The Evening Blues - 11-9-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Chicago blues guitarist and singer Fenton Robinson. Enjoy!
Fenton Robinson - Somebody Loan Me A Dime
"We can either have democracy in this country or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both."
-- Louis Brandeis
News and Opinion
Thomas Frank finally commits the blindingly obvious to paper:
It’s not enough to say, in response to the Paradise Papers revelations, that we already knew that rich people parked their money in offshore tax havens, where their piles accumulate far from the scrutiny of our government. ... For decades Americans have been erupting in anger at what they can see happening to their beloved middle-class world. We think we know what the culprit is; we can see it vaguely through a darkened glass. It’s “elitism”. It’s a “rigged system”. It’s people who think they’re better than us. And for decades we have lashed out. At the immigrant next door. At Jews. At Muslims. At school teachers. At public workers who are still paid a decent wage. Our fury, unrelenting, grows and grows. ...
For decades Americans have lashed out against taxation because they were told that cutting taxes would give people an incentive to work harder and thus make the American economy flourish. Our populist leaders told us this – they’re telling us this still, as they reform taxes in Washington – and they rolled back the income tax, they crusaded against the estate tax, and they worked to keep our government from taking action against offshore tax havens. In reality, though, it was never about us and our economy at all. Today it is obvious that all of this had only one rationale: to raise up a class of supermen above us. It had nothing to do with jobs or growth. Or freedom either. The only person’s freedom to be enhanced by these tax havens was the billionaire’s freedom. It was all to make his life even better, not ours.
Today it is these same golden figures with their offshore billions who host the fundraisers, hire the lobbyists, bankroll the think tanks and subsidize the artists and intellectuals.
This is their democracy today. We just happen to live in it.
"Their democracy" in action. The world is their playground and those that are not equals are their "playmates":
What is the common denominator between the mega-producer Harvey Weinstein, the pundit Mark Halperin, the venture capitalist Dave McClure, and the aggressive former boss of a customer-service supervisor I interviewed last week? All are accused of dreadful sexual harassment, and in some cases violent assault. All also had inordinate economic advantage over their female employees and colleagues. Their quarry ranged from actresses to journalists to female entrepreneurs. And what their prey all had in common was a fear of financial or professional retribution that could destabilize already precarious careers.
The daily deluge of tales of lechery and trauma holds a hidden but crucial truism: sexual harassment routinely feeds on income inequality. After all, it’s much harder to exploit an equal. The greater the imbalance of income and power, the more opportunity there is to abuse one’s advantage (and perhaps, a greater temptation). ...
As employment lawyer Daniel R Bright sees it, women who earn less and have shakier professional security are indeed more likely to be targeted for sexual harassment. Many of Bright’s clients are in their 20s, right out of college, earning $30,000 a year, sometimes still living with parents or roommates. Bright said that these women’s harassers believe their employees “need their jobs so they’ll put up with it” and “can’t afford to quit”. ...
The male harassers making headlines are the multimillionaires, the centers of big companies or brands or magazines. And their victims were assistants, drama students, junior reporters and aspirants.
Analysis of the wealth of America’s richest people found that Gates, Bezos and Buffett were sitting on a combined $248.5bn (£190bn) fortune. The Institute for Policy Studies said the growing gap between rich and poor had created a “moral crisis”.
In a report, the Billionaire Bonanza, the thinktank said Donald Trump’s tax change proposals would “exacerbate existing wealth disparities” as 80% of tax benefits would end up going to the wealthiest 1% of households. “Wealth inequality is on the rise,” said Chuck Collins, an economist and co-author of the report. “Now is the time for actions that reduce inequality, not tax cuts for the very wealthy.”
The study found that the billionaires included in Forbes magazine’s list of the 400 richest people in the US were worth a combined $2.68tn – more than the gross domestic product (GDP) of the UK. “Our wealthiest 400 now have more wealth combined than the bottom 64% of the US population, an estimated 80m households or 204 million people,” the report says. “That’s more people than the population of Canada and Mexico combined.”
The report says the “billionaire class” continues to “pull apart from the rest of us” at the fastest rate ever recorded. “We have not witnessed such extreme levels of concentrated wealth and power since the first gilded age a century ago.”
Syrian troops have declared victory against Islamic State in the eastern town of Albu Kamal, the terror group’s last major stronghold in the country. The Isis withdrawal caps a series of major defeats in recent months that have virtually eliminated the self-styled caliphate, which it proclaimed in Syria and Iraq in 2014; millions of people have since suffered under its hardline, repressive strictures.
The Syrian military, backed by Shia fighters from Iraq, said it had reclaimed the border town of Albu Kamal from Isis, clearing the militants from their last key redoubt on the Iraqi border.
Albu Kamal had long been crucial to the ferrying of jihadists from Syria into Iraq during the American occupation, and vice versa during the war in Syria. Its loss heralds the near-complete collapse of Isis in Syria. The group retreated from the eastern cities and into the surrounding desert after losing the provincial capital of the oil-rich province of Deir ez-Zor to the Syrian army, and the group’s de facto capital of Raqqa to Kurdish paramilitaries backed by the United States.
Isis now controls minor swaths of the desert in central and eastern Syria, a significant retreat from its position just two years ago, when it controlled half the country’s landmass along with vast stretches of the plains of Nineveh in northern Iraq and Anbar province.
More than $100bn (£76bn) has been misused through corruption and embezzlement in Saudi Arabia in recent decades, the country’s attorney general has said, as he announced the detention of 201 people as part of a sweeping investigation. Gen Saud al-Mojeb said in a statement that 208 people had been called in for questioning since Saturday evening, and that seven people were released without charge. The figure released by the government is far larger than previously reported as it appears more arrests were made throughout the week.
Overnight on Saturday it emerged that 11 princes and 38 officials and businessmen had been detained. They are being held at five-star hotels across the country, including the Ritz-Carlton in Riyadh.
Critics and observers say the purge that has targeted top princes, officials, military officers and businessmen is a power grab by the crown prince to sideline potential rivals and critics.
Among those detained are billionaire Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal and two of the late King Abdullah’s sons, including Prince Miteb bin Abdullah, who until Saturday had headed the powerful National Guard before he was ousted and detained. Miteb was once a contender for the throne and was believed to be opposed to the king’s 32-year-old son, Mohammed bin Salman, becoming successor as crown prince. The crown prince is leading the investigation as the head of a newly-formed anti-corruption committee.
A plan for the United Arab Emirates to wage financial war against its Gulf rival Qatar was found in the task folder of an email account belonging to UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef al-Otaiba and subsequently obtained by The Intercept.
The economic warfare involved an attack on Qatar’s currency using bond and derivatives manipulation. The plan, laid out in a slide deck provided to The Intercept through the group Global Leaks, was aimed at tanking Qatar’s economy, according to documents drawn up by a bank outlining the strategy.
The outline, prepared by Banque Havilland, a private Luxembourg-based bank owned by the family of controversial British financier David Rowland, laid out a scheme to drive down the value of Qatar’s bonds and increase the cost of insuring them, with the ultimate goal of creating a currency crisis that would drain the country’s cash reserves. ...
Targeting a nation’s economy using financial manipulation would be a dramatic break from traditional norms of diplomacy and even warfare. The plan the document presents is far-fetched and appeared to have been put together by someone with little or no experience trading in credit and currency markets, two industry veterans who reviewed the plan for The Intercept said. Both were granted anonymity because speaking to the press could jeopardize their employment. “I can’t believe they put this on paper,” one of the credit veterans added. “They are talking about colluding to manipulate markets.”
Israeli police are questioning Benjamin Netanyahu for a fifth time in relation to a series of sprawling corruption investigations. Unmarked white police vehicles were seen entering the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem’s Balfour Street on Thursday afternoon.
Officers were reported to be interested in talking to Netanyahu about two ongoing investigations. In the first, known as case 1,000, Netanyahu and his family are suspected of accepting expensive gifts, including cigars, pink champagne and jewellery, allegedly in return for advancing the interests of several wealthy benefactors, including the Hollywood producer and media magnate Arnon Milchan.
According to reports in the Israeli media, Israel’s ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been questioned recently as part of the same investigation. It is claimed he asked the then US secretary of state John Kerry, at Netanyahu’s request, to help get a US visa for Milchan.
Detectives were reportedly also keen to question Netanyahu on a second affair, known as case 2,000, which is examining allegations that he improperly sought a deal to get more favourable coverage from one of Israel’s leading newspapers, Yedioth Ahronoth.
The United Nations mission in Afghanistan said at least 10 civilians may have been killed by an airstrike in the northern city of Kunduz last week, despite a US military investigation that found no civilian deaths.
In a series of messages on Twitter, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said interviews with multiple survivors, medics, elders and others gave it strong reason to believe that civilians were among the victims of Saturday’s attack.
“Credible reports that at least 10 civilians killed in Kunduz Afghanistan air strike 4 Nov, UNAMA initial findings show,” it said. The statement contradicts comments from some local and Afghan military officials as well as a US statement on Tuesday, which said that an investigation had found no evidence of civilian deaths.
The episode underlines the lack of clarity over reports of civilian casualties, an issue which is likely to become increasingly prominent as the United States steps up airstrikes against the Taliban and other insurgent groups.
The expected deployment of hundreds more U.S. Army trainers to Afghanistan early next year will probably increase the total number of American forces there to almost 16,000, according to U.S. officials.
At least 15,000 U.S. forces are in Afghanistan, after President Donald Trump decided to send about 3,800 troops to the country this fall to strengthen efforts to advise Afghan forces and conduct counterterrorism missions. All those extra troops are already in the country, U.S. defense officials said.
The Army's new security force assistance brigade is being built and trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, and will head to Afghanistan early next year. Senior U.S. defense officials cited ongoing discussions about whether other American forces would leave when the training unit arrives or whether the trainers would add to the U.S. military footprint already there.
Spain's Constitutional Court has annulled Catalonia's unilateral declaration of independence, which the court described as "a serious attack on the rule of law".
The Catalan parliament should note that the right to autonomy "is not and can not be confused with sovereignty," the court said on Wednesday, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais.
Catalonia's regional parliament declared independence on October 27.
A general strike called by pro-independence campaigners in Catalonia closed shops and severed transport links on Wednesday, as the region’s deposed leader lost political momentum after failing to seal an electoral pact with another party.
Protesters closed roads, causing huge tailbacks into Barcelona, while some public transport ran minimum services and some smaller stores remained shuttered.
Reuters saw hundreds of strikers gathered in Barcelona’s main Sant Jaume square to protest the imprisonment of politicians, chanting the name of ex-leader Carles Puigdemont and referring to him as “our president”.
Two law enforcement agencies in Kern County, California, found to be the deadliest police departments in America by a Guardian investigation, have systematically deprived citizens of their constitutional rights due to frequent excessive force, according to a two-year investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The ACLU of Southern California published a range of disturbing findings on Thursday in a report commissioned after a five-part Guardian series revealed the Bakersfield police department (BPD) and the Kern County sheriff’s office (KCSO) killed people at a higher rate than any other agencies in 2015. The series uncovered a culture of violence, secrecy and corruption in the county’s two largest police departments and led to ongoing civil rights investigations into the two departments announced by the California attorney general last year.
“Our findings show that both KCSO and BPD have engaged in patterns and practices that violate civil rights,” wrote ACLU California attorneys Adrienna Wong and Peter Bibring in a letter to the state attorney general Xavier Becerra. “KCSO and BPD officers have engaged in patterns of excessive force – including shooting and beating to death unarmed individuals and deploying canines to attack and injure – as well as a practice of filing intimidating or retaliatory criminal charges against individuals they subject to excessive force.
“Deficient oversight and accountability structures have allowed law enforcement misconduct to go unchecked and in some cases escalate.”
A spokeswoman for the California department of justice said the civil rights investigations into the two agencies were ongoing but would not give details on when they would conclude. The ACLU of Southern California, who delivered the report to Becerra on Thursday, urged the attorney general to “demand that KCSO and BPD correct their patterns and practices of abuse” or force the departments into reform through court action.
A jury has ruled that a real estate developer broke the law by destroying a swath of graffiti art in New York City, in a verdict that could provide legal protections for street artists across the US. The federal jury made its decision after a group of artists sued Jerry Wolkoff, who painted over their work at the 5Pointz building in Queens, New York City, in November 2013.
5Pointz, a former factory owned by Wolkoff, was a haven for graffiti artists from around the world and became a prominent tourist attraction. Wolkoff had given the artists permission to use the building as a canvas for “aerosol art” and the building was covered in multicolored murals and tags. But in 2013, when Wolkoff decided to demolish the building and replace it with apartments, he whitewashed the graffiti art in the dead of night.
On Wednesday the jury decided that the artists’ work was legally protected under the Visual Artists Rights Act (Vara), and that meant that Wolkoff had broken the law. It was the first time graffiti, or “aerosol art” had been given that protection under federal law, potentially meaning thousands of graffiti murals across the country could now be preserved. “It confirms that aerosol art is the same as any other fine artist,” said Eric Baum, the lawyer who represented the 21 artists who sued Wolkoff. “And that the artist deserves dignity and respect.”
An Alabama woman says Roy Moore, the state’s GOP nominee for US Senate, initiated a sexual encounter with her when she was 14 and he was 32, according to a bombshell Washington Post report. Her account is echoed by three other women, who told the paper they were also approached by Moore when they were teenagers.
Moore, the Alabama judge who once erected a stone monument to the Ten Commandments on federal land, routinely cites his Christian beliefs in his judicial reasoning.
The House Committee on Natural Resources convened this week to discuss Puerto Rico’s ongoing hurricane recovery efforts. They talked devastation, debt, and regulations, and somewhere along the way, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, made a statement that would have been easy to miss if you weren’t listening closely: “Puerto Rico has the potential of being the Hong Kong of the United States, where businesses would flood in there.”
Hong Kong, in this case, is code for lax labor laws and low taxes on corporations and the wealthy — an economy structured mainly around pleasing the private sector. If Tuesday’s hearing was any indication, that’s exactly the path a cadre of House Republicans and federally appointed officials in Puerto Rico are eager to take the island down post-Hurricane Maria, with a special eye toward fossil fuel development. ...
As this week’s hearing showed, several members of Congress are eager to push Puerto Rico down the path of becoming a playground for neoliberal policies. Several committee members asked point-blank how Congress could help ease the way to bring more fossil fuels to the island. “Maria gives us the opportunity to bring Puerto Rico’s infrastructure into the 21st century. How can innovative energy technology, such as fuel cells that utilize our nation’s resource of clean-burning natural gas, be used to revitalize the Puerto Rico energy grid?” Rep. Glenn Thompson, R-Penn., asked board representatives of Congress’s role. Thompson is co-chair of the House Natural Gas Caucus and has taken more donations from oil and gas companies than from any other industry over the course of his career.
“We would be excited to bring all those solutions to the table and incorporate any of those good ideas — those fantastic ideas — into our transformation plan,” responded Noel Zamot, who was tapped by the fiscal control board shortly after Hurricane Maria to oversee the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, “with all the powers of a CEO,” per Tuesday’s hearing. Both Zamot and the board have been explicit about their intent to privatize the beleaguered utility. (Whether he can officially commandeer the utility remains to be decided and was a big topic of conversation at the hearing.)
A transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050—or even sooner—is not only possible, but would also cost less and create millions of new jobs, according to new research presented in Bonn, Germany on Thursday.
The German non-profit Energy Watch Group (EWG) teamed up with Finland's Lappeenranta University of Technology to present a study at the COP23 climate summit.
The results of the study, according to a forward written by EWG's president Hans-Josef Fell, show "that a 100% renewable electricity system is an effective and urgently needed climate protection measure. A global zero emission power system is feasible and more cost-effective than the existing system based on nuclear and fossil fuel energy."
To achieve the Paris Agreement's goal of limiting the warming of the earth to well below two degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, the report argued that "we need a two-fold strategy: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions down to zero and to remove surplus carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. A key aspect of this strategy should be a transition to an emission-free global economy, based on 100 percent renewable energy."
Moving to this system through the use of solar and wind power, combined with establishing energy storage systems, would bring the total cost of energy from more than 80 dollars to about 60 dollars per MWh.
Thirty-six million jobs would also be created by 2050 through the transition, compared with 19 million energy jobs in the current economy, according to the research.
Environmentalists denounced as "deplorable," "immoral," and "toxic" a move by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ala.) to force drilling for oil and natural gas on federally protected public lands in Alaska.
After Senate Republicans—and one Democrat—last month thwarted efforts by a group of Democratic senators and conservationists to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) from the fossil fuel industry, Murkowski proposed legislation on Wednesday that would require the Interior Department to approve at least two sales for drilling rights leases within a decade. And because the measure is part of the budget resolution process, it could pass by a simple majority.
While Murkowski—with support from Alaska's governor and other members of Congress—touted her legislation as "a tremendous opportunity" that would "put Alaska and the entire nation on a path toward greater prosperity," local and national environmentalists warned of the consequences of her proposal to open up 1.5 million acres of ANWR's coastal plain to drilling.
"What this bill would do is turn America's last great wilderness into a lost wilderness," said Adam Kolton, executive director of Alaska Wilderness League. "It would allow roads, pipelines, gravel mines, and well pads to be erected across the entire birthing grounds of the Coastal Plain, where caribou calve and where polar bear mothers den."
"It's deplorable that a backdoor budget maneuver is being used to ram Arctic drilling through without a full, fair and open debate," Kolton continued. "It's immoral that this bill would risk the subsistence culture of the Gwich'in for a fool's gold of exaggerated money and jobs. And it's wrong to pretend to offer a tax cut with one hand and rob our children and grandchildren of their rightful heritage with the other."
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Fenton Robinson - I Hear Some Blues Downstairs
Fenton Robinson - I Believe
Fenton Robinson - Crazy Crazy Loving
Fenton Robinson - Mississippi Steamboat
Fention and the Castle Rockers - Freeze
Fenton Robinson - Tennessee Woman
Fenton Robinson - Say You're Leavin'
Fenton Robinson - Just A Little Bit
Fenton Robinson - You're Crackin' Me Up
Fenton Robinson - Too Many Drivers
Fenton Robinson - Little Red Rooster
Fenton Robinson - Don't Start Me To Talkin'