Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Anti-Semitism at CUNY Law

The City College of New York is legendary. For decades it offered an excellent education to the children of poor New York immigrants, in particular, to those who were Jewish.

No more. 

At a time when the Biden administration has declared war against anti-Semitism, the CUNY Law School commencement shone the light of day on a simple fact. Whereas we understand that the Biden war is directed at white supremacist MAGA Republicans, the anti-Semitic CUNY Law commencement speaker, one Fatima Mousa Mohammed was neither white nor Republican. 

She was a Palestinian activist and chose to use her moment in the spotlight to  advance the Palestinian cause and to denounce Zionism. It was flagrantly anti-Semitic and has elicited calls to defund the publicly funded law school.

Many people might not have noticed but what Mohammed called the global struggle against colonialism and white supremacy included a global struggle against Zionism. You see, the Jews are behind it all.

National Review reported:

“Israel continues to indiscriminately rain bullets and bombs on worshipers, murdering the old, the young, attacking the funerals and graveyards as it encourages lynch mobs,” the law student argued.

During another part, Mohammed condemned the treatment of “Palestinian political prisoners like HLF [Holy Land Foundation] in U.S. prisons.”

The Texas-based group, which the State Department designated as a terrorist organization for aiding the Palestinian militant group Hamas, had sought to pass itself off as a Muslim charity.

“May we rejoice in the corners of our New York City bedroom apartments and dining tables, may it be fuel for the fight against capitalism, racism, imperialism, and Zionism around the world,” Mohammed said near the end of her speech.

Terrorism, anyone?

We ought to mention that the commencement speaker was chosen by her fellow law students. They knew very well what she was going to say and they chose her anyway. This tells us that anti-Semitism is legitimate in certain corners of the American academic establishment.

Of course,  the speech elicited the usual round of pro forma denunciations. And nothing will happen. One might suggest that law firms rescind any job offers to graduates of this year’s class at CUNY law and that judges rescind any clerkships offered to the group. That will get their attention.

But, that was not all. Last year’s commencement speaker was just as bad, just as anti-Semitic, but was ignored at the time.

Mohammed’s speech comes the year after the law school hosted Nerdeen Kiswani, then the president of the law school’s Students for Justice in Palestine, to give the 2022 commencement address.

Kiswani had previously made several statements calling for violence and the destruction of the state of Israel.

“I’m banned from my homeland for as long as this Zionist settler entity, this organization called Israel, masquerading as a country, continues to exist,” the activist said during one interview on YouTube in 2021. “We had peace before Israel was created, so abolishing Israel is the key to peace.”

Following the murder of three Israelis, Kiswani liked an Instagram post showing the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem with the caption: “Glory to the axe of resistance.”

Kiswani was also a leader of Within Our Lifetime, a pro-Palestinian organization, that had a member imprisoned on federal charges for assaulting a Jewish man in  New York City in 2022. The group openly calls to “globalize the Intifada.”

No one said a word about this at the time. This suggests that anti-Semitic hatred has become normalized in certain communities and in certain academic institutions. Do I need to tell you that Nerdeen Kiswani was not a white supremacist MAGA Republican.

Tuesday, May 30, 2023

A New World Order

In many cases we open our discussion with something of a disclaimer: consider the source. In this case I recommend that we not consider the source.

The source of this recent lecture about the conflict in Ukraine is Brookings scholar Fiona Hill. You will recall that Hill testified against President Trump during his impeachment proceedings, thus appearing to be a partisan actor. And the Brookings Institute is obviously a liberal think tank. On the other hand, Hill was previously a Trump administration official.

And yet, in the world of strategic analysis of the shifting tectonics of world politics and the clash of civilizations, we are always on the lookout for an intelligent survey of what is going on. We have long since been disabused of the notion that our media is providing an objective survey of the facts or even a fair analysis of the situation at hand.

In what has become a propaganda war over Ukraine, this is even more obvious. As that country becomes increasingly reduced to a pile of rubble, our sage commenters tell us that everything is going swimmingly for the country’s fearless and slightly reckless president. And yet, we also know that next year is an election year and it behooves our Democratic propaganda media to show how great things are under our demented president. Thus, if you cannot consider Fiona Hill the best source, the alternatives in the media are far worse.

As opposed to many others Hill considers the Ukraine conflict, not in terms of defending democracy against autocracy, but as a worldwide rebellion against American hegemony, to say nothing of American arrogance. So, the conflict defies the old world order and attempts to midwife something else. Clearly, it has not arrived at a new configuration, but it is a work in progress.

Hill writes:

This has not, as Vladimir Putin and others claim, become a proxy war between the United States or the “collective West” (the U.S. and its European and other allies) against Russia. In the current geopolitical arena, the war is now effectively the reverse—a proxy for a rebellion by Russia and the “Rest” against the United States. The war in Ukraine is perhaps the event that makes the passing of pax Americana apparent to everyone.

Countries around the world have tired of feeling pushed around by America, of having the terms of their relationship imposed from Washington. Ironically, in a war that is supposed for democracy, these countries want to have a say in their own foreign policies. And we should not ignore the increasing economic power of China:

It is not just Russia that seeks to push the United States to the sidelines in Europe, and China that wants to minimize and contain U.S. military and economic presence in Asia so both can secure their respective spheres of influence. Other countries that have traditionally been considered “middle powers” or “swing states”—the so-called “Rest” of the world—seek to cut the U.S. down to a different size in their neighborhoods and exert more influence in global affairs. They want to decide, not be told what’s in their interest. In short, in 2023, we hear a resounding no to U.S. domination and see a marked appetite for a world without a hegemon.

In part, it seems that the United States has overplayed its hand in various conflicts around the world. It has mistaken its own interest for the interest of the international community. While Hill emphasizes moral authority, we will add that countries around the world are more and more economically dependent on Russia and China. Economic hegemony grants a certain amount of prestige, not to mention power:

Since 1991, the U.S. has seemingly stood alone as the global superpower. But today, after a fraught two-decade period shaped by American-led military interventions and direct engagement in regional wars, the Ukraine war highlights the decline of the United States itself. This decline is relative economically and militarily, but serious in terms of U.S. moral authority. Unfortunately, just as Osama bin Laden intended, the U.S.’s own reactions and actions have eroded its position since the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11. “America fatigue” and disillusionment with its role as the global hegemon is widespread. This includes in the United States itself—a fact that is frequently on display in Congress, news outlets and think tank debates. For some, the U.S. is a flawed international actor with its own domestic problems to attend to. For others, the U.S. is a new form of imperial state that ignores the concerns of others and throws its military weight around.

As for the stability and viability of the American economy, this remains to be seen. Clearly, many countries are seriously doubting America’s ability to dig itself out of the debt hole it has put itself in. 

Some part of the debate involves past American behavior, behavior that is being criticized because we nearly go it alone:

Ukraine is essentially being punished by guilt through association for having direct U.S. support in its effort to defend itself and liberate its territory. Indeed, in some international and American domestic forums, discussions about Ukraine quickly degenerate into arguments about U.S. past behavior. Russia’s actions are addressed in a perfunctory fashion. “Russia is only doing what the U.S. does,” is the retort … Yes, Russia overturned the fundamental post-1945 principle of the prohibition against war and the use of force enshrined in Article 2 of the UN Charter … But, the U.S. already damaged this principle when it invaded Iraq 20 years ago.

Apparently, the developing world does not see us as quite the moral actors we consider ourselves to be:

In the so-called “Global South,” and what I am loosely referring to as the “Rest” (of the world), there is no sense of the U.S. as a virtuous state. Perceptions of American hubris and hypocrisy are widespread. Trust in the international system(s) that the U.S. helped invent and has presided over since World War II is long gone. Elites and populations in many of these countries believe that the system was imposed on them at a time of weakness when they were only just securing their independence. 

And many of these countries in the Global South were none too happy with the way the Biden administration rallied the West to fight a proxy war in Ukraine. Apparently, fighting a proxy war-- with mercenaries-- does not label you as courageous. 

Non-Western elites share the same belief as some Western analysts that Russia was provoked or pushed into war by the United States and NATO expansion. They resent the power of the U.S. dollar and Washington’s frequent punitive use of financial sanctions. They were not consulted by the U.S. on this round of sanctions against Russia. They see Western sanctions constraining their energy and food supplies and pushing up prices. They blame Russia’s Black Sea blockade and deliberate disruption of global grain exports on the United States—not on the actual perpetrator, Vladimir Putin. They point out that no-one pushed to sanction the United States when it invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq, even though they were opposed to U.S. intervention, so why should they step up now?

And many countries do not want to get caught in a conflict between China and America. They fear they will lose their own ability to pursue their own interests and their being forced to take sides:

Most countries—including many in Europe—reject the current U.S. framing of a new “Great Power Competition”—a geopolitical tug-of-war between the United States and China. States and elites bristle at the U.S. idea that “you are either with us or against us,” or you are “on the right or wrong side of history” in an epic struggle of democracies versus autocracies. Few outside Europe accept this definition of the war in Ukraine or the geopolitical stakes. They don’t want to be assigned to new blocs that are artificially imposed, and no-one wants to be caught in a titanic clash between the United States and China. In contrast to the U.S., as well as others like Japan, South Korea and India, most countries do not see China as a direct military or security threat. They may have serious qualms about China’s rough economic and political behavior and its blatant abuse of human rights, but they still see China’s value as a trading and investment partner for their future development. The United States and the European Union don’t offer sufficient alternatives for countries to turn away from China, including in the security realm—and even within Europe the sense of how much is at stake for individual countries in the larger international system and in relations with China varies.

Right or wrong, the analysis deserves to be considered. 

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Monday, May 29, 2023

Her Cheating Boyfriend

This is hardly the first time I have heard a story like this. A woman engaged in a committed long-term relationship discovers that for every minute of every day of the relationship her paramour has been seeking and finding sex outside of their couple. And, he has been lying about it.

The author of the Guardian article explains how she discovered this and that she was completely shattered by the revelation: she had been living a lie; whatever she imagined was going on between the two of them was not the truth. Not even close to the truth.

That she would have been better off not knowing does cross one’s mind, though apparently not hers. Her story raises a philosophical or even a diagnostic question, is her compulsive cheater of a boy friend a sex addict, a man who is suffering from a psychiatric condition or is he simply a bounder who does not want to own up to his moral dereliction?

Most readers will think at this time that she must have known. Surely, I have known women who swore that they never knew or suspected anything until that momentous moment when they forced their men to fess up.

Believe what you will, but consider, for instance the couple’s sex life, or better their non-existent sex life. The issue is not whether or not he was telling the truth about his sex addiction, such as it was, but it is about whatever was going on between them. Apparently, not very much:

We would sometimes go weeks, months even, without having sex; at times it felt more like a friendship than anything else. I blamed myself, and as time went on I lost confidence in myself and my body. One day, as summer approached during the first lockdown, he had forwarded me an email about a sexual awakening course and told me to go on it. I paid £150 for weekly sessions and meditations on how to reconnect with my sexuality. But things between us remained the same and, trapped in self-doubt, I felt the fault was mine. He did nothing to help me think otherwise. And whenever I thought about leaving him, he would shower me with adoration and I’d find a way to forget my hurt.

Having a relationship that is basically sexless is a clue, a rather flagrant one, at that. The author does not explain what happened between her and her paramour after she took this course. One imagines, not very much. For all we know they were together for reasons that had nothing do with attraction.

One also understands that the couple in question was not married.

Keep in mind, the author explains to us that her lover brought women home to their home to have sex and that he was sexting other women while he was in bed with her. Most women would not be quite so easily duped. They will tell you that we are dealing here with wilful blindness. 

In another situation, reported by the anonymous author, a woman would wake up to find her husband masturbating to porn in her bed. Hint? 

The woman in question decided to ignore it all. Surely, she was monumentally insecure, at the least. But, she did suspect that there was more to it than his porn addiction. 

So, we might, graciously avoid the larger question of whether these men are sex addicts or moral degenerates. The one does not preclude the other. And we might ask ourselves, based on the flimsiest of evidence, about the inner workings of their relationships. Obviously, we do not want to generalize from a specific case.

About their relationship, we only get a small glimpse. Consider this scene, the scene that led to his confession:

Just moments earlier, I was arguing with my partner about the division of household labour. Frustratingly, I have fallen into a stereotype – vacuuming around him while he’s on his phone. But this morning is different. He asks me to sit with him on the sofa; he wants to tell me something big, something personal. I leave the vacuum cleaner on the floor.

You might, if you were of an especially churlish temperament, that the relationship in question was defined by mindless nagging about who is going to vacuum what. In short, she was a good feminist and was politicizing her personal life. Why could anyone imagine that she was making a constructive contribution to her relationship is beyond me.

I will add that we do not know what he did for a living. We do not know what she did for a living. We know nothing about their lives in the real world. 

Being a good feminist she blames his behavior on toxic masculinity. Hmmm. It’s a strange use of all of the feminist ranting against men.

Besides, if she did not feel sorry for him she would feel angry for being betrayed, and also disappointed that she had completely missed the signs. But then, when you live in an ideologically driven fiction you are more likely to blind yourself to reality:

I feel sorry for him. The word “addiction” instantly makes me think of struggle and suffering. Indeed, my initial reaction is one of empathy – that perhaps he has simply suffered in a society that has forced on him a disconnected understanding of sex and masculinity. It’s so unfair that he’s experiencing this, I tell him. What makes him feel like his relationship with pornography is out of control?

In brief, she sounds like a pathetic young therapist. Sad to say, she has no sense of the meaning of moral responsibility.

And of course, they end up having a soulful exchange of their deepest feelings. You know, the ones you should keep to yourself.

The conversation seems to go on for hours, as if time were being dragged through thick sediment. He speaks about his insecurities; I tell him my deepest and darkest vulnerabilities. It feels like the most open conversation we’ve had in years. Later, I find out that nothing he’s told me here is true.

I like that final touch. She is thrilled to have an open and honest and heartfelt conversation with her lover. It is the therapeutic thing to do. Unfortunately, she discovers that this soul blending conversation is also based on lies. He is placating her. One suspects that he has chosen to confess because he is about to be exposed. One does not know because the information provided is incomplete.

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Sunday, May 28, 2023

Totalitarian Trans Ideology

Once upon a time James Esses was a practicing psycho therapist in Great Britain. In the course of his training and in setting up his practice he decided to champion the cause of children who were being groomed to be transexual. In particular this meant, young girls who had been persuaded that they could trade in their girlhood for beards and hairy chests. 

And then, the notice arrived in his email. His license had been pulled; he had been struck from the rolls. His crime-- it was a thought crime-- refusing to believe in gender fluidity, in the notion that any child could change sex at will. 

He explains in the Spectator:

The truth is that this happened to me because I hold gender critical views. I believe that biological sex is binary and immutable. I do not believe that children should be taught otherwise. Nor do I believe that children should be unequivocally affirmed down a path of potentially irreversible medical transitioning.

These beliefs, founded in science and ethical therapeutic considerations, were enough to cost me my vocation.

One hastens to add that it is not just a question of belief. Though, oddly enough, transsexuality is nothing more than a belief, a delusional belief at that.

During the course of his training Esses had volunteered at a charity called Childline, where he found himself counseling more and more children seeking to transition.

Children as young as eight told me they were certain they were trans – but they didn’t seem to have much understanding of what ‘trans’ meant. Some were desperate to take medication to delay their puberty – but didn’t seem to know what puberty involved. Many told me that they had joined online communities where their trans identities were celebrated and encouraged. Most (but not all) were born as girls and wanted to be boys. Some were already using breast binders, a piece of clothing that compresses breasts and can cause serious damage if not used properly.

Advocates and activists insist that puberty blocker hormones are perfectly safe, their effects reversible. And yet, poisoning children with these hormones, and then practicing surgical mutilation on them, followed by a lifetime regimed on cross sex hormones is not remotely a good thing. 

And for all the beards and hairy chests, no transitioning girl has ever grown a dick.

A nation that routinely mutilates children is practicing child sacrifice. A nation that forces practitioners to participate  in these practices, lest they lose their licenses to practice their professions, is totalitarian.

As it happens, activists tell us that children should be allowed to transition socially, to change names of pronouns, before undergoing more drastic procedures.

Mere ‘social transition’ – when a child simply starts living as the other sex, often involving a change of wardrobe and a possible change of name and pronouns – is usually seen as the soft and harmless option, because it doesn’t involve medical treatment. However, in my experience once you’ve started down that path, it’s difficult to change course. I’ve spoken to children who identify as trans and would secretly like to detransition but they’re too frightened of being labelling a liar or attention-seeker.

As it happens, this all began around two years ago. Since then, Esses notes, the Tavistock Center that had been leading the way in child mutilation has been closed. It was drowned under a sea of lawsuits from children and their parents who had been tricked into buying the new scheme. 

One wishes Esses the best in his lawsuits against those who tried to strike his name from the list of accredited credentials. His was a lonely battle in Great Britain. We need more people like him in America.

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Saturday, May 27, 2023


First on today’s list: Apparently, the makes of Bud Light have awakened a sleeping dragon. Not only have they destroyed the value of their company, they are now reduced to giving Bud Light away, for free. They have also been buying back product that their distributors cannot sell. 

How much did they lose: 15.7 billion. Great work guys.

Second, Target has a GLSEN problem. You know about Target, a large chain of stores. They decided to do a display accompanied by products, for Gay Pride month. Customers did not like it, not one bit. So Target toned it down and moved the merch to the back of the stores.

But then, the world discovered that Target has happily been funding an organization called GLSEN. This organization exists to promote the teaching of gender ideology in schools. It also promotes gender transition in schools.

Fox News reported:

Target Corporation is partnering with a K-12 education group for which focuses on getting districts to adopt policies that will keep parents in the dark on their child's in-school gender transition, providing sexually explicit books to schools for free, and integrating gender ideology at all levels of curriculum in public schools, Fox News Digital uncovered.

Ironically, as Andrew Sullivan has been wont to explain, the trans movement targets young gay children. Target continues its support for GLSEN, even though the purpose of the organization, beyond mutilating children, is to erase homosexuality. Happy Gay Pride month.

Third, a company called the North Face is also facing a boycott, for promoting transvestism.

Fourth, the Los Angeles Dodgers are facing blowback for invited a group call the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, the better to make a mockery of Christian beliefs. No one has yet to explain what this group has to do with our national pastime.

Fifth, Stephen Kruiser announces the good news. The Black Lives Matter movement has gone broke, as in bankrupt. It could not have happened too soon.

Sixth, if you were wondering why we have lost diplomatic ground in the Middle East, a motley collection of lawmakers called for the resignation of the Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber as head of the upcoming COP28 climate conference. Sultan al-Juber, the head of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company was considered to be favorable toward of fossil fuels. For the record, the conference will be held in Abu Dhabi.

We do not expect much for the UN climate conference, but, there we go again, lecturing countries around the world. It’s  good example of how to lose friends of alienate people.

Seventh, Joe Biden is still strutting around the international stage, making gaffe after gaffe. Of course, they are not gaffes. They are symptoms of cerebral malfunction.

The Republican National Committee regaled us with a transcript from Biden’s Hiroshima press conference:

 And there's a lot of other...For example, the idea that we're... in terms of taxes that they refuse to...for example, we, I was able to balance the budget and pass everything from the global warming bill anyway, I was able to cut by $1.7 billion in the first two years the deficit that we are, were accumulating and because I was able to say to that the fifty five corporations in America that made forty four hundred billion dollars or forty billion dollars, four hundred billion dollars, that they they pay zero in tax, zero.

On this Memorial Day Weekend, it makes you proud to be led by a man suffering from senile dementia.

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Friday, May 26, 2023

The World Realigns

Sanctions have never felt like effective foreign policy. When we decided to cut off Russia from world commerce, and also to confiscate their dollar holdings, people thrilled to the notion that we were going to hit them where it hurt.

A lot of nations thought that the Biden administration was involved in bullying. They did not like it.

The result was a series of new alliances, between Russia and China and Middle Eastern countries, one that was designed to circumvent the American sanctions. 

Now Ryan McMaken of the Mises Foundation has declared that one of the results of the American approach has been to enhance relations between Russia and China and the nations of the Middle East. That means, in Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Now, Saudi Arabia has welcomed Syria back into the Arab League, without consulting America.

This represents a reversal from years of isolation placed on the regime, and a break with US policy which remains staunchly opposed to Assad. Indeed, the League’s rapprochement with Assad should be seen as a repudiation of US policy, and especially as a sign of how Washington’s influence among League members—the most powerful of which are Saudi Arabia and Egypt—has waned.

Waning influence… hmm. 

McMaken continues:

Moreover, this is just the latest bad news for Washington’s influence in the region coming mere weeks after Iran and Saudi Arabia reestablished diplomatic relations.

In both cases, we find regimes that Washington had sought to isolate and sanction, but both states have instead been expanding their relations with other states in the region with the help of China. Meanwhile, both Beijing and Riyadh have increased their ties with Russia. These development help illustrate how growing US attempt to impose—or threaten to impose—hard line sanctions against a growing number of regimes has only accelerated a global movement away from the US dollar and away from Washington’s orbit. 

Evidently, a rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran, brokered by China, is not good news. Not having informed the United States represents a diplomatic failure for America. Then again, the Biden administration alienated Saudi Arabia by ranting about Jamal Khashoggi, and by threatening the nation’s oil revenue.

As for the effort to isolate Russia, to punish it for its incursion into Ukraine, that is not working out according to plan:

Both the Saudis and the Chinese have shown growing efforts to forge ties directly with the Russian regime as well. At a Chinese-Russian summit in February 2022, both regimes stated they plan to forge even closer ties. This has apparently not changed even after a year of heightened hostilities from the US and NATO aimed at Moscow. In fact, it is likely that Russia-China relations are closer than they’ve ever been in the post-Soviet era. This has clearly been a problem for Washington as China continues to provide an important market for Russian exports in the face of US sanctions. Both states have also made efforts to move away from the US dollar and settle international trade in other currencies. 

More important is Saudi Arabia:

The Saudi regime has grown closer to Moscow in the wake of US sanctions against Russia. For example, “Saudi Arabia and the UAE, traditional Middle Eastern allies of the United States, are not shying away from importing, storing, trading, or re-exporting Russian fuels despite American efforts to persuade them to join a crackdown on Russian attempts to evade the Western sanctions on its oil.”

In other words, US efforts to get the Arab world to isolate Russia are failing, and Russian ties with the Middle East are actually improving. 

As you know, de-dollarization is being widely discussed in the press. The general impression is that it will never work, and that finding an alternative currency for international trade is a fool’s errand. Such is the situation today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

The enemies list that the Biden administration has accumulated, the alliances that it has broken or damaged, is long and is getting longer by the day.

McMaken concludes:

At this point, a trend has clearly emerged: as the US further attempts to tighten its geopolitical grip on the global economy through economic sanctions, fewer and fewer states worldwide appear interested in playing along. 

The next time anyone cheers the Biden administration approach to Ukraine, the sanctions war that it has initiated, consider the alternative perspective. We seem, effectively, to be promoting a strategic realignment of work powers, of powers that seem no longer to be our friends.

Yet, it appears that the US’s ongoing sanctions war against a growing percentage of the world population is having the opposite of its intended effect. The US threatens to sanction Saudi Arabia and China, and in return, both countries become even more willing to seek cooperation with some of the regimes Washington has attacked the most.

While Washington pursued a divide-and-conquer strategy throughout the Middle East, Beijing brokers deals to increase regional stability. While the US ratchets up efforts to isolate its many enemies, the Chinese, the Saudis, the Arab League, and OPEC all shrug and look to increasing international communication and trade.  The Washington foreign policy establishment shows few signs that it is even noticing. The US regimes foreign policy “tool box” continues to be centered on sanctions, violence, and making demands on both its allies and its professed enemies. The rest of the world is moving on, however, and Washington may be among the last to accept the new reality.

We have a clueless president leading a clueless administration. Serious politicians have not been lacking in rants about China. They have been lacking in an effective foreign policy that will defend American interests.

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Thursday, May 25, 2023

Therapy via Artificial IIntelligece

Your therapist will see you now.

For many people those are comforting words. You are about to engage with a human being who  cares about you, who will let you say what you want and will presumably help you to get better.

But, what if your therapist is a chatbot? How much help can a computer program provide?

You might think that it’s all the same. An artificial therapist would seem to be limited in its capacity to help you to sort out your feelings. And what will happen when your discover that your therapist is a program.

You will be happy to hear that it has been tried before at MIT. One professor suggested that AI would never be a very good therapist. In this case, the therapist was called Eliza:

Decades ago, Joseph Weizenbaum, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and considered one of the fathers of artificial intelligence, predicted AI would never make a good therapist, though it could be made to sound like one. In fact, his original AI program, created in the 1960s, was a psychotherapist named ELIZA, which used word and pattern recognition combined with natural language programming to sound like a therapist:

Woman: Well, my boyfriend made me come here.ELIZA: Your boyfriend made you come here?Woman: He says I’m depressed much of the time.ELIZA: I am sorry to hear that you are depressed.Woman: It’s true. I am unhappy.ELIZA: Do you think coming here will help you not to be unhappy?

As it happened, Eliza sounded like a typical therapist. And yet, it was a simulation. The AI therapists had a ways to go. Their patients missed the human element:

“The core tenet of medicine is that it’s a relationship between human and human — and AI can’t love,” said Bon Ku, director of the Health Design Lab at Thomas Jefferson University and a pioneer in medical innovation. “I have a human therapist, and that will never be replaced by AI.”

Or else, never say never, Surely, cognitive treatment, being more rigorous and apparently scripted, might yield some space to the bots. Besides, the experiment took place many years ago, and AI has advanced since then,

While some mental health apps may ultimately prove worthy, there is evidence that some can do harm. One researcher noted that some users faulted these apps for their “scripted nature and lack of adaptability beyond textbook cases of mild anxiety and depression.”

Of course, the real issue is the nation’s inability to provide effective mental health counseling. Insurance companies are hard at work trying to replace substandard therapists with substandard AI programs:

AI may certainly improve as the years go by, but at this point, for insurers to claim that providing access to an app is anything close to meeting the mental health parity requirement is woefully premature.

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Wednesday, May 24, 2023

New York Office Buildings Emptying Out

Long time readers of this blog and my Substack will not be surprised. Commercial real estate New York city is being hollowed out. There are fewer tenants, paying lower rents, exposing landlords and the lending institutions that finance them to severe calamity.

All signs suggest that this is not going to end well. For now most people are barely cognizant of the problem, but stockholders and executives are now scrambling to avoid defaults and bankruptcy. The Wall Street Journal has the story.

In part, the problem is a failure of workers to return to the office. The stock market has figured it all out:

Share prices for some of the largest office landlords have dropped to near historic lows, reflecting a sluggish return-to-office rate and a rise in the number of investors betting that these stocks will keep falling. 

SL Green’s share price closed at $22.54 on Friday. That is barely above the New York office firm’s 1997 initial-public-offering price and a fraction of its post-global-financial-crisis peak of more than $140 in 2015. Vornado Realty Trust, which owns marquee office buildings in San Francisco, Chicago and New York, closed at $13.13 a share on Friday. Vornado’s share price topped $67 as recently as 2020.

Both Vornado and SL Green shares are down more than 30% so far this year, while the broader stock market is higher. 

More vacancies and lower rents, it’s a bad combination:

Most other office real-estate investment trusts are also under selling pressure from soaring vacancies and declining rents. The return of employees to offices showed signs of a rebound earlier this year. But it has stalled at roughly 50% of prepandemic usage levels. Leasing activity for office REITs fell 20% on average in the first quarter compared with a year earlier, according to real-estate analytics firm Green Street.

This is very bad news, indeed:

The result is the worst stretch for the office market in decades, with few signs of hope for a turnaround even if a recession is averted. A growing number of office owners have started to capitulate and are selling their properties at large discounts to their prepandemic values. About 84% of the $7.8 billion of commercial mortgage-backed securities office loans maturing in 2023 will face refinancing difficulties, according to a May report by Moody’s Analytics.

And, of course, the banking system is largely implicated in the problem, given that it holds mortgages on these properties:

The turmoil in the office sector risks spilling into the broader economy because small and regional banks have tens of billions of dollars in office loans to private landlords on their balance sheets. Concern about the value of the buildings backing those loans has been growing this year with the failure of Silicon Valley Bank and the rise of delinquencies and defaults by office landlords.

And then there are the REITS, the real estate investment trusts, which have collapsed:

Since the start of 2020, shares of office REITs have declined 48% compared with a 0.1% increase for the FTSE Nareit Equity Index, a broader commercial-property index, according to John Kim, a real-estate analyst at BMO Capital Markets. Over that same period, the S&P 500 index is up 37%. 

Obviously, as you might have guessed, things are looking brighter in Sunbelt states:

Most landlords that focus on office buildings in Sunbelt states, which are benefiting from inflows of population and businesses, reported better performance in the first quarter than those with high concentrations in cities such as San Francisco and New York.

Obviously, by the laws of contrary opinion, the more inverstors become negative, the more it feels as though things are about to sort themselves out. When things cannot get worse, they tend to get better. Of course, in another sense things can always get worse. It hardly feels optimistic.

While shops on New York’s streets are suffering too many vacancies, residential real estate has been booming. Go figure.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023

Dershowitz on Soros

Few people have done more to promote crime in American cities than George Soros. The billionaire hedge fund manager launched his own campaign to elect progressive prosecutors in places like San Francisco, Philadelphia, New York, Chicago, St. Louis and Los Angeles. The result has been a crime wave across America’s largest cities. 

Soros, who spent World War II under the protection of a Gestapo officer in Hungary, might well be taxed with hatred of the nation. I am not suggesting that the twelve-year old Soros was responsible for Gestapo behavior. And yet, how did his protector influence his mind? A child who was saved by the Gestapo might have believed that the wrong side won World War II.

Now, Soros has come under extensive criticism for his foray into law enforcement. To which his defenders have replied that those who are criticizing him are anti-Semitic. You would never know it from his behavior, but Soros is Jewish.

Obviously, it is patently absurd to say that you cannot criticize someone who is Jewish without being a bigot. The last person to receive such criticism was Elon Musk, who compared Soros to a fictional character named Magneto.

To that Alan Dershowitz responded in the Wall Street Journal yesterday:

Mr. Soros also has had a pernicious influence on American domestic issues, such as funding leftist candidates for district attorney, who have politicized law enforcement. Unlike Mr. Musk, I haven’t compared Mr. Soros to Magneto, a Marvel supervillain who, like Mr. Soros, survived the Holocaust. I wouldn’t make that comparison because I had never heard of Magneto. But I agree with Mr. Musk that Mr. Soros’s acts contribute to fraying the “fabric of civilization.” And Mr. Musk has shown no hostility toward Israel or the Jewish people.

Of course, Soros has damaged the reputation of Jewish Americans, moreso since he has tried to use his Jewishness as a shield against all criticism. 

Dershowitz declares that Soros is having a malign influence on the world. One should be able to say so, if only in the interest of dissociating Jews from his deviant political influence.

Unfortunately, there is more. Dershowitz explains that Soros has been funding two important anti-Israeli organizations, Human Rights Watch and J Street.

As for the first, it seems to have specialized in bashing Israel. Dershowitz explained:

For years HRW critiqued the denial of human rights by all countries based on two criteria: the seriousness of the violations in any particular nation, and the inability of the nation’s citizens to protest and remedy such violations. But in 1993 Kenneth Roth became executive director and turned HRW into an organization that specialized in demonizing Israel.

He continued:

Mr. Roth has deployed “human rights” as a weapon against Israel. His organization’s one-sided reports were used to justify selective condemnation of Israel by the United Nations and its divisions. They were circulated on university campuses around the world. Despite their obvious anti-Israel bias, supporters pointed to Mr. Roth’s Jewish heritage to lend credibility to his anti-Israel accusations.

Apparently, in 2010, Soros pledged to give $100 million to Human Rights Watch.

As for the J Street group, the story is similar:

Despite its claim to be a progressive pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian organization, J Street has done much to turn most progressive and some liberal Democrats—including members of Congress, academics and media figures—against Israel. Last year Haaretz reported that Mr. Soros contributed $1 million to J Street’s super PAC, “20 times larger than any previous donation J Street Action Fund received.”

So, Soros does not just fund progressive prosecutors, people who have allowed crime to run rampant in American cities. When his supporters defended him because he was Jewish, they might have noticed that he had been supporting anti-Israeli causes.

Dershowitz notes:

In a January article for the Jewish News Service, Farley Weiss, a former president of the National Council of Young Israel, wrote: “Soros’s defenders try to shut down criticism of the billionaire by claiming it is antisemitic because Soros himself is Jewish. But no one has financed more destructive attacks on Israel and the American Jewish community than Soros.”

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