The Evening Blues - 7-27-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Texas blues guitarist and singer James "Thunderbird" Davis. Enjoy!
James Davis - Blues Monday
"Everything is more beautiful because we're doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again."
News and Opinion
The debacle in Afghanistan, which will unravel into chaos with lightning speed over the next few weeks and ensure the return of the Taliban to power, is one more signpost of the end of the American empire. The two decades of combat, the one trillion dollars we spent, the 100,000 troops deployed to subdue Afghanistan, the high-tech gadgets, artificial intelligence, cyberwarfare, Reaper drones armed with Hellfire missiles and GBU-30 bombs and the Global Hawk drones with high-resolution cameras, Special Operations Command composed of elite rangers, SEALs and air commandos, black sites, torture, electronic surveillance, satellites, attack aircraft, mercenary armies, infusions of millions of dollars to buy off and bribe the local elites and train an Afghan army of 350,000 that has never exhibited the will to fight, failed to defeat a guerrilla army of 60,000 that funded itself through opium production and extortion in one of the poorest countries on earth.
Like any empire in terminal decay, no one will be held accountable for the debacle or for the other debacles in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen or anywhere else. Not the generals. Not the politicians. Not the CIA and intelligence agencies. Not the diplomats. Not the obsequious courtiers in the press who serve as cheerleaders for war. Not the compliant academics and area specialists. Not the defense industry. Empires at the end are collective suicide machines. The military becomes in late empire unmanageable, unaccountable, and endlessly self-perpetuating, no matter how many fiascos, blunders and defeats it visits upon the carcass of the nation, or how much money it plunders, impoverishing the citizenry and leaving governing institutions and the physical infrastructure decayed.
The human tragedy — at least 801,000 people have been killed by direct war violence in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, and Pakistan and 37 million have been displaced in and from Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, the Philippines, Libya, and Syria according to The Watson Institute at Brown University — is reduced to a neglected footnote.
Nearly all the roughly 70 empires during the last four thousand years, including the Greek, Roman, Chinese, Ottoman, Hapsburg, imperial German, imperial Japanese, British, French, Dutch, Portuguese, and Soviet empires, collapsed in the same orgy of military folly. The Roman Republic, at its height, only lasted two centuries. We are set to disintegrate in roughly the same time. This is why, at the start of World War I in Germany, Karl Liebknecht called the German military, which imprisoned and later assassinated him, “the enemy from within.” ...
Historians call the self-defeating military adventurism of late empires “micro-militarism.” During the Peloponnesian War (431-404 B.C.) the Athenians invaded Sicily, suffering the loss of 200 ships and thousands of soldiers and triggering revolts throughout the empire. Britain attacked Egypt in 1956 in a dispute over the nationalization of the Suez Canal and was humiliated when it had to withdraw its forces, bolstering the status of Arab nationalists such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser. “While rising empires are often judicious, even rational in their application of armed force for conquest and control of overseas dominions, fading empires are inclined to ill-considered displays of power, dreaming of bold military masterstrokes that would somehow recoup lost prestige and power,” the historian Alfred McCoy writes “In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of US Global Power.” “Often irrational even from an imperial point of view, these micromilitary operations can yield hemorrhaging expenditures or humiliating defeats that only accelerate the process already under way.”
Joe Biden and the Iraqi prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, have sealed an agreement formally ending the US combat mission in Iraq by the end of 2021, more than 18 years after troops were sent to the country. ... Biden and Kadhimi met in the Oval Office on Monday for their first face-to-face talks as part of a strategic dialogue between the United States and Iraq.
“Our role in Iraq will be … to be available, to continue to train, to assist, to help and to deal with Isis as it arises, but we’re not going to be, by the end of the year, in a combat mission,” Biden told reporters as he and Kadhimi met.
There are currently 2,500 US troops in Iraq focusing on countering the remnants of Islamic State. The US role in Iraq will shift entirely to training and advising the Iraqi military to defend itself. The shift is not expected to have a major impact since the United States has already moved toward focusing on training Iraqi forces. ...
[A] senior administration official would not say how many US troops would remain on the ground in Iraq for advising and training.
On a baking early summer evening last month, Iran’s man in Iraq sat down in Baghdad with a group of militiamen to try to bring calm to the capital’s foreboding streets. Assembled in a room were leaders of the most feared militias in the land, men who had days before taken over a checkpoint leading to the seat of power, and were planning a military parade of their own through the Iraqi capital. Among them sat Esmail Qaani, an Iranian commander of the Revolutionary Guards Quds Force – a clandestine group at the apex of the Iranian military’s foreign operations, which had been instrumental in Iraq’s affairs through war, insurrection and now relative peace.
His presence filled formidable boots – those of his predecessor, General Qassem Suleimani, who had ruled the landscape of Iraq, Syria and Lebanon for 15 years until he was killed by a US drone in January 2020. The June gathering was seen by those in the room and others watching from afar as Qaani’s baptism of fire, where he could try to assert his will, just as the man who the assembled guests had called ‘Hajj Qassem” had done at critical junctures like this. According to two of the participants and another briefed on the meeting, Qaani missed his moment.
Qaani’s role had been to convince the militias that it was not in their interests to continue to fire rockets at the US embassy in the Green Zone, or at Erbil airport in northern Iraq, where US forces remain. The groups’ subversive ways had been on bold and increasing display over the first six months of the Biden administration, defying the national army and a government that had staked its mandate on reining them in. Despite the firm tone taken by Iraq’s prime minister, Mustafa al-Kadhimi, when he took office 18 months ago, state responses had remained largely rhetorical. The reluctance to take them on had been a testament to the power and influence the militias had accumulated through their bountiful caches of arms and penetration of state institutions. The meeting was a reckoning, which could bring the groups to heel.
“All eyes were on him at the start,” said one of the men in the room. “And they started to look away. By the end of the meeting, they thought they had his measure. And that isn’t good for Iraq. He is not the new Hajj Qassem, that’s for sure.”
In the 18 months since Qaani succeeded Suleimani, his interlocutors and foes have been patiently sizing him up and, at the same time, weighing whether Trump’s impulsive decision to assassinate the most powerful man in Iraq had made the country a more manageable place. “I think the answer to the second question is a ‘no’,” said a senior Iraqi figure. “Iraq is not safer, and the Americans aren’t going to get better outcomes with Qaani, because his capacity to deliver is less. With Suleimani, you knew what you had. And he could control the militias if he wanted to.”
Amid a record heatwave, water and power shortages have sparked protests and unrest across the Middle East, from Iran to Lebanon. Temperatures in a number of countries have topped 50 degrees Celsius (122°F), including Iran, which hit 51°C (123.8°F), and Iraq, which reached 52°C (125.6°F) this month.
In Lebanon, a major power station was to resume operations on Sunday, two days after it ground to a halt due to a lack of fuel at a time of constant power cuts and economic collapse. ... Lebanon is mired in what the World Bank has called one of the worst economic crises since the 1850s, and the cash-strapped state is struggling to buy enough fuel to keep the lights on. ...
Syria has seen electricity cuts for some 20 hours a day in some areas north of Damascus, residents have complained, according to the Washington Post. In Aleppo, cuts last for eight hours at a time, with just 1.5 hours of power in between, Syria’s al-Watan paper said.
In Iraq, amid the 52 degrees Celsius weather, four southern provinces have been without consistent electricity since earlier this month, including Basra — home to Iraq’s main port.
Iraq — the second-largest producer in the OPEC oil cartel — buys gas and power from neighboring Iran to supply about a third of its power sector, dilapidated by decades of conflict and poor maintenance. But Iran decided to cut supplies to its neighbor earlier this month, saying the Iraqi electricity ministry owes it more than $6 billion in arrears. Iraq says it is unable to pay because of US sanctions on money transfers to Iran, a deep financial crisis compounded by lower oil prices, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
After a year-long standoff, Lebanon has named a new prime minister who its feuding factions hope can ward off a total economic collapse and save an estimated 2 million people from the brink of poverty.
Protesters had demanded the selection of a figure removed from the political elite, but the Lebanese parliament instead named a billionaire tycoon, Najib Miqati, who had led the country twice before, with little success, and was accused by a state prosecutor in 2019 of embezzlement – a charge he denies and has described as politically motivated.
The naming of Lebanon’s richest man, who hails from its poorest city, Tripoli, was seized on by many Lebanese people as evidence that the small Mediterranean state is all but ungovernable – unable to reform even to save itself from ruin, and immune to the demands of its citizens.
Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis began in late 2019 and has steadily worsened. Poverty has soared in the past several months as the situation spirals out of control, with dire shortages of medicines, fuel and electricity. The Lebanese pound has lost around 90% of its value to the dollar, driving hyperinflation.
Miqati’s nomination would be the third so far since the government of Hassan Diab resigned in the wake of the massive explosion at Beirut’s port last August. Since then, Diab’s cabinet has acted only in a caretaker capacity, compounding Lebanon’s paralysis further.
On the morning of October 28, 2020, rights activist Parveena Ahanger was startled by the sound of revving engines outside her home in Srinagar, the biggest city in Indian-administered Kashmir. ... It was a raid by India’s counterterrorism task force: the National Investigation Agency, or NIA. Ahanger is the chair of the Association of Parents of Disappeared Persons, a collective known as APDP that she founded in 1994 — four years after her teenage son was arrested by Indian armed forces then disappeared. During the raid, NIA officials confiscated the cellphones of her entire family. The agents later drove Ahanger to her office in Hyderpora, on the outskirts of Srinagar, where they seized documents and hard drives.
That same day, the NIA also raided the offices and homes of several journalists and other nonprofit groups. Among the targets was the Jammu Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society, or JKCCS — a group that documents human rights violations in Indian-administered Kashmir — and the home of its program coordinator. At both of those locations, too, NIA officials confiscated electronic gadgets and seized several documents. The raids were an escalation in the Indian government’s crackdowns on rights activists, journalists, politicians, and civilians who express dissent and views critical of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party.
The crackdown began in August 2019, when the government unilaterally changed its constitution to revoke Jammu and Kashmir’s semiautonomous status. Both India and Pakistan have laid claim to parts of Kashmir since their independence from British rule in 1947. In Indian-administered Kashmir, there has been an armed uprising against Indian rule since 1989. Just a few days before revoking Kashmir’s special status, the Indian government amended a controversial anti-terror law called the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act to make it more stringent, allowing the government to jail for six months, without trial or bail, anyone arrested under this law.
Over the last couple years, the police have invoked UAPA frequently to restrain civil liberties. After the raids last October, the NIA said it was acting on information that groups had been using funding from abroad “for secessionist and terrorist activities” in Kashmir, invoking the UAPA. The NIA brought charges against the JKCCS under UAPA, claiming to have “credible information” the organization was involved in secessionist activities and said the investigation was ongoing.
The raids had the effect of stifling the only two groups documenting human rights abuses in the region, whose work has been cited by the United Nations.
The number of Covid-19 cases across the US may have been undercounted by as much as 60%, researchers at the University of Washington have found. The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, builds on research which has found the number of reported cases “represents only a fraction of the estimated total number of infections”. It has important implications for how many Americans need to be vaccinated to stop outbreaks. ...
Based on analysis of that data, researchers found as many as 65 million Americans may have been infected. Official tallies put the number at about 33 million. The University of Washington researchers estimated that 60% of all cases were missed, with only one in every 2.3 cases counted in Indiana and Ohio.
On Monday, the Covid case count maintained by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and commonly referred to by media outlets stood at nearly 34.5 million. ...
The findings have important implications for the prospect of reaching herd immunity, the point at which outbreaks end because a virus cannot find new hosts. As of May, scientists believed the herd immunity threshold for Covid-19 to be around 80%, a number that has edged upward with the emergence of highly contagious variants such as Delta. ...
Even with a mass vaccination campaign, the US is unlikely to reach herd immunity this year or perhaps ever, because of highly contagious variants, low vaccine acceptance in some states and because children under 12 are not eligible for vaccines.
The state of Florida now accounts for one in five new coronavirus infections in the United States, making it the nation's most alarming hot spot as the highly transmissible Delta strain rips through undervaccinated communities and drives a surge in hospitalizations.
According to new data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida has recorded 73,181 new Covid-19 cases over the past week, the most in the country. Florida also logged the most coronavirus deaths of any U.S. state in the last seven days—319—and hospitalizations are spiking, prompting dire warnings from physicians and calls for public safety measures to stop the spread.
But Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican and likely 2024 presidential candidate, has recently taken to mocking such measures; earlier this month, the governor's team launched a new merchandise line that includes a koozie with the quote, "How the hell am I going to be able to drink a beer with a mask on?"
Other items take aim at Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a frequent target of right-wing ire. "Don't Fauci My Florida," declares a shirt selling for $21 on a DeSantis campaign website.
While DeSantis has publicly stressed the importance of vaccination in recent days, Florida physicians have attributed the surge in infections, hospitalizations, and deaths in the state to the governor's rush to end public health restrictions.
"While hospitals in our state were filling up, DeSantis was shouting about 'Freedom over Faucism,'" said Bernard Ashby, a Miami-based cardiologist and head of the of the Florida chapter of the Committee to Protect Health Care. "If DeSantis were as concerned about stopping Covid-19 spread as he was about coming up with these clever jabs about Dr. Fauci, we might not be in this position."
As the Wall Street Journal reported Sunday, epidemiologists argue that "various factors" are behind the Florida crisis, including: "large numbers of unvaccinated people, a relaxation of preventive measures like mask-wearing and social distancing, the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus, and the congregation of people indoors during hot summer months."
Chad Neilsen, director of accreditation and infection prevention at the University of Florida Health Jacksonville, told the Journal that hospitalizations are surging at a rate "we have not seen before ever." Data collected by Florida epidemiologists shows that recent hospital patients have been skewing younger, with more than half under the age of 60.
Human rights lawyer Steven Donziger said Monday that he is a victim of an "obvious travesty of justice" and vowed to appeal after a judge found him guilty on six counts of criminal contempt of court.
The ruling by U.S. District Judge Loretta Preska marks the latest development in a case that stems from Donziger's role in securing a historic, multibillion-dollar settlement against Chevron over the oil giant's devastating pollution of the Ecuadorian Amazon.
Chevron has not paid any of the 2011 settlement, which the corporation claims was improperly obtained.
While the Ecuadorian Supreme Court upheld the original settlement, Chevron has relentlessly pushed its fraud claims in U.S. court. In 2014, a federal judge with connections to Chevron ruled—based on testimony from a witness who has since admitted to lying—that Donziger was guilty of a "pattern of racketeering activity," a charge he has denied.
Donziger was then ordered to turn over his cell phone and computer to Chevron. When he appealed on the grounds that the devices contained client information, U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan hit the attorney with criminal contempt charges that ultimately landed him under house arrest, where he has remained for more than 700 days.
In a statement (pdf) Monday, Donziger characterized Preska's ruling as "the latest attempt by Chevron and its judicial allies to criminalize me and to send a message of intimidation to legitimate human rights lawyers who successfully challenge the major polluters of the fossil fuel industry."
"The decision marks a sad day for the rule of law, for our democracy, and for our planet," Donziger added. "The United States has now become one of those countries where environmental advocates are attacked, put in jail, or even murdered for doing their jobs successfully."
Donziger went on to describe Preska's decision as "the result of a patently unfair trial process that she and Judge Kaplan structured to undermine my defense and to make me appear guilty."
In 2019, after the Southern District of New York declined to take up the case against Donziger, Kaplan appointed a Chevron-connected private law firm to pursue the prosecution. Kaplan then handpicked Preska—previously a member of the Chevron-funded Federalist Society—to preside over the case.
In his statement Monday, Donziger said Preska "let Chevron's own lawyers testify" against him "while protecting them from having to disclose how much Chevron paid them."
"Judge Preska already has detained me in my home for 720 days when the longest sentence ever given for my supposed 'crime' is 90 days of home confinement," Donziger said. "We have a strong appeal and I look forward to the opportunity to brief the appellate court on this obvious travesty of justice. I also repeat my call for Judge Preska to release me immediately so I can return to my human rights work and help those in Ecuador who are suffering and dying because of Chevron's dumping of billions of gallons of cancer-causing toxic waste into the Amazon."
Three weeks after the publication of secret footage showing current and former ExxonMobil lobbyists boasting about their access to U.S. lawmakers and their work to thwart attempts to combat the climate emergency, Democrats on the House Oversight Committee on Monday asked one of the men in the video to testify about Big Oil's efforts to "mislead the global public and members of Congress about the dangers of fossil fuels and their role in causing global climate change."
Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Environment Subcommittee Chair Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) sent the letter (pdf) to Keith McCoy, ExxonMobil's senior director of federal relations, noting that the lobbyist was "secretly recorded during a video interview with a reporter at Greenpeace U.K., which was aired by Channel 4 News in the United Kingdom on June 30, 2021."
The letter continues:
During the interview, you said, "Did we aggressively fight against some of the science? Yes." You added, "Did we join some of these shadow groups to work against some of the early efforts? Yes, that's true." In the same video, you spoke candidly about ExxonMobil's current public support for a price on carbon as a mere publicity stunt. You asserted that the company does not actually believe such a policy will ever exist. Your statements suggest that in supporting this policy, ExxonMobil is seeking to create the false appearance that it has become more climate friendly.
In a second report on July 1, 2021, Channel 4 News broadcast additional segments from the video interview. During one portion of the interview, you stated that ExxonMobil manufactures per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), dangerous "forever chemicals" that can cause serious health problems and persist in the environment. You also compared ExxonMobil's approach to lobbying Members of Congress to fishing. You stated, "I liken it to fishing, right? You know you have bait, you throw that bait out."
"Your statements raise serious concerns about your role in ongoing efforts by ExxonMobil and the fossil fuel industry to spread climate disinformation, including through the use of 'shadow groups,' in order to block action needed to address climate change," the letter states. "Your statements also raise questions about ExxonMobil's operations and the dangerous emissions and pollution the company generates."
Evan Weber, co-founder of the youth-led climate justice group Sunrise Movement, suggested that if McCoy doesn't comply with the lawmakers' request, they could subpoena him.
The lawmakers' letter also notes that "ExxonMobil has had scientific evidence about the danger posed by climate change since at least 1981. Yet for decades, the fossil fuel industry and its allies have used the same tactics as the tobacco industry to spread denial and doubt about the harm of its products—undermining the science and preventing serious action on climate change."
"ExxonMobil has played a large role in these decades of climate disinformation," the letter says. "Meanwhile, the United States saw an increase in greenhouse gas emissions, including from the energy sector, between 1990 and 2019. Carbon pollution emissions from fossil fuel combustion accounted for over 92% of carbon dioxide emissions in 2019 and were responsible for most of the increase in emissions from 2009 to 2019 in the United States. The United States has experienced 19 of the warmest years on record since 2000."
Darren Woods, ExxonMobil's chairman and CEO, responded to the publication of the undercover video by attempting to distance his company from McCoy's remarks, calling them "disturbing," "inaccurate," and "entirely inconsistent with our commitment to the environment [and] transparency."
Fossil Free Media director Jamie Henn in turn said that Woods' statement "isn't an apology, it's a cover-up."
"Exxon is in full damage control mode, but I don't think they can cover this one up. The leaked tape wasn't from a random intern, but from their senior director of legislative affairs," Henn told Common Dreams earlier this month. "The idea that he wasn't representing the company's real positions is ludicrous."
Two weeks ago, a pair of reports shed further light on ExxonMobil's efforts to influence Democratic members of Congress and centrist think tanks.
One report, by HuffPost's Alexander Kaufman, reviewed an analysis by the advocacy group Oil Change U.S. of campaign contributions to six Democratic U.S. senators named in the undercover video, revealing they'd collectively raked in nearly $330,000 from lobbyists and political action committees (PACs) affiliated with ExxonMobil.
The other report, by Kate Aronoff of The New Republic, revealed that the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and other think tanks have received hundreds of thousands of dollars from ExxonMobil.
Earlier this month, Khanna told Channel 4 News that Big Oil executives "will have to answer" lawmakers' questions about their lobbying tactics.
"We expect them to voluntarily comply, but let me just say we're prepared to do whatever it takes to have them come in," said Khanna. "They're not going to be able to evade Congress."
The water levels at the Great Salt Lake have hit a historic low, a grim milestone for the largest natural lake west of the Mississippi River that comes as a megadrought grips the region. On Saturday, the US Geological Survey announced average daily water levels had dropped about an inch below the previous record of 4,191.4ft (1,278 meters) above sea level, which was set in 1963.
The new record comes months earlier than when the lake typically hits its lowest level of the year, indicating water levels could continue to drop even further, said Candice Hasenyager, the deputy director of Utah’s division of water resources.
Receding waters are already affecting a nesting spot for pelicans, which are among the millions of birds dependent on the lake. Sailboats have been hoisted out of the water to keep them from getting stuck in the mud. As more dry lakebed is exposed, arsenic-laced dust blows into the air that millions breathe.
People for years have been diverting water from rivers that flow into the lake to water crops and supply homes. Because the lake is shallow – about 35ft (11 meters) at its deepest point – less water quickly translates to receding shorelines.
At least 85 active wildfires have torched roughly 1.5m acres across 13 US states, mostly in the west, where the parched landscape has fueled the fast-moving flames and caused extreme fire behavior that has proved difficult to contain.
The figures from the National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC) were reported as the 2021 fire season is already on track to break records set last year, when more than 10.6m acres burned. More than 90% of the west is now officially in drought, according to the NIFC, with recent heatwaves setting numerous records in the Pacific north-west, northern Great Basin, and Northern Rockies.
The Dixie fire has become the largest in California after it exploded in size over the weekend and joined with a separate fire. The Dixie fire has scorched close to 197,500 acres and is 22% contained. Officials reported an initial estimate that 16 homes and other structures have been destroyed, but the actual number is assumed to be higher. ...
The Bootleg fire, the largest wildfire in the west, which has burned more than 409,600 acres in Oregon, has also caused erratic conditions through the weekend, forming a tornado along its eastern perimeter, according to officials. The fire was 53% contained as of Monday morning but it is burning into critically dry timber and shrubs that continue to fuel the flames, with little chance of rain bringing reprieve. Dry lightning is forecast for the area on Monday, but cooler temperatures and higher humidity is also expected to aid in the firefight.
The smoke from the Dixie fire has also complicated efforts to contain the Tamarack fire, another major fire raging in California, but but crews were able to achieve 45% containment by Monday morning. That fire has burned more than 67,700 acres near the California-Nevada border, as conditions continue to be “hot, dry, and unstable” according to officials.
Besides excessive heat, the dome of high pressure aloft will trap smoke from active wildfire areas in the West, shown moving clockwise around the high pressure in this forecast of near-surface smoke concentrations. Numerous Air Quality Alerts dot the region to begin the week. pic.twitter.com/nyWRzKDSe9
— NWS Weather Prediction Center (@NWSWPC) July 26, 2021
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
James Davis - Sing
James 'Thunderbird' Davis & Ron Levy - Come By here
James Davis - Your Turn To Cry
James Davis & The Soul Revivors - Sing A Song
James Davis - Bad Dream
James Davis - Ain't it great
James "Thunderbird" Davis - Hello Sundown
James 'Thunderbird' Davis & Ron Levy - Checkout Time
James "Thunderbird" Davis - When There's No Way Out
James "Thunderbird" Davis - Further On Up The Road