The Evening Blues - 9-28-23
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features soul blues singer and guitarist Joe Louis Walker. Enjoy!
Joe Louis Walker - One Time Around
"The UN took a strong stand against apartheid; and over the years, an international consensus was built, which helped to bring an end to this iniquitous system. But we know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of the Palestinians..."
-- Nelson Mandela
News and Opinion
Human rights advocates on Wednesday forcefully denounced the Biden administration's move to let Israelis apply to travel to the United States without visas, and vice versa, despite charges that Israel's treatment of Palestinian Americans violates the program's legal requirements.
The U.S. departments of Homeland Security and State confirmed that by November 30, "the Electronic System for Travel Authorization (ESTA) will be updated to allow citizens and nationals of Israel to apply to travel to the United States for tourism or business purposes for up to 90 days without first obtaining a U.S. visa."
U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said that the designation of Israel into the Visa Waiver Program (VWP) "represents over a decade of work and coordination," and "is an important recognition of our shared security interests and the close cooperation between our two countries."
While U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken added that "this important achievement will enhance freedom of movement for U.S. citizens, including those living in the Palestinian territories or traveling to and from them," rights groups and some American lawmakers have been pushing back against such claims.
U.S. Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), joined by over a dozen colleagues, wrote in a letter to Blinken earlier this month that according to a memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in this summer, "Israel is not expected to fully implement one system that all U.S. citizen travelers can use for purposes of visa waiver travel until May 1, 2024, well beyond the September 30, 2023 deadline for meeting program requirements."
"The MOU states that Israel will employ 'an interim process for a U.S. citizen who is a resident of the West Bank.' Such a two-tiered system of entry inherently violates the administration's own standard for reciprocity that 'blue is blue'—meaning 'equal treatment and freedom of travel for all U.S. citizens regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity," the senators noted. "We have already learned of a number of U.S. citizen families who flew to Israel to take advantage of visa waiver travel under the new MOU who were denied entry for having Gaza IDs."
Van Hollen and Schatz, along with Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.), reiterated their concerns in a joint statement Wednesday, saying that "to date, Israel has failed to meet the 'blue is blue' requirement. Adherence to this important American tenet of reciprocity and equal treatment of all U.S. citizens is critical to the integrity of the Visa Waiver Program, and we are deeply concerned with the administration's decision to move forward in violation of that principle."
The Biden administration's highly anticipated announcement follows a related lawsuit filed Tuesday by the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), whose director, Abed Ayoub, said Wednesday that "by endorsing a tiered system for U.S. citizens, our government has given its tacit approval to Israel's prejudiced policies and apartheid actions."
Especially faced with what is widely considered Israel's most far-right government in the nation's history—reaffirmed by stunts like Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presenting a map of "The New Middle East" without Palestine during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week—a growing number of rights groups have accused Israel of apartheid.
Adalah Justice Project executive director Sandra Tamari declared Wednesday that "apartheid is not only Israeli policy, it is U.S. policy too."
"Israel's discrimination is especially egregious against Palestinian Americans with ties to Gaza," Tamari stressed, "making reunification of families torn apart by Israel's siege and blockade of Gaza near impossible."
Leaders from Americans for Justice in Palestine Action, American Muslims for Palestine, Council on American Islamic Relations, Jewish Voice for Peace Action (JVP Action), Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Jerusalem Fund for Education and Community Development, and the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights also denounced the Biden administration's designation.
JVP Action executive director Stefanie Fox called it "an outrageous endorsement of the Israeli government's systematic discrimination against Palestinian Americans and a reward to the most extremist, racist government in Israel's history."
"Once again, the U.S. is singling out Israel for special and exceptionalized treatment at the expense of the rights of Palestinian Americans," she added. "Jewish Voice for Peace Action calls for the immediate reversal of this decision."
James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, suggested that "by choosing to make this reckless move ahead of the September 30, 2023 end of the federal fiscal year, it is also clear the issue of reciprocity was not the only barrier to Israel's eligibility to enter the VWP."
"Moving to admit them now so that an application would not have to restart under potentially different (and post-Covid) visa refusal rates—an additional requirement of the law—is another sign of the prioritization of politics over our rights," he continued. "With this move, Israel has extended its discriminatory apartheid laws to American citizens with our own government's enthusiastic support."
Democracy in the Arab World Now (DAWN) director of advocacy for Israel/Palestine Adam Shapiro, a plaintiff in ADC's lawsuit, said Wednesday that "the U.S. should halt implementation of the visa waiver for Israel at least until a judge reviews what we believe to be the government's arbitrary and capricious actions that enshrine Israeli apartheid in a U.S. program."
"Separate can never be equal, as was determined decades ago in the fight for civil rights in this country," Shapiro added. "Forty countries participate in the VWP, and none have formal arrangements to discriminate against American citizens; only Israel has demanded and been granted this unconscionable favor by the U.S. government."
Iran has lodged a formal complaint to the UN accusing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of threatening a nuclear attack on the Islamic Republic.
In his speech at the UN General Assembly last week, Netanyahu said, “Above all — above all — Iran must face a credible nuclear threat. As long as I’m prime minister of Israel, I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.”
Netanyahu’s office later said he misspoke, insisting the prepared speech said “credible military threat” instead of “credible nuclear threat.” Iran still issued a complaint, noting that Israel has an arsenal of nuclear weapons that it does not acknowledge.
The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday rejected a bipartisan amendment to the 2024 military spending bill that would have prohibited the transfer of cluster munitions—which are banned under a treaty ratified by more than 100 nations but not the United States—to any country.
The House voted 160-269 on the amendment to next year's National Defense Authorization Act co-sponsored by Reps. Sarah Jacobs (D-Calif.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fl.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), and Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). Seventy-five Democrats voted for the measure, while 137 voted "no"; 85 GOP lawmakers approved the amendment while 132 opposed it.
The vote took place less than a week after U.S. President Joe Biden said the United States would send more cluster munitions to Ukraine.
M1 Abrams tanks from the United States have arrived in Ukraine, the Pentagon confirmed Monday, in the latest escalation of US involvement in the war against Russia. ... Each M1 Abrams tank costs $15 million. Despite the deployment of hundreds of Western tanks and armored vehicles, Ukraine’s “spring offensive” has failed to achieve any significant breakthroughs. Dozens of these advanced vehicles sent by NATO have been destroyed over the summer. In the face of this disaster, the United States is removing the last remaining limits on its involvement in the conflict.
Last week, US media outlets confirmed that US President Joe Biden told Zelensky that the United States will provide the ATACMS long-range missile to Ukraine, capable of striking hundreds of miles behind the Russian front.
The announcement of the Abrams tanks took place at approximately the same time that the US, Germany, France and the UK announced that they would send other tanks and fighting vehicles, such as the Bradley infantry fighting vehicle and the Leopard 2 main battle tank. Unlike these vehicles, however, the Abrams is powered by a jet turbine and operates on jet fuel, requiring a dedicated supply chain and technicians and experts knowledgeable in how to service its extremely complicated propulsion system.
The deployment of these vehicles raises questions about how they will be maintained and serviced. The US Army, the only branch of the US armed forces that fields the Abrams, relies on a global team of civilian contractors to maintain them. In January, four-star General Barry McCaffrey, appearing on MSNBC, declared, “Of course the Ukrainians, with civilian contractor support, can maintain these Abrams.”
Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Wednesday said that the US and Britain helped Ukraine with the September 22 missile strike that targeted the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Crimea.
“There is not the slightest doubt that this attack was pre-planned with the use of Western intelligence means and NATO satellite equipment and spy planes and was implemented at the request of and in close coordination with the US and British secret services,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. ...
Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said back in February that the US was “supporting” Ukrainian attacks on Crimea, suggesting that the US might provide intelligence for such operations. In recent weeks, Ukraine has significantly increased attacks on Crimea as its counteroffensive is faltering.
Revealed: Europe’s role in the making of Russia killer drones - or - Zelensky asks for U.S./Nato Help To Bomb Iran, Syria and Russia
Iranian kamikaze drones used in the latest attacks on Ukrainian cities are filled with European components, according to a secret document sent by Kyiv to its western allies in which it appeals for long-range missiles to attack production sites in Russia, Iran and Syria. In a 47-page document submitted by Ukraine’s government to the G7 governments in August, it is claimed there were more than 600 raids on cities using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) containing western technology in the previous three months.
According to the paper, obtained by the Guardian, 52 electrical components manufactured by western companies were found in the Shahed-131 drone and 57 in the Shahed-136 model, which has a flight range of 2,000km (1,240 miles) and cruising speed of 180kmh (111mph). Five European companies including a Polish subsidiary of a British multinational are named as the original manufacturers of the identified components. ...
Among the suggestions for action by Ukraine’s western allies – at which they would probably baulk – are “missile strikes on the production plants of these UAVs in Iran, Syria, as well as on a potential production site in the Russian federation”. The document goes on: “The above may be carried out by the Ukrainian defence forces if partners provide the necessary means of destruction.”
There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by the western companies whose parts have been identified. “Iranian UAV production has adapted and mostly uses available commercial components, the supply of which is poorly or not controlled at all,” the paper says. Customs information is said by the Ukrainian report to show that “almost all the imports to Iran originated from Turkey, India, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Vietnam and Costa Rica”.
Azerbaijan has detained a former leader of the breakaway Nagorno-Karabakh government in its first high profile arrest since launching a lightning offensive last week that it said would lead to a “reintegration” of the territory into Azerbaijan.
Ruben Vardanyan, a wealthy businessman who had served as the state minister of the Nagorno-Karabakh republic, was detained as he tried to cross the border into Armenia on Wednesday morning, as one of more than 50,000 Armenians who have fled the region to avoid incoming Azerbaijani control.
Vardanyan made his fortune in investment banking in Russia before moving to the self-declared Nagorno-Karabakh republic in 2022, where he was appointed state minister. He was dismissed in February 2023, but remained a prominent figure in the region, which many Armenians call Artsakh. ...
Vardanyan had accused Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, of launching a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh and had called for sanctions against Azerbaijan.
His wife, Veronika Zonabend, confirmed his arrest in a statement. “My husband, Ruben Vardanyan, the philanthropist, businessman and former minister of state of Artsakh, has been arrested and held captive by the Azerbaijani authorities at the border as he attempted to leave this morning, along with thousands of Armenians escaping Azerbaijani occupation,” she said.
The bias of the source of this is obvious, but there's some useful information in it:
North Korea accused the United States on Tuesday of making 2023 an “extremely dangerous year,” saying its actions are trying to provoke a nuclear war and denouncing both U.S. and South Korean leaders for “hysterical remarks of confrontation” that it says are raising the temperature in the region.
Kim Song, North Korea’s U.N. ambassador, also said Washington was trying to create “the Asian version of NATO,” the military alliance that includes European nations and the United States and Canada. ...
“Owing to the reckless and continued hysteria of nuclear showdown on the part of the U.S. and its following forces, the year 2023 has been recorded as an extremely dangerous year that the military security situation in and around the Korean peninsula was driven closer to the brink of a nuclear war,” Kim said.
“The United States is now moving on to the practical stage of realizing its a sinister intention to provoke a nuclear war,” Kim said. He said the United States’ attempt to create an “Asian NATO” was effectively introducing a “new Cold War structure to northeast Asia.”
“The DPRK is urgently required to further accelerate the buildup of its self-defense capabilities to defend itself impregnably,” he said. “The more the reckless military moves and provocations of the hostile forces are intensified threatening the sovereignty and security interests of our state, the more our endeavors to enhance national defense capabilities would increase in direct proportion.”
Looks like things are heating up in Washington:
Republicans pushing for a federal government shutdown are “stuck on stupid”, a party moderate said shortly before one rightwinger reported that the House speaker, Kevin McCarthy, would not hold a vote on a bipartisan Senate plan advanced as a way to keep the government open.
“The American people elected a House Republican majority to serve as a check and balance and be able to govern,” Mike Lawler, a Republican from New York, a heavily Democratic state, told CNN.
“Some of my colleagues have, frankly, been stuck on stupid and refused to do what we were elected to do, against the vast majority of the conference, who have been working to avoid a shutdown.”
If no agreement to continue funding the government is reached by midnight on Saturday, many federal functions will cease. Employees can expect to be furloughed and the public left without key services.
Past shutdowns – most recently in 2013, 2018 and 2019 – have been stoked by Republican hardliners in Congress but have not paid off politically. The most recent closure was prompted by Donald Trump, then president, over immigration policy. The Congressional Budget Office put the cost of the 35-day shutdown at about $18bn and said $3bn was wiped off US GDP.
A Washington-based married couple's challenge to an obscure provision of the 2017 Republican tax law has the potential to become "the most important tax case in a century," with far-reaching implications for federal revenues, key social programs, and Congress' constitutional authority to impose levies on income.
That's according to a new report released Wednesday by the Roosevelt Institute and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP).
The policy groups estimated that if the conservative-dominated U.S. Supreme Court sides with the plaintiffs in Moore v. United States—which the justices are set to take up in December—nearly 400 multinational corporations could collectively receive more than $270 billion in tax relief, further enriching behemoths such as Apple, Microsoft, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, and Google.
The Roosevelt Institute and ITEP also found that Chief Justice John Roberts and Associate Justice Samuel Alito own stock in 19 companies that are poised to receive a combined $30 billion in tax breaks if the judges strike down the 2017 law's mandatory repatriation tax, a one-time levy targeting earnings that multinational corporations had piled up overseas.
But the case could have impacts well beyond a repeal of the repatriation tax, which was projected to generate $340 billion in federal revenue over a decade.
Depending on the scope of the justices' decision, the new report argues, the Supreme Court could "suddenly supplant Congress as a major American tax policymaker, putting at legal jeopardy much of the architecture of laws that prevent corporations and individuals from avoiding taxes, and introducing great uncertainty about our democracy's ability to tax large corporations and the most affluent."
"At the best of times, blowing a $340 billion hole in the federal budget would be catastrophic," Matt Gardner, a senior fellow at ITEP and a co-author of the new report, said in a statement. "And if the court invalidates the transition tax in its Moore decision, that's exactly what would happen: possibly the costliest Supreme Court decision of all time. And it would be hard to identify a less deserving set of tax cut beneficiaries than the companies that would reap at least $271 billion from repealing this tax."
Charles and Kathleen Moore brought their challenge to the repatriation provision after they were hit with a roughly $15,000 tax bill stemming from their stake in an Indian farm equipment company. As the Tax Policy Center recently observed, the Indian firm is a "controlled foreign corporation (CFC), or a foreign corporation whose ownership or voting rights are more than 50% owned by U.S. persons who each own at least 10%."
The Moores' cause has been championed by billionaire-backed organizations and corporate lobbying groups, including the Manhattan Institute–which is chaired by billionaire hedge fund mogul Paul Singer—and the powerful U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"That such a case involving such modest sums would make it all the way to the high court indicates that there is much more at play than a single family's tax refund," ITEP's Gardner and Spandan Marasini and the Roosevelt Institute's Niko Lusiani note in the new report.
The plaintiffs' legal team argues that because the Moores' shares in the Indian firm were not "realized"—they did not sell or receive a distribution from the company—they should not have been on the hook for the repatriation tax.
"The government, on the other hand, argues that almost a century of tax law precedent has established Congress' broad authority to decide when and how to tax income, even without a specific realization event," the new report explains. "What's more, the income was clearly realized by the corporation, which is sufficient for income taxation of shareholders under various provisions of the existing tax code."
While it's possible that the Supreme Court will rule narrowly on the specifics of the Moores' situation, the report authors cautioned that the justices "could also issue a broad decision that taxing income—of an individual or a corporate shareholder—requires realization, and that income taxation on multiple years of accrued income is unconstitutional."
Such a sweeping ruling could preemptively ban a wealth tax—an outcome that right-wing supporters of the Moores have explicitly advocated.
"This case presents the court with an ideal opportunity to clarify that taxes on unrealized gains, such as wealth taxes, are direct taxes that are unconstitutional if not apportioned among the states," the Manhattan Institute declared in a May amicus brief.
A broad ruling by the high court could also imperil key elements of the existing tax code, according to ITEP and the Roosevelt Institute.
"One of the most established of these pillars is known as Subpart F, which was enacted in 1962 to prevent American corporations from avoiding taxation through offshore entities or controlled foreign corporations," the new report says. "Provisions related to Global Intangible Low-Taxed Income (GILTI), the branch profits tax; tax treatment of corporate debt; and others could be uprooted by five justices."
"The Corporate Alternative Minimum Tax—enacted as part of the Inflation Reduction Act to create a basic corporate tax floor—as well as international efforts to curb international tax avoidance could be made constitutionally invalid," the report adds.
The analysis stresses that the consequences of a broad ruling in the upcoming case would be profound, affecting more than just a handful of corporate tax provisions.
"In Moore," the report warns, "the Roberts Court could decide with the stroke of a pen to simultaneously forgive big business decades of tax dues, increase the federal deficit over the long run, jeopardize future public revenue and essential social programs, escalate these multinational companies' already sizeable after-tax profits, and further enrich their shareholders."
Melted remains of an old car tire. Two burned trees. A stump of an abandoned utility pole. These are among the pieces of evidence investigators are examining as they seek to solve the mystery of last month’s Maui wildfire: how did a small fire sparked by downed power lines and declared extinguished flare up again hours later into a devastating inferno? The answer may lie in an overgrown gully beneath Hawaiian Electric Co power lines, the Associated Press reports.
The parcel of land operated as a right-of-way by Hawaiian Electric Co, and investigators are examining whether it is the site where smoldering vegetation reignited before sweeping through the historic coastal town of Lahaina in August, killing at least 97 people.
The land was untrimmed and unkempt for years, locals said, despite being in an area classified as being at high risk for wildfires. “It was not manicured at all,” said Lahaina resident Gemsley Balagso, who has lived next to the gully for 20 years and never saw it mowed. He watched and took video on 8 August after the flames reignited there and were stoked by strong winds from a hurricane churning offshore. Charred foliage still lingers in the overgrown gully, a review of satellite images show.
Hawaii Electric Co is facing an onslaught of lawsuits blaming it for failing to proactively cut electricity in the face of high-wind warnings.
Hawaiian Electric Co has acknowledged its downed lines caused the initial fire but has argued in court filings it couldn’t be responsible for the later flare-up because its lines had been turned off for hours by the time the fire reignited and spread through the town. The utility instead sought to shift the blame to Maui county fire officials for what it believes was their premature, false claim that they had extinguished the first fire. The county denies firefighters were negligent.
The federal judge presiding in Donald Trump’s criminal case over his efforts to overturn the 2020 election results rejected his request that she recuse herself on Wednesday, ruling the former president failed to show her previous comments about his role in the January 6 Capitol attack meant she could not be impartial. The decision means the case remains with Tanya Chutkan, the US district judge who was randomly assigned it after Trump was indicted last month on charges that he conspired to obstruct the peaceful transfer of power, though Trump can ask the DC circuit to overrule her with a writ of mandamus.
Trump has long complained that Chutkan was biased against him based on remarks she made about him during sentencing in other January 6 riot defendant cases. But he faced an uphill struggle in trying to get Chutkan to recuse because, to succeed, he needed to satisfy a particularly high evidentiary threshold. ...
In a 20-page opinion, the judge said Trump did not meet the standard for her to take herself off the case, citing a supreme court ruling that said a judge’s statements made in a judicial setting do not constitute a basis for a motion to recuse unless they implied some deep-seated favoritism.
The judge ruled that the two instances of her expressing her opinion about Trump’s potential culpability – which Trump argued showed her bias – did not rise to that standard and chastised Trump’s lawyers for contending that her comments showed she wanted Trump to be prosecuted and imprisoned. ... The first was Chutkan’s statement in October 2022 when she told one January 6 riot defendant, referring to the attack: “And the people who mobbed the Capitol were there in fealty, in loyalty, to one man … It’s a blind loyalty to one person who, by the way, remains free to this day.” The second was in December 2021 when Chutkan told another January 6 riot defendant: “The people who exhorted you and and encouraged you and rallied you to go and take action and to fight have not been charged,” adding she had “her opinions” about what should happen.
An 11-year-old girl from Portugal sat inside the grand chamber of the European court of human rights on Wednesday to face 86 lawyers from 32 nations in the world’s largest climate legal action. Mariana Agostinho was alongside her brother and sister, and her cousins, two rows back from 17 human rights judges. A few feet away, teams of black-suited lawyers from across Europe stood to argue why the countries they represented should not do more to tackle global heating. ...
Agostinho and her five fellow claimants say the European countries are breaching their human rights by failing to take adequate action to tackle global heating. Aged between 11 and 24, they were driven to bring the case after the wildfires in the Leira region of Portugal in 2017, which killed 66 people. After a summer of more wildfires across Europe, they argue that the 32 nations’ policies are inadequate.
They argue that the failure of governments to act is in breach of their human rights: their right to life, their right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment, their right to privacy and family life and their right to be free from discrimination. They are seeking a binding ruling from the judges to force the countries to rapidly escalate their emissions reductions.
Alison Macdonald KC, for the six young claimants, said: “This case is about the young. It is about the people that are paying the price for the failure of the states to tackle the climate emergency. It is about the harm that they will suffer during their lifetime unless states step up to their responsibilities.”
One in six species is at risk of being lost in Great Britain, according to a comprehensive analysis by leading wildlife scientists.
Bird species had the most worrying results in the report, with 43% at risk of extinction, but other much loved species such as turtle dove, hazel dormouse, lady’s slipper orchid and european eel also now face an uncertain future. The report argues that this is largely a result of human activities such as causing habitat loss, accelerating diseases such as avian flu via factory farming, and burning fossil fuels, which has altered the climate.
The State of Nature report, published on Wednesday, features work from 60 research and conservation organisations based on data from monitoring schemes and biological recording centres, to provide a benchmark for the status of the UK’s wildlife. Previous editions were published in 2013, 2016 and 2019. ...
Since 1970, the abundance of the species studied in the report has declined on average by 19%, and nature continues to be in freefall. Amphibians and reptiles are also at risk, with 31% facing an uncertain future, and 28% of fungi and lichen species under threat. Twenty-six per cent of terrestrial mammals in Great Britain are facing extinction. There have also been declines in the distributions of more than half (54%) of flowering plant species.
The report found the intensive way in which we manage our land for farming and the continuing effects of climate change are the two biggest drivers of nature loss. For marine creatures, climate change and unsustainable fishing are the largest factors.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Joe Louis Walker – Alligator
BB King & Joe Louis Walker - T-Bone Shuffle
Joe Louis Walker - Blues of the month club
Joe Louis Walker & Keb’ Mo’ - Old Time Used to Be
Joe Louis Walker – City Of Angels
Joe Louis Walker - Uhh
Joe Louis Walker - Don't Let Go
Joe Louis Walker - 747
Joe Louis Walker - Hallways