More bad news, Shannon Jones (WSWS) reports:
New claims for unemployment insurance declined slightly, reaching a seasonally adjusted 847,000 for the week ending January 23. The figure is still far above any recorded prior to the pandemic. The four-week average was 868,000, the highest level since September, compared to 229,002 initial claims in the comparable week in 2020.
The continuation of record levels of new unemployment filings comes as the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that the US economy contracted by 3.5 percent in 2020, the largest yearly decline since the demobilization following World War II. It was the first decline since 2009, during the Great Recession, when the economy suffered a 2.5 percent contraction.
The more poorly paid sections of workers have been hit the hardest by the impact of the pandemic, including those employed in the travel, hospitality and leisure sectors. Hundreds of thousands of small businesses have faced bankruptcy and closure, while airlines and other big corporations have been bailed out by the federal government.
But we can't have $2,000 checks -- not even one time only -- until March -- or we'll talk about them in March, that's what Congressional Democrats say.
The country is suffering and the Democrats are whoring for corporations yet again. It's why we need another party.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snaphshot" for Thursday:
Thursday, January 28, 2021. Joe Biden's fakery and futile efforts to 'awaken' him are among today's topics.
The article argues that the Biden administration is capable of making “a psychological shift” to the left, with enough pressure from below. Sirota pleads with youth and workers to not “lose hope” in the Democrats, despite their ever-further shift to the right.
Sirota begins his article by noting that just four weeks after Biden promised voters in Georgia $2,000 stimulus checks if they secured the Democratic Party control of the Senate, his administration is already walking back the deal in Congress. He also notes that the Democrats have indicated they are “open to negotiating” eligibility requirements for the stimulus checks and suggested that it could take at least until March to even pass the legislation.
Sirota makes no mention of the state of the pandemic, which continues to rage unabated throughout the country, or the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol, which Jacobin and the DSA have systematically downplayed and covered up over the last three weeks.
He goes on to recount the experience of 2009, the last time that the Democrats controlled all three branches of government: “You’ll recall that back then, Barack Obama and Biden got themselves elected in the middle of an economic crisis after promising to pass a public health insurance option.” By 2010, the Obama administration killed the plan, and as Sirota writes: “Senate Democrats refused to even bring it up for a floor vote when they had the chance.”
He continues: “The public option fight should be a harrowing cautionary tale for Biden. … [Biden] of all people should know that this story never ends well.” Sirota concludes by asking, “The question is: Can he and Democrats learn from the past?”
As they promote the fiction that the Democratic Party can be pushed to the left, one might be tempted to reply, “Can Sirota and Jacobin learn from the past?” However, in the case of both Sirota and Biden, it is not a question of insufficient mental capacity, however lacking they may be in this regard, but class interests.
I am not an apologist for David Sirota -- couldn't be if I wanted to due to the past because the community wouldn't allow me to (David once announced he was going to sue us when we noted a failure to disclose on his part). Nor am I trying to rescue him.
But I want to add that detail because I put up with six or so years of Danny Schechter whining in e-mails through Barack's first term and most of his second (Danny died in March 2015) about how awful a job Barack Obama was doing and how he couldn't say a word because he'd lose funding. Over and over, he always had an excuse. And he always had an excuse for me because we met several times on different campuses when I was speaking out against the Iraq War and he was promoting his documentary on how the media sold the Iraq War.
When he was telling the world that Tina Turner had to -- had to -- forgive Ike Turner, Ava and I called him out. Ike terrorized her and Danny thinks she has to forgive him? He put her in the hospital multiple times. Danny publicly wrote his remarks so we called him out and we called out another at the time that was minimizing the years of abuse that Tina suffered at the hands of Ike. That began Danny's whines in e-mails.
I already thought Danny was rather pathetic. He'd done a documentary on the Iraq War and then rushed to ignore it and Iraq. He'd always e-mail or, if we bumped into each other, face-to-face try to get me to promote something he'd written or produced. And I found it hilarious as the years passed because he wouldn't do the same for us. I never asked for this site to be noted there. But from time to time, he did in the first year. Then he stopped and that was fine except he would, for example, call out MoveOn.Org and type something like, "As some sites say, 'Walk.On.org . . .' because they walked away from the Iraq War.'' Some sites?
He meant this site.
I do not like George Soros. I think he has a blood on his hands because he made his fortune via speculation. Blood money. I do not approve of him, I do not like him. Yet for years, Ava and I have had to put up with false rumors that we are funded by George Soros. In 2007, we wrote "TV: Friendly faces aren't who we meet" for THIRD. Danny decided to post it at MEDIA CHANNEL -- post in full -- and because Danny got Soros funds, we have been accused of getting Soros funds. We didn't even know he'd reposted it. Those things get reposted everywhere -- especially in the UK -- but I did tell Danny that he'd created a problem for us. We didn't even get a byline credit, by the way.
Because I am too controversial per Danny. That's why he'd refer to THE COMMON ILLS, quote it even, but not name it or link to it. "Everybody knows what site I'm talking about," he'd insist.
What a coward.
Every now and then, friends in publishing will try to talk me into writing a book about all this -- being online, telling my truths and what goes on behind the scenes when I do. If I ever did, I would certainly quote at length from Danny's many embarrassing e-mails where he whines, for example, that he knows Barack didn't bring all the troops home but if he says that he won't get his funding. I replied back that he could say "some sites" referring to us or he could quote Ted Koppel or cite Ted's reports for NBC and NPR. No, no, no. He'd say that ______ or ______ was already on his case and he'd lose everything if he told the truth about Barack.
So our 'news dissector' spent the last seven or so years of his life begging for money from people he was actively and knowingly lying to.
David's very clear in his Tweet (and there are others like it) that he told the truth he could and suffered. That's a world away from Danny Schechter.
That's not to rescue him or to say Genevieve is wrong.
I agree with her, that tone is off putting -- and it's off putting to many of us who long ago learned that the Democratic Party refuses to be pushed. Joe Biden is not going to be pushed. You might be able to shame him -- shame is a very strong characteristic in Joe's make up -- but you're not to push him or cajole him into doing the right thing.
I don't know what the answer is. I agree 100% with Genevieve that pimping that notion is off putting and, honestly, insulting to those of us who are 'woke' to this reality because we've seen it over and over. That's why Tom Hayden was so damn useless. He went from believing in things to being a whore. Even when Barack Obama was insulting him by name in the primaries "Tom Hayden Democrats," Tom was still such a whore and such a weakling that he was out there telling people to vote for Barack. He should have been telling them to vote for basically anyone else. Bill because of his promise on the Iraq War, for example, or Mike Gravel because he'd actually made change happen before.
There are a lot of people who have just known that they were going to change the party and they didn't. That's why I laugh at AOC. She refuses to harness the power that she does have. She thinks she's going to outsmart or out maneuver Nancy Pelosi, get Nancy to do what she wants. AOC is not smarter than John Conyers. John, a Civil Rights lion, thought he could get Nancy to come around on impeachment of Bully Boy Bush. But she wouldn't. And she crippled him. So, yeah, I laugh at glossy AOC and her stupidity as she keeps losing to Nancy and giving in without a real fight. She doesn't know her history (she clearly doesn't know the Constitution). Pretty girl, pretty girl.
Ann Garrison: On January 20, we saw Joe Biden carry on about “unity” behind seven-foot fences topped with razor wire and 25,000 plus National Guard troops deployed . One friend of mine said that this pointed to an irony deficiency. Is there anything you'd like to say about it?
Ajamu Baraka: Well, I think it is ironic, but it's quite understandable that the kinds of activities that the US has been involved in promoting and supporting globally—undermining democracies, subverting states, undermining and destroying any semblance of the rule of law—have basically come back to haunt them. You have a militant movement in the US partially inspired by the inability of the state and the system to address their material interests and to look at their concerns regarding their own understanding of democracy and its deficiencies. They feel like they lack space to articulate those views, and they’ve decided to engage in militant actions to make sure that their voices are heard, and they believe that they are upholding democracy.
And their experience with the state made them feel justified in advancing their concerns about democracy in violent forms. The state has demonstrated to them that the way you defend democracy is through state violence. So they were taking their defense into their own hands and bringing it right back to the center of empire. Some of us call that blowback.
AG: For the past four years, liberals on the coasts have excoriated the white working class in the middle of the country, whom they perceive to be deplorable Trump supporters. Do you think that this is helpful?
AB: No. Not only is it not helpful, it is inaccurate and it has helped to create the narrative that many of these forces have embraced; that is the centerpiece of their grievances. They believe that liberals and the liberal order have not addressed their needs, their interests. They believe that the economic elites are only out for themselves and that therefore they needed to rally behind Trump, a billionaire who claimed that he understood their interests and would fight for them because nobody else was.
So this characterization of them as deplorables, and as either Nazis or Nazi-like, is not only not helpful but also contradictory in the sense that those folks who level those charges still have not been able to explain why the Trump presidency happened.
For example, some nine million people who voted for Trump in 2016 had voted for Barack Obama in 2012. Liberals can't explain why, after four years of constant anti-Trump rhetoric, the Trump forces expanded their ranks by another 11 million voters. So this is something in play that's a little bit more sophisticated than these people just being deplorables or Nazis. And that something has to be interrogated. It has to be extracted. It has to be understood if you're going to have a politics to counter it. And right now the liberals have not understood where these elements are coming from because they have basically painted those 75 million people as a monolith of deplorables.
The neoliberals have constructed a politics that is going to result in a continuation of the same conditions, politically and economically, that created what they pretend to be most opposed to—the Trump movement. So this is the failure of imagination, the failure of critical analysis, the embracing of illusions that has characterized much of the politics in the US for a couple of decades now. And we see the consequences of that with us every day.
AG: In the 48 hours after Biden became president, Israel bombed Syria, killing a family of four, a US convoy of trucks crossed into Syria to steal oil yet again, a double suicide bombing in Baghdad killed 32 people and Foreign Affairs, the journal of the US Council on Foreign Relations, published a piece with the headline “Th e M yth of a R esponsible W ithdrawal from Afghanistan ,” which said, “the Biden administration should accept that there is no feasible middle way for a responsible withdrawal.” What do you think is next?
AB: The continuation of policies that have resulted in the US being bogged down in Afghanistan for two decades, policies that will ensure that the wars that the US is involved in will continue. There will be a continuation of the commitment to US global full-spectrum dominance. In other words, violence is still at the center of the neoliberal project. And they intend to reintroduce that instrument under the Biden administration.
There were reports leading up to the election that Democratic Party-associated elements were secretly suggesting to the Afghan authorities that they would not have to worry about a peace process being executed once Joe Biden came to power. And they made the argument using some of the same terms and framework that we saw in that article in Foreign Affairs, that the US had a responsibility to remain in Afghanistan. And so they will fully prepare to undermine whatever progress was made for extracting US forces from that territory.
If you need audio of the interview, go to KPFA's page for the COVID, RACE AND DEMOCRACY program, it's the 1/11/21 episode that they broadcast on 1/18/21.
As Biden has assembled his new administration, he devoted Wednesday, January 27, to unveiling his plans to fight climate change, with former Secretary of State John Kerry as his “climate envoy” and former EPA Administrator Gena McCarthy as the top White House adviser on climate change.
The record of these two leaders of the Biden climate policy demonstrates both the insincerity of the new administration’s appeal to widespread popular concerns over global warming and the alignment of its policies with the worldwide interests of American imperialism.
McCarthy was head of the EPA during the worst pollution event in recent history, the systematic poisoning of the population of Flint, Michigan in the lead-in-water scandal that came to light in 2015. The federal EPA shared responsibility with state and local officials for covering up the profit-driven decisions that produced this catastrophe, leading to the deaths of dozens of people and the poisoning of tens of thousands, including many children who may suffer lifelong consequences.
That such an official is chosen for a top White House position, rather than publicly denounced and prosecuted, only demonstrates for the thousandth time that there is one law for the capitalists and their top servants, and another law for everyone else.
As for Kerry, the former senator, presidential candidate and secretary of state, he has so many crimes in the service of American imperialism on his dossier that it would take another article of this length just to list them all. Suffice it to say that he has supported all the American wars in the Middle East, including the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the US attack on Libya in 2011, and the ongoing interventions in Syria and Yemen, as well as the war in Afghanistan, now more than 20 years old.
His selection as climate envoy is a declaration by Biden that US efforts in relation to environmental issues will be driven, first and foremost, by the geopolitical needs of American imperialism, and particularly its predatory aims for the subjugation of China and Russia, which Washington regards as its two biggest military and security rivals.
Biden’s choice of Kerry has been widely hailed by liberal and pseudoleft commentators, who drummed up 2020 votes for the Democrats as a sign that the new President is serious about climate change. Kerry co-chaired the Biden-Sanders unity task force on climate together with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) faction of the Democratic Party. One result of this task force was the Biden climate plan, a highly watered-down version of the Green New Deal popularized by Ocasio-Cortez.
Moving over to Iraq . . .
That's Minister of Agriculture Muhammad al-Khafaji insisting that Iraq's goal is to reach food security. He gives lip service. He doesn't seem very clear on the issue or on how bad it is in Iraq. The United Nations' Food and Agricultural Organization notes:
The protracted conflict and ongoing economic crisis in Iraq has left 3.2 million people food insecure, including those who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. Violence continues to force people to abandon farms, causing the displacement of almost 3 million people and destroying or damaging harvests, equipment, supplies, livestock, seeds, crops and stored food. Water shortages and the lack or high cost of agricultural inputs continue to negatively affect the performance of the sector. Families report limited livelihood opportunities, which reduces their purchasing power and restricts their access to the public distribution system – an important social safety net that entitles Iraqis to receive rations of flour, rice and cooking oil from the government.
As the Coronavirus pandemic batters Iraq, the Iraqi state is grappling to respond to the evolving outbreak. At the same time, the government is trying to fill a $40 billion deficit in the state budget arising from plummeting oil prices, which is estimated to have slashed the government revenues by half. With the pandemic and economic challenges taking top priority for the Iraqi government, Iraq is exposed to the prospect of food insecurity. Compounded by antiquated and competing state institutions underfunded and plagued by bureaucratic inefficiency and complexity, Iraq’s government needs rapid institutional and policy reform in addition to a reorganization of its safety net systems to respond to the risks of food insecurity.
Iraq struggles from chronic structural and emerging challenges that have hampered its food production over the years. Iraq’s population has been multiplying, from 23.5 million in 2000 to around 39 million Iraqis in 2019. This amounts to a 66 percent increase in population in 20 years. Food supply, both locally produced and imported, has been struggling to catch up with the population growth. Moreover, Iraq’s political turmoil and instability, the cyclical conflict and wars, and the corruption and mismanagement of state resources exacerbate this problem. Food supply increased from 13.8 million tons in 2000 to an estimated 20 million tons in 2019, a 44 percent increase in the same period.
Concurrently, Iraq’s urban population almost doubled over those two decades, largely due to migration from rural areas in search of employment. Climate change has negatively impacted agricultural communities. In particular, reduced the water supply from Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and the salinization of water tables has caused mounting desertification. Compounding these issues is the economic collapse—which began with UN sanctions and worsened during the collapse of state institutions following the U.S. invasion of 2003—and subsequent conflict and wars. The economic and political toll of rounds of conflict—starting with Gulf War and continuing with the Islamic State’s rampage in Iraq’s food basket governorates—and the waves of human displacement have all wreaked havoc on Iraq’s food system in terms of local production and in its ability to procure food. The pandemic has only added more stress to the fragile food system, disrupting food supply chains, increasing food costs, and decreasing Iraqi household purchasing power as more Iraqis slide into poverty.
Today, the institutions at the core of Iraq’s food system remain persistently misunderstood and neglected, given the continuous degradation of the Iraqi state. Policy and institutional reform – specifically governing the agriculture and food sector – have taken a backseat as successive Iraqi governments and the international community have prioritized food and agricultural aid in response to the country’s crises and challenges. However, Iraq will likely struggle to mitigate the effects of current crises on food security unless it reforms the complex web of institutions governing food production and supply, empowers and consolidates state organizations, and reforms the institutional environment of food production.
The Iraqi government's decision to devalue the dinar will likely increase the number at risk of food insecurity.
Meanwhile Pope Francis has gotten his COVID shots and is preparing to visit Iraq in March. ALJAZEERA reports:
Pope Francis will meet top Shia religious leader Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani during the first-ever papal visit to Iraq in March, a senior Catholic cleric told the AFP news agency on Thursday.
Louis Sako, the patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, said it would be a “private visit” between the two religious figures “without formalities”.
If the Pope is able to visit, he will be the first pope to visit Iraq.
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