The Evening Blues - 4-13-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features blues and rock n' roll singer Little Richard. Enjoy!
Little Richard - The Girl Can't Help It
“Wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows.”
-- Martin Luther King Jr.
News and Opinion
The cabinet has unanimously backed Theresa May’s warning that Syria’s use of chemical weapons could not go unchallenged, leaving the way open for British participation in military action against Bashar al-Assad’s regime. Downing Street said senior ministers had agreed it was “highly likely” that the Syrian government was responsible for the “shocking and barbaric” gas attack on the rebel-held town of Douma, which killed up to 75 people.
Within hours of the meeting, the prime minister spoke to Donald Trump by phone about the crisis, with the two leaders agreeing to work closely together on the international response. They stressed that Syria must be prevented from launching a similar onslaught on its own people in future. At the two-hour cabinet meeting, ministers backed plans to take further action – along with the United States and France – to prevent Assad’s forces from ever launching such an “appalling and inhumane” attack again.
Cabinet ministers emerged tight-lipped from the unusually long meeting as No 10 awaited the next move from the White House, where Trump had convened a meeting of his own national security council. ...
Although preparations are shrouded in secrecy, training exercises were clearly already under way at RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus in preparation for a possible counterattack by the Russians, close allies of the Syrian regime.
Russia took its war of words with the West to a new level Friday, accusing Britain of having staged the Douma chemical attack as a “false flag” operation to justify U.S. airstrikes on Syria.
The Kremlin’s narrative: The U.K-funded Syrian medical group the White Helmets faked the April 7 attack in Douma with the help of the British government. The idea was first floated by lower-ranking Russian officials earlier in the week. But by Friday it was being pushed by some of the Kremlin’s most powerful men, including Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Lavrov told a press briefing that Moscow had “irrefutable evidence that this was another staged event, and that the secret services of a certain state that is now at the forefront of a Russophobic campaign was involved in this.” He provided no evidence for the claim.
At a subsequent briefing, Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov went further and named Britain as the government allegedly responsible, claiming it was intended “to prod the United States to launch missile strikes against Syria.”
The Russian defense ministry says London faked the Douma chemical attack to provoke American airstrikes. It claims unknown people with cameras ran into the hospital and started spraying people down with water and yelling about a chemical attack pic.twitter.com/af93SAjzRb
— Alec Luhn (@ASLuhn) April 13, 2018
He claimed Britain had told the White Helmets, who work as first responders in rebel areas, to fake the alleged attack. He released statements purportedly from medics at Douma’s hospital who said a group of people with video cameras entered the hospital, shouting that had been affected by chemical weapons. The medics said none of the patients had been affected by chemicals.
As the United Nations Security Council holds an emergency session over the growing prospect of a war between Russia and the U.S., after President Trump threatened U.S. strikes in response to an alleged chemical weapons attack in Douma, we get response from Syrian-Canadian writer Yazan al-Saadi. “Let’s remind everyone that the U.S. is striking Syria already. You have more than 2,000 soldiers on the ground. There are bases.” He adds, “For me, as a Syrian, I see it as an occupation, just like how I see the Russians are an occupation on the country.” Regarding the alleged chemical attack in Syria, he says, “This ignores the fact that most deaths are happening through conventional means,” such as airstrikes.
Gaius Publius weighs in with an article that pretty much sums up the week. Here's the conclusion:
From all this we can conclude:
• Defense Secretary James Mattis, knowing the evidence for the Trump's 2017 Tomahawk missile strike was ginned up, still wants war with Syria.
• The entire foreign policy and military establishment also wants war — the Joint Chiefs, the State Department and the nation's security services, presumably the CIA, DIA and FBI among them.
• We will indeed end up fighting Russians if Trump keeps his word and the Russians keep theirs.
• That fact seems to stop no one on our side.
In other words:
• The world just got less safe.
• The bipartisan DC establishment pretty much wants it that way.
Matt Taibbi asks a question to which there is no good, short answer.
The oft-derided Doomsday Clock, kept by the Union of Atomic Scientists, describes us as closer to nuclear war than at any time since 1953, when both the U.S. and the Soviet Union tested thermonuclear weapons for the first time. "The continued existence of urban, technological civilization will soon hang in a precarious balance," the Scientists predicted then.
They were right. It’s no mystery that most of the permanent jobholder types who occupy Washington have since shown they will reflexively endorse pretty much any military action in any situation. There’s never been any real institutional pull toward peace and sanity in our politics, just the occasional quixotic straggler.
But in the pre-Trump years, this Beltway reflex mostly supported a predictable – if bloodthirsty – form of global interventionism. It was never so suicidal, never so maniacal. Whether Trump has brought out the worst in us, or we’ve just lost our minds, we’ve become a danger to the world and to ourselves, holding John Bolton to our heads as a suicide weapon.
That Trump might forget the awesome danger of nuclear war is a given. The man is a fool. But what’s our excuse?
If the United States were a sane country populated by rational, civically-engaged citizens, Americans would pour derision and ridicule on anyone who seriously considered raining bombs over a "suspected" anything. And the skepticism in this case ought to be exponentially greater considering that this is Syria.
We've already been down this "Syria's Assad regime used chemical weapons against their own people so we should bomb his forces" road. It happened under Obama. What is certain here is uncertainty: maybe it's true, maybe it's not. As legendary investigative journalist Seymour Hersh pointed out in 2014, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) believed that at least one major faction of the Syrian opposition, the al-Nusra Front, possessed significant manufacturing facilities and stockpiles of sarin nerve agent and other proscribed toxic chemicals.
Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? Since when is "maybe they did it, maybe they didn't, oh well" sufficient? American political culture has devolved from the Vietnam era, when pacifists were marginalized, to a kneejerk bellicosity in which they don't exist as part of the debate.
To its credit, The New York Times — still with blood on its hands from its unwholesome publishing of Judith Miller's pro-Iraq War screeds — has printed statements by those who oppose rushing into war with Syria. ... Nowhere to be found was a pacifist: someone who opposes war, all war, no matter what. Nor were there any anti-interventionists: people who say Syria is not our business and should be left to sort out its own affairs. It's the same at The Washington Post. ...
Getting the paper out every day is a miracle. Editors can be forgiven for sometimes forgetting to cover all the bases by offering a wide spectrum of solutions to the problems covered by their news stories and debated in their opinion sections. The same goes for the producers laboring through cable news' 24-7 news cycle. At a certain point, however, they ought to take a step back and consider the effect of their editorial decisions. They've created a relentless culture of ultraviolence, a debate without diversity between those who want bombs and those who want even more wars, to the point that not going to war isn't even something we get to consider as a legitimate option.
Days after an Israeli human rights group urged soldiers to refuse orders to shoot at Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip along the fence that divides the occupied territory from Israel, a group of left-wing Israeli activists approached soldiers stationed along the border and called them “terrorists.”
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday responded by defending the military for their “holy work,” and accused the activists of “outrageous absurdity.”
Israeli forces stationed on the Gaza frontier have killed one person and wounded hundreds of Palestinians, who were demonstrating for the third week in a row.
Health officials in Gaza said 363 people were injured by live ammunition and tear gas inhalation, although they did not provide a breakdown. They said a Gazan journalist was in a serious condition after being shot in the abdomen.
The Palestine Red Crescent Society, a humanitarian organisation, has said one of its medics was shot in the knee.
Rights groups accuse Israel of wanton use of live fire. Israel says the protests are a cynical ploy by Gaza’s rulers Hamas to stage attacks, including using explosives, or to breach the border. ...
No Israeli civilian or soldier has been harmed as a result of the rallies.
Senior Israeli officials declined on Thursday to offer any proof to substantiate their coordinated attack on the reputation of Yaser Murtaja, a Palestinian photojournalist who was shot and killed by an Israeli sniper last week while documenting protests in Gaza. Israel has struggled for days to explain the killing of Murtaja, who was wearing a flak jacket clearly marked with the word “PRESS” when he was shot on Friday. After his funeral on Saturday, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces had insisted that Israeli snipers had not targeted Murtaja, or the five other Palestinian journalists who were injured by live fire.
Later on Saturday though, Israel’s defense minister, Avigdor Lieberman, suggested that Murtaja might have been killed because he was flying a drone over Israeli forces during the protests. However, video recorded moments before the shooting showed that Murtaja had been using a handheld stabilizer device to record images of the protesters, not a drone. ...
Four days after his killing, Israel’s defense minister offered a completely new rationale. In response to a question about the killing at a news conference, Lieberman claimed, without citing any evidence, that Murtaja had been a member of Hamas. Lieberman’s unsubstantiated claim was quickly shared on social networks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s spokespeople, Ofir Gendelman and David Keyes, and then repeated as fact by senior diplomats. ... None of the Israeli officials responded to requests from news organizations, including The Intercept, to present evidence to back their claims, which contrast sharply with what was previously known about the photographer. ...
As the Telegraph correspondent Raf Sanchez observed on Twitter, Israel’s defense ministry and prime minister’s office “are trying to get reporters to republish their claims (presented without evidence) that Yaser Murtaja was a Hamas member. But they still won’t answer the most basic question: did the IDF kill him deliberately?”
An interesting article, here's a teaser:
Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva is in prison. On April 7, the former president of Brazil was incarcerated in a federal police building after 48 hours of a sort of self-banishment. He sought refuge with the metallurgical workers union of São Bernardo do Campo, where he began his political career in the 1970s. Lula emerged only after negotiating with the federal police and disobeying the deadline set by the court to turn himself in. But in a final moment of defiance, the ex-president delivered an emotional speech at an open-air mass in memory of his deceased wife, who would have celebrated her birthday that day, as the nation watched live on TV.
The day was a fitting nod to Lula’s 40-year run in Brazilian politics and was an inflection point for Brazil. Decades of political turns of fortune brought us to where we are today, having moved from military rule to an emerging democracy and now backsliding. Brazil’s oligarchs have reclaimed power, despite the absence of democratic legitimacy, while the most popular politician in the country over the past decade and a half has been thrown behind bars for the foreseeable future. The nation is now asking itself: What comes next?
The country’s politics are in disarray: Lula consistently led the polls for this year’s upcoming elections and had a real chance to be re-elected for a third term. Now that the former president is out of the picture, the extreme right is rapidly gaining strength — and, with it, the force of the Brazilian military. ...
What will become of Brazil without Lula as an active political player? The left’s odds are diminishing. The Workers’ Party has not put forth a natural successor, instead expending all its energy to set Lula free. Caught up in their fervor, it appears that it never considered the scenario of having to put forward another candidate. No candidate from other left-leaning parties can hold a candle to his popularity. With a disempowered left, two main dangers loom — both of which leave the country staring down the rifle barrels of the armed forces.
... The tragedy is that it’s entirely within our power to do something about it: homelessness is not a choice made by the individual, it is a reality forced by government policy. As homelessness has rocketed in the UK – up 134% since 2010 – it has fallen by 35% in Finland over a similar period of time. The Finnish government is now aiming to abolish it altogether in the coming years.
I recently travelled to Finland to understand how it had done this. It turns out its solution is painfully simple and blindingly obvious: give homes to homeless people. As Juha Kaakinen, who has led much of the work on “housing first” in Finland, explained to me when I met him in Helsinki, “this takes housing as a basic human right” rather than being conditional on engaging in services for addictions or mental health.
This is fundamentally different to our model in the UK, where stable accommodation is only provided as a “reward” for engaging in treatment services. The problem with this is obvious if you stop and think about it: how do we expect people to address complex personal problems while exposed to the chaos of life on the streets?
Sceptics will argue that giving homes to homeless people is a recipe for disaster. Aren’t we just subsidising addiction? Won’t we end up with huge bills when it all goes wrong? Don’t people need an incentive to get their lives back on track and engage in services?
Actually, no. The evidence from Finland – as well as numerous other pilot schemes across the world – shows the opposite is true. When people are given homes, homelessness is radically reduced, engagement in support services goes up and recovery rates from addiction are comparable to a “treatment first” approach. Even more impressive is that there are overall savings for government, as people’s use of emergency health services and the criminal justice system is lessened.
As recently as Tuesday, a defiant Arizona governor refused to meet teachers threatening to strike over low pay and said he was sticking with a 1% raise proposal. Now Republican Doug Ducey has managed to scrape together the funds for what he claims is a 20% rise for teachers by 2020. ...
In addition to a 20% pay bump, Arizona teachers also demanded a permanent raise structure, a $1bn boost to put education funding at pre-recession levels and no more tax cuts until per pupil spending matches the national average.
Ducey was vague about where the cash would come from, only saying a growing economy and lower spending in other areas unexpectedly freed up $274m this year that can be used to fund the raise. He has also said he would cancel some of the planned spending in his budget and use savings from government efficiencies.
Teachers who organized a grassroots effort that drew nearly 45,000 members were cool to the announcement, saying they wanted details before reacting and lacked trust in the governor.
“What he gave us today was just a proposal, it wasn’t legislation, and we don’t know where the money’s coming from and we don’t know if he’s talking about everybody involved in education or just classroom teachers,” Tucson teacher and Arizona Educators United organizer Derek Harris said. “At this point there’s not really anything to trust.”
Donald Trump has issued a full pardon to I Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former chief of staff to vice-president Dick Cheney under George W Bush.
Libby was convicted in 2007 of obstruction of justice and perjury, in connection with an investigation into the leak of the identity of a CIA agent, Valerie Plame. His conviction was the result of an investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, who was appointed by the then deputy attorney general, James Comey.
President Bush commuted Libby’s sentence, sparing him jail time but leaving him a convicted felon who had to pay a fine and do community service. Trump’s pardon totally expunges the conviction.
In a statement, Trump said: “I don’t know Mr Libby but for years I have heard that he has been treated unfairly. Hopefully, this full pardon will help rectify a very sad portion of his life.” ...
In a brief statement, a spokesman for Bush said: “President Bush is very pleased for Scooter and his family.” ... In his own statement, Libby said: “My family and I are immensely grateful to President Trump for his gracious decision to grant a pardon. For over a dozen years we have suffered under the weight of a terrible injustice.”
Serious disruption to the Gulf Stream ocean currents that are crucial in controlling global climate must be avoided “at all costs”, senior scientists have warned. The alert follows the revelation this week that the system is at its weakest ever recorded.
Past collapses of the giant network have seen some of the most extreme impacts in climate history, with western Europe particularly vulnerable to a descent into freezing winters. A significantly weakened system is also likely to cause more severe storms in Europe, faster sea level rise on the east coast of the US and increasing drought in the Sahel in Africa.
The new research worries scientists because of the huge impact global warming has already had on the currents and the unpredictability of a future “tipping point”.
The currents that bring warm Atlantic water northwards towards the pole, where they cool, sink and return southwards, is the most significant control on northern hemisphere climate outside the atmosphere. But the system, formally called the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (Amoc), has weakened by 15% since 1950, thanks to melting Greenland ice and ocean warming making sea water less dense and more buoyant.
This represents a massive slowdown – equivalent to halting all the world’s rivers three times over, or stopping the greatest river, the Amazon, 15 times. Such weakening has not been seen in at least the last 1,600 years, which is as far back as researchers have analysed so far. Furthermore, the new analyses show the weakening is accelerating.
Toxic lead has been seeping into Chicago’s drinking water, and the city is dragging its feet to fix the problem, according to an analysis published Thursday by the Chicago Tribune. Lead was found in 70 percent of the 2,797 homes the Tribune sampled across the city since January of 2016. And three in 10 of those had lead concentrations higher than 5 parts per billion (ppb), the Food and Drug Administration’s upper limit for lead in bottled water.
Since the lead crisis in Flint, Michigan, Chicago has distributed thousands of free lead-testing kits to its residents in an attempt to figure out how bad the problem was. But once the results started coming in, the city buried them: Chicago hadn’t updated the city-run website tracking the results of its own tests in more than six months — until the Tribune started asking questions.
“Chicago’s water consistently meets and exceeds the U.S. EPA’s standards for clean, high-quality drinking water,” Megan Vidis, a spokesperson for the city’s water department, told VICE News. “The Department of Water Management proactively uses corrosion-control measures to ensure that it stays that way.”
“We can't be held to standards that we're not held to,” Vidis added, referring to the Tribune’s using the FDA’s benchmark for lead levels in bottled water in its report. “We're a huge municipal water system.”
There’s no known safe level of lead in children's blood, according to the EPA and the Centers for Disease Control. Ingesting the metal can cause irreversible brain damage and learning disabilities. And children who regularly drink water with more than 5 ppb of lead content have been found to have lead levels in their blood, according to a recent study from EPA scientists.
A man formerly on the payroll of the largest coal mining company in America will now be second in command at the Environmental Protection Agency. The Senate confirmed the nominee, Andrew Wheeler, who most recently represented Murray Energy, on Thursday afternoon. He not only spent more than a decade as a coal lobbyist but also questions climate change. ...
Wheeler’s confirmation comes at a trying time for the agency. EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is currently entangled in several of the worst scandals of his career. ... His top aides are resigning, and sources have told the Associated Press that his situation is “unsustainable.” That, coupled President Donald Trump’s propensity to fire or force out White House employees, and it’s not outrageous to think Wheeler might one day run the whole operation. ...
Wheeler’s confirmation landed along party lines, with only three Democrats voting in favor of his appointment. But even the Democrats who voted against him didn’t do much to stop his ascension to the EPA.
The road to China’s autonomous-driving future is paved with solar panels, mapping sensors and electric-battery rechargers as the nation tests an “intelligent highway” that could speed the transformation of the global transportation industry.
The technologies will be embedded underneath transparent concrete used to build a 1,080-meter-long (3,540-foot-long) stretch of road in the eastern city of Jinan. About 45,000 vehicles barrel over the section every day, and the solar panels inside generate enough electricity to power highway lights and 800 homes, according to builder Qilu Transportation Development Group Co.
Yet Qilu Transportation wants to do more than supply juice to the grid: it wants the road to be just as smart as the vehicles of the future. The government says 10 percent of all cars should be fully self-driving by 2030, and Qilu considers that an opportunity to deliver better traffic updates, more accurate mapping and on-the-go recharging of electric-vehicle batteries—all from the ground up. ...
The construction comes as President Xi Jinping’s government pushes ahead with a “Made in China 2025” plan to help the nation become an advanced manufacturing power and not just a supplier of sneakers, clothes and toys for export. The 10 sectors highlighted include new-energy vehicles, information technology and robotics.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Little Richard - Little Richard's Boogie
Little Richard - Please Have Mercy On Me
Little Richard - Jenny Jenny
Little Richard - Maybe I'm Right
Little Richard - Early One Morning
Little Richard - She's Got It
Little Richard - All Around The World
Little Richard - Keep A Knockin'
Little Richard - I Don't Know What You've Got, But It's Got Me (parts 1 + 2)
Little Richard - Can't Believe You Wanna Leave
Little Richard - Short Fat Fanny