Friday, December 28, 2018

Winter greetings

A bit late with this (though I'm still good up to the Epiphany), but let's start with the traditional Christmas links before we lose the holiday spirit:
* 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 virtuoso performance of "The Carol of the Bells"
* "Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime."
* Ron Tiner's one-page cartoon version of A Christmas Carol

* * * * *

Alex Pareen joined The Majority Report's year-end review and Sammy asked the magical question: Why didn't some ambitious DA go after Trump's mob long ago?

"US-funded police linked to illegal executions in El Salvador: The United States has quietly funded and equipped elite paramilitary police officers in El Salvador who are accused of illegally executing gang members, CNN has learned. Successive US administrations have pumped tens of millions of dollars into Salvadoran law enforcement and military to shore up the government's 'Mano Dura' or Firm Hand program, first launched in 2003 but redoubled in 2014 to tackle the country's rampant gang problem."

"US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis resigns," apparently over Trump's announcement that all troops would be withrdrawn from Syria. For an amusing perspective on this issue, try this clip from The Majority Report.

Tim Russo has Brexit Bullet Points for the American Left in 2020. I have no idea whether he's right, but then no one else does, either.

"After McDonogh 35 vote, New Orleans will be 1st in US without traditionally run public schools: Following a hotly contested 5-2 vote on one school's future by the Orleans Parish School Board on Thursday night, New Orleans is slated to become the first U.S. city with virtually all of its public schools run by charter organizations starting next school year. As a packed room of community members chanted, shouted and waved signs in protest, the board gave a thumbs-up to a plan announced earlier in the day by Superintendent Henderson Lewis Jr. to have InspireNOLA, a high-performing charter operator, temporarily run McDonogh 35 Senior High School, which has been the city's only non-charter public high school." Which means there are now no public schools in New Orleans.

"Democrats Just Blocked Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Push For A Green New Deal Committee: Instead, Democrats are sticking to their original plan, and channeled Exxon Mobil in an announcement refusing to bar members who take fossil fuel money."

"Pro-Bitcoin Ron Paul: It's Time to Abolish Federal Reserve, Embrace Tax-Free Crypto. This would, of course, destroy the value of the US Dollar but allow private interests to control the money supply entirely.

"DNC Chair Tom Perez goes to war with state parties: Democratic National Committee Chairman Tom Perez launched an attack on his own party's state organizations Saturday with a long and angry email over the future of the party's most valuable asset — its voter data file. Just days before an important Tuesday meeting in D.C. on the future of the data operation, Perez sharply criticized a new proposal from state party leaders and singled out prominent state officials by name. [...] The DNC wants to gather all the data points on voters into a new, massive for-profit database but needs to convince state parties on the idea. The state parties have been wary, accusing the DNC of conducting a power grab that could financially benefit a few elite party figures."

"A Texas Elementary School Speech Pathologist Refused to Sign a Pro-Israel Oath, Now Mandatory in Many States — so She Lost Her Job: A CHILDREN'S SPEECH PATHOLOGIST who has worked for the last nine years with developmentally disabled, autistic, and speech-impaired elementary school students in Austin, Texas, has been told that she can no longer work with the public school district, after she refused to sign an oath vowing that she 'does not' and 'will not' engage in a boycott of Israel or 'otherwise tak[e] any action that is intended to inflict economic harm' on that foreign nation. A lawsuit on her behalf was filed early Monday morning in a federal court in the Western District of Texas, alleging a violation of her First Amendment right of free speech. [...] In order to obtain contracts in Texas, then, a citizen is free to denounce and work against the United States, to advocate for causes that directly harm American children, and even to support a boycott of particular U.S. states, such as was done in 2017 to North Carolina in protest of its anti-LGBT law. In order to continue to work, Amawi would be perfectly free to engage in any political activism against her own country, participate in an economic boycott of any state or city within the U.S., or work against the policies of any other government in the world — except Israel." 26 US states have passed laws requiring state employees to take this oath, and 13 others have such legislation pending.

David Dayen, "Sen. Jeff Merkley Wants To Stop Congress Members From Insider Trading By Banning Them From Owning Stocks: SEN. JAMES INHOFE, an Oklahoma Republican recently elevated to chair the Senate Armed Services Committee after the death of John McCain, was implicated recently in what looked to be an insider trading scandal. A few days after meeting with President Donald Trump and Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to successfully advocate for a military budget increase, Inhofe purchased between $50,000 and $100,000 of stock in defense contractor Raytheon, which stands to profit from additional defense spending. [...] When compared to corporate insiders, members of Congress are exposed to a much broader array of insider information which implicates a wide range of companies. Given that members of Congress hold a unique position of public trust, Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, both potential Democratic presidential candidates, want to put a stop to all the trading. Last week, they introduced legislation that would permanently ban members of Congress and senior staff from trading individual stocks. 'We should not be in the position of thinking about legislation in the context of personal investment,' Merkley told The Intercept in an interview. 'As long as you own stocks, it's hard to rule out of your mind. And the public sees it as a conflict of interest.' Under the Ban Conflicted Trading Act, all members would have six months after enactment to divest their shares. New members would get six months from their entry into Congress to divest. Members and senior staff could also opt to transfer stocks to an independent blind trust, or hold them for as long as they served in government, as long as they do not sell or buy more stocks. Diversified mutual funds or exchange-traded funds would still be allowed. [...] Another section of the bill prohibits members from serving as officers on corporate boards, which amazingly is not already disallowed. Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y., was indicted earlier this year for advising friends and family to dump shares of the biopharmaceutical company Innate Immunotherapeutic after learning that a clinical trial for the company's key multiple sclerosis drug failed. Collins knew about the failure before it was public, because he sat on the company's board. Currently, Senate ethics rules ban members and staff from serving as board members of publicly traded companies, but House rules do not. Even the Senate rules permit board membership of tax-exempt organizations. Merkley believes codifying into law a full prohibition on members of the House or Senate serving on corporate boards would be beneficial."

David Dayen at The American Prospect, "Sears Adds Further Insult to Its Workers -- Bankruptcy Bonuses for Execs: Amazingly, a bankruptcy judge has approved $25 million for 334 senior executives, while tens of thousands of ordinary employees face layoffs. Sears and Kmart workers still have no idea whether they'll have a job after the holidays, as the once-mighty retailer slogs through bankruptcy. But the federal bankruptcy court working through the case has nonetheless delivered a Christmas miracle for one important constituency: the company's executives. Late on Friday, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge Robert Drain approved $25 million in year-end bonuses for Sears' top managers, as the company had requested. Nineteen executives would get about one-third of that money, around $8.4 million, if Sears hits certain financial targets in the next six months, or even if it merely pronounces itself on track to reach those goals. Another $16.9 million would be distributed to 315 senior employees in 'retention bonuses,' so they don't leave to join other retailers. [...] This is definitely a situation where the scandal is what's legal. It's common for executives to get bonuses approved during bankruptcy proceedings. The same thing happened at Toys 'R' Us, before the company was liquidated. 'It's an example of how our bankruptcy laws are broken,' said Carrie Gleason, policy director and campaign manager of the Rise Up Retail campaign, which has assisted current and former Sears workers. But the decision from Judge Drain comes just a week after U.S. bankruptcy trustee William Harrington, responsible for overseeing the Sears case on behalf of the government, formally objected to Sears' proposal to pay out the bonuses. Harrington wrote that the idea of enriching a tiny elite at the top of Sears' organization while the rest of the company scrambles would be improper. 'Against the backdrop of running going out of business sales, the shuttering of hundreds of stores, and the presumed termination of thousands of rank-and-file and hourly employees,' Harrington argued, 'the Debtors are seeking authority to pay significant bonuses to their most senior executive officers … many of whom received pay raises on the eve of the bankruptcy filing.' Viewed this way, the bonuses do not feel like an effort to retain top talent through a difficult period, but a final extraction of cash before the ship sinks."

Read the full version of David Sirota's article at Capital & Main, "Beto vs. Democrats: Texas Lawmaker Frequently Voted to Help Trump and GOP: A rising Democratic star has voted for GOP bills that Trump critics say have aided big banks, undercut the fight against climate change and supported the president's anti-immigrant agenda. Following Beto O'Rourke's spirited run for the U.S. Senate, powerful voices in the Democratic Party establishment have touted the outgoing Texas congressman as a 2020 presidential candidate who, as the party's standard-bearer, would offer a vision of America contrasting against that of Republicans. However, a Capital & Main review of congressional votes shows that even as O'Rourke has represented one of the most Democratic congressional districts in the entire country, he has in many instances undermined his own party's efforts to halt the GOP agenda, frequently voting against the majority of House Democrats in support of Republican bills and Trump administration positions. Capital & Main reviewed the 167 votes O'Rourke has cast in opposition to the majority of his own party in the House during his six-year tenure in Congress. Many of those votes were not progressive dissents alongside other left-leaning lawmakers but were instead votes to help pass Republican-sponsored legislation. In many cases, Democratic lawmakers said that those measures were designed to help corporate interests dismantle Obama administration programs and regulations." A somewhat edited version is at the Guardian, and it also appeared in Newsweek.

"Ringing in a Christian Nationalist 2019 With an Even Larger Legislative Playbook: A Christian nationalist coalition, including the Congressional Prayer Caucus Foundation, has published a new state legislative playbook for 2019 that's 30 percent larger, and 100 percent as committed to a nation that reflects its sectarian values."

"Politicians have caused a pay 'collapse' for the bottom 90 percent of workers, researchers say: Political decisions by elected officials are largely responsible for a 'collapse in pay for the bottom 90 percent' of the labor market since 1979, according to a new analysis of wage stagnation by the Economic Policy Institute, a left-leaning think tank. While many economists pin much of the blame for wage stagnation on impersonal market forces, such as free trade and technological change, EPI's Josh Bivens and Heidi Shierholz contend that specific policy decisions — including efforts to weaken unions, the decay of the minimum wage and monetary policy that prioritizes low inflation over full employment — are responsible for tilting the balance of power away from workers and toward their employers."

From Current Affairs, "Why Is The Center For American Progress Betraying The Left? As the left tries to fight against inequality and exploitation, the main 'progressive' think tank joins forces with right-wing free market capitalists.... The Center for American Progress is one of the largest and most important think tanks in Washington, certainly the preeminent 'progressive' think tank. It describes its agenda as promoting 'bold, progressive ideas' and releases a number of extremely useful reports and fact sheets. In 2008, TIME branded it 'Obama's idea factory.' CAP has strong ties with both Obama and the Clintons — it was founded by close Clinton confidante John Podesta and its president, Neera Tanden, previously worked for both Bill and Hillary Clinton. The New Republic has described it as 'stuffed to the gills with staffers who have either worked in previous Democratic administrations or will go on to work in future ones.' [...] The Center for American Progress does not just accept shady donations. It also gives them. Journalist Andrew Perez reported that according to financial disclosure forms, CAP donated $200,000 last year to the American Enterprise Institute. The AEI is a right-wing free-market think tank perhaps best known as the longtime home of racist social scientist Charles Murray. " When they asked Neera Tanden what was up with that, she directed them to their website. "Naturally, Current Affairs gladly accepts the invitation to focus on CAP's collaboration with the AEI. I looked at two of the 'reports' that they have produced together so far. First, it is still unclear why CAP is giving AEI $200,000. The reports Tanden links to are a few pages each, more like extended op-eds than scholarly works, and involve no original research. They both focus not on 'authoritarianism' as Tanden says, but on what they call 'authoritarian populism.' This is important, because while Tanden suggests that nobody could object to 'defending democracy from the rise of authoritarianism,' we know that to the American Enterprise Institute, 'democracy' and 'authoritarianism' do not necessarily mean what they mean to you and me. When the AEI speaks of democracy, it means 'laissez-faire capitalism' and when it speaks of 'authoritarianism' it means 'minimum wage laws' or any mildly redistributive social policies that could threaten American Enterprise. Tanden wants to wave away concerns about the collaboration, because after all everyone agrees democracy is good. But the question is — what are we actually 'defending' here?"

Kos was stirring up crap on Twitter again last week. Kos and Armando seem to have made it their mission to denigrate the left in social media lately, so perhaps Dan O'Sullivan's article from early last year is timely again: Requiem for a Lightweight: Markos Moulitsas was once the face of American progressivism. That shouldn't happen again."

Mike the Mad Biologist, "TEH SOCIALISMZ!!! AAAIIIEEE!!!!: With the win of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (full disclosure: I donated to her campaign), there has been a lot of talk about socialism, which led to this hilarious self-own by Sean Hannity, where he displayed the horror that is her platform" [...] But on a more serious note, I'm genuinely puzzled as to how this is any different from what used to be called liberal Democrats (before and during the 1990s — and who were mostly purged from power by the Clinton era New Democrats) would propose. Looking at her site, as well as the DSA site, I'm not seeing anything about the nationalization of companies. No establishment of an activist wealth fund, in which the government has voting shares and uses them — Norway does this, for example. Other than for skyrocketing drug prices (and perhaps rent increases), there are no widespread calls for price controls. So it's really hard to see how what is currently referred to as socialism would differ from Hubert Humphrey's economic proposals."

RIP: Evelyn Berezin, creator of the first word processor and designer of a 1960s online air passenger reservation system: "Evelyn Berezin, who has died aged 93, invented the Data Secretary, the first electronic word processor for secretarial use, and in 1969 founded a company in Hauppauge, Long Island, to manufacture and sell it. She had bumped into the glass ceiling and it was the only way she could get a senior position running a company."

"Self-Presentation in Interracial Settings: The Competence Downshift by White Liberals: Most Whites, particularly socio-political liberals, now endorse racial equality. Archival and experimental research reveals a subtle but reliable ironic consequence: White liberals self-present less competence to minorities than to other Whites — that is, they patronize minorities stereotyped as lower status and less competent. In an initial archival demonstration of the competence downshift, Study 1 examined the content of White Republican and Democratic presidential candidates' campaign speeches. Although Republican candidates did not significantly shift language based on audience racial composition, Democratic candidates used less competence-related language to minority audiences than to White audiences. Across five experiments (total N = 2,157), White participants responded to a Black or White hypothetical (Studies 2, 3, 4, S1) or ostensibly real (Study 5) interaction partner. Three indicators of self-presentation converged: sophistication of vocabulary selected for an assignment, competence-related traits selected for an introduction, and competence-related content of brief, open-ended introductions. Conservatism indicators included: self-reported political affiliation (liberal-conservative), Right-Wing Authoritarianism (values-based conservatism) and Social Dominance Orientation (hierarchy-based conservatism). Internal meta-analyses revealed that liberals — but not conservatives — presented less competence to Black interaction partners than to White ones. The simple effect was small but significant across studies, and most reliable for the self-reported measure of conservatism. This possibly unintentional but ultimately patronizing competence-downshift suggests that well-intentioned liberal Whites may draw on low-status/competence stereotypes to affiliate with minorities."

Have a read of the Editor's Note at the top of this article, and the comments below it, which caused it to be edited after the fact. "Why the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Makes for a Complicated History: Charged with manslaughter, the owners were acquitted in December 1911. A Smithsonian curator reexamines the labor and business practices of the era." The original title of the article was "Was History Fair to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Owners?" and the article implied that they couldn't really be blamed. Not unnaturally, readers were a little peeved. Twitter had a field day.

For the notebook, from 2015: "Joe Biden Backed Bills To Make It Harder For Americans To Reduce Their Student Debt."

Also for the notebook, but from this week, Matt Yglesias says "Beto O'Rourke's voting record is more conservative than the average Democrat's: It's about what you'd expect from someone running a statewide campaign in Texas." This is based mainly on his DW-Nominate stats, but there's nothing else in his record that suggests he is more progressive than those stats would make it appear. It's a reasonable point to make about a three-term member of Congress who just lost a state-wide election bid but for some reason is being talked up as the progressive standard-bearer for 2020.

Nia Hope had her DNA tested and got a nasty surprise.

Making art with books. I found that last one a bit disturbing, though.

Bruce Springsteen - Fenway Park - 8-15-12 - Night 2, their only performance ever of "Knock on Wood".

Gary Clark, Jr., Live at Glastonbury, 2016


  1. I have to ask, how can the left really be against any of that? They're currently knee-deep in support of Operation Chokepoint, Obama's blatantly fascist policy of implanting Goldman Sachs and Mastercard bankers in every tech company in order to censor or unperson their political enemies, removing payment processing from every individual who disagrees with their agenda.

    How can anyone really believe the left is against corporate America after that? You've all literally become fascists, using whatever combination of government and corporate power they can to censor their political enemies, and in general engaging in a pattern of oppression following the 2016 election (which the left clearly decided went against them because the American people have too much freedom of speech). Nobody with half a brain believes in your alleged support for people's rights after that. You're just authoritarians, supporting a corporate/fascist party.

    1. Any of what? And I'm having trouble understanding your use of the term, "the left". Obama is not on the left or anywhere near it, nor is the Democratic leadership. His policies were those of far-right Republican plutocrats who tried to stop the New Deal and have been trying to overturn it ever since. So were Bill Clinton's. A lot of rank-and-file Democrats didn't notice how right-wing these people were for a long time because they were able to pretend to be liberals, but they aren't. People are catching on now, though, which is why Bernie Sanders was able to go from being completely unknown to winning 45% of the Democratic vote against one of the most high-profile politicians in history in the short few months of the truncated 2016 primaries. So, who are you talking about when you say "the left"?