Thursday, February 4, 2021

What a way to make a livin'

Hedge-funders are some of the vilest, most destructive people alive and what they do should never have been legal. It's been nice to see them exposed over the last week. Robert Kuttner at The American Prospect, "What We've Learned From the Robinhood Affair: Let's put parasitic speculators out of business. How about a lead role for Joe Biden's most progressive former top aide, Ted Kaufman? The stock speculation scandal dominating the front pages vividly reveals what critics of extreme financialization have been saying for decades. All of this hyper-trading produces no benefits to the real economy. It creates and then pops financial bubbles, roils markets, harms actual businesses, enriches insiders at the expense of bona fide investors, and leads to extreme concentration of wealth. One of the most astute critics happens to be Ted Kaufman, who was Joe Biden's longtime chief of staff and then spent two years in the Senate filling out Biden's term in 2009 and 2010. Sen. Kaufman emerged as one of the key leaders on the Dodd-Frank bill, and specifically championed reforms of the kinds of issues that have emerged in this scandal, like high-frequency trading. Kaufman has no official role in the Biden administration, other than as part of the kitchen cabinet. But he did lead the Biden transition, and my sources say that the relatively progressive cast of Biden's key financial regulatory appointments reflects Kaufman's continuing counsel. One can hope that he will be chosen to make his voice heard on needed financial reforms going forward. Rather like the New Deal—era Pecora Commission investigating Wall Street's runaway speculation and predatory practices, this time we could have a Kaufman Commission." With Gensler and Yellen on hand, this is a great moment to finally turn back deregulation that's been a big part of destroying our economy. Oh, but wait....

Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper talked Gamestop with David Dayen.

Ana Kasparian and Nando Villa did a decent break-down of the Gamestop story as well as a tutorial on the filibuster and a fine interview with Jeremy Corbyn.

Useful interview with the Roosevelt Institute's economics guy on The Majority Report, "America's Fight with the Invisible Hand w/ Mike Konczal - MR Live - 1/27/21."

"They Pledged to Donate Rights to Their COVID Vaccine, Then Sold Them to Pharma: In a business driven by profit, vaccines have a problem. They're not very profitable — at least not without government subsidies. Pharma companies favor expensive medicines that must be taken repeatedly and generate revenue for years or decades. Vaccines are often given only once or twice. In many parts of the world, established vaccines cost a few dollars per dose or less. Last year only four companies were making vaccines for the U.S. market, down from more than 20 in the 1970s. As recently as Feb. 11, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government's top infectious disease expert, complained that no major drug company had committed to 'step up' to make a coronavirus vaccine, calling the situation 'very difficult and frustrating.' Oxford University surprised and pleased advocates of overhauling the vaccine business in April by promising to donate the rights to its promising coronavirus vaccine to any drugmaker. 'We actually thought they were going to do that,' James Love, director of Knowledge Ecology International, a nonprofit that works to expand access to medical technology, said of Oxford's pledge. 'Why wouldn't people agree to let everyone have access to the best vaccines possible?' A few weeks later, Oxford—urged on by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation—reversed course. It signed an exclusive vaccine deal with AstraZeneca that gave the pharmaceutical giant sole rights and no guarantee of low prices—with the less-publicized potential for Oxford to eventually make millions from the deal and win plenty of prestige."

David Dayen, "Why Katie Porter Isn't on the House Financial Services Committee: Committee Chair Maxine Waters appears to have a problem with fierce questioning and progressive financial reform. [...] Why would Democrats take one of their most celebrated young phenoms and remove her from a committee where she has as much expertise as anyone in Congress? The question might answer itself. An analysis of the Financial Services Committee and Porter's time on it reveals that she wasn't really wanted, perhaps because of the spotlight she garnered and the goals she sought."

Robert Kuttner at The American Prospect warns, "Red Alert: The Return of Cass Sunstein: When I wrote a piece last spring called 'The Biden Do Not Reappoint List,' it did not even occur to me to include Cass Sunstein on the roster of Clinton and Obama horribles such as Larry Summers and Mike Froman. The return of Sunstein seemed inconceivable. For those who missed it, Sunstein under Obama headed a White House office called OIRA, which stands for the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. It was created late in the Carter administration and then used under Reagan as a choke point to kill health, safety, environmental, and labor regulations. If a regulation somehow made it out of an agency, OIRA provided one more chance for industry lobbyists to weaken it or kill it altogether. But of all the heads of OIRA, Sunstein was the one who perfected the art of strangling regulations, using cost-benefit gambits and other devices. He actually bragged that under Obama, thanks to his efforts, there were fewer regulations issued than under Reagan or either Bush. He was especially the nemesis of EPA. [...] So with Biden's policies and Sunstein's record, why on earth is Sunstein telling colleagues that he is in line for a White House job? The answer, for those familiar with the academic term, is that Sunstein is what's called a 'trailing spouse.' Sunstein's wife, Samantha Power, has been named by Biden to head USAID. So Cass, who teaches law at Harvard, needs an appropriately distinguished Washington job. But please, keep this man far away from the seat of power. Give him a fellowship, say, at Brookings, where he can do only modest damage."

I can't even keep up with the zigzagging ups and downs of this thing. "Democrats Ditch $600 Unemployment Boost: Now that Republicans are less of an obstacle, Dems are negotiating with themselves. Democrats have given up on giving unemployed workers an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits as part of a new COVID-19 relief package. Instead, the party seems to be coalescing around President Joe Biden's proposal to add $400 per week. The measure is part of a $1.9 trillion proposal for a pandemic recovery bill that included a host of other Democratic priorities, such as raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour."

Still shady after all these years: "Voting machine company behind so many surprise wins this year raises some questions: After initially focusing on the surprisingly lopsided results of the senatorial election in Kentucky, DCReport broadened our scope to look at the electronic vote-counting software and electronic voting systems that we rely on to tally our votes. This prompted us to raise questions about Electronic Systems & Software (ES&S), America's largest voting machine company. What we found was a revolving door between government officials and ES&S. Voting results in three states that saw surprising majorities by vulnerable incumbent Republican senators—Maine, North Carolina and South Carolina—were almost all tabulated on ES&S machines." Same thing I've complained about for 20 years: privately-owned largely by Republican operatives, can't be audited, deliver weird results, and Republicans fight like hell to prevent any kind of auditability from being required. Why would that be?

Bernie in the Guardian, "Joe Biden must put an end to business as usual. Here's where to start [...] Let us never forget. When Republicans controlled the Senate, they used the reconciliation process to pass trillions of dollars in tax breaks primarily to the top 1% and multinational corporations. Further, they were able to confirm three rightwing US supreme court judges over a very short period of time by a simple majority vote. If the Republicans could use the reconciliation process to protect the wealthy and the powerful, we can use it to protect working families, the sick, the elderly, the disabled and the poor."

"A Massachusetts Democrat Pushed His Party On Its Alex Morse Handling. Getting Called A 'Faggot' Wasn't Even The Worst Response: A meeting of the Cambridge Democratic City Committee is a microcosm of the Massachusetts Democratic Party. ON WEDNESDAY, January 13 — the same day that the University of Massachusetts at Amherst released the results of an investigation into the romantic life of Alex Morse, finding no wrongdoing — the Cambridge Democratic City Committee met to debate a resolution brought forward by a local ward condemning the party for its handling of the situation. It did not go well."

Naomi Klein ponders "The Meaning of the Mittens: Five Possibilities: The symbolic power of Bernie's old pair of mittens was the work of the 'us' in 'not me, us.'" I don't know how it started, but eventually even I was caught up in it. The Mary Sue has a good collection of them, as well as some Mark Hamill collected. And I liked this one and this one. There's also a Star Trek collection. Here's one for the art crowd. And another one. (There are also a ton of Monet Bernie memes.) And more, and much more. And even more.

"Neoliberalism is Fascism with Better Manners: The best use of the New York Times is usually catching up on the CIA's talking points for the day. However, back in June of 2019 it published a surprisingly hard hitting article on Joe Biden's history of crafting and promoting the odious bill that created the modern militarized police and carceral state. The money shot is a quote from Mr. Biden where he seemingly takes credit for mass incarceration: 'every major crime bill since 1976 that's come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill, has had the name of the Democratic senator from the State of Delaware: Joe Biden.' With Mr. Biden currently drafting 'domestic terrorism' legislation, alarm bells should be sounding. Considered along with his contribution to the Patriot Act—the national security and surveillance state wish list passed in the aftermath of 9/11; Mr. Biden appears to be the central protagonist linking domestic political repression to the neoliberal project. Ava DuVernay's film 13th does a good job giving political and economic context to the American conception and political utility of 'crime.' The 1994 Crime Bill written by Mr. Biden created the means by which to force conformity to the dictates of capital. That Mr. Biden appears to have seen law enforcement as a moral endeavor speaks to the hiddenness of its basis in economic production."

Pierce, "The New York Times Has Tied Itself Into Knots With This One [...] Now, I read the NYT nearly every day, so I know that its editors have not been comatose since 2008, when Mitch McConnell first vowed that Barack Obama would not be permitted to do what he'd promised he'd do. It is obvious to the wide world that there is no good-faith partner for bipartisan action in the Congress, and there hasn't been for more than a decade. It is obvious to the wide world that the general welfare of the country is a secondary consideration to the Republican congressional minorities. The new Senate hasn't even been allowed to organize itself yet; as of Thursday, Republicans were still chairing all the Senate committees. The Times doesn't present any solutions, except to note that Biden ran for president as a legislative dealmaker—which was nice, but also was the functional equivalent of running for president as an aardvark. The obvious solution—burning down the filibuster and then legislating like wildfire—is not mentioned, and not even all the Democrats are onboard with it anyway. The Times suggests that the new president keep one foot in political reality and the other on a banana peel. This is no way to run a democratic republic. Tell me something I don't know."

"What the next generation of editors need to tell their political reporters [...] Historically, we have allowed our political journalism to be framed by the two parties. That has always created huge distortions, but never like it does today. Two-party framing limits us to covering what the leaders of those two sides consider in their interests. And, because it is appropriately not our job to take sides in partisan politics, we have felt an obligation to treat them both more or less equally. Both parties are corrupted by money, which has badly perverted the debate for a long time. But one party, you have certainly noticed, has over the last decade or two descended into a froth of racism, grievance and reality-denial. Asking you to triangulate between today's Democrats and today's Republicans is effectively asking you to lobotomize yourself. I'm against that. [...] And rather than obsess on bipartisanship, we should recognize that the solutions we need — and, indeed, the American common ground — sometimes lie outside the current Democratic-Republican axis, rather than at its middle, which opens up a world of interesting political-journalism avenues."

I never doubted it, but "New Documents Suggest J. Edgar Hoover Was Involved in Fred Hampton's Murder [...] At that point, in 1983, after 13 years of litigation, it seemed as if the historical record was complete and the true narrative of the raid established: Chicago police officers, under the command of the Cook County state's attorney, and at the behest of the FBI and its COINTELPRO program, targeted BPP leader Fred Hampton, and assassinated him while he lay asleep as part of a murderous pre-dawn raid during which the police fired more than 90 shots that also killed Panther Mark Clark and left several other survivors badly wounded. And so stood that record, until December 4, 2020, 51 years after the raid, when historian and writer Aaron Leonard received from the FBI a redacted copy of Mitchell's personnel file in response to his 2015 Freedom of Information Act request."

"Meet YInMn, the First New Blue Pigment in Two Centuries [...] Blue pigments, which date back 6,000 years, have been traditionally toxic and prone to fading. That's no longer the case with YInMn, which reflects heat and absorbs UV radiation, making it cooler and more durable than pigments like cobalt blue. 'The fact that this pigment was synthesized at such high temperatures signaled that this new compound was extremely stable, a property long sought in a blue pigment,' Subramanian said in a study about the compound."

RIP: "Hank Aaron, Home Run King Who Defied Racism, Dies at 86 He held the most celebrated record in sports for more than 30 years." I was too young to have seen him play (our household was not sports-oriented in any case), and I didn't really get into baseball until the '70s when I finally realized the significant difference between it and softball (you can't foul out in baseball, so it's a much higher-incentive game), but Hank Aaron was a legend as long as I can remember.

RIP: "Larry King: Veteran US talk show host dies aged 87" — Some people said he just didn't do his homework, but he said he just wanted to hear what they had to say for themselves. I didn't really see his celebrity interviews but I rather liked the idea of not spending a lot of time showing off how much background material he'd read and just interviewing his subjects.

RIP: "Hilton Valentine, Founding Guitarist For The Animals, Dies At 77: Hilton Valentine, the guitarist for British Invasion band The Animals known for his iconic guitar riff on the group's version of "House of the Rising Sun," has died at the age of 77. Abkco Music, The Animals' label, confirmed the musician died on Friday in a statement posted to its website. "We, along with all of the music world, mourn the loss today of Hilton Valentine a founding member of The Animals. Valentine was a pioneering guitar player influencing the sound of rock and roll for decades to come. His death was revealed by his wife, Germaine Valentine," the label said in a statement." Eric Burdon posted a little farewell on Instagram.

"Legitimate Business: How Wall Street Put Organized Crime Out of Business [...] Yet in a sense, I think Gus Alex is alive and well, and not consigned to prison, either. Our economy—our system—is a Gus Alex/Jake Guzik operation. The Outfit, whether it knew it or not, was a blueprint for the future—our present—at a scale unimaginable to the old pot-bellied goombahs who ran things back when. In a stunning twist, the biggest, baddest mobsters of the American underworld, the kingpins who ran things for much of the twentieth century, were pathetically small-time. In the America of 2021, their kind of rackets, their brand of organized crime, has become entirely legal, the exclusive bailiwick of the Brooks Brothers Mafia, well-connected, well-starched, well-financed. [...] Put simply: the massive economic 'reforms' initiated by neoliberal politicians in that era, now responsible for the massive inequality in the world today, also essentially legalized most forms of fraud and vice. Having been bolstered at the expense of everyone else, Big Business found that it could out-compete the mob, purchasing the kind of no-consequence, laissez faire attitude from politicians and police which organized crime had once had—only at a scale of which the wiseguys could only dream."

Taibbi, "We Need a New Media System: If you sell culture war all day, don't be surprised by the real-world consequences. The moment a group of people stormed the Capitol building last Wednesday, news companies began the process of sorting and commoditizing information that long ago became standard in American media. Media firms work backward. They first ask, 'How does our target demographic want to understand what's just unfolded?' Then they pick both the words and the facts they want to emphasize."

"The True Story of Indonesia's US-Backed Anti-Communist Bloodbath: The massacre of the Indonesian left in 1965-66, backed by Washington, was one of the great crimes of the twentieth century. A new generation of scholars has uncovered its long-suppressed history of slaughter of up to a million people in the name of anti-communism."

This is a review of Cory Robin's 2019 book The Enigma of Clarence Thomas. I know I linked an interview about it at the time, but for those who would rather read, this may be more helpful. I was astonished when I learned these things about him.

For the pictures of buildings, "Urban clickbait? Why 'iconic architecture' is all the rage again"

APOD: "The Vertical Magnetic Field of NGC 5775"

An unusual look.

I noticed a long time ago that things were becoming horrible, and they kept getting worse, but I just about burst into tears on learning that Dolly Parton had re-recorded "9 to 5" as "5 to 9".

4 comments:

  1. Two moonlit rides and a picnic lunch.

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  2. Naomi Klein missed a 6th possibility: White Privilege. This op-ed could be (and has been) ridiculed as woke idiocy, but I think the writer is just venting her fury at Bernie's run against Hillary under cover of some of the most twisted woke logic I've seen. https://www.sfchronicle.com/opinion/openforum/article/S-F-high-school-students-get-a-lesson-in-subtle-15909700.php

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    Replies
    1. And, "What did I see? What did I think my students should see?" God forbid they should think for themselves.

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    2. It takes an incredible sense of entitlement to write an article like that.

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