Another Day in [the American] Paradise
March 29, 2021
“War is merely the continuation of politics by other means”
“No one starts a war–or rather, no one in his sense ought to do so–without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by the war and how he intends to conduct it.”
A Middle East “I” Versus an “I”, Will Leave the Whole World Blind
(Jack Guez via Getty Images)
On May 8, 2018, President Trump withdrew the US from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the signature foreign policy accomplishment of the Obama administration, agreed to by Iran and a group of world powers including the UK, France, China, Russia and Germany. Under the accord, Iran would severely limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow international inspectors in return for the lifting of crippling economic sanctions.
After scuttling the deal, Trump reimposed stringent sanctions on Iran, which in turn led to Iran ramping up its nuclear program. Hard-liners in Iran were emboldened, raising the threat of retaliation against Israel or the US. Iran began shifting its focus from training its proxy forces for ground battle in Syria and Iraq to transferring its missile technology and equipping its Arab allies with precision-guided missiles, drones, and other sophisticated weapons. Israel accused Iran of trying to establish an overland arms-supply line through Iraq and northern Syria to Lebanon.
In August 2019 Israel carried out a series of attacks across the Middle East that killed two Iranian-trained militants in Syria and a commander of an Iran-backed militia in Iraq. The attacks brought the shadow war between Iran and Israel into the open and threatened to widen the confrontation. Iran’s most powerful security and intelligence commander Major General Qassim Suleimani, leader of the Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Forces who oversaw covert operations outside Iran, tweeted “the Zionist actions are insane and will be their last.” On January 3, 2020, an American drone strike killed Suleimani and several officials from Iran-backed Iraqi militias.
The land and air conflict between Israel and Iran was also being fought on water. Since 2019 Israel has attacked at least 10, possibly 20, ships carrying Iranian cargo through the eastern Mediterranean and Red Seas; the vessels were transporting mostly fuel and military equipment. The extent of Iran’s retaliation is unclear, as attacks were carried out clandestinely with no public claims of responsibility. In February Iran blew up an Israeli car freighter carrying several thousand German-made cars to China. Earlier this month Israel exploded an Iranian ship headed to Spain. Then on Thursday an Israeli-owned container ship was hit by an Iranian missile in the Arabian Sea.
The conflict is escalating, further complicating efforts by the Biden administration to persuade Iran to come back into compliance by reintroducing limits on its nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief. The Iran program director at the International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based research organization, agrees. “This is a full-fledged cold war that risks turning hot with a single mistake. We’re still in an escalatory spiral that risks getting out of control.” (NYT)
- Kurdish forces enter detention camp in Syria to eliminate Isis cells (Guardian)
- Stranded Suez Canal ship re-floated, marine services firm says (Reuters)
Covid-19’s Les Misérables
- France is one of the most vaccine-skeptical countries in the world — fertile ground for hard-line, anti-vaccine activists spreading online lies.
- Over the past year a spate of French-language anti-vaccine content on social media has appeared. There are numerous Facebook pages with dialogue that isn’t about asking legitimate medical questions. Instead they’re run by people who’ve firmly made up their minds against vaccinations, and who spread wild false rumors about vaccines killing millions, containing tracking devices, or altering our DNA.
- There are volunteers trying their best to fight the wave of anti-vaccine conspiracies who create their own Facebook pages and infiltrate the spaces on social media where falsehoods thrive. It can be a scary undertaking. “We had a lot of death threats,” one volunteer explains, “[from] people on social media who read our page and don’t like what they see on it.” A recent study showed only about 40 percent of the French population plans to get vaccinated. (BBC)
Confessions of a Lawyer Who Fought Against Economic Hit Men
- In 1993 after his visit to Ecuador, young Harvard Law School graduate Seven Donziger spearheaded a class-action lawsuit filed in New York against Texaco on behalf of over 30,000 farmers and Indigenous people in the Ecuadorian Amazon’s Lago Agrio region.
- Plaintiffs sought to hold the oil giant liable for contaminating the water and soil by virtue of their activities from 1964 to 1992. In 2000 Chevron acquired Texaco; the next year a US court dismissed the lawsuit and Donziger filed suit against Chevron in Ecuador.
- In 2011 an Ecuadorian court fined Chevron almost $9 billion; Chevron sold its assets in Ecuador, fled the country, refused to pay, threatened the victims with a “lifetime of litigation” and filed a RICO racketeering claim against plaintiffs and their lawyers.
- In 2018 an anonymous complaint was filed with the New York Bar against Donzinger. And then in July 2019 Donziger who has now lost his law license is placed in home detention, wearing an ankle bracelet, and saddled with millions of dollars in Chevron’s legal costs. Donzinger is restricted from leaving his apartment; he cannot venture into the hallway, or pick up his mail. Exempted excursions for medical appointments or major school events for his 14-year-old son require court permission days in advance. On Sunday, Donziger marked his 600th day under house arrest. (The Intercept, Guardian)
- The world’s biggest banks have pumped trillions into fossil fuel projects in the past 5 years (Vox)
- A Yale Psychiatrist’s Tweet About Dershowitz, Her Dismissal, and a Lawsuit (NYT, $) & Alan Dershowitz, Devil’s Advocate: The Noted Lawyer’s Long, Controversial Career—and the Accusations Against Him. (New Yorker)
- Why Did the Dean of the Most Diverse Law School in the Country Cancel Herself? (NYT, $)
Additional World News
- Sandstorms turn sun blue and sky yellow in Beijing (Guardian)
- The Historians Under Attack for Exploring Poland’s Role in the Holocaust (New Yorker)
- Elite philanthropy mainly self-serving (Academic Times)
- The Gambling Company That Had the Best Pandemic Ever (NYT, $)
- Want to Go to Europe This Summer? Here Are Your Options (NYT, $)
- Did you hear the joke about peanut butter? I’m not going to tell you, you might spread it. Speaking of spreading things out, have you ever left behind an old 401(k) when changing jobs? Millions of Americans leave behind a 401(k) each year before eventually ‘rolling over’ their money into an IRA.
- A rollover into an IRA can help you keep track of your money, avoid paying 401(k) fees and invest in a wider range of assets. While rollovers can be a great thing to do, they’re often time-consuming and confusing.
- Capitalize is a free, online platform to roll over your 401(k) into an IRA at leading providers like Fidelity, Vanguard, and Betterment. They manage the entire process – including dealing with your 401(k) provider on your behalf to get your money moved. Use Capitalize to roll your money over in a few easy steps!
Another Day in [the American] Paradise
(Tom Williams via Getty Images)
- While a national increase to the minimum wage was struck down in the Senate last month, the Fight for $15 movement is still holding strong. Congressional Democrats in support of the effort are looking for ways to push a federal minimum wage increase through Congress as more state legislatures are increasing their minimum wages to $15.
- When Democrats attempted to include an increase to the federal minimum wage (which has stagnated at just $7.25 for 12 years) in the most recent $1.9 trillion stimulus package, moderate Democrats and Senate Republicans struck the addition down. Democrats against the change calling an increase to $15 too high in the midst of a pandemic and a ruling from the Senate parliamentarian stating that including the wage increase in a spending bill was against Senate rules both blocked the wage hike.
- However, the Fight for $15 continues in different ways: 29 states have raised their bottom line above $7.25, 7 states have set minimum wages at $15 or above, and even some corporations such as Costco, Amazon, and Target have increased their minimum wage to $15 recently. The movement has wide national support as well, with polls showing that roughly 67% of the country supports a minimum wage increase.
- Progressive Congressional Democrats are continuing their campaign for an increase to $15, pushing for the wage hike to be included in other bills even as moderates and Republicans call for smaller increases to $10 or $11. (Guardian)
- We listened to this five minute segment on Friday on NPR and it’s heartbreaking that this is life in the USA for many Americans: She Works 2 Jobs. Her Grocery Budget Is $25. This Is Life Near Minimum Wage (NPR)
- How an unpaid bill can lead to prison (Vox)
- Additional songs: Phil Collins – Another Day In Paradise & It’s The Hard Knock Life
- Additional movie: Modern Times in 1939 still feels eerily modern (This 1936 Charlie Chaplin class film has a 100% tomatometer score). Watching the film is a much better use of one’s time than streaming random shows on Netflix or Hulu.
Additional USA News
- Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom: When Pooh Got Fired: While Disney laid off thousands during the Covid-19 pandemic, its shares surged and the fortunes of its top executives increased. (Bloomberg Wealth)
- What the Covid-19 war was really like in Trump’s White House (CNN)
- Family and Politics: One’s Antifa. One’s In A Militia. How An Ancestry Match Led To An Unlikely Bond & He’s a Famous Evangelical Preacher, but His Kids Wish He’d Pipe Down (NPR & NYT)
Fake Plastic Forests
- Since 2010, 129 million trees are estimated to have died in California’s national forests alone. Around the globe, research has suggested that the tree mortality rate in some temperate and tropical forests has doubled or more in recent decades.
- While normally the life cycle of forests dictates that the ecosystem regrows after forest fires, this is no longer the case. Across the globe, researchers have found that large areas of trees and other plant life have stopped regrowing following wildfires.
- Forest mortality researchers say while this does not mark the end of the forests, it may well be the end of many forests as we’ve known them. Iconic species such as Giant Sequoias and Joshua trees are succumbing to the effects of climate change in remarkable numbers, while massive ecosystems such as the Amazon rainforest and Siberia’s boreal forests are also suffering. The death of trees will negatively impact the numerous species who rely on the arboreal ecosystem.
- The main factors for increased forest mortality include a hotter climate and increased vulnerability to insects and disease. Researchers have acknowledged ambiguity in their tree mortality predictions, but widespread health problems in forests are prompting a broad and looming sense of disquiet. (Guardian)
- Additional song: Radiohead – Fake Plastic Trees (Acoustic Version)
- Cracking the Case of London’s Elusive, Acrobatic Rare-Book Thieves (Vanity Fair) TV, Netflix, & Hulu have a lot of random shows that aren’t worth a second of your time but we do think Lupin on Netflix is quite well done.
- Explore the Louvre’s Collections (Louvre)
- Watch this amazing footage of a drone flying right through an erupting volcano in Iceland (Verge)
- Women and Men Are Like the Threads of a Woven Fabric (NYT, $)
- The big spike in murders in 2020, explained in 600 words (Vox) & Why Nearly All Mass Shooters Are Men (NPR)
- Beware of the Bubble (Mr. Money Mustache)
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