The Evening Blues - 1-11-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues piano player and singer Willie Mabon. Enjoy!
Willie Mabon - I Don't Know
“The Fourth Amendment wasn't written for people with nothing to hide any more than the First Amendment was written for people with nothing to say.”
-- Dave Krueger
News and Opinion
Click to see how your congressworm voted. 65 Democrats, including Nancy Pelosi, voted in favor of dumping the 4th amendment again.
After months of talking about various reforms, the House voted Thursday 256-164 to renew Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) with only limited changes, rejecting all serious restrictions on surveillance. ...
The bill still has to get through the Senate, which may not necessarily be an easy task. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) both coming out against any long-term extension, and Sen. Paul has said he will filibuster any version of the bill that doesn’t include the major reform of requiring warrants to surveil Americans.
The fate of the nuclear deal with Iran will hang in the balance once more on Friday, when Donald Trump must decide whether to continue sanctions relief for Tehran or violate the 2015 agreement.
The secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, told reporters that Trump, who has repeatedly described it as the “worst deal ever”, would make a final decision on Thursday, after an afternoon meeting with his top foreign policy and national security officials, who all favour preserving the agreement.
European diplomats and US analysts predicted that Trump would continue to waive the sanctions that were suspended as part of the deal, while imposing new sanctions on other grounds, like human rights or missile development.
“There is more or less consensus that the president is going to once again decertify and continue to waive sanctions but at the same time slap new sanctions on Iran on non-nuclear issues,” said Ali Vaez, an Iran specialist at the International Crisis Group.
Vaez added: “The proponents of a more logical path have good arguments to make to the president but his decision is unpredictable. I think it depends on what he sees on Fox News that morning.”
Washington’s closest allies have sent a carefully timed warning to Donald Trump not to tear up the Iran nuclear deal, saying it is essential for international security, and no better alternative has been suggested by the White House.
At a meeting in Brussels attended by the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, the three EU signatories to the deal, insisted that Iran was respecting the agreement signed in 2015.
The display of resolve came before a decision by the US president, expected on Friday, on whether to continue to sign a waiver to prevent the reimposition of economic sanctions against Iran. Tehran has warned that any failure to sign the waiver would lead to the deal’s collapse, and the speedy restart of uranium enrichment.
The EU’s top diplomat, Federica Mogherini, said the deal, denounced by Trump as the worst ever made, had in reality “made the world safer and prevented a potential nuclear arms race in the region”.
She also said any doubts the EU harboured over Iran’s development of ballistic missiles, or its overall policy of interference across the Middle East, were separate from the nuclear deal – also known as the JCPOA.
Catalonia's main separatist parties said Wednesday they have agreed to re-elect fugitive Carles Puigdemont as president of the region later this month, although how to make that legally possible is still up in the air. Puigdemont, who has been in Brussels since he was sacked in October over an attempt to secede from Spain, faces immediate arrest if he returns home. He wants the separatist majority in the new regional parliament to appoint him despite his absence.
The Catalan assembly's regulations are ambiguous about that possibility, but the anti-independence opposition says that a president can't govern from afar. ...
A spokesman with Puigdemont's Junts per Catalunya (Together for Catalonia) ticket said that the separatist politician secured the backing of the left-republican ERC party Tuesday evening in Brussels. The parties jointly hold 66 of the 135 seats in the regional chamber, and can add the support of four anti-establishment lawmakers. ...
Puigdemont boasted again on Wednesday that the three Catalan pro-independence parties had secured a majority despite some of their candidates campaigning from self-imposed exile or in jail while facing possible charges of rebellion. "The desire to be free from Madrid is rising, it is in the majority and it is lasting over time, despite the huge difficulties it faces," he wrote in an editorial published on the Politico news website. "That calls for attention and respect — neither of which have been offered by the Spanish government and the European Union."
WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange has allegedly been issued an Ecuadorian ID in a bid to end his 5-year confinement. The UK Foreign Office reportedly rejected a request from Quito to grant the whistleblower diplomatic status.
Assange’s ID was issued on December 21, Ecuadorian outlet El Universo reports, citing “reliable sources” and providing the civil registry number to check on the government website. The document number 1729926483, upon checking on the Internal Revenue Service, is indeed registered to one Julian Paul Assange.
In the meantime the Government of Ecuador “recently requested diplomatic status for Mr Assange here in the UK,” a Foreign Office spokesperson told British media. “The UK did not grant that request, nor are we in talks with Ecuador on this matter,” the FCO spokesman added.
Abed al-Salam Jihad al-Masri was working on a construction site in Nazareth, Israel, when Israeli Police officers arrested him.
Al-Masri, a 22-year-old geography major from Jenin who studies at An-Najah National University in the West Bank, did not have an arrest record. But on that day last August, he was handcuffed and sent to jail, he said, for exiting the Israeli military-occupied West Bank and entering Israel illegally.
While being interrogated by the police, al-Masri was asked to show an officer his Facebook profile, a controversial tactic that civil rights groups say has grown increasingly common in Israel and the West Bank. After looking at al-Masri’s Facebook, the government threw another charge at him: “incitement” on social media. He was then transferred to a military jail, and later sentenced to three months in prison.
“They accused me of posing a danger to the security of the Hebrew state and of incitement, of being a destroyer,” al-Masri said. “What does that mean? Basically, it’s code for terrorist.”
The charges stemmed from three Facebook posts, all of which were written before al-Masri’s arrest. One honored his “martyred” cousin, Izz al-Din Shahil al-Masri, a Hamas terrorist who carried out the 2001 bombing of a Sbarro pizza restaurant that killed 15 people. Another post expressed a young man’s frustrations and anger over Palestinians’ dwindling control of Jerusalem. A third showed a stock photograph of a handgun, and declared that some, unspecified, people learn respect only through violence.
The US state department has warned Americans to completely avoid five Mexican states plagued by crime and drug cartel violence, putting the regions on the same level as war-zones such as Syria, Yemen and Afghanistan. In an advisory issued on Wednesday, the state department said “do not travel to” the border state of Tamaulipas, as well as the Pacific coast states of Sinaloa, Colima, Michoacán and Guerrero.
Sinaloa has seen spiraling violence since the 2016 arrest – and subsequent extradition to the US – of the former Sinaloa cartel boss Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán and battles over the spoils of his criminal empire. Guerrero has long suffered lawlessness, but became notorious for the disappearance of 43 students in 2014. It has turned especially violent as dozens of criminal groups battle for control of heroin production, and the US government warns that “armed groups operate independently of the government in many areas [and] maintain roadblocks and many use violence towards travellers”.
While Michoacán has a long history of drug cartel activities, the tiny coastal state of Colima has claimed the dubious title of Mexico’s murder capital as rival cartels are thought to be competing for control of the port of Manzanillo. Last year was Mexico’s most murderous year in memory, with the violence spreading to tourist destinations including Los Cabos and Acapulco, and the country’s government has shown little sign that it is getting the upper hand, despite an 11-year militarized crackdown on organized crime.
Walmart said on Thursday it would raise entry-level wages for hourly employees to $11 an hour as it benefits from the biggest overhaul of the US tax code in 30 years. The world’s largest retailer said the increase would take effect in February and that it would also expand maternity and parental leave benefits and offer a one-time cash bonus, based on length of service, of up to $1,000.
The pay increase and bonus will benefit more than 1 million US hourly workers, it said, but the pay increase remains far below the $15 an hour unions and pressure groups say is needed to make up for decades of low growth in retail wages. Walmart’s announcement follows companies like AT&T, Wells Fargo and Boeing, which have all promised more pay for workers after the Republican-controlled US Congress passed a tax bill last month that cut the corporate tax rate to 21% from 35%.
Millions who rely on Medicaid, America’s biggest public health insurance program, could be required to have a job if they want to hold on to their coverage in the future. The Trump administration has unveiled a major policy shift that offers a path for states seeking to tie Medicaid eligibility to work requirements.
Seema Verma, head of the federal centers for Medicare and Medicaid services, said work and community involvement can make a positive difference to people’s health and lives. But the plan is likely to face strong political opposition and even legal challenges.
Medicaid is the nation’s largest public insurance program, providing health benefits to nearly 74 million Americans, chiefly low-income adults. Many recipients already have jobs that don’t provide health insurance and people are not legally required to hold a job to be on Medicaid. But states traditionally can seek federal waivers to test new ideas for the program.
The administration’s latest action seeks to allow states to apply the rules in such a way that would allow them to impose work requirements on “able-bodied” adults. Ten states, mostly conservative ones, have applied for waivers involving requirements for jobs or community involvement for most Medicaid recipients.
Officials at a privately run Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention center in rural Georgia locked an immigrant detainee in solitary confinement last November as punishment for encouraging fellow detainees to stop working in a labor program that ICE says is strictly voluntary.
Shoaib Ahmed, a 24-year-old who immigrated to America to escape political persecution in Bangladesh, told The Intercept that the privately run detention center placed him in isolation for 10 days after an officer overheard him simply saying “no work tomorrow.” Ahmed said he was expressing frustration over the detention center — run by prison contractor CoreCivic — having delayed his weekly paycheck of $20 for work in the facility’s kitchen.
Those in ICE custody often work for as little as $1 per day and cannot legally be compelled to work.
Ahmed’s account adds to a growing chorus of ICE detainees who allege that they have been forced to work in for-profit ICE facilities or else risk punishment with solitary confinement — a harsh form of captivity that, if prolonged, can amount to torture. Late last month, ICE detainees at a CoreCivic-run facility in California sued the private prison contractor, alleging that they had been threatened with solitary confinement if they did not work. ...
CoreCivic has said that its practices of segregating detainees in individual cells are humane and has disputed the term “solitary confinement,” arguing that its harsh connotation does not apply to the publicly traded firm’s practices. ... But over the course of two interviews with The Intercept over a fuzzy detention center phone line, Ahmed used rudimentary English to describe being subjected to the isolating conditions of solitary confinement as it is generally understood.
Russia-gate is becoming FBI-gate, thanks to the official release of unguarded text messages between loose-lipped FBI counterintelligence official Peter Strzok and his garrulous girlfriend, FBI lawyer Lisa Page. Despite his former job as chief of the FBI’s counterintelligence section, Strzok had the naive notion that texting on FBI phones could not be traced. Strzok must have slept through “Security 101.” ... It would have been unfortunate enough for Strzok and Page to have their adolescent-sounding texts merely exposed, revealing the reckless abandon of star-crossed lovers hiding (they thought) secrets from cuckolded spouses, office colleagues, and the rest of us. However, for the never-Trump plotters in the FBI, the official release of just a fraction (375) of almost 10,000 messages does incalculably more damage than that.
More of the Strzok-Page texting dialogue is expected to be released. And the Department of Justice Inspector General reportedly has additional damaging texts from others on the team that Special Counsel Robert Mueller selected to help him investigate Russia-gate. Besides forcing the removal of Strzok and Page, the text exposures also sounded the death knell for the career of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, in whose office some of the plotting took place and who has already announced his plans to retire soon.
But the main casualty is the FBI’s 18-month campaign to sabotage candidate-and-now-President Donald Trump by using the Obama administration’s Russia-gate intelligence “assessment,” electronic surveillance of dubious legality, and a salacious dossier that could never pass the smell test, while at the same time using equally dubious techniques to immunize Hillary Clinton and her closest advisers from crimes that include lying to the FBI and endangering secrets. Ironically, the Strzok-Page texts provide something that the Russia-gate investigation has been sorely lacking: first-hand evidence of both corrupt intent and action. After months of breathless searching for “evidence” of Russian-Trump collusion designed to put Trump in the White House, what now exists is actual evidence that senior officials of the Obama administration colluded to keep Trump out of the White House – proof of what old-time gumshoes used to call “means, motive and opportunity.”
Even more unfortunately for Russia-gate enthusiasts, the FBI lovers’ correspondence provides factual evidence exposing much of the made-up “Resistance” narrative – the contrived storyline that The New York Times and much of the rest of the U.S. mainstream media deemed fit to print with little skepticism and few if any caveats, a scenario about brilliantly devious Russians that not only lacks actual evidence – relying on unverified hearsay and rumor – but doesn’t make sense on its face.
Federal Court Sanctions Lawyers for Defending Community’s Right to Say “No” to Frack Wastewater Injection Wells
Today, the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania issued an order imposing sanctions on two attorneys defending a Community Bill of Rights Ordinance adopted by Grant Township, Pennsylvania. The Township has spent years fighting to stop frack wastewater injection wells from being sited in the community with assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF).
Injection wells – which involve the high pressure underground dumping of millions of gallons of frack wastewater, which contains toxins, carcinogens, and other chemicals – cause earthquakes, can contaminate drinking water, and bring other environmental and public health impacts.
Today’s ruling comes as part of a lawsuit in which Pennsylvania General Energy, LLC (PGE) is suing Grant Township to overturn the Township’s ban on frack wastewater injection wells. (Pennsylvania General Energy Company, LLC v. Grant Township)
Not satisfied with suing the community and questioning its authority to protect the people and environment of Grant Township from injection wells, the company decided to punish its lawyers by seeking monetary sanctions against them.
“At a time when Americans more and more are looking to the courts for reason and justice, today we find neither, as corporate forces once again have been able to wield our institutions of government to punish those working to elevate the rights of communities over fossil fuel corporations,” stated CELDF’s Associate Director Mari Margil.
As New York City Declares War on the Oil Industry, the Politically Impossible Suddenly Seems Possible
Five years ago, when 350.org helped kick off the global fossil fuel divestment movement, one of the slogans the team came up with was “We > Fossil Fuels.” The T-shirts and stickers were nice, but I have to admit that I never really felt it. Bigger than fossil fuels? With their bottomless budgets? Their endless capacity to blanket the airwaves and bankroll political parties? The slogan always made me kind of sad.
Well, yesterday in New York City, listening to Mayor Bill de Blasio announce that the city had just filed a lawsuit against five oil majors and intended to divest $5 billion from fossil fuel companies, I actually felt it. After being outgunned by the power and wealth of this industry for so many years, the balance of power seemed to physically tilt. It’s still not equal — not by a long shot — but something big changed nonetheless. Regular humans may not be more powerful than the fossil fuel companies now — but we might be soon.
Within minutes of de Blasio’s announcement going public, activists in London started tweeting at their mayor to step up in equally bold fashion. And while the press conference was still streaming live, several of us started to get emails from city councillors in other cities around the world, promising to initiate a similar process in their communities. Such is the power of an action emanating from a center as symbolically important as New York City: What felt politically impossible yesterday suddenly seems possible, and the dominos start instantly falling. ...
As that threat becomes more credible, with more players taking New York City’s lead, the investor case for dumping these stocks as overly high risk will be strengthened, thereby lending a potent new tool to the fossil fuel divestment movement. A virtuous cycle. Oh, and the more we are able to hit the industry in the pocketbook, the less likely costly new drilling and pipeline projects will be to go ahead, no matter how many precious national parks and pristine coastlines the Trump administration attempts to desecrate. If the economics don’t make sense, the drilling simply won’t advance. ...
Yesterday was a big, good day for the planet – and we needed one of those.
This year may be anything but staid for the oil market as Citigroup Inc. predicts wildcards including war, Middle East tensions, Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un driving crude toward $80 a barrel.
After prices were boosted by OPEC’s output curbs in 2017, the U.S. President has shifted the focus to geopolitical risks, with his pursuit of sanctions on Iran and North Korea potentially having significant consequences, the bank said. That’s in addition to political disturbances in some OPEC members like Iraq and Libya that could see crude supplies decline, boosting oil to levels between $70-$80, it said in a Jan. 9 report.
“Many of these uncertainties have significant consequences for commodities,” Citigroup analysts including Ed Morse wrote in the report titled Wildcards for 2018: Trump looms large along with systemic risks. “It is not a surprise that our list of potential wildcard events in the year ahead retains a focus on the United States.” ... The most wide-ranging systemic risk to commodities this year could be President Trump disturbing the political world order, Citigroup said.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Willie Mabon - It's A Shame
Willie Mabon - It keeps raining
Willie Mabon - Got To Let You Go
Willie Mabon - I'm the Fixer
Willie Mabon - Too Hot To Handle
Willie Mabon - Some More
Willie Mabon - No Big Thing
Big Willie Mabon - Bogey Man
Willie Mabon - Somebody Gotta Pay
Willie Mabon - Why Did It Happen To Me
Willie Mabon - Say Man