Saturday, March 20, 2021

You won't have a name when you ride the big airplane

Renee Brown's "Spring Equinox" is from a collection of works by new artists you can find here.

I was in Massachusetts the night the lights went out. I don't remember much about it. I may have been able to read by the moonlight from my window — we had a big full moon that night, as I recall. I don't even remember if the lights were back on by the time I went to bed, but the next morning it was as if it hadn't happened. It was also the only real blackout I've ever experienced, because I moved out of the United States in 1985 and it wasn't until — well, as Greg Palast explains, "Until 1992, the USA had just about the lowest electricity prices in the world and the most reliable system. For a century, power companies had been limited by law to recovering their provable costs plus a 'reasonable,' i.e. small, profit. But in 1992, George H. W. Bush, in the last gasps of his failed presidency, began to deregulate the industry. 'Deregulate' is a misnomer. 'De-criminalize' describes it best. With the 'free market' supposedly setting the price of power, Texas-based Enron was freed to use such techniques as 'Ricochet,' 'Get Shorty,' and 'Death Star' to blow prices through the roof when weather shut down power plants. (This week was not the first game of Texas Gouge'm.)" So you can't even blame Texas voters for what happened to them last month. It goes back way farther than that.

Now we learn what "unity" means to establishment Democrats. "Entire Staff Of Nevada Democratic Party Quits After Democratic Socialist Slate Won Every Seat: The battle between insurgent progressives in Nevada and the Harry Reid machine began building in 2016. NOT LONG AFTER Judith Whitmer won her election on Saturday to become chair of the Nevada Democratic Party, she got an email from the party's executive director, Alana Mounce. The message from Mounce began with a note of congratulations, before getting to her main point. She was quitting. So was every other employee. And so were all the consultants. And the staff would be taking severance checks with them, thank you very much. On March 6, a coalition of progressive candidates backed by the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America took over the leadership of the Nevada Democratic Party, sweeping all five party leadership positions in a contested election that evening. Whitmer, who had been chair of the Clark County Democratic Party, was elected chair. The establishment had prepared for the loss, having recently moved $450,000 out of the party's coffers and into the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee's account. The DSCC will put the money toward the 2022 reelection bid of Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, a vulnerable first-term Democrat. [...] The Left Caucus and DSA organizers ran a slate of candidates for state party leadership under the name 'The NV Dems Progressive Slate.' All but one candidate on the slate was a dues-paying member of a local DSA chapter. The Democratic Party ran candidates on a slate titled 'The Progressive Unity Slate,' playing on a theme they'd been pushing the entire cycle: The groups angling for change from the left were trying to divide the party, they said, while they were trying to save it."

"Moderate Democrats Strip Stimulus Checks From 12 Million Voters for No Reason: For weeks, a handful of moderate Democrats in the Senate have been fighting to prevent $1,400 COVID-relief checks from reaching their own upper-middle-class constituents. It has never been all that clear to the public — or, by all appearances, to the senators themselves — why they wanted to restrict eligibility for these relief payments so badly. [...] Moderates must stop putting their fringe obsessions ahead of the Democratic Party's best interests. Now is not the time to put centrist ideological purity above political pragmatism."

Since Joe Manchin originally said he would oppose nuking the filibuster, he's had to walk it back just a little, saying he wants those who obstruct to have to work for it and put up a real talking filibuster. Biden agrees it should be like the old days when he got into Congress and obstructors at least had to get up and make their case. Much as I think Manchin is just trying to push his brand as the maverick in town, I have always agreed that a real filibuster would be much better than the pretend one that has allowed Republicans to stop everything cold without even having to stand up to do it. Ryan Grim explains the mechanics in "What is a talking filibuster exactly?"

The Daily Poster seems to have added a new feature — for subscribers only, unfortunately, but I find the subscription worthwhile — and for February 26th it was "YOU LOVE TO SEE IT: Biden Nixes Vile Trump Unemployment Rule: Private equity managers could lose their tax dodge, Michigan progressives are on a roll, and Bernie Sanders scores a win for Costco workers.." Bullet points are:
* "Biden Follows Through On His Promise To Expand Unemployment"
* "Democrats' Bill Would Close Tax Loophole For Private Equity"
* "Wall Street Critic Appointed To Pennsylvania Teachers Pension Board"
* "California State Senators Introduce Bill To Ban Fracking"

"This Last-Minute Provision Blocks GOP Govs from Using Stimulus Money to Subsidize Tax Cuts: The American Rescue Plan's $1.9 trillion of spending represents a significant break with the budget-cutting, deficit-obsessed austerity ideology that has held sway since the Reagan Era. But that's not all it does. A provision tucked into the final bill also aims to halt the anti-tax movement that has drained state and local coffers of resources to fund infrastructure, public education, and other basic social services. The language, slipped into the legislation at the last minute by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, is designed to prevent federal money from subsidizing new tax cuts at a moment when some Republican-led states have been considering them."

On the other hand, Biden seems to be using the time-honored method of making sure the good stuff doesn't happen, pretending they can't overrule a procedural advisory and letting a couple of Senators take the heat for standing in the way rather than just leaning on them to vote for $15. "Stop Pretending Biden Is A Powerless Bystander: An LBJ tale debunks Democratic apologists now pretending Biden has no power to try to shift the minimum wage votes of his party's lawmakers. [...] When a Republican is president, Democratic politicians, pundits, and activists will tell you that the presidency is an all-powerful office that can do anything it wants. When a Democrat is president, these same politicians, pundits, and activists will tell you that the presidency has no power to do anything. In fact, they will tell you a Democratic president cannot even use the bully pulpit and other forms of pressure to try to shift the votes of senators in his own party. A tale from history proves this latter myth is complete garbage — and that tale is newly relevant in today's supercharged debate over a $15 minimum wage. In that debate so far, we have seen Democratic senators prepare to surrender the $15 minimum wage their party promised by insisting they are powerless in the face of a non-binding advisory opinion of a parliamentarian they can ignore or fire. "

The New Republic, "The Democrats Are Blocking a $15 Minimum Wage: Not Republicans. Not the Senate parliamentarian. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and even Joe Biden are to blame for squandering their party's majority power. "

This clip discusses the office politics behind Democrats voting to tank $15.

"Purging Inconvenient Facts in Coverage of Biden's 'First' Air Attacks: The pretense that the US defended itself by carrying out last week's airstrikes also necessitates glossing over the fact that the country Washington actually bombed, Syria, is accused of neither sponsoring nor carrying out the rocket attacks on American bases in Iraq that should not be there in the first place."

"The Sovietization of the American Press: The transformation from phony "objectivity" to open one-party orthodoxy hasn't been an improvement [...] The breadth of his stimulus suggests a real change from the Obama years, while hints that this administration wants to pick a unionization fight with Amazon go against every tendency of Clintonian politics. But it's hard to know what much of it means, because coverage of Biden increasingly resembles official press releases, often featuring embarrassing, Soviet-style contortions. When Biden decided not to punish Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the murder of Washington Post writer Jamal Khashoggi on the grounds that the 'cost' of 'breaching the relationship with one of America's key Arab allies' was too high, the New York Times headline read: 'Biden Won't Penalize Saudi Crown Prince Over Khashoggi's Killing, Fearing Relations Breach.' When Donald Trump made the same calculation, saying he couldn't cut ties because 'the world is a very dangerous place' and 'our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia,' the paper joined most of the rest of the press corps in howling in outrage."

"New Massachusetts Rules Would Eliminate Handwritten Letters in Prison: 'Paper mail is precious,' Black and Pink Massachusetts Communications and Outreach Coordinator Elijah Patterson testified on January 29 against rules proposed by the Massachusetts Department of Correction (MADOC). The rules would, if approved, formally substitute physical mail for an electronic, scanned copy or photocopy through a third-party vendor." I have to jump in here to express my annoyance at seeing this misuse of "substitute for" that reverses direction, which I have been seeing more and more often. They want to substitute copies or electronic mail for real, hard mail. Which is, of course, outrageous, especially since "third party vendor" probably means they will charge prisoners still more to receive mail. This act of cruelty is being defended on the grounds that it might reduce contraband being smuggled in through the mails, although it seems clear that such materials are coming not through the mail, but via staff.

"A Quiet Return to Government for an Obama-Era Labor Official: Seth Harris, who co-authored an early blueprint of what Uber and Lyft would adopt in California's Prop 22, is back in the White House in a labor policy position. The Biden administration likes to send press releases about new hires. I have been emailed information about the new head of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, members of the COVID-19 Health Equity Task Force, the senior director for building emissions at the Council on Environmental Quality, the legislative affairs director for the Office of Science and Technology Policy, the deputy social secretary for the Office of the First Lady, and much more. I think I know the name of everyone who works in the West Wing at this point. But one new White House staffer in a fairly critical issue area had not received this honorific—until I asked the White House questions about it."

Left Reckoning has a discussion of Jackson Water & Ecuador's Election (Pink Tide Returns?) ft. Austin Gonzalez for those of us who are getting insufficient illumination from The Newspapers of Record.

Gaius Publius, now writing under his own name, Thomas Neuburger, has started his own Substack, God's Spies. He's one of the smarter analysts around and, luckily, you can check it out for free and subscribe if you want to.

And Caitlin Johnstone also has a Substack, Caitlin's Newsletter, with interesting pieces like "There's Only One News Story, Repeating Over And Over Again."

David Dayen, "First 100: Whatever Happened to Executive Action? Frustration with the legislative process is inevitable. But there's a work-around. The news broke while I was writing yesterday's edition that the Senate was changing the eligibility rules for direct payments in the American Rescue Plan. The dirty details are here. Everyone making up to $75,000 (individuals) and $150,000 (couples) still gets the full $1,400 check; instead of phasing out fully by $100,000/$200,000, it phases out by $80,000/$160,000. This is bad policy and politics, as Eric Levitz and Jordan Weissman explain. It saves a minuscule $12 billion yet angers a particular group of upper-middle class people whose socioeconomic status matches that of the political journalists who will report on this. The last time we had that dynamic was 2015, when Democrats tried to kill and then quickly retreated on 529 savings plans for college education. This means nothing to the federal government and everything to people affected. [...] There are two reasons to focus on executive action. First, base motivation: the slow grind of the legislative process will wear down supporters (particularly once Biden runs out of reconciliation bills), while progress can still be made under existing law. Second, policy matters: the reason to do this stuff is because it would help people."

This would be a nice start: "Reps Would Have to Resign From Corporate Boards Under Democrats' Ethics Bill: At least 15 House reps currently sit on the boards of private companies. Republican Doug LaMalfa, who represents California's First Congressional District, is a member of the House Transportation Subcommittee on Highways and Transit and is the chief sponsor of a bill that would eliminate the 12 percent excise tax on the sale of heavy trucks, tractors, and trailers. According to the findings section of the bill, the tax adds between $12,000 and $22,000 to the cost of a heavy truck, tractor, or trailer. While he promotes his bill and deals with related issues on the Transportation Committee, LaMalfa is simultaneously CEO of family business LaMalfa Trucking, a position that is uncompensated according to the representative's financial disclosure. As blatantly conflicted as it may seem for LaMalfa to push legislation that would benefit his family business, there is very little stopping House members from using their public offices to further their private business interests. The House ethics rules say that members should not use their positions to make pecuniary gains, but the Ethics manual states that legislation that benefits a whole class or group of businesses—for example, trucking companies—is exempted from the conflict-of-interest restrictions." I still think they should have to completely divest.

"Arkansas governor signs near-total abortion ban into law: LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday signed into law legislation banning nearly all abortions in the state, a sweeping measure that supporters hope will force the U.S. Supreme Court to revisit its landmark Roe v. Wade decision but opponents vow to block before it takes effect later this year. The Republican governor had expressed reservations about the bill, which only allows the procedure to save the life of the mother and does not provide exceptions for those impregnated in an act of rape or incest. Arkansas is one of at least 14 states where legislators have proposed outright abortion bans this year."

It's really rare to see someone who is pro-death penalty admit that an innocent person is about to be executed, but here's one. "As a former Alabama attorney general, I do not say this lightly: An innocent man is on our death row: I have long believed that some crimes are so horrendous as to demand the penalty of death. As the attorney general of Alabama in the 1970s, I led the effort to bring back Alabama's death penalty after the U.S. Supreme Court ended capital punishment nationwide in 1972. As a lifelong defender of the death penalty, I do not lightly say what follows: An innocent man is trapped on Alabama's death row."

"$15 minimum wage would lift millions out of poverty, says ... Wall Street giant Morgan Stanley: Raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour would deliver sizable benefits to low-wage workers and lift millions of people in the U.S. out of poverty while having little impact—positive or negative—on employment levels. So says a new report assembled not by a progressive advocacy organization or a left-leaning think tank, but Wall Street titan Morgan Stanley, which found in a 75-page analysis that—contrary to the GOP's branding of the proposed $15-an-hour federal minimum wage as a job-killer—"the wealth of research points to no definitive conclusion on the impact higher wages have on employment." "However," the report adds, "it is evident that the impact to employment... would be minimal, while the social benefits to lifting real wages of lower-income earners and millions out of poverty are substantial."

"UN Rebuke of US Sanctions on Venezuela Met With Stunning Silence [...] Many Western journalists, however, appear not to have seen these overt declarations of collective punishment against the Venezuelan population—a crime against humanity under Article 7 of the Statute of the International Criminal Court, according to former UN Expert Alfred de Zayas. Loath to abandon belief in the fundamentally benign nature of Western foreign policy, corporate scribes have typically presented the devastating effects of sanctions as a mere accusation of Nicolás Maduro. 'Maduro...said US sanctions were hurting his administration's ability to buy medicines and foodstuffs' was the next-to-last paragraph of a Guardian piece (3/17/20) on Covid in Venezuela whose subhead read, 'Continuing chaotic situation under Nicolás Maduro leaves hospitals and health services desperately unprepared.' Often, they fail to mention sanctions at all. In June 2019, for instance, the Guardian's Tom Phillips reported that 'more than 4 million Venezuelans have now fled economic and humanitarian chaos,' citing would-be coup leader Juan Guaidó's claim that the country's economic collapse 'was caused by the corruption of this regime,' without making any reference to Washington's campaign of economic warfare. Keeping with tradition, Douhan's damning report has been met with stunning silence by establishment media outlets. Neither the Guardian, New York Times, Washington Post nor BBC reported on Douhan's findings, leaving the task primarily to alternative media (Venezuelanalysis, 2/15/21; Canary, 2/13/21). (CNN—2/13/21—had an exceptional report focused on the UN report, which noted Douhan's statement that sanctions 'constitute violations of international law.')"

"Basic Income as a Policy Lever: Can UBI Reduce Crime?? [...] Such results raise the question of what the broader impacts of a basic income might be. In a recent working paper, I explore one aspect of this question, examining the extent to which the Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend affected crime. This Dividend has, since 1982, provided an annual no-strings-attached payment to all Alaskan residents. Its amount has varied considerably year-on-year since it was introduced, as shown in Figure 1."

Glenn Greenwald's "Congressional Testimony: The Leading Activists for Online Censorship Are Corporate Journalists: A hearing of the House Subcommittee focused on anti-trust and monopoly abuses examines the role of the corporate media in these growing pathologies. There are not many Congressional committees regularly engaged in substantive and serious work — most are performative — but the House Judiciary's Subcommittee on Antitrust, Commercial, and Administrative Law is an exception. Led by its chairman Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI) and ranking member Rep. Ken Buck (R-CO), it is, with a few exceptions, composed of lawmakers whose knowledge of tech monopolies and anti-trust law is impressive. In October, the Committee, after a sixteen-month investigation, produced one of those most comprehensive and informative reports by any government body anywhere in the world about the multi-pronged threats to democracy posed by four Silicon Valley monopolies: Facebook, Google, Amazon and Apple. The 450-page report also proposed sweeping solutions, including ways to break up these companies and/or constrain them from controlling our political discourse and political life. That report merits much greater attention and consideration than it has thus far received. [...] While I share the ostensible motive behind the bill — to stem the serious crisis of bankruptcies and closings of local news outlets — I do not believe that this bill will end up doing that, particularly because it empowers the largest media outlets such as The New York Times and MSNBC to dominate the process and because it does not even acknowledge, let alone address, the broader problems plaguing the news industry, including collapsing trust by the public (a bill that limited this anti-trust exemption to small local news outlets so as to allow them to bargain collectively with tech companies in their own interest would seem to me to serve the claimed purpose much better than one which empowers media giants to form a negotiating cartel). But the broader context for the bill is the one most interesting and the one on which I focused in my opening statement and testimony: namely, the relationship between social media and tech giants on the one hand, and the news media industry on the other. Contrary to the popular narrative propagated by news outlets — in which they are cast as the victims of the supremely powerful Silicon Valley giants — that narrative is sometimes (not always, but sometimes) the opposite of reality: much if not most Silicon Valley censorship of political speech emanates from pressure campaigns led by corporate media outlets and their journalists, demanding that more and more of their competitors and ideological adversaries be silenced. Big media, in other words, is coopting the power of Big Tech for their own purposes."

From the Gravel Institute, an explanation of how the richest country in the world is in many ways the poorest, "David Cross: Why America Sucks at Everything"

On the one hand, we have Scott Lemieux dunking on a prof for "reprehensible" statements, with an approving link from Atrios. On the other hand, we have John McWhorter asking a few questions, "So there was a law professor at Georgetown who was a racist. And now she's gone, but wait -- what do we mean by 'racist' these days? And why am I a heretic to even ask the question and want real answers?"

I'd almost forgotten Maureen Dowd was out there, but yeah, it's funny how establishment journalists (like, for example, Maureen Dowd) think we criticize them because we don't understand what reporting is. Particularly when one of our main complaints is that they think "reporting" is telling us what's going on inside their well-protected minds. "What a mess — Maureen Dowd lectures liberals about the press: Anxious to engage in Both Sides whitewashing of journalism failures from the Trump era, some prominent journalists are lashing out at liberals for having the nerve to criticize news coverage of the Biden White House. Leading the defensive charge is New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd, who penned a condescending harangue over the weekend, claiming liberals are hypocrites for finding fault with the press when a Democrat is in the Oval Office." (I don't know why Eric is still stuck on the Russiagate story, but he's right about this much.)

"'Voting With Your Dollars' Is an Antidemocratic Illusion: The notion that we can change the world by 'voting with our dollars' has become popular among progressives. But it's a fundamentally antidemocratic idea that has more in common with libertarianism than egalitarian politics. Free to Choose, published in 1980 by Milton and Rose Friedman, is a clear and concise introduction to a whole series of reactionary economic arguments. If you're a socialist who wants to understand what the enemy thinks, it's a good place to start. In one crucial passage, the libertarian duo argues that we can exercise more power through consumer decisions than through political action. [...] We vote with our feet when we go on strike. We vote with our votes when we participate in elections. When we 'don't buy' from some companies, we aren't voting with anything —and the idea that we do is an unhelpful distraction from strategies that can actually empower democratic majorities. Don't buy it."

"Aaugh! A Brief List Of Official Russia Claims That Proved To Be Bogus: The Director of National Intelligence releases a report, and the press rushes to kick the football again. [...] With regard to the broader assessment: how many times are we going to do this? We've spent the last five years watching as anonymous officials make major Russia-related claims, only to have those evidence-free claims fizzle."

The Onion, "Facebook Announces Plan To Break Up U.S. Government Before It Becomes Too Powerful: MENLO PARK, CA—In an effort to curtail the organization's outsized influence, Facebook announced Monday that it would be implementing new steps to ensure the breakup of the U.S. government before it becomes too powerful. 'It's long past time for us to take concrete actions against this behemoth of governance that has gone essentially unchecked since its inception,' said Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, noting that while the governing body may have begun with good intentions, its history showed a culture of recklessness and a dangerous disregard for the consequences of its decisions. 'Unfortunately, those at the top have been repeatedly contemptuous of the very idea of accountability or reform, and our only remaining course is to separate the government into smaller chunks to prevent it from forming an even stronger monopoly over the public.' Zuckerberg closed his remarks with repeated assurances that despite a likely legal battle ahead, no one government could stand up to the fortitude of Facebook."

RIP: "Carla Wallenda, high-wire artist with famous Flying Wallendas, dies aged 85. She was the last of the original group, and continued to perform into her 70s. One of the few members of the family not to fall to their deaths, she died of natural causes.

1918 was a different country. "Your Old Radiator Is a Pandemic-Fighting Weapon: Turn-of-the-century faith in ventilation to combat disease pushed engineers to design steam heating systems that still overheat apartments today. [...] Health officials thought (correctly) that fresh air would ward off airborne diseases; then as now, cities rushed to move activities outdoors, from schools to courtrooms. When winter came, the need for fresh air didn't abate. According to Holohan's research, the Board of Health in New York City ordered that windows should remain open to provide ventilation, even in cold weather. In response, engineers began devising heating systems with this extreme use case in mind. Steam heating and radiators were designed to heat buildings on the coldest day of the year with all the windows open. Anybody who's thrown their windows open in January, when their apartment is stifling, is, in an odd way, replicating what engineers hoped would happen a century ago."

Are DNA ancestry tests as good as astrology? "Twins get 'mystifying' DNA ancestry test results"

"A Beginner's Guide to Stargazing might come in handy if you've got kids to entertain.

"Edward Gorey's Illustrated Covers for Literary Classics: Between 1953 and 1960, before he was a household name as the master of the cutely macabre, Edward Gorey worked as a book designer and illustrator for Doubleday Anchor. During his tenure, he designed some fifty book covers (and in some cases, drew inside illustrations) for their new paperback series, which was aimed at 'serious' readers and students."

The FANAC YouTube stream now has all four parts of John D. Berry's interview of Ted White posted.

Movie Night: If someone had described The Losers to me, I probably wouldn't have been that interested, but since no one did describe it to me I watched it and thought it was fun. Based on the Vertigo title, it has a rather tidy way of handling violence that I don't expect in action-adventure flicks these days; even the nasty precipitating event doesn't make you look at the blood and gore, and screen time isn't wasted with a lot of punch-ups. A fine acting line-up of some old favorites (Idris Elba and Jeffrey Dean Morgan don't hurt), and some room for Chris Evans to strut his acting stuff in ways he doesn't get as Captain America.

"Lots of us learned classical music from watching old cartoons, so I'm going to identify the pieces that frequently popped up."

Little did I know that the "Trina" referred to in Joni Mitchell's "Ladies of the Canyon" was our old pal Trina Robbins. (You can listen to that here.)

"NASA named the Perseverance rover's landing spot for Octavia E. Butler, the pioneering Black science-fiction author: Though they starred aliens, vampires and time travelers, Octavia E. Butler's celebrated science-fiction novels were often grounded on Earth. Her name and enduring legacy, though, have made it as far as the Red Planet millions of miles away. For her pioneering work in the world of sci-fi, NASA named the site on Mars where the Perseverance rover touched down 'Octavia E. Butler Landing.'"

Moshe Feder says, "The future of jazz is in good hands. These kids are amazing."
Nord Live Sessions: DOMi & JD Beck - Sniff

Some nice photography in "The Hebrides' wild swimming 'real-life' mermaid".

What were their names? Lance Canales & The Flood give them back in this video of "Plane Wreck At Los Gatos (Deportee)" — "In 1948, a plane carrying 32 passengers crashed in the Los Gatos Canyon, California killing everyone on board. The media, including the New York Times, listed the names of the pilots, the flight attendant and the immigration guard but all 28 of the migrant workers (braceros) were labeled as deportees. This angered folk singer Woody Gutherie who wrote a poem about the crash. Almost ten years later, school teacher Martin Hoffman composed a melody to Gutherie's poem and that song became well known with covers by the likes of Johnny Cash, Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and many more. Around 2010 Central Valley writer Tim Z. Hernandez discovered the story and soon began a project of finding the names and surviving relatives. Soon after musician Lance Canales joined the journey and composed his own version of the legendary song with Hernandez reading all the names of the deceased workers. Thanks to a fundraiser spearheaded by the two artist a new head stone has been built in the Holy Cross honoring all 32 passengers. The search is still on for any relatives of the braceros, if you are related to one please contact Tim Z. Hernandez:"

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