Saturday, January 28, 2023

You can not do that, it breaks all the rules

"'Soul', Feathers, Wings, Angel, Gold Leaf, Sky, White, Gray, (2021)" by Valeriya Avtukhova is from the Silver Color Paintings selection.

Worst news of the month has to be that Ron Klain, who was the best thing in the White House, is leaving and will apparently be replaced by ... "Biden Risks Legacy by Choosing Zients as Chief of Staff: As a businessman, Jeffrey Zients embodied much of the corporate misconduct the executive branch ought to be cracking down on. 'The Biden Administration has been at its best when it has been on the attack against corporate excesses that wide majorities of Americans find abhorrent.' 'Americans are appalled by profiteering in healthcare — Jeff Zients has become astonishingly rich by profiteering in healthcare.' 'Americans are aghast at how social media companies have built monopolies and violated privacy laws — Zients served on the Board of Directors of Facebook as it was defending itself against growing attacks from both political parties.' 'And as Daniel Boguslaw and Max Moran of the Revolving Door Project wrote in The American Prospect last April, "Over the span of two decades, the health care companies that Zients controlled, invested in, and helped oversee were forced to pay tens of millions of dollars to settle allegations of Medicare and Medicaid fraud."'" When we hear that these guys have been paying lots and lots of fines, that means they've been breaking the law as part of their business method. Shouldn't they be RICO'd instead of installed in the White House?

"SCOTUS's First Decision of the Term Is a Unanimous Blow to Disabled Veterans: After an unusual delay, the Supreme Court finally issued its first opinion of the term on Monday: a unanimous decision in Arellano v. McDonough siding against disabled veterans who seek compensation for disabilities related to their service. Justice Amy Coney Barrett's opinion for the court denied these veterans (and their survivors) the ability to obtain benefits retroactively if they filed a late claim—even if the delay occurred because of their disability, or some other factor beyond their control. It's a painful blow to military members who were injured while serving their country, and a puzzling one: At oral arguments, the justices sounded divided, yet all three liberals lined up behind Barrett's harsh opinion. Maybe they genuinely believed that Congress intended to impose an exceedingly stringent deadline on disabled veterans. Or perhaps the three-justice minority is so outnumbered that it has decided to pick its battles, and Arellano was not worth the fight." This is bizarre, and means they unanimously ignored a rule that even Scalia treated seriously.

Weird. Lee Fang says, "The author of this column Wells King was just hired as a senior advisor to newly elected Senator J.D. Vance (R-OH). In the world of GOP staff, that's a new development." And that's truly weird, because that column is "Why conservatives should embrace labor unions to reduce economic inequality."

Stiglitz, "Milton Friedman Set Us Up for a 21st Century Version of Fascism: In 2023, market fundamentalism is fostering authoritarianism — in the United States and abroad. [...] Monetary tightening also could lead to a global slowdown. In fact, that outcome is highly anticipated, and some commentators, having convinced themselves that combating inflation requires economic pain, have been effectively cheering on the recession. The quicker and deeper, the better, they argue. They seem not to have considered that the cure may be worse than the disease." I saw this article and my first thought was, "Why does Nobel laureate Stiglitz have to be published in In These Times (an actual left-media site that hardly anyone sees) when Larry Summers is in mass media all the time, even though he's always wrong?"

"Government Spending and its Discontents" — This is a brief and readable rundown of both the shortcomings of the omnibus bill and the Republicans' shenanigans on taxes (and what really is needed at the IRS). Via Atrios (who had a bit more to say) and highly recommended.

Oliver Willis, "Nobody Cares About The Deficit, And Democrats Should Shut Up About It: Spend What Is Needed To Make Lives Better [...] The vast majority of voters do not enter polling places with their accountant green shades on, giving either party merits or demerits for what they've done in regards to the deficit. Voters vote based on whether the government delivered on the priorities they care about on economic issues. Did the government stabilize the economy? Did it provide an environment for job creation? Did the government provide for the common defense so that commerce can continue to operate normally? Things like that. They don't care about the deficit. Even for that sliver of people who do intensely care about the deficit, their political impact is negligible. The fiscally conservative crank is never in a million years going to believe any Democrat is in line with them, no matter how much lip service people like Biden and Obama pay to them. In their minds, reinforced by right-wing media like Fox News, Democrats are always the caricature of the free spending liberal of Reagan lore, handing out tax dollars to Black welfare cheats without a care in the world. Deficit talk doesn't sway any votes." And, like Dick Cheney said, they don't matter. We can afford to spend on our people.

Ken Klippenstein, "The 5 Creepiest Moments at Davos: The real Davos conspiracy is hiding in plain sight. No, Davos is not a secret plan to raise a stadium of babies in Matrix-style incubator pods, as some Twitter users supposed — prompting a fact check from Reuters. The real Davos conspiracy is hiding in plain sight and it's pretty much the kind of pro-business agenda you'd expect from a bunch of billionaire Fortune 500 CEOs, heads of state and central bankers meeting at a ski resort in the Swiss Alps. A recent article on the World Economic Forum's website about 'the Davos Agenda' gives you the basic idea: 'We desperately need to disrupt our approach to retirement saving.' People are living longer, you see, so they'll 'want to work past mandatory retirement age…while others will need to work longer to remain financially resilient in later life.' In other words, grandma's going to have to go back to work."

This would almost be funny if these people were actually just the cartoons they act like. "Rebranding rift guts Blue Dog Dem ranks: Nearly half the members of the influential centrist coalition are letting themselves out after a failed push for a name change designed for a new era. Congress' influential Blue Dog Coalition is getting chopped nearly in half after an internal blow-up over whether to rebrand the centrist Democratic group. Seven of the 15 members expected to join the Blue Dogs this year, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.), are departing after a heated disagreement over a potential name change for the moderate bloc. For now that's left the Blue Dogs with seven, all male members — their smallest roster in nearly three decades of existence. One freshman member remains undecided. At the core of some of the breakaway Blue Dogs' demands was a rechristening as the Common Sense Coalition that, they argued, would have helped shed the group's reputation as a socially moderate, Southern 'boys' club.' Blue Dogs have long stood for fiscal responsibility and national security, issues with broad Democratic appeal, but some members felt the name had a negative connotation that kept their colleagues from joining. A majority of other members disagreed, saying they saw no reason to toss out a longstanding legacy." I love that, "the Common Sense Coalition" — like "the Problem Solvers Caucus," a group that's the opposite of what it claims. They're not "moderate", either, and nowhere near the real American political center.

Best news I've heard in a while: "Inside The Slow Implosion Of The Democratic Party's Vaunted Campaign Tech Firm: Loyal Democrats say layoffs at NGP VAN and EveryAction by the company's new private equity owners could hobble the party." Except not really, because they are awful and have been hobbling the party all by themselves for years.

Wendell Potter is here to remind you, "Here is the Truth: Medicare Advantage Is Neither Medicare Nor an Advantage: Medicare Advantage is a money-making scam. I should know. I helped to sell it. Right now, well-funded lobbyists from big health insurance companies are leading a campaign on Capitol Hill to get Members of Congress and Senators of both parties to sign on to a letter designed to put them on the record 'expressing strong support' for the scam that is Medicare Advantage."

"New study reveals rampant conflicts of interest at think tanks: The report focuses heavily on how the nuclear industry influences institutional output in its favor and works to censor its critics. 'Scholars, media organizations, and members of the public should be sensitized to the conflicts of interest shaping foreign policy analysis generally and nuclear policy analysis specifically,'' is the conclusion of new academic research that documents how think tank funders are shaping the foreign policy debate."

"John Fogerty regains ownership of Creedence Clearwater Revival catalogue after 50-year battle: 'This is something I thought would never be a possibility,'said Fogerty. 'After 50 years, I am finally reunited with my songs.'" So, his nightmare is apparently ended. (It's a nightmare in which the CIA stole $5 million from Creedence Clearwater Revival to bust commies, according to Robert Skvarla's pay-walled article in Creem.)

Normally, I'm used to seeing small-bore lefty podcasters saying rude things about each other because they are small-bore lefty podcasters fighting over a very small piece of the pie. But things are a little different in right-wing media, where billionaires just shovel out money and see what sticks. They don't have pieces of the pie to fight over, they're all getting rich and they're all friends. They get rich by saying exactly what billionaires want you to hear. But then a funny thing happened. "Right-Wingers Like Steven Crowder Need Billionaire Funders Because Their Ideas Are So Bad: Right-wing demagogue Steven Crowder recently turned down a $50 million offer from Ben Shapiro's billionaire-funded media organization, calling it a 'slave contract.' If only these guys showed as much concern for the conditions of ordinary workers." And the funny thing is, that blows rather a big hole in the right-wing claim that employment contracts are always, by definition, fair.

RIP: Legendary rock guitarist Jeff Beck dies aged 78: Beck rose to fame with the Yardbirds before fronting the Jeff Beck Group and making forays into the jazz-fusion sound he pioneered. [...] Beck died on Tuesday after 'suddenly contracting bacterial meningitis', the representative confirmed. 'His family ask for privacy while they process this tremendous loss,' they added. I loved to listen to this guy. I thought Truth was a work of art. I saw The Jeff Beck Group at the Fillmore East and felt like I never had to see another concert as long as I lived because that was a perfect show. And he was working right up until he suddenly got sick and died. That's what makes it hurt - there was more in him.

RIP: "David Crosby, Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash Co-Founder, Dies at 81," after long illness. He had a lovely voice and wrote some fine music and harmonized beautifully and there's nothing new I can say about him, but it makes me sad that he's gone. Here's Brian Wilson's tweet. And here he is with CSNY and "Wooden Ships."

RIP: Victor Navasky (1932–2023), longtime editor and publisher of The Nation, at 90. He's memorialized by Katrina Vanden Heuvel, John Nichols, and Jeet Heer at the magazine.

I've mostly been leaving the story of Musk's antics to Atrios, since he's been prescient on it long before I started to notice what a destructive clown he was, but he linked a story that is really worth reading for clarification, "Extremely Hardcore: Twitter's staff spent years trying to protect the social media site against impulsive billionaires who wanted to use the reach of its platform for their own ends, and then one made himself the CEO." It's a neat blow-by-blow of how Musk acquired the company and ripped it apart. (If you haven't been following Atrios on the subject of Musk and his deliberate interference with the development of mass transit, you've missed a really big story.)

Joan McCarter, "The New York Times is bad for America [...] There really isn't anything that the GOP can do that the Times will condemn as extreme and un-American, including creating a constitutional crisis over the debt limit. Because that's what it ultimately is. The Constitution says, in a number of provisions, that the executive branch pays the nation's debts and maintains a functional government. It also says, 'The validity of the public debt of the United States … shall not be questioned.' Period."

"The Partisan Ghost In The Media Machine: Media outlets no longer consider government malfeasance newsworthy if reporting on it might offend audiences' partisan loyalties. Before liberals knew him as the butt of a Hamilton joke, John Adams once said: 'Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.' But as the Great Airline Meltdown of 2022 illustrated last week, today's media now routinely does that altering — by promoting or suppressing facts based on which party and which infantilized audience they serve. That is a problem not just for air travelers, but also for our entire democracy."

I meant to post this in November but I forgot so here it is now, "Are we institutionalized yet? The newspapers have finally, timidly spoken up for Julian Assange. Yesterday, the New York Times published their "huh?" inspiring piece called Major News Outlets Urge U.S. to Drop Its Charges Against Assange. Who better to write it than State Department apologist stenographer Charlie Savage. [...] Naturally, the Times article on Julian Assange fails to mention even the simplest of facts. That he was targeted by the US for publishing details of some of its many crimes against humanity, especially the Chelsea Manning revelations. That he has been imprisoned for over 10 years now, and don't tell me about his so called sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy. It's not considered asylum when governments bug your apartment, listen in on protected conversations with your legal counsel, and analyze the DNA in your children's diapers."

"It Turns Out Hillary Clinton, Not Russian Bots, Lost the 2016 Election: A new study of Russia-based Twitter posts by New York University researchers buries the liberal canard that Russian bots played any significant role in swinging the 2016 election for Donald Trump. [...] That the Russian government preferred Trump to Hillary Clinton and that Russia-connected actors engaged in digital skulduggery related to the election are not really in dispute. Much of the mainstream discussion around Russian bots, however, has been premised on unexamined assumptions about the scale and effectiveness of these efforts. Powerful states including the United States, after all, regularly engage in the likes of online propaganda and sock-puppeting campaigns. Whether they have a more than negligible impact on real world events, electoral and otherwise, is another question. It's notable, then, that a new analysis published by the Center for Social Media and Politics at New York University finds no evidence whatsoever that Russia-based Twitter disinformation had any meaningful impact on voter behavior in 2016. In place of the terrifying bot army menace that's periodically been invoked, the researchers instead detail an enterprise with minimal reach or influence, and one overwhelmingly concentrated among partisan Republicans already inclined to vote for Trump."

"To Save Our Democracy, We Must Transcend Bill Clinton's Legacy: If Democrats are going to be successful in beating back the threat of right-wing nationalism ushered in by Trump, they have to move even more squarely toward the promise of economic security for all Americans that was once central to the party. Thirty years ago this month, Bill Clinton launched a presidency he claimed, in his inaugural address, would "reinvent America." Clinton was right: he did reinvent America, definitively shifting the Democratic Party away from a politics that saw economic security for American working people as the fundamental task of government, a path that had brought the party decades of political success. The disastrous consequences of that shift, limiting working Americans' expectations about how our political system can improve their lives, are with us to this day. To save our imperiled democracy, we must definitively transcend the political circumstances Clinton brought us."

"What Happened At Southwest Airlines Is What Is Happening To Every American Company: All the incentives are for squeezing everything out of a company to get the appearance of profit THIS QUARTER to get the STOCK PRICE UP to get the EXECUTIVE QUARTERLY BONUS and it is all at the expense of everything else – the customers (obviously) , the suppliers, the employees, and the future of the companies. Our government is supposed to oversee the way companies operate. They operate under RULES set up by our government. Rather than get into the specifics of those rules, ask yourself if a government operating in the interests of the people of the country and the long-term good of the companies of the country would allow what we are seeing at SWA and so many other companies to continue? Of course not!!! "

"Ticketmaster's Dark History: A 40-year saga of kickbacks, threats, political maneuvering, and the humiliation of Pearl Jam. Just over 28 years ago, Taylor Swift was a precocious Montessori preschooler growing up on a Pennsylvania Christmas tree farm, and Eddie Vedder was the Most Important Musician in America, Kurt Cobain having bequeathed to him the (unwanted) title with his suicide that spring. Bill Clinton himself called Vedder to the White House to ask him for help with 'messaging' around Cobain's death, and the rock star in turn confided in the president that he was having trouble with a rapacious corporation named Ticketmaster, which appeared to be operating an illegal monopoly. A few weeks later, the Clinton Justice Department invited Vedder's band Pearl Jam to be the star witness in an antitrust investigation inspired by the case. The band obliged. But no sooner had they agreed to participate in the probe than their lives began to resemble a kind of pop culture Book of Job, replete with biblical floods, mysterious plagues, possible burglaries, and crippling self-doubt. And 11 days after canceling a Ticketmaster-free 1995 summer tour due to 'pressures' they feared 'would ultimately destroy the band,' Pearl Jam's handlers at the Department of Justice issued an unusual two-sentence press release announcing the end of its investigation."

I was trying to figure out what would be a reasonable "poverty line" since the one we have makes no sense, and I stumbled on a page that lists How Much You Need To Live Comfortably in 50 Major US Cities." The entries are all variations on this:
"Albuquerque, New Mexico
• Median income: $53,936
• Income needed if you're a homeowner: $81,526.74
• Income needed if you're a renter: $65,446.74
Albuquerque isn't going to top any salary comparison by city with the median earner pulling down almost $54,000, which is below the average salary in the U.S. But, with 'just' $16,080 separating a median earner who rents from the cost to live comfortably in Albuquerque, it's actually among the more affordable major cities in the country.
"

David Crosby, "Triad" — original studio take.

Friday, January 6, 2023

Twelfthnight

Another installment in my continuing effort to make the season start at Advent and last through Twelfthnight, so here's the traditional Christmas links:
* Mark Evanier's wonderful Mel Tormé story, and here's the man himself in duet with Judy Garland.
* Joshua Held's Christmas card, with a little help from Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters.
* Brian Brink's tour-de-force performance of "The Carol of the Bells"
* "Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime."
* Ron Tiner's one-page cartoon version of A Christmas Carol

As I write this, the House still hasn't got a Speaker, and lots of people are enjoying the clown show. I'm not gonna wait to find out what happens. In the meantime, I hope everyone is prepared to remind anyone who will listen that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional.

There really couldn't be a clearer example of what privatization is for than this: "Huntsville Public Library (TX) Privatized After Pride Display: The Huntsville Public Library (HPL) has been under fire since this summer, when a book display riled up city officials. Now, following the removal of two book displays at the public library, the city decided to privatize the library. Though officials claim the move to hire Library Services & Systems (LS&S) will reduce library operational costs over the next ten years, it comes on the heels of the city removing a Pride book display and a Banned Books Week display in September. City Manager Aron Kulhavy called for the displays to be taken down, temporarily closing the library. Following the removal of both displays, the library was told they could not create any additional displays, pending the city's review of policies and procedures about them. The City Librarian was also placed on leave. When asked why the displays were taken down, Kulhavy said it was to 'better respond to citizen concerns from all viewpoints.' In October, a library user identified additional suspicious behavior. A city police officer was behind the circulation desk reviewing books, reportedly taking one with him and approving the rest of the titles as ones that were okay to return to the collection. The library board has had no say in any of these decisions."

Silence From Media as Twitter Suspends Palestinian Journalist: In yet another demonstration of anti-Palestinianism in the U.S. mainstream, there is no outcry over Twitter's arbitrary suspension of Said Arikat, longtime D.C. correspondent for Al-Quds newspaper. It was big news when Elon Musk suspended the Twitter accounts of at least nine tech journalists last week (over alleged dox-ing) and then reinstated them this week after Twitter users demanded as much. But in yet another demonstration of anti-Palestinianism in the U.S. mainstream, there has been scarcely any attention given to the arbitrary suspension of Said Arikat, a fixture at the State Department briefings as the longtime Washington correspondent for Al-Quds newspaper, a Palestinian publication. Arikat said he woke up on December 3 to read a notice from Twitter that his account had been 'permanently suspended after careful review'. No reason was given; and despite the assurance that he could appeal the suspension if he thought the decision was wrong, Twitter has not responded to numerous letters Arikat has sent the media giant." So, no censorship there, then.

Good: "The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act: The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act is technology-neutral, targeted legislation that addresses long-standing, bipartisan concerns regarding inmate communication rates at prisons and jails across the nation. Policymakers of all stripes acknowledge that the existing market has failed to produce adequate competition to protect inmates and detainees, their families, and law enforcement. The bill addresses this market failure ('localized monopolies') that limits competition at facilities."

"NEWS: State Officials Warned Buttigieg About Airline Mess" Before the holiday travel nightmare, attorneys general begged the Transportation Secretary and Congress to crack down. Southwest Airlines stranding thousands of Americans during the holiday season is not some unexpected crisis nor the normal consequence of inclement weather — and federal officials are not powerless bystanders. Before the debacle, attorneys general from both parties were sounding alarms about regulators' lax oversight of the airline industry, imploring them and congressional lawmakers to crack down. The warnings came just before Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appeared on national television insisting travel would improve by the holidays, and before Southwest executives — flush with cash from a government bailout — announced new dividend payouts to shareholders, while paying themselves millions of dollars. [...] Currently, Buttigieg and the Department of Transportation are the primary regulator over airlines thanks to a 44-year-old law preempting state consumer protection authority. Model legislation proposed by the American Economic Liberties Project, an anti-monopoly think tank, and backed by consumer groups would empower citizens and state law enforcement officials to sue airlines that violate consumer protection laws. One week after the letter from state attorneys general, Buttigieg said on The Late Late Show With James Corden that airline travel 'is going to get better by the holidays.' He added that 'we're really pressing the airlines to deliver better service.'" But it didn't, and McKinsey Pete used none of his powers to try to change that.

There was hope, as you'll see below, but the latest on this story is pretty depressing: "Democrats Frittered Away the Lame-Duck Session: A lackadaisical approach led to failure for numerous bipartisan bills, and kept alive Republican goals to take the debt limit hostage in 2023. [...] As a last grab for policy under a Democratic congressional majority in President Biden's first term, this is frankly a very modest haul. While some last-second proposed deals for the omnibus were far-fetched, others were bipartisan enough that they could have found their way to the president's desk months ago. That all of them had to jockey for space in must-pass bills was symptomatic of the lackadaisical approach to the lame duck, a stark contrast to the last time Democrats had a lame-duck session before losing their congressional majority. And the real culprit in that is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who appears to have thought that the successes of August, when Congress advanced the Inflation Reduction Act, medical care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits (the PACT Act), and semiconductor manufacturing subsidies (the CHIPS and Science Act), were enough to secure the Democratic majority's legacy. Though much more was available—like measures on press freedom, tech antitrust, criminal justice, Afghan refugees, and workplace fairness—there just wasn't much interest from Schumer."

"Schumer Freezes Antitrust Bills After Big Tech Lobbyists Bundled Millions: Apple, Amazon, and others are spending record sums to fight off antitrust laws while pouring money into the Democrats' campaign arms. Several bills to curb the market power of the world's largest tech companies are being stalled to death by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) after lobbyists for Amazon, Apple, and tech industry lobbying groups bundled millions in donations for the Democrats' campaign arms. Since last year, the Big Tech companies have been aggressively lobbying against the antitrust bills, which appear to have enough support to pass both the Senate and the House despite Schumer's resistance. Lobbying disclosure forms reveal that Apple and Amazon are on pace to spend more on federal lobbying this year than ever, and Meta likely is as well. All stated that they have lobbied on the antitrust bills more than any other."

"Wall Street Wins Again on Retirement Savings: A perk for the asset management industry found its way into the omnibus spending bill. Meanwhile, the savings of disabled Americans living in extreme poverty will continue to be strictly means-tested. A bill package included in Congress's end-of-year omnibus legislation will allow the richest Americans to park more tax-shielded cash in private retirement funds, in a win for giant asset managers like Vanguard and Fidelity."

"Get Antitrust Legislation Done, Chuck Schumer: Antitrust legislation is now up to one man, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. He promised a vote on antitrust legislation in May. Will he deliver? In May of this year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made an important promise, and one that surprised both me and a lot of the people who care about anti-monopoly policy. He said he'd hold a vote on some or all of the antitrust legislation that Congress had been working on over the last three years, in the early summer. This promise was supposed to be the capstone to an important initiative in both the House and Senate. [...] These bills have broad support and passed House and Senate committees. The White House supports them, and the last one actually passed the House with a bipartisan vote. Taken together, these bills would have a catalytic effect on competition and monopoly power. Since the Republicans are going to take over the House, and the GOP leadership has a demonstrated hostility to most antitrust legislation, passing these bills now is the last chance to actually get some of them done, at least for a few more years. The last remaining hurdle is getting the bills to pass the Senate floor. So Schumer's promise to hold a vote on antitrust bills back in May was a big deal. He was essentially saying to his caucus, and in particular to Klobuchar, 'I hear you care about antitrust, I will help you get it done.' The problem, however, is simple. Schumer just didn't hold the vote or dedicate the floor time. He kept delaying, changing his rationale, and just not doing what he promised. For the last week or so, the Senate has been spending its floor time on nominations, which is what you'd hold votes on if you wanted to kill antitrust legislation. Schumer was, as it turns out, not telling the truth when he said he would hold a vote"

"Gary Gensler Got It Right: The emergence and acceptance of cryptocurrency is one of the most embarrassing recent indictments of broad swaths of American financial and political thinking. Despite Sam Bankman-Fried admitting the Ponzi-like nature of crypto on Bloomberg's Odd Lots podcast months before he was disgraced, important validators such as former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and former Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Jay Clayton currently serve or served as advisors to crypto firms, and the Brookings Institution held repeated conferences on the importance of what many called 'financial innovation.'[1] By contrast, the SEC and its current chair, Gary Gensler, took key actions to ensure that these speculative financial instruments did not spread to the rest of the financial system."

"A Day of Constitutional Reckoning Approaches: Section 2 of the 14th Amendment was designed to strip congressional districts from states that disenfranchise voters. It's never been implemented. We swear oaths on the Constitution. We are taught every word; indeed, every comma counts. This month, a special three-judge federal district court, and the Supreme Court eventually, will be asked to resurrect 135 words of the Constitution that have never been enforced, even though they were specifically intended to ensure all Americans could vote free of only the most minor government regulation. Though few even know of its existence, Section 2 of the 14th Amendment is perfectly clear. It provides that, if any state abridges the franchise of males over 21, 'except for participation in rebellion, or other crime,' that state loses the equivalent population numbers counted to determine representatives in Congress. Subsequent amendments to the Constitution erased the gender and age limitations, but the core meaning of Section 2 remains intact."

"RUNNING A RACKET: The Scorched-Earth Legal Strategy Corporations Are Using to Silence Their Critics: [...] Victims suing multinational corporations for alleged crimes committed abroad face steep odds. Collingsworth has made a specialty of these uphill battles, devoting his career to holding companies accountable in American courts for human rights abuses overseas. In his struggle with Drummond, he collaborated with activist groups, spoke out in the media, and wrote letters to Drummond's business partners accusing the company of 'hiring, contracting with, and directing' the paramilitaries who committed the murders. [...] Collingsworth lost an initial trial in 2007, when a jury found there wasn't clear evidence tying the company to the crimes. Another of his lawsuits was dismissed for being too similar to the first. But Collingsworth continued to press his case, offering new witnesses with firsthand testimony implicating Drummond. Then, in March 2015, the case took a surprising turn. Drummond had returned fire in the legal fight with an unusual accusation. The company charged that Collingsworth — an advocate who recently brought a case before the U.S. Supreme Court — had led a 'multifaceted criminal campaign' to extort Drummond into paying a costly settlement. This campaign, Drummond alleged, was in fact a racketeering conspiracy as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO."

"New York passed the nation's first right-to-repair law. Pleasing tech lobbyists, Governor Kathy Hochul hasn't signed it: New York's right-to-repair law, approved by the state's House and Senate, landed on Governor Kathy Hochul's desk weeks ago. She's not signing it, reports Ars Technica, to please tech lobbyists hired by firms such as Apple and Microsoft—and time is running out for her to do so. Her "pocket veto" of the law, which already exempts game consoles, garden equipment and other appliances, would effectively kill it stone dead: it would have to be redrafted from scratch no sooner than next year. [...] The consumer electronics industry is reportedly spending billions on this lobbying effort, which has already restricted New York's right-to-repair act to cellphones and other pocket gadgets. Right-to-repair is a clear example of something everyone wants—a right so presumptive and universally approved that it passes with overwhelming bipartisan support in an age of savage division and partisanship. But it's not happening, because the constituency that matters to Hochul has nothing to do with what everyone wants."

The Financial Times has a good piece on how "Britain's winter of discontent is the inevitable result of austerity", but since it's mostly paywalled, it's worth checking out John Burn-Murdoch's thread quoting from it and explaining the damage, with handy charts and graphs. The short version is that the Tories have massively underfunded the NHS and crippled it, but their massive cuts on other services have contributed to the health burdens on the system. (What's missing from this story is the huge expense and reduction in services resulting from privatization, which is even depriving people of water. Oh, and the fact that New Labour has contributed to it, too.)

John Oliver did a great segment on the copaganda against bail reform - worth watching!

REST IN POWER: "Suzy McKee Charnas (1939-2023): SF writer Suzy McKee Charnas, 83, died January 2, 2023. She was best known for her ambitious works that explored gender, sexuality, and feminist issues." There's no way I can explain what a superstar she was to us when Walk to the End of the World came out, how much fun she was to talk to, the energy that came off of her.

RIP: "John Bird: Actor and comedian dies aged 86 [...] 'He was so modest, for someone who so often played these characters who were so complacent and self-aggrandising,' Bremner told Radio 4's The World at One." Bird & Fortune, or The Two Johns, were one of my favorite things on TV. Every week, they took turns with one doing the interview and the other being George Parr, the latter usually being some horrible sociopathic banker or Tory Minister whose very existence should have been a scandal (and a route to prison). Here is George Parr discussing planning for the war in Iraq, and here Washington Diplomat George Parr discusses George Bush and foreign policy and stuff. And here, George Parr, investment banker, makes the usual excuses.

RIP: "Stuart Margolin, The Rockford Files Co-Star and TV Director, Dies at 82." He did a lot more things than most people realize, and even had genre credits, but of course to me he will always be Angel Martin.

KNIGHTED: "King Knights Queen, Arise Sir Brian May: Queen guitarist Brian May has been knighted by King Charles III and is now Sir Brian May. May was a co-founder of the band Smile in 1968, later to become Queen in 1970 when Freddie Mercury joined the group. Queen released their self-titled debut album in 1973 and second and third albums 'Queen II' and 'Sheer Heart Attack' the following year, starting a succession of global hits with 'Killer Queen' and achieving their first number one 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in 1975. Brian May was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 and earned his PhD in Astrophysics in 2007. Dr Brian May was Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University from 2008 to 2013 and a collaborator with NASA for the New Horizons Pluto mission. He even has an asteroid named after him. 52665 brianmay was dedicated in 1998."

Ratzinger croaked, too, but hell with that.

Free Movie: "Vigilante: Georgia's Vote Suppression Hitman: "Greg Palast and his investigations team bust the most brazen, racist attack on voting rights yet—engineered by Georgia's Brian Kemp."

"30 Years of Broadband Bait-&-Switch Campaigns Created the Digital Divide: Every Government Broadband Agency is Negligent for the Failure to Investigate and Clawback, Get Back the Money. Maybe someone should ask the 'Public' whether they think it's OK for the government to give out $100 billion in state and federal subsidies, when they — the FCC, the state broadband agencies, etc. can't even tell you how the Digital Divide was created in your state or how much money you, your family, business, etc. were charged for a fiber optic future you never got."

John Solomon, so grain of salt and all that, but, "How Comey intervened to kill WikiLeaks' immunity deal: One of the more devastating intelligence leaks in American history — the unmasking of the CIA's arsenal of cyber warfare weapons last year — has an untold prelude worthy of a spy novel. [...] But an unexpected intervention by Comey — relayed through Warner — soured the negotiations, multiple sources tell me. Assange eventually unleashed a series of leaks that U.S. officials say damaged their cyber warfare capabilities for a long time to come."

"Anti-trans activists are using 'mirror propaganda'. Here's how to spot it: People claiming to be 'silenced' are being featured in national mainstream media platforms. There's a word for that. The recent backlash against Graham Norton's entirely reasonable suggestion that the media talks to more trans people was more revealing than people think. He came dangerously close to exposing organised transphobia's core campaign strategy, something they don't want people talking about. In collaboration with mainstream media, its main strategy has been to liberally platform anti-trans narratives, hermetically exclude trans perspectives, and at the same time accuse trans people of 'silencing' transphobes. For example, a transphobic group holds a rally somewhere – maybe a couple of dozen transphobes in a draughty church hall. There's a protest outside. A journalist, with confected faux-indignation, then claims trans people are 'silencing' them." My, this all seems so familiar.

"A Big Lie is Breaking Education: [...] It is widely believed that education in America is not going well. That belief is more propaganda than fact. The contemporary manifestation of that propaganda began with a 1983 report commissioned by the Reagan administration: A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. A Nation at Risk appeared to provide unassailable statistical proof that student achievement had dropped. The average scores the report cited were not fiction. Scores were indeed lower, at least by their calculations. But it didn't mean what the report concluded. The Sandia Report found seemingly contradictory facts: The average test scores of all American students had gone down, as A Nation at Risk claimed . . . but the average test scores of every sub-group (by class, race, and every other variable) of American students had gone up! How can that be? Enter Simpson's Paradox, an interesting statistical phenomenon."

In my continuing efforts to remind people that the Opus Dei squad on the Supreme Court is actually a bunch of heretical crackpots, more history on "The Roman Catholic Church and reproductive health: I wrote this in reaction to the growing control of health care by Catholic organizations (41% or more of facilities in Washington State), most recently the merger of Virginia Mason and CHI Franciscan. Access to birth control healthcare is increasingly limited. Inaccessible and illegal are indistinguishable. Kuttner on TAP reports that Oberlin college has outsourced the campus health service to a Catholic-owned provider. 40% of student visits were about sexual health. Many received birth control or emergency contraception.* I am firmly convinced that the Catholic Church's position on contraception and abortion is theologically unfounded and morally wrong, by their own accounting, as evidenced below."

From 2016 in Harper's, "Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs: Nixon's invention of the war on drugs as a political tool was cynical, but every president since — Democrat and Republican alike — has found it equally useful for one reason or another. Meanwhile, the growing cost of the drug war is now impossible to ignore: billions of dollars wasted, bloodshed in Latin America and on the streets of our own cities, and millions of lives destroyed by draconian punishment that doesn't end at the prison gate; one of every eight black men has been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction.

Kurt Vonnegut, 2005, "Elites Are Clueless, and so on [...] Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long – for all of human experience so far – that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on, because now it is their turn to guess and be listened to. Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today. Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting. They think that the whole country is sick of it, and they want standards, and it isn't the gold standard. They want to put us back on the snake-oil standard."

The Royal Mint is commemorating The Rolling Stones.

Thursday, December 15, 2022

You just gotta call on me

Santa Games online Advent Calendar. You can start from December first.

"Why America's Railroads Refuse to Give Their Workers Paid Leave: For months, the world's largest economy has been teetering on the brink of collapse because America's latter-day robber barons can't comprehend that workers sometimes get sick. Or so the behavior of major U.S. rail companies seems to suggest. [...] Unlike nearly 80 percent of U.S. laborers, railroad employees are not currently guaranteed a single paid sick day. Rather, if such workers wish to recuperate from an illness or make time to see a doctor about a nagging complaint, they need to use vacation time, which must be requested days in advance. In other words, if a worker wants to take time off to recover from the flu, they need to notify their employer of this days before actually catching the virus. Given that workers' contracts do not include paid psychic benefits, this is a tall order. [...] All of which invites the question: Why do these rail barons hate paid leave so much? Why would a company have no problem handing out 24 percent raises, $1,000 bonuses, and caps on health-care premiums but draw the line on providing a benefit as standard and ubiquitous throughout modern industry as paid sick days? The answer, in short, is 'P.S.R.' — or precision-scheduled railroading." More on that subject from Reich, "The one thing you need to know about the railroads: It's not that a rail strike would be bad for the economy."

Warnock beats Walker in Georgia, 51.4-48.6, giving Dems a real 51st vote. For whatever that's worth.

Oh, wait! "Sinema switches to independent, shaking up the Senate [...] In a 45-minute interview, the first-term senator told POLITICO that she will not caucus with Republicans and suggested that she intends to vote the same way she has for four years in the Senate. 'Nothing will change about my values or my behavior,' she said."

"Five power substations attacked in Pacific northwest similar to strike that caused outages in North Carolina: The FBI is investigating at least five attacks on electricity substations in the Pacific northwest similar to one that caused widespread power outages in North Carolina. Representatives from Puget Sound Energy, the Cowlitz County Public Utility District and Bonneville Power Administration confirmed the attacks took place in November, although the FBI declined to confirm the investigations and it's not clear whether any of the damage resulted in service disruptions, reported the Seattle Times."

From The Toledo Blade, "Debt program a model: Toledo and Lucas County have combined to turn $1.6 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds into as much as $200 million of medical debt relief. In the process, our community has created a best practice that other cities and counties will be able to emulate for their own citizens. Toledo City Council voted Wednesday 7-5 to approve $800,000 in ARPA funds for the program with RIP Medical Debt, creators of the charity that buys bad debt from hospitals and discharges the liability."

This could be good news: "D.C. Council Wants To Make Metrobus Fares Free In The District, Expand Service Overnight: The D.C. Council wants to make WMATA bus service fare-free in the District next year. If approved, D.C. would become one of the largest and most prominent cities in the country to make the bus free at the fare box."

Helaine Olen in the WaPo, "Medicare Advantage? More like Medicare Disadvantage: When the annual enrollment period for Medicare ends on Dec. 7, analysts expect that, for the first time, more seniors will receive their 2023 health-care coverage from Medicare Advantage than the traditional program. That's not a good thing for either elderly Americans or federal coffers. And while seniors are well advised to approach these plans with caution, we should all be paying attention to what's going on. Medicare Advantage plans, which are private insurance plans for seniors paid for with federal dollars, originated as a government savings strategy, on the theory that the private sector could improve on government performance at a lower cost. But over the past two decades, it has become clear that Medicare Advantage does not result in improved care for less money. Instead, it will come as no surprise to Americans familiar with the health insurance industry that insurers found a way to turn it into yet another profit center, while putting bureaucratic roadblocks in the way of patients."

RIP: "Stax Records Founder Jim Stewart Dead At 92 [...] The early Satellite Records were not successful, but Stewart eventually borrowed money from his sister Estelle Axton, who mortgaged her home so that Stewart could buy an Ampex tape recorder. (The name Stax is a combination of Stewart and Axton's last names.) Stax Records moved into the former Capitol Theater in a Black neighborhood in South Memphis, and the label had its first success in 1960, when Memphis entertainer Rufus Thomas recorded 'Cause I Love You,' a duet with his teenage daughter Carla. [...] After Chips Moman left Stax, the interracial instrumental group Booker T. & The MGs became the Stax house band, and the label had huge success with Southern soul artists like Otis Redding, the Bar-Kays, and Sam & Dave."

RIP: "Fleetwood Mac's Christine McVie dies at age 79." All I have to say is that I saw them on the Rumors tour and they were spectacular.

I meant to post this when it came out in October but I got distracted, but I still want to have the link for every idiot who tries to tell me a six week pregnancy has it's own heartbeat. No, it doesn't, there's no heart that early. "What a pregnancy actually looks like before 10 weeks – in pictures [...] Sometimes, patients want to see the tissue after an abortion. 'They are stunned by what it actually looks like,' says Fleischman. 'That's when I realized how much the imagery on the internet and on placards – showing human-like qualities at this early stage of development – has really permeated the culture. People almost don't believe this is what comes out.'" Pass it on.

"Distracting People from the Material Conditions of Our Society: A New York Times Specialty [...] It's almost as if the epidemic of homelessness in the U.S. appeared out of nowhere for no reason. Houseless people must be taken as a given—we must manage their thefts of bicycles with handcuffs, armed bureaucrats, and cages, but we certainly can't ask why they do not have a place to live. Reporting like this carries water for the people in our society who own things, and it confuses multitudes of low-information readers who never develop a strong sense of the root causes of the solvable problems they keep reading about in the news every day. It also depoliticizes people by obfuscating the political and economic battles that actually determine the course of people's lives."

Long read: "The Contest on Corporate Purpose: Why Lynn Stout was Right and Milton Friedman was Wrong: It is now 50 years since Milton Friedman set out his doctrine that 'The Social Responsibility of Business Is to Increase Its Profits.' This paper seeks to add fresh and compelling new evidence of why Lynn Stout was correct in her resolute critique of the thesis of shareholder primacy at the heart of the Friedman doctrine, and how this doctrine remains profoundly damaging to the corporations that continue to uphold this belief."

So, I'm not sure who this is, but they've done pilot programs of the four-day work week, and say that, "63% of businesses found it easier to attract and retain talent with a 4 day week." And that, "78% of employees with 4 day weeks are happier and less stressed."

Dean Baker, "OMG, a Right-Wing Jerk Can Buy Twitter! Media Concentration Matters: It's more than a bit bizarre that until Elon Musk bought Twitter, most policy types apparently did not see a risk that huge platforms like Facebook and Twitter could be controlled by people with a clear political agenda. While just about everyone had some complaints about the moderation of these and other commonly used platforms, they clearly were not pushing Fox News-style nonsense. With Elon Musk in charge, that may no longer be true. Musk has indicated his fondness for racists and anti-Semites, and made it clear that they are welcome on his new toy. He also is apparently good with right-wing kooks making up stories about everything from Paul Pelosi to Covid vaccines. (Remember, with Section 230 protection, Musk cannot be sued for defaming individuals and companies by mass-marketing lies, only the originators face any legal liability.)" Shortly after posting this, Baker's Twitter account was "permanently" shut down — only to be reopened a couple of hours later. I blame the bots.

"Another Hyped 'Hunter Biden Laptop' Reveal Flops: Elon Musk and Matt Taibbi said the 'Twitter Files' would show a political scandal, but the information itself did the opposite." I thought this was a fair assessment except that I have no idea how the word "hacked" is being used.

From Diane Ravitch's education blog, "William Phillis: Charters Are a Step Backward in Ohio: William Phillis, former deputy state superintendent of education in Ohio, is appalled by the waste and corruption in the charter sector. The state constitution requires a common school system, and charter schools and vouchers violate the state constitution. Ohio has had some of the biggest financial scandals in charter world (think ECOT), yet the Republican legislature continues to demand more funding for charters and vouchers. In this post, he likens charters to the one-room schools that were closed down long ago. He also notes that half of the 600 charters authorized in Ohio have closed."

Handy chart: "Historical Highest Marginal Income Tax Rates"

A nice piece of writing from Richard J. Eskow last year, "American Ozymandias: Part 1, The Obama Center in Chicago [...] In Chicago, something that resembles a glass-and-stone temple is about to displace much of the local community, at an expected price tag of $1.6 billion. But the Obama Presidential Center isn't a temple. It's more like a tomb – not for the ex-president, but for the dreams and hopes of the millions who voted for him. The main building's vaguely sarcophagus-like shape is reminiscent of pharaonic burial sites, which were also built by their rulers as a tribute to their own greatness."

From 2012 and still green: "Pope Paul VI's Error on Birth Control: After conservative U.S. Catholic Bishops sued the Obama administration over its health-insurance requirement for contraceptives, many assumed the Bishops were upholding settled doctrine. But Catholic theologian Paul Surlis says Pope Paul VI incorrectly removed the issue from the Second Vatican Council in 1965."

What caused the New York City bankruptcy crisis? Right-wingers say it was too much spending, but that doesn't explain a thing. "A Crisis Without Keynes: the 1975 New York City Fiscal Crisis Revisited [...] As we can see, city debt to revenue ratios were twice as high in the 1960s as they were in the 1970s. In 1966 when the city faced a much-overlooked fiscal crisis, deficits were on the order of $6 billion, when incoming revenue was about $3 billion. These numbers reveal not only the importance of deficits through much of the Keynesian period of the 1960s, but they also raise questions about the scale and significance of the 1975 fiscal crisis and the need for austerity." The short answer is that Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand caused the crisis.

"China Mieville on Why Capitalism Deserves Our Burning Hatred: If you feel a burning hatred toward our unjust social order, writes China Mieville, don't run from it. Such hate for a system that immiserates vast swaths of humanity is just and necessary."

Atrios (following a useful quote), "Endless Demands For Sister Souljah Moments [...] Your favorite centrists are always demanding that Democrats address the supposed "legitimate concerns" of voters. In this latest cycle it was "suburban moms concerned about trans athletes" or similar nonsense. And as is always the case, they go silent when you press them for details: what should they say, what policy should they support? Are you really asking them to demonize 15-year-old kids who want to play field hockey? Advocate for a national ban? Just some "feel your pain" speeches? WHAT????? Every cycle has an "other," and every cycle has the same group of centrists demanding Democrats somehow join in with the bashing, without specifying how, because that's what they "the voters" want."

"This Artist Is Giving Lesbian Couples The Retro, Pinup Treatment: Jenifer Prince's dreamy illustrations put queer women front in center in comics and pulp illustrations."

2022 Hayao Miyazaki Comics Advent Calendar -- The One With 24 Little Doors
Cider Advent Calendar
Guardians of the Galaxy Advent Calendar 2022 LEGO Marvel 76231
Crystal Ore Advent Calendar

The Beatles, "All I've Got To Do" — Man, that guy's drumming!

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

There's too much confusion

Yes, Advent has come, and time for Avedon's war against the right-wing War on Christmas. We sure can use some serious warmth and light and peace on Earth right now. Start with "Carol of the Bells"!

No Christmas for workers. Because this is just a great big FU to all workers, not just rail workers. Yes, the rail unions are under a different law than all other unions, but the message is clear. "Biden blasted for 'siding with billionaires' over workers on rail strike: Biden warned that enforcing a deal rejected by rail unions could "reignite distrust" of Democrats among workers. Advocacy groups joined rail workers and progressives in Congress on Tuesday in calling out President Joe Biden for encouraging legislative action that would avert a December strike and force through a contract with no paid sick leave."

This comes infuriatingly late — if they'd sounded this way all along it might have made a real difference. "Because 'Publishing Is Not a Crime,' Major Newspapers Push US to Drop Assange Charges: 'This indictment sets a dangerous precedent, and threatens to undermine America's First Amendment and the freedom of the press,' The Guardian, The New York Times, and other media outlets warned. The five major media outlets that collaborated with WikiLeaks in 2010 to publish explosive stories based on confidential diplomatic cables from the U.S. State Department sent a letter Monday calling on the Biden administration to drop all charges against Julian Assange, who has been languishing in a high-security London prison for more than three years in connection with his publication of classified documents."

I have known her for nine years, and the whole time she's had leukemia, a disease with a five-year life-expectancy. I feel very lucky that she still seems to be maintaining — as long as she gets her drugs. She lives in Canada; she would almost certainly have died if she lived in the US. Today she told me about an article she'd written, and like me, she didn't know much about Mark Cuban, but she knew more than I did. "Cutting out the Middleman: I'm not a big follower of The National Basketball Association, but when Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, told Forbes last year that the pricing for generic drugs was 'ridiculous' I stood up and took notice. You may remember Mark Cuban from the ABC reality series, Shark Tank. He also co-owns 2929 Entertainment, but his interests lie beyond basketball and reality shows. In an interview with Forbes Magazine, January 20, 2022, Cuban said that he wanted to 'show that capitalism can be compassionate' and he added Cost Plus Drugs to his line of investments." My friend's medication retails at $9,657 a month, but without the middle men it's $47 from Cost Plus. Other people have tried to do things like this but they get bought out by the big firms. Cuban, apparently, doesn't care about the money, he can afford to do this and he's doing it. If you or someone you know is despairing of paying for meds, see if Cost Plus has been able to get the generic yet at their site.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky and Wendell Potter, "How Medicare Advantage Scams Seniors: Where billions of dollars flow, deceptive actors follow. And nowhere does deception run deeper than how health insurers lure seniors into Medicare Advantage plans—only to leave many retirees struggling to cover their out-of-pocket requirements when their incomes are their lowest."

"Why Is AARP Boosting Medicare Privatization? The advocacy organization is welcoming the for-profit takeover of its members' national health insurance program — because it earns hundreds of millions as part of the deal. Despite massive and systemic problems with for-profit Medicare plans denying care to seniors while costing the government more than $7 billion annually in excess fees, the leading advocacy group tasked with protecting older Americans is welcoming the privatization of the national health insurance program — while earning as much as $814 million annually from insurers advertising the plans. The state of affairs lays bare a conflict inside AARP, the major advocacy organization for Americans 50 and older, over how to approach the regulation of Medicare Advantage, the for-profit version of Medicare."

"Do You Know What Dreck Is? The House Democrats Are About To Elect A Pile Of It To Lead Them When asked, progressive Democrats in Congress have complained that there is no democratic process for electing the party's new leaders. No one admits they think that Hakeem Jeffries and Pete Aguilar are terrible or corrupt— which they are— but some have cautiously expressed a certain degree of discomfort about what kind of characters these two men essentially are. I did find one or two members who defended Hakeem, but not one— not even one member— who would defend Aguilar. Even the ones unaware of his coke addiction could find a single positive thing to say about him. (Ditto for the two criminal schlemiels running for DCCC chair, Tony Cardenas and Ami Bera.)" Jeffries is so extreme right that he takes donations from Fox News' PAC, News Corp.

Ryan Grim says an anonymous email about five years ago led to "one of the most bizarre stories I've ever reported on," and given recent events, he calls it back to our attention. "Leaked Documents Expose Stunning Plan To Wage Financial War On Qatar — And Steal The World Cup: A document marked 'strictly private and confidential' lays out a plan to manipulate markets and short Qatar."

RIP: "Carol Leigh, activist who coined the term 'sex work', dies at 71: Carol Leigh, a San Francisco activist credited with coining the term sex work and who sought for decades to improve conditions for prostitutes and others in the adult entertainment business, has died at the age of 71. She died from cancer on Wednesday, Kate Marquez, the executor of her state said, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. A former prostitute, Ms Leigh devoted herself to campaigning on behalf of those in the 'sex work industry', a term she coined as the title for a panel discussion she attended at a feminist anti-pornography conference in 1978, according to an essay she wrote. 'Carol defined sex work as a labour issue, not a crime, not a sin,' Ms Marquez said. 'It is a job done by a million people in this country who are stigmatised and criminalised by working to support their families.'"

RIP: Erik Arthur, who opened Fantasy Centre in 1971 and kept it going for the best part of 40 years. It used to amuse us that he'd let an American paint the sign out front so for many of those years it was misspelled as "Fantasy Center" — but then I was surprised to come by one day to discover that after all that time, he'd finally replaced the sign with one that was spelled in British. I never went there much because it was a bit out of the way for us, but I ran into him a lot at conventions and pub meets and parties and always found him delightful. Click the link for pictures and a brief "interview" of the man himself.

RIP: Greg Bear 1951-2022: "We are deeply saddened to report that award-winning author Greg Bear died this weekend at the age of 71. The author of more than 50 books and winner of five Nebula Awards, Bear was also a co-founder of San Diego Comic Con, an artist, and a person beloved in SFF circles for his warmth and kindness."

Hm, I wonder if this will turn up on any crime shows, or whether crime writers who hear about it will just go, "No, that's too far-fetched even for us." "How Jessica Logan's Call for Help Became Evidence Against Her" is the horrifying story about how a cop decided a woman had murdered her baby because her 911 call didn't fit his programmed idea of what a mother should say when she finds her child cold in his bed. And he decided that because someone made up the idea that repeating something or not spelling things out in exactly the right way is evidence of guilt and gives training courses on it, although there is absolutely no science to back it up and the real science can't find any evidence that it's true.

"The Imperial Supreme Court: The past few years have marked the emergence of the imperial Supreme Court. Armed with a new, nearly bulletproof majority, conservative Justices on the Court have embarked on a radical restructuring of American law across a range of fields and disciplines. Unlike previous shifts in the Court, this one isn't marked by debates over federal versus state power, or congressional versus judicial power, or judicial activism versus restraint. Nor is it marked by the triumph of one form of constitutional interpretation over another. On each of those axes, the Court's recent opinions point in radically different directions. The Court has taken significant, simultaneous steps to restrict the power of Congress, the administrative state, the states, and the lower federal courts. And it has done so using a variety of (often contradictory) interpretative methodologies. The common denominator across multiple opinions in the last two years is that they concentrate power in one place: the Supreme Court.

When Street Art Meets Nature

The Literature Clock

Neil Young, live, "All Along the Watchtower"

Sunday, November 20, 2022

But will it seem the same?

The Mill Lane footpath seen in South Downs National Park, Halnaker near Chichester.

Here's the Electoral-Vote.com map and details of the Senate races from Wednesday morning. We were back to the Dems needing Warnock to win a runoff. Against Herschel Walker, which, seriously, is just embarrassing. But then we won another one in Nevada, so the map looks like this. Still waiting for the Warnock runoff for a true majority, but it makes less difference now that the Republicans managed to take the House, so nothing good is likely to come to the floor in the next Congress for the Dem Senate to fail to pass. (Not that I believe the Dems couldn't have come up with a third and fourth right-wing vote if we'd had two new Senators and kept the House....)

Meanwhile, remember Sean Patrick Maloney, the head of the DCCC who screwed up the Democratic primaries by inserting himself into a district where another Democrat was already popular because he thought he wouldn't be as safe in some other seat? Well, he wasn't safe in that one, either. Alex Sammon has the details, "The Inside Story of Sean Patrick Maloney's Face Plant in New York." That nasty little jackass managed to lose two seats in New York with his clever little plan.

"The House Democratic Leadership Race: Do Democrats really want their next leader to be compromised and corporate? Final results are still coming in; but if current patterns hold, it appears that Republicans could narrowly win control of the House by around five to ten seats. That is far from the red wave predicted by most pundits, who got caught in their own echo chamber. More on that in a moment." This means Pelosi will likely step down from leadership [Update: She did], which means we are in danger of Hakeem Jeffries, corporate lackey, winning the leadership seat. This is the guy who teamed up with Josh Gottheimer to try to defeat progressive Dems. And in honor of that, Ryan Grim has posted an excerpt from his book, We've Got People, "The real story of the making of Nancy Pelosi" — which just happens to contain the full section of the quote I typed up last time.

James Kwak's morning-after musings, "Democracy Takes Another Hit: This morning, Democrats are feeling pretty good. We shouldn't be. With many races still too close to call, it appears that this year's elections were not quite the cataclysm for Democrats that they could have been. We have a decent chance of preserving a 50–50 tie in the Senate and will probably only lose about ten seats (and the majority) in the House. That, combined with weeks of lowering expectations, will help the party put a positive spin on what was really … a disturbing defeat. [...] The truth is that the Democratic Party has failed — failed to stand for anything that ordinary people care about and failed to deliver basic economic security. We are pretty good at arming Ukraine to fight against a brutal Russian invasion, pretty bad at helping the working- and middle-class people who were once the bedrock of our party." Face it, the only thing that saved us is that Republicans didn't offer any better.

"Eight Key Midterm Election Takeaways: The Progressive Electorate Has Spoken [...] While voters this year declined to offer a stiff rebuke of the party in power, they indicated via ballot measures, exit polls, and large pre-election surveys that on key issues such as abortion rights, health care, higher minimum wages, workers' right to collectively bargain, and legalized cannabis, the electorate is more progressive than elected officials and corporate media pundits care to admit."

Establishment Dems were all ready to blame the left for heavy losses in the mid-terms (and Jim Clyburn even got an early start), but since that didn't work out, "NEWS ANALYSIS: Who Can Be Blamed for Not Blowing the Midterms?: Democrats' recrimination plans go up in smoke. The second-noblest midterm tradition is the widespread scapegoating after a sweeping and overdetermined loss. This year, sadly, slated right next to Doctor Oz in the Loser Category, are the would-be scapegoaters of the Democratic Party, forced to confront a night that was neither a full vindication of their preferred strategy nor a defeat humiliating enough to justify a full purge of their enemies. If the Democratic Party as a political entity averted a catastrophe this week, its scolds and gatekeepers really couldn't have drawn up a worse result. How do you trash 'activists' for a loss that didn't quite materialize after a solid year of preemptively blaming them for it? I imagine we'll soon see."

"Reconciliation Is Available to End Debt Limit Hostage-Taking: With the GOP likely to take over the House, Democrats can use the lame duck to effectively eliminate the debt limit and the leverage Republicans would wield." They won't, though.

A corrupt sheriff is after our Zelda! "Inside L.A. County sheriff's dubious corruption probe of Sheila Kuehl, another watchdog: Long before detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department showed up at Sheila Kuehl's house with a search warrant, it was clear this was no ordinary corruption investigation. The department had spent three years looking into an allegation that Kuehl, a county supervisor and one of Sheriff Alex Villanueva's harshest critics, had taken bribes from a friend in return for Metropolitan Transportation Authority contracts. The investigation fit a pattern. Since his election in 2018, Villanueva has fiercely resisted oversight by Kuehl, her colleagues on the Board of Supervisors, and other watchdogs monitoring alleged wrongdoing in his department. Prosecutors had declined to file charges in the Kuehl case, telling sheriff's investigators last year that they lacked the evidence they would need at trial. Had the investigation ended there it might have been just a footnote in Villanueva's tumultuous tenure. But in the closing weeks of his run for a second term, deputies with guns and battering rams were dispatched to rummage through Kuehl's home in Santa Monica, her friend's house in Del Rey and four offices around downtown L.A."

Oh, just what we needed, another "study" confirming the worst copaganda, which no amount of debunking will ever put to rest. "A Warning to Journalists About Elite Academia: Two Harvard professors propose the greatest expansion of the police bureaucracy in Western history. Two Harvard professors recently published an article called 'The Injustice of Under-Policing in America' in the American Journal of Law and Equality. The Harvard professors call for 500,000 more armed cops, who will arrest 7.8 million more people per year." These guys claimed that the US has fewer cops per population than any other country, but their data "appears to exclude all federal policing agencies (e.g., border patrol, ICE, FBI, DEA, ATF, capitol police, Park Police, military police, etc...), potentially many non-local state agencies, and ALL private police forces. One of the professors responded that they chose to use the number 697,195 from the UCR (an FBI reporting survey) even though they knew many local agencies weren't included. So, he admitted that the number may be much higher, like 900,000. (Note: Wikipedia, for example, says 900k based on a major police non-profit source). The professor then admitted privately over email that the U.S. census count is actually 1,227,788 police. That's 76% higher than the number they chose to use in their public article. What's the significance of this? Using this number, they admitted to me, would mean the U.S. truthfully has '1.1 times the median rate in rich countries.' [...] The most alarming aspect of the article is it repeatedly ignores the costs of more police. I was dumbfounded reading it. The article presents the main cost of their proposal as 7.8 million more arrests. They call it the 'main downside,' and it is the only one they even mention. The professors then dismiss the costs of 7.8 million more people arrested as far outweighed by all the amazing benefits of police. Virtually every subpoint they make is flawed (including their failure to count millions of unrecorded police assaults or even mention that they are excluding them as a 'cost' of policing), but I want to highlight the big one: more arrests are not the only social cost of 500,000 more armed cops!"

"Wall Street Strikes Back: While the financial industry once kept a low profile in elections, it's no secret which races it's banking on winning this election cycle. That's because big banks aren't shy about the fact that they're using multiple political groups to run misleading ads and donate millions on behalf of key Republican and Democratic candidates they believe will help them slash regulations and preserve predatory practices. The fact that buttoned-up bankers are intervening so shamelessly on behalf of election deniers and other right-wing demagogues might seem surprising — but the in-your-face approach is exactly the point."

Here's a story I would have thought was everywhere as soon as it happened. You all know how, during the Bush administration, Congress passed an appalling requirement for the US Postal Service to pre-fund pensions 75 years in advance, thus creating the illusion that the USPS was a money-losing proposition so they could pretend it would do better in the hands of private entities. Of course, this was a lie, since the Post Office has always made a profit and could cover the real costs of operations and existing pension pay-outs easily. So people have spent 15 years trying to get rid of this stupid requirement, and when Congress passed a new law in March and Biden signed it in April, I would have thought a victory like that would have made more noise. But I just heard about it. I guess the only thing that's important is the clown show.

RIP: "Robert Clary, Corporal LeBeau on 'Hogan's Heroes,' Dies at 96: The French actor and singer spent 31 months in a concentration camp but said he had no reservations about starring in a TV comedy about the Nazis. [...] Clary was the last surviving member of the show's original principal cast." LeBeau was one of my favorites.

"Disinformation policing, lab safety, public health – we're getting it all wrong: Can we please not make this partisan? The Intercept this week published two major investigations that seem at first blush unrelated, but a closer look shows the link between the two in a profoundly important way. One is a deep look at safety inside the labs that work with extremely dangerous pathogens. What our reporter Mara Hvistendahl has uncovered is disturbing [...] The second story is an investigation by Lee Fang and Ken Klippenstein into a sprawling new mandate that the Department of Homeland Security has adopted for itself: to police the spread of 'misinformation, disinformation, and malinformation' on the interwebs. The main targets of the truth police are, according to a draft version of a leaked DHS quadrennial report, 'the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic and the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, racial justice, U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, and the nature of U.S. support to Ukraine.' The director of a DHS advisory committee, worried about how all this might look, reported Fang and Klippenstein, 'recommended the use of third-party information-sharing nonprofits as a 'clearing house for information to avoid the appearance of government propaganda.'' And here we find the overlap. For some reasons that I vaguely understand, and for some others that I still can't fully comprehend, the conversation around the origin of the pandemic and the efficacy of the vaccines have both become coded along a left-right axis."

"Republicans Have a Symbiotic Relationship With Crime: You can't whip up a hysterical meltdown about crime without lots of crime happening. In the final stretch of the midterm campaign, right-wing media has turned to one of its most reliable propaganda tactics: crime panic. Ads where I live in Pennsylvania are putting the infamous Willie Horton strategy to shame; at the bar this week, I caught one that all but accused Democratic Senate nominee John Fetterman of being an accomplice to murder. [...] The striking thing about this messaging strategy is not just the undeniable opportunism—like the supposedly fearsome migrant caravan back in October 2018, it's a safe bet that Fox's crime focus will evaporate once the election is over—but also the perverse incentive thus created. Republicans have an objective political interest in increased crime because it allows them to incite a febrile backlash, and many of them are not at all subtle about it. By the same token, their favored policies of total legal impunity for police and making it ever-easier to buy guns will undoubtedly make crime worse, all else equal. In short, if you want more crime, vote Republican." In fact, conservative policies have always increased crime, which may be why the states where crime is worst are Republican-run states.

Truth Cops: Leaked Documents Outline DHS's Plans to Police Disinformation THE DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY is quietly broadening its efforts to curb speech it considers dangerous, an investigation by The Intercept has found. Years of internal DHS memos, emails, and documents — obtained via leaks and an ongoing lawsuit, as well as public documents — illustrate an expansive effort by the agency to influence tech platforms."

I don't hold out much hope for a third party's success, especially in the current system, but is it possible to take over the Democratic Party? I don't feel optimistic about that, either. Here's one position on that: "The Politicians Who Destroyed Our Democracy Want Us to Vote for Them to Save It: We should have walked out on the Democratic Party and mounted a serious opposition movement while we still had a chance. The bipartisan project of dismantling our democracy, which took place over the last few decades on behalf of corporations and the rich, has left only the outward shell of democracy. The courts, legislative bodies, the executive branch and the media, including public broadcasting, are captive to corporate power. There is no institution left that can be considered authentically democratic. The corporate coup d'état is over. They won. We lost." It's hard to argue with any of that, but if we ever had a chance to simply walk away, that hasn't been helped by changes in law that make third parties even more difficult to field. And unlike most Americans, I've had the experience of living in a country with multiple parties and I can't honestly say they fare any better. The UK has multiple parties, and yet, Margaret Thatcher's Conservatives went on and on and on with only 40% of the vote. We even ended up with Boris Johnson, and then the bizarre autumn antics that led to today. European countries are all watching inroads, if not outright successes, by the right wing breaking through whatever sort of liberalism (social democracy or democratic socialism, however you like to define it) used to create stable governments. Neoliberalism opened the door wide, and the far right has been wriggling through or even marching right in. Today's so-called "centrist" governments seem more willing to sympathize with avowed fascists than with any kind of social democracy, let alone "the left".

Kuttner, "Sam Bankman-Fried: A Common Crook: Today on TAP: With luck, his fall will take the whole crypto sector with him. What has almost gotten lost in the Sam Bankman-Fried saga is that the former billionaire's scam was a fundamental violation of the securities laws—using customer funds to place his own bets. His personal control of both the exchange FTX, and his investment company, Alameda, and the comingling of their funds, puts Bankman-Fried right up there with Ponzi and Madoff as common crooks and outright felons." But it's always been obvious that crypto is a scam and we're just waiting to see if members of Congress will stop pretending it should be taken as anything more than a crooked game.

Jeez, even ten years ago Second Life avatars looked better than what the Metaverse has to offer.

Jeff Beck - "Shapes of Things"