The Evening Blues - 9-23-22
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues and jazz guitarist Dave Specter. Enjoy!
Dave Specter - Soul Serenade
"Once ignorance is weaponized, violence seems to be a tragic inevitability."
-- Henry Giroux
News and Opinion
Vladimir Putin has announced that referenda will be held in four regions of the eastern part of Ukraine whose populations will now vote on whether to join the Russian Federation, much like the Crimea referendum of 2014 which resulted in Russia’s annexation of that territory. Putin announced that 300,000 additional troops will be mobilized for the war to help facilitate this action, which is a major escalation in the conflict by any measure.
Putin also issued a stern nuclear warning that’s being hysterically spun by empire managers as a shocking and unprecedentedly bellicose threat, but if you read what he actually said it’s clear that he’s really reminding the west of the same principles of Mutually Assured Destruction that have been in place for generations, and isn’t expressing any position that western nuclear powers don’t also hold:
Nuclear blackmail was also launched. We are talking not only about the shelling of the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power plant, which is encouraged by the West, which threatens a nuclear catastrophe, but also about the statements of some high-ranking representatives of the leading NATO states about the possibility and admissibility of using weapons of mass destruction against Russia – nuclear weapons.
To those who allow themselves to make such statements about Russia, I would like to remind you that our country also has various means of destruction, and for some components more modern than those of the NATO countries. And if the territorial integrity of our country is threatened, we will certainly use all the means at our disposal to protect Russia and our people. It’s not a bluff.
The citizens of Russia can be sure that the territorial integrity of our Motherland, our independence and freedom will be ensured, I emphasize this again, with all the means at our disposal. And those who are trying to blackmail us with nuclear weapons should know that the wind can also turn in their direction.
So while this war is indeed insanely dangerous, it’s not because of any of the words coming out of Vladimir Putin’s mouth.
Westerners who are expressing shock and astonishment at Putin’s frank acknowledgement of what’s at stake in Russia’s increasingly direct confrontation with the US empire are really just admitting that they haven’t been paying attention. The risk of nuclear war is why sensible people have spent years calling for de-escalation and detente between the US and Russia while tensions have been steadily building since long before the invasion of Ukraine. Now there are western officials who say the world is actually at greater risk of nuclear war than it ever was during the last cold war.
A nuclear conflict could be sparked by either side making a calculated decision to use nuclear weapons (and you’re fooling yourself if you believe the US is any less trigger happy in that regard than Russia), but it can also be sparked by either side due to a mistake resulting from a technological malfunction, miscommunication, misunderstanding or miscalculation, as nearly happened many times during the last cold war. The more things escalate, the more likely both such possibilities become.
And, clearly, things are escalating.
And that’s just Russia; tensions are rapidly escalating between the US-centralized empire and China as well. In an article for Antiwar.com titled “There’s Little More Washington Can Do To Convince China To Invade Taiwan,” Andrew Corbley describes the frighteningly extensive provocations the US has been pouring into another massive geopolitical powderkeg just in the past few weeks.
“In the last 50 days, the executive and legislative branches in Washington have done more than in the last 50 years to convince China that America’s imperial policy is simply relentless, and must be met with force,” Corbley writes. “That’s not to say it’s by any means a given that the People’s Republic of China will invade its cross-straits neighbor of Taiwan, but that is to say that if strategic planners in Washington sat down and created a bulleted list of how to facilitate such an invasion, they would have probably gone through all the bullets by now.”
Corbley notes the incendiary visit to Taiwan by Nancy Pelosi (which has since been followed by a deluge of additional US officials), President Biden’s repeated and increasingly explicit commitment to plunge the US into direct hot war with China if there’s an attack on Taiwan, and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s insanely escalatory Taiwan Policy Act. When you look at the brazenness, ferocity and aggression of these provocations between two nations who logically should never go to war with each other, it really does look as though the empire is putting the pedal to the metal in acceleration toward global conflict.
On paper it looks completely irrational for the US empire to be ramping up aggressions against two powerful military and economic forces simultaneously, but it’s undeniable at this point that that is what’s happening. Clearly our rulers have some kind of strategy for how they’re going to see this through, though it remains to be seen whether that strategy is the desperate Hail Mary pass of a dying empire or a potentially highly effective plan using tools that aren’t currently visible to the public.
Either way, it looks like it’s probably a good time to relish human life on this planet while it’s here to be relished.
UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres steps up for Team West (and the Guardian churns out more propaganda):
The UN secretary general has issued a strongly worded rebuke to Russia for “totally unacceptable” nuclear threats and denounced its plans to annex parts of Ukraine as a “violation of the UN charter and of international law”. ...
“The idea of nuclear conflict, once unthinkable, has become a subject of debate. This in itself is totally unacceptable,” Guterres said.
“I’m also deeply concerned by reports of plans to organise so-called referenda in areas of Ukraine that are not currently under government control,” he said. “Any annexation of a state’s territory by another state resulting from a threat or use of force is a violation of the UN charter and of international law.” ...
Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, did not address Guterres’s comment, repeating Moscow’s discredited claims that Ukraine was being run by “neo-Nazis” and the war had been caused by mistreatment of Russian speakers in the Donbas. He said Russia had no confidence in the ICC. Lavrov was not in the chamber for the ministers who spoke before him, and left as soon as he had delivered his own address.
If viewed in a vacuum, the announcement of Russian President Vladimir Putin Wednesday, in a televised address to the Russian people, that he was ordering the partial mobilization of 300,000 military reservists to supplement some 200,000 Russian personnel currently engaged in combat operations on the soil of Ukraine would appear to be the antithesis of seeking an alternative to war. This announcement was made in parallel with one that authorized referendums to take place on the territory of Ukraine currently occupied by Russian forces regarding the question of joining these territories with the Russian Federation.
Seen in isolation, these actions would appear to represent a frontal assault on international law as defined by the United Nations Charter, which prohibits acts of aggression by one nation against another for the purpose of seizing territory by force of arms. This was the case made by U.S. President Joe Biden when speaking at the United Nations General Assembly hours after Putin’s announcement. ...
History, however, is a harsh mistress, where facts become inconvenient to perception. When viewed through the prism of historical fact, the narrative being promulgated by Biden becomes flipped. The reality is that since the collapse of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991, the U.S. and its European allies have been conspiring to subjugate Russia in an effort to ensure that the Russian people are never again able to mount a geopolitical challenge to an American hegemony defined by a “rules based international order” that had been foisted on the world in the aftermath of the Second World War. For decades, the Soviet Union had represented such a threat. With its demise, the U.S. and its allies were determined to never again allow the Russian people — the Russian nation — to manifest themselves in a similar manner.
When Putin spoke about the need for “necessary, urgent steps to protect the sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of Russia” from “the aggressive policies of some Western elites who try by any means necessary to maintain their supremacy,” he had this history in mind. The aim of the U.S. and its Western allies, Putin declared, was “to weaken, divide and ultimately destroy our country” by promulgating policies designed to cause “Russia itself to disintegrate into a multitude of regions and territories that are deadly enemies with one another.” According to Putin, the U.S.-led West “purposefully incited hatred of Russia, particularly in Ukraine, for which they destined the fate of an anti-Russian beachhead.” ...
For its part, Russia considers itself already to be in a war with the West. “We are really at war with…NATO and with the collective West,” Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said in a statement that followed Putin’s announcement regarding partial mobilization.
“We mean not only the weapons that are supplied in huge quantities. Naturally, we find ways to counter these weapons. We have in mind, of course, the Western systems that there exist: communication systems, information processing systems, reconnaissance systems, and satellite intelligence systems.”
Put in this context, the Russian partial mobilization isn’t designed to defeat the Ukrainian military, but to defeat the forces of NATO and the “collective West” that have been assembled in Ukraine. And if these NATO resources are configured in a way that is deemed by Russia as constituting a threat to the Russian homeland…
This is what the world has come to — a mad rush toward nuclear apocalypse predicated on the irrational expansion of NATO and hubris-laced Russophobic policies seemingly ignorant of the reality that the Ukraine conflict has now become a matter of existential importance to Russia. The U.S. and its allies in the “collective West” now have to decide if the continued pursuit of a decades-long policy of isolating and destroying Russia is a matter of existential importance to them, and if the continued support of a Ukrainian government that is little more than the modern-day manifestation of the hateful ideology of Stepan Bandera is worth the lives of their respective citizenry, and that of the rest of the world.
The Russian tanks and armored vehicles had barely begun to roll into Ukraine before the fossil fuel industry in the US had swung into action. A letter was swiftly dispatched to the White House, urging an immediate escalation in gas production and exports to Europe ahead of an anticipated energy crunch. The letter, dated 25 February, just one day after Vladimir Putin’s forces launched their assault on Ukraine, noted the “dangerous juncture” of the moment before segueing into a list of demands: more drilling on US public lands; the swift approval of proposed gas export terminals; and pressure on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an independent agency, to greenlight pending gas pipelines.
By the winter of 2022, there should be “virtual transatlantic gas pipelines” flowing from the US to Europe, the authors envisioned.
Six months on from the letter, Russia’s invasion has stalled and in places retreated, but the US gas industry has achieved almost all of its initial objectives. Within weeks, Joe Biden’s administration adopted the gas industry’s major demands as policy. They paved the way for new pipelines and export facilities, established a new taskforce to boost gas exports to Europe and approved $300m in funding to help build out gas infrastructure on the continent.
“I can’t even begin to tell you how much the momentum has changed for companies in the United States that have wanted to bring their projects forward and just haven’t been able to get long-term contracts,” said a jubilant Fred Hutchison, president of LNG Allies, the industry group that sent the letter, just three weeks after both the military and lobbying pushes started. The rhetoric of the Biden administration, which styled itself as deeply committed to tackling the climate crisis, had “changed substantially” within just a week, Hutchison noted. Biden’s creation of the gas export taskforce was a “direct response to the proposal put forward by LNG Allies”, the group boasted in March.
“The fact that just weeks after those demands were laid out, President Biden was turning industry wishes into policy is a damning indictment of a president who had promised to tackle the climate crisis,” said Zorka Milin, senior adviser at Global Witness, which shared a new report on the escalation in gas infrastructure with the Guardian. Milin said the US gas industry was “licking its lips” at the onset of the Ukraine war. “There is no doubt that Biden’s apparent capitulation to the gas industry has opened the door for these companies to continue to profit off the backs of those suffering in Ukraine, those living close to new gas infrastructure in the US and the millions affected by climate change globally,” she added.
One day after the U.S. Federal Reserve imposed yet another interest rate hike, a trio of progressive political economists on Thursday told members of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform that the best way to curb rising prices—without further punishing workers by deliberately plunging the nation into a recession—is to confront the corporate profiteering fueling inflation.
During his opening statement, Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), chair of the Subcommittee on Economic and Consumer Policy, said that "we cannot ignore the reality that American corporations today are reporting higher profit margins than ever, while increasing prices more than necessary to cover costs—all at the expense of the American consumer."
The hearing was titled "Power and Profiteering: How Certain Industries Hiked Prices, Fleeced Consumers, and Drove Inflation."
Mabud made three key points in her remarks to lawmakers.
First, "even as input costs come down, corporate executives are gleefully reporting how they plan on keeping prices high," she noted, citing Groundwork's exhaustive research on earnings calls, which reveals how "megacorporations are taking advantage of recent crises to make record profits for themselves and their shareholders." Big companies "are acutely aware of how their market power affords them the ability to keep prices high, even as the costs of expenses go down."
Second, price gouging is "hitting the poorest families the hardest because essentials like food and shelter—major drivers of higher costs right now—take up a bigger proportion of their household budgets," Mabud pointed out.
Finally, "the inflation crisis we're facing today is due to decades of deregulation and privatization—resulting in brittle supply chains that can't handle shifts in our economy without supply shortages and bottlenecks," she continued. "A ruthless pursuit of efficiency and short-term profits... left us vulnerable to profiteering and price increases."
"Giant corporations' control over our supply chains has supplanted the functioning, resilient system we could have built through robust public investment and free and fair competition," said Mabud. "Big corporations are getting away with pushing up prices to fatten their profit margins, and families are quite literally paying the price. It's time to rein them in."
Mabud's analysis was echoed by Mike Konczal, director of macroeconomic analysis at the Roosevelt Institute, whose written testimony summarizes his co-authored paper on the positive relationship between concentrated market power and inflation.
In short, Konczal and his colleague Niko Lusiani "found that markups and profits skyrocketed in 2021 to their highest recorded level since the 1950s" and that "firms in the U.S. increased their markups and profits in 2021 at the fastest annual pace since 1955."
When subcommittee member Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) asked Konczal to identify the biggest driver of inflation during the pandemic, he verified that it has been "corporate profits."
Porter also highlighted Konczal and Lusiani's research on the record-breaking surge in price markups in 2021, which underscores how corporations have increased costs for consumers to boost their profits.
"Since corporate profit margins have become so unusually high," said Konczal, "there is room for reversing them with little economic harm and huge societal benefit, including lower prices in the short term."
Like Mabud and Konczal, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, now a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, told lawmakers in writing and over video conference that "the inflation we are now experiencing is not due to wage gains; it is due to increases in corporate profits."
"And it's excessive profits, not wages, that need to be controlled," he added.
Stressing that the Fed's only inflation-fighting tool—interest rate hikes—cannot solve what he calls "profit-price inflation," Reich urged Congress and the Biden administration to address corporate profiteering directly through a windfall profits tax of the sort introduced months ago by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), stronger antitrust enforcement, and temporary price controls.
According to Reich: "The current inflation emerging from the pandemic is analogous to the inflation that occurred right after World War II, when economists argued for temporary price controls on important goods to buy time to overcome supply bottlenecks and prevent corporate profiteering. They should be considered now, for the same reasons."
An Indiana judge on Thursday blocked enforcement of the state’s abortion ban, putting the new law on hold as clinic operators argue it violates the state constitution.
The Owen county judge, Kelsey Hanlon, issued a preliminary injunction against the ban that took effect a week ago. The injunction was sought by clinic operators who argued the state constitution protects abortion access.
The judge wrote: “There is reasonable likelihood that this significant restriction of personal autonomy offends the liberty guarantees of the Indiana constitution.”
Hanlon also said the clinics would prevail in the lawsuit. The order prevents the state from enforcing the ban pending trial.
The state attorney general and Republican leaders did not immediately comment.
A US judge reviewing records seized from Donald Trump’s Florida home asked the former president’s lawyers on Thursday to provide any evidence casting doubt on the integrity of the documents. Trump has previously made unsubstantiated claims the documents were planted by FBI agents.
Senior federal judge Raymond Dearie, appointed by another judge to vet the documents to assess whether some should be withheld from investigators as privileged, also asked the justice department to certify by Monday a detailed property inventory of materials the FBI seized in the court-approved 8 August search of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach, Florida.
Dearie asked Trump’s lawyers to submit by 30 September a list of specific items in that inventory “that plaintiff asserts were not seized from the premises”. Dearie also asked them to submit any corrections to the government’s list by that date, including items they believe were seized at Mar-a-Lago but not listed in the inventory.
“This submission shall be [Trump’s] final opportunity to raise any factual dispute as to the completeness and accuracy of the detailed property inventory,” wrote Dearie, serving as an independent arbiter known as a special master.
The year was 1933 and, to a group of industrialists gathered in a New York City lunch club, it seemed like the lead industry was doomed. The women’s pages of newspapers were filled with stories about children being poisoned by the metal, which had been identified as dangerous as early as the mid-1800s. And cities around America had started banning the use of lead pipes for drinking water.
Lead companies were looking for a way to keep their revenues flowing, but, as the secretary of the Lead Industries Association would warn them in a later report, lead poisoning was “taking money out of your pockets every day”. So the Lead Industries Association, made up of all the major lead companies of the time, launched a two-pronged plan to revive the industry’s sales of lead pipe – a plan that is still threatening the health of millions of residents around the United States today, including in Chicago, where the industry’s tactics paid off spectacularly.
First, the association mounted an “intensive drive” to get cities to add requirements to their building codes saying that only lead pipes could be used to connect people’s homes to the water system. Secondly, it worked to convince plumbers to become lead advocates as well, urging them to keep cities dependent on complex lead work or risk losing their plumbing jobs to simple handymen.
The association hired two staff members to visit hundreds of city water departments and send out letters to thousands more – pushing the idea of making lead pipes mandatory in city codes. In addition, the association sent illustrated promotional materials to a list of 4,357 water departments and water companies in the US to encourage use of lead pipes. ... Around the same time, the association sponsored university research to mount competing studies to those showing lead had dire effects on children’s brains and developing bodies. The staffers also worked to recruit plumbers, giving classes in leadwork for apprentices and hosting an exhibit seen by 30,000 plumbers who attended the national convention of master plumbers in Chicago in 1935.
Within six years, according to historical documents reviewed by the Guardian, the industry boasted of having succeeded in getting lead pipes required in the codes of two states and 33 major cities – from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Buffalo, New York, to Austin, Texas. In the meantime, plumbers associations in 14 states had pledged their allegiance to using lead pipes. “In city after city, where the continued use of lead was threatened by the encroachment of substitutes, we succeeded in protecting our interests by having lead introduced to plumbing codes where it had previously been omitted,” wrote Felix E Wormser, the lead industry association’s secretary, in a report to the organization’s board of directors in 1935.
[Much more at the link. -js]
Millions of Americans are now routinely exposed to unhealthy plumes of wildfire smoke that can waft thousands of miles across the country, scientists have warned.
Wildfires cause soot and ash to be thrown off into the air, which then carries the minuscule particles that can be inhaled by people many miles away, aggravating a variety of health conditions. The number of people in the US exposed to unhealthy levels of these particulates from wildfires at least one day a year has increased 27-fold over the last decade, a new study found, with 25 million people in 2020 alone breathing in potentially toxic air from fires.
Pockets of deeply unhealthy air have emerged mainly in the US west, the staging ground for wildfires of increasing intensity that have been fueled by years of fire suppression and global heating, priming forests to burn. Six of the seven largest wildfires in California’s recorded history have occurred since 2020.
Wildfire smoke can result in the closure of schools, the postponement of flights and even cause cycling races and Pearl Jam concerts to be canceled. But its most pervasive impact is a regression in air quality barely seen since the advent of the Clean Air Act in 1970, which helped lift dangerous, choking smog conditions from many polluted US cities.
“We are seeing the undoing of a lot of that clean air progress, especially in the west,” said Marshall Burke, a scientist at Stanford University and co-author of the study published in Environmental Science and Technology. “There’s been really dramatic increases in wildfire smoke as air pollution, in some places fully reversing the impact of the Clean Air Act. It’s been remarkably quick. Our air pollution regulations are not designed to deal with this. It’s a worrying problem.”
California temporarily banned insurance companies on Thursday from dropping customers in areas affected by recent wildfires, a day after evacuation orders were lifted for residents near a two-week-old blaze that’s become the largest in the state so far this year. ...
California’s insurance commissioner, Ricardo Lara, invoked a law on Thursday aimed at protecting homeowners in the wildfire-plagued state who say they are being pushed out of the commercial insurance market.
Lara ordered insurance companies to preserve residential insurance for one year for Californians who live near one of several major wildfires that have burned across the state in recent weeks.
California’s department of insurance estimates the moratorium will affect policies covering about 236,000 people in portions of Placer, El Dorado and Riverside counties.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Dave Specter w/Lenny Lynn - City Boy Blues
Dave Specter - March Through The Darkness
Dave Specter - This Time I'm Gone for Good
Dave Specter w/Tad Robinson - That's How Strong My Love Is
Dave Specter & Barkin Bill Smith - Take a Walk with Me
Dave Specter and Jimmy Johnson - Feel So Bad
Dave Specter - Same Old Blues
Dave Specter - It's Too Late Brother
Dave Specter & Jimmy Johnson - You Don't Love Me
Floyd McDaniel w/Dave Specter - Live in Europe