The Evening Blues - 3-1-19
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues guitarist and singer Robert Cray. Enjoy!
Robert Cray - The One In The Middle
“I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace, that two become a lawfirm, and that three or more become a congress."
-- John Adams
News and Opinion
Lawmakers are gearing up for their second attempt to pass a bill that would end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen’s brutal civil war.
After a similar House-backed bill hit a procedural snag earlier this week, Democratic Sens. Bernard Sanders of Vermont and Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Republican Sen. Mike Lee of Utah said they are planning to reintroduce their version of the legislation next week, senior Democratic aides tell The Washington Times.
“The U.S. Senate will have an opportunity to vote to end our unauthorized and unconstitutional involvement in the war in Yemen,” Mr. Lee said.
Earlier this month, in a move widely reported as a stinging rebuke of President Donald Trump, the U.S. Senate voted 70-26 to warn against a “precipitous withdrawal” of troops from Syria and Afghanistan. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the author of the legislation, staunchly proclaimed that his chamber “will not shrink” from its important role in foreign policy.
Except it already has. The law approving U.S. operations in Afghanistan is nearly two decades old, while the American presence in Syria has no legislative mandate at all. If Congress really wants to keep U.S. forces there, here’s another idea: Instead of a nonbinding resolution itemizing the perils of a drawdown, how about the legislative branch exercise its constitutional duty and affirmatively authorize the use of force?
Curiously, McConnell’s amendment does the precise opposite. In order to garner bipartisan support, the Senate adopted language from Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., specifying that the bill is neither a declaration of war nor an authorization for the use of military force. Which begs the question, what exactly is it? The meaning is muddy but the message is clear: Congress cares just enough about fighting the Islamic State to protest a withdrawal, but not enough to make a commitment. ...
The strategic wisdom of Trump’s troop withdrawals is debatable, but the solution is not to stop the commander-in-chief from ending a mission that was never authorized in the first place. If Congress prohibits declaring victory, the only other option may be defeat.
Ilhan Omar lets the ghoul who starved a half a million Iraqi children and called it "worth it" off the hook without the rebuke or the call for war crimes prosecution that Albright fully deserves.
As someone who understands the horrors of war firsthand, I worry when we fail to consider the human toll of war and our moral responsibility to the people of these countries.
Honored to discuss this with Secretary of State Madeline Albright. pic.twitter.com/qEEvMnVhyD
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) February 27, 2019
Worth a full read:
... What exactly was possible in Vietnam is unclear. According to Trump, North Korea “wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety” without completely dismantling its nuclear weapons program, “and we couldn’t do that.” North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho says that North Korea offered to “permanently and completely dismantle” its main nuclear production facility in return for the lifting of “partial sanctions.” It would be nice to believe that the U.S. government is more trustworthy than North Korea’s on this subject, but that’s actually not the case in general and definitely is not where the Trump administration is concerned.
What is clear is that ahead of the summit, much of the U.S. media acted as a mouthpiece for [America’s foreign policy “Blob”] and its anxieties. The outline of one potential agreement, Vox explained — a formal end to the Korean War and the relaxing of some sanctions in return for a halt to nuclear activities at a main North Korean facility — “looks like a huge win for Kim. For the U.S.? Not so much.” NBC reported as a huge bombshell that the U.S. was not demanding that North Korea “disclose a full accounting of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs” as part of a Hanoi agreement. But this was not news at all. Stephen Biegun, Trump’s special representative for North Korea, stated weeks ago that the U.S. would merely require such a declaration “at some point.”
Indeed, insisting that North Korea reveal everything about its nuclear weapons program right now would be a sign that the U.S. intended for negotiations to fail. Without a peace deal, no country is going to tell a powerful adversary exactly what to bomb in case of war. This is particularly true when that adversary is the U.S., which in 1998 used information from United Nations weapons inspections to create a target list in Iraq “stunning in its specificity.” ...
The world is incredibly lucky that Trump has spun 180 degrees and spent the last year becoming bosom friends with Kim. Why he decided to do this is unknown; perhaps it’s just the natural instinct of a showman who believes that each new season of TV needs a shocking twist. What we do know is that Trump is extremely dangerous and has surrounded himself with people more dangerous still. The best we can hope for is that the U.S. and North Korea just keep talking and come to an agreement — again, almost any agreement — and this reality series is canceled before humanity stumbles into nuclear war.
As with many disastrous second dates, the collapse of Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong-un was made inevitable by the misreading of each other’s intentions at their first encounter. ...
A joint statement issued in Singapore stated North Korea’s commitment to the “complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”, which Trump appears to have understood as a pledge of complete unilateral nuclear disarmament. In North Korea, however, the phrase is a routine regime slogan that refers to a gradual defusing of tensions on the peninsula and phased multilateral disarmament, during which North Korea would be treated as a nuclear power.
For his part, Kim appears to have come away from Singapore interpreting Trump’s gushing behaviour as sign of a desperation to strike a deal, which would potentially leave most of his arsenal in place while normalising relations with the US and lifting sanctions. These wildly different perceptions collided painfully in Hanoi, where the two leaders discovered each other not to be the ideal partner they had previously imagined. ...
[Joseph Yun, former US special representative for North Korea policy now at the US Institute of Peace thinktank] said that Trump’s room for manoeuvre was constrained by the timing of the summit, coinciding with a furious denunciation by his former lawyer in congressional hearings. The president’s embattled position in Washington meant he had to deliver something spectacular in Hanoi or nothing at all. “Probably a smaller deal was possible,” Yun said. “But in my view Trump had to have a big deal, with Cohen going on in Washington. If he brought home a small deal he knew he would be heavily criticised.”
Damning UN Report Says Israel Killings in Gaza Last Year Amount to Possible 'War Crimes or Crimes Against Humanity'
Human rights groups demanded accountability and justice for victims on Thursday after United Nations investigators said Israeli troops may have committed war crimes during anti-occupation protests in Gaza last year.
"The Israeli security forces killed and maimed Palestinian demonstrators who did not pose an imminent threat of death or serious injury to others when they were shot, nor were they directly participating in hostilities," the U.N. officials wrote in a new report (pdf), which relied on interviews, thousands of documents, and video footage showing Israeli soldiers using live ammunition against Palestinians—including children, journalists, and medical workers.
According to the report—which is the result of a months-long investigation—Israeli snipers killed over 180 unarmed Palestinians and injured more than 6,100 others with live ammunition between March 30 and December 31 of last year. Bangladeshi lawyer Sara Hossein said in a statement that there "can be no justification for killing and injuring journalists, medics, and persons who pose no imminent threat of death or serious injury to those around them."
"Particularly alarming is the targeting of children and persons with disabilities," Hossain continued. "Many young persons' lives have been altered forever. One hundred twenty-two people have had a limb amputated since March 30 last year. Twenty of these amputees are children."
Santiago Canton of Argentina, who chaired the U.N. panel that compiled the report, said the detailed investigation found that there are "reasonable grounds to believe" that "Israeli soldiers committed violations of international human rights and humanitarian law" during last year's anti-occupation protests. "Some of those violations may constitute war crimes or crimes against humanity, and must be immediately investigated by Israel," Canton added. But as the report points out, Israeli officials have not been quick to probe those responsible for killing and maiming Palestinian civilians:
The government of Israel has consistently failed to meaningfully investigate and prosecute commanders and soldiers for crimes and violations committed against Palestinians or to provide reparation to victims in accordance with international norms.
In a statement, Amnesty International called the U.N.'s conclusions "damning" and called for Israel's "long-standing cycle of impunity" to finally come to an end.
Israel’s attorney general has announced his intention to indict the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, in three corruption cases. The decision comes just six weeks before the Israeli general election and could severely damage Netanyahu’s chances in a tight race.
Avichai Mandelblit’s long-awaited announcement signals his intent to prosecute the prime minister with criminal wrongdoing in all the cases against him, in which he has been accused of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
Under Israeli law, Netanyahu can defend himself in a pre-trial hearing before the charges are formally filed in court, and potentially persuade the attorney general to have them dropped. It is not clear if that process will begin before the election on 9 April but it will likely take many months.
However, the weight of announcement throws serious doubt over his political future.
He has denied all accusations, dismissing them as part of a witch-hunt orchestrated by the press. Speaking on Thursday evening, Netanyahu said in a televised statement that “this entire house of cards will collapse”.
Canada’s former attorney general, whose testimony against the prime minister, Justin Trudeau, and his aides has placed his administration firmly on the defensive, could find herself ejected from her party after refusing to confirm she has confidence in his leadership, it emerged on Thursday.
Trudeau acknowledged that his former attorney general, Jody Wilson-Raybould, could be removed from the Liberal party, telling reporters on Thursday that he would have to review fully her recent testimony on the deepening scandal before making a decision.
“My team and I have always acted in a professional manner,” Trudeau told reporters on Thursday morning, rejecting suggestions he or his staff overstepped in their numerous conversations with Wilson-Raybould about their view that an engineering company facing bribery and fraud charges should not be prosecuted. ...
Wilson-Raybould, the first indigenous minister of justice and attorney general in Canadian history, had described a sustained effort by government officials to influence her judgment. Nearly four months after she said the pressure began, she was removed from her job as the country’s top prosecutor – and instead was named minister of veterans affairs. She has repeatedly said she will run again in the federal election as a Liberal party candidate, a move experts view as difficult given her public spat with the prime minister.
Chelsea Manning, the U.S. whistleblower and activist responsible for releasing military documents to WikiLeaks, said she’s been subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury — and she doesn’t know why. Manning, whose 35-year sentence was commuted by President Barack Obama after seven years, told the New York Times she received a notice to appear on March 5. She said she intends to fight the subpoena by arguing that it violates her constitutional rights, although she declined to say if she would comply.
“Given what is going on, I am opposing this,” she said. “I don’t know the parameters of the subpoena apart from that I am expected to appear. I don’t know what I’m going to be asked.” But Manning and her attorneys suspect the subpoena is connected to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.
Following months of protests from its employees, Google announced last summer that it would not renew its contract with the military on Project Maven, an initiative to use artificial intelligence to improve the targeting and surveillance capabilities of drones on the battlefield. In an email sent this week by Kent Walker, Google’s senior vice president for global affairs, the Silicon Valley giant appeared to hedge on its commitment to fully cut ties with the drone initiative.
The email, obtained by The Intercept, reiterates the company’s pledge not to renew its contract. “Last June, we announced we would not be renewing our image-recognition contract with the US Department of Defense connected with Project Maven,” wrote Walker. He added, however, that an unnamed technology company will take over the work and use “off-the-shelf Google Cloud Platform (basic compute service, rather than Cloud AI or other Cloud Services) to support some workloads.”
The email did not clarify how Google would be compensated for the continued use of its cloud servers, the name of the new contractor, or what specific Project Maven-related workloads would be supported by the firm. The email also noted that the company has worked closely with the “DoD to make the transition in a way that is consistent with our AI Principles and contractual commitments.” ...
The company never fully renounced work with the Defense Department, as The Intercept pointed out last year. In his email, Walker, the Google executive, said, “We continue to explore work across the public sector, including the military, in a wide range of areas, such as cybersecurity, search and rescue, training and health care, in ways consistent with our AI Principles.”
In 2014, U.S. officials imposed a moratorium on experiments to enhance some of the world’s most lethal viruses by making them transmissible by air, responding to widespread concerns that a lab accident could spark a global pandemic. Most infectious-disease studies pose modest safety risks, but given that these proposed experiments intended to create a highly contagious flu virus that could spread among humans, the government concluded the work should not go on until it could be approved through a specially created, rigorous review process that considered the dangers.
Apparently, the government has decided the research should now move ahead. In the past year, the U.S. government quietly greenlighted funding for two groups of researchers, one in the United States and the other in the Netherlands, to conduct transmission-enhancing experiments on the bird flu virus as they were originally proposed before the moratorium. Amazingly, despite the potential public-health consequences of such work, neither the approval nor the deliberations or judgments that supported it were announced publicly. The government confirmed them only when a reporter learned about them through non-official channels. ...
We have serious doubts about whether these experiments should be conducted at all. We also suspect that few members of the public would find compelling the rationale that the best way to fight the flu is to create the most contagious, lethal virus possible in a lab. But with deliberations kept behind closed doors, none of us will have the opportunity to understand how the government arrived at these decisions or to judge the rigor and integrity of that process.
At least nine infants under the age of one are being held in a Texas immigrant detention facility, according to a complaint filed Thursday with the US Department of Homeland Security that warned of an “alarming increase” in how many infants are detained.
Immigrant rights groups have urged DHS to immediately release the infants and their mothers, who said their children were sick, had lost weight and were crying more than usual.
One of the infants turned six months old in DHS custody at the South Texas Family Residential center in Dilley, where the infants and their families are receiving legal support from the Dilley Pro Bono Project. The group’s advocacy coordinator, Katy Murdza, said they started noticing infants under the age of one were being held last week. “We’ve almost never seen this before,” Murdza told the Guardian. ...
At least one of the infants has been detained for more than 20 days, according to the complaint. Under the Flores agreement, it is illegal to hold a child in immigration detention for more than 20 days, though the Trump administration has attempted to modify that rule.
Hundreds of schools in Kentucky cancelled classes Thursday after teachers staged a “sick out” to protest a bill they say would damage their pension plans.
The six districts that closed down don’t have enough substitutes to cover the absences, which affect 140,000 students in the two largest districts alone. Public school teachers and administrators showed up Thursday to protest as Kentucky lawmakers discussed the bill, which would strip union leaders of some nominating power on the 11-person board that oversees pensions and effectively eliminate their majority hold. ...
Last April, Kentucky educators caused school cancellations by calling out sick to protest legislation that started as an 11-page sewage bill and ultimately became a 291-page pension overhaul. Teachers said the bill would take more of their paychecks for pension benefits and cut out new teachers from the plans that teachers have relied on for decades. After Republican lawmakers passed the bill, Kentucky’s Supreme Court threw it out as unconstitutional.
ZOMG! Stalin wants your hamburgers!!!
Former Trump White House official Sebastian Gorka: "They want to take away your hamburgers. This is what Stalin dreamt about but never achieved."
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 28, 2019
— Parker Molloy (@ParkerMolloy) February 28, 2019
.@RepMarkMeadows begins CPAC with this rip-roarer: "You know, with this Green New Deal, they're trying to get rid of all the cows. But I've got good news -- Chick-fil-A stock will go way up because we gonna be eating more chicken!" pic.twitter.com/aoYJm7jHBM
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) February 28, 2019
America’s heavy use of toilet paper – particularly the pillowy soft kind – is worsening climate change and taking “a dramatic and irreversible toll” on forests, especially the Canadian boreal forest, according to a new report by two major environmental groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Stand.earth. The boreal forest covers almost 60% of Canada and is home to 600 indigenous communities. Its huge size means it can absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the equivalent to the annual emissions of 24m cars each year.
The report found that major brands’ refusal to switch to sustainable materials in toilet paper is having a devastating impact on forests and climate. About 28m acres of Canadian boreal forest is cut down each year, an area the size of Pennsylvania. Virgin pulp, the key ingredient in toilet paper, accounted for 23% of Canada’s forest product exports.
Americans are particularly to blame for this crisis. They make up just over 4% of the world’s population, yet account for more than 20% of global tissue consumption. The average four-person household in the US uses over 100lb of toilet paper a year.
Major toilet paper brands have refused to use more sustainable materials, the report says, because Americans tend to more concerned than the rest of the world about ideal toilet paper texture in their homes, largely due to decades of marketing around toilet paper softness. Previous reports into the environmental impact of toilet paper have found American desire for super-soft multi-ply toilet paper to be “worse than Hummers” for the environment.
The bankrupt Pacific Gas & Electric inched closer to taking responsibility for the deadliest US wildfire in a century, saying Thursday it was “probable” that one of its transmission lines sparked the blaze last year that killed 85 people and destroyed most of the city of Paradise.
The embattled utility company, which filed for bankruptcy protection in January, said it was taking a $10.5bn charge for claims connected to the so-called Camp fire in its fourth quarter earnings. The fire destroyed 14,000 homes in and around Paradise, a city of 27,000 people in the Sierra Nevada foothills.
The cause of the fire, the deadliest in California history, is still under investigation. But firefighters located its start near a tower on PG&E‘s Caribou-Palermo transmission line. PG&E has previously acknowledged that that transmission line lost power right before the fire and was later found to be damaged. It also included the blaze among the more than $30bn in potential wildfire liabilities it said it was facing when it announced plans to file for bankruptcy in January.
There is Twitter, and there is the real world. Occasionally, the two meet. It happened over the last week, starting with a visit by a group of children and young activists with the Sunrise Movement to Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s Bay Area office last Friday. Their exchange — about whether the California senator would vote for or co-sponsor the Green New Deal resolution authored by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass. — went viral. It led to a turbocharged debate about whether the video had been edited, but it also brought with it a tangible change in the halls of Congress.
In her now-infamous response to the Sunrise activists, Feinstein said she was in the process of drafting her own, more moderate resolution on confronting climate change that she felt would have a better chance of passing in the GOP-run Senate. The viral Twitter clip, which has racked up more than 9 million views, was the first time many people had heard of Feinstein’s alternative resolution, and when climate activists learned about it, they went into overdrive to stop it. Feinstein, facing pressure, this week elected to shelve it.
As the protests persist, the lawmakers should be prepared for more of those interactions to go viral, unlike Feinstein, who was caught by surprise. “You know what somebody said to me? — I didn’t see any of this — they said anybody with a cell phone in their hand can get you on international news in two minutes,” Feinstein told an Intercept reporter, tapping her finger on his phone. “I never knew that.”
Teen Climate Activist to Sen. Dianne Feinstein: We Need the Green New Deal to Prevent the Apocalypse
Isha Clarke hasn’t been to school in five days – thanks to the Oakland teachers’ strike – but the 16-year-old is finding herself busier than ever. Clarke was one of several young people seen in a viral standoff with the California Senator Dianne Feinstein over climate action. Despite criticism of the senator’s seemingly dismissive reaction, Clarke tells the Guardian the moment was “instrumental in moving the Green New Deal forward”. ...
“I think that the meeting, though disappointing, was super important,” Clarke said. Feinstein resisted promising a yes vote on the Green New Deal in favor of her own resolution. But Clarke credits the meeting with fueling new activism. This week, Sunrise activists poured into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office. ...
Although Clarke was offered an internship in Feinstein’s office at the conclusion of the Friday meeting, she says that the offer is a distraction from the real issue. ...
Clarke said she had been inspired by the student climate strikes in the UK and other parts of Europe – she’s a self-described “fangirl” of Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen activist. Clarke said she was helping to organize a student climate strike in the US on 15 March, though logistics were still being worked out.
An oil spill in the Pacific Ocean's Solomon Islands after a mining company's cargo ship ran aground is threatening an endangered environmental gem.
"The impact of this oil spill will have a devastating effect on the surrounding environment, including potentially on a protected UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as the livelihood of the people of Rennell," Australia's High Commissioner in the Solomon Islands Rod Brazier said in a statement.
The ship, which was chartered by Indonesian mining company Bintan Solomon Islands, was carrying a load of bauxite—a stone used in aluminum production—when it ran aground on Rennell Island Feb. 5. Since then, oil has slowly leaked out of the ship into the surrounding waters.
A slow-motion environmental disaster in the Pacific: a ship grounded on Feb 5 has leaked more than 80 tons of oil into the sea next to a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Solomon Islands. More than 660 tons of oil remain aboard https://t.co/pRULzIjOGN via @AP's @nickgbperry pic.twitter.com/pclGLyWlb9
— Richard Pearshouse (@RPearshouse) March 1, 2019
The disaster is unfolding next to the southern third of the island, known as East Rennell Island, which makes up the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. ...
Bintan has abdicated any legal responsibility for the spill, claiming that it was only the chartering company and thus had no liability for the crash. The ship's operator, King Trader Ltd., sent a team to salvage the ship, according to the Associated Press. Yet Bintan has continued loading operations in the bay where the ship ran aground, stirring up the oil and making the problem worse, the Guardian reported.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Chuck Berry, Robert Cray - Brown Eyed Handsome Man
Robert Cray - Smoking Gun
The Robert Cray Band - Sitting on Top of the World
Robert Cray - I Was Warned
The Robert Cray Band - Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark
Los Lobos & Robert Cray - I Got To Let You Know
Eric Clapton and Robert Cray - Old Love
Robert Cray - That's What Keeps Me Rockin'
Albert Collins & Robert Cray - The Dream
B.B.King & Robert Cray - Playin' With My Friends