The Evening Blues - 4-21-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features r&b singer and piano player Willie Egan. Enjoy!
Willie Egan - Wear Your Black Dress
"Solidarity is not a matter of altruism. Solidarity comes from the inability to tolerate the affront to our own integrity of passive or active collaboration in the oppression of others, and from the deep recognition of our most expansive self-interest. From the recognition that, like it or not, our liberation is bound up with that of every other being on the planet, and that politically, spiritually, in our heart of hearts we know anything else is unaffordable."
-- Aurora Levins Morales
News and Opinion
Worth a full read:
The hearts of political leaders in the United States and its imperialist allies are bleeding for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. Jailed on February 2 this year, after returning from Germany where he received treatment for an alleged poisoning by the Russian state, Navalny has since gone on hunger strike. The outrage over Navalny’s imprisonment and resulting health crisis is an object lesson in imperialist cynicism and intrigue. Those most passionately invoking his democratic rights are the architects of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange’s continuing and vastly more severe persecution.
There is nothing remotely comparable between the two men, and the differences are not in Navalny’s favour. Assange is a heroic journalist who played a leading role in the exposure of some of the worst imperialist crimes of the 21st century, from covered-up details of the brutal occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan to US torture camps and extraordinary renditions. Navalny is a right-wing, nationalist politician, who has referred to migrants from the Caucasus as “cockroaches” that should be killed. He represents a wing of the Russian oligarchy opposed to President Vladimir Putin and in favour of opening Russia up more widely to Western imperialism. It is this difference which underpins their night and day treatment. ...
The contrasting treatment tears apart claims by the likes of US President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson to be supporting Navalny on human rights grounds while pursuing Assange on supposedly legal ones. ... His politically motivated case is a litany of abuses of legal and democratic rights, carried out alongside a slander campaign involving the world’s media and pseudo-left groups, designed to blacken his name and psychologically destroy the WikiLeaks founder. ...
Amnesty International refused to acknowledge Assange as a prisoner of conscience for years but was so quick to apply the label to Navalny that they were forced into an embarrassing retreat in acknowledgment of his record of “hate speech” a few months later. US Democratic Party Senator Bernie Sanders has maintained near total silence on Assange, issuing a single tweet opposing his indictment in May 2019 that succeeded in not mentioning the WikiLeaks founder by name. He tweeted this Monday: “Make no mistake about what is happening here: activist Aleksei Navalny is being murdered in front of the world by Vladimir Putin for the crime of exposing Putin’s vast corruption. Navalny’s doctors must be allowed to see him immediately.”
Phrases like “human rights” and “democratic freedom” turn to ash in the mouths of Sanders, Biden, Johnson and their ilk. Their support for the politically filthy Navalny is a calculated provocation against the Russian state. They hope to use his fate as a pretext for a further escalation of military aggression against Moscow. Assange has had his democratic rights eviscerated with the consent of all the major powers to suppress opposition to this imperialist war drive.
Washington’s ambassador to Moscow has announced that he will return to the US for consultations, days after the Russian government recommended he leave the country during what it said was an “extremely tense situation”.
John Sullivan’s departure will leave both countries’ embassies without their top diplomats at a crucial moment, with Washington and Moscow recently announcing new sanctions, a Russian military buildup near Ukraine, and concerns about the opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s health while in detention.
“I believe it is important for me to speak directly with my new colleagues in the Biden administration in Washington about the current state of bilateral relations between the United States and Russia,” Sullivan said on Tuesday. “Also, I have not seen my family in well over a year, and that is another important reason for me to return home for a visit. I will return to Moscow in the coming weeks before any meeting between presidents Biden and Putin.”
Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin discussed a possible summit last week, but the Kremlin has said it would take time to organise and would be “impossible” to hold in the coming weeks. ...
The Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, did not give a firm deadline for the ambassadors to return to their postings. “The return of the ambassadors after consultations in their capitals will depend, first and foremost, on the presence of reasons for that,” he told journalists.
World leaders are being urged to act immediately to stop multiple famines breaking out, exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic and caused by conflict, climate crisis and inequality. In an open letter published on Tuesday to support the UN Call for Action to Avert Famine in 2021, hundreds of aid organisations from around the world said: “People are not starving – they are being starved.”
Warning that “history will judge us all by the actions we take today”, the aid groups added that people were “being starved by conflict and violence; by inequality; by the impacts of climate change; by the loss of land, jobs or prospects; by a fight against Covid-19 that has left them even further behind”.
They said millions of people in Yemen, Afghanistan, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Honduras, Venezuela, Nigeria, Haiti, Central African Republic, Uganda, Zimbabwe and Sudan faced starvation and appealed to governments to respond to increasing levels of hunger, stressing that billions of pounds in investment was urgently needed.
In the letter, the organisations including the International Council of Voluntary Agencies and the World Food Programme (WFP) said: “Girls and boys, men and women, are being starved by conflict and violence; by inequality; by the impacts of climate change; by the loss of land, jobs of prospects; by a fight against Covid-19 that has left them even further behind.”
Violent clashes between rival Mexican criminal groups – and their alleged allies in the security forces – are escalating ahead of mid-term elections in June, triggering a string of political assassinations and the forced displacement of thousands. State and federal security forces have actively colluded with – and even fought alongside – the warring factions, according to local civilians, civil society activists and gunmen from various factions.
But as well as engaging in pitched gun battles, criminal factions are also confronting each other on the electoral field. “All the [criminal] groups are trying to make gains right now,” said a Michoacán political consultant with first-hand knowledge of how arrangements are brokered between organized crime and political candidates.
With more than 21,000 posts in local, state and national government up for election – including 15 state governorships – the 6 June polls are the largest in Mexico’s history, and criminal groups see the elections as an opportunity to further their interests. Much of the recent fighting has focused on the western state of Michoacán, where the Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación (Jalisco New Generation cartel) has stepped up its conflict with an alliance of local groups calling themselves the United Cartels.
The violence has forced more than a thousand people to flee the area, feeding the flow of migrants heading to the US to seek asylum, and adding to the current uptick of arrivals at the border that the Biden administration is struggling to manage. ... “They are leaving because they get caught in the crossfire, because their homes have been destroyed, [and] because the main roads into [the area] have been carved up to stop the advance of the Jaliscos,” said Gregorio López, a Catholic priest who has sheltered refuges in the nearby city of Apatzingán.
Amid the tumult, he said, local livelihoods have become unsustainable: “Basic goods aren’t getting through any more, there is no more fresh food, and everything has become very expensive, gasoline now costs three times as much as before.”
Your "party of the middle class" hard at work against 99% of us:
Dems are wildly lying about SALT tax breaks in the same way the GOP wildly lies about the estate tax.
For years, Democratic lawmakers fought the GOP lie that cast estate tax cuts for billionaires as efforts to rescue family farms. But in this new era of ubiquitous misinformation, the same Democrats are waving a white flag in the battle against anti-tax bullshit. They are ripping a page out of the GOP’s “death tax” playbook and conjuring a new lie, this one depicting tax breaks for affluent donors as a defense of working-class homeowners.
In the process, Democratic leaders show they fight far harder for the donor class than they do for the working class.
At issue is the $10,000 cap on state and local tax (SALT) deductions that was included in President Donald Trump’s 2017 tax bill. The cap was designed to limit the amount of state and local tax payments that households not using the newly expanded standard deduction can write off from their federal taxable income. Earlier this month, seven Democratic governors signed a letter demanding President Biden fully repeal the cap. Among the signatories were a billionaire and five multimillionaires, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was freshly enriched by a lucrative book deal. The gubernatorial moguls asserted that “middle-class Americans are struggling under this federal tax burden.”
That letter was followed up by Cuomo and New York state lawmakers creating a special SALT deduction workaround for the managers of hedge funds and shell companies. Then, nearly every New York Democratic lawmaker in Congress signed their own letter threatening to vote down President Biden’s infrastructure legislation unless it fully repeals the SALT deduction cap. And then came the creation of a whole new bipartisan SALT Caucus — a group of lawmakers organized to fight for the new tax breaks.
Notably, members of Congress are not pushing a far more progressive reform of the SALT cap. They are also not pushing to merely raise the cap so that it provides a few more deductions to the lower end of top earners. Instead, they are demanding a full repeal of the cap, which would make sure the maximum amount of deductions flow to the richest sliver of the population. They are doing this all while insisting that their crusade is designed to restore tax breaks that “ensured that New York State middle-class families were not taxed twice on their income,” as the New York congressional members wrote.
If this rhetoric seems familiar, that’s because it is exactly how Republicans dishonestly sold estate tax cuts. In that fight, the GOP has similarly used the middle class as the human shield for tax policies that deliver most of their financial benefits to the super-rich. Now Democrats are using the same tactic to try to morally justify giant tax deductions that primarily benefit the wealthy.
A longtime industry analyst has uncovered creative accounting on a startling scale in the commercial real estate market, in ways similar to the “liar loans” handed out during the mid-2000s for residential real estate, according to financial records examined by the analyst and reviewed by The Intercept. A recent, large-scale academic study backs up his conclusion, finding that banks such as Goldman Sachs and Citigroup have systematically reported erroneously inflated income data that compromises the integrity of the resulting securities.
The analyst’s findings, first reported by ProPublica last year, are the subject of a whistleblower complaint he filed in 2019 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Moreover, the analyst has identified complex financial machinations by one financial institution, one that both issues loans and manages a real estate trust, that may ultimately help one of its top tenants — the low-cost, low-wage store Dollar General — flourish while devastating smaller retailers.
This time, the issue is not a bubble in the housing market, but apparent widespread inflation of the value of commercial businesses, on which loans are based. Those who remember news coverage at the time know that the tale of the 2008 financial implosion involved an enormous swirl of numbers and acronyms. But when boiled down to its essence, the story of the housing bubble of the 2000s, and plausibly Wall Street’s actions today, is simple: It’s counterfeiting.
Traditional counterfeiters print money: pieces of paper that supposedly are worth their face value but in fact are worth nothing. Wall Street counterfeiters during the housing bubble printed securities: pieces of paper that supposedly were worth their face value but in fact were worth much less.
In the mid-2000s, companies like Countrywide Financial Corp. issued so-called liar loans. Often without informing the borrowers themselves, Countrywide and other loan companies would claim that, say, a bartender was making $500,000 a year, allowing them to borrow enough money to buy a home that they couldn’t possibly afford. The originating banks then took the loans, which could never be paid back on the bartender’s real income, and securitized them — i.e., bundled them together into a trust, which was then sliced up into bonds called residential mortgage-backed securities. ... Now it may be happening again — this time not with residential mortgage-backed securities, based on loans for homes, but commercial mortgage-backed securities, or CMBS, based on loans for businesses. And this industrywide scheme is colliding with a collapse of the commercial real estate market amid the pandemic, which has business tenants across the country unable to make their payments.
When Joe Manchin told attendees at the National Restaurant Association (NRA)’s national conference on Tuesday that the minimum wage shouldn’t be more than $11 and there should still be a subminimum wage for tipped workers, the group’s chief lobbyist couldn't contain his excitement. “From your lips to God’s ears,” exclaimed Sean Kennedy, the NRA's executive vice president of public affairs, who spoke with the Democratic senator from West Virginia as part of a virtual panel entitled, “Seeking Unity: Conversations on Finding Bipartisan Solutions.”
The NRA is a powerful, sprawling lobbying operation, with $289 million in revenue in 2018 and state affiliates around the country. The organization has been leading the charge to block a federal $15 minimum wage and is also fighting a separate Democratic effort to make it easier for workers to form unions. ...
Manchin and Sinema’s statements at the conference, reportedly attended by several hundred restaurant operators from around the country, pull back the curtain on what they say to corporate interests when they’re out of the public eye. The NRA event, billed as “off the record” and “closed to press,” was the association’s annual “public affairs conference,” which means it was designed for lobbyists and focused on shaping legislation. ...
During his talk, Manchin specifically took aim at Sanders for continuing to push for a $15 minimum wage. “We’ve been having meetings on minimum wage, and I can’t for the life of me understand why they don’t take a win on $11,” he said. “Bernie Sanders is totally committed in his heart and soul that $15 is the way to go. Well, it might be the way to go, Bernie, but it ain’t gonna go. You don’t have the votes for it. It’s not going to happen. So they’re going to walk away with their pride, saying we fought for $15, got nothing.”
Three Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday urged U.S. Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to recuse herself from a pending case revolving around the nonprofit arm of Americans for Prosperity, a Koch-funded political advocacy group that spent heavily to ensure Barrett's confirmation to the bench last October.
In a letter (pdf) to Barrett, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), and Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) argue that Americans for Prosperity's big spending campaign in support of the newest justice's confirmation casts serious doubt on whether she can be impartial in Americans for Prosperity Foundation v. Rodriquez.
The Americans for Prosperity Foundation (AFPF) is seeking to strike down a California law that requires certain nonprofit groups to disclose their major donors to the state attorney general's office. In March 2019, a federal appeals court upheld the California law on the grounds that it "serves an important governmental interest," prompting AFPF to take its case to the high court, which agreed to hear the challenge earlier this year.
With oral arguments set to begin on April 26, Whitehouse, Blumenthal, and Johnson call on Barrett to "consider seriously and address publicly the question of recusal in this case" given Americans for Prosperity's "full-scale campaign" in favor of her confirmation last year. The Democratic lawmakers argue that "there is no reasonable difference" between AFPF and Americans for Prosperity.
"The American people are alarmed about the seemingly dominant influence of special interests on our politics and government," the lawmakers write. "Our judiciary is a target of this massive influence apparatus. Now, in AFPF, the court takes up an important case that squarely implicates the power of big special interests to exercise their influence from behind veils of secrecy."
In an amicus brief (pdf) filed with the Supreme Court last month, Whitehouse and 14 other Democratic senators warned that a ruling in AFPF's favor would allow "dark-money contributors to secure broad constitutional protection of their anonymous influence, so they can attack any and all disclosure requirements in other contexts—a 'moon shot' to lock in dark money's hold on our politics and policymaking, possibly forever."
"The flotilla of anonymously funded and largely industry-aligned nonprofit organizations filing amicus briefs in support of [AFPF] should set off alarm bells that something bigger than California's tax disclosure law is at issue," the senators write. "The dots are not hard to connect. The bigger prize being sought is blanket constitutional protection of dark money and secret influence."
Vox's Ian Millhiser echoed that warning over the weekend, writing that the conservative-dominated Supreme Court's ruling "could allow political groups to operate with far more secrecy, allowing wealthy donors to shape American politics in the shadows."
Maxine Waters remained defiant as Democrats successfully blocked a long-shot attempt by Republicans to censure and expel the veteran congresswoman over comments on the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, which the judge said could provide grounds for appeal. “I am not worried that they’re going to continue to distort what I say,” Waters, 82, told the Grio. “This is who they are and this is how they act. And I’m not going to be bullied by them.”
Republicans had unleashed fiery criticism against Waters after the California Democrat pledged on Saturday that protesters would become “more confrontational” if Chauvin were acquitted.
House Democrats on Tuesday voted down a resolution from the Republican minority leader, Kevin McCarthy, to censure Waters over her comments, just hours before Chauvin was convicted of George Floyd’s murder. The House voted 216-210 to table, or kill, the resolution. The vote fell exactly along party lines, with all Democrats opposed to advancing the resolution against Waters.
She spoke to the media on Saturday during a protest in Brooklyn Center, the Minneapolis suburb where police shot and killed Daunte Wright earlier this month. Waters said she hoped Chauvin would be found “guilty, guilty, guilty”. If Chauvin was acquitted, she said, “we’ve got to stay on the street, and we’ve got to get more active. We’ve got to get more confrontational. We’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business.”
Republicans were quick to accuse Waters of inciting violence as, they said, Democrats accused Donald Trump of doing before the 6 January Capitol riot.
The trial saw 44 witnesses and 15 days of testimony. And, in the end, less than a day to decide that Derek Chauvin, the white former Minneapolis police officer, was guilty of murdering George Floyd.
It is a landmark moment not just in the history of US policing and criminal justice, but around the world. George Floyd’s death came to embody the struggle for racial justice and equality in so many ways they are impossible to condense: from forceful calls for police reform in Minneapolis and new legislation in Washington, to a reckoning on the history of British imperialism in the UK and a resurgence in activism over Indigenous deaths in custody in Australia.
The evidence had always been overwhelming. But despite the multitudes of exhibits displayed at trial, it was that single cellphone video, shot by a teenage girl who wept on the stand as she describing witnessing George Floyd die, that continues to most vividly depict the details of Derek Chauvin’s crimes. ...
As prosecutor Jerry Blackwell told jurors on Monday, after they had heard from the defense that George Floyd had died as a result of his enlarged heart.
“… you know the truth. And the truth of the matter is, that the reason George Floyd is dead is because Mr Chauvin’s heart was too small.”
A dozen wealthy political donors and their spouses spent a combined $3.4 billion on federal elections in the U.S. between 2009 and 2020, accounting for $1 of every $13 contributed to political candidates and groups in the post-Citizens United era.
That's according to Outsized Influence, a new report released Tuesday by Issue One, a nonpartisan group that advocates for basic but transformative political reforms—including stricter campaign finance laws designed to empower ordinary Americans and reduce the undemocratic power of megadonors.
In response to the study illustrating the extent to which the super-rich have come to dominate political spending since 2010—when the U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission effectively legalized spending unlimited amounts of money to sway electoral outcomes—Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said: "That's what holds in place our rigged, corrupt economic and political systems."
"This research shows the alarming influence of just a handful of wealthy megadonors in our political system," said Issue One founder and CEO Nick Penniman. "Our government can't be responsive to all Americans if our elected officials are beholden to the elite donor class."
According to Issue One's analysis of data provided by the Center for Responsive Politics, the $3.4 billion that was contributed collectively by just a dozen super-rich households "amounts to 7.5% of the $45 billion that all federal candidates and political groups raised between January 2009 and December 2020."
"Put another way," wrote Michael Beckel, the author of the report, "this means that 12 megadonors and their spouses—a total of 19 individuals—accounted for about $1 of every $13 in federal politics."
In fact, two failed Democratic presidential candidates are responsible for a significant chunk of the billions that this tiny handful of super-rich Americans spent on politics in the past decade-plus.
The $3.4 billion sum "includes about $1.4 billion that billionaires Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York City, and Tom Steyer, a former hedge fund manager from California, contributed from their own funds to their unsuccessful 2020 presidential campaigns," Beckel pointed out. "Bloomberg alone sunk $1.09 billion of his own funds into his failed presidential bid."
"The other $2 billion in political contributions by these 12 megadonors," Beckel added, "flowed to federal candidates and political party committees like the Democratic National Committee and Republican National Committee, as well as to super PACs, which, unlike candidates and political parties, are legally allowed to accept contributions of unlimited amounts."
Ten other mega-rich households, including at least six additional billionaires, joined Bloomberg and Steyer on the list of the biggest political spenders between 2009 and 2020. As the New York Times noted, "The list includes multiple Wall Street billionaires and investors, a Facebook co-founder, a shipping magnate, and the heir to a family fortune dating back to the Gilded Age."
Carbon dioxide emissions are forecast to jump this year by the second biggest annual rise in history, as global economies pour stimulus cash into fossil fuels in the recovery from the Covid-19 recession. The leap will be second only to the massive rebound 10 years ago after the financial crisis, and will put climate hopes out of reach unless governments act quickly, the International Energy Agency has warned.
Surging use of coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, for electricity is largely driving the emissions rise, especially across Asia but also in the US. Coal’s rebound causes particular concern because it comes despite plunging prices for renewable energy, which is now cheaper than coal.
Speaking exclusively to the Guardian, Fatih Birol, the executive director of the IEA, and one of the world’s leading authorities on energy and climate, said: “This is shocking and very disturbing. On the one hand, governments today are saying climate change is their priority. But on the other hand, we are seeing the second biggest emissions rise in history. It is really disappointing.” ...
Birol compared the current surge of emissions to the financial crisis, when emissions rose by more than 6% in 2010 after countries tried to stimulate their economies through cheap fossil fuel energy. “It seems we are back on course to repeat the same mistakes,” he warned. “I am more disappointed this time than in 2010.”
Emissions plunged by a record 7% globally last year, owing to the lockdowns that followed the Covid-19 outbreak. But by the end of the year, they were already rebounding, and on track to exceed 2019 levels in some areas.
Deanna Miller Berry first learned of the scores of complaints about Denmark, South Carolina’s water supply, during her 2017 mayoral campaign. For at least a decade, residents of the rural, predominantly Black and lower-income town “knew something was happening” and tried to sound the alarm, said Berry. “A lot of folks [were] complaining that they were starting to get sick, hair loss and skin issues.”
Berry lost that mayoral race, but has continued to fight for access to clean water and sanitation. After teaming up with a group from Flint, Michigan – another predominantly Black and lower-income community with a history of contaminated water – Berry learned that Denmark was allowing HaloSan, a non-EPA-approved pesticide, to be pumped into the city’s water supply. Although Denmark told residents in 2018 they discontinued the use of HaloSan, Berry said the work to ensure residents have access to clean and affordable water isn’t over.
More than 2 million people living in the United States lack access to safe drinking water and sanitation, according to a report from the US Water Alliance, a non-profit organization focused on sustainable water access in the country. Experts say that extreme weather events associated with the climate crisis are likely to exacerbate existing issues with the water infrastructure in the US, and that poor communities are likely to feel the effects of climate change on access to clean water first. ...
Women, in particular women of color, have been deeply embedded in the water justice movement even before the movement’s official origins in the early 1990s, when a national coalition of activists and academics came together for the First National People of Color Environmental Leadership summit, said Dr Dorceta Taylor, a professor at Yale’s School of the Environment and an expert on the Environmental Justice movement. “Even though you see many kinds of references to the fathers of environmental justice, there are grandmothers, mothers and women that have been doing it from the very onset in every aspect of it,” said Taylor. Many of these women have banded together to share strategies, support each other and fight the larger national battle for water justice in ways they couldn’t as individuals, experts say.
Although Covid-19 has put a pause on many of the larger gatherings between activists in places like Detroit and Denmark, South Carolina, the relationships between women working on water activism in different communities have continued to be central to their organizing. And, the fact that advocates like Berry, who lives in a small southern town, have deep connections with activists in places like Flint isn’t an accident. From the very beginning, there was a collective understanding that to prevent bad actors from simply shifting the problem from one marginalized community to the next, water justice activists needed to communicate and work together, said Taylor. “Everyone understood to build a movement you needed to know each other,” she said. “What might look local, or hyper-local on the surface is actually connected.”
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Willie Egan - I Don't Know Where She Went
Willie's Blues - Willie Egan
Willie Egan - I Can't Understand It
Two Crows & The Diggers (Willie Egan) - Poison Ivy
Willie Egan - Chittlin's
Willie Egan - Wow Wow
Willie Egan - Rock & Roll Fever
Willie Egan - Oh Baby
Willie Egan - Treat Me Right
Willie Egan - You must be foolin