The Evening Blues - 6-22-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Stax artist Ruby Johnson. Enjoy!
Ruby Johnson - Weak Spot
"The key element of social control is the strategy of distraction that is to divert public attention from important issues and changes decided by political and economic elites, through the technique of flood or flooding continuous distractions and insignificant information."
-- Noam Chomsky
News and Opinion
Worth a click and a full read:
In the news business, we call certain stories “evergreens” because they are essentially always true. One example of this kind of story is “Congress does something pointless, again.” ... But Congress always manages to find a way to take the art of wasting time into a Banzai Charge of bulls**t. To wit: Lawmakers are close to repealing the wrong authorization for use of military force in a symbolic half-measure that will do nothing to end the Forever Wars.
On June 17, the House of Representatives voted to repeal the 2002 authorization for use of military force that allowed then-President George W. Bush to order the invasion of Iraq. The Senate is also expected to vote on the matter this year, according to the Washington Post. ...
Since Saddam Hussein is dead; his alleged stockpiles of biological and chemical weapons turned out to be fantasies; and Saddam’s supposed ties with Al Qaeda proved to be lies, it would appear that the 2002 AUMF has been largely irrelevant since all U.S. troops left Iraq at the end of 2011. Granted: In August 2014, then-President Barack Obama initially cited the 2002 AUMF among his legal justifications for ordering military action against the Islamic State terrorist group in Iraq and Syria; but his administration eventually presented Congress with a report that argued the war against ISIS was legal under the 2001 authorization for use of military force – also known as the father of the Forever Wars.
The 2001 AUMF has allowed every president over the past two decades to wage war without congressional approval by providing the legal justification to conduct military operations against, “those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons” – which has been repeatedly interpreted to include any terrorist group that is even loosely connected to Al Qaeda.
Some people might say that if Congress ultimately repeals the 2002 AUMF, it would be a good first step toward ultimately getting rid of the 2001 AUMF, which actually matters. I am not one of those people. For whatever it’s worth: It looks to me as if Congress is trying to get out of its job by pretending to be productive.
Meeting last week, the US and Russian presidents issued a joint statement declaring: “a nuclear war should never be fought and could never be won”. This consciously echoes what Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev said in a landmark summit in 1985, when the US and USSR started to step up nuclear arms control, and gradually reduced the world’s fear of nuclear catastrophe. Many reports of the Biden-Putin summit have not even mentioned this joint statement, because it sounds like simple common sense. Who wants a nuclear war?
Yet getting these words into a joint US-Russia statement has been surprisingly controversial and complicated. Experts who work on arms control, along with former world leaders, have been advocating for years for the “P5” – the five states that are legally recognised as nuclear powers, and who also wield vetoes on the UN security council – to reaffirm what Reagan and Gorbachev agreed during the cold war.
For some years the US has been saying no – and so have the leaders of the UK and France. Even last week, British and French diplomats were privately briefing nuclear security experts that it wasn’t the right time for leaders to state that a nuclear war is unwinnable and should never happen. Their positions have turned out to be out of step with the new White House. More than that, though, governments’ resistance to even saying that a nuclear war is unwinnable and should not be fought illustrates the big gap between nuclear weapons policy and public awareness of that policy. The dominant concepts about nuclear weapons are the notions of deterrence and “mutually assured destruction”. ...
Of the nine states with nuclear weapons, only China and India are willing to say that, in a conflict, they will not be the first country to use them: a policy known as “no first use”.
The US stated in its most recent nuclear policy review, in 2018, that its nuclear weapons are not in fact only there to deter nuclear attacks by others, but to deter non-nuclear aggression on either the US or its key allies. That could be a conventional military attack on the US or its allies, or potentially a major hi-tech threat, such as a massive cyber-attack. It is possible that President Biden will change US policy and state that nuclear weapons should only be used to deter – or retaliate against – another nuclear attack (a position called “sole purpose”). He has suggested as much on the campaign trail.
Western countries have extended sanctions against Belarus, with a pledge to make Alexander Lukashenko’s regime “run dry”, following last month’s forced landing of a Ryanair flight to arrest a dissident. In a coordinated move against Lukashenko, the UK, US, EU and Canada announced travel bans and asset freezes on senior Belarusian officials and entities that bankroll the regime as a punishment for the arrest of the activist and journalist Raman Pratasevich and his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who were detained after being hauled off a flight from Athens to Vilnius.
EU foreign ministers agreed to add 86 people and entities to the bloc’s sanctions list while the UK announced it was imposing sanctions on seven individuals and one entity linked to the illegal forced landing of the Ryanair flight, as well as four people and one entity implicated in human rights abuses. The US Treasury Department said it was freezing any US assets and barring any transactions with 16 individuals and five entities including Lukashenko’s press secretary, Natallia Mikalaeuna Eismant.
Going one step further, EU ministers also endorsed a plan for sanctions targeting the Belarusian economy, in an attempt to intensify pressure on Lukashenko’s regime. “We will no longer only sanction individuals but also areas of the economy which are important to the regime. We want to make Lukashenko’s regime run dry financially,” said Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, in a statement on the German foreign ministry’s Twitter account.
“Sanctions are a way of putting pressure on the government of Belarus and these are going to hurt. These are going to hurt the economy of Belarus heavily,” the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told reporters. ...
Officials are working on sanctions to hit Belarus’s export industries, including oil, tobacco and potash, a salt used in fertiliser, which is a big source of foreign currency for Belarus. In a bid to further choke off funding to Lukashenko’s regime, EU banks will also be banned from offering loans or investment services.
Iran’s president-elect staked out a hardline position in his first remarks since his landslide election victory, rejecting the possibility of meeting Joe Biden or discussing Tehran’s ballistic missile programme and support of regional militias.
The comments by Ebrahim Raisi on Monday offered a blunt preview of how Iran might deal with the wider world in the next four years as it enters a new stage in negotiations to resurrect its tattered 2015 nuclear deal with global powers.
A news conference in Tehran marked the first time the judiciary chief found himself confronted on live television about his role in the 1988 mass execution of political prisoners at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. Raisi offered no specific response, but appeared confident and defiant as he described himself as a “defender of human rights”. ...
The 60-year-old cleric, a protege of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, took nearly 62% of the 28.9m votes in Friday’s presidential election, which had the lowest turnout in the Islamic Republic’s history as millions of Iranians stayed at home in defiance of a vote where serious rivals were blocked from standing. Tehran province had a staggeringly low 34% turnout, roughly half that of previous years, with many polling stations noticeably deserted.
Raisi promised to salvage Iran’s nuclear deal with the west to secure relief from devastating US sanctions, but ruled out any limits to Iran’s missile capabilities and support for regional militias – among other issues viewed by Washington as shortcomings of the landmark deal that the Biden administration wants addressed. “It’s non-negotiable,” Raisi said of Iran’s ballistic missile programme, adding that the US “is obliged to lift all oppressive sanctions against Iran”.
Iran’s elections have come and gone, and Ebrahim Raisi is now the president-elect. The conservative Raisi may be a more difficult partner to negotiate the Iran nuclear deal with, but outgoing FM Javad Zarif suggests that there is a good possibility that a nuclear deal could still be made before Raisi takes office.
Deputy FM Abbas Araghchi, in Vienna for the ongoing talks, says the deal is “closer than ever,” and that the US needs to make some decisions to get it done. The outgoing Rouhani government staked a lot on the deal, and is keen to salvage it for their legacy.
Prime Minister Imran Khan has categorically said that Pakistan will ‘absolutely not’ allow any bases and use of its territory for any sort of action inside Afghanistan.
“Absolutely Not. There is no way we are going to allow any bases, any sort of action from Pakistani territory into Afghanistan. Absolutely not,” the prime minister told ‘Axios on HBO’ in an interview. In an excerpt of the interview shared on Axios website to be aired early Monday morning, interviewer Jonathan Swan questions, “Would you allow the American government to have CIA here in Pakistan to conduct cross-border counter-terrorism missions against al-Qaeda, ISIS or the Taliban?” Stunned over the prime minister’s clear-cut response of ‘absolutely not’, the interviewer interrupts him asking, “seriously”, to reconfirm his words.
The US is in talks with Pakistan and other regional countries for cooperation in future operations in the war-torn country to keep a check on militancy. However, the country has conveyed to Washington that it is not possible.
Earlier, in a press briefing at the White House, US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had said that they had constructive discussions through military, intelligence, and diplomatic channels with Pakistan about the future of America’s capabilities to ensure that Afghanistan never again becomes a base from which al Qaeda or ISIS or any other terrorist group can attack the United States. “But in terms of the specifics of what that will look like, that will have to remain in those private channels as we work through them,” he had said without sharing further details. Sullivan had said they are talking to a wide range of countries about how they build effective, over-the-horizon capacity, both from an intelligence and a defence perspective, to be able to suppress the terrorism threat in Afghanistan.
Traditional parties on the left and right are likely to keep control of most regions in mainland France after a historically low turnout in Sunday’s first-round vote and disappointing scores for both Emmanuel Macron’s ruling centrist party and Marine Le Pen’s far-right Rassemblement National (National Rally).
Lists of candidates from the mainstream right and centre-right topped the vote in six out of 13 regions in mainland France, leaving Nicolas Sarkozy’s old party, Les Républicains, as the dominant force, while a variety of left lists, where the Socialists dominate, finished first in five.
But after decades of growing abstention and disillusionment with the political process, only about 33% of the electorate turned out to vote in the regional and local départmentales elections. The abstention rate among 18–24-year-olds was over 80%. It was the worst turnout in an election since 1958 – with the exception of a 2000 referendum on the length of the presidential term – leaving Macron’s entourage shaken.
The interior minister, Gérard Darmanin, said: “Abstention is a message. The French people are telling politicians they do not trust them.”
US deaths from Covid-19 have dipped below 300 a day for the first time since March last year during the first wave of the pandemic. Data from federal sources also showed the drive to put shots in arms at home approaching an encouraging milestone: 150 million Americans fully vaccinated.
Joe Biden was however expected to fall short of his commitment to shipping 80m Covid-19 vaccine doses abroad by the end of June, because of regulatory and other hurdles. Jen Psaki, the White House press secretary, told reporters getting the shots shipped was proving to be “a Herculean logistical challenge” – which the administration has been unable to meet.
The US death toll from Covid-19 stands at more than 601,000. The worldwide count is close to 3.9m. The real figures in both cases are believed to be markedly higher.
About 45% of the US population has been fully vaccinated, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 53% of Americans have received at least one dose, the CDC also said on Monday.
As the pandemic recedes in the United States, few businesses may emerge so transformed as local and regional newspapers. More than 70 local newsrooms have closed over the past 15 months, with hundreds of media jobs lost, as the already difficult financial conditions in the industry intensified during the crisis. By some estimates, a staggering 2,100 local newspapers, or one in four, have closed in the US since 2005.
But into the carnage a new breed of owner has emerged: one that has industry veterans and media observers deeply worried about the future of journalism in America and its ability to act as part of a functioning democracy. According to a recent analysis, hedge funds or private equity firms now control half of US daily newspapers, including some of the largest newspaper groups in the country: Tribune, McClatchy and MediaNews Group.
Last month, shareholders of Tribune Publishing, the parent company of the New York Daily News, Chicago Tribune, Baltimore Sun and others, approved a $630m deal to be taken over by Alden Global Capital, a hedge fund that through its MediaNews Group already has stakes in about two hundred American newspapers. Alden’s holdings already spanned the country, including the Denver Post, the Boston Herald, the St Paul Pioneer Press, the Orange County Register, the Trentonian, the Saratogian and the Los Angeles Daily News.
Alden Capital and other players in the sector are widely feared by the industry for cutting staff and selling off real estate assets to boost profits. Last month the Washington Post reported on a labor department investigation that found Alden had “probably” violated federal pension protections by putting $294m of its newspaper employees’ pension savings into its own funds. But as lenders of last resort for businesses too sickly to meet lending requirements of conventional banks, hedge funds say they are being unfairly depicted as grave robbers. ...
But efforts to steer the sale of newspaper groups away from hedge funds have come to nothing. Besides Alden, Fortress Investment Group, via GateHouse Media, acquired Gannett for $1.4bn, making it the biggest US newspaper publisher by titles and circulation. Chatham Asset Management bought McClatchy, which includes the Miami Herald and Sacramento Bee, out of bankruptcy last August.
The stunning revelation is contained in a new book, Nightmare Scenario: Inside the Trump Administration’s Response to the Pandemic That Changed History, by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta, two Washington Post reporters. The Post published excerpts on Monday.
According to the paper, at a meeting in the White House Situation Room in February last year, before the onset of the pandemic in which more than 600,000 have now died in the US, Trump asked aides: “Don’t we have an island that we own? What about Guantánamo?” Trump also reportedly said: “We import goods. We are not going to import a virus.”
The reporters write that aides blocked the idea when Trump brought it up again.
In 2019, the book A Warning by Anonymous – later revealed to be Miles Taylor, a former homeland security official – reported that Trump suggested sending immigrants to the base in Cuba. According to Taylor, Trump proposed designating all migrants entering the US without permission as “enemy combatants”, then shipping them to Guantánamo.
Republicans Won’t Even Debate “For the People Act” as They Flood States with Voter Suppression Bills
Barack Obama has backed conservative West Virginia Democratic senator Joe Manchin’s voting rights proposal, calling it a “product of compromise” as the landmark legislation struggles towards a crucial vote in the US Senate on Tuesday.
The former US president weighed in, as did his wife and former first lady, Michelle Obama, decrying Republican efforts in many statehouses across the country to bring in new laws that restrict voting, and urging Congress to pass federal legislation “before it’s too late”.
Barack Obama said the future of the country was at stake. ...
The Senate is preparing for a showdown Tuesday, a test vote of the For the People Act, a sweeping elections bill that would be the largest overhaul of US voting procedures in a generation. ... Manchin has been a vocal Democratic Party holdout on Capitol Hill, opposing the For the People Act and insisting on gleaning bipartisan support for such legislation.
But last week he introduced a list of compromises he would support, including 15 days of early voting and automatic voter registration. His compromise would also ban partisan gerrymandering and requiring voter ID.
An election watchdog organization on Monday demanded a state-level criminal probe into Postmaster General Louis DeJoy after research uncovered "suspicious" new details surrounding a straw donor scheme he allegedly orchestrated during his time as chief executive of the North Carolina-based firm New Breed Logistics.
While the FBI is already investigating the scandal-plagued postmaster general for potential violations of campaign finance laws, the advocacy group Common Cause North Carolina said that Wake County District Attorney Lorrin Freeman should also open a criminal probe into DeJoy's conduct at New Breed Logistics, which he headed while simultaneously serving as a major fundraiser for Republican political candidates.
In a 20-page report (pdf) submitted to the North Carolina State Board of Elections on Monday, Common Cause alleges that "the pattern of campaign contributions from Louis DeJoy and New Breed employees to the gubernatorial campaigns of Pat McCrory follows the same pattern of other company owners who have been found guilty in North Carolina of funneling money through their employees to state candidates"—an illegal practice known as straw donations.
Prepared for Common Cause by campaign finance expert Bob Hall, the analysis builds on bombshell Washington Post reporting detailing former New Breed employees' allegations that they were "urged by DeJoy's aides or by the chief executive himself to write checks and attend fundraisers at his 15,000-square-foot gated mansion beside a Greensboro, N.C., country club."
"Employees familiar with New Breed's financial and payroll systems said DeJoy would instruct that bonus payments to staffers be boosted to help defray the cost of their contributions, an arrangement that would be unlawful," according to the Post.
Hall's analysis of campaign finance records shows that 60 New Breed employees pumped a combined $300,000 into the 2008 and 2012 gubernatorial campaigns of former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, a Republican.
"After DeJoy and his wife gave their maximum to McCrory [in 2008], seven [New Breed] employees donated a combined $3,000 to the McCrory's campaign, all on the same day—October 23, 2008," the report notes. "For all seven, it was their first donation to a NC candidate."
Similarly questionable were the donations that dozens of New Breed employees sent to McCrory's campaign during his successful bid for governor in 2012. According to Hall's findings, 54 New Breed executives and three of their wives donated $143,130 to the McCrory campaign during the 2012 race.
"For 46 of the 54 employees," Hall notes, "it was their first reportable contribution to a North Carolina candidate."
Bob Phillips, executive director of Common Cause NC, said in a statement Monday that "these new, detailed findings reveal an alarming and highly suspicious pattern of campaign donations by Louis DeJoy's employees while he led New Breed Logistics."
"We respectfully urge District Attorney Freeman to review these new findings and begin a full investigation into Mr. DeJoy's alleged political donation scheme," Phillips added. "These allegations should be thoroughly investigated and, if true, Mr. DeJoy must be held accountable."
The liquid natural gas industry is angling for cash from the Biden administration to help green its image abroad. The grants and subsidies are aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions from industry infrastructure by helping LNG firms build out and modify planned export hubs using carbon capture technology — a controversial approach among climate experts, many of whom view it as “greenwashing,” putting an environmentally friendly patina on climatically dangerous energy efforts.
Critics say any federal supports that prop up the growing U.S. LNG industry will doom efforts to reach international goals to contain the climate crisis. Even with carbon capture attached, LNG remains a polluting fossil fuel. Recent research suggests that for the goals of the Paris climate agreement to be met, planned LNG terminals either must be canceled or must shut down before the end of the new facilities’ lives, leaving billions of dollars in stranded assets. Adding expensive carbon capture infrastructure would only add new financial and political incentives to allow the industry to continue shipping natural gas — imperiling the possibility of meeting the Paris goals. ...
If all 14 LNG export terminals currently approved for construction are completed, it will triple the number of operating export hubs. LNG exporters have struggled to find buyers for their product in part because U.S. natural gas is viewed as particularly dirty. President Donald Trump significantly slowed efforts to regulate natural gas flaring, the burning of unwanted gases at the extraction point. In turn, producers in West Texas continue to burn off a significant volume of excess gas, allowing climate-warming methane to escape into the atmosphere. Seven LNG projects along the Gulf Coast have announced plans to add carbon capture infrastructure to help sell their products to reluctant European markets. ...
The carbon capture projects will be all but impossible without federal subsidies, and President Joe Biden’s inner circle has already signaled support for the plans. A recent Department of Energy press release stated that the administration “is looking closely at carbon capture and sequestration technology, which would take emissions from LNG plants and other facilities, move them by pipeline and then inject them underground.” With Biden betting his climate legacy on infrastructure legislation, the LNG industry may soon be poised to take advantage of new federal backing for its greenwashing marketing ploy — and at least one company is already vying for an existing Biden-backed subsidy.
The Great Barrier Reef should be placed on to a list of world heritage sites that are “in danger”, according to a recommendation from UN officials that urges Australia to take “accelerated action at all possible levels” on climate change. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization says the world’s biggest coral reef system should be placed on the list at the world heritage committee meeting next month.
The recommendation has sparked a flurry of activity from the Australian government, with the environment minister, Sussan Ley, saying she had already joined the foreign affairs minister, Marise Payne, in a call to Unesco’s director general, Audrey Azoulay.
If the committee followed the recommendation, experts said it would be the first time a natural world heritage site has been placed on the “in danger” list mainly because of impacts from the climate crisis. Global heating caused by fossil fuel burning has driven ocean temperatures higher, leading to three mass bleaching events on the 2,300km reef since the last time it was assessed by the committee in 2015.
Ley said the government would “strongly oppose” the recommendation, claiming officials had been “stunned” by what she described as a “backflip on previous assurances” by UN officials the step would not be taken this year. ... The Unesco report says a revision of Australia’s key reef policy – the reef 2050 plan – should “fully incorporate” conclusions from a major government review that “accelerated action at all possible levels is required to address the threat from climate change”.
The report said despite efforts and achievements by the state and federal governments, key targets on improving water quality had not been met. “The plan requires stronger and clearer commitments, in particular towards urgently countering the effects of climate change, but also towards accelerating water quality improvement and land management measures,” it said.
Firefighters are battling to contain a wildfire that erupted near Big Sur last week, as the flames continue to engulf the dry California landscape and threaten historical sites, cabins, and ranches.
More than 2,400 acres have burned in Monterey county since the fire broke out on Thursday evening. The Willow fire has not yet claimed any structures but officials report that 100 are under threat. Roughly 450 firefighters have hiked through the steep, rugged terrain to battle the blaze, which remained at 0% containment as of Monday morning.
The area is also home to endangered species and contains cultural sites that could be at risk if the fire continues to grow, and the Los Padres national forest resource advisors have brought in biologists, botanists, and Chumash tribal members to aid in protecting sensitive areas.
“We have to take our time accessing these areas because we can’t get the equipment in there,” said Amanda Munsey, a public information officer with California interagency incident management team 11. “Weather is also a big factor,” she adds, “and it has been very hot for a number of days – and very dry.”
Meanwhile, hundreds have been ordered to evacuate the mountainous area, including most of those at the Tassajara Mountain Zen Center, a historic Zen Buddhist monastery.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Ruby Johnson - I'm Hooked
Ruby Johnson - Don't Start Nothing
Ruby Johnson - Keep on Keeping On
Ruby Johnson - I'll Run Your Hurt Away
Ruby Johnson - Reach Out And Touch Me
Ruby Johnson - When My Love Comes Down
Ruby Johnson - Calling All Boys
Ruby Johnson - Here I Go Again
Ruby Johnson - Worried Mind
Ruby Johnson - Won't Be Long
Ruby Johnson - Why You Want To Leave Me
Ruby Johnson - I've Been Hurt (so many times before)
Ruby Johnson - I'd Rather Fight Than Switch