The Evening Blues - 9-21-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues guitarist and "Mr. Memphis Minnie," Little Son Joe Lawlars. Enjoy!
Little Son Joe Lawlars w/Memphis Minnie - A.B.C. blues
“The President in particular is very much a figurehead — he wields no real power whatsoever. He is apparently chosen by the government, but the qualities he is required to display are not those of leadership but those of finely judged outrage. For this reason the President is always a controversial choice, always an infuriating but fascinating character. His job is not to wield power but to draw attention away from it.”
-- Douglas Adams
News and Opinion
The Pentagon is deploying a small number of U.S. troops to Syria after a series of escalating encounters between the U.S. and Russian militaries, according to three U.S. defense officials.
The troops and vehicles will serve as a show of presence to discourage the Russian military from crossing into the eastern security area where U.S., coalition, and Syrian Democratic Forces operate, the officials said.
The additional troops will include six Bradley Fighting Vehicles and fewer than 100 soldiers operating in northeast Syria on a 90-day deployment.
A U.S. official said, "These actions and reinforcements are a clear signal to Russia to adhere to mutual de-confliction processes and for Russia and other parties to avoid unprofessional, unsafe and provocative actions in northeast Syria."
Stephen F. Cohen, an eminent historian whose books and commentaries on Russia examined the rise and fall of Communism, Kremlin dictatorships and the emergence of a post-Soviet nation still struggling for identity in the 21st century, died on Friday at his home in Manhattan. He was 81.
His wife, Katrina vanden Heuvel, the publisher and part owner of The Nation, said the cause was lung cancer.
From the sprawling conflicts of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the tyrannies of Stalin to the collapse of the Soviet Union and Vladimir V. Putin’s intrigues to retain power, Professor Cohen chronicled a Russia of sweeping social upheavals and the passions and poetry of peoples that endured a century of wars, political repression and economic hardships.
A professor emeritus of Russian studies at Princeton University and New York University, he was fluent in Russian, visited Russia frequently and developed contacts among intellectual dissidents and government and Communist Party officials. He wrote or edited 10 books and many articles for The Nation, The New York Times and other publications, was a CBS-TV commentator and counted President George Bush and many American and Soviet officials among his sources. ...
Loosely identified with a revisionist historical view of the Soviet Union, Professor Cohen held views that made him a controversial public intellectual. He believed that early Bolshevism had held great promise, that it had been democratic and genuinely socialist, and that it had been corrupted only later by civil war, foreign hostility, Stalin’s malignancy and a fatalism in Russian history.
European leaders have warned the US that its claim to have the authority to reimpose sweeping UN-mandated sanctions on Iran has no effect in law, setting up a major legal clash that could lead to Washington imposing sanctions on its European allies.
In a joint statement on Sunday, France, Germany and the UK (E3) said any attempt by the US to impose its own sanctions on countries not complying with the reimposed UN ones was also legally void.
On Saturday, the US moved to reinstate a range of UN sanctions against Iran, saying it had the authority to do so as an original signatory of the joint comprehensive plan of action (JCPOA), the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and other major powers.
The other signatories claim the US left the JCPOA in 2018 and therefore no longer has a unilateral legal right to either declare Iran in breach of the agreement or to reimpose sanctions in the name of the UN.
The dispute leaves the US at loggerheads with much of the world on whether UN sanctions have been reimposed.
The disagreement is not just a legal wrangle since the Trump administration claims the US now has the authority to act against any country breaching the reimposed sanctions.
So we’re gonna do the identical Iraq playbook again huh https://t.co/fhrIUIlfHq
— Secular Talk (@KyleKulinski) September 20, 2020
In a major escalation of the anti-China campaign ahead of the election, the Trump administration announced on Friday that it was following through on its executive orders of August 6 and banning the social media apps TikTok and WeChat from being downloaded from US app stores on Sunday.
The move is a frontal assault on the freedom of expression and an effort to consolidate control of the internet by a handful of massive corporations working in partnership with the American government. TikTok is used by millions of people every day to connect with friends and family, share ideas and communicate, and has been used to organize social protests. WeChat is a major link of communication between the United States and China.
An official statement released by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said downloads and new versions of the two mobile apps would be prohibited on Apple and Android app stores as of September 20. With regard to WeChat, the Commerce Department statement prohibits all electronic payments and funds transfers as well as the hosting, transferring internet traffic or “utilization of the mobile application’s constituent code” within the US. WeChat, “for all practical purposes… will be shut down in the US, but only in the US, as of midnight Monday,” Ross said.
TikTok faces a similar US ban on November 12, unless the Trump administration approves the proposal made last weekend by the American software giant Oracle Corporation to become a “trusted tech partner” with ByteDance, the Chinese company that currently owns it.
The transfer of TikTok to US ownership would be aimed at creating conditions in which it can be subject to the same type of government-backed censorship that has already been implemented by Google, Facebook, Twitter and other US-based social media companies. TikTok is the tenth most popular social media platform in the world, with 500 million users, 100 million of which are in the US. WeChat is the fifth largest social media platform in the world, with 1.06 billion users, of which 3.3 million are in the US. Described as China’s “app for everything,” WeChat is a multipurpose instant messaging, social media and mobile payment app owned by Tencent Holdings.
A federal judge has blocked President Trump's executive order that would have effectively shut down popular Chinese app WeChat, ruling that the action represents a free speech violation.
WeChat, used by 1.2 billion users worldwide and 19 million people in the U.S., was set to stop operating in the U.S. on midnight Sunday following Trump's order invoking a national emergency and targeting the app on national security grounds.
But U.S. Magistrate Judge Laurel Beeler in Northern California issued a preliminary injunction Sunday morning siding with users of WeChat, who claimed in a lawsuit that Trump's action curbed their First Amendment rights.
"Certainly the government's overarching national-security interest is significant," Beeler wrote, but the Trump administration "has put in scant evidence that its effective ban of WeChat for all U.S. users addresses those concerns," the judge wrote.
The reprieve for WeChat comes a day after TikTok, an app owned by ByteDance, a company based in China, was rescued in a last-minute deal approved by Trump in which software company Oracle will serve as a custodian of U.S. user data, with a major investment from Walmart.
Thousands of documents detailing $2 trillion (£1.55tn) of potentially corrupt transactions that were washed through the US financial system have been leaked to an international group of investigative journalists. The leak focuses on more than 2,000 suspicious activity reports (SARs) filed with the US government’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN).
Banks and other financial institutions file SARs when they believe a client is using their services for potential criminal activity. However, the filing of an SAR does not require the bank to cease doing business with the client in question.
The documents were provided to BuzzFeed News, which shared them with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.
The documents are said to suggest major banks provided financial services to high-risk individuals from around the world, in some cases even after they had been placed under sanctions by the US government. According to the ICIJ the documents relate to more than $2tn of transactions dating from between 1999 and 2017.
About 15,000 to 20,000 Argentinians are estimated to have moved to Uruguay since the pandemic began in March – a number equivalent to about 0.6% of Uruguay’s population of 3.5 million. And Uruguay is encouraging the flow. South America’s smallest nation not only lowered the minimum value of property foreigners must acquire to obtain tax residency from $1.7m to just $380,000 earlier this year, but also passed a new law offering arrivals a 10-year “tax holiday”. ...
Once known as “the Switzerland of South America”, because of its high quality of life and its former banking secrecy laws, Uruguay has now become its New Zealand.
Its population is only 66% the size of the Kiwi state, but both countries have seen fewer than 2,000 cases and coronavirus deaths in double digits. Thanks to a large testing and contact tracing program, most of Uruguay’s schools, restaurants and sports clubs have remained open throughout the pandemic.
In stark contrast, Uruguay’s neighbors, Argentina and Brazil, currently rank third and fourth worldwide in the daily number of reported new cases, according to WHO figures. ... Its efforts to contain the coronavirus were helped by a relatively small population, but it also extensive public health coverage and almost 100% access to running water.
As school districts across the US push forward with in-person learning in K-12 schools, the death toll of teachers and other educators from COVID-19 continues to rise.
These tragic deaths are absolutely preventable. School workers are the victims of a deadly bipartisan policy of “herd immunity”—that is, allowing the virus to spread without restraint, come what may. This policy has been spearheaded by the Trump administration, as revealed in the tapes released by Bob Woodward that prove Trump deliberately downplayed the threat of the virus and lied to the population.
However, this homicidal policy has the full support of the Democratic Party, which has done everything in its power to reopen schools in districts around the country, most notably in New York City, where Democratic Mayor Bill de Blasio and Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo are working to start up in-person classes in the nation's largest school district, against fierce resistance from teachers, students and parents.
As a direct result of these criminal actions, three new educator deaths were reported in the last week alone, and a fourth teacher is currently fighting for her life in an intensive care unit. These preventable deaths mark only the beginning of what will become a flood of such reports, barring the independent intervention of educators, parents and students to force the closure of the schools.
[More details at link. -js]
Bolstering Case for Single Payer, Study Shows For-Profit Insurer Plans Pay Hospitals Nearly 250% More Than Medicare
A new study released Friday by the RAND Corporation details the astronomical prices hospital systems across the U.S. charge private insurers and the more than 153 million patients who obtain health coverage through their employers—while Medicare proves to be a far more affordable option.
The findings make the case for expanding the Medicare system to all Americans, one prominent single-payer healthcare advocate said.
"There is no better system of cost control and universal care for employers than Medicare for All," policy analyst Michael Lighty, a leading expert on and organizer for Medicare for All, told Common Dreams.
Studying hospital systems in 49 states, RAND found that employers and insurers paid $20 billion more to hospitals between 2016 and 2018 than the government did through Medicare for the same healthcare services.
In hospitals across the country, according to the study, private insurers paid an average of 247% more for services than what hospitals would have received via the Medicare system. In six states, hospitals charge three times more than Medicare if a patient has private insurance, and at the most expensive hospitals, insurers may be charged four times the amount—ultimately leading to a financial strain on the patient.
"Hospitals like this are a tax on their community, harming economic growth and decreasing workers' take-home pay," tweeted philanthropist John Arnold.
"If we want to keep a private market in U.S. healthcare, it has to function," Elizabeth Mitchell, chief executive of the Pacific Business Group on Health told the New York Times. "It's really not functioning."
The Times reported that the study was likely to bolster the argument for a public option which would compete with for-profit health insurance, ultimately bringing down the cost of care.
Lighty told Common Dreams that the research actually "creates a much stronger argument for Medicare for All than for the public option."
"The primary payment method for hospitals under Medicare for All would be a 'global budget,' which ensures that each facility has the resources to provide patient care for their patient population and service area," Lighty said. "The public option simply introduces another 'plan design' into a system of plans that is causing the problem—the administrative complexity of network definitions and rate setting continues under a public option."
The Times claimed Medicare for All is a far more "controversial" solution than the public option—but both solutions are popular with the U.S. public. A survey by Kaiser Family Foundation in May found that 56% of Americans support Medicare for All, including eight in 10 Democratic voters. A separate poll taken by The Hill/HarrisX in April showed that 69% of respondents believe every American should be covered under the hugely popular Medicare program.
The Times article brings up the frequently-expressed concern of Medicare for All opponents that hospitals would be unable to operate if they are forced to accept Medicare rates and are unable to price their surgeries, overnight stays, and other services at exorbitant rates for insurance companies.
"We cannot survive in that kind of the world," Tom Nickels, an executive vice president at the American Hospital Association (AHA), told the Times. The trade group further pushed back against the RAND Corporation's findings on Friday, saying "the study again perpetuates erroneous suggestions that Medicare payments should be used as a benchmark for private insurers."
Lighty countered that the AHA has "literally no credibility" regarding efforts to keep hospitals running.
"They have been promoting a business model that closes 'unprofitable' hospitals in rural areas and inner cities for over two decades," Lighty told Common Dreams. "In South Carolina, eight hospitals have closed since 2010. Global budgets keep hospitals open, the present system of financing and contracting closes them."
Democracy is when an unelected 87 year old dies and now all the laws might change for some reason.
— Existential Comics (@existentialcoms) September 19, 2020
As Republicans are already promising a vote on a nominee from Donald Trump, the obvious question is: What can be done to stop conservatives’ full takeover of the nation’s high court for the rest of our lives?
We don’t have all the answers, but we have one answer among many: A serious New York Democratic candidate needs to step up and announce a 2022 primary challenge to Sen. Chuck Schumer — who already has a record of helping fast-track Donald Trump’s judicial appointments. That primary challenge needs to be announced right now — and it needs to be clear that the primary challenge will be a referendum on Schumer’s record on Trump judges.
As Minority Leader, Schumer will lead Senate Democrats as President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell inevitably try to install a justice onto the court sometime before Trump has to leave office, should he lose the 2020 election. That means Schumer needs to face maximum pressure every single day to use all possible power that his caucus has — and it has power — to stop a Trump appointment. Not just pressure as in phone calls and protests — pressure as in you-will-be-voted-out-of-office pressure.
We know Schumer needs that kind of pressure because as Vox reported, in 2018 he agreed to a deal “to fast-track the confirmations of 15 Trump-nominated judicial picks.” Additionally, under Schumer’s leadership, members of the Democratic caucus provided votes to confirm Trump’s two previous judges, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. We also know that Democrats have periodically voted to install Trump judges on lower courts.
You could argue that there was nothing Schumer could do to prevent conservative Democrats from voting the way they did, but that’s bullshit. Schumer controls the party apparatus and its fundraising machine — if his excuse is he can’t do anything, then he shouldn’t be the leader. Schumer and Democrats have chronically mismanaged judicial appointments. Obama left office with a Supreme Court seat open and far too many district and court of appeals vacancies. Republicans have rushed to fill those seats, and Democrats have rubber-stamped most of their nominees with little fight. While House Democrats and Senate Republicans haven’t managed to agree on a new COVID relief bill since March, Democrats this week helped confirm eight new district court judges this week.
US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has died, which means the US election is going to revolve around abortion and other civil rights for the foreseeable future. Which won’t change much since this presidential race hasn’t really been about anything since the end of the Democratic primaries.
The opportunistic galvanization process has already begun before Ginsburg’s body is even cold, with liberal influencers calling Democrats to rally to a November win for “the notorious RBG” and Trump supporters dropping their faux anti-establishment schtick and metamorphosing into a bunch of mini-Mitch McConnells. Leftists are being shrieked at by mainstream Dems that they need to fall in line and support Biden or they’re personally responsible for every civil right that is taken away by Ginsburg’s replacement.
I’m not here to tell Americans how to vote in November. I’d just like to quickly point out once again that an establishment which threatens to remove your civil rights if you don’t support it is an establishment that doesn’t deserve to exist.
Of course it doesn’t look like that’s what’s happening if you subscribe to the mainstream consensus perspective that America’s political system has two separate and oppositional parties. If that is your viewpoint, you will see one bad party trying to take away people’s civil liberties and one good party trying to stop them.
If however you recognize that America has two parties that are owned and operated by a single oligarchic class which has more or less the same overarching goal as far as ordinary people are concerned, it looks completely different.
If you understand that America has a two-headed one-party system designed to shrink the spectrum of acceptable debate down to arguments about how oligarchic agendas should be facilitated rather than if they should, what you see is a single entity threatening to take away your civil liberties if you don’t support it. A single establishment threatening to punch you with its right hand if you don’t let it punch you with its left.
What is the correct response to such a situation? Is it to give the two-headed monster what it wants? Is it to give your energy to supporting the same establishment which is threatening to take away your civil rights?
Or is it to fight? Is it to pour your energy into tearing down an abusive political system which threatens to rob your civil rights if you don’t plug yourself into the mainstream oligarchic establishment? A system which throughout your entire life has done nothing but rob you and pour your nation’s wealth into wars, tax cuts and ever-expanding neoliberal exploitation regardless of how you’ve voted?
If you think the correct response is the latter, consider refraining from giving your energy to the Supreme Court debate in the coming months and focus on waking people up to what’s really going on in the world so that they can see their two-headed abuser for themselves.
After the death of R.B. Ginsburg (87) the US political system falls into disarray. J. Biden (78) and D. Trump (74) declare the future of the nation is at stake. N. Pelosi (80) is bereft with grief. M. McConnell (78) plots his strategy. Spring chicken C. Schumer (69) vows revenge
— Michael Tracey (@mtracey) September 20, 2020
Joe Biden, the Democratic presidential nominee, made an urgent plea on Sunday to the conscience of Senate Republicans, asking them to defy Donald Trump and refuse to ram through his nominee to the supreme court before the November election. ... Speaking in Philadelphia, Biden demanded that the people be heard. He accused Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, of hypocrisy after he stonewalled Merrick Garland, Barack Obama’s pick for the court in 2016, also an election year.
“Look, I’m not being naive,” the former vice-president said. “I’m not speaking to President Trump, who’ll do whatever he wants. I’m not speaking to Mitch McConnell, who’ll do what he wants, and he does. “I’m speaking to those Republicans out there, Senate Republicans, who know deep down what is right for the country and consistent with the constitution.”
People have already begun voting in an election that is just six weeks away, Biden added. “The people of this nation are choosing their future right now, as they vote. To jam this nomination through the Senate is just an exercise in raw political power and I don’t believe the people of this nation will stand for it.” It would represent an “abuse of power”, he said. “This is constitutional abuse.”
— Paul Blest (@pblest) September 20, 2020
Alaska Republican senator Lisa Murkowski said on Sunday she would not support efforts to confirm Donald Trump’s third supreme court pick before the presidential election on 3 November. The move came a day after Susan Collins of Maine, another Republican moderate, took the same position.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell can now afford to lose only one more senator if he is to achieve his aim of tilting the court firmly to the right for a generation or more.
Thanks to reforms initiated by Democrats in 2013 but completed by Republicans in 2017, a simple Senate majority is required to confirm a supreme court justice.
Murkowski and Collins’ statements mean that if no Democrats or independents come over to the Republican side, McConnell can count on a win by 51 votes to 49. He could afford to lose one more senator, as Vice-President Mike Pence would break any tie.
The Senate majority leader is looking to hold a vote before election day – or even in the lame duck period after the election and before the next presidential inauguration, on 20 January, even if Democrats take the White House and the Senate.
If he wins a US Senate seat in Arizona, the former astronaut Mark Kelly could take office as early as 30 November, an outcome which might jeopardize the launch of Donald Trump’s third supreme court nominee.
The Democratic candidate has maintained a polling lead over the Republican Martha McSally, who was appointed to the seat held by John McCain, who died in 2018.
Because the contest is a special election to finish McCain’s term, the winner could be sworn in as soon as the results are certified. Other winners in November’s contest, in which Democrats hope to retake the Senate, will not take office until January. ...
If Kelly wins, when he takes office could be crucial in deciding the ensuing nomination fight. Republicans currently hold the chamber by 53 seats to 47. The prospect of falling to 52 could prompt McConnell to speed up the nomination process.
As wildfires destroy millions of acres in California, Oregon, and Washington, and an unprecedented series of hurricanes cause historic flooding in the South, leaving parts of the region uninhabitable, the Trump administration has been racing to reverse rules designed to prevent exactly these kinds of climate disasters. Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has presided over the rollback of more environmental rules and regulations than any other president. The result has been that, even as climate change is on track to soon force millions of Americans from their homes and eventually heat the Earth to temperatures not seen for 34 million years, the leader of the country that bears more responsibility for the climate change than any other has doubled down on the decimation of efforts meant to combat both pollution and the climate crisis. ...
In recent months, the pace of these assaults has quickened. The frenzied efforts of federal agencies during the last months before a presidential election are often referred to as “midnight regulation.” But the work the Trump administration has recently been hurrying to complete would be more accurately described as “midnight deregulation.” ...
In many cases, this deregulation will have a measurable human toll. Changes to the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, which the EPA made in April, undermined limits on mercury and other toxic air pollution coming from coal-fired power plants that were put in place in 2011. Those regulations had prevented between 4,000 and 11,000 premature deaths each year, according to the agency’s own calculations. But under Trump, the EPA has decided that it is no longer necessary to regulate this pollutant, which causes brain damage in developing fetuses and increases heart attacks in adults. If it stands, the methane rollback, which is being challenged by environmentalists, will also result in illness and death. In addition to hastening climate change, methane turns into ozone, which causes chronic diseases, including respiratory damage, cancer, asthma, and heart disease. Fence-line communities, which are disproportionately made up of people of color, including the more than 1 million African Americans who live within a half-mile of an oil and gas facility, will be among the hardest hit by the pollution. And the replacement of the Clean Power Plan is expected to lead to thousands of deaths.
With less than seven weeks until the election, and the wildfires and flooding continuing to spread along with the recognition that they are part of a larger climate apocalypse, the Trump administration is still scrambling to finish the deadly destruction of some of the rules and processes that were put in place to protect human health.
The Trump administration alarmed environmental and public health advocates on Friday with the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to reauthorize the use of atrazine, an herbicide common in the United States but banned or being phased out in dozens of countries due to concerns about risks such as birth defects and cancer.
"Use of this extremely dangerous pesticide should be banned, not expanded," declared Nathan Donley, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD). "This disgusting decision directly endangers the health of millions of Americans."
"This decision imperils the health of our children and the safety of drinking water supplies across much of the nation," Donley added. "No one will be left untouched by the bad decision the EPA just made."
While EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler called the final interim decision "another example of the Trump administration taking action in support of America's farmers," critics called out the agency for discarding precautions mandated under the Food Quality Protection Act and ignoring epidemiological research.
Tropical Storm Beta was making a slow crawl to the shores of Texas and Louisiana on Sunday, casting worries about heavy rain, flooding and storm surge across the Gulf coast.
Beta was one of three named storms in the Atlantic basin. If the system makes landfall in Texas, which forecasters predict it will sometime on Monday, it would be the ninth named storm to make landfall in the continental US in 2020. Colorado State hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach said that would tie a record set in 1916.
Forecasters ran out of traditional storm names on Friday, forcing the use of the Greek alphabet for only the second time since the 1950s. ...
Beta was brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, 200 miles south-east of Galveston, Texas, the US National Hurricane Center said. The storm had maximum sustained winds at 60mph and was moving west-north-west at 3mph. Little change in strength was expected as the system approaches Texas, forecasters said. Earlier predictions showed Beta could reach hurricane strength before making landfall. ...
Hurricane Teddy remained a powerful hurricane on Sunday, with maximum sustained winds at 105mph and moving west-north-west at 12mph. Teddy was centered 320 miles south-south-east of Bermuda less than a week after Hurricane Paulette made landfall in the wealthy British territory.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Little Son Joe - Black Rat Swing
Little Son Joe - Just Had To Holler
Memphis Minnie with Little Son Joe - Pig Meat On The Line
Memphis Minnie with Little Son Joe - Blues
Memphis Minnie with Little Son Joe - Bone Yard Blues
Little Son Joe - Ethel Bea
Little Son Joe - A Little Too Late (I'd Write A Letter)
Little Son Joe - Diggin' My Potatoes
Memphis Minnie with Little Son Joe - Jump Little Rabbit
Ernest Lawler's 'Me And My Chauffeur' played by Tuba Skinny