Wednesday, June 30, 2021

This play is run, my love

Laura Rowe photographed this supercell in Texas on 17 May 2021

"Reality Winner, Whistleblower On Russian Hacking, Is Released From Prison: Winner, who received the longest-ever prison sentence for serving as a journalistic source, has moved to a federal halfway house in Texas. [...] The injustice of her case was highlighted when Marina Butina, a Russian national, received an 18-month sentence in 2018 for trying to influence American political figures without registering as a foreign agent. It struck many observers as dumbfounding that an actual Russian agent would receive a lighter jail sentence than an American trying to reveal a secret Russian effort to alter the outcome of an election. Winner was even denied compassionate release during the Covid-19 pandemic — and subsequently contracted the disease. Although Winner was prosecuted by President Donald Trump's Department of Justice, the decorated Air Force veteran has not received any favors from President Joe Biden. She has been released according to a normal schedule that takes account of her good behavior while behind bars, her lawyer said in a statement. Winner's request for a pardon and commutation of her sentence has not been granted."

"US seizes three dozen websites used for 'Iranian disinformation': Seized sites include Press TV and Houthi and Palestinian outlets. Move comes amid tense efforts to revive nuclear deal. [...] Visitors to leading Iranian media sites such as Press TV and Al-Alam, the country's main English language and Arabic language broadcasters, as well as the Al-Masirah TV channel of Yemen's Houthis, were met with single-page statements on Wednesday, declaring the website 'has been seized by the United States Government' accompanied by the seals of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the US Commerce Department. [...] State-run Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB) accused the United States of repressing freedom of expression and joining forces with Israel and Saudi Arabia 'to block pro-resistance media outlets exposing the crimes of US allies in the region'."

"First-Ever Congressional Bill To Decriminalize All Drugs Announced Ahead Of Nixon Drug War Anniversary: Reps. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ) and Cori Bush (D-MO) are sponsoring the legislation, which aims to promote a public health- and evidence-based approach to substance misuse. The bill is titled the Drug Policy Reform Act (DPRA) and was drafted in partnership with the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA). The proposal would end the threat of incarceration for people caught possessing drugs for personal use. Courts would still have the option of imposing a fine, but that could be waived if a person couldn't afford it. Importantly, the measure would make it so the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)—rather than the Justice Department—would be responsible for classifying drugs, with the intent being to shift that role to a health-centric model. [...] But that's where another key component comes into play: the bill would withhold federal funds for law enforcement through the Byrne and COPS grant program for states and cities that continue to enforce criminalization of simple drug possession. The threat of losing that money could be enough to incentivize states and municipalities to stop locking people up for drugs." The chances of a bill getting through even on the Democratic side are pretty small, but it gives activists something to shoot for and starts a much-needed conversation in the halls of power.

I didn't expect to see this from Peter Beinart. "Bernie Sanders Remembers: Over the last two weeks, Bernie Sanders has done two remarkable things—things historians will write about decades from now, even if journalists aren't paying much attention to them today. On June 8, he cast the lone Democratic vote in the Senate against a vast new bipartisan bill aimed at combatting China. On June 17, he penned an essay in Foreign Affairs entitled, 'Washington's Dangerous New Consensus on China: Don't Start Another Cold War.' Today's progressives look back with admiration and wonder at Representative Barbara Lee's lone vote, three days after September 11, 2001, against authorizing the 'war on terror.' Future progressives, I suspect, will look back at Sanders' actions this month in a similar way. The reason is that now, as then, Washington is inaugurating a global conflict that could haunt the United States, and the world, for decades. As Kurt Campbell, Joe Biden's 'Asia Czar,' recently put it, 'the period that was broadly described as engagement' with China 'has come to an end.' Twenty years ago, America 'got tough' on terrorism. Now it's getting tough on Beijing. And Sanders is the highest profile Democrat yelling stop."

The Harvard Radcliffe Institute, "Black Lives Matter Protesters Were Overwhelmingly Peaceful, Our Research Finds: The Black Lives Matter uprisings were remarkably nonviolent. When there was violence, very often police or counterprotesters were reportedly directing it at the protesters. When the Department of Homeland Security released its Homeland Threat Assessment earlier this month, it emphasized that self-proclaimed white supremacist groups are the most dangerous threat to U.S. security. But the report misleadingly added that there had been 'over 100 days of violence and destruction in our cities,' referring to the anti-racism uprisings of this past summer."

Jon Schwarz, "Political System Unites to Condemn Ilhan Omar for Telling the Truth: The frenzied attacks by Republicans and Democrats on the Minnesota representative are about maintaining absolute impunity for the U.S. and Israel. THIS PAST WEEK'S feeding frenzy on Minnesota Democrat Rep. Ilhan Omar — including by the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives — should cause despair among anyone holding on to a faint hope that powerful Americans can discuss the world without engaging in childish lies. It all began with an hourslong hearing Monday by the House Foreign Affairs Committee with the snoozy title 'State Department Foreign Policy Strategy and Fiscal 2022 Budget Request.' Secretary of State Antony Blinken took queries from committee members, including Omar. Omar had a serious, rational question for Blinken about the significance of America's policy toward the International Criminal Court at the Hague. 'You opposed the court's investigation in both Palestine and in Afghanistan,' she noted. 'In both of these cases, if domestic courts can't or won't pursue justice, and we oppose the ICC, where do we think victims are supposed to go for justice, and what justice mechanisms do you support for them?' Blinken had an unserious, irrational answer. 'Whether it's the United States or Israel,' he said, 'we both have the mechanisms to make sure that there is accountability in any situations where there are concerns about the use of force and human rights.' This is insultingly false on its face. To choose one of hundreds of examples, there has been no American prosecution of those responsible for conducting torture during the Bush administration. Even more importantly, former President George W. Bush himself launched an aggressive war against Iraq and now spends his days happily giving speeches to the National Grocers Association and hanging out with former President Barack and first lady Michelle Obama."

David Dayen, "Everything You Need to Know About the Infrastructure Bills Traveling Through Congress: There are eight of them. As a new infrastructure week begins, we've reached the peak confusion stage in Washington. It is genuinely difficult to keep straight all the gangs, working groups, and bipartisan agreements on bills that fall under the rubric of infrastructure. So let this be a public service straightening all that out. There are actually eight infrastructure bills floating out there right now, though none of them appears at this moment to have the votes needed to pass into law. Walking through them can illuminate what the Biden administration's strategy should be going forward."

Also by DDay, "The Problem With the 'BlackRock Buying Houses' Meme: Here's the reality of institutional buyers and the single-family rental market. Over the past week, the American political scene has done the unthinkable: It actually paid attention to the forces shaping our housing markets. Apparently spurred by a viral tweet that caught the eye of hillbilly elegist and would-be senator from Ohio J.D. Vance, political conservatives and liberals alike have been gripped with anger about Blackrock, the world's biggest asset manager, 'buying every single family house they can find,' distorting prices, and locking out families. The topic trended on Twitter for the better part of a week, as liberals and conservatives and those in between bantered, mostly about how the development reinforced their prior thinking about housing markets. Vance decided that the left wouldn't care about Blackrock's antics because of its commitments to ''racial audits' and other diversity BS.' Tucker Carlson committed a segment to how Wall Street speculation was singularly responsible for creating a 'serf class' of renters. The Onion jumped on the trend with a fake news item titled 'Thrilled BlackRock Announces Purchase of 800,000th Dream Home.' Almost none of this is true, not even the spelling of BlackRock, which only The Onion got right by capitalizing the R. A segment of the single-family rental market is indeed controlled by institutional investors, but that started in earnest a decade ago, when homes went on sale in bulk during the foreclosure crisis. The time to care about what this might do to our housing markets was then, not ten years later, when corporate landlords have matured into an entrenched asset class. Nobody should be claiming that this is the sole, primary, or even major reason for soaring housing prices. But it is a serious problem unto itself for the renters unfortunate enough to have to live in these homes. And it's an indictment of political, activist, economist, and media elites for failing to catch on to the trend until it was way too late."

And again from DDay, "Washington Isn't Used to the Left Setting the Agenda: That's why they freaked out over Democrats linking two separate infrastructure bills. But to succeed, the left must also erase privatization from the agenda. [...] Everyone, including Republicans, knows this is happening; even the walk-back acknowledges the process will be exactly the same. It's just confusing to see it play out. The left doesn't set the terms of the agenda as a general rule. That rule has been broken. But it hasn't been fully broken, and there's one more bit of work for progressives. The fact sheet on the bipartisan bill still includes privatization schemes as one of the revenue-raisers. That means that old infrastructure will be sold off to pay for new infrastructure, and that private financiers will be given concessions to run common assets for decades. Wall Street is salivating over this idea, seeing it as their 'big wish granted.' Trump unsuccessfully sought this, and Biden is close to succeeding. This could lead to sales of the Tennessee Valley Authority, Washington Dulles International Airport, and much more."

This is a year old, but still, "Cuba Has Sent 2,000 Doctors and Nurses Overseas to Fight Covid-19: The Trump administration describes Cuba's medical response teams as 'slaves—we asked the doctors for their take. [...] Emergency medical response teams from the island have touched down in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, and—for the first time—Europe. In March, the first batch of 51 Cuban doctors and nurses arrived in Lombardy, Italy, at the time the epicenter of the pandemic, to cheering crowds. They join the 28,000 Cuban health professionals who were working in 59 countries prior to Covid-19. No other country has sent large numbers of doctors abroad during the pandemic. The radical intellectual Noam Chomsky last month described the island as the only country to have shown 'genuine internationalism' during the crisis, and the women-led anti-war organization Code Pink is now leading calls for the island's emergency medical response teams to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. But these medical brigades have received little media attention in the United States. When they are commented on at all, coverage is usually negative. In fact, for the last three years, the Trump administration has described doctors participating in these missions as 'slaves' and has accused the Cuban government of 'human trafficking.' [...] Such depictions never include the voice of the Cuban doctors who work in these missions. Over the last couple of months, I've spoken to dozens of doctors before their departure. Their words cut sharply against this picture. 'How can I be a slave if I receive a free education from my country?' asked Dr. Leonardo Fernández, who has served in Nicaragua, Pakistan, East Timor, Liberia, and Mozambique. 'How can I be a slave when my family receives my full salary while I'm abroad? How can I be a slave when I have constitutional rights?' Dr. Gracilliano Díaz, a veteran of the campaign against Ebola in Sierra Leone in 2014, dismissed with Caribbean cool the idea that he is a victim of trafficking. 'We do this voluntarily,' he said with a lilt. 'It doesn't matter to us that other countries brand us as slaves. What matters to us is that we contribute to the world.' "

As long as it's not money up-front it's not bribery, even though it is. "Leaked Audio Of Sen. Joe Manchin Call With Billionaire Donors Provides Rare Glimpse Of Dealmaking On Filibuster And January 6 Commission: Manchin urged big-money donors with No Labels to talk to Sen. Roy Blunt about flipping his vote on the commission in order to save the filibuster. [...] The meeting was hosted by the group No Labels, a big money operation co-founded by former Sen. Joe Lieberman that funnels high-net-worth donor money to conservative Democrats and moderate Republicans. Among the gathering's newsworthy revelations: Manchin described an openness to filibuster reform at odds with his most recent position that will buoy some Democrats' hopes for enacting their agenda." I wish they would all be struck by lightning.

"Researcher Uncovers 'Critical Race Theory' Astroturfing Campaign: Berman and Company admitted it is the organization behind a campaign protesting against New York City schools curricula. Rick Berman, an infamous right-wing lobbyist whose organizations have been accused of several astroturfing campaigns—and who is known as "Dr. Evil"—revealed that his firm is behind an organization that claimed to be a grass-roots movement against New York City's prep schools focus on 'diversity education.'"

"The Supreme Court Is Closer to a 9-0 Corporatist Supermajority Than a 3-3-3 Split: No amount of regrouping can obviate the need for Supreme Court reform. [...] So while the language may seem alluring, the ideology of the Court is not experiencing some tectonic shift. The commitment to pro-corporate policy remains intact, the judicial chamber continuing to channel the Chamber of Commerce. In fact, it was another 9-0 decision that tells more about where the Court is at ideologically in its current state. That would be the much tweeted-about Nestlé USA v. Doe, where Obama appointee Neal Katyal argued on behalf of Nestlé (and agricultural giant Cargill) in a case where the companies were alleged to have provided child-slavery-reliant farms on the Ivory Coast with technical and financial assistance and routinely purchased their product, despite that conscripted workforce. [...] No amount of liberal insistence on technicality will make the Court anything else than what it is: a breakaway, anti-democratic faction with a conservative mandate to steamroll any obstacle to corporate power and profit-taking. There's no taxonomical solution to this, and it isn't made better by grouping in threes what should be grouped in nines."

Accidental victory: "A Scheme to Blow Up the Housing Market Backfired Spectacularly at the Supreme Court: Instead of winning billions for shareholders, the plaintiffs handed Joe Biden tighter control over the mortgage industry. [...] The roots of Wednesday's decision in Collins v. Yellen go back to the Great Recession. In 2008, as the U.S. housing market collapsed, Congress created the FHFA to regulate the mortgage industry. The agency placed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into a conservatorship. Under this arrangement, the government gave Fannie and Freddie billions in federal funds—basically, a bailout—and received some money in return. Specifically, under a 2012 deal with the FHFA, Fannie and Freddie sent quarterly payments consisting of nearly their entire net worth to the U.S. treasury. Predictably, Fannie and Freddie's investors were displeased with this deal. It forced the companies to hand the government about $124 billion more than they would have under previous arrangements. And it left nothing for the companies' private shareholders, who sued to recoup the money that, in their view, should've gone to them in the first place. The shareholders alleged that the FHFA had an unconstitutional structure because it was led by a single director whom the president cannot fire without cause. This structure, they asserted, violates the constitutional separation of powers by depriving the president of control over the executive branch. And, they reasoned, the solution is to invalidate the agency's actions—namely, the 2012 deal that sent $124 billion to the U.S. treasury." So the court agreed that the president should be able to fire the (Trump-appointed) director, and Biden promptly did so. This was a pretty serious own goal for the vultures since said director planned to get rid of the conservatorship, which is what these investors wanted in the first place. The new director has a very different set of priorities. So suddenly the Dems have a victory they weren't even looking for.

Atrios found something remarkable in the NYT: "Not a perfect piece, but it's notable because it's rare that "people in cities hate Republicans" is actually presented as a problem for Republicans, instead of proof of the irrelevance of Democrats to REAL AMERICA."

Matt Karp in Harper's, "History As End: 1619, 1776, and the politics of the past: In the age of Sanders and Trump, the Democratic establishment has assumed a defensive posture, concerned above all with holding off various barbarians at the gate. And yet in its consideration of the past, the same establishment has somehow grown large and courageous, suddenly eager for a galloping revision of all American history. For some left-wing skeptics, this apparent paradox requires little investigation: it redirects real anger toward vague and symbolic grievances. No, the Democrats who govern Virginia will not repeal the state's anti-union right-to-work law, but yes, by all means, they will make Juneteenth an official holiday. If this movement only signals a shift from material demands to metaphysical 'reckonings'—from movement politics to elite culture war—then it is not an advance but a retreat. (Ana Kasparian, Nando Villa, and Bill Fletcher have an interesting discussion on this and related topics in "Celebrating Juneteenth w/ Bill Fletcher, Critical Race Theory, & Racist Techno-Policing | Weekends".)

"REALLY BLOODY EXCELLENT OMENS..." Neil Himself on the upcoming sequel to Good Omens.

"Inside Gun-Surrendering Criminal Mark McCloskey's Very Sad St. Louis Rally: Noted local criminal Mark McCloskey played host to a barbecue/political rally on Sunday afternoon, drawing tens of admirers to the sweltering parking lot of a closed outlet mall in St. Louis County to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the time he pulled a gun on a crowd of people who otherwise would never have noticed or cared he existed." Yes, there is more!

RIP: "Mike Gravel, Former Alaska Senator And Anti-War Advocate, Dies At Age 91: SEASIDE, Calif. — Mike Gravel, a former U.S. senator from Alaska who read the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record and confronted Barack Obama about nuclear weapons during a later presidential run, has died. He was 91. Gravel, who represented Alaska as a Democrat in the Senate from 1969 to 1981, died Saturday, according to his daughter, Lynne Mosier. Gravel had been living in Seaside, California, and was in failing health, said Theodore W. Johnson, a former aide." He fought in Congress to end the draft and also introduced legislation for a guaranteed minimum income equivalent to a living wage, "the equivalent of $42,000 in 2019 after adjustment for inflation," according to Wikipedia. And then he became a hero all over again when he ran for president just to be able to tell those people in primary debates what monsters they were.

RIP: "Alix Dobkin: Groundbreaking lesbian activist and feminist folk singer: The musician's work, including 'Lavender Jane Loves Women', was a cult hit among lesbian women and inspired a generation to come out. Alix Dobkin, who has died following an aneurysm and stroke aged 80, was an American folk singer-songwriter who was dubbed 'the head lesbian' by her fans and admitted to being homophobic before becoming a feminist — as a result of joining a consciousness-raising class after hearing Germaine Greer talking on a radio show." Here she is singing "The Woman in Your Life".

RIP: "WKRP's Frank Bonner Dead at 79: Frank Bonner, best known for donning nightmarish iterations of plaid as WKRP in Cincinnati salesman Herb Tarlek, died on Wednesday as a result of complications from Lewy body dementia, TMZ reported. He was 79." Here's a few of Herb's suits now.

RIP: "Ned Beatty, Actor Known for Network and Deliverance, Dies at 83." He was in more things than I want to list here and was in front of us for most of our lives. His genre credit, of course, is Superman, but perhaps his finest moment was as the executive in Network who explains the facts of life to a stunned Howard Beale.

RIP: "John McAfee: Antivirus software entrepreneur found dead in Spanish prison cell: Catalan's justice department has said "everything points" to suicide after attempts to revive the 75-year-old businessman failed. Antivirus software entrepreneur John McAfee has been found dead in his prison cell after Spain's National Court approved his extradition to the US, the Catalan justice department has said. Prosecutors in the US state of Tennessee had charged the 75-year-old with evading taxes after allegedly failing to report income made from promoting cryptocurrencies while he did consultancy work." This guy had a crazy enough story already and, of course, there is some question about whether this was really suicide.

RIP: Lying warmonger Donald Rumsfeld is dead at 88.

"End the Algorithm [...] At the heart of the problem are powerful machine learning algorithms which favor content that is shocking, surprising or inflammatory. While few older social media networks launched with algorithmically generated feeds of user-created content, every modern social media company is powered by one. Like an artificial intelligence that gets out of control in a sci-fi movie, these algorithms are out of control. Data scientist Cathy O'Neil calls these algorithms 'Weapons of Math Destruction.' However, when they cause destruction, social media companies are shielded from liability. We should end this liability protection, forcing companies to end the algorithms and return content feeds back to the user."

The evil that men do lives after them, and I'm not as optimistic as Zach Carter's title and subtitle suggest, for the very reasons why this particular evil succeeded as he describes in "The End of Friedmanomics: The famed economist's theories were embraced by Beltway power brokers in both parties. Finally, a Democratic president is turning the page on a legacy of ruin." I wish I could believe that, but I don't. And I still can't believe Friedman was so stupid he didn't realize what he was doing. "After two decades on the intellectual front lines of American politics, Friedman was a bestselling author and no stranger to fine living. But he was astonished by both 'the extraordinary affluence of the White community' and the 'extraordinary inequality of wealth' in South Africa. Friedman was not a man to scold opulence, and yet he found the tension permeating apartheid South Africa palpable in both taxicabs and hotel ballrooms. The 'hardboiled attitudes' of Mobil chairman Bill Beck and his friends were difficult for him to endure. The 'complete segregation' of the population was 'striking.'" Why, yes, you'd almost think Keynesianism helps to prevent such huge disparaties. Chillingly good article about how a crackpot named Milton Friedman destroyed our economy.

And on a related subject, in The Atlantic this time, Zach tackles "The Real Problem With Globalization: International crises demand international solutions. [...] These horrors were evident before the outbreak of COVID-19; the pandemic has escalated them all. But this is not the first time globalization has run aground. Seventy-six years ago, leaders of the world's democracies gathered in the mountains of New Hampshire hoping to end the chaos and enmity spawned by the collapse of the global trading system known as the gold standard. Guided by the great British economist John Maynard Keynes, more than 700 delegates from 44 nations sought to establish a new international order in which democracies would cooperatively tame the excesses of high finance in the name of international harmony. The fruits of their labors would become known as the Bretton Woods Accord, and the 25 years of unprecedented prosperity that their effort inaugurated offer profound implications for our own age of calamity. For it is not globalization that has brought us to the brink of the abyss, but the peculiar strain of globalization that emerged in the 1990s—a system in which international financial markets would discipline the bad habits of democratic governments, not the other way around. Instead of linking countries together in shared investment priorities and social goals, the World Trade Organization and other institutions of global commerce have thwarted government interference in the profits of international investors—profits that often come at the expense of public health, environmental protection, and geopolitical stability."

"Meet the Censored: Bret Weinstein: Canceled on campus for speaking his mind, he's now going through a sequel at the hands of Silicon Valley."

"How the CIA created the Unabomber: When mass murderer Ted Kaczynski was a 16-year-old undergraduate student at Harvard, he took part in a behavioral engineering project run by the CIA. It was part of the US government's illegal MKUltra project, which ruined the lives of many innocent and unwitting test subjects around the world."

Peter Coyote, "Pacifica Radio In Peril: Due to years of mismanagement and the role of sectarian splinter groups, the network finds itself on the precipice of either bankruptcy or dissolution. This is not an exaggeration nor is it a fantasy. Let's look at the facts. Four out of the five stations in the network are unable to generate sufficient revenue to pay their staffs and overhead expenses. The only exception is KPFA in Berkeley, California. The network has a $3.1 million loan that comes due in September 2022, and they literally have no money to pay that loan back. How did this come about? Read more about the key facts here. Increasingly, Pacifica turns to fringe conspiracy theories, hate speech, snake oil and infomercials to raise money. Some of the programming not only betrays the Pacifica mission but makes any person of intelligence, conscience and decency cringe."

"Female Luftwaffe Pilots in Combat 1945Beate Uhse had a particularly interesting post-war life. As ex-Luftwaffe, she was forbidden to fly, but she found other work where she heard much from women about their problems and she started publishing information on sexuality and contraception, eventually leading to her career running a famous sex shop. She's regarded as one of the more important figures in sexual liberation in Germany.

Loony Tunes: "Rabbit Hood"

Calamityware: dinner plates for special occasions! Also, silk ties and scarves!

In 2012, The Rolling Stones performed "Lady Jane" live for the first time in 45 years.

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