Friday, June 23, 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.


  1. It's feeling more and more like this is not the country we were part of, indeed.

  2. Avedon: "I prefer the term 'Medicare for all' over the wonky 'single-payer'"

    It's easy to see why, but here's the problem with marching under that banner - Medicare as it currently exists in the US is neither single-payer nor universal. Look at what happened to the cryptozootic "Public Option". Saying you were for it was basically saying anything and nothing because it was never defined.

    As it is, close inspection of several failed "single payer" proposals in US states like Vermont and Colorado reveal that the legislation proposed was NOT single-payer in structure. Just like neither Obama nor Hillary was a Change candidate or like the way that Dems often paint Obamacare as "universal" (it's nothing of the sort and was never intended to be). Bait and switch false advertising has become one of the largest obstacles to achieving real reform.

    That said, if I had to pick I'd personally go with "National Healthcare" and try to nail down the shape of it ahead of time. If possible I'd hold the first announcement in a National Park. But of course I favor the British system over the Canadian, so I would say that.

    1. I always have to explain when I say I want an NHS. I wonder how "VA for all" would work.

    2. I'd certainly rather have an NHS for you like I have for me. I think "National Healthcare" might be a useful term.

  3. I preferred the Bad Oyster Band. They sang about the Newcomb bitch blues. I guess that is not correct these days. Then there was the comic strip Royster the (irradiated) Oyster. It ran in Broken Barriers whose publisher would hawk on street corners in the French Quarter to unsuspecting tourists because nobody else would buy it. If they didn't get the paper, then they would fall prey to Billy who would sell them a timeshare.