The Evening Blues - 4-19-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features delta bluesman Johnny Shines. Enjoy!
Johnny Shines - Sweet Home Chicago, Kindhearted Woman, Crossroads
“In the United States […] the two main business-dominated parties, with the support of the corporate community, have refused to reform laws that make it virtually impossible to create new political parties (that might appeal to non-business interests) and let them be effective. Although there is marked and frequently observed dissatisfaction with the Republicans and Democrats, electoral politics is one area where notions of competitions and free choice have little meaning. In some respects the caliber of debate and choice in neoliberal elections tends to be closer to that of the one-party communist state than that of a genuine democracy.”
-- Robert W. McChesney
News and Opinion
Jean-Luc Melenchon, an insurgent left-wing candidate for France’s presidency, is surging. His candidacy, organized under the newly-established party La France Insoumise (“Unsubmissive France”) has gone from a quixotic bid to a viable challenge in just a few months. Railing against growing economic inequality, participation in foreign wars, and political corruption, Mélenchon has skyrocketed in the polls from distant fourth to within a hair’s breadth of the frontrunners. (This rise has been accompanied by the release of a web-based video game called “Fiscal Kombat” where Mélenchon fights corrupt politicians and bankers.)
Because no candidate is expected to get a majority of the vote, the national election on April 23 is, for all practical purposes, an elimination round. The top two vote-getters will then compete in a run-off on May 7. So in order to win the presidency, Mélenchon has to oust either centrist Emmanuel Macron or far-right Marine Le Pen, both of whom are running slightly ahead of him and conservative François Fillon.
Many have drawn comparisons between Mélenchon and Bernie Sanders. Raquel Garrido, a spokesperson for Mélenchon’s campaign, told Jacobin Magazine in early April that, like Sanders, Mélenchon is embracing a populist platform that seeks to speak to every portion of society, not just the traditional left. “I think we are similar to Bernie Sanders in that way, who rarely spoke about ‘the Left,’ but about the people against the 1 percent or the billionaire class,” she said. Mélenchon’s supporters have circulated a meme on social media comparing Le Pen to Trump and Macron to Clinton. “To beat Trump it would have been necessary to support Sanders,” it reads. “Let’s not make the same mistake!”
But there is a major difference between Sanders and Mélenchon. The American chose to run within an existing political party, while the Frenchman seeks to compete against them. That’s why, unlike Sanders, Mélenchon is still in the running at this late stage, as the voters are souring on the candidates of the far-right and co-opted center.
With less than a week to go before the first round of the 2017 French presidential election, the latest twist in a long – very long – list of twists and turns, has been the late surge of Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of France Insoumise (Unbowed France). Until March 20, the former Left Front Candidate was trailing Benoît Hamon in fifth position. According to the latest opinion polls, Mélenchon is in third position ahead of François Fillon, the conservative candidate. What is more, he is now within touching distance of Emmanuel Macron, an independent centrist candidate, and Marine Le Pen for the extreme right’s Front National. Both Macron and Le Pen have been losing support over the past weeks. The momentum is clearly with Mélenchon. ...
Decisively, he chose to go it alone this time and do things his own way: he would not be the candidate of the radical left, but the self-appointed “champion of the people”. His traditional allies (the Communist party and other small left-wing parties) would play no major role in his campaign this time. The red flags are no longer welcome at his mass rallies and have been replaced by tricolour flags. The Internationale is no longer sung at the end of meetings, and the Marseillaise is now the new common anthem. In true populist fashion – a notion which Mélenchon positively accepts – the “Unbowed leader” no longer attempts to gather together all constituencies of the Left, but he aims to “build a people”. In other words, he follows a cross-class tactic and hopes to capture votes from all kinds of social and demographic backgrounds. ...
Jean-Luc Mélenchon believes that the Left is dying because it has forgotten that politics is about conflicts, passion and symbolism. “Third Way politics”, he reckons, by adjusting to the demands of globalised finance capitalism, has committed political suicide. Across Europe, ordinary workers are deserting social democratic parties en masse. Hence the necessity to re-engage with social justice-related rhetoric and politics, but also to recapture themes which have arguably been ‘abandoned’ to the right and the far-right, notably patriotism. As the campaign progresses, Mélenchon is less and less perceived as a ‘radical left’ candidate. This is clearly part of a plan to come across as a non-divisive figure who reaches out to voters from both the left and right. He has lately registered more support from moderate socialist voters, but he is also appealing to people who initially intended to vote for Macron or Le Pen.
Here's a teaser for an interview Glenn Greenwald conducted with one of Bernie Sanders' campaign advisers (and a former adviser to other Democrat campaigns):
A high-level adviser nd operative for the 2016 Sanders campaign was Vitali Shkliarov, a Soviet-born citizen of Belarus. Shkliarov, who had previously worked on the 2012 Obama re-election campaign and for several other successful Democratic Party campaigns, has also become increasingly in demand as a political adviser and campaign manager in Russia, working for liberal candidates in opposition to President Vladimir Putin.
Possessing a unique background and vantage point, Shkliarov, now that the 2016 election is over, has many interesting observations to express on the state of American politics, the Democratic Party, U.S.-Russian relations, and the impact of rising anti-Russian sentiment in the U.S.
Trump is killing beautiful babies in Syria again.
Air strikes, thought to be by planes from a U.S.-led military coalition, killed at least 30 people in the eastern Syrian province of Deir al-Zor on Monday, including women and children, residents and activists said. Coalition spokesman U.S. Air Force Colonel John Dorrian confirmed that the U.S.-led coalition had conducted strikes in the vicinity of the town of al-Bukamal, but said he could not "confirm the veracity of allegations of civilian casualties".
He told Reuters the coalition tried to avoid civilian deaths in its bombing campaign against Islamic State militants in Syria and neighboring Iraq. The border town has been a haven in recent years for thousands of displaced Syrians from Aleppo and from other areas, including Iraq, where its residents have strong tribal ties across the border.
An activist in touch with relatives in al-Bukamal said at least three homes had been flattened in the residential Hay al Masriya district of the town and at least 30 people, mostly women and children from six families, had been killed.
The New York Times will no longer allow any doubt to creep in about its certainty that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad intentionally dropped a sarin bomb on the remote rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province in northern Syria on April 4. A mocking article by the Times’ Jim Rutenberg on Monday displayed the Times’ rejection of any intellectual curiosity regarding the U.S. government’s claims that were cited by President Trump as justification for his April 6 missile strike against a Syrian military airbase. ...
Rutenberg traveled to Moscow with the clear intention of mocking the Russian news media for its “fake news” in contrast to The New York Times, which holds itself out as the world’s premier guardian of “the truth.” Rather than deal with the difficulty of assessing what happened in Khan Sheikhoun, which is controlled by Al Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate and where information therefore should be regarded as highly suspect, Rutenberg simply assessed that the conventional wisdom in the West must be correct. To discredit any doubters, Rutenberg associated them with one of the wackier conspiracy theories of radio personality Alex Jones, another version of the Times’ recent troubling reliance on McCarthyistic logical fallacies, not only applying guilt by association but refuting reasonable skepticism by tying it to someone who in an entirely different context expressed unreasonable skepticism.
Rutenberg wrote: “As soon as I turned on a television here I wondered if I had arrived through an alt-right wormhole. Back in the States, the prevailing notion in the news was that Mr. Assad had indeed been responsible for the chemical strike. There was some ‘reportage’ from sources like the conspiracy theorist and radio host Alex Jones — best known for suggesting that the Sandy Hook school massacre was staged — that the chemical attack was a ‘false flag’ operation by terrorist rebel groups to goad the United States into attacking Mr. Assad. But that was a view from the [U.S.] fringe. Here in Russia, it was the dominant theme throughout the overwhelmingly state-controlled mainstream media.”
Ergo, in Rutenberg’s sophistry, the “prevailing notion in the [U.S.] news” must be accepted as true, regardless of the checkered history of such confidence in the past, i.e., the “prevailing notion” that Saddam Hussein was hiding WMD in Iraq in 2003. Today, to shut down any serious evaluation of the latest WMD claims about Syria just say: “Alex Jones.” Thus, any evidence that the April 4 incident might have been staged or might have resulted from an accidental release of Al Qaeda-controlled chemicals must be dismissed as something on par with believing the wildest of silly conspiracy theories.
Vice President Mike Pence doubled down on the fierce rhetoric aimed at North Korea Wednesday, vowing in a speech onboard a U.S. aircraft carrier in Japanese waters that the U.S. would meet any aggression from Pyongyang with an “overwhelming and effective” response. ...
The rhetoric from both Washington and Pyongyang has ratcheted up considerably over the past week, amid repeated declarations from senior U.S. figures that “the era of strategic patience is over” regarding the North’s nuclear ambitions, fuelling speculation that the new administration could be considering a pre-emptive military strike on North Korean military sites.
North Korea conducted another banned missile test Sunday – although it reportedly failed almost immediately after launch – the same day that North Korean state television broadcast an official concert celebrating the birthday of the country’s founder Kim Il Sung, which featured graphics depicting a catastrophic missile strike on the U.S.
U.S. experts who have been forecasting an imminent North Korean nuclear test said on Tuesday they were surprised when they viewed their latest satellite images of the country's nuclear test site and saw volleyball games under way.
With tension mounting between Pyongyang and Washington, analysts had thought they would see activity suggesting preparations for an underground explosion at the Punggye-ri nuclear test site and were not expecting what the photos, taken on Sunday by a commercial satellite, revealed.
"We see that at three locations in the facility – in the main administrative area, at the support area, at the command center and at the guard barracks near the command center - they have volleyball games going on," said Joe Bermudez, an expert with 38 North, an independent North Korea monitoring project based in Washington.
US ‘armada’ said to be on its way to North Korea was in fact thousands of miles away heading in opposite direction
A US aircraft carrier-led flotilla that the White House said last week was “steaming” towards North Korea to increase pressure on Pyongyang was actually thousands of miles away heading in the opposite direction. The USS Carl Vinson and three other ships were on Tuesday heading towards North Korea but only after a string of misleading statements about its original course put out last week from the Trump administration. ...
In Washington, officials are facing questions and criticism over the location and original course of the Vinson flotilla, after it was photographed 3,500 miles away from North Korea, sailing south in the Sunda Strait at a time officials said it was sailing north. ... Late on Tuesday, the Pentagon said the aircraft carrier was finally heading north, after it had sailed south to take part in a preplanned training exercise with the Australian navy. The Carl Vinson and its strike force will not reach the seas off the Korean peninsula until next month.
Shortly before I flew from Washington, DC, to Seoul, a US Navy aircraft-carrier group led by the USS Carl Vinson was ordered to move toward Korean waters. Immediately, the US media started broadcasting dire reports about the possibility of US pre-emptive strikes from these ships on the North’s military facilities. With CNN available on most cable systems here, the alarming news spread far and wide. ... NBC has been the source for the most abysmal stories. On April 13, the network, citing “multiple senior US intelligence officials,” proclaimed that Trump was “prepared to launch a preemptive strike with conventional weapons against North Korea should officials become convinced that North Korea is about to follow through with a nuclear weapons test.”
But the story was widely rebuked as reckless and without foundation. According to South Korea’s Hankyoreh, “reporters covering the South Korean Ministry of National Defense for other US news outlets unanimously dismissed the report as false. South Korean foreign affairs sources bluntly called the report ‘a canard.’” ... With the exception of a tiny minority of fanatical anti-communists, South Koreans have largely been unfazed by the headlines. “I’m much more worried about anything President Trump might do than the threats of war and retaliation from North Korea,” a friend of mine who teaches engineering at a local university in Gwangju told me over dinner one night. His sentiment is widely echoed throughout South Korea. ...
For the progressive forces here, however, the war talk coming from both Trump and Kim Jong-un is deep cause for concern. In a stinging editorial on Easter Sunday, the Hankyoreh newspaper, which was founded by journalists purged during the authoritarian 1970s and ’80s, blamed both sides for aggravating tensions. “A military clash on the Korean Peninsula would have disastrous consequences not only for North and South Korea but also for all neighboring countries,” the newspaper said. “That is why we will never agree with hardliners who are willing to go to war and who see war as inevitable. The brinkmanship of the U.S. and North Korea, which appear to be engaged in a battle of nerves, is tantamount to taking hostage the entire populations of North and South Korea.”
Let’s say you know someone who wears funny blue suits and doesn’t share your views on politics. So you decide to stick this person in a cage and put him on a diet of bread and water until he agrees to change his wardrobe and adjust his thinking. And when he sits quietly on the cage-floor with his hands folded, you ignore him altogether and deal with other matters. But when he stomps his feet in anger or violently shakes the cage, you throw cold water on him or poke him in the back with a sharp stick.
How long do you think it’ll take before your prisoner changes his clothes and comes around to “exceptional” way of seeing things?
It’s never going to happen, is it, because your whole approach is wrong. People don’t respond positively to hectoring, intimidation and cruelty, in fact, they deeply resent it and fight back. And, yet, this is exactly the way Washington has treated North Korea for the last 64 years. Washington’s policy towards the DPRK is not comprised of “carrots and sticks”; it’s sticks and bigger sticks. It’s entirely based on the assumption that you can persuade people to do what you want them to do through humiliation, intimidation and brute force.
But the policy hasn’t worked, has it, because now the North has nuclear weapons, which is precisely the outcome that Washington wanted to avoid. So we don’t even have to make the case that US policy is a flop, because the North’s nuclear arsenal does that for us.
Iran is complying with the terms of the nuclear deal it struck two years ago, according to U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, but he warned that Iran remains “a leading state sponsor of terror,” and said that the administration had ordered a review of whether continued sanctions relief was in the “national security interests of the United States.” ...
As part of the so-called “joint comprehensive plan of action” (JCPOA), the State Department must notify Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance with the terms of the deal. ... The U.S. has long accused Iran of supporting terrorism in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Yemen – as well as backing Lebanese group Hezbollah. Last month Secretary of Defense James Mattis called Iran the “world’s biggest sponsor of state terrorism.” In response, the Iranian foreign ministry warned Mattis against making such “unwarranted and malicious accusations against Iran.”
WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange responded to CIA director Mike Pompeo's characterization of WikiLeaks as a "hostile non-state intelligence agency" and other remarks in an interview with journalist Jeremy Scahill, released Wednesday on Scahill's Intercepted podcast.
Although he said he "quite liked the phrase" Pompeo used, Assange said the CIA director betrayed his lack of leadership skills and spoke outside the bounds of his role when he declared that the whistleblowing organization had launched an assault on the First Amendment after it published a trove of intelligence documents that exposed yet more mass surveillance programs and plans to circumvent privacy apps such as Signal and WhatsApp. ...
In the wide-ranging interview, Assange also noted the irony of Trump praising WikiLeaks during the campaign—when it was releasing emails from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and Hillary Clinton's former chairman John Podesta—and criticizing it during his presidency after the organization published the Vault 7 files exposing more CIA mass surveillance documents.
During his speech to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Pompeo made reference to the CIA "shutting down" WikiLeaks, which Assange told Scahill amounted to a threat. "So how does he propose to conduct this ending? He didn't say," Assange said. "But the CIA is only in the business of collecting information, kidnapping people, and assassinating people. So, it's quite a menacing statement that he does need to clarify."
The leaked NSA documents and tools published in recent months by the mysterious Shadow Brokers group have provided rare insight into the clandestine digital espionage operations pursued by the spy agency over the past few years, including information on operations aimed at Iran and Russia.
Last Friday the rogue group released a new package of NSA files, this time detailing numerous tools designed to break into older versions of Microsoft Windows and a campaign to compromise banking networks in the Middle East. Additional targets were also mentioned one week prior in a separate archive that was largely ignored by most media outlets.
Yet the document cache published April 8 provides evidence that the NSA had once launched a series of successful computer-based intrusions against multiple high-profile foreign targets, including the Office of the President of Iran and the Russian Federal Nuclear Center, said two former intelligence officials who spoke to CyberScoop on the condition of anonymity due to their knowledge of internal operations. That release contained files with earmarked organizations and other evidence that explains how certain cyberattacks were engineered.
The New Zealand government has announced plans to tighten access to skilled work visas to help get Kiwis into jobs ahead of migrants. Employees in seasonal work such as fruit picking would also have their visas shortened to the length of time they were needed in the country.
The new measures are aimed at controlling record-high levels of migration to New Zealand, amid growing concern about housing shortages, road congestion and overcrowding in Auckland, and other major New Zealand cities. Last year more than 70,000 people migrated to New Zealand, according to Statistics New Zealand, the majority of them choosing to settle in Auckland, now home to nearly 1.5 million people.
If you want to know why the Democratic Party is dead, dead, dead, look no further than Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Connecticut). She’s a member of the House Progressive Caucus, which as a group has endorsed HR 676, the single payer bill in the House. A cool one hundred of DeLauro’s colleagues have co-sponsored HR 676, including a blue dog from Tennessee (Jim Cooper) and a member from Mississippi (Bennie Thompson) (See Single Payer Action’s running total.) ...
One DeLauro aide told a constituent that when he hears from constituents “Obamacare sucks, we need single payer — it shows they don’t understand the reality in DC that we cannot get a single payer bill even to a vote with the current makeup of Congress and we have to spend all our energy and focus defending what we have.”
DeLauro supported Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primary battle against Bernie Sanders. Single payer fueled Sanders’ run through the primaries, but now Sanders is traveling the country with Democratic National Committee Chair and Clinton supporter Tom Perez on a “come together and fight back tour.” In a joint statement announcing the tour, Sanders and Perez say they will speak out on minimum wage, climate change, infrastructure spending, immigration, tax reform — nothing about single payer.
(Sanders’ aides, who last year took DeLauro’s line and said that single payer was a diversion from defending Obamacare, now say that Sanders will introduce a single payer bill in the Senate sometime soon.)
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is hiring private debt collectors to snatch up unpaid taxes, which consumer advocates warned Monday could come with a host of problems—from mistreatment to profit incentives to exploitation by scammers.
The four companies hired by the IRS are CBE, ConServe, Performant, and Pioneer Credit Recovery, NBC News reported. The move comes as people continue to demand President Donald Trump release his tax returns, which he has thus far refused to do.
NBC News writes:
These debt collectors won't simply call people out of the blue. Taxpayers with overdue tax bills will always receive several collection notices from the IRS through the mail before their accounts are turned over to the private collectors. The collection agencies will then send a letter of their own, informing the taxpayer that their account has been transferred to them. These companies must clearly identify themselves as working for the IRS in all communications.
[...] The IRS says it will not assign accounts to private collection agencies involving certain types of taxpayers, including: minors, those in combat zones, victims of tax-related identity theft, accounts that are subject to installment agreements, or classified as an innocent spouse case.
Still, the opportunity for abuse is ripe, consumer advocates said—particularly because, as tax law professor Adam Chodorow pointed out last week at Slate, the companies will get to keep 25 percent of the bills they collect.
President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans relentlessly run their mouths about their ability to “get the economy going again.” But they have yet to produce or enact any ideas that would generate results.
International Monetary Fund (IMF) projections for U.S. growth in 2017 released Tuesday show the economy will likely continue the moderate growth rate that’s characterized the U.S. since emerging from the Great Recession. While the news isn’t horrible, it’s not enough to reach the growth Trump promised.
The IMF predicts that U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) will expand by roughly 2.3 percent this year, which would be slightly higher than the 2.1 percent it’s been averaging since the economy registered annual growth again in 2010. Last year, the U.S. grew 1.6 percent. ...
But 2.3 percent growth is far below the sky-high expectations stoked by Trump during the campaign when he repeatedly said he would get gross domestic product to grow at 4 percent or higher. That’s something many economists consider highly unlikely.
Five environmental groups point to ‘trophy’ hunting – largely by Americans who travel to Africa – among key threats to animals
Conservationists have lodged a formal request for the US government to list giraffes as endangered in a bid to prevent what they call the “silent extinction” of the world’s tallest land animal. A legal petition filed by five environmental groups has demanded that the US Fish and Wildlife Service provide endangered species protections to the giraffe, which has suffered a precipitous decline in numbers in recent years.
According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which listed giraffes as a threatened species in December, just 97,500 of the animals exist in sub-Saharan Africa today, a drop of almost 40% since 1985. There are now fewer giraffes than elephants in Africa.
Giraffes have suffered from loss of habitat, disease and illegal hunting for bushmeat. They also face the risk of collisions with vehicles and power lines. But the petitioners argue that the species is facing added pressure from “trophy” hunters who travel to Africa to shoot their big-game quarry. These hunters overwhelmingly come from the US. According to the groups’ analysis of import data, Americans imported 21,402 bone carvings, 3,008 skin pieces and 3,744 miscellaneous hunting trophies from giraffes over the past decade. At least 3,700 individual giraffes are thought to have been killed for such items.
An endangered species listing would place heavy restrictions on any American hunter wishing to travel to Africa and bring back a slaughtered giraffe. A hunter would have to somehow demonstrate the taking of the giraffe trophy was helping sustain the species.
El Salvador made history last week by becoming the first country ever to ban metal mining.
Mining was imposed on the Salvadoran people as a dream industry that would aid development, create jobs and taxes to pay for much needed school and hospitals. ... Supported by local ruling elites, these companies began extracting El Salvador’s natural resources for export. Foreign investment increased from US$30 million in 1992 to US$5.9 billion in 2008. Much of this investment was in mining, despite fierce opposition from communities.
Friends of the Earth El Salvador / CESTA supported community resistance. In 2008 alone, 60 community leaders learned about the impacts of mining and strategies for resistance at CESTA’s Political Ecology School. People started challenging corporate power. Tragically companies responded with violence. The President of Friends of San Isidro Cabañas (ASIC), a hub of anti mining resistance, was murdered, followed by 3 more anti-mining activists, and many more were threatened and harassed. Their families are still demanding justice today. ...
In 2008 the president, Antonio Saca, rejected the Pacific Rim mining project. The project would have led to the use of toxic chemicals including cyanide within 65km of the capital. Pacific Rim’s response was to sue the government of El Salvador US$301m in a secret trade tribunal. ... Yet in this instance, corporate bullying backfired. It garnered wide support against the mining industry. El Salvador received a favorable judgment in the case, yet it still had to pay millions in legal fees.
The Catholic Church, an important institution in El Salvador, began actively advocating for a ban on mining. At Sunday masses across the country priests preached the need to protect the natural world and collected signatures petitioning the government. When the vote came to parliament last week, except for a few abstentions the vote was unanimous: El Salvador voted for a total ban metal mining to protect its people and environment.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Johnny Shines - Ramblin'
Johnny Shines & Walter Horton - Evening Sun
Johnny Shines - Brutal Hearted Woman
Johnny Shines - Cool Driver
Johnny Shines - I Believe I'll Make A Change
Johnny Shines - Terraplane Blues
Johnny Shines - Sitting On top Of The World
The Johnny Shines Blues Band - Dynaflow Blues
Johnny Shines - Two Trains Runnin'
The Johnny Shines Blues Band - Hey, Hey
Johnny Shines Live in Japan 1975