The Evening Blues - 8-12-20
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This evening's music features jump blues saxophone player Big Jay McNeely. Enjoy!
Big Jay McNeely - Jay's Rock
"In a world of increasing inequality, the legitimacy of institutions that give precedence to the property rights of 'the Haves' over the human rights of 'the Have Nots' is inevitably called into serious question."
-- David Korten
News and Opinion
A huge wave of evictions is gathering pace across the US, with tens of millions of people facing the looming prospect of being ejected from their homes with the expiry of federal government protections. A moratorium on evictions from most federally backed housing, along with a $600-a-week unemployment benefit, helped ensure many Americans avoided being made homeless from an economic crash sparked by the coronavirus pandemic.
But these protections expired at the end of July and a slew of evictions are starting to unfurl across the country, while party leaders are at an impasse over further economic relief and a slew of stopgap measures from Donald Trump are on an uncertain path.
A picture shared widely on the internet described “eviction cairns” in New Orleans, showing belongings heaped beside the road, reportedly from a family of six that had been evicted from their home after being unable to pay rent.
According to the Aspen Institute, a non-profit thinktank, at least 30 million Americans out of the 110 million who live in rental housing are at risk of eviction by the end of September. The organization warned the Covid-19 crisis will cause “long-term harm to renter families and individuals, disruption of the affordable housing market and destabilization of communities across the United States”.
Amid increasing public clashes with his top public health advisers on the pandemic, Donald Trump appears to have turned to an academic whose views on swift reopening in the face of coronavirus mirror his own. On Monday, the president said that Scott Atlas, a healthcare policy expert at the conservative Hoover Institution at Stanford University, “will be working with us on the coronavirus”, adding that Atlas “has many great ideas”.
Atlas appears to be more in tune with Trump’s thinking on the virus after the president publicly criticized both of his top pandemic officials, Deborah Birx and Anthony Fauci, over concerns they raised about the disastrous spread of Covid-19 in the US and the danger of allowing students to return to school. In June, Atlas said the idea that schools could not reopen after the summer break was “hysteria” and “ludicrous”. The new White House adviser has also called for college football to resume – a favored move by conservatives – despite a surge in virus cases in many states.
“The environment of college sports is very sophisticated, it is controlled, there is accountability. The athletes couldn’t get a better and safer environment,” Atlas told Fox News earlier this week.
“Young people that age, without a co-morbidity, have virtually a zero risk from this. The risk is less than seasonal influenza. There is such fear in the community, and unfortunately it’s been propagated by people doing sloppy thinking and sensationalistic media reporting.”
On June 20, US President Donald Trump boasted of having told public health officials to reduce the number of tests for COVID-19, the disease that has infected 5.2 million Americans and killed over 166,000 since the start of the year. “I said to my people, 'Slow the testing down,” Trump declared. Three days later Trump added, “Cases are going up in the US because we are testing far more… With smaller testing we would show fewer cases!” Top US public health officials immediately sought to downplay Trump’s comments, declaring that the US policy was to expand, not decrease, the amount of testing. But without any serious explanation by the government, the number of tests being done every day in the United States has dropped significantly over the past two weeks.
On July 24, the United States conducted 926,876 tests, according to the COVID Tracking Project. But that figure had dropped to just 668,546 last Saturday. The average number of daily tests conducted fell from 809,200 in the week ending July 26, to 712,112 last week, a decline of 12 percent. At the same time, tests are often taking over a week to return, making them all but useless in tracking down and isolating those that are infected before the pandemic spreads even further. According to internal data from Quest diagnostics obtained by CNN, “the total average turnaround time for results was 8.4 days.”
Public health experts say the level of testing in the US is far too low to contain the disease. An analysis from Ashish Jha and his team at the Harvard Global Health Institute recently showed that it would take 1.2 million tests per day, with results back in time to act on them, to stop the number of daily new infections from increasing. It would take 4.3 million tests per day, according to Jha, to actually suppress the pandemic. This is more than six times the current level of testing and more than four times the proclaimed goal of the Trump administration, which had been to reach one million coronavirus tests per day. ...
Federal funding for testing and contact tracing, the only measures known to contain the pandemic, stands at less than one percent of total federal spending on the pandemic response – with the vast majority going to bailouts for major corporations. Nationwide, there were just 28,000 contact tracers last month, less than one-tenth of the number called for by former Centers for Disease Control Director Tom Frieden.
Trump has boasted, “Over the past seven days, nationwide cases declined by 14 percent,” but this decline is driven by the decline in testing.
A large coalition of labor unions and climate action groups have petitioned the US health and homeland security departments to take over the manufacture and distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE). The unions, including the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, the American Federation of Teachers and the Amalgamated Transit Union, represent more than 15 million workers, from nurses to flight attendants to nannies. The administration is required to respond within 15 days.
The groups could sue if they do not receive a response.
Healthcare and other frontline workers have experienced rolling shortages of gowns, gloves and critical N95 face masks since March, when the Covid-19 pandemic broke the global supply chain for such products. Healthcare workers could make up between 10 and 20% of total Covid-19 infections, the petition said, citing previous health authority estimates.
“It’s terrifying to risk your life every day just by going to work. It brings a lot of things into perspective,” said Rick Lucas, the president of the Ohio State University Nurses Organization and a nurse Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. “I’m not going to give up on protecting my patients, even though it’s clear the federal government has basically given up on protecting us,” he said. “More than 100 of my coworkers have tested positive for the coronavirus, and many of those positive tests were due to occupational exposure because of lack of PPE. This is inexcusable.”
With hunger on the rise across the nation as the pandemic-induced economic crisis continues, local officials and policy analysts are warning that the U.S. Department of Agriculture is leaving millions of Americans vulnerable to losing crucial food benefits by refusing to extend waivers allowing states to loosen eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
Despite urgent demands from states to extend the federal waivers—which were authorized in March by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act—the USDA said late last month that it is "working with states to return to a new normal" even as Covid-19 cases spike and joblessness remains at a historic high. The USDA said it will not extend the waivers beyond the end of August.
"The Agriculture Department is restricting key flexibility in SNAP that the president and Congress gave states in the Families First Act of March to help them manage an applications influx due to Covid-19 and the recession—saying states must return to 'normal operations,' even though current circumstances are anything but normal," Ed Bolen, senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, wrote in a blog post Monday.
Bolen noted that the national SNAP caseload jumped by six million between February and May as Covid-19 spread across the U.S., prompting mass economic shutdowns and widespread job losses.
"Policymakers gave USDA the tools to respond to the extraordinary circumstances that state SNAP agencies and millions of low-income households face," Bolen added. "Now, USDA needs to continue giving states the flexibility to respond to the unprecedented increase in need until Covid-19 is under control and agency operations have returned to something like normal."
Erin McAleer, president of anti-hunger advocacy group Project Bread, urged USDA in a tweet Monday to extend the waivers given that the "hunger crisis is far from over and SNAP is critical in the response."
As the Washington Post reported late last month, the USDA has denied requests from the governments of Washington, D.C. and Maryland to extend the waivers, which suspended rules requiring individuals and families receiving SNAP benefits to periodically recertify their incomes to determine whether they are still eligible.
"When the coronavirus pandemic began, the USDA halted those visits and promised that everyone who gets federal funding to pay for groceries would keep receiving it during the crisis without needing to recertify," the Post reported. "With that reprieve ending, state governments are scrambling to figure out how to make sure needy families keep getting grocery money during an economic downturn, without crowding them into waiting rooms where they could catch the virus."
A US government watchdog investigation into the “emergency” sale of more than $8bn in weapons to Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies has found the state department failed to “fully assess” or mitigate the risk of civilian casualties in Yemen. The report by the state department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) found that Mike Pompeo had acted within the law in May 2019 by authorizing the sales of bombs and other arms through an emergency declaration, bypassing congressional opposition.
But the report noted that the relevant law, the Arms Export Control Act (AECA), gives the executive the right to define what constitutes an “emergency”, so the investigators did not look into whether the declaration was justified, “nor did OIG make any assessment of the policy decisions underlying the arms transfers and the associated emergency”.
State department officials took the unusual step of briefing the press the day before the report was issued, portraying it as a vindication of Pompeo and the arms sales to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. They also claimed the overall conclusion was not affected by Donald Trump’s dismissal, at Pompeo’s urging, of the inspector general who launched the inquiry, Stephen Linick. ...
The report found that the “OIG found the Department did not fully assess risks and implement mitigation measures to reduce civilian casualties and legal concerns associated with the transfer of PGM’s [precision guided munitions] included in the Secretary’s May 2019 emergency certification”. The report also found that the state department had been selling PGM’s in component parts, so that each individual transfer fell below the threshold requiring congressional approval. There were “4,221 below-threshold arms transfers involving Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with an estimated total value of $11.2bn since January 2017,” the OIG said.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has expressed "displeasure" to his US counterpart Mike Pompeo about Washington's threat of sanctions against a German port over a gas pipeline from Russia. Speaking in Berlin on Monday as transatlantic tensions spike, Maas was asked by a reporter about last week's letter from three US senators, which pledged tough sanctions against the operators of a key German port involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
"I mentioned it in a telephone call with (Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo yesterday and expressed my surprise and displeasure," he said.
Nord Stream 2, a 10 billion-euro ($11bn) pipeline nearing completion beneath the Baltic Sea, is set to double Russian natural gas shipments to Germany, the EU's largest economy. ...
Pompeo announced guidelines last month stipulating that German companies could suffer sanctions even for small investments in the project.
Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Raúl Grijalva on Tuesday alleged a "cover-up" and demanded a criminal perjury probe into the Interior Department's top lawyer after an inspector general report concluded that political appointees at the agency withheld documents about Secretary David Bernhardt during his Senate confirmation process last year.
In a joint statement, Wyden and Grijalva called on the Justice Department to open a criminal investigation into Interior solicitor Daniel Jorjani, a former Koch brothers adviser who told the Senate last May that he did not personally review or make determinations about public information requests. Interior Department policy gives political appointees the authority to screen records requests before their release to the public.
The two Democratic lawmakers said the IG report (pdf) demonstrates that "Jorjani misled the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee about his role in reviewing Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) productions."
"Not since the Teapot Dome scandal have we seen a more corrupt Interior Department," said Wyden and Grijalva, referring to a scandal from the 1920s that ultimately led to the imprisonment of then-Interior Secretary Albert Fall for accepting oil industry bribes.
"Officials at Interior are now on the record admitting what we suspected all along: they orchestrated a cover-up to protect Secretary Bernhardt during his confirmation, and all but lied to Congress about it," the lawmakers added.
The seven-page IG report states that following Bernhardt's nomination in February of last year, then-Counselor to the Secretary Hubbel Relat instructed Interior staffers "to temporarily withhold documents related to Bernhardt from a release of FOIA documents" scheduled to take place under a court order.
"As a result of Relat's direction, 253 pages were withheld from the DOI's February 2019 release," the IG report notes. "The DOI ultimately released most of the 253 pages in December 2019, seven months after Bernhardt was confirmed."
One Interior Department lawyer "remembered that this direction from Relat was to remain in place until after Bernhardt's confirmation," the IG report says. "Jorjani told us that, as the DOI's top attorney, he owned the decision, not Relat."
Bernhardt's confirmation last April was viewed as a victory for Big Oil—and a major blow to America's public lands—given the former lobbyist's extensive ties to the fossil fuel industry. One environmental group dubbed Bernhardt "Trump's most conflict-ridden cabinet nominee."
In a tweet Monday, Grijalva wrote that the IG's findings warrant a criminal probe "because officials who violate the public trust and break the law must be held accountable."
"Political appointees at Interior put their ideologically-based personal interests over the interests of the American people," said Grijalva.
The parents of Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old Black man who died last year after officers in suburban Denver put him in a chokehold and paramedics injected him with a sedative, sued police and medical officials Tuesday, accusing the Aurora police department of a longstanding pattern of racism and brutality.
In the federal civil rights lawsuit, Sheneen McClain and Lawayne Mosley said they were seeking both accountability for the loss of a “beautiful soul” and to send a message that “racism and brutality have no place in American law enforcement”. The lawsuit alleges that Elijah McClain was unlawfully stopped on the street last August and that officers later sought to justify their aggressive treatment of the massage therapist by filing an assault charge against him and making a notation in a police report suggesting that he was connected with a gang.
McClain’s parents said in a statement released by their lawyer that their son was a creative and peaceful man who played his violin for cats at animal shelters to ease their loneliness and would not swat a fly. ...
On 24 August 2019, police stopped McClain as he walked down the street wearing a ski mask with his headphones on after they got a 911 call from someone who reported him as “sketchy”. ... Police put him in a chokehold, and paramedics gave him 500mg of ketamine to calm him down. ... McClain suffered cardiac arrest, was later declared brain dead and taken off life support. A prosecutor said last year that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the officers, but the governor directed the state attorney general to open a new investigation.
Seattle’s police chief has announced she is stepping down, a move made public the same day the city council approved reducing the department by as many as 100 officers. The council on Monday had approved a reduction in the budget of the police department of less than 1% after months of protests demanding that it divert funds into other services in a defunding program, although the council signaled deeper cuts might be on the way.
Carmen Best, who was the Seattle’s first Black police chief, said in a letter to the department that her retirement will be effective 2 September and that the mayor has appointed the deputy chief, Adrian Diaz, as the interim chief, King-TV reported Monday. ...
Cuts to the department have been supported by demonstrators who have marched in the city following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis but strongly opposed by Seattle’s mayor Jenny Durkan and Best. Measures that would cut less than $4m of the department’s $400m annual budget this year passed out of committee unanimously last week. On Monday, only council member Kshama Sawant voted against the budget package, saying it does not do enough to defund the police.
Seattle currently has about 1,400 police officers and the reductions fell far short of the 50% cut to the department that many Black Lives Matter protesters are seeking. ... The city council also cut Best’s roughly $285,000 annual salary and the pay of other top police leaders, although the final cuts to Best’s salary were significantly more modest than those initially approved last week. The council plan also takes officers off a team that removes homeless camps.
Hank Gilbert, the Democratic challenger to Rep. Louie Gohmert in Texas’ 1st congressional district, held a rally in Tyler, Texas, on July 26 against federal law enforcement agencies’ recent intervention in Portland, Oregon. But armed participants of a “Back the Blue” counter-protest crashed the event, beating and robbing attendees in the park. The attack injured a number of rally attendees, including Gilbert’s campaign manager Ryan Miller, resulting in at least two police reports being filed so far.
Videos (KETK, 7/26/20; Tyler Morning Telegraph, 7/26/20; YouTube, 7/29/20) from the scene show the majority of counter-protesters wearing Trump attire, with many also carrying American, Confederate and “Thin Blue Line” flags. In images posted to Facebook by Gilbert, one counter-protestor’s “white pride” tattoo is clearly visible. Many can be seen toting military-style rifles. Counter-protestors consistently expressed pro-Gohmert sentiments, at times drowning out Gilbert’s attempts to speak with chants of “Louie.”
But you wouldn’t know any of this from following major media outlets. Since the attack, we could find no major national newspaper or TV outlet coverage of it at all.
Beyond a handful of local stories, the only media attention we found came from two liberal-leaning news sites (Salon, 7/27/20; Talking Points Memo, 7/27/20) and nine sentences at the end of an Associated Press article (7/27/20) on a similar attack two-and-a-half hours west in Weatherford, Texas. ...
Major media’s silence is also striking in light of Gohmert’s infamy across the country for a number of incidents which include, in the last year alone, being one of the four (out of 414) votes against an anti-lynching bill, outing an impeachment whistleblower on the House floor, drafting a resolution to ban the Democratic Party for its “loathsome and bigoted past,” and, most recently, testing positive for Covid-19 after refusing to wear a mask.
Gohmert supporters’ July 26 armed attack of his opponent’s rally came just three days after Gohmert’s July 23 resolution to ban Democrats, and three days prior to his July 29 Covid-19 diagnosis.
In addition to the lack of national coverage, much of the local coverage of the attack portrayed the events as a “clash” (Dallas News, 7/27/20) or “brawl” (KETK, 7/27), as opposed to the targeted political violence that it was.
Terms like “says” (Houston Chronicle, 7/27/20) and “claims” (CBS19, 6/29/20; KLTV, 6/26/20) are also used to make events that are recorded in readily accessible and verifiable videos seem disputed, murky or complicated.
This was typified by a lead from a piece in the Tyler Morning Telegraph (7/27/20) which read, “A small group of people…felt they were attacked Sunday by a large crowd with Trump signs and shirts.” The reporter who wrote the article was there live-streaming the event as the attack happened (Facebook, 7/26/20—see 16:00); he should be able to confirm whether or not Gilbert’s supporters were attacked. (The header image for the article provides an additional clue, showing one of those supporters being choked by a man in a Trump hat.)
Gohmert himself deploys these same tactics. In a statement to the Morning Telegraph (7/30/20), he says of the attack and the videos, “It is difficult to tell, from what I understand today, who started what.”
Whether this obfuscation comes from Gohmert or reporters, it has the same effect: It creates and deploys a narrative of “both sides” to justify the political violence of one side, and it ignores facts and uses neutered language to cloud who actually perpetrated the violence.
The end result of national media’s neglect and local media’s muddling is the erasure of right-wing political violence, sending a message to would-be future attackers that there will be no consequences for their actions.
As Kamala Harris Makes History as VP Pick, Her "Top Cop" Record Faces New Scrutiny Amid BLM Protests
After earlier speculation that they may leave her out, the Democratic National Committee announced Tuesday that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, one of the most outspoken progressive voices in Congress, will speak at the party's national convention next week, when the party will officially nominate Joe Biden for the presidency.
News of the speaker schedule came after weeks of speculation that AOC may be excluded from the event. But organizers have lined up several Latinx speakers to help the party win support from minority groups and left-leaning voters.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro will also have roles in next week's event, CNN reported.
While the schedule hasn't been completely ironed out, additional confirmed speakers include Biden's primary opponents Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and former Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Also speaking are President Barack Obama and former First Lady Michelle Obama and Bill and Hillary Clinton.
The DNC made headlines last month by announcing former governor of Ohio John Kasich, a Republican and critic of President Donald Trump, would also address viewers.
Ocasio-Cortez has been a consistent critic of centrist incrementalism, and of Biden, but defeating Trump remains a unifying goal for Democrats. The former vice president tapped AOC and former U.S. Senator John Kerry to head his climate task force, which the represenative from New York said has pushed his policies forward.
A list of speakers and events for the convention, which the DNC has dubbed "Uniting America," can be found here.
Growing up in north-eastern Ohio, Kimberly Byce spent much of her childhood running around in the woods, with the greatest threat being mosquito bites or sunburn. She can’t remember her parents ever uttering the word “tick”. And yet, in adulthood, disease-laden ticks now blight her family’s life. Byce’s husband Trent Beers has been struck down by Lyme disease twice in the past year, initially misdiagnosed after suffering back pain so bad he couldn’t emerge from bed, drenched from night sweats and his mind a fog of confusion. Their sons Arbor, four, and Abbott, seven, were struck down by raging fevers initially thought to be related to coronavirus, but subsequently confirmed to also be from Lyme disease.
The family has been ravaged by the tiny black-legged, or deer, ticks, a creature the size of a pinhead that can carry Lyme disease and other maladies. Byce picked two of the ticks off her body last week, part of a regime that has become a constant worry in the family’s semi-rural household, located about 30 miles north-east of Columbus, Ohio’s capital. ... That Byce could, in her lifetime, go from never even hearing about the warmth-loving ticks to fretting about them from as early as February each year is a possible symptom of a warming climate that, scientists say, is helping push ticks northward and westward from their traditional ranges in the US north-east.
Cases of Lyme disease, a potentially debilitating condition primarily transmitted by black-legged ticks, have doubled over the past two decades to about 30,000 cases a year in the US. These ticks have spread into the upper reaches of New England and the midwest, while other tick species normally found in warmer southern states, such as the longhorned tick and lone star tick, are now popping up in New York and New Jersey.
Infections may now spread further, ironically, due to restrictions imposed to curb the spread of Covid-19. National parks and hiking groups have reported huge booms in the number of people seeking to break the monotony of lockdown by heading to walking trails, risking contact with ticks that latch on to people as they brush through vegetation.
Popular pesticides are causing bird species to decline at an alarming rate in the US, adding fuel to a 50-year downward trend in bird biodiversity, a new report has found. In addition to spray-on pesticides, farmers are widely using chemicals that coat seeds. These pesticides, called neonicotinoids or neonics, deter insects as the seeds sprout and as they grow into plants.
According to a study published in Nature Sustainability, the increased use of neonicotinoids is putting bird species at risk across the US as the chemicals manifest in the stalk, nectar and pollen of plants.
Madhu Khanna, a study co-author and associate director of research at the Institute of Sustainability, Energy and Environment at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, said a 100kg increase in the use of this seed-coating pesticide in one US county was linked with a 2.2% decrease in grassland birds. Non-neonicotinoid pesticides were linked with only a 0.05% decrease.
When birds eat the pesticide-coated seeds or insects that have pollinated neonicotinoid-treated plants, the chemicals can harm bird development. Over time, they decrease birds’ abilities to reproduce. The chemicals can have an effect for years after birds consume them. Neonicotinoids have increased in popularity among farmers because they do not have to be reapplied once plants are growing. However, past studies have also linked the pesticides to decreases in important pollinators, like bees and butterflies, which prompted the European Union to ban nearly all neonicotinoids. The Trump administration has rolled back restrictions on neonicotinoids and approved a new one for use last summer.
The US and Canada have lost 29% of its birds since 1970, due to cropland expansions and pesticides use. Khanna said she expects bird populations to continue to decrease as climate change worsens and changes available habitats.
Never before have we sprayed so much of a chemical on our food, on our yards, on our children’s playgrounds. So it’s no surprise that Roundup – the world’s most widely used weedkiller – shows up in our bodies. What is perhaps surprising is how easy it is to get it out. A new peer-reviewed study, co-authored by one of us, studied pesticide levels in four American families for six days on a non-organic diet and six days on a completely organic diet. Switching to an organic diet decreased levels of Roundup’s toxic main ingredient, glyphosate, by 70% in just six days.
“If my kids have this much of a change in their numbers, what would other families have?” asked Scott Hersrud of Minneapolis, Minnesota, a father of three who participated in the study. The answer to that question is increasingly clear: a big one. This study is part of a comprehensive scientific analysis showing that switching to an organic diet rapidly and dramatically reduces exposure to pesticides.
That’s good news, but it raises a grave question: why do we have to be supermarket detectives, searching for organic labels to ensure we’re not eating food grown with glyphosate or hundreds of other toxic pesticides? ...
The EPA’s slipshod regulation has led to a dramatic increase in exposure. Research shows that the percentage of the US population with detectable levels of glyphosate in their bodies increased from 12% in the mid-1970s to 70% by 2014. ... The new study paints an even more concerning picture. Researchers found glyphosate in every participant, including children as young as four.
Research has linked glyphosate to high rates of kidney disease in farming communities and to shortened pregnancy in a cohort of women in the midwest. Animal studies and bioassays link it to endocrine disruption, DNA damage, decreased sperm function, disruption of the gut microbiome and fatty liver disease.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Big Jay McNeely - There Is Something on Your Mind
Big Jay McNeely - All That Wine Is Gone
Big Jay McNeely - The Goof
Big Jay McNeely - Road House Boogie
Big Jay McNeely - Nervous Man Nervous
Big Jay McNeely - 3D
Big Jay McNeely - K & H Boogie
Big Jay McNeely - I Got a Woman
Big Jay McNeely - Deacon's Hop
Big Jay McNeely w/ George "Harmonica - Smith You Don't Have To Go
Big Jay McNeely - Insect Ball