On a visit to Baghdad this week, Gen. Frank McKenzie, chief of the Pentagon's Central Command, announced that US forces in Iraq will be reduced in the coming weeks from some 5,200 troops to about 3,000. McKenzie later told reporters that troop levels in Afghanistan will drop from the current 8,600 to 4,500. All of this is to happen by "late October," he said. How convenient. (AP, Politico) This all smells more of politics that strategy. There are still more than 10,000 ISIS fighters remaining across Iraq and Syria, according to a UN estimate from August. So, as Defense One comments, "any 'mission accomplished' moment remains elusive to clear-eyed observers of ISIS and the Middle East."
In Episode 55 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg exposes the hidden agenda behind Verizon's abandonment of landline service. Far from being driven by public demand, the ubiquity of wireless has been instrumented by Verizon and imposed on the populace as a design to finally extinguish the public entitlement of telephone service. Verizon is the most recent inheritor of this public trust responsibility that goes back to the establishment of the New York Telephone Company as a state utility in 1896. But the trust responsibilities go with the old copper wires—once they are gone, Verizon no longer has legal obligations as a "carrier of last resort." Weinberg calls for a public expropriation of Verizon, and making internet access as well as phone service a public entitlement. Those who are refusing to give up their landlines are, consciously or not, on the frontline of resistance to corporate rule—and the attendant digitization of all reality. Listen on SoundCloud or via Patreon.
In the imperial carve-up of northern Syria, US troops have since late last year been controlling the oil-fields of Deir ez-Zor province, in collaboration with the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). Now reports are emerging that the Kurdish autonomous administration in the region has signed a 25-year contract with a little-known US company for exploitation of oil in SDF-held territory. The company, Delta Crescent Energy, incorporated in Delaware in February 2019, still apparently lacks a website. But its partners are said to include former US ambassador to Denmark James Cain; James Reese, a former officer in the US Army's elite Delta Force; and John P. Dorrier Jr., a former executive at UK-based GulfSands Petroleum. The GulfSands website indicates the British company has oil contracts in Syria that are "currently under Force Majeure as a result of EU sanctions."
International climate negotiations will be delayed by a full year because of the coronavirus pandemic, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UK government announced May 28. The next summit, officially dubbed the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), was due to take place this November in Glasgow, but has now been put off to November 2021. Delaying the talks could encourage governments, industrial concerns and financial institutions to adopt recovery plans with high climate costs. The postponement is particularly critical given the failure of last year's summit, held in Madrid, to reach any agreement. Instead, critical decisions were put off for COP26. This means a full two years will have passed before any progress can be made. (STV)
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on May 26 reversed a federal judge's dismissal of a climate change lawsuit against oil companies including ExxonMobil, BP and Chevron by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, setting the stage for the case to be heard in a more favorable California state court. The two cities, who first brought suit separately, are seeking billions of dollars from the companies in a special "abatement fund," alleging their practices knowingly led to problems the cities must now contend with, including rising seas and extreme weather. The cases were initially brought in state court, but they were combined and moved to federal court at the demand of the companies, on the basis that they raised questions of US law, such as the Clean Air Act. The case was dismissed in June 2018 by US District Judge William Alsup, who held that the courts lacked jurisdiction in the matter. A Ninth Circuit panel remanded the case back to Judge Alsup, ordering him to give further consideration to whether his court has jurisdiction. If he again finds his court lacks jurisdiction, the panel ruled, the case must return to state court.
As strongmen around the world exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to grab extraordinary powers, even democratic countries are putting unprecedented police-state measure into place in the supposed interest of a return to "normality." In the latter category is New Zealand, where a bill has been passed giving police sweeping powers to enter homes without warrants while enforcing new "Alert Level 2" rules. The COVID-19 Public Health Response Act creates a new corps of "enforcement officers" to track social contacts among the populace and conduct raids on the premises of suspected violators. (NZH)
Saudi activists and dissidents are disputing official accounts alleging that a northern tribesman who refused government orders to surrender his home to make way for a new mega-project was killed in a shoot-out with security forces. Authorities say Abdul Rahim Ahmad al-Hwaiti, from Tabuk province on the Red Sea, was a "wanted terrorist" who opened fire on State Security agents when they arrived at his home in Khraybah town April 15. But the incident came two days after al-Hwaiti posted a video statement saying he and other local residents were being pressured by the government to give up their properties and accept financial compensation. Al-Hwaiti, a member of the powerful al-Huwaitat tribe, said: "Anyone who refuses to leave the area would be arrested by government agents." He accused the government of a policy of "forced displacement."
In Episode 51 of the CounterVortex podcast, Bill Weinberg rants against the dangerous, irresponsible and politically weaponized claims being avidly propagated about COVID-19. In addition to paving the way for Facebook and other platforms being given greater power to censor content, these claims serve to delegitimize any critique of actual abuses of power by the medical establishment, government and corporations. Worse, claims originating from social-media trolls and the yellow press are being weaponized by the US State Department and Chinese Foreign Ministry as propaganda in their New Cold War. Whether the virus originated in a Chinese government lab in Wuhan or the US government lab at Fort Detrick is probably unknowable, and of limited relevance to the dilemma of how to resist the fast-consolidating biological police state. Listen on SoundCloud.