Saturday, May 30, 2020

"The System Can't Reform Itself"

So says the always fearless and indefatigable Cornel West. As I watched the following, I couldn't help but think that if one feels dismissive of, threatened or outraged by what he has to say, a long and unsparing look in the mirror is likely in order.

America's Broken Contract

Trevor Noah certainly has a way of putting things into perspective.

H/t Marie Snyder

Friday, May 29, 2020

An Abysmal Nation Led By An Abysmal Racist

Whenever I post something about racial injustice, I feel some unease. By what stretch can I, as a white person who lives a comfortable existence, truly feel the murderous oppression that others experience? What right do I have to comment upon something that I will never experience? It is not as if aggregating and commenting upon such egregious crimes will make any difference in the world.

Is writing about it from my position simply something I do to feel better about myself?

I don't know the answers.

But I also know that the inaction of silence can never be the preferable alternative.

The repercussions of George Floyd's murder at the hands of Minneapolis police continue to unfold. Pouring fuel on the flames that have erupted, Donald Trump, true to form, unleashed an abysmal dog-whistle Tweet heard loud and clear by his baying, salivating followers:

He knew precisely the origins and implications of that Tweet:
Twitter said early Friday that a post by President Donald Trump about the protests overnight in Minneapolis glorified violence because of the historical context of his last line: "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."

The phrase was used by Miami's police chief, Walter Headley, in 1967, when he addressed his department's "crackdown on ... slum hoodlums," according to a United Press International article from the time.

Headley, who was chief of police in Miami for 20 years, said that law enforcement was going after “young hoodlums, from 15 to 21, who have taken advantage of the civil rights campaign. ... We don't mind being accused of police brutality."

Miami hadn't faced "racial disturbances and looting," Headley added, because he let word filter down that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts."

The phrase was considered to have contributed to the city's race riots in the late 1960s, according to The Washington Post.

Headley, who died only a few months later in 1968 and had been denounced by civil rights leaders, was described in an Associated Press obituary as the "architect of a crime crackdown that sent police dogs and shotgun-toting patrolmen into Miami's slums in force."
And now America is led by a racist rabid dog intent on totally destroying whatever shreds of credibility remain in the first part of his country's name.

Requiescat in pace, oh moribund nation.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

UPDATED: They Just Can't Help Themselves

Every time they speak, they show their absolute contempt for 'the people'. Who am I referring to? The British Conservation government. As a companion to yesterday's post about the hapless Dominic Cummings, please enjoy, or bear witness to, the witless Cabinet Minister Michael Gove's 'defense' of Cummings:

UPDATE: Is it just my imagination, or is Boris looking a bit more harried these days? But maybe showing such open contempt for public accountability will do that to a person.

So Painful To Watch

George Floyd's death at the hands of Minneapolis police is very difficult to watch. I suspect the aftermath will make for equally painful viewing, yet turning away can hardly be the answer.

Decide for yourself:

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Village Idiot

I suspect few regard British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as anything other than a village idiot. If you have been following the scandal surrounding his Chief Adviser, Dominic Cummings, you will also see that like attracts like.

Boris has been twisting himself out of shape defending the hypocritical Cummings; after the grilling he has been facing from fearless British journalists, he may well need the services of a good chiropractor, when such is once again permitted (or not, given that the rules don't seem to apply to the likes of him and Cummings):

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Being Black In America - The Story Is Always The Same

There is much more graphic video available online, but the following succinctly shows the horror of being black in the United States:

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Facebook And The Unravelling Of Truth

At a time when access to accurate, well-informed and well-researched information is crucial, it is probably not surprising that there are bad actors who promote disinformation. After all, chaos, their preferred state, constantly needs stoking, and oh, what a friend they have in Facebook.

Earlier this month, the BBC exposed the internet giant for the amoral, greedy and even nefarious entity it is, one quite content to promote the ranting of the far-right fringe as it exploits the Covid-19 pandemic. Here is a sample of the posts regarding the virus gleaned from Mark Zuckerberg's baby:
"What if [they] are trying to kill off as many people as possible" reads one Facebook post.

"Eventually, these scum will release something truly nasty to wipe us all out, but first they have to train us to be obedient slaves" reads another.

A third: "Coronavirus is the newest Islamist weapon."
That Facebook willingly makes itself a vehicle (a very profitable one, of course) for hatred, prejudice and conspiracy theories comes as no surprise to me. A post I wrote almost five years ago shows why. Yet in our current situation, it can be argued that the stakes are even higher today.

Writing in The Markup, Aaron Sankind explains Facebook's tactics of open solicitation, i.e. prostitution, which openly contradict its promise to combat misinformation about Covid-19.

Facebook was allowing advertisers to profit from ads targeting people that the company believes are interested in “pseudoscience.” According to
Facebook’s ad portal, the pseudoscience interest category contained more than 78 million people.

This week, The Markup paid to advertise a post targeting people interested in pseudoscience, and the ad was approved by Facebook.
Interestingly, after posting it, Sankin writes that
an ad for a hat that would supposedly protect my head from cellphone radiation appeared on my Facebook feed on Thursday, April 16.

Concerns about electromagnetic radiation coming from 5G cellular infrastructure have become a major part of the conspiracy theories swirling around the origin of the coronavirus.
The social media giant's synergistic (some would say parasitic) money-making techniques are obvious here.
Kate Starbird, a professor at the University of Washington studying how conspiracy theories spread online, said one hallmark of the ecosystem is that people who believe in one conspiracy theory are more likely to be convinced of other conspiracy theories.

By offering advertisers the ability to target people who are susceptible to conspiracy theories, she said, Facebook is taking “advantage of this sort of vulnerability that a person has once they’re going down these rabbit holes, both to pull them further down and to monetize that.”
Actions speak louder than words, as they say, and it appears that Facebook may talk the talk, but refuses to walk the walk:
Facebook has also said that it is cracking down on ads on products related to the pandemic. “We recently implemented a policy to prohibit ads that refer to the coronavirus and create a sense of urgency, like implying a limited supply, or guaranteeing a cure or prevention. We also have policies for surfaces like Marketplace that prohibit similar behavior”...

However, earlier this month, Consumer Reports was able to schedule seven paid ads that contained fake claims, such as stating that social distancing doesn’t work or that people could stay healthy by drinking small doses of bleach. Facebook approved all of the ads.
Business is business would seem to be the only ethos Facebook lives by. And the consequences for a credulous public couldn't be more lethal.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

An Accelerated Deterioration

With the exception of his mindless cheerleaders and coterie of sycophants, it is obvious to the world that Donald Trump has led the United States into a steep, perhaps irreversible, decline. His response to the Covid-19 crisis has only accelerated that process.

And the public record, unlike Trump, does not lie.

About his early response to the crisis, Edward Luce writes:
People often observed during Trump’s first three years that he had yet to be tested in a true crisis. Covid-19 is way bigger than that. “Trump’s handling of the pandemic at home and abroad has exposed more painfully than anything since he took office the meaning of America First,” says William Burns, who was the most senior US diplomat, and is now head of the Carnegie Endowment.

“America is first in the world in deaths, first in the world in infections and we stand out as an emblem of global incompetence. The damage to America’s influence and reputation will be very hard to undo.”
Trump's refusal to heed warnings about what was coming was nothing short of criminal, and will likely be apparent to all if and when a commission of inquiry into the pandemic response is struck:
The inquiry would find that Trump was warned countless times of the epidemic threat in his presidential daily briefings, by federal scientists, the health secretary Alex Azar, Peter Navarro, his trade adviser, Matt Pottinger, his Asia adviser, by business friends and the world at large. Any report would probably conclude that tens of thousands of deaths could have been prevented – even now as Trump pushes to “liberate” states from lockdown.

“It is as though we knew for a fact that 9/11 was going to happen for months, did nothing to prepare for it and then shrugged a few days later and said, ‘Oh well, there’s not much we can do about it,’” says Gregg Gonsalves, a public health scholar at Yale University. “Trump could have prevented mass deaths and he didn’t.”
True to form, the Infant-in-Chief blames others for his manifest failures, China and The Who not the least:
A meeting of G7 foreign ministers in March failed to agree on a statement after Mike Pompeo, the US secretary of state, insisted they brand it the “Wuhan virus”.

Most dramatically, Trump has suspended US funding of the WHO, which he says covered up for China’s lying.

Trump alleged the WHO’s negligence had increased the world’s death rate “twenty-fold”. In practice, the body must always abide by member state limits, especially the big ones, notably the US and China. That is the reality for all multilateral bodies. The WHO nevertheless declared an international emergency six weeks before Trump’s US announcement.
So where does all the blaming, the posturing, the incompetence of a depraved president lead to?
Early into his partial about-turn, Trump said scientists told him that up to 2.5 million Americans could die of the disease. The most recent estimates suggest 135,000 Americans will die by late July. That means two things.

First, Trump will tell voters that he has saved millions of lives. Second, he will continue to push aggressively for US states to lift their lockdowns. His overriding goal is to revive the economy before the general election. Both Trump and Kushner have all but declared mission accomplished on the pandemic. “This is a great success story,” said Kushner in late April. “We have prevailed,” said Trump on Monday.
It is the kind of simpleminded triumphal language that a nation weary of restrictions and given to uncritical acceptance of Trumpisms welcomes, but it doesn't change reality.

And it doesn't change a truth recently uttered by George Conway, husband of one of Trump's chief promoters, Kelly Anne Conway, about the lamentably ill-equipped president:
“In my view he is a sociopath and a malignant narcissist. When a person suffering from these disorders feels the world closing in on them, their tendencies get worse. They lash out and fantasize and lose any ability to think rationally.”
A terrible combination in the best of times. A literally lethal one is these worst of times.

Friday, May 15, 2020

I Rest My Case

Yesterday I offered, shall we say, an unflattering appraisal of the American 'character' and psyche. Further evidence supporting that assessment is to be found in the following video:

Perhaps those of similar disposition dying for a night out on the town should ponder this cautionary tale?

Thursday, May 14, 2020

An Armchair Analysis

One of the benefits (and, to be honest, drawbacks) of having a blog is the freedom it confers on the owner. He or she can write on a range of topics which, in my case, is sometimes determined by the mood I'm in. And these days, that mood is often less one of outrage than it is of resignation. The belly fire that once drove me is now often but a vaguely uncomfortable feeling easy to ignore.

But I do soldier on, in fits and starts.

Since compelling empirical proof is hardly a requirement for blog opinions, I shall offer one today about the United States of America. It will hardly be a shattering insight, merely one I have been thinking about more and more during these days of confinement and reading.

The United States of America is an infantile nation.

Consider but a few examples. There is the violence incited by refusal to wear masks; there are the states reopening despite rising numbers of Covid-19 infections; there is fairly widespread defiance of state laws through protests and illegal re-openings of shuttered businesses. And, of course, there is their selection of the Orange Idiot to lead their nation.

Clearly, the United States lacks the kind of character that the world's current situation demands.

Recently, while watching a commercial during the American news, something else also occurred to me. They haven't always been this benighted and childish.

Allow me to illustrate with a few American Public Service Announcements.

The first one is from many years ago; those of a certain age will remember Perry Mason who, each week, bested District Attorney Hamilton Burger in the courtroom. The actor who played him, William Talman, made an anti-smoking ad in 1968 when he was dying from lung cancer:

You will notice that the tone is poignant as Talman invokes the powerful images of his family to show the terrible losses he is facing, urging viewers either not to take up smoking or to quit if they are already in its grips. No one could argue that such an ad is shocking or graphic in any way.

Contrast that restrained tone with what is on offer today:

Each of the above PSAs approach the viewer in a way far different than the Talman ad did, replacing reason and poignancy with what are guaranteed to reach a blunted, debased sensibility: fear and repugnance. If this won't get you to quit smoking, nothing will, eh?

What is my point? Only to suggest that those commercials can serve as a measure of the undeniable decline in the American character. Where once reason and basic sentiment might have served public discourse well, today fear has become the weapon of choice to influence people's behaviour.

And the use of that weapon is most evident in contemporary American politics. The Trump playbook, the one that serves him so very well, is a textbook example. Fear of the other, the Mexican rapists and drug dealers who must be held at bay by massive walls, the deep state conspirators, the Wuhan virus and so many more are all part of his abysmal arsenal.

And the Pavlovian dogs salivate.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Call The Libertarians!

Reader Brian sent this along to me this morning. Enjoy!

Though they've been a tad quiet during the CoVid 19 Semi-Apocalypse, all you need to do to get by is put your trust in the folks who can solve any problem:

The Libertarians!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Setting The Record Straight

If you watched Planet of The Humans, executive-produced by Michael Moore, like me you probably came away profoundly disillusioned. The film essentially says that the environmental movement and its advocacy for alternative energy sources is a house of cards and a big scam. From biomass to EV batteries to solar panels and turbines, the point is made over and over that they consume prodigious amounts of energy to produce, and the savings over the long term in greenhouse gas emissions are negligible at best.

Fortunately, there has been fierce rebuttal to the claims the film makes. One of them is by Bill McKibben, one of the patron saints of the environmental movement, in a lengthy Rolling Stone article, well-worth the read.

Another is by the always readable and always intelligent George Monbiot, who writes that the film is a gift to climate-change deniers who have for years been using discredited myths promoted in the film to justify their position.
Occasionally, the film lands a punch on the right nose. It is right to attack the burning of trees to make electricity. But when the film’s presenter and director, Jeff Gibbs, claims, “I found only one environmental leader willing to reject biomass and biofuels”, he can’t have been looking very far. Some people have been speaking out against them ever since they became a serious proposition (since 2004 in my case). Almost every environmental leader I know opposes the burning of fresh materials to generate power.

There are also some genuine and difficult problems with renewable energy, particularly the mining of the necessary materials. But the film’s attacks on solar and wind power rely on a series of blatant falsehoods. It claims that, in producing electricity from renewables, “You use more fossil fuels to do this than you’re getting benefit from it. You would have been better off just burning fossil fuels in the first place”. This is flat wrong. On average, a solar panel generates 26 units of solar energy for every unit of fossil energy required to build and install it. For wind turbines the ratio is 44 to one.

Planet of the Humans also claims that you can’t reduce fossil fuel use through renewable energy: coal is instead being replaced by gas. Well, in the third quarter of 2019, renewables in the UK generated more electricity than coal, oil and gas plants put together. As a result of the switch to renewables in this country, the amount of fossil fuel used for power generation has halved since 2010. By 2025, the government forecasts, roughly half our electricity will come from renewables, while gas burning will drop by a further 40%.
While Monbiot concedes the film's assertion that a good number of conservation groups take money from fossil fuel companies, he says its relentless attack on co-founder McKibben is misplaced, as he
takes no money from any of his campaigning work. It’s an almost comic exercise in misdirection, but unfortunately it has horrible, real-world consequences, as McKibben now faces even more threats and attacks than he confronted before.
Monbiot sees the film's 'final solution' as something of a red herring, snce it claims that only by seeing a mass die-off of an overpopulated world can there be any hope:
Yes, population growth does contribute to the pressures on the natural world. But while the global population is rising by 1% a year, consumption, until the pandemic, was rising at a steady 3%. High consumption is concentrated in countries where population growth is low. Where population growth is highest, consumption tends to be extremely low. Almost all the growth in numbers is in poor countries largely inhabited by black and brown people. When wealthy people, such as Moore and Gibbs, point to this issue without the necessary caveats, they are saying, in effect, “it’s not Us consuming, it’s Them breeding.” It’s not hard to see why the far right loves this film.
No one can ever accuse me of having an especially sunny disposition or optimistic outlook. Nonetheless, I was heartened to read this piece by George Monbiot. In these terrible times, I will take good news wherever I can find it.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

A Soul Soother For These Troubled Times

Baroque music AND a livestream of Venice. I return to this several times a day.

Monday, May 4, 2020

A Fairy Tale

Frank Sinatra sang that fairy tales can come true. One hopes he was right.

H/t Marie Snyder

Saturday, May 2, 2020

A Tale Of Two Countries

Each night I allow myself a half-hour dose of news from an American perspective, usually NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt. And every night I emerge from the experience immensely thankful that I live in Canada rather than the Benighted States of America. The chasm between our two countries is ever-widening.

In Canada, we have a variety of programs in place supporting a wide swath of Canadians. While none of the supports are perfect and can never replace the income provided by jobs, they have allowed the federal government and the provinces to prioritize public health and safety over the economy. Indeed, the expenditures to date open up a myriad of possibilities for post-pandemic Canada as citizens ponder the possibilities of a newer, better Canada.

Not so south of the border. There, the ugliness of Darwinian neoliberalism is in full view.

When watching the news from there, one sees the ever-strident demands of increasingly desperate people to re-open the economy. Indeed, by Monday more than 30 states, despite the fact that they are nowhere near flattening the curve of Covid-19 spread, will be open. In all the cases, posing as champions of the people, politicians are showing their willingness to sacrifice people to the demands of the economy.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the meat-packing industry. Despite their being repositories of Covid-19 disease and death, that master narcissist, Donald Trump, has mandated they remain open through executive order. Had Americans the capacity for critical thinking, they would realize that they are mere fodder for the economy worshiped and extolled by their neoliberal masters.

The Guardian reports:
The president invoked the Defense Production Act (DPA) to mandate meat processing plants stay open during the pandemic.

The move, which essentially labels meat production an essential service, also offers further measures to protect the industry from legal liability should more workers contract the virus.
If one reads the link, one sees that U.S. Labor Department refers to "guidance," not requirements, as to the safe operation of the plants during this pandemic. In other words, there are no penalties if that guidance isn't followed.

Those penalties instead will be borne by the workers by the requirement that they work in life-threatening situations for wages that are not even living ones.

The Tyson company itself seems to have played a major role in Trump's executive order:
The order came within hours of Tyson, a $22bn company and the world’s second largest meat processor, taking out paid adverts in major US newspapers, including the New York Times, to warn that recent closures of a handful of plants due to the virus could lead to “limited supply of our products”.
Prior to Trump's Hail-Mary pass to win votes, (after all, 'Muricans got to have their meat), death was already stalking meat-packing firms, in many ways making them slaughter houses within slaughter houses:
News of the first Covid-19 death at the Tyson Foods poultry plant in Camilla, south-west Georgia, spread slowly.

“It was like they were keeping a secret,” said Tara Williams, a 47-year-old worker at the plant, as she described her account of management’s response to the death of her colleague Elose Willis. “It took them about two weeks to just put a picture up, to acknowledge she had died.”

Williams had worked alongside Willis in the “de-boning” section of the plant until she died on 1 April, aged 56. She had spent 35 years at the facility – five days a week, 10 hours a day, 100,000 slaughtered chickens a shift.

Willis was the first Tyson employee to succumb to Covid-19 at the Camilla plant, but two others would follow in short succession, a marker of the precarity faced by thousands of meat processing workers pushed to toil, closely packed, on the frontlines throughout the pandemic in plants that have quickly become coronavirus hotspots. At least 20 meat packing workers have died from the virus nationwide and 5,000 have become infected, according to union officials, as close to two dozen facilities closed – some temporarily – over past few weeks.
As per the corporate agenda, it is the worker who is obliged to make sacrifices, including the ultimate one.
For Tara Williams, who has worked at the Camilla plant on the overnight shift as a packing scanner for five years earning $13.55 an hour, Trump’s executive order and her company’s adverts were another blow in her fight for workers’ rights.

“I was devastated and I was hurt. Because now, to be truthful – and excuse my language – Tyson really aren’t going to give a fuck about us at all,” she said. “For us employees that work in production, we are treated like modern day slaves.”
Although there is much more to the Guardian article, which I would encourage everyone to read, it somehow seems apt to end this post with that stinging rebuke and indictment from Ms. Williams.

Friday, May 1, 2020

A Graphic Illustration Of Why Peter MacKay Is Unfit To Hold Public Office