The Evening Blues - 12-6-21
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues guitarist Earl Hooker. Enjoy!
Earl Hooker - Off The Hook
“There will come a time when it isn't 'They're spying on me through my phone' anymore. Eventually, it will be 'My phone is spying on me'.”
-- Philip K. Dick
News and Opinion
Multiple news outlets revealed Friday that Apple notified at least 11 U.S. State Department officials that their iPhones were recently hacked by an unknown party or parties with spyware developed by the private Israeli firm NSO Group.
The "bombshell," first reported by Reuters, comes after Apple sued NSO Group last month in an effort to protect iPhone users from its Pegasus spyware, which the Israeli company claims to only sell to government law enforcement and intelligence agencies and was the focus of a major reporting project earlier this year.
Citing multiple unnamed sources, The Washington Post and Reuters explained that State Department employees based in Uganda or elsewhere in East Africa were targeted over several months, and the intrusions "represent the widest known hacks of U.S. officials through NSO technology."
According to the Reuters:
A senior Biden administration official, speaking on condition he not be identified, said the threat to U.S. personnel abroad was one of the reasons the administration was cracking down on companies such as NSO and pursuing new global discussion about spying limits.
The official added that they have seen "systemic abuse" in multiple countries involving NSO's Pegasus spyware.
The National Security Council said in a statement reported by the Post that "we have been acutely concerned that commercial spyware like NSO Group's software poses a serious counterintelligence and security risk to U.S. personnel, which is one of the reasons why the Biden-Harris administration has placed several companies involved in the development and proliferation of these tools on the Department of Commerce's Entity List."
The US is hoping pressure from Russia, China and some Arab Gulf states may yet persuade Iran to moderate its negotiating stance in regards to the steps the Biden administration must take before both sides return to the 2015 nuclear deal. Talks in Vienna faltered badly last week, when the new hardline Iranian administration increased its levels of uranium enrichment and tabled proposals that US officials said at the weekend were “not serious”since they had gone back on all the progress made in the previous round of talks.
US officials at the weekend also confirmed they would press ahead with an emergency board meeting of the UN nuclear inspectorate, the IAEA, before the end of the year if Iran did not restore a level of access to its nuclear sites that satisfied the nuclear watchdog. In Tehran, officials insisted the two major texts on sanctions and Iran’s nuclear obligations that it tabled at the Vienna talks were fully in line with the nuclear deal, saying the real roadblock was the US refusal to lift sanctions.
US officials claimed Russia and China had been “taken aback by the degree to which Iran had walked back its own compromises” from previous rounds of talks, as well as becoming more resolute about the demands it made of the US and of others. The senior US official said: “I think they do share a sense of disappointment, to put it diplomatically, at what Iran has chosen to do with the last several months of preparation for the talks.” ...
The approach of the Russians and Chinese is critical since the new hardline Iranian regime has insisted it can afford to walk away from the talks with the west, effectively leaving its nuclear programme unconstrained, and fund its domestic welfare agenda by trading with the east. The threatened emergency IAEA board meeting in the next fortnight would be an early test of whether Iran is truly losing the protection of either Russia or China.
Ukraine could prove “the next Afghanistan” for Russia if it chooses to invade early next year as US and Ukrainian intelligence agencies fear, a senior member of the Senate foreign relations committee warned after news that Joe Biden will speak to Vladimir Putin on Tuesday.
Publishing an unclassified intelligence document, the Washington Post first reported US intelligence concerns that Moscow could launch an invasion with as many as 175,000 troops. ...
Moscow denies any invasion plan and accuses Ukraine of building up forces in its east, where Russian-backed separatists control territory. Russia does not want Ukraine to join Nato. ...
Biden and Putin have had one face-to-face meeting, in Geneva in June. They last talked by phone on 9 July. Diplomats indicated earlier this week that Biden and Putin would talk again. A White House statement released on Saturday said they would “hold a secure video call”.
“The leaders will discuss a range of topics in the US-Russia relationship, including strategic stability, cyber, and regional issues,” the statement said. “President Biden will underscore US concerns with Russian military activities on the border with Ukraine and reaffirm the United States’ support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine.” ...
Biden has rejected Russian demands for security guarantees in the region. “My expectation is we’re going to have a long discussion with Putin,” he told reporters on Friday. “I don’t accept anybody’s red lines.”
Twice in the last two weeks, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has made public comments that threaten to worsen already strained relations between Russia and the alliance. Instead of calming things down, Stoltenberg has been carelessly ratcheting up tensions over nuclear weapons in Europe and the conflict in Ukraine. At exactly the moment when the U.S. and NATO need to be working to deescalate the situation with Russia over Ukraine, the top official in NATO has been throwing kerosene on the flames.
While he was urging the new German coalition government to continue hosting U.S. tactical nuclear weapons, Stoltenberg made the dangerous suggestion that the weapons could end up with NATO members to the east of Germany: “So, of course, Germany can, of course, decide whether there will be nuclear weapons in your country, but the alternative is that we easily end up with nuclear weapons in other countries in Europe, also to the east of Germany.” Raising the possibility of moving these weapons closer to Russia was bound to elicit a sharply negative reaction, and that is what happened.
Stoltenberg’s remarks prompted immediate outrage in Moscow, and it led the Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko to announce this week that Belarus would welcome Russian nuclear weapons to its territory in response to any NATO redeployment to the east. Stoltenberg’s warning may have been intended for Berlin, but it had its greatest and most destabilizing impact in Moscow and Minsk. At a time when the Russian government already perceives a growing threat coming from the West, talking about moving nuclear weapons into eastern Europe was a serious mistake. ...
Stoltenberg also repeated the standard NATO line that Russia has no part in decisions about alliance expansion: “Russia has no veto, Russia has no say, and Russia has no right to establish a sphere of influence trying to control their neighbors.” Since Russia has already demonstrated its ability to thwart at least one aspirant state’s ambitions to join the alliance, the Secretary-General’s platitudes seemed almost as if he were trying to dare Moscow into taking more aggressive action. The U.S. and NATO may not like it, and it may not be the way that we want things to be, but the fact is that Russia absolutely does have a veto in practice over which of its neighbors become members of an anti-Russian military alliance. We already know that the Russian government will exercise that veto. The Secretary-General’s saying that Russia has no say is practically an invitation to Putin to prove him wrong.
Whether NATO officials agree with the assessment or not, the Russian government views NATO as the principal military threat to their country. Given the Russian experience of suffering devastating attacks from the west several times over the last two hundred years, their leaders have naturally been wary of the eastward expansion of the alliance, and they have made it very clear that they consider further advances to be intolerable. NATO’s “open door” to Ukraine and Georgia may seem like so much boilerplate rhetoric to Western officials, but it needlessly antagonizes Russia while offering these countries false hope of alliance membership that will likely never materialize. Stoltenberg’s latest remarks will likely have the same effect of angering Russia while giving the Ukrainian government the mistaken impression that their future entry into the alliance is guaranteed. One could hardly ask for a message more likely to promote misunderstanding and miscalculation.
The US has led a group of western nations and allies in condemnation of the Taliban over the “summary killings” of former members of the Afghan security forces reported by rights groups, demanding quick investigations.
“We are deeply concerned by reports of summary killings and enforced disappearances of former members of the Afghan security forces as documented by Human Rights Watch and others,” read a statement by the US, EU, Australia, Britain, Japan and others, which was released by the state department on Saturday. ...
Earlier this week Human Rights Watch released a report that it says documents the summary execution or enforced disappearance of 47 former members of the Afghan national security forces, other military personnel, police and intelligence agents who had either surrendered to or been apprehended by the Taliban from mid-August through October.
Calling the victory of Honduran President-elect Xiomara Castro "an opportunity for a new chapter in U.S.-Honduras relations," Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal on Friday congratulated the first woman and socialist to be elected leader of the Central American nation long plagued by American subversion of democracy.
Castro, a political activist and the wife of former Honduran President Manuel "Mel" Zelaya, won last week's presidential election by more than 15 points over right-wing Tegucigalpa Mayor Nasry Asfura.
Jayapal (D-Wash.) said in a statement that she hopes this new phase of bilateral relations is "one based on mutual respect, support for democracy, and equitable development."
"We encourage the Biden administration to use this opportunity to make a clean break with previous presidential administrations, which worked to ensure that the 2009 coup d'état succeeded, legitimized the deeply flawed elections in 2009, 2013, and 2017, and pushed policies that have resulted in surges in Honduran insecurity, poverty, mass migration, and organized crime," the congresswoman added.
Democratically elected in 2005, Zelaya challenged Honduras' status as a U.S. client state while spurning the neoliberal economic policies of his oligarchic predecessors. In just three years in office, he implemented policies including an 80% minimum wage hike, universal free education, free school lunches for 1.6 million children, free electricity for low-income households, and land reforms including government subsidies for poor farmers.
Zelaya's progressive reforms earned him powerful enemies among the Honduras oligarchy—in which a handful of families control 90% of the nation's wealth—and in U.S. business and political circles. In 2009 he was ousted in a military coup led by Gen. Romeo Orlando Vásquez Velásquez, a two-time graduate of the U.S. Army School of the Americas, also known as the "school of assassins" due to the plenitude of dictators and human rights criminals among its alumni.
"Immediately following Zelaya's unconstitutional ouster, members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus mobilized to denounce the overthrow as a military coup and call for the reinstatement of the elected president," said Jayapal.
However, despite initially condemning the coup and despite a demand by the United Nations General Assembly for the "immediate and unconditional restoration" of Zelaya's rule, the administration of then-U.S. President Barack Obama recognized the illegitimate presidency of Porfirio Lobo, the Honduran oligarchs' hand-picked candidate in an election marred by government violence and widely viewed as fraudulent.
As Hondurans took to the streets to protest against the coup regime, state security and paramilitary forces responded by killing hundreds of actual and perceived opponents while then-U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton worked behind the scenes to ensure Zelaya did not return to power. Before she was assassinated in March 2016, Indigenous land defender Berta Cáceres blamed Clinton for helping to legitimize the coup regime.
Jayapal said that since the coup, "Progressive Caucus leaders have organized and protested against the brutal repression, autocratic governance, violations of human rights, and murders of labor organizers, human rights activists, environmental defenders, journalists, and Afro-Indigenous leaders under Honduras' post-coup regimes."
"The Progressive Caucus has also been at the forefront of demanding a change in U.S. policy," she added, "including an end to U.S. weapons and training for Honduras' repressive security forces until real efforts have been made to end impunity and restore the rule of law."
Worth a click and a full read. Here's a snippet to start you off:
From its earliest years the United States has found ways to deny the rights of a free press when it was politically expedient to do so. One of the latest ways was to arrest WikiLeaks publisher Julian Assange two years ago today and to indict him — the first time a publisher and journalist has ever been charged under the 1917 Espionage Act for possessing and publishing state secrets.
Though several U.S. administrations had come close to punishing journalists for revealing defense information, they all pulled back, until Assange. They were restrained because of a conflict with the First Amendment, which prohibits Congress from passing any law, including the Espionage Act, that abridges press freedom. Until that legal conflict is resolved in court, resulting in parts of the Espionage Act being found unconstitutional, the language of the Act threatening press freedom remains. Bolstered by 1950 amendments to the Act, the Donald Trump administration crossed a redline to arrest a journalist. A 1961 amendment made it possible to indict a non-U.S. citizen, acting outside U.S. territory.
The Trump administration’s first indictment of a publisher opened an alarming precedent for the future of journalism. President Joe Biden’s Department of Justice has not reversed Trump’s move to continue to seek Assange’s extradition from Britain though it could have. Instead it decided on Feb. 13 to pursue the appeal of Judge Vanessa Baraitser’s decision not to extradite Assange to the U.S. on health grounds. If the U.S. should win on appeal, Assange will be brought to the Eastern District of Virginia to face 17 Espionage Act counts, amounting to 175 years in prison, as Baraitser challenged none of those counts in her judgement.
Threats to press freedom are an integral part of U.S. history. Assange’s arrest and indictment comes within a long line of government repression of a free press, first by the British against American colonists, and then by the U.S. government, which based the Espionage Act on the British Official Secrets Act.
The far-right French presidential candidate Éric Zemmour appeared to be put in a headlock by a protester at his first campaign, a few days after he formally declared his candidacy in a video highlighting his anti-migrant and anti-Islam views. Videos online appeared to show Zemmour being grabbed by a man at the heated rally near Paris on Sunday, during which anti-racism activists were also reportedly attacked. He was later reported to have suffered light injuries.
The former TV pundit announced on Tuesday that he would run in next April’s election, joining the field of challengers seeking to unseat centrist President Emmanuel Macron. He held his first event at an exhibition centre in a suburb of Paris where thousands cheered every mention of reducing immigration and booed every reference to Macron loudly. ...
Fighting broke out and chairs were thrown at activists when they stood up with “No to Racism” written on their T-shirts, with at least two of them seen bleeding as they were ejected from the auditorium. A crew from the popular but critical Quotidien nightly TV news show were also booed and removed by security, with hostility to the media a feature of the speeches at the event.
The rally was seen as a chance for Zemmour to regain momentum after opinion polls showed support for him falling over the last month as he attempted to maintain suspense about his intentions. Polls show that voters currently believe Marine Le Pen, the veteran leader of the far-right National Rally party, would make a more competent president than Zemmour.
Equality, a well-funded education system and a strong welfare state are the secret to the success of the world’s happiest nation, according to Finland’s prime minister.
In a rare interview with foreign media, Sanna Marin – who briefly became the youngest world leader when she became prime minister of the Nordic nation in 2019 at the age of 34 – said Finland was committed to preserving its generous welfare state in an “environmentally sustainable way”, and saw the development and export of green technology as the key to its future prosperity.
Marin said the country “wanted to do better when it comes to equality”, after being named the happiest country in the world in April by the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, which asks people to rate their contentment on a 10-point scale.
Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday called it unacceptable to sit back and watch the U.S. Supreme Court possibly end the right of women to access abortion care and said his colleagues in the Senate should act urgently to end the filibuster and codify into federal law the protections afforded by Roe v. Wade—the historic ruling now under the most severe threat since it was first decided in 1973.
In an email to supporters, the Independent from Vermont and former presidential candidate said a final decision by the court to uphold a Mississippi law that would ban nearly all abortions at just 15 weeks of pregnancy would "mean governments in many states would have the ability to make it virtually impossible for women to access an abortion."
"The truth is, despite overwhelming opposition from the American people," Sanders continued, "there is a very strong chance that this conservative Supreme Court will vote to overturn Roe v. Wade."
Such an outcome is "not acceptable," he said. "We cannot sit back and allow this Supreme Court to put in jeopardy the privacy rights of all Americans and a woman's right to control her own body." ...
"So Congress must act," he said. "We must pass legislation that codifies Roe v. Wade as the law of the land in this country. And if there aren't 60 votes to do it, and there are not, we must reform the filibuster to pass it with 50 votes."
Looks like those “hysterical” women were right after all. For the past few years anyone worried that civil rights in America would be gutted by a right-leaning supreme court has been dismissed as a fearmonger. The supreme court was above partisan politics, we were told. Upstanding “carpool dad” Brett Kavanaugh had no interest in reversing Roe v Wade, we were told. The fact that People of Praise, the Christian community where Amy Coney Barrett previously served as a “handmaid” (their term for a female leader) was virulently anti-abortion and would expel members for gay sex wouldn’t affect her decisions on the supreme court, we were told.
We were told, as was always obvious, a pack of lies. On Wednesday, the US supreme court considered the most important abortion case in a generation. Its final ruling, due in June 2022, could overturn Roe v Wade and put an end to the constitutional right to an abortion in the US. If that happens, and it seems an increasing possibility that it will, more than 65 million US women would immediately lose access to an abortion in their home state, thanks to “trigger laws” 20 states have in place. But don’t worry, Justice Barrett has said, forcing women to give birth isn’t barbaric at all: if you don’t want to be a mother you can just put the kid up for adoption! Easy peasy. ...
What’s happening in the US isn’t happening in a vacuum: it’s part of a global assault on women’s rights. Earlier this year, former US vice-president Mike Pence told a summit on demographics in Budapest that “plummeting birth rates” represent “a crisis that strikes at the very heart of civilization”. “It is our hope and our prayer that in the coming days, a new conservative majority on the supreme court of the United States will take action to restore the sanctity of life at the center of American law,” Pence said. The right has been planning for this moment for a very long time. They are coming for your “non-productive wombs” and they’re not going to stop there.
The Tennessee court of criminal appeals ruled on Friday that Tim Gilbert deserves a new trial on charges stemming from a December 2018 altercation, the Tennessean reported. ...
The appeals court ruling said allowing the jury to decide whether Gilbert was innocent or guilty in a room at the Giles county courthouse maintained by the United Daughters of the Confederacy “exposed the jury to extraneous prejudicial information and violated his constitutional rights to a fair trial conducted by an impartial jury”.
The trial court also made a mistake by allowing a challenged witness statement, an error that “cannot be classified as harmless”, the appeals court said.
US District Court issues wrist slap fine for serious environmental pollution at BP refinery in northwest Indiana
The UK-based oil giant BP has been ordered to pay the US federal government $500,000 in fines for emitting illegal amounts of soot particles into the air from its Whiting, Indiana oil refinery, according to a legal settlement filed last Thursday in the US District Court of Hammond, Indiana.
The Chicago Tribune reported that BP’s own testing revealed that catalytic crackers, which help turn crude oil into gasoline, were emitting “concentrations of particulate matter,” more commonly known as soot, in excess of legal limits between 2016 and 2018. The recent lawsuit found that BP was in violation of the terms of an agreement from a 2012 lawsuit brought by the US Department of Justice and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), including BP’s failure to “properly operate pollution-control equipment” during that period when BP was required to install the equipment as a result of the 2012 settlement.
The 2012 lawsuit alleged “violations of the Clean Air Act at the Whiting refinery in connection with the construction and expansion of the refinery, as well as violations of a 2001 consent decree with the company that covered all of BP’s refineries and was entered into as part of EPA’s Petroleum Refinery Initiative.” ...
In April of this year, a separate court ruling issued by Judge Philip P. Simon of the U.S. District Court in Northern Indiana found that BP “repeatedly violated legal limits on deadly soot-like particulate air pollution.” The Sierra Club and Environmental Integrity Project had sued the corporation in 2019 because the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) did not act against BP to enforce the terms it agreed to in the 2012 lawsuit, according to an April 14 post on the Sierra Club’s website. ...
The $500,000 in fines demanded in the most recent lawsuit against BP are even less than a slap on the wrist for the massive oil corporation. BP beat third-quarter earnings predictions in posting $3.3 billion in underlying replacement profit for the third quarter of this year, a proxy for net profit, according to CNBC.
President Joe Biden has touted his administration’s Build Back Better Act as “the largest effort to combat climate change in American history.” While not untrue, the devil is in the details. And the devil buried in the climate section of the reconciliation bill text? A sizable gift to the natural gas industry in the form of rebates for Americans switching to appliances powered by burning natural gas. Tucked into the section calling for residential efficiency and electrification rebates is a subtle six-year policy to make $5.9 billion available to establish the Home Owner Managing Energy Savings (HOMES) rebate program. The policy, which aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase household energy and cost savings, would help states establish rebate programs for energy-efficient retrofits.
According to the White House, “The consumer rebates and credits included in the Build Back Better framework will save the average American family hundreds of dollars per year in energy costs." But when it comes to what types of appliances are eligible for the rebate program, the legislation notes the following: “In calculating total energy savings for single family or multifamily homes under this section, a program may include savings from the purchase of high-efficiency natural gas HVAC systems and water heaters certified under the Energy Star program.”
In other words, this rebate program would incentivize consumers to stay locked into natural gas systems to power their homes. And as Reuters reported last year, the natural gas industry’s rapidly increasing emissions, especially in the U.S., are likely making the sector the biggest barrier to tackling climate change. “Provisions like this are really contradictory to the United States’ efforts to combat climate change,” Jean Su, energy justice program director and senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, told The Daily Poster.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Earl Hooker - Going On Down The Line
Earl Hooker - Blues For Dancers
Earl Hooker - All Your Love
Earl Hooker - Sweet Angel
Earl Hooker - End Of The Blues
Earl Hooker & Big Voice Odom - The Sky Is Cryin' & Moanin' And Groanin'
Earl Hooker - Frog Hop
Earl Hooker - Reconsider Baby
Earl Hooker - Swear To Tell The Truth