Chinese military purge exposes weakness, could widen (Yew Lun Tian and Laurie Chen, December 31, 2023, Reuters)

Beijing did not explain why the generals were removed. Some analysts say the evidence points towards corruption over equipment procurement by the PLA Rocket Force.

“More heads will roll. The purge that centred around the Rocket Force is not over,” said Alfred Wu, associate professor, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy in Singapore.

Wei Fenghe, a former defence minister who used to head the Rocket Force, has also vanished. When asked about his whereabouts, a defence ministry spokesman said in August that the military has zero tolerance for corruption.

His successor, Li Shangfu, was abruptly removed as defence minister in October without explanation after also disappearing for months. He had previously headed the equipment department. One of his then deputies was removed from parliament on Friday.

On the same day, Dong Jun, a Chinese ex-Navy chief, with a South China Sea background, was named Li’s replacement as defence minister.

Analysts say that while the Chinese military has long been known for corruption, the extent of the latest crackdown and the involvement of the PLA’s Rocket Force is shocking.

“This part of the PLA would have the most rigorous vetting process for senior officers, given the importance of having highly trusted men in charge of China’s nuclear weapons,” said Dennis Wilder, senior fellow for the Initiative for U.S.-China Dialogue on Global Issues at Georgetown University.

“Moreover, it seems to have involved several senior men rather than one ‘bad apple’.”


Meet America’s Newest Oil Trader Extraordinaire: Joe Biden (David Uberti, Dec. 31, 2023, WSJ

President Biden’s unprecedented release of oil from America’s petroleum reserves in 2022 turned the White House into an unusually active player in the volatile crude market. The flood of emergency supplies helped arrest surging oil prices after Russia invaded Ukraine, and pulled billions of dollars into the Energy Department’s coffers in the process.

Oil prices have sputtered since and allowed officials who sold high to start replenishing U.S. stockpiles on the cheap.


DeSantis’ 2023: More Than $160 Million Spent To Buy A Collapse In The Polls (S.V. Date, Dec 29, 2023, HuffPo)

[T]he gaffes, the internal squabbles and even his unwillingness to use the legal consequences of Trump’s behavior against him pale beside DeSantis’ fundamental flaw: his inability to get enough Republican primary voters to like him.

Polling shows that his numbers were strongest before he actively began campaigning for president in late May, and that the more voters saw of him, the less inclined they were to support him.

“The idea of ‘a’ DeSantis was appealing, but the reality of ‘the’ DeSantis was repellent,” said Mac Stipanovich, who served as chief of staff to Florida Republican Gov. Bob Martinez in the 1980s, and has been involved with GOP campaigns in the state for decades. “It is telling that his favorite president is Calvin Coolidge, the avatar of anti-charisma in politics.”

“When you come across as a mean person who shows little empathy for the real concerns for citizens, and who always wants to make sure everyone in every room knows you think you are the smartest person there, it doesn’t go over all that well,” said Steve Duprey, a former Republican National Committee member from New Hampshire. “Focusing on Disney, wokeness, a little hippie college in Sarasota, and an abortion ban out of sync with most of America, instead of on the economy, the debt, the border, isn’t a winning formula.”

“Other than that,” Duprey said, “he’s nailing it.”

Animatronic malignant dwarf was always going to be a tough cell.


40% of US electricity is now emissions-free (JOHN TIMMER – 12/28/2023, Ars Technica)

If we combine nuclear and renewables under the umbrella of carbon-free generation, then that’s up by nearly 1 percent since 2022 and is likely to surpass 40 percent for the first time.

The only thing that’s keeping carbon-free power from growing faster is natural gas, which is the fastest-growing source of generation at the moment, going from 40 percent of the year-to-date total in 2022 to 43.3 percent this year. (It’s actually slightly below that level in the October data.) The explosive growth of natural gas in the US has been a big environmental win, since it creates the least particulate pollution of all the fossil fuels, as well as the lowest carbon emissions per unit of electricity. But its use is going to need to start dropping soon if the US is to meet its climate goals, so it will be critical to see whether its growth flat lines over the next few years.

Outside of natural gas, however, all the trends in US generation are good, especially considering that the rise of renewable production would have seemed like an impossibility a decade ago.


Flooding NYC’s subways with police cost millions — and didn’t fix anything (Marisa Kabas, 12/28/23, MSNBC)

If you’d like to visit a New York City public library on a Sunday, you’re out of luck, thanks to recent city budget cuts. But if you’d like to see a subway station crawling with cops (including the PR-friendly robot variety), the possibilities are bountiful. This is life in Eric Adams’ New York.

In 2022, amid concerns about rising crime in the city’s transit system, New York Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams took the idea of “defund the police” and flipped it on its head. They dreamed up a strategy of “the three Cs” — “Cops, Cameras, Care” — which Hochul announced in October last year. What if, they imagined, we added more than a thousand uniformed police officers to patrol the subway every day and paid them much more — millions more? Now, one year later, city records show it led to a $151 million increase in NYPD overtime pay, a negligible decrease in crime and a vast increase in fare evasion tickets and arrests of people of color.


Weaponising Emotion (LORENZO WARBY, DEC 21, 2023, Not On Your Team, But Always Fair)

The imagined future progressives use as benchmark isn’t real. This gives them a huge rhetorical advantage: a future from which there’s no information is free from complicating sins and trade-offs. It can be imagined to be as perfect as one wishes.

That rhetorical advantage comes at huge cost for human flourishing. The problem is not the wish to do better. It is using one’s vision of the future as the benchmark for judgement rather than testing it against the accumulated experience of human action. This is especially so when mechanisms are adopted to block any testing.

Using the imagined future as one’s benchmark naturally inclines one to adopt a perfectionist outlook as perfectionism shines most brightly. However, perfectionist standards devalue human achievement, because all achievement is imperfect. Any failing can readily be construed as a de-legitimising failure.

The Right, in turn, does the same with the past.


We need to talk about Trump’s antisemitism (Noah Berlatsky, 18 December 2023, Independent)

Trump is most directly attacking immigrants and non-white people. He extrapolates freely from worries about South Americans crossing the Southern border to attacks on Asian people and African people, all of whom are tarred as a threat to pure (white) America.

The echoes of Nazi rhetoric here, though, also inevitably implicate Jewish people, white and otherwise. For Hitler, Jewish people were always immigrant outsiders corrupting Aryan society. The vicious Nazi propaganda film The Eternal Jew juxtaposed discussions of Jews with images of rats onboard ships, bringing contagion from port to port.

The invidious conflation of Jewish people and immigrants isn’t just in the past, either. The Great Replacement Theory is a conspiracy theory which argues that support for immigration is designed to undermine white power and white culture. Many versions of this argument are explicitly antisemitic, blaming Jewish “elites” for pushing for policies that increase immigration.

In 2018, Trump winked at an antisemitic version of this theory, saying he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Holocaust survivor and billionaire Democratic donor George Soros was responsible for funding immigrant caravans to the US.

The accusations against Soros were baseless but popular; he’s a favourite target of the far right here and abroad, who use him as a (barely concealed) antisemitic dog-whistle. And that dog-whistle can have horrific effects. That shooter who killed eleven people at Tree of Life synagogue was directly inspired by antisemitic Great Replacement conspiracy theories. He targeted the Pittsburgh synagogue because it partnered with HIAS, a Jewish nonprofit that helped resettle immigrants. “HIAS likes to bring invaders that kill our people,” the shooter wrote on the far right social media site Gab. “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.” He then went off and committed mass murder.


Uruguay’s green power revolution: rapid shift to wind shows the world how it’s done: Stung by 2008’s oil price spike, Uruguay now produces up to 98% of its electricity from renewables. Can other countries follow suit? (Sam Meadows, 27 Dec 2023, The Guardian)

It was the 2000s, and fossil fuel prices were rising worldwide. After a period of volatility in the 1980s, the crude oil price per barrel had reached one of its lowest points – $20 – at the end of 2001 but then, over the course of six years, it tripled before a new oil shock saw prices surpass those of the 1970s, reaching a record $145 a barrel on 3 July 2008.

Uruguay imports its oil, so it had a problem. Demand for energy in the country had grown by 8.4% the previous year and household energy bills were increasing at a similar rate. The 3.4 million-strong population was becoming restless. Lacking alternatives, President Tabaré Vázquez was forced to buy energy from neighbouring states at higher prices, even though Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay had a mutual aid agreement in case of emergency conditions.

To escape the trap, Vázquez needed rapid solutions. He turned to an unlikely source: Ramón Méndez Galain, a physicist who would transform the country’s energy grid into one of the cleanest in the world.

Today, the country has almost phased out fossil fuels in electricity production. Depending on the weather, anything between 90% and 95% of its power comes from renewables. In some years, that number has crept as high as 98%.

Tax the externalities of oil and we’re transitioned by 2030.


Global Inequality in Well‐​Being Has Decreased across Many Dimensions (Chelsea Follett and Vincent Geloso, 6/08/23, Cato)

The world has seen dramatic, global human progress across a broad range of indicators in recent decades, but have those gains been widely shared? The Inequality of Human Progress Index (IHPI) measures relative gaps in global development. It surveys international inequality across a greater number of dimensions than any prior index. By analyzing inequality in a multidimensional way, the IHPI takes inequality more seriously than those indexes that focus on income inequality alone. The IHPI considers material well‐​being and seven additional metrics: lifespan, infant mortality, adequate nutrition, environmental safety, access to opportunity (as measured by education), access to information (as measured by internet access), and political freedom. Across all but two of those dimensions, the world has become more equal since 1990. Globalization and market liberalization over the past few decades have not only raised absolute living standards but also reduced overall inequality.

The brutal reality of the End of History is that you aren’t special.


What is the oppressor/victim mindset and how did it conquer the academy?: A condensed version of Chapter 3 of The Coddling of the American Mind (JON HAIDT AND GREG LUKIANOFF, DEC 21, 2023, After Babel)

Two Kinds of Identity Politics
“Identity politics” is a contentious term, but its basic meaning is simple. Jonathan Rauch, a scholar at The Brookings Institution, defines it as “political mobilization organized around group characteristics such as race, gender, and sexuality, as opposed to party, ideology, or pecuniary interest.” He notes that “in America, this sort of mobilization is not new, unusual, un­-American, illegitimate, nefarious, or particularly left wing.” Politics is all about groups forming coalitions to achieve their goals. If cattle ranchers, wine enthusiasts, or libertarians banding together to promote their interests is normal politics, then women, African Americans, or gay people banding together is normal politics, too.

But how identity is mobilized makes an enormous difference––for the country, for the group’s odds of success, and for the welfare of the people who join the movement. Identity can be mobilized in ways that emphasize an overarching common humanity while making the case that some fellow human beings are denied dignity and rights because they belong to a particular group, or it can be mobilized in ways that amplify our ancient tribalism and bind people together in shared hatred of a group that serves as the unifying common enemy.

Common-Humanity Identity Politics
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., epitomized what we’ll call common-humanity identity politics. He was trying to fix a gaping wound—centuries of racism that had been codified into law in southern states and into customs, habits, and institutions across the country. It wasn’t enough to be patient and wait for things to change gradually. The civil rights movement was a political movement led by African Americans and joined by others, who engaged in nonviolent protests and civil disobedience, boycotts, and sophisticated public relations strategies to apply political pressure on intransigent lawmakers while working to change minds and hearts in the country at large.

Part of Dr. King’s genius was that he appealed to the shared morals and identities of Americans using the unifying languages of religion and patriotism. He repeatedly used the metaphor of family, referring to people of all races and religions as “brothers” and “sisters.” He spoke often of the need for love and forgiveness, hearkening back to the words of Jesus and echoing ancient wisdom from many cultures: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend” and “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” …

King’s most famous speech drew on the language and iconography of what sociologists call the American civil religion. Some Americans use quasi-religious language, frameworks, and narratives to speak about the country’s founding documents and founding fathers, and King did, too. “When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence,” he proclaimed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, “they were signing a promissory note.” King turned the full moral force of the American civil religion toward the goals of the civil rights movement. […]

King’s approach made it clear that his victory would not destroy America; it would repair and reunite it.

The former is the essential characteristic of the Left/Right, the latter of liberalism/conservatism.