The Evening Blues - 5-17-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features delta bluesman Robert Johnson. Enjoy!
Robert Johnson - Me and the Devil Blues
"In a way, the world-view of the Party imposed itself most successfully on people incapable of understanding it. They could be made to accept the most flagrant violations of reality, because they never fully grasped the enormity of what was demanded of them, and were not sufficiently interested in public events to notice what was happening. By lack of understanding they remained sane. They simply swallowed everything, and what they swallowed did them no harm, because it left no residue behind, just as a grain of corn will pass undigested through the body of a bird."
-- George Orwell
News and Opinion
Chelsea Manning — whistleblower, former U.S. Army intelligence analyst, transgender icon — was just released from prison 28 years ahead of schedule.
In the early hours of Wednesday morning, Manning left Kansas’ Fort Leavenworth military barracks after serving several years of a 35-year sentence for committing espionage by leaking thousands of sensitive military documents to WikiLeaks. As one of President Barack Obama’s last acts in office, he commuted Manning’s sentence in January.
Manning, 29, will remain a special active duty soldier while appealing a separate court martial conviction within the Army. If her appeal is denied, she risks dishonorable discharge from the military. While still in the Army, Manning won’t be paid but will receive military medical care — which will likely include the gender-affirming surgery that the Army agreed to pay for last September after her doctor recommended it in April 2016. ...
Details of where Manning intends to settle remain scant, but a GoFundMe raising money for her release notes she plans to return to Maryland, where her aunt and beloved cat, Belle, live. So far, supporters have raised more than $150,000 to help her rebuild her life.
As Chelsea Manning is finally released from a grueling, draconian imprisonment in which she was literally tortured by her own government for revealing the truth about its war crimes, I think it would be good for us all to keep at the front of our minds exactly what this heroic individual has been through. ... Chelsea Manning was tortured. Studies have shown that fifteen days of solitary confinement causes permanent psychological damage, and Manning was in solitary confinement for nearly a year. United Nations special rapporteur on torture Juan E. Mendez stated unequivocally that Manning’s treatment was “cruel, inhuman and degrading,” and 295 legal scholars signed a letter declaring that she was being “detained under degrading and inhumane conditions that are illegal and immoral.”
Chelsea Manning was tortured, as surely as if they’d strapped her down and gone to work on her with fire and steel. As a result of the trauma they inflicted upon her, she attempted suicide last July. To punish her for her attempt to end her misery, they tortured her some more. She attempted suicide again in October.
We should also keep in mind that the horrors which were unleashed upon Manning are still bullets in the chamber ready to be fired at the next brave soul who steps forward in a desperate attempt to rescue humanity from its madness. The current administration is showing no more signs of human decency when it comes to whistleblowers than the previous administration. ... So feel free to point this out whenever you hear anyone smearing people like Julian Assange or Edward Snowden for “hiding away” and “evading justice”. They are not evading justice, they are evading torture, just as you or I or anyone else would, and they are right to do so. When you say that these people should turn themselves in, you are literally calling for someone to be tortured, because that is what your government does to people who tell the truth.
President Trump asked the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, to shut down the federal investigation into Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, in an Oval Office meeting in February, according to a memo Mr. Comey wrote shortly after the meeting.
“I hope you can let this go,” the president told Mr. Comey, according to the memo.
The documentation of Mr. Trump’s request is the clearest evidence that the president has tried to directly influence the Justice Department and F.B.I. investigation into links between Mr. Trump’s associates and Russia. Late Tuesday, Representative Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the House Oversight Committee, demanded that the F.B.I. turn over all “memoranda, notes, summaries and recordings” of discussions between Mr. Trump and Mr. Comey. ...
Mr. Comey wrote the memo detailing his conversation with the president immediately after the meeting, which took place the day after Mr. Flynn resigned, according to two people who read the memo. It was part of a paper trail Mr. Comey created documenting what he perceived as the president’s improper efforts to influence a continuing investigation. An F.B.I. agent’s contemporaneous notes are widely held up in court as credible evidence of conversations.
Continue reading the main story
Mr. Comey shared the existence of the memo with senior F.B.I. officials and close associates. The New York Times has not viewed a copy of the memo, which is unclassified, but one of Mr. Comey’s associates read parts of it to a Times reporter.
FBI source says the FBI will now start leaking leaking like Niagara. But please FBI friends full docs or you know the press will spin it!
— Julian Assange (@JulianAssange) May 9, 2017
Democrats may not control Congress or the White House, but emboldened by the flood of recent controversies enveloping the Trump administration, they currently have all the swagger in the nation’s capital.
That swagger was on full display Tuesday at the Center for American Progress (CAP) Ideas Conference, which brought together many of the country’s most powerful Democrats — several of whom are weighing presidential runs in 2020 — to discuss fighting Trump, capitalizing on his missteps, and prospects for the 2018 and 2020 elections.
“People have dusted themselves off,” former Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta told VICE News. “After slowing down [Trump’s] health care bill and now people feeling like Trump both is impulsive and increasingly ineffective, I think people are sensing that they have the ability to affect the course of events even though he has the power that a president has in so many matters.” ...
Capitalizing on Trump’s missteps alone, however, won’t help Democrats come to understand the populist wave that helped define and determine the election last year, and which shows no signs of slowing down. An ABC News/Washington Post poll in April showed that 67 percent of Americans feel the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of most Americans, compared to 58 percent who felt similarly about Trump.
The speeches and panels at CAP championed progressive policies on health care, drug policy, money in politics, and the environment. But impossible to ignore was the fact that the event was held at the Washington, D.C. Four Seasons.
Prof. Robert English, who worked for the U. S. Department of Defense, tells Paul Jay that a deep Russophobia and the interests of the military industrial complex are driving the permanent state to exaggerate the significance of Trump's transgressions so they can torpedo a more rational approach to U.S. Russia relations
Tuesday night, impeachment talk ramped up significantly following a New York Times report that Trump had asked then-FBI Director James Comey to drop a federal investigation into former national security adviser Mike Flynn. Now more Democrats than ever are beginning to both publicly and privately float the idea of ousting President Donald Trump and moving Vice President Mike Pence into the Oval Office. ...
The total number of Democratic lawmakers floating impeachment remains small but could grow if impeachment becomes a purity test in next year’s 2018 elections. With powerful and angry progressive activists demanding their representatives oust the president, many Democrats in congress may feel compelled to also call for impeachment if for no other reason than to avoid a primary challenge in 2018.
But there are hazards for Democrats in making this an issue. There are reasons to believe, for example, that impeachment would not be as strong an issue for Democrats as if they focused on the unpopular Trumpcare health bill which is polling in the 20’s and 30’s and now moving through the Senate.
Rep. Al Green, a Democrat from Texas, took to the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday morning to formally call for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Here are the acts committed by the president that, when combined, merit his being charged (impeached) for obstructing a lawful investigation:
- The president fired the FBI director overseeing a lawful investigation of the president's campaign ties to Russian influence in the president's 2016 election.
- The president acknowledged he considered the investigation when he fired the FBI Director.
- The president made the FBI director the subject of a threatening tweet—"James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press."
These acts, when combined, amount to intimidation and obstruction.
The lawmaker said he has not spoken to other members of Congress about his call.
Israeli intelligence officers are “boiling mad and demanding answers” after President Trump reportedly shared classified information from Israel with Russia, according to a new report.
Two Israeli intelligence officers confirmed to BuzzFeed Tuesday that Israel had shared specific intelligence with the U.S. about Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) plots to smuggle explosive laptops onto planes.
"We have an arrangement with America which is unique to the world of intelligence sharing," one intelligence officer told BuzzFeed. "We do not have this relationship with any other country."
"To know that this intelligence is shared with others, without our prior knowledge? That is, for us, our worst fears confirmed," the officer added.
Donald Trump and the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, have spoken by telephone amid an escalating row over the US president’s sharing of highly sensitive intelligence with Russia, reportedly supplied by Israel. The intelligence breach is the latest drama to affect Trump’s visit to Israel and the Middle East next week, although a spokesman for Netanyahu insisted the 20-minute call – initially not publicised – concerned only details of Trump’s trip.
The confirmation of the call came after the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, offered to hand over records of Trump’s talks with the Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, to the US Congress. He dismissed the scandal over the intelligence-sharing as “schizophrenia”.
US officials say Trump shared details about an Islamic State terror threat related to the use of laptop computers on aircraft with Lavrov and Russia’s ambassador to the US, Sergey Kislyak. US media outlets including the New York Times reported on Tuesday that the US ally that supplied the intelligence – on the understanding it not be shared – was Israel.
An Israeli minister called for the assassination of Syrian President Bashar Assad on Tuesday, saying he “does not have a place in this world.”
Speaking at a conference outside Jerusalem, Housing and Construction Minister Yoav Galant, a retired IDF general, said that in light of recent allegations that Assad’s regime carried out mass executions and burned the bodies of the victims, he had to be killed. ...
Galant likened the assassination of Assad to cutting off the “tail of the snake.” After that, he said, “we can focus on the head, which is in Tehran.”
In a conversation with The Times of Israel after his speech, Galant stood by his comments.
He acknowledged that targeted political assassinations are considered illegal under international law, but clarified that he “wasn’t speaking about practicalities.”
Yesterday’s allegations from the US State Department that Syria had built a large crematorium outside of Damascus and was using it to mass cremate the detainees they also claim Syria to be mass executing came with a conspicuous lack of evidence for any of the assertions, boiling down to satellite images of the outside of the putative crematorium.
Syria’s Foreign Ministry has now issued a statement insisting the US allegations, which again weren’t based on any evidence, weren’t true at all, both denying that they are mass executing prisoners and that they are cremating this huge number of bodies being alleged.
State Department officials making the allegations yesterday conceded that the timing was primarily related to the recent visit of Russia’s Foreign Minister to the US, and followed it by claiming Russia must be “endorsing” the killings that they offered no evidence were happening in the first place.
A runaway strain of malware hit Windows computers Friday and spread through the weekend, rendering hundreds of thousands of computers around the world more or less useless. The big twist: The virus was made possible by U.S. government hackers at the National Security Agency. But the finger-pointing won’t stop there, and it probably shouldn’t. ...
In an unusually bold and forthright post by president Brad Smith, the company called out the NSA by name for not just creating, but “stockpiling” — and then, like Cyber Frankenstein, losing all control over — the attacks that made WannaCry possible:
This is an emerging pattern in 2017. We have seen vulnerabilities stored by the CIA show up on WikiLeaks, and now this vulnerability stolen from the NSA has affected customers around the world. Repeatedly, exploits in the hands of governments have leaked into the public domain and caused widespread damage. An equivalent scenario with conventional weapons would be the U.S. military having some of its Tomahawk missiles stolen. And this most recent attack represents a completely unintended but disconcerting link between the two most serious forms of cybersecurity threats in the world today – nation-state action and organized criminal action.
Every software weakness the NSA (or CIA, or FBI) decides to use for itself in total secrecy is necessarily one it won’t share with a company like Microsoft so that it can write and release a software update to keep its customers safe. ...
Some of the NSA’s defenders are quick to blame computer owners and IT administrators for not keeping their software current, but less likely to blame Microsoft for writing insecure code, alienating customers with shoddy operating systems and planned obsolescence, or dropping support for older OSes still in wide use. (The fact that Microsoft did actually release a WannaCry security patch for Windows XP over the weekend shows that it’s entirely possible to make old software safer). It can’t be overstated that the choice to let older versions of Windows lapse into a condition of permanent insecurity is as much a business strategy as an engineering decision, and one that leaves Microsoft customers in the lurch when something like WannaCry breaks loose.
Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, put on a brave face after his White House meeting with Donald Trump, but there was no concealing that he had come away empty-handed. For this disappointing result Erdogan can blame, among others, Vladimir Putin. ...
Ignoring his own state department, Trump stayed silent on Turkey’s poor human rights record, which deteriorated sharply after last July’s failed army coup. He promised to press ahead with US arms sales to Turkey, a Nato member. “We’ve had a great relationship and we will make it even better,” he said. But Erdogan’s insistence that the US end its support for and supply of weapons to the YPG, the Syrian Kurdish militia that Turkey says is in league with the separatist PKK, was firmly rebuffed. Turkey’s repeated threats to close its Incirlik airbase to US aircraft and launch more raids across the Syrian border cut no ice, as the Pentagon sees the Syrian Kurds as an effective and dependable ally against Islamic State.
Erdogan’s demand that the US extradite Fethullah Gülen, the US-based cleric whom Erdogan blames for the coup, also fell on deaf ears. The best he could get on Gülen was a promise to examine “possible steps”. In short, Erdogan was outgunned. This was in large part because any hopes the Turkish leader had of US movement on the Syrian-Kurdish issue had already been dashed by Putin the day before. Speaking in Beijing, the Russian president’s position appeared identical to Trump’s. His message to Turkey was the same: don’t mess with us in Syria. “As the Kurdish factor is a real factor in the situation in Syria and Kurdish armed formations are taking part in combat operations against Isis and are among the most combat efficient units, we consider it right to maintain working contacts with them,” Putin declared.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s White House visit Tuesday was overshadowed by dramatic scenes of violence as his bodyguards clashed with protesters at the Turkish ambassador’s residence in the U.S. capital shortly afterwards.
According to reports from witnesses, the brawl erupted when members of Erdogan’s security detail attacked protesters outside the residence who were carrying the flag of the Syrian Kurdish PYD party, which Turkey views as a terrorist group affiliated with banned Kurdish separatists in Turkey. Local media reported that Erdogan was in the building at the time.
Metropolitan Police Department spokesman Dustin Sternbeck said two people were arrested, including one who was charged with assaulting a police officer, and nine people were injured. It is unclear whether any of Erdogan’s entourage were arrested. A D.C. Fire and EMS spokesman said two of the victims suffered serious injuries.
The violent clash was soon a trending topic on Twitter, prompting outrage at the flagrant display of abuse by the entourage of a visiting foreign head of state.
When Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell just days after a Texas state trooper pulled her over for a traffic stop last July, her death sparked national outrage and became a rallying cry for the Black Lives Matter movement. So earlier this year, Texas lawmakers named a sweeping criminal justice reform bill in Bland’s honor — but her family says the Sandra Bland Act, finally passed by the Senate last week in a revised version largely stripped of those reforms, is “gut-wrenching.” ...
Originally, the Sandra Bland Act sought to enact drastic changes to improve police accountability and fight racial profiling. It proposed banning both so-called pretext stops, when officers use minor reasons to stop people suspected of a different offense, and consent searches, which are conducted without a warrant but after officers get permission from the subject. It also included provisions for data collection on both policing tactics, among other initiatives.
State Sen. John Whitmire, who did not return VICE News’ request for comment, told the Associated Press that the act was now “a mental health and awareness piece of legislation,” as it increases inmates’ access to mental health care and mandates that jailers receive mental health and de-escalation training.
Texas State Representative Garnet Coleman, who introduced the Sandra Bland Act this legislative session, compared the galvanization in Texas around his act to the feeling that fueled the James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Act, named for an East Texas man who was chained to a pickup truck and dragged to death by three white men in 1998. But law enforcement organizations and Republicans objected to the original version of the Sandra Bland Act, Coleman said, and so the Texas House of Representatives version of the bill languished in committee. The Senate ultimately passed the bill last week, but only after most of the law enforcement reform measures were taken out.
Leading watchdog groups are opposing the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA), which is set to be voted on in committee Wednesday, over fears that the bill would make it even harder for federal agencies to manage safeguards for workers, consumers, and the environment.
The RAA, sponsored by Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), would require offices to adopt the most "cost-effective" standards for corporations, which the consumer group U.S. PIRG warned Tuesday are undefined and impossible to meet, and replaces the current rule-making process with other procedures that opponents say are meant to bog down the agencies with red tape while big businesses evade accountability.
"Agencies already are required to address every single benefit-cost and other requirement in this bill," said Ed Mierzwinski, the Consumer Program director at U.S. PIRG. "So let's be very clear that the real purpose of the RAA is to put a full stop to agency efforts to protect consumers, workers, and the environment from health, safety, and financial threats."
Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) Policy Center added, "This bill reveals a willingness to place corporate concerns ahead of the American people. The purpose of regulations is to keep workers safe, protect consumers, and safeguard the environment. This bill is a chance for members of Congress to show whose side they are on."
Steve Mnuchin’s Old Company Just Settled for $89 Million for Ripping Off the Government on Dodgy Loans
For four years during Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s tenure as Chairman of OneWest Bank, its reverse mortgage subsidiary Financial Freedom ripped off the government by receiving unlawful federal insurance payments on reverse mortgages, according to an $89 million Justice Department settlement made public today.
Financial Freedom serviced thousands of government-insured reverse mortgages from 2011 to 2016. According to the settlement, the company repeatedly filed insurance claims with the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), and received interest payments, without following program guidelines. This gave Financial Freedom a critical backstop for reverse mortgages that often harmed borrowers. ...
Misconduct stemming from Mnuchin’s OneWest tenure has dogged the Treasury Secretary since President Trump nominated him last November. Prosecutors in the California Attorney General’s office recommended suing OneWest over widespread violations of state foreclosure practices. And numerous foreclosure victims have accused OneWest of treating them unfairly and wrongfully foreclosing on their homes. ...
Some of the worst horror stories about OneWest’s foreclosure practices involve Financial Freedom reverse mortgages. 103-year-old Myrtle Lewis slipped into foreclosure after a one-month lapse in homeowner’s insurance coverage. A 92-year-old widow from Florida was evicted over a 27-cent underpayment.
Clinton on Monday announced the launch of Onward Together, a political action organization dedicated to supporting progressive causes, ending months of speculation about whether the vanquished presidential nominee would return to political life.
“From the Women’s March to airports where communities are welcoming immigrants and refugees to town hall meetings in every community, Americans are speaking up and speaking out like never before,” Clinton wrote in an email to supporters.
“The challenges we face as a country are real. But there’s no telling what we can achieve if we approach the fights ahead with the passion and determination we feel today, and bring that energy into 2017, 2018, 2020, and beyond. Onward!” ...
On Twitter, Clinton said Onward Together would start by supporting a handful of liberal organizations, including the prominent Swing Left and Indivisible, which are Democratic groups focused on winning the House in the 2018 midterms. She also cited Color of Change, which is focused on criminal justice reform, Emerge America, which trains Democratic women to run for office, and Run for Something, which helps recruit and support millennials running in down-ballot races.
Larry Krasner, the most progressive candidate in Philadelphia's seven-way Democratic primary election for District Attorney, won the race Tuesday in what supporters call "a revolution."
Krasner ran on an unprecedented campaign to end mass incarceration and stand up for people's civil rights and liberties.
A civil rights and criminal defense attorney, Krasner told The Intercept that "the criminal justice system systemically picks on poor people, and those people, at least in Philadelphia, are overwhelmingly black and brown people." During his career, Krasner has sued the Philadelphia Police Department no less than 75 times.
Krasner campaigned for DA with promises to end cash bail and not to lock up non-violent arrestees who don't pose a threat to their communities. He has also pledged "to never seek capital punishment while working to end bail policies that lock up people for being poor, an asset-forfeiture program that has been a national disgrace, and stop-and-frisk searches that disproportionately target non-whites," observed local op-ed columnist Will Bunch for philly.com.
In campaign ads, local Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matter activists—many of whom had been defended by Krasner in court—spoke out in support of Krasner's DA campaign.
A pesticide that was set to be banned before the Trump administration reversed course has been blamed for causing sickness to nearly 50 farm workers who were exposed to the chemical in California.
Spraying of Vulcan, a brand name chemical, on an orchard southwest of Bakersfield led to the pesticide drifting to a neighboring property operated by Dan Andrews Farms. A total of 47 farm workers were harvesting cabbage at the time and subsequently complained of a bad odor, nausea and vomiting. One was taken to hospital with four other workers visiting doctors in the following days.
Glenn Fankhauser, agricultural commissioner of Kern County, said samples of cabbage and clothing have been taken to the state lab for testing. The tests are still underway to confirm the cause but the primary ingredient of Vulcan is chlorpyrifos, a toxic pesticide that was on course to be banned by the Obama administration before the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decided against implementing a ban in March.
Dan Andrews, who runs the eponymous farm, said he doesn’t use chlorpyrifos despite it apparently infecting his workers. “Unfortunately the wind moved it onto us, I’m not quite sure how it happened, thank God everyone’s OK,” he told Guardian US. “There were quite a few people feeling sick, some of them vomited, so we shut down the harvest.
Cocaine traffickers attempting to launder their profits are responsible for the disappearance of millions of acres of tropical forest across large swaths of Central America, according to a report. The study, published on Tuesday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, found that drug trafficking was responsible for up to 30% of annual deforestation in Nicaragua, Honduras and Guatemala, turning biodiverse forest into agricultural land.
The study’s lead author, Dr Steven Sesnie from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, said: “Most of the ‘narco-driven’ deforestation we identified happened in biodiverse moist forest areas, and around 30-60% of the annual loss happened within established protected areas, threatening conservation efforts to maintain forest carbon sinks, ecological services, and rural and indigenous livelihoods.” ...
“As the drugs move north their value increases and the traffickers and cartels are looking for ways to move this money into the legal economy. Purchasing forest and turning it into agricultural land is one of the main ways they do that,” said Sesnie.
Former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship was released last week from prison after serving one year for his role in a deadly mine explosion that killed 29, and one of his first acts after being released was to appeal to President Donald Trump for more lenient laws to protect "frightened" coal executives such as himself from prosecution.
In the letter Blankenship published online Tuesday, the disgraced CEO writes: "Coal supervisors are not criminals, and the laws they work under today are already frightening enough for them. More onerous criminal laws will not improve mine safety."
Blankenship specifically complains about legislation proposed by Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.) that would increase criminal liability for coal mine operators.
Under the laws currently in place, Blankenship was sentenced to only a year in prison, despite being found guilty for conspiring to evade mine safety laws in the wake of the Upper Big Branch (UBB) mine explosion that caused 29 deaths in 2010. The single year in prison was the maximum allowable sentence.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Robert Johnson - Kind Hearted Woman Blues
Robert Johnson - Hellhound on my Trail
Robert Johnson - Come on in my Kitchen
Robert Johnson - Crossroad Blues
Robert Johnson - I Believe I'll Dust My Broom
Robert Johnson - Love In Vain
Robert Johnson - Travelling Riverside Blues
Robert Johnson - If I Had Possession Over Judgment Day
Robert Johnson - They are Red Hot