Roaming Charges: The Dirtiest Word of All

Labor Day, 2020, at Trump Town, in Boones Mill, Virginia. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

The news that the Trump inner circle considered assassinating Julian Assange came as a shock to MAGA land, but not to anyone else who’d been paying the slightest attention to Trump’s hand-picked CIA director Mike Pompeo, who had publicly declared Wikileaks, and its founder, “a non-state hostile intelligence service.” As reported last week by Yahoo News, in the spring of 2017, just a few months after taking office, Trump himself asked the CIA to develop plans for whacking Assange. He demanded several options to choose from.  And the CIA promptly complied, developing several “sketches” for extracting Assange from the Ecuadoran embassy in London and disposing of the irksome journalist.

Of course, Trump had spent much of the previous year singing the praises of the Australian muckraker, as Wikileaks posted troves of damning emails and documents from the DNC and HRC’s campaign itself, disclosures which may have tipped the election to Trump. These campaign-stump encomiums to Assange by Trump led many of Assange’s supporters to believe that Trump might pardon Assange. But loyalty is fleeting in Trump World and it now seems likely that if Trump had pardoned Assange it would have been as the prelude to a hit.

Even though Obama’s crackdowns on whistleblowers rivaled Nixon’s in their ferocity, he backed off from indicting Assange, even after the DNC hacks, perhaps fearing that it might have left a permanent blemish on his record. Whether he, too, secretly contemplated covert actions against Assange is not yet known. Though both Hillary and Democratic Party insiders like Bob Beckel openly mused about droning both Assange and Edward Snowden.

Trump, however, showed no such fussiness or hesitancy.  Within weeks of Trump’s inauguration, the CIA’s new leadership team of Pompeo and “Bloody” Gina Haspel were plotting new ways to covertly disrupt Wikileaks. These efforts intensified after Wikileaks announced that it had acquired a huge set of files containing the CIA’s own hacking tools, which it had dubbed Vault 7.

One of the problems for Trump and Pompeo faced was that federal law would have required a presidential finding in order to initiate any kind of action against Assange and they preferred to go after him without leaving any documentary trail. Pompeo’s devious solution was to declare Wikileaks “a non-state hostile intelligence service,” a classification that magically turned Assange and Wikileaks from a “target of collection to a target of disruption,” without any inconvenient oversight from the congressional intelligence committees.

By summer it seems the assassination option had been supplanted by a rendition scheme, where Assange would be abducted from the Ecuadoran embassy, transferred to a third party, and then taken to the United States for interrogation and eventual trial. The problem was that Assange had not been indicted by the Justice Department and his kidnapping would likely endanger any future trial. As a consequence, Pompeo and Trump urged Jeff Sessions to expedite filing charges against Assange, which the Justice Department secretly did a few months later. As the weeks ticked by, Pompeo even considered renditioning Assange to a CIA black site, where he would receive the customary treatment of torture, interrogation, and perhaps even elimination.

The CIA’s obsession with Assange showed distinct signs of collective paranoia and its plans for neutralizing him quickly devolved from the sinister to the absurd, including bizarre scenarios involving car crashes and gun battles with Russian agents on the streets of London, all of this being spun out while the Congress, the FBI and a Special Prosecutor were probing the ties between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks. Sharper than a serpent’s tooth is the ingratitude of a potentate on the ropes.

Naturally, the explosive Yahoo report has received almost no attention in the mainstream US press. Even after the revelations of the Church Report, the fact that the CIA continues to kill people (or contract out their killing) remains a forbidden topic. George Carlin’s old routine about the 7 dirty words you can’t say on TV, left out the dirtiest word of all: assassination.

There are, of course, other, quieter ways to kill and Biden, no less eager to claim Assange’s head than Trump, seems to have settled on a more insidious method: allowing Assange to waste away in the dark chambers of a prison, whether in Belmarsh, where he is now confined, or, if extradited, in some even more austere Supermax in the American outback.

***

Barn, Rocky Mount, Virginia. Photo: Jeffrey St. Clair.

+ As Biden’s modest economic plan crumbles, brought asunder from within by members of his own party, the fate of the Democrats in the midterm elections seems as firmly sealed as that of poor Fortunato in Poe’s “A Cask of Amontillado.” Yet, I can’t help thinking this collapse was inevitable and was secretly, if not desired at least planned for by Biden. Losing Democratic control of the Congress would leave him in Clinton’s position after the rout of 94–both as the last defense against the Republican Visigoths and able to freely wheel-and-deal unfettered by the demands of his party’s progressive wing. Bill was adept at triangulation politics. But then he was a much nimbler politician than Biden, able to screw over his electoral base and still seduce them into voting for him again two years later.

+ Joe Manchin: “I’ve never been a liberal in any way, shape, or form, so if progressives want a bigger reconciliation bill elect more liberals…I cannot accept our economy, or basically our society, moving towards an entitlement mentality.”

+ Of course, Manchin’s never hesitated to demand entitlements for banks and corporations

+ Pelosi on Joe “My House Has Many” Manchin’s remark that the Democrats’ Infrastructure Bill is the “definition of fiscal insanity”: ” If I paid attention to everyone’s public statements … Oh my goodness. I think Joe Manchin is a “great member of the Senate. I have enormous respect for him. We have our common ground.”

+ Turns out the tax hikes on the super-rich that Manchin denigrated as “vengeful,” are wildly popular back in West Virginia, whose residents Manchin pretends to represent…

+ Flexing his senatorial bulk, Manchin is also demanding that the reconciliation bill include the notorious Hyde Amendment.

+ The constitutional right to an abortion really died the day the Hyde Amendment (which prohibits any federal funding for abortions, ie through Medicaid, et al.) was first passed in 1980, with the enthusiastic support of Joe Biden…

+ Marco Rubio: “Biden’s infrastructure bill isn’t socialism, it’s marxism.” OK, class, discuss amongst yourselves…

+ Biden always knew he had three failsafes against having to fulfill any of the big ticket promises he made during the campaign: the Senate parliamentarian, Sinema and Manchin. He didn’t even need Mitch.

+ 52% of Trump voters somewhat or strongly favor Blue States seceding to form a separate country. 41% of Biden voters want the Red states to do the same. Strongly feel this way: 25% of Trump voters and 18% of Biden voters.

+ Dollar Tree, the national chain of stores that promises everything for a buck, will begin stocking items on its shelves that will cost more than $1.

+ If you needed any further proof that the Forever Wars remain in high gear, look no further than the House vote today to authorize the Pentagon’s $778 billion budget, despite the supposed end of the Afghan War. There was never even any talk of a “peace dividend.”

+ A new UN Report estimates that more than 97 percent of the population of Afghanistan will sink below the poverty line in the next year.

+ According to Brown University’s Cost of War project, the number of civilians killed by international airstrikes increased about 330 percent from 2016 to 2019.

+ The Biden “reset” with Russia is endless provocation

+ The average daily water consumption per capita among Palestinian West Bank residents stands at 28 liters per capita per day. In Israeli settlements in the South Hebron Hills? 211 liters per capita per day.

+ According to a new study in the International Journal of Epidemiology, the Covid-19 pandemic has resulted in the largest loss of life expectancy since World War II, worst among American men.

+ While  racial vaccination gaps have narrowed considerably in the last few months, the partisan gaps have grown. According to Pew Research Center poll last month 86 percent of Democratic voters had received at least one shot, compared with only 60 percent of Republican voters.

+ Rural Americans are dying of Covid at more than twice the rate of urban and suburban residents, a divide that health experts say is likely to widen not just because of the disparity in vaccinations but also due to dwindling access to medical care.

+ Less than 1% of the almost 6 billion COVID-19 vaccines administered worldwide have gone to low-income countries, while more than 80% went to just 10 wealthy countries. According to the WHO, fewer than 4% of Africans have been fully immunized.

+ China, on the other hand, has so few Covid cases that it’s having troubled testing the efficacy of its vaccines and is looking for data from other parts of the world, before it relaxes restrictions at home.

+ Australia vowed to protect its Indigenous communities from Covid. But in Wilcannia, 10 percent of the town was infected in two weeks.

+ Alabama, which has the highest death rate from Covid-19 in America, is planning to use $400 million Covid relief funds to finance the construction of three large prisons and the renovation of several others.

+ Alaska’s caseload of 143/100,000 marked a new case/population record for any US state in the Delta wave. And higher than any country in the world.

+ For the first time in the pandemic, the number of Oregon kids under 10 with COVID-19 exceeded the number of adults aged 60-69. The gap looks likely to widen in the coming weeks.

+ The largest study of “breakthrough Covid” cases comes from Israel, where the conclusion is pretty clear: The common denominator among seriously ill patients currently in the coronavirus wards and intensive care units is that they have not vaccinated against COVID, not one patient with all three doses of the vaccine is currently on a ventilator and the booster shot increased immunity by at least 11 fold.

+ According to a new Kaiser Family Foundation Vaccine Monitor survey, only about one-third (34%) of parents of 5- to 11-year-olds say that they will vaccinate their child when the Covid-19 vaccine becomes available for that age group.

+ Turns out that Alt Pharma has the same predatory business plan as Big Pharma…

+ Greyhound has finally agreed to stop warrantless immigration sweeps on its buses…but only in Washington State, which had the guts to sue them.

+ Texas’s Senate Redistricting Committee approved new gerrymandered state senate maps. Even though 95% of growth came from communities of color and whites are now a minority in the state, 20 of the 31 new Senate districts are drawn to have white majorities, while no new Latino, Black or Asian-American districts were created.

+ According to a study published in Lancet yesterday, police killings in the US were undercounted by about half, largely as a result of cop-friendly medical examiners attributing the deaths to other causes. In total, U.S. police killings were undercounted by more than 17,000 over the past 40 years. The police have killed Black people at a rate of 3.5 times higher than white people.

+ COVID-19 is the leading cause of death for on-duty law enforcement officers so far in 2021.

+ From 1977-2018, state and local government spending on police grew by 226 percent…more than for schools, universities, health care…or crime. But does anyone feel any “safer” from the conditions that really threaten their lives?

+ Raleigh, North Carolina will sellout $2 million to 15 Black men the city’s police wrongfully arrested in 2019-2020 on fake drug charges. The men spent a combined 2.5 years in prison, some missing cancer treatments, in a racially targeted campaign based on false claims made by a police informant. Another instance of the police defunding themselves, which will not elicit a word of protest from the Blue Lives Matter claque…

+ Meanwhile, Biden’s budget requests calls for $3.98 billion in police grants from the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security, 10% more than last year and 46% more than in 2017.

+ The Gothamist reports that the names of multiple active NYPD officers and NY GOP officials appear in a hacked cache of the secret membership records of the Oath Keepers, one of the militia groups that staged the January 6th raid on the Capitol.

+ Nine months into his first term and Joe Biden has issued exactly ZERO pardons.

+ A big story in the NYTs on Thursday how disclosed the meddling of some of Yale’s biggest (and most conservative donors) led to the resignation of historian Barbara Gage as leader of the university’s “Grand Strategy Program,” which was about to be placed under the supervision of a board of advisors that included Henry Kissinger.  Some connoisseurs of Kissinger’s resume may recall that Henry K. told the Shah of Iran over a meal in Tehran in the early 70s that Yale president Kingman Brewster was “the one man whose assassination would benefit the United States.”

+ Speaking of Kissinger, one of his most devoted acolytes is now on the Supreme Court…

+ Berliners just decisively voted to expropriate around 240,000 apartments currently owned by “mega-landlords” (private real estate companies & developers) and turn them into socialized public housing. In Berlin, more than 80% of the population are tenants and the rents have doubled in the last 10 to 15 years…

+ Our friend Boris Kagarlitsky, the Russian economist, writer and dissident, was arrested yesterday on his way to deliver a lecture Moscow Higher School of Social and Economic Sciences, where he teaches. He was apparently sentenced to 10 days in jail for promoting on social media an “unsanctioned” rally to protest the dubious election results from last week, where the Russian Communist party seems to have been robbed by an increasingly authoritarian Kremlin of a number of seats in the Duma. Will the Sputnik Left speak up for one of the world’s leading Marxist thinkers or smear him too as a stooge of the CIA?

+ Historian George Rawick:  “Any history in which working-class people cannot recognize themselves is not good history.” (H/T Marcus Rediker)

+ You have to hand it to the Daily Mail for packing every little tidbit into this headline: “Married super PAC donor who claims married Corey Lewandowski ‘stalked’ and repeatedly touched her during Vegas fundraiser with Kristi Noem (who denies having affair with him)“…Does anyone know the onomatological roots of “Trashelle?”

+ Trump on Stephanie Grisham’s (the WH press secretary who never held a press briefing) new White House tell-all: “She had big problems and we felt that she should work out those problems for herself. Now, like everyone else, she gets paid by a radical left-leaning publisher to say bad and untrue things.” Radical left-leaning publisher? Her book is published by Harper/Collins, a subsidiary of Harper, which is a subsidiary of NewsCorp, which is own by Rupert Murdoch…

+ Things she used to Tweet about before that internship at the winery…

+  Vietnam War photographer Philip Jones Griffiths: “A wall for the Vietnamese dead would be nine miles long.”

+ According to a new “audit” of national monuments conducted by the Mellon Foundation, Only 3% of Confederate monuments include the word “defeat”. Of the top 50 people with monuments, 50% were slave-owners, while slave abolition is mentioned on only 0.5%.

+ The Washington Post’s lawyers are in court this week accusing one of the paper’s reporters (Felicia Sonmez) of “advocacy” for talking about her sexual assault.

+ The South Dakota Attorney General, who killed someone and refuses to resign, is investigating Kristi Noem’s private meeting with a government employee who denied her daughter a real estate appraisal license and then reversed the decision and resigned with a $200,000 payout.

+ Four Houston police officers who fired after shooting a downed man more than 20 times will not face criminal charges. As a result they are appealing their dismissals and will likely be back on the streets soon, if not in Houston, then in Dallas or Plano or Fort Worth.

+ The most viewed wolf pack in the world lost three of its members to Montana hunters during the first week of the hunting season in September…

+ In the wake of Hurricane Ida, hundreds of oil infrastructure sites have sprung leaks. Biden’s response? Open 92 million more acres of the Gulf of Mexico to new oil drilling…

+ Enbridge announced that the Line 3 project will be complete on October 1st and operational by October 3rd. A statement from Winona LaDuke on what’s next for the resistance…

+ In my quadrennial review of whether or not I should devote part of a day cleaning up my office, I came across this clipping from 1989 of a frontpage article in the Daily Journal, the newspaper for then-rural Johnson County, Indiana, which features a rather unflattering close-up of me using one of my typical “think” gestures at some kind of press conference or debate on the Texas Natural Gas Pipeline, one of the first big antipipeline battles in the Midwest, where I spent much of the year organizing people we’d often been at odds with: farmers and ranchers. The pipeline, as pipelines tend to do, was going through some of the most productive agricultural land in the world, along with hundreds of stream-crossings, as well as blitzing through state and federal forest lands. The headline, from a paper that had been incredibly hostile toward me and our nascent environmental movement in Indiana, got the story right: Struggling With a Giant, because it wasn’t just the pipeline & natural gas company that we were up against, but the federal bureaucracy that protected it. In this case, FERC. The first draft of my appeal of FERC’s decision was about 150 pages long. They dismissed it in about five minutes, even though we’d had both US senators and all of the Indiana congressional delegation backing us. It was a bitter fight, made all the more bitter by losing. But it taught me more about political organizing than any of the battles that we won–and we won a lot in those days. The main lesson I took to heart was to keep knocking on doors no matter how many times they’d been slammed in your face.

+ It’s been a big week for Manchinisms, perhaps none more buffoonish than this planet-wasting oxymoron: “natural gas needs to be part of any clean energy climate package.”

+ Today’s kids will see twice as many wildfires, 1.7 times as many tropical cyclones, 3.4 times more river floods, 2.5 times more crop failures and 2.3 times as many droughts as someone born in 1960.

+ In the last 10 years alone, wildfires have more burned more than 12.7 million acres in California, one out of every eight acres in the state–twice the acreage burned in the previous decade.

+ According to a new study in JAMA Pediatrics, more than half of children under 6 years old in the U.S. have detectable lead levels in their blood. The worst states are Nebraska (83%), Missouri (82%), Michigan (78%) and Iowa (72%). A blood lead concentration as low as five micrograms per deciliter can affect the long-term cognitive development of children.

+ A new report in Nature Climate Change suggests that a rapidly warming Arctic could unleash buried nuclear waste, undiscovered viruses and antibiotic resistant bacteria. The study’s lead author, Arwyn Edwards (a microbiologist at Aberystwyth University in Wales), said:

“Changes in the Arctic’s climate and ecology will influence every part of the planet as it feeds carbon back to the atmosphere and raises sea levels. This review identifies how other risks can arise from the warming Arctic. It has long been a deep-freezer for a range of harmful things, not just greenhouse gases. We need to understand more about the fate of these harmful microbes and pollutants and nuclear materials to properly understand the threats they may pose.”

+ Thanks to an infusion of bitcoin “funds”, coal waste power plants in Pennsylvania are thriving…

+ The Great Unraveling: 23 (22 animals and one plant) species have just been removed from the Endangered Species List…not because their populations have recovered to sustainable levels but because they’ve gone extinct.

+ Musical Chairs: In 1964 Wayne Shorter leaves Art Blakey to join Miles Davis’s group. To replace Shorter, Blakey hires John Gilmore from the Arkestra. To fill Gilmore’s slot, Sun Ra brings in Pharoah Sanders.

+ I nominate the final episode of Game of Thrones as the greatest series finale, because it succeeded in totally eradicating any residual interest in what had been a national obsession for nearly a decade. Who has even thought of that show in the last two years?

+ Is it possible that the man who wrote the greatest American novel, also wrote the greatest American poem. I nominate for your consideration: “Shiloh: a Requiem” (“What like a bullet can undeceive…”)?

+ Melville’s image of swallows (not crows, ravens or vultures) skimming over a battlefield strewn with intertwined corpses, “foemen” united in death, has stayed with me since I first read it in the early 70s. A mediation on silence, death and the futility of war that stands with Wilfred Owen’s poems from the trenches France as one of the most profound poetic statements on the futility of war ever written.

+ “I saw an open field, in our possession on the second day….so covered with dead that it would have been possible to walk across the clearing, in any direction, stepping on dead bodies, without a foot touching the ground.” — Ulysses S. Grant

+ I’m reading Grant’s memoirs, which may be the greatest nonfiction book written by an American, and read his account of Shiloh last night, which reminded me of Melville’s poem, which I hadn’t read since college. Grant’s writing is so clear and unpretentious, it’s like he’s telling you the story by a campfire. They’re completely captivating. The casualties at Shiloh exceeded those at Waterloo and were but a preview of what was in store at Antietam, Chickamagua and Gettysburg. There’s always been a question as to how much Twain edited Grant’s memoirs, which he wrote while suffering from an excruciating esophageal cancer, probably caused by smoking 20 cigars a day. But Grant’s letters have the same clarity and conversational tone.

+ Beatles banter during a recording session for George Harrison’s “Old Brown Shoe”:

McCartney: “How are you?”

Harrison: “Oh, I went to bed very late. I wrote a great song actually… [enthusiastically] happy and a rocker.”

Lennon: “It’s such a high when you get home… I’m just so high when I get in at night.”

Harrison: “Yeah, it’s great isn’t it?”

Lennon: “I was just sitting there listening to the last takes: ‘What have I had? What have I had today?’ You know, I ask her [Yoko], ‘Have we had anything?’”

Ono: “You’re just high in general.”

Lennon: “Just want to… Wooooaah! I just can’t sleep…”

Harrison: “I keep thinking, ‘Oh, I’ll just go to bed now’, and then I keep hearing your voice from about 10 years ago, saying, ‘Finish [the song] straight away: as soon as you start ’em, you finish ’em.’ You once told me…”

Lennon: “Oh, the song… But I never do it, though. I can’t do it. But I know it’s the best.”

McCartney [to Harrison]: “Well, what’s it called?”

George: “I’ve no title. Maybe you can see a title in it somewhere.”

+ Dr. Lonnie Smith, who died this week at 79: “It’s an extension of my being. It’s a part of my lens. It breathes for me. It speaks for me. I feel every bit of the organ. It’s like electricity—a fire that goes through my body. You can feel it vibrate. It lifts me up, it crawls through the pores of the room.”

I Float in Liquid Gardens, Way Down in Arizona Red Sand…

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

Our Biggest Experiment: an Epic History of the Climate Crisis
Alice Bell
(CounterPoint)

Bessie Smith: a Poet’s Biography of a Blues Legend
Jackie Kay
(Vintage)

Beautiful Country: a Memoir
Qian Julie Wang
(Doubleday)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

The Other Shore
Amir El Saffar & Rivers of Sound
(Outnote)

Poof
Henry Threadgill’s Zooid
(Pi Recordings)

Remember Her Name
Mickey Guyton
(Capitol)

The Boldest of All Frauds

“I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of the land… I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of ‘stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in.’ I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. . . . The slave auctioneer’s bell and the church-going bell chime in with each other, and the bitter cries of the heart-broken slave are drowned in the religious shouts of his pious master. Revivals of religion and revivals in the slave-trade go hand in hand together. The slave prison and the church stand near each other. The clanking of fetters and the rattling of chains in the prison, and the pious psalm and solemn prayer in the church, may be heard at the same time. The dealers in the bodies of men erect their stand in the presence of the pulpit, and they mutually help each other. The dealer gives his blood-stained gold to support the pulpit, and the pulpit, in return, covers his infernal business with the garb of Christianity. Here we have religion and robbery the allies of each other—devils dressed in angels’ robes, and hell presenting the semblance of paradise.” (Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass)

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His most recent books are Bernie and the Sandernistas: Field Notes From a Failed Revolution and The Big Heat: Earth on the Brink (with Joshua Frank) He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net or on Twitter @JeffreyStClair3