The Evening Blues - 3-29-19
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues singer and guitarist Luther Allison. Enjoy!
Luther Allison - Key To The Highway
“The world of the future will be an even more demanding struggle against the limitations of our intelligence, not a comfortable hammock in which we can lie down to be waited upon by our robot slaves.”
-- Norbert Wiener
News and Opinion
The usual rogue's gallery of nations want no limit on their development of killing technology. "Limitations of our intelligence," indeed.
The UK government is among a group of countries that are attempting to thwart plans to formulate and impose a pre-emptive ban on killer robots. Delegates have been meeting at the UN in Geneva all week to discuss potential restrictions under international law to so-called lethal autonomous weapons systems, which use artificial intelligence to help decide when and who to kill.
Most states taking part – and particularly those from the global south – support either a total ban or strict legal regulation governing their development and deployment, a position backed by the UN secretary general, António Guterres, who has described machines empowered to kill as “morally repugnant”.
But the UK is among a group of states – including Australia, Israel, Russia and the US – speaking forcefully against legal regulation. As discussions operate on a consensus basis, their objections are preventing any progress on regulation. The talks come as the UK military is ploughing tens of millions of pounds into autonomous weapons, most recently announcing on Thursday a £2.5m project for “drone swarms” controlled with the help of next-generation autonomy, machine learning, and AI.
When Nancy Pelosi and Mitch McConnell teamed up to invite NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg to address a joint session of Congress, they had every reason to expect the April 3 speech to be a big hit with U.S. media and political elites. The establishment is eager to affirm the sanctity of support for the transatlantic military alliance. Huge reverence for NATO is matched by how dangerous NATO has become. NATO’s continual expansion — all the way to Russia’s borders — has significantly increased the chances that the world’s two nuclear superpowers will get into direct military conflict. ...
Ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall — and the quickly broken promises by the U.S. government in 1990 that NATO would move “not one inch eastward” — NATO has been closing in on Russia’s borders while bringing one nation after another into full military membership. During the last three decades, NATO has added 13 countries — and it’s not done yet. NATO members “have clearly stated that Georgia will become a member of NATO,” Stoltenberg asserted days ago while visiting the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. He added: “We will continue working together to prepare for Georgia’s NATO membership.” For good measure, Stoltenberg tweeted on March 25 that he was “delighted to observe the joint NATO-Georgia exercise” and “honored to meet veterans & serving soldiers,” adding that “Georgia is a unique partner for #NATO & we are stepping up our cooperation.”
Very few members of Congress can be heard raising any concerns about such reckless expansion. The Senate is key, because adding a country to full NATO membership requires Senate approval.
My colleagues at RootsAction.org have just launched a constituent email campaign on this issue. In every state, people are contacting their senators with individual emails urging them to oppose NATO expansion. Such constituent pressure needs to escalate.
Lawmakers concerned about Trump administration's authorization for 6 nuclear-related projects in Saudi Arabia
The move has raised concerns on Capitol Hill. Democratic lawmakers, in particular, are worried about the kingdom pursuing a nuclear weapon and about the lack of congressional oversight on the agreements. These authorizations, known as Part 810s, are required for companies to export nuclear technology or to help develop nuclear facilities or material in foreign countries. But while they're often open to public review, these companies have requested that these six not be open.
There's growing concern about a Middle East nuclear arms race after Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told CBS News last year he'd pursue a nuclear weapon if Iran had one. Lawmakers are also concerned whether any of the authorizations were inked after the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in October.
Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., told Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday. ... On Thursday, Perry downplayed his approval of these authorizations and fiercely defended the U.S. working with the Saudis.
Venezuela's government said Thursday that it has barred opposition leader Juan Guaidó from public office for 15 years as he intensifies his U.S.-backed effort to overthrow President Nicolás Maduro. The government's move was announced by state comptroller Elvis Amoroso, who cited "inconsistencies in [Guaidó's] personal financial disclosures and a spending record that did not match his level of income," according to Reuters. The 15-year punishment is the maximum permitted by law.
Guaidó was quick to denounce the government's attempt to ban him from office. "We're going to continue in the streets," Guaidó said on state television after Amoroso's announcement.
As CNBC reported Wednesday, Guaidó is gearing up for "a mass mobilization—called 'Operation Freedom'—in a bid to force Maduro to step down."
Theresa May will put only half of her Brexit deal to a vote on Friday, in a final desperate attempt to secure MPs’ support as senior cabinet ministers made clear she must leave No 10 very soon, whatever happens. On the day Britain was originally meant to leave the EU – something May had promised would happen more than 100 times – the prime minister will put only the withdrawal agreement to a vote, having promised to step aside if the MPs give her their approval.
No 10 is hoping that some Labour MPs could back the withdrawal agreement severing the UK’s membership of the EU, without the political declaration governing Britain’s future relationship with Brussels. However, it remains extremely unlikely to pass as Labour said it would never vote for a “blindfold Brexit”, while around 30 Eurosceptic Tories and the 10 Democratic Unionist MPs are also holding out against it.
MPs will be warned that failure to back the withdrawal agreement this time will lead to a long extension that requires participation in European parliament elections or crashing out without a deal on 12 April.
MPs who support a soft Brexit are meanwhile working on a new round of votes on the alternatives on Monday, including a compromise that could combine the support of those MPs who voted for a customs union, for Labour’s Brexit plan and for the Norway-style option dubbed “common market 2.0”.
With European leaders sceptical that such efforts will be successful, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told diplomats on Thursday that a no deal was now “the most plausible outcome” and ordered work to begin on wargaming the bloc’s response.
MPs have rejected Theresa May’s Brexit deal for a third time, by 344 votes to 286, despite the prime minister’s offer to her Tory colleagues that she would resign if it passed. A string of Brexit-backing Conservative backbenchers who had rejected the deal in the first two meaningful votes, including the former Brexit secretary Dominic Raab, switched sides during the debate to support the agreement.
But with Labour unwilling to change its position, and the Democratic Unionist party’s 10 MPs determined not to support it, it was not enough to secure a majority for the prime minister.
Afterwards, May told MPs: “The implications of the house’s decision are grave,” and added: “I fear we are reaching the limits of this process in this house.” She said MPs would debate alternatives to the political declaration next week, but she gave little clue as to how she planned to proceed.
Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, responded by calling on the prime minister to step down and trigger a general election. Steve Baker, the deputy chair of the strongly pro-Brexit European Research Group – many of whose members changed sides to back the deal – also called for May to go.
“This must be the final defeat for Theresa May’s deal. It has not passed. It will not pass. I regret to say it is time for Theresa May to follow through on her words and make way so that a new leader can deliver a withdrawal agreement which will be passed by parliament.”
Worth a full read:
According to a new analysis released by openDemocracy, Christian-right fundamentalists linked to the Trump administration and Steve Bannon are among a dozen American groups that have poured at least $50 million of dark money into Europe over the last decade. Between them, these groups have backed armies of ultra-conservative lawyers and political activists, as well as so-called family values campaigns against LGBTQ rights, sex education and abortion—and a number appear to have increasing links with Europe’s far right.
They are spending money on a scale “not previously imagined,” according to lawmakers and human rights advocates, who have called openDemocracy’s findings “shocking.” Among the biggest spenders is a group whose chief counsel is also Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Jay Sekulow. Another organization has collaborated with a controversial Rome-based institute backed by Steve Bannon.
None of these American groups discloses who its donors are—though at least two have links to famous conservative billionaires, such as the Koch brothers (who helped bankroll the Tea Party movement) and the family of Trump’s education secretary, Betsy DeVos.
The increasing ties between some of these Christian conservative groups and the European far right will be on display this weekend at a summit of the World Congress of Families (WCF): a network of American, Russian and other ultra-conservative activists. Right-wing politicians and their supporters from across Europe are expected to attend the event in Verona, Italy—including the Italian deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, who has described the WCF as a showcase for “the Europe that we like.”
A cross-party group of more than 40 members of the European Parliament (MEPs) has called on the EU’s transparency tsar Frans Timmermans to look into the influence of “U.S. Christian fundamentalists… with the greatest urgency” ahead of May’s European Parliament elections.
Justin Trudeau has apologized for a sarcastic response to indigenous activists protesting against the contamination of drinking water, admitting on Thursday that he handled the situation poorly.
“From time to time I’m in situations where people are expressing concerns … I always try to be respectful [but] I didn’t do that last night. I lacked respect towards them and I apologize for that,” the Canadian prime minister told reporters.
Trudeau was widely criticised for his reaction when the woman interrupted his speech at a party fundraising event to demand compensation for an indigenous community that has suffered mercury poisoning for more than 50 years. “Prime Minister Trudeau, people in Grassy Narrows are suffering from mercury poisoning,” said the woman, who also attempted to unfurl a banner in front of the podium. “You committed to addressing this crisis,” she shouted as she was pushed out by event security.
Trudeau responded by saying: “Thank you very much for your donation tonight. I really appreciate it,” prompting cheers and laughter from the donors in attendance. ...
The incident comes amid more dismal polling for Trudeau, which show support for him continues to fall: Trudeau’s approval levels are now below those of the US president, Donald Trump, according to polling data from Ipsos Reid.
The class war on the poor intensifies:
Residents from one of San Francisco’s most desirable neighborhoods are taking a controversial approach to blocking a new homeless shelter: launching a crowdfunding appeal. Their campaign on GoFundMe – best known as a site that hosts fundraisers for medical expenses or victims of natural disasters – has prompted an angry response from the city’s mayor.
It has drawn more than $46,000 dollars, nearly half of its stated $100,000 goal. The money is to go to a local attorney working on behalf of the residents, and its 91 donors include an anonymous contributor who gave $10,000, along with hedge fund managers, executives and authors. ... The money raised will be paid to a local real estate attorney named Andrew Zacks, who advocates on behalf of the rights of property owners and last made the news in 2017, when he defended a San Francisco property owner who tripled the rent on his tenants, from $1,900 to $6,700.
The 2.3 acre vacant lot just beneath the Bay Bridge, on San Francisco’s eastern shore, seemed the perfect spot for a new temporary shelter, which would add 200 beds. But, situated close to tourist attractions, seaside bike lanes, and – most notably – neighborhoods filled with million-dollar-homes and condos, the site was primed for local pushback.
Wallace Lee, the father of a two-year-old who lives two blocks from the proposed site, says he is helping to organize against the project out of concerns for his family’s safety. “It is increasingly a place where people are starting families,” he says. “There are a lot of strollers in the neighborhood that weren’t here when I moved in 2013.”
Organized labor in the U.S. is having a moment. Sen. Bernie Sanders recognized a staff union for his campaign, the first presidential candidate ever to do so. Kamala Harris, the California senator running for president, unveiled her first big 2020 policy plan, which is all about taxing America's hyper-rich to give heavily unionized public-school teachers a $13,500 raise. As if confirming Big Labor’s new clout, President Trump took time this month to attack UAW Local 1112 President David Green by name on Twitter, saying he should “get his act together and produce,” a big moment for a guy who represents laid-off auto workers in Lordstown, Ohio. The broadside got Green on Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC, and a visit from another 2020 presidential candidate, Beto O’Rourke.
The nation is paying attention to labor again, and for that America has one profession to thank more than any other: the public school teacher. In 2018, 485,000 workers participated in what the Bureau of Labor Statistics classifies as a “major work stoppage,” up from just 25,000 in 2017. It was the first major increase in work stoppages in three decades, and it was nearly entirely driven by 379,000 teachers and other education workers, who accounted for 78 percent of all those who went out on strike. But while teachers — with their #RedforEd movement — brought new attention to labor, healthcare, fast-food service, graduate student, and hotel workers also went on strike. Marriott employees, for example, led a strike against the nation’s largest hotel chain in December and won San Francisco housekeepers a pay bump and some workplace protections.
By their sheer numbers, teachers breathed new life into the stagnating U.S. labor movement — even with nationwide union membership at historic lows. Union membership stood at 10.5 percent in the U.S. in 2018, down 0.2 percent from 2017, and down by nearly 50 percent since 1983, when the Bureau of Labor Statistics started keeping track. ... Despite mostly flat union membership rates, the number of workers participating in labor strikes hasn’t hit this high in a generation. To put it another way: There may not be many strikes happening, but their size is huge. More than 24,000 workers participated, on average, in each major work stoppage in 2018. That’s tens of thousands more workers than your typical strike.
That number, while having some problems, would suggest how big the recent strikes were relative to all the other strikes.
It turns out that number is huge.
Like...bigger than any time since World War II.
We might not have many strikes, but they are big! pic.twitter.com/EMRjwSFgeX
— Louis Hyman (@louishyman) February 21, 2019
Polls are also showing a generational attitude shift: 47 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds want a “militant” labor movement rooted in a multi-racial working class, according to a recent Harvard poll. Just 23 percent oppose that. ...
Teachers have become so synonymous with the word “strike” that Donald Trump Jr., at a recent rally in El Paso, called them socialists. “You don’t have to be indoctrinated by these loser teachers who are trying to sell you on socialism from birth,” he said in February.
US economic growth slowed at the end of 2018, falling well below the Trump administration’s projections and closing a strong year on a more worrying note. The commerce department said on Thursday that the US expanded at an annual rate of 2.2% in the last three months of the year, down from an initial estimate of 2.6% and below the 3.4% growth achieved in the previous three months.
The figure is well below the 5% growth rate that Donald Trump recently forecast and comes as evidence is mounting of a slowdown in other major markets including the eurozone and China.
Analysts have forecast that the situation is likely to worsen following a slew of weak economic indicators, including figures from the European commission showing eurozone economic confidence slumped last month to its lowest level since 2016. Earlier this month the US Federal Reserve indicated that the slowing US and global economy meant it was unlikely to raise interest rates until next year at the earliest.
Way to go, Senator from Wall Street ...
Chuck Schumer Neglected to Name a Democratic Commissioner for the SEC. Now It’s Open Season for Wall Street, Bank Lawyers Crow
In a remarkably candid editorial, five partners with the D.C. law firm Debevoise & Plimpton have confidently predicted that the SEC will refrain from imposing financial penalties on corporations for securities violations “for the remainder of the current presidential term.” This benefits the large trading and securities interests that employ Debevoise for legal defense work. The editorial amounts to Debevoise informing their clients that the coast is clear.
The reason for the expected decrease in enforcement has to do with a fatal delay by Schumer to name a minority commissioner and the Trump administration’s unprecedented exploitation of this mistake. The SEC is currently operating with four commissioners, three of whom were appointed by Republicans. Like many independent commissions, two of the SEC’s five commissioners must not be members of the party in the White House. But Kara Stein, a Democratic commissioner, ended her tenure January 2, and that seat remains vacant.
The World Is Watching: Woman Suing Harvard for Photos of Enslaved Ancestors Says History Is At Stake
In a three-stage Twitter blast, Donald Trump has just excoriated the Democrats and Congress over US immigration laws and legislative reforms of same, hammered Mexico, and threatened to shut the US-Mexico border next week.
The president tweeted that “the Democrats have given us the weakest immigration laws anywhere in the world.”
He then continued: “If Mexico doesn’t immediately stop ALL illegal immigration coming into the United States throug our Southern Border, I will be CLOSING..... ....the Border, or large sections of the Border, next week.
I want to tell you about the world-changing work of Polly Higgins. She is a barrister who has devoted her life to creating an international crime of ecocide. This means serious damage to, or destruction of, the natural world and the Earth’s systems. It would make the people who commission it – such as chief executives and government ministers – criminally liable for the harm they do to others, while creating a legal duty of care for life on Earth.
I believe it would change everything. It would radically shift the balance of power, forcing anyone contemplating large-scale vandalism to ask themselves: “Will I end up in the international criminal court for this?” It could make the difference between a habitable and an uninhabitable planet. There are no effective safeguards preventing a few powerful people, companies or states from wreaking havoc for the sake of profit or power. Though their actions may lead to the death of millions, they know they can’t be touched. Their impunity, as they engage in potential mass murder, reveals a gaping hole in international law.
Last week, for instance, the research group InfluenceMap reported that the world’s five biggest publicly listed oil and gas companies, led by BP and Shell, are spending nearly $200m a year on lobbying to delay efforts to prevent climate breakdown. According to Greenpeace UK, BP has successfully pressed the Trump government to overturn laws passed by the Obama administration preventing companies from releasing methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. The result – the equivalent of another 50m tonnes of CO2 over the next five years – is to push us faster towards a hothouse Earth. ... When governments collaborate (as in all these cases they do), how can such atrocities be prevented? Citizens can pursue civil suits, if they can find the money and the time, but the worst a company will face is a fine or compensation payments. None of its executives are prosecuted, though they may profit enormously from murderous destruction. They can continue their assaults on the living planet.
Cases against governments, such as the successful one against the Dutch state seeking a legal order to speed up its reduction of greenhouse gases, may be more productive, but only when national (or European) law permits, and when the government is prepared to abide by it. Otherwise, at international summits, where perpetrators share platforms with states that should hold them to account, we ask them nicely not to slaughter our children. These crimes against humanity should not be matters for negotiation but for prosecution.
A terrifying new study details the havoc being wrought by what scientists call "the most destructive pathogen ever" recorded on earth, finding that with help from unwitting humans a "silent killer" has caused major declines of frogs, salamanders, and hundreds of other amphibian species.
Chytridiomycosis, or chytrid fungus, has killed off 90 species over the past 50 years while leading to huge losses of 501 kinds of frogs, toads, salamanders, and other amphibians, according to researchers from a number of worldwide universities. Nearly 125 of those species have declined by at least 90 percent due to the rapid spread of the pathogen.
The report, published in Science on Thursday, offers disturbing new information about a disease which scientists first detected in 1998—but whose power they didn't grasp until now. "We've known that chytrid's really bad, but we didn't know how bad it was, and it's much worse than the previous early estimates," Ben Scheele, an ecologist at Australian National University and lead author of the study, told National Geographic.
Chytrid fungus kills amphibians by eating away the skin of its hosts, leaving amphibians unable to breathe and quickly going into cardiac arrest. The pathogen is easily spread and rapidly destructive to the 695 species it infects.
Caused by Chytrid fungus largely spread across the globe by trade in amphibians for pet trade and selfish collectors....Amphibian 'apocalypse' caused by most destructive pathogen ever https://t.co/1ySMel5lpb via @NatGeo
— Dr Andrew Kelly (@Dr_A_Kelly) March 28, 2019
Chytrid fungus does not infect humans—but human activity has helped to spread the disease. The pathogen is thought to have originated in Asia, and both legal and illegal pet trades have helped to spread it to Central, South, and North America; Europe; Australia; and Africa. The disease is widespread in the United States. Across the world, chytrid fungus "has damaged global biodiversity more than any other disease ever recorded," wrote Michael Greshko in National Geographic.
Record-breaking flooding has forced dozens of people on a South Dakota reservation to evacuate and ranchers were working Thursday to get their livestock to higher ground while waiting for a river to crest. High water from the Moreau river is threatening about 50 residences in an 8-mile (12.8km) stretch between White Horse and Thomas in north-central South Dakota, said Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe spokesman Remi Bald Eagle. He said about half a dozen people were rescued by helicopter. The tribe has asked others to voluntarily evacuate.
Bald Eagle said no injuries have been reported but some residents are refusing to leave because their cattle are trapped by flooding. “Everybody is afraid that their livelihoods are going to be swept up by the water, obviously,” Bald Eagle said. “It is really a critical time for the livestock folks because right now their cattle are all calving.” ...
On the Pine Ridge reservation in southern South Dakota, the Oglala Sioux tribe is transitioning into recovery mode after flooding swamped roads, trapped people in homes and cut off water supplies to thousands. “A lot of people lost their homes,” said the state representative Peri Pourier, who is executive director of the Pine Ridge Reservation Emergency Relief nonprofit. “It’s going to be a big recovery effort – getting the manpower, the materials and resources to help recover.”
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Wednesday accepted an invitation to tour a coal mine and meet with voters in Kentucky—taking advantage of an opportunity to engage with some of the Americans who could benefit most from a Green New Deal. The invitation came from Rep. Andy Barr (R-Ky.), a member of the Congressional Coal Caucus who asked the New York Democrat to visit his district after she gave an impassioned speech in the House, blasting Republicans and centrists for dismissing the Green New Deal legislation that she is sponsoring as a proposal that would benefit only large coastal cities.
Barr, who wants the U.S. to continue to mine for coal even though it has become more expensive than solar and wind power, asked Ocasio-Cortez to "go underground" with him and talk to people in mining communities. Ocasio-Cortez told McClatchy Wednesday that her staff is now arranging the visit, adding that the struggles of people in towns which have in the past relied on coal mines as major economic drivers are "very close to [her] heart." ...
Ocasio-Cortez indicated she would use the opportunity to speak with Kentucky residents about how their lives and futures could be positively affected by the Green New Deal. The plan would include a federal jobs guarantee as Americans, including former fossil fuel sector workers, build a new sustainable energy infrastructure aimed at shifting to 100 percent renewable energy within ten years.
The new green energy economy would end a long era in which coal, oil, and gas companies have polluted drinking water and air, sent carbon emissions into the atmosphere and contributed to the climate crisis, and threatened public health all over the world, including in Appalachia, where many coal companies are based and where coal extraction has been linked to high rates of cancer and black lung disease. "It's a complete injustice the cancer levels that a lot of these communities are confronting," Ocasio-Cortez told McClatchy. "We have to plan a future for all of our communities, no matter what. Failure to plan is planning to fail and I feel like we've been failing Appalachian communities for a very long time and it's time to turn that ship around."
Scientists are planning to extract ice samples from more than 1.5m years ago in a bid to discover more about our ancient climate – and hopefully learn more about our future climate. The Beyond Epica project plans to extract samples from the bottom of a 2.75km-thick ice sheet in East Antarctica. The ice cores will be the oldest ever drilled for.
The project, which expects to receive £9.4m in funding from the European commission, is expected to start in June 2020, according to reports in Nature. After two years of extensive research, the international team of scientists has decided to set up camp in an area called Little Dome C, 3.2km above sea level. The British Antarctic Survey says the exact location of the drilling site will be announced on 9 April.
In 2004, drilling for the Epica project unearthed a 3,200-metre-long ice core that was 800,000 years old. This ice fossil indicated the presence of a deep relationship between CO2 levels and global temperatures. “From these records we know that today’s greenhouse gas concentrations are much higher than anything that has been seen in the past 800,000 years,” said Prof Raimund Muscheler, chair of quaternary sciences at Lund University in Sweden. “This is a very important project because it will help us to better understand the workings of our climate.”
Half a billion more people could be at risk from mosquito-transmitted diseases within 30 years as a result of the warming climate, according to a new study. Canada and parts of northern Europe could be newly exposed to the threat. People there could come into contact with yellow fever, Zika, dengue and chikungunya, as well as other emerging diseases.
The study, published in the journal PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases, finds that humans could prevent the spread of disease-carrying mosquitoes if they aggressively take actions to combat global warming. ...
Currently, a little more than six billion people are in climates where the two mosquitoes studied can live for a month or more each year. But as climate change pushes milder weather toward the poles, new regions become hospitable to them. One of the mosquitoes studied, the yellow fever mosquito Aedes aegypti, thrives in a warmer climate. But another, the tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus, prefers it cooler. So the researchers determined what different levels of rising temperatures would mean for the spread of both. They found that if the world only moderately stalls rising temperatures, it’s possible both mosquitoes might do well, presenting a conundrum for climate-health planners.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Luther Allison - Soul Fixin' Man
Luther Allison - You Upset Me Baby
Luther Allison - Let's Have A Little Talk
Luther Allison - The Dock of The Bay
Luther Allison - It's Been a Long Time
Luther Allison - It Hurts Me Too
Luther Allison - Bad Love
Luther Allison - Going Down
Luther Allison - Cut You A-Loose
Otis Rush, Luther Allison, Eric Clapton - Every Day I Have The Blues
Luther Allison - Freedom