The Evening Blues - 5-10-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features soul singer O.V.Wright. Enjoy!
O.V.Wright - You're Gonna Make Me Cry
“The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
News and Opinion
Continuing his world tour doling out righteous lectures to the world, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Thursday proclaimed — in a sermon you have to hear to believe — that few things are more sacred in a democracy than “independent journalism.” Speaking to Radio Free Europe, Blinken paid homage to "World Press Freedom Day”; claimed that “the United States stands strongly with independent journalism”; explained that "the foundation of any democratic system” entails "holding leaders accountable” and “informing citizens"; and warned that “countries that deny freedom of the press are countries that don't have a lot of confidence in themselves or in their systems.”
The rhetorical cherry on top of that cake came when he posed this question: "What is to be afraid of in informing the people and holding leaders accountable?” The Secretary of State then issued this vow: “Everywhere journalism and freedom of the press is challenged, we will stand with journalists and with that freedom.” Since I know that I would be extremely skeptical if someone told me that those words had just come out Blinken's mouth, I present you here with the unedited one-minute-fifty-two-second video clip of him saying exactly this:
That the Biden administration is such a stalwart believer in the sanctity of independent journalism and is devoted to defending it wherever it is threatened would come as a great surprise to many, many people. Among them would be Julian Assange, the founder of WikiLeaks and the person responsible for breaking more major stories about the actions of top U.S. officials than virtually all U.S. journalists employed in the corporate press combined. Currently, Assange is sitting in a cell in the British high-security Belmarsh prison because the Biden administration is not only trying to extradite him to stand trial on espionage charges for having published documents embarrassing to the U.S. Government and the Democratic Party but also has appealed a British judge's January ruling rejecting that extradition request. The Biden administration is doing all of this, noted The New York Times, despite the fact that “human rights and civil liberties groups had asked the [administration] to abandon the effort to prosecute Mr. Assange, arguing that the case . . . could establish a precedent posing a grave threat to press freedoms” — press freedoms, exactly the value which Blinken just righteously spent the week celebrating and vowing to uphold.
It was the Trump DOJ which brought those charges against Assange after then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo claimed in a 2017 speech that WikiLeaks has long “pretended that America’s First Amendment freedoms shield them from justice,” and then warned: “they may have believed that, but they are wrong.” Pomepo added — invoking the mentality of all states that persecute and imprison those who report effectively on them — that “to give [WikiLeaks] the space to crush us with misappropriated secrets is a perversion of what our great Constitution stands for. It ends now.” But like so many other Trump policies concerning press freedoms — from defending the Trump DOJ's use of warrants to obtain journalists’ telephone records, to demanding Edward Snowden be kept in exile, to keeping Reality Winner and Daniel Hale imprisoned — top Biden officials have long been fully on board with Assange's persecution. Indeed, they have been at the forefront of the effort to destroy basic press freedoms not just for WikiLeaks but journalists generally.
The BBC hadn’t prepared for this moment and it was beautiful. pic.twitter.com/TY859XCSzV
— Pelegeesi (@UgRwah) May 5, 2021
The mistreatment of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange over the past decade has been defined as “psychological torture” by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Nils Melzer. Yet, there is still no real end in sight to Assange’s promethean plight. Several months after a British judge blocked his extradition to the U.S.–citing that conditions in America’s inhumane prison system would be detrimental to his health–the WikiLeaks founder continues to be held in a maximum security prison in the U.K. The U.S. government, first under Donald Trump’s rule and now under Joe Biden’s, is appealing the extradition ruling. With a new decision in the case is due to be announced any day now, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and ScheerPost columnist Chris Hedges joins Robert Scheer on this week’s installment of “Scheer Intelligence” to discuss what Hedges has called Assange’s “martyrdom.”
'Direct Attack on the First Amendment': Trump DOJ Secretly Obtained Washington Post Journalists' Phone Records
Advocates for press freedom responded with outrage after the Washington Post reported Friday that former President Donald Trump's Justice Department secretly obtained the phone records and attempted to obtain the email records of three Post journalists who covered Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election.
According to the newspaper, Post reporters Ellen Nakashima and Greg Miller and former Post reporter Adam Entous all received letters from the Justice Department earlier this week alerting them that "pursuant to [a] legal process" that reportedly took place in 2020, the DOJ had acquired "toll records associated with" the three journalists' work, home, or cell phone numbers between April 15, 2017 and July 31, 2017.
"We are deeply troubled by this use of government power to seek access to the communications of journalists," said Cameron Barr, the acting executive editor of the Post. "The Department of Justice should immediately make clear its reasons for this intrusion into the activities of reporters doing their jobs, an activity protected under the First Amendment."
The records taken include the numbers, times, and duration of every call made to and from the targeted phones between mid-April and late July 2017, but do not include what was said, the newspaper reported. DOJ officials also obtained, but did not execute, a court order to access the reporters' work email accounts. Those records would have indicated the dates and addresses of emails sent to and from the journalists during that three and a half month period.
"The letter does not state the purpose of the phone records seizure, but toward the end of the time period mentioned in the letters, those reporters wrote a story about classified U.S. intelligence intercepts indicating that in 2016, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) had discussed the Trump campaign with Sergey Kislyak, who was Russia's ambassador to the United States," the Post noted.
According to the Post:
Justice Department officials would not say if that reporting was the reason for the search of journalists' phone records. Sessions subsequently became President Donald Trump's first attorney general and was at the Justice Department when the article appeared...
It is rare for the Justice Department to use subpoenas to get records of reporters in leak investigations, and such moves must be approved by the attorney general. The letters do not say precisely when the reporters' records were taken and reviewed, but a department spokesman said the decision to do so came in 2020, during the Trump administration. William P. Barr, who served as Trump's attorney general for nearly all of that year, before departing Dec. 23, declined to comment.
Officials in President Joe Biden's Justice Department, tasked with notifying the reporters about records that were obtained during the Trump administration, tried to justify the collection of journalists' phone records, claiming that it was part of what department spokesperson Marc Raimondi called "a criminal investigation into unauthorized disclosure of classified information."
"The targets of these investigations are not the news media recipients but rather those with access to the national defense information who provided it to the media and thus failed to protect it as lawfully required," said Raimondi.
Also, and this is key, the **BIDEN** Justice Department "defended [the Trump Justice Department's] decision to subpoena Post reporters’ records" https://t.co/am9OZEEnTU
— jeremy scahill (@jeremyscahill) May 8, 2021
The Post noted that "both the Trump and Obama administrations escalated efforts to stop leaks and prosecute government officials who disclose secrets to reporters."
As the newspaper explained:
During the Obama administration, the department prosecuted nine leak cases, more than all previous administrations combined. In one case, prosecutors called a reporter a criminal "co-conspirator" and secretly went after journalists' phone records in a bid to identify reporters' sources. Prosecutors also sought to compel a reporter to testify and identify a source, though they ultimately backed down from that effort.
In response to criticism about such tactics, in 2015, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. issued updates to the rules about media leak investigations aimed at creating new internal checks on how often and how aggressively prosecutors seek reporters' records.
In response to Trump's concerns, Sessions and others discussed changing the rules to seek journalists' phone records earlier in leak investigations, but the regulations were never changed.
However, "in early August 2017—days after the time period covered by the search of the Post reporters' phone records—Sessions held a news conference to announce an intensified effort to hunt and prosecute leakers in government," the Post noted.
Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called on the Justice Department to explain "exactly when prosecutors seized these records, why it is only now notifying the Post, and on what basis the Justice Department decided to forgo the presumption of advance notification under its own guidelines when the investigation apparently involves reporting over three years in the past."
“Ethnic Cleansing”: Amid Protests of Palestinian Evictions in Jerusalem, Israel Raids Al-Aqsa Mosque
Israel’s supreme court has delayed a deeply contentious decision on whether Palestinians can be evicted by force to make way for Jewish settlers, after hundreds of Palestinians were wounded in confrontations with the police in some of Jerusalem’s worst unrest in years. A former Israeli defence official described the atmosphere as like a powder keg ready to explode at any time, after more clashes erupted outside the Old City overnight on Saturday.
More than 120 people were injured, including a one-year-old child, and 14 were taken to hospital, according to the Palestine Red Crescent. Israeli police said 17 officers were hurt. Saturday night’s violence came a day after more than 200 Palestinians were wounded in violence around Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, the third holiest site in Islam.
Israel has faced mounting international criticism of its heavy police response and the planned evictions. Last week a UN rights body described the expulsion of Arabs from their homes as a possible war crime. On Sunday Jordan, which has custodianship of Muslim and Christian sites in Jerusalem, described Israel’s actions against worshippers at al-Aqsa as “barbaric”.
Israel’s prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was defiant, saying his country would continue to build in the city – a reference to internationally condemned Jewish settlements in majority-Palestinian areas that Israeli occupies. “We firmly reject the pressure not to build in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said during a televised address. ...
Under Israeli law, Jews who can prove a title from before the 1948 war that accompanied the country’s creation can claim back their Jerusalem properties. Hundreds of thousands of Arabs were displaced in the same conflict, but no similar law exists for Palestinians who lost their homes in the city.
I wonder why Chinese rocket debris landing harmlessly in the ocean got a million times more media coverage than an actual pogrom in Israel.
— Ian Goodrum (@isgoodrum) May 9, 2021
Worth a full read.
The current blizzard of stories about a “worker shortage” across the U.S. may seem as though it’s about this peculiar moment, as the pandemic fades. Restaurants in Washington, D.C., contend that they’re suffering from a staffing “crisis.” The hospitality industry in Massachusetts says it’s experiencing the same disaster. The governor of Montana plans to cancel coronavirus-related additional unemployment benefits funded by the federal government, and the cries of business owners are being heard in the White House.
In reality, though, this should be understood as the latest iteration of a question that’s plagued the owning class for centuries: How can they get everyone to do awful jobs for them for awful pay?
Employers’ anxiety about this can be measured by the fact that these stories have erupted when there currently is no shortage of workers. An actual shortage would result in wages rising at the bottom of the income distribution to such a degree that there was notable inflation. That’s not happening, at least not now. Instead, business owners seem to mean that they can’t find people who’ll work for what the owners want to pay them. This is a “shortage” in the same sense that there is a shortage of new Lamborghinis available for $1,000. ...
Today, with the additional unemployment benefits from the recent Covid-19 relief bill, business owners are living their greatest nightmare: workers with genuine leverage over their wages and working conditions. The owner of a Florida seafood restaurant recently explained this straightforwardly: “You need to have incentives to get people to work, not to stay home. You’ve got the hard workers who want to have a job, but the others need that motivation.”
In theory, there are many possible such incentives: better pay, better working conditions, even a slice of ownership of the company. But the owning class hasn’t been interested in those incentives at any point in the last few centuries. There’s only one incentive that makes sense to them: You work or you starve.
Among the things Americans say they’re looking forward to most when pandemic-related restrictions ends is “having dinner in a restaurant with friends”. But if the restaurant industry doesn’t support higher wages, there will be fewer restaurants for customers to return to.
There is an unprecedented shortage of job applicants for restaurant jobs. In a new survey this week by One Fair Wage of more than 2,800 workers, more than half (53%) reported that they are thinking about leaving restaurants. More than three-quarters of workers surveyed (76%) said they are leaving restaurants because of low wages and tips – by far the most important reason for leaving – and a slightly higher percentage (78%) said that the factor that would make them stay in restaurants is a “full, stable, livable wage”.
So this isn’t, as many industry representatives would have you believe, a shortage of workers. It’s a wage shortage that is racist and sexist in that it disproportionately affects women and people of color, and is a legacy of slavery. It is created by the narrow-sighted greed of the industry and its trade lobby, the National Restaurant Association, which has a history of fighting against fair wages since it was formed by white restaurant owners in 1919.
There are, in fact, plenty of qualified and experienced restaurant workers, many or even most of whom were laid off and left destitute over the last year. The National Restaurant Association is now, for the most part, a conglomerate of corporate chain restaurants and a powerful lobby. As part of its transparent but sadly effective (until now, at least), propaganda campaign, members of “The Other NRA”, as many call it, have suggested that workers would rather stay home and collect unemployment than take jobs as they become available.
But that’s not true: more than half of unemployed restaurant workers were denied unemployment insurance during the pandemic, largely because their base pay was too low to qualify, according to the One Fair Wage survey. In fact, those fortunate enough to receive unemployment benefits would immediately lose them if they turned down work; that’s how unemployment insurance works. Their low pay is the result of the sub-minimum wage laws for tipped workers (still $2.13 per hour at the federal level), the very same laws that the NRA has spent millions of dollars, over decades, lobbying to keep in place.
Analysts expected Friday's April jobs report to "deliver the strongest showing since August," projecting that the U.S. economy added as many as a million jobs last month.
So when the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) announced Friday morning that the economy added just 266,000 jobs in April, experts and reporters scrambled to decipher and explain the massively underwhelming figures.
But progressives argued that the disappointing report makes at least one thing clear: Much more stimulus is needed to repair the damage wrought by the coronavirus pandemic and rebuild for a sustainable, more equitable future.
"It is time for [President Joe] Biden to pull us out of this economic spiral," Ellen Sciales, press secretary for the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said in a statement Friday. "Jobs are not going to magically come back. We need action now."
Sunrise is specifically calling on the president to dramatically expand the scope of his American Jobs Plan by bringing it into line with the goals of the THRIVE Act, legislation introduced last week by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). That bill proposes spending $10 trillion over the next 10 years to create millions of jobs, build out the nation's renewable energy infrastructure, and transform U.S. care institutions.
Sciales said that "if Biden intends to take this economic crisis seriously, he will include a $10 trillion investment over the next decade into the American Jobs Plan to end the unemployment crisis and put millions of people to work in good, union jobs stopping the climate crisis."
Biden "must" include Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Markey's Civilian Climate Corps (CCC) in the package and "call on Congress to swiftly pass it, creating good jobs for 1.5 million people across the country, while helping them put food on the table, revitalize their communities, and boost our economy," Sciales continued. "Millions of people are out of work, and the unemployment rate is rising. The real risk isn't doing too much—it's doing too little." ...
According to the new BLS report, the official unemployment rate ticked up slightly in April to 6.1% and the U.S. economy remains 8.2 million jobs short of the pre-pandemic level—figures that Democratic lawmakers cited as further evidence of the need for additional investment. ...
Biden administration officials, the president himself, progressive lawmakers, and policy analysts were quick to reject the notion that federally enhanced unemployment benefits are dissuading people from rejoining the workforce—a long-standing right-wing narrative that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and congressional Republicans eagerly deployed after the BLS report dropped.
During a press briefing on Friday, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said that "if it were really the extra benefits that were holding back hiring, you'd expect to see" states and sectors with high wage replacement rates for unemployment benefits having more difficulty adding jobs.
"In fact, what you see is the exact opposite," said Yellen.
In the wake of a defeated attempt to unionize an Amazon warehouse in Alabama, workers are continuing to fight to form and run unions at the tech giant on several fronts. In another Amazon warehouse, in Staten Island, New York, workers have started a fresh union organizing drive, while airline pilots working for Amazon are still in the midst of a five-year battle for a new union contract.
Chris Smalls worked at Amazon for nearly five years before he was terminated in March last year, after organizing a work stoppage and protests at the Staten Island facility against the company’s lack of safety protection for workers during the pandemic.
At the end of April, Smalls and other former and current Amazon employees at JFK8 warehouse began a union organizing drive. With a tent posted at a bus stop outside the warehouse, Smalls and other organizers are seeking to obtain union authorization cards from at least 30% of the warehouse workers to merit an election under the National Labor Relations Board to form an independent union, the Amazon Labor Union.
“When I do talk to workers, I tell them I was fired wrongfully because I tried to protect workers’ health and safety, and that can happen to you,” said Smalls. “You can complain or submit a grievance, and they could just terminate you or target you to be terminated, or retaliate against you. And there’s no protection, so the only way we’re going to be protected is by forming that union.”
Amazon has already responded to the union organizing drive, as workers there and at nearby delivery and sorting centers have reported receiving texts and emails encouraging workers not to sign the authorization cards, claiming doing so will limit choices for workers. Televisions in the warehouse and posters in bathrooms have displayed similar messages.
The number of global COVID-19 deaths is twice as high as officially reported—6.93 million globally, 905,000 in the United States alone—according to a new study by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). These new figures were reported Thursday in an analysis of “excess mortality” by the IHME. Importantly, the study includes only under-reported deaths from COVID-19, and excludes deaths from other causes related to the pandemic—including delayed medical care and “deaths of despair” such as suicides or overdoses, related to the social crisis triggered by the pandemic.
The research presents a disastrous picture of the toll of the pandemic and is an indictment of the capitalist order that has allowed death on this scale to occur. If, in the words of the British medical journal BMJ, nearly 3.3 million deaths are “social murder,” what does the doubling of this death toll signify?
By any measure, this is the largest public health disaster ever in the United States. 905,000 deaths are greater than all the combat and non-combat deaths in the American Civil War, the nation’s bloodiest conflict. 905,000 deaths represent one in every 367 men, women, and children in the US. 905,000 deaths are more than double the combined combat fatalities of all US wars fought since the Spanish-American War in 1898, including World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Almost equally astounding is that the new estimates have gone essentially unreported in the media. The IHME has been used as the semi-official coronavirus case and death count prediction team for more than a year, referred to multiple times by the New York Times, Washington Post, and numerous others.
But no matter the efforts by the media to bury this report, such a colossal loss of life has the most far-reaching implications. It is a brutal indictment of the American ruling elite and the capitalist governments of the entire world. Such mass death was not an accident, but the product of deliberate policy. The world’s ruling elite was well aware of the threat posed by the virus, but refused to raise the alarm. While then-US President Donald Trump sought to “play down” the virus, despite being aware that “[t]his is deadly stuff,” Congress and the media received numerous briefings and interviews about the scale of the looming disaster.
Yet no alarms were raised either by the White House or the media until March. Instead, plans were developed to protect the world’s markets, not human lives. In the United States and Europe, trillions of dollars and euros were pumped into financial markets, while virtually nothing was being devoted towards minimizing the impact of the pandemic, which at that point had already claimed tens of thousands of lives.
Declining demand for Covid-19 vaccines in the US is causing states across the country to refuse their full allocations of doses from the federal government, despite concerted efforts to raise national take-up rates.
Reduced demand, which is contributing to a growing stockpile of doses, comes as nearly 46% of the US population has received at least one dose of a two-shot vaccine and about 34% are fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.
Last week, Joe Biden announced a plan to get at least one dose of vaccine administered to 70% of the nation’s adult population by 4 July – a date also floated for a full-economic and social interaction re-opening of America. ...
Vaccination rates are still short of the 70% to 85% of the total population that needs to be immune to control the spread of Covid-19.
Organizations affiliated with law enforcement constitute the most significant lobbying force fueling the unprecedented number of anti-protest bills introduced by state lawmakers this year, according to an independent researcher.
In search of which companies were lobbying for the bills, researcher Connor Gibson watched hours of hearings and reviewed lobbying records from more than two dozen states. Yet Gibson identified hardly any companies. Instead, he found example after example of law enforcement officers, including representatives of police unions, showing up to advocate for legislation. “That is the only trend I could find,” he said, noting that police influence varied significantly from state to state and bill to bill.
Law enforcement organizations — mostly police unions — also collectively contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars to the campaigns of state lawmakers who went on to sponsor dozens of anti-protest bills this year, data included in a separate, forthcoming report by Greenpeace shows.
Infighting within the Republican party is set to come to a head this week, goaded on by the ghostly figure of former president Donald Trump in his Mar-a-Lago hideout in Florida.
House Republicans are gearing up to oust Liz Cheney on Wednesday from her position as the party’s number three leader in the chamber.
Her removal would come as punishment for her public criticism of Trump with regard to his role in inciting the 6 January Capitol insurrection and his “big lie” that last year’s presidential election was stolen from him.
Cheney was one of 10 Republicans to vote in favor of impeaching Trump for “incitement of insurrection”.
Leading Republicans took to the political talk show circuit on Sunday to express support or opposition to the congresswoman from Wyoming. Critically, Kevin McCarthy, the House minority leader who has in the past stood up for Cheney, made their break-up official when he told Fox News that he was endorsing Cheney’s rival Elise Stefanik for the number three post.
The hackers who caused the vast Colonial Pipeline to shut down on Friday reportedly began their cyberattack against the top US fuel pipeline operator a day earlier and stole a large amount of data.
The attackers are part of a cybercrime group called DarkSide and took nearly 100 gigabytes of data out of Colonial’s network in just two hours on Thursday, the Bloomberg news website reported late Saturday, citing two people involved in the company’s investigation.
The shutdown is already prompting worries about a spike in gasoline and diesel prices ahead of the peak summer driving season if the outage does not end soon. ...
Colonial Pipeline shut its entire network after the breach of its computer networks, the source of nearly half of the US east coast’s fuel supply, after a cyber attack that involved ransomware. The 5,500 miles of pipeline that runs from Texas to New York carries 45% of the east coast’s fuel supplies and travels through 14 southern and eastern US states.
The pipeline transports gasoline, diesel and jet fuel. The company’s website says it carries some 100m gallons of fuel each day and services seven airports.
Just south of Oil City, where Louisiana representative Danny McCormick is from, is the predominantly Black city of Shreveport. Residents there breathe some of the most toxic air in the country. Oil refineries owned by UOP and Calumet contribute to the town’s toxic emissions, according to the EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory.
But McCormick, a Republican, introduced a bill at the Louisiana capitol last week that would protect oil companies and not residents in his district who have to breathe in that air. The bill would establish Louisiana as a “fossil fuel sanctuary state” and ban local and state employees from enforcing federal laws and regulations that negatively impact petrochemical companies.
The idea for the bill, McCormick said, came about after President Joe Biden began putting new restrictions on oil and gas companies, including a pause on new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters. “Look at what they did to the coal industry,” he said at a Louisiana house committee hearing. “We already know what the game plan is. They already picked off coal. Now they’re going after oil and gas.”
The bill – which is unlikely to move forward in its current state because of legality concerns – is among several bills introduced at the Louisiana legislature this session that would likely reduce regulation of oil and gas companies in the state. Lawmakers say that deregulation is necessary to preserve tax revenues generated by oil and gas companies and to stop further job losses. A separate bill introduced by McCormick would redefine gas pipelines from modes of transportation to facilities, in order to prevent Louisiana state police from fining pipeline companies for failing to immediately report gas leaks.
Louisiana’s Democratic governor, John Bel Edwards, has also pushed back on the Biden administration’s energy agenda, penning a letter to the president that included petrochemical lobbyists’ talking points, according to HuffPost. Documents showed an oil and gas trade group coordinated between top officials in Louisiana and their counterparts in New Mexico – another oil state with a Democratic governor. Although the states are headed by Democrats, they remain obstacles to Biden’s climate plans. Texas, which has a Republican governor and legislature is also advancing bills to protect the oil and gas industry from climate efforts.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
O.V.Wright - I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled And Crazy
O.V.Wright - Eight Men, Four Women
O.V. Wright - Let's Straighten It Out
OV Wright - When you took your love from me
The Keys & O.V. Wright - That's How Strong My Love Is
OV Wright - Everybody Knows (The River Song)
O.V. Wright - Your Good Thing Is About To End
O.V. Wright - You Gotta Have Love
O.V. Wright - A Nickel And A Nail'