27 February 2022

Above all else, confusion reigns

Photo by Pedro Szekel. It occurred to me one day that most of the photos of Cuba I've seen in my life were in black & white and had Fidel Castro in the middle of them. So, I looked around the internets and found lots of pictures, but they seemed anachronistic. I thought maybe they were really old, at first, but a closer look told me the colors were all wrong for film from 50 or 60 years ago. Collections by George Terzopoulos and Garg Michael tell me that car repair and maintenance are really good in Cuba. Of course, they have to be.

I'm not going to say much about Russia right now because I'm still kind of agog that it's happening at all, but one thing that makes it all really scary is knowing what Danny Sjursen said in 2020 about "Biden's Young Hawk: The Case Against Jake Sullivan: The appointee to National Security Advisor has a history of casual evasion of responsibility for his role in a series of disastrous foreign policy adventures. [...] Jake was back in the Clinton camp after the Obama triumph — first as her deputy chief of staff, then, at 34, as the youngest director of policy planning in State Department history. During that first Obama-term, Jake was bullish on Libyan and Syrian military interventionism, and like Hillary opposed Ambassador Richard Holbrooke's pleas to at least talk to the Taliban without the preconditions. In fact, Sullivan was in the room when Holbrooke's heart literally burst as the ambassador delivered impassioned arguments on this very issue. Holbrooke, who died a few days later, had been right (so had Biden, it must be said) — and Obama, Clinton, and Sullivan wrong, as it turned out."

However, "Biden's Ukraine Plans Face Wall Street Roadblock: Corporate lobbyists thwarted measures that could strengthen sanctions against the Putin regime — and they were lobbying as the threat of war intensified. In response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, President Joe Biden is expected to soon announce more sanctions aimed at Vladimir Putin and his cadre of oligarchs. The theory is that unlike sectoral sanctions that could harm the broader Russian population, inflicting financial pain on Putin and his wealthy cronies could force the Russian government to the negotiating table. But while such a move might help deter further Russian incursions, Biden faces a significant obstacle: corporate lobbyists' success in shrouding the American finance industry in secrecy, which makes it far easier for Russian oligarchs and their business empires to evade economic sanctions."

Much to Lindsay Graham's chagrin, Biden did not nominate Clyburn's favorite right-wing judge. The nod went to Breyer's pick to succeed him, even though she is definitely to his left. "Ketanji Brown Jackson, Biden's Supreme Court nominee, has blazed trails all her life [...] Jackson, 51, has led a professional and personal life at once classic and unpredictable. Unlike most judges, her background is not as a prosecutor or major corporate lawyer, and her personal life also defies stereotypes. Professionally, she is an experienced judge. For eight years, she served as a federal trial court judge and last June was confirmed for a seat on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Prior to her becoming a judge, her legal experience was extensive and varied. While four members of the current court were at one time prosecutors, Jackson, if nominated, would be the first Supreme Court justice since Thurgood Marshall to have represented indigent criminal defendants."

Pierce, "Public Defenders Will Have a Champion on the Supreme Court of the United States: Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson will represent those who keep alive the promise of equal justice under the law."

"'Bankruptcy For Moderna, Definitely Pfizer': Yves here. I'm in no position to verify the underlying data, but the fact that both Moderna and Pfizer stocks are markedly down says investors regard these concerns about vaccine liability as serious. A lawyer buddy thinks that even if this take on the frequency of bad side effect is spot on, Pfizer and Moderna still might get off the hook on product liability in the US. However, shareholders would have them dead to rights on securities fraud, for not disclosing to investors the information they had about serious vaccine side effects and the impact that could have on willingness to get boosted. In addition, foreign countries that also gave liability waivers are not as likely to be forgiving as the US. We could see a Boeing 737 Max replay, of foreign regulators lowering the boom and the US position eventually becoming untenable." The waivers don't quite have the reach to cover them for fraud, it seems.

"Federal District Court Rejects Voting Rights Act Section 2 Challenge to Arkansas Redistricting Plan, on the Extreme and Ridiculous Grounds That Section 2 Does Not Allow Private Plaintiffs to Sue for Violations: Another example of the kinds of extreme arguments that Southern states have been making and that should have no chance of succeeding in the courts. But today, with this Supreme Court, unfortunately they have a decent chance." And "Rejecting decades of precedent, Trump Judge Lee Rudofsky holds Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act has NO private right of action—meaning nobody except the U.S. Attorney General can bring a VRA lawsuit. This would render the law largely unenforceable."

"EARN IT Act lawmaker finally admits the bill is targeting encryption: After first being teased in early February, a new version of the highly controversial EARN IT Act has officially been reintroduced to lawmakers. And some of its most fervent advocates are finally being open about their true mission: undermining encryption. Back when the original EARN IT Act was introduced in 2020, Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) — who co-wrote the bill — did his best to skirt around the issue of encryption entirely, despite its being one of the bill's main focuses. During hearings about the bill, Sen. Blumenthal consistently pushed for a narrative that EARN IT was not about encryption at all." Except it is.

"The Congressional Black Caucus Foundation Has a New Corporate Megadonor: Amazon donated $1.7 million to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation last year as it faced allegations of illegal anti-union work. The Foundation is a slush fund that supports the Black political class as they do the bidding of the oligarchy."

"Economists Warn Against the Fed Raising Rates at Worst Possible Time: 'A large across-the-board increase in interest rates is a cure worse than the disease,' says economist Joseph Stiglitz. 'That might dampen inflation if it is taken far enough, but it will also ruin people's lives.' As the U.S. Federal Reserve mulls hiking interest rates in the coming weeks in an effort to curb inflation, progressive economists are warning against such a move—arguing that it will hurt workers and fail to address the real source of rising prices: unmitigated corporate power."

John Nichols in The Nation, "The Dirty Secret of Inflation: Corporations Are Jacking Up Prices and Profits: Democrats are failing to speak to the realities of the economic moment—and it could cost them in the midterms. President Biden and his fellow Democrats need to learn to talk about inflation if they hope to maintain congressional majorities in this year's midterm elections. They can't deny that costs for consumers are rising at a jarring rate—up 7.5 percent compared to a year ago, according to the latest figures. But they can, and must, make the connection between surging prices and surging corporate profits. The US Department of Commerce reported at the end of December that corporate profit margins had hit the highest level in 70 years. You'll hear a lot of complex, and often conflicting, explanations for why this is happening now. But recent news stories speak for themselves. [...] 'If you're a corporation that has eaten up most of the competition and cornered the market, is it easier for you to raise prices on your customers and maximize your profits because you don't have to worry about losing your business?' asked Warren. Powell replied, 'In principle, if you don't have competition and you're a monopolist, yes, you can raise your prices.' 'Okay,' Warren continued. 'Over the past year, we know that prices have risen because of supply chain problems, unexpected shifts in the demand for goods, and even higher labor costs. But if corporations were simply passing along these costs in highly competitive markets, would the companies' profits margins have changed much?' After mumbling something about varying factors that impact such calculations, Powell concluded, 'But, in principle, you could be right.'"

"Exclusive: Top House Democrat Unveils Plan to Beat Back Progressive Rebellion: House seats are on the line as progressives challenge incumbents in a string of contested Democratic primaries, part of a broader struggle over the party's future. A pack of progressive candidates have crashed this year's Democratic primaries, hoping to unseat incumbents and push the party to the left. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the fifth-ranking Democrat in the House, has other plans. Jeffries and two of his House Democrat allies on Wednesday rolled out the first slate of endorsements from Team Blue PAC, a political action committee intended to protect incumbents from intraparty attacks. The endorsements and their attendant $5,000 campaign contributions are the strongest demonstration of support yet from Jeffries and his allies — and serve as a warning shot to primary challengers seeking to unseat incumbents as Democrats fight to hold onto their fragile majorities. 'It's important to support effective legislators for delivering for the American people in partnership with the Biden administration,' Jeffries says. 'We want to support common-sense members who are delivering for their districts and helping advance the Democratic agenda to create jobs and cut costs for their constituents,' adds Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.), another Team Blue PAC co-founder." That's rich coming from people who have worked hard to prevent anyone delivering for their constituents. Congress would be so much better without them.

"'Morally Obscene': Sanders Blasts GOP, Manchin Over 41% Spike in Child Poverty: 'How did this happen? Fifty Republicans and one corporate Democrat allowed the $300-a-month Child Tax Credit to expire,' said Sen. Bernie Sanders. [...] The study was published as Democratic lawmakers' efforts to extend the boosted CTC remained stalled due to the continued opposition of every Senate Republican and Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has reportedly told colleagues in private that he believes some parents used the monthly benefit payments to buy drugs. 'One U.S. senator 'heard stories' about people allegedly using the Child Tax Credit 'for drugs' without any evidence or data to back it up,' Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted Thursday. 'He then used that as justification to nuke the entire national program, causing millions of kids to fall into poverty in weeks. Horrifying.' 'Meanwhile,' she added, 'the press talks about it like it's some beltway drama without ever showing the people who are sleeping in bubble jackets with no heat or the kids going hungry waiting for some guy in a yacht to decide if they are fully human or not. It's just shameful, all of it.'"

"The Black Alliance for Peace Condemns the 'America COMPETES Act' [...] The premise of the America COMPETES Act is that China is a dangerous economic rival that represents a national security threat, and a 'malign influence,' BAP rejects that position and sees this legislation as an unnecessary and unjustified expenditure of the public's resources that should be targeted instead toward addressing the human rights needs of the working class and poor in the U.S. "

"Congress Proposes $500 Million for Negative News Coverage of China: The effort to counter China's 'malign influence' would fund negative coverage of China's Belt and Road Initiative—while also beefing up the U.S.'s international lending. A tech and manufacturing bill currently moving through Congress allocates $500 million for media outlets to produce journalism for overseas audiences that is critical of China. Meant to 'combat Chinese disinformation,' the bill would direct funding to the U.S. Agency for Global Media, a U.S.-run foreign media service, as well as local outlets and programs to train foreign journalists. The America COMPETES Act, just passed by the House, is an industrial policy plan for semiconductor production and supply chain resiliency. It sets aside technology investment funds for everything from high-level research to high school computer science."

"Rick Scott's Bonkers GOP Agenda Shows Why McConnell Doesn't Want One: In nearly every midterm election cycle in which U.S. House Republicans are in the minority, you will hear suggestions that the GOP adopt a new 'Contract With America,' like the one that (not really, but according to lore and legend) led the party to its first conquest of the House many decades back in 1994. The idea is that everyone knows what Republicans are against, but nobody knows what they are for, since their contributions to the great legislative accomplishments of American history since about 1929 are limited. This craving for a midterm GOP election agenda is typically strong in the House, partly because of the 1994 mythology and partly because House Republicans are, relatively speaking, pretty well united around a conservative ideology. You usually don't hear much about this from Republican senators, as they are not quite so uniform ideologically and their long-time leader Mitch McConnell famously thinks obstruction of what Democrats are trying to do works just fine as a party message when the GOP is not in power. [...] But now the senator who chairs the National Republican Senatorial Committee, Rick Scott of Florida, has released his own suggestion for an agenda, as Politico reports. 'As a general rule, you know, probably this year's election is going to be a lot about the Biden agenda. But I do believe we're going to win,' Scott said. 'We ought to have a plan and what we're trying to get done when we get the majority.' [...] And many of Scott's specific proposals straddle the line between stupid and evil pretty effectively. He wants to impose a 12-year limit on all federal employment (with 'exceptions' for national-security purposes). Think about the immense cost and inefficiency of that kind of required turnover in the federal workforce, whose numbers, by the way, would be reduced by 25 percent in five years according to another pledge in the agenda. Guess that would somewhat mitigate the massive cost and disruptions associated with Scott's demands to 'move most Government agencies out of Washington and into the real world' and 'sell offall non-essential government assets, buildings, and land.' The IRS would receive an even more draconian 50 percent cut in funding and workforce, which might make it a bit tough to impose the new minimum income tax Scott wants to impose on the majority of Americans who now have no net tax liability. But here's the pledge that really takes the cake: 'All federal legislation sunsets in 5 years. If a law is worth keeping, Congress can pass it again.' Presumably this would include the Social Security Act, the Medicare law, the Civil Rights Act, the Americans With Disabilities Act, and the immigration and criminal laws Scott is so determined to enforce with the maximum degree of viciousness. Any candidate running on that plank would be tarred and feathered."

"Economists Are Fueling the War Against Public Health: A new report is being hailed by conservatives—but doesn't stand up to scrutiny. A new report that has grabbed headlines on Fox News and other Murdoch-owned news outlets claims that regulations aimed at curtailing spread of the coronavirus through mandatory masking, lockdowns, and school closures in 2020 only reduced deaths from SARS-CoV-2 infections by 0.2 percent. The 62-page study, much-hailed by leading Republican politicians, has grabbed mainstream media headlines, as well. But closer scrutiny reveals that it is an example of motivated reasoning, indulging in scientific cherry-picking to prove a preferred thesis about public health. Described as a 'Johns Hopkins' study, the report was in reality published online by the Institute for Applied Economics, Global Health, and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University, an academic enterprise tightly linked to the libertarian Cato Institute think tank. The institute is separate from the famed medical institution and school of public health affiliated with the university. It is co-directed by one of the authors of the new report, economist Steve Hanke, who also directs the Troubled Currencies Project at the Cato Institute." "Cherry-picking" is putting it lightly; a group of economists looked at thousands of studies and dismissed nearly every one that was medically-based, keeping only those by economists who seemed to agree with them.

Robert Reich, "Psst: You want to know the truth about inflation? Part I (It's not what the Fed thinks it is.): Prices are rising because corporations have the power to raise them. They're using "inflation" as an excuse. The Fed is about to apply the wrong medicine. Yesterday, the Fed's policy committee announced it would both end its bond-buying program and likely raise interest rates sooner than had been expected. 'Inflation is more persistent and higher, and that the risk of it remaining higher for longer has grown,' Fed chair Jerome Powell explained. Translated: Powell and the Fed are about to slow the economy — even though we're still at least 4 million jobs short of where we were before the pandemic. And even though, as a result, millions of American workers won't get the raises they deserve. I think that's a big mistake. Powell's medicine has nothing to do with the real reason for inflation: the increasing concentration of the American economy into the hands of a relative few corporate giants with the power to raise prices."

Boris Johnson is such a contemptible monster. "Students to pay off loans into their 60s, plans say: Students who start university next year could be paying off their loans for 40 years after graduating, under new government plans for England. Under the current system, loans are written off after 30 years. The government says extending the repayment period, as part of a student finance shake-up, will reduce the bill for taxpayers. But Labour says it will "hit those on low incomes hardest", with lower-earning graduates affected more. The plans - part of a response to the 2019 Augar review of post-18 education - apply to students in England starting courses from September 2023." I wish I had a recording of the conversation between Boris and his pals while they gloated about how this would make people miserable for the rest of their lives.

RIP: "Procol Harum Frontman Gary Brooker Dead at 76: The singer-songwriter and pianist co-wrote and sang the band's 1967 classic 'A Whiter Shade of Pale'. [...] Once he added in Reid's lyrics, Brooker had a masterpiece on his hands that would reach Number One all over the world and turn Procol Harum in a major band almost overnight. Although the band never managed to land another hit of that magnitude, they maintained a large cult audience and worked steadily throughout the Sixties and Seventies, scoring occasional hits like 'Conquistador' and 'A Salty Dog'. In 1972, they cut the live album Procol Harum Live: In Concert with the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra that helped bring the band back into the public eye." And "Still There'll Be More" was so much fun.

RIP: "Sally Kellerman, Oscar-Nominated 'MASH' Actress, Is Dead at 84: The actress, who broke through as Margaret (Hot Lips) Houlihan in MASH, was known for her self-effacing comedy, a velvety voice and an ability to toggle between sultry and silly." And aside from Hot Lips, we also knew her as the first female Star Trek super-villain, in the (second) pilot for the original series.

RIP: "P.J. O'Rourke, Celebrated Journalist and Conservative Satirist, Dead at 74: The writer served as foreign-affairs desk chief at Rolling Stone and wrote for numerous publications." I never thought he was funny, and I don't expect Rolling Stone to admit it, but even Jon Schwarz is too kind in "Farewell to P.J. O'Rourke, America's Only (Semi-)Funny Conservative."

"The plausible dystopia of a social credit system [...] Yes, the concern is sometimes overstated and motivated by more than a little paranoia. But the core worry is founded in fact. The alignment of pervasive high-tech gatekeeping with an impulse to police ideological and moral conformity is not only possible but already beginning to emerge. The right's warnings about ascendent antiliberalism are therefore welcome — though many of those sounding the alarm are singularly ill-suited to combat it."

Stan Greenberg is catching up with me. "Democrats, Speak to Working-Class Discontent: America is at a perilous moment when a Trump-led Republican Party is steaming ahead to knock down every guardrail protecting free elections. Over 80 percent of Republicans, according to a recent national survey by the University of Virginia Center for Politics and Project Home Fire, believe 'our country needs a powerful leader in order to destroy the radical and immoral currents prevailing in society today.' A third now believe violence is justified to 'save our country,' according to a national survey by the Public Religion Research Institute. The Republican threat to America's constitutional experiment has led me to ask: What is our plan to save it? Here's mine. I am a pollster and political strategist with long experience advising Democratic candidates. Now, more than ever, Democratic victories are necessary to prevent Republicans from locking up the system. My plan is to focus on working-class voters—white, Black, Hispanic, Asian—and figure out every legal and ethical way possible for Democratic candidates to regain even a few extra points of support from them."

Dean Baker, "The Big Lie of the Elites: We all know about the Trumpers' big lie: somehow millions of votes were stolen from their hero, but the liberals were so smart in their steal that Trump's team can't produce any evidence. That one rightly draws contempt from anyone not in the cult, but what about the big lie that the vast majority of intellectuals seem to accept? Regular readers know what I am talking about. The big lie is that the massive rise in inequality over the last four decades was somehow the result of the natural workings of the market. The standard position among policy types is that the rise in inequality was simply the result of the development of technology and the process of globalization. We saw this view on full display in a generally interesting column in today's NYT by Thomas Edsall. The piece looks at the growth in support for Trump, and right-wing populism more generally, among non-college educated white workers. It cites a number of academics who identify this development as a result of being left behind by economic developments, while Blacks and other minorities are perceived as having increased opportunities. The key point, that is repeatedly misrepresented in this piece, is that the harm to the working-class in the last four decades was the result of deliberate policy, not something that just happened."

Interview with Wendell Potter, "US Healthcare Strangled by Massive Insurance Profits and Money in Politics: Former health insurance executive turned whistleblower and investigative journalist Wendell Potter discusses the many ways in which the private health insurance system of the US is not serving anyone well except the insurance companies' owners."

The New Yorker interview, "Is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez an Insider Now? [...] Honestly, it is a shit show. It's scandalizing, every single day. What is surprising to me is how it never stops being scandalizing. Some folks perhaps get used to it, or desensitized to the many different things that may be broken, but there is so much reliance on this idea that there are adults in the room, and, in some respect, there are. But sometimes to be in a room with some of the most powerful people in the country and see the ways that they make decisions—sometimes they're just susceptible to groupthink, susceptible to self-delusion."

"Means-Testing Is Mean: 15 Reasons To Adopt Universalism"

Literally, a different camera and different shots. Some people don't even realize that Santana, Gram Parsons, and CSN&Y were there. A long unseen, soundless home movie. "The Rolling Stones, Hell's Angels and Altamont: A New View"

"Reminiscences From The End Of The Horse Era In New York City"

"The Geometric Landscapes of Lorenz Stoer (1567)" — unexpectedly cool.

"Awesome astrophotography from the South Downs: The South Downs national park is one of 19 International Dark Sky Reserves, and its popular cosmic photography contest produced awe-inspiring winning images."

"The Times - 'I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape'

"When The Levee Breaks feat. John Paul Jones | Playing For Change | Song Around The World" — Story here.

Procol Harum, "Shine On Brightly"

1 comment:

  1. Reading your post this morning makes me feel like I'm sitting in a small cafe somewhere having a nice conversation about pretty urgent stuff. Thank you.