The Evening Blues - 3-23-23
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues and boogie woogie piano player Little Willie Littlefield. Enjoy!
Little Willie Littlefield - One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer
"Capital requires protection, as do the institutions through which it operates. As capital expands its operations, the state that is associated with its protection must develop its capacity for autocratic control. Thus, the "Free World" increasingly resembles a dreary string of heartless police states."
-- Michael Parenti
News and Opinion
Worth a full read:
A new investigation has uncovered connections between private equity firms and the contentious development of a sprawling police and fire service training complex in Atlanta known as “Cop City” and the police force which fatally shot an environmental activist. Private equity refers to an opaque form of financing away from public markets in which funds and investors manage money for wealthy individuals and institutional investors such as university endowments and state employee pension funds.
Research shared exclusively with the Guardian details links between Roark Capital, an Atlanta-based private equity firm which owns the country’s second-largest restaurant company, Inspire Brands, and a corporate backer of the Atlanta police foundation (APF). Paul Brown, the CEO of Inspire Brands, whose portfolio includes fast-food franchises Dunkin’, Baskin Robbins and Arby’s, sits on the board of trustees of the APF, which is raising $60m from corporate funders to build Cop City in the Atlanta forest previously earmarked for a public park.
Police foundations are non-profits which raise private money from individual and corporate donors that is funnelled to police departments with little oversight or accountability. The APF has previously helped Atlanta police fund recruitment drives, surveillance cameras and Swat team equipment. The police crackdown on community protests against Cop City have led to dozens of charges of domestic terrorism and the police killing of the environmental activist Manuel Paez Terán, known as “Tortuguita”. Police said Paez Terán shot at them first, but have not produced any body-cam or other video footage of the shooting.
The APF has helped Atlanta become the most surveilled city in the US in large part thanks to a program called Operation Shield.
The Silicon Valley firm Silver Lake Management, one of the world’s largest tech-focused private equity firms, has invested more than $1bn in Motorola Solutions, which designed and implemented the surveillance system for Operation Shield, according to a new report by the Private Equity Stakeholder Project (PESP). Motorola has been criticised for providing hi-tech surveillance equipment used in US prisons, on the US-Mexico border and in the West Bank. Several European pension funds have divested from Motorola, and it was included in a UN list of companies “that had raised particular human rights concerns” by providing surveillance tools and other services to the Israeli government.
Operation Shield currently boasts more than 12,800 private and public interconnected cameras monitored by the police – the highest number per capita in the country. Motorola has sold more than $22m worth of products and services to the Atlanta police department since 2016. Silver Lake Management has invested money from pension funds paid into by Texas and Ohio teachers and South Dakota and California state employees, according to PitchBook.
In a follow-up to his explosive story accusing U.S. President Joe Biden of ordering the sabotage of the Nord Stream pipelines, veteran U.S. journalist Seymour Hersh charged Wednesday that the White House — in collaboration with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz — is attempting a “cover-up of its operation” by “feeding” false alternative narratives to the press, most prominently The New York Times.
Hersh’s initial reporting, which was based on anonymous sourcing, was quickly dismissed by the Biden administration, with State Department Spokesperson Ned Price calling the detailed February account “false” and suggesting that those who believe its version of events are “naive” and “gullible.”
Hersh, who famously exposed U.S. forces’ massacre of Vietnamese civilians in My Lai and the torture of detainees at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, forcefully hit back at the Biden administration on Wednesday and criticized the American press for failing to push the White House on the September attack, which has major geopolitical implications.
“Press aides for the White House and Central Intelligence Agency have consistently denied that America was responsible for exploding the pipelines, and those pro forma denials were more than enough for the White House press corps,” Hersh wrote on his Substack.
“There is no evidence that any reporter assigned there has yet to ask the White House press secretary whether Biden had done what any serious leader would do: formally ‘task’ the American intelligence community to conduct a deep investigation, with all of its assets, and find out just who had done the deed in the Baltic Sea,” the journalist continued. “According to a source within the intelligence community, the president has not done so, nor will he. Why not? Because he knows the answer.”
Officials from Norway, Germany, and Sweden told the United Nations last month that they are still investigating the explosions that severely damaged the Nord Stream pipelines, setting off an environmental nightmare and immediate speculation as to who was responsible. Such speculation is ongoing, with both official and unofficial probes attempting to determine the perpetrator.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline — which Biden vocally opposed — never became operational, as the German government put it on hold just ahead of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.
During a press briefing late last month, Price said the U.S. “is not a party to this investigation because there are countries on whose sovereign territory this attack occurred, and we’re deferring it to them to conduct this investigation.”
On March 7, nearly a month after Hersh published his report, The New York Times ran a story — also based on anonymous sourcing — alleging that “new intelligence reviewed by U.S. officials” indicates “a pro-Ukrainian group carried out the attack on the Nord Stream pipelines last year.”
The Ukrainian government has denied any involvement in the attack.
“U.S. officials said there was much they did not know about the perpetrators and their affiliations,” notes the Times report, which makes brief mention of Hersh’s story and quotes unnamed U.S. officials denying any Biden administration involvement.
The same day as the Times published its story, the German weekly newspaper Die Zeit ran a report alleging that German investigators “succeeded in identifying the boat that was allegedly used for the secret operation” to sabotage the Nord Stream pipelines.
“It is said to be a yacht rented from a company based in Poland, apparently owned by two Ukrainians,” Die Zeit reported. “According to the investigation, the secret operation at sea was carried out by a team of six people. It is said to have been five men and one woman.”
In his Wednesday piece, Hersh contended that the message of the Times and Die Zeit stories — both of which emphasized that much of the sabotage operation remains shrouded in mystery — “was that the press and the public should stop asking questions and let the investigators unravel the truth.”
“Holger Stark, the author of the report in Die Zeit, went a step further and noted that there were some ‘in international security services’ who had not excluded the possibility that the yacht story ‘was a false flag operation.’ Indeed, it was,” Hersh alleged, citing an anonymous source inside the U.S. intelligence community.
That source told Hersh that the yacht narrative reported by Die Zeit “was a total fabrication by American intelligence that was passed along to the Germans, and aimed at discrediting your story.”
Hersh went on to add that “the disinformation professionals inside the CIA understand that a propaganda gambit can only work if those on receiving are desperate for a story that can diminish or displace an unwanted truth.”
“And the truth in question is that President Joe Biden authorized the destruction of the pipelines and will have a difficult time explaining away his action as Germany and its Western European neighbors suffer as businesses are shuttered amid high day-to-day energy costs,” wrote Hersh, citing an energy expert who argued that the damage to the Nord Stream pipelines “led to a further surge of natural gas prices.”
According to Hersh, the “most telling evidence” of the “weakness” of the Times reporting can be found in a podcast interview featuring Julian Barnes, one of three reporters whose bylines appeared on the March 7 story.
Barnes told podcast host Michael Barbaro that “we know really very little” about the pro-Ukrainian group that the Times reporting alleges may have been behind the Nord Stream attack.
“This group remains mysterious,” Barnes said. “And it remains mysterious not just to us, but also to the U.S. government officials that we have spoken to. They know that the people involved were either Ukrainian, or Russian, or a mix. They know that they are not affiliated with the Ukrainian government. But they know they’re also anti-Putin and pro-Ukraine.”
In response, Hersh wrote that “the Times reporters in Washington were at the mercy of White House officials ‘who had access to intelligence.'”
“But the information they received,” he added, “originated with a group of C.I.A. experts in deception and propaganda whose mission was to feed the newspaper a cover story — and to protect a president who made an unwise decision and is now lying about it.”
Hersh also alleged that while it remains an “open question” whether Scholz was aware of the planned pipeline sabotage in advance, the German leader has “clearly been complicit since last fall in support of the Biden Administration’s cover-up of its operation in the Baltic Sea.”
“In early March, President Biden hosted German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Washington. The trip included only two public events — a brief pro forma exchange of compliments between Biden and Scholz before the White House press corps, with no questions allowed; and a CNN interview with Scholz by Fareed Zakaria, who did not touch on the pipeline allegations. The chancellor had flown to Washington with no members of the German press on board, no formal dinner scheduled, and the two world leaders were not slated to conduct a press conference, as routinely happens at such high-profile meetings. Instead, it was later reported that Biden and Scholz had an 80-minute meeting, with no aides present for much of the time.”
Citing an anonymous official with “access to diplomatic intelligence,” Hersh wrote that “certain elements in the Central Intelligence Agency were asked to prepare a cover story in collaboration with German intelligence that would provide the American and German press with an alternative version for the destruction of Nord Stream 2.”
“In the words of the intelligence community,” Hersh continued, “the agency was ‘to pulse the system’ in an effort to discount the claim that Biden had ordered the pipelines’ destruction.”
The latest from The Guardian's propaganda catapult:
Vladimir Putin has no immediate plans for peace in Ukraine and so the west needs to brace itself to supply lethal aid to Kyiv for a long time to come, Nato’s secretary general has warned in an interview with the Guardian.
Jens Stoltenberg said the Russian president was engaged in “a war of attrition”, and said he wanted Nato members to agree that spending 2% of GDP on defence as a minimum at the alliance’s next summit, in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius. ...
The fierce fighting, currently centred around Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine, demonstrates Russia is willing “to just throw in thousands and thousands more troops, to take many casualties for minimal gains”, the Nato head said.
“President Putin doesn’t plan for peace, he’s planning for more war,” Stoltenberg continued, adding that Russia was increasing military industrial production and “reaching out to authoritarian regimes like Iran or North Korea, and others to try to get more weapons”.
As a result, the US, UK, France, Germany and other western states had to be prepared to support Ukraine with weapons, ammunition and spares over a long time. “The need will continue to be there, because this is a war of attrition; this is about industrial capacity to sustain the support,” the secretary general said.
Russian authorities said Ukrainian drones were downed over northern Crimea on Monday night, while Ukraine’s Military Intelligence claimed the attacks destroyed Russian Kalibr cruise missiles.
“The mysterious series of blasts continues the process of Russia’s demilitarization and prepares the Ukrainian peninsula of Crimea for de-occupation,” Ukrainian Military Intelligence said in a statement without formally taking credit for the attack.
The drones targeted Dzhankoy in northern Crimea, where local authorities said the attacks hit civilian areas. “All the drones targeted civilian facilities. One was shot down above a technical school and it fell on the land between the school building and the dormitory,” said Oleg Kryuchkov, an aide to the head of Crimea.
“There are no military facilities in the vicinity. The other [drones] were downed over residential areas. Apart from explosives, each had shrapnel in it,” Kryuchkov added.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that he would call a high-level meeting of the military organization’s main forum for cooperation with Ukraine next month despite objections from Hungary.
The NATO-Ukraine Commission hasn't met at ministerial level for several years. The last meeting was held at a lower level in 2019 in Kyiv, with NATO ambassadors joining Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and some of his Cabinet ministers, about three years before Russia's full-scale invasion.
Hungary and Ukraine are at loggerheads over a language law adopted in Ukraine in 2017 which the nationalist government in Budapest insists stops members of the Transcarpathian ethnic minority from studying in Hungarian. Hungary has routinely blocked NATO-Ukraine Commission meetings since.
“This is an established framework. I have the mandate to convene it,” said Stoltenberg, who chairs NATO’s meetings. “In respect for the issues that Hungary has raised I have not convened that for some time, but now I will continue to convene the meetings of the NATO-Ukraine Commission.”
Click for embedded links:
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Foundation for Defense of Democracies aren’t responding to requests for comment about the role their institutions played in making the case for war in Iraq. Moreover, it appears they’ve taken steps to remove evidence of their actions from the Internet or outright deny the actions they took in 2002.
FDD was founded in April 2001 as EMET (Hebrew for “truth”) “to provide education to enhance Israel’s image in North America and the public’s understanding of issues affecting Israeli-Arab relations.” Clifford May, its founder, quickly went about pushing for war. In April 2002, he described Iran and Iraq as “terrorist-sponsoring regimes attempting to develop weapons of mass destruction.” And in January 2002, May wrote, “That Saddam still has weapons of mass destruction cannot be seriously doubted,” in National Review Online.
Both articles are no longer visible on FDD’s website, although they are available on other sites. FDD didn’t just serve as a home base for numerous advocates for the Iraq War, the group took institutional positions advancing false intelligence about Iraq’s alleged WMDs. ....
AIPAC, whose mission includes “Building bipartisan support for the U.S.-Israel relationship is an American value we are proud to champion,” also pushed for the war. Later, it vigorously denied that it supported the invasion or lobbied for military action. In 2015, AIPAC’s spokesman, Marshall Wittmann, assured The New York Times’s Julie Hirschfeld Davis that “AIPAC took no position whatsoever on the Iraq war.” That same year, AIPAC President Robert A. Cohen issued a lengthy statement claiming that, “Leading up to the start of the Iraq War in March 2003, AIPAC took no position whatsoever, nor did we lobby on the issue.”
But AIPAC did take positions and provided talking points for its members to lobby members of Congress on the Iraq War. It removed evidence of these activities from its website but Archive.org has the evidence, showing that AIPAC’s leadership is misleading journalists about support the group provided for the war and the bad intelligence justifying military action.
Facing the worst banking crisis since 2008 and the highest inflation rate in a generation, the Federal Reserve chose to keep fighting price rises and announced another hike in interest rates.
The US central bank announced on Wednesday that its benchmark interest rate would rise another quarter of a percentage point to a range of 4.75% to 5% – its ninth consecutive rate rise and the highest rate since 2007. A year ago interest rates were close to zero.
The latest increase was smaller than the half-point increase that some had expected before a series of bank collapses shook global markets.
In a statement, the Fed said the impact of the banking crisis was “uncertain” but inflation “remains elevated”.
Fed chair Jerome Powell said the Fed had considered pausing rates in the days running up to the decision but had concluded that the banking crisis was under control and that more rate rises were needed to bring down inflation.
Starbucks workers at over 100 stores around the US walked out on Wednesday ahead of the company’s annual shareholder meeting and held a protest in Seattle outside Starbucks’ headquarters.
The actions were launched in response to Starbucks’ aggressive anti-union efforts against worker organizing, which have included allegations of firing dozens of workers in retaliation for union organizing, intimidation, store closures, withholding benefits, schedule cuts and delays in bargaining a first union contract. Starbucks has denied or rejected all allegations and charges of labor law violations.
More than 7,500 workers at over 280 stores in the US have won union elections, but the union campaign has slowed down since taking off in early 2022 amid Starbucks’ opposition.
The actions come a week ahead of the Starbucks chairman and former CEO Howard Schultz’s scheduled testimony before the US Senate health, education, labor, and pensions (Help) committee over the company’s union busting.
Oil companies have come under increasing legal scrutiny and face allegations of defrauding investors, racketeering, and a wave of other lawsuits. But a new paper argues there’s another way to hold big oil accountable for climate damage: trying companies for homicide.
The striking and seemingly radical legal theory is laid out in a paper accepted for publication in the Harvard Environmental Law Review. In it, the authors argue fossil fuel companies “have not simply been lying to the public, they have been killing members of the public at an accelerating rate, and prosecutors should bring that crime to the public’s attention”.
“What’s on their ledger in terms of harm, there’s nothing like it in human history,” said David Arkush, the director of the climate program at consumer advocacy group Public Citizen and one of the paper’s authors. The paper is rooted in part in the growing body of evidence fossil fuel companies knew of the harm their products caused and misled the public about them.
Attorneys general and cities have used that information to sue oil companies for financial damages caused by rising seas, wildfires and heat. But the new paper argues that oil companies’ climate research and continued fight to delay climate regulations amount to a “culpable mental state” that has inflicted harm on people, including death. “Once you start using those terms, you come to realize that’s criminal law,” said Donald Braman, a law professor at George Washington University and Arkush’s co-author. “Culpable mental state causing harm is criminal conduct, and if they kill anybody, that’s homicide.”
Braman argued that pursuing homicide charges would have a greater impact on fossil fuel companies than the cases currently wending their way through court in part because the penalties would be steeper. Rather than paying a fine, homicide charges could open up an array of other outcomes that could materially alter how companies operate.
Researchers at a Canadian university have made a breakthrough they hope will dramatically shorten the lifespan of the thousands of toxic “forever chemicals” that persist in clothing, household items and the environment.
Scientists at the University of British Columbia announced on Wednesday that they had developed a new silica-based material with ability to absorb a wider range of the harmful chemicals, and new tools to break them apart.
“This is very exciting because we can target these difficult-to-break chemical bonds – and break them for good,” said researcher Madjid Mohseni, who focuses on water quality and water treatment. ...
To destroy the chemicals, Mohseni says researchers use either electrochemical or photochemical processes to break the carbon-fluorine bond. The team first published their findings in the journal Chemosphere.
Mohseni envisions the technology being used to combat the chemicals, both in drinking water, as government agencies bring higher standards in, as well as at industrial sites where high concentrations of the chemicals are released into water supplies.
Wildlife conservationists sounded the alarm Wednesday as an annual count of monarch butterflies revealed a sharp decline in the number of the iconic insects hibernating in Mexican forests, stoking renewed fears of their extinction.
The annual survey—led by Mexico's National Commission of Natural Protected Areas and the Mexican branch of the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (WWF)—showed a 22% drop in the hibernating monarch population amid accelerating habitat loss driven primarily by deforestation.
"Despite heroic efforts to save monarchs by planting milkweed, we could still lose these extraordinary butterflies by not taking bolder action," Tierra Curry, a senior scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), said in a statement.
"Monarchs were once incredibly common," she added. "Now they're the face of the extinction crisis as U.S. populations crash amid habitat loss and the climate meltdown."
BREAKING NEWS: this winter saw a 22% decrease in the presence of monarchs in their wintering grounds in Mexico compared to last winter. pic.twitter.com/sb26EmCosz
— World Wildlife Fund (@World_Wildlife) March 21, 2023
Renowned for its epic annual migrations from the northern U.S. and southern Canada to Florida, California, and Mexico, monarchs have suffered a precipitous plunge in population in North America this century.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the number of eastern monarchs fell from around 384 million in 1996 to 60 million in 2019, and in the West their numbers declined from 1.2 million in 1997 to fewer than 30,000 last year.
As CBD noted:
At the end of summer, eastern monarchs migrate from the northern United States and southern Canada to high-elevation fir forests in central Mexico. Scientists estimate the population size by measuring the area of trees turned orange by the clustering butterflies...The eastern population has been perilously low since 2008.
Last year, the International Union for Conservation of Nature formally listed the monarch butterfly as endangered, citing critical threats posed by the climate emergency, deforestation, pesticides, and logging.
In the United States, the Trump administration in 2020 placed monarchs on the wait list for consideration for Endangered Species Act protection. FWS has until next year to make a final listing determination.
"It is not just about conserving a species, it's also about conserving a unique migratory phenomenon in nature," said WWF Mexico general director Jorge Rickards. "Monarchs contribute to healthy and diverse terrestrial ecosystems across North America as they carry pollen from one plant to another."
"With 80% of agricultural food production depending on pollinators like monarchs, when people help the species, we are also helping ourselves," he added.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Little Willie Littlefield - Hit The Road
Little Willie Littlefield - Striking On You Baby
Little Willie Littlefield - Lump In My Throat
Little Willie Littlefield - Tell Me Baby
Little Willie Littlefield - Trouble Around Me
Little Willie Littlefield - Lowdown Shame
Little Willie Littlefield - Drinkin' Hadacol
Little Willie Littlefield - Rockin´ Chair Mama
Little Willie Littlefield - K.C. Loving
Little Willie Littlefield - Little Willie's Boogie