The Evening Blues - 5-25-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Texas blues singer Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner. Enjoy!
Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner - Call Me Juke Boy
“The state is a fragile organization, and the statesman does not have the moral right to risk its survival on ethical restraint.”
-- Henry Kissinger
News and Opinion
The CIA’s Murderous Practices, Disinformation Campaigns, and Interference in Other Countries Still Shape the World Order and U.S. Politics
In the weeks before the 2016 presidential election, the most powerful former leaders of the Central Intelligence Agency did everything they could to elect Hillary Clinton and defeat Donald Trump. President Obama’s former acting CIA chief Michael Morrell published a full-throated endorsement of Clinton in the New York Times and claimed “Putin ha[s] recruited Mr. Trump as an unwitting agent of the Russian Federation,” while George W. Bush’s post-9/11 CIA and NSA Chief, Gen. Michael Hayden, writing in the Washington Post, refrained from endorsing Clinton outright but echoed Morrell by accusing Trump of being a “useful fool, some naif, manipulated by Moscow” and sounding “a little bit the conspiratorial Marxist.” Meanwhile, the intelligence community under James Clapper and John Brennan fed morsels to both the Obama DOJ and the U.S. media to suggest a Trump/Russia conspiracy and fuel what became the Russiagate investigation.
In his extraordinary election-advocating op-ed, Hayden, Bush/Cheney’s CIA chief, candidly explained the reasons for the CIA’s antipathy for Trump: namely, the GOP candidate’s stated opposition to allowing CIA regime change efforts in Syria to expand as well as his opposition to arming Ukrainians with lethal weapons to fight Russia (supposedly “pro-Putin” positions which, we are now all supposed to forget, Obama largely shared).
As has been true since President Harry Truman’s creation of the CIA after World War II, interfering in other countries and dictating or changing their governments — through campaigns of mass murder, military coups, arming guerrilla groups, the abolition of democracy, systemic disinformation, and the imposition of savage despots — is regarded as a divine right, inherent to American exceptionalism. Anyone who questions that or, worse, opposes it and seeks to impede it (as the CIA perceived Trump was) is of suspect loyalties at best. ...
The all-consuming Russiagate narrative that dominated the first three years of Trump’s presidency further served to elevate the CIA as a noble and admirable institution while whitewashing its grotesque history. Liberal conventional wisdom held that Russian Facebook ads, Twitter bots and the hacking and release of authentic, incriminating DNC emails was some sort of unprecedented, off-the-charts, out-of-the-ordinary crime-of-the-century attack, with several leading Democrats (including Hillary Clinton) actually comparing it to 9/11 and Pearl Harbor.
The level of historical ignorance and/or jingostic American exceptionalism necessary to believe this is impossible to describe. ... This propaganda was sustainable because the recent history and the current function of the CIA has largely been suppressed. Thankfully, a just-released book by journalist Vincent Bevins — who spent years as a foreign correspondent covering two countries still marred by brutal CIA interference: Brazil for the Los Angeles Times and Indonesia for the Washington Post — provides one of the best, most informative and most illuminating histories yet of this agency and the way it has shaped the actual, rather than the propagandistic, U.S. role in the world. ... I speak to Bevins about his book, about what the CIA really is and how it has shaped the world we still inhabit, and why a genuine understanding of both international and domestic politics is impossible without a clear grasp on this story.
Mike Flynn might get to walk away scot-free after all.
In a surprise move Thursday evening, an appeals court ordered the judge in Flynn’s criminal case to explain his refusal to drop the prosecution against President Trump’s former national security adviser. Flynn had twice pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the Russia investigation, but Attorney General Bill Barr’s Department of Justice decided to drop the case.
The highly unusual order signals that a recent Hail Mary appeal filed by Flynn’s legal team actually has a fighting chance, legal observers told VICE News. Before, a lot of folks thought Flynn’s attempt to go over Judge Emmet Sullivan’s head, known in fancy legal-speak as a “writ of mandamus,” would mostly succeed in making Sullivan very, very angry. “This order suggests that the court is taking seriously Flynn’s request for a writ of mandamus, and his argument that Judge Sullivan may not deny the government’s motion to dismiss,” said Barbara McQuade, a former U.S. Attorney in Detroit.
Now, it’s Judge Sullivan who must explain himself. Sullivan, who has previously wondered aloud whether Flynn might have committed “treason,” has to justify himself to the higher court within the next 10 days. ...
Flynn’s legal drama now looks set to play out over the summer in spectacular fashion no matter which way it goes, in the middle of Trump’s campaign for reelection.
FBI Director Christopher Wray, who was criticized earlier this month by President Donald Trump following a review of former national security adviser Michael Flynn's case, on Friday announced he has ordered an internal review of the investigation.
Wray, in a statement, said he ordered the Bureau's Inspection Division to conduct an after-action review of the Flynn investigation to "evaluate the relevant facts related to the FBI's role in the Flynn investigation and determine whether any current employees engaged in misconduct" and to "evaluate any FBI policies, procedures, or controls implicated by the Flynn investigation and identify any improvements that might be warranted."
The Trump administration has discussed whether to conduct the first U.S. nuclear test explosion since 1992 in a move that would have far-reaching consequences for relations with other nuclear powers and reverse a decades-long moratorium on such actions, said a senior administration official and two former officials familiar with the deliberations.
The matter came up at a meeting of senior officials representing the top national security agencies May 15, following accusations from administration officials that Russia and China are conducting low-yield nuclear tests — an assertion that has not been substantiated by publicly available evidence and that both countries have denied.
A senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the sensitive nuclear discussions, said that demonstrating to Moscow and Beijing that the United States could “rapid test” could prove useful from a negotiating standpoint as Washington seeks a trilateral deal to regulate the arsenals of the biggest nuclear powers.
The meeting did not conclude with any agreement to conduct a test, but a senior administration official said the proposal is “very much an ongoing conversation.” ...
One U.S. official said a nuclear test could help pressure the Chinese into joining a trilateral agreement with the United States and Russia, but some nonproliferation advocates say such a move is risky.
The Trump administration signaled this week that it was ready to get back in the business of nuclear arms control. A newly appointed envoy, Marshall Billingslea, made his first public remarks to announce talks with Russia are about to resume. “We have concrete ideas for our next interaction, and we’re finalizing the details as we speak,” Billingslea said.
The fact that this relaunch came on the same day that the US was pulling out of the Open Skies Treaty (OST) – the third withdrawal from an arms control agreement under the Trump presidency – underlined the contradictions at the heart of the administration’s approach towards nuclear weapons.
According to those who have worked for him on the issue, Trump is preoccupied with the existential threat of nuclear war, and resolved that he alone can conjure a grand arms control bargain that would save the planet – and win him the Nobel prize. But at the same time, he is clearly thrilled by the destructive power that the US arsenal gives him, boasting about the size of his nuclear button, and a mystery “super duper” missile he this week claimed the US had up its sleeve.
Administration officials have been left to try to confect a coherent-sounding policy out of such contradictory impulses – so far without success.
The world’s worst Putin puppet is escalating tensions with Russia even further, with the Trump administration looking at withdrawal from more nuclear treaties in the near future.
In addition to planning on withdrawing from the Open Skies Treaty and knocking back Moscow’s attempts to renew the soon-to-expire New START Treaty, Trump is also contemplating breaking the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban treaty by conducting the first US nuclear test explosion since 1992, reportedly as an attempt to bring China to the table for joining New START.
Moon of Alabama has already published a solid breakdown of all this, outlining the absence of evidence for the Trump administration’s justifications of its treaty withdrawals and explaining why China has nothing whatsoever to gain by signing on to a trilateral New START Treaty. I have nothing to add to this, other than to ask a simple question.
— Moon of Alabama (@MoonofA) May 23, 2020
The question I want to ask is, do you consent to this?
Do you consent to steadily mounting cold war escalations against not one but two nuclear-armed nations?
Do you consent to having a bunch of unseen military personnel rolling the dice every day on the gamble that we won’t wipe ourselves off the face of this earth in the confusion and chaos of rising hostilities due to miscommunication or technical malfunction, as nearly happened many times during the last cold war?
Do you consent to a slow-motion third world war where an oligarch-led alliance of powerful nations works tirelessly to absorb new nations into its imperial blob by any means necessary?
Do you consent to a world where weapons of armageddon are brandished about by imbeciles with inadequacy issues?
Do you consent to a world ruled by people who are so sociopathic that they are willing to inflict endless mass military slaughter and risk a nuclear holocaust just to have more control over the world population?
Do you consent to a world where we risk literally everything because a few overeducated, under-mothered think tankers were able to market an idea called “unipolarity” at key points of interest after the fall of the Soviet Union?
Do you consent to a world where powerful governments team up like a bunch of bitchy mean girls against weaker nations that aren’t in their clique?
Do you consent to governments spending lives, resources and treasure on bloodbaths around the globe and treating terrestrial life itself like some trivial plaything instead of ensuring the thriving of their own populations?
Does this seem like health to you?
Does this seem like sanity to you?
Is any of this something you want? Something you consent to?
Of course not. These questions are all redundant. Nobody with a healthy mind and a clear picture of what’s going on would consent to this madness, no matter what nation they live in.
This whole insane model was rolled out without your consent. You were never asked if you consented, because the answer would have been no.
Nobody gives their conscious and informed consent to this. The new cold war is as consensual as sex after a Rohypnol-spiked drink, and the illusion of consent is just as nefariously and artificially manufactured. People are roofied into sedation by mass media propaganda and endless diversion from reality, and then power has its way with us.
Defiantly railing against attempts to “overthrow” him before donning a face mask to enter court, Benjamin Netanyahu sat for the first day of his high-profile corruption trial, which threatens to put Israel’s longest-serving leader behind bars and open deep divisions within the country.
Speaking in the corridors of the courthouse ahead of the hearing, Netanyahu decried police and prosecutors he accused of attempting to topple him. “When there is a strong rightwing leader like me, everything is permitted to bring him down,” he said, flanked by loyal ministers. “This is an attempt to overthrow us.”
At the start of the hour-long proceedings, one of the judges – also in face masks and behind clear plastic screens – asked Netanyahu if he had read and understood the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. He responded: “Yes, your Honour.”
His lawyer argued for the court to grant a three-month delay to deal with the huge caseload of evidence. The case, with hundreds of witnesses, could last months if not years.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Saturday warned the United States not to interfere with a shipment of oil bound for Venezuela after the South American nation said it would provide an armed escort for the tankers.
In a statement posted on his website, Rouhani said the United States had created “unacceptable conditions” in different parts of the world, but that Iran would “by no means” be the one to initiate conflict.
“If our tankers in the Caribbean or anywhere in the world face any problems caused by the Americans, they will face problems as well,“ he said. “We hope the Americans will not make a mistake.”
A flotilla of five tankers carrying Iranian fuel for gasoline-starved Venezuela is approaching the Caribbean, with the first vessel, Iranian-flagged tanker Fortune, expected to reach Venezeula's waters on Sunday. The Fortune has been navigating with its satellite signal on since it passed the Suez Canal earlier in May. The four other vessels are following the same route across the Atlantic Ocean.
Venezuela said Wednesday that planes and ships from the nation’s armed forces will escort the tankers in case of any U.S. aggression.
A force of U.S. vessels, including Navy destroyers and other combat ships, patrol the Caribbean on what U.S. officials call a drug interdiction mission. Venezuelan officials paint them as a threat, but U.S. officials have not announced any plans to intercept the Iranian tankers.
The House will consider an amendment that would block law enforcement from being able to access web browsing data without a warrant when voting on legislation reauthorizing surveillance programs next week.
The amendment will be brought by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) and Warren Davidson (R-Ohio), whose office confirmed Friday evening that a deal was struck with leadership to have the amendment considered. Politico first reported on the deal. ...
The amendment will closely mirror the one brought by Sens. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) during debate in the Senate on reauthorizing the USA Freedom Act.
That effort fell just one vote short of the 60 vote threshold needed to pass. Several senators who were expected to vote in favor, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), were not present for the session.
The version of the Senate bill without the Daines-Wyden amendment was approved 80-16 last week, sending it back to the House. Pressure on the House to resurrect the failed amendment has been high, with major internet companies and privacy associations sending a letter to House leadership earlier Friday urging for it to be supported.
The prospects of a trade war between China and the western economies ratcheted up on Sunday as Beijing accused the US of pushing relations towards a “new cold war”.
“China has no intention to change, still less replace the United States,” China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said on Sunday in the latest escalation in tensions between the world’s two largest economies. “It’s time for the United States to give up its wishful thinking of changing China and stopping 1.4 billion people in their historic march toward modernisation.”
He said US political attacks on China over the coronavirus and global trade matters “are taking China-US relations hostage and pushing our two countries to the brink of a new cold war”.
The virology lab in Wuhan, the city at the heart of the outbreak, was working on three live strains of bat coronavirus, but none of them match the one that has caused the Covid-19 pandemic, its director has said.
Wang Yanyi, the director of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, told Chinese state broadcaster CGTN that the closest genetic match to the virus spreading around the world was only 79.8%, adding that claims made by US president Donald Trump and others that the virus could have leaked from the facility were “pure fabrication”.
She said: “Our institute first received the clinical sample of the unknown pneumonia on December 30 last year … We didn’t have any knowledge before that, nor had we ever encountered, researched or kept the virus. In fact, like everyone else, we didn’t even know the virus existed. How could it have leaked from our lab when we never had it?”
Trump and US secretary of state Mike Pompeo previously claimed to have a “significant amount of evidence” proving the virus came from a lab but Pompeo later backed away from that claim. He said earlier this month in an interview with Breitbart: “We know it began in Wuhan, but we don’t know from where or from whom, and those are important things.”
The interview with Wang comes as China has begun to hit back against accusations it is to blame for the pandemic.
As the US approaches the grim milestone of 100,000 coronavirus deaths, the New York Times has filled the entire front page of Sunday’s paper with the death notices of victims from across the country.
In a decision the paper said was intended to convey the vastness and variety of the tragedy, the front page is a simple list of names and personal details taken from obituaries around the US.
The headline is “US deaths near 100,000, an incalculable loss”, with a sub-heading that reads: “They were not simply names on a list. They were us.”
The entire list, which continues inside, numbers nearly 1,000 names – a fraction of the total loss of life in the US during the outbreak so far.
President Donald J. Trump, who has faced mounting criticism for his administration’s mishandling of the coronavirus crisis and his lack of empathy throughout, decided to leave the White House on Saturday to play golf.
Trump visited his Trump National Golf Club located just outside Washington, D.C., in Sterling, Virginia.
By CNN’s count, this was the president's 357th visit to one of his properties and his 265th trip to one of his golf clubs during his presidency.
Coronavirus has taken a heavy toll on Chicago, with nearly 65,000 confirmed infections in Cook county and about 3,000 deaths. But the virus has hit black Chicagoans the hardest, shining a spotlight on racial inequalities that existed long before the pandemic.
Though black residents make up 30% of the city’s population, they account for 60% of its Covid-19 fatalities. They also have the highest rate of infection statewide, making up a quarter of Illinois’ total confirmed coronavirus cases despite representing just 15% of its population. And, according to a new study from the Chicago Urban League, systemic racism is at the root of the overrepresentation. ...
Black Chicagoans, the study found, are both more likely than their white counterparts to be infected by the disease and more likely to die from it, thanks to a variety of factors including overrepresentation in service industries where social distancing is difficult or impossible; housing conditions in some predominantly black communities; and higher incarceration rates.
The city’s Covid-19 deaths, the study notes, have been concentrated in segregated, mostly black neighborhoods with high poverty rates. Racial discrimination in the healthcare system, environmental factors in predominantly black neighborhoods, and higher-than-average prevalence of preexisting conditions have also factored into the higher morbidity rates, according to the study.
Organizers with the movement to universally forgive rent during the coronavirus pandemic rallied outside Blackstone Group and Kushner Companies buildings Friday, as part of a campaign to target some of the country’s most prominent real estate investors.
Members of the “cancel rent” movement — which helped orchestrate a wave of rent strikes across the U.S. this month — laid out “body bags” in front of a 53-story, luxury Kushner investment property in Jersey City, New Jersey, on Friday morning. They also held signs that called on the company to stop filing eviction lawsuits against its tenants in New Jersey and Maryland.
“We have worked closely with our residents affected by the COVID-19 pandemic to help in any way we can and, as with all owners in New Jersey,” Peter Febo, chief operation officer at Kushner companies, said in a statement. “Any type of legal action during these unprecedented times is a last resort only utilized in particular circumstances.”
Did you know that @jaredkushner ‘s family real estate Corp has started eviction proceedings in Edison, NJ during the pandemic? even though there’s a moratorium on evictions.
— Make the Road New Jersey (@MaketheRoadNJ) May 22, 2020
At Blackstone’s headquarters in New York City, activists held banners saying “cancel the rent,” similar to the ones they had draped across the city’s bridges and buildings earlier Friday. Protesters also staged a “die-in” by laying on the pavement outside the company’s office, to represent the tenants they said would perish from evictions or debt. A United Nations advisor claimed last year the private equity firm was contributing to a global affordable housing crisis, which the company disputed.
As the coronavirus pandemic devastates the economy and tax revenues drop massively across the U.S., cities have begun to prepare for the hard times ahead by proposing slashed budgets and reduced public services at a time when so many of their residents need them more than ever. But the austerity measures won’t be doled out equally across services. In New York City, where officials are projecting a $7.4 billion drop in tax revenue, the proposed budget for next year is $3.4 billion less than last year, with education and youth services facing some of the deepest cuts — and only very modest cuts slated for the police department. In Los Angeles, the police department is the lone city agency that is not facing serious cuts; it is also slated to receive additional funds for police overtime, even as other city workers are furloughed.
Public-interest advocates have long battled to save funds for public services during yearly budget negotiations, but the current health and economic crisis is making the debate over how cities should spend their reduced funds uniquely urgent and fraught. And with crime at historic lows, a growing number of people — including for the first time, some city council members — are now explicitly demanding that cities save money for much needed services by cutting police budgets. ...
Public budgets have always been a reflection of the priorities of those in power, and in the United States that priority for decades has been what leaders have called “public safety,” which in reality has translated into mass criminalization. The U.S. spends some $100 billion annually on policing — most of it coming from local budgets — and an additional $80 billion on incarceration, according to a detailed 2017 report by the Center for Popular Democracy. In cities across the country, policing alone can take up anything between a third and 60 percent of the entire annual budget. ...
Investing in police at the cost of public goods like health infrastructure, education, and social support has a disproportionate impact on poor and black and Latino communities in particular — the same communities that are also most impacted by over-policing and by Covid-19. ...
“Our kids are not untouchable, our seniors are not untouchable, health care during the pandemic is not untouchable, as you have seen cuts from the state, but the NYPD is untouchable,” echoed Jason Wu, a trustee for the Association of Legal Aid Attorneys who has strongly condemned the proposed budget in New York. “I think we are finally at a breaking point where people are having a more nuanced understanding of what the issues are, so it’s not just, do we care about public safety or don’t we care about public safety, but what does public safety even mean?”
Biden prepares to run left and govern to make sure that nothing fundamentally changes.
During the Democratic primary, Biden spoke of restoring normalcy after four years of Donald Trump, frequently appealing to voters’ nostalgia for the presidency of Barack Obama. But now, as he faces the general election amid the deepening economic turmoil, the presumptive Democratic nominee is reaching for the legacy of a radical American president: Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
“The blinders have been taken off,” Biden told supporters recently during a virtual fundraiser from his Delaware home, where he has been since March. “Because of this Covid crisis, I think people are realizing, ‘My Lord, look at what is possible. Look at the institutional changes we can make.’”
In recent weeks, Biden, who has climbed above Trump in national polls, has openly courted progressive leaders and ideas, adopting some of the populist rhetoric more commonly associated with his vanquished rivals, Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. In turn, they have offered their full-throated endorsements, casting Biden, a pragmatic dealmaker who still believes in bipartisan comity, as the perhaps unlikely herald of a new progressive era.
“A shift of frame matters – it’s not to be underestimated,” the California congressman Ro Khanna, who was a co-chair of Sanders’ presidential campaign, said of Biden’s bold messaging. “It’s a totally different vision for what he thinks the next four years should be about.” ...
Critics on the left have scoffed at the notion of Biden as an FDR-style visionary. After all, they say, Biden once told supporters that under his presidency “nothing would fundamentally change”. David Sirota, a former adviser to Sanders 2020 presidential campaign, dismissed Biden’s overtures to the left as performative politics – a “canned SNL skit” that progressives were being asked to accept as “something real”.
Oil Companies Can Set Their Own Rates for Royalties From Drilling on Public Lands Thanks to Trump: Report
In a display of loyalty to what Greenpeace called "the most polluting industry in history," the Trump administration is allowing dozens of oil and gas companies to set their own rates for royalties they're required to pay on revenue generated from drilling on public lands.
As High Country News reported Thursday, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) contacted its state offices the day after global oil prices plunged to below $0 per barrel as the Covid-19 pandemic caused an unprecedented drop in demand.
The federal agency, which oversees 96,000 oil and gas wells and more than 24,000 leases on public lands, ordered state officials to encourage more drilling despite an excess supply of oil which was forcing companies to pay for oil storage.
In addition to suspending lease payments, BLM told states to allow companies to apply for relief from royalties, the mandatory taxes on the revenue the fossil fuel industry earns, which are used to support public schools, higher education, and healthcare in Western states.
According to High Country News, BLM instructed state offices to allow oil and gas companies to decide how much they want to pay in royalties for the duration of the pandemic, suggesting that the standard rate of 12.5% be reduced to as low as 0.5%.
"Trump and his fossil fuel cronies continue to use the cover of a deadly pandemic to bail out the fossil fuel industry in every way possible. Public lands should be used for public good—instead they're being handed over to fossil fuel billionaires at rock-bottom rates," Collin Rees, senior campaigner at Oil Change International, told Common Dreams. "We need to phase out all drilling on public lands as quickly as possible, but in the meantime, fossil fuel companies must be held accountable for the damage they’re doing."
"Oil and gas corporations already pay pennies compared to what they make in profits from plundering public lands—land that belongs to the American people—and now they'll pay even less," said campaigner Charlie Jiang. "The Interior Department's priorities could not be more wrong. Nurses need masks. Essential workers need paid leave, hazard pay, and childcare. Employees need paychecks. People need help all over this country. But every day the Trump administration ignores their pleas and caters to billionaire donors instead."
Between April 30 and May 18, BLM offices approved 76 requests by companies for lower royalty rates, with some requesting 0.5% or 0.0%. The royalty relief is being offered as the federal government continues to hold lease sales and auctions across the West, offering drilling leases at bargain prices due to the market's downturn.
More than 15,000 dams in the US would likely kill people if they failed, and at least 2,300 of them are in poor or unsatisfactory condition, according to recent data from the federal government’s National Inventory of Dams.
The country’s neglected and deteriorating dam infrastructure is coming to light as heavy rains and two dam failures in Michigan have caused catastrophic flooding and forced thousands to evacuate their homes in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic. The problem will only become more serious as the climate crisis disrupts rain patterns, experts warn.
The average age of a US dam is 57 years, and many – like the Michigan dams – were built in the early 20th century, when states had not yet set safety standards. US dams received a “D” rating from the American Society of Civil Engineers in its most recent review in 2017.
About 70% of dams are regulated by states, and another 5% are regulated by the federal government. But many are not being forced to make needed repairs, said Mark Ogden, who co-authored the 2017 dam report and is a project manager at the Association of State Dam Safety Officials.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner - I'm Not Jiving
Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner - Texas zydeco
Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner - Hard Luck
Juke Boy Bonner - Runnin' Shoes
Juke Boy Bonner - Well Well
Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner - Daylight Won't Catch Me Here
Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner - Just Got to Take a Ride
Weldon "Juke Boy" Bonner- My Blues
Juke Boy Bonner - Let's boogie