The Evening Blues - 1-10-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues harmonica player Sonny Terry. Enjoy!
Sonny Terry - I Love You Baby
"All censorship efforts rest on the same tactic: generating fear over exaggerated threats posed by villains, sometime domestic ones but more often foreign villains."
-- Glenn Greenwald
News and Opinion
Coming soon to a neighborhood near you? Glenn Greenwald weighs in with an important article about the "fake news" RussiaRussiaRussia panic. It's well worth a full read.
First France, Now Brazil Unveils Plans to Empower the Government to Censor the Internet in the Name of Stopping “Fake News”
Yesterday afternoon, the official Twitter account of Brazil’s Federal Police (its FBI equivalent) posted an extraordinary announcement. The bureaucratically nonchalant tone it used belied its significance. The tweet, at its core, purports to vest in the federal police and the federal government that oversees it the power to regulate, control and outright censor political content on the internet that is assessed to be “false,” and to “punish” those who disseminate it. The new power would cover both social media posts and entire websites devoted to politics. “In the next few days, the Federal Police will begin activities in Brasília [the nation’s capital] by a specially formed group to combat false news during the [upcoming 2018 presidential] election process,” the official police tweet stated. It added: “the measures are intended to identify and punish the authors of ‘fake news’ for or against candidates.” ...
At least as of now, they are claiming for themselves one of the most extremist powers imaginable – the right of the government to control and suppress political content on the internet during an election – with no legal framework to define its parameters or furnish safeguards against abuse. ... Tellingly, these police officials vow that they will proceed to implement the censorship program even if no new law is enacted. They insist that no new laws are necessary by pointing to a pre-internet censorship law enacted in 1983 – during the time Brazil was ruled by a brutal military dictatorship that severely limited free expression and routinely imprisoned dissidents. ...
The move to obtain new censorship authority over the internet by Brazilian police officials would be disturbing enough standing alone given Brazil’s status as the world’s fifth most populous country and second-largest in the hemisphere. But that Brazil’s announcement closely follows very similar efforts unveiled last week by French President Emmanuel Macron strongly suggests a trend in which government are now exploiting concerns over “Fake News” to justify state control over the internet.
In his New Year’s speech to journalists at the Élysée palace, the French President vowed that his new law would contain some robust transparency obligations for websites – ones for which valid arguments may be assembled. But the crux of the law is censorship: during elections, “an emergency legal action could allow authorities to remove that content or even block the website.” As in Brazil, the new French power would cover social media platforms and traditional media outlets alike, allowing the government through an as-yet-unknown process to simply remove entire political websites from the internet. Beyond having one’s political content forcibly suppressed by the state, disseminators of “Fake News” could face fines of many millions of dollars. Given Macron’s legislature majority, “there is little doubt about its ability to pass,” the Atlantic reports.
Both Brazil and France cited the same purported justification for obtaining censorship powers over the internet: namely, the dangers posed by alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. ... There has never been any indication of any remote Russian interest in Brazilian’s domestic elections, while the claims from Macron and France during the election that were uncritically believed by western media outlets – that he was the victim of Russian hacking – turned out to lack any credible evidence, as France’s own cyber security agency concluded after an investigation (that same pattern repeated itself in Germany, where vocal warnings about the inevitability of Russian interference in German elections were followed by post-election admissions that there was no evidence of any such thing).
Ecuador’s foreign minister has said Julian Assange’s five-and-a-half-year stay in her country’s London embassy is “untenable” and should be ended through international mediation.
The WikiLeaks founder has been holed up in Knightsbridge since the summer of 2012, when he faced the prospect of extradition to Sweden over claims that he sexually assaulted two women. He denies the accusations.
Swedish prosecutors last year unexpectedly dropped their investigation into the allegations, which included a claim of rape. But Assange still faces arrest for breaching bail conditions if he steps outside the embassy and WikiLeaks has voiced fears that the US will seek his extradition and that there is a sealed indictment ordering his arrest.
WikiLeaks’ publications have included hundreds of thousands of US army war logs and state department diplomatic cables and more recently emails from the Democratic National Committee during the run-up to the 2016 US presidential election. The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, said last May that Assange’s arrest was now a “priority”.
Ecuador’s foreign minister, María Fernanda Espinosa, said her country was now seeking a “third country or a personality” to mediate a final settlement with the UK to resolve the impasse and said it was “considering and exploring the possibility of mediation”.
Less than a day after breakthrough talks between North and South Korea, the U.S. announced Wednesday the sale $130 million in ballistic missile technology to Japan, threatening to upend the Peninsula’s newfound detente.
The State Department asked Congress to approve the sale of four missiles and related hardware that can be launched from sea or land to protect Japan from the North Korean threat. ...
The missiles will have a longer range and a wider capability to intercept than Japan’s current missile defense system. ...
The decision comes amid an unexpected thawing of relations between North and South Korea.
North Korea said after its first talks with South Korea in more than two years that it would not discuss its nuclear weapons with Seoul because they were aimed only at the United States, not its “brethren” in South Korea.
In a joint statement after 11 hours of talks on Tuesday, North Korea pledged to send a large delegation to next month’s Pyeongchang Winter Olympics in South Korea but made a “strong complaint” after Seoul proposed talks to denuclearise the Korean peninsula.
Officials from both sides said they agreed to meet again to resolve problems and avert accidental conflict, amid high tension over North Korea’s program to develop nuclear missiles capable of hitting the United States, but Pyongyang said disarmament would not be part of the discussions.
“All our weapons, including atomic bombs, hydrogen bombs and ballistic missiles are only aimed at the United States, not our brethren, nor China and Russia,” Pyongyang’s chief negotiator, Ri Son-gwon, said.
“This is not a matter between North and South Korea, and to bring up this issue would cause negative consequences and risks turning all of today's good achievement into nothing,” Mr Ri, chairman of the North’s Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland, warned in closing remarks.
Israel launched a series of predawn air strikes then followed up with artillery fire on an army base near the Syrian capital, Damascus, Syria's military said.
The allegation was not denied by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when questioned by reporters later on Tuesday.
Israeli jets fired missiles at the Qutayfeh area northeast of Damascus from inside Lebanese airspace at 2:40am local time (00:40 GMT), causing the Syrian army to retaliate and "hit one of its planes", the Syrian army said in a statement broadcast on state television. ...
After the air raids, Israel also launched rockets from the occupied Golan Heights, but the Syrian military intercepted them, the army statement said.
A judge blocked Donald Trump late Tuesday from ending an Obama-era program that shielded children, brought to the United States illegally by their parents, from deportation out of the country.
District judge William Alsup ruled in San Francisco that the administration must “maintain the Daca program on a nationwide basis”, while courts decide how to ultimately rule on the president’s order.
The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (Daca) program has allowed nearly 800,000 immigrants to work and go to school in the US without fear of deportation since it was authorized by former president Barack Obama in 2012.
On Wednesday morning, Trump lashed out at judges based in the western ninth circuit, calling the court system “broken and unfair”.
Asa Kitfield usually purchases the intravenous saline fluids that his company NutriDrip offers to hangover sufferers and “wellness”-seekers from wholesale medical supply companies. But when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico last September – wiping out the electrical grid and crippling one of the United States’ only manufacturers of IV fluids – Kitfield’s sources ran dry. “That was a nightmare,” Kitfield said. “We actually lost a lot of money during that period.” He ended up turning to medical supply resellers, paying as much as a 600% markup for the sterile bags of saline solution that play a critical role in modern medicine.
But what worked for Kitfield and his affluent customers is not an option for the country’s entire healthcare system, which has been hobbled by a nationwide shortage for months now. “Hospitals don’t have the money to pay that kind of markup,” said Erin Fox, director of the University of Utah’s drug information service, where she tracks and studies drug shortages.
The University of Utah’s hospital usually goes through about 800-1,000 “mini-bags” of IV fluids every day. Since the shortages began, Fox said, they are struggling to get by with less than half that. “We’ve seen some pretty terrible shortages,” said Fox. “This shortage proves that things can always get worse … It affects every single medication that we are giving in our hospital.”
Mini-bags of IV fluids are ubiquitous in hospitals, where they are used to dilute and administer medication. There are only a handful of manufacturers in the US, and one of them – Baxter International – has all of its mini-bag factories in Puerto Rico. As of 4 January, electrical power had been restored to just 58.1% of Puerto Ricans, and some parts of the island are expected to remain dark until May. ...
“It really doesn’t speak very well to our healthcare system at this point,” said Dr Rita Jew, director of pharmacy at the University of California San Francisco’s Mission Bay hospital. “A lot of people are referring to this like it’s almost like we’re in a third world country, and there’s some truth to that. These are basic supplies that we have taken for granted. It’s kind of like we’re rationing water in the US.”
On Saturday, a day after becoming aware of a massive store of rebuilding materials being held by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the U.S. federal government — the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, along with their security detail — entered a Palo Seco warehouse owned by the public utility to claim and distribute the equipment, according to a spokesperson for the Corps. ... The federal government “began distributing [supplies] to contractors,” USACE spokesperson Luciano Vera said, including hard-to-find full-tension steel sleeves, critical to rebuilding. “We obtained several hundred of these sleeves on Saturday,” Vera added.
The armed encounter comes as around half of Puerto Ricans still remain without electricity well over 100 days after Hurricane Maria. As PREPA hoards crucial resources that could help remedy the island’s dire situation, the Puerto Rican government is attempting to annihilate the power provider’s only regulator. ...
A security contractor who recently returned from Puerto Rico told The Intercept that crews of linemen brought down from the U.S. were frustrated about the lack of rebuilding materials, which made it virtually impossible for them to fix downed infrastructure. Paraphrasing conversations with the electric crews he accompanied, the source said one worker told him that “we just sat in the truck and watched a movie because we have nothing to do today. … Around Christmas, a lot of the power workers were saying, ‘We’re going on vacation because we couldn’t do our job because PREPA was making it so difficult.’” The source’s job involved escorting contractors tasked with reconstructing downed power lines; he was deployed on the island for over a month by a subcontractor of Cobra Acquisitions LLC, which in the fall received a $200 million contract with PREPA to repair its grid.
“They didn’t have anything to do or to work on,” he said of many of the linemen he interacted with. “They had had a bunch of poles but no lines, or any of the stuff that goes on the poles. They were just setting bare poles, getting as far as they could go.” ...
Mismanagement is not a new phenomenon for PREPA, which for decades has been Puerto Rico’s sole power provider. For most of that time, it had been self-regulated, with a board comprised largely of political appointees with little to no background in the electricity sector. The lack of oversight created conditions for corruption and disinvestment, with its generation and transmission capacity falling into severe disrepair over many years.
A damning new report released Wednesday by congressional Democrats says President Trump’s refusal to acknowledge Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election poses a direct threat to national security, by making the U.S. vulnerable to it happening again.
The 206-page report, commissioned by Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ ranking member, details Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decades-long assault on democracy around the world as well as the risks of the U.S. president being in denial.
“[T]he current president of the United States has barely acknowledged the threat posed by Mr. Putin’s repeated attacks on democratic governments and institutions, let alone exercised the kind of leadership history has shown is necessary to effectively counter this kind of aggression,” the report states. “Never before in American history has so clear a threat to national security been so clearly ignored by a U.S. president."
Donald Trump’s personal lawyer is suing news website BuzzFeed almost exactly a year after it published an explosive dossier containing serious and salacious allegations about collusion with Russia.
Michael Cohen posted on Twitter on Tuesday night: “Enough is enough of the #fake #RussianDossier. Just filed a defamation action against @BuzzFeedNews for publishing the lie filled document on @POTUS @realDonaldTrump and me!”
Cohen told Bloomberg News he had also filed a second defamation suit against political intelligence firm Fusion GPS, which compiled the dossier, in federal court.
Cohen is one of Trump’s closest business advisers and most loyal confidantes and it seems improbable that he was acting without the president’s blessing. His move came hours after Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate judiciary committee, unilaterally released a transcript of testimony from Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson.
BuzzFeed vowed to fight the action in court.
On Monday, I flipped over to MSNBC and what were they “covering”? Trump’s “stable genius” tweet. And no, they were not “advancing the story” … that is, if there is a way to advance a stale story based on a two-day-old tweet. Instead, they just had a couple talking heads blathering on in pointless speculation about Trump’s state of mind. In other words, they were filling dead air with hot air. Surprisingly, there is a takeaway from this episode and from the countless hours of Trumped-Up, blatherati-driven coverage churned out by MSNBC, CNN and the three networks … and it’s this: If the so-called “Liberal Media” really is out to “get” Trump … they really suck at it. ...
They are not talking about the Oil Industry’s influence and the opening up of offshore drilling. They are not talking about the significant expansion of the war on terror … and Trump’s direct hand in a spike in civilian casualties around the Muslim world. They are not talking about the trainwrecks inside the Department of Energy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). They are not talking about Trump pushing DIPLOMATS to get even more involved in selling weapons around the world. They are not talking about Trump’s role in opening up the media for more consolidation. And they are not talking about a dozen other damning stories that, if they’d just dispatch some effing reporters and producers and photographers, they could use those video-driven packages like a goddamn barrage to pepper Trump’s presidency and, in turn, to corner his supporters on Capitol Hill.
But no … they are poring over the cheap and easy regurgitation of kooky tweets. They are wringing every last drop out of Michael Wolff’s book. And they are forever circling around meaningless details about Russiagate that not only DO NOT advance the story, but ultimately make it look like they are ginning-up stories when, in fact, they actually don’t know what Mueller knows … even as they piss away precious hours of airtime speculating about “what’s coming next.”
Heh, looks like the Dems are getting a leg up. Watch them screw it up by campaigning as full-on corporate whores.
The announcement by Congressman Darrell Issa on Wednesday that he is retiring brings to 31 the number of open seats held by Republicans in the 2018 midterm elections. Democrats need to win 25 seats to take control of the House of Representatives.
The unprecedented number of Republican retirements, which includes the sitting chairmen of eight different congressional committees, is a bad omen for the speaker, Paul Ryan, as he seeks to keep control of the lower chamber.
So far, five Republicans representing districts where Hillary Clinton won in 2016 are not seeking re-election this year. Four of them, including Issa, are retiring. The fifth, Martha McSally of Arizona, is seeking the state’s open Senate seat in a competitive primary against Tea Partier Kelli Ward and controversial former sheriff Joe Arpaio.
Issa had the closest race of any member of Congress in 2016. He beat his Democratic opponent Doug Applegate by 1,600 votes in a district that swung heavily against Republicans in the presidential race. Clinton won by seven points in a district that Republican Mitt Romney won by a similar margin in 2012.
Issa’s retirement is a major blow to House Republicans in a district that analysts had considered a toss-up. Not only was Issa a nine-term incumbent but as one of the richest members of Congress, he was able to self-fund his campaign.
Five Spills, Six Months in Operation: Dakota Access Track Record Highlights Unavoidable Reality — Pipelines Leak
Representatives from Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the controversial Dakota Access pipeline, traveled to Cambridge, Iowa, in October to present a series of $20,000 checks to emergency management departments in six counties. The money was, in part, an acknowledgement of the months of anti-pipeline protests that had taxed local agencies during construction, but it was also a nod to the possibility of environmental contamination. One of the counties had pledged to use its check to purchase “HazMat operations and decontamination training/supplies.” Less than a month later, in Cambridge, the Iowa section of the Dakota Access pipeline would experience its first spill.
According to the standards of most state environmental agencies, it was a small spill that wouldn’t require much attention from emergency managers. On November 14, “excessive vibration” caused 21 gallons of crude to leak out of a crack in a weld connection at one of the pump stations, which are situated along pipelines to keep the product moving and monitor its flow. Since the leak was contained at the site, it went unreported to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, although it did make it into a federal pipeline monitoring database.
The Dakota Access pipeline leaked at least five times in 2017. The biggest was a 168-gallon leak near DAPL’s endpoint in Patoka, Illinois, on April 23. According to federal regulators, no wildlife was impacted, although soil was contaminated, requiring remediation. DAPL went into operation on June 1, along with its under-the-radar sister project, the Energy Transfer Crude Oil pipeline, a natural gas pipeline converted to carry crude. Together, the two make up the Bakken pipeline system. ETCO leaked at least three times in 2017.
Most of the Bakken system leaks were considered minor by state and federal monitors. According to regulators, water was not impacted in any of the cases. The only spill considered “significant” by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, or PHMSA, was a 4,998-gallon leak on the ETCO pipeline in Dyersburg, Tennessee, on June 19. Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokesperson Kim Schofinski told The Intercept that reporting the spill to the agency was not required because it was contained within the pumping station where it occurred.
The series of spills in the pipelines’ first months of operation underlines a fact that regulators and industry insiders know well: Pipelines leak.
The Sahara Desert looked more like the Rocky Mountains this weekend after it snowed there for the fourth time in nearly 40 years. The world's largest desert was blanketed in 16 inches of snow in the town of Ain Sefra in Algeria, also known as the "gateway to the desert."
The Sahara is one of the driest and hottest places on earth, reaching extreme highs of 122 degrees. That makes enough moisture there for snowfall a rarity. But a high pressure system moving through Europe pushed cold air farther south than usual and into North Africa, which caused an unusual cold snap in the desert.
New York City is seeking to lead the assault on both climate change and the Trump administration with a plan to divest $5bn from fossil fuels and sue the world’s most powerful oil companies over their contribution to dangerous global warming.
City officials have set a goal of divesting New York’s $189bn pension funds from fossil fuel companies within five years in what they say would be “among the most significant divestment efforts in the world to date”. Currently, New York City’s five pension funds have about $5bn in fossil fuel investments. New York state has already announced it is exploring how to divest from fossil fuels.
“New York City is standing up for future generations by becoming the first major US city to divest our pension funds from fossil fuels,” said Bill de Blasio, New York’s mayor.
“At the same time, we’re bringing the fight against climate change straight to the fossil fuel companies that knew about its effects and intentionally misled the public to protect their profits. As climate change continues to worsen, it’s up to the fossil fuel companies whose greed put us in this position to shoulder the cost of making New York safer and more resilient.”
De Blasio said that the city is taking the five fossil fuel firms – BP, Exxon Mobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips and Shell – to federal court due to their contribution to climate change. Court documents state that New York has suffered from flooding and erosion due to climate change and because of looming future threats it is seeking to “shift the costs of protecting the city from climate change impacts back on to the companies that have done nearly all they could to create this existential threat”.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Sonny Terry - Dangerous Woman
Sonny Terry - Harmonica Hop
Sonny Terry - Uncle Bud
Sonny Terry - Ride and Roll
Sonny Terry - Fast Freight Blues
Rev. Gary Davis & Sonny Terry - When The Train Comes Along
Rev Gary Davis w/ Sonny Terry - You've Got To Move
Blind Boy Fuller & Sonny Terry - Somebody's Been Talkin'
Sonny Terry - Sonny is Drinking
Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee 1974