Wednesday, May 5, 2021

You're playing with fire

This acrylic by Claire Morand is one of the pretty pictures in this year's collection for spring.

Proposed: All members of Congress should be required to provide the public with as detailed an account of their assets as any person applying for a welfare program has to provide - and put it on their .gov webpage.

"Brett Kavanaugh's Opinion Restoring Juvenile Life Without Parole Is Dishonest and Barbaric: In an appalling 6-3 decision on Thursday, the Supreme Court effectively reinstated juvenile life without parole by shredding precedents that had sharply limited the sentence in every state. Justice Brett Kavanaugh's majority opinion in Jones v. Mississippi is one of the most dishonest and cynical decisions in recent memory: While pretending to follow precedent, Kavanaugh tore down judicial restrictions on JLWOP, ensuring that fully rehabilitated individuals who committed their crimes as children will die behind bars. Justice Sonia Sotomayor's dissent, joined by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan, pulls no punches in its biting rebuke of Kavanaugh's duplicity and inhumanity. It doubles as an ominous warning that the conservative majority is more than willing to destroy major precedents while falsely claiming to uphold them"

"Critics Warn $15 Billion Merger of Global Water Giants Would Create 'Dangerous Corporate Monopoly': 'Veolia's plan to dominate public water services all across the globe is becoming a terrifying reality.'"

A state trooper in Maryland shot and killed a 16-year-old who turned out to have an airsoft gun, but the poorly-written headline says, "Maryland State Trooper Shoots Dead 16-Year-Old with Airsoft Pellet Gun," which isn't the same thing at all.

"Here's the Real Obstacle to Biden's $4 Trillion Infrastructure Bill: Earlier this month, a contingent of centrists in the Senate gave the White House an ultimatum for its impending infrastructure bill: 'It's got to be paid for.' Specifically, Joe Manchin, Jon Tester, and Angus King told the press that their appetite for deficit spending was nearly exhausted by the American Rescue Plan, and that they would only support Biden's next legislative priority if the bulk of it were offset with new taxes on corporations and high earners. But now, moderates in the House have presented Biden with contradictory demand. Representatives Josh Gottheimer and Tom Suozzi told Axios this week that they will not vote for the infrastructure bill unless it includes roughly $357 billion in tax cuts for the affluent (with about $200 billion of that sum going to households in the top one percent). Specifically, these lawmakers — and, if Axios is to be believed, several others who prefer to remain nameless — demand Biden repeal the cap that Republicans placed on the State and Local Income Tax (SALT) deduction. In addition to directly increasing inequality (in defiance of the White House's stated goals), such a measure would exacerbate the difficulty of finding enough revenue to reconcile Biden's ambitions for spending with his pledge to raise taxes on no one except the rich. But there are a lot of rich Democrats in the state of New York — and so Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer reportedly plans to make restoring the full SALT deduction a priority in negotiations with the White House." You'll recall Trump cut the SALT deduction to spite blue states, but that was really a favor that brought revenue into those states. Restoring it would be a bigger tax cut for the wealthy than Trump's big tax cut for the rich.

"The Democratic Party Pay-to-Play Scheme That Keeps Corporations in Charge of Public Policy: Congress is not just corrupt because of human nature. It's also corrupt by Democratic Party design. Two recent pieces caught my eye, the first because it tells an obvious story about Amazon, the labor movement and our happily corrupted Congress, and the second because it reveals the structural Why behind our happily corrupted Congress. Bottom line: Congress isn't corrupt because that's the nature of man or political institutions. Congress is also as corrupt as it is because congressional leaders design it that way and create incentives to make sure it stays that way."

For more details on what pay-to-play really means and what's actually going stale on the table right now as a result, "100 Days of Biden w/ David Dayen & Jennifer Briney" spells it out: "This week, we do a policy deep dive with Executive Editor of The American Prospect David Dayen, and Jennifer Briney of Congressional Dish Podcast, who breaks the pundit mold by actually trying to read all the bills. (Really. All of them.)"

What's going on in Haiti? Dr. Jemima Pierre talked to Sam Seder about the international (US-led) interference in Haiti.

"The fake innovation of gig companies: Over the last several months, Americans have heard hundreds of stories about the horrible working conditions of jobs in the so-called "gig economy." Amazon contract drivers have such brutal delivery schedules that they are sometimes forced to pee in bottles or defecate in bags. Uber drivers are often forced to work ludicrous overtime to make ends meet, much of it waiting for the algorithm to deliver a fare. Doordash paid $2.5 million to settle a lawsuit over allegedly stealing its drivers' tips (though it denied doing so). These stories illustrate an important truth about these gig companies: They are not actually innovative, in the traditional economic meaning of the word. Instead they rely on the most ancient employer technique of all: plain old labor exploitation."

"How the IHRA antisemitism definition became a pro-Israel cudgel: New research charts a five-year campaign by highly partisan, pro-Israel lobby groups to mislead the international community about the nature of what has been widely described as the 'gold standard' definition of antisemitism. According to a report published this week, the campaign has been so successful that political parties, the European Commission, European parliaments, and major public institutions, including universities, have been deceived. They have been persuaded that the new definition of antisemitism is far more expansive than the terms adopted by the international body behind it. As a result, many governments and institutions have wrongly concluded that the definition severely curtails what can legitimately be said about Israel. To date, the most high-profile victim of this campaign to protect Israel has been Jeremy Corbyn, the former leader of the British Labour party. He was widely characterized as presiding over an 'institutionally antisemitic' party based in large part on misrepresentations about the definition. In a foreword to the report, Avi Shlaim, an emeritus professor at Oxford University, observes that 'a definition intended to protect Jews against antisemitism was twisted to protect the State of Israel against valid criticisms that have nothing to do with anti-Jewish racism.'"

"Who Is Aleksei Navalny? NYT Once Knew, but Has Since Forgotten."

An interview with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer by Ezra Klein seems to indicate that Schumer is starting to get it. This could be good — or just another charade..

"How companies rip off poor employees — and get away with it [...] Some major U.S. corporations were among the worst offenders. They include Halliburton, G4S Wackenhut and Circle-K stores, which agency records show have collectively taken more than $22 million from their employees since 2005. [...] Companies have little incentive to follow the law. The Labor Department's Wage and Hour Division, which investigates federal wage-theft complaints, rarely penalizes repeat offenders, according to a review of data from the division. The agency fined only about 1 in 4 repeat offenders during that period. And it ordered those companies to pay workers cash damages — penalty money in addition to back wages — in 14% of those cases."

RIP: "Jim Steinman, Writer of Meat Loaf's Bat Out of Hell, Dead at 73" He didn't just write the song, but the whole album. It got so for a while you were constantly hearing his deeply dramatic power-tunes blasting out of speakers. First time I heard Bonnie Tyler's "Total Eclipse of the Heart" I thought, "That's the guy who wrote all that stuff for Meat Loaf," because his style was that distinctive.

RIP: "Walter Mondale, former vice president, dies at 93: Mondale was President Jimmy Carter's vice president from 1977 to 1981." He was actually fairly liberal when he started out, but under the Carter administration he transformed, and by the time he ran for president, he was chillingly right-wing. One of a long succession of right-wing Democrats who lost to Republicans and were re-written by "centrists" as having lost for being "too far left".

Spencer Ackerman, "U.S. Captured, Tortured, and Cleared Him. He's Still in GITMO. Abu Zubaydah was a human guinea pig for the CIA's post-9/11 torture. Almost 20 years later, as the U.S. moves on, he's still trying to get out of Guantanamo." Via Atrios, who has more.

It's been interesting watching the slow growth of Brad DeLong. "RHETORICAL QUESTION: Why Do Economists Ignore þe Greatest of All Market Failures? [...] The Chicago School underwent an enormous change between the Midwestern Populist days of Henry Simons, for whom private monopoly was the big foe and large inequalities an enormous menace, & the monopoly-tolerant fundraising paradise that Stigler & co. created. This transformation from Simons to Stigler was possible only by 'othering' the non-rich by every means possible, so that their low weight in the market's Negishi-weighted SWF could be dismissed as deserved."

James Risen at The Intercept, "The Journalist and the Whistleblower: As the government attacks press freedom, reporters must consider their responsibility to sources — and each other. [...] In the 21st century, hatred of the press has become bipartisan, and government leak investigations under both Republican and Democratic administrations have altered the landscape for national security reporting. Starting with the George W. Bush administration in the years after 9/11, the federal government has brought criminal charges in nearly 20 cases related to leaks to the press, virtually all of them involving national security matters. In almost all of those cases, it is the sources who have faced criminal charges, not the reporters who published what the sources told them. As a result, the fate of modern investigative reporting is now on a collision course with high-tech government leak investigations. Being really good at getting people to tell you government secrets — the key to career success as a national security reporter — now brings great danger to a reporter's sources. [...] Most reporters think hard and work tirelessly to protect confidential sources and now widely use encrypted electronic communications. But government leak hunters have the National Security Agency on their side, and reporters don't. Yet arresting and prosecuting a source isn't enough for the Justice Department and the FBI; they also want to make the reporter look bad. That underscores the real goal of leak investigations: They are designed to have a chilling effect on the press, to stop reporters from investigating the government. Embarrass enough investigative reporters and maybe they will stop embarrassing the government. To their disgrace, the rest of the media often plays along with this governmental shaming project. Rather than recognizing that a source is a whistleblower performing a public service, the press invariably buys into the FBI's propaganda that the bureau's agents are investigating a crime and tracking down a traitor."

Things were looking bright — and then, this happened. "America Hasn't Reckoned with the Coup That Blasted the Black Middle Class: If you were a Black person in America in the 1890s, you wanted to live in Brooklyn. Not Brooklyn, New York. No, you wanted to be in the bustling Brooklyn district of Wilmington, North Carolina. At that time, 25,000 people lived in the thronging Cape Fear River port, the state's largest city. More than half of them were Black. In Brooklyn, you could meet Black seamstresses, stevedores, cobblers, restauranteurs, shop owners, artisans, midwives, merchants, doctors, lawyers, bankers, and police officers. The federal customs agent was Black. So was the county treasurer. And even the town jailor. Wilmington was the most racially progressive city in the South. It was America's future. But very soon, it would be awash in blood — transformed into the country's traumatic past. This repressed and unresolved trauma haunts the present in a thousand ways, most recently in the shocking siege on the U.S. capitol. It continues to damage us all." As Yves says in her intro, "The fact that the Wilmington coup was a durable success and no perp was held to account was proof that the white backlash against rising blacks would go unchecked."

Image: There are about half a million people in Wyoming, and they get two U.S. Senators. There are also about 40 million people in California, and they also get two Senators. Or, you could look at it like this, but either way, it's pretty rich when Joe Manchin, who was elected as a Democrat, excuses himself for voting with the already-over-represented Republicans because he wants to protect "the minority".

"If Those Angry Facebook Videos Had An Award Show"

The Rolling Stones, "Play With Fire, Australia 1966

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Just like everyone else

Tynemouth Abbey ruins by barnyz, who has a lot of wonderful camera work on Flickr.

"Maryland enacts landmark police overhaul, first state to repeal police bill of rights [...] The Democratic-majority legislature dealt Republican Gov. Larry Hogan a sharp rebuke, overriding his vetoes of measures that raise the bar for officers to use force; give civilians a role in police discipline for the first time; restrict no-knock warrants; mandate body cameras; and open some allegations of police wrongdoing for public review. [...] The changes do not go as far as some social justice advocates had hoped: Discipline will now largely be decided by civilian panels, for example, but police chiefs maintain a role. Some activists wanted the panels to act independently of police. Still, the legislation imposes one of the strictest police use-of-force standards in the nation, according to experts; requires officers to prioritize de-escalation tactics; and imposes a criminal penalty for those found to have used excessive force."

"Is Traditional Liberalism Vanishing?: Mighty Ira, a documentary about legendary former ACLU chief Ira Glasser, is simultaneously inspiring and unnerving [...] The film was produced and co-directed by Nico Perrino, Vice-President of Communications for the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE), a modern speech rights advocacy group. Perrino is 31. He met Glasser at the funeral of former Village Voice columnist Nat Hentoff, and didn't know who he was. Once he got to know the former ACLU icon, he realized that his story was 'completely lost on my generation,' but also increasingly relevant, for reasons that become clear minutes into the film. [...] MMighty Ira spends a lot of time on stories like Glasser's unlikely friendship with William F. Buckley, or his tearful meeting years later with Skokie resident Ben Stern, who lost his family in concentration camps and vehemently opposed Glasser in the seventies. 'I love you,' the 96-year-old Stern says. 'I'm so proud of you.' [...] 'The central goal in talking and working with people who you don't agree with,' notes Glasser, 'is to persuade them that there is a common interest between us.' This seems like the main message of the movie. However, the film isn't quite so trite or easy. If you pay attention, you will spot hints of darker issues to come dotted throughout the movie. 1978, and Skokie, turns out to be the zenith of the ACLU's influence, and the brand of liberalism Glasser represents begins slipping from the culture almost from the moment the case ends — kidnapped, seemingly, just like Glasser's beloved Dodgers. Where did it go?"

"Jim Clyburn Is Wrong About FDR and the New Deal: Was the New Deal bad for black people? Rep. Jim Clyburn says it was. He's wrong — and it's time we set the record straight about both the New Deal's real flaws and its overall hugely egalitarian impact on workers of all races, including black workers. [...] In fact, even as some New Deal programs entrenched racial inequality, others assailed it. Public employment programs in the New Deal employed huge numbers of black workers. Administrators like Harold Ickes, in charge of the Public Works Administration, were dedicated foes of racism and actually made sure their programs employed black workers proportionally more than white workers. Other programs contributed to the incredible explosion of black cultural production in the 1930s. Writers like Richard Wright and Arna Bontemps were paid by the Federal Writers' Project to write, supporting them and allowing them to develop their talents. Zora Neale Hurston, who later became a conservative critic of the welfare state and civil rights, was able to publish her classic novel Their Eyes Were Watching God in part because she had worked for the FWP chronicling the lives of black Southerners while writing it. At the same time, the fillip the New Deal gave to labor organizing encouraged the formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), made up of unions who broke away from the exclusionary model of craft unionism promoted by the American Federation of Labor (AFL). Though the records of CIO unions on race varied, many embraced a model of civil rights unionism that challenged inequality both in the workplace and in the community. W. E. B. Du Bois said the CIO had been more successful in fighting racial prejudice than any movement in three decades. The New Deal was big and complicated. A comprehensive assessment of its implications for racial equality is the task of a book, not an article. But one aspect of the New Deal deserves special attention, given its neglect in most discussions of this subject — the Fair Employment Practices Committee (FEPC). The FEPC was established in 1941, as the United States prepared for its inevitable entry into World War II. Pressured by black socialist A. Philip Randolph, Roosevelt had issued Executive Order 8802, banning discrimination in defense industries (which in the wartime economy would be a substantial fraction of the whole). The FEPC was the body charged with making this goal a reality."

"House And Senate Democrats Plan Bill To Add Four Justices To Supreme Court: The Constitution allows Congress to set the number of Supreme Court justices." The Court started at six, varied back and forth between five and ten over time, and then eventually settled at nine, but it's all down to Congress. I don't see this happening, but it's entertaining to think about.

"Contrary to What Biden Said, US Warfare in Afghanistan Is Set to Continue: No matter what the White House and the headlines say, U.S. taxpayers won't stop subsidizing the killing in Afghanistan until there is an end to the bombing and "special operations" that remain shrouded in secrecy."

"Not just 'a few bad apples': U.S. police kill civilians at much higher rates than other countries: Police violence is a systemic problem in the U.S., not simply incidental, and it happens on a scale far greater than other wealthy nations." With handy charts and graphs.

"Baltimore Cops Carried Toy Guns to Plant on People They Shot, Trial Reveals: One officer involved in the city's massive corruption scandal said officers kept the replicas 'in case we accidentally hit somebody or got into a shootout, so we could plant them.' [...] Though Ward didn't say whether or not the tactic was ever used, Detective Marcus Taylor—another cop swept up in the scandal—was carrying a fake gun almost identical to his service weapon when he was arrested last year, according to the Sun. The revelation is just one of many egregious abuses that have come out of the sprawling trial that the Sun has called "Baltimore's biggest police corruption scandal in memory." Prosecutors say the squad, which was tasked with getting illegal guns off the streets, abused its power by robbing suspects and innocent people, raiding homes without warrants, and selling confiscated drugs, among other crimes. But the BB gun testimony is particularly disturbing in light of 12-year-old Tamir Rice's death in 2014, the 13-year-old in Baltimore who was shot twice by cops in 2016 after he allegedly sprinted from them with a replica gun in his hand, and the 86 people fatally shot by police in 2015 and 2016 who were spotted carrying toy guns."

"Elite philanthropy mainly self-serving: Philanthropy among the elite class in the United States and the United Kingdom does more to create good will for the super-wealthy than to alleviate social ills for the poor, according to a new meta-analysis."

"Support the Tropes: How media language encourages the left to support wars, coups and intervention. In an earlier piece (FAIR.org, 3/3/21), we explored some country case study examples of how the press helps to manufacture consent for regime change and other US actions abroad among left-leaning audiences, a traditionally conflict-skeptical group. Some level of buy-in, or at least a hesitancy to resist, among the United States' more left-leaning half is necessary to ensure that US interventions are carried out with a minimum of domestic opposition. To this end, corporate media invoke the language of human rights and humanitarianism to convince those to the left of center to accept, if not support, US actions abroad—a treatment of sorts for the country's 50-year-long Vietnam syndrome. What follows are some of the common tropes used by establishment outlets to convince skeptical leftists that this time, things might be different, selling a progressive intervention everyone can get behind." I can still remember how bitter I felt at the claim — by right-wingers who normally scoffed at any discussion of women's rights — that invading Iraq would improve the rights of women there. And then watching as one woman after another was forced to learn to tie a scarf around her head and pack away her "western" clothing, never expecting to be free to wear it again. Seeing how we "freed" Libya should have knocked out any stomach members of "the left" had for this sort of thing, but here we are hearing much the same things about Syria and even Russia.

Putin's treatment of Navalny is being used to fuel more attacks on Russia (even Bernie has joined in), with the establishment throwing on the usual "suppression of dissent" rhetoric to sweeten the story to appeal to "the left". New sanctions are being justified by Navalny being sentenced to prison: A Moscow court has sentenced Russian oppositionist Alexei Navalny to a prison sentence of three-and-a-half years. He was found guilty of violating terms of his probation, which stems from 2014 fraud-related charges. The court counted several months that Navalny has already spent under house arrest towards his latest sentence, so that his imprisonment term was reduced to two years and eight months in a penal colony. His defense team will appeal the sentence. Navalny returned to Russia in January, after having spent five months in Germany, to which he was flown after falling ill on a flight from Siberia to Moscow in August 2020. Navalny, along with the United States and European Union, insists that he was poisoned with Novichok on behalf of the Kremlin. These claims have been riddled with contradictions from the start. Navalny, who was warned by the Kremlin that he would be arrested upon returning to Russia, was detained by the police on January 17 upon his arrival in Moscow." Given how the United States is treating Julian Assange and getting other countries to conspire in its abuse, it's hard to ignore the hypocrisy in America pretending to care about Russia's actions toward someone who is a bit more dangerous to his nation than, say the protesters who are being beaten and dragged to the cells all over American for objecting to police murdering innocent citizens. And anyway, who is Navalny? "The political crisis gripping Russia and manifesting itself in the tensions erupting around Navalny is a symptom of the breakdown of world capitalism more broadly. The bitter internecine conflicts within the Russian oligarchy are fueled, above all, by escalating class tensions. Terrified of mounting class anger in Russia, Navalny and his backers are seeking to channel such sentiments behind a reactionary agenda. Navalny, who maintains well-documented ties to the far-right, speaks for a layer of the oligarchy that is oriented toward more direct cooperation with the US. Sections of the American ruling class view the fueling of separatist sentiments within Russia as a means to extend US domination over the region. It is for this reason that the issue of Putin's wealth has been presented as one of personal corruption, a basis upon which the most reactionary forces, including monarchists and ultra-nationalists, can be mobilized. Meanwhile, any mention of the term 'capitalism' has been banned by the political forces dominating the protests, from Navalny himself to his backers in the Pabloite Russian Socialist Movement."

"The Death of Neoliberalism Is Greatly Exaggerated: The West's economic orthodoxy of the past 40 years has been shaken by the pandemic—but the fight isn't nearly over yet. [...] But the ideology remained. It was what mathematicians called an attractor and astronomers a black hole: a massive blob of thought around which economic policy views revolved. The financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 shook the blob. The complete failure of mainstream economists to foresee the crisis—indeed their denial that it could have been foreseen—was embarrassing. The fact that so many were on the payroll of the perpetrators was even worse. But in the end, the blob survived. In the end, not a single senior economist retired in disgrace nor was a single dissenter or pre-crisis prophet hired to any senior post—and quite possibly not to any junior one—at any of the self-described 'top' academic economics departments."

John Judis with "A Warning From the '60s Generation: Today's progressives have a real chance to reshape American politics. But they're in danger of repeating our mistakes. [...] Will today's new left stumble down the path of my generation's left, growing largely irrelevant and then, eventually, disappearing from sight? Or could it come to dominate American politics over the next few decades? Because of key structural differences between then and now, I actually think their odds of success are better than ours were. But to capitalize on those odds, they will have to learn from the failures of my generation — we activists who succeeded in captivating a noisy subgroup of Americans but never came close to commanding a political majority. And there are already, in my view, worrisome signals that they are repeating some of our biggest mistakes."

Ryan Cooper, The Week, "The pandemic crime surge is a policing problem [...] It's obvious what police unions are really upset about. They don't care that much about crime, they are mad at being criticized and held accountable, no matter how slightly. They want to return to the pre-reform status quo where they had near-total impunity for violent misconduct or outright crimes, got endless opportunities to scam fake overtime from the state, and people were too afraid to sass them. A return to the old ways will accomplish nothing for crime control; if anything it will probably make things worse. [...] But this debate does bear on whether American cities will be able to actually try to control crime. Now, I am not quite sold on the most aggressive arguments for police and prison abolition. In my view, the Nordic countries demonstrate that even with an extremely robust welfare state and generous social services, it will be necessary to have some punishment of criminals. However, that shouldn't mean multi-decade sentences in hellish prisons, as police unions tend to advocate — on the contrary, studies of deterrence demonstrate that the severity of punishment barely matters. The key strategy is catching offenders, so as to maintain the state's monopoly on violence and stop tit-for-tat feuding. In the Nordics, murder clearance rates range from 83 to 100 percent, but the sentences are light and the prisons are comfortable. In concert with all the other government services, the result is far less violent crime."

I keep trying to remind people that it's a mistake to assume the police are acting with insufficient training. They are heavily trained, but the training itself is the problem - it's training to be a goon squad, not peace-keepers. The police are out of control because they are trained to be out of control. "NYPD 'Goon Squad' Manual Teaches Officers To Violate Protesters' Rights."

"The Chauvin trial underscores two very different approaches to policing. At Derek Chauvin's trial this week, the jury heard from Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo, the city's former training commander and expert witnesses, all of whom testified that Chauvin's treatment of George Floyd violated widely accepted use of force standards as well as Minneapolis Police Department policy, which calls for commensurate force and requires respect for the 'sanctity of life.' But despite those standards, Chauvin also had a history of kneeling on suspects' necks for long periods of time, and none of those incidents resulted in discipline. It's an apt illustration of how, for about the past 10 years, two contradictory philosophies have been at war in American policing. On one side are the de-escalationists, a product of the criminal justice reform movement. They accept police brutality, systemic racism and excessive force as real problems in law enforcement, and call for more accountability, as well as training in areas like de-escalation and conflict resolution. De-escalationists believe police serve their communities by apprehending and detaining people who violate the rights and safety of others, but must also do so in a way that protects the rights of the accused. The other side — let's call them 'no-hesitationists' — asserts that police officers aren't aggressive enough and are too hesitant to use deadly force, which puts officers and others at risk. They see law enforcement officers as warriors, and American neighborhoods as battlefields, where officers vanquish the bad to protect the good. These are the self-identified 'sheepdogs,' the cops who sport Punisher gear."

"She Noticed $200 Million Missing, Then She Was Fired: Alice Stebbins was hired to fix the finances of California's powerful utility regulator. She was fired after finding $200 million for the state's deaf, blind and poor residents was missing. Earlier this year, the governing board of one of California's most powerful regulatory agencies unleashed troubling accusations against its top employee. Commissioners with the California Public Utilities Commission, or CPUC, accused Executive Director Alice Stebbins of violating state personnel rules by hiring former colleagues without proper qualifications. They said the agency chief misled the public by asserting that as much as $200 million was missing from accounts intended to fund programs for the state's blind, deaf and poor. At a hearing in August, Commission President Marybel Batjer said that Stebbins had discredited the CPUC. [...] The five commissioners voted unanimously to terminate Stebbins, who had worked as an auditor and budget analyst for different state agencies for more than 30 years. But an investigation by the Bay City News Foundation and ProPublica has found that Stebbins was right about the missing money."

"McDonald's, Other CEOs, Tell Investors $15 Minimum Wage Won't Hurt Business" That's the co-published Newsweek link The Daily Poster wanted me to use, but I can't copy their text so back to the original story: "Restaurant Chains Debunk Their Lobbyists' Arguments Against A $15 Minimum Wage: While restaurant lobbyists tell lawmakers it's the 'wrong time' for a wage hike, companies they represent are telling investors they can afford to pay higher wages. [...] 'We share your view that a national discussion on wage issues for working Americans is needed — but the Raise the Wage Act is the wrong bill at the wrong time for our nation's restaurants,' the National Restaurant Association (NRA) wrote in a letter to congressional leaders in February. 'The restaurant industry and our workforce will suffer from a fast-tracked wage increase and elimination of the tip credit.' The following day, a top executive at Denny's, one of the association's members, told investors that gradual increases in the minimum wage haven't been a problem for the company at all. In fact, California's law raising the minimum wage to $15 by 2023 has actually been good for the diner chain's business, according to Denny's chief financial officer, Robert Verostek."

"How Bill Gates Impeded Global Access to Covid Vaccines: Through his hallowed foundation, the world's de facto public health czar has been a stalwart defender of monopoly medicine. [...] When the Financial Times editorialized on March 27 that 'the world has an overwhelming interest in ensuring [Covid-19 drugs and vaccines] will be universally and cheaply available,' the paper expressed what felt like a hardening conventional wisdom. This sense of possibility emboldened forces working to extend the cooperative model. Grounding their efforts was a plan, started in early March, to create a voluntary intellectual property pool inside the WHO. Instead of putting up proprietary walls around research and organizing it as a 'race,' public and private actors would collect research and associated intellectual property in a global knowledge fund for the duration of the pandemic. The idea became real in late May with the launch of the WHO Covid-19 Technology Access Pool, or C-TAP.By then, however, the optimism and sense of possibility that defined the early days were long gone. Advocates for pooling and open science, who seemed ascendant and even unstoppable that winter, confronted the possibility they'd been outmatched and outmaneuvered by the most powerful man in global public health."

RIP: "Ramsey Clark, Attorney General and Rebel With a Cause, Dies at 93: Mr. Clark oversaw the drafting of the Fair Housing Act in 1968 and went on to defend both the disadvantaged and the unpopular. Ramsey Clark, who championed civil rights and liberties as attorney general in the Johnson administration, then devoted much of the rest of his life to defending unpopular causes and infamous people, including Saddam Hussein and others accused of war crimes, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 93. His niece Sharon Welch announced the death. In becoming the nation's top law enforcement official, Mr. Clark was part of an extraordinary father-and-son trade-off in the federal halls of power. His appointment prompted his father, Justice Tom C. Clark, to resign from the United States Supreme Court to avoid the appearance of any conflict of interest involving cases in which the federal government might come before that bench. To fill Justice Clark's seat, President Lyndon B. Johnson appointed Thurgood Marshall, who became the first African-American to serve on the Supreme Court."

RIP: "Yaphet Kotto, Magnetic Actor With A Long And Varied Career, Dies At 81 [...] It may come as a surprise that Kotto, an actor known for his burly intensity, credited Barbara Stanwyck with being his "guru," after the two worked together in the 1960s TV series The Big Valley. Stanwyck, who played a straight-talking mother (in the traditional sense) on the show, was one of several women whom Kotto said boosted his career."
"Yaphet Kotto: a life in pictures"

Cory Doctorow on "The zombie economy and digital arm-breakers [...] Debts that can't be paid, won't be paid. But as loan-sharks know, fortunes can be collected by applying the right incentives. [...] Improvements to arm-breaking processes — cost-savings on traditional coercion or innovative new forms of terror — are powerful engines for unlocking new debt markets. When innovation calls, tech answers. Our devices are increasingly "smart," and inside every smart device is a potential arm-breaker. Digital arm-breakers have been around since the first DRM systems, but they really took off in 2008. That's when subprime car loans boomed. People who lost everything in the GFC still needed to get to work, and thanks to chronic US underinvestment in transit, that means owning a car. So loan-sharks and tech teamed up to deliver a new lost-cost, high-efficiency arm-breaker. They leveraged the nation's mature wireless network to install cellular killswitches in cars. You could extend an unrepayable loan to a desperate person, and use an unmutable second stereo system to bombard them with earsplitting overdue notices. If they didn't pay, you could remotely cut off the ignition and send a precise location to your repo man." And the list goes on....

Also from Cory, "Minimum wage vs Wall Street bonuses [...] The Fight for $15 started in 2012. The $15 figure represented the fair, inflation-adjusted minimum wage that Americans should have if minimum wage tracked the cost of living. By 2021, the inflation-adjusted minimum wage should have been $24/hour. That means that even if we get around Manchin and Sinema to deliver a fair share to the country's worst-paid workers, we'll still be lagging a true, inflation-adjusted minimum wage. Now, if $24/hour gives you a little sticker shock, here's another number to think about: $44 per hour. That's the minimum wage we'd have today if the minimum had tracked the growth in Wall Street Bonuses."

"The campaign over racism at General Motors and the class character of identity politics: A campaign by African American media millionaires over charges of racism at General Motors concluded last week with an agreement from the auto giant to quadruple its advertising spending with black-owned media over the next four years. The announcement by GM followed the publication of ads in major newspapers denouncing GM CEO Mary Barra as 'racist' for giving black-owned media an insufficient share of advertising dollars. The episode takes to a new level the efforts of the African American bourgeoisie to increase its share of the profits sweated out of the labor of the working class—black, white and immigrant—through the exploitation of identity politics. [...] The open letter to Barra explicitly sought to tie the selfish strivings of the select group of privileged business owners with the interests of the African American population as a whole, declaring GM's alleged snub was 'horrendous considering we as African Americans make up approximately 14 percent of the population in America.'"

Fact-checking Snopes over what should be a dead horse but probably won't be in the mid-terms: "Fact-Checking is Dead, Killed by Snopes over Biden's Broken Promise of $2,000 Checks: I thought the $2,000 check controversy could be allowed to recede into the disconsolate mists of time, as just one more Democrat betrayal, until I heard on The West Wing Thing that Snopes, 'the internet's definitive fact-checking resource,' had rated this claim..." (And somewhere in that thread someone linked to a check written in the new math style the Democrats seem to be claiming to use — by the author of xkcd.)

"Glenn Greenwald Took on the Authoritarian Right in Brazil — and Won: The full story of how Glenn Greenwald revealed the antidemocratic corruption behind Brazil's supposed anti-corruption investigation Lava Jato — which jailed former president Lula da Silva and gave rise to Jair Bolsonaro's far-right presidency — is one of bravery against a violent, reactionary right."

Short video, "NATURE IS SPECTACULAR: Queen Of The Night edition: This cactus blooms between dusk & dawn for 1 night each year, on or near a full moon. In 1-2 hrs, the petals unfold, revealing a big-ass 6"-8" flower that has a sweet fragrance similar to a magnolia. Then it closes by daylight."

A beautiful night sky, explained here.

"America's Forgotten Pin-Up Girl"

"How World War I Got Women to Wear Bras"

Lucinda Williams, "Save Yourself"

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Teach us to be true

Victor Molev's "City of Wandering Towers" is way outside of my price range but nice to look at, and is part of the Amazing Fantasy Cities collection.

"Recreational Marijuana Is Now Legal in New York: Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill legalizing recreational marijuana on Wednesday, making New York the 16th state to do so. Cuomo signed the bill a day after it passed in the State Legislature. Parts of the law went into effect immediately..."

The GOP didn't want anyone talking about the popularity of Biden's pandemic relief bill, so they made up another border crisis and that's what the media talked about. All of them. And they moaned when Biden delayed his first presser, but when he finally held one, that's all they asked about. They did not ask at all about the pandemic, or the pending infrastructure bill. But, of course, There is no immigration crisis. As Ryan Cooper put it, "This is nonsense. There is a problem at the border, but it is not remotely a "crisis." It's an administrative challenge that could be solved easily with more resources and clear policy — not even ranking with, say, the importance of securing loose nuclear material, much less the ongoing global pandemic, or the truly civilization-threatening crisis of climate change. The mainstream media is in effect collaborating with Republicans to stoke unreasoning xenophobic panic." There's the seasonal uptick in people trying to cross the border, and no doubt a lot of people who are hoping things will be better with Trump gone, and a number of other things, but the truth is that the number haven't ever been as high as they were under the Bush administration. "The history of unauthorized immigration under Bush is instructive. The media largely ignored it because Republicans didn't raise a fuss, and most Americans barely paid attention because it was objectively a minor issue." But that was before Trump proved they could make hay out of ginning up fear of border-crossings.

"Corporate Dems Show Progressives How To Play Hardball: Progressives politely refused to wield power to secure a $15 minimum wage, now conservative Dems are wielding power to secure tax cuts for the wealthy. [...] The tax issue revolves around federal write-offs for state and local taxes — colloquially called SALT deductions. Donald Trump's 2017 tax bill limited such deductions to $10,000. The move was perceived as a mean-spirited shot at blue states, which often have higher state and local levies to fund more robust public services. But on the merits, the policy serves to limit tax deductions primarily for higher-income households. "

"First 100: The Day One Agenda Has Stalled Out: Biden has failed to act and is even allowing constraints on executive action to move forward. Plus: the SALT battle continues. We have (very) quietly been updating our executive action tracker, which looks at what steps the Biden administration has taken to make progress on its own authority. Frankly, the trail has gone pretty cold. The traditional media has completely swallowed the notion that policy can only come from Congress, and implementation has been completely ignored, to say nothing of regulatory interpretation of policies passed before this year. So you have to be a detective to figure out if Biden is maximizing his power and preventing Mitch McConnell and Congressional gridlock from standing in the way."

"Liberals want to blame rightwing 'misinformation' for our problems. Get real: In liberal circles these days there is a palpable horror of the uncurated world, of thought spaces flourishing outside the consensus, of unauthorized voices blabbing freely in some arena where there is no moderator to whom someone might be turned in. The remedy for bad speech, we now believe, is not more speech, as per Justice Brandeis's famous formula, but an 'extremism expert' shushing the world. [...] What explains the clampdown mania among liberals? The most obvious answer is because they need an excuse. Consider the history: the right has enjoyed tremendous success over the last few decades, and it is true that conservatives' capacity for hallucinatory fake-populist appeals has helped them to succeed. But that success has also happened because the Democrats, determined to make themselves the party of the affluent and the highly educated, have allowed the right to get away with it. There have been countless times over the years where Democrats might have reappraised this dumb strategy and changed course. But again and again they chose not to, blaming their failure on everything but their glorious postindustrial vision. In 2016, for example, liberals chose to blame Russia for their loss rather than look in the mirror. On other occasions they assured one another that they had no problems with white blue-collar workers — until it became undeniable that they did, whereupon liberals chose to blame such people for rejecting them. [...] But, folks, it is happening. And the folly of it all is beyond belief. To say that this will give the right an issue to campaign on is almost too obvious. To point out that it will play straight into the right's class-based grievance-fantasies requires only a little more sophistication. To say that it is a betrayal of everything we were taught liberalism stood for — a betrayal that we will spend years living down — may be too complex a thought for our punditburo to consider, but it is nevertheless true."

Matt Taibbi talked with one of our foremost antimonopoly analyst/journalists, "Alternatives to Censorship: Interview With Matt Stoller: As Congress once again demands that Silicon Valley crack down on speech, the Director of Research at the American Economic Liberties Project outlines the real problem - and better solutions. [...] Questions like Fletcher's suggest Congress wants to create a multi-tiered informational system, one in which 'data transparency' means sharing content with Congress but not the public. Worse, they're seeking systems of 'responsible' curation that might mean private companies like Google enforcing government-created lists of bannable domestic organizations, which is pretty much the opposite of what the First Amendment intended. Under the system favored by Fletcher and others, these monopolistic firms would target speakers as well as speech, a major departure from our current legal framework, which focuses on speech connected to provable harm. [...] As Stoller points out in a recent interview with Useful Idiots, the calls for Silicon Valley to crack down on 'misinformation' and 'extremism' is rooted in a basic misunderstanding of how these firms make money. Even as a cynical or draconian method for clamping down on speech, getting Facebook or Google to eliminate lists of taboo speakers wouldn't work, because it wouldn't change the core function of these companies: selling ads through surveillance-based herding of users into silos of sensational content. [...] 'The question isn't whether Alex Jones should have a platform,' Stoller explains. 'The question is, should YouTube have recommended Alex Jones 15 billion times through its algorithms so that YouTube could make money selling ads?'"

"Did CNN Air a Staged Migrant Crossing of the Rio Grande?: An unusual video has been flagged by activists as deliberately manufactured to present a story of a border crisis, possibly with the participation of the Border Patrol. [...] In the CNN footage, the smuggler leading the boat wears fatigues and a black ski mask. Smugglers typically attempt to blend in with the migrants, to avoid more severe punishment should they be caught. Smugglers also don't normally provide face masks and life vests, nor ferry six boatloads of people across in broad daylight. Migrants also don't typically line up single file along the shore to cross. To Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent, the smuggler's face mask rang alarm bells. 'That told me [the smuggler] knew he would be filmed and he didn't want to be set up,' she said. Marianna Treviño Wright, executive director of the National Butterfly Center, pointed out that her organization goes out on the river at least four times a week and never sees any kind of trafficking operation like this."

"Fast Food Giant Claims Credit For Killing $15 Minimum Wage: The parent company of some of America's largest fast food chains is claiming credit for convincing Congress to exclude a $15 minimum wage from the recent COVID relief bill, according to internal company documents reviewed by The Daily Poster. The company, which is owned by a private equity firm named after an Ayn Rand character, also says it is now working to thwart new union rights legislation. The company's boasts come just a few months after a government report found that some of its chains had among the highest percentage of workers relying on food stamps."

"After crime plummeted in 2020, Baltimore will stop drug, sex prosecutions: State's Attorney Mosby stopped non-violent prosecutions for the coronavirus, but then violent crime dropped 20 percent. Something happened in Baltimore last year. The coronavirus pandemic hit, and State's Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby announced that the city would no longer prosecute drug possession, prostitution, trespassing and other minor charges, to keep people out of jail and limit the spread of the deadly virus. And then crime went down in Baltimore. A lot. While violent crime and homicides skyrocketed in most other big American cities last year, violent crime in Baltimore dropped 20 percent from last March to this month, property crime decreased 36 percent, and there were 13 fewer homicides compared with the previous year. This happened while 39 percent fewer people entered the city's criminal justice system in the one-year period, and 20 percent fewer people landed in jail after Mosby's office dismissed more than 1,400 pending cases and tossed out more than 1,400 warrants for nonviolent crimes. So on Friday, Mosby made her temporary steps permanent. She announced Baltimore City will continue to decline prosecution of all drug possession, prostitution, minor traffic and misdemeanor cases, and will partner with a local behavioral health service to aggressively reach out to drug users, sex workers and people in psychiatric crisis to direct them into treatment rather than the back of a patrol car. [...] 'The officers told me they did not agree with that paradigm shift,' Harrison said. He said he had to 'socialize' both officers and citizens to this new approach. Harrison expected crime to rise. 'It did not,' the chief said. 'It continued to go down through 2020. As a practitioner, as an academic, I can say there's a correlation between the fact that we stopped making these arrests and crime did not go up,' though he cautioned that the coronavirus could have had some impact. Mosby noted that the virus did not keep crime from rising in nearly every other big U.S. city last year."

After hearing an attack on his kind on MSNBC, Matt Taibbi makes the challenge that won't be taken up. "Dear Joe Scarborough: Nice Smear. Now Invite Me To Debate Your Network's Russiagate Coverage: 'Morning Joe' says those who reported on Russia errors are a "joke" and might be "on Russia's payroll." MSNBC should break its four-year freeze-out and invite a skeptic to respond

"New Zealand raises minimum wage to $20 an hour: Taxes on the riches New Zealanders are being raised [...] Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's had promised to raise the minimum wage to $20 per hour (£10.15) and to raise taxes on the wealthiest Kiwis. [...] The new changes also impact the top two percent of earners in New Zealand, those on salaries of over $180,000 (£91,238.87), who will now be taxed by 39 per cent."

For the record, Nathan Robinson won April Fool's Day.

However, Caitlin Johnstone's "Biden Passes Alzheimer's Test With Flying Colors, Silencing Doubters" set the bar pretty high.

"Maryland Moves to Repeal Its Bizarrely Pro-Confederate State Song: If your state's song was written before 1995, there's a very likely chance it's racist as hell. The state legislature in Maryland voted on Monday to repeal its state song, which, as of now, is very pro-Confederate." Sure is.

Juan Cole, "Why the Suez Canal, now blocked, is so Important to the Global Economy and World History [...] The Suez Canal was a dream through history. Anyone who ever traveled from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea overland along that route noticed how short the distance was between the two bodies of water. The ancients talked about it. Napoleon Bonaparte, who invaded Egypt in 1798, talked about it."

"Workplace 'Anti-Racism Trainings' Aren't Helping: Donald Trump hysterically considers it a Marxist plot, but corporate "anti-racism training" isn't a practice that anyone should defend. It doesn't actually combat racism and it helps bosses consolidate their power over employees under a veneer of social justice."

2021 FAAn Awards: Winners

RIP: "Larry McMurtry, 'Lonesome Dove' Novelist and 'Brokeback Mountain' Oscar Winner, Dies at 84 [...] His first published novel, 1961's Horseman, Pass By, set in Texas ranching country, became the 1963 Paramount drama Hud, starring Paul Newman, Melvyn Douglas and Patricia Neal. The movie rights were optioned by Newman and director Martin Ritt's Salem Productions "almost before the last period [was] put on the book," he author said." Terms of Endeasrment made me cry.

RIP: "G. Gordon Liddy, unrepentant Watergate burglar who became talk show host, dies: G. Gordon Liddy, the tough-guy Watergate operative who went to prison rather than testify and later turned his Nixon-era infamy into a successful television and talk show career, has died at age 90. Liddy died Tuesday at his daughter's house in Virginia, his son Thomas P. Liddy told the Associated Press. He did not give a cause of death. While others swept up in the Watergate scandal offered contrition or squirmed in the glare of televised congressional hearings, Liddy seemed to wear the crime like a badge of courage, saying he only regretted that the mission to break into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters had been a failure."

"The Origins of America's Unique and Spectacular Cruelty: What Happens When Societies Don't Invest in Civilizing Themselves? [...] Hence, today, there is almost no sphere or arena of American life in which the values of predatory capitalism don't predominate or monopolize. Because society is made up more or less only of predatory capitalism, only those values can ever be expressed. Not even in, say, media, not healthcare, not education — which, in other rich countries, because they are not run for profit, are arenas in which softer and gentler qualities can be expressed, like decency, reason, dignity, purpose, meaning, belonging, truth, care, mercy."

"The Confederacy was a con job on whites. And still is [...] What the flag symbolizes for blacks is enough reason to take it down. But there's another reason that white southerners shouldn't fly it. Or sport it on our state-issued license plates as some do here in North Carolina. The Confederacy — and the slavery that spawned it — was also one big con job on the Southern, white, working class. A con job funded by some of the ante-bellum one-per-centers, that continues today in a similar form. You don't have to be an economist to see that forcing blacks — a third of the South's laborers — to work without pay drove down wages for everyone else. And not just in agriculture. A quarter of enslaved blacks worked in the construction, manufacturing and lumbering trades; cutting wages even for skilled white workers. Thanks to the profitability of this no-wage/low-wage combination, a majority of American one-per-centers were southerners. Slavery made southern states the richest in the country. The South was richer than any other country except England. But that vast wealth was invisible outside the plantation ballrooms. With low wages and few schools, southern whites suffered a much lower land ownership rate and a far lower literacy rate than northern whites."

"Mark Rudd's Lessons From SDS and the Weather Underground for Today's Radicals: Mark Rudd was Columbia's Students for a Democratic Society chapter president in 1968, when the university erupted in protest against the Vietnam War and racism. He then cofounded the Weather Underground. In an interview with Jacobin, he reflects on what radicals like him got right and got wrong, and what today's socialists should learn from his experiences. [...] But another big mistake that I was directly responsible for was eliminating organizing we had done so much of and substituting it with militancy. The last few months of Columbia SDS, a new faction that I led, the Action Faction, took over the chapter from the Praxis Axis, who were the old red diaper babies who taught us to build the base. But we said, 'No, it's action that's important.' We forgot that it took years to get people to the point where they would join SDS. It doesn't happen suddenly — it happens through building relationships."

"Inside the Koch-Backed Effort to Block the Largest Election-Reform Bill in Half a Century: On a leaked conference call, leaders of dark-money groups and an aide to Mitch McConnell expressed frustration with the popularity of the legislation—even among Republican voters. In public, Republicans have denounced Democrats' ambitious electoral-reform bill, the For the People Act, as an unpopular partisan ploy. In a contentious Senate committee hearing last week, Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, slammed the proposal, which aims to expand voting rights and curb the influence of money in politics, as 'a brazen and shameless power grab by Democrats.' But behind closed doors Republicans speak differently about the legislation, which is also known as House Resolution 1 and Senate Bill 1. They admit the lesser-known provisions in the bill that limit secret campaign spending are overwhelmingly popular across the political spectrum. In private, they concede their own polling shows that no message they can devise effectively counters the argument that billionaires should be prevented from buying elections. A recording obtained by The New Yorker of a private conference call on January 8th, between a policy adviser to Senator Mitch McConnell and the leaders of several prominent conservative groups—including one run by the Koch brothers' network—reveals the participants' worry that the proposed election reforms garner wide support not just from liberals but from conservative voters, too. The speakers on the call expressed alarm at the broad popularity of the bill's provision calling for more public disclosure about secret political donors. The participants conceded that the bill, which would stem the flow of dark money from such political donors as the billionaire oil magnate Charles Koch, was so popular that it wasn't worth trying to mount a public-advocacy campaign to shift opinion. Instead, a senior Koch operative said that opponents would be better off ignoring the will of American voters and trying to kill the bill in Congress.

"Patent troll IP is more powerful than Apple's. And this is where my revelation came: as it is used in business circles, "IP" has a specific, precise meaning. "IP" means, "Any law, policy or regulation that allows me to control the conduct of my competitors, critics and customers." Copyright, patent and trademark all have limitations and exceptions designed to prevent this kind of control, but if you arrange them in overlapping layers around a product, each one covers the exceptions in the others. Creators don't like having their copyrights called "author's monopolies." Monopolists get to set prices. All the copyright in the world doesn't let an author charge publishers more for their work. The creators have a point. But when author's monopolies are acquired by corporate monopolists, something magical and terrible happens."

From the Department of Lessons Unlearned, "The Bubonic Plague in... San Francisco?"

Creative Random Harris is a new e-book Hansen and Langford have put together of Chuch Harris' writings, on behalf of TAFF.

Art in Motion in Paris

Comic: "The Problem With Powerful People

Jim & Jean, doing Phil Ochs' "Crucifixion", with harmonies.

Saturday, March 20, 2021

You won't have a name when you ride the big airplane

Renee Brown's "Spring Equinox" is from a collection of works by new artists you can find here.

I was in Massachusetts the night the lights went out. I don't remember much about it. I may have been able to read by the moonlight from my window — we had a big full moon that night, as I recall. I don't even remember if the lights were back on by the time I went to bed, but the next morning it was as if it hadn't happened. It was also the only real blackout I've ever experienced, because I moved out of the United States in 1985 and it wasn't until — well, as Greg Palast explains, "Until 1992, the USA had just about the lowest electricity prices in the world and the most reliable system. For a century, power companies had been limited by law to recovering their provable costs plus a 'reasonable,' i.e. small, profit. But in 1992, George H. W. Bush, in the last gasps of his failed presidency, began to deregulate the industry. 'Deregulate' is a misnomer. 'De-criminalize' describes it best. With the 'free market' supposedly setting the price of power, Texas-based Enron was freed to use such techniques as 'Ricochet,' 'Get Shorty,' and 'Death Star' to blow prices through the roof when weather shut down power plants. (This week was not the first game of Texas Gouge'm.)" So you can't even blame Texas voters for what happened to them last month. It goes back way farther than that.

Now we learn what "unity" means to establishment Democrats. "Entire Staff Of Nevada Democratic Party Quits After Democratic Socialist Slate Won Every Seat: The battle between insurgent progressives in Nevada and the Harry Reid machine began building in 2016. NOT LONG AFTER Judith Whitmer won her election on Saturday to become chair of the Nevada Democratic Party, she got an email from the party's executive director, Alana Mounce. The message from Mounce began with a note of congratulations, before getting to her main point. She was quitting. So was every other employee. And so were all the consultants. And the staff would be taking severance checks with them, thank you very much. On March 6, a coalition of progressive candidates backed by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America took over the leadership of the Nevada Democratic Party, sweeping all five party leadership positions in a contested election that evening. Whitmer, who had been chair of the Clark County Democratic Party, was elected chair. The establishment had prepared for the loss, having recently moved $450,000 out of the party's coffers and into the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's account. The DSCC will put the money toward the 2022 reelection bid of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a vulnerable first-term Democrat. [...] The Left Caucus and DSA organizers ran a slate of candidates for state party leadership under the name 'The NV Dems Progressive Slate.' All but one candidate on the slate was a dues-paying member of a local DSA chapter. The Democratic Party ran candidates on a slate titled 'The Progressive Unity Slate,' playing on a theme they'd been pushing the entire cycle: The groups angling for change from the left were trying to divide the party, they said, while they were trying to save it."

"Moderate Democrats Strip Stimulus Checks From 12 Million Voters for No Reason: For weeks, a handful of moderate Democrats in the Senate have been fighting to prevent $1,400 COVID-relief checks from reaching their own upper-middle-class constituents. It has never been all that clear to the public — or, by all appearances, to the senators themselves — why they wanted to restrict eligibility for these relief payments so badly. [...] Moderates must stop putting their fringe obsessions ahead of the Democratic Party's best interests. Now is not the time to put centrist ideological purity above political pragmatism."

Since Joe Manchin originally said he would oppose nuking the filibuster, he's had to walk it back just a little, saying he wants those who obstruct to have to work for it and put up a real talking filibuster. Biden agrees it should be like the old days when he got into Congress and obstructors at least had to get up and make their case. Much as I think Manchin is just trying to push his brand as the maverick in town, I have always agreed that a real filibuster would be much better than the pretend one that has allowed Republicans to stop everything cold without even having to stand up to do it. Ryan Grim explains the mechanics in "What is a talking filibuster exactly?"

The Daily Poster seems to have added a new feature — for subscribers only, unfortunately, but I find the subscription worthwhile — and for February 26th it was "YOU LOVE TO SEE IT: Biden Nixes Vile Trump Unemployment Rule: Private equity managers could lose their tax dodge, Michigan progressives are on a roll, and Bernie Sanders scores a win for Costco workers.." Bullet points are:
* "Biden Follows Through On His Promise To Expand Unemployment"
* "Democrats' Bill Would Close Tax Loophole For Private Equity"
* "Wall Street Critic Appointed To Pennsylvania Teachers Pension Board"
* "California State Senators Introduce Bill To Ban Fracking"

"This Last-Minute Provision Blocks GOP Govs from Using Stimulus Money to Subsidize Tax Cuts: The American Rescue Plan's $1.9 trillion of spending represents a significant break with the budget-cutting, deficit-obsessed austerity ideology that has held sway since the Reagan Era. But that's not all it does. A provision tucked into the final bill also aims to halt the anti-tax movement that has drained state and local coffers of resources to fund infrastructure, public education, and other basic social services. The language, slipped into the legislation at the last minute by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, is designed to prevent federal money from subsidizing new tax cuts at a moment when some Republican-led states have been considering them."

On the other hand, Biden seems to be using the time-honored method of making sure the good stuff doesn't happen, pretending they can't overrule a procedural advisory and letting a couple of Senators take the heat for standing in the way rather than just leaning on them to vote for $15. "Stop Pretending Biden Is A Powerless Bystander: An LBJ tale debunks Democratic apologists now pretending Biden has no power to try to shift the minimum wage votes of his party's lawmakers. [...] When a Republican is president, Democratic politicians, pundits, and activists will tell you that the presidency is an all-powerful office that can do anything it wants. When a Democrat is president, these same politicians, pundits, and activists will tell you that the presidency has no power to do anything. In fact, they will tell you a Democratic president cannot even use the bully pulpit and other forms of pressure to try to shift the votes of senators in his own party. A tale from history proves this latter myth is complete garbage — and that tale is newly relevant in today's supercharged debate over a $15 minimum wage. In that debate so far, we have seen Democratic senators prepare to surrender the $15 minimum wage their party promised by insisting they are powerless in the face of a non-binding advisory opinion of a parliamentarian they can ignore or fire. "

The New Republic, "The Democrats Are Blocking a $15 Minimum Wage: Not Republicans. Not the Senate parliamentarian. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and even Joe Biden are to blame for squandering their party's majority power. "

This clip discusses the office politics behind Democrats voting to tank $15.

"Purging Inconvenient Facts in Coverage of Biden's 'First' Air Attacks: The pretense that the US defended itself by carrying out last week's airstrikes also necessitates glossing over the fact that the country Washington actually bombed, Syria, is accused of neither sponsoring nor carrying out the rocket attacks on American bases in Iraq that should not be there in the first place."

"The Sovietization of the American Press: The transformation from phony "objectivity" to open one-party orthodoxy hasn't been an improvement [...] The breadth of his stimulus suggests a real change from the Obama years, while hints that this administration wants to pick a unionization fight with Amazon go against every tendency of Clintonian politics. But it's hard to know what much of it means, because coverage of Biden increasingly resembles official press releases, often featuring embarrassing, Soviet-style contortions. When Biden decided not to punish Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi on the grounds that the 'cost' of 'breaching the relationship with one of America's key Arab allies' was too high, the New York Times headline read: 'Biden Won't Penalize Saudi Crown Prince Over Khashoggi's Killing, Fearing Relations Breach.' When Donald Trump made the same calculation, saying he couldn't cut ties because 'the world is a very dangerous place' and 'our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,' the paper joined most of the rest of the press corps in howling in outrage."

"New Massachusetts Rules Would Eliminate Handwritten Letters in Prison: 'Paper mail is precious,' Black and Pink Massachusetts Communications and Outreach Coordinator Elijah Patterson testified on January 29 against rules proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MADOC). The rules would, if approved, formally substitute physical mail for an electronic, scanned copy or photocopy through a third-party vendor." I have to jump in here to express my annoyance at seeing this misuse of "substitute for" that reverses direction, which I have been seeing more and more often. They want to substitute copies or electronic mail for real, hard mail. Which is, of course, outrageous, especially since "third party vendor" probably means they will charge prisoners still more to receive mail. This act of cruelty is being defended on the grounds that it might reduce contraband being smuggled in through the mails, although it seems clear that such materials are coming not through the mail, but via staff.

"A Quiet Return to Government for an Obama-Era Labor Official: Seth Harris, who co-authored an early blueprint of what Uber and Lyft would adopt in California's Prop 22, is back in the White House in a labor policy position. The Biden administration likes to send press releases about new hires. I have been emailed information about the new head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, members of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, the senior director for building emissions at the Council on Environmental Quality, the legislative affairs director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the deputy social secretary for the Office of the First Lady, and much more. I think I know the name of everyone who works in the West Wing at this point. But one new White House staffer in a fairly critical issue area had not received this honorific—until I asked the White House questions about it."

Left Reckoning has a discussion of Jackson Water & Ecuador's Election (Pink Tide Returns?) ft. Austin Gonzalez for those of us who are getting insufficient illumination from The Newspapers of Record.

Gaius Publius, now writing under his own name, Thomas Neuburger, has started his own Substack, God's Spies. He's one of the smarter analysts around and, luckily, you can check it out for free and subscribe if you want to.

And Caitlin Johnstone also has a Substack, Caitlin's Newsletter, with interesting pieces like "There's Only One News Story, Repeating Over And Over Again."

David Dayen, "First 100: Whatever Happened to Executive Action? Frustration with the legislative process is inevitable. But there's a work-around. The news broke while I was writing yesterday's edition that the Senate was changing the eligibility rules for direct payments in the American Rescue Plan. The dirty details are here. Everyone making up to $75,000 (individuals) and $150,000 (couples) still gets the full $1,400 check; instead of phasing out fully by $100,000/$200,000, it phases out by $80,000/$160,000. This is bad policy and politics, as Eric Levitz and Jordan Weissman explain. It saves a minuscule $12 billion yet angers a particular group of upper-middle class people whose socioeconomic status matches that of the political journalists who will report on this. The last time we had that dynamic was 2015, when Democrats tried to kill and then quickly retreated on 529 savings plans for college education. This means nothing to the federal government and everything to people affected. [...] There are two reasons to focus on executive action. First, base motivation: the slow grind of the legislative process will wear down supporters (particularly once Biden runs out of reconciliation bills), while progress can still be made under existing law. Second, policy matters: the reason to do this stuff is because it would help people."

This would be a nice start: "Reps Would Have to Resign From Corporate Boards Under Democrats' Ethics Bill: At least 15 House reps currently sit on the boards of private companies. Republican Doug LaMalfa, who represents California's First Congressional District, is a member of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and is the chief sponsor of a bill that would eliminate the 12 percent excise tax on the sale of heavy trucks, tractors, and trailers. According to the findings section of the bill, the tax adds between $12,000 and $22,000 to the cost of a heavy truck, tractor, or trailer. While he promotes his bill and deals with related issues on the Transportation Committee, LaMalfa is simultaneously CEO of family business LaMalfa Trucking, a position that is uncompensated according to the representative's financial disclosure. As blatantly conflicted as it may seem for LaMalfa to push legislation that would benefit his family business, there is very little stopping House members from using their public offices to further their private business interests. The House ethics rules say that members should not use their positions to make pecuniary gains, but the Ethics manual states that legislation that benefits a whole class or group of businesses—for example, trucking companies—is exempted from the conflict-of-interest restrictions." I still think they should have to completely divest.

"Arkansas governor signs near-total abortion ban into law: LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday signed into law legislation banning nearly all abortions in the state, a sweeping measure that supporters hope will force the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its landmark Roe v. Wade decision but opponents vow to block before it takes effect later this year. The Republican governor had expressed reservations about the bill, which only allows the procedure to save the life of the mother and does not provide exceptions for those impregnated in an act of rape or incest. Arkansas is one of at least 14 states where legislators have proposed outright abortion bans this year."

It's really rare to see someone who is pro-death penalty admit that an innocent person is about to be executed, but here's one. "As a former Alabama attorney general, I do not say this lightly: An innocent man is on our death row: I have long believed that some crimes are so horrendous as to demand the penalty of death. As the attorney general of Alabama in the 1970s, I led the effort to bring back Alabama's death penalty after the U.S. Supreme Court ended capital punishment nationwide in 1972. As a lifelong defender of the death penalty, I do not lightly say what follows: An innocent man is trapped on Alabama's death row."

"$15 minimum wage would lift millions out of poverty, says ... Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley: Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would deliver sizable benefits to low-wage workers and lift millions of people in the U.S. out of poverty while having little impact—positive or negative—on employment levels. So says a new report assembled not by a progressive advocacy organization or a left-leaning think tank, but Wall Street titan Morgan Stanley, which found in a 75-page analysis that—contrary to the GOP's branding of the proposed $15-an-hour federal minimum wage as a job-killer—"the wealth of research points to no definitive conclusion on the impact higher wages have on employment." "However," the report adds, "it is evident that the impact to employment... would be minimal, while the social benefits to lifting real wages of lower-income earners and millions out of poverty are substantial."

"UN Rebuke of US Sanctions on Venezuela Met With Stunning Silence [...] Many Western journalists, however, appear not to have seen these overt declarations of collective punishment against the Venezuelan population—a crime against humanity under Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, according to former UN Expert Alfred de Zayas. Loath to abandon belief in the fundamentally benign nature of Western foreign policy, corporate scribes have typically presented the devastating effects of sanctions as a mere accusation of Nicolás Maduro. 'Maduro...said US sanctions were hurting his administration's ability to buy medicines and foodstuffs' was the next-to-last paragraph of a Guardian piece (3/17/20) on Covid in Venezuela whose subhead read, 'Continuing chaotic situation under Nicolás Maduro leaves hospitals and health services desperately unprepared.' Often, they fail to mention sanctions at all. In June 2019, for instance, the Guardian's Tom Phillips reported that 'more than 4 million Venezuelans have now fled economic and humanitarian chaos,' citing would-be coup leader Juan Guaidó's claim that the country's economic collapse 'was caused by the corruption of this regime,' without making any reference to Washington's campaign of economic warfare. Keeping with tradition, Douhan's damning report has been met with stunning silence by establishment media outlets. Neither the Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post nor BBC reported on Douhan's findings, leaving the task primarily to alternative media (Venezuelanalysis, 2/15/21; Canary, 2/13/21). (CNN—2/13/21—had an exceptional report focused on the UN report, which noted Douhan's statement that sanctions 'constitute violations of international law.')"

"Basic Income as a Policy Lever: Can UBI Reduce Crime?? [...] Such results raise the question of what the broader impacts of a basic income might be. In a recent working paper, I explore one aspect of this question, examining the extent to which the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend affected crime. This Dividend has, since 1982, provided an annual no-strings-attached payment to all Alaskan residents. Its amount has varied considerably year-on-year since it was introduced, as shown in Figure 1."

Glenn Greenwald's "Congressional Testimony: The Leading Activists for Online Censorship Are Corporate Journalists: A hearing of the House Subcommittee focused on anti-trust and monopoly abuses examines the role of the corporate media in these growing pathologies. There are not many Congressional committees regularly engaged in substantive and serious work — most are performative — but the House Judiciary's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law is an exception. Led by its chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and ranking member Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), it is, with a few exceptions, composed of lawmakers whose knowledge of tech monopolies and anti-trust law is impressive. In October, the Committee, after a sixteen-month investigation, produced one of those most comprehensive and informative reports by any government body anywhere in the world about the multi-pronged threats to democracy posed by four Silicon Valley monopolies: Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. The 450-page report also proposed sweeping solutions, including ways to break up these companies and/or constrain them from controlling our political discourse and political life. That report merits much greater attention and consideration than it has thus far received. [...] While I share the ostensible motive behind the bill — to stem the serious crisis of bankruptcies and closings of local news outlets — I do not believe that this bill will end up doing that, particularly because it empowers the largest media outlets such as The New York Times and MSNBC to dominate the process and because it does not even acknowledge, let alone address, the broader problems plaguing the news industry, including collapsing trust by the public (a bill that limited this anti-trust exemption to small local news outlets so as to allow them to bargain collectively with tech companies in their own interest would seem to me to serve the claimed purpose much better than one which empowers media giants to form a negotiating cartel). But the broader context for the bill is the one most interesting and the one on which I focused in my opening statement and testimony: namely, the relationship between social media and tech giants on the one hand, and the news media industry on the other. Contrary to the popular narrative propagated by news outlets — in which they are cast as the victims of the supremely powerful Silicon Valley giants — that narrative is sometimes (not always, but sometimes) the opposite of reality: much if not most Silicon Valley censorship of political speech emanates from pressure campaigns led by corporate media outlets and their journalists, demanding that more and more of their competitors and ideological adversaries be silenced. Big media, in other words, is coopting the power of Big Tech for their own purposes."

From the Gravel Institute, an explanation of how the richest country in the world is in many ways the poorest, "David Cross: Why America Sucks at Everything"

On the one hand, we have Scott Lemieux dunking on a prof for "reprehensible" statements, with an approving link from Atrios. On the other hand, we have John McWhorter asking a few questions, "So there was a law professor at Georgetown who was a racist. And now she's gone, but wait -- what do we mean by 'racist' these days? And why am I a heretic to even ask the question and want real answers?"

I'd almost forgotten Maureen Dowd was out there, but yeah, it's funny how establishment journalists (like, for example, Maureen Dowd) think we criticize them because we don't understand what reporting is. Particularly when one of our main complaints is that they think "reporting" is telling us what's going on inside their well-protected minds. "What a mess — Maureen Dowd lectures liberals about the press: Anxious to engage in Both Sides whitewashing of journalism failures from the Trump era, some prominent journalists are lashing out at liberals for having the nerve to criticize news coverage of the Biden White House. Leading the defensive charge is New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who penned a condescending harangue over the weekend, claiming liberals are hypocrites for finding fault with the press when a Democrat is in the Oval Office." (I don't know why Eric is still stuck on the Russiagate story, but he's right about this much.)

"'Voting With Your Dollars' Is an Antidemocratic Illusion: The notion that we can change the world by 'voting with our dollars' has become popular among progressives. But it's a fundamentally antidemocratic idea that has more in common with libertarianism than egalitarian politics. Free to Choose, published in 1980 by Milton and Rose Friedman, is a clear and concise introduction to a whole series of reactionary economic arguments. If you're a socialist who wants to understand what the enemy thinks, it's a good place to start. In one crucial passage, the libertarian duo argues that we can exercise more power through consumer decisions than through political action. [...] We vote with our feet when we go on strike. We vote with our votes when we participate in elections. When we 'don't buy' from some companies, we aren't voting with anything —and the idea that we do is an unhelpful distraction from strategies that can actually empower democratic majorities. Don't buy it."

"Aaugh! A Brief List Of Official Russia Claims That Proved To Be Bogus: The Director of National Intelligence releases a report, and the press rushes to kick the football again. [...] With regard to the broader assessment: how many times are we going to do this? We've spent the last five years watching as anonymous officials make major Russia-related claims, only to have those evidence-free claims fizzle."

The Onion, "Facebook Announces Plan To Break Up U.S. Government Before It Becomes Too Powerful: MENLO PARK, CA—In an effort to curtail the organization's outsized influence, Facebook announced Monday that it would be implementing new steps to ensure the breakup of the U.S. government before it becomes too powerful. 'It's long past time for us to take concrete actions against this behemoth of governance that has gone essentially unchecked since its inception,' said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, noting that while the governing body may have begun with good intentions, its history showed a culture of recklessness and a dangerous disregard for the consequences of its decisions. 'Unfortunately, those at the top have been repeatedly contemptuous of the very idea of accountability or reform, and our only remaining course is to separate the government into smaller chunks to prevent it from forming an even stronger monopoly over the public.' Zuckerberg closed his remarks with repeated assurances that despite a likely legal battle ahead, no one government could stand up to the fortitude of Facebook."

RIP: "Carla Wallenda, high-wire artist with famous Flying Wallendas, dies aged 85. She was the last of the original group, and continued to perform into her 70s. One of the few members of the family not to fall to their deaths, she died of natural causes.

1918 was a different country. "Your Old Radiator Is a Pandemic-Fighting Weapon: Turn-of-the-century faith in ventilation to combat disease pushed engineers to design steam heating systems that still overheat apartments today. [...] Health officials thought (correctly) that fresh air would ward off airborne diseases; then as now, cities rushed to move activities outdoors, from schools to courtrooms. When winter came, the need for fresh air didn't abate. According to Holohan's research, the Board of Health in New York City ordered that windows should remain open to provide ventilation, even in cold weather. In response, engineers began devising heating systems with this extreme use case in mind. Steam heating and radiators were designed to heat buildings on the coldest day of the year with all the windows open. Anybody who's thrown their windows open in January, when their apartment is stifling, is, in an odd way, replicating what engineers hoped would happen a century ago."

Are DNA ancestry tests as good as astrology? "Twins get 'mystifying' DNA ancestry test results"

"A Beginner's Guide to Stargazing might come in handy if you've got kids to entertain.

"Edward Gorey's Illustrated Covers for Literary Classics: Between 1953 and 1960, before he was a household name as the master of the cutely macabre, Edward Gorey worked as a book designer and illustrator for Doubleday Anchor. During his tenure, he designed some fifty book covers (and in some cases, drew inside illustrations) for their new paperback series, which was aimed at 'serious' readers and students."

The FANAC YouTube stream now has all four parts of John D. Berry's interview of Ted White posted.

Movie Night: If someone had described The Losers to me, I probably wouldn't have been that interested, but since no one did describe it to me I watched it and thought it was fun. Based on the Vertigo title, it has a rather tidy way of handling violence that I don't expect in action-adventure flicks these days; even the nasty precipitating event doesn't make you look at the blood and gore, and screen time isn't wasted with a lot of punch-ups. A fine acting line-up of some old favorites (Idris Elba and Jeffrey Dean Morgan don't hurt), and some room for Chris Evans to strut his acting stuff in ways he doesn't get as Captain America.

"Lots of us learned classical music from watching old cartoons, so I'm going to identify the pieces that frequently popped up."

Little did I know that the "Trina" referred to in Joni Mitchell's "Ladies of the Canyon" was our old pal Trina Robbins. (You can listen to that here.)

"NASA named the Perseverance rover's landing spot for Octavia E. Butler, the pioneering Black science-fiction author: Though they starred aliens, vampires and time travelers, Octavia E. Butler's celebrated science-fiction novels were often grounded on Earth. Her name and enduring legacy, though, have made it as far as the Red Planet millions of miles away. For her pioneering work in the world of sci-fi, NASA named the site on Mars where the Perseverance rover touched down 'Octavia E. Butler Landing.'"

Moshe Feder says, "The future of jazz is in good hands. These kids are amazing."
Nord Live Sessions: DOMi & JD Beck - Sniff

Some nice photography in "The Hebrides' wild swimming 'real-life' mermaid".

What were their names? Lance Canales & The Flood give them back in this video of "Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)" — "In 1948, a plane carrying 32 passengers crashed in the Los Gatos Canyon, California killing everyone on board. The media, including the New York Times, listed the names of the pilots, the flight attendant and the immigration guard but all 28 of the migrant workers (braceros) were labeled as deportees. This angered folk singer Woody Gutherie who wrote a poem about the crash. Almost ten years later, school teacher Martin Hoffman composed a melody to Gutherie's poem and that song became well known with covers by the likes of Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and many more. Around 2010 Central Valley writer Tim Z. Hernandez discovered the story and soon began a project of finding the names and surviving relatives. Soon after musician Lance Canales joined the journey and composed his own version of the legendary song with Hernandez reading all the names of the deceased workers. Thanks to a fundraiser spearheaded by the two artist a new head stone has been built in the Holy Cross honoring all 32 passengers. The search is still on for any relatives of the braceros, if you are related to one please contact Tim Z. Hernandez:"