The sports stadium grift

In the US, wealthy owners of professional sports teams have long practiced the art of extortion on the local citizens of the cities where they play. They demand that taxpayers pay for, or at least partly subsidize, brand new fancy stadiums that give them more revenue and threaten to move the team to another city if their demands are not met. They play on the fact that elected city officials fear facing the wrath of enraged fans if the city loses its team, and thus often are willing to agree to the terms. On the flip side, the cities seeking to attract a team are also willing to make deals that are generous to the owners. These deals rarely benefit the local population, who would have benefited more if the money had been spent on other things.
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How dangerous are deepfakes?

We have got used to the existence of ‘deepfakes’, computer generated images and videos that are almost indistinguishable from the real thing. This has caused some serious concerns about the possibility of deepfakes becoming a powerful tool for disinformation and mischief, especially in the political arena, since it is possible to have people seem to say and do things that are damaging to themselves with the viewer being none the wiser that they have been conned.

But how dangerous is this?

In the November 20, 2023 issue ofThe New Yorker, Daniel Immerwahr reviews some recent books that look at the dangers posed by deepfakes and concludes that the fears may be overblown, and that even when deepfakes are explicitly political, most of it is used for parody and otherwise humorous purposes, and not meant to convince us that we are watching the real thing,

Fakery in the visual realm goes back to the earliest days of photography, where a lot of editing was done in darkroooms to get the effect sought.

In “Faking It” (2012), Mia Fineman, a photography curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, explains that early cameras had a hard time capturing landscapes—either the sky was washed out or the ground was hard to see. To compensate, photographers added clouds by hand, or they combined the sky from one negative with the land from another (which might be of a different location).

From our vantage point, such manipulation seems audacious. Mathew Brady, the renowned Civil War photographer, inserted an extra officer into a portrait of William Tecumseh Sherman and his generals. Two haunting Civil War photos of men killed in action were, in fact, the same soldier—the photographer, Alexander Gardner, had lugged the decomposing corpse from one spot to another. Such expedients do not appear to have burdened many consciences. In 1904, the critic Sadakichi Hartmann noted that nearly every professional photographer employed the “trickeries of elimination, generalization, accentuation, or augmentation.” It wasn’t until the twentieth century that what Hartmann called “straight photography” became an ideal to strive for.

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Speak, George!

Fabulist George Santos seems resigned to the fact that following the release of the scathing report by the House ethics committee on his behavior, that he may be expelled from the House of Representatives even before he is convicted of any charges and before the expiration of his current term. But he seems determined to not go quietly into the night, as can be seen from his recent statement.

Santos said that members calling for his expulsion are basically throwing rocks in a glass house because of the baggage they carry as well, and if he is expelled from Congress, then he would expect that precedent to lead to other expulsions as well.

“Within the ranks of the United States Congress, there’s felons galore, there’s people with all sorts of sheisty backgrounds, and all of a sudden, George Santos is the Mary Magdalene of the United States Congress,” he said. “I don’t want to work with a bunch of hypocrites. It’s gross. I have colleagues who are more worried about getting drunk every night with the next lobbyists that they’re going to screw and pretend like none of us know what’s going on and sell off the American people.”

“Not show up to vote because they’re too hungover or whatever the reason is, or not show up to vote at all and just give their card out like f***ing candy for someone else to vote for them. This s**t happens every single week. Where are the ethics investigations?” he continued.

Santos made clear in the space that he will not resign and that he wants to see the House “set this precedent” and expel him from Congress based solely on the ethics report, saying that he will “stand for expulsion” to make the House take a vote on it.

“Start the new precedent that the moment anybody is accused of anything, I expect everybody to start being expelled. And that means there’s a s**t ton of members that should be getting expelled following my expulsion,” Santos said.

Santos said he expected to be expelled from Congress because he “can do math” and count the votes.

“I know I’m going to get expelled when this expulsion resolution goes to the floor,” he said.

Maybe the only good thing that may out out of Santos’s brief tenure as a member of congress is if he exposes the seedy underbelly of the body. Of course, since his own credibility is close to zero, any targets of his criticism can simply dismiss his charges as yet more lies.

It is time to call out Trump’s derangement

There is no question that serial sex abuser Donald Trump’s (SSAT) rants at his rallies and on his social media account are becoming more frequent and vicious. It seems like he never stops attacking his opponents and some of his harshest vitriol is aimed at the law clerk assisting Judge Engoron in the New York City fraud trial. Why he picks on the hapless clerk is hard to understand. The latest one was unleashed at 2:00am on Thanksgiving morning, a time when most people are asleep.

“Happy Thanksgiving to ALL, including the Racist & Incompetent Attorney General of New York State,” Trump wrote Thursday morning at 2:03 AM. He also extended his holiday greetings to “the Radical Left Trump Hating Judge, a ‘Psycho,’ Arthur Engoron, who Criminally Defrauded the State of New York, & ME, by purposely Valuing my Assets at a “tiny” Fraction of what they are really worth.” Trump also once again mentioned Engoron law clerk Allison Greenfield by name, describing her as “Politically Biased & Corrupt.”

The 45th president of the United States also attacked President Joe Biden in his early morning rant, saying he “WEAPONIZED his Department of Injustice against his Political Opponent, & allowed our Country to go to HELL.” He concluded the post mentioning “all of the other Radical Left Lunatics, Communists, Fascists, Marxists, Democrats, & RINOS, who are seriously looking to DESTROY OUR COUNTRY.”

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What privilege looks like

A video of a man, a former state department official and reportedly an advisor to president Obama, harassing a street vendor in New York City has gone viral.

The street vendor in Manhattan who was racially harangued about the Gaza conflict woke to huge lines of well-wishing customers on Wednesday as the the former state department official who was filmed berating him was arrested and charged with racial harassment and stalking as a hate crime.

Mohammed Hussein, 24, was back to work at the Q Halal Cart grill on Wednesday on the corner of Second Avenue and East 83rd Street, with lines of customers queuing for food in a sign of support.

Hussein has said he is still shaken by the encounters with Stuart Seldowitz, 64, who repeatedly harassed him with Islamophobic invective. Seldowitz called Hussein a “terrorist”, said 4,000 dead Palestinian children in Gaza “wasn’t enough”, called the Prophet Muhammad a “rapist” and told the vendor he’d be tortured “when they deport you back to Egypt”.The vendor repeatedly asked Seldowitz to leave him alone in the clips, to which Seldowitz was filmed replying: “Why should I go. Why should I go? Tell me why I should go? I’m standing here. I am an American. It’s a free country.”

Seldowitz was arrested and charged at the 19th precinct on the Upper East Side on Wednesday with one count of aggravated harassment of race or religion and four counts of stalking as a hate crime.

After the videos were shared online and Seldowitz was publicly identified, the political lobbying firm he had consulted with said it had cut ties with him, and offered to represent Hussein. “I’ll represent the food vendor pro bono if he wants to bring a lawsuit,” Gotham Government Relations president David Schwartz said.

I watched the video and what struck me was how smug and self-satisfied Seldowitz looked throughout it all, smiling all the time, full of the confidence that in this encounter with an immigrant street vendor, he had all advantages of inequality. He spoke of how he could use his contacts in the state department and in Egypt to create trouble for the vendor and his parents.

I am not in general supportive of online viral shaming because it can be abused, with edited and misleading videos used against ordinary people. But in this case, Seldowitz seems to deserve it.

Will no one speak up for white billionaire men?

Jim Irsay, the billionaire owner of an NFL football team, was arrested in 2014 for driving while impaired. In a recent news conference, he claimed that he was discriminated against because he is a white billionaire.

The longtime NFL owner spoke about the circumstances of his arrest in an interview with the HBO show Real Sports that aired on Tuesday. Irsay later pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of operating a vehicle while impaired after initially facing four additional counts of possession of a controlled substance.

“I am prejudiced against because I’m a rich, white billionaire,” Irsay told HBO’s Andrea Kremer. “If I’m just the average guy down the block, they’re not pulling me in, of course not.”

Police in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel pulled Irsay over after observing a man in a Toyota Highlander driving slowly, stopping in the roadway and failing to use a turn signal. Authorities discovered various prescription drugs in Irsay’s vehicle along with more than $29,000 in cash.

A toxicology report showed Irsay had the painkillers oxycodone and hydrocodone as well as alprazolam, which is used to treat anxiety, in his system at the time of his arrest. Officers on the scene said he had trouble reciting the alphabet and failed other field sobriety tests.

Of course he’s right. The US is highly biased in favor of poor and people of color who get all manner of preferential treatment, especially from the criminal justice system. Kudos to Irsay for having the guts to point this out, even though he will suffer all manner of consequences for doing so, such as (oh, the horror!) being criticized by the media.

Meanwhile a group associated with Stephen Miller , serial sex abuser Donald Trump’s close advisor, has filed a lawsuit against the department store chain Macy’s charging that it “perpetuate[s] illegal racial discrimination — denying career advancement to white straight men.”

It is about time that we stood in solidarity with straight white men who have suffered for so long in silence as gays and people of color and women have been given preference over them.

The problem with Dollar stores

In the US, so-called ‘Dollar stores’ are ubiquitous. There are two very close to where I live. These stores offer all manner of items, food and household goods, priced at around a dollar, so that makes it cheap to shop. As far as I can tell, their model is to buy large stocks of items that manufacturers want to offload at hugely discounted prices for whatever reason and then resell them. This means that what you find in the stores is highly variable from day to day, depending on what items manufacturers were clearing out. You just have to try your luck.

In the latest episode of his show Last Week Tonight, John Oliver says that the business model of these companies is to make profits by understaffing its stores and underpaying its employees. While these stores are sometimes the only retail outlets in poorer neighborhoods and thus seem to serve a need, another problem (that Oliver did not address) is that by using their size to get huge quantities of stuff at low prices, they often drive existing mom-and-pop stores in those neighborhoods out of business. Thus the need they are serving is one that they helped create.

Joe Biden’s age and popularity

Yesterday, Joe Biden turned 81 and it was yet another occasion for the media to fixate on his age. Ir has become a staple of the news to say that voters are concerned about his age. Why is that news? If any pollster asked me if I was concerned about his age, of course I would say yes. But that does not mean I think he is unable to be president. It becomes news only if there are signs that his age is affecting his ability to serve as president. And as far as I can see, he seems to be able to do so. I may not agree with some of the things he does – I am furious about his support of Israeli atrocities in Gaza – but there is no sign that he does not know what he is doing.

And yet, serial sex abuser Donald Trump (SSAT) is 78, just three years younger than Biden, who says the most outlandish things and showing signs of cognitive decline and yet there is hardly any focus on that.
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Protests worldwide increase at Israel’s assault on Gaza

As the death toll from the Israeli assault on Gaze rises to horrifying levels, with bombing attacks on even hospitals and refugee camps, protests against those policies have also increased, both in the US and around the world. Many of the critical voices in the US have been Jewish.

Even before 7 October, support for Israel among American Jews – who constitute the world’s second largest Jewish population after Israel – was shifting. One poll showed that while most Jews see caring about Israel as important to their Jewish identity, more than half disapprove of the country’s rightwing government. Another found that a quarter of American Jews agree Israel is an “apartheid state”, and one-fifth of those under 40 do not think the Jewish state has a right to exist.

These shifts have come with a surge in Jewish organizing on the left, with groups like IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace, which have long condemned Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, at the forefront of calls for a ceasefire and an end to US support of Israel’s war on Gaza. Since the war started, Jewish activists have shut down New York’s Grand Central station and been arrested for actions like occupying the halls of Congress and rallying in front of the home of the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer, who is also Jewish.

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Santos continues to surprise

The ethics committee of the US House of Representatives has released its report on George Santos and even though we have been regaled for the past year with the audacious nature of his lies and behavior, this report was still able to provide some surprises, especially as to the nature of the expenses that he charged to his campaign.

They concluded that Santos was at the center of a “complex web of unlawful activity” as he “sought to fraudulently exploit every aspect of his House candidacy for his own personal financial profit.” The report describes Santos spinning through various alleged schemes and lies as he obtained funds for everything from casino trips to cosmetic procedures, while dealing with personal credit card debt and negative bank balances. 
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