The Evening Blues - 12-28-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues harmonica player Jerry McCain. Enjoy!
Jerry McCain - I'm King Bee
“The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.”
-- Robertson Davies
News and Opinion
Worth a full read, richly detailed with facts you aren't supposed to think about.
President Donald Trump’s announcement of an imminent withdrawal of US troops from northeastern Syria summoned a predictable paroxysm of outrage from Washington’s foreign policy establishment. Former Secretary of State and self-described “hair icon” Hillary Clinton perfectly distilled the bipartisan freakout into a single tweet, accusing Trump of “isolationism” and “playing into Russia and Iran’s hands.” Michelle Flournoy, the DC apparatchik who would have been Hillary’s Secretary of Defense, slammed the pull-out as “foreign policy malpractice,” while Hillary’s successor at the State Department, John Kerry, threw bits of red meat to the Russiagate-crazed Democratic base by branding Trump’s decision “a Christmas gift to Putin.” From the halls of Congress to the K Street corridors of Gulf-funded think tanks, a chorus of protest proclaimed that removing US troops from Syria would simultaneously abet Iran and bring ISIS back from the grave.
Yet few of those thundering condemnations of the president’s move seemed able to explain just why a few thousand U.S. troops had been deployed to the Syrian hinterlands in the first place. If the mission was to destroy ISIS, then why did ISIS rise in the first place? And why was the jihadist organization still festering right in the midst of the U.S. military occupation? Too many critics of withdrawal had played central roles in the Syrian crisis to answer these questions honestly. They had either served as media cheerleaders for intervention, or crafted the policies aimed at collapsing Syria’s government that fueled the rise of ISIS. The Syrian catastrophe was their legacy, and they were out to defend it at any cost.
During the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Clinton, Kerry, and the rest of the Beltway blob lined up reflexively behind George W. Bush. The insurgency that followed the violent removal of Iraq’s Ba’athist government set the stage for the declaration of the first Islamic State by Abu Musab Zarqawi in 2006. Five years later, with near-total consent from Congress, Hillary enthusiastically presided over NATO’s assault on Libya, cackling with glee when she learned that the country’s longtime leader, Moammar Gaddafi, had been sodomized with a bayonet and shot to death by Islamist insurgents — “We came, we saw, he died!” It was not long before an Islamist Emirate was established in Gaddafi’s hometown of Sirte, while 31 flavors of jihadi militias festered in Tripoli and Benghazi. ...
How ISIS overran large swaths of territory in northeastern Syria and established its de facto capital Raqqa is scarcely understood, let alone discussed by Western media. That is partly because the real story is so inconvenient to the established narrative of the Syrian conflict, which blames Assad for every atrocity that has ever occurred in his country, and for some horrors that may not have ever taken place. Echoing the Bush administration’s discredited attempts to link Saddam Hussein to Al Qaeda, some neoconservative pundits hatched a conspiracy theory that accused Assad of covertly orchestrating the rise of ISIS in order to curry support from the West. But the documented evidence firmly established the success of ISIS as a byproduct of the semi-covert American program to arm Assad’s supposedly moderate opposition. ...
There are now real reasons to fear that a Turkish advance will ignite a resurgence of ISIS. Turkey was not only a source of aid and oil sales to the jihadist group, it currently oversees a mercenary force of Salafi militiamen that includes droves of former Islamic State fighters. If the Turkish onslaught proves destabilizing, Iran and its allied Shia militias could ramp up their deployment in Syria, which would trigger a harsh reaction from Israel and its Beltway cut-outs. Then again, the Kurdish YPG is in high level negotiations with Damascus and may team up with the Syrian military to fill the void. From an anti-ISIS standpoint, this is clearly the best option. It is
therefore the least popular one in Washington. Whatever happens in Syria, those who presided over U.S. policy towards the country over the past seven years are in no position to criticize. They set the stage for the entire crisis, propelling the rise of ISIS in a bid to decapitate another insufficiently pliant state. And though they may never face the accountability they deserve, the impending withdrawal of American troops is a long overdue and richly satisfying rebuke.
A fateful decision by National Security Adviser John Bolton to expand the United States’ goals in Syria backfired, and is a key reason why President Donald Trump ordered a total withdrawal of U.S. troops, two senior administration officials told The Daily Beast. Bolton in September added a second mission to the already open-ended operation in Syria: In addition to destroying the so-called Islamic State, U.S. troops would stay in Syria indefinitely, forcing Iranian forces there to eventually withdraw. ...
Bolton’s revised policy led to broad and public articulation by the State Department’s envoy on Syria, Ambassador Jim Jeffrey. But officials said Jeffrey was implementing what he thought was a policy Trump endorsed. “The president wants us in Syria until [Iran’s withdrawal] and the other conditions are met,” he said in late September. ... “Bolton and Jeffrey repeatedly said U.S. forces are in Syria to counter Iran; the Defense Department never defined the mission that way. It was always about defeating ISIS,” a senior administration official said. “They were adamant about countering Iran, but the president never signed off on that mission.”
But other officials said the expanded, open-ended mission was provocative to the Turks, who saw confirmation of their suspicions that the U.S. was presiding over the de facto creation of a northeastern Syrian Kurdish mini-state on its border, a prospect it considered intolerable. ... During a Dec. 14 phone call first reported by the AP, Erdogan told Trump that his anti-ISIS mission was accomplished, and questioned the rationale of a prolonged U.S. deployment, with the prospect of a Turkish invasion hanging overhead. Erdogan, who requested the call, told Trump that Turkey could handle the ISIS threat in the future and then asked him: if ISIS is 99 percent defeated, “Why are you still there?”
One of the senior administration officials confirmed those details to The Daily Beast. “Erdogan was like, look, I’m going in and the president was like OK, I’ll come out,” the senior official said—a response that shocked both U.S. officials and even Erdogan, who warned Trump against a precipitous pull-out. ...
The Pentagon is still negotiating to keep U.S. air power in the fight over Syria, in support of British and French troops who Pentagon officials hope will backfill departing U.S. troops on the ground. “The decisions are still in process,” the official said.
Bring the Troops Home & Stop the Bombing: Medea Benjamin on U.S. Withdrawal from Syria & Afghanistan
Syria’s military has arrived at the frontline of the flashpoint town of Manbij, after Kurdish fighters appealed to Damascus for help against the threat of attack by Turkey in the face of the withdrawal of US troops from the area. It was not immediately clear whether US personnel, who are based in the town and have been patrolling Manbij and the tense frontline between it and adjacent towns where Turkey-backed fighters are based, were still present. The US-led coalition against Isis did not respond to a request for comment.
“We invite the Syrian government forces … to assert control over the areas our forces have withdrawn from, in particularly Manbij, and to protect these areas against a Turkish invasion,” a statement from the People’s Protection Units (YPG) said. The Syrian army had already mobilised before the public Kurdish invitation. It said on Friday morning that units had entered the town on the western bank of the Euphrates. A monitor and several local sources said Syrian troops had only massed on the edges of the town rather than the city centre, and that the Syrian flag had been raised above official buildings for the first time in years.
Syrian rebel groups backed by Turkey said in response that they had also begun moving towards Manbij in full readiness for a military operation. The conflicting reports from Manbij are a harbinger of the chaos that is likely to ensue at the end of the 60-100 day timetable for the withdrawal of US troops, with the remaining fighting forces in Syria scrambling to replace them.
The Syrian army said in a statement it would guarantee “full security for all Syrian citizens and others present in the area”. Russia, the main ally of the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, said the development was a positive step which could stabilise the situation in north-east Syria. Turkish officials are due to arrive in Moscow on Saturday for talks over Syria’s future after the US withdrawal. As Russia controls much of Syria’s airspace, Erdoğan is likely to need cooperation from Moscow for any aerial bombardment of the YPG.
Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has ordered a wide-ranging overhaul of top government posts, including a new foreign minister, after the international fallout from the killing of the Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi nearly three months ago. He also ordered a shakeup of the kingdom’s two supreme councils that oversee matters related to the economy and security. Both are headed by the king’s son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whose powers, including roles as deputy prime minister and defence minister, were untouched in the overhaul.
The changes appear to further consolidate Prince Mohammed’s grip on power by appointing advisers and members of the royal family who are seen as close to him.
Adel al-Jubeir, the foreign minister who took over the post in 2015 from the late Prince Saud al-Faisal, has been replaced by Ibrahim al-Assaf, formerly a longtime finance minister. Jubeir was appointed to the rank of minister of state for foreign affairs. Assaf had been serving as a minister of state before being named foreign minister. He holds seats on the boards of the state-owned oil company Saudi Aramco and the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund. Prince Mohammed oversees both entities. ...
The king issued a number of other royal decrees, which were read out on state TV, including the replacement of the media and education ministers. Turki al-Shabanah, a Saudi TV presenter, was named media minister, with Hamad al-Sheikh appointed minister of education. Meanwhile, Prince Abdullah bin Bandar – the son of Prince Bandar al-Saud, who once served as Saudi ambassador to Washington – was named head of the national guard. The force is tasked primarily with the protection of the Al Saud ruling family. Prince Abdullah had been deputy governor of Mecca.
Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki declared on Wednesday that Palestine would "initiate an application to gain full state membership at the United Nations" in January.
Al-Malki told the official radio station Voice of Palestine that he would file the application to upgrade Palestine's status from an observer state to a full-member state to the UN Security Council (UNSC) during his upcoming visit to New York next month, upon Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' instructions.
To secure full state membership, the Palestinians need support from at least nine out of the UNSC's 15 member states.
Al-Malki also said he would demand the UNSC implementation of Resolution 2334 and ask the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an official inquiry into Israeli settlement construction.
Ukraine's President Petro Poroshenko has announced the end of a martial law, which was introduced last month after a clash with Russia in the Sea of Azov. During a live-streamed military cabinet meeting in capital Kiev on Wednesday, Poroshenko said that not renewing the measure despite the ongoing "Russian threat" was his "principled decision".
"Today, right now, at 2:00pm (12:00 GMT), the martial law ends," he said. "I would like to highlight that the Russian threat has not gone away." Under the martial law, Ukraine banned Russian men of combat age from entering the country and boosted security at critical sites such as nuclear power stations and Black Sea ports.
Poroshenko said he would have asked the parliament to renew it if it was not getting in the way of the presidential elections due on March 31.
Wells Fargo will pay $575m in a settlement with attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia, who were investigating fake accounts opened without the knowledge of customers and other dubious practices.
The bank has been under a cloud since 2015, when it acknowledged that employees had opened millions of fake bank accounts for customers in order to meet sales goals. It has also said that it sold auto insurance and other financial products to customers who didn’t need them.
Wells Fargo had already been ordered to pay more than $1.2bn in penalties and faced stricter regulations. Under the new agreement announced on Friday, the bank will also create teams to review and respond to customer complaints about its banking and sales practices.
'Beyond Repulsive': Outrage After Trump DHS Secretary Blames 'Parents' and 'Open Borders' Advocates for Deaths of Children in US Custody
As human rights groups, Democratic lawmakers, and the United Nations demanded an independent probe into the deaths of two Guatemalan children in U.S. Border Patrol custody, President Donald Trump's Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen sparked outrage on Wednesday by declaring that "open borders" advocates and the kids' "own parents"—not Trump's inhumane treatment of immigrants—are to blame.
"Our system has been pushed to a breaking point by those who seek open borders," Nielsen said in a statement just hours after eight-year-old Felipe Alonzo-Gomez died in U.S. custody on Christmas day. "Smugglers, traffickers, and their own parents put these minors at risk by embarking on the dangerous and arduous journey north."
Nielsen, who signed off on the Trump administration's internationally condemned family separation policy, was immediately denounced for attempting to deflect attention and blame away from the White House's anti-immigrant agenda.
In a statement on Wednesday, National Nurses United (NNU) pinned the deaths of the two young children on Trump's treatment of asylum-seekers fleeing violence and persecution as "criminals."
"Nurses, whose life work is to protect and heal, are appalled at the lack of humane treatment for vulnerable children, and their families, who are seeking refuge and safety in the U.S.," said Bonnie Castillo, RN, executive director of NNU, in a statement on Wednesday. "Our government must stop treating these families, and their children as criminals. The imagery of a migrant child dying on Christmas day is especially disturbing, but we need a policy of caring and compassion every day."
The young Guatemalan boy who died in U.S. Border Patrol custody on Christmas Eve tested positive for the flu, officials with the New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator said Thursday. It’s still unclear, however, exactly what led to the 8-year-old’s sudden death after two visits to the hospital just days after he was arrested on Dec. 18 at the border in Texas with his father.
“While this result indicates that the child had influenza, determining an accurate cause of death requires further evaluation of other laboratory specimens and interpreting the findings in the context of the symptoms and autopsy findings,” officials cautioned in Thursday’s news release. ...
Felipe was the second Guatemalan child to die in Border Patrol custody this month; Jakelin Caal Maquin crossed the border with her father on Dec. 6 and died at an El Paso hospital with liver failure, dehydration, and shock two days later.
The Trump administration has some advice for government workers living through the holidays without a paycheck during the government shutdown: instead of paying rent, offer to paint.
As President Donald Trump digs in his heels on funding the border wall and lawmakers trickle back into Washington, there’s still no resolution to the budget impasse in sight.
Government workers, meanwhile, are struggling to pay their bills, and the government has some advice for them: If your landlord is bugging you about paying rent that you don’t have because you don’t have a paycheck, offer to do manual labor instead.
Feds, here are sample letters you may use as a guide when working with your creditors during this furlough. If you need legal advice please consult with your personal attorney. https://t.co/t6h6OzALsS
— OPM (@USOPM) December 27, 2018
The Office of Personnel Management, the agency that essentially functions as the federal government’s human resources department, tweeted out a series of sample letters on Thursday, templates that government workers can personalize and send to the people they owe money during the shutdown.
This sums up how HE feels pic.twitter.com/RmSv6lPCGh
— Chucky (@AlexandriaboyVA) December 28, 2018
The partial government shutdown will continue into 2019, with leaders in the House of Representatives advising members on Thursday that no votes would be held this week. The Senate was expected to follow suit. There had been a narrow chance that the House would convene on Thursday afternoon and vote on a deal to end the shutdown. But there was no sign that any headway had been made on such a deal, and Donald Trump remained insistent that the shutdown would continue until Congress supplies billions for a border wall with Mexico.
On Twitter on Thursday morning, Trump accused the Democrats of “obstruction” for failing to go along with his wall idea and asserted that Democrats “know it [the wall] is really needed”. Democrats say a border wall would be an expensive and ineffective solution to a problem that Trump exaggerates. The shutdown began when the Republican majority in the Senate was unable to rally support for Trump’s wall, after House Republicans passed an 11th-hour wall funding bill on 20 December. The shutdown went into effect at midnight on 21 December.
Negotiations to reopen the government, such as there have been, will shift when Congress reconvenes on 3 January, when a new Democratic majority takes control of the House. Having failed to procure wall funding when his party controlled both houses of Congress, it was unclear how Trump intended to carry the day with Democrats partially in charge.
Trump continued to berate Democrats throughout the day, tweeting: “This isn’t about the Wall … This is only about the Dems not letting Donald Trump & the Republicans have a win.” Trump also revived a 2011 tweet on immigration from Barack Obama, which read: “I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration.” Trump added: “I totally agree!”
On the seventh day of the partial government shutdown, President Donald Trump threatened to “close the southern border entirely” if “obstructionist Democrats” refused to cave and give him funding for his border wall.
But can he do that?
“The answer is yes,” said Frank Mora, former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Western Hemisphere, who served during President Barack Obama’s first term. “He just needs to present a kind of consultative explanation, under national security terms, why he would do this or why he needs to do this.”
Trump wouldn’t be the first president to seal off the southern border: Nixon closed sections of the border during Operation Intercept in an attempt to keep drugs from entering the U.S. So did Reagan, briefly, when a DEA agent went missing. Trump could, in theory, do the same, especially for reasons of national security, according to experts. He doesn’t even need Congressional approval. ...
Trump took to Twitter Friday to say that if the Dems didn’t give him the $5 billion he wants to finally put up his infamous border wall, he’d shut down the border (much like the government). The president did not, however, explain what closing the border would actually mean — only that the decision would be a “profit making operation” because the “United States loses soooo much money on trade with Mexico.”
Eight years ago, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico devastated communities, wildlife and livelihoods all along the Gulf coast. While dying dolphins and oil-soaked marsh grass dominated the headlines, the human cost was catastrophic. Now, it appears that a new disaster is slowly unfolding that may soon eclipse that horrific event to become the worst environmental disaster in US history.
In 2004, Hurricane Ivan triggered an undersea mudslide that sank an oil platform owned by Taylor Energy. Since then, between 300 and 700 barrels of oil have been spewing into the Gulf of Mexico every day. Let’s put that into perspective. The Deepwater Horizon disaster spilled almost 200m gallons of oil into the Gulf. To date, the Taylor spill has released as much as 140m gallons of oil into the Gulf. What is even more shocking is that, 14 years since the Taylor oil platform sank, federal officials estimate the uncapped wells could continue polluting the Gulf for decades, perhaps even a century. It is a nightmare scenario that should terrify anyone who cares about the health of the wildlife and people who live along the Gulf coast.
Meanwhile, the damage caused by the BP Deepwater Horizon leak remains a stark reminder of the havoc an oil spill can unleash on marine wildlife, coastal communities and local businesses that rely on a healthy ocean. With these tragedies still fresh in our collective national consciousness, you would think no administration would pursue drastic expansion of risky offshore oil and gas development.
Unfortunately, you would be wrong.
Even as the magnitude of the Taylor Energy spill comes to light, the Trump administration is gearing up to announce the next iteration of its draft plan for offshore oil and gas development. It will be a revision of the plan announced this past January that proposed opening an astounding 98% of federal waters to oil and gas development. ...
As America continues to struggle with the after-effects of the BP oil spill and begins to wake up to the reality of the Taylor oil spill, we cannot allow the Trump administration to sow the seeds of yet another disaster that will devastate the health of our environment and the livelihoods of countless hard-working American families.
Report on President's Environmental Record So Far 'Reminds Us That Trump Soap Opera Has Dire Real-World Consequences'
A New York Times investigative report on President Donald Trump's nearly two-year environmental record and how his industry-friendly policies are impacting communities nationwide, published in the Thursday paper, "reminds us that the Trump soap opera has dire real-world consequences." That's according to 350.org co-founder Bill McKibben, who added on Twitter that "futures are foreclosed because he's a tool of dirty energy."
The "must-read" report focuses on examples from California, North Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia, with special attention paid to policy changes at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Interior Department—which have both seen Trump-appointed agency heads resign amid numerous ethics probes. Acknowledging a previous Times analysis of the 78 environmental rules—including many implemented under former President Barack Obama—that the Trump administration and Republican-controlled Congress have worked to eliminate, the report details how the EPA, at the behest of industry lobbyists, quashed a ban on the toxic pesticide chlorpyrifos, which has "sickened substantial numbers of farmworkers" in rural California, where more than a third of U.S. produce is grown.
While that move is being contested in federal court, it exemplifies how the administration has often defied scientific findings and warnings in favor of demands from pesticide producers, fossil fuel developers, and other polluting industries. As the Times put it:
Since taking office, Mr. Trump has consistently sided with powerful economic constituencies in setting policy toward the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the presence of chemicals in our communities.
In the process, he has frequently rejected or given short shrift to science, an instinct that has played out most visibly in his disdain for efforts to curb global warming but has also permeated federal policy in other ways.
The Times also examines Trump's rollbacks—and the subsequent public health consequences—of air quality regulations that aimed to reduce dangerous levels of sulfur dioxide pollution from coal-burning power plants in Texas; policies crafted to clean up West Virginia waterways polluted with arsenic, mercury, and selenium by the coal industry in West Virginia; and limits targeting flaring and leaks of methane on federal or tribal lands, including the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation in North Dakota.
The Trump administration will reconsider the reasoning for restrictions on toxic mercury pollution from coal plants that is linked to developmental delays in children, it was announced on Friday. The power industry has largely met the restrictions, which were imposed under former president Barack Obama, with plants either installing required controls or shutting down.
The standards will remain in place, but the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will re-evaluate the government’s argument for why they are necessary and whether they will ultimately be tightened, the agency said on Friday. The move by the Trump administration is part of a series of environmental rollbacks pursued on behalf of coal interests, decisions scientists say are detrimental to public health.
Charles Driscoll, a professor of environmental engineering at Syracuse University, said the administration was trying to “prolong the operation, the longevity of coal-fired power plants”. While weakening mercury standards would not bring shuttered coal plants back to life, it could help some plants stay online a little longer, opponents of the change warned before the proposal was released. The rollback could also be part of a broader Trump administration legal strategy to to benefit industry by ignoring some health benefits of cutting pollution.
Japanese Prosecutors Demand 5 Years in Prison for Executives Facing Trial for Fukushima Nuclear Disaster
More than seven years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster, prosecutors in Japan on Wednesday demanded that three former executives from Tokyo Electric Power Co. (TEPCO) each face five years behind bars for failing to ensure the safety of the power plant.
In March of 2011, the most powerful earthquake to ever strike Japan triggered a tsunami that caused three reactors at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex to melt down, forcing hundreds of thousands of nearby residents to evacuate. In court on Wednesday, the prosecution accused TEPCO's leadership of "postponing" safety measures designed to protect the plant from powerful tsunamis. "It was easy to safeguard the plant against tsunami, but they kept operating the plant heedlessly," prosecutors said at the trial at the Tokyo District Court, according to The Asahi Shimbum, a Japanese newspaper. "That led to the deaths of many people."
While the prosecution claims at least 44 people died in connection with the incident, other estimates have put the number around 1,600. Prosecutors called for the five-year sentences, the maximum punishment allowed for the charges, during closing arguments on Wednesday. The three executives standing trial for negligence resulting in death and injury are former TEPCO chairman Tsunehisa Katsumata, 78, as well as former vice presidents Sakae Muto, 68, and Ichiro Takekuro, 72. They all pleaded not guilty. ...
The executives' trial follows a class-action suit decided late last year, when a federal court ordered TEPCO and the Japanese government to pay a total of 500 million yen ($4.4 million USD) to thousands of plaintiffs—who received, at most, a few thousand U.S. dollars each. Meanwhile, in the region around the nuclear facility, public health concerns persist.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Jerry McCain - Twist "62"
Jerry McCain - That's What They Want
Jerry McCain - The Jig's Up
Jerry McCain - I Don't Care Where I Get My Loving
Jerry McCain - Jet Stream
Jerry McCain - Stay Out of Automobiles
Jerry McCain - Courtin' In A Cadillac
Jerry McCain - Steady
Jerry McCain - You Don't Love Me No More
Jerry McCain - She's Tough
Jerry McCain - Juicy Lucy