The Evening Blues - 2-24-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues piano player Memphis Slim. Enjoy!
Memphis Slim - Born With The Blues
"Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech."
-- Benjamin Franklin
News and Opinion
Glenn Greenwald: House Democrats, Targeting Right-Wing Cable Outlets, Are Assaulting Core Press Freedoms
Not even two months into their reign as the majority party that controls the White House and both houses of Congress, key Democrats have made clear that one of their top priorities is censorship of divergent voices. On Saturday, I detailed how their escalating official campaign to coerce and threaten social media companies into more aggressively censoring views that they dislike — including by summoning social media CEOs to appear before them for the third time in less than five months — is implicating, if not already violating, core First Amendment rights of free speech. Now they are going further — much further. The same Democratic House Committee that is demanding greater online censorship from social media companies now has its sights set on the removal of conservative cable outlets, including Fox News, from the airwaves.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Monday announced a February 24 hearing, convened by one of its sub-committees, entitled “Fanning the Flames: Disinformation and Extremism in the Media.” Claiming that “the spread of disinformation and extremism by traditional news media presents a tangible and destabilizing threat,” the Committee argues: “Some broadcasters’ and cable networks’ increasing reliance on conspiracy theories and misleading or patently false information raises questions about their devotion to journalistic integrity.”
Since when is it the role of the U.S. Government to arbitrate and enforce precepts of “journalistic integrity”? Unless you believe in the right of the government to regulate and control what the press says — a power which the First Amendment explicitly prohibits — how can anyone be comfortable with members of Congress arrogating unto themselves the power to dictate what media outlets are permitted to report and control how they discuss and analyze the news of the day?
But what House Democrats are doing here is far more insidious than what is revealed by that creepy official announcement. Two senior members of that Committee, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Silicon-Valley) and Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-CA) also sent their own letters to seven of the nation’s largest cable providers — Comcast, AT&T, Spectrum, Dish, Verizon, Cox and Altice — as well as to digital distributors of cable news (Roku, Amazon, Apple, Google and Hulu) demanding to know, among other things, what those cable distributors did to prevent conservative “disinformation” prior to the election and after — disinformation, they said, that just so happened to be spread by the only conservative cable outlets: Fox, Newsmax and OANN. In case there was any doubt about their true goal — coercing these cable providers to remove all cable networks that feature conservative voices, including Fox (just as their counterparts on that Committee want to ban right-wing voices from social media) — the House Democrats in their letter said explicitly what they are after: namely, removal of those conservative outlets by these cable providers.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is facing intense domestic pressure over his government's last-minute agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency to maintain inspector access to Iranian nuclear facilities, undercutting Iranian lawmakers who last year voted to end access unless American sanctions were lifted.
Iran will follow through on its threat to withdraw from the Additional Protocol of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which affords IAEA inspectors access to nuclear facilities. However, Rouhani's government reached a "temporary bilateral technical understanding" with IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi to retain access for the next three months.
The number of IAEA inspectors allowed in the country will not change, but inspections will be more limited. Iran will also stop sharing video recorded by cameras at some nuclear facilities for the next three months. This footage will be destroyed if American sanctions are not lifted by the end of the three months, or handed over to the IAEA if they are.
The U.S. welcomed the compromise, but Iranian lawmakers were furious and have opened litigation against Rouhani's administration, the state-run Fars News Agency reported.
Many high level Iranian officials should be charged for the shooting down of a Ukrainian commercial airliner in January 2020, a UN human rights expert has said, describing the killing of the 176 people aboard as a “profound and serious indictment” of the country’s civil and military authorities. Agnès Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, delivered a 45-page letter to the Iranian government which was made public on Tuesday, outlining her findings from a six-month investigation into the disaster, and complaining about the lack of Iranian cooperation, which has left many of her questions unanswered.
Callamard issued a particularly strong condemnation of the Tehran government’s treatment of the victims’ families, who she said had been harassed and threatened, denied the return of remains and personal effects, and forced to go along with officially staged “martyr” funerals.
Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was shot down by an Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) air defence missile battery shortly after it took off from Tehran’s international airport, at a time of high tensions, five days after a US drone strike killed an IRGC commander, Qassem Suleimani. The plane was bound for Kyiv but had 55 citizens and 30 permanent residents of Canada aboard. After denying responsibility for several days, Tehran said the Boeing 737-800 was shot down by mistake by an air defence crew who mistook it for an incoming US missile.
“The inconsistencies in the official explanations seem designed to create a maximum of confusion and a minimum of clarity. They seem contrived to mislead and bewilder,” Callamard, said in the letter, which was sent to Tehran 60 days ago with a set of questions but has yet to get a reply.
The last public statue in Spain of the former dictator Francisco Franco has been removed from the city gates of Melilla, a Spanish enclave and autonomous city on the north-west African coast.
Without much fanfare, a group of workmen took down the statue on Tuesday, using a mechanical digger and heavy drills to chip away at the brick platform on which the statue stood, before lifting it off by a chain around its neck and carting it away in bubblewrap on a pickup truck.
The statue, erected in 1978, three years after Franco’s death, commemorated his role as commander of the Spanish Legion in the Rif war, a conflict fought in the 1920s by Spain and France against the Berber tribes of the Rif mountainous region of Morocco.
“This is a historic day for Melilla,” Elena Fernandez Trevino, in charge of education and culture in the enclave, said on Monday after the local assembly voted to take the statue down, pointing out that it was “the only statue dedicated to a dictator still in the public sphere in Europe”.
Republican Sens. Mitt Romney and Tom Cotton on Tuesday attempted to counter the popular push for a $15 federal minimum wage with legislation that would raise the national wage floor to just $10 by 2025 while also taking steps to ensure undocumented workers are excluded from the pay increase—a proposal that progressives roundly dismissed as an "insulting" non-starter.
Morris Pearl, chair of the Patriotic Millionaires, said in a statement that Romney (R-Utah) and Cotton's (R-Ark.) combination of xenophobia and a meager pay increase produced "an anti-immigrant, low-wage bill masquerading as an attempt to help American workers."
"The Romney/Cotton minimum wage bill is pathetic," said Pearl. "There is nowhere in the United States where $10 an hour is enough to live on today. That will be even more true in four years. While tens of millions of Americans live and work in poverty, this bill would increase wages for only 3.5 million workers. By comparison, the Raise the Wage Act would increase wages for nearly ten times as many Americans, 32 million."
Ohio congressional candidate Nina Turner slammed the proposal on Twitter, writing that "$15 is already the compromise position."
Formally titled the Higher Wages for American Workers Act, the Republican legislation would gradually phase in a $10 federal minimum wage over the next four years and thereafter index it to inflation every two years. The minimum wage in Arkansas, Cotton's home state, is already $11 an hour.
Romney and Cotton's bill would also require employers to use E-Verify—a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) system—to ensure that companies don't hire undocumented workers and heighten penalties on business that continue to do so, measures that Romney's office said are designed to prevent undocumented people from benefiting from the minimum wage increase.
Heh, identity politics brawl ready to blow up?
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has stepped into the intensifying dispute around the treatment of women and people of color nominated to top jobs in the Biden administration, as the confirmation process in the US Senate begins to sour. The leftwing Democratic congresswoman waded into the debate amid growing concerns in progressive circles that Joe Biden’s nominees from minority backgrounds are being singled out for especially harsh scrutiny.
Several women of color are facing daunting hurdles to confirmation with Republicans withholding backing and the Democratic majority in the Senate imperiled by the opposition of the conservative Democrat, Joe Manchin. The senator from West Virginia announced on Friday he would oppose the candidacy of Neera Tanden to become the first Asian American woman to fill the post of budget director. On Monday he also indicated that he was having doubts about Deb Haaland, who would become the first Native woman to take a cabinet seat. ...
In a tweet on Monday, Ocasio-Cortez turned the spotlight onto the record of Manchin himself. She pointed out that the Democratic senator had voted to confirm Jeff Sessions as Donald Trump’s first attorney general despite the fact that the former senator from Alabama was dogged with accusations of racism throughout his career. “Jeff Sessions was so openly racist that even Reagan couldn’t appoint him,” Ocasio-Cortez said, adding that as attorney general, Sessions went on to preside over the brutal family separation policy at the US border with Mexico.
“Yet the first Native woman to be Cabinet Sec is where Manchin finds unease?” she posted.
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Tuesday was the lone progressive to vote against Tom Vilsack reprising his role as secretary of agriculture, citing concerns that progressive advocacy groups have been raising since even before President Joe Biden officially nominated the former Obama administration appointee.
The Senate voted 92-7 to confirm Vilsack, with Sanders (I-Vt.) and six Republicans opposing his appointment. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) was the only member who did not vote.
In a statement on his decision, Sanders first said that "I have known Tom Vilsack for many years and look forward to working with him as our new secretary of agriculture."
"I opposed his confirmation today because at a time when corporate consolidation of agriculture is rampant and family farms are being decimated, we need a secretary who is prepared to vigorously take on corporate power in the industry," Sanders explained. "I heard from many family farmers in Vermont and around the country who feel that is not what Tom did when he last served in this job."
The Hill reports Sanders made similar remarks about Vilsack to journalists after the vote, saying that "I think he'll be fine, but not as strong as I would like."
One person’s “kids in cages” is another’s “reopening overflow facilities.”
The Biden White House is being accused of hypocrisy for reopening border facilities to house migrant teenagers — including one that both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris savaged then-President Donald Trump about on the campaign trail and before.
Biden blasted Trump repeatedly for separating families and failing to reunite them, decrying during an October debate that migrant children were “ripped from their [parents’] arms and separated.”
Harris, then a senator, said in 2018 at the peak of the family separation controversy that Trump’s treatment of migrants was a “crime against humanity.”
But on Monday the Department of Health and Human Services reopened a facility in Texas to house up to 700 migrants ages 13 to 17. A second facility in Florida also is being reopened. The decision rankled immigration advocates and sparked allegations of hypocrisy given the previous Biden-Harris condemnation.
Police officers shown on body camera video holding Daniel Prude down naked and handcuffed on a city street last winter until he stopped breathing will not face criminal charges, according to a grand jury decision announced Tuesday.
The 41-year-old Black man’s death last March sparked nightly protests in Rochester, New York, after the video was released nearly six months later, with demonstrators demanding a reckoning for police and city officials. ...
Lawyers for the seven police officers suspended over Prude’s death have said the officers were strictly following their training that night, employing a restraining technique known as “segmenting”. They claimed Prude’s use of PCP, which caused irrational behavior, was “the root cause” of his death.
The video made public on 4 September shows Prude handcuffed and naked with a spit hood over his head as an officer pushes his face against the ground, while another officer presses a knee to his back. The officers held him down for about two minutes until he stopped breathing. He was taken off life support a week later.
The county medical examiner listed the manner of death as homicide caused by “complications of asphyxia in the setting of physical restraint” and cited PCP as a contributing factor.
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the poet, publisher, painter and political activist who co-founded the famous City Lights bookshop in San Francisco and became an icon of the city himself, has died aged 101. Ferlinghetti died at home on Monday night. His son Lorenzo said that the cause was interstitial lung disease. ...
In 1953, he co-founded the City Lights bookshop and publishing company with friend Peter Dean Martin, who left soon after, with the mission to democratise literature and make it accessible to all. “We were young and foolish,” he told the Guardian in 2019. “And we had no money.”
While most bookshops across the US closed early and on weekends at the time, City Lights stayed open seven days a week and late into the night, fostering a countercultural community that attracted the likes of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. City Lights initially focused on selling paperbacks, which were cheaper but looked down on by the literary establishment, and publishing poetry, offbeat and radical books by the likes of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Paul Bowles, Gary Snyder and Gregory Corso. ...
In 1958, Ferlinghetti published his own first collection, A Coney Island of the Mind, which sold more than 1m copies. He went on to write more than 50 volumes of poetry, novels and travel journals. As a publisher, he maintained a lifelong focus on poetry and books ignored by the mainstream, even as it became harder in the face of behemoth, profit-driven presses.
He self-identified as a philosophical anarchist, hosting many sit-ins and protests against war at City Lights. He regarded poetry as a powerful social force and not one reserved for the intellectual elite, saying, “We have to raise the consciousness; the only way poets can change the world is to raise the consciousness of the general populace.”
Testifying on Tuesday in the first congressional hearing on the US Capitol attack, the chief of Capitol police who resigned over the riot said the pro-Trump mob which stormed the building “came prepared for war”. Merrick Garland would seem to agree. In a confirmation hearing on Monday which set the scene for Tuesday’s session before the Senate homeland security and rules committees, Joe Biden’s nominee for attorney general said he would expand the criminal investigation into the 6 January assault, telling Congress domestic terrorism is a greater threat to American democracy than it has been for decades. ...
Describing the events of 6 January as “not necessarily a one-off”, Garland, currently a federal judge, pledged to use the full powers of the justice department to prevent a repeat attack. “I intend to look more broadly at where this is coming from, what other groups there might be that could raise the same problem in the future,” he said. ...
Garland’s hearing saw him quizzed on his definition of domestic terror by one of the Republican senators accused of egging the seditionists on. Joshua Hawley of Missouri was photographed with a clenched fist in a display of solidarity with the “stop the steal” crowd outside the Capitol, shortly before violence erupted.
Hawley asked Garland if he thought violence against federal property during racial-justice protests was a form of domestic terrorism. Without mentioning Hawley’s actions on 6 January, Garland replied that to disrupt democratic processes, as in the Capitol insurrection, did fit the definition. “Attacking a courthouse at night” did not.
On Tuesday, the Senate Homeland Security Committee and the Senate Rules and Administration Committee held a joint hearing on the security failures that allowed the US Capitol building to be overrun by a pro-Trump mob headed by far-right militia groups and white supremacists on January 6. The testimony of former and current police officials at Tuesday’s event, the first public congressional hearing into the attempted coup, highlighted their complete failure to respond to clear warnings contained in their own intelligence assessments and those of the FBI of a violent and a coordinated attack on the Capitol.
In the course of the hearing, the heads of Metro D.C. Police and the US Capitol Police at the time of the insurrection admitted that their departments possessed intelligence reports warning of a violent attack on Congress in advance of the storming of the Capitol. But in the place of any serious explanation for the stand-down of security forces in the face of numerous threats to Congress from fascistic forces mobilized by former President Donald Trump, the Democratic chairs of the two committees suggested a narrative of “intelligence” or “communications” failures, which began to fall apart even as the hearing progressed.
The witnesses were the former chief of the Capitol Police, Steven Sund, the acting chief of the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, Robert Contee, the former Senate sergeant-at-arms, Michael Stenger, and the former House sergeant-at-arms, Paul Irving.
For the first time, Sund acknowledged in his testimony that the Capitol Police were sent a copy of an explicit warning issued by the FBI office in nearby Norfolk, Virginia the day before the attempted coup, stating that violent Trump supporters were coming to D.C. and talking about waging “war.” ... Acting D.C. Metropolitan Police Chief Contee acknowledged that his police department also received the FBI memo in the form of an email. He testified that it did not occur to him that the email from the FBI on the eve of the January 6 “Save America” march was a priority.
Sund acknowledged that the intelligence bulletin had been relayed to the Capitol Police through its Joint Terrorism Task Force on January 5, but claimed that neither he nor anyone else in the police leadership saw the memo. Sund said he became aware that the memo had been received by the intelligence department within the Capitol Police less than 24 hours prior to the congressional hearing.
Despite the mountain of evidence that actionable intelligence was directly sent to the various police agencies charged with defending the Capitol in advance of the attack, the testifying police chiefs maintained there was an “intelligence failure.”
The world's freshwater fishes are in "terrible trouble," with nearly a third facing extinction if humanity doesn't swiftly change its ways to prevent major losses that would impact not only the species at risk but also hundreds of millions of people, according to a report released Tuesday by 16 conservation groups.
Published ahead of a crucial United Nations biodiversity summit scheduled for May, The World's Forgotten Fishes (pdf) details the "dazzling diversity" of freshwater fishes; their importance to food security, jobs, and ecosystems; threats posed by current human behavior; and how scientists suggest tackling the extinction crisis.
Although the various species of freshwater fish provide livelihoods for 60 million people and feed at least 200 million globally, particularly vulnerable and Indigenous communities across Africa, Asia, and South America, when it comes to conservation, they are "overlooked and undervalued," writes WWF International executive director Jon Hutton in the report's foreword.
"Freshwater fishes are also critical for the health of all kinds of ecosystems, and support food webs that extend from birds to bears, and from mountains to mangroves," he adds. "Beyond that they drive multibillion-dollar industries for anglers and aquarium-lovers alike, while historically they've been entwined in cultures on every continent."
As Hutton outlines: "There's no mystery about why freshwater fish numbers are falling so precipitously: habitat degradation, poorly planned hydropower, pollution, over-abstraction of water, unsustainable sand mining, the introduction of invasive non-native species, wildlife crime and, of course, climate change are among the factors pushing fish populations to the brink."
The report from WWF and other organizations calls for urgent action to safeguard the 18,075 known species of freshwater fishes, warning 80 species have already been declared extinct by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species—16 in just 2020. Over the past half-century, populations of migratory freshwater fish have dropped by 76% and mega-fish by a "catastrophic" 94%.
Deb Haaland, seeking to make history as the first Native American to hold a cabinet secretary position in the US, has weathered a torrent of hostile questioning from Republicans during her confirmation hearing as secretary of the interior. ... Haaland is considered a progressive on the climate crisis and has spoken out on the impact of fossil fuel development upon the environment and Native American tribes, positions that Senate Republicans were keen to attack during a sometimes contentious confirmation hearing. ...
Republicans repeatedly assailed Joe Biden’s decision to pause oil and gas drilling on federal lands as calamitous for jobs. As interior secretary, Haaland would oversee the management of lands that make up nearly a third of America’s landmass, including tribal lands. At times the questions were extremely pointed, with Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican, asking Haaland: “Will your administration be guided by a prejudice against fossil fuel, or will it be guided by science?” Importantly for the chances for Haaland’s nomination, Joe Manchin, a Democrat who represents the coal heartland of West Virginia, said that he wanted to see the “evolution, not elimination” of coal mining.
Haaland said: “We want to move forward with clean energy, we want to get to net zero carbon” but also struck a conciliatory note with her questioners. The nominee said that changes to energy use “are not going to happen overnight” and that she looked forward to working with the senators. At one point when Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, asked why she supported a bill protecting grizzly bears, Haaland responded: “Senator, I believe I was caring about the bears.”
Haaland had to repeatedly correct Republicans who said Biden had scrapped, rather than paused, oil and gas leases but acknowledged her role as a progressive champion would have to change somewhat if she were confirmed. “If I’m confirmed as secretary, that is far different role than a congresswoman representing one small district in my state,” she said. “So I understand that role, it’s to serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico. I realize being cabinet is very different; I recognize there is a difference in those two roles.”
During later questioning, Haaland raised the disproportionate impact of the Covid-19 pandemic upon Native Americans and raised concerns over tribes such as the Navajo being subjected to polluted water. In a response to a question from the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders about the opening up of an area sacred to native Americans in Arizona to mining, Haaland said she would “make sure that the voice of the tribal nation is heard on the issue”.
As a severe winter storm swept Texas last week, cutting electricity from millions of residents in freezing temperatures and causing nearly 70 deaths so far, some energy executives saw an upside to the catastrophe. “Obviously, this week is like hitting the jackpot,” boasted Roland Burns, the chief executive and chief financial officer of Comstock Resources, a shale drilling company that benefited from the sudden demand for natural gas, in a call with investors last Wednesday. The price for gas, said Burns, has been “incredible.”
Marshall McCrea, the co-chief executive of pipeline firm Energy Transfer, told investors last Wednesday that his company has “been able to benefit,” given its ability to transport gas from storage facilities near Houston to power plants across the state. The company, McCrea said, has transported large volumes of gas in Texas and capitalized on “very strong commodity prices.” Energy Transfer, when reached for comment, said that McCrea’s comments “are pretty clear.”
Ronald Mills, the vice president of investor relations at Comstock Resources, said the company apologizes for the use of the word “jackpot” to describe natural gas prices last week. “That description was inappropriate and insensitive to the millions of Texans that did not have electricity or power, including many of our own employees who suffered through the same since we are based in the Dallas area,” said Mills in an email to The Intercept.
The price of natural gas, which skyrocketed as power plants and industrial consumers scrambled to secure additional supply, benefited other energy interests. Macquarie Group, an investment bank that is the second-biggest physical gas supplier in the U.S., reported a windfall of $210 million from the swing in gas and electricity prices. The company also owns Griddy, a residential energy utility that has billed customers as much as $16,752 and $8,000 in recent days.
There was another “upside” to the Texas storm, McCrea noted during the call. “Just over the last four or five days,” he added, “the number one thing that everybody is recognizing, I’ve already said, and we all know on this call, how important fossil fuels are for this country, in this world.”
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Memphis Slim - Steppin' Out
Memphis Slim - Beer Drinking Woman
Memphis Slim - Sittin' on Top of the World
Memphis Slim - Everyday I Have The Blues
Memphis Slim - Old Taylor
Memphis Slim, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells - No
Memphis Slim - The Life I'm Living
Memphis Slim - St. Louis Boogie
Memphis Slim & the House Rockers - Rockin' the House