The Evening Blues - 4-21-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Texas bluesman Lightnin' Hopkins. Enjoy!
Lightnin' Hopkins - I'll Be Gone
"The US is a gold-flecked garbage heap slowly rolling towards the ocean. On fire."
-- Ian Welsh
News and Opinion
Ian Welsh nails it. Here are some highlights:
Virtually all the relief money has flowed to the top, not the bottom. Landlords and tenants are in crisis. Unemployment is going over 30% and in many places higher. A vast swathe of American small business will be destroyed, and is unlikely to recover in a generation. Firms which borrowed money to do stock buy backs, or to give money to their private equity purchasers are slopping at the trough, but many of the actual businesses on the ground (like Neiman Marcus) will go under.
PPE can’t be found for hospital workers or logistics worker. Important pieces of the logistics hub like meat packing plants are shutting down. Warehouse workers are protesting, truckers are scared, etc….
America is unable to make or procure an adequate number of masks or prioritize who gets them (though, really, everyone should be.) The ventilators made by GM are inadequate, because Trump wanted to keep the price down.
Hospitals not only don’t have enough PPE, they’re going bankrupt because they haven’t been given enough money. ...
Failing state. Cannot actually do really basic things. ...
It’s impossible to keep up with this, but the bottom line is that America is broken. You’ve offshored too much production capacity, your elites are incompetent, out of touch, corrupt and trained to make their money by hurting other people. Your population refuses to vote for anyone who do the right thing, but keeps choosing (with the aid of the media, yes) people who are evil and so impaired a sensible person would be aghast at the thought of even hiring them to walk their dog or babysit their kids (tell me that you would tolerate either Biden or Trump doing either job. But those are the people you want to be the most important person in the country.) ...
America is a failing state. It can’t even handle problems where the solution is well-defined. It can’t resist turning every crisis into an opportunity to make its elites richer. Its population prefers incompetent and depraved leaders who have spent their entire lives demonstrating contempt for the people who vote for them.
More than 7 in 10 voters fear losing freedoms due to the coronavirus pandemic, though exposure to the virus topped concerns overall, according to a Hill-HarrisX poll released Monday.
Eighty-three percent of registered voters in the April 6-7 survey said they are worried about being exposed to the coronavirus, while 74 percent said they are concerned about losing freedoms.
Seventy-three percent said they fear having to go to the hospital and 48 percent of voters said they are concerned about losing their job.
Thirty-five percent said they are concerned about having to re-locate due to pandemic.
The Pentagon will request billions of dollars in the next version of the stimulus package from Congress to assist the defense industry during the economic slump caused by the coronavirus outbreak, the Pentagon's top weapons buyer said on Monday.
The pandemic is affecting defense companies in the Pentagon's aviation supply chain, as well as those in the shipbuilding industry and small space launch companies, the Pentagon official, Ellen Lord, said. She added some businesses have been forced to close and then reopen facilities to sanitate them following reports of infections.
In an effort to provide financial support to defense contractors, such as the smaller suppliers of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co, the Pentagon has taken several measures including increasing interim payments, known as progress payments, on contracts and paying labor costs when healthy workers can't get to job sites.
Former presidents, politicians and newspaper editorial boards have lined up to denounce the “moronic” and “anti-democratic” behaviour of Brazil’s far-right leader after he hit the streets to egg on protesters demanding a return to military dictatorship. As the number of deaths caused by Covid-19 rose to nearly 2,500 on Sunday, Jair Bolsonaro left his presidential palace in Brazil’s capital, Brasília, to fraternize with flag-waving radicals.
Among the demands their banners listed were an end to the social distancing measures opposed by Bolsonaro, the closure of Brazil’s congress and supreme court, and a re-run of a dictatorship-era decree used by military rulers in the late 1960s to suffocate their political opponents.
At one point – snubbing social distancing rules for the umpteenth time since the coronavirus crisis began – Brazil’s paratrooper-turned-president clambered onto a truck to address the hundreds-strong assembly.
“The era of roguery is over. Now it’s the people who are in power,” Bolsonaro proclaimed outside the Brazilian army headquarters, coughing repeatedly as he spoke. “Everyone in Brazil must understand that they must yield to the will of the Brazilian people.”
Bolsonaro’s outing – which some suspect was a deliberate provocation designed to distract from the rising Covid-19 death toll – sparked immediate censure. ...
Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, president from 2003 to 2010, tweeted: “The same constitution that allows a president to be democratically elected also contains devices to stop them leading the country to the destruction of democracy and a genocide of the population.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the only Democrat in Congress to oppose the previous multi-trillion-dollar coronavirus stimulus package, said during a conference call with progressive leaders Monday that communities across the U.S. cannot afford another incremental relief bill that delivers crumbs for the vulnerable and massive bailouts for big businesses.
"Incrementalism is not helpful in this moment," said Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat. "It's not helpful. For people to say: 'Oh, well, we got something, so we might as well support it. You know, we got a nickel, a dime in a trillion-dollar bill so a nickel is more than nothing, so we should support it' is unacceptable... It's like putting a Band-Aid on an enormous wound."
As the legislation that Congress passed last month fails to deliver adequate relief to workers, the unemployed, and small businesses, progressive lawmakers and outside advocacy groups are pushing for the inclusion of a slate of priorities in the next major stimulus bill, including $2,000 monthly recurring payments and opening Medicare to the unemployed and uninsured.
But the Democratic leadership is at the moment focused on negotiating interim legislation that would provide additional funding for a flawed small business loan program and hospitals while leaving out money for states and cities, hazard pay for frontline workers, and other progressive demands.
Ocasio-Cortez said during the conference call Monday that based on what she has read of the interim bill in press reports, she is leaning toward opposing the measure. The New York Democrat and other lawmakers on the call stressed that they have yet to see the full text of the bill, and that negotiations on the measure are taking place between Democratic leaders and the Trump administration behind closed doors.
Katie Porter Pushed to Help Oversee Covid-19 Bailout Fund, But Pelosi Picks Friend With Corporate Ties for the Job Instead
Rep. Katie Porter, a freshman California Democrat and consumer finance expert who quickly made a name for herself in Washington with viral grillings of corporate big-wigs, actively lobbied for a seat on the new congressional committee tasked with overseeing the Trump administration's handling of a multi-trillion-dollar coronavirus bailout fund.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has instead decided to appoint her friend Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.), a freshman with ties to corporations that will likely receive taxpayer bailout money, to fill the role—despite her reported lack of interest in the job.
As The American Prospect's David Dayen wrote Saturday after Pelosi announced her selection for the spot on the Congressional Oversight Commission, Shalala—unlike Porter—"has no expertise in the financial industry or the Fed."
"The two committees that would prepare you for this position are Financial Services and Oversight (Porter sits on both)," Dayen noted. "Shalala sits on Education and Labor and Rules. She's on the early childhood education subcommittee, so if that ever comes up in discussing the Fed's corporate bond or high-yield ETF purchases we're in good shape."
"These are deliberately complex programs that require for oversight someone with a passing familiarity with the financial system and corporate America," added Dayen, who said Shalala's appointment "makes a mockery" of the oversight panel.
Pelosi’s appt of Donna Shalala to the Corona oversight panel is mind-bogglingly outrageous. She has millions of dollars of stock in companies that will benefit from no-questions-asked, no-strings-attached Fed support. @ddayen is excellent here:https://t.co/Rqh2hI8Ext
— Jesse Eisinger (@eisingerj) April 19, 2020
Maryland has obtained 500,000 tests from South Korea following weeks of negotiations, Larry Hogan, the state’s Republican governor, said on Monday, in an announcement that raised questions about governors circumventing the federal government to obtain medical equipment.
Hogan confirmed on Monday that the state has obtained the tests from LabGenomics. Speaking in Annapolis alongside Yumi Hogan, Maryland’s first lady, the governor said a Korean Air passenger plane arrived at BWI airport on Saturday carrying the tests.
Hogan said insufficient testing remained “the most serious obstacle to safely reopening our states” and celebrated the “exponential, game-changing step forward” that Maryland is taking. Maryland has already conducted more than 71,000 tests, so this acquisition represents a substantial increase in its capacity to identify new cases of coronavirus.
Called “Operation Enduring Friendship,” the effort was launched on 28 March. First lady Hogan, who is originally from South Korea, apparently played an integral role in negotiations. ... Hogan said: “When I asked my wife, Yumi, to join me on a call with Korea’s ambassador to the United States, we spoke of the special relationship between Maryland and the Republic of Korea, and we made a personal plea, in Korean, asking for their assistance.”
The governor added that he would be releasing his plan to reopen the state later this week, and he emphasized these additional tests will play a vital role in safely restarting the economy. The operation was done in secret, a stark go-around of Trump, who has contradicted his own remarks on states’ dependency on the federal government to improve national testing deficits.
It's like the plot of a spy novel: a group of officials on a covert mission for needed supplies racing against time and the attention of the federal government use disguised trucks to ship equipment across state lines and narrowly escape law enforcement asking for papers.
Instead of being a chapter in a John le Carré novel, however, this was what happened to Springfield, Massachusetts Baystate Medical Center chief physician executive Dr. Andrew Artenstein, who wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine on Friday of his efforts to obtain needed personal protective equipment (PPE) for his hospital.
"This experience might have made for an entertaining tale at a cocktail party, had the success of our mission not been so critical," Artenstein wrote.
When the New England Journal of Medicine is suggesting the White House is running a PPE blockade, around which governors and hospitals have to navigate like blockade runners, you know the federal covid response has entered a new phase of political sadism. https://t.co/gjYne5O3ke
— David Wallace-Wells (@dwallacewells) April 19, 2020
President Donald Trump's approach to PPE distribution has come under criticism as frontline healthcare workers continue to reuse masks and wear trash bags as solutions to the supply crisis. As Common Dreams reported, the White House has also rerouted the supplies to private companies, spurring bidding wars between states for the equipment.
On Monday, the Guardian in an article on the crisis explained that efforts by hospitals to close the gap in funding and access to PPE have led the facilities to lean on wealthy donors rather than the government.
"I don't think it's inappropriate for them to turn to other sources, but it's just tragic that's what they've had to resort to because our federal government has failed so dramatically," said Public Citizen health research group director Dr. Michael Carome.
The black market presents its own problems, as Artenstein explained in the New England Journal of Medicine. The doctor described the process of finding a supplier in China with the needed PPE as arduous and complicated, requiring a cloak and dagger approach:
Two semi-trailer trucks, cleverly marked as food-service vehicles, met us at the warehouse. When fully loaded, the trucks would take two distinct routes back to Massachusetts to minimize the chances that their contents would be detained or redirected.
Hours before pickup, the team found that only a quarter of what they had been promised was available. The hospital nevertheless moved forward with the purchase.
That's when things got complicated, wrote Artenstein, as federal agents arrived on the scene:
Before we could send the funds by wire transfer, two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents arrived, showed their badges, and started questioning me. No, this shipment was not headed for resale or the black market. The agents checked my credentials, and I tried to convince them that the shipment of PPE was bound for hospitals. After receiving my assurances and hearing about our health system's urgent needs, the agents let the boxes of equipment be released and loaded into the trucks. But I was soon shocked to learn that the Department of Homeland Security was still considering redirecting our PPE. Only some quick calls leading to intervention by our congressional representative prevented its seizure. I remained nervous and worried on the long drive back, feelings that did not abate until midnight, when I received the call that the PPE shipment was secured at our warehouse.
The story was "a snapshot of a system in breakdown," tweeted author Stephen Marche.
For New York magazine writer David Wallace-Wells, the normalization of the black market for PPE in the U.S. was a bleak, clarifying moment. Artenstein's cavalier attitude to what Baystate had to do to obtain PPE is itself an indictment of the system, Wallace-Wells wrote.
"What is most horrifying about his account is that this experience was not all that surprising to him—he expected interference from federal officials, and did everything he could (including staging the shipment in food-service trucks to avoid detection) to get around that interference," wrote Wallace-Wells.
This video of a nurse who is on the frontlines of this pandemic being told to “go to China” has gotta be the most insane thing I’ve seen on Twitter dot com in the 11 years I’ve been on this platform. And I used to report ISIS accounts for a living.pic.twitter.com/5E4Hi6P7DR
— Mari Manoogian (@MariManoogian) April 20, 2020
Nearly 100 American transit workers have died from the coronavirus as basic measures to keep employees safe have lagged in cities across the United States, a Guardian US investigation has found.
Even after the death of a public bus driver in Detroit put a spotlight on the risks that transit workers face, transit agencies in many cities have been slow to provide simple protections, like face masks or paid sick leave.
At least 94 transit workers have succumbed to coronavirus, according to two national transit unions, New York City transit officials, and workers in New Orleans. This number includes many kinds of workers who keep transit systems running, from mechanics and maintenance workers to bus and subway operators. The number of all transit workers who have died of coronavirus across the US is likely higher.
The New York City area has seen the majority of American transit worker deaths, with 68 fatalities among employees of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority as of Friday afternoon. Nearly 2,500 MTA transit employees had tested positive, and more than 4,000 were in quarantine, a spokesman said.
At least 24 more transit union members have died in other cities, according to two major transit unions. Bus drivers have died from coronavirus in Boston; Chicago; St Louis; Detroit; Seattle; Newark and Dover, New Jersey; Richmond, Virginia; and Washington DC, among others. In New Orleans, city bus drivers said they had lost three colleagues to coronavirus, only one of them a union member.
The city of Milwaukee has identified seven positive coronavirus cases linked to in-person voting on April 7, according to a city health official.
Six people who voted in person in Milwaukee tested positive, as did one poll worker, Health Commissioner Jeanette Kowalik told The Intercept. Tuesday marks the two-week incubation period since the election. The city’s health department is still missing a significant amount of data from ongoing investigations into the spread of the virus following the election, she said, but they expect a more complete picture by Friday.
“Right now we have identified six cases that were tied to in-person voting. And one election worker was also positive,” Kowalik said. “There are a lot of missing data through the investigations and contact tracing, so we’re waiting for 70 percent of the fields to be populated.”
The election-linked infections were identified through the Wisconsin Electronic Disease Surveillance System, an existing statewide program for reporting communicable diseases, and a version of which exists in every state. After the election, state officials added a field to the system, which is used by health officials and includes a voluntary questionnaire for people with illnesses, to ask whether respondents had either worked or voted in person on Election Day, where they worked or voted, when they developed symptoms, and if they had gotten positive test results. “That would be a flag for us, so that’s how we found out that there’s seven,” Kowalik said.
An emerging shortage of carbon dioxide gas (CO2) caused by the coronavirus pandemic may affect food supply chains and drinking water, a Washington state emergency planning document has revealed. The document, a Covid-19 situation report produced by the State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC), contains a warning from the state’s office of drinking water (ODW) about difficulties in obtaining CO2, which is essential for the process of water treatment.
The document says that the ODW is “still responding to [that day’s] notification of a national shortage of CO2”. It continues: “Several [water plants] had received initial notification from their vendors that their supply would be restricted to 33% of normal.” ...
Asked to clarify the nature of this problem, ODW director Mike Means said in an email that his agency had first learned of potential problems when Seattle public utilities were “contacted by their vendor Airgas who supplied a copy of a Force Majeure notice”, warning them that their CO2 order would be reduced due to pandemic-related shortages.
Force majeure is a contractual defense that allows parties to escape liability for contracts in the case of events – such as a pandemic – that could not be reasonably foreseen.
In this case, Means wrote, “Airgas informed in their notice that they would only be able to do 80% of their normal service but subsequent discussions said to expect more like 33%”. ...
The main reason for national shortages, according to the CEO of the Compressed Gas Association (CGA), Rich Gottwald, is a ramping down of ethanol production. “Back in the summertime, the [Trump] administration exempted some gasoline manufacturers from using ethanol. Then we had Russia and Saudi Arabia flooding the market with cheap gasoline. All of that led to an oversupply of ethanol,” Gottwald said. ... This led to plant closures, including among the 50 specialized plants that collect CO2 for the food and beverage market.
The US Environmental Protection Agency is due in federal court on Tuesday to answer allegations that it broke the law to support a Monsanto system that has triggered “widespread” crop damage over the last few summers and continues to threaten farms across the country. As farmers prepare to plant a new season of key American food crops, farmer and consumer groups are asking the ninth circuit court of appeals in San Francisco to review and overturn the EPA’s approval of a Monsanto herbicide made with a chemical called dicamba.
The allegations are from the National Family Farm Coalition, which represents tens of thousands of farmers across the US, and three non-profit consumer and environmental groups. They have been granted an expedited review of their legal petition and hope for a ruling that would block use of the herbicide this summer. ...
Farmers have reported dicamba damage in both organic and conventional crops, including non-GMO soybeans, wheat, grapes, melons, vegetables and tobacco. A Missouri peach farmer won a $265m verdict in February against Monsanto and German chemical giant BASF after accusing the companies of creating a “defective” crop system that damaged 30,000 peach trees.
The Guardian reported last month that internal Monsanto documents obtained through the peach farmer litigation revealed that Monsanto predicted its dicamba crop system would lead to thousands of damage claims from US farmers but pushed ahead anyway, trying to downplay the risks to the EPA. ...
The groups cite government documents they say show that the EPA itself has downplayed or ignored warnings from state agricultural officials and farmer pleas for protection from dicamba drift. Instead the agency has worked closely with Monsanto to keep the company’s dicamba herbicide, called XtendiMax, on the market, they say.
Documents filed in court show Monsanto met multiple times with EPA officials about the concerns, even editing EPA language about certain steps Monsanto should take in communications with retailers. In an October 2017 email, an EPA official forwarded a Monsanto official comments from the agency regarding the company’s product label, writing: “Like I said, no surprises.”
While the EPA worked with Monsanto, the records show the agency was well aware of the extent of crop damage being reported to multiple states.
US oil prices turned negative for the first time in history on Monday amid the deepest fall in demand in 25 years. A flood of unwanted oil in the market caused the West Texas Intermediate (WTI), the benchmark price for US oil, to plummet to almost –$40 a barrel after the fastest plunge in history. That meant producers were paying buyers to take oil off their hands. ...
In short: oil producers are paying buyers to take the barrels of oil off their hands because storage facilities are full to the brim. At the market’s lowest point on Monday, an oil company might have paid about $40 for every barrel of oil someone was willing to take. A buyer would need to factor in the cost of transporting oil from the well to a shipping port, or a storage facility, where it may need to be held for up to six months, at significant cost. They would also need to bet that oil prices will rise later this year to make a return on the “investment”. No oil company wants to “sell” their crude at a loss, so many producers are likely to shut their wells until the market recovers. ...
The negative US oil price referred specifically to the price for crude delivered in May, the month in which oil demand is expected to be lowest and supplies are expected to be highest. From Tuesday, oil traders will begin trading barrels for delivery in June in earnest, and these are expected to fetch far higher prices. A meaningful recovery of oil market prices will depend on how quickly demand for transport fuels increases – a speedy end to lockdown would accelerate a market price recovery, but a slow emergence from the Covid-19 crisis could mean further financial pain for oil producers until 2021.
The US government is accelerating controversial regulatory rollbacks to speed up production at meat plants, as companies express growing alarm at the impact of Covid-19 on their operations. ...
Now it has emerged that as a wave of plants announce closures, US meat plants are being granted permission to increase the speed of their production lines. This comes despite warnings that the waivers for higher speeds on slaughter and processing lines will compromise food safety.
The latest line speed increases, announced by the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) mean 11 poultry plants have been given waivers to operate higher line speeds in the past fortnight. A number of beef and pork plants have also been given waivers, including a beef plant in Kansas in late March. The move will allow the additional chicken factories to slaughter as many as 175 birds a minute – the equivalent of 3 per second.
A union representing federal food safety inspectors has said faster lines will make it harder to catch “pathology that shouldn’t be going out to the consumers”.
“There is no way that food safety is not compromised when the sole trained government inspector on the slaughter line in a chicken plant is expected to examine three birds every second,” said Tony Corbo, senior government affairs representative at Food & Water Watch. “The US government has stepped on the accelerator to grant these waivers while everyone is concentrating on the Covid-19 epidemic.”
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Lightnin' Hopkins - Worried Life Blues
Lightnin' Hopkins - Honey Honey Blues
Lightnin' Hopkins - Whiskey Headed Woman
Lightnin' Hopkins - That Mean Old Twister
Lightnin Hopkins - You're Gonna Miss Me When I'm Gone
Lightnin Hopkins - Mary Lou
Lightnin' Hopkins, Big Joe Williams - You Steal My Chickens, You Can't Make Em Lay
Lightnin' Hopkins - Watch My Fingers
Barbara Dane & Lightnin' Hopkins - I'm Going Back, Baby (Back Behind The Sun)
Lightnin' Hopkins - Mojo Hand