The Evening Blues - 1-18-16
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Texas barrelhouse blues piano player Robert Shaw. Enjoy!
Robert Shaw - The Cows
"Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey
Where wealth accumulates, and men decay."
-- Oliver Goldsmith
News and Opinion
Timed to coincide with this week’s gathering of many of the super-rich at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, the report calls for urgent action to deal with a trend showing that 1% of people own more wealth than the other 99% combined.
Oxfam said that the wealth of the poorest 50% dropped by 41% between 2010 and 2015, despite an increase in the global population of 400m. In the same period, the wealth of the richest 62 people increased by $500bn to $1.76tn.
The charity said that, in 2010, the 388 richest people owned the same wealth as the poorest 50%. This dropped to 80 in 2014 before falling again in 2015.
From Warren Buffett to Bill Gates, it is no secret that the ultra-rich philanthropist class has an over-sized influence in shaping global politics and policies.
And a study (pdf) just out from the Global Policy Forum, an international watchdog group, makes the case that powerful philanthropic foundations—under the control of wealthy individuals—are actively undermining governments and inappropriately setting the agenda for international bodies like the United Nations.
The top 27 largest foundations together possess assets of over $360 billion, notes the study, authored by Jens Martens and Karolin Seitz. Nineteen of those foundations are based in the United States and, across the board, they are expanding their influence over the global south. And in so doing, they are undermining democracy and local sovereignty.
Notably, foundation spending on global development is skyrocketing, jumping from $3 billion per year over a decade ago to $10 billion today. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation leads the way, giving $2.6 billion in 2012, the report notes. In addition, the Gates Foundation is the largest non-state funder of the World Health Organization. ...
Both the Gates and Rockefeller Foundations have been slammed by international grassroots groups, including the global peasant movement La Via Campesina, for their international role in exporting big agricultural models, privatizing food policies, and expanding the power of companies like Monsanto.
Democratic Presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) suggested Sunday that the Obama administration's deal struck with Iran would never have happened had Hillary Clinton been president instead of Barack Obama.
Speaking on Meet the Press Sunday morning, Sanders said: “If you think back to, I think it was 2007, during the campaign in which Secretary Clinton ran against Barack Obama, she was critical of him. A question was asked to Obama and said, "Would you sit down and talk to the Iranians?" And he said, "Yeah, I would." Point being that you talk to your adversaries. You don't run away from that. Secretary Clinton, I think, called him naïve. Turns out that Obama was right. So clearly, we have many, many issues and many concerns with Iran. But clearly also, we want to improve our relationships with this very powerful country.”
Meanwhile, Democrat Hillary Clinton struck a hawkish tone Sunday saying that if she were elected president in November, her approach to Iran would be "to distrust and verify." Clinton added: "Iran is still violating UN Security Council resolutions with its ballistic missile program, which should be met with new sanctions designations and firm resolve." "We're going to watch Iran like the proverbial hawk," Clinton said on Meet the Press.
In a significant shift from Centcom’s long-standing policy of blanket refusals to admit to civilian deaths in airstrikes against ISIS targets, the Pentagon today issued a statement admitting to eight civilians killed in the second quarter of 2015 in three separate incidents.
... All told, this brings the number of civilian deaths the Pentagon has admitted to in the war to 14, along with claims of well over 20,000 ISIS killed.
Monitoring groups tell a vastly different story, and back in September put the overall civilian death toll at over 400. Centcom has refused to investigate most of those reports, insisting they don’t find them credible enough to even both probing.
[See also: Playing Games with War Deaths - js]
Western businesses are jockeying for investment opportunities in Iran as the country regains access to the global financial system following the lifting of sanctions at the weekend.
Russian investment firm Renaissance Capital has described Iran as “the last remaining sizeable global economy cut off from international capital to reopen”. The Iranian president, Hassan Rouhani, said on Sunday that 150 companies from 50 countries had recently visited Iran for investment.
Local media quoted Abbas Akhondi, the minister for roads and urban development, as saying that Iran had struck a deal with the French company Airbus for the purchase of 114 new planes, estimated to be worth more than $10bn (£7bn).
On Monday the German automotive firm Daimler said it had signed letters of understanding with local partners to return its truck business to Iran, six years after sanctions interrupted its activity. Iran has a huge car market and French manufacturers including Peugeot and Renault are also considering a comeback. ...
Germany, France and Italy are leading the pack as Europe aims to increase trade with Iran from the current level of €7.6bn (£5.8bn) to the pre-sanctions figure of almost €28bn.
In the short to medium term, China’s president, Xi Jinping, is to visit Tehran next week, and the British chancellor, George Osborne, and Germany’s economy minister, Sigmar Gabriel, are planning to take trade delegations to Iran in May. Rouhani is expected in Rome and Paris soon.
When news first broke of the detention of two U.S. ships in Iranian territorial waters, the U.S. media — aside from depicting it as an act of Iranian aggression — uncritically cited the U.S. government’s explanation for what happened. One of the boats, we were told, experienced “mechanical failure” and thus “inadvertently drifted” into Iranian waters. On CBS News, Joe Biden told Charlie Rose, “One of the boats had engine failure, drifted into Iranian waters.”
Provided their government script, U.S. media outlets repeatedly cited these phrases — “mechanical failure” and “inadvertently drifted” and “boat in distress” — like some sort of hypnotic mantra. ...
The U.S. government itself now says this story was false. There was no engine failure, and the boats were never “in distress.” Once the sailors were released, AP reported, “In Washington, a defense official said the Navy has ruled out engine or propulsion failure as the reason the boats entered Iranian waters.”
Instead, said Defense Secretary Ashton Carter at a press conference this morning, the sailors “made a navigational error that mistakenly took them into Iranian territorial waters.” He added that they “obviously had misnavigated” when, in the words of the New York Times, “they came within a few miles of Farsi Island, where Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps has a naval base.” ... It is, of course, theoretically possible that this newest rendition of events is what happened. But there are multiple reasons to suspect otherwise. To begin with, U.S. sailors frequently travel between Bahrain and Kuwait, two key U.S. allies, the former of which hosts the Fifth Fleet headquarters; these were familiar waters.
Moreover, at no point did either of the ships notify anyone that they had inadvertently “misnavigated” into Iranian territorial waters, a significant enough event that would warrant some sort of radio or other notification. “U.S. defense officials were befuddled about how both vessels’ navigational systems failed to alert them that they were entering Iranian waters,” reported the Daily Beast’s Nancy Youseff on Tuesday night. Carter sought to explain this away by saying, “It may have been they were trying to sort it out at the time when they encountered the Iranian boats.”
Italy might finally be about to get ahold of one of the former CIA operatives convicted in absentia over their role in the US extraordinary rendition program, as a Portugal court has ruled that Sabrina De Sousa should be turned over to the Italian government to serve her six-year sentence.
De Sousa was a CIA operative posing as a US diplomat in Italy during the 2003 kidnapping scheme, but insists she was not involved. She publicly accused the US of conspiring with Italian leaders to prosecute innocent agents in return for protecting the higher-ups who approved the rendition in the first place.
Turkey is deeply alarmed by the rise of a militarily strong Kurdish quasi-state running along its southern flank in de facto alliance with the US and Russia. It has discovered to its cost that Isis is not the answer to the Kurds, but it is not clear what is. ... The problem for Turkey and the Sunni powers is that they now have to raise their stakes in Syria if they want to stay in the game. They did this earlier in the year by backing an anti-Assad offensive that made gains on the ground, but sparked a Russian and Iranian counter-intervention in September that enabled Assad and the Syrian army to go over to the attack. Turkey is getting close to the point where it has to become militarily engaged in the war for northern Syria or become a marginal player.
The Syrian army has not won any decisive victories since the Russians intervened, but its soldiers are advancing rather than pulling back. The armed opposition as a whole is on the retreat. This is one of several reasons why the Syrian peace talks that begin in Vienna on 25 January are unlikely to succeed. Assad and the combination of powers behind him – Russia, Iran and Hezbollah – feel that they are getting stronger rather than weaker so there is less reason for them to compromise. ...
The other problem facing negotiations in Vienna is that the armed opposition groups which are doing most of the shooting will not be present. The most important of these are Isis and al-Nusra, while Ahrar al-Sham is ambivalent towards Saudi Arabia’s attempt to unite the opposition. There is little point in having local ceasefires, unless al-Nusra and the other extreme fundamentalists agree to them and get something in return.
Guerrilla forces tend to disintegrate if they are not fighting an enemy. It is difficult to see why the war should not go on.
In 2012, New Yorker reporter Mattathias Schwartz covered the tribunal of suspected 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed on two occasions at Guantánamo Bay detention camp. Schwartz was allowed to sit in a separate room behind three panes of soundproof glass and watch the tribunal in real time, but a 40-second delayed audio feed inside the room ensured that no classified information was inadvertently leaked.
But Schwartz noticed a problem. What Schwartz saw from behind the glass didn't jibe with what he heard over the audio. That's why the reporter is now suing the Department of Defense and several other agencies to get some answers. ...
Schwartz's lawsuit seeks to force the military to release records under a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. Specifically, Schwartz wants to know exactly what kind of information is being censored and who's cutting the audio feed. He's also asked for details about the security assigned to the commissions.
On Friday, Spain’s benchmark stock index, the Ibex 35, plumbed depths it had not seen since the worst days of 2013, the year that the country’s economy began its “miraculous” recovery. Of the 35 companies listed on the index, 15 (or 40%) are – to quote El Economista – “against the ropes,” having lost over a third of their stock value in the last 9 months. Only one of the 35 companies — the technology firm Indra — is still green for 2016.
This doesn’t make Spain much different from other countries right now, what with financial markets sinking in synchronized fashion all over the world. What does make Spain different is that it has no elected government to try to navigate the country though these testing times, or at least take the blame for the pain. ...
Meanwhile, business confidence, the cornerstone of any economic recovery, is beginning to crumble. Spain’s leading index of business confidence, ICEA, just registered a drop of 1.3%, breaking a straight eleven-quarter run of positive results. For the first time in almost three years more business leaders are pessimistic than optimistic about the economy’s outlook.
This should come as little surprise in a country where unemployment is still firmly on the wrong side of the 20% mark, over a quarter of the new jobs created last year had a contract lasting less than one week, and public debt is higher than it’s ever been [read: Six Nagging Facts About Spain’s “Recovery”].
And now that there’s no elected government in office, businesses that depend on public sector contracts, including the country’s heavily indebted construction and infrastructure giants, face weeks or perhaps even months of inertia.
“Everything has come to a standstill,” a contact in a Madrid-based research consultancy told me. “No decisions are being made, no funds are being released. It’s a vacuum.”
This article by Ellen Brown is worth your time to take a good look at.
For at least a decade, think tanks, commissions and other stakeholders have fought to get Congress to address the staggering backlog of maintenance, upkeep and improvements required to bring the nation’s infrastructure into the 21st century. ... Both houses and both political parties agree that something must be done, but they have been unable to agree on where to find the funds.
In December 2015, however, a compromise was finally reached. On December 4, the last day the Department of Transportation was authorized to cut checks for highway and transit projects, President Obama signed a 1,300-page $305-billion transportation infrastructure bill that renewed existing highway and transit programs. ... Less publicized was where Congress would get the money: largely from the Federal Reserve and Wall Street megabanks. The deal was summarized in a December 1st Bloomberg article titled “Highway Bill Compromise Would Take Money from US Banks”:
The highway measure would be financed in part by a one-time use of Federal Reserve surplus funds and by a reduction in the 6 percent dividend that national banks receive from the Fed.
For over a century, populists and money reformers have petitioned Congress to solve its funding problems by exercising the sovereign power of government to issue money directly, through either the Federal Reserve or the Treasury. In the 1860s, Abraham Lincoln issued debt-free US Notes or “greenbacks” to finance much of the Civil War, as well as the transcontinental railroad and the land-grant college system. ...
Law professor Timothy Canova plans to reintroduce this funding model if elected to represent Florida’s 23rd Congressional district, where he is now running against the controversial Debbie Wasserman Schultz, current chair of the Democratic National Convention. Prof. Canova wrote in a December 2012 article:
. . . Wall Street bankers and mainstream economists will argue that greenbacks and other such proposals would be inflationary, depreciate the dollar, tank the bond market, and bring an end to Western civilization. Yet, we’ve seen four years of the Federal Reserve—now on its third quantitative-easing program—experimenting with its own type of greenback program, creating new money out of thin air in the form of credits in Federal Reserve Notes to purchase trillions of dollars of bonds from big banks and hedge funds. While the value of the dollar has not collapsed and the bond market remains strong, neither have those newly created trillions trickled down to Main Street and the struggling middle classes. The most significant effect of the Fed’s programs has been to prop up banks, bond prices, and the stock market, with hardly any benefit to Main Street.
Any encroachment on the Fed’s turf is viewed by Wall Street and the mainstream media with alarm. But to people struggling with mounting bills and crumbling infrastructure, the development has promising potential. The portal to the central bank’s stream of riches has been forced open, if just a crack. The trickle could one day become a flow, a mighty river of liquidity powering the engines of productivity of a vibrant economy.
For that to happen, however, we need an enlightened citizenry and congressional leaders willing to take up the charge; and that is what makes Prof. Tim Canova’s run for Congress an exciting development.
Heh. Here's one to mark on your calendar:
According to Kremlin insiders, President Putin has named September 11th 2016 as the date he plans to release the satellite footage proving conclusively the US government’s darkest secret: that the 9/11 attacks were a false flag terrorist event committed against their own citizens.
A group of fast-food workers in Charleston, South Carolina walked off the job early Sunday morning, going on strike and calling on presidential candidates to "come and get their vote" hours before the 2016 democratic debate in the city.
The strike, which is backed by Fight For 15, the campaign to raise the US minimum wage to $15 per hour, involves about 100 low-wage employees from the fast-food, home care, and child care industries. The group plans to demonstrate in front of the Gaillard Center in Charleston, the site of the fourth Democratic presidential debate, which begins at 9pm ET. ...
Hillary Clinton, the current frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, supports raising the federal minimum wage to $12 per hour and pushing state and local governments to raise the rate even further. Bernie Sanders, Clinton's chief rival, has called for raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour "over the next several years," and supports the Employee Free Choice Act, which would make it easier for workers to unionize.
Bernie Sanders on Sunday detailed how he would expand Medicare for all Americans, releasing the first cost estimates behind his plan just minutes before he was expected to face questions from a sceptical Hillary Clinton.
The funding model, including estimates from an independent healthcare economist from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, relies heavily on a payroll tax to help pay for the cost of shifting from a fragmented private system to a unified public insurance umbrella. ...
Clinton spent much of the week leading up to Sunday’s debate putting pressure on Sanders, attacking him for failing to provide cost estimates and claiming his plan would inevitably involve steep tax rises for many middle class families.
Sanders has always argued the efficiency benefits from having a single government purchaser of healthcare would more than compensate for the extra taxes used to pay for it – estimating there would be overall savings of $6tn over the next 10 years compared to the current system. ....
Sanders proposes a 6% payroll tax levied directly on employers, which would pay for the bulk of the costs of expanding Medicare to cover all Americans. There would also be a 2.2% “healthcare premium” added to individuals’ federal tax charges, but the plan anticipates that most families would be better off as a result of reduced co-pays and other existing insurances costs.
Two doctors who met privately with Hillary Clinton during the 1993 health reform debate say she agreed that single-payer health care would be good for Americans. Their recollections raise questions about both the motive and the sincerity of Clinton’s recent assault on Democratic presidential rival Bernie Sanders for supporting such a system. ...
“I’m not sure who arranged the meeting to be honest — I think there was pressure to have the meeting from Sanders [then a member of Congress] but also from [civil rights leader] Jesse Jackson,” David Himmelstein, who today is a lecturer at Harvard Medical School, told The Intercept. “What I know is we got a call from Ira Magaziner’s office. Ira Magaziner was Hillary’s right-hand man [in the health reform debate].” Magaziner wanted the single-payer advocates to have their say with the first lady.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) January 13, 2016
Himmelstein described an intimate meeting with Clinton that also included fellow single-payer advocate Steffie Woolhandler and only “one or two aides” in the White House executive office building. ...
“Towards the end of the session after we had gone back and forth with Mrs. Clinton about the details and the advantages and some of the questions she had about it, she said, ‘You make a very convincing case that single-payer would be a good reform, but is there any force on the face of the earth that would counter the money the insurance industry would spend to defeat it?’” ...
The Intercept asked both Himmelstein and Woolhandler what they thought about Clinton’s newfound opposition to the substance of a single-payer program.
“It’s disingenuous,” replied Woolhandler. “She ought to know better. In fact, I think she does know better. What this is is a political ploy that she thinks she can score some points from, apparently.”
Hillary Clinton continued her assault on Bernie Sanders’ healthcare policy and record on gun control on Sunday, hours before the Democratic presidential candidates were to meet on a debate stage in Charleston.
Clinton welcomed what she called a “flip-flop” by Sanders, after he said on Saturday that he supported legislation that would repeal a 2005 law granting gun manufacturers legal immunity that he supported. ...
Sanders defended his changed position on CNN’s State of the Union, arguing that he had supported the bill for months but there had been parts of it he did not agree with.
“I resent very much the Clinton camp saying I’m in the NRA lobby,” he said. “I have a D-minus, that’s a D like in David, voting record from the NRA.”
He also noted that he “likely” lost a 1988 congressional race in part because he supported a ban on assault weapons, which the gun lobby forcefully opposed.
In case you missed the debate last night the Guardian has a reasonably decent summary of events:
After a series of relatively cautious warm-up debates dominated by the former secretary of state, the candidates sparred over radical policy issues much closer to the agenda of Sanders supporters, leaving Clinton on the defensive over healthcare and Wall Street. ...
A notably more aggressive Sanders accused [Clinton of] talking “nonsense” by claiming his plans would roll back the health insurance reforms of Obama. ...
Sanders also went on the offensive over Wall Street reform, coming close to accusing Clinton of being “corrupted” by $600,000 in annual speaking fees he said she received from Goldman Sachs.
“I don’t take money from big banks, I don’t get personal speaking fees from Goldman Sachs,” said Sanders, to boos from the audience.
He was supported in his attack on Clinton’s ties to Wall Street by an otherwise subdued Martin O’Malley, who interrupted her claim to be the candidate that the bankers fear most with “oh come on” and “that’s not true”.
The one policy area where Clinton pitched herself as the radical alternative – and where Sanders was on the defensive – was gun reform. ... Sanders found himself uncharacteristically accused of conservatism on guns. He tried to hit back by accusing Clinton of being “disingenuous”.
“I have a D-minus record from the NRA,” he said.
Democratic presidential hopeful U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders on Saturday called on Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to resign for his administration’s failure to deal with a lead-poisoning crisis that has sickened thousands of children in Flint, Michigan.
“There are no excuses. The governor long ago knew about the lead in Flint’s water. He did nothing. As a result, hundreds of children were poisoned. Thousands may have been exposed to potential brain damage from lead. Gov. Snyder should resign,” Sanders said. ...
“Because of the conduct by Gov. Snyder’s administration and his refusal to take responsibility, families will suffer from lead poisoning for the rest of their lives. Children in Flint will be plagued with brain damage and other health problems. The people of Flint deserve more than an apology,” Sanders said.
Southern California Gas Co.'s effort to plug its leaking natural gas well involves higher stakes than simply stopping the fumes that have sickened many residents of Porter Ranch.
The company also is trying to avoid a blowout, which state regulators said is now a significant concern after a seventh attempt to plug the well created more precarious conditions at the site.
If a blowout occurs, highly flammable gas would vent directly up through the well, known as SS25, rather than dissipating as it does now via the subsurface leak and underground channels.
State officials said a blowout would increase the amount of leaked gas, causing greater environmental damage. That natural gas also creates the risk of a massive fire if ignited by a spark. The risk of fire already is so high that cellphones and watches are banned from the site. ...
Southern California Gas is now attempting to stop the leak by drilling relief wells to intercept the damaged well. Workers are not expected to reach the base of the well, 1.6 miles below ground, for at least six weeks.
"If the wellhead fails, the thing is just going to be full blast," said Gene Nelson, a physical sciences professor at Cuesta College. "It will be a horrible, horrible problem. The leak rates would go way up."
The Democratic Party of Los Angeles has added to pressure on California Attorney General Kamala Harris to investigate ExxonMobil over the company's history of promoting doubt about climate change after its own scientists warned of the dangers of global warming.
The party unanimously adopted a resolution calling on Harris, a second-term Democrat, to investigate Exxon and other fossil fuel companies for potential breaches of California law.
The Los Angeles Democratic Party represents 2.4 million people, one-third of the Democratic voters in California.
The provincial government did not fulfill its legal obligation to consult with First Nations on the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline, the B.C. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday.
The case, brought forward by the Gitga’at and other coastal First Nations, argued the province erred when it handed over decision-making authority for the project to the federal government under a provincial-federal Joint Review Process managed by the federal National Energy Board.
B.C. granted Ottawa authority over the project’s environmental review in a 2010 equivalency agreement. That agreement, however, did not release the province from the legal duty to consult First Nations, the B.C. Supreme Court found.
“It’s a very significant ruling,” Elin Sigurdson, lawyer with JFK Law, said. “The coastal First Nations and Gita’at were very successful in the application to quash the equivalency agreement which means the province now has to consult with First Nations that will be affected by matters in the provincial jurisdiction and has to conduct a new environmental assessment for the project.” ...
Susan Smitten, executive director of RAVEN Trust, said the ruling will mean major delays for a project that is already mired in uncertainty.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Robert Shaw - Hattie Green
Robert Shaw - The Ma Grinder
Robert Shaw - Mobile & KC Line
Robert Shaw Here - I Come With Dirty Dirty Duckins On
Robert Shaw - Piggly Wiggly Blues
Robert Shaw - The Fives
Robert Shaw - The Clinton