The Evening Blues - 8-16-22
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues slide guitarist Homesick James. Enjoy!
Homesick James - I Got To Move
"While the machinery of law enforcement and indeed the nature of crime itself have changed dramatically since the Fourth Amendment became part of the Nation's fundamental law in 1791, what the Framers understood then remains true today - that the task of combating crime and convicting the guilty will in every era seem of such critical and pressing concern that we may be lured by the temptations of expediency into forsaking our commitment to protecting individual liberty and privacy."
-- William J. Brennan
News and Opinion
U.S. lawyers and journalists who visited WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange during his exile in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London filed suit Monday against the Central Intelligence Agency, former Director Mike Pompeo, a CIA-linked Spanish security firm, and its CEO, alleging unconstitutional searches and seizures of their electronic devices.
Speaking at an online press conference, lead plaintiffs' counsel Richard E. Roth explained that the lawsuit—which was filed in the Southern District of New York—seeks "damages and a return of all this information, which was improperly gathered during visits" to Assange while he was living under the protection of Ecuador's government from 2012 to 2019.
"Unbeknownst to them," Roth said of the plaintiffs, "all of their equipment, when they went into the embassy, was taken, imaged, and in addition, their conversations were recorded by a company at the direction of Mike Pompeo of the CIA."
Whistleblowers from that company—Jerez de la Frontera-based U.C. Global—allege that firm founder David Morales worked with the CIA to surveil Assange and Ecuadorean diplomats at the London embassy.
"It is somewhat startling that in light of the Fourth Amendment protection we have in the Constitution that the federal government would actually go ahead and take this confidential information," Roth asserted, "some of which was attorney-client privileged, some of which were journalists', even some of which were from doctors who visited Mr. Assange."
Robert J. Boyle, a constitutional law attorney consulting with the plaintiffs on the case, said that "this is about fighting to vindicate the rights of individuals who have been aggrieved by government misconduct."
"The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects U.S. citizens from being subjected to unreasonable searches and seizures," he continued. "That fundamental principle applies to searches and seizures directed toward U.S. citizens by U.S. law enforcement anywhere in the world."
"The Fourth Amendment's protections were blatantly violated here," added Boyle. "Contents of the plaintiffs' digital devices were secretly copied by security personnel directed by the CIA and that information was turned over to the CIA. This was all part of an intentional plan."
Plaintiff Deborah Hrbek, a media lawyer who has represented WikiLeaks journalists and videographers, said that as an American attorney, "I have the right to assume that the U.S. government is not listening to my private and privileged conversations with my clients, and that information about other clients and cases I may have on my phone or laptop is secure from illegal government intrusion."
Hrbek, who visited Assange in the Ecuadorean Embassy "a few times during his stay there to discuss sensitive legal matters," explained:
On arrival there was a strict protocol—for the protection of Julian, we were told—passports, mobile phones, cameras, laptops, recording devices, and other electronic equipment were turned over to the security guards in the lobby.
We learned much later through a criminal investigation under the supervision of a court in Spain that while visitors like me were visiting with Julian in the embassy conference room the guards next door were taking apart our phones, removing and photographing sim cards, and we believe downloading data from our electronic equipment.
The boss, David Morales from U.C. Global, who appears to have been recruited by the CIA through associates of Sheldon Adelson during a visit to a tech conference, was making regular trips to Washington, D.C., to New York, to Las Vegas—reportedly to hand over thumb drives and to receive further instructions from his U.S. government handlers.
In other words, during our meetings with Julian at the embassy, recordings of our confidential conversations and the contents of our electronic devices were being delivered into the hands of the United States government.
"This is not just a violation of our constitutional rights," Hrbek added, "this is an outrage."
Berlin-based investigative journalist John Goetz, also a plaintiff in the case, said that "it's not just about my dealings with Assange. There are a whole lot of stories and a lot of information about those stories in our devices, in my devices."
The new lawsuit comes as Assange—who is charged in the U.S. with violating the 1917 Espionage Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act for publishing classified documents, some of them revealing war crimes—makes his final appeal against extradition from Britain to the United States, where he faces up to 175 years in prison. It also follows a summons by a judge on Spain's highest court seeking Pompeo's testimony related to an alleged Trump administration plot to kidnap or assassinate Assange.
Roth acknowledged that the new suit is "not asking that the extradition be dropped," but said there could be a "tremendous ripple effect."
Hrbek said that "as an American citizen, as an attorney, as a human being, I and many of my colleagues including plaintiffs are absolutely calling on the [U.S. Justice Department] to drop the charges, to not counter the appeal that's being lodged based on an extradition attempt commenced by the Trump administration."
"This is a much bigger issue than the court case, [which] is about our constitutional rights," she added. "But we are categorically calling for the extradition case to be dropped."
Following the revelation last week that former President Donald Trump is under investigation for potential Espionage Act violations, Roth said that "there's a certain irony here."
"This very morning," he noted, "Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) actually is asking for the repeal of the Espionage Act, the very act with which they're going after Julian."
Another cheery message from Chris Hedges. Worth a read, though.
“Each time history repeats itself, the price goes up,” the anthropologist Ronald Wright warns, calling industrial society “a suicide machine.”
Civilization is an experiment, a very recent way of life in the human career, and it has a habit of walking into what I am calling progress traps. A small village on good land beside a river is a good idea; but when the village grows into a city and paves over the good land, it becomes a bad idea. While prevention might have been easy, a cure may be impossible: a city isn’t easily moved. This human inability to foresee — or to watch out for — long-range consequences may be inherent to our kind, shaped by the millions of years when we lived from hand to mouth by hunting and gathering. It may also be little more than a mix of inertia, greed, and foolishness encouraged by the shape of the social pyramid. The concentration of power at the top of large-scale societies gives the elite a vested interest in the status quo; they continue to prosper in darkening times long after the environment and general populace begin to suffer.
Wright also reflects upon what will be left behind:
The archaeologists who dig us up will need to wear hazmat suits. Humankind will leave a telltale layer in the fossil record composed of everything we produce, from mounds of chicken bones, wet-wipes, tires, mattresses and other household waste to metals, concrete, plastics, industrial chemicals, and the nuclear residue of power plants and weaponry. We are cheating our children, handing them tawdry luxuries and addictive gadgets while we take away what’s left of the wealth, wonder and possibility of the pristine Earth.
Calculations of humanity’s footprint suggest we have been in ‘ecological deficit,’ taking more than Earth’s biological systems can withstand, for at least 30 years. Topsoil is being lost far faster than nature can replenish it; 30 percent of arable land has been exhausted since the mid-20th century.
We have financed this monstrous debt by colonizing both past and future, drawing energy, chemical fertilizer and pesticides from the planet’s fossil carbon, and throwing the consequences onto coming generations of our species and all others. Some of those species have already been bankrupted: they are extinct. Others will follow.
This time the collapse will be global. It will not be possible, as in ancient societies, to migrate to new ecosystems rich in natural resources. The steady rise in heat will devastate crop yields and make much of the planet uninhabitable. Climate scientists warn that once temperatures rise by 4℃, the earth, at best, will be able to sustain a billion people.
The historian Arnold Toynbee, who singled out unchecked militarism as the fatal blow to past empires, argued that civilizations are not murdered, but commit suicide. They fail to adapt to a crisis, ensuring their own obliteration. Our civilization’s collapse will be unique in size, magnified by the destructive force of our fossil fuel-driven industrial society. But it will replicate the familiar patterns of collapse that toppled civilizations of the past. The difference will be in scale, and this time there will be no exit.
Exactly a year after the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan's government, the Biden administration said it would not return any of the $7 billion in Afghan central bank assets that it commandeered earlier this year, despite pleas from both human rights groups and economists to help pull the impoverished country out of its economic crisis.
As The Wall Street Journal reported Monday, U.S. envoy Tom Wolf told the newspaper that talks between the White House and the Taliban regarding the release of at least half the funds have ended, following the U.S. drone strike which killed al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
U.S. officials say al-Zawahiri's location near a Taliban official's home shows that officials will not "manage assets responsibly" and will therefore withhold all of the funds as inflation and other factors push the prices of Afghan goods up by nearly 100% in some cases.
The U.S. had been considering placing $3.5 billion in a trust fund for Afghanistan to spend addressing its humanitarian crisis—with the other half of the money being set aside for the families of 9/11 victims, over the objections of some of those family members who believe all the money should be used to benefit Afghan civilians.
The U.S. has pledged more than $774 million in aid to Afghanistan over the past year, but economists including Shah Mehrabi, an economics professor at Montgomery College in Maryland and a board member of Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), have warned that foreign humanitarian assistance "is not a solution" to the widespread suffering that has taken hold across the country.
"Many poor women and children will not be able to buy bread and other necessities of life," Mehrabi told the Journal. "Those reserves belong to the central bank, and have to be used for monetary policy."
Anti-war group CodePink added that while the U.S. has criticized the Taliban for keeping women out of government positions over the past year and shutting down schools for girls, withholding funds from the country only gives women "a harder time fighting for their rights."
As the U.S. announced it had scrapped plans to return any of the seized funds, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said 97% of the Afghan population is expected to live below the poverty line by the end of 2022 and more than 24 million people—nearly two-thirds of the population—are without enough food to eat each day.
The United Nations has estimated that more than 90% of people in Afghanistan lack sufficient food.
"With each week that goes by, more Afghans are forced to resort to the unimaginable to survive: that means skipping meals, taking on debt, pulling children out of school to save money–and even more extreme measures such as selling young daughters into marriage or selling organs," said the IRC. "One woman recently told IRC staff that she is forced to pick food from the garbage and if she can get enough of the hair and dirt off, she brings it home for her six children. Otherwise they go days without eating."
Considering the dire circumstances facing millions of Afghan people, Daniel DePetris of the foreign policy think tank Defense Priorities called the Biden administration's decision "shortsighted, morally unconscionable, and potentially calamitous."
The Biden administration has been rebuked by economists and human rights advocates for refusing to release the funds out of the stated fear that the money will go to supporting the Taliban instead of ordinary Afghans.
Michael Galant, secretariat of Progressive International, accused the White House of "starving the Afghan people to avoid a bad PR day" for President Joe Biden.
On "Last Week Tonight" Sunday, host John Oliver acknowledged that releasing the funds carries the risk of inadvertently funding the Taliban.
"The key question here isn't just what happens if we send Afghanistan money and aid," said Oliver. "It's what happens if we don't. And we know the answer to that: Millions of innocent Afghans will suffer and die under a government they did not choose."
"The reality is, there is no one simple solution here that is without risk," he added. "But 38 million people's lives are at stake."
In June, Rhode Island passed a $10 million pilot program that will use COVID-19 stimulus money to build mixed-income public housing. By acting as a public developer itself, Rhode Island would be the only state to acquire its own land and build housing directly, cutting out profit-gouging developers — a model approach for the rest of the country amid a housing crisis that has only grown more dire since the start of the pandemic. ...
In a housing landscape dominated by private equity, federal divestment, and the failure of “public-private” programs, the fight for public housing at the state level is increasingly urgent. In Rhode Island alone, 1 in 3 renters cannot keep up with rent. A recent report by the National Low Income Housing Coalition estimated that more than 60 percent of renter households in the U.S. are struggling to afford basic living expenses after paying rent and utilities. Rather than letting markets drive housing development outcomes, the public developer model creates a foundation for a housing system not driven by profits.
The pilot program is just one part of the state’s Create Homes Act, which would use $300 million in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to create a new state housing department, realigning public spending with public good. Designed to confront the housing crisis head-on, the new department would have two central capacities: building housing and acquiring land for public ownership. ...
Public housing is popular, and some states — Colorado, California, Hawaii, and Maryland — recently passed legislation to build more of it. The Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program has been the nation's main program for creating “affordable housing.” However, LIHTC produces fewer units than it did 20 years ago, while costing the public 66 percent more. Plus, 81 percent of LIHTC units are owned by for-profit entities, and with scant federal oversight, recent investigations have shown how the program is rife with corruption, siphoning away millions to private industry players, while banks and investors take tax deductions.
What would set Rhode Island’s new public developer model apart is that it puts land planning, acquisition, and the actual building of housing units into the public’s hands at the state level. This removes the need for outside financing, as required by LIHTC, and also circumvents the restrictions of the 1998 Faircloth Amendment, which capped the expansion of federal public housing. By creating a direct relationship between the public’s needs and the allocation of land for housing, the effort would circumvent the typical public housing approach of draining public resources for private profits as with LIHTC.
The US Justice Department has asked a judge not to release the affidavit that gave the FBI probable cause to search Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, worsening distrust among top aides casting about for any insight into the intensifying criminal investigation surrounding the former president.
The affidavit should not be unsealed because that could reveal the scope of the investigation into Trump’s unauthorized retention of government secrets, the Justice Department argued, days after the Mar-a-Lago search warrant showed it referenced potential violations of three criminal statutes. ...
“The affidavit would serve as a roadmap to the government’s ongoing investigation, providing specific details about its direction and likely course,” the justice department said, adding that it did not oppose unsealing both a cover page and a sealing order that wouldn’t harm the criminal investigation.
In arguing against unsealing the affidavit, the justice department also said that the disclosure could harm its ability to gain cooperation from witnesses not only in the Mar-a-Lago investigation but also additional ones that would appear to touch on the former president.
“Disclosure of the government’s affidavit at this stage would also likely chill future cooperation by witnesses whose assistance may be sought as this investigation progresses, as well as in other high-profile investigations,” prosecutors added.
The FBI and local officials are investigating the recent release of dangerous chemicals into Michigan’s Huron River, a 130-mile-long waterway that is popular for fishing and recreation and supplies drinking water for more than 100,000 people in Ann Arbor as well as other south-eastern Michigan communities.
On 29 July, Tribar Manufacturing, a maker of exterior trim components for vehicles located in a western suburb of Detroit, discharged up to 10,000 gallons of waste containing hexavalent chromium, a known carcinogen, into a local sewer system on, according to Michigan’s department of environment, Great Lakes and energy, the state’s environmental regulatory agency.
Then, despite alarms signaling the spill, a plant operator overrode the alarm 460 times in roughly three hours, according to the agency, failing to report the spill for more than two days.
The July event marks the second time in four years that Tribar has been blamed for releasing harmful chemicals into the water, and, critics say, is yet another example of how contamination from corporate polluters can endanger entire communities. ...
On 10 August, a group of about 150 area residents, advocates and lawmakers gathered for a rally on the banks of Huron River to call for new legislation to punish polluters, such as Tribar. “I want them sued into oblivion,” said state representative Yousef Rabhi. “Why should taxpayers have to pay to clean up the mess that some company made for profit? They benefited from the pollution that they put in our river. They made money off of our lives.”
Vast swaths of the continental US will be experiencing prolonged and dangerous heatwaves by the middle of the century, with the heat index in some areas above 100F (38C) for weeks on end, according to an alarming new study published on Monday.
Almost two-thirds of Americans, who live in mostly southern and central states, will be at risk from the critical temperature increases, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the non-profit First Street Foundation, which used current trends to predict the number of extreme heat days 30 years into the future.
“A changing environment means higher temperatures and changing humidity, creating conditions which exacerbate the effects of extreme heat,” the study reports.
The Post analysis suggests that by 2053, the record heat being experienced this year in several states will have become normal. Today, the newspaper says, 46% of the population experiences at least three consecutive days of 100F-plus heat, on average, each year. By mid-century, that will have increased to 63%.
In the south generally, there will be an additional 20 days of 100F-plus heat a year. And in certain parts of Texas and Florida, which already experience some of the country’s highest temperatures, there could be more than 70 consecutive days each year when the heat index is above that figure.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.