The Evening Blues - 3-24-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features The King of the Blues, B.B. King. Enjoy!
B.B. King - Lucille
"Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun."
-- Chairman Mao Tse-Tung
News and Opinion
Worth a full read:
“Biden is a national embarrassment on foreign policy,” a colleague wrote in a note over the weekend. This is the very mildest assessment of the administration’s doings last week. In a matter of three days, Joe Biden and those who actually run policy — primarily Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan — have plunged America into crisis with two of planet Earth’s most powerful nations, both nuclear armed, both essential to addressing global problems that cannot be solved without common efforts, both heretofore explicitly open to cooperative ties to the U.S. ...
Biden’s appearance on ABC News last Wednesday evening, while meticulously scripted by all appearances, was an unmitigated disaster. ... The same question and the same conclusion apply to Blinken’s two-day encounter with Wang Yi and Yang Jiechi, China’s senior foreign policy officials, in Anchorage last Thursday and Friday. The diplomatic representative of the world’s most aggressive, coercive, interventionist nation lecturing a nation with no corresponding record of aggression, coercion, or intervention about our fidelity to some chimeric “rules-based international order?” One must go as far back as… as far back as Mike Pompeo to find such tin-eared incompetence.
What lies behind these blunders? Was there some purpose in provoking Russian and Chinese ire that transcends the very significant messes the president and his national security people just created? It is true that Washington, with the Democratic Party bearing the standard, has been committed to hostile relations with Moscow and Beijing at least since the 2014 coup in Ukraine and the National Defense Review of 2018 identified Russia and China as strategic adversaries. This policy has just been consolidated at the political and executive levels. ... But there is another factor at work as Biden and his lieutenants unfurl their foreign policies, and I have already suggested it. This is the problem of incompetence. I mean this two ways: There is personal incompetence, and there is institutional incompetence. What a time, with numerous large policy questions looming, to come face to face with such deficits as these. ...
What occurred between Washington and Moscow last week, and at a hotel in Anchorage, bears a significance that we must not miss. As I listened to Blinken lecture the Chinese about America’s fidelity to “a rules-based international order” — yes, he had the nerve — it occurred to me that it is during the Biden years that America’s rear-guard defense of its fading empire is likely to collide rather directly with 21st century realities such as global parity, multipolarity, and the rest of the world’s determination to enforce international law. While I was pondering this, I read of a new coalition of nations calling themselves the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations. Its members stand explicitly against U.S. aggression and include, not surprisingly, various states — Bolivia, Cuba, Syria, Venezuela —that have endured it. These nations are not going to make the world spin differently, but I read their voices as a sign of changing times. China and Russia are also among them.
The US, UK, EU and Canada have simultaneously implemented new sanctions against Chinese officials in yet another reminder that these nations consistently function as member states of a single empire on foreign policy, and that the Biden administration is continuing right where the Trump administration left off on anti-China hawkishness.
The basis for these sanctions is listed as “human rights” violations in Xinjiang province, as US Secretary of State Tony Blinken explains:
“Amid growing international condemnation, the PRC continues to commit genocide and crimes against humanity in Xinjiang. The United States reiterates its calls on the PRC to bring an end to the repression of Uyghurs, who are predominantly Muslim, and members of other ethnic and religious minority groups in Xinjiang, including by releasing all those arbitrarily held in internment camps and detention facilities.”
Blinken’s allegations are unfounded, as explained in this recent article from The Grayzone and in this comprehensive video by the Youtube channel Bay Area 415. While it’s entirely possible that human rights violations could be happening in Xinjiang in some form and to some extent, the extremely flimsy and blatantly manipulated evidence we’ve seen so far for western claims of “genocide” and “crimes against humanity” should draw immediate incredulity from anyone who remembers the lead-up to the Iraq invasion. The only sane response to unfounded claims by known liars is skepticism and agnosticism until we are presented with proof that rises to the level required in a post-Iraq invasion world.
These talking points issued by the State Department chief look even more off-base when we remember that a leaked 2017 State Department memo confirmed that the United States has a standing policy of using allegations of human rights violations as a bludgeon against nations like China while ignoring known human rights violations against member states of the empire like Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
In December 2017 Politico published an internal memo that had been sent the previous May to then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson by virulent neocon Brian Hook. The memo provided useful insight into what it looks like when a toxic swamp monster orients a political neophyte to the inner mechanics of the empire, explaining the way “human rights” are really just a tool to be cynically exploited to advance the goal of planetary hegemony like an old veteran explaining the backstory to the new guy in the pilot episode of a new TV series.
“In the case of US allies such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Philippines, the Administration is fully justified in emphasizing good relations for a variety of important reasons, including counter-terrorism, and in honestly facing up to the difficult tradeoffs with regard to human rights,” Hook explained in the memo.
“One useful guideline for a realistic and successful foreign policy is that allies should be treated differently — and better — than adversaries,” Hook wrote. “We do not look to bolster America’s adversaries overseas; we look to pressure, compete with, and outmaneuver them. For this reason, we should consider human rights as an important issue in regard to US relations with China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran. And this is not only because of moral concern for practices inside those countries. It is also because pressing those regimes on human rights is one way to impose costs, apply counter-pressure, and regain the initiative from them strategically.”
A leaked State Department memo officially confirms the open secret we all knew: when the US government expresses concerns about so-called "human rights," it doesn't actually care about human rights; it's just a cheap political tactic to demonize US enemieshttps://t.co/MrcZpLmdEW pic.twitter.com/tIWl5zXo1w
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) December 29, 2017
So if it wasn’t already clear to you that the US empire is faking its concern for the wellbeing of Muslim lives (and a quick glance at America’s actions in the Middle East should make that read like the punchline of a bad joke anyway), it should be clear to you now. Neither Washington nor its vassal states harbor any interest in protecting the interests of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, they are only using that narrative to, as Brian Hook put it, “impose costs, apply counter-pressure, and regain the initiative from them strategically.” This is exactly what a steadily escalating international sanctions campaign helps accomplish.
The illusion is that the US and its allies have seen evidence of genocide and crimes against humanity and taken action against China in the interest of human rights. The reality is that actions against China were already planned, and a narrative was used to justify them.
Meanwhile we ordinary people are watching two nuclear-armed nations escalate against one another with increasing aggression, with escalations against nuclear-armed Russia complicating things even further. This incredibly dangerous flirtation with the unthinkable is the most important thing happening in our world, and we should all oppose it tooth and claw.
You don’t need to believe that the Chinese government is run by a bunch of saints to understand that these great power confrontations serve no one and threaten everyone–economically, politically, and existentially. There is no legitimate reason we can’t all begin collaborating with each other toward the common good of humanity instead of brandishing armageddon weapons at one another with increasing recklessness in the name of unipolar hegemony.
Senior Biden administration officials are playing down North Korean short-range missile launches last weekend, and saying the US president is still open to a dialogue with North Korea.
Officials, who briefed reporters on the missile launches, said on Tuesday that they were on the low end of the spectrum and not covered by various UN security council resolutions. They said the Biden administration was close to a conclusion of its policy review of North Korea and that the national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, will discuss it next week with his counterparts in Japan and South Korea.
North Korea test-fired two short-range missiles over the weekend, officials said. One expert suggested it was a relatively mild move as Pyongyang lobbies for a relaxation of sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs.
Two US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to offer details on the launches, which came after North Korea refused to engage with repeated behind-the-scenes diplomatic overtures by Joe Biden’s team since mid-February.
Iraq has sent a formal request to President Joe Biden’s administration for a date to resume strategic talks on bilateral relations and the withdrawal of remaining U.S. combat forces, Iraqi officials said Tuesday.
The talks, which began in June under the Trump administration, would be the first under Biden, who assumed office in January. The discussions are meant to shape the future of the U.S.-Iraq relationship.
Relations between the two countries have been fraught with tension, particularly following the U.S. airstrike in January 2020 that killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis just outside the Baghdad airport.
Outraged, Iraqi lawmakers, spurred by Shiite political factions, passed a non-binding resolution to oust U.S.-led coalition forces from the country following the attack.
A senior Saudi official issued what was perceived to be a death threat against the independent United Nations investigator, Agnès Callamard, after her investigation into the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
In an interview with the Guardian, the outgoing special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings said that a UN colleague alerted her in January 2020 that a senior Saudi official had twice threatened in a meeting with other senior UN officials in Geneva that month to have Callamard “taken care of” if she was not reined in by the UN. Asked how the comment was perceived by her Geneva-based colleagues, Callamard said: “A death threat. That was how it was understood.”
Callamard, a French national and human rights expert who will this month take on her new post as secretary general of Amnesty International, was the first official to publicly investigate and publish a detailed report into the 2018 murder of Khashoggi, a prominent former insider who used his column at the Washington Post to write critically about the Saudi government.
Callamard’s 100-page report, published in June 2019, concluded that there was “credible evidence” that the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and other senior Saudi officials were liable for the killing, and called the murder an “international crime”. The Biden administration has since released its own unclassified report, which concluded that Prince Mohammed had approved the murder. The Saudi government has denied the killing, which occurred in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, was ordered by the future king.
Declassified documents prove the US government collaborated with the coup-plotters to plan the 1976 putsch that installed Argentina's murderous far-right dictatorship of General Jorge Rafael Videla -- who murdered/disappeared tens of thousands of leftistshttps://t.co/IW2FZkunkp
— Ben Norton (@BenjaminNorton) March 24, 2021
Brazil’s supreme court has ruled that the former judge Sergio Moro was biased in the way he oversaw former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva’s corruption trial, providing vindication for the leftist leader who has long claimed political persecution. ...
Tuesday’s ruling follows a separate decision from Justice Edson Fachin on 8 March to annul Da Silva’s two convictions, on the grounds that he was tried in a court without proper jurisdiction, and establishing that he could be retried in federal court in the capital, Brasilia. ...
While the decision this month cleared the way for Da Silva to oppose Bolsonaro in 2022 elections, it was also interpreted by legal experts as a means to head off a ruling on allegations of Moro’s bias, and in so doing preserve the convictions and credibility of Car Wash. Another justice called for a vote on the pending matter regardless.
With their 3-2 decision on Tuesday, the justices prohibited evidence gathered in the Car Wash probe about Da Silva’s alleged ownership of a triplex in the beach town of Guaruja from being used in any eventual trial. The justices did not rule whether evidence gathered previously could be used when retrying Da Silva’s other conviction, or in his other two unresolved criminal cases.
One can imagine an editor of the London-based Guardian (3/17/21) shaking her head sadly as she typed the headline: “Cycle of Retribution Takes Bolivia’s Ex-President From Palace to Prison Cell.” The subhead told readers, “Jeanine Áñez’s government once sought to jail the country’s former leader Evo Morales for terrorism and sedition—now she faces the same charges.”
The Guardian article by Tom Phillips wants us to lament an alleged incapacity of Bolivian governments to stop persecuting opponents once they take office. We are told that Áñez’s government did it, and that now the government of President Luis Arce (elected in a landslide win on October 18, 2020) is also doing it.
The article’s premise is a lie, and the liberal Guardian has hardly been the only outlet spreading it, with help from Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), whom Philips quoted. A team effort between Western media and NGOs like HRW often reinforces the views of the US government (FAIR.org, 8/23/18, 8/31/18, 5/31/2o, 11/3/18).
Áñez was a US-backed dictator installed after a military coup sent democratically elected President Evo Morales fleeing Bolivia for his life on November 10, 2019. Once in power, Áñez immediately promised security forces legal immunity as they massacred dozens of protesters. She is now charged with terrorism (in addition to sedition and criminal conspiracy) over her attempt to keep power by terrorizing the public. Her arrest is good news to people who support democracy and human rights.
But now, as when the coup took place in 2019, the most obvious conclusions are evaded when they are incompatible with US foreign policy (FAIR.org, 11/11/19). It should surprise nobody that US officials have made statements depicting her arrest as political persecution.
In downgrading the coup that installed Áñez to a mere allegation made against Áñez, Reuters (3/13/21), the Financial Times (3/13/21), the Washington Post (3/13/21), CNN (3/15/21) and Canada’s National Post (3/13/21) have all run articles quoting HRW’s Vivanco criticizing her arrest. CNN quoted him:
The arrest warrants against Añez and her ministers do not contain any evidence that they have committed the crime of “terrorism.” For this reason, they generate well-founded doubts that it is a process based on political motives.
The Washington Post article, whose headline alleged a “crackdown on opposition,” used a shorter version of the same quote from Vivanco.
While all the articles described the coup as an allegation, CNN stands out for getting the most ridiculous with its denialism:
Then-head of the Bolivian Armed Forces, Cmdr. Williams Kaliman, asked Morales to step down to restore stability and peace; Morales acquiesced on November 10 “for the good of Bolivia.”
But political allies maintain he was removed from power as part of a coup orchestrated by conservatives, including Áñez.
Did Kaliman need to be filmed putting a gun directly to Morales’ head for CNN to admit it was a coup?
Adding to the disinformation loop from his own platform on Twitter, Vivanco spread an Americas Quarterly op-ed by Raul Peñaranda (3/16/21) that denounced the arrest of Áñez. Peñaranda once said that Bolivia’s democracy was “saved” the day Morales was overthrown, and his recent op-ed depicts the November 2019 coup as a legal transfer of power.
In 2019, the military publicly “urged” Morales to resign, as both the military and police made clear they would not protect him from violent right-wing protesters, some of whom ransacked his house. Áñez, a right-wing senator whose party received only 4% of the national vote in the 2019 legislative elections, had the presidential sash placed on her by military men, while lawmakers from Evo Morales’ party (Movimineto al Socialismo, or MAS), the majority in the legislature, were absent: some in hiding, others refusing to attend without guarantees of their safety and their families’.
Ignoring all that, the Guardian article by Tom Philips refers to “claims the former senator [Áñez] was involved in plotting the right-wing coup that Bolivia’s current government claims brought her to power.” (My emphasis.) Editors are usually big fans of concision. The highlighted words should have been deleted. An added benefit would have been accuracy.
Of course, it’s easier to deny that Áñez was involved in plotting the coup that put her in power (hardly a stretch) if you do not even accept that a coup took place. Reuters placed scare quotes around the word “coup” in headlines about Áñez’s arrest: “Bolivian Ex-President Áñez Begins Four-Month Detention Over ‘Coup’ Allegations” (3/16/21); “ Bolivian Ex-President Áñez Begins Jail Term as Rights Groups Slam ‘Coup’ Probe” (3/14/21).
Reuters (3/14/21) and CNN (3/15/21) also uncritically reported the thoroughly debunked pretext for the coup. CNN reported, “Though an international audit would later find the results the 2019 election could not be validated because of ‘serious irregularities,’ [Morales] declared himself the winner, prompting massive protests around the country.” (The “international audit” is the OAS’s widely debunked report.) Reuters simply stated that the Organization of America States (OAS) “was an official monitor of the 2019 election and had found it fraudulent.”
The coup was incited by transparently dishonest claims repeatedly made by OAS monitors about the presidential election won by Morales on October 20, 2019. Three days after the election, they claimed there was a “drastic,” “inexplicable” and “hard to explain” increase in Morales’ lead in the vote count (FAIR.org, 12/17/19).
The Washington, DC–based Center for Economic and Policy Research immediately pointed out that this was utter nonsense. But in the crucial months following Morales’ ouster, outlets like Reuters constantly shielded the OAS from devastating criticism. Eventually, expert criticism of the OAS continually mounted and disrupted the media silence. Details from the election results in 2020, in which Evo Morales’ party triumphed by an even greater margin than in 2019, further exposed OAS dishonesty.
Like Reuters, the widely quoted Jose Miguel Vivanco of HRW spread fraud claims when it mattered most in 2019. The day after the election won by Morales, Vivanco tweeted in Spanish that “everything indicates that [Evo Morales] intends to steal the election.” As late as December 2019, HRW executive director Ken Roth was also promoting OAS claims without the slightest trace of scepticism. Months into the murderous illegitimate rule of Áñez, Vivanco explicitly referred to Bolivia as a “democracy.” He did so in a Spanish-language interview with BrujulaDigital (5/15/20), an outlet edited by Raul Peñaranda, the coup supporter whose Americas Quarterly op-ed Vivanco recently promoted on Twitter. Meanwhile, on Twitter, Vivanco constantly refers to the governments of President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, and President Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua–two democratically elected presidents the US government wants overthrown–as “dictaduras” (dictatorships).
The New York Times editorial board openly supported the coup that ousted Morales in 2019:
The forced ouster of an elected leader is by definition a setback to democracy, and so a moment of risk. But when a leader resorts to brazenly abusing the power and institutions put in his care by the electorate, as President Evo Morales did in Bolivia, it is he who sheds his legitimacy, and forcing him out often becomes the only remaining option. That is what the Bolivians have done, and what remains is to hope that Mr. Morales goes peacefully into exile in Mexico and to help Bolivia restore its wounded democracy.
So predictably enough, a Times article (3/12/21) about the recent Áñez arrest referred vaguely to the utterly debunked OAS fraud claims (“a contested vote count”) and took the same kind of dishonest stance as HRW and other Western media by equating a US-backed dictatorship to a democratically elected government whose ouster the US supported: “Both Mr. Morales and Ms. Añez used the judiciary to go after their critics.”
The Washington Post editorial board (3/18/21) came out with a wild defense of Añez, headlined: “The Bolivian Government Is on a Lawless Course. Its Democracy Must Be Preserved.” Most ominously, the editorial said, “The Biden administration should lead a regional effort to preserve democratic stability in this long-suffering country, lest crisis turn into catastrophe.” Informed people may laugh at this for a few seconds–until they remember that Bolivia’s people could eventually face lethal US sanctions for daring to hold murderers to account. Left unchallenged, that’s the catastrophe that propaganda like this could bring about.
Brutal dictators supported by Washington have no reason to doubt that establishment journalists and big NGOs will try very hard to keep them out of jail. Removing the threat of US -backed coups from the world will involve a constant struggle against Western media and the sources they present to us as reliable.
Mitch McConnell, who was accused of laying waste to bipartisan co-operation in the Senate when he blocked a supreme court pick by Barack Obama then changed the rules to hurry through three picks for Donald Trump, has said that if Democrats do away with the filibuster, they will “turn the Senate into a sort of nuclear winter”.
Eyeing major legislation on voting rights, gun control, infrastructure and more, Democrats who control the White House and Congress are pressuring leaders to reform or abolish the Senate filibuster rule, by which a minority of just 41 out of 100 senators is able to block most legislation. ...
“I think if they destroy the essence of the Senate, the legislative filibuster, they will find a Senate that will not function,” said the Kentucky Republican, who took his own nuclear option six years after then Democratic majority leader Harry Reid made such a move on lower-court appointments and executive branch nominees, to bypass Republican obstruction.
“It takes unanimous consent to turn the lights on here,” McConnell said. “And I think they would leave an angry 50 senators not interested in being cooperative on even the simplest things.”
Students, educators, and parents still relying on remote or hybrid learning are itching to get back into classrooms, but with Covid-19 cases rising in several states, nurses, teachers union leaders, and other experts are expressing alarm over what they warn are short-sighted efforts to rapidly reopen schools and new federal guidance that may be putting economic concerns ahead of public health.
The nation's two largest teachers unions responded cautiously after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Friday that, as long as mask-wearing continues, students in K-12 classrooms can be just three feet apart—relaxing the previous six-foot recommendation that prevented some schools from reopening.
National Nurses United (NNU), the largest union for the profession in the country, has also put out a statement raising concerns that "the CDC's guidance was based on studies that failed to account for several critical factors, including no differentiation between facilities' ventilation levels, self-reporting of infection data or not testing all contacts of cases, and exclusion of schools that were closed due to need to quarantine or fully remote—especially in denser, urban areas and areas with more Black, Indigenous, and people of color."
As NNU president and registered nurse Zenei Triunfo-Cortez put it: "This is another example of where social, political, and economic pressure to send kids back to school as soon as possible is, unfortunately, driving public health decisions instead of science and reality."
Jean Ross, RN and another president of NNU, emphasized that "we should have more data before we put kids' and their families' lives at risk."
"We understand the need for school," Ross said, "but also must think long term: If you don't protect your health, you won't be able to learn, won't be able to continue with your education, won't be able to graduate and become a healthy, productive adult. And that also applies to all the staff and family members these kids come into contact with daily."
NNU executive director Bonnie Castillo, RN, warned in a tweet that the three-foot recommendation "will unnecessarily put millions at risk."
American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten and National Education Association (NEA) president Becky Pringle had shared concerns last week about the three-foot recommendation, with Pringle saying that "the CDC has changed one of the basic rules for how to ensure school safety without demonstrating certainty that the change is justified by the science and can be implemented in a manner that does not detract from the larger long-term needs of students."
Weingarten said that "while we hope the CDC is right and these new studies convince the community that the most enduring safety standard of this pandemic—the six-foot rule—can be jettisoned if we all wear masks, we will reserve judgement until we review them, especially as they apply in districts with high community spread and older buildings with ventilation challenges."
Oakland is set to become the latest city in California to launch a guaranteed income program, with the mayor announcing Tuesday a privately funded program for low-income families of color.
The Oakland Resilient Families program will give families that meet a certain threshold $500 a month, with no rules on how they spend it. The program has so far raised $6.75m from private donors including Blue Meridian Partners, a national philanthropy group.
“The poverty we all witness today is not a personal failure, it is a systems failure,” Libby Schaaf, Oakland’s mayor, said in a statement. “Guaranteed income is one of the most promising tools for systems change, racial equity and economic mobility we’ve seen in decades. I’m proud to work with such committed local partners to build a new system that can help undo centuries of economic and racial injustice, and point us all toward a more just society.”
Guaranteed income, also known as universal basic income (UBI), is based on the concept that giving people a set amount of money each month can help break cycles of poverty, by allowing them to stop living the paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle that contributes to poor health and hinders their ability to find better, full-time work.
Mayors across the country have launched small, temporary programs in a coordinated effort to convince Congress to adopt the program nationally. Oakland’s project will be one of the largest so far, targeting up to 600 families. “We have designed this demonstration project to add the body of evidence, and to begin this relentless campaign to adopt a guaranteed income federally,” Schaaf said.
A coalition of nearly 30 progressive advocacy groups on Tuesday urged President Joe Biden to take steps to ensure a decisive break from the "failed leadership" of the last Democratic administration on antitrust enforcement, pointing to a recent report exposing Obama-appointed regulators' refusal to stop Google's monopolistic takeover of the online search market.
"The federal government needs to strengthen its approach to combating anti-competitive practices," the groups wrote in a letter (pdf) to Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland.
The progressive coalition—which includes Demand Progress, CodePink, People's Action, and dozens of other organizations—said Biden can start by appointing "strong advocates of antitrust enforcement" to key agencies like the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a regulatory body tasked with shielding consumers from business abuses.
"As the administration considers nominees for vital antitrust positions, such as the post of Assistant Attorney General for the Antitrust Division or for appointments to the FTC, it is crucial that it elevates people with strong track records of standing up to big corporations and Big Tech," said the coalition, warning against the selection of any corporate lobbyists.
"The fact that many alumni of the FTC previously tasked with oversight of Big Tech have since joined the industry further stresses the need for a new approach to the personnel selection process," the groups added. "We need a break from past, failed leadership, and we need it now."
While heartened by Biden's nomination of scholar and "antitrust trailblazer" Lina Khan for an FTC seat, progressives have also voiced concerns over recent reporting indicating that corporate lawyers are lining up for key posts at the Justice Department, which is currently suing Google for antitrust violations—a case that was launched at the tail-end of the Trump administration.
The American Prospect reported last month that Garland, who was confirmed earlier this month, "looks to be drawing extensively on the ranks of BigLaw representatives to staff [DOJ's] most powerful and important posts."
"Garland's most concerning connection is Jamie Gorelick, who, despite being unlikely to get a formal role within the department, is positioning herself as a fixer with Washington's most direct line to Garland's office and unique power to influence the Biden DOJ," the Prospect noted. "Gorelick was hired to help Google beat a burgeoning antitrust case during the Obama years, successfully pressuring the White House and DOJ to put the brakes on a criminal investigation into the firm."
During his confirmation hearing last month, Garland defended the common practice of hiring lawyers with Big Tech ties for government roles, telling lawmakers that "fortunately or unfortunately, the best antitrust lawyers in the country have some involvement, one way or another," with the industry.
"We can't exclude every single good lawyer from being able to be in the division," Garland said, referring to the Justice Department's antitrust arm.
Gun control advocates are making a new attempt to force the gun industry to comply with a unique California law that requires bullet casings to be “microstamped”, a measure that has been toothless since it was approved more than a decade ago. California’s 2007 law requires gun manufacturers to adopt microstamping technology on new types of handguns introduced in the state. The intent was to imprint a unique set of microscopic characters on all cartridge casings when weapons are fired, linking bullet casings to the guns that discharged them. ...
Gunmakers have vigorously opposed the microstamp law, arguing the technology is unreliable. To get around complying with it, they have not introduced new gun models in California since the law was passed.
Mark Oliva, spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearm industry, called microstamping an “unworkable technology”. ... Oliva argued it could take up to 10 bullet casings to piece together one complete digital identifier that could determine the weapon that fired the bullets. He also said the technology could be easily defeated by sanding the microstamp off the firing pin in much the same way that criminals erase guns’ serial numbers. And the microstamps would eventually wear off the firing pins, Oliva said, because law enforcement officers may fire thousands of rounds with their service weapons in training alone. ...
Meanwhile, gun owners’ rights groups are challenging the microstamp law before a federal judge who has already rejected the state’s ban on ammunition magazines holding more than 10 bullets and its law requiring background checks to buy ammunition, decisions that the state is appealing to the ninth US circuit court of appeals. The US district judge Roger Benitez in San Diego is also considering throwing out the state’s ban on assault weapons.
After recording a year with the lowest level of public mass shootings in more than a decade, the US suffered its second such incident in less than a week on Monday night with a shooting at a Colorado grocery store that killed 10, including one police officer.
Joe Biden addressed the shooting on Tuesday, calling for swift legislation to be passed, and once again lowering the White House flag to half-staff after he had called for it to be lowered after last week’s mass shooting in Atlanta.
The president called on Congress to close the loopholes in the background checks system and to once again ban assault weapons. He specifically urged the Senate to pass the two background checks bills that the House approved earlier this month. ...
It is unclear whether the bills can make it through the evenly divided Senate, given Republicans’ general opposition to gun restrictions.
Asked whether Biden was considering executive action to address gun violence, the White House press secretary, Jen Psaki, said the president was considering a number of options.
Enbridge, the Canadian energy-transport firm, is planning to route its Line 3 pipeline under the Mississippi, near where it crosses Highway 40. In winter, a pollution-control rule bars drilling under the frozen waters. As the ice melts away, so do the restrictions. Those organizing against the project worry that Enbridge could begin tunneling under the Mississippi and other local rivers any day — and the pipeline-resistance movement is getting ready for it. “They got a lot of money, they got a lot of equipment, but we got a lot of people,” said Anishinaabe water protector Winona LaDuke at an event last week with actor and activist Jane Fonda, which took place in front of the flowing Crow Wing River, not far from where Enbridge seeks to drill under its shores. “Spring is coming. Let’s be outdoorsy.” ...
The delicate waterway ecosystems through which the pipeline passes have become the central organizing point of the anti-pipeline, or water protector, movement. Hundreds of rivers, streams, and wetlands face the specter of a tar sands leak after the replacement Line 3 begins operating. And the particularly intensive form of drilling required to tunnel the pipeline under rivers holds its own set of risks during construction. Those same waters are central to the Anishinaabe people’s identity, and Anishinaabe women have led opposition to the Line 3 project. Over the past year, women and nonbinary people have organized small camps near planned construction sites. In recent weeks, they’ve led a steady schedule of gatherings and ceremonies at the edges of rivers, with some organizing more obstructive protests, known as direct actions, aimed at slowing pipeline construction. With spring on the horizon, pipeline opponents are poised to take even more obstinate stands to block construction at the river crossings.
Law enforcement agencies, with Enbridge’s support, are also preparing for the time when the rivers open up. Documents obtained by The Intercept confirm that local sheriff’s offices have for months been practicing for direct actions focused on the Mississippi River. This past September, members of the Northern Lights Task Force, a coalition of state and local law enforcement and public safety agencies set up to respond to pipeline resistance, gathered for the 12-hour training at Camp Ripley, a Minnesota National Guard training center on the Mississippi River south of the pipeline route. The exercise was titled “Operation River Crossing.” ...
Six months later, law enforcement agencies have put some of the planned exercises into real-world action. As the scenario foreshadowed, a Northeast Emergency Operations Center was activated November 30, shortly after the pipeline’s approval, according to Northern Lights Task Force meeting notes obtained by The Intercept. Multiple county sheriff’s offices now have their own extrication or cutting teams trained and ready to use equipment for cutting water protectors away from infrastructure. Some of that equipment has been paid for by Enbridge itself. ...
Enbridge has suggested that no river crossing is imminent. Last week, the company announced that Line 3 is now half complete and that the project will go on a “planned” two-month hiatus. Enbridge spokesperson Juli Kellner confirmed to The Intercept that river drilling will occur in the summer. Many opponents are hopeful that it will be enough time for President Joe Biden to intervene and stop the project, the way he stopped the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. There are also ongoing legal cases to stop Line 3, including from the White Earth and Red Lake tribal governments, whose treaty land the pipeline passes through. Project opponents, though, remain on edge, wary of the possibility that any day they could receive word that drilling at one of 21 river and waterway crossings has begun.
The fast growth of plant-based alternatives to animal products could mean Europe and North America will reach “peak meat” by 2025, at which point consumption of conventional meat starts to fall, according to a report. The study also forecasts that plant-based meats will match regular meat on price by 2023 and that nine out of 10 of the world’s favourite dishes – from pepperoni pizza to sushi – will have realistic alternatives by 2035.
The report, by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and Blue Horizon Corporation, says it is very likely that alternative proteins will capture 11% of the global protein market by 2035, and 22% if rapid technology and regulatory progress is made.
An increasing number of people are eating meat and dairy alternatives as concern grows over health, the environmental impact of livestock and animal welfare. The report says the annual market for alternative meat, eggs, dairy and seafood products is on course to reach at least $290bn (£210bn) by 2035.
“The most striking thing is that in developed economies, we’re going to be at peak meat in 2025 in some scenarios,” said Decker Walker, the head of agribusiness at BCG. “There’s all this talk that alternative proteins are futuristic, and that many people don’t resonate with the concept of artificial meat. But what most people don’t realise is that we’re actually already at a point where [traditional] meat consumption is going to be declining for the first time in history. The global consequences of the shift to alternative proteins are significant.”
If alternative proteins grow to 11% of sales over the next 15 years, the report estimates that 1bn tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will have been avoided, farmland equivalent to the area of the UK will have been freed from supporting livestock, and 50bn fewer chickens will have been raised.
Texas is crisscrossed by thousands of miles of freeways, but a Houston-area county is suing the state to stop one of them being expanded, arguing the air pollution and displacement will primarily harm minority communities.
Advocates say the plans are an example of environmental racism, when harmful infrastructure is built among disadvantaged people. The Biden administration has joined the fight, and the Federal Highway Administration – headed by the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg – recently sent a letter saying that the plans could violate residents’ civil rights.
The addition of several lanes and plans to elevate segments of the I-45 highway in North Houston would involve the displacement of 1,079 disproportionately Black, brown and low-income households. The widening of the highway would also displace 341 businesses, five churches and two schools, contributing to increased levels of air pollution, traffic congestion and flooding concerns.
Bakeyah Nelson of Air Alliance Houston says an overhaul of the practice of building homes so close to the highway is long overdue. “These affordable housing units are in locations where they’re already being exposed to greater environmental hazards than if they were farther away from the highway,” Nelson said.
“This is an opportunity for this new administration to really back up what it’s been saying regarding highway projects that perpetuate environmental racism,” she said. “And that is what I-45 is. It’s a project that displaces Black and brown communities, it’s a project that exposes children to increased levels of air pollution, it’s a project that increases flooding, it’s a project that has an adverse impact on green space and parks that we already don’t have enough of.”
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
B.B. King - Why I Sing the Blues
BB King - I Believe To My Soul
B B King - Don't You Lie To Me
B.B. King - Why does everything happen to me
BB. King - Beautician blues
B.B King - Hummingbird
B.B. King ft. Eric Clapton - Riding With The King
Sesame Street: B. B. King: The Letter B
BB King on Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casual 1968 Part 1
BB King on Ralph Gleason's Jazz Casual 1968 Part 2