Roaming Charges: The Mad-Eyed Lady of Pac Heights

Pelosi’s eyes, at press conference on Taiwan.

“War is the form nostalgia takes when men are hard-pressed to say something good about their country.”

– Don DeLillo, White Noise

I suppose there are more risible politicians on the scene today than Nancy Pelosi, but few come clad in her power accessories or with as much potential to inflict carnage on a global scale. Even the banshee of the backwoods Marjorie Taylor Greene is a mere pipsqueak compared to the malevolent lunacy we’ve seen lately from Pelosi.

Some may say that Pelosi, now 82, has entered her second childhood. If so, it’s a delinquent one. Certainly her political inhibitions have dissolved, allowing her natural inclination to foment trouble to run rampant. One looks in vain for a rational motivation behind her ad hoc trip to Taiwan, an act of belligerency that might have sparked a war with another nuclear power. But to what end? China is not going to relinquish its entirely legitimate claims to Taiwan. Far from a model democracy, Taiwan is a former gangster state, whose repressive government was shaped by Chiang Kai-Shek, who retreated there in 1949 with his battered gang of CIA-financed KMT thugs, where he promptly instituted a violent crackdown on leftists known as the White Terror, a vicious form of martial law that lasted for the next 45 years.

Sure Pelosi represents many rich Chinese exiles, who have made fortunes in San Francisco and now fantasize about sticking it to the CCP from the safety of their Nob Hill mansions. But Pelosi doesn’t need their money or support. She’s well beyond that now. (Though her husband Paul (net worth: $130 million) is surely watching with avaricious eyes the reaction of the markets to this junket of the damned.) Antagonizing China over Taiwan doesn’t solve any of the global crises (climate, North Korea, Ukraine, Covid) hurtling toward us on all fronts–not even the “problem” of Taiwan.

Pelosi’s trip seems more personal, an almost pathological assertion of her autonomy. It’s the act of a playground bully and the Mad-Eyed Lady from Pac Heights has come to see the world as her playground–provocation for the sake of provocation. Damn the consequences. The Speaker’s hubris has been accreting rapidly in the last decade. Once a capable, if not very creative, machine politician, she has now become baked by her own sense of power and runs the House like her own private autocracy, the leadership ranks stacked with her claque of senescent loyalists.

Now the second most powerful figurehead in the US government has gone rogue, enacting her very own Asian Pivot, flouting decades of US policy and even ignoring the requests of the increasingly feeble Joe Biden to scrub Taipei from her inflammatory itinerary. Nancy is the “Karen” of global geopolitics, a loose cannon intoxicated by her own self-righteousness. Like RBG, Pelosi apparently sees herself as an indispensable figure in American politics, even as a trapdoor slides open beneath her feet and those of her party and country. The people running our government are so antiquated, they won’t live to face the consequences of their reckless grandstanding. Heckuva job, Nancy.

Why Pelosi picked China as her target du jour is no mystery. Like Biden (and Bernie Sanders, for that matter), Pelosi has always been a Cold Warrior. It’s the way she chooses to understand the world, even if it’s a world that no longer quite exists. The political economy Pelosi has done much to help engineer over the last 35 years needs perpetual enemies to justify the trillions sunk into the weapons-and-surveillance complex. And not ephemeral scrub units like Al Qaeda and ISIS. Big ones like Russia and China. But more sophisticated politicians, from Nixon to Obama, have understood that the trick is to keep the threat elevated without actually risking a war. Pelosi seems to have lost this inhibition, as well.

Thus the brazenness–one is tempted to say, desperation–of her Taiwan excursion is a pretty clear sign of imperial (as well as mental) slippage. Far from a show of strength, Pelosi’s antics in Taipei revealed the frailty of the US hegemon in the Pacific. Sure, China postured a bit in response with naval exercises encircling Taiwan, drawing out of climate talks and slapping sanctions on Pelosi. But Beijing, a much more reflective (if equally lethal) government than our own, must have viewed Pelosi’s frantic finger-wagging as little more than a parody of power, a shrill manifestation of America’s political decrepitude.

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+ Let’s face it, you’re not really president until you’ve said you’ve killed Ayman al-Zawahiri. Every president from Bush to Biden gets to do it. It’s almost a prerequisite for the job.

+ How many wedding parties were droned over the last 21 years because the CIA thought Ayman al-Zawahiri was on the guest list?

+ Obama congratulated Biden for killing a man he thought he’d killed himself. He called it “justice being done.” Yes, Al-Zawahiri was a killer (or at least a funder of them). But let’s be precise: this was an extrajudicial hit,  an assassination, not justice. They could have attempted (and probably succeeded) to take him alive and put him on trial. But that risked revealing uncomfortable ties to Saudi elites at a time when Biden wants to keep all of that nastiness deeply buried.

+ Nothing seems to cheer up today’s normally morose liberals quite like news of an assassination (even of someone who’s been reported killed repeatedly). Drone strikes are the napalm of the Forever Wars. They have the intoxicating and illusory smell of…”Victory.”

+ The Biden administration just announced another $550 million in military aid to Ukraine. The rainy day fund for wars seems bottomless…

+ For the first time Global Military spending exceeded $2 trillion, more than a third of that amount by the US alone….

+ On Wednesday, the Senate voted 95-1 to support Finland and Sweden’s entry into NATO. Senator Haw-Haw was the only no vote. Even Rand Paul merely voted “Present.” WTF, Bernie?

+ The Air Force has grounded nearly the entire domestic fleet of F-35s ($80 million-plus per unit) over ejection seat malfunctions. Don’t worry, Bernie’s Repair Service has been dispatched…

+ So Biden’s supplications to Crown Prince Bonesaws resulted in an incremental increase in OPEC crude oil production for September, a relatively tiny hike of 100,000 barrels a day. This would register as the second smallest production hike in the cartel’s history, behind only 1986. In response, the price of Brent crude oil rose above $100 per barrel again.

+ “Orders” for what, Chick-fil-A?

+ Blaise Pascal: “If Plato and Aristotle wrote about politics it was as if to lay down rules for a madhouse. And if they pretended to treat it as something really important it was because they knew that the madmen they were talking to believed themselves to be kings and emperors. They humored these beliefs in order to calm down their madness with as little harm as possible.”

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+ Brianna Grier was a 28-year-old black woman living in Sparta, Georgia, a town about 100 miles south of Atlanta. About ten years ago, she’d been diagnosed as schizophrenic. She’d been in and out of hospitals, ever since.  Treating Grier had been the disorder with medication, sometimes prescribed, sometimes illicit. Still like most schizophrenics she’d occasionally have episodes of delusions and extreme paranoia. Brianna often took herself to the hospital when she felt herself coming undone. Other times EMTs came to her house and treated her. On July 15, however, her parents called 9/11 for help and this time, instead of an ambulance, a couple of  Hancock Country sheriff cars showed up.  A few days later, their daughter was dead.

What happened? The cops told Grier’s family that they had arrested Brianna for being intoxicated, planned to put her in jail for the night and let her seek medical attention the following morning, but as they were driving away she kicked open the door, jumped out of the car and hit her head on road, suffering a fatal brain injury.

A strange tale, indeed.

But body cam footage of the encounter released this week by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation an entirely different version of what happened to Brianna Grier. The video captures two deputies moving stridently toward Grier. She appears agitated, but clearly tells the officers several times that she’s not drunk. She offers to take a breathalyzer test to prove she’s sober. But the cops ignore her pleas and roughly place her in handcuffs. Brianna squirms and protests: “Get off me! I ain’t broke no law.” As they haul Brianna off to a patrol car, she warns them that she’s likely to harm herself if she’s locked up in a cell for the night. She’s off her meds, having a breakdown. The cops ignore her and put her in the car.

Next the video shows one of the deputies get into his car, pull out of the driveway and accelerate down the road. Then a few seconds later the car stops suddenly. The deputy opens the door, exits the car and rushes to the side of the road. There’s Brittany Grier laying on the ground. She’s not moving.

Another deputy arrives. Both cops lean over the prone woman. They appear to check her pulse and try to see if she’s still breathing. One officer orders her to get up. But Grier doesn’t move. And she’s not faking it.

The backdoor of the patrol car is open. One of the deputies notices and walks back to the car and shuts the door. He’s the cop who was driving with Brianna in the backseat.

The other cop is holding Brianna’s motionless head in his lap. The cop on the ground asks the other cop: “How’d she jump out? How’d your backdoor open?” It’s a good question. Cop cars don’t open from the inside. They both know the answer. The door had been left open. Brianna was cuffed and none of the cops had bothered to lock her seat belt or shut the back door and she’d either rolled or fallen out.

They’re scrambling for a plausible explanation now, unaware for the moment that their attempt to come up with a cover story is being recorded.

“Don’t worry,” the cop on the ground says. “She’s fine. She’s fine.” He tells the other cop that when he writes his report to “just say, you got out, and the door was open.”

Brittany wasn’t fine. She was in a coma. And six days later she was dead.

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+ Before separating families or deporting immigrants, federal immigration officers are required to determine whether or not the detainees fear being returned to their home countries. Here’s the transcript of an interview that Border Patrol agents claim to have conducted with a 2-year-old boy from El Salvador justifying his deportation. The document was obtained by a Dallas immigration lawyer named Paul Z0ltan.

Q.What is your complete and correct name?

A. My name is MARTINEZ-VASQUEZ, AXEL BENJAMIN.

Q. Have you used any other names?
A. No.

Q. Do you have any form of identification?

A. Yes, my passport from El Salvador.

Q. When did you last enter the United States?

A. On June 17, 2022.

Q. How did you enter the United States?
A. I crossed the Rio Grande River in an inflatable raft.

Q. Did you know it was illegal to enter the United States in this manner?
A. Yes.

Q. Were you inspected by a United States immigration officer at time of entry?

A. No.

Q. What was the purpose of your entry into the United States?
A. To seek employment.

Q. What was your intended destination?
A. To Dallas, Texas.

Q. Do you have any fear about being returned to your home country or being removed from the United States?

A. No.

+ Such an articulate two-year-old. El Salvador’s early childhood education system is truly a marvel.

+ Here’s the NYTs already sharpening their knives against the new generation of Leftwing governments in South America…

+ In other words, their challenge is resolving all of the problems left behind by the neoliberal regimes that preceded them or enmired them in crushing debt…

+ Leave it to Ted Cruz to say the quiet part (“funded by the US government”) out loud…

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+ The executive director of a new crisis pregnancy center in Houston, Texas proclaims that “a lot of 13-year-olds do phenomenal” as mothers. It’s no real mystery why they believe this. Their liturgy teaches that Mary (clearly a victim of child rape, which a least the Greek myths are explicit about) gave birth between the ages of 12 & 14, depicting the poor child as a girl who “said ‘yes’ to a call from God…Mary didn’t let her youth stop her from boldly moving forward into the plans God had for her life.”

+ The Justice Department asked Federal Judge Dabney Friedrich to attach a “terrorism enhancement” to the sentence of J6 defendant Guy Reffit, a recruiter for the far-right militia group the Texas Three Percenters. Like most criminal defendants, Friedrich had been offered a much shorter sentence if he’d plead guilty. But he chose to go to trial and was found guilty of five criminal counts, including obstructing the certification of the 2020 election results for Joe Biden and transporting a firearm to stir civil unrest. But Friedrich didn’t assault any police and didn’t break into the Capitol. The judge questioned the severity of the sentence proposed by the prosecution and cut it in half, saying “his decision to exercise his constitutional right to go to trial should not result in a dramatically different sentence.” Let’s hope Judge Friedrich applies this standard of scrutiny to the circumstances of every coercive plea bargain that comes before her court…

+ The 8th Circuit Court of Appeals held that locking special ed. students in a small room and a time-our corner, grabbing a student and pushing him into a swimming pool, and pinning a student in order to strip him and force a swimming suit on him represented unconstitutional seizures under the Fourth Amendment. All of this was done by a teacher, however. A cop would have likely enjoyed Qualified Immunity…

+ Why the song remains the same…An analysis of the judicial voting patterns of Brett Kavanaugh and Merrick Garland when they served on the same Federal Appeals Court showed that they voted together 93 percent of the time.

+ This week the LAPD shot a Black man named Jermaine Petit in the back three times and then charged him with felony assault on a police officer with a deadly weapon. The police say they thought he had a gun, but the “deadly weapon” turned out to be a car part. He’s currently in custody at a local hospital. His bail was set at $100,000.

+ How did Los Angeles spend the $1.08 billion it got in federal American Rescue Plan Act funds? Nearly 2/3 ($696 million) went to LA Police and Fire Department salaries. Another $240 million went to cover salaries in other departments. None went into housing or homeless shelters.

+ Brittney Griner was just sentenced to 9 years in a prison labor camp for possessing a small amount of cannabis vaping oil. This is an outrage, but perhaps not as appalling as what happened here in the US in June, when the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld a life sentence for a marijuana possession charge. On any given day in the US, more than 374,000 people are in prison or jail for a drug “crime”. End the drug wars, here, there, everywhere.

+ Kamala Harris: “With today’s sentencing, Russia continues its wrongful detention of Brittney Griner. She should be released immediately. POTUS and I, and our entire Administration, are working every day to reunite Brittney, as well as Paul Whelan, with loved ones who miss each of them dearly.”

+ There are now more people in federal prisons on cannabis charges than there were under Trump. Federal cannabis arrests have climbed 25 percent since Biden took office.

+ Griner’s 9.5-year sentence is actually 6 months less than John Sinclair got for possession of 2 joints in Michigan in 1971.

+ Every prisoner jailed on drug crimes is a political prisoner. Nixon was clear that his drug war was meant as a political weapon against dissidents: the young, the antiwar movement and especially, in his words, “the blacks.” It’s no different in Russia, France or Saudi Arabia.

+ John Ehrlichman:

“You want to know what this [war on drugs] was really all about? The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news.  Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

+ A study in Science found that 11% of all black men in Pennsylvania, born 1986 between 1989, were incarcerated in solitary confinement by the age of 32. One-in-ten black men were held in solitary for more than 15 consecutive days (a violation of UN standards for the treatment of incarcerated people), while nearly 1-in-100 black men experienced solitary confinement for a period of a year or longer. By comparison, the prevalence is of solitary confinement for Latinos is 3.4% and only 1.4% for white men.

+ Brett Hankison is among four Louisville police officers who were arrested Thursday morning by the FBI for their role in the killing of Breonna Taylor. The 3 others are Joshua Jaynes, Kelly Hanna Goodlett, and Kyle Meany. The charges against Hankison include two counts of Deprivation of Rights Under Color of Law. The indictments described the officers’ action as “unjustified force that shocks the conscience.” It alleges that members of the department’s Place-Based Investigations Unit falsified the affidavit used to obtain the search warrant of Taylor’s home, an act that violated federal civil rights laws, and that those transgressions resulted in Taylor’s death.

+ Here’s a reminder of what this case is all about…

+ Even the federal government is starting to fire workers struggling with the debilitating consequences of long COVID. Take the case of Georgia Linders, who contracted COVID in the spring of 2020. Two years later she still has brain fog, suffers heart palpitations, runs a near-constant low-grade fever, feels lethargic and has trouble digesting food. She found it hard to work at her federal job, which required many hours a day on the phone. Her supervisor warned her she wasn’t productive enough. Eventually she was placed on probation. Then her health deteriorated even more. She was threatened with another 90-day probation. Instead, Linders opted to take a medical leave of absence. Then she was fired. She filed an appeal, claiming she’d been discriminated against for having long COVID. It was rejected. She could have sued, but she didn’t have the money to hire a lawyer. Linders is one 23 million Americans (roughly 1-in-5 adults, according to the CDC) that may suffer from the symptoms of long COVID. Few of them enjoy even the meager job protections Linders thought she had.

+ Move over Karl Marx and tell Fred Engels the news…

+ “Nixon’s America” would be a kind of Utopia compared to this entropic hellscape….

+ Here’s Emily Parker writing for CNN on Crypto: “Cryptocurrency is having an existential crisis. Last month, crypto lender Celsius filed for bankruptcy protection. It has frozen withdrawals since June 12, and it’s unclear if or when customers will get their money back.”

+ Doesn’t “crypto” have to actually “exist” before having an “existential crisis”?

+ Let’s face it, crypto’s neither cryptic nor is it a currency.

+ The Oklahoma Board of Education just downgraded the accreditation of two school districts in Tulsa, after a complaint was filed that the schools were violation the state’s ban on teaching Critical Race Theory. It turns out that the complaint was filed by a teacher named Amy Cook, who was investigated earlier this year for supposedly dedicating part of her science classroom as a prayer area. According to Tulsa Public Radio, Cook yanked a student out of class after the girl posted a non-Christian prayer on the wall, telling her that she would “burn in Hell” unless she converted to Christianity.

+ If only Jon Stewart cared half as much about the people living next to the toxic burn pits of Cancer Alley, which no one signed up to live by, but were just born into…

+ Judge to Alex Jones: “I don’t want to see the inside of your mouth. Sit down.”

+ Financial records produced at Jones’ trial suggest he was a much more successful conman than Trump. While Trump managed to lose millions on almost every enterprise he attached his name to, Jones was pulling down as much as $800,000 per day by hawking diet supplements, gun paraphernalia and survivalist gear in ads accompanying his Infowars broadcasts. With a body like his, you’d have to be a gifted pitchman to sell people whatever supplements he’s been consuming.

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+ In June, the planet was about 1.8C warmer than pre-industrial (1850-1899) temperatures. Most of that warming has taken place over the four decades. Land temperatures for June have climbed by more than 1.5C since 1980.

+ Meanwhile, the Arctic is warming at 3 times the rate of the rest of the planet.

+ BP proclaimed second quarter profits of $8.6 billion. The most in 14 years. This criminal enterprise should have been put out of business after Deepwater Horizon–its executives put in pillories in Congo Square in New Orleans, its major shareholders made to pay 100s of billions in restitution. Instead here they are they’re profiteering off a war…

+ Last week, Seattle recorded 6 straight days of 90°F+ for the first time ever. Portland just recorded 7 straight days of 95°F+ for the first time ever. One of the hottest weeks in the recorded history of the Pacific Northwest. If you missed out, don’t worry there’s always next year…or even next month.

+ If global warming hits 2C, it could “double” the flooding costs in China compared to 1.5C.

+ Despite being declared dead less than two years ago, soaring natural gas prices following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are driving the global demand for coal to an all-time high.

+ As hundreds of millions of people face going hungry this year, in part because of the war in Ukraine, around 10% of the world’s grains and 18% of the world’s vegetable oils are turned into biofuels, a feel-good fuel that only exacerbates climate change. Europe and the UK alone pour 17,000 gallons of cooking oil into cars, trucks and busses every day.

+ The snow pack in the West has declined by 23% since 1950.

+As a consequence of shrinking snowpack, the water levels of western reservoirs are also shrinking, nowhere faster than in California, where nearly every reservoir is below 50% capacity: Shasta: 37%, Oroville: 42%, Trinity 28%, New Melones: 30%, San Luis: 33%, Don Pedro: 61%, McClure: 33%, and Pine Flat: 27%.

+ Meanwhile, according to data from NOAA rainfall in California has hit an all-time low…

+ When it comes to water use, modern dishwashing machines have become far more inefficient, using a tenth of the amount of water (4 gallons or so per cycle) as hand-cleaning in the sink.

+ In an average year, San Antonio, Texas experiences 5 days at or above 100 degrees through August 4th. This year it has already seen 55.

+ The huge McKinney Fire in the Klamath River Valley of northern California is burning in a landscape ravaged by past logging operations…

Source: Wildland Maps.

+ On average, two US electric vehicles use as much electricity per year as an entire US household.

According to the most recent Food Scarcity report from the World Bank an estimated 18.6 million people in the Horn of Africa are experiencing acute food insecurity and malnutrition.

+ Southern Illinois and Indiana got hit with over a foot of rainfall in under 24 hours on Tuesday, making this the third 1-in-1,000-year rain event in the last seven days.

+ The source of the Thames River in Gloucestershire has dried up for the first time. The river now begins a meager flow 5 miles from its former source.

+ Per capita carbon emissions in the US remain twice that of China, three times that of the UK, and almost seven times that of India.

+ Some thrilling news: After seven years in isolation plotting his takeover of the Southwest, El Jefe the Jaguar is back!

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+ This week multi-instrumentalist Garth Hudson turned 85. When it came to giving interviews he was every bit Dylan’s equal:

GARTH HUDSON: My dad was an entomologist. He was a Canadian government inspector. He would inspect foreign produce, imports, little trees. He conducted the Dutch elm disease survey. He also managed the surveys on the Japanese beetles.

INTERVIEWER: Do you feel like talking about The Band at all?

GARTH HUDSON: I don’t think that is necessary.

+ Nietzsche’s daily routine while living in Italy: “Wait for tea to cool before drinking it, avoid all alcohol, crowds, reading, writing letters, wear warm clothes in the evening, eat rhubarb from time to time, have a napkin at breakfast, remember notebook…. no renown, no women, no newspapers, no honours.”

+ From Barbara Koppel’s Harlan County, USA:

Striking coal miner to a cop, policing the strike line: “Is your job real dangerous?”

Cop: “It’s a lot of bullshit.”

Miner, pointing to the power lines up them: “I mean, a lot of people don’t understand that that electricity burning over there takes somebody dying every day for it. One man dies every day.”

+ In an outrageous ruling this week, the  Region 10 board of the NLRB (which covers Georgia, Kentucky, and Alabama) has ordered the MineWorkers to pay $13.3 million costs to the Warrior Met Coal Company, where workers have been striking for the last 16 months. If upheld, this be a major blow for any striking workforce…

Table Talk with Gore Vidal, circa 2008.

Spectator reporter: “Is there anything hopeful in American politics?”
Vidal: ‘No,’.
Spectator reporter: “Anything good about the American people?”
Vidal: ‘Not really.’
Spectator reporter: “How do you see the future of America panning out?
Vidal: ‘It panned out already, it’s sinking.’
Spectator reporter: “Can anything be done to save it?”
Vidal, as he orders another whiskey and soda: ‘I don’t give a fuck.’

Why did they pick you to sympathize with their side? How could they ever mistake you?

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

William Blake vs. the World
John Higgs
(Pegasus)

Not by Omission: the Case of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War
Amnon Kapeliouk
Trans. Mark Marshall
(Verso)

The Viral Underclass: The Human Toll When Inequality and Disease Collide
Steven W. Thrasher
(Celadon)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Take It Like a Man
Amanda Shires
(ATO)

In Tense
Harish Raghavan
(Whirlwind)

Revealer
Madison Cunningham
(Verve)

The Powerful Orthodoxy of the Clan

“The family is the cradle of the world’s misinformation. There must be something in family life that generates factual error. Over-closeness, the noise and heat of being. Perhaps even something deeper like the need to survive. Murray says we are fragile creatures surrounded by a world of hostile facts. Facts threaten our happiness and security. The deeper we delve into things, the looser our structure may seem to become. The family process works towards sealing off the world. Small errors grow heads, fictions proliferate. I tell Murray that ignorance and confusion can’t possibly be the driving forces behind family solidarity. What an idea, what a subversion. He asks me why the strongest family units exist in the least developed societies. Not to know is a weapon of survival, he says. Magic and superstition become entrenched as the powerful orthodoxy of the clan. The family is strongest where objective reality is most likely to be misinterpreted. What a heartless theory, I say. But Murray insists it’s true.” (Don DeLillo, White Noise)

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