The Evening Blues - 2-14-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues harmonica player Mojo Buford. Enjoy!
Mojo Buford - Don't Go No Farther
"Even though we call this country a democracy it's turning out to be more and more a candy-coated dictatorship."
-- Frank Zappa
News and Opinion
The defense policy bill (National Defense Authorization Act or NDAA) has passed 56 years in a row, and this time the vote was nearly unanimous, with both Republicans and Democrats supporting S.1519 and the massive increase in military spending it sets forth. It may not be surprising that both capitalist parties would vote for pro-imperialist policies, but Warren’s yes vote definitely flies in the face of her image as “anti-establishment.”
Warren, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and John McCain, chairman of the committee, are on the same side in ratifying a bill that takes more taxes from workers and funnels it into foreign wars, leading to more deaths of innocent people, sponsors Israel’s war against the Palestinians ($705 million), and invests additional hundreds of millions in anti-Russian military build-up in Ukraine and the Baltic ($600 million).
The senator attempts to minimize her incredibly reactionary decision by saying that the bill only authorizes but does not appropriate funds yet. She also claims that she will fight for non-defense spending increases later on when Congress votes on the entire budget. On her website, she boasts: "The defense bill has a long tradition of bipartisan cooperation and I was glad to join that tradition" and that “this NDAA will make a real, positive impact on the lives of Americans."
A U.S. drone, acting in self-defense, destroyed a Russian-made T-72 tank in eastern Syria over the weekend, the head of U.S. Air Forces Central Command told reporters Tuesday. News reports indicate that three people inside the tank were killed.
Air Force Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian said U.S. forces for several hours used drones and B-52 bombers to strike fighters after they came under fire from the tank. “We detected and saw a tank that took a shot at us,” Harrigian said via teleconference from Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar. ...
Harrigian refused to say if those inside the tank were Russians. “I don’t know who was driving it. … I’m not just going to speculate on that,” he said.
The strike is the second by U.S. forces against fighters loyal to Syrian President Bashar Assad since last week. U.S. forces on Wednesday killed “scores” of Russians in a strike east of the Euphrates River in Deir ez-Zour province, according to multiple reports.
Israel will face “more surprises” should it again attack Syrian territory, Damascus said on Tuesday, after Syria’s air defenses shot down an advanced Israeli warplane during the fiercest flare-up between the old foes in 36 years.
The F-16 jet was hit over northern Israel on Saturday as it returned from a raid on a Syrian position blamed for launching an Iranian-made drone across the border. Iran is supporting President Bashar al-Assad in Syria’s near seven-year civil war.
“Have full confidence the aggressor will be greatly surprised, because it thought this war - this war of attrition Syria has been exposed to for years - had made it incapable of confronting attacks,” Assistant Foreign Minister Ayman Sussan said.
“God willing, they will see more surprises whenever they try to attack Syria,” Sussan said during a Damascus news conference.
Israel was responsible for at least 54 Palestinian deaths last year as it rejected hundreds of medical permit requests it received from Gaza residents seeking treatment outside the besieged strip, rights groups have said.
In a joint statement on Tuesday, the Gaza-based Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), and Physicians for Human Rights Israel (PHRI), highlighted the immediate need for Israel to end its decade-long siege of the Gaza Strip.
In 2017, Israeli authorities approved fewer than half the medical permit requests it received, which were tied to appointments and treatment sessions in hospitals across the occupied territories and Israel - the lowest level since 2008. More than 25,000 permit requests were submitted to Israeli authorities. Of those, 719 were refused, often under the pretext of security.
Another 11,281 applications are still pending approval - meaning thousands of people are in a state of jeopardy.
Samir Zaqout, Al Mezan director, told Al Jazeera that there is no "real rational reason" why patients in need of urgent medical assistance are denied hospital access.
In an unexpected overture at a time of increasing bloodshed in Afghanistan, the Taliban have published an open letter expressing a desire for peace talks and calling on the “American people” and “peace-loving congressmen” to pressurise the Donald Trump administration into negotiations.
The letter, released by the Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, comes amid deteriorating conditions for US and Afghan coalition forces on the battlefield and after a month in which two major Taliban assaults on Kabul killed 150 civilians.
The Trump administration has sent mixed messages about its readiness to have contacts with the Taliban, but it has insisted that all substantive negotiations would have to be led by the Afghan government.
For its part, the Taliban refuses to talk to the Afghan government without first discussing the withdrawal of foreign troops with its powerful ally.
“If the policy of using force is continued for another one hundred years,” the letter reads, “the outcome will be the same ... as you have observed over the last six months since the initiation of Trump’s new strategy.”
Time is running out for US to confront 'existential' North Korea threat, Director of National Intelligence says
America will need to soon decide how to confront the threat of North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme, a top official said.
“Decision time is becoming ever closer in terms of how we respond to this,” US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coates told the Senate Intelligence Committee. “Our goal is a peaceful settlement. We are using maximum pressure on North Korea in various ways”. ...
Mr Coats warned that North Korea’s expansion of its military arsenal — both its burgeoning stock of ballistic missiles and nuclear warheads and its “longstanding” chemical and biological weapons initiatives — would “constitute a major threat to the United States and to our allies”.
“North Korea will be the most volatile and confrontational WMD threat in the coming year”, Mr Coats said, adding that North Korea posed an “existential problem for the United States”.
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on Tuesday he had three months to appeal against a British court ruling that means he still faces arrest for breach of bail conditions if he steps out of the Ecuadorean embassy in London.
Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats warned lawmakers Tuesday that failing to curb the national debt could jeopardize national security.
Coats, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee, said he’s concerned that the U.S. government’s “increasingly fractious political process, particularly with respect to federal spending, is threatening our ability to defend our nation, both in the short term and especially in the long term.” ...
Coats, former chairman of the Joint Economic Committee and member of the Senate Finance Committee, said the U.S. fiscal situation “is unsustainable as I think we all know and represents a dire threat to our economy and national security.” ...
Coats is the latest national security official to warn of security risks posed by the national debt, which is now roughly $20 trillion. A slew of former intelligence and military leaders have insisted that a fiscal crisis involving rising borrowing costs spurred by the ballooning national debt could leave the U.S. vulnerable to attack.
The Vampire Squid doing God's work speaks:
The Goldman Sachs boss, Lloyd Blankfein, has added his voice to the chorus warning that Donald Trump’s $1.5tn tax cut and spending plans could lead to an overheated US economy. “The odds of a bad outcome have gone up,” Blankfein told CNN on Wednesday.
Trump outlined a budget this week that could add $7tn to the nation’s debt over the next decade. Blankfein warned that over-stimulating an already healthy economy could prove “too much of a good thing”.
“Don’t forget, all of these deficits have to be paid for,” he said.
Blankfein said the current upbeat mood reminded him of the optimism that preceded the global financial crisis of 2007-8.
“What could possibly go wrong? I haven’t felt this good since 2006,” he joked. “If the economy starts to overheat, and the Fed feels that it’s behind on inflation, it will need to act,” he added. Blankfein stopped short of issuing an-all out warning. But “with the Fed raising rates, with the withdrawal of QE, with the budget deficit widening out, I wouldn’t say this is the time I would max out on my risk.”
Donald Trump reaffirmed a hardline position on a prospective immigration deal on Wednesday, throwing a wrench into fraught negotiations over how to protect hundreds of thousands of young, undocumented immigrants known as Dreamers.
As the US Senate scrambles to broker an agreement by the end of the week, Trump made clear in a statement that any immigration bill must include drastic changes to legal immigration in order to earn his signature.
The president also threatened to veto any legislation that did not meet the threshold of accomplishing the “four pillars” laid out in a framework released by the White House last month, and he endorsed a proposal authored by Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, that mirrors Trump’s preferred approach.
The Grassley bill would offer a pathway to citizenship for roughly 1.8 million Dreamers, provide funding toward Trump’s promised wall along the US-Mexico border, terminate a so-called visa lottery program for immigrants from underrepresented countries, and scale back legal immigration based on family reunification.
Disability rights advocates were dragged from Congress on Tuesday as they protested reforms to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Footage posted to social media shows U.S. Capitol Police forcibly removing demonstrators, several of whom had disabilities, in handcuffs from the House Rules Committee meeting, where lawmakers were debating a bill that would reform the decades-old law. ...
The changes to the bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas, would ease businesses’ responsibility to make themselves accessible for the disabled. Poe said the changes will avoid “unnecessary abusive lawsuits” against small businesses, while disability advocates contend the bill would essentially strip the laws requiring businesses to accommodate people with disabilities with equipment like ramps.
California's insurance commissioner has launched an investigation into Aetna after learning a former medical director for the insurer admitted under oath he never looked at patients' records when deciding whether to approve or deny care.
California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones expressed outrage after CNN showed him a transcript of the testimony and said his office is looking into how widespread the practice is within Aetna.
"If the health insurer is making decisions to deny coverage without a physician actually ever reviewing medical records, that's of significant concern to me as insurance commissioner in California -- and potentially a violation of law," he said. Aetna, the nation's third-largest insurance provider with 23.1 million customers, told CNN it looked forward to "explaining our clinical review process" to the commissioner.
Donald Trump’s personal lawyer admitted Wednesday that he paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 in the weeks preceding the 2016 election, the New York Times reported.
Trump has denied reports that his campaign paid “hush money” to the adult film star, with whom he reportedly had an affair in 2006.
But Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime personal attorney, conceded Stephanie Clifford (Daniels' real name) did receive the cash but said the money came out of his own pocket.
Cohen refused to explain exactly why he would hand over a large bundle of money to an adult film star with whom his boss, then running for office, had allegedly had an affair.
Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee, said Wednesday that the panel had seen an “abundance” of evidence of collusion with Russia and obstruction by Donald Trump’s campaign and administration that is not yet public.
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Schiff said a lot of information was already in the public domain that pointed to extensive contacts between the Trump campaign team and the Kremlin, and later efforts by the Trump entourage to cover up those contacts. But Schiff said there was much more to come out.
He said: “There is certainly an abundance of non-public information that we’ve gathered in the investigation. And I think some of that non-public evidence is evidence on the issue of collusion and some … on the issue of obstruction.” ...
Schiff, from California, added on Wednesday that the intelligence committee had also seen evidence pointing towards money laundering involving Trump’s circle, but had been hindered by the partisan deadlock that has paralysed its investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
He said: “It is a tried and true maxim. As a former prosecutor, you follow the money. We have not been able to adequately follow the money. And I think the allegations on money laundering are credible enough that we ought to, in the exercise of due diligence, see if this was one of the other vectors of the Russian active measures campaign.”
Candidate Thrown Out of West Virginia Legislature for Reading Off Fossil Fuel Donors Raises Historic Sum of Campaign Money
Lissa Lucas, a first-time Democratic candidate for the statehouse in West Virginia’s District 7, was outraged that the legislature was considering expanding the rights of gas drillers at the expense of property owners. So she drove 100 miles to the state capitol and read off the list of fossil fuel donors to lawmakers at a public hearing. The presiding official, Republican Delegate John Shott, equated this recitation of public information as a personal attack and promptly expelled her from the chamber. ...
It has certainly helped her fundraising.
As of this writing, her campaign has raised more than $50,000. Lucas told The Intercept that this is a nearly elevenfold increase from the $4,000 she had raised prior to her address at the legislature. “I’m blown away,” she said.
The significance of this amount cannot be overstated. The website Ballotpedia tracks the total campaign contributions in District 7 for every campaign cycle going back to 2000. Lucas’s sum raised so far is more than twice the $17,498 raised by all three candidates in 2016. It is larger than the total funds raised during any cycle in the district in the 21st century. (The second-highest fundraising was $23,994, raised by four candidates in 2006). The current amount raised by the incumbent, Republican Jason Harshbarger, is not yet publicly available, but he raised just $9,300 in 2016.
Bitcoin mining in Iceland is sucking up so much energy that officials are worried they soon won't have enough power to run the country. In the last six months, miners have been flocking to the island nation, where abundant and cheap renewable energy and arctic air (to keep servers from overheating) make it a bitcoin miner’s paradise. But the energy-intensive process of mining cryptocurrency threatens to overwhelm the country’s energy infrastructure. If it continues apace, it’ll eat more energy than all of Iceland’s residents would consume before the end of the year. ...
The way bitcoin works, miners, as they’re called, task themselves with verifying bitcoin transactions on a global ledger, where all bitcoin transactions are recorded. In exchange, they’re rewarded in bitcoin. The way the currency is structured, there will eventually be a cap at 21 million bitcoin in circulation, which means there are about 4 million left to mine. The more bitcoins are in circulation, the more computing power it takes to verify the transactions.
As a result, miners are constantly seeking out cheap and reliable energy sources to power their computers. And Iceland has plenty of that. The country’s grid is powered entirely through its abundant sources of renewable energy, a combination of hydroelectric and geothermal power.
Bitcoin mining is using a ton of energy globally. A single transaction uses the same amount of energy as the average U.S. household in a week, and, as of November, bitcoin was using more energy than about 160 countries. It’s expected to use more power than the entire world does today by 2020.
The Department of Energy agreed to spend $450 million in 2009 to fund a clean coal development from a Texas energy company. But the agency didn’t keep tabs on the cash, according to a report published Tuesday from the Department of Energy’s internal watchdog. Not only was the project never completed, but some of $38 million of federal money appropriated for the project was used on “social” expenses, like “catering on a private jet.”
The project, which sought to fund a coal plant that would capture 90 percent of its carbon emissions, was greenlit as part of President Barack Obama’s stimulus package. The funding was a big, early demonstration of the promise of “clean coal” tech. After years of missed deadlines, however, the Department of Energy’s Office of Fossil Energy pulled the plug on the project in 2016. It never even broke ground.
But that didn’t stop the company, Summit Texas Clean Energy, from spending the money before filing for bankruptcy last year.
Summit spent $2.5 million of the federal cash on “potentially unallowable” expenses, according to the watchdog’s report. Those include:
- $650,000 in charges from a consultant for spa services, booze, first-class travel, limos, and business meals that were either prohibited or not adequately accounted for.
- $325,000 in costs that “appeared to be social in nature,” like “banquet room rental expenses” and catering for the company’s private jet
- $1.2 million on three lobbying consultants for support for a project with federal grant money. (Federal law prohibits federal funds from being used to influence the government.)
The rest of the $38 million was spent on other questionable expenses. Summit spent $7 million on seven executives, “who held positions for multiple entities affiliated with Summit,” according to the report — all for a project that was never completed. Still, the Department of Energy reimbursed Summit for the entire $38 million.
President Donald Trump announced his 2018-2019 budget and it includes a 90 percent cut to the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.
The new budget would cut funding from $300 million to $30 million.
Last year the Trump Administration proposed ending the federal support of the program but Congress fully funded the program for 2018.
The program has strong bipartisan support in Michigan and other Great Lakes states.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Mojo Buford - Deep Sea Diver
Mojo Buford - Mean Old World
Mojo Buford - Jealous Of My Baby / Mo's Stroll
Mojo Buford - Watch Dog
George 'Mojo' Buford - Mo's Boogie
Mo-Jo Buford - Whole Lotta Woman
Mojo Buford - Gone and Left Me
Mojo Buford - Mojo Woman
Mojo Buford - Chicken Shack
Mojo & His Rhythum Quartette - Knockin' On My Door