The Evening Blues - 2-12-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues multi-instrumentalist Maurice John Vaughn. Enjoy!
Maurice John Vaughan - Garbage Man
"Your own educated best guess about what is going on in the world is infinitely superior to placing unquestioning faith in an establishment which has a vested interest in lying to you and a demonstrable history of doing so."
-- Caitlin Johnstone
News and Opinion
Much more detail at the link.
U.S. Secretly Negotiated With Russians to Buy Stolen NSA Documents — and the Russians Offered Trump-Related Material, Too
The United States intelligence community has been conducting a top-secret operation to recover stolen classified U.S. government documents from Russian operatives, according to sources familiar with the matter. The operation has also inadvertently yielded a cache of documents purporting to relate to Donald Trump and Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.
Over the past year, American intelligence officials have opened a secret communications channel with the Russian operatives, who have been seeking to sell both Trump-related materials and documents stolen from the National Security Agency and obtained by Russian intelligence, according to people involved with the matter and other documentary evidence. The channel started developing in early 2017, when American and Russian intermediaries began meeting in Germany. Eventually, a Russian intermediary, apparently representing some elements of the Russian intelligence community, agreed to a deal to sell stolen NSA documents back to the U.S. while also seeking to include Trump-related materials in the package. ...
The secret U.S. intelligence channel with the Russians is separate from efforts by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele to obtain information about Trump and his ties with Russia. Steele worked with Fusion GPS, an American private investigations firm that was first hired by Republican and later Democratic opponents of Trump to dig up information on him during the 2016 campaign. ...
At the time, the NSA was desperate to recover documents that intelligence officials believed Russia had obtained through a mysterious group known as the Shadow Brokers. The group stole highly secret NSA hacking tools and began releasing them on the internet in the summer of 2016. The Shadow Brokers theft of the hacking tools devastated morale at the NSA, putting its custom-built offensive cyber weapons out in the open. It was as if a bioweapons laboratory had lost some of its most deadly and dangerous viruses. U.S. officials wanted to identify which NSA documents the Shadow Brokers had stolen, so they could determine how badly the agency had been damaged by the theft.
Harvard’s Laurence Tribe Has Become a Deranged Russia Conspiracist: Today Was His Most Humiliating Debacle
Harvard law professor Laurence Tribe did not wait even 24 hours to exploit yesterday’s tragic crash of a Russian regional jet shortly after it took off from Moscow, killing all 71 people aboard. On Twitter this morning, Tribe strongly insinuated that the Russian government may have purposely sabotaged the plane, murdering all of those on board, in order to silence one of the passengers, Sergei Millian, who has been linked to a couple of figures involved in the Trump-Russia investigation.
What’s wrong with Tribe’s claims? Everything. To begin with, Millian was not on that plane. The official list of victims includes nobody with that name; as the Daily Beast’s Marlow Stern pointed out, the claim that Millian was on the plane was a simple hoax from the internet sewer, 4chan. Tribe apparently saw someone making this claim somewhere on the internet and then, without bothering to check if it was actually true, told his 289,000 followers that it was true, and then constructed a rabid, deranged conspiracy theory around it. ...
Even if Millian had been on the plane, casually suggesting that Vladimir Putin, Donald Trump, or some combination of other villains purposely murdered everyone on the plane in order to silence one witness is deranged to the point of being a clinical pathology. That sort of baseless conspiracy-mongering ought to disqualify anyone from serious company for a long time.
But it almost certainly will have no effect on Tribe’s standing. As BuzzFeed’s Joseph Bernstein documented almost a year ago, Tribe has become one of the internet’s most unhinged cranks, churning out wild conspiracy theories and, in the process, becoming a social media star and MSNBC favorite. Among his lowlights was his promoting of a story from the well-known liberal “fake news” site Palmer Report claiming that Trump paid $10 million to former GOP Rep. Jason Chaffetz.
Tribe was also one of the people most responsible for building the platform of Louise Mensch who — among other things — has claimed that Putin murdered Andrew Breitbart and engineered the Ferguson protests.
The Taliban is extending an invitation to Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, to their political office in Doha, to discuss possible peace plans to end the 17-year Afghan war.
The invitation, proposed on the terror group’s social media accounts under the moniker of the “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan,” was extended in response to Mr. Paul’s recent comments on the status of the war.
“We invite the respectable U.S. Senator Rand Paul, in his official capacity to visit our political office in Doha for mutual talks,” the Twitter post by the Information Committee of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan read.
“We’ll prove to Mr. Rand Paul, the immediate US withdrawal from [Afghanistan] will bring peace to our country & will enhance international security,” the group added in the social media post.
During an interview with Fox News on Thursday, Sen. Paul lambasted Washington’s continued investment in the Afghan conflict, with no clear endgame in sight. “The war in Afghanistan is costing us $50 billion a year… It’s time to come home. There is no military victory there,” Mr. Paul said.
South Korea has announced it will press ahead with improving ties with North Korea, arranging family reunions between those divided by the Korean war and seeking to cool military tensions – despite the US’s commitment to a policy of “maximum pressure” on Kim Jong-un.
The announcement from Seoul’s unification ministry comes a day after a high-level North Korean delegation – including Kim’s sister – concluded a visit to the South that culminated in an invitation from Kim Jong-un for his counterpart Moon Jae-in to visit Pyongyang.
The growing rapprochement between the two neighbours – still technically at war – has exposed a disconnect in policy between Seoul and Washington, a split Pyongyang has been trying to encourage since the end of the 1950-53 Korean conflict.
It became plain after US vice-president Mike Pence visited South Korea for the opening of the Winter Olympics at the weekend, experts said. “There’s a definite fissure in the alliance. You can see it in Pence’s face if nothing else,” said Van Jackson, a former policy adviser to the US secretary of defence. “The US and South Korea want to present a united front, but they have completely different priorities: South Korea doesn’t want war, and the US doesn’t want North Korea to have nuclear weapons.” ...
Meanwhile, media in North Korea took aim at the US. “Pence must know that his frantic acts of abusing the sacred Olympics for confrontational ruckus are as foolish and stupid an act as sweeping the sea with a broom,” said a commentary in the Rodong Sinmun, published by the ruling Workers’ party. “His behaviour is nothing but an ugly sight being reminded of crazy Trump.”
Having spent two whole days assiduously avoiding the North Korean Olympic delegation in Pyeongchang, Vice President Mike Pence announced on his way home Sunday that the U.S. is now ready to engage with Pyongyang.
Pence told the Washington Post the White House will continue its “maximum pressure campaign” but it is now willing to hold direct talks with Kim Jong Un.
“The point is, no pressure comes off until they are actually doing something that the alliance believes represents a meaningful step toward denuclearization,” Pence said. “So the maximum pressure campaign is going to continue and intensify. But if you want to talk, we’ll talk.”
North Korea has emerged as the early favorite to grab one of the Winter Olympics’ most important medals: the diplomatic gold. That is the assessment of a former South Korean government minister and political experts who say the North has used the Games to drive a wedge between South Korea and its U.S. ally and to potentially ease pressure on its sanctions-crippled state.
In barely a month since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un surprised the world and said his nation was ready to join the Games, South Korean President Moon Jae-in has delayed military exercises, feted Kim’s sister at the Pyeongchang Olympics and given conditional consent to a bilateral summit in the North.
“North Korea clearly appears to be winning the gold,” said Kim Sung-han, who served as Korea’s vice foreign minister in 2012-2013 and who now teaches at Seoul’s Korea University. “Its delegation and athletes are getting all the spotlight, and Kim Jong Un’s sister is showing elegant smiles before the South Korean public and the world. Even for a moment, it appears to be a normal state.”
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, who attended Friday’s opening ceremony along with the North Koreans, said “no daylight” existed between the United States, South Korea and Japan on the need to isolate North Korea. A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said more important would be how Pyongyang behaved after the Olympics. It had shown no interest so far in negotiating over demands to give up its nuclear and missile programs.
Syria’s U.S.-backed Kurds are getting indirect help from an unlikely source in their war against Turkey in the northwestern region of Afrin: President Bashar al-Assad.
Pro-government forces and Kurdish-led forces have fought each other elsewhere in Syria and Damascus opposes the Kurds’ demands for autonomy. But in Afrin they have a common enemy and a mutual interest in blocking Turkish advances.
Turkey, which regards the Kurdish YPG militia in Afrin as a threat on its southern border, launched an assault on the region last month. Seeking to shield Afrin, the Kurds asked Damascus to send forces into action to defend the border.
The government shows no sign of doing so, but it is providing indirect help by allowing Kurdish fighters, civilians and politicians to reach Afrin through territory it holds, representatives of both sides told Reuters. ...
“The Syrian regime is helping the Kurds with humanitarian support and some logistics, like turning a blind eye and allowing Kurdish support to reach some fronts,” said the commander, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
US President Donald Trump said in an interview published on Sunday that he is “not necessarily sure” Israel is genuinely seeking to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Trump has previously denounced the Palestinians for what he sees as their unwillingness to negotiate, but he has largely refrained from criticizing Israel.
Speaking to the freebie daily Israel Hayom, Trump noted that while US-Israel relations were “great,” peace with the Palestinians would make them “a lot better.”
“Right now, I would say the Palestinians are not looking to make peace. They are not looking to make peace,” Trump said in the interview with the right-wing paper. “And I am not necessarily sure that Israel is looking to make peace. So we are just going to have to see what happens.”
Trump also expressed concerns about Israeli settlement building, although his administration has been far less critical of settlements than that of his predecessor Barack Obama.
Israeli officials have been carrying out large-scale attacks against several military sites within Syria, claiming to have done major damage to Syria’s air defenses nationwide. The Israeli Air Force described the attack as the most significant attack on Syria since 1982. ...
Interestingly, almost all Israeli officials are presenting this to the public as an attack on Iran, as opposed to Syria, and are now calling all of the Syrian military bases that’ve been attacked are “Iranian bases.”
Some Israeli analysts are warning that this is a very dangerous rhetorical strategy, as Russian officials have been trying to calm the situation, and with Israel both continuing to escalate and making it about Iran, they may be pushing Russia into a more explicitly pro-Iran stance.
Indigenous activists have called for urgent changes to Canada’s legal system after an all-white jury acquitted a white farmer of murdering a young Cree man in a case that has exposed deep racial divisions.
Gerald Stanley, 56, was found not guilty of second-degree murder over the death of Colten Boushie, 22, from Red Pheasant First Nation in the province of Saskatchewan. Boushie’s family and aboriginal activists say the racial makeup of the jury underscored a weakness in the country’s court system, which allows defence teams to manipulate jury lineups in their favour. ...
Boushie’s family has travelled to Ottawa to lobby ministers including Justin Trudeau, the prime minister, to bring changes to a system they feel deprived them of justice. Trudeau has expressed dismay at the verdict. “I’m not going to comment on the process that led us to this point today, but I am going to say we have come to this point as a country far too many times,” he said on Friday.
The case centered on the events of an August evening in 2016, when Boushie and a group of friends arrived by car at Stanley’s farm. According to the prosecution, the group pulled into the farm after a flat tyre. The defence argued that they arrived with the intention of stealing an all-terrain vehicle. After an altercation involving Stanley, his wife and son and Boushie, the farmer approached the vehicle and fired a pistol three times, the court heard. The last bullet struck Boushie in the head – an event Stanley later called a “freak accident”. Activists say that the not-guilty verdict owed much to the selection of an all-white jury, even though Saskatchewan has a large indigenous population.
A former police officer who alleged he was fired for not shooting a black suspect during a standoff has settled a wrongful termination suit with his former department for $175,000. “At the end of the day, I’m happy to put this chapter of my life to bed,” said Stephen Mader, a former officer in Weirton, West Virginia, who was also granted a pledge that his former employer would not prevent him from obtaining a new job in law enforcement elsewhere.
Mader was the first responding officer to a 2016 call involving RJ Williams, a 23-year-old black man believed to be suicidal. Mader, who is white, made the determination that Williams did not pose an immediate threat to him or fellow officers, even though he was holding a gun. Mader began trying to talk Williams down. “He wasn’t angry,” Mader previously told the Guardian. “He wasn’t aggressive, he didn’t seem in position to want to use a gun against anybody. He never pointed it at me. I didn’t perceive him as an imminent threat.” But amid Mader’s attempts to convince Williams to drop the weapon, two veteran officers arrived on the scene and, almost immediately, shot and killed Williams.
Mader, an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, received a termination letter 10 days later, which claimed that he failed to respond to the threat. Mader disagreed and filed a suit alleging wrongful termination. “No police officer should ever lose their job – or have their name dragged through the mud – for choosing to talk to, rather than shoot a fellow citizen,” Mader’s attorney Timothy O’Brien said after the settlement.
Donald Trump unveiled a $200bn plan to fix America’s crumbling infrastructure – a plan that falls woefully short of the trillions civil engineers say is needed to rebuild the country’s tattered backbone and is likely to face intense opposition from Democrats and Republicans.
Trump said in a statement: “We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways, and waterways all across our land. And we will do it with American heart, and American hands, and American grit.” He said the plans constituted “the biggest and boldest infrastructure investment in American history”.
Trump has earmarked $200bn in federal funds to encourage states, cities and private enterprise to rebuild the nation’s dams, roads, bridges, airports and other essential infrastructure. The aim is to encourage $1tn of extra investment.
Trump campaigned on the need infrastructure reform, promising to spend “big” on infrastructure and consistently touted his record as a builder.
But the promised federal funds are a fraction of the $2tn that the American Society of Civil Engineers says is needed to repair US infrastructure. Last year, the ASCE gave the US’s infrastructure a D+ grade and said failure to act would cost the US economy $4tn by 2025.
'Morally Bankrupt' Budget: After $1.5 Trillion Gift to Rich, Trump Demands $1.7 Trillion in Safety Net Cuts
Those wondering how President Donald Trump plans to pay for the $1.5 trillion in tax cuts for the rich he signed into law last year got their answer on Monday, when the White House unveiled its 2019 budget (pdf) blueprint that calls for $1.7 trillion in cuts to crucial safety net programs over the next decade—including $237 billion in cuts to Medicare alone.
While imposing "severe austerity" on domestic programs that primarily benefit poor and middle class Americans, Trump's proposal also aims to hike the Pentagon's budget to $716 billion—a seven percent increase from his 2018 request—and provide $18 billion for "the wall."
"The Trump budget is morally bankrupt and bad economic policy," Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) wrote on Twitter Monday shortly after the White House proposal was made public.
Trump's proposed FY19 budget is out. Over 10 years:
- $300+ billion cut to Medicaid
- $213 billion cut to SNAP
- $21 billion cut to TANF
- $72 billion cut to disability programs
- eliminates Social Svcs Block Grant (helps pay for child care and foster care) 1/
— Chad Bolt (@chadderr) February 12, 2018
Critics were quick to note that such severe cuts to healthcare programs that serve the elderly, the disabled, and the poor will likely come "with a body count."
In addition to calling for potentially devastating cuts to healthcare, food stamps, and other components of America's already-withering safety net, Trump's budget also calls for large cuts to environmental programs—including $598.5 million from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Tucked quietly into the most recent congressional measure to keep the government open was the most sweeping and ambitious piece of child welfare legislation passed in at least a decade. It’s an attempt to reshape the entrenched foster care system as a raging opioid epidemic swells the population of children in need.
The measure overcame the opposition of group homes, which pocket thousands of dollars per month for each child warehoused in their custody. The Family First Prevention Services Act upends the funding structure for the child welfare system by allowing states to use federal matching funds for programs addressing mental health, substance abuse, family counseling, and parent skills training — to keep at-risk children from entering the foster care system in the first place. It’s meant to help families stay together.
Most new programs are funded by specific amounts of money, which makes them vulnerable to cuts or expiration in the future, but the new law amends the Social Security Act to open up funding for families at risk of entering the foster care system. That means major funding will be available in states willing to take advantage of the new federal money.
An association of top Republican law enforcement officials has created a secret online bulletin board called the “Briefing Room” that’s allowing big donors to help shape legal policy, according to records reviewed by MapLight and The Intercept.
The Republican Attorneys General Association frequently directs officials working for GOP attorneys general to review files posted on the file-sharing website before participating in conference calls hosted by RAGA’s nonprofit policy arm, the Rule of Law Defense Fund. The association works to get Republicans elected to the top law enforcement job at the state level. The Briefing Room is hosted by RLDF on the virtual cloud website, box.com. ...
In recent years, ethics watchdogs have criticized RAGA because its members worked with donors like Devon Energy to challenge Obama-era air pollution regulations. RLDF has helped GOP attorneys general organize some of their federal challenges. Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt previously chaired RAGA and RLDF while he was Oklahoma’s attorney general; he sued the EPA 14 times while in that role.
RAGA’s largest donors in 2017 included the Judicial Crisis Network ($2.9 million), a dark money organization that led a $10 million media campaign to confirm Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch; the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform ($590,000), a trade association that works to limit lawsuits against corporations; and Koch Industries ($205,000), the global conglomerate run by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.
Some RAGA donors have been involved in a range of state-level investigations and lawsuits, including Marathon Oil Company, Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals, and Purdue Pharma. Purdue, the manufacturer of the popular painkiller Oxycontin, is being sued by 14 states for allegedly downplaying the addiction risks posed by its prescription opioid medication. RAGA members are leading the lawsuits in Ohio, Alabama, Missouri and South Carolina.
West Virginia Democratic Candidate Hauled From Legislative Hearing for Listing Off Corporate Donors to Fossil Fuel-Friendly Lawmakers
Lissa Lucas is a Democrat running for a state House seat in West Virginia’s District 7. Part of her campaign’s goal is to challenge the stranglehold of the fossil fuel industry on the state’s politics.
So in the second week of February, when the legislature held public hearings on House Bill 4268 — which would allow for the drilling on properties with multiple owners if 75 percent, rather than all, of the owners enter into a lease — Lucas came to voice her opposition to the legislation, believing it to undermine the rights of property owners. And to the chagrin of the West Virginia House of Delegates, she came bearing receipts.
She stood on the floor and read off corporate donors to the legislators moving the legislation — going through the gamut of fossil fuel companies dominant in West Virginia, from Dominion to FirstEnergy. Republican Delegate John Shott, who was overseeing the hearing, took offense at Lucas’s reading of publicly available campaign finance data, equating it to a personal attack.
“Miss Lucas, we ask no personal comments be made,” he told her over his microphone. “This is not personal comments,” she replied. “It is a personal comment and I’m gonna call you out of order if you talk about individuals on the committee. So if you would just address the bill. If not, I’ll ask you to please step down,” he said to her.
She continued to list off donors, her microphone was cut off, and legislative security was called to remove her from the chamber. ... As of this writing, the video of Lucas being ejected has over 100,000 views on Facebook.
UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said making the nation's electricity grid publicly-owned is the best course to "put tackling climate change at the heart of our energy system." Speaking Saturday at a conference in London, Corbyn decried the failure of privatization of public services and laid out an economic vision that addresses the climate crisis while narrowing inequality.
"The challenge of climate change requires us to radically shift the way we organize our economy," he said. The Attlee administration that presided over Britain following World War II and created the welfare state, he said, "knew that the only way to rebuild our economy was through a decisive turn to collective action."
"Necessary action to help avert climate catastrophe requires us to be at least as radical," he said.
The Tory-led government of Prime Minister Theresa May has not taken that radical action, Corbyn charged, instead having "licensed fracking, declared a moratorium on renewable levies while massively subsidizing fossil fuels, dithered over tidal, held back onshore wind, U-turned on making all new homes zero carbon, and is failing to take the necessary measures to meet our legal commitments to reduce CO2 emissions."
As such, "A green energy system will look radically different to the one we have today," he said. "The past is a centralized system with a few large plants. The future is decentralized, flexible, and diverse with new sources of energy large and small, from tidal to solar."
"The greenest energy is usually the most local," he said, "but people have been queuing up for years to connect renewable energy to the national grid."
"With the national grid in public hands we can put tackling climate change at the heart of our energy system, committing to renewable generation from tidal to onshore wind."
This story should probably be linked in the dictionary to the entry for schadenfreude:
A suspected big cat poacher lost his head — quite literally — in South Africa. Lions devoured the man, authorities say. ...
Authorities discovered the body in Ingwelala Reserve near Kruger National Park on the border with Mozambique, and dispersed the lions by firing shots into the air. The lions left almost nothing behind, according to police, who have yet to identify the victim.
At first they believed the half-eaten body might be that of a missing farmer who had a broken-down tractor, but then the farmer later turned up. They later determined the man had been poaching, due to the loaded hunting rifle and ammunition found near the body.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Maurice John Vaughn - [Everything I Do] Got To Be Funky
A.C. Reed & Maurice John Vaughn - Boogie All Night
Maurice John Vaughn - Traveling Man
Maurice John Vaughn - Computer Took My Job
Maurice John Vaughn - Nothing Left To Believe In
Maurice John Vaughn - I Don't Care
Maurice John Vaughn - Generic Blues
Maurice John Vaughn w/Fred Brousse Blues Band - The Sky Is Crying
Maurice John Vaughn - Small Town Baby