The Evening Blues - 5-18-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues saxophone player A.C. Reed. Enjoy!
A.C. Reed - Reedman's Boogie!
"Fast and furiously, in the course of a single news cycle, the game has changed: Donald Trump has been accused of betraying Israel. Impeachment is possible."
-- Jim Kavanaugh
News and Opinion
Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein today announced the appointment of former Department of Justice official and FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to serve as Special Counsel to oversee the previously-confirmed FBI investigation of Russian government efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election and related matters.
“In my capacity as acting Attorney General, I determined that it is in the public interest for me to exercise my authority and appoint a Special Counsel to assume responsibility for this matter,” said Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein. “My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination. What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances, the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command.”
Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein added, “Each year, the career professionals of the U.S. Department of Justice conduct tens of thousands of criminal investigations and handle countless other matters without regard to partisan political considerations. I have great confidence in the independence and integrity of our people and our processes. Considering the unique circumstances of this matter, however, I determined that a Special Counsel is necessary in order for the American people to have full confidence in the outcome. Our nation is grounded on the rule of law, and the public must be assured that government officials administer the law fairly. Special Counsel Mueller will have all appropriate resources to conduct a thorough and complete investigation, and I am confident that he will follow the facts, apply the law and reach a just result.”
Special Counsel Mueller has agreed to resign from his private law firm in order to avoid any conflicts of interest with firm clients or attorneys.
By now, everyone has heard the blockbuster news that Trump allegedly asked the FBI director, James Comey, to drop the Michael Flynn investigation. But buried deep inside in the the New York Times story was another bombshell that was just as important: Trump reportedly urged Comey to jail journalists who publish classified information.
Tied to this disturbing news was another story that didn’t get enough attention last week amongst the chaos: the Washington Post reported multiple times that part of the reason Trump fired Comey was that he was incensed that the FBI was not being more aggressive in investigating leaks coming out of his administration. Apparently, Trump was even insisting at one point that the FBI needed to go after leaks about non-classified information (which is not a crime by anyone’s standards).
Given how much the media has hampered his administration, Trump’s goal seems to be to snuff it out any way possible. In retrospect, it’s almost amusing that so much ink was spilled on Trump’s now notorious contention he was going to “open up” libel laws to sue newspapers that wrote stories about him he didn’t like. This was always a red herring. After all, there are no federal libel laws to “open up”. The real danger, which got far less attention, was that Trump might use the draconian 100-year-old Espionage Act to target reporters with prosecution for publishing classified information. Less than six months into his presidency, we now have reason to believe this is a distinct possibility.
The Espionage Act is blatantly unconstitutional, which is part of the reason why every justice department in modern history has avoided reaching the point of prosecution against a newspaper. ... Many lawyers have believed the law would be struck down if a prosecution ever took place, but it’s not exactly a chance anyone wants to take. Just by bringing a prosecution without conviction, Trump can surely halt an untold number of stories that come right up to the line.
Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.
The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia's ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.
Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said. ...
The people who described the contacts to Reuters said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far. But the disclosure could increase the pressure on Trump and his aides to provide the FBI and Congress with a full account of interactions with Russian officials and others with links to the Kremlin during and immediately after the 2016 election.
Just one day after national security adviser Michael Flynn resigned his post in February amid an outcry over his ties to Russia, President Donald Trump reportedly called ex-FBI Director James Comey into the Oval Office with a request. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to a memo that Comey allegedly wrote right after the meeting, which was uncovered Tuesday by the New York Times and whose existence VICE News has confirmed. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” ...
The main question facing those seeking impeachment, legal analysts say, is determining whether Trump acted with intent. According to the U.S. Attorneys’ Manual, the government must show that Trump “corruptly endeavored to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law.” And that could be difficult. “Everything depends on intent, and it seems unlikely,” says Michael McConnell, director of the Constitutional Law Center at Stanford Law School. But he added, “When I say unlikely, I don’t mean impossible.”
Ironically, while Trump’s shifting explanations into why he fired Comey last week have damaged his credibility and that of his officials, these inconsistencies could actually help his case against obstruction because they mean “proving [Trump’s] precise mind beyond a reasonable doubt might be very tricky,” writers at the Lawfare blog point out.
While Comey is now positioned for history to remember him as the cop who took down Trump, or tried to at great professional expense, there should be wariness about lionizing Comey in the way the news media have in recent days. Under Comey, the FBI pushed investigative and surveillance powers to new and controversial limits and employed tactics that were morally and ethically bankrupt.
In short, Comey’s FBI did some terrible things.
In an effort to stop terrorist attacks before they happen, Comey expanded the practice instituted by his predecessor, Robert Mueller, to use undercover agents and informants to catch would-be attackers in sting operations. These stings never caught terrorists on the eve of their attack. Notably, the FBI twice investigated Omar Mateen, the Orlando nightclub shooter who killed 49 people and wounded 53 others while claiming allegiance to ISIS in a 911 call, but did not deem him a threat. At the same time, Comey’s FBI agents aided in the prosecution of Sami Osmakac, a Florida man caught in a sting operation, despite having called him in private conversations a “retarded fool.” They also busted penniless, mentally ill homeless men who claimed to be associating with ISIS. In one of those cases, an informant even gave a homeless man $40 so he could purchase the machete and knives he needed for his supposed plot. To catch a lonely Michigan man, the FBI used two female informants to set up a honeypot, in which the FBI informants claimed to be in love with the target so as to manipulate him. The target, in turn, claimed to have an AK-47 and to have attempted to travel to Syria. But it turned out he was just saying all that to impress the ladies.
When the FBI busted the dark web child-porn site Playpen, agents did not shut down the enterprise, going against previous FBI policy. In investigations of child pornography under Mueller, the FBI shut down child-porn websites immediately, believing that allowing distribution of the images and videos would further victimize the children who had been exploited. Comey’s FBI continued to operate Playpen for nearly two weeks in an effort to surreptitiously install tracking software on the computers of its users; child pornography was available from FBI servers during this period of time.
Just days before his firing, Comey testified before Congress that one-half of all smartphone and computer devices analyzed by the FBI can’t be examined “with any technique” due to encryption. During his tenure, Comey worked aggressively to give the FBI access to encrypted devices. Notably, Comey battled in court with Apple over the tech company’s unwillingness to help unlock the iPhone of one of the San Bernardino shooters. The FBI later paid a hacker somewhere in the neighborhood of $1 million to help unlock the phone. At the time, Comey told a House committee: “There is no such thing as absolute privacy in America.”
It was never written down and never given a name, but France had a detailed plan to “protect the Republic” if far right leader Marine Le Pen was elected president, French media have reported. “It was like a multi-stage rocket,” an unnamed senior official told l’Obs magazine. “The philosophy, and the absolute imperative, was to keep the peace, while also respecting our constitutional rules.” ...
L’Obs cited three anonymous sources with knowledge of the emergency plan that would have been put into effect had Le Pen reached the Elysée palace, saying it was devised by a small group of ministers, chiefs of staff and top civil servants. The magazine said the plan was aimed mainly at preventing serious civil unrest and “freezing” the political situation by convening parliament in emergency session and maintaining the outgoing prime minister in office.
Police and intelligence services were particularly concerned by the threat of “extreme violence” from mainly far left protesters in the event of a Le Pen victory as the country would have found itself “on the brink of chaos”. Even before the first round of voting on 23 April, a confidential note drawn up by the intelligence services announced that “without exception, every local public safety directorate has expressed its concern”, Le Parisien reported.
According to l’Obs, the emergency plan also called for parliament to be convened in emergency session on 11 May, four days after the second round, to address the predicted “national crisis” precipitated by Le Pen’s election.
So, you don't suppose that we are watching the unfolding of a similar, American contingency plan to "protect" the "republic" if Trump came to power?
Onward Together, Hillary Clinton’s new political organization, seeks to capitalise upon widespread opposition to the Trump administration. In announcing the group on Monday, Clinton described a vision of a clearing house for coordinating millions of people participating in protests, fundraising, and campaigning. In other words, it’s the latest attempt to corral mass direct action into avenues that are acceptable to the Democratic party. ...
Onward Together’s website cynically alludes to recent mass actions, but it should be remembered that these were not the products of Democratic leadership. Nor have we heard prominent Democrats calling for the dismissal of felony riot charges for protesters swept up in mass arrests during demonstrations against Trump’s inauguration. Clinton has not joined in the blockades of Immigration and Customs Enforcement vehicles and detention centers. Democratic politicians have been more eager to defend authoritarian institutions like the FBI than to call for anti-racist action against white supremacy.
The Democrats remain the party of centrism and managerialism in American politics. They are not – and will not be – the representatives of popular discontent. Entrusting a Democratic operation like Onward Together with influence over collective action could only serve to blunt its radicalism. Of the goals and projects that Clinton listed on Monday, most were connected either to the 2018 midterms or to fundraising. It’s clear that Onward Together will mainly be an electioneering tool for the Democrats. But staking the project of fighting Trump, and all he represents, on the electoral fortunes of the Democratic party would be a profound mistake, no matter how vulnerable he may appear to be. ...
Fortunately, other tools are available for us to use, and we don’t need Clinton’s help to use them. Direct action has demonstrated its use in resisting Trump, and it is needed all the more in the continuing struggles against domination and exploitation. It is by making demands, putting pressure on institutions, and making ourselves heard in the streets that we will continue the fight – not by giving money to the Democratic party.
An interesting article detailing US-led attempts to partition Syria. Here's a taste:
Back in February, it was quietly reported that the CIA had discontinued its support program to rebels in Syria. A month later, a knowledgeable source from the region disclosed to me that the Trump administration and the Saudi defense minister, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, had agreed during their meetings in mid-March for the Gulf states to re-open supply channels to their rebel proxies. This was done, the source said, to keep the Syrian government’s army and its allied Russian air force occupied so that the U.S. and its Kurdish allies could continue dividing northern Syria, establishing a zone-of-influence throughout the lands they recapture from the Islamic State.
Concurrent with this was a similar effort in the southeast, where U.S. and Jordanian backed forces have been battling ISIS while attempting to establish control over the border with Iraq. The strategy was to use the fight against ISIS as a pretext for establishing a de-facto occupation of Syrian territory, where in the Kurdish-held regions the U.S. has already established multiple military bases and airfields. A major motivation behind Russia’s push to establish de-escalation zones, now implemented after a deal was reached with Iran and Turkey, was to free up the Syrian army and Russian air force to launch operations eastward against ISIS and counter the US efforts.
After the agreement came into effect the Syrian army began operations aimed at reaching the Iraqi border at the al-Tanaf crossing along the Damascus-Baghdad highway and to recapture the ISIS-stronghold of Deir Ezzor further north. Both the U.S. and Syria have voiced intentions of taking Deir Ezzor, which is home to strategic oil resources, yet now because of the de-escalation agreement it is highly improbable that the U.S. will be able to stop Syria and Russia from taking the city.
The parallel measures by the U.S. and Russia signify a race between the two major powers to capture as much territory as possible from the Islamic State before the other side is able to do so. Under the guise of “defeating ISIS,” both powers are essentially carving out their own spheres of influence throughout the country, dividing it between U.S.- and Russian-backed regions, leading to an inevitable showdown between the two sides over the fate of the country and its territorial integrity.
As a presidential candidate, [Donald Trump] spent much of the election campaign needling, critiquing, denouncing and even threatening the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Yet as president, he is making his first foreign visit this weekend to … the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. ...
Trump, to put it mildly, is no stranger to the shameless U-turn. Still, the Trump Turnabout on Saudi Arabia — one of America’s closest allies since President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with King Abdul Aziz ibn Saud aboard the USS Murphy in 1945 — is a true sight to behold. ... There will be handshakes, hugs and smiles galore. We will be expected to forget how Trump blasted the Saudi royals for being freeloaders and threatened them with an economic boycott. ... We will be also expected to ignore the fact that Trump slammed the Saudi government for executing homosexuals and treating women “horribly.” ...
Perhaps above all else, we will be expected to brush under the carpet the fact that, twice in a single day, Trump accused Saudi Arabia of being behind the 9/11 attacks. ...
To be clear: Trump’s U-turn on Saudi Arabia has little to do with being moderated by the realities of high office or swayed by the Beltway’s foreign policy elites. Despite his bombastic campaign rhetoric, he never planned to go after the Saudis in office — even after publicly accusing them of murdering 3,000 Americans. Early on in the campaign, in 2015, a senior Arab diplomat told me, on condition of anonymity, that Trump had informed most of the Gulf governments, in private, that his anti-Muslim and anti-Arab rhetoric was “all for the campaign” and that it would be business as usual once he was elected (or, for that matter, defeated).
When President Trump arrives in Riyadh this week, he will lay out his vision for a new regional security architecture White House officials call an “Arab NATO,” to guide the fight against terrorism and push back against Iran. As a cornerstone of the plan, Trump will also announce one of the largest arms-sales deals in history.
Behind the scenes, the Trump administration and Saudi Arabia have been conducting extensive negotiations, led by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The discussions began shortly after the presidential election, when Mohammed, known in Washington as “MBS,” sent a delegation to meet with Kushner and other Trump officials at Trump Tower. ...
In that meeting and during a follow-up meeting three weeks later, the Saudis proposed a broad elevation of the U.S.-Saudi relationship and proposed various projects to increase security cooperation, economic cooperation and investment, White House officials said. The Trump team gave the Saudis a list of Trump priorities, calling on the kingdom to step up actions to combat radical Islamic extremism, intensify the fight against the Islamic State and share the burden of regional security. ...
The idea of an “Arab NATO” has been bandied about for years — and has always had strong Saudi support — but until now was never openly endorsed by the U.S. government. Officials said the concept fits three major tenets of Trump’s “America First” foreign-policy frame: asserting more American leadership in the region, shifting the financial burden of security to allies and providing for U.S. jobs at home (through the massive arms sales).
Nick Turse has an excellent article up at VICE about the US Special Operations war in Africa, with material gleaned from FOIA requests. Here's the intro:
Six years ago, a deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Special Operations Command gave a conservative estimate of 116 missions being carried out at any one time by Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and other special operations forces across the globe.
Today, according to U.S. military documents obtained by VICE News, special operators are carrying out nearly 100 missions at any one time — in Africa alone. It’s the latest sign of the military’s quiet but ever-expanding presence on the continent, one that represents the most dramatic growth in the deployment of America’s elite troops to any region of the globe.
In 2006, just 1 percent of all U.S. commandos deployed overseas were in Africa. In 2010, it was 3 percent. By 2016, that number had jumped to more than 17 percent. In fact, according to data supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command, there are now more special operations personnel devoted to Africa than anywhere but the Middle East — 1,700 people spread out across 20 countries dedicated to assisting the U.S. military’s African partners in their fight against terrorism and extremism.
“At any given time, you will find SOCAFRICA conducting approximately 96 activities in 20 countries,” Donald Bolduc, the U.S. Army general who runs the special operations command in Africa (SOCAFRICA), wrote in an October 2016 strategic planning guidance report. ... At the same time, Bolduc says that the U.S. is not at war in Africa. But this assertion is challenged by the ongoing operations aimed at the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia, which operates often in all-but ungoverned and extraordinarily complex areas Bolduc calls “gray zones.”
Angry crowds and outraged members of Brazil’s congress have demanded the impeachment of President Michel Temer following reports he was secretly recorded discussing hush money pay-offs to a jailed associate. The tapes were presented to prosecutors as part of a plea bargain by Joesley and Wesley Batista, brothers who run the country’s biggest meat-packing firm JBS, according to O Globo newspaper. They are said to contain conversations that incriminate several leading politicians, including the former presidential candidate Aecio Neves and the former finance minister Guido Mantega.
Temer is alleged to have talked with Joesley about cash payments to Eduardo Cunha, the former speaker of the House who has been jailed for his role in the sprawling Petrobras corruption scandal. Cunha is in the same ruling Brazilian Democratic Movement party as Temer and initiated the impeachment of Dilma Rousseff that allowed him to take over the presidency. He has alluded to the many secrets he knows about his former colleagues.
In covert recordings made during two conversations in March, Joesley tells Temer he is paying Cunha to keep him quiet, to which the president allegedly replies: “You have to keep it going, OK?”
According to Globo, police also have audio and video evidence that Temer’s aide Rocha Loures negotiated bribes worth 500,000 reais (US$160,000) a week for 20 years in return for helping JBS overcome a problem with the fair trade office.
Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai is set to meet with FCC commissioners Thursday to discuss the deregulation of the internet. ... A former lawyer for Verizon, Pai wants to abolish the 2015 FCC decision to regulate internet providers as utilities under what’s known as Title II regulation; instead, he believes the Federal Trade Commission should enforce the principles of an “open internet.” But the FTC can only enforce rules, not write them, and experts say it won’t be able to provide a meaningful deterrence to internet providers looking to control what users access online. ...
Pai’s proposed net neutrality reforms amount to a regulatory “punt” to Congress, says Mozilla Foundation Executive Director Mark Surman, who is one of the tech-industry leaders at the forefront of the net neutrality fight. Here’s why Surman thinks so: Pai doesn’t think the FCC has the authority to regulate internet providers under Title II, believing instead that Congress needs to draft a law to either give the FCC this authority, or create a new entity altogether.
“You could say Pai is almost forcing Congress’ hand,” said Hal Singer, a Title II critic and senior fellow at the George Washington Institute for Public Policy who has discussed net neutrality with Pai and congressional Republicans. “If he takes away [the Title II rules], then Congress, if they are interested in regulating this space,” would have to craft legislation establishing who or what can write and enforce rules.
But Congress is so gridlocked that the chance of this happening are virtually nil, a fact Pai is presumably aware of. And so absent congressionally granted authority, the FTC can only enforce violations of open internet “principles,” which aren’t the same as actual rules, and which critics like Gigi Sohn, who advised the FCC during the 2015 net neutrality fight say are all but unenforceable.
On Thursday, the Federal Communications Commission voted along party lines to begin a rulemaking process in order to jettison Title II protections and once again place broadband-access providers under Title I of the Communications Act — a move that would undermine the sound and successful basis for the FCC’s landmark 2015 Open Internet Order.
President Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, has said he intends to dismantle the legal framework essential to maintaining Net Neutrality.
Last fall, Florida elected its first black state attorney, Aramis Ayala, a successful Orlando-area prosecutor who had served earlier in her career as a public defender. In March, she made an announcement that surprised some Floridians: She would not pursue the death penalty in cases brought before her because she believes it is too expensive, it does not deter crime, and it misleads victims’ families.
Republican Gov. Rick Scott responded by removing her from all 23 of her death penalty–eligible cases, giving them to a prosecutor outside her district. Now she’s suing him to try to get them back. ...
Ayala never commented on the death penalty during her campaign. Her main backer, investment billionaire George Soros, poured $1.4 million into her campaign and is an ardent death penalty opponent. So some Florida lawmakers, prosecutors and victims’ families are now saying she misled voters. Others have said that she’s putting her personal convictions above her responsibility to uphold the law.
The Florida Supreme Court is expected to decide soon whether Ayala gets her cases back, or Scott can continue to reassign them.
The Trump administration is weighing putting the Energy Department's budget for its renewable energy and energy efficiency program on the chopping block with a proposal to slash it by 70 percent.
That's according to a draft 2018 budget proposal obtained by Axios.
It shows $613 million for sustainable transportation in 2017, but just $184 million for 2018—a nearly 70-percent drop. There was $451 million for renewable power in the budget for 2017 but $134 million proposed for 2018—a 70-percent drop. There was $762 million for energy efficiency in 2017, and $160 proposed for 2018. That's a 79-percent drop.
In total, the data obtained by Axios show that Energy Department's office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy budget went from $2,073 million in 2017 to a proposed $636 million for 2018, which marks a nearly 70-percent decrease.
The news outlet's Amy Harder writes that the plan is unlikely to get congressional approval but is important nonetheless, as "[i]t puts a low marker down to negotiate with Congress. The lower the starting point, the lower the ultimate numbers could well end up."
Scores of top environmental organizations on Wednesday sent a letter (pdf) to the Senate urging lawmakers to reject President Donald Trump's nominee for Interior Department deputy, energy lobbyist David Bernhardt, who the groups described as "a walking conflict of interest."
Bernhardt's industry ties "raise serious questions about his ability to act in the public interest," the letter, signed by 150 conservation groups, states. "Further, during his tenure as solicitor of the Department of the Interior, the agency's chief ethics officer, political appointees engaged in ethical lapses and decisions that sacrificed science and the environment to line corporate pockets."
If confirmed, Bernhardt would help Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke manage millions of acres of national parks, monuments, and public lands, as well as endangered species. His hearing before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is set for Thursday. ...
For example, the groups noted, Bernhardt's lobbying firm has a financial stake in a project that would pump groundwater in California to sell to private water companies. Another of his former clients is pushing for an open-pit copper mine in Arizona's Santa Rita Mountains to be approved.
Bernhardt also lobbied for legislation that would weaken water quality protections in California for the benefit of the state's massive agriculture industry.
Last week, an underground tunnel storing radioactive waste at the Hanford nuclear facility in Washington state collapsed, leaving a gaping 400 square foot hole. The tunnel, made up of dirt and wood, finally gave in. How surprising was the accident, which forced thousands of workers to find safety? Not very, according to a report uncovered by the Seattle-based advocacy group Hanford Challenge. ...
The Department of Energy said there were no signs of a radioactive release and opted to fill the hole with 50 truckloads of dirt and a plastic cover. While this seems like a short-term fix to a serious problem, the question remains, will this stop more collapses that could have far more dangerous impacts? According to Doug Shoop, manager of the Department of Energy Richland Operations Office, the answer is no.
“One of the main problems at Hanford is that DOE is understaffed and overtasked,” Dr. Donald Alexander, a high-level DOE physical chemist working at Hanford, told me. ... Dr. Alexander says that Hanford could see an event comparable to the 1957 explosion, known as the Kyshtym disaster, at Russia’s Mayak nuclear facility. ... Considered Hanford’s”sister-facility,” Mayak also produced plutonium for nuclear bombs. ...
Hanford has total of 177 underground storage waste tanks, of which there are 149 that are single-shelled and considered leak-prone by the EPA.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
A. C. Reed - Talkin 'bout My Friends
A.C. Reed - I Got Money To Burn
A. C. Reed & His Band - My Baby's Been Cheating
A. C. Reed - Boogalo-Tramp
A.C.Reed & Bonnie Raitt - She`s Fine
A.C. Reed - These Blues is Killing Me
A.C. Reed - Big Woman
A.C. Reed - Lotta Loving
A.C. Reed - I'm In The Wrong Business