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Hometown: London
Home country: UK/Sweden
Current location: Stockholm, Sweden
Member since: Sun Jul 1, 2018, 07:25 PM
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Journal Archives

Go See These Black Operas -- Several Times


In one of my first newsletters, I discussed an opera about Black people written by white men and suggested that we attend, as well, to operas written by Black people. I’ve experienced two of them lately. They, like “Blues Opera,” put me in mind of our current discussion about cultural appropriation — but not in the way some might think.

I refer to Terence Blanchard’s music for the Metropolitan Opera’s premiere piece of the season, the new “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” and “Highway 1, U.S.A.” by William Grant Still — the “dean” of Black classical composers — which the Opera Theatre of Saint Louis streamed until a few weeks ago.

Both operas are couched in the lush, and even dense, language of 20th-century modern opera. With busy, intricate scoring for a classical orchestra, the harmonic language in both pieces takes us, of course, far beyond the ordinary I-IV-V kinds of progressions of popular song, and beyond that, both challenge their audiences by withholding the easy pleasures of celebrated, hummable arias such as “La donna č mobile” from “Rigoletto.”

Instead, they require their audiences to adjust to Black American characters, leading contemporary, everyday lives, who sing in a musical language developed mainly by Europeans. Both pieces seek to take classical music a step beyond what sits most easily on the ear — in relative disregard of whether today’s listeners find it relatable. It’s bold, but the results leave me with mixed feelings.


Joe Manchin Doesn't Like What Joe Biden Is Doing


The expanded child tax credit is not the most ambitious policy in President Biden’s “Build Back Better” plan, but it might be the one that says the most about the current direction of the Democratic Party.

The monthly payment to most families with children — authorized, on a temporary basis, by the American Rescue Plan — represents a shift away from the austerity-minded thinking of much of the past 30 years of Democratic policymaking. To help parents with no strings attached (and with as little red tape as possible) is to reject, in a small but significant way, the idea that families should have to rely on the market to survive.

If this is the case, it is no surprise to learn that in exchange for his support of the president’s human infrastructure bill, the conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia would like his colleagues to end the nearly universal child tax credit and replace it with a pared-down alternative, according to a report in Axios. In something of a throwback to the days of “welfare reform,” Manchin wants Democrats to add work requirements and tight income-based limits on eligibility.

None of this would actually improve the program — “Narrowly targeting the credit to the lowest income families risks creating a stigmatizing poverty trap,” Samuel Hammond of the Niskanen Center told The Washington Post — but it would undermine progressives and stop the march of an “entitlement society” which, for Manchin, is good enough.


'Social media', market power and the health of democracy

With the whistle blown on Facebook, Congress must allocate ownership of personal data to the person—not the platform—to allow competitive providers to emerge.


According to its former employee Frances Haugen, Facebook algorithms consciously amplify dangerous misinformation and privilege the most divisive content posted on the network. Such content is more frequently shared by users and foregrounding it maximises traffic on the platform—and so turnover.

This modus operandi, which became still more aggressive from 2018, is generating perverse incentives pushing even relatively moderate users to sharpen and polarise their content to obtain visibility. It is a Darwinian struggle for prominence which, given the rules of the game, leads to the survival of those users most fit for division and risks skewing public opinion and altering political outcomes. A recent working paper I co-authored shows that exposure to political information through ‘social media’ has been closely associated with the diffusion of divisive ideas in Europe in the last decade.

Haugen also revealed that, as the volume of divisive content circulating on the platform grows, it becomes more difficult, and more expensive, to monitor, especially in marginal areas where the economic return is not sufficient to justify the associated expense. This is a very dangerous short-circuit, especially in times when co-ordination via web platforms could issue in last January’s siege of Capitol Hill in Washington.

Digital monopolies

What is worse, and what dramatically exposes democratic societies to the consequences of the algorithms deployed in Menlo Park in California, is that Facebook and its Big Tech peers, mostly also located in Silicon Valley, occupy dominant positions in extremely concentrated markets. A few firms control the information and communications technologies sector, accounting for increasing shares of physical assets, revenues and market capitalisation. Apple, Microsoft, Amazon and Google’s Alphabet (with Saudi Arabia’s Aramco) lead the ranks of the top 100 companies in the world.


Manchin: I Won't Put Up With 'Bulls**t' If Dems Try To Obstruct GOP

November 11, 2014


Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) made in clear in an interview published Monday that he has no plans to support Democrats who want to take a page out of the GOP playbook by obstructing the new Republican majority.

“That’s bullshi—…. I’m not going to put up with that,” Manchin told Politico when discussing the prospect of Democrats blocking the Republican agenda over the next two years.

Manchin didn’t appear to be alone either. Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) also talked about the need to get something done.

“Our caucus needs to take a hard look at the way we do things and make sure we are putting the policy issues first before politics,” McCaskill told Politico. “The habit we got into in doing nothing, no one was happy with that. I hope that we never go back to that.”

Joe Manchin's ugly new demands expose the absurdity of arbitrary centrism


Sen. Joe Manchin III is very worried about the cost of passing President Biden’s agenda. But what about the cost of not passing it?

The West Virginia Democrat is making new demands that could badly impair our ability to combat child poverty and global warming, by shrinking two key components of the multi-trillion-dollar reconciliation bill.

Manchin’s new moves reveal the folly of arbitrary centrism. This posture is essentially that any effort to restrain liberal governance is an inherent good, with no serious acknowledgement required of the real-world trade offs it entails.

Manchin has told the White House that the expanded child tax credit (CTC) must be packaged with a work requirement and be capped at family incomes of around $60,000, Axios reports. This would dramatically downsize current policy, which temporarily expands the CTC to $300 per month for most American families.


go to the link for much more

Senate Democrats to Unveil Scaled-Back IRS Bank-Reporting Plan

Accounts of $10,000 or more would be reported to the IRS


Senate Democrats are set to unveil a proposal requiring that banks report some accounts to the Internal Revenue Service in their latest effort to come up with ways to finance President Joe Biden’s economic agenda, according to an aide familiar with the plan.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden and Senator Elizabeth Warren, a member of the panel, will outline the proposal on a call with reporters Tuesday afternoon, according the aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity as the plans aren’t yet public. The senators won’t release the legislative text but will publish information refuting what they say are myths that Republicans are spreading about their plan to crack down on tax evaders.

The proposal is the result of weeks of talks between Democrats about how to scale back an idea first floated by Treasury Department officials that would report accounts with at least $600 in deposits or withdrawals to the IRS.

Wyden and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal have both said they want to increase that threshold to $10,000 as well as narrow the proposal to only hit high earners. Democrats are looking at exempting certain payments, like payroll direct deposits and mortgage withdrawals, so that fewer accounts would have aggregate inflows and outflows of more than $10,000.


Manchin's work requirement for child benefits would throw grandparent-led families under the bus


Melissa Boyles of West Virginia with her granddaughter, Nevaeh. (Family photo)

“Why should my granddaughter be punished because of my disability?” That’s the question West Virginia resident Melissa Boyles would ask Sen. Joe Manchin III (D-W.Va.) and any other politicians advocating work requirements for Democrats’ child benefit program — conditions that would throw Boyles’s granddaughter under the bus. Boyles, 62, is among an unsung generation of Americans caring for their grandchildren. These households have swelled over the past decade, as public health crises such as the opioid epidemic claimed the lives of many parents of young kids, and rendered other parents unable to provide stable homes.

As of 2019, roughly 6.2 million children lived with grandparents; within that population, 1.1 million had no parents present in the household. The numbers have likely grown since covid-19 struck. Grandparents are often neither physically nor financially prepared to raise another child. Some are still working, but most grandparents responsible for their grandchildren are no longer in the labor force. They’re often retired, disabled or both. Such is the case of Boyles, who lives with her husband, Michael, in Clarksburg, W.Va. Both spouses had worked, but now Melissa, a former house cleaner and hospice worker, has a herniated disk and some psychological issues exacerbated by the sudden death of her son in 2005; Michael, who worked at the union local, has had multiple strokes and has reduced lung function due to complications from bypass surgery.

Even with their disability benefits, money has been tight for a while. But when her then-14-year-old granddaughter, Nevaeh, asked to live with them last year, Melissa didn’t hesitate. “She needed better care and wasn’t getting it,” Boyles said. Nevaeh, like many children, landed with her grandparents after a series of traumas: first the loss of her father, when she was a baby; then her mother, when Nevaeh was a teen; then unsafe conditions living with another relative, including inconsistent access to food. Boyles wasn’t sure how she’d manage another mouth to feed. Especially since paying off her mortgage — which she thought had been financially responsible — rendered her ineligible for food stamps, thanks to the program’s asset limits. Boyles began receiving a monthly caretaker’s stipend of about $400 from the state, but it wasn’t enough to cover her additional expenses. “She needs clothes. She needs things for school. She needs shoes for her feet. She needs food in her belly,” Boyles told me.

Then, this year, a godsend: Lawmakers temporarily expanded the existing child tax credit into a more generous benefit, which would be disbursed monthly. They also made the benefit available to those suffering the most from poverty, including those who make too little money to file a tax return. Nevaeh’s family became eligible for $250 per month, no strings attached. (Children under 6 receive $300 per month.) Boyles has devoted some of that $250 to food (maybe even an occasional steak, for special occasions) and a new bed. Mostly, the cash goes toward the odds and ends of American childhood: tickets to a high school football game, so Nevaeh can finally attend with her friends. Or last weekend, a homecoming dress, purchased for $70 at a consignment shop.


Lawmakers question whether Amazon executives, including Jeff Bezos, misled Congress.


WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of lawmakers pressed Amazon’s chief executive on Monday to respond to allegations that its executives provided a congressional inquiry with false answers to questions about its house-brand products. Amazon executives, including its founder, Jeff Bezos, told lawmakers that the company did not look at data from single sellers on its site when it planned for and developed its own products. They also told the House Judiciary Committee that the company did not purposefully give its house-brand products an edge in search results.

Last week, Reuters reported that Amazon had strategically copied products from third-party merchants while growing its business in India. Another publication, The Markup, reported a day later that the company’s house-brand products ranked higher than competitors sold by merchants, even when the third-party products had better ratings. “At best, this reporting confirms that Amazon’s representatives misled the committee,” said the group of five lawmakers. “At worst, it demonstrates that they may have lied to Congress in possible violation of federal criminal law.”

In the letter, the lawmakers said they were considering referring the matter to the Justice Department for a potential criminal investigation. Their exchanges with Amazon came as part of a longer investigation into the market power of the nation’s largest tech companies.

“Amazon and its executives did not mislead the committee, and we have denied and sought to correct the record on the inaccurate media articles in question,” said Brooke Oberwetter, an Amazon spokeswoman. She said that the company had a policy against using data from individual merchants in building house-brand products and that Amazon’s search results feature “the items customers will want to purchase, regardless of whether they are offered by Amazon or one of our selling partners.”


Bill Gates reportedly advised to end inappropriate emails with female employee in 2008

A Wall Street Journal report revealed execs approached the CEO in 2008 about flirtatious emails to a female midlevel staffer


Bill Gates was allegedly advised in 2008 by executives at the company to halt inappropriate communication with a female employee, according to a new report. The claims, published by the Wall Street Journal, are the latest to shed light on potential misconduct by Gates while he was still working at Microsoft. The Wall Street Journal had previously revealed claims Gates left the company’s board amid an investigation into a past affair with a staffer.

At the time he left his role in 2020, Gates said he was stepping down to focus on his philanthropic endeavours. However, the Journal report revealed board members at Microsoft pushed Gates out as they investigated an allegedly inappropriate relationship he had with a female employee. The Wall Street Journal’s most recent coverage now says that more than a decade before Gates’s departure from Microsoft, executives had discovered emails between Gates and a female mid-level staffer. The new report alleges that Gates was flirtatious and propositioned the female employee over email. At the time, Gates was married and was still the board chairman at Microsoft.

Gates was approached by two Microsoft executives at the time – then-general counsel Brad Smith and then-chief people officer Lisa Brummel – who asked him to stop. Gates, according to the Journal, admitted the exchanges were ill-advised and agreed to put an end to them. In a statement to the Guardian, a spokesman for Gates denied the most recent Journal report that the former executive had been involved in inappropriate email communications. “These claims are false, recycled rumours from sources who have no direct knowledge, and in some cases have significant conflicts of interest,” the spokesman said.

Gates has also recently come under fire for reports he had previously met with the disgraced financier and sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein a number of times, according to the New York Times. Gates founded Microsoft in 1975 and went on to become one of the richest people in the world. Gates and his wife, Melinda Gates, divorced in August after nearly 30 years together. The pair still co-lead the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the philanthropy organization they founded together.


Vexatious Litigant

Vexatious litigation is legal action which is brought solely to harass or subdue an adversary. It may take the form of a primary frivolous lawsuit or may be the repetitive, burdensome, and unwarranted filing of meritless motions in a matter which is otherwise a meritorious cause of action. Filing vexatious litigation is considered an abuse of the judicial process and may result in sanctions against the offender.

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