The Evening Blues - 3-19-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues guitarist Jimmy Johnson. Enjoy!
Jimmy Johnson Band - It Serves Me Right To Suffer
“Do you know we are being led to
Slaughters by placid admirals
& that fat slow generals are getting
Obscene on young blood
Do you know we are ruled by TV?”
-- Jim Morrison
News and Opinion
An excellent article worth reading in full. Lots more detail at the link.
In Washington, lots of money is being spent to keep us from exercising cognitive empathy. [Cognitive empathy — sometimes called perspective taking — is a matter of seeing someone’s point of view: understanding how they’re processing information, how the world looks to them.] Important institutions, most notably some we misleadingly call “think tanks,” work to warp our vision. And the reality-distortion fields they generate can get powerful when the war drums start beating. Consider, as a case study, a recent piece about Iran in the New York Times.
It was a front-page story — the lead article in the physical edition of the paper — written by Ben Hubbard, Isabel Kershner, and Anne Barnard. The headline, in the top-righthand corner of the front page, read, “Iran Building Up Militias in Syria to Menace Israel.” Just about any expert on Iran would agree that, strictly speaking, this headline is accurate. However, a number of experts would add something that these three reporters failed to add: From Iran’s point of view, the purpose of menacing Israel may be to prevent war; having the capacity to inflict unacceptable damage on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv can be a way of keeping both Israel and the U.S. from attacking Iran. ...
If you want this kind of insight into Iran’s perspective, I recommend avoiding the New York Times and checking out the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. There you’ll find a piece by Vali Nasr, dean of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, called “Iran Among the Ruins.” Nasr writes that “the Israeli and U.S. militaries pose clear and present dangers to Iran.” He explains how this threat, along with hostile Arab neighbors and other perceived threats, has given rise to Iran’s policy of “forward defense.” ...
The New York Times reporters don’t seem to have consulted Nasr, or any of the other respected analysts who have similar views of Iran’s strategic perspective. The result is unbalanced reporting. The Times piece tells us that Israel and the U.S. “fear Iran’s growing influence,” that Israel “fears that it could face a threat” from Iranian proxies in Syria, that “many Israelis” sense “danger,” and that Iran’s behavior “worries Israel.” All true. But there’s no mention of Iranian “fears” or “worries” or perceived “danger.” There’s also no mention of what, from an Iranian perspective, is a glaring asymmetry: Iranians and Iranian proxies in Syria are there with the permission of Syria’s government. But when Israeli jets routinely enter Syrian airspace to bomb those proxies, Israel doesn’t have the government’s permission and so, is violating international law. So too with the American troops that are stationed in Syria without the government’s permission and that have fought against pro-Assad forces; this is illegal under any but the most tortured reading of international law.
Far from highlighting this asymmetry, the Times story could give the casual reader the idea that the asymmetry points in the other direction. ... The New York Times famously helped get America into the Iraq War with reporting, by Judith Miller and others, that relied heavily on neoconservative and other hawkish sources. ... And now we’re repeating the exercise with Iran. Reporters from the Times and other media outlets are, like Miller, relying for “analysis” on sources that, in some cases, seem intent on drawing the U.S. into military conflict with Iran.
The Trump administration is furiously trying to fend off a bipartisan effort in Congress to halt American military support to the deadly Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen as the kingdom’s influential young crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, arrives in Washington this week for talks with President Trump.
Even as the State Department weighs approval of more than $1 billion in new arms to the Saudis, lawmakers are pushing for a resolution that they say would prevent Washington from giving the Saudis “a blank check” in the conflict. According to the United Nations, 10,000 civilians have been killed and 40,000 wounded in the fighting, exacerbating one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
Top Pentagon and State Department officials rushed to Capitol Hill last week to warn senators in a closed, classified briefing that approving the Senate measure could seriously damage relations with Saudi Arabia. The crown prince is scheduled to meet with the president and other officials on Tuesday, and a vote on the measure could come later this week.
The Kurdish administration of Syria’s Afrin region indicated on Sunday that Kurdish-dominated forces fighting Turkey-backed groups in the area will shift from direct confrontation to guerrilla tactics.
“Our forces are present all over Afrin’s geography. These forces will strike the positions of the Turkish enemy and its mercenaries at every opportunity,” Othman Sheikh Issa, co-chair of the Afrin executive council, said in a televised statement.
“Our forces all over Afrin will become a constant nightmare for them.”
Vladimir Putin’s landslide victory in the Russian national election Sunday was met with silence from leaders around the globe. The only messages of support came from China’s President Xi Jinping and leaders from a few smaller nations, including Kazakhstan, Belarus, Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte extended his congratulations, saying he “wishes President Putin more success in leading Russia to greater progress and in advancing the cause of peace and security in our region and in the larger international community.”
Xi, who recently positioned himself to remain in power for the rest of his life, said: "Currently, the China-Russia comprehensive strategic cooperative partnership is at the best level in history, which sets an example for building a new type of international relations."
No Western leader has publicly congratulated Putin, who captured 76 percent of the vote, and none of Russia’s fellow G8 members have made any official comment on the win. ...
If he serves out his six-year term as president, Putin will be Russia’s longest-serving leader since Joseph Stalin.
FBI Tracked an Activist Involved With Black Lives Matter as They Travelled Across the U.S., Documents Show
At the height of 2014’s Black Lives Matter protests in Ferguson, Missouri, FBI agents tracked the movements of an activist flying in from New York, and appear to have surveilled the homes and cars of individuals somehow tied to the protests, according to recently released documents provided to The Intercept.
The heavily redacted records were obtained by two civil rights groups, Color of Change and the Center for Constitutional Rights, through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and are being published here for the first time. [See link for documents. - js] Internal communications from Department of Homeland Security officials, released through this lawsuit, also revealed the existence of a document described by DHS officials as the “Race Paper,” which was the subject of a filing by the civil rights groups on Monday. ...
“This is clearly just tracking First Amendment activity and keeping this activity in an intelligence database,” said German, in a phone interview, referring to the FBI report about an individual’s plans to travel for a protest. “Even if you made the argument that it is about a propensity for violence, why isn’t there a discussion of that propensity? Instead they are discussing bond money, not detailing a criminal predicate or even a possibility of violence.”
The Assassination of Human Rights Activist Marielle Franco Was a Huge Loss for Brazil — and the World
On Wednesday, in the middle of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, a massively important civil rights leader was shot and killed in a brutal drive-by assassination. Her name was Marielle Franco. Like me, Marielle was just 38 years old. We don’t yet know who murdered Marielle and her driver, Anderson Pedro Gomes, though early indications are that the police might have been involved. Investigators reportedly determined that the bullet casings found at the crime scene had been purchased by the Federal Police in 2006. Bullets from the same lot were used in a series of brutal attacks that had killed at least 17 and wounded seven in São Paulo on one night in 2015. Two police officers and one municipal guard were convicted for the massacre. ...
Marielle Franco, a brilliant leader with a huge heart, was at the center of the movement against police violence in Brazil. She was, for all intents and purposes, a leader of the country’s parallel to the Black Lives Matter movement in the U.S. That’s not what it was called, but the similarities are unmistakable. That’s why tens of thousands of people took to the streets to protest and mourn her death. She was a black, queer woman fighting not just against police brutality, but for broader equality and empowerment of women and black people throughout Brazil. In fact, she was literally leaving an event focused on the empowerment of black women in central Rio when a car pulled up and someone shot her four times in the head.
Her car wasn’t stolen. Her purse wasn’t taken. She was targeted and assassinated.
Having just been elected to Rio de Janeiro’s City Council in 2016, Marielle’s political voice and power were on the rise. She oversaw the women’s commission at the council and, just last month, was chosen as the speaker for Rio de Janeiro’s commission overseeing police and security forces in the city’s favelas, or slums. Her party was planning to run her as a candidate for vice governor of the state in elections later this year.
Austin’s police chief said Monday morning that they believe they’re dealing with a “serial bomber” after the Texas city was rattled Sunday night by the fourth blast in less than three weeks.
The latest explosion, which left two men with serious but non-life-threatening injuries, used what’s known as a trip-wire device, which is different in sophistication from the prior three bombs that were left on porches and detonated when opened. Despite that, Austin Police Chief Brian Manley said there were enough similarities between the bombs to lead investigators to believe they were made by the same person or group.
“We are clearly dealing with what we see as a serial bomber,” Manley said in a morning press conference.
Authorities also see the more sophisticated trip-wire device as a clear escalation in tactics from the cruder package bombs delivered over the past few weeks. ...
Unlike in the earlier explosions, the victims in the latest bombing were both white.
Teachers across the nation took notice after West Virginia’s strike prompted state legislators to increase pay for all state employees 5 percent. Now, Oklahoma teachers, who make less than the teachers in every other state, are gearing up for a mass walkout April 2, the day after the state Legislature is mandated by law to pass an education budget.
In an attempt to avert a walkout, Republicans in Oklahoma’s House of Representatives unveiled a plan Thursday that would increase starting teachers’ pay $10,000 and 20-year veteran teachers’ pay $20,000 over six years. The program, expected to cost $700 million, does not restore other school funding or include raises for school support staff.
There’s also a catch: They’ve offered no proposed budget cuts or tax increases to pay for it, so teachers are skeptical.
“We are beyond upset that they would have the audacity to suggest such a pathetic plan to us. It’s just another example of how they do not value teachers,” said Lyndsey Stuart, a history teacher at Bartlesville High School in northeast Oklahoma. “We are not ignorant and will walk on April 2 unless they get a package together.” ...
Oklahoma school funding per student has also plummeted by 28.2 percent since 2008, more than any other state.
Lawmakers in Minnesota introduced legislation last week that would prohibit local governments from adopting ranked-choice voting, a system that can help third-party candidates’ chances for election and lead to a more representative government.
The bill, introduced on March 12, would have the greatest impact in Minneapolis, which has used ranked-choice voting for municipal elections since 2013. The city has elected a Green Party city council member, and it currently has a nearly equal number of men and women on city council and the most ethnically diverse set of lawmakers in its history. Just last year, a well-funded socialist was a viable candidate in a city council election. St. Paul adopted the voting method last year, and a number of other cities are currently considering it.
Unlike traditional first-past-the-post voting systems — in which the candidate with the biggest number of votes wins — under ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates on their ballot instead of voting for just one. If no one gets a majority of votes in the first round, next-preference votes are counted until a candidate gets most of the votes.
This system eliminates the so-called spoiler effect, helps third-party candidates achieve viability, and ensures that no one can be elected without the support of the majority of voters.
The Minnesota bill prohibits a list of “political subdivisions” — such as cities, counties, townships, and even school districts — from adopting ranked-choice voting. A bipartisan group of legislators introduced it, but the two Democrats who had initially sponsored it pulled their support a few days later.
The data analytics firm that worked with Donald Trump’s election team and the winning Brexit campaign harvested millions of Facebook profiles of US voters, in one of the tech giant’s biggest ever data breaches, and used them to build a powerful software program to predict and influence choices at the ballot box.
A whistleblower has revealed to the Observer how Cambridge Analytica – a company owned by the hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, and headed at the time by Trump’s key adviser Steve Bannon – used personal information taken without authorisation in early 2014 to build a system that could profile individual US voters, in order to target them with personalised political advertisements.
Christopher Wylie, who worked with a Cambridge University academic to obtain the data, told the Observer: “We exploited Facebook to harvest millions of people’s profiles. And built models to exploit what we knew about them and target their inner demons. That was the basis the entire company was built on.”
Documents seen by the Observer, and confirmed by a Facebook statement, show that by late 2015 the company had found out that information had been harvested on an unprecedented scale. However, at the time it failed to alert users and took only limited steps to recover and secure the private information of more than 50 million individuals.
The New York Times is reporting that copies of the data harvested for Cambridge Analytica could still be found online; its reporting team had viewed some of the raw data.
Cambridge Analytica bragged about using fake news, bribes, and Ukranian hookers to influence elections
An undercover sting by Channel 4 News has revealed that executives from Cambridge Analytica boasted that they could entrap politicians with Ukrainian sex workers, offer bribes to public officials, and use former spies to dig dirt on political opponents.
The report reveals CEO Alexander Nix and other Cambridge Analytica executives admitting to using a range of underhanded tactics in order to sway the outcome of more than 200 elections around the globe, secretly campaigning through a web of shadowy front companies and sub-contractors.
Channel 4’s reporter posed as a fixer for a wealthy client hoping to get candidates elected in Sri Lanka, meeting the company’s executives five times over the course of three months.
More than 5 billion people could suffer water shortages by 2050 due to climate change, increased demand and polluted supplies, according to a UN report on the state of the world’s water.
The comprehensive annual study warns of conflict and civilisational threats unless actions are taken to reduce the stress on rivers, lakes, aquifers, wetlands and reservoirs.
The World Water Development Report – released in drought-hit Brasília – says positive change is possible, particularly in the key agricultural sector, but only if there is a move towards nature-based solutions that rely more on soil and trees than steel and concrete.
“For too long, the world has turned first to human-built, or ‘grey’, infrastructure to improve water management. In doing so, it has often brushed aside traditional and indigenous knowledge that embraces greener approaches,” says Gilbert Houngbo, the chair of UN Water, in the preface of the 100-page assessment. “In the face of accelerated consumption, increasing environmental degradation and the multi-faceted impacts of climate change, we clearly need new ways of manage competing demands on our freshwater resources.” ...
By 2050, the report predicts, between 4.8 billion and 5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today, while the number of people at risk of floods will increase to 1.6 billion, from 1.2 billion.
In 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant, which means that if it poses a threat to public health or welfare, the EPA must regulate it under the Clean Air Act. In 2009, the EPA completed its review of the climate science literature and correctly concluded in its Endangerment Finding that carbon pollution poses such a threat via climate change. That document is the foundation for all government climate policies, including the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Climate deniers have thus long had their sights set on revoking the Endangerment Finding.
That’s a tall order, since the scientific literature is crystal clear on this question. House Republicans first tried to simply rewrite the Clean Air Act to state the greenhouse gases aren’t pollutants, but they failed to get nearly enough support to pass that legislation. Next they proposed setting up a ‘Red Team’ of climate deniers to debate the mainstream climate science ‘Blue Team.’ But Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly worried that having this prominent debate on the record would be a distraction and potentially expose the administration to litigation, so he killed the idea.
However, E&E News reports that Pruitt has a safer Plan B: take public comments on petitions asking EPA to revisit the Endangerment Finding. This would appease the deniers by allowing them to officially make their case, but the EPA wouldn’t be under any obligation to take action. It’s a fight Pruitt knows he would lose in court, because the science is not on the deniers’ side, so he would prefer to simply weaken the Clean Power Plan, eliminate as many other federal climate policies as possible, and delay all US climate action until the clock runs out on the Trump administration.
Just two weeks before he died, Stephen Hawking submitted his final paper that might lay out the math needed to prove the existence of other universes — as well as how ours might meet its demise.
The working paper, submitted for publication on March 14, according to the U.K.’s Sunday Times, may turn out to be a culmination of the renowned physicist’s life’s work. In his research, Hawking sought to solve problems he’d been pondering for the past 35 years — ever since he published his theory of how the universe expanded following the Big Bang.
The paper proposes that evidence of a multiverse is detectable in the background radiation of our own universe — and that that evidence could, in theory, be found and measured. If we do, in fact, live in a “multiverse,” our own cosmos is just one of many universes out there. Taken together, the multiverse, made up of all its individual universes, would comprise all of space, time, matter, and energy.
Though Hawking’s last paper could provide optimism for those hoping to test for the existence of multiple universes, his research also includes a bleak prediction: Our universe will eventually go dark once all its stars run out of energy.
The paper, titled “A Smooth Exit from Eternal Inflation,” is under peer review for publication in an unnamed major scientific journal.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Jimmy Johnson - Don't Answer The Door
Jimmy Johnson - Tobacco Road
Jimmy Johnson - Little By Little
Jimmy Johnson - I Wonder Why
Jimmy Johnson & Neil Florek - Somebody Loan Me A Dime
Jimmy Johnson - You Don't Know What Love Is
Jimmy Johnson - Lookin' For My Baby
Jimmy Johnson - People Get Ready
Jimmy Johnson - I Need Some Easy Money
Jimmy Johnson - Heap See
Jimmy Johnson - Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home