Wednesday, December 30, 2020

America is Still Standing (VIDEO)

An awesome video, featuring Kelly Shackleford, for Prager University:

'And it's just sometimes an excruciatingly heightened awareness of being, loving being alive..."

Caitlin Flanagan wrote "I Thought Stage IV Cancer Was Bad Enough" at the Atlantic in June. Not many people, myself included, know her story. It's riveting. 

Well, she did a podcast with Sully, and this short segment is so existential. She's such a graceful woman. It's really inspiring:

'Andrew Sullivan detects anti-gay bigotry: "So you agree not wanting to have sex with someone because they have a vagina is a form of bigotry, right?...'

 At Althouse:

Does genitalia matter? I can see thinking that a person's inner being matters far more than what's on the outside, and that "gender identification" is part of what's on the inside, but when it comes to sexual attraction, we're not required to go solely by what's on the inside, and indeed, if only the inside — the mind — counts, why are we having sexual intercourse at all? How can you say genitalia is irrelevant when what you're talking about is something you do with your genitalia?



'Higher levels of drug abuse and overdoses, massive increases in mental health hospital visits, along with surging suicide rates among children have been cited by the Centers for Disease Control as stemming from pandemic school closures...'

At Issues & Insights, "The Real Reason Why Your Kids Can’t Go Back to School (Hint: It’s Not COVID-19)."

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Justin Farrell, Billionaire Wilderness

At Amazon, Justin Farrell, Billionaire Wilderness: The Ultra-Wealthy and the Remaking of the American West.

Is Substack the Media Future We Want?

It's Anna Wiener (whoever that is), at the New Yorker, "The newsletter service is a software company that, by mimicking some of the functions of newsrooms, has made itself difficult to categorize."

Establishment media outlets fear Substack, so they're out to destroy it. Big Media doesn't want you to read folks like Glenn Greenwald, a leftist who on Israel I can't stand, but who is amazingly good on a lot of other current stuff. See his great piece this week, "The Threat of Authoritarianism in the U.S. is Very Real, and Has Nothing to Do With Trump."

Or, Andrew Sullivan, also someone who's got a really sketchy and devious political pedigree, but has lately been on fire, "Do All Black Lives Matter? Or Just Some?"

And Matt Taibbai, "The YouTube Ban Is Un-American, Wrong, and Will Backfire: Silicon Valley couldn't have designed a better way to further radicalize Trump voters."

All of these guys are leftists, which tells you something, as they've been excommunicated form the leftist media precincts (especially Greenwald and Sullivan).

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Is There Any Solution?

It's Bill Schneider, who used to be on CNN back in the day, with Bernard Shaw and Judy Woodruff. He's an okay guy who can turn a phrase, probably more of a weak "Cold War Liberal" than anything (but now maybe "woke"). I never really heard what happened to him at CNN, whether he was fired (unlike Jeffrey Toobin). 

In any case, this is interesting, although I doubt I'm alone when I say I don't care if there's a solution, since the left will create problems just to find solutions, and f*ck the regular people in "flyover country." 

So screw 'em either way. 

FWIW, at the Hill, "How the American system failed in 2020: Pandemic politics":

Is there any solution to the deep and bitter polarization in American politics? There is. But it’s not working.

The solution is supposed to come in the form of a crisis. In a crisis, Americans pull together and rally behind a common cause. Right now, the United States is experiencing the biggest public health crisis in over 100 years. More than 320,000 Americans have died, and the death toll continues to rise. Nevertheless, the country seems more divided than ever.

American government usually works well in a crisis — when an overwhelming sense of urgency breaks through blockages and lubricates the system. Under the right conditions, barriers fall away, and things get done. We are seeing it happen now with the economic stimulus bill.

Back in 1957, the country was shocked when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first space satellite. It led the federal government to become deeply involved in education — something that had always been regarded as a local responsibility. It also happened after the 9/11 crisis. The devastating terrorist attack overwhelmed the country’s deep political divisions. The evidence? For nearly a year after 9/11/01, a majority of Democrats approved of the job George W. Bush was doing as president.

The era of good feeling came to an end a year later, in September 2002, when the Bush administration announced the “rollout” of the invasion of Iraq. With the decision to go to war, all the old divisions came roaring back. It was Vietnam all over again.

Politicians are always hyping issues to try to turn them into crises — an environmental crisis, a debt crisis, an education crisis, an energy crisis. Or they declare “wars” on things — a war on poverty, a war on crime, a war on drugs, a war on inflation, a war on terror. Without a crisis or a “war” to rally public opinion, the system won’t work. It wasn’t designed to.

The pandemic certainly qualifies as a crisis. Thousands of Americans are dying every day. The economy has come to a standstill: no travel, no dining out, no public entertainment, no gatherings with friends and neighbors. Why is that not a crisis?

The answer is: because President Trump has steadfastly refused to acknowledge the crisis — and so have his supporters...

Blah, blah...

It's the same old stupid bull. "Never let a crisis go to waste," some idiot once said.

And to think, I used to respect this guy.

Josie Canseco in Little White Bikini

 At Taxi Driver, "Josie Canseco Flashing in Little White Bikini."

Also, at the Other McCain, "Do You Have Enough Ammunition?"

Anthony Quinn Warner: Bomber Died in Downtown Nashville Blast, Authorities Say (VIDEO)

At the Tennessean, "Nashville explosion: Anthony Warner died in explosion, was 'bomber,' authorities say." 

Watch this morning's officials' press conference here.

Dead (Once-Treasured) Diners

It's happening all over. 

At NYT, "The Treasured Diners and Hidden Haunts That Covid-19 Closed for Good":

We gather today to mourn the 150-year-old restaurant that served up platters of fried chicken and creamed corn to Abilene, Kan. To bid farewell to the New Orleans cafe that was a destination for huge crab omelets and endless conversation. To raise one last glass to the tavern in Cambridge, Mass., where the regulars arrived at 8 a.m. and the Austin diner where Janis Joplin nearly sang the neon lights off the walls.

They were local landmarks — watering holes, shops and haunts that weathered recessions and gentrification, world wars and the Great Depression, only to succumb this year to the economic ravages of the coronavirus. This is their obituary.

Thousands of businesses have closed during the pandemic, but the demise of so many beloved hangouts cuts especially deep. They were woven into the identity of big cities and small towns, their walls lined with celebrity photos and Best Of awards. Some had been around a century. Others, like the Ma’am Sir Filipino restaurant in Los Angeles, needed just a few years to win the hearts of their neighborhoods.

Their closures have left blank spaces across the country as owners liquidate their memorabilia and wistful customers leave social-media tributes recalling first dates and marriage proposals. And there are new worries: If these institutions could not survive, what can? And who will be left standing, to hold our memories and knit our communities together, when this pandemic is over?


Also on Twitter

I picked up breakfast at our diner today, caught up with the owner like always, and asked how she’s doing. She shook her head as her eyes welled above her mask. I knew what that meant. She turned her back to her staff saying she didn’t want to cry in front of her employees.

She, like millions of others, is desperate for help from the federal government. She said the first round of PPP saved her business, but that was a long time ago and she’s on the brink again. She has followed the rules & spent money to build outdoor dining, but winter is here.

We all have done our best to support small businesses this year, but it’s not enough. It is infuriating that it took Congress this long to get a relief bill and unconscionable that the President sits on it while our friends and neighbors fight for their lives. Shame.


Ms. Kendra's Christmas

On Twitter (and photo here). 

Also, "Having a very pink Christmas!! (VIDEO)."

Barbara Palvin

At Drunken Stepfather, "BARBARA PALVIN TIT OF THE DAY."


How Christopher Lasch Repudiated the Radical Left

While at the same time excoriating conservatives and libertarians for their "neoliberal" economics, with its free markets that actually helped kill the nuclear family.



And his magnum opus, at Amazon, The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in An Age of Diminishing Expectations

Thomas Ricks, First Principles

Thomas Ricks, First Principles: What America's Founders Learned from the Greeks and Romans and How That Shaped Our Country.

Barnes Carr, The Lenin Plot

At Amazon, Barnes Carr, The Lenin Plot: The Unknown Story of America's War Against Russia.

Jennifer Delacruz's Sunday Forecast

She's back in her home studio, for ABC 10 News San Diego:

Saturday, December 26, 2020

The Rise of Political Sectarianism

Actually, this is just new and even more dramatic terminology for our growing domestic cold war and political polarization.

It's Thomas Edsall, a tried-and-true leftist, at NYT, "America, We Have a Problem":

Viewing recent events through a Trump prism may be too restrictive to capture the economic, social and cultural turmoil that has grown more corrosive in recent years.

On Oct. 30, a group of 15 eminent scholars (several of whom I also got a chance to talk to) published an essay — “Political Sectarianism in America” — arguing that the antagonism between left and right has become so intense that words and phrases like “affective polarization” and “tribalism” were no longer sufficient to capture the level of partisan hostility.

“The severity of political conflict has grown increasingly divorced from the magnitude of policy disagreement,” the authors write, requiring the development of “a superordinate construct, political sectarianism — the tendency to adopt a moralized identification with one political group and against another.”

Political sectarianism, they argue,
consists of three core ingredients: othering — the tendency to view opposing partisans as essentially different or alien to oneself; aversion — the tendency to dislike and distrust opposing partisans; and moralization — the tendency to view opposing partisans as iniquitous. It is the confluence of these ingredients that makes sectarianism so corrosive in the political sphere.
There are multiple adverse outcomes that result from political sectarianism, according to the authors. It “incentivizes politicians to adopt antidemocratic tactics when pursuing electoral or political victories” since their supporters will justify such norm violation because “the consequences of having the vile opposition win the election are catastrophic.”

Political sectarianism also legitimates
a willingness to inflict collateral damage in pursuit of political goals and to view copartisans who compromise as apostates. As political sectarianism has surged in recent years, so too has support for violent tactics.
In a parallel line of analysis, Jack Goldstone, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, and Peter Turchin, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, contend that a combination of economic and demographic trends point to growing political upheaval. Events of the last six weeks have lent credibility to their research: On Sept. 10, they published an essay, “Welcome To The ‘Turbulent Twenties,’” making the case that the United States is “heading toward the highest level of vulnerability to political crisis seen in this country in over a hundred years.” There is, they wrote, “plenty of dangerous tinder piled up, and any spark could generate an inferno.”

Goldstone and Turchin do not believe that doomsday is inevitable. They cite previous examples of countries reversing downward trends, including the United States during the Great Depression:
To be sure, the path back to a strong, united and inclusive America will not be easy or short. But a clear pathway does exist, involving a shift of leadership, a focus on compromise and responding to the world as it is, rather than trying desperately to hang on to or restore a bygone era.
The Goldstone-Turchin argument is based on a measure called a “political stress indicator,” developed by Goldstone in his 1991 book, “Revolution and Rebellion in the Early Modern World.” According to Goldstone, the measure “predicted the 1640s Puritan Revolution, the French Revolution of 1789, and the European Revolutions of 1830 and 1848.”

Goldstone wrote that
popular mobilization is more likely when the population is experiencing declining material conditions, plus urbanization and youth; when social competition for elite positions become heightened, political polarization and factionalism will be more likely as groups struggle for power and positions; and when state expenses fall behind revenues, as states become less capable of meeting expected demands and thus less legitimate, as well as more likely to enter conflicts with elites over taxation. And I argued that only when all of these factors coincide does a state face rising risks of major upheavals.
Turchin, in a 2017 book, “Ages of Discord: A Structural-Demographic Analysis of American History,” graphed political stress in this country, showing that from 1970 to 2012 it shot up sharply, increasing fortyfold. In the eight years since then, stress has continued to surge, Goldstone wrote, “as income inequality, political polarization and state debt have all risen further.”

While the United States is particularly vulnerable to violent upheaval, Turchin argues, a disaster “is not foreordained. On the contrary, we may be the first society that is capable of perceiving, if dimly, the deep structural forces pushing us to the brink.”
There's still more at top, but here are links to a couple of those research pieces, "Political Sectarianism in America," and "Welcome to the 'Turbulent Twenties'."

Friday, December 25, 2020

'Totally Not Kidding. We've Done It'


Human Remains Found at Site of Nashville 'RV' Bombing: Sources

The remains were possibly too shredded to ultimately identify the body.

At ABC News, "Human remains found at site of 'intentional' Nashville RV explosion: Sources."

PREVIOUSLY: "Nashville Christmas Bombing 'RV' Photo."

Dissident Women's Studies Ph.D. Speaks

It's Samantha Jones (not her real name, to protect against leftist death threats, apparently), at New Discourses, "A Dissident Women's Studies Ph.D. Speaks Out."

It's the second half of her piece that's most interesting, for example:
One of the most urgent needs is the development of a grassroots movement for intellectual diversity on campus, spearheaded by students, alumni, parents, and concerned citizens. I hope that existing conservative, centrist, or libertarian organizations can help to facilitate this movement by providing organizational and logistical support at campuses throughout the country. Everyone should take a close look at their state’s public universities’ Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity initiatives to see if intellectual diversity is included. If it is not, then the obvious first step is to advocate for the inclusion of intellectual diversity. Concerned taxpayers, students, parents, and alumni, working with the elected officials in those university districts, if necessary, need to ensure that universities have intellectual diversity in humanities and social sciences course offerings. If intellectual diversity is included in the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity initiative (in my experience, most of these initiatives include at least a brief reference to intellectual diversity), then work can be done to survey students to see if they feel that intellectual diversity is represented, particularly in their humanities and social sciences courses. Heterodox Academy has published relevant survey data on the dearth of intellectual diversity in these fields.

If America has any chance of continuing the classical liberal values upon which it was founded, then students who have a commitment to these values have to enter the teaching profession—as doctoral students in education, as administrators, and as public school teachers. Critical pedagogy, and more specifically critical race theory, are the dominant discourses controlling all levels in American schools of education, so students need to tread lightly and assent, at least outwardly, to Critical Social Justice ideology. Once in the classroom, however, teachers should reject all pressures to teach Critical Social Justice, and especially critical race theory, because it is an inherently racist ideology and because it instantiates the problem—racism—that it purports to solve. Critical race theory also needs to be resisted because it, as its own proponents assert, “questions the very foundations of the liberal order, including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” (Delgado and Stefancic, Critical Race Theory: An Introduction). Teachers should take a stand for fighting racism within liberalism, not by adopting critical race theory. If there is not already a nonprofit organization devoted to assisting non-woke students to enter the teaching profession—again, at all levels, as professors of education, as administrators, and as public school teachers—then one should be organized immediately. This could also be a special project for existing right- or libertarian-leaning organizations.

Another important project should be the revival of Western civilization and Great Books courses, at all levels of education, but most critically in the universities. In 1964, 15 of the 50 premier universities in America required students to take a survey of Western civilization. All 50 offered the course, and nearly all of them (41) offered it as a way to satisfy some requirement. (Source: New York Post, by Ashley Thorne “The drive to put Western civ back in the college curriculum,” March 29, 2016). But since 1987, when Jesse Jackson led 500 students around Stanford University protesting the requirement that undergraduates take a course in Western Civilization, which they denounced as Eurocentric, white-male indoctrination, most colleges have eliminated Western civ courses for diversity or multiethnic course requirements. An excellent example of a Western civ curriculum can be found in the James Madison program in American Ideals and Institutions at Princeton University, which is dedicated to “exploring enduring questions of American constitutional law and Western political thought.” Another avenue is to look into funding institutes for education in Western civilization as a new department at extant colleges and universities.

I would love to see crowd-sourced funds used to construct a beautiful classical building adjacent to one of the ugliest college campuses in the country, preferably one composed entirely of postwar Brutalist buildings. I imagine that students whose spirits are continually depressed by attending classes in the midst of such hideous architecture would feel intrigued to enter such a beautiful building. Once inside, they might learn that there is, in fact, such a thing as beauty; that it matters, and that Critical Social Justice ideology can never build anything beautiful; it can never, in fact, build anything at all—it can only destroy. Once inside that building, students might become interested in registering for a course on Western civilization, a course in which all thought is permitted, in which no one is threatened with cancellation: a microcosm of what a university environment used to be. In this way, we might plant and nurture the seed of resistance to the increasing totalitarianism of Critical Social Justice.

In the long term, it is going to be necessary to create more universities devoted to classical education, not indoctrination into Critical Social Justice ideology, as well as more K-12 private and charter schools in the classical tradition because university schools of education have been training “social justice” educators for decades now, so Critical Social Justice ideology is now in the K-12 public schools. At a policy level on this problem, we need avenues for teacher certification outside of the existing teacher colleges, which are wholly committed to critical pedagogy and other failed approaches. Forcing every licensed teacher (usually for state jobs) to undergo ideological training to gain licensure is not only a problem but should be illegal. At the personal level, my advice to everyone with kids who can afford to do so is to pull your kids out of the public schools immediately and enroll them in private schools, or home school. Although home schooling has already begun to come under attack, it is still a viable option—at least for now. In the future, homeschooling will come under increased scrutiny and I believe there will be attempts to render it illegal. I realize that not everyone can afford to home school or send their kids to private schools (many of which are not safe from Critical Social Justice, either). I strongly recommend that all parents emphasize the value of vocational training programs for their children as avenues to career paths that pay well and offer a great deal of autonomy.

My hope is that new immigrants to America will increasingly speak out against Critical Social Justice ideology as an American instantiation of what is called, in other contexts, tribalism—a form of corruption that has damaged many countries. Far from being a bastion of white supremacy, America’s liberal values are what have attracted people from all countries to undergo great hardship to come here, precisely because this is one of the few places in which ordinary people can exercise their talents to achieve a standard of living that is impossible in most of the world. It is my fervent hope that more American college students—especially the “woke” who rail against their own country as evil—would be required to spend a semester abroad in a developing country in order to gain some much-needed perspective on the struggles people face who were not fortunate enough to be born into such an “oppressive” place as America.

Lastly, I have focused mostly on academia and education because this is the sector I know best, but I strongly urge everyone, from all walks of life, to embrace your sense of humor (a quality that is conspicuously absent in woke culture). Wokeness should continue to relentlessly mocked and parodied through meme culture (Andrew Doyle’s Titania McGrath is a great example). Just as important: Be courageous. Stand up for the beliefs that have made America a great country. If you hear people treating others as members of groups, articulate the importance of treating people as individuals. As Jordan Peterson put it, “The smallest minority is the individual.” If you encounter people treating others badly because of their gender or skin color, say that this behavior is morally wrong. If you see people attempting to “cancel” others, articulate why this is a terrible way to treat others. If you witness attacks on freedom of speech and advocacy of censorship, or if you meet people who are in favor of “hate speech” laws, or laws to combat “misinformation” (a code word for non-leftist ideas), articulate why freedom of speech is an absolutely essential and non-negotiable value. If you hear people discussing why they think socialism is great, take a stand for free markets and the prosperity they have produced. If you hear people calling for retributive justice and political violence, push against it and discuss why violence is never acceptable. If you encounter attacks on meritocracy, make a case for why merit is essential to the advancement of individuals and societies. I think a lot of liberals, like me, generally, if not naively, assumed that the liberal values underpinning America would simply continue throughout our lives, but these values are under attack and they need to be vigorously and unapologetically defended. Our civilization is at stake and the hour is late.


Nashville Christmas Bombing 'RV' Photo

At the Metro Nashville Police Department.

And at Memeorandum, "Exclusive: Nashville explosion witness remembers chilling warning from the RV: ‘A bomb is in this vehicle’."

Christmas Women

At Drunken Stepfather, "STEPLINKS OF THE DAY."

Also, at the Other McCain, "Super Hot: Christmas Naked Rule 5!"

'Die Hard' is Definitely a Christmas Movie

At the Other McCain, where the inimitable Robert Stacy McCain regales us with Merry Christmas Eve movie-aficionado insights. 

See, "‘Happy Trails, Hans’: What Is Everybody’s Favorite Christmas Movie Really About?"

Jennifer Delacruz's Christmas Forecast

Well, I doubt Ms. Jennifer will be under your tree, but have a Merry Christmas in any case!

At ABC News 10 San Diego:

Claire Lehmann, et al., eds., Panics and Persecutions

At Amazon, Claire Lehmann et al., eds., Panics and Persecutions: 20 Quillette Tales of Excommunication in the Digital Age

Thursday, December 24, 2020

John McWhorter, Losing the Race

At Amazon, John McWhorter, Losing the Race: Self-Sabotage in Black America.

Screw COVID Tyranny: Families Defy 'Dire Public Health Warnings' to Travel Home for the Holidays

And California's the new New York, the epicenter of the pandemic in the U.S. 

This could actually just be massive Democrat Party hypocrisy, since this state's almost all Democrats anyways, and thus the majority of travelers are likely to be progressives who voted for the elected officials who are literally destroying the country. 

At LAT, "Dire COVID warnings go unheeded as many insist on Christmas traditions; officials fear new surge":

Airports are seeing steady increases in travelers determined to spend Christmas with family and friends.

Coronavirus testing centers are seeing brisk business, including from some people who want to know whether they have the virus before attending holiday events.

And last-minute shoppers are still out looking for that perfect gift.

To the alarm of California health officials, Christmas is looking an awful lot like Thanksgiving, when social gatherings put an already unprecedented surge of the coronavirus into overdrive. The Thanksgiving “super-spreader” events helped fill hospitals with COVID-19 patients, forcing more restrictions on businesses and pushing the healthcare network to the brink.

But even the most dire public health warnings seemed to have failed to sink in. And in some cases, they are no match for the basic human need to spend time with loved ones, maintain family traditions and turn to others for support during challenging times.

Officials have already said that hospitals will likely have to make difficult decisions in the coming weeks about which patients will get the critical care that could mean the difference between life and death. The further spread of COVID-19 during Christmas gatherings would only prolong the crisis, officials said.

“We really can’t afford to repeat the mistakes of Thanksgiving. ... Another spike in cases from the winter holidays will be disastrous for our hospital system, and ultimately will mean many more people simply won’t be with us in 2021,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said Monday.

“Our hospitals are already over capacity, and the high quality medical care we’re accustomed to in L.A. County is beginning to be compromised as our frontline healthcare workers are beyond stretched to the limit.”

“Almost no one has caught COVID on a plane,” said Andrew Connors, who stood in a security line at Los Angeles International Airport on Monday morning with his daughter, Meikah.

All around them, the terminal buzzed as masked passengers queued up for security pat-downs, airport employees wiped surfaces with fervor and roller bags rumbled across the floor.

Connors said Meikah, 11, was preparing to travel alone to Marysville, Ohio, to spend Christmas with her mother. Although he was initially reluctant to put his daughter on a plane, he said he felt reassured after reading up on safety protocols and air-filtration methods onboard.

“We’re probably going to make a snowman when I get there,” she said.

She joins more than 3 million passengers who have passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints in the last three days, according to data from the Transportation Security Administration...



Families on the Economic Brink as Congress' Christmas Relief Bill Crashes

It's bad.

At WaPo, "Families on brink of eviction, hunger describe nightmare Christmas as $900 billion relief bill hangs in limbo":

Millions of Americans who are hours away from losing unemployment aid or the small business they have spent years building have a simple plea to President Trump and Congress: Please help us.

The Washington Post has been inundated with messages and phone calls from people on the verge of losing their homes and cars and going hungry this holiday who are stunned that President Trump and Congress cannot agree on another emergency aid package. Several broke down crying in phone interviews.

Some blamed Trump for torpedoing a $900 billion relief package at the last minute. Others agreed with Trump that the proposed $600 checks for over 150 million American households was too little, too late and should be raised to at least $2,000. Others blamed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) for not taking a deal in August.

But most told The Post they are “not political people” and are struggling to understand why Congress and the president would be able to celebrate Christmas when 14 million Americans are slated to lose unemployment aid on Saturday, the government is set to shut down on Tuesday, and an eviction moratorium that has prevented millions from losing their homes during a pandemic ends on New Year’s Eve.

Waitress Robyn Saban summed up the sentiment of many: “I’ve worked for 18 years at a diner under very hard conditions. I never called in sick except when my husband died. And now Congress is just leaving town. It makes me furious because they are leaving people hanging.”

Saban, 57, has been out of a job for nearly 10 months. The diner where she worked is up for sale.

Below are 10 voices that represent a cross-section of ages, races, political views and professions of the millions of people who are caught in the crosshairs of the stalled fight in Washington, D.C. over more aid...

Keep reading

The Chinese Communist Party Fail

Following-up from previously, "How the U.S. Misread Xi Jinping."

See Cai Xia, at Foreign Affairs, "The Party That Failed: An Insider Breaks With Beijing":

When Xi Jinping came to power in 2012, I was full of hope for China. As a professor at the prestigious school that educates top leaders in the Chinese Communist Party, I knew enough about history to conclude that it was past time for China to open up its political system. After a decade of stagnation, the CCP needed reform more than ever, and Xi, who had hinted at his proclivity for change, seemed like the man to lead it.

By then, I was midway through a decades-long process of grappling with China’s official ideology, even as I was responsible for indoctrinating officials in it. Once a fervent Marxist, I had parted ways with Marxism and increasingly looked to Western thought for answers to China’s problems. Once a proud defender of official policy, I had begun to make the case for liberalization. Once a loyal member of the CCP, I was secretly harboring doubts about the sincerity of its beliefs and its concern for the Chinese people.

So I should not have been surprised when it turned out that Xi was no reformer. Over the course of his tenure, the regime has degenerated further into a political oligarchy bent on holding on to power through brutality and ruthlessness. It has grown even more repressive and dictatorial. A personality cult now surrounds Xi, who has tightened the party’s grip on ideology and eliminated what little space there was for political speech and civil society. People who haven’t lived in mainland China for the past eight years can hardly understand how brutal the regime has become, how many quiet tragedies it has authored. After speaking out against the system, I learned it was no longer safe for me to live in China.


I was born into a Communist military family. In 1928, at the beginning of the Chinese Civil War, my maternal grandfather joined a peasant uprising led by Mao Zedong. When the Communists and the Nationalists put hostilities on hold during World War II, my parents and much of my mother’s family fought against the Japanese invaders in armies led by the CCP.

After the Communists’ victory, in 1949, life was good for a revolutionary family such as ours. My father commanded a People’s Liberation Army unit near Nanjing, and my mother ran an office in that city’s government. My parents forbade my two sisters and me from taking advantage of the privileges of their offices, lest we become “spoiled bourgeois ladies.” We could not ride in our father’s official car, and his security guards never ran family errands. Still, I benefited from my parents’ status and never suffered the privations that so many Chinese did in the Mao years. I knew nothing of the tens of millions of people who starved to death during the Great Leap Forward.

All I could see was socialism’s bright future. My family’s bookshelves were stocked with Marxist titles such as The Selected Works of Stalin and Required Reading for Cadres. As a teenager, I turned to these books for extracurricular reading. Whenever I opened them, I was filled with reverence. Even though I could not grasp the complexity of their arguments, my mission was clear: I must love the motherland, inherit my parents’ revolutionary legacy, and build a communist society free of exploitation. I was a true believer.

I gained a more sophisticated understanding of communist thought after joining the People’s Liberation Army in 1969, at age 17. With the Cultural Revolution in full swing, Mao required everyone to read six works by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, including The Communist Manifesto. One utopian passage from that book left a lasting impression on me: “In place of the old bourgeois society, with its classes and class antagonisms, we shall have an association, in which the free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.” Although I didn’t really understand the concept of freedom at that point, those words stuck in my head.

The People’s Liberation Army assigned me to a military medical school. My job was to manage its library, which happened to carry Chinese translations of “reactionary” works, mostly Western literature and political philosophy. Distinguished by their gray covers, these books were restricted to regime insiders for the purpose of familiarizing themselves with China’s ideological opponents, but in secret, I read them, too. I was most impressed by The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, by the American journalist William Shirer, and a collection of Soviet fiction. There was a world of ideas outside of the Marxist classics, I realized. But I still believed that Marxism was the only truth.

I left the military in 1978 and got a job in the party-run trade union of a state-owned fertilizer factory on the outskirts of the city of Suzhou. By then, Mao was dead and the Cultural Revolution was over. His successor, Deng Xiaoping, was ushering in a period of reform and opening, and as part of this effort, he was recruiting a new generation of reform-minded cadres who could run the party in the future. Each local party organization had to choose a few members to serve in this group, and the Suzhou party organization picked me. I was sent to a two-year program at the Suzhou Municipal Party School, where my fellow students and I studied Marxist theory and the history of the CCP. We also received some training in the Chinese classics, a subject we had missed on account of the disruption of education during the Cultural Revolution.

I plowed through Das Kapital twice and learned the ins and outs of Marxist theory. What appealed to me most were Marx’s ideas about labor and value—namely, that capitalists accrue wealth by taking advantage of workers. I was also impressed by Marx’s philosophical approach, dialectical materialism, which allowed him to see capitalism’s political, legal, cultural, and moral systems as built on a foundation of economic exploitation...

Still more at that top link.


How the U.S. Misread Xi Jinping

More blockbuster reporting from the Wall Street Journal, "How the U.S. Misread China’s Xi: Hoping for a Globalist, It Got an Autocrat":

BEIJING—In the two years before Xi Jinping became China’s leader in 2012, U.S. officials tried to size him up through a series of face-to-face meetings.

During talks in China in 2011, Mr. Xi, then vice president, asked about civilian control of the U.S. military, shared his thoughts on uprisings in the Middle East and spoke, unprompted, about his father, a renowned revolutionary. When he visited the U.S. in 2012, he was relaxed and affable, chatting with students and posing for pictures with Magic Johnson at a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game.

The U.S. officials’ conclusion: Although Mr. Xi was far more confident and forthright than Hu Jintao, the stiff and scripted leader he would succeed, he likely shared his commitment to stable ties with Washington and closer integration with the U.S.-led global order. Some even hoped Mr. Xi would kick-start stalled economic reforms.

It was one of the biggest strategic miscalculations of the post-Cold War era.

In the eight subsequent years, Mr. Xi has pursued an expansive, hypernationalistic vision of China’s future, displaying a desire for control and a talent for political maneuvering. Drawing comparisons to Mao Zedong, he has crushed critics and potential rivals, revitalized the Communist Party and even scrapped presidential term limits so he can, if he chooses, rule for life.

Promising a “China Dream” of national renewal, he has mobilized China’s military to enforce territorial claims, forced up to a million Chinese Muslims into internment camps and curbed political freedoms in Hong Kong.

Now, with Covid-19 under control in China but still widespread across the U.S., he is promoting his self-styled, tech-enhanced update of Marxism as a superior alternative to free-market democracy—a “China solution” to global problems.

“It was clear he was not going to be a second Hu Jintao,” said Danny Russel, who as a senior Obama administration official attended several meetings with Mr. Xi, including in 2011 and 2012. “What I underestimated about Xi Jinping was his tolerance for risk.”

Mr. Xi’s swift reversal of more than three decades of apparent movement toward collective leadership and a less intrusive party has surprised both U.S. officials and much of the Chinese elite. In hindsight, though, the roots of his approach are visible in key episodes of his life.

They include his father’s purge from the top party leadership, his teenage years in a Chinese village, his induction into the military and his exposure to nationalist and “new left” undercurrents in the party elite.

Mr. Xi’s autocratic turn also was catalyzed by a 2012 political scandal that upset the balance of power among the party elite and emboldened advocates of stronger, centralized leadership. It gave Mr. Xi the justification he needed to sideline rivals, rebuild the party and revamp its ideology.

Today China follows a new political doctrine known as “Xi Jinping Thought,” which combines many attributes of different 20th-century authoritarians. It reasserts the party’s Leninist role as the dominant force in all areas, including private business. It revives Maoist methods of mass mobilization, uses digital surveillance to replicate Stalin’s totalitarian social controls and embraces a more muscular nationalism based on ethnicity that makes fewer allowances for minorities or residents of Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Above all, Xi Jinping Thought aims to grant Mr. Xi the legitimacy to remain in power and continue his quest to make China a rich, truly global power by 2049, the centenary of Mao’s victory.

Mr. Xi has been a popular leader, bolstered in part by positive coverage in state media. Under his leadership, China has posted robust economic growth and eradicated extreme poverty, as well as curbing Covid-19 within its borders. The nation’s growing international stature also has become a source of national pride.

“His goal is to make the whole world see China as a great power, and him as a key figure in making it great,” said Xiao Gongqin, a leading figure among scholars who advocate so-called enlightened autocracy in China. “At heart, he’s a nationalist.”

Mr. Xiao, based in Shanghai, counts himself a supporter. But like many in China’s elite, he said he worries Mr. Xi “lacks a spirit of compromise. That’s his shortcoming….And there is no mechanism to correct him.”

China’s government press office declined to comment, but arranged interviews with two professors at the Central Party School, the party’s top think tank and training academy.

Both said Mr. Xi hadn’t abandoned collective leadership, but declined to predict whether he would retire in 2022, when his current term is scheduled to end. They described Xi Jinping Thought as “21st-Century Marxism,” saying his political thinking was shaped, in part, by his experiences in his youth.

“When he was young, his life was a little tortuous, but these twists and turns made comrade Xi Jinping what he is today,” said Han Qingxiang, one of the professors, who has conducted a study session on Marxism for top leaders...

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Mary Katharine Ham's 'Op-Sec' Christmas Gifting Experiences

A great thread, via Instapundit (click through), "A DELIGHTFUL THREAD FROM MARY KATHARINE HAM: Christmas surprises and OpSec failures."

Hunter Biden’s Family Name Aided Deals With Foreign Tycoons

At WSJ, "Business dealings of Joe Biden’s son are at the center of a federal tax investigation and loom over the start of his presidency":

Hunter Biden ramped up business activities with European and Chinese tycoons as his father exited the vice presidency four years ago. For him it was a potential path to income; for the tycoons, the Biden family name promised to burnish their reputations.

The dealings got the younger Mr. Biden a discounted stake in a private-equity firm in China and consulting arrangements with a Romanian property magnate and overall allowed him to maintain a globe-trotting lifestyle, according to interviews, documents and communications reviewed by The Wall Street Journal. A Chinese energy tycoon gave Mr. Biden a 2.8-carat diamond, and entities linked to him wired nearly $5 million to Mr. Biden’s law firm, according to an investigation by Senate Republicans.

These arrangements now loom over President-elect Joe Biden. A federal criminal tax investigation into Hunter Biden’s business dealings is under way, with findings potentially trickling out in coming months. His business ties to well-connected people in China and other places could add to scrutiny of foreign-policy decisions taken by the Biden administration over possible conflicts of interest. All are likely to provide ammunition to Republicans.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa), who has led the Senate Finance Committee whose Republican staff helped investigate Hunter Biden, has said he would continue to look into what he says are possible counterintelligence and criminal concerns related to Mr. Biden’s business dealings.

“Based on all the facts known to date, Joe Biden has a lot of explaining to do,” Mr. Grassley said recently. Hunter Biden has said he takes the tax investigation “very seriously” and is “confident that a professional and objective review of these matters will demonstrate that I handled my affairs legally and appropriately.” He declined to comment for this article and his lawyer, George Mesires, didn’t respond to questions. In 2019, Mr. Biden said he wouldn’t work with any foreign companies if his father were elected U.S. president. None of the Journal’s reporting found that Joe Biden was involved in his son’s business activities. The tax investigation doesn’t implicate the president-elect, according to people familiar with the matter. In a statement this month about the investigation, the president-elect said he is “deeply proud of his son.”

He told reporters Tuesday he had not and would not discuss the federal tax investigation with prospective attorney general candidates.

“The attorney general of the United States of America is not the president’s lawyer,” the president-elect said. “I will appoint someone who I expect to enforce the law as the law is written, not guided by me.”

Joe Biden also has previously said his family members won’t be involved in businesses that appear to create a conflict of interest and won’t have “a business relationship with anyone that relates to a foreign corporation or a foreign country.”

Some of Hunter Biden’s business deals appeared to go nowhere. Sometimes his contribution mainly consisted of making introductions to important people in business and government, according to people involved and documents.

Still, legal and consulting services he provided offered a way to generate income; the Senate Republicans’ report says the millions of dollars in wire transfers from entities linked to Shanghai energy entrepreneur Ye Jianming were described as payment for such services.

The tycoons who sought out Mr. Biden as a business partner were looking to build ties to the Washington establishment that Joe Biden inhabited for decades, and by doing so, smooth the way for major deals or ward off legal troubles, according to interviews, documents and communications. For businessmen in some countries, paying for introductions and getting close to people in power or their relatives is a normal part of doing business, and the son of a veteran American politician offered a potential trove of connections.

Mr. Ye “would say if you find a strong partner, then opportunities can flow just from this relationship,” said a former subordinate.

Mr. Biden, in an exchange about putting together a venture with Mr. Ye, pointed to the value of his family name: “Just happens that in this instance only one player holds the trump card and that’s me. May not be fair but it’s the reality because I’m the only one putting an entire family legacy on the line,” he wrote in a 2017 text message to an associate in the venture and viewed by the Journal.

A graduate of Yale Law School, Hunter Biden was for a period a registered lobbyist in Washington. He also worked in boutique investment and property development firms along with American partners who sometimes tried to raise capital among the newly well-heeled in the former Soviet Union and China.

Mykola Zlochevsky was looking to raise the standing of Ukraine’s Burisma Holdings in Washington when Hunter Biden joined its board in 2014.

President Trump and some Republican allies have tried over the past two years to draw attention to Hunter Biden’s business activities—an effort that took off as Joe Biden emerged as a likely presidential challenger.

A particular focus was Hunter Biden’s board seat with Ukrainian natural-gas company Burisma Holdings. When he joined the board in 2014, Burisma’s founder Mykola Zlochevsky was looking to raise the company’s standing in Washington, as he parried legal inquiries abroad and at home where the government was vowing to clean up corruption. Mr. Biden was paid roughly $50,000 a month from 2014 to 2019. For the first three years, then-Vice President Joe Biden served as the Obama administration’s point man for international anticorruption efforts in Ukraine.

Mr. Trump and his allies have alleged corruption by the Bidens. Mr. Trump’s request to Ukraine’s president in 2019 to announce an investigation into the Bidens figured into Mr. Trump’s impeachment; the GOP-controlled Senate ultimately acquitted him.

Joe and Hunter Biden denied any wrongdoing...

 Still more.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

America the Sick

I disagree with this guy's take, or mostly, his ideological stance and one-sided blame on Trump, blah, blah...

But he makes a good point here, at Der Spiegel, "A Land in Decay: Where Did America Go Wrong?":

America knows it is sick. It is showing all the symptoms. There are doubts about the legitimacy of elections, and confidence in political institutions has crumbled. The media have abandoned or lost their role as impartial observers. The country's predominantly white police force continues to deploy misguided violence against a disillusioned and outraged Black population. There are armed militias on the streets and it's become almost impossible to voice an opinion without getting overwhelmed by hateful comments on social media. To top it all off is a president who refuses to concede defeat, a society that has been battered by a pandemic that can only be contained by way of solidarity...

There's still more at that top link, FWIW.

Death and Denial in California's Central Valley

This is an interesting piece, sympathetic to both sides, although definitely a leftist New Yorker take. 

Here, "As the Vaccine Arrives, Death and Denial Rage in a California Coronavirus Epicenter: In the San Joaquin Valley, medical professionals fear that many in the public still fail to grasp the dangers of COVID-19":

The San Joaquin Valley is an emerald gash shaped like a fist in the middle of the state. It abuts the Sierra Nevada mountains and drinks in the rivers that zag from the foothills. Looked upon from an airplane cabin window at thirty thousand feet, the valley appears as a medley of pixels in every shade of green; irrigated fields collide at improbable angles. On the ground, viewed from a speeding car on Highway 99, it’s a blur of corduroy—rows of garlic, tomatoes, and fruit trees sprouting from the rich, dark loam. The San Joaquin Valley is California’s bread basket, the source of the state’s bounty, the source of much of the country’s bounty. Even the names of towns that dot this verdant blanket sound fecund: Chowchilla, Planada, Ripon.

These townships orbit midsize cities with populations exceeding three hundred thousand—Fresno, Bakersfield, Stockton—but the region is mostly rural and agricultural. Its demographics reflect that. Of the more than four million people in the valley, many are migrant workers. A hundred and twelve thousand are believed to be undocumented. At the same time, the region skews further right politically than most of California. In the 2020 Presidential election, half of the valley’s eight counties voted for Donald Trump; in the four counties that went for Joe Biden, the Democrat won by margins far narrower than that by which he won the state as a whole.

The coronavirus exacerbates the valley’s long existing divisions and pain points, says Nancy Burke, a public-health professor at the University of California, Merced. “The health indicators rival the poorest parts of Appalachia,” she told me. The counties in San Joaquin Valley “rank among the lowest in California in terms of health outcomes, as well as determinants of health, [such as] social and economic factors.” Forty-one per cent of rural residents in the region are covered by Medi-Cal, the state health insurance that is available to Californians living below the federal poverty line. So, although the region produces much of the nation’s food supply, Burke explained, the people here suffer some of the highest rates of food insecurity in the state...



Baldwin Hills' Crenshaw Mall is Busted

It's a "black" mall, I guess. Nice part of town too. 

Who knows? It's probably just the bad economy and consumer trends away from brick-and-mortar. But someone, somewhere, will make this about racism, amirite? 

At LAT, "‘This mall has been devastated.’ A lean Christmas, empty stores and an unsettling future":

The food court is mostly shuttered. The Museum of African American Art, located improbably inside a Macy’s, is closed for now. And Black Santa is not coming to town.

The Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza may be open, but it doesn’t much feel that way.

Gone is the classic mall background noise — Top 40 music drowned out by people talking, walking, rustling shopping bags. Gone are the free weekly workouts and the book readings. The stores have signs in the windows noting that they are open with limited capacity, but more often than not there’s only a lone shopkeeper inside.

A few determined shoppers remain.

“I could have gone to Fox Hills mall but I said I’m coming here to Crenshaw, and I want to patronize it because it is struggling to come back,” said Yvette Archie, a 60-year-old veterinarian who visited the mall recently to do some Christmas shopping. “I’m hoping that we can keep it in our community and for our community.”

For decades, the Crenshaw mall has been a gathering place for Black Los Angeles and a prime venue for small businesses. Even during the pandemic, the mall has continued to serve the community with food drives and a coronavirus testing site. The mall also holds a weekly farmers market and Melanin Market LA, a showcase for small Black-owned businesses, in its parking lot.

But like its counterparts across the country, the mall has been pushed to the brink by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, the holiday shopping season — when big and small businesses alike depend on a boost in sales to help pad margins in the new year — has coincided with the worst surge in COVID-19 cases of the pandemic.

Health and government officials have urged people to stay at home but stopped short of closing malls as they had done earlier in the pandemic. Recent orders from the Los Angeles County health department limited indoor mall capacity to 20% and prohibited dining on site...



Monday, December 21, 2020

China Rations Electricity for Millions


And just think, Gov. Gavin Newsom is trying to turn California into China! 

At NYT, "‘The Whole City Was Dark’: China Rations Electricity for Millions":

Warning of coal shortages, officials are trying to curb energy usage by telling residents not to use electric stoves and extinguishing lights on building facades and billboards.

In the city of Yiwu in eastern China, the authorities turned off streetlights for several days and ordered factories to open only part-time. In coastal Wenzhou, the government ordered some companies not to heat their offices unless temperatures are close to freezing. In southern Hunan Province, workers have reported climbing dozens of flights of stairs after elevators were shut down.

Large swaths of China are scrambling to restrict electricity use this winter, as the country’s rapid economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic and unexpectedly frigid temperatures have sent demand for power surging. Officials in at least three provinces — where a total of more than 150 million people live — have issued orders limiting energy use, warning of potential coal shortages.

Demand for coal is so high in the mining hub of Henan Province that buyers have been lining up in trucks at the gates of coal mines, jostling for access, according to a recent report in the state-run news media.

Many residents have responded to the restrictions with anxiety and confusion, worrying about being left in the cold or suffering hits to their businesses

Chinese officials have sought to remind citizens of the country’s ambitious environmental goals while reassuring them that there is plenty of energy to keep people warm and the economy humming.

“In general, please believe that our ability to ensure stable energy supply is not a problem,” Zhao Chenxin, secretary general of the National Development and Reform Commission, which steers energy policy, said on Monday.

But the drastic measures point to potential longer-term problems in China’s energy universe, as leaders juggle competing priorities.

China’s leader, Xi Jinping, has vowed to make China a climate leader and to make the country carbon-neutral by 2060. But the country still draws nearly 70 percent of its power from fossil fuels, predominantly coal, and those energy sources have helped propel China’s impressive recovery from the pandemic. By May of this year, China’s carbon dioxide emissions from energy production, cement making and other industrial uses were 4 percent higher than the year before.

“He’s got to wrestle with economic growth, economic structures, employment and the environment,” Philip Andrews-Speed, senior principal fellow at the Energy Studies Institute at the National University of Singapore, said of Mr. Xi.

Some of the present difficulties may also be self-inflicted.

Coastal areas of China depend on imported coal, including from Australia. But relations between the two countries have gone into free-fall this year, as Australia has, among other things, demanded an investigation into the origins of the coronavirus, which first emerged in China. China in turn has banned imports of Australian coal — leaving huge ships stranded at sea.

Chinese officials have denied that the ban on Australian coal is responsible for the current squeeze on energy, noting that in 2018 less than 8 percent of China’s coal consumption involved imported coal; much of Australia’s coal is also used for steel and other metals, not power. But the government has also acknowledged, with rare bluntness, the scale of the problem...

Keep reading.

How China Censored Everything

It's real. 

At NYT, "No ‘Negative’ News: How China Censored the Coronavirus":

In the early hours of Feb. 7, China’s powerful internet censors experienced an unfamiliar and deeply unsettling sensation. They felt they were losing control.

The news was spreading quickly that Li Wenliang, a doctor who had warned about a strange new viral outbreak only to be threatened by the police and accused of peddling rumors, had died of Covid-19. Grief and fury coursed through social media. To people at home and abroad, Dr. Li’s death showed the terrible cost of the Chinese government’s instinct to suppress inconvenient information.

Yet China’s censors decided to double down. Warning of the “unprecedented challenge” Dr. Li’s passing had posed and the “butterfly effect” it may have set off, officials got to work suppressing the inconvenient news and reclaiming the narrative, according to confidential directives sent to local propaganda workers and news outlets.

They ordered news websites not to issue push notifications alerting readers to his death. They told social platforms to gradually remove his name from trending topics pages. And they activated legions of fake online commenters to flood social sites with distracting chatter, stressing the need for discretion: “As commenters fight to guide public opinion, they must conceal their identity, avoid crude patriotism and sarcastic praise, and be sleek and silent in achieving results.”

The orders were among thousands of secret government directives and other documents that were reviewed by The New York Times and ProPublica. They lay bare in extraordinary detail the systems that helped the Chinese authorities shape online opinion during the pandemic.

At a time when digital media is deepening social divides in Western democracies, China is manipulating online discourse to enforce the Communist Party’s consensus. To stage-manage what appeared on the Chinese internet early this year, the authorities issued strict commands on the content and tone of news coverage, directed paid trolls to inundate social media with party-line blather and deployed security forces to muzzle unsanctioned voices.

Though China makes no secret of its belief in rigid internet controls, the documents convey just how much behind-the-scenes effort is involved in maintaining a tight grip. It takes an enormous bureaucracy, armies of people, specialized technology made by private contractors, the constant monitoring of digital news outlets and social media platforms — and, presumably, lots of money.

It is much more than simply flipping a switch to block certain unwelcome ideas, images or pieces of news.

China’s curbs on information about the outbreak started in early January, before the novel coronavirus had even been identified definitively, the documents show. When infections started spreading rapidly a few weeks later, the authorities clamped down on anything that cast China’s response in too “negative” a light.

The United States and other countries have for months accused China of trying to hide the extent of the outbreak in its early stages. It may never be clear whether a freer flow of information from China would have prevented the outbreak from morphing into a raging global health calamity. But the documents indicate that Chinese officials tried to steer the narrative not only to prevent panic and debunk damaging falsehoods domestically. They also wanted to make the virus look less severe — and the authorities more capable — as the rest of the world was watching.

The documents include more than 3,200 directives and 1,800 memos and other files from the offices of the country’s internet regulator, the Cyberspace Administration of China, in the eastern city of Hangzhou. They also include internal files and computer code from a Chinese company, Urun Big Data Services, that makes software used by local governments to monitor internet discussion and manage armies of online commenters.

The documents were shared with The Times and ProPublica by a hacker group that calls itself C.C.P. Unmasked, referring to the Chinese Communist Party. The Times and ProPublica independently verified the authenticity of many of the documents, some of which had been obtained separately by China Digital Times, a website that tracks Chinese internet controls.

The C.A.C. and Urun did not respond to requests for comment.

“China has a politically weaponized system of censorship; it is refined, organized, coordinated and supported by the state’s resources,” said Xiao Qiang, a research scientist at the School of Information at the University of California, Berkeley, and the founder of China Digital Times. “It’s not just for deleting something. They also have a powerful apparatus to construct a narrative and aim it at any target with huge scale.”

“This is a huge thing,” he added. “No other country has that.”

Still more.

Public Schools Are Losing Their Captive Audience of Children

At Reason.

But see this, from L.A.T, a couple of weeks ago, "L.A. Unified will not give Fs this semester and instead give students a second chance to pass."

And this passage especially is killing me, about the push-back against the "no fail" policy:

In April, L.A. Unified prohibited failing grades for the spring semester and also determined that no student’s grade would be lower than it was on March 13, the final day of on-campus instruction. At the time, many teachers and some principals complained that the policy undermined student motivation and some reported a subsequent drop-off in student effort.

Stocks surge. Retail rises. Unemployment continues to decline. Post-election markets set record highs while online shopping contributed to recovery. How did this month fare overall?

Such concerns resurfaced Monday during a faculty meeting at a high school in the San Fernando Valley, according to an English teacher who did not wish to be identified because she was not authorized to speak.

Yes, it’s COVID time,” the teacher said. “But this soft bigotry of low expectations — including us being banned from demanding students ever comment with their voices or actually show themselves on camera during Zoom — will indeed help our low-income students stay on the bottom of the pile of learning.”

A high school principal from a different campus was more supportive. Given the unprecedented crisis, the principal said, students who earn A’s and B’s should get to keep them but that the only other grade handed out should be a pass. This principal — who also was not authorized to comment — requested anonymity...

Astonishing, really.

Notice how everybody speaks off the record, obviously so they won't face the guillotine.  

Jessica Simpson Scores Big Multimedia Deal With Amazon

At the Hollywood Reporter

And at Drunken Stepfather, "JESSICA SIMPSON VEINS OF THE DAY."

Friday, December 18, 2020

Johann Hari, Lost Connections

Johann Hari, Lost Connections: Why You’re Depressed and How to Find Hope

The Buck Stops With Barr

A great piece, from Kim Strassel, at WSJ, via Memeorandum, "The Weekend Interview: William Barr: ‘One Standard of Justice’":

The U.S. attorney general is meditating on one of his frustrations with the modern Justice Department: The outside world keeps moving faster; the wheels of justice ever more slowly. “Nobody wants to take responsibility anymore,” William Barr says with a hint of incredulity. “They wring their hands and push issues around the bureaucracy and trade memos for months.” His response: “Bring it to me! I’ll make the decision. That’s what I’m here for!”

If Mr. Barr, 70, dominated headlines over the past two years, it’s because he made a lot of tough calls. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s constitutionally dubious claims that President Trump committed obstruction of justice? No. An investigation of the 2016 Russia-collusion probe and the dismissal of charges against Mike Flynn ? Yes. New oversight of sensitive political investigations and surveillance of U.S. citizens? Yes. A criminal referral about Mr. Trump’s call to the Ukrainian president? No. Repeated demands—from the left and the right—for his department to engage in politics? No, no, no.

Consequential decisions have a way of annoying people—Democrats, Republicans, the staff, one’s boss—but Mr. Barr, who’d been attorney general before, from 1991-93, knew that going in. “I’m in a position in life where I can do the right thing and not really care about the consequences,” he told senators during his January 2019 confirmation hearing. In a 90-minute phone interview Tuesday—less than 24 hours after the announcement of his resignation, effective Dec. 23—he sounded his usual spirited self.

He reminds me why he took the job in the first place: “The Department of Justice was being used as a political weapon” by a “willful if small group of people,” who used the claim of collusion with Russia in an attempt to “topple an administration,” he says. “Someone had to make sure that the power of the department stopped being abused and that there was accountability for what had happened.” Mr. Barr largely succeeded, in the process filling a vacuum of political oversight, reimposing norms, and resisting partisan critics on both sides.

Mr. Barr describes an overarching objective of ensuring that there is “one standard of justice.” That, he says, is why he appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to investigate the FBI’s 2016 Crossfire Hurricane probe. “Of course the Russians did bad things in the election,” he says. “But the idea that this was done with the collusion of the Trump campaign—there was never any evidence. It was entirely made up.” The country deserved to know how the world’s premier law-enforcement agency came to target and spy on a presidential campaign.

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham’s appointment should not have been necessary. Mr. Mueller’s investigation should have exposed FBI malfeasance. Instead, “the Mueller team seems to have been ready to blindly accept anything fed to it by the system,” Mr. Barr says, adding that this “is exactly what DOJ should not be.”

Mr. Durham hasn’t finished his work, to the disappointment of many Republicans, including the president, who were hoping for a resolution—perhaps including indictments—before the election. Mr. Barr notes that Mr. Durham had to wait until the end of 2019 for Inspector General Michael Horowitz to complete his own investigation into the FBI’s surveillance. Then came the Covid lockdowns, which suspended federal grand juries for six months. Mr. Durham could no longer threaten to subpoena uncooperative witnesses.

“I understand people’s frustration over the timing, and there are prosecutors who break more china, so to speak,” Mr. Barr says. “But they don’t necessarily get the results.” Mr. Durham will, and is making “significant progress,” says Mr. Barr, who disclosed this month that he had prior to the election designated Mr. Durham a special counsel, to provide assurance that his team would be able to finish its work. The new designation also assures that Mr. Durham will produce a report to the attorney general. Mr. Barr believes “the force of circumstances will ensure it goes public” even under the new administration.

The biggest news from Mr. Durham’s probe is what he has ruled out. Mr. Barr was initially suspicious that agents had been spying on the Trump campaign before the official July 2016 start date of Crossfire Hurricane, and that the Central Intelligence Agency or foreign intelligence had played a role. But even prior to naming Mr. Durham special counsel, Mr. Barr had come to the conclusion that he didn’t “see any sign of improper CIA activity” or “foreign government activity before July 2016,” he says. “The CIA stayed in its lane.”

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham’s probe is now tightly focused on “the conduct of Crossfire Hurricane, the small group at the FBI that was most involved in that,” as well as “the activities of certain private actors.” (Mr. Barr doesn’t elaborate.) Mr. Durham has publicly stated he’s not convinced the FBI team had an adequate “predicate” to launch an investigation. In September, Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe declassified a document showing that the FBI was warned in 2016 that the Hillary Clinton campaign might be behind the “collusion” claims.

Mr. Barr says Mr. Durham is also looking at the January 2017 intelligence-community “assessment” that claimed Russia had “developed a clear preference” for Mr. Trump in the 2016 election. He confirms that most of the substantive documents related to the FBI’s investigation have now been made public.

The attorney general also hopes people remember that orange jumpsuits aren’t the only measure of misconduct. It frustrates him that the political class these days frequently plays “the criminal card,” obsessively focused on “who is going to jail, who is getting indicted.”

The American system is “designed to find people innocent,” Mr. Barr notes. “It has a high bar.” One danger of the focus on criminal charges is that it ends up excusing a vast range of contemptible or abusive behavior that doesn’t reach the bar. The FBI’s use “of confidential human sources and wiretapping to investigate people connected to a campaign was outrageous,” Mr. Barr says—whether or not it leads to criminal charges.

Also outrageous, in Mr. Barr’s view, was the abuse of power by both the FBI and the Mueller team toward Mr. Trump’s associates, especially Mr. Flynn...
Keep reading.

How Critical Race Training Is Harming Higher Education

I attended this event. Really great stuff and crucial work they're doing.

At Legal Insurrection, "VIDEO: Critical Race Training is “a series of dated ideas that basic analysis often debunks”."