The Evening Blues - 1-4-22
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues singer Etta James. Enjoy!
Etta James - I'd Rather Go Blind
“So long as any state has nuclear weapons, others will want them. So long as any such weapons remain, it defies credibility that they will not one day be used, by accident, miscalculation or design. And any such use would be catastrophic. It is sheer luck that the world has escaped such catastrophe until now.”
-- Report of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, Synopsis, December 2009
News and Opinion
Five of the world’s most powerful nations have agreed that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” in a rare joint pledge to reduce the risk of such a conflict ever starting. The pledge was signed by the US, Russia, China, the UK and France, the five nuclear weapons states recognised by the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) who are also the five permanent members of the UN security council. They are known as the P5 or the N5.
Such a common statement on a major issue of global security has become a rarity at a time of increasing friction between Russia, China and the west. With Moscow threatening to invade Ukraine and China signaling its readiness to use military force against Taiwan, the joint statement represents a renewed commitment to prevent any confrontation turning into a nuclear catastrophe.
A senior US state department official said the wording of the statement had been hammered out at P5 meetings over several months, despite the high-tension environment. “At the base level to be able to say that this is how we think about these risks, and this is an acknowledgement that it is something that we want to avoid, particularly during a difficult time, I think is noteworthy,” the official said.
As President Joe Biden ratchets up tensions with Moscow by assuring Ukraine that "the United States and its allies and partners will respond decisively" to a Russian invasion, experts warned Monday that there is no military solution to the seven-year war between neighbors with so much shared history and culture.
"The hawkish outcry for more sanctions, more weapons, NATO membership for Ukraine, and an even more confrontational stance toward Russia is exceedingly dangerous and is not in our security or national interests," said Katrina vanden Heuvel, president of the American Committee for U.S.-Russia Accord, referring to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, the anti-Russian alliance founded during the Cold War.
The statement from vanden Heuvel, who is also publisher and editorial director of The Nation, came a day after Biden's provocative assurance and days after the U.S. president spoke by phone with President Vladimir Putin of Russia, which according to Ukrainian and Western leaders has amassed around 100,000 troops along its border with Ukraine in recent months.
Biden said he told Putin during the call that "we will have severe sanctions, we will increase our presence in Europe, with NATO allies" if Russia invades Ukraine. Russian officials in turn warned such moves could lead to a "complete rupture of relations" between Moscow and Washington.
"While there is no question that Russia has contributed to tensions, the West should have understood that an attempt to bring Ukraine into NATO would spark deep, historical divisions within Ukraine and escalate Russian concerns," said vanden Heuvel. "What is essentially a civil war has become a proxy war, a site of dangerous geopolitical focus."
Experts have long warned that from Moscow's perspective, NATO's eastward enlargement—there are now 10 former Soviet or Warsaw Pact republics in the alliance, including four sharing land borders with Russia—constitutes a palpable threat to Russian leaders.
"The notion that the West could pursue an eastward expansion of NATO without pushback was always pure folly," Project Syndicate contributing editor and New School international affairs professor Nina L. Khrushcheva wrote last week.
The West has consistently dismissed the Kremlin's security concerns relating to ex-Soviet countries and portrayed Russian resistance to NATO's eastward expansion as paranoid revanchism. No one is threatening Russia, the logic goes; it is Russia that is threatening its neighbors, including by invading Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014.
But the West cannot reasonably expect the Kremlin to accept at face value NATO's claim that it is a purely defensive alliance. After all, since the end of the Cold War, NATO has edged closer and closer to Russia's borders, embracing lands to which Russia is bound by history, geography, and security interests.
"While the 'exceptional' U.S. has long been able to act in its own strategic interest without, as one author put it, 'the consequences that come with doing so,' the time may have come for it to account for new variables," Khrushcheva said, "namely, that Russians, too, view their country as exceptional."
She added that "until the West changes its approach, the cycle of crises will continue, with escalating risks."
Anatol Lieven, a senior research fellow on Russia and Europe at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, sees a possible "golden bridge" by which further conflict may be averted: Ukrainian neutrality.
"The Russian demand that Ukraine be excluded from NATO and that NATO and Washington promise not to station troops or conduct military exercises near Russia's borders is clearly unacceptable as it stands," Lieven wrote Monday. "It asks for concessions from the West without offering anything in return. It is also, however, only an initial bargaining move. If the West in return proposes Ukrainian neutrality, it will be very difficult for Russia to refuse."
Lieven contends that the Austrian State Treaty of 1955, which created an independent and neutral Austria that also served as a buffer zone between NATO and the Soviet-dominated Warsaw Pact.
"The Biden administration, either directly or through German and French mediation, should seek to 'own' the idea of Ukrainian neutrality as its response to Russia's demands," he wrote.
Vanden Heuvel stressed the need for such a negotiated political settlement to the Ukraine crisis.
"It is imperative that we embrace sober reasoning and diplomacy to end the conflict—more than 14,000 lives have already been taken," she said.
"Make no mistake," she added, "there is no military solution to this conflict. Only reasoned dialogue and political settlement can put Ukraine on the path to long term stability and some semblance of peace."
With the 2024 presidential campaign just around the corner, there is another reason for Biden to ensure that the United States does not get drawn further into the Ukraine morass: It could cost him on Election Day. According to a 2021 survey conducted by YouGov and the right-wing Charles Koch Institute, only 27% of U.S. voters somewhat or strongly favor going to war with Russia to protect Ukraine's territorial integrity.
By contrast, 73% of respondents said the U.S. should prioritize domestic issues over foreign policy.
The US could be under a rightwing dictatorship by 2030, a Canadian political science professor has warned, urging his country to protect itself against the “collapse of American democracy”.
“We mustn’t dismiss these possibilities just because they seem ludicrous or too horrible to imagine,” Thomas Homer-Dixon, founding director of the Cascade Institute at Royal Roads University in British Columbia, wrote in the Globe and Mail. “In 2014, the suggestion that Donald Trump would become president would also have struck nearly everyone as absurd. But today we live in a world where the absurd regularly becomes real and the horrible commonplace.”
Homer-Dixon’s message was blunt: “By 2025, American democracy could collapse, causing extreme domestic political instability, including widespread civil violence. By 2030, if not sooner, the country could be governed by a rightwing dictatorship.” The author cited eventualities centered on a Trump return to the White House in 2024, possibly including Republican-held state legislatures refusing to accept a Democratic win.
Trump, he warned, “will have only two objectives, vindication and vengeance” of the lie that his 2020 defeat by Joe Biden was the result of electoral fraud. A “scholar of violent conflict” for more than four decades, Homer-Dixon said Canada must take heed of the “unfolding crisis”.
Heh, the disarray of U.S. politics is freaking out our neighbors to the north. This article is flawed but interesting. There are some parts of its analysis that are just dead on. Here is an excerpt from the article referenced in the Guardian piece above:
What seems to have pushed the United States to the brink of losing its democracy today is a multiplication effect between its underlying flaws and recent shifts in the society’s “material” characteristics. These shifts include stagnating middle-class incomes, chronic economic insecurity, and rising inequality as the country’s economy – transformed by technological change and globalization – has transitioned from muscle power, heavy industry, and manufacturing as the main sources of its wealth to idea power, information technology, symbolic production and finance. As returns to labour have stagnated and returns to capital have soared, much of the U.S. population has fallen behind. Inflation-adjusted wages for the median male worker in the fourth quarter of 2019 (prior to the infusion of economic support owing to the COVID-19 pandemic) were lower than in 1979; meanwhile, between 1978 and 2016, CEO incomes in the biggest companies rose from 30 times that of the average worker to 271 times. Economic insecurity is widespread in broad swaths of the country’s interior, while growth is increasingly concentrated in a dozen or so metropolitan centres.
Two other material factors are key. The first is demographic: as immigration, aging, intermarriage and a decline in church-going have reduced the percentage of non-Hispanic white Christians in America, right-wing ideologues have inflamed fears that traditional U.S. culture is being erased and whites are being “replaced.” The second is pervasive elite selfishness: The wealthy and powerful in America are broadly unwilling to pay the taxes, invest in the public services, or create the avenues for vertical mobility that would lessen their country’s economic, educational, racial and geographic gaps. The more an under-resourced government can’t solve everyday problems, the more people give up on it, and the more they turn to their own resources and their narrow identity groups for safety.
America’s economic, racial and social gaps have helped cause ideological polarization between the political right and left, and the worsening polarization has paralyzed government while aggravating the gaps. The political right and left are isolated from, and increasingly despise, each other. Both believe the stakes are existential – that the other is out to destroy the country they love. The moderate political centre is fast vanishing.
And, oh yes, the population is armed to the teeth, with somewhere around 400 million firearms in the hands of civilians.
Amid Iran nuke talks, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid says Israel has capabilities many ‘cannot even imagine’
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid talked up Israel’s military capabilities amid talks between world powers and Iran on restoring the 2015 accord curbing Tehran’s nuclear program. ... “Israel has capabilities, some of which the world, and even some experts in the field, cannot even imagine. And Israel will protect itself against the Iranian threat,” he told Channel 12 news.
He also indicated Israel could attack Iran if necessary without informing the Biden administration, which is looking to rejoin the nuclear deal. Israel vocally opposed the accord, which is formally known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “Israel will do whatever it needs to do to protect its security. And we don’t need anybody’s permission for that. That’s been the case since the first day we established this state,” he said.
Yemeni rebels have seized an Emirati-flagged vessel in the Red Sea, with the insurgents and the Saudi-led coalition giving contrasting explanations for the latest escalation in a seven-year war. The coalition, fighting in support of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, said on Monday that the vessel was carrying medical supplies but the rebels said they had seized “a military cargo ship with military equipment”. ...
The Houthis confirmed they had seized an Emirati-flagged vessel in the Red Sea but their military spokesperson, Yahya Sare’e, said it had entered Yemeni waters without authorisation and was carrying out “hostile acts”. Sare’e tweeted: “The successful and unprecedented operation is part of the fight against [coalition] aggression.”
The Houthis released videos showing what they claimed was ammunition on board the ship, underlining their belief that the United Arab Emirates is behind the recent assaults in Shabwa governorate that have forced the Houthis to make a rare territorial retreat. In the past week, UAE-backed forces seized the Usaylan district in Shabwa, Yemen’s most oil rich area.
The Brazilian president, Jair Bolsonaro, has been taken to hospital with an intestinal blockage and may need to undergo surgery, in the latest complication from a 2018 stabbing. Bolsonaro said he started feeling unwell on Sunday afternoon after lunch and was taken to hospital early on Monday.
“More tests will be conducted for a potential surgery on an internal obstruction in the abdominal region,” Bolsonaro posted on Twitter, along with a photo of himself giving a thumbs-up in his hospital bed.
Bolsonaro said it was the second hospitalisation “with the same symptoms” since he was stabbed during a September 2018 campaign event and underwent a series of emergency operations.
Vila Nova Star hospital in São Paulo confirmed in a medical note that Bolsonaro was admitted to the hospital in the early hours of Monday with an intestinal blockage. “He is in stable condition, undergoing treatment and will be re-evaluated this morning by Dr Antonio Luiz de Vasconcellos Macedo’s team. At the moment, there is no forecast for him being discharged,” it said.
Patient advocates on Monday condemned the U.S. pharmaceutical industry for ushering in the new year with price hikes on more than 440 medications, a move that came as congressional Democrats' plan to lower prescription drug costs remained stuck due to Sen. Joe Manchin's persistent obstruction.
According to the healthcare firm GoodRx, the prices of 434 brand-name drugs and eight generic medicines were increased by an average of 5.2% and 4.2%, respectively, beginning on January 1, 2022.
The largest hike came courtesy of Pfizer, which raised the price of its anti-inflammatory medication Solu-Cortef by nearly 17%. The price boost took effect after Pfizer had a massively profitable 2021 thanks in large part to its coronavirus vaccine, which benefited from public funding and U.S. government-developed technology.
“At a time when Americans are struggling with the surging omicron variant and prices for prescription drugs that are four times what other wealthy nations pay, Big Pharma began the new year yet again hitting Americans with unjustified and widespread price hikes," David Mitchell, a cancer patient and founder of Patients for Affordable Drugs, said in a statement.
Mitchell said the price increases bolster findings of a nearly three-year House Oversight Committee probe showing that the pharmaceutical industry has "raised prices with abandon" and "manipulated the patent system" to prevent fairly priced generic competition.
President Joe Biden’s top media buying firm is helping Big Pharma’s efforts to kill his party’s watered-down drug pricing legislation and targeting Senate Democrats up for re-election this year. It’s the latest reminder that for the Beltway consultant class, money is far more important than ideology. While Big Pharma’s allies in Congress have already succeeded in scaling back the Democrats’ drug pricing plan, the provision in Biden’s Build Back Better legislation still represents the party’s most sincere effort to fulfill its longtime promise to allow Medicare to negotiate lower drug prices. The idea of allowing the government to negotiate drug prices — like most other high-income countries do — is one of the most popular items in the Biden social agenda bill.
Yet, a top Democratic Party media buying firm, Canal Partners Media, is placing ads for drug industry front groups that want to block Democrats from lowering drug prices as promised in the Biden reconciliation bill. One group argues that Democrats are putting rare disease patients at risk, and is targeting several incumbent Democratic senators by name. The other says Democrats are harming drug companies’ ability to respond to pandemics like COVID-19. These fearmongering ad campaigns conveniently ignore the fact that the federal government regularly subsidizes drug companies’ research and development costs and has spent tens of billions of dollars to fund COVID vaccines and treatments.
While one of the group’s ads says they aren’t worried about corporate profits, that is exactly what these campaigns are about. The pharmaceutical industry wants to ensure that Americans continue to pay far more for medicines than people in any other country, in order to protect companies’ tremendous profits. And Democratic campaign consultants are helping them.
The Canal Partners Media website touts its work as Biden’s “lead buying agency” and its “experience championing progressive causes.” Media Buying & Analytics, a company affiliated with Canal Partners Media, handled almost $450 million worth of ad buys for Biden’s 2020 campaign, according to OpenSecrets. Another apparent affiliate bought ads for Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential bid. The firm has made media buys for official party committees, including the Democratic National Committee, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. They have also worked with party-aligned super PACs and progressive groups like MoveOn.
Democrats are seizing on this week’s anniversary of the deadly US Capitol riot to renew a push for voting rights legislation to safeguard democracy.
Majority leader Chuck Schumer announced on Monday that the Senate will vote on changing its own rules on or before 17 January, the federal Martin Luther King Jr Day holiday, if Republicans continue to obstruct election reform.
The deadline appears part of a concerted effort to use Thursday’s commemorations, marking a year since a mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, seeking to overturn Joe Biden’s election win, to give fresh impetus to the long-stalled legislation.
In a letter to Senate Democrats, Schumer argued that the events of 6 January 2021 are directly linked to a campaign by Republican state legislatures to impose voter restriction laws. ...
Sweeping voting rights reforms have stalled in the evenly split 50-50 Senate, repeatedly blocked by a Republican-led filibuster, leaving Democrats unable to find the 60 votes needed to advance. Schumer went further than before in calling for a filibuster exception for voting rights.
Deforestation last year rose to the highest level since 2015 in Brazil’s Cerrado, prompting scientists on Monday to raise alarm over the state of the world’s most species-rich savanna and a major carbon sink that helps to stave off climate change.
The Cerrado, the world’s largest savanna spread across several states of Brazil, is often called an “upside-down forest” because of the deep roots its plants sink into the ground to survive seasonal droughts and fires.
Destruction of these trees, grasses and other plants in the Cerrado is a large source of Brazil’s greenhouse gas emissions, although it is far less densely forested than the more famous Amazon rainforest that it borders.
Deforestation and other clearances of native vegetation in the Cerrado rose 8% to 8,531 sq km in the 12 months through July, Brazil’s official period for measuring deforestation, according to national space research agency Inpe. That is more than 10 times the size of New York City’s land area of 783.84 sq km. ...
The added destruction is particularly concerning, scientists say, when considering that roughly half of the Cerrado has been destroyed since the 1970s, mostly for farming and ranching. “You’re transforming thousands of square kilometers annually,” said Manuel Ferreira, a geographer at the Federal University of Goias. “Few other places on earth have seen that rapid of a transformation.”
A large cleanup effort is under way in Los Angeles county after an estimated 8.5m gallons of raw sewage flooded through a neighborhood in the city of Carson, closing beaches and leaving toilet paper, feces and toxic residue strewn across nearby streets and sidewalks.
The spill occurred last Thursday when a 60-year-old sewer line failed, spewing sewage from a manhole and into the Dominguez Channel, a 15-mile flood-control waterway that eventually pours into the Pacific Ocean.
The failed 48-inch sewer main was due to be replaced within the year and was probably strained after strong rainstorms pelted southern California. LA county supervisor Janice Hahn has called for a full investigation into the cause of the spill, the largest on record for the area.
“A sewage spill of this magnitude is dangerous and unacceptable, and we need to understand what happened,” Hahn said in a statement. “The recent storm undoubtedly contributed to the spill but we need infrastructure that doesn’t fail when it rains.”
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana and Etta James - Tell Mama
Etta James - Mellow Fellow
Etta James - Just One More Day
Etta James - It's a Man's Man's World
Etta James - Something's Got A Hold On Me
Etta James - You Shook Me
Etta James - Breakin' Up Somebody's Home
Etta James - Willow Weep For Me
Etta James - I've got dreams to remember
Etta James - All The Way Down
Etta James, Gladys Knight and Chaka Khan - Ain't Nobody Business