The Evening Blues - 2-19-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features funk band War. Enjoy!
War - Cisco Kid
"We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the sermon on the mount."
-- Omar N. Bradley
News and Opinion
The US has agreed to take part in multilateral talks with Iran hosted by the EU, with the aim of negotiating a return by both countries to the 2015 nuclear deal that is close to falling apart in the wake of the Trump administration.
The state department spokesman, Ned Price, said the US would accept the invitation of the EU high representative for discussions with Iran and the five other countries that agreed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), by which Iran accepted strict constraints on its nuclear programme in return for sanctions relief.
There was no immediate word from Tehran on whether it was ready to join the talks, which so far have no agreed start time or location. The US has made clear its delegation will be led by its special envoy, Rob Malley, who helped negotiate the JCPOA six years ago.
“Until we sit down and talk, nothing’s going to happen, but that doesn’t mean that when we sit down and talk we’re going to succeed,” a senior state department official said. “We do know that if you don’t take that step, the situation is just going to go from bad to worse.” ...
Since Joe Biden’s inauguration both countries have signalled their readiness to re-enter the agreement, but have differed on who should make the first move. The leadership in Iran has indicated preparedness to negotiate a step-by-step approach of “compliance for compliance”.
Israel is carrying out a major expansion of its Dimona nuclear facility in the Negev desert, where it has historically made the fissile material for its nuclear arsenal.
Construction work is evident in new satellite images published on Thursday by the International Panel on Fissile Material (IPFM), an independent expert group. The area being worked on is a few hundred metres across to the south and west of the domed reactor and reprocessing point at the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center, near the desert town of Dimona.
Pavel Podvig, a researcher with the programme on science and global security at Princeton University, said: “It appears that the construction started quite early in 2019, or late 2018, so it’s been under way for about two years, but that’s all we can say at this point.”
The Israeli embassy in Washington had no comment on the new images. Israel has a policy of deliberate ambiguity on its nuclear arsenal, neither confirming nor denying its existence. The Federation of American Scientists estimates that Israel has about 90 warheads, made from plutonium produced in the Dimona heavy water reactor.
“Instead of tackling the danger of Israel’s real nuclear weapons, successive U.S. administrations have chosen to cry ‘Wolf!’ over non-existent nuclear weapons in Iraq and Iran.”
As Congress still struggles to pass a COVID relief bill, the rest of the world is nervously reserving judgment on America’s new president and his foreign policy, after successive U.S. administrations have delivered unexpected and damaging shocks to the world and the international system. Cautious international optimism toward Biden is very much based on his commitment to Obama’s signature diplomatic achievement, the JCPOA or nuclear agreement with Iran. Biden and the Democrats excoriated Trump for withdrawing from it and promised to promptly rejoin the deal if elected. But Biden now appears to be hedging his position in a way that risks turning what should be an easy win for the new administration into an avoidable and tragic diplomatic failure.
While it was the United States under Trump that withdrew from the nuclear agreement, Biden is taking the position that the U.S. will not rejoin the agreement or drop its unilateral sanctions until Iran first comes back into compliance. After withdrawing from the agreement, the United States is in no position to make such demands, and Foreign Minister Zarif has clearly and eloquently rejected them, reiterating Iran’s firm commitment that it will return to full compliance as soon as the United States does so. Biden should have announced U.S. re-entry as one of his first executive orders. It did not require renegotiation or debate. ...
So why is Biden not eagerly pocketing this easy first win for his stated commitment to diplomacy? A December 2020 letter supporting the JCPOA, signed by 150 House Democrats, should have reassured Biden that he has overwhelming support to stand up to hawks in both parties. But instead Biden seems to be listening to opponents of the JCPOA telling him that Trump’s withdrawal from the agreement has given him “leverage” to negotiate new concessions from Iran before rejoining. Rather than giving Biden leverage over Iran, which has no reason to make further concessions, this has given opponents of the JCPOA leverage over Biden, turning him into the football, instead of the quarterback, in this diplomatic Super Bowl.
American neocons and hawks, including those inside his own administration, appear to be flexing their muscles to kill Biden’s commitment to diplomacy at birth, and his own hawkish foreign policy views make him dangerously susceptible to their arguments. This is also a test of his previously subservient relationship with Israel, whose government vehemently opposes the JCPOA and whose officials have even threatened to launch a military attack on Iran if the U.S. rejoins it, a flagrantly illegal threat that Biden has yet to publicly condemn.
In a more rational world, the call for nuclear disarmament in the Middle East would focus on Israel, not Iran. As Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote in the Guardian on December 31, 2020, Israel’s own possession of dozens - or maybe hundreds - of nuclear weapons is the worst kept secret in the world. Tutu’s article was an open letter to Biden, asking him to publicly acknowledge what the whole world already knows and to respond as required under U.S. law to the actual proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.
Life expectancy in the United States dropped a staggering one year during the first half of 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic caused its first wave of deaths, health officials are reporting. Minorities suffered the biggest impact, with Black Americans losing nearly three years and Hispanics nearly two years, according to preliminary estimates released on Thursday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“This is a huge decline,” said Robert Anderson, who oversees the numbers for the CDC. “You have to go back to world war two, the 1940s, to find a decline like this.”
Other health experts say it shows the profound impact of Covid-19, not just on deaths directly due to infection but also from heart disease, cancer and other conditions.
“What is really quite striking in these numbers is that they only reflect the first half of the year … I would expect that these numbers would only get worse,” said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a health equity researcher and dean at the University of California, San Francisco. ...
Overall, the drop in life expectancy is more evidence of “our mishandling of the pandemic”, Otis Brawley a cancer specialist and public health professor at Johns Hopkins University said.
In a social disaster now entering its fourth day, as many as 4.5 million people have been hit by rolling blackouts or the complete shutoff of electricity in Texas. Millions have lost heat amidst winter storms that have sent temperatures plunging into single-digit Fahrenheit numbers (-13 C) as far south as Austin, the state capital. The blackout is the largest in US history caused by deliberate action of the power utilities. ... The cause of the disaster is not any actual shortage in the production of electricity in the United States. On the contrary, the power supply is adequate and prices are comparatively stable. This social tragedy is the product of a series of decisions made by private corporations and public officials, all driven by a common concern: the maximization of capitalist profit.
Ten years ago, a mid-February deep freeze caused a power crisis in Texas. This prompted studies and multiple warnings of what might occur in the event of a similar or more far-reaching occurrence. The current crisis, occurring in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, is not a “natural” disaster, but the result of the deliberate and criminal refusal to heed those warnings. ... While Texas politicians have focused on the fall in wind and solar generation, down about four gigawatts (million kilowatts), by far the biggest drop came in conventional gas-driven generation, which lost more than 30 gigawatts because the temperatures made it more difficult to pump natural gas out of underground storage tanks. Cooling water at some nuclear power plants froze. Even antiquated coal-fired plants were forced to close, as coal supplies froze to the ground.
The deep freeze drove up energy demand to nearly 70 gigawatts, as Texans sought to heat their homes. But the supply problems cut available electricity to less than 45 gigawatts. Prices on the spot market, the only means through which Texas utilities could draw additional power, rocketed from $22 a megawatt hour to $9,000 on Monday. ERCOT instructed utilities not to pay the exorbitant short-term rate—which would drastically cut into their profits since many customers are paying longer-term fixed rates—and to impose rolling blackouts instead.
The shutdown of power plants that caused the power shortage was itself the result of the drive for profit. There is no technical obstacle to weatherizing power plants, whether gas-driven, nuclear or based on renewable resources like the sun, wind and water. Such plants operate even in Siberia, Canada and Alaska. But the deregulation of Texas utilities meant that it was entirely up to corporate executives to decide whether to make the investments required to protect their operations from cold snaps that have become increasingly common in the last two decades. They declined to make such deductions from profit.
Moreover, Texas officials decided in the mid-1990s that they would no longer require utilities to set aside a certain proportion of capacity as a reserve against surges in demand. Elsewhere in North America, such supply buffers are maintained at 15 percent or more. But Texas had no backup plants to activate when the crisis hit.
Texas residents huddled at elementary schools in makeshift “warming centers”, moved in with any relatives and friends who have heat – despite the coronavirus risks – or simply held out inside their homes in deteriorating conditions. Some do not have enough water to drink, let alone wash. Others are dealing with flooding from burst pipes, unreliable gas and electricity service and “boil water” notices spreading to additional major cities.
And with at least two dozen confirmed deaths in the state since the weekend storm, the National Weather Service announced on Wednesday that a new storm front would likely bring another round of frigid temperatures to Texas and “significant ice accumulations”. ...
But the state’s Republican governor, nationally elected officials and Republican-led state legislature were dealing separately with a growing backlash at the inability to restore power for days as residents stood in long lines for paltry supplies of groceries and queued for miles for gasoline. A focus of particular wrath on Thursday was Senator Ted Cruz, who was spotted leaving frigid Houston Wednesday on a flight bound for Cancun, Mexico, the popular beach destination south of the border.
Cruz “is vacationing in Cancun right now when people are literally freezing to death in the state that he was elected to represent and serve”, the former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke, who made a strong run against Cruz for his Senate seat in 2018 and then ran for president in the 2020 election, said on MSNBC. O’Rourke blamed decades of Republican leadership in the state for failing to embrace alternative energy and maintain durable energy infrastructure. “There has been complete Republican control of the state of Texas for 20 years,” O’Rourke said. ...
In an effort to stay ahead of constituents’ wrath about the power crisis and lack of preparedness or information, the governor, Greg Abbott, announced a full-scale investigation into the state’s standalone energy utility – whose leadership Abbott himself appointed.
Congressman Ro Khanna on Thursday unveiled legislation to help the Internal Revenue Service "put an end to runaway tax evasion by the ultra-rich and largest corporations in the U.S."
The California Democrat introduced the Stop Corporations and Higher Earners from Avoiding Taxes and Enforce Rules Strictly (CHEATERS) Act, which would provide $100 billion in additional funding to the IRS over a decade—$70 billion for enforcement, $20 billion for taxpayer services, and $10 billion for IT and operations support.
Every $1 spent would generate over $11 in greater tax collection, totaling $1.2 trillion in revenue, according to Khanna, who serves as deputy whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform.
"We know our tax system is broken, and it's long past time we start fixing it," Khanna said, emphasizing that "the ultra-wealthy play by different rules than the rest of us."
"Wall Street has been able to act like high rolling gamblers with almost zero consequences for far too long," he added. "Right now, the wealthiest 1% are responsible for roughly 70% of the 'tax gap'—the difference between taxes owed and taxes paid. It's time every American pay their fair share."
Khanna's bill would codify a proposal put forth in Tax Notes late last year by University of Pennsylvania law professor Natasha Sarin, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers, and former IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti.
The Stop CHEATERS Act (pdf) would upgrade the IRS' decades-old systems and require audits of 95% of corporations with over $20 billion in assets as well as half of individual tax return filers with income exeeeding $10 million per year. In a bid to stop the wealthy from hiding income, the law would also require additional reporting for "pass-through" businesses.
The IRS would be required to submit to Congress reports detailing revenue loss by income levels and from offshore tax evasion as well as the agency's efforts to recruit and retain auditors equipped to deal with cases involving wealthy people and businesses. The bill would also boost penalties for millionaires who are caught cheating on their taxes.
"IRS budget cuts have decimated the agency's ability to ensure that wealthy individuals and large corporations are paying the taxes they owe, stacking the deck even more in favor of the wealthy and powerful and draining hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue," said Seth Hanlon, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress (CAP).
"Rep. Khanna's Stop CHEATERS Act provides additional resources and tools to crack down on tax dodging by millionaires and large corporations and enable the agency to better serve ordinary, honest taxpayers," he added. "It is an important step toward economic, social, and racial justice, and an economy that works for all Americans."
The bill was also welcomed by Americans for Tax Fairness executive director Frank Clemente, who noted that "after years of Republican budget cuts and skewed priorities, the IRS now audits those who make $20,000 at about the same rate as the top 1%, even though the vast majority of unpaid taxes are attributable to wealthy tax cheats."
The IRS, declared Patriotic Millionaires chair Morris Pearl, is currently "no match for the amount of criminal tax evasion being committed by the top 1%."
"We've almost reached the point where the rich and powerful can simply decide not to pay their taxes and face no consequences for their misbehavior," Pearl said. "By giving the IRS the tools it needs to properly tackle wealthy criminal tax evasion, the Stop CHEATERS Act will finally hold millionaires and billionaires to the same standard as normal, hardworking taxpayers."
The Australian government has been blindsided by Facebook suddenly blocking all news on the platform in Australia but says the “heavy-handed” move will not stop parliament from passing landmark laws to force tech giants to pay for journalism.
Australians woke up on Thursday to discover they couldn’t view or share news on the social network after Facebook blocked the content in an escalation of a row over whether it should have to pay media companies for displaying their content. Facebook is opposed to the federal government’s news media code which has already passed the lower house of parliament and is expected to soon pass the upper house.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, took to Facebook on Thursday to argue the platform’s show of strength would “confirm the concerns that an increasing number of countries are expressing about the behaviour of BigTech companies who think they are bigger than governments and that the rules should not apply to them”.
“Facebook’s actions to unfriend Australia today, cutting off essential information services on health and emergency services, were as arrogant as they were disappointing,” Morrison wrote on Facebook. “They may be changing the world, but that doesn’t mean they run it.”
The chief executive of the Robinhood app has defended the decision to halt trading in GameStop shares at a congressional hearing on Thursday, calling allegations that the company acted to help hedge funds that were hemorrhaging money “absolutely false”. The comments triggered accusations the company was creating a “smokescreen” to deflect blame.
Vlad Tenev and other players in January’s GameStop saga appeared before the House financial services committee in the first public hearing in a wide-ranging investigation into trading in GameStop, AMC and other companies whose share values soared as small investors piled into the stocks. “The buying surge that occurred during the last week of January in stocks like GameStop was unprecedented, and it highlighted a number of issues that are worthy of deep analysis and discussion,” Tenev said. ...
Tenev once again apologized for the trading ban. “Despite the unprecedented market conditions in January, at the end of the day, what happened is unacceptable to us,” Tenev said.
The sometimes fractious hearing was largely divided along party lines, with Democrats calling for more oversight and Republicans arguing against more regulation. “Don’t you see something has gone terribly wrong here?” said the Democratic congressman David Scott. He called social media-led stock market bubbles “a threat to the future of our financial system”. Republican Bill Huizenga called the hearing “political theater”.
A Tennessee librarian has lost his job after allegedly burning copies of books by Donald Trump and rightwing commentator Ann Coulter. The Chattanooga public library dismissed Cameron Dequintez Williams after he allegedly posted videos of himself in his backyard in December pouring lighter fluid over Coulter’s How to Talk to Liberals (If You Must) and Trump’s Crippled America. ...
Williams, a Black Lives Matter protester, said he has been unfairly treated, and that he was simply following a library instruction to remove any “old, damaged or untruthful books”.
The library does have a “weeding” policy for the removal of certain books from circulation. But it says Trump and Coulter’s books do not meet that criteria.
“The items in question that were featured in the video were not flagged for removal. We have a very rigorous and thorough standard practice for collection management. And it’s part of the American Library Association, so it’s something all libraries follow,” a library spokesperson said in December when the allegations arose. ...
The library said last year that Williams’ alleged behavior constituted censorship and had no place in a library.
Senior Senate Democrats recently launched a rearguard attempt to regain power they’d lost in December but were repelled by new members of the Senate in an overlooked yet potentially consequential internal caucus battle. In December, Chris Murphy, the junior Democratic senator from Connecticut, pushed for and won a change to caucus rules that would strip power from the chairs of the most important committees. (Caucus rules can be amended by a majority vote of the caucus.) Then in January, senior Democrats attempted to delay the implementation of Murphy’s rules change and were unsuccessful. Multiple Senate sources, who spoke anonymously to be candid about internal politics, told The Intercept that the discussion was contentious.
Murphy’s success is part of a larger shift in power toward more recently elected Democrats in the caucus, reflecting the rise of members less yoked to the mythology of the Senate as a haven of deliberation and bipartisanship. New members of the party drove partial reform of the filibuster in 2013 and are now pushing to go further, arguing that Republicans are not and won’t ever be willing to be reasonable negotiating partners and that the filibuster should be completely eliminated.
Under the previous Democratic caucus rules, committee gavels were doled out by seniority, and those chairs then had first dibs on the most prized subcommittees as well — meaning that senior members could control the flow of legislation through the committee from beginning to end, or could chair a key policy committee, while also chairing the appropriations subcommittee that funded that policy area, giving them additional influence. In December, Murphy and his colleagues argued that the double-dip of power was too much and proposed a rule that committee chairs couldn’t have their pick of select subcommittees until everyone else in the caucus had a shot. ...
Despite the high-powered pushback, the caucus voted to approve Murphy’s change. ... The votes were cast by secret ballot, but senators were told by leadership that the tally was “decisively” in favor of moving forward immediately with Murphy’s reform — a Senate version of the Confucian proverb that no one deserves a second bowl of rice until everyone has had a first.
Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential bid may have come to an end, but the revolution continues in Michigan. There, a group of progressives has made significant strides in taking over their state’s Democratic Party. This group has forced a number of procedural and platform changes over the course of three years, resulting in a democratization of the party and the endorsement of agenda items like single-payer health care and universal basic income. Progressives can rely on the votes of roughly a third of the state party’s leadership committee.
Now, in the upcoming February 20 election, progressives have a slate of 123 candidates running and are hoping to capture a majority on the state party’s governing body.
The effort’s success could provide a roadmap to other progressive groups looking to establish lasting positions of power in their state Democratic parties. As Liano Sharon, one of the Michigan insurgents, told The Daily Poster, the secret is to take aim at the administrative structures that have long kept the old guard in place — and change the rules of the game. ...
Sharon, a long-time independent business consultant who specializes in cross-cultural training, joined the Michigan Democratic Party in 2016. On his website MichiganProgressive.com, he explains that he “wanted to move the Party left — universal single-payer, criminal justice reform, abolishing the electoral college, immigration reform, money out of politics, Green New Deal, and so on.”
Over the last several years, he and a group of about 20 other progressives who took up the name Michigan for Revolution have done just that, forcing a package of procedural reforms that have democratized the state party. They have managed to secure changes to the state party platform including the inclusion of single-payer health care and universal basic income despite opposition from top-ranking state Democrats like Governor Gretchen Whitmer.
Rivers in which fish populations have escaped serious damage from human activities make up just 14% of the world’s river basin area, according to the most comprehensive study to date. Scientists found that the biodiversity of more than half of rivers had been profoundly affected, with big fish such as sturgeon replaced by invasive species such as catfish and Asian carp. Pollution, dams, overfishing, farm irrigation and rising temperatures due to the climate crisis are also to blame.
The worst-hit regions are western Europe and North America, where large and affluent populations mean humans’ impact on rivers is highest, such as with the Thames in the UK and the Mississippi in the US. Rivers and lakes are vital ecosystems. They cover less than 1% of the planet’s surface, but their 17,000 fish species represent a quarter of all vertebrates, as well as providing food for many millions of people. Healthy rivers are also needed to supply clean water.
Other recent research has shown that global populations of migratory river fish have plunged by a “catastrophic” 76% since 1970, with a 93% fall in Europe. Large river animals have fared worst, with some like the Mekong giant catfish on the verge of extinction. A 2019 analysis found only a third of the world’s great rivers remained free flowing, due to the impact of dams. ...
The research, published in the journal Science, examined almost 2,500 rivers in all parts of the world, except the polar regions and deserts. Previous work focused simply on species numbers, but this study included the ecological roles of the species, as well as how closely related the different species were. The researchers also took into account changes to biodiversity over the last 200 years.
UN Head Decries 'Senseless and Suicidal' Destruction of Nature as New Report Urges Systemic Solutions
As the United Nations on Thursday released a report on the triple emergency of the climate crisis, the destruction of wildlife and habitats, and deadly pollution, the head of the world body sounded the alarm on what he called humanity's "senseless and suicidal war on nature."
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report, entitled Making Peace With Nature: A scientific blueprint to tackle the climate, biodiversity, and pollution emergencies (pdf), was introduced by Secretary-General António Guterres at U.N. headquarters in New York.
"I want to be clear. Without nature's help, we will not thrive or even survive," said Guterres. "For too long, we have been waging a senseless and suicidal war on nature. The result is three interlinked environmental crises—climate disruption, biodiversity loss, and pollution—that threaten our viability as a species."
"They are caused by unsustainable production and consumption," he added. "Human well-being lies in protecting the health of the planet. It's time to reevaluate and reset our relationship with nature. This report can help us do so."
Among the report's recommendations are carbon taxes; a redirection in the nearly $5 trillion in annual worldwide subsidies to sectors including fossil fuels, mining, industrial agriculture, and fishing "toward alternative livelihoods and new business models;" and reenvisioning indicators of economic performance so that the value of mitigating the climate emergency, preserving ecosystems, and reducing pollution count—not just GDP.
Additionally, the report asserts that "changes in patterns of consumption are critical to transforming food, water, and energy systems and can be achieved through altered norms in business and cultural practices."
"Changing the dietary habits of consumers, particularly in developed countries, where consumption of energy- and water-intensive meat and dairy products is high, would reduce pressure on biodiversity and the climate system," the report states. "These habits are a function of individual choices but are also influenced by advertising, food and agricultural subsidies, and excess availability of cheap food that provides poor nutrition."
Robert Watson, the report's lead author, told Al Jazeera that "vested interests" were thwarting many of the policies and actions needed to make peace with nature.
"We have subsidies for agriculture, for energy, for fossil fuels that are perverse," said Watson. "They encourage the use of fossil fuels. They encourage the use of bad agricultural practices."
"If we can get the business community to work with governments around the world, I'm optimistic we can start to move in the right direction," he added.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Eric Burdon & War - Tobacco Road
War - The World Is A Ghetto
Eric Burdon & War - Spill The Wine
War - Beetles In The Bog
War - Low Rider
War - Slippin' Into Darkness
Eric Burdon & War - Spirit/Love Is All Around/Train Train
Eric Burdon & War - Mother Earth
War - Freight Train Jam
Eric Burdon & War - Magic Mountain
Eric Burdon & War - Bare Back Ride