave the Soviet Union, that immediately you have a better life? That’s also not true. Immigration is fucking hard.

“My wife, Evgenia, who born and grew up in Moscow, she’s always telling me that it’s so strange that so many Jews left the Soviet Union, as if it was some kind of war zone. Imagine just completely moving to some place, knowing that you’ll never be able to go back, knowing that all of your communication with your friends, your family, is cut off. […] You’re not moving from zero, either: you have an apartment, a decent job, your kids are going to a decent school, some people have summer homes. You go on vacation in Bulgaria in the summer. Suddenly, you’re escaping that place, as if it’s some sort of war zone and totally collapsed society. It is strange that were a lot of people that really hated that place and believed the propaganda that everything would be much better once they leave. And, of course, it didn’t work out for everyone.”

Why Liberals Make Everything About Race w/ Touré Reed by Jacobin: Jen Pan, Ariella Thornhill, and Paul Prescod (YouTube)

This is a 2.5h discussion of race and class that includes a 2h interview with Touré Reed, a history professor from the University of Illinois. He is the son of Adolph Reed.

Non Fungible Podcast w/ Dean Kissick (Red Scare Podcast)

At 02:00, Dean says “You may have been wondering what guys have been up to in the pandemic? This is it.”

At 04:30, he says “It’s like Etsy for guys”

At 06:00, “I hope it’s a way of money-laundering instead of an actual belief that this is art.”

It seems like this is just another way of building fake value in the froth. The froth is already very, very bubbly. So the claim for a long time was that digital currency actually is currency and that it is fungible. Now that that’s clearly not true, they’ve pivoted and claim that it’s claim to fame is that it’s not fungible.

At 37:00, he says “At the moment, they’re just linking JPEGs to the blockchain, but it could be much more than that.”

An NFT is something that only has value because other people want it. It has no physical correspondent. It is like artwork, but you only own a digital ID, nothing else. Everyone can have a copy of the thing on which you made the NFT. It is completely untethered from reality. It is stupid and you are the biggest sucker if you buy one. You are a con man if you sell one.

It is an asset that is stripped of all cultural meaning.

It is a way of separating fools from their money. As with any scam, it only has value as long as someone else wants it, so your job is to make people want it and imbue your worthless possession with meaning.

Russian ambassador returns to Moscow as diplomatic crisis continues by Andrea Peters (WSWS)

“Despite the fact that no evidence has been published to substantiate these claims, Washington and leading press outlets in the US have seized on them to ratchet up anti-Russia hysteria and imply that Vladimir Putin is somehow responsible for the diseased state of America’s political system.
“Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov issued a statement warning that the United States may intensify economic sanctions directed against Russia, including cutting off the country from the international financial exchange system SWIFT, through which 33.6 million banking transactions a day happen around the globe. The intense financial isolation caused by such a move, which has thus far only been taken against Iran […]”

It’s fucking incredible to think that U.S. sanctions have cut off an unconvicted country from international financial transactions.

“The idea that Russia, as part of a Russo-Chinese anti-American bloc, will come to some sort of lasting, mutually-acceptable agreement over control of the Siberian landmass with its Chinese neighbor—with 10 times the population, 8.5 times the size of the economy, and triple the annual military spending—is implausible. The oligarchs of each country wish to have the unreserved right to exploit the resources and people of Eurasia. And the United States, driven to insane attempts to dominate the globe because of the diseased state of American capitalism, will not rest in its efforts to gain control of the region.”

Who’s That Knocking At Your Door by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

From Bill DeBlasio himself:

“One of the things officers are trained to do is to give warnings. If someone has done something wrong, but not rising to a criminal level, it’s perfectly appropriate for an NYPD officer to talk to them to say that was not appropriate. And if you did that on a higher level, that would be a crime. And I think that has an educating impact on people. I think it has a sobering impact that we need. That’s why we need every report – by the way, if something might be a crime, if it’s not 100 percent clear, the NYPD is going to investigate. I assure you if an NYPD officer calls you or shows up at your door to ask about something that you did, that makes people think twice. And we need that.”

Just to be clear: we went from “defund the police” to “use the police as hall monitors”? We just got rid of stop-and-frisk and now he wants to what? Bring it back? Is this against people who aren’t woke? What about constitutional rights? To be left alone? To not be searched? All out the window now, a half-year later, now that Biden is president? Are you trying to confirm the conspiracy theorists’ worst fears?

“Does anyone give any thought to how, at a time when we’re reluctant to have the police enjoy ever greater latitude in the use of force against individuals for fear that they will use force to swiftly, too harshly, too indiscriminately (or discriminately), that they are putting almost limitless power in the hands of the police to engage with people exercising their constitutional rights that will, eventually, end up with someone executed?”

Crossed Lines and Lost Lines by Scott H. Greenfield (Simple Justice)

“if the government can enact laws that mandate people allow outsiders onto their property for socially beneficial purposes, there really isn’t any conceptual basis to prevent the government from dictating pretty much any aspect of our control over our property and, perhaps, our personal actions and thoughts. It might have been worth it to end racial discrimination in 1964, but did that crossing of the line of personal freedom mean the line was lost forever?”

Alternatives to Censorship: Interview With Matt Stoller by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“In this system, bogus news “content” has the same role as porn or cat videos — it’s a cheap method of sucking in a predictable group of users and keeping them engaged long enough to see an ad. The salient issue with conspiracy theories or content that inspires “societal discord” isn’t that they achieve a political end, it’s that they’re effective as attention-grabbing devices.”
“[…] as Stoller points out, is that the firms are literally “stealing” from legitimate news organizations. “What Google and Facebook are doing is they’re getting the proprietary subscriber and reader information from the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, and then they’re advertising to them on other properties.””

Media organizations pay to produce content but Google and Facebook are reaping the ad revenue by displaying it their users without sending them to the origin site to see the ads that would finance further content.

“[…] until you deal with the underlying profit model, no amount of censoring will change a thing.”
““The question isn’t whether Alex Jones should have a platform,” Stoller explains. “The question is, should YouTube have recommended Alex Jones 15 billion times through its algorithms so that YouTube could make money selling ads?””
“Actually, technology is deployed according to law and regulation, and this specific regulatory model that we have, the business structures of these firms, the way they make money from advertising, those are specific policy choices, and we can make different ones if we want.”

Ukraine approves strategy to “recover” Crimea, threatening all-out war with Russia by Jason Melanovski (WSWS)

“Kiev’s escalation of the conflict with Russia over Crimea comes under conditions where the country remains mired in a civil war in eastern Ukraine that has now lasted for almost seven years. The war has claimed the lives of over 14,000 people, displaced 1.4 million and left 3.5 million in need of humanitarian assistance. UNICEF recently noted that millions in the war zone still lack access to clean drinking water and some don’t have regular access to any water, even as COVID-19 cases are again rising sharply across the country.
“While Zelensky was initially elected in 2019 on the basis of a rejection of the far-right militaristic nationalism espoused by his predecessor Petro Poroshenko, Zelensky is now adopting a potentially even more reckless strategy. Much indicates that he is being supported in this by the United States.
“The op-ed backed Zelensky’s recent political crackdowns and urged him to move even more aggressively against Russia. “Mr. Zelensky now has the opportunity to forge a partnership with Mr. Biden that could decisively advance Ukraine’s attempt to break free from Russia and join the democratic West. He should seize on it,” the paper’s editorial board urged.”

They can’t be ignorant of what they’re suggesting. Ukraine in NATO all over again. What makes them think that it will work this time? That Russia will just roll over and let NATO move in 200km from its doorstep in Moscow?

“In its reckless military escalation, the Zelensky government is also driven by a deep social and political crisis in Ukraine itself. Its political support has fallen sharply as the country’s economy and health care system have been devastated by COVID-19, with no significant vaccination effort in sight. There is a real danger that the Ukrainian ruling class, driven by a deepening domestic crisis, is trying to divert these internal tensions outward, resulting in a war that would threaten the lives of millions.

No Sputnik V for them? No Moderna or Pfizer from their allies? I feel sorry for Ukraine: married to an asshole. Just like Brazil, actually.

Aaugh! A Brief List Of Official Russia Claims That Proved To Be Bogus by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“Does this mean the Russians don’t meddle? Of course not. But we have to learn to separate real stories about foreign intelligence operations with posturing used to target domestic actors while suppressing criticism of domestic politicians. It’s only happened about a hundred times in the last five years — maybe it’s time to start asking for proof in these episodes?”

’I’ve Been Targeted With Probably the Most Vicious Corporate Counterattack in American History’ (Esquire)

“So he was purporting from his Manhattan trial court to overrule Ecuador’s supreme court, without even looking at the evidence that Ecuador’s supreme court relied on to uphold the judgment.
Stephen Donziger: It’s a misdemeanor charge. I’m the only person in the entire country held on a misdemeanor pre-trial. Misdemeanors with no record never get prison time in America. Especially now, during COVID. So it’s really an extraordinary situation that’s unprecedented. One day turned into two turned into 100. I’m now, [on March 11, 2021] at 583 days, in a case where a maximum sentence is 180 days if I were to be convicted, and I have not had a trial yet.
“From the beginning, this seems like a parable about the power of multinational corporations. I think that’s exactly right. I mean, this is the first time in history that big oil has convinced the government to give it the power to prosecute its main critic. Or any critic. This is a corporate political prosecution, and I consider myself a corporate political prisoner.
“The other bizarre feature is, the law firm—Seward & Kessel—are being paid hourly, $300 an hour, out of a court fund. They have already billed, according to their own admission, $464,000—billed to taxpayers for my misdemeanor prosecution.
“When in reality, what I do is represent clients who have been the victims of a mass industrial poisoning by Chevron and who were successful in winning a court judgment.”
“What does that mean for environmental justice advocates and corporate accountability advocates and lawyers? What does that mean for our planet? Because if you can’t do this kind of legal work to hold these polluters accountable, the destruction of the earth will happen at a faster pace. I think there’s a broader issue here beyond just the spectacular nature of this particular attack on an individual.

Book Review: The New Sultan by Alexander Siskind (Astral Codex Ten)

“In 1994, less than 15% of Istanbul residents had access to waste-water treatment; by 1998, this figure had climbed to roughly 65%”
“Under pressure from the military, the courts banned the now-powerless RP as a “focal point for acts against the secular republic”. Erdogan scraped through by quitting the RP and founding the Totally Honestly Not An Islamic Party (FP); he was briefly allowed to remain Mayor of Istanbul. But when the courts and military finished cleaning up after the RP, they went after Erdogan’s new bloc too. The FP was shut down, and Erdogan was personally banned from politics for the crime of “reading an incendiary poem”. The Islamists appealed to the European Court of Human Rights − located in Strasbourg, France, home of laïcité and enforced secularism, which ruled that none of this seemed like a human rights violation to them. Erdogan was out.”
“He struck an alliance with the Gulenists, who despite being a totally above-board network of friendly people running nice schools happened to have seized all the most important posts in the judiciary. Erdogan got − realistically probably forged − documents proving a spectacular Deep State conspiracy called Ergenekon, a sinister organization plotting against the democratic government of Turkey. Coincidentally, it happened to include all of Erdogan’s enemies. The military, the media, the super-rich − Erdogan brought them to court one by one on forged evidence, and the Gulenist-controlled courts played along.”
“The media objected a bit, but Erdogan “discovered” that some of the journalists who objected were actually members of Ergenekon, and other newspapers supported Erdogan − these later turned out to be entirely owned and run by Gulenists, who sure did get their fingers in a lot of pots for an innocent above-ground network of educational institutions.
“If Stalin wanted your head, he would have his goons cut your head off. If Erdogan wants your head, he will have a corruption investigator arrest you, bring you to court, charge you with plausible-sounding corruption allegations, give you a trial by jury that seems to observe the proper formalities, and sentence you to death by decapitation. To an outside observer, it will look a lot like how genuine corruption trials work in genuinely democratic nations. You’d have to be really well-informed to spot the irregularities − and the media sources that should be informing you all seem very helpful and educational but are all secretly zombies controlled by Erdogan supporters.
“But if every day your institutions are just a tiny bit less legitimate than the day before, when do you rush out into the street?”
“On the other hand, the thing where Democrats talk about how Trump supporters entering the Capitol was an “attempted coup” and we need lots of “domestic terror laws” and a grand attempt to uncover the complicity of the mainstream Republican establishment and bring them to justice − that also feels a little too Erdoganesqe for comfort.
““Anti corruption campaign” seems to be a code word for “arresting the enemies of people in power”, whether in Erdogan’s Turkey or Xi’s China. I’m not sure what to do about it without leaving corruption in place, but, uh, maybe we should leave corruption in place. Hard to say.”
“The important point is that elite government can govern with a light touch, because everything naturally tends towards what they want and they just need to shepherd it along. But popular/anti-elite government has a strong tendency toward dictatorship, because it won’t get what it wants without crushing every normal organic process.”

With Katie Herzog on the Expansion of LGBTQ Identity and How it is Wielded in Political Discourse by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

The more marginalization points one can assemble, the more rights a person is assigned, the more deference they are due, the more inherent soundness and moral righteousness their political arguments are assumed to carry. Anyone who participates even minimally in political discourse in these venues knows these are the prevailing rules, and anyone who denies it is being dishonest.”
“Any rules of political discourse that subordinate the merit of an argument to the identity of the person advocating it is one that is inherently unhealthy and distorted.”

Journalists, Illustrating How They Operate, Yesterday Spread a Significant Lie All Over Twitter by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“[…] the only time the U.S. Government has ever spoken on this question was when the Director of National Intelligence stated: “Hunter Biden’s laptop is not part of some Russian disinformation campaign.“
“The New York Times’ largely credulous article about this report contained this admission, one you would think (or, rather, hope) would matter to journalists: “The declassified report did not explain how the intelligence community had reached its conclusions about Russian operations during the 2020 election.”

Let’s Stop Pretending Russia and China are Military Threats by Dave Lindorff (CounterPunch)

“The US has 800 bases in 70 countries and at least the last time the White House reported on the subject, in a 2018 report to Congress, it had troops fighting in seven countries. Russia, according to a report in Izvestia, has 21 military bases operating outside of the country, many of them in states that were formerly part of the Soviet Union until 1990, like Tajikistan, Armenia and Belarus. The only place it has soldiers fighting is in Syria. China has four overseas basis — one in Djibouti, one in Tajikistan, and two signal facilities in Myanmar and at the southern tip of Argentina.
Russia has one oil-powered aircraft carrier. It rarely leaves port. China has two aircraft carriers, which stay close to home.”
The real threat posed by Russia and China is commercial. The US acts as though a Russian pipeline called Nordstream, being built under the North Sea to bring cheap Russian natural gas to Western Europe is a virtual act of war. And China, with its huge “belt and road” project to link eastern China to Europe with high-speed rail and all-weather highways to facilitate trade between Europe and Asia is some kind of devious military maneuver.”
“A great example of this is the F-35 nuclear-capable fighter bomber, a $1.7-trillion dollar boondoggle which now, mid-way through its production process, the Pentagon admits is a complete failure as an aircraft, unreliable, incapable of flying at supersonic speed as it destroys its “stealth” coating, too heavy to engage other planes in aerial dogfights, and a danger to pilots because of avionics that are unreliable. It is likely to end up in a very expensive scrap heap and nobody is being blamed for this epic waste.”
Anyone who has traveled to Europe or Asia can attest that in many countries one feels like a visitor from the Third World. The US has abilities — like the landing of the Perseverance Rover on Mars — but meanwhile Japanese and Chinese people whisk between cities on smooth-as-glass high-speed trains while Europeans get their health care delivered free at point of service, mostly covered by taxes paid by all, get six or more weeks of paid vacation and retire without a suffering plunge in living standard.”

This video is 30 minutes of factual and excellent journalism with sources and citations from Zenz, burying him with his own words.

Max Blumenthal debunks US accusation of China's 'genocide' against Uighurs by The Grayzone/Max Blumenthal (YouTube)

‘Independent’ report claiming Uyghur genocide brought to you by sham university, neocon ideologues lobbying to ‘punish’ China by Ajit Singh (Grayzone)

“The reliance on the voluminous but demonstrably fraudulent work of Zenz is not surprising, given that the report was financed by the Newlines Institute’s parent organization, the Fairfax University of America (FXUA). FXUA is a disgraced institution that state regulators moved to shut down in 2019 after finding that its “teachers weren’t qualified to teach their assigned courses”, academic quality was “patently deficient,” and plagiarism was “rampant” and ignored.
“These three sources comprise more than one-third of the references used to construct the factual basis of the document, with Zenz as the most heavily relied upon source – cited on more than 50 occasions. Many of the remaining references cite the work of members of Newlines Institute’s “Uyghur Scholars Working Group”, of which Zenz is a founding member and which is made up of a small group of academics who collaborate with him and support his conclusions.”
“Rather than consult a wide range of authorities and academic experts, or subject its study to peer review, Newlines relied entirely on a narrowly focused community of like-minded ideologues. A majority of the signatories are members of the two think tanks behind the report, the Newlines Institute and the Wallenberg Centre.”
“Just days before Newlines Institute’s report on China was released, its FXUA’s accreditation was once again in potential jeopardy. On March 5, an advisory board to the US Department of Education recommended terminating recognition for ACICS. The National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity voted 11-to-1 to recommend that ACICS lose the federal recognition it needs to operate.”
“Any critical probe of the reams of reports on Xinjiang and the hawkish institutions that publish them will quickly reveal a shabby propaganda campaign dressed up as academic inquiry. Western media’s refusal to look beneath the surface of Washington’s information war against China only highlights its central role in the operation.

Biden threatens unspecified retaliation against Russia by Patrick Martin (WSWS)

“Besides that double standard, it was noteworthy that Stephanopoulos did not ask Biden whether Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman or Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are “killers,” or the leaders of a dozen other US allies and client states around the world. That label is reserved for the president of Russia, together with the false charge of “genocide” against China, because these terms are useful for inflaming public opinion in America against the two principal targets of US imperialism.”
“The reference to the supposed effort to “exacerbate divisions” is an indication of a major purpose of the anti-Russia campaign: to outlaw any effort to give voice to the very real social divisions in America, above all the yawning gulf between the financial aristocracy and the working class, as the product of foreign subversion, or, as the defenders of Jim Crow used to call civil rights activists, “outside agitators.””

Daniel Ellsberg Talks About Whistleblowing, the Pervasiveness Of Official Lies, and the Dangers of the Espionage Act by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“Ellsberg described a vicious cycle, in which leaders lie pervasively, then learn to have so much contempt for the public that swallows those lies, that they feel justified in lying more.”
“Ellsberg: You have to ask, who is it who actually bears the cost of these and who doesn’t? Any of these wars were not bad for the people making weapons, and it’s not only them. It’s the banks that finance them and it’s the congresspeople who benefit, as I keep saying, from the donations and the jobs and so forth. They did fine…”
“Ellsberg: With the Gulf of Tonkin, the Times did not say, “Here’s what we said at the time.” The Times did not go back and say, “Here’s who lied to us. Here’s how we were lied to. Here’s how gullible we were. Here’s the pattern of deception.” No, that would blame themselves. They didn’t need that, so they didn’t do it… In short, I think nations and institutions, we talk about why don’t they learn, learning is not what they do, because learning involves seeing prior errors that you haven’t met. Errors are an occasion for blame, for losing jobs, for being criticized, and they don’t do that.
“The NSA did not do surveillance on American citizens without a warrant for about 25 years or so after, so that was a change. But then 9/11 comes along, and it’s Constitution be damned. Since then, this is 20 years ago, we’ve had total surveillance of everybody, totally unconstitutionally.

How Do Big Media Outlets So Often “Independently Confirm” Each Other’s Falsehoods? by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“[…] the 18-month aggressive, sprawling investigation resulted in exactly zero criminal charges on the core claim that Trump officials had criminally conspired with Russia.
“[…] the former FBI Director’s final Report explicitly stated that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election.” In many cases, the Report went even further than this “did not establish” formulation to state that there was no evidence of any kind found for many of the key media conspiracies […]”
“In other words, the conspiracy theory that the media pushed on Americans since before Trump’s inauguration — to the point where it drowned out most of U.S. politics and policy for years — proved to have no evidentiary foundation. And that is one reason I say that the sectors of the media pretending to be most distraught at the spread of “disinformation” by anonymous citizens on Facebook and 4Chan are, in fact, the most aggressive, prolific and destructive disseminators of that disinformation by far (nor was it uncredentialed YouTube hosts, Patreon podcasters or Substack writers who convinced Americans to believe that Saddam Hussein possessed nuclear weapons and was in an alliance with Al Qaeda but rather the editor-heavy prestige outlets such as The New York Times, The New Yorker, NBC News and The Atlantic).”
“How “multiple sources” all got the date on the email wrong — mis-reading it as September 4 rather than the real date of the email: September 14 — was never explained by CNN. That is because corporate media outlets believe they owe the public no explanation or accountability for the massive errors they commit.
“Given human fallibility, reporting errors are normal and inevitable, but when they are all geared toward advancing one political agenda or faction and undermining the other, they cease to be errors and become a deliberate strategy or, at best, systemic recklessness.
“[…] it is vital to understand what news outlets mean when they claim they have “independently verified” the uncorroborated reports of other similar outlets. It means nothing of consequence. In many if not most cases — enough to make this formulation totally unreliable — it signifies nothing more than their willingness to serve as stenographers for the same anonymous political operatives who fed their competitors similar propaganda.

With Ratings Down, the Networks Hunt For a Trump Replacement by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“Imagine three or four dozen Super Bowls a year, each one played in the middle of a category 5 hurricane, and you come close to grasping the magnitude of the gift that Donald Trump was to MSNBC, Fox, and CNN.
“Trump’s arrival created a dilemma for news execs. On the one hand, he was an ATM machine. Put him on air, and revenue was automatic. The three biggest networks earned $2.85 billion in profits just last year. The problem was that the coverage formula that made the most money involved taking strong stances either for or against him. Trump was to blue-state audiences what Bill and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama had been for Fox watchers: a mesmerizing lodestar of political horror. The more villainous he could be made out to be, the higher the ratings that networks could score.
“[…] a porn version of Chauncey Gardner [sic][3] — an accidental leader carried into power as the lucky beneficiary of long-developing frustrations and schisms in American society.

Congressional Testimony: The Leading Activists for Online Censorship Are Corporate Journalists by Glenn Greenwald (SubStack)

“Whatever else one might want to say about the destruction of Parler, it was a stark illustration of how these Silicon Valley giants could obliterate even a highly successful competitor overnight, with little effort, by uniting to do so. And it laid bare how inadequate is the claim that Silicon Valley’s monopolies can be challenged through competition.
“The proposal to vest media companies with an antitrust exemption in order to allow them to negotiate as a consortium or cartel seeks to rectify a real and serious problem – the vacuuming up of advertising revenue by Google and Facebook at the expense of the journalistic outlets which create the news content being monetized – but empowering large media companies could easily end up creating more problems than it solves.”
“Virtually every concern that Americans across the political spectrum express about the dangers of Silicon Valley power emanates from the fact that they have been permitted to flout antitrust laws and acquire monopoly power. None of those problems – including their ability to police and control our political discourse and the flow of information – can be addressed until that core problem is resolved.”
“Even more bizarre is that opposition to oligarchical censorship and monopoly power is often depicted by the liberal-left as a right-wing cause, largely because they perceive (inaccurately) that such oligarchical discourse policing will operate in their favor.”

The Institutional Bias of Forestry School Research by George Wuerthner (CounterPunch)

“The problem with forest management is that we have allowed the timber industry to define what constitutes a healthy forest. The industry has made sure that forestry school research promotes this paradigm. We need a new definition of what constitutes a healthy forest ecosystem, but don’t expect it to come from forestry schools or the Forest Service.

Quad summit consolidates US-led military bloc to prepare for war against China by Peter Symonds (WSWS)

“In the lead-up to the Quad summit, the head of the US Indo-Pacific command, Admiral Philip Davidson testified to the US Congress. He called for a doubling of the Pentagon’s budget for the region and predicted that the US could face war with China within five years. The headlong plunge toward war by US imperialism is driven by the fear in Washington that China is overtaking it economically and technologically, as well as by the need to direct the tensions fuelled by the profound political and social crisis at home outward against an external enemy.”

The American Military’s Africa Gambit by Danny Sjursen (ScheerPost)

“I’ve known officers like these guys – have worked with and for the type. And make no mistake, the tone of these co-authors drips with the cardinal sin of their archetype – reasonably well-read military professionals who truly believe they’re the only truly trustworthy adults in the room. These are self-styled sober realists beset with a 21st century brand of imperial paternalism. See, they know what’s good for both American citizens and African peoples – if only those erratic emotionals they ostensibly serve would listen! In fact, Hicks, Atwell, and Collini could’ve saved readers time and trouble if they’d had the candor to openly crib lines from Kipling’s famed 1899 poem:

“Take up the White Man’s burden-
Have done with childish days

It’s clear that’s just what the co-authors think and prescribe – get in the ring, America, and duke it out with largely imaginary Russians and Chinese on that ever-tortured African continent.

Art & Literature

This guy is a pretty entertaining and observant cinephile.

How Austin Powers Predicted the Future of Cinema by Patrick (H) Willems (YouTube)

At 20:00, he says “ I don’t even know if there’s a word for when the real thing imitates the spoof.”

At 21:30

“If Austin Powers were made now, we’d all be saying haha what a clever satire of all of those other blockbuster franchise movies. But those things hadn’t happened yet when they were made.”

He notes that all the movies in the top ten were remakes or sequels.

At 23:30, “This is the future that Austin Powers foretold.”

Nomadland Is a Great and Terrible Film by Eileen Jones (Jacobin)

Fern’s odyssey is so redemptive, in fact, it’s portrayed as a strange kind of ultimate good fortune to lose everything and be forced out onto the road. The narrative upends the logic of The Grapes of Wrath — Depression-era Dust Bowl conditions created by rapacious capitalist farming practices destroys the Joad family’s livelihood, the bank takes their farm, and their grim “Okie” trek to the supposed promised land of California ends in further disaster, breaking down the last thing they have left — their strong family ties.”
“This problem with Nomadland is one we recognize readily on the Left, because it’s so familiar. It’s another of those films dealing with subject matter that’s clearly, harshly, inescapably political, but somewhere in the development process, it’s been softened and compromised to a significant extent by people involved who are convinced that the best kind of cinema is totally apolitical and ideology-free.”
“Their goal is often the same — to create a highly personal, individual story that is ultimately inspirational rather than critical of the systemic horror show that’s at least partially on display in the film as well, only with a distractingly “beautiful sunset behind it.””
“[…] have to admit, most of us would be the other kind of nomad — forced into it. Unlike Fern, we’d struggle to fathom how we’d find redemption on the road. Most of us have already gathered from our COVID lockdown experience, we’re no good at this — the solitude, the lonely grind, the self-reliance in the face of so much work, challenge, loss, grief, and calamity. If there’s a way to infuse all that with hope, energy, and even grandeur, we sure need to know it now.”
“We have very few utopian films anymore, dystopian visions having taken over decades ago. But this is one — even more interestingly, it’s a utopian film emerging out of a dystopian framework of a failing nation, which is probably what gives it such startling emotional power.”

Gerald Horne’s counter-revolution against 1776 by Fred Schleger (WSWS)

“The trouble is this: Horne’s scholarship does not stand up to the slightest scrutiny. Horne’s work is worse than inaccurate: it is, in large measure, a work of fiction. His interpretation of source material is so inaccurate as to be fanciful: quotes are truncated to invert their meaning, sources are misattributed, and even elementary facts are misrepresented—or are just plain wrong.”
“Nonetheless, there has been universal agreement that the American Revolution gathered force around a series of conflicts over taxation, sovereignty and political representation.”
None of the major texts of the Revolution (such as Thomas Paine’s celebrated pamphlet Common Sense, the Declaration of Independence, or the Continental Congress’ Declaration of the Causes and Necessity of Taking Up Arms ) make any mention of Somerset v. Stewart, or indeed of British abolitionism at all.
The American Revolution was argued out in the open. If defense of slavery were among its major causes, this would be reflected in the countless pamphlets and newspapers that still survive from the revolutionary era. Yet this is not the case.”
“[…] there was no abolitionist movement in Britain or anywhere else prior to the American Revolution, which first gave the impulse to anti-slavery sentiment in both Britain and the newly formed United States. Several states (including Massachusetts, where resistance to Britain was strongest) abolished slavery during and immediately after the revolution, and by 1804, all the states north of Maryland had passed laws setting slavery on the path to extinction.
“Far from being a defense of slavery, this letter is a full-throated attack on the absurdity of enslaving people because of the color of their skin. Horne has severely misread the original source, and by selectively quoting from it, has managed to invert its meaning. Contrary to his interpretation, the letter shows a Virginian newspaper expressing abhorrence at the idea of human bondage.”
“Even if one were to grant the most charitable interpretation—that these misrepresentations are unintentional—this level of sloppiness with sources renders every statement in the book suspect. Readers should not trust any claim made by Horne that they themselves have not verified by tracking down the original source.
“Laurens’ statement had nothing to do with the Somerset decision, slave revolts or abolitionism—it expressed his concern that the American colonists would be subjected to the arbitrary rule of Parliament. Yet Horne attempts to turn this statement of protest against the Intolerable Acts into something else—a declaration that Britain was favoring slaves.”
“In a book that centers on the supposedly decisive influence of the Somerset decision on the revolution, Horne omits the most substantive (and perhaps the only) statement about the case made by a leading figure in the revolution, and that statement just happens to be an attack on the institution of slavery.”
“If Horne is aware of Franklin’s statements about the Somerset case and collaboration with Granville Sharp, then his decision to omit them from his book and to instead portray Franklin as critical of the Somerset decision is simply indefensible from a scholarly point of view. His only possible defense here is that he was unaware of Franklin’s statements on the matter, in which case he is simply a poor scholar.
Some of Franklin’s last public acts were an appeal to the public against slavery, [19] a petition to Congress calling for the abolition of slavery, [20] and a biting satirical attack on proslavery arguments. [21] It is difficult to imagine that Horne could be unaware of these facts.”
“This is a reference to laws requiring masters who freed their slaves to post a bond, in order to guarantee that if people freed in this manner became indigent, they would not impose a financial burden on the colony. Of course, Horne does not explain this—the reader is left with the impression that the Rhode Island legislature was firmly proslavery.”
Exactly how much incompetence and how much dishonesty is at play is difficult to gauge here: Horne’s bungled attempt at describing the basic facts of the attack on the Gaspee points to incompetence, but his highly selective presentation of Stiles and Rhode Island point to a certain level of dishonesty.”
“And what sort of publisher would stamp their imprimatur on a work that manages to include multiple misquotations by the end of the second paragraph? The answer is the New York University Press, which describes the book as “trailblazing.””
“Assuming that Waldstreicher has read the book he has been promoting, one has to ask why he is willing to heap praise on such nonsense.”

He probably didn’t read it. Why bother? No-one else does. There’s no downside. He gets his paycheck. The world moves on. Undergraduates learn this dishonest bilge.

“Toward the end Horne’s book devolves into a polemical justification for why his thesis must be true rather than a presentation of evidence that proves his thesis.””
“One would expect that when asked to review a book that claims to so dramatically overturn the historiography of the American Revolution, professional historians would apply a modicum of scrutiny before giving their recommendation. Unless they plead incompetence, one has to conclude that they were willing to let Horne’s misrepresentations slide for their own purposes.
“It is hard to imagine that Wulf is unaware of the implausibility of Horne’s thesis, or that she does not notice any of his numerous misrepresentations. Why are highly knowledgeable, impeccably credentialled [sic] historians unwilling to correct obvious falsehoods in a public setting?
“Though it is disappointing to see the popular press promote such gross misrepresentations of history, it is not surprising that they would do so in a political environment dominated by racial politics, and in which important elements of the historical profession have abdicated their responsibility to vigorously confront such misrepresentations.”
“Largely unchallenged and even legitimized by the historical profession, it is this style of thought, which, laundered through the New York Times ’ 1619 Project, is now being injected into the curriculum of schools throughout the United States as a means of dividing working class youth along racial lines.”

Philosophy & Sociology

Friends of the Devil by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“Much like the Czechoslovak waiter Díte, protagonist of Bohumil Hrabal’s wonderful 1971 novel, I Served the King of England, I took pride in the proximity this work afforded me to some of the era’s most luminary figures: I attended the parking lots of Public Enemy, N.W.A., Jimmy Buffett.
“Although this album’s “Purple Haze” is more commonly noted for its paradigmatic deployment of the dominant seventh sharp ninth —better known as “the Hendrix chord”, which magically combines in a single sound both the characteristic blues resonance and the “Oriental” intimation of a sitar—, it’s the opening tritone intervals that give the song its sinister character. The tritone, consisting of three adjacent whole tones, is the Diabolus in Musica explicitly condemned as early as the ninth-century Musica Enchiriadis, though in truth its centuries-long prohibition appears to have been mostly a myth of the Romantic composers who sought to ban it retroactively, in order then to use it to greater effect.”
“But all this adducing of evidence is beside the point. The devil, you might say, is convoked by the tritone and the Hendrix chord and the blues scale; he is acknowledged by The Cure in their best moments (1989’s crowning achievement, “Lullaby”), or in such neo-Weimarian gothic masterpieces as The Sisters of Mercy’s “Marian”; he is unconvincingly ignored in “Ripple” or such charming bucolica as Creedence’s “Lookin’ Out My Back Door”, and he is irritatingly and temporarily deplatformed when Rick Astley sings “Never Gonna Give You Up”. But as we all know, deplatforming never works. And the devil is never far.”
“It would later become obvious that this perception was little more than a measure of the success of a marketing strategy pursued by Malcolm McLaren and a handful of other business-savvy taste-makers. There are lessons here about the dynamics of any counterculture operating under capitalism, but I won’t attempt to draw them out.”
“I am certain, moreover, that it was the model of such learning in the field of popular music —the discovery that a person could approach the world encyclopedically in that particular domain— that caused me in time to adopt such a disposition to the world in general.”
“Much more than this, though, it also seems to me that music is the paradigm of all possible learning because it is seared into memory like nothing else — this, again, likely for deep neurological reasons. When I am withered and vacant from Alzheimer’s, there is a good chance I will still have it in me to perk up on hearing the opening melody of The Cure’s “Close to Me”; the chances are much slimmer that you will get any such response by, say, reading to me the opening lines of Leibniz’s Monadology.”
“An elderly medieval peasant might have a bittersweet memory of falling in love two years after the great locust swarm came and ruined the crops; he might also have held onto some farming tools from that period. But the tools, even if they look old, will not look outdated, and nothing about the memory of the world as it was in former times will have the quality of being “vintage” or “retro” or “cheesy”. It is impossible that he should conceive it as having happened in another “decade” (as late as the eighteenth century, the great majority of people did not know they were inhabitants of the eighteenth century).
Today this is how we experience nostalgia: we become anchored to an era, and when it dies, when it is subducted under the ground of time, and we are reminded of that every day in the way other people around us are now dressing and talking and being themselves, in some important sense we die too, and live out our days as ghosts.
“Satan did something far more diabolical than Nikki’s mom could ever have imagined. In retreating from our world, he killed the artistic counterculture that was once animated by the idea of him, that scared parents and blew minds, that was in some respects worthy of the efforts at censorship it inspired. He killed it, and left only the empty form of art —algorithms and award shows, trending topics and vain “influencing”— in its place.

Is There a Right to Heresy? by Elizabeth Shakman Hurd, Nadia Marzouki (Boston Review)

“Public disputes about the veil, the burqa, the burkini, halal food, and, now, separatism have transformed laïcité. Whereas laïcité once served as a legal principle guaranteeing freedom of worship, it has become a hegemonic cultural norm mobilized against religious minorities in the service of an exclusionary political agenda.”
“Yet paradoxically the move to legally protect a right to blasphemy refuses the right to critically interrogate laïcité itself. Proponents of the right to blasphemy understand this right as a part of laïcité. In so doing they situate laïcité above the fray and exempt it from the very critique that they allegedly seek to protect.”
Many scholars in France and abroad stand with the protestors. To shut down discussions of race, religion, and the limits of free speech in the supposed name of “free speech” and the fight against terrorism is, as Mira Kamdar and Nadia Fadil have suggested, profoundly anti-democratic.”
“In their eyes the proposed legislation not only fails as a means of preventing extreme violence, but also promises to further alienate and stigmatize French Muslims who reject violent extremism.
“As Ariella Azoulay recently expressed in these pages in a powerful critique of the imperial erasure of the history of Algerian Jews, the report effectively endorses the outcome of imperial violence as progress. Nabila Ramdani writes in Foreign Policy that the “toothless Stora report feigns an interest in justice while whitewashing colonial crimes.””
“Strictly speaking there can be no such thing as “blasphemy” within the terms of secular public order; there is only free speech that may be regulated depending on its potential to disturb public order. In a secular republic, what standard determines what is or is not blasphemous? This phrase indicates a theologico-political use of the notion of laïcité. Acknowledging this shift and contending with the processes through which laïcité has been transformed from a legal principle to a set of norms used to discipline dissent is not, however, to justify violence. The recent claim by staunch defenders of laïcité that the social sciences in France are complicit in violence through their work of historical and sociological contextualization (“expliquer c’est excuser”) exemplifies how dissent is turned into heresy.”
“It is ironic that a law ostensibly intended to prevent separatism is in fact deepening divisions and stifling much-needed democratic debate. France’s League of Human Rights has spoken out in opposition to the requirement that all associations in France that receive public funding sign a contract pledging to respect republican values. Whether the gamble to appease the far right with an eye on next year’s presidential elections will pay off remains to be seen. But the serious consideration of this legislation at the highest levels of government has already had a chilling effect among Muslim French individuals, academics, and activists.

[3] Taibbi is referencing the character Chauncey Gardiner played by Peter Sellers in the movie Being There.