The Evening Blues - 5-11-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features jazz trumpeter Harry "Sweets" Edison. Enjoy!
Harry "Sweets" Edison - Willow Weep For Me
“It’s ridiculous to talk about freedom in a society dominated by huge corporations. What kind of freedom is there inside a corporation? They’re totalitarian institutions - you take orders from above and maybe give them to people below you. There’s about as much freedom as under Stalinism.”
-- Noam Chomsky
News and Opinion
Human rights defenders spoke at a rally in New York City Monday ahead of what they called a "show trial" for attorney Steven Donziger, who was held in contempt of court in 2019 by a prosecutor with ties to the fossil fuel industry.
Donziger won a historic $9.5 billion judgment against oil giant Chevron in 2013 over the company's dumping of 16 billion gallons of oil into the Amazon in Ecuador. That ruling has been upheld by three Ecuadorian courts, but Chevron has gone to great lengths to avoid paying the settlement.
Donziger's federal trial—without a jury—began Monday morning, with right-wing Judge Loretta Preska presiding. As Common Dreams reported last week, Preska is a leader in the conservative Federalist Society, which has backing from oil giant Chevron—the corporation at the center of the case against Donziger.
Dozens of supporters arrived at the Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse in Manhattan to speak out against the misdemeanor charge against Donziger, which carries a potential six-month prison sentence and which, Donziger said in a video released Sunday night, is "an effort by corporate America, particularly the fossil fuel industry," to "attack and silence their critics."
Called "America's first corporate political prisoner," Donziger has been under house arrest for more than 600 days since U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan of the Southern District of New York held him in contempt of court in July 2019, after Donziger refused to disclose privileged client information to the fossil fuel industry.
Kaplan is a former corporate lawyer with investments in Chevron. Aside from Kaplan and Preska's ties to Chevron, the special prosecutor selected for the trial is a partner at a firm which once counted the oil giant as one of its clients.
The conflicts of interest in the case have led Donziger's supporters to decry the attorney's "persecution" and deem the federal trial a "kangaroo court." Instead of paying the $9.5 billion settlement to clean up the pollution it dumped into the Amazon, activist and actress Susan Sarandon said at the rally, Chevron instead "chose to silence and persecute Steven...because it's also a signal to other activists, to other people who are trying to save our environment that you will have dire consequences if you open your mouth and if you take legal action."
Sarandon echoed the message shared by Donziger on the eve of the trial.
"I'm just a symbol that they want to go so they can use it as a weapon of intimidation to try to stop this work happening, to try to discourage lawyers and campaigners and human rights advocates, environmental justice campaigners from even doing this work," Donziger told his supporters.
Donziger also noted ahead of the trial that two Chevron lawyers dropped out at the eleventh hour after planning to appear as key witnesses for the prosecution.
"They know when they take the oath they can't lie any longer," Donziger said. "This is what happens when the world watches."
"We fear that this case will embolden further strategic lawsuits against public participation ('SLAPP') and deter other students from representing clients seeking to redress harm by corporations," the students wrote in a letter released Sunday with signatories representing 55 law schools. "A successful campaign to criminalize Mr. Donziger would suppress the public interest advocacy that is crucial to a fair justice system and social progress."
Progressive lawmakers including Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), and Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) have also demanded that U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland review Donziger's case.
Tensions between Israel and the Palestinians escalated dramatically on Monday as militant groups in Gaza fired rockets into Israel and Israel responded with strikes on the Palestinian coastal territory following a police raid on the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem that left hundreds injured. The rocket attacks were launched just minutes after the passing of a Hamas-issued ultimatum for Israel to withdraw security forces from both the Jerusalem compound that is home to the al-Aqsa mosque and the Old City’s Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood.
The two locations have been the scene of increasingly violent confrontations in recent days between Israeli security forces and Palestinians that have drawn mounting international concern. Anger had been growing for weeks among Palestinians before a now-delayed Israeli court ruling on whether authorities were able to evict dozens of Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and give their homes to Jewish settlers.
Jerusalem residents reported hearing air raid sirens shortly after 6pm local time, when the ultimatum was due to expire, and the sound of explosions. Sirens were also reported near the coastal city of Ashkelon and in other areas close to the Gaza border. The Israeli army said there was an initial burst of seven rockets, one was intercepted, and rocket fire was continuing in southern Israel.
The Gaza health ministry said 20 Palestinians, including nine children, were killed in Israeli airstrikes in the Palestinian territory after the barrages against Israel. An Israeli military spokesperson said it had started to attack Hamas military targets in Gaza.
Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, the first Palestinian-American woman ever elected to Congress, demanded Monday that U.S. lawmakers and President Joe Biden take immediate and concrete action in response to Israeli forces' latest assault on the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, where more than 300 Palestinians were injured by rubber bullets, stun grenades, and tear gas.
"Al-Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam, and people praying during the holiest days of the holy month of Ramadan have been beaten, gassed, shot, and killed by Israeli forces," Tlaib tweeted Monday morning. "They are denied medics and forced to use prayer mats as stretchers. A place of peace desecrated by violence."
The Michigan Democrat went on to call out the bipartisan coalition of U.S. House members who rejected conditioning aid to Israel last month, shortly before Israeli settlers and state forces resumed efforts to forcefully expel Palestinians from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of occupied East Jerusalem—an effort that sparked outrage from Tlaib, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and other progressive lawmakers.
"American taxpayer money is being used to commit human rights violations," said Tlaib. "Congress must condition the aid we send to Israel, and end it altogether if those conditions are not followed. Statements aren't working, [Secretary of State Antony] Blinken. Enough is enough."
"I was seven years old when I first prayed at the Al-Aqsa with my sity. It's a sacred site for Muslims," Tlaib added. "This is equivalent to attacking the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for Christians, or the Temple Mount for Jews. Israel attacks it during Ramadan. Where's the outrage, POTUS?"
Al-Aqsa is the 3rd holiest site in Islam, & people praying during the holiest days of the holy month of Ramadan have been beaten, gassed, shot, & killed by Israeli forces. They are denied medics & forced to use prayer mats as stretchers.
A place of peace desecrated by violence. https://t.co/S7kc74ceHE
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) May 10, 2021
The Palestinian Red Crescent Society said at least 305 Palestinians were injured, several critically, in the Israeli forces' attack on Al-Aqsa Monday, which came on the Israeli national holiday that marks the country's seizure of East Jerusalem during the Six-Day War of 1967.
Observers feared that tensions and violence would continue escalating throughout the day as thousands of right-wing Israelis were planning to march through the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, but the demonstration was reportedly rerouted at the last minute.
"This is good news," said Yair Rosenberg, senior writer at Tablet magazine. "Hopefully it's not too late and the police can actually keep the marchers to the new route. Let's hope more responsible decision-making follows."
Video footage of the Monday attack posted to social media shows Israeli police beating a Palestinian detained at the compound, women and children scrambling to find cover amid Israeli forces' bombardment of the mosque, and medics escorting wounded Palestinians away from the chaotic scene.
Khaled Zabarqa, a 48-year-old lawyer who had been praying at Al-Aqsa just before Israeli forces began firing on the compound, asked in an interview with the New York Times, "Why have they been attacking the Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan?"
"The Aqsa Mosque is a sacred place for Muslims," said Zabarqa. "Israel is starting a religious war."
After weeks of negotiations in Europe, more than 50 members of the Democratic National Committee and state party leaders sent a letter Monday urging U.S. President Joe Biden to scrap his predecessor's economic sanctions against Iran and return to the nuclear deal that was reached in 2015.
The letter (pdf), organized by the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, notes that former President Donald Trump not only "recklessly reneged" on the Iran nuclear deal—officially the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—in May 2018, despite warnings that doing so heightened the risk of war, but then engaged in a "maximum pressure" campaign that featured devastating sanctions.
"The only result has been a vastly expanded Iranian nuclear program, increased regional instability, near U.S.-Iran war on multiple occasions, and severe economic sanctions that have contributed to a dire humanitarian crisis inside Iran," the letter says. "As a result, America's credibility has been severely damaged and its national security damaged. Trump's decision made America less safe."
The Democrats commend Biden "for pledging to return to the JCPOA and for beginning a multilateral diplomatic process with other world powers to return all sides to compliance with the accord through the compliance-for-compliance formula," adding that the deal "is of such critical value to U.S. national security that the issue of who goes first should not become an obstacle."
"Moreover, lifting Trump's bad-faith sanctions—which he explicitly imposed on Iran in order to make a return to the JCPOA next-to-impossible—should not be treated as a concession to Iran, but rather as an effort to restore U.S. credibility and enhance American security," the letter emphasizes.
A US coast guard ship fired about 30 warning shots as a group of 13 Iranian fast boats sped toward US navy vessels in the strait of Hormuz, in what the Pentagon called “unsafe and unprofessional” maneuvers by the naval arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGCN). The incident marked the second time within the last month that US military vessels have had to fire warning shots because of what they said was unsafe behavior by Iranian vessels in the region, after a relative lull in such interactions over the past year.
John Kirby, a Pentagon spokesperson, said the warning shots were fired after the Iranian fast boats came as close as 150 yards (137 meters) of six US military vessels, including the USS Monterey, that were escorting the guided-missile submarine Georgia. The US coast guard cutter Maui fired the warning shots from a .50-caliber machine gun before the Iranian vessels left, Kirby said. ...
A day earlier, the Monterey had intercepted an arms shipment aboard a dhow in the Arabian Sea apparently headed for Yemen, whose Houthi rebels are supported by Iran.
Joe Biden said on Monday that “so far” there has been no evidence that the cyber attack late last week on a US pipeline had any involvement from the Russian state but that he believes Russia “has some responsibility” to deal with ransomware attacks emanating from its soil. “It’s a criminal act, obviously. We have efforts under way with the FBI and DoJ to disrupt and prosecute ransomware criminals,” the US president said.
Questioned by the media, after an address at the White House in which Biden condemned attacks on critical infrastructure, about whether he believed Russia was involved in the hack, the US president said he was going to be meeting with Vladimir Putin in due course. “So far there is no evidence based on, from our intelligence people, that Russia is involved, though there is evidence that the actors, ransomware, is in Russia. They have some responsibility to deal with this,” he said.
The development came as the FBI confirmed on Monday that the ransomware group responsible for the compromise of the pipeline network that supplies petrochemicals to the north-eastern US is DarkSide, an experienced collective of cybercriminals which has hacked scores of companies in the US and Europe. A senior White House official said the FBI had been tracking DarkSide since at least last October.
Biden gave no details on a date or location for a meeting with the Russian president but the White House has previously indicated he would try to meet with Putin when he travels to Europe next month.
The World Health Organization on Monday classified a coronavirus mutation first detected in India as a "variant of concern" for global health, warning that it appears to be more contagious than other strains.
Experts believe the variant, formally known as B.1.617, could be a key driving force behind the devastating coronavirus surge in India, which has been reporting more than 300,000 new infections daily over the past two weeks as the nation's vaccination program is hampered by shortages that could last months.
Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO's technical lead for Covid-19, said during a press conference that while "we need much more information about this virus variant," preliminary studies of the mutation have demonstrated "increased transmissibility."
On Twitter, WHO chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan stressed that there is not yet enough information to determine whether the strain is able to evade vaccines or therapeutics and said her organization will be "updating variant data continuously."
"The pattern now is that one person in the family gets it, the whole family seems to get it," Swaminathan told the Wall Street Journal on Monday. "This is unlike the first wave. And so I think what we're seeing is more transmissible."
The WHO's reclassification of B.1.617—which was previously labeled a "variant of interest"—came as experts and progressive campaigners continue to warn that people across the globe will remain in danger as long as public health measures are flouted and the coronavirus is allowed to spread uncontrolled among populations without access to vaccines.
"With Africa accounting for only around 2% of global coronavirus vaccinations, health officials on the continent are looking warily at waves of infections sweeping India and elsewhere that have stoked fears of a long tail end of the pandemic," the Washington Post reported Sunday. "Current timelines for mass vaccination campaigns in most African countries run well into next year—if not further."
In late March, epidemiologists from dozens of countries said they believe the international community has "a year or less" before coronavirus variants spread widely enough to render a majority of first-generation vaccines ineffective—a nightmare scenario for the world and a major profit opportunity for the pharmaceutical industry.
"With millions of people around the world infected with this virus, new mutations arise every day," Gregg Gonsalves, associate professor of epidemiology at Yale University, said in March. "Unless we vaccinate the world, we leave the playing field open to more and more mutations, which could churn out variants that could evade our current vaccines and require booster shots to deal with them."
A micro-brewery in Buffalo, New York, has been offering free beer to encourage vaccine-hesitant customers to visit pop-up vaccination clinics next to its taprooms – and the program has been a roaring success.
The scheme, a hook-up between Erie county health department and two local breweries, comes as many regions across the US are seeing sharp declines in vaccine demand.
Under the plan, brewery patrons are offered a Moderna vaccine shot with a free pint glass and coupon for the vaccinated person’s drink of choice. A second drink comes with the second shot four weeks later. ...
Hours after Erie county’s Shot and a Chaser program got under way at Resurgence Brewing Company on Saturday, about 100 people had been vaccinated.
“Harm Is Still Being Done”: 36 Years After MOVE Bombing, Misuse of Children’s Remains Reopens Wounds
The families of 165 victims of police brutality in the US are calling on the United Nations to set up an independent inquiry into the ongoing scourge of police killings of Black men and women. With the support of more than 250 civil society groups from around the world including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the families are hoping to engage the UN in efforts to rein in police violence against African American communities. The call comes in the wake of last year’s nationwide and international protests following the murder of George Floyd by the now ex-police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis.
In a letter sent on Monday to the UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, the families call for an “independent inquiry into the killings and violent law enforcement responses to protests in the US”. They argue that such robust international accountability would complement the Biden administration’s efforts to “dismantle systemic racism in the US, especially in the context of police violence against people of African descent”.
Among the families who have joined the call are relatives of victims of some of the most notorious police killings in recent memory. They include the families of Floyd; Michael Brown, the 18-year-old whose 2014 killing by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, spurred the growing Black Lives Matter movement; and Daunte Wright, who was shot in a traffic stop in Brooklyn Center, Minnesota, last month.
The letter to the UN comes two weeks after an alliance of leading human rights lawyers from 11 countries accused the US of committing crimes against humanity by allowing law enforcement officers to kill and torture African Americans with impunity. The lawyers’ 188-page report found the US in frequent violation of international laws, including police murders and “severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, persecution and other inhuman acts”.
The push to enlist the UN’s human rights council in a formal investigation is the latest effort by victims’ families and advocacy groups to hold the US to the same degree of international accountability that successive US presidents have demanded for other countries. So far the world body has resisted attempts to draw it into the controversy.
Numerous corporations have funded the political action committees of state lawmakers backing the recent spate of anti-voter and anti-protest bills, even as many of the companies have spoken out in defense of voting rights and democracy, a report published Monday by Greenpeace USA revealed.
The report (pdf)—entitled Dollars vs. Democracy: Companies and the Attack on Voting Rights and Peaceful Protest—says that 44 state lawmakers sponsored at least one anti-protest bill and one anti-voter bill in the past year. It also reveals that 53 of the 100 top corporate donors to lawmakers sponsoring anti-voter bills also rank among the top 100 contributors to anti-protest measures.
According to the report, the top 10 corporations that have invested the most money in lobbying for anti-protest bills since 2017 are all fossil fuel companies.
The 10 companies that have contributed the most to state lawmakers sponsoring both anti-voter and anti-protest bills are: AT&T, Dominion Energy, Zurich North America and its subsidiaries, Berkshire Hathaway and its subsidiaries, UnitedHealth Group, Mednax Services, Charter Communications, State Farm Insurance and its subsidiaries, Phillip Morris USA, and Vistra Energy (FKA Energy Future Holdings) and its subsidiaries.
"Even though a growing number of companies have spoken out in defense of democracy and voting rights, many of these same companies contributed to legislators sponsoring anti-voter or anti-protest bills during their most recent election campaigns," the report notes.
Of the 100 companies who endorsed the April 14 "We Stand for Democracy" statement opposing "any discriminatory legislation or measures that restrict or prevent any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot," 12 contributed to the sponsors of 43 anti-voter bills analyzed.
Five of the 10 companies that donated most to sponsors of state anti-voter legislation also rank among the top 10 corporate donors to sponsors of anti-protest bills. Similarly, in the wake of the white supremacist attack on the Capitol, at least 130 companies "paused" political action committee (PAC) contributions to members of the "insurrection caucus." But at least 47 of these companies contributed to the sponsors of anti-voter legislation introduced since the January 6th insurrection.
Additionally, the report says the U.S. Chamber of Commerce opposes the For the People Act—a sweeping plan to expand voting rights, rein in dark money, and strengthen federal ethics rules passedby the House of Representatives in March—even though many individual chamber members have raised concerns about the types of attacks on democracy that the bill aims to address.
Executives from Boston Consulting Group, Deloitte, Ford, IBM, Microsoft, and United Airlines who have voiced opposition to state-level anti-democracy legislation currently serve on the chamber's board of directors, according to the publication.
The report notes that anti-protest bills target communities of color and "are a direct response to Black Lives Matter and other BIPOC-led movements, laying bare their racist intent."
Folabi Olagbaju, director of democracy campaigns at Greenpeace USA, said in a statement that "a healthy democracy is a precondition for a healthy environment. When everyone's vote counts and when everyone's constitutionally guaranteed right to peacefully protest is protected, our government becomes more accountable and capable of meeting the demand for racial justice and enacting solutions to the rapidly accelerating climate crisis."
"We hope this report sheds light on who is behind the attack on our democracy and right to protest, and that it will push corporations to take a stand for strong national standards for voting rights and election reform, and quit supporting politicians who sponsor or vote for anti-voter and anti-protest legislation," Olagbaju continued. "It's time to ensure all of us have a say in key decisions that affect us all and our elections reflect the will of the people, not corporations."
"It is now more urgent than ever to build a just transition away from fossil fuels and fight off attacks against protest and our freedom to vote, so that we can have a planet our communities can thrive on," he added.
Rare elements such as indium, yttrium, neodymium, cobalt and lithium are vital for the production of low-carbon technology, but many are being thrown away because of the lack of a requirement to recycle them, industry experts have warned.
Concern is growing over the future supply of such elements, as the switch to green technology – including electric vehicles, solar panels and low-carbon heating – will require far greater volumes of rare earths and other critical raw materials.
Recycling should be mandatory for the critical raw materials present in circuit boards; magnets used in disc drives and electric vehicles; batteries for electric vehicles; and fluorescent lamps, they concluded. ...
While relatively low-value metals such as copper, iron and even platinum are frequently recycled, rare metals are ignored or thrown away, because their use is often in small quantities that recyclers deem too expensive to recover.
However, uncertainties over the future supply of such materials and rapidly increasing demand, driven by the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions, could force a supply crunch in future for critical materials, which would not only raise prices but could prove highly disruptive to forging a green economy, the report’s authors found. Waiting for such price rises to make recycling economical would leave manufacturers highly vulnerable to future shocks, they said.
California has expanded a drought emergency declaration to a large swath of the nation’s most populated state amid “acute water supply shortages” in northern and central parts of California. The declaration, expanded by Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday, now includes 41 of 58 counties, covering 30% of California’s nearly 40 million people. The US drought monitor shows most of the state and the American west is in extensive drought just a few years after California emerged from a punishing multiyear dry spell.
Officials fear an extraordinary dry spring presages a wildfire season like last year, when flames burned a record 6,562 sq mi(16,996 sq km).
The declaration comes as Newsom prepares to propose more spending on short- and long-term responses to dry conditions. The Democrat last month had declared an emergency in just two counties north of San Francisco – Mendocino and Sonoma. The expanded declaration includes the counties in the Klamath River, Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and Tulare Lake watersheds across much of the northern and central parts of the state.
The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which provides about a third of the state’s water, was at just 59% of average on 1 April, when it is normally at its peak. This year is unique in the state’s recorded history because of extraordinarily warm temperatures in April and early May, the administration said. That led to quick melting of the Sierra Nevada snowpack in the waterways that feed the Sacramento River, which in turn supplies much of the state’s summer water supply.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Harry "Sweets" Edison - Blues for Bill Basie
Wynton Marsalis and Harry “Sweets” Edison - Shiny Stockings
Coleman Hawkins and Harry Edison - Disorder at the Border
Harry "Sweets" Edison - How Deep Is The Ocean
Harry Edison - K.M. Blues
Harry "Sweets" Edison - Pussy Willow
Harry Edison & Eddie Lockjaw Davis - Dirty Butt Blues
Harry "Sweets" Edison - Ain't Misbehavin'
Harry Edison & Eddie Lockjaw Davis - Moolah
Ben Webster & Harry Sweets Edison - Blues For Piney Brown