Saturday, May 22, 2021

What more can I do?

Pascale Perrillat's "Les Fleurs Se Sont Ouvertes" from the April selection.

"Biden Bucks the Lobbying, Supports Covid Patent Waiver" — Or does he? Most of the world has been opposed to the US/Bill Gates position on covid vaccine patents, and on the other side, the lobbying to protect "Intellectual Property" over lives has been fierce. Yet the Biden administration has announced that it will suspend pharma's patent protections for a while. But there is still that worrying line in their statement, "Those negotiations will take time given the consensus-based nature of the institution and the complexity of the issues involved." This sounds like double-talk intended to slow-walk the release long enough that it won't happen soon enough to prevent new mutations and outbreaks.

"Humanity Does Not Need Bill Gates: On everything from climate change to global health, the billionaire tycoon is a study in shamelessness. Bill Gates has long been one of the most powerful people in the world. For many years, he was the world's richest man, though he has lately rotated in the slot with Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk. Since retiring from his position as Microsoft's CEO in 2000, Gates has become a celebrated figure in world philanthropy, with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) spending astronomical sums on health and education initiatives. The BMGF is the largest private charitable foundation in the world, and spends more on global health each year than the World Health Organization (WHO) and many whole countries. (The BMGF is run jointly by the Gateses, though the effects of the couple's recently-announced divorce are unclear.) [...] But it's also the case that much of the organization's wealth is (1) produced dubiously and (2) spent dubiously. In a five-year period, Schwab reported that the Foundation had earned $28.5 billion, while giving away $23.5 billion in charitable grants. Some of those earnings come from, for example, the profits of private prison companies. In 2002, the Foundation invested hundreds of millions of dollars in large pharmaceutical companies, meaning that the Foundation stands to benefit if it can help boost the profits of Big Pharma, and to lose if Big Pharma loses. The Foundation, when confronted with these dodgy means of enrichment, has rebuffed calls to divest from the prison-industrial complex and said that its investment fund 'is independently managed by a separate entity, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Trust' and that 'Foundation staff have no influence on the trust's investment decisions.' But this won't wash. Setting up an independent organization to go make as much money as possible for you, and then plugging your eyes and ears about how it's done while imposing no ethical standards, is just as bad as making the decisions yourself. [...] The toilets that have been invented in response to the challenge are cool. If they can get the cost down, they might do a lot of good. But we also see here a problem with Bill's brain that recurs in his climate ideas: Gates believes in new technology as a solution to problems that already have solutions. It's just that the existing solutions would require the kind of transfer of wealth from rich to poor that he sees as unacceptable. "

Scahill at The Intercept, "But What About Hamas's Rockets?: We must be clear: What started this immediate horror was the intensification of Israel's ethnic-cleansing campaign against Palestinians in East Jerusalem. The U.S.-backed, armed, and funded extreme right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu is currently engaged in a systemic collective punishment campaign against the people of Gaza. More than two million of them are trapped in an open-air prison camp with nowhere to run or hide from this scorched earth operation. Children are being slaughtered. Civilian residential buildings are being razed to the ground. Meanwhile ethno-nationalist militias are rampaging through the streets of Israel and terrorizing their Arab neighbors in a campaign of organized mob violence. We must be clear: what started this immediate horror was the intensification of Israel's ethnic-cleansing campaign against Palestinians in East Jerusalem, forcibly evicting people from their homes to hand them over to Israeli settlers. The incendiary situation was then exacerbated during a Ramadan siege by Israeli forces at one of the holiest sites in Islam, the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem."

As always, the Newspapers of Record can be relied upon to get it wrong. "Israel/Palestine Coverage Presents False Equivalency Between Occupied and Occupier: Media coverage of heightened violence in Israel/Palestine has misrepresented events in the Israeli government's favor by suggesting that Israel is acting defensively, presenting a false equivalency between occupier and occupied, and burying information necessary to understand the scale of Israeli brutality. [...] The word 'clash' is frequently employed to avoid acknowledging that violence is overwhelmingly inflicted by one side on the other, as in headlines like Reuters' 'Israeli Police, Palestinians Clash at Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa, Scores Injured' (5/8/21). The headline gives no clue that 97% of the injuries were being suffered by Palestinians. [...] For instance, Israel closed Kerem Shalom Crossing on May 10, 'blocking the entrance of humanitarian aid and fuel destined for Gaza's power plant' (Gisha, 5/12/21). Kerem Shalom is also Gaza's main commercial crossing, which means that the closure will further devastate Gaza's economy, already in ruin thanks to the Israeli siege. Between May 10 and May 13, the five newspapers published a combined 114 articles that refer to Gaza. Only two pointed out that Israel has tightened the siege during the bombing campaign. The New York Times (5/10/21) ran an article that noted that Israel 'shut a key crossing between Gaza and Israel,' but said nothing about the consequences of doing so." It's amazing how the "Hamas started it" meme seems to be clinging everywhere, despite the fact that Israel had made multiple movies against the Palestinians in the days and hours leading up to what was acknowledged to be a retaliatory rocket strike by Hamas. And none of these articles are noting that Israel has the "dome" preventing Hamas rockets (which are barely more than firecrackers) from doing much damage, while Israel leveled a 13-story residential building which just happened to house international media including Associated Press and Al Jazeera. They later claimed it was a base for Hamas terrorists but have provided no evidence to back this unlikely story. It seems most likely that Israel deliberately attacked the press. However, as The American Prospect observes, "The Israel-Palestine Narrative Has Evolved," and it's not nearly as one-sided as it has been in the past: "On Saturday, May 15, Israel bombarded a 15-story building in Gaza City, the main media building housing local and international journalists alike, including Al-Jazeera and the Associated Press. While this was not the first time Israel had deliberately attacked journalists, Saturday's attack neatly symbolized Israel's desperate efforts to silence the mushrooming discussion of all that is wretched about the Israeli government's policies both inside Green Line Israel and in the occupied Palestinian Territories. The strictly controlled public narrative, handled in the United States not only by Israeli government spokespersons but the lobbying group AIPAC, the American Jewish Committee, and the Anti-Defamation League cheerleaders in America, has snowballed out of their control."

Ian Millhiser says, "Brett Kavanaugh's latest decision should alarm liberals: The Court's new median justice really doesn't care about precedent. [...] Because here's the thing: Edwards did not simply limit the scope of Ramos. Justice Brett Kavanaugh's majority opinion also overruled a 32-year-old decision governing when the Supreme Court's precedents apply retroactively. Kavanaugh did so, moreover, without following the ordinary procedures that the Court normally follows before overruling one of its previous decisions. As Justice Elena Kagan points out in dissent, no one asked the Court to overrule anything in Edwards, and the Court 'usually confines itself to the issues raised and briefed by the parties.'"

"Mississippi court upholds life sentence for pot possession: JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Court of Appeals on Tuesday upheld a life sentence for a man convicted of a marijuana possession charge because he had previous convictions and those made him a habitual offender. Allen Russell, 38, was sentenced to life in Forrest County in 2019 after a jury found him guilty of possession of more than 30 grams (1.05 ounces) of marijuana. In Mississippi, a person can be sentenced to life without parole after serving at least one year in prison on two separate felonies, one of which must be a violent offense. Russell was convicted on two home burglaries in 2004 and for unlawful possession of a firearm in 2015. By law, burglary is a violent offense in Mississippi, whether or not there is proof that violence occurred."

"Steven Donziger Describes Contempt Case as a 'Charade' as Trial Comes to a Close: The environmental lawyer who sued Chevron over environmental pollution faces up to six months in prison. After five days in court and 650 days on house arrest, Steven Donziger, the environmental attorney who helped win a multibillion-dollar judgment against Chevron over contamination from oil drilling in Ecuador, chose not to testify in his own defense in the final day of a trial over contempt of court charges. 'My lawyers said you'd be crazy to testify, so we decided to cut the case short,' Donziger told The Intercept. 'No need to continue to legitimize what's essentially a charade.' As the Intercept previously reported, Donziger was charged with contempt of court for refusing to hand over his computer, cellphone, and other electronic devices in August 2019 and has since been on house arrest in his Upper West Side apartment in New York City. Although no attorney without a criminal record in the federal court system has ever before been detained pretrial for a misdemeanor offense, Donziger has been confined to his home for 21 months for the misdemeanor charge. If convicted, he faces six months in prison. [...] 'We tried again at the beginning of the trial to get a jury, and she denied it again,' Donziger said of Preska. 'Had I had an unbiased fact-finder, that is, a jury of my peers, there's a very good chance I would be acquitted of all six counts.'"

"The Saudi Lobby Moves From K Street to Main Street: By enlisting community members across the US to peddle the best version of the Kingdom, the Saudi lobby has given its brand an American-as-apple-pie shine. [...] Yet, in 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged America, it became increasingly clear that Trump's reelection prospects were dimming and, with them, that guarantee of eternal protection. And so, the question arose: What was an authoritarian government with oodles of lobbying money but dwindling influence in Washington to do as the prospect of a Joe Biden presidency and a Democratic Congress rose? The answer, it turned out, was to move its influence operation from the Beltway to the heartland."

"Jim Clyburn Undercuts the Democratic Police Reform Bill: In the middle of negotiations over eliminating qualified immunity for police officers, Clyburn says it's not needed for the overall bill. Nearly a year has passed since the May 25, 2020, killing of George Floyd, an anniversary that brings with it the informal deadline among Democrats for police reform. Despite having all that time to put together and pass a police reform package, the fate of the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a second version of which passed the House in March and stalled in the Senate, remains as muddled as ever. To some on the Democratic side, that's just fine. According to reporting from Axios, the recent conviction of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis officer who murdered Floyd, had congressional aides feeling less urgency to move a reform bill. That congressional comfort with inaction is not a reflection of an American public opposed to police reform. Far from it. Recent polling from Vox and Data for Progress showed that 55 percent of likely voters felt that the Chauvin conviction made the need for police reform even more urgent than before, presumably on the premise that preventing state-sanctioned murder was more important than gaining a measure of accountability for it. [...] The two parties have substantively different, and likely irreconcilable, visions of what 'police reform' looks like, with the fundamental disagreement coming over qualified immunity, the legal shield that makes it impossible for police officers to be sued for wrongdoing even when they knowingly break the law. Most leading Democrats have insisted that qualified immunity must be repealed as part of any satisfactory bill; Scott and the Republican caucus have been less willing. That negotiation was made substantially more difficult for Democrats after House whip, Congressional Black Caucus member, and top ranking Democrat Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-SC) went on the Sunday shows this past weekend and vocally pledged a willingness to give up on qualified immunity reforms entirely. Appearing on CNN's State of the Union, Clyburn said, 'If we don't get qualified immunity now, then we will come back and try to get it later. But I don't want to see us throw out a good bill because we can't get a perfect bill.' Those comments mark a stunning undercutting of the negotiating position of Rep. Clyburn's colleagues, and are a major departure from the position of ranking House and Senate Democrats, as well as civil rights and activist groups. Clyburn waving the white flag on the most crucial sticking point of the police reform bill that Bass, Booker, and others are still in the midst of negotiating puts them in an even tougher position, as they try to wrangle a less and less willing GOP into some sort of consensus."

"Colombians Are in the Streets Against a Violent Neoliberal Order: What began as a massive general strike on April 28 is quickly becoming an open challenge to Colombia's authoritarian neoliberal order. In Colombia, a proposed deeply regressive tax reform bill was the straw that broke the camel's back. Thousands of Colombians have joined protests since April 28, when a massive general strike against the bill became the flash point for mounting unrest with President Iván Duque's authoritarian neoliberal regime. Even though Duque has recently announced he would scrap the tax reform, protesters remain in the streets amid concerns that the Colombian government is simply repackaging a similar bill. In anticipation, the country's largest labor confederations are calling for another general strike on May 5. The situation remains tense in Colombia as police and military repression of the protests begins to escalate. Duque has most recently announced he will impose martial law if the protests continue. But Colombians remain in the streets, and demonstrations are quickly transforming from a denunciation of the tax reform to an outright challenge to the nation's violent, unequal order." But with the help of the US government (under the guise of the War on Drugs, which has heavily-armed government forces in Columbia), I'm sure we'll be able to quash any ideas of democracy. (Some good stuff on that and weird crypto-currency stuff and the rot of the ruling class in this from Jacobin's Weekends show.)

"The Business Class Has Been Fearmongering About Worker Shortages for Centuries: Our so-called staffing crisis hearkens back to the colonial era. THE CURRENT BLIZZARD of stories about a 'worker shortage' across the U.S. may seem as though it's about this peculiar moment, as the pandemic fades. Restaurants in Washington, D.C., contend that they're suffering from a staffing 'crisis.' The hospitality industry in Massachusetts says it's experiencing the same disaster. The governor of Montana plans to cancel coronavirus-related additional unemployment benefits funded by the federal government, and the cries of business owners are being heard in the White House. In reality, though, this should be understood as the latest iteration of a question that's plagued the owning class for centuries: How can they get everyone to do awful jobs for them for awful pay? Employers' anxiety about this can be measured by the fact that these stories have erupted when there currently is no shortage of workers. An actual shortage would result in wages rising at the bottom of the income distribution to such a degree that there was notable inflation. That's not happening, at least not now. Instead, business owners seem to mean that they can't find people who'll work for what the owners want to pay them. This is a 'shortage' in the same sense that there is a shortage of new Lamborghinis available for $1,000."

The Gray Zone is one of those news sites that get treated as whacky conspiracy theorists because they're not consistent with the official narrative, but I've never found any holes in Maté's reporting, so I'm gonna link this: "Challenged on Syria cover-up, OPCW chief lies and US-UK-France evade: Facing new outcry over the Syria cover-up scandal, OPCW chief Fernando Arias has been caught lying, while the US-UK-France are desperately trying to change the subject. Aaron Maté recaps recent meetings at the EU and UN, where the growing Douma controversy was center stage. The US-UK-France bombed Syria in April 2018 after accusing it of a chemical weapons attack in the city of Douma. Leaks later revealed that OPCW inspectors found no evidence of a Syrian government chemical weapons attack. But their findings were suppressed, their original report was censored, and the team was sidelined. Rather than having their concerns addressed, the inspectors have since faced a concerted smear campaign."

These days it's almost like, if you give someone a staff, they will find a way to behave offensively toward them. "It's not their job to buy you cake: Working remotely for the last year has revealed just how much of office culture is accidental, arbitrary, and sexist. On Thursday, The Washington Post ran an op-ed by Cathy Merrill, CEO and owner of Washingtonian Media, in which she expressed her fear that employees will want to continue working from home after the pandemic. I am more bothered by the idea that other media executives think like Merrill. If they do, they are hurting their employees and their companies. The op-ed's original headline was explicit about the connection between working from home and being fired — 'As a CEO, I want my employees to understand the risk of not returning to work in the office' — before being softened to 'As a CEO, I worry about the erosion of office culture with more remote work.' On Friday, the editorial staff of The Washingtonian announced that, in response to Merrill's piece, they are refusing to publish today. [...] The meat of the piece centers around Merrill's weird estimate that '20% of every office job' is devoted to creating and sustaining office 'culture.' [...] Possible labor law violations aside, it's no coincidence that these nice office 'extras' — the things you'll rarely see listed in a journalism job description because historically nobody has considered them worth paying for — disproportionately fall to women and people of color. Think back to the office you used to work from. Who unloaded the dishwasher, stocked the snacks, circulated the get well cards, made the coffee, bought the birthday cakes? Did she get paid for it? And did the man who never did any of those things get paid 20% less than she did? No, because that would be insane, right? Because a mother works for free, right?"

This should come in handy, from Matt Taibbi, "TK Newsletter: Introducing 'Racket of the Week': Scandals are coming fast and furious in Wall Street's bubble economy. TK introduces a shortcut guide to tracking financial scandals: Over a decade ago, when I first started covering the 2008 financial crash, a small sky-blue booklet in a library sale caught my attention. The Man Who Sold The Eiffel Tower turned out to be a biography of early twentieth-century swindler Victor Lustig, often considered the Michaelangelo of con artists (we'd say the Michael Jordan of cons today). Lustig was famous not only for twice pulling off the book's eponymous scam, but also for an ingenious hustle called the 'Rumanian box.' When he sailed across the Atlantic, Lustig would bring a carved mahogany box on board. It had slots on either end, and a mechanical crank inside. Once a crowd gathered, he would feed blank sheets of paper in a slot on one side, and the machine would spit out a $1000 bill. Toward the end of a voyage, he would sell the machine for a fortune, then disappear on land after disembarking, never to be seen again. [...] A lot of ostensibly complicated Wall Street ripoffs were just jargonized versions of simple street cons, many of which were detailed in the Lustig book and others like it. The mortgage securities game had a lot in common with the 'Big Store' scam popularized in The Sting, as well as the 'Thai Gems' hustle. Both involved long lines of characters who were supposed to be strangers or arm's-length actors, but in fact all knew each other and/or were pushing the customer toward a catastrophic investment.The 2008 bailouts were a version of 'The Reload,' a score in which the victim of a ripoff is visited by someone offering to help get his or her money back, for a fee. Some Americans were similarly beaten and re-beaten in the mortgage con, up to three times. Some were induced to buy exotic no-money-down or variable-rate mortgages, then their pension funds invested in mortgage securities, and then, when the markets all went belly up, their tax dollars went to 'save the economy,' which in practice often meant buying up toxic mortgages at cost from guilty banks. Moreover, the entire bubble economy in the years leading up to 2008 was a plain old Ponzi scheme, as the continually ascending prices of mortgage securities relied on an influx of new investors rather than the inherent value of the properties." And this stuff is still going on, and now we have several bubbles all ready to crash down on us.

David Dayen on "The Real Shortages in the U.S. Economy: It's not a shortage of labor, it's a shortage of attentiveness to how the economy has failed its citizens. But there's another set of shortages in the economy, which are less likely to go away quickly. They are actual reductions in the supply of goods and services, which has an impact on the labor market, but also on the psyche of the nation. Matt Stoller of the American Economic Liberties Project wrote over a year ago that the coronavirus would lead to an end of 'affluence politics,' the idea that America is a nation of abundance where any desire is at our fingertips. Since the gas lines of the 1970s, we have lived without shortages, mostly blissfully unaware of changes in production, logistics, and the failures of the financial plumbers and bureaucrats that make the economy run. Now is a moment to confront the fact that we have a problem of inadequate production alongside unequal distribution, and figure out what to do about it. [...] The decades-long illusion that we can outsource, concentrate, and grind down all our production and then immediately spin it back up at our own whim has been shattered. The lack of flexibility in supply means that extreme weather or just shifts in personal habits can leave us wanting. We haven't paid attention to how the economy actually works, and we're living with the uncertain and debilitating consequences. To paraphrase Stoller, being a wealthy society means being able to provide for the needs of our people. Theoretical wealth that cannot meet that challenge is useless paper. Our real shortage is in imagination, in the ability to conjure up a society where everyone is cared for. That's going to require some redundancy in our supply chains, yes, to protect against disaster. But more than that, it's going to require a dismantling of the negligence with which elites have managed our economy."

"A weapon of mass financial destruction: Some things are hard to understand because they're complicated. Some things are complicated so they'll be hard to understand. The harder you look at the finance industry, the more evident it becomes that the complexity is deliberate, a means of baffling with bullshit. Private equity is one of those baffling and mysterious phenomena that only gets worse with scrutiny: how is it possible that a handful of companies are able to borrow vast sums to buy up and then destroy successful businesses? Can that really be their business-model? Yup."

The GOP (and Angus King) are doing the old "We're burdening our children with debt!" scare story again. I assume readers of The Sideshow are already wise to this scam, but Jon Schwarz spells it out here in "The Idea That Deficit Spending Is a Burden on Our Children Is the Dumbest Propaganda: Every time the government sells a bond, it creates a liability for the government. But it also creates an asset for whoever bought it."

Matt Taibbi is justly outraged. In his "On the Hypocrites at Apple Who Fired Antonio Garcia-Martinez," he tells the tale of a ludicrously negative reading of a passage in his book that describes a woman who enthralls the author that was picked up as an excuse to get the guy sacked. It disturbed Taibbi enough to write more and describe an office culture where we have "cases like that of Garcia-Martinez, where 2,000 employees claimed to be literally incapable of sharing a vast corporate structure with someone who once wrote a book containing passages they might have disagreed with, if they'd actually read it."

Nice tweetstorm on the IRS from Doctorow. "It's a restatement of Engels' idea of 'false consciousness,' and it's the result of a deliberate strategy on the part of wealthy people - many of whom believe that they were literally genetically destined to be wealthy - to convince the rest of us that 'anyone can succeed.' Part of the false consciousness program is the money story that goes like this: the US government takes away 'taxpayers' money' from 'makers' to fund 'programs,' the bulk of which go to the 'lazy takers,' who experience the 'moral hazard' of subsidized unemployment. But of course, that's not how money works. Money originates with the federal government (and its fiscal agents, the banks). In order for the public to have money to pay off its tax liabilities, the government must first spend that money into existence. The IRS doesn't take our tax dollars, pile them up, and give them to Congress to spend on programs. When the IRS taxes our money, they annihilate it, removing it from circulation. When Congress spends, new money comes into existence."

RIP: Bonnie Schupp, who was, among many other things, an amazing photographer, but also an amazing woman. I knew her because my friend Dave Ettlin was smart enough to make a life with her, and I have always been grateful that they found each other. I loved her company, I admired her tremendously — but let Dave tell you in his own words (and hers), in "Time has chosen this year for me to begin wrapping up my life."

RIP: "Lloyd Price, Early Rock Pioneer, Dead at 88: Lloyd Price, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer behind such classic hits as 'Personality' and 'Stagger Lee,' has died at the age of 88. Price's death was confirmed by his widow, Jackie. 'I am so touched by the outpouring of love and tribute for the passing of my husband Lloyd Price, who passed peacefully on May 3, 2021 at Schaffer Extended Care in Westchester County, N.Y.,' she explained to Billboard. 'Lloyd's music crossed many boundaries and carried him to all corners of the world. He got the nickname 'Mr. Personality' because of his biggest hit but he also earned that name because he was charismatic, generous, smart, funny, talented with a very kind heart. I am so grateful for everyone who loves his music and have precious memories of his many songs. From the deepest part of me thank you, love to all.'"

"The girl in the Kent State photo: She was only 14. Here's how her life turned out: Last May, when Mary Ann Vecchio watched the video of George Floyd's dying moments, she felt herself plummet through time and space — to a day almost exactly 50 years earlier. On that May 4 afternoon in 1970, the world was just as riveted by an image that showed the life draining out of a young man on the ground, this one a black-and-white still photo. Mary Ann was at the center of that photo, her arms raised in anguish, begging for help.

If you can stand Facebook, there's a good post from John Derf Backderf on the Kent State Massacre: "Since it's the time of year when the events of KENT STATE unfolded, I thought I'd share some items with you. This event didn't end with the massacre. The days, weeks and months that followed were a depressing lesson in cover-ups, political sleaze and media manipulation. In it's own way, it's as shocking a story as the story leading up to the massacre."

I really loved the movie, so I'm interested in this news: "Attack the Block 2 Confirmed, John Boyega to Star." But with some reservations, because it's ten years later and I'm wondering how it can live up to the first movie. And will Jodie Whittaker reprise her kick-ass role?

People were still trying to find some way to keep it alive: "The bells v the boutique hotel: the battle to save Britain's oldest factory: Whitechapel Bell Foundry dates back to 1570, and was the factory in which Big Ben and the Liberty Bell were made. But it shut in 2017 and a fight for its future has been raging ever since." But there's just no way it could happen — if Alan Hughes recognized that there was no continuing, then there just wasn't. He made the decision to make sure his employees had a soft landing and that's what he did. He'll always be a hero to me.

Lloyd Price with Shanana, "Stagger Lee" and "Personality"


  1. Actually, I think you'll find Stagger Lee predates Mr Price's birth by at least a couple of decades. Possibly it was in the folk canon as early as the early 1900s. See for instance Mississippi John Hurt's version

    1. I assumed everyone knew that already. Mr. Price, however, had a popular hit with it.

  2. I look at the Grayzone headlines almost every day. Sometimes I just get exhausted and think "But *everybody* tells me {poison gas|Uygur extermination|Venezuela starving|Russia whatever}", so it *must* be true. Any such thing as truth, anymore? Or ever was?

    I do pretty much like Aaron Mate, and most of the other GZ reporters.