Sunday, January 1, 2023

Holidaze Week: Joementum in 2023

Team WIN THE MORNING reminds us that Joe Biden is actually still President of the United States, and that he actually got a hell of a lot done in 2022 with Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi's help.

A year makes a difference after all.

President Joe Biden begins 2023 politically stronger than 12 months ago, bolstered by his party’s surprise midterms success, a robust set of legislative accomplishments and the resilience of the alliance he rallied to support Ukraine after Russia’s invasion. Indeed, as he vacations on St. Croix, the biggest decision he faces is whether to seek reelection to the office he holds.

Biden has not yet fully committed to another term, according to three people with knowledge of the deliberations but not authorized to speak publicly about private conversations. On his island vacation, Biden continued his running conversation with family and a select few friends and allies about a reelection bid.
That's not true at all of course, but forget it Jake, it's Horserace-town.

There are challenges still on the horizon, from an economy threatening to slow down, to the war in Europe, to an incoming Republican House majority threatening gridlock and investigations. But those in the president’s circle believe there is a strong and growing likelihood that he will run again and that an announcement could potentially come earlier than had been expected, possibly as soon as mid-February, around the expected date of the State of the Union, according to those people.

That potentially accelerated time is owed, in part, to a sense inside the White House and among Biden allies, that the new year dawns on a note of revival, one marked by an unlikely comeback that has reassured fellow Democrats.

Revamping the primary calendar to put Biden-friendly South Carolina first was another sign of intention to run again. First Lady Jill Biden has signaled that she is onboard with another bid, even as some close Biden worry about the toll of a campaign on the 80-year-old president. Advisors privately acknowledge that Biden benefitted in 2020 by being spared the full rigors of a campaign due to the pandemic and some close to him harbor anxieties as to how he will handle a punishing, full-blown itinerary this time around.

Though some Democrats still express worry about Biden’s age, their public doubts were largely silenced by the party’s strong November showing, in which Democrats grew their Senate lead and prevented a red wave in the House. There are still worries, chief among them, per White House aides, is the economy.

Though inflation has somewhat cooled, it remains high in most sectors and there are fears that gas prices could rise again next year. Moreover, there is a quiet concern in the West Wing that the nation’s economy will slow for at least the first quarter of 2023, according to administration officials, even if the United States manages to technically avoid a recession.

Europe, meanwhile, seems poised for a possibly significant setback, having been battered by inflation and an energy crisis exacerbated by the war in Ukraine. That could cause residual effects in the U.S. as could a lingering Covid crisis in China, which has sparked worries in Washington about supply line challenges as well as the possible birth of a new virus variant that could spread throughout the globe.
Now, all of these other questions are far more important out here in reality. The global economic picture, Covid's latest variant and its rapid spread this winter, Russia's continued invasion of Ukraine, and whatever nonsense China, North Korea and Iran are up to try to ruin the day, and yes, Not Kevin McCarthy's Circus of the Damned, all are serious issues.
But Politico is going to Politico. At least the piece isn't filled with "sources" openly saying Biden should be primaried and who should run against him, and that's actually a major improvement.

We'll see.

Holidaze Week: Sunday Long Read

Our Sunday Long Read this week comes from The Believer, where author Natalie So tracks down the history of Silicon Valley's pre-dotcom crash days and documents the role her own mother played in what was at the time a major computer chip theft ring across the Bay Area.

On a Wednesday morning during an unbearable late-summer heat wave, I sat in the back seat of my mother’s car, my three-month-old baby beside me, as we cruised along the 85, which runs from San Jose up to Mountain View. My mother was at the wheel, and we were on our way to pick up an assortment of Taiwanese snacks—taro cakes, red bean rice cakes, green mango sorbet, and shao bing—from an outpost of a Taiwanese specialty store called Combo Market. Outside, on the freeway, the tall, yellowed grasses and perennially faded shrubbery looked prehistoric, as if they had been there for decades unmoved.

We decided to take a short detour before picking up the food. My mother made her way toward the 237, and then exited onto Lawrence Expressway in Sunnyvale. “Mumu Hotspot,” she murmured to herself, as we passed a new hot pot restaurant. We pulled into the parking lot of a nondescript one-story complex: a group of bitonal buildings, cream on top and taupe on the bottom. Each office was marked by a sign whose formatting must have been mandated by the property managers, because the company names were in all-caps, uniformly rendered in a bland and unstylish serif font. I looked around to see what types of businesses were here now: LE BREAD XPRESS, KINGDOM BRICK SUPPLY, BIOCERYX TECHNOLOGIES INC. One would not have guessed we were in Silicon Valley.

There was only one office that appeared empty, with a company placard that was blank. The door to that office was emblazoned with the numbers 1233 in white. When I peered in, I saw no one, no furniture, nothing. It was a small room that might have been a reception area once, with brown carpet that appeared at least a decade old. There were two closed doors adjacent to each other, one of which had a sign that read EMPLOYEES ONLY. An ominous white camera blinked on the floor in the far corner, likely a deterrent for grifters and interlopers.

Eight years ago, I began researching a story that took place at this very office in August of 1995. It was a story I’d heard many times as a child, though in far vaguer terms than are delineated below. The story went like this:

On a Friday morning, a Hong Kong woman named Grace arrived at work. Grace was tall and extremely thin, with a jutting chin and frizzy, permed, shoulder-length black hair. It was around 9:00 a.m., and two of her coworkers, a husband-and-wife couple named Irene and Paul, were outside the office waiting to be let in.

After Grace unlocked the office for the two of them, she realized she’d left something in the car. Upon approaching the office door a second time, she noticed two men in suits coming out the door of the neighboring company, Freshers Soft Frozen Lemonade, a wholesale distributor for ballparks and stadiums. They were also Asian, but darker-skinned than she was. As they approached her, one of them said, “We’re here to see Steven.” Grace told them that Steven no longer worked at the company. “Then can we see your boss?” they asked. They were insinuating that they were familiar with the company by giving Grace a name, but Grace was suspicious. Clients never showed up this early. “Could you come back later?” she asked.

Instead of answering, the men moved closer to her—so close, in fact, that Grace noticed a large, distinctive mole on one man’s chin, as she would later testify. They pushed her into the reception area of the office. The mole-marked man opened his suit jacket, pointed to what appeared to be a gun in the inner lining, and said to her, “You know what I want.”

And she did—Grace had heard of things like this happening recently. People had been kidnapped. A man had been killed. Just a few days ago her coworkers had joked about getting robbed. These events were occurring with such frequency that at times they seemed banal, but even then, she had never imagined it would happen at her own workplace. Grace’s boss had recently installed a new alarm system and distributed panic buttons to all her employees, but the men had cornered her so quickly that she’d had no time to act. “Don’t do anything stupid,” the men said. “This robbery is going to be covered by your insurance, anyway.” Now Grace, Paul, Irene, and another coworker named Anna—who had arrived at the office shortly after the men confronted Grace—all lay face-down on the floor. Soon they would have their wrists and ankles bound with zip ties.

Except for Anna, because she was the only person besides their boss who knew where all the inventory was kept. This was a precaution taken in the event of a worst-case scenario—the kind of scenario that was happening now. One man pushed her into the back room, a warehouse-like space where all supplies and inventory were kept. Anna was a petite Taiwanese woman who spoke broken English. Later, she would recall that she was scared, but on instinct did not think these men were evil. They did not shout or scream or even raise their voices. Instead, they spoke in calm, measured tones. They were peculiar, she thought: more like businessmen than criminals.

Anna pulled out box after box as the man watched (the other stayed with the rest of the employees). These robbers knew exactly what they were looking for, because they had been scouting this office for days. They’d even made an appointment with the wholesale lemonade purveyor next door under the guise that they were interested in purchasing lemonade, so they could keep an eye on this very place. They knew a shipment had come in just a few days ago, and if they could find what they were looking for, they’d be making off with hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of goods. After all, pound for pound, the loot they were after was more valuable than either heroin or cocaine.

The man who was watching Anna seemed frustrated, and he made a phone call. Anna heard him listing the items in the stockroom, a litany of model names. Not wanting to linger too long, the men grabbed several boxes and then left through the back loading dock, where a getaway car was waiting.

What in Silicon Valley at the time was so valuable, so hotly desired, that even gangs accustomed to trafficking drugs had started to take notice? What was at once easily transported, concealed, disposed of, and virtually untraceable? There was only one thing, which the Santa Clara deputy DA would later call “the dope of the ’90s”: computer chips.

Not until twenty years later would I learn just how frequently these robberies were taking place. Even though millions of dollars’ worth of computer chips were stolen, this era of Silicon Valley would largely be forgotten. Computer hardware would eventually give way to the dot-com bubble, after which social media, the cloud, big data, and later, Bitcoin, NFTs, and other increasingly intangible technologies would come to the fore. But for a time, the boom of personal computing transformed Silicon Valley into the Wild West, a new frontier that drew every kind of speculator, immigrant, entrepreneur, and bandit, all lured by the possibilities of riches, success, and the promise of a new life. The Silicon Valley of the ’90s was in many ways an expression of the quintessential American story, but an unexpected one: one that involved organized crime, narcotics trafficking, confidential informants, and Asian gangs. It is also part of my family history. Grace, as it turns out, is my aunt. And the company being robbed? It was my mother’s.


I admit this is a part of tech history I didn't know about, outside of AMC's brilliant Halt and Catch Fire series, Silicon Valley before the dotcom crash hasn't really been discussed. I certainly didn't know about massive chip theft rings operating in California.

It's a fascinating story and a good start to 2023.

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