19 February 2023

And hope that my dreams will come true

Seth Meyers had the best coverage of the State of the Union address (in only 15 minutes) so you don't need me for that. Or if you are a junkie for this kind of thing, you could watch The Majority Report's live coverage.

If Biden has put an end to this kind of thing, that would be great. "To the extent they care about spending cuts, they've created no consensus about exactly what they want; half the caucus is demanding the slashing of Social Security and Medicare, while Speaker Kevin McCarthy has vowed not to touch them. When Rep. Greg Pence (R-IN), brother of the former vice president, was asked whether he would vote for the debt limit if a deal included every one of his priorities, he repeatedly said 'No!' There's simply no reasoning with people who just want to trash the country. The economy of 2023 is far stronger than that of 2011, though with inflation cooling markedly I see no reason for austerity. But as far as the politics, if Manchin thinks he can get a good ol' bipartisan agreement out of this opposition party, he's got another thing coming."

"Mississippi Republicans pass bill to create separate, unelected court in majority-Black city: Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, calls proposed law 'some of the most oppressive legislation in our city's history'. The Republican-dominated Mississippi house of representatives has passed a bill to create a separate, unelected court system in the city of Jackson that would fall outside the purview of the city's voters, the majority of whom are Black. The bill, which local leaders have likened to apartheid-era laws and described as unconstitutional, would also expand a separate capitol police force, overseen by state authorities. The force would expand into all of the city's white-majority neighborhoods, according to Mississippi Today. Jackson's population is over 80% Black."

"This State Wants to Make Every Week a 4-Day Work Week: Well, guess we're all moving to Maryland. Americans are overworked. Workers in the U.S. report being more dissatisfied with their jobs than ever, Americans take fewer vacations and work longer hours than most Europeans, and health problems related to workplace stress kill thousands of us every year. But a group of lawmakers in Maryland want to encourage employers to give people in their state a three-day weekend in perpetuity, introducing a new bill 'promoting, incentivizing, and supporting the experimentation and study' of a four-day workweek in private companies and government agencies. The pilot program would run for a total of five years; if the legislation is signed into law, Maryland would become the first state to have an official policy encouraging the adoption of a four-day workweek. "

"The Crackdown on Cop City Protesters Is So Brutal Because of the Movement's Success: One protester was killed by police, 20 were charged under a 'domestic terror' law, and Georgia's governor gave himself broad 'emergency' powers. THE MOVEMENT TO stop the construction of a $90 million police training center atop vast acres of Atlanta forest has been extraordinarily successful over the last year. With little national fanfare, Defend the Atlanta Forest/Stop Cop City activists nimbly deployed a range of tactics: encampments, tree-sits, peaceful protest marches, carefully targeted property damage, local community events, investigative research, and, at times, direct confrontation with police forces attempting to evict protesters from the forest. The proposed militarized training compound known as Cop City has thus far been held at bay."

Residents of East Palestine, Ohio, were evacuated from their homes until buildings could be checked for toxic heavy gases (mustard gas) accumulating in the basements due to a train derailment nearby. Many people have been worried about this kind of thing at least partly because of the understaffing of railroad workers and also deregulation. Weirdly, when Ohio's governor, Mike DeWine, gave a press conference, a journalist was arrested for covering it. "Governor DeWine apologized for the incident and said he did not authorize Lambert's arrest, according to NewsNation." Does this mean that the Sheriff's Department took it on themselves to illegally arrest him? (I mean, who did they expect to turn up at a press conference?)

Sy Hersh, "How America Took Out The Nord Stream Pipeline: The New York Times called it a 'mystery,' but the United States executed a covert sea operation that was kept secret—until now [...] Last June, the Navy divers, operating under the cover of a widely publicized mid-summer NATO exercise known as BALTOPS 22, planted the remotely triggered explosives that, three months later, destroyed three of the four Nord Stream pipelines, according to a source with direct knowledge of the operational planning. Two of the pipelines, which were known collectively as Nord Stream 1, had been providing Germany and much of Western Europe with cheap Russian natural gas for more than a decade. A second pair of pipelines, called Nord Stream 2, had been built but were not yet operational. Now, with Russian troops massing on the Ukrainian border and the bloodiest war in Europe since 1945 looming, President Joseph Biden saw the pipelines as a vehicle for Vladimir Putin to weaponize natural gas for his political and territorial ambitions. Asked for comment, Adrienne Watson, a White House spokesperson, said in an email, 'This is false and complete fiction.' Tammy Thorp, a spokesperson for the Central Intelligence Agency, similarly wrote: 'This claim is completely and utterly false.' Biden's decision to sabotage the pipelines came after more than nine months of highly secret back and forth debate inside Washington's national security community about how to best achieve that goal. For much of that time, the issue was not whether to do the mission, but how to get it done with no overt clue as to who was responsible."

You remember Larry Niven's story in Dangerous Visions, "The Jigsaw Man"? Well... "Mass. Prisoners Could Choose Between Freedom And Their Organs: A new bill would allow prisoners to get time off their sentence if they donate their organs or bone marrow. Massachusetts Democrats have a bold new proposal for prisoners: donate your organs or bone marrow, and get as little as a couple of months off of your sentence. The legislation, which has attracted five cosponsors in the state House, raises major bioethical concerns for the 6,000-plus people currently held in the Bay State's prisons. In essence, the bill would ask prisoners which is more important to them: their freedom, or their organs and bone marrow." What's amazing is that the guy who proposed this really doesn't seem to recognize the nightmare he's inviting.

Here we go again.... "[Consortium News] Editor Named on Secret 'Disinfo' List: CN Editor Joe Lauria was one of 644 Twitter accounts that secretly formed part of Hamilton 68's fake 'dashboard' that wrongly influenced major media about alleged 'Russian influence.' The editor of this website is part of a secret list created by the organization Hamilton 68 that was fed to major media and Congress to identify so-called 'Russian accounts' that were 'sowing discord' in the United States.

Tom Sullivan wonders if there's a connection between mass killers and killer cops, in "Unthinkable violence [...] Is it time to consider that people capable of such acts, too, 'are not monsters who appear out of thin air'? Like mass shooters, nearly all killer cops are men. Are they 'socially isolated from their families or their communities' by their training? Does police training instill a 'sense of alienation' that leads them to commit acts that 'defy humanity'? Is the sense of power that comes with carrying pepper spray, tasers, and guns what attracts some people to police work? Is it time to consider that police killings no longer be written off as 'inexplicable' episodes of 'unthinkable' violence?"

In early January, Harvard created a bit of a scandal when it denied a research fellowship at the Harvard Kennedy School's Carr Center for Human Rights Policy to Kenneth Roth, who had been the head of Human Rights Watch for 29 years. You can hardly imagine someone better qualified, but of course, HRW, like most human rights organizations, has been critical of Israel's treatment of Palestinians, so some people didn't like him. But since he was someone with that history, a lot of people made noise and Harvard reversed their position later in the month. Happy as he was about that, he also quite rightly had some concerns: "'Given my three decades leading Human Rights Watch, I was able to shine an intense spotlight on Dean Elmendorf's decision, but what about others?' he said. 'The problem of people penalized for criticizing Israel is not limited to me, and most scholars and students have no comparable capacity to mobilize public attention.' 'How is the Kennedy School, and Harvard,' he asked, 'going to ensure that this episode conveys a renewed commitment to academic freedom rather than just exceptional treatment for one well-known individual?'"

"THE WORST THING WE READ THIS WEEK: Why Is the New York Times So Obsessed With Trans Kids?: A question to ask. At length. [...] This is pretty obviously—and yet not obviously enough—a plain old-fashioned newspaper crusade. Month after month, story after story, the Times is pouring its attention and resources into the message that there is something seriously concerning about the way young people who identify as trans are receiving care. Like the premise that the Clintons had to have been guilty of something serious, or that Saddam Hussein must have had a weapons program worth invading Iraq over, the notion that trans youth present a looming problem is demonstrated to the reader by the sheer volume of coverage. If it's not a problem, why else would it be in the paper?" Via Atrios, who says it's an important piece and you should read the whole thing. I concur. And so does The Onion.

And speaking of Atrios, He also gave us a heads-up on Adam Johnson's "Washington Post Editorial on the Tyre Nichols Murder Shows Liberal Reformers Are All Out of Ideas—Even Fake Ones", which is a pretty clear-eyed look at the pretense of concern over killer police that always at best stops short of useful ideas and at worst advocates policies that would actually exacerbate the problem. "Wade through all 900 words and one is hard pressed to find any actual solutions on offer, except to 'modify the qualified immunity doctrine.' How exactly? It's not clear. The editorial then mentions the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act but doesn't support it, despite this being a lay up. Activists have roundly criticized it as an insulting, toothless half measure. But this isn't even something The Post can bother feigning support for to 'do something.' After acknowledging Memphis has already enacted many 'reforms,' they don't see this as an indictment on the reforms themselves, but as a good thing that somehow is independent from this latest police killing. Then they offer their actual solution—squishy 'cultural' changes [...] This is the way the game of phony Liberal Concern is played. The Washington Post twice opposes a social solution that would meaningfully reduce police interactions (free fares on D.C. transit), supports a policy shift that would massively increase those police interactions (police fare enforcement) then feigns concern about the inevitable result of over policing: violent interactions stemming from police interactions. " And that article points to "What would have saved Tyre Nichols' life?: All of the reforms that liberals suggest will save Black lives were present in Tyre's death. So what works?" in the Guardian. "However disappointing, I completely understand that some people may earnestly believe in these sets of reforms because they want to believe that something, anything can happen to stop or at least reduce police killings right now. Others tout these reforms because they benefit from police protecting private property, threatening workers, enforcing racial hierarchies, surveilling civilians, and more. Politicians, especially. They line up the public to a theme park full of reforms and just promise us a different ride would be worth our time, energy, and effort. We have to get out of the park." Because what's in the park is a lot of expensive nonsense that never reduces crime or murders by cops.

"Joseph Stiglitz: tax high earners at 70% to tackle widening inequality: Nobel prize-winning economist calls for new top rate of income tax and 2-3% wealth tax on fortunes [...] 'People at the top might work a little bit less if you tax them more. But on the other hand, our society gains in having a more egalitarian, cohesive society,' the former World Bank chief economist, 79, told Oxfam's Equals podcast. Currently, the top rate of income tax in the UK is 45% on annual earnings above £150,000. In the US, the highest rate of tax is 37% on earnings above $539,901. Stiglitz said that while an increase in the top rate on income would help lead to a more equal society, introducing wealth taxes on the fortunes accumulated by the world's wealthiest over many generations would have an even bigger impact."

"A Pitched Battle on Corporate Power: Biden's expansive executive order seeks to restore competition in the economy. It's been a long, slow road to get the whole government on board—but there are some formidable gains. On July 9, 2021, President Joe Biden signed one of the most sweeping changes to domestic policy since FDR. It was not legislation: His signature climate and health law would take another year to gestate. This was a request that the government get into the business of fostering competition in the U.S. economy again. Flanked by Cabinet officials and agency heads, Biden condemned Robert Bork's pro-corporate legal revolution in the 1980s, which destroyed antitrust, leading to concentrated markets, raised prices, suppressed wages, stifled innovation, weakened growth, and robbing citizens of the liberty to pursue their talents. Competition policy, Biden said, 'is how we ensure that our economy isn't about people working for capitalism; it's about capitalism working for people.'"

Bruce Schneier has another book out, and Cory Doctorow has reviewed A HACKER'S MIND: How the Powerful Bend Society's Rules, and How to Bend Them Back: "A Hacker's Mind is security expert Bruce Schneier's latest book, released today. For long-time readers of Schneier, the subject matter will be familiar, but this iteration of Schneier's core security literacy curriculum has an important new gloss: power." And outside of its usual paywall, The New York Times also has a review: "'A Hacker's Mind' reads like just such a briefing — fused with a manifesto about power and compliance. Hacking, Schneier argues, need not involve computers or even technology; a hack is merely 'an activity allowed by the system that subverts the goal or intent of the system.' Any system, from a slot machine to the U.S. tax code, can be hacked. Hairsplitting, workarounds, weaselly little shortcuts: These are all hacks, and if you've ever found yourself uttering phrases like 'technically legal' or 'gray area,' you might be a hacker. The odds increase with your net worth. While 'we conventionally think of hacking as something countercultural,' Schneier writes, 'it's more common for the wealthy to hack systems to their own advantage,' occupying 'a middle ground between cheating and innovation.' To steal a car by smashing its window and hot-wiring it would be merely criminal; a true hacker would coax the car's computer into unlocking itself."

RIP: "Burt Bacharach, master of pop songwriting, dies aged 94: Singer and performer, who wrote "Walk on By" and "World Needs Now Is Love", died at home in Los Angeles of natural causes. [...] In all, he scored 73 Top 40 hits in the US and 52 in the UK." And "24 Hours From Tulsa" and probably my favorite, "Anyone Who Had A Heart", too.

RIP: "Cindy Williams, a role model for working class girls and Shirley of Laverne & Shirley, at 75. "Williams' character of Shirley, along with Laverne, got her own spinoff starting in 1976. By then, "The Mary Tyler Moore Show" had been running for years, where Tyler played the associate producer of a television news show who happened to be a single woman. But Shirley was different from Moore; she was different from any woman on television at the time. She was unapologetically herself: a working class girl with big dreams."

RIP: "Raquel Welch: a strong and powerful personality with a rarely-tapped gift for comedy," at 82. "Welch was a colossal celebrity in the 1970s, whose combination of physical strength and drollery made her a force to be reckoned with. And this is a good gallery of photos of her (with some interesting people!), though, alas, none from Bedazzled.

"Ask Larry Summers About Crypto Now: Considering how eagerly the financial press solicits the views of the former U.S. Treasury secretary, Jeff Hauser and Max Moran would like reporters to ask him about his involvement with a crumbling company." The Revolving Door project doesn't care if one crypto bro defrauded another, but "The Project does care about the individuals who are left as collateral damage. It also cares that Silbert, the architect of the alleged con, was advised by someone with whom the Winklevoss twins have an infamous history: namely, former U.S. Treasury Secretary Larry Summers. According to How Money Got Free, a book about the rise of Bitcoin, Silbert brought Summers on as an adviser to DCG in 2016 specifically to open doors on Wall Street and to foreign banks for Silbert and his company. At the time, Bitcoin was still widely (and rightly) seen as a gimmick at best and a scam at worst. But Summers' support for Bitcoin made DCG, and Bitcoin, appear more respectable to investors, journalists, academics and regulators."

"Tewkesbury starling murmuration captured on camera"

Dominic Thomas writes, "Tracy Chapman singing 'Fast Car' at the concert to celebrate Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday, at Wembley in 1988. Stevie Wonder was supposed to play, but moments before he went on stage his crew realised that they had lost the hard disk with all his Synclavier samples, and he couldn't perform without it. Chapman had played a short, fairly unnoticed set a little earlier, on one of the side stages, and as the crowd was getting restless and she was so quick to set up, just her and a guitar, the organisers asked her to play a second set – and 60,000 people went from boos and catcalls to utter silence in a few moments. Apparently she sold ten times more albums in the next few weeks than her entire career before that. There's something about that performance, and that song. I watched the concert live in the Student Union at college, she silenced the room then, too, and it still gives me chills."

I can't seem to stop playing the Chronophoto game. It's pretty simple, you just guess when the picture was taken. See how you do.

The Beatles - Morecambe and Wise Show 1963 (colorized).

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