The Evening Blues - 5-27-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features New Orleans r&b singer and piano player Larry Williams. Enjoy!
Larry Williams - Slow Down
“I freed a thousand slaves. I could have freed a thousand more if only they knew they were slaves.”
-- Harriet Tubman
News and Opinion
These are bleak days for America’s progressive movement. The Democratic primary process handed the party’s nomination to the candidate with the most conservative record. Corporate-friendly politicians like the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, are using the pandemic to brandish their images and install billionaires to run things. Progressive lawmakers in Congress are being steamrolled, even by their own party’s leadership. And a recession is battering the state and local budgets that fund progressive priorities like education and the social safety net.
Perhaps this is a temporary stall-out – a fleeting moment of retreat in a two-steps-forward-one-step-back trajectory. After all, polls continue to show that from workers’ rights to universal healthcare, a majority of Americans support a progressive policy agenda. The problem, though, is that Democrats in Washington are not just passively failing to mount a strong opposition to Donald Trump – they are actively helping Republicans try to fortify the obstacles to long-term progressive change well after this emergency subsides.
The tragedy is that we’re already moving in that wrong direction, and chances to change the political dynamic do not come around often. As Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel (now an investment banker and TV talking head) said more than a decade ago during the financial crisis: “Never allow a good crisis to go to waste – it’s an opportunity to do the things you once thought were impossible.” Billionaires and corporations are clearly following that advice, aiming to use the pandemic to grow their wealth and political power in previously unfathomable ways. It would be better if the opposition party put up a real fight – or at least refused to be complicit in postponing progress for yet another generation.
Twitter for the first time took action against a series of tweets by Donald Trump, labeling them with a warning sign and providing a link to further information.
Since ascending to the US presidency, Trump has used his Twitter account to threaten a world leader with war, amplify racist misinformation by British hate figures and, as recently as Tuesday morning, spread a lie about the 2001 death of a congressional aide in order to smear a cable news pundit. Throughout it all, Twitter has remained steadfast in its refusal to censor the head of state, even going so far as to write a new policy to allow itself to leave up tweets by “world leaders” that violate its rules.
The company’s decision on Tuesday afternoon to affix labels to a series of Trump tweets about California’s election planning is the result of a new policy debuted on 11 May. They were applied – hours after the tweets initially went out – because Trump’s tweets violated Twitter’s “civic integrity policy”, a company spokeswoman confirmed, which bars users from “manipulating or interfering in elections or other civic processes”, such as by posting misleading information that could dissuade people from participating in an election.
Trump responded on Tuesday evening with a pair of tweets that repeated his false claims about voting and accused Twitter of “interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election”. “Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!” he wrote. Federal law protects the rights of internet platforms to moderate the third-party speech they publish. ...
Clicking on the alert will link users to a “Twitter-curated page” that variously describes Trump’s claims as “unsubstantiated” and false. The Twitter page also aggregates tweets from a number of journalists and publications explaining why Trump’s statements are false.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans face homelessness during pandemic as states begin lifting restrictions on evictions
With nearly 40 million officially unemployed in the United States, state and local governments are preparing to throw workers and their families out of their homes and into the street. Across the US, moratoriums on eviction proceedings and home foreclosures, set in place during the onset of the pandemic, have either been lifted or are set to expire early next month. Nationally, there has been a patchwork of temporary safeguards for renters and homeowners invoked as tens of millions of workers lost their jobs in the economic fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Some states, such as South Dakota and Wyoming, never had any protections in place. Others, including Florida, Mississippi, California, and Illinois are set to allow evictions to resume in early June.
Cities are spending millions on rent assistance, only to see funds quickly drained by overwhelming demand. According to NPR, a rental assistance program in Houston, Texas ran out of funding in 90 minutes. ...
Many of the country’s largest cities are still under state moratoriums but have not passed local eviction measures. In Chicago, evictions have been halted until Illinois lifts its state of emergency, which is currently slated for the end of this week. In states like Florida, landlords have filed hundreds of eviction cases, waiting for the state’s moratorium to expire. In Hillsborough County alone, the home of Tampa, 250 cases have already piled up in courts waiting to be processed. Neighboring Pinellas County already has 190 cases pending.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo extended a moratorium for tenants and homeowners affected by the pandemic until August 20. For cases not related to COVID-19, evictions will resume June 20. Under Cuomo’s executive order, those who qualify for unemployment benefits or who are experiencing a “financial hardship” as a result of COVID-19 are temporarily protected from eviction. However, many point out that tenants will likely be required to prove that they qualify for the exemption. Attorneys and advocates argue that this burden of proof will leave many tenants vulnerable. In New York City, where it is estimated that as many as 25 percent of renters, who make up nearly two thirds of the population, missed their rent payment in May, an end to the eviction moratorium heralds an impending social disaster.
Afghan authorities released 100 Taliban prisoners Monday as part of the government’s response to a surprise, three-day ceasefire the insurgents called to mark the Eid al-Fitr festival.
The pause in fighting, only the second of its kind in Afghanistan’s nearly 19-year-old war, was for the most part holding across the country on day two after the government welcomed the truce by announcing plans to release up to 2,000 Taliban inmates.
President Ashraf Ghani said his administration was also ready to hold peace talks with the Taliban, seen as key to ending the war in the impoverished country.
“The government of Afghanistan has today released 100 Taliban prisoners from Bagram prison,” National Security Council spokesman Javid Faisal told AFP. He said the prisoner release was to “help the peace process” and will continue until 2,000 prisoners are freed.
Faisal said the authorities plan to release insurgent prisoners in batches of 100 daily. “We hope this will eventually lead to a lasting peace that the people of Afghanistan so much desire and deserve,” he said.
While most U.S. schools have ended in-person instruction for the rest of this academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic, polling results published Tuesday show that the majority of parents and teachers expect classrooms to reopen in the fall and worry about what that will mean for safety and education.
In mid-May, Ipsos conducted a pair of online polls for USA Today of K-12 teachers and parents of school-aged children. Pollsters found that if schools reopen in the fall—with strict new rules to limit Covid-19 infections—nearly six in 10 parents would consider not sending their kids back and one in five educators likely would not return to teaching. Among teachers 55 and older, that figure was one in four.
Over 60% of both parents and teachers said they nonetheless expect local schools to reopen that soon. The polls also found that the majority of educators felt unprepared to close classrooms, and are now working more than usual and having a harder time doing their jobs. A larger share of teachers than parents said that distance learning is causing students to fall behind, though majorities of both expressed belief that children will eventually make up lost ground.
Shifts to e-learning across the globe during the pandemic have provoked alarm about increased screen time, safety risks, and the growth of the "digital divide." Although the vast majority of parents surveyed by Ipsos said that their kids have the internet service and equipment required for distance learning, concerns about remote education and digital access have prompted fresh calls for treating the internet as a public utility like water and electricity.
The time away from schools has also left teachers and parents seeking solutions, as USA Today reported:
Roughly two-thirds of teachers and of parents support the idea of returning to the classroom for two or three days a week, and using distance learning the other days. About two-thirds of both groups also endorse having teachers considered at high risk for the illness continue to teach online, while teachers at low risk teach in person.
Parents and teachers showed more of a split on the idea of extending the school year, starting classes earlier in the summer and continuing into the next summer. Parents were inclined to support the idea, 47%-36%. Teachers opposed it, 57%-34%.
The surveys also showed that both parents and teachers are worried about the effectiveness of new classroom policies to prevent Covid-19 infections. Nearly eight in 10 teachers said they would likely wear a mask at school and two-thirds of parents would ask their child to do so—but nearly nine in 10 teachers said they anticipate difficulties enforcing social distancing among students and over two-thirds of parents said their child would find it hard to comply with such rules. ...
Concerns about reopening schools have to compete with pressure to do so from several sources. The New Yorker reported Monday: "The cost of keeping children out of classrooms is high, educationally and socially. Lost instructional time is hard to recapture; some high-school students may drop out. Schools provide meals, social services, and, for many students, a safe haven, and they allow parents to go to work."
According to USA Today's report on the new polls:
A significant share of parents and teachers, about four in 10, oppose returning to the classroom before there is a coronavirus vaccine. (Slightly more support returning to school without a vaccine, but in each case less than a majority.)
That day isn't close. The most optimistic predictions say a vaccine might be developed by the end of the year; the less optimistic ones say it may take well into next year or even longer.
"As our world has changed, almost everything we do has changed, including how we view and approach education," Ipsos president Cliff Young said in response to the broader polling results. "Though Americans are optimistic about a return to in-person learning, there is angst among teachers, parents, and America at large about how to keep our schools safe if the virus isn't fully contained."
Joined by the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, four Uber and Lyft drivers in New York filed a lawsuit against Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his Labor Department on Tuesday over the state government's failure to provide the drivers with unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic.
The state Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board ruled in 2018 that drivers for ride-hailing apps should be classified as employees who are eligible to receive unemployment benefits, yet the drivers say they are facing housing and food insecurity as New York refuses to process their benefits within two weeks as it is doing for other workers.
One of the plaintiffs, M.D. Islam, filed for unemployment benefits in March as New York became one of the hardest-hit cities in the world in the Covid-19 pandemic. He has yet to receive any money.
"I don't want any special treatment. I just want the benefits that the state owes me. I work hard and follow the rules to support my family. The state should also follow the rules and pay drivers what we are owed so we can survive this crisis," said Islam.
The New York Department of Labor supported Lyft and Uber drivers in 2018 when they fought to be recognized as full employees. Under the ruling, the ride-hailing companies are required to send wage and employment data to the state for their workers as other employers do.
But the state has instead been demanding that workers send the data to the state—sometimes risking their safety to mail or fax the materials in—during the pandemic.
"These companies need to follow the damn law and stop asking taxpayers to bail them out," tweeted Steve Smith of the California Labor Federation. Uber and Lyft drivers in California are also fighting to receive their unemployment benefits.
"The state is failing to follow its own decision that Uber drivers are employees eligible for unemployment benefits, and is delaying payments in violation of federal law," said NYTWA staff attorney Zubin Soleimany. "Drivers and their union shouldn't have to fight this hard for the benefits that they won in a final ruling all the way back in 2018."
In a remark critics characterized as further evidence that the Trump administration views workers as nothing more than disposable tools of economic growth and corporate profit, White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett on Sunday nonchalantly referred to laid-off employees as "human capital stock" as he pushed people to return to their jobs amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
Voicing optimism about the potential for a speedy economic recovery even as U.S. unemployment surges to levels not seen since the Great Depression, Hassett told CNN Sunday that "our capital stock hasn't been destroyed, our human capital stock is ready to get back to work, and so that there are lots of reasons to believe that we can get going way faster than we have in previous crises."
Rolling Stone's Peter Wade wrote Monday that "the way Hassett used the term so casually lines up with the lack of empathy shown to the victims of the coronavirus by Trump's administration and Republicans since the crisis began months ago."
"Calling human beings 'stock'— especially as essential workers are putting their lives and bodies on the line right now—is undeniably absurd and heartless," Wade added.
Before 1865, American insurance companies sold policies to protect “human capital stock.” But the 13th amendment abolished the practice of owning human beings. Some folks need to be reminded.https://t.co/HN0unJK2DR
— Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II (@RevDrBarber) May 25, 2020
Not asked to explain his use of the dehumanizing label, Hassett went on to say that an expansion of federal nutrition benefits and another round of direct stimulus payments may not be necessary because "the economy's picking up at a very rapid rate"—a claim belied by ongoing mass layoffs and surging hunger across the United States.
The FBI and Minnesota state authorities are investigating an incident captured in a viral video that appears to show a white Minneapolis cop kneeling on a black man’s neck as he cries that he can’t breathe and begs for his mother.
The man died “a short time later” at Hennepin County Medical Center over what Minneapolis police described in a news release as a “medical incident.” ...
"For five minutes, we watched as a white officer pressed his knee to the neck of a black man. For five minutes,” Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said at a news conference Tuesday morning. "When you hear someone calling for help, you are supposed to help. This officer failed in the most basic human sense.”
The Federal Bureau of Investigation and the state’s Bureau of Criminal Apprehension have been called upon to investigate the incident and any related civil rights violations at the request of Minneapolis’ police department, which will also conduct its own internal investigation. Sen. Amy Klobuchar called it “another horrifying and gut-wrenching instance of an African American man dying.” ...
Update: Four officers involved in the incident were fired Tuesday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey announced on Twitter. Only two officers, identified by civil rights attorney Ben Crump as Derek Chauvin and Tou Thao, were seen in the viral video. The other two officers, who were off-camera during the incident, have not yet been publicly named.
— YourBestBlackSelf (@LeslieMac) May 27, 2020
Introducing himself during a primary debate for a New York congressional district that covers parts of the Bronx and Westchester, left-wing insurgent Jamaal Bowman cut right to the issue that’s at the center of his challenge to Rep. Eliot Engel: reliance on campaign contributions from corporate interests and the defense industry. “He’s taken more money from weapons manufacturers than 144 Republicans in the House,” said Bowman during the debate that took place on Zoom and was aired by News 12 New York on Tuesday. “He’s completely funded by corporate PACs and big donors.”
Engel has been in Congress since 1989 and has served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, which he currently chairs, since 2009. Throughout his tenure, he has established a reputation as one of the most hawkish Democrats in Congress, particularly with regard to Israel. His campaign is funded with major contributions from right-wing, pro-Israel groups like NORPAC, as well employee political action committees for the world’s largest weapons manufacturers and defense contractors, including Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman, and Raytheon. Defense PACs have contributed about $23,000 to Engel’s campaign this cycle, and more than $200,000 over the course of his career. Pro-Israel groups, meanwhile, have contributed $177,685, and more than $1.2 million throughout his three decades in Congress.
He is now facing his first competitive primary challenge since 2000, and his appearance at the Tuesday debate — which happened after Bowman challenged him to a series of debates — is a sign that he’s taking it seriously. While Engel’s campaign is by far the best funded (he’s raised more than $1.6 million to Bowman’s $540,330), Bowman has generated grassroots energy in the district and around the country, and racked up more than 40 endorsements, including from leading national progressive groups like Justice Democrats and the Sunrise Movement.
Bowman, who was a public middle school principal in the district for 10 years before resigning last December to focus on his campaign, is running on new deals for housing and education, and a platform built around “anti-poverty and anti-racist policies,” he told The Intercept last year. His platform includes support for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and criminal justice reforms, and his campaign is not accepting corporate PAC money.
Something is rotten in
Denmark New York:
As Governor Andrew Cuomo faced a spirited challenge in his bid to win New York’s 2018 Democratic primary, his political apparatus got a last-minute boost: a powerful healthcare industry group suddenly poured more than $1m into a Democratic committee backing his campaign.
Less than two years after that flood of cash from the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), Cuomo signed legislation last month quietly shielding hospital and nursing home executives from the threat of lawsuits stemming from the coronavirus outbreak. The provision, inserted into an annual budget bill by Cuomo’s aides, created one of the nation’s most explicit immunity protections for healthcare industry officials, according to legal experts.
Critics say Cuomo removed a key deterrent against nursing home and hospital corporations cutting corners in ways that jeopardize lives. As those critics now try to repeal the provision during this final week of Albany’s legislative session, they assert that data prove such immunity is correlating to higher nursing home death rates during the pandemic – both in New York and in other states enacting similar immunity policies.
New York has become one of the globe’s major pandemic hotspots – and the center of the state’s outbreak has been nursing homes, where more than 5,000 New Yorkers have died, according to Associated Press data.
Those deaths have occurred as Cuomo’s critics say he has taken a hands-off approach to regulating the healthcare industry interests that helped bankroll his election campaign. In March, Cuomo’s administration issued an order that allowed nursing homes to readmit sick patients without testing them for Covid-19. Amid allegations of undercounted casualties, the governor also pushed back against pressure to have state regulators more stringently record and report death rates in nursing homes.
Environmental advocates have reacted with outrage after a provincial energy minister in Canada said that coronavirus restrictions on public gatherings make it a “great time” to push on with a contentious pipeline project.
During a podcast hosted by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors, Alberta’s energy minister Sonya Savage was asked about the Trans Mountain expansion project, which is under construction despite despite fierce opposition from environmentalists and some Indigenous groups.
“Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can’t have protests of more than 15 people,” Savage said. ...
Walking Eagle News, an Indigenous satirical news site, tweeted: “We didn’t write this one. But holy shit, do we wish we had.”
We didn't write this one. But holy shit, do we wish we had. https://t.co/rRbdlUPpTi
— Walking Eagle News (@TheEagleist) May 25, 2020
Human activities threaten to saw off branches of the "tree of life"—putting irreplaceable species at risk of extinction.
So finds a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications which highlights the need for urgent conservation actions.
Barring such action, the researchers wrote, "close to 50 billion years" of evolutionary history worldwide is at risk.
Scientists from Imperial College London and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) began their research by first analyzing the world's reptiles and then terrestrial vertebrates like amphibians, birds, and mammals, looking at how areas with a high human footprint—including factors like deforestation and population density—coincide with areas containing species with unique evolutionary history, or branches on the tree of life.
The scientists found a troubling overlap, with areas in the Caribbean, the Western Ghats of India, and large parts of Southeast Asia singled out as experiencing both extreme human pressures and unique biodiversity.
A statement from ZSL further explains:
The greatest losses of evolutionary history will be driven by the extinction of entire groups of closely-related species that share long branches of the tree of life, such as pangolins and tapirs, and also by the loss of highly evolutionarily distinct species that sit alone at the ends of extremely long branches, such as the ancient Chinese crocodile lizard (Shinisaurus crocodilurus), the Shoebill (Balaeniceps rex), a gigantic bird that stalks the wetlands of Africa, and the Aye-aye (Daubentonia madagascariensis), a nocturnal lemur with large yellow eyes and long spindly fingers.
At risk with the possible extinctions is not just the intrinsic value of the threatened species in and of themselves but their roles in the greater web of life. From BBC News:
Many [of the at-risk animals] carry out vital functions in the habitats in which they live. For example, tapirs in the Amazon disperse seeds in their droppings that can help regenerate the rainforest. And pangolins, which are specialist eaters of ants and insects, play an essential role in balancing the food web.
Lead author Rikki Gumbs of ZSL's EDGE of Existence program and the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet Doctoral Training Partnership at Imperial College London put the findings in stark terms.
"Our analyses reveal the incomprehensible scale of the losses we face if we don't work harder to save global biodiversity," said Gumbs. "To put some of the numbers into perspective, reptiles alone stand to lose at least 13 billion years of unique evolutionary history, roughly the same number of years as have passed since the beginning of the entire universe."
Among species the study identified as in need of urgent conservation efforts—because of their evolutionary uniqueness and being endemic to regions under intense human pressure—include the Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus), the Purple frog (Nasikabatrachus sahyadrensis), and the Numbat (Myrmecobius fasciatus).
"Our findings highlight the importance of acting urgently to conserve these extraordinary species and the remaining habitat that they occupy—in the face of intense human pressures," said co-author James Rosindell of Imperial College London.
In blog post for ZSL's EDGE of Existence program, Gumbs highlighted the scope of the problem.
"We are still learning the true extent to which human activities are encroaching on our natural habitats and threatening our most unique and important biodiversity. Our findings indicate that the magnitude of our impact as a species on the natural world is incomprehensibly large, and appears to be overwhelmingly impacting the most irreplaceable areas and species on the planet," he wrote.
Despite the grim picture, it's still possible to avert more serious losses, Gumbs added, noting that "evidence suggests that even small increases in the global protected area network can lead to huge gains in conservation impact."
"If we can work together to reduce our impacts on the natural world and conserve our natural habitats and species," he wrote, "we have the opportunity to avert the loss of an incredible amount of irreplaceable biodiversity."
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Larry Williams - Bony Maronie
Larry Williams - Dizzy Miss Lizzy
Larry Williams - Bad Boy
Larry Williams & Buddy Guy- Like A Gentleman Oughta
Larry Willliams - She Said Yeah
Larry Williams - Jelly Belly Nellie
Larry Williams - I Hear My Baby
Larry Williams - Oh Baby
Larry Williams - Make A little Love - 2 versions