Monday, August 10, 2020

Pandemic Summer Reading

Whoa, hey it is already time for Back-To-School (except not really.)   I really have lost track of time.  How was everybody's summer? Did you see anything interesting?


It sure does feel like everything is happening [at once/too fast/too much/forever] and it can be difficult to unplug and re-focus.  So maybe this won't help at all but sharing some recent book notes probably won't hurt. Maybe there's something here you'd like to check out while watching the next month or so of school and sports... but definitely not rent... get cancelled.

China Dream by Ma Jian translated by Flora Drew (2018)

Chinese dissident Ma Jian's short satire of totalitarian corruption is by turns funny, surreal, and disturbing. Protagonist, Ma Daode is a high ranking functionary in the city of Ziyang's "China Dream Bureau" tasked with promoting President Xi's propaganda. His department is at work on a "China Dream device" which is supposedly a microchip implant that would replace the actual dreams of individuals with one collective "China Dream." This isn't really elaborated on in a technical sense except that it becomes clear that the idea is as far-fetched in the story as it would be in real life.

Meanwhile, Ma Daode's own persistent nightmarish memories of his experience during the Cultural Revolution are threatening to unravel his psyche and undermine his position. As suppressed guilt metastasizes to paranoia, Ma Daode struggles to maintain his slipping status in the bureaucracy where the worst thing a person can do is lose his composure. Or, as Ma Jian writes, "Like a live crab dropped into boiling water, as soon as you turn red hot, your life is over"

We're Still Here: Pain and Politics in the Heart of America  by Jennifer M. Silva (2019)

A few years back there was a boomlet in journalism and publishing for works aimed at upper middle class liberal audiences where an author would study "working class" Trump voters as though they were mountain gorillas. Exemplars of this genre like Hillbilly Elegy and Strangers in Their Own Land have been picked apart elsewhere for their condescension, and their class and racial biases. 

But Silva does not reproduce those failures here. Instead, this is a study of a multi-ethnic down and out working class living in the Pennsylvania Anthracite coal region during 2016.  The election is really only background noise in the book much as it is in the lives of these interview subjects most of which are several generations of despair removed from  a time when politics could have anything tangible to offer them.  Recommended for anyone with questions about the depth of social and political isolation in America who also isn't seeking superficial or self serving answers.

Biloxi by Mary Miller (2019)

Louis McDonald is going through some stuff. His wife has recently left him and his father has just died. Already having trouble adjusting, he has retired a few years early in anticipation of an inheritance that may or may not actually be coming to him. And that's when he sort of accidentally adopts a new dog. 

The setting is familiar, the story is not very complicated. Miller's voice and dry sense of humor expressed through her sarcastic and often flustered first person narrator are enjoyable. You'll probably finish this in a day or two.

Kochland: The Secret History of Koch Industries and Corporate Power in America by Christopher Leonard (2019)

Leonard takes us through the half century of Charles Koch's career at the head of the oil company he inherited from his father then expanded and diversified until it came to dominate massive industrial sectors of the American economy and therefore wield a staggering influence over political system as well.

Probably you are aware of this story. But having it all laid out like this can still be a revelation. We see Koch Industries swindle Native Americans,  bust unions,  skirt and rewrite environmental regulation, trade derivatives, and game markets for oil, electricity, chemical fertilizers. Almost everything that makes the modern world possible, is skimmed or outright controlled by Charles Koch in one way or another. 

The company's internal culture is deliberately ideological and often evangelistic in nature. Not only for the sake of its own growth and profits but also as a kind of a messianic cult.
The unity among Koch Industries' employees was hard to overstate, or even to articulate to outsiders. This was a cadre of people who worked for a secretive company that made the world work. They operated the mind-numblingly complex machinery that lay just beneath the surface of modern society: the pipelines, refineries, fertilizer plants, clothing factories, and trading desks. The stupendous profits that they realized from doing so only seemed to reinforce their sense of superiority over the outside world.  When it came time to fight the outside world, it wasn't done with malice or disregard. It was done with a sense of pity.  People outside the Koch campus seemed misguided, uneducated, somewhat oblivious to what it took to keep the lights on. Koch Industries would patiently work to correct these problems and make the world a better place.
It's becoming fashionable to speculate about our world's descent into a neo-feudalist order and what that sort of thing might look like.  One thing to take away from a book like Kochland is there are some actors out there who believe an outcome like that might be just what the world needs.

Lights All Night Long by Lydia Fitzpatrick (2019)

15 year old Ilya has been admitted to a study abroad program that has taken him out of his deteriorating Russian gulag town and placed him with a suburban family in (what we surmise to be south central or south west) Louisiana for a year. But he has also just learned that his brother has been arrested and accused of murder.  The novel then alternates settings between flashback chapters about the events leading up to Ilya's departure and his time adjusting to life in America while also searching for evidence that can clear his brother's name.

Obvious contrasts are drawn between the poverty of Ilya's hometown and the relative luxury enjoyed by his host family. But also we see similarities between life in the two towns both of which are dominated by oil production. The book's title describes the lights of the refinery in Ilya's town that would penetrate the windows of his family's home at night.  The core of theme, though, is about the heartbreaking effects of opioid addiction which we also see in both settings.

There is an unevenness to this set-up, though. Because the dominant narrative takes place in the Russian setting, the Louisiana scenes can feel a little.. less developed. There are characters and events there but they don't really matter enough to occupy half a book in this format.

Still this is very much worth recommending but maybe more for a YA audience.

I picked this up right at the beginning of our quarantine lockdown and, boy, is it ever the perfect thing to read while thinking about the governmental, institutional, and socio-political failures that not only  exacerbate the harm inflicted by a public health crisis but also ensure that it takes forever for anyone to learn from those failures if ever.

Brown's research into the Chernobyl aftermath brings to light tens of thousands of deaths she links to fallout spread far and wide through ecological contamination and the food supply chain.  Scores of poor people are basically deemed insignificant and sacrificed in order to accommodate profit, power and international politics. Not only do Soviet bloc governments in Ukraine and Belarus suppress information and deny medical care but Western powers and NGOs including the International Atomic Energy Agency and World Health Organization are also complicit in covering up the full extent of the damage on behalf of the nuclear power industry.  

Anyone concerned with the cost/benefit calculations of policymakers responding to the current public health disaster will find this an eye opener to say the least.

Other Words For Home by Jasmine Warga (2019)

A young Syrian girl's point of view story about migrating to the United States told in affecting free verse.  As life in her home town becomes dangerous during the Arab Spring uprisings, narrator, Jude, travels with her mother to stay with an uncle in Cincinnati leaving her father and brother behind. There she describes the challenges of cultural adjustment on top the typical pre-teen worries about fitting in, making friends, and trying out for the school play.  The family worries over intermittent news from home while also expecting a new arrival. 

Recommended for ages 10-15

Zed by Joanna Kavenna (2020)

Hoping to see this one show up on a few "best of" lists when this infernal year finally does come to an end.  Zed is first and foremost a dystopian satire about Big Tech and the hyper-surveillance state. But it's also something of a meta-commentary on the fraught politics and language we use to describe and combat those phenomena now, however ineffectively.

In the book, a company called Beetle is now THE tech giant uniting all the functions of e-commerce, logistics, data, entertainment, media etc. currently dominated by, you know, these guys.  Naturally, Beetle is even more tightly entwined with the state than our tech lords currently are. City streets are a grid of autonomous taxis. There are cameras everywhere. And, of course, the public safety is maintained by an automated police force acting under the guidance of a predictive algorithm. But when the system fails to foresee an unexplained murder, several characters must scramble to explain the failure as a human error or "Zed event" and ensure that no more random events happen in the future. 

So the premise seems pretty straightforward but there is a lot more going on here. Kavenna isn't just writing about technology, politics, police, and media.  She's writing about how we interpret those things through literature, through art, and even through our understanding of physical science.  One disturbing suggestion is that the total quantification and therefore commodification of human experience really does decontextualize and obviate any human objection.  

Thankfully, she doesn't beat you over the head with any of this heavy stuff the way a lesser writer might. Instead this is an absurdist story that owes more to Joseph Heller or even Douglas Adams (and certainly the authors she cites in this column) than it does to Orwell.  There is ironic commentary on the nature of causality and on the meaning of authenticity. The character in charge of maintaining the algorithm, one Douglas Varney, is a haggard and disheveled figure who has to appear in  "Real Virtuality"  chat rooms as a cool-faced avatar called @TheRealDouglasVarney.  Near the end of the story, as things begin to unravel a bit for the regime, we get this. 

The point was made across all free media. Nothing you are told is real. Remember this, until we tell you something you are being told is real. Actually, the thing we are telling you, that nothing you are told is real, is actually real. That thing is real, about nothing being real. Just that thing, though and nothing else. Is that clear?

Highly recommended. Would be my favorite novel of the year so far if not for...

The Mirror and the Light by Hillary Mantel (2020)

The third and final installment of Mantel's best selling, prize winning and otherwise much celebrated fictional history of the life of Thomas Cromwell.  Mantel's books draw on  20th Century scholarship that revised the traditional view of Cromwell as a power hungry villain and cast him as a uniquely competent, even progressive, reforming administrator.  Historians continue to argue over these interpretations but Mantel's work has clearly moved the more sympathetic version of Cromwell into the popular imagination where it is likely to stay for some time. 

He is a compelling character for modern audiences.  An unlikely rise from blacksmith's son to mercenary soldier to legal aide and finally to first minister and political fixer for Henry VIII defies the feudal social conventions still in place during Tudor times and presents to us as sort of a "rags to riches" meritocratic ideal.  So Mantel's Cromwell becomes a bit of an avatar for the early emergence of a capitalist order.  In a scene from the first book in this series, Wolf Hall, Cromwell reflects on certain members of the English nobility's misconception of where power lies in the new age.

The world is run from Antwerp, from Florence … from Lisbon, where the ships with sails of silk drift west and are burned up in the sun. Not from the castle walls, but from counting houses, not by the call of the bugle, but by the click of the abacus, not by the grate and click of the mechanism of the gun but by the scrape of the pen on the page of the promissory note that pays for the gun and the gunsmith and the powder and shot.

In the middle of reading Mirror, I also picked up Thomas Piketty's Capital and Ideology which paired particularly well because of this. Piketty's book compares different historical "inequality regimes" and the ideological underpinnings that rationalize each regime's structural distribution of power and wealth. One such contrast is between the medieval "trifunctional" (3 estates) order based on rigid social hierarchy vs the "proprietarian" capitalism based on the primacy of individual property rights that replaced it. 

Cromwell may be a man of the new era, but he has to operate within the fading but still dominant norms of the old. In one scene from Mirror he is investigating a murder when a colleague stops to advise him he isn't relating to the commoner witnesses he interviews in the correct fashion.

Listen, Cromwell, you don't get a good name among the lowly by sharing their concerns and handing out coin. You get their respect by overlooking them, as if you did not understand their sort, and your own belly had never been empty. 

One facet of Piketty's argument is that our 21st Century neoliberal regime may be devolving into a neo-trifunctionalism where a corporate dominated cultural elite divides governing responsibilities with state police powers while the majority working class is, well, overlooked. So there are resonances between these books that might also be harbingers. 

Another familiar political theme throughout the Cromwell novels is the problem of navigating an authoritarian regime headed by a spiteful narcissist.  One simple way to describe these books, in fact, is to say they are a story about how to survive under totalitarianism until you don't.  

By the time we reach the third book, Cromwell has survived and thrived because he has understood better than any of the courtiers around Henry that the imperative is always give the king what he wants.  It's a rule that supersedes all considerations of morality and law and meeting its requirements demands ruthlessness. The further Henry's appetites strain against what should be his boundaries, the greater the danger increases. Not to Henry, of course. There are consequences for his transgressions but as Cromwell reflects at one point...

But the law is not an instrument to find out truth. It is there to create a fiction that will help us move past atrocious acts and face our future. It seems there is no mercy in this world, but a kind of haphazard justice: men pay for crimes, but not necessarily their own.

But Cromwell is not an amoral actor. He has agendas of his own both personal and religious which he has been able to advance by staying on top of the gossip, knowing who to do favors for, and by "arranging his face" so as never to give the game away.  In other words, office politics but with actual beheadings. 

Now we see all of that unraveled as the realities of that haphazard justice begin to catch up with him. We can rise to great heights learning to work the system and flatter even the most dysfunctional sort of  power only to discover we are, in fact, as captured by and subject to its caprices as everyone else. Frustrated by his inability to advance the cause of Protestantism beyond that part of it that fits the king's whim, unable to defend friends and allies without compromising himself, knocked back by one particularly stinging personal rejection, Cromwell begins to resemble, ever so slightly, that red hot boiling crab described by Ma Jian.   

Cromwell's enemies conspire against him in plain sight but there is no recourse other than to continue arranging one's face and acting as though everything is under control.  Until, inevitably, it isn't.  Once the disaster is set in motion, one has no choice but to allow it play out.  Whatever the strength of our convictions, talents, or resolve, ultimately we are at the mercy of terrible forces greater than anything within our grasp.  All we can do is wait on those forces to mete out what punishment they will.

While awaiting his sentence, Cromwell imagines what Hell might be like.

That is how it will be-not pain itself but the constant apprehension of pain; the constant apprehension of fault, the knowledge that you are going to be punished for something you couldn't help and didn't even know was wrong; and the discord in Hell will be constant, repeating for ever and ever, a violent argument being carried on in the next room.

They did have the option of voting no

Tons of fun watching City Council completely throw up its hands last week at the prospect of having to vote for the STR tax.  There were objections from the public comment but those were met with typical condescension from our elected friends about how poorly the public supposedly understands the background details.

But that's bullshit.  New Orleanians have been following this story for the better part of the past two years that it has dominated the local political news. We know what it is and why it does what it does. The deal was bad enough even for "normal" times. It offered insufficient and mostly one time funding to shore up failing city infrastructure in exchange for authorizing permanent publicly funded slush funds for the convention center and for a private tourism promotion board called New Orleans and Company.  

The STR tax is only one piece of the deal authorized by the state legislature and then by local ballot measure. It has been criticized for two reasons. The first reason is it creates a perverse incentive for the city to promote the proliferation of short term rentals despite their destructive impact on New Orleans neighborhoods and housing costs. Residents have spent several years now fighting to rein in the STR boom but political leadership has repeatedly demonstrated its indifference. Recently, the former executive director of Sonder, one of the largest and most damaging purveyors of STRs was hired by the Cantrell administration and put in charge of city permitting and land use policy; a shocking development for the thousands of New Orleanians now threatened with the prospect of eviction. 

The second criticism of the tax is that it hands millions of dollars over to a private non-profit tourism promotion agency so that it can produce dogshit tweets like this. These were the complaints presented to City Council last week.  Members responded by shrugging and talking down to people about the "ballot language."

“This council was also not involved in the negotiation of the fair share deal when this was broken down,” Councilwoman Kristin Palmer, one of the council’s most vocal opponents of short-term rental expansion, said on Thursday. “The ballot language was what was passed by the voters, we have to adhere to that ballot language, and that’s why we’re here today. And I’m referring, of course, to the 25 percent of the tax that is to be given to New Orleans and Company.”

The ballot initiative approved by voters last year gave the Council the ability to levy a new short-term rental tax. But it didn’t require them to. And while the City Council couldn’t create the new tax unilaterally, it can create new fees for city permits and licenses, like short-term rental licenses. Prior to the fair share deal, council members had floated a fee structure on short-term rentals that would have raised an estimated $20 million for affordable housing projects.

They didn't actually have to vote for it.  Since the time that the Fair Sham deal and the ballot language of some of its component parts was finalized,  many things have changed. New Orleans is going to be hit harder than most places by the pandemic/depression/mass eviction crisis we are dealing with now.  City Council had an opportunity to at least try and force a reconsideration of the bad deal which had become far worse. Instead they chose to pretend it was out of their hands.

Friday, August 07, 2020

Lovely ideas these people get

But isn't that for... yep...

Couldn't have picked a better time too.
NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center said there could be up to 25 storms which have sustained winds of 39mph or greater. Storms which hit this threshold are named by the agency.

In a normal year, there are usually two storms before August which are named.

This year, there have already been nine named storms, a record which makes 2020’s hurricane season one of the busiest on record in the US.
It's going great, guys

Wednesday, August 05, 2020


There are things some of us have the power to choose.
Gov. John Bel Edwards is requiring unemployed workers once again to apply for jobs each week as a condition for receiving jobless benefits – at a time when almost 1 in every 4 workers in Louisiana is collecting unemployment pay.

The governor’s decision comes just days after some 450,000 out-of-work residents in Louisiana lost their eligibility to receive a $600 weekly supplemental payment from the federal government that expired on July 31.
Of course we argue slapping the work search requirement back on is just insult added to the injury of having the $600 expire. But why do that when we can choose not to?

They don't really care, do you?

Why are they still doing this?

Okay now watch how exhausting this is to even say.  Actually, Jeff, there is not a "cure" for COVID-19 and if there were one we know it would not be hydroxychloroquine.
Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus has "absolutely no benefit" and "proves to be ineffective," Dr. Chris Thomas, a pulmonary and critical care doctor at Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center in Baton Rouge, said in an interview Monday.

Thomas, appearing on WBRP-FM in Baton Rouge, said four randomized, controlled trials have proven that that the once highly touted drug "for sure" doesn't work for hospitalized patients.
But why even bother engaging with it?  None of this is happening in good faith.  So much of the political theater of COVID is, like the conservative culture war tradition it draws upon, is just noise without content.

It is hard to ignore, though.  In fact its persistent dominance of the narrative is a fascinating experiment we're conducting right now.  I think it's supposed to measure the actual degree of separation between governing elites and the actual needs and concerns of the people they govern.

I mean it seems like Brian Kemp must be pandering to.. somebody here. But it can't be the thousands of people whose lives he's endangering.
Washington (CNN) On Wednesday in Georgia, there were almost 4,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Almost 2,800 people are hospitalized due to Covid-19, the highest number in the state's ongoing battle against the virus. A total of 37 people died, the highest number of daily deaths since June 25, according to data from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

How did Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) respond to this obvious surge in Covid-19 in his state? By signing an executive order banning cities and counties from mandating that people have to wear a mask when in public.
Kemp's order was defied by Atlanta mayor and cop enthusiast Keisha Lance Bottoms setting up yet a whole news cycle of tedious back-and-forth between the authoritarians who "believe in science" and the other authoritarians who "defend your freedom."  (These, of course, are stupid slogans of performative groupthink and not at all reflective of any genuinely held ideological or ontological belief.  Please do not @ me.)  The skirmish did little to advance the cause of coherent public health policy. But it sure did emphasize the respective brands of the combatants and their acolytes.

Meanwhile in Louisiana, Jeff Landry  issued an opinion that the Governor's recent mask mandate is "likely unconstitutional and unenforceable."
"Although the mask mandate and the 50-person limit may be good recommendations for personal safety, they may not be enforced with financial or criminal penalties," Landry wrote. "Both businesses acting under color of law as mask police and actual police acting as mask police could face liability if individual civil rights are violated due to the proclamation."
What's interesting about Landry's wording here is that it isn't all that different in spirit from the Governor's actual announcement. It was clear that John Bel's purpose was to get everyone on the same page about what to expect of one another as we all struggle to slow the virus down.  This wasn't a rule anyone wanted to have to enforce. He even said as much
In a press conference Saturday afternoon, Gov. Edwards said of implementing a state mask mandate that “we know that face masks work, it really is that simple.” Regarding enforcement, he said businesses will have to urge customers to wear them. “If someone refuses to wear a mask, they should be asked to leave. If not, they are trespassing.” He added that “citations will be against businesses for not enforcing mask requirements,” but that “we aren’t going to be out there with a goal to write citations.” 
So Landry is pandering to somebody. But it can't be to people who are afraid of being carted off to gulag because they left their bandana in the car or something.  Because that just isn't happening.

He's certainly not pandering to the scores of essential workers in Louisiana forced into unsafe environments by employers who he says can't be compelled to comply with the mandate. According to a law the Governor just signed, "essential" businesses are shielded from liability if their workers get sick under the conditions the bosses subject them to. Landry is now compounding that by opining that the same bosses could face liability if they make those conditions safer by enforcing a mask policy.

Another interesting fact about Landry's opinion is that it was issued a day after he tested positive for COVID himself. If there's a point to any of this it can't have anything to do with actually protecting people from the virus. Landry is clearly looking past that hazard in service of some other cause. But what is that cause? 

Supposedly Landry's opinion was meant to bolster an effort among Republican legislators to revoke the Governor's emergency order. At the time it was thought they were on the verge of actually doing it. We see here hospital administrators in Baton Rouge were already preparing to deal with the consequences.  See Lamar White's Daily Beast article for more on the Republican coup. It  seems to have been quashed for now but they can keep adding signatures to their petition as long as the emergency order remains in effect. (The Governor extended Phase II again this week until August 28.)

But the quest to show up John Bel is just another sideshow like the continuing Tony Spell follies or whatever Louie Gohmert's problem is.

Or... good lord..

The cause being advanced by all of this nonsense is that of the bosses who are winning the pandemic.  While our political leadership fashions a farcical public debate out of obstinate stupidity vs. police-scolding individual behavior, the actual policies they're implementing are throwing millions of people out of work and then denying them benefits. They're obliging those who still have jobs to quietly accept more intrusive and tenuous and unsafe working conditions.  They're allowing people to be evicted from their homes. They're devolving the public schools into a libertarian pay-to-play private tutoring chaos.

The entire social contract is being dismantled right now and we have no avenue of popular response beyond figuring out which bar to call the cops on first. Other than that, good luck getting anyone with any power to listen to anything you have to say anymore.  Just keep watching the circus and hope for the best.

Not my problem

John Bel:  Well if Formosa wants to keep collecting state subsidies to dump poison everywhere, that's really not any of our business.
Edwards said he has spoken often with Chuck Carr Brown, secretary of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality, and expects the permits will survive the legal challenges.

"You have standards in place, and, if an application is put in that meets the applicable standards, then you permit it," Edwards said. "I mean, that's the way this works, and, if they'd like to change the standards, then that's something that EPA needs to look at."
Maybe people should be better protected from the racist condescensionanti-speech bullying and global climate disaster wrought by malevolent actors like Formosa.  But it's not anything John Bel is going to lift a finger to do anything about so long as they filled out the forms okay.

Monday, August 03, 2020

Craptacular August is here

Well, they did it.  They let the unemployment benefits extension expire.  I know a few weeks ago I wrote that they will definitely do that. But, like most people who also do not know the future, I thought probably there would be a last minute extension just before we all fell over the cliff.  Anyway, we fell over the cliff. So now the task is to climb up out of the ravine. But nobody seems to know how to do that.
Washington (CNN) The US economy, plagued by a resurgent pandemic, is showing signs of sliding backwards. Key deadlines on extending a federal eviction moratorium and federal unemployment benefits have come and gone. Yet lawmakers and the White House, sources say, are as far apart as they've ever been in talks on the next emergency aid package.

As one person involved told CNN on Sunday night: "No clue how we get this done at this point. Just so much outstanding."
Because we do not find it useful to despair, we at least try to find ways to explain how this can be so.  The easy answer is that our elected leadership exists in such an elite and isolated sphere of the upper class that it is profoundly disconnected from the needs of the vast majority of the people. That has been true for long while, though. But even so, until now, there has existed at least a slight incentive to pander.  When things are getting really bad, especially with an election right around the corner, there would be some pressure to give people something, even if it's just a little something.

That's become less true over time.  The change hasn't been sudden. It's been a process of learning just how far they can push things. How much suffering can people endure through ruling class indifference? The 21st Century to this point has been one great exercise in finding out.  They've learned they can get away with leveling whole countries and committing unspeakable atrocities on the people there without ever having to answer for any of it.  They've learned that they can leave a city to drown for weeks after a hurricane while spreading lies about the victims' behavior and situation meant to imply they deserve what's happened to them. They've learned that the whole financial system can melt down triggering millions of home foreclosures and evictions and all that has to happen is some "too big to fail" banks need to be bailed out while everyone else is left to suffer.

So our unaccountable authoritarian state for and by the wealth holding classes has been learning to crawl and then to walk for a while.  And now we are going to see if it can stomp all over everybody as the pandemic-depression begins to hit people full force.  On Friday, the New Orleans Renters' Rights Assembly mustered a protest to stand in the way of  landlords stomping into eviction court.  They can't do that every day.   Unless and until congress makes a move to extend aid to people now, we're in for an especially rough end to 2020. And that rough end begins with August.

Friday, July 31, 2020

Murdered Gulf

BP really got away with one.  Who woulda thought, right? 
Published in the journal PLOS One in June, Montagna’s full analysis of his 10-year-old samples showed damage to seafloor organisms stretching across at least 124 square miles. That’s nearly two times larger than the 66-square-mile footprint described in the abbreviated report Montagna turned over for the disaster’s Natural Resource Damage Assessment.

The NRDA process helped determine how much BP owed for the harm done to marine organisms, from the little mud-dwelling creatures Montagna studied to the dead dolphins and oil-drenched pelicans that washed up on Louisiana’s shores. In April 2016, the case was settled for $8.8 billion. It was both the largest environmental settlement in the nation’s history and the biggest infusion of cash for restoration purposes the state had ever seen.

But it might have been larger had the full scope of the damage been known.

“BP got a good deal by settling early,” Montagna said.
How did they get away with it? Well one thing they did was exercise control over the scope of the research that eventually determined their liability. 
Keeping watch over every step was a BP representative.

“He asked a lot of questions, and was with us 24-7,” she said.

Company officials carefully documented each sample’s chain of custody.

“BP didn’t want anybody spiking the samples with oil,” Montagna said.

BP and Montagna “had many difficult conversations” over how to conduct the sampling. BP wanted a narrow focus, concentrating the sampling close to the well. Montagna wanted to travel farther afield, gathering cores from a wider area. Montagna won out on the scope, but not on which samples to analyze for the damage assessment. On that count, BP got its way, zooming the focus on the 58 samples taken closest to the well.

The company used that tighter scope to its advantage. In a statement in 2013, BP said the 58 samples “confirm that potential injury to the deep sea soft sediment ecosystem was limited to a small area in the immediate vicinity of the Macondo well-head.”

BP required all the samples to be kept in a locked cage in a secure, air-conditioned storage room. That is, until the settlement was reached.

“There was zero interest the next day,” Montagna said. “No one cared.”
As for the lasting environmental damage done to the sea floor, we're still learning about how bad it really is.  But, well, it's bad. 
Montagna says plenty of evidence is waiting quietly at the bottom of the Gulf. Recent check-ins by other scientists have revealed little improvement since 2010. Slow to degrade thanks to the deep sea’s cold, dark and sterile conditions, the oil remains nearly as potent as the day it soaked into the mud and formed black pools on the seafloor.

“There’s been almost zero recovery, and it’ll likely stay that way for a long, long time,” Montagna said.

Bollinger ICE raid

Not sure what, exactly, is going on here but the possibility that a company with so many critical ties to the Republican Party in general and to Donald Trump's campaign in particular, might be calling out ICE on its own employees probably needs consideration.
Federal agents staged an extensive search of the Bollinger Shipyards facilities in Lockport on Tuesday as part of an "ongoing federal criminal investigation" led by the Department of Homeland Security and also detained several immigrants in the country illegally at the facility, authorities said.

The operation at the Lafourche Parish shipyard on Tuesday was led by agents from Homeland Security Investigations, the investigative arm of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, according to Bryan Cox, an ICE spokesman. Cox referred additional questions to the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana.

U.S. Attorney Peter Strasser declined comment.

Cox said federal agents also arrested 19 "unlawfully present foreign nationals" at the Bollinger Shipyards location. Five of those people were placed in ICE detention while the other 14 were processed and released after being placed into deportation proceedings in federal immigration court, Cox said.
Of course it also says there is an "ongoing federal criminal investigation"  and it's the sort of thing that has ensnared other Republican Party figures in the state already.

Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, who has railed against loose borders and lax immigration policies during his four years as the state’s top lawman, went into business in 2017 with a Houston labor broker named Marco Pesquera, who had become rich by helping his clients defraud the immigration system to import more than 1,000 Mexican laborers to the Gulf South.

They set out to make millions by winning federal approval to bring in hundreds of skilled Mexican construction workers to help build a massive liquefied natural gas terminal in Cameron Parish.
These are the guys who yell and scream about how we need tough immigration enforcement practices while they themselves are the ones profiting from the exploitation of migrant labor.  You ever wonder if maybe they just like to be able to threaten their workers?

Thursday, July 30, 2020

What could we do differently that would be better?

In a word, everything.
In mid-April, Representative Ilhan Omar introduced legislation to cancel rents and mortgages for the duration of the public health crisis. The legislation would also offer financial relief to tenants and small landlords, and establish a fund to finance the purchase of private rental housing by local governments, public housing authorities, nonprofits, and community land trusts.

In addition to its legislative cosponsors, the bill has been endorsed by over three dozen community and labor organizations.

A statement on Omar’s website emphasizes that “due to layoffs and mass unemployment, renters and mortgage holders are accruing mountains of debt, despite many not having a steady income for the foreseeable future. We must take bold action now that extends the same financial assistance and protections to our struggling citizens as has been offered to profit-driven corporations.”

Unlike many of the mitigation proposals advanced by other lawmakers, Omar’s bill not only addresses the cause of the current eviction crisis, but lays out a path to eliminating housing insecurity and ensuring housing as a right. That’s exactly the right approach. Unless we cancel rent and mortgage obligations during the pandemic and enact policies to guarantee housing for all, we will be placing the burden of the coronavirus pandemic on those who can least afford it.
Don't really see anyone advocating for that sort of land use policy locally.  Maybe ask the nearest "founding entrepreneur" what they think. 

It's going great

Everybody fired. Everybody being more than previously reported.
Recent news analyses have sketched out a dire picture of the scope of the jobless crisis in Louisiana and the extent of the expected damage that the state’s economy as the federal boost to unemployment benefits lapses.

But the true picture is actually worse than some of those reports have outlined. For instance, a Sunday story in The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate noted that more than 313,000 laid-off Louisianans had filed for state unemployment benefits as of July 18, the most recent data for which the state provided complete data. But that figure didn’t include the thousands of freelancers, independent contractors and so-called “gig” workers thrown out of jobs by the coronavirus crisis.

That latter group includes more than 152,000 out-of-work Louisianans who, although not normally covered by the unemployment insurance system, have been able to file for jobless benefits under a special federal expansion of the program to address the massive job losses during the pandemic.
Oh boy.  That's just Louisiana, of course. But this story cites a Brookings report that says New Orleans will be the third "hardest hit" metro in the country by the looming benefits expiration. On the other hand, the rest of the country is... well, it's not going so great there either. 
The number of Americans filing new claims for state unemployment benefits totaled 1.43 million last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday.

It was the 19th straight week that the tally exceeded one million, an unheard-of figure before the coronavirus pandemic. And it was the second weekly increase in a row after nearly four months of declines, a sign of how the rebound in cases has undercut the economy’s nascent recovery. Claims for the previous week totaled 1.42 million.
For those of you who are among the ever-dwindling number of still employed persons, let's try an exercise.  Please raise your hand if you have been obligated out of fear or lack of options to keep going in to work during the pandemic while becoming more frightened and demoralized with news of each death or of the rate of spread.

Okay well if your hand is up, Mitch McConnell says your boss should sue you now
The most obnoxious provision of the GOP proposal is one that shifts the liability in COVID cases from the employer to employee. This provision allows employers to sue employees or their representatives for bringing a claim for a COVID infection and offering to settle out of court.

Most specifically, the measure mentions "demand letters." These are communications to a prospective defendant setting forth the facts of the claim, evidence assembled by the plaintiff, a reckoning of the potential damages and a statement of how much the plaintiff would accept to make the case go away. Here's a sample letter published by the San Francisco law firm Rouda Feder Tietjen & McGuinn.

These documents are often designed as an opening brief in a negotiation; since neither side in an injury case really wants to go to trial, they make sense. The GOP bill would make anyone offering to settle, either through a demand letter or otherwise, liable to be sued for damages if the case they're making is "meritless." That's another term that's undefined in the measure.

Unlike the limitation on damages elsewhere in the bill, by the way, the punitive damages that can be awarded to employers bringing these lawsuits aren't capped.

The measure also gives the attorney general the right to bring his own lawsuit in such cases. As a result, Kennerly observes, Atty. Gen. William Barr would get the right "to sue unions, labor activists, lawyers, doctors — everyone involved in coronavirus claims."
Congress is choosing to send millions of people off of a cliff right now because 1) Republicans are openly hostile to everyone except the bosses and millionaires and 2) Democrats are running an election campaign based on the hope that they can get away doing nothing if everyone is miserable enough, because they just might blame the Republicans for it.

The first of the month is coming. (There's one every month!) But this time we're going in while deliberately cutting off everyone's income. Also the federal evictions moratorium is expiring and the courts are open.. or are they?


Let's take a break from our doomscrolling for a minute to visit with Louisiana's tourism promoter-in-chief for a few minutes of that good ol' irrational exuberance.


Oh man does that feel good or what. Football and Mardi Gras are back, baby! Because Billy believes in it.  Give us some more of those beautiful visions, Billy.  What other lovely things do you see in the future?


Ohhhhkaaay thanks. This has been refreshing. We'll check back with Captain Optimism later as the need arises.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Hygiene theater

Here we have another direct consequence of there being no national good faith strategy to contain the virus and support people in the process.  Every state, every municipality, every school system, every individual business is left to figure the entire thing out for itself. And within that, is a chaos of fifty million isolated power relationships between owners and workers that drives the decision-making in a decidedly unsafe, or at least insincere, direction.
To some American companies and Florida men, COVID-19 is apparently a war that will be won through antimicrobial blasting, to ensure that pathogens are banished from every square inch of America’s surface area.

But what if this is all just a huge waste of time?

In May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines to clarify that while COVID-19 spreads easily among speakers and sneezers in close encounters, touching a surface “isn’t thought to be the main way the virus spreads.” Other scientists have reached a more forceful conclusion. “Surface transmission of COVID-19 is not justified at all by the science,” Emanuel Goldman, a microbiology professor at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, told me. He also emphasized the primacy of airborne person-to-person transmission.

There is a historical echo here. After 9/11, physical security became a national obsession, especially in airports, where the Transportation Security Administration patted down the crotches of innumerable grandmothers for possible explosives. My colleague Jim Fallows repeatedly referred to this wasteful bonanza as “security theater.”

COVID-19 has reawakened America’s spirit of misdirected anxiety, inspiring businesses and families to obsess over risk-reduction rituals that make us feel safer but don’t actually do much to reduce risk—even as more dangerous activities are still allowed. This is hygiene theater.

A lot of this originates with institutions desperate to come up with and present evidence that they are Doing Something, even if that thing they are doing turns out to be nonsense. A nonsensical policy can have remarkable staying power even after it is discredited. And, like we said, on top of that is a host of actors with suddenly empowered to move on agendas that might have been problematic before.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

Looking forward to this 2004 US Senate campaign the Louisiana Democrats are running

Shreveport mayor Adrian Perkins qualified last week to run for Senate. Several observers were immediately and simultaneously impressed with his "sterling resume"

It was immediately predicted that he would "excite" Democrats

Because, apparently, the things that most excite and "compel" Democrats are Ivy League credentials and being a troop.


At least that seemed to be the script everyone was reading from.  Uncanny?  Maybe. Maybe not. I mean, they did tell us who emailed it to them.


Can he win?  Well, reading between the lines here, it doesn't seem likely that is even the point.  See, while the Senate very well may be in play this year, the pros who run the Democratic Party juggernaut do not really expect Louisiana to be a part of that.  BUT since there's likely to be a ton of money flowing their way this fall, it's a good idea to throw as many vessels for receiving and then distributing that money down to professional campaign staff into the mix as possible.  And when Democrats need a placeholder-money sponge to fit into a race like that, well, meritocratic-neoliberal-millitary is the type they prefer.

But, hey don't take it from me...


Sounds very exciting and compelling, right?  Can't you just imagine him facing down some Republican nonsense in the Senate right now?  Wouldn't you like to see a guy like that stand up and ask Mitch McConnell or Tom Cotton if they have "no sense of decency sir?"   What if he had been there on the Senate floor during this term? What might that have looked like?
On Aug. 29th, Sens. Chuck Grassley and Diane Feistein received a letter from eight recent or current members of Harvard Law’s Black Law Student Association (BLSA), including Shreveport mayoral candidate Adrian Perkins, in support of Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court.

The Bayou Brief contacted Perkins, both directly and through his campaign, and, as of the time of publication, has yet to receive a response.

The letter praises Kavanaugh, a staunchly pro-life conservative who is now confronting credible allegations of sexual assault, for meeting with African-American students in March and providing them “his insights and advice” on how to secure a judicial clerkship. “The students who have signed below write to express appreciation for the Judge’s enthusiasm on this issue and hope that his efforts will be taken into consideration,” the letter reads.
Oh dear.

Well, to contextualize this a bit, the young Harvard men are often asked to sign letters like this on behalf of fellow Harvard men seeking advancement in various arenas.  It's a think Harvard men are expected to do for one another.  And at the time of this letter, the sexual assault allegations against Kavanaugh were not widely known so it's probable that Perkins just signed the thing because that's part of what it means to be in the club of Harvard men. Kavanaugh had shared with them some of his own "insights and advice" on how to get ahead themselves and so they would want to pay it back in whatever way they can.

Does that make signing your name to a letter supporting the installation of a right wing ideologue to the Supreme Court any better?  Probably if you are the sort of Democrat who is "excited" by a resume like Perkins's it does.  Not really sure who else it is supposed to impress, though.


Start here with...
Gov. John Bel Edwards is schedule to give his latest update on the fight against coronavirus in Louisiana on Tuesday afternoon.

The press conference will start at 4 p.m. from Baton Rouge.

News broke Monday that multiple bars across the state were shut down due to repeated violations of coronavirus restrictions.

The White House has recommended that Louisiana roll back indoor dining, by further restricting indoor occupancy percentages.
But then, immediately notice.... 
Film production will resume in New Orleans next week for the first time since the city shut down in March to combat the coronavirus pandemic, City Hall said on Tuesday.

The industry has become a major employer and financial contributor to the city, with around 12,000 mostly local workers producing movies and television shows that add an estimated $1.2 billion to the economy each year, according to an economic impact study by the state.

"With each film crew consisting of 85% local workers, the return of productions means getting our residents back to work in an industry that will ensure that they are safe,” said Carroll Morton, the director of Film New Orleans, the municipal government office that oversees the industry.
Most of these decisions are about public safety.... but then some of them seem to be driven by some overriding factor. I wonder what that is.... 

It's no utopia

The federal monitors say Gusman's jail is still not ready to come out of.. uh.. detention.  A few months ago, Gusamn complained that he was being held to an unreasonable "jail utopia" standard. But this seems like the bar he's failing to clear is a good deal lower than that.
Reviews of deaths and near-death attempts like suicide attempts “remain perfunctory and they lack self-critical analysis,” according to the report.

Meanwhile, despite reams of policies and years of concern around suicide attempts, precautions remain lacking. Although the monitors conducted their tour of the jail in late May virtually due to the coronavirus outbreak, they still saw obvious shortfalls.

On one virtual round of the jail’s mental health unit, the monitors spotted an inmate making a rope out of a blanket, and a nursing assistant was chatting with a deputy instead of monitoring inmates on suicide watch.
Maybe next time if they find inmates trying to tunnel out with spoons rather than fashion ropes out of blankets, that will be a sign that morale is up at least. 

Ideally, we wouldn't put anybody in jail at all.  But our political leadership has demonstrated at several points that even during a pandemic, their first priority is "law and order" and punishing people, in general.

This doesn't say anything about the jail budget.  The city has indicated that it believes the jail may be ready to come out from under the consent decree.  And the mayor has even more emphatically called for an end to federal monitoring of NOPD. But in both cases the city's position seems primarily motivated by cost.

Others have argued that it would save a lot of money to de-fund the police and get rid of the jail altogether. But, again, no one in leadership here takes any of that seriously.

Monday, July 27, 2020


Political leadership: The virus is spreading! Everybody needs to stop going out and getting into big crowds and line-ups and stuff in public. Stay inside! Preferably under something.  Don't make us have to take away your go-cups. Okay well, see, we are taking away your co-cups now.

Also political leadership:  What's the matter with you people? Don't you know you're supposed to get out and go to work in our groceries and classrooms and places where people get into big crowds and line-ups and stuff in public? If you're going to just sit at home, don't expect us to help you.
Many Republicans detest the supplemental jobless aid, put in place by the $2.2 trillion stimulus law, arguing that it is a disincentive to returning to work because it exceeds what some workers can earn in regular wages. The Republican proposal, which has badly divided the party, envisions eventually shifting to a new system of calculating benefits that would cap payments at about 70 percent of a worker’s prior income, which would also amount to about $200 per week.

The problem

This is an article about the advance of workplace surveillance technologies.  Paranoid, profit-driven bosses are able to marshal a terrifying array of all seeing and all knowing machines to gain complete and intimate knowledge of workers' actions, associations and habits in order to predict and manipulate their behaviors.  We live in hell.

But we have always lived in hell.  Your boss may have super powerful computers and cameras to track you with now but the impetus to control and squeeze the absolute most value out of workers is a practice that stretches back to slavery.
In 1750, wealthy slave owners in Jamaica and Barbados would meticulously track and manage enslaved workers in order to maximize their productive output. What business schools today call “scientific management” actually has its very roots in the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Plantation owners were determined to extract every last bit of labor they could get from enslaved workers, meticulously tracking, documenting, and analyzing their every move in order to maximize productivity and profit. According to Harvard Business School researcher Caitlin Rosenthal, these techniques were then adopted widely in the United States after a slave owner named Thomas Affleck advanced those surveillance techniques to include “sophisticated calculations” that “measure productivity in a standardized way,” thus allowing “planters to determine how far they could push their workers to get the most profit.” After years of capitalist development, the plantation owners and capitalist executives of today are armed with more intelligent technology that can, in a millisecond, do what Affleck once did with only his eyes and a hand-written spreadsheet. High-tech corporate monitoring of workers today undoubtedly stems from this legacy of meticulous and detailed tracking of enslaved workers in order to extract the most profit from them, and to quell potential rebellion and collective action.
And, of course, the COVID crisis has provided yet another opportunity to expand these practices. Bosses conflate their own desire to track workers' movements with the public health concern over "contact tracing" in order to deploy new and intrusive technologies.  The bosses win the pandemic again.

Anyway the real reason I flagged this article is that it contains a single paragraph that can be cut out and inserted into any story about any social and political conflict going on in the United States in the 21st Century and it will serve as the essential context for what is really being fought over.
Due to advances in workplace technology following World War II, the productivity of the workforce has skyrocketed. Yet wages grew to a lesser extent until 1973, when output soared and wages stagnated even further. Since 1978, CEOs’ salaries have increased by 970 percent, making nearly 300 times more than their average worker. While companies are increasing their profit with these technologies, workers aren’t seeing any corresponding increase in their wages. Instead, those profits are going directly into the pockets of corporate executives.

We may live in hell and have always lived in hell, but the specific bit of hell we're in right now extends from our failure to overcome this problem in particular.  One might expect a situation like that to become unsustainable the longer it persists.  And *gestures widely at everything around us unraveling* could indicate that, yeah, it's not holding up so well at the moment.  The new surveillance technologies are one response meant to hold the fraying system together. They may work too! But, until the underlying is resolved, more draconian and frightening responses than even this will undoubtedly appear.

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Too much world burning down at once

Sorry this space has been a bit sparse as of late. I took the whole weekend to just try and catch up on various projects and got zero of them accomplished. I'll get it all straight soon. I think. I did prove that a person can get drunk on a Saturday night despite there being zero bars in operation so that's something, at least.

Seems like a useful skill to have in the coming weeks when all hell really starts to break loose.
Kudlow, appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," said the 70% wage-replacement formula would be "quite generous by any standard."

But Pelosi predicted that the need for an individual calculation of benefits for each jobless recipient would quickly gum up states' unemployment systems, already groaning under the weight of 20 million to 30 million jobless claims. In many states, including California, workers have waited weeks to start receiving benefits.

"The reason we had $600 was its simplicity," Pelosi said. "So why don't we just keep it simple?"
They don't want to "keep it simple," though.  The bosses are trying to win the pandemic.  The more thoroughly they can destroy any sense of security in what's left of the social safety net, the bigger the win for them.

The whole point is to keep as many workers as desperate as possible. Without a true system of public benefits to rely on, workers are at the mercy of the boss for whatever wages and terms of employment there are to be had. And when there are none, they have nowhere to turn for aid except to... "philanthropy" outlets under the private management of the same class of bosses they're already begging from.  Is it really any surprise to find such offerings inadequate to the need?
"We have been leaning in to raise the money and get it out the door as quickly as we can," Greater New Orleans Foundation CEO Andy Kopplin said. "But it’s impossible for philanthropy to close the massive gap that would come from the expiration of federal unemployment assistance."

The philanthropic group has raised more than $3 million for low-income families and the nonprofits who serve them since the pandemic began, but Kopplin said that's a drop in the bucket compared to the need.
Of course it's a drop in the bucket. That's the whole point. There is no one coming to help. We're just supposed to get used to it.

That and the evictions. August is always the shittiest month of any year. This one is gonna be one for the record books.

Friday, July 24, 2020

It's Friday, are we tuned?

Are we staying that way?
In his last two campaigns for DA, Cannizzaro filed to run on the first day of qualifying, according to records from the Louisiana Secretary of State. Reached by phone, Billy Schultz, who has worked as a political consultant for Cannizzaro, said he didn’t have any information about the DA’s plans.

“Stay tuned,” he said, “that’s all I can tell ya.”
If Leon really is bowing out, that could open up the dynamics of the DA race quite a bit.  Candidates will now have to build their cases as to what sort of "reform" they might stand for beyond just putting Not-Leon in the office. This article finds each of the announced candidates going out of their way to brag a little bit about their willingness to put people in jail, though. So we're not especially optimistic.  But, hey, stay tuned. 

UpdateKind of an anti-climax here
In a statement posted on his office's website, he said “I have proudly devoted the past 42 years of my life to the cause of making New Orleans a safer place to live, work, raise families and visit. But after long discussions with my wife and family, it became apparent that my interest in serving another term has waned, outweighed by a desire to spend more time with my family, especially my nine grandchildren born since I first took office. This was not an easy decision, but it is the one with which I’m most at peace."
People had all sorts of wild theories going about Leon getting a federal appointment or running for some other office. But no, he's gonna spend more time with the fam.   That's what we had to stay tuned for?

Thursday, July 23, 2020


I am tired of virus now
NEW ORLEANS — As lawmakers consider another wave of economic aid for those hit hard by the pandemic, some local businesses are hitting a wall and are closing.  Workers at St. Charles Tavern packed up boxes Thursday.  The bar and restaurant, which has been in business for 103 years, is tapped out.

In a tourist town, there aren’t enough locals to support a place like this, especially during a pandemic.  
I'm not sure about that last line. I mean there are locals who don't have the money or sense of security to spend a lot of nights eating out (even casually) right now.  Plus there is a virus out there and, I don't know about you but I have not been in the mood to go have a celebratory meal in a room full of strangers lately.  

St. Charles Tavern

Anyway, August is coming.  Congress is about to let everyone's unemployment benefits expire and replace them with... something worse. Because despite everything, we aren't suffering quite enough yet.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Can you "get used to" $400 a month?

Whatever they come up with will be worse than the deliberately difficult situation they are currently subjecting people to.  But how much worse? This much?
Republicans are considering extending the enhanced unemployment insurance benefit at a dramatically reduced level of $400 per month, or $100 a week, through the rest of the year, sources told CNBC.
There's no technical reason it has to be worse. Technically the Fed could "mint the coin" and let us pay everybody $2,000 a month until the pandemic abates. But we don't want to do that. We'd much prefer to hurt people just because they need help.

No end in sight

It's going great
“I have never seen infection in which you have such a broad range literally no symptoms at all in a substantial proportion of the population to some who get ill with minor symptoms to some who get ill enough to be in bed for weeks,” he said. “Others get hospitalized, require oxygen, intensive care, ventilation and death. The involvement with the same pathogen is very unique.”

Fauci said officials have to do better in containing the virus as states attempt to reopen. On Tuesday, he said state officials should adopt mask mandates and close bars. He said Wednesday that U.S. health officials do not see “an end in sight” to the pandemic.

“We are certainly not at the end of the game” of the pandemic, Fauci said. “Certainly we are not winning the game right now. We are not beating it.”

If we're going to be here a while we could choose to use this time to devise better ways of taking care of each other and protecting the most vulnerable.  OR we can just tell everyone to "get used to it."  Can we just get used to a more dangerous and unstable life where work is scarce and government support services are basically non-existent?  It sure looks like that is what we're trying to find out.
Louisiana in 1993 paid off the $1.3 billion it borrowed in 1987. Two years later, in a plan crafted by Richardson with business and labor leaders, the Legislature put the trust fund on solid footing -- until now -- by establishing the tax that businesses would pay and the amount that the unemployed would receive.

The plan included a trigger that would raise the business tax and lower the benefit payment if the trust fund went below $750 million.

Richardson said the trigger, with a delay, will take effect in January, with businesses paying about 10% more in taxes and the unemployed receiving about 10% less in benefits.
They rigged it to self-destruct during an emergency. Whatever scheme they replace it with will likely be worse. Congressional Republicans are arguing right now over how much worse it should be. As we've seen many times before, though, it can get pretty bad.  Benefits can be slashed, unions can be broken, scores of services people rely on can be eliminated or privatized. Everything is on the table when these situations arise. And they do seem to arise with greater and greater frequency.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

They will definitely do this

Even if they find later that they can't get away with it entirely, congress is definitely willing to try letting unemployment benefits lapse. Just to see what happens if for no other reason.
Congress returned from recess this week to consider a new relief package, which could include at least a partial extension of the extra unemployment benefits. Senate Republicans and the White House are considering a roughly $1 trillion package that would retain the program but scale it back. Democrats are pressing to continue paying the full $600 a week.

But Congress seems unlikely to act before benefits lapse. And because of the antiquated computer systems in many state unemployment offices, which do the processing, it could take weeks to restart payments. That means that millions are likely to see their income drop at least temporarily.
If something gets thrown together later to replace the $600 a week, it will certainly be less.  Neither party can be held accountable.  It's just another round of Republicans accusing the American worker of being a lazy freeloader and Democrats apologizing for it while tacitly agreeing. This is the most natural set of motions our national body politic can make. It reaffirms everything we already know and expect of ourselves.

There are few things more central to the American political creed than the belief that people are poor because they are losers or unemployed because they don't want to work. It's more deeply embedded now than it's ever been.   There is no crisis or calamity that can shake us of that notion.  Individual Americans will suffer tremendous personal deprivation just to demonstrate their own commitment to "self-sufficiency." Likely the isolation and paranoia brought on by the pandemic has only exacerbated this quality. People are much more afraid of losing their job ... of "failing at life" than they are of dying of a disease.  This is incredibly easy for an elite political class to exploit. They're about to do just that with this next shock.  

Maybe at the end of this round, there will still be unemployment checks.  They won't be as much. And we will pay for them either with cuts to our retirement, or by sacrificing basic worker safety protections to some legal immunity scheme. In any case, we're going to be worse off. The bosses won the pandemic. This is how they reap the spoils now.  And once they see how much they get from this pass, they'll be back again for more.