31 October 2023

Somebody lookin' over his shoulder at me

Well, the House Republicans finally picked a majority leader, probably because a lot of them really didn't know who he was so there weren't enough people who hated him yet, so now we have an open opponent of separation of church and state running the chamber. Mike Johnson is a product of The Family Research Council.

"260 "9/11s" in Gaza — and Other Paint-by-Numbers Horrors: If a picture's worth a thousand words, how many numbers would it take to paint the picture of Israel's US-backed bombing of Gaza? President Biden used nightmare-as-arithmetic rhetoric when he discussed the Hamas massacre. 'For a nation the size of Israel,' he said, 'it was like fifteen 9/11s.' That's true, proportionally speaking, and it's ghastly. More than 30 Israeli children were killed on October 7. Their murders alone are the equivalent of roughly 1,000 US deaths on 9/11. Dozens of children are in captivity and their safe return should be a top priority. But what about Palestine? How many 9/11s has it experienced since October 7 — and in the decades before? What other losses has it endured? Let's review the tragic numbers, then summarize President Biden's proposed spending package (preview: it's shamefully inadequate) before pivoting to US public opinion and politics."

Data For Progress: "Voters across party lines agree that the US should call for a ceasefire and de-escalation of violence in Gaza." 56% of Republicans, 57% of independents, 80% of Democrats, and 66% of all voters say so. As usual, Congress is somewhere else.

"IRS advances innovative Direct File project for 2024 tax season; free IRS-run pilot option projected to be available for eligible taxpayers in 13 states. Getting rid of the H&R Block grift would be a big relief.

"Janeese Lewis George Wants to Support Local News With Government Funding. Voters Would Decide Who Gets the Money. Lewis George is backing a first-of-its-kind program to prop up local media outlets of all sizes. [...] Lewis George introduced the Local News Funding Act Monday, which, if passed, will set aside 0.1 percent of the city's budget each year (about $11.5 million based on the current spending plan) to help prop up locally focused outlets. According to a copy of the legislation provided to Loose Lips, the bill would empower residents to decide how that funding is allocated by letting them award 'news coupons' to organizations they support."

Dylan Saba, "A Surge in Suppression: It's never been this bad: This piece was originally commissioned by an editor at The Guardian, who asked me to write about the wave of retaliation and censorship of political expression in solidarity with Palestinians that we've seen in the past two weeks. Amid my work as an attorney on some of the resulting cases, I carved out some time to write the following. Minutes before it was supposed to be published, the head of the opinion desk wrote me an email that they were unable to run the piece. When I called her for an explanation she had none, and blamed an unnamed higher-up. That a piece on censorship would get killed in this way—without explanation, but plainly in the interest of political suppression—is, beyond the irony of the matter, a grave indictment of the media response to this critical moment in history."

"Wealth Inequality Permeates US Society, No Matter How You Slice It: New data on wealth distribution in the US confirms what we already knew: within all major demographic groups, whether by age, race, or education, wealth is concentrated at the top. The US is a deeply unequal society." A reminder that all the various demographic wealth gaps are at the top, not the bottom.

A review by DDay, "Lies My Corporation Told Me: A new book lays out 150 years of corporate stooges making bogus arguments. [...] The book is called Corporate Bullsh*t, written by anti-privatization advocate Donald Cohen, journalist Joan Walsh, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer. Together, they slot the rebuttals that corporate mouthpieces, lobbyists, and their allies in government and media make to virtually every government and social program, from the abolition of slavery to the increase in the minimum wage. [...] Going all the way back to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, corporate mouthpieces have argued that any attempt to protect workers or boost their wages will destroy jobs."

RIP: "Richard Roundtree, Suave Star of Shaft Dies at 81. [...] Roundtree died at his home in Los Angeles of pancreatic cancer, his manager, Patrick McMinn, told The Hollywood Reporter. He was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1993 and had a double mastectomy. 'Breast cancer is not gender specific,' he said four years later. 'And men have this cavalier attitude about health issues. I got such positive feedback because I spoke out about it, and it's been quite a number of years now. I'm a survivor.'" The character who made him a star was also cool: "'When a friend of his — a white homosexual bartender — gives him a rather hopeful caress, Shaft is not threatened, only amused. He has no identity problems, so he can afford to be cheerful under circumstances that would send a lesser hero into the kind of personality crisis that in a movie usually ends in a gunfight, or, at the least, a barroom brawl.'" People may complain about "blaxpoitation movies", but I don't think they understand what a ground-breaker Roundtree was as Shaft. (Although, I admit, watching those opening credits cracks me right up.)

RIP: "Friends star Matthew Perry dead aged 54," drowned, apparently in a jacuzzi. He was the only reason I had to watch Friends, at least for the first season. Then someone decided to dumb him down and it was no fun for me anymore.

"The NIH's 'How to Become a Billionaire' Program: An obscure company affiliated with a former NIH employee is offered the exclusive license for a government-funded cancer drug. As the Senate holds confirmation hearings today for a new director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the agency quietly filed a proposal last month to grant an exclusive patent for a cancer drug, potentially worth hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, to an obscure company staffed by one of its former employees. Exclusive patents are typically given to companies so they can raise investment capital for the long process of bringing a drug to market. But in this case, the NIH invented and manufactured the treatment in question, and is sponsoring the clinical trials. An exclusive patent transfers all the benefit of a drug discovery from the government to an individual company. In this case, the ultimate beneficiary would be a former researcher who worked on the technology while in the government. 'I'm sure this is a fine fellow, but why give former employee a monopoly?' said James Love of Knowledge Ecology International, which tracks drug patent issues. 'He's going to have generational wealth if it succeeds. At no risk to him, because the trial is funded.'"

"Larry Summers And The Crypto Con: This morning, my colleagues Julian Scoffield and Henry Burke have a piece out in The American Prospect about Larry Summers and the ever growing but little known ties he has to an array of shady financial companies. The latest development is that Digital Currency Group (DCG), a firm that Summers advised for years, and its subsidiary Genesis Global Trading now face prosecution from the Commodities Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), and the New York Attorney General for fraud. Oh, and the Department of Justice has been investigating since earlier this year. It's getting hard to keep track!" It would be so gratifying to see Larry Summers behind bars.

"Pity the Landlord" Is the 'mom-and-pop' landlord a myth? [...] Eccles's widespread media presence is no accident. In 2019, he became one of the public faces of Responsible Rent Reform—a faux-grassroots group backed by the Rent Stabilization Association (RSA), the largest landlord organization in the state—which has set about weaponizing the stories of a dozen 'mom-and-pop' landlords to undermine rent regulations. Eccles, in other words, is not an everyman plucked by the papers by chance; for years, he has been part of a landlord lobby that has become increasingly organized in response to tenant protections passed by the New York State legislature in 2019 and to the economic precarity of the pandemic. His social justice-inflected grievances are the bleeding edge of a revanchist development in New York housing debates: landlords, especially the smaller ones, have begun repurposing the identitarian language of systemic oppression in a relentless public campaign against rent regulation and eviction protections." A lot of money and a lot of spin has gone into trying to prevent protections for tenants all over the country, but racecraft has become a standard trick.

"UK Labour party: The curious case of Britain's forgotten 2017 election: Corbyn polled just a few hundred thousand fewer votes than Blair in 1997's landslide and still has higher approval ratings than Starmer. His erasure from UK political memory is telling [...] Following Labour's disastrous defeat in the May 2021 Hartlepool byelection, shadow cabinet member Steve Reed declared that the problem remained Corbyn - who had stood down more than a year before - and that Labour hadn't 'changed enough' from the party that voters 'comprehensively rejected in 2019'. But Labour under Corbyn had won Hartlepool in both 2017 and 2019 - in 2017 with almost twice the share of the vote the party gained at the byelection in 2021."

"America needs a bigger, better bureaucracy: They're from the government, and they really are here to help. [...] I believe that the U.S. suffers from a distinct lack of state capacity. We've outsourced many of our core government functions to nonprofits and consultants, resulting in cost bloat and the waste of taxpayer money. We've farmed out environmental regulation to the courts and to private citizens, resulting in paralysis for industry and infrastructure alike. And we've left ourselves critically vulnerable to threats like pandemics and — most importantly — war. It's time for us to bring back the bureaucrats."

"Why Big Tech, Cops, and Spies Were Made for One Another: The American surveillance state is a public-private partnership. [...] From experience, I can tell you that Silicon Valley techies are pretty sanguine about commercial surveillance: 'Why should I care if Google wants to show me better ads?' But they are much less cool about government spying: 'The NSA? Those are the losers who weren't smart enough to get an interview at Google.' And likewise from experience, I can tell you that government employees and contractors are pretty cool with state surveillance: 'Why would I worry about the NSA spying on me? I already gave the Office of Personnel Management a comprehensive dossier of all possible kompromat in my past when I got my security clearance.' But they are far less cool with commercial surveillance: 'Google? Those creeps would sell their mothers for a nickel. To the Chinese.'"

"How Musk, Thiel, Zuckerberg, and Andreessen—Four Billionaire Techno-Oligarchs—Are Creating an Alternate, Autocratic Reality: Four very powerful billionaires—Peter Thiel, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Marc Andreessen—are creating a world where 'nothing is true and all is spectacle.' If we are to inquire how we got to a place of radical income inequality, post-truth reality, and the looming potential for a second American Civil War, we need look no further than these four—'the biggest wallets,' to paraphrase historian Timothy Snyder, 'paying for the most blinding lights.'"

"The Pirate Preservationists" — There's a great deal of cultural history we can only access because someone ignored the rules.

I don't actually remember Tom Baker as the villain in the Sinbad movie and I didn't recognize him from this picture.

Al Kooper and Steve Stills, "Season of the Witch"

16 October 2023

Look, yeah, but don't touch

Sy Hersh, "'Netanyahu Is Finished': The Bibi doctrine—his belief that he could control Hamas—compromised Israeli security and has now begat a bloody war [...] The most important thing I needed to understand, the Israeli insider told me, is that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu 'is finished. He is a walking dead man. He will stay in office only until the shooting stops . . . maybe another month or two.' He served as prime minister from 1996 until 1999 and again, as leader of the right-wing Likud Party, from 2009 to 2021, returning for a third stint in late 2022. 'Bibi was always opposed to the 1993 Oslo Accords,' the insider said, which initially gave the Palestinian Authority nominal control over both the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. When he returned to office in 2009, the insider said, 'Bibi chose to support Hamas' as an alternative to the Palestinian Authority, 'and gave them money and established them in Gaza.' An arrangement was made with Qatar, which began sending hundreds of millions of dollars to the Hamas leadership with Israeli approval. The insider told me that 'Bibi was convinced that he would have more control over Hamas with the Qatari money—let them occasionally fire rockets into southern Israel and have access to jobs inside Israel—than he would with the Palestinian Authority. He took that risk."

"The Violence in Palestine and Israel Is the Tragic Fruit of Brutal Oppression: The tragic scenes unfolding in Palestine and Israel are a chilling reminder of the horrors that occupation creates — and the urgency of dismantling Israel's blockades and apartheid system." For months now we have been seeing increasingly brutal attacks on Palestinians, with settler mobs burning villages and killing civilians with no intervention from anywhere, and yet the media treats a retaliatory strike from Hamas as "unprovoked".

The Times of Israel, "For years, Netanyahu propped up Hamas. Now it's blown up in our faces: The premier's policy of treating the terror group as a partner, at the expense of Abbas and Palestinian statehood, has resulted in wounds that will take Israel years to heal from. For years, the various governments led by Benjamin Netanyahu took an approach that divided power between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank — bringing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to his knees while making moves that propped up the Hamas terror group."

"Is Landmark Technology's Two-Decade Patent Assault On E-Commerce Finally Over?: Landmark Technology's U.S. Patent No. 7,010,508, and its predecessor, are very likely two of the most-abused patents in U.S. history. These patents, under two different owners, have been used to threaten thousands of small businesses since 2001." Someone finally took these patent trolls to court and after two years of litigation said no, you can't claim a patent for just doing ordinary stuff all computers routinely do.

Howie Klein on "What The Senate Appointment Tells Us About Laphonza Butler AND Presidential Wanna Be Gavin Newsom: Another mediocre corporatist appointment from Gavin Newsom shouldn't surprise anyone. Even after he came out with his cringe-worthy statement about appointing a Black woman, he certainly was never going to appoint a progressive icon like Barbara Lee. So he made up a plausible excuse about not appointing anyone running in 2024 (ie, Barbara Lee). Like with all of his appointments, he wanted someone from the corporate-friendly wing of the Democratic Party. So what do we know about Maryland resident Laphonza Butler?" We know that her "liberal" credentials aren't what they might seem to people who don't know about how EMILY's List has turned into a corrupt money-making machine that pushes conservative women over progressive candidates, and that she's one of the reasons why Uber and Lyft drivers still don't have the rights they need. And that's just how Newsome wants it. And something curious happened last month, too: "Laphonza Butler's Emily's List Spends Millions On Kamala Harris While Laying Off Grassroots Staff."

"Starbucks Illegally Kept Wages, Benefits From Union Workers: Starbucks Corp. broke federal labor law when it boosted wages and benefits only for workers in non-unionized stores across the US last year, a National Labor Relations Board judge held. Thursday's decision from Administrative Law Judge Mara-Louise Anzalone marks the first nationwide ruling against the coffee giant amid its resistance to a unionization wave that began two years ago. Starbucks violated the National Labor Relations Act in August 2022 by lifting wages to at least $15 an hour and providing benefits such as credit card tipping, increased training, and faster sick time accrual to all stores that weren't unionized, the judge said."

"The Open Plot to Dismantle the Federal Government [...] As he runs again for a second term, Trump is vowing to 'dismantle the deep state' and ensure that the government he would inherit aligns with his vision for the country. Unlike during his 2016 campaign, however, Trump and his supporters on the right—including several former high-ranking members of his administration—have developed detailed proposals for executing this plan. Immediately upon his inauguration in January 2025, they would seek to convert thousands of career employees into appointees fireable at will by the president. They would assert full White House control over agencies, including the Department of Justice, that for decades have operated as either fully or partially independent government departments." And people who claim to oppose "crony capitalism" didn't even gasp.

"The Democrats Lost September: You guys awake? [...] I'll return to the Democrats in a moment, but for my money the most revealing development of all had nothing to do with Trump, or the Democratic Party. Instead it was how Republicans reacted to the discovery that Menendez appears to be on the take from foreign interests who've plied him with cash and gold bouillon. On almost any other timeline, Republicans would've tried to make not just Menendez but every Democrat in Washington call to mind sleazy machine pols whose pockets jingle and spill over as they walk because they're stuffed with bribes. But not on this timeline. Not on the timeline where the GOP has closed ranks around a growing list of crooks, including George Santos and Clarence Thomas, with Trump at the center. The Republican Party has spent years preemptively sanctifying all of its internal corruption, dismissing all evidence as the product of frame-up jobs and media fabrication, because their fealty to Trump is not compatible with upholding the rule of law or accountability for lower-ranking members. And so with the party fully at war with the Justice Department and the old standards of ethical leadership, they can't now claim to say the feds have the goods in this instance, and that Menendez must thus relinquish public office. They've thus found themselves actively defending Menendez and discouraging Democrats from pressuring him to retire."

"Lawsuit Highlights Why Meat Has Been Overpriced for 40 Years: Agri Stats lets meat processors coordinate their pricing. The Justice Department finally decided to go after what it calls collusion.The federal lawsuit filed last week against Amazon, which was so hopelessly redacted we don't quite know what's in it yet, could ultimately have the biggest impact of any antitrust action we've seen in the Biden administration. By the same token, the currently active trials against Google for exclusionary dealing, against Sam Bankman-Fried for crypto fraud, and against Donald Trump for massively overstating the value of his real estate holdings are all interesting in their own way. But a separate case from the Department of Justice against an agricultural analyst service called Agri Stats is perhaps the most emblematic of the old patterns of corporate America, and the new aggressiveness of this wave of antitrust enforcement. Agri Stats, as described in the complaint, is essentially a work-around for explicit collusion by meat processors. The company delivers weekly reports based on proprietary data given to them by meat processors, which have so much granular detail that everyone in the industry knows precisely what everyone else is doing, including the prices they're offering. This allows for specific coordination that raises prices for everyone purchasing meat, while boosting profits for the processor middlemen."

"Retail theft isn't actually increasing much, major industry study finds: Retail theft has caught the attention of the masses in recent years, from startling smash-and-grab videos during the depths of the Covid pandemic to corporate earnings calls where retailers like Target and Foot Locker are discussing losses from organized retail crime more than they ever have. But the effect of theft on retailers' bottom lines is about the same as it has been for years, according to the latest data released Tuesday in the widely used industry survey conducted by the National Retail Federation."

"The Pentagon runs the top performing school system in the U.S." Why? They're well-funded, economically (and every other way) integrated, teachers are well-paid, and all the students are housed. It's worth remembering that the average American student scores overall went down as the middle-class shrank.

"The U.S. Government is preparing for a fentanyl WMD attack: Joe Biden didn't make a WMD designation, but federal agencies acted anyway — kicking off a panic among police."

RIP: "The Isley Brothers' Rudolph Isley Dead At 84" — Their hits made a surprisingly long percentage of the soundtrack of my life. Here they are in 1959 doing the original version of "Shout", which they wrote.

RIP: "Piper Laurie, Oscar-Nominated Carrie and The Hustler Star, Dead at 91: Laurie's seven-decade film and television career also included memorable roles in Twin Peaks and Children of a Lesser God." As a sex education advocate, I have invoked Carrie's mother often. But there was a whole lot more to this wonderful actress. And you might like the story of her encounter with Ronald Reagan. And here she is as Mom on Will & Grace.

"People think drug use causes homelessness. It's usually the other way around: For those who did use drugs in the last six months, 40% of people started using — more than 3 times a week —after becoming homeless. Thirty-one percent of those individuals reported using methamphetamine and 11% used nonprescription opioids more than three times per week. Those who spent most of their nights unsheltered in a non-vehicle (sleeping outside, in tents, in places not meant for human habitation) and individuals who were homeless for more than a year had higher proportions of methamphetamine and opioid use." The meth is for staying awake so you can guard your stuff.

"The Neoliberal Model Is Destroying Innovation in Science: Over the past few decades, scientists have been making fewer and fewer innovative breakthroughs. The blame lies with academia's increasingly competitive, metrics-driven model, which discourages creativity and risk-taking."

"Sex Ed Books Don't 'Groom' Kids And Teens. They Protect Them. [...] At an event, a librarian shared with Harris that It's Perfectly Normal kept disappearing from the shelves. She replaced it several times, but it kept happening, and it was beyond their budget to keep doing so. Then, one day, they all came back in a backpack with a note: 'I took this book because I thought no child or teenager should read it. Then my 14-year-old niece got pregnant, and now I realize that children do need books like this.'"

"What I Most Regret About My Decades of Legal Activism: By focusing on civil liberties but ignoring economic issues, liberals like me got defeated on both. [...] Given my background, the reversal of Roe last year felt like a crushing blow. But as I reflect on my career in the law, my greatest regrets lie elsewhere. The progressive advances of mid-20th-century America weren't, after all, only about civil rights and social justice. Equally important was the political-economic arrangement established during and after the World War II era. It featured a powerful regulatory state, aggressive antitrust enforcement, and strong labor unions. These policies kept corporate power in check and helped drive the fastest, most widely shared advance in living standards in American history. [...] In a 2003 antitrust case, for example, all of the liberals joined an opinion by Antonin Scalia that declared, 'The mere possession of monopoly power, and the concomitant charging of monopoly prices, is not only not unlawful; it is an important element of the free-market system.' In 2017, Breyer wrote the majority opinion in a case upholding the right of debt-collection companies to go after people for money they no longer owed. The same year, Sonia Sotomayor wrote an opinion that limited the Securities and Exchange Commission's power to force those found guilty of securities fraud to give up their stolen gains. Liberal judges have issued opinions like these while simultaneously championing progressive positions on issues such as abortion and voting rights. By delivering measurable wins to business-side conservatives, they have helped fuel an engine designed precisely to unravel the civil rights they held so dear. The more the courts favor big business, the more powerful big business becomes, and the more powerful big business becomes, the more financial support it can lend to the right-wing legal movement."

"The One Media Conspiracy Theory That's True: It's kind of impressive how long cable news has been openly corrupt. [...] There are, to be sure, segments of the American media that are riven with devastating flaws. But like most conspiracy theories, the real conspiracies aren't secrets. They're the things we already know. The 'elite media'—the NYT, the New Yorker, the Washington Post—is, in fact, a schmoozy high class backwater riddled with people who got their jobs because they were roommates with the right person at Yale. They come by their elitism honestly. They are products made by and for people whose entire lives have been defined by their ability to ascend America's cultural ladder. This is their biggest failing, and the cause of their worst blind spots, which are significant. These types of publications also navigate the demands of access journalism with varying levels of success, always in danger of becoming too cozy with the other elite power centers they are covering. At the same time, these are big institutions that employ more good reporters than any other institutions in this country and have the resources to produce a quantity of useful journalism that nowhere else does. They are flawed, they are elitist, and they are vital. All of these things are true. When they fuck up, we all yell at them, and if the yelling gets loud enough they sometimes make a change. None of this is shadowy or concealed. Have the brightest writer at your Oklahoma community newspaper try to get a job at the New Yorker. They can't! Ta-da! Elitism! It ain't hard to sniff out." But when the cable news anchors are connected political operatives or relatives of powerful politicians, that's not just your standard elitism, that's a cesspool.

Cory Doctorow reviews a book, "Brian Merchant's Blood In the Machine: In Blood In the Machine, Brian Merchant delivers the definitive history of the Luddites, and the clearest analysis of the automator's playbook, where 'entrepreneurs'' lawless extraction from workers is called 'innovation' and 'inevitable'"

"James Carville Has Never Stopped Being Wrong: Like an aged one-hit wonder, James Carville has made a career of playing his favorite tune over and over: a warmed-over centrist jeremiad against the Left that has proved to be as wrong as it is stale."

How Whittaker Chambers reviewed Atlas Shrugged: "Out of a lifetime of reading, I can recall no other book in which a tone of overriding arrogance was so implacably sustained. Its shrillness is without reprieve. Its dogmatism is without appeal."

"Alan Lomax's Massive Music Archive Is Online: Features 17,000 Historic Blues & Folk Recordings: A huge treasure trove of songs and interviews recorded by the legendary folklorist Alan Lomax from the 1940s into the 1990s have been digitized and made available online for free listening. The Association for Cultural Equity, a nonprofit organization founded by Lomax in the 1980s, has posted some 17,000 recordings.

I clicked on this link somewhere and didn't hate it. The Killers, Hot Fuss

The Isley Brothers, "Who's That Lady?"