The popular vlogger and comedian Katie Halper, whose journalistic take-downs of the Democratic Party establishment have certainly been deftly exploited (at least) by the Kremlin propaganda machine, wears the accusation that she is a "useful idiot" for Russia as a badge of pride—"Useful Idiots" is actually the (presumably sarcastic) name of the podcast she co-hosts with the equally problematic Matt Taibbi. We've always wondered, in an academic way, if such figures really are useful idiots, or something more sinister—knowing propagandists for Vladimir Putin's deeply reactionary global ambitions. The debate has suddenly exploded onto the left-wing vlogosphere.
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."
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.
The Constitutional Court of Ecuador has issued a long-awaited ruling in favor of those affected by the transnational oil company Chevron, which operated through its subsidiary Texaco in Ecuador between 1964 and 1990. The court rejected the protection action that the company filed in 2013. In the 151-page ruling, the court denied Chevron's claim of violation of constitutional rights. Chevron will now have to pay $9.5 billion for the repair and remediation of social and environmental damage that, according to audits and expert reports, were a result of oil company operations in the Amazonian provinces of Sucumbíos and Orellana. The court found that Texaco deliberately dumped billions of gallons of toxic oil waste on indigenous lands in the Amazon rainforest.
As a part of the Republican tax overhaul bill, Congress voted Dec. 20 to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling, after more than four decades of contestation on the matter. The House voted 224-201 to pass the bill, mostly along party lines. This finalizes the legislation, as the Senate version was passed by a 51-48 party-line vote earlier in the day. Once President Trump signs the law, the oil industry will have finally achieved a long-sought goal. "We're going to start drilling in ANWR, one of the largest oil reserves in the world, that for 40 years this country was unable to touch. That by itself would be a massive bill," Trump boasted. "They've been trying to get that, the Bushes, everybody. All the way back to Reagan, Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it. They couldn't get it passed. That just happens to be here."
In a setback to Chevron's effort to evade a $9.5 billion liability owed to rainforest communities, Canada's Assembly of First Nations (AFN) and Ecuadoran indigenous leaders signed a protocol Dec. 6 to hold the corporation accountable for dumping billions of gallons of toxic oil waste and for ongoing violations of indigenous rights. The agreement was signed at the AFN Special Chiefs Assembly in Ottawa. AFN National Chief Perry Bellegarde signed the protocol along with Jamie Vargas, president of Ecuador's indigenous federation, CONAIE, and Carmen Cartuche, president of the Front for the Defense of the Amazon (FDA), the community-based organization in Ecuador's Amazon region that brought an historic lawsuit against Chevron on behalf of indigenous and campesino communities. The agreement is supported by a resolution passed unanimously by the Chiefs-in-Assembly.
San Francisco on Sept. 20 filed a lawsuit against five fossil fuel companies due to expected expenses the city will incur from global warming. The companies named in the suit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell—chosen because they are "the largest investor-owned fossil fuel corporations in the world as measured by their historic production of fossil fuels." The suit claims the companies knew of the effects of fossil fuels on global warming since the late 1970s or early '80s, but nonetheless "engaged in large-scale, sophisticated advertising and public relations campaigns to promote pervasive fossil fuel usage." The suit seeks an order that the defendants fund an abatement program for the building of seawalls to protect San Francisco from rising sea levels.
The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit on Aug. 8 affirmed (PDF) a lower court ruling that barred Ecuadoran plaintiffs from collecting a $8.646 billion Ecuadoran judgment against Chevron Corp. The lower court had concluded in 2014 that the Ecuadoran judgment was obtained through corruption and fraud and barred the plaintiffs' attorney, Steven Donziger, from attempting to enforce the judgment or profit from the award anywhere in the world. The appeals court affirmed the lower court's judgment that concluded that Donziger and his team had secretly authored the judgment and offered the Ecuadoran judge $500,000 to sign it. The appeals court also said that the lower court's decision does not invalidate the judgment and does not prevent the enforcement of the judgment outside the US. The dispute arises from allegations by Ecuadoran plaintiffs of Chevron's role in environmental damage in the Amazon rainforest. Chevron disputes these claims, while Donziger maintains his innocence and that he is the victim of a coordinated campaign against him by Chevron.