The Evening Blues - 10-5-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues piano player, singer and songwriter Memphis Slim. Enjoy!
Memphis Slim - Freedom
“When it is dark enough, you can see the stars.”
-- Charles A. Beard
News and Opinion
The Russian Ministry of Defense released a statement Wednesday calling the U.S. an obstacle to defeating ISIS in Syria and threatened military action in and around a small U.S. military garrison known as Tanf.
Russia further claimed that U.S. forces are aiding and supporting ISIS against Russian and Syrian interests in the country.
“The main problem in defeating the ISIS in Syria is not combat capabilities of terrorists but support and overtures by American counterparts,” the statement from the Russian defense ministry reads.
The statement comes as Russian and Syrian forces are reeling from a major counter-offensive launched by ISIS fighters in and around the Deir el-Zour province. According to ISIS’ propaganda outlet, Amaq, in one attack alone the terror group managed to kill 65 Russian and Syrian regime troops while also kidnapping two Russian soldiers.
A spokesman for Russia's Defense Ministry said on Wednesday that a series of attacks launched by Islamic State in Syria on government forces had come from an area near the border with Jordan where a U.S. military mission was located.
The spokesman, Major-General Igor Konashenkov, said in a statement the attackers had the precise coordinates of the Syrian government forces, which could only have been obtained through aerial reconnaissance.
"If the United States views such operations as unforeseen 'coincidences,' then the Russian air force in Syria is prepared to begin the complete destruction of all such 'coincidences' in the zones under their control," he said.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman opened his historic four-day visit to Moscow by signalling a new era of cooperation with Russia, but demanding that Iran, an ally of the Kremlin, end its “interference” in Middle East politics. King Salman called for any peace settlement in Syria to ensure that the country remained integrated, but he did not repeat the longstanding, and now shelved, Saudi call for the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, to stand aside.
The visit to the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on Thursday is the first by a ruling Saudi monarch to Moscow and is widely seen as a potential turning point in Middle East politics, and even the conduct of world oil markets. More than 15 cooperation agreements worth billions of pounds were signed, ranging from oil, military and space exploration, leading the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, to claim the visit marked the moment when Saudi-Russian relations “reached a new qualitative level”. In one of the most remarkable deals, the Saudis said they would purchase the Russian S-400 defence system.
Many of the agreements covering Saudi investment in the Russia energy markets are hardly likely to strengthen the impact of EU and American sanctions over Russia’s interference in Ukraine. But Saudi Arabia is keen that the visit also secures a more permanent Russian cooperation over oil prices after a January agreement between the world’s two largest oil producers managed to stabilise oil prices. ...
The Saudis have traditionally seen the US as its chief – if not exclusive – foreign policy partner, but changes inside the Saudi regime, as well as Saudi fears about US reliability, have left the kingdom looking to diversify into wider set of alliances.
While Americans are mourning the mass shooting in Las Vegas that so tragically took the lives of over 50 concert-goers, people in Yemen will be marking the one-year anniversary of a tragedy that took the lives of over 140 people who were not at a concert, but a funeral. The Las Vegas carnage was a crime against humanity carried out by what seems to be a crazed lone wolf. The bombing of the funeral home in Yemen’s capital, Sanaa, was a war crime carried out by a close US ally, Saudi Arabia, with the indispensable help of the United States. While we try to steer the domestic conversation to the need for gun control, we should also be seeking to end the massive flow of US weapons to Saudi Arabia that is wreaking such carnage. A new resolution in Congress, HR Resolution 81, would do just that.
The funeral bombing took place in the afternoon of October 8, 2016, when several hundred people had gathered to mourn the passing of Ali al-Rawishan, a public figure and father of the Sanaa-based administration’s interior minister. It was attended by several hundred people, including colleagues, friends, and relatives of the deceased. Funeral ceremonies of public figures in Yemen are customarily well-attended and open to the public.
At about 3:30 p.m., the mourners heard the buzzing of a plane overhead. Suddenly, a massive bomb penetrated the roof of the hall, causing carnage and mayhem. As the rescuers ran in to help, another bomb exploded. Photos and video footage taken after the attack show charred and mutilated bodies strewn inside and outside the hall.
Hundreds of those killed and wounded were civilians, according to the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The munition that killed them was a US-manufactured GBU-12 Paveway II 500-pound laser-guided bomb manufactured by Raytheon.
United Nations called the bombing "outrageous" and an apparent war crime. The Obama administration, in power at that time, expressed grave concern and launched a review of its support to the Saudi-led coalition. President Obama declared that U.S. support to the kingdom “is not a blank check.” The Trump administration, however, has tightened the Saudi embrace with both increased weapons sales and logistical support.
Catalonia will declare independence from Spain on Monday, a pro-independence lawmaker claimed Wednesday, further dimming hopes of de-escalating tensions between Madrid and the semiautonomous region.
Mireia Boya, a Catalan politician from the pro-independence Popular Unity Candidacy party, said the declaration would follow an extraordinary parliamentary session held to discuss last Sunday’s referendum.
Catalan President Carles Puigdemont was less forceful, however, saying that he was in favor of mediation as a way to resolve the constitutional crisis. But Madrid has rejected calls for negotiations, with both sides exchanging barbs in the days since Sunday’s non-binding vote.
In a televised address Wednesday, Puigdemont criticized Spain’s King Felipe, who had accused the Catalan government Tuesday of “irresponsible behavior” and of trying to “break the unity of Spain.” ... Madrid responded swiftly to Puigdemont, saying his criticism of the king showed he was “out of touch with reality.”
Spain’s constitutional court has moved to stop the Catalan government making a unilateral declaration of independence by suspending the regional parliament session in which the results of Sunday’s referendum were due to be discussed.
On Thursday, the court upheld a challenge by Catalonia’s Socialist party – which opposes secession from Spain – ruling that allowing the Catalan parliament to meet on Monday and potentially declare independence would violate the rights of the party’s MPs.
Carme Forcadell, president of the Catalan parliament, said Monday’s session had not yet been formally convened, but that the court’s decision to suspend it “harms freedom of expression and the right of initiative of members of this parliament and shows once more how the courts are being used to solve political problems.”
The Catalan government is understood to be meeting to discuss its response to the latest move by the court. It has previously ignored the constitutional court’s rulings, not least its order to suspend the referendum itself.
Emmanuel Macron seems to have missed that class on how to win friends and influence people.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has been criticised after he was filmed accusing disgruntled workers of preferring to stir up “bloody chaos” rather than find jobs, weeks after he called critics of his labour reforms “slackers”.
Macron, who runs a tightly controlled communications strategy from the Élysée Palace, has often berated journalists and commentators for spending too long dissecting his style rather than the content of his message.
But on a visit to a struggling company in south-west France on Wednesday, his habit of making stinging remarks that his critics say are contemptuous of working class people overshadowed his announcements about economic reform.
Macron, who according to his entourage did not know he was being filmed, made the comments while clashes were occurring outside the premises between police and workers protesting against his economic policies. ...
Critics on all sides seized on the comments, keen to cast Macron, a former investment banker, as out of touch with ordinary people and a “president of the rich” because of his proposed cuts to France’s wealth tax.
Italy, is now experimenting with paying for public services with tax credits. Presumably, this is happening because Italy doesn’t possess enough Euros to pay its citizens to provide all the goods and services needed to maintain and run the public sector of its social economy. And Italy can’t “create” the additional Euros it needs because that prerogative is the exclusive right of the EU Central Bank which Italy, even as a sovereign member of the EU, has no control over. But, as the news article explains, Italy still needs to have the grass mowed and the weeds pulled in its public gardens. So it has decided (out of desperation, the article implies) to pay the gardeners with tax-credits. The gardeners are willing to do the work in exchange for the government’s tax-credits, because it means the Euros they earn (in other ways) can then be used to purchase goods and services rather than for paying their taxes. So, in practical terms, it is “just like” getting paid in Euros. ...
Presumably, the tax-credit payments described take the form of notations on the gardeners’ tax account. An hour’s worth of weeding is noted as 15 Euros worth of extinguished taxes. If the gardener has a tax liability of, say, €3750, her taxes would be completely paid after providing 250 hours of weeding and pruning. After that, obviously, she’d have no more incentive to provide any services in exchange for the tax-credits. So the amount of services Italy can obtain in this fashion is directly limited by the amount of tax liabilities it can impose on its citizens.
It would be possible, however, to structure the tax-credit payments in another way which would have a very different outcome. Instead of making the payment as a credit notation on a citizen’s tax account, the Italian government could issue paper tax-credits and pay them to the citizens for their gardening services. To be specific, this would be a piece of “official” paper, signed with an important signature, on which was printed something like the following:
The Sovereign Italian Government promises the bearer of this paper ONE EURO of credit on taxes owed to the Sovereign Italian Government.
This amounts to exactly the same thing as making a direct credit on a citizens’ tax account, but we now have set in motion a curious set of subsequent economic actions: Now, after an hour of weeding, upon receiving her 15 paper tax-credits―for convenience, let’s call them “PTCs” and give them the symbol β―the gardener can choose to do the following. She can put the PTCs under her mattress for safekeeping until the day her taxes must be paid. Or she can use the β15 to purchase a lasagna dinner at her neighborhood trattoria. The owner of the trattoria is willing to accept the PTCs in exchange for the lasagna, garlic bread, and wine because he, too, has to pay taxes to the Italian government. So, for all practical purposes, receiving the PTCs is just the same as receiving Euros for him as well. ...
Having made these observations, it appears the Italian government has stumbled on an actual solution to the “austerity” it has been forced to impose on itself by the European Union.
For bondholders sitting on Puerto Rican debt, Hurricane Maria may have come just when they needed it, just as a yearslong battle over the fate of the island’s financial future was beginning to turn against them. Or, depending on how the politics shake out, they could see their entire bet go south. Ahead of Maria, the federally appointed fiscal oversight board now in control of Puerto Rico’s finances had developed a plan that would wipe out 79 percent of the island’s annual debt payments, taking a massive chunk out of the payday hedge funds had been hoping to land from the island.
In the wake of the storm, that fight could go one of two ways: Advocates for Puerto Rico are making the case that the devastation means that 79 percent should be ratcheted up all the way to a full debt cancellation. The hedge funds, meanwhile, see an opening to attack the oversight board and reclaim ownership of the process.
While Congress focuses on the size and shape of the relief package, the battle over the much larger debt — at least $74 billion — is being overshadowed. As hedge funds attempt to undermine the board’s legitimacy in the courts, resentment toward the board from a different end of the political spectrum has made the body unpopular for entirely different reasons: It’s colonial and undemocratic. The difference between the two? The left wants debt relief for Puerto Ricans. Many bondholders want the opposite.
President Donald Trump joined the fray Tuesday evening, indicating that he wanted to erase Puerto Rico’s debt. “They owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we’re going to have to wipe that out,” Trump said on Fox News. It wasn’t clear from his statements whether he intended a bailout for Puerto Rico or for its creditors.
Senate Republicans have given up on trying to repeal the Affordable Care Act for now, but that doesn’t mean they’re done messing with health care. Their 2018 budget proposal paves the way for a $1.5 trillion tax cut to be offset by massive cuts to Medicaid and Medicare, according to Senate Democrats who are sounding the alarm. ...
The proposed fiscal 2018 budget resolution Senate Republicans announced last week would lead to a $1 trillion cut to Medicaid and $473 billion cut to Medicare over the next decade, along with slashing other programs low-income individuals rely on, according to a new report prepared by the Senate Budget Committee minority staff.
The GOP has not yet publicly outlined the details of its budget proposal, but the report, from Senate Budget Committee ranking member Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., warns the cuts would attack safety net programs. ...
Republicans on Capitol Hill say it’s unfair to call it a “cut,” because it is instead a reduction in the rate of growth. That slowed growth, however, will come as the population is rapidly aging.
On the corner of Washington and Decatur streets in Montgomery, Alabama, a visitor can feel history pressing in from every side. Just down the street is the church where Martin Luther King Jr. and others planned the Montgomery bus boycott. Two blocks away sits the First White House of the Confederacy, where Jefferson Davis once lived. But although the city is crowded with historical markers—including, by one count, 59 Confederate memorials, and a similar number devoted to the civil-rights movement—you won’t find many markers of the racial violence following Reconstruction.
Soon, however, on a six-acre site overlooking Montgomery’s Cottage Hill neighborhood, just a stone’s throw from the Rosa Parks Museum, the Memorial to Peace and Justice will serve as a national monument to the victims of lynchings. It will be the first such memorial in the U.S., and, its founders hope, it will show how lynchings of black people were essential to maintaining white power in the Jim Crow South.
The memorial is the brainchild of Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer who directs the Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based legal-advocacy organization. Two years ago, EJI completed an ambitious tally of the black Americans hanged, burned alive, shot, drowned, beaten, or otherwise murdered by white mobs from 1877 to 1950. EJI’s original report identified 4,075 victims, a sizable increase from previous estimates. Since then, the list of killings has continued to grow; it now stands at 4,384.
Stevenson felt that it was crucial to find a way to incorporate this history into what he describes as a landscape “littered with the iconography of the Confederacy.”
ALGONQUIN PROVINCIAL PARK, ON — Two North American grey wolves held a press conference today to discuss the media's incessant use of the phrase "lone wolf" when describing white perpetrators of mass shooting.
"It's difficult for us to be here together but this is important," Wolf A began, immediately lunging at Wolf B's throat, pinning him to the ground.
Avoiding eye contact, Wolf B continued, "Being forced to live away from my pack is, like, hard enough. I really don't need bad publicity on top of it. Also, saying we're the same as terrorists is just bad facts."
"It's inaccurate," Wolf A added. "We can't say definitively that young, white men are more likely than others to carry out mass murder, but multiple studies, as well as reality, have shown that white men do commit mass shootings at a disproportionate rate relative to the rest of the population." ...
"Sure, we prey on the weak and feeble, but the way we kill is useful!" Wolf A said as he bared his teeth. "The herd that remains is stronger and healthier. Your so-called lone wolves slaughter innocent people for no reason. We're animals, but we're not monsters."
Americans who are opposed to being shot, a constituency that has historically failed to find representation in Washington, are making a new effort to make its controversial ideas heard in the nation’s capital.
“When you bring up the idea of not wanting to be shot with members of Congress, there’s always been pushback,” Carol Foyler, founder of the lobbying group Americans Opposed to Being Shot, said. “Their reaction has been, basically, ‘Not being shot: who’s going to support something like that?’” ...
While Foyler and other anti-being-shot activists believe that Washington may finally be receptive to their radical ideas, Wayne LaPierre, the executive vice-president of the National Rifle Association, is doubtful. "People who don't want to be shot are a very narrow interest group," he said.
Throughout Tuesday’s oral arguments in Gill v. Whitford, Justice Anthony Kennedy and the Supreme Court’s left-leaning justices grilled Wisconsin’s attorneys with tough questions that suggest a majority of the court is prepared to impose constitutional limits on political redistricting. The highlight of the hour came when Justice Sonia Sotomayor posed a very simple inquiry that cut to the core of the case: “Could you tell me what the value is to democracy from political gerrymandering? How does that help our system of government?” ...
Erin E. Murphy, the attorney representing Wisconsin’s (very gerrymandered) State Senate, had no good answer for Sotomayor. “I don’t think that … districting for partisan advantage has no positive values,” Murphy began hesitantly. She continued:
I would point you to, for instance, Justice Breyer’s dissenting opinion in [2004’s Vieth v. Jubelirer] which has an extensive discussion of how it can actually do good things for our system to have districts drawn in a way that makes it easier for voters to understand who … the legislature is. It produces values in terms of accountability that are valuable so that the people understand who isn’t and who is in power.
“I really don’t understand what that means,” Sotomayor responded.
Neither do I, since Breyer’s Vieth dissent says pretty much the opposite of what Murphy claims. (When “the minority’s hold on power is purely the result of partisan manipulation,” Breyer wrote, the legislature has engaged in “a serious, and remediable, abuse, namely … unjustified entrenchment.”) As legal analyst Mike Sacks noted on Twitter, Murphy is an excellent attorney; if “such a simple question renders her into word salad, there’s a problem.” ...
Sotomayor’s barbed colloquy with Murphy laid bare the fundamental weakness in Wisconsin’s defense. The state cannot honestly justify its own gerrymandering; it can only insist that court intervention would somehow make the problem worse.
Toward the end of the Supreme Court’s argument in Gill v. Whitford, about the future of partisan gerrymandering, there was a revealing moment about the place of the newest Justice in the esteem of at least one of his peers. ...
The argument had gone on for nearly an hour when Gorsuch began a question as follows: “Maybe we can just for a second talk about the arcane matter of the Constitution.” ... Gorsuch went on to give his colleagues a civics lecture about the text of the Constitution. “And where exactly do we get authority to revise state legislative lines? When the Constitution authorizes the federal government to step in on state legislative matters, it’s pretty clear—if you look at the Fifteenth Amendment, you look at the Nineteenth Amendment, the Twenty-sixth Amendment, and even the Fourteenth Amendment, Section 2.” In other words, Gorsuch was saying, why should the Court involve itself in the subject of redistricting at all — didn’t the Constitution fail to give the Court the authority to do so?
Ruth Bader Ginsburg didn’t even raise her head before offering a brisk and convincing dismissal. In her still Brooklyn-flecked drawl, she grumbled, “Where did ‘one person, one vote’ come from?” There might have been an audible woo that echoed through the courtroom. (Ginsburg’s comment seemed to silence Gorsuch for the rest of the arguments.)
In what environmentalists are calling a major victory for pipeline opponents and the planet, TransCanada announced Thursday that it is abandoning its Energy East pipeline project, which would have carried over a million barrels of crude oil across Canada per day.
Oil Change International (OCI) estimated in an analysis earlier this year that Energy East would produce an additional 236 million tons of carbon pollution each year. For this reason and many others, OCI applauded TransCanada's decision to nix the project, which was first proposed in 2013.
"This is an important day in the fight against climate change in Canada," Adam Scott, senior advisor at OCI, said in a statement on Thursday. "Energy East was a disaster waiting to happen. The pipeline and tanker proposal scheme was utterly incompatible with a world where we avoid the worst impacts of climate change." ...
But while the downfall of both Energy East and Eastern Mainline was welcomed by those who worked tirelessly for years to guarantee their defeat, activists issued an urgent reminder that the fight against pipelines in both Canada and the United States has only just begun.
"The end of Energy East shows that extreme energy projects are part of our past not our future," Barlow said in a statement on Thursday. "For all of our sakes, Kinder Morgan, Line 3, Line 10, and Keystone XL must face the same fate."
Rebuffing the Trump administration, a federal judge on Wednesday ordered the Interior Department to reinstate an Obama-era regulation aimed at restricting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands.
The order by a judge in San Francisco came as the Interior Department moved to delay the rule until 2019, saying it was too burdensome to industry. The action followed an earlier effort by the department to postpone part of the rule set to take effect next year.
US Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the northern district of California said the department had failed to give a “reasoned explanation” for the changes and had not offered details why an earlier analysis by the Obama administration was faulty. She ordered the entire rule reinstated immediately.
The rule, finalized last November, forces energy companies to capture methane that’s burnt off or “flared” at drilling sites on public lands during production because it pollutes the environment. An estimated $330m a year in methane is wasted through leaks or intentional releases on federal lands, enough to power about 5m homes a year.
As Republicans in the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee advanced legislation that would "cripple" the Endangered Species Act (ESA) on Wednesday—which happened to be World Animal Day—the Trump administration's Interior Department denied petitions to protect 25 species.
The department's agency charged with evaluating such petitions, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), released a report (pdf) detailing why it denied each request, asserting that FWS staff had conducted "a thorough review of the best available scientific and commerical information."
"This is a truly dark day for America's imperiled wildlife. You couldn't ask for a clearer sign that the Trump administration puts corporate profits ahead of protecting endangered species," said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director at the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), vowing that his group will "challenge as many of these bogus findings as we can." ...
"Denying protection for these 25 species despite the imminent threat of climate change and ongoing habitat destruction is typical of the Trump administration’s head-in-the-sand approach," added Greenwald.
Crashing upstream through the São Luiz rapids, the churning river throws the speedboat around like a child’s toy. There is first a moment of fear, then relief and finally wonder at crossing a natural boundary that has held back the destruction of this corner of the Amazon for almost five centuries. This is the gateway to a land that indigenous inhabitants call Mundurukania, after their tribe, the Munduruku, which has settled the middle and upper reaches of the Rio Tapajós since ancient times. ...
Over the coming years, the Brazilian government – backed by Chinese and European finance and engineering – wants to turn this river into the world’s biggest grain canal by building 49 major dams on the Tapajós and its tributaries. This would make the rapids navigable by barges carrying produce from the deforested cerrado savanna of Mato Grosso – which produces a third of the world’s soya – up to the giant container port being planned in the closest city of Santarém and then out to global markets, particularly in Asia.
The network of dams would also produce 29gW of electricity, increasing Brazil’s current supply by 25%. A consortium headed by Furnas – a subsidiary of the state-run energy utility Electrobras – plans to sell the power to distant cities and to local mining companies that want to unearth the mineral riches under the forest. For the Brazilian government, this mega-scheme to open up the Tapajós basin – which is roughly the area of France – is a linchpin of national economic development and trade with China. For local politicians, it is an opportunity to industrialise, expand and enrich the business of nearby cities, which expect their populations to double in size over the next 10 years.
For opponents, however, the “hydrovia” – as the river transport scheme is known – and related projects are the biggest threat ever posed to the native inhabitants, traditional riverine communities, waters and wildlife. By one estimate, 950,000 hectares of forest would be cleared, releasing significant amounts of carbon dioxide. “The hydrovia is part of a set of other projects – dams, ports, roads and railways – that aim to industrialise this region. Energy companies, agribusinesses and mining companies are all pushing for it,” said Fernanda Moreira, of the Indigenous Missionary Council, a Catholic NGO that works with local communities. ...
Munduruku efforts to assert their territorial rights through a self-demarcation campaign have been ignored by the centre-right government of President Michel Temer and his Workers’ party predecessor, Dilma Rousseff.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Memphis Slim - The Blues is Everywhere
Memphis Slim - Jet Black Boogie
Memphis Slim - Big Bertha
Memphis Slim - Living Like a King
Memphis Slim - This Time I'm Through
Memphis Slim - Rockin' This House
Memphis Slim - Everyday I Have The Blues
Memphis Slim - Lend Me Your Love
Memphis Slim Live 1986