The Evening Blues - 9-10-19
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues singer Valerie Wellington. Enjoy!
Valerie Wellington - You Can't Have My Monkey
"No issue can be negotiated unless you first have the clout to compel negotiation."
-- Saul Alinsky
News and Opinion
Trump, prior to becoming president, was right when he declared Afghanistan to be a “mess” and a “total disaster.” And he was right, upon assuming office, to have authorized peace talks with the Taliban (despite harshly condemning Obama for trying to do the same in 2012). Liberals who piously condemn Trump for trying to do a deal with the Islamist insurgent group need to explain how they plan to end the fighting without trying to do the same. (“At some point,” tweeted political scientist Paul Musgrave on Sunday, “the US will have to reach a deal with the Taliban, accept defeat, go on an all-out rampage, or make it a literal forever war.”)
Yet this weekend’s Twitter antics are further evidence that the supposed author of “The Art of the Deal” is singularly incapable of doing this particular deal. Why? Number one, as CNN reported, “The decision to invite Taliban leaders and Afghan President Ashraf Ghani to Camp David was made a week ago. … Trump told his team he would be better positioned to do the negotiating himself.” He is, of course, deluded. North Korea is a stark reminder of what happens when Trump gets personally involved in international diplomacy. Listen to Barnett Rubin, an expert on the conflict and a former senior adviser to the U.S. Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, who thinks this was all about Trump’s ego and not Afghanistan’s future. “He wanted a photo op and a high-ratings TV show,” Rubin tweeted on Sunday, “and when it didn’t work out, he canceled it.”
Number two: Trump has no firm beliefs or principles, and no understanding whatsoever of foreign policy or military strategy. So he is easily swayed by those around him — and those around him tend to be hawks. It was Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, Trump’s then-national security adviser, who convinced the reluctant president to send more troops to Afghanistan in 2017, after showing him a 1972 photo of Afghan women in miniskirts as evidence that Western mores could be reintroduced into that country (I kid you not). And this latest decision to invite (and then disinvite) the Taliban to Camp David, and then pull the plug on negotiations across the board, was partly a result of uber-hawk John Bolton, Trump’s current national security adviser, whispering in his ear. ...
It would, of course, be foolish to pretend that there is a neat solution to the chaos in Afghanistan, a poverty-stricken country divided on tribal, ethnic, and religious lines, fought over by a bevy of outside powers, and plagued by violence for more than four decades. There isn’t. ...
Saturday, the president announced that he had cancelled both the Camp David meeting and “called off peace negotiations.” This is madness. Trump himself, prior to entering the White House, decried the war in Afghanistan as a “complete waste” and demanded a “speedy withdrawal.” Now he takes to Twitter to dismiss the possibility of signing a “meaningful agreement” with the Taliban and to ask this rather plaintive question: “How many more decades are they willing to fight?”
The answer? Many more decades than most Americans are.
Trump’s tweeted announcement on Saturday came as a shock in Washington and Kabul, where there was disbelief that the president would have invited the Taliban to an iconic presidential venue in the same week as the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
There was also scepticism that the bombing of Thursday in Kabul was the real reason the talks were called off.
The Taliban issued a statement saying an agreement had been “finalised” and that talks had ended in “a good atmosphere” but the deal had been sabotaged by Trump.
“Reacting to just one attack, just before the signing of the agreement, shows neither patience nor experience,” the statement said.
The Taliban would continue their “jihad” against foreign “occupation”, the statement said. “Now, the announcement by the president of the United States, Donald Trump, of an end to negotiations with the Islamic Emirate [the Taliban] will harm America more than anyone else; it will harm its credibility, and further expose its anti-peace stance to the world; it would [result in] an increase in financial damage and casualties to its forces.”
The Taliban are expected to step up attacks on preparations for presidential elections on 28 September.
Benjamin Netanyahu has unveiled what he claims was a previously undisclosed Iranian nuclear weapons facility and accused Tehran of destroying the site to hide the evidence. ... Without providing details, he accused Iran of using the facility near the city of Abadeh to “conduct experiments to develop nuclear weapons”.
The Israeli prime minister was immediately accused of using sensitive intelligence to appear statesmanlike, just a week ahead of next Tuesday’s election. ...
He said the facility was destroyed in July, after the Iranians realised they had been discovered, but it was not clear why he waited until now to disclose the details.
Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, responded to Netanyahu on Twitter, referring to him as “the possessor of real nukes” who “cries wolf – on an alleged ‘demolished’ site in Iran”.
President Bolton Fired!
Trump has just announced that he has fired John Bolton just days after reports emerged that the national security adviser opposed the president’s secret plan to hold peace talks with the Taliban at Camp David.
....I asked John for his resignation, which was given to me this morning. I thank John very much for his service. I will be naming a new National Security Advisor next week.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 10, 2019
Boris Johnson shut down parliament amid chaotic scenes in the early hours of Tuesday following his sixth parliamentary defeat in six days, as MPs voted to block a snap election and to force the publication of No 10’s secret preparations for a no-deal Brexit. MPs on the opposition benches shouted: “Shame on you” at Conservative MPs as they filed out behind the Speaker, John Bercow, during the start of proceedings to prorogue parliament until 14 October, while others held up signs saying “silenced”. Renditions of Red Flag, Jerusalem, Flower of Scotland and Bread of Heaven were also sung.
Bercow told the Commons “this is not a standard or normal prorogation” and that the move represented “an act of executive fiat”. Opposition MPs tried to physically stop Bercow from leaving his chair to go to the House of Lords to finish the prorogation formalities.
Earlier, Johnson moved to stop parliament sitting for five weeks and repeatedly refused to countenance any delay to leaving the EU, even though the bill to prevent a no-deal Brexit on 31 October passed into law on Monday and MPs refused him a general election before that date. Johnson was also defiant about parliament’s vote, by 311 to 302, for him to publish Operation Yellowhammer documents detailing the government’s no-deal Brexit plans, after a leaked version from early August warned of possible food and medicine shortages.
The motion, brought by former Tory MP Dominic Grieve, also directed Johnson to disclose messages relating to the suspension of parliament sent by his senior adviser, Dominic Cummings and various other aides on WhatsApp, Facebook, other social media and both their personal and professional phones. Grieve said he had information from public officials that such correspondence contained a “scandal”.
But Downing Street sources suggested Johnson’s advisers would resort to legal action rather than hand over their communications. Any refusal to comply could put them and the government in contempt of parliament.
The Swedish prosecutor investigating a rape allegation against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said on Monday she had interviewed seven witnesses, including two not previously heard, but had yet to determine how to proceed in the case. ... The Swedish prosecutor, Deputy Director of Public Prosecution Eva-Marie Persson, faces a deadline in the case with the statute of limitations set to expire in August 2020. ...
“Once we have analysed the interviews, I will decide how to proceed with the case. The investigation may then be discontinued or I may decide to conduct further inquiries.”
If Assange is charged and convicted in Sweden, he could face up to four years in prison.
It might not be a bad idea to drop your congressworm a line about this ...
Targeting PATRIOT Act Provision, Rights Groups Urge House Dems to Block NSA From Collecting Americans' Phone Records
Stressing the dangers of mass surveillance, a coalition 30 of digital rights, social justice, and civil liberties groups on Monday urged House Democrats to end a provision of the PATRIOT Act that enables the government to collect Americans' phone records. The organizations' demands were detailed in a letter (pdf) sent Monday to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and the committee's other Democrats, which came alongside a panel discussion on Capitol Hill that featured rights and mass surveillance experts.
"We urge you to oppose any legislation that would reauthorize Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act unless it repeals the government's statutory authority to operate the Call Detail Records ("CDR") program and contains bold reforms to protect individuals against mass surveillance," begins the letter to Democratic lawmakers from groups that collectively represent millions of members.
"Mass surveillance is wrong and dangerous to our democracy. It is antithetical to our core civil liberties and it disproportionately harms the communities historically targeted by racial and religious animus," the letter continues. "No Democrat should vote to grant Donald Trump the power to spy on millions of innocent people in America."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation—which was not part of the letter but is also critical of Section 215—explained in a blog post last month that the U.S. government long used the provision "to conduct a dragnet surveillance program that collected billions of phone records documenting who a person called and for how long they called them—more than enough information for analysts to infer very personal details about a person, including who they have relationships with, and the private nature of those relationships."
After government contractor-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden exposed the once-secret NSA operation in 2013 and a federal appeals court ruled in 2015 that the NSA's interpretation of Section 215 was "unprecedented and unwarranted," Congress reauthorized but partly limited the provision by passing the 2015 FREEDOM Act, which was signed into law by former President Barack Obama.
Congress must now decide whether to reauthorize Section 215 or let it sunset on Dec. 15. Despite reports in March that the Trump administration had ended the CDR program after the NSA was forced to purge hundreds of millions of records because some were unlawfully collected, the Trump White House recently requested that Congress reauthorize Section 215—indefinitely.
Fifty US states and territories, led by Texas, announced an investigation into Google’s “potential monopolistic behavior”. The Monday announcement closely followed one from a separate group of states on Friday that disclosed an investigation into Facebook’s market dominance. The two investigations widen the antitrust scrutiny of big tech companies beyond sweeping federal and congressional investigations and enforcement action by European regulators.
The Nebraska attorney general, Doug Peterson, a Republican, said at a press conference held in Washington that 50 attorneys general joining together sends a “strong message to Google”.
California and Alabama are not part of the investigation, although it does include the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Tara Gallegos, a spokeswoman for the California attorney general, Xavier Becerra, declined to confirm or deny any state investigation and would not comment on the announcement by the other states. ...
Google’s parent company, Alphabet, has a market value of more than $820bn and controls so many facets of the internet that it’s fairly impossible to surf the web for long without running into at least one of its services. Google’s dominance in online search and advertising enables it to target millions of consumers for their personal data. ...
One outcome antitrust regulators might explore is forcing Google to spin off search as a separate company, experts say. Regulators also could focus on areas such as Google’s popular video site YouTube, an acquisition Google scored in 2006.
Last week, state attorneys general, led by Texas and New York, announced investigations into Google and Facebook for possible antitrust violations. This is a big deal. No society has ever centralized control of information as we have in big tech, and this is the first real American strike at the problem. As Scott Galloway frequently notes in his podcast with tech journalist Kara Swisher, the big tech breakup has finally begun.
What have Google and Facebook done to merit such attention from authorities? To put it simply, they use their control of the flow of information to monopolize advertising revenue, killing newspapers across the country and around the world and eliminating potential competitors in a host of areas. Since 2007, a little less than half of all newspaper journalism jobs in the US have been eliminated. Out of America’s 3,000 counties, two-thirds now have no daily newspaper. Every sector of news gathering is in decline, and not because the appetite for news is down. People want news. But the traffic and ad revenue that used to flow from news now flows to the digital duo. Market structure failings in advertising markets are a strange problem, because no one actually wants advertising. But advertising is nonetheless critical to give the press a viable financial lifeline, and one shielded by the state. ...
Facebook and Google are basically advertising backends tied to large consumer-facing products. Google has eight products with more than a billion users, and Facebook has four products with more than a billion users. Their business models are quite complex, but the gist is that they seek to place ads in front of you while you are trying to communicate or when you are looking for something you want. So far, this doesn’t sound so bad. But Google and Facebook aren’t just getting a lot of online ad revenue growth, they are capturing practically all of it. ...
Google and Facebook need publishers to serve their large audiences, and publishers need Google and Facebook as distributors. But the power imbalance is stark. Google and Facebook need publishers, but they don’t need any one specific publisher. By contrast every publisher desperately needs both Google and Facebook to get their content in front of readers. For example, a few years ago Google decided to punish the Wall Street Journal for enacting a certain type of paywall by downgrading the newspaper’s search ranking, lowering the Wall Street Journal’s traffic by 44%. Google’s business was unaffected. ... The net effect of this market structure is that news gatherers can produce news, but most of the advertising revenue earned from people consuming that news goes to Google and Facebook. Google and Facebook earn money from other people’s work, which is unfair and anti-competitive. And it’s why newspapers are dying. ...
These corporations have become too powerful to be contained by democratic societies. We must work through our government to break them up and regulate our information commons, or they will end up becoming our government and choosing what we see and know about the world around us. It’s easy to be despondent about the state of the world. But at least in this case, there are public servants fighting for the people.
A comprehensive Government Accountability Office study commissioned by Sen. Bernie Sanders and published Monday found that low-income Americans have significantly shorter lives than the rich, leading the Vermont senator to declare that poverty in the world's wealthiest nation is a "death sentence."
"Poverty is a life-threatening issue for millions of people in this country, and this report confirms it," Sanders, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, said in a statement. "We are in a crisis never before seen in a rich, industrialized democracy."
To determine the relationship between wealth—or lack thereof—and life expectancy, the GAO examined a representative sample of Americans born from 1931 through 1941, making them between 51 and 61 years of age in 1992.
"The same individuals have been re-interviewed every two years since, provided they continued to participate in the survey, and the most recent complete data is from 2014, when those who were still alive were 73 to 83 years old," according to the GAO.
The agency found that just 48 percent of those in the bottom 20 percent of the wealth distribution were still alive in 2014. By contrast, over 75 percent of those in the wealthiest 20 percent were still alive, indicating that—in the words of the GAO—"income and wealth each have strong associations with longevity." ...
According to the GAO, the average wealth of the richest 20 percent of older U.S. households more than doubled between 1989 and 2016. Meanwhile, between 1989 and 2013, the average wealth of older households in the bottom 20 percent fell from $4,500 to negative $4,300.
"We must put an end to the obscene income and wealth inequality in our country, and ensure living wages, quality healthcare, and retirement security for our seniors as human rights," sand Sanders. "If we do not urgently act to solve the economic distress of millions of Americans, a whole generation will be condemned to early death."
A leaked Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) intelligence report reveals that the US government is using informants and trawling social media to spy on domestic left-wing protest groups opposed to fascist border militias and the Trump administration’s attack on immigrants. The document, titled “Anarchist Extremists Very Likely Increasing Targeting of US Government Entities in Arizona, Increasing Risk of Armed Conflict,” produced by the FBI’s Phoenix office, was published on September 4 by Yahoo News. ...
The report explains that the FBI is targeting “anarchist extremists” (which it refers to as “AEs”) because they “view US immigration policies and procedures for handling illegal immigrants—including arrests, removal, and border barriers—as violations of human rights and supporting government facilities and personnel as symbols of US tyranny.” The FBI justifies labeling groups as “extremists” based on the fact that they are “monitoring various US Border Patrol activities, right-wing militia groups, and other groups favoring the border wall, mostly to expose human rights abuses and communicate threats to humanitarian groups operating in the area.”
The use of terminology is legally significant: groups opposing fascists are “extremists” while fascists are merely listed as “right-wing groups.” The FBI is effectively serving as the fascist militias’ protectors. The report explains that the FBI has gathered information from “human and open source reporting with varying access and reliability, the majority having direct access.” Translated into plain English, the FBI is trawling websites and personal social media pages for “open source” gathering while working with “human” informants or infiltrating agents with “direct access” to the targeted groups and individuals. ...
The FBI reviewed “extremist websites,” including one “AE website” which advocates “disruptive actions” against Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The FBI referenced another “extremist website” on the grounds that it advocates “a trajectory of rebellion.” One individual was targeted for social media surveillance because he was “a self-identified antifascist” who had “expressed support” for “AEs.” The FBI admits that “the majority of AEs do not further their goals with firearms” and that “AE groups have banned firearms or carrying loaded weapons.” In other words, the groups are targeted despite having explicitly renounced violent behavior.
The FBI report is one small but dangerous part of a broader effort to criminalize left-wing social opposition under the auspices of combatting “domestic terrorism.”
Federal Judge Reinstates Nationwide Injunction on Trump Effort to Block Asylum Seekers at Southern Border
Immigration rights advocates applauded a federal judge's ruling on Monday that reinstated a nationwide injunction against a Trump administration rule preventing those who passed through another country before reaching the U.S.-Mexico land border from seeking asylum.
The ACLU, in a tweet, called the ruling by U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar a "victory."
VICTORY: A federal court just reinstated a full block on the Trump administration’s asylum ban.
This ban categorically denied asylum to anyone at the southern border who had transited through a third country en route to the United States, with very limited exceptions.
— ACLU (@ACLU) September 9, 2019
"Before today's decision," explained Charanya Krishnaswami, Amnesty International USA's advocacy director for the Americas, "entire parts of this country had essentially become asylum-free zones, where people in search of safety would be arbitrarily barred from asylum based on where they happened to cross the border."
As Common Dreams reported, the administration's rule, rolled out in July, said asylum-seekers who travel through another country before reaching the U.S.-Mexico border were ineligible for asylum in the United States. The rule was panned human rights advocates as "deliberate cruelty."
Judge Tigar issued a nationwide injunction in July. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in August limited the scope of the "third country" rule to New Mexico and Texas. The new ruling means the the injunction extends across all the states along the southern border.
As GOP fearmongering about the so-called looming socialist menace continues to intensify ahead of the 2020 elections, President Donald Trump has reportedly expressed concern behind the scenes that anti-socialist messaging may not be as popular or effective as Republican strategists appear to believe.
The Daily Beast, citing anonymous sources close to the president, reported Sunday night that "Trump has repeatedly told friends and donors that running against 'socialism' in a general election may not be 'so easy' because of its populist draw."
During a recent private donor event, according to The Daily Beast, Trump warned if Democrats run on canceling student loan debt, for instance, "that's a tough one" to campaign against.
Trump's reported misgivings about framing his reelection message around opposition to "socialism" come as Republicans are working hard in the lead-up to the 2020 elections to label all Democrats as socialists, a playbook the GOP has drawn from for decades.
The campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the only 2020 Democratic presidential candidate running as a democratic socialist, said the president's private fears show he's concerned about being attacked as a phony populist whose policies have disproportionately benefited the wealthiest Americans.
"One of the reasons I feel so strongly about Bernie's ability to beat Trump," said Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir, "is because we know that the Democratic nominee will have to credibly explain that Trump betrayed the working class with false promises and that he does not put forward real solutions to help struggling people."
"Bernie can and will do that successfully," Shakir told The Daily Beast. "We'll have a national debate about policies that help the one percent versus policies that lift the 99. I get the sense Trump knows the reckoning is coming and is worried about being exposed as a fraud. No Sharpie edits will save him."
Warren throws a bone to progressives:
In what Justice Democrats celebrated as "an incredibly important moment," 2020 Democratic presidential primary candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Monday endorsed Jessica Cisneros and Marie Newman—a pair of progressive primary challengers to conservative incumbent Democrats in Congress. Cisneros, who is challenging Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), and Marie Newman, who is challenging Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D-Ill.), are both backed by Justice Democrats, which supported first-term Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in 2018, when she ousted a longtime congressman and leader in the Democratic Party, Joe Crowley.
"We are so proud that Jessica Cisneros and Marie Newman are being endorsed by Senator Warren, a strong fighter for working families," Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, said in a statement Monday. Rojas contrasted the Massachusetts Democrat's fresh endorsements with the positions of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), the party's official campaign arm for the House, which has tried to stifle progressive challengers trying to unseat more right-wing incumbents.
"At a time when the DCCC is rallying around pro-NRA and anti-choice Democrats like Cuellar and Lipinski," Rojas said, "it's a breath of fresh air to have candidates for president who remember what the Democratic Party should stand for."
Warren endorsing against a sitting House Democrat. Does that mean the DCCC will blacklist her? How does that work? https://t.co/LO0XXhppWy
— Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) September 9, 2019
Climate change is not only having a devastating impact on the environments we live in, but also on respect for human rights globally, the UN has warned. The UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, cited the civil wars sparked by a warming planet and the plight of indigenous people in an Amazon ravaged by wildfires and rampant deforestation.
She also denounced attacks on environmental activists, particularly in Latin America, and the abuse aimed at high-profile figures such as the teenage campaigner Greta Thunberg. “The world has never seen a threat to human rights of this scope,” she told the UN human rights council in Geneva.
“The economies of all nations, the institutional, political, social and cultural fabric of every state, and the rights of all your people, and future generations, will be impacted” by climate change, she warned.
Ahead of an historic summit in Cape Town this week and the global climate strike planned for Sept. 20, the environmental group 350.org announced Monday that the international movement demanding divestment from fossil fuels and investment in clean energy had secured commitments from more than 1,110 institutions with over $11 trillion in assets.
Campaigners with 350.org and the DivestInvest network marked the milestone with the release of a new report, $11T and Counting: New Goals for a Fossil-Free World (pdf), which details the explosive growth of the divestment movement.
"What began as a moral call to action by students is now a mainstream financial response to growing climate risk to portfolios, the people, and the planet," the report explains. "Assets committed to divestment have leapt from $52 billion in 2014 to more than $11 trillion today—a stunning increase of 22,000 percent."
"Institutions committed to divestment include sovereign wealth funds, banks, global asset managers and insurance companies, cities, pension funds, healthcare organizations, universities, faith groups, and foundations," according to the report. "The momentum has been driven by a people-powered grassroots movement, ordinary people on every continent pushing their local institutions to take a stand against the fossil fuel industry and for a world powered by 100 percent renewable energy."
Arnold Schwarznegger has condemned Donald Trump over his unprecedented rollback of environmental protections, particularly his move against California’s regulation of automobile emissions.
“It’s wrong,” the Terminator star and two-term governor wrote in an opinion column for the Washington Post that was pointedly headlined: “Trump can’t erase a decade of clean-air progress with a Sharpie.” ...
Schwarzenegger said the Trump administration was “hellbent on reversing decades of history and progress”.
“Whether it is [motivated by] political pettiness, shortsightedness or just plain jealousy, I couldn’t tell you,” he said.
Describing his anger at moves against California over automobile emissions, Schwarzenegger said his state had been a leader in establishing clean-air standards since 1967, when his “hero”, Ronald Reagan, was governor. Schwarzenegger wrote: “We set our standards, and the federal government didn’t just respect our authority, it generally made our rules the standard for the entire nation.” The same pattern applied to efforts to curb greenhouse gases, he said.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Valerie Wellington - Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On
Valerie Wellington - Cold, Cold Feeling
Valerie Wellington - Fool For You
Valerie Wellington and Billy Branch - Got My Mojo Workin'
Valerie Wellington - How Blue Can You Get
Valerie Wellington - Don't Need Nobody
Valerie Wellington - Down in the Dumps
Valerie Wellington - Let The Good Times Roll
Otis Rush with Cash McCall Band and Valerie Wellington 1998
Valerie Wellington comes on later in the video, but you won't mind waiting.