The Evening Blues - 3-20-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features soul and r&b singer Tina Turner. Enjoy!
Ike & Tina Turner - Mojo Queen
"Something is happening here, but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”
-- Bob Dylan
News and Opinion
Before He Was FBI Director, Chris Wray Supervised an Investigation That Found Erik Prince Likely Broke U.S. Law
As a private ttorney in 2016, FBI Director Chris Wray supervised a team of lawyers that informed the Justice Department that Blackwater founder Erik Prince had likely violated U.S. law while trying to sell secretly modified paramilitary attack aircraft to Azerbaijan’s military.
Wray and Robert Hur, now a senior Justice Department official, were both partners at the powerhouse law firm King & Spalding in 2015 when officials at Prince’s Hong Kong-based logistics company, Frontier Services Group [FSG], discovered suspicious activity by Prince over the proposed sale of the planes. Hur is currently the top lieutenant to Rod Rosenstein, the U.S. deputy attorney general. At King & Spalding, he was one of the lead lawyers on the Prince investigation.
FSG retained King & Spalding to conduct a review of the company’s legal exposure to violations of U.S. law on weapons sales and the export of defense services to foreign governments and militaries. The attorneys concluded that Prince could potentially be charged with brokering defense articles without a license, according to a copy of the review obtained by The Intercept. The FSG-hired lawyers briefed the Obama Justice Department’s National Security Division in February 2016 on Prince’s activities and, a month later, FSG’s CEO notified the State Department that FSG intended to voluntarily report its possible violations of U.S. defense export laws.
“The potential violations stem principally from conduct of Mr. Prince, a U.S. person,” CEO Gregg Smith wrote to the director of the State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, which regulates the export of defense articles and services, in a letter obtained by The Intercept. In the letter, Smith promised to provide the State Department with a copy of the findings of FSG’s internal investigation. In April 2016, The Intercept published two reports detailing Prince’s attempts to modify small aircraft for sale to militaries in Africa and the Middle East, and a federal investigation into his alleged business ties to Chinese intelligence. According to a second letter dated April 13, 2016 and seen by The Intercept, Smith asked the State Department for an extension so FSG could review the report for more potential violations of U.S. defense export laws. ...
What action, if any, the Justice Department took after Wray’s team shared their initial findings has not been made public. “We were perplexed by the lack of immediate action” by the State and Justice departments, the former senior FSG official told The Intercept, adding that he and others at the company got the impression that “nobody wanted to dig into this until after the  election.”
Former French President Nicolas Sarkozy was arrested Tuesday over claims his 2007 presidential campaign received $61 million in funding from Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. Sarkozy was detained after he presented himself at a police station in Nanterre, a western suburb of Paris, according to sources speaking to Le Monde and AP.
The arrest follows a five-year probe into claims Sarkozy illegally financed his run with funds from the late despot.
Lebanese businessman Ziad Takieddine told the investigative website Mediapart in 2016 that Sarkozy and Claude Gueant, his former chief of staff, took delivery of suitcases stuffed with more than $6 million in cash.
The Senate is set to vote Tuesday on a bipartisan resolution that would withdraw U.S. military support for Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, a move ardently opposed by the White House and top Pentagon officials. The vote coincides with a White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, the architect of his country’s war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. ...
“The U.S. government claims that it’s not engaged in hostilities unless U.S. troops are on the ground being shot at by the enemy,” Republican Sen. Mike Lee said on the Senate floor earlier in March, according to The Washington Post. “It stretches the imagination, and it stretches the English language beyond its breaking point to suggest the U.S. military is not engaged in hostilities in Yemen.” ...
Senators are using a mechanism known as a privileged resolution to bring the war powers measure, known as Joint Resolution 54, to a floor vote. The procedure allows them to overcome the objections of other lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who controls what is brought to the Senate floor.
A vote on the war powers resolution during bin Salman’s visit would be awkward for both the Trump administration and Republican lawmakers. Trump is trying to finalize a $110 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia that was put on hold over concerns about terrorist financing, while Bob Corker, the Republican chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, is scheduled to meet with the crown prince on Capitol Hill this week.
While Trump is in the White House meeting with #MohammadBinSalman, we are outside protesting the #SaudiPrince and his visit. #MbS is a war criminal, he is violent and dangerous. Don't believe the hype about his "reform" #SaudiPrinceNotWelcome https://t.co/pTGyibdG39 pic.twitter.com/xb2JUlDcti
— CODEPINK (@codepink) March 20, 2018
Figures. Warmongers win again.
The Senate on Tuesday rejected an effort to force President Trump to end the U.S. military's support for Saudi Arabia's bombing operations in Yemen.
Senators voted 55-44 to table the resolution, effectively killing it. ...
Democrats Chris Coons (Del.), Catherine Cortez Masto (Nev.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Doug Jones (Ala.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Bob Menendez (N.J.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.). voted with the majority to table the measure. ...
GOP leadership publicly lined up against the resolution ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
The explanation from Andrew McCabe that he was fired merely due to his staunch support of his former boss and mentor, FBI Director James Comey, and the “Russiagate” investigation, does not pass the smell test. Similar to the one that mainstream corporate media is spinning, McCabe’s explanation almost totally ignores the fact that it was the relatively independent Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) and the FBI’s own Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR internal affairs) who recommended firing McCabe for his “lack of candor” on (the totally unrelated issue of) granting improper press access to the Wall Street Journal during ongoing FBI investigations of the Clinton Foundation and Clinton’s emails.
While the exact specifics of McCabe’s “lack of candor” – which McCabe denies – haven’t been released by the IG, it’s my own personal opinion that such official briefing of the press should not necessarily be a fireable offense as long as it’s justified to correct faulty media reporting and was not covertly done for improper political reasons. But technically, firing for “lack of candor” has long been the FBI’s “bright line” policy, ever since former FBI Director Louis Freeh tried to “clean up” the FBI in the mid-1990s when so many agents, including Special Agents in Charge, were caught lying about sex affairs, improper government credit card charges and drunk driving incidents – some amounting to reckless homicides. ...
In any event, McCabe’s calling his firing a “war on the FBI” doesn’t make sense considering it was the FBI’s own internal affairs office that recommended he be fired. (Note that DOJ IG Michael Horowitz was appointed by President Obama in 2012 and the FBI’s OPR is run by a career official originally appointed to that position in 2004 by then FBI Director Robert Mueller.)
Perhaps it would be more apt if McCabe had called it a war inside the FBI (and in Washington as a whole). ...
The real problem that most of the mainstream media don’t want to even mention is how unprecedented it was to have both Presidential campaigns under serious criminal investigation in the weeks before the 2016 election! In all fairness, even if these now-fired FBI Directors were trying to do the right thing – which would not be in line with their rather sordid track records – it wouldn’t really be possible to walk that political mine field without a faux pas one way or the other. Seen in that light, it’s possible to even sympathize a little with any FBI Director when the public corruption at the highest levels in Washington DC has become so bad (and fully bipartisan), that it’s hard to know where to start.
Donald Trump has called to congratulate Vladimir Putin on his landslide victory in Sunday’s elections, breaking a taboo among western leaders in appearing to endorse the Russian leader’s re-election to a fourth term in power.
Speaking at the White House on Tuesday, Trump confirmed he had called Putin to “congratulate him on his electoral victory”, and said the two would “probably get together in the not too distant future so that we can discuss the arms race”.
But the two leaders did not discuss Russia’s interference in the 2016 US election or the poisoning of Sergei Skripal, the former double agent targeted with a nerve agent in the UK.
The former US presidential candidate John McCain was quick to criticize Trump for his failure to raise allegations of widespread voter irregularities.
An interesting peek into Russian media:
Governments, with a vested interest in controlling how money moves, would, some of Bitcoin’s fierce advocates believed, naturally try and thwart the coming techno-libertarian financial order. It turns out the conspiracy theorists were onto something. Classified documents provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden show that the National Security Agency indeed worked urgently to target Bitcoin users around the world — and wielded at least one mysterious source of information to “help track down senders and receivers of Bitcoins,” according to a top-secret passage in an internal NSA report dating to March 2013. The data source appears to have leveraged the NSA’s ability to harvest and analyze raw, global internet traffic while also exploiting an unnamed software program that purported to offer anonymity to users, according to other documents. ...
The documents indicate that “tracking down” Bitcoin users went well beyond closely examining Bitcoin’s public transaction ledger, known as the Blockchain, where users are typically referred to through anonymous identifiers; the tracking may also have involved gathering intimate details of these users’ computers. The NSA collected some Bitcoin users’ password information, internet activity, and a type of unique device identification number known as a MAC address, a March 29, 2013 NSA memo suggested. In the same document, analysts also discussed tracking internet users’ internet addresses, network ports, and timestamps to identify “BITCOIN Targets.”
Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, along with 18 members of the House of Representatives—15 Republicans and three Democrats—has sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions demanding that the Qatari-run Al-Jazeera television network register as a foreign agent under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The letter was issued after Al-Jazeera said it planned to air a documentary by a reporter who went undercover to look into the Israel lobby in the United States. The action by the senator and the House members follows the decision by the Justice Department to force RT America to register as a foreign agent and the imposition of algorithms by Facebook, Google and Twitter that steer traffic away from left-wing, anti-war and progressive websites, including Truthdig. It also follows December’s abolition of net neutrality. ...
[That's a pretty amusing statement, imo, they might want to rethink that letter. - js]
The ominous assault on the final redoubts of a free press, through an attempt to brand dissidents, independent journalists and critics of corporate power and imperialism as agents of a foreign power, has begun. ... Those who challenge the dominant corporate narrative already struggle on the margins of the media landscape. The handful of independent websites and news outlets, including this one, and a few foreign-run networks such as Al-Jazeera and RT America, on which I host a show, “On Contact,” are the few platforms left that examine corporate power and empire, the curtailment of our civil liberties, lethal police violence and the ecocide carried out by the fossil fuel and animal agriculture industries, as well as cover the war crimes committed by Israel and the U.S. military in the Middle East. Shutting down these venues would ensure that the critics who speak through them, and oppressed peoples such as the Palestinians, have no voice left.
Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Taiwan Tuesday of a renewed push for unification, vowing that efforts to resist this would face “the punishment of history.” Beijing regards the island, which has been self-ruled since the end of the Chinese civil war in 1949, as a breakaway province.
Xi, recently emboldened by the removal of the two-term limit on the presidency, delivered the speech at the closing session of the National People’s Congress in Beijing, demanding a “peaceful reunification of the motherland.”
“It is a shared aspiration of all Chinese people and in their basic interests to safeguard China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and realize China’s complete reunification,” Xi said to loud applause.
“Any actions and tricks to split China are doomed to failure and will meet with the people’s condemnation and the punishment of history.”
Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba has joined the American Legislative Exchange Council, a private group set up for corporations and other interest groups to ghostwrite legislation that is sponsored by legislators in state capitols around the country.
Bill Anaya, head of government affairs for Alibaba operations in the Americas, spoke at ALEC’s States & Nation Policy Summit in Nashville, Tennessee, in December 2017, according to notes taken at the meeting that were obtained by The Intercept and Documented. The gathering brought together over 1,000 state and local lawmakers and lobbyists. ...
ALEC has gained increasing attention for its outsized role in shaping state-level policy by providing a forum for lobbyists to meet with legislators and formulate “model” legislation that lawmakers take back to their home states. The group allowed lobbyists for fossil fuel giants, such as Koch Industries and Peabody Energy, to draft legislation that was designed to undermine regulations on air pollution and climate change. In recent years, a wave of preemption laws crafted by ALEC with the support of retailers, fast food companies, and other major employers, have been implemented in states across the country to block minimum wage increases and efforts to enact paid sick days.
ALEC is attractive to major corporations, even ones without a particularly conservative bent, because lobbying 50 states and additional territories can be time- and resource-intensive when done solo. Alibaba’s decision to join the powerful legislation-writing organization comes as many Chinese companies have entered the U.S. market and stepped up their influence in domestic politics.
As Education Secretary Betsy DeVos prepared to testify before a House committee on her proposed budget for fiscal year 2019, members of Congress received word from her staff members that DeVos had been withholding from lawmakers information about her spending plans as they've been developed in recent months. Information about what drove DeVos's budgeting decisions was omitted from documents submitted to Congress ahead of the hearing, a staffer wrote in an email to the House and Senate Appropriations Committee.
"Our concern is about a breakdown in communication, a culture of secrecy and a fear of retaliatory action that has prevented Budget Service from providing House and Senate appropriators and staff, and for that matter, the public, with key information about the department’s plans for fiscal year 2019," wrote a career department official in the email, which the New York Times obtained. "Given the potential for some of these proposals to radically impact the way the department carries out its mission, Congress should probably see this."
Included in the proposals, DeVos's budget calls for a five percent spending reduction across the agency, targeting several regional offices that operate under the Office of Civil Rights and after-school programs that serve children in low-income communities. The budget also proposes a $1 billion plan to steer students towards private and charter schools and away from public education.
During Tuesday's hearing, several of the committee members denounced the Secretary's proposals, with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) concluding, "One thing is for sure: you do not have our students' best interests in mind." Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.) became incensed over DeVos's lack of knowledge about the positive effects of after-school programs in lower-income school districts. After-school supervision and enrichment programs have been shown to reduce juvenile crime rates in several studies. The Secretary, Clark noted, eliminated funding for 21st Century Community Centers, programs which serve "80,000 kids in Florida alone," where 17 people were killed in a school shooting last month. ...
After questioning DeVos about cuts to the Office of Civil Rights, which ensures that students are not discriminated against in American schools, Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) came to the conclusion that the Secretary does not "care much about the civil rights of black and brown children. This is horrible."
On Sunday night, the National Education Association (NEA) shut down the strike by 4,000 teachers and support staff in Jersey City, the second-largest school district in the state of New Jersey. The NEA ordered educators to return to their classrooms without providing any details on the tentative deal, let alone allowing workers to vote on it. Presuming that an agreement actually exists, it will do nothing to address teachers’ demands to end soaring health care costs. ...
The struggle of Jersey City teachers exposes the role of the Democratic Party, which supports the assault on teachers and public education no less than the Republicans. At issue is a bill, known as Chapter 78, which forces public employees to pay up to 35 percent of their medical insurance premiums and eliminates fully funded pensions for future teachers. It was passed with the backing of the Democratic-controlled state legislature in 2011.
Within hours of the beginning of the strike, a Hudson County judge granted the city’s Democratic Party-controlled school board an injunction to order teachers back to work on the grotesque grounds that teachers—not the corporate-controlled politicians—were doing “irreparable harm” to Jersey City school children.
The Jersey City Education Association (JCEA) is acting in the same manner as the unions in West Virginia, which opposed any struggle of teachers and worked to end it and impose a sell-out deal as soon as they could. Under conditions of a growing desire for a unified fight across the country, the NEA, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the other state-affiliated organizations see as their central task the suppression of class struggle. They will do exactly the same thing wherever a struggle emerges, and not only among teachers.
Any worker who wants to understand the nature of these organizations should make a careful study of the article, “If the Supreme Court rules against unions, conservatives won’t like what happens next,” published in the Washington Post on March 1. Written by Shaun Richman, a former organizing director of the AFT, it spells out in extraordinarily blunt terms the value of the unions for the American ruling class.
Usually the National Rifle Association is silent after school shootings. But not this time.
Just hours after a school resource officer shot and killed gunman Austin Wyatt Rollins in a Maryland high school, the NRA is treating it as a slam dunk for its agenda, and using it to show why it’s better to have more “good guys with guns” in schools.
While details of the shooting are still unclear, it appears a school resource officer at Great Mills High School in St. Mary's County, Maryland, shot and killed a teenage male gunman Tuesday morning after he shot and critically injured a female student and wounded another male student. The St. Mary's County sheriff would not say if the officer's bullet hit Rollins; they fired "simultaneously," a spokesman said.
But it's clear the school resource officer stopped a shooting in progress, and it did not take long for the NRA to hold it up as a victory over the “anti-gun, anti-freedom narrative.”
A Minneapolis police officer who shot and killed an Australian woman in July has been booked on charges of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter.
Officer Mohamed Noor turned himself in on Tuesday after a warrant was issued for his arrest in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond. Damond was shot on 15 July, minutes after she called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in the alley behind her home. ...
Damond’s family said in a written statement the charges were “one step toward justice”, and said they were pleased the Hennepin county attorney Mike Freeman had decided to bring charges. They said they hoped a strong case would be presented and Noor would be convicted. “No charges can bring our Justine back,” they said. “However, justice demands accountability for those responsible for recklessly killing the fellow citizens they are sworn to protect, and today’s actions reflect that.”
The Federal Trade Commission and several state attorneys general have begun probing whether Facebook violated any federal regulations or state privacy laws in their dealings with the campaign consultant group Cambridge Analytica, which Donald Trump’s presidential campaign paid $5.9 million during the 2016 race.
Facebook faces potential legal consequences and fines on multiple fronts for allowing Cambridge Analytica to get access to 50 millions users’ data that had originally been gathered by an academic for research and then failing to notify users after Facebook discovered the data had been sold off to the political group.
All of these issues will determine the extent of the fines and of Facebook’s liability, which is not clear cut. We don’t yet know all the facts about what users knew about their data being shared, and the federal government’s lag in regulating these new technologies has produced a confusing web of state laws and federal agency rules.
The Federal Trade Commission, charged with protecting consumers, has sent the social media giant a list of questions that will likely try to discover whether Facebook’s data sharing with Cambridge Analytica violated a 2011 consent decree between the FTC and Facebook. The order prevents the company from sharing their user data outside of a user’s specific privacy settings without consent, prohibits Facebook from making deceptive statements — including statements related to third party data sharing — and requires Facebook to report all the facts about compliance with the order to the FTC.
The U.K.’s data chief is seeking an urgent warrant to access the computers and servers of Cambridge Analytica, according to reports Tuesday. The news came hours after Elizabeth Denham, the U.K.’s Information Commissioner, ordered Facebook to stand down its own probe into the company over fears data may be deleted.
Denham is seeking a court order “to obtain information and access to systems and evidence related” to her investigation of Cambridge Analytica after it failed to adequately respond to an earlier demand for access to records and data.
The investigation was given added impetus Monday when forensic auditors from Stroz Friedberg, hired by Facebook, entered the offices of Cambridge Analytica to “secure evidence.” The move sparked concern among some U.K. lawmakers that vital evidence may be tampered with before the proper authorities could review it.
Hundreds of millions of Facebook users are likely to have had their private information harvested by companies that exploited the same terms as the firm that collected data and passed it on to Cambridge Analytica, according to a new whistleblower.
Sandy Parakilas, the platform operations manager at Facebook responsible for policing data breaches by third-party software developers between 2011 and 2012, told the Guardian he warned senior executives at the company that its lax approach to data protection risked a major breach.
“My concerns were that all of the data that left Facebook servers to developers could not be monitored by Facebook, so we had no idea what developers were doing with the data,” he said. Parakilas said Facebook had terms of service and settings that “people didn’t read or understand” and the company did not use its enforcement mechanisms, including audits of external developers, to ensure data was not being misused.
Parakilas, whose job was to investigate data breaches by developers similar to the one later suspected of Global Science Research, which harvested tens of millions of Facebook profiles and provided the data to Cambridge Analytica, said the slew of recent disclosures had left him disappointed with his superiors for not heeding his warnings. “It has been painful watching,” he said, “because I know that they could have prevented it.”
Asked what kind of control Facebook had over the data given to outside developers, he replied: “Zero. Absolutely none. Once the data left Facebook servers there was not any control, and there was no insight into what was going on.”
Conservationists have warned that the death of the last male northern white rhinoceros in Kenya is a sign that unsustainable human activity is driving a new era of mass extinctions around the globe. Sudan, the “gentle giant” who lived in the Ol Pejeta conservancy in Kenya, was put down on Monday after the pain from a degenerative illness became too great.
It leaves only two females - his daughter and granddaughter - through which conservationists hope they might save the species from dying out altogether using IVF.
Colin Butfield, campaigns director at WWF, said the death of a such an emblematic creature was a profound tragedy - and highlighted a wider crisis. “There is undoubtedly a huge extinction crisis going on of which this death is just a small part,” he said.
Since 1970 average populations of vertebrate animals have more than halved, according to Butfield, and an estimated 10,000 “less celebrated” species are becoming extinct every year. “It is absolutely huge,” he added.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Ike and Tina Turner - The Hunter
Ike And Tina Turner - Chicken Shack
Ike & Tina Turner - We Need Understanding
Ike & Tina Turner - Wake Up
Ike & Tina Turner - Strange
Ike & Tina Turner - Dust My Broom
Ike & Tina Turner - I'm Hooked
Ike & Tina Turner - Too Many Tears
Ike & Tina Turner - Too Hot To Hold
Ike & Tina Turner - Good Bye, So Long