Later On

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

Archive for July 20th, 2022

The Pete Buttigieg Fake Governing Problem

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Matt Stoller writes in BIG:

The United States of Cheating

Late last month, the Wall Street Journal reported a story on how Ernst and Young was penalized for helping some of its auditors cheat on a required ethics exam. Auditing is the policing of accounting, which is the very language and guts of American business. As accounting sleuth Francine McKenna wrote, it is “incredibly depressing to see the depth and breadth of the corruption at the global audit firms over and over again.” I’d go further – that there is systemic manipulation of auditing standards is a very bad sign for the ability to make things we need. It also points to what I think is the basic problem in American society, which is that most of our elite institutions are increasingly dedicated to cheating people.

The reality is that our industrial systems are breaking down because our government isn’t constraining the powerful people who run them according to short-term profit maximizing goals. That’s why the airlines, for instance, are a mess. Despite consumer complaints about the industry being up 300% since 2019, and $5-15B of tickets that went un-refunded during Covid, the airlines are unchastened. And the reason is that Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg has created an environment ripe for cheating by having his agency issue a record low number of aviation enforcement orders.

The DOT’s most significant action over airlines refusing to refund tickets on canceled flights – which they are legally obligated to do – was a $2 million fine in 2021 against Air Canada, which the Department issued because the airline openly said it wouldn’t adhere to the law. After announcing a $25 million amount and getting lots of headlines for being ‘tough,’ the DOT then negotiated it down to $2 million of cash owed, and just half of that immediately (the rest after a year). The amount was so low Air Canada didn’t have to report the fine to investors. Yet Buttigieg is out there on TV bragging about his record fines against airlines. He also said, sternly, they concluded ten separate investigations on refunds, while neglecting to mention there were no results from those investigations.

Airlines are so confident in their control of the political sector that they even canceled flights that Buttigieg himself was scheduled to take, a veritable wedgie given to the substitute teacher. What this means for the industry is that airline executives understand they can structure a market around cheating, and nothing will happen to them.

So that’s fake governing. Yet there is real governing going on, if you know where to look. To understand what it would mean to govern, I want to highlight a few recent examples that veer towards addressing the culture of cheating.

How to Actually Govern

The airlines cheated people during the initial stages of the pandemic, but so did banks. Bank of America, for instance, froze people’s accounts who were getting unemployment help. But unlike with airlines, there is a real regulator on consumer protection for banks – the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Director Rohit Chopra. And the CFPB forced Bank of America to refund customers, and on top of that fined the bank $100 million for “botching the disbursement of unemployment insurance.” Another bank regulator followed the CFPB and issued a separate $125 million fine. The difference between Chopra and Buttigieg is stark.

Another example is Chopra forcing banks to cover fraudulent payments on real-time money transfer services like Zelle, and the financial services industry is squealing in protest that Chopra is seeking to destroy the economy. But they shouldn’t be whining about this choice. One reason consumers are comfortable using credit cards is because there are anti-fraud rules with such cards, and if there’s a problem the bank has to deal with it. This regulatory choice – made in the 1970s – fostered an industry in which banks ensured that there were anti-fraud and security measures in place. Now credit cards are a profit center for banks. Solid regulatory choices foster quality trusted commercial systems, but that starts with clear rules that everyone – including the powerful – must adhere to. That’s how you govern.

There are also quieter levers useful to governing. There’s a lot of carping about bad judges of late, and for good reason. But enforcers can also shape how judges think about the law. For instance, the Department of Justice Antitrust Division, run by anti-monopolist Jonathan Kanter, just issued a ‘statement of interest’ in a private lawsuit opposing trucking firms that agree with one another not to hire truckers from each other. The Antitrust Division not only enforces the law directly, but shapes the law through these kinds of briefs. Kanter is trying to create a legal prohibition against these ‘no-hire’ agreements. It isn’t flashy, it isn’t instant, but it restructures markets.

Continue reading. There’s more.

The column concludes:

It is a common theme to promote Buttigieg as a contender, because there is simply no perceived relationship in the Democratic Party apparatus between governing and the act of doing politics.

And this goes back decades. Virtually no Democrat or advocacy group on the Democratic or left side of the aisle noticed Obama didn’t govern well at the time he was in power. They offered fake criticisms, like he wasn’t strategic or bold, but not that he actually governed poorly and should have lost his reelection campaign in 2012 due to his policy choices.

Indeed, Obama is extremely popular today. Powerful people nostalgically look back at his White House as an era they could do whatever they wanted and feel good about it. Even today, no one with a megaphone on the left has an incentive to note he was a bad President, and the primary voters themselves are deeply hostile to this notion. So like the airlines who know that they can cheat in a regulatory environment conducive to cheating, Buttigieg is a candidate who governs disastrously in an environment that is politically conducive to disastrous governance.

He can go on TV and talk about social issues or him taking parental leave, and because he didn’t upset anyone who is powerful, he will be able to become a Governor, Senator, or perhaps a higher status office. That’s what the political trade sheets like Politico suggest, and it’s consistent with how Democrats rewarded Obama.

But this fake governing strategy has brutal costs overall. There’s an inchoate sense of chaos, but rather than pointing the finger at people like Buttigieg throughout the government who can’t and won’t govern, Democrats argue that the situation is out of the control of any human being (weather! Covid! globalization! Ukraine!), or that the Bad People on the Right are the problem. Buttigieg’s strategy of not running the airline system well in hopes his own side’s voters and advocacy groups won’t notice destroys the ability of Democrats to make the case they know how to run the government. Because they don’t.

More broadly, the political dynamic of refusing to judge high officials based on whether they are doing their job in government creates a severe political problem for democracy itself, as voters lose faith that politics is anything but a social game for media and political elites. It doesn’t have to be that way, and voters will eventually either elect people who govern to constrain the powerful, or they will tire of democracy altogether. We’ve seen this movie before, and those are the two ways it usually ends.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2022 at 7:35 pm

What the Secret Service did last year is obvious

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What the Secret Service did is another ominous sign of the direction the US is going. Kevin Drum writes:

Secret Servicegate is slowly coming into sharper focus. Here’s what we seem to know:

  • On January 16, 2021, Congress sent a “broad” preservation and production request to the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees the Secret Service. Another was sent on January 25. Both requests were aimed at preserving records related to the 1/6 insurrection.
  • On January 27, as part of a system upgrade called Intune, “USSS began to reset its mobile phones to factory settings as part of a pre-planned, three-month system migration. In that process, data resident on some phones was lost.” Italics mine.
  • In February the inspector general of HHS, Joseph Cuffari, asked the Secret Service for text messages related to the 1/6 insurrection. In June the IG issued a request for all text messages sent and received by 24 specific Secret Service agents between December 7, 2020 and January 8, 2021.
  • The Secret Service eventually responded with a single text message.
  • But what about backups? According to CNN, “A source familiar with the matter told CNN that employees were instructed twice to back up their phones.” Employees were given instructions on how to do the manual backup but apparently the instructions were widely ignored.
  • Today the Secret Service said that its search for further messages had turned up nothing. They were gone for good.

Do you remember those torture videos that the CIA destroyed in 2005? Or the night in 2019 when Jeffrey Epstein killed himself in a jail cell and we later learned that the guards were all napping and his roommate had been transferred and all the CCTV video had been erased due to a “technical error”? Sound familiar?

Nothing about the Secret Service’s story makes any sense. They were doing a system-wide upgrade but didn’t do a system-wide backup? They instead instructed their agents (twice) to back up their phones themselves, but apparently not a single agent did? Then, literally two days after getting a preservation request from Congress, they just went ahead with the system reset without bothering to check if it would erase anything Congress was interested in?

No. That’s Brooklyn Bridge stuff. One way or another, it’s hard to believe anything other than the obvious: those texts were damning enough that the Secret Service knew it would get in more trouble for keeping them than for erasing them—no matter how much trouble they’d get into for erasing them.

And they were right. Sure, they’re taking some heat right now, and . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2022 at 7:31 pm

Frank Lloyd Wright: The Lost Works – The Imperial Hotel

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Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2022 at 3:53 pm

Posted in Art, Daily life, Video

Give Duke Ellington the 1965 Pulitzer Prize

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John McWhorer writes in his newsletter:

Want racial reckoning? Then it’s time to give Duke Ellington the Pulitzer Prize he was unjustifiably denied in 1965. The jazz scholar Ted Gioia has circulated a petition with this call, and as of this writing, it has surpassed 6,000 signatures.

I’m hoping it stimulates a big, beautiful noise that undoes this wrong.

As Howard Klein reported for The Times in 1965, “the advisory board for the Pulitzer Prizes rejected a unanimous recommendation from the music jury to award Duke Ellington, the jazz musician, composer and bandleader, a special citation for long-term achievement.” It was the second consecutive year that no Pulitzer for music was awarded. A few years before, the jolly yet evanescent musical “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” had been awarded a Pulitzer for drama despite that few would speak of it and anything by Ibsen in the same breath. One may love it and yet be surprised it earned so prestigious an award. But for Ellington in 1965? Bubkes.

We assume that Pulitzers are awarded to work that qualifies as for the ages, that pushes the envelope, that suggests not just cleverness but genius. There can be no doubt that Ellington’s corpus fits that definition.

I’ll never forget deciding, in my early 20s, that I wanted to know what the big deal was about Ellington and popping in a CD with a recording of 1927’s “Black and Tan Fantasy.” Just the opening, in all of its blue, narrative and outright odd soaring, made the proverbial hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It was one of those “What is this?” moments. I remember marveling about it with my father, a lifelong jazz fan, with him smiling and saying, “John, you got it!”

Indeed, Ellington was something one “got.” Like James Joyce, the Coen brothers or Charles Mingus, you might not quite get what the hubbub is about at first, but when you do, watch out. “Mood Indigo” opens with muted trombone on melody playing up high, then clarinet playing down low, then muted trumpet playing somewhere in the middle — deliciously weird! The result is a gentle astringence that results in an uncommon kind of tenderness.

As I sought to know more of, and about, Ellington, I was struck by the opinions of James Lincoln Collier, whose 1987 biography of Ellington was devoted to dissing much of Ellington’s work. Collier opined that when Ellington started writing long-form pieces instead of three-minute ones that fit on one side of a 78 r.p.m. record, he was being pretentious and strayed from what he was best at. But I’m sorry, no. The late, great critic Stanley Crouch was correct when he wrote in 1989 for The Times that Collier’s book was, on this issue, at least, “consistently stupid.” The movements of “Far East Suite” contain some of the neatest music I’ve ever heard, whether anyone considers it “classical” in the sense of a Sibelius symphony.

I once attended a lecture by the late composer and conductor Gunther Schuller, where he explained that a lot of Ellington’s chords are so dense they challenge even the trained ear to parse just what they consist of. “Far East Suite”’s opening, “Tourist Point of View,” is surely the kind of piece he had in mind, based on chords that sound like long, sassy scratches that somehow come off as infectious, with good rhythm only part of why.

Goodness, Ellington gave us so much. Even the little things. Listen to 1929’s “Flaming Youth,” which just sits there and grinds and growls slow and glorious for three-ish minutes, summoning the smells of gin, feet and barbecue in roughly that order. Or 1932’s “Delta Bound,” where before the somewhat mundane lyrics to Ivie Anderson’s vocals kick in, the orchestra engages in the most coolly creative, sassy and perfect minute and 14 seconds I know.

And there is much more to be discovered. As The Times reported in 1988, the Smithsonian Institution announced its acquisition of a “huge trove” of Ellington’s “papers, memorabilia and orchestral manuscripts.” Among them are the materials for the Broadway show Ellington did the music for — yes, he did that too — “Beggar’s Holiday,” a jazz-infused, contemporary Black take on the 18th-century hit “The Beggar’s Opera.” I’ve heard that there are plans to get this material, which ran on Broadway from 1946 to 1947, recorded and perhaps performed, upon which we would be treated to yet more Ellingtonian genius.

The list of the composers awarded Pulitzers for music in the 1960s is interesting: Elliott Carter, Walter Piston, Robert Ward, Samuel Barber, Leslie Bassett, Leon Kirchner, George Crumb and Karel Husa. I would venture that Carter and Barber would be familiar to many. Maybe Piston and Crumb, too, for classical music buffs. But here in 2022, how reasonable does it sound that Ellington was denied membership in that pantheon at that time? One need not be especially committed to our time’s quest for “reckoning” to conclude that something wasn’t right.

Those awardees are all white, and it strikes me as unlikely that racism wasn’t part of why the Pulitzer board disregarded the jury’s decision in Ellington’s case. Something was blowing in the wind — as Theodore Strongin reported for The Times in 1965, two members of the three-person jury resigned “in protest against the Pulitzer advisory board’s ignoring of the jury’s unanimous recommendation.” Ellington was diplomatic, saying that “fate’s being kind to me” because it “doesn’t want me to be too famous too young.”

It seems to me that part of the problem, at least back then, is that in evaluations of musical merit, we’re often dealing in different languages. Take Stevie Wonder’s “Innervisions.” Is it lesser art than, say, Tchaikovsky’s “Pathétique”?

When Tchaikovsky’s second movement switches into its cold, creepingly gorgeous middle section — I recall working it out laboriously on the piano after I first heard it as a teen because I just wanted to touch it — we remember why we are alive. When Wonder’s “Living for the City” opens with its deep, slow, funky groove and progresses into, well, everything that happens in that song, we think: “What is this?” “Who did this?” Both works are brilliant. Attention must be paid to both, the same way that it should have been paid in the ’60s to Carter, Barber — and Ellington.

The rapper . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2022 at 11:38 am

Posted in Daily life, History, Jazz

Republicans change their principles as often as they change their clothes

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Jonathan Chait offers a good example of why it’s best to ignore Republicans when they argue based on their “principles” (which are inconstant):

In 2004, the Republican Party was united in anger at the idea that judges would seize the issue of gay marriage from its rightful place in the legislative arena. “We will not stand for judges who undermine democracy by legislating from the bench and try to remake America by court order,” insisted President George W. Bush. The Republican Party platform that year declared, “We urge Congress to use its Article III power to enact this into law.” National Review denounced “this campaign by legal activists and their judicial accomplices.” “The only question is whether the constitutional status of marriage will be determined by unelected judges or the American people,” claimed the Alliance for Marriage.

Conservatives may finally get their wish. The matter of gay marriage is finally coming for a vote before what they have always insisted is its rightful venue: Congress. And yet, far from expressing gratitude that Congress is finally exerting its sacred Article III powers, conservatives are angry that elected officials are now meddling in business properly settled by the courts.

“A bill to legislate congressionally recognized gay marriage is a solution in search of a problem,” complained Representative Chip Roy. “This bill is simply the latest installment of the Democrats’ campaign to delegitimize and attempt to intimidate the United States Supreme Court,” thundered Representative Jim Jordan.

The old danger of activist judges has passed, and now conservative principle requires the party to take a stand against activist … legislators.

Congress is voting to codify same-sex marriage because the Supreme Court’s decision overturning Roe v. Wade undercut the main legal theory that supported other unenumerated rights, including marriage equality. It’s true that most of the justices who voted for Dobbs said they had no plans to go after gay marriage next. But Clarence Thomas said the opposite, accurately pointing out that the logic of Dobbs straightforwardly supported this course of action. The Republican line now assumes that Thomas is a harmless kook and Congress not only needn’t but shouldn’t take him seriously.

It wasn’t long ago that opposition to gay marriage held pride of place atop the ideals of the right-wing firmament, second only to the strategic genius of the Bush administration’s “global war on terror” strategy. Conservatives thundered daily against the horrific terrors that would ensue if gay people were permitted to wed each other.

“The present danger,” warned one editorial in National Review, “is that the courts will push the country in a dangerous direction in which it would not otherwise go.” Hardly a day went by without the conservative intelligentsia painting a harrowing picture of social collapse in the wake of marriage equality. “The destructive consequences,” predicted a typical polemic, “would fall mainly on the young and the vulnerable who would grow up in a society without the bulwark of traditional marriage protecting them against the excesses of their own immature appetites and the rapacious desire of older males ever eager to expand the zone of sexual permissiveness.”

After their heroic stand at the gates of civilization failed, essentially none of the things conservatives warned would happen actually transpired. The cycle of failed prophecy is a familiar one for American conservatism. Every new social or economic reform, from the abolition of child labor to the establishment of Social Security to Obamacare, brings hysterical predictions of collapse that eventually give way to silent acceptance without any stage of reconsidering the failed mental model that produced the erroneous fears in the first place.

At the moment, the case against gay marriage has reached an awkward phase. Marriage equality has enough broad acceptance (around 70 percent support) that the party doesn’t wish to emphasize the issue. But the minority in opposition forms a large enough portion of their base that few Republicans wish to renounce their old stance completely.

Hence the incentive to declare the matter an improper subject for public debate. Unable to take a stand either in favor or against the marriage-equality bill, Republicans are instead directing their arguments orthogonally, against the Democrats for bringing it up at all.

“Those aren’t real issues. I’ve never seen a person come up to me and talk about getting rid of gay marriage,” huffs Marco Rubio, who seems to have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2022 at 10:42 am

How Much Does Eating Meat Affect Longevity?

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Greger’s video is interesting and mentions two measures: a micromort (a 1 in a million chance of dying: a parachute jump, for example, is 1 micromort; and a microlife (a 30-minute duration of being alive: for example, smoking two cigarettes costs 1 microlife — i.e., reduces your expected lifespan by 30 minutes — while exercising for 20 minutes is worth 2 microlifes — i.e., adds an hour to your llifespan).

The whole video is worth watching.

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2022 at 10:19 am

How Fermented Foods May Alter Your Microbiome and Improve Your Health

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Anahad O’Connor has an interesting article (gift link, no paywall) in the NY Times on the health benefits of fermented foods. The entire article is worth reading. Here’s a snippet:

After the 10-week period, neither group had significant changes in measures of overall immune health. But the fermented-food group showed marked reductions in 19 inflammatory compounds. Among the compounds that showed declines was interleukin-6, an inflammatory protein that tends to be elevated in diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. The high-fiber group, in contrast, did not show an overall decrease in the same inflammatory compounds.

For people in the fermented foods group, the reductions in inflammatory markers coincided with changes in their guts. They began to harbor a wider and more diverse array of microbes, which is similar to what other recent studies of people who eat a variety of fermented foods have shown. The new research found that the more fermented foods people ate, the greater the number of microbial species that bloomed in their guts. Yet, surprisingly, just 5 percent of the new microbes that were detected in their guts appeared to come directly from the fermented foods that they ate.

As readers know, I ferment various mixes of vegetables. I prefer to ferment vegetables at home rather than buy them from the store because (a) it’s much cheaper to ferment my own and (b) I can ferment combinations that I cannot buy — for example, the ferment I’m currently enjoying, Beets & Leeks. But there’s also the first ferment I made: Cultured Carrot Cake in a Jar. (That second link goes to my general post on fermenting vegetables and includes some useful videos.)

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2022 at 9:37 am

Posted in Daily life, Food, Health, Non-animal diet, Science

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Waterlyptus is a great summer shaving soap

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Catie’s Bubbles’s Waterlyptus has a wonderful fragrance, the watermelon’s sweetness ameliorated by the eucalyptus note. And the lather also is wonderful, this morning created with my Yaqi 22mm Cashmere brush.

The Vikings Blade Chieftain (not the same as the Baili BD191) is quite a good razor, though it is not so comfortable as the RazoRock Adjust (which is the same as the Baili BD197). I noticed this morning that the Chieftain has more blade feel and is more inclined to nick than the Adjust. Still, I would rate the Chieftain as quite comfortable overall, and it is very efficient, leaving my face smooth after three passes.

A splash of Saint Charles Shave Refined aftershave with a couple of squirts of Grooming Dept Hydrating Gel, and I’m ready for the day. 

Note that at 11:00am PDT tomorrow Grooming Dept will release for sale their most recent batch of shaving soaps with quite a variety of fragrances. (They are marked on that page as “Sold Out,” but in fact that should read “Not Yet Available.” They will become available tomorrow.)

The tea this morning is Murchie’s Hatley Castle: “A historic blend reflecting the Edwardian tastes of James and Laura Dunsmuir who had this tea delivered during their residency at Hatley Castle” (see photo).

Written by Leisureguy

20 July 2022 at 9:35 am

Posted in Caffeine, Shaving

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