Evening Blues Preview 5-28-15

This evening's music features blues singer and piano player Tommy Tucker.

Here are some stories from tonight's posting:

Anonymous Fear-Mongering About the Patriot Act from the White House and NYT

Several of the most extremist provisions of the 2001 Patriot Act are going to expire on June 1 unless Congress reauthorizes them in some form. Obama officials such as Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and new Attorney General Loretta Lynch have been engaged in rank fear-mongering to coerce renewal, warning that we’ll all be “less safe” if these provisions are allowed to “sunset” as originally intended, while invoking classic Cheneyite rhetoric by saying Patriot Act opponents will bear the blame for the next attack. ...

Enter the New York Times. An article this morning by Julie Hirschfeld Davis, in the first paragraph, cites anonymous Obama officials warning that “failing to [strike a deal by the deadline] would suspend crucial domestic surveillance authority at a time of mounting terrorism threats.” Behold the next two paragraphs:

“What you’re doing, essentially, is you’re playing national security Russian roulette,” one senior administration official said of allowing the powers to lapse. That prospect appears increasingly likely with the measure, the USA Freedom Act, stalled and lawmakers in their home states and districts during a congressional recess.

“We’re in uncharted waters,” another senior member of the administration said at a briefing organized by the White House, where three officials spoke with reporters about the consequences of inaction by Congress. “We have not had to confront addressing the terrorist threat without these authorities, and it’s going to be fraught with unnecessary risk.”

Those two paragraphs, courtesy of the Obama White House and the Paper of Record, have it all: the principal weapons that have poisoned post-9/11 political discourse in the U.S. ...

It’s just government propaganda masquerading as a news article, where anonymous officials warn the country that they will die if the Patriot Act isn’t renewed immediately, while decreeing that Congressional critics of the law will have blood on their hands due to their refusal to obey. In other words, it’s a perfect museum exhibit for how government officials in both parties and American media outlets have collaborated for 15 years to enact one radical measure after the next and destroy any chance for rational discourse about it.

Washington wisdom on data collection shown up by Justice Department verdict

The inspector general’s report undermines the Beltway consensus that expiring portions of Patriot Act are crucial counter-terrorism tools

For all the acrimony over the future contours of US domestic surveillance, a consensus has emerged: the expiring portions of the Patriot Act that do not govern the mass collection of US phone records are critical counter-terrorism tools.

The only dissent from that consensus: the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, which has found that a provision heralded by everyone from across the political spectrum to be at best marginally useful.

Yet the Washington surveillance debate, which is heading for a sort of resolution in an extraordinary Senate session on Sunday, has all but ignored last week’s groundbreaking Justice Department inspector general report on the key provision, known as Section 215. ...

The Justice Department inspector general’s report released on Thursday confirmed that the FBI uses the Patriot Act provision to collect much more than business records. It gives the FBI “large collections” of Americans’ internet metadata, as long noted by journalist Marcy Wheeler, including the to/from lines of emails, texts, instant messages, web addresses, and probably internet protocol addresses.

The report stopped its review in the year 2009 and warned that large-scale FBI access to domestic internet metadata was growing, adding that it had outstanding questions about specific FBI policies to protect Americans’ privacy.

Progressives Betray Struggle Against Surveillance State

A struggle of some consequence is now being waged in Congress to keep on life support the NSA’s massive spying on the American people. And in this struggle the progressives (aka liberals) are engaged in a massive betrayal of all they profess to believe in. Instead too many of them are scurrying about attacking Rand Paul, the libertarian, anti-interventionist, Republican Senator who is leading the charge against the Bush/Obama spying program. Among other things Senator Paul has engaged in a filibuster to stop this nefarious program. So far he has been successful. ...

All the Democrats voted in favor of Obama’s phony reform, the USA Freedom Act. ... Next, when it came time to vote for the original Bush/Obama Patriot Act, the sides switched and the Republicans voted in favor of that measure. But they also failed to muster the 60 votes needed to go forward and so that version of mass surveillance failed. Only Rand Paul and a few other Republicans stood firm on the issue of no mass surveillance and confronted the Republican majority, a clear proclamation of principle over Party. For progressives this is (yet another) massive failure of those Dems whom they labored to install in the Senate. ...

Clearly this is a time when progressive organizations, who are forever urging us to write and contact our Congresspeople, should be rolling into action. And here is the biggest problem. I have long been on many of the progressive mailing lists. On this issue I have received nothing from them – nada, zilch. So I checked to see what they had on their web sites. Would there be at least a mention of this issue, a plea to contact one’s Senator? I checked Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), Green Party, Code Pink and Peace Action. None of them had a call to action on this issue as far as I could see as of May 26, which is very late in the game . To be fair, UNAC (United National Antiwar Coalition) did have a statement on this as an issue, dating from a while back and including condemnation of Obama for his actions. But even here there was no call to action – no call for phone or letters to Congress and certainly no calls for a street demonstration, which is almost an autonomic reflex with UNAC.

In short the pwogs have shown an abysmal failure to take action in halting the Spy State. And there is not much time to act.

The military-industrial-congressional complex has dreams of sugar plums dancing in their heads. They're dreaming of big, big war with big money for everybody.

Army begins training for the next war, which may be much different — and bigger

For more than a decade, troops here have been schooled in counterinsurgency.

“Mission-specific” training, they call it: going house to house, busting down doors, rooting out terror cells, recognizing crude explosives.

Now, after a pair of mission-specific wars, an Army in transition aims to get back to the future.

The training needed to fight full-scale, more conventional battles has suffered, Army leaders contend.

With Americans on Memorial Day weekend still assessing what was gained from fighting two drawn-out conflicts at the same time, are they ready to start thinking about the next war — maybe even The Big One?

“You hope it wouldn’t be World War III, but you have to prepare for the worst,” said Lt. Gen. Robert B. Brown, commanding general of the Army’s Combined Arms Center at Fort Leavenworth. “We need to be ready to play against the pro teams, not just the amateurs.”

By that he means a nation such as North Korea, even Russia. A “pro team” could even be a band of radicals with the means to acquire nationlike resources in a hurry — such as those fighters who call themselves the Islamic State, recruiting through the global reach of the Web. ...

At a time when U.S. military action has become defined by targeted airstrikes, ships jockeying in the South China Sea and a reluctance to place boots on the ground, the Army is seeking to reassert itself on the strategic stage, experts say.

Now facing steep troop reductions planned by the Pentagon, “the Army really is looking for a strategic framework in which to remain relevant,” said Kelley Sayler of the Center for a New American Security, an independent research organization.

Biden Talks Up Sending Missiles, Other Arms to Ukraine

The ceasefire in Ukraine has been holding for months now, but the Obama Administration continues to agitate for new fighting in the east, and continues to try to insinuate itself into that potential future conflict.

Vice President Joe Biden today talked up the idea of sending lethal arms, including anti-tank missiles, to the Ukrainian military, saying it was necessary because of Russia’s “brutal aggression.”

Biden went on to claim Russia was carrying out a “hyper-aggressive propaganda program” over the annexation of Crimea, which the US does not recognize. Biden added that sanctions against Russia will remain in place.

The Iran Talks Game Changer: An Israeli-Hezbollah War?

There are signs Israel may be at war again this summer. This time, not with Hamas in Gaza but with Hezbollah in Lebanon. Such a war may be the result not only of spillover from the Syrian war or ongoing Israeli-Hezbollah tensions. The deciding factor may be an Israeli calculation that war will shift momentum in the U.S. Congress decisively against the pending nuclear deal with Iran -- a deal that critics say will increase Iran's maneuverability in the region, including its support for Hezbollah. ...

If a Congressional vote on a resolution rejecting the nuclear deal were held today, President Obama probably would prevail -- possibly without even having to use his veto to defeat the attempt by Republicans and pro-Netanyahu Democrats to scuttle the historic diplomatic agreement with Tehran. Opposition arguments -- from claiming that the deal is a capitulation to Iran to the notion that it is unacceptable to make a deal with a regime like that in Tehran -- have not sufficiently resonated with the public to kill the agreement. This has caused some disarray in the opposition camp.

Indeed, if you are in that camp right now, it is reasonable to expect that the search is not for a new argument but for a game changing development: an event so powerful it shifts the momentum in Congress back to AIPAC, Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia and the other opponents of a nuclear deal.

Arguably, a military confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah this summer could fit that bill. The argument that the deal -- and the more than $50bn that would be returned to Tehran -- would strengthen Iran in the region and empower its allies would become much more potent if Israel were in an active conflict with Lebanon with Hezbollah rockets hitting Israeli cities, as was the case in 2006. Such a scenario can become the much desired game-changer that may cause many pro-Netanyahu Democrats to break with Obama.

Class of 2015: women are still making less than men – and prospects are poor

Young female college graduates are expected to make $3 less an hour than male counterparts – and all this year’s graduates face a struggle for good jobs, report finds

In their annual report, The Class of 2015: prospects for young graduates improving, but still a long way to go, Economic Policy Institute (EPI) researchers found that unemployment and underemployment rates still remain substantially higher than before the recession began. Similarly, wages for everyone but college-educated men are lower than they were 15 years ago.

The unemployment rate for this year’s college graduates is 7.2%, compared with 5.5% in 2007, and the underemployment rate is 14.9% compared with 9.6% in 2007. For high school graduates, unemployment rate is 19.5% compared to 15.9% in 2007 and the underemployment rate is 37%, compared with 26.8% in 2007.

“The class of 2015 joins the class of 2009 through 2014 in graduating into acutely weak labor market and [graduates are] competing with more experienced workers for a limited amount of job opportunities,” said Alyssa Davis, research assistance at the EPI. “Many young college graduates are working in a job that does not require a college degree at all. This is another sign of a continued slack in labor market and a sign that young graduates’ high unemployment is not because they lack the right skills but because of a continued lack of economy-wide demand for workers.” ...

“The only group that has wages that were higher than they were in 2000 is the young male college graduates, whose wages have only improved 1% since 2000. However, young female college graduates have wages that are actually 6.7% lower than they were in 2000.” ... On the bright side, that means that women who graduate from college earn about 84 cents for every dollar that male college graduates do. That’s better than the 78 cents earned by all women for every dollar earned by men.

Obama’s Dizzying Spin on the Environment and Trade

The Obama Administration claims that the new round of secret trade deals will be the greenest ever. Its latest attempt to sell that story was released earlier this week in a slick new report titled “Standing Up For The Environment: Trade For A Greener World.” As with most of the spin coming from the U.S. Trade Representative these days – there’s a lot of “trust us” bluster in the report, marketed with unattributed numbers and fancy graphics. But, perhaps most notably, it ignores the largest environmental issue of our times – climate change – and the numerous concerns raised by environmental groups about how these trade deals will damage the climate, not protect it.

While the report touts new provisions on wildlife protection, animal trafficking and illegal logging, we’ll have to take the Administration’s word for it. The environmental chapters for the Trans Pacific Partnership (with 11 Pacific Rim countries) and the Trans Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (with Europe) are still secret documents. But there are good reasons for concern. A leaked version of the TPP environmental chapter posted on WikiLeaks last year was ripped open by U.S. green groups for not being “fully enforceable.”

The issue of “enforceability” is critical as past trade agreements have routinely failed to effectively enforce environmental and labor-related chapters. The Sierra Club recently pointed out how environmental provisions in the US-Peru trade deal have failed to stop illegal logging. And earlier this week, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) issued a blistering report documenting how past Presidents have repeatedly made false promises about how trade agreements will protect labor standards. ...

Also missing from the USTR report is how both TPP and TTIP continue an extractive model of trade that has not only negatively impacted jobs and equality, but has also been devastating for the climate. Earlier this year, some 40 organizations focusing on rural and community-based responses to climate change wrote Congress calling for a full assessment of the climate impacts of these proposed trade deals. The groups wrote, “There is little question that the economic globalization largely driven by trade deals over the last several decades has contributed to the expansion of fossil fuel and other dirty energy production that cause climate change, expanded deforestation and other methods of natural resource extraction, while undermining local and community-level responses to climate change.” ...

Conflicting and confused agendas – masked by corporate style greenwashing – characterize the new USTR report. The Obama administration’s all-out effort to pass fast track, TPP and TTIP threaten to undermine its efforts to address climate change. The environment, and the people living in it, deserve better.

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Big Al's picture

bill in Congress for women (I think it was government nurses) was in the 1820's. I remember running across that
fact during my career as a government compensation and organizational analyst.
Quite the progress we've made in just short of 200 years huh.

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joe shikspack's picture

either economic or social, is improbable due to capitalism. capitalism is an engine that produces inequality - even when the vast majority of participants in a capitalist economy support a form of equality, it is not a likely outcome.

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Big Al's picture

Um, OK, but when did you leave the democratic party?

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Big Al's picture

President as a Democrat are supporting the democratic party. Those that vote for dems down ticket
are supporting the party. If the party left them, why do they stay? To try to make it better? Good luck with that.
Cass had a good comment and I've seen it floating around lately about how the Dem party has been nothing but a
big business, rich people party since it began. The New Deal and the Great Society were necessary actions the ruling
class had to take to maintain their hold, it's not like it was the grand old days of the Dem party. We've always been
had with this two party system.

So OPOL, what's your point?

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Big Al's picture

"The outrageous failure to prosecute the criminals in the Bush administration is a stain on democracy and makes the USA"

We don't live in a democracy.

And leaving out the criminals in the Obama administration, and we might as well add the Clinton admin and keep it relatively close,
is just plain wrong and buys into the lesser evil crap.

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