The Evening Blues - 10-22-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features doo wop group The Olympics. Enjoy!
The Olympics - Good Lovin'
"Most of the polls are calling it for Biden and the Democrat leadership are so confident they are already vetting Republicans for cabinet positions. ...
We need to prepare ourselves emotionaly for the despair of a Trump win. And if Biden wins, a feeling of relief followed by massive disappointment and more of the same unending free-market hopelessness. Wealthy people aren't worried about Biden, that's all we need to know."
-- First Dog on the Moon
News and Opinion
The Trump administration is considering declaring that several prominent international NGOs — including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Oxfam — are anti-Semitic and that governments should not support them, two people familiar with the issue said.
The proposed declaration could come from the State Department as soon as this week. If the declaration happens, it is likely to cause an uproar among civil society groups and might spur litigation. Critics of the possible move also worry it could lead other governments to further crack down on such groups. The groups named, meanwhile, deny any allegations that they are anti-Semitic.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is pushing for the declaration, according to a congressional aide with contacts inside the State Department. Pompeo is eyeing a future presidential run and has taken a number of steps to gain favor with pro-Israel and evangelical voters who make up a key part of Trump’s electoral base. ...
The declaration is expected to take the form of a report from the office of Elan Carr, the U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism. The report would mention organizations including Oxfam, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. It would declare that it is U.S. policy not to support such groups, including financially, and urge other governments to cease their support.
The report would cite such groups’ alleged or perceived support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which has targeted Israel over its construction of settlements on land Palestinians claim for a future state. It’s also expected to point to reports and press statements such groups have released about the impact of Israeli settlements, as well as their involvement or perceived support for a United Nations database of businesses that operate in disputed territories.
The Trump administration has omitted or altered vital information about human rights – including torture, reproductive rights and persecution based on sexuality – from its annual assessments of human rights, a new report reveals.
The state department’s annual reports have long been relied upon by governments, judges and lawyers – as well as the United Nations – as a “gold standard” of objective information about the human rights situation in countries around the world. The US began compiling these reports in 1976.
The Asylum Research Centre conducted a line-by-line analysis and comparison between US state department human rights reports in the last year of the Obama administration and the first three years of the Trump administration.
The ARC focused on five countries with serious human rights abuses – Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and Sudan – to conduct its analysis. It found that sections of the US reports were not consistent with the situation on the ground as documented by other reliable sources of information and had the effect of downplaying the seriousness of the human rights situations in these countries.
The principal changes related to women’s rights, civil and political rights, and issues relating to LGBTQ+ people.
Three years after Donald Trump ordered a crackdown on undocumented migrants crossing into the US, lawyers are still struggling to find the parents of 545 children separated from them under the “zero-tolerance” policy, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
In a court filing, the ACLU said that about two-thirds of the parents had been deported back to the country of origin in Central America, leaving their separated children behind. In the rush to carry out Trump’s orders, the locations of the parents were not recorded and three years later they still cannot be found.
The zero-tolerance policy was announced in April 2018. It was later revealed that the administration had begun family separation the previous year under a secret pilot program.
In total, 1,030 children were removed from their parents by the US government under that pilot scheme, of whom 485 children have had their parents found under a scheme imposed by federal judges. The ACLU and a team of lawyers have been tasked by the courts with finding all the parents.
Under the pilot scheme, about 66% of the parents separated from their children were deported back to Central America before the court order was imposed on the Trump administration to find them. The search for the parents, who are called “unreachable” in the court document, has been hampered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Google, working hard to turn the promise of AI into a dystopian hellscape of oppression:
After years of backlash over controversial government work, Google technology will be used to aid the Trump administration’s efforts to fortify the U.S.-Mexico border, according to documents related to a federal contract. In August, Customs and Border Protection accepted a proposal to use Google Cloud technology to facilitate the use of artificial intelligence deployed by the CBP Innovation Team, known as INVNT. Among other projects, INVNT is working on technologies for a new “virtual” wall along the southern border that combines surveillance towers and drones, blanketing an area with sensors to detect unauthorized entry into the country. ...
Documents show that Google’s technology for CBP will be used in conjunction with work done by Anduril Industries, a controversial defense technology startup founded by Palmer Luckey. The brash 28-year-old executive — also the founder of Oculus VR, acquired by Facebook for over $2 billion in 2014 — is an open supporter of and fundraiser for hard-line conservative politics; he has been one of the most vocal critics of Google’s decision to drop its military contract. Anduril operates sentry towers along the U.S.-Mexico border that are used by CBP for surveillance and apprehension of people entering the country, streamlining the process of putting migrants in DHS custody.
CBP’s Autonomous Surveillance Towers program calls for automated surveillance operations “24 hours per day, 365 days per year” to help the agency “identify items of interest, such as people or vehicles.” The program has been touted as a “true force multiplier for CBP, enabling Border Patrol agents to remain focused on their interdiction mission rather than operating surveillance systems.”
It’s unclear how exactly CBP plans to use Google Cloud in conjunction with Anduril or for any of the “mission needs” alluded to in the contract document. Google spokesperson Jane Khodos declined to comment on or discuss the contract. CBP, Anduril, and Thundercat Technology did not return requests for comment. However, Google does advertise powerful cloud-based image recognition technology through its Vision AI product, which can rapidly detect and categorize people and objects in an image or video file — an obvious boon for a government agency planning to string human-spotting surveillance towers across a vast border region.
After a brutal summer of increased infection and overburdened hospitals, California is having a moment of respite in coronavirus transmission as much of the nation and the world experiences yet another rise in cases. But experts and public health officials warned Californians to practice caution.
California saw just eight new cases per 100,000 people on Tuesday, while the US as a whole reported more than double that at 18 cases per 100,000. Disneyland is on a path to reopening, albeit not for a few weeks at the earliest and at a very limited capacity. Hospitalization rates have declined. The test positivity rate is down to 2.6% over a 14-day period, “some of the lowest test positivity that we’ve seen across the state”, said Dr Mark Ghaly, California’s secretary of health and human services. ...
California was the first state to order residents to shelter in place when the pandemic emerged in the country in early spring. The state avoided a surge in cases like the one New York experienced, and its death rate remained relatively low. Its government, led by Gavin Newsom, was touted across the country for its forceful leadership.
But restrictions started easing in May, and as the weather warmed, residents in some counties flooded back to beaches, bars, restaurants, fitness rooms and salons. By 4 July, the state registered an average of about 6,000 to 7,000 new cases each day. “We made a terrible mistake like so many other places in the United States did when we opened up too quickly in May and continued to let them be open in June and that led to the horrific time we had in July and August,” said John Swartzberg, a professor emeritus of infectious diseases at the University of California, Berkeley. “I think California learned from that mistake.” ...
Experts predict a fall surge will come, he warned, and that Californians cannot allow themselves to become lax in their efforts. “This is what all the epidemiologists, scientists, anyone who followed our history or data from the Spanish flu pandemic anticipated moving into the colder season,” Newsom said. “That’s why we are being very sober and, forgive me, stubborn, about some industries in the state that I know are eager to get guidelines [on reopening].”
Trump Officials Weigh Deep Funding Cuts to Covid-19 Relief, Newborn Screenings in Democrat-Led Cities
Documents obtained by Politico reveal that the Trump White House is weighing millions of dollars in federal funding cuts to Covid-19 relief, newborn screenings, and other crucial healthcare programs in Democrat-led cities, a move critics decried as politically motivated "retribution" that could have a devastating impact on poor and sick Americans amid the ongoing pandemic.
Politico reported late Tuesday that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has "identified federal grants covering... nearly 200 health programs that could be in line for cuts as part of a sweeping government-wide directive the administration is advancing during the final weeks of the presidential campaign and amid an intensifying pandemic Trump has downplayed." ...
According to Politico:
HHS compiled the list with input from at least 12 agencies it oversees. The list includes 185 programs that touch on everything from Trump's own initiative to end HIV transmission by the end of the decade to the opioid crisis and research into lung diseases. The list also includes funding for other programs, like $423,000 for universal hearing screenings for newborns in the District of Columbia, housing for people in addiction recovery in Seattle, and services providing nutrition and mental health counseling to elderly New Yorkers.
The administration's decision to target funding for life-saving health programs stems from a September 2 memorandum in which President Donald Trump ordered federal agencies to review "funding to state and local government recipients" that the White House has condemned for not quashing racial justice protests.
Last month, as Common Dreams reported, the Department of Justice designated New York City, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon as "anarchist jurisdictions" that could lose federal grant money amid a pandemic that has taken an enormous toll on state and local budgets.
Besides shameless graft, Trump's central agenda is tormenting the people who didn't vote for him https://t.co/QJdkkErAl3
— Michelle Goldberg (@michelleinbklyn) October 21, 2020
The coronavirus pandemic has greatly increased wealth inequality in the United States, a key issue in the upcoming presidential election. Polls are currently looking good for the Democrats, many of whom have been murmuring about—or even demanding—a new wealth tax. Recent surveys show the idea is overwhelmingly popular with the electorate, with voters in 11 polled states more than three times as likely to support than oppose a candidate backing a tax on the assets of the wealthy.
America’s super-rich (who have seen their fortunes surge since the beginning of lockdown) are getting nervous. Last week CNBC (10/14/20) reported that wealthy families are desperately trying to change ownership status of their assets — passing them down to their rich kids — before year’s end, in case of sweeping Biden tax reforms that could lose them millions.
And corporate media—whose owners are overwhelmingly from the class that would be paying a wealth tax—are returning to throw cold water on the idea, after successfully sidelining the candidates who most enthusiastically promoted taxing the wealthy during the Democratic primaries this year.
The primaries put the notion of a wealth tax on the political table, with a number of high-profile candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, proposing one. While the idea was popular with the public (polls show it was strongly supported, with even half of Republican voters backing it), it was not popular with corporate media pundits, who rejected it as a “bad,” “foolhardy” (CNN, 2/17/19) or “terrible” idea (Washington Examiner, 2/15/20), “bad for workers” (Reason, 1/28/20) and an “administrative nightmare” (Time, 1/30/19).
A CNN opinion piece (11/27/19) warned that it would be just plain “wrong” to claim that a wealth tax is a serious solution, based as it is on “voodoo incantations,” and instead suggested a tax cut to address inequality. Fox News (12/31/19) went even further, attacking the idea as a misguided “fantasy,” before presenting its own dream of any wealth tax being found unconstitutional (which, to be fair, the current Supreme Court might well do—particularly with the addition of Amy Coney Barrett).
But at least the pool of interchangeable think tankers and rent-a-pundits pretended to believe inequality is a real problem that they want to fix. Before the great crash of 2008, corporate media were cheerleaders of inequality, the standard line being that it is nothing to worry about, or even a good thing for society (Extra!, 9–10/07).
The press have now moved one step along, claiming they really do want to solve the inequality issue, only directly addressing it through redistribution won’t work. Thus a CNN op-ed (11/19/19) argued: “Rising income inequality is indeed a problem for economic growth. But taxing wealth could exacerbate the problem, not fix it.” The authors, two staffers at the right-wing Illinois Policy Institute, claimed that seizing assets from “the world’s best allocators of capital” would stifle innovation and inevitably hurt workers.
There has been a limited amount of positive coverage of any potential wealth tax. The New York Times (4/21/20), for instance, claimed a one-off Covid-19 solidarity assessment on the wealthy would “help prove that we are all in this together.” But this was a break from the normal negativity that claimed it would be too hard to implement (New York Times, 11/15/19) or simply unconstitutional and dishonest (New York Times, 1/24/20).
Joe Biden is not proposing any specific wealth tax. The former vice president even began his campaign explicitly reassuring wealthy donors that “nothing would fundamentally change” under his presidency. “I need you very badly,” he told them. Yet even with Sanders and Warren defeated, America’s rich are worrying that a President Biden would be swayed by progressive forces in his party.
As a result, the concept has again become a talking point for the media in recent weeks. And like last time, the tone is overwhelmingly hostile. Thus, a wealth tax simply “won’t work” (Daily Telegraph, 10/6/20), creates “false expectations” (Toronto Sun, 9/22/20) or might cost more to administer than it would bring in (Spectator, 10/8/20). “A wealth tax is not a solution for income inequality,” insists Forbes (9/29/20), a magazine most noted for its glorification of billionaires, claiming it is a “policy driven by spite” against the rich, and would somehow “make everyone—rich and poor—worse off.”
Perhaps CNBC (10/6/20) went with the most galaxy-brained line of attack. Biden’s plans categorize anyone in the top 1.8% of income (making $400,000+ annually) as “wealthy.” But those poor souls earning just $400,000 per year “aren’t exactly living large,” CNBC insisted, finding “experts” willing to claim that that sort of annual income only provided a “relatively middle-class lifestyle” in much of the country. Why, they might only be able to afford three “modest” family vacations per year.
CNBC (9/23/20) also recently sat down with JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon, uncritically parroting his line that any wealth tax would be “extremely complicated” and “almost impossible,” an interview that was picked up and amplified across the media (e.g., The Hill, 9/23/20; New York Post, 9/23/20; MSN, 9/23/20; Forbes, 9/23/20). Wow, who would have thought that a billionaire investment banker would oppose a wealth tax! Under even a modest tax hike like Warren’s, Dimon would stand to lose out on tens of millions of dollars annually. Yet this massive, unmissable conflict of interest was not even presented as a problem in these articles, let alone seen as a reason to dismiss his opinion. Rather, he was presented as a neutral expert offering legitimate criticism, rather than a biased actor with a huge amount of skin in the game. In much the same way as reporting that billionaires don’t like socialism is treated as front-page news (FAIR.org, 2/3/20), the super-wealthy being against wealth taxes is apparently also newsworthy.
Ultimately, a wealth tax as modest as some Democrats are proposing would affect precious few Americans, but still generate trillions of dollars of revenue from people who have largely been increasing their fortunes throughout the pandemic. That so much of the media are so dead set against the idea suggests whose interests they really serve.
Ron Johnson, the senator from Wisconsin who has led the Republican campaign in the Senate of making unfounded claims about Joe Biden’s son Hunter, is facing a host of questions about his own ethics, including whether he personally benefited from a change in tax law that he sought in 2017.
A letter sent by Johnson to the Senate ethics committee in May has revealed the senator began the process of selling a company he partly owned in February 2018, just months after he insisted the Trump administration change a portion of the tax law in a way that ultimately benefited the sale.
The issue has become a focus of the Congressional Integrity Project, a Democratic watchdog group that is seeking to expose allegations of corruption within the Republican ranks. At the center of claims made by the watchdog group are allegations that Johnson may have sought out a change in the Trump administration’s 2017 tax bill to enrich himself personally. ...
In a new report, the Congressional Integrity Project – which does not release the names of its funders – also suggests that Johnson’s adult children have benefited from his public role. [See full article for much greater detail. -js]
Donald Trump maintains a bank account in China where he pursued licensing deals for years, according to a report that could undermine the president’s election campaign claim that he is tough on Beijing. Tax records reviewed by the New York Times showed a previously unreported bank account in China controlled by Trump International Hotels Management. The account paid $188,561 in taxes in China between 2013 and 2015 in connection to potential licensing deals, according the newspaper.
Earlier reporting by the Times showed he paid just $750 in US taxes in 2016 and 2017.
The recent tax records also showed Trump invested at least $192,000 in five companies charged with pursuing business deals in China. Those companies claimed $97,400 in business expenses, including payments as recently as 2018, the Times reported.
The reputation of Rudy Giuliani could be set for a further blow with the release of highly embarrassing footage in Sacha Baron Cohen’s follow-up to Borat. In the film, released on Friday, the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat’s daughter, who is posing as a TV journalist.
Following an obsequious interview for a fake conservative news programme, the pair retreat at her suggestion for a drink to the bedroom of a hotel suite, which is rigged with concealed cameras.
After she removes his microphone, Giuliani, 76, can be seen lying back on the bed, fiddling with his untucked shirt and reaching into his trousers. They are then interrupted by Borat who runs in and says: “She’s 15. She’s too old for you.”
Word of the incident first emerged on 7 July, when Giuliani called New York police to report the intrusion of an unusually dressed man.
“This guy comes running in, wearing a crazy, what I would say was a pink transgender outfit,” Giuliani told the New York Post. “It was a pink bikini, with lace, underneath a translucent mesh top, it looked absurd. He had the beard, bare legs, and wasn’t what I would call distractingly attractive.
“This person comes in yelling and screaming, and I thought this must be a scam or a shakedown, so I reported it to the police. He then ran away,” Giuliani said. The police found no crime had been committed. Giuliani continued: “I only later realised it must have been Sacha Baron Cohen. I thought about all the people he previously fooled and I felt good about myself because he didn’t get me.”
Viewers may be less convinced that Baron Cohen, reprising his role as the bumbling reporter Borat Sagdiyev, and Maria Bakalova, who plays his daughter, Tutar, had no success.
Russia and Iran have obtained some US voting registration information and are attempting to sow unrest in the upcoming election, the government’s national intelligence director said in a rare news conference Wednesday night.
“We have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails, designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump,” said John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence.
The FBI director, Chris Wray, also spoke, saying the US will impose costs on any foreign countries interfering in the 2020 US election. ...
Democrats immediately took issue with Ratcliffe’s emphasis that Iran was sowing disinformation to harm Trump, characterizing the intelligence director as a “partisan hack”. Ratcliffe is a former Republican congressman and Democrats have been critical of his choice to selectively declassify documents to help Trump. ...
The news conference was held as Democratic voters in at least four battleground states, including Florida and Pennsylvania, have received threatening emails, falsely claiming to be from the far-right group Proud Boys, that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
Earlier this month, a storm front swept across the Great Plains of the United States, plowing up a wall of dust that could be seen from space, stretching from eastern Colorado into Nebraska and Kansas. It was a scene straight from the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, when farmers regularly saw soil stripped from their fields and whipped up into choking blizzards of dust.
Better get used to it. According to a new study, dust storms on the Great Plains have become more common and more intense in the past 20 years, because of more frequent droughts in the region and an expansion of croplands. “Our results suggest a tipping point is approaching, where the conditions of the 1930s could return,” says Gannet Haller, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Utah who led the study. ...
The findings, reported on 12 October in Geophysical Research Letters, show that across large parts of the Great Plains, levels of wind-blown dust have doubled over the past 20 years. One clue that agriculture is responsible is that the dust levels tend to peak during spring and fall—planting and harvesting seasons, Hallar notes. Experts have blamed the original Dust Bowl events on a combination of climate and agricultural drivers. Beginning in the 1920s, croplands across the Great Plains expanded massively—thanks in large part to mechanized farming and easy plowing. That was followed by an extended drought during the ’30s that included record-breaking heat waves in 1934 and 1936.
But recent studies are showing how climate change is drying out the region. Greenhouse gases are making heat waves like those in the 1930s far more likely, according to a study published in May in Nature Climate Change. And in an April study in Science, researchers suggested much of the western United States is on the brink of a prolonged megadrought that could outrank anything in more than 1000 years. “We really are at the point where droughts could again be as bad as in the 1930s,” says Kasey Bolles, an expert on the Dust Bowl at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and a co-author on the Science study.
Merkley Unveils Pioneering Bills to Make Financial Institutions 'Stop Bankrolling Climate Catastrophe'
Green groups applauded Sen. Jeff Merkley on Wednesday for introducing a pioneering pair of bills that aim to "protect the long-term health and well-being of the American people and their economy from the catastrophic effects of climate chaos" by preventing banks and international financial institutions from financing fossil fuels. ...
The Protecting America's Economy from the Carbon Bubble Act of 2020 (pdf) "would help safeguard the economy by prohibiting financial companies from making new investments in fossil fuels," according to his office. The Sustainable International Financial Institutions Act of 2020 (pdf) "would elevate that priority to the international stage by ensuring that the United States uses its voice and vote in international financial institutions to divest from fossil fuel investments." ...
According to a report released in March by climate advocacy groups, 35 global banks have collectively poured more than $2.7 trillion into the fossil fuel industry since the Paris climate agreement was finalized in late 2015. The four top spots were all held by U.S. institutions: JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America.
"Sen. Merkley's new divestment bills are exactly the sort of real climate leadership we need from our elected officials and regulators," said David Turnbull of Oil Change International (OCI). "If banks won't stop funding climate devastation, our government must force their hand, and Sen. Merkley's bills would force the action we need."
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
The Olympics - Mine Exclusively
The Olympics - Well
The Olympics - Hully Gully
The Olympics - Secret Agents
The Olympics - Western Movies
The Olympics - The Bounce
The Olympics - Dance by the Light of the Moon
Olympics - I Wanna Dance With The Teacher
The Olympics - Peanut Butter
The Olympics - Big Boy Pete