The Evening Blues - 6-22-22
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues singer Ann Cole. Enjoy!
Ann Cole - Got My Mojo Working
“Almost any sect, cult, or religion will legislate its creed into law if it acquires the political power to do so.”
-- Robert A. Heinlein
News and Opinion
In a dissent to the ruling in Carson v Makin, released on Tuesday, Sotomayor wrote: “This court continues to dismantle the wall of separation between church and state that the framers fought to build.
In the Maine case, John Roberts, the chief justice, wrote for the conservative majority. In Roberts’ view, the tuition programme violated the free exercise clause of the first amendment to the US constitution, because it said private schools were “eligible to receive the payments, so long as they [we]re ‘nonsectarian’”. Roberts wrote: “Regardless of how the benefit and restriction are described, the programme operates to identify and exclude otherwise eligible schools on the basis of their religious exercise.”
Concluding her dissent, Sotomayor wrote: “What a difference five years makes. In 2017, I feared that the court was ‘lead[ing] us … to a place where separation of church and state is a constitutional slogan, not a constitutional commitment’. Today, the court leads us to a place where separation of church and state becomes a constitutional violation. If a state cannot offer subsidies to its citizens without being required to fund religious exercise, any state that values its historic antiestablishment interests more than this court does will have to curtail the support it offers to its citizens.
On Monday, the Baltic state of Lithuania, a member of NATO, imposed an effective blockade on Russia, preventing the transportation of many goods, including steel and coal, to its external enclave of Kaliningrad, which is separated from the rest of Russia by Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.
Traditionally, the imposition of a blockade has been seen as an act of war. With this reckless provocation, the United States and its NATO allies are seeking to goad Russia into a military attack on NATO territory, which would lead to the invocation of Article V of the NATO Charter and a full-scale war with Russia.
Faced with a series of military reversals on the ground in Ukraine, the US, NATO and the European powers are seeking to open a new, northern front in the war.
Lithuanian officials implied that the decision to implement the blockade against Russia was taken in close consultation with other NATO members and Washington. “It is not Lithuania doing anything, it is European sanctions that started working,” Lithuanian Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said. ...
The imposition of a blockade against Russia by a NATO member comes just days after a series of highly provocative statements by European military and civilian leaders.
In an internal message to military service members, Sir Patrick Sanders, the incoming chief of the British general staff, declared, “There is now a burning imperative to forge an Army capable of fighting alongside our allies and defeating Russia in battle.” In a chilling allusion to the First and Second World Wars, he concluded, “We are the generation that must prepare the Army to fight in Europe once again.”
The head of the Kremlin’s security council has threatened the “population of Lithuania” in an escalation of the row over Lithuanian railway’s refusal to allow some goods to cross to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
After a meeting in the region, which is wedged between Lithuania and Poland, 800 miles from Moscow, Nikolai Patrushev, a close ally to Vladimir Putin, upped the rhetoric by threatening “serious consequences”.
“Russia will certainly respond to such hostile actions,” Patrushev said. “Appropriate measures … will be taken in the near future … Their consequences will have a serious negative impact on the population of Lithuania.”
Patrushev did not specify how Russia would retaliate, merely saying it would be “interagency”. Lithuania has already blocked Russian energy imports, leaving few other options for the Kremlin.
The Kremlin has said that two captured US volunteers are not covered by the Geneva conventions and could face the death penalty.
“We are talking about mercenaries who threatened the lives of our service personnel,” the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said. “And not only ours, but also the service personnel of the DPR and LPR,” he added, referencing the Russian-controlled self-proclaimed peoples’ republics of Donetsk and Luhansk.
Russian media has claimed that two of three US volunteers missing in Ukraine have been captured and are being held by pro-Russian separatist forces.
The Kremlin, however, denied that it knew the location of the two men.
Asked whether the Americans could be put on trial in Russian-controlled territory in Donetsk and sentenced to death, Peskov said: “We cannot exclude anything because these are decisions for the court. We never comment on them and have no right to interfere in court decisions.”
The average US house price hit an all-time high of over $400,000 in May even as interest rate rises and high prices led to a fourth consecutive month of declining sales.
Existing home sales fell 3.4% last month from April to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 5.41m, the National Association of Realtors said on Tuesday. Sales fell 8.6% from May last year, hitting a two-year low.
After climbing to a 6.49m annual rate in January, sales have fallen to the slowest pace since June 2020, near the start of the pandemic, when they were running at an annualized rate of 4.77m homes.
May’s sales were mostly closings on contracts signed one to two months ago before mortgage rates started accelerating amid a surge in inflation expectations and aggressive interest rate hikes from the Federal Reserve.
But demand for homes still outstrips supply. Even as home sales slowed, home prices kept climbing in May. The national median home price jumped 14.8% in May from a year earlier to $407,600. That’s an all-time high according to data going back to 1999, NAR said.
A new paper published Tuesday shows that U.S. corporate price markups and profits surged to their highest levels since the 1950s last year, bolstering arguments for an excess profits tax as a way to rein in sky-high inflation.
Authored by Mike Konczal and Niko Lusiani of the Roosevelt Institute, the analysis finds that markups—the difference between the actual cost of a good or service and the selling price—"were both the highest level on record and the largest one-year increase" in 2021.
"Markups this high mean there is room for reversing them with little economic harm and likely societal benefit," Konczal said in a statement. "To tackle inflation, we need an all-of-the-above administrative and legislative approach that includes demand, supply, and market power interventions."
In their new brief, Konczal and Lusiani note that higher markups don't always mean larger profits.
"But they did in 2021," the researchers write, showing that the net profit margins of U.S. firms jumped from an annual average of 5.5% between 1960 and 1980 to 9.5% in 2021 as companies pushed up prices, citing inflationary pressures across the global economy as their justification.
"How high companies can increase their sales up and above their costs... matters for the economy more generally because these markups distribute economic gains from workers and consumers to firms and shareholders," said Lusiani. "This is especially the case when almost 100% of these firms' earnings derived from markups are distributed upward to shareholders rather than retained and reinvested."
"Making corporations once again price-takers rather than price-makers," Lusiani added, "will help bring down prices, and in time lead to a more equitable, innovative economy."
The new research comes as the White House struggles to formulate a coherent and effective response to an inflation surge that has become a serious economic and political problem, particularly as the pivotal 2022 midterms approach.
Survey data shows that U.S. voters, including those in key battleground states, overwhelmingly want the Biden administration to challenge corporate power and support a windfall profits tax to counter soaring prices at grocery stores, gas stations, and elsewhere across the economy.
Last month, President Joe Biden nominated a longtime advocate of Social Security privatization and benefit cuts to a key board overseeing the Social Security system. The move comes as Republicans get ready to push cuts to Social Security and Medicare, if they end up winning control of Congress during the November’s midterms, as expected.
The development suggests that there could soon be a coordinated push in Washington to cut the Social Security program, which provides retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to 66 million Americans.
On May 13, Biden chose to nominate Andrew Biggs, a fellow at the right-wing American Enterprise Institute think tank, for a Republican seat on the bipartisan Social Security Advisory Board, which was created in 1994 to consult the president and Congress about the Social Security system.
For years, Biggs has been a vocal critic of expanded Social Security and workers’ right to a secure, stable retirement free from the vagaries of the stock market. He has dismissed the retirement crisis as a non-issue and as recently as 2020 blamed problems with the Social Security system on “older Americans’ game of chicken.” And two decades ago, Biggs worked on a Bush administration commission that pushed to privatize Social Security.
Haha, liberal censors get bitten by their own beast:
Climate, environmental, and social justice advocates on Tuesday condemned the decision by a Democratic California lawmaker to kill proposed legislation that would require two of the state's leading pension funds to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
"Today amidst a historic mega-drought, wildfires, and fossil-fueled public health crises, Assemblymember Jim Cooper, Chair of the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement, refused to allow Senate Bill 1173, California's Fossil Fuel Divestment Act, to be heard in his committee," Fossil Free California said in a statement. "This one-man veto allows the state's pensions to continue to invest billions from public funds into the fossil fuel industry, for now."
S.B. 1173 would have prohibited the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS) and the California State Teachers' Retirement System (CalSTRS)—the two largest public pension funds in the United States—from making or renewing investments in fossil fuel companies. The measure would also have required the pensions to liquidate their fossil fuel holdings by 2030. The two funds currently hold an estimated $9 billion in fossil fuel investments.
"This decision is a moral failure that disproportionately impacts young people, Indigenous communities, communities of color, and low-income communities," the coalition asserted. "Climate chaos has already cost California billions in damages and health costs from fossil fuel pollution and climate disasters. Jim Cooper, who has just been elected Sacramento County Sheriff, has reported $36,350 in Big Oil campaign contributions from this election season alone."
State Sen. Lena Gonzalez (D-33) said in a statement that "while I am deeply disappointed that my Senate Bill 1173 was not set for a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Public Employment and Retirement this week, I remain committed to the necessary and ongoing fight against the impacts of climate change on our state, and especially those communities in my district that are disproportionately impacted by the negative effects of the climate crisis."
"Teachers and state employees whose retirement futures are invested by our state's pension funds have long demanded that CalPERS and CalSTRS cease investing their money in fossil fuel companies, and this demand will only grow stronger and louder," she continued.
James Stone of the Southern California Divestment Network said that "today is a sad day in the history of California when the fossil fuel industry and its political allies defeated the will of the majority of CalSTRS and CalPERS beneficiaries and silenced the voices of the majority of the citizens of our great state."
"This defeat is just a temporary setback, however. We will organize to come back stronger to make our demand for fossil fuel divestment heard because fossil fuel companies are driving us toward unimaginable disaster and neither CalSTRS and CalPERS management nor our elected representatives are doing enough to hold them accountable," he added. "We must prevail because our common future is at stake."
Employees with the US Forest Service made multiple miscalculations, used inaccurate models and underestimated how dry conditions were in the south-west, causing a planned burn to reduce the threat of wildfires to explode into the largest blaze in New Mexico’s recorded history, the agency said on Tuesday.
The agency quietly posted an 80-page review that details the planning missteps and the conditions on the ground as crews ignited the prescribed fire in early April. The report states officials who planned the operation underestimated the amount of timber and vegetation that was available to fuel the flames, the exceptional dry conditions and the rural villages and water supplies that would be threatened if things went awry.
Within hours of lighting a test fire on that April day, multiple spot fires were reported outside containment lines and there were not enough resources or water to rein them in.
“The devastating impact of this fire to the communities and livelihoods of those affected in New Mexico demanded this level of review to ensure we understand how this tragic event unfolded,” the US forest chief, Randy Moore, wrote. “I cannot overstate how heartbreaking these impacts are on communities and individuals.”
As of Tuesday, the blaze had charred more than 533 square miles (1,380 sq km), making it the largest fire to have burned this spring in the US. It comes during a particularly ferocious season in which fire danger in overgrown forests around the west has reached historic levels due to decades of drought and warmer weather brought on by climate crisis.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Ann Cole - Each Day
Ann Cole - I´ve Got Nothing Working Now
Ann Cole - Easy Easy Baby
Ann Cole - Summer Nights
Ann Cole - Have Fun
Ann Cole - Are You Satisfied?
Ann Cole - Don't Stop The Wedding
Ann Cole - Plain As The Nose On Your Face
Ann Cole - Darling, Don´t Hurt Me
Ann Cole, Dave McRae Orch. - I'm waiting for you