30 January 2022

And some nights you're carved in ice

Françoise Augustine's "Transparence" is from the Very Peri collection, which I am a sucker for and thought several were very pretty or pretty cool.

So, Breyer, one of the Democratic appointees on the Supreme Court, has finally decided maybe he should retire since he's a million years old and pretty much every Democrat is telling him he needs to retire in the short window of time when a Democrat would appoint his replacement. I'd just like to say that I won't really miss any one of these neoliberals. I've read some appalling decisions in the last decade that passed not by a 5-4 vote with the "liberals" on the losing side, but unanimously. Sure, they haven't been quite as awful as often as their Republican-appointed colleagues, but there have been Republican appointees even in my lifetime who weren't as corporatist as these "liberals" have been. And yes, I include Ginsberg in that. Anyway, Stoller's reaction to the announcement is, "Stephen Breyer's Legacy of Destruction: 'On the basis of his antitrust record, he is an unjust man. Breyer is the candidate of big business and monopoly in America.' [...] Breyer had, in Mueller's view, lied to disguise his record during his nomination hearing. Howard Metzenbaum, perhaps the last Senator in the 1980s to take antitrust seriously, had asked Breyer about the track record of big businesses in his court, since it was well-known that Breyer believed strongly in theories that size were a marker not of bad behavior but efficiency. Breyer replied, 'Sometimes plaintiffs did win in antitrust cases I've had and, as you point out, defendants have often won. The plaintiff sometimes is a big business and sometimes isn't. The defendant sometimes is and sometimes isn't.' In response, Mueller sent a list of antitrust cases heard by Breyer, showing that 'no plaintiff, so far as I can determine, has ever won an antitrust case in his court.' Mueller came as close as he could to calling Breyer a liar, saying the judge consistently had 'trouble with the facts,' and arguing that 'Breyer is the candidate of big business and monopoly in America.' Here's Mueller's list."

"Biden stiff arms progressives on the Postal Service: President Biden has sent a clear message to progressives regarding the U.S. Postal Service (USPS): major change is out, and Trump fundraiser Louis DeJoy can stay as postmaster general for the next few years. He will lead 21 percent of the federal civilian workforce. The president did this by nominating two highly impressive, accomplished public servants — Dan Tangherlini and Derek Kan — to serve on USPS's Board of Governors, i.e., its board of directors. The Board of Governors, not President Biden, has the authority to fire and hire the postmaster general. So, while Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), and dozens of members of Congress have demanded DeJoy be fired, he is staying in place. With the likely confirmation of Tangherlini and Kan, Biden will have five nominees on the full board versus four from President Trump. But Kan is a Republican who worked in the Trump administration and for Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), making him unlikely to remove DeJoy. And at least two of Biden's other confirmed nominees have shown no inclination to remove DeJoy."

"Court revokes largest-ever U.S. offshore oil lease, cites NEPA: A federal court yesterday blocked the Biden administration's massive oil and gas lease sale in the Gulf of Mexico, handing a major win to conservation groups. Judge Rudolph Contreras for the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia tossed out the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's approval for Lease 257 after finding that the agency's failure to calculate potential emissions from foreign oil consumption had violated the National Environmental Policy Act. The sale, held last November, covered 80.8 million acres on the outer continental shelf and was the largest offshore lease sale in the nation's history."

"Congressional Democrats Join Republicans To Undermine Biden Administration's Surprise Medical Billing Rule: Worried an aggressive new rule could cut into providers' earnings, key members of Congress including Rep. Richie Neal are helping private industry weaken the administration's position in federal court. CONGRESSIONAL DEMOCRATS ARE joining Republicans in a last-ditch effort to undermine the newly implemented No Surprises Act, which bans surprise medical bills. A key provision in the law could become a first step toward allowing the federal government to standardize rates for medical procedures covered under private insurance plans, an objective the private health care industry has fought for decades. Late last year, in the months leading up to the bill's enactment, opponents filed a flurry of lawsuits claiming that by enforcing the rule in a manner widely viewed as consistent with the text of the legislation, the Biden administration had overstepped Congress's intentions. The leading opponents of the provision, which mandates that insurers and health care providers settle billing disputes based primarily on the median in-network rate for a procedure, are organizations representing the private health care industry, like the American Hospital Association and the American Medical Association. Along with a number of health care providers, the groups have filed lawsuits that federal courts are expected to decide in the coming months, before the first round of disputes under the new law reaches the arbitration stage. The legal arguments rely on murky case law about congressional intent, but nonpartisan experts familiar with the No Surprises Act told The Intercept that the rule is consistent with the law's text. Instead, they point to the law's possible consequences to explain why providers are fighting so hard to undermine its implementation. The move has the potential to drive down the high prices U.S. providers charge compared to other countries, stoking fears in the health care industry that it would lead to standardized rates. The drop in prices would at least partially be returned to Americans in the form of lower health insurance premiums." We already knew the right-wing Dems, and particularly Neal, were up to this, but here it is again.

"The Democratic Pivot: There's a path to gaining some needed successes on policy and legislation while waiting for a deal to emerge on Build Back Better. DDay is not on board with the idea that somehow Build Back Better can pass in any meaningful way or that Manchin and Sinema will each have a come-to-Jesus moment, but he thinks there are still ways to get things done. There are already some promising bills that seem headed for the president's desk.

"'A No-Brainer': Lawmakers Urge Pelosi to Hold Vote on Stock Trading Ban: 'Perhaps this means some of our colleagues will miss out on lucrative investment opportunities,' said House members in a bipartisan letter. 'We don't care.' A bipartisan group of U.S. lawmakers on Monday urged the top Democrat and Republican in the House of Representatives to 'swiftly bring legislation to prohibit members of Congress from owning or trading stock' to the floor. The call came in a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.)—who has faced criticism for defending her husband's trades and existing rules—and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), who is reportedly considering enacting a ban on lawmakers trading if the GOP wins control of the chamber in this year's midterms. Pointing to proposals such as the Ban Conflicted Trading Act or the TRUST in Congress Act, the letter states that 'this common-sense, bipartisan legislation is unfortunately necessary in light of recent misconduct, and is supported by Americans across the political spectrum.'"

"Big Tech Freaks Out About Bipartisan Crackdown: CEOs are calling individual senators and lobbyists are engaged in a full-court press to stop legislation in its tracks. If the Senate Judiciary Committee advances a bill it is marking up today, you're going to die. At least, that's the assessment of Kent Walker, chief legal officer of Google, who claims that the proposed legislation would 'threaten America's national security,' slow down urgent searches for information like 'stroke symptoms,' and hamper access to COVID vaccines. If it sounds overheated, well, it is. But it's part of a coordinated, borderline-hysterical campaign from the most powerful companies in the business world, aimed at preventing any restrictions on their practices. The Judiciary Committee has planned to mark up two bills. The first would prohibit Big Tech platforms from preferencing their own products over rivals, like Amazon cloning third-party seller products and promoting them on their marketplace, or Google hosting restaurant reviews scraped from competitors on its search page. The second would regulate the two dominant app stores (Apple's and Google's) to stop monopoly price-gouging and offer choice in managing apps. Both mostly serve to protect smaller businesses put at a disadvantage by the power and aggression of Big Tech companies; they would not put these prodigious platforms out of business, or change their massive valuations. It would merely level the playing field, slightly. Yet the very idea of regulating the tech industry for the first time in the platform era has triggered an unprecedented firestorm."

"Big Tech Is About to Make Our Terrible Health Care System Even Worse: 'It's like Uber, but for nurses.' Does that scare you? It should. Private hospitals are increasingly teaming up with Silicon Valley to make American health care even more exploitative. [...] The idea has been gathering steam during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has pushed America's capitalist health care system to its limits, dramatically exposing and exacerbating preexisting issues. The imperative for health care to turn a profit has left hospitals woefully understaffed, under-resourced, and unable to properly deal with the influx of COVID-19 patients. Thus, the question of the health care labor market has been driven to the fore, with everyone agreeing that something needs to change. But instead of acknowledging that decades of pinching pennies and cutting corners led to this chaotic juncture and course-correcting by sacrificing future profits to permanently increase capacity, major health care companies have opted for a more predictable response. They've united with venture capital and Silicon Valley in a depressingly on-brand pivot to the gig economy."

Jack Crosbie, "The Bold Electoral Strategy That Could Save Biden's Legacy: Give People Free Stuff: The White House took too long to offer free Covid-19 tests and masks. It shouldn't stop there, [...] The key is that they can't stop there. Yesterday's early rollout of the U.S. Postal Service's free test-delivery program was just functional enough, despite its bugs, that it gave us a look at what a functional government can do for its citizens. The fact that the Biden administration had to literally be shamed into taking this step isn't a good sign, nor is Jen Psaki's sneering dismissal of constructive criticism and legitimate questioning. As the gridlock in Congress makes the Democrats' electoral hopes dimmer and dimmer for the 2022 midterms, it's clear that the party as a whole desperately needs any concrete signs of progress to market to voters. [...] Critics will reduce this strategy, as they did with Trump, to crude bribery. And so what? Maybe a little 'bribery' is good, if it's coming from a body that has a constitutional and moral duty to provide for the people it governs. In the third year of a deadly pandemic, it's absurd that the American people haven't gotten more out of the organization designed to provide for them. We should have had universal free masks and tests years ago. Anything we get now might be too little and too late. But the other option is promising a little and delivering nothing, which until now has been the administration's default line. Biden's sinking approval rating shows how well that's worked so far. It's clearly time to try something new."

"Police Say Homicide Detective Sean Suiter Committed Suicide, So Why Doesn't Anyone Believe Them? The circumstances surrounding the 2017 death of Baltimore detective Sean Suiter were already suspicious—then it was revealed that Suiter died one day before he was supposed to testify in a police corruption investigation. A recent HBO documentary entitled The Slow Hustle has brought renewed attention to the mysterious death of Baltimore homicide detective Sean Suiter in 2017. Police initially claimed Suiter was the victim of a lone assailant after his body was found in a West Baltimore alley with a gunshot wound to the head. But as details began to emerge regarding Suiter's involvement with some of Baltimore's most corrupt cops, the case took a turn that raised serious questions about what actually happened and if his death was part of a broader cover-up." (Transcript and audio.)

"Mayor Lori Lightfoot and police leaders lean on flawed information to argue releasing criminal defendants on electronic monitoring worsens violence problem: At the end of a year that saw at least 800 homicides in Chicago, Mayor Lori Lightfoot last month wrote to the Cook County chief judge with a request: Judges should immediately stop ordering certain defendants to await trial at home with an electronic-monitoring ankle bracelet. It would be a sweeping policy change intended to keep violent offenders securely behind bars, albeit with implications for thousands of people who would likely be kept in custody as their cases took months if not years to proceed. But many of the claims and statistics related in her letter and repeated at a press conference earlier this month are misleading — and some are simply inaccurate, the Tribune has found after examining the cases highlighted by the mayor." Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this article is that it appeared in The Chicago Tribune, because usually when these people lie about the need for harsher treatment, the papers just report it credulously.

"FBI and San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department accused of illegally seizing marijuana cash: The driver of an armored car carrying $712,000 in cash from licensed marijuana dispensaries was heading into Barstow on a Mojave Desert freeway in November when San Bernardino County sheriff's deputies pulled him over. They interrogated him, seized the money and turned it over to the FBI. A few weeks later, deputies stopped the same driver in Rancho Cucamonga, took an additional $350,000 belonging to legal pot stores and gave that cash to the FBI too. Now, the FBI is trying to confiscate the nearly $1.1-million bounty, which it might share with the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department. The FBI says the money is tied to federal drug or money-laundering crimes, but has specified no unlawful conduct and charged no one with a crime. The cash seizures — and another from the same trucking company in Kansas — raise questions about whether the Justice Department under President Biden is moving to disrupt the operations of licensed marijuana businesses in California and other states where pot is legal. The case has also rekindled allegations that federal law enforcement agencies in Southern California have been abusing forfeiture laws by seizing cash and valuables from people when the government has no evidence that they committed crimes. The FBI and the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles have been forced to return tens of millions of dollars in cash and valuables seized by federal agents last March from hundreds of safe deposit boxes in Beverly Hills after the government failed to produce evidence to back up its allegations that the money and goods were criminal proceeds. Some of that money belonged to owners of state-licensed marijuana businesses."

"How America Made Itself a Poor Country — But Still Doesn't Understand Why [...] America's labour share of income — that's how much the average working schlub takes home — is about just 50% of GDP. Tanner Tucker Cooper Fletcher is about to shout at me that that's fair. He's wrong. In Europe, the labour share of income average between 70 to 80%. That is, Europeans, for the work they do, enjoy a share of the economy that's 50% greater than Americans do (aka the difference between 50% and 75%.) Let me say that again. Europeans take home a share of the national income that's 50% greater than Americans do. Fifty percent. What would you do with a fifty percent higher income? That's what Americans should be asking, instead of desperately searching for side hustles or day trades or what have you — and why they don't earn it"

People are pretty aggravated at watching Boris Johnson flout the rules he makes for everyone else, so the video made by Led by Donkeys where the cop-watchers of AC-12 from Line of Duty grill Johnson went viral pretty quick. They all left us wondering whether the actors from the show aided and abetted Led by Donkeys to create it.

"Another U.S.-Trained Soldier Stages a Coup in West Africa: The leader of a coup in Burkina Faso is the latest in a line of U.S.-trained soldiers who overturned civilian leaders. Earlier this week, the military seized power in Burkina Faso, ousting the country's democratically elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré. The coup was announced on state television Monday by a young officer who said the military had suspended the constitution and dissolved the government. Beside him sat a camouflage-clad man whom he introduced as Burkina Faso's new leader: Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, the commander of one of the country's three military regions. Damiba is a highly trained soldier, thanks in no small part to the U.S. military, which has a long record of training soldiers in Africa who go on to stage coups. Damiba, it turns out, participated in at least a half-dozen U.S. training exercises, according to U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM."

"The Smearing of Emma Watson: Anyone who has ever been critical of Israeli actions toward the Palestinian people knows what to expect next—an avalanche of pit-bull attacks and smears that their criticisms of Israel are motivated by racism and anti-Semitism. The latest example is the response to actress Emma Watson's pro-Palestinian Instagram post, which led (predictably) to Israeli officials and supporters accusing her of anti-Semitism. Among many others, former Israeli UN Representative Danny Danon—in a tone-deaf post—wrote, '10 points from Gryffindor for being an antisemite.' The purpose of such false accusations is of course to deflect attention away from what is happening on the ground—the real (war) crimes that Israel is perpetrating against the Palestinian people—to the supposed motivations of the critics. Unable to defend its criminal actions, all that Israel's increasingly desperate defenders have left is smear and innuendo, as the attacks on Emma Watson make clear. But the accusations may also have some other unintended consequences—they make real anti-Semitism (the right-wing fascist variety that really does hate Jews as Jews) more respectable and legitimate—and thus even more deadly. In that sense, the Zionist defenders of Israel are among the most dangerous purveyors of contemporary anti-Semitism—the hatred of Jews as a collective."

RIP: "Meat Loaf: Bat Out of Hell singer dead at 74: The US singer and actor Meat Loaf has died aged 74, his agent has confirmed. Born Marvin Lee Aday and later legally known as Michael, the musician died on Thursday with his wife, Deborah Gillespie, by his side. No cause of death was shared but unconfirmed reports suggested he had died of Covid-19." (The Guardian's official obituary is longer but, strangely, gives short shrift to the importance of The Rocky Horror Picture Show in elevating his career.)

RIP: "Ronnie Spector, Ronettes Singer and Ultimate Girl-Group Icon, Dead at 78: Ronnie Spector, the leader of the girl group the Ronettes and the voice behind immortal classics like 'Be My Baby' and 'Walking in the Rain,' died Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer. She was 78. [...] The huge success of 'Be My Baby' in the summer of 1963 turned the Ronettes into superstars, and caused massive ripples across the pop landscape. 'I was driving [the first time I heard it], and I had to pull over to the side of the road — it blew my mind,' Brian Wilson said in 2013. 'I felt like I wanted to try to do something as good as that song, and I never did. I've stopped trying. It's the greatest record ever produced. No one will ever top that one.'"

"The fantasy of a Trump-slaying Republican [...] As I said, I don't know whether Trump is going to run. But I do know this: If he does run, none of the serious GOP contenders in whom so many conservative intellectuals and Republican apparatchiks are placing their hopes will challenge him. Yes, a spoiler candidate with no chance of prevailing and little chance of winning a single delegate — think Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, or Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan — may jump into the ring for a few rounds. But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis? Former Vice President Mike Pence? Texas Sen. Ted Cruz? Former U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley? Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton? It's not going to happen. Why will none of them dare to take him on? Because they aren't political fools. They can read the polls showing Trump beating them by more than 30 points and understand that they can only change this dynamic by successfully taking him down — something no Republican has come close to doing."

"Guantánamo Notebook: I Spent 20 Years Covering America's Secretive Detention Regime. Torture Was Always the Subtext. 'U.S. Takes Hooded, Shackled Detainees to Cuba,' declared the Washington Post headline on January 11, 2002. The reporters who wrote it were on the ground at Guantánamo Bay and in Kandahar, Afghanistan. I was in Washington, at my desk in the Post newsroom, where I worked as a researcher. As I read the story, one ominous revelation stuck with me: 'The 20 prisoners, whose identities have not been made public ...' I would spend the next two decades learning those prisoners' names and covering the story of America's not-so-secret terrorism detention complex. It started as a research challenge: to uncover the secrets of what some have called the 'American Gulag.' Later, as hundreds more nameless 'enemy combatants' were brought to the remote U.S. naval base on the south coast of Cuba, I followed the story through the brief wax and long wane of the Guantánamo news cycle. I wanted to know who was detained and why — and when the 'war on terror' would end."

From 2013, MugWumpBlues on Milton Friedman was wrong every which way about the Postal Service: "The US Postal Service is a frequent target of those seeking to privatize public assets. In 1960, Milton Friedman's Capitalism and Freedom argued for what Friedman defined as a smaller government. Claiming private industry does things better, he specifically advocated eliminating the United States Postal Service's mail monopoly. For his proof private mail service works better? Friedman claimed the USPS killed the Pony Express. [...] Friedman is not correct. The USPS monopoly was established in 1792, 70 years before the Pony Express existed. In its first 100 years, the USPS almost always made money. On the other hand, the Pony Express, in business only 2 years, always lost money and went bankrupt. If Friedman were correct, and the USPS killed the supposedly "more efficient" Pony Express, one wonders why the USPS allowed the profitable American Express and Wells Fargo companies to survive. Friedman sort of has one fact right: the Pony Express closed the day after the first trans-continental telegraph was sent. That ended the Pony Express business: electric current moves faster than horses. Who paid for that innovation? The United States Postal Service. " And that's just one little thing he was wrong about.

Looks like someone has discovered him again, so I'm always happy to have an excuse to post about him. "The wild story of Marine legend Smedley Butler that you won't hear at boot camp: While Butler is known to most Marines for this rare achievement, he is better known outside of the military community for his late-in-life epiphany that during his 33 years of Marine Corps service, he and his men fought, killed, bled, and died more to shore up the profits of Wall Street than to defend the United States from foreign invaders."

"Justified: Sony and FX Revive Timothy Olyphant Series: Sony and FX confirm Timothy Olyphant's return as Marshal Raylan Givens in a new Justified limited series, Justified: City Primeval." Can it possibly be as good?

"Amazing footage of a blanket octopus unfurling her cape in the Lembeh Strait of Indonesia."

"Winners of the 2021 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest"

Meat Loaf, "I'd Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)"

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