The Evening Blues - 2-23-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features soul singer Joe Simon. Enjoy!
Joe Simon - Farther on Down the Road
"The stupidity of men always invites the insolence of power."
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
News and Opinion
Within hours of the storming of the Capitol on January 6, the FBI began securing thousands of phone and electronic records connected to people at the scene of the rioting — including some related to members of Congress, raising potentially thorny legal questions. Using special emergency powers and other measures, the FBI has collected reams of private cellphone data and communications that go beyond the videos that rioters shared widely on social media, according to two sources with knowledge of the collection effort.
In the hours and days after the Capitol riot, the FBI relied in some cases on emergency orders that do not require court authorization in order to quickly secure actual communications from people who were identified at the crime scene. Investigators have also relied on data “dumps” from cellphone towers in the area to provide a map of who was there, allowing them to trace call records — but not content — from the phones.
The cellphone data includes many records from the members of Congress and staff members who were at the Capitol that day to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory. The FBI is “searching cell towers and phones pinging off cell sites in the area to determine visitors to the Capitol,” a recently retired senior FBI official told The Intercept. The data is also being used to map links between suspects, which include members of Congress, they also said. (Capitol Police are reportedly investigating whether lawmakers helped rioters gain access to the Capitol as several Democrats have alleged they did, though Republican officials deny this.)
The Justice Department has publicly said that its task force includes senior public corruption officials. That involvement “indicates a focus on public officials, i.e. Capitol Police and members of Congress,” the retired FBI official said. In recent years, the FBI has had to tread lightly in seeking any records of members of Congress due to protections under the Constitution’s speech or debate clause, which shields the legislative work of Congress from executive branch interference. The legal minefield grew out of a 2007 corruption case against former Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., when an appeals court ruled that the FBI had improperly seized material from his congressional office.
Protesters across Myanmar have held a general strike, taking to the streets across the country and shutting many businesses, in one of the largest nationwide shows of opposition to the military since it seized power three weeks ago.
Crowds assembled in Yangon, Naypyidaw, Mandalay and elsewhere on Monday, despite an apparent threat from the junta that it would again use deadly violence against demonstrators.
The protests appeared to pass peacefully, though in Naypyidaw reports on social media suggested that 200 people, including many young people, had been detained. If confirmed, this is likely the largest round up of protesters since the coup. Footage showed police chasing protesters on foot, while one man was shoved into the back of a police van.
Activists had called for mass demonstrations on Monday, a protest that has been referred to as the “five twos revolution”, a reference to the date, 22.2.2021. Protesters have compared the date to 8 August 1988 – or 8.8.88 – when pro-democracy demonstrations challenged military rule, but were brutally crushed by the army.
More than 500,000 people have now died from Covid-19 in the US, just over a year after the country detected its first cases of a virus that has wrought almost unprecedented loss. Deaths breached half a million on Monday, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, bringing the total to 500,071 . More than 28 million people have also tested positive for coronavirus in the US.
Both numbers are the worst in the world and the pandemic has thrown a harsh spotlight on the country’s ability to cope with such a disaster, especially during the tumultuous tenure of Donald Trump, whose administration botched the government response.
In a primetime address on Monday night, Joe Biden spoke to the gravity of the milestone.
“As a nation, we can’t accept such a cruel fate,” the president said in a speech, which was followed by a moment of silence and candle lighting ceremony at the White House. “While we’ve been fighting this pandemic for so long, we have to resist becoming numb to the sorrow. We have to resist viewing each life as a statistic.”
After a devastating winter surge in cases, for the first time in months, the average number of daily new coronavirus cases in the US fell below 100,000 on 12 February. Even with the decrease in cases, the US is still experiencing 1,500 to 3,500 deaths a day and public health officials have warned recent progress could easily reverse.
Real-world evidence from the Covid vaccination programmes in England and Scotland show that one dose of vaccine gives high protection against severe disease and admission to hospital – and protects against even mild disease with no symptoms in younger people.
The first real data from the mass vaccination programmes is promising, and although the results do not include evidence that they prevent transmission completely, there is data to show they are stopping some people becoming infected, which should slow the spread of coronavirus.
Three studies came to similarly positive conclusions about the protection offered by the vaccines – one in Scotland and two in England – although they were set up to look at the effects in different groups of people.
In England, the Siren study in healthcare workers under 65 found that one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduced the risk of catching the virus by 70% – and 85% after the second dose. The healthcare workers were all tested for the virus every two weeks, so the study picked up asymptomatic infections as well as those who had symptoms. ...
The data also shows that people who have been vaccinated who catch the infection are much better protected against severe disease, hospitalisation and death.
A group of Republican senators are pressing President Biden’s Justice Department to investigate Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s mismanagement of nursing home policy during the pandemic — and conservative media outlets are excitedly touting those lawmakers’ plans to spotlight the issue at this week’s confirmation hearing for Biden’s attorney general nominee. Cuomo deserves the criticism. However, there is some serious hypocrisy at play here. Amid an outcry about nursing home deaths, these same Republican critics copied and pasted Cuomo’s infamous nursing home immunity law into their own legislation. ...
Early in 2020, a powerful health care industry group that delivered large donations to Cuomo’s political machine drafted legislative language to shield those executives from legal consequences if their cost-cutting, profit-maximizing decisions endangered nursing home residents’ lives. Cuomo slipped that language into New York’s state budget and then did not support repealing it when critics warned that removing a lawsuit deterrent to corporate misbehavior was jeopardizing lives. Instead, his administration withheld data about how many nursing home residents were dying under the immunity regime.
Despite the warnings about the immunity law’s effects in New York — which were later buttressed by a report from New York’s Attorney General — U.S. Senate Republicans lifted New York’s language and dropped it into their own legislation last year. Indeed, as The Daily Poster first reported, those Republican legislative proposals included word-for-word passages from Cuomo’s corporate immunity law. The specific New York legislative passages spliced into the GOP bill were the most egregious ones of all — they were the provisions that took liability shields given to frontline medical workers and expanded them to protect powerful corporate executives making the big decisions.
Five of the Republican senators who co-sponsored those bills — Ted Cruz, John Cornyn, Tom Cotton, Thom Tillis and Marsha Blackburn — are now touting a letter they sent to Senate Democrats demanding a full probe of Cuomo’s nursing home scandal.
Texas has been hit by a disaster of its own making and its Republican office holders expect the rest of the US to pay to clean up the mess. To quote Dana Bash of CNN questioning Michael McCaul, a veteran GOP congressman, on Sunday: “That’s kind of rich, don’t you think?” For all of their bravado and anti-government rhetoric, in the aftermath of calamities like last week’s deep freeze Lone Star Republicans make a habit of passing the plate. Their suffering is ours too.
But when the shoe is on the other foot, they begrudge kindness to others. Said differently, Ted Cruz is merely a grotesque illustration, not an exception. Take a walk down memory lane. In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy hammered New York and New Jersey. As the north-east reeled, Texas Republicans stood back, treating the region as if it were another country. As if the civil war had not ended.
After the turn of the year, Cruz, his fellow senator John Cornyn and 23 of two dozen Texas Republicans in the House gave a thumbs down to Sandy aid. Less reflexively hostile heads prevailed. The relief bill cleared Congress. But the GOP’s Texans had left their mark. ...
But Cruz in particular is nothing if not performative, ever Janus-faced. After Hurricane Harvey slammed Houston in 2017, he offered this explanation for his vote four years earlier: Sandy relief had become “a $50bn bill that was filled with unrelated pork”. Cruz also intoned: “What I said then and still believe now is that it’s not right for politicians to exploit a disaster when people are hurting to pay for their own political wishlist.”
Other than possibly Cruz’s long-suffering wife, it is unclear whether anyone believed Flyin’ Ted even then.
Hopes that the US will finally increase the federal minimum wage for the first time in nearly 12 years face a seemingly unlikely opponent: a Democrat senator from one of the poorest states in the union. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the state’s former governor and the Democrats’ most conservative senator, has long opposed his party’s progressive wing and is on record saying he does not support increasing the minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour, the first increase since 2009. “I’m supportive of basically having something that’s responsible and reasonable,” he told the Hill. He has advocated for a rise to $11.
None of this has found favor with some low-wage workers in a state where an estimated 278,734 West Virginians lived in poverty in 2019, 16% of the population and the sixth highest poverty rate in the US.
[Music to read by. -js]
Last Thursday Manchin reaffirmed his stance during a virtual meeting with members of the West Virginia Poor People’s Campaign (WVPPC), a group pushing for an increased minimum wage and other policy changes that would benefit the working class. That meeting was closed to the media but at an online press conference immediately afterward, participants said Manchin refused to budge. “He was kind of copping out,” said WVPPC member Brianna Griffith, a restaurant worker and whitewater rafting guide who, due to exemptions for tipped workers, only makes $2.62 an hour. ...
Despite Manchin’s insistence on an $11 minimum wage, according to MIT’s living wage calculator, even a $15 minimum wage would only provide a living wage for single West Virginians without children. For a West Virginia family with two working parents and two children, both parents would need to be making at least $20.14 an hour to make ends meet.
The Rev Dr William Barber, co-chair of the national Poor People’s Campaign, was in last week’s meeting and said Manchin agreed the current $7.25 minimum wage was “not enough”. But Barber said he was “amazed” Manchin could hear from people like Griffith and still oppose increasing the minimum wage to $15. “What he is suggesting would just further keep people in poverty and hurting,” he said.
Neera Tanden, president of the left-leaning Center for American Progress, seemed unlikely to be confirmed as budget director in the Biden administration after Susan Collins and Mitt Romney, two moderate Republican senators, said they would not vote in her favour.
In a statement on Monday, Collins said Tanden was unfit to run the Office of Management and Budget, which plays a powerful role in overseeing federal finances and regulation. “Neera Tanden has neither the experience nor the temperament to lead this critical agency,” the Maine senator said. ...
With the Senate split 50-50, Manchin’s defection meant the administration already needed to persuade at least one moderate Republican to come on board. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, a possible vote for Tanden, has not yet indicated her intention. The White House is on tenterhooks with its efforts to fill cabinet posts.
Connecticut lawmakers are gearing up for their second attempt at passing a bill that would make prison phone and video calls free for incarcerated people and their loved ones.
A similar bill, introduced by state Rep. Josh Elliott, a progressive elected in 2016, and drafted by Worth Rises, a national nonprofit focused on ending the influence of commercial interests in the criminal justice system, advanced in 2019 and passed out of the state’s House Judiciary Committee. But around the same time, Securus Technologies, the national prison telecommunications corporation that Connecticut has contracted with since 2012, hired two lobbyists on a $40,000 retainer to fight the bill. Under direction from its parent company, Platinum Equity, Securus eventually backed off, but with two weeks left in the session and stonewalling from the state’s Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont, it was too late.
Since that battle, Connecticut now boasts a new notorious title: It is now the most expensive state in the country for prison phone calls, after Arkansas renegotiated its rates. A 15-minute phone call between an incarcerated person in Connecticut and a family member costs nearly $5, at $0.21-$0.325 per minute. Rhode Island, its next-door neighbor for example, charges $0.029 per minute.
Advocates are feeling optimistic they have a better shot this time around and can make Connecticut the first state in the nation to eliminate the charges.
“There are very specific things that held up this bill in the past,” said Elliott, pointing to Securus’s lobbying in 2019, which required advocates to scramble at the end of the session. “That meant that we were chasing our tail a bit until Securus formally and publicly backed out of lobbying against our bill, recognizing what it looks like to be a contractor with the state while lobbying for their interests,” he said.
Martin Gugino, the 75-year-old protester who was pushed to the ground by officers during a demonstration against police brutality and racial injustice last year, filed a lawsuit on Monday against the city, its mayor and other officials. ...
Erie County District Attorney John Flynn announced last week that a grand jury voted to dismiss a case against police officers Robert McCabe and Aaron Torgalski over the incident. ... The lawsuit, filed Monday in U.S. District Court, names the city of Buffalo, Mayor Byron Brown (D), McCabe, Torgalski, police officer John Losi, Buffalo Police Commissioner Byron Lockwood and Deputy Buffalo Police Commissioner Joseph Gramaglia.
The lawsuit slams a curfew that police were seeking to enforce the day of the incident was “unconstitutional and draconian” and “selectively enforced against peaceful protesters.” It also claims that police used “unlawful and unnecessary force” and that defendants violated Gugino’s constitutional rights, including his rights to the freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly.
Police officers in Aurora, Colorado, did not have a legal basis to stop, frisk and use a chokehold on Elijah McClain, a 23-year-old black man who died after being restrained by officers and paramedics in the Denver suburb in August 2019, an independent investigation has found.
According to a report published on Monday, “body worn camera audio, limited video and … interviews with the officers tell two contrasting stories. The officers’ statements on the scene and in subsequent recorded interviews suggest a violent and relentless struggle.” The report added: “The limited video, and the audio from the body worn cameras, reveal Mr McClain surrounded by officers, all larger than he, crying out in pain, apologizing, explaining himself and pleading with the officers.” ...
He was held down for 15 minutes, then given 500mg of ketamine, a sedative. He suffered cardiac arrest and was declared brain dead on 27 August. He died three days later. The report released on Monday found that paramedics failed to properly examine McClain before injecting him with a dose based on a “grossly inaccurate” estimation of his weight.
Body camera footage showed officer Nathan Woodyard making first contact with McClain, telling him, “I have a right to stop you because you’re being suspicious.” Video showed Woodyear grabbing McClain within 10 seconds of exiting his patrol car. ...
In a presentation of the report, Jonathan Smith, the executive director of the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs who led the investigation, said under case law, officers must have “reasonable, objective grounds” to justify an investigatory stop. Their reasoning – that he was acting suspicious by wearing a mask and waving his arms, and that he was in an area with a high crime rate – did not hold water, first in that it was not an area of high crime but also in that wearing a mask is not enough be linked to criminal activity.
Hey, this is a step forward. At least they are not blaming russians.
Get-out-the-vote efforts hampered by the coronavirus pandemic and an 11th-hour voter registration surge for well-funded Republicans thwarted ambitions of a blue wave in Texas during the 2020 election, according to a new postmortem that state Democrats shared with the Guardian. “The majority of Texans, if they were in the ballot box, would vote for Democrats. The problem is that Republicans have a higher likelihood of turning out,” said Hudson Cavanagh, the Texas Democratic party’s data science director who authored the post-election report.
Texas generated outsized buzz last year, as a spike in early voting made much of the nation wonder whether its 38 electoral college votes were finally up for grabs. Yet former president Donald Trump still triumphed by more than a five-point margin – a much closer presidential contest than any other in recent years, but one that reinforced Republicans as the state’s dominant party.
Now, Democrats are blaming last fall’s defeat mostly on programmatic difficulties, which allowed Republicans to best them in get-out-the-vote operations. “Texas is still the next frontier,” said Abhi Rahman, the communications director for Texas Democrats. ...
Amid the public health crisis, Texas Democrats decided against knocking on doors for face-to-face voter engagement, because “even one life lost is too many”, Cavanagh said. Republicans, on the other hand, connected with eligible voters in-person, a clear advantage in one of the few states where residents still cannot register to vote online. In the last months leading up to the election, a gargantuan push by Republicans to register new voters wiped out the gradual advantage Democrats had been honing for years, especially given that almost all of those new Republican registrations turned into net votes.
'No Safe Amount': Environmentalists Sound Alarm Over Texas Refineries' Release of Hundreds of Thousands of Pounds of Pollutants During Storm
Texas oil refineries released hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollutants including benzene, carbon monoxide, hydrogen sulfide, and sulfur dioxide into the air as they scrambled to shut down during last week's deadly winter storm, Reuters reported Sunday.
Winter storm Uri, which killed dozens of people and cut off power to over four million Texans at its peak, also disrupted supplies needed to keep the state's refineries and petrochemical plants operating. As they shut down, refineries flared—or burned off—gases in order to prevent damage to their processing units.
According to the Texas Commission on Environment Quality, the five largest refiners emitted nearly 337,000 pounds of pollutants in this manner.
ExxonMobil's Baytown Olefins plant in Baytown released 68,000 tons of carbon monoxide and nearly a ton of benzene in what it called a "safe utilization of the flare system."
Critics noted, however, that benzene is harmful to bone marrow, red blood cells, and the immune system.
"There is no safe amount of benzene for human exposure," Sharon Wilson, a researcher at the advocacy group Earthworks, told Reuters.
Motiva's Port Arthur refinery released 118,100 pounds of pollutants into the air between February 15 and February 18. This was triple the amount of excess emissions the plant reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for the entire year of 2019.
Valero's refinery in Port Arthur flared 78,000 pounds of pollutants over 24 hours beginning February 15, while Marathon Petroleum's Galveston Bay refinery released 14,255 pounds in less than five hours that same day.
Hilton Kelly, who lives in Port Arthur, told Reuters that there were "six or seven flares going at one time."
Wilson said that the flaring "could have been prevented" by winterizing the refineries.
"We need someone in the Texas legislature to file a bill requiring the oil and gas industry to thoroughly winterize all their equipment," Wilson told Earther. "The bill probably won't pass in Texas, but that will create some more scrutiny about it."
Earther reports that between February 11 and February 18, there were 174 so-called "emissions events" from fossil fuel facilities in Texas, compared to between 37 and 46 such events in weeks before the storm.
In addition to the previously mentioned pollutants, chemicals released from Texas facilities include over 6,500 pounds of the carcinogen isoprene from a Shell plant in Deer Park near Houston, as well as an indeterminate amount of methane, which is 84 times more harmful to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide over the short term.
Wilson told Earther that "in Texas we don't count methane" in pollution reports.
The release of large amounts of dangerous pollutants during Uri stands in stark contrast with claims by Texas Gov. Greg Abbott that alternative energy sources such as solar and wind are responsible for Uri's deadly power outages and that the Green New Deal would be a "deadly deal" for the United States.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Joe Simon - Power of Love
Joe Simon - Your Time To Cry
Joe Simon - Nine Pound Steel
Joe Simon - Trouble In My Home
Joe Simon - Let's Do It Over
Joe Simon - I Got A Whole Lot Of Lovin'
Joe Simon - Bring It On Home To Me
Joe Simon - Yours Love
Joe Simon - My Adorable One
Joe Simon - The Chokin' Kind
Joe Simon - It's All Over