The Evening Blues - 1-17-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues singer and force of nature, Etta James. Enjoy!
Etta James - Feel Like Breakin' Up Somebody's Home, I'd Rather Go Blind and Come To Mama
"Our strategy should be not only to confront empire, but to lay siege to it. To deprive it of oxygen. To shame it. To mock it. With our art, our music, our literature, our stubbornness, our joy, our brilliance, our sheer relentlessness — and our ability to tell our own stories. Stories that are different from the ones we’re being brainwashed to believe. The corporate revolution will collapse if we refuse to buy what they are selling — their ideas, their version of history, their wars, their weapons, their notion of inevitability."
-- Arundhati Roy
News and Opinion
The US is currently attacking one-third of the planet’s population with 8,000 economic sanctions, ongoing acts of war against 39 nations. The United States is relying more heavily on illegal unilateral coercive measures (also known as economic sanctions) in place of war or as part of its build-up to war. In fact, economic sanctions are an act of war that kills tens of thousands of people each year through financial strangulation. An economic blockade places a country under siege.
A recent example is the increase in economic measures being imposed against Iran, which many viewed as more acceptable than a military attack. ... The sanctions on Iran have been in place since the 1979 Iranian Revolution, which made that country independent of the United States. Iran is not the only country being sanctioned by the United States. Samuel Moncada, the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations, speaking to the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement of 120 nations on October 26, 2019, denounced the imposition of sanctions by the US, as “economic terrorism which affects a third of humanity with more than 8,000 measures in 39 countries.” The United States uses sanctions against countries that resist the US’ agenda. US sanctions are designed to kill by destroying an economy through denial of access to finance, causing hyperinflation and shortages and blocking basic necessities such as food and medicine. For example, sanctions are expected to cause the death of tens of thousands of Iranians by creating a severe shortage of critical medicines and medical equipment everywhere in Iran. ...
Sanctions hurt civilians, especially the most vulnerable – babies, children, the elderly and chronically ill – not governments. Their intent is to shrink the economy and cause chronic shortages and hyperinflation while ensuring a lack of access to finance to pay for essentials. The US then blames the targeted government claiming that corruption or socialism is the problem in an effort to turn the people against their government. This often backfires as people instead rally around the government, quiet their calls for democracy and work to develop a resistance economy. ...
With 39 countries targeted with sanctions, and other countries impacted because they cannot trade with those countries, nations are challenging the US’ dollar domination. Countries are seeking to conduct trade without the dollar and are no longer treating the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency while also avoiding Wall Street. The de-dollarization of the global economy is a boomerang effect that is hastening due to the abuse of sanctions and will seriously weaken the US economy. The combination of countries acting against US sanctions, and people’s movements pressuring the US government has the potential to end the abuse of sanctions. The EU has moved to blunt the impact of the sanctions against Iran by creating an alternative to the US-controlled SWIFT system for trade. This is spurring the end of the dollar as the reserve currency. Some officials in the EU have called for retaliatory sanctions against the US. ...
The indiscriminate, illegal and immoral use of sanctions is an act of war. Unless they are authorized by the United Nations, unilateral coercive measures are illegal. A critical objective of the peace and justice movement in the United States, working with allies around the world, must be to end this terrorist economic warfare. The US economy currently depends on financial hegemony and war. The slow, steady collapse of the dollarized economy means the 2020s will be the decade US domination comes to an end. The US must learn to be a cooperative member of the global community or risk this isolation and retaliation.
After repeated threats from President Trump to sanction Iraq, to seize its primary bank account, and cut all military aid, Iraqi PM Adel Abdul-Mahdi has backed away from calls to expel US troops from Iraq.
Iraq’s parliament voted 170-0 earlier this month on the ouster, though US officials have said they don’t intend to leave, and have denied actually being asked. Following the threats, Abdul-Mahdi now says he wants to leave the question up to the next government.
David Wurmser was a longtime advocate of war with Iraq in the Bush administration. Eventually, he got what he wanted, and it was a total disaster. Now, Wurmser again has the ear of a president — this time, Donald Trump — and his sights are set firmly on Iran.
An influential neoconservative in President George W. Bush’s White House who became a significant force behind the push for war with Iraq in 2003, Wurmser has recently been serving as an informal adviser to the Trump administration, according to new reporting from Bloomberg News. In that capacity, Wurmser helped make the case for the recent drone strike that assassinated Iranian Gen. Qassim Suleimani.
Wurmser wrote several memos to then-national security adviser John Bolton in May and June of 2019. In the documents, according to Bloomberg, Wurmser argued that aggressive action by the U.S. — such as the killing of Suleimani — would, in Wurmser’s words, “rattle the delicate internal balance of forces and the control over them upon which the [Iranian] regime depends for stability and survival.”
The significance of this is two-fold. First, while it was already clear that the neoconservative movement has powerfully influenced the Trump administration, Wurmser’s role on Iran is further evidence of the sway that neoconservatism still holds on the U.S. right — despite the catastrophic invasion of Iraq and Trump’s disavowal of the war. Second, it demonstrates that neoconservatives such as Wurmser still cherish a peculiar theory about Iranian society. ...
[N]othing in the past 17 years seems to have made much of an impression on Wurmser; he still maintains a belief in his own skill at precisely calibrated global strategy. Nor has this past calamitous decade and a half prevented him from having the ear of the people who operate America’s killer drones. Notably, the article about Wurmser’s current accomplishments, by neoconservative Bloomberg journalist Eli Lake, does not mention any of Wurmser’s unfortunate history.
The US threatened to impose 25% tariffs on cars to push Europeans to initiate proceedings against Iran for violating the nuclear deal, the German defence minister has confirmed.
“This threat exists,” said the German defence minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, at a press conference in London.
She was asked about an article in the Washington Post that claimed Trump had secretly warned France, Germany and the UK that the US would impose a “25% tariffs on European cars” if they did not activate the mechanism for the settlement of disputes (MRD) of the Iranian international nuclear agreement reached in Vienna in 2015. ...
The news will only confirm the view of the Iranian foreign minister, Javad Zarif, that Europe is failing to stand up to a high school bully. Zarif met the EU external affairs chief, Josep Borrell, to discuss the European decision to trigger the dispute mechanism, describing it as “a strategic mistake”.
The Taliban have offered to stand down their fighters for several days, in an effort to restart peace negotiations with the US that were abruptly called off last year by Donald Trump. The proposal for a seven to 10-day halt in military operations was given to the US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad on Wednesday, AP reported. The US, which has been pushing for a ceasefire to pave the way for new talks, is still evaluating the insurgents’ offer, an American official said.
The offer was reportedly handed over in Qatar, which hosts a Taliban political delegation and has been the venue for many rounds of talks. The group’s top leadership is based in Pakistan and envoys have been shuttling back and forth between the countries.
Washington last year appeared to be edging closer to an agreement to end its longest war, after nearly two decades, and bring thousands of troops home. But after a spike in violence and the death of a US soldier in September, Trump announced on Twitter that he had called off negotiations. Two months later, on a Thanksgiving trip to troops stationed on the ground, he appeared to signal that his peace effort was back on, saying that the Taliban “want to make a deal”, but it would be conditional on a ceasefire.
A day later the militant group confirmed they were ready to restart talks. However, they have reportedly been concerned about agreeing to a ceasefire, for fear that it would sap fighters’ morale and potentially undermine their position on the battlefield if it proved hard to redeploy fighters.
Greece is poised to get its first female president after the country’s centre-right leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis took the unprecedented step of proposing a progressive female judge to assume the role of head of state. In a move loaded with symbolism for a nation more used to the divisiveness of bipartisan politics, the prime minister nominated 62-year-old Katerina Sakellaropoulou.
“The time has come for Greece to open up to the future,” he said in an unexpected televised address, emphasising that the choice embodied unity and progress.
The news of a cosmopolitan jurist being catapulted to the head of the republic caught many off guard – not least in Mitsotakis’ own New Democracy party. Her views have often run counter to the establishment.
But less than 24 hours later, opposition parties, in a display of rare accord, also backed the proposal on Thursday. Former premier Alexis Tsipras, describing his decision as an “act of responsibility”, announced Syriza MPs will vote in favour in a parliamentary ballot on 22 January . The centre-left Kinal likewise expressed support, giving Sakellaropoulou’s election the blessing of at least 266 deputies in the 300-seat parliament. The five–round vote requires an overwhelming majority of 200 to pass initially.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson rejected Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon's demand for a second independence referendum in a brief official letter published today.
"The Scottish people voted decisively to keep our United Kingdom together, a result which both the Scottish and UK Governments committed to respect," the prime minister tweeted, attaching the official document.
Johnson reminded Sturgeon that she had made a personal promise that the 2014 Scottish independence referendum would be a "once in a generation" vote. ...
Sturgeon has argued that Britain's decision to leave the EU justifies holding another referendum on Scottish independence, given a majority of Scots voted against Brexit in 2016.
The first is an investigation into whether associates of Rudy Giuliani ran illegal surveillance on former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. That was triggered by the trove of documents from Giuliani associate Lev Parnas, which included a series of text messages from Trump donor Robert F. Hyde calling Yovanovitch a “bitch” and “suggesting that he had Ambassador Yovanovitch under physical surveillance in Kyiv and that ‘They are willing to help if we/you would like a price.’”
“Ukraine’s position is to not interfere in the domestic affairs of the United States,” Ukraine’s Ministry of Internal Affairs said in a statement. “However, the published records contain a fact of possible violation of the legislation of Ukraine and the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which protects the rights of a diplomat on the territory of another country. Ukraine cannot ignore such illegal activities on its territory.”
The second investigation is into the purported Russian hack of Burisma, the Ukrainian energy company where Hunter Biden served on the board.
As the Senate opened an impeachment trial in which Donald Trump will stand charged with abusing the power of his office, the president was hit with new allegations of wrongdoing by an agency within Trump’s own administration.
The Government Accountability Office released a finding on Thursday morning that the suspension last year of military aid for Ukraine at Trump’s direction violated laws governing the disbursement of congressionally appropriated funds.
Trump caused the law to be broken, the agency found. The White House did not immediately respond to the allegation of criminality. ...
Despite his declaration last month that he could not be an “impartial juror” in the case, McConnell vowed on Wednesday night that each senator would weigh the case against Trump with care. “We’ll pledge to rise above the petty factionalism and do justice for our institutions, for our states and for the nation,” McConnell said.
But McConnell was back in his partisan foxhole on Thursday morning, vowing that the Senate would check the “runaway passions” of the House and indicating that he would continue to press for a trial limited in scope. “Now they want the Senate to redo their homework and rerun the investigation,” McConnell said. “It’s not what this process will be going forward.
“The House’s hour is over. The Senate’s time is at hand.”
It’s apparently not enough of a billionaire subsidy for the U.S. Treasury’s Internal Revenue Service to give a monster tax break to hedge fund titans by allowing them to pay Federal taxes on the basis of “carried interest,” meaning that they have a special loophole to pay a lower tax rate than many school teachers, nurses and plumbers. Now, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal, the Federal Reserve is actually considering opening its super-cheap repo loan money spigot to hedge funds. It doesn’t get any crazier than this.
Morphing from a central bank mandated to set monetary policy on the basis of maximum employment and stable prices, to the lender-of-last-resort to the criminally-charged trading houses on Wall Street and now, potentially, to the insider-trading/Big Short hedge funds, the New York Fed has totally lost its way if not its mind. (Unless, as many suspect, the New York Fed is simply the poorly-disguised money puppet of the one percent.)
The talk of a hedge fund bailout comes at a time when multiple hedge funds and illiquid mutual funds have locked their gates, preventing investors from getting back their money. It also comes after a year of giant net withdrawals from hedge funds. Equally noteworthy, in the past two years over 1200 hedge funds have shut down according to Hedge Fund Research.
According to a report at eVestment which tracks hedge fund flows, investors pulled $29.37 billion from hedge funds in the third quarter of last year, bringing the total net outflows through the third quarter to an eyebrow-raising $76.86 billion. eVestment subsequently reported that another $6.20 billion was pulled in October, bringing the year-to-date total to $83.06 billion.
A Missouri bill intended to bar libraries in the US state from stocking “age-inappropriate sexual material” for children has been described by critics as “a shockingly transparent attempt to legalise book banning” that could land librarians who refuse to comply with it in jail.
Under the parental oversight of public libraries bill, which has been proposed by Missouri Republican Ben Baker, panels of parents would be elected to evaluate whether books are appropriate for children. Public hearings would then be held by the boards to ask for suggestions of potentially inappropriate books, with public libraries that allow minors access to such titles to have their funding stripped. Librarians who refuse to comply could be fined and imprisoned for up to one year.
“The main thing is, I want to be able to take my kids to a library and make sure they’re in a safe environment, and that they’re not gonna be exposed to something that is objectionable material,” Baker told a local news station. “Unfortunately, there are some libraries in the state of Missouri that have done this. And that’s a problem.”
Titles including Sherman Alexie’s award-winning The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five and Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a young adult novel about the rape of a teenager, have all come under fire in Missouri over the last decade.
Guatemalan police accompanied by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents have swept up hundreds of migrants, returning them to the Honduran border and in effect dashing their plans to travel together in a “caravan” to the United States.
Other, smaller groups traveled on in dribs and drabs in a movement involving several thousand people but very different from previous caravans.
Praying and singing songs, the group of 300 migrants – adults, teens and young children – had set out from a shelter in Entre Rios under rainy skies before dawn and walked about six hours before stopping in the town of Morales to eat and rest. There they were challenged by police, loaded on to buses and returned to the border to register under rules governing freedom of travel between Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Guatemalan police officers said the United States paid for the buses.
The action essentially dissolved what had been the largest and most cohesive group that left the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula on Wednesday in response to a call for the first migrant caravan in many months. Guatemala’s tactics mirrored those employed last year by Mexico to discourage and break up caravans on its territory following intense pressure from Washington.
U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders has been steadily climbing in popularity this year and is now tied with former Vice President Joe Biden for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination among registered voters, according to a Reuters/Ipsos national poll.
The online poll, released Thursday, shows that 20% of registered Democrats and independents said they would back Sanders over 11 other candidates to run in the general election against President Donald Trump, an increase of 2 percentage points from a similar poll that ran last week.
Another 19% supported Biden, 12% said they would vote for Senator Elizabeth Warren, 9% backed former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and 6% said they would support Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana.
Sanders and Bloomberg have increased their level of support in each of the last three Reuters/Ipsos polls starting in mid-December, while support for Biden, Warren and Buttigieg has remained flat.
When she launched her campaign, Elizabeth Warren made the Green New Deal a pillar of her platform. At Tuesday's debate, she didn't mention it. Two days later, she voted to give Trump a win on trade with his USMCA, which does not mention climate change or greenhouse gas emissions.
— Walker Bragman (@WalkerBragman) January 16, 2020
The presidential campaign of former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg spent $20,000 over the summer hiring gig workers through the platform Amazon Mechanical Turk, or MTurk, one of the most controversial actors in the gig-working space. Studies have found gig workers at the company are paid far below minimum wage, even though many on the platform work full-time.
The Buttigieg campaign contracted with MTurk for “polling” in August and September, according to Federal Election Commission records. MTurk allows a job requester to post the type of task they want completed and a price they’ll pay for it (the site allows payments as low as 1 cent). It is unclear from the FEC records how much the campaign paid per survey. A campaign spokesperson said they took steps to ensure participants were paid above the minimum wage for surveys that lasted 2-3 minutes, but would not specify how much the participants were paid.
The campaign’s use of an exploitative platform like MTurk is in sharp contrast with the way Buttigieg has cast himself as a pro-worker candidate. He has been outspoken about the need for labor protections for those in the gig economy, whom companies often misclassify as independent contractors rather than employees in order to skirt labor protections. He has proposed several measures that would achieve better labor standards for gig workers, including a $15 minimum wage, cracking down on payroll fraud that lists gig workers as independent contractors, and ending right-to-work laws.
This past weekend, at a culinary union’s town hall in Las Vegas, Buttigieg told the audience, “If you’re a gig worker, as far as I’m concerned, you’re doing a gig, you’re working. And if you’re working, that makes you a worker, and if you’re a worker, you deserve protections. We are going to make sure gig workers have the chance to organize and unionize, too.” In August, Buttigieg joined gig workers to rally outside of Uber’s headquarters in support of a California law that aimed to crack down on exploitation.
But workers on MTurk are not considered employees by the company, which is owned by Amazon, and do not have any labor or wage protections, nor do they have the freedom to join a union. Workers there tried to form a union in 2014 and Amazon, which collects a 20 percent fee per “worker reward,” squashed the effort.
To use Joe Biden’s words — it’s a big f-ing deal that Biden was forced to explicitly admit to this enormous problem in his health care plan https://t.co/ffULBjaHVC
— David Sirota (@davidsirota) January 17, 2020
With Florida’s primary election quickly approaching, the state’s supreme court ruled it was constitutional to place restrictions on up to 1.4 million former felons who regained the right to vote in the state last year.
Thursday’s advisory opinion lends legal support to a Republican measure that requires Floridians with felony convictions in their past to repay all fines, fees and obligations ordered as part of their sentence to the state before they can cast a ballot. If it remains in place, this could disenfranchise an estimated 80% of the newly enfranchised Floridians who had won the right to vote through Amendment 4, a constitutional amendment that passed with majority support in 2018.
The opinion is a blow to voting rights advocates and a win for Republicans who imposed restrictions on one of the most significant expansions of the right to vote in a generation. If carried out, this could affect the outcome of the upcoming presidential election since Florida is a politically competitive state where just a few thousand people can swing an election.
If you search for “climate change” on YouTube, one of the videos you will be recommended to watch is “What do scientists say?” which will tell you that there is “no evidence that CO2 emissions are the dominant factor in climate change.” Not only is this false, but the video being promoted by YouTube’s recommendation algorithm is also being monetized by the company with ads from Greenpeace.
The revelation comes in a report from Avaaz, a non-profit rights group, which claims that YouTube is promoting climate change misinformation to millions of users while making money from that content by selling ads to organizations like Save the Children and the World Wildlife Fund. The bombshell report comes despite repeated claims by the company that it is making big efforts to eradicate the problem of misinformation about climate change being promoted on its platform.
To compile its research, Avaaz conducted a series of YouTube searches in English on three climate topics — ”climate change” global warming and “climate manipulation.” They collected the top results and queried YouTube APIs asking for the top related videos from these search results, which are the videos that appear in the ‘Up Next’ feature and the suggestions bar.
The end result was a cache of 5,537 videos with the following results:
- For the search term “global warming,” 16% of the top 100 related videos included under the up-next feature had misinformation about climate change.
- For the related videos recommended to users who searched “climate change” this number equals 8% and rises to 21% for the search term “climate manipulation.”
- The climate misinformation videos Avaaz reviewed had 21.1 million views collectively.
- Ads for some of the world’s most trusted brands were found on climate misinformation videos including household names like Samsung, L’Oréal, Decathlon, Danone, Warner Bros, and Carrefour.
- One in five ads found were from green or ethical brands including Greenpeace, WWF, and Save the Children.
A million seabirds died in less than a year as a result of a giant “blob” of hot ocean, according to new research. A study released by the University of Washington found the birds, called common murres, probably died of starvation between the summer of 2015 and the spring of 2016.
Most dead seabirds never wash ashore, so while 62,000 dead or dying murres were found along the coasts of Alaska, Washington, Oregon and California, researchers estimate the total number is closer to 1 million. ...
The blob stems from a years-long severe marine heatwave, believed to be caused by an anticyclone weather system that first appeared in 2013. The weather phenomenon known as El Niño accelerated the warming temperatures beginning in 2015 and, by 2016, the rising heat resulted in water temperatures nearly 11F (6C) above average.
Heat maps at the time showed a huge red blob growing, spanning more than 380,000 sq miles (1m sq km). That’s nearly 1.5 times the size of Texas or four times the size of New Zealand.
The study found that the murres mostly likely starved to death. The seabird must eat half its body weight to survive, but food grew scarce amid intense competition from other creatures. Warming ocean waters gave fish such as salmon and halibut a metabolism boost, causing a fight for survival over the limited supply of smaller fish. Researchers also uncovered other effects, including a vast bloom of harmful algae along the US west coast that cost fisheries millions of dollars in revenue. Other animals also died off, including sea lions, tufted puffins and baleen whales.
Thunderstorms are pounding fire-ravaged Australia with lots of rain, which, on its surface, sounds great. But it’s unclear just how much of a positive the rain will be. Parts of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria — the two states that have seen the worst of the bushfires — have already gotten up to two inches of rain. Some of the places that have seen the worst of the fires, like NSW’s Snowy Valley and south coast as well as Victoria’s East Gippsland and north-east, have gotten more than half an inch of rain, according to The Guardian.
But so far, the storms haven’t really put the fires out and have even sparked new blazes with lightning. The storms also create new dangers. Heavy rains mean a huge risk of flash flooding and landslides — the massive fires have scorched out vegetation that would normally soak up some of the rain. ... Multiple minor flash floods have already been reported in Victoria, including parts of the city of Melbourne. Landslides, meanwhile, pose a particularly dangerous threat. ...
The destruction has been mind-boggling: At least 27 people dead, more than 1 billion animals killed, more than 15 million acres burned, and 2,000 homes destroyed. If nothing else, the rain provides a bit of rest from battling that destruction.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Etta James - The Wallflower (Roll With Me Henry)
Etta James - Tears Of Joy
Etta James - Something's Got A Hold On Me
Etta James - Tell Mama
Etta James - Ball And Chain
Taj Mahal & Etta James - Mockingbird
Etta James - You Can Leave Your Hat On
Etta James - Willow Weep For Me
Etta James - The Sky Is Crying
John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers - Rock Me Baby (w/ Etta James)
John Lee Hooker, Carlos Santana and Etta James