Readings

This area lists interesting and relevant articles and videos from around the web bearing on this site's theme.  Each item will include a short summary explaining why it is of interest, together with links to the item and excerpts. The list will be updated most days.

Over time, the items will be incorporated in a semantic graph showing how they relate to each other (e.g. support, opposition, elaboration etc).

Send any suggestions for inclusion, together with a short explanation why you think it is interesting or significant by using the contact form .

Why Putin is beholden to Stalin's legacy

Simon Sebag Montefiore, New Statesman, 9 March 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

The author of this article, a well known historian and TV presenter, analyzes the similarities and the differences between Stalin and Putin, and what they reveal about the latter's behaviour. They have different ideological agendas, but a common commitment to autocratic rule to bring them to fruition. The key insight into Putin's mentality is his background in the secret police—in Russian/Soviet parlance he is a "chekist".

Stalin's ideology was Marxism-Leninism, Putin's is a commitment to a revived "Russian world", defined in terms of traditional culture and Orthodox Christianity, though with a distinct lack of emphasis on Jesus' Sermon on the the Mount. From Putin's perspective, Ukraine has special significance, with historical roots going back to Vladimir the Great, the Grand Prince of Kiev, who introduced Orthodox Christianity to the Russian domain in 988 AD.

Sebag Montefiore argues that key elements of the old Soviet governance structure persisted into the post-Soviet era, especially the secret police service , though with a new set of initials (FSB vs KGB), that remained largely intact and was crucial to Putin's rise to power.

Putin has gone on the record, including in his long pre-war speech that attempted to justify the invasion, condemning the "excesses:" of Stalin's rule, while effectively forbidding ongoing examination of Stalin's crimes and legacy.

In one key respect, however, he has shown himself to be more dangerous than Stalin. The author contends that Stalin was strategically cautious, and would have been unlikely to have attempted something like the Ukraine invasion.

By the way Sebag Montefiore's book Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar is a terrific read.

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This is no surprise because the modern Russian state that Stalin forged in the early 1920s was never dismantled in the democratic turbulence of the 1990s. Despite its democratic façade, the Russian executive remained an autocracy in which presidents – similar to early tsars – chose their own successors as both Boris Yeltsin and Putin have done. The security organisation founded by Lenin, the Cheka, shaped and micromanaged by Stalin, and known by a succession of dreary acronyms – OGPU, NKVD, MGB, KGB, FSB – was divided by Yeltsin but never disassembled.

A former KGB lieutenant colonel, Putin is a proud Chekist. Then there is Ukraine, a country that was brutally repressed by Stalin and now attacked by Putin. The Russian president shares a part of Stalin’s determination to liquidate the nationality and ­independence of Ukraine at any cost. The differences ­between the two are as great as the similarities. But perhaps it is the similarities that count today.

But the differences are striking too. Stalin was a Georgian, born with the surname Dzhugashvili. Putin, born in Leningrad, emphasised in the early days of the invasion of Ukraine “I’m a Russian”. Stalin was a fanatical internationalist Marxist; Putin believes in the exceptionalist “Russian world” starting with the Orthodox conversion of Vladimir the Great in 988. He despises Marxist ideology, believing the Leninist revolution shattered Russian imperium. Eschewing Communism, he promotes Kremlin-KGB-capitalism. Stalin, who had no interest in money and only possessed a couple of uniforms (though he enjoyed the use of comfortable mansions) would be disgusted by the vulgarity of the yachts and planes of ­Russia’s ultra-rich.

Although Communism is gone, Stalin’s secret police force is intact and remains central to Putin’s reign. Stalin deliberately co-opted Russian criminal culture into the Cheka, personifying this gangster-Bolshevik nexus himself. He won Lenin’s favour by organising bank robberies with a gang of mafiosi and psychopaths in order to fund the Party. When a fastidious Marxist complained to Lenin about Stalin’s thuggery, he replied, “He’s exactly the type we need.” Putin has a special link: his grandfather Spiridon Putin was a chef who started at the Astoria Hotel in St Petersburg, where he cooked for Rasputin, but then joined the OGPU/ NKVD “service staff” who worked at state dachas, serving Lenin and Stalin himself. As a young law student, Putin joined the KGB in 1975. During Leonid Brezhnev’s sclerotic reign (1964 to 1982), the KGB under the talented Yuri ­Andropov was the only organisation that retained its prestige as an order of “Soviet knighthood”. In 1991 Putin was working as a KGB lieutenant colonel in Dresden, east Germany when the Soviet Union collapsed. He drove home despondent.

Russia's surprising military blunders in Ukraine

Sean Maloney interviewed by John Kay, Quillette, 9 March 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

We now know definitively that the Russians expected their invasion and regime change operation to be done-and-dusted within a few days. This was also the view of most outside observers, given the overwhelming preponderance of force. What went wrong? A professor at Canada's Royal Military College offers his analysis.

Western military experts have been astonished by the failures and the level of incompetence of the Russian military as it struggles to crush Ukraine and its people and government. The problems have been both strategic and tactical: bungled logistics, failure to suppress Ukraine's air defences, very poor co-ordination of different arms, especially air/ground, poorly maintained equipment and vehicles. 

And crucially, the failure to cut off supply routes of weaponry and other items from the West, which are continuing to funnel a steady stream of sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft systems that have been used by the Ukrainians to devastating effect.

Then there is the low morale of the Russian troops, including many conscripts, revealed by intercepted unencrypted communications, along the lines "what is this about?"; "what the hell are we doing here?".

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Why John Mearsheimer blames the U.S. for the crisis in Ukraine

John Mearsheimer interviewed by Isaac Chatineer, The New Yorker, 1 March 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

John Mearsheimer is regarded as the doyen of the "conservative realist" school of international relations that holds that states, whatever their professed motivations, such as democracy promotion, act to maximize their interests. As such, he was a stern critic of NATO expansion into the former Warsaw Pact states. How well have his predictions held up in light of events?

On the face of it, you could argue Mearsheimer has been vindicated, but this usefully probing interview shows it is not that simple. According to him, Russia was acting as great powers do, and in general ought to do ("realism" in this sense seems to have both a descriptive and prescriptive aspect).

To predict bad things would happen following NATO expansion, and possible inclusion of Ukraine, seems to provide some vindication of his position. But is this valid? This extended and very probing post-invasion interview sheds some useful light on this, and reveals weaknesses in Mearsheimer's position.

To state the obvious, correlation is not causation. The invasion followed NATO expansion, but was this the real motivation, or just a useful blame-shifting rationale? Other items in this set of Readings indicate that there was a distinct and apparently deeply held ideological rationale for incorporating Ukraine in a greater Russia, laid out in detail in a long essay under Putin's name that appeared in July 2021.

Furthermore any given action might emerge from a multiplicity of motivations. As the historian Mary Sarotte notes in this very interesting discussion, she has encountered no major "unicausal" historical events.

Interestingly, in a 2015 lecture that blamed NATO for the annexation of Crimea and gray zone penetration of East Ukraine, Mearsheimer asserted with exuberant confidence that, as a rational interest-maximizing great power, there was no way Russia would try to swallow Ukraine whole, since that would be a disaster for Russia. He went on that if the West wanted to bring down Russia it should encourage it do do just that. That lecture has not aged well.

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You said that it’s about “turning Ukraine into a pro-American liberal democracy.” I don’t put much trust or much faith in America “turning” places into liberal democracies. What if Ukraine, the people of Ukraine, want to live in a pro-American liberal democracy?

If Ukraine becomes a pro-American liberal democracy, and a member of NATO, and a member of the E.U., the Russians will consider that categorically unacceptable. If there were no NATO expansion and no E.U. expansion, and Ukraine just became a liberal democracy and was friendly with the United States and the West more generally, it could probably get away with that. You want to understand that there is a three-prong strategy at play here: E.U. expansion, NATO expansion, and turning Ukraine into a pro-American liberal democracy.With Ukraine, it’s very important to understand that, up until 2014, we did not envision NATO expansion and E.U. expansion as a policy that was aimed at containing Russia. Nobody seriously thought that Russia was a threat before February 22, 2014. NATO expansion, E.U. expansion, and turning Ukraine and Georgia and other countries into liberal democracies were all about creating a giant zone of peace that spread all over Europe and included Eastern Europe and Western Europe. It was not aimed at containing Russia. What happened is that this major crisis broke out, and we had to assign blame, and of course we were never going to blame ourselves. We were going to blame the Russians. So we invented this story that Russia was bent on aggression in Eastern Europe. Putin is interested in creating a greater Russia, or maybe even re-creating the Soviet Union.

Let’s turn to that time and the annexation of Crimea. I was reading an old article where you wrote, “According to the prevailing wisdom in the West, the Ukraine Crisis can be blamed almost entirely on Russian aggression. Russian president Vladimir Putin, the argument goes, annexed Crimea out of a longstanding desire to resuscitate the Soviet Empire, and he may eventually go after the rest of Ukraine as well as other countries in Eastern Europe.” And then you say, “But this account is wrong.” Does anything that’s happened in the last couple weeks make you think that account was closer to the truth than you might have thought?

NATO members mount huge resupply operation

Mathew Luxmoore, The Wall Street Journal, 8 March 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

President Zelensky has complained bitterly about the failure of NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Ukraine. This was a non-starter for the very good reason that it would likely result in US and Russia aircraft shooting at each other, with potentially catastrophic consequences. However in lieu of that the NATO nations have mounted an effort with few historical precedents to arm the Ukrainian forces.

This has included sophisticated anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, including some of the best in the US and European inventories, like the Javelin and NLAW anti-tank missiles and the Stinger anti-aircraft missile. These have allowed the Ukrainians to inflict heavy losses on the Russians and prevent them occupying all but one or two of the major cities.

This effort has been joined by states that hitherto were either explicitly neutral (Sweden, Switzerland, Finland) or that had decided for historical reasons to refrain from supplying weapons to overseas conflicts (Germany). According to this article, the Czech republic alone sent 10,000 rocket-propelled grenades in a single week.

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In the space of two weeks, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has set off one of the largest and fastest arms transfers in history.

By road and rail, the Czech Republic sent 10,000 rocket-propelled grenades to Ukraine’s defenders last week alone. In Poland, the provincial airport of Rzeszow located about 60 miles from the Ukrainian border has been so crowded with military cargo jets that on Saturday some flights were briefly diverted until airfield space became available.

On the country’s highways, police vehicles are escorting military transport trucks to the border, with other convoys slipping into Ukraine via snow-covered back roads through the mountains.

The race to deliver arms to Ukraine is emerging as a supply operation with few historical parallels. Western allies, having ruled out putting troops on the ground in Ukraine, have been attempting to equip the country’s thinly spread and outmatched military, some of its soldiers fighting without boots.

A lesson in energy masochism

Editorial board, The Wall Street Journal, 1 March 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

A major weakness in the West's position as it sought to deal with Putin's aggression is the dependence of Europe on Russian hydrocarbon exports—gas, oil and coal. This article describes how Europe ended up in this predicament, deepening this dependency even after Putin started to weaponize these exports.

This article descibes how Europe has become increasingly dependent on Russian hydrocarbons , gas especially, and how this coincided with a scaling back of its own production despite potentially huge resources available by following the US by using fracking to get at previously irrecoverable deposits.

This persisted even after Putin's Russia started to weaponize these exports to pressure Europe on key issues. It has required the Ukraine invasion to prompt a serious rethink about this, most notably in Germany.

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In 2020 Russia exported nearly three times more gas than Europe produced. What’s amazing is that Europe increased its reliance on Russian gas even after Gazprom repeatedly suspended pipeline exports to Ukraine. Germany’s response: Build the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to make itself less dependent on gas flowing through Ukraine.

Poland and Lithuania were smarter and built terminals to import liquefied natural gas (LNG). But Europe had another option: fracking. European gas production has naturally fallen as older fields get tapped out. But producers could use hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling to exploit shale and squeeze more gas out of the ground, as they have in the U.S.

Europe had an estimated 966 trillion cubic feet of technically recoverable wet natural gas resources as of 2013, about enough to supply the EU for some 60 years. Much of this is located in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria. But France, U.K., the Netherlands and Germany are also sitting on shale deposits.

Former NATO secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen blamed Russia for fueling the fracking opposition. “Russia, as part of their sophisticated information and disinformation operations, engaged actively with so-called nongovernmental organizations—environmental organizations working against shale gas—to maintain dependence on imported Russian gas,” he noted in 2014.

Regathering of the Russian lands

Anatoly Karlin, Akalin Substack, 16 February 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

The author, a well-known Russian blogger of the Putinite nationalist persuasion, provides a useful insight into the mentality of those of his ilk and their vision of the world as a collection of "civilization states", each dominated by a great power, not exactly autarkic but culturally self-enclosed.

Karlin is worth reading because, though born in the Soviet Union, he spent most of his early years in England before repatriating himself back to Russia. As such, he is fluent in English and gives us a clear window into Russian populist/nationalistl ideology, an ideology that sees little room for reluctant recruits to their proposed Russian world to decide for themselves about joining.

This article was published a week before the invasion, and makes some surprisingly prescient predictions about how events would unfold, rejecting the idea held by most in the West that some kind of limited annexation of predominantly Russian areas was the goal. He got it right, and he thought it correct, and furthermore that there was a distinct window to execute this project that would likely not persist.

One fascinating aspect of his analysis is that he frankly acknowedges, and supports, the patently cynical negotiation stance of the Russian administration. Consider this: "Even as the military buildup proceeded apace, Russia forwarded demands to NATO to disavow further expansion (including Ukraine), and to withdraw foreign military forces from the ex-Warsaw Pact states. Regardless of one’s stance on NATO expansion, this is an objectively and patently impossible ultimatum, and the Kremlin clearly designed it to be so (even leaving aside the minor matter of their intended recipient being a country it has labeled as “agreement-incapable”

He was dead wrong on one aspect however: the level of Ukrainian resistance, and the manifest incompetence of the Russian forces. He thought it would all be over in short order.

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There is a good chance that the coming week will either see the culmination of the biggest and most expensive military bluff in world history, or a speed run towards Russian Empire 2.0, with Putin launching a multi-pronged assault invasion of Ukraine to take back Kiev (“the mother of Russian cities”) and the historical provinces of Novorossiya.

There is debate over which of these two scenarios will pan out. The Metaculus predictions market has given the war scenario a 50/50 probability since around mid-January, spiking to 60-70% in the past few days. This happens to coincide with the public assessments of several military analysts: Michael Kofman and Rob Lee were notably early on the ball, as were some of this blog’s commenters, e.g. Annatar. The chorus of skeptics is diverse, but includes Western journalists and Russian liberals who tend to believe Putin’s Russia is too much of a cynical kleptocracy to dare go against the West so brazenly (e.g. Oliver Carroll, Leonid Volkov); Western Russophiles who are all too aware of and disillusioned with hysterical media fabrications about Russia, and are applying faulty pattern matching (e.g. Michael Tracey); and Ukrainian activists who have spent the last eight years hyperventilating about “Russian aggression” and have been reduced to shock and disbelief now that the real thing is staring in their face.

For the record, my own position is that the war scenario was ~50% probable since early January, might be as high as 85% now, and it will likely happen soon

Vladimir Putin's clash of civilizations

Ross Douthat, The New York Times, 26 February 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

This article suggests that Putin actually has a vision of what a new world order according with his values might look like. It is a vision that rejects universalism of any kind, but rather a world divided into "civilization states", culturally cohesive great powers that aspire to become universes unto themselves. This idea is made explict by some Russian nationalist writers like Anatoly Karlin— see adjoining item.

Douthat cites an article by Bruno Maçães, a Portuguese politician, academic and author and formerly that country's secretary of state for European affairs, that expands on the idea of a civilization state with specific reference to China and India. Such states, he contends, see the preservation of cultural traditions as of paramount importance.

Similarly, for Russia, the goal is not world revolution or world conquest but civilizational self-containment, in Putin's words as expressed in his pre-war speech "our own history, culture and spiritual space" but with some erring children (e.g. Ukraine) dragged unwillingly back home.

An interesting, if abhorrent, notion. Its looking like Putin is prepared to destroy Ukraine to save it if that is what is required to bring it back into Greater Russia. No room, needless to say, for the Ukrainians to exercise a say on the matter.

Note: this article is behind the NYT paywall. If so inclined, you can do what I do and take out the introductory $1 a week offer for four weeks (but don't forget to cancel if you don't want to pay the higher price that cuts in).

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In this vision the future is neither liberal world-empire nor a renewed Cold War between competing universalisms. Rather it’s a world divided into some version of what Bruno Maçães has called “civilization-states,” culturally cohesive great powers that aspire, not to world domination, but to become universes unto themselves — each, perhaps, under its own nuclear umbrella.

This idea, redolent of Samuel P. Huntington’s arguments in “The Clash of Civilizations” a generation ago, clearly influences many of the world’s rising powers — from the Hindutva ideology of India’s Narendra Modi to the turn against cultural exchange and Western influence in Xi Jinping’s China. Maçães himself hopes a version of civilizationism will reanimate Europe, perhaps with Putin’s adventurism as a catalyst for stronger continental cohesion. And even within the United States you can see the resurgence of economic nationalism and the wars over national identity as a turn toward these kinds of civilizational concerns.

In this light, the invasion of Ukraine looks like civilizationism run amok, a bid to forge by force what the Russian nationalist writer Anatoly Karlin dubs “Russian world” — meaning “a largely self-contained technological civilization, complete with its own IT ecosystem … space program, and technological visions … stretching from Brest to Vladivostok.” The goal is not world revolution or world conquest, in other words, but civilizational self-containment — a unification of “our own history, culture and spiritual space,” as Putin put it in his war speech — with certain erring, straying children dragged unwillingly back home.

The Russian spy boss humiliated by Putin

Ricardo de Querol, El Pais, 24 February 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

At the meeting of Russia's Security Council just before the Ukraine invasion, the Chief of Foreign Intelligence Sergey Narylshkin made a halting, nervous attempt to put the brakes on what we can surmise he considered a rash enterprise, only to be brutally slapped down by Putin. This article adds an additional important detail: the video stream of this is what is termed a "fake live stream", actually delayed to allow editing.

That it went out without this scene being cut shows Putin's preparedness to humiliate anyone who even starts to contradict or question him, underscoring that we are seeing an increasingly isolated and paranoid leader. Explains a lot about his behaviour. Check out the video—it is chilling. This is a man in fear for his life as he utters every word.

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The dramatic intensity of the scene would make it stand out in any movie or piece of fiction, but it’s not fiction – it happened on Monday. Since then, all the world has seen the video of what took place. Russian President Vladimir Putin brings together his security council and asks each of its members whether they support the decision to recognize the independence of the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Luhansk, located in southeastern Ukraine. It’s the turn of Sergey Naryshkin, head of the SVR foreign intelligence service, who breaks from the script and suggests that the West be given one last chance to return to the Minsk agreements, the series of international pacts signed between Russia and Ukraine to avoid war in the Donbas region of Ukraine. He suggests this could be done by giving the West a short-term ultimatum.

The video was released by the Kremlin as a fake live stream – someone spotted that the clocks did not correspond to the time – meaning there was no effort to hide the humiliation of a high-ranking chief at the hands of the Russian president. And you feel for Naryshkin, even though you don’t know the back story, because who hasn’t been put on the spot by their boss at one point in time.

Germany, in historic reversal, abandons pro-Putin Russia policy

Soeren Kern, Gatestone Institute, 1 March 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

One of the most astonishing short-term effects of the Ukraine invasion is the effective reversal of decades of defense and energy policy by the German government, one with with an SDP chancellor and a Green foreign minister. The article describes these changes in detail, citing key sections of chancellor Olaf Scholz's speech to the Bundestag announcing them.

This includes a 110 billion euro injection of funds to defence and the announced intention to raise German defence spending above two percent of GDP, as demanded by successive US administrations. This will address the progressive running down of Germany's military during the chancellorship of Angela Merkel, to the point where, according to the Chief of the Army Lt. Gen. Alfons Mais: "... the Bundeswehr, the army that I am allowed to lead, is more or less stripped bare...I am pissed off!"

After initial hesitation, Germany has also decided to send signficant armaments to the Ukrainians, reversing long standing policy. In this Germany has been joined by even neutral states such as Sweden, Switzerland and Finland.

On energy policy, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has been suspended, and steps are being taken to secure alternative supplies of fossil fuels, including building two new LNG terminals. The Green energy minister Robert Habeck announced the extension of the life-span of the remaining nuclear power stations.

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  • The measures represent a complete reversal of Germany's post-Cold War Russia policy — which focused on pursuing economic ties rather than confrontation with Moscow — and mark a definitive end to the era of former Chancellor Angela Merkel.
  • "We are living through a watershed era. And that means that the world afterwards will no longer the same as the world before. The core question is whether power is allowed to prevail over the law. Will we allow Putin to turn the clock back to the 19th century and the age of great powers? Or can we muster the strength to keep warmongers like Putin in check. That requires strength of our own. Yes, we fully intend to secure our freedom, our democracy and our prosperity." — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, Bundestag, February 27, 2022.
  • The significance of the German U-turn cannot be overstated: Germany will become the biggest spender on defense in Europe.
  • In a major policy reversal, the German government has also decided to suspend technical certification of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which would double shipments of Russian natural gas to Germany by transporting the gas under the Baltic Sea.
  • "Olaf Scholz is changing decades of German foreign policy in a single speech. Russia went too far and now Germany is waking up. Incredible." — Marcel Dirsus, German political scientist.
  • "I have to say I don't recognize Europe as it responds to Putin's gangsterism against #Ukraine... all of a sudden I see the Continent grow a spine. Way to go!" — Andrew Michta, veteran transatlantic security analyst.

War propaganda becoming more militaristic, authoritarian and reckless

Glen Greenwald, Substack, 28 February 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

The author is a well-known American leftist, though one who has become a strong critic of "cancel culture" and the wokeist ideology. While by no means a defender of Putin, he has criticized the tenor of debate about the war, especially what he sees as the vilification of dissidents. In this article he raises the prospect that it could lead to a wider war, with disastrous consequences.

He points to calls from an admittedly small number of individuals, spanning the political spectrum,  demanding that NATO impose a "no fly" zone over Ukraine that could see American and Russian planes shooting at each other, with obviously potential for escalation.

While small, the number of those advocating this are growing, and include congressman Adam Kinzinger (notable for bursting into tears at hearings into the 6 January Capitol riot), and former congressman Joe Leiberman.

Greenwald is also concerned about some prominent figures in the foreign relations establishment, including the President of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haass, demanding regime change in Russia.

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It did not matter how many wars one could point to in history that began unintentionally, with unchecked, dangerous tensions spiraling out of control. Anyone warning of this obviously dangerous possibility was met with the “straw man” cliché: you are arguing against a position that literally nobody in D.C. is defending.

Less than a week into this war, that can no longer be said. One of the media's most beloved members of Congress, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL), on Friday explicitly and emphatically urged that the U.S. military be deployed to Ukraine to establish a “no-fly zone” — i.e., American soldiers would order Russia not to enter Ukrainian airspace and would directly attack any Russian jets or other military units which disobeyed. That would, by definition and design, immediately ensure that the two countries with by far the planet's largest nuclear stockpiles would be fighting one another, all over Ukraine.

It is genuinely hard to overstate how overwhelming the unity and consensus in U.S. political and media circles is. It is as close to a unanimous and dissent-free discourse as anything in memory, certainly since the days following 9/11. Marco Rubio sounds exactly like Bernie Sanders, and Lindsay Graham has no even minimal divergence from Nancy Pelosi. Every word broadcast on CNN or printed in The New York Times about the conflict perfectly aligns with the CIA and Pentagon's messaging. And U.S. public opinion has consequently undergone a radical and rapid change; while recent polling had shown large majorities of Americans opposed to any major U.S. role in Ukraine, a new Gallup poll released on Friday found that “52% of Americans see the conflict between Russia and Ukraine as a critical threat to U.S. vital interests” with almost no partisan division (56% of Republicans and 61% of Democrats), while “85% of Americans now view [Russia] unfavorably while 15% have a positive opinion of it.”

What's on Putin's mind?

Nina L. Krushcheva, Project Syndicate, 25 February 2022Posted Mar 11, 2022

This article, by the great granddaughter of Nikita Khrushchev, now a Professor of International Affairs at the New School in New York, tries to understand what really motivated Putin to invade Ukraine. Like many others these days, she rejects the long-held view that he is a rationally calculating autocrat, but rather is ideologically obsessed with gathering in the traditional "Russian lands".

In some respects, she argues, his vision is similar to that of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, but devoid of the latter's moral sensibility. She draws attention the the ultimate irony—that Putin's actions to restore Great Russia might in the long run turn it into a vassal state of China.

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Like the dissident author and Nobel laureate Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Putin has long indicated a desire to restore the Orthodox Christian kingdom of Rus’ – the basis of Russian civilization – by building a “Russian Union” encompassing Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and the ethnic-Russian areas of Kazakhstan. With the invasion of Ukraine in full swing, other former Soviet republics began to worry, but, as Putin assured Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, Russia does not “plan to reinstate the empire in former imperial boundaries.” It is the Slavic nation, which is unduly under “third countries [rather than his] control,” that he worries so much about.

Putin apparently assumes that China will back him. But while he launched the invasion just weeks after concluding something akin to an alliance agreement with Xi in Beijing, Chinese officials’ reactions have been very distant with calls for “restraint.”

Given Putin’s near-total reliance on China for support in challenging the US-led international order, lying to Xi would have no political or strategic advantage. That is what is so worrying: Putin no longer seems capable of the calculations that are supposed to guide a leader’s decision-making. Far from an equal partner, Russia is now on track to become a kind of Chinese vassal state.

NATO enlargement and Russia: Die-hard myths and real dilemmas

Michael Rühle, NDC Research Report, 15 May 2014Posted Mar 11, 2022

One of the recurring claims both by Russia and some members of the foreign policy establishment in the West is that the enlargement of NATO to include former Warsaw Pact members was seen as a provocation and a threat by Russia, largely explaining what has transpired in Georgia and Ukraine. This paper by a senior NATO official addresses this and related arguments in detail. Obviously an interested party, but well worth reading.

There are two aspects to this. Firstly is the matter of whether there was an explicit or implicit promise to Russia at the time of negotiations concerning German reunification to not extend NATO beyond the reunified Germany. There certainly was no explicit agreement, and key officials involved at the time (James Baker, US Secretary of State, Michael Gorbachev and then Soviet foreign minister Eduard Shevardnadze) all assert there was no such agreement of any kind.

Second, there is the matter, irrespective of any promises, whether NATO expansion was a good idea, and whether the Russian response to it was reasonable. On the former, George F. Kennan, who as US ambassador to Moscow authored the famous 1946 "long telegram" that led to adoption of the policy of "containment" of the Soviet Union, strongly criticized expansion in a 1998 New York Times interview

At the time Kennan gave this interview, prospects for democracy in Russia seemed far more benign than now, to put it mildly. Kennan says "Russia's democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we've just signed up to defend from Russia". So why do it?

The problem with this view is that it takes little account of the views of the new democracies of Eastern and Central Europe who, given their historical experience might wonder what might happen if Russia's democratic experiment were to go sour, leaving them all vultnerable to intimidation and agression.

This paper, as well as addressing the above issues, goes in to some detail to describe measures implemented to reassure Russia at that time and since.

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Can Russia actually control Ukraine?

Interview with Gen David Petraeus, The Atlantic, 24 February 2022Posted Feb 25, 2022

Could Russia become bogged down in a prolonged and very costly insurgency in the Ukraine? One of the world's most prominent experts on counter-insurgency warfare explains why this is a distinct possibility.

General David Petraeus is best known as the commanding officer of what came to be termed The Surge in Iraq, a decisive and, for a time, successful effort starting in 2007 to counter the insurgency from Islamist militants that followed the initially succesful invasion. He did a Ph.D. thesis on the Vietnam War, and wrote the US Army's counter insurgency warfare manual.

Given the strong morale of the Ukrainian forces so far (2 days in from the Russian invasion) and the commitment of political leaders, including President Zelensky, to stay the course rather than flee the country, together with the geographical size and population of Ukraine (44 million), Petraeus expects an insurgency to occur and become a real headache for the Russians.

Based on his experience, he thinks the reported number of Russain troops (190,000) will not be sufficient to defeat such an insurgency, given the "soldier heavy" nature of counter-insurgency warfare.

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Rao: You’ve studied and practiced counterinsurgency for much of your professional life. Would you expect an insurgency of some kind to emerge in response to any major Russian attempt to control all of Ukraine?

Petraeus: Yes, I would, though it is hard to determine just how large and committed it would be. There are numerous factors that will be important in such a case, the most important of which is whether the Ukrainian government and forces can retain a large part of their country in the event of a large invasion. The Ukrainian parliamentary-delegation member with whom I met on Saturday at the Munich Security Conference assured us that the Ukrainians will fight on, even if, as expected, a full-on Russian invasion might overwhelm the Ukrainian regular forces. The members of Parliament reminded us that, in addition to the several dozen combat brigades, there are also special-forces units and several dozen partisan brigades (made up of civilians, with modest training on weekends) in Ukraine. And they were certain that those elements, in aggregate, would make life very difficult for Russian occupation forces. In fact, they said that Ukrainians would endeavor to make their country a “porcupine” that would be extremely difficult for Russia to digest.

 

China's Ukraine crisis

Jude Blanchette and Bonny Lin, Foreign Affairs, 21 February 2022Posted Feb 25, 2022

At the Beijing winter olympics China and Russia entered into a "no limits" partnership agreement, including supporting each other's position on Taiwan and Ukraine respectively. This article contends that this agreement poses a significant dilemma for Beijing, underming the latter's global aspirations.

This is reflected in an emerging ambivalence about Russia's behaviour, with statements by foreign minister Wang Yi stressing the importance of negotiations and respecting Ukrainian sovereighty. According to the authors, it is extremely unlikely that Xi gave Putin a green light to proceed with a full scale invasion.

In fact, according to another article by  analyist Yun Sun of the Stimson Institute, Chinese policy makers were shocked by the invasion, subscribing to the theory that Putin was posturing and that US intelligence was inaccurate, as it was in Iraq.

The root of the tension is the difference in aspiractions of the two powers. Ukraine is actually one of the major European partners in the Belt-and-Road initiative. Furthermore, Chinese strategy relies on maintaining viable relations with the US and Europe for trade purposes and to facilitate its influence operations in the West, including its surprisingly successful "elite capture" activities to engage top political, governmental and corporate figures and instititutions.

How stable this alliance, given the divergence of interests? An interesting question.

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The Ukraine crisis is primarily a standoff between Russia and the West, but off to the side, another player stands awkwardly: China. Beijing has tried to walk a fine line on Ukraine. On one hand, it has taken Russia’s side, blaming NATO expansion for causing the crisis and alleging that U.S. predictions of an imminent invasion are aggravating it. On the other hand, especially as the risk of military conflict has grown, it has called for diplomacy over war.

If Beijing had its way, it would maintain strong ties with Moscow, safeguard its trade relationship with Ukraine, keep the EU in its economic orbit, and avoid the spillover from U.S. and EU sanctions on Moscow—all while preventing relations with the United States from significantly deteriorating. Securing any one of these objectives may well be possible. Achieving all of them is not.

The crisis in Ukraine is exposing the limits of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s foreign policy. Beijing’s global aspirations are now clashing with its desire to remain selectively ambiguous and aloof. Although Chinese leaders may not recognize it, their country’s closer alignment with Russia is far from prudent. The upsides of this move are notional and long-term: Russia might someday return the favor by supporting Chinese territorial aspirations or cooperating on revising the structures of global governance. The costs to China’s larger global strategy, however, are real and immediate.

Beijing would no doubt prefer that the current crisis didn’t exist. For starters, Ukraine is an important trade partner for China in its own right, with more than $15 billion in bilateral trade flows in 2020. The country is also a vital gateway to Europe and a formal partner of the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi’s flagship geopolitical endeavor. Last month, Xi extended greetings to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, noting, “Since the establishment of diplomatic ties 30 years ago, China-Ukraine relations have always maintained a sound and stable development momentum.” Privately, Chinese experts have lamented that Beijing, worried about offending Moscow, doesn’t do more to support an important partner in the Belt and Road Initiative.

How China captured Hollywood

Erich Schwartzel, The Atlantic, 8 February 2022Posted Feb 16, 2022

This article describes another example of the corruption of corporate America in the face of the Chinese Communist Party regime, with specific reference to the movie industry. It describes how top executives were more than willing to facilitate and support the Chinese industry as an instance of the regime's "soft power", and to cooperate in censoring American made films to meet its sensibilities.

It opens with a description of a gathering following the 2008 Beijing Olympics that was effectively a training session delivered by Hollywood experts in all aspects of the film industry—finance, production, marketing, to hand-picked representatives of emerging Chinese media.

It goes on to document how the balance of power in this relationship reversed in the years that followed, with Hollywood becoming increasingly dependent on the regime's good graces for finance, and most importantly the enormous Chinese market, now the world's largest, grossing over $US1 billion per annum.

Worst of all, the American industry has been prepared to censor its productions to avoid the slightest offence to the regime's concerns, or to portray modern China as anything other than a model international citizen. Any portrayal of Chinese as villains is out, as is any depiction of Chinese history that conflicts with regime's narratives. 

Even more sinister is the movies not made. Don't expect to see any films about the shocking human rights abuses in Xinjiang or Hong Kong, or the incarceration of dissidents.

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That China would send officials to Los Angeles to learn from America’s most famous capitalist enterprise would have been unthinkable in prior decades, when the Cultural Revolution and the massacre of protesters at Tiananmen Square left little doubt about the government’s attitude toward free expression. Yet China in 2008 was ascendant, even if that rise occurred out of view of many Americans—including many in Hollywood, where the country’s work was just beginning. At the time, the Chinese visitors’ unassuming exterior masked incredible power. One young executive worked at a movie channel that had 800 million viewers, a scale beyond what any of his Hollywood instructors could fathom.

In a matter of years, the positioning of the two parties in that classroom—the Chinese as students and the Hollywood executives as teachers—would seem both prescient and absurd, the dynamic soon to reverse, with Hollywood looking to China for help.

...

China’s economic leverage had quickly translated into political sway, most often in the censorship practiced by Beijing bureaucrats. Unbeknownst to most moviegoers, studios were removing scenes and dialogue from scripts and finished movies to appease Chinese censors—scrubbing any production of plot points that brushed up against sensitive Chinese history or made the country look anything less than a modern, sophisticated world power. Even more disturbing than the movies being changed were the ones not getting made at all, for fear of angering Chinese officials. Hollywood became a commercial arm for China’s new ambition, and piece by piece, China’s interest in the American film industry revealed itself to be a complement to its political ascendance, one that is rewriting the global order of the new century.

Do race academics matter?

Timothy Cootes, Quadrant, 30 December 2021Posted Feb 15, 2022

Critical Race Theory originated in American law schools, metastasizing out to become pervasive throughout humanities and social science faculties in America, and then to the wider world, including Australia. This article is a pungent and hilarious review of a recent book by Australia's leading practitioner of CRT, Associate Professor Alana Lentin of Western Sydney university.

I first became aware of Professor Lentin several years ago while watching a video of a Politics in the Pub session in inner Sydney devoted to racism. Apart from the turgid theorizing, I was struck by Lentin matter-of-factly describing the 2014 shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri as a "racist murder", at a time when it was known definitively that it was nothing of the kind, a claim she repeated in a scholarly article.

Cootes' piece provides an excellent short overview of the kind of thinking exemplified in Lentin's book, Why Race Still Matters. It has some interesting twists, such as her rejection of that postmodern favorite, social constructionism, the idea that race is not in essence, about phenotypical differences like skin colour, but rather power and hierarchy. If so, why talk obsessively about "whiteness".

So what is the alternative? Lentin describes racism as a "technology for the management of human difference", and asks "what does race do?". She also juxtaposes "not racism", people denying that they bear no racial animus, with what she calls "anti-racism", which boils down to a specific kind of activism exemplified by BLM. Perhaps she should be asking "what does anti-racism do?" What has activism of the BLM type wrought? Disempowered police forces, an explosion in homicide rates in inner-urban black areas, innumerable destroyed livelihoods among the very people the ideology purports to champion.

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Like all these works, the book under review, Alana Lentin’s Why Race Still Matters, is immitigably dreary, but in its own special way. Lentin, Associate Professor of Cultural and Social Analysis at Western Sydney University, brings to the race debate a much heavier reliance on academic twaddle. The advantage, as I see it, is that this book is significantly more unreadable than the rest in the genre, and this places some welcome limits on its ability to influence anyone’s outlook.

I don’t want to be entirely negative, so I should add that the book offers a few laughs, although they are unintentional. Take, for example, this nice bit of throat-clearing in the introduction:

Today, as a privileged multiple migrant, having moved from Europe to Australia in 2012, I unwillingly perhaps, but unavoidably nevertheless, participate in the colonization of yet another unceded territory, the Gadigal country in otherwise named Sydney, Australia.

With that self-flagellating confession out of the way, Lentin moves to the big topics, one of which I also rather like: the attention she pays to the idea that race is a social construct, a mantra that has entered the public consciousness. The social construction of race, as those who read too much Foucault remind us, usually means that race has no real biological element; rather, it has meaning and hierarchy and whatnot assigned to it by those with power.

Interestingly, Lentin has also had enough with the social constructionists. Well, sort of. The problem seems to be one of strategy and persuasion. You see, all this social-construct talk doesn’t seem to convince many people, and through this failure, it may even lead them to think that race does have something to do with biology after all. Or perhaps—and Lentin really shudders at this thought—we should spend less time fixated on race, see each other as individuals with dignity, and ground that understanding in natural rights. Lentin finds this all very bothersome and just wants everybody to see race through the same extreme political lens as she does.

Putin's spiritual destiny

Giles Fraser, UnHerd, 24 February 2022Posted Feb 25, 2022

What motivated Putin to embark on his risky invasion of Ukraine? Some observers, having read his long speech of February 21 in which he seems to dispute the very legitimacy of Ukraine as a country, concluded that he is mad—a "high performing psycopath" according to one. This author has a different take, arguing there is a spiritual method in his apparent madeness.

The article goes back to 988 AD and the conversion of Vladimir I, the Grand Prince of Kyivan Rus, to Orthodox Christianity after a negotiated agreement with the Byzantine emperor. On returning to Kyiv, he carried out a mass baptism of the entire population of the city.

This was the founding event of the Russian Orthodox church, and hence of great significance to Russian religious believers, including Putin who, according to the author, sees himself as the rebuilder of Christendom in the modern world.

An interesting thesis. However the author does not provide evidence that this is the decisive motive, as distinct to part of the rationalization of a straigntforward empire-building initiative. To determine that you would have to "look into Putin's soul", as George W. Bush famously claimed to have done.

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At the heart of this post-Soviet revival of Christianity is another Vladimir. Vladimir Putin. Many people don’t appreciate the extent to which the invasion of Ukraine is a spiritual quest for him. The Baptism of Rus is the founding event of the formation of the Russian religious psyche, the Russian Orthodox church traces its origins back here. That’s why Putin is not so much interested in a few Russian-leaning districts to the east of Ukraine. His goal, terrifyingly, is Kyev itself.

He was born in Leningrad — a city that has reclaimed its original saint’s name — to a devout Christian mother and atheist father. His mother baptised him in secret, and he still wears his baptismal cross. Since he became President, Putin has cast himself as the true defender of Christians throughout the world, the leader of the Third Rome. His relentless bombing of ISIS, for example, was cast as the defence of the historic homeland of Christianity. And he will typically use faith as a way to knock the West, like he did in this speech in 2013:“We see many of the Euro-Atlantic countries are actually rejecting their roots, including the Christian values that constitute the basis of Western civilisation. They are denying moral principles and all traditional identities: national, cultural, religious and even sexual. They are implementing policies that equate large families with same-sex partnerships, belief in God with the belief in Satan.”

Putin regards his spiritual destiny as the rebuilding of Christendom, based in Moscow. When the punk band Pussy Riot wanted to demonstrate against the President, they chose to do so in the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour in Moscow, a vast white and gold edifice, demolished by the Soviets and rebuilt in the Nineties. It is a synthesis of Russia’s national and spiritual aspirations. It’s not just Russia, it is “Holy Russia”, part religious project, part extension of Russian foreign policy. Speaking of Vladimir’s mass baptism, Putin explained: “His spiritual feat of adopting Orthodoxy predetermined the overall basis of the culture, civilisation and human values that unite the peoples of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.” He wants to do the same again. And to do this he needs Kyev back.

The West is sleepwalking into war in Ukraine

Stephen M. Walt, Foreign Policy, 23 February 2022Posted Feb 25, 2022

The author, one of the doyens of the "realist" school of international relations, is perplexed by several features of the West's response to Russian aggression against Ukraine. Surely, he suggests, things could have been worked out with due recognition of Russia's concerns and a bit of reasonable accommodation.

Just a bit of empathy, he suggests, might calm the situation down. How about a bit of empathy for the former Warsaw Pact states, all subjugated by the Soviet empire, desperate to join to gain a measure of security against their giant neighbour, led by a former KGB colonel. 

In this piece Walt makes no reference to the other demands put forward by Russia to settle the conflict , the most significant being that NATO military forces and weaponry not be deployed to any of the states admitted since May 1997, which would leave all the former Warsaw Pact nations to rely on their own resources in the face of Russian intimidation.

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The widespread inability to empathize with the Russian perspective on this crisis is puzzling too. As international affairs researcher Matthew Waldman noted in 2014, “strategic empathy” isn’t about agreeing with an adversary’s position. It is about understanding it so you can fashion an appropriate response. Whatever your views on NATO enlargement might be, there is overwhelming evidence that Russian leaders were alarmed by it from the start and expressed their concerns repeatedly. Moscow grew increasingly opposed as its power recovered and as NATO crept ever eastward. Given the United States’ own tendency to indulge in worst-case analysis and view minor security problems in distant lands as if they were existential dangers (not to mention its willingness to use force to try to solve such problems), you’d think the U.S. foreign-policy community would be acutely aware of great powers’ tendency to exaggerate threats and be highly sensitive about their immediate vicinity’s security environment. Try to point this out, however, and you’re likely to be denounced as a naive apologist for Putin.

I’m less puzzled—but still disturbed—by the ease with which the Blob has fallen back on all the familiar tropes in the foreign-policy establishment’s playbook of greatest hits. Read the Washington Post, the Atlantic, the Atlantic Council’s website, and yes, even Foreign Policy, in recent weeks and you’ll get a steady diet of hawkish posturing, with only occasional dissenting views on offer. Putin alone is said to be the source of the problem, neatly demonized along with dictators Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Saddam Hussein, Fidel Castro, Bashar al-Assad, every member of Iran’s political elite, Xi Jinping, and anyone else we’ve ever been seriously at odds with.

Although Washington has been on good terms with any number of bellicose but mostly pro-American despots, the West insists on viewing this crisis not as a complicated clash of interests between nuclear-armed states but as a morality play between good and evil. As usual, society is told that what is at stake is not Ukraine’s geopolitical alignment but the entire direction of human history. And right on cue: Here comes the well-worn Munich analogy, as if Putin was a genocidal maniac whose real aim was to conquer all of Europe the same way Hitler tried to do. One can despise everything he stands for and much of what he has done—as I do—and still reject from this sort of simplistic alarmism. This tendency is especially dangerous because once a conflict is framed in such stark and moralistic terms, compromise is anathema and the only acceptable outcome is total capitulation by the other side. In this environment, diplomacy becomes little more than a sideshow. The West’s policy responses are equally familiar: the usual statements of resolve, the symbolic dispatch of troops to reassure allies, and the imposition of economic sanctions—but scant consideration of compromises that might defuse the risk of war. Even worse, there’s reason to suspect this tendency is well advanced on the other side too.

Introducing Race Marxism

James Lindsay, New Discourses YouTube channel, 16 February 2022Posted Feb 18, 2022

James Lindsay is an American mathematician who has made it his mission in life to challenge the intellectual core of what we commonly call "woke" ideology. As part of this admirable project, he has just written a new book titled Race Marxism, the thesis of which he summarizes in this video.

There has been an intermittent debate about the relationship between Critical Race Theory and Marxism, with some professing Marxists taking serious exception. Lindsay has grappled at length with this question, and has come to a definite answer, which he answers in his new one hundred thousand word book.

Lindsay's work is excellent. He founded the New Discourses website, that includes a useful compendium of "wokeism" terms that he translates into plain English. He would, however, benefit from greater concision, his videos generally being pretty lengthy.

The good news is that you can get the gist of what he is on about in this one in the first fifteen minutes or so.

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It's time the unvarnished truth about Critical Race Theory is told in full. That truth is simple: Critical Race Theory is Race Marxism, that is, Marxian Theory reinvented with race as "the central construct for understanding inequality" in place of economic class. That conclusion is unavoidable after reading this new, groundbreaking book from James Lindsay: Race Marxism: The Truth About Critical Race Theory and Praxis, published by New Discourses. In this episode of the New Discourses Podcast, the author introduces this book to the world, including reading an excerpt from the introduction. You won't want to miss the book or this podcast introducing and explaining it. Join James for the podcast and order Race Marxism today!

Would permanently excluding Ukraine from NATO have satisfied Russia?

Proposed agreement between Russia and NATO, 17 December 2021Posted Feb 25, 2022

One of Russia's demands in the lead up to the invasion was that Ukraine, which has applied to join NATO, be permanently excluded. Some Western commentators have argued that, given there is little prospect of it being admitted in the forseable future anyway, this might have defused the crisis. Does this argument stand up?

A reasonable question, to which several objections have been raised. There is the bad precedent set by negotiating "under the gun", and the denial of the right of sovereign states to determine their own security arrangements. Furthermore it is ludicrous to suggest that NATO, which has substantially reduced its forces since the end of the Cold War, could be perceived by Russia as a genuine threat of aggression. 

But apart from these points, excluding Ukraine from NATO is just one of a number of Russian demands, set out in a Russian Federation proposal for a Russia/NATO agreement put forward on 21 December 2021.

This includes a provision that NATO forces be excluded from all countries that joined after 17 May 1997 (the date of an agreement between the Yeltsin government  and NATO). The effect of this would be to exclude NATO forces and weaponry from all of the states of the former Warsaw Pact, (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia) leaving them defenceless.

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Article 4

The Russian Federation and all the Parties that were member States of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization as of 27 May 1997, respectively, shall not deploy military forces and weaponry on the territory of any of the other States in Europe in addition to the forces stationed on that territory as of 27 May 1997. With the consent of all the Parties such deployments can take place in exceptional cases to eliminate a threat to security of one or more Parties.

Stunning new evidence re Trump spying allegations

Jerry Dunleavy, Washington Examiner, 12 February 2022Posted Feb 15, 2022

If you followed the Muller investigation into allegations of collusion between Donald Trump and Russia that dominated American politics for three years you would be aware of Trump claiming that he had been spied on during the 2016 campaign and after. These allegations were routinely ridiculed and censored by the mainstream media and social media. Recent revelations provide confirmation that Trump was right about this.

The conduct of the FBI and the Department of Justice during the Muller probe was the subject of a major investigation by the Inspector-General of the DOJ, Michael Horowitz. His report, released in December 2019, was a devastating indictment of the conduct of these agencies. Of most concern was the obtaining of FISA warrants to carry out surveillance of Trump campaign figures, which relied on the so-called Steele dossier, which the FBI knew to be baseless after they interviewed the principle source in January 2017.

Before leaving office, the Attorney-General in the Trump administration Bill Barr appointed a Special Counsel to investigate this conduct, John Durham. To the frustration of Trump, this investigation yielded very little in the way of results by the time of the 2020 election.

However since then things have started to come to a head, with the issuing of a number of indictments of people closely involved with the Clinton campaign. The most recent (12 February) court filing by Durham contains stunning allegations of the enlisting by figures close to Clinton, including her chief legal adviser, of an information technology company to carry out surveillance not just of the campaign but even the Executive Office after Trump was sworn in as President.

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Special counsel John Durham says he is building a case to show the technology executive with whom an indicted Democratic lawyer on the payroll of Hillary Clinton's campaign was working to build a Trump-Russia collusion narrative gained access to internet traffic at the White House to try and obtain dirt on former President Donald Trump.

Left-wing lawyer Michael Sussmann was indicted last year for allegedly concealing his clients, among them Clinton's 2016 presidential campaign, from the FBI when he volunteered since-debunked claims of a secret back channel between the Trump Organization and Russia’s Alfa Bank. Durham revealed in a Friday court filing that he has evidence that Sussmann’s other client (dubbed “Technology Executive-1” but known to be former Neustar Senior Vice President Rodney Joffe) “exploited” domain name system internet traffic at “a particular health care provider” (which was likely Spectrum Health), Trump Tower, Trump’s Central Park West apartment building, and “the Executive Office of the President of the United States.”

The revelations, made as part of a motion for the Washington, D.C., federal court to look into possible conflicts of interest related to Sussmann’s defense team, gave allies of Trump more reason to believe the former president was spied upon, as evidenced by an upsurge in tweets about the latest salve in the so-called Russiagate scandal.

"They didn’t just spy on Donald Trump’s campaign. They spied on Donald Trump as sitting President of the United States. It was all even worse than we thought," tweeted Mark Meadows, a former congressman who later became Trump's White House chief of staff.

Are we closer to Bradbury's dystopia than Orwell's or Huxley's?

David S. Wills, Quillette, 12 February 2022Posted Feb 15, 2022

Those inclined to view our civilizational predicament in dystopian terms often reference either George Orwell's 1984 or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, or both. The author of this piece argues Ray Bradbury's Farenheit 451 provides a better analogy.

Some of these debates can be quite revealing. Take this one on YouTube between a pair of left-liberal intellectuals, New Yorker writer Adam Gopnik and English author and commentator Will Self arguing for the greater relevance of Orwell and Huxley respectively. What is so striking about this debate is that both bang on about Putin and, needless to say, Trump as the main threats to liberal civilization, but make no reference to the country where Orwell's vision is being brought to life in a technologically turbocharged form as we speak—CCP controlled China.

Anyway in this piece the author proposes Bradbury's book as it envisages people willfully choosing ignorance rather than having it foisted on them due to the proliferation of exciting short-form sources of media, which seems quite a good fit for the emerging social media metaverse. In my view the greater threat is such distractions, along with the West's woke obsessions, may prepare the way for the much harder totalitarianism of the CCP variety, unless we wake up pretty soon.

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For decades, it has been common to call authoritarian new laws, norms, or government actions “Orwellian.” In 1984, George Orwell so brilliantly portrayed a nightmarish future that his name became synonymous with almost anything one wishes to describe as oppressive. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, meanwhile, provided a rather different but equally bleak vision of the future that is frequently invoked to illuminate our current malaise.

Amid the technological chaos and Western culture wars of the 21st century, thinkpiece writers sporadically debate which of these novels more accurately foresaw our present predicament. Modern China most clearly embodies Orwell’s vision, and elements of both novels can be found in contemporary Western societies. However, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 offered perhaps a more accurate warning than either. Published in 1953, Bradbury’s novel is as gloomy and prescient as either Orwell’s or Huxley’s, but its explanation of how a dystopia is created comes closer to providing an understanding of our new reality.

The primary difference between Huxley’s dystopia and that described by Orwell is the methodology through which humanity is controlled by authoritarian governments. Huxley argued that humans would be tricked into embracing their own enslavement via anti-depressants and various hedonistic distractions, while Orwell held that compliance would more easily be achieved through censorship, mind control, and violence. In a letter to Orwell (his childhood French teacher) upon reading 1984, Huxley insisted that “the lust for power can be just as completely satisfied by suggesting people into loving their servitude as by flogging and kicking them into obedience.” Certainly, Bradbury’s novel features elements of both; citizens in his future are subject to state violence and also pacified by pleasure and drugs. However, the key distinction here, and Bradbury’s great contribution to dystopian literature, is that we would choose our own intellectual enslavement as well.

How Russia hooked Europe on its oil and gas

Ryan Haddad, The Conversation, 13 February 2022Posted Feb 23, 2022

At his joint press conference with the Ukrainian foreign minister on 23 February Antony Blinken announced that the US and its NATO allies would steadily ramp up economic sanctions against Russia if it continued its aggression against Ukraine. The weak link in this strategy is Europe—and especially Germany's — reliance on Russian gas. Will they hold the line with the prospect of shivering constituents next winter?

The ambivalence of the German Chancellor Olaf Scholz about the decision to suspend opening of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline was palpable, a problem compounded by the idiotic decision to close all Germany's nuclear power plants, not to mention the failure to exploit Europe's own extensive gas reserves. Even the United States is back to importing Russian gas.

This highlights a broader problem: The potential for conflict between achieving ambitious CO2 abatement goals and countering the potential for global hegemony by an alliance of Russia and the CCP regime in China, especially given China's dominance in both the manufacturing of solar cells and wind turbines (in some cases using Xinjiang slave labour) as well as control of the rare earths and other materials needed to produce them.

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The Biden administration hopes its threat of “severe economic consequences” deters Russia from invading Ukraine – an event Americans officials say could be imminent.

In response, the U.S. said it may ban the export of microchips and other technologies to critical sectors like artificial intelligence and aerospace and freeze the personal assets of Russian President Vladimir Putin, among other sanctions. Meanwhile, the Senate is preparing its own “mother of all sanctions” – such as against Russian banks and government debt – that could take effect even if Putin ultimately stands down from a military confrontation.

The U.S. and its allies have been stressing – as seen in President Joe Biden’s Feb. 7, 2022, meeting with the German chancellor – that they are united on the consequences for Russia should it invade.

But Russia has something that may undercut that solidarity: a network of European countries, Germany in particular, dependent on it for energy exports, especially natural gas. That may make them reluctant to go along with severe U.S. sanctions.

This dependence didn’t happen overnight. And as I’ve learned while working on a book on U.S. economic warfare against the USSR during the Cold War, this issue has tended to divide America and its allies – in part because of how Russia has exploited the ambiguity of its intentions.

Why "anti-racism" should be resisted

Asra Q. Nomani, UnHerd, 12 February 2022Posted Feb 15, 2022

This article, written by an Indian immigrant from a Muslim background, provides a disturbing account of the effective re-segregation of schooling in the United States under the banner of "anti-racism", which as understood by academic race-mongers means something close to the opposite of what most people think of as opposition to racism.

In the US there has been a proliferation of racially-based programs and "affinity groups" throughout the school systems, in which the children are expected to grapple either with their "privilege" in the case of whites, or their oppressed status if deemed "non-white".

The author provides an inspirational account of her own schooling, several years after the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, where she was well taught by excellent teachers and was able to mix freely with other students of all races. It seemed things were moving rapidly toward the fulfilment of Martin Luther King's dream of a society where people would be judged by the content of their character, not the colour of their skin.

Nowadays the race ideologues are working to turn this aspiration on its head, espousing a hyper-awareness of race and the perpetuation of racial grievances. Instead of a colourblind society, they aim to produce an inverted moral hierarchy based on race in which white skin is the new Mark of Cain.

Utterly repugnant—and already rearing its ugly head in Australia. Check out the ABC documentary The school that tried to end racism about a similar program at a Sydney primary school.

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“Young boys and girls must grow up with world perspectives”. On 22nd April 1965, Martin Luther King Jr, speaking at a meeting of the Massachusetts legislature, lamented the “tragedy” of school segregation. With the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the US had finally dismantled the Jim Crow laws — which King had joked about burying a decade earlier. The nation had come to King’s conclusion: “Segregation debilitates the segregator as well as the segregated”.

Almost six decades later, from Massachusetts to Colorado, Jim Crow is being resurrected in public schools — this time through euphemisms such as “affinity circles”, “affinity dialogue groups” and “community building groups”. Centennial Elementary School in Denver, for instance, advertised a “Families of Color Playground Night” earlier this winter, on a marquee board outside the school. Last week, the Wheeler School in Providence, Rhode Island, hosted a “meet and talk” with actress Karyn Parsons from “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” — exclusively for its “Students of Color affinity group”. “If you are a student of color or multiracial, please join us!” the invitation from a seventh grade teacher read.

Bigotry, meanwhile, is back on the curriculum, thanks partly to a “Black Lives Matter at School” campaign, which last week recommended the book Not My Idea: A Book about Whiteness to children as young as six in Evanston/Skokie School District 65, outside Chicago. “Whiteness is a bad deal”, the book argues; it amounts to signing a “contract” with the devil, who is illustrated with an indelicate pointy tail. Meanwhile, in an English lesson in Fairfax County, Virginia, students played a game of “Privilege Bingo”; even “Military Kid” has been shamed as having “privilege”.

It’s a tragedy that today’s schools are more segregated than mine was. I arrived in the United States in the summer of 1969, a four-year-old who knew not a word of English. Born in Bombay, I was part of the first generation of post-colonial Indians. My parents had survived the “white supremacy” of British rule, and witnessed Mahatma Gandhi’s nonviolent movement, which was an inspiration for the American civil rights movement.

The neoliberal war on dissent in the West

Glen Greenwald, Substack, 21 February 2022Posted Feb 22, 2022

The author of this article contends that the crackdown on the truckers in Canada is just the most recent, and extreme, instance of a growing recourse by Western governments to repressive measures against those deemed beyond the pale, their opinions not even worthy of consideration, borderline seditionists, aka the Deplorables.

Greenwald co-founded the left-wing online magazine The Intercept in 2014. He was forced out in late 2020 due to a dispute over whether to cover the Hunter Biden laptop story that broke in October 2020. He argued the story was clearly newsworthy, but his colleagues disagreed, joining in the chorus from mainstream media claiming it was just Russian disinformation. The laptop has since been confirmed—not least by Hunter Biden himself—as genuine.

In a similar vein, the author thinks what is being perpetrated against the truckers  by the Trudeau regime in Canada, with anyone lending either direct or indirect support to the truckers in danger of having their bank accounts summarily frozen, and some truckers being subjected to police beatings that would lead the news if committed against BLM protesters, deserves proper scrutiny and attention.

Greenwald has also championed the cause of Wikileaks and Julian Assange. In other words, he has a consistent track record as a consistent civil libertarian, making him an outlier among his erstwhile colleagues on the liberal left.

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When it comes to distant and adversarial countries, we are taught to recognize tyranny through the use of telltale tactics of repression. Dissent from orthodoxies is censored. Protests against the state are outlawed. Dissenters are harshly punished with no due process. Long prison terms are doled out for political transgressions rather than crimes of violence. Journalists are treated as criminals and spies. Opposition to the policies of political leaders are recast as crimes against the state.

When a government that is adverse to the West engages in such conduct, it is not just easy but obligatory to malign it as despotic. Thus can one find, on a virtually daily basis, articles in the Western press citing the government's use of those tactics in Russia, China, Iran, Venezuela and whatever other countries the West has an interest in disparaging (articles about identical tactics from regimes supported by the West — from Riyadh to Cairo — are much rarer). That the use of these repressive tactics render these countries and their populations subject to autocratic regimes is considered undebatable.

But when these weapons are wielded by Western governments, the precise opposite framework is imposed: describing them as despotic is no longer obligatory but virtually prohibited. That tyranny exists only in Western adversaries but never in the West itself is treated as a permanent axiom of international affairs, as if Western democracies are divinely shielded from the temptations of genuine repression. Indeed, to suggest that a Western democracy has descended to the same level of authoritarian repression as the West's official enemies is to assert a proposition deemed intrinsically absurd or even vaguely treasonous.

Taking the low road: China's influence in Aust states and territories

John Fitzgerald Ed, Aust Strategic Policy Institute, 15 February 2022Posted Feb 22, 2022

A number of authors, including Australian Clive Hamilton, have written extensively about the CCP regime's influence operations in Australia and globally. This contribution by ASPI extends this analysis with a comprehensive account of the targeting of sub-national entities in this country—states, local governments and the universities.

This is consistent with what has gone on in other countries. In a notorious case Californian congressman Eric Swalwell was targeted by CCP operatives, including one who allegedly had an affair with him, when he was at the start of his political career as a member the Dublin City Council (the suburban local government area in California, not Dublin Ireland).

As the Victorian agreement to participate in the belt-and-road initiative illustrates, these activities have the potential to implicate sub-national governments in arrangements inconsistent with national objectives and priorities, taking advantage of the former's naivete in international relations. 

The book is an edited collection of articles on CCP activities in each state, as well as the universities and business. It is a free download from the site linked to below. Well worth getting a copy to gain a comprehensive picture of the threat to Australian sovereignty and democratic institutions posed by this increasingly totalitarian regime.

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Contemporary Australia–China relations are deep, diverse and many tiered, involving engagements across all levels of government and among different parts of society. Relations are far from symmetrical. China is a great power—huge, populous, powerful and wealthy—while Australia is a modest middle power and, on most measures, more heavily dependent on China than China is upon Australia. Still, bilateral relations proceed on the assumption spelled out over 250 years ago that ‘a dwarf is as much a man as a giant, a small republic is no less a sovereign state than the most powerful kingdom.’ Relations might not be symmetrical but they’re founded on the principle that all states are equally sovereign.

In normal times, asymmetry in wealth and power need not matter a great deal. The international state system is founded on the principle of the equal sovereignty of nations, irrespective of their relative wealth and power, and the underlying architecture governing trade and investment among market economies has been relatively stable since the end of World War II. These aren’t normal times. Early in the 21st century, China moved to secure a place in the international order commensurate with its growing wealth and power, as it had every right to do. Since Xi Jinping’s appointment as General Secretary of the CCP and President ofthe People’s Republic of China (PRC), however, his government has sought to destabilise the international order itself by militarising contested territorial claims in the region, rolling out the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) to yield leverage over other countries, using relative trade dependence for strategic purposes, setting new rules for the region, and positioning itself in the UN to rewrite the postwar rules for the world.

Further, under Xi Jinping China has ceased to be a normal state actor. It seeks to translate massive advantages in wealth and power into asymmetries in sovereignty by interfering in the domestic affairs of other states. Where it does that at the local (or subnational) level, its effort is structured to bring national heft to local engagements in ways that Australia’s federated state sand territories aren’t able to.

Free speech in the UK?

Judith Bergman, Gatestone Institute, 12 February 2022Posted Feb 15, 2022

What is the state of freedom of speech in the UK? Pretty sick, according to this author, drawing on poll data and a succession of exemplary instances of speech suppression. The phenomena she describes are mirrored in other democracies seriously infected with the "woke" mind virus.

A recent YouGov poll in the UK found the proportion of respondents saying protecting people from offensive or hateful speech should be a priority (43 percent) exceeding the figure for those prioritizing protection of free speech (38 percent).

Furthermore, 57 percent "found themselves stopping themselves from expressing their political or social views for fear of judgement or negative responses from others." Those most fearful of speaking up were those favouring "unprogressive" views on matters like immigration and gender identity.

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Freedom of speech is doing extremely poorly in the UK, according to a recent YouGov poll. When Britons were asked what should be the priority, 43% said protecting people from offensive or hateful speech should be the priority, while only 38% said the focus should be on protecting free speech. Generally, men and conservative voters were more concerned about protecting free speech, while women, younger people and Labour voters were more concerned about blocking offensive or hateful speech.

The poll also showed that self-censorship is thriving: 57% of those polled said they have "found themselves stopping themselves from expressing their political or social views for fear of judgement or negative responses from others." According to the poll:

"In most cases, those holding what might be considered the 'un-progressive' view more frequently omit their opinions on that topic. For example, those who believe immigration has generally been a bad thing for the UK... those who disagree with the statement 'a transgender woman is a woman' feel they have to frequently keep bottled up."

Recent years have offered many examples of the dire conditions of suppressed free speech in the UK. Opinions that a person's biological sex takes precedence over "gender identity" -- that identifying as a woman is not the same as being born a woman, or that transgender men competing against women in sports creates an unfair playing field -- provoke some of the fiercest backlash.

Fusion power is coming

Robert Zubrin, Quillette, 21 February 2022Posted Feb 23, 2022

The vast potential of fusion power has been talked about for decades, starting with the British physicist Sir Arthur Eddington in 1920. Yet it always seems over an ever-receding horizon. The author of this article points to recent developments that could see achievement of the "break even point", where the power output is greater than that needed to sustain the reaction, by the end of this decade.

It seems there have been three phases in the efforts to harness controlled fusion power (as distinct from the explosive power of the hydrogen bomb). The first, starting in 1950, made significant progress, with the development of the Soviet-originated Tokamak reactor, the Russian acronym for "toroidal chamber magnetic". Progress was spurred by vigorous international competition.

In the second phase it was decided it was wasteful to have these separate national efforts. Why not combine forces to work on a single big machine, the International Fusion Test Reactor (ITER)? According to the author, this lack of competition stymied progress, leading to defunding of non-Tokamak designs, and bogging the effort down in bureaucratic inertia.

The third phase saw the emergence of entrepreneurial private sector initiatives, inspired by the success of Elon Musk's SpaceX company, with these activities outstripping progress by government entities. There are now a raft of private startups in the field. The author concludes by betting on a force more powerful than fusion: human creativity. Let's hope he is right. If it works out, it could be the solution to the world's energy woes, not least climate change.

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“You know,” Krakowski said. “When fusion power is finally developed, it won’t be at a place like Los Alamos or Livermore. It will be done by a couple of crackpots working in a garage.”

We all laughed at that, knowing full-well how the formidable difficulties associated with fusion power development put such a feat well-beyond the capabilities of garage inventors. But in recent years the trend has moved forcefully towards validating Krakowski’s prophesy.

Though the national programs are a shadow of their former selves, and ITER continues to move ahead at the speed of continental drift, something else is going on.

A breakthrough has happened. Through its dramatic and rapid development of reusable launch rockets, Elon Musk’s SpaceX company demonstrated that it is possible for a well-run lean and creative entrepreneurial organization to achieve things—and do so much faster—that were previously thought to require the efforts of major power governments. This has hit observers of the fusion program like a bolt from the blue. Could it be that the seemingly insurmountable barriers to the achievement of controlled fusion—like the barriers to the attainment of cheap space launch—were not really technical, but institutional? Venturesome investors suddenly became interested. Around the world, well-funded entrepreneurial efforts have been launched to make fusion power a reality, and are moving ahead at a pace far outmatching the official government programs. The way things are going, there is an excellent chance that the first controlled thermonuclear fusion reactors will be ignited before this decade is out. Perhaps not by a couple of crackpots in a garage, but by a team of startup company engineers working in a warehouse.

The Silencing: a special report on China and the Uyghurs

Katie Stallard and others, New Statesman, 16 February 2022Posted Feb 22, 2022

The incarceration of the Uyghurs is the greatest mass internment of an ethno-religious minority since the fall of the Third Reich. Yet Western elites, especially those in the corporate sector with major interests in China, either ignore or seek to minimize this atrocity. To its credit, New Statesman has decided to devote a special issue to the topic.

A particularly grotesque example was the much publicized comment by the billionaire venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya that "nobody cares about what is happening to the Uyghurs". He later tried to walk this back—an attempt undermined by his originally saying if he did ever express concern, he would be lying.

Palihapitiya is obviously an odious character, but he is probably one of the few among corporate elites honest enough to come out with what he actually thinks. In cultivating Western elites, the CCP recognizes that some of their targets might need to cover themselves with some pro forma comments to the effect that, yes they are disturbed by the Uyghurs, Hong Kong, the suppression of dissent more generally, and leave it at that. The CCP actually has a term for this kind of accommodation: "big help for little badmouth".

But don't expect to see any Hollywood movies in the foreseeable future about what is going on in Xinjiang, which is being turned into a giant open-air prison, a testbed for all the latest technologies of surveillance and repression. Too much potential to lose a slice of what is now the biggest movie market in the world.

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It is no longer credible to say we don’t know what is happening to the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. You can say you don’t care, as the billionaire venture capitalist Chamath Palihapitiya did in January when he said the plight of the Uyghurs was “below my line”. But we can no longer pretend the atrocities aren’t well documented.

The combined weight of satellite imagery, official documents and survivor testimony that has accumulated over the last five years sets out the Chinese government’s actions in Xinjiang in devastating and undeniable detail. The UK parliament, although so far not Boris Johnson’s government, has declared the situation genocide.

International attention on this issue tends to focus on the sprawling network of internment camps and prisons where between one and three million people have been confined. Rightly so. These mass detentions are shameful and those responsible must be held to account. Reports of forced sterilisation, systematic torture and rape must be urgently investigated. The severity of these alleged abuses cannot simply be shrugged off or deemed to be below some arbitrary line that might warrant concern.

But the horrors of Xinjiang are not confined to the high concrete walls of the camps. The entire region has been transformed into what amounts to an open-air prison for the Uyghurs and people from other ethnic minorities. Checkpoints and surveillance cameras blanket the cities. Facial recognition technology and mandatory location-tracking apps on mobile phones allow constant, real-time monitoring of the cities’ inhabitants. Party cadres from China’s ethnic majority Han population are encouraged to stay overnight with Uyghur families, who are predominantly Muslim, and monitor them for signs of “extremism”, which might include praying or declining to eat pork or drink alcohol.

Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez an insider now?

David Remnick, The New Yorker, 14 February 2022Posted Feb 23, 2022

The answer to the question posed in the title of this article is—Yes, AOC is an insider now, notwithstanding efforts by Pelosi and others to downplay the significance of The Squad. How is she an influence? By virtue of the terror of their moderate elders, not least majority leader Senator Chuck Schumer, of being subjected to primary challenges by AOC and her acolytes.

For some time the "progressive" wing of the Democratic has made the running on policy, leading to serious consideration of lunatic propositions like "defund the police", a notion so preposterous that major figures now feel they must distance themselves from it. Yet in this interview AOC bats on with it. 

She calls on Biden to make more use of executive action to bypass opposition from the likes of Senators Manchin and Sinema. Her top priorities, among the plethora of issues now facing the nation? Cancellation of all student debt.

Then there are the real profundities, like "If Republicans are mad they can’t date me they can just say that instead of projecting their frustrations onto my boyfriend’s feet. Ya creepy weirdos", or this "Honestly, it is a shit show. It’s scandalizing, every single day. What is surprising to me is how it never stops being scandalizing." Amazing she was so keen to be part of this shit-show.

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Is it that the representatives don’t have the stones, or do you want a different public opinion, as it were? In other words, for example, take “defund the police” as a policy demand. Certainly, in New York City, no one is talking about that now. As a matter of protest? Yes. As activism? Yes. But we have a new mayor, Eric Adams, who is anything but “defund the police.” Who are you disappointed in?

I still am disappointed in leadership and in my colleagues, because, ultimately, these conversations about “defund,” or this, that, and the other, are what is happening in public and popular conversations. Our job is to be able to engage in that conversation, to read what is happening, and to be able to develop a vision and translate it into a course of action. All too often, I believe that a lot of our decisions are reactive to public discourse instead of responsive to public discourse. And so, just because there was this large conversation about “defund the police” coming from the streets, the response was to immediately respond to it with fear, with pooh-poohing, with “this isn’t us,” with arm’s distance. So, then, what is the vision? That’s where I think the Party struggles.

Aren’t you seeing the response in City Hall now in the shape of Eric Adams?

Well, I think you also see it in the shape of the City Council that was elected. You have a record number of progressives. People often bring up the Mayor as evidence of some sort of decision around policing. I disagree with that assessment. I represent a community that is very victimized by a rise in violence. (And I represent Rikers Island!) What oftentimes people overlook is that the same communities that supported Mayor Adams also elected Tiffany Cabán. What the public wants is a strong sense of direction. I don’t think that in electing Mayor Adams everyone in the city supports bringing back torture to Rikers Island in the form of solitary confinement. What people want is a strong vision about how we establish public safety in our communities.

Anomalies in the Chinese Covid data

George Calhoun, Forbes magazine, 11 January 2022Posted Feb 11, 2022

A widely held view is that the approach to suppressing the virus in China, while brutal, has been effective, making possible the realistic pursuit of a "zero Covid" policy. However this assessment depends on the reliability of the CCP regime's official statistics. This article argues there are huge anomalies, including some patent absurdities, in these statistics.

Here are the main kinds of anomalies the article identifies:

  • Differences in the reported mortality figures derived from reliable Western, Chinese, and international sources
  • The sudden and complete disappearance of Chinese Covid deaths from official reports after April 1 2020
  • The peculiar Case Fatality Rates in China — the primary measure of the virulence of the disease
  • The anomalous overall death statistics in China in 2020 and 2021

For an illustration of the second point, go to the China data on the excellent Our World in Data website, and scroll down the page for the daily confirmed deaths statistics and marvel at the bizarre shape of the graph!

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The most charitable interpretation of all this would be that China falls into the UN’s other “subset of countries where reporting systems are not functioning effectively.” Mere sloppiness. But how likely is that?

The more probable interpretation –- unfortunately – is that there has been a systematic campaign of data suppression and falsification, to sustain the Zero Covid claim which China’s leadership has embraced.

There is a history in China of this sort of mindset – setting a target, and forcing the “facts” to fit the target number. It is familiar to anyone who takes on the challenge of interpreting Chinese economic data.

New study says lockdowns don't work. Fact or fiction?

Mallen Baker, YouTube video, 8 February 2022Posted Feb 11, 2022

A new study released by a group of applied economists at Johns Hopkins university finds that lockdowns, even the most severe stay-in-place orders, have had minimal effect on Covid deaths, and that therefore they do not justify the severe privations the lockdowns have caused. The paper has been strongly challenged by some epidemiologists. This video is a scrupulously fair weighing of the arguments, and finds the study wanting.

Mallen Baker is that rare YouTuber who strives to be scrupulously fair and objective in his assessments of contentious, politically tinged public policy issues. His channel gets nowhere near the views it deserves.

The Johns Hopkins study is not an original study, but a meta-analysis of  a number of other studies looking at the issue in question. It is an attempt to extract signal from the noise of multiple studies conducted using different methodologies, with different sample sizes and data sets. This in itself makes such studies inherently problematic, what statisticians term the "heterogeneity problem". Which studies to include? What weight to attach to teach? Baker points to some dubious selections for the study in question.

Apart from which, there is the strange definition of a "lockdown". The study counts as a lockdown any "non-pharmaceutical intervention", including in addition to what we would normally understand as a lockdown any mandated mask requirement, or social distancing rule, or travel restriction (including international ones), and so on. On this definition just about every country, including Sweden which has had one of the most relaxed regimes, is counted as "locked down" for virtually the entirety of the pandemic.

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Why did scientists suppress the lab-leak theory?

Matt Ridley, Spiked Online, 12 January 2022Posted Feb 11, 2022

There has been an ongoing debate about whether the Covid virus was the product of natural evolution in an animal host or leaked from a lab in the Wuhan Institute of Virology, with the further possibility that it might have been modified or engineered in the lab. Recently released emails show a marked disparity between what scientists were saying privately and public statements several days later.

This article draws on the emails and other information to provide a good summation and timeline of these developments. The emails from the scientists followed a conference call on 1 February 2020, and indicated their view that the virus structure was strongly indicative of non-natural origin, with one saying he "has a hard time to explain that outside the lab", while another said he "can't think of a plausible natural scenario... can't figure out how this gets accomplished in nature".

Yet within 48 hours this same group of scientists publicly repudiated this view, and followed up with an influential paper that effectively shut the debate down until early 2021, with the lab-leak theory dismissed as a "conspiracy theory" and censored on social media.

How to account for this switch? The emails, only released because of Congressional pressure, reveal some disturbing possibilities as to motive. 

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Now we know what those leading scientists really thought. Emails exchanged between them after a conference call on 1 February 2020, and only now forced into the public domain by Republicans in the US Congress, show that they not only thought the virus might have leaked from a lab, but they also went much further in private. They thought the genome sequence of the new virus showed a strong likelihood of having been deliberately manipulated or accidentally mutated in the lab. Yet later they drafted an article for a scientific journal arguing that the suggestion not just of a manipulated virus, but even of an accidental spill, could be confidently dismissed and was a crackpot conspiracy theory.

Now, however, we have an email from Farrar, sent on Sunday 2 February to Francis Collins, head of the National Institutes of Health, and Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. It recounts the overnight thoughts of two other virologists Farrar had consulted, Robert Garry of Tulane University and Michael Farzan of the Scripps Research Institute, as well as Farrar’s own thoughts. Even after the call, their concern centred on a feature of the SARS-CoV-2 genome that had never been seen in any other SARS-like coronavirus before: the insertion (compared with the closest related virus in bats) of a 12-letter genetic sequence that creates a thing called a furin cleavage site, which makes the virus much more infectious.

Farzan, said Farrar, ‘has a hard time to explain that outside the lab’ and Garry ‘can’t think of a plausible natural scenario… can’t figure out how this gets accomplished in nature’. Farrar himself thought, on that Sunday, that ‘a likely explanation could be something as simple as passage [of] SARS-like CoVs in tissue culture on human cell lines (under BSL-2) for an extended period of time, accidentally creating a virus that would be primed for rapid transmission between humans via gain of furin site (from tissue culture) and adaption to human ACE2 receptor via repeated passage’. Translated: repeatedly growing a virus in human cells in a lab will alter its genome through natural selection so it adapts to human hosts.

Johns Hopkins analysis disputes the effectiveness of lockdowns

Jonas Herby, Lars Jonung and Steve H. Hanke, Johns Hopkins Institute for Applied Economics, January 2022Posted Feb 09, 2022

A group of applied economists affiliated with Johns Hopkins university have released a meta-analysis of a large number of studies of the effectiveness of lockdowns and arrived at the surprising conclusion that they have been singularly ineffective at reducing Covid deaths. But does it stand up?

The study claims lockdowns in the United States and Europe only reduced Covid mortality by 0.2 percent on average, with even the much more stringent stay-in-place orders only causing a 2.9 percent reduction.

The study has been welcomed by some on the Right, including a number of Fox News hosts, who have attacked other media for ignoring it. I think they have jumped the gun on this one. It is always a good idea, in my view, to refrain from citing a new study that reports counter-intuitive results until you have seen the critiques, which have not been slow in coming. And they have been pretty devastating, for example here and here.

I thought it was suspect from the outset. The case for lockdowns can be summed up by the following syllogism:

  1. Covid is an airborne virus, spread by virus fragments in the air (aerosol or droplets) to others in close proximity
  2. It follows that its spread can be limited by reducing the frequency and duration of people coming into close contact.
  3. Lockdowns reduce the frequency and duration of interpersonal contacts
  4. Therefore lockdowns should reduce the spread of Covid.

I would like to know, which of the premises in this syllogism lockdown sceptics dispute?

There is, of course, a need to weigh the benefits of lockdowns against the considerable harms they cause, including adverse health effects, which can be considerable, and to judge when to ease the restrictions based on all these considerations. However to suggest they have negligible effects on virus spread seems ludicrous.

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Abstract

This systematic review and meta-analysis are designed to determine whether there is empirical evidence to support the belief that “lockdowns” reduce COVID-19 mortality. Lockdowns are defined as the imposition of at least one compulsory, non-pharmaceutical intervention (NPI).NPIs are any government mandate that directly restrict peoples’ possibilities, such as policies that limit internal movement, close schools and businesses, and ban international travel. This study employed a systematic search and screening procedure in which 18,590 studies are identified that could potentially address the belief posed. After three levels of screening, 34 studies ultimately qualified. Of those 34 eligible studies, 24 qualified for inclusion in the meta-analysis. They were separated into three groups: lockdown stringency index studies, shelter-in-placeorder (SIPO) studies, and specific NPI studies. An analysis of each of these three groups suppor tthe conclusion that lockdowns have had little to no effect on COVID-19 mortality. More specifically, stringency index studies find that lockdowns in Europe and the United States only reduced COVID-19 mortality by 0.2% on average. SIPOs were also ineffective, only reducingCOVID-19 mortality by 2.9% on average. Specific NPI studies also find no broad-based evidence of noticeable effects on COVID-19 mortality. While this meta-analysis concludes that lockdowns have had little to no public health effects,they have imposed enormous economic and social costs where they have been adopted. Inconsequence, lockdown policies are ill-founded and should be rejected as a pandemic policy instrument.

The foolishness of "ugly freedoms"

Christine Rosen, Commentary, 8 February 2022Posted Feb 10, 2022

Did you know the freedoms could be positively "ugly"? Which freedoms, you might ask? Well any freedom that grants people the right to say anything that seriously contravenes identarian orthodoxies—like, say, freedom of speech as construed in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. It is really just about enabling white supremacism, according to a professor of American Studies.

This is actually a critique of an article that appears in the New York Times by Elizabeth Anker. If you want to read the item being critique, here is the link, but it is paywalled.

This seems to be the latest update to Herbert Marcuse's idea, set out in his 1965 article Repressive Tolerance, that tolerance of "right-wing" speech is actually repressive, whereas fostering "left-wing" speech is liberating. Some regard Marcuse's essay as the founding manifesto of modern-day cancel culture.

This article provides a good debunking of this garbage, which apparently is all too typical of American Studies courses and academics these days where everything has to be seen through the prism of "white supremacy"—pure civilizational self-loathing.

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If you were unaware that freedom could be ugly, Ms. Anker is more than happy to enlighten you. Freedom is a suspect enough idea that she puts the word in scare quotes. Or rather, freedom is suspect (or “ugly”) when it is invoked by anyone whose views are to the right of her own. Anker cites Republican governors lifting mask mandates and parents demanding greater transparency from school systems as examples of so-called “ugly freedoms.”

“Each of these actions used the language of freedom to justify anti-democratic politics,” Anker argues. These “ugly freedoms” are “used to block the teaching of certain ideas, diminish employees’ ability to have power in the workplace and undermine public health.” According to Anker, these ideas represent an “exclusionary” and “coercive” view of freedom. That’s right: Lifting mask mandates and giving parents more control over what their kids learn in school is now considered coercive.

It is perhaps not a surprise to learn that Anker’s essay is drawn from a book titled Ugly Freedoms, which claims to critique “liberal American democracy, outlining how the emphasis of individual liberty has always been entangled with white supremacy, settler colonialism, climate destruction, economic exploitation, and patriarchy.”

China: Friend or Foe? Oxford Union debate

Sir Vince Cable and Dr Michael Pilsbury, Oxford Union, 17 January 2022Posted Feb 09, 2022

A most interesting debate about relations between China and the West by two people well versed in their respective positions. Sir Vince Cable is a former cabinet minister and leader of the Liberal Democratic Party. Dr Michael Pilsbury is Director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute and was an adviser on China to the Trump administration.

Both these speakers have written books about the China relationship. Pilsbury's book The Hundred-Year Marathon describes what he argues is China's long term strategy to become the global hegemon and how Western elites have wittingly or unwittingly assisted it. Cable's latest book The Chinese Conundrum (just out) makes the case for continuing the very policy of engagement that in Pilsbury's view has helped propel the CCP regime to its current powerful position.

Despite their widely differing views, the two manage to have a thoroughly polite and civil debate, sadly something of a rarity these days.

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China has increasingly dominated headlines as a growing economic superpower whose growth and foreign policy are rapidly restructuring international politics. This head-to-head debate will consider China’s place in the world, whether the balance of global power has tilted towards China, and what the true nature of Sino-British and Sino-American relations are. Has China won? What does winning actually mean for China? Our two speakers will consider these questions and more as we explore how China is remaking the modern world.

1. Rt. Hon. Sir Vince Cable

Sir Vince Cable is a British Liberal Democrat Politician who served as Party Leader and spent five years in the coalition cabinet as Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. He authored The Chinese Conundrum, which explores relations between China and the West.p>

2. Dr Michael Pillsbury

Dr Michael Pillsbury is Director of the Center on Chinese Strategy at the Hudson Institute. He has held numerous defence and foreign policy advisory positions in the US Government and is considered the architect of Trump’s China policy.

3. Professor Rana Mitter (Moderator)

Professor Mitter is a Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China. He has served as the Director of the Oxford China Centre. He is the author of numerous books on China, including A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World.

ABOUT THE OXFORD UNION SOCIETY: The Oxford Union is the world's most prestigious debating society, with an unparalleled reputation for bringing international guests and speakers to Oxford. Since 1823, the Union has been promoting debate and discussion not just in Oxford University, but across the globe.

Facebook versus the BMJ: when fact checking goes wrong

Rebecca Coombes and Madlen Davies, British Medical Journal, 19 January 2022Posted Feb 09, 2022

A third-party company engaged by Facebook to "fact check" entries has just flagged as inaccurate an article in the British Medical Journal, the venerable publication that, since 1840 when it published the first article on general anesthesia, has been regarded as one of the world's most reliable sources of medical information.

The article was a report based on information from a whistleblower about poor clinical trial practices occurring at a contract research company involved in the main Pfizer covid-19 vaccine trial.

Whenever others have tried to link to the article from Facebook, the link is tagged with a warning about the article being misleading because of  "missing context". The BMJ insists the information is accurate, and that the fact-checking company failed to identify any errors, relying solely on assurances from Pfizer.

 This is yet another example of the arbitrary power to control information being exercised by social media companies. When the BMJ sought intervention from Meta (the renamed Facebook parent) they were referred back to the fact-checker, Lead Stories. It would be fascinating to know the qualifications of the employees of Lead Stories that makes them think they are fit to censor medical journalists.

Just another example of the arbitrary power of social media to control access to information.

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The Lead Stories article, though it failed to identify any errors in The BMJ’s investigation, nevertheless carried the title, “Fact Check: The British Medical Journal Did NOT Reveal Disqualifying and Ignored Reports of Flaws in Pfizer COVID-19 Vaccine Trials.”

The first paragraph wrongly described The BMJ as a “news blog” and was accompanied by a screenshot of the investigation article with a stamp over it stating “Flaws Reviewed,” despite the Lead Stories article not identifying anything false or inaccurate. Lead Stories did not mention that the investigation was externally peer reviewed, despite this being stated in the article, and had published its article under a URL that contained the phrase “hoax-alert.”

The BMJ contacted Lead Stories, asking it to remove its article. It declined. The author of the article, Dean Miller, replied to say that Lead Stories was not responsible for Facebook’s actions.

Australia's surprising Covid excess death count

Our World in Data, 9 February 2022Posted Feb 09, 2022

How to disaggregate deaths FROM Covid from deaths WITH Covid, people with other possibly lethal comorbidities who might have died soon anyway? Some experts argue the most meaningful measure is the "excess death" count that compares the number of deaths from all causes with what would have been expected from adjusted historical data. You might be surprised to learn how Australia has done on that measure.

There is an excellent website containing a wealth of beautifully presented data on Covid and other matters called Our World in Data. Have a play with their graphic displays, that allow comparison of your choice of countries on a range of measures of Covid's impact, such as case numbers, hospitalizations, deaths, and vaccinations. The data is very up to date, typically only a few days old

The table linked below looks at  the change in excess deaths in the period from 5 January 2020 to 31 Jan 2022 for most countries in the world i.e. the entire pandemic period, with the percentage change tabulated in the last column (positive for an increase, negative for a decline).

The value for Australia (it is updated daily) at the time of writing is -7.734 %, a significant decrease, presumably accounted for by significant drops in other infectious diseases such as seasonal flu outweighing the Covid increase.  This is definitely one of the better results—compare with the US and the major European countries). This presumably will change as the full impact of the Omicron spike is fully reflected in deaths. 

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Big help with a little badmouth

Brittany Bernstein, National Review, 4 February 2022Posted Feb 07, 2022

In their efforts to cultivate Western elites the CCP regime is generally prepared to overlook some criticism of the regime by those they are suborning so they can preserve a modicum of credibility, provided their targets continue to deliver on what really matters to them such as on investment, trade, intellectual property—and participation in and media coverage of the Olympic Games. They call this "big help with a little badmouth".

So, you will often see businessmen, academics and others with pecuniary interests in China express concern about repression in Hong Kong, or the treatment of the Uighurs, or maybe a bit of disquiet about all those irredentist claims in the South China Sea and elsewhere, and the hope that the regime will moderate given continuing engagement.

However, they will not acknowledge the real scope and horror of what is happening, such as the case for viewing the treatment of the Uighurs as genocide, or the sheer awfulness of what is being done to them. This article by posted on the BBC website underscores the reality of what is being done to Uighur women in particular.

But contrast that with the exquisitely even-handed description of the Uighur situation by NBC, the network that has the American rights to cover the Beijing winter games, with it being described as a matter of "allegations" that the CCP regime "vociferously denies".

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Journalist Andy Browne, one of NBC’s China experts, called it “the most sensitive issue” of the Olympics and said only that Western governments and human rights groups “allege” that the Chinese government is engaged in the systematic repression of Muslim Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

“They allege that this is a massive program of social engineering aimed at suppressing Muslim Uyghur culture, language, tradition, identity,” he added. “They allege a host of human rights abuses, forced labor, coercive birth control practices, indoctrination and that all this adds up to a form of cultural genocide.”

He adds: “It has to be said that the Chinese government emphatically denies all of this. They say that accusations of genocide are the lie of the century.”

Browne’s presentation of China’s denial prompted Washington Post columnist Josh Rogin to criticize NBC for taking a “both-sides” approach to human-rights abuses.

The broadcasters painted China’s well-documented human rights abuses as mere allegations put forward by a geopolitical rival.

The CCP and the problem of "elite capture"

Peter Schweizer, HarperCollins, January 2022Posted Feb 02, 2022

An astonishing and disturbing new book has just been released that describes how the Chinese Communist Party has been able to suborn elite figures in the United States to the extent they are effectively collaborating in the regime's bid to become a global totalitarian hegemon, dominant industrially, technologically, and militarily, able to control and manipulate information flows not just in China but the wider world.

Titled Red-Handed: How American Elites Get Rich  Helping China Win, the book is now available on Kindle, with the print version due for release on 4 May. It is an excellent companion volume to Clive Hamilton's two books on CCP influence operations in Australia and the West (see the interview I did with Hamilton for the Blackheath Philosophy Forum).

The scope of these elite capture operations is extraordinary. It includes figures at CEO level in big tech, including corporations like Apple, Microsoft, Facebook and Google, who have agreed to extensive technology transfers including military applications. It includes all the big operators on Wall Street, who continue to pour investment funds into China, as well as key figures in higher education, media, sport and entertainment. It extends to senior political figures on both sides of the aisle, and influential political families including the Bidens and the Bushes, as well as current and former senior government officials including in the intelligence services

Truly shocking is the extent to which some of these figures not only have dealings with the regime, but are prepared to act as apologists for it, overlooking the atrocities being perpetrated such as the incarceration of hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, the largest mass internment of an ethno-religious minority since the fall of the Third Reich, and the vicious persecution of dissidents.

The book opens with the famous quote attributed to Lenin: "The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them", which apparently he did not say, though the author cites the actual quote, which is actually more apposite.

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“The capitalists will sell us the rope with which to hang them.” There is little evidence that Vladimir Lenin uttered those exact words. What he did say, however, was more precise, if less catchy: “They [capitalists] will furnish credits which will serve us for the support of the Communist Party in their countries and, by supplying us materials and technical equipment which we lack, will restore our military industry necessary for our future attacks against our suppliers. To put it in other words, they will work on the preparation of their own suicide.”

In 2015, the CEOs of America’s largest tech companies gathered at Microsoft’s glass and steel headquarters just outside of Seattle. The leaders from Amazon, Airbnb, Apple, and Facebook were all present to welcome a very special guest. For President Xi, the visit to Seattle was a stopover; he was en route to meetings with President Barack Obama in Washington, D.C. The purpose of visiting Seattle first was to cultivate Beijing’s relationship with America’s tech titans. The Technorati waited patiently for his arrival. When he entered the room, the titans of Silicon Valley were thunderstruck. “Did you feel the room shake?” asked Apple CEO Tim Cook.

How Britain became Putin's playground

Oliver Bullough, UnHerd, 2 February 2022Posted Feb 03, 2022

For decades, London has been a playground for oligarchs, spivs and criminals from around the world, especially Russia and the Middle East. What is the attraction? The financial system, as it currently functions, has been uniquely useful to these types for money laundering operations, a problem that successive governments of all persuasions have been reluctant to tackle effectively. Is this about to change?

The author contends that this amenability to corruption has been a key factor in London's rebirth as a global financial sector, the engine of the national economy. He likens it to a cancer that grows ever larger, to the point where operating will cripple the patient.

He traces the roots of the current problem way back to 1955, at the height of the Cold War, and an innovation designed to allow the Soviet Union to acquire US dollars without being subject to the purview of American regulatory authorities, an innovation that led to the birth of the Eurodollar market.

The Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has vowed to deal with the matter, and that Russian oligarchs will have "nowhere to hide" their dirty money, which the author notes wryly is an effective admission that the money is already there.

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he real story, however, is far more alarming, but requires some telling, because you can’t understand London’s love affair with Russian money without understanding the story of how the City was reborn as both a financial centre and the engine of our national economy. They are, in fact, the same story.

Once you understand this, you can see why government after government has been so reluctant to drive the oligarchs’ money away. They’re like doctors watching a cancer grow bigger and bigger in a vital organ: operating will cripple their patient, so they leave it in place, even though — eventually — it will kill him. But this choice can’t be postponed much longer. If we want to save British democracy, we need to take a scalpel to a tumour that was seeded all the way back in 1955.

Back then, the Soviet Union had a problem. Its great rival the United States had ended World War Two as the undisputed centre of the world’s economy; if the USSR wanted to trade with the world, it needed dollars. The global financial system was less globalised in those days. In order to secure democratic control over wealth, governments imposed limits on money in ways that are hard to comprehend now. They restricted how much money you could move across borders, for instance, or what interest rates you could charge on loans you made.

Should race matter when choosing Supreme Court justices?

Alan Dershowitz, Gatestone Institute, 28 January 2022Posted Jan 28, 2022

With the announced resignation from the Supreme Court of Stephen Breyer, Joe Biden announced he would be appointing a black woman to the post. But is this unconstitutional? One of the most prominent Democrat affiliated constitutional law experts explores this issue.

Actually the author is a bit out of favour with the Democratic mainstream, despite a lifetime affiliation to the party, for going off-script on a number of issues, as when he testified in opposition to the second Trump impeachment trial in 2020.

Now he is doing it again, rejecting the spurious attempt to distinguish between the prohibition of a candidate on racial grounds, and affirmatively preferring someone on that basis. The two are equivalent—restricting a choice to one category effectively excludes all others.

Apart from which, as Dershowitz argues, injecting race and gender as selection criteria is morally odious and retrograde. Among other things, it will undermine the credibility of the successful nominee, who will be seen as the best black woman candidate rather than the best on the merits.

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Supporters of President Biden's announcement will argue that there is a big difference between prohibiting a person from serving based on religion, race or gender, and affirmatively giving preference based on these criteria. That is sophistry. By limiting his choice to a Black woman, President Biden has disqualified every non-Black woman and man in America. There are a considerable number of highly qualified Black women, and I would applaud the nomination of any one of them. But that is not the issue. The issue is exclusion.

The Supreme Court has a long history of exclusion. For more than a century-and-a-quarter after the religious prohibition was incorporated into the Constitution, presidents excluded all Jewish candidates and most Catholic candidates. The Supreme Court was an institution reserved primarily for white Protestant males. That was wrong and unconstitutional. But two wrongs, even if one of them is a "good" wrong, do not make a constitutional right.

The Black woman who is eventually nominated for the job will suffer reputationally from the president's announcement. She will not be regarded as the most qualified person to be nominated, but only as the most qualified Black woman. That is insulting, even if not intended to be.

Gallant little Lithuania

Luke McGee, CNN, 30 January 2022Posted Feb 02, 2022

Australia is not the only country to be subjected to punitive trade policies by the CCP regime for taking steps that do not conform to the latter's wishes. An object lesson on how to stand up to CCP bullying has been provided by the tiny European country Lithuania, population 3 million. But will it receive effective support from its EU partners?

Lithuania's offences included opening a Taiwan Representative Office, a de facto embassy, that actually uses the word "Taiwan" rather than the name of its capital city, Taipei. It is the first EU member to take that step. It also withdrew from the so-called "17+1" group, a forum of eastern and central European countries that engage with China.

In retaliation, the CCP regime effectively banned Lithuanian goods from entering China. It also applied pressure to other European nations, especially Germany, to ban the inclusion of Lithuanian made components in any goods destined for China.

The EU moved to support Lithuania by filing a complaint to the World Trade Organization, which Australia has just decided to join, which is likely to drag on for years. A more effective step would be to kill off the EU-China investment deal, agreed to but yet to be ratified.

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Then in November, Lithuania became the first country in Europe to allow self-ruled Taiwan to open a de facto embassy under the name "Taiwan." Other such offices in Europe and the United States use the name Taipei, Taiwan's capital, to avoid references that would imply the island's independence from China. Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said the opening of the Taiwanese Representative Office in Vilnius would "charter a new and promising course for bilateral relations between Taiwan and Lithuania."

The move enraged Beijing, which saw it as an affront to its "One China" principle that insists Taiwan is part of China, rather than an independent sovereign territory, despite the two sides having been governed separately for over seven decades after a civil war. As a rule, those who want a relationship with China must recognize the policy diplomatically.

Taiwan reacted by buying up Lithuanian produce that was destined for China -- including 20,400 bottles of rum -- and pledging to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in Lithuanian industry to support the country in the face of Chinese pressure.

The spat has pulled in the European Union, which is backing member state Lithuania. Brussels sees Beijing's treatment of Lithuania as a threat to other EU nations, many of whom have deeper economic links with China and would like to deepen them further. On Thursday, the EU launched a case against China at the World Trade Organization, accusing Beijing of "discriminatory trade practices against Lithuania, which are also hitting other exports from the EU's Single Market.

What the Right gets wrong about Ukraine...

Noah Rothman, Commentary, 24 January 2022Posted Feb 02, 2022

This article highlights a division about foreign policy within the American Right between the anti-Trump neocon wing, with which the author is affiliated, and the populist wing which tends to be hostile to involvement with any overseas conflict absent a clear American national interest consideration. This has come to a head in the debate about what to do about Ukraine's current dispute with Russia.

The author makes a pretty strong case for American involvement, pointing out that Ukrainian membership of NATO has been effectively off the table for some time, despite Russia's professed concerns, and that Russia's demands include the removal of all troops and weapons from countries that joined NATO after 1997 i.e. the entire former Warsaw Pact.

To agree to such demands, he argues, would deal a severe blow to the credibility of the Western alliance generally, with implications for Chinese risk assessments as they decide whether to move on Taiwan. He rejects the dichotomy between doing nothing and war-making, favoring measures such as arms supplies and economic sanctions that could act as a deterrent.

As things stand, the neocon wing has been pretty much marginalized in the Republican party, exemplified by the tenuous situation of Liz Cheney, daughter of the former vice president, currently facing a primary challenge for her Wyoming seat that she seems likely to lose.

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Douthat proposes an “ideal retreat” from Ukraine which would leave “NATO expansion permanently tabled, with Ukraine subject to inevitable Russian pressure but neither invaded nor annexed, and with our NATO allies shouldering more of the burden of maintaining a security perimeter in Eastern Europe.” He concedes that it would be a struggle to execute an immaculate retrenchment, as our bitter experience in Afghanistan suggests. But it might be the “least-bad” of our available options.

This is exactly the concession Russia is demanding from the West. How else could you interpret Moscow’s demands in exchange for ratcheting down tensions? The Kremlin has insisted, in writing, that the United States and the West must commit not just to halting NATO expansion but must remove all troops and weapons from nations that entered the NATO alliance after 1997; namely, the entire former Warsaw Pact. Thus, Russia has effectively asked the West to gift them a sphere of influence they cannot secure militarily, diplomatically, or economically. To do so would abrogate the sovereignty of our partners and allies in Europe, shatter confidence in America across the globe, and represent a profound misreading of the imbalance of forces arrayed against Russian interests in its own backyard.

Those who are attracted to Douthat’s argument appear to believe that the West’s only course of action short of war with Russia is retreat. There is, in the estimation of the American Conservative editor Rod Dreher, an “eagerness” among “American elites” to get involved in a real shooting war with Russia. “We have no realistic choice but to cede to at least some of Russia’s demands,” he writes, lest we abandon the geostrategic imperative of containing a revisionist China. Such a theory confuses deterrence with war-making. The dispatching of lethal arms into Ukraine, as well as the deployment of troops, naval assets, and area denial technology, is designed to raise the stakes of conflict to the point that Moscow blinks. That would be the best of all imaginable resolutions to the present conflict, because the refugee crisis, economic disruptions, and war of attrition in Europe that would follow a Russian invasion would be catastrophic. After all, the likelihood that U.S. could avoid becoming entangled in a conflict on NATO’s borders that involves America’s ratified allies is negligible.

The Marxist who antagonizes liberals and the Left

Benjamin Wallace-Wells, The New Yorker, 31 January 2022Posted Feb 02, 2022

Here is a turnup for the books—a prominent Black Marxist scholar who manages to get cancelled by the Democratic Socialists of America. What was his offence? To condemn the obsession of modern "progressives" with matters of race and identity, which he regards as destructive and counter-productive and a distraction from the real issue of economic inequality.

I argued in an article posted on this website that the left's identarian turn would have appalled earlier generations of progressives, including Marxists. In fact, the communist-aligned historian Eric Hobsbawm spoke out against this development in 1996, and to this day you still find the odd Trotskyist group willing to reject it.

But these are outliers, since to take this stand is a genuinely courageous act for anyone who wants to be a progressive in good standing. One such is person profiled in this article, the renowned Black scholar Adolph Reed, who thinks the politics of "anti-racism", which has a specific counter-intuitive meaning in the lexicon of Critical Race Theory, has actually set back the cause of racial equality.

This has brought him into rancorous conflict with figures like Ibram X. Kendi, Robin DiAngelo and Ta-Nehisi Coates. He has condemned the 1619 Project initiated by the New York Times, with its premise that nothing has changed since the era of Jim Crow, as "bemusing and exasperating".

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Within the world of racial politics, Adolph Reed is the great modern denouncer. His day job, for forty years, was as a political scientist. (He is now emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania.) But by night he has maintained a long-term position, too, as a left-wing lambaster of figures he believes are selling some vision of race for political expediency or profit. In Harper’s, the Village Voice, Jacobin, and smaller factional outlets, not all of them still operating, Reed has called out Barack Obama as a “vacuous opportunist,” and the scholars bell hooks and Michael Eric Dyson as “little more than hustlers, blending bombast, cliches, psychobabble, and lame guilt tripping in service to the ‘pay me’ principle.” For Reed, class is what divides people, and far too many political actors treat race as an all-explaining category.

Like his friend and ally Barbara Fields, a professor of history at Columbia University and the author of “Racecraft,” Reed tends to look skeptically on diversity programs or campaigns for reparations, which he believes redirect political energies for change into symbolic efforts that help just a few powerful Black people; these stances have put him in opposition to activist anti-racist thinkers, like Ibram X. Kendi and Robin DiAngelo, and to mainstream liberal figures, such as Isabel Wilkerson, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and Henry Louis Gates, Jr. “I taught Obama’s cohort—the Yale version,” Reed told me. “And I was struck by how many of them were so convinced that the whole purpose of the civil-rights movement was that people like them could go to Ivy League colleges and go to Wall Street afterward, how many of them were dispositively convinced that rich people are smarter than the rest of us.” It was the same perspective, Reed went on, that suggested that “more Oscars for Ava DuVernay is like a victory for the civil-rights movement, and not just for Ava DuVernay and her agent.”

Killing the Wuhan lab leak theory

Nicholas Wade, City Journal, 23 January 2022Posted Jan 31, 2022

On 31 January 2020 a group of four virologists wrote to Dr Anthony Fauci after the genomic sequence for Covid had been published stating that, in their view, the genome was "inconsistent with evolutionary theory" and therefore likely originated in a laboratory. In response Fauci organized an urgent teleconference for the following day, and three days later the group reversed their finding. What happened in the interval?

The author is a science journalist who has worked for Nature, Science and served as science editor for the New York Times. In May 2021 he wrote a highly influential ten thousand word article that appeared in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists arguing, against the scientific consensus at the time, that the virus may well have resulted from a lab leak (interestingly, the Bulletin article is being tagged as "suspicious by my anti-virus software).

In this new article he draws on recently released emails that, in his view, support the view that the scientist's reversal was due to pressure from very powerful figures in the science bureaucracy, especially Fauci and the head of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) Dr Frances Collins. The new emails, according to Wade, indicate the likelihood of political motivations for the suppression of the leak hypothesis.

An earlier release of emails confirmed the remarkable reversal by the group of four scientists three days after the teleconference. This was followed by a letter by a group of scientists to the Lancet orchestrated by Dr Peter Daszak, who was instrumental in securing US funding for gain-of-function research at the Wuhan Institute.

It is hard for the non-specialist to make sense of the technical aspects of this debate. However I am struck by the remarkable coincidence of a novel but naturally occurring bat virus popping up a few hundred meters from a laboratory containing the world's largest collection of bat viruses, together with the failure after more than two years to come up with a single animal host for the virus.

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From almost the moment the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in the city of Wuhan, the medical-research establishment in Washington and London insisted that the virus had emerged naturally. Only conspiracy theorists, they said, would give credence to the idea that the virus had escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Now a string of unearthed emails—the most recent being a batch viewed by the House Oversight and Reform Committee and referred to in its January 11, 2022 letter—is making it seem increasingly likely that there was, in fact, a conspiracy, its aim being to suppress the notion that the virus had emerged from research funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), headed by Anthony Fauci. The latest emails don’t prove such a conspiracy, but they make it more plausible, for two reasons: because the expert virologists therein present such a strong case for thinking that the virus had lab-made features and because of the wholly political reaction to this bombshell on the part of Francis Collins, then-director of the National Institutes of Health.

The story begins with a January 31, 2020, email to Fauci from a group of four virologists led by Kristian G. Andersen of the Scripps Research Institute. The genome sequence of SARS-CoV-2 had been published three weeks before, giving virologists their first look at the virus’s structure and possible origin.Andersen reported to Fauci that “after discussions earlier today, Eddie, Bob, Mike and myself all find the genome inconsistent with expectations from evolutionary theory.” Eddie is Edward C. Holmes of the University of Sydney; Bob is Robert F. Garry of Tulane University; Mike is Michael Farzan at Scripps Research. In their unanimous view, the virus didn’t come from nature and may instead have escaped from a lab.

We knew this much already from emails obtained in June 2021 by a Freedom of Information Act request, as well as from the fact that a teleconference took place the following day (February 1, 2020) to discuss the virologists’ conclusion. But something remarkable happened at the conference, because within three days Andersen was singing a different tune. In a February 4, 2020 email, he derided ideas about a lab leak as “crackpot theories” that “relate to this virus being somehow engineered with intent and that is demonstrably not the case.”

The green threat to effective climate policy

Maarten Boudry, Quillette, 27 January 2022Posted Jan 28, 2022

Environmentalists a greater threat to climate action than those who deny global warming? How could that be? The author points to some of the positions taken by greens in recent decades, especially their hostility to nuclear power, a necessity if the deep decarbonisation demanded by climate activists is to be achieved.

Contrast Germany with France, which generates three quarters of its electricity using nuclear power, and has around one fifth the emissions of Germany, despite the latter's far greater focus on climate policies. The development of nuclear in the West has been stymied by excessively burdensome regulations as politicians respond to green activism.

Even the United States has done about as well as Germany in the past 20 years due to the large-scale substitution of gas for coal, the former generating about half the CO2 per unit of energy as the latter. The author faults the European greens for their opposition to gas exploitation which would reduce their current dependance on Russia.

More generally, the tying of climate abatement to broader anti-capitalist agendas has served to ideologically polarize the debate, always an obstacle to rational deliberation.

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To see why “denialism” and “manipulation by elites” fail as explanations of climate inaction, consider Germany, one of the richest and most environmentally conscious nations on the planet. German political leaders have been taking the climate crisis very seriously for more than three decades, and unlike in the US, climate denialists are marginal and have never wielded political power. Even in Germany, however, getting rid of fossil fuels has proven extremely difficult. Despite having spent 500 billion euros in its much-heralded Energiewende (energy transition), Germany is still burning massive amounts of lignite and coal, and is not even remotely on track to reach its climate targets. Even with the best of intentions and tons of political goodwill—and without denialists muddying the waters—climate progress has proven elusive. Indeed, you may be surprised to learn that the US, despite experiencing much more trouble from self-professed “climate skeptics,” has achieved similar emission reductions to Germany over the past two decades, mainly by switching from coal to gas and with some energy efficiency.

...

Consider Germany’s neighbor France, which pulled off this feat without even worrying about global warming. Back in the 1970s, when France decided to switch from fossil fuels to nuclear energy, the climate problem was not even on the agenda. And yet, within about 15 years France had almost fully decarbonized its electricity sector and had electrified a lot of other stuff (such as electrical heating and high-speed trains). Countries like France and Sweden have demonstrated in real life that it is possible to eliminate fossil fuels without sacrificing economic growth and prosperity. The reason why the carbon intensity of German electricity, even after two full decades of Energiewende, is still more than five times higher than that of nuclear France is not because of mass delusion and elite manipulation about the reality of man-made global warming. Quite the contrary. It is because anti-nuclear environmentalists—the very same people who express the highest level of anxiety about climate change—have more political clout in Germany than in France and have convinced their political leaders that it’s an excellent “climate policy” to abandon atomic energy and close down all of their remaining reactors.

The Law of Group Polarization

Cass Sunstein, ChicagoBound, 1999Posted Jan 24, 2022

In another entry in this week's Readings section I refer to an article citing data confirming the increasing polarization of politics in the US, a feature of most Western countries. The author of that article did not offer an explanation, but this paper could shed some light on it, citing evidence that when those of like mind discuss politics in ideological echo changes, there is a trend to the extreme.

The author of this paper has written extensively about the effect of ideological "echo chambers", enormously facilitated by the internet and social media, where people with similar views but little cross-fertilization with other perspectives tend to talk each other into adopting more extreme positions.

I have observed this phenomenon during my time as a Labor MP when the left would caucus together to discuss some issue, In 1985, for example, there was a meeting to talk about tax reform, when then-treasurer Paul Keating was pushing for a broad-based consumption tax, which the left opposed because of its distributive implications. By the end of this meeting the faction resulted not just to oppose the new tax, but to seek the abolition of all existing indirect taxes, a downright nutty position.

This explains the phenomenon described in a more recent article included in this week's Readings (see above) documenting the acceleration in polarization between 2004 and 2017, the period when social media was widely adopted, which could also explain the stronger polarizing trend on the left than the right, given the younger average age of the former. 

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Abstract

In a striking empirical regularity, deliberation tends to move groups, and the individuals whocompose them, toward a more extreme point in the direction indicated by their ownpredeliberation judgments. For example, people who are opposed to the minimum wage arelikely, after talking to each other, to be still more opposed; people who tend to support guncontrol are likely, after discussion, to support gun control with considerable enthusiasm; peoplewho believe that global warming is a serious problem are likely, after discussion, to insist onsevere measures to prevent global warming. This general phenomenon -- group polarization --has many implications for economic, political, and legal institutions. It helps to explainextremism, “radicalization,” cultural shifts, and the behavior of political parties and religiousorganizations; it is closely connected to current concerns about the consequences of the Internet;it also helps account for feuds, ethnic antagonism, and tribalism. Group polarization bears on theconduct of government institutions, including juries, legislatures, courts, and regulatorycommissions. There are interesting relationships between group polarization and social cascades,both informational and reputational. Normative implications are discussed, with special attentionto political and legal institutions.

The Ghost of Jim Crow

Chris Rufo, City Journal, 19 January 2022Posted Jan 24, 2022

Nowadays, the only mainstream political force that supports explicit vilification of a class of persons based on skin color is the identarian "Left". In a similar vein, we now see "progressives" advocating a return of segregation in the name of "racial equity" and "social justice". In this article the author shows the extent of this development throughout schools and government services in the US.

This is really appalling, the restoration of a phenomenon thought to belong in the Jim Crow era in the name of "anti-racism". The author describes racially segregated field trips, playground nights, supposed to "create a space of belonging". Diversity training programs that separate whites from non-whites so the former can "accept responsibility for their own racism" and the others can avoid any "harm" from cross-racial conversations.

It is now being extended to the distribution of public health care, including access to Covid vaccines, with prioritization decisions being made on racial grounds rather than health status. These measures violate the "equal protection" clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and are being challenged on that basis. However it could take years for challenges to make their way through the courts.

And don't think it cannot happen here in Australia. The ABC recently screened a series of documentaries about "anti-racism" training in a NSW public school that separated whites and non-whites into separate "affinity groups", with the former required to reflect on their privilege. The American political scientist Karen Stenner has shown how this kind of thing can actually have the effect of awakening latent racist tendencies in individuals otherwise not disposed to racism.

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Images from the Jim Crow era in America are seared into the minds of those who lived through it, and of anyone who attended an American history class after the victory of the civil rights movement: side-by-side drinking fountains with signs reading “white” and “colored”; parks and recreation facilities separated into racial enclaves; small-town main streets with whites-only theaters, restaurants, grocers, and amenities.

Fortunately, all that ended by the mid-1960s—or so we had thought. In recent years, segregation has been resurrected, but this time under the guise of “racial equity.” As I reported in late 2020, government agencies in Seattle, Washington, including the King County Library, King County Prosecutor’s Office, and the Veterans Administration, began segregating employees by race for diversity training programs, so that whites could “accept responsibility for their own racism” and minorities could be insulated from “any potential harming [that] might arise from a cross-racial conversation.”

This year, the new segregation has extended itself into new domains: public education and public-health policy. In Denver, Centennial Elementary School launched a racially exclusive “Families of Color Playground Night” as part of its racial equity programming. In Chicago, Downers Grove South High School held a racially exclusive “Students of Color Field Trip” as part of its own equity initiatives. In the words of Denver Public Schools officials, the administrators implemented the segregated program to “create a space of belonging,” which, they said, without a hint of irony, is “about uniting us, not dividing us.”

If you hate the culture wars, blame liberals

Kevin Drum blog, 3 July 2021Posted Jan 24, 2022

A common observation about modern day politics is that it has become much more polarized, with both left and right moving to more strongly partisan positions. But which side has moved the most? I recently came across this article by a self-described liberal that presents data indicating the left has moved far more than the right. What is going on?

In three charts, the author depicts the degrees of polarization in 1994, 2004 and 2017. Between 1994 and 2004 the shifts were relatively small, with both becoming a little more "liberal". However from 2004 to 2017 both move toward their respective extremes, but the trend is much more pronounced on the left.

What explains it? Drum does not offer an explanation, but one can surmise that it may have something to do with the rise of social media during the latter interval. As to electoral consequences, he cites another data analyst ( as self-described socialist) who points to some interesting data from the 2020 presidential election that seems to challenge the presumption that demographic change guarantees Democrat dominance in the long term.

In that election, the Democrats gained slightly among non-college educated whites, but markedly among college educated whites. However there were significant gains for Republicans among working class non-whites, especially Hispanics, their voting patterns moving closer to white conservatives, especially among those with strong concerns about crime and public safety.

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I've made this point many times before, and I want to make it again more loudly and more plainly today. It is not conservatives who have turned American politics into a culture war battle. It is liberals. And this shouldn't come as a surprise: Almost by definition, liberals are the ones pushing for change while conservatives are merely responding to whatever liberals do. More specifically, progressives have been bragging publicly about pushing the Democratic Party leftward since at least 2004—and they've succeeded.

Now, I'm personally happy about most of this. But that doesn't blind me to the fact that "personally happy" means nothing in politics. What matters is what the median voter feels, and Democrats have been moving further and further away from the median voter for years.

At the subgroup level, Democrats gained somewhere between half a percent to one percent among non-college whites and roughly 7 percent among white college graduates (which is kind of crazy). Our support among African Americans declined by something like one to 2 percent. And then Hispanic support dropped by 8 to 9 percent....One implication of these shifts is that education polarization went up and racial polarization went down.

....What happened in 2020 is that nonwhite conservatives voted for Republicans at higher rates; they started voting more like white conservatives....Clinton voters with conservative views on crime, policing, and public safety were far more likely to switch to Trump than voters with less conservative views on those issues. And having conservative views on those issues was more predictive of switching from Clinton to Trump than having conservative views on any other issue-set was.

....This lines up pretty well with trends we saw during the campaign. In the summer, following the emergence of “defund the police” as a nationally salient issue, support for Biden among Hispanic voters declined. So I think you can tell this microstory: We raised the salience of an ideologically charged issue that millions of nonwhite voters disagreed with us on. And then, as a result, these conservative Hispanic voters who’d been voting for us despite their ideological inclinations started voting more like conservative whites.

Imperial College London cancels Thomas Huxley

Stephen Warren, Quillette, 21 January 2022Posted Jan 22, 2022

Imperial College London has just received a report from a History Group set up to consider how the college's history, and especially its founders, the biologist Thomas Henry Huxley and the mining magnate Alfred Beit, should be viewed to make it more "inclusive". The group found that both these figures fell far short of Imperial's "modern values" and should therefore be cancelled.

By the standards of his time Huxley, in particular, was a radical progressive. Huxley is best known for his championing of Darwin's theory of evolution, and become known as "Darwin's bulldog". 

He was a passionate opponent of slavery, He championed education for women at all levels, and backed the formation of the first women's college at Cambridge University. As a member of the London School Board he played a key role in expanding education opportunities for working people.

The problem was that he also expressed the view that the "average negro" was less intelligent than the average white, what is nowadays termed "scientific racism", a view we nowadays find odious but was almost universally held in Europe and the United States at the time, including figures like Darwin,  the radical abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, and Abraham Lincoln. 

Are they all to be cancelled? Should we judge historical figures by modern standards? Or does it make more sense to ask whether they were a force for improvement or regression in their time?

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Concerning race, Huxley was an active slavery abolitionist. Despite the fact that two sons of his favourite sister Lizzie were fighting for the pro-slavery Confederate side in the US Civil War, he declared in an 1864 address to the Ladies London Emancipation Society that “the North is justified in any expenditure of blood or of money, which shall eradicate a system hopelessly inconsistent with the moral elevation, the political freedom, or the economical progress of the American people.” He continued with a stinging attack on James Hunt’s pro-slavery paper, On the Negro’s Place in Nature, which argued “for classifying the Negro as a distinct species from the European”.

In 1865, Huxley joined the Jamaica Committee, which had been set up with the aim of prosecuting Edward Eyre, Governor of Jamaica, for his brutal suppression of the Morant Bay rebellion by freed slaves. The Committee was greatly in the minority when compared to Eyre’s supporters. Thus did Huxley find himself opposing his childhood hero, historian Thomas Carlyle, and his great friend Charles Kingsley. For joining the Jamaica Committee, Hunt (a notorious racist, even by the standards of his day) accused Huxley of “negromania.”

Concerning class, Huxley is renowned for his series of lectures for working men, which were so popular that one vicar went in disguise in order to get in, but his appointment to the London School Board led to his greatest role in giving members of the working class an equal chance in life. The Boards had been created to implement the 1870 Elementary Education Act (formally known as An Act to provide for public Elementary Education in England and Wales), a key step in introducing universal education. At that time, about half of children received no schooling at all. The London School Board widely influenced other such Boards across the country, and Huxley’s chairing of the Scheme of Education Committee was central to its success. In fact, Huxley was influential in nearly every aspect of the Board’s work, so overworking himself in 1871 that his doctor ordered rest, and he had to resign. Huxley later said, “I am glad to think that, after all these years, I can look back upon that period of my life as perhaps the part of it least wasted.”

Huxley was also influential in promoting education for women. He helped Elizabeth Garrett, the first woman to qualify as a doctor in England, in the initial steps of her career. He was also a supporter of Emily Davies, founder of Girton College, the first women’s college at Cambridge University; and he petitioned the university to open its degrees to women—though it took them another seven decades to do so. (Both Garrett and Davies sat with Huxley among the inaugural cohort of the London School Board.) In his 1865 essay Emancipation—Black and White, he wrote, “whatever argument justifies a given education for boys, justifies its application to girls as well.” Of course, this strikes us as obvious. But it was a radical idea for its time.

Why is the Right so unattractive?

Douglas Murray, UnHerd, 21 January 2022Posted Jan 22, 2022

In this article a well-known British conservative intellectual asks why moderate leftists who openly express their disdain for the extremities of identity politics, and who are ostracized for it by their erstwhile colleagues, find it so hard to defect to the Right. He argues it has a lot to do with the entanglement of the American Right with conservative religious politics, leading to positions on social issues they find hard to stomach.

In effect, Murray is saying that disillusioned leftists simply do not agree with significant parts of the standard conservative position. But why would they—and why should they? Why does a deep aversion to identity politics necessarily imply a willingness to adopt right-wing positions on abortion, or gay rights, let alone more traditional left-wing issues focused on inequality like how redistributive the tax system should be, or the proper role of government in the economy, or foreign policy?

Two decades ago Thomas Sowell, the well-known black American conservative intellectual, wrote a book titled A Conflict of Visions which sought to explain the propensity of those committed to ideological positions to line up on the same side on multiple issues often bearing little logical relationship to each other. 

Sowell thought he had an explanation in the Left and Right being bound to "open" and "constrained" visions of human possibility respectively. He makes an interesting case, but I think he is only partly right—I do not think it is that coherent, more to do with the role of group dynamics ("groupthink") leading to conformity with the total left/right packages rather than judging each issue on its merits. Or as another writer put it, ideological stances are like "McHappy meals, with no substitutions allowed".

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There are a number of possible answers to this question. The first, which many conservatives would offer (while no doubt patting themselves on the back), is that Maher somehow lacks the bravery or courage needed to commit such an act of apostasy. He may have moved Rightwards, but he is not willing to concede as much.

The second answer, which I imagine Maher himself might offer, is that he hasn’t left the Left — the Left has left him. He has stayed precisely where he was, and remains as true to his principles as ever. There is, perhaps, some truth here. But this still fails to address the key question: why, in the face of the current Leftist orthodoxies, are so many on the traditional Left reluctant to admit they now have more in common with the Right?After all, previous generations of American public figures had no problem with making a move from Left to Right and admitting as much. Both Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz flirted with Marxism before coming out for conservatism. British public life is also peppered with individuals who made similar journeys without any embarrassment: Malcolm Muggeridge, Paul Johnson and Kingsley Amis, to name but three.

Yet in America today, such apostasy is almost unheard of. There have been semi-regular defections from the Right, especially during the Trump era, when people such as Max Boot broke publicly with their own side to support a Democrat president. But there is a glaring absence of any movement in the opposite direction.

Bill Maher, Bari Weiss and a slew of other liberals who have fallen out with their own tribe have chosen not to identify as conservative. And that should be a cause for concern. Rather than ignoring this trend, conservatives need to ask themselves: what is it about the Right that is so unappealing that people who agree almost entirely with its views resile from joining its ranks?

CRT in schools— Virginia puts NSW to shame

In the recent election for governor in the US state of Virginia a key issue was Critical RAce Theory indoctrination in schools, with the successful GOP candidate Glenn Youngkin pledging to abolish it on the day he took office, which he fulfilled with a precisely worded executive order. What a contrast with the truly pathetic performance of the NSW education minister Sarah Mitchell.

Glenn Youngkin, Executive Order No. 1, 15 January 2022Posted Jan 19, 2022

A common defensive strategy of CRT advocates is to deny that the theory is being taught in schools, one belied by the obvious CRT provenance of the key concepts in school "anti-racist" trainings.

An appalling example is the "anti racism" exercise conducted at a NSW primary school last year, televised in a series of ABC documentaries. This "training", a carbon copy of a similarly named program in the UK,  instructs 10-11 year old children to focus on their racial status, and the privilege or disadvantage it confers, with "white" children and the others separated into separate "affinity groups". Truly odious stuff.

A key virtue of the Virginia executive order is the way it cuts through the obfuscation by clearly and precisely identifying the CRT- based claims that crop up in these trainings. Here in NSW,  by contrast, we have an education minister in a "conservative" government who seems to be in a state of denial about the problem. 

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The future of the Commonwealth of Virginia is chiefly dependent on the education of our children. Education has life-shaping power, and our educational system should instill in Virginia students a love for lifelong learning to ensure that they become their own best teachers. We must enable our students to take risks, to think differently, to imagine, and to see conversations regarding art, science, and history as a place where they have a voice.

Political indoctrination has no place in our classrooms. The vast majority of learning in our schools involves imparting critical knowledge and skills in math, science, history, reading and other areas that should be non-controversial. Inherently divisive concepts, like Critical Race Theory and its progeny, instruct students to only view life through the lens of race and presumes that some students are consciously or unconsciously racist, sexist, or oppressive, and that other students are victims. This denies our students the opportunity to gain important facts, core knowledge, formulate their own opinions, and to think for themselves. Our children deserve far better from their education than to be told what to think.

Instead, the foundation of our educational system should be built on teaching our students how to think for themselves. Virginia must renew its commitment to teaching our children the value of freedom of thought and diversity of ideas. We must equip our teachers to teach our students the entirety of our history – both good and bad. From the horrors of American slavery and segregation, and our country’s treatment of Native Americans, to the triumph of America’s Greatest Generation against the Nazi Empire, the heroic efforts of Americans in the Civil Rights Movement, and our country’s defeat of the Soviet Union and the ills of Communism, we must provide our students with the facts and context necessary to understand these important events. Only then will we realize Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that our children “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

The Constitution of Virginia requires that the Governor shall take care that the laws be faithfully executed. It further provides a right to be free from any governmental discrimination upon the basis of religious conviction, race, color, sex, or national origin. Critical race theory and related concepts are teaching our children to engage in the very behavior the Constitution prohibits.

For the purposes of this Executive order “inherently divisive concepts” means advancing any ideas in violation of Title IV and Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, including, but not limited to of the following concepts (i) one race, skin color, ethnicity, sex, or faith is inherently superior to another race, skin color, ethnicity, sex, or faith; (ii) an individual, by virtue of his or her race, skin color, ethnicity, sex or faith, is racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or subconsciously, (iii) an individual should be discriminated against or receive adverse treatment solely or partly because of his or her race, skin color, ethnicity, sex or faith, (iv) members of one race, ethnicity, sex or faith cannot and should not attempt to treat others as individuals without respect to race, sex or faith, (v) an individual's moral character is inherently determined by his or her race, skin color, ethnicity, sex, or faith, (vi) an individual, by virtue of his or her race, skin color, ethnicity, sex, or faith, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race, ethnicity, sex or faith, (vii) meritocracy or traits, such as a hard work ethic, are racist or sexist or were created by a particular race to oppress another race.

Covid and Big Pharma: The debate about cheap generic drugs

Have the big pharmaceutical companies conspired to undermine support for the use of cheap generic drugs in the early treatment of Covid-19, and to discredit the highly qualified clinicians who have advocated for them? This article, by one of the most prominent advocates for ivermectin, makes the case that they have.

Dr Pierre Kory, Substack, 6 January 2022Posted Jan 20, 2022

I have tried to keep track of the debate about the use of ivermectin since it was first raised by the Australian professor Thomas Borody last year.

Dr Kory and his colleagues cite over 70 studies supporting ivermectin. The problem is that they are all either retrospective observational studies, or small scale and poorly funded  randomized controlled trials, and hence of arguable credibility. Statisticians like Dr Tess Lawrie have tried to address this by doing meta-analyses of the totality of the studies. However this leads to another complex debate about which studies have sufficient credibility for inclusion.

So, how come there have been no large-scale randomized controlled trials?  According to Kory, this is because such studies are enormously expensive and are generally funded by the big drug companies, which have no interest in promoting cheap, out-of-patent drugs that might compete with new patented therapeutics they are developing.

If Kory et al are right about this, it would be the second biggest scandal of the Covid pandemic after the CCP regime and WHO lying about the transmissibility of the disease and enabling its global spread in the initial stages.

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Ivermectin, a decades-old, off-patent drug costing pennies to make, with an unparalleled safety profile and numerous manufacturers across the world, actually sits atop one of the largest and strongest clinical trials evidence base in history. The existing, massive amount of clinical trials data shows immense efficacy against COVID-19 in all its phases; prevention, early and late treatment, and long-haul syndrome (no actual trials in long-haul but rather extensive positive clinical experiences). Despite this inarguable (yes, inarguable) supportive evidence, no major Western or international health agency has recommended its use in COVID-19. Conversely, ivermectin has been officially adopted for early treatment in all or part of 23 “less developed” countries (39 if you include non-government medical organizations), and which include about 25% of the world’s population.

Now, before we delve deeper into the workings of the most heinous disinformation campaign ever waged by the pharmaceutical industry in history (and also it’s most successful so far as 75% of the earth’s inhabitants still have not been recommended to use it to treat COVID), I will ask you not to just “take my word for it" but instead take you on a brief, guided tour of the insanely positive evidence base supporting the use of ivermectin in COVID-19.

Cancelled New York Times journalist's anti-woke manifesto

The author of this article, Bari Weiss, is a former journalist and editor at the New York Times and a self-described centrist who resigned after being subjected to a relentless campaign of vilification and harassment for not toing the line favored by young activists at the journal who see journalism as a species of activism and the ideal of objectivity is deprecated. This is her anti-woke manifesto.

Bari Weiss, Commentary, November 2021Posted Jan 17, 2022

Weiss' resignation letter is devastating. She describes a culture marked by bullying and harassment of anyone guilty of Wrongthink. She was called a Nazi and a racist, her work and character openly demeaned on company websites, other journalists perceived as friendly to her were badgered by co-workers.

The once esteemed newspaper, she alleges, has become a "performance space", with Twitter as its "ultimate editor", increasingly oblivious to the concerns of ordinary people, the famed "paper of record" now the record of those living in a distant galaxy.

This article elaborates on her concerns about the prevailing culture and ideology. It is her manifesto—and a very good one it is too, well worth reading in full.

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A lot of people want to convince you that you need a Ph.D. or a law degree or dozens of hours of free time to read dense texts about critical theory to understand the woke movement and its worldview. You do not. You simply need to believe your own eyes and ears.

Let me offer the briefest overview of the core beliefs of the Woke Revolution, which are abundantly clear to anyone willing to look past the hashtags and the jargon.

It begins by stipulating that the forces of justice and progress are in a war against backwardness and tyranny. And in a war, the normal rules of the game must be suspended. Indeed, this ideology would argue that those rules are not just obstacles to justice, but tools of oppression. They are the master’s tools. And the master’s tools cannot dismantle the master’s house.

So the tools themselves are not just replaced but repudiated. And in so doing, persuasion—the purpose of argument—is replaced with public shaming. Moral complexity is replaced with moral certainty. Facts are replaced with feelings.

Ideas are replaced with identity. Forgiveness is replaced with punishment. Debate is replaced with de-platforming. Diversity is replaced with homogeneity of thought. Inclusion, with exclusion.

In this ideology, speech is violence. But violence, when carried out by the right people in pursuit of a just cause, is not violence at all. In this ideology, bullying is wrong, unless you are bullying the right people, in which case it’s very, very good. In this ideology, education is not about teaching people how to think, it’s about reeducating them in what to think. In this ideology, the need to feel safe trumps the need to speak truthfully.

What if democracy and climate mitigation are incompatible?

The author of this article argues that democracies are inherently incapable of effectively addressing climate change because of the tendency of political processes to seek compromise solutions that are inadequate in the face of an existential crisis. So, what is the solution? He suggests a combination of grass-roots campaigns, judicial activism and pressure from the finance and tech oligarchs.

Cameron Abadi, Foreign Policy, 7 January 2022Posted Jan 18, 2022

This is one of a number of recent pieces in the pro-globalist Foreign Policy magazine that call for solutions that bypass democratic processes, to be replaced by  systems of elite decision-making backed by activist judiciaries and grass-roots campaigns.

In effect, a new autocracy pretty much as described in Joel Kotkin's article that I have also included in this week's readings (see above). 

Abadi does at least acknowledge at the end of his piece that authoritarian solutions may be no better than democratic ones. I would say it is a prescription for an inegalitarian dystopia of yawning inequality and heightened social tensions as the disenfranchised butt up against new ruling elites.

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Representatives from the U.S. and German governments say their policies are the result of the necessary compromises demanded by the democratic process. But it’s fair to wonder whether that’s just another way of restating the problem. According to the climate science, the timelines to limit warming aren’t an expression of subjectively perceived urgency but objective measures defined by the boundary of a catastrophic climate tipping point. In a 2018 report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a U.N. group of climate scientists, declared that achieving carbon neutrality by midcentury was the only way to prevent global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees—beyond which, Arctic ice would melt (and ocean levels would rise) far more quickly, humans would more frequently suffer heat death, and vast numbers of species, from insects to sea coral, would end up on the verge of extinction.

In other words: Democracy works by compromise, but climate change is precisely the type of problem that seems not to allow for it. As the clock on those climate timelines continues to tick, this structural mismatch is becoming increasingly exposed. And as a result, those concerned by climate change—some already with political power, others grasping for it—are now searching for, and finding, new ways of closing the gap between politics and science, by any means necessary.

...

But it’s not only bottom-up activists who are engaging in politics outside the normal channels of electoral democracy. Germany’s constitutional court is a case in point. In a surprise ruling in April 2021, the judges on the court declared that the climate policies passed by the government of then-Chancellor Angela Merkel were insufficient on the basis of the rights of young people to live their future lives in an undamaged environment. This was not a right that anyone in the German government had previously believed was anchored in the constitution—but the ruling left them no choice but to pass a law accelerating their existing climate plans. In recent years, courts from Australia to Pakistan and across the entirety of Europe have issued similar judgments in favor of climate policy, forcing their respective governments to act.

At the same time, the arcane world of central banking is also turning to radical means to stem the effects of climate change. There’s a growing recognition among policymakers that the businesses resisting climate policy are ultimately subordinate to the economic rules set by the policymakers themselves—whether or not they’re given a mandate by the public to use the fullest extent of their power.

Among these figures is Mark Carney, former governor of the Bank of England and head of the global Financial Stability Board, where he established the Task Force on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures, which has set the terms for green finance now accepted by many of the world’s leading banks and asset managers. In 2017, Carney helped found the Network for Greening the Financial System, which aims to throw the weight of key financial institutions behind the goals of the Paris Agreement. Last year, the group announced that participating banks would commit to spending $130 trillion on green investments.

Yes, there is a counter revolution

This is an important read— the most comprehensive account I have yet read of the pervasiveness of the woke revolution in America, which accelerated enormously after the George Floyd killing. It describes how it has permeated all sectors of American society, but it doesn't leave it at that. It ends on an optimistic note, describing the counter-revolution bubbling up from the grass-roots, something we have sadly yet to see in Australia.

Abe Greenwald, Commentary, February 2022Posted Jan 19, 2022

The first three quarters make for a pretty depressing reading. Greenwald describes the staggering success of the identarian penetration of higher education (where it was incubated), the media, the political "left", and most amazingly the corporate sector. The latter has undergirded the revolution with staggering financial contributions to activist groups and NGOs— we are talking billions of dollars.

The good news is that in the past few months, key aspects of the revolution have come under sustained pressure, as the consequences of "defund the police" initiatives have started to bear their rotten fruit in exploding crime rates in urban areas mainly populated by the Black and Hispanic people that are supposed to be its beneficiaries. 

He also describes the parent's resistance to racist indoctrination in schools that draw on the pernicious doctrine known as Critical Race Theory, which became a key focus in last November's gubernatorial election in Virginia with disastrous results for the Democrats.

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All evidence indicates that the revolutionaries have seen steady progress on many fronts. Their impact on the country has been both gargantuan and lasting. But there is real cause for hope. Because the revolution has systematically intruded on the safety and well-being of everyday citizens, a growing movement of Americans is rejecting it. And these anti-revolutionaries have won some big battles. What’s more, several key political figures—liberals, in fact—have turned against some of the revolution’s core demands.

Yes, it’s still a revolution. But it’s now also a fight.

...

Soon after the summer of 2020, the mass riots ceased. The armed occupied zones of the cities in the Pacific Northwest vanished. Congressional Democrats threw off their multicolored stoles and rose to their feet. The cancellations and denunciations of those who offend revolutionary sensibilities faded from the front page. So, too, did stories about tearing down historic statues, the reshaping of institutions around identity politics, and radical demands to cancel rent payments. And, finally, calls for defunding the police quieted down. It’s easy to look at this seeming de-escalation as evidence that the revolution never quite got off the ground after all.

But look closer. The riots stopped because the rioters and armed occupiers achieved their aims, and in no time at all. The police were comprehensively defunded. By the start of 2021, New York City had stripped its police budget of almost $1 billion, with ex-Mayor Bill de Blasio’s promise to do so secured on July 1, 2020, one month after the revolution began. Around the same time, Los Angeles cut $150 million from the LAPD. Philadelphia did the same, to the tune of $33 million. The list goes on. At least a dozen major American cities choked off great sums once directed toward law enforcement.

...

So the greatest transgressions of the revolution are being beaten back, while its more pervasive, quotidian demands are continually reinforced through inertia. But beyond the CRT and defund fights, there are additional signs that the revolution is losing some of its cultural sway. Multiple polls show that Hispanic Americans, for example, are increasingly rejecting the Democratic Party and the revolution’s radical policies advanced for the supposed benefit of “people of color.” In a Democracy Fund Voter Study Group survey done after last November’s election, Hispanics opposed defunding or shrinking the police by at least 2 to 1. The term woke, once embraced as a kind of revolutionary catch-all, is in bad odor, with radicals running away from the label at every turn.

How our universities became sheep factories

A Cambridge philosophy professor expresses dismay at the indoctrination of students at his and other universities that is passed off as "diversity training" and "race awareness" where students are expected to accept unquestioningly certain ideologically loaded propositions such as "racism is everywhere" and acknowledge their personal guilt.

Arif Ahmed, Unherd, 14 January 2022Posted Jan 15, 2022

The author describes the scope of indoctrination taking place in some of the most prestigious universities in the UK—as well as his own institution he mentions St Andrews, Edinburgh, Goldsmiths, Oxford Medical School, and a number of others.

Most universities nowadays style themselves as "anti-racist" institutions, a term that has a specific meaning in the Critical Race Theory lexicon that goes way beyond the common-sense understanding of the term.

The author, unsurprisingly given his academic discipline, is particularly appalled that participants in racial awareness trainings are admonished to not "intellectualize" about it, the antithesis of what a university should be about, in his view.

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Communism has passed away. But the production of souls, or rather their engineering, survives in the capitalist Anglosphere. In our Higher Education sector it doesn’t just survive — it thrives, in the form of political indoctrination passed off as “training” or “mission statements”, specifically on the Thirty-nine Articles de nos jours: racism, unconscious bias, transphobia and the rest of it.

St Andrew’s, for instance, insists that students pass a “diversity” module in order to matriculate. Questions include: “Acknowledging your personal guilt is a useful starting point in overcoming unconscious bias. Do you agree or disagree?” The only permitted answer is “agree”. But what if you don’t feel, and don’t want to accept, personal guilt for anything? What if you think (like Nietzsche) that guilt itself is counterproductive? As one student aptly commented, “Such issues are never binary and the time would be better spent discussing the issue, rather than taking a test on it.”

My own university, Cambridge, wants academic staff to undergo “race awareness” training. This advises you to “assume racism is everywhere”. Attendees are also reminded that “this is not a space for intellectualising the topic”. You might have thought “intellectualising” — ie thinking about — it is the kind of thing Cambridge academics should do. But don’t feel bad about getting that wrong; or at least, don’t feel bad about feeling bad: we are also told that these sessions aim at “working through” the feelings of shame and guilt that you might have on your journey in “developing an antiracist identity”.

Welcome to the end of democracy

Are we headed into an era of inequality so pronounced as to warrant describing it as neo-feudalism? The author cites a range of statistics and developments to support this contention, with a particular focus on global technology and finance oligarchs, people able to fund their own space programs, and the hollowing out and social marginalization of the working and middle classes.

Joel Kotkin, The Spectator, 8 January 2022Posted Jan 17, 2022

The trend to greater inequality is a familiar story, but the author adds some new twists, such as the emergence of a new "clerisy" in the media, academia and the bureaucracy, analogous to the Catholic Church in medieval Europe, whose role is to justify the new order. 

It is a bleak scenario but he cites some impressive data to back it up. One point he does not address is the increasingly close relations between the tech/finance oligarchs and the CCP regime in China, which is creating a surveillance state beyond what even Orwell could envisage, intent on becoming the global hegemon with the Western elites in its pockets.

The situation Kotkin describes calls to mind the American social-democratic philosopher Michael Walzer's theory of "complex equality" described in his book Spheres of Justice where he makes the case for thinking of equality in terms of multiple social goods—wealth, political power, technical expertise, and that possession of one such good should not enable dominance of another, such as wealthy being able to buy political power.

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e bemoan autocracies in Latin America, the Middle East, Africa, Russia and China but largely ignore the more subtle authoritarian trend in the West. Don’t expect a crudely effective dictatorship out of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four: we may remain, as we are now, nominally democratic, but be ruled by a technocratic class empowered by greater powers of surveillance than those enjoyed by even the nosiest of dictatorships.

The new autocracy rises from a relentless economic concentration which has engendered a new and fabulously wealthy elite. Five years ago, around four hundred billionaires owned as much as half of the world’s assets. Today, only one hundred billionaires own that share, and Oxfam reduces that number to a mere twenty-six. In avowedly socialist China, the top one per cent of the population holds about one-third of the country’s wealth, up from 20 per cent two decades ago. Since 1978, China’s Gini coefficient, which measures inequality of wealth distribution, has tripled.

An OECD report issued before the Covid pandemic finds that almost everywhere, the non-rich share of national wealth has declined. These trends can be seen even in social democracies like Sweden and Germany. In the United States, as the conservative economist John Michaelson put it succinctly in 2018, the economic legacy of the last decade is 'excessive corporate consolidation, a massive transfer of wealth to the top one per cent from the middle class.'

The digital economy is similarly dominated by a small group of giant firms. These overlords together exercise control of up to 90 per cent of critical markets such as basic computer operating systems, social media, online search advertising and book sales. No longer satisfied with controlling the pipelines, the tech oligarchy increasing buys up old news outlets and 'curates' the news to its tastes. It increasingly dominates mainstream entertainment too: the pending sale of MGM to Amazon is just the most recent example of its conquest and consolidation of the means of communication.

...

Wealth cannot rule on its own. Autocracy needs a proselytising class who can justify the rulers and salve the distressed souls of the lower orders. In medieval times, the Catholic Church served this role, essentially justifying the feudal order as the expression of divine will. Today’s version, a sort of clerisy or intelligentsia, is mostly not religious and consists of people from the upper bureaucracy, academia, and the culture and media industries.

China's sway over Australian universities

How to assess the extent and significance of CCP corruption of Australia's universities? In this insightful analysis, the author argues there is more to it than the occasional threat to fee income from Chinese students. He contends that research funding is a more important source of leverage, especially in STEM fields.

Salvatore Babones, Quadrant, 29 December 2021Posted Jan 17, 2022

There is widespread awareness of and concern about the dependance of universities on fee income from Chinese students, and the vulnerability of this to the regime turning off the tap if relations deteriorate. There is also concern about the Confucius Institutes, which some CCP figures have openly identified as part of the regime's global propaganda apparatus.

But possibly a far more significant source of leverage are the research partnerships between Australian and Chinese universities in fields like quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and the hard sciences more generally. Babones argues these partnerships are key to the "group of eight" most prestigious universities moving up the international research pecking order in recent times, a crucial aspect of institutional prestige.

The impact of this is more pernicious than the few cases of crude censorship of teachers and students. Babones argues the more significant impact is the research not done, the  courses not held, if they are likely to tread on sensitive topics likely to offend the CCP. 

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It is true that many Australian universities (especially, but not exclusively, Group of Eight universities) are indeed highly dependent on Chinese international student fee revenue, some of them for as much as one-quarter of their total revenues from all sources. But this revenue stream is, under ordinary circumstances, not directly influenced by relations between individual universities and the Chinese government. In fact, China has never previously “weaponised” student flows as a tool of international relations, despite many threats to do so. There is even less evidence to suggest that it has ever steered students away from individual universities in an attempt to influence their behaviour. This may have happened, or (more likely) universities might fear that it could happen, but it is not a major factor in universities” relationships with China.

Universities’ research relationships with China, by contrast, are much more thoroughly politicised. For example, the US Ivy League’s Cornell University was forced to suspend research collaboration with a Chinese counterpart in 2015 due to Chinese government harassment. The program involved sensitive research into workers rights in China. Few Australian universities are so courageous. Research sponsored by the ANU’s Centre on China in the World sponsors research in five areas that range from the uncontroversial (“Sustainable Urbanisation” and “Energy Transition”) to the celebratory (a “Politics, Policy and Society” program that will investigate the “adaptations in public policy [that] are driving China’s re-emergence as a world power”). Until recently, the University of Sydney’s China Studies Centre focused on “climate change, health services, cultural heritage and new technologies”. The Australia-China Relations Institute (ACRI) at UTS focuses on trade and investment. Late to the game, in 2018 UNSW opened a research centre in China “dedicated to environmental protection”.

Unlike Cornell’s research into working conditions in China, none of these Australian initiatives is likely to make waves. Individual scholars at each of these universities, and even some who are associated with their respective China studies centres, may conduct research that is critical of China. That research may even, in some cases, be funded by the centres—though it is unlikely to be foregrounded on their websites. Contrary to some public perceptions, Australian universities do not systematically suppress research that is critical of China, and academic freedom is alive and well in Australia. The China threat to Australian research autonomy is much more subtle than the media portrays. Despite a handful of ham-fisted attempts to quash criticism, it consists mainly of initiatives not pursued, academics not hired, and research not funded. The strategic research initiatives of Australian universities are just that—strategic. No Australian university is likely to consider it strategic to use discretionary funds to support research that is highly critical of China.

Victims of the unvaccinated

Should the unvaccinated face discrimination in priority of treatment when a hospital system is under severe stress? The world's most famous—or notorious, depending on your point of view— moral philosopher argues that they should.

Peter Singer, Project Syndicate, 5 January 2022Posted Jan 14, 2022

Singer opens his piece by describing a case of a patient at a hospital in rural Iowa who was admitted for sepsis and became acutely ill, requiring surgery at a larger hospital, but was unable to be transferred  in time to save his life due to a lack of spare beds due to the large number of Covid patients.

Singer then asks, if people who could be vaccinated voluntarily but choose not to, why should they not bear the consequences of their decision. As usual, Singer lays out his case clearly and precisely, as befits a professional philosopher. It is, however, the sort of proposition that, as any politician would no, would not survive the first time any government tried to implement it.

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The family of Dale Weeks, who died last month at the age of 78, would disagree. Weeks was a patient at a small hospital in rural Iowa, being treated for sepsis. The hospital sought to transfer him to a larger hospital where he could have surgery, but a surge in COVID-19 patients, almost all of them unvaccinated, meant that there were no spare beds. It took 15 days for Weeks to obtain a transfer, and by then, it was too late.

Weeks became another of the many indirect victims of COVID-19 – people who never had the virus, but died because others who did were taking up scarce health-care resources, especially beds in intensive care units. His daughter said: “The thing that bothers me the most is people’s selfish decision not to get vaccinated and the failure to see how this affects a greater group of people. That’s the part that’s really difficult to swallow.”

Meritocracy's cost

This is a review, written by a well-known conservative, of a book by a left-wing author that challenges the idea that a society that functions as a pure meritocracy is either desirable or just. Rather than a hostile review, it expresses a surprising degree of concurrence with the author's concerns.

Charles Murray, Claremont Review of Books, Summer 2021Posted Jan 13, 2022

The review's author is Charles Murray, who has argued that with the wide availability of educational opportunities we have seen the emergence of a "cognitive elite", a genuine meritocracy based on innate ability rather than inherited privilege, with the elite living profoundly different lives to those confined to more mundane occupations (or none).

But is this good, or just? And what are its broader implications for societal cohesion? Murray has given considerable attention to these issues in a number of books and articles. In this review, he seems to find a kindred spirit in the  left-leaning political philosopher Michael Sandel as expressed in his new book The Tyranny of Merit.  

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What about our personal responsibility—our merit—when it comes to taking advantage of our unearned gifts? How much credit or blame do we deserve for our industriousness, conscientiousness, self-discipline, charm, and other traits that contribute to success in life? In each case, we must recognize some degree of luck and constraint. I have unexceptional interpersonal skills, for example. I could improve my interpersonal skills to some degree, but I don’t kid myself that I could ever be a Bill Clinton or Bill Buckley. I have also worked unusually long hours all my adult life, but self-discipline has had nothing to do with it. I’ve been enjoying myself. Everyone has similar reasons for saying to oneself both “it’s not my fault” about some traits and “I actually can’t take much credit for it” for others. We are being realistic in doing so. And yet I nonetheless have a sense that I have exerted myself in ways that I can justly take credit for—I made rewarding choices that others with equal gifts didn’t make. That belief, valid or not in an abstract sense, is a source of personal satisfaction and as such represents the upside of meritocracy for human flourishing. More broadly, it is a good thing to give everyone a chance to fulfill his potential. A meritocratic society is “doubly inspiring,” in Sandel’s words. “It affirms a powerful notion of freedom, and it gives people what they have earned for themselves and therefore deserve.” The problem arises when people neglect their inner sense of the limits and constraints on their personal abilities. “It is one thing to hold people responsible for acting morally; it is something else to assume that we are, each of us, wholly responsible for our lot in life.”

As Young predicted, far too many members of today’s elites really do believe that they deserve their place in the world. They have gotten too big for their britches. They are unseemly, albeit in different ways. The billionaire’s 30,000-square-foot home is visibly unseemly. But so is a faculty lounge of academics making snide remarks about rednecks—meaning the people without whom the academics would have no working mechanical transportation, be in the dark after sundown, have to use chamber pots, and, literally, starve. Today’s elites have a remarkable obliviousness about the lives and contributions of ordinary people that bespeaks an unseemly indifference—not to mention disdain—for those people.

The dispensable Mrs Merkel

Angela Merkel has finished her sixteen year tenure as German Chancellor. How should we assess the record of this once-deemed indispensable political figure? The author of this article takes a pretty dim view, pointing to her handling of the refugee influx in 2015, deciding to close down nuclear power stations, and her promotion of the Nordstream pipelines.

John O'Sullivan, Quadrant magazine, 10 January 2022Posted Jan 14, 2022

The full impact of Merkel's actions, especially encouraging the huge influx of people in 2015,  will take time to play out. The closing of the nuclear power stations, some of which are quite new, has forced Germany to revert to burning lignite coal and increased its dependance on Russian gas.

And what about Merkel's effect on German politics more generally, with the steady weakening of the CDU-CSU suffering its worst ever result (24 percent of the national vote) in 2021.

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Her decision to close down Germany’s nuclear power program—again, a decision she took “almost alone”—has led not only to Germany having the highest energy prices in Europe but also to its continued reliance on coal to handle the “intermittency” problem of renewables.

She prevented reform of the euro in the 2015 Greek crisis, trapping Greece in a debtor’s prison and inflicting stagnation, high youth unemployment and emigration on Mediterranean Europe.

Her promotion of the undersea Nordstream pipelines 1 and 2, against the objections of Washington and Brussels, increased Germany’s and Europe’s over-reliance on Russian energy while enabling Putin to use energy pricing and supplies as weapons against Poland and Ukraine.

Her 2008 veto of George Bush’s proposal to invite Ukraine and Georgia to join NATO effectively invited Putin to invade both countries, which he promptly did—a result hardly redeemed by what the Economist regards as her standing up to Putin by imposing sanctions on Russia.

Her most negative triumph, however, is the extraordinary fact that although she won five elections in a row, she progressively weakened her own Christian Democrat Party in Germany and its party group, the European People’s Party, in the European Parliament.

America's asymmetric civil war

Since the 1980s American politics has become increasingly polarized, as many have noted. This article draws attention to how this has coincided with a dramatic change in the social makeup of the support bases of the two main parties. In terms of income and wealth, he likens the Democratic party base to an hourglass, whereas the G0P resembles a diamond.

Michael Lind, Tablet Magazine, 6 January 2022Posted Jan 14, 2022

The Democrats have become the party of the super-rich—tech billionaires, CEOs in the finance sector, the managerial class generally, together with a coalition of minorities, especially Blacks and Hispanics.

According to the author, this has implications for the geographical spread of the respective support bases, which cannot be reduced to city versus country but a more complicated picture, between Democrat dominated downtowns, including in "red" (GOP dominated) states where inner-city elites can turn to the federal government or the courts to seek redress against conservative state governments.

The author does not consider recent evidence of a fracturing in the Democratic coalition, particularly as it concerns Hispanics, exemplified by the recent election for the governorship of Virginia, where the  Republican candidate won the Hispanic vote by nine percent, and recent ballots in border counties of Texas where Republicans won with massive swings in formerly safe Democrat areas.

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Ignore maps that show electoral results by state and look at county maps or maps of U.S. House districts. At this level of granularity, state borders disappear. There are no red states or blue states. Instead, there are blue urban cores floating in a sea of red. Even the exurbs and rural areas in blue states like California and New York tend to be overwhelmingly red and Republican.

This is not a difference between “city” and “country.” Hardly any Americans live or work on farms or ranches anymore. The big divide is within metro areas, between the blue downtowns and their inner-ring suburbs that are home to the American oligarchy and its children and retainers, and the red exurbs; outer-ring suburbs tend to be battlegrounds between the Democratic and Republican coalitions. This geographic concentration hurts the Democrats in the Senate and the Electoral College. At the same time, Democratic blue core cities in majority red states can often circumvent state governments by appealing directly to Congress and to the enforcement layers of the federal bureaucracy and judiciary, as well as to the media and corporate elites controlled by the national party.

The Democratic coalition is an hourglass, top-heavy and bottom-heavy with a narrow middle. In addition to hoovering up the votes of college-educated Americans, the Democrats are the party of the Big Rich—tech billionaires and CEOs, investment banking houses, and the managerial class that spans large corporate enterprises and aligned prestige federal agencies like the Justice Department and the national security agencies. This mostly white and Asian American group cannot win elections without the overwhelming support of Black Americans, and smaller majorities of Hispanic and Asian American voters, clustered in the downtowns and inner suburbs. The high cost of living in Democratic hub cities forces out the multiracial middle; the exceptions tend to be civil servants like police and first responders and teachers who can (sometimes) afford to live in or near their downtown jobs.

 

Biden's budget priorities and the China threat

The CCP regime is massively expanding its military capabilities both in size and technological sophistication to the point where it will soon be, if it is not already, a peer military competitor to the United States in the Asia-Pacific region, and set to overtake it in the years to come. Is this situation adequately reflected in the Biden administration's budgetary priorities?

Chris Farrell, Gatestone Institute, 12 January 2022Posted Jan 14, 2022

The Chinese buildup has been extraordinary. Already, the PLA navy has more warships than the US. The entire civil merchant fleet, including fishing vessels, is now being built to military specifications enabling there use in amphibious operations such as invading Taiwan. The regime recently tested a hypersonic missile, a technology that is very difficult for missile defence systems to defeat.

Yet the Biden administration has frozen its military budget, indeed reduced when inflation is factored in, despite vast increases in other areas of expenditure. The author of this piece contends the administration is suffering from ideologically induced myopia about the seriousness of this threat, with potentially disastrous consequences.

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Which is more urgent?: Does the US need a nearly $5 trillion budget for an immediate deterrence to China's biowarfare and military buildup, or for climate change and green programs? And are those climate change and green programs largely paybacks to campaign donors and to China?

The Communist Chinese are redrawing the maps of the world, from the South China Sea to the Panama Canal to Equatorial Guinea. They are advancing technologically and practically through a coordinated military, scientific and economic strategy that seeks to outstrip the United States completely within a decade.

The Biden administration has its own priorities and vision, domestically and with respect to our defense posture. A 2022 budget that may reach nearly $5 trillion dollars has many social programs but an unexceptional defense budget -- and it lacks a coherent strategy or focus for dealing with the persistent and growing challenges from China.

Proposed new terrorism law would exclude jihadists

As part of its response to the Capitol riot, the Biden administration has proposed a new domestic terrorism law that would shift the focus overwhelmingly towards "white supremacist" groups. According to former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy, who led the prosecution of the "blind sheik" who organized the earlier attack on the World Trade Center, the new law would effectively exclude jihadist terror from its ambit.

According to McCarthy, the law would break new ground by specifically addressing offences already well covered by existing federal and state laws. However it is highly selective in its targeting of "domestic terrorists", focusing on white supremacists and neo-Nazis, what the Democrats regard as right-wing  terrorism, including Trump-inspired insurrections in the wake of the Capitol riot.

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Section 2 provides a definition for “domestic terrorism.” Sounds sensible . . . until you remember that federal law already has a definition of domestic terrorism. The term is codified by Section 2331(5) of the criminal code. It’s been there for a long time, and it’s perfectly fine. So why would we need another one?

Obviously, Democrats are not defining but redefining. The point is not to clarify what is already clear about domestic terrorism. It is to carve out an exemption from the definition — specifically, to create a new safe haven for a very specific category of terrorist.

Reuters: FBI finds scant evidence U.S. Capitol attack was co-ordinated

According to a Reuters report, the FBI has found little evidence that the Jan 6 riot was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election by right-wing groups or supporters of Donald Trump.

Maybe this explains the mystery that that authors at Mother Jones grappled with (see accompanying item in this newsletter): if this a coup or an armed insurrection, how come nobody has, to date, been charged with sedition or insurrection, as prescribed in the US criminal code? Possibly a better explanation than their nominated reason, the prevalence of "white supremacy".

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WASHINGTON, Aug 20 (Reuters) - The FBI has found scant evidence that the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol was the result of an organized plot to overturn the presidential election result, according to four current and former law enforcement officials.

Though federal officials have arrested more than 570 alleged participants, the FBI at this point believes the violence was not centrally coordinated by far-right groups or prominent supporters of then-President Donald Trump, according to the sources, who have been either directly involved in or briefed regularly on the wide-ranging investigations.

"Ninety to ninety-five percent of these are one-off cases," said a former senior law enforcement official with knowledge of the investigation. "Then you have five percent, maybe, of these militia groups that were more closely organized. But there was no grand scheme with Roger Stone and Alex Jones and all of these people to storm the Capitol and take hostages."

How to deal with the "seditionists"

In my article on the Capitol riot and its aftermath I mentioned an article in The Atlantic magazine by Anne Applebaum, a well known and highly respected journalist and historian who has written a number of important books, including an excellent history of the Gulag that I read a long time ago. It seems the Capitol riot has caused her to lose perspective, to put it mildly. She thinks the tens of millions who harbour doubts about the election are best described as "seditionists".

To be fair, she does not suggest those she calls seditionists should actually be charged with sedition. Sedition (actually "seditionist conspiracy") is a very serious offence under the US criminal code (by the way, not one of the Capitol accused has been charged with either sedition or insurrection). 

No, Applebaum favours a kinder, gentler approach—you know, how "progressives" often talk about the need for a "conversation", by which they don't mean a two-way exchange but rather a monologue in which the ignorant rubes are set straight, stuff like "training and counseling to help them assimilate". A kinder, gentler approach. The idea that the rubes might have a legitimate viewpoint to be debated is not even worth consideration.

Of course, not all "progressives" are as kind and gentle as Applebaum. Has she stopped to consider what this kind of typecasting might suggest in the minds of some of her less kind ideological soul mates, especially those in the security state?

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As a group, it’s hard to know what to call them. They are too many to merit the term extremists. There are not enough of them to be secessionists. Some prominent historians and philosophers have been arguing for a revival of the word fascist; others think white supremacist is more appropriate, though there could also be a case for rebel. For want of a better term, I’m calling all of them seditionists—not just the people who took part in the riot, but the far larger number of Americans who are united by their belief that Donald Trump won the election, that Joe Biden lost, and that a long list of people and institutions are lying about it: Congress, the media, Mike Pence, the election officials in all 50 states, and the judges in dozens of courts.

But how? Clearly we need regulation of social media, but that’s years away. Of course we need better education, but that doesn’t help us deal with the armed men who were standing outside the Ohio statehouse this week.

...

America’s situation is nowhere near as extreme (though it will be if the Oath Keepers and the Proud Boys retreat into the Rocky Mountains for half a century), but some of the Colombian program’s principles have useful resonance. It focuses on the long term, offering former outcasts the hope of a positive future, and providing training and counseling designed to help them assimilate. Not everyone will like the idea, but America’s seditionists arguably pose a similarly long-term social problem. True believers—especially those who are unemployed, underemployed, or so far down the conspiracy-theory rabbit hole that they can no longer cope with ordinary life—are part of an intense, deeply connected, and, to them, profoundly satisfying community. In order to be pried away from it, they will have to be offered some appealing alternative, just as the ex–FARC members are offered the alternative of a legal life in society.

The failure of "Latinx"

How disappointing for "progressives". The people formerly labelled Latino, deemed sexist because nouns are gendered in Spanish and use of the male form thereby constitutes "violence" against women, have overwhelmingly rejected the ugly neologism Latinx".

This is yet another example of bearers of "oppressed" identities going off-script. Like Black people who, when polled, reject by large margins idiocies like defunding the police.

And it is not even close. A poll by Politico found only 2 percent of Hispanics favour Latinx, with 68 going for Hispanic and 21 for the gendered forms Latino or Latina. 

More generally, it is becoming ever clearer that most Hispanic people cannot stand this woke drivel. In the recent elections in Virginia for the governor and other positions, the Republicans unexpectedly swept the board after a campaign that gave prominence to Critical Race Theory in schools, winning the Hispanic vote by nine percent (Biden won it by 20 percent in 2020). 

It looks like the Democrats hope that demographic change will guarantee them long-term electoral success may be ill-founded.

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“Latinx” may end up being a woke experiment that failed, showing the vast gap between the identity-politics-obsessed progressives earnestly talking to one another in seminar rooms and on social media and the Hispanics in whose name they presume to speak.

“Latinx” is a project cut from the same cloth as the endless extension of LGBTQ, which, as of this writing, is now more properly and comprehensively rendered as LGBTQQIP2SAA.

The alleged problem that “Latinx” was invented to fix is that is Spanish has gendered nouns. This means that using the male “Latino” as an adjective to describe men and women of Latin American ancestry, let alone transgender and nonbinary people, is supposedly exclusionary, hateful, and downright dangerous. As a handbook on the terminology by a Princeton scholar explains, “to default to the masculine gender promotes interpersonal violence against women and nonbinary individuals.”

“Latinx” rose from the ashes of its predecessor neologism “Latin@,” an attempted amalgamation of the -o at the end of the Latino and the -a at the end of “Latina.” But no one knew how to pronounce the word. It was deemed insufficiently woke because the -o was supposedly graphically dominating the -a. (Yes, this is how some people think.) And it caused confusion on social media where the @ sign is used to tag someone.

...

Out in the real world, “Latinx” polls even more poorly than Joe Biden does. A Politico poll found that only 2 percent of Hispanics prefer the term, while 68 percent opt for “Hispanic” and 21 percent favor “Latino” or “Latina.” The term is considered offensive to 40 percent of respondents, and 30 percent said that they are less likely to support a politician or group using it.

The histrionics and melodrama around 1/6

This article by Glen Greenwald, the left-wing American journalist who I cited in my own article in The Australian newspaper, provides a brilliant characterization of what actually happened on 6 January 2021, and the implications of what followed in the year since. His description of the inane festivities in Congress and the media on the anniversary is priceless.

Greenwald is a very interesting character. In 2014 he co-founded the left-wing online magazine The Intercept but was forced out last year.

The reason? He thought the Hunter Biden laptop story, which raised the serious prospect that both Hunter and Joe Biden could be compromised due to dubious dealings with America's chief geopolitical adversary, the CCP regime in China, should be covered, rather than covered up as it was by the mainstream media and social media.

He has long been a critic of the American "security state" and sees significant analogies between the responses to the 9/11 attack and the Capitol riot, of both of which he is  a severe critic. They both, according to his argument, are marked by the wild inflation of threat levels to justify measures that, in normal circumstances, would not be considered, while acknowledging that in the case of 9/11 the threat was real enough, unlike the farcical, hapless "armed insurrection" of 1/6.

I think this is the best thing written about the Capitol riot. Well worth reading in full.

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The number of people killed by pro-Trump supporters at the January 6 Capitol riot is equal to the number of pro-Trump supporters who brandished guns or knives inside the Capitol. That is the same number as the total of Americans who — after a full year of a Democrat-led DOJ conducting what is heralded as “the most expansive federal law enforcement investigation in US history” — have been charged with inciting insurrection, sedition, treason or conspiracy to overthrow the government as a result of that riot one year ago. Coincidentally, it is the same number as Americans who ended up being criminally charged by the Mueller probe of conspiring with Russia over the 2016 election, and the number of wounds — grave or light — which AOC, who finally emerged at night to assure an on-edge nation that she was “okay" while waiting in an office building away from the riot at the rotunda, sustained on that solemn day.

That number is zero. But just as these rather crucial facts do not prevent the dominant wing of the U.S. corporate media and Democratic Party leaders from continuing to insist that Donald Trump's 2016 election victory was illegitimate due to his collusion with the Kremlin, it also does not prevent January 6 from being widely described in those same circles as an Insurrection, an attempted coup, an event as traumatizing as Pearl Harbor (2,403 dead) or the 9/11 attack (2,977 dead), and as the gravest attack on American democracy since the mid-19th Century Civil War (750,000 dead). The Huffington Post's White House reporter S.V. Date said that it was wrong to compare 1/6 to 9/11, because the former — the three-hour riot at the Capitol — was “1,000 percent worse.”

Indeed, when it comes to melodrama, histrionics, and exploitation of fear levels from the 1/6 riot, there has never been any apparent limit. And today — the one-year anniversary of that three-hour riot — there is no apparent end in sight. Too many political and media elites are far too vested in this maximalist narrative for them to relinquish it voluntarily.

The orgy of psychodrama today was so much worse and more pathetic than I expected — and I expected it to be extremely bad and pathetic. “House Democrats [waited] their turn on the House floor to talk to Dick Cheney as a beacon for American democracy,” reported CNN's Edward-Isaac Dovere; “One by one, Democrats are coming over to introduce themselves to former VP Dick Cheney and shake his hand,” added ABC News’ Ben Siegel. Nancy Pelosi gravely introduced Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton to sermonize and sing about the importance of American democracy. The Huffington Post's senior politics reporter Igor Bobic unironically expressed gratitude for “the four legged emotional support professionals roaming the Capitol this week, helping officers, staffers, and reporters alike” — meaning therapy dogs. Yesterday, CNN's Kaise Hunt announced: "Tomorrow is going to be a tough one for those of us who were there or had loved ones in the building. Thinking of all of you and finding strength knowing I’m not alone in this." Unsurprisingly but still repellently: Kamala Harris today compared 1/6 to 9/11.

The liberal fantasy of the Capitol coup

The author of this article argues there are striking parallels between the neo-conservative ideologues who launched the war on terror after 9/11 and progressives who advocate a similar priority for combatting the "white supremacy" menace exemplified by the Capitol riot today.

This article was posted on the site of the British online journal Unherd, which has a lot of interesting content, and is far from ideologically homogeneous, with views ranging from leftist to conservative traditionalists and points in between. The key parallels are the need to assert the existence of an existential threat, warranting extreme measures, in the present case the need for a struggle of Manichean proportions.

This view reminds me of a talk given to the Blackheath Philosophy Forum on the eve of the Iraq invasion by Owen Harries, former editor of National Interest magazine and a doyen of the Realist school of international relations. Harries noted the origins of the neo-con movement actually originated in the left, at least those "mugged by reality", and argued that they had imported what he saw as the left-wing mindset, which includes the sense that social reality can be engineered rather than being the result of organic evolution.

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Yet the parallels between these two political tribes are striking. So keen were the neocons to invade Iraq that they had to drastically inflate the threat-level of the Saddam Hussein regime. They did so by arguing that the threat was “existential”: that if Saddam were to remain in power, he would not only continue to amass WMDs, but would likely use them to attack America. It later transpired that this argument was based on unreliable evidence: no major stockpiles of WMD were ever found and Saddam’s relationship with al Qaeda was overblown. But such was the war fever that had gripped the neocons that they were apt to ignore any evidence that contradicted their conviction.

Today’s liberals are similarly flushed with ideological fervour, believing that they are in a cosmic struggle of Manichean proportions: they are the elect, the chosen ones, and they believe that their responsibility to purge all traces of white supremacy and hateful extremism is a grave one. Indeed, such is their keenness to root out white supremacy that they are apt to find it everywhere, even where it patently doesn’t exist. They are equally apt to inflate its threat where it does exist, like comparing the storming of the Capitol on January 6 to the terror attacks of 9/11.

White supremacy: The identarian Left's Theory of Everything

At the time of writing, the Department of Justice has charged over 700 people in connection with the Capitol riot, widely depicted in the media as a seditious conspiracy, or an armed insurrection. How come, then, that to date no-one has been charged with sedition or insurrection, both high crimes under the US criminal code?

This article has an interesting, if somewhat implausible, explanation. It was posted on the website of the venerable radical magazine Mother Jones on 3 January. The explanation if offers for the absence of sedition charges is the bald assertion "America does not talk about violent expressions of white supremacy as sedition".

What a strange proposition. What is this thing  called "America" that talks, or does not talk, about things, as distinct from the multitude of individuals, factions, parties, ideological tendencies that talk and argue about things?

It then goes on to claim, without evidence, that the only possible motivating factor for the riot was "white supremacy". I would have thought the main motive was a belief by many that the election was stolen, but I guess they would say such belief is itself a manifestation of white supremacy.

Anyway read it for yourself.

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January 6 defendants came armed with bats and bear spray and stun devices and guns and zip ties, aiming to overthrow the election by any means necessary. They called for the execution of the vice president. They assaulted law enforcement, bludgeoning officers with American flagpoles and police barricades. They stormed the Senate floor, stole mementos, and seized government files. They told us what they were there to do—for weeks ahead of time, in some cases—and they very nearly did it.

But no one has been charged with sedition, because America does not talk about violent expressions of white supremacy as sedition. Even when it manifests as a coup against America itself.

Not every person who stormed the Capitol is enrolled in a white supremacist group, but one does not need to avow white supremacy to be its surrogate. What other ideology imbues a mob with the power to besiege the citadel of American democracy and attempt to usurp an election, all in the name of “patriotism”?

Data scientist fired from Reuters for questioning BLM

The Reuters Thompson media conglomerate has just fired a superlatively qualified data scientist for refusing to submit to having his thoughts reprogrammed by the company's diversity and inclusion bureaucracy. His crime? Suggesting that BLM demands like defunding the police would wreak havoc on black communities.

It never ends, does it, Antonio Gramsci's "long march through the institutions", that has succeeded so comprehensively that it has even penetrated the corporate behemoths that the old Left vowed to tame, or nationalize.

As with the James Damore case, the young software engineer fired for querying the companies gender equity policies in an internal communication, Zac Kriegman is a data scientist, indeed the director of the Data Science division, specializing in machine learning, artificial intelligence and software engineering.

He made the mistake of bringing his formidable data analysis skills to critique the Black Lives Matter movement, arguing BLM's demands and activism were damaging black lives, and posted his views in an internal corporate communication. For this high crime he was referred to the DEI bureaucracy for correction. For failing to take up this wonderful opportunity he was fired.

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Zac Kriegman had the ideal résumé for the professional-managerial class: a bachelors in economics from Michigan and a J.D. from Harvard and years of experience with high-tech startups, a white-shoe law firm, and an econometrics research consultancy. He then spent six years at Thomson Reuters Corporation, the international media conglomerate, spearheading the company’s efforts on artificial intelligence, machine learning, and advanced software engineering. By the beginning of 2020, Kriegman had assumed the title of Director of Data Science and was leading a team tasked with implementing deep learning throughout the organization.

But within a few months, this would all collapse. A chain of events—beginning with the death of George Floyd and culminating with a statistical analysis of Black Lives Matter’s claims—would turn the 44-year-old data scientist’s life upside-down. By June 2020, as riots raged across the country, Kriegman would be locked out of Reuters’s servers, denounced by his colleagues, and fired by email. Kriegman had committed an unpardonable offense: he directly criticized the Black Lives Matter movement in the company’s internal communications forum, debunked Reuters’s own biased reporting, and violated a corporate taboo. Driven by what he called a “moral obligation” to speak out, Kriegman refused to celebrate unquestioningly the BLM narrative and his company’s “diversity and inclusion” programming; to the contrary, he argued that Reuters was exhibiting significant left-wing bias in the newsroom and that the ongoing BLM protests, riots, and calls to “defund the police” would wreak havoc on minority communities. Week after week, Kriegman felt increasingly disillusioned by the Thomson Reuters line. Finally, on the first Tuesday in May 2021, he posted a long, data-intensive critique of BLM’s and his company’s hypocrisy. He was sent to Human Resources and Diversity & Inclusion for the chance to reform his thoughts.

He refused—so they fired him.

The end of progressive America?

Many have remarked on the remarkable success of the Left's "long march through the institutions" prefigured by Antonio Gramsci and Herbert Marcuse. Could this long march be coming to an end, and are there signs of a significant pushback?

The author of this article thinks there are grounds for optimism on the part of the rational Right and those on the Left disturbed by the identarian turn of recent years. 

The author, Joel Kotkin, recently authored an important book The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class, which argues we are facing a continuation, indeed acceleration, of the trend to greater inequality leading to a re-emergence of a rigidly hierarchical society, with a new class of serfs.

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Over the past several decades, the progressive Left has successfully fulfilled Antonio Gramsci’s famed admonition of a “long march through the institutions”. In almost every Western country, its adherents now dominate the education system, media, cultural institutions, and financial behemoths.

But what do they have to show for it? Not as much as they might have expected. Rather than a Bolshevik-style assumption of power, there’s every chance this institutional triumph will not produce an enduring political victory, let alone substantially change public opinion.

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Increasingly, the “march” has started to falter. Like the French generals in 1940 who thought they could defeat the Germans by perfecting World War One tactics, the progressive establishment has built its own impressive Maginot Line which may be difficult to breach, but can still be flanked.

That is not to deny the progressives’ limited successes. It has certainly developed a remarkable ability to besmirch even the most respected institutions, including the US military. But that is where its achievements stop.

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The question now is whether there will be sufficient pushback to turn the tide. Unlike local school boards, online magazines, and even alternative colleges, it’s difficult to replace or challenge an Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Google, or Morgan Stanley. Yet fortunately these institutions do not yet control all wealth. Big companies may have shamed themselves out of oil and gas, but investors are ramping up due to the soaring price of these assets.

So, here’s the good news. On what sometimes seems the inexorable course towards progressive capture, we can see multiple fronts of resistance, and the early congealing of independent-minded forces, from the rational Right to the traditional liberal-left. Our society may never regain the feistiness of previous eras, and our new elites might continue marching through our institutions. But as they become increasingly discredited, they would be unwise to forget that all long marches one day come to an end.

Intel's groveling China apology

The American chip-maker Intel has publicly apologized for a letter it sent to its global suppliers asking them to avoid sourcing items from Xinjiang, after a regime-orchestrated social media storm. Another depressing instance of corporate America bowing to the CCP regime to protect its market share.

Intel's letter was published on December 16, the same day the US Senate passed legislation banning imports from the Xinjiang region because of concerns about forced labour and the largest incarceration of an ethno-religious minority since the fall of the Third Reich.

The article points out that, in an interesting role reversal, Chinese companies rely on Intel chips in about eighty percent of the desktop computers it manufactures. However these sales also account for around a quarter of Intel's global revenue. So another morally compromised Western corporation bows the knee, citing a new US law banning sourcing from Xinjiang, but issuing a groveling apology anyway: "We deeply apologize for the confusion caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public..." and claiming it only acted to comply with US law and did not represent the company's position on Xinjiang.

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In a letter to global suppliers, dated this month and published in several languages on its website, Intel called on its business partners to steer clear of the remote northwestern region of China, noting that “multiple governments have imposed restrictions on products sourced from the Xinjiang region. Therefore, Intel is required to ensure our supply chain does not use any labor or source goods or services from the Xinjiang region.”

Even though its guidance was little changed from what the company previously told suppliers, by midweek the letter had been singled out by irate Chinese social-media users and a nationalist state-run tabloid, denouncing Intel’s unwillingness to conduct business involving Xinjiang.

On Thursday, the Santa Clara, Calif., chip maker said its letter was written only to comply with U.S. law and didn’t represent Intel’s stance on Xinjiang.

“We deeply apologize for the confusion caused to our respected Chinese customers, partners and the public,” Intel said in its statement, which was posted on its social-media platforms in China. Intel didn’t specify which law it was seeking to comply with.

The incident is the latest example of multinational companies caught in the middle as Western governments pressure companies to disentangle their supply chains from Xinjiang. Sportswear company Adidas AG and fast-fashion giant H&M Hennes and Mauritz AB are among those that have run afoul of social-media users in China. Those that have apologized to Chinese consumers, meanwhile, risk a backlash from lawmakers and consumers back home.

The Intel letter was published in the U.S. on Dec. 16, the same day that the U.S. Senate passed legislation banning imports from the Xinjiang region over concerns about the use of forced labor. President Biden signed the bill, titled the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act, into law on Thursday.

How feminism ate itself

Does the embrace of intersectionality spell the end of the feminist movement? The author of this article thinks so.

This article in Unherd argues that "the call for intersectionality was the beginning of the movement's end". It critiques the current activism with its focus on dismantling norms and institutions without describing what might replace them, and the divisions engendered by the obsession with "whiteness".

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Turns out intersectionality is a concept that’s basic in theory but wildly divisive in application, especially when — as with feminism — you’re trying to get a coalition of activists with diverse identities to rally around a single shared goal. Whether it was getting the vote, reforming discriminatory laws, or even just pushing the so-called radical notion that women are people, feminism’s aim has always been to advocate for women because they are women. Once it was declared “bullshit” to focus on that commonality, the feminist cause fragmented with alarming swiftness. Since then, it’s had one crisis after another.

There were the toxic Twitter wars documented by Michelle Goldberg in 2014, as feminists eagerly trashed each other online over perceived political incorrectness. There was the implosion of the anti-Trump Women’s March over racial tensions, starting with complaints that the movement was too focused on pink-pussy-hatted white feminism, and ending with the diverse new leadership melting down amid allegations of anti-Semitism. There was Planned Parenthood’s astonishing apology this spring for focusing “too narrowly on women’s health,” closely followed by the schadenfreude-ridden girlboss downfalls in which powerful women, once feminist icons, were suddenly ousted from their own companies in the name of social justice.

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This need to rally against a villainous antagonist is endemic to much contemporary activism, which tends to define itself by what it’s against rather than what it’s for. (Notice how the struggle for civil rights has lately rebranded itself as “anti-racism”; notice how much activist rhetoric focuses on dismantling and tearing-down without any mention of what might be built.) Of course, so many of these movements turn into circular firing squads, as some people invariably become more interested in ejecting apostates from within than advocating for change in the wider world. Consider how many more feminists want to defenestrate J. K. Rowling for her perceived transphobia than to set aside their differences in the name of advocating for shared policy goals.

Does the CCP control Extinction Rebellion?

Are Western environmentalists succumbing to the Chinese Communist Party's "discourse control" strategy? Open source material cited in this article provides disturbing evidence that environmental groups in the West are prime targets for CCP influence operations, and that they have already achieved significant success.

One issue the article does not discuss is the potential for the West's shift to renewables, especially solar and wind, to increase its dependence on China for key inputs: solar panels and wind turbines, and even more significantly the raw materials needed to make them, such as rare earths.

In all these areas, the CCP regime has achieved dominance. This ties in with its aspiration to create a "dual circulation" economy that minimizes its dependence on the outside world, but maximizes the latter's dependence on it.

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Last year, in their book Hidden Hand: How the Chinese Communist Party is Reshaping the World, Clive Hamilton and Mareike Ohlberg revealed how China influences Britain and other Western democracies by seducing their elites. Its ‘useful idiots’ often believe they are acting for the common good, but become blind to Xi’s avowed ambition: for China to achieve global supremacy by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the Maoist revolution.

Nowhere is this more effective than in the climate movement. I asked a specialist researcher fluent in Mandarin to examine open-source material from the Chinese web. The results suggest Western greens have become prime targets. Perhaps this isn’t so surprising: before he was a climate negotiator, Xie Zhenhua helped run the Party Discipline Commission, which operates a secret prison network where torture, according to Human Rights Watch, has long been rife.

I asked Hamilton if China’s wooing of Western environmentalists explains why the world’s biggest emitter of carbon dioxide has aroused so little protest? He believes it is likely: “They’ve fallen for what the Party calls ‘discourse control’ — to shape the way the rest of the world thinks and talks about China, presenting the Chinese government in a favourable light. Toadying to the Party leadership is letting them off the hook.”

A life that doesn't matter

Have you ever heard of Tony Timpa? If not, you are hardly unique. Timpa, a Texan man, was killed by Dallas police officers in 2016 in virtually identical circumstances to those that caused the death of Georg Floyd. Yet there has been miniscule media coverage, and zero interest from civil liberties and human rights groups. So what gives?

If anything, the circumstances of his killing are even more egregious than in the Floyd case—he was pinned to the ground in a prone position for 14 minutes, rather than the 9 minutes for Floyd.

In both cases, large men under the influence of drugs of drugs were pinned by an officer's knee to the ground for prolonged periods (Timpa called 911 while having a mental health breakdown); both cried out desperately before dying; in neither case did the police take action to save the victim's life.

In Timpa's case the officers mocked him, joking after he lost consciousness that he needed to wake up because it was "time for school".

You will no doubt have guessed that the key distinction is that Timpa is white and so, as in the case of Ashli Babbitt shot during the Capitol riot, it does not conform to the identarian Left's "social justice" narrative.

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Lawyers for the police officer who held Dallas resident Tony Timpa face down on the ground for more than 14 minutes until he died in 2016 have raised a connection to George Floyd’s death four years later to question whether Dallas officers should have known prior to the ensuing national debate that holding subjects in the “prone restraint” could be unlawful.

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Timpa was 32 when he died in the custody of Dallas police officers in August 2016. He was suffering from a mental-health breakdown at the time, and had called 911 for help.

The Timpa case received renewed attention because of the many similarities between Timpa’s death and Floyd’s death. Both cases involved large men who’d taken drugs and died after they were pinned to the ground for an extended period in the prone position. Neither man was armed, and neither had committed a significant crime (police were called to the Timpa case for a medical emergency). Both men cried for help before they died (Timpa: “You’re gonna kill me.” Floyd: “I can’t breathe.”) And in neither case did officers attempt life-saving measures, even after Floyd and Timpa appeared limp and lifeless. In Timpa’s case, the officers mocked him, and joked after he’d lost consciousness that he needed to wake up because it was “time for school.”

But there was no national uproar after Timpa’s death, and no national cries for justice and reform. Many argued that was largely because of race — Timpa was white, Floyd was black. Another factor: a cell phone video of Floyd’s death was soon published on Facebook, while body camera footage from Timpa’s death wasn’t released for almost three years.

A grand jury indicted three of the Dallas officers on misdemeanor deadly conduct charges, but the district attorney dismissed them.

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