The Evening Blues - 9-23-19
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Texas blues singer Angela Strehli. Enjoy!
Angela Strehli, Lou Ann Barton & Marcia Ball - Something's Got a Hold on Me
"When you become a mercenary, you're just a bully with a gun."
-- Evan Wright
News and Opinion
There is a longstanding joke told in the Middle East about Saudi Arabia’s reluctance to fight its own wars. “Saudi Arabia will fight until the last Pakistani,” the punchline goes, in reference to the fact that Pakistani troops have long supported Saudi’s military endeavours. ... There is always a poorer country ready to send cannon fodder for the right price. ... It is baffling, in the light of last week’s attacks on two Saudi oil facilities, that there is so much speculation about Saudi and Iran going to war. Saudi does not “go to war”: it hires proxies, and depends on US gullibility to continue the lie that it is the regional peacekeeper, and that any threat to the country destabilises the region. ...
The Pentagon has announced that it will be sending hundreds of US troops, in addition to air and missile defence equipment, to Saudi Arabia as a “defensive” move.
Why does a country that was the world’s largest arms importer from 2014 to 2018, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, need so much help? In 2018, the US provided 88% of all weaponry sold to the country. By the end of 2018, Saudi was responsible for 12% of global arms purchases. It is clearly not in need of more military kit from the US to defend it against drone attacks.
What, then, does a country that is involved in one military campaign, in Yemen, and which appears so vulnerable to attack and in need of constant protection, do with so many weapons? Buying the weapons, rather than deploying them, is the point. These multimillion-dollar purchases maintain commercial relations with western allies from whom it imports arms, and who in return turn a blind eye to Saudi’s human rights abuses, assassinations and kidnappings, because there is too much money at stake. Saudi Arabia’s entire foreign policy model is based on using its wealth to buy friends and silence. ...
Bellicose in the extreme, and yet aware that it is highly unlikely to suffer the consequences of its pugnaciousness, Saudi is currently locked in escalating conflicts with Iran, Qatar and Yemen, propping up military regimes in Sudan and Egypt, messily meddling in Lebanon, and continuing to fund random Sunni hardline endeavours all over the world – and generally getting away with it. Saudi will not go to war with Iran, but the US may do so on its behalf. Meanwhile, Saudi looks on – as ever, the indulged and unpunished provocateur of the Middle East.
If you’ve been lying awake at night terrified that the Pentagon might not send additional troops and armaments to defend oil corporations in Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, I’ve got some great news for you.
In response to an attack on Saudi Aramco oil infrastructure for which Houthi rebels in Yemen have taken credit, the US government has responded in the only possible rational way: by blaming Iran and deploying troops to act as security guards for Middle Eastern oil companies.
“In response to the kingdom’s request, the president has approved the deployment of U.S. forces, which will be defensive in nature and primarily focused on air and missile defense,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper informed the press yesterday. “We will also work to accelerate the delivery of military equipment to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the UAE to enhance their ability to defend themselves.”
So you can breathe easy, my friend. Freedom and democracy are safe once more.
Iran says it will soon release a British-flagged tanker that its Revolutionary Guards seized more than two months ago, sparking a crisis in Gulf shipping.
Maritime authorities in the Islamic republic told the semi-official Fars news agency on Sunday that the Swedish-owned Stena Impero would imminently be released, confirming earlier remarks by the chief executive of Stena Bulk, the company that owns the vessel.
“We received information this morning indicating that the ship Stena Impero is going to be released in a few hours,” Erik Hanell, chief executive at Stena Bulk, told Swedish television SVT on Sunday.
The Stena Impero was dramatically seized on 19 July as it passed through the strait of Hormuz after Iranian officials claimed it had infringed maritime regulations. Footage released by Iran showed Revolutionary Guards descending from a helicopter to take control of the ship and detain its 23 crew members.
About two weeks earlier, British Royal Marines seized an Iranian supertanker off the coast of Gibraltar carrying 2.1m barrels of crude oil that UK authorities alleged was to be sold to Syria in breach of EU sanctions against Bashar al-Assad’s government. Iran has denied the Stena Impero’s impoundment was a tit-for-tat move.
'How Could They Do This to Us?' Ask Afghan Farmers After Reporting Reveals Officials Knew Civilians Were in Area of Lethal US Drone Strike
Afghan officials knew for over a week that civilians were in the area bombed by a U.S. drone strike on Wednesday, raising more questions about the attack that killed 30 farmers and wounded 40 more.
"My son and his friends were killed by the Americans," village chief Malak Khaiyali Khan told Reuters. "How could they do this to us?" ...
According to Reuters, village elders from the Wazir Tangi area of Nangarhar province on September 7 sent a letter to the region's governor alerting him to the fact they planned to have as many as 200 laborers picking pine nuts.
The letter, seen by Reuters and dated Sept. 7, was sent in an effort to help protect laborers from getting caught in clashes between U.S.-backed Afghan forces and Islamic State fighters in the mountainous terrain largely controlled by the jihadists.
Twelve days later, a drone strike hit a camp of workers.
Provincial officials remain deeply critical over Thursday’s US attack on the camp of a group of farm laborers in Afghanistan’s Nangarhar, killing at least 32 civilian farm workers and wounding 40 others, many of them children.
US officials, however, continue to maintain that what everyone in the region knew were hired hands for a pine nut harvest were actually ISIS fighters, claiming that the ISIS fighters were just pretending to work as harvesters.
There is no evidence for that, and a lot of evidence to the contrary, particularly that the village in question had written to top officials weeks ago to inform them of the upcoming harvest, the temporary camp, and asking them not to attack the economically vital harvest of the forest.
President Trump said damn straight someone should investigate Joe Biden, in remarks likely to inflame the “whistleblower” scandal that’s already engulfing Washington and the 2020 campaign.
Trump said “it doesn’t matter” whether he directly asked Ukraine’s president to investigate Biden during a phone call on July 25, brushing aside questions about whether his administration sought to withhold millions in foreign military aid while pushing the country to launch politically helpful investigations.
In the next breath, Trump said Biden should be investigated over conduct that, at least in Trump’s description, dovetails perfectly with what Trump’s team has reportedly pressed Ukrainian officials to look into.
“Somebody ought to look into Joe Biden’s statement, because it was disgraceful, where he talked about billions of dollars he’s not giving to a certain country, unless a certain prosecutor is taken off the case,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office on Friday. “Somebody ought to look into that.” ...
House Democrats are now investigating whether Trump attempted to slow-walk millions of dollars worth of foreign aid to Ukraine while pressing for investigations.
On Thursday night, Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump’s personal lawyer and troubleshooter-in-chief, went on CNN to defend his boss against the latest scandal swirling round him. ... A few minutes into the interview, pugnacious anchor Chris Cuomo got to the point.
Cuomo: “Did you ask the Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden?”
Giuliani: “No. Actually I didn’t.”
Crystal clear. Except that 83 words and about 30 seconds later, Cuomo asked the question again.
Cuomo: “So, you did ask Ukraine to look into Joe Biden?”
Giuliani: “Of course I did.”
That Giuliani was prepared so blatantly to contradict himself on live TV in the service of the president perfectly encapsulates his transformation. “America’s mayor”, the hero of 9/11, has metamorphosed into what the New Yorker dubbed “Trump’s clown”. ...
As the Mueller investigation into Russian interference in that election reached its climax, Giuliani threw lawyerly restraint to the winds and repeatedly denounced the inquiry as a witch-hunt. Last August, he uttered words that will forever haunt him: “Truth isn’t truth.” But of all the scraps in which Giuliani has engaged in recent months, of all the obfuscations and verbal sleights of hand, this week’s performance could prove the most damaging, both for him and for his White House buddy.
Spain’s supreme court is expected to announce on Tuesday whether General Franco’s remains can be exhumed from the vast mausoleum outside Madrid where they have lain since the dictator’s death in 1975. Removing Franco’s body from its tomb in the Valley of the Fallen has been one of the key priorities of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ party (PSOE) since it came to power in June last year.
PSOE argues the basilica and its 150-metre-high cross are a monument to the Franco regime that glorifies the winners of the civil war rather than commemorating its victims. “The wounds have been open for many years,” Spanish prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, told parliament 14 months ago. “Too many years. The time has come to close them.”
But the move has been bitterly opposed by the dictator’s family and admirers. In June this year, just days before Franco’s body was due to be dug up, the supreme court ordered the exhumation to be suspended while it considered an appeal from his family and other groups. Three months on, the court is due to reveal its ruling on whether the government can proceed with the removal of the valley’s most famous occupant.
Police brutality has been a core grievance for Hong Kong’s protesters, whose fury has been sustained by a regular barrage of social media clips showing officers carrying out violent arrests. Now a new investigation by Amnesty International claims the situation could be even uglier behind closed doors, accusing police of committing assaults in custody that amount to torture.
The report, based on interviews with 21 people arrested during the three months of pro-democracy protests, as well as corroborating interviews with lawyers and medical workers, found that Hong Kong police have been committing reckless and indiscriminate violence against pro-democracy protesters. Eighteen of the 21 were admitted to hospital, with injuries ranging from head wounds to fractured arms.
The alleged violence, before and after arrest, has been meted out in apparent retaliation against protesters, and has escalated in severity as the demonstrations have continued, according to Nicholas Bequelin, the group’s east Asia director. ...
Most of those interviewed were beaten before or during their arrests, but for some, the violence continued in custody, with several of protesters enduring torture or other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, according to Amnesty.
Jeremy Corbyn is on a collision course with Labour’s membership after he attempted to stop the party campaigning to remain in the EU at a general election. Before a crucial vote on Monday on whether the party should explicitly back remain in any election, Labour’s autumn conference descended into factional rows over its Brexit policy, with rebellious MPs privately threatening another leadership challenge.
Corbyn moved to stamp his authority on Labour’s Brexit position by proposing a delay to deciding how the party should campaign at a second referendum. His proposal to put off the decision until after an election was endorsed by the national executive committee, by 16 votes to 10, after members were asked to send their agreement by email and without a meeting.
“The NEC believes it is right that the party shall only decide how to campaign in such a referendum – through a one-day special conference, following the election of a Labour government,” the statement said. However, pro-EU activists fought during a lengthy meeting on Sunday night to ensure there would be a vote on the conference floor on Monday on whether Labour should immediately adopt an unequivocally remain position.
More than 50 local parties swung behind a pro-remain motion, while eight backed a more neutral motion closer to the leadership’s position. Both options will now be voted on by delegates, along with the official national executive position, leaving open the possibility that competing motions could pass and cause further confusion over the party’s Brexit policy.
Corbyn explained he was in favour of negotiating a Labour Brexit deal before letting the party decide how it would campaign in a second referendum in an interview on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show. When asked if it was in Britain’s long-term interests to remain in the EU, the Labour leader suggested a Labour Brexit deal could be preferable in some circumstances: “It depends on the agreement you have with the European Union outside.”
Department of Homeland Security is finally, officially recognizing white supremacist terror as a major national security threat in the U.S. — a threat that’s coming from the inside. Acting DHS Secretary Kevin McAleenan on Friday unveiled the department’s new counterterrorism strategy, which for the first time places major emphasis on countering the threat of white nationalism coming from inside the U.S. ...
Many of the priorities listed in the 41-page document align with what extremism and counterterrorism experts have suggested during various recent hearings on domestic terrorism before congress. For example, the report notes that national-level statistics on terorrism and targeted violence are inadequate, and so the department will work closely with state and local agencies, plus academic and non-governmental organizations, to improve their data collection and analysis.
Other measures include using fusion centers — intelligence hubs for federal, state and local law enforcement — to share information about terror threats. They also plan to spearhead initiatives to raise awareness about disinformation, and “halt the spread of information operations intended to promote radicalization to violent extremism or mobilization to violence.”
The F.B.I. has used secret subpoenas to obtain personal data from far more companies than previously disclosed, newly released documents show.
The requests, which the F.B.I. says are critical to its counterterrorism efforts, have raised privacy concerns for years but have been associated mainly with tech companies. Now, records show how far beyond Silicon Valley the practice extends — encompassing scores of banks, credit agencies, cellphone carriers and even universities.
The demands can scoop up a variety of information, including usernames, locations, IP addresses and records of purchases. They don’t require a judge’s approval and usually come with a gag order, leaving them shrouded in secrecy. Fewer than 20 entities, most of them tech companies, have ever revealed that they’ve received the subpoenas, known as national security letters.
The documents, obtained by the Electronic Frontier Foundation through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit and shared with The New York Times, shed light on the scope of the demands — more than 120 companies and other entities were included in the filing — and raise questions about the effectiveness of a 2015 law that was intended to increase transparency around them.
“This is a pretty potent authority for the government,” said Stephen Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas who specializes in national security. “The question is: Do we have a right to know when the government is collecting information on us?” The documents provide information on about 750 of the subpoenas — representing a small but telling fraction of the half-million issued since 2001, when the Patriot Act expanded their powers.
The Education Department has ordered Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill to remake the Middle East studies program run jointly by the two schools after concluding that it was offering students a biased curriculum that, among other complaints, did not present enough “positive” imagery of Judaism and Christianity in the region.
In a rare instance of federal intervention in college course content, the department asserted that the universities’ Middle East program violated the standards of a federal program that awards funding to international studies and foreign language programs. The inquiry was part of a far-reaching investigation into the program by the department, which under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, has become increasingly aggressive in going after perceived anti-Israel bias in higher education.
That focus appears to reflect the views of an agency leadership that includes a civil rights chief, Kenneth L. Marcus, who has made a career of pro-Israel advocacy and has waged a yearslong campaign to delegitimize and defund Middle East studies programs that he has criticized as rife with anti-Israel bias.
In this case, the department homed in on what officials saw as a program that focused on the region’s Muslim population at the expense of its religious minorities. In the North Carolina program’s outreach to elementary and secondary school students, the department said, there was “a considerable emphasis placed on the understanding the positive aspects of Islam, while there is an absolute absence of any similar focus on the positive aspects of Christianity, Judaism or any other religion or belief system in the Middle East.”
Too few of the Duke-UNC programs focused on “the historic discrimination faced by, and current circumstances of, religious minorities in the Middle East, including Christians, Jews, Baha’is, Yazidis, Kurds, Druze and others,” the department said.
At the Iowa People’s Presidential Forum on Saturday, organisers hoped to serve up an antidote to the Polk County Steak Fry, an event a few miles down the road that drew 17 Democratic presidential candidates to deliver stump speeches and pose for selfies with 12,000 attendees. The people’s forum, organized by a collective of grassroots groups, aimed to push progressive policy initiatives. It hosted four candidates, including Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, frontrunners in the state that will hold the first nomination ballot on 3 February next year.
Perhaps the most notable absence was that of Joe Biden, the former vice-president who Iowa Citizens for Community Improvement Action, the forum organiser, declined to invite after his campaign failed to respond to a questionnaire. Biden, a centrist in a field increasingly dominated by progressive ideas, has dropped behind Warren in the polls in Iowa for the first time. To a number of speakers at the forum, his absence spoke volumes.
The Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar, one of four new members of the House of Representatives racially abused by Donald Trump, gave the keynote speech. She demanded “a president who realises we are not just fighting for one election, we are fighting for the very soul of our democracy and what society we want to become”.
Asked by the Guardian if Biden could be that candidate, Omar was less than optimistic. “There are few people who fit into the kind of progress that we all want to see in this country,” Omar said. “And I would say he is not one of them.
“I think it has been very clear to many of the people who have been creating the kind of movement that is exciting generations, that we want somebody who really has a plan that is going to tackle a lot of the systematic challenges that we have, and he doesn’t.”
Elizabeth Warren leads Joe Biden in Iowa for the first time, according to a new poll in the early voting state. The survey carried out by the Des Moines Register, Mediacom and CNN puts the Massachusetts senator at 22% with likely caucus-goers, to the former vice-president’s 20%.
They are well clear of the sprawling Democratic field. Vermont senator Bernie Sanders placed third, with 11%, ahead of South Bend, Indiana, mayor Pete Buttigieg on 9% and California senator Kamala Harris on 6%. New Jersey senator Cory Booker, who said on Saturday he would drop out of the race if a fundraising target is not met, was next with 3%, tied with the Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar.
Harris said this week that she will go all-in on Iowa, aiming for a top-three finish.
Biden still leads the realclearpolitics.com national polling average, on 30% to Warren on 19% and Sanders on 16%. Buttigieg and Harris, on 6%, are the only other candidates with more than 3% support.
Sanders Unveils Plan to Wipe Out All Medical Debt in US, Declaring, 'The Very Concept Should Not Exist'
Pledging to end the "immoral and unconscionable" practice of collecting debt from families who have endured an illness or hospital stay, Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday unveiled his plan to wipe out all medical debt in the United States. ...
Under Sanders's plan, in addition to eliminating all existing medical debt, the senator would establish a public registry to replace the three major credit report agencies, including Equifax, whose security breach left the personal and financial information of 140 million people exposed in 2017. The registry would "remove the profit motive from assessing the creditworthiness of American consumers."
The senator would also bar medical debts from being included on credit reports and end the practice of credit checks for housing, job applications, and other non-lending practices.
"It is immoral and unconscionable that families across the country are finding themselves nearly broke or bankrupt because of crippling medical debt while the healthcare industry made more than $100 billion in profits last year," Sanders said in a statement. "My administration will take on the greed of the healthcare industry."
An assessment backed by the world’s major climate science bodies has found commitments to cut greenhouse gas emissions must be at least tripled and increased by up to fivefold if the world is to meet the goals of the 2015 Paris climate agreement. The report, launched as leaders gather at a UN climate action summit in New York on Monday, says current plans would lead to a rise in average global temperatures of between 2.9C and 3.4C by 2100, a shift likely to bring catastrophic change across the globe.
Coordinated by the World Meteorological Organisation, the United in Science report says it is still possible to reduce the gap and keep global heating to a safe level, but it would require an urgent shift in commitments and action. ...
The report says many of the changes linked to the temperature rise, including long-lasting heatwaves, record-breaking wildfires, declining sea ice and glaciers, cyclones, floods and drought, have hit sooner and harder than predicted a decade ago.
The United in Science report, which is also backed by the United Nations Environment Programme and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, estimates global emissions are not likely to peak before 2030 on the current trajectory. It says policies to reduce emissions must triple to meet the 2C target and increase fivefold to keep heating to within 1.5C.
Lots more at the link:
Today, the Amazon is on fire, the result of moves attributed to Bolsonaro’s allies among the agribusiness interests trying to open up the forest for their economic gain. And the army, empowered by Bolsonaro’s presidency, is simultaneously beginning another push of its own: the largest-scale plan to occupy and settle the Amazon since the dictatorship. Previously unpublished documents obtained exclusively by The Intercept flesh out the military’s plan for a push into the interior of the Amazon. Known as the Baron of Rio Branco Project, the plan envisions large-scale development projects, eventually raising the Amazon region’s contribution to the Brazilian economy. Amid today’s conflagration in the Amazon, Bolsonaro went on television to pledge to protect the delicate — and globally vital — ecosystem. Yet the Rio Branco Project would exploit resources; build large-scale bridges, dams, and highways; and attract non-Indigenous citizens to settle the northern region, the sparsely populated Brazilian hinterlands. Each project would inevitably create ripple waves of secondary deforestation and disrupt local communities.
The project takes up the old military dream to colonize the Amazon, under the stated goal of developing the region and protecting Brazil’s northern border. The document obtained by The Intercept shows that the government envisions sources of “riches” in potential mining, a hydroelectric dam, and farming projects in the Guiana Shield — a geographic region that covers the Brazilian states of Amapá, Roraima, and the northern segments of Pará and Amazonas, as well as the nations of French Guiana, Suriname, and Guyana, much of Venezuela, and a sliver of Colombia. “It’s all virtually unexplored,” the slides say of these portions of Brazil. “It’s right there alongside the riches of the North.” ...
While the purported economic benefits are offered as justifications for the Rio Branco Project, what is not mentioned — but referenced in the materials obtained by The Intercept — is another reason for the Amazon push: a revived version of the military dictatorship’s paranoid fears of an invasion of Brazil through the sparsely populated northern border. ...
Whether or not the Rio Branco Project is successful in accomplishing its aims of bringing economic growth and national security to the northern region, the attempt to develop, industrialize, and securitize the region are likely to have a similar effect as previous Brazilian governments’ forays into the Amazon: catastrophic environmental degradation and calamity for the communities who have long since called the Amazon home.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Angela Strehli - What It Takes
Angela Strehli - Go On
Angela Strehli - Wang Dang Doodle
Stevie Ray Vaughan & Angela Strehli - Don't Fall For Me Baby
Angela Strehli - It Hurts Me Too
Angela Strehli & Friends - Big Town Playboy
Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimmie Vaughan and Angela Strehli - You Were Wrong
Angela Strehli, Mighty Mike & Paul Lamb - Boogie Like You Wanna
Angela Strehli - That Two Bit Texas Town