23 June 2017

Woke up today in a strange, strange land

Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone:

Goodbye, and Good Riddance, to Centrism

The idea that people who want expanded health care, reduced income inequality, fewer wars and more public services are "unrealistic" springs from an old deception in our politics.

For decades pundits and pols have been telling progressive voters they don't have the juice to make real demands, and must make alliances with more "moderate" and presumably more numerous "centrists" in order to avoid becoming the subjects of right-wing monsters like Reagan/Bush/Bush/Trump.

Voters for decades were conned into thinking they were noisome minorities whose best path to influence is to make peace with the mightier "center," which inevitably turns out to support military interventionism, fewer taxes for the rich, corporate deregulation and a ban on unrealistic "giveaway" proposals like free higher education. Those are the realistic, moderate, popular ideas, we're told.

But it's a Wizard of Oz trick, just like American politics in general. There is no numerically massive center behind the curtain. What there is instead is a tiny island of wealthy donors, surrounded by a protective ring of for-sale major-party politicians (read: employees) whose job it is to castigate too-demanding voters and preach realism.

This cannot be stressed enough: It does not matter what the Republicans say as long as the Democrats don't agree with them. If the Republicans claim that health care and public services are "extreme" or "communism" or "far-left" or "unrealistic" or "budget-busting", any meaningful opposition party must and will argue the case that they are wrong, that in fact these views are mainstream, democratic, supported by the vast majority of the country - which they are. That's the real reality-based approach to politics that our so-called "pragmatists" refuse to take. If Democrats want to pass good policy, they will argue for good policy, not constantly tell us why we can't have good policy.

* * * * *

At the People's Summit, Katie Halper interviews Thomas Frank on the Demise of the Democratic Party.

There's been a lot of high praise for Bernie Sander's speech at the People's Summit.

"Jeremy Corbyn was just 2,227 votes away from chance to be Prime Minister: Winning seven Tory knife-edge seats could have put Labour leader in Downing Street" And that might have happened if the party had decided to devote resources to winning the marginals instead of only defending right-wing seats.
* As to young people's votes for Corbyn, they may not be that young. "Labour Won Much More Than The Under-25 Vote, Says YouGov: Only if you're 47-plus were you more likely to vote Tory." (This is much the same as in the US, where it was the 18-44 group that broke for Sanders in the primaries.)

Jon Schwarz, "New Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn Faces Special Guilt-by-Association Standard." But they don't really care about anti-semitism, they just care about trashing Corbyn.
* "Labour's Israel lobby plans to relaunch campaign against Corbyn. [...] Ryan herself was caught personally engaging in concocting false anti-Semitism charges against a party member who questioned Labour Friends of Israel's position on Israeli settlements, which are illegal under international law."

This is actually from before the election, but good on Stiglitz for trying. "Austerity has strangled Britain. Only Labour will consign it to history: Neoliberalism was a creature of the Reagan and Thatcher era. Austerity is its death rattle. Before it does any more damage, Britain needs a plan for growth." I'm glad to see the Guardian finally decided to get on their own alleged team, too.

Summing it all up, "Zach Carter on economic crises and authoritarianism."

Meanwhile.... "Europe: the Danger of the Center: The good news out of Europe is that Marine Le Pen's neo-Nazi National Front took a beating in the May 7 French presidential election. The bad news is that the program of the winner, Emmanuel Macron, might put Le Pen back in the running six years from now. Macron pledges to cut 120,000 public jobs, reduce spending by 60 billion Euros, jettison the 35-hour workweek, raise the retirement age, weaken unions' negotiating strength and cut corporate taxes. It is a program that is unlikely to revive the morbid French economy, but it will certainly worsen the plight of jobless youth and seniors and hand the National Front ammunition for the 2022 election."

"US has regressed to developing nation status, MIT economist warns: Peter Temin says 80 per cent of the population is burdened with debt and anxious about job security "

Right on cue, fake news from The New York Times makes up a story in which Lee Camp is a Kremlin stooge full of conspiracy theories because he doesn't repeat the same stories everyone else in the press does.

The NYT also published an outrageous article blaming the "violence" of "BernieBros" for a genuine lone-nut attempted assassination that appears to have come from someone who supported Sanders and didn't like Republicans very much. It's not exactly making amends, but the paper has now published an op-ed by the man himself, "Bernie Sanders: How Democrats Can Stop Losing Elections [...] If these results are not a clear manifestation of a failed political strategy, I don't know what is. For the sake of our country and the world, the Democratic Party, in a very fundamental way, must change direction. It has got to open its doors wide to working people and young people. It must become less dependent on wealthy contributors, and it must make clear to the working families of this country that, in these difficult times, it is prepared to stand up and fight for their rights. Without hesitation, it must take on the powerful corporate interests that dominate the economic and political life of the country."
* Bizarrely, the one media figure who got it right was Sean Hannity, who said, "I can't blame Bernie Sanders, he's a nice guy, his supporters aren't like that, it's just one guy."

"Total Surprise! People Love the Left's Ideas for Progress: I just can't believe what happened in the British elections. I can't get over the fact that when a politician with real convictions honed over 40 years of political life - generous and forward-looking convictions rooted in an understanding of how social progress for the many has actually been engineered in previous times - speaks out unencumbered by fraidy-cat image doctors, people actually respond enthusiastically. It's shocking, absolutely shocking."

Also from the Guardian just before the election, Thomas Frank, "From rust belt to mill towns: a tale of two voter revolts : On the eve of Britain's election, Thomas Frank, who anticipated the rise of Trump among white working-class voters in the US, visited the industrial heartlands of northern England to compare two momentous contests"

"The Guardian never gets a political result right. On Corbyn they got it really wrong: After spending two years trashing the possibility that Corbyn could win elections, The Guardian's coverage must be judged harshly. An apology is due."
* Dump the Guardian! has a collection of headlines from the last two years from columnists railing against the destruction Corbyn is doing or will do to the party.

"We asked 8 Senate Republicans to explain what their health bill is trying to do." Comedy gold.

Yeah, Gorsuch is definitely horrible, just like all the other Republican appointees, but when a horrible decision is 9-0, let's not kid ourselves, eh? "Supreme Court Unanimously Backs Debt Collector in Gorsuch Opinion."

"Data on 198M voters exposed by GOP contractor: : A data analytics contractor employed by the Republican National Committee (RNC) left databases containing information on nearly 200 million potential voters exposed to the internet without security, allowing anyone who knew where to look to download it without a password. 'We take full responsibility for this situation,' said the contractor, Deep Root Analytics, in a statement."

"Flint water crisis: five officials charged with involuntary manslaughter: Five Michigan officials, including the head of the state health department, have been charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the crisis over lead poisoning in drinking water in Flint. [...] Attorney general Bill Schuette presented the charges as a turning point in the investigation into water contamination in Flint, which has continued for more than a year. He said investigators would now focus on trying 17 officials who face criminal charges."

"Cuomo To NYC's Suffering Subway Commuters: Drive A Car: No governor with an eye on the White House would possibly let the country's greatest mass transit network collapse on his watch, right? Well, you must not know Andrew Cuomo, to whom the city-dwelling car driver ranks slightly below an on-time budget and 'no new taxes' as things of the most paramount importance. As for the rest of us, however, those forced into aluminum cans in a sweltering heatwave, soon to be idled beneath the East River on account of fictional 'train traffic ahead of us,' we could truly go to hell (or the MTA's steamy approximation of it)."

"Why Are Drug Prices Going Up? Democratic Power Players Help Pharmaceutical Industry In Connecticut Battle: Wide majorities of voters want public officials to reduce American medicine prices, which are the highest in the world and have become a key driver of skyrocketing healthcare costs. And yet as politicians including Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have continued to call for a crackdown, corporate power players have successfully blocked even minimal reforms - with the help, at times, of industry-connected Democrats, whose party portrays itself as a consumer-defending critic of the healthcare industry."

"Senator Elizabeth Warren joins the call for an investigation into TransDigm's business [...] "As a member of the Senate Committee on Armed Services, I have also been monitoring reports that suggest TransDigm WorldWide has used a variety of tactics to avoid sharing cost information with the government for parts for which it is the sole source supplier," Warren wrote in the letter to Acting Inspector General Glenn Fine at the U.S. Department of Defense on May 19, 2017. "These reports further show that TransDigm has unreasonably raised prices on many parts shortly after completing acquisitions of the companies that produce them."

Dday in The Intercept, "Trump Assigned Himself An Awful Lot Of Homework That Isn't Getting Done: The ceremonial signing of executive orders has become a trademark of the Trump presidency, with elaborate photo ops and presentations of the president's bizarre signature happening at a record-breaking rate. But in so doing, he has assigned himself - or, at least, the agencies and departments he ostensibly leads - a record amount of homework. It's not getting done."

"U.S. Treasury Secretary Mnuchin: China Bilateral Investment Treaty 'On Our Agenda': Trump administration is seeking to make progress on specific market-access issues first such as beef exports, Chinese rules on biotechnology imports and energy products." David Dayen explained last year that this is a job-killing deal. that "would facilitate more offshoring, and that could also give China, of all countries, effective veto power over domestic policy." Moreover, " 'It's pitched as a way to promote investment,' said Celeste Drake, trade and globalization policy specialist at the AFL-CIO. 'We're one of the top countries for foreign investment anyway. We don't need to give away rights for foreign investors.'

"A neo-Nazi with explosives and a framed photo of Timothy McVeigh is not a threat, judge rules: Brandon Russell is capable of making a bomb - and he admitted doing so. Officials believe he also participated in neo-Nazi chat rooms where he threatened to kill people and blow up places. Investigators found guns, ammunition and white supremacist propaganda in his bedroom, court records say. A framed photograph of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was on his dresser. Prosecutors believe those reasons should keep Russell behind bars while he awaits trial on federal charges. A judge, however, disagreed and decided that Russell can be released on bond."

David Dayen's tiny letter on how Republicans accidentally overturned a drug-testing rule they love. Also, David is upset by an interview with Ben Bernanke in which he, of course, makes excuses for the mess he helped make. Not surprising, given the recent Chicago Tribune feature on how, "the Cook County assessor systematically inflated prices on low-income housing and deflated prices for the wealthy's homes. [...] This stunning corruption, combined with the relative indifference to the suffering of foreclosure victims, paints a disturbing picture of establishment malevolence. They not only don't care about the plight of the rank and file, they feel unencumbered to actually steal from them. And yes, Bernanke's excuse-making sets the table for this type of greed engineering. The culture of impunity and the failure of accountability represent a large reason why we have the government we have today."

Also from Dday, "Republicans Can't Really Repeal Dodd-Frank: But they will pretend to try anyway." They have a ludicrous bill in Congress that the Senate is unlikely to pass, but they like the theater and making speeches.

Robbie Nelson in Jacobin, "The Stuff of Politics: Giving people stuff isn't a bad thing. In fact, it's the material basis of mass politics. [...] But HAMP's deficiencies should also be understood as a reflection of a more fundamental political failure: that of technocratic liberalism. This political ideology - currently dominant within the Democratic Party - embraces policies whose benefits are complex, means-tested, and often delivered through tax credits or the private sector. For the past several decades, technocratic liberalism has demonstrated its inability to solidify a mass electoral base by enacting policies that improve the lives of rank-and-file constituencies. This should be Politics 101 - when a party gains power, it uses that power to pass programs that visibly benefit its base in order to shore up their loyalty, as well as to attract potential new voters. The US Constitution makes this more difficult, with its over-abundance of veto points. So do gridlock and gerrymandering. But delivering tangible gains to workers and the poor remains the linchpin of any viable left politics. People need health care, housing, education, child care. They need something to vote for. They need to see what they get when they vote.

"Saudi Arabia is Destabilizing the World [...] This episode is especially alarming because Indonesia, the world's largest Muslim country, has long been one of its most tolerant. Indonesian Islam, like most belief systems on that vast archipelago, is syncretic, gentle, and open-minded. The stunning fall of Jakarta's governor reflects the opposite: intolerance, sectarian hatred, and contempt for democracy. Fundamentalism is surging in Indonesia. This did not happen naturally."

What's interesting to me about this piece is not so much that it is called, "Can Hillary Clinton Please Go Quietly into the Night?" and makes that case, but that it's written by someone who actually can say, " Throwing open our markets to China as much as we did - that looked wiser back then. So did deregulating the financial industry. So did pushing for three-strikes laws. So did the bailout of Mexico. So did focusing on deficit reduction. So did high levels of immigration. So did humanitarian interventions in the former Yugoslavia. So did welfare reform. Bill's calls, like all big calls, were controversial, but they were far more justifiable in light of the data we had at the time. But what about with the data we have now?" All the data we had then said these were terrible ideas that would lead to increased poverty, racism, and financial destabilization. The recent data merely confirms what we already knew, it was not a surprise to anyone who had a passing acquaintance with history.

Van Jones - not necessarily a reliable witness, but sometimes he just can't stop himself from telling the truth - says the Clinton campaign set a billion dollars on fire: "He blamed the same forces in the Democratic Party behind the Clinton campaign's defeat for continuing to divide the resistance to President Trump after the election. 'And now they want us to fight about whether black folks or white workers or Latinos or any other group should get the money,' Jones said. 'First of all, you need to give the money back to the people, period.' 'Quit getting rich off people's struggles,' Jones finished. The progressive CNN commentator has said before that Clinton's defeat signaled an end for that wing of the Democratic Party. 'This idea that we're going to be this moderate party that's going to move in this direction, that's going to throw blacks under the bus for criminal justice reform or for prison expansion, that's going to throw workers under the bus for NAFTA, those days are over,' Jones said in January shortly before Trump's inauguration."

"A 2016 Review: There's Reason to Be Skeptical of a Comey Effect [...] But it's now clear that Mrs. Clinton was weaker heading into Oct. 28 than was understood at the time. Several other polls were conducted over the same period that showed Mr. Trump gaining quickly on Mrs. Clinton in the days ahead of the Comey letter. And the timing of these polls - particularly the gap between when they were taken and when they were released - has probably helped to exaggerate the effect of Mr. Comey's letter on the presidential race."

Amazon just patented an antitrust violation: "Amazon granted a patent that prevents in-store shoppers from online price checking: Amazon's long been a go-to for people to online price compare while shopping at brick-and-mortars. Now, a new patent granted to the company could prevent people from doing just that inside Amazon's own stores. The patent, titled 'Physical Store Online Shopping Control,' details a mechanism where a retailer can intercept network requests like URLs and search terms that happen on its in-store Wi-Fi, then act upon them in various ways. The document details in great length how a retailer like Amazon would use this information to its benefit. If, for example, the retailer sees you're trying to access a competitor's website to price check an item, it could compare the requested content to what's offered in-store and then send price comparison information or a coupon to your browser instead. Or it could suggest a complementary item, or even block content outright."

"Police officer who shot dead Philando Castile acquitted of all charges." Apparently, Castile was pulled over because he had a broad nose and shot when he mentioned that he had a licensed gun on his person.
* "Judge Dismisses Kendrick Johnson Wrongful Death Suit, Cites Negligence on Part of Teen's Parents." Help me out, here. The kid's body was found in a rolled-up gym mat. That part surely didn't happen by accident.

Radley Balko reports on a reporter who spent "A day with 'killology' police trainer Dave Grossman," one of the most dangerous men in America, who trains cops to "bravely" take shooting people lightly. "Grossman and Glennon teach the most popular of these classes, but they have competitors. When it comes to teaching cops how to escalate, how to see the world as their enemy and how to find the courage to kill more people, more often, there's no shortage of options."

"America's Health-Care Crisis Is a Gold Mine for Crowdfunding: Sites such as GoFundMe and GiveForward are poised for a wave of medical appeals if Trumpcare leaves millions uninsured, and even if it doesn't."

"Follow The Money: The Flow Of Funds In The Pharmaceutical Distribution System: About 10 percent of all health care spending is on prescription drugs, and the spending is growing at a rapid rate. This has prompted calls for government intervention to regulate drug prices or otherwise control their rapid increase. But any intervention should be predicated on a clear understanding of the economic forces that drive price increases, and the parties responsible for them."

"$15 for 15 minutes: How Courts Are Letting Prison Phone Companies Gouge Incarcerated People." Isn't it interesting how they come up with these clever ways of disintegrating the lives and families of people who are in prison? It's not simply that there is no thought of rehabilitation, it's that they make it impossible for people to maintain the connections to society that would allow them ever to recover from going to prison.

"Has the 40-year old mystery of the 'Wow!' signal been solved?"

RIP: Adam West, the actor who brought Batman to life for television audiences in the late '60s. The BBC says, "West died peacefully in Los Angeles after a 'short but brave battle' with leukemia, a family spokesperson said.." He was 88. Guardian obit here. Tributes from his colleagues and admirers. Mr. West was a man who really knew how to have fun with a phone book.
* And here's that unaired episode of Powerless - better watch it now, since DC says: "Adam West, Batman to a generation of TV fans, passed away last week. One of his final roles was a fittingly comic guest role on NBC's Powerless in an episode which never made it to air. DC All Access is proud to present this episode in its entirety for a limited time as a tribute to West and his DC legacy."

RIP Stephen Furst, who we remember from St. Elsewhere and Babylon 5, although some remember him better from Animal House. He was 63.

RIP: "Anita Pallenberg, actor, model and muse to the Rolling Stones, dies aged 73: Partner to both Brian Jones and Keith Richards, Pallenberg went on to appear alongside Mick Jagger in Performance and pursued a career in fashion" I watched that movie a lot of times.

"Comedian Bill Dana, Who Played the Character Jose Jimenez, Dies at 92: He became a 'mascot' for the Mercury astronauts, wrote jokes for Steve Allen and Don Adams and penned one of the funniest All in the Family episodes. "

Matt Taibbi's review of Thomas Friedman's latest book, Thank You for Being Late, demonstrates once again that Friedman stands with such literary greats as William McGonegal and Lionel Fanthorpe.

"Move Fast and Break Things by Jonathan Taplin review - the damage done by Silicon Valley: Taplin's starting point is the music of Levon Helm and the Band, but the fight against the spoiled brats of Google, Amazon and Facebook is much bigger. Personally, I thought Taplin omitted too much about the ludicrously low percentage of profits that the recording industry gives to creators, when he talked to Sam Seder about it.

"Austin Mayor Responds To Boycott Threats Over Women-Only Wonder Woman Screening: I am writing to alert you that your email account has been hacked by an unfortunate and unusually hostile individual."

"Time for Democrats to Unite Around Medicare for All: Contrary to how it is often portrayed, this is not some left-wing fantasy but an idea with widespread across-the-aisle support. An April survey from the Economist/YouGov showed that 60 percent of Americans support 'expanding Medicare to provide health insurance to every American,' including a majority of independents and nearly half of self-identified Republicans. Likewise, a Gallup poll conducted last month found that a majority of Americans would like to see a single-payer system implemented. (Given how deeply Medicare is woven into the fabric of our society, I prefer the term 'Medicare for all' over the wonky 'single-payer.')

Shaun King, "KING: Why progressives and liberals continue to feel like unwelcome guests in the Democratic Party: Earlier this week in Virginia, two men who each voted for George W. Bush twice to become President of the United States won their primaries in the governor's race there. Ed Gillespie, a lifelong Republican, won the Republican primary and Ralph Northam, who has a record of voting Republican, won the Democratic primary. No, that's not a typo. It is, perhaps, the most relevant example, though, of why progressives and liberals in America are struggling to find a home in the same big tent." Of course, King mentions the now-famous

"On Bill and Hillary Clinton's First Date in 1971, They Crossed a Picket Line

"The DEA's Top 10 Most Insanely Ridiculous Slang Terms for Weed"

Greg Benford, "Escorting Vonnegut: For decades, starting in the 1970s, I was UCI's default escort for visitors and speakers a bit out of the ordinary. This usually meant science fiction writers with a large audience, though not always. I was an sf writer too, but with real-world credentials as a professor of physics, which some thought qualified me to mediate between the real and the imaginary. The most striking writer I hosted, in the early 1990s, was Kurt Vonnegut."

"The Untold and Deeply Stoned Story of the First U.S. Rock Festival: How the Doors, Byrds and nearly 30 other bands, a pack of Hells Angels and a lot of drugs made history at Fantasy Fair & Magic Mountain"

Teeny tiny art hidden in chips

One of the most popular songs in Britain in the last few weeks was "Liar Liar GE2017 by Captain SKA. It's about Theresa May. It's not being played on the radio.

"My Country Too" by the Oyster Band: "This was written overnight in a fit of exasperation when Theresa May hijacked Brexit to call an opportunistic general election, breaking repeated promises not to; but that was just the catalyst. During the long Oysters3 tour in March we travelled around and had conversations with many people about the state of our country and about their doubts and frustrations. It felt, in a way, like a song people were wanting us to write.

08 June 2017

On a knife's edge

I'm trying not to hold my breath for the results of the election tomorrow. I want Corbyn to win so much, but I know that even though he's looking better than Austerity Milliband did last time, it'd still take a miracle. But see below.

Great news for the survivors of the Kansas Catastrophe. "Kansas Gov. Brownback's tax experiment comes to end, as legislature overturns veto: When Kansas Governor Sam Brownback launched his experiment, he told Kansans that it would be an injection of adrenaline and that the economy would come roaring back to life. But after 5 years, the economy struggles and the state budget is a disaster. Speaking from the Senate floor tonight, Sen. Dennings (R-Overland Park) spoke out in favor of overturning the Governor's veto and ending the tax experiment. 'This was a mistake,' and noted that it was his mistake, and he was prepared to break out the mop and start cleaning it up. For Governor Brownback, the overturn of his tax plan represents the ultimate rebuke of a governor. Unlike Democratic governors in states with Supermajority Republicans who have faced veto override, Governor Brownback would assume immunity - the State House & Senate are both super majority Republican. But the Republicans have seen enough. Sen. Hardy (R-Salina) made the case: 'The people in this state have had it. Either we pay the bill now or we pay a bigger bill later.' "

"Nevada's legislature just passed a radical plan to let anybody sign up for Medicaid:: Nevada, with little fanfare or notice, is inching toward a massive health insurance expansion - one that would give the state's 2.8 million residents access to a public health insurance option. The Nevada legislature passed a bill Friday that would allow anyone to buy into Medicaid, the public program that covers low-income Americans. It would be the first state to open the government-run program to all residents, regardless of their income or health status."

"EPA begins offering buyouts to cut staff: report: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has kicked off its buyout program to reduce staffs numbers, according to an internal memo reported by Reuters on Thursday.The EPA memo was sent to all agency employees as President Trump, joined at the White House by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, announced that the U.S. would withdraw from the Paris climate change accord."

"California Senate passes single-payer health care plan: SACRAMENTO - As a legislative deadline loomed, California senators Thursday - in some cases, reluctantly - voted to pass a $400 billion plan to create a government-run health care system without a way to pay for it. Senate Bill 562, by Sens. Ricardo Lara, D-Bell Gardens, and Toni Atkins, D-San Diego, passed 23-14 and will now advance to the Assembly, where it will likely be amended to include taxes. And that would mean the measure would require two-thirds votes in both chambers." This still has a long way to go, and there's certainly no guaranty it'll happen, but....

"EFF Sues FBI For Refusing To Turn Over Documents About Its Geek Squad Informants: A child porn indictment in California has led to a full-fledged examination of the FBI's use of "private searches." Private searches, performed by citizens, can be used to instigate investigations and obtain warrants. In this case, the private searches were performed by Best Buy Geek Squad members, who came across alleged child porn images while fixing the defendant's computer. Private searches during computer repairs are normal. But they're not roughly analogous to searches performed with a warrant. Companies that repair electronic devices are legally required to report discovered child porn to law enforcement. What they're not supposed to do, however, is dig through devices they're repairing in hopes of finding something illegal. Most techs don't go looking for child porn. But the FBI's close relationship with Best Buy turned private searches into searches performed by paid informants. Once government money is introduced into the equation, the search can no longer be considered "private." The introduction of cash rewards also skews the incentives, possibly encouraging Geek Squad members to spend more time looking for illicit images than focusing on the repair job at hand."

"A new GOP bill would make it virtually impossible to sue the police: Keeping with the Trump administration's law-and-order rhetoric, Republicans in the House and Senate recently introduced a bill they're calling the Back the Blue Act of 2017. The Senate bill was introduced by John Cornyn (R-Tex.), and is co-sponsored by 15 senators, all Republicans. The identical House bill was introduced by Ted Poe (R-Tex.), and includes five co-sponsors, also all Republicans. The bill would create new federal crimes, impose federal police over the will of local officials and voters and shield police officers from virtually any civil liability, even in cases of egregious misconduct."

"Saudis take 100% control of America's largest oil refinery: America's largest oil refinery is now fully owned by Saudi Arabia. Saudi Aramco, the kingdom's state-owned oil behemoth, took 100% control of the sprawling Port Arthur refinery in Texas on Monday, completing a deal that was first announced last year. Port Arthur is considered the crown jewel of the US refinery system. The Gulf Coast facility can process 600,000 barrels of oil per day, making it the largest refinery in North America."

"Standing Rock Documents Expose Inner Workings of 'Surveillance-Industrial Complex': Leaked documents and public records reveal a troubling fusion of private security, public law enforcement, and corporate money in the fight over the Dakota Access Pipeline."

It turns out there was a real Russian hack, though not the one everyone's been looking for. Naturally, it wasn't any of the usual suspects who scooped the story, it was The Intercept. "Top-Secret NSA Report Details Russian Hacking Effort Days Before 2016 Election: Russian military intelligence executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November's presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept." The story doesn't suggest any hacking of actual voting machines, but it does underline the necessity of keeping sensitive materials offline and sequestered. And as Marcy points out, there is real exposure in hiring contractors rather than keeping it in-house. The source was unfortunately exposed and of course was a contractor. "I get why we need to disseminate such information widely. But even if this information merely reports on stuff that had already been reported (to the WaPo, long ago), it nevertheless is testament to the degree to which adding contractors adds the likelihood of leaks. Or let's put it this way: we're sharing FISA information with contractors who don't have a need to know. But we're not sharing it with defendants whose freedom depends on contesting it. Maybe those priorities are screwy?"

"Hacked Emails Show Top UAE Diplomat Coordinating With Pro-Israel Think Tank Against Iran: The email account of one of Washington's most connected and influential foreign operatives has been hacked. [...] The emails provided so far to the The Intercept show a growing relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the pro-Israel, neoconservative think tank called the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). On the surface, the alliance should be surprising, as the UAE does not even recognize Israel. But the two countries have worked together in the past against their common adversary, Iran."

The New York Times has decided to end their experiment with having an ombudsperson. Jay Rosen reports on the failings of the departing "public editor".

"Former Vice President Biden to headline Romney summit: WASHINGTON - Just days after launching a new political action committee, former Democratic Vice President Joe Biden will join Republican officials and donors at a weekend retreat hosted by former GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney. Biden will be interviewed by Romney during a Friday evening event in Deer Valley at the invitation-only summit, according to a Biden spokesman and participants briefed on the schedule. The speaker lineup for what is traditionally a gathering of Romney allies is packed with high-profile Republicans, among them House Speaker Paul Ryan and Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain."

"Joe Biden's Sound Advice for Democrats: As the Trump Administration stumbles on, Democrats' thoughts turn to the elections of 2018 and 2020. Despite Trump's current troubles, many of them believe that the Party faces a painful dilemma: Should it champion progressive policies that will energize its liberal base, or should it focus on winning back some of the persuadable voters it lost to Trump this past November? Joe Biden, for one, doesn't believe that the Party has to choose. Addressing a political dinner in New Hampshire a few days ago, the former Vice-President insisted that Democrats can promote their progressive values and reach out to economically embattled voters, including Trump voters, at the same time. 'There is absolutely no inconsistency,' Biden said, 'between defending the right to [gay] marriage, defining the rights of women to control their own bodies, standing up for the air we breathe, the water we drink, and demanding safe working conditions, a living wage, sick leave.'" Is he setting up a presidential run? Funny how the same people who keep saying Sanders is too old keep saying Biden would make a great candidate, as if he isn't within a year of Bernie's age and, by the way, the Senator from the Credit Card companies.

"Accused of underpaying women, Google says it's too expensive to get wage data." I wonder if Google could maybe, I dunno, hire a company that handles data? (I mean, seriously, Google!)

Hillary Clinton gave an interview. Everybody gets to decide what they thought was the most annoying part of it.
* "Ex-DNC aide hits back hard at Clinton, says her campaign ignored data on Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin: Hillary Clinton has found plenty of non-Hillary Clinton things to blame for her 2016 loss, including Russia, James B. Comey, debate moderators and misogyny. But her decision Wednesday to add the Democratic National Committee to that list is predictably proving pretty sensitive inside her own party. A top former DNC aide tweeted overnight that Clinton's allegations were 'f---ing bulls---' and even suggested that the Clinton campaign ignored its warnings about how competitive Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin were. Those three states proved decisive for President Trump and, especially in the case of Michigan and Wisconsin, were neglected by the Clinton campaign."

"Jeremy Corbyn's Surprising Gains: Something strange appears to be happening on the way to British Prime Minister Theresa May's anticipated victory after her clever strategy of calling a snap election. The ploy could backfire on her - just the way her predecessor, David Cameron, got caught when he thought he could shut up the ultra-nationalists by calling a referendum on British membership in the European Union. The result was Brexit, and Cameron's own hasty exit."
* "This Facebook Comment About the UK Election Is Going Viral: "
* "The fight of his life: on the road with Jeremy Corbyn: The Labour leader is vying to be elected prime minister against the odds. Through weeks of campaigning, Ewen MacAskill and photographer Sean Smith met him on his battlebus away from the spotlight."

"According to UK Prime Minister May, the fight against terrorism requires porn censorship on the Internet: A few people have commented on UK Prime Minister Theresa May jumping on the opportunity to argue for 'regulating the Internet' after the most recent terror attacks. Fewer have highlighted just what she demands, and how absolutely ridiculous this is on the surface and on every level of analysis depth: In order to fight terrorism properly, she states, Britain must censor pornography on the Internet."

David Dayen, "Here's How Broken Washington Is - Even Without Trump [...] The general idea is to allow millions more Americans to access hearing aids. Plus, the prospect of new customers could spur competition and drive down prices. Today, after numerous mergers, just six companies (William Demant, GN Store Nord, Sonova and Amplifon are the biggest) control the market, offering little incentive to lower prices. Oligopolies are a fixture in health care, from prescription drugs to hospitals to dialysis centers, and rolling back one could build momentum to truly reform health care delivery systems. Not only did Warren and Grassley introduce the bill, they got it into a must-pass piece of legislation to reauthorize user fees for the FDA. That bill is likely to become law by the end of July. So a problem caused by a government-granted monopoly looks like it'll actually get solved. Or it did, until conservatives found the name 'Elizabeth Warren' atop the bill."

RIP: Fred Kummerow, Scientist who raised early warnings about trans fats dies at 102, Like Julia Child always told you, "Butter, not margarine."

"Polls Predict Defeat For Paul Ryan In His Home District: The GOP has worked to denigrate Pelosi for over a decade. Nationally her approval rating is an abysmal 30%-- with 50% disapproving of her. That's godawful! It has made her a liability for many Democratic candidates. But you know who's even more disliked-- and with no set-up by the Democrats? Flimflam Speaker Paul Ryan. The same new Quinnipiac poll that looks so devastating for Pelosi is even worse on Ryan. Only 27% approval and a 54% disapproval. He's in much worse shape, politically, than McConnell of Schumer. People have finally recognized what a dick-head he is-- thanks to his TrumpCare bill. By the 2018 midterms he'll be so toxic that any politician photographed with him will be in jeopardy."

Dean Baker in Jacobin, "Intellectual Property Is Real Money: Want to reduce income inequality in the US? Dismantle its onerous system of copyrights and patents."

Mathiew von Rohr interviewed Bernie Sanders for Der Spiegel and found out Sanders had just read Shattered. "The Man Who Knows Trump's Voters: Bernie Sanders energized many Americans during the U.S. election campaign with his socialist ideas. In the Trump era, he has become one of the leaders of the "resistance." In an interview with DER SPIEGEL, he warns Democrats against focusing on impeachment. [...] Is it true that he didn't even know the word 'millennial,' the designation for the young generation he had inspired so much? 'That's true,' says Sanders. And how did he manage to inspire it so much? 'That is a good question, and you know what? I still don't know the answer. I honestly don't.' He says that he has just read a book about Hillary Clinton called 'Shattered,' a relentless inside view of her election campaign. Sanders says he was surprised to read 'that you needed three speechwriters to tell you why you're running for president. I don't need somebody to tell me why. If I didn't know why I was running in the first place ... You know, you've got to know what you stand for.'"

Someone is sending a meme around saying, in essence, the Democrats are going to nominate another candidate who you don't agree with 100% and who isn't ideologically pure and you have to vote for them. I kind of lost my temper at it and wrote comment about it on a Facebook thread, and Will Shetterly put it up on his blog as a post, "Who is this person who demanded a candidate they agreed with 100%?"

"Russia Blog #7: When Mother Jones Was Investigated For Spreading 'Kremlin Disinformation': Mother Jones recently announced it's 'redoubling our Russia reporting' - in the words of editor Clara Jeffery. Ain't that rich. What passes for 'Russia reporting' at Mother Jones is mostly just glorified InfoWars paranoia for progressive marks - a cataract of xenophobic conspiracy theories about inscrutable Russian barbarians hellbent on subverting our way of life, spreading chaos, destroying freedom & democracy & tolerance wherever they once flourished. . . . because they hate us, because we're free. Western reporting on Russia has always been garbage, But the so-called 'Russia reporting' of the last year has taken the usual malpractice to unimagined depths - whether it's from Mother Jones or MSNBC, or the Washington Post or Resistance hero Louise Mensch. But of all the liberal media, Mother Jones should be most ashamed for fueling the moral panic about Russian 'disinformation'. It wasn't too long ago that the Reagan Right attacked Mother Jones for spreading 'Kremlin disinformation' and subverting America."

"The Democratic party still thinks it will win by 'not being Trump': Based on their performance so far, it seems they will not learn the lessons of 2016 until they see the Republicans retain their perch in 2018. [...]

Barry Lynn"Democrats Must Become the Party of Freedom: Re-embracing anti-monopoly will reinvigorate American liberty and beat back Trumpism."

"Absent a More Progressive Economics, the Democrats Will Lose. Economic Populism appeals both to core Democratic voters and the white workers with whom the party has failed to connect. The challenge Democrats face today uniting a broad coalition of working class Americans that spans racial, regional, gender, and generational lines - is far from new, but it has not always been this daunting. "

Stanley Greenberg, "The Democrats' 'Working-Class Problem': It's not only with whites. It reaches well into the party's base. [...] The Democrats don't have a 'white working-class problem.' They have a 'working-class problem,' which progressives have been reluctant to address honestly or boldly. The fact is that Democrats have lost support with all working-class voters across the electorate, including the Rising American Electorate of minorities, unmarried women, and millennials. This decline contributed mightily to the Democrats' losses in the states and Congress and to the election of Donald Trump. [...] Working-class Americans pulled back from Democrats in this last period of Democratic governance because of President Obama's insistence on heralding economic progress and the bailout of the irresponsible elites, while ordinary people's incomes crashed and they continued to struggle financially. They also pulled back because of the Democrats' seeming embrace of multinational trade agreements that have cost American jobs." There's an instructive chartchart on that page showing Obama's annual approval ratings throughout his time in office.

Steven W Thrasher in the Guardian, "Democrats take us black voters for granted. What if we abandoned them? Black voters aren't showing up to vote for the Democratic party in the numbers they once did. There are reasons for that - and they must be confronted [...] I continue to vote, usually for Democrats and never for Republicans, largely out of a sense of nostalgia. America is a kind of drug to which I am addicted, and I continue to chase after its high even though I know it's not healthy for me. In this way, I have come to think of voting as a form of harm reduction. Voting Democrat is the equivalent of using a clean needle to shoot up, so that trying to get that American high is less likely to screw me up as badly as it could."

Matt Taibbi, "The Democrats Need a New Message."

"Wake up, liberals: There will be no 2018 'blue wave,' no Democratic majority and no impeachment."

"Two Pro-Sanders Legislators in Maine Just Left the Democratic Party."

"Problematic Liaisons: Attacking Progressive Women of Color: White Feminists Who Have Appointed Themselves Overseers of the Movement"

Jon Schwarz, "We Need Memorial Day to Obscure the Unbearable Truth About War [...] This perspective on the purpose of war was directly expressed by George W. Bush and his circle before he ever became president. Texas journalist and Bush family friend Mickey Herskowitz was hired to write a Bush biography for the 2000 campaign, and spent hours interviewing him. Herskowitz later said that Bush was already thinking about attacking Iraq - because, Bush said, 'One of the keys to being seen as a great leader is to be seen as a commander in chief.' According to Herskowitz, people around Bush, including Dick Cheney, hoped to 'start a small war. Pick a country where there is justification you can jump on, go ahead and invade.' Why? Because, Bush told Herskowitz, that would give him 'political capital' that he could use to 'get everything passed that I want to get passed.' In other words, the actual country of Iraq had little to do with the Iraq War. Its main purpose wasn't beating Saddam Hussein, it was beating Americans who wanted to stop Bush from privatizing Social Security. "

"Iran introduced a basic income scheme, and something strange happened [...] One of the biggest criticisms of basic income, a system of giving people modest salaries just for being alive, is that it discourages people from working. A new report on an ongoing cash-transfer program launched in 2011 in Iran may cast some doubt on the claim. Published by the economists Djavad Salehi-Isfahani and Mohammad H. Mostafavi-Dehzooei, the paper finds no evidence to support the idea that people receiving cash transfers take themselves out of the labor force. Some workers even expanded their hours, the report found."

"Mythbusting: "The results were clear. Of the nearly two dozen federal minimum-wage hikes since 1938, total year-over-year employment actually increased 68% of the time. In those industries most affected by the minimum wage, employment increases were even more common: 73% of the time in the retail sector, 82% in low-wage leisure and hospitality. "These basic economic indicators show no correlation between federal minimum-wage increases and lower employment levels," the authors write. In fact, if anything, the data suggest that increases in the federal minimum appeared to encourage job growth and hiring."

Paul Street writes a review: "Obama: a Hollow Man Filled With Ruling Class Ideas: What on Earth motivated the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and law professor David J. Garrow to write an incredibly detailed 1078-page (1460 pages with endnotes and index included) biography of Barack Obama from conception through election to the White House? Not any great personal affinity for Obama on Garrow's part, that's for sure. Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama is no hagiography. On the last page of this remarkable tome, Garrow describes Obama at the end of his distinctly non-transformative and 'failed presidency' as a man who had long ago had become a 'vessel [that] was hollow at its core.' [...] His 'dollar value' to Wall Street would become abundantly clear in early 2009, when he told a frightened group of Wall Street executives that 'I'm not here to go after you. I'm protecting you... I'm going to shield you from congressional and public anger.' For the banking elite, who had destroyed untold millions of jobs, there was, as Garrow's fellow Pulitzer Prize-winner Ron Sukind wrote, 'Nothing to worry about. Whereas [President Franklin Delano] Roosevelt had [during the Great Depression] pushed for tough, viciously opposed reforms of Wall Street and famously said 'I welcome their hate,' Obama was saying 'How can I help?'' As one leading banker told Suskind, 'The sense of everyone after the meeting was relief. The president had us at a moment of real vulnerability. At that point, he could have ordered us to do just about anything and we would have rolled over. But he didn't - he mostly wanted to help us out, to quell the mob.' (It's worth going back to Street's assessment of Obama's keynote address, too.)

Our rights have been taken away, and we find we are often less citizens than supplicants. We spend an awful lot of time having to deal with large, powerful organizations to beg for what we thought was already ours, even for things we have already paid for. This video is a description of the "systematic dismantling and unbundling of all instruments and mechanisms of social solidarity and reciprocity that stood against the market," and the need of most people - the Precariat - to find a new path. "A Precariat Charter: From Denizens to Citizens" - a Seminar with Guy Standing.

"What Makes Call-Out Culture So Toxic: Call-out culture refers to the tendency among progressives, radicals, activists, and community organizers to publicly name instances or patterns of oppressive behaviour and language use by others. People can be called out for statements and actions that are sexist, racist, ableist, and the list goes on. Because call-outs tend to be public, they can enable a particularly armchair and academic brand of activism: one in which the act of calling out is seen as an end in itself."

PSA: Why the female cashier is being nice to you

Well, I had no idea that a lawyer from Crimea could be such a celeb in Japan. "Natalia Poklonskaya finds out she's popular in internet."

How we know what's not true

Sexy fruit photos

From the first notes I asked myself, "Why didn't it ever occur to me that Todd Rundgren and Donald Fagen belong together?" See what you think: "Tin Foil Hat"