The Evening Blues - 2-6-23
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features delta blues musician Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. Enjoy!
Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup - That’s All Right (first recording)
"How soon the labor of men would make a paradise of the earth were it not for misgovernment and a diversion of his energies to selfish interests."
-- Thomas Jefferson
News and Opinion
In what Austin journalist Christopher Hooks has called “one of the stupidest news cycles in living memory,” the entire American political/media class is having an existential meltdown over what the Pentagon claims is a Chinese spy balloon detected in US airspace on Thursday.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken cancelled his scheduled diplomatic visit to China after the detection of the balloon. The mass media have been covering the story with breathless excitement. China hawk pundits have been pounding the war drums all day on any platform they can get to and accusing the Biden administration of not responding aggressively enough to the incident.
“The important thing that the American people need to understand, and what we are going to try to expose in a bipartisan fashion on this committee, is that the threat posed by the Chinese Communist Party is not just a distant threat in East Asia, or a threat to Taiwan,” House China Select Committee Chairman Mike Gallagher told Fox News on Friday. “It is a threat right here at home. It is a threat to American sovereignty, and it is a threat to the Midwest — in places like those that I live in.”
“A big Chinese balloon in the sky and millions of Chinese TikTok balloons on our phones,” tweeted Senator Mitt Romney. “Let’s shut them all down.”
China’s foreign ministry says the balloon is indeed from China but is “civilian in nature, used for meteorological and other scientific research,” and was simply blown far off course. This could of course be untrue — all major governments spy on each other constantly and China is no exception — but the Pentagon’s own assessment is that the balloon “does not create significant value added over and above what the PRC is likely able to collect through things like satellites in Low Earth Orbit.”
So everyone’s losing their minds over a balloon that in all probability would be mostly worthless for spying, even while everyone knows the US spies on China at every possible opportunity. US officials have complained to the press that American spies are having a much harder time conducting operations and recruiting assets in China than they used to because of measures the Chinese government has taken to thwart them, and in 2001 a US spy plane caused a major international incident when it collided with a Chinese military jet on China’s coastline, killing the pilot.
The US considers it its sovereign right to spy on any nation it chooses, and the average American tends more or less to see it the same way. This is highlighted in controversies around domestic versus foreign surveillance, for example; Americans were outraged over the Edward Snowden revelations not because spy agencies were conducting surveillance, but because they were conducting surveillance on American citizens. It’s just taken as a given that spying on foreigners is fine, so it’s a bit silly to react melodramatically when foreigners return the favor.
As Jake Werner explains for Responsible Statecraft:
Foreign surveillance of sensitive U.S. sites is not a new phenomenon. “It’s been a fact of life since the dawn of the nuclear age, and with the advent of satellite surveillance systems, it long ago became an everyday occurrence,” as my colleague and former CIA analyst George Beebe puts it.
U.S. surveillance of foreign countries is likewise quite common. Indeed, great powers gathering intelligence on each other is one of the more banal and universal facts of international relations. Major countries even spy on their own allies, as when U.S. intelligence bugged the cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Typically, even when such surveillance is directed against the United States by a rival power, it does not threaten the safety of Americans and it poses manageable risks to sites where secrecy is of the utmost importance. However — in the context of rapidly increasing U.S.–China tensions — foreseeable incidents like these can quickly balloon into dangerous confrontations.
Now let’s contrast all this with another news story that’s getting a lot less attention.
In an article titled “US secures deal on Philippines bases to complete arc around China,” the BBC reports that the empire will be adding even more installations to the already impressive military noose it has been constructing around the PRC.
“The US has secured access to four additional military bases in the Philippines – a key bit of real estate which would offer a front seat to monitor the Chinese in the South China Sea and around Taiwan,” writes the BBC’s Rupert Wingfield-Hayes. “With the deal, Washington has stitched the gap in the arc of US alliances stretching from South Korea and Japan in the north to Australia in the south. The missing link had been the Philippines, which borders two of the biggest potential flashpoints – Taiwan and the South China Sea.”
“The US hasn’t said where the new bases are but three of them could be on Luzon, an island on the northern edge of the Philippines, the only large piece of land close to Taiwan – if you don’t count China,” writes Wingfield-Hayes.
The US empire has been surrounding China with military bases and war machinery for many years, in ways Washington would never tolerate China doing in the nations and waters surrounding the United States. There is no question that the US is the aggressor in this increasingly hostile standoff between major powers. Yet we’re all meant to be freaking out about a balloon.
Ask me to show you how the US has been aggressing against China I can show you all the well-documented ways in which the US is encircling China with weapons of war. Ask an empire apologist to show you how China is aggressing against the US and they’ll start babbling about TikTok and balloons.
These things are not equal. Maybe Americans should stop watching out for hostile foreign threats and start looking a little closer to home.
U.S. Downs Chinese Balloon as Blinken Cancels Summit & U.S. Expands Military Presence in Philippines
The weather balloon that caused gas leaks all over u.s. media:
The US transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, rejected Republican criticism of Joe Biden over the eight-day wait to shoot down a suspected Chinese spy balloon which flew over military sites. “The president gave instructions to have it shot down in a way that was safe,” Buttigieg told CNN’s State of the Union, of the operation off the Carolina coast on Saturday.
“The debris field that was created by this balloon which was shot down, it’s about seven miles long. And so any time the military is considering an option, they have to consider the safety of the American people.”
Marco Rubio of Florida, the Republican vice-chair of the Senate intelligence committee, was unmoved, telling the same network: “Why didn’t they take action? At this time, that’s number one. The other thing that we need to know about is why did it take so long for them to disclose this to the American public?”
The incident prompted the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, to cancel a Beijing trip.
China insisted the flyover was an accident involving a weather research craft blown off course. The Pentagon rejected that, as well as China’s contention the balloon had limited navigational ability.
Ukrainian forces are unlikely to be able to recapture Crimea from Russian troops in the near future, four senior Defense Department officials told House Armed Services Committee lawmakers in a classified briefing. The assessment is sure to frustrate leaders in Kyiv who consider taking the peninsula back one of their signature goals.
It’s unclear what led the briefers to that assessment. But the clear indication, as relayed by three people with direct knowledge of Thursday’s briefing’s contents, was that the Pentagon doesn’t believe Ukraine has — or soon will have — the ability to force Russian troops out of the peninsula Moscow seized nearly a decade ago.
Ukraine’s defence minister, under pressure from a corruption scandal, is to be reshuffled into another government job as Russian forces close in on Bakhmut amid heavy fighting, a close ally of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has announced.
The position of Oleksii Reznikov, one of Ukraine’s better-known figures internationally, has been under threat after it emerged the defence ministry paid twice or three times the supermarket price of food to supply troops on the frontline.
On Sunday night, David Arakhamia, chief of Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People parliamentary bloc, said the defence ministry would be headed up by Kyrylo Budanov, head of Ukraine’s military intelligence
Reznikov, he added, would become minister of strategic industries, tasked with strengthening military-industrial cooperation, after a day of speculation about the defence minister’s future in Kyiv.
“War dictates changes in personnel policy,” Arakhamia said on his Telegram channel. “Times and circumstances require strengthening and regrouping. This is what is happening now and will happen in the future”
In the wake of a drone strike against at least one defense factory in the central city of Isfahan, Iranian officials told Newsweek that any military option pursued by the United States against the Islamic Republic would result in all-out conflict with regionwide ramifications.
While the U.S. military has denied any role in the attack that took place late Saturday, local time, unnamed U.S. officials cited in major outlets such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times have placed the blame on Israel, a U.S. ally and Iran's top foe, which has neither accepted nor denied involvement. No other entity has come forward with claims of responsibility.
The former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett has said in an interview that Vladimir Putin told him he would not try to kill Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a promise made during a trip to Moscow shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine last year. Speaking on a podcast with the Israeli journalist Hanoch Daum, published on Sunday, Bennett said he received assurance from Putin that the Ukrainian president’s life was not at risk during a secretive visit to the Russian capital last March aimed at mediation during the war’s early days.
“I asked: ‘Are you planning to kill Zelenskiy?’ He said: ‘I won’t kill Zelenskiy.’ I then said to him: ‘I have to understand that you’re giving me your word that you won’t kill Zelenskiy.’ He said: ‘I’m not going to kill Zelenskiy.’” Bennett said he then called the Ukrainian leader on his way to Moscow’s airport, who asked: “‘Are you sure?’ and I told him: ‘Yes, 100%, he won’t kill you.’”
Bennett’s comments come after claims to the BBC last week from the former British prime minister Boris Johnson, who said Putin had threatened him with a missile strike that would “only take a minute”. The Kremlin said Johnson was lying. Also on Sunday, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper that Putin “has not made any threats against me or Germany” despite Scholz’s repeated and direct criticism of the invasion to the Russian leader.
According to Bennett, during his mediation efforts Zelenskiy agreed to give up the idea that Ukraine would join Nato, and Putin dropped a vow to seek Ukraine’s disarmament in order to end the war. “Everything I did was coordinated with the US, Germany and France,” he said.
Last Thursday evening, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. This was Netanyahu’s first official foreign visit since he once again became Prime Minister on December 29 last year. While no official remarks or transcript were published after Macron and Netanyahu’s meeting, the details of the conversation given to the major newspapers by government officials make clear that the purpose of the meeting was to plan the escalation of NATO’s war in Ukraine and Israel’s provocations against Iran.
The meeting took place amid the efforts of imperialist powers to drastically escalate the war in Ukraine. In the first week of January, Macron became the first NATO leader to announce the delivery of tanks to Ukraine, which has now led to the delivery of 120 advanced battle tanks and even more advanced missile systems to the front lines by EU powers and the United States. It is now widely expected that, in a further escalation, NATO countries will soon deliver fighter jets to Ukraine.
In this context, Netanyahu used the meeting to play his “Ukraine card,” agreeing to send Israeli armaments to Ukrainian forces at his meeting with Macron. In exchange, he sought assurances from France and her European allies that the 2015 Iranian Nuclear treaty will not be revived, and that European powers will continue to turn a blind eye to Israeli bombing raids against Iran, the far-right character of Netanyahu’s government, and its repressive measures at home.
According to a source quoted in Le Monde who had knowledge of the meeting, Netanyahu promised the French president that Israel would deliver “military things” to Ukraine. Israel foreign minister Eli Cohen is due to travel to Kyiv next week to finalize the delivery of Israeli arms to the Ukrainian army. In return, “Macron expressed his readiness to weigh sanctions on the IRGC (Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.)” In Friday Press conference after Thursday’s meeting, Netanyahu stated that, “France and Israel are drawing much closer in the way they see the Iran threat.”
The two leaders both lead crisis-riddled regimes that are reviled by broad sections of their populations. As their meeting took place, millions of French and Israeli workers and youth were protesting their respective governments. Indeed, it is more or less apparent that Netanyahu hoped his first official state visit would provide favorable publicity as new Prime Minister and allow him to gloss over massive internal opposition to his regime.
Thousands of Israelis gathered in Tel Aviv for the fifth consecutive week to demonstrate against controversial legal reforms touted by Benjamin Netanyahu’s rightwing government. Crowds carrying blue and white Israeli flags filled the city’s central Kaplan Street on Saturday, with signs labelling the new government a “threat to world peace”.
The protests have become a weekly fixture on Saturday evenings since the prime minister’s new government – dubbed the most rightwing in Israel’s history – took office in late December. Local media reported that protests were held in 20 cities across the country and said tens of thousands gathered in Tel Aviv alone.
Netanyahu returned to power following elections in November, at the head of a coalition with extreme-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. His judicial reforms would allow Israel’s parliament to overrule any supreme court decision with a simple majority of 61 lawmakers in the 120-seat body. The proposed reforms would also change the system through which judges are appointed, giving politicians more control.
The government has also announced its intention to pursue a policy of settlement expansion in the occupied West Bank, as well as social reforms that have worried the LGBTQ+ community.
Guatemala's Supreme Electoral Tribunal ruled earlier this week that a leftist presidential ticket headed by Indigenous human rights defender Thelma Cabrera should be barred from the June ballot, prompting fury and vows of mass protests from Cabrera's supporters.
Thursday's ruling—which Cabrera's young political party, the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), is vowing to appeal to the Supreme Court of Justice—stems from Guatemala electoral authorities' refusal to certify the candidacy of Cabrera's running mate, former human rights ombudsman Jordán Rodas.
Reporting indicates that election officials have justified stonewalling Rodas—a longtime target of Guatemala's right-wing political establishment—by citing supposed "anomalies during the collection of compensation" upon his departure from the ombudsman post last year.
But Cabrera and Rodas contend that the electoral tribunal's decision is a politically motivated attempt to keep a left-wing party—whose base is largely rural—off the ballot, which is set to include the daughter of Gen. Efraín Ríos Montt, the former U.S.-backed Guatemalan dictator who was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013.
Montt's victims were largely Indigenous peasants.
Last month, the same electoral body that deemed Cabrera and Rodas disqualified from the June ballot ruled that Zury Ríos can participate, despite a constitutional provision barring the relatives of coup leaders from serving as Guatemala's president. Ríos was blocked from the 2019 presidential ballot on those grounds.
That year, as Nick Burns of Americas Quarterly recently reported, Cabrera "gave the Guatemalan political establishment a shock" by winning 10% of the vote in the presidential election.
"It was the most successful presidential run by an indigenous person in Guatemala’s modern history—the only other was by Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú in 2007, who won 3% of the vote," Burns noted. "Cabrera’s biography is striking. She grew up in a Maya Mam family of poor laborers on a coffee plantation on Guatemala's Pacific coast and was married at 15. She described in a book how she and her sister Vilma went to school through the sixth grade because their mother—who could not read or write—saw education as crucial."
Cabrera's supporters have vowed to "paralyze the country" with large-scale demonstrations if the electoral body's decision isn't reversed.
"If they do not do it, we are going to take over the international airport, the three ports of the country, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and all state institutions," said one MLP supporter. "We are Indigenous, we are Maya, and we can be out here for a month!"
Daniel Zovatto, a political scientist and expert in Latin American elections, said the tribunal's ruling against the MLP presidential ticket amounts to an "electoral coup" that "vitiates the integrity and credibility" of the upcoming contest.
Rodas, a human rights champion, lamented in response to the decision that "democracy in Guatemala has taken another step back."
"They are afraid of the people and their sovereign decisions," he said.
Former Vice President Mike Pence, a possible 2024 presidential candidate, has voiced support for a Social Security privatization scheme that the George W. Bush administration unsuccessfully pushed nearly two decades ago.
In a closed-door event Thursday hosted by the National Association of Wholesale-Distributors, a corporate trade group, Pence said he believes that "the day could come when we can replace the New Deal with a better deal, literally give younger Americans the ability to take a portion of their Social Security withholdings and put that into a private savings account that the government would oversee."
"I mean, a very simple fund that could generate 2% would give the average American twice what they're going to get back on their Social Security today. And it could save the government money doing it," Pence said, according to video footage obtained by the Democratic-aligned group American Bridge 21st Century.
Mike Pence calls for privatizing Social Security for young people as a way to cut spending on public benefits. "We could replace the New Deal with a better deal," he told a conference of business executives. pic.twitter.com/wSmE0Oyl9N
— More Perfect Union (@MorePerfectUS) February 3, 2023
Experts have forcefully rejected the notion that private savings accounts of the kind Pence endorsed—which would allow workers to divert a portion of their payroll tax contributions into private investment accounts—would be more beneficial than Social Security's guaranteed benefits, as the former vice president suggested.
"The popular argument that Social Security privatization would provide higher returns for all current and future workers is misleading, because it ignores transition costs and differences across programs in the allocation of aggregate and household risk," Olivia Mitchell, John Geanakopolos, and Stephen Zeldes—economists sympathetic to the idea of privatization—wrote in a 2000 paper.
Experts have also said private accounts would not, as Pence put it, "save the government money."
In 2005, analysts with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) estimated that a privatization plan put forth by former Sen. John Sununu (R-N.H.) and former Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) would "create $85.8 trillion in additional debt (equal to 93.7% of GDP) by 2050" while not boosting Social Security's long-term solvency—something Republicans claim they want to do.
"Creation of a system of private accounts would not change the amount of revenue coming into the federal government, but it would increase government spending, because the federal government would be making regular payments into the private accounts," the CBPP analysts explained. "These payments would represent new government spending. This increase in spending, unaccompanied by an increase in revenues, would widen annual deficits."
Despite the myriad drawbacks of private accounts as a partial or full-scale alternative to Social Security, Republicans have continued to promote them.
Nevada Democratic Party Chair Judith Whitmer said Friday that progressives won't stop working to stem the flow of untraceable cash into national primary contests after the DNC Resolutions Committee blocked a vote on her proposed dark money ban for the second time.
"Our party and our country need strong Democratic candidates willing to speak truth to power, but when their messages can be drowned out in a flood of untraceable expenditures, many candidates are questioning why they should even run," Whitmer said. "Restoring faith in our democracy has never been more urgent, and that all-important work should start in our own primary elections."
Whitmer sponsored the proposed dark money ban alongside fellow DNC member James Zogby, who previously served as chair of the resolutions panel. If approved, the resolution would have prohibited dark money donations in Democratic primary contests and established guidelines for investigating any violations of the ban.
On Thursday, members of the DNC Resolutions Committee—who likely faced pressure from DNC leadership—stayed quiet when the proposed ban was put up for consideration, so the measure did not receive a vote. Had the committee approved the proposal, which was backed by dozens of DNC members, it would have gone to the full DNC for a vote this weekend. (The DNC doesn't publicize membership lists for its standing committees.) ...
Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, have repeatedly railed against the scourge of dark money, decried its corrupting influence, and pledged to rein it in—only to balk at pressure for substantive action.
Deep in the DNA of an Antarctic octopus, scientists may have uncovered a major clue about the future fate of the continent’s ice sheet – raising fears global heating could soon set off runaway melting. Climate scientists have been struggling to work out if the ice sheet collapsed completely during the most recent “interglacial” period about 125,000 years ago, when global temperatures were similar to today.
The ice sheet holds enough water to raise sea levels by 3 to 4 metres with fears that global heating could soon push it towards runaway melting that would lock-in rising sea levels over centuries.
In an ingenious approach, a team of 11 scientists – including biologists, geneticists, glaciologists, computer scientists and ice-sheet modellers – looked at the genetics of Turquet’s octopus – a species that has been living around the Antarctic continent for about 4m years. Genetic samples were taken from 96 octopuses collected over three decades from around the continent. The octopus DNA carries a memory of its past, including how and when different populations were moving and mixing together, exchanging genetic material.
The scientists say they detected clear signs that, about 125,000 years ago, some octopus populations on opposite sides of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet had mixed together, with the only likely route being a seaway between the south Weddell Sea and the Ross Sea. “That could only have happened if the ice sheet had completely collapsed,” said Dr Sally Lau, a geneticist at James Cook University who led the research.
The research is undergoing peer review at a journal but it has been made public, Lau said, because she wanted the scientific community to have early access and because of the urgent nature of the findings. She said information on the changes in the DNA of the octopus can be used like a clock, allowing her to pinpoint the period when octopuses in the south Weddell Sea and the Ross Sea were mixing. ...
The authors of the octopus research say their findings suggest that even under global heating of 1.5C – the most ambitious goal under the global Paris climate agreement – the West Antarctic Ice Sheet could be consigned to collapse.
Up a winding northern California highway, beneath a 120ft ponderosa pine tree, a group of environmentalists gathered for some high stakes bird-watching. Everyone was waiting for a pair of bald eagles to swoop into their nest, an orb of twigs and branches balanced amid the tree’s scraggly branches. The elusive raptors have nested here for years, renovating and upgrading it each year in preparation for hatchlings in the spring.
But this year, unless the eagles – who spend the fall and winter months away from their nests – were observed back at their tree by mid-January, they’d lose it. That’s because Pacific Gas & Electric, the largest utility company in the US, had obtained a permit to chop down the ageing pine, arguing that it could fall on the company’s nearby power line and spark a catastrophic wildfire. Environmentalists and the Coyote Valley Band of Pomo Indians countered that PG&E – which is facing increasing pressure to stop its equipment from starting fires across the state – should move their power lines instead.
Lawyers for the tribe beseeched the utility company to reconsider. Locals printed up signs to save the nest. In recent weeks, activists and tribal elders protested, prayed and physically barricaded themselves in front of the tree as PG&E crews came – alongside sheriff’s deputies – to cut it down.
“They had their cherry picker and their wood chipper ready,” said Polly Girvin, an environmental and Indigenous rights activist. “But we weren’t going to back down.” Now, armed with binoculars and cell phones on a misty January morning, they were on watch. Bald eagles are protected under state and federal laws, and PG&E could only take down the tree so long as the nest was unoccupied or abandoned. “We need to keep proving that this is an active nest,” explained Girvin.
The eagles did come that day, arriving just as a thick rain began to roll in. A few days later, PG&E said it would back down.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Mean Ol' Frisco Blues
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - So Glad You 're Mine
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - My Mama Don't Allow Me
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - I'm Gonna Dig Myself a Hole
Arthur 'Big Boy' Crudup - Rock Me Mama
Arthur Crudup - My Baby Left Me
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Death Valley Blues
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - If I Get Lucky
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Where Did You Stay Last Night