The Evening Blues - 7-23-21


The day's news roundup + tonight's musical feature: Smokin' Joe Kubek

Hey! Good Evening!

This evening's music features Texas guitarist Smokin' Joe Kubek. Enjoy!

Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King - Tell Me Why

“But money doesn’t work in the sense that labor or tangible capital expends effort to produce commodities. Credit is debt, and debt extracts interest. Financial salesmen who promise investors, “Make your money work for you” actually mean that society should work for the creditors — and that means for the banks that create credit.

The effect is to turn the economic surplus into a flow of interest payments, diverting revenue from tangible capital investment. As the economy’s reproductive powers are dried up, the financialization process is kept going by easing credit terms and lending — not to produce more goods and services, but to bid up prices for the real estate, stocks and bonds being pledged as collateral for larger and larger loans.”

-- Michael Hudson

News and Opinion

The rentiers are coming! Snoopy pointed out this excellent article to me. Here's a bit of it to get you started. It's worth a click if you're interested in the oligarchy's next big move.

Eyeing Federal Infrastructure Windfall, Private Equity Courts Public Utilities

When flash flood warnings interrupted a monthslong spring drought in Fayetteville earlier this summer, crews kicked into gear, putting up road signs and roping off intersections. Sudden flood response has become second nature for the North Carolina city, which sits by the Cape Fear River on a rolling territory once carpeted in swampy wetlands. Now, even a few days of heavy rain can overwhelm pavement in low-lying Fayetteville, triggering creek swelling and storm drain overflows. Other basic infrastructure is in disrepair too, said D.J. Haire, a city councilmember. A lack of signal lights and inadequate street lighting have caused frequent car crashes in his district.

Last year, Louisiana-based Bernhard Capital Partners (BCP), a private equity firm, came to city leaders and offered them a fix. BCP had $750 million available for the city to finance these and other overdue improvement projects. They would also invest in economic development programs, such as business incubators and training programs at Fayetteville State, a historically Black university. In return, BCP requested a contract to operate the city’s water and power utilities for the next 30 years, and keep the profits. ...

Lawmakers are torn over the offer. “They came looking for Fayetteville. We didn’t go looking for them,” Haire said. In talks with BCP, the council has been skeptical, he added, but each member finds district investments hard to pass up. “Everybody had questions, but everybody could use improvements, also.”

Fayetteville wasn’t the only town to get a call. BCP has approached dozens of low-income cities across the southeast, proposing to pour a reported $15 to $20 billion into municipal utilities projects in the region. The upfront capital could pay off with billions in profit over the next several decades. And while BCP’s cash would likely come at a premium, compared with low-cost municipal bonds, it could help finance projects the federal government has neglected to fund.

The overture is part of a public asset bonanza investors anticipate, amid much-needed federal investments in roads, bridges, and climate resilience. Private equity is seeking to capitalize on the one-off spending spree in President Biden’s infrastructure plans, using environmental violations and crumbling buildings to make the case that municipalities can’t manage their own assets. One encouraging sign for private equity: talks over an infrastructure bill in Washington have included allowances for public-private partnerships (P3s), where companies manage new infrastructure assets. If federal dollars are shaved down enough, if the final P3 language is sufficiently business-friendly, or both, the forthcoming infrastructure package could mean open season for private-sector entrance into municipal utilities.

US Launched Several Airstrikes in Support of Afghan Forces/h3>

The U.S. military launched several airstrikes this week in support of Afghan government forces fighting Taliban insurgents, including in the strategically important province of Kandahar, officials said Thursday.

The strikes demonstrate U.S. intentions to continue supporting Afghan forces with combat aircraft based outside the country, at least until the scheduled conclusion of the U.S. military withdrawal on Aug. 31. The Biden administration has not said whether it will continue that support after the pullout is complete.

The U.S. has a variety of combat aircraft based in the Middle East within range of Afghanistan, including warplanes aboard an aircraft carrier in the region and fighters and bombers in the Persian Gulf area. ...

U.S. officials have urged the Afghans to make use of their own combat aircraft, as well as their U.S.-trained ground forces. In recent months the Afghan forces have ceded a significant amount of territory to the Taliban, raising questions about their ability to hold out after the U.S. completes its withdrawal.

At a Pentagon news conference Wednesday, Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the future of Afghanistan is in the hands of the Afghan people, urging them to assert their will on the battlefield.

Biden Now Bombing Poorest People On Earth

UN Experts Warn US Sanctions Endangering Lives of Venezuelan Cancer Patients

Six independent experts appointed by the United Nations' Human Rights Council on Wednesday warned that "hundreds of Venezuelan cancer patients could die" as a result of illegal U.S. sanctions imposed on Venezuela and its state-owned oil company.

"The lives of Venezuelan transplant patients who are stranded in foreign countries, as well as those waiting to travel abroad for livesaving operations are under threat," the U.N. special rapporteurs said. "A trip abroad for treatment has become the only hope for hundreds of critically ill patients."

Under former U.S. President Donald Trump, who sought to topple the elected government of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, the U.S. in August 2017 began to unilaterally impose sanctions on Venezuela in violation of international law as well as the charter of the Organization of American States and other international treaties the U.S. has signed.

While Trump's attempt to force a regime change in the South American country ultimately failed, U.S. sanctions "killed tens of thousands of Venezuelans in just their first year (2017–18), and almost certainly tens of thousands more since then," according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research, a progressive think tank based in Washington, D.C.

In August 2019, following the failure of Venezuelan opposition figure Juan Guaidó's U.S.-backed coup attempt, Trump moved to further strangle the Venezuelan economy—and ultimately, its population—by imposing a full economic embargo. Trump's punitive executive order froze all Venezuelan government assets and outlawed transactions with them, including the state's central bank and its oil company, Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA).

The U.N.-appointed human rights experts argued Wednesday that U.S. sanctions negatively affected a program run by the Simón Bolívar Foundation, the charitable arm of Citgo Petroleum Corporation, a U.S.-based refiner owned by PDVSA.

The program "helped cancer patients, including many children, travel abroad for transplants and for other livesaving treatment," the experts said. "Hundreds of these patients used to be linked to a national transplant program with the Venezuelan government, but their treatment was discontinued" because of U.S. sanctions.

According to the U.N. Human Rights Council, "There are some 190 cancer patients on a waiting list for foreign treatment, and some 14 children, including three toddlers, died between 2017 and 2020 waiting for treatment under the program."

The U.N. special rapporteurs said the U.S. government as well as other countries and entities have been made aware that Washington's economic blockade of Venezuela is endangering cancer patients.

"Third countries, groups of countries, banks, and private companies have been overly cautious in dealings with Venezuela because they fear unintentionally violating U.S. sanctions," said the human rights advocates. "As a consequence, money cannot be transferred out of Venezuela, and some patients have been stranded, destitute, in countries where they went for treatment."

The U.N.-appointed experts called on the U.S. and other countries and entities "to mitigate the unexpected consequences of sanctions, and reinstate treatment for people whose lives now are in danger. They must take full responsibility for the effect their actions have on the fundamental rights to life and health of every individual around the world."

Last month, in a letter sent to U.S. President Joe Biden, Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) drew attention to the deadly consequences of U.S. sanctions and urged the Biden administration to end "all secondary and sectoral sanctions imposed on Venezuela by the Trump administration." Biden, however, has so far maintained his predecessor's "murderous blockade of Venezuela," as journalist Ben Norton called it on Thursday.

Dalai Lama’s inner circle listed in Pegasus project data

China’s nearest observation posts are hundreds of miles from Dharamsala, the city in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas that hosts Tibet’s government-in-exile and its highest spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Still, Tibetans there have often felt closely watched. Suspected Chinese spies have regularly been detected in the hill station. A decade ago, a digital security specialist watched in disbelief as sensitive files on Tibetan government computers were extracted on the screen before his eyes – activity that led to the unearthing of a massive cyber-espionage network, known as GhostNet, which was largely traced to Chinese servers.

Surveillance technology has evolved, and leaked data points to another possible interest in Tibetan communications – this time from a less obvious source.

The phone numbers of a top ring of advisers around the Dalai Lama are believed to have been selected as those of people of interest by government clients of NSO Group. Analysis strongly indicates that the Indian government was selecting the potential targets. Other phone numbers apparently selected by Delhi were those of the president of the government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay, staff in the office of another Buddhist spiritual leader, the Gyalwang Karmapa, and several other activists and clerics who are part of the exiled community in India. ...

The selected Tibetans did not make their phones available to confirm whether any hacking was attempted or successful, but technical analysis of 10 other phones on the suspected Indian client list found traces of Pegasus or signs of targeting related to the spyware.

Texas and Florida get involved in Israel’s fight with Ben & Jerry’s over West Bank boycott

The fight between Israel and Palestinians is spilling over into 30 U.S. states with laws on their books preventing pension funds from investing in companies that refuse to do business with the Jewish state. The freshest example involves the socially conscious ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s, the West Bank, Texas and Florida. ...

A spokesman for GOP Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told CNBC on Tuesday night: “Ben and Jerry’s decision to boycott parts of Israel is disgraceful and an insult to America’s closest ally in the Middle East.” The statement went on to say: “Unilever, Ben and Jerry’s parent company, must reverse this ill-conceived decision.”

State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who controls billions of dollars in assets for Texas’ public pension funds has already told his office to take action. In a statement to CNBC he said, “I’ve directed my staff to determine whether any specific action has been taken by Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever would trigger a listing under Chapter 808 of the Texas Government Code,” the law passed in 2017.

It is also possible sales in states with anti-boycott laws could be impacted. If Ben & Jerry’s or Unilever bids for a contract at a public institution, they could be disqualified if the boycott becomes a reality.

Florida state CFO Jimmy Patronis, who controls public pension funds, told CNBC his office is already discussing the issue. In a letter sent to Ben & Jerry’s CEO Matthew McCarthy on Thursday, Patronis wrote, “It is my belief that Ben & Jerry’s brazen refusal to do business in Israel will result in your placement on the Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List.”

US sanctions Cuban security chief and special forces over crackdown on protests

The US has imposed sanctions on a Cuban security minister and an interior ministry special forces unit for alleged human rights abuses in a crackdown on anti-government protests this month.

The move marked the first concrete steps by Joe Biden’s administration to apply pressure on Cuba’s Communist government as it faces calls from US lawmakers and the Cuban American community to show greater support for the biggest protests to hit the island in decades. ...

“The United States will continue to sanction individuals responsible for oppression of the Cuban people,” he said.

The Cuban foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, in a message on Twitter, rejected the sanctions as “unfounded and slanderous” and urged the US to apply such measures to its own record of “systematic repression and police brutality”.

Danish military spots Iranian navy ships in Baltic Sea

The Danish military has said that it has spotted an Iranian destroyer and a large support vessel sailing through the Baltic Sea, thought to be heading to Russia for a military parade in the coming days.

The Danish defence ministry posted photographs online on Thursday from the Royal Danish Air Force of the new domestically built Iranian destroyer Sahand and the intelligence-gathering vessel Makran passing by the Danish island of Bornholm.

“It is expected that they are on their way to the annual naval parade in St Petersburg,” the Danish military wrote on Twitter.

Earlier on Thursday, Iran’s state-run IRNA news agency reported that the country’s navy commander, Adm Hossein Khanzadi, would join the Russian naval parade at St Petersburg after receiving an invitation from the Russian defence minister.

US in ‘another pivotal moment’ as Delta variant drives surge in Covid cases

The US is “at another pivotal moment in this pandemic” as rising Covid-19 cases show no signs of abating, driven by the Delta variant, and some hospitals are filling up, especially in areas with low vaccination rates, government officials warned on Thursday.

The US government did not change its guidance on mask wearing, despite debates going on in the White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) about whether those who have been vaccinated should once again be officially advised to wear masks indoors to prevent the spread.

Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said that the Delta variant of coronavirus “is now spreading with incredible efficiency” in the US and that, compared with the original coronavirus strain that broke out in the US in early 2020, this variant is “more aggressive”.

The Delta variant now accounts for more than 83% of new coronavirus cases in the US. And Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical adviser to the president, said there are some areas of the country where Delta accounts for more than 90% of new infections.

“And if you look at the recent seven-day or 14-day averages of cases, for example, the cases are up by, like, 195%. The hospitalizations are up 46%. And the 14-day average for deaths are up 42% … it’s not the direction we want it to be,” Fauci told NPR News, adding: “We’ve got to do much better.”

Biden says children under 12 could be eligible for Covid vaccines within months

Joe Biden has expressed optimism that young children would soon become eligible for Covid-19 inoculations, while urging unvaccinated Americans to take the “gigantically important” step of getting their shots as the virus surges across the US.

Speaking at a televised town hall in Cincinnati on Wednesday, hosted by CNN, Biden said that children under 12, who are currently ineligible for the three coronavirus vaccines available in the US, could get shots by August or later in the fall.

Last week, an FDA official told NBC News that Covid-19 vaccine approval for younger children could come by midwinter. Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech both launched trials of their Covid-19 vaccines for kids under 12 in March, with results expected in the fall.

“They’re not promising me any specific date, but my expectation, talking to the scientists,” Biden said at the town hall, “is that some time, maybe in the beginning of the school year, at the end of August, beginning of September, October, you’ll get a final approval” for vaccinating kids. But, he added, the ultimate decision lay with officials at the FDA and CDC. “I do not tell any scientists what they should do. I do not interfere,” Biden said.

Meanwhile, he said, the CDC would probably recommend that “everyone under the age of 12 should probably be wearing masks in school”.

Millions who lost work during Covid faced benefit system chaos

Unemployed workers are pushing for reforms and changes to America’s unemployment insurance system after millions of workers experienced severe problems in receiving benefits throughout the pandemic.

Workers across America faced long delays in receiving unemployment benefits as state systems were quickly overwhelmed with the mass influx of applications that caused months-long backlogs. Meanwhile, workers who made errors on their applications, had missing records or had their claims flagged had their benefits stopped – and often had difficulty restarting them once problems were resolved.

About 9 million Americans are estimated to have lost work due to the pandemic but received no unemployment benefits. ... The impacts were detrimental to workers around the US, who fell behind on rent or mortgage or car payments, experienced utility shutoffs and relied on food banks and assistance programs to feed themselves and their families.

In the wake of the mass unemployment caused by the pandemic, several organizations, including the Economic Policy Institute and National Employment Law Project, created a report with unemployed workers outlining reforms needed to fix the widespread issues to unemployment insurance that were exposed by Covid-19.

FBI failed to fully investigate Kavanaugh allegations, say Democrats

A group of US Democratic senators on Thursday said that newly released materials show the FBI failed to fully investigate sexual misconduct allegations against the US supreme court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was nominated to the court in 2018.

The senators, including Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island and Chris Coons of Delaware, said a letter they received from the FBI director, Chris Wray, last month shows the FBI gathered more than 4,500 tips relating to Kavanaugh without any apparent further action by investigators. ...

On 1 August 2019, Coons and Whitehouse wrote to Wray asking for a complete picture of how the FBI handled the supplemental background investigation of Kavanaugh, Whitehouse’s statement continued on Thursday. Whitehouse said they asked “why the FBI failed to contact witnesses whose names were provided to the FBI as possessing ‘highly relevant’ information; how involved the Trump White House was in narrowing the scope of the investigation; whether the FBI had used a tip line in previous background investigations to manage incoming allegations and information regarding a nominee; and more.” ...

One of the new books out on Trump this summer, Landslide by Michael Wolff, claims that Trump later said Kavanaugh was “totally disgraced” by the sexual assault allegations levelled against him during the heated confirmation hearings in 2018 and would have been rejected by the Senate had Trump not defended him. Wolff writes that Trump said of the judge: “I saved his life. He wouldn’t even be in a law firm. Who would have had him? Nobody. Totally disgraced. Only I saved him.”

the horse race

Filibuster Stance Could TANK Sinema Reelection, Biden FLIP FLOPS On Reform

Considerably more detail at the link:

Arizona’s sham audit rumbles on but could it backfire on Republicans?

By all accounts, the election “audit” in Arizona is a failure – months past its initial deadline, potentially in violation of federal law and riddled with mistakes. Therefore, it’s unsurprising that the auditors are fighting to shield their operation from public records requests and to hide their donors. Still, somehow, the review has inspired copycats around the country.

A Republican legislator in Pennsylvania recently threatened three counties with a subpoena if they don’t turn over their voting machines, computer system logs and voters’ personal information, a move that reportedly has the support of senior party officials. ...

Still, this strategy is fraught. In Arizona, the Republican-controlled board of supervisors did nearly everything possible to resist the review, and it’s easy to see why. After weathering a pandemic and facing down hostile mobs, these officials were then being accused of incompetence at best and complicity in a vast conspiracy at worst.

Already, the two Pennsylvania counties controlled by Republicans have said they won’t comply voluntarily with the request, and though election administrators don’t have the same platform as grandstanding politicians, it isn’t great optics to bully fellow Republicans to conduct an audit that will almost certainly reveal no fraud, as was the case recently in Michigan.

Rev. Liz Theoharis of Poor People’s Campaign Arrested in Protest over Voting Rights & Infrastructure

the evening greens

Minnesota Police Expected Pipeline Budget Boost to Fund New Weapons

A few weeks before a controversial oil pipeline was approved for construction in his area, Aitkin County, Minnesota, Sheriff’s Deputy Aaron Cook bought a new assault rifle that cost $725. The purchase was part of an effort to standardize police weaponry, said Cook’s boss, the local sheriff, and was unrelated to the Line 3 pipeline being built by Enbridge. Cook himself, however, told the gun seller that Enbridge could play a role in boosting the agency’s arsenal. “Our budget took a hit last week, so that’s all we will be ordering for now,” the deputy said in a November 2020 email about his purchase. “I’m hoping the pipeline will give us an extra boost to next year’s budget, which should make it easy for me to propose an upgrade/trade to your rifles rather than a rebuild of our 8 Bushmasters” — a reference to another make of assault rifles.

The email suggests that at least some law enforcement officers anticipate new policing resources if the pipeline, Enbridge’s Line 3, is completed. The document, obtained through a public records request, provides an elegant example of how everyday oil and gas investments make it all the harder for local economies to transition away from the fossil fuel industry. The deputy appeared to be describing a banal but lucrative benefit aligning local police interests with the oil pipeline: property taxes.

“They clearly have a belief or awareness that there is a pot of gold should they succeed in stopping the water protectors from being able to stop Line 3,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund’s Center for Protest Law and Litigation and an attorney representing water protectors. “This deputy is obviously looking to line the county sheriff’s armory with this money.” ...

Though police frequently claim to be neutral arbiters of public safety, law enforcement agencies anticipated protests by forming a multi-agency task force whose members have coordinated frequently with Enbridge. ... Shanai Matteson, who is from Aitkin County and currently lives at a pipeline resistance camp in the area, said that she’s seen police officers escorting Enbridge trucks and machinery as well as sitting with pipeline security at construction sites. “How can we pretend this is a neutral response?” she said. “They are expecting some kind of benefit longterm from the pipeline. To me that says a lot about their motivations for protecting Enbridge and protecting their worksites.” ...

The rerouted Line 3 places a significant section of pipeline in Aitkin County, meaning that the new line will likely provide a big boost in revenue for the rural county of some 16,000 people. Aitkin County Auditor Kirk Peysar told The Intercept that Enbridge contributed $68,581 in property taxes to the county budget for 2021. If the project enters operation, he estimates Enbridge will pay Aitkin County $2.4 million annually, including local, school, and state property taxes.

Just Out of Jail, Winona LaDuke Decries Militarized Crackdown on Enbridge Line 3 Pipeline Protests

Deadly coral disease sweeping Caribbean linked to wastewater from ships

A virulent and fast-moving