Wednesday, August 05, 2020

We need to get serious

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in an interview on PBS’ “NewsHour” program Tuesday signaled the Democratic Party’s willingness to reduce benefits for the nearly 30 million US jobless workers who had been receiving $600 a week in enhanced federal unemployment pay. The jobless benefit, part of the CARES Act, which allocated trillions for the corporations and banks, expired this past week.

The federal benefit, along with a moratorium on rental evictions from properties with federally backed mortgages, was allowed to lapse at the end of July, leaving millions in the lurch.

Shortly before the expiration of the federal unemployment benefit, the House of Representatives, in a near party-line vote, passed a $694.6 billion defense appropriations bill for 2021. The bill, overwhelmingly supported by the Democratic Party, included funding for 91 F-35 fighter jets ($9.3 billion) and nine new Navy ships ($22.3 billion). Added together, the cost of these 100 pieces of military hardware could provide supplemental jobless benefits for 30 million people for nearly two weeks.

While both parties worked around-the-clock for the financial oligarchy and their cratering stock portfolios by passing the CARES Act in late March, now that Wall Street has been rescued, the two big business parties are taking their time in working out the terms for imposing the full brunt on the economic crisis triggered by the pandemic on the backs of the working class.

Throughout the PBS interview, Pelosi, with an estimated net worth of $120 million, portrayed herself and the Democratic Party as champions of working people. However, when gently pressed by the news anchor, Judy Woodruff, the House speaker signaled the corporate-financial elite that the Democrats were prepared to cut the already inadequate $600-a-week benefit, saying, “Let’s find out what we can afford.” She added, “We will find our common ground.”

They don't care about We The People, they just don't care.  What do we need?  Dean Baker discusses what we need in an article for CounterPunch:

 At the start of April, both houses voted nearly unanimously to support measures that were designed to make it possible for people to stay at home rather than work. At that time, we had roughly 35,000 new infections a day. Currently, we are seeing well over 60,000 new infections a day, with the count crossing 70,000 in many recent days.

The comparison looks even worse if we pull out New York and New Jersey, both of which were overwhelmed by the pandemic at the start of April. Between them, they had roughly 15,000 new infections a day, which means the rest of the country was seeing close to 20,000. By contrast, at present both states have the virus relatively under control, which means that the new infection count in the country would still be over 60,000 a day, excluding New York and New Jersey.

This raises the obvious point: if Congress thought it made sense to allow, encourage, and possibly even require people to stay home rather than work at the start of April, how could it possibly make sense to push people to work at a time when the rate of new infections is more than three times as high, in areas outside of New York and New Jersey?

This is really a question of life and death. Tens of millions of workers have serious health conditions that mean they would be at considerable danger if they became infected. Tens of millions more workers would be putting into danger family members, with serious health conditions, if they became infected. As a result, a high percentage of the work force has very good reasons for not wanting to return to work just now.

If we face the reality of the pandemic, we should not be designing a package to get people back to work, we need to design a package to keep them whole through a period in which tens of millions of people will still not be able to work because of the pandemic. This means that we want people to have the money to pay their rent or mortgage and to buy food and other necessary items. We don’t want them to be going out to restaurants and bars, to see movies or baseball games, or to fly away on vacations or go on a cruise ship.

We need to get serious about what's needed and about the fact that we're living in an ongoing pandemic.
This is C.I.'s "Iraq snapshot: for Wednesday:

Wednesday, August 5, 2020.  Iraq War veteran Sean Worsely continues to be persecuted by the State of Alabama, Iraq's prime minister faces many problems -- including whether he can rule.

We're going to start with Iraq War veteran Sean Worsely.  We covered him in yesterday's snapshot.  If you're late to the story (I was), see that snapshot and also make a point to read Cara Wietstock's piece for GANJAPRENEUR which opens:

Veteran Sean Worsley stopped for gas in Gordo, Alabama to pump gas for his wife on a family road trip to his grandmother’s house. While pumping gas he was laughing and playing air guitar. He was approached by Gordo PD for violating a noise ordinance with his music, and the events that unfolded from there would change his life forever.

And here is Eboni Worsley, Sean's wife, speaking about the case and Sean joins her on the phone in this video.

Four drive-by e-mails (non-community members e-mailing the public account) who insist they are attorneys want it known that I am completely wrong when I say this needs to be challenged in regards to medical.

Can I be completely wrong?  Absolutley.  And I probably am many times.  I don't think I'm wrong on this.

Sean's facing prison because he was going through Alabama and he and his wife were stopped and he had marijuana.  The marijuana was prescribed, he had his medical prescription.  Alabama does not prescribe medical marijuana.  Not only was his medication confiscated but he was arrested.

I am on, among other things, metformin, gab-whatever, insulin (injection) and chemo (which, right now, I'm taking orally).  If I go through North Carolina and am stopped and agree to a search, the officer certainly has a right to search me.  But does s/he have a right to confiscate my medication?  Do they have a right to hold me in jail and deny me my medication?

Alabama's stupid in not prescribing medical marijuana but I don't see where they have the right to interfere with a medical treatment.

They violated Sean's rights right there.  He has TBI and Post-Traumatic Stress.  They knew that.  They put him behind bars without access to his medication despite knowing that.  They denied him his medication.

I'd like to know what medical professional in Alabama, who has a background in TBI and PTS treatment signed off on this?

I know the answer: No one did.

The state of Alabama disregarded a patient's treatment plan, stopped the treatment and did so without any medical supervision.

Police officers are not doctors. 

This was a violation of his medical treatment.

His attorney has attempted to argue sympathy and that it was prescribed and so blah blah blah.

I don't disagree with that argument but I do see that it hasn't had any effect at all.  The attorney's argued that for how long now?

Yes, it's helped in the court of public opinion.

I'm glad people are supporting Sean and that they are behind him in larger and larger numbers as they learn about this case.  But support for Sean right now is not translating into freedom.

When you're defense doesn't work in court, you go on the offensive.

His attorney needs to immediately file charges against the State of Alabama.  We're not talking about the arrest here, we're talking about the medical issue.

If tomorrow I'm in North Carolina and they decide to disallow their citizens having prescriptions for chemo, are they able to interfere with my medical treatment because I'm driving through their state?  Are they able to immediately halt my medical treatment and to do so with no medical supervision, without consulting any doctor at all?

No, they're not.

That's what they did.

If his attorney has any real sense, he'll file immediately on that.  And he can pursue to victory -- he'd have to really bungle the case to lose.  Or he can drop the case when the State of Alabama realizes how much they could lose -- Sean could potentially get rich off this case -- if they allow it to go to court.  If the State decides they don't want to go to court, one of the first things they're going to do is either offer some sort of 'time served' option or drop the original charges. 

Either way, Sean would win.  And I'm on the other phone (the snapshots are dictated).  Okay, just ran by a friend with the National Lawyers Guild and her verdict?  That's a sound argument and that's what she would do were she representing Sean.  "Put some fear into them [State of Alabama]," she says, "and see if they don't suddenly want to resolve the whole thing without prison time."

The State, any of the fifty, does not have the right to stop our medical treatment.  And to stop it without having Sean see a doctor first who agrees that this treatment can be stopped?  That's not the United States of America and I don't see any court insisting that the government has that right.

They overstepped their rights and Sean should sue on the medical issue.

On e-mails, Brian Stelter of CNN became a news topic late Monday.  He lied that the notion that Joe Biden should refuse to debate Donald Trump was coming from the right-wing.  Several drive-by e-mails insisted I was wrong not to cover that.  One person wrote, "I read your blog because I think you try to be fair even though you're a bleeding heart lefty.  Now I doubt that because you ignored this topic."

You now doubt that I'm a bleeding heart lefty or you doubt that I try to be fair?

Monday morning, before Brian became a news topic, we already covered this topic.  In Monday's snapshot, I noted Democrat of the Bill Clinton administration Joe Lockhart had proposed that.  I noted he did so in a column he wrote for -- not FOX NEWS -- CNN.  I noted that it was an outrageous suggestion and it went against everything a democracy stands for.

Later that day, Brian entered the news cycle.  He lied.  He lies all the time.  I have no respect for him.  He's built his career on lying and he's one sided -- I'd say he's more centrist than left -- and he's partisan and he's a clown who is ugly and looks like a child molester.  That he lies and that I think he's ugly and looks like a child molester?  Those aren't new comments.  I've made them here and at THIRD in pieces with Ava.

He has no charisma and he's disgusting ugly.

Why is he on TV in front of camera?

At any rate, I don't plan what I'm going to write ahead of time each day.  I have no idea what the snapshot's going to emphasize until I'm about to dictate or sometimes in the middle of dictating.  At which point, I'll say, "Okay, this is going to go at the top, above everything you've already typed."

I missed Sean's case completely.  I did not know about it, had not heard about it.  I was dictating the snapshot when the other phone rang and a friend with a VSO was on the line asking if I was going to cover Sean?  I learned about him in the middle of the snapshot and we went with FOX NEWS because hours before they had published a report.  (Which was a strong report, by the way.)

So on Tuesday morning, Brian was back in the news cycle for lying yet again.  And I'd just learned of Sean's plight.  What was I going to go with?  Sean.

He's an Iraq War veteran and the State of Alabama thought they could overrule his doctor's plan, they thought they could cease his medication immediately and they thought they could do all of this without having him see a single doctor to determine the medical impact their actions could have.

I'm always going to go with the Seans of this world, sorry.

We need to stand together when we're under attack and what was done to Sean wasn't just wrong, it was also an attack on every one of us.

The coronavirus is an attack on all of us around the world.  Like other countries, Iraq has been heavily hit. ALJAZEERA has a photo essay of the burials of COVID 19 victims and they note:

Every chapter of Iraq's modern history can be seen in the sprawling cemetery of Wadi al-Salam outside the holy city of Najaf. Its sandy expanse is growing, this time with coronavirus victims.

A special burial ground near the cemetery has been created specifically for COVID-19 victims because such burials have been rejected by Baghdad cemeteries and other places in Iraq.

In Iraq, the virus has been surrounded by stigma, driven by religious beliefs, customs and a deep mistrust of the healthcare system.

Iraq has recorded close to 132,000 coronavirus cases and nearly 5,000 deaths.

XINHUA reports, "The Iraqi Health Ministry reported on Tuesday 2,836 new COVID-19 cases, raising the total number in the country to 134,722.  The new cases included 769 in the capital Baghdad, 296 in Karbala, 244 in Erbil, 207 in Basra, 194 in Babil, 135 in Maysan, and 129 in Najaf, the ministry said in a statement. It also reported 83 fatalities during the day, raising the death toll to 5,017, while 1,992 more patients recovered, bringing the total number of recoveries to 96,103."  Those are the numbers and they're frightening. Samya Kullab and Nabil Al-Jurani (AP) look at how this impacts individual Iraqis:

In Iraq’s oil-rich south, the scorching summer months pose painful new choices in the age of the coronavirus: stay at home in the sweltering heat with electricity cut off for hours, or go out and risk the virus.

This is Zain al-Abidin’s predicament. A resident of al-Hartha district, in Basra province, Mr. Abidin lost his job due to pandemic-related restrictions. During the day he listens helplessly to his four-month old daughter cry in the unbearable heat, too poor to afford private generators to offset up to eight-hour power cuts.

“I have no tricks to deal with this but to pray to God for relief,” he said.

Nearly 18 years after the US-led invasion of Iraq, the electricity issue has never been solved.  Somehow, oil rich Iraq can't provide reliable electricity to its citizens.  Mustafa al-Kadhimi became prime minister on May 7th.  He has made public remarks about the failures of previous administration to fix this problem or even address it. He has promised reform.  Can he deliver? 

Can he even deliver on early elections?

When Mustafa al-Kadhimi became Iraq’s prime minister on May 7, after five months of political deadlock in Baghdad, I argued his best chance of success was to fail fast. The only way to clean the Augean stables of Iraqi politics was with the strong broom of a popular mandate — and that could only be obtained from elections. Thoroughgoing political and economic reforms would require a majority — or at least a plurality with which to build an irresistible coalition — in parliament.

Last week, the prime minister called for early elections — on June 6, 2021, a year ahead of schedule. But Iraq’s circumstances have deteriorated so much in the three months since he took office, Kadhimi will have a much harder time convincing Iraqis to give him a mandate to rule.

All the crises he inherited have deepened. The coronavirus pandemic, already alarming when Kadhimi was sworn in, has since only grown more frightening, forcing him to announce fresh lockdowns. The Iraqi economy, having suffered extensive collateral damage from the Saudi-Russian oil war, has weakened. Powerful, Iran-backed Shiite militias have grown more brazen. Corruption, already ingrained in the body politic, seems to have metastasized across every aspect of the state.

Even the weather has been worse than expected. Iraq is now wilting in the hottest summer ever recorded, with temperatures nearing 52 degrees Celsius (125 Fahrenheit) in Baghdad and 53C (127F) in Basra last week. The heat threatens to bring the protests against electricity and water shortages — a summer fixture in the Iraqi political calendar — to a fever pitch. Some demonstrations in Baghdad have already boiled over into clashes with security forces: Two protesters were killed last Monday.

How does he address corruption when so many of the leaders are corrupt?  It's a question few want to address.  But the corruption is well known.  When Democrats in Congress knew they could use Iraq to garner votes, they would hold hearings about what was happening to all the US dollars being sent to Iraq -- dollars that never managed to help the people.  They stopped those hearing when Barack Obama became president and they also ended the watchdog office over reconstruction in Iraq -- over the objection of the person in that office.  With Barack in the White House, Democrats no longer wanted oversight of Iraq.  They didn't stop the flow of US tax dollars to Iraq, they just stopped caring where the money went.  Roopinder Tara (ENGINEERING.COM) writes about the corruption this morning:

In the power vacuum left after the fall of Saddam Hussein’s government, a thicket of corruption has erupted. The corruption took hold during the end of Saddam’s reign, when international sanctions against Iraq resulted in the slashing of government officials’ incomes and the workers resorting to taking bribes, according to a recent report in The New York Times.

The World Population Review report ranks Iraq the 11th most corrupt country in the world in 2020.

In 2011, a $148 million project was planned to turn Baghdad’s Sadr al Qanaat thoroughfare into an idyllic outdoor park with sports fields, restaurants, playgrounds and a canal with decorative bridges over it. But that site is now “a dismal dumping ground with little sign that anything was ever spent on it.”

Where did the money go? According to The Times, it went into the pockets of corrupt officials who, with the backing of militias, funnel billions of dollars supplied by the United States for construction projects into their personal international bank accounts.

At ARAB NEWS, Michael Pregnent offers his take which includes the following:

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi is set to visit Washington soon, although he does not yet have a date or an invitation, so he is scrambling to say all the right things in order to secure a meeting with US President Donald Trump.

Iraq is worse off than it was two weeks ago and this last week has propelled two items to the top of the list for Al-Kadhimi’s visit to the US: Kata’ib Hezbollah’s continued attacks on the US and Iraqis, and calls by Al-Kadhimi for early elections that Kata’ib Hezbollah and its allies in Iraq’s Council of Representatives won’t allow to happen. 

The top agenda item for Trump is for Al-Kadhimi to do something about the militias that he supposedly commands as Iraq’s commander in chief. The militias that fall under the government’s security apparatus are attacking US personnel in Iraq, which are there to partner with the Baghdad government to ensure the enduring defeat of Daesh. The militias have now become more of a threat to the US and Iraqis than Daesh.

Trump wants to know if the US has a partner in Iraq. The president is willing to pull US forces out of Iraq if this “partner” continues to disappoint. Republicans and Democrats are looking for a reason to end this experiment. And it won’t be without costs to Baghdad and Tehran.

Two actions by the Democrat-led House of Representatives point to a breakup if nothing changes. Democrats voted to cut funding for the US mission in Iraq by $145 million and Republican Rep. Joe Wilson was able to get two amendments passed that would ensure no US dollars go to any institution in Iraq where the militias have access to the funds — that would mean the Ministry of Defense and Ministry of Interior would be most affected.

On the militias and other issues, The Atlantic Council notes:

It’s been three years since the guns fell silent in Mosul, the onetime capital of the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS). With the Caliphate finally pushed out, it seemed the nightmare of extremist rule was finally coming to an end, giving Iraq’s Christian minority a chance to reclaim their homes after years spent sheltering under brutal conditions, fleeing to refugee camps, or taking flight abroad.

Instead, their hopes of rebuilding have diminished even as the threat of the Caliphate has faded. The region’s few remaining Christians find themselves caught between Iran-backed Shia militias and an Iraqi government that, nearly twenty years after the American invasion, is politically paralyzed and still unable to provide basic security and services—let alone protect the country’s embattled minority populations. As a result, most Iraqi Christians are searching for brighter pastures, even if it means forever parting with the land of their ancestors.

“Of the twenty thousand Christians that fled Mosul when ISIS came, only one hundred have returned,” said Reine Hanna, director of the Assyrian Policy Institute. “People can’t work and earn a living among ruins. There’s little incentive to return.”

The country that is now Iraq has been home to various Christian communities for more than two thousand years. Falling mostly outside the Roman Empire, where the Christianity familiar to most Westerners today took its basic shape, Iraqi Christians developed their own unique forms of Christian worship and theology which endure to this day; they draw heavily on ancient liturgical rites, prayers, and customs.

The fortunes of the region’s Christians vacillated with the many empires that rose and fell over the centuries. Prior to the US-led invasion in 2003, the country was home to 1.5 million Christians. But, despite their endurance over the centuries, the subsequent occupation and insurgency proved to be a breaking point. By 2014, shortly before the rise of ISIS, over eight hundred thousand of Iraq’s Christians had fled abroad, with many making new homes in the United States and Western Europe.

The establishment of the ISIS Caliphate drove the few remaining Christians out of the region to avoid living under a regime that gave them an ultimatum: pay a special tax for non-believers or leave or be killed. Nearly all chose to leave to the Kurdish north. While ISIS’ territorial defeat provided an opening for the return of Mosul’s Christians, that hope has quickly faded in the face of the grim state of Iraqi politics. The biggest challenge facing the country are the militias that control the territory formerly occupied by the Caliphate.

Today, the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of various militias—mainly backed by Shia clerics and Iran—that were once seen as integral to the fight against ISIS, are now focused on controlling the areas they liberated. They are also determined to further their own political agenda. The PMF have already been documented committing a number of crimes across Iraq, including looting, revenge killings against Sunni Arabs, and seizure of property. 

There is a growing fear that many PMF units will ultimately occupy towns indefinitely, since they have not left the ones they liberated. This is creating a climate where they mete out whatever justice or injustice their militia leaders dictate. Exploiting Iraq’s fractured political and security landscape, PMF units have erected their own system of check points and recruitment offices in towns across the country, giving them an advantage over the domestic security situation. They have even entered politics, helping Iran-backed groups gain even more leverage over Iraqi affairs, such as its economy.

The following sites updated: