The Evening Blues - 7-8-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues singer and guitarist John Brim. Enjoy!
John Brim - You Got Me Where You Want Me
"Individuals do not create rebellions; conditions do."
-- H. Rap Brown
News and Opinion
Worth a full read:
The United States has 4.2% of the world’s population, but over 25.3% of the infections and 24.4% of the deaths. It is an overwhelming indictment of gross negligence and incompetence pic.twitter.com/eg2jxzpORb
— Barry Ritholtz (@ritholtz) July 6, 2020
So, is it just that American elites are incompetent? ...
So, why would America’s richest want to handle Covid well? Small businesses being closed is an advantage to billionaires, who control the large businesses that keep going and take over market share. And while we don’t have figures for the top 3% or so, I’m willing to be they are doing better as well. Plus they get to work from home and have everything delivered to their doorstep while stocking their industrial fridges with ice-cream. It’s hard for them. Honest.
Now there’s a core point here that is important. If you are American you cannot count on your leadership, of any variety, to look after you. You cannot even count on them to be neutral. If there is a way for them to benefit, including benefit to the people who own them (most politicians are owned in America, and if you do not believe this you are pathetically naive), they will hurt or impoverish or kill you. Little matters to your elites except the well-being of themselves and their close associates. To the extent they have an ideology, their ideology tells them it is right for the strong to take from the weak, and that everything they have they deserve while those who lose deserve to lose. This is true of Republicans but it is as true of most Democrats: oh they’ll give a little bit of pity money, but they won’t stop the processes destroying lives and killing people. Indeed they speed those processes on, as Pelosi and Biden have throughout their career. ...
America’s elites, business and political and ideological (media), are your enemies, committed to eating the poor and middle class (who get eaten all the time, metaphorically. “Eat the rich” is an aspirational goal, not a reality.) When you make your personal life plans, understand this. You must be useful to the rich to prosper and the second they do not need you, they will discard you. ... There is no making peace with this elite, they may occasionally throw you a bone to disperse you, but their overall ethos will not change. Nothing short of replacing them with an entirely new ruling class and structure will work. If you have not done so, if you have not destroyed the rules that run this particular America and world; if you have not replaced the actual people, then you have not won the war, you have just been given some scraps to placate you and make you stand down whatever alliance you have built.
It’s you, or it’s the rich and their lackeys. It is that simple.
The US has formally notified the World Health Organization of its withdrawal, despite widespread criticism and an almost complete lack of international support for the move in the midst of a pandemic.
Donald Trump announced his intention to withdraw in May, accusing the WHO, without evidence, of withholding information, and of being too close to China. The letter confirming the move was delivered to the UN secretary general, António Guterres, officials confirmed on Tuesday.
A WHO official said: “We have received reports that the US has submitted formal notification to the UN secretary general that it is withdrawing from WHO effective 6 July 2021.”
Trump’s Democratic challenger for the presidency, Joe Biden, said he would return the US to the WHO before the year-long process of withdrawal was complete. ...
The formal withdrawal was confirmed as the number of US coronavirus cases approached 3 million, with 130,000 deaths so far.
'Alarming': Some Small Businesses Received Just $1 in Covid-19 Relief Loans as Kushner Family, Wall Street Investors Raked in Millions
The Kushner family, large chains backed by private equity, Wall Street investors, Kanye West, members of Congress, and the law firm that represented President Donald Trump during the Mueller probe were among the thousands of beneficiaries of a Covid-19 relief program aimed at rescuing struggling small businesses and keeping workers employed, according to new federal data released Monday.
While the Small Business Administration's (SBA) data disclosure reveals just a fraction of recipients of forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, critics voiced concern that large, wealthy firms were able to readily access millions of dollars in relief funds as more vulnerable companies frequently received less money than they applied for—or nothing at all.
"Serious questions remain about whether PPP funds were equitably distributed to minority-owned businesses, and there is an alarming rate of small-dollar loans," John Arensmeyer, founder and CEO of advocacy group Small Business Majority, said in a statement. "Nationally, a total of more than 21,800 small businesses, many with multiple employees, received a loan for under $1,000."
"To raise eyebrows even more," Arensmeyer added, "more than 1,200 of those businesses received less than $100—with some receiving loans as low as $1.00! Underfunding has been a pervasive problem for borrowers since PPP launched."
As the American Prospect's David Dayen pointed out on Twitter, it's not as if the $660 billion program was not sufficiently funded to provide small businesses with the relief they requested. At the previous PPP loan application deadline on June 30, more than $130 billion in funding remained in the tank. Last month, Congress extended the application deadline to August 8.
"The problem, in other words, is the incompetent filtering of the program through private sector banks because we've hollowed out public sector benefit delivery," wrote Dayen.
The SBA's disclosure—which included only the names of beneficiaries who received at least $150,000 in PPP funding—came in response to widespread outrage over the Trump administration's effort to keep information about loan recipients secret.
A searchable database of PPP beneficiaries can be viewed here.
Why are policymakers in a position to personally profit from taxpayer-funded government support programs for employers? https://t.co/bpm7ZfRhud
— Shahid Buttar for Congress (@ShahidForChange) July 7, 2020
'Prolonged Recession' Could Be on Horizon as Covid Economic Crisis Leads to State and Local Budget Shortfalls
With state and local governments are facing fiscal disaster as tax revenues are expected to decline alongside stagnant and lessening economic growth, leading experts on Tuesday warned more financial pain could be on the horizon for working Americans without continued assistance from the federal government or higher taxes on the rich.
"We estimate states alone will see shortfalls of $555 billion in this and the next fiscal year," Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) senior fellow Liz McNichol told Common Dreams.
Every state but Vermont is either constitutionally or statutorily required to deliver a balanced budget, making borrowing to make up the difference impossible. That presents further problems with a lack of political will to raise taxes leaving social services cuts the most likely victim of balancing the books.
"State have to balance their budgets and spending cuts were the first place states looked during the last recession, that means they're going to cut back on education spending and healthcare," explained McNichol. "This will hurt state and local economies and their families and communities."
Reporting from CNBC Tuesday cited data from the Commerce Department as "the latest sign of an unprecedented fiscal crisis gripping virtually every state and threatening basic services including education, healthcare and public safety":
In New York and Nevada, where the coronavirus was raging by March, state Gross Domestic Product plunged 8.2% for the quarter, compared to the national drop of 5%. Other big drops included Michigan at 6.8% and Louisiana at 6.2%. Indeed, no state economy grew during the quarter. The smallest drop was Nebraska at 1.3%.
The consequences of the drops in GDP could be catastrophic, Economic Policy Institute director of research Josh Bivens told Common Dreams.
"We think that if the federal government fails to address the coming state and local government shortfalls, it will guarantee a prolonged recession and several years of excess unemployment," said Bivens. "We have noted estimates of the state and local shortfalls between now and the end of 2021 hover around $1 trillion, and if we do nothing to close that gap, we'll end 2021 with roughly 5 million fewer jobs in the US economy than we otherwise would have had."
"We know from the experience of the recovery following the Great Recession just how powerful the economic drag from state and local austerity can be," Bivens added, "in that recovery state and local austerity by itself likely prolonged a full recovery of the national unemployment rate by about four years."
Bivens added that the unprecedented nature of the coronavirus crisis and economic fallout make it unlikely that one can even predict the level of disaster facing governments.
"Estimates of state and local shortfalls are based on historical experiences during recessions," said Bivens. "But the unique nature of the current recession means that these estimates of the help state and local governments will need are probably significantly too low."
States are already cutting back, according to CNBC, with California and New York in particular slashing billions in social spending from their budgets to manage the revenue shortfalls.
But as National Association of State Budget Officers director of State Fiscal Studies Brian Sigritz told the network, federal aid could defray some of the shortfall.
"If we do see additional federal aid, it could lessen the need for budget cuts in some of these areas, such as public safety, healthcare, education, transportation," said Sigritz. "Also, additional federal aid would help with the overall rebounding of the national economy."
CBPP's McNichol acknowledged that it was also possible that state's raising taxes on richer residents could help to offset GDP losses with the least harmful effect on the economy.
"People who have benefitted the most from the current economy have savings they can use to pay higher taxes," she said.
Bottom line, said McNichol, state and federal leaders need to take action to ensure social services survive the crunch.
"Time is running short for Congress to act," McNichol said. "States need fiscal relief to address these budget crises."
COVID Exposes “Significant Racial Health Inequities” as Black, Brown & Indigenous People Suffer Most
Last September, Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy after several cities sued the company for its role in creating the opioid crisis. By going bankrupt, it was able to get all litigation stayed; family members of the over 500,000 victims of the opioid crisis are now just creditors in the bankruptcy. The Sackler family — including Jonathan Sackler, a co-owner of Purdue who died Monday — made off with over $10 billion in company funds.
Meanwhile, in December, the Democratic Attorneys General Association accepted $25,000 in donations from the company, according to data collected by Political MoneyLine. Several members of the Association are leading the litigation against Purdue.
In January, the Democratic Governors Association, headed by New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, accepted $50,000 from Purdue Pharma, as did the Republican Governors Association, headed by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott. Those donations come as states, including New Jersey, California, Delaware, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Tennessee, and Vermont, are considering excise taxes on prescription opioids — which would be approved and implemented by governors.
While Purdue is not publicly traded and as a result does not have to disclose risk factors to investors, close allies of Purdue, including the Healthcare Distribution Alliance and the lobbying group Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, have vocally opposed the taxes. Fellow pharmaceutical companies Mallinckrodt and Endo International have raised concerns that the taxes could materially affect their bottom line in SEC disclosures. To date just five states — New York, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Maine, and Delaware — have implemented an opioid tax or fee.
Adam Levitin, a bankruptcy law professor at Georgetown University, called the donations “astonishing.” “Given the politics of the case, there’s something incredibly brazen about this, such that I’m shocked that Purdue didn’t seek court approval,” Levitin said of the DAGA donation. “That they would give to the Dem AGs, but not the GOP AGs is really problematic given that the most aggressive AGs have been Dems.”
'Brazen Abuse of Taxpayer Dollars': Katie Porter Accuses Airlines of Using Covid-19 Bailout Funds to Fight Consumer Protections
Rep. Katie Porter is accusing major U.S. airline companies of violating the law by spending Covid-19 bailout funds on a lobbying campaign aimed at weakening passenger protections and rolling back oversight of the air travel industry. In a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Elaine Chao on Monday, the California Democrat called the airlines' lobbying effort a "brazen abuse of taxpayer dollars" and demanded penalties for any companies involved.
"Spending on an anti-consumer political campaign is an abuse of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic (CARES) Act funding," wrote Porter, referring to the March law that established a $25 billion bailout program specifically for the airline industry.
"Given that the Department of Treasury is tasked with monitoring the airlines' use of taxpayer aid, I ask that you sanction the airlines involved in this lobbying effort," Porter wrote. "I also request that the DOT end the rulemaking process that it began at the behest of the airline industry."
DOT's proposed rule change would narrow the department's definition of "unfair and deceptive practices," a move critics say (pdf) would empower the airline industry to violate consumer protections with impunity. Airlines for America, a trade group representing industry giants like Delta and JetBlue, has lobbied DOT in support of the change.
"Now is not the time to reduce oversight of the airline industry," said Porter, a member of the Subcommittee on Consumer Protection and Financial Institutions. "The airlines have time and time again flouted the limited consumer protections that the DOT currently enforces. As you attested, Secretary Chao, the DOT received an 'unprecedented volume of complaints' in March and April: 25,000, a startling number particularly when compared to the typical monthly average of 1,500."
Porter also called out United Airlines, Delta, and JetBlue for slashing employees' hours even after receiving billions in taxpayer bailout money.
Deutsche Bank has admitted it made a “critical mistake” taking on the registered sex offender Jeffrey Epstein as a client, and agreed to pay a $150m fine to settle New York charges over its dealings with the late disgraced financier and two other banks.
The settlement with the New York state department of financial services is the first regulatory enforcement move against a bank related to Epstein. He killed himself last August in a Manhattan jail after he was arrested on charges that he abused and trafficked in women and girls in New York and Florida between 2002 and 2005.
New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, said in a statement: “For years, Mr Epstein’s criminal, abusive behavior was widely known, yet big institutions continued to excuse that history and lend their credibility or services for financial gain.”
Trump is coming for your TikToks. According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the administration is “looking at” the possibility of banning a range of Chinese apps, including the hugely popular video-sharing app. TikTok, which was downloaded 315 million times in the first three months of the year, has long been a source of national security concern for U.S. politicians, and now the Trump administration says it’s seriously considering banning the app. ...
Speaking about Tiktok in particular, Pompeo said people should only download it “if you want your private information in the hands of the Chinese Communist Party.” TikTok is owned by Beijing-based startup ByteDance, which responded to Pompeo’s comments on Tuesday morning by saying it has never shared any data with the Chinese government. ...
TikTok has tried to distance itself from its parent company in recent months, appointing former Disney executive Kevin Mayer as CEO, in a bid to rebuild trust with regulators. Tiktok says that all American users’ data is stored in servers in the U.S. with backups in Singapore, meaning that it is not subject to Chinese law. TikTok is not available in China, but ByteDance operates a separate app, Douyin, specifically for the Chinese market.
The Amazon Tax is a historic victory for working people and the result of determined class struggle by a democratically-organized grassroots campaign. Our movement is beating Jeff Bezos (again)!#TaxAmazon #WhenWeFightWeWin pic.twitter.com/rwrbfqGDAv
— Tax Amazon (@TaxAmazonMvt) July 7, 2020
The Tax Amazon movement claimed "a historic victory for working people" on Monday when Seattle's city council passed a new tax on big businesses to fund local economic relief.
The vote on the JumpStart Seattle plan, proposed last month by Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, was a veto-proof 7-2. The plan targets corporations with payrolls of $7 million or more and employees with salaries above $150,000, with the measure expected to generate at least $200 million a year. The tax rate corporations would pay ranges from 0.7% to 2.4%. The highest rate—which would affect Seattle-based Amazon—would hit businesses with payrolls of at least $1 billion with salaries of $500,000 per year.
Mosqueda has framed the progressive tax plan as "part of the medicine to address both" the public health crisis and economic crisis, referring to the cornavirus pandemic and resulting damage to the local economy. The revenue generated would fund homelessness prevention programs and rental assistance, immigrant and refugee supports, food security programs, and assistance for small businesses.
"Seattle residents have made it clear—now is not the time for government austerity or divisiveness," Mosqueda said in a statement following the vote.
"We are in the midst of a health and economic crisis that even a strong economy like Seattle may not be able to recover from quickly," said Mosqueda, pointing to the fact that "over a million people statewide... have filed for unemployment this year; countless businesses shuttered temporarily and some potentially forever; our immigrant and refugee families have been left out of federal aid, and our homeless neighbors continue to suffer in our streets in the midst of a global pandemic."
Mosqueda said the proposal would live up to its name because it would "jump start our recovery with a relief plan that centers workers, small businesses, and our most vulnerable community members."
In 2018, the city council passed a so-called "head tax" on large companies—including Amazon—to generate $47 million a year only to see the measure repealed weeks later following a well-funded opposition effort, of which Amazon was at the forefront. Councilmember Kshama Sawant at the time dubbed the repeal a "cowardly betrayal of the needs of the working people."
Following the new progressive tax proposal's passage Monday, Sawant thanked the movement that made it possible, giving props to "the thousands of working people, unions, socialists!" Sawant also expressed hope that Seattle's action could be a model for other cities to follow.
Councilmember Tammy Morales also said JumpStart could be a model, tweeting: "The Seattle City Council is boldly leading to create a more equitable way to finance public services. And we challenge elected officials at the state level to join us in choosing investment over austerity."
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) welcomed the vote as well. "In a city with so much wealth and yet one of the most regressive tax systems, progressive taxation is desperately needed," she tweeted.
"To the big businesses that oppose this: understand that the economic injustice disproportionately hurting Black and brown communities is systemic," Jayapal added. "If you truly believe #BlackLivesMatter, these are the kinds of structural changes that must be adopted to combat racism and inequality."
'Neal Is in Trouble': $300,000 Ad Campaign Targets Powerful Congressman Over Stonewalling of Anti-Surprise Medical Billing Proposal
A new $300,000 ad campaign launched by an anti-monopoly non-profit group is taking aim at longtime Rep. Richard Neal, airing in the congressman's home district in western Massachusetts and drawing attention to his stonewalling of anti-surprise medical billing legislation—in favor of a proposal that would have benefited one of his top donors.
As the Fight Corporate Monopolies-sponsored ad explains, late last year the 16-term congressman blocked a bipartisan bill which would have prohibited surprise medical billing. Under the common practice, patients are hit with out-of-pocket medical costs following a surgery or other procedure, after being treated by doctors who aren't covered by their insurance—unbeknownst to the patient.
President Donald Trump was expected to sign the bill, put forward by Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), last year. But Neal stopped the legislation in its tracks by proposing his own measure which would have placed billing decisions in the hands of a third party.
The ad suggests that Neal's decision was likely made for the benefit of the private equity firm Blackstone, which—with $48,600 donated from employees—is Neal's biggest contributor this election cycle. Blackstone owns TeamHealth, a physician practice which sent thousands of surprise bills to patients in 2017. ...
Congressman Richie Neal has sided with greedy corporations over his constituents.
Today, we launched our first TV ad to hold him accountable. pic.twitter.com/wqLd86MZw6
— Fight Corporate Monopolies (@fightmonopolies) July 7, 2020
According to a study published in February in the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five Americans with health insurance reported that they had received a surprise medical bill after surgery or another procedure. The bills often demand payment to anesthesiologists or surgical assistants and the average bill was for more than $2,000.
The ad is set to air in western Massachusetts for the rest of July ahead of Neal's Sept. 1 primary in which he faces 30-year-old Holyoke, Massachusetts Mayor Alex Morse. Morse has been endorsed by progressive groups including Justice Democrats, the Sunrise Movement, and Indivisible.
Morse's campaign is not connected to Fight Corporate Monopolies' ad, but he has focused heavily on surprise medical billing as well as Neal's refusal to use his power as chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee to obtain Trump's state tax returns.
Intercept journalist Ryan Grim wrote that the ad by Fight Corporate Monopolies, the political nonprofit arm of the American Economic Liberties Project, will likely catch Democratic leaders in Congress off guard. As a 501(c)4, the group is not required to disclose its donors as long as it doesn't coordinate with a candidate.
This continues to change the calculus for Democrats in office. Now they not only have to worry about a challenger with @justicedems backing getting traction back home like @JamaalBowmanNY, they also have to wonder if some well-funded anti-monopoly C4 is gonna drop on their heads
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) July 7, 2020
More than 5,600 companies in the fossil fuel industry have taken a minimum of $3bn in coronavirus aid from the US federal government, according to an analysis by Documented and the Guardian of newly released data. The businesses include oil and gas drillers and coal mine operators, as well as refiners, pipeline companies and firms that provide services to the industry.
The Small Business Administration (SBA) on Monday released the data under pressure for further transparency, including from journalism outlets that had sued demanding the public records.
The $3bn figure is probably far less than the companies actually received. The SBA did not disclose the specific amounts of loans and instead listed ranges. On the high end, fossil fuel companies could have received up to $6.7bn. At least 475 fossil fuel companies received at least $2m, according to the data the SBA released that it collected from banks.
This analysis only includes loans over $150,000, because the SBA did not disclose which companies received smaller loans.
Fossil fuel companies are not restricted from taking the forgivable Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans, designed to be used to keep paying employees and to cover recurring bills during the pandemic. But environmental advocates say that investing billions in an industry that is polluting the planet and causing the climate crisis is short-sighted and a bad use of public money.
'24 Hours. 3 Dirty Pipelines Delayed': Supreme Court Rejects Trump Effort to Greenlight Keystone XL Construction
The Supreme Court late Monday upheld a federal judge's rejection of a crucial permit for Keystone XL and blocked the Trump administration's attempt to greenlight construction of the 1,200-mile crude oil project, the third such blow to the fossil fuel industry in a day—coming just hours after the cancellation of the Atlantic Coast Pipeline and the court-ordered shutdown of the Dakota Access Pipeline.
While the ruling was not a total victory for the climate—the high court said other pipeline projects can proceed as environmental reviews are conducted—green groups applauded the delay of Keystone XL construction as further confirmation of their view that the Canada-owned pipeline will never be built thanks to legal obstacles and fierce grassroots opposition.
"Three dangerous pipelines delayed within 24 hours should serve as a clear warning to any companies hoping to double down on dirty fossil fuel projects," said Greenpeace USA climate campaign director Janet Redman. "For more than a decade now, a powerful movement has been taking on reckless oil and gas pipelines and fighting to put Indigenous rights, a just economy, and our environment before oil company profits."
The Supreme Court's decision upheld a Montana judge's April ruling that the Trump administration violated the Endangered Species Act by issuing a water-crossing permit for Keystone XL without fully assessing the damage the pipeline could inflict on wildlife along its planned route from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska.
As Bloomberg reported, the Supreme Court's ruling "means almost all Keystone XL construction is delayed until 2021."
Kendall Mackey, Keep It in the Ground campaigner with 350.org, celebrated the high court's decision to stall construction of Keystone XL "despite the Trump administration's desperate pleas and corporate pandering."
"This pipeline continues to be an epic boondoggle for Big Oil," said Mackey. "Tribal nations, farmers and ranchers, and allies across the country in solidarity with resistance to Keystone XL are not going anywhere—we will continue fighting to protect our climate from fossil fuel corporations at every turn."
A plan to create the first universally recognised list of species on Earth has prompted hopes of an end to centuries of disagreement and confusion over how to classify the world’s library of life.
The 10-point plan aims to finally bring order with an authoritative list of the world’s species and a governance mechanism responsible for its quality. Researchers hope a single recognised list would improve global efforts to tackle biodiversity loss, the trade in endangered wildlife, biosecurity and conservation.
With at least 26 competing concepts, biologists have never reached agreement over what constitutes a species, the most basic classification of an organism. As a result, conservation organisations, national governments and scientists often use separate lists of mammals, fungi and other organisms with differing taxonomic descriptions. ...
Although projects like the Catalogue of Life are already working on creating a comprehensive global index of species, it has not been universally adopted by taxonomists, governments or conservation organisations.
There is currently no universally accepted way to resolve taxonomic disputes about species classifications, resulting in competing lists of organisms. Mammals and reptiles have several, while some less well-known groups have none.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
John Brim - Ice Cream Man
John Brim - Tough Times
John Brim - Go Away
John Brim - Be Careful What You Do
John Brim - Gary Stomp
John Brim - Lifetime Baby
John Brim and His Trio - Drinking Woman
John Brim - Rattlesnake
John Brim - Wake Up America