Evening Blues Preview 4-14-15

This evening's music features blues, r&b, rock and soul saxophonist King Curtis.

Here are some stories from tonight's post:

Same Surveillance State, Different War

On Tuesday evening, USA Today detailed a massive surveillance operation, run by the intelligence arm of the Drug Enforcement Agency, that began in 1992. The DEA revealed the existence of the now-discontinued program back in January, and USA Today's account offers remarkable details about how it worked.

The program, which enabled the United States to secretly track billions of phone calls made by millions of U.S. citizens over a period of decades, was a blueprint for the NSA surveillance that would come after it, with similarities too close to be coincidental, according to USA Today. Officials didn't collect the content of Americans' calls, the newspaper reports, but it gathered extensive data that enabled agents to stitch together detailed communications records and "link them to troves of other police and intelligence data" from the FBI, Customs, and other agencies.

The latest details are striking, not only because they reveal new depths of secret government surveillance, but also for how they reveal a continuum from the pre-9/11 War on Drugs to the post-9/11 War on Terror. That connection emerged almost immediately after the terrorist attacks—and it wasn't just rhetorical, it was literal: "Since the start of their bombing campaign [in Afghanistan]," The New York Times wrote in November 2001, "allied officials have tried to link the new war on terror to the old war on drugs." Taxes on poppy farmers who supplied Afghanistan's opium trade helped finance terrorist groups, the newspaper reported at the time. ...

“The government has repeatedly tried to justify its spying activities on national security grounds, but it turns out it was doing much the same thing for years in aid of ordinary criminal investigations," said the ACLU attorney Patrick Toomey in an email via a spokesperson Tuesday night. "These new revelations are a reminder of how little we still know about the government's surveillance activities—including dragnet programs that operated for decades in secret."

We might actually be able to pinpoint the moment—sometime in 2002—when the rhetoric switched from "drugs" to "terror" as a reason officials gave to citizens who might question their actions. ... It's clear now that officials looked to their surveillance tactics in the 1990s as a playbook for how to carry out—and, crucially, how to legally justify—mass surveillance after 9/11.

Former Blackwater guards sentenced for massacre of unarmed Iraqi civilians

Ex-security contractor receives life in prison and three fellow employees sentenced to 30 years each after killing of 14 civilians in 2007

Three former employees of the US private military contractor once known as Blackwater were sentenced to 30 years in prison on Monday and a fourth received a life sentence, closing a sordid chapter of the Iraq conflict relating to the 2007 Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad.

Judge Royce Lamberth denied a request by the defense for leniency in sentencing on Monday, and, as expected, his sentences followed the 30-year mandatory sentence guidelines for the crimes.

The four, who were part of a tactical support team called “Raven 23”, opened fire on a crowd of unarmed civilians from an armoured convoy with machine-guns and grenade launchers in September 2007. ...

“In killing and maiming unarmed civilians, these defendants acted unreasonably and without justification,” the US attorney’s office said in a statement. “In combination, the sheer amount of unnecessary human loss and suffering attributable to the defendants’ criminal conduct on September 16, 2007, is staggering.”

The massacre left 14 civilians dead and at least 17 wounded. “None of the victims was an insurgent, or posed any threat to the Raven 23 convoy,” the government said, in a sentencing memorandum filed to the court on 8 April. ...

Defense lawyers say they will appeal the convictions.

Ethiopians talk of violent intimidation as their land is earmarked for foreign investors

New report gives damning indictment of the government’s mandatory resettlement policy carried out in a political climate of torture, oppression and silencing

The human cost of Ethiopia’s “villagisation” programme is laid bare by damning first person testimony published on Tuesday.

The east African country has long faced criticism for forcibly relocating tens of thousands of people from their ancestral homes to make way for large scale commercial agriculture, often benefiting foreign investors. Those moved to purpose-built communes are allegedly no longer able to farm or access education, healthcare and other basic services.

Agriculture makes up nearly half the GDP of Ethiopia, where four in five people live in rural areas. But since the mid-2000s, the government has awarded millions of hectares of land to foreign investors. The commune development programme, which aims to move 1.5 million rural families from their land to new “model” villages across the country, has faced allegations of violent evictions, political coercion, intimidation, imprisonment, rapes, beatings and disappearances.

A witness from Benishangul laments: “This is not development. Investors are destroying our lands and environment. There is no school, [no] food security, and they destroy wild fruits. Bamboo is the life of people. It is used for food, for cattle, for our beds, homes, firewood, everything. But the investors destroy it. They destroy our forests.

“This is not the way for development. They do not cultivate the land for the people. They grow sorghum, maize, sesame, but all is exported, leaving none for the people.”

Commission on Presidential Debates -- Time to Change

Sanders 2016? Bernie to Announce Whether He Plans to Run for President

Vermont's Independent Senator Bernie Sanders will decide by the end of April whether or not he will run for the U.S. presidency in the 2016 election, his spokesperson told the Burlington Free Press on Sunday.

Sanders told the Burlington Free Press that all who are running, including Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, must directly address "the grotesque level of income and wealth inequality that is crushing our middle class; high unemployment and low wages; the threat that global climate change presents to our future and the future of our children; and the fact that democracy itself is at risk because of the catastrophic decision of the Supreme Court in the Citizens United case."

Is It Okay to Drill in the Arctic? It's Complicated, According to the Obama Administration

Royal Dutch Shell hasn't tried exploring for oil in the Arctic Ocean since its mishap-filled 2012 season, when one of its drilling vessels ran aground on an Alaskan island.

Now the company is closing in on a return to the Arctic this summer.

On Friday, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, an agency within the US Department of the Interior (DOI), began its 30-day review of Shell's new plan for oil exploration at six locations in the Chukchi Sea, which lie about 70 miles off the Alaska coast. ...

Shell's Arctic drilling plans have been a point of contention for environmental and Alaskan native groups since the federal government sold the leases in 2008. A flawed environmental analysis put the leases in legal limbo after 2012. But DOI conducted a new study and reaffirmed the leases at the end of March. ...

Earlier this year, a study in the scientific journal Nature found that developing oil resources in the Arctic is incompatible with the international goal of keeping global temperature rise within 2 degrees Celsius compared to pre-Industrial Age levels. ...

While the Obama administration is green-lighting fossil fuel drilling in one Arctic region, it is seeking to bring it to prevent it in another.

Earlier this month President Obama finalized a recommendation that Congress permanently block energy development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) by designating it a federally protected wilderness area.

The Obama administration's seemingly contradictory policy is not surprising says Niel Lawrence, the Natural Resource Defense Council's Alaska director. "That's sort of business as usual in DC, where splitting the difference is a way of life," he told VICE News.

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Greece is getting ready to default on at least some of its debt payments, according to the Financial Times.

The country has entered a pretty dire fiscal situation. It desperately needs to unlock bailout funds from its creditors, but progress negotiating that cash is shaky at best.

If Athens doesn't get its next €7.2 billion ($7.58 billion) bailout tranche by the April 24 Eurogroup meeting of European finance ministers, default becomes a lot more likely, and it seems as if the government is already preparing for the worst. Here's the FT:

Greece is preparing to take the dramatic step of declaring a debt default unless it can reach a deal with its international creditors by the end of April, according to people briefed on the radical leftist government’s thinking.

The government, which is rapidly running out of funds to pay public sector salaries and state pensions, has decided to withhold €2.5bn of payments due to the International Monetary Fund in May and June if no agreement is struck, they said.

"We have come to the end of the road ... If the Europeans won't release bailout cash, there is no alternative [to a default]," one government official said.

Greece has denied the report, but I wouldn't expect them to do otherwise.

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joe shikspack's picture

banksters and their lackeys in various european governments, that greece has been preparing for a few weeks at least for default and grexit. it would make sense for them to deny it until the minute that they are forced to impose capital controls to maintain some sort of equilibrium.

i wonder if the eurozone governments have a plan b, since it appears that their goal is to sweep syriza out of power. if so, i would imagine that it will be ugly.

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At least one Spanish bank, Bankinter SA, the country’s seventh-largest lender by market value, has been paying some customers interest on mortgages by deducting that amount from the principal the borrower owes.
The problem is just one of many challenges caused by interest rates falling below zero, known as a negative interest rate. All over Europe, banks are being compelled to rebuild computer programs, update legal documents and redo spreadsheets to account for negative rates.
Banks set interest rates on many loans as a small percentage above or below a benchmark such as Euribor. As rates have declined, sometimes to below zero, some banks have faced the paradox of paying interest to those who have borrowed money from them.
Lenders, hoping to avoid the expense of having to pay borrowers, are turning to central banks for guidance. But what they are hearing is less than comforting.
Portugal’s central bank recently ruled that banks would have to pay interest on existing loans if Euribor plus any additional spread falls below zero. The central bank, however, said lenders are free to take “precautionary measures” in future contracts. More than 90% of the 2.3 million mortgages outstanding in Portugal have variable rates linked to Euribor.

One thing I am sure when it comes to economics, is that if it doesn't make sense...it doesn't make sense.
Something is so seriously out of wack in the global economy that most people are just ignoring it because they don't know what to make of it.

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joe shikspack's picture

because of the unregulated greed of banksters, money has become unmoored from any reasoned system of value or capacity of the planetary assets to match the vast numbers of 1's and 0's floating around.

the central banksters have responded to this conceptual failure by creating "money" and giving enormous sums of it to rich people to keep them shut up. the theory seems to be that as long as very rich people can realize a "return" on their gambling chips, they'll be happy and pacified. the shit will hit the fan if they try to turn those 1's and 0's into tangible assets all at once.

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Big Al's picture

Debates, I see pro's and con's. The powers that be set it up that way to exclude more voices and the
debate about issues, so changing it to include third parties would help. How much is the question and also
would it do more harm than good? Would it simply perpetuate a system that isn't going to work anyway,
maybe further legitimize it, make people think that all is well now because "changes" were made?
It's like Obamacare, people said it was a 'start" toward single payer but did it really hurt our chances for
single payer for decades? Or it's like the 1% tax on Wall Street transactions. Sure it would bring in more
revenue for operating our government, but it also makes people think all is well because now they're being taxed,
when in reality it won't hurt them a bit and it won't change a system of wealth inequality that is getting worse every
Progress is a tough thing under the circumstances.

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joe shikspack's picture

has anything to do with how the nation is governed, having a more diverse set of voices and ideas available to the public mind is a good thing. i figure that this lawsuit is a good thing at least in that it causes a few people to think about how the game is rigged.

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