The Evening Blues - 3-16-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Detroit blues singer, guitarist and songwriter Louis "Mr. Bo" Collins. Enjoy!
Mr Bo - Detroit, Michigan
“Moral maxims are surprisingly useful on occasions when we can invent little else to justify our actions.”
-- Alexander Pushkin
News and Opinion
Russian bank Sberbank has now admitted to hiring a lobbying firm connected to the Hillary Clinton campaign to fight sanctions against the Russian government. The Podesta Group was founded by John Podesta, who served as campaign chairman for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during her 2016 presidential campaign.
According to senate lobbying disclosure forms, John’s brother and current head of the firm, Tony Podesta, was paid $170,000 in 2016 to represent Sberbank to end one of the Obama administration’s economic sanctions against Russia.
Podesta and other lobbyists worked Congress and set up meetings between the Russians and State Department officials to discuss ways to end the sanctions imposed in Executive Order 13660 in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Sberbank and VTB Capital—the first and second largest banks in Russia, respectively—paid $700,000 for the lobbying work. ...
Russian Ambassador to the United States Sergey Kislyak met with advisers to the Clinton campaign during the 2016 election. ... Whether Kislyak was able to recruit any advisers to Hillary Clinton to work for Russian intelligence remains unknown. ... The extent to which the Clinton campaign was connected to the Russian government has yet to be fully investigated.
The Kagan family, America’s neoconservative aristocracy, has reemerged having recovered from the letdown over not gaining its expected influence from the election of Hillary Clinton and from its loss of official power at the start of the Trump presidency. Back pontificating on prominent op-ed pages, the Family Kagan now is pushing for an expanded U.S. military invasion of Syria and baiting Republicans for not joining more enthusiastically in the anti-Russian witch hunt over Moscow’s alleged help in electing Donald Trump.
In a Washington Post op-ed on March 7, Robert Kagan, a co-founder of the Project for the New American Century and a key architect of the Iraq War, jabbed at Republicans for serving as “Russia’s accomplices after the fact” by not investigating more aggressively. Then, Frederick Kagan, director of the Critical Threats Project at the neocon American Enterprise Institute, and his wife, Kimberly Kagan, president of her own think tank, Institute for the Study of War, touted the idea of a bigger U.S. invasion of Syria in a Wall Street Journal op-ed on March 15. ...
Robert Kagan took to the high-profile op-ed page of The Washington Post to bait key Republicans, such as Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who was pictured above the Post article and its headline, “Running interference for Russia.” Kagan wrote: “It would have been impossible to imagine a year ago that the Republican Party’s leaders would be effectively serving as enablers of Russian interference in this country’s political system. Yet, astonishingly, that is the role the Republican Party is playing.” ...
Many Democrats and liberals may find it encouraging that a leading neocon who helped pave the road to war in Iraq is now by their side in running down Republicans for not enthusiastically joining the latest Russian witch hunt. But they also might pause to ask themselves how they let their hatred of Trump get them into an alliance with the neocons. ... As often is the case, the Family Kagan has charted the course of action – batter Republicans into joining the all-out Russia-bashing and then persuade a softened Trump to launch a full-scale invasion of Syria. In this endeavor, the Kagans have Democrats and liberals as the foot soldiers.
Oh my, it looks like the Kaganate of Nulands script described in Parry's article above is growing in popularity ...
Arizona Senator John McCain, who has yet to be struck by lightning despite my many attempted pacts with various religious deities, lurched to the Senate floor yesterday and proclaimed that anyone who objected to his push to expand NATO by including the unstable nation of Montenegro in its alliance was enacting the will of Putin. When Rand Paul —who has consistently opposed Russia-antagonizing NATO expansionism— objected, McCain flipped his lid in a way I’ve never seen an eighty year-old man do outside the confines of a locked Alzheimer’s unit and declared that Senator Paul was “working for Vladimir Putin.”
Yes, really. In real life.
The U.S. is the unchallenged champion of hijacking, fixing and subverting elections around the world. On every inhabitable continent – from Italy to Iran to Accra to Tegucigalpa -- Washington has stolen people’s rights to elected leaders of their choice. Only two decades ago, Bill Clinton and his operatives were busy stealing Russia’s first post-Soviet elections. But, U.S. corporate media seem to have forgotten such inconvenient facts. ...
In 1996 American political consultants and the Bill Clinton administration made certain that Boris Yeltsin remained in the Russian presidency. There is no need for conjecture in this case. The story was discussed quite openly at the time and included a Time magazine cover story with the guilty parties going on record about their role in subverting democracy.
Polls showed that Yeltsin was in danger of losing to the Communist Party candidate Gennadi Zhuganov. The collapse of the Soviet Union had created an economic and political catastrophe for the Russian people. Oligarchs openly stole public funds while government workers went without pay. Russians lost the safety net they had enjoyed and the disaster resulted in a precipitous decline in life expectancy and birth rates.
The United States didn’t care about the suffering of ordinary Russians. Its only concern was making sure that the once socialist country never turned in that direction again. When Yeltsin looked like a loser the Clinton administration pressed the International Monetary Fund to send quick cash and bolster Yeltsin’s government with a $10 billion loan.
Clinton had an even more direct involvement. Led by a team connected to his adviser Dick Morris, a group of political consultants went to work in Moscow, but kept their existence a secret. One of the conspirators put the case succinctly. "Everyone realized that if the Communists knew about this before the election, they would attack Yeltsin as an American tool.” Of course Yeltsin was an American tool, and that was precisely the desired outcome.
Adam Schiff hyperventilation alert. Someone please check the congressworm's vital signs.
When asked by Fox News host Tucker Carlson why he hasn't gone to the agencies he is "in charge of," to "gather evidence" to support his claim that President Barack Obama tapped Trump Tower, Trump said: "Because I don't want to do anything that's going to violate any strength of an agency. You know we have enough problems. And, by the way, the CIA—I just want people to know—the CIA was hacked and a lot of things taken. That was during the Obama years. That was not during us."
That information, it appears, was not for the public.
[well gosh, it was all over the news, now they tell us we weren't supposed to read it! - js]
On Thursday, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, which has asked the administration to provide evidence of the alleged tap, accused Trump of "leaking" classified information.
As for the initial claim, Trump told Carlson that his definition of wiretap "covers a lot of different things," and promised that the Department of Justice "will be submitting things" to the House committee "very soon," despite missing a Monday deadline for evidence.
"You're going to find some very interesting items coming to the forefront over the next two weeks," the president said.
The four men indicted for the 2014 hack — which compromised 500 million user accounts — include two Russian spies, Dmitry Aleksandrovich Dokuchaev and Igor Anatolyevich Suschin, and two cybercriminals, Alexsey Alexseyvich Belan and Karim Baratov. Baratov, a Kazakh national and a resident of Canada, according to the Justice Department, was arrested in Canada on Tuesday.
At a press conference to discuss the indictments, Acting Assistant Attorney General of the National Security Division Mary McCord said that the indictments detail how “Russian federal security service (FSB) officers working together with criminal hackers conspired to plan and carry out one of the largest cyber intrusions in U.S. history.”
Abbate and the other officials declined to speculate too much on the motive for the hack, but McCord pointed out that one of the defendants, Belan, used credit numbers and 30 million stolen accounts to run an email scam for personal profit. Additionally, the summary of allegations released by the Justice Department notes that “some victim accounts were of predictable interest to the FSB,” including those belonging to Russian journalists, officials of various governments, and prominent figures in the private sector.
Ukraine’s government said Wednesday it would cut off all transport connections with Russian-backed separatist territories in the country’s east, potentially undermining a fragile ceasefire and jeopardizing the country’s tentative economic recovery.
The announcement was made at a special meeting of the country’s security and defense council with President Petro Poroshenko, and represents a dramatic hardening of the government’s position. Only humanitarian traffic will be allowed — cutting off flows of goods and people that had persisted despite almost three years of a war that has taken 10,000 lives. ...
Dozens of activists have been blocking four railroad junctions since the end of January, preventing coal from the self-declared Donetsk and Luhansk “People’s Republics” from traveling west into government-controlled areas, and, at the same time, stopping iron ore and other inputs for the steel industry from reaching factories in rebel-controlled territory.
This week, Kiev seemed to be moving to end the blockade — dismantling one of the blockaders’ base camps and detaining more than 40 activists, who were later released.
But even that tentative step unleashed nationalist protests in Kiev. ... The blockade’s leaders, a mix of nationalists and Western-leaning reformers, said they have two goals: to force the release of Ukrainian political prisoners and POWs held in the east and in Russia, and to bring an end to all trade with Russia and the breakaway territories.
U.S. military likely to send as many as 1,000 more ground troops into Syria ahead of Raqqa offensive, officials say
The U.S. military has drawn up early plans that would deploy up to 1,000 more troops into northern Syria in the coming weeks, expanding the American presence in the country ahead of the offensive on the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, according to U.S. defense officials familiar with the matter.
The deployment, if approved by Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and President Trump, would potentially double the number of U.S. forces in Syria and increase the potential for direct U.S. combat involvement in a conflict that has been characterized by confusion and competing priorities among disparate forces.
Trump, who charged former president Barack Obama with being weak on Syria, gave the Pentagon 30 days to prepare a new plan to counter the Islamic State, and Mattis submitted a broad outline to the White House at the end of February. Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, has been filling in more details for that outline, including by how much to increase the U.S. ground presence in Syria. Votel is set to forward his recommendations to Mattis by the end of the month, and the Pentagon secretary is likely to sign off on them, according to a defense official familiar with the deliberations.
While the new contingent of U.S. troops would initially not play a combat role, they would be entering an increasingly complex and dangerous battlefield. In recent weeks, U.S. Army Rangers have been sent to the city of Manbij west of Raqqa to deter Russian, Turkish and Syrian opposition forces all operating in the area, while a Marine artillery battery recently deployed near Raqqa has already come under fire, according to a defense official with direct knowledge of their operations.
Navy Seals attempted to conduct another raid inside Yemen earlier this month but aborted the mission at the last minute, according to a senior U.S. military official.
Members of SEAL Team 6 deployed to Yemen in early March for a ground assault targeting suspected members of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, a group U.S. officials view as the most dangerous branch of the terrorist organization. The aborted mission followed a botched January 29 raid in the village of al Ghayil, in al Bayda province. That raid left a Navy SEAL dead and two others seriously injured, and killed more than two dozen Yemeni civilians, including at least 16 women and children. The leader of AQAP, Qassim al Rimi, released a statement mocking Donald Trump and stating that 14 men died in the assault. ...
After SEAL Team 6 aborted the March mission, the Joint Special Operations Command, or JSOC, which oversees the SEAL unit, chose to target suspected AQAP personnel and facilities with drone strikes, according to the U.S. military official, who requested anonymity to discuss classified information. It could not be learned why SEAL Team 6 aborted the mission. A Pentagon spokesperson declined to comment on the aborted raid.
You remember Afghanistan, right? The longest war in U.S. history and the most unpopular one, too? The ongoing conflict that’s been ignored by politicians and pundits alike, despite 2,400 U.S. dead and a whopping $1 trillion price tag?
Afghanistan hardly got a look in during the election campaign. The decade-and-a-half-long war was mentioned only once in the three presidential debates — in the form of a passing reference by Hillary Clinton. Trump, however, might want to put down the golf clubs and start paying attention to the forgotten struggle against the Taliban, which was supposed to have formally ended in December 2014. His generals, backed by GOP hawks in Congress, want to drag it out for a few more years. Their unspoken mantra? When in doubt, double down. ...
Last month, while all eyes were on Jeff Sessions’s confirmation as attorney general on the floor of the Senate, Gen. John Nicholson, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, appeared before the Senate Armed Services Committee to ask for a “few thousand” more U.S. troops. Last week, his boss, Gen. Joseph Votel, head of U.S. Central Command, echoed Nicholson’s request, telling senators that a new “strategy” for Afghanistan had to “involve additional forces.” And this week, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham and John McCain, who never met a Muslim-majority nation they did not want to bomb, invade, or occupy, used a Washington Post op-ed to call for — surprise, surprise — “additional U.S. and coalition forces” in Afghanistan, including “special operations forces and close air support.”
What was that definition of insanity again?
A prominent Iraqi Sunni politician on Monday warned Washington the acceleration in a military campaign in western Mosul to drive out Islamic State jihadists was causing a sudden surge in civilian casualties that threatened to undermine the effort to crush the militants.
Khamis Khanjar, who has used his leverage to lobby the U.S. administration and the Iraqi authorities to ensure the major campaign in Mosul minimizes civilian losses among its population, said at least 3,500 civilians have been killed since the push into the western side of the side last month.
The army had earlier recaptured the east of the city in an offensive that began last year. ...
Khanjar said the mounting casualties came mainly from air strikes and indiscriminate shelling of heavily crowded neighborhoods as the U.S trained elite Counter Terrorism Service (CTS) forces push deeper into the Old City and city center. ...
Some 850,000 people are still believed to be living there, according to Khanjar.
The Trump administration is reviewing membership in the UN Human Rights Council, and “considerable reform” within the organization would be necessary for the US to remain, according to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. ...
State Department officials – including Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley – say their goal is to fix the organization and its “bias” against the Jewish state. The Human Rights Council and United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) are the two organizations are under the most intense scrutiny by Trump administration officials over their treatment of Israel.
Meeting with Tillerson last week, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman suggested the US pull its membership. He accused the council of “distorting reality” in an effort to hurt Israel, according to the Defense Ministry, and noted that 60% of all decisions made by the body are Israel-related.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has conceded that 20 years of US attempts to “denuclearise” North Korea have failed, and called for a new approach towards the regime’s nuclear weapons programme.
Speaking in Tokyo at the start of a four-day visit to Japan, South Korea and China, Tillerson said on Thursday: “I think it’s important to recognise that the political and diplomatic efforts of the past 20 years to bring North Korea to the point of denuclearisation have failed.
“That includes a period where the United States has provided $1.35bn in assistance to North Korea as an encouragement to take a different pathway. In the face of this ever-escalating threat, it is clear that a different approach is required. Part of the purpose of my visit to the region is to exchange views on a new approach.”
Tillerson said he and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, had discussed a fresh approach to North Korea’s “dangerous and unlawful” nuclear programme, but neither revealed details.
Donald Trump unveiled a $1.15tn budget on Thursday, a far-reaching overhaul of federal government spending that would slash many domestic programs to finance a significant increase in the military and make a downpayment on a US-Mexico border wall.
Trump’s proposal seeks to upend Washington with cuts to long-promised campaign targets like foreign aid and the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as strong congressional favorites such as medical research, help for homeless veterans and community development grants.
“A budget that puts America first must make the safety of our people its number one priority because without safety, there can be no prosperity,” Trump said in a message accompanying his proposed budget, entitled America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.
The $54bn boost for the military is the largest since Ronald Reagan’s Pentagon buildup in the 1980s, promising immediate money for troop readiness, the fight against Islamic State militants and procurement of new ships, fighter jets and other weapons. The 10% Pentagon boost is financed by $54bn in cuts to foreign aid and domestic agencies that had been protected by Barack Obama.
The budget goes after the frequent targets of the party’s staunchest conservatives, eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, legal aid for the poor, low-income heating assistance and the AmeriCorps national service program established by Bill Clinton.
Populist firebrand Geert Wilders and his PVV party failed to live up to the hype following them into the Netherlands elections Wednesday, winning only 20 seats in the country’s parliament — far short of the 30 they were predicted to win at the start of the year.
The results will keep the anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant Wilders firmly outside of any ruling coalition government. Instead, by sheer virtue of a highly splintered Dutch electorate, and despite losing 8 seats, incumbent Prime Minister Mark Rutte and his center-right VVD party remain the largest party in government, and best positioned to head up the country’s next coalition government. ...
Overall, this election cycle saw a decline in support for all the mainstream Dutch political parties. The center-left Labour party experienced historic losses in the polls, shedding 29 seats. The desertion of traditional center-left parties was a boon for the so called “Dutch Trudeau” Jesse Klaver, whose Groenlinks party picked up 12 seats. Many voters on the left were uneasy about the willingness of traditional parties to adopt parts of Wilders’ extreme anti-muslim rhetoric.
— GroenLinks (@groenlinks) March 15, 2017
Key portions of President Donald Trump’s new travel ban won’t take effect at 12:01 a.m. on Thursday morning because U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson has granted Hawaii’s request for a nationwide temporary halt.
In a hearing Wednesday, Hawaii Attorney General Douglas Chin argued that the travel ban discriminated against Muslims and would have severely damaged key Hawaiian institutions and industries like higher education and tourism. U.S. Justice Department lawyers argued that because the ban applied to only a small fraction of the world’s majority-Muslim countries, it wasn’t discriminatory.
Watson disagreed with that assessment.
“The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable,” he wrote in his ruling. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”
Watson also cited Trump’s repeated campaign promises to enforce what would likely be an unconstitutional Muslim ban as evidence of the order’s true intent.
For months, critics of the president have been told that they should take Trump’s words seriously, but not literally. On Wednesday night federal district judge Derrick K Watson refused to take the bait. He insisted that Trump’s words on “banning Muslims” should be taken seriously and literally. ...
The judge set out to determine if the revised executive order, which now makes no reference to religion, was simply a pretext for an unconstitutional act of religious discrimination. To do so he recalled the many things that the president said about the purpose of the executive order he issued, both before and after his took office.
Watson insisted on taking literally Trump’s electioneering statement: “Donald J Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” In addition, he offered a long list of statements to that same effect made by Trump and his spokespeople.
He called particular attention to the statement of Rudy Giuliani when he went on television to explain how the initial executive order came to be. The judge reminded the readers of his opinion of what Giuliani said: “When [Trump] first announced it, he said, ‘Muslim ban’. He called me up. He said, ‘Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.’”
The judge tellingly referred to what he referred to as “plainly worded statements made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the executive order, and, in many cases, made by the executive himself” that, Watson insisted, “betray the executive order’s stated secular purpose”.
ACLU Lawyer Esha Bhandari on Your Rights If Border Agents Try to Seize Your Cell Phone at the Border
The continuity of Wall Street’s dominant role in American politics — regardless of what party sits in power or how reviled the financial industry finds itself across the country — was perhaps never more evident than when Jake Siewert, now a Goldman Sachs spokesperson, on Tuesday praised the selection of Jim Donovan, a Goldman Sachs managing director, for the No. 2 position in the Treasury Department under Steve Mnuchin, himself a former Goldman Sachs partner. ...
The punch line? Siewert was counselor at the Treasury Department to Timothy Geithner, as well as a White House press secretary under Bill Clinton.
The ubiquity of Goldman Sachs veterans across numerous presidencies throughout history, both Republican and Democratic, has been well documented. But Donald Trump sold himself as something different, an economic nationalist determined to rankle Wall Street. He even ran campaign ads savaging bankers like Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein for their role in a “global power structure.”
That populist smokescreen is long gone now.
[There are plenty of gory details of the bankster's takeover of the Trump economic policy apparatus at the link. - js]
The US Federal Reserve has sought to head off rising inflation with a third interest rate rise since the 2008 financial crash and the second in three months, taking the base rate from 0.75% to 1%.
The central bank set aside concerns about the impact of higher interest rates on consumer spending to confirm analyst projections that it is prepared to increase rates several times this year to keep a lid on inflation as it rises above its 2% target level.
The Fed’s chair, Janet Yellen, said a wide range of indicators showed the US economy was in rude health, allowing its interest rate setting committee to push rates back towards historically normal levels. Policymakers voted nine to one to raise rates.
Their healthcare overhaul imperiled from all sides, the White House and top House Republicans acknowledged on Wednesday that they would make changes to the legislation in hopes of nailing down votes needed to pass the the party’s showpiece legislation soon.
House speaker Paul Ryan declined to commit to bringing the measure to the House floor next week, a fresh indication of uncertainty. Republican leaders have repeatedly said that was their schedule, but opposition mushroomed after a congressional report concluded this week that the measure would strip 24 million people of coverage in a decade.
Ryan told reporters that he and the other Republican leaders could now make “some necessary improvements and refinements” to the legislation, reflecting an urgency to buttress support.
After 140 years of negotiation, Māori tribe wins recognition for Whanganui river, meaning it must be treated as a living entity
In a world-first a New Zealand river has been granted the same legal rights as a human being. The local Māori tribe of Whanganui in the North Island has fought for the recognition of their river – the third-largest in New Zealand – as an ancestor for 140 years.
On Wednesday, hundreds of tribal representatives wept with joy when their bid to have their kin awarded legal status as a living entity was passed into law. “The reason we have taken this approach is because we consider the river an ancestor and always have,” said Gerrard Albert, the lead negotiator for the Whanganui iwi [tribe].
“We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as in indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”
The new status of the river means if someone abused or harmed it the law now sees no differentiation between harming the tribe or harming the river because they are one and the same.
His head twisted almost upside down and his body all but paralyzed, the bald eagle sat on its haunches, talons clenching, while two humans neared to put him in a cage. They could not save the bird from lead.
The eagle was the third this year to die from lead poisoning at the Blue Mountain Wildlife center, in north-east Oregon, where Lynn Tompkins has helped rehabilitate sick and injured birds for 30 years. “They eat things that have been shot,” Tompkins said, “whether it’s big game like deer or elk or coyotes or ground squirrels.”
The poisoned birds suffer paralysis, don’t eat and struggle to stand. As with mammals, lead causes blindness, brain damage and organ failure.
One of the recent eagles, Tompkins said, had 622 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood in its body, and a second had 385. ... “The short answer is that no level of lead is acceptable for living things – eagles, condors and people,” said raptor biologist Glenn Stewart.
Bald eagles have rebounded across the US since 1972, when the government banned the pesticide DDT. But 10-15% of bald eagles die in the first year because of lead poisoning, Stewart said, in part because the young birds almost exclusively eat carrion. ...
The solution, according to scientists and a growing coalition of hunters, is non-lead ammunition.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Mr Bo & His Blues Boys - I Ain't Gonna Suffer
Mr Bo and his Blue Boys - Baby Your Hair Looks Bad
Mr. Bo - I'm Leaving This Town
Mr. Bo & His Blues Boys - Lost Love Affair
Mr Bo - Heartache & Troubles
Mr Bo - Buzz Me
Louis "Mr. Bo" Collins - Born In The Country
Mr. Bo - If Trouble Was Money
Mr Bo - Fire Down Below