Another installment in my continuing effort to make the season start at Advent and last through Twelfthnight, so here's the traditional Christmas links:
* Mark Evanier's wonderful Mel Tormé story, and here's the man himself in duet with Judy Garland.
* Joshua Held's Christmas card, with a little help from Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters.
* Brian Brink's tour-de-force performance of "The Carol of the Bells"
* "Merry Christmas from Chiron Beta Prime."
* Ron Tiner's one-page cartoon version of A Christmas Carol
As I write this, the House still hasn't got a Speaker, and lots of people are enjoying the clown show. I'm not gonna wait to find out what happens. In the meantime, I hope everyone is prepared to remind anyone who will listen that the debt ceiling is unconstitutional.
There really couldn't be a clearer example of what privatization is for than this: "Huntsville Public Library (TX) Privatized After Pride Display: The Huntsville Public Library (HPL) has been under fire since this summer, when a book display riled up city officials. Now, following the removal of two book displays at the public library, the city decided to privatize the library. Though officials claim the move to hire Library Services & Systems (LS&S) will reduce library operational costs over the next ten years, it comes on the heels of the city removing a Pride book display and a Banned Books Week display in September. City Manager Aron Kulhavy called for the displays to be taken down, temporarily closing the library. Following the removal of both displays, the library was told they could not create any additional displays, pending the city's review of policies and procedures about them. The City Librarian was also placed on leave. When asked why the displays were taken down, Kulhavy said it was to 'better respond to citizen concerns from all viewpoints.' In October, a library user identified additional suspicious behavior. A city police officer was behind the circulation desk reviewing books, reportedly taking one with him and approving the rest of the titles as ones that were okay to return to the collection. The library board has had no say in any of these decisions."
Silence From Media as Twitter Suspends Palestinian Journalist: In yet another demonstration of anti-Palestinianism in the U.S. mainstream, there is no outcry over Twitter's arbitrary suspension of Said Arikat, longtime D.C. correspondent for Al-Quds newspaper. It was big news when Elon Musk suspended the Twitter accounts of at least nine tech journalists last week (over alleged dox-ing) and then reinstated them this week after Twitter users demanded as much. But in yet another demonstration of anti-Palestinianism in the U.S. mainstream, there has been scarcely any attention given to the arbitrary suspension of Said Arikat, a fixture at the State Department briefings as the longtime Washington correspondent for Al-Quds newspaper, a Palestinian publication. Arikat said he woke up on December 3 to read a notice from Twitter that his account had been 'permanently suspended after careful review'. No reason was given; and despite the assurance that he could appeal the suspension if he thought the decision was wrong, Twitter has not responded to numerous letters Arikat has sent the media giant." So, no censorship there, then.
Good: "The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act: The Martha Wright-Reed Just and Reasonable Communications Act is technology-neutral, targeted legislation that addresses long-standing, bipartisan concerns regarding inmate communication rates at prisons and jails across the nation. Policymakers of all stripes acknowledge that the existing market has failed to produce adequate competition to protect inmates and detainees, their families, and law enforcement. The bill addresses this market failure ('localized monopolies') that limits competition at facilities."
"NEWS: State Officials Warned Buttigieg About Airline Mess" Before the holiday travel nightmare, attorneys general begged the Transportation Secretary and Congress to crack down. Southwest Airlines stranding thousands of Americans during the holiday season is not some unexpected crisis nor the normal consequence of inclement weather — and federal officials are not powerless bystanders. Before the debacle, attorneys general from both parties were sounding alarms about regulators' lax oversight of the airline industry, imploring them and congressional lawmakers to crack down. The warnings came just before Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg appeared on national television insisting travel would improve by the holidays, and before Southwest executives — flush with cash from a government bailout — announced new dividend payouts to shareholders, while paying themselves millions of dollars. [...] Currently, Buttigieg and the Department of Transportation are the primary regulator over airlines thanks to a 44-year-old law preempting state consumer protection authority. Model legislation proposed by the American Economic Liberties Project, an anti-monopoly think tank, and backed by consumer groups would empower citizens and state law enforcement officials to sue airlines that violate consumer protection laws. One week after the letter from state attorneys general, Buttigieg said on The Late Late Show With James Corden that airline travel 'is going to get better by the holidays.' He added that 'we're really pressing the airlines to deliver better service.'" But it didn't, and McKinsey Pete used none of his powers to try to change that.
There was hope, as you'll see below, but the latest on this story is pretty depressing: "Democrats Frittered Away the Lame-Duck Session: A lackadaisical approach led to failure for numerous bipartisan bills, and kept alive Republican goals to take the debt limit hostage in 2023. [...] As a last grab for policy under a Democratic congressional majority in President Biden's first term, this is frankly a very modest haul. While some last-second proposed deals for the omnibus were far-fetched, others were bipartisan enough that they could have found their way to the president's desk months ago. That all of them had to jockey for space in must-pass bills was symptomatic of the lackadaisical approach to the lame duck, a stark contrast to the last time Democrats had a lame-duck session before losing their congressional majority. And the real culprit in that is Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who appears to have thought that the successes of August, when Congress advanced the Inflation Reduction Act, medical care for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits (the PACT Act), and semiconductor manufacturing subsidies (the CHIPS and Science Act), were enough to secure the Democratic majority's legacy. Though much more was available—like measures on press freedom, tech antitrust, criminal justice, Afghan refugees, and workplace fairness—there just wasn't much interest from Schumer."
"Schumer Freezes Antitrust Bills After Big Tech Lobbyists Bundled Millions: Apple, Amazon, and others are spending record sums to fight off antitrust laws while pouring money into the Democrats' campaign arms. Several bills to curb the market power of the world's largest tech companies are being stalled to death by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) after lobbyists for Amazon, Apple, and tech industry lobbying groups bundled millions in donations for the Democrats' campaign arms. Since last year, the Big Tech companies have been aggressively lobbying against the antitrust bills, which appear to have enough support to pass both the Senate and the House despite Schumer's resistance. Lobbying disclosure forms reveal that Apple and Amazon are on pace to spend more on federal lobbying this year than ever, and Meta likely is as well. All stated that they have lobbied on the antitrust bills more than any other."
"Wall Street Wins Again on Retirement Savings: A perk for the asset management industry found its way into the omnibus spending bill. Meanwhile, the savings of disabled Americans living in extreme poverty will continue to be strictly means-tested. A bill package included in Congress's end-of-year omnibus legislation will allow the richest Americans to park more tax-shielded cash in private retirement funds, in a win for giant asset managers like Vanguard and Fidelity."
"Get Antitrust Legislation Done, Chuck Schumer: Antitrust legislation is now up to one man, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. He promised a vote on antitrust legislation in May. Will he deliver? In May of this year, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer made an important promise, and one that surprised both me and a lot of the people who care about anti-monopoly policy. He said he'd hold a vote on some or all of the antitrust legislation that Congress had been working on over the last three years, in the early summer. This promise was supposed to be the capstone to an important initiative in both the House and Senate. [...] These bills have broad support and passed House and Senate committees. The White House supports them, and the last one actually passed the House with a bipartisan vote. Taken together, these bills would have a catalytic effect on competition and monopoly power. Since the Republicans are going to take over the House, and the GOP leadership has a demonstrated hostility to most antitrust legislation, passing these bills now is the last chance to actually get some of them done, at least for a few more years. The last remaining hurdle is getting the bills to pass the Senate floor. So Schumer's promise to hold a vote on antitrust bills back in May was a big deal. He was essentially saying to his caucus, and in particular to Klobuchar, 'I hear you care about antitrust, I will help you get it done.' The problem, however, is simple. Schumer just didn't hold the vote or dedicate the floor time. He kept delaying, changing his rationale, and just not doing what he promised. For the last week or so, the Senate has been spending its floor time on nominations, which is what you'd hold votes on if you wanted to kill antitrust legislation. Schumer was, as it turns out, not telling the truth when he said he would hold a vote"
"Gary Gensler Got It Right: The emergence and acceptance of cryptocurrency is one of the most embarrassing recent indictments of broad swaths of American financial and political thinking. Despite Sam Bankman-Fried admitting the Ponzi-like nature of crypto on Bloomberg's Odd Lots podcast months before he was disgraced, important validators such as former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers and former Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) Chair Jay Clayton currently serve or served as advisors to crypto firms, and the Brookings Institution held repeated conferences on the importance of what many called 'financial innovation.' By contrast, the SEC and its current chair, Gary Gensler, took key actions to ensure that these speculative financial instruments did not spread to the rest of the financial system."
"A Day of Constitutional Reckoning Approaches: Section 2 of the 14th Amendment was designed to strip congressional districts from states that disenfranchise voters. It's never been implemented. We swear oaths on the Constitution. We are taught every word; indeed, every comma counts. This month, a special three-judge federal district court, and the Supreme Court eventually, will be asked to resurrect 135 words of the Constitution that have never been enforced, even though they were specifically intended to ensure all Americans could vote free of only the most minor government regulation. Though few even know of its existence, Section 2 of the 14th Amendment is perfectly clear. It provides that, if any state abridges the franchise of males over 21, 'except for participation in rebellion, or other crime,' that state loses the equivalent population numbers counted to determine representatives in Congress. Subsequent amendments to the Constitution erased the gender and age limitations, but the core meaning of Section 2 remains intact."
"RUNNING A RACKET: The Scorched-Earth Legal Strategy Corporations Are Using to Silence Their Critics: [...] Victims suing multinational corporations for alleged crimes committed abroad face steep odds. Collingsworth has made a specialty of these uphill battles, devoting his career to holding companies accountable in American courts for human rights abuses overseas. In his struggle with Drummond, he collaborated with activist groups, spoke out in the media, and wrote letters to Drummond's business partners accusing the company of 'hiring, contracting with, and directing' the paramilitaries who committed the murders. [...] Collingsworth lost an initial trial in 2007, when a jury found there wasn't clear evidence tying the company to the crimes. Another of his lawsuits was dismissed for being too similar to the first. But Collingsworth continued to press his case, offering new witnesses with firsthand testimony implicating Drummond. Then, in March 2015, the case took a surprising turn. Drummond had returned fire in the legal fight with an unusual accusation. The company charged that Collingsworth — an advocate who recently brought a case before the U.S. Supreme Court — had led a 'multifaceted criminal campaign' to extort Drummond into paying a costly settlement. This campaign, Drummond alleged, was in fact a racketeering conspiracy as defined by the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, better known as RICO."
"New York passed the nation's first right-to-repair law. Pleasing tech lobbyists, Governor Kathy Hochul hasn't signed it: New York's right-to-repair law, approved by the state's House and Senate, landed on Governor Kathy Hochul's desk weeks ago. She's not signing it, reports Ars Technica, to please tech lobbyists hired by firms such as Apple and Microsoft—and time is running out for her to do so. Her "pocket veto" of the law, which already exempts game consoles, garden equipment and other appliances, would effectively kill it stone dead: it would have to be redrafted from scratch no sooner than next year. [...] The consumer electronics industry is reportedly spending billions on this lobbying effort, which has already restricted New York's right-to-repair act to cellphones and other pocket gadgets. Right-to-repair is a clear example of something everyone wants—a right so presumptive and universally approved that it passes with overwhelming bipartisan support in an age of savage division and partisanship. But it's not happening, because the constituency that matters to Hochul has nothing to do with what everyone wants."
The Financial Times has a good piece on how "Britain's winter of discontent is the inevitable result of austerity", but since it's mostly paywalled, it's worth checking out John Burn-Murdoch's thread quoting from it and explaining the damage, with handy charts and graphs. The short version is that the Tories have massively underfunded the NHS and crippled it, but their massive cuts on other services have contributed to the health burdens on the system. (What's missing from this story is the huge expense and reduction in services resulting from privatization, which is even depriving people of water. Oh, and the fact that New Labour has contributed to it, too.)
John Oliver did a great segment on the copaganda against bail reform - worth watching!
REST IN POWER: "Suzy McKee Charnas (1939-2023): SF writer Suzy McKee Charnas, 83, died January 2, 2023. She was best known for her ambitious works that explored gender, sexuality, and feminist issues." There's no way I can explain what a superstar she was to us when Walk to the End of the World came out, how much fun she was to talk to, the energy that came off of her.
RIP: "John Bird: Actor and comedian dies aged 86 [...] 'He was so modest, for someone who so often played these characters who were so complacent and self-aggrandising,' Bremner told Radio 4's The World at One." Bird & Fortune, or The Two Johns, were one of my favorite things on TV. Every week, they took turns with one doing the interview and the other being George Parr, the latter usually being some horrible sociopathic banker or Tory Minister whose very existence should have been a scandal (and a route to prison). Here is George Parr discussing planning for the war in Iraq, and here Washington Diplomat George Parr discusses George Bush and foreign policy and stuff. And here, George Parr, investment banker, makes the usual excuses.
RIP: "Stuart Margolin, The Rockford Files Co-Star and TV Director, Dies at 82." He did a lot more things than most people realize, and even had genre credits, but of course to me he will always be Angel Martin.
KNIGHTED: "King Knights Queen, Arise Sir Brian May: Queen guitarist Brian May has been knighted by King Charles III and is now Sir Brian May. May was a co-founder of the band Smile in 1968, later to become Queen in 1970 when Freddie Mercury joined the group. Queen released their self-titled debut album in 1973 and second and third albums 'Queen II' and 'Sheer Heart Attack' the following year, starting a succession of global hits with 'Killer Queen' and achieving their first number one 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in 1975. Brian May was appointed a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II in 2005 and earned his PhD in Astrophysics in 2007. Dr Brian May was Chancellor of Liverpool John Moores University from 2008 to 2013 and a collaborator with NASA for the New Horizons Pluto mission. He even has an asteroid named after him. 52665 brianmay was dedicated in 1998."
Ratzinger croaked, too, but hell with that.
Free Movie: "Vigilante: Georgia's Vote Suppression Hitman: "Greg Palast and his investigations team bust the most brazen, racist attack on voting rights yet—engineered by Georgia's Brian Kemp."
"30 Years of Broadband Bait-&-Switch Campaigns Created the Digital Divide: Every Government Broadband Agency is Negligent for the Failure to Investigate and Clawback, Get Back the Money. Maybe someone should ask the 'Public' whether they think it's OK for the government to give out $100 billion in state and federal subsidies, when they — the FCC, the state broadband agencies, etc. can't even tell you how the Digital Divide was created in your state or how much money you, your family, business, etc. were charged for a fiber optic future you never got."
John Solomon, so grain of salt and all that, but, "How Comey intervened to kill WikiLeaks' immunity deal: One of the more devastating intelligence leaks in American history — the unmasking of the CIA's arsenal of cyber warfare weapons last year — has an untold prelude worthy of a spy novel. [...] But an unexpected intervention by Comey — relayed through Warner — soured the negotiations, multiple sources tell me. Assange eventually unleashed a series of leaks that U.S. officials say damaged their cyber warfare capabilities for a long time to come."
"Anti-trans activists are using 'mirror propaganda'. Here's how to spot it: People claiming to be 'silenced' are being featured in national mainstream media platforms. There's a word for that. The recent backlash against Graham Norton's entirely reasonable suggestion that the media talks to more trans people was more revealing than people think. He came dangerously close to exposing organised transphobia's core campaign strategy, something they don't want people talking about. In collaboration with mainstream media, its main strategy has been to liberally platform anti-trans narratives, hermetically exclude trans perspectives, and at the same time accuse trans people of 'silencing' transphobes. For example, a transphobic group holds a rally somewhere – maybe a couple of dozen transphobes in a draughty church hall. There's a protest outside. A journalist, with confected faux-indignation, then claims trans people are 'silencing' them." My, this all seems so familiar.
"A Big Lie is Breaking Education: [...] It is widely believed that education in America is not going well. That belief is more propaganda than fact. The contemporary manifestation of that propaganda began with a 1983 report commissioned by the Reagan administration: A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform. A Nation at Risk appeared to provide unassailable statistical proof that student achievement had dropped. The average scores the report cited were not fiction. Scores were indeed lower, at least by their calculations. But it didn't mean what the report concluded. The Sandia Report found seemingly contradictory facts: The average test scores of all American students had gone down, as A Nation at Risk claimed . . . but the average test scores of every sub-group (by class, race, and every other variable) of American students had gone up! How can that be? Enter Simpson's Paradox, an interesting statistical phenomenon."
In my continuing efforts to remind people that the Opus Dei squad on the Supreme Court is actually a bunch of heretical crackpots, more history on "The Roman Catholic Church and reproductive health: I wrote this in reaction to the growing control of health care by Catholic organizations (41% or more of facilities in Washington State), most recently the merger of Virginia Mason and CHI Franciscan. Access to birth control healthcare is increasingly limited. Inaccessible and illegal are indistinguishable. Kuttner on TAP reports that Oberlin college has outsourced the campus health service to a Catholic-owned provider. 40% of student visits were about sexual health. Many received birth control or emergency contraception.* I am firmly convinced that the Catholic Church's position on contraception and abortion is theologically unfounded and morally wrong, by their own accounting, as evidenced below."
From 2016 in Harper's, "Legalize It All: How to win the war on drugs: Nixon's invention of the war on drugs as a political tool was cynical, but every president since — Democrat and Republican alike — has found it equally useful for one reason or another. Meanwhile, the growing cost of the drug war is now impossible to ignore: billions of dollars wasted, bloodshed in Latin America and on the streets of our own cities, and millions of lives destroyed by draconian punishment that doesn't end at the prison gate; one of every eight black men has been disenfranchised because of a felony conviction.
Kurt Vonnegut, 2005, "Elites Are Clueless, and so on [...] Persuasive guessing has been at the core of leadership for so long – for all of human experience so far – that it is wholly unsurprising that most of the leaders of this planet, in spite of all the information that is suddenly ours, want the guessing to go on, because now it is their turn to guess and be listened to. Some of the loudest, most proudly ignorant guessing in the world is going on in Washington today. Our leaders are sick of all the solid information that has been dumped on humanity by research and scholarship and investigative reporting. They think that the whole country is sick of it, and they want standards, and it isn't the gold standard. They want to put us back on the snake-oil standard."