The Evening Blues - 3-17-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago bluesman Muddy Waters. Enjoy!
Muddy Waters Rhythm & Blues Band Germany 1976
"There is more at work here than getting rid of Trump, there is a need to eliminate a system in which democracy is equated with capitalism, a system driven almost exclusively by financial interests, and beholden to two political parties that are hard wired into neoliberal savagery."
-- Henry Giroux
News and Opinion
From MSNBC Politics shows o town hall meetings across the country, the overarching issue for the Democratic Party’s base since Trump’s victory has been Russia, often suffocating attention for other issues. ... The principal problem for Democrats is that so many media figures and online charlatans are personally benefiting from feeding the base increasingly unhinged, fact-free conspiracies — just as right-wing media polemicists did after both Bill Clinton and Obama were elected — that there are now millions of partisan soldiers absolutely convinced of a Trump/Russia conspiracy for which, at least as of now, there is no evidence. And they are all waiting for the day, which they regard as inevitable and imminent, when this theory will be proven and Trump will be removed. ...
The latest official to throw cold water on the MSNBC-led circus is President Obama’s former acting CIA chief Michael Morell. What makes him particularly notable in this context is that Morell was one of Clinton’s most vocal CIA surrogates. ... But on Wednesday night, Morell appeared at an intelligence community forum to “cast doubt” on “allegations that members of the Trump campaign colluded with Russia.” “On the question of the Trump campaign conspiring with the Russians here, there is smoke, but there is no fire at all,” he said, adding, “There’s no little campfire, there’s no little candle, there’s no spark. And there’s a lot of people looking for it.” ...
Perhaps most revealing of all are the Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee — charged with investigating these matters — who recently told BuzzFeed how petrified they are of what the Democratic base will do if they do not find evidence of collusion, as they now suspect will likely be the case. “There’s a tangible frustration over what one official called ‘wildly inflated’ expectations surrounding the panel’s fledgling investigation,” BuzzFeed’s Ali Watkins wrote.
But with serious doubts — and fears — now emerging about what the Democratic base has been led to believe by self-interested carnival barkers and partisan hacks, there is a sudden, concerted effort to rein in the excesses of this story. With so many people now doing this, it will be increasingly difficult to smear them all as traitors and Russian loyalists, but it may be far too little, too late, given the pitched hysteria that has been deliberately cultivated around these issues for months. Many Democrats have reached the classic stage of deranged conspiracists where evidence that disproves the theory is viewed as further proof of its existence, and those pointing to it are instantly deemed suspect.
"Maddow claims the protection of 1st amendment for publishing Trump’s leaked/stolen tax returns. Fine. But she should apply the same standard to the DNC/Podesta emails, which she and the rest of the MSDNC crew continue to refer to as 'stolen.'"
-- Jeffrey St Clair
Working Americans are facing countless problems right now. Donald Trump’s tax returns don’t top the list – but you wouldn’t know that by listening to politicians or talking-heads. When will liberals start talking about issues that matter most to every day voters? You’d think that would be one obvious take away from this humiliating election.
Tuesday night saw the revelation of two pages from President Trump’s 2005 tax returns on Rachel Maddow’s nightly MSNBC broadcast. ... As the New York Times reported, the revelation of Trump’s tax returns came after an opening monologue about his ties to Russia, a topic that Maddow seems fond of bringing up lately.
But are these the burning issues animating the politics of most Americans? According to a January CNN/ORC poll, 58% of Americans do not believe that alleged Russian interference gave a decisive edge to Donald Trump in the presidential election, and 56% stated that the United States and Russia should continue with diplomatic relations regardless. In the most recent CNN/ORC poll on the policy priorities of the American public, “the economy” (26%) and “health care” (20%) were higher on the priority list than “national security” (16%), which may or may not contain concern about Russia.
Given the policy discussions that Americans are having, it makes you wonder why pundits like Maddow are not discussing this: the Republican-sponsored American Health Care Act will be laden with tax incentives for the wealthiest Americans, with the bill even going so far as to include measures that would enable the Republican-dominated Congress to enact further tax breaks in the future. ...
Trump is far from a populist; he’s a fabulist, selling the working-class Americans who voted for him a bill of goods. Too bad he will likely get away it, given that the opposition in Washington would rather sound like Joe McCarthy’s warmed-over corpse than anything resembling a progressive fighter for working people.
British intelligence officials have taken the rare step of issuing a public statement to deny a White House claim that the U.K. wiretapped Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, calling the accusation “utterly ridiculous.”
The statement from GCHQ, the U.K. government’s intelligence and security organization, came after White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer repeated the sensational claim – initially made by a Fox News analyst – in an attempt Thursday to support Trump’s statements that former president Barack Obama tapped his phones.
The allegation originated from Fox News’ judicial analyst and former judge Andrew Napolitano, who said Tuesday that three intelligence sources had confirmed to him that Obama used British intelligence to spy on Trump to ensure there were “no American fingerprints.” ...
It was reported Friday that Spicer apologized privately to the GCHQ agency for his comments.
"Hi, I'm Michael Hayden. I once helped President Bush ignore the FISA court & wiretap Americans. Let me explain why that could never happen" https://t.co/j1Z2TVxWo9
— Trevor Timm (@trevortimm) March 7, 2017
Prior to the discovery of incontrovertible evidence:
Military officials have confirmed to Airwars that a strike in rural Aleppo which reportedly left dozens dead in and around a mosque was carried out by US aircraft.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based monitor, said that at least 42 people, mostly civilians, were killed in a strike that “targeted a mosque in al-Jinah village” in the western countryside of Aleppo on March 16th. “The death toll is expected to rise,” said the monitor.
Initial reporting was conflicting, including assertions that Russian forces or the Assad regime were to blame. Photographs reportedly from the site and posted on social media also appeared to depict weapons fragments similar to those found at previous US drone strikes in Syria. ...
The death toll, which could not immediately be confirmed, appears to be at least the second largest ever from US strikes aimed at alleged al-Qeada targets in Syria.
During the Syrian army’s offensive to retake the eastern part of Aleppo from the insurgent opposition, the Western media portrayed the assault as if Russia and Syria were carrying out a campaign primarily aimed at killing and harming civilians. The humanitarian crisis dominated headlines while key facts, such as Al Qaeda’s domination of the opposition forces and the way in which the militants had brutally conquered the city’s civilians, were marginalized or not reported at all.
A similar military offensive being carried out by the U.S. and its allies in the Iraqi city of Mosul reveals the hypocritical nature of Western news outlets, which portray their own countries’ actions as targeting only Islamic State terrorists and scrupulously avoiding harm to civilians.
There is no doubt that the siege in eastern Aleppo resulted in a humanitarian crisis for the civilian population trapped within the warzone. As the Washington Institute’s Fabrice Balanche described: “What the United Nations is describing [about] the humanitarian situation is correct: hospitals destroyed, people living in shelters, women and children trapped in the rubble, and so on.”
Yet in reality the destruction waged upon Aleppo was hardly different from what is now being done in Mosul as the U.S.-led coalition carries out a similar campaign of counterinsurgency and siege warfare.
Currently the Iraqi army, backed by U.S. airstrikes, is conducting a violent and brutal assault on the western parts of Mosul city in order to drive out the Islamic State. A whole population of civilians is trapped within an ongoing warzone and cut off from food supplies and basic necessities as the military offensive hits heavily populated areas killing civilians while destroying important infrastructure in the process, including hospitals.
Yet, while Western officials and media pundits vehemently condemned the Syrian assault on Aleppo, they are largely silent — or congratulatory and supportive — as the U.S. and its partners lay waste to the more heavily populated city of Mosul.
Rexxon rattles his sabres:
A pre-emptive US military strike against North Korea may be necessary if the threat posed by its nuclear weapons programme reaches a level that “requires action”, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, has warned.
Speaking in Seoul on the second day of a visit to the Asia-Pacific region, Tillerson said Washington’s policy of “strategic patience” towards the regime in Pyongyang had ended.
In his strongest comments yet on concerns that North Korea is moving closer towards developing a nuclear strike capability that could threaten the US mainland, Tillerson said “all options are on the table”.
A couple of years ago, the Freedom of the Press Foundation sued the DOJ over its refusal to release its secret rules governing spying on the nation's journalists. This was prompted by revelations the FBI had used National Security Letters to obtain information on AP and Fox News journalists. The DOJ then issued new rules on the do's and don'ts of surveilling journalists, but once again (a) redacted them into uselessness and (b) granted the FBI an NSL exception, undercutting the entire point of the recrafted rules.
The OIG report -- in which the Inspector General disputed the DOJ's extensive redactions -- still has yet to be released in a less-redacted form. Sadly, it now appears it will never be any less redacted than the unintelligible mess the DOJ handed over a few years ago. A federal judge has sided with the government, finding its investigative techniques and methods are too sensitive to be handed over to the public, much less journalists it may or may not have surveilled using NSLs.
When 46-year-old Vanessa Mae Rodel first met Edward Snowden on the doorstep of her run-down apartment, she saw herself in him — a refugee looking for safety, comfort and security in one of the most impoverished areas in Hong Kong after fleeing his country. “He looked very upset and worried,” she recalled. “I said it’s ok, he can stay in my home. I feel like we are the same as asylum-seekers so I should help him.” ...
Rodel, an asylum-seeker from the Philippines and her four-year-old daughter are among the three refugee families who sheltered, fed and looked after Snowden during his two-week stay in Hong Kong before he fled to Moscow in 2013. Others include Sri Lankans Ajith Pushpakumara, Supun Thilina Kellapatha, his wife Nadeeka Dilrukshi Nonis and their two small children. The three children were born stateless. ...
Now the families are fighting for a chance at a new life in Canada. Hong Kong based newspaper South China Morning Post revealed last week that a group of Montreal lawyers filed a refugee claim on behalf of the families in January. They are urging immigration minister Ahmed Hussein to expedite the process. Snowden himself has weighed in on their plight telling Ricochet media that their situation is “vulnerable and destitute” and urging on Twitter that Canada “protects them in kind.”
The families that sheltered me have formally filed for asylum in Canada. Let us pray Canada protects them in kind. https://t.co/1tgzABBCZj
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) March 9, 2017
The refugees say that International Social Services, a government contractor responsible for providing welfare to asylum seekers in Hong Kong, have harassed them by slashing their welfare benefits and interrogating them about their time with Snowden. In a place where asylum-seekers are banned from seeking employment, they are completely reliant on government provisions.
President Trump's budget proposal, released on Thursday, echoes none of the populist, anti-establishment themes of candidate Trump’s campaign for higher office. Instead, it calls for a large increase in defense spending while reducing spending for a variety of popular domestic programs.
That’s not surprising considering where those ideas came from. Rather than bringing in new ideas from outside of the Beltway, many of its proposals are lifted straight from the recommendations of an elite ultra-conservative D.C. think tank: the Heritage Foundation. ...
Heritage is certainly pleased with the outcome — mostly. It put out a statement on Thursday praising the White House budget proposal. ...
There was just one part the think tank didn’t like — it complained that Trump’s call for an additional $54 billion in defense spending just isn’t big enough: “President Trump’s 2018 defense budget proposal represents a clear commitment to rebuilding the military and a desire to repeal damaging sequestration defense caps. However, this increase is insufficient to begin the much-needed re-building.”
While much of the attention given to Donald Trump’s budget proposal has focused on dramatic cuts at the Environmental Protection Agency and the state department, amid the many cuts in the plan is the elimination of the US Interagency Council on Homelessness (Usich).
In addition, Trump’s budget would cut billions of dollars of funding for the Department of Housing and Urban Development, which helps provide low-income housing.
Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, warned in a statement that the proposal contained some of the deepest housing cuts since “President Reagan dramatically reduced funding in the early 1980s. Reagan’s deep spending cuts ushered in a new age of homelessness.”
In an interview, she said the reductions might result in 200,000 low-income people no longer receiving rental assistance, putting them at risk of losing the roofs over their heads. About 550,000 people were experiencing homelessness on one night in 2016.
“At a time when we have reached new heights of an affordable housing crisis, and lowest-income people are being impacted most severely, cutting resources is the wrong approach to ending homelessness,” she said.
The Trump regime has defended its plan to cut the “Meals on Wheels” program by saying it “doesn’t show any results.” What kind of “results” are they talking about? The program delivers meals to shut-ins; the shut-ins eat the meal; they don’t starve to death. That is the result, and it happens all day every day. It is one of the most “resultful” programs in existence. But notice that the Trumpists aren’t saying we can’t afford the program; they are clearly saying it’s not delivering the results they want to see. And what are the only “results” produced by not delivering meals to the sick and shut-in who can’t provide for themselves? THEY WILL DIE.
Therefore, we can only conclude that the “result” Donald Trump and his ideological Svengali, Stephen Banon, are looking for is a higher death count for the sick and elderly. We know that throughout his public life, Trump has often expressed his belief in genetic superiority, that the right genes, the right blood are responsible for success in life. (Particularly his succes!) The flipside, of course, is that those who haven’t “succeeded” according to his lights, the people who are “weak” and “losers” (to quote two of his favorite epithets), are therefore genetically inferior. We know this is his belief from his own statements. ...
I don’t think it can be denied any longer that this attitude — this aim – is an intrinsic element in the policies of the Trump regime and the Congressional extremists. The weak, the sick, the different, the “impure” and the “inferior” are to be made to disappear: by deportation, by bans, by walls – and by dying. For the moment, it doesn’t look like actual systematic mass extermination is on the cards; so perhaps we can call their present approach the “Semi-Final Solution.” But who knows what wonders await us down the line. As the late, great Leonard Cohen said: “I’ve seen the future, brother: it is murder.”
With just days until Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch's confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, a new trove of documents is raising additional questions about the federal judge's time at the Department of Justice (DOJ), where he "played a key role in defending the torture and detention policies that have been rejected by the courts and by our country," according to one group.
From June 2005 to August 2006, Gorsuch served as the principal deputy to the associate attorney general under former President George W. Bush.
Last week, the department turned over to the Judiciary Committee roughly 150,000 pages of documents related to Gorsuch's tenure there—and as the New York Times reported Wednesday, they show Gorsuch was "at the center of both litigation and negotiations with Congress" over issues including detainee abuses, military commissions, warrantless surveillance, and the Bush administration's broad claims of executive power. Read some examples here.
Since President Donald Trump's November election, hate incidents nationwide have increased—and now he's chosen a leader from one group that has itself espoused violence to represent the U.S. on the international stage.
Earlier this week, the State Department announced that representatives from infamous anti-LGBTQ hate group the Center for Family and Human Rights (C-FAM) and from the far-right Heritage Foundation will represent the U.S. at a United Nations conference on women's rights later this month:
Trump State Department sent reps from C-FAM - a SPLC-recognized hate group - and Heritage to accompany Haley at UN women's rights conference pic.twitter.com/68swSVnShp
— Samuel Oakford (@samueloakford) March 15, 2017
If you look at the numbers, Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America - and it’s not even close. Yet bizarrely, the Democratic party - out of power across the country and increasingly irrelevant - still refuses to embrace him and his message. It’s increasingly clear they do so at their own peril.
A new Fox News poll out this week shows Sanders has a +28 net favorability rating among the US population, dwarfing all other elected politicians on both ends of the political spectrum. And he’s even more popular among the vaunted “independents,” where he is at a mind boggling +41. ...
One would think with numbers like that, Democratic politicians would be falling all over themselves to be associated with Sanders, especially considering the party as a whole is more unpopular than the Republicans and even Donald Trump right now. Yet instead of embracing his message, the establishment wing of the party continues to resist him at almost every turn, and they seem insistent that they don’t have to change their ways to gain back the support of huge swaths of the country. ...
As Politico reported on the Democrats’ post-Trump strategy in February “Democratic aides say they will eventually shift to a positive economic message that Rust Belt Democrats can run on.” However: “for now, aides say, the focus is on slaying the giant and proving to the voters who sent Trump into the White House why his policies will fail.”
In other words, they’re doubling down on the exact same failing strategy that Clinton used in the final months of the campaign. Sanders himself put it this way in his usual blunt style in an interview with New York Magazine this week when asked about whether the Democrats can adapt to the political reality said “there are some people in the Democratic Party who want to maintain the status quo. They would rather go down with the Titanic so long as they have first-class seats.”
A court in Japan has ruled that negligence by the state contributed to the triple meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant in March 2011 and awarded significant damages to evacuees. Although courts have awarded damages arising from the disaster in other cases, Friday’s ruling is the first time the government has been held liable.
The Maebashi district court near Tokyo awarded ¥38.55m (£270,000) to 137 people who were forced to evacuate their homes in the days after three of Fukushima Daiichi’s six reactors suffered a catastrophic meltdown, the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl in 1986.
Despite official claims that the size and destructive power of the quake and tsunami were impossible to foresee, the court said the nuclear meltdown could have been prevented. The ruling said the government should have used its regulatory powers to force the plant’s operator, Tokyo Electric Power (Tepco), who were also held liable, to take adequate preventive measures.
President Donald Trump's proposed budget for the next fiscal year, released Thursday morning, would drastically slash the Environmental Protection Agency, eliminating 50 programs and 3,200 positions. Of all cabinet-level agencies, the EPA would be saddled with the largest budget reduction at 31 percent.
The downsizing is even more extreme than it appears because it comes on the heels of severe budget cuts that followed the Republican takeover of Congress in 2010 and the budget sequestration deal of 2011. EPA’s budget of $8.2 billion this year was already down by more than 20 percent from $10.3 billion in 2010. It’s smaller today than it was in 2004 — and that’s without adjusting for inflation.
The cuts are also concentrated on EPA’s in-house programs rather than on the big chunk of its funding that is doled out to state, local, and tribal governments. Those state and local “revolving funds” from the EPA are for relatively uncontroversial programs like investing in clean water and sewer infrastructure — programs that make constituents back home happy. Trump’s plan doesn’t touch that $2.3 billion chunk.
Instead, he cuts 31 percent from the remaining share of EPA’s budget, which includes programs that study pollution and environmental toxins, and write and enforce rules to protect public health; altogether, those programs in particular will see a 42 percent cut. Clean air, clean water, and climate change programs would bear the brunt.
As temperatures rise, so will rates of illness and disease in the United States. So say the 400,000 physicians who make up the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health.
On Wednesday, the newly formed consortium issued “Climate Change Is Harming Our Health,” a report compiled after surveying patients. ... “Even our ‘best-case scenario’ means we’re going to be seeing more with demanding health problems,” one doctor said in the report. “But the worst-case scenarios of climate change really worry me. It would mean a level of human suffering we can barely contemplate, much less respond to.”
In an act of international solidarity between indigenous peoples, the Sami parliament in Norway has persuaded the country’s second largest pension fund to withdraw its money from companies linked to a controversial oil project backed by Donald Trump. ...
This week, after lobbying by the Sami parliament, Norway’s local authority pension fund KLP announced it would sell of shares worth $58m in companies building the pipeline.
Vibeke Larsen, president of the Sami parliament, said the pension fund announced the move when she arrived at a meeting in Oslo to discuss Dakota Access.
“We feel a strong solidarity with other indigenous people in other parts of the world, so we are doing our part in Norway by putting pressure on the pension funds,” she told the Guardian.
In common with Native Americans in the US, the Sami have over the years protested against mining operations and mineral resource prospecting on their land.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Muddy Waters - Champagne & Reefer
Muddy Waters - Manish Boy
Muddy Waters - Feel Like Blowin' My Horn
Muddy Waters - Baby Please Don't Go
Muddy Waters - Forty Days and Forty Nights
Muddy Waters - I Am The Blues
Muddy Waters - I'm A King Bee
Muddy Waters - She Moves Me
Muddy Waters - The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock And Roll
Muddy Waters - Young Fashioned Ways