The Evening Blues - 2-20-20
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Texas blues singer and guitarist Phillip Walker. Enjoy!
Phillip Walker - I Can't Lose (With The Stuff That I Use)
"I get a headache when I hear supporters of this endless warfare complaining about the federal budget deficits. They're like arsonists complaining about the smell of smoke in the neighborhood."
-- Bob Herbert
News and Opinion
After a year of on-and-off talks with Taliban leaders, the State Department is reportedly nearing the announcement of a deal that could schedule a U.S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Trump administration has not discussed the details publicly, but the goal is to stop the violence on the ground, create a political dialogue between the Taliban and the U.S.-backed Afghan government, and secure commitments that future Afghan leaders will not shelter the Islamic State and Al Qaeda-linked groups in the country.
But the withdrawal may not be as complete as it seems. According to a report in Time magazine, the deal contains several “secret annexes” — provisions never meant to become public — that would allow the U.S. to maintain a CIA presence and counterterrorism force of up to 8,600 troops in the country (down from 13,000 last year) and enable it to continue conducting targeted operations there.
President Donald Trump will likely herald any election-year deal with the Taliban as the fulfillment of his promise to end “endless wars.” Democrats will rightly point out that this doesn’t make the president, who has sent an additional 14,000 troops to the Middle East and brought the U.S. to the brink of war with Iran, a peacemaker. And they’re unlikely to accept the framing that he has meaningfully “ended” a war or “brought the troops home” if the U.S. presence in Afghanistan simply continues as a smaller force focused on counterterrorism.
But Democrats will also have to grapple with the uncomfortable fact that many of their 2020 contenders have practiced a similar sleight of hand in recent debates, pledging to stop America’s forever conflicts while supporting special forces activity that has been devastating for civilians. ...
[See article for details of Dem candidate positions. - js]
Candidates may be looking to use the terminology of ending wars without looking past military solutions altogether, Stephen Miles, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group Win Without War, told The Intercept. “What you see now is candidates trying to adopt and co-opt that terminology and that phrasing, without actually getting into the substance of what it means to finally, truly turn the page on the global war on terror,” Miles said. “Ending endless wars has never been about the specific number of troops deployed or troops in a given country. It’s about the post-9/11 mindset that says the way to deal with our problems is a military-first solution.”
More than 100 journalists from 23 countries attended a press conference in London yesterday to discuss the US extradition hearing for Julian Assange that opens Monday. Organised by the Foreign Press Association, the conference was addressed by WikiLeaks Editor-in-Chief Kristinn Hrafnsson, lawyer Jennifer Robinson and Australian MPs Andrew Wilkie and George Christensen.
Ten years ago, Hrafnsson recalled, Assange was an internationally celebrated journalist. WikiLeaks had worked with a core group of journalists from all over the world to release the documents known as Cablegate. “Those core values are being challenged in a court next week in the Julian Assange case.” Describing as “absurd” the US State Department’s claims that Assange is not a journalist, and WikiLeaks not a media organisation, Hrafnsson said, “Last night some of us…were at the Frontline Club watching the award presentation that Julian Assange received in 2011, the Walkley award…the Pulitzer prize of Australia. He received that award for the releases in 2010 and 2011. The same releases that are now being described as espionage.
“The empire calls it espionage. We call it journalism.”
Hrafnsson tackled the frame-up US indictments against Assange. He told journalists, “The lawyers acting on behalf of the United States will maintain that one of the indictments is about hacking. It is not. That label is propaganda… it has nothing to do with hacking. It is about lawful communication—communication between a source and a journalist.” Rejecting the baseless allegations of “heartbroken generals from the Pentagon” that WikiLeaks’ exposures had “endangered lives,” Hrafnsson replied, “I thought that was ironic from the person who we [had] just exposed as having run death squads in Afghanistan.”
“Now ten years have lapsed and there has not been a single recorded incident of physical harm coming to any individual as a result of the leaks of 2010 and 2011.”
Jennifer Robinson focussed on the significance of WikiLeaks’ exposures for which Assange was being prosecuted, pointing to the criminalisation of national security journalism: “We’re talking about Collateral Murder, evidence of war crimes; we’re talking about the Afghan and Iraq war logs, which showed the true costs of America’s wars; human rights abuses; we’re talking about Cablegate… Amnesty international said that it sparked the Arab Spring.”
WikiLeaks documents had been cited in numerous human rights cases across the world, Robinson said. “They are a remarkable resource for those of us seeking to hold governments to account for abuses against their citizens and other. They are the publications for which Julian Assange now sits in a high security prison and faces 175 years in the US.”
Lawyers acting for Chelsea Manning, the former US army intelligence analyst who leaked hundreds of thousands of secret documents to WikiLeaks, have renewed efforts to secure her release after almost a year of incarceration.
The former soldier’s attorney, Moira Meltzer-Cohen, has lodged a motion with a federal court in the eastern district of Virginia calling for her to be set free more than 11 months after she was detained.
Manning is being held at the Alexandria detention center after she refused to testify before a federal grand jury investigating WikiLeaks and its founder Julian Assange. ...
In the motion for release, Meltzer-Cohen decries Manning’s prolonged incarceration as a form of unlawful “punitive sanction” on the grounds that it is serving no purpose because the inmate will never be coerced into testifying.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday a military operation by his forces to push back a Syrian government offensive against rebels in northwest Syria was now “a matter of time” after talks with Russia failed to halt the assault.
Turkish troops have already massed inside the Idlib region and more were heading to the border area, bringing NATO member Turkey and Russian-backed Syria close to the brink of direct confrontation.
The Kremlin, which has supported Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s push with air strikes, said a clash between Turkish and Syrian forces would be a “worst-case scenario” and Russia would work to prevent the situation from worsening. ...
An opposition military source told Reuters that 15,000 Turkish soldiers were now in northwest Syria after numerous convoys had poured into the territory in recent days.
“You can’t imagine the scale of Turkish reinforcements, half of Reyhanli is now full of Turkish commandoes ready to enter Syria,” he said, referring to a Turkish border town. “They are readying their forces for zero hour, operations are expected to start any time.”
Thousands of foreign Islamic State fighters currently held in northeastern Syria will be put on trial by a new court system as early as March, a senior Kurdish official told VICE News. The foreign fighters, who flocked to northern Syria from more than 50 countries to fight for the Islamic State group, have largely been blocked from returning to their countries of origin since the defeat of ISIS in March 2019, and have been held in prisons by Kurdish forces ever since. ...
Abdul Karim Omar, co-chair of the Foreign Relations Commission in North Syria, told VICE that trials of the men and women held in the camps will be conducted in conjunction with their countries of origin. “In the beginning ,we requested from the international community that each state take back their respective citizens, to put them through their own courts,” Omar told VICE News. “Regrettably, these calls fell on deaf ears.”
Many of the countries they originate from have refused to repatriate the fighters, leaving the suspects to languish in squalid and cramped conditions. The hope is to conduct these trials in partnership with origin countries, which include France, Belgium, the United States, and Norway.
Healthcare Providers at Iran's Top Cancer Hospital Say Crippling Trump Sanctions Are Affecting Patients
The economic sanctions that the Trump administration has imposed on Iran since ditching the 2015 nuclear deal are adversely affecting patients at the Middle Eastern country's top cancer hospital, healthcare providers told FRANCE 24 in a report published Wednesday.
Medical staff at the Cancer Institute in the Imam Khomeini Hospital Complex "are struggling to provide healthcare amid shortages and spiraling drug prices" tied to U.S. President Donald Trump's so-called "maximum pressure" campaign against Iran, according to FRANCE 24.
"We are facing some problems during operations," said one surgeon at the hospital in Tehran, the Iranian capital. "I don't know really if the target of the sanctions are the politicians or our patients. We are dealing with cancer here and cancer doesn't stop, so we cannot stop."
"We don't have enough of some types of drugs and we have to import them. It becomes very expensive for our patients. They have to pay in dollars or euros," said Wida Shehri, head nurse at the Cancer Institute's chemotherapy unit. ...
FRANCE 24 noted that "while Iran produces 95 percent of its drugs, the country has to import ingredients that are difficult to access under the sanctions." Mahmoud Zadeh, the hospital's director of oncology, said that "exporters want to sell us the drugs."
"The problem is payment," said Zadeh. "We don't have ways to transfer money between bank accounts. I think around 50 percent of our patients have been affected by the sanctions."
Britain is to close its borders to unskilled workers and those who can’t speak English as part of a fundamental overhaul of immigration laws that will end the era of cheap EU labour in factories, warehouses, hotels and restaurants.
Unveiling its Australian-style points system on Wednesday, the government will say it is grasping a unique opportunity to take “full control” of British borders “for the first time in decades” and eliminate the “distortion” caused by EU freedom of movement.
But industry leaders immediately accused the government of an assault on the economy warning of “disastrous” consequences with job losses and closures in factories and the high street.
Labour and the Liberal Democrats also condemned the plans while Unison, which represents health workers said they “spell absolute disaster for the care sector”.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon condemned the United Kingdom's new post-Brexit border policy after it was released Wednesday, saying new rules barring people designated as "unskilled" and those who don't speak English will devastate a number of Scotland's industries and worsen the country's depopulation crisis.
The newly-unveiled "points system" dictating who can migrate to the U.K. spurred officials to reiterate their calls for a separate Scottish visa system which immigrants could use just for Scotland, which employs many people from overseas in its tourism, fishing, and healthcare industries.
"It is impossible to overstate how devastating this U.K. government policy will be for Scotland's economy," tweeted Sturgeon, who also called for a new referendum on Scottish independence after the Conservative government won the general election in December. "Getting power over migration in Scottish Parliament is now a necessity for our future prosperity."
Just a few months after going head-to-head with an Amazon-backed rival to claim her third term on the Seattle city council, Kshama Sawant has proposed a new tax on the trillion dollar giant and other large Seattle businesses, which she says will “stop at nothing” to try to defeat progressive proposals like this one.
The proposal, which was unveiled last week, would involve a 1.7% payroll tax on the top 3% of companies (based on their payroll) operating out of the city. Sawant estimates the tax will impact about 825 companies, each with about $7m or more in annual payroll. All non-profit organizations, public employers and grocery stores would be exempt. “On the whole what we have achieved is exactly what we want to achieve, which is that it’s a truly progressive tax, meaning it falls only on the very very largest corporations,” Sawant told the Guardian.
In Seattle the new tax is expected to raise $300m each year. In a city that has the fourth highest rate of unsheltered homeless in the US, according to a 2019 federal report, 75% of the money from the tax would go toward building thousands of affordable, publicly owned homes. The rest of the funds would go toward converting homes that use oil or gas to clean electric energy.
Sawant, a member of the Socialist Alternative party and former tech worker, introduced a similar tax on big businesses in 2018. The Head Tax proposal would have implemented a per-employee tax on corporations making more than $20m each year. Although the nine-member council initially unanimously approved it, after Amazon, Starbucks and other locally based companies contributed financially to a campaign to kill it, called No Tax on Jobs, all but two council members voted for repeal (Sawant and Democratic council member Teresa Mosqueda voted for the tax).
'Barbaric': 8 Million Americans Have Been Forced to Start Crowdfunding Campaigns to Cover Medical Costs, Survey Shows
An estimated eight million people in the U.S. have started a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for their own or a member of their household's healthcare costs, according to a survey released Wednesday.
The poll, which was conducted by the National Opinion Research Center (NORC) at the University of Chicago, also found that in addition to the millions who have launched crowdfunding efforts for themselves or a member of their household, at least 12 million more Americans have started crowdfunding efforts for someone else.
Fifty million Americans have donated to such fundraising efforts, the survey showed.
"As annual out-of-pocket costs continue to rise, more Americans are struggling to pay their medical bills, and millions are turning to their social networks and crowdfunding sites to fund medical treatments and pay medical bills," Mollie Hertel, senior research scientist at NORC, said in a statement. "Although about a quarter of Americans report having sponsored or donated to a campaign, this share is likely to increase in the face of rising premiums and out-of-pocket costs."
We live in a barbaric society at the mercy of billionaires https://t.co/kARJZZbFHj
— StrikeDebt (@StrikeDebt) February 19, 2020
The survey found that 60% of Americans believe the government—not charities, family members, or friends—has a "great deal or a lot of responsibility" to provide "help when medical care is unaffordable."
Hospital closures in rural areas of the US hit their highest point in the past decade last year, with 19 rural hospitals shutting down, according to a new report. The number of rural hospital closures slowed somewhat during 2016 and 2017 but there has since been an uptick, with 34 facilities shuttering in the past 24 months, the analysis by the Chartis Center for Rural Health found.
Since 2010, 120 rural hospitals have closed, with states in the south faring worst, with Texas, Tennessee and Oklahoma leading the way. The analysis found that hospitals located in states that have not adopted the expansion of Medicaid – a public insurance program that provides health coverage to low-income families and individuals – have a lower average operating margin, putting them at greater risk of closing.
Using a model that shows risk factors for hospitals, the report found that 453 rural hospitals across the US are vulnerable to closure. Being in a state that has accepted expanded Medicaid help decreases the likelihood of closure by 62% on average, according to the analysis.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg has a surprising theory about why young people love Sen. Bernie Sanders: They’re morons. In a wide-ranging interview one month after President Donald Trump won the 2016 election, Bloomberg said Sanders would have won that race if he had gotten the Democratic nomination in large part because young people have no idea what they’re doing.
“I don’t mean to knock young people — I wish I was one again — but young people listened to [Bernie Sanders] and they said, ‘Yeah, Democratic: That’s good. Socialism: Yeah, that’s that social media stuff,’” Bloomberg opined. “Because our kids no longer learn civics in school they longer study Western history, they no longer read Western literature.”
“We are trying to change and dumb down the system and if you don't know what happened in the past you're going to have to relive it,” he continued.
The comments were delivered in December 2016 in front of a college audience at Oxford University’s Saïd School of Business. The school posted the entire discussion on YouTube.
Burn of the night?
Here's that early Warren haymaker. "I'd like to talk about who we're running against, a billionaire who calls women fat broads and horse faced lesbians. I'm not talking about Donald Trump. I'm talking about Mayor Bloomberg." pic.twitter.com/AS9XVbTthz
— Alex Thompson (@AlxThomp) February 20, 2020
In order to beat Donald Trump we are going to need the largest voter turnout in the history of our country. Mr. Bloomberg’s record of stop-and-frisk is not going to do that. #DemDebate pic.twitter.com/GD2CwkGi5b
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 20, 2020
'Contempt' Shown by Bloomberg for Recipients of Social Security Indicates Billionaire Would Seek to Cut Benefits if Elected President, Say Critics
If billionaire Michael Bloomberg is elected president, one of the first things he'll do is cut Social Security benefits.
That's according to advocacy group Social Security Works, citing reporting from the American Prospect's David Dayen and Alexander Sammon quoting years of the former New York City mayor's hostility to the program.
"Over and over again, Michael Bloomberg shows contempt for Social Security and its beneficiaries," the group tweeted. "If he wins the presidency, striking a 'grand bargain' with Mitch McConnell to cut our earned benefits is likely to be among his top priorities."
Over and over again, Michael Bloomberg shows contempt for Social Security and its beneficiaries.
If he wins the presidency, striking a "grand bargain" with Mitch McConnell to cut our earned benefits is likely to be among his top priorities. https://t.co/RcdqbRYPP4
— SocialSecurityWorks (@SSWorks) February 19, 2020
Ultimately, said Sammon, Bloomberg's history on Social Security and benefits in general give President Donald Trump an easy line of attack in the general election.
"He's criticized Trump for proposing cuts to Medicaid/Medicare/Social Security, and pledged without detail to expand services," Sammon said of Bloomberg. "But that pledge belies a decade of calls to cut the programs, raise the eligibility age, etc."
We will not defeat Donald Trump with a candidate who advocated for cuts to Medicare and Social Security. pic.twitter.com/avYbzoppN1
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) February 19, 2020
Back in November Mike Bloomberg was polling at four percent nationally and had the highest disapproval rating of any potential Democratic presidential candidate, and understandably so; the man has a uniquely horrible record and no redeeming traits to speak of.
Now, after spending $400 million in broadcast, radio and cable ads, $42 million on Facebook ads, $36 million on Google ads, and an unknown fortune on other shady manipulations, a national Quinnipiac poll released last week put him at 15 percent nationally in the Democratic primary. This week national polls released by NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist and Zogby put him at 19 and 20 percent, respectively.
You can argue against the validity of polls all you like, and surely none of them are pristine representations of public opinion. But there’s no denying that these numbers have gone way up, and there’s no denying that now, approvingly or not, everyone’s talking about Michael Bloomberg.
Late night talk show hosts are doing bits about the prevalence of Bloomberg ads. People are making satirical videos spoofing them. I’ve seen parents complaining that their kids recite lines from his ads at the dinner table. It’s a story in itself. It’s saturating social consciousness. It’s very much a thing.
“Nothing remotely like what Mike Bloomberg is doing has ever been seen in US politics – nothing in the same universe,” journalist Glenn Greenwald recently tweeted. “And the threat and danger it (and he) poses to US democracy is equally without comparison.”
Greenwald is of course correct. But while Bloomberg is doing something that is without precedent, his campaign is also highlighting problems with the system which have existed for ages. And in my opinion it would be an unfortunate waste if his campaign came and went without these problems getting more attention than they currently are.
Mike Bloomberg is not the first plutocrat to use his wealth to manipulate a US election, and he is not the first plutocrat to use his wealth to manipulate public perception. He’s just the first to do it so brazenly and ham-fistedly. The fact that it is both possible and easy for a billionaire to throw a vast fortune at an electoral race and drastically influence its direction tells us everything we need to know about the illusory nature of US democracy. And now it’s right out in the open.
As long as a small elite group are able to manipulate the way people think and vote, then you don’t have democracy, you have oligarchy. If that small elite group happens to be much wealthier than everyone else, then it’s a specific kind of oligarchy known as plutocracy. You can watch this video and this video for some general information on the ways US plutocrats exert control over the political system, and you can read this fascinating thread here for more specific information on how Bloomberg has been stifling opposition and manipulating endorsements out of political figures using his unparallelled spending power.
This has been happening all the time, for generations, and not just with US elections but with Americans’ perception of what’s going on in their world as well. Whether it’s running ads, buying up media outlets, funding think tanks or incentivizing politicians to regurgitate the desired lines, billionaires are constantly using their wealth to shore up narrative control, because they understand that whoever controls the narrative controls the world. ...
The billionaire class has to buy up narrative control because there is nothing about plutocracy that is sane or healthy; people would never knowingly consent to it unless they were manipulated into doing so. Because power is relative, and because money is power in a plutocracy, plutocrats are naturally incentivized to maintain a system where everyone else is kept as poor as possible so that they can have as much relative power as possible. A glance at what the Sanders campaign has been able to accomplish just with small-dollar donations and grassroots support gives you some insight into why these plutocrats want people working long, exhausting hours with as little spare income as possible.
Nobody would ever knowingly consent to being kept poor and busy just so some billionaires can live as modern-day kings, so they need to be propagandized into it via narrative manipulation.
Demonstrators opposed to a Canadian gas pipelinehave blockaded another railway line in the west of the country, adding to pressure on Justin Trudeau to solve a two-week protest. Freight traffic in eastern Canada has already been stopped for days after campaigners blockaded a main line in Ontario. Protesters across the country have taken up the cause of the Wet’suwet’en indigenous people who are seeking to stop the C$6.6bn (US$4.98bn) Coastal GasLink gas pipeline project in British Columbia.
On Wednesday, a group of about 20 people blocked a Canadian National Railway Co rail line near Edmonton, the capital of the western province of Alberta. “They’re on the CN property, and we’re working with the CN police to resolve it,” a local police spokesman, Barry Maron, told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. ...
Trudeau, who insists his government will not use force against the protesters, toughened his language on Wednesday, calling the disruptions unacceptable.
The oil and gas industry has had a far worse impact on the climate than previously believed, according to a study indicating that human emissions of fossil methane have been underestimated by up to 40%. ... Methane has a greenhouse effect that is about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period and is responsible for at least 25% of global heating, according to the UN Environment Programme.
In the past two centuries, the amount of methane in the atmosphere has more than doubled, though there has long been uncertainty about whether the source was biological – from agriculture, livestock or landfills – or from fossil fuels. There were also doubts about what share of fossil methane was naturally released and what share was from industry. Earlier estimates were based on intermittent, bottom-up monitoring of oil and gas companies and comparisons with geological evidence from the end of the Pleistocene epoch, about 11,600 years ago. ...
The findings, published in Nature, suggest the share of naturally released fossil methane has been overestimated by “an order of magnitude”, which means that human activities are 25-40% more responsible for fossil methane in the atmosphere than thought. This strengthens suspicions that fossil fuel companies are not fully accounting for their impact on the climate, particularly with regard to methane – a colourless, odourless gas that many plants routinely vent into the atmosphere.
An earlier study revealed methane emissions from US oil and gas plants were 60% higher than reported to the Environmental Protection Agency. Accidents are also underreported. A single blowout at a natural gas well in Ohio in 2018 discharged more methane over three weeks than the oil and gas industries of France, Norway and the Netherlands released in an entire year. At the time, the company said it was unsure of the size of the leak. The immense scale was only revealed a year later when scientists analysed satellite data provided by the European Space Agency. Fracking also appears to have worsened the problem. Atmospheric methane had started to flatten off at the turn of the century, but rose again after a surge in fracking activity in the US and elsewhere.
In a move to protect its ski slopes and growing economy, Utah – one of the reddest states in the nation – has just created a long-term plan to address the climate crisis. And in a surprising turnaround, some of the state’s conservative leaders are welcoming it. ... At the request of the Republican-dominated state legislature, a University of Utah economic thinktank produced the plan to reduce emissions affecting both the local air quality and the global climate.
Project lead Thomas Holst, an energy analyst, never expected to be at the helm of an effort like this. A few years ago, the Utah legislature passed a resolution urging the EPA to “cease its carbon dioxide reduction policies, programs, and regulations until climate data and global warming science are substantiated”. But now the perspectives of some state lawmakers – and of Holst, who spent most of his career in the oil and gas industry – have shifted.
“The economist Adam Smith talked about an invisible hand that guides the economy, and in this particular case, the cost of renewable energy, whether it’s wind or solar, has gone down so rapidly and made itself so market efficient versus fossil fuels, that there is a change, and the change can’t be ignored,” Holst said. “So now is the opportunity for a state like Utah which is rich in both renewables as well as fossil fuels to embrace that change and get out ahead of it.” ...
Utah’s per capita carbon emissions are higher than most states, in part because it’s nearly twice as reliant on coal, but utilities serving Utah customers plan to close many of their coal power plants by 2030, converting to wind, solar, natural gas, and possibly hydrogen. Republican state lawmaker Melissa Garff Ballard has an ambitious plan to make Utah a source of hydrogen power serving the western US. Among the Utah Roadmap’s top priorities is to reduce CO2 emissions by half over the next decade – a challenge for a state with a growing population. The plan suggests focusing on energy-efficient buildings and clean transportation options. It recommends expanding Utah’s network of charging stations, incentivizing the purchase of electric vehicles, and involving auto dealers in strategies to increase the zero-emissions vehicle supply.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Phillip Walker - Louisiana Walk
Phillip Walker - Hello My Darling
Phillip Walker - El Paso Blues
Phillip Walker - Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark
Phillip Walker - The Blues And My Guitar
Phillip Walker - The Bottom Of The Top, It's All In Your Mind
Phillip Walker - Think
Phillip Walker - Strange Things Happening
Phillip Walker - Breakin up somebodys home
Phillip Walker & George Harmonica Smith - Mississippi River Blues
Phillip Walker - You're So Fine
Phillip Walker - Playing In The Park