The Evening Blues - 11-20-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features country blues singer and guitarist Larry Johnson. Enjoy!
Larry Johnson - Seaboard Train Blues
"Censorship no longer works by hiding information from you; censorship works by flooding you with immense amounts of misinformation, of irrelevant information, of funny cat videos, until you're just unable to focus."
-- Yuval Noah Harari
News and Opinion
Democratic Party leaders who will control the House of Representatives next January will use their new power to step up demands for censorship of the internet and other repressive measures flowing from the bogus allegations of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Representative Adam Schiff, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told the Wall Street Journal that he would seek to explore avenues such as the possible financial relationship between the Trump Organization, the business entity that runs Trump’s real estate and branding empire, and Russian businesses or individuals.
Schiff complained that under Republican leadership the committee had been “precluded from getting answers,” adding that “there are entire investigative threads which the Republicans refused to pursue because they thought it too threatening to the president.”
The statements are a continuation of the strategy of the Democrats to focus their opposition to the Trump administration not on the basis of its fascistic attacks on immigrants or its right-wing policies, but on its supposed subservience to Russia. ...
In a further effort to revive the anti-Russia campaign, four Democratic senators sent a letter Friday to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to provide details of lobbying activities and retaliatory action against political critics of the huge social media platform. The letter was sparked by a lengthy front-page report by the New York Times claiming that Facebook had withheld details of alleged political activity on its pages by Russian entities and agents during the 2016 elections. The senators’ letter was then made public in the pages of the Times, as the Democrats and their chief media voice engaged in a tag-team effort to pressure Facebook to move more aggressively in censoring and shutting down dissident voices on its platform, particularly those criticizing the Democratic Party from the left. ...
The attempts to revive the flagging anti-Russia campaign come after a midterm election in which there was not the slightest evidence of significant foreign intervention, despite incessant claims by the Democrats and their media supporters that Russia—now allegedly joined by China and Iran—was seeking to rig the results of the congressional vote. The Democratic Party, the supposed target of the attack, instead made its largest gains in the House of Representatives since the Watergate election of 1974, capturing at least 41 Republican-held seats, and losing only three Democratic-held seats, for a net gain of at least 38.
Buzzfeed, the publisher that gave us the Trump/Russia dossier that Hillary had constructed has some new ideas about saving the publishing industry and censoring the information that we receive to keep us "safe:"
The year 2017 was, as Derek Thompson wrote in The Atlantic, “A uniquely miserable year in the media business.” He pointed to a 30 percent cut in the editorial budget at Vanity Fair, a $20 million drop in advertising revenue at The New York Times, and 500 layoffs at Oath, the corporate parent of Yahoo and AOL. This year hasn’t been much better, with layoffs at Upworthy, The Outline, McClatchy and the New York Daily News. Local media, especially, is suffering. In July, Kyle Pope wrote in the Columbia Journalism Review that “America’s local news has reached its death spiral phase.”
Given this landscape, BuzzFeed’s chief executive, Jonah Peretti, believes he has the solution, at least to his own company’s survival: a merger with rival internet publishers. According to an interview with The New York Times published Monday, Peretti said, “You have Vice and Vox Media and Group Nine and Refinery. … There’s tons of them that are doing interesting work.”
Executives from several of the companies Peretti named were supportive but noncommittal regarding a merger.
US Vice President Mike Pence effectively sabotaged the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation (APEC) summit in Papua New Guinea (PNG) last weekend with an aggressive attack on China across a broad range of issues from trade, to the South China Sea, to Beijing’s signature infrastructure project—the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
In his speech on Saturday, Chinese President Xi Jinping warned of the catastrophic consequences of rapidly sharpening tensions with the US and the dangers of war. “Mankind has once again reached a crossroads,” he said. “Which direction should we choose? Cooperation or confrontation? Openness or closing doors?” Referring to conflict between the US and Japan, Xi declared that the bloody battles of the Pacific War in the 1940s “plunged mankind into calamity not far from where we are.” To avoid a repetition of that tragedy, he said, the international community needed to support globalisation and “reject arrogance and prejudice”—a thinly veiled reference to the United States. “Unilateralism and protectionism will not solve problems but add uncertainty to the world economy,” Xi said. “History has shown that confrontation, whether in the form of a cold war, a hot war or a trade war, produces no winners.”
US Vice President Pence, however, ignored Xi’s appeal and launched a frontal assault on China and its growing influence in the Asia-Pacific. Pence foreshadowed the determination of the Trump administration to ratchet up the US confrontation with China in a bellicose speech last month, in which he accused Beijing of military provocations in the South China Sea, stealing US intellectual property and interfering politically in the US mid-term elections. Speaking last weekend, Pence accused China of taking “advantage of the United States for many, many years,” and bluntly declared that, “those days are over.” Referring to the Trump administration’s mounting trade war measures against China, he insisted that “the US will not change course until China changes its ways” and warned that the US could “more than double” the tariffs it had placed on $250 billion in Chinese goods. ...
Pence also openly challenged China’s Belt and Road Initiative which has been the subject of intensifying criticism in the US and international press for setting “debt traps” for country’s that accept Chinese infrastructure loans. ... In his speech, Xi defended the Belt and Road Initiative, declaring that it was not “designed to serve any hidden political agendas nor to target anyone,” nor was it “for geopolitical purposes.” In reality, China’s BRI and the US counterplan are both bound up with intensifying geo-political rivalry as both sides prepare for potential war. The massive BRI project is aimed at consolidating Chinese ties throughout the vast Eurasian landmass and, in particular, to secure access to supplies of energy and raw materials in the Middle East and Africa in the event of a US military blockade. The US on the other hand is determined to prevent Eurasia from slipping into the domination of China or any other rival power, and its infrastructure plans are aimed at undermining the Belt and Road Initiative. ...
The recent decision by the Trump administration to withdraw from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty with the former Soviet Union was directed not just at Russia, but also at China. Tearing up the treaty opens the door for the US to develop a range of nuclear weapons to be placed on bases close to the Chinese mainland that threaten to destroy China’s relatively small nuclear arsenal. ... Pence’s deliberately provocative and confrontational stance at the APEC summit is a further warning that Washington is determined to prevent any challenge by China, or any other power, to its global economic and strategic ambitions by any means—including through a disastrous war between nuclear-armed powers.
The unusually rumbustious Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (Apec) summit that shuddered to an ill-tempered halt at the weekend proved one thing beyond any doubt: the US and China are intent on doing to the Indo-Pacific region in the 21st century what the US and the Soviet Union did to Europe in the last. Namely, use it as the primary battleground in a global turf war for power and influence. ... On this showing at least, the forum’s 21 members, including Hong Kong and Taiwan, must decide whether they want to play Cold War 2. Several have already taken sides, or are in the process of doing so, possibly without sufficient consideration. ...
One remarkable aspect of Xi Jinping’s command performance in Port Moresby was his evident indifference to other leaders’ views. The Global Times, a state mouthpiece, declared it was “no big deal” the summit ended without the customary joint communique. ... But if Xi got more than he bargained for in Port Moresby, he can take solace from the fact that, tough talk aside, the US and its would-be allies as yet lack a coherent, joined-up plan to counter China’s growing sway in the Indo-Pacific. Unlike Barack Obama, who “pivoted” to Asia, it is clearly not a priority for Trump. He snubbed both Asean and Apec, and preferred to go to Paris instead to argue with Emmanuel Macron.
America First nationalism, contempt for multilateral alliances and a whimsical, transactional policy approach are not the way to build a winning ideological and geopolitical strategy. Trump and his people appear intent on drawing a line; in Port Moresby they deliberately picked a fight with China. But do they have any real idea what comes next as China pushes ahead anyway, relentless, regardless, step by patient step? Little wonder Xi was not too worried. So far, he’s winning.
US stock markets continued to fall on Tuesday, wiping out all of 2018’s gains as technology stocks slid again and fears of a trade war with China worried investors.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average had lost more than 400 points by the afternoon in New York, a slide of 1.6% and the Nasdaq, home to Amazon, Facebook and many other tech giants, was down another 1% following sharper falls on Monday.
Analysts said there were likely to be more wild swings to come. “I don’t think Santa Claus is going to waltz in and give us a rally for Christmas,” said Michael Antonelli, managing director of institutional sales trading at Robert W Baird in Milwaukee. ...
“Many of the metrics are already at the extremes,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer of Cresset Capital. “In many respects we are at the North Pole. No matter what step we take it’s going to be south.”
As the "humanitarian nightmare" gripping Yemen rages on, the head of the United Nations World Food Program pleaded for the United States to "end this war," while a group of U.S. lawmakers underscored American complicity in civilian deaths. "What I have seen in Yemen this week is the stuff of nightmares, of horror, of deprivation, of misery. And we—all of humanity —have only ourselves to blame," World Food Program (WFP) executive director David Beasley told the U.N. Security Council on Friday after finishing a three-day visit to the war-ravaged country.
"This is not on the brink of a catastrophe. This is a catastrophe," he told reporters.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who's drawn repeated attention to U.S. involvement in the war, said the U.S. must do more than cut off refueling of Saudi military aircraft. He tweeted Friday: "There is a U.S. imprint on the death of every child in Yemen."
"Yemen has become a hell on earth for millions of children."
There is a U.S. imprint on the death of every child in Yemen. And it's time for us to end our role in this humanitarian nightmare. https://t.co/c2qczt5EOd
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) November 16, 2018
Donald Trump has expressed his unstinting support for Saudi Arabia and questioned whether Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince, knew about the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. In the extraordinary statement issued on Tuesday – which begins with the words “The world is a very dangerous place!” – Trump quotes Saudi officials as describing Khashoggi as an “enemy of the state”.
The 649-word statement appears to be a presidential act of defiance against the CIA, which has reportedly concluded that the Saudi prince ordered the killing, and the Senate, which is considering bipartisan legislation that would suspend weapons sales to Saudi Arabia among other punitive measures.
Trump wrote: “Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the crown prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!”
“That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.” Trump’s statement, titled “standing with Saudi Arabia” seeks to portray the kingdom as an essential US ally in a struggle against Iran, and an irreplaceable customer for US arms sales. ...
Trump said in his statement: “The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone.” He pointed out that the US has imposed individual sanctions on 17 Saudis identified by Riyadh for their alleged involvement in the 2 October murder. The president said that “representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an ‘enemy of the state’ and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood”. Trump added: “My decision is in no way based on that.” But he did not explain why he mentioned the smear against Khashoggi at all.
France may have a tradition of boisterous protest, but this weekend’s mass demonstrations against gas tax increases have still managed to take the country by surprise.
On Saturday and Sunday, at least 280,000 protesters took to the streets in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the country, burning cars, blockading highways and fuel depots, and engaging in battles with police and motorists as they demonstrated against planned rises in gas and diesel taxes. So far, over 400 people have been injured in the Gilets Jaunes (Yellow Vests) movement—so named because the protesters are wearing the high-viz vests that French drivers are obliged to carry in case of emergencies. On Saturday, one was even killed after being run over by a panicked driver. The movement shows no signs of letting up, however, with protests continuing Monday and more major protest days planned for later in the month. ...
There is also no clear media consensus as to what they are protesting beyond the cost of gas. To some observers, the protesters are primarily angry about what they see as President Emmanuel Macron’s apparent indifference toward tough conditions for working people. To others, the movement is evidence of a middle-class backlash. Meanwhile, it’s not automatically easy to say whether the protest cleaves more to the left or the right. ...
Given the scale of the protests and the speed at which the movement has grown, there’s still likely more powering the anger of the Gilets Jaunes than just the cost of fuel alone. The group doesn’t seem to be an obvious worker’s group. It has gained the support of both leftist presidential hopeful Jean-Luc Mélenchon and some representatives of the right-wing Republican Party, for example, but has not yet been endorsed by any of France’s labor unions, or by truck drivers. And while the protesters have grouped around a single issue, there seems a risk that the movement’s lack of explicit politics could place it at risk of being highjacked. Already people taking part in some protests have engaged in ugly racist and homophobic abuse against passers-by that, while still atypical of the demonstrations as a whole, suggest a whole cauldron of other tensions bubbling under the demonstrations’ surface.
Brazil’s president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, has prompted outrage and disbelief after he said the people of Brazil – which was ruled by the military for two decades – “still don’t know what dictatorship is”. The former army captain – who has made no secret of his admiration for the military dictatorship that ruled Brazil from 1964-1985 – was speaking after phone talks with Hungary’s conservative and fiercely anti-migrant prime minister, Viktor Orban.
Hungary “is a country that has suffered a lot with communism in the past, a people that knows what dictatorship is”, Bolsonaro told a news conference outside his home in Rio de Janeiro. “The Brazilian people still do not know what dictatorship is, do not know what it is to suffer at the hands of these people.” ...
Cid Benjamin, a journalist who was part of an armed leftwing group that opposed Brazil’s dictatorship, described Bolsonaro’s comment as “one more stupidity”. Benjamin was jailed and tortured after participating in the 1969 kidnapping of the American ambassador Charles Burke Elbrick – who was later released unharmed – and spent a decade in exile. Benjamin said Brazil’s amnesty law, under which nobody was ever tried for dictatorship-era human rights abuses, enabled Bolsonaro to play down the cruelties of the military regime. “In Argentina it would be impossible for someone who defends the dictatorship to be elected president,” he said.
Set to take office on 1 January, the far-right leader has already drawn three of his government picks from the military, including General Fernando Azevedo e Silva as defence minister.
'Infuriating': Trump FCC Refusing to Release Data Showing If Telecom Industry Being Truthful About Internet Speeds
Under Trump-appointee Ajit Pai, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has continued a program to track whether major companies like AT&T, Comcast, Spectrum, and Verizon are providing their promised internet speeds, but has failed to publish any of its findings—concealment that has raised alarm among tech reporters and former agency officials.
"The only reason I can think of is that the data doesn't promote the chairman's narrative that broadband industry investment and performance allegedly suffered when it was subject to net neutrality rules grounded in Title II of the Communications Act," former agency lawyer and adviser Gigi Sohn told Motherboard, referencing Pai's defense of a party-line vote that repealed the rules last year.
As Ars Technica pointed out Monday, from when the FCC launched the Measuring Broadband America program in 2011 until 2016, the agency monitored the in-house internet of thousands of customers across the country and released annual reports comparing actual speeds to those advertised by internet service providers (ISPs).
However, since Pai—an ex-lobbyist who worked for Verizon—became FCC chairman nearly two years ago and started building a reputation for prioritizing industry interests over the common good, the agency not only has failed to release a report, it also allegedly has dodged Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests about the program's status or recent findings.
Police tased a black man to death. His sister says video contradicts their account of what happened.
A Facebook executive and the sister of a black man tased to death by police near Silicon Valley last month said she’s seen video that contradicts officers’ accounts of the incident. Officers from the San Mateo Sheriff’s Department encountered Chinedu Okobi, a 36-year-old Nigerian-American man, “running in and out” of traffic, as the police statement described, on Oct. 3 before assaulting an officer. Although the police statement made no mention of Okobi being tased, reporting later confirmed he was and died at a hospital.
But in the video that Okobi’s sister, Ebele, said she saw, her brother is simply walking along the sidewalk in broad daylight. Police escalated the situation, not him, according to Ebele.
“Two days ago, I watched the police videos of my brother’s October 3 murder. They were shocking, not just because I sat next to my mother as we watched my little brother getting tortured to death in broad daylight, ” Ebele wrote on her Facebook page on Sunday. “They were shocking because they contradicted, in every single particular, the statement that the San Mateo County Sheriff's Office released and to which San Mateo District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe referred in multiple news outlets after my brother’s murder.”
Ebele, who’s described as the “secretary of state for Facebook for the African continent,” is now calling on the police department and the district attorney’s office to make the video and audio of her brother’s death public.
Donald Trump’s efforts to drastically limit the right to asylum in the US came under legal challenge in California as lawyers for migrant rights groups argued that the president had overridden immigration laws and placed the lives of migrant children in jeopardy.
The Trump administration issued a new rule on 9 November that effectively banned migrants from claiming asylum if they crossed the US border outside of a designated port of entry. The rule, issued by presidential decree, penalises thousands of migrants, many of whom are mothers and children fleeing violence in Central America, who cross the border illegally.
Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) argued before Judge Jon Tigar on Monday that the administration’s new rule violates the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that any person present in the US can claim asylum irrespective of how they entered the country. The applicants are requesting the judge issue a temporary restraining order on the rule.
“The administration is trying to override what Congress has done,” argued Lee Gelerent, deputy director of the ACLU’s immigration rights project. He added: “Entering between a port of entry has no bearing on what danger you may be in.” Gelerent argued the new rules would lead to a “real humanitarian crisis” and said that unaccompanied minors currently waiting to enter the US at ports of entry were already being turned away by authorities. “That’s why we believe there’s a critical need,” Gelerent said. “Those kids are in critical danger.”
Trump official in charge of separated kids is getting a new faith-based job within the administration
Scott Lloyd, the embattled Trump official once in charge of caring for children separated under the administration's “zero tolerance” policy, is moving to a new job within the administration. He’ll now work as a senior adviser working on outreach to faith-based partners for the Department of Health and Human Services, a spokesperson for the department confirmed Monday.
Lloyd previously headed the Office of Refugee Resettlement, which also oversees services for refugees and minor immigrants who cross into the United States without authorization and without parents or guardians. He was sidelined from running daily operations in his role there in mid-July, Politico reported in October.
During Lloyd’s tenure at the Office of Refugee Resettlement, the once-obscure agency was the center of multiple national scandals. First, in October 2017, a teenager in the agency’s custody sued the Trump administration, accusing it of refusing to let her get an abortion; a federal judge later blocked the agency from interfering with pregnant minors’ access to abortion while they remain in federal custody. Lloyd had originally wanted to personally sign off on all minors’ requests for abortions. ... Lloyd was also accused of violating government ethics rules. He also was at work on a book outlining his opposition to abortion, Politico reported last week, though government employees usually do not write books on topics that touch with their official duties.
Beto O’Rourke, the U.S. congressman who gave Ted Cruz a surprising challenge in the Texas Senate race, has backtracked on his pledge not to run for president.
"I haven't made any decisions about anything,” O’Rourke told TMZ on Tuesday.
While the death toll has climbed to 80 and about 1,000 people remain missing in California as firefighters continue to battle a pair of destructive blazes, experts have raised concerns about ongoing dangers of poor air quality and the threat it poses to public health. "California's air exceeded world health standards by 60 times last week," Bloomberg noted Monday. "Particulates in the air reached as high as 1,500 micrograms per cubic meter. The threshold set by the World Health Organization is 25. Lower levels on Monday still exceeded the benchmark."
Summarizing the conditions created by the fires—which can cause eyes, nasal passage, and lung irritation, especially among people with respiratory diseases—Rebecca Buchholz, who studies wildfire pollution at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, told Bloomberg: "It is just insane. ...It is quite amazing how high these fine-particulate levels are."
"On Friday, residents of smog-choked Northern California woke to learn that their pollution levels now exceed those in cities in China and India that regularly rank among the world," according to New York Times. "In the communities closest to the Paradise fire, an apocalyptic fog cloaked the roads, evacuees wandered in white masks, and officials said respiratory hospitalizations had surged."
Northern California officially has the worst air quality in the world — topping cities like Mumbai and Beijing — due to the deadly Camp Fire pic.twitter.com/jnKvhwN0xn
— NowThis (@nowthisnews) November 19, 2018
Although some relief is in the forecast—SFGate reports that "it should arrive Tuesday night with winds slowly pushing out the smoke and ushering in the first of two rainstorms"—Buchholz explained that the poor air quality will remain even when the fires go out, as smoldering will keep smoke lingering near the ground.
On Monday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m. we're holding a national town hall on climate change, an issue that does not get nearly enough attention in the mainstream media. Let's go forward to protect the planet and create millions of good-paying jobs.https://t.co/AJPHmfyswT pic.twitter.com/pKk3ApNTHs
— Bernie Sanders (@SenSanders) November 19, 2018
Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez has floated the eminently sensible albeit extremely modest suggestion that the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives create a a Select Committee on a Green New Deal. That’s there’s any debate about this proposal at all – given the crisis we face – is further testament to how broken the US political system is, and how deeply corrupted are most of our politicians. ...
And AOC has gone even further. Not content with forcing Pelosi to honor her pledge to create the select committee, AOC is part of a group pressing her to back a plan to move to 100% renewable energy in a decade (see this account in Politico, Ocasio-Cortez’s ‘Green New Deal’ becomes flash point for Pelosi). We’ll see. Given what I know about how the campaign finance system works – which I first started to learn beginning in the spring of 1980 as a student of Tom Ferguson– and the amount of fossil fuel money sloshing around both sides of the aisle, I understand why even the modest select committee proposal isn’t a slam-dunk- despite Pelosi’s pledge (for more details, see this Politico piece, Veteran Democrats wary of climate push by Ocasio-Cortez and her allies, also see the informative first chart in this recent Ferguson et al INET post, Big Money—Not Political Tribalism—Drives US Elections, and note that only Mitch McConnell is more dependent on big money interests than is Pelosi). ...
Democrats are faced with a real choice here – lead on a climate change agenda, and commit to welcoming the hatred of the fossil fuel industry – or continue to serve as tame lapdogs and watch the planet burn (see this account in the New Statesman discussing this choice, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal shows the radical choice facing the Democrats). And note that as another benefit, the New Statesman calls the Green New Deal “the most transformative economic proposal since the Roosevelt era”.
At the peak of Florida’s red tide crisis this summer, Jon Peterson had to dig deep into Sea World’s storage warehouses to find enough portable pools to accommodate the dozens of sick manatees arriving at a rate of two or three a week. The Orlando theme park’s manager for animal rescues even found himself forking out for air fares to send some of his younger manatee patients off to zoos in Ohio to free enough space in the rehabilitation centre for the newest victims of the toxic algae phenomenon that has killed thousands of fish and marine mammals.
It was, Peterson says, “the roughest red tide we’ve had in a long while”, testing to the limit the capabilities of the Sea World facility and the many other essential components of a fragile network of foster care for Florida’s distressed sea life in times of emergency. Now, with red tide blooms still creeping along areas of the state’s west coast in high concentrations, according to the latest water samplings from the Florida fish and wildlife commission (FWC), there has been little let-up in the pressure on the marine parks, zoos and aquariums that continue to respond to the crisis a year after its outbreak.
Pool space is scarce for newer arrivals of affected manatees, dolphins and sea turtles. Staff and volunteers who rescue, treat, rehabilitate and release animals are working long hours with limited resources to save as many as they can. “Right now it looks like it’s moving south again. We just have to work with it and care for every manatee,” said Peterson, who says Sea World alone has taken in 66 manatees this year, 15 of which have tested positive for the naturally occurring Karenia brevis organism that causes red tide. Currently, he said, 31 manatees were still in the rehabilitation centre.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Larry Johnson - Frisco Blues
Larry Johnson - Midnight Hour
Larry Johnson - Ragged And Dirty
Larry Johnson - When I Go Home
Larry Johnson - Up North Blues
Larry Johnson - Late Last Night
Larry Johnson - Two White Horses
Larry (Johnson) & Hank (Adkins) - The Captain Don't 'Low That Here
Larry Johnson - Four Women Blues