The Evening Blues - 9-22-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features New Orleans blues guitarist Guitar Slim. Enjoy!
Guitar Slim - Along About Midnight
"Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech."
-- Benjamin Franklin
News and Opinion
Online freedom is continuing to decline globally, according to a new study, with governments increasingly cracking down on user speech and misinformation on the rise.
The report from Freedom House, a Washington DC-based democracy advocacy group, found internet freedom declined for the fifth year in a row in the US and the 11th year internationally – for two distinct reasons.
Domestically, the lack of regulation in the tech industry has allowed companies to grow beyond reproach and misinformation to flourish online. ... Freedom House cited a growing lack of diversity among sources of online information in the US that allowed conspiracies and misinformation to rise, an issue that was gravely underscored during the 2020 elections and the 2021 insurrection at the US Capitol. ...
The report called measures taken by Joe Biden since his election “promising” for internet freedom, citing the reversal of a Trump administration order to halt transactions between US individuals and Chinese social media companies as beneficial.
House progressives will have a few chances to hold down the defense budget this week, but it’s going to be an uphill fight. The House is set to vote this week on two Democratic amendments to cut the fiscal 2022 National Defense Authorization Act’s $740 billion top line. One would reduce it by roughly 10 percent, and another would undo a $24 billion a plus-up the House Armed Services Committee passed earlier this month.
Key Republicans have warned that cutting the NDAA would cost their support, which Democrats likely need to pass the bill. When the House Rules Committee met Monday to screen amendments, the panel’s top Republican, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said his party likes the bill as-is. ...
On Tuesday, the panel advanced a rule that allows consideration of 476 amendments. Among them:
A prohibition on funding for the Air Force’s nascent Ground Based Strategic Deterrent — a next-generation intercontinental ballistic missile and its warhead, the W87-1 — from Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif. A prohibition on U.S. military forces in Syria without approval from Congress within one year, from Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-N.Y. A prohibition on U.S. military logistical and intelligence support for Saudi air forces conducting strikes in the Yemen civil war, from Rep. Ro Khanna. (A separate amendment from House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks, D-N.Y., would bar U.S. sustainment and maintenance support for those forces, with certain exemptions.) The top line-lowering amendments are a proposed 10 percent cut (excluding salaries and health care of military personnel), from Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and proposed reduction of the defense authorization top line to the level requested by the president, from Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.
In 2020, the House and Senate defeated twin measures to reduce the Pentagon budget by 10 percent to address the pandemic’s economic fallout. Then, Democrats split, with the Senate voting 23-77 and the House voting 93-324.
Biden pledged to end American support for offensive operations in Yemen, including relevant arms sales, during his first foreign policy speech as president. Yet almost eight months later, the U.S. continues to enable the Saudi war on Yemen, primarily by keeping the Saudi air force aloft. Without U.S. maintenance and spare parts, the Saudis would be unable to conduct air raids on Yemen. In this year alone, the Saudis have run 866 raids, amounting to a total of 23,470 air raids during the war thus far.
Airstrikes have killed or injured at least 18,616 Yemeni civilians since 2015. When airstrikes hit key infrastructure, they also killed over 200,000 Yemeni civilians by depriving them of food, water, and health care. The Saudi tactic of blockading fuel imports from entering Yemen has increased the scale of famine. In early 2021, the UN anticipated that 400,000 children under age five would die of starvation this year. At present, the UN characterizes over 20 million Yemenis as needing humanitarian assistance, and over 12 million as experiencing acute need. The UN considers Yemen the world’s “worst humanitarian crisis.” While many factors contribute to Yemenis’ misery, food insecurity is most severe in areas most impacted by violence.
The Saudi air force has imposed a no-fly zone over Sana’a International Airport since first bombing it in 2015. As a result, 32,000 critically ill Yemenis have been stranded in the capital region, unable to travel abroad to seek treatment. By withdrawing maintenance support for the Saudi air force, the U.S. would allow the Sana’a International Airport to re-open. ...
This week, several amendments have been proposed to the NDAA regarding U.S. involvement. Of these, the amendment most likely to effectively constrain the Saudis is co-sponsored by Representatives Ro Khanna, Pramila Jayapal, Adam Schiff, Adam Smith, Peter DeFazio, Katie Porter, and Peter Welch. Their amendment “terminates U.S. military logistical support, and the transfer of spare parts to Saudi warplanes conducting aerial strikes against the Houthis in Yemen and permanently ends intelligence sharing that enables offensive strikes.” Unlike more limited and conditional restrictions on aid to the Saudis such as those laid out in the Yemen-related amendment by Representative Gregory Meeks, the Khanna amendment would immediately and decisively end U.S. support for the war.
Congressional action is imperative because the Biden administration has made clear that it will not prevent Saudi violence.
Iran’s new ultra-conservative president has used his debut on the international stage to deliver a sustained assault on US, denouncing sanctions as “crimes against humanity” and hailing what he called the end of Washington’s hegemony. “Sanctions are the US new way of war with the nations of the world,” President Ebrahim Raisi told the UN general assembly in a pre-recorded address from Tehran.
Raisi, who is himself under US sanctions over alleged human rights abuses, said sanctions “were crimes against humanity during the coronavirus pandemic”. ...
Raisi expressed support for renewed nuclear negotiations but said all parties must stay true to the 2015 nuclear deal, adding that he had no faith in American promises. Earlier on Tuesday, Iran’s foreign ministry said it would return to the talks in Vienna on reviving the deal within the next few weeks, although western powers remain suspicious of Tehran’s delaying tactics and a lack of specifics. ...
The US has offered to lift most economic sanctions on Iran that are linked to the country’s non-compliance with the nuclear deal, referred to as JCPoA, but not those linked to human rights abuses. Iran has said it will come back into compliance with the deal, but only after it is clear that the lifting of sanctions has had a practical impact on the ability of Iran to trade.
Iran is also looking for new guarantees about what would happen if the US was to walk out of the deal again, as it did under Donald Trump in 2018. It wants guarantees that the US would, if in breach of UN security council resolutions, pay compensation.
Joe Biden and the Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, have welcomed their new security ties after last week’s announcement that Washington would provide Canberra with advanced technology for nuclear-powered submarines as part of trilateral deal with the UK. “The United States has no closer or more reliable ally than Australia,” Biden said on Tuesday ahead of a bilateral meeting with Morrison on the sidelines of the United Nations general assembly in New York.
In his speech to the general assembly earlier, Biden made no direct reference to the controversial new security pact, under which the US agreed to share nuclear propulsion technology for submarines in a move that is designed to contain China. The deal has infuriated Paris, and Biden has yet to be able to arrange a call with the seething French president, Emmanuel Macron. ...
On Tuesday, Morrison came under a ferocious attack by the former Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd, who, writing in the Le Monde, said the prime minister had behaved in a cavalier manner that would play into the hands of China propagandists. Rudd accused Morrison of not following “basic diplomatic protocol by failing to inform the French government of his decision”.
“Such a failure is not acceptable between adversaries, it is even less so between allies. Besides, Morrison failed to understand the wider implications of his decision for foreign policy, and this is perhaps the most appalling of the whole story,” he said.
Justin Trudeau has secured a third election victory, but his decision to call a snap election was criticised by political opponents – and even allies – after the Canadian prime minister failed once again to win a parliamentary majority.
As of Tuesday morning, the Liberals had won or were leading in 158 seats – short of the 170 needed for a majority. Erin O’Toole’s opposition Conservatives won 119, a result that largely mirrored the outcome of the 2019 election.
“It looks like nobody wanted an election and no one got what they wanted,” said the Toronto Star political columnist Chantal Hébert as results came in.
For the second time in two years, Trudeau has been handed a minority government by Canadians, meaning he will have to reach across the aisle to work with smaller parties in order to govern.
Demand has been soaring for monoclonal antibodies – a treatment to lessen the severity of Covid-19 symptoms – especially among states with larger populations of vaccine-hesitant Americans, as the US continues to struggle with the highly contagious Delta variant in regions with lagging vaccination rates. The demand for the treatment increased twentyfold in recent weeks because of the sharp rise in new cases accelerated by the Delta variant and lagging vaccination rates, and because of increased awareness of the treatment. But the distribution has, so far, been unequal.
Seven states that have seen Covid-19 rate spikes in recent weeks and months – Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Texas – have used 70% of the federal supply of monoclonal antibodies. Several Republican leaders have made the treatments a central part of their pandemic response, even appearing to champion them over vaccinations. The governors of Florida and Texas, Ron DeSantis and Greg Abbott, have touted antibodies even as they oppose mask mandates and decry the federal vaccine mandates on large employers as “illegal” and a “power grab”. (The monoclonal antibodies are also provided by the US government.)
The Covid-19 vaccines are highly effective at preventing hospitalization and death, and they can also cut transmission of the virus – something the antibody treatments can’t do. Antibodies are also significantly more expensive, at about $2,100 a dose. In comparison, the Covid vaccines cost between $10 and $20 a dose. ...
In the face of a shortage of the treatment, the Biden administration has changed its allocation system, and some states are objecting to the reduced shipments. The Biden administration said on 9 September it would increase shipments of the treatment from 100,000 to 150,000 doses a week. Days later, the health department announced it would change the way the supply is distributed.
“They’re trying to come up with a way to make the monoclonal antibodies available, but do it in a fair way,” Plescia said. “There wasn’t a lot of demand for monoclonal antibodies up until a month or two ago. This just popped up, and it’s going to take a while for the manufacturers to respond.
With millions of people across the United States facing lapsed eviction moratoria, joblessness, and expired unemployment benefits as the coronavirus pandemic drags on, U.S. Rep. Cori Bush and Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Tuesday unveiled a bill to help keep renters in their homes.
The pair led dozens of lawmakers in introducing the Keeping Renters Safe Act of 2021 (pdf), which would clarify that the head of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has the statutory authority to implement an eviction moratorium in the interest of public health, and call on him to do so in response to the current emergency.
The bill, if passed, would direct HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to implement a national moratorium that automatically "applies to all residential eviction filings, hearings, judgments, and execution of judgments," and would remain in effect for at least 60 days after the end of the Covid-19 pandemic.
"Housing is a human right, not a bargaining chip to let fall between bureaucratic cracks," declared Bush (D-Mo.), who was previously homeless and has led multiple legislative proposals to address housing insecurity, including the Unhoused Bill of Rights.
Noting that the virus has killed over 670,000 people nationwide and infected millions more Americans, leaving an unknown number "permanently disabled from its aftereffects," Bush argued that "as the Delta variant continues to force individuals to quarantine, close schools, and stifle businesses, we must do all we can to save lives."
Hours after 13 Sunrise Movement activists were arrested at the Students March on Congress for Climate Action in Washington, D.C., members of the youth-led environmental group rallied for a Monday evening protest outside Sen. Kyrsten Sinema's Phoenix office to demand that the Arizona Democrat support at least a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package that funds robust measures to combat the climate emergency.
"While Sen. Sinema caters to fossil fuel executives in D.C., young Arizonans are outside her office demanding she listen to them as they face record drought and extreme heatwaves killing their communities," Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash said in a statement Tuesday.
Activists have joined progressive U.S. lawmakers in pushing back against efforts by Republicans and right-wing Democrats including Sinema and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) seeking to defeat or dilute the $3.5 trillion Build Back Better Act, a popular package that, if passed, would fund bold climate action, poverty alleviation, healthcare and education expansion, and infrastructure improvements. ...
"Sen. Sinema and Democrats, who do you work for? Do you work for the young, BIPOC, and working people who put their lives on hold to elect you?" asked Prakash. "Or do you work for ExxonMobil and fossil fuel corporations, who pollute the air we breathe, the water we drink, and have caused the climate crisis in the first place?"
In July, the climate advocacy group Oil Change U.S. revealed that Sinema, Manchin, and four other conservative Democratic senators collectively received nearly $330,000 in contributions from ExxonMobil lobbyists.
Prakash said that President Joe Biden and Congress "must pass at least a $3.5 trillion reconciliation package to boldly invest in our infrastructure and pass a fully funded Civilian Climate Corps so we can finally kick off the decade of the Green New Deal."
The Civilian Climate Corps is a proposed government jobs program that would put people to work directly combating the climate crisis.
"Failing to deliver on the mandate Democrats were elected on means that they risk disillusioning young people, their base, and holding onto power in 2022," Prakash warned. "We did our part, now it's time for Democrats to deliver on their promises."
According to court documents first reported by Missouri radio station KCUR-FM, the Missouri chief disciplinary counsel, Alan Pratzel, asked the state supreme court to indefinitely suspend the licenses of the two personal injury lawyers. Pratzel’s office investigates ethical complaints against lawyers in Missouri.
In June 2020, widely circulated video showed the McCloskeys standing in front of their home as demonstrators protested the murder of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. Mark McCloskey was pointing an AR-15 style rifle. His wife held a semiautomatic pistol.
Protesters were walking through the gated community on their way to the house of the then mayor of St Louis, Lyda Krewson. The McCloskeys said marchers broke through an iron gate and were threatening them. Organizers maintained that the protest was peaceful.
Mark McCloskey pleaded guilty to misdemeanor fourth-degree assault and was ordered to pay a $750 fine. Patricia McCloskey pleaded guilty to misdemeanor harassment and was ordered to pay $2,000.
Bobbie Clay first realized something was wrong a few years ago. The water at her Benton Harbor, Michigan, home had started coming out of the tap looking “bubbly and whitish”. ... She wasn’t alone. For years, residents of this small, struggling city in south-west Michigan had been having similar problems. ...
When residents raised questions and concerns, they said, officials in the city and county were unresponsive. Finally, in 2018, they found out what was going on: tap water samples tested that summer revealed lead levels of 22 parts per billion – well over the federal lead action level of 15 parts per billion and higher, even, than the 20 parts per billion nearby Flint averaged at the height of the crisis that made that city a national symbol of environmental injustice.
But for the last three years, neither the city of Benton Harbor, the county, nor the state have taken sufficient action, according to an emergency appeal filed recently by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The petition, which calls on the US Environmental Protection Agency to address the crisis and assist residents in the meantime, states that lead levels have consistently tested well above the federal action limit, with recordings as high in some samples as 889 parts per billion – nearly 60 times the action limit.
The health risks posed to the residents of this mostly Black, poverty-stricken city –which also happens to be the corporate headquarters of Whirlpool – are extraordinary. Children with lead poisoning tend to have lower IQs, high rates of attention deficit disorder, poor memory and a lack of impulse control. As they become adults, they are also at higher risk for kidney disease, stroke and hypertension. Studies have also connected lead exposure to incarceration for violent crime.
“It’s like they don’t care,” Clay said of the government inaction.
Worth a click and a read:
Oil and gas companies have a century-old bad habit of drilling wells and ditching them. And while Congress finally has a plan to plug some abandoned wells, new proposals effectively pass the fossil fuel industry’s cleanup costs on to taxpayers and may even enable more drilling. Concerned parties seem to agree on the scale of the crisis: millions of wells sit untended across the US, leaking toxins that pose public health problems along with the potent greenhouse gas methane, which contributes to the climate emergency.
But powerful special interests have carved out a presence in federal well-plugging efforts – one of the most bipartisan corners of Joe Biden’s $1tn infrastructure bill, which is due for a vote later this month. Instead of requiring fossil fuel companies to cover the actual cost of drilling and cleanup, policy experts say the proposal is an additional multibillion-dollar subsidy for the industry most responsible for driving the climate crisis. ...
Congress’ 30-page proposal does provide a much-needed plan to inventory, measure and track methane emissions and groundwater contamination associated with orphan wells – abandoned wells with no identifiable owner. But tucked inside the proposal is $2m in funding that goes directly to the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC), an organization closely linked to the fossil fuel industry. The draft bill empowers the group to consult with the federal government as it issues billions of dollars in grants for states to plug, remediate and restore orphan wells.
The infrastructure bill treats the commission innocuously, granting it duties and access to federal research and development funds as if it were a formal government entity. The trouble is, it’s not. And as recent comments from the IOGCC vice-chair, Wayne Christian, suggest, the organization’s involvement in the infrastructure negotiation process includes more explicit pocket-padding priorities.
“If the bill passes, and we’re pretty close to it passing, 25 million [dollars] will be coming to Texas to clean up abandoned wells, and larger amounts than that in the future,” Christian – an avid climate change denier and head of the Railroad Commission of Texas with notoriously close ties to the oil industry – boasted on 20 August at the North American Prospect Expo, an oil industry gathering, according to a recording of the event. “So, we will be helping the energy industry to some of these trillions of dollars,” he said.
[See article for current state of the Insect Apocalypse. -js]
We feel helpless in the face of many global environmental problems, but we can all get involved in halting and reversing insect declines. Most insects have not yet gone extinct, and they could recover quickly if we just gave them some space, somewhere to live and feed in peace. If you are lucky enough to have a garden, you can take some simple steps to invite insects in; in North America, the Xerces Society can provide advice. It is astonishing how much life a small garden can support. The biologist and wildlife gardener Jenny Owen spent 35 years obsessively cataloguing every plant and animal that she could find in her modest eighth-of-an-acre garden in urban Leicester, an area of the UK not famed for its rich wildlife. She recorded no less than 2,673 different species, 1,997 of which were different types of insect.
Britain has about 22m private gardens, the US an estimated 43m. Just think how much life they could collectively support if they were all wildlife-friendly. Grow a single marjoram plant, perhaps in a pot on your balcony or roof terrace, and when it blooms I guarantee that the bees, butterflies and hoverflies will sniff it out. You can feel smug that you have done something to help. Now do something more!
If you have no garden, you might consider joining national and local campaigns to fill our urban green spaces with wildflowers, or to have your town or village declared pesticide-free. Imagine every garden, park, cemetery, roundabout and road verge filled with swathes of wildflowers; we could create a national network of wildlife-rich habitat.
Of course we cannot forget the bigger issue of how we grow food. It is my view that the move towards ever-more intensive farming is unsustainable; it has done terrible damage to our wildlife and soils, pollutes streams and rivers, and is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. British farmers apply 17,000 tons of pesticides to the landscape every year. The figure for the US is a staggering 450,000 tons. The federal government recently announced that 2.6m acres of Montana rangelands are to be sprayed with insecticides via crop dusters, to control native grasshoppers. The collateral damage done to other insects such as the monarch butterfly is incalculable; countless trillions will die. Little wonder that insects are in decline.
It is hard for most of us to do much about these farming practices, but we can reduce our own impact and support more sustainable farming practices by buying and eating local, seasonal, organic produce, buying loose fruit and vegetables and reducing our meat consumption. Better still, we can grow some of our own food in a garden or allotment.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Guitar Slim - New Arrival
Guitar Slim - Guitar Slim Boogie
Guitar Slim - Story of My Life
Guitar Slim - It Hurts To Love Someone
Guitar Slim - Quicksand
Guitar Slim - I Done Got Over It
Guitar Slim - Our Only Child
Guitar Slim - Stand By Me
Guitar Slim - Think It Over
Guitar Slim - The Things That I Used to Do