Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for August 8th, 2021

“Cry Me a River” by Dakota Staton

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My understanding of “Cry Me a River” is due to Julie London, a contemplative, quiet, 2:00am sort of song, but this by Dakota Staton is electrifying and much more substantial:

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2021 at 11:08 pm

Posted in Jazz

Nancy Pelosi’s Surprise Flip on Student Debt Cancellation Came After Urging From Billionaire Power Couple

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Ken Klippenstein and Ryan Grim report in The Intercept:

THE DRIVE TO PERSUADE President Joe Biden to cancel student debt took a major hit last week when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stunned Congress with a surprise statement in opposition. The move may put her at odds with much of the public and the Democratic Party, but it aligns her with Democratic megadonors Steven and Mary Swig, the billionaire scions of the Bay Area’s oldest real estate dynasty who have deep ties to the California representative. Steven Swig has also long served as a treasurer for Pelosi in her fundraising efforts.

In November, after Biden’s election, and amid increased pressure to cancel student debt, the Swigs quietly circulated a memo among key Capitol Hill figures, making the dubious case that debt cancellation at the executive level is illegal. The argument in the memo gets much of its weight by virtue of the wealthy couple who produced it, as the Swigs are not just major funders of progressive nonprofits, but also have significantly bankrolled Pelosi and her House Democratic caucus.

The memo, obtained by The Intercept, was distributed to members of Congress by Freedom to Prosper, an organization founded by and for the Swigs. The couple has in the past directly lobbied Pelosi, according to two sources with knowledge of the meetings, in which the Swigs would suggest rhetoric or policy proposals that Pelosi would agree to adopt in some form. The source, like several others interviewed by The Intercept for this story, would only speak on condition of anonymity, citing the Swigs’ financial sway in progressive circles. (They have also contributed millions of dollars to the Democratic Party over the years.)

The couple have for many years given the maximum amount permitted in campaign contributions to Pelosi, who represents California’s 12th District which encompasses San Francisco, and Steven Swig has served as treasurer for Pelosi’s reelection campaigns since 2012. The Swigs also enjoy extended family ties to the Pelosis. Their niece worked for Pelosi from 2018 until March of this year, serving as a staff assistant, legislative correspondent, and policy associate. (The Swigs, according to a report in Mother Jones, even own mugs with a photograph of Pelosi on them, which they said they had gotten from a nephew who worked for her.)

The memo, which was designated for “INTERESTED PARTIES” and wasn’t disseminated to the general public, asserts that student debt cancellation via executive order is unlawful. “No, the President Cannot Cancel Student Loan Debt with a Pen Stroke,” a boldface title reads. The memo continues: “Recently, there has been heightened fervor around Senators Warren and Schumer’s proposal that President-elect Joe Biden could cancel student debt ‘with the pen as opposed to legislation.’ Unfortunately, that cannot happen. Attorneys on Capitol Hill say that the Executive Branch does not have congressional authority to cancel student debt.”

Despite the memo’s certainty, it’s far from clear that such an executive order is unlawful, experts say. When asked about the debate over the executive order, Marshall Steinbaum, a senior fellow of higher education finance at the Jain Family Institute and economics professor at the University of Utah, said via email, “The executive absolutely has the power to cancel student debt and there’s no excuse for not exercising it. A generation or more of students and workers have had their lives ruined by the failed experiment shifting the cost of higher ed onto individuals while corralling more and more students into the system. The failure is in the false assumption that a college degree or a masters would automatically cause earnings to increase more than sufficiently to pay off the debt. That hasn’t happened, and now it’s the victims of the policy failure who are carrying the burden while every year the government and higher ed institutions originate $100 billion more in student loans that everyone knows won’t be repaid.”

A student debt cancellation advocate who works closely with Congress added that their concession amounts to a cop-out given the near impossibility of a bill passing in the evenly split Senate. Why not, the advocate asked, just try an executive order and see what happens?

The idea of simply passing the executive order and letting the Supreme Court decide is hardly an abstraction; Biden did just that with his recent executive order imposing a moratorium on evictions. And the current pause in student debt collection at the federal level suggests that the executive has significant authority. Biden issued the eviction moratorium order following pressure from progressive members of Congress, led by Rep. Cori Bush, who chose not to return home on vacation and instead took to protesting outside the Capitol in hopes of addressing the looming eviction crisis.

Though Pelosi says she supports student debt cancellation via congressional legislation — a position shared by the Swigs — her statement last week represents a departure from her previous silence on the issue. “The president can’t do it — so that’s not even a discussion,” Pelosi said during a news conference, referring to a presidential executive order to cancel student debt. She continued: “Suppose … your child just decided they, at this time, [do] not want to go to college, but you’re paying taxes to forgive somebody else’s obligations. You may not be happy about that.”

Pelosi’s statement came as a shock to many in Congress, with some wondering if perhaps she had misspoken, as one staffer told The Intercept. But student debt relief advocates are more cynical. “The only reason she was for it [legislatively] was because Steve and Mary asked her to,” said one prominent member of the student debt cancellation activist community with direct knowledge of discussions between Pelosi and the Swigs on the subject. (A second source confirmed the discussions.)

Drew Hammill, deputy chief of staff for Pelosi, said in an email, “The Swigs have been family friends for decades” — but denied that the Swigs directed her position on student debt cancellation. “The statement the Speaker made was in response to a question from a reporter, not a proactive announcement.” He also stressed that . . .

Continue reading. There’s more — and it stinks.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2021 at 5:24 pm

Republicans treated Covid like a bioweapon. Then it turned against them.

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Rebecca Solnit writes in the Guardian:

Some of the most powerful conservatives in the United States have, since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, chosen to sow disinformation along with mockery and distrust of proven methods of combating the disease, from masks to vaccines to social distancing. Their actions have afflicted the nation as a whole with more disease and death and economic crisis than good leadership aligned with science might have, and, in spite of hundreds of thousands of well-documented deaths and a new surge, they continue. Their malice has become so normal that its real nature is rarely addressed. Call it biological warfare by propaganda.

Call Jared Kushner the spiritual heir of the army besieging the city of Caffa on the Black Sea in 1346, which, according to a contemporaneous account, catapulted plague-infected corpses over the city walls. This is sometimes said to be how the Black Death came to Europe, where it would kill tens of millions of people – a third of the European population – over the next 15 years. A Business Insider article from a year ago noted: “Kushner’s coronavirus team shied away from a national strategy, believing that the virus was hitting Democratic states hardest and that they could blame governors.” An administration more committed to saving lives than scoring points could have contained the pandemic rather than made the US the worst-hit nation in the world. Illnesses and casualties could have been far lower, and we could have been better protected against the Delta variant.

At the outset of the pandemic, as Seattle and New York City became hard hit, Republicans apparently imagined that the pandemic would strike Democratic states and cities first, and certainly in 2020 Black, Latinx and indigenous people were disproportionately affected. To put it clearly, Republicans enabled a campaign of mass death and disablement, thinking it would be primarily mean death and illness for those they regarded as opponents.

Nevertheless, Democratic governors, Native nations and people with moderate-to-leftwing views have done a better job of protecting against this scourge. The worst-hit areas in the country are now Republican-led states and regions. At one point recently, Florida under raging science denier Governor Ron DeSantis, with about 7.5% of the US population, accounted for 20% of all new Covid cases. The governors of Florida and Texas have banned mask mandates, making attempts to protect public health, including that of children, acts of defiance by cities and school districts. DeSantis’s supporters are peddling “Don’t Fauci My Florida” T-shirts and drink coolers with the text “How the hell am I going to drink a beer with a mask on?” On 27 July, as Delta infections proliferated, House minority leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted, “Make no mistake – The threat of bringing masks back is not a decision based on science, but a decision conjured up by liberal government officials who want to continue to live in a perpetual pandemic state.”

Call Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham the spiritual heirs of Lord Jeffery Amherst, the British military commander who in 1763 wrote to an underling, “Could it not be contrived to send the Small Pox among those disaffected tribes of Indians?” As the New York Times put it with characteristic mildness, “Mr Carlson, Ms Ingraham and guests on their programs have said on the air that the vaccines could be dangerous; that people are justified in refusing them; and that public authorities have overstepped in their attempts to deliver them.” Newsweek was more blunt, quoting Ingraham herself saying that the vaccine was an attempt to push an “experimental drug on Americans against their will – threatening them, threatening to deprive them of basic liberties, if they don’t comply.” The goal was to rile up the audience – and prevent them from getting vaccinated, while the evidence was clear that the vaccines prevent both disease in the vaccinated and the spread of disease. Vaccines are, incidentally, how smallpox was eliminated worldwide.

There is of course another angle to the conservative response to the pandemic. In far-right ideology, freedom – for white men especially – is an absolute goal. Even recognizing the systems in which we are all enmeshed might burden the free person with obligations to others and to the whole. Science itself is a series of descriptions of our enmeshedness: of how pesticides travel beyond the crops they’re sprayed on, of the way that fossil fuel emissions contribute to health problems and climate change, of how the spread of disease can be prevented by collective action. Rightwing ideology, after all, has emphasised the right to own and carry a gun over the right to be free of being menaced or murdered by guns, as thousands are in the US every year.

But just as the right to brandish guns is defended in the face of those gun deaths, so the right to contract and spread a sometimes lethal and often debilitating disease is defended as the antithesis of the responsibility not to do so. It’s safe to assume that the Republican leadership knows better, and that some of their followers do and some don’t. Some have chosen to engage in biological warfare; some are merely tools being used in that warfare. That is, some of them are unwitting corpses being catapulted over the walls, unconscious smallpox blankets; some of them are Amherst in spirit. Those using fake vaccine cards – as college students, and two recent travelers from the US to Canada have – are definitely Amhersts.

Covid-19 is far from the first time people have decided to profit from promoting the death of others: the fossil fuel industry plunging ahead while fully aware that climate catastrophe was the consequence of its product is the most extreme example. Manufacturers of guns and prescription opiates [and cigarettes – LG] have done so as well. But it might be the first time that a new threat has been so dramatically increased not by direct profiteers but by those selling ideology and sowing division. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2021 at 9:33 am

‘People think you’re an idiot’: death metal Irish baron rewilds his estate

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Rory Carroll has an interesting report in the Guardian:

Lord Randal Plunkett strides through the hip-high grass of Dunsany, a 650-hectare (1,600-acre) estate in the middle of Ireland, trailed by an invisible swarm of midges and his four jack russell terriers: Tiny, Lumpy, Chow and Beavis & Butt-Head.

The cattle and sheep are long gone, so too are the lawns and many of the crops. In their place is a riot of shrubs, flowers and trees, along with insects and creatures that call this fledgling wilderness their home.

It is probably Ireland’s most ambitious attempt at rewilding on private land, an attempt to recreate a vanished landscape in a swath of County Meath, 20 miles north-west of Dublin.

According to the UN, the world needs to rewild and restore an area the size of China to meet commitments on nature and the climate – but not everyone applauds Ireland’s pioneering effort. “You’d be surprised when you live in a castle how many times people think you’re an idiot,” says Plunkett, the 21st baron of Dunsany.

The 38-year-old, who was once a steak-eating bodybuilding death metal fan with no interest in land, is now vegan and on an environmental mission.

He still loves death metal, and sports a ponytail and (fake) leather jacket, but he decided seven years ago to turn over 300 hectares of his estate to nature – no livestock, planting, sowing or weeding.

Some people considered it disgraceful neglect of an estate associated with agricultural innovation, he said. “They just thought I was a complete waster. Decadent, a fool. One farmer said I should be ashamed of myself for destroying the farm.”

Plunkett says vindication has come in multiple forms. Before, the estate had just three types of grass, now it has 23. “I didn’t do it, the birds did.” Trees regenerated and multiplied – oak, ash, beech, Scots pine and black poplar. “I see a lot of saplings growing that I haven’t planted.”

Lush, diverse vegetation attracted butterflies and other insects – “it’s like a buffet for them” – which drew more birds, including rarely seen woodpeckers, barn owls, red kites and sparrowhawks.

“I heard the call of a corncrake. I had to Google it to know what it was.” There have also been sightings of snipe and stoats and an unconfirmed report of red squirrels.

Botanists from Trinity College Dublin have started visiting to study the transformation. Last year Dunsany became the first Irish member of the European Rewilding Network, an advocacy group for wildernesses across Europe. In one striking success, wildcats have returned to Dutch forests after centuries of absence.

Ireland has a poor environmental record, despite its green image. In the 1980s it had more than 500 rivers and lakes with pristine water, now there are just 20, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. About 250,000 hectares of wetlands have been lost in the past two decades. Pollution from farming is widely blamed.

The state has an ambitious tree-planting scheme but critics say too many of the new forests are sitka spruce, which carpet soil with acidic needles and smother wildlife.

“We’re a fantastic country for remembering our history and culture but absolutely terrible at looking after our environment,” says Plunkett.

The Plunketts are one of Ireland’s most storied families. Installed at Dunsany since 1402, their fortunes rose and fell over the centuries.

Oliver Plunkett, a Catholic archbishop, was executed in England in 1681 on suspicion of a “popish plot”; he was canonised in 1975. Horace Plunkett championed rural development and farming innovations in the early 20th century. Other Plunketts were leading figures in politics and the arts.

Randal became the 21st baron after his father, Edward, died in 2011. Educated in the US, England and the Netherlands, he wanted to make films, not manage a farm and high-maintenance castle. “I’ve never been a country bumpkin. I saw it as a burden, a life of servitude.”

Uneasy about the climate crisis, at first Plunkett tried converting the estate to organic farming. When concern about the planet turned to alarm, he became vegan and decided to let a chunk of the estate revert to nature.

He also resolved to block poachers and horse-mounted hunters: “I decided to go to war.”

Plunkett patrolled the estate’s forests and meadows, confronted interlopers, filmed them, summoned police and threatened legal action. “I’ve been threatened to my face and on social media with being beaten up, having my tyres slashed, you name it.”

He is bracing for the resumption of hunting season: “Come September, all hell breaks loose.”

Plunkett runs Dunsany on income from the remaining farm land, which is mostly tillage, and from film-making.

His first full-length indie feature, The Green Sea, which he wrote and directed, was released last month. A dark mystery filmed at Dunsany, it tells . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 August 2021 at 9:24 am

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