Sunday, May 3, 2020

We won't be at brunch

This painting by Lily Van Bienen is from the Artists Support Pledge pages

A political party is a weapon. If it's pointed at you, you want to wrest it out of the wielder's hand and get control of it. You have no power to overcome the GOP, but you might be able to get the Democratic Party to aim at them instead of at us. Remember that no matter what happens in November (and right now the polls are a lot better for Biden than they were for Hillary Clinton), there will never be a moment when everyone can just relax, when things will suddenly be good. You gotta know that it's always time to organize, it's always time to fight.

"Biden Sides With Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo in Backing Coup Effort in Venezuela: Democratic frontrunner characterizes effort to overthrow elected government of President Nicolas Maduro at gunpoint just another benign effort to "restore democracy" in Latin America. [...] But what Biden embraced as an effort to "restore democracy," many foreign policy experts—ones not willing to give the benefit of the doubt to people like national security advisor John Bolton, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, and President Donald Trump—called something else entirely: a violent effort by Venezuela's rightwing elites, led by Juan Guaidó, to overthrow the elected government of President Nicolas Maduro."

"Democrats' Big Coronavirus Idea Is to Subsidize Health Insurers: Instead of pushing for public health solutions, Democrats want to cover COBRA premiums. [...] But subsidizing overpriced premiums just sends money directly to private insurers and providers, without eliminating deductibles or copays. It also does nothing to help the millions of people who never had employer-sponsored health insurance in the first place."

"Dems Give Unanimous Consent To Trump: Traumatized a generation ago, party leaders' default setting during a crisis is fear-driven acquiescence. Why do Democrats want to win Congress if they don't want to use power? What is the entire point of Democrats raising money and ginning up activist energy to win control of the U.S. House, if when a crisis hits they just pass whatever Mitch McConnell sends them? Is there anything they'll actually negotiate for? And why won't they flip the script and force McConnell to vote yes or no on their own agenda? [...] McConnell is using the same tactic he's always used -- he rams legislation through the Senate, and then shuts the Senate down, daring the House to reject it. At the same time, Trump airs an ad equating Nancy Pelosi to Marie Antoinette, effectively pressuring her to back down -- which she already has. And so it goes. Pelosi depicts this all not as Democratic weakness or ineptitude, but as some genius game of 5-dimensional chess. She insisted that when it comes to desperately needed aid to states, 'We could relent on some of that because we know this next bill is going to happen very soon.' But McConnell is already laughing at her: the Senate Republican leader who just gave a $500 billion check to Steve Mnuchin to dole out to GOP campaign donors is now suddenly citing the national debt as reason there may be no next bill at all. It doesn't have to be this way."

"Medical Staffing Companies Owned by Rich Investors Cut Doctor Pay and Now Want Bailout Money: Companies that employ emergency room medical personnel, many owned by private equity firms, say they are reeling from vanishing demand for non-coronavirus care. But critics worry that bailout money would be a windfall for rich investors."

This is Yglesias: "Joe Biden's health care plan, explained: It's not Medicare-for-all, but if it happened it would be a big, um, deal. Joe Biden has a health care plan that, while not going nearly as far as 'Medicare for all' in initiating a single big-bang transformation of the American health care system, would nonetheless, if implemented, arguably be the most dramatic piece of new social legislation since the Great Society. [...] But the form of public option described in a fact sheet about the plan that the Biden campaign released to reporters is considerably more ambitious than the public option that was considered — and ultimately rejected — by congressional Democrats during the ACA debate. Not coincidentally, while health care provider groups generally liked Obamacare (more people with health insurance meant more customers), the main industry group that was founded to oppose Medicare-for-all also blasted Biden's proposal Monday morning, saying it would 'ultimately lead our nation down the path of a one-size-fits-all health care system run by Washington.'" Whenever you hear someone use the "one size fits all" line, stop them immediately and ask them what they mean, since we're talking about something where one size really should fit all. This isn't bathing shorts we're talking about; if it's a plan to make sure you don't have to worry about how much money you need to see a doctor and get treated, that fits everyone. Of course, that's not what Biden is proposing, but it's a lot better than Obamacare. "The main difference between Biden's plan and Medicare-for-all is a BidenCare transition that would be more gradual and much less costly in terms of explicit tax increases. That likely makes it more politically palatable (though still almost certainly unrealistic in terms of congressional politics) but also much less likely to deliver some of the simplification and cost containment benefits of Medicare-for-all. All told, however, both Biden and his more progressive rivals are somewhat downplaying exactly how much more left wing than the ACA this idea is — while the industry groups, facing a different set of incentives, are having a more telling reaction." (Bear in mind that the insurance industry will still hate it and still campaign vigorously against it. I have absolutely no reason to believe that a Biden administration would do any of it. It's much more likely that Biden's "olive branch" of lowering the Medicare age to 60 would happen, since the insurance industry would love to take those high-risk over-60s off their rolls.)

And the real Biden is the one who's actually running, and hanging out with none other than the man who caused the financial crisis. "Do You See What Happens, Larry? Biden signs up Larry Summers, after Summers destroyed the world and now wages a campaign against a wealth tax and against worker power. Joe Biden infamously promised his big donors that if elected, 'nothing would fundamentally change' for them. The news that Biden is being advised by Larry Summers suggests the presumptive Democratic nominee is dead serious about fulfilling that campaign promise — which is very bad news. Summers was the architect of major corporate trade policies that ended up offshoring America's manufacturing capacity -- a development that left the United States in the unenviable position of begging China's authoritarian regime to help produce the basic goods we need during the coronavirus emergency. Summers also sculpted Wall Street deregulation and was billed as one of three members of a 'committee to save the world' -- a committee that ended up destroying the world when its bank-coddling policies culminated in the financial crisis. That didn't stop Summers -- he took a lucrative trip through the revolving door into a reportedly part-time job at a hedge fund that netted him $5 million. After that, he went back into government and fought against proposals to protect homeowners and crack down on the financial industry that had destroyed the global economy. He was also terrible on climate change."

The allegations of Joe Biden's sexual assault on a former staffer have finally, just after Sanders suspended his campaign and Biden became the nominee-presumptive, becomes fodder for the news media and a source of further contention on the Democratic side. The hypocrisy alone is sickening, but many people are so committed to the belief that anything is better than Trump that they are happy to play along. Biden's accuser, much like any other victim of sexual assault, is imperfect and leaves just enough room for doubts and smears, but hearing this reprise of all the GOP lines used against Christine Blasey Ford coming from Democrats is too much for some. But, lest anyone get the impression that the charge of being a sexual harasser is sudden and new, it might be worth recalling the shadow Biden cast back in 2008, from right-wing corporate hatchet-man to trespasser on women's personal space: "Biden is a notorious flapjaw. His vanity deludes him into believing that every word that drops from his mouth is minted in the golden currency of Pericles. Vanity is the most conspicuous characteristic of US Senators en bloc, nourished by deferential acolytes and often expressed in loutish sexual advances to staffers, interns and the like. On more than one occasion CounterPunch's editors have listened to vivid accounts by the recipient of just such advances, this staffer of another senator being accosted by Biden in the well of the senate in the weeks immediately following his first wife's fatal car accident."

"Black Caucus seeks to squash liberal insurgents: The Congressional Black Caucus is defending 4th-term Rep. Joyce Beatty against a progressive challenger, Morgan Harper, in Tuesday's Ohio primary. Senior black Democrats are mounting an aggressive defense of Rep. Joyce Beatty in Tuesday's delayed Ohio primary, hoping to quash not only her left-wing primary challenger but the liberal insurgents gunning for a number of their colleagues. Leaders of the Congressional Black Caucus have framed the fight as greater than just defeating Beatty's opponent, Morgan Harper, a well-funded attorney backed by the progressive group Justice Democrats. They are eager to show they can smack down any primary challengers nationwide who conspire against senior members of color who have spent decades fighting to the top.

Taibbi, "Why Did Democrats Nominate Donna Shalala to the Bailout Oversight Panel?: With the Congressional Oversight Committee, Democrats had a rare opportunity to reverse public perception about the party's closeness to Wall Street. Instead, they punted again [...] Late the next day, Pelosi announced her choice: Donna Shalala, Florida congresswoman and former Health and Human Services Secretary under Bill Clinton. Phones buzzed. WTF? I heard a variety of confused exclamations over Shalala's appointment this weekend, ranging from 'baffling' to 'curious' to 'fucking absurd.' The popular choice among lobbyists and staffers was financial services and oversight committee member Katie Porter (D-CA), who had actually sought the job. If it was not to be Porter, it was assumed the choice would be someone with expertise in banking, derivatives, or financial investigation. 'You have to really know your shit to have a chance at doing anything here,' is how it was put to me." But Shalala doesn't. In fact, Shalala has some serious conflicts of interest in her resumé."With the massive Trump tax breaks of two years ago and now a CARES Act rescue package that appears designed to repeat the 2008 pattern of saving the economy by hurling money indiscriminately at Wall Street, Democrats had an opening to turn the tables. The COC could have been a prime perch to lament the use of public treasure to rescue the financial markets at the expense of main street. Thus putting a big-name Clinton apparatchik with millions invested in the very financial markets that stand to rise from bailout programs seems like a major unforced error, to put it mildly. Even if Democrats just wanted to ineffectually complain about the unequal distribution of bailout funds, they'll have a harder time doing even that now, with a millionaire BlackRock customer leading the minority review team. It's a weird, bad look. Again."

"After Revelations of Improper Stock Sales by Rep. Shalala, Groups Demand Pelosi's Pick for Bailout Oversight Step Down: "Not understanding disclosure is a pretty bad look for the member of Congress chosen to force disclosure out of the Treasury Department and Federal Reserve on its lending programs." Progressive groups on Wednesday demanded House Democratic leadership pressure Rep. Donna Shalala to step down from a committee on oversight of the appropriation of billions of dollars in coronavirus stimulus funds after it was revealed Saturday by journalist David Dayen that the Florida Democrat failed to follow the law on disclosing stock transactions in 2019."

David Dayen has been doing regular updates on the multiple scandals surrounding (or embedded in?) the Covid crisis, like this one: "Unsanitized: Why Relief for Mortgage and Student Loan Borrowers Must Be Automatic: Also, Donna Shalala admits to breaking the law, and the Democrats' sad strategy. This is The COVID-19 Daily Report for April 22, 2020. [...] . If Joe Biden knows your program is bad, it's bad. But he's blaming the Trump administration, not Congress, where the blame belongs."

"Billionaire-Backed Human Rights Watch Lobbies for Lethal US Sanctions on Leftist Govts as Covid Rages: Human Rights Watch, the leading so-called rights organization in the United States, has actively lobbied for Washington to impose suffocating sanctions on leftist governments in Latin America. The group has even praised the Donald Trump administration for ramping up its aggressively destabilizing regime-change measures. NGOs like Human Rights Watch (HRW) depict targeted sanctions as a more palatable alternative to military action, although these measures are widely recognized by international legal experts to be a form of economic warfare that have led to the deaths of many thousands of civilians, destroyed the livelihoods of countless people, and devastated entire nations' economies. As the coronavirus pandemic spread across the globe, HRW operatives took credit for new sanctions the Trump administration had imposed on Nicaragua's democratically elected leftist government. Among those cheering on the escalation of economic warfare was HRW Australia development and outreach manager Stephanie McLennan, who chirped that the fresh round of sanctions were 'great news!'"

"Yes, Section 215 Expired. Now What?: On March 15, 2020, Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act—a surveillance law with a rich history of government overreach and abuse—expired. Along with two other PATRIOT Act provisions, Section 215 lapsed after lawmakers failed to reach an agreement on a broader set of reforms to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In the week before the law expired, the House of Representatives passed the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act, without committee markup or floor amendments, which would have extended Section 215 for three more years, along with some modest reforms. In order for any bill to become law, the House and Senate must pass an identical bill, and the President must sign it. That didn't happen with the USA FREEDOM Reauthorization Act. Instead, knowing the vote to proceed with the House's bill in the Senate without debating amendments was going to fail, Senator McConnell brought a bill to the floor that would extend all the expiring provisions for another 77 days, without any reforms at all. Senator McConnell's extension passed the Senate without debate. But the House of Representatives left town without passing Senator McConnell's bill, at least until May 12, 2020, and possibly longer. That means that Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act, along with the so-called lone wolf and the roving wiretap provisions have expired, at least for a few weeks."

"Labour antisemitism investigation will not be sent to equality commission: A report found factional hostility towards Jeremy Corbyn amongst former senior officials contributed to 'a litany of mistakes'." The internal investigation shows that anti-Corbyn forces within Labour deliberately sabotaged not just Corbyn, but the election.

CEPR, "The Washington Post's Debt Cult: The Washington Post is always telling us that debt, especially government debt is bad, very bad. It's not quite sure why or how, but debt is definitely bad. We got the latest confused entry from the Post's debt cult today, warning us about some 'tipping point' that we are at risk of passing. The notion of a tipping point on government debt had its shining hour when a paper by Harvard professors Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff purported to show that when a country's debt-to-GDP ratio crossed 90 percent, it led to sharply slower growth. While this paper was used to justify austerity in countries around the world, it turned out that the result was driven by an Excel spreadsheet error, as shown in a paper by University of Massachusetts economists Thomas Herndon, Michael Ash, and Robert Pollin. When the error was corrected, the data showed no 90 percent tipping point."

So, how bad is election fraud from the machines, really?

"How a Trump media dump mainstreamed Chinese lab coronavirus conspiracy theory: A conspiracy theory about Covid-19 escaping from the Wuhan Institute of Virology is the Trump administration's Iraqi WMD. And the Washington Post's Josh Rogin is playing the role of Judith Miller." Proving once again that there is not much distance between Fox News and "the liberal media".

More reasons to end the existence of billionaires: "Gates' Globalist Vaccine Agenda: A Win-Win for Pharma and Mandatory Vaccination: Vaccines, for Bill Gates, are a strategic philanthropy that feed his many vaccine-related businesses (including Microsoft's ambition to control a global vaccination ID enterprise) and give him dictatorial control of global health policy. Gates' obsession with vaccines seems to be fueled by a conviction to save the world with technology. Promising his share of $450 million of $1.2 billion to eradicate polio, Gates took control of India's National Technical Advisory Group on Immunization (NTAGI), which mandated up to 50 doses (Table 1) of polio vaccines through overlapping immunization programs to children before the age of five. Indian doctors blame the Gates campaign for a devastating non-polio acute flaccid paralysis (NPAFP) epidemic that paralyzed 490,000 children beyond expected rates between 2000 and 2017. In 2017, the Indian government dialed back Gates' vaccine regimen and asked Gates and his vaccine policies to leave India. NPAFP rates dropped precipitously. [...] In 2010, when Gates committed $10 billion to the WHO, he said 'We must make this the decade of vaccines.' A month later, Gates said in a TED Talk that new vaccines 'could reduce population.' And, four years later, in 2014, Kenya's Catholic Doctors Association accused the WHO of chemically sterilizing millions of unwilling Kenyan women with a 'tetanus' vaccine campaign. Independent labs found a sterility formula in every vaccine tested. After denying the charges, WHO finally admitted it had been developing the sterility vaccines for over a decade. Similar accusations came from Tanzania, Nicaragua, Mexico, and the Philippines. A 2017 study (Morgensen et.Al.2017) showed that WHO's popular DTP is killing more African than the disease it pretends to prevent. Vaccinated girls suffered 10x the death rate of unvaccinated children. Gates and the WHO refused to recall the lethal vaccine which WHO forces upon millions of African children annually. Global public health advocates around the world accuse Gates of — hijacking WHO's agenda away from the projects that are proven to curb infectious diseases; clean water, hygiene, nutrition and economic development."

Jeremy Scahill on "The Moral and Strategic Calculus of Voting for Joe Biden to Defeat Trump — or Not [...] The public still does not know the full story of how Mike Pence ended up on the ticket as Trump's running mate, but when it was announced, it was clear that the professional Republicans and the extremist evangelical lobby had their inside man. With Mitch McConnell running the Senate and Pence babysitting the president, Trump could focus on barking for the crowds in between golf outings and Twitter rants while the political hitmen in Washington dust off every extreme right-wing initiative they've cooked up for decades and which they work day and night to methodically ram through. Trump has had his signature moments, but much of his policy has been outsourced to craftier and more sophisticated policymakers. [...] Donald Trump's presidency is not an aberration of U.S. history in substance. His rise to power and the policies he has implemented are, in many ways, the logical product of the U.S. as a failed state, politically and functionally. Trump says the quiet parts about the system out loud, but his agenda is firmly rooted in the bloody history of this republic. And his rise was made possible by the failed two-party system and the corporate dominance of electoral politics in the U.S. Also, let's not pretend that congressional Democrats have not enabled Trump by regularly voting for his obscene military budgets and sweeping surveillance powers while simultaneously calling him the most dangerous president in history. What would happen if Trump wins the election in November? In practical terms, it would be a nightmare. Trump would emerge emboldened beyond imagination. What minuscule restraints that currently exist would be wiped out entirely. [...] There is an abundance of justification to oppose a Biden presidency. And principled people are right to ring loud alarms over Biden's record, policies, and some of his personal conduct. At the same time, it is not honest to imply there would be no difference between a Biden and Trump administration."

"Anti-Corbyn Labour officials worked to lose general election to oust leader, leaked dossier finds: Call for investigation into 'possible misuse of funds' by senior officials on party's right wing Labour party officials opposed to Jeremy Corbyn worked to lose the 2017 general election in the hope that a bad result would trigger a leadership contest to oust him, a dossier drawn up by the party suggests. A huge cache of leaked WhatsApp messages and emails show senior officials from the party's right wing, who worked at its HQ, became despondent as Labour climbed in the polls during the election campaign despite their efforts."

"Editorial: Red Light Rationality [...] What this boils down to: crimes that are punishable by fine are legal for the rich." My main problem with this is her scale. I think a $200 fine is a hell of a lot for a minimum wage worker, and $2,000 is not even noticeable to Jeff Bezos.

Anis Shivani at Naked Capitalism, "#DemExit Now: How the Democratic Party Cheated Bernie Sanders Out of the Nomination [...] The Democratic party would much rather see Trump reelected by nominating a flawed neoliberal candidate with as much baggage and who is as associated with the recent Clinton failure as is Biden. Think about it: the party we're supposed to get behind actually prefers fascism over the mildest concessions to social democracy, in order that the entire power structure might persist unchanged. For the sake of denying the slightest help to poor, debt-burdened, sick and unemployed people, this party would rather have untrammeled white nationalism, immigrants in concentration camps, and accelerated income inequality, as though we could sustain any more of it than we already have."

At Afflict the Comfortable, "Older and Wiser, and Vote-Shaming [...] And then, I just saw this, 'an open letter from the old left to the new left,' and it's deeply saddening. This missive, lecturing and condescending, came from alumni of the Students for a Democratic Society and other partisans of the 'New Left.' (See Staughton Lynd and C. Wright Mills on the New Left). Without going into exhaustive detail, SDS was one of the most important organizations of the tumultuous 1960s, dedicated to bringing a 'participatory democracy' to the U.S., not a contrived political system in which simply voting for elite-chosen candidates was one's only civic role. And the New Left was a large and amorphous description for scholars and radicals who took on the Capitalist state and, most importantly for us here, developed the idea of Corporate Liberalism."

Sirota's post-mortem, "The Tyranny of Decorum: A look back on the 2020 primary: If you've read the autopsies of the Bernie 2020 campaign in the New York Times, the Huffington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Politico, Buzzfeed or CNN, you've probably read a version of a story that goes something like this: pollster Ben Tulchin, co-chair Nina Turner and I were fire-breathing monsters aggressively pushing Bernie to 'attack' Joe Biden, Bernie refused to do it, and that's why Bernie lost. There are some nuggets of truth in here, but there's also some fiction — and so it is worth separating the facts from the fantasy, in order to understand a huge-but-little-discussed problem plaguing the Democratic Party that I call the tyranny of decorum."

"Moderate Democrats Suggest Working with Coronavirus to Find Common Ground [...] 'It's our priority to find a solution everyone is happy with,' revealed Sen. Chuck Schumer. 'Nancy [Pelosi] and I have been meeting with the Coronavirus to try to work out a plan that both saves lives and kills people. We can't afford to be partisan or idealistic, and we have to be willing to make concessions. If that means giving up everything we want, so be it.'"

I don't really have a pullquote from Atrios' "Robot Chicken Frightener," but I never tire of his critiques of the punditry, especially Tom Friedman.

Fun with maps: Why is the Mercator map so top-heavy? Contrast and compare! "Mercator Misconceptions: Clever Map Shows the True Size of Countries"

History, from Rick Pearlstein in 2013, "Right and Left in Democratic Politics: The Long View: The party has always harbored conservatives and sell-outs to big business and pro-austerity boosters. The point is not to deny them, but to beat them."

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Dolly Parton Was Secretly a Producer." Who knew?

RIP: I don't know how I missed this, but I guess being deluged with really horrible stuff all year may be a distraction. I just don't know how nothing I was reading told me, "'We Lost A Giant': Remembering Former Black Panther Party Member Bruce A. Dixon, Co-Founder Of The Black Agenda Report," According to The Florida Courier, "Black Agenda Report (BAR) managing editor Bruce A. Dixon, a lifelong and unapologetically Black community activist, died June 28 as a consequence of a multiple myeloma, a rare blood-borne cancer. He was 68." So very sorry to learn this.

I'd never heard of this comic but someone sent me the link and drew my attention to the third image down in the middle column and it made me laugh.

Rolling Stone video, "Roger Waters: RS Interview Special Edition: We spoke with Pink Floyd founder, stadium-filling solo artist, and activist Roger Waters about Donald Trump and COVID19, his postponed tour, John Prine, a failed Pink Floyd peace meeting, and aging artists on tour."

Great little APOD video of the night sky Around the World at Night, and also a neat photo of the new comet Swan.

"At-Home Gala: Prelude to Act III of Lohengrin: The Met Orchestra, conducted by Yannick Nézet-Séguin, performs the Prelude to Act III of Wagner's Lohengrin in a video assembled from individual takes and shown during the April 25, 2020, At-Home Gala. Edited by Pete Scalzitti." (I think this means the playing was simultaneous, but each person had one recording of themselves and they had to be patched together into a single video.)

Quarantined stuntmen

Teaser for HBO's Perry Mason

Approach Saturn from Cassini.

Explore Pharaoh Ramesses Tomb.

Temptations, "Get Ready

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