The Evening Blues - 10-28-21
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This evening's music features blues guitarist Matt Guitar Murphy. Enjoy!
Memphis Slim & Matt Murphy - Matt's Guitar Blues
“Galileo probably would have escaped persecution if his discoveries could have been disproved."
-- Richard Whately
News and Opinion
The first day of the US appeal of the Julian Assange extradition case saw grown adults arguing in a court of law that the US government could guarantee that it would not treat the WikiLeaks founder as cruelly as it treats its other prisoners.
I wish I was kidding.
In their write-up on Wednesday’s proceedings, The Dissenter’s Kevin Gosztola and Mohamed Elmaazi report that the prosecution argued that “the High Court should accept the appeal on the basis that the U.S. government offered ‘assurances’ that Assange won’t be subjected to Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) or incarcerated in ADX Florence, a super-maximum prison in Colorado.”
What this means is that in order to overturn the January extradition ruling which judge Vanessa Baraitser denied on the basis that the notoriously draconian US prison system is too cruel to guarantee Assange’s health and safety, the prosecution has established as one of their grounds for appeal the claim that they can offer “assurances” that they would not inflict some of their most brutal measures upon him. These would include the aforementioned Special Administrative Measures, wherein prisoners are so isolated that they effectively disappear off the face of the earth, or sending him to ADX Florence, where all prisoners are kept in solitary confinement 23 hours a day.
What’s ridiculous about these “assurances”, apart from the obvious, is that within its own legal argument the US government reserves the right to reverse those assurances at any time and impose SAMs or maximum security imprisonment upon Assange if it deems them necessary. As Amnesty International explains:
“They say: we guarantee that he won’t be held in a maximum security facility and he will not be subjected to Special Administrative Measures and he will get healthcare. But if he does something that we don’t like, we reserve the right to not guarantee him, we reserve the right to put him in a maximum security facility, we reserve the right to offer him Special Administrative Measures. Those are not assurances at all. It is not that difficult to look at those assurances and say: these are inherently unreliable, it promises to do something and then reserves the right to break the promise.”
So the prosecution’s legal argument here is essentially “We promise we won’t treat Assange as cruelly as we treat our other prisoners, unless we decide we really want to.”
This is not just a reflection on the weakness of the extradition appeal, it’s a reflection on the savagery of all the so-called free democracies that have involved themselves in this case.
This same prosecution argued that Assange should not be denied US extradition from the UK on humanitarian grounds as in the case of activist Lauri Love because Love suffered from both physical and psychological ailments while Assange’s ailments are only psychological. They stood before the court and made this argument even as Assange was visibly pained and unwell in his video appearance from Belmarsh, which he was only able to attend intermittently due to his frail condition.
“For my newspaper, I have worked as media partner of WikiLeaks since 2009,” tweeted journalist Stefania Maurizi who attended the hearing via video link. “I have seen Julian Assange in all sorts of situations, but I have never ever seen him so unwell and so dangerously thin.”
So they’re just openly brutalizing a journalist for exposing US war crimes, while arguing that they can be trusted to treat him humanely and give him a fair trial if granted extradition. This after it has already been confirmed that the CIA plotted to kidnap and assassinate him during the Trump administration, after we learned that the prosecution relied on false testimony from a convicted child molester and diagnosed sociopath, after it was revealed that the CIA spied on Assange and his lawyers in the Ecuadorian embassy, and after intelligence asset Jeffrey Epstein famously died under highly suspicious circumstances in a US prison cell.
The worst atrocities in history have all been legal. All the worst examples of genocide, slavery, tyranny and bloodshed have been allowed or actively facilitated by the state. The persecution of Assange is geared toward entering the imprisonment of journalists into this category.
The goal is to set a legal precedent which allows journalists who expose the crimes of the powerful to be persecuted not covertly as is normally done in “free democracies”, but right out in the open. To tell journalists “We’ll just throw you in prison if you cross us.”
What makes this precedent uniquely dangerous is that it is not just threatening to imprison American journalists who expose US crimes, but any journalist anywhere in the world. This is an Australian journalist in the process of being extradited from the UK for publishing facts about US war crimes in the nations it has invaded. The aim is to set up a system where anyone in the US-aligned world can be funneled into its prison system for publishing inconvenient facts.
This is the savagery of the western world at its most transparent. It’s not the greatest evil the US-centralized empire has perpetrated; that distinction would certainly be reserved for its acts of mass military slaughter that it has been inflicting upon our species with impunity for generations. But it’s the most brazen. The most overt. It’s the most powerful part of the most depraved power structure on earth looking us all right in the eyes and telling us exactly what it is.
And if we can really look at this beast and what it is doing right now, really see it with eyes wide open, it reveals far more about those who rule over us than anything any journalist has ever exposed.
The Biden administration’s new $500m military contract with Saudi Arabia contradicts the spirit of the White House’s public policy to bar all “offensive” weapons sales to the kingdom for use against the Houthis in Yemen, critics of the deal have alleged. The military contract will allow Saudi Arabia to maintain its fleet of attack helicopters despite their previous use in operations in Yemen.
The administration’s decision to end so-called “offensive” weapons to Saudi Arabia was one of Joe Biden’s first foreign policy objectives, and reflected what the US president called his commitment to “ending all support” for a war that had created “a humanitarian and strategic catastrophe”.
Saudi Arabia was given permission by the state department to enter a contract to support the Royal Saudi Land Forces Aviation Command’s fleet of Apache helicopters, Blackhawks, and a future fleet of Chinook helicopters. It includes training and the service of 350 US contractors for the next two years, as well as two US government staff. The deal was first announced in September.
“To my mind, this is a direct contradiction to the administration’s policy. This equipment can absolutely be used in offensive operations, so I find this particularly troubling,” said Seth Binder, director of advocacy at the Project on Middle East Democracy.
The decision to approve the military maintenance contract comes as the Biden administration appears to be softening its approach to the kingdom, with several high-level meetings between senior administration officials and their Saudi counterparts.
Iran has said it will return to talks with world powers aimed at reviving a 2015 nuclear deal by the end of November, the first time it has set a date for the resumption of the long delayed talks.
Iran’s new nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani broke the news on Twitter on Wednesday after holding talks with his EU counterparts in Brussels.
“Had a very serious & constructive dialogue with @enriquemora_ on the essential elements for successful negotiations. We agree to start negotiations before the end of November,” he wrote after meeting EU officials in Brussels.
He added: “Exact date would be announced in the course of the next week.”
The United States will not be withdrawing its roughly 900 troops from northeast Syria any time soon, despite mounting speculation it would do so following its much-maligned August pull-out from Afghanistan, according to officials with knowledge of the Biden administration’s plans.
In recent weeks, Syria-watchers have pondered whether President Joe Biden’s hallmark decision to end the US’s longest-ever war, in Afghanistan, which saw the last American aircraft leave Afghan airspace on August 30, may presage a similar retreat from Syria. ... Yet, according to the assistant of a senior official who works on Middle East policy in the Biden White House’s National Security Council, such thinking “over-extrapolates from the experience in Afghanistan”.
“People talk about how we’re pursuing an end to endless wars as if we’ve got this strategy to totally abandon all our commitments in the Middle East. This is frankly false and simplistic … Surprisingly, we know that Afghanistan and Syria are two different places, and that’s why our policies [towards each] were, and are, very different,” the official told Al Jazeera, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.
“The size and nature of our objectives, the depth of our involvement and the kind of environment we’re operating in [in Syria] are just totally different,” the official added.
Al Jazeera was told that “assurances” that the US will not depart have also been transmitted to the leaders of the SDF.
Senior Democrats in Congress were at odds on Wednesday over a proposal to tax billionaires’ assets to help pay for Joe Biden’s social and climate change agenda, leaving it unclear if the idea had enough support to become law. Senate Democrats unveiled the new billionaires tax proposal earlier in the day, presenting it as an entirely new entry in the tax code designed to help pay for Biden’s sweeping domestic policy package and edge his party closer to an overall agreement on a shrunken version of the administration’s $3.5tn flagship legislation.
“The Billionaires Income Tax would ensure billionaires pay tax every year, just like working Americans,” said the Democratic senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, the chairman of the Senate finance committee who authored the new billionaire tax proposal. “No working person in America thinks it’s right that they pay their taxes and billionaires don’t.”
However, by the afternoon, Wyden’s House of Representatives counterpart, Richard Neal, the Ways and Means Committee chairman, said the idea appeared to be too complex to succeed. ...
Speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill, Joe Manchin said wealthy Americans should pay a “patriotic tax” of 15% to ensure that all citizens are giving something back to their country. But when it comes to the billionaire tax, Manchin said: “I don’t like it. I don’t like the connotation that we’re targeting different people.”
With negotiations between congressional Democrats and the Biden White House approaching several deadlines, it seems increasingly likely that the budget reconciliation legislation under discussion will not raise the taxes of a single capitalist and will provide only the most minimal benefits for working people.
Despite the gargantuan figures thrown around in the media—$3.5 trillion, $2 trillion, $1.5 trillion—the most significant figure appears to be zero, as in zero new taxes on the wealthy and the giant corporations. And given the insistence by a large number of right-wing Democrats, including President Joe Biden himself, that all spending in the bill must be “paid for,” zero tax increases on the wealthy will mean zero increased benefits for anyone else.
The collapse of Biden’s tax agenda is a remarkable exposure of who really calls the shots in America. The Democratic Party’s most popular promise during the 2020 election campaign was to repeal Donald Trump’s 2017 tax cut for corporations and wealthy individuals, which pumped $1.7 trillion into the pockets of the super-rich.
Opinion polls regularly show that 80 percent or more of the American people believe—with ample reason—that the wealthy do not pay taxes, or pay at far lower rates than working people. Proposals for increasing the income tax rates for giant corporations and millionaires and billionaires attract similar support.
A drive through West Virginia’s countryside – which is still enthusiastically Donald Trump country – reveals a patchwork of communities battered by the climate crisis and barely held together by deteriorating infrastructure. Yet Manchin – balking at a $3.5tn price tag of Biden’s reconciliation bill – is busy trying to strip out many of the policies that would try to tackle these crises that are so seriously affecting many of his fellow West Virginians.
West Virginia, a landlocked state, leads the nation in the number of the infrastructure facilities – hospitals, fire stations, water treatment plants, power stations – located on land prone to severe flooding. It even beats out Louisiana and Florida. Of course, the climate crisis is seeing flood events hit record levels across the US. Beyond the inspiration for John Denver’s hit song, West Virginia’s country roads are actually a source of fear and frustration for residents. Nearly half of the roads in the state are routinely battered by severe flooding.
When power outages – some of the longest and most frequent in the nation – hit the state, they are often lethal, a reality made clear when a single flood event in 2016 took out power for over half of the state’s homes and killed 23 people in 12 hours. Earlier this year, tens of thousands of people were left without power for more than two weeks in freezing temperatures when ice storms felled trees on to power lines across the state and closed roads. ...
National news outlets have been quick to connect the financial dots on Manchin. Clean energy initiatives could affect his bottom line in multiple ways because that bottom line is joined at the hip to one of the biggest drivers of climate change in the world: the fossil fuel industry. Put simply, the US senator is blocking legislation that would demand better of the dirty energy companies that make up his investment portfolio and his 2022 election cycle contributors list. And, he’s doing so to the environmental, social and economic detriment of his state.
Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal on Wednesday stressed a need for the "transformational investments in programs" that her party's Build Back Better package stands to make and said House progressives wouldn't "be fools" by agreeing to a vote on a pending bipartisan infrastructure bill until the legislative text for a larger social spending package was finalized.
"If we're 90% there on the legislative text, which is what I keep hearing from the Speaker and others, then let's finish.. and we can get both bills done," Jayapal (D-Wash.) told MSNBC's Hallie Jackson.
"The big problem right now," she said, "is we still don't have that full agreement."
Asked by Jackson how many members of the CPC would vote no or withhold their vote on the bipartisan bill without having secured the legislative text for the reconciliation bill, Jayapal said that "the Speaker never brings a bill to the floor that goings to fail."
"I think we're up to 40 that really believe we have to vote both of these bills through," she said. "We're just saying we need both bills to pass the House, and we need everybody to agree that this is the agreement," meaning that it wouldn't be changed once it goes through the Senate.
Jayapal's remarks came just after the CPC reaffirmed its insistence that House passage of the smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill must be accompanied by a vote on and the legislative text—not simply the framework—for the broader Build Back Better package.
"When we said these two bills go together, we meant it," the group tweeted.
Jayapal also delivered that message in a tweet shortly after.
"Moving the infrastructure bill forward without the popular Build Back Better Act risks leaving behind working people, families, and our communities," Jayapal wrote. "That's not a risk we can take. These two bills must move together at the same time."
Democrats, facing obstruction of the Build Back Better package by right-wing members of the party like Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, are still working out the specific contents and exact price tag of the reconciliation package. Already slashed down to around $2 trillion over 10 years, the package could make significant investments in climate action and the care economy. The party needs the support of all its members for passage. ...
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), meanwhile, is doubling down on his demand that the reconciliation bill include Medicare expansion as well as reforms to lower prescription drug prices.
I found this interesting, here's a taste:
In hindsight, this is embarrassing to admit. But, pre-pandemic, I might honestly have told you that work was the most rewarding part of my life. Even as a child I couldn’t wait to get started with my “career”, rushing through school and university to get on with the main event. Through my 20s I broke up with boyfriends as soon as they started to encroach on my primary relationship: my job.
That relationship was one of the many to fall apart in lockdown, however. By forcing me into my home, freeing up every hour of my day to devote to work, the pandemic swiftly revealed it to be unsustainable, unhealthy and ultimately unrewarding. In two years, I have gone from an out-and-proud careerist to actively cultivating a mindset that might be called “anti-work”, and online I have found my community. On Reddit, the “antiwork” forum has seen enormous growth as people like me increasingly come to our senses; the number of subscribers has increased almost 400% over the past year to reach 900,000.
The forum states its aim as “to start a conversation to problematise work as we know it”; to resist an approach that values “the needs and desires of managers and corporations above and beyond workers”; and to imagine a world “with unemployment for all, not just the rich!”. In its library, it shares recommended reading, such as the late anthropologist David Graeber’s indictment of “bullshit jobs”, Bertrand Russell’s 1932 essay “in praise of idleness” and “fiction with anti-work themes” (including Herman Melville’s Bartleby, the Scrivener). For those taking more tentative steps towards picturing a world without work, the moderators have put together anti-work quotes and a playlist (putting Dolly Parton back to back with Rage Against the Machine).
But r/antiwork’s real value might be in the support it extends to those already trapped and exploited in their jobs. Moderators are pooling knowledge and resources to back hospitality and retail workers in a planned boycott of Black Friday next month. ... The recent explosion in activity on r/antiwork aligns with the growth in union membership in the US and UK through the pandemic, and the “Great Resignation” as people quit their jobs or retrain. It seems to run deeper than just a desire for change, to acute dissatisfaction with the nature of work itself. ...
So much of the societal transformation that we hoped would be precipitated by the pandemic hasn’t come about, but there are reasons to be cautiously optimistic about the potential for change in our approach to work. As the culture reporter Charlie Warzel has written, while the topsy-turvy job market does not make up for weakened workers’ rights, it does suggest “the beginnings of a changing power dynamic … Employees have a tiny bit of leverage right now and many are trying to use it to send a message about how the status quo of modern work feels exhausting and unsustainable.”
The people shot by Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, last August cannot be referred to as “victims” by prosecutors in court, a judge ruled on Monday. Defense attorneys may, however, call them “arsonists” or “looters”, the judge said.
“The word ‘victim’ is a loaded, loaded word. And I think ‘alleged victim’ is a cousin to it,” said Judge Bruce Schroeder on Monday. “Let the evidence show what the evidence shows. And if the evidence shows that any or more than one of these people were engaged in arson, rioting or looting – then I’m not going to tell the defense they can’t call them that,” he added, before what is expected to be a contentious trial starting next week.
In response to Schroeder’s ruling on Monday, assistant district attorney Thomas Binger said that he was creating a “double standard”, saying: “If I were to count the number of times that you’ve admonished me not to call someone a victim during a trial, it would be in the thousands.”
“The terms that I’m identifying here, such as ‘rioters’, ‘looters’, ‘arsonists’, are as loaded, if not more loaded, than the term ‘victim’,” Binger added.
Schroeder also said Mark Richards, one of Rittenhouse’s attorneys, could “demonize them [the shot men] if he wants, if he thinks it will win points with the jury”, according to the Chicago Tribune.
California authorities have filed murder charges against a former school safety officer who fatally shot an unarmed 18-year-old girl, a rare prosecution for an on-duty killing by an officer.
The Los Angeles district attorney announced Wednesday that Eddie Gonzalez, who had worked as a school officer in Long Beach, was facing one count of murder after he shot into a vehicle near a high school on 27 September, striking 18-year-old Manuela Rodriguez. The teenager, who went by Mona and had a five-month-old boy, was taken to a hospital and put on life support before she died a week later.
Gonzalez had been patrolling the area near Millikan high school, south of LA, when he observed an altercation between Rodriguez and another teenage girl, according to the district attorney’s office. Rodriguez then got into the rear passenger seat of a nearby car, and Gonzalez fired his handgun at the vehicle.
Cellphone video footage that circulated on social media appeared to show the officer firing as the car was fleeing. ...
“We must hold accountable the people we have placed in positions of trust to protect us,” said George Gascón, the LA district attorney, in a statement announcing the charges. “That is especially true for the armed personnel we traditionally have relied upon to guard our children on their way to and from and at school.” Gascón, who was elected last year, campaigned on a promise to prosecute officers for excessive force and unjustified killings. In LA, officers are almost never charged for killings.
Briahna Joy Gray: Dems DUD Anti-Trump Strategy May COST Them VA Gov Seat, ’22 Battleground Districts
Forests in at least 10 Unesco world heritage sites have become net sources of carbon since the turn of the millennium due to wildfires, deforestation and global heating, says a new report. Protected areas such as Yosemite national park in the US, the Greater Blue Mountains area in Australia and the tropical rainforests of Sumatra in Indonesia are among the sites that have emitted more carbon than they absorbed since 2001 as a result of human activities, according to research by the World Resources Institute, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and Unesco. The analysis found more sites were expected to switch from sinks to sources of carbon in the coming decades. ...
Tales Carvalho Resende, a Unesco project officer and report co-author said: “What is happening at a world heritage site level is only the tip of the iceberg. Even in what are supposed to be the best and most protected areas, they are currently under pressure from climate change.”. ...
Analysis of changes in carbon stores in forests on another 247 sites found 166 were net sinks, with the remaining 81 nearly neutral. Overall, the sites absorbed and stored 190m tonnes of CO2 from the atmosphere each year, equivalent to roughly half of the UK’s annual emissions from fossil fuels. But the analysis found human pressures on landscapes and the climate crisis were likely to continue to degrade sites, breaking up habitats, making them less resilient and biodiverse.
“One of the things that really got our attention was the impact of wildfires. Some sites flipped into sources because of one or two wildfires that were so intense they represented the annual emissions of many countries in the world,” Carvalho Resende said. “It’s a vicious cycle. With global warming, you have more fires. With more fires, there’s more CO2. More CO2 means temperatures continue to increase.”
An investigation by HEATED and Earther revealed Wednesday that fossil fuel industry advertising in some of the most popular U.S. political newsletters "has exploded" as Democrats in Congress prepare to grill leaders of oil majors and trade groups about their contributions to climate disinformation.
Journalists Emily Atkin and Molly Taft examined ads in Punchbowl News' daily political email newsletter as well as two climate-related newsletters, "Axios Generate" and Politico's "Morning Energy," leading up the U.S. House of Representatives hearing scheduled for Thursday.
The HEATED and Earther reporters found that from October 1 to October 22, 62% of Axios newsletters (10 of 16), 63% of Punchbowl newsletters (30 of 48), and 100% of Politico newsletters (15 of 15) "were sponsored by fossil fuel interests."
The pair noted the contrast with the past six months: From May 1 to October 22, those figures were 46% for Axios (51 of 112), 14% for Punchbowl (45 of 315), and 68% for Politico (78 of 115).
Though Chevron was the most frequent advertiser for the full period and content examined—57% or 99 of the 174 fossil fuel-sponsored newsletters since May—the report also highlights ads from the American Petroleum Institute (API) and ExxonMobil.
While the ad buyers didn't respond to requests for comment, representatives for Axios and Politico reportedly emphasized that newsletter content is independent from advertising.
However, "the responses appear to misunderstand the issue being raised," Atkin and Taft wrote. "No one has claimed Big Oil's ads influence the reporting at these news outlets. The issue is that news outlets are using their own quality reporting to sell advertisers on opportunities to spread misinformation on their platforms and making a lot of money from it."
The analysis of polluters' efforts to boost their Beltway influence and spread climate misinformation via email was published just a day before executives at BP America, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and Shell Oil, along with API and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are set to testify before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform in what is expected to be a "historic showdown."
Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who respectively chair the House panel and its Subcommittee on the Environment, had threatened to subpoena the industry leaders if they refused to show up for the hearing, entitled, "Fueling the Climate Crisis: Exposing Big Oil's Disinformation Campaign to Prevent Climate Action."
Khanna has vowed that the committee's event "will be like" the historic congressional inquiry that targeted Big Tobacco in the 1990s. Leading up to the hearing, climate campaigners reiterated their praise for the House Democrats' efforts and offered suggestions.
The watchdog group Accountable.US detailed five questions that Big Oil CEOs "must answer," focusing on everything from industry claims about pandemic-era bailouts to the ineffectiveness of voluntary climate mitigation methods to polluters' decades of denying and sowing doubt about science while knowing about the existential threat posed by fossil fuel use.
"For too long, oil companies have skirted responsibility for their harmful campaign of disinformation aimed at swaying Americans against commonsense policies to protect public lands and fight the climate crisis," said Accountable.US president Kyle Herrig.
"It shouldn't have taken several dodged hearings and a subpoena threat for these executives to come before Congress," he added. "With the American people watching, will these executives own up to their misinformation, or keep trying to hide behind lies and spin?"
Others emphasized their ongoing mistrust of the fossil fuel giants and trade groups.
"The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has spent decades denying the climate crisis and it is now sabotaging our nation's best shot at stopping climate catastrophe," Extinction Rebellion (XR) spokesperson Reilly Polka said in a statement Wednesday.
A large storm that hit the US north-east has been labeled a “bomb cyclone” – a storm that rapidly intensifies and features plunging air pressure within a 24-hour period, according to meteorologists. On Tuesday night, a nor’easter, a rainstorm that blows in from the north-east, especially New England, became a bomb cyclone after a sudden pressure drop. The storm system’s pressure, which is measured in millibars, fell from 1,008 millibars to 980 millibars, meeting the criteria for a so-called bomb cyclone.
— WBUR (@WBUR) October 27, 2021
A flood watch was in effect for more than 31 million people in the north-east region. The tempest left more than 600,000 homes and businesses without power on Wednesday, delivering hurricane force winds and heavy downpours across the north-east. ...
In torrential downpours on Monday night into Tuesday, Brooklyn received more than 4in (10.16cm) of rain while Manhattan received more than 3in, with officials monitoring flash flooding alerts in the area. ... The National Weather Service reported that some areas in New Jersey received more than 5in of rain, with some areas badly flooded.
This morning's view of the nor'easter drifting away from the U.S. Northeast Coast. pic.twitter.com/volNibh8Wl
— CIRA (@CIRA_CSU) October 27, 2021
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Matt Guitar Murphy - Born Under A Bad Sign & Going Down
Matt Guitar Murphy - Strut Your Stuff
Sonny Boy Williamson And Matt Murphy Down & Out - Down And Out Blues
Memphis Slim & Matt Murphy - Everyday I Have The Blues
Matt Guitar Murphy - Low Down And Dirty & Blue Walls
Matt Guitar Murphy - Way Down South
Billy Boy Arnold, Matt Guitar Murphy & Joe Louis Walker - I Wanna Love You
Matt Guitar Murphy - Matt's Guitar Boogie
Matt 'Guitar' Murphy Live At Shades, Prairie View, IL. 1989