The Evening Blues - 9-14-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features rock n roll pianist Little Richard. Enjoy!
Little Richard - Long Tall Sally
“Most people gaze neither into the past nor the future; they explore neither truth nor lies. They gaze at the television.”
News and Opinion
Until now, claims that television makes you stupid have only been backed up by anecdotal evidence. True, at a certain point it does seem that people who watch vast amounts of TV do become so intellectually impaired that they start involuntarily clapping along to theme tunes like imprisoned sea lions performing for fish, but that isn’t anything you could write a medical paper about.
Now, sadly, science has trundled along to back it up. According to Dr Ryan Dougherty, from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, . Examining the viewing habits of 599 American adults between 1990 and 2011, Dougherty found that those who watched an above average amount of television showed reduced volume in their frontal cortex and entorhinal cortex. Basically, your mum was right: TV really does rot your brain.
International policymakers pledged about $1 billion in aid for Afghanistan Monday following a plea from United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres for immediate funding to protect Afghan children and other vulnerable people from starvation—but just 6% was pledged by the country which led Afghanistan into two decades of war before withdrawing all troops at the end of August.
The U.S. State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) announced the country would direct $64 million to Afghanistan to "provide lifesaving support directly to Afghans facing the compounding effects of insecurity, conflict, recurring natural disasters, and the Covid-19 pandemic."
Guterres had appealed to the international community for at least $606 million, warning that Afghans now "face perhaps their most perilous hour" after the 20-year U.S. occupation.
Since the Taliban took control of the country last month, the Afghan population of 38 million people has been cut off from aid projects run by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund payments, and U.S.-controlled assets in Afghanistan's central bank.
"Even before the dramatic events of the last weeks, Afghans were experiencing one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world," said Guterres. "Today, one in three Afghans do not know where their next meal will come from. The poverty rate is spiraling—and basic public services are close to collapse. Hundreds of thousands of people have been forced to flee their homes."
The loss of humanitarian funding—which nearly 10 million Afghan children depend on "just to survive," according to Henrietta Fore of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF), who also spoke at the conference—comes as the country faces its second drought in three years. The World Food Program (WFP) estimated this month that 40% of crops this year have been lost, pushing the price of wheat up by 25%.
The WFP's stock of food aid for the country is expected to run out by the end of September, the New York Times reported recently.
The Taliban’s takeover of Afghanistan is a shattering earthquake that will shape the Middle East for many years, a senior Gulf official has said, warning that – despite the group’s promises of moderation – the militant group is “essentially the same” as last time it was in power. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, the official also said that the rapid and chaotic US withdrawal also raises serious questions for Gulf states about the value of US promises of security over the next 20 years.
“Afghanistan is an earthquake, a shattering, shattering earthquake, and this is going to stay with us for a very, very long time,” the official said on Monday. He added that the episode marked a complete break with the outdated Carter doctrine – a commitment that an oil-dependent US would use military force to defend its interests in the Gulf.
“Can we really depend on an American security umbrella for the next 20 years? I think this is very problematic right now – really very problematic.”
He suggested that 20 years of warfare, supposed to be “a battle against those who had hijacked Islam”, had left no legacy in Afghanistan, and predicted that the Taliban’s seizure of power would prompt concern among leaders in West Africa and the Sahel about the rise of a newly confident Islamic extremism. ...
Many Gulf states have already begun recalibrating their foreign policy to take into account declining US dependence on oil and the growing popular insularity of the US, but the official said he now expected that process to speed up, leading to realignments in alliances and a desire for some historical rivals to establish more pragmatic relations. The general aim will be to de-escalate tensions in the region, the official said.
Saudi deputy minister of defense signs military cooperation agreement between the kingdom and Russia
Saudi deputy minister of defense Khalid bin Salman said on Twitter on Tuesday that the kingdom and Russia signed an agreement aimed at developing areas of joint military cooperation between the two countries.
Up to half of the estimated $14 trillion that the Pentagon has spent in the two decades since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan has gone to private military contractors, with corporate behemoths such as Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, Boeing, and General Dynamics hoovering up much of the money.
That's according to a new paper (pdf) authored by William Hartung—director of the Arms and Security Program at the Center for International Policy—and released Monday by Brown University's Costs of War Project.
Published just days after the 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks and two weeks after the last U.S. military plane departed Afghanistan, the paper documents the extent to which the massive post-9/11 surge in Pentagon spending benefited weapon makers, logistics firms, private security contractors, and other corporate interests.
"The magnitude of Pentagon spending in the wake of the 9/11 attacks was remarkable," Hartung observes. "The increase in U.S. military spending between Fiscal Year 2002 and Fiscal Year 2003 was more than the entire military budget of any other country, including major powers like China, Russia, the United Kingdom, Germany, and France."
According to Hartung's analysis, from "one-third to one-half" of the Pentagon's $14 trillion in spending since the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan on October 2001 went to defense contractors, which spend heavily on government lobbying.
"A large portion of these contracts—one-quarter to one-third of all Pentagon contracts in recent years—have gone to just five major corporations: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, General Dynamics, Raytheon, and Northrop Grumman," Hartung writes. "The $75 billion in Pentagon contracts received by Lockheed Martin in fiscal year 2020 is well over one and one-half times the entire budget for the State Department and Agency for International Development for that year, which totaled $44 billion."
But those five corporate giants are far from the only companies that profited from the increase in U.S. Defense Department outlays following the Afghanistan invasion, which ultimately killed more than 46,000 Afghan civilians. Hartung notes that numerous other firms—including Erik Prince's since-rebranded Blackwater, the Dick Cheney-tied company Halliburton, and DynCorp—benefited handsomely from the Pentagon spending boom.
"Halliburton's Pentagon contracts grew more than tenfold from FY2002 to FY2006 on the strength of its contracts to rebuild Iraq's oil infrastructure and provide logistical support for U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan," the new paper reads. "By 2009, over half of DynCorp's revenues were coming from the Iraq and Afghan wars."
Hartung argues that the Pentagon's growing reliance on private contractors to carry out U.S. foreign policy in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks "raises multiple questions of accountability, transparency, and effectiveness."
"This is problematic because privatizing key functions can reduce the U.S. military's control of activities that occur in war zones while increasing risks of waste, fraud, and abuse," he writes. "Additionally, that the waging of war is a source of profits can contradict the goal of having the U.S. lead with diplomacy in seeking to resolve conflicts."
After eight years of Conservative Party rule under Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Norway's leftist opposition parties on Monday were headed for a "landslide" win that would task Labor's Jonas Gahr Støre with forming a coalition government, according to preliminary results from the nation's parliamentary election.
The Associated Press reported that "with a projection based on a preliminary count of nearly 93% of the votes, the Labor Party and its two allies—the Socialist Left and the euroskeptic Center Party—would hold 100 seats in the 169-seat Stortinget assembly while the current government would get 68. One seat was still unsure."
The coalition parties need at least 85 of the 169 seats in the Norwegian parliament to secure a majority. Four parties on the right and five on the left are expected to win some seats. ...
Climate policy was one of the focal points in the oil-rich nation's new election. According to Reuters, Støre told reporters on Sunday after casting his ballot, "I believe that calling time on our oil and gas industry is the wrong industrial policy and the wrong climate policy."
In an earlier report, the news agency highlighted that "several small parties—the Socialist Left, the Liberals, the Greens, and the Reds—seek to halt oil and gas exploration, which brings in almost half the country's export revenues."
As Reuters detailed:
If Labor wins, it faces a… demand from the Socialist Left to stop drilling for new reserves. But Støre's own party is wary of the job losses that could follow, and its other likely partner, the Center Party, favors continued drilling.
The strongest anti-oil stance is taken by the Green Party, which wants to immediately halt exploration and to end all oil and gas output in Norway by 2035. Støre says he will reject the Greens' attempt at setting ultimatums.
In a Politico report last week that pointed out "Norway is the third-largest gas exporter in the world—after Russia and Qatar—and fossil fuels account for about half of its goods exports," the Green leader made clear why the party was in the fight, despite low polling numbers.
"We are here to make sure that nobody forgets the most important issue for this election," the Greens' Une Bastholm told Politico. "It should be climate change."
As expectations of the center-left victory grew on Monday, Lars-Henrik Paarup Michelsen, the director of the Norwegian Climate Foundation, told CNN that "we have three green parties in Norway—the Socialist Party, the Liberal Party, and the Green Party."
"The polls indicate that our next government will be led by the Labor Party. However, Labor will need the votes of at least one green party in order to get a majority in parliament," he added. "Everyone expects that climate policy will be tightened after the election."
Security researchers at Citizen Lab have discovered an exploit that they believe has been used by government clients of NSO Group, the Israeli spyware company, to silently hack into iPhones and other Apple devices since February 2021.
The discovery, which was made as the researchers were examining the mobile phone of a Saudi activist, was shared with Apple, which on Monday released a patch to fix the vulnerability.
Researchers said the speed with which Apple was seeking to fix the vulnerability to its operating system, which in effect has allowed the latest iPhones and operating systems to be vulnerable to attack by NSO Group’s government clients, underscored the “absolute seriousness” of their findings. ...
When it is successfully deployed against a target, NSO Group’s spyware, called Pegasus, can silently hack into a phone, collect a user’s personal and private information, intercept calls and messages, and even turn a mobile phone into a remote listening device.
Claiming the supreme court “is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks”, Amy Coney Barrett told an audience at a Kentucky center named for the Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell that “judicial philosophies are not the same as political parties”.
Speaking alongside McConnell a little more than a week after she and four other conservatives on the court declined to block a Texas law which all but outlaws abortion in the state, the devout Catholic also insisted the panel does not judge cases based on personal beliefs. ...
McConnell, the Louisville Courier-Journal reported, praised Barrett for not trying to “legislate from the bench” and for being from “Middle America”. Barrett is from Indiana and, unlike the other eight justices, did not attend Harvard or Yale.
Barrett said: “My goal today is to convince you that this court is not comprised of a bunch of partisan hacks.” ...
The veteran TV newscaster Dan Rather said on Twitter: “We’re apparently playing the ‘Things you can’t make up’ game this morning. So Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett (speaking at a center named after Mitch McConnell, introduced by Senator McConnell) worries that the court is seen as ‘a bunch of partisan hacks’.”
The New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has fired back at the West Virginia senator Joe Manchin for referring to her as “that young lady”, in the latest escalation of a bitter intra-party spat over the size and scale of Democrats’ social spending bill. ...
In a Sunday appearance on CNN, Manchin ripped progressives for threatening to sink a bipartisan infrastructure bill if he refuses to support the spending package. Singling out Ocasio-Cortez, Manchin responded to her claim that he meets weekly with oil lobbyists.
“I keep my door open for everybody,” he said. “It’s totally false. And those types of superlatives, it’s just awful. Continue to divide, divide, divide.
“I don’t know that young lady that well. I really don’t. She’s just speculating and saying things.”
On Twitter, Ocasio-Cortez suggested Manchin was attempting to dismiss a fellow member of Congress as a “young lady” because he was beginning to feel the pressure. “In Washington, I usually know my questions of power are getting somewhere when the powerful stop referring to me as ‘Congresswoman’ and start referring to me as ‘young lady’ instead,” the 31-year-old wrote.
“Imagine if every time someone referred to someone as ‘young lady’ they were responded to by being addressed with their age and gender? They’d be pretty upset if one responded with ‘the old man’, right? Why this kind of weird, patronizing behavior is so accepted is beyond me!”
Last month, for the first time in recorded history, rain fell on the highest point of the Greenland ice sheet. It hardly made the news. But rain in a place historically defined by bitter cold portends a future that will alter coastlines around the world, and drown entire cities.
The Greenland ice sheet contains four times more ice than all of Earth’s other glaciers and ice fields combined, outside Antarctica. The largest island in the world, Greenland is more than 36,000 times the size of Manhattan, and ice covers most of it, in many places thousands of feet thick. As carbon dioxide and methane accumulate in our atmosphere, causing our planet to heat (the six warmest years on record have been the last six), the ice sheet disintegrates. Greenland lost more ice in the past decade than it did in the previous century. ...
If the people of Miami, Shanghai, Tokyo, Mumbai, Lagos, Bangkok and New York are not concerned, they should be. The great Greenland ice melt is a climate crisis sword of Damocles for all coastal, low-lying, densely populated areas. No other single factor will probably contribute more to sea level rise over the next few decades.
A consortium of climate scientists writing two years ago in Nature, a prestigious scientific journal, concluded that if Greenland continues to melt, in one bad-case scenario after another, tens of millions of people could be in danger of yearly flooding and displacement by 2030 – less than nine years from now.
And by the end of this century, when Antarctica, which contains vastly more ice than Greenland, also enters a phase of catastrophic melting, the number of annual flood-prone people could reach nearly half a billion. It’s more than farewell, Miami. It’s goodbye, Florida.
Climate campaigners took House Democrats to task on Monday for releasing a tax plan that would keep in place billions of dollars in subsidies to the fossil fuel industry, a decision that one advocacy group called an "egregious dereliction of duty" amid the worsening planetary crisis.
While the proposal (pdf) unveiled by the powerful House Ways and Means Committee would close one tax loophole for international oil and gas extraction, the advocacy group Friends of the Earth pointed out in a statement that the plan would leave untouched a number of domestic fossil fuel subsidies currently embedded in the U.S. tax code, including:
A subsidy enacted in 1916 (Sections 263(c) and 291) allowing many fossil fuel producers to deduct 100% of many costs associated with extraction; A subsidy enacted in 1926 (Sections 611 through 613A and 291) that allows many producers to deduct 15% of gross income annually, which often results in a deduction greater than the value of actual assets; and A tax credit for "carbon capture and sequestration" (Section 45Q), an unrealized, faulty technological process that is falsely characterized by the industry as a solution to toxic climate emissions.
"This is a failure of climate leadership that will not soon be forgotten," said Friends of the Earth president Erich Pica, who called on House Ways and Means Committee chair Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to immediately amend the proposal.
Mitch Jones, policy director of Food & Water Watch, offered a similar assessment of House Democrats' plan, arguing that "we must be halting new oil and gas drilling and fracking, not encouraging decades more of it."
"This abject failure to stand against polluting fossil fuels and stand up for a livable planet now leads to a firm demand to the Senate and the Biden administration: No handouts for fossil fuels can be allowed," said Jones. "Not one dollar will be tolerated."
The House Ways and Means Committee's tax proposal is designed to help fund green energy investments, healthcare expansions, and other policy priorities that Democrats hope to include in their sprawling budget reconciliation package—a centerpiece of the party's and President Joe Biden's domestic agenda.
In April, Biden released a tax proposal that called for the elimination of around $35 billion worth of fossil fuel subsidies over the next decade. The Treasury Department said in a report (pdf) outlining the president's plan that the "main impact" of the repeal of such subsidies "would be on oil and gas company profits"—which may help explain the fossil fuel industry's ongoing lobbying blitz in support of its preferential tax treatment.
A third Asian giant hornet nest was discovered in Washington state, a day after entomologists discovered a second.
The Washington state agriculture department tweeted on Saturday that it planned to eradicate the nest and would have more updates soon.
Asian giant hornets are an invasive species also known as murder hornets because they prey on smaller insects. Their nests are difficult to locate, as they tend to be in forested areas. In the US, they pose a particular threat to native hornet species and to honeybees.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Little Richard - Lucille
Little Richard - Jenny Jenny
Little Richard - Send Me Some Lovin'
Little Richard - Ready Teddy
Little Richard - Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On
Little Richard - She's Got It
Little Richard - He Got What He Wanted
Little Richard - Didn't it Rain
Little Richard - Money Is
Little Richard - Money