The Evening Blues - 6-29-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues piano player Cecil Gant. Enjoy!
Cecil Gant - What You Know Joe
"As long as dissent is relegated to the fringes, there is no actual free speech. Saying you have free speech because you’re allowed to make blogs or Youtube videos is like saying you have free speech because you can dig a hole in the ground and say whatever you want into it.
We have a media system which creates an inverse correlation between one’s access to influential platforms and how dissident their speech is. Allowing people free speech which has zero meaningful impact is not allowing free speech at all."
-- Caitlin Johnstone
News and Opinion
Worth a full read:
Huge numbers of Americans have been brutalized physically, emotionally, or financially by the coronavirus pandemic. And as the number of diagnosed cases trends ominously up, we have no idea what’s next. Everyone with eyes to see knows the path that brought the United States to this dreadful place is a dead end. The question is whether America can change enough to head anywhere else. The most promising direction isn’t well-known outside of activist circles. In 2016 the Movement for Black Lives, made up of dozens of Black-led organizations, issued a six-part platform called “A Vision for Black Lives.” The introduction stated, “Neither our grievances nor our solutions are limited to the police killing of our people,” and much of it is devoted to economic issues. This year the MBL also released specific policy demands in response to Covid-19.
The logic of history and the present time suggest that if the Black Lives Matter movement sustains itself, it will inevitably become about this larger agenda. Some who joined a movement because they hoped for comparatively modest reforms will find themselves bumping up against the limits of the current system, and learn from experience that everything has to change or very little will. ... While it’s largely been forgotten now — on purpose — the civil rights movement during the 1960s faced a similar reality, and confronted it head-on. Because of this, the movement was never just about ending America’s legal caste system; it always had a powerful economic component. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered the “I Have a Dream” speech at a 1963 rally that was officially named the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. One common sign at the march was “Civil Rights Plus Full Employment Equals Freedom.” ...
In a famous 1967 speech, King was clear about what would be required to get decent lives for African Americans: “We must honestly face the fact that the movement must address itself to the question of restructuring the whole of American society. … The problem of racism, the problem of economic exploitation, and the problem of war are all tied together. These are the triple evils that are interrelated.” When King was assassinated the next year, he was planning to lead a Poor People’s Campaign to Washington, D.C., to get results via direct action.
America then successfully evaded and beat back these questions for 50 years. But they didn’t disappear, they stayed right here. Now the coronavirus pandemic has simultaneously demonstrated how high the stakes are, and that all of society’s supposedly iron-clad rules can be thrown out at a moment’s notice. If there ever were a time when Americans might be ready to rewrite the basic handbook, it’s now.
US health secretary Alex Azar has warned that “the window is closing” on the country’s chance to take action to effectively curb the coronavirus, as the number of confirmed cases surpassed 2.5m. The Health and Human Services secretary pointed to a recent surge in infections, particularly in the south and said people have “to act responsibly” by social distancing and wearing face masks especially “in these hot zones”.
For a third consecutive day on Saturday, the number of confirmed US cases rose by more than 40,000. In Arizona, cases have risen by 267% so far in June and jumped by a record 3,857 cases on Sunday, the eighth record-breaking increase this month. Overall, US deaths from Covid-19 have passed 125,000 with more than 2.5m confirmed cases, according to compiled by Johns Hopkins University, far more than any other country in the world.
The fresh surge in Covid-19 cases has been most pronounced in a handful of southern and western states that reopened earlier and more aggressively, with the support of the Trump administration, despite warnings by health officials to wait to see a steady decline in cases. Texas and Florida were among the states that reversed course on parts of their reopening plans last week as cases continue to increase.
Appearing on NBC’s Meet the Press program on Sunday morning, Azar was asked by presenter Chuck Todd why the US was failing to tackle the Covid-19 crisis, especially when so many other countries seem to be succeeding. Azar acknowledged the US was “seeing surging in cases” and that the majority of those are among people under the age of 35, which means a “large number of those” will be asymptomatic, presenting a different challenge for authorities trying to get a grip on outbreaks.
“This is a very serious situation,” Azar said, adding that “the window is closing” to stop the virus’s spread.
Vice President Mike Pence might not have a new national plan to reduce the surge in coronavirus cases in the South. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have ideas. There’s always prayer.
“I’d just encourage every American to continue to pray,” Pence said Friday during the first White House Coronavirus Task Force briefing in weeks (Trump stopped them in late April, tweeting they weren’t worth the time anymore). “Just continue to pray that, by God’s grace, every single day, each of us will do our part to heal our land.”
And that’s about as much of a plan as Pence appears to have to stop spiraling outbreaks in states like Texas, California, and Arizona. One by one, task force members agreed that the rising cases are concerning. But Pence encouraged Americans to look to their mayors and governors for guidance. The White House, Pence insisted, wants to avoid a one-size-fits-all solution.
“What we’re seeing across the South, is really, outbreaks,” Pence said. “People ought to listen to their state and local authorities.”
Lots of additional details and documents at the link:
Law Enforcement Scoured Protester Communications and Exaggerated Threats to Minneapolis Cops, Leaked Documents Show
The documents show that law enforcement leadership warned of potential threats from antifa and “black racially motivated violent extremists,” as well as vaguely described social media users. Federal and local agencies collected intelligence drawn from private online messaging groups and Slack channels, according to the documents. The agencies also tracked Facebook RSVPs to peaceful protest events, including a suburban candlelight vigil.
The window into the police’s internal memos came thanks to a trove of documents called Blueleaks, which were published on the website Distributed Denial of Secrets. The site’s founder told Wired that the documents came from the hacking collective Anonymous, or someone claiming to be affiliated with the group. Government officials whose files appeared among the documents told the Intercept they were “illegally obtained,” but no questions have been raised about their authenticity. The documents on Minnesota are from a host of local and federal law enforcement agencies and coordinating offices that worked to share information between them.
Anti-racist protests have swept across the country over the past month, demanding justice for George Floyd, police accountability and the defunding of law enforcement.
In response to these uprisings, President Donald Trump publicly toyed with the idea of deploying active-duty military to American cities—a proposal that most corporate media, with a few glaring exceptions, have condemned as an abuse of power.
However, when we look at who media have called upon to denounce the Trump administration’s response, a revealing pattern emerges. Rather than providing a platform for protesters, who were met by heavily armed law enforcement toting chemical agents and flashbang grenades, media decided to turn to the enforcers of state violence abroad: the US national security apparatus. Several outlets asked current and former intelligence officials to weigh in on Trump’s response, utilizing their testimony to equate the crackdowns with those in other countries:
Washington Post (6/2/20): “CIA Veterans Who Monitored Crackdowns Abroad See Troubling Parallels in Trump’s Handling of Protests” Independent (6/2/20): “I Asked Police, Veterans and a Former CIA Agent What They Think of Trump’s Response to the Protests. Even They Are Horrified.” International Business Times (6/3/20): “George Floyd White House Protest: Donald Trump Acting Like Dictator During Racial Tensions, Intelligence and Defense Officials Warn.”
These articles are correct in pointing out that Trump’s militarized suppression of dissent at home has “troubling parallels” with authoritarian crackdowns abroad. The testimony of US state officials, especially former ones, can aid the public in taking cognizance of these parallels, given that they are responsible for enforcing similar crackdowns around the world. But because media present these sources uncritically and refuse to include vital context, they fail to examine our own empire, and ultimately make all the wrong connections.
In response to the Trump administration’s handling of the protests, the Post article includes a quote from Marc Polymeropoulos, who spent 26 years in the CIA:
“It reminded me of what I reported on for years in the Third World,” Polymeropoulos said on Twitter. Referring to the despotic leaders of Iraq, Syria and Libya, he said: “Saddam. Bashar. Qaddafi. They all did this.”
While it’s true that Trump’s response has been militant, these articles present this reaction as a disturbing departure from otherwise morally sound US leadership throughout history. Trump may be the first US president to tweet the words, “When the looting starts, the shootings starts,” but despite media’s historical amnesia, violent government crackdowns on anti-racist protests in the US have always been the norm, not the exception.
Take, for example, the FBI’s COINTELPRO program, which targeted thousands of activists through tactics like psychological warfare, blackmail and assasination. Or when the Philadelphia Police Department dropped a bomb on a residential neighborhood in order to disband a Black liberation group, killing nearly a dozen people and leaving hundreds of residents homeless. More recently, the FBI’s counterterrorism division has labeled “Black identity extremists” as a domestic terror threat, due to their “perceptions of police brutality against African Americans.”
By relying on CIA testimony, media shift the focus away from the tyranny in our own backyard in favor of pointing fingers at the “despotic leaders” of “the Third World”—never mind the fact that the US has no qualms with oppressive leadership in the Middle East when it aligns with our interests, as evidenced by our alliance with Saudi Arabia.
[Much more at the link. -js]
“Russia Secretly Offered Afghan Militants Bounties to Kill Troops, U.S. Intelligence Says”, blares the latest viral headline from The New York Times. NYT’s unnamed sources allege that the GRU “secretly offered bounties to Taliban-linked militants for killing coalition forces in Afghanistan — including targeting American troops”, and that the Trump administration has known this for months.
To be clear, this is journalistic malpractice. Mainstream media outlets which publish anonymous intelligence claims with no proof are just publishing CIA press releases disguised as news. They’re just telling you to believe what sociopathic intelligence agencies want you to believe under the false guise of impartial and responsible reporting. This practice has become ubiquitous throughout mainstream news publications, but that doesn’t make it any less immoral.
Whenever one sees a news headline ending in “US Intelligence Says”, one should always mentally replace everything that comes before it with “Blah blah blah we’re probably lying”. In a post-Iraq invasion world, the only correct response to unproven anonymous claims about a rival government by intelligence agencies from the US or its allies is to assume that they are lying until you are provided with a mountain of independently verifiable evidence to the contrary. The US has far too extensive a record of lying about these things for any other response to ever be justified as rational, and its intelligence agencies consistently play a foundational role in those lies. ...
So we are to simply believe the same intelligence orgs that paid bounties to bring innocent prisoners to Guantanamo, lied about torture in Afghanistan, and lied about premises for war from WMD in Iraq to the Gulf of Tonkin “attack”? All this & no proof? https://t.co/O7ZTmoUu7q
— Jeffrey Kaye (@jeff_kaye) June 27, 2020
“It’s totally outrageous for Russia to support the Taliban against Americans in Afghanistan. Of course, it’s totally fine for the U.S. to support jihadi rebels against Russians in Syria, jihadi rebels who openly said the Taliban is their hero,” tweeted author and analyst Max Abrams.
On the flip side all the McResistance pundits have been speaking of this baseless allegation as a horrific event that is known to have happened, with Rachel Maddow going so far as to describe it as Putin offering bounties for the “scalps” of American soldiers in Afghanistan. This is an interesting choice of words considering that offering bounties for scalps is in fact one of the many horrific things the US government did in furthering its colonialist ambitions, which, unlike the New York Times allegation, is known to have actually happened.
It is true as many have been pointing out that it would be fair play for Russia to fund violent opposition the the US in Afghanistan, seeing as that’s exactly what the US and its allies have been doing to Russia and its allies in Syria, and did to the Soviets in Afghanistan via Operation Cyclone. It is also true that the US military has no business in Afghanistan anyway and any violence inflicted upon US troops abroad is the fault of the military expansionists who put them there; the US military has no place outside its own easily-defended borders and the assumption that it is normal for a government to circle the planet with military bases is a faulty premise.
But before even getting into such arguments, the other side of the debate must meet its burden of proof that this has even happened. That burden is far from met. It is literally the US intelligence community’s job to lie to you. The New York Times has an extensive history of pushing for new wars at every opportunity, including the unforgivable Iraq invasion which killed a million people based on lies. A mountain of proof is required before such claims should be seriously considered, and we are very, very far from that.
I will repeat myself: it is the US intelligence community’s job to lie to you. I will repeat myself again: it is the US intelligence community’s job to lie to you. Don’t treat these CIA press releases with anything but contempt.
"The Washington Post and the WSJ were called up by the same unnamed 'officials' as we were.
They were told the same evidence free fairytale.
Their stenographers, like ours, wrote it dutifully down.
All of us proudly published it!"#confirmation https://t.co/bEZ2OYgsxb
— Moon of Alabama (@MoonofA) June 27, 2020
One of Brazil’s leading newspapers has launched a major pro-democracy campaign as unease grows about the threat many fear Jair Bolsonaro and his most militant supporters pose to the country’s political future. Unveiling the initiative on Sunday, the Folha de São Paulo said systematic attacks from pro-Bolsonaro extremists were putting Brazilian democracy through its greatest “stress test” since the return of civilian rule in 1985.
The broadsheet urged readers to wear yellow in support of democracy and said voters needed to urgently remember the dark days of Brazil’s 1964-85 military regime, when hundreds of political opponents were killed or disappeared. “We saw, and will never forget, the horrors of dictatorship, and we will always champion democracy,” the Folha de São Paulo declared.
The century-old publication announced that until Brazil’s next elections it would change the motto on its masthead from “a newspaper at the service of Brazil” to “a newspaper at the service of democracy”. It would also offer a free online course examining the social, economic, environmental, cultural and political impact of the dictatorship. Folha’s editor-in-chief, Sérgio Dávila, said the campaign was born out of the realisation that more than half of the country’s population were too young to remember a period that for all its abominations is still celebrated by Brazil’s far-right leader and many of Bolsonaro’s devotees.
As businesses reopen, laid off and furloughed workers will lose access to unemployment benefits if they stay home out of fear that their workplaces are unsafe. Now, a move by the Trump administration to protect health insurance profits may force workers to fork over money for the privilege of being forced back to jobs that jeopardize their lives.
Many businesses want their workers to be screened for the virus before returning to workplaces, where they could unknowingly spread the disease to co-workers and customers. But thanks to a new Trump administration guidance, if businesses do require their employees to undergo coronavirus tests before being rehired, employers or their employees -- not health insurers -- could end up paying for it.
The directive comes as insurers have been pushing for relief from testing mandates -- and it is a potential jackpot for the industry, whose profits are already booming during the pandemic. It’s an extra kick in the ass when some states have enacted liability protection measures blocking employees and customers from suing businesses if they are infected with COVID, and Congress is weighing the idea nationally, too.
Last week, Trump officials issued the guidance declaring that health insurance companies are not required to cover the costs of COVID-19 testing for employment purposes under the Families First Coronavirus Response Act. The legislation was passed by Congress to prevent patients from dealing with copays or out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus tests.
The new guidance provided by the U.S. Labor Department, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Treasury Department says that insurers only need to pay for tests that are determined to be “medically appropriate” by a health care provider. That loophole could allow insurers to avoid covering the costs of back-to-work tests. The bills will likely fall on businesses -- or workers, if their employers don’t want to pay. The costs of tests can be quite expensive, ranging from about $150 all the way up to $7,000, according to Politico.
'Outrageous': Trump Administration Waived Ethics Reviews for Lawmakers and Federal Officials Seeking Small Business Loans
The Trump administration in April quietly issued a sweeping waiver exempting members of Congress and other federal officials from ethics rules in order to allow them and their families to apply for small business coronavirus relief loans without facing conflict of interest reviews.
The existence of the ethics waiver was reported Friday by the Washington Post and met with alarm by good government advocates who warned the "blanket approval" from the Small Business Administration (SBA) opens the door to abuse of Paycheck Protection Program funds designed to help struggling small businesses stay afloat. ...
The Post noted that lawmakers and federal officials who own small businesses and want to apply for loans must typically be approved by the SBA's Standards of Conduct Committee.
"But in a rule the administration issued April 13," the Post reported, "the administration disclosed that the approval requirement had been suspended for all entities seeking funds from the $660 billion [Paycheck Protection Program] 'so that further action by the [ethics committee] is not necessary."
Josh Gotbaum, a guest scholar in the Brookings Institution's Economic Studies Program, told the Post he was "appalled" by the sweeping ethics waiver. "The idea that the Small Business Administration can, without any review or publicity, secretly let all of its employees arrange loans for their family members or associates is outrageous," said Gotbaum.
Fed’s Stress Tests Results Based on GDP Decline of 8.5 Percent; Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow Forecast Says GDP Will Decline by 46.6 Percent
Yesterday the Federal Reserve released its highly awaited stress tests on the biggest and most dangerous banks in America. The stress test results fill an 83-page document with dozens of charts showing what would happen to the banks under a hypothetical “severely adverse scenario.”
This scenario, unfortunately, was previously prepared and pales in comparison to the actual economic damage rendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the severely adverse scenario for this year’s stress tests imagined the U.S. unemployment rate climbing to a peak of 10 percent in the third quarter of 2021. The unemployment rate is currently 13.3 percent. But far more frightening, the Fed’s severely adverse scenario for GDP imagined a decline of “8½ percent from its pre-recession peak, reaching a trough in the third quarter of 2021.”
As of yesterday, June 25, the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow estimate was for U.S. GDP to decline by a staggering 46.6 percent in the second quarter.
Ivy league Princeton University has announced it will remove President Woodrow Wilson’s name from the institution’s School of Public and International Affairs due to his history of racism. In a statement released Saturday, the university president, Christopher Eisgruber, said the decision came after a “thorough, deliberative process”, five years after a group of student activists occupied his office in protest against the faculty’s dedication to the controversial 28th president.
The removal of Wilson’s name from the faculty – which will now be known as the School of Public and International Affairs – comes as many institutions across the US are facing protests and campaigns over controversial dedications and monuments. ...
In a statement, Princeton’s trustees said they had considered “whether it is acceptable for this University’s school of public affairs to bear the name of a racist who segregated the nation’s civil service after it had been integrated for decades”. ...
While he is remembered as a progressive, internationalist statesman, Wilson’s reputation is clouded by his racist policies in other areas of government when he was president from 1913 to 1921.
Mississippi legislators have voted to replace the state flag, the last in the nation to feature the Confederate battle emblem, which has been condemned as racist.
The state House and the Senate voted to remove the current flag on Sunday and create a commission that will design a new flag that cannot include the Confederate symbol and that must have the words “In God We Trust”. Mississippi governor Tate Reeves has signalled he will sign the measure in the coming days.
The flag’s supporters have resisted efforts to change it for decades, but rapid developments in recent weeks have changed dynamics on this issue in the state, which has a long history of systemic racism and saw more lynchings of African Americans than any other state in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
As protests against racial injustice recently spread across the US, including Mississippi, leaders from business, religion, education and sports have spoken forcefully against the state flag. They have urged legislators to ditch the 126-year-old banner for one that better reflects the diversity of a state with a 38% Black population.
The state House and Senate met Saturday and took a big step: by two-thirds margins, they suspended legislative deadlines so a flag bill could be filed. Spectators cheered as each chamber voted, and legislators seeking the change embraced each other.
With Election Just 4 Months Away, FEC Essentially Defunct as GOP Member Leaves for Koch-Funded Group
After 10 months, the Federal Elections Commission in May regained a quorum with the confirmation of Republican appointee Trey Trainor—and promptly lost it just over five weeks later on Friday when commissioner Caroline Hunter resigned to join the Koch-funded group Stand Together, leaving the regulatory body again essentially powerless as the November general election draws closer.
"The FEC's brief period of functioning appears to be over," tweeted Public Integrity reporter Carrie Levine.
Hunter's last day is July 3.
"Republican FEC commissioner leaving to joining the Koch network's dark money fundraising apparatus," tweeted Dig Left researcher Andrew Perez. "Says a lot!"
In a statement reacting to the resignation, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), the chair of the Committee on House Administration, said the news "makes abundantly clear the shortsightedness of the Senate Majority's naked partisanship in abandoning a longstanding tradition of confirming bipartisan pairs of Commissioners."
"The FEC just emerged from a nine-month period without a quorum—the longest running period of the commission's history—during which it was hamstrung from doing its job," said Lofgren. "Upon commissioner Hunter's announced departure on July 3, the FEC will lose its quorum again for the third time since the commission's establishment, with just four months to go before November's general election."
Chesapeake Energy, the shale gas drilling pioneer that helped to turn the United States into a global energy powerhouse, has filed for bankruptcy protection. The Oklahoma City-based company said on Sunday that it had been forced to enter chapter 11 protection because its debts of $9bn were unmanageable.
It has entered a plan with lenders to cut $7bn of its debt and said it will continue to operate as usual during the bankruptcy process.
The oil and gas company was a leader in the fracking boom, using unconventional techniques to extract oil and gas from the ground, a method that has come under scrutiny because of its environmental impact. Other wildcatters followed in Chesapeake’s path, racking up huge debts to find oil and gas in fields spanning New Mexico, Texas, the Dakotas and Pennsylvania.
But those companies are now under pressure to service those debts. More than 200 oil producers have filed for bankruptcy protection in the past five years, a trend that was expected to continue as the Covid-19 pandemic saps demand for energy and depresses prices further.
'Warning Sign of Major Proportions': Number of Siberian Forest Fires Increase Fivefold in Week Since Record High Temperature
The number of fires in the vast north Asian region of Siberia increased fivefold this week, according to the Russian forest fire aerial protection service, as temperatures in the Arctic continued higher than normal in the latest sign of the ongoing climate crisis.
The news of the increase comes a week after the small Siberian town of Verkhoyansk reported a high temperature of 100.4° F on June 20, a reading that, if confirmed, would mark the hottest day ever recorded in the region.
"While fires are common at this time of year, record temperatures and strong winds are making the situation particularly worrying," the European Union's Earth Observation Programme, which is monitoring the situation, said in a statement.
A record heatwave in Siberia has led to forest fires in the Republic of Sakha.
Temperatures spiked to 30C (86F) on Wednesday pic.twitter.com/5E50h96uyP
— Shakthi #StayHomeSaveLives (@v_shakthi) June 25, 2020
As the Associated Press reported:
According to figures reported Saturday by Avialesookhrana, Russia's agency for aerial forest fire management, 1.15 million hectares (2.85 million acres) were burning in Siberia in areas that cannot be reached by firefighters.
The worst-hit area is the Sakha Republic, where Verkhoyansk is located, with 929,000 hectares (2.295 million acres) burning.
The Sakha Republic's fire service reported 127 natural fires in the Russian federal sector.
The fires and heat are due to the climate crisis, Weather Channel meteorologist Carl Parker told Newsweek.
"What climate change is doing is moving the distribution of weather events, such that historically low-frequency, extreme events occur more frequently," said Parker. "Had the climate not changed due to man-made greenhouse gases, the heat we've seen in parts of Siberia would have been a 100,000-year event."
Parker warned that the fires are part of a dangerous feedback loop in the northern region.
"What's scary about the warming in Siberia is that there are huge quantities of carbon in permafrost, which can be unleashed during periods like this, particularly as fires develop in the region," said Parker.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Cecil Gant - Rock Little Baby
Cecil Gant - Am I to Blame?
Cecil Gant - Nashville Jumps
Cecil Gant - Another Day, Another Dollar
Cecil Gant - I Wonder (Alternate Take 1)
Cecil Gant - Playin' Myself the Blues
Cecil Gant - Boozie Boogie
Cecil Gant - That's the Stuff You Gotta Watch
Cecil Gant - Cecil Boogie No.2