The Evening Blues - 2-8-19
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues singer and harmonica player Willie Cobbs. Enjoy!
Willie Cobbs - Lonely Boy
“As painful and embarrassing as it may be, the fact remains that we are confronted with a human structure that has been shaped by thousands of years of mechanistic civilization and is expressed in social helplessness and an intense desire for a führer.”
-- Wilhelm Reich
News and Opinion
From Ian Welsh. Worth a full read:
…authoritarian leaders around the world have refined a playbook for acquiring and consolidating power. The strategy goes something like this: appeal to nationalism, stoke fear and divide people into an “us” and a “them,” use that polarization to win an election (even if it’s just an internal party vote, as in China), and systematically undermine democratic rules and other procedural safeguards. [quoted from Foreign Policy - js]
Who is dividing America, say, into “us and them?”
Is it just Trump. Or is it a Democratic leader calling a huge chunk of the population “the deplorables?” Whether you agreed or disagreed with Clinton, is this not an internal enemy? What about the Democratic and “Resistance” strategy of demonizing Russia and Putin? Is this different in kind from China demonizing Japan and the West? (Perhaps it is, in that those countries really did despoil China, while Russia has never despoiled America.) ...
There is a general global trend to authoritarianism. In the US it did not start with Trump, and it is already in the acute stage. It entered the acute stage not in 2016, but on September 14th 2001, with the Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), when the US Senate decided to give away its war-making authority to the Presidency. (And with the Patriot Act, when the US decided to formally become a soft police state.)
The trend away from meaningful democracy, whatever forms are maintained, is not limited to a few bad apples and one rogue President, Trump. It is, instead, something with deep roots in the hegemonic power of the age, America. ... It will continue so long as the general population are considered sheep. As long as the needs of the many are subordinate to the needs of the few, and as long as large groups of the many are impoverished, they will remain demagogue bait and willing to support authoritarians.
Fear, as FDR understood, is at the heart of all authoritarianism. People are scared. They have good reason to be scared, because their leaders despise them and want to hurt them. And whenever they find someone they think is strong and on their side, they will flock to that person. They will usually be wrong to do so, but abused people usually make bad decisions.
Comparisons have been made with McCarthyite “Red Scare” of the 1950s. But it can be argued that Russiagate is even worse. Bizarre assertions that were once consigned to the fringe right wing are now repeated on a daily basis by influential corporate media personalities and nearly all Democratic Party politicians. The most prolific Russiagate practitioner is Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. She has ridden that horse so successfully that she now has the highest rated program oncable news. But she may have reached a moment which prompted the famous question asked at the army/McCarthy hearings. “At long last have you no sense of decency?”
Her assertion that Russia might be able to hack into the power grid and freeze Americans to death is quite dangerous. “What would you do if you lost heat indefinitely as the act of a foreign power on the same day that the temperature in your front yard matched the temperature in Antarctica? I mean, what would you and your family do?” It doesn’t matter that experts declared that the claim was highly improbable if not impossible. There is now no depth that cannot be reachedin the effort to bamboozle Democrats and keep them stupid and needlessly fearful.
But even as the case for collusion falls apart, the McCarthyite media find new ways to keep the narrative running. Russian press coverage of Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard’s presidential campaign is called a “campaign of support” for her candidacy. NBC called Russian reporting the “propaganda machine.” The real issue is that Gabbard dares to question U.S. foreign policy dictates. She met with Syrian president Assad and opposes the coup attempt against Venezuela. But stopping such heretical acts from taking place is a central feature of the Russiagate scare. ... The worst possible outcome of Russiagate is that it increases the likelihood of armed conflict between the United States and Russia. The same people who see MSNBC, CNN and national newspapers as divine oracles can be led to support any government act, no matter how dangerous it may be. Liberals who might once have opposed a hot war would now be the first to support it.
The Russiagate pimps are stoking fear and hatred. They spread outright lies and ignorance and they are doing so because of base motives. The Democratic Party rank and file ought to be demanding answers about the 2016 defeat and the previous loss of 900 legislative seats around the country. But they have been so badly misled that they don’t know that they should be asking anything at all. Even people who call themselves progressives are worshipping prosecutorial excess from the Robert Mueller investigation team and applauding surveillance state killers bloviating on cable news programs.
McCarthyism is back and it is being led by liberals. The entire world is endangered because of their leaders’ lies and cover ups and their determination to follow blindly. The outcome will be continued political defeat at home and an increased likelihood of what was once unimaginable, war between two nuclear powers.
The first trucks carrying humanitarian aid for Venezuela have arrived at the Colombian border city of Cúcuta, as opponents of Nicolás Maduro step up efforts to further isolate the embattled president. The convoy of two large articulated lorries and seven smaller trucks reached the Tienditas international bridge on Thursday, a day after Venezuelan authorities blockaded the crossing with shipping containers and a fuel tanker. ...
Opposition activists and their supporters in the US admit that the aid shipments are part of an effort to peel away Venezuela’s military from the embattled president.
Honking their horns as they passed a gauntlet of reporters, the trucks pulled up outside a warehouse where the aid will be stored until it can be delivered.
The US has pledged $20m in aid to Venezuela, though analysts say that will do little to alleviate food shortages. “Twenty million dollars barely scratches the surface of Venezuela’s needs,” said Adam Isacson, a security expert at the Washington Office on Latin America. “So this is mainly about optics. And it’s smart to try to weaken Venezuelan military loyalty to Maduro by putting the armed forces in a position where they’d have to obey a repulsive order: to block food and medicine. Whether he blocks it or lets it in, it’s a lose-lose for Maduro.” ...
On Thursday the foreign office minister, Alan Duncan, said that the UK was also preparing plans to help aid distribution. He added that the British government was seeking to choke funds that are used to pay the Venezuelan military salaries in a further attempt to undermine Maduro.
With announcement from John Bolton that US military will help deliver humanitarian aid to Guaido & Venezuela opposition, worth recalling this history: in 1980s, CIA arranged to deliver military equipment to Contra rebels in Nicaragua on planes designated for "humanitarian aid." pic.twitter.com/8Q6a49507D
— Kevin Gosztola (@kgosztola) February 3, 2019
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued an ultimatum to the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro on Wednesday, demanding that it throw open its borders to a US-orchestrated scheme to deliver “humanitarian aid.” Washington’s aim is either to provoke a fissure within the country’s armed forces or set the stage for a US-led military intervention. “The Venezuelan people desperately need humanitarian aid,” Pompeo tweeted. “The US & other countries are trying to help, but #Venezuela’s military under Maduro’s orders is blocking aid with trucks and shipping tankers. The Maduro regime must LET THE AID REACH THE STARVING PEOPLE.”
Guaidó and the Venezuelan right, working in close collaboration with the CIA and the State Department, have launched a noisy public campaign over the aid promised by Washington ($20 million), Canada (US$40 million) and the European Union (US$5 million), demanding the opening of a “humanitarian corridor” and declaring that supplies are on the verge of arriving in the Colombian border city of Cúcuta and must be brought into Venezuela under the right-wing opposition’s control, without hindrance. ...
Both the Red Cross and Caritas, the Catholic Church-affiliated aid group, have refused to participate in any operation involving the US “humanitarian corridor,” citing their principles of neutrality and independence.
Venezuela’s opposition on Wednesday said it would use a U.S.-based fund to receive some of the country’s oil income in a key step to bankroll its efforts to dislodge President Nicolas Maduro.
The fund would receive income accrued by state-run oil firm PDVSA’s U.S. unit Citgo Petroleum Corp since last month, when U.S. President Donald Trump recognised Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s legitimate head of state, opposition legislator Carlos Paparoni told Reuters. ...
White House national security adviser John Bolton said on Wednesday the United States would consider lifting sanctions on senior Venezuelan military officers if they recognise Guaido as interim leader. “If not, the international financial circle will be closed off completely,” Bolton wrote on Twitter. Aside from one senior general, who recognised Guaido in a video and urged others in the military to do the same, most of Venezuela’s top military officers have not defected from Maduro.
Citgo, the eighth-largest U.S. refiner and Venezuela’s top foreign asset, is in the middle of a tug of war as the United States has made aggressive moves to remove it from Maduro’s control and imposed sanctions on OPEC-member Venezuela’s oil industry.
... The U.S. intent to establish a 'humanitarian aid' supply line into Venezuela has a secondary purpose. Such aid is the ideal cover for weapon supplies. In the 1980s designated 'humanitarian aid' flights for Nicaragua were filled with weapons. The orders for those flights were given by Elliot Abrams who is now Trump's special envoy for Venezuela.
While the trucks from Colombia are blocked at the border other 'humanitarian aid' from the United States reached the country. ... The pictures show sufficient equipment for an infantry squad. Fifteen AR-15 assault rifles (5.56), one squad automatic weapon (7.62) with a drum magazine, and a Colt 7.62 sniper gun as well as accessory equipment. What is missing is the ammunition. Where one such weapon transport is caught multiple are likely to go through. But to run a war against the government pure weapon supplies are not enough. The U.S. will have to establish a continuous supply line for heavy and bulky ammunition. That is where 'humanitarian aid' convoys come in.
Unless a large part of the Venezuelan military changes sides, any attempt to overthrow the Venezuelan government by force is likely doomed to fail. The U.S. could use its full military might to destroy the Venezuelan army. But the U.S. Senate is already quarreling about the potential use of U.S. forces in Venezuela. The Democrats strongly reject that.
A Senate resolution to back Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, once expected to get unanimous support, has been torpedoed by a disagreement over the use of military force, according to aides and senators working on the issue.
“I think it’s important for the Senate to express itself on democracy in Venezuela, supporting interim President Guaido and supporting humanitarian assistance. But I also think it should be very clear in fact that support stops short of any type of military intervention,” [Sen. Bob Menendez, D-N.J.] told NBC News.
Under the current government most people in Venezuela are still better off than under the pre-Chavez governments. This lecture and this thread explain the economic history of Venezuela and the enormous progress that was made under Chavez and Maduro. The people will not forget that even when the economic situation will become more difficult. They know who is pulling the strings behind the Random Guy Guaido who now claims the presidency. They know well that these rich people are unlikely to better their plight. U.S. politicians are making the same mistakes with regards to Venezuela as they made with the regime change wars on Iraq and Syria.
The most specificity any officials have offered on the US plan for Syria, Pentagon officials confirmed Thursday that the current in-military timeline is to have all US troops out of the country by the end of April.
Officials confirmed this could be altered by policy changes in the future, but that for now the intention is to withdraw a significant number of the forces by mid-March, and the rest by the end of April.
The State Department was quick to contradict on this matter, saying that there is no timeline for withdrawing from Syria, and that the US is still committed to protecting the Kurdish YPG, and expelling all Iranian troops from Syria.
With the nation's eyes largely elsewhere in a sea of distraction on Thursday, the Senate Judiciary Committee quietly advanced 44 of President Donald Trump's federal judicial nominees in what civil rights defenders denounced as a "monster markup" that threatens to leave the president's dangerous ideological footprint on the nation's courts for generations to come. ...
Warning that the flurry of judges was a "clear look into the future," Esquire's Charles Pierce explained that the federal judiciary Trump and his Republican allies in the Senate are creating "will play an outsized role in judging any policies put in place by any Democratic president to repair the vandalism and neglect brought onto the institutions of government by this administration. In this case, Donald Trump is forever."
During the committee hearing on Thursday, Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono (Hawaii) declared that "too many of these nominees have spent their careers opposing the rights of women, minorities, the LGBTQ community, and Americans who need affordable healthcare." Highlighting a few nominees' records, she read some of their public comments and rulings to demonstrate their strongly held far-right views.
The senator also drew attention to the right-wing groups tied to many of the current nominees, adding: "Who gets on the federal court for life is high stakes. Just ask the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation who have spent decades and lots of money placing people who are on their ideological page on our federal courts."
"Month after month, we have seen a parade of these so-called conservative activists nominated to the federal courts," she said. "They have been groomed by conservative political ideologues. They want to see Roe v. Wade overturned or narrowed into oblivion, LGBT people permanently consigned to the margins of American life, and constitutional and civil right encroached on by the religious preference of a vocal few." ...
The advancement of the 44 nominees, who are expected to be confirmed in floor votes by the Republican-controlled Senate, follows the release of a study that, as Common Dreams reported last month, outlined Trump's ongoing effort to stack the federal courts with far-right judges.
Dems Accuse Trump Admin of “State-Sponsored Child Abuse” as Separated Migrant Children Scandal Grows
The cost of President Donald Trump's deployment of active-duty troops and National Guard forces to the U.S. border with Mexico could approach an estimated $1 billion by the end of the fiscal year should the missions continue apace until then, according to figures the Department of Defense has released and independent assessments.
Trump said Tuesday during his State of the Union address that he had ordered a new infusion of 3,750 active-duty troops to the border to prepare for a "tremendous onslaught." ...
According to the Pentagon, the additional active-duty forces deployed to the border will conduct mobile surveillance for Customs and Border Protection and install razor wire. The contingent brings the number of active-duty troops currently there to about 4,350, the Defense Department said, down from a high of about 5,900 after Trump ordered the deployment in late October.
An additional 2,200 or so National Guard forces also remain there, stemming from orders Trump issued last April. Taken together, the contingent of forces on the border numbers about 6,550, including both active-duty and National Guard, according to official figures.
Amazon is reconsidering plans for a new headquarters in New York amid a torrent of public opposition. Executives have had internal discussions about whether to proceed with the New York plan or explore alternatives, the Washington Post reported, citing two sources familiar with the company’s thinking.
In November, Amazon announced it would open a new campus in Long Island City, Queens, where it would employ 25,000 people in one of two major new offices planned after a national competition, the other going to Arlington, Virginia. Supported by the New York governor, Andrew Cuomo, and the mayor, Bill de Blasio, the plan has faced a cascade of opposition from elected officials, activists and unions, angry that the company is set to get up to $3bn in tax breaks and subsidies.
The New York city councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the Queens neighborhood and opposes the deal, told the Guardian he had heard “some rumbling in the last few days” that “Amazon was teetering or rethinking”. One supporter of the deal he spoke to “seemed genuinely worried, and that led me to believe that it was real”, he said. Van Bramer said he would be glad to see Amazon go.
“This whole thing has been bungled since day one by the mayor and the governor and Amazon,” he said. “Defeating an anti-union company is a victory. I think defeating a company that works with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (Ice) in terrorizing immigrants is a victory. I think defeating an unprecedented act of corporate welfare is absolutely a victory.”
Despite Promises of ACA, Study Shows Two-Thirds of Personal Bankruptcies Still Caused by Illness and Medical Bills
A new study shows how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has failed to solve one of the major crises in the American for-profit health insurance system that it was supposed to help eradicate: bankruptcies related to high medical bills and other healthcare-related costs. The Consumer Bankruptcy Project (CBP) examined 910 bankruptcies that were filed between 2013 and 2016 and found that, similarly to before the ACA was passed in 2010, 66.5 percent of the bankruptcies were brought about by medical bills families were unable to afford or income loss due to illnesses.
About 530,000 American households continue to see their finances wiped out each year due to medical costs, according to the report, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health.
"Unless you're Bill Gates, you're just one serious illness away from bankruptcy," said Dr. David Himmelstein, the study's lead author. "For middle-class Americans, health insurance offers little protection. Most of us have policies with so many loopholes, copayments, and deductibles that illness can put you in the poorhouse. And even the best job-based health insurance often vanishes when prolonged illness causes job loss—just when families need it most."
The only solution to medical bankruptcies is a Medicare for All system, said Physicians for a National Health Plan (PNHP), one of several national organizations that have led the fight for universal, government-funded healthcare for decades.
Hat tip azazello:
By proposing to tax large incomes at a higher rate and to tax the wealth of the very rich, progressive politicians such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are forcing a long-overdue re-examination of what billionaires actually contribute.
Are billionaires and other “people of means” (billionaire Howard Schultz’s preferred phrase) the main engines of social progress and economic growth, as many on the right say? Or, are they “vampire squids” sucking the lifeblood of the economy, as a few on the left believe? Are billionaires the greatest makers in the economy, or the greatest takers?
My own view is that most billionaires do create some value, but they generally take more than their share of money and power. Their wealth far exceeds their economic contributions. Plutocrats don’t deserve the guillotine, but neither do they deserve billions of dollars. Plutocrats are, above all, rentiers. Most wealth is created, maintained and sustained by extracting unearned rents from the rest of us. The wealthy take advantage of monopolies, asymmetric information, network effects, regulatory capture, artificial scarcities created by patents, licenses or trademarks, bailouts, subsidies, protectionism, financialization, and globalization. ...
It’s not just wealth that they take, but political power as well. Do you think that Donald Trump, or Howard Schultz, or the Koch brothers, or Mike Bloomberg, or Warren Buffett, or George Soros, or Kanye West could get anyone to pay any attention to their political views if they weren’t already rich and connected? What upsets the ruling class most about Warren, Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and others isn’t the threat to their wealth — they would barely notice the level of taxes now being proposed. Rather, it’s the threat to their political superpowers.
This story looks like it's got the potential to be one of the great distraction stories ever. It's got intrigue, rich and powerful people experiencing public embarrassment and an unmistakable odor of prurient interest.
A sprawling international scandal involving Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon and world’s richest man, and allegations of “extortion and blackmail” by a tabloid publisher, threatened on Friday to also engulf Donald Trump as several key questions went unanswered. Bezos alleges that David Pecker, owner of the National Enquirer and longtime friend of the US president, warned him he would publish revealing intimate photos of him unless he stopped investigating how the tabloid obtained text messages exposing his extramarital affair.
Pecker is chief executive of American Media Inc (AMI), which said on Friday that it “acted lawfully” in its reporting on Bezos and that it would “thoroughly investigate” his claims of blackmail and take “whatever appropriate action is necessary”. But Pecker is also close to Trump, and AMI has admitted in the past that it engaged in a practice known as “catch-and-kill” – suppressing potentially damaging stories – to help the celebrity New York businessman become president. Trump has also waged a running of war of words against Bezos, owner of the Washington Post, which he frequently denounces as part of the “fake news media”. ...
In a TV interview, a Post reporter claimed that Bezos’s camp believes the National Enquirer’s actions might have been politically motivated and that a “government entity” might have got hold of his text messages, though which government might be involved was not indicated. Bezos himself, laying out his allegations in an extraordinary 2,000-word blogpost, noted that Pecker and AMI have been “investigated for various actions they’ve taken on behalf of the Saudi Government”. He added that “for reasons still to be better understood, the Saudi angle seems to hit a particularly sensitive nerve”.
It was not immediately clear why Bezos made the Saudi connection, but political commentators were quick to recall that Jamal Khashoggi, a Washington Post columnist and critic of the Saudi government, was murdered at the country’s consulate in Istanbul, focusing often critical attention on Trump’s cosy relationship with the kingdom.
'Paging Senator Collins—This Is on You': Efforts to Oust Maine Republican Intensify After Kavanaugh's Anti-Abortion Vote
After Justice Brett Kavanaugh was condemned on Thursday for declaring "war" on Roe v. Wade by dissenting against the Supreme Court's decision to block a Louisiana anti-abortion law, reproductive rights groups quickly turned their ire toward Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) for casting the decisive vote to confirm the right-wing judge—and ramped up their efforts to oust her in 2020. ...
A grassroots fundraising effort to unseat Collins after her decisive vote last year to confirm Kavanaugh has already raised millions of dollars, and the advocacy group Demand Justice announced in an email to supporters on Friday morning that it will run digital ads in Maine highlighting the judge's dissent in the Louisiana case as yet another reason the Maine Republican should be ousted in 2020.
"Brett Kavanaugh has declared war on Roe, and Susan Collins is the one who made it possible," Demand Justice director Brian Fallon said. "Even as it was obvious to everyone else that Kavanaugh was a partisan warrior committed to rolling back abortion rights, Collins defended her vote for him by promising that he would follow Supreme Court precedent. It only took four months for Kavanaugh to prove Collins' promises were a sham."
Highlighting new reports that Collins received more donations from Kavanaugh supporters than Mainers in the last quarter of 2018, Fallon declared that the Republican senator "now owns every decision" the right-wing judge makes.
"We will make sure the people of Maine don't forget Collins' vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh," he concluded.
Sharks could soon become more numerous in Hawaii waters – and advocates say that’s a good thing. Lawmakers in Honolulu advanced a proposed ban on killing sharks in state waters on Wednesday, after receiving hundreds of calls and letters of support from around the country. The law, which would provide sweeping protection for any shark, rather than select species, could be the first of its kind in the United States. ... “These amazing animals are getting wiped out before our eyes, and people don’t even realize what they’re missing out on,” said Ocean Ramsey, a Hawaii-based shark conservationist, researcher and tour operator who has been instrumental in lobbying for the bill, in an interview with the Guardian. ...
Sharks are crucial to Hawaii’s marine ecosystem, and oceans worldwide. “They’re the ocean’s immune system,” Ramsey said. Multiple studies have linked shark populations to overall ocean health. They serve a critical purpose by picking off sick and injured marine animals and keeping smaller fish populations under control. When the shark population declines, large predatory fish can overproduce and decimate the populations of small plant-eating fish, which are crucial to keeping algae down and supporting reef systems. In some places, shark loss has wreaked havoc on local economies, too. In North Carolina’s offshore waters, the overfishing of sharks led to an increased number of rays that consumed the area’s prized bay scallops and forced fisheries to close.
Aside from protecting sharks, the proposed law also expands protections for rays which, like sharks, are slow-growing, long-living animals that begin reproducing at a relatively mature age, and have fewer offspring than other ocean creatures. Ramsey said she hopes the law will be passed in Hawaii and inspire similar laws in other states, and, ultimately, around the globe. “These animals have been around for 450m years, and during my lifetime so many of them will go extinct,” she said. “I want it to stop. It’s not fair to them and it’s not fair to future generations.”
Officials in Key West, the popular Florida holiday destination, have decided to ban the sale of sunscreens containing certain chemicals blamed for harming the only living coral reef found in the continental US. The Key West city commission voted 6-1 on Tuesday to ban the sale of sunscreens containing oxybenzone and octinoxate within the island city, which is part of the Florida Keys archipelago found off the southern tip of the state.
The vote followed a public meeting where marine biologists and conservations decried harmful sunscreens, pointing to research that suggests the chemicals alter corals’ DNA and weaken their immunity to disease. The ban will start in 2021. ...
Florida has the world’s third largest barrier reef, with nearly 1,400 species of plants and animals and 500 species of fish, but the reef is vanishing fast. Research has found that roughly half of the reef has disappeared over the past 250 years. Coverage of acropora, the primary genus of reef-building corals, has plummeted 97%.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Willie Cobbs - You Don't Love Me
Willie Cobbs - Butler Boy Blues
Jumpin' Willie Cobbs - Going up the hill
Willie Cobbs - Too Sad
Willie Cobbs - Eating Dry Onions
Willie Cobbs - Five Long Years
Willie Cobbs - Slow Down Baby
Willie Cobbs - Got A Little Girl
Willie Cobbs - Carnation Milk & If You Dont Know What Love Is
The Allman Brothers Band - You Don't Love Me