The Evening Blues - 6-23-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues harmonica player Little Mack Simmons. Enjoy!
Little Mac Simmons - Things Are Getting Tougher
"Geese are friends to no one, they bad mouth everybody and everything. But they are companionable once you get used to their ingratitude and false accusations."
-- E. B. White
News and Opinion
A Navy counterterrorism training document obtained exclusively by The Intercept appears to conflate socialists with terrorists and lists the left-wing ideology alongside “neo-nazis.” A section of the training document subtitled “Study Questions” includes the following: “Anarchists, socialists and neo-nazis represent which terrorist ideological category?”
The correct answer is “political terrorists,” a military source briefed on the training told me. The document, titled “Introduction to Terrorism/Terrorist Operations,” is part of a longer training manual recently disseminated by the Naval Education Training and Command’s Navy Tactical Training Center in conjunction with the Center for Security Forces. The training is designed for masters-at-arms, the Navy’s internal police, the military source said.
[See link for documents. -js]
“It’s just ineffective training because whoever is directing the Navy anti-terror curriculum would rather vilify the left than actually protect anything,” said the military official, who is not authorized to speak publicly. “Despite the fact that the most prominent threat is domestic, right-wing terror.”
Both the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security have identified white supremacists as the deadliest terror threat to the United States. In October 2020, the Department of Homeland Security issued its first annual “Homeland Threat Assessment” report, stating that white supremacists were “exceptionally lethal” and “will remain the most persistent and lethal threat in the homeland.” In September, FBI Director Christopher Wray, in testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that white supremacists “have been responsible for the most lethal attacks over the last decade” and that they comprise “the biggest chunk of our domestic terrorism portfolio.” ...
While the right has been vocal with its concerns about being unfairly targeted for political opinions, media coverage of the Biden administration’s focus on domestic extremism has paid considerably less attention to what it might mean for movements on the left, including Black Lives Matter, antifa (short for anti-fascists), and the environmental movement. In fact, internal FBI documents I reported on in 2019 specifically list anarchists and environmental extremists among its counterterrorism priorities.
US authorities have seized a range of Iran’s state-linked news websites, which they accused of spreading “disinformation” on Tuesday, a US official said, a move that appeared to be a far-reaching crackdown on Iranian media amid heightened tensions between the two countries.
Notices appeared on Tuesday on a number of Iran-affiliated media websites saying they had been seized by the United States government as part of law enforcement action. ...
The semi-official Iranian news agency YJC agency said on Tuesday the US move “demonstrates that calls for freedom of speech are lies”.
Four Saudis who participated in the 2018 killing of the Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi received paramilitary training in the United States the previous year under a contract approved by the State Department, according to documents and people familiar with the arrangement.
The instruction occurred as the secret unit responsible for Mr. Khashoggi’s killing was beginning an extensive campaign of kidnapping, detention and torture of Saudi citizens ordered by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler, to crush dissent inside the kingdom.
The training was provided by the Arkansas-based security company Tier 1 Group, which is owned by the private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management. The company says the training — including “safe marksmanship” and “countering an attack” — was defensive in nature and devised to better protect Saudi leaders. One person familiar with the training said it also included work in surveillance and close-quarters battle.
There is no evidence that the American officials who approved the training or Tier 1 Group executives knew that the Saudis were involved in the crackdown inside Saudi Arabia. But the fact that the government approved high-level military training for operatives who went on to carry out the grisly killing of a journalist shows how intensely intertwined the United States has become with an autocratic nation even as its agents carried out horrific human rights abuses.
It also underscores the perils of military partnerships with repressive governments and demonstrates how little oversight exists for those forces after they return home.
Julian Assange remains in a maximum-security jail, despite never being sentenced for anything but a long ago served spell for bail-jumping, and despite the U.S. government’s request for extradition having been refused. It is approaching six months since I was in court to hear the decision rejecting Assange’s extradition, and it was in the same week that Magistrate Vanessa Baraitser ordered Assange be kept in jail pending a U.S. appeal. Since then, the U.S. has submitted its appeal, which is somewhat intemperate in its efforts to discredit a number of highly distinguished expert witnesses at the hearing. The defense has submitted its response, including notice of points, where Baraitser found for the U.S. that the defense intend to counter-appeal.
Then for over three months — nothing. The High Court has not only not set a date for the U.S. appeal, it has not even indicated if the U.S. appeal meets the bar to be heard. There is some thought that the appeal lacks any arguable points of law and may be simply rejected. But the seemingly leisurely approach of the High Court to look at the matter is entirely inappropriate given that, in the meantime, an innocent man is suffering the most extreme form of incarceration available in the U.K. Assange’s status is that his extradition has been rejected. He ought not to be in jail at all, let alone in such harsh conditions. ...
It is now plain that U.S. President Joe Biden intends to press forward with the charging of Assange, a publisher and journalist, under the Espionage Act. This despite the opposition, however belated, of every major news organization and every major civil-liberties-oriented NGO. Biden’s recent European trip was choreographed to establish his full credentials as a Cold War warrior and to ensure a Western orthodoxy of hostility towards China. Biden is proving, as predicted, a perfect representative of the security and military state.
Having seen off the $15 minimum wage and proposals for meaningful “New Deal” expenditure, Biden can get down to the serious neoliberal work of improving the fortunes of the ultra-wealthy.
There is a fascinating phenomenon in Western democracies of fake liberal left political parties acting as enablers of the global billionaire elite. Biden; Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party; Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon; French President Emmanuel Macron; Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau all pretend to be some kind of alternative to rampant economic neoliberalism while acting as its most effective enablers. All are very willing advocates of not just neoliberalism but the military and security complex and the NATO Cold War stance, plus companions in the steady ratcheting down on civil liberties. None has the slightest intention of closing the gap between ordinary people and the super-wealthy.
One of the largest unions in the US is expected this week to launch a broad effort to unionize Amazon employees.
The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents 1.4 million workers in 500 unions nationwide, will vote on Thursday on a landmark resolution to make its highest priority helping Amazon workers achieve a union contract.
The resolution is expected to pass and will create a special division called the Amazon Project to aid workers in organizing. It marks the largest coordinated effort thus far to unionize the company, the second-largest employer in the US.
The Amazon Project is the culmination of years of research the Teamsters have been conducting into organizing the firm, according to a copy of the resolution viewed by the Guardian. The group said it had been tracking Amazon’s growth and speaking with thousands of workers to develop different operating theories on the best way to engage and support them.
“The International Brotherhood of Teamsters recognizes that there is no clearer example of how America is failing the working class than Amazon,” the resolution reads.
A growing group of earthlings is banding together in an effort to keep Jeff Bezos off the planet, after he leaves it in late July. By Monday morning, more than 77,000 had signed a petition on Change.org demanding the Amazon founder be kept from returning to Earth after participating in the first human space flight launched by his company Blue Origin.
“Billionaire’s [sic] should not exist … on earth, or in space, but should they decide the latter they should stay there,” read the description accompanying the petition, which was addressed “to the proletariat”.
In May, Bezos was named the second-richest person in the world, with a net worth of $186bn.
Earlier this month, he announced that he and his brother Mark would be on the first human flight of the New Shepard, a spacecraft built by his company Blue Origin. The flight on 20 July will last 11 minutes and will send six passengers 62 miles above the Earth.
California is pursuing an ambitious plan to pay off the entirety of unpaid rent from low-income tenants who fell behind during the pandemic, in what could constitute the largest ever rent relief program in the US. The state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, is negotiating with legislators and said the $5.2bn plan would pay landlords all of what they were owed while giving renters a clean slate.
If successful, the rent forgiveness plan would amount to an extraordinary form of aid in the largest state in the US, which has suffered from a major housing crisis and severe economic inequality since long before Covid-19.
An estimated 900,000 renters in California owe an average of $4,600 in back rent, according to a recent analysis. Without aggressive protections and relief, experts say the state would experience a tsunami of evictions and a dramatic worsening of its homelessness crisis. Even with restrictions on evictions in place since March 2020, vulnerable renters have continued to be pushed out of their homes while out of work and unable to pay the high costs of rent in the state.
Federal eviction protections are due to expire at the end of June, as are California’s regulations, which applied to more renters. Lawmakers, who are currently negotiating over the state’s roughly $260bn operating budget, are debating whether to extend the restrictions on evictions beyond June. The vast majority of people who have applied for relief have not yet received funds, according to state officials, which is why tenant groups are pushing for protections to remain in place.
The $5.2bn fund to pay off people’s rent comes from multiple federal aid packages approved by Congress. ... But the state has been slow to distribute that money, and it is unlikely it can spend it all by 30 June. A report from the California department of housing and community development showed that of the $490m in requests for rental assistance through 31 May, just $32m had been paid. That did not include the 12 cities and 10 counties that run their own rental assistance programs.
Investment firm Blackstone has struck a $6bn deal to buy a company that rents out over 17,000 single-family homes across the US, a sign of investor confidence that the country’s housing market will continue to grow amid rocketing prices and a housing crunch.
Blackstone, the country’s largest private equity firm, has agreed to purchase Home Partners of America, according to the Wall Street Journal. ...
Concerns have been raised over the presence of investment firms in the housing market as prices have soared over the course of the pandemic, due in part to increased demand for homes, low mortgage rates and a low supply of available housing.
Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that housing prices for renters and homeowners this spring were up 2.2%, while other data, like the S&P Case-Shiller home price index for March, showed home prices were up more than 13% compared to last year.
The US government will investigate the troubled legacy of Native American boarding schools and work to “uncover the truth about the loss of human life and the lasting consequences” of the institutions, which over the decades forced hundreds of thousands of children from their families and communities.
The US interior secretary, Deb Haaland, has directed the department to prepare a report detailing available historical records relating to the federal boarding school programs, with an emphasis on cemeteries or potential burial sites. ...
Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the US enacted laws and policies to establish and support Indian boarding schools across the country. For more than 150 years, Indigenous children were taken from their communities and forced into boarding schools that focused on assimilation.
Haaland talked about the federal government’s attempt to wipe out tribal identity, language and culture and how that past has continued to manifest itself through long-standing trauma, cycles of violence and abuse, premature deaths, mental disorders and substance abuse. ...
Haaland cited statistics from the National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition, which reported that by 1926, more than 80% of Indigenous school-age children were attending boarding schools that were run either by the federal government or religious organizations. Besides providing resources and raising awareness, the coalition has been working to compile additional research on US boarding schools and deaths that many say is sorely lacking.
My goodness, Chuckie the Schoom does mock outrage well.
Joe Biden suffered a significant setback on Tuesday as one of his top priorities, a set of reforms to protect voting rights and shore up American democracy, was defeated in Congress. With Vice-president Kamala Harris presiding, a Senate procedural vote on whether to start debate on sweeping election legislation ended as expected in a 50-50 stalemate along party lines. Sixty votes had been required to overcome Republicans’ use of a procedural tool known as the filibuster, in effect killing the bill.
“Every single Senate Republican just voted against starting debate – starting debate! – on legislation to protect Americans’ voting rights,” Chuck Schumer, the Democratic majority leader, said angrily. “Once again, the Senate Republican minority has launched a partisan blockade of a pressing issue here in the United States Senate. An issue no less fundamental than the right to vote.” ...
Biden has also spoken passionately about the need to defend democracy but despite his penchant for bipartisanship he has been unable to move the needle. Progressives have accused him of failing to use his bully pulpit to champion the sweeping legislation. Ezra Levin, co-executive director of the grassroots movement Indivisible, tweeted: “OK I have reached my WTF moment with Biden on this. Is saving democracy a priority for this administration or not?”
All 50 Senate Democrats voted to move forward to a debate Tuesday on S. 1, the “For the People Act,” in an unusual display of party loyalty that was met by equal party unity on the Republican side. In technical terms, Democrats made a motion to invoke cloture to overcome a silent Republican filibuster of a motion to proceed to debate the legislation. In other words, without actually talking on the Senate floor, Republicans successfully blocked the bill from even moving toward a floor debate. Under Senate rules in place since 1975, 60 votes are needed for cloture. The motion fell 10 votes short of 60.
A yes vote from Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was significant, won as a result of weeks of negotiations. In talks that continued through the past weekend, Manchin agreed to a new set of voting rights reforms that went beyond what he had previously entertained, congressional sources who were involved told The Intercept.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York told reporters that if Republicans had agreed to move forward, Manchin’s amendment would have been the first up for debate. Manchin continues to tell colleagues that he hopes to find 10 Republican votes to move forward with his legislation, though so far he has only gotten Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska to express general support for a voting rights bill.
Manchin’s legislation is still being negotiated and will include new provisions to counter Republican takeovers of election boards, a source involved said. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said Tuesday she was still in talks with Manchin over a number of provisions. Manchin wants to mandate voter ID, which Klobuchar and other Democrats oppose. Manchin’s version also requires all states to allow mail-in and early voting but does away with no-excuse absentee balloting. ...
Klobuchar, who chairs the Senate committee that held hearings on the measure, said that the public push for S. 1 would continue over the next several weeks. With 50 Democrats on board for some significant voting rights reform, the question will be whether Manchin agrees to reforms to the filibuster once he concludes that there are nowhere near 10 Republicans willing to go along.
On the eve of Tuesday's vote to begin debate on the For the People Act, Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona published an op-ed defending the archaic procedural rule that Senate Republicans are expected to wield to tank the popular voting rights legislation.
Headlined "We have more to lose than gain by ending the filibuster," Sinema's Washington Post piece regurgitates the well-worn argument that eliminating the Senate's 60-vote rule would backfire on Democrats by leaving Republicans with fewer legislative obstacles next time they're in power.
"My support for retaining the 60-vote threshold is not based on the importance of any particular policy. It is based on what is best for our democracy. The filibuster compels moderation and helps protect the country from wild swings between opposing policy poles," Sinema wrote. "To those who want to eliminate the legislative filibuster to expand healthcare access or retirement benefits: Would it be good for our country if we did, only to later see that legislation replaced by legislation dividing Medicaid into block grants, slashing earned Social Security and Medicare benefits, or defunding women's reproductive health services?"
But as observers readily pointed out, the filibuster does not protect Medicaid and other spending programs given that they can be gutted through the budget reconciliation process, which is exempt from the filibuster and requires just a simple-majority vote.
However, the strict rules governing reconciliation prevent lawmakers from using the process to pass legislation that doesn't have a direct budgetary impact, such as a bill expanding voting rights. Progressives argue that by refusing to touch the legislative filibuster, Sinema and other conservative Democrats are hamstringing their own party's agenda while doing little to thwart the GOP's.
Rep. Mondaire Jones (D-N.Y.) said Monday that Sinema and other filibuster defenders are effectively arguing that "we should let Republicans destroy democracy now because at some indeterminate time in the future they may try again."
New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie characterized Sinema's op-ed as "unbelievably weak" and said its "assertions range from being demonstrably false to disingenuous to delusional."
"Sinema's argument amounts to an argument against the exercise of power at all since, if you use it, what happens when the other side does too?" Bouie added.
Writing for the Post earlier this year, Tré Easton of the Battle Born Collective argued that fear of what Republicans will do if the filibuster is eliminated "shirks the responsibility to be proactive."
"History has shown that progressive reforms are hard to undo once they are enacted," Easton wrote. "Regardless of whether they say they like big government, people of all political stripes seem to appreciate the things the federal government provides them. Progressive expansions of rights and the social safety net have proved resistant to repeal through the legislative process."
"History also shows us that by its very nature, the filibuster benefits conservatives far more than progressives," Easton added. "It is an inherently conservative tool: It makes it harder to achieve change. Conservatives can get most of what they want simply by blocking progress, and they can achieve many of the rollbacks of rights and regulations that they seek through the courts and other means. Progressives, on the other hand, require large-scale legislation to achieve their goals."
Sinema's latest defense of the filibuster came as she faced growing grassroots pressure to end her support for the 60-vote rule, which is standing in the way of not just the For the People Act but also the Equality Act, immigration reform, and other Democratic agenda items. A simple-majority vote is needed to eliminate or reform the filibuster.
After months of campaigning, election day finally came to New York on Tuesday, with a Democratic party primary vote likely to decide the city’s next mayor.
Polls closed on Tuesday evening but there may still be plenty of time before New Yorkers learn the name of their next leader, as a result of ranked choice voting being used for the first time in a New York mayoral election. The official results could come as late as July.
Eric Adams, a former police officer, was leading the polls as thousands headed to cast their votes on Tuesday. ...
An election season that began with calls for at least partially defunding the New York’s police department has pivoted in recent weeks, as a spike in shootings swung the debate in the opposite direction and helped to propel Adams, a centrist who has criticized the “defund the police” movement, and supports the widely loathed stop-and-frisk policing tactic, to the top of the polls. ...
After polls closed at 9pm, New York City’s board of elections planned to release partial results of votes cast in person, but that initial picture could be misleading because it will only include data on who candidates ranked as their first choice.
Dozens of wildfires were burning in hot, dry conditions across the US west, including a blaze touched off by lightning that was moving toward northern Arizona’s largest city. The mountainous city of Flagstaff was shrouded in smoke on Monday and ash was falling from the sky as a blaze was encroaching on the city. The national forest surrounding Flagstaff announced a full closure set to begin later this week – the first time that has happened since 2006.
Intense heat that has hampered firefighting efforts was expected to moderate in the coming days. But, the National Weather Service (NWS) noted it could bring uncertainty for fire crews. “The humidity and the possibility of some scattered rainfall is a good thing,” said the meteorologist Andrew Taylor. “The lightning is not a good thing.”
In California, firefighters still faced the difficult task of trying to contain a large forest fire in rugged coastal mountains south of Big Sur that forced the evacuation of a Buddhist monastery and nearby campground. The Willow fire has burned more than 2,800 acres since it broke out on Thursday evening. More than 500 firefighters are battling the blaze. ...
Meanwhile, firefighters in Oregon were focused on two wildfires, one burning near the state’s highest peak and another in the southern part of the state. In Utah, several wildfires were burning in bone-dry conditions. And in New Mexico, lightning-sparked blazes have been scorching the southern part of the state where a large portion of the Gila Wilderness remains closed.
Legal experts from across the globe have drawn up a “historic” definition of ecocide, intended to be adopted by the international criminal court to prosecute the most egregious offences against the environment.
The draft law, unveiled on Tuesday, defines ecocide as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts”.
The Stop Ecocide Foundation initiative comes amid concerns that not enough is being done to tackle the climate and ecological crisis.
If adopted by the ICC’s members, it would become just the fifth offence the court prosecutes – alongside war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and the crime of aggression – and the first new international crime since the 1940s when Nazi leaders were prosecuted at the Nuremberg trials.
On his first day at the White House, Joe Biden earned praise for following through on several campaign promises, committing the US to strict climate goals and a greener future. Now, nearly six months into his presidency, several of those commitments are being put to the test, and already, many are falling apart. A court last week ruled that the Biden administration did not have the authority to unilaterally pause oil and gas lease sales across the US. The decision came alongside news that congressional bargaining over Biden’s climate and infrastructure bill is hitting a wall with Republicans and the administration is now considering a slimmed-down version.
Together, the developments are compounding a list of worries by environmentalists. Many fear Biden’s promises on climate may turn out to be more talk than action. “We aren’t seeing the fight and the grit that gives us the full hope,” said Jeremy Nichols, climate and energy program director of WildEarth Guardians. “There’s something to be said about posturing and sending the message that you are for real, these aren’t just words, that these are values, and they are going to fight for them and build the right level of support to get things across the finish line.”
Last week’s ruling on new oil and gas lease sales, handed down by a Trump appointee, Judge Terry Doughty of the US district court for the western district of Louisiana, creates a major hitch for Biden’s climate action plan. Louisiana’s attorney general and 12 other states originally filed the suit against the Biden administration’s leasing pause, arguing it would harm their states economically. Most of those states heavily rely on the sale of oil and gas and subsidies for the industry. ...
Drilling on public lands accounts for nearly a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions in the country. In one of his first acts as president, Biden issued an executive order that paused new onshore and offshore federal fossil fuel lease sales in order to let the administration study the future of the practice and its climate repercussions. Now, however, it’s unclear how strongly the administration plans to fight the injunction and whether the Department of Justice will counter in courts – a silence that is frustrating environmental groups. ...
So far, the Biden administration’s record on the climate crisis has felt out of step with his messaging.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Little Mack Simmons - Wild About You
Little Mac Simmons - So Unhappy
Little Mack Simmons - Bad intentions
Little Mack - Don't Leave Me Now
Little Mack - I Need Love
Little Mack Simmons - Never Leave My Homework Undone
Little Mack Simmons - Givin' Me A Hard Time
Little Mack Simmons - Trouble no more
Little Mack Simmons - Just Your Fool