The Evening Blues - 1-25-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features soul singer Howard Tate. Enjoy!
Howard Tate - Get It While You Can
“If you don't want a man unhappy politically, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none. Let him forget there is such a thing as war. If the government is inefficient, top-heavy, and tax-mad, better it be all those than that people worry over it. Peace, Montag. Give the people contests they win by remembering the words to more popular songs or the names of state capitals or how much corn Iowa grew last year. Cram them full of noncombustible data, chock them so damned full of 'facts' they feel stuffed, but absolutely 'brilliant' with information. Then they'll feel they're thinking, they'll get a sense of motion without moving. And they'll be happy, because facts of that sort don't change.”
-- Ray Bradbury
News and Opinion
Digital rights advocates reacted with alarm to a report published Friday detailing how Defense Intelligence Agency analysts in recent years bought databases of U.S. smartphone location data without first obtaining warrants.
The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) is part of the Department of Defense and is tasked with informing military and civilian policymakers about the activities and intentions of foreign governments and nonstate actors.
The new revelation, first reported by the New York Times, initially came in the form of DIA responses to questions from Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) regarding the agency's warrantless purchase of commercial location data generated by phones both inside and outside of the United States.
Wyden asked the DIA to clarify its interpretation of Carpenter v. United States, a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court decision barring law enforcement agencies from requesting personal location information from a cellphone company without first obtaining a search warrant from a judge.
"DIA does not construe the Carpenter decision to require a judicial warrant endorsing purchase or use of commercially-available data for intelligence purposes," the agency replied, implicitly acknowledging its exploitation of an apparent loophole in the case that DIA believes permits its warrantless acquisition of location data from third-party brokers.
On Friday, Facebook carried out a purge of left-wing, antiwar and progressive pages and accounts, including leading members of the Socialist Equality Party. Facebook gave no explanation why the accounts were disabled or even a public acknowledgement that the deletions had occurred.
At least a half dozen leading members of the Socialist Equality Party had their Facebook accounts permanently disabled. This included the public account of Genevieve Leigh, the national secretary of the International Youth and Students for Social Equality, and the personal account of Niles Niemuth, the US managing editor of the World Socialist Web Site. In 2016, Niemuth was the Socialist Equality Party’s candidate for US Vice President. ...
None of the individuals whose accounts were disabled had violated Facebook’s policies. Upon attempting to appeal the deletion of their account, they received an error message stating, “We cannot review the decision to disable your account.” With no explanation or warning, Facebook has effectively seized the intellectual property of those it has targeted, cutting them off from years of their photos, writings and online discussions.
Also targeted was the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the UK. Its main national Facebook account was disabled, with approximately 20,000 followers, together with its student group, the Socialist Workers' Student Society, with approximately 5,000 followers, as well as its annual Marxism festival, with 12,000 followers.
Stewing over election defeat by Joe Biden, four days after leaving the White House, Trump continued to drop hints of creating a new party, a threat some saw as a gambit to keep wavering senators in line ahead of the opening of his trial, in the week after 8 February. ... Trump spent the weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, splitting rounds of golf with discussions about maintaining relevance and influence and how to unseat Republicans deemed to have crossed him, the Washington Post reported.
Trump, the Post said, had said the threat of starting a Maga (Make America Great Again) or Patriot party, gave him leverage to prevent senators voting to convict, which could lead to him being prevented from seeking office again. Later on Sunday, the New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman cited sources “familiar with his thinking” when she said Trump was backing off his threat to create a new party, after it was “gently pointed out to him” that “threatening a third party while simultaneously threatening primaries makes no sense”.
Nonetheless, those in Trump’s crosshairs include Liz Cheney, the No3 House Republican, Georgia governor Brian Kemp and others who declined to embrace false claims of election fraud or accused him of inciting the Capitol riot.
Heh, now you're talking! Impeach 'em all!
The Texas Republican senator John Cornyn warned on Saturday that Donald Trump’s second impeachment could lead to the prosecution of former Democratic presidents if Republicans retake Congress in two years’ time. ...
“If it is a good idea to impeach and try former presidents, what about former Democratic presidents when Republicans get the majority in 2022?” Cornyn, a 19-year veteran of the Senate who last year tried to distance himself from Trump when it seemed his seat was at risk, tweeted at majority leader Chuck Schumer.
Biden has predicted that the national death toll from COVID-19 will exceed more than a half-million by next month. Refusing to call for a nationwide lockdown to stem the continuing surge in infections and death, he and his administration will bear the responsibility for a significant proportion of this misery. Biden declared yesterday that “there is nothing we can do to change the trajectory of the pandemic in the next several months.” This is a blatant lie and an assertion that would meet with even Donald Trump’s approval.
While his 200-page pandemic response strategy is touted as a roadmap to exiting the crisis, the proposal’s main objective is to deceive the public with the claim that, by employing science and federal initiatives, lives can be saved while at the same time restoring full economic activity. In this regard, the reopening of schools is foremost on the agenda.
The immediate goal is to ensure that most K-8 schools reopen in the next 100 days. Additionally, an executive order issued by Biden seeks to appropriate funding from Congress to assist federal and state institutions with the necessary resources to see the complete reopening of all secondary schools, as well as colleges and universities. Top Biden officials have made clear that their drive to reopen schools is aimed at making it possible for them to force workers back to work. The ruling elites see this as the price of doing business in a pandemic. However, the most recent science demonstrates the critical role children and students have played as vectors for community transmission.
Despite the rosy tone of the proposal, President Biden offered his own sober assessment of the situation. “The brutal truth is it’s going to take months before we can get the majority of Americans vaccinated,” he said, even though he has promised that 100 million vaccines will be administered in his first 100 days in office. According to Bloomberg’s vaccination tracker, the US has been averaging approximately 940,000 doses per day, which means Biden has to do little more than wait to see his promise come true.
Warning that one additional check is nowhere near sufficient to ease the widespread suffering inflicted by the ongoing pandemic and economic collapse, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota is circulating a letter urging fellow lawmakers to join her in pressuring President Joe Biden to include recurring direct payments in any future coronavirus relief package.
"The stunning financial crisis for those at the bottom of the income ladder demands massive relief to those who need it most," reads Omar's letter (pdf), which was obtained by HuffPost. "Recurring direct payments until the economy recovers will help ensure that people can meet their basic needs, provide racially equitable solutions, and shorten the length of the recession."
"As we look at the coming year, another one-time round of checks would provide a temporary lifeline, but when that money runs out, families will once again struggle to pay for basic necessities," the letter continues. "One more check is not enough during this public health and economic crisis. Many families cannot afford to wait for eight months between payments."
Omar, the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) whip, is urging the newly sworn-in president to support passage of direct relief checks that continue flowing to struggling adults and dependents "until the economy recovers." The Minnesota Democrat is also stressing the need to ensure that those who were deemed ineligible for previous stimulus checks—such as many immigrants and their families—are included in the recurring payments.
"As the country begins to look towards building to a better future," the letter states, "we need to provide those struggling and left behind with consistent reliable cash payments during this Covid-19 crisis."
For millions of regular Americans, the end of 2020 was marked by economic distress, with millions suffering pandemic-triggered job losses—and thus the loss of their employer-tied health insurance—still waiting on robust economic relief from federal lawmakers, and facing a weak social safety net.
For the nation's biggest banks, however, the year closed out with reason for celebration, and they're looking to take advantage of the banner year with a feast of stock buybacks.
As Axios reported Friday,
Banks cashed in on the white-hot IPO market, record debt issuance, and sky-high trading volume—all of which played out as economic peril softened the consumer side of their businesses.
The big picture: Financial results show that banks, which rake in money as middlemen, made a killing thanks to unprecedented action by the Federal Reserve—which caused a rush of activity in financial markets, pushed a slew of companies to issue debt, and led to a flood of others to go public for the first time.
Earnings were particularly sweet for banking behemoths including JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley.
Reporting from Bloomberg on Tuesday gave a picture of the final quarter:
As the banner year for markets came to a close, JPMorgan Chase & Co. posted record profit in the fourth quarter, helped by a 20% increase in revenue from trading, a business where it already ranked No. 1 heading into the turmoil. At rival Goldman Sachs Group Inc., second only to JPMorgan in dealmaking, a flurry of transactions helped send its quarterly profit soaring 135%.
The results—from JPMorgan on Friday and Goldman on Tuesday—mirrored trends in many corners of industry and society during the shocks set off by Covid-19: The strong got stronger.
"Big banks' Wall Street business is booming," as the New York Times put it Friday. The banks signaled they may take advantage of that windfall by buying back shares—a practice the Fed last month allowed to resume last month and which critics say simply rewards wealthy shareholders but are essentially "manipulation of the stock market."
What do banks plan to do with all that cash? "We have so much capital, we cannot use it," Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan told investors. The bank's cash pile has doubled over the past year, to more than $500 billion.
It's a similar story at other banks, and now that they've been cleared by regulators to resume share buybacks, "we're going to be aggressively buying back, and consistently," said James Gorman, Morgan Stanley's chief executive.
The reporting came as a new regulatory filing revealed that Dimon, a billionaire, was rewarded in 2020 with the same compensation as in 2019—$31.5 million.
The Chicago Teachers Union said on Sunday its members had voted to defy an order to return to the classroom because of concerns about Covid-19, setting up a showdown with district officials who have said that refusing to return when ordered would amount to an illegal strike.
The third-largest US school district wanted around 10,000 teachers and other staff, from kindergarten through eighth grade, to return to schools on Monday, to get ready to welcome back roughly 70,000 students for part-time in-school classes starting from 1 February. No return date has been set for high school students.
The teachers union opposes the plan over concern for the health of its members and called for continued teaching from home. The union said the district’s safety plan fell short, contending that different metrics would be needed to gauge infections at schools and vaccinations would need to be more widespread before teachers can safely return to classrooms. ...
The two sides have been negotiating for months and talks continued on Sunday. Officials have argued that remote learning isn’t working for all, including many low-income and Black and Latino students who make up the majority of the district. The district safety plan includes thousands of air purifiers, more cleaning and a voluntary testing program. ...
The roughly 355,000-student district, which turned to full-time online instruction last March, has gradually welcomed students back. Thousands of pre-kindergarten and special education students resumed in-person learning earlier this month and teachers who did not return to classrooms were punished.
As the first images of President Joe Biden’s Oval Office began to circulate online, a prominently placed bust of labor and civil rights leader Cesar Chavez drew swift comment. Nestled amid Biden family photos behind the president’s desk, the bronze statuette appeared to signal a commitment to the Latinx and worker struggles for which Chavez, founder of the union that would later become the United Farm Workers of America, fought. Far from the inaugural pomp, meanwhile, hundreds of striking workers at the Hunts Point Produce Market in the Bronx, New York, were already demonstrating what the fight for workers’ rights looks like on the ground for those forced to work in perilous proximity throughout this pandemic.
Hunts Point is part of New York City’s most important food hub, handling most of the fruit and vegetables that get sold throughout the five boroughs. Its workers earned praise and press coverage for keeping the city fed as the public health crisis threatened supply chains. Having risked their lives throughout the last year, the workers, members of Teamsters Local 202, sought a raise of a mere $1 per hour in their new contract. Negotiations broke down when management refused, offering an hourly boost of only 32 cents. The union members voted to go on strike, starting last Sunday — the first strike at the Hunts Point market in 35 years. ...
After nearly a full week on the picket line, Teamsters leadership announced a tentative agreement had been reached. On Saturday morning, the strikers voted to approve their new contract, which includes a $1.85 wage increase over three years and an end to any out of pocket payments for family healthcare plans. While not the full $1 raise they had demanded and deserve, there can be little doubt that the conditions of the contract were considerably improved through the strike. Concerns among supporters have arisen about whether union leaders were willing to settle too early — a reminder of the importance of rank-and-file decision making — but the workers were nonetheless celebrating the new contract as a victory.
Following decades of anti-worker, anti-union labor laws established in this country, the Hunts Point strike comes at a time of robust and potent labor organizing. Last February, the House passed an omnibus labor reform bill, the Protecting the Right to Organize Act, which would overturn a number of anti-worker Supreme Court decisions.
The strike at the market, aimed at a key chokepoint of commodity circulation, underlines the necessity of collective action, the solidarity it requires, and the critical role of strong unions. This sort of high-stakes, hard-fought labor action — which entails significant sacrifices from workers — is the least that powerful business owners should face when workers are deemed “essential” but treated as disposable.
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Shanna Swan is the senior author of a 2017 study that documented a dramatic drop in sperm counts in Western countries over the past half-century. That meta-analysis of 185 studies involving 42,935 men found that total sperm count fell 59 percent between 1973 and 2011. Swan, a reproductive epidemiologist, pointed to the role of environmental chemicals in that trend. Now she has written “Count Down: How Our Modern World Is Threatening Sperm Counts, Altering Male and Female Reproductive Development, and Imperiling the Future of the Human Race,” a book that ties industrial chemicals in everyday products to a wide range of changes taking place in recent years, including increasing numbers of babies being born with smaller penises; higher rates of erectile dysfunction; declining fertility; eroding sex differences in some animal species; and potentially even behaviors that are thought of as gender-typical.
[An interview follows. Here are a couple of excerpts. -js]
How did you get into studying chemicals and reproduction?
It started with the phthalate syndrome.
That was the discovery that fetal rats exposed to phthalates 18 to 21 days after mating were more likely to be born with malformed genitals, but the ones that were exposed to those endocrine-disrupting chemicals before or after that window didn’t have the problem, right?
Right. In 2000, a colleague from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told me they were able to measure lots of chemicals, including phthalates, at low doses for little cost in lots of people. This was a breakthrough in the field. And I had just done a study of the mothers of young babies, and I still had the urine from the pregnant women, and the babies were very young. He said I should study phthalates. So I thought, OK, what if I mimic the animal study and look for the same endpoints they found in rats? What if I could see those in humans and link them to phthalates?
And you did it?
I did. We found the syndrome in humans. ...
You’ve also linked phthalate exposure to a lack of interest in sex.
Yes, we found a relationship between women’s phthalate levels and their sexual satisfaction. And researchers in China found that workers with higher levels of bisphenol A, commonly known as BPA, in their blood were more likely to have sexual problems, including decreased desire.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Howard Tate - Ain't Nobody Home
Howard Tate - Stop
Howard Tate - I Learned It All the Hard Way
Howard Tate - Look At Granny Run Run
Howard Tate - She's a Burglar
Howard Tate - Girl From The North Country
Howard Tate - Shoot 'Em All Down
Howard Tate - Glad I Knew Better
Howard Tate - Baby, I Love You
Howard Tate - 8 days on the road
Howard Tate - Everyday I Have The Blues