The Evening Blues - 4-22-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues singer Koko Taylor. Enjoy!
Koko Taylor - Wang Dang Doodle
"If middle-class Americans do not feel threatened by the slow encroachment of the police state or the Patriot Act, it is because they live comfortably enough and exercise their liberties very lightly, never testing the boundaries. You never know you are in a prison unless you try the door."
-- Joe Bageant
News and Opinion
Worth a full read:
Legislators in Maine could vote as early as next week on the first bill in the country seeking to shut down a fusion center: the intelligence-sharing partnerships between local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies, as well as private sector groups, that proliferated following the post-9/11 establishment of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The draft legislation aims to pull funding for the Maine Information and Analysis Center, known as MIAC, which has an $800,000 annual budget. The bill is one of several seeking to reduce the scope of policing in Maine and comes amid nationwide efforts to reduce funding for law enforcement, mostly at the local level.
The proposal also follows a whistleblower lawsuit by a veteran Maine state trooper who accused the MIAC of illegally surveilling racial justice protesters, environmental activists, and counselors at an Israel-Palestine peacebuilding camp, as well as maintaining an unlawful database of gun owners. Mainers’ interest in the fusion center further grew last summer, after the transparency collective Distributed Denial of Secrets published a huge trove of documents hacked from 251 police websites, including the MIAC’s. The documents, known as BlueLeaks, offered an unprecedented look into the work of fusion centers, which have remained largely shielded from public scrutiny despite costing taxpayers more than $336 million in 2018 alone, even after a series of reports denounced their wastefulness and abuses over the years.
State Rep. Charlotte Warren, the bill’s primary sponsor, told The Intercept in an interview that her constituents don’t want “our state police being paid to spy on citizens and collect data on citizens that have done nothing wrong.” Warren first introduced legislation against the MIAC in 2015 but said the recent protests and disclosures about the center have made passing the legislation more urgent. “We should be spending hard-earned taxpayer dollars on initiatives that actually make us safe. … This does not meet that test.”
The proposal, which could come to a vote on Monday, faces firm opposition from law enforcement representatives and their supporters, but it has earned the backing of both progressives critical of policing and conservatives opposing government overreach. At a public hearing about the legislation last week, state Sen. Richard Bennett, a Republican co-sponsor, argued that “from the days of its origins, the Maine fusion center has lacked the oversight, transparency, and proper accountability of a public agency.”
Rep. John Andrews, a libertarian co-sponsor, called the MIAC “an illegal espionage Frankenstein” and blasted its surveillance operations. “The year may be 2021 but we continue to find ourselves moving towards a perpetual Orwellian 1984,” he said. “Having a state-run mass surveillance operation center whose activities can neither be confirmed nor denied is a danger to all of our civil rights.”
Mystery solved. The Post Office is apparently too busy spying on Americans and reporting them to fusion centers to deliver their mail on time.
The Postal Service is running a 'covert operations program' that monitors Americans' social media posts
, according to a document obtained by Yahoo News.
The details of the surveillance effort, known as iCOP, or Internet Covert Operations Program, have not previously been made public. The work involves having analysts trawl through social media sites to look for what the document describes as “inflammatory” postings and then sharing that information across government agencies.
“Analysts with the United States Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) Internet Covert Operations Program (iCOP) monitored significant activity regarding planned protests occurring internationally and domestically on March 20, 2021,” says the March 16 government bulletin, marked as “law enforcement sensitive” and distributed through the Department of Homeland Security’s fusion centers. “Locations and times have been identified for these protests, which are being distributed online across multiple social media platforms, to include right-wing leaning Parler and Telegram accounts.” ...
When contacted by Yahoo News, civil liberties experts expressed alarm at the post office’s surveillance program. “It’s a mystery,” said University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, whom President Barack Obama appointed to review the National Security Agency’s bulk data collection in the wake of the Edward Snowden leaks. “I don’t understand why the government would go to the Postal Service for examining the internet for security issues.”
The Postal Service has had a turbulent year, facing financial insolvency and allegations that its head, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, who was appointed by President Donald Trump, was slowing down deliveries just as the pandemic vastly increased the number of mail-in ballots for the 2020 election. Why the post office would now move into social media surveillance, which would appear to have little to do with mail deliveries, is unclear.
With Russia and US-allied Ukraine on the brink of war, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned in his annual address to the nation on Wednesday that “the organizers of any provocations that threaten the fundamental interests of our security will regret what they have done in a way that they have not regretted for a long time.” Stating that thus far Moscow has tempered its response to “unfriendly actions” by foreign nations and continues to seek healthy relations with these powers, Putin added, “We really do not want to burn bridges. But if someone interprets our good intentions as indifference or weakness and they themselves intend to burn or even blow up these bridges, they must know that Russia’s response will be asymmetric, rapid, and tough.”
For years the United States, backed by its NATO allies, has led a ferociously anti-Russian campaign involving the installation of governments loyal to Washington in the former Soviet sphere, the expansion of NATO to Russia’s borders, the imposition of sanctions intended to cripple the country’s economy, and endless accusations that Vladimir Putin is responsible for everything from meddling in American elections to attempted cyber-attacks on US infrastructure to murder.
Currently, the government in Ukraine, armed to the hilt by Washington, has escalated attacks on Russian-allied forces in the country’s breakaway eastern republics and declared its intention to retake Crimea, the Black Sea peninsula that was annexed by Russia in 2014 after a coup brought to power a far-right, anti-Russian government. The population of Crimea overwhelmingly voted in favor of joining the Russian Federation. As Putin was speaking to the nation on Wednesday, press reports emerged that Kiev is moving tank divisions and military brigades towards the Crimean border. The dangers involved in such actions are made clear by Putin’s speech. “I hope that no one gets into their head the idea of crossing, as they say, a red line in their relationship with Russia. Where this red line is, we will determine ourselves in every concrete instance,” stated the Russian president.
Putin denounced efforts to overthrow the Russian-allied government of Alexander Lukashenko in Belarus and kill the head of state and his family. Minsk just announced the arrest in Moscow of conspirators accused of plotting against President Lukashenko’s and his children’s lives. Putin described these methods as beyond the pale and compared them to the US-orchestrated ousting of Viktor Yanukovich in Ukraine and attempt to kill Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela. The American ties of Maduro’s attempted assassins have been definitively proven.
Russia is ready to start building its own space station with the aim of launching it into orbit by 2030 if President Vladimir Putin gives the go-ahead, the head of its Roscosmos space agency has said.
The project would end more than two decades of close cooperation with the United States aboard the ageing International Space Station (ISS).
“If in 2030, in accordance with our plans, we can put it into orbit, it will be a colossal breakthrough,” Interfax news agency quoted Roscosmos chief Dmitry Rogozin as saying. “The will is there to take a new step in world manned space exploration.” ...
He said Russia was ready to consider allowing foreign crews to visit, “but the station must be national … If you want to do well, do it yourself”.
Last week, the Washington Post ran an op-ed opposing President Joe Biden’s commitment to withdraw U.S. military forces from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, by Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass and Meghan O’Sullivan, “professor at the Harvard Kennedy School, and the North American chair of the Trilateral Commission,” according to the Post. That bio, as originally published on Friday, omitted a crucial, and highly lucrative, position held by O’Sullivan: board member at Raytheon Corp, one of the top five arms makers in the world.
O’Sullivan and the Post failed to note her role in the weapons business for which she was paid $940,000 in cash and stock between 2017 and 2019. Indeed, the op-ed also failed to note that the Afghanistan Study Group report, which the authors cited and disclosed that O’Sullivan was a member of the group, was also largely composed of individuals with deep financial ties to the weapons industry. ...
The Post, for their part, quietly modified O’Sullivan’s biography on Tuesday morning. ... Her modified biography acknowledges she “is on the board of directors of Raytheon Technologies” but does not point to the potential conflict of interest between her opposition to U.S. troop withdrawals from Afghanistan and her well compensated role in the weapons industry
A federal judge overseeing a sweeping lawsuit about homelessness in Los Angeles ordered the city and county to find shelter for all unhoused residents of Skid Row within 180 days. In a fiery 110-page order, Judge David O Carter on Tuesday condemned Los Angeles officials’ inability to address the rise in homelessness in the region.
“All of the rhetoric, promises, plans, and budgeting cannot obscure the shameful reality of this crisis – that year after year, there are more homeless Angelenos, and year after year, more homeless Angelenos die on the streets,” Carter wrote in granting a preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiffs last week.
Carter ordered the city and county to find shelter for all women and children on Skid Row within 90 days, and every homeless person in the downtown area must have a place to stay by mid-October. In addition, Carter mandated the city auditor examine all public money spent in recent years to combat homelessness, including funds from a 2016 bond measure approved by voters to create 10,000 housing units over a decade. That project has been slow to ramp up.
Carter’s filing was made a day after the Los Angeles mayor, Eric Garcetti, vowed to spend nearly $1bn in the coming year to get people off the streets. Carter on Tuesday ordered “that $1bn, as represented by Mayor Garcetti, will be placed in escrow” with a spending plan “accounted for and reported to the Court within seven days”.
In a year marked by a coronavirus pandemic that has killed millions, CVS Health financed a wave of political advocacy against measures to control health care costs and increase access. The health care giant, which owns Aetna health insurance and operates thousands of pharmacies and walk-in clinics around the country, provided $5 million to the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, or PAHCF.
The seven-figure donation from CVS is the largest known contribution to PAHCF, which was formed in 2018 to lobby and advocate against proposals such as Medicare for All, the public option, and similar reforms that have gained growing support in recent years. PAHCF is a 501(c)(4) and is not required to disclose donor information. ... Despite CVS Health’s donation, the company is not listed as a coalition member of PAHCF on the group’s website.
More than a year after the coronavirus pandemic and the corresponding economic crisis began, a new analysis out Wednesday shows that as 2020 ended, the richest 10% of Americans possessed just under 70% of the nation's household wealth.
According to the report by financial news website Finbold, which looked at the final quarter of 2020, that top bracket of rich individuals accounted for 69.2% of wealth, including real estate, bank accounts, stocks, and other assets.
Nearly half of those assets are concentrated in the wealth of the top 1%, who own a combined $38.91 trillion. Nearly $47 trillion is owned by the remaining top 9% of rich households.
The bottom 50% of earners, meanwhile, control a combined $2.49 trillion—or 2% of U.S. household wealth.
The analysis comes after a year in which the gap between the wealthiest Americans—who derive far more of their wealth from the stock market than the working poor and middle class families—came into stark relief. Markets quickly rebounded after the initial shock of the pandemic, even as more than one million Americans were filing unemployment claims each week at the end of 2020.
As the New York Times reported in January, the top 10% of American households control 84% of all Wall Street portfolios' value, while the bottom 50% of earners are more likely to derive their wealth from work—in a country where incomes for most workers have barely grown in four decades, and the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour has remained stagnant since 2009.
As the pandemic gripped the U.S. and forced hundreds of thousands of restaurants and other businesses to close in 2020, Finbold's report noted that low-income workers faced furloughs and layoffs while their counterparts in the middle- and upper income brackets were more likely to keep working while avoiding exposure to Covid-19.
"The lower class mainly comprises service workers who don't have the pleasure of working from home," Finbold editor-in-chief Oliver Scott wrote. "This group comprised the massive job cuts witnessed amid the pandemic. The middle-class individuals were able to work from home while retaining their income."
The analysis shows a "staggering difference" between the wealthiest Americans and lower-income Americans which has grown in the last three decades, Scott wrote. Between the fourth quarter of 1990 and the fourth quarter of 2020, the collective wealth of the top 1% grew by 675%, from $5.02 trillion to nearly $39 trillion.
Meanwhile, the wealth of the bottom 50% grew by less than $1 trillion to just $2.49 trillion over 30 years.
The Virginia city of Norfolk has fired a police lieutenant after the Guardian reported that he donated to and expressed support for Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager accused of killing two people during a police brutality protest in Wisconsin last summer.
City officials announced on Tuesday that police Lt William Kelly had been “relieved of duty” after an internal investigation.
“His egregious comments erode the trust between the Norfolk police department and those they are sworn to serve. The city of Norfolk has a standard of behavior for all employees, and we will hold staff accountable,” the city manager, Chip Filer, said in a statement. ...
Clay Messick, the president of the local police union, told the Pilot that the decision to fire Kelly, not a union member, was “disappointing”.
The US justice department announced on Wednesday that it is launching a sweeping investigation into policing practices in Minneapolis, less than a day after a white former officer was convicted of murdering George Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man, there.
The investigation will examine the use of force by police officers, including force used during protests, and whether Minneapolis police engage in discriminatory practices, the US attorney general, Merrick Garland, said in Washington DC on Wednesday morning.
“The justice department has opened a civil investigation to determine whether the Minneapolis police department has engaged in a pattern and practice of unconstitutional or unlawful policing,” Garland said.
The federal government will also examine the handling of misconduct allegations against police and law enforcement’s treatment of people with behavioral health issues – and justice officials will also assess the department’s current systems of accountability, the attorney general added.
Twenty minutes before a Minnesota jury convicted George Floyd’s killer of murder, a 16-year-old Black girl, Ma’Khia Bryant, was shot and killed by police in Columbus, Ohio. The Columbus police released body camera footage with unusual swiftness, as if a gesture toward transparency could take the place of accountability. The police have stressed the fact that Bryant can be seen in the video with a knife.
A child with a knife, sentenced to death by cop. On every such occasion — and such events are not aberrations — it bears repeating that heavily armed racist murderers like Dylann Roof and Kyle Rittenhouse were escorted into police custody unharmed.
Like the police execution last month of 13-year-old Adam Toledo — a child who had his hands up — and the close-range, deadly shooting of 20-year-old Daunte Wright during a traffic stop just 10 miles from Derek Chauvin’s trial, Bryant’s killing is a shuddering reminder of how little relief the former cop’s conviction truly represents. ...
“[N]othing has changed the underlying conditions allowing for the murder of Floyd in the first place,” Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, a professor of African American studies, tweeted prior to the verdict coming down. “The killing of Wright & Toledo within the last month assure that without the annihilation of the criminal punishment system, we will be here again.” ...
Floyd died in a circumstance of extraordinary cruelty; that his killing catalyzed the most potent anti-racist uprisings for Black liberation in decades made clear that such death has been reiterated so consistently throughout history that it was easily recognizable for what it was: a brutal, racial regime in action. Chauvin and his colleagues, vile in their colluding passivity, did not inaugurate this white supremacist history. Their trials will not end it. This much is already abundantly clear and well stated.
Georgia religious leaders on Tuesday called for a boycott of Home Depot over the company’s refusal to speak out against a new law restricting voting access in the state.
The move from officials, representing more than 1,000 churches in Georgia, underscores how activists continue to target companies in Georgia to use their considerable political influence to protect the right to vote. Georgia-based Coca-Cola, another boycott target, as well as Delta Air Lines came out forcefully against the restrictions, though only after they were signed into law.
The faith leaders said in a statement they were targeting Home Depot after representatives from the company declined to attend a summit of corporate and church officials recently. Home Depot has declined to specifically oppose the Georgia law and even went out of its way, when the law was pending in the legislature, to tell the Washington Post it did not oppose the measure.
“We don’t think we ought to let their indifference stand,” Bishop Reginald Jackson, presiding prelate of the sixth district of the AME church, which includes more than 500 Black churches in Georgia, said at a press conference outside a Home Depot in Decatur on Tuesday. ...
Republicans pounced on the new boycott call to accuse Democrats of trying to hurt the state. Some Republicans see an opening to use backlash against businesses as a way of motivating supporters. They have been increasingly aggressive about that approach after Major League Baseball decided to move the All-Star Game out of Georgia over concerns about the new law.
Joe Biden’s desire to re-establish US leadership on the climate crisis will face a severe test this week at a summit the president hopes will rebuild American credibility and kickstart a spluttering international effort to stave off the effects of global heating.
Biden has invited 40 world leaders to a two-day virtual gathering starting on Earth Day, Thursday, as the opening salvo in negotiations leading to crunch United Nations talks in Scotland later this year. Scientists say the world is severely lagging in tackling the climate crisis and its heatwaves, storms and floods, with planet-heating emissions set to roar back following a dip due to coronavirus shutdowns.
Much will hinge upon cooperation between China, the world’s worst producer of planet-heating emissions, and the US, historically the worst polluter. On Saturday, John Kerry, Biden’s climate envoy, struck an agreement in Shanghai to urgently address what Kerry called the “beyond catastrophic” consequences of allowing temperatures to spiral upwards.
The compact is broadly seen as encouraging but comes amid US-China tensions on issues including human rights and trade. The US also faces a deficit in credibility after the presidency of Donald Trump, which saw the country leave the Paris climate accords and dismantle environmental protections.
Biden has returned the US to the Paris agreement but a spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said the move was “by no means a glorious comeback but rather the student playing truant getting back to class”.
New research from the American Lung Association finds that more than four in 10 people – a whopping 135 million in the US – live in counties with unhealthy levels of particle or ozone pollution.
In their 22nd annual “State of the Air” report, released on Wednesday, the group examined federal data on the two most widespread types of air pollution to create a comprehensive overview of toxic air across the country. The annual air quality “report card” identifies the parts of the country with the most polluted air, and gives them a letter grade (from A to F). This year, it also found that people of color were three times as likely to live in the nation’s most polluted places. ...
The report’s findings – 135 million people live with dirty air – seem to be a slight improvement over last year, where 150 million people in the US were found to live in counties that flunked their air grade.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Koko Taylor - Let The Juke Joint Jump
Koko Taylor - I'd rather go blind
Muddy Waters & Koko Taylor - I Got What It Takes
Koko Taylor - Let The Good Times Roll
Koko Taylor - Walking The Back Streets
Koko Taylor - Can't Let Go
Koko Taylor - What Kind of Man Is This?
Koko Taylor & BB King - Blues Hotel
Koko Taylor & Willie Dixon - Fire
Koko Taylor - I'm Ready