Saturday, April 30, 2022

'Cause I couldn't stand the pain

This photo of Beautiful Norway After The Sunset is from Tina Koskima (@LoveSongs4Peace).

It's been a little bit of a technical adventure. First I finally threw up my hands and gave in to the demands of the present when it became clear that NHS just assumed everyone had a smartphone, so I gave up my dumbphone of long-standing and made the switch. That required a lot of adapters and changed habits to begin with. But then my beloved ten-year-old Precision started being very cranky, so that had to go, too, and though the new machine is certainly very spiffy with many fine qualities, there's sure a lot to get used to, even leaving aside the fact that I'd never updated from Win7 and had to adapt to that upgrade, too. So, I can't find things, and things look strange, and I'm still not used to this keyboard, and I had a helluva time doing the last post because the font was so small and I couldn't figure out where to change it for a while. I'm still going back and finding typos. And then there are all those passwords I've forgotten.

Yes, price-gouging is an important factor in the current inflation. "Corporate profits have contributed disproportionately to inflation. How should policymakers respond? [...] Since the trough of the COVID-19 recession in the second quarter of 2020, overall prices in the NFC sector have risen at an annualized rate of 6.1%—a pronounced acceleration over the 1.8% price growth that characterized the pre-pandemic business cycle of 2007–2019. Strikingly, over half of this increase (53.9%) can be attributed to fatter profit margins, with labor costs contributing less than 8% of this increase. This is not normal. From 1979 to 2019, profits only contributed about 11% to price growth and labor costs over 60%, as shown in Figure A below. Nonlabor inputs—a decent indicator for supply-chain snarls —are also driving up prices more than usual in the current economic recovery. [...] The overheating view often emphasizes the atypically fast nominal wage growth of the past year as justification of their arguments. But this nominal wage growth—while fast compared to the very recent past—still lags far behind overall inflation and hence signals that labor costs are still dampening, not amplifying, inflationary pressures."

"Prosecutor drops all charges against Pamela Moses, jailed over voting error: Moses, convicted last year, was granted new trial in February after Guardian revealed files that had not been given to her defense A Memphis prosecutor has dropped all criminal charges against Pamela Moses, the Memphis woman who was sentenced to six years in prison for trying to register to vote. Moses was convicted last year and sentenced in January. She was granted a new trial in February after the Guardian published a document showing that had not been given to her defense ahead of the trial. [...] The central issue in her case was whether she had known she was ineligible to vote when a probation officer filled out and signed a form indicating she was done with probation for a 2015 felony conviction and eligible to cast a ballot. Even though the probation officer admitted he had made a mistake, and Moses said she had no idea she was ineligible to vote, prosecutors said she knew she was ineligible and had deceived him. Moses stood in the lobby of the probation office while the officer went to his office to research her case for about an hour, he said at trial."

"Steven Donziger vs. Big Oil:The environmental lawyer was finally released from house arrest this week. THIS WEEK, after nearly 1,000 days of arbitrary detention, the environmental and human rights lawyer Steven Donziger was released from house arrest. On this week's podcast, Donziger talks to Intercept investigative reporter Sharon Lerner and Ryan Grim about his decadelong legal battle with Chevron over land contamination in Ecuador." (Transcript promised.)

Back during the UK elections, Jeremy Corbyn was trying to make people aware of Boris' plans to privatize the NHS, but it barely got a headline when the New Labour establishment was busy fabricating fake "evidence" that Jeremy Corbyn was an anti-semite. The successful effort to ensure that Corbyn was unelectable was so blatant as to be baffling, but perhaps it's all a reminder that the New Labour leadership is actually in favor of privatization of the NHS. The present state of privatization is already driving doctors out, but now we learn that, "Labour's shadow health secretary says he would not "shirk" from using private providers to reduce NHS waiting lists. Wes Streeting told the BBC's Nick Robinson it proved "effective" the last time his party was in power. But he put the blame for needing the option at the Tories' door, saying the government had "run down the NHS". The Labour MP also told the Political Thinking podcast his own experience of cancer made him "even more passionate" about bringing down waiting lists. Mr Streeting's remarks appear to show a change in direction for the party. Labour's last two leaders, Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband, focused their election campaigns on protecting the NHS in England from privatisation. But under the New Labour government of the late 1990s and 2000s, the role of the private sector increased in the health service." (What a phony. He didn't experience any delays in his cancer treatment, this is bollocks.)

When Governor DeSantis' purge of "woke" textbooks from the curriculum turned out to include math texts, people were surprised. But now we know: He had a particular publisher to send the grift to. "As DeSantis administration rejects textbooks, only one publisher allowed for K-5 math classes in Florida."

"Democrats Bail On Promise To Shed Light On Corporate Political Spending: A little-noticed provision in the mammoth omnibus spending bill means the country's corporate watchdog once again can't tackle dark money. Buried in the 2,741 pages of the $1.5 trillion omnibus spending bill that President Joe Biden signed last month is a provision that bars the government's Wall Street watchdog agency from forcing corporations to disclose their political donations. The stipulation, part of a deal with Republicans to keep the government up and running, means that Democrats are poised to once again break their long-standing promise to shed light on the massive secret corporate spending that now dominates U.S. politics — just as a Biden appointee appeared ready to finally tackle the issue."

"Dems retreat on crime and police reform: If 2020 was the year the left reordered the traditional politics of crime and policing, 2022 looks like the year centrists regained their footing and nullified those gains. President Joe Biden is proclaiming that it's time to 'fund the police” and pouring more money into law enforcement in his budget plan. Democratic mayors in deep-blue cities are promising to hire hundreds more cops. Even in liberal bastions like Los Angeles, candidates are sprinting to claim the tough-on-crime mantle. [...] The signs of the Democratic Party's evolution on crime are everywhere — and go beyond defeats suffered by the 'defund the police” movement in Minneapolis and elsewhere last year. As the midterm elections pick up, Democrats are calling for more police funding and attempting to co-opt traditionally Republican talking points on crime." Not only did no one ever defund the police, but many cities gave them more funding than ever. If it is true that crime is up, that doesn't argue well for giving the cops more money. But crime isn't really up all that much (and in some areas has gone down), despite the copaganda.

On the other hand, few seem to view with alarm the really worrying trend. "We're in the Midst of a White-Collar Crime Wave: Financial malfeasance has never been more rampant, or more under-punished. Everywhere you look in America, crime is out of control. Whether it's Elon Musk—the world's richest man—cutting regulatory corners in public, professional son-in-law Jared Kushner getting a $2 billion payoff from the Saudis, hackers draining hundreds of millions of dollars out of a crypto game, or the meatpacking industry boosting profits through price gouging, the economy's winners color outside the lines with increasing chutzpah. There's a lot of evidence that the country is in the middle of an alarming white-collar crime wave, but, unlike street crime, the phenomenon doesn't show up much in our political discourse. It's time to change that. [...] People are getting taken at work, too: In a survey of service workers, 34 percent reported an increase in wage theft by their employers during the pandemic. A commentator could pull up these figures all day, and so could a prosecutor."

Another nightmare scenario in the annals of Corporate Hospital Ownership: "Out Of The ER, Into The Street [...] Not long ago, ER doctors prized their unique ability to ignore both politics and profits, and treat patients in order of the severity of their condition, regardless of their insurance status. But companies like USACS changed all that. Over the past decade, the percentage of ER doctors working for small independent practices has shrunk by more than half to just 20 percent, and the corporate consolidations have led physician wages to stagnate even as billing surged. Then came COVID-19, which caused an abrupt plunge in ER traffic that left many doctors temporarily downsized at the very moment their skills were needed most. Across the country, many ER doctors are privately arriving at the same conclusion that inspired the USACS uprising: It's no longer enough to help people by treating one ER patient at a time, when the real emergency appears to be unbridled corporate greed."

Pro Publica, "America's Highest Earners And Their Taxes Revealed: Secret IRS files reveal the top US income-earners and how their tax rates vary more than their incomes. Tech titans, hedge fund managers and heirs dominate the list, while the likes of Taylor Swift and LeBron James didn't even make the top 400. [...] In a progressive tax system, the more income you make, the higher your tax rate is. But in the U.S., that's only partly true. On average, the rate of income tax that people pay does climb as incomes ascend into the top 1%, but when you get to the range of $2 million to $5 million, that trend stops. The group earning in this range, composed mostly of business owners and workers with extremely high salaries, paid an average income tax rate of 29% from 2013 to 2018. After that, average tax rates actually drop the further up in income you go."

"Obama Wants Censorship: Barack Obama and his ruling class bosses are losing legitimacy with more and more people. They have decided that censoring information will resolve their problems. On April 21, 2022 former president Barack Obama gave a speech at Stanford University on the subject of social media. In typical Obamaesque fashion, he didn't state his point plainly. He used a lot of time, more than an hour, to advocate for social media censorship. He only used that word once, in order to deny that it was in fact what he meant, but the weasel words and obfuscation couldn't hide what Obama was talking about. In 2016 when Hillary Clinton lost to Donald Trump, the candidate she thought easiest to beat, Obama first presented his lament about “disinformation” and 'fake news.' His real concern was that Trump's victory proved that millions of people paid no attention to or even scorned, corporate media. No major newspaper endorsed Donald Trump, the television networks enjoyed the ratings increases he created, but ultimately believed that a second Clinton presidency was in the offing. None of them knew that some 60 million people would go to polling places and give their votes to Trump. Hence the disquiet in November 2016, when Obama realized that having buy-in from establishment corporate media meant little if their narratives were rejected by people across the country."

"The DEA's Elite Police Unit in Mexico Was Actually Dirty as Hell: The U.S.-vetted and trained unit was disbanded by Mexico, after years of corruption and controversy. After more than a year of quietly choking off resources behind the scenes, Mexico's president said last week that he has effectively shut down an elite police unit trained and funded by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to investigate drug cartels, claiming it was corrupt. 'That group, which was supposedly a high-level strategic group, was infiltrated by criminals,' President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at a press conference last week, confirming reports that the DEA's 'Sensitive Investigative Unit,' or SIU, had been disbanded after more than 25 years of joint operations in Mexico. So far, the scrapping of the SIU has been portrayed as yet another blow to bilateral security cooperation on anti-narcotics investigations under López Obrador. But current and former U.S. law enforcement officials who spoke with VICE News say the SIU has indeed been a corruption-plagued disaster for years. One agent with extensive experience operating in Mexico called the SIU “corrupt and dangerous” and was not sorry to see its demise. “I am glad,” the agent said. 'They were dirty, no-good criminals. It's the best thing that ever happened to the U.S. government in Mexico.'"

RIP: "R.I.P. Cynthia Albritton, a.k.a. Cynthia Plaster Caster: The rock 'n' roll legend, known for her famous lifetime art project, was 74. Cynthia Albritton, better known as Cynthia Plaster Caster, has died following an illness, per Variety. She was 74. She was a bonafide rock legend, famous for her artistic practice of immortalizing rock stars' penises by making plaster-casted sculptures of them."

ROT IN PERDITION: Orrin Hatch, anti-union, anti-abortion crackpot, dead at 88. "Though in his death he is being remembered for his bipartisan efforts, he did oppose his fair share of Democratic agendas. He voted against the Equal Rights Amendment, used the filibuster to block fair housing bills and pushed bills to ban abortions." Another reminder that bi-partisanship is bad.

Michael Hobbs on the NYT pearl-clutching about "cancel culture" (by which they really mean saying critical things to bigshots like journalists at The New York Times): "Panic! On the Editorial Page [...] If I quoted this without screengrabbing it you'd think I was making it up. Conservative complaints about progressive speech — going back to Elvis shaking his hips and beyond — are one of the most consistent features of the 20th century. But today, the Times tells us, they wouldn't be happening if libs hadn't been so insistent about trigger warnings. And that's it, the cancel culture panic in a nutshell: Left-wing threats to free speech may not be backed up by any evidence and totally unconnected to any Democratic policy agenda. But! If we're not careful, someday, the Democratic Party could be as dangerous as Republicans are now. Can't wait to read 50 more articles about it."

Taibbi and Orf, "The "Gentlemen's Agreement": When TV News Won't Identify Defense Lobbyists: As war rages, viewers watch commercials for weapons dealers, often without knowing it. [...] In 2008, David Barstow of the New York Times won a Pulitzer Prize for reporting about this phenomenon of military 'journalists,' with 'Behind TV Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand' being one of the winning submissions. Barstow wrote about how defense officials on air retained ties to the Pentagon and gave official talking points on air in a coordinated way, quoting a former Green Beret and Fox analyst who said of military officials, 'It was them saying, ‘We need to stick our hands up your back and move your mouth for you.'' Networks and even papers like the Times have since become so dependent upon military and intelligence vets, both as bylined content-producers and as sources, that efforts to track lobbying ties have been abandoned. Both the Washington Post and New York Times won Pulitzers in 2018 for Russia-themed stories that relied on unnamed 'current and former officials' from the military and intelligence worlds. In just over ten years, in other words, the Pulitzer committee went from rewarding papers for exposing defense ties to rewarding their concealment, while pushing intelligence-friendly news narratives — exactly what the Times was concerned about in 2008. Now, only outlets like Jacobin go near the lobbying topic." Matt has a follow-up, "A Brief Note on the "Gentlemen's Agreement", Which is Not Just for Defense Lobbyists: TV analysts from all sorts of industries are identified by long-ago official titles, not current lobbying gigs."

More evidence that government can do things. "From ‘biologically dead' to chart-toppingly clean: how the Thames made an extraordinary recovery over 60 years: It might surprise you to know that the River Thames is considered one of the world's cleanest rivers running through a city. What's even more surprising is that it reached that status just 60 years after being declared “biologically dead” by scientists at London's Natural History Museum. Yet despite this remarkable recovery, there's no room for complacency – the Thames still faces new and increasing threats from pollution, plastic and a rising population."

Robert Kuttner is doing a "Summers Watch: Larry Summers is not only a self-promoter who is often wrong on his economics. He is disdainful of who suffers if his recommendations are taken seriously. Larry Summers, spurned for a Biden administration post, is famously vindictive. Lately, he has been taking victory laps, reminding everyone of how right he was and how mistaken everyone else was. It's hard to imagine any other prominent policy adult with this level of narcissism. His arm must be sore from patting himself on the back. He epitomizes the old line 'often wrong, never in doubt.” Let's first give Larry partial credit on the big picture. Inflation did accelerate faster than most other economists forecast, and the Fed will raise interest rates more than Fed Chair Jay Powell predicted last fall. But Summers drastically overstates the degree to which the inflation is the result of excessive macroeconomic stimulus, as well as exaggerating his own prescience. For starters, when President Biden sponsored the American Rescue Plan Act in March 2021, the economy was still in a deep COVID recession, and people were suffering. Most of the outlay was not intended as random macro-stimulus; it was targeted relief. Contrary to Summers, recent price hikes have been substantially the result of two factors that Summers largely omits from his analysis—supply chain shocks and monopolistic corporations with market power taking advantage of an inflationary climate to impose opportunistic price hikes. It's understandable that Summers doesn't focus on these—they are consequences of the policies of deregulation and hyper-globalism that Summers (and Bob Rubin) persuaded Bill Clinton to impose on the country. Summers—relentlessly—is a macroeconomist; and when the only tool you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. He doesn't deign to look at structural particulars, except at a level that is breathtaking in its shallowness. Search 'Summers” and 'monopoly pricing” and you get superficial tweets denying the problem, based on no data. Moreover, Summers tends to backdate his predictions to make himself look prescient. What he actually forecast was often not what in fact occurred. As John Cassidy recently observed in The New Yorker, Summers in March 2021 forecast three possible scenarios—a one-third chance of stagflation; a one-third chance that 'the Fed hits the brakes hard” and we get recession; and a one-third chance of growth that 'will moderate in a non-inflationary way.” (Note the spurious mathematical precision—one-third, based on what?) Cassidy quotes financial analyst and longtime Fed watcher Tim Duy that Summers 'also put out plenty of other scenarios—enough that he almost couldn't be wrong.” Exactly so. Except that the one scenario Summers didn't forecast was the one that actually occurred: continued robust growth and moderately high supply-driven inflation." And there's more. And sometimes I wonder if Summers actually knows he's spewing lies.

Department of Manufacturing Consent: "Government poll tried to skew public opinion against defunding the police: Documents reveal Public Safety Canada, in consultation with RCMP, manufactured lower support for Defund the Police movement. [...] The government poll was not immediately released publicly, but was reported on as 'confidential” by Ottawa-based Blacklock's Reporter, which claimed it 'found [the] largest number of Canadians want MORE police funding, not less.” Their reporting was picked up by major newspapers across the country last summer, with headlines like 'Most Canadians against defunding police” and 'Study: Public says ‘don't defund our police.'” But there was another wrinkle. Despite having introduced pro-police bias into the questions, the full poll results, which Public Safety Canada quietly posted online a month after the initial coverage, show public support for defunding the police was in fact high and was misrepresented in the media coverage."

"Sleazy "Democratic" PACs Working To Defeat Progressives: Hakeem Jeffries, a Wall Street Democrat and worthless careerist-- the Dem version of Kevin McCarthy-- who represents Bedford-Stuyvesant, Clinton Hill, East New York, Canarsie, Flatlands and Coney Island in Brooklyn plus Ozone Park and Howard Beach in Queens, started an anti-progressive PAC-- Team Blue PAC-- with rabid Blue Dog (and total Wall Street whore) Josh Gottheimer last year. As of March 31 they had collected just over a quarter million dollars this cycle-- primarily sewer money from lobbyists and corporate PACs-- to use against progressive candidates challenging incumbents. The progressive Democrats that Jeffries and Gottheimer are working hardest to keep out of office are Nina Turner (OH), Imani Oakley (NJ), Kina Collins (IL), Rana Abdelhamid (NY) and Amy Vilela (NV), all women of color. [...] There are even worse anti-progressive PACs that are part of the Democratic establishment, although none of the others have the presumptive next Democratic Party House leader (Jeffries). One of the ones doing the most damage right now is Mark Mellman's so-called "Democratic Majority for Israel," which claims to be a pro-Israel PAC but is just as much an anti-Medicare for All PAC and just generally anti-progressive PAC. Last cycle, for example, its biggest expenditures-- by far-- were $1,400,032 against Bernie and $899,148 to help Eliot Engel and $664,890 against Engel's opponent, Jamaal Bowman. Engel lost his seat to Bowman. This cycle they have been helping many anti-progressive candidates-- like Jon Kaiman on Long Island-- raise money but so far their biggest expenditures have gone to keep Nina Turner out of Congress. So far, they've spent $1,420,603 helping to prop up waste-of-a-seat Shontel Brown and another 1,240,738 smearing Turner, this cycle's most feared-- by the corrupt establishment-- candidate running for anything, anywhere."

This article contains an interesting little tidbit from Philip Linden himself. "The creator of Second Life has a lot to say about all these new 'metaverses': Linden Lab founder Philip Rosedale and executive chairman Brad Oberwager aren't too impressed with what they've seen so far. [...] 'Blockchain economies are extremely dangerous,' says Rosedale. 'They do some things that are good, but as a side effect in the way they're designed, they're an almost certainly fatal thing to humankind in the long term.' I assumed that Rosedale was referring to the computational wastefulness of blockchain accounting and the resultant environmental costs, a common criticism. That's part of it, he says, but he was actually talking about something much more abstract. The problem, he believes, is that total decentralization inevitably increases wealth inequality. He pointed me to a simulation he designed last year in which bouncing balls demonstrate the theory that 'the rich actually always get richer, no matter what.' It's something he devised after reading a Scientific American article on the topic. 'What I do in the simulation is I give 1,000 people each 1,000 poker chips, so everybody starts off with exactly the same number of poker chips, but then that means there's a million poker chips total,' says Rosedale. 'And that's it. That's all you get. Now, let these people randomly engage in free market transactions.' Those transactions are money transfers decided by coin flips. If I collide with Phillip in the simulation, there's a 50% chance he'll give me some money, and a 50% chance I'll give him some money. 'Most people would think that if you waited for a month, everybody would still have around 1,000 tokens, because we just flipped coins,' says Rosedale. 'Tyler's not smarter than Phillip; If 50% of the time you get my money and 50% of the time I get yours, what happens to individual wealth? What happens is surprising, and of course, horrifying. What happens is that there's one winner. There's one extremely rich person and everyone else has nothing.'"

Every now and then I like to remind people of how the Newspapers of Record and the CIA conspired to kill a story and a reporter. Here's the 2014 story from The Intercept upon the release of a film about the events that began in 1996, "How The CIA Watched Over The Destruction Of Gary Webb: Freshly-released CIA documents show how the largest U.S. newspapers helped the agency contain a groundbreaking exposé. Eighteen years after it was published, 'Dark Alliance,' the San Jose Mercury News's bombshell investigation into links between the cocaine trade, Nicaragua's Contra rebels, and African American neighborhoods in California, remains one of the most explosive and controversial exposés in American journalism."

I've always wanted to do this and it occurred to me that maybe someone had done it on YouTube—and indeed, lots of people have, but I think I liked this one the best: Steph signs with the Temptations' "My Girl".

The Beatles, live in Indianapolis 1964, "If I Fell"

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