The Evening Blues - 2-23-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features jazz and blues piano player Mose Allison. Enjoy!
Mose Allison - Ever Since The World Ended
“At all times the driving force of the most important changes in this world has been found less in a scientific knowledge animating the masses, but rather in a fanaticism dominating them and in a hysteria which drove them forward.”
-- Adolf Hitler
News and Opinion
The grand total for all political ad spending in the 2016 election cycle, according to Advertising Age, was $9.8bn. The ads allegedly produced by inmates of a Russian troll farm, which have made up this week’s ration of horror and panic in the halls of the American punditburo, cost about $100,000 to place on Facebook.
A few months ago, when I first described those Russian ads in this space, I invited readers to laugh at them. They were “low-budget stuff, ugly, loud and stupid”, I wrote. They interested me because they cast the paranoid right, instead of the left, as dupes of a foreign power. And yet, I wrote, the American commentariat had largely overlooked them. Now that Robert Mueller’s office has indicted the Russian actors who are allegedly behind the ads, however, all that has changed. American pundits have gone from zero to 60 on this matter in no time at all – from ignoring the Facebook posts to outright hysteria over them. ...
For thoughts on the finely tuned calculations behind this propaganda campaign, the Washington Post on Saturday turned to Brian Fallon, a former Hillary Clinton press secretary, who referred to the alleged Russian effort as follows: “It seems like the creative instincts and the sophistication exceeds a lot of the US political operatives who do this for a living.” Of what, specifically, did this sophistication consist? In what startling insights was this creativity made manifest? “Fallon said it was stunning to realize that the Russians understood how Trump was trying to woo disaffected [Bernie] Sanders supporters ...”
The Post added a few suspicious examples of its own. The Russian trolls figured out that battleground states were important. And: they tried to enlist disgruntled blue-collar voters in what the paper called the “rust belt”. Okay, stop here. Since when is it a marker of political sophistication to know that some states are more persuadable than others? Or to understand that blue-collar voters are an important demographic these days? ... We have here a former spokesman for Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, one of the best-funded, most consummately professional efforts of all time, and he thinks it was an act of off-the-hook perceptiveness to figure out that Trump was aiming for disgruntled Sanders voters. Even after Trump himself openly said that’s what he was trying to do.
For a veteran politico to be stunned by this unremarkable fact, one of two things has to be true: either Democratic “political operatives” are incredibly bad at what they do, or else they are feigning amazement in order to get themselves off the hook for the lousy job they did in 2016. They themselves blew millions and came up empty, but to this handful of bargain-basement Russian trolls they ascribe all manner of ability. Clinton’s glittering Jedi army was simply powerless against them.
Masha Gessen: Did a Russian Troll Farm’s Inflammatory Posts Really Sway the 2016 Election for Trump?
Mother Jones magazine continues to drag the real Mother Jones' name through the dirt.
When news first broke that Medium, one of my primary blogging platforms, had closed the accounts of Trump-supporting pundits Mike Cernovich, Jack Posobiec and Laura Loomer, I tweeted the following in response:
“The only people cheering for this are leftists who haven’t been paying attention and centrists who have. This ongoing trend of marginalizing online dissent is already impacting the far left, and will do so more and more. The #MAGA crowd are the canaries in the coal mine, lefties.”
Hours later, right on cue, prominent Mother Jones Senior Reporter Shane Bauer was singing the praises of Medium’s recent account suspensions, and tagged Medium’s Twitter account saying they need to take it further and include left-wing writers like myself due to my repeated criticisms of the pro-regime change Syria narrative. “This is good,” Bauer tweeted, “but If @Medium is serious about cracking down on conspiracy theorists, it needs to go beyond the alt-right and reign in the garbage published on Syria by people like @caitoz.” [@caitoz = Caitlin Johnstone - js]
See how quickly that happened? Bauer wasn’t the first to call on Medium to silence leftist writers like me for our skepticism of an empire with an extensive history of using lies, false flags and propaganda to manufacture support for regime change interventionism against noncompliant nations, and he will not be the last. They get you okay with silencing offensive right-wing voices (who contrary to Bauer’s claim are in this case not even “alt-right” by anyone’s standards, including the Anti-Defamation League), then they target the true left, who present the biggest threat to the US oligarchs. ...
Support for this broader trend of dissenting leftist voices being aggressively silenced has permitted Google algorithm changes to slash the viewership of leftist outlets like World Socialist Web Site, CounterPunch, and Alternet, as well as essential nonpartisan anti-establishment outlets like WikiLeaks, Consortiumnews, and Truthout. ...
In a corporatist system of government, where corporate power is not separated in any meaningful way from government power, corporate censorship is government censorship. The new empire doesn’t silence dissent using government censorship, it simply refuses them camera time on the plutocrat-owned corporate media and silences the rest via social media corporations.
After three years of brutal fighting, the U.S.-led war against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria is winding down, the U.S. military announced on Thursday, saying the coalition has “liberated” more than 98 percent of the area formerly controlled by ISIS, or Daesh, freeing “7.7 million Iraqis and Syrians once held under brutal Daesh rule.” ...
The U.S.-led coalition says it conducted 29,070 strikes between August 2014 and January 2018, killing “at least 841 civilians.” But that figure is much lower than independent estimates, raising questions about the conduct of the war and its disproportionate impact on Iraqi and Syrian civilians. ... During 2017, civilian deaths from coalition air and artillery strikes in support of local ground forces in Iraq and Syria increased more than 200 percent over the previous year. Roughly 65 percent of all civilian deaths recorded by Airwars since the air campaign began in 2014 have occurred over the last 12 months.
The staggering increase in civilian casualty rates also raises questions about how political changes in the United States may be influencing the conduct of the war. ... It’s doubtful that Trump has been closely involved in the military campaign, but he is the commander-in-chief of U.S. forces and his rhetoric seems to have influenced the Pentagon. In a significant departure from the public position of Obama-era military officials such as David Petraeus and Stanley McChrystal — commanders who generally emphasized the strategic value of judicious use of force and protecting civilians — Defense Secretary James Mattis has publicly called for the use of so-called annihilation tactics against militant groups.
And Mattis’s attitude seems to have trickled down through the ranks. On January 9, the Army’s highest-ranking enlisted officer, Command Sgt. Maj. John Wayne Troxell, stated that if ISIS fighters do not surrender, “we will kill them with extreme prejudice, whether that be through security force assistance, by dropping bombs on them, shooting them in the face, or beating them to death with our entrenching tools.” Months earlier, in the run-up to the coalition assault on Raqqa, then-coalition commander Lt. Gen. Stephen J. Townsend bragged that his forces “shoot every boat we find” in the Euphrates River running alongside the city. Townsend’s statement seemed to ignore the fact that the Euphrates River was then the main avenue of escape for civilians fleeing the city.
The correlation between the bloodthirsty public rhetoric and the skyrocketing civilian death tolls seems to suggest, at minimum, a more aggressive approach to the battle in the last year.
Few things threaten the legitimacy of human rights advocacy more than partisans invoking it selectively to promote one side in a violent conflict. That’s why people with genuine concern over the plight of war victims should be disturbed by the latest pumped-up campaign of selective outrage over the Syrian government’s bombing of Eastern Ghouta, a suburb of Damascus. That bombing has unquestionably been savage, and arguably even criminal. It should be condemned in no uncertain terms. But it does a grave disserve to the nearly half million people killed over the course of Syria’s civil war to single out the tragic killing of more than 300 civilians in that suburb as especially remarkable. Indeed, it betrays a political agenda aimed more at punishing the Damascus government than saving innocent lives.
News stories are full of quotes painting the situation as nearly unprecedented in its horror: “hell on earth,” “never seen anything like this,” “one of the worst attacks in Syrian history,” and “flagrant war crime” on an “epic scale.” A New York Times editorial, calling the battle “one of the most violent episodes of the seven-year war,” demands that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Russian leaders be tried for war crimes. And a columnist for The Guardian says “Eastern Ghouta is turning into Syria’s Srebrenica,” the Bosnian enclave where thousands of Muslims were killed by Serbian forces in 1995. ...
The recent situation in Eastern Ghouta is unfortunately not as unique as recent media accounts suggest. Just last month, the respected, independent monitoring group Airwars reminded us that U.S.-led Coalition air strikes on the Syrian city of Raqqa created many more victims with the same destructive tactics of “siege, bomb and evacuate.” In just one incident in March 2017, Coalition bombers killed as many as 400 civilians at a school near Raqqa, where hundreds of women and children were taking shelter from the war. “By the time Raqqa was liberated on October 20th,” Airwars estimated, “more than 1,450 civilians had likely been killed by the Coalition since the start of June. Other monitors said that at least 1,800 civilians died in the fighting. Defeat of [the] so-called Islamic State had come at an extraordinary cost, with the UN reporting that 80% of the city was left uninhabitable – despite the Coalition’s continued insistence that is had been ‘waging the most precise war in history.’”
UN and human rights workers, to their credit, decried the civilian casualties, but U.S. military commanders systematically downplayed them as exaggerated or “hyperbolic.” The Coalition bombing generated only limited concern in the West because of its worthy goal: liberating Raqqa from the grip of ISIS. (In the end, the BBC reported, hundreds of ISIS members were allowed to quietly escape the city unscathed as part of a secret deal with the Coalition.) Yet when it comes to evaluating the morality (or lack thereof) of the Syrian government’s bombing of Eastern Ghouta, precious few news stories remind readers that most of the generically described “rebels” in that suburb are members of Islamist extremist groups, including at least one al-Qaeda affiliate. No reasonable government in Damascus would want them on its doorstep.
Iran may pull out of its nuclear deal with international powers if Western banks continue to refuse doing business with the country over fear of American sanctions, Tehran’s deputy foreign minister has warned.
Donald Trump has threatened to resume sanctions against the Islamic republic unless the other five states which are signatories to the deal agree to changing the terms and imposing fresh restrictions on Tehran.
UK, France, Germany, Russia and China, the P5+1 group, have all stressed that Iran is abiding by the agreed conditions, as has the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN body carrying out inspections. Mr Trump, who had threatened to tear up the deal, has declared he will not sign the ongoing waiver on sanctions when it comes up for renewal on 12 May unless the country accepts a new set of measures.
But Iranian deputy foreign minister Abbas Agachi held that the US has already failed to abide by the agreement, which may fall apart anyway because of an “atmosphere of poison” created by Mr Trump. Concern about American financial penalties, he pointed out, has led to a number of banks and financial institutions keeping away from the Iranian market.
The Pentagon is considering options that would allow President Donald Trump to transfer National Security Adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster from his role in the White House back to a military position after months of rising tensions between McMaster and the commander in chief, half a dozen defense and administration officials told CNN.
The officials said the Pentagon is quietly searching to see if there is a four-star military job appropriate for the three-star general. The potential change comes after months of personal tension between the president and McMaster. However, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders came to the general's defense Tuesday, saying Trump "still has confidence in General McMaster."
Officials say the preference is to transfer McMaster to a position in the Army or Department of Defense, which would qualify as a promotion, but some officials at the Pentagon worry the general has become too politicized in the Trump administration and are concerned about him returning to a prominent military role. Additionally, other officials say the president may not offer him a fourth star and force him to retire, CNN reported.
From a not particularly fair or balanced report from Venezuela:
President Nicolás Maduro’s call to hold a “mega-election” that could obliterate the opposition-dominated legislature was met Thursday with a storm of protest from politicians facing an ever-bleaker future.
In a news conference Wednesday, Maduro proposed moving up legislative elections originally scheduled for 2020. They would be held alongside a snap presidential election scheduled for April 22.
The socialist president made the move after the opposition refused to participate in the presidential election because of what it called fraudulent conditions.
“The government believes with this announcement and its thirst for power that it can change the reality in the country,” Stalin González, an opposition legislator, said in a tweet. “The National Assembly has done its job holding [the government] accountable and that’s why they want to get rid of it.” ...
Maduro explained his call for early legislative elections by saying the country needed a “truly legitimate National Assembly in the service of the people.” He added that the “mega-election” would also involve choosing state legislators and mayors. The proposal is poised for approval by the Constituent Assembly.
“They want to oblige us to participate, but that’s not going to happen,” opposition lawmaker Luis Florido said in a telephone interview. “What they’re doing is simply illegal and a means to profit from our absence” from the election.
The Trump administration is pursuing far fewer civil rights cases than its predecessors, a VICE News review of Justice Department records shows. Total activity in the agency’s civil rights division is at a 17-year low, falling well below levels seen in the last two administrations. One DOJ section charged with enforcing laws on police department misconduct has been completely inactive.
The Justice Department’s civil rights office has prosecuted some of the most important civil rights cases in United States history, including dismantling Jim Crow and maintaining the rights of people with disabilities. In interviews, former DOJ officials and civil rights experts expressed frustration with the office’s current lack of activity and said they were worried about the potential consequences.
“There’s a level of activism and inconsistency with core rule-of-law principles that I see from DOJ and across the administration that I worry will take us back to a dangerous prior point in our history where people like me — black people, women — find themselves without protection from the government,” said Catherine Lhamon, the chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, an independent federal watchdog agency.
The debate about gun control that was reignited by last week’s tragedy at Parkland High School is playing out in Ohio’s Democratic gubernatorial primary, where Dennis Kucinich is calling out his opponent Richard Cordray for his track record as a pro-gun advocate. Kucinich, considered the most progressive candidate in the race, is calling for Ohio to ban assault weapons. “We are going to change the politics of the state on this single issue,” he said at a press conference in mid-February.
The former Cleveland mayor and member of Congress and his running mate, Akron City Council member Tara Samples, plan to enlist volunteers to pressure local city councils to pass resolutions urging the state to ban weapons similar to the AR-15 used in the Parkland shooting. The campaign announced that in the first 24 hours after it issued this call, 1,500 Ohioans signed up to volunteer. Meanwhile, a pair of Democratic Ohio senators this week introduced legislation that would make it a fifth-degree felony to possess or acquire assault weapons.
However, Cordray, a former Ohio attorney general and Consumer Financial Protection Bureau chief, has thus far not joined the push to ban assault weapons. Cordray, the frontrunner in the Democratic race, went only as far as saying, “We also need to rethink our approach to military-style weapons that are used to perpetrate mass shootings.” He is instead supporting expanding universal background checks and other more modest reforms.
In the latest sign that the aftermath of the Parkland, Florida tragedy may be playing out differently than the fallout from other mass shootings, several national companies have cut ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA).
Alamo, Enterprise, and National—all owned by Enterprise Holdings—announced late on Thursday that they would end discounts for the NRA's five million members. Symantec, the security software giant that owns Lifelock and Norton, ended its discount program on Friday as well.
The First National Bank of Omaha also said it would stop issuing its NRA-branded Visa credit cards, emblazoned with the group's logo and called "the Official Credit Card of the NRA." The institution is the largest privately-held bank in the U.S., with locations in Nebraska, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and South Dakota.
"Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA," said a spokesperson for the bank in a statement on Thursday. "As a result, First National Bank of Omaha will not renew its contract with the National Rifle Association to issue the NRA Visa Card."
The decisions came after Think Progress compiled a list of companies that do business with the NRA, resulting in the #BoycottNRA social media campaign.
For a second straight day, President Donald Trump suggested that school shootings, like the one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, last week that claimed 17 lives, could be prevented by repealing the federal law banning guns at the nation’s schools. Speaking at the White House on Thursday, Trump ignored pleas from the Parkland survivors for a ban on assault rifles. Instead, he called for the repeal of legislation that created gun-free zones around primary and secondary schools in the 1990s to allow teachers to carry concealed weapons into classrooms. If up to 40 percent of each school’s faculty was armed, Trump said, shooting sprees could be deterred or at least quickly contained.
Trump reiterated his call to arm teachers just hours after he scolded the news media for reporting, accurately, that he had made the same suggestion on Wednesday, during a meeting with survivors of the Parkland attack and other school shootings.
In his somewhat meandering remarks to the students and parents on Wednesday, Trump claimed that the federal law banning guns in schools — introduced in 1990 by a Democratic senator, Joe Biden, and signed by a Republican president, George H.W. Bush — had only served to encourage attacks. “A gun-free zone to a maniac — because they’re all cowards — a gun-free zone is, ‘Let’s go in and let’s attack, because bullets aren’t coming back at us,'” Trump said. ...
Trump also appeared to suggest that former soldiers might be drafted in to bolster security at schools by patrolling the halls as armed volunteers. “You’d have a lot people that’d be armed, they’d be ready, they’re professionals,” the president said. “They may be Marines that left the Marines, left the Army, left the Air Force. And they’re very adept at doing that. You’d have a lot of them, and they’d be spread evenly throughout the school.”
Trump’s idea to send in the ex-Marines, like his plan to repeal gun-free zones around schools, was first floated by the National Rifle Association. Speaking in the aftermath of the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012, the NRA’s executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre said that politicians were to blame for passing laws for gun-free school zones. “They issue press releases bragging about them, they post signs advertising them,” LaPierre said. “And in doing so, they tell every insane killer in America that schools are the safest place to inflict maximum mayhem with minimum risk.”
The NCAA Says Student-Athletes Shouldn’t Be Paid Because the 13th Amendment Allows Unpaid Prison Labor
College sports is a business – a very lucrative business. That very obvious dynamic undergirds a lawsuit filed by former NCAA athlete Lawrence “Poppy” Livers asserting that scholarship students who play sports are employees and deserve pay. The Livers case argues that student-athletes who get scholarships should at least be paid as work-study students for the time they put in. What the NCAA did in response to the lawsuit is as vile as anything going on in sports right now. I had to see it for myself before I believed it. At the root of its legal argument, the NCAA is relying on one particular case for why NCAA athletes should not be paid. That case is Vanskike v. Peters.
Only there’s an important detail: Daniel Vanskike was a prisoner at Stateville Correctional Center in Joliet, Illinois, and Howard Peters was the Director of the state Department of Corrections. In 1992, Vanskike and his attorneys argued that as a prisoner he should be paid a federal minimum wage for his work. The court, in its decision, cited the 13th Amendment and rejected the claim.
The 13th Amendment is commonly hailed as the law that finally ended slavery in America. But the amendment has an important carve-out: it kept involuntary service legal for those who have been convicted of a crime. “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction,” the amendment says. It’s that phrase — “except as a punishment for crime” — which allows American prisons to force their inmates to do whatever work they want or need them to do. ...
Yet the NCAA wants to rely on this case and to call on the 13th Amendment. The body that runs college sports wants to use a justification for the slave labor of convicted criminals to justify its outrageous greed. ... Bigotry has a way of revealing itself. And that is exactly what the NCAA — by leaning on the case of a prisoner demanding he be paid as its justification for denying their athletes a wage of any kind — has done here. It has revealed itself to us.
Hmmm... these charges don't seem to have anything to do with Russian meddling in the election. Surprise!
Former Trump campaign advisor Rick Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the U.S. and lying to the FBI on Friday, entering the latest guilty plea in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 U.S. election.
Mueller filed a new 32-count indictment against Gates and his associate and former campaign manager Paul Manafort on Thursday, detailing a decade-long money laundering and tax evasion scheme. According to the New York Times, the guilty plea came together over the past few days.
The duo concealed more than $30,000,000 from U.S. authorities while lying about having any foreign bank accounts, the indictment alleges.
In 'Tremendous Victory for Taxpayers, Public Health, and Planet,' Federal Court Rejects Trump Admin.'s Attempt to Suspend Methane Rule
A court has once again rejected the Trump administration's effort to suspend an Obama-era rule aimed at reducing releases of methane from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal land. "The decision," writes Meleah Geertsma, a senior attorney with NRDC, "once again sends a message to this administration that it will not get away with illegal handouts to industry, at the expense of Americans' health and the environment."
The latest rebuke to the attempt to derail the Bureau of Land Management's Waste Prevention Rule was delivered late Thursday by the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California in response to suits filed by a number of environmental groups, as well as the states of California and New Mexico over the rule suspension.
"The BLM's reasoning behind the Suspension Rule is untethered to evidence contradicting the reasons for implementing the Waste Prevention Rule, and so plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits," Judge William Orrick wrote in his ruling (pdf). "They have shown irreparable injury caused by the waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts."
Orrick granted a preliminary injunction requiring the Interior Department to enforce the regulation, eliciting praise from environmental groups.
"Though they seem to think otherwise," said Kelly Martin, Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director, "Donald Trump and [Interior Secretary] Ryan Zinke are not above the law. Once again, the courts are serving as a critical backstop against their reckless attempts to unravel key protections for our air, water, and climate. This ruling is a victory for our communities' health and the climate, and we will continue to fight to hold this administration accountable and defend this critical clean air standard."
A new study by five Environmental Protection Agency scientists spotlights "the devastating reality of environmental injustice and racism in our country," as one observer puts it.
The study focused on air pollution caused by particulate matter (PM) of 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less, which is caused primarily by combustion and can have deleterious health effects. It was published online Thursday in the American Journal of Public Health.
The researchers found that in "every state except New Mexico, North Dakota, Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., communities of color are exposed to more environmental pollution than white communities," as ThinkProgress reported.
BuzzFeed News delved into the new publication, explaining that EPA researcher and study author Ihab
Mikati and his colleagues tracked the location and quantity of air pollutants emitted by refineries and factories using the EPA's National Emissions Inventory. The team then compared the emissions with the demographics of communities within 2.5 miles of each facility, using data from the US Census Bureau.
The new report found that the average U.S. resident lives near about five emissions sources. But, the authors noted, "Blacks in particular are likely to live in high-emission areas."
Specifically, the study found that those in poverty were exposed to 1.35 times more fine particulate pollution than the overall population; non-Whites were exposed to 1.28 times more pollution. Blacks faced the greatest amount of such pollution, being exposed to 1.54 times more particulate matter than the overall population. "These patterns," the study abstract states, "were relatively unaffected by sensitivity analyses, and disparities held not only nationally but within most states and counties as well.
Overwhelmed by tides of waste and decades of mass tourism, to some, the Indonesian island of Bali is a paradise long lost.
This weekend, however, thousands of people will join in an effort to rid its coastline, rivers and jungles of rubbish and restore its natural beauty.
The mass cleanup is the initiative of One Island One Voice(OIOV), an umbrella movement of organisations and individuals wanting to reduce waste and create a “greener, cleaner Bali”. ...
Bali’s beaches have been swamped by unsightly mounds of rubbish for months, much of it plastic washed in from neighbouring Java during the annual rainy season – or what Balinese call rubbish season. ...
Indonesia is the second-largest plastic polluter in the world after China, with 200,000 tonnes of plastic flowing into its oceans via rivers and streams each year.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Mose Allison - My Brain
Mose Allison - Stop This World
Mose Allison - Big Bro' Is Watchin' You!
Mose Allison - Your Mind Is On Vacation
Mose Allison - The Seventh Son
Mose Allison - Certified Senior Citizen
Mose Allison - Middle Class White Boy
Mose Allison - Your Molecular Structure
Mose Allison - Ask Me Nice
Mose Allison vs. The Clash - Look Here
And just for the heck of it...
Betty Boop - Mysterious Mose