The Evening Blues - 3-25-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Texas piano player Little Willie Littlefield. Enjoy!
Little Willie Littlefield - K.C. Loving
"Surveillance technologies now available - including the monitoring of virtually all digital information - have advanced to the point where much of the essential apparatus of a police state is already in place."
-- Al Gore
News and Opinion
Glenn Greenwald has an important article worth a full read:
The U.S. Intelligence Community, Flouting Laws, is Increasingly Involving Itself in Domestic Politics
A report declassified last Wednesday by the Department of Homeland Security is raising serious concerns about the possibly illegal involvement by the intelligence community in U.S. domestic political affairs. Entitled “Domestic Violent Extremism Poses Heightened Threat in 2021,” the March 1 Report from the Director of National Intelligence states that it was prepared “in consultation with the Attorney General and Secretary of Homeland Security—and was drafted by the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), and Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with contributions from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA).”
Its primary point is this: “The IC [intelligence community] assesses that domestic violent extremists (DVEs) who are motivated by a range of ideologies and galvanized by recent political and societal events in the United States pose an elevated threat to the Homeland in 2021.” While asserting that “the most lethal” of these threats is posed by “racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists (RMVEs) and militia violent extremists (MVEs),” it makes clear that its target encompasses a wide range of groups from the left (Antifa, animal rights and environmental activists, pro-choice extremists and anarchists: “those who oppose capitalism and all forms of globalization”) to the right (sovereign citizen movements, anti-abortion activists and those deemed motivated by racial or ethnic hatreds).
The U.S. security state apparatus regards the agenda of “domestic violent extremists” as “derived from anti-government or anti-authority sentiment,” which includes “opposition to perceived economic, racial or social hierarchies.” . Anyone they believe is prepared to use violence, intimidation or coercion in pursuit of these causes then becomes a “domestic violent extremist,” subject to a vast array of surveillance, monitoring and other forms of legal restrictions.
It goes without saying that violence of any kind — including that which is politically motivated — is a serious crime under U.S. law, and it is the proper role of the U.S. Government to investigate and prevent it. But there are real and important legal and institutional limits on the authority of the intelligence community to involve itself in domestic law enforcement, or other forms of domestic political activity, that seem threatened here, if not outright violated. In particular, the Report’s acknowledgement that it was compiled by institutions including “the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), with contributions from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)” has alarmed numerous members of the House Intelligence Committee. On Thursday, all ten minority members of that Committee wrote a previously unreported letter to Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines “to raise serious concerns about the production of this document by the Intelligence Community (IC) and to seek clarification of the facts related to its production.” ...
Involvement of the intelligence community in the domestic activities of U.S. citizens is one of the most dangerous breaches of civil liberties and democratic order the U.S. Government can perpetrate. It was after World War II when the CIA, the NSA and other security state agencies that wield immense and unlimited powers in the dark were created in the name of fighting the Cold War. Legal and institutional prohibitions on wielding that massive machinery against the American public were central to the always-dubious claim that this security behemoth that operates completely in the dark was compatible with democracy. As the ACLU noted, “in its 1947 charter, the CIA was prohibited from spying against Americans, in part because President Truman was afraid that the agency would engage in political abuse.” Since then, Truman’s fear has been realized over and over.
The Biden administration is planning to keep U.S. forces in Afghanistan past an agreed-upon May 1 deadline to withdraw, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee said Wednesday to a panel hosted by Foreign Policy.
“It’s a general feeling that May 1 is too soon, just logistically,” Rep. Adam Smith (D–Wash.) claimed, citing conversations with administration officials. “You cannot pull out ten thousand plus troops in any sort of reasonable way in just six weeks.”
Under the terms of the Doha Agreement signed with the Taliban in February 2020, the United States is obligated to pull its forces out of Afghanistan by May 1 this year. Smith said that the Biden administration wants to “negotiate past May 1” in order to explore its options.
“Job one is to try to get back in to talk to the Taliban about at least giving us more time,” he added.
“It is a purely logistical argument,” Smith clarified in response to an audience question, noting that he thinks “the Biden administration is skeptical” that the Taliban or a future Afghan unity government “could be comfortable with our presence” in the long run.
Acute hunger is likely to soar in more than 20 countries in the next few months, the UN has warned. Families in pockets of Yemen and South Sudan are already in the grip of starvation, according to a report on hunger hotspots published by the agency’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and World Food Programme (WFP).
An estimated 34 million people are struggling with emergency levels of acute hunger known as IPC (Integrated food security Phase Classification) 4, meaning they are ‘one step away from starvation’. Acute hunger is being driven by conflict, climate shocks and the Covid pandemic, and, in some places, compounded by storms of desert locusts.
“The magnitude of suffering is alarming,” said FAO director-general Qu Dongyu. “It is incumbent upon all of us to act now and to act fast to save lives, safeguard livelihoods and prevent the worst situation.” Northern Nigeria, Yemen and South Sudan top the list of places facing “catastrophic” levels of acute hunger, the agencies said.
Most of the hotspots identified in the report are in Africa, but some are in other regions, from Afghanistan in Asia, Syria and Lebanon in the Middle East and Haiti in Latin America and the Caribbean.
As the Saudi-led coalition intensified air raids in Yemen despite concerns about exacerbating what United Nations experts already call the world's worst humanitarian crisis, an international nonprofit revealed Wednesday that from 2018 to 2020, children made up nearly a quarter of the war's confirmed civilian casualties.
Warning that millions of children in Yemen remain "at risk of death, injury, starvation, or disease," Save the Children detailed how the war is growing deadlier for young Yemenis. According to the London-based group, over the three-year period, there were 2,341 confirmed child casualties—meaning both injures and deaths—"though the actual number is likely to be much higher." ...
"Yemeni children have been living through a horrific and endless nightmare for six years now," declared Xavier Joubert, Save the Children's Yemen country director. "Children continue to be killed and injured on a near-daily basis. They go to bed hungry, see people starving to death, and miss out on school."
Joubert explained that "every day children risk death or injury if they venture outside and get caught up in the frequent shelling and bombing of places where they should feel safe—homes, schools, hospitals, and marketplaces."
"All parties to the conflict must fully implement a ceasefire as soon as possible," he said. "The ceasefire should be used to work towards a sustainable peace and a political solution to this war—it's the only way to truly end this humanitarian catastrophe."
Save the Children's new figures came as Mwatana for Human Rights released a report on U.S. drone strikes and other attacks on Yemen between January 2017 and January 2019, which killed at least 38 Yemeni civilians, including 13 children.
n the coming months, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, President Joe Biden’s ambassador to the United Nations, will hear from a growing chorus of developing nations about the foundering efforts to distribute the coronavirus vaccine globally. The nations, many of which have not even begun vaccinating their populations, are demanding that the U.S. support proposals to temporarily waive certain patent and intellectual property rights so that generic coronavirus vaccines can be produced.
The proposals have been fiercely opposed by American drugmakers, including Pfizer, a pharmaceutical giant that Thomas-Greenfield’s former consulting firm has recently counted as a client. Thomas-Greenfield and her number two, Jeffrey DeLaurentis, previously worked for the Albright Stonebridge Group, or ASG, a consulting firm founded by former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. The firm, which represents Pfizer, specializes in helping large corporations understand and influence international trade policy, including on intellectual property.
Many leading figures in Biden’s administration, including key White House advisers, State Department leaders, and health care officials have financial stake in or professional ties to vaccine manufacturers, which are now lobbying to prevent policies that would cut into future profits over the vaccine. ASG in particular has unusual amounts of sway in the Biden administration. State Department officials Victoria Nuland, Wendy Sherman, Uzra Zeya, and Molly Montgomery previously worked at ASG, as did Philip Gordon, Vice President Kamala Harris’s national security adviser.
[Other conflicted Bidenites include adviser Anita Dunn, domestic policy adviser Susan Rice, science adviser Eric Lander, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and administrator of Medicare & Medicaid Services Chiquita Brooks-LaSure.
See article for full details. -js]
A recent jump in Michigan Covid cases and hospitalizations is alarming public health officials and raising fear that it could be an early sign of things to come across the rest of the country. Michigan recorded nearly 17,000 new cases last week, which represents a more than 300% increase from the same week last month. Its per-capita rate over the last week is the nation’s fourth highest, while its positivity rate recently hit 9% – the highest mark since mid-January.
The state’s numbers, especially hospitalizations, are a cautionary tale that underscores the need for a speedier vaccine rollout here and nationwide, said Dr Jennifer Nuzzo, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health. “We could very well see an increase of cases in a number of states, and we already are seeing that in Michigan, but if you address the vaccine supply bottleneck then it won’t translate into a huge surge,” she said. “At the end of the day, whether there’s a real surge will depend on vaccinations.”
The state’s latest jump is attributable to the confluence of several developments, experts say: the proliferation of more contagious variants, reopening of schools, Covid fatigue and a loosening of Covid restrictions, among other issues.
Though mortalities remain low, increases in deaths have followed similar jumps in cases and hospitalizations during the state’s previous surges. Hospitalizations surged by 20% between Friday and Monday, which Nuzzo called a “worrisome detail”. Though the number of cases is still important, hospitalization figures are “key” as the vaccination effort races against time.
With Facebook and Amazon leading the charge, Big Tech has surpassed Big Oil and Big Tobacco to become the largest lobbying spender in the U.S. as the increasingly powerful and consolidated industry attempts to use its wealth to fend off growing support for antitrust action among lawmakers and the American public.
According to a new report released Wednesday by consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, Facebook and Amazon spent more money on federal lobbying than any other U.S. corporations during the 2020 election cycle, with Comcast not far behind in third place.
Using campaign finance data from the Center for Responsive Politics, the report shows that Big Tech companies have donated to 94% of members of Congress who serve on House and Senate committees with jurisdiction over the industry.
"Notably, contributions are not skewed too heavily to one side of the aisle," Public Citizen notes. "Democrats, in sum, received $1.7 million in 2020, while Republicans received $1.4 million."
Overall, the group found, tech giants spent $124 million on lobbying and campaign contributions during the 2020 cycle, shattering its previous spending records. "Amazon and Facebook drove most of this growth," Public Citizen points out, with Amazon ramping up spending by 30% and Facebook by 56%. The two companies spent nearly twice as much as Exxon and Philip Morris on lobbying during the 2020 campaign, the analysis finds.
"In this moment of enhanced scrutiny, tech companies are going to spend millions and dial through their Rolodexes looking for officials to stop regulation and legislation needed to protect consumers," said Lisa Gilbert, Public Citizen's executive vice president. "That is simply unacceptable."
In addition to significantly increasing their spending, Facebook, Amazon, Google, and Apple also added dozens of lobbyists to their teams of influence-peddlers in Washington, D.C., according to Public Citizen.
"The four Big Tech companies recruited more lobbyists into their army, increasing its ranks by 40 new lobbyists, from 293 in 2018 to 333 in 2020," the new report notes. "Big Tech's lobbyists are not just numerous, they are also among the most influential in Washington. Among the 10 lobbyists who were the biggest contributors to the 2020 election cycle, half lobby on behalf of at least one of the four Big Tech companies."
Big Tech's growing lobbying operation in the nation's capital is reaching its zenith as industry titans Facebook and Google are attempting to quash antitrust lawsuits led by the U.S. Department of Justice, the Federal Trade Commission, and state attorneys general.
On top of the ongoing legal challenges to tech giants' market dominance, both Democratic and Republican lawmakers expressed support last month for legislative action—including potentially breaking up huge companies—to curtail the power of corporations like Facebook, Google, and Amazon, leaving antitrust advocates hopeful that meaningful change could be on the horizon.
Pandemic Profiteers: How U.S. Billionaires Like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos Saw Wealth Grow by $1.3 Trillion
Amazon delivery drivers across the U.S. who refuse to sign a so-called "consent" form enabling the powerful corporation's artificial intelligence-equipped cameras to monitor their every move and collect their biometric data will lose their jobs at week's end, according to new reporting by labor journalist Lauren Kaori Gurley.
"Amazon may… use certain Technology that processes Biometric Information, including on-board safety camera technology which collects your photograph for the purposes of confirming your identity and connecting you to your driver account," the form reads. "Using your photograph, this Technology, may create Biometric Information, and collect, store, and use Biometric Information from such photographs."
"This Technology tracks vehicle location and movement, including miles driven, speed, acceleration, braking, turns, and following distance... as a condition of delivery packages for Amazon, you consent to the use of Technology," the form adds.
In the U.S. alone, there are roughly 75,000 drivers who work for Amazon, although they aren't officially employed by the tech behemoth but rather by "roughly 800 companies, known as delivery service partners that operate out of Amazon delivery stations," Gurley wrote Tuesday in Motherboard.
And if those workers don't sign the form requiring them to agree to constant tracking by the end of this week, Gurley reported, "they lose their jobs."
"This is not consent," tweeted the Electric Frontier Foundation, an advocacy group defending civil liberties in the digital world. "Amazon drivers should not be forced to submit to biometric surveillance as a condition of keeping their jobs."
Calling the Amazon policy "corporate coercion," the Campaign to Organize Digital Employees, a project led by the Communication Workers of America (CWA), pointed out that "the only choice workers have is to comply with this gross violation of privacy or be unable to pay rent."
In a move that was described by a leading digital rights advocate as "the largest expansion of corporate surveillance in human history," Amazon began last month to install AI-powered, four-lens cameras in its delivery vans, as Common Dreams reported. Progressive critics warned that in addition to violating workers' rights, the intrusive technology would allow Amazon to put "roaming eyes in every neighborhood, shopping center, and intersection in our communities."
While Amazon claims that the cameras will "improve the safety and quality of the delivery experience," some drivers have already been compelled to quit due to a lack of privacy, as Avi Asher-Schapiro reported last week.
According to Gurley, the cameras "are able to sense when a driver yawns, appears distracted, or isn't wearing a seatbelt... and monitor drivers' body and facial movements."
For exactly a year during the pandemic, the United States did not see a single high-profile public mass shooting. But a surge in daily gun violence contributed to an estimated 4,000 additional murders throughout 2020, in what experts warn will probably be the worst single-year increase in murders on record.
There were only two public shootings in 2020 that primarily targeted strangers, were not related to other crimes and killed at least four victims – one standard definition researchers use to classify “mass shootings” – according to two databases that track this kind of gun violence. That’s the lowest annual count of high-profile mass shootings in America in nearly a quarter-century, according to Jillian Peterson, the founder of the Violence Project, which tracks these mass shootings going back to 1966.
At the same time, the number of people murdered in everyday violence last year surged in cities large and small. Early estimates suggest the US may have seen at least 4,000 more murders last year than in 2019, and potentially as many as 5,000 more, according to projections based on FBI data, though complete official statistics will not be available until the fall. The Gun Violence Archive, which tracks shootings in real time using media reports, recorded nearly 4,000 more gun homicides in 2020 compared with 2019, according to founder Mark Bryant.
Joe Biden announced on Wednesday that he is charging Kamala Harris with diplomatic efforts to stem migration at the US-Mexico border, amid a deepening humanitarian challenge there.
The vice-president will collaborate with officials from Mexico and Central America, according to Reuters, taking on similar responsibilities to Biden’s when he responded to an influx of children and families as vice-president under the Obama administration.
“Needless to say, the work will not be easy,” Harris said. “But it is important work.”
Both Biden and Harris were meeting with department heads and immigration advisers, after alarming images circulated earlier this week showing packed border holding cells, where young migrants rested on side-by-side floor mats and turned to mylar blankets for warmth.
US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) encountered nearly 9,500 children who came to the country unaccompanied by a parent or guardian at the south-western border last month, and more than 15,000 are currently in federal custody – nearly doubling the previous record, according to the Washington Post.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus PAC has endorsed Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and co-chair of Sen. Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign, for Congress. Turner’s campaign to replace former Rep. Marcia Fudge, who was recently confirmed as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, has so far gained the most traction among the Democratic candidates in Ohio’s 11th Congressional District. In addition to a number of high-profile endorsements, she raised more than $1 million during the first few months of her campaign.
The endorsement from the CPC PAC comes the year after the group launched its first independent expenditure to support progressive candidates in contested primaries. Before then, the CPC had endorsed in some races but otherwise stayed largely on the sidelines as the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee went all-in for centrist candidates running against progressives. The CPC PAC was the first and biggest group to spend for New York freshman Democratic Rep. Mondaire Jones last cycle and helped push his campaign to victory in a crowded field of better-funded candidates. They also backed Kara Eastman in Nebraska, Beth Doglio in Washington, and Dana Balter in New York, all of whom lost their races. The PAC declined to comment on whether it would launch an independent expenditure for Turner this cycle. ...
Turner is running on a platform that includes a federal $15 minimum wage, Medicare for All, and free college. The support from the CPC PAC comes on the heels of several other high-profile endorsements, including from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., the Service Employees International Union, or SEIU, and the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, which is helping workers at Amazon in their push to unionize and is part of the larger United Food and Commercial Workers union.
Turner has worked closely with members of the CPC and, specifically, members of the Squad. In addition to Ocasio-Cortez, Reps. Ilhan Omar, CPC whip, Rashida Tlaib, CPC vice chair, and Cori Bush, CPC deputy whip, have all endorsed her. Turner is also close to Rep. Ro Khanna, another CPC deputy whip and former vice chair, who endorsed her in December and with whom she co-chaired Sanders’s 2020 campaign.
Looks like crazed weasel Adam Schiff won't get his wish to be the next California AG.
California’s governor has nominated Rob Bonta, a progressive state assemblyman known for pushing criminal justice reform, to be the state’s next attorney general.
Bonta, a Democrat, would replace Xavier Becerra, who was confirmed last week as Joe Biden’s health and human services secretary. Pending likely confirmation by the state’s Democratic legislature, Bonta would hold the job through 2022, when he would have to run for election.
Bonta, 48, would be the state’s first Filipino attorney general and has the backing of a several Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) groups, as well as progressive groups and leaders on criminal and environmental justice.
Top AAPI elected officials had called on Newsom to name Bonta to the job amid reports of rising violence against Asian Americans and last week’s deadly mass shooting in Georgia. California is home to more than 6 million people of Asian descent.
The US has fallen to a new low in a global ranking of political rights and civil liberties, a drop fueled by unequal treatment of minority groups, damaging influence of money in politics, and increased polarization, according to a new report by Freedom House, a democracy watchdog group.
The US earned 83 out of 100 possible points this year in Freedom House’s annual rankings of freedoms around the world, an 11-point drop from its ranking of 94 a decade ago. The US’s new ranking places it on par with countries like Panama, Romania and Croatia and behind countries such as Argentina and Mongolia. It lagged far behind countries like the United Kingdom (93), Chile (93), Costa Rica (91) and Slovakia (90).
“Dropping 11 points is unusual, especially for an established democracy, because they tend to be more stable in our scores,” Sarah Repucci, Freedom House’s vice-president for research and analysis, told the Guardian. “It’s significant for Americans and it’s significant for the world, because the United States is such a prominent, visible democracy, one that is looked to for so many reasons.” ...
The report details the inequities that minority groups, especially Black people and Native Americans face when it comes to the criminal justice system and voting. It also illustrates that public trust in government has been damaged by the way rich Americans can use their money to exert outsize influence on American politics.
And it points out that extreme partisan gerrymandering – the manipulation of electoral district lines to boost one party over the other – has contributed to dramatic polarization in the US, threatening its democratic foundations. Gerrymandering, the report says, “has the most corrosive and radicalizing effect on US politics”.
The world’s biggest 60 banks have provided $3.8tn of financing for fossil fuel companies since the Paris climate deal in 2015, according to a report by a coalition of NGOs.
Despite the Covid-19 pandemic cutting energy use, overall funding remains on an upward trend and the finance provided in 2020 was higher than in 2016 or 2017, a fact the report’s authors and others described as “shocking”
Oil, gas and coal will need to be burned for some years to come. But it has been known since at least 2015 that a significant proportion of existing reserves must remain in the ground if global heating is to remain below 2C, the main Paris target. Financing for new reserves is therefore the “exact opposite” of what is required to tackle the climate crisis, the report’s authors said.
US and Canadian banks make up 13 of the 60 banks analysed, but account for almost half of global fossil fuel financing over the last five years, the report found. JPMorgan Chase provided more finance than any other bank. UK bank Barclays provided the most fossil fuel financing among all European banks and French bank BNP Paribas was the biggest in the EU.
Overall financing dipped by 9% in pandemic-hit 2020, but funding for the 100 fossil fuel companies with the biggest expansion plans actually rose by 10%. Citi was the biggest financier of these 100 companies in 2020.
A commitment to be net zero by 2050 has been made by 17 of the 60 banks, but the report describes the pledges as “dangerously weak, half-baked, or vague”, arguing that action is needed today. Some banks have policies that block finance for coal, the dirtiest fossil fuel, but almost two-thirds of funding is for oil and gas companies.
The storage potential of one of the Earth’s biggest carbon sinks – soils – may have been overestimated, research shows. This could mean ecosystems on land soaking up less of humanity’s emissions than expected, and more rapid global heating. Soils and the plants that grow in them absorb about a third of the carbon emissions that drive the climate crisis, partly limiting the impact of fossil-fuel burning. Rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere can increase plant growth and, until now, it was assumed carbon storage in soils would increase too.
But the study, based on over 100 experiments, found the opposite. When plant growth increases, soil carbon does not. The finding is significant because the amount of organic carbon stored in soils is about three times that in living plants and double that in the atmosphere. Soils can also store carbon for centuries, whereas plants and trees rot quickly after they die.
It is not yet known how big the effect of lower carbon storage in soils might be on the speed of climate change, and experts cautioned that other impacts of the climate emergency such as drought would also affect how well plants and soils store carbon.
The study, published in the journal Nature, analysed more than 100 experiments from across the world in which soils, plants and trees were exposed to higher CO2 levels than in today’s atmosphere. The biomass growing in forests rose by 23% in experiments where the CO2 level used was double pre-industrial atmospheric levels. It is 50% higher today. But the forest soils did not store any more organic carbon at all.
The idiot politician that previously got into hot water for body-slamming a newspaper reporter while on the campaign trail has found a new way to get into trouble with the law.
The Republican governor of Montana has been slapped with a written warning and directed to take an online education course after trapping and killing a black wolf in violation of state regulations. The governor, Greg Gianforte, was elected in November and was formerly a member of US Congress representing the state. The news was first reported by Nate Hegyi in the Mountain West News Bureau of Boise State public radio in Idaho.
Gianforte reportedly trapped the animal on a ranch just outside Yellowstone national park, on property owned by Robert E Smith, a Republican donor and director of Sinclair Broadcasting, the biggest owner of local television stations in the US.
Gianforte had failed to take a required wolf trapping certification course before killing the animal, state wildlife officials said. He has promised to take the course, the public radio report said. ...
John Sullivan, Montana chapter chair for the sportsmen’s group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, told the Boise state public radio Mountain West News Bureau that Gianforte should have known better. “He has been hunting and trapping for a long time and I would be surprised to learn that he didn’t know better than to complete that education,” Sullivan said. “We hope that he apologizes to the citizens of the state for circumventing the process that we all have to go through.”
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Little Willie Littlefield - Rockin´ Chair Mama
Little Willie Littlefield - It's Midnight
Little Willie Littlefield - Hit The Road
Little Willie Littlefield - Drinkin' Hadacol
Little Willie Littlefield - Oh Happy Payday
Little Willie Littlefield - Ruby, Ruby
Little Willie Littlefield - Striking On You Baby
Little Willie Littlefield - Miss K.C.'s Fine
Little Willie Littlefield - Goofy Dust Blues
Little Willie Littlefield - Jim Wilson Boogie
Little Willie Littlefield - Houston