The Evening Blues - 2-21-19
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features North Mississippi hill country blues musician Junior Kimbrough. Enjoy!
Junior Kimbrough - All Night Long
"A gaffe is when a politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn't supposed to say."
-- Michael Kinsley
News and Opinion
A US court of appeals has resuscitated a civil damages lawsuit by a group of Palestinians claiming support for genocide against tycoon Sheldon Adelson, the Trump administration's envoy Elliot Abrams, megachurch pastor John Hagee and a range of banks, companies and NGOs have said. The Palestinians claim that these people and institutions are linked to the settlement enterprise and to alleged war crimes in the last three Gaza wars.
The $34.5 billion case was previously dismissed by the lower US district court for the District of Columbia based on the idea that it implicated political and foreign policy questions of which the judiciary traditionally stays out. The appeals court’s decision late on Tuesday was not close to a final victory for the plaintiffs, and the case may still be dismissed before it reaches a trial. But the appeals court did say that the lower court had applied the political doctrine too broadly and could not dismiss the case based only on those technical grounds.
The group is led by Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi and appears to include about 17 other Palestinians. The case seeks to turn the tables on financial supporters of the settlements, Friends of the IDF, and Israel in US courts.
By attempting to characterize the settlement enterprise as organized crime, and the IDF as a group prone to war crimes – while completely ignoring the opposing Israeli narrative or even the likely view on those issues – the plaintiffs seem to want to score either financial or public relations points with the lawsuit.
Some of the other prominent defendants include Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi, several NGOs linked to settlements, Hewlett-Packard, Motorola, the UK-based firm G4S, FIDF, Haim Saban and Irving Moskowitz.
Worth a full read:
Venezuela’s Bolivarian Revolution, which took off with the election of President Hugo Chávez in December 1998, frequently and even quite recently received praise for its social gains from the United Nations, international humanitarian organizations and economists. This aspect of the country’s story has been almost entirely written out of media coverage of the effort to overthrow the Venezuelan government by the US, Canada and their right-wing partners in Venezuela and the region. Under Chávez, poverty in Venezuela was cut by more than a third, and extreme poverty by 57 percent (CEPR, 3/7/13). (These declines were even steeper if measured from the depths of the opposition-led oil strike, designed to force Chávez out by wrecking the economy.)
In June 2013, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) included Venezuela in a group of 18 nations that that had cut their number of hungry people by half in the preceding 20 years, 14 of which were governed by Chavismo: The FAO said that Venezuela reduced the number of people suffering from malnutrition from 13.5 percent of the population in 1990–92 to less than 5 percent of the population in 2010–12; the FAO credited government-run supermarket networks and nutrition programs created by Chávez. ... [T]he UN’s Economic and Social Council published a report in 2015, two years into the presidency of Nicolas Maduro, that said the council
takes note with satisfaction of the progress made by [the Venezuelan government] in combating poverty and reducing inequality. The Committee also welcomes the huge progress made by the [Venezuelan government] in the fight against malnutrition through the expansion of the school meals program and the food allowance for low-income families.
One widely used measure of a country or territory’s overall well-being is the UN’s Human Development Index (HDI), a statistical composite index of life expectancy, education and per capita income indicators. The most recent HDI report is the one that was published in 2018, based on 2017 data. The 2018 report put Venezuela in the category of countries or territories that have “High Human Development,” the second best of the HDI’s four rankings, and 78th of the 189 countries and territories examined. On that list, Venezuela outranks the majority of the states in the 14-country Lima Group currently trying to overthrow its government, including Brazil, Colombia, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru and Saint Lucia. Guatemala, Guyana and Honduras are categorized as “Medium Human Development,” the group below the one to which Venezuela belongs and the second lowest HDI category.
The HDI does not provide a perfect picture of present conditions in Venezuela, since the situation in the country has evolved and appears to have worsened since 2017, in large part because of the sharp escalation of the economic war on the country by the Trump administration in August 2017. The HDI does, however, indicate that by this metric, in 2017 Venezuela was doing reasonably well by regional and global standards even in the face of harsh sanctions.
Warning of US Military Intervention in Venezuela, Cuban Foreign Minister Denounces 'Failed Imperialist Coup'
Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez on Tuesday reiterated his government's previous warnings that the Trump administration's push to deliver humanitarian aid to Venezuela is just a cover to advance ongoing U.S.-backed efforts to oust Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Cuba has been a key ally of the Venezuelan government for the past two decades and has stood by Maduro in recent weeks as President Donald Trump and others have thrown their support behind Juan Guaidó—the head of Venezuela's National Assembly who claims Maduro's latest election was a sham and has declared himself "interim president."
At a press conference in Havana, Rodríguez denounced Venezuela's current political crisis as "a failed imperialist coup... fabricated in Washington," according to Reuters. He also denied claims by the Trump administration that his country has troops on the ground in Venezuela or is controlling its military, "adding all of the some 20,000 Cubans in Venezuela were civilians, most health professionals." ...
Noting the repeated threats from top U.S. officials, Rodríguez said, "There is a big political and communications campaign underway which are usually the prelude to larger actions by this government."
Having failed with the military, Guaido's minions are now reaching out to pick off members of the Socialist Party to provide legitimacy for their "transition government." It should be interesting to see if they get any takers.
Venezuela’s opposition is trying to convince ruling Socialist Party officials to join a transition government, shifting focus as it seeks to unseat President Nicolas Maduro, who has clung to power in the face of growing international pressure and U.S. sanctions. ...
In an effort to secure the backing of Venezuela’s military, Guaido proposed an amnesty for officers who turn on Maduro’s government. But defections have been minimal and top brass has declared allegiance to Maduro. ...
Amid fears the changes have stalled, opposition leaders have begun to talk in the past week about bringing ruling Socialist Party stalwarts into a potential transition government. ...
It was not immediately clear how actively the opposition is building bridges. Opposition leaders say they maintain contact with government officials and military officers but keep such talks confidential to avoid affecting those involved.
With every Lebanese election comes a US warning that voters had better not support Hezbollah. Despite this, the political party and its allies continue to fare well in elections, and in the last vote, Hezbollah’s bloc won over 70 of 128 seats.
Which made the US all the angrier, and now officials are complaining that Hezbollah has secured three government ministries in the process. US Ambassador Elizabeth Richard expressed opposition for this “growing role” in government.
What a job Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo did in Europe last week. If the objective was to worsen an already critical trans–Atlantic rift and further isolate the U.S., they could not have returned to Washington with a better result.
We might have to mark down this foray as among the clumsiest and most abject foreign policy failures since President Donald Trump took office two years ago. ... There were plenty of European leaders at the security conference last weekend in Munich, where Pence used the occasion to consolidate what is beginning to look like an irreparable escalation of trans–Atlantic alienation. After renewing his attack on the Iran agreement’s European signatories, he shifted criticism to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Now under construction, this will be the second undersea pipeline connecting Gazprom, the Russian energy company, to Germany and other European markets. Last month the U.S. renewed threats to sanction German companies working on the $11 billion project. “We cannot strengthen the West by becoming dependent on the East,” Pence said at the security conference Saturday.
These and other remarks in Munich were enough to get Angela Merkel out of her chair to deliver an unusually impassioned speech in defense of the nuclear accord, multilateral cooperation and Europe’s extensive economic relations with Russia. “Geo-strategically,” the German chancellor asserted, “Europe can’t have an interest in cutting off all relations with Russia.”
Merkel’s speech goes to the core of what was most fundamentally at issue as Pompeo and Pence blundered through Europe last week. There are three questions to consider. The most obvious of these is Washington’s continued insistence on U.S. primacy in the face of full-frontal resistance even from longstanding allies. “Since day one, President Trump has restored American leadership on the world stage,” Pence declared in Warsaw. And in Munich: “America is stronger than ever before and America is leading on the world stage once again.”
His speeches in both cities are filled with hollow assertions such as these—each one underscoring precisely the opposite point: America is fated to continue isolating itself, a little at a time, so long as its leaders remain lost in such clouds of nostalgia. The other two questions concern Europe and its future. Depending on how these are resolved, a more distant trans–Atlantic alliance will prove inevitable.
As the deadline approaches for the withdrawal of U.S. forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria, America’s closest European allies have turned down a Trump administration request to fill the gap with their own troops, according to U.S. and foreign officials. Allies have “unanimously” told the United States that they “won’t stay if you pull out,” a senior administration official said. France and Britain are the only other countries with troops on the ground in the U.S.-led coalition battling the Islamic State. ...
French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last week that he was mystified by Trump’s policy. On Tuesday, British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that “there is no prospect of British forces replacing the Americans” in Syria. ...
Their concerns coincide with the administration’s failure, so far, to reach an agreement with Turkey not to attack the SDF, which it says is a terrorist group. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that the Turkish military, massed at the border, is prepared to move into northeast Syria once the Americans leave. One of the principal requests the administration has made of the allies — including Germany, which has no forces in Syria — is to form an “observer” force to patrol a 20-mile-wide “safe zone” on the Syrian side of the border, separating Turkey from the Syrian Kurds.
Three Conservative MPs who resigned to join a new independent group on Wednesday said Theresa May had allowed their former party to fall prey to hardline Brexiters and declared that the Tory modernising project had been destroyed. In the latest evidence that Brexit is reshaping the political landscape, Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston, all outspoken critics of May’s stance on Europe, said the Conservative party as they had known it under David Cameron was dead.
“I’m not leaving the Conservative party – it has left us,” said Soubry at a hastily convened press conference around the corner from the House of Commons. “The modernising reforms that had taken years to achieve were destroyed.” Allen was asked if she could ever return to the Conservatives and answered: “If we do our jobs properly, there won’t be a Tory party to go back to.” She added: “We’re about creating something better that is bang smack in the centre ground of British politics that people out there, I am convinced, we are convinced, want.” ...
“The fact is they have formed what is effectively an establishment coalition based on the failed and rejected policies of the past: austerity, corporate tax cuts, privatisation,” Corbyn’s spokesman said. “It’s precisely because those policies were seen to have failed and were rejected that the direction under the Labour party has changed since Jeremy was elected. And we demonstrated at the general election that a different approach has mass electoral appeal.”
The shadow justice secretary, Richard Burgon, a close ally of Corbyn, compared what he called “Chuka’s coalition” with the national government formed by the Labour leader Ramsay MacDonald in 1931, which implemented “deep cuts and attacks on working-class communities”.
Theresa May is facing the most serious cabinet revolt of her premiership next week, with as many as 25 members of the government ready to vote for a Brexit delay unless she rules out “no deal” – in a move that will challenge her to sack them. Rebel Conservatives believe there are now enough MPs across the House of Commons to pass an amendment that would require May to extend article 50 rather than allow the UK to leave without a deal.
At least four cabinet ministers, almost a dozen junior ministers and many others on the government payroll are understood to be prepared to back the motion proposed by the Tory MP Sir Oliver Letwin and Labour’s Yvette Cooper, due to be debated on Wednesday. A senior source close to those plotting the rebellion said there was no way the members of the government would resign voluntarily and May would have to sack them.
The move comes with moderates emboldened by the formation of the Independent Group, which some see as providing leverage to push back against the influence of the European Research Group of hardline Brexiters.
May has already survived two rounds of resignations by the Brexit-supporting cabinet ministers David Davis, Boris Johnson, Esther McVey and Dominic Raab, but a wave of sackings would plunge the government into crisis at a crucial time for the Brexit talks. Pro-Brexit MPs said the outcome of next week was unpredictable but, if it came to the vote, May would have to get rid of the rebellious ministers. One cabinet source said: “It would be a huge mistake not to sack them. It would be effectively conceding we had lost control of the party.”
When Justin Trudeau embraced Canada’s attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, last year in the country’s House of Commons, it became a moment emblematic of the powerful friendship between the two, part of the government’s promise to mend the broken relationship between the government and indigenous peoples in Canada.
Now, Wilson-Raybould is out of her job and Trudeau has found himself on the defensive, fending off accusations that members of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) – a powerful body staffed with hand-picked confidants – put pressure on Wilson-Raybould to not pursue criminal charges against a large Canadian engineering firm. The scandal has cast a shadow over Trudeau’s domestic image of commitment to transparent government, potentially harming his electoral prospects.
“These guys campaigned on respect for cabinet government and having a more kind of open and accountable approach to how they make decisions,” said Lori Turnbull, the director of Dalhousie University’s school of public administration, pointing out the allegations against Trudeau’s team are more in line with his mercurial predecessor as prime minister, Stephen Harper, than the rosy “sunny ways” brand Trudeau has tried to cultivate.
According to claims first published in the Globe and Mail on 7 February, staff within the PMO allegedly put pressure on Wilson-Raybould, the attorney general at the time, to pursue a deferred prosecution agreement with the engineering firm SNC-Lavalin, meaning the company would avoid a trial and pay a fine in lieu of prosecution for allegations of bribery in Libya. Wilson-Raybould resisted, according to the Globe. In mid-January, Wilson-Raybould, the only Indigenous politician in cabinet, was shuffled from her role as top prosecutor to head of veterans affairs.
The allegations of bribery, used to secure lucrative construction contracts under the Muammar Gaddafi regime, mean the company faces the prospect of a decade-long ban on federal contracts if found guilty. Headquartered in Trudeau’s home province of Quebec, SNC-Lavalin employs 3,400 workers in the province – and its potential collapse could have deep political and economic reverberations for the region.
A neo-Nazi serving as a lieutenant in the US coast guard has been caught plotting to attack Democratic members of Congress, including congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and well-known media personalities, according to prosecutors. Christopher Hasson intended “to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country”, according to a filing to federal court in Maryland. Law enforcement officers seized 15 guns and 1,000 rounds of ammunition from his home.
Prosecutors said Hasson was a “domestic terrorist” and should be detained. He was arrested last week on drugs and weapons charges. The filing said Hasson, a fan of the Norwegian mass killer Anders Behring Breivik, compiled a spreadsheet of apparent targets, including representatives Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, and anchors from CNN and MSNBC. ...
Hasson is a marine corps and army national guard veteran currently posted to coast guard headquarters in Washington DC, according to investigators. He had been stockpiling weapons in his cramped basement apartment in Silver Spring, Maryland. ...
He used far-right slogans spread in recent years by some supporters of Donald Trump, warning that “liberalist/globalist ideology” was destroying white Americans and discussing conspiracies by “((((People))))” – a styling frequently applied online by the far right to the names of Jews. ... Many on the list have also been frequent subjects of abuse from Republicans including Trump.
House Democrats will file a resolution Friday aimed at blocking the national emergency declaration that Donald Trump has issued to help finance his wall along the south-west border, teeing up a clash over billions of dollars, immigration policy and the constitution’s separation of powers. Though the effort seems almost certain to ultimately fall short – perhaps to a Trump veto – the resulting votes will let Democrats take a defiant stance against Trump that is sure to please liberal voters. They will also put some Republicans from swing districts and states in a difficult spot.
Formally introducing the measure sets up a vote by the full House, probably by mid-March and perhaps as soon as next week, because of a timeline spelled out by law. Initial passage by the Democratic-run House seems assured.
The measure would then move to the Republican-controlled Senate, where there may be enough GOP defections for approval. The law that spells out the rules for emergency declarations seems to require the Senate to address the issue too, but there has never been a congressional effort to block one and some procedural uncertainties remain. The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, seemed to predict approval, telling colleagues in a letter that her chamber would “move swiftly” to pass it and “the resolution will be referred to the Senate and then sent to the president’s desk”.
Should the House and Senate initially approve the measure, Congress seems unlikely to muster the two-thirds majorities in each chamber that would be needed later to override a certain Trump veto.
Thousands of Oakland public school teachers went on strike Thursday, calling for smaller class sizes, more resources, and better pay in a city where tech money has made it difficult for the vast majority of teachers to survive. The Oakland Education Association – the union that represents teachers, librarians, counselors, and nurses serving 36,000 students in 87 schools –has been negotiating with the Oakland Unified school district (Ousd) for two years, said the union president, Keith Brown.
“Oakland teachers cannot afford to live in Oakland,” Brown said at a news conference announcing the strike. “One out of five leave each year. Five hundred classrooms are left with inexperienced teachers each year. “Our students do not have adequate support – one nurse for every 750 students, one counselor for every 600 kids,” he continued. “OUSD schools are not failing. OUSD is failing our schools. OUSD is failing Oakland students.”
Adding to the usual pressures around contract negotiations is that much of the wealth that has flooded the region from the tech industry has caused the cost of living to soar. The high housing costs of San Francisco have overflowed into Oakland, where rental prices are among the fastest-rising in the US. Meanwhile, Oakland teachers are paid the lowest salaries in the county, the union said, which range from $46,750 to $83,724 a year, according to the school district.
Oh my. Another day, another devious plot.
A wide-ranging disinformation campaign aimed at Democratic 2020 candidates is already underway on social media, with signs that foreign state actors are driving at least some of the activity. The main targets appear to be Sens. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas), four of the most prominent announced or prospective candidates for president.
A POLITICO review of recent data extracted from Twitter and from other platforms, as well as interviews with data scientists and digital campaign strategists, suggests that the goal of the coordinated barrage appears to be undermining the nascent candidacies through the dissemination of memes, hashtags, misinformation and distortions of their positions. But the divisive nature of many of the posts also hints at a broader effort to sow discord and chaos within the Democratic presidential primary. ...
Not all of the activity is organized. Much of it appears to be organic, a reflection of the politically polarizing nature of some of the candidates. But there are clear signs of a coordinated effort of undetermined size that shares similar characteristics with the computational propaganda attacks launched by online trolls at Russia’s Internet Research Agency in the 2016 presidential campaign, which special counsel Robert Mueller accused of aiming to undermine the political process and elevate Donald Trump. ...
An analysis conducted for POLITICO by Guardians.ai found evidence that a relatively small cluster of accounts — and a broader group of accounts that amplify them — drove a disproportionate amount of the Twitter conversation about the four candidates over a recent 30-day period. Using proprietary tools that measured the discussion surrounding the candidates in the Democratic field, Guardians.ai identified a cohort of roughly 200 accounts — including both unwitting real accounts and other “suspicious” and automated accounts that coordinate to spread their messages — that pumped out negative or extreme themes designed to damage the candidates.
Ocasio-Cortez Hits Back After Right-Wingers Drop Big Cash on 'Wack' Times Square Billboard Blaming Her for Amazon Taking Its Ball and Going Home
After a right-wing lobby group unveiled a billboard in New York City's Time Square on Wednesday blaming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez alone for the decision by retail and technology giant Amazon to "take its ball and go home" by pulling the plug on its planned HQ2 project in nearby Long Island City, it was pretty clear what was going to happen next.
As political pundits who oppose the common good like Laura Ingraham began championing the billboard, Ocasio-Cortez didn't demure. She shot back:
Few things effectively communicate the power we’ve built in fighting dark money & anti-worker policies like billionaire-funded groups blowing tons of cash on wack billboards (this one is funded by the Mercers).
(PS fact that it’s in Times Sq tells you this isn’t for/by NYers.) https://t.co/B4QTPi1r2k
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) February 21, 2019
While the billboard directly charges that Ocasio-Cortez was behind Amazon's decision to ditch the project it had planned for New York, the many New Yorkers who opposed the deal have made it clear such a charge simply is not true. ...
While right-wing dark money groups like the Jobs Creators Network—deploying hashtags like #SocialismTakesCapitalismCreates—want to create the impression that it was the evil young congresswoman who self-identifies as a democratic socialist had the singular power to defeat one of the world's wealthiest and most powerful corporations, it was Ocasio-Cortez in the wake of the company's decision who credited "a group of dedicated, everyday New Yorkers and their neighbors" for defeating "Amazon's corporate greed."
As the congresswoman herself pointed out Wednesday night, citing this Wikipedia page, the Job Creators Network that funded the billboard "is an advocacy group founded by Home Depot co-founder and former CEO Bernie Marcus. It describes its agenda as to promote small businesses and has been described as leaning conservative." As Media Matters reported in 2017, the group is heavily backed by the right-wing billionaire Mercer Family, one of the key financial backers of President Donald Trump.
The fuckers in the Air Force are poisoning the largest aquifer in America which irrigates almost a third of the irrigated farmland in the U.S. and provides drinking water for a couple million people. Thanks for protecting us, assholes.
For months, Clovis, New Mexico, dairy farmer Art Schaap has been watching his life go down the drain. Instead of selling milk, he is dumping 15,000 gallons a day – enough to provide a carton at lunch to 240,000 children. Instead of working 24/7 to keep his animals healthy, he’s planning to exterminate all 4,000 of his cows, one of the best herds in his county’s booming dairy industry. The 54-year-old second-generation dairy farmer learned last August that his water, his land, his crops – even the blood in his body – were contaminated with chemicals that migrated to his property from nearby Cannon air force base.
There is plenty the air force could have said. It has for decades been aware that PFAS chemicals are toxic to humans, animals and the environment. By 2000, industry scientists and the Environmental Protection Agency had meticulously documented that they persist in the environment for millennia. They are linked to cancer, liver damage, thyroid disease, lowered immunity and high cholesterol, among other serious health problems. They have poisoned the groundwater at 121 military bases across the US, the DoD disclosed in 2018. ...
White House climate change panel to include man who suggested higher levels of carbon dioxide are beneficial
The White House is planning to assess how climate change impacts national security and will involve a prominent doubter of the scientific consensus that manmade warming is putting the US at risk.
Donald Trump’s staff have drafted an executive order to establish a Presidential Committee on Climate Security, according to reports from the Washington Post and New York Times. It would include senior aide William Happer, a Princeton physicist who has suggested – in conflict with the vast majority of climate scientists – that higher levels of carbon dioxide are beneficial. ...
In 2017, Happer told the Scientist that climate change research has become a “cult movement”.
When most people drive through the Cactus Forest in Saguaro national park, their gazes are fixed skyward. Towering saguaros fill the view on either side of the road, rising 40, even 60ft high, their human-like arms outstretched. But on a recent December afternoon, Ray O’Neil was focused on the ground. He was looking for holes. As the park’s chief ranger, O’Neil is on constant alert for an unusual menace: cactus poachers. Saguaros aren’t just beautiful to look at; they also fetch a hefty price, up to $100 a foot, on the black market, where they are enormously popular with landscapers.
As the sideways winter light illuminated the saguaros with a golden effervescence, O’Neil scanned the scene. “People try to steal all kinds of things from the park, even rattlesnakes,” said O’Neil, staring out the open window of his SUV. “But cactus has always been the biggest target.”
The national park is not alone. Across the south-west, cacti are being stolen from public lands in increasing numbers. From soaring saguaros to tiny, rare species favored as indoor house plants, the booming global demand for cacti is driving a shadowy, underground trade that’s difficult to police. Moreover, experts say, such trends risk destroying sensitive species forever.
In Saguaro, the situation became so grave it prompted a bold solution. In a scheme that made headlines, park workers began inserting microchips the size of pencil tips into cactus trunks, which could be scanned with an electronic reader. While the effort has so far proven effective in thwarting thieves, it has been a rare bright spot in a problem that remains pervasive yet intractable.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Junior Kimbrough - Leaving in the Morning
Junior Kimbrough - I Cried Last Night
Jr Kimbrough - Done Got Old
Junior Kimbrough - Lonesome In My Home
Junior Kimbrough - I'm In Love
Junior Kimbrough - I Feel Alright
Junior Kimbrough - My Mind is Ramblin
Junior Kimbrough - Sad Days, Lonely Nights
Junior Kimbrough - Pull your clothes off
Junior Kimbrough - Do the Rump!
Junior Kimbrough - Old Black Mattie