The Evening Blues - 9-15-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues musician Luther Allison. Enjoy!
Luther Allison & Bernard Allison - Life is a Bitch
"In no part of the constitution is more wisdom to be found than in the clause which confides the question of war or peace to the legislature, and not to the executive department. Beside the objection to such a mixture of heterogeneous powers: the trust and the temptation would be too great for any one man: not such as nature may offer as the prodigy of many centuries, but such as may be expected in the ordinary successions of magistracy. War is in fact the true nurse of executive aggrandizement. In war a physical force is to be created, and it is the executive will which is to direct it. In war the public treasures are to be unlocked, and it is the executive hand which is to dispense them. In war the honors and emoluments of office are to be multiplied; and it is the executive patronage under which they are to be enjoyed. It is in war, finally, that laurels are to be gathered, and it is the executive brow they are to encircle. The strongest passions, and most dangerous weaknesses of the human breast; ambition, avarice, vanity, the honorable or venial love of fame, are all in conspiracy against the desire and duty of peace."
-- James Madison
News and Opinion
President Trump has become the third president to renew a post-9/11 emergency proclamation, stretching what was supposed to be a temporary state of national emergency after the 2001 terror attacks into its 17th year.
But the ongoing effects of that perpetual emergency aren't immediately clear, because the executive branch has ignored a law requiring it to report to Congress every six months on how much the president has spent under those extraordinary powers, USA TODAY has found.
Exactly 16 years ago Thursday, President Bush signed Proclamation 7463, giving himself sweeping powers to mobilize the military in the days following terrorist attacks that crashed planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a Pennsylvania field. It allowed him to call up National Guard and Reserve troops, hire and fire military officers, and bypass limits on the numbers of generals that could serve.
Presidents Bush and Obama renewed that emergency each year. And on Wednesday, Trump published a now-routine notice in the Federal Register extending the emergency for the 16th time, explaining simply that "the terrorist threat continues."
Gareth Porter has an interesting and thorough analysis of the Kahn Sheikhoun bombing incident worth giving a read to. Here's a part of the intro to get you started:
Have We Been Deceived Over Syrian Sarin Attack? Scrutinizing the Evidence in an Incident Trump Used to Justify Bombing Syria
The United Nations Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria issued a report this September that reinforced the official narrative that the Syrian air force dropped a bomb containing nerve gas sarin on the insurgent-controlled town of Khan Sheikhoun, Syria on April 4. That conclusion comes several weeks after the Organization for Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) issued a report that supported sarin exposure as the cause of death and injuries.
The reports by the two official international bodies appear to be aimed at closing the book on what happened at Khan Sheikhoun, where at least 83 deaths and 293 injuries occurred. But a months-long investigation by AlterNet into the questions around the attack raise serious questions about whether a sarin bomb was the source of the deaths. Relying on analysis from forensic and weapons experts, as well as a senior intelligence official with decades of experience in assessing bomb damage, the investigation suggests that a conventional weapon dropped by a Syrian plane struck barrels of a pesticide that created deadly phosphine gas that caused symptoms paralleling those of sarin and capable of causing mass casualties.
The evidence gathered in this investigation undercuts the credibility of the Organization for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) laboratory test results that showed exposure to sarin, demonstrating how the organization violated its own protocols and opened the door for tampering. Further, the investigation raises questions about whether Russian and Syrian intelligence knew — or should have known — that the conventional strike on the target in Khan Sheikhoun carried a serious risk of mass casualties.
The U.S. Department of Defense is reportedly still funneling billions of dollars’ worth of Soviet-era weaponry to anti-Islamic State groups in Syria, with questionable oversight.
In a joint report published Tuesday, the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN) allege that the Pentagon has given up to $2.2 billion worth of weapons to groups like the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Kurdish People’s Protection Units, or YPG.
The program sidesteps long-established checks on international weapons trafficking, the report alleges, and appears to be turbocharging a shadowy world of Eastern European arms dealers. In particular, the Pentagon is reportedly removing documentary evidence about just who will ultimately be using the weapons, potentially weakening one of the bulwarks of international protocols against illicit arms dealing.
“The Pentagon is removing any evidence in their procurement records that weapons are actually going to the Syrian opposition,” Ivan Angelovski, one of the report’s authors, told Foreign Policy.
Saudi Arabia arrested a trio of prominent clerics last weekend, a sign that the kingdom may be preparing for the formal ascendance of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, known as MBS, who is a key decision-maker on the country’s domestic and international affairs but is technically subservient to his father, King Salman. Salman al-Odah, Awad al-Qarni and Ali al-Omary were arrested with little explanation over the weekend, but activists suspect that their failure to follow MBS’s hawkish line on Qatar played a role in their imprisonment. ... Al-Odah, who has 14 million followers, has not tweeted since September 9, the day he was swept up with the others.
“The Qatar crisis, a tribal dispute with potential global implications, is a key reason. This ‘kerfuffle’ is now very serious. MBS is showing that he can clean house in terms of those who may express sympathy to any opening of dialogue thru the new Saudi State Security Presidium,” Ted Karasik, a senior adviser at Gulf State Analytics who has spent years in the region, told The Intercept in an e-mail. “Importantly, the cleavage between Qatar and the ATQ is now directly impacting Saudi society- the arrests were across a broad swath of clerics, poets and television personalities,” Kerasik added, referring to the Anti-Terror Quartet, a name used to refer to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt, the four countries that initiated the months-long blockade of Qatar. “Thus, some may say these arrests are a purge.”
“For the clerics, MBS needed to make a sharp demonstration that social reforms are coming quickly and that the clerical establishment needs to support Saudi Vision 2030 no matter the cost to their belief system,” he continued. “[Odah] and Qarni in particular were on the government’s payroll up until their arrests to keep quiet on key issues. That line has now been crossed.”
North Korea has launched another missile over Japan, a day after it threatened to “sink” the country and turn the US “into ashes and darkness”.
The missile – which was fired from Sunan, just north of Pyongyang, on Friday morning at 6.57am Japanese local time (21.57 GMT Thursday) – flew over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido before landing, 20 minutes after launch, in the Pacific Ocean, 2,200km east of Cape Erimo.
The US and South Korea said they believed it to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile, although the Japanese foreign minister Taro Kono said it could be an intercontinental ballistic missile, which has a significantly greater range and which Pyongyang claimed to have tested successfully in July.
Friday’s launch was the longest-ever such flight carried out by the rogue regime, and travelled 3,700km – 800km further than the previous launch over Japan, in August.
Japan has warned North Korea it has “no bright future” and called for an emergency meeting of the UN security council after Pyongyang launched a ballistic missile over Japanese territory for the second time in just over a fortnight.
The missile, thought to be intermediate-range, flew further than any missile tested by the regime, triggering emergency sirens and text alerts minutes before it passed over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido on Friday morning.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, called for the international community to take “new measures” against North Korea, singling out Russia and China as the countries best placed to apply pressure on the regime, almost week after it tested what is now believed to be a powerful hydrogen bomb.
As major suppliers of oil to the regime, Russia and China “must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own,” Tillerson said in a statement.
The launch was an apparent show of defiance days after the UN security council approved a new round of sanctions against the regime. Flight data shows the missile travelled higher and further than the one involved in the 29 August flyover of Japan, suggesting the regime is continuing to make advances in its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.
The UN security council is due to meet in New York at 3pm local time on Friday to discuss the launch.
Don’t look now, but North Korea has just won its latest diplomatic tussle with the United States. No matter how often Donald Trump promises to rain down “fire and fury” on the Democratic People’s Republic “the likes of which the world has never seen before,” it’s increasing clear that Kim Jong Un’s nuclear-deterrence policy is working and that there’s little the U.S. can do in response. This was evident the moment the U.N. Security Council voted on Monday to slap the DPRK with yet another round of economic sanctions, its ninth in 11 years. The Security Council resolution certainly sounded tough enough as it accused Kim of “destabilize[ing] the region” by exploding an underground thermonuclear device on Sept. 3 and posing “a clear threat to international peace and security.”
But thanks to Russia and China, it ended up with so many loopholes as to be well-nigh meaningless. The resolution imposes trade restrictions, for example, but rejects a U.S. bid to allow outside powers to enforce them by stopping and inspecting North Korean ships on the high seas or by forcing down aircraft suspected of carrying contraband. Where the U.S. had pushed for a total energy embargo, it allows oil imports to continue at current levels. It permits North Korean workers in foreign countries to continue sending hard currency back home, a practice the United States had hoped to stop. And it rebuffs U.S. demands for a ban on the North Korean national airline, Air Koryo.
Considering how adept China, Russia, and others have gotten at evading previous sanctions, it’s hard to believe they’ll have much trouble dealing with the latest round. As permanent Security Council members, Russia and China have veto power over enforcement, moreover, so it’s highly unlikely that they’ll allow it to do anything to stop them from carrying on precisely as they please. They’ll enforce sanctions when they feel like it and look the other way when they don’t. Trump admitted as much on Tuesday when he told reporters: “We think it’s just another very small step, not a big deal. I don’t know if it has any impact, but certainly it was nice to get a fifteen-to-nothing vote, but those sanctions are nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen.”
In other words, it’s a face-saving gesture with little real substance. As a candidate, Trump swore to make the Chinese do something about “this madman” in Pyongyang, telling the TV news show “Fox & Friends”: “They’re draining our country, and they’re toying with us with North Korea. China should do it.” But now that he has to deal with reality, Trump is finding that getting his way is not so easy.
Hmmm... impending invasion/assassination alert. Maybe Maduro should start developing nuclear weapons.
Did the doomsday clock on the petrodollar (and implicitly US hegemony) just tick one more minute closer to midnight?
Apparently confirming what President Maduro had warned following the recent US sanctions, The Wall Street Journal reports that Venezuela has officially stopped accepting US Dollars as payment for its crude oil exports.
As we previously noted, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said last Thursday that Venezuela will be looking to “free” itself from the U.S. dollar next week. According to Reuters, Venezuela is going to implement a new system of international payments and will create a basket of currencies to free us from the dollar,” Maduro said in a multi-hour address to a new legislative “super body.” He reportedly did not provide details of this new proposal. ...
This decision by the nation with the world’s largest proven oil reserves comes just days after China and Russia unveiled the latest Oil/Yuan/Gold triad at the latest BRICS conference. ... Beijing is ready to step up the game. Soon China will launch a crude oil futures contract priced in yuan and convertible into gold. This means that Russia – as well as Iran, the other key node of Eurasia integration – may bypass US sanctions by trading energy in their own currencies, or in yuan.
CIA pressures Harvard. Harvard caves. Makes one wonder what sort of "pressure" the CIA applied.
Chelsea Manning, the former US soldier who leaked hundreds of thousands of state secrets and served seven years in military prison, abruptly terminated a phone call with the dean of the Harvard Kennedy school in an expression of her dismay at his decision to revoke her visiting fellowship in the face of severe pressure from the CIA.
Manning’s ended the conversation on Thursday as the dean, Douglas Elmendorf, tried to justify to her his decision to cancel the fellowship only a day after it had been announced. The dean had said he needed to talk to Manning “urgently” after CIA figures first raised their objection to Harvard offering the whistleblower a place among its 2017-18 visiting speaker program – raising the prospect that one of America’s most prestigious academic institutions had kowtowed to pressure from the intelligence services. ...
Elmendorf’s decision to roll over just hours after the two CIA figures protested has put the dean in a tight corner. The Guardian asked Harvard for comment on the phone call but did not receive an immediate response. On Friday, Elmendorf released a statement in which he apologized to Manning as well as to those who those who objected to her invitation, arguing that he had made a “mistake” by failing to appreciate that the title of visiting fellow was seen as an “honorific”.
— Chelsea E. Manning (@xychelsea) September 15, 2017
Impunity for murderers with badges continues unabated.
A judge in St Louis has found a white former police officer not guilty of murder in the death of a black man who was shot dead following a high-speed chase in 2011.
Jason Stockley shot 24-year-old Anthony Lamar Smith five times with his own AK-47 assault rifle rather than his service weapon. The officer said he saw Smith holding a gun and felt he was in imminent danger. Prosecutors said Stockley planted a gun in Smith’s car after he shot him.
Assistant circuit attorney Robert Steele emphasized during the trial that police dashcam video showed Stockley saying he was “going to kill this motherfucker, don’t you know it”. Less than a minute later, he shot and killed Smith. Stockley’s lawyer dismissed the comment as “human emotions” during a dangerous police pursuit.
Thomas Harvey of Arch City Defenders, a St Louis civil rights law firm, said: “If police can announce they are going to murder, carry personal AK-47s, plant weapons and shoot unarmed people five times at close range with no consequences, no black man in America is safe.”
Stockley, 36, could have been sentenced to up to life in prison without parole. He left the St Louis police force in 2013 and moved to Houston.
Jason Stockley, the former Missouri police officer who shot and killed Anthony Lamar Smith in 2011, on Friday became the latest cop to be acquitted of murder in spite of video that showed Stockley saying he would kill Smith before shooting him at close range multiple times. ...
While video evidence from body cameras, dash cameras, surveillance cameras, and mobile phones has increased the frequency with which cops are charged with murder and manslaughter since 2015, it is not leading to more convictions.
It's not uncommon for residents of America’s most heavily policed neighborhoods to describe their local cops as “an occupying force.” Judging by where many U.S. police forces get their training, the description seems apt. Thousands of American law enforcement officers frequently travel for training to one of the few countries where policing and militarism are even more deeply intertwined than they are here: Israel.
In the aftermath of 9/11, Israel seized on its decades-long experience as an occupying force to brand itself a world leader in counterterrorism. U.S. law enforcement agencies took the Jewish state up on its expertise by participating in exchange programs sponsored by an array of pro-Israel groups like AIPAC, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). Over the past decade and a half, scores of top federal, state, and local police officers from dozens of departments from across the U.S. have gone to Israel to learn about its terrorism-focused policing.
Yet Israel’s policing prowess is marred by its primary purpose: the occupation. Israel has carried out a half-century of military rule in the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, an occupation rife with abuses. The country’s police and security forces also regularly violate the rights of Palestinians and immigrants inside of Israel’s 1967 borders. ... While attention on the militarization of American police forces has intensified in recent years, spurring some reforms that the Trump administration has already undone, U.S.-Israel police exchange programs have carried on without much public scrutiny.
In addition to meeting with their Israeli counterparts, American police on the delegations also visit representatives of the Israeli Defense Forces, as well as border security and intelligence services — essentially taking lessons from agencies that enforce military rule rather than civil law. “It fits in with this ideology of police as warriors,” said Alex Vitale, a sociology professor at Brooklyn College and author of a forthcoming book on global policing. “The focus of this training is on riot suppression, counterinsurgency, and counterterrorism — all of which are essentially irrelevant or should be irrelevant to the vast majority of police departments,” he added. “They shouldn’t be suppressing protest, they shouldn’t be engaging in counterinsurgency, and almost none of them face any real threat from terrorism.”
There are some important constitutional issues at play in Trump's pardon of Arpaio; the video has a pretty decent discussion of them and is worth a peek.
When the founding fathers created the presidential pardon power, they likely had a few ideas about how that authority could be used. Clemency might be granted in a show of mercy, or to undo a miscarriage of justice. Or maybe the president would want to pardon anti-government rebels in an attempt to restore peace to the republic, much like President Andrew Johnson would do after the Civil War.
But what the founders could not possibly have envisioned was that a president would pardon an elected official for ignoring a court order to stop violating constitutional protections enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Those rights, after all, did not exist until two years after the Constitution came into force.
Or so goes the argument by civil rights groups that say, for this reason, that President Donald Trump’s controversial pardon of former Sheriff Joe Arpaio cannot stand.
And the judge involved in the case is willing to hear them out.
“We are not aware of a single case in our nation’s history where the president pardoned an elected official for disobeying a court order to stop violating constitutional rights,” said Ron Fein, legal director at Free Speech for People, which this week filed a friend-of-the-court brief challenging the pardon. “With this pardon, Trump has pushed our country into uncharted territory.”
President Trump on Thursday called Sen. Bernie Sanders's (I-Vt.) "Medicare for all" plan a "curse on the U.S.”
"Bernie Sanders is pushing hard for a single payer healthcare plan - a curse on the U.S. & its people," Trump tweeted.
"I told Republicans to approve healthcare fast or this would happen. But don't worry, I will veto because I love our country & its people."
There was “a flaw” in the theory: this is the famous admission by Alan Greenspan, the former chair of the Federal Reserve, to a congressional inquiry into the 2008 financial crisis. His belief that the self-interest of the lending institutions would lead automatically to the correction of financial markets had proved wrong. Now, in the midst of the environmental crisis, we await a similar admission. We may be waiting some time.
For, as in Greenspan’s theory of the financial system, there cannot be a problem. The market is meant to be self-correcting: that’s what the theory says. As Milton Friedman, one of the architects of neoliberal ideology, put it: “Ecological values can find their natural space in the market, like any other consumer demand.” As long as environmental goods are correctly priced, neither planning nor regulation is required. Any attempt by governments or citizens to change the likely course of events is unwarranted and misguided.
But there’s a flaw. Hurricanes do not respond to market signals. The plastic fibres in our oceans, food and drinking water do not respond to market signals. Nor does the collapse of insect populations, or coral reefs, or the extirpation of orangutans from Borneo. The unregulated market is as powerless in the face of these forces as the people in Florida who resolved to fight Hurricane Irma by shooting it. It is the wrong tool, the wrong approach, the wrong system.
Environmental collapse does not progress by neat increments. You can estimate the money you might make from building an airport: this is likely to be linear and fairly predictable. But you cannot reasonably estimate the environmental cost the airport might incur. Climate breakdown will behave like a tectonic plate in an earthquake zone: periods of comparative stasis followed by sudden jolts. Any attempt to compare economic benefit with economic cost in such cases is an exercise in false precision. ...
The environmental crisis is an inevitable result not just of neoliberalism – the most extreme variety of capitalism – but of capitalism itself. Even the social democratic (Keynesian) kind depends on perpetual growth on a finite planet: a formula for eventual collapse. But the peculiar contribution of neoliberalism is to deny that action is necessary: to insist that the system, like Greenspan’s financial markets, is inherently self-regulating. The myth of the self-regulating market accelerates the destruction of the self-regulating Earth.
The number of hungry people in the world has increased for the first time since the turn of the century, sparking concern that conflict and climate change could be reversing years of progress.
In 2016, the number of chronically undernourished people reached 815 million, up 38 million from the previous year. The increase is due largely to the proliferation of violence and climate-related shocks, according to the state of food insecurity and nutrition in 2017, a report produced by five UN agencies.
The study also noted a rise in the number of people globally who are chronically hungry, from 10.6% in 2015 to 11% in 2016.
Cindy Holleman, a senior economist at the Food and Agriculture Organisation, said it was hard to know whether the increase was a blip or marked the reversal of a long-term trend. However, she said the rise in conflict and climate change – factors that rank alongside economic slowdown, which makes food hard to access for poor people, as key drivers of food insecurity – was cause for concern. ...
“If you look at the 815 million [chronically undernourished] people, 489 million or 60% of them are located in countries affected by conflict. Over the last decade we’re seen a significant increase in conflict. We also see that conflict combined with climatic effects is having a significant effect.”
A new analysis looking at the long-term trends of more than 900 species of wildlife in Canada has found that half of them have seen their populations decline, including several species already listed as threatened or endangered. The Living Planet Report Canada, released on Thursday by World Wildlife Fund Canada, paints a bleak picture for wildlife in a country that is home to a quarter of the earth’s wetlands, 8,500 rivers and more than 2m freshwater lakes.
During the past four decades, human activity – whether industrial development, farming, forestry or the expansion of urban areas – as well as climate change, pollution and overfishing have helped shrink the populations of 451 species, representing half of the 903 monitored species in the country. “I think for many Canadians, it’s somewhat of a surprise,” said James Snider of WWF Canada and the lead author of the report. “Canada is this vast nation with huge wilderness areas, at times we assume that wildlife here is doing OK.”
The list of species in decline ranges from the woodland caribou, who grace the country’s 25¢ coin but have seen their habitat shrink from logging, mining and gas development, to the several species of whale that live off Canada’s three coasts. The report found that for species with diminishing populations, the average loss was 83% of their population. “That’s a really striking number,” said Snider.
An expert who has warned about dangerous lead levels in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water declared on Friday a qualified end to the crisis.
Virginia Tech researcher Marc Edwards made the announcement at a news conference two years to the day after he stood in front of Flint’s city hall with residents and other researchers to highlight a serious lead contamination problem in the financially struggling industrial city’s water supply.
Edwards acknowledged the symmetry of the situations yet cautioned against celebration. He recommended the continued use of filters and warned many residents would take a long time to regain trust in government officials who initially dismissed their concerns.
“Today, we have equally definitive data showing that the levels of these parameters currently in Flint water are now back to normal levels for a city with old lead pipes,” Edwards said.
“Obviously, there is still a crisis of confidence among Flint residents that’s not going to be restored anytime soon. It’s beyond the reach of science to solve – it can only be addressed by years of trustworthy behavior by government agencies, who unfortunately lost that trust, deservedly, in the first place.”
The chief executives of some of the largest coal and mining companies in the country have chosen the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C., for a private conference next month, according to documents obtained by The Intercept. The hotel is a natural venue for such an event. The host of the conference, the National Mining Association, an industry lobby group, has won a string of policy victories and carve-outs from the Trump administration and its Republican allies in Congress.
The NMA board of directors meeting, which takes place October 3-4, is yet the latest example of a special interest group spending thousands of dollars on a property owned directly by the Trump family. The Trump International charges over $800 a night for the days the mining event is scheduled.
“President Trump has refused to divest from the Trump Organization, so money spent at the president’s D.C. hotel will make it into the president’s pocket,” says Brendan Fischer, an election law expert with the Campaign Legal Center.
“The National Mining Association or any other lobbying group has likely concluded that spending money at the Trump International Hotel in D.C. is a solid way of currying favor with the administration — and that spending money anywhere else runs the risk of offending our very sensitive president,” Fischer added.
The NMA did not respond to a request for comment.
When Amazon purchased Whole Foods last month, it didn’t just get the retail locations. It picked up Whole Foods’ baggage as well. Among the bigger issues inherited by Amazon appears to be a four-month investigation from the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere that challenges Whole Foods’ core selling point of healthy and humane food.
The group accused Pitman Family Farms, the maker of Mary’s Free Range Chicken and a supplier to Whole Foods in six Western states, of breaking its promises of free-range environments for its birds.
Direct Action Everywhere, whose mission is to create animal welfare-friendly cities and outlaw some of the practices of factory farming, visited a dozen Pitman farms and never once saw a chicken roaming outside. The group reported that it found no indications of outdoor living, such as feathers or fecal matter. Twenty-four hour surveillance cameras attached to six separate locations revealed no outdoor birds either, the activists said. Instead, chickens were packed shoulder-to-shoulder inside dusty sheds with degraded air quality, forced to challenge one another for access to food and water. ...
“We saw things that even shocked us,” Dr. Wayne Hsiung, co-founder of the group, told The Intercept in an interview. Hsiung characterized the overcrowding as the worst he’s ever seen at a poultry farm, with investigators nearly unable to walk through the flocks without stepping on birds.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Luther Allison - Dust My Broom
Luther Allison - Don't Burn My Bread
Luther Allison - Easy Baby
Luther Allison - Every night about this time
Luther Allison - You Don't Love Me
Luther Allison - Last night
Luther Allison - The Stumble
Luther Allison - Don't start me talking
Luther Allison - Soul Fixin' Man