The Evening Blues - 1-13-22


The day's news roundup + tonight's musical feature: Ruth Brown

Hey! Good Evening!

This evening's music features r&b singer Ruth Brown. Enjoy!

Ruth Brown - Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean

“Knowing when to fight is just as important as knowing how.”

-- Terry Goodkind

News and Opinion

Nato chief warns of ‘real risk of conflict’ as talks with Russia over Ukraine end

Nato’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg, has said there is “a real risk for a new armed conflict in Europe” after talks between alliance members and Russia ended with no signs of progress towards defusing the crisis over Ukraine. ”.

The Russian deputy foreign minister, Alexander Grushko, emerged from the four hours of talks renewing Moscow’s threat that it would take military steps if political measures were not enough to “neutralise the threats” it says it faces. His remarks came only days after his fellow Russian diplomat, Sergei Ryabkov, had assured reporters Russia had no intention of invading Ukraine.

Grushko said he had told Nato representatives that “further sliding of the situation could lead to the most unpredictable and most severe consequences for European security”.

The Russian deputy defence minister, Alexander Fomin, was quoted as saying that relations with Nato were at a “critically low level,” while a foreign ministry official told reporters that there was “no positive agenda at all.”

The US delegation leader, the deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, said she had heard nothing in Brussels that differed from the Kremlin position laid out at bilateral talks in Geneva, demanding a guaranteed end to Nato expansion and a withdrawal of alliance troops in formerly Soviet bloc countries that joined the alliance after 1997. Those proposals remained unacceptable to the US and all Nato allies, Sherman said.

Russia Stands Firm in Geneva, Refuses to Discuss Troop Levels, Insists on NATO Ending Expansion

Russia’s belief in Nato ‘betrayal’ – and why it matters today

The current confrontation between Russia and the west is fuelled by many grievances, but the greatest is the belief in Moscow that the west tricked the former Soviet Union by breaking promises made at the end of the cold war in 1989-1990 that Nato would not expand to the east. In his now famous 2007 speech to the Munich Security Conference, Vladimir Putin accused the west of forgetting and breaking assurances, leaving international law in ruins.

It matters desperately to Russia since it fuels distrust, feeds Russia’s cynicism about international law and is the central motive behind Russia’s draft security treaties calling for a reversal of Nato’s extension, due to be discussed on Wednesday at the Nato-Russia Council. The betrayal theory is not confined to Putin, but was supported by Boris Yeltsin, and from mid-1995 right across the Russian political elite. ... Putin claims that US secretary of state James Baker, in a discussion on 9 February 1990 with the Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, made the promise that Nato would not expand to the east if Russia accepted Germany’s unification.

The following day Chancellor Helmut Kohl, ambiguous about Germany remaining in Nato after unification, also told Gorbachev “naturally Nato could not expand its territory to the current territory of the GDR”. The promise was repeated in a speech by the Nato secretary general on 17 May, a promise cited by Putin in his Munich speech. In his memoirs, Gorbachev described these assurances as the moment that cleared the way for compromise on Germany. ...

Russian policymakers opposed the concessions being made at the time by Gorbachev in part because of the implications for eastern Europe. Russia was given verbal assurances about the limits of Nato’s expansion, but no written guarantees. In March 1991 John Major, for instance, was asked by the Soviet defence minister, Marshal Dmitry Yazov, about eastern Europe’s interest in joining Nato. Major, according to the diaries of the British ambassador to Moscow, Rodric Braithwaite, assured him “nothing of that sort will ever happen”.

[More at the link. - js]

‘Europe is sidelined’: Russia meets US in Geneva and Nato in Brussels

After months of sabre-rattling from Vladimir Putin over Ukraine, Russian officials have been on a diplomatic tour of Europe this week, meeting the US in Geneva and Nato in Brussels. Amid this diplomatic whirl, Europe’s biggest diplomatic club has been absent. The EU has no formal role in the talks, although its officials are drawing up possible sanctions to levy against Russia if the Kremlin decides to invade Ukraine.

The EU’s exclusion from talks on war and peace in its own backyard hurts. “Between Putin and Biden, Europe is sidelined,” ran a Le Monde headline last week. The EU’s top diplomat, Josep Borrell,struck an insouciant note. “I don’t care,” he said when the BBC asked whether the US should have gone ahead with the Geneva talks. The Russians, he said, had “deliberately excluded the EU from any participation” but he had been assured by the US that “nothing will be agreed without our strong co-operation, coordination and participation”.

Officials have downplayed the exclusion of the EU. “European allies are at the table, because European allies are in Nato,” said the Nato secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg. After Nato-Russia talks, Stoltenberg plans to brief EU defence ministers meeting in the port city of Brest in north-western France on Wednesday evening. The two organisations have 21 member countries in common and pages of pledges to improve cooperation.

Not everyone buys this reassuring story about Europe’s absence from the top table. “It gives me huge concern,” Radosław Sikorski, a Polish former foreign minister, who now sits in the European parliament, told the Guardian. “The EU is a neighbour of both Ukraine and Russia, these are countries with whom we have intense relationships. And what happens between them affects several member states. Of course we should be there and I am astonished that we are not.”

Democrats push rival bill sanctioning Russia over Ukraine

Senate Democrats proposed new sanctions against Russia on Wednesday if it invades Ukraine, looking to derail a Republican proposal that the White House fears could undermine unity with European allies.

The Democrats’ proposal is meant to give them White House-backed legislation to demonstrate their support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and heighten U.S. promises of financial pain for Russia, which has staged tens of thousands of troops along Ukraine’s borders. The Democratic bill opens the door for more penalties related to the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline if Russia invades Ukraine. ...

The Biden administration and Democratic leaders also are aiming to head off any Democratic votes in the Senate for rival legislation by Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. Cruz’s legislation would heap new sanctions on operators of the pipeline whether or not Russia invades. Nord Stream 2 has been built but has not yet gone into operation.

Cruz’s legislation is due for a Senate vote this week. Its prospects are uncertain. It would need at least 10 Democratic votes to pass the chamber and it’s not clear if it would be brought to a vote in the Democratic-controlled House.

Highest US inflation in 40 years signals end of ultra-cheap money

Not since Ronald Reagan was president and Paul Volcker was the hardline chairman of the Federal Reserve has US inflation been as high as 7%, so inevitably the latest jump in the country’s cost of living index will have consequences.

The US central bank has historically tended to fear deep recession more than runaway inflation, scarred as it still is by the legacy of the Great Depression. The Fed, however, cannot ignore the risks of a wage-price spiral developing and will be forced to act.

In part, that’s because of what’s been happening to core inflation, a measure that strips out volatile elements of the consumer prices index such as fuel and food. This rose sharply in December to an annual rate of 5.5%, making it harder for the Fed to argue inflationary pressures will be fleeting. The price of used cars, clothes and air fares all registered hefty increases.

Increases in interest rates are inevitable as a result. Wall Street expects the Fed to start pushing borrowing costs up in March, with four quarter-point jumps this year and a further four in 2023, taking them to just over 2%. This is a long way short of the shock treatment administered by Volcker – official borrowing costs peaked at 20% in 1981 – but it will still be enough to slow the US economy and make life harder for the Democrats in November’s midterm elections.

Lawsuit aiming to break up Facebook group Meta can go ahead, US court rules

The US competition watchdog can proceed with a breakup lawsuit against Facebook’s owner, a federal judge has ruled.

Mark Zuckerberg’s Meta, the parent of Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp, had asked a court to dismiss an antitrust complaint brought by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) for the second time. However, Judge James Boasberg said on Tuesday that the FTC’s revised lawsuit should be allowed to proceed.

“Ultimately, whether the FTC will be able to prove its case and prevail at summary judgment and trial is anyone’s guess. The court declines to engage in such speculation and simply concludes that at this motion-to-dismiss stage, where the FTC’s allegations are treated as true, the agency has stated a plausible claim for relief,” wrote Boasberg, of the US District Court for the District of Columbia.

The FTC, under the new chair, Lina Khan, wants to force Meta to sell its photo-sharing app Instagram and its messaging service WhatsApp in one of the biggest challenges the government has brought against a tech company in decades. Its lawsuit accuses Meta of pursuing a “course of anti-competitive conduct”.

The FTC originally sued Facebook during the Trump administration, and its complaint was rejected by the court in June last year. The agency filed an amended complaint in August, adding more detail on the accusation that the social media company had crushed or bought rivals.

Lawmakers MASSIVELY Beat Stock Market In 2021

More Than 8,000 Kroger Grocery Workers Strike in Colorado

On the heels of a new report showing significant financial insecurity, including homelessness, among workers at Kroger grocery stores, more than 8,000 of the chain's employees in Colorado went on strike Wednesday to demand fair wages and better healthcare benefits.

Amid a recent wave of successful strikes at companies including John Deere and Kellogg's, the work stoppage is taking place at nearly 80 King Sooper grocery stores, which are owned by the Kroger Company, across the Denver metropolitan area. According to the Colorado Sun, 10 additional stores in Colorado Springs could also go on strike in the coming weeks.

The workers' union, United Food and Commercial Workers Local 7, rejected the company's "best and final offer" on Tuesday, saying the $84 billion company did not offer enough for employees to afford basic necessities.

"King Soopers is enjoying record profits while leaving its workers to struggle with low wages," union president Kim Cordova said in a statement. "Grocery workers ensure that our communities have access to food, but they cannot even afford to feed their own families. This is grossly unfair."

The union is demanding better health benefits and working conditions, particularly considering that Covid-19 cases are rising and employees have continued working on the front lines of the pandemic for nearly two years.

"The companies were thriving, but our workers didn't thrive," Cordova said of the early months of the pandemic at a recent press conference. "Know what our workers got? Covid. Attacked. Beat up. Spit on. Slapped. Overworked. And the company? They did great. They did absolutely great, sitting behind their desk doing their job by Zoom."

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) expressed solidarity with the workers on Wednesday, calling out the high salary of Kroger's CEO, Rodney McMullen.

The company's offer came the same day that the research firm Economic Roundtable released a report showing the economic realities facing workers at the chain, who earn an average of $29,655 per year for 30-hour work weeks.

The firm surveyed 10,000 workers in Colorado, California, and Washington and found 70% of respondents work only part time—with many working erratic schedules "so they can't have a second job even if they want it," Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College who worked on the report, told the Sun.

Two-thirds of the respondents said they couldn't afford basic monthly expenses, 39% couldn't afford groceries, and 14% said they had experienced homelessness in the past year. More than a third said they are currently worried about being evicted.

As Common Dreams reported in November 2020, Kroger offered hazard pay to workers after the pandemic began—but ended the payment after just two months, despite the chain's sales going up by 30% in 2020.

"They've given huge pay increases to top executives. The CEO makes over $22 million a year," Dreier told the Sun. "Their cash on hand has gone up since February 2020."

Meanwhile, adjusted for inflation, wages for the highest-paid grocery workers at King Soopers in Colorado have gone down in the past decade, according to Dreier:

He said his team found that net income rates tripled while sales increased 15.8%, while payroll and benefits shrank as a percentage of sales. The wage analysis of the top-paid King Soopers food clerk in Colorado between 2010 and 2020 showed a 16% increase to $19.16 an hour. Adjusted for inflation though, he said that's a 3% reduction in pay.

The offer made to the union included an hourly pay raise of $1.50 for full-time checkout workers, giving them just over $21 per hour and $22.61 by 2024.

Those raises would be too little, too late for King Soopers workers, according to Dreier.

"If they are going to be able to pay the rent and pay the groceries and all the other things, they need to make $45,760 a year," or $22 per hour, he said.

Report Debunks Manchin's Inflation Argument Against Build Back Better

To justify obstructing one of his party's top legislative priorities, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia has repeatedly claimed that the Build Back Better Act would exacerbate rising inflation.

But a new report published Wednesday by the congressional Joint Economic Committee (JEC) argues that Democrats' 10-year, $1.75 trillion reconciliation package would actually relieve inflationary pressures on the economy by slashing the sky-high costs of child care, prescription drugs, housing, and other basic necessities.

"By addressing the threat of climate change," the report adds, "the bill would reduce the role of fossil fuel price spikes and extreme weather in driving future inflation, insulating the economy from key sources of price spikes that can lead to inflation—just as occurred in 2021."

The report goes on to argue that because its costs would be funded by tax hikes on rich individuals and large businesses, the Build Back Better Act "does not present the risk of economic overheating—a concern that was waved aside as previous administrations passed trillions of dollars in tax cuts that were never paid for."

The JEC released its analysis just as the Bureau of Labor Statistics announced Wednesday that the Consumer Price Index—which measures the costs of consumer goods and services—has risen 7% over the past year, the sharpest increase in four decades.

"Very, very troubling," Manchin said of the new inflation figures.

But Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), chair of the JEC, offered a different perspective on the data. While acknowledging that rising prices are "straining household budgets"—particularly for those with low incomes—Beyer disputed the notion that the Build Back Better Act would make matters worse.

In fact, Beyer argued in a statement, "the House-passed Build Back Better Act would make crucial investments to lower inflation and cut household costs by investing in workers, boosting productivity and making healthcare and child care more affordable—all while being fully paid for by asking the wealthy and corporations to pay their fair share."

"The economic recovery and the Federal Reserve's actions [on interest rates] will bring down short-term inflation in 2022, but the Build Back Better Act presents the best tool at Congress' disposal to reduce inflationary pressure long-term, build economic resilience, and promote economic growth that is stronger, stable, and more broadly shared."

Economists have also pushed back on the argument that the Build Back Better package would worsen inflation, which experts say has been fueled by a range of factors, from pandemic-related supply chain disruptions to corporate profiteering.

"There is also no good way to connect the dots between the Build Back Better agenda, which is currently being debated in Congress, and higher inflation," Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody's Analytics, wrote in a recent CNN op-ed. "The legislation provides support for public infrastructure and various social programs, and longer-term, it is designed to lift the economy's growth potential, which will ease inflationary pressures."

Despite its potential benefits for families, the economy, and the climate, the Build Back Better Act continues to languish in the Senate with no clear path forward as Manchin refuses to drop his objections to the expanded child tax credit (CTC), affordable housing investments, and other key provisions of the bill.

And as the Washington Post reported over the weekend, Manchin no longer even supports his own counteroffer to the White House, which excluded the CTC and other measures.

Nevertheless, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)—the chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—said in a Wednesday appearance on CNBC that she believes Democrats will ultimately be able to pass some compromise version of the Build Back Better Act in the coming weeks.

"In the end, our view is that we can do Build Back Better, very close to the framework that Senator Manchin committed to the president on," Jayapal said, referring to a proposal the White House released in October. "Right now, we are in the midst of a big push on voting rights... As soon as that is done, probably next week, our attention will turn back to Build Back Better."


Ronnie Spector, pop singer who fronted the Ronettes, dies aged 78

Ronnie Spector, the singer who defined the sound of mid-century girl groups as the frontwoman of the Ronettes, has died aged 78.

Our beloved earth angel, Ronnie, peacefully left this world today after a brief battle with cancer. She was with family and in the arms of her husband, Jonathan.

Ronnie lived her life with a twinkle in her eye, a spunky attitude, a wicked sense of humor and a smile on her face. She was filled with love and gratitude.

Her joyful sound, playful nature and magical presence will live on in all who knew, heard or saw her.

the horse race

FBI COVERS UP Jan 6 Role, Starts 'Domestic Terrorism' Unit

Biden to meet Senate Democrats in bid to revive voting rights push

Joe Biden is set to meet with Senate Democrats at the Capitol on Thursday, a visit intended to deliver a jolt to the party’s long-stalled push for voting and elections legislation.

Biden is expected to discuss potential changes to Senate rules that will be needed to overcome repeated Republican filibusters that have blocked the measures, according to a senior Democratic aide who was familiar with the private meeting and requested anonymity to discuss the visit.

It comes as Democrats are hurtling toward a planned vote on a rules overhaul, despite a lack of consensus within their own party on how to proceed. Biden on Tuesday called for changes to the filibuster during a fiery speech in Atlanta, saying senators must “stand against voter suppression”. ...

Key senators huddled on Wednesday with holdouts in the party, including the conservative Democratic senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, in hopes of a breakthrough.

Manchin, a key Democrat who is a staunch defender of the filibuster rule, is still not on board with changing it. Senator Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat who has been part of a small group trying to reach an agreement to change the filibuster with Manchin, said they were still searching for some kind of solution. “As of this morning, we’re not where we need to be to have them on board,” Tester said during an event hosted by the left-leaning Center for American Progress Action Fund.

BREAKING: Sinema Opposes Filibuster Reform In Blow To Biden's Efforts To Pass Voting Rights

“The Coming Coup”: Ari Berman on Republican Efforts to Steal Future Elections

Ohio Supreme Court Strikes Down GOP Partisan Gerrymandering

Democracy defenders on Wednesday cheered a ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court that invalidated Republican-drawn state legislative district maps, which a majority of the justices found were unconstitutionally gerrymandered against the will of the state's voters.

In a 4-3 decision, the justices ordered the maps redrawn, as the GOP-controlled Ohio Redistricting Commission failed to "draw legislative districts that correspond with the statewide voter preference of Ohioans."

The commission now has 10 days to come up with a new plan that is constitutional.

"Ohioans voted for fair maps," former Ohio state senator and U.S. congressional candidate Nina Turner tweeted in response to the ruling.

"I applaud the decision of the Ohio Supreme Court to uphold the law and strike down these maps," she added.

"Ohio voters have demanded an end to political gerrymandering time and time again," the ACLU tweeted in response to the ruling. "Gerrymandering disproportionately affects minority voters and this decision ensures that people—especially people of color—can have a voice in our government."

"Politicians do not get to choose their voters," the group added. "We the voters get to choose our politicians."

Alicia Bannon, director of the Judiciary Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said in a statement welcoming the ruling that "today the Ohio Supreme Court held the Ohio Redistricting Commission accountable to the constitution."

Bannon added that "the General Assembly maps entrenched a GOP supermajority and flouted clear partisan fairness requirements in the Ohio constitution—abuses that especially impacted Ohio's Black, Muslim, and immigrant communities. The commission is now tasked with drawing replacement maps."

"We will be watching to ensure that all Ohioans get the fair representation they are due," she vowed.

The Ohio decision comes a day after a three-judge panel in North Carolina ruled that Republicans' newly drawn political districts—which will give the GOP an edge in future elections—do not violate the state's constitution. The judges asserted that "redistricting is an inherently political process" that does "not impinge on the right to vote."

Last month, civil rights groups sued South Carolina's Republican governor, as well as state legislative and elections leaders, to challenge the state's new redistricting law.

The groups say gerrymandered state House maps intentionally discriminate against Black voters by "packing" them into the same district to minimize their power in surrounding areas and by "cracking," or splitting, communities of color to dilute their power.

Elite Media Pushes HILLARY 2024 Amid Biden Unpopularity

Progressives to Clinton and Other Corporate Democrats: 'Back Off' on Election Advice

Progressives on Wednesday dismissed arguments from corporate Democrats that the party should avoid "going too far left"—despite mounting evidence that voters are in desperate need of—and demanding—bold, far-reaching policies and social programs.

An article published Wednesday at The Hill quoted a recent NBC News interview with former Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who lost the 2016 presidential election to former President Donald Trump.

Clinton advised the party to engage in "careful thinking about what wins elections," suggesting that progressives who push for policies such as Medicare for All, transformative police reform, and student loan cancellation only have chances of winning "in deep-blue districts."

Clinton's December comments came ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, in which Democrats face the potential losses of their razor-thin majorities in the U.S. Senate and House.

Debate between progressive and so-called centrist Democrats "means nothing if we don't have a Congress that will get things done and we don't have a White House that we can count on to be sane and sober and stable and productive," added Clinton in her interview.

Matt Bennett, co-founder of centrist think tank Third Way, added that Democrats must approach the coming midterms "the way Joe Biden was in 2020—mainstream, pragmatic, and focused on issues that resonate."

But despite Clinton and Bennett's confidence in that strategy, President Joe Biden worked closely