The Evening Blues - 1-26-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features r&b singer and harmonica player Buster Brown. Enjoy!
Buster Brown - Lost In A Dream
"The promise given was a necessity of the past: the word broken is a necessity of the present."
-- Niccolo Machiavelli
News and Opinion
Worth a full read:
It was inevitable that President Joe Biden would betray numerous of his campaign promises — and those that mattered most to wide-eyed voters who put him in office. The speed at which he and his people have revealed their treachery is nonetheless stunning. No, there will be no comprehensive stimulus plan until at least the spring, if then. No, relief checks are not “going out the door immediately,” and no, they will not be for the $2,000 to which Biden committed his administration. As to Biden’s health care reforms, one can hardly believe one’s eyes and ears. As Andrew Perez and Julia Rock reported in Jacobin last week, Biden’s plans are literally lifted from a letter health-insurance lobbyists recently sent Capitol Hill legislators. The promised public option is out the window. Health care “secure for all?” These people do have bridges they intend to sell you.
All this within a few days of Biden’s ascendancy. It’s not much different on the foreign policy side, so let’s draw the old lesson. You can have democracy at home or empire abroad, but you can’t have both. We will continue to suffer the latter under Joseph R. Biden, Jr. Those drawn into thinking the Biden regime would conduct America’s affairs abroad decently and humanely and in principled fashion will now discover they have been savagely sucker-punched. Those who understood from the outset that Biden’s people would go nowhere near the essential, determining questions of exceptionalism, universalism, and our consequent dedication to empire will be repelled but not surprised as the policy framework is revealed.
In this case, the moment of truth came even before Biden’s inauguration. His saccharine inauguration speech last Wednesday, with its Hallmark-card calls for unity, was quite secondary to the confirmation hearings the Senate Foreign Relations Committee held the previous day. In a matter of hours, Biden’s key national security people — Antony Blinken as secretary of state, Avril Haines as director of national intelligence, and Lloyd Austin as defense secretary — gave us a remarkably fulsome idea of what we are in for these next four years. Haines and Austin, neither of whose records are to be admired, are at bottom functionaries who were nominated and swiftly confirmed because they do what they are told and do not think too much—always a career-advancer in Washington.
It is instead Blinken, who is said to enjoy some kind of “mind-meld” with Biden, that we must consider carefully. (Such a meld must be odd terrain.) ...
One by one, Blinken’s senatorial interlocutors told him in so many words, “Son, this is what you need to say if you want our confirmation. We want you to endorse our commitment to aggression, to unlawful interventions, to ‘regime change’ ops, to merciless sanctions, and altogether to the empire. But you must make it look nice. Make it look thoughtful and complicated and considered.” I am convinced, having endured the entire C–Span recording, that what I watched was sheer ritual. Blinken won the Senate’s support and now succeeds the shockingly bovine Mike Pompeo at State. He will do so, however, with the élan and faux sophistication our nakedly bankrupt foreign policy now requires if the American pantomime is to be sustained another four years.
Joe Biden says he is willing to adjust income thresholds for a fresh wave of stimulus payments in new relief package
President Joe Biden said on Monday he is open to adjusting the income thresholds for a fresh wave of stimulus checks for Americans, a key demand among some moderate senators reluctant to back his rescue package.
"There is legitimate reason for people to say, 'do you have the lines drawn the exact right way?' Biden said during a press conference. "Should it go to anybody making over x number of dollars? I'm open to negotiate those things."
Biden said he included more stimulus payments in his $1.9 trillion proposal because they drew support from Democrats and some Republicans last year. Former President Donald Trump demanded a higher stimulus payment amount in a frenzied last-minute push in December. ...
It's becoming more likely that renewed federal aid may not be approved for several more weeks. White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Monday that Congress should pass another government rescue package by the middle of March to avoid a lapse in unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.
Tulsi Gabbard, the former Democratic representative from Hawaii, on Friday expressed concern that a proposed measure to combat domestic terrorism could be used to undermine civil liberties.
Gabbard’s comments came during an appearance on Fox News Primetime when host Brian Kilmeade asked her if she was “surprised they’re pushing forward with this extra surveillance on would-be domestic terror.”
“It’s so dangerous as you guys have been talking about, this is an issue that all Democrats, Republicans, independents, Libertarians should be extremely concerned about, especially because we don’t have to guess about where this goes or how this ends,” Gabbard said.
She continued: “When you have people like former CIA Director John Brennan openly talking about how he’s spoken with or heard from appointees and nominees in the Biden administration who are already starting to look across our country for these types of movements similar to the insurgencies they’ve seen overseas, that in his words, he says make up this unholy alliance of religious extremists, racists, bigots, he lists a few others and at the end, even libertarians.”
She said her concern lies in how officials will define the characteristics they are searching for in potential threats.
Federal law enforcement officials are privately debating whether they should decline to charge some of the individuals who stormed the U.S. Capitol this month — a politically loaded proposition but one alert to the practical concern that hundreds of such cases could swamp the local courthouse. ...
Federal officials estimate that roughly 800 people surged into the building, though they caution that such numbers are imprecise, and the real figure could be 100 people or more in either direction.
Among those roughly 800 people, FBI agents and prosecutors have so far seen a broad mix of behavior — from people dressed for military battle, moving in formation, to wanton vandalism, to simply going with the crowd into the building.
Due to the wide variety of behavior, some federal officials have argued internally that those people who are known only to have committed unlawful entry — and were not engaged in violent, threatening or destructive behavior — should not be charged, according to people familiar with the discussions.
Other agents and prosecutors have pushed back against that suggestion, arguing that it is important to send a forceful message that the kind of political violence and mayhem on display Jan. 6 needs to be punished to the full extent of the law, so as to discourage similar conduct in the future.
The single article of impeachment against Donald Trump will on Monday evening be delivered to the Senate, where the Democratic majority leader, Chuck Schumer, is promising a quick but fair trial. In the week after 8 February, the former president will face his second impeachment trial, this time on a charge of inciting the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol building on 6 January.
“It will be a fair trial but it will move relatively quickly,” Schumer, from New York, told reporters on Sunday. The trial would not take up too much time, he said, because “we have so much else to do”.
Nancy Pelosi, the speaker, will walk the article from the House, through the Capitol and to the Senate at 7pm ET, marking the formal start of the impeachment trial. But there will be a two-week lull in proceedings, after Schumer and the Republican minority leader, Mitch McConnell, reached an agreement on Friday.“ During that period,” Schumer said, “the Senate will continue to do other business for the American people, such as cabinet nominations and the Covid relief bill, which would provide relief for millions of Americans who are suffering during this pandemic.”
The delay will give both legal teams two more weeks to prepare. Pelosi has named the House managers who will prosecute Trump, led by Jamie Raskin, a representative from Maryland who is also a professor of constitutional law. An attorney from South Carolina, Karl “Butch” Bowers, will lead Trump’s defense. Bowers’ most high-profile cases to date include defending a controversial Republican-backed transgender bathroom bill in North Carolina and representing a governor of his own state, Mark Sanford, when he faced impeachment.
US scientists are preparing to upgrade Covid-19 vaccines to address variants of the coronavirus now circulating in the UK and South Africa, Dr Anthony Fauci said on Monday. At the same time, Moderna said that though its Covid vaccine worked against the variants, it was developing a new form to be used as a booster shot.
“We’re doing it today to be ahead of the curve should we need to,” Dr Tal Zaks, Moderna’s chief medical officer, told the New York Times. “I think of it as an insurance policy.
“I don’t know if we need it, and I hope we don’t.”
Fauci, the top US infectious disease expert who is advising Joe Biden, spoke to NBC and CBS on Monday morning, a day after the US Covid caseload passed 25m, with close to 420,000 deaths.
Fauci said the new variants of the coronavirus were not only more infectious but did not respond as well to monoclonal antibodies that have been used in treating Covid patients. He said he was especially concerned about the South African variant, which he described as “different and more ominous than the one in the UK”.
Susan Collins, Supporter of $1.5 Trillion in Tax Cuts for the Rich, Claims $1,400 Survival Checks Not 'Targeted' Enough
Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine complained during a call with Biden administration officials on Sunday that the $1,400 direct relief payments the president has proposed are not sufficiently "targeted," an argument that critics dismissed as absurd and cynical given her 2017 vote for tax cuts that disproportionately benefited wealthy Americans.
Politico reported late Sunday that Collins "pressed the Biden officials on why families making $300,000 would be eligible" for direct payments under Biden's $1.9 trillion relief plan and "urged a focus on lower-income workers."
"I was the first to raise that issue, but there seemed to be a lot of agreement... that those payments need to be more targeted," Collins told Politico in an interview following the Sunday call, which was joined by more than a dozen lawmakers from both parties.
If Biden models his direct payments plan after the House-passed CASH Act, only individuals with incomes of $75,000 or less per year and couples with a combined annual income of $150,000 or less would receive the full $1,400 check. The payments would begin phasing out for those with incomes above those thresholds; under the CASH Act, married couples with a combined annual income of $300,000 and two or more children would have been eligible for some money.
But according to an analysis by the Tax Policy Center, less than one percent of the benefits of the CASH Act would have gone to the top five percent of the income distribution. By contrast, 52% of the benefits of the $1.5 trillion tax bill that Collins happily voted for in 2017 went to the top five percent in 2020.
"Weird that Susan Collins didn't care so much about the 'rich people getting more than they need' issue when it was massive upper income tax cuts on the table," New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie tweeted sardonically. ...
Collins' objection to the $1,400 relief checks came as the Biden administration continued its effort to attract GOP support for a relief package that many Republicans have already dismissed as too expensive, even though the $1.9 trillion in spending the president has proposed is well below what experts say is necessary to reverse the ongoing economic collapse.
The concerns raised by Collins and other Republicans bolster progressives' case that the Biden team's outreach to the GOP is futile and potentially "dangerous," given that compromise with Republicans would inevitably weaken a package that is already inadequate.
Instead of wasting precious time seeking Republican support, progressive advocacy groups and analysts have argued that the White House and the Democrat-controlled Congress should use all available paths—from the budget reconciliation process to abolishing the 60-vote filibuster—to pass relief legislation without the minority party.
California leaders have reached an agreement to extend the state’s eviction moratorium through the end of June in an effort to stave off an expected surge in housing displacement as Covid continues to spread.
The plan, agreed on by top legislative leaders and the governor, extends until 30 June a state law scheduled to expire next Monday that prevents landlords from evicting tenants who could not pay their rent between March and August because of the coronavirus pandemic and those who have been able to pay at least 25% of their rent.
It would also use federal money to pay off up to 80% of some tenants’ unpaid rent. “It’s one thing to get protections, and it’s another to be able to pay your rent when it is due,” the governor, Gavin Newsom, said during a press conference on Monday.
Low-income renters within 50% of area median income (AMI) who have a strong payback background will be prioritized for the relief program, Newsom said. Rental subsidies would be paid to landlords who agree to forgive 20% of their unpaid rental debts or would cover 25% of late payments for landlords that don’t wish to participate.
Janet Yellen has been confirmed as the first woman to head the US Treasury.
The former chair of the Federal Reserve and noted economist was approved by the Senate on an 84-15 vote. She sailed through a congressional hearing last week and had already been unanimously approved by the Senate finance committee and backed by all living former treasury secretaries. ...
“We need to make sure that people aren’t going hungry in America, that they can put food on the table, that they’re not losing their homes and ending up out on the street because of evictions,” Yellen said. “We really need to address those forms of suffering, and I think we shouldn’t compromise on it.”
The morning after President Joe Biden was inaugurated, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals convened to consider whether Texas should be allowed to ban the safest and most common method of abortion used later in pregnancy. If the court agrees with Texas, it would be endorsing a previability abortion ban in direct conflict with decades of precedent.
At issue is the dilation and evacuation method of abortion, known as D&E, which is considered the safest and most effective method of termination during the second trimester of pregnancy. The procedure involves dilation of the cervix, then the removal of the fetus and products of conception, typically with medical instruments, followed by vacuum suction. D&E is used in nearly all later-term procedures in the U.S., which account for a small percentage of all abortions: In 2016, roughly 5.4 percent of abortions occurred after 16 weeks.
Nonetheless, D&E has come under fire from anti-abortion activists and lawmakers who have dubbed it “dismemberment abortion” (a term that has no basis in medicine) because the process causes disarticulation when the fetus hits the cervix. In order to provide more “humane” treatment to a previable fetus, Texas decided to ban D&E and make it a criminal offense to provide the procedure unless a doctor can first cause fetal demise.
The problem is that there is no meaningful way to ensure fetal death before an abortion is performed, and the methods to do so can be risky. In other words, advocates for reproductive rights say, Texas is seeking to ban a universally medically accepted procedure in favor of a law that would force doctors to experiment on women.
An internal government watchdog is launching an investigation to determine if any former or current officials in the U.S. Department of Justice tried to reverse the outcome of last November's presidential election.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced on Monday that the probe will examine whether any DOJ officials "engaged in an improper attempt" to overturn President Joe Biden's electoral victory. The Justice Department's inspector general will look into allegations regarding the conduct of former and current department officials but will not investigate other government officials, The Associated Press reported.
The probe comes after the New York Times reported last Friday that Jeffrey Clark, a former acting assistant attorney general, had spoken with then-President Donald Trump about a plan to oust then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, invalidate the results of the presidential contest in Georgia, and falsely attribute Trump's losses elsewhere to widespread voter fraud in a last-ditch effort to stop Congress from certifying Biden's win.
According to the Times, Trump did not follow through with Clark's scheme because senior members of the DOJ threatened to resign en masse should Trump fire Rosen.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday dismissed lawsuits related to whether former President Donald Trump illegally profited from his presidency in violation of the U.S. Constitution's emoluments clauses, eliciting swift condemnation from political commentators, ethics experts, and other Trump critics who have long demanded accountability.
"It's beyond clear that presidents should not be able to profit from their title or office. But instead of saying so, SCOTUS took the easy way out and ran out the clock," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a senior member of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform and chair of the Subcommittee on Government Operations.
Our first field hearing before Trump took office was on emoluments. It’s beyond clear that presidents should not be able to profit from their title or office. But instead of saying so, SCOTUS took the easy way out and ran out the clock. https://t.co/Yi5faP5wBR
— Rep. Gerry Connolly (@GerryConnolly) January 25, 2021
When Trump took office in 2017, he infamously refused to divest from his business empire and charged his adult sons—Don Jr. and Eric—and CFO Allen Weisselberg with overseeing the Trump Organization, which has been called "a rat's nest of hundreds of ambiguous limited liability companies."
Throughout his presidency, as special interest groups and foreign officials frequented his properties—especially the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.—Trump faced allegations from competitors, lawmakers, and advocacy groups that he was violating the emoluments clauses (pdf).
The emoluments lawsuits in question were filed by the state of Maryland and the District of Columbia as well as hotels and restaurant in New York City and Washington, D.C. that "found themselves in the unenviable position of having to compete with businesses owned by the president of the United States."
Less than a week after Trump's presidency ended, the Supreme Court tossed Trump's challenge to lower court rulings that had allowed the lawsuits to proceed, ordered those rulings thrown out, and directed a pair of appeals courts to dismiss the suits as moot because Trump is no longer in office.
Dominion Voting Systems, the voting equipment manufacturer at the centre of baseless election fraud conspiracy theories pushed by Donald Trump and his allies, has sued the former president’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani in a $1.3bn defamation lawsuit. The 107-page complaint, filed in federal court on Monday, accuses the former New York City mayor of having “manufactured and disseminated” a conspiracy theory related to the company’s voting machines.
“Dominion’s founder and employees have been harassed and received death threats, and Dominion has suffered unprecedented and irreparable harm,” the lawsuit states.
The company point to more than 50 statements by Giuliani about Dominion which it describes as defamatory. This includes remarks made at a 6 January rally in Washington before an insurrection on the US Capitol, appearances on Fox Business as well as social media posts. “Dominion brings this action to set the record straight, to vindicate the company’s rights under civil law, to recover compensatory and punitive damages, and to stand up for itself, its employees, and the electoral process,” the complaint states.
Giuliani is the second Trump loyalist to face litigation from the company after pushing baseless claims of election fraud. The attorney Sidney Powell, who launched a series of failed lawsuits and pushed wild claims about election integrity, has also been sued for $1.3bn by Dominion.
Sarah Sanders, the former White House press secretary, has launched a campaign for Arkansas governor, releasing a pre-recorded message laden with Trumpist rhetoric and touting her widely criticized record in the former administration.
Sanders, 38, is the daughter of Mike Huckabee, the former Republican Arkansas governor who served in the role for more than a decade and launched two failed presidential bids. She served for almost two years as White House press secretary, a tenure characterised by lies, mistruths and attacks on the press.
Interviewed by the former special counsel Robert Mueller, Sanders admitted to making unfounded claims about support for the firing of the former FBI director James Comey, which she later described as “a slip of the tongue” in “the heat of the moment”.
Wildlife officials in Florida have reported an “encouraging” number of sightings of critically endangered North Atlantic right whales off the south-eastern US, including at least 14 new calves, three born to first-time mothers.
The total count of winter sightings of the species has reached 65, the Florida state fish and wildlife conservation commission reported in its latest bulletin on Thursday. ...
But Jane Davenport, the group’s senior attorney, warned that right whales had been experiencing an “unusual mortality event” since 2017, with 32 confirmed deaths in US and Canadian waters as well as 14 serious or non-survivable injuries.
“While these births are an encouraging sign, the continued threats underscore that we still have to redouble our efforts to protect these vulnerable babies and their mothers,” Davenport said.
“Right whales face a daily gauntlet of fishing ropes and speeding vessels, which together have caused the deaths of more than 200 right whales in the last decade alone. We’re killing right whales far faster than they can reproduce. Unless we move quickly to abate these threats, we’re running out of time to save the species from extinction.”
Groups Launch Grassroots Campaign Urging Senators to Reject Tom 'Mr. Monsanto' Vilsack for USDA Chief
Calling Tom Vilsack "Mr. Monsanto," a coalition of progressive groups launched a new campaign Monday to urge senators to vote against President Joe Biden's nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The effort from Food & Water Watch, Progressive Democrats of America, RootsAction.org, and The Zero Hour points to Vilsack's time both as Agriculture Secretary under the Obama administration—and his record since then—as evidence Vilsack would elevate corporate interests over those of everyday people, climate-friendly policies, and a more just agricultural system.
"Tom Vilsack has made a career of catering to the whims of corporate agriculture giants—some of whom he has gone to work for—while failing to fight for struggling family farmers at every turn," Wenonah Hauter, executive director of Food & Water Watch, said in a statement.
Two broad problems underscore why Vilsack should not be allowed to reprise the role of Agriculture chief, according to the campaign:
Tom Vilsack is in the pocket of "Big Ag." As Agriculture Secretary he repeatedly capitulated to corporate interests over the needs of workers and small farmers. Vilsack ushered through a spineless GMO labeling standard rubber stamped by Big Ag, and sped-up the approval process for genetically modified crops. He allowed the meat industry to further monopolize—squeezing out small farmers—and scaled back oversight of poultry processing plants, permitting them to effectively self-regulate and thereby endangering food and worker safety. Immediately after leaving his post at the USDA in 2016, Vilsack became CEO of one the largest U.S. dairy lobbies.
Tom Vilsack also has an egregious record on matters of civil rights. At the end of his tenure as USDA secretary, Vilsack proudly claimed to have presided over a "New Era for Civil Rights at the USDA," but—according to the numerous civil rights groups and associations of Black farmers angered by his recent nomination—the truth was quite the opposite. An extensive two-year investigation by The Counter revealed that Vilsack's USDA misrepresented data to minimize persisting disparities and discrimination against Black farmers to deceptively portray its civil rights record in a positive light.
"America needs an Agriculture Secretary that will finally prioritize sustainable family farming and national food security over corporate profits," said Hauter. "Tom Vilsack has proven not to be the leader we need."
The campaign is calling on people to email their senators and flood their offices with calls on Thursday, January 28.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Buster Brown - Is You Is or Is You Ain't My Baby
Buster Brown - Doctor Brown, Sincerely
Buster Brown - The Presence Of You
Buster Brown - Crawlin' King Snake
Buster Brown - Broadway On Fire
Buster Brown - Sugar Babe
Buster Brown - Two Women
Buster Brown - John Henry
Buster Brown - The Madison Shuffle
Buster Brown - Fannie Mae