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Links and Notes for May 21st, 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 They are intentionally succinct, else they’d be articles and probably end up in the gigantic backlog of unpublished drafts.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.

Table of Contents

COVID-19

Survey of epidemiologists exposes lies that children do not spread COVID-19 by Evan Blake (WSWS)

Half of respondents said at least 80 percent of Americans, including children, would need to be vaccinated before it would be safe to do most activities without precautions. Though children are less likely than adults to develop severe cases of Covid-19, the scientists said their immunity was important because they could be hosts for the virus and a way for it to continue to circulate or develop new variants.”
“[..] the single most destructive decision that could be made in February and March was to open the schools and allow the virus to spread, which is exactly what was done. This has been a major reason that daily new cases and deaths have declined so slowly in the US. Over 30,000 people continue to become infected each day despite the fact that nearly 37 percent of the population is now fully vaccinated.
“The drive to reopen schools has never been based on science, but rather aimed at compelling parents to return to work in order to expand corporate profits and the stock market, which has risen astronomically during the pandemic.”


Meet the Censored: C.J. Hopkins, Critic of the “New Normal” by Matt Taibbi (TK News)

“The arrival of Covid-19 has crashed America on a paradox that reads like the plot of a bad Star Trek episode. Half the country mistakes science for a set of inflexible decrees and demands it be worshipped as a religion. The other half believes the first group is always lying and defies even its sensible dictates, in its own theology of liberation. Science, a deliberative process, is collateral damage to the battle.”
“He was critical of Germany’s creepily-named Infection Protection Act, a law that took power from the country’s 16 states and allowed for the open-ended imposition of any measure the federal authorities deemed necessary, including lockdowns and overnight curfews.”

He was wrong. They didn’t go far enough. Germans showed themselves to be just as spectacularly incapable of acting like adults as Americans—or like most western countries. The biggest problem with it—and the difference from Switzerland—is the so-called “open-ended” part of it, which I’m not so sure I believe is the case (as written). Many of these laws and measures have sunset clauses.

The fear is that they will be extended—like, e.g. the Patriot Act in the U.S.—for decades until no-one even dares repeal them anymore. On the other hand, these accusations of power grabs assume that those in power even want the power they’re accused of grabbing. They were doing extremely well for themselves with much less effort before all of this organizational overhead was added by COVID. I don’t quite see the motive.

“[…] medical-looking masks and prophylactic face shields. What you’re looking at is the pathologization of society, the pathologization of everyday life, the physical (social) manifestation of a morbid obsession with disease and death.”

Just stop. Stop cherrypicking the worst idiots. This is temporary. Everything is going back to your precious “normal” much more quickly than it actually should. Stop shitting your pants (or creaming them—because you’ve found a raison d’etre). Just wait a couple of months and you’ll have whole other things to bitch about—and you’ll have forgotten about these “power grabs” and “invasions of your liberty” and will be back on Twitter, being ignored. Which is probably the large part of the problem. These people are enjoying their newfound notoriety and are desperately trying to parlay it into a career—just like anyone else in this gig/hustle economy.

“This underscored what should have been an obvious problem with shutting down discussions at the outset of complex news events.”

Kind of. The first year’s worth was completely evidence-free, damaging speculation. Even now, CDC director Robert Redfield looks like a waffling idiot taking his marching orders from an increasingly politicized and unreliable CDC board that has the Biden administration’s hand up its ass.

“It has reached hysterical levels on Facebook, where any posts including the words “vaccine,” “Covid,” etc., are instantly festooned with an advisory warning about how “vaccines are tested for safety and effectiveness” or whatever.”

Why the hell are you still bitching about Facebook being a corporate kowtower of the official line? Honestly, Facebook is just dead as a source of disseminating information. It’s a pity that so many people are still using it, but that goes for the NYT as well, if we’re being frank. It’s a general problem, but there is no way to fix Facebook as an honest and legitimate and reliable source of information.

“I have no problem with vaccines that have been thoroughly tested and approved for public use, […]”

Me neither. These have been. Is there a length of time we should wait that you feel is more appropriate? Three or four years? You must be delighted with the glacial pace of fighting climate change. It won’t help anyone, but it feels like it’s taking the proper amount of time.

“What better way to crush a populist rebellion and remind us who is really in charge than to foment mass hysteria over a clearly non-apocalyptic virus, impose a bunch of unnecessary, totalitarian “emergency measures,” cancel our constitutional rights, censor and/or demonize dissent, and otherwise transform societies into pathologized-totalitarian police states?”

Jesus christ, dude. There are things that are that, but this is not that. You’ve focused all of your energy on controls put in place to control something that actually exists, that has a rational basis in nature. This is very much unlike the other fairy tales that people believe for almost no reason whatsoever.

“[…] projecting a horrific 3.4% death rate (i.e., hundreds of millions of deaths), […]”

Bullshit. None of these guys can do basic arithmetic. The projection was 3.4% of those who got COVID, not 3.4% of the world population. These predictions were based on China’s mortality rate in early days. Germany’s mortality rate of those who got it is currently 2.4% because they had so many cases. China’s is still over 4% because they’ve barely gotten any more cases.

The reason the initial prediction was higher was that epidemiologists hadn’t anticipated German’s response to COVID to allow so many infections. So congratulations, Germany proved them wrong. They’re not the only ones, though. Most of Europe and North America have a lower mortality rate—but mostly because of the enormous number of cases.

“You interviewed Mark Crispin Miller about what he’s has been going through defending himself from the “New Normal” fanatics at NYU.”

MCM is unhinged, overemotional, bad with numbers and units, and not at all careful about sourcing.[3] He uses self-nominated bloggers almost exclusively. He’s utterly unreliable. His only saving grace is that he occasionally does issue a short mea culpa for the more egregiously stupid links that he forwards. For example, he happily links to Dr. Naomi Wolf’s opinion without noting that she’s a doctor of English literature and philosophy, not medicine, to say nothing of virology.


[3]

Update: He just published one today that claims Yes, magnets ARE sticking to a lot of people’s arms, right where they got jabbed (with micro-chips, apparently). With a video that claims it has “1 Hour of Examples”, calling it “MagnetGate”.

This is an obvious play for views on someone’s video channel, almost certainly easily debunked. Miller uncritically pumps it to his audience. He’s a professor of media studies and propaganda at NYU.

A day after that, he published a blurb called CAVEAT about the magnets, which states,

“A friend who knows, from personal experience, the darker side of what the government can do to dissidents has, wisely, pointed out the possibility that all those videos compiled by “Tim Truth” may actually be bogus, and a set-up to discredit people like myself (and her).

“So let us not assume that they’re for real, and look for further evidence.”

He does retract these things sometimes, but manages to accuse a shadowy cabal of “government” forces who are trying to “set up […]people like [himself]” instead of just having gotten hoodwinked by obvious tripe for ad-views. He should really have thought that through before he posted the original link. He is, after all, the professor of media studies.


As Indian variant spreads in Europe, governments reopen across the continent by Will Morrow (WSWS)

The B.1.617 variant, first identified in India, may be up to 50 percent more contagious than even the so-called UK variant, according to a UK government advisory committee, though further studies are required. The B.1.17 variant had first been identified in the UK in September, but has since rapidly become the dominant strain and makes up the majority of cases across Europe.”

And, remember, B.1.17 was 70% more contagious than the original strain, which is why it took over Europe. And now there’s a new one that’s more contagious than that. I suppose the vaccine will help stop it? I suppose we should just stop distancing and masking?

Economy & Finance

Ronald Reagan’s “Welfare Queen” Lie Has Been Resurrected by Andrew Perez & David Sirota (Jacobin)

“[…] average hourly earnings increased from March to April by less than the rise in the consumer price index — which suggests there is less of a worker shortage, and more a shortage of employers willing to increase pay even a little bit.
“And now, a dozen Republican senators have cosponsored Senator Marshall’s proposed legislation, called the “Get Americans Back to Work Act.” The bill “decreases unemployment benefits to $150 per week at the end of May, and then fully repeals them out at the end of June,” according to a press release from Marshall.”

Just vicious. And based on fabricated data. Poor people got a splinter of the trillions of free gifts over the last year. This must, obviously, be stopped.

“[…] a recent survey showing that 43 percent of small-business owners who say they are having trouble hiring workers admit that it isn’t because workers are languorously living off lavish federal benefits — but because workers are seeking better-paying jobs, fearing COVID, or unable to afford day care.
“What’s particularly obscene is that some of the poorest states in America, such as Alabama, Arkansas, and Mississippi, led the charge to slash unemployment rather than allow a tight labor market to push up workers’ pay.
“[…] the report, along with anecdotal evidence, seems to say the opposite: it is the uncertainty that low-income folks live with that makes it harder for them to find the jobs they desire. Providing this modest monetary cushion allows folks to realize their potential, which benefits the entire community.


Elon Musk Got Bored of Bitcoin by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“I’m just saying, if I was Elon Musk, that’s what I would do. Then of course I’d buy more Bitcoins after the price falls, I’d tweet “Bitcoin is great again,” the price would go up, I’d sell my Bitcoins, I’d tweet “oh no it’s bad again,” the price would go down, I’d buy more Bitcoins, I’d tweet “back to great,” etc. etc. etc. This would be vastly more profitable, for Tesla, than making cars, and it would capitalize on Musk’s core skill of trolling people on Twitter. How long do you think he could keep this up? I think the answer is “far longer than I could remain sane while watching it happen.””
One problem with extortion as a business is that, if the victim pays you, you get money; if the victim doesn’t pay you, you blow up the victim but you don’t really get anything out of it. If the victims all said no, you would cause a lot of havoc, but you wouldn’t make any money and you’d eventually have to find another line of work. But with listed public companies, you can make a profit directly from the havoc. As a ransom demand, “give us $5 million or we’ll destroy your computers, we don’t want to but we’ll do it” seems inferior to “give us $10 million or we’ll destroy your computers, we’d love to do that actually because we bought a bunch of puts on your stock, we’re giving you a chance to pay the ransom but we’d be perfectly happy if you don’t.””
“[…] the boom will end and the stocks whose IPOs you underwrote will go down. That’s kind of what happens when booms end: A thing was popular so it went up a lot, then it stops being popular so it goes down. Maybe your IPOs will go down less than other banks’ IPOs, because, as the leading bank, you were particularly good at picking the best companies to take public. Or maybe your IPOs will go down more than other banks’ IPOs, because, as the leading bank, you were particularly good at picking the zeitgeist-iest companies to take public; your IPOs were the most concentrated examples of what people wanted in the boom, and the ones that had the most to lose when the boom ended.

Churn. Waste. Pumping up stupid ideas to make short-term gains from societally value-less, if not explicitly deleterious, business models.

“For one thing there are various limits on charitable deductions, etc. But also the Internal Revenue Service might object to your valuation. Here is its guidance on the fair market value of donated property; given that there is an active-ish market for the joke cryptocurrency, I think you’d probably value it like a stock or bond, but the IRS has plenty of caveats about how if the market value does not reflect the actual selling price that you’d get —including due to owning a large illiquid stake — then you have to correct it.


The Hertz Gamblers Were Right by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“But we were all wrong! They were right! If they had been able to give Hertz their money, Hertz might have exited bankruptcy more quickly and efficiently and preserved more value, and those shareholders would have made money. The people who did buy in the offering, before the SEC shut it down, paid about $2.08 per share, meaning that they are sitting on more than a 100% profit over about 11 months. More investors could have gotten that deal, but the SEC said no.

In a bull market like this one, nothing is a bad idea. It proves nothing about whether this facially bad idea was a good idea. The government gave away trillions of dollars of free money in the same year that Hertz turned it around, so no existing business of a given size was going to fail. Hertz was one of them. The rising tide didn’t lift all boats, but certainly boats of a certain size. That is not an argument that this was a “good idea” on some sort of objective scale. It’s just a “good idea” within the extremely constrained context imposed by the money-making machine in use today. If it’s good enough for you that an idea made money for the same people that make money on everything else, then, sure, it was a “good idea”.

“And so there is a temptation to meddle, to restrict trades even with full disclosure, to protect investors from their own fully informed but apparently crazy decisions. With Hertz, that happens to have been a mistake.”

I disagree. All we know so far is that some people made money on Hertz. Now Levine posits that even more could have been made, by taking the miracle for granted and assuming it defines a new paradigm. Expect the next miracle, ignoring the special conditions that led to the first one. This is to say nothing of societal benefit, which no-one really cares about. At best, people just kind of vaguely hope for some side-benefit spun off from their making money for themselves.

“It’s not that any of these funds are doing anything wrong, exactly, it’s just that if you run a mutual fund you do not want “a top priority for the SEC staff” to be “assessing the ongoing compliance of your fund” and asking you lots of questions about how exactly you know you’ll always be able to sell those Bitcoin futures. That sounds like a threat. If they are assessing your compliance all day, you might come up short.

Yeah, well—and this is easy to forget—it’s not supposed to be about making money for individuals. It’s supposed to be about allocating resources efficiently to maximize societal benefit. That’s what a sane civilization would do. The making-money part was supposed to have been the nice-to-have upside, not the other way around.

“Fidelity doesn’t want to open a Bitcoin ETF so it can get swindled by foreign manipulators; it wants to open a Bitcoin ETF so that Bitcoin becomes more normal.”

No. Fidelity wants to make fast money. It doesn’t give a shit about anything else. It will promise the SEC that Bitcoin is a staid and stable market, then turn around and charge exorbitant fees to their customers for the risk engendered by the volatility they swore to the SEC didn’t exist.

“This strikes me as exhausting and horrifying, but I suppose I am not the target audience. Is it possible that the future of the global economy is just everyone paying each other a little bit for making viral videos, and getting little prizes for liking the right viral videos at the right time? Yes, I mean, it absolutely is, that is one of the more realistic possible futures for the economy, I don’t like it but I don’t have to like it. So, sure, build your micropayment-driven TikTok clones on Internet Computer, why not.”

“Think of, like, the market for carbon credits. Give people who get on a plane and fly internationally — for real, I mean, because they want to, for work or vacation or whatever — certificates saying “I flew internationally,” and then let them transfer those certificates to other people who want to buy booze and perfume without leaving the ground. Instead of going on a fake flight yourself, you can buy someone else’s having-gone-on-a-flight and use it to make the duty-free purchases.

“Or just have the government declare one room of the Incheon Airport to be actually international airspace, so that anyone who walks into that room can buy duty-free stuff that day. And then have Lotte Duty Free pay a fee to the Korean government for the arrangement, a fee that would presumably be (1) less than the duties, (2) less than Lotte Duty Free pays for fuel and crew for the fake flight, but (3) more than the government currently earns from the fake flight plus duty-free sales (presumably zero?). There is Coasean bargaining to be done here. If you have to do expensive polluting time-consuming real-world nonsense in order to get a purely abstract financial benefit, there is value to be added by abstracting the nonsense. Things”


Crypto Markets Are Where the Fun Is by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“And the opportunities pop up everywhere. For instance, when longer-dated futures in pretty much any asset class trade higher than the spot price – known as contango – the former almost always converges to the latter as the contracts mature. That’s popularized the crypto basis trade, where an investor goes long the spot rate and shorts the futures.

Basically: scamming marks who don’t notice the contango.

Imagine being the chief compliance officer at DarkSide. People constantly come to you with crimes, and you are commercial, you are like “sure go ahead do that crime,” but occasionally you have to stop them and say “no the reputational risk of that crime is too great, we can’t do it,” and the sales reps grumble that you are getting in the way of business. Just like at a bank! Or”
“See, hacking into companies’ computers and making them useless until you get a Bitcoin ransom is a crime, but it’s a crime that has a legal infrastructure built up around it. You do the crime, a legal ransomware negotiation firm sends you the money, it all runs on well-maintained tracks. But you move your servers to Iran, and you implicate a whole different legal regime: Sure sure sure U.S. companies can pay ransoms to Russian crime syndicates, no problem, but doing business with Iran — even in the form of sending money to Russian crime syndicates with servers in Iran — is a whole different kind of illegal. Nobody can do business with you — even criminal business — if it would violate U.S. sanctions on Iran. Doing ransomware is a matter of standard business crime; sending payments to Iran is a matter of U.S. national security. You don’t want that.”


Dogecoin Jokes Didn’t Help the Price by Matt Levine (Bloomberg)

“In traditional finance, you have a thing with some more or less uncertain stream of future cash flows, and the value of the thing is the present value of its future cash flows, filtered through some large amount of uncertainty and psychology and behavior and greed and fear and technical factors and fund flows etc. The skill set is some combination of understanding the cash flows and understanding the psychology. In postmodern finance the psychology is the only thing.
“Isn’t the right skill set not, like, “identify technical patterns in charts” but rather “think of good stunts that will make people want to buy a content-free product that you happen to be selling”? If you are a Dogecoin trader and you’re not spending some Dogecoins to get Elon Musk to put out a press release with the words “Dogecoin” and “moon” and “rocket” in it, you might be doing it wrong.
“There are good historical and institutional reasons that the ECB doesn’t buy new-issue bonds directly from the governments of member states (“monetizing the debt,” bad), but the result is that now it buys them indirectly from hedge funds. The hedge funds are effectively getting paid a commission for helping the ECB do a regulatory arbitrage: It can’t buy new-issue bonds, it wants to buy new-issue bonds, so it buys almost-new-issue bonds from hedge funds for a small markup. This is a little dumb — why waste money on paying hedge funds? — but it is in the ordinary line of high-finance dumbness. One very standard business line for hedge funds is helping regulated entities offload regulatory difficulties, for a fee, and you can think of this in the same terms.”
“One way to think about this process might be that the fire, and the encoding on the blockchain, adds value. A painting is worth $100,000, but a painting that has been burnt to ashes and put on the blockchain is worth $200,000, in the same way that flour and eggs and sugar are worth $3, but if you combine them in the oven and make a cake it is worth $6. You have taken some ingredients (a work of art, a lighter, a video camera) and combined them with your labor to make something more useful and desirable. I am typing this theory here for completeness, but it does not strike me as at all plausible. The more plausible way to think about this process might be one of market segmentation and arbitrage. There are some people who like paintings and will pay $X for a painting. There are other people who like NFTs and will pay $Y for a token of a burnt painting. When X > Y — as, loosely speaking, it has been for most of human history — people will keep paintings intact. When Y > X — as it seems to have been recently during a wild NFT boom — people will burn paintings to sell them as higher-value NFTs.”
“As of 10 a.m. today, the SOCKS token was trading at about $99,000. So a tokenized pair of limited-edition socks was worth $99,000. People would pay $99,000 for a non-wearable blockchain representation of a pair of socks.
“Eventually I will write the dumbest possible Money Stuff and then sell it as an NFT. I don’t think we are there yet but we are getting very close.”

Public Policy & Politics

Report highlights shocking growth of poverty among US infants during the pandemic by Shelley Connor (WSWS)

“The statistics are jarring. Twenty-one percent of babies now live in households where there is no working parent. More than 40 percent of babies in the US now live in households near or below the federal poverty line (FPL). The report notes, “Infants and toddlers represent only 3.5 percent of the nation’s population […] but 6 percent of those in poverty.”
“The pandemic interrupted the availability of food and caused the rate of food insecurity to spike. Fifteen percent of US families reported high food insecurity prior to the pandemic, increasing to 26.8 percent in the past year. Food insecurity for low income families rose from 29.2 percent pre-pandemic to a staggering 45.4 percent today.”


Israel, the Big Lie by Chris Hedges (Scheer Post)

“I spent seven years in the Middle East as a correspondent, four of them as The New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief. I am an Arabic speaker. I lived for weeks at a time in Gaza, the world’s largest open-air prison where over two million Palestinians exist on the edge of starvation, struggle to find clean water and endure constant Israeli terror. I have been in Gaza when it was pounded with Israeli artillery and air strikes. I have watched mothers and fathers, wailing in grief, cradling the bloodied bodies of their sons and daughters. I know the crimes of the occupation—the food shortages caused by the Israeli blockade, the stifling overcrowding, the contaminated water, the lack of health services, the near constant electrical outages due to the Israeli targeting of power plants, the crippling poverty, the endemic unemployment, the fear and the despair. I have witnessed the carnage.”
“From the 7th century until 1948, when Jewish colonial settlers used violence and ethnic cleansing to create the state of Israel, Palestine was overwhelmingly Muslim. It was never empty land. The Jews in Palestine were traditionally a tiny minority. The United States is not an honest broker for peace but has funded, enabled and defended Israel’s crimes against the Palestinian people. Israel is not defending the rule of law. Israel is not a democracy. It is an apartheid state.”
“It is also a stunning example of how colonial settler projects, and this is true in the United States, always carry out cultural genocide so they can exist in a suspended state of myth and historical amnesia to legitimize themselves.
The Israel lobby has spent hundreds of millions of dollars to manipulate U.S. elections, far beyond anything alleged to have been carried out by Russia, China or any other country.”
These wars are the greatest strategic debacle in American history, accelerating the decline of the American empire, bankrupting the nation at a time of economic stagnation and mounting poverty, and turning huge parts of the globe against us. They serve Israel’s interests, not ours.


We Need to Talk About Destroying America by Nicky Reid (CounterPunch)

“America is a runaway empire and it needs to be stopped. For a long time I have openly held out hope that the inevitable collapse of such a gargantuan killing machine was upon us and that all peace loving anarchists like me really had to do was prepare for the inevitable and wait. While I continue to maintain that any superpower as bloated and unforgiving as the American empire is certainly doomed to collapse, I have come to fear that our elites are savage and depraved enough to take us all down with them in a colossal mass suicide by cold war. We can’t afford to fuck around anymore folks. We need to have a serious conversation about destroying America once and for all before it destroys us all.”
“It’s important that we cleanse ourselves of any illusions pertaining to this country of ours. America was born an empire and it will die an empire. There is no once great nation to be saved. This creature began as a hideous mistake at best and a despicable conspiracy at worst.”

The same can be said of almost any modern nation-state, though.

“it is this renegade tradition of many renegade traditions that makes America-the-place redeemable in the eyes of any deity, but only if we collectively hold America-the-government accountable before it’s too late, and that clock just keeps ticking louder and louder with each preceding presidency.”
“America is prepared for nuclear war with Eurasia. These words sound insane but just watch the seas if you don’t believe me. From the Black Sea to the South China Sea to the Straight of Taiwan, America’s naval forces are shadowing Russian and Chinese warships and daring them to strike first in the most provocatively obvious come ons since the Gulf of Tonkin. We are surrounding the Pacific and Arctic theaters with missiles and encouraging Yankee bitch states like Ukraine and the Philippines to throw the first punch. We are playing chicken with nuclear warheads and nobody is flinching.
“It is high time that American anti-imperialists of all stripes embrace the reality that our government is the bad guy in this movie and we need to defeat it.
This world war that our leaders are openly and actively pursuing is a recipe for human extinction even more immediate than the cataclysm of climate change and it needs to be treated as such.”
We need to first educate the world, particularly the brainwashed first world, on the immediate existential threat of American imperialism. This means mass walk outs, forced occupations, direct action, and civil disobedience to be followed by a movement that preaches to drop out, boycott, and divest from the United States Government and all major corporations doing business with her.”


Mounting death toll as Israel’s war on Gaza escalates by Jean Shaoul (WSWS)

“This takes place in one of the most impoverished and densely populated areas in the world, with more than two million people living in just 140 square miles. Subject for 14 years to Israel’s illegal blockade of its borders, it has become an open-air prison like the Warsaw Ghetto. Gaza has the highest unemployment rate in the world, with 82 percent of the population now out of work. A recent survey by the New Family organisation reported that 63 percent of Gazans live below the UN-defined poverty line of $2 a day. Electricity is only available for a few hours a day, while almost all water is contaminated by untreated sewage or salt.
“The reaction from the US and the major European powers to Israel’s pre-meditated criminality has been one of staggering hypocrisy. For months, they have demonized China for its supposed genocide of the Uighurs without citing evidence to support their claim. Yet in the case of Israel, its war crimes against Gaza are greenlighted with the mantra of “Israel’s right to defend itself,” while its plans for ethnic cleansing in East Jerusalem are portrayed as no more than a legal dispute over ownership.
“A major factor in Netanyahu’s calculated efforts to ram through the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem and provoke a war was his determination to end any possibility of opposition leader Yair Lapid forming a government. He appears to have been successful. Naftali Bennett, leader of the right-wing Yamina Party, said that in the light of recent events, a “government of change,” made up of parties seeking to replace Netanyahu as prime minister was now out of the question and he was in favour of a unity government.”


Israel’s war crimes and the hypocrisy of “human rights” imperialism by Bill Van Auken (WSWS)

“These two representatives of US imperialism spoke as airstrikes in Gaza were claiming scores of victims, including 17 children, while terrorizing the entire population of the impoverished occupied territory by toppling high-rise buildings with missiles.”
“No one at the State Department is particularly troubled by or compelled to “speak out” against these war crimes and “horrors.””
President Joe Biden declared on Thursday that “there has not been a significant over-reaction” on Israel’s part, providing an unmistakable green light for the escalation of the slaughter of Palestinians and an assurance that the flow of US money and arms that make it possible will continue uninterrupted.”
“While undoubtedly Beijing employs methods of state repression in Xinjiang as it does elsewhere in China, there exists no evidence to support the charge of genocide, and Washington, whose victims over the course of 20 years of uninterrupted wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East number in the millions, is hardly in a position to point the finger.
“In other words, the evidence of “genocide” is supplied by elements directly funded by Washington, a circular state propaganda operation in which papers like the Post and the New York Times serve as willing conduits. Meanwhile, those who expose the crimes of Israel are branded as “anti-Semites” in an exercise that twists that term beyond recognition into a calumny against anyone who expresses the disgust and anger felt by people all over the world, including millions of Jews, over the ongoing war crimes in Gaza.”
“The moral indignation of imperialist operatives like Blinken is activated only when it is needed to justify wars of aggression and plunder and advance the interests of the US financial oligarchy.”
“That the filthy banner of “human rights” previously raised to justify wars in the Balkans, the Middle East and North Africa is now being unfurled as part of the preparations for “great power” conflict with China and Russia is a measure of the extreme tensions and dangers in the global situation. The events in Gaza and the increasingly uncontrollable crisis in Israel itself have the potential to set a match to this tinderbox, paving the way to a catastrophic war.”


Top general warns Beijing could “overmatch” Western alliance as Canada steps up provocations against China by Roger Jordan (WSWS)

“Taiwan was established as a separate state in 1949 with US support under the military dictatorship of the Kuomintang, and remained an expressly authoritarian regime into the 1980s. Its promotion is part of a dramatic intensification of military provocations by the US and its allies in the region. The Trump administration organized a record number of so-called “freedom of navigation” exercises in the South China Sea during 2020, and Biden is on course to exceed this in 2021. Canada has fully endorsed the US-led military build-up in the Asia-Pacific, including by sending its own warships and submarines to the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait.”
“Regime change,” it need be recalled, has been the objective of every US-led imperialist war of aggression since the 1990s, including NATO’s bombardment of Yugoslavia to oust Milosevic, the invasion of Afghanistan to remove the Taliban, the illegal assault on Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein, and the savage air war on Libya to destroy the Gaddafi regime, to mention only the most prominent examples.”
“The explicit aim of this project is to decrease US and Canadian reliance on China, and enable the two imperialist allies to sideline China in key economic sectors in the coming decades, including electric vehicles and clean energy technology.”

Honestly that sounds just fine. That just sounds like competition. There’s nothing wrong with building up local capacity to reduce dependence on a more far-off supplier.

““We should not underestimate at all that threat of resource exploitation in the Arctic by China in particular,” commented Deputy Defence Minister Jody Thomas. “China has a voracious appetite and will stop at nothing to feed itself, and the Arctic is one of the last domains and regions left, and we have to understand it and exploit it—and more quickly than they can exploit it.””

Oh, c’mon. Pot, meet kettle.


Amnesty International restores Alexei Navalny’s “prisoner of conscience” status by Andrea Peters (WSWS)

Navalny’s appeal to the imperialist powers stems from his advocacy of closer relations with the major imperialist powers and his support for full-scale privatization of semi-state-owned industry in Russia, which will open up massive opportunities for exploiting the country’s resources and population.”


Israel-Palestine: Why Netanyahu and Hamas both risk losing control of the conflict by Dimi Reider (New Statememan)

“Despite the impression created in the West by 30 years of negotiations for a two-state solution, there isn’t really a geographically distinct Israel and Palestine. All over the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, despite falling under vastly different systems of laws and privilege under a single centralised Israeli rule, Palestinians and Jews live, if not side by side, then within a short drive’s distance of each other.
The scale, intimacy and decentralisation of the violence this risks engendering is nothing like anything we’ve seen in Israel-Palestine in living memory. The closest comparison would be not even South Africa, but Yugoslavia at the beginning of its civil war, or, at worst, Rwanda.”


China: All In All Just Another BRIC In The Wall by John Kendall Hawkins (CounterPunch)

“China has made a huge political mistake in ignoring the strong convictions among leading American figures that China has been fundamentally unfair in many of its economic policies: demanding technology transfer, stealing intellectual property, imposing nontariff barriers. “The US has a strong case” against China in this area, as Magnus notes.”

Hawkins cites from the book he’s reviewing Has China Won?, which offers the fascinating argument above: that a country has to account for the mad and unfounded accusations of its competitors or it will lose. That is entirely possible, but, in such a situation, how could they win? If that argument holds, then the U.S. has so much power that no other player has autonomy—and has a priori already won. Is he making the argument that China shouldn’t even try?

“If Has China Won? has a major flaw it is that it presumes that China’s global victory by economic expansion is a victory. We are learning that we are in late stage capitalism, and that the endless expansion of economic growth in light of diminishing resources, proliferating population growth, and imminent climate catastrophe, is not a healthy response to reality. To his credit, however, Mahbubani does suggest that if the two superpowers could find a way around their dangerous political impasse they might be able to come together and lead the world out of some of its impending crises.”


Inside the April Jobs Report by Dean Baker (CounterPunch)

“Several sectors were big job losers. Manufacturing lost 18,000 jobs, which was entirely attributable to a loss of 27,000 jobs in the car industry. This was due to shutdowns caused by a shortage of semiconductors.


Why Biden’s Vaccine IP Waiver is Political Theatre by M.K. Bhadrakumar (CounterPunch)

“Even with partial protection, India can achieve higher degrees of herd immunity. Partial herd immunity is already causing the level of new infections in the US to drop despite the highly infectious B.1.1.7’s prevalence. Britain’s experience has also been the same. Expert opinion is that but for the partial herd immunity, many regions in the US and UK would probably look like India right now with the new variants.
“Bharat Biotech is aiming to make 700 million doses out of its four facilities by the end of the year. Another option will be to go for large scale production of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V which has an efficacy over 91 percent (according to the results published in The Lancet.) The Russian Direct Investment Fund, which is marketing the vaccine, has signed deals to produce more than 750 million doses of Sputnik V in India with six domestic vaccine makers, according to reports. Public sector companies can also be roped in to increase the production capacity for Sputnik V vaccine.”


It’s Obvious — Israel Is an Apartheid State by Seraj Assi (Jacobin)

“Once again, Israel has turned its celebrations of Jerusalem Day, an Israeli national holiday commemorating the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City, into an occasion to repress Palestinians and remind the world that it is in fact, as a Human Rights Watch report acknowledged last week, an apartheid state.”
“What is happening in Jerusalem, then, are not “clashes” between Israelis and Palestinians, as mainstream outlets would have you to believe. What is happening is the brutal daily reality of an occupying power, emboldened by unconditional US support and international apathy, exercising its military might against a stateless people living under its control, stripped of their basic human and civil rights.”


No More False Equivalence: Israel Chooses War Over Peace by Ted Rall

“Israel enjoys every advantage over its adversary. It has a seat at the United Nations, formidable moral authority created by its founding by the U.N. as a refuge for victims of the Holocaust and it has the most powerful ally on earth, the United States, which gives it $4 billion a year. Israel’s GDP is 13 times that of Palestine. The 15-year-old Israeli naval blockade of Gaza has driven the unemployment rate to a staggering 49%. Israel’s is 5%. Though many countries recognize Palestine as a state it is nearly impossible for Palestinians to travel between the three Palestinian territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, much less overseas. Israel agreed to allow travel between Palestine’s noncontiguous regions in 2005 but has always ignored its commitment. Israel is a fully-integrated part of the international community.”

Journalism & Media

A mainstream outlet accepted my pitch on what media refuses to say about US empire – then refused to let me say it by Matthew Alford (The Grayzone)

“More widely, Muammar Gaddafi’s 40-year record of appalling human rights abuses did not include large-scale attacks on Libyan civilians.”

What were these “appalling human rights abuses”? I’m genuinely curious. These are always mentioned without detail, as if everyone knows about them. It would be good to know what, specifically, these crimes were, so that we can come to our own conclusions about them. Libya under Gaddafi was the most-developed country in Africa, with a high literacy rate and good universities with equal parts male and female students. I’m sure there were drawbacks, but I don’t know which one of the ones I’ve heard about are actually legitimate—because there was so much chaff sprayed about over the years.

“Our original editor at The Conversation had it exactly right: Western media “amplifies and rationalizes” such “state-sanctioned war and violence” as a matter of routine. More specifically, though, while not necessarily the originator of mistruths or disinformation, simply by omitting obvious facts and truisms, the media plays its part in fostering endemic ignorance.

I think they’re much more complicit than that. There is no amount of slaughter of “the other” that they won’t defend in order to increase their own income. Utterly depraved, the lot of them.


Theses On The Current Moment by Scott Siskind (Astral Codex Ten)

“Instead of thinking of ourselves in the middle of a new Salem Witch Hunt, we should think of ourselves as just coming out of a rare period of unusually high freedom of thought − a weird 1990s moment that gave us South Park, the phrase “if you don’t like it then don’t watch it”, and most of the early Internet. That period wasn’t part of an inexorable trend toward rising freedom, it was a weird anomaly that has to be actively defended lest we sink back into the normal regime that typified the 1950s and pretty much every other time period ever.”

Science & Nature

Goodbye Covid, Hello Climate by Thomas O’Dwyer (3QuarksDaily)

The knock-on effect from the Covid-19 pandemic for climate change is likely to be enormous. Although the world’s attention to climate has been on hold for more than a year, the issue will come roaring back to the headlines and not in a good way. The extent of humanity’s astonishing disregard for the health of the only habitable planet in the solar system had been laid bare.”
“We should be doubly alarmed by the power of the merchants of death among us — the polluters, vulture capitalists, fake-news vendors, science deniers, and makers of lies. We recall the once unbelievable stories about tobacco manufacturers faking science and hiding evidence about their killer products and other industries fighting with bared claws to deny they were poisoning the environment with lead.”
“Many reporters on the climate-change beat in Europe sense growing anger across the continent on what activists see as arrogant collusion between big governments and big capital to keep playing down the now obvious threat to the planet and its ecosystem.

They’ve really already won their fleeting victory. They’re just too dumb to notice, but they’ve lost as well. They caught their bundle of money, but stepped off the cliff to get it, taking us all with them.

“The COP26 meeting is sure to be historic, perhaps even more important than the Paris Agreement conference, especially since the United States is back on board with the urgency of the climate problem.

Bullshit. The U.S. won’t lift a finger unless someone figures out how helping the climate can also make hedge-fund traders even more filthy rich. That is where we are now. Similar to how all other countries have to figure out how to work within the confines of the U.S.‘s paranoid fantasies, we all have to figure out how to convince those in power to do the right thing by convincing them that it will benefit them.

The piece that most people are missing is that we have to simultaneously convince them that everyone else loses. That’s a crucial psychological lure for them. It’s not enough to know they’ve won; they need to know that everyone else lost. That seems kind of hopeless for an outcome conducive to survival, so the alternative of “getting rid of these psychotic plagues on society” starts to look like a good alternative.

Recent industry figures show that global use of coal was four percent higher in the last quarter of 2020 than in the same period in 2019. Here is a stark indication of a disastrous rebound in using the dirtiest fossil fuels. Global emissions were higher in December 2020 than in the previous year. An economic rebound will see emissions significantly increase in 2021. The urgent goal of reaching net-zero seems only to recede. If governments do not persuade investors that they will only lose money by investing in dirty energy, nothing will change, except our weather and atmosphere.”

This, despite COVID having shut down a lot of production until that point. I think it’s all over but the shouting. Maybe we can get an Ehrentor[4], but winning is off the table.


[4] Literally “honor goal”, the German word for the single goal scored by a team otherwise drubbed by the opposition.

Philosophy & Sociology

Will France Go Woke? by Justin E.H. Smith (Hinternet)

“I think that at least the latter of these two [Derrida and Foucault] would see the new American cultural revolution as a horrifying confirmation of his thesis that modernity is a long process of discovering ever more effective and more abstract ways of imprisoning us.
“As Foucault reminds us, the triumph of liberal modernity is that it has figured out not just how to coerce us into saying the right things, but into thinking the right things too, as if under constant surveillance.
“[…] it is undeniable that we are seeing people with no particular attunement to these trends whose lives are increasingly being shaped and constrained by forces they only dimly perceive, forces that compel new ways of speaking that they fear they will not master, making them, effectively, pariahs in any cultural milieu that we associate with “success”.”
“[…] every institution today, including the ones invested in maintaining the imaginary community of a nation-state, now has to compete for attention alongside alternative poles, among them Daesh radicalism, hikikomori withdrawal, incel ressentiment, and, indeed, woke zealotry.”
“Henriette Asséo, a scholar of Roma history at the Écoles des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, has compellingly argued that the indigenous French “gens de voyage” or “Travelers” were effectively administered into existence in the early twentieth century as a result of the state’s newfound requirement that every French citizen carry ID papers with a valid address. Because Travelers have no fixed address, this fact had to be marked specially in the “address” section of their documents. Within a generation or two, this act of box-checking becomes a social fact, with real consequences for the people in the boxes. Notably, to this day in France the gens de voyage are subject to overt discrimination: at highway rest-stops, for example, there is a segregated parking area for members of this group, away from the area designated for members of France’s sedentist majority.”
“Looking back at the long modern history of variously allowing, encouraging, pressuring, or compelling people to carry or display identifying documents telling other people what sort of person they are, two things strike me: that there is always an argument from benevolence for doing so, and that it always looks like a very bad idea in hindsight.
“[…] thus on the one side the Allyship, with gay marriage, a choice among personal pronouns, a legal framework for imposing top-down equity at the expense of individual equality; and on the other side Russia and China, with open persecution of sexual “perverts” and concentration camps for troublesome minorities. On both sides of this divide, there will be universal surveillance, either by private tech companies or by the state, or by a combination of the two.

This is a rather more simplistic split than I would have expected from Smith. The so-called Allyship also has its concentration camps, the biggest in the world. But, better marketing, apparently.

Technology

Semiconductor shortages continue to worsen, causing record order delays by Jim Salter (Ars Technica)

“These shortages impact nearly all industries to some degree, with the heaviest impact falling on industries with long lead times of their own. In particular, the automotive sector is projecting $110 billion in lost sales this year due to factories sitting idle while waiting for components. Again mimicking last year’s pandemic-related toilet paper shortages, hoarding tends to make the gaps worse. As the lead times get longer, buyers become more likely to overorder and make supply chain problems worse.

“The shortages are also compounded by conditions in Taiwan, home of Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC). Earlier this week, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control raised its epidemic warning level and is strengthening containment measures. Making things even worse, the island is in the midst of a severe drought, prompting the Taiwan Water Resources Agency to curb delivery to many areas. Hsinchu—the heart of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry—is facing water cutoffs two days a week, and water reduction plans are expected to decrease supply to all major manufacturers by as much as 15 percent.

“An official at the Water Resources Agency declared that this is “the most serious drought ever,” with 360 days since the island’s last noticeable rainfall. May is Taiwan’s traditional monsoon season, which should ease the drought—but it hasn’t arrived yet, and the two large reservoirs supplying TSMC’s most advanced foundries are down to 6 percent and 11 percent.”

See Taiwan experiences another power outage on spike in demand (Focus Taiwan) and CECC raises epidemic alert level for Taipei City and New Taipei City to Level 3 and strengthens national restrictions and measures, effective from May 15 to May 28, in response to increasing level of community transmission (Taiwan Centers for Disease Control) for more information.