The Evening Blues - 7-21-21
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This evening's music features Chicago blues musician Maurice John Vaughn. Enjoy!
Maurice John Vaughn - Evil
"If establishment journalists were to replicate actual stenography, it would be an improvement on most of the work they produce."
-- Glenn Greenwald
News and Opinion
Secretary of State Antony Blinken vowed Monday that the United States "will always support the indispensable work of independent journalists around the world"—a commitment that the Biden administration has refused to apply to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, whom the U.S. government is attempting to prosecute for releasing classified information that exposed war crimes in Iraq and elsewhere.
"We won't tolerate efforts to intimidate them or silence their voices," Blinken tweeted, referring specifically to Masih Alinejad, an Iranian-American journalist and critic of Iran's government. Alinejad, who currently works as a television host for the Voice of America Persian News Network—a U.S. government-funded outlet—says Iranian intelligence agents recently attempted to kidnap her from her home in New York City.
Critics were quick to note that Blinken's expression of support for Alinejad and "independent journalists around the world" has not yet been extended to Assange, given that the Biden administration has continued its predecessor's attempt to extradite the publisher from the United Kingdom, where he has spent more than two years in a maximum-security jail.
"Every U.S. media outlet should lambast this comment and reference Assange, but they won't, because they suck," political commentator Kyle Kulinski tweeted in response to Blinken's remark.
Clare Daly, a socialist member of the European Parliament, noted that "the upshot of the ongoing Trump/Biden prosecution of Julian Assange is the United States believes all journalists, whatever their nationality, wherever they are, have a legal duty to keep the U.S. government's dirty secrets."
"Now I'm sorry, but that's not 'supporting' journalists," Daly added.
A trio of senators on Tuesday introduced legislation that would beef up congressional authority in national security with provisions to narrow presidential power to launch hostilities, make it easier to block certain weapons sales, and sunset authorizations of the use of military force including the 2001 AUMF that paved the way for the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
"The founders envisioned a balance of power between the executive and legislative branches of government on national security matters. But over time, Congress has acquiesced to the growing, often unchecked power of the executive to determine the outline of America's footprint in the world," said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who introduced the National Security Powers Act (pdf) along with Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
"More than ever before," he continued, "presidents are sending men and women into battle without public debate, and making major policy decisions, like massive arms sales, without congressional input."
On the issue of war powers, the proposed legislation would cut off funding for military actions not explicitly authorized by Congress. It would also tighten the definition of "hostilities" under the War Powers Resolution to cover not just cases of military forces on the ground but troops deployed "irrespective of the domain." Hostilities not approved by Congress would be required to end after 20 days rather than the current 60 days.
The measure would also sunset 180 days after enactment all existing AUMFs, including the 2001 AUMF passed in the wake of the September 11 attacks and upon which every consecutive administration has leaned to justify military actions in regions around the world.
Instead of the current default approval of arms sales barring a passage of a resolution of disapproval by veto-proof majorities of the House and Senate, the proposal directs Congress to proactively approve certain sales topping $14 million including those of air to ground munitions.
The legislation would further restrain executive national security powers by requiring congressional approval of an emergency declaration within 30 days. Such emergencies wouldn't be allowed to exceed five years, with annual congressional renewals needed. The legislation would also limit the range of emergency powers the president could tap.
Making the case for the legislation in an op-ed published Thursday at War on the Rocks, Murphy put the proposal in the context of the current moment "when the definition of enemies and the parameters of war are harder to define than ever" and "the pace of executive warmaking has become dizzying." The National Security Powers Act, he added, would "reset the foreign policy balance between the Congress and the executive branch."
California Representative Ro Khanna announced on Monday that he’d just hung out with Iraq war architect Bill Kristol and had a wonderful exchange of ideas, fully discrediting the myth of the progressive Democrat with a single tweet.
“Bill Kristol is one of the most thoughtful voices in defending liberalism and democratic institutions in our country,” Khanna tweeted. “Learned a lot in our conversation about shaping also an inclusive narrative around American patriotism.”
When Khanna’s Twitter followers began reacting with shock and disgust at a congressman who is generally regarded as one of the most progressive elected officials on Capitol Hill saying sweet things about a murderous arch-neocon, he added:
“I was a strong and early critic of the war in Iraq, and Kristol and I have very different worldviews on foreign policy. But to have a discussion about strengthening liberalism and liberal institutions with people you disagree is in my view needed in a pluralistic democracy.”
“I’m back in the office after a stimulating lunch with Ro Khanna and see he’s tweeted about it,” Kristol posted on Twitter. “Which is fine! But not with some on the Left! I’m sure Ro can take the heat. As for me, I benefited from our talk, and admire Ro’s willingness to argue—and occasionally (gasp!) agree.”
It’s really odious how they’re framing this get-together as two men from differing ideological backgrounds overcoming their little disagreements to find common ground. We’re talking about someone who has pushed for psychopathic acts of military violence at every opportunity throughout his entire career, and has had an ungodly amount of success in doing so. As the co-founder of the influential neoconservative think tank Project for the New American Century and major Bush administration thought leader, Kristol played a key role in manufacturing support for the invasion of Iraq and ushering in an unprecedented new era of US military expansionism, a fact for which he remains completely unapologetic.
The invasion killed at least a million Iraqis, and arguably more than twice that. We’re not talking about two people setting aside their disagreements about farming subsidies or net neutrality here, we’re talking about fucking murder. Murder at a scale so massive it’s impossible to fully wrap your mind around it. Mass murder is not a difference of opinion, it’s mass murder. It’s no more an ideological position than stomping on kittens is an ideological position.
Saying you disagree with Bill Kristol’s engineering the Iraq war but found plenty of common ground on liberalism and patriotism is the same as saying you disagree with Jared Fogle on his raping children but found plenty of common ground on his fondness for Subway sandwiches.
It’s like announcing you just had lunch with serial killer Edmund Kemper and, while you disagree with his policy of murdering women and copulating with their severed heads, you really respect his opinions on immigration.
I’m actually being charitable here. There’s not a pedophile or serial killer on earth who has contributed as much death and suffering to our world as William Kristol.
It’s not okay to be a warmonger. Pouring your mental energy into the slaughter of human beings is not some petty ideological quibble that can be looked past in search of common ground. Announcing you’ve just had lunch with a death merchant like Kristol and found plenty to admire about him should carry at least as much stigma as a lunchtime bromance with a genocide-promoting white supremacist, and probably more so given that Kristol has actually succeeded in manifesting his heinous vision for the world.
These monsters should not be accepted in our society. They should be as reviled as serial killers, child molesters and Nazis, not respected pundits who stroll around having casual lunch breaks with elected officials. They should be afraid to show themselves in public.
Instead, Kristol and his fellow neocons have been rehabilitated in the fugue of Trump hysteria and are now seen frequently on liberal media panels and viewed favorably by centrist Democrats, even while continuing to promote the annexation of Cuba, regime change in Iran, regime change in China, and keeping US troops in Afghanistan. Such creatures should be expelled from society and chased away until they’re forced to live under a mountain eating cave fish like Smeagol; instead they’re being accepted further and further into what passes for the American “left” today.
Ro Khanna is catching so much flak for his Kristol cuddle fest because Americans are told very forcefully that they need to support the Democratic Party if they want to advance leftward movement, yet even the very most progressive among them who are operating on the national stage consistently expose themselves as unprincipled imperialist swamp monsters. This is a problem, and it needs to be treated as such.
Anti-imperialism should be the most obvious, basic, bare-minimum agenda for anyone who cares about peace, truth and justice in our world. Instead, in a globe-spanning empire made of lies, it’s been turned by propaganda into a freakish fringe position that no elected officials are allowed to espouse, while monsters like Kristol are embraced and uplifted.
The mobile phone of a serving French minister showed digital traces of activity associated with NSO Group’s spyware, according to forensic analysis undertaken by the Pegasus project investigation. François de Rugy, who was environment minister at the time of the activity, said he was “astonished” by the disclosure, which raises fresh questions over the use of spyware by customers of NSO, an Israeli surveillance company. ...
Research by the Pegasus project suggests that Morocco was the country that may have been interested in Macron and his senior team, raising fears that their phones were selected by one of France’s close diplomatic allies. An Élysée official said: “If this is proven, it is clearly very serious. All light will be shed on these media revelations. Certain French victims have already announced they will file legal complaints, so judicial investigations will be opened.”
The forensic analysis on De Rugy’s phone was undertaken by Amnesty International’s Security Lab, a technical partner on the Pegasus project. It showed traces of a Pegasus-related activity on the device, but no evidence of a successful infection. A member of Amnesty’s lab said its researchers had discovered “an iMessage address, logged on the phone, which has been linked to to previous Pegasus attacks on French and Moroccan phones”. They added that the discovery “may be a preliminary step at the early stage of an attempted infection”.
The leaked database at the heart of the Pegasus project includes the mobile phone numbers of the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and 13 other heads of state and heads of government, the Guardian can reveal.
The South African president, Cyril Ramaphosa, and the Pakistani prime minister, Imran Khan, are also listed in the data, which includes diplomats, military chiefs and senior politicians from 34 countries. ...
The Pegasus project could not examine the mobile phones of the leaders and diplomats, and could therefore not confirm whether there had been any attempt to install malware on their phones.
Numerous federal agencies, including several branches of the military, buy video surveillance equipment that can’t legally be used in U.S. government systems and that is made by Chinese companies sanctioned on national security grounds, records and products reviewed by The Intercept indicate.
The agencies purchased blacklisted hardware through a network of American resellers that claimed the camera systems were in compliance with the sanctions. Those claims in numerous cases had little apparent basis, according a joint investigation with IPVM, a video surveillance industry research publication.
The security sanctions originated in the 2019 iteration of Congress’s annual defense policy and funding bill, known as the National Defense Authorization Act. They barred Dahua and Hikvision, two of China’s leading manufacturers of security cameras, from selling their products to the federal government, citing concerns that such sales could let the Chinese government remotely spy on federal facilities.
But public purchase records show that since the sanctions were put in place, the Air Force, Army, Navy, Veterans Affairs, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense all purchased camera systems containing or consisting of hardware that IPVM determined was in fact originally manufactured by Dahua or Hikvision and sold under another brand. IPVM visually compared both hardware and software of the camera systems and, in some cases, physical disassembled cameras. Listings posted to GSA Advantage, a marketplace for federal vendors to sell their wares to the government online, show that rebranded Dahua and Hikvision cameras are still freely available for purchase under different brand names.
The sales raise questions of due diligence, transparency, and the seriousness of even the toughest-appearing sanctions, as the U.S. government has not provided the public with any evidence that Dahua and Hikvision are spying on customers.
The “big fishes” who masterminded the assassination of Haiti’s president, Jovenel Moïse, remain at large, a senior government minister has admitted, as the Caribbean country unveiled a new prime minister in a bid to defuse a burgeoning struggle for power.
Police have named two Haitian citizens as key suspects in the murder: a Florida-based pastor called Christian Emmanuel Sanon and the former intelligence officer Joseph Felix Badio. On Friday Colombia’s police chief, Gen Jorge Luis Vargas, claimed Badio might have given the order for two retired Colombian soldiers to assassinate Moïse in the early hours of 7 July for reasons that remain obscure. Sanon was arrested in Haiti last week, and Badio’s whereabouts are unknown.
But speaking to the Guardian, Haiti’s elections minister, Mathias Pierre, said he doubted Sanon and Badio were the main architects of a brazen crime some fear could plunge the Caribbean country into a new chapter of volatility. “Such a plot for an assassination is not the work of the two people [alone],” Pierre said, referring to the pair.
“We know that there are big fishes out there that wanted the death and are part of the plot to kill the president … There are more powerful people behind this,” the 54-year-old politician added. Pierre admitted the identity of those conspirators remained unknown: “But we do believe that the president had a lot of enemies – people who didn’t agree with his plan and programs, and certainly with his agenda. And we believe they might be linked to this crime.”
Colombia Erupts in Protest Again over Right-Wing Gov’t Tax Plans Even as “Solidarity Is Criminalized
Colombia’s government has been accused of hypocrisy after calling for solidarity with protesters in Cuba even as it cracks down harshly on mass demonstrations against economic inequity and human rights abuses. Colombia is bracing for another round of anti-poverty demonstrations and unrest, with large marches planned for Tuesday 20 July, Colombia’s independence day, after taking a monthlong hiatus during a surge in Covid-19 cases.
Colombia’s rightwing government, led by President Iván Duque, has said the marches are the result of “terrorist” agitators and are supported by illegal armed groups. But the Colombian government’s tone towards dissent at home jars with its support for mass marches in Cuba, with Colombia’s foreign ministry calling on communist rulers there to “guarantee the freedom of expression” and “respect the right” to peaceful protest.
Protests in Colombia began in late April in response to an unpopular and since-axed tax reform, and they quickly spread across the country, morphing into a wider howl of outrage against deepening economic disparity and human rights abuses. ... The police response was brutal, with officers routinely using teargas and billy clubs to quell disturbances. In some cases, authorities fired on demonstrators with live rounds. At least 44 protesters have been killed by police and dozens are still missing, according to local watchdogs.
A recent human rights commission to Colombia made up of delegates from 13 countries found that authorities used counter-insurgency tactics against protesters. “The Duque government has zero credibility commenting on the Cuban protests,” said Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, Andes director at the Washington Office on Latin America, a thinktank. “Its unwillingness to address the systemic abuses that took place in the context of the protests shows that it only considers human rights when it benefits its political agenda.”
The highly transmissible Delta variant of the coronavirus now accounts for 83% of all sequenced cases in the US, a top federal health official said on Tuesday.
“This is a dramatic increase, up from 50% [in] the week of 4 July,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in Senate testimony.
Walensky also said Covid fatalities had risen by nearly 48% over the past week to an average of 239 a day. ...
A cluster of midwestern and southern states have emerged as the new hotspots for Covid-19. With less than half of the US population fully vaccinated, infection rates in Oklahoma, Missouri, Arkansas, Alabama, Louisiana and Mississippi are among the highest – with vaccination rates among the lowest.
In the last two weeks, the rate of infection across the US has increased by 198%. States that had some of the highest increases in that period include Oklahoma, at 387%, and Louisiana and Mississippi at 376% and 308%.
Markets Plunge on Monday on Growing Reports of Fully Vaccinated People Getting Delta Strain of COVID-19
On July 8 the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention jointly released an unequivocal statement on the COVID-19 vaccines that are in use in the United States. The statement read in part:
“People who are fully vaccinated are protected from severe disease and death, including from the variants currently circulating in the country such as Delta. People who are not vaccinated remain at risk. Virtually all COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths are among those who are unvaccinated.”
That statement is now coming under growing scrutiny as evidence mounts of fully vaccinated Americans getting COVID-19, with hundreds ending up in the hospital. (An individual is considered “fully vaccinated” two weeks after receiving the second dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna vaccine, or two weeks after receiving the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.) ...
On July 19, NBC News reported that “151 people in Illinois have died due to COVID-19 or complications after being fully vaccinated. That figure equates to 2.2% of COVID-19 deaths in the state since Jan. 1, officials said. At least 563 fully vaccinated people have been hospitalized in Illinois,” according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. ...
Another troubling report was released yesterday by Kentucky’s Lexington-Fayette County Health Department. According to an NBC News affiliate, that Health Department reported “a growing number of ‘breakthrough’ COVID-19 cases, which are positive cases found in people who are fully vaccinated. The health department said about 20-25% of new cases are considered breakthrough.” ...
Last Friday, the Salt Lake Tribune in Utah reported these troubling statistics:
“Breakthrough cases are up in a big way in Utah. Cases among vaccinated people are still much less common than those among unvaccinated people, but both are growing, due to the Delta variant and its increased level of contagiousness.
“Basically, we’re seeing between 50 and 100 cases per day among the vaccinated, and 300 to 600 cases per day among the unvaccinated.”
The stock market had factored in a return to normal – with “normal” being no new COVID cases among the fully vaccinated or, at least, an infinitesimal amount. Clearly, 50 to 100 new cases a day among the vaccinated in just one state is not the return to normal the stock market was hoping for, nor is it the outcome that millions of Americans were hoping for.
Some employers around the US are responding to perceived worker shortages in their industries by pursuing cheap sources of labor, such as people currently or formerly in prison. During a recent industry conference, a Waste Management Services executive discussed hiring immigrants to fill commercial driver’s license positions, and other executives suggested using prison or work release programs to address perceived labor shortages in the sanitation, waste and recycling industry.
Campaigners say the move would be exploitative and reflects a refusal to simply raise wages to attract employees. “The talk about immigrant labor, prison labor, it’s all about exploitation, nothing else,” said Chuck Stiles, director of the Teamsters solid waste and recycling division, which represents about 32,000 workers in the private waste industry. “There is no driver shortage. There is a huge wage and benefits shortage that these waste companies refuse to give up anything on the bottom line.”
Stiles said several prison work release programs targeted by the waste industry fail to provide decent wages and benefits in an industry where workers face significant safety risks, poor weather conditions, long hours and scarce time off for holidays.
Some 26 states have canceled federal extended unemployment benefits early, though economists have noted the available jobs recovery data shows there is no economy-wide labor shortage. That hasn’t stopped employers and business groups from using perceived labor shortages as a pretext to seek out cheap labor sources; employers are hiring teenagers to fill open jobs, automating some job roles to avoid raising wages, lobbying Congress to double the cap on work immigration visas and expanding the use of prison labor.
One prominent senator is very concerned about proposals to scale back oil, gas and coal usage. He recently argued that those who want to “get rid of” fossil fuels are wrong. Eliminating fossil fuels won’t help fight global heating, he claimed, against all evidence. “If anything, it would be worse.” Which rightwing Republican uttered these false, climate crisis-denying words? Wrong question. The speaker was a Democrat: Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
West Virginia is a major coal-producing state. But Manchin’s investment in dirty energy goes far beyond the economic interests of the voters who elect him every six years. In fact, coal has made Manchin and his family very wealthy. He founded the private coal brokerage Enersystems in 1988 and still owns a big stake in the company, which his son currently runs. In 2020 alone, Manchin raked in nearly $500,000 of income from Enersystems, and he owns as much as $5m worth of stock in the company, according to his most recent financial disclosure.
Despite this conflict of interest, Manchin chairs the influential Senate energy and natural resources committee, which has jurisdiction over coal production and distribution, coal research and development, and coal conversion, as well as “global climate change”. He even gave a pro-coal speech in May to the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) while personally profiting from Enersystems’ coal sales to utility companies that are EEI members, as Sludge recently reported.
Manchin is one of many members of Congress who are personally invested in the fossil fuel industry – dozens of Congress members hold Exxon stock – but he is among the biggest profiters. As of late 2019, he had more money invested in dirty energy than any other senator.
How can this be? Wouldn’t basic ethics prevent someone from being in charge of legislation that could materially benefit them? Unfortunately, conflict-of-interest rules in the Senate are remarkably weak. And guess who is seeking to strip conflict-of-interest rules from a 2021 democracy reform bill?
Every morning and evening for the last few days, shifts of young villagers have headed out into the taiga forest around Teryut with a seemingly impossible task: to quell the raging fires that have burned closer and closer for a month, shrouding this remote eastern Siberian village in an acrid haze. So far, little has worked. Amid the worst wildfire season in memory, locals have vowed to defend their village to the last, sending away small children for their protection from the smog while they stay on to fight back the flames. ...
The extraordinary forest fires, which have already burned through 1.5m hectares (3.7m acres) of land in north-east Siberia have released choking smog across Russia’s Yakutia region, where officials have described this summer’s weather as the driest in the past 150 years. And that follows five years of hot summers, which have, according to villagers, turned the surrounding forests and fields into a tinderbox.
Oregon’s explosive summer of wildfire is threatening to escalate further, with thunderstorms and lightning set to spur more of the blazes that have torn through much of a parched, dangerously hot US west this year. ...
More than 80 major wildfires currently pockmark western states, covering a combined area similar to that of the state of Delaware, with the largest a conflagration known as the Bootleg fire, a 537-sq-mile blaze burning in tracts of old-growth forest about 300 miles south-west of Portland, Oregon.
California’s Dixie fire exploded in size to roughly 94 sq miles (243 sq km) on Tuesday, with just 15% containment. The fire erupted on 13 July, close to where the deadly Camp fire burned in 2018, and is also believed to have been caused by faulty Pacific Gas & Electric equipment. Officials report that more than 800 structures remain under threat from the fire, which has begun generating its own dangerous weather conditions.
An enormous pyro-cloud – formed when hot smoke and atmospheric moisture meet – ballooned out of the flames on Monday and emitted lightning over the fire footprint, adding to the risk of new ignitions and complicating containment efforts. A pyrocumulonimbus cloud was also spotted above the Tamarack fire, another fast-moving California blaze, which has burned close to 62.5 sq mi (162 sq km) near the California-Nevada border and is at 0% containment. ...
“The climate change connection here is crystal clear – the fires are tied to the very dry and hot conditions that have presided for a month now,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University. “This is dangerous climate change. It’s not two decades from now, or a decade from now. For the residents of Oregon it’s here and now.”
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Maurice John Vaughn - I Got Money
Maurice John Vaughn - [Everything I Do] Got To Be Funky
Maurice John Vaughn - Nothing left to believe in
Maurice John Vaughn - Game Over
Maurice John Vaughn - Computer Took My Job
Maurice John Vaughn - Talk to Me Baby
Maurice John Vaughn - Two Can Play That Game
Maurice John Vaughn, "Little Bobby" Neely, Abb Locke - I Want to Take You Higher
A.C. Reed & Maurice John Vaughn - Boogie All Night