The Evening Blues - 8-22-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Texas barrelhouse piano player Robert Shaw. Enjoy!
Robert Shaw - The Ma Grinder
"Never underestimate the ability of political leaders to misread history on a monumental scale. The invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan have both served to hasten western decline: they have both failed to achieve their objectives and in the process demonstrated an underlying western impotence."
-- Martin Jacques
News and Opinion
President Donald Trump was set to announce an escalation of 4,000 troops in Afghanistan during a primetime address Monday night, where he planned to clarify his policy on the 16-year war he inherited from the two previous presidents. Trump, however, did neither. His audience was left with nothing but excuses and contradictions. Trump refused to say how many troops he was sending, or set any goals or timetables for withdrawal. “We are not nation-building again,” he stressed, boasting that “we are going to participate in economic development to help defray the cost of this war to us.”
Amid all the contradictions, though, Trump did make one aspect of his policy absolutely clear: The U.S. would kill more people in Afghanistan. “We are killing terrorists,” he said. “Retribution will be fast and powerful as we lift restrictions and expand authorities.” Trump has already expanded U.S. bombing campaigns throughout the Middle East, authorizing drone strikes at five times the rate of his predecessor, Barack Obama. Civilian casualties in the war against the Islamic State are on track to double under Trump, according to research by Airwars, which tracks coalition airstrikes in Iraq and Syria.
But in Afghanistan, Trump’s plan for more killing — and little else — ignores a crucial point: The frenzied pace of killing under the Bush administration was what led to a nearly defeated Taliban’s resurgence, bogging the U.S. down in an endless war. Trump is either forgetting the mistakes of recent U.S. history in Afghanistan or, worse, he simply doesn’t care.
When will we stop wasting our money on rebuilding Afghanistan? We must rebuild our country first.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 7, 2011
Breitbart News issued a scathing response to Donald Trump’s speech on Afghanistan, accusing the president of becoming little more than a puppet of generals in the White House after he pledged to boost troop levels to try to counter the growing strength of al-Qaida and Taliban fighters.
One headline on the far-right news site, which has been re-energized as the de facto mouthpiece of former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, was aimed at a familiar target, the president’s national security adviser: “His McMaster’s Voice: is Trump’s Afghanistan policy that different from Obama’s?”
Bannon left the Trump administration last week, a year after he left Breitbart to supervise Trump’s surge to the White House on a tide of populist, nationalist and isolationist opinion.
On Monday night, Breitbart also made sarcastic reference to “President McMaster” and “General Jared [Kushner]” and warned that Trump’s support base would be the “biggest loser” from the switch in strategy, which it called a clear “flip-flop” that contradicted a campaign pledge to limit US intervention abroad.
Pffffttt!!! Now she tells us!
It doesn't matter who you vote for. The military-industrial complex wins. Only difference: GOP presidents pronounce "Pakistan" correctly.
— Ann Coulter (@AnnCoulter) August 22, 2017
The proverbial ink on Bannon’s resignation was barely dry when the media began reporting his plans to mount an insurrection against the “Republican establishment” in Congress and the “globalists” in the White House. Bannon has now decamped to Breitbart to wage “war” – his words – on the forces in Washington that have prevented Trump from turning the Republican party into a populist movement of economic nationalism, and even on Trump if he strays from the path. A source close to Bannon analogized the coming struggle to the French Revolution. ...
With his departure, Bannon claims “the Trump presidency that we fought for, and won, is over”. Trump’s “ability to get anything done – particularly the bigger things, like the wall, the bigger, broader things that we fought for,” he adds, is “gonna be that much harder.” But that narrative of his exit disguises how pyrrhic Bannon’s victory has been, from the very beginning. Virtually none of the signature elements of the populism Bannon claimed to be fighting for – the border wall, massive infrastructure, higher tax rates on the wealthy, trade wars with China, higher tariffs – is anywhere near coming to fruition. And while Trump has managed to ramp up hardcore immigration measures (though his deportation rate is nowhere near what Obama’s was, even at its nadir), his legislative proposal to cut immigration in half is, by most accounts, dead on arrival, even among Republicans.
In the wake of the Charlottesville controversy, Bannon laughed at liberals and leftists who called for taking down Confederate statues. ... As he explained to the American Prospect, “the longer [the Democrats] talk about identity politics, I got ‘em. I want them to take about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.” Ironically, as the Republicans flounder in their attempt to get anything done – much less enact a program of economic nationalism – Trump emits tweet after plangent tweet about “the removal of our beautiful statues.” It is the Republicans, in other words, and not the Democrats, who are saddled with identity issues, while their economic program (on healthcare, the debt, and taxes) remains stalled.
The right-wing racial populism that once served the conservative cause so well is now, as even the most conservative Republicans are acknowledging, getting in its way. Whatever the outcome of the civil war Bannon intends to fight, it’ll be waged against the backdrop of a declining rather than an ascendant movement, with the tools of yesterday rather than tomorrow.
When National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster needed to convince Donald Trump to send more troops to Afghanistan, he reportedly pulled out the big guns: “a black-and-white snapshot from 1972 of Afghan women in miniskirts walking through Kabul, to show him that Western norms had existed there before and could return,” according to the Washington Post.
The Post reports that McMaster’s photo, and other warnings from Secretary of Defense James Mattis and newly installed Chief of Staff John Kelly (both former generals), successfully persuaded Trump that the fight in Afghanistan was not “hopeless.”
State Dept. Official Who Quit in 2009 over U.S. War in Afghanistan Speaks Out on Trump’s Troop Surge
Jeremy Scahill has a good piece up on the Intercept. Here's a teaser:
Donald Trump's speech on Afghanistan will briefly turn the media spotlight onto America’s longest war. Much of the media analysis will undoubtedly be about how the speech impacts Trump politically. ... The reality that Trump may not even finish a full term as president, either due to removal or resignation, means that the palace intrigue must be reported on thoroughly by the press. But a dangerous consequence of the overwhelming, obsessive focus on the daily Trump affairs is a virtual dearth of coverage on the permanent, unelected institutions of U.S. power, namely the military and the CIA.
Spend just a moment studying moves of the Pentagon and Langley during the Trump era, and you will find that very little has changed in their post-9/11 course. Covert operations continue unabated throughout the Arab world and, increasingly, in Somalia. The U.S. remains in Iraq and Afghanistan and is becoming entrenched more deeply in Syria. If anything, the military and CIA are less restrained and are in greater control of decisions — that arguably create policy rather than implement it — than they were under Obama. And civilians are being killed at a greater rate under Trump, particularly in Iraq and Syria. There are reports that Trump has delegated more unilateral authority to the commanders than his predecessor and has relaxed rules ostensibly put in place to minimize civilian deaths. ...
Years from now, when honest historians and scholars examine the Trump moment, it is certain that among the greatest beneficiaries of his presidency will be the military and CIA. But it would be a mistake to attribute this exclusively to Trump. During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump, Hillary Clinton — and yes, even Bernie Sanders — all made clear that they supported and would continue the “targeted killing” program.
George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, and Dick Cheney used 9/11 to take the leash off the most unsavory forces in the military and CIA. They empowered the elite Joint Special Operations Command to wage a global, covert war replete with operations kept secret even from U.S. ambassadors and the State Department. The CIA set up black sites and conducted heinous acts of torture with the White House’s blessing. While Barack Obama did roll back some of the most blatant activities enthusiastically endorsed by Bush and Cheney, he was also a careful manager of empire and in key ways, served as a launderer for operations of some of the most aggressive forces in the U.S. arsenal. He used his credibility among liberals — and the derision hurled at him by conservatives who characterized him as an Islamic-radical-friendly socialist — to legitimize assassination and covert offensive military actions as lawful, moral, and necessary.
An excellent analysis worth a full read:
There’s a rumor going around that the Syrian civil war is finally winding down and that the Baathist government is nearing its goal of driving out thousands of ISIS-Al Qaeda head-choppers financed and supplied – directly or indirectly – by the U.S., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the other Persian Gulf oil monarchies. It would be good news if true. But most likely it’s not. While one stage in the Syrian conflict is coming to an end, another is beginning, and this time the results could be even worse.
The reason is Israel, until now the odd man in the latest Mideast wars. Despite intervening sporadically on the rebel side in Syria, the Jewish state generally held itself aloof from the conflict in the belief that events were breaking its way regardless of whether it stepped in or not. After all, why go to war when your enemies are doing a fine job of tearing each other apart on their own? ... But then the unthinkable happened. Assad not only survived but prevailed. Backed by Russia, Iran and the Lebanese Shi‘ite militia Hezbollah, he has bottled up Al Qaeda in East Ghouta and Idlib province in the extreme northwest and is racing to lift ISIS’s siege on Deir-Ezzor along the Euphrates. If successful, the effect will be to clear a path straight through to the Iraqi border some 30 miles to the east. U.S. military enclaves may remain in the northeast and in the southern border town of Al-Tanf. But it’s hard to see how they’ll have much of an impact as the Damascus regime tightens its grip on the country as a whole.
But rather than making a wider war less likely, the upshot is to make it even more. Having bet on the wrong horse, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu now finds himself facing a nightmare scenario in which Iran takes advantage of Assad’s winning streak to extend its reach from Iraq and Syria into Lebanon beyond. It’s not just a question of political influence, but of the emergence of a powerful Iranian-led military bloc. Eleven years after fighting a vicious 34-day war in southern Lebanon, Israel thus finds itself facing not only Hezbollah but the Syrian Arab Army, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards, and Iraqi Shi‘ite militias – all backed by Russian military might – in a front extending across its entire northern border. All are battle-hardened after years of combat, better armed, better led, and more self-confident to boot. Israel finds itself confronting a new threat that is many times more powerful than Hezbollah (or Syria) alone.
Israeli consternation is not to be underestimated. One news outlet says the official attitude is one of “grave concern” while an anonymous government minister heaped blame on the U.S. for sacrificing Israeli interests - “The United States threw Israel under the bus for the second time in a row. The first time was the nuclear agreement with Iran, the second time is now that the United States ignores the fact that Iran is obtaining territorial continuity to the Mediterranean Sea and Israel’s northern border. What is most worrisome is that this time, it was President Donald Trump who threw us to the four winds – though viewed as Israel’s great friend. It turns out that when it comes to actions and not just talk, he didn’t deliver the goods.”
Netanyahu is meanwhile off to the Black Sea resort of Sochi to confer with Russian President Vladimir Putin while, in Washington, Israeli military and intelligence officials are meeting with top Trump officials such as National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and special Mideast envoy Jason Greenblatt. ... Influential neoconservatives are joining the me-too chorus. At the Atlantic Council – the hawkish Washington think tank partly funded by the United Arab Emirates and pro-Saudi interests that functioned as an arm of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign – former Obama administration official Frederic C. Hof recently argued that the U.S. wouldn’t be in such a pickle if it had invaded Syria years ago. ... With the Zionists and their neocon yes-men agreeing that something must be done, it seems that something WILL be done sooner rather than later.
Behind the scenes, the U.S. military is planning for nearly a half-billion dollars in new construction during the Trump administration, including a Navy request to build a $250 million, five-bed hospital here that has been singled out for study by a Senate committee.
Despite President Donald J. Trump’s campaign promise to reduce costs at the remote U.S. Navy base — at one point he mused that his new Cuba policy might import cheap, local labor from across the minefield — the Pentagon’s appetite to spend at this outpost of about 5,500 residents and 41 wartime prisoners continues unsated.
In two other major projects, Congress is poised to give the Army $124 million to build a new barracks for 848 prison troops to be ready four years from now. And on a different corner of the base, the Pentagon is soliciting bids of up to $100 million to build a skeletal structure for a 13,000-migrant tent city and housing for 5,000 U.S. forces.
But it was the hospital plan that prompted the Republican-led Senate Armed Services Committee to ask Defense Secretary James Mattis to conduct an analysis of “remote locations with high family support costs” — noting the “proposed $250 million replacement hospital at Guantánamo Bay would cost $50 million per bed.”
As support for single payer continues to surge following the GOP's failed attempt to strip healthcare from millions, Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, and other groups launched a week of action on Monday imploring the public and lawmakers to pledge their support for Medicare for All.
So far, over 100,000 people have taken the pledge. The push to get lawmakers to follow the lead of the public on this issue, however, is far from over, the groups observe.
"Because of your pressure, 43 members of Congress decided to co-sponsor Rep. John Conyers' (D-Mich.) house bill for Medicare for All," the coalition's website declares. "But as the healthcare debate rages, many of these same co-sponsors have publicly been advocating for half-measures like increasing subsidies for insurance companies or simply playing defense against Medicaid cuts."
In an effort aimed at ensuring that current and prospective lawmakers remain committed to their public pronouncements, progressive groups are pushing lawmakers to "go on video pledging to stand up for Medicare for All in any public appearances and statements addressing our country's healthcare crisis."
Many lawmakers and congressional candidates have taken up the challenge.
It’s the “shock” market rally — cash-rich US companies have plunged nearly $4 trillion of their cash into buying back their stock since 2008, which is why all the stock indexes are hovering near record territory. “It has massively manipulated the market,” said Richard Bowen, the former Citi executive who blew the whistle on the bank during the subprime mortgage crisis, and noted how these share buybacks in the open market were once deemed illegal. The Securities and Exchange Commission eased the rules in the early ’80s. ...
In this low-interest environment, many companies, including Apple, are borrowing money to buy back shares, not even dipping into their own coffers. “We’ve been in a market bubble for a long time, and share buybacks are a big part of the bubble made possible by artificially low interest rates that still exist today,” said financial commentator Peter Schiff. ...
Bowen says he’s worried, because for most Americans, the stock market is a display of public confidence. But it may all be a huge fantasy, Bowen added, a Ponzi scheme that will end in tears. Schiff says that could occur if interest rates keep rising, ensnaring corporations that financed stock repurchases with debt. “They are going to have to sell their stock to repay the debt they can’t afford,” he said. “That’s going to end up destroying a lot of shareholder value if corporations have to sell equity into a bear market.”
At least ten anti-Trump resistance groups are expected to greet President Donald Trump Tuesday when he arrives in Phoenix, Arizona for a rally with his supporters there.
A variety of groups concerned with Trump's response to this month's white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, his immigration policies, and the broader White House agenda will hold marches and demonstrations ahead of and outside of Trump's evening event at the Phoenix Convention Center.
Since his inauguration, Trump has held campaign-style rallies in several states he carried in 2016—uncommon for presidents in the first months of their terms. This will be his first rally since he shocked many across the country and around the world by insisting there were "very fine people" who attended the neo-Nazi rally on August 11 and 12 in Virginia where one counter-protester was killed by a suspected white supremacist.
Protesters are also planning to demonstrate against Trump's possible pardon of Joe Arpaio, the former sheriff of Maricopa County who was convicted last month of contempt of court, when he refused to obey a judge's order to stop detaining suspected undocumented immigrants. Before being voted out of office last year Arpaio spent much of his tenure racially profiling Latinos and mistreating detainees according a Justice Department report.
A majority of Americans think Confederate monuments should be preserved in public spaces, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll, a view that is at odds with efforts in many cities to remove them.
The 18-21 August poll found that 54% of adults said Confederate monuments “should remain in all public spaces”, while 27% said they “should be removed from all public spaces”. Another 19% said they “don’t know”.
Responses to the poll were sharply split along racial and party lines, however, with whites and Republicans largely supportive of preservation. Democrats and minorities were more likely to support removal. ...
31% of Americans described the [Charlottesville "Unite the Right"] rally as “an even mix” of rioting and intimidation by white supremacists and left-wing counter-protesters, a viewpoint that roughly lines up with Trump’s comments. Another 28% saw the white supremacists as the aggressors and 10% mostly blamed the left-wing counter-protesters. The remaining 32% said “other” or “don’t know”.
More than a dozen Cleveland Browns players staged the largest national anthem protest yet, and were joined by white players for what’s believed to be the first time, before a preseason game on Monday against the New York Giants.
The group, which included veterans, rookies, starters and backups, gathered in front of some water coolers and behind their teammates who stood on the sideline shortly before the Browns hosted the New York Giants in a preseason game.
“There’s a lot of racial and social injustices in the world that are going on right now,” rookie safety Jabrill Peppers told ESPN. “We just decided to take a knee and pray for the people who have been affected and just pray for the world in general.” ...
Woah. A ton of Browns kneeling during the national anthem here pic.twitter.com/Qv6qSPs6kX
— Jordan Zirm (@clevezirm) August 22, 2017
The demonstration was the largest so far in a movement started last season by quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who is currently out of the NFL. In recent days, Seattle defensive lineman Michael Bennett and Philadelphia defensive back Malcolm Jenkins also have called attention to what they feel is racial injustice in the country.
Charlottesville, Virginia, will cover statues of Confederate generals Robert E Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson in black fabric to mourn Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman who was killed when a car rammed into a group of people protesting a white nationalist rally in the city. ...
The Daily Progress newspaper reported that the Charlottesville city council voted unanimously early on Tuesday to shroud the statues. The vote came after anger boiled over at the first city council meeting since the rally. Some residents screamed and cursed at councillors and called for their resignations.
The Charlottesville mayor, Mike Signer, read a resolution to commemorate the three people who died, the Daily Progress reported, after a member of the crowd accused him of being responsible for the loss of life.
A police spokeswoman said three people were arrested and released on summons for disorderly conduct.
A key figure behind the so-called “dossier” featuring uncorroborated and salacious allegations about then-candidate Donald Trump’s ties to Russia will be questioned by investigators from the Senate Judiciary Committee today about the funding and sources for the document.
During last year’s heated Republican primary race, Fusion GPS, a private research firm founded by former Wall Street Journal reporter Glenn Simpson, was initially paid about a million dollars by wealthy Republicans and then later worked for Democrats, all of whom wanted to dig up dirt on Trump and plant negative news stories, according to political operatives.
Simpson, who will appear in a closed session on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, hired the former MI6 agent Christopher Steele to compile the now infamous “dossier,” which alleged that members of the Trump campaign had colluded with Russian agents to damage Hillary Clinton, Trump’s Democratic opponent.
Republicans in Congress are stepping up their efforts to uncover the funders of and sources for that controversial document and its, so far, largely unverified claims as special counsel Robert Mueller’s high-profile probe of those alleged ties heats up.
Giving Middle Finger to Appalachian Communities, Trump Kills Study of Mountaintop Removal Health Impacts
Outrage has followed the Trump administration's decision late last week to put the brakes on a study into the health impacts of mountaintop removal coal mining in Central Appalachia. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine said Monday it received a letter from the Interior Department's Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement ordering it to put a halt on its two-year project "largely as a result of the Department’s changing budget situation."
"The OSM," as journalist Ken Ward Jr. writes at the West Virginia Gazette-Mail, "had committed more than $1 million to the study, which was launched last year after a request from officials from the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection and the state Bureau for Public Health" in light of scientific research linking "mountaintop removal to increased risks of birth defects, cancer, and premature death among residents living near large-scale surface coal mines in Appalachia."
Bill Price, senior Appalachia organizing representative for Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, called it "infuriating that Trump would halt this study on the health effects of mountaintop removal coal mining, research that people in Appalachia have been demanding for years. Trump has once again shown the people of Appalachia that we mean nothing to him. From his proposed budget cuts to the Appalachian Regional Commission, to pushing to take away healthcare from thousands of Appalachian people, to now stripping doctors and scientists of the ability to warn us about the health effects of mountaintop coal removal, Trump's showing that he's only been pretending to care about our communities."
The environmental group Clean Air Moms Action released a new ad campaign Monday urging voters to fight back against two pending Republican anti-regulation laws. The ad is being run in five states where Democratic incumbent senators will be up for re-election in highly-anticipated races in 2018. It features car safety advocate Janette Fennell, who shares a personal story of how an automobile regulation saved her life—the kind of regulation that could be at risk if Congress passes the Regulatory Accountability Act (RAA) and the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act. ...
The RAA and REINS Act were both passed by the House earlier this year, and the Senate may vote after Congress returns from its August recess. The RAA would impose strict new rules on federal agencies trying to introduce new regulations aimed at everything from food safety to clean air and water. Agencies would be required to hold "adversarial hearings" as they consider potential regulations, allowing corporations that would be affected to weigh in on the proposed rules, and to impose the cheapest regulations possible for corporations. The REINS Act would require Congressional approval for any regulation that would cost affected corporations more than $100 million per year.
Both measures were passed under the pretense of protecting corporations from rampant, costly regulation, but critics including Clean Air Moms Action say it would make it harder for federal agencies to protect Americans.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
hat tip to studentofearth:
A Little Night Music
Robert Shaw - Fast Santa Fe (Bear Cat)
Robert Shaw - People, People
Robert Shaw - The Cows
Robert Shaw - Jim Nappy
Robert Shaw - Hattie Green
Robert Shaw - Blues
Robert Shaw - She Used to Be My Baby
Robert Shaw Here - I Come With Dirty Dirty Duckins On
Robert Shaw - Groceries On My Shelf
Robert Shaw - The Clinton