The Evening Blues - 12-2-21
Hey! Good Evening!
Sam Chatmon - Sittin' On Top of the World
“Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass...It's about learning to dance in the rain.”
-- Vivian Greene
News and Opinion
Abortion Under Attack: Supreme Court Hints It Will Uphold Mississippi’s Ban, Threatening Roe v. Wade
Conservative justices in the US supreme court have signaled their support for curbing abortion access during oral arguments in the most important reproductive rights case in decades, threatening the future of abortion access across the country.
Campaigners have warned the case poses a direct threat to the legal underpinnings of Roe v Wade, a landmark 1973 decision that guaranteed the constitutional right to abortion. In their lines of questioning on Wednesday, liberal justices warned against abandoning important legal precedent, while conservatives argued for reviewing it.
“The constitution is neither pro-life nor pro-choice … and leaves the issue to the people to resolve in the democratic process,” said the conservative justice Brett Kavanaugh, who was controversially appointed to the bench by former president Donald Trump. ...
While far from a foregone conclusion, questions from conservative justices appeared to show there was not a majority to uphold Roe v Wade in its current form. Conservative justices including Kavanaugh indicated an interest in overturning Roe, and allowing states to determine their own laws. In that scenario, more than half of US states are expected to ban or severely restrict abortion access. But they also considered upholding Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, which would not overturn Roe but would substantially weaken it.
Liberal justices challenged Scott Stewart, the solicitor general of Mississippi, on whether the state’s argument was fundamentally religious; whether overruling Roe would lead to other rights being overturned, such as gay marriage and the right to contraception; and how the court’s legitimacy would be affected by potentially overturning such an important decision.
Somebody expects Congress to step up? Go ahead, pull the other one.
As journalists and other observers of the U.S. Supreme Court noted Wednesday that its right-wing majority appeared inclined to uphold Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban—and potentially overturn Roe v. Wade—while hearing oral arguments in a case challenging the state law, reproductive rights advocates rallied outside and demanded congressional action.
Pro-choice activists are calling on the Democrat-controlled Congress to affirm the right to abortion nationwide by codifying Roe with the House-approved Women's Health Protection Act (WHPA) and to expand the nine-member court, to which former President Donald Trump appointed three people, creating a conservative supermajority of six justices.
The Unrig the Courts coalition—made up of progressive groups that support expanding the high court—said in a statement that the arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization were "further proof that the conservative justices at the Supreme Court are more interested in promoting a far-right extremist ideology than defending the Constitution."
"Mississippi's draconian abortion ban is clearly unconstitutional under the court's own precedent, and the fact that this case is being heard at all shows just how far off the rails the conservative justices have gone," the coalition continued, warning that the "radical conservative supermajority" installed by Trump and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) "is set on gutting Roe v. Wade and extinguishing the constitutional right to abortion."
"Today during arguments, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked if the court would 'survive the stench' if it overturned Roe for purely political reasons. It will not," the coalition added. "The conservative justices cannot be rehabilitated, and these attacks on our constitutional rights will not stop until we fix the court. Congress must act, and pass the Judiciary Act to expand the Supreme Court."
Introduced in April by a trio of congressmen and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the Judiciary Act would add four seats to the Supreme Court, creating a chance for a return to a liberal majority.
Antny doesn't know if Putin has made a decision, but he wants him to reverse course. I wonder how Putin keeps from laughing at these clowns.
The US says it has evidence Russia has made plans for a “large scale” attack on Ukraine and that Nato allies are “prepared to impose severe costs” on Moscow if it attempts an invasion.
Speaking at a Nato ministers meeting in Latvia, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said it was unclear whether Vladimir Putin had made a decision to invade but added: “He’s putting in place the capacity to do so in short order, should he so decide.
“So despite uncertainty about intention and timing, we must prepare for all contingencies while working to see to it that Russia reverses course.”
Xiomara Castro’s victory in the Honduras presidential elections has placed the Central American nation at the heart of an intensifying diplomatic tug-of-war between Taiwan and China. Honduras is one of only 15 remaining countries that recognizes the sovereignty of Taiwan, which China claims as part of its own territory. But Castro made a manifesto pledge to end that decades-long relationship and establish diplomatic ties with Beijing.
In an apparent attempt to salvage the relationship, Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, on Wednesday congratulated Castro for her victory and reminded her of their bilateral relations. “I look forward to working with you to benefit the people of our countries & strengthen the longstanding Taiwan–Honduras partnership,” Ing-wen said on Twitter. Castro retweeted the message with a terse reply: “Many thanks President Tsai Ing-wen.”
Castro’s proposal has prompted concern in Washington, which has urged her to maintain the relationship with Taiwan, according to sources within her campaign. During a visit to Honduras the week before the election, a US delegation made clear its hope that the country would maintain its current relationship with Taiwan – which the Chinese foreign ministry denounced as “arm-twisting and bullying behavior”.
But experts say a move to establishing diplomatic relations with China would be partly motivated by a desire to counter US influence – and that the potential financial benefits were too enticing to pass up. “It’s an attempt to balance the hegemony of the United States,” said the economist Ismael Zepeda, of the Honduran thinktank Fosdeh. ... Although Taiwan has donated generously to its poorer allies, including Honduras, it cannot compete with the economic largesse of China, which has showered gifts, loans and investments upon other countries in the region who have switched diplomatic allegiances in recent years. Panama cut ties with Taipei in 2017 and has since seen a wave of Chinese investment.
Saudi Arabia used “incentives and threats” as part of a lobbying campaign to shut down a UN investigation of human right violations committed by all sides in the Yemen conflict, according to sources with close knowledge of the matter. The Saudi effort ultimately succeeded when the UN human rights council (HRC) voted in October against extending the independent war crimes investigation. The vote marked the first defeat of a resolution in the Geneva body’s 15-year history.
Speaking to the Guardian, political officials and diplomatic and activist sources with inside knowledge of the lobbying effort described a stealth campaign in which the Saudis appear to have influenced officials in order to guarantee defeat of the measure.
In one case, Riyadh is alleged to have warned Indonesia – the most populous Muslim country in the world – that it would create obstacles for Indonesians to travel to Mecca if officials did not vote against the 7 October resolution. In another case, the African nation of Togo announced at the time of the vote that it would open a new embassy in Riyadh, and receive financial support from the kingdom to support anti-terrorism activities. Both Indonesia and Togo had abstained from the Yemen resolution in 2020. This year, both voted against the measure.
The resolution was defeated by a simple majority of 21-18, with seven countries abstaining. In 2020, the resolution passed by a vote of 22-12, with 12 members abstaining. “That kind of swing – from 12 no’s to 21 – does not just happen,” said one official.
John Fisher, the Geneva director of Human Rights Watch, said: “It was a very tight vote. We understand that Saudi Arabia and their coalition allies and Yemen were working at a high level for some time to persuade states in capitals through a mixture of threats and incentives, to back their bids to terminate the mandate of this international monitoring mechanism.” He added: “The loss of the mandate is a huge blow for accountability in Yemen and for the credibility of the human rights council as a whole. For a mandate to have been defeated by a party to the conflict for no reason other than to evade scrutiny for international crimes is a travesty.”
Iran sought to heighten pressure on western negotiators in Vienna through increasing its use of advanced centrifuges as talks on reviving the 2015 nuclear deal carried on for a third day on Wednesday. The International Atomic Energy Agency reported on Wednesday that Iran had started the process of enriching uranium to up to 20% purity with one cascade, or cluster, of 166 advanced IR-6 machines at the Fordow fuel enrichment plant, which is about 20 miles north-east of Qom. Those machines are far more efficient than the first-generation IR-1.
The IAEA said it would “increase the frequency of verification activities at the plant and continue consultations with Iran on practical arrangements to facilitate implementation of these activities”.
The Iranian government’s chief spokesman accused Israel of lying to poison the atmosphere in the negotiations. “Israeli regime whose existence relies on tension is at it again, trumpeting lies to poison Vienna talks,” Saeed Khatibzadeh, the Iranian foreign ministry spokesman posted on Twitter. “All parties in the room now face a test of their independence & political will to carry out the job irrespective of the fake news designed to destroy prospects for success.”
Reports at the weekend claimed Israel had shared intelligence over the past two weeks with the US and several European allies suggesting that Iran was taking technical steps to prepare to enrich uranium to 90% purity, the level needed for a nuclear weapon.
Wrapping up a three-day trip to London and Paris, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid emphasized to French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday Israel’s position that sanctions must not be removed from Iran, and that only a credible military threat will stop Tehran’s nuclear program.
According to the Foreign Ministry, the two spoke at length about the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, which kicked off Monday after a nearly six-month hiatus.
Lapid told Macron that Israel believes Iran is merely buying time at the talks in order to continue making progress in its nuclear program, and to gain relief from crippling economic sanctions. Israel’s top diplomat also emphasized the need to develop an effective Plan B if talks fail.
No doubt the drone bombings of civilians by western nations will come to the attention of the German court. I'm sure that they're just backed up and the delay is temporary, because equal justice under the law is so important to western nations.
In a landmark verdict, a former member of the Islamic State group has been found guilty of genocide by a German court over the death of a five-year-old Yazidi girl he had bought as a slave and then chained up in the hot sun to die. The Frankfurt regional court also convicted Taha Al-J of crimes against humanity, war crimes and bodily harm resulting in death. The 29-year-old was sentenced to life imprisonment and ordered to pay the girl’s mother €50,000 (£42,600).
German news agency dpa quoted the presiding judge, Christoph Koller, saying it was the first genocide conviction worldwide over a person’s role in the systematic persecution by IS of the Yazidi religious minority. The court said judges concluded that Al-J – whose last name was not released because of privacy laws – acted with the intention of eradicating Yazidis, thereby constituting genocide.
Lawyers for the defendant had denied the allegations made against their client, who briefly fainted as the verdict was read out on Tuesday. His German wife was sentenced last month to 10 years in prison over the girl’s death.
The girl’s mother, who survived captivity, testified at both trials and took part as a co-plaintiff.
It’s looking more and more likely that the annual defense policy bill will not become law in 2021.
Congress frequently has an end-of-calendar-year push to pass the bill, which authorizes the Defense Department activities for the fiscal year that began in October, requests reports or briefings from the Pentagon, and sets new policy on things such as military justice reform or who should register for the draft. But experts say there’s lots of precedent for the legislation passing in the new year and few consequences to doing so. ...
“The likelihood of the NDAA being pushed into January is getting higher and higher, which is not the end of the world,” said Todd Harrison, the director of defense budget analysis at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
It wouldn’t be the first time. The fiscal 2011 bill became law on January 7, 2011; the fiscal 2008 bill became law on January 28, 2008; and the fiscal 2006 bill became law on January 6, 2006. The bill for fiscal year 1996 wasn’t signed into law until February 10, 1996. Most recently, the fiscal 2021 bill became law on January 1, when Congress overrode President Donald Trump’s veto.
The bill also isn’t critical to how the department functions. Other parts of the government routinely do their jobs without an authorization bill. The State Department, for example, has not had an authorization bill for nearly 20 years. “DoD can operate just fine without an authorization bill,” Harrison said.
Not passing a bill, however, could undermine Congress’ oversight power, according to Bradley Bowman, a director at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “The State Department doesn’t take questions [from lawmakers] as seriously because there’s no bill where you can impose consequences. It shifts the balance of power,” Bowman said. “It makes appropriators even more powerful.”
Nearly 1,500 unhoused people are estimated to have died on the streets of Los Angeles during the pandemic, according to a new report that raises alarms about authorities’ handling of a worsening humanitarian crisis.
Authored by researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), and a coalition of unhoused residents, the report analyzed the LA county coroner’s records to identify 1,493 cases of people who died between March 2020 and July 2021 on the streets and were probably unhoused. The most common cause of death was accidental overdose.
The authors identified people believed to be unhoused based on the locations of their death, including freeway underpasses, parks, sidewalks, dumpsters, abandoned buildings, bus stops, tents, riverbeds, railroads and encampments.
The 1,493 figure is probably an undercount. The coroner’s office only tracks fatalities that were “sudden, violent or unusual”. The data does not include unhoused people who were receiving medical care or hospitalized when they died. The count also excludes people who died while in shelters or cars.
Stacey Abrams, the Georgia Democrat and leading voting rights activist, has announced she will launch another campaign to become the nation’s first Black woman governor. In a video announcing her candidacy, Abrams said “opportunity and success in Georgia shouldn’t be determined by background or access to power”.
Without serious competition in a Democratic primary, the announcement could set up a rematch between Abrams and the incumbent Republican governor, Brian Kemp. Their 2018 contest was one of the most narrowly decided races for governor that year and was dominated by allegations of voter suppression.
Yet Abrams’ strong showing convinced national Democrats that Georgia should no longer be written off as a GOP stronghold. Her performance and subsequent organization convinced Joe Biden to invest heavily in the state in 2020, and he became the first Democratic presidential candidate to capture it since 1992. The party later won a narrow Senate majority after victories in two special elections in the state.
The 2022 governor’s race will test whether those gains were a one-time phenomenon driven by discomfort with Donald Trump or marked the beginning of a more consequential political shift in a rapidly growing and diversifying south.
The US is the world’s biggest culprit in generating plastic waste and the country urgently needs a new strategy to curb the vast amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans, a new report submitted to the federal government has found.
The advent of cheap, versatile plastics has created “a global scale deluge of plastic waste seemingly everywhere we look”, the report states, with the US a leading contributor of disposable plastics that ends up entangling and choking marine life, harming ecosystems and bringing harmful pollution up through the food chain.
Plastic waste has increased sharply in the US since 1960, with the country now generating about 42m metric tons of plastic waste a year, amounting to about 130kg of waste for every person in America. This total is more than all European Union member countries combined. The overall amount of municipal waste created in the US is also two to eight times greater than comparable countries around the world, the report found.
Recycling infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the huge growth in American plastic production. Littering, dumping and inefficient waste disposal in landfills has caused up to 2.2m tons of plastic – including everything from plastic bottles and straws to packaging – to “leak” into the environment each year. The total waste may be even greater than this due to data gaps in tracking it.
Much of this plastic ends up, via rivers and streams, in the world’s oceans.
After Congress lifted a ban on crude exports in late 2015, oil and gas production in the Permian Basin soared while domestic consumption remained flat—leading to a massive build-out of pipelines and other infrastructure that culminated in the U.S. "flooding global markets" with fossil fuels at the expense of humanity, in general, and vulnerable Gulf Coast communities already overburdened by pollution, in particular.
That's the focus of the third chapter of The Permian Basin Climate Bomb, a six-part multimedia report by Oil Change International, Earthworks, and the Center for International Environmental Law. The latest installment, released Wednesday, shows that the drilling and fracking boom that turned this area in the U.S. Southwest into "the world's single most prolific oil and gas field" over the past decade was not driven by rising domestic demand, but by a surge in exports after 2015.
Between 2015 and 2020, U.S. oil consumption actually declined by 7%. There was no corresponding decrease in extraction in New Mexico and Texas, however. Instead, fossil fuel production in the Permian Basin increased by 135% during the same time period.
That growth in output coincided with a simultaneous increase in oil and gas exports from the Gulf Coast, which skyrocketed by 589% from 2015 to 2020.
Before December 2015, when sales were restricted to Canada, crude exports made up 5% of U.S. oil and gas production. By 2020, they reached 30%.
According to the report, "The export boom is not confined to crude." The authors cite Matt Schatzman, the CEO of a liquified natural gas (LNG) company, who said in 2019 that "every incremental hydrocarbon produced [in the Permian Basin] from this day forward—whether it's oil, liquids, or gas, needs to be exported." ...
In addition to the construction of over 12,000 miles of pipelines since the end of 2015, "Gulf Coast export terminal capacity has increased more than threefold" since the ban was lifted, the report says. "Additional export capacity could lower the cost of and accelerate crude exports," which "could lock in gas supply to countries that could be moving more quickly to renewable energy."
In response to Permian oil and gas producers' plan to increase production by more than 50% from 2021 to 2030, the focus of the second chapter of the report, Lorne Stockman, research co-director at Oil Change International, said that "this must not happen." ...
The International Energy Agency recently reiterated its message that there is no need for investment in new fossil fuel production, adding that the extraction and burning of dirty energy must decline this decade while the worldwide generation of clean energy must accelerate immediately.
Just before the start of COP26, meanwhile, the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) lamented the fact that global fossil fuel use is projected to increase this decade even as annual reductions in coal, oil, and gas production are necessary to avert the worst consequences of the climate crisis.
According to an analysis released during the summit by Climate Action Tracker, the planet is currently on pace for 2.4°C of heating this century, unless countries—starting with the rich polluters most responsible for exacerbating extreme weather—rapidly and drastically slash greenhouse gas emissions, ramp up the transition to renewable energy, and enact transformative political-economic changes.
As Common Dreams reported last month, there are nearly two dozen fossil fuel projects—among them the Line 3, Dakota Access, and Mountain Valley pipelines and several LNG export terminals—that President Joe Biden has the executive authority to block. In addition, his administration can halt the sale of new fossil fuel leases for public lands and offshore drilling.
There's also room for Congress to act. The authors of the new report point to a study published in early 2020, which showed that "reinstating the oil export ban could lead to reductions in global carbon emissions by as much as 73 to 165 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent each year—comparable to closing 19 to 42 coal plants."
It has been another record year for renewable energy, despite the Covid-19 pandemic and rising costs for raw materials around the world, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). About 290GW of new renewable energy generation capacity, mostly in the form of wind turbines and solar panels, has been installed around the world this year, beating the previous record last year. On current trends, renewable energy generating capacity will exceed that of fossil fuels and nuclear energy combined by 2026.
New climate and energy policies in many countries around the world have driven the growth, with many governments setting out higher ambitions on cutting greenhouse gas emissions before and at the Cop26 UN climate summit in Glasgow last month. However, this level of growth is still only about half that required to meet net zero carbon emissions by mid-century.
Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, said: “This year’s record renewable energy additions are yet another sign that a new global energy economy is emerging. The high commodity and energy prices we are seeing today pose new challenges for the renewable industry, but elevated fossil fuel prices also make renewables even more competitive.”
According to the IEA report, published on Wednesday, renewables will account for about 95% of the increase in global power-generation capacity from now to the end of 2026, with solar power alone providing about half of the increase.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
The Mississippi Sheiks - Sittin' On Top of the World
Mississippi Sheiks - West Jackson Blues
Sam Chatmon - Blues
Sam Chatmon - Let's Get Drunk Again
Mississippi Sheiks - Jake Leg Blues
Sam Chatmon - Brownskin Woman (Big Road Blues)
Mississippi Sheiks - I am the Devil
Mississippi Sheiks - Still I'm Travelin' On
Mississippi Sheiks - The World Is Going Wrong