Sunday, May 24, 2020

Staring down this broken land

"FBI 'mistakenly reveals Saudi official linked' to 9/11 attackers: Mistake was made in a declaration by an FBI official in response to lawsuit by families of 9/11 victims, report says."

"With Move to Remote Voting, House Alters What It Means for Congress to Meet: The House's vote on Friday to allow lawmakers to work from afar will fundamentally change how Congress operates." This is a welcome turnabout from the games Pelosi has been playing. I'm hoping it's the first step in admitting that we don't have to restrict the number of Reps voters have to how many can fit under the Capitol Dome.

Must-listen: Nomiki Konst's smashing interview with John Nichols about The Fight for the Soul of the Democratic Party: The Enduring Legacy of Henry Wallace's Anti-Fascist, Anti-Racist Politics, the fascinating history from FDR to the present of a fight that never ends. Along the way, he mentions this 2016 article by the late Ron Dellums about how to fight Trump and what he says is the best Democratic Convention speech ever, by an exciting black politician named Jesse Jackson. (I remember that speech, getting little chills when he said, "but your patch is not big enough.")
Similarly good Nichols interview from Michael Brooks on The Majority Report with more details.

"UnitedHealth Lobbyist Announces Pelosi Fundraiser As She Begins Backing Off Pub Option: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for the first time yesterday suggested she may be backing off her support of the public option. According to CNN, Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid 'said they would support any provision that increases competition and accessibility for health insurance - whether or not it is the public option favored by most Democrats.' When 'asked if inclusion of a public option was a non-negotiable demand — as her previous statements had indicated Pelosi ruled out any non-negotiable positions,' according to CNN. This was also corroborated by the Associated Press, and by Pelosi's own words, as quoted in those stories. This announcement came just hours before Steve Elmendorf, a registered UnitedHealth lobbyist and the head of UnitedHealth's lobbying firm Elmendorf Strategies, blasted this email invitation throughout Washington, D.C. I just happened to get my hands on a copy of the invitation from a source - check out this OpenLeft exclusive: ..."

The Brownshirts are here. "Michigan Cancels Legislative Session to Avoid Armed Protesters: Michigan closed down its capitol in Lansing on Thursday and canceled its legislative session rather than face the possibility of an armed protest and death threats against Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The gathering, meant to advocate opening the state for business despite the coronavirus pandemic, followed one April 30 that resulted in pictures of protesters clad in military-style gear and carrying long guns crowding the statehouse. They confronted police and taunted lawmakers."

"Why Armed Right Wingers Were Able To Shut Down Michigan's Legislature [...] Let us understand the context: protesters from the left-wing in legislatures are routinely arrested. The charge is generally something like 'disturbing the peace.' Police can always find a way and excuse to clear protesters if they want to. The police have SWAT teams, they can call in the national guard if necessary. They could wait for the next time the armed protesters come and arrest them. There's a chance of violence, of course, but there are ways to do this that protect legislators. This is clearly intimidation of elected officials. It would not be tolerated from the left, but it has not only been tolerated from the right, it has been allowed to succeed. [...] So there are two likely reasons the Michigan legislature gave into violence. One: they think that right wing violence is legitimate. Two, they don't trust the police or national guard to stop right wingers they sympathize with and support."

"Democracy Wins in New York—and Bernie's Back on the Ballot!: Andrew Cuomo and state Democrats should acknowledge their mistake and stop trying to show Trump and the GOP how to call off an election. Last week, the Democratic commissioners of the New York Board of Elections did something unprecedented in election law: They threw legally qualified candidates off the ballot without their assent. Yesterday, a district judge held that what the board had done was unconstitutional and ordered it to reinstate the presidential primary for June 23. Judge Analisa Torres's decision was a lucid, thorough 30-page destruction of the board's argument. It was an especially important decision given that Donald Trump, whose disrespect for the law and desire for power are well established, might use any precedent to justify canceling or closing down elections later this year." I'm sure this was Cuomo trying to depress progressive turnout and allow him to reinstate his awful faux Democrats to put the Republicans back in power. Good on the New York Yang Gang and Sanders delegates for suing.

A longer than usual post from Atrios says, "We'll Know Better Next Time: I don't have the entirety of The Discourse jacked into my head, but I see very little acknowledgement from the people in power, or even people with big microphones, that this is an unfolding disaster that can't be remedied with the equivalent of a few band aids. Things are fucked - short term, long term, structurally - and they can't easily be unfucked. Fixing the Great Recession was easy and "they" failed at that. Fixing this one is hard and even with unimaginable unemployment numbers coming in there doesn't seem to be much urgency. It's been 8 weeks since Mitch McConnell took his 3 day weekend and Democrats pretended to be mad about that. Pelosi won't let the House do anything except vote for bills she hands them 5 minutes before, and we have evidence from minute one that Pelosi and her people are bad and incompetent about what needs to be done. Just a reminder: [See post for embedded Tweet from Drew Hammill.] That's Pelosi's Deputy Chief of Staff. Anyone knew that one way or another trillions were about to go out the door to save THE MARKET (through the Fed, Treasury, etc.) and they were worried about whether Don Jr's $1200 check might be too generous for him."

"Heroes Act Delivers A Win To The Health Insurance Industry: THE HEROES ACT, the new coronavirus relief bill introduced by House Democrats on Tuesday, includes protections for employer-sponsored insurance plans, which the health care industry has been lobbying Congress on for weeks. The proposed legislation includes subsidies for continued coverage for furloughed workers and people using COBRA, a continuing health coverage plan for those who have lost work, even if they don't pay their premiums. The bill also creates avenues for premium assistance for certain categories of people who want to pay those premiums anyway and would open a special insurance enrollment period a week from the date it's enacted into law. It also provides nine months of premium payments to health insurance plan administrators who don't receive them during the ongoing pandemic. The push to protect insurance premiums comes as some health care companies, like UnitedHealth, Humana, and Cigna, have reported profits during the pandemic amid record-high unemployment levels and have boasted that they don't expect to take a financial hit. "

"Dems Nix Anti-Recession Policy After Learning It Would Help Too Many People: The bill has many laudable provisions. But it also suffers from baffling omissions. Chief among them, the absence of any proposal for what we in the wonk business call 'automatic stabilizers.' An automatic stabilizer is (more or less) any fiscal policy that mitigates the severity of an economic downturn without Congress having to take any new action. Medicaid and food stamps are two prime examples: When the economy weakens, the number of people who qualify for public health insurance and food assistance goes up, and spending on those programs automatically increases in response. This helps to (modestly) stabilize household incomes and demand for groceries and medical services. Unemployment benefits serve a similar function."

"A Guide to the Nightmare of Getting Health Insurance in a Pandemic: It's really simple, unless you live in the United States of America. Losing your health insurance when you lose your job is confusing in the best of times and even more so during the coronavirus crisis. In addition to needing to deal with all the inherent complexities of our system, there are now numerous additional economic, political, and health factors that make it very difficult to know what is financially the best choice."

"Democrats Are Now Retreating On A Public Option Amid The Pandemic: An emblematic example of how even in a blue state, health care industry propaganda and lobbying can kill a modest reform at the worst possible time. In theory, a public health emergency like coronavirus should prompt lawmakers to do whatever they can to lower the cost of medical care for millions of people who lose their job-based health insurance. In theory, something like a public insurance option should be eminently achievable particularly in states that are completely controlled by Democrats. But then there is the real world of a democracy that is dominated by corporate interests. In an emblematic turn of events in one blue state, the pandemic is now being cited as the rationale to kill rather than pass a state public health insurance option, after the health care industry spent millions of dollars successfully intimidating the Democratic Party into retreating."

"'The American friends': New court files expose Sheldon Adelson's security team in US spy operation against Julian Assange: An exclusive investigation by The Grayzone reveals new details on the critical role Sheldon Adelson's Las Vegas Sands played in an apparent CIA spying operation targeting Julian Assange, and exposes the Sands security staff who helped coordinate the malicious campaign. As the co-founder of a small security consulting firm called UC Global, David Morales spent years slogging through the minor leagues of the private mercenary world. A former Spanish special forces officer, Morales yearned to be the next Erik Prince, the Blackwater founder who leveraged his army-for-hire into high-level political connections across the globe. But by 2016, he had secured just one significant contract, to guard the children of Ecuador's then-President Rafael Correa and his country's embassy in the UK. The London embassy contract proved especially valuable to Morales, however. Inside the diplomatic compound, his men guarded Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, a top target of the US government who had been living in the building since Correa granted him asylum in 2012. It was not long before Morales realized he had a big league opportunity on his hands."

"Time for Progressives to Seize the Means of Production of House Relief Bills: Pelosi's bill proves Democratic leadership won't do what needs to be done. There is no upside to moderation in the face of a disaster. Asking for only half as many fire trucks as necessary to rush to the scene of a fire does not make you a wise leader; it makes you someone who let the house burn down. No matter how many times we are forced to learn this the hard way, the lesson has not sunk in for the leaders of the Democratic Party. [...] As soon as Pelosi's bill was announced, Republicans called it 'dead on arrival.' The Democrats knew this would happen. Their bill is meant to send a message about what needs to be done. Or that is what it should have been. Instead, they have already started negotiating against themselves, before the real negotiations have even begun. This losing dynamic will continue until the progressive faction of the party forces its leaders to be just as ruthless as the Republicans are—not in the interests of donors, but in the interests of the 300 million other Americans. Unfortunately, we are a long, long way from there now. And those 300 million other Americans will continue to suffer in the meantime."

"Andrew Cuomo Uses Budget To Cut Medicaid, Settle Political Scores: The New York governor's response to the COVID-19 pandemic has made him a star, but progressives say the new state budget shows his true colors. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has struck a deal with state lawmakers to enact a budget that cuts billions of dollars a year from the state's Medicaid system and other social programs, and punishes his political enemies in the progressive Working Families Party."

"Federal Judge Calls For McConnell To Be Investigated For Improperly Pressuring Judge To Retire: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) could soon find himself under investigation for improperly pressuring a judge to retire so he could fill the opening with a 37-year-old protégé."

"It's Not a 'Chinese Virus.' The Correct Name Is 'The Capitalism Virus': The novel coronavirus is new, but greed is an ancient disease.

As far as I can tell, the main difference between Trump and Biden is that Trump lies more often, and the reason he lies more often is that he addresses the public more often. He seems to be pretty compulsive about it anyway, his Twitter account is famous and prolific, and I don't even know if Biden has ever had a Twitter account for personal use, or written a single Tweet himself. Biden is not an internet kinda guy, but he has to make campaign speeches and he also used to make speeches on the Senate floor when he was trying to promote one of his odious policies. But he doesn't call in to radio or TV shows, he never had a gig as a TV game show host, he's never bothered to play the celebrity unless you count having to make the occasional campaign appearance. So, though he will lie constantly to promote his agenda, his agenda isn't merely to get elected, but to pass lots of horrible policies — or prevent good ones. Since he's not president, of course, he also isn't getting up and doing daily chats with the press that are covered by every network. Basically, Trump lies more often because he talks more often. "If Trump is a Pathological Liar, What Type of Liar is Biden? When I began researching this piece, I knew that Joe Biden told lies, but my expectation was that I would be able to make a clear distinction between Biden and Trump with respect to the type of liar each is. With the exceptions of the staggering amount of Trump falsehoods, and the fact that Biden has admitted to some of his lies, I can't find much difference between them. Sorry, Blue Team. Biden's well-publicized record of lying should be well-known to those who pull the strings of the Democratic National Committee (DNC)—those who have been orchestrating Biden's nomination. This compels several questions: Is the DNC so stupid so as to not realize what a gift a Biden candidacy is to Trump, who can easily use the facts of Biden's lying to suppress the Blue Team vote? Is it not obvious that many Blue Team voters will stay home rather than vote to replace one liar with another? Or is the DNC and its masters so evil that they really don't mind having Trump win again? So evil that opting for an alternative to Biden who could beat Trump but who is slightly less oligarchy-friendly than Biden was out of the question for them?"

Dday, "Dr. Jekyll, or Mr. Biden? The presidential hopeful has a choice to make: restoring the corporate centrism of the past, or attacking the stunning inequities highlighted by the coronavirus crisis. [...] The longest episode of the first six features presidential historian Jon Meacham, who gave what amounted to a lecture on FDR's leadership. 'American history from 1933 to 2016,' Meacham tells Biden, can be seen as 'a figurative conversation between FDR and Reagan. You were on a field that was marked off by Reagan on one end and FDR on the other.' How a Biden presidency will proceed, and succeed, depends upon his placement on that field. Does he stay on the 50-yard line, splitting the difference between anti-government conservatism and progressive populism, and cutting bipartisan deals? Or does he surge toward the end zone with 'Roosevelt' written on it, transforming the nation through 'bold, persistent experimentation' that fills in all the cracks the coronavirus exposed? A good reporter is supposed to supply a definitive answer. But I've talked to a dozen people inside the campaign and out, those with the ear of the president and those being wooed by his team, and it's too soon to know how this will break. Not even Biden knows yet. Judging by his personal record, you could envision his presidency as another round of triangulating disappointment. Hopes over the campaign's widespread outreach to progressive leaders and adoption of liberal policy planks are tempered by the presence of Larry Summers at economic-policy meetings." Sam Seder talked to David about this article on The Majority Report.

"Democrats Have Abandoned Civil Liberties: The Blue Party's Trump-era Embrace of Authoritarianism Isn't Just Wrong, it's a Fatal Political Mistake [...] The acts at issue are calls Flynn made to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak on December 29th, 2016 in which he told the Russians not to overreact to sanctions. That's it. The investigation was about to be dropped, but someone got the idea of using electronic surveillance of the calls to leverage a case into existence. In a secrets-laundering maneuver straight out of the Dick Cheney playbook, some bright person first illegally leaked classified details to David Ignatius at the Washington Post, then agents rushed to interview Flynn about the 'news.' [...] Remember George Papadopoulos, whose alleged conversation about 'dirt' on Hillary Clinton with an Australian diplomat created the pretext for the FBI's entire Trump-Russia investigation? We just found out in newly-released testimony by McCabe that the FBI felt as early as the summer of 2016 that the evidence 'didn't particularly indicate' that Papadopoulos was 'interacting with the Russians.' If you're in the media and keeping score, that's about six months before our industry lost its mind and scrambled to make Watergate comparisons over Jim Comey's March, 2017 'bombshell' revelation of the existence of an FBI Trump-Russia investigation. Nobody bothered to wonder if they actually had any evidence. Similarly Chelsea Manning insisted she'd already answered all pertinent questions about Julian Assange, but prosecutors didn't find that answer satisfactory, and threw her in jail for year anyway, only releasing her when she tried to kill herself. She owed $256,000 in fines upon release, not that her many supporters from the Bush days seemed to care much. [...] I can understand not caring about the plight of Michael Flynn, but cases like this have turned erstwhile liberals — people who just a decade ago were marching in the streets over the civil liberties implications of Cheney's War on Terror apparatus — into defenders of the spy state. Politicians and pundits across the last four years have rolled their eyes at attorney-client privilege, the presumption of innocence, the right to face one's accuser, the right to counsel and a host of other issues, regularly denouncing civil rights worries as red-herring excuses for Trumpism."

"The tyranny of the Congressional Budget Office" - People think of the CBO as "non-partisan", but that doesn't mean it isn't ideological, and it certainly doesn't mean they don't actually change their language and way of calculating numbers depending on whether they want to make it look "too big". "To begin, the CBO "scores" legislation by estimating its budget cost over a 10-year window. Right out of the gate this is a misleading way to do things. When thinking about the price of something, logically what one should consider is the qualities of the item relative to one's ability to pay. That requires additional thought in the case of the government, because it has the best credit in the world, and borrows in a currency it can print. For some proposed federal program, therefore, the wise place to start is not the headline figure of required spending, but the size of spending relative to the whole economy. [...] None of this is accidental. The CBO was originally set up in the 1970s by the late Alice Rivlin, a neoliberal deficit scaremonger who got her start as a sort of colonial viceroy over the District of Columbia, imposing austerity by fiat and coring out the city's political sovereignty. She positioned the CBO as a nonpartisan agency that would fairly adjudicate bills from both parties, and while it has produced damaging estimates about Republican bills, its bias is overwhelmingly against big social reforms. She inserted the agency in the center of budget politics as part of an ideological crusade against the national debt and social welfare programs, as David Dayen writes at The American Prospect. She's a person who worked with Paul Ryan on an appalling scheme to privatize Medicare. [...] It's hard to say whether or not Pelosi and company would behave any differently without the CBO — they could just be hiding their austerian preferences behind the agency. But this kind of thinking is going to do stupendous damage to a Democratic presidency if the party wins in November. If stabilizers aren't passed in the next few months, President Biden is going to burn up most of his political capital trying to get additional rounds of aid past Republican congressional obstruction. Democrats really need to stop worrying and learn to love big, beautiful programs."

"New Banksy artwork appears at Southampton hospital" — and he's not the only artist to honor the NHS, as the video below the article shows.

RIP: "Jerry Stiller, star of Seinfeld and father of Ben, dies aged 92," none of which are what I know him for since to me Stiller & Meara were famous long before I ever heard of Ben (or Amy) Stiller or Seinfield. The NYT obit is better.

RIP: "Former NSS president Barbara Smoker dies at 96: The National Secular Society is deeply saddened to report the death of one of its longest-serving presidents, Barbara Smoker, at the age of 96 after a long illness. Barbara was president of the NSS from 1972 to 1996 and a consistently forthright campaigner on issues such as faith schools and religious restrictions on freedom of expression." I think I met her once or twice when her other organization, the Humanist Society, gave Feminists Against Censorship a refuge at Conway Hall for our meetings when pro-censorship groups were trying to ensure that we were denied space.
"Humanists UK mourns Barbara Smoker (1923-2020), prolific activist for humanism, secularism, abortion rights, peace, and the right to die."

RIP: "Phil May, frontman with the Pretty Things, dies aged 75: Singer revered by David Bowie and Jimi Hendrix had complications in hospital following hip surgery. [...] He died in hospital in King's Lynn, Norfolk, from complications following hip surgery after a cycling accident, that are not related to coronavirus. [...] They were revered by artists as diverse as Jimi Hendrix, Aerosmith, the Ramones and Kasabian, and while there were spells of inactivity, the band never split up, enjoying a 55-year career. They played their final concert in 2018, with guest appearances by David Gilmour and Van Morrison."

RIP: "Dave Greenfield: The Stranglers keyboard player dies at 71: The Stranglers keyboard player Dave Greenfield has died at the age of 71 after testing positive for Covid-19. Greenfield died on Sunday having contracted the virus after a prolonged stay in hospital for heart problems. He penned the band's biggest hit, Golden Brown, a song about heroin, which went to number two on the UK singles chart in 1982. The Stranglers bass player Jean-Jacques 'JJ' Burnel paid tribute to Greenfield as a 'musical genius'."

RIP: "Betty Wright, US soul, funk and R&B singer, dies aged 66: Singer with remarkable vocal range had been sampled by generations of hip-hop and R&B artists, including Beyoncé and Mary J Blige" She was 17 when she charted with "Clean Up Woman" in 1971.

RIP: "Little Richard, Founding Father of Rock Who Broke Musical Barriers, Dead at 87: Little Richard, a founding father of rock & roll whose fervent shrieks, flamboyant garb, and joyful, gender-bending persona embodied the spirit and sound of that new art form, died Saturday. He was 87. The musician's son, Danny Jones Penniman, confirmed the pioneer's death to Rolling Stone. The cause of death was bone cancer, the musician's lawyer Bill Sobel told Rolling Stone." There's nothing I can say that you don't already know, so have some essential songs.

I've still been trying to crystallize my thoughts about China, though I admit it's been on the back-burner, even though it's an important element in what's been going on (by which I mean for the last 40 years, not Trump or pandemia). This is a fascinating discussion on the subject between Glenn Greenwald and a China scholar whose name I already can't remember, and with Matt Stoller. Recommended. "System Update with Glenn Greenwald - Is China a Competitor, an Adversary or an Enemy?"

This review of Morris Berman's work is, well, it's hard to argue with Berman's conclusion. "It's All Over but the Shouting [...] Having studied the downfall of other empires, Berman saw the window for American reform closing. He warned that if America did not drastically transform its public policies, ideology, and working conception of citizenship, its troubles would only intensify and calcify, bringing a once-promising civilization past the point of no return. In the two books that followed—Dark Ages America and Why America Failed—Berman meticulously demonstrated that America's myopic focus on profit, at the expense of everything else, its zest for war — at home and abroad — and its lack of self-awareness and insight had escalated, making recovery virtually impossible."

Another review, of Zachery Carter's The Price of Peace: Money, Democracy, and the Life of John Maynard Keynes, "Still in thrall to John Maynard Keynes [...] It is our good fortune, then, that at this most Keynesian of moments, Zachary Carter has produced a spectacular new biography that paints a rich and textured portrait of the great economist and locates his ideas within the broad sweep of economic and intellectual history. [...] Carter's perspective is that of a 21st-century American who sees a parallel between Britain's decline and fall as an economic superpower, starting in 1914, and a similar fall from economic grace that he fears has begun in his own country. In Carter's telling, everything Keynes did as an economist, journalist and public official was motivated by his determination to preserve Britain's place in the global hierarchy. The tragic irony of his remarkable career was that his ideas were rejected before they were belatedly embraced. At the Paris Peace Conference that convened at the end of World War I, Keynes failed to persuade his own delegation, and those of the other Allied powers, not to saddle Germany with reparations so large that they would crush the German economy. Not only would the money never be paid, Keynes warned prophetically, but the punishment would invite social unrest and a nationalist resurgence that could lead to another war. Dejected, he returned to London early and penned 'The Economic Consequences of the Peace' — a 'furious tirade against autocracy, war and weak politicians,' as Carter describes it — which became an instant bestseller and established Keynes as Britain's best-known and most influential economist. In the period between the wars, Keynes could not persuade Britain and other countries to abandon a gold standard that forced too many nations to raise interest rates to protect their currencies, thereby driving their economies into recession. In 'The End of Laissez-Faire,' he laid out the argument that markets were neither self-correcting nor self-sufficient enough to deliver the right balance of economic efficiency, social justice and individual liberty to save capitalism from its own shortcomings and excesses. [...] Frustrated by his attempts to shape policy, Keynes retreated to Cambridge to write his magnum opus, 'The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money,' which laid out a new economic belief system, one that acknowledged the irrationality of economic actors, the imperfection of competition, the inherent instability of finance and the possibility that vigorous pursuit of individual self-interest can result in collective economic failure." The review is laudatory right up to the last two paragraphs which fall apart into completely ahistorical nonsense in defense of neoliberalism.

"The real Lord of the Flies: what happened when six boys were shipwrecked for 15 months: When a group of schoolboys were marooned on an island in 1965, it turned out very differently from William Golding's bestseller, writes Rutger Bregman. [...] 'One day, in 1977, six boys set out from Tonga on a fishing trip ... Caught in a huge storm, the boys were shipwrecked on a deserted island. What do they do, this little tribe? They made a pact never to quarrel.'" The year turns out to be a typo, but the story is really marvelous, and tells a much brighter story than Golding could have imagined.

I really enjoy Matt Taibbi & Katie Halper's Useful Idiots show, and this one has an interesting interview of Aaron Maté about how Russiagate has totally deflated.

"Is Harley Davidson Dying?"

Zoomable map of Medieval trade routes

If Escher had computers

I can't bring myself to make this the Bra of the Week, but in sweaty weather it's a temptation.

Mr. Monk in Quarantine

Chris Whitley, "Living With the Law"

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