The Evening Blues - 3-1-21
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This evening's music features boogie woogie piano player Meade Lux Lewis. Enjoy!
Meade Lux Lewis - Boogie Woogie
"Biden is doing to his campaign promises what MBS did to Jamal Khashoggi."
-- Caitlin Johnstone
News and Opinion
“Diplomacy is back!” President Joe Biden declared at the Munich Security Conference last week. But so is bombing Syria, apparently. Biden has only been president a bit more than a month, but he has already ordered his first bombing campaign. (It took Trump four months to do the same.) The target was facilities in eastern Syria used by Iran-backed militia in retaliation for rocket attacks against US troops in Iraq earlier this month.
Presumably, Biden wanted to signal to Iran that it would pay a heavy price if it ordered attacks against US troops in order to pressure Washington to return to the Iran nuclear deal. But by bombing Syria for this reason, Biden proved how failing to rejoin the nuclear agreement endangers US national security – Iran’s nuclear program continues to advance while the US and Iran glide closer to a military confrontation.
Biden knows these arguments quite well. He made them against Donald Trump only a few months ago. His top officials have spent the past years extensively criticizing Trump’s maximum pressure strategy. They were all correct.
Which makes his steps on Iran in his first month all the more perplexing. While Biden’s intent to return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) seems unquestionable, good intentions and good strategy are not the same thing. Rather than bringing diplomacy back, Biden appears to be falling back into old patterns where appearing tough trumps being smart and where diplomacy is merely a slogan sprinkled on policies centered on coercion, not a genuine give and take. ...
Whatever advantage Biden thinks he gains through military signaling in Syria and by playing the blame game in the media, if it sabotages what arguably is the final opportunity to revive an accord that is critical to US national security, then Biden may inadvertently achieve what Trump couldn’t: destroying the legacy of Obama’s main foreign policy achievement.
Biden promised nothing would change. So he kept one promise. https://t.co/36qgMT7gaO
— Susan Sarandon (@SusanSarandon) February 28, 2021
Iraq’s Ministry of Defense has "expressed its surprise” at a Pentagon statement saying Iraq provided the US with intelligence before Washington launched airstrikes against Iranian-backed militias on the Iraq-Syria border on Thursday.
The ministry denied its involvement in the airstrikes, saying that it was "surprised by the statements of the US Secretary of Defense about the participation of Iraqi intelligence regarding an exchange of intelligence information with Iraq to target Syrian territories."
The statement added that the ministry's cooperation with the international coalition forces is limited to a "specific goal", which is fighting ISIS, not combatting militia groups linked to Iran.
The US Defense Department said it had carried out airstrikes at a Syria-Iraq border control point used by Iranian-backed militias, destroying "multiple facilities." The strikes came in response to recent attacks against American and Coalition personnel in Iraq, and to ongoing threats to those personnel, according to spokesperson John Kirby's statement.
Kirby said the location was used by Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada, two armed Iraqi Shiite groups part of the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF, or Hashd al-Shaabi), an umbrella network of paramilitary forces, some of which are backed by Iran.
The Iranian foreign ministry has announced it is not willing to attend EU-brokered talks with the US over the future of the Iran nuclear deal because Washington has not done enough to lift sanctions against Tehran. The Biden administration, committed to returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, had said it was willing to attend talks, but would discuss what it would take to lift US sanctions at the negotiating table, and not before. It said it needed to know what measures Iran would accept to come back into compliance with the deal. ...
It is likely the US, along with European powers, will seek to table a censure motion against Iran at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors this week in Vienna, a move that could in turn provoke Tehran to lessen its cooperation with UN nuclear inspectors still further.
Explaining the Iranian refusal to attend talks, the foreign ministry spokesperson, Saeed Khatibzadeh, said on Sunday: “Considering the recent positions and actions of the United States and three European countries, the Islamic Republic of Iran does not consider this is the time to hold an informal meeting proposed by the European coordinator of the UN security council.” Khatibzadeh added: “There has been no change in the US position and behaviour yet, and the Biden administration has not only not abandoned Trump’s failed policy of maximum pressure, it has not even announced its commitment to fulfilling its responsibilities in UN resolution 2231.”
There is a deep problem in our democracy when the Executive branch is willing to bend over backwards to defer to arcane Senate rules to deny Americans a $15 wage but at the same time ride roughshod over Congressional rules & procedures to launch military strikes abroad.
— Ro Khanna (@RoKhanna) February 27, 2021
The contrast between the procedural difficulty of pushing a modest pay increase for millions of workers through the Senate and the relative ease with which President Joe Biden—without congressional approval—launched a deadly bombing campaign in Syria late Thursday was the subject of much discussion and outrage as the president's lethal operation overseas coincided almost simultaneously with the Senate parliamentarian's advisory ruling against a popular $15 minimum wage measure.
The two events, according to progressive critics and political commentators, spotlighted how existing institutional constraints are heavily biased against the advancement of working-class interests but do little to prevent the commander-in-chief from unilaterally bombing foreign nations on the basis of highly dubious-to-nonexistent legal authority.
"Personally I think it should be easier to raise the minimum wage than to drop bombs on Syria," tweeted The New Republic's Kate Aronoff.
Pointing to the Senate's legislative filibuster as a key obstacle in the way of even minor policy changes, Matt Yglesias of the Slow Boring newsletter wrote sardonically on Thursday that "the genius of America is you need a 60-vote supermajority to raise the minimum wage, but the president can bomb some militia in Iran based on ... I dunno ... an AUMF from two decades ago that was about something else entirely or something."
While Biden had no issue bypassing congressional oversight to launch an attack on border-crossing station in eastern Syria, the White House suggested late Thursday that having Vice President Kamala Harris overrule the non-binding opinion of the Senate parliamentarian—an unelected official with no constitutional authority—would be a bridge too far, despite the fact that the Constitution empowers her to do so.
Biden "respects the parliamentarian's decision and the Senate's process," White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in a statement.
"We assassinate people by drone strike and have a literal prison colony in Guantanamo but where we draw the line is ignoring the Senate parliamentarian when [she] says no to a minimum wage hike," tweeted The Intercept's Ken Klippenstein.
Everyone who pushed the lie that Bernie wouldn’t be able to get anything done and Biden’s “pragmatism” would be more successful should be launched into the sun. pic.twitter.com/VyKmwfuKmF
— weston (@westonpagano) February 26, 2021
Add to the list of broken promises:
Biden Balks at Sanctions on Saudi Crown Prince After Release of Report on Killing of Jamal Khashoggi
The Biden administration released a long-awaited intelligence report Friday that said Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had approved the 2018 operation that killed dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. But instead of punishing MBS, the Biden administration announced sanctions on a top intelligence official and on the crown prince’s protective detail, known as the “Rapid Intervention Force.”
The move, which included visa restrictions against 76 Saudi nationals who “have been engaged in threatening dissidents overseas,” is a sign that the Biden administration wants to maintain a cooperative partnership with Saudi leadership. But it will likely anger human rights activists and members of Congress who have argued that the crown prince should be held personally accountable for the operation that led to a Saudi journalist — who was also a U.S. resident — being killed and butchered in a Saudi consulate in Turkey.
On Thursday, President Joe Biden called Saudi King Salman, and a readout of the call from the White House said Biden emphasized that “he would work to make the bilateral relationship as strong and transparent as possible.” Last week, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called MBS, who is also Saudi Arabia’s defense minister. The readout of that call did not mention Khashoggi but said that Austin “underscored Saudi Arabia’s role as a pillar of the regional security architecture in the Middle East.”
The New York Times reported on Friday that “a consensus developed inside the White House that the price of that breach, in Saudi cooperation on counterterrorism and in confronting Iran, was simply too high.” But during his presidential campaign, Biden took a harsher line: When asked by Andrea Mitchell in a November 2019 primary debate how he would hold Saudi officials accountable for Khashoggi’s killing, he said, “I would make it very clear we were not going to sell more weapons to them, we were going to make them pay the price and make them the pariah that they are. There’s very little social redeeming value of the — in the present government in Saudi Arabia.”
THE US DOESN'T WHAT? pic.twitter.com/pwVM8tuAD5
— Gina (@gina_scooter) February 28, 2021
At least 18 people have been killed, according to the UN, after security forces in Myanmar used lethal violence against anti-coup protesters in the most deadly crackdown since the military seized power at the start of February.
Live bullets, stun grenades and teargas were fired at demonstrators in several towns and cities as police, backed by troops, attempted to stamp out countrywide rallies held in defiance of the junta.
At least 18 people are believed to have been killed, and 30 injured, according to the UN human rights office, which strongly condemned the escalating violence against peaceful protesters. ...
Social media footage showed protesters in the city lifting bloodied people to safety. In one image published by Mizzima news, a protester raised his hand in a three-finger salute as he was taken away on a stretcher, a gesture used by demonstrators to signal their opposition to the military.
“Myanmar is like a battlefield,” the Buddhist-majority country’s first Catholic cardinal, Charles Maung Bo, said on Twitter.
A Louisiana state police trooper has been suspended without pay for kicking and dragging a handcuffed Black man whose in-custody death remains unexplained and the subject of a federal civil rights investigation. Body camera footage shows Kory York dragging Ronald Greene “on his stomach by the leg shackles” following a violent arrest and high-speed pursuit, according to internal state police records obtained by the Associated Press.
The records are the first public acknowledgement by state police that Greene was mistreated. They confirm details provided last year by an attorney for Greene’s family who viewed graphic body camera footage of the May 2019 arrest and likened it to the police killing of George Floyd, whose death last year triggered widespread protests and a national reckoning with police brutality and systemic racism.
The video shows troopers choking and beating the man, repeatedly jolting him with stun guns and dragging him face-down across the pavement, the attorney told AP.
State police have repeatedly refused to publicly release the body camera footage. The agency has been tight-lipped about Greene’s death and initially blamed the man’s fatal injuries on a car crash outside Monroe, Louisiana.
The Food and Drug Administration has authorized Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine for emergency use, making it the third vaccine available to the US public and securing another vital step in the US fight to control Covid-19.
The decision was a formality after an independent expert advisory panel late on Friday afternoon recommended drug regulators approve the one-shot vaccine. ...
“The authorization of this vaccine expands the availability of vaccines, the best medical prevention method for Covid-19, to help us in the fight against this pandemic, which has claimed over half a million lives in the United States,” said acting FDA commissioner Janet Woodcock in a statement.
Janssen – Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine subsidiary – told a congressional hearing this week that it expects to deliver 20m doses by March and a total of 100m doses before the end of June. That means the new vaccine, along with those already in circulation from Pfizer and Moderna, should provide the US with more than enough supply to vaccinate every eligible person.
After the Democrats in the House approved a far-reaching Covid-19 relief package early Saturday with all but two members of the caucus on board, progressive anger and despair escalated over the Biden administration's refusal thus far to make sure the $15 minimum wage increase remains in the bill as it heads to the U.S. Senate.
As journalist David Sirota, founder of The Daily Poster and former staffer for the 2020 Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, put it on Saturday: "If you were writing a Dickensian novel, it would be about millions of desperately poor people being promised a $15 starvation wage, and then watching their millionaire senators tell them that a parliamentary adviser in the palace said no."
While Biden and his administration have made clear they will not move to use Harris' authority as presiding officer of the Senate to disregard or overrule the Parliamentarian's determination, the anger on the progressive left—both inside and outside of Congress—has only grown since Thursday.
Winnie Wong, political strategist and another Sanders campaign alumnus said the choices for Biden and Harris are now quite stark and suggested the stakes are much higher than many top Democrats appear to understand or acknowledge:
Democrats have 2 options
A: VP Kamala Harris overrules the parliamentarian.
B: Senate Dems eliminate the filibuster.
Failing to do one or the other means the $15 minimum wage increase dies.
If that dies, Democrats will lose in 2022.
— Fred (@WaywardWinifred) February 27, 2021
Addressing the issue Saturday morning on MSNBC, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said Democrats have no choice but to "muscle it through" the Senate given the campaign promises made to voters leading up to last year's elections.
"We can't back to voters in two years," explained Jayapal, "and say, 'You know, we made you a promise—you delivered us the House, the White House, and the Senate—but a parliamentarian told us that we can't do it.'"
In a column on Saturday, The New Republic's Osita Nwanevu argued that there is simply nobody but Democrats themselves to blame for the failure to include the $15 minimum wage increase in the Senate's Covid-19 relief package. "Not Republicans. Not the Senate parliamentarian. Joe Manchin, Kyrsten Sinema, and even Joe Biden are to blame for squandering their party’s majority power," he wrote.
According to Nwanevu:
It has been written and said that the gambit failed because the Senate parliamentarian ruled that including the minimum wage increase would violate reconciliation rules. This is false: The Senate parliamentarian is a wholly powerless functionary who can be overruled at any time by the party holding the White House and Congress—both of which, as you might recall, are now controlled by the Democratic Party. The gambit failed because the White House and many Democrats in Congress opposed overruling the parliamentarian.
Rep. Ro Khanna on a $15 minimum wage hike provision in President Biden’s Covid-19 aid package: “There is still the ability to rule this in and have a vote on the package.” https://t.co/BAfsLTH41Y pic.twitter.com/GDqb0LyFtu
— CNN Newsroom (@CNNnewsroom) February 27, 2021
“They’re telling people to boil water,” said Robert Emery, vice-president of safety and a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “But a lot of people don’t have power. So now what do you do?” The state’s bungled emergency management will have far-reaching consequences, from an outsized impact on already underprivileged communities – often communities of color – to a potential spike in the cost of living. Bitter lawsuits could rip communities apart, and taxpayers will likely have to bail out the same fossil fuel companies responsible for the grid’s breakdown.
“I suspect it’s gonna be very corrosive and unsettling,” said James Elliott, a professor of sociology at Rice University. “People are not gonna regain trust in their institutions very quickly. “Long-term, maybe that’s good. I hope people stay angry. I’m angry.” ...
As millions of Texans went without power or potable water, sometimes for days, they turned to dangerous solutions such as gas stoves, cars and generators for warmth. Hundreds suffered carbon monoxide poisoning. Others died from suspected hypothermia. Still others were killed in house fires after lighting their fireplace. Drivers spun out and crashed amid icy roads and malfunctioning streetlights, while cold weather shelters filled with displaced people, in spite of Covid-19.
“People were already stressed and dealing with a variety of challenges with the pandemic, and then to have this laid on top of it has really been quite challenging for all the citizens of Texas,” Emery said. Now, residents affected by the state’s dearth of plumbers, electricians and other skilled labor are trying to fix their homes alone, threatening “an inevitable series of injuries,” Emery said. And, as the weather becomes more conducive to mold growth, hidden damage from water leaks poses yet another public health threat.
There are also possible ramifications on mental health. Families were already mourning more than 42,000 Texans killed by Covid-19, and the winter storm brought more suffering, trauma and death. “Resilience is one thing,” Elliott said. “Resilience when things just keep happening over and over can just sort of leave you without the capacity to sort of be hopeful.”
Visiting Texas 11 days after the onset of a man-made disaster that killed dozens of people and caused tens of billions of dollars in damage to homes, hospitals and schools, President Joe Biden barely took notice of the mass suffering while offering a political amnesty to the Republican state government. He made no mention of the fact that over one million Texans were still without clean water as of Thursday.
Speaking at a stadium fitted out as a mass vaccination center, Biden devoted the bulk of his brief remarks to touting his vaccination program and stressing the need for “unity” with the Republican Party. By virtue of his near silence on federal aid to the victims, Biden made clear that the millions of working class Texans devastated by days without power or clean water would have to fend for themselves. Biden’s silence on the conspiracy between the energy giants and the state government to maximize profits by leaving the electrical system utterly unprepared for a winter storm did not come as a surprise. What was noteworthy, however, was the extent to which he went out of his way to embrace Governor Greg Abbot.
Insisting that both the Texas disaster and the pandemic were not partisan issues, Biden repeated his calls for “unity” with the Republicans and hailed the supposed success of the US response to COVID-19 just days after the death toll surpassed 500,000.
Biden boasted that he had provided millions of gallons of water and 125,000 blankets to Texans, a drop in the bucket compared to the scale of the human disaster. He made no announcement of additional aid nor indicated how the federal government would help in the coming weeks or months. Instead, he offered empty words. “We will be true partners to help you recover and rebuild from the storm and this pandemic and economic crisis,” Biden said. He added that his administration was in it “for the long haul.”
Andrew DeVore, an Amazon vice president and associate legal counsel who manages the company’s “labor and employment” issues, has resigned from the board of the American Constitution Society. His resignation represents a sharp turnaround from a few months ago, when the liberal legal organization voted to renew DeVore for a second three-year term.
ACS, which was founded in 2001 to help create a pipeline of liberal judges and act as a counter to the conservative Federalist Society, faced growing pressure throughout 2020 to cut ties with DeVore and condemn Amazon for its anti-union practices. In the spring, DeVore’s boss, Amazon general counsel David Zapolsky, had urged colleagues to tell reporters that, among other things, a fired worker who protested the lack of Covid-19 safety protections in a Staten Island warehouse was “not smart or articulate.” In response, a number of left-leaning groups, including attorneys and law students affiliated with ACS, sent a letter to ACS’s president, Russ Feingold, and the ACS board of directors protesting DeVore’s leadership role and calling for his immediate resignation. But the organization did not call for his resignation and six months later voted to extend his leadership position. ...
In a letter sent to New York University ACS student leaders on Friday, Feingold confirmed that DeVore had resigned. ... Feingold’s letter did not say why DeVore had resigned. But since December, when ACS publicly reaffirmed its support for the Amazon executive, a major unionization campaign at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, has picked up national attention. The company has been fighting the union effort aggressively, including hiring a $3,200-per-day consultant to dissuade the some 5,800 workers there from voting for a union. ACS has resisted pressure from its membership to speak more forcefully about Amazon’s labor practices for most of the coronavirus pandemic. In April, amid public backlash to Amazon’s warehouse conditions, ACS released a statement reiterating its support for workers’ rights but did not specifically mention Amazon by name. Amazon is listed as a 2020 corporate sponsor on ACS’s website, though how much the company has donated to the nonprofit organization is unknown.
“I think it was very concerning that ACS as a progressive organization won’t make a statement that specifically calls out Amazon and its bad track record,” Hooman Hedayati, a member of the Washington, D.C., ACS chapter board told The Intercept in December. “It makes me question to what degree they’d really be willing to speak up in support of the labor movement.”
Donald Trump on Sunday launched his attempted political comeback, teasing a possible run for the presidency in 2024 and denouncing Joe Biden for “the most disastrous first month of any president in modern history”. The former president made his first speech since leaving the White House at the rightwing Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, to an effusive reception.
He told CPAC the Democrats “just lost” the White House, despite the fact that Joe Biden was inaugurated as the 46th president of the US on 20 January, sworn in by the supreme court chief justice, John Roberts. ... Trump said, to wild cheers: “I may even decide to beat them for a third time.” ...
In a speech that lasted about 90 minutes, Trump fell back on his reliable rightwing themes against immigration, especially dealing harshly with migrants crossing the US-Mexico border, and talking up his barrier strengthening there. He also took off on a transphobic rant, claiming that transgender athletes were ruining women’s sport.
And Trump positioned himself at the presumed heart of the Republicans, saying any idea that he was going to lead a breakaway political party was “fake news”. Despite the recent bipartisan vote at his impeachment trial, where he escaped conviction, Trump claims the Republican party is “united”. “The only division is between a handful of Washington DC establishment political hacks, and everybody else all over the country.” ...
Most commentators expect Trump, aged 74, to leave open the possibility that he will run for re-election in 2024 without making a definitive commitment. He has remained a looming presence at CPAC, with speaker after speaker pledging fealty to him and his “Make America great again” agenda, while a golden calf-style idol in his image was even paraded around the convention halls.
A second woman has come forward to accuse New York governor Andrew Cuomo of sexual harassment in a move that has prompted the under-fire Democrat to launch an independent investigation into the allegations.
Charlotte Bennett, who was an executive assistant and health policy adviser in the Cuomo administration until November, told The New York Times that he had harassed her last spring, during the height of New York’s fight against the coronavirus – which Cuomo led and which at the time gave him an international reputation for good leadership.
Bennett told the paper Cuomo had asked her a series of inappropriate questions about her personal life, including age differences in romantic relationships, which she believed were sexual overtures. “I understood that the governor wanted to sleep with me, and felt horribly uncomfortable and scared,” Bennett told the paper. ...
In a statement in response to the latest accusations from Bennett, Cuomo said he had “never made advances toward Ms Bennett, nor did I ever intend to act in any way that was inappropriate.” He added that he had requested an independent review of her accusations and that Bennett had “every right to speak out”.
Partway through the sometimes contentious confirmation hearing for Deb Haaland as US secretary of the interior last week came an acknowledgement of the two powerful forces, with very different attitudes to the climate crisis, that have squared off over the nomination. “I almost feel like your nomination is a proxy fight over the future of fossil fuels,” Maria Cantwell, a Democrat from Washington, told Haaland during the Senate hearing. Haaland, a strong advocate for climate action who is seeking to be the first Indigenous American confirmed as a cabinet secretary, was careful to not wade directly into this fray herself, assuring the senators that fossil fuels would be around for “years to come” and that she intended to be someone who will “serve all Americans, not just my one district in New Mexico”. But the battle lines between the fossil fuel industry and the activists and environmentalists opposed to it have been starkly drawn in the fight for Haaland’s nomination.
John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican who has received nearly $1.2m from oil and gas companies and their employees in his time in the Senate, said he was “troubled by many of [Haaland’s] radical views” and scolded her over a tweet in which she said Republicans didn’t believe in science. Senator Steve Daines, a Montana Republican, said he was “deeply concerned” over Haaland’s “radical” support for Joe Biden’s pausing of oil and gas drilling on public land, neglecting to mention his campaign had taken $288,500 from these industries in just the past five years. Bill Cassidy, a Louisiana Republican who has over his Senate career accepted nearly $1.7m from oil and gas interests, pointedly asked Haaland: “Will your administration be guided by a prejudice against fossil fuel, or will it be guided by science?” while Utah’s Mike Lee, who blamed protections placed on Bears Ears, an area of the state important to Native Americans, for “impoverishing” locals, has taken in $366,000 from oil and gas during his Senate tenure.
This staunch opposition will probably not sink Haaland’s nomination given Republicans are the minority in the Senate and Joe Manchin, a conservative swing Democrat from the coal heartland of West Virginia, has said he will vote to confirm her after getting sufficient assurances that fossil fuels won’t be immediately jettisoned in order to tackle the unfolding climate crisis.
But the feud over Haaland’s nomination highlights the enormous political challenge of rapidly shifting the US away from oil, coal and gas towards cleaner forms of energy to avert ever more disastrous heatwaves, flooding, wildfires, societal unrest and other maladies. Republicans have signaled they will fiercely enforce a status quo whereby fossil fuel extraction across vast swaths of public land, including areas sacred to Native Americans, remains unhindered. The struggle over Haaland’s nomination, and the obstacles she faces once confirmed, may well illustrate the overall climate challenge in miniature. Will the US pull off the trick of speedily switching to renewables while bringing along those workers who risk being left behind, or will it remain umbilically attached to extractive industries that blight the climate, water supplies and people’s health?
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Meade Lux Lewis - Low Down Dog
Meade Lux Lewis - Solitude
Meade Lux Lewis - Mr. Freddie Blues
Meade Lux Lewis - Glendale Glide
Meade "Lux" Lewis - Honky Tonk Train Blues
Meade Lux Lewis - Bass On Top
Meade Lux Lewis, Red Callender, Jo Jones - Dragon Blues
Meade Lux Lewis, Charlie Christian, Edmond Hall - Jammin' in Four
Meade Lux Lewis, Red Callender, Jo Jones - San Francisco Shuffle
Meade "Lux" Lewis (w/Big Joe Turner) - Roll Em Pete