“I wish you benevolent demons for the New Year.”
– Walter Benjamin
I shed no tears for Harvard, an institution that has inflicted untold misery and bloodshed on the world. For all I care, it could become the target of a hostile takeover by financial pirates trained in its own classrooms, access to which they gained through legacy admissions. This is, of course, pretty much what happened, at least in the mind of one of the homegrown Visigoths who breached its ivy-tangled walls in search of the university president’s head.
I’m talking about Bill Ackman, the billionaire son of a multi-millionaire son (and Harvard grad) of a millionaire. Using Christopher Rufo’s playbook, Ackman leveraged his clout as a Harvard donor and former big man on campus to assail Claudine Gay, Harvard’s first black president, accusing her of turning Harvard Yard into a Hamas-training camp, and, for good measure, being a naughty plagiarist. Ackman recruited some strange allies for his regime change crusade, from the NYT to the vicious congressional grandstander Elise Stefanik.
For her part, Gay proved an easy target, with her stumbling testimony before Congress and confused response to student anti-war protests on campus, which she should simply have defended on free speech grounds, something the Right claims, speciously in most cases, to support.
Still, the forced eviction of Gay wasn’t about anti-semitism (how could it be with the bigoted Stefanik leading the charge?) or plagiarism, but the right-wing assault on academic freedom and the bi-partisan enforcement of pro-Israeli doctrine on campus. And they aren’t going to stop by claiming the heads of Penn and Harvard. Indeed, they’re not going to stop until they are stopped. The ouster of Gay and Penn’s Liz Magill has merely whetted their bloodlust. Rufo and Stefanik have already set their McCarthyite sights on decapitating the president of MIT (Sally Kornbluth) and Ackman has called for the resignation of the entire Harvard board for the crime of implementing diversity and inclusion policies that he deems racist. Ackman is also miffed that Gay retained her faculty position, writing on Twitter: “This makes no sense. How can she continue as a member of the faculty?” The super-rich get more pleasure out of firing people than having sex.
+ Norman Finkelstein on the forced resignation of Claudine Gay: “What happened to Charlene Gay is the biggest assault on academic freedom in our history. It is unthinkable that a president of a university would be overthrown by big money. You know what Balzac, the French novelist said: ‘Behind ever great fortune is a great crime.’ So this billionaire criminal class, if they can determine the president, they can determine every facet of university life. And I’ve talked to many student organizations, including at U of P and at Harvard, and I’ve said, your first demand when school resumes (Penn President) Magil should be restored. And that should be the first demand at Harvard, that Claudine Gay should be restored. If you don’t restore her, you’ve set a ghastly precedent. You will be the alumni of a generation of students that allowed for the end of academic freedom.”
+ Like the Israelis, Christopher Rufo has explicitly telegraphed what’s going to do, how he’s going to do it, bragged about doing it and explained exactly what he’s going to do next. No one can plausibly claim they were caught off guard.
+ As for Gay, she’s the latest victim of Writing Citations While Black. Her alleged acts of plagiarism weren’t even deemed improper by the people she allegedly plagiarized and were certainly not as serious as the blatant acts of prose-theft committed by Alan Dershowitz (and exposed by Norman Finklestein and Alexander Cockburn), which didn’t derail his carer at Harvard Law.
+ Then there’s the supreme plagiarist himself, Neil Gorsuch, who, showing little respect for copyright or property rights, appropriated entire passages, word for word, without any citations at all for his book “The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia.”
+ In a 2017 column for Huffington Post, computer scientist John Massey documented just how grand Gorsuch’s word larceny was: “blue = word for word identical, in-order. Yellow = trivial edits. Pink = subtle deletion from balanced account of anything sympathetic to couple’s difficult decision, shading story to fit Gorsuch’s views.”
+ And in the postscript of postscripts, on Thursday Business Insider reported that Bill Ackman’s wife, the boutique academic and artist Neri Oxman, a former professor at Ackman’s next target MIT, plagiarized passages in her 2010 dissertation. The Business Insider review found that Oxman lifted passages from a study by two Israeli scholars, Steve Weiner and H. Daniel Wagner, an article by NYU professor Peder Anker, a 1995 paper published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, a book by the physicist Claus Mattheck and her own previously published work without citing it.
+ Previously, Ackman pressured Joi Ito, then head of MIT’s Media Lab, to keep from mentioning Oxman’s name when answering media queries about an original sculpture she gave to Jeffrey Epstein in gratitude for a $125,000 donation to the Lab.
+ Coincidentally, Christopher Rufo has repeatedly claimed his master’s degree is from Harvard University. But it’s actually from Harvard “Extension” School, which describes itself as an “open-enrollment institution prioritizing access, equity, and transparency.” Harvard University itself doesn’t even accept credits from the Extension School.
+ In other academic news, Bill Johnson, the rightwing Republican congressman from Ohio, who made his political reputation as a 2020 election denier and virulent anti-abortion stances, is retiring earlier than expected to take a plum gig as the president of Youngstown State. But perhaps Harvard can land him in the transfer portal…
+ What it’s all about:….Chip Wilson, the billionaire founder of Lululemon, attacked his own company’s diversity and inclusion policies: “You’ve got to be clear that you don’t want certain customers coming in.” In other words, you’ve got to let the (far) right ones in.
+ Charlie Kirk: “Why are whites taking this? Why are we just sitting idly by and allowing corporate America to give all the jobs to nonwhite people…“Where is this headed? South Africa. That’s where this is headed. They repeatedly have called for genocide against white people.”
+ Biden is now losing to Trump among Hispanics and young voters, while his support among Black voters continues to slide.
+ Is it any wonder Biden’s losing the Hispanic vote?
+ Fortunately, the Republicans are hanging tough against adding more Border Patrol agents, so far…
Jake Tapper: Some people are saying why not pass the $14 billion supplemental
House Speaker Mike Johnson: That won’t help
Tapper: I’m sure the CBP agents think it might do something
Tapper: They don’t want the $14 billion?
+ Newsweek reports that Biden’s campaign staffers are warning that volunteers are quitting “in droves,” largely over his refusal to change course on Israel-Gaza. Did he really think young people wanted to work for a geriatric genocider, who couldn’t even fulfill a promise to pay off their student debt?
+ Trump’s businesses received at least $7.8 million from 20 foreign governments during his presidency, according to new documents released by House Democrats on Thursday. Most of it ($5,572,548) from…wait for it…China.
+ Nikki Haley has embraced the third (and fourth) rail: “Any candidate that tells you they’re not going to go after Social Security and Medicare is not being serious.”
Here’s Haley, allegedly the last rational Republican, on the cause of the Civil War….
+ Haley will soon be appearing in a series of PragerU Master Class videos on the War Over How Government Was Going to Run (AKA, the War Between the States Over Government Getting in the Way of People Being Anything They Want, better known as the War of Northern Aggression)
+ Haley claimed her interrogator was a plant designed to “trip her up.” But the question was as straightforward as they come. Her racism tripped her up and, more revealingly, the racism she detects in the people she’s trying to seduce into voting for her.
+ In 2001, Haley listed her race as “white” on her voter registration form.
+ None of her pandering to bigots (if that’s what it is) is helping her in her home state, where she’s being drubbed by Trump in the latest Emerson poll…
+ Trump on Haley not mentioning slavery when she was asked about what caused the Civil War: “I don’t know that it’s going to have an impact, but, you know, I’d say slavery is sort of the obvious answer as opposed to about three paragraphs of bullshit.”
+ Vanessa Joy, a transgendered woman running for the Ohio statehouse, was kicked off the ballot she describe herself as transgender in her petition to get on the ballot. Joy circulated petitions using her legal name, instead of her former name. The law does not apply to people who change their names due to marriage.
+ Former Republican congressman Adam Kinzinger describes the Eau de Trump: “Take armpits, ketchup, a butt and makeup and put that all in a blender.”
+ Conservative Pennsylvania politician and “parental rights” activist Clarice Schillinger punched a teenager in the face after doing shots with her daughter’s friends at a booze-soaked party she hosted, according to court documents…The only people who take these “activists” seriously are the 6 justices on the Supreme Court who are paid to by Leonard Leo’s rolodex of donors when their manufactured cases hit the shadow docket…
+ “We weren’t jerks. That’s just what we did…”
Christian fascists Edward Szall, Vincent James, and Lauren Witzke agree that gay people should be forced back into the closet … for their own good: "We beat up the kid at school who had two dads. And we weren’t jerks for that, that’s just what we did.” https://t.co/jCdi4pI2xo pic.twitter.com/e1T2vHy0IU
— Right Wing Watch (@RightWingWatch) January 4, 2024
+ A Wall Street Journal piece on the ravenous global demand for weapons profiles a missile manufacturer in Kongsberg, Norway, that is running its factories around the clock—and wait times for its NASAMS interceptor missile remain years long. “I’ve never seen anywhere near so much demand,” said Eirik Lie, president of the defense division of Kongsberg Defence & Aerospace.
+ Israel bombs Beirut and Biden bombs Baghdad in the same week–both illegal assassination strikes with collateral damage. It sure looks like the wider Middle East war Israel (and John Bolton) wanted has begun. Mike Knights of the Washington Institute: “If Iraqi PM Al Sudani doesn’t chuck the US out this time, I predict he’ll get a nice state visit to DC this quarter.”
+ Someone also bombed Iran, killing more than 100 people attending a memorial for Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the former leader of Iran’s Quds Force who was assassinated by a U.S. drone strike exactly four years ago.
+ Rep. Ilhan Omar has introduced legislation to block the Biden administration’s attempt to sell $582 million in arms to Saudi Arabia.
+ The combined defense budgets of the 54 countries supporting Ukraine far exceed $100 billion per month. However, the current level of support for Ukraine costs those states less than $6 billion monthly.
+ Provide ballistic missiles to countries that are waging war on civilian populations? Who would do such a thing?
John Kirby: "Our information indicates that the Democratic People's Republic of Korea recently provided Russia with ballistic missile launchers and several ballistic missiles…Russian forces launched at least on of these North Korean missiles into Ukraine." pic.twitter.com/36n8lV82lp
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 4, 2024
+ According to the latest CDC COVID-19 wastewater data, the US is currently experiencing the second-largest surge of the pandemic. It will peak in the next week, with around 2 million infections per day. During this surge, around 100 million people total (1 in 3 people in the US) will likely get COVID.
+ Less than 4.5% of a cohort of pediatric COVID-19 patients admitted to US hospitals during the period of the Omicron surge had completed their primary COVID-19 vaccine series.
+ An infant was admitted to Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia with a fever. Two days later, while still hospitalized, the baby developed a rash. It was diagnosed as a case of measles. An unvaccinated family was in the room door. Both the child and the parent got sick. Now there’s a cluster. There’ll be more, given the falling vaccination rates for all childhood diseases.
+ A polar bear has died from bird flu as the H5N1 virus spreads across the globe. The current epidemic, which started in 2021, is estimated to have killed millions of wild birds and thousands of mammals globally: “The analysis indicated a heightened risk that HPAI [highly pathogenic avian influenza] would present in Antarctic species in 2023 or 2024 in the Antarctic Peninsula region and that is exactly what we are seeing.”
+ More and more nurses in the US are working as gig workers, moving from one facility to the next like Uber drivers: “Nurses reported being told almost nothing about the facilities they were booked in – only to arrive and realize most of the staff were also gig nurses without enough of them to properly care for patients.”
+ A nurse at the Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center in southern Oregon injected multiple patients with tap water to cover up their misuse of the hospital’s supply of pain medication, specifically fentanyl. As many as nine or ten people developed infections and died.”
+ From the Annals of Nazi Medicine…
+ It’s now official: 2023 was the warmest year on record at 1.43C above preindustrial levels, beating the prior record set in 2016 by 0.14C. This continues a rapid warming trend that’s seen global temperatures rise around 1C since 1970.
+ December 2023 was the warmest December on record for the Contiguous U.S. by a wide margin. It was 0.67°F (0.37°C) warmer than December 2021.
+ A new study in Nature estimates that even under an optimistic scenario “the global North would overshoot its share of the 1.5 °C carbon budget by a factor of three, appropriating half of the global South’s share in the process.”
+ The Great Lakes typically have an ice coverage of 55% during the winter months, causing at least half of their surfaces to freeze. As of January 1, they had a combined ice cover of just 0.2%. Lake Superior 0.5%, Lake Michigan 0%, Lake Huron 0%, Lake Erie 0%, Lake Ontario 0%…
+ James Hansen: “When our children and grandchildren look back at the history of human-made climate change, this year and next will be seen as the turning point at which the futility of governments in dealing with climate change was finally exposed.”
+ After an 8-year battle, Judge Ann Aiken has dismissed all of the US government’s motions to dismiss and further stall the so-called youth climate constitutional case Juliana v. US. The case is now bound for trial. In her 49-page opinion, Judge Aiken wrote: “This catastrophe is the great emergency of our time and compels urgent action. As this lawsuit demonstrates, young people—too young to vote and effect change through the political process—are exercising the institutional procedure available to plead with their government to change course.”
+ Leaders at COP28 agreed to a “historic” $700 million in loss and damage funding. Meanwhile, BP, Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies are about to reward their investors with record payouts of more than $100 billion.
+ Post-fire salvage logging (once described as the ecological equivalent of throwing acid on a burn patient) is being re-branded as “rewilding”!
+ Streams in Alaska are turning orange with iron and sulfuric acid. Scientists are trying to figure out why.
+ NuScale, the much-hyped nuclear power start-up company, is laying off nearly half its workforce. It’s the second major nuclear power company to slash jobs in the last few months.
+ For the first time in 8 years, Tesla isn’t the world’s top seller of fully electric vehicles. In the second half of 2023, BYD surpassed it. The Shenzhen-based BYD’s full-year volumes were almost as much as its EV and hybrid sales over the previous five years combined.
+ A robot at a Tesla factory allegedly attacked an engineer, stabbing its metal claws into his back and arm and leaving a “trail of blood” on the machinery. The injured worker was given no time off.
+ In 2023, the highest top range for an EV was 516 miles on a single charge (Lucid Air), while the median range for all EV models rose to a new high of 270 miles. The number of models and their ranges have greatly increased since modern EVs were introduced in 2011, when four models were available with ranges spanning 63 to 94 miles per charge.
+ In the last twenty years, southern New England has experienced nearly 30 fewer snow days a year.
+ The snowpack at the base of our local strato-volcano, Mt. Hood, sits nearly 50 inches below the normal amount for this time of year.
+ Wild monkeys on a Thai island began using stone tools during the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel restrictions meant they were no longer being fed by tourists. Meanwhile, as the number of bees and other pollinators declines, largely as a result of toxic pesticides, some flowers have begun to fertilize their own seeds (rather than those of other plants) to sexually reproduce in a process called “selfing,” according to a study published in the New Phytologist.
+ Falconry is a strange kind of environmentalism. Strange everything with this guy…
+ On the night of December 4, Niani Finlayson, a 27-year-old black woman living in Lancaster, California, called 9/11 for help, as she was being beaten by her former boyfriend. The audio from the call records Finlayson shouting: “He won’t get out of my house … He will not leave me alone … I need the police here right now.” She can be heard screaming on the tape and telling the man repeatedly to get off of her.
A few minutes later two Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies arrive at her apartment complex and knock on the door. Finlayson answers with her young daughter, Xaisha, standing next to her. The body cam footage shows that Finlayson is holding a kitchen knife in one of her hands and begins to tell the cops that she trying to defend her daughter, who her ex has been hurting. The daughter says the man had “punched” her. The female deputy enters the room and Finlayson and her daughter move back. Then Deputy Ty Shelton comes through the door, holding a Taser in one hand and his gun in the other. Three seconds later Shelton opens fire, hitting Finlayson four times, as her daughter stands beside her. The ex-boyfriend can be heard screaming: “No, no, why did you shoot?”
This is Shelton’s second lethal shooting while responding to a domestic disturbance call. In 2020, a few weeks after the murder of George Floyd, Shelton shot Michael Thomas in the chest during a verbal argument with his girlfriend. Thomas, a 61-year-old black man, was unarmed. Shelton didn’t have his body cam on and he wasn’t charged.
+ A new report by the National Registry of Exonerations documented 129 cases in which people were falsely convicted at least partly because of flawed hair analysis and testimony. Fifteen of these defendants received a death sentence.
+ U.S. mass shootings over the past ten years:
+ Keith “KJ” Frierson, a 10-year-old boy living in Sacramento, California was shot dead over the weekend when the shooter, who was also 10 years old, got mad after losing a bicycle race, grabbed his father’s gun and opened fire. In Largo, Florida, a 14-year-old boy fatally shot his sister in an argument over Christmas gifts, only to be shot moments later by his own teenage brother.
+ A North Carolina pastor was arrested after trying to shove a man’s head into a McDonald’s deep-fryer.
+ Violent crime in the US is down almost everywhere, but San Francisco, where it has been on the rise since Chesa Boudin was removed from office and “tough-on-crime” Brooke Jenkins took his place.
+ A West Virginia woman says a bartender working on a Margaritaville at Sea cruise ship slipped her a date rape drug, then snuck into her cabin in the middle of the night and raped her. She became pregnant and her rapist later forced her to get an abortion.
+ In keeping with last year’s pardons, which freed no one from prison, Biden has issued a new round of pardons that will free no one from prison…
+ During his 2020 campaign, Biden pledged to cut the federal incarceration rate in half. When Trump took office, the federal prison population stood at 185,617. When he left office, there were 155,562 people incarcerated in federal lockup, a decline of 30,055. Under three years of Biden, the number of federal prisoners has increased by 1,149 inmates for a total of 156,711 people behind federal bars.
+ According to “Race and Economic Opportunity in the United States: An Intergenerational Perspective,” put out by the Opportunity Insights project based at Harvard, “only 2.5% of Black kids born to a parent or parents in the bottom quintile move to the top quintile of household income. For white kids, the figure is 10.6%. What is more likely for both is they will stay in the poorest quintile or at best, move up one level to lower middle class. For white kids, that figure is 53.4% and for Black kids, 75.4%.”
+ Brazil’s President Lula just issued a decree increasing the minimum wage from $R1322 to $R1412, a 3% raise over inflation. This is his 10th annual above-inflation minimum wage hike since first taking power in 2003. The federal minimum wage in the US is $7.50 an hour. It hasn’t been raised since 2009.
+ Meanwhile, Peruvian shamans have put the ju-ju on the Randian despot of Argentina…
Peruvian shamans try to use a spiritual ritual to ensure that President Javier Milei of Argentina doesn't finish his term. pic.twitter.com/gFAFE0VZSs
— Crazy Ass Moments in LatAm Politics (@AssLatam) January 4, 2024
+ A study by Americans for Tax Fairness found that the wealthiest people in the United States collectively hold $8.5 trillion in wealth that is not subject to taxation.
+ Fidelity reports that the value of X has fallen by 71% since its purchase by Elon Musk and the name change from Twitter. This includes a 10.7% drop in November, after Musk told boycotting X advertisers to “go fuck yourself.” X is the only thing that’s fallen more steeply than Biden’s popularity…
+ Prosecutors with the NLRB allege Elon Musk’s SpaceX interrogated and surveilled workers and illegally fired the authors of an open letter that criticized him. According to the NLRB suit, Space X management told workers it had terminated co-workers because of their open letter criticizing Elon Musk, restricted them from distributing it, and threatened more firings if staff engaged in collective action,
+ Jacob Silverman on his piece with James Block in The Nation on how Colorado became the Wild West epicenter of the crypto-trade: “In 2019, CO Gov. Jared Polis signed a law exempting crypto from securities regs. Now, CO is home to more crypto companies than any other state, and some are helping scam Americans for millions in pig-butchering schemes.”
+ Steven Reece Lewis, the CEO of a crypto fund called HyperVerse, was introduced to potential investors as boasting an impressive resume and hailed by several celebrity endorsement videos from the likes of Steve Wozniak, Chuck Norris, Jim Norton, and Lance Bass. But, much like cryptocurrency itself, there’s no evidence that Lewis actually exists in the material world.
+ Meanwhile, the Biden administration, apparently seduced by millions in lobbying, has quietly issued a ruling that could jump-start the deregulation of the crypto industry. As the Lever reported, the rule change was a top priority for crypto-conman Sam Bankman-Fried.
+ More than a year after Biden signed the CHIPS Act into law, which promised $100 billion in support to new semiconductor plants in the US, his administration has issued only one grant and that one for just $35 million. The biggest problem chip fabricators need workers. The most logical solution is immigration reform. But Biden is tightening restrictions, instead of loosening them.
+ I was hit hard by three deaths this week: John Pilger, the fearless journalist and documentarian, who had written for CounterPunch for the last 20 years; the uncompromising Navajo environmentalist and indigenous rights activist Klee Benally at only 48; and my old friend Brent Blackwelder, who ran Friends of the Earth for many years after David Brower was driven out and largely stuck with Dave’s original vision for the organization, as most of the other members of Gang Green went corporate.
+ The Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembène: ”Cinema is an ongoing political rally with the audience. In a movie theatre you have Catholics, Muslims, Gaullists, Communists if the film is good. Each sees what they want.”
+ Best Buy is ending all sales of DVDs and Blu-ray discs in 2024 — both in-store and online, which will make the commentary Cockburn and I did for the DVD of Tim Robbins’ Bob Roberts a true collector’s item!
+ Aaron Rodgers said this week that he will pop “some sort of bottle” when the Epstein associates list comes out: “A lot of people, including Jimmy Kimmel, are really hoping that [Epstein list] doesn’t come out…”
Jimmy Kimmel: “Dear Aasshole: for the record, I’ve not met, flown with, visited, or had any contact whatsoever with Epstein, nor will you find my name on any ‘list’ other than the clearly-phony nonsense that soft-brained wackos like yourself can’t seem to distinguish from reality. Your reckless words put my family in danger. Keep it up and we will debate the facts further in court.”
+ Ghislaine Maxwell on the release of the Epstein list: “It’s all about men abusing women for a long period of time… and it’s only one person in jail—a woman.”
+ The novelist Anthony Powell on his friend Edward Pakenham, 6th Earl of Longford: “At Oxford, a speech made by Edward Longford at the Union (condoning the murder by Irish terrorists in London of Field-Marshal Sir Henry Wilson) had proved unacceptable to contemporaries at Christ Church, leading to immersion in Mercury, the fountain dedicated to such expressions of undergrad disapproval. This dunking was the great event of Longford’s career, ever afterward a gratifying memory, his favorite set-piece. I don’t think I have ever been in his company for more than a couple of hours without his making reference to the occasion. According to himself the ceremony had been mildly–even courteously–performed, leaving him on a warm summer night lying in his pajamas slightly submerged in a few inches of water.”
+ Katt Williams: “Most comedians don’t get booed enough. That’s how you end up with Michael Blackson, who is a real African, doin’ a fake African accent.”
+ Paul Schrader in Le Monde on his new film, Oh, Canada: “The shoot was only seventeen days. I kept all the scenes we shot. The rough cut was ninety minutes. The final cut is ninety-one minutes. That’s how I work. To the bone.”
+ Les McCann, one of the funkiest keyboard players of the 60s and 70s, died this week at age 88. McCann, whose music was rediscovered and widely sampled by hip-hop artists, suffered a stroke while playing onstage in 1995 that paralyzed the right side of his body. But he continued playing. His friend Oscar Peterson, who had suffered a stroke two years earlier that paralyzed the left side of his body, joked that the two should tour together as “one good piano player.”
+ Sonny Rollins: “My wishes for the planet in 2024: No killing. No killing. Don’t kill anyone, anywhere, for any reason.” I don’t know many wiser people on the planet than Mr. Rollins. Maybe people should listen to what the Man has to say…
The President, He’s Got His War, Folks Don’t Know Just What It’s For
What I’m reading this week…
Welcome the Wretched: In Defense of the “Criminal Alien”
César Cuauhtémoc García Hernández
Busting the Bankers’ Club: Finance for the Rest of Us
Democracy in a Hotter Time: Climate Change and Democratic Transformation
Ed. David W. Orr
What I’m listening to this week
Am I British Yet?
V V Brown
Not in the Mood
“I’m not in the mood for all this today. I have no desire to demonstrate, surprise, amuse, or persuade. My goal is absolute rest. To know nothing, to teach nothing, to want nothing, to sense nothing, to sleep, and then to sleep more.”
– Charles Baudelaire