Evening Blues Preview 6-17-15
This evening's music features soul singer Wilson Pickett.
Here are some stories from tonight's posting:
Torture architects are television pundits and given enormous book contracts while Guantanamo detainees still can’t discuss what happened to them
The Senate commendably passed an amendment outlawing torture by a wide margin on Monday, but given that torture is already against the law - both through existing US statute and by international treaty - what does that really mean?
One would’ve thought pre-9/11 that it would be hard to write the current law prohibiting torture any more clearly. Nothing should have allowed the Bush administration to get away with secretly interpreting laws out of existence or given the CIA authority to act with impunity. The only reason a host of current and former CIA officials aren’t already in jail is because of cowardice on the Obama administration, which refused to prosecute Bush administration officials who authorized the torture program, those who destroyed evidence of it after the fact or even those who went beyond the brutal torture techniques that the administration shamefully did authorize.
Since the Senate report reinvigorated the torture debate six months ago, Obama officials have continued to try their hardest to make the controversy go away by stifling Freedom of Information Act requests for the full report and, in many cases, refusing to even read it. And Bush-era law-breakers were even given the courtesy of having their names redacted from the report, sparing them of public shaming or criticism, despite clear public interest to the contrary.
Instead of treating torture as the criminal matter that it is, the Obama administration effectively turned it into a policy debate, a fight over whether torture “worked”. It didn’t of course, as mountains of evidence has proved, but it’s mind-boggling we’re even having that debate considering that torture is a clear-cut war crime. It’s like debating the legality of child slavery while opening your opening argument with: “well, it is good for the economy.”
It's kind of sad that the best, most comprehensive discussion of torture on teevee is presented by a comedy show rather than one of the great 'Merkan demockery's many "news" outlets.
Words seem to mean different things in the Middle East. “Training” is a new term for escalation, and “Iraq” seems more and more like the Arabic word for Vietnam. ...
In August 2014, Obama turned an emotional appeal to save the Yazidi people from Islamic State into a bombing campaign. A massive tap was turned and arms flowed into the region. The number of American soldiers in Iraq zoomed up to 3,100, quietly joined by some 6,300 civilian contractors. The reputed mission was training – or whipping the Iraqi Army into shape.
After another inglorious retreat of the Iraqi Army, this time in Ramadi, the Obama administration last week announced a change: America will send 450 more troops to establish a new base at al Taqaddum, Anbar Province.
It is clear the United States no longer believes the Iraqi Army exists. What is left of it is largely a politically correct distribution tool for American weapons, and a fiction for the media. America will instead work directly with three sectarian militias in their separate de facto states (current bases in America’s Iraqi archipelago include one in Sunni Anbar, another in Kurdish territory and three in Shi’ite-controlled areas). The hope is that the militias will divert their attention from one another long enough to focus on Islamic State. It is, of course, impossible; everyone in Iraq — except the Americans — knows Islamic State is a symptom of a broader civil war, not a stand-alone threat to anyone’s homeland.
It is also significant that the United States will circumvent Baghdad’s objections to arming and training Sunni tribes. Baghdad has not sent any new recruits to the U.S. training facility at Ain al-Asad, in Sunni territory, for about six weeks; the United States will instead engage directly with Sunni recruits at Taqaddum. Obama’s new plan will also bring U.S. arms for the Sunnis straight into the new base, bypassing Baghdad’s control.
This is likely only the beginning of Obama’s surge. General Martin Dempsey, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, outlined the establishment of what he called “lily pads” — American base-lets scattered around the country. Of course, like Taqaddum, these lily pads will require hundreds more American military advisers to serve as flies, at risk of being snapped up by an Islamic State frog. Any attack on U.S. troops would require a response, a cycle that could draw the U.S. deeper into open conflict.
In sum: More troops, more bases, more forward-leaning roles, all operating at times against the will of a host government the United States appears to have lost patience with. The bright light of victory is years down a long tunnel.
We’ve seen this before. It was Vietnam.
One difference between Iraq and Vietnam, however, is sharp as a razor. The United States eventually left Vietnam. ... But unlike in Iraq, the United States was not foolish enough to go back.
The Greek Central Bank (BOG) on Wednesday warned that if the country's Syriza-led government and international creditors fail to reach a bailout deal, Greece would default and ultimately be forced to exit the European Union.
The dire predictions of "uncontrollable crisis" came from a report by the bank, which was published Wednesday as negotiations between Greece and its creditors, known as the Troika—comprising the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the European Central Bank, and the European Commission—continued with little progress.
But Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras remained steadfast in his vow to reject austerity-driven deals, stating during a press conference Wednesday morning that "[w]e have only one option and that is to find a solution that will be accepted and passed by the government and the parliament... If we do not have an honorable compromise, we will once again say the big no."
Zoe Konstantopoulou, Greek Parliamentary speaker, dismissed the bank's warnings as "totally unacceptable" and returned the report to BOG president Yiannis Stournaras.
Greek/EU break-up at the
"I'm packing my bags and heading out the door!"
"Yea, do that, see if I care!!"
— Lorcan Roche Kelly (@LorcanRK) June 17, 2015
This court decision seems pretty capricious and not well thought out. If an employer can fire you for using a course of treatment for a medical condition that does not impinge on work performance, why does that not apply to any kind of treatment? Can an employer fire you for taking blood pressure medication? Statin drugs? Medicines to lower blood sugar for diabetics? Sounds like a great way for an employer to lower their health insurance costs by creaming off the population of people without chronic health conditions.
State medical marijuana laws hit an obstacle this week when the Colorado Supreme Court ruled that Dish Network, a satellite service provider, acted within the law when they fired a quadriplegic employee for using the drug.
Brandon Coats obtained a state license for medical marijuana in 2009 to treat muscle spasms caused by a spinal cord injury sustained in a car accident he was involved in as a teenager that left 85 percent of his body paralyzed. Coats, who was working as a customer service representative at Dish Network at the time, said he smoked marijuana at home after work and within the confines of the Colorado's medical marijuana law. He said periods of intoxication would only last between 20 and 30 minutes.
In 2010, however, he ran into problems when he tested positive for marijuana after taking an impromptu drug test ordered by the company. Coats told his employer that he planned to continue using the drug. While the company agreed that he did not consume the marijuana at work he was fired two weeks later for violating Dish Network's zero-tolerance policy. ...
Attorney Michael Evans has spent five years litigating Coats' case, and said that they are both "devastated" by the verdict. Until the friction between state and federal law around pot is resolved, Evans told VICE News that it's unlikely he'll take on a case like this anytime soon.
"The Supreme Court's decision was pretty clear," he said. "We gave it the best shot we could. It would have had a powerful effect if we'd won, but I hope losing will have an equally powerful effect."
Legislative maneuvering around Trade Promotion Authority (TPA or Fast Track) continued late Tuesday, as GOP leaders in Congress, the Obama administration, and a handful of anti-democracy Democrats hatched a plan to hold a straight vote on Fast Track - handing the White House the authority it wants to pass the Trans Pacific Partnership and other pending corporate-friendly agreements—while separating out a provision offering assistance to workers displaced by future trade deals.
It's not a simple or guaranteed path forward for Fast Track, but Politico explained the GOP leadership's latest approach this way:
Under the emerging plan, the House would vote on a bill that would give Obama fast-track authority to negotiate a sweeping trade deal with Pacific Rim countries, sending it to the Senate for final approval. To alleviate Democratic concerns, the Senate then would amend a separate bill on trade preferences to include Trade Adjustment Assistance, a worker aid program that Republicans oppose but that House Democrats have blocked to gain leverage in the negotiations over fast-track.
The leaders’ behind-the-scenes machinations are an attempt to allow both bills — TAA and the fast-track measure known as Trade Promotion Authority — to move to Obama’s desk separately, sidestepping the objections of House Democrats that stalled the package last week. The idea, which has been discussed among top congressional leaders and the White House, would be tantamount to a dare to pro-trade Democrats in both chambers to vote it down.
The big question in the House remains how many of the 28 House Democrats who voted for Fast Track when the worker assistance program, known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), was on the table would do so now that it's been taken off.
Several polls now show Sen. Bernie Sanders closing the gap between himself and frontrunner Hillary Clinton
Several new polls from the early battleground state of New Hampshire indicate that the progressive message of Sen. Bernie Sanders—who has been busy talking about the troubling supremacy of Wall Street banks, vast economic inequality, the crisis of money in politics, and the imperative to address the climate crisis—is resonating with prospective voters in the early battleground state as he rapidly closes the gap with Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.
According to a Suffolk University poll released Tuesday, Sanders garnered the support of 31 percent of likely Democratic primary voters compared to Clinton who received 41 percent. With just ten points now separating the candidates, Sanders' increase in popularity is happening much faster than many political observers say they expected. ...
Strikingly—and accounting for Clinton's high level of name recognition—when respondents who said they "know both candidates" were asked for their preferences, the lead for the former first lady and secretary of state dropped from ten points to just three (38% to 35 %).
"This signals that Clinton is leading because more voters have never heard of Sanders," said David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center in Boston. "Perhaps the most telling statistic is political philosophy." According to the poll, Clinton led Sanders among self-identified moderates 46 percent to 26 percent, but among those identifying as liberal, the race is tied at 39 percent. ...
Jon Green at AmericaBlog
said he "wouldn’t go as far as to say that two polls from one state in early June make for a plausible path to victory," Sanders' early performance in New Hampshire suggest there is an opening for Sanders to turn the primary season into a meaningful race.
An interesting piece by George Monbiot - here's a taste:
Who wants to see the living world destroyed? Who wants an end to birdsong, bees and coral reefs, the falcon’s stoop, the salmon’s leap? Who wants to see the soil stripped from the land, the sea rimed with rubbish?
No one. And yet it happens. Seven billion of us allow fossil fuel companies to push shut the narrow atmospheric door through which humanity stepped. We permit industrial farming to tear away the soil, banish trees from the hills, engineer another silent spring. We let the owners of grouse moors, 1% of the 1%, shoot and poison hen harriers, peregrines and eagles. We watch mutely as a small fleet of monster fishing ships trashes the oceans.
Why are the defenders of the living world so ineffective? It is partly, of course, that everyone is complicit; we have all been swept off our feet by the tide of hyperconsumption, our natural greed excited, corporate propaganda chiming with a will to believe that there is no cost. But perhaps environmentalism is also afflicted by a deeper failure: arising possibly from embarrassment or fear, a failure of emotional honesty.
I have asked meetings of green-minded people to raise their hands if they became defenders of nature because they were worried about the state of their bank accounts. Never has one hand appeared. Yet I see the same people base their appeal to others on the argument that they will lose money if we don’t protect the natural world.
Such claims are factual, but they are also dishonest: we pretend that this is what animates us, when in most cases it does not. The reality is that we care because we love. Nature appealed to our hearts, when we were children, long before it appealed to our heads, let alone our pockets. Yet we seem to believe we can persuade people to change their lives through the cold, mechanical power of reason, supported by statistics.
More than half of the world's 37 largest aquifers are losing water due to population and climate stresses
Bottom line: the Earth is running out of water.
Two new NASA studies led by researchers from the University of California Irvine and published Tuesday show that the depletion of global groundwater resources, due to the dueling impacts of global warming and growing human demand, has caused the world's water supply to drop to dangerous levels.
The first report compares statistical analysis of water withdrawal to GRACE satellite analysis, which measures variations in gravity on the Earth's surface, between January 2003 and December 2013. The study compares the difference between the use and availability of these resources to determine the amount of overall renewable groundwater stress, or RGS.
According to the findings, at 21 of the 37 largest aquifers, water is being drained at a greater rate than it is being naturally replenished, 13 of which fell into the most troubled category. ...
The second study examines total groundwater storage capacity and found that many estimates are outdated and may even be smaller than previously thought.
Whereas previous definitions of water stress do not account for groundwater as a water supply source, the researchers explain that groundwater is now "increasingly relied upon during times of drought as a resilient water supply source." Further, they state, "Groundwater is currently the primary source of freshwater for approximately two billion people."