The Evening Blues - 10-21-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues musician Howlin' Wolf. Enjoy!
Howlin' Wolf - How Many More Years
“The fact is that censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion. In the long run it will create a generation incapable of appreciating the difference between independence of thought and subservience.”
-- Henry Steele Commager
News and Opinion
That a belief in free speech is rapidly eroding in the U.S.is hardly debatable. Every relevant metric demonstrates that to be the case.
Opposition to the primacy of free speech has been commonplace on America’s most elite college campuses for years, but is now predictably seeping into virtually every sector of American political life — beyond academia into the corporate workplace, journalism, the legal community, culture, the arts, and entertainment. Both a cause of this contamination and a result is the growing popular belief that free speech can no longer be protected as a primary right but must be “balanced” — meaning constricted — in the name of other political and social values that are purportedly in conflict with free expression.
Pew found in 2015 that “American Millennials are far more likely than older generations to say the government should be able to prevent people from saying offensive statements about minority groups.” A 2017 University of Chicago survey similarly demonstrated that ”nearly half of the millennials say that colleges should limit freedom of speech ‘in extreme cases.’” A 2019 poll found that large percentages of Americans, in some cases majorities, believe the First Amendment goes too far in protecting free speech and its understanding should be “updated” to reflect contemporary cultural views. ...
But perhaps the most potent and disturbing trend illustrating how rapidly this erosion is taking place is that it has even infected sectors of the organization that has, for decades, been the most stalwart, principled, and unflinching defender of free speech: the American Civil Liberties Union. Internal debates over whether the group should retreat from its long-standing free speech position have been festering for years. ...
Today’s SYSTEM UPDATE episode is devoted not to my views on these questions but those of Ira Glasser, who served as the Executive Director of the ACLU from 1978-2001, when he retired shortly before the 9/11 attack. Glasser is the star of an exceptional new documentary, which I cannot recommend highly enough, entitled “Mighty Ira,” which traces not only Glasser’s life and work at the ACLU but also the history of the last half of the 20th Century that shaped both his political outlook and the ACLU’s growth from a small and financially precarious group into a legal and political powerhouse under his leadership.
Glasser is an old-school civil libertarian in the best and most classic sense of that term. ... Glasser has not been shy about very vocally and vehemently criticizing what he regards as a retreat by the modern-day ACLU from the organization’s long-standing mission. He is particularly scathing about how the politicized money that has poured in has caused the group to pursue standard-issue liberal policy goals at the expense of the Constitutional rights it once uniquely and fearlessly defended. But he also recognizes that many of the ACLU lawyers, and its leadership, still have a commitment to those core values, and often are forced to battle their own staff in order to fulfill the group’s mission: a perverse conflict that is plaguing numerous political, journalistic and academic institutions.
Bad apples getting sued:
Environmental groups sued the Department of Homeland Security and its acting secretary, Chad Wolf, in federal district court today over their use of what the suit called “a vast arsenal of weapons” on Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland. The weapons deployed by the federal agents during what the Trump administration dubbed “Operation Diligent Valor” pose potentially grave health and environmental hazards, according to the suit, which the ACLU Foundation of Oregon filed on behalf of the Northwest Center for Alternatives to Pesticides, the Willamette Riverkeeper, Cascadia Wildlands, Neighbors for Clean Air, and 350PDX. ...
Among the weapons mentioned in the complaint are rubber bullets; CS tear gas; OC spray, also known as pepper spray; and hexachloroethane smoke grenades. As The Intercept reported earlier this month, the U.S. military began phasing out the smoke grenades years ago because of their toxicity. Along with a thick smoke, the grenades release chemicals associated with short- and long-term human health effects, including nausea, vomiting, central nervous system depression, kidney and liver damage, and cancer.
The groups detail the serious risks of CS tear gas, citing a 2014 report that showed it had “a profound effect on the respiratory system” and that U.S. Army recruits exposed to the tear gas in basic training had a nearly 2.5 times greater risk of acute respiratory illness. The complaint lists symptoms associated with the gas, including eye injuries, chronic pain, cough, neurodegeneration, and menstrual irregularities. And it presents evidence that “[e]ven at low concentrations, CS gas presents a risk of irreversible or other serious, long-lasting adverse human health effects.”
According to the suit, the Department of Homeland Security violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to consider the “potentially severe environmental and human health impacts” of the weapons. The National Environmental Policy Act requires federal agencies to weigh the impacts of proposed actions that “significantly affect the quality of the human environment.” And the suit lays out evidence that, in addition to imperiling protesters, who have described weight loss, lung damage, exhaustion, and other symptoms after being exposed to gas and smoke released by the federal agents, the weapons may harm the environment. Several of the chemicals released by the munitions are harmful to aquatic life, according to their safety data sheets.
Worth a full read:
In mid-September, the Federal Reserve faced a simple question from regulators: Why are profitable corporations being offered money from the central bank at a far cheaper interest rate than local communities? In one instance, Chevron was able to borrow money at half the rate as Wisconsin — meaning the oil giant was effectively getting a government subsidy, while state taxpayers were being offered a predatory rate. Why?
Fed officials had few answers, and still haven’t addressed the iniquity. The result is a perverse dynamic: Cheap Fed cash is boosting corporate profits, stock prices, shareholder dividends and executive pay, all while budget-strapped states and cities are being forced to choose between high-interest loans or mass layoffs of teachers, firefighters, emergency workers and other public-sector employees during a deadly pandemic.
It doesn’t have to be this way, according to a coalition of lawmakers and grassroots groups that have launched a campaign for reform. Their demands are straightforward: They want the Fed to use its authority to make long-term loan commitments to cities and states at zero percent interest — the rate that the Fed already lends to Wall Street banks. Proponents say that would allow municipalities to avoid mass layoffs and also save $160 billion in annual interest payments they pay Wall Street firms on their past debt. ...
While the Fed has emerged as a key player in the Covid-19 crisis as a backstop for Wall Street and providing mass liquidity in the corporate bond market, the Fed has only purchased two bonds in its Municipal Liquidity Facility, lending just $1.6 billion of the $500 billion of lending capacity it has. Instead of lending at the rate that it lends to banks — with the interest rate currently at zero — the Municipal Liquidity Facility has offered loans of at least 1 percent for terms of 24-36 months. Events over the last two months illustrate how arbitrary the rates are.
House speaker Nancy Pelosi said she hoped she could reach a deal with the White House on a coronavirus relief bill by the end of the week. ...
But Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell reportedly told Republicans today that he has urged the White House not to move forward with a relief deal before Election Day.
McConnell expressed concern that a vote on a relief bill could complicate the timing of Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the supreme court. The Senate leader currently plans to hold a final vote on Barrett’s confirmation next Monday.
Proposal by Katie Porter, House Dems Would Fund Mental Health First Responders to Reduce Police Violence
Four Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday introduced a bill aimed at reducing violence against people with mental illnesses by supporting the creation of special units that would be dispatched instead of police to respond to mental health crises.
The Mental Health Justice Act (pdf) was introduced by Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Tony Cárdenas (D-Calif.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.). The bill would create a grant program to fund the hiring, training, salaries, and benefits of mental health first responder units that would be deployed following relevant 911 calls. The measure is co-sponsored by 25 Democratic lawmakers.
According to the Treatment Advocacy Center, at least a quarter and perhaps as many as half of all fatal police encounters involve people who suffer from mental illnesses. They are 16 times more likely to be killed by law enforcement officers than other people.
Furthermore, people with mental illnesses who are arrested are often charged with minor offenses, fueling the epidemic of mass incarceration in which approximately 20% of jail inmates and 15% of state prisoners—or over 350,000 individuals nationwide (pdf)—suffer from serious mental illness.
"Having a mental illness is not a crime, yet it is treated like one time and again," Porter said in a statement introducing the bill. "It is crucial we connect those in crisis with appropriate resources so they can get the care they need."
Porter added that "too often individuals with mental illness and intellectual and developmental disabilities are subject to unnecessary violence and are cycled in and out of our justice system when they'd be much better served by other community resources."
"This common sense legislation would enable mental health providers to be first on the scene when 911 is called for a mental health emergency, making our communities safer for all," she asserted.
President Donald Trump has known for over a month that new coronavirus infections have been soaring even as the White House has lied about the seriousness of the surge, documents released Tuesday by a leading Democratic lawmaker show.
HuffPost reports Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, published six weekly White House Coronavirus Task Force reports (pdf)—dated August 16, August 23, August 30, September 6, September 13, and September 20—proving the administration has known since early September that Covid-19 infections were rising rapidly.
However, instead of being forthcoming with the American people and the world, Trump opted to hide the reports while spuriously claiming that the virus "affects virtually nobody"— even as it caused record infections and deaths in numerous states in September.
Not only did the administration fail to honestly inform the nation, Trump held several so-called superspreader rallies and other events in September, including in states hit hard by surging Covid-19 infections, such as Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.
The reports also show that the White House was fully aware that the number of states in the so-called "red zone"—where new coronavirus cases rose above 100 per 100,000 people and where more than 10% of test results were positive—soared from 18 on September 13 to 31 on October 18.
On October 19, Trump told campaign staffers on a phone call that "people are tired of Covid... People are saying, 'Whatever. Just leave us alone.' They're tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots," a reference to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.
Clyburn released a statement on Tuesday calling the reports proof that "Trump's contempt for science and refusal to lead during this crisis have allowed the coronavirus to surge."
"Contrary to his empty claims that the country is 'rounding the turn,' more states are now in the 'red zone' than ever before," Clyburn said. "It is long past time that the administration implement a national plan to contain this crisis, which is still killing hundreds of Americans each day and could get even worse in the months ahead."
The CDC has been tracking how many deaths have been reported and comparing them with counts seen in other years. Usually, between the beginning of February and the end of September, about 1.9 million deaths are reported. This year, it’s closer to 2.2 million - a 14.5% increase, AP reports.
The CDC says around 200,000 of the deaths are already attributed to coronavirus, but that the it’s likely Covid-19 was a factor in many other deaths, too. For example, someone with heart attack symptoms may have hesitated to go to a hospital that was busy with coronavirus patients.
The largest segment of the excess deaths, about 95,000, were in elderly people ages 75 to 84. That was 21.5% more than in a normal year. But the biggest relative increase, 26.5%, was in people ages 25 to 44. Deaths in people younger than 25 actually dropped slightly.
Amid Trump's Politicization of FDA, California Joins New York in Vowing to Independently Review Coronavirus Vaccines
California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday suggested that the process of finding and obtaining FDA approval for a coronavirus vaccine has become too politicized to trust that the agency will only release a safe and effective vaccine to the public—announcing that he'll assemble a panel of experts to independently verify that any vaccine is suitable for public use.
Newsom said in a news conference that the state government will not "take anyone's word for it" when the FDA approves a vaccine.
"We will do our own independently reviewed process with our world-class experts that just happen to live here in the state of California," the governor said. "These experts ... will independently review and monitor any vaccine trials to guarantee safety, to guarantee equity, and to guarantee the transparency of the distribution of our vaccines."
The state's Scientific Safety Review Workgroup will include 11 epidemiologists, biostatisticians, and other public health experts, Newsom said.
Newsom's comments came weeks after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced he would also use caution before releasing an FDA-approved vaccine to the public after President Donald Trump indicated he would reject strict FDA guidelines.
Last week, The Daily Poster broke the news about Judge Amy Coney Barrett’s familial ties to a major oil company involved in a landmark climate case that is suddenly before the Supreme Court. Now, Barrett is explicitly refusing to commit to recusing herself from cases involving oil companies — while depicting widely accepted climate science as “controversial.”
As a lower-court judge, Barrett had previously recused herself from cases involving Shell Oil, because her father worked there as a top attorney for decades. He also served in a top position at the American Petroleum Institute (API), one of the fossil fuel industry’s top lobbying groups, but she never included that organization in her recusal list.
In the new questionnaire, Barrett declined to commit to recuse herself from oil company cases if she is appointed to the high court, even though justices just agreed to hear a case involving Shell and other oil companies that are API members.
“My father worked at Shell Oil Company for many years, and while on the Seventh Circuit, in an abundance of caution, I have recused myself from cases involving those Shell entities with which he was involved,” she wrote, in response to a question from Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D) about why she recused herself from cases involving Shell entities.
"A Barrett Confirmation Is a Catastrophe": What Democrats Can Do to Block Trump's Supreme Court Pick
During her Supreme Court confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Amy Coney Barrett refused to say that voter intimidation is illegal, that armed poll watchers are intimidating, that voter discrimination exists, whether the president could deny someone the right to vote based on race or that Congress has a constitutional duty to protect the right to vote.
She refused to affirm that Medicare is constitutional; that married couples should not lose their right to contraceptives; that a Black worker repeatedly called the N-word was subjected to a hostile work environment; that it’s wrong to separate children from their parents at the border; or that marriage equality, the right to consensual gay sex and LGBTQ workers’ rights should be protected. Barrett would not say that human beings are responsible for climate change or that the Constitution requires a peaceful transfer of power.
Barrett’s answers — and refusals to answer — confirm that she will be the most radical right-wing member of the Court.
[Much more detail along these lines at the link. -js]
Just after a judge in Jefferson County, Kentucky ruled Tuesday that grand jury records from the case of Breonna Taylor's killing by Louisville police officers be unsealed, a grand juror spoke out anonymously against state Attorney General Daniel Cameron.
The juror released a statement saying Cameron and his team gave the grand jury no options for charges in the case other than the three wanton endangerment charges which were filed against Detective Brett Hankison last month, over his firing bullets into the apartments of Taylor's neighbors on the night of March 13.
"The grand jury didn't agree that certain actions were justified, nor did it decide the indictment should be the only charges in the Breonna Taylor case," the juror said, contradicting Cameron's earlier claims that the grand jury agreed with the charges his office filed.
Cameron has also claimed that "the grand jury was given a complete picture" of what happened at Taylor's apartment on March 13 and the charges that could possibly be filed against Hankison, Sergeant Jonathan Mattingly, and Detective Myles Cosgrove. The three officers arrived at Taylor's home with a "no-knock" warrant and forcibly entered the apartment on suspicion that she was connected to a drug operation—an allegation Taylor was later cleared of in an internal memo from the Louisville Metro Police Department.
The grand juror said Tuesday Cameron and his team never addressed the possibility of charging the officers with homicide, even though the 26-year-old Taylor was shot multiple times while she was sleeping.
"The grand jury did not have homicide offenses explained to them," the juror said. "The grand jury never heard anything about those laws. Self-defense or justification was never explained either... Questions were asked about additional charges and the grand jury was told there would be none because the prosecutors didn't feel they could make them stick."
Kevin Glogower, an attorney representing the juror, said Tuesday his client "is aggrieved... that what was presented [in grand jury proceedings] is not being publicly disclosed."
"The concern is truth and transparency," Glogower added.
In ruling that grand jury records should be unsealed in the case, which garnered national attention over the summer and has been a focus of continuing nationwide racial justice demonstrations, O'Connell rejected Cameron's claim that doing so would "destroy the principle of secrecy that serves as the foundation of the grand jury system."
"As applied in this case, this court finds that the traditional justifications for secrecy in this matter are no longer relevant," O'Connell wrote in her ruling. "This is a rare and extraordinary example of a case where, at the time this motion is made, the historical reasons for preserving grand jury secrecy are null."
The records should be released, she added, to allow the public to determine if "publicly elected officials are being honest."
"Grand juries exist to give democratic input into criminal charging decisions," tweeted University of North Carolina criminal law professor Carissa Byrne Hessick. "Attorney General Cameron not only short circuited that input, but he also misled the public."
A second grand juror indicated on Tuesday following O'Connell's ruling that they planned to speak out about the proceedings as well.
Spencer Davis, who as bandleader with the Spencer Davis Group topped the UK charts twice in the mid-60s, has died aged 81 while being treated for pneumonia in hospital.
The group, who formed in Birmingham in 1963 and also featured Steve Winwood, had hits including Gimme Some Lovin’, Keep On Running, Somebody Help Me and I’m a Man. Along with a number of other early British pop groups, they helped popularise the sound of US blues and R&B in the UK. ...
Born in Swansea in 1939, Davis began learning accordion and harmonica at the age of six. Drawn to the allure of US R&B records, he took up the guitar and formed his first band the Saints with Bill Wyman, who later joined the Rolling Stones. ...
He switched to an industry role in the 70s, working with his label Island Records to help develop artists including Bob Marley and Robert Palmer. He also helped Winwood’s solo career.
A billionaire Wall Street executive and Donald Trump adviser has become the biggest donor to the super PAC backing Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins.
Blackstone Group CEO Steve Schwarzman gave another $500,000 earlier this month to help Collins in a race that could have major financial implications for his firm. In all, Schwarzman has funneled $2 million to the 1820 PAC, a single-candidate super PAC backing her campaign.
Schwarzman has a personal stake in the outcome of Senate elections: As The Daily Poster first revealed, his private equity firm reported a negative effective tax rate last year despite generating billions in profits. Blackstone’s conversion was prompted by Republicans’ 2017 tax law, which slashed the federal corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.
Due to its conversion, the firm’s future profits are tethered to the federal corporate tax rate, and could therefore be complicated if Democrats manage to win control of the Senate and the presidency and follow through on Vice President Joe Biden’s pledge to raise the rate.
William Barr “has to act” and appoint a special prosecutor to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter before election day, Donald Trump said on Tuesday, addressing his attorney general via his favorite medium, the Fox & Friends morning show.
Hunter Biden is the subject of reports by the New York Post about a laptop hard drive purportedly left at a repair shop in Delaware and obtained by Trump ally Rudy Giuliani. The former New York mayor is now Trump’s personal attorney and his search for political dirt on the Bidens has played out in public, having contributed to Trump’s impeachment for approaches made to Ukraine.
The Post stories, about alleged corruption involving an energy company, have not been verified by other outlets and have been treated with caution by social media platforms. Fox News is reported to have passed on the story, meant as an “October surprise” to boost the president as he struggles against Biden in the polls, given concerns over its credibility. On Monday the New York Times reported dissent in the Murdoch paper’s newsroom over its hurried production. One former Post staffer, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told the Guardian: “This reeks.” ...
The president was asked if he would “appoint a special prosecutor” to investigate the story and “any corresponding legal or ethical issues that might be uncovered from the former vice-president’s 47 years in public office”. Trump replied: “We’ve got to get the attorney general to act. He’s got to act, and he’s got to act fast. He’s got to appoint somebody, this is major corruption, and this has to be known about before the election.”
When Alaska orthopedic surgeon Al Gross told longtime state politician Fran Ulmer early last year that he was considering a run against incumbent U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, she told him it was like "mission impossible; you have to be very good to succeed." ... But with just weeks to go before Election Day, the impossible is beginning to seem possible. Gross, an independent running on the Democratic ticket, finds himself a rising star with a deep-pocketed campaign, just as Sullivan finds himself in the midst of a controversy that could be his undoing in the race.
Sullivan has been caught up in the uproar over the so-called Pebble Tapes: A series of secretly recorded conversations released last month by the Environmental Investigation Agency—a watchdog group—that were made by actors posing as potential investors to speak with the heads of the two companies behind the contested Pebble Mine project.
Pebble Mine would bring large-scale mining to the headwaters of Bristol Bay, which supports the largest sockeye salmon fishery in the world. It has been in the works for years, and has been opposed by a majority of Alaskans, including Gross, because of its potential to damage the fishery and the industries, tribes and wildlife that depend on it. ... Since the release of the tapes, Sullivan and his campaign have pushed back, expressing vocal opposition to the Pebble Mine project. But the incumbent's troubles aren't over. In early October, an investigation by journalists from Popular Information found that Sullivan had received $34,150 in campaign contributions from the mine—about 3.5 times more than what had been previously reported.
The optics of a senator quietly accepting significant donations from a contested project, and only weighing in after it appeared to be dead in the water were not good. "Pebble Mine could be his Achilles heel," said Amy Lovecraft, the director of the Center for Arctic Policy Studies and a political science professor at the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. "When that stuff came out, that really was a wedge to show that he's putting national politics ahead of local politics."
Polls released this week show a mixed picture of how the race could shape up. One poll conducted after the revelation about Sullivan's finances and released this week, had Gross ahead of Sullivan by one percentage point. Another, by the New York Times and Sienna College, conducted in a similar time frame, told a vastly different story, with Sullivan pulling 45 percent to Gross's 37. "We're notoriously difficult to poll," said Lovecraft.
The Cameron Peak fire, a few miles west of Fort Collins, Colorado, has engulfed over 200,000 acres and it's still growing. It has now become the biggest wildlife in Colorado history. What's more astounding is that the Cameron Peak fire is the second fire in 2020 to hold the title of largest wildfire in Colorado history. The Pine Gulch fire near Grand Junction briefly held that title, but for only 7 weeks, having burned 139,000 acres in late summer.
Looking at this in a vacuum, you might think of it as mere coincidence. But zooming out, you need only look two states away in California to find evidence of more unprecedented fires. Six of the 7 largest wildfires in California history have all burned in 2020, and the largest, the August Complex fire, became the state's first ever gigafire — meaning it burned over 1 million acres, scorching more acreage than the state of Rhode Island.
This year Mother Nature has supplied us with smoking-gun evidence to prove what climate scientists have been warning about for decades. The scorched-earth impacts of climate change have arrived. In a letter the editor published in the journal Global Change Biology, two of the world's foremost experts on wildfires conclude that the "[r]ecord-setting climate enabled the extraordinary 2020 fire season in the western United States."
"Our 2020 wildfire season is showing us that climate change is here and now in Colorado. Warming is setting the stage for a lot of burning across an extended fire season," says Dr. Jennifer Balch, professor of fire ecology and director of Earth Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder. According to Balch, Colorado in the 2010s saw a tripling of average burned area in the month of October, compared to the prior three decades of the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. "We do see fall fire events in Colorado, related to fast, downslope winds. But to see multiple events start this late, in the middle of October, is very, very rare."
Colorado firefighters were struggling to control several large wildfires, including the state’s largest on record, with smoke badgering some of the most populous areas in the region.
The largest blaze in Colorado, the Cameron Peak fire, has scorched 203,634 acres and destroyed more than 50 structures in the Arapaho and Roosevelt national forests since it ignited in mid-August and is 62% contained, according to InciWeb, a wildfire tracking site.
But new fires have continued to break out, including a blaze that started on Saturday about 17 miles north-west of Boulder and has destroyed at least 20 homes, and a fire that started Sunday about 20 miles north-west of Boulder and caused the evacuation of at least 145 homes. That last fire prompted the evacuation of the entire town of Ward, which has about 150 residents, county officials said. ...
Colorado has been stricken by a severe drought, which is making the landscape more prone to burning. The latest figures from the US Drought Monitor showed that the entire state of Colorado was at some level of drought.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Howlin Wolf - Spoonful
Howlin' Wolf - Meet Me In The Bottom
Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightnin'
Howlin' Wolf - If you hear me howlin'
Howlin' Wolf - Tell Me What I've Done
Howlin' Wolf - I Ain't Superstitious
Howlin' Wolf - Getting Old and Grey
Howlin' Wolf - Can't Stay Here
Howlin' Wolf - I'm the Wolf
Howlin Wolf - Killing Floor