…I dare say we all have things we’re at least a little deluded about…but some denials of reality are…more harmful than others
In 1974, Washington collectively shook its head and suppressed laughter when Republican Rep. Earl Landgrebe of Valparaiso, Ind., a die-hard champion of President Richard M. Nixon, said this the day before Nixon resigned:
“Don’t confuse me with the facts. I’ve got a closed mind. I will not vote for impeachment. I’m going to stick with my president even if he and I have to be taken out of this building and shot.”
Many of us who lived through the Watergate era thought we would never again see the likes of Earl Landgrebe. We had not accounted for the current crop of House Republicans.
Only a party infused with Landgrebe’s recalcitrance could have voted against officially certifying the results of the 2020 presidential election. But it happened when 139 House Republicans stood with Trump over the electoral college — and against more than 81 million Americans who voted for Joe Biden.
And when the House voted to establish a select committee to investigate the Jan. 6 attack at the U.S. Capitol, every Republican present but two voted to sweep the insurrection under the rug.
Lest there’s any doubt that Landgrebe’s “closed mind” approach to evidence has hold of the Republican caucus, look no further back than a week ago, when the House voted to hold Stephen K. Bannon, former chief White House strategist and Trump confidant, in contempt for defying a congressional subpoena.
The case was open and shut. Bannon, a private citizen during the period in question, refused to comply with the House select committee investigation, though he didn’t have a legal leg on which to stand. His refusal was clearly a thumbed nose at Congress. Yet that was not enough to overcome the mutinous mind-set gripping the former president’s party. Only nine House Republicans had enough respect for their own institution to vote yes.https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2021/10/29/republicans-insurrection-dont-confuse-them-with-facts/
…but…here we are…again
after a dramatic Thursday of bold promises and dashed hopes, the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, was forced to postpone a vote on a $1tn infrastructure bill for a second time in a month, as progressives demanded more assurances that a compromise $1.75tn social policy plan would also pass.
It was a setback – though perhaps only a temporary one – for Democratic leaders, who had hoped to hand the president a legislative victory that he could tout during his six-day trip to Europe for a pair of international economic and climate summits.
Biden’s proposal includes substantial investments in childcare, education and health care as well as major initiatives to address climate change that, if enacted, would be the largest action ever taken by the US Congress. Revenue would come from tax hikes on corporations and the wealthy.
But in concessions to centrists like the West Virginia senator Joe Manchin and Arizona senator Kyrsten Sinema, paid family leave, free college tuition and efforts to lower prescription drug prices were stripped from the latest iteration of the plan. Progressives were left disappointed by the cuts but their desire to pass the legislation ultimately held little leverage to force major changes.https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/oct/29/joe-biden-domestic-agenda-democrats-infrastructure-bill
…so…that record’s still stuck
It’s astoundingly cruel. And it’s entirely unnecessary – all of America’s economic peers have a paid family leave policy, and most of them have policies that are far more generous and far more sensible than even the plan Democrats were debating. This is not a mysterious or unsolved problem; every other wealthy and developed country on Earth has largely solved it. We are an outlier because we are simply choosing to make life unnecessarily brutal for families, and for women in particular.
And this week, it’s Joe Manchin in particular who is choosing, single-handedly, to continue making life unnecessarily brutal for families, and for women in particular. He’s not the only bad actor, but right now, he’s the most powerful one.
And he’s using his political power not to advocate for what his constituents want and need, but simply to demonstrate that he has it – to show that he is more influential than the American president, that American social and economic policy lies in his hands.
It’s a pathetic, petty little narcissistic display. And it’s American families, and particularly American mothers, who suffer so that Joe Manchin can feel like a big man.https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/29/joe-manchin-denied-us-families-paid-parental-leave
Barring a last-minute reversal on Capitol Hill, the United States will continue to be an outlier among wealthy, Western nations with such a scant government role in determining the prices consumers pay for the medicines they need and, as a result, drug costs far out of line with those in other countries. Among the most expensive medications are treatments for life-threatening conditions such as hepatitis C or cancers, a Rand Corp. report found this year, with some patients saying they must choose between paying for medicine and other necessities.
“It’s a remarkable example of how there can be a perfectly common-sense piece of legislation — that the government should get its money worth for what it buys, as it does for any other procurement — that has been managed to get … demonized by virtue of this massive public relations effort the industry has done so masterfully,” said Jerry Avorn, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who specializes in drug epidemiology.
“The pharmaceutical industry is employing nearly 1,500 lobbyists in D.C. alone,” a visibly frustrated Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) told supporters Tuesday night, shortly before the White House conceded it didn’t have the votes and dropped drug negotiation from its framework. “You got that? Nearly 1,500 lobbyists in Washington, including the former congressional leaders of both political parties. That is almost three pharmaceutical industry lobbyists for every member of Congress.”
“It has not been Congress that has been regulating the pharmaceutical industry,” Sanders argued. “It has been the pharmaceutical industry that has been regulating Congress.”https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2021/10/29/biden-medicare-drug-negotiation/
…not that it’s the only one
Talks between the EU and the UK on the dispute over the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol have ended the week without a breakthrough.
Both sides have indicated that serious gaps remain on thinking. The EU said it believed the UK was not taking its proposals, which it described as “unprecedented and far-reaching”, seriously enough.
The European Commission said in a statement that the proposals “address the concerns raised by the people and businesses of Northern Ireland” and that after assessing progress in the talks, its vice-president, Maroš Šefčovič, had “called on the UK government to engage constructively with these proposals”.https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/oct/29/brexit-northern-ireland-protocol-talks-stuck-in-deadlock
The row has further damaged already strained relations, but officials on both sides will enter a third week of negotiations over the narrow issue of the Northern Ireland protocol next week. Frost and Šefčovič are scheduled to meet again next Friday.
The seven major global oil producers — BP, Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil, Total Energies and ENI — are expected to collectively generate $1.1 trillion in sales and $133 billion in pretax profit this year, Mould said. But many investors consider it a “sunset industry” as the need for a faster transition to clean energy becomes more and more apparent. Others “don’t care what the company does so long as it makes money.”
The lack of urgency for a clean energy transition came up repeatedly Thursday as top executives from Shell, ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron appeared before Congress for the first time to testify about the industry’s role in misleading the public about climate change. Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) turned to jars of M & Ms to illustrate the difference in Shell’s commitment to renewable energy and fossil fuels.
“Does this look like a huge undertaking to you?” Porter asked Shell Oil president Gretchen Watkins, pointing to a nearly empty jar of M & Ms that she said symbolized Shell’s plan to spend $2 billion to $3 billion on renewable energy this year.
Porter then gestured a full jar of M & Ms that she said represented Shell’s plan to spend $19 billion to $22 billion in the near term on new fossil fuel exploration, as detailed in its 2020 annual report.https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/2021/10/29/third-point-shell-big-oil/
Three University of Florida professors have been barred from assisting plaintiffs in a lawsuit to overturn the state’s new law restricting voting rights, lawyers said in a federal court filing on Friday. The ban is an extraordinary limit on speech that raises questions of academic freedom and First Amendment rights.
University officials told the three that because the school was a state institution, participating in a lawsuit against the state “is adverse to U.F.’s interests” and could not be permitted. In their filing, the lawyers sought to question Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, on whether he was involved in the decision.
The university’s refusal to allow the professors to testify was a marked turnabout for the University of Florida. Like schools nationwide, the university has routinely allowed academic experts to offer expert testimony in lawsuits, even when they oppose the interests of the political party in power.
Leading experts on academic freedom said they knew of no similar restrictions on professors’ speech and testimony and said the action was probably unconstitutional.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/29/us/florida-professors-voting-rights-lawsuit.html
In the trailer for Carlson’s series, Patriot Purge, a pundit says: “False flags have happened in this country, one of which may have been 6 January.”
Among conspiracy theorists, “false flag” events are said to be staged by the government to pursue nefarious ends. Some claim the 9/11 terrorist attacks were false flags. The InfoWars host Alex Jones, a Trump ally and supporter, has landed in legal and financial jeopardy after claiming the Sandy Hook school shooting of 2012, in which 20 young children and six adults were killed, was a false flag attack.
Carlson has called the 6 January riot “a political protest that got out of hand”. He has also claimed it was organised by the FBI.Tucker Carlson condemned over ‘false flag’ claim about deadly Capitol attack [Guardian]
In another tweet, Cheney asked Carlson: “Are you still falsely contending the voting machines were corrupted and the election was stolen?” She included the Twitter handles of Rupert Murdoch, Fox News’s chief executive, Suzanne Scott, its president and executive editor, Jay Wallace, and the former House speaker Paul Ryan, now a member of the Fox board. None commented.
The trailer also splices footage of Trump speaking with a shot of Osama bin Laden, while scenes outside the Capitol on 6 January are scored to the Battle Hymn of the Republic. The trailer culminates with the refrain of that civil war song: “The truth is marching on.”
…so…not that you likely need the reminder
…but then…when the truth is bad for your brand…what are you gonna do?
Experts have questioned Zuckerberg’s heavy involvement in Meta’s launch, suggesting it could immediately saddle the brand with baggage associated with his primary venture.
The rebrand is part of a broadening of the firm’s portfolio beyond social networking, particularly as it pushes on with plans to develop the “metaverse”, an online universe where people can meet, play and work virtually, often using VR headsets.
Allyson Stewart-Allen, the CEO of International Marketing Partners, a business consulting firm, and the author of Working with Americans: How to Build Profitable Business Relationships, said: “It’s almost like they are flying blind. In some ways this almost reinforces what Frances Haugen has been saying: that the company doesn’t listen, it’s out of touch and it does what it wants to do when it wants to do it regardless of what’s going on in the wider environment.
“That isn’t listening. And this [rebrand] is a sign of it not listening. It almost smells of desperation. Sort of ‘let’s change the public conversation. I know, let’s hit the button on the rebrand, that’ll solve it’. Well, actually, no, it doesn’t, and it won’t.”https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/oct/29/mark-zuckerbergs-role-in-facebook-rebrand-may-backfire-experts-say
In one sequence, Zuckerberg arrives on a spaceship – “This place is amazing! It was made by a creator I met in LA!” – before opening up his contacts list, scrolling past 2007’s hottest rapper T-Pain and arriving at a friend who dials in some “3D-street art” from the streets of New York to the spaceship platform. “This is stunning! I love the movement,” say Zuckerberg’s virtual cronies, as they stare at something that looks like a piece of clip art someone might have used on a letterhead for a small-town law firm. Then just as it’s disappearing from view, Zuckerberg purchases it, apparently as an NFT, so it can stay in virtual space forever.
Zuckerberg’s virtual world of play pretend is a way of escaping the destruction he’s wrought on the real one. Facebook has played a major role in fomenting ethnic cleansing in Myanmar, drumming up lynch mobs in India and Sri Lanka, amplifying white nationalism in the US and providing the anti-vaccine movement with a massive megaphone during a global pandemic. Rather than address this ruination, Zuckerberg wants us to all turn our attention to a land of make-believe where he’s friends with rappers and you can watch Instagram stories on a pirate ship.
He joins a cadre of 21st-century robber barons who, having successfully colonized huge swaths of Earth 1.0, are looking to escape to other spheres of reality.https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2021/oct/29/metaverse-zuckerberg-mars-billionaires-escape-world
Zuckerberg has now gone one step further, creating a reality so virtual that Facebook hasn’t yet destroyed it. But his vision of avatar poker games is also fantasy. From Habbo Hotel to SecondLife, Sansar and High Fidelity, there are hundreds of similar VR social offerings which you probably haven’t heard of because all that really happens there is people stand in badly rendered condos saying “is your thing working, mine is lagging”. These kinds of social worlds remain a niche concern (in part because few social interactions are improved by a soupcon of headset nausea).
What Facebook released on Thursday was a Pixar-like dream sequence of how Zuckerberg wishes people saw him. He has leveraged one of the biggest technology operations ever imagined to create an entirely new universe in which he is not a bad guy. For the rest of us living on Earth, nothing has changed.
…you know…I’m all for him getting dragged
…but…there are other options?
…mind you…I’ll probably still be over here bitching about why “artificial intelligence” isn’t the term we should be employing to talk about shit like the facebook algorithm…at least until we go full-bore on the sci fi dystopia thing
“The AI community has not yet adjusted to the fact that we are now starting to have a really big impact in the real world,” [Prof Stuart Russell, the founder of the Center for Human-Compatible Artificial Intelligence at the University of California, Berkeley] told the Guardian. “That simply wasn’t the case for most of the history of the field – we were just in the lab, developing things, trying to get stuff to work, mostly failing to get stuff to work. So the question of real-world impact was just not germane at all. And we have to grow up very quickly to catch up.”
Russell – who in 1995 co-authored the seminal book Artificial Intelligence: A Modern Approach, and who will be giving this year’s BBC Reith lectures entitled “Living with Artificial Intelligence”, which begin on Monday – says urgent work is needed to make sure humans remain in control as superintelligent AI is developed.
“AI has been designed with one particular methodology and sort of general approach. And we’re not careful enough to use that kind of system in complicated real-world settings,” he said.
One concern is that a machine would not need to be more intelligent that humans in all things to pose a serious risk. “It’s something that’s unfolding now,” he said. “If you look at social media and the algorithms that choose what people read and watch, they have a huge amount of control over our cognitive input.”
The upshot, he said, is that the algorithms manipulate the user, brainwashing them so that their behaviour becomes more predictable when it comes to what they chose to engage with, boosting click-based revenue.
“It reminds me a little bit of what happened in physics where the physicists knew that atomic energy existed, they could measure the masses of different atoms, and they could figure out how much energy could be released if you could do the conversion between different types of atoms,” he said, noting that the experts always stressed the idea was theoretical. “And then it happened and they weren’t ready for it.”
Russell called for measures including a code of conduct for researchers, legislation and treaties to ensure the safety of AI systems in use, and training of researchers to ensure AI is not susceptible to problems such as racial bias. He said EU legislation that would ban impersonation of humans by machines should be adopted around the world.
Russell said he hoped the Reith lectures would emphasise that there is a choice about what the future holds. “It’s really important for the public to be involved in those choices, because it’s the public who will benefit or not,” he said.https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2021/oct/29/yeah-were-spooked-ai-starting-to-have-big-real-world-impact-says-expert
…which is not to say I think the solution is to up the availability of genuine stupidity
This month, the former president found a way. He agreed to merge his social media venture with what’s known as a special purpose acquisition company, or SPAC. The result is that Mr. Trump — largely shut out of the mainstream financial industry because of his history of bankruptcies and loan defaults — secured nearly $300 million in funding for his new business.
To get his deal done, Mr. Trump ventured into an unregulated and sometimes shadowy corner of Wall Street, working with an unlikely cast of characters: the former “Apprentice” contestants, a small Chinese investment firm and a little-known Miami banker named Patrick Orlando.
Mr. Orlando had been discussing a deal with Mr. Trump since at least March, according to people familiar with the talks and a confidential investor presentation reviewed by The New York Times. That was well before his SPAC, Digital World Acquisition, made its debut on the Nasdaq stock exchange last month. In doing so, Mr. Orlando’s SPAC may have skirted securities laws and stock exchange rules, lawyers said.
Another issue is that Digital World’s securities filings repeatedly stated that the company and its executives had not engaged in any “substantive discussions, directly or indirectly,” with a target company — even though Mr. Orlando had been in discussions with Mr. Trump.
Given the politically fraught nature of a deal with Mr. Trump, securities lawyers said that Digital World’s lack of disclosure about those conversations could be considered an omission of “material information.”
Securities lawyers said that any conversations between Mr. Orlando’s and Mr. Trump’s teams anytime before the I.P.O. in September might constitute an indirect discussion of a potential deal and so would have needed to be disclosed.
“The prospectus broadly denies that any talks have taken place,” said Usha Rodrigues, a professor at the University of Georgia Law School and one of the leading academic experts on SPACs. “If they were in fact engaged in discussions at the time of the prospectus, that raises questions regarding a potential securities violation.”
On Aug. 3, Mr. Orlando wrote to the S.E.C. asking for clearance to accelerate Digital World’s I.P.O. for that month, only to withdraw the request two days later. When the SPAC eventually went public on Sept. 8, raising $293 million, Digital World said it had still not identified a merger target.
Less than three weeks later, on Sept. 27, Mr. Orlando went to Mar-a-Lago, Mr. Trump’s private club in Florida, to sign a “letter of intent” — an initial formal step toward a merger of Digital World and Trump Media, according to a person with knowledge of the event. For a new SPAC, it was an extraordinarily swift turnaround; most SPACs take at least a year to find and merge with a target.
After the deal was announced last week, Digital World’s shares rocketed higher. This week, they plummeted. At least two of the anchor investors, D.E. Shaw and Saba Capital, sold much of their stock after the Trump deal came to light. Another prominent investor, Iceberg Research, announced that it was betting against the stock.
Even so, Digital World’s shares remain about seven times higher than before the Trump deal. On paper, at least, the company is worth more than $2 billion.https://www.nytimes.com/2021/10/29/business/trump-spac-digital-world.html
…& then there’s next week
The Supreme Court is about to have a week for the ages. On Monday the justices will hear arguments about whether to allow a Justice Department suit to proceed against Texas’ near ban on abortion after six weeks of pregnancy. Two days later, they will consider a challenge to a New York restriction on who can carry a gun outside the home. These are blockbuster cases in which the court’s newly dominant conservative majority has the power to overturn precedent and alter the course of many Americans’ lives. The court is still readjusting after the most striking and consequential ideological shift in the 30 years since Justice Clarence Thomas, on the court’s far right, replaced Justice Thurgood Marshall, on its far left. This time, too, the departed member is a liberal (Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died just over a year ago), and the question is how far and fast the woman who moved into her chambers, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, will take the court in the opposite direction.
The justices share an incentive to promote a vaunted status for the institution to which they devote their careers. But it’s harder for any of them to argue credibly that the court is above politics when a majority of justices who were all appointed by presidents of one party change the law in ways that fulfill the most cherished hopes of that party’s base.
One indication that Justice Barrett is being tactical rather than coming around to a genuinely Roberts-like approach is that she has been far bolder when she can work through what’s become known as the shadow docket. This is the court’s fast-track route for issuing orders without oral argument or fully reasoned and signed opinions.
In her book, Ms. Greenhouse compares Justice Barrett (a Catholic mother of seven) with Phyllis Schlafly (a Catholic mother of six), who put her intellect and organizing skills into attacking abortion and gay rights and defeating the Equal Rights Amendment. Both figures have drawn power from being the rare woman with the power to realize the conservative movement’s goals.
But Mrs. Schlafly is a tricky model. She moved hard and fast toward her goals, defeating the Equal Rights Amendment but also painting herself into an extremist corner. In the end, her feminist opponents won more cultural power and many of the legal gains they wanted, too. Justice Barrett has gone hard and fast on the shadow docket but not yet in public; if Mrs. Schlafly holds a lesson for Justice Barrett, it may be that being an absolutist can wind up helping your opponents.Amy Coney Barrett Will Move the Supreme Court to the Right. How Fast Is She Willing to Go? [NYT]
…so…although I might be late adding to the congrats & thank yous on the whole “wait – we’ve been doing this for two years?” thing…at least we can take refuge in the fact that it’s the weekend for now…& the brain drain will be along shortly…as will pictures of cute animals…& as soon as I ingest enough coffee to allow for such important decisions there’ll even be a few tunes between here & the comments