The Evening Blues - 12-14-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features jump blues guitarist and bandleader Jimmy Liggins. Enjoy!
Jimmy Liggins - Boogie Woogie King
"There is no free expression when you have to pay extra to stand on the soap box."
-- Thor Benson
News and Opinion
The Republican-dominated Federal Communications Commission has decided to kill the net neutrality rules enacted under President Obama in 2015, despite widespread opposition from lawmakers and the public. It was a 3-2 vote (after a brief delay for security reasons) along party lines Thursday morning, and it will significantly change the way Americans use the internet.
Instead of forcing internet providers to abide by net neutrality rules — no throttling, limiting, or otherwise altering what consumers do on the internet — the telecoms will now abide by voluntary “principles,” which will be enforced in a limited capacity by the Federal Trade Commission. The new policy will become official in about a month and a half, at which point advocacy groups have already promised they will challenge the FCC in court.
The richest 0.1% of the world’s population have increased their combined wealth by as much as the poorest 50% – or 3.8 billion people – since 1980, according to a report detailing the widening gap between the very rich and poor.
The World Inequality Report, published on Thursday by French economist Thomas Piketty, warned that inequality had ballooned to “extreme levels” in some countries and said the problem would only get worse unless governments took coordinated action to increase taxes and prevent tax avoidance.
The report, which drew on the work of more than 100 researchers around the world, found that the richest 1% of the global population “captured” 27% of the world’s wealth growth between 1980 and 2016. And the richest of the rich increased their wealth by even more. The top 0.1% gained 13% of the world’s wealth, and the top 0.001% – about 76,000 people – collected 4% of all the new wealth created since 1980. ...
The economists said wealth inequality had become “extreme” in Russia and the US. The US’s richest 1% accounted for 39% of the nation’s wealth in 2014 [the latest year available], up from 22% in 1980. The researchers noted that “most of that increase in inequality was due to the rise of the top 0.1% wealth owners”.
The world’s richest person is Amazon’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, who has a $98.8bn (£73.9bn) fortune, according to the Bloomberg billionaires index. Bezos, the biggest shareholder in Amazon, has seen his wealth increase by $33bn over the past year alone. Collectively, the world’s five richest people – Bezos, Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Amancio Ortega, the owner of Zara, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg – hold $425bn of assets. That is equivalent to one-sixth of the UK’s GDP.
Even before Democrat Doug Jones’s unlikely win in the race for an Alabama Senate seat, Republicans were worried: There could be a wave of Democratic victories ahead, a backlash against President Donald Trump, in next year’s elections. The wave could carry with it a raft of pushes for progressive policies. But the right is girding itself for the fights they see coming up. One such fight could emerge over increasing the minimum wage.
One infamous lobbyist, in particular, is already looking forward to the battle. Rick Berman, a corporate lobbyist who specializes in orchestrating relentless public relation campaigns on behalf of industry groups, is busy mobilizing business groups to go on “offense” with the aim of killing minimum wage hikes even before public support has been marshaled for a push. Berman recently traveled to Dallas to pitch a $4.6 million campaign to defeat labor reforms that may be championed by a resurgent Democratic Party. ...
While the issue created a significant fissure during the last Democratic presidential primary, most senior Democrats have come to embrace the $15 minimum wage championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. In May, a group of Democrats, including congressional party leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., announced support for legislation that would phase-in a $15 federal minimum wage by 2024.
Berman sees a looming threat for the industries he represents. In his pitch to potential donors, he called for businesses to provide funds to one of his groups, the Employment Policies Institute, in order to mount a multitiered campaign to shift the debate against minimum wage. “First, we need an offense message that identifies the true victims of ill-conceived wage mandates,” the memo says. “Our research indicates that when we connect the dots on wage mandates, the negative impact on youth unemployment, and the consequent destruction of entry-level jobs, we achieve a new public awareness and sympathy for youth ‘victims.'”
The communications budget in the pitch has line items for media outreach, including opinion columns and letters to the editor; television and print advertisements; and support for websites run by Berman, including Faces of 15, a site featuring businesses allegedly shut down over local minimum wage hikes. The campaign would also include an effort to sidetrack the debate on raising the minimum wage by instead proposing a special low minimum wage for youth. “A bipartisan public is receptive to lower ‘apprentice’ or ‘intern’ wage rates for young people,” Berman says in the memo. A lower youth wage would have the additional benefit of depressing wages across the board for lower level employees, the memo states, adding, “And a ‘youth’ wage will have a sobering ripple effect on all entry level wage rates.”
The campaign against Roy Moore was simply a microcosm of this general “vote for us because we’re not that scary boogieman” good cop/bad cop game both parties have been extorting the American public with for generations. Like Trump, Moore was a scandal-saturated slob who represented some of the most pernicious aspects of the GOP, and, though his opponent Doug Jones campaigned as a centrist who would work with Republicans. ... By constantly masturbating the absurd narrative that Donald Trump is simultaneously (A) crazy, (B) stupid, (C) a secret Nazi and (D) a treasonous Kremlin agent, the Democratic party is able to herd the political left into supporting pro-war, pro-oligarchy candidates and agendas. In the same way they used “But Roy Moore!” to win support for an imperialist corporate whore, they will use “But Trump!” to win support for their neoliberal neoconservative extortion scheme at every turn.
Whenever I point this out I get a bunch of Democratic party loyalists telling me “We can walk and chew gum at the same time! We can work to impeach Trump while advancing progressive causes!” No you can’t. You can’t and you don’t. When it came time to fight the DNC’s illicit, charter-violating installation of Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders they “But Trump!”ed you into conforming. When it came time to support a third party they “But Trump!”ed you into conforming. When it came time to demand a massive overhaul of the DNC they “But Trump!”ed you into conforming. When it came time to demand a full investigation and restitution for the Democratic party’s misdeeds and manipulations exposed by WikiLeaks they “But Trump!”ed you into conforming. Every meaningful movement toward economic justice has been muted and marginalized since the election by “But Trump! But Trump! But Trump!” while the Republicans march the country further into corporatist oligarchy, and this scheme will continue for as long as it continues to work. ...
There’s a pipe dream in the DemEnter school of thought that progressives will be able to stage a takeover of the Democratic party beginning in 2018, but as long as the cult of anti-Trumpism, impeachment and Russiagate continues to dominate the way Democrats think and vote, this simply will not happen. 2018 will not be a year in which Berniecrats shore up influence over the Democratic party, it will be a year in which Democrats are “But Trump!”ed into supporting the so-called “center”, which only gets to call itself that because its massive corporate funds and media influence have enabled it to become a mainstream force.
Washington used to worship Silicon Valley. Few things made politicians’ hearts beat faster than the bipartisan love for big tech. Silicon Valley was building the future. Government’s role was to offer compliments and get out of the way.
Recently, however, the mood has shifted. Both sides of the political divide seem to be awakening to the possibility that letting the tech industry do whatever it wants hasn’t produced the best of all possible worlds. “I have found a flaw,” Alan Greenspan famously said in 2008 of his free-market worldview, as the global financial system imploded. A similar discovery may be dawning on our political class when it comes to its hands-off approach to Silicon Valley.
But the new taste for techno-skepticism is unlikely to lead to meaningful reform, for several reasons. One is money. The five biggest tech firms spend twice as much as Wall Street on lobbying Washington. It seems reasonable to assume that this insulates them from anything too painful in a political system as corrupt as ours.
But beyond that obstacle lies another: Russia. Without Russia, Washington wouldn’t be talking tough on tech. But Russia is also the worst possible way to understand what’s wrong with the internet, and how we might begin to fix it. Making Russia the whipping boy for the problems of platforms like Facebook won’t produce a constructive political conversation about how to make the internet more democratic. Instead, it will probably make the internet worse – by accelerating the erosion of our digital civil liberties in the name of national security without doing anything to challenge Silicon Valley’s power over our lives.
We should welcome the new techno-skepticism, but not if it comes wrapped in a new cold war.
The US has presented evidence that officials said proved that Iran had supplied short-range ballistic missiles to Houthi rebels in Yemen which were then fired at Saudi Arabia. The US envoy to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, made the presentation at Bolling Air Force base in Washington, which is the headquarters to the Defence Intelligence Agency. ...
Standing in front of segments of two missiles, which US officials say were fired recently by Houthi forces at Saudi Arabia, Haley said: “As you know we do not often declassify this time of military equipment recovered from these attacks but today we are taking an extraordinary step of presenting it here in an opening setting.”
“In this warehouse is concrete evidence of illegal Iranian weapons proliferation gathered by direct military attacks on our partners in the regime,” she added. “The fight against Iranian aggression is the world’s fight. The US is acting today in the spirit of transparency and international cooperation that is necessary to defeat this threat.”
The Iranian spokesman at the UN, Alireza Miryousefi, said the evidence was fake.
He said: “We categorically reject it as unfounded and, at the same time, irresponsible, provocative and destructive. This purported evidence, put on public display today, is as much fabricated as the one presented on some other occasions earlier.”
A guided anti-tank missile ended up in the hands of ISIS terrorists less than two months after the US government purchased it in late 2015 — highlighting weaknesses in the oversight and regulation of America’s covert arms programs, according to information published Thursday by an arms monitoring group called Conflict Armament Research (CAR).
Though the report says the missile was purchased by the US Army using a contractor, BuzzFeed News has learned that the real customer appears to have been the CIA. It was part of the spy agency’s top secret operation to arm rebels in Syria to fight the forces of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The missile ended up in the hands of ISIS fighters in Iraq, according to the report.
The CIA declined to comment on the Obama-era program to back Syrian rebels, which was canceled by President Trump in July. The Pentagon did not provide information in time for publication.
The missile is one piece of a critical puzzle that is being solved only now, with ISIS on the run: How did the vast terror group arm its war machine? CAR spent three years tracking ISIS weapons as they were recovered by Iraqi, Syrian, and Kurdish forces — and found that what happened to the missile was no aberration. Indeed, the terror group managed to divert “substantial quantities of anti-armour ammunition” from weapons provided to Syrian opposition forces by the US or Saudi Arabia.
As BuzzFeed News has reported, the US equips proxy armies in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan with weapons such as AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades made in Russia and Eastern Europe. The investigators from CAR found that the policy has sometimes backfired, allowing America’s enemies to obtain arms meant for its allies. “Evidence collected by CAR indicates that the United States has repeatedly diverted EU-manufactured weapons and ammunition to opposition forces in the Syrian conflict,” the report states. ISIS, it continues, “rapidly gained custody of significant quantities of this materiel.”
By Excluding Palestinian Voices From Jerusalem Debate, Cable News Avoided Addressing Israeli Rights Abuses
Palestinian voices were largely absent from American cable news’ coverage of President Donald Trump’s decision last week to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. By turning to their stable of regular political commentators to weigh in on the unprecedented move, the three major news networks – CNN, MSNBC, and Fox News – excluded those most impacted by the decision and avoided difficult questions about Israeli rights abuses, Palestinian human rights lawyers and activists say.
Had more Palestinians been asked to weigh in, they would have “highlighted the broader context that this is a fulfillment of decades-long policy of removing [Palestinians],” said human rights lawyer Noura Erakat. Instead, the network coverage had the cumulative effect of framing the move as a bad policy decision, when in reality it is an extension of longstanding U.S. policy, added Erakat, who was one of a handful of Palestinians to appear on MSNBC last week.
“Nobody wants to admit that we are witnessing the inevitable consolidation of Israel’s settler colonialism and apartheid regime,” she added.
The networks began to heavily report on the issue about a week before Trump’s December 6 announcement that the United States would recognize Jerusalem – which is revered by Christians, Jews, and Muslims alike – as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv. Between December 1 and December 6, Fox News did not interview a single Palestinian about the consequences of the decision, and CNN interviewed just three. MSNBC outperformed its competition in terms of featuring Arab-American guests, with Arab-American reporter Ayman Mohyeldin on the ground in Israel, and Erakat and other guests of Arab descent being invited to speak.
An independent U.N. human rights investigator said on Wednesday that he had information about an inmate being tortured at the U.S. Guantanamo Bay detention facility, despite Washington banning “enhanced interrogation techniques” almost 10 years ago. The U.S. Department of Defense denied the allegation, saying there was no credible evidence to support it.
Nils Melzer, the U.N. special rapporteur on torture, said he had information that Ammar al-Baluchi - accused of being a co-conspirator in the 9/11 attacks on the United States - was being subjected to treatment that is banned under international law. “His torture and ill-treatment are reported to continue,” a statement from the U.N. human rights office said, without giving details of the source of Melzer’s information.
“In addition to the long-term effects of past torture, noise and vibrations are reportedly still being used against him, resulting in constant sleep deprivation and related physical and mental disorders, for which he allegedly does not receive adequate medical attention,” it said. ...
Melzer said the ban on torture and ill-treatment was one of the most fundamental norms of international law and could not be justified in any circumstances, and called for prosecution of U.S. officials who had carried out torture. “By failing to prosecute the crime of torture in CIA custody, the U.S. is in clear violation of the Convention against Torture and is sending a dangerous message of complacency and impunity to officials in the U.S. and around the world,” Melzer said in the statement. He said he had renewed a long-standing request to visit Guantanamo Bay to interview inmates, but he and his predecessors in the role had consistently been denied access.
A new report by Privacy International says that Harris Media, a Texas-based political communications firm that helped boost Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, Benghazi paranoia, and German far-right politicians, found its most recent client in Kenya, where an October presidential election flared into deadly violence.
Harris rose to prominence last year for helping the Trump campaign, at least briefly, in its efforts to sway voters with images of violent immigrants and other largely imaginary menaces. Privacy International now says the company used the same playbook in Kenya, where “paid advertisements for two mysterious, anonymous sites in particular started to dominate Google searches for dozens of election-related terms in the months leading up to the vote.” The anonymous sites, which gave the appearance of being grassroots efforts, were in fact built by Americans at Harris, the watchdog group says in its report. ...
Harris also used ads tied to Google search terms and social media to spread divisive, and at times untruthful, messages designed to be inflammatory. One Harris-created video made on behalf of Kenyan presidential incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta claimed that opposition candidate Raila Odinga would order “whole tribes and communities removed from their homes” if he were elected, which Privacy International notes is “an explicit reference to Kenya’s violent past” of tribal animosity and violence.
The US economy is caught in a trap. That trap is the Department of Defense: an increasingly sticky wicket that relies on an annual, trillion-dollar redistribution of government-collected wealth. In fact, it's the biggest "big government" program on the planet, easily beating out China's People's Liberation Army in both size and cost. It is not only the "nation's largest employer," with 2.867 million people currently on the payroll, but it also provides government benefits to 2 million retirees and their family members. And it actively picks private sector winners by targeting billions of dollars to an elite group of profit-seeking contractors.
The top five overall recipients collectively pulled in $109.5 billion in FY2016, and their cohorts consistently dominate the government's list of top 100 contractors. They reap this yearly largesse through a Rube-Goldberg-like system of influence peddlers, revolving doors and wasteful taxpayer-funded boondoggles. Finally, it is all justified by a deadly feedback loop of perpetual warfare that is predicated on a predictable supply of blowback. But this belligerent cash machine doesn't just produce haphazard interventions and shady partnerships with a motley assortment of strongmen, proxies and frenemies. It also has Uncle Sam caught in a strange cycle of taxpayer-funded dependence that may ultimately be the most expensive -- and least productive -- jobs program in human history.
That fact came into focus on June 14, 2017. That's when Donald J. Trump enthusiastically participated in one of the presidency's most time-honored traditions: he sold weapons to a foreign power. This time it was a $12 billion deal to sell 36 F-15QA fighter jets to the tiny petro-state of Qatar. And in an unintentional moment of truth, the jubilant Qatari ambassador to the US tweeted a photo of the signing:
Qatar signs LOA for the purchase of the F-15QA fighter jets creating 60,000 new jobs in 42 states across the United States pic.twitter.com/tnOAC3KGma
— Meshal Hamad AlThani (@Amb_AlThani) June 14, 2017
In less than 140 characters, Ambassador Meshal bin Hamad al-Thani exposed the trap that has Uncle Sam pouring $1 trillion each year into an economy of diminishing returns that can only be mitigated with ever more spending on weapons and more military interventions that destabilize more regions which, in turn, stokes more purchases of weapons both at home and abroad. This direct government infusion of money into a massive, complex defense industry not only benefits corporations and shareholders, but also the employees who make the tanks, planes, bombs, helmets, shoes, epaulets, bandages, pre-packed meals and just about everything else that goes into maintaining the US's military might.
Hurricane Maria may have devastated Puerto Rico from one end of the island to the other, but now a new force is set to be unleashed upon it: the Republican tax plan. A small provision in the House version of the tax bill aimed at boosting American industry would — perhaps unintentionally — devastate Puerto Rico’s economy.
That part of the bill, Section 4303, is ostensibly aimed at keeping U.S. profits on U.S. shores. Under its current arrangement with the IRS, certain kinds of U.S.-based companies can purchase goods manufactured by their Puerto Rican subsidiaries. So long as the profits they make on those goods are attributed to those subsidiaries, companies pay no federal income taxes on them and only minimal local taxes.
That effective subsidy is responsible for a significant chunk of Puerto Rico’s manufacturing sector. Now, thanks to its idiosyncratic tax status, language appearing in the House version of the bill would place a 20 percent excise tax on goods coming to the U.S. mainland from Puerto Rico. It would take a sledgehammer to the island’s economy.
Puerto Rico is functionally part of the United States and its residents hold American passports, American jobs, and American citizenship. It has a non-voting member in Congress. But because it’s treated as a foreign entity in the tax code, the change could see major businesses domiciled there—pharmaceuticals, especially—leave for new shores. Industry estimates suggest that the measure could see Puerto Rico shed as many as 250,000 jobs if its status as a tax haven is eliminated.
A fourth US lawmaker has been forced out of Congress amid allegations of sexual misconduct. Representative Blake Farenthold, a Republican from Texas, will not seek re-election in 2018, House speaker Paul Ryan announced on Thursday. Speaking at a press conference on Capitol Hill, Ryan told reporters Farenthold was “making the right decision to retire”.
The decision came one day after a former staffer alleged “verbally abusive and sexually demeaning” behavior in an interview with CNN.
Michael Rekola, who served as Farenthold’s communications director in 2015, accused Farenthold of making sexually graphic jokes and regularly referring to his aides as “fucktards”. Rekola also said Farenthold would angrily berate his aides and that the congressman’s bullying led him to seek psychological counseling and medical treatment. ...
Farenthold was already under investigation by the House ethics committee after it was revealed earlier this month that he used taxpayers’ money in 2014 to settle a sexual harassment claim brought by his former spokeswoman.
Several big players in the world financial scene took some steps to acknowledge the reality of climate change right around the two-year anniversary of the signing of the Paris Climate deal on Wednesday. The entities ranged from Wall Street companies to banks abroad, and their announcements noted, some for the first time, how global warming affects their bottom line. A few even vowed to divest from the fossil fuel industry.
AXA, the french insurance and financial services giant, dropped its insurance policies on U.S. pipelines, reduced its investment in coal-related industries, and committed to increase its investments in renewables fourfold by 2020. ... The World Bank, which had already committed not to issue credit for new coal production, also pledged on Tuesday also at the One Planet Summit not to fund new oil and gas production. The institution makes some exceptions for poorer countries, but only if their lending doesn’t conflict with commitments made under the Paris Accord.
The World Bank’s commitment, however, only reduces “upstream” oil and gas, or the tapping of new oil and gas reserves. The bank hasn’t made a commitment to stop funding storage, transportation, or the other functions of existing oil and gas enterprise. Their “upstream” oil and gas lending, at about $2 billion, is only one percent of their $280 billion portfolio.
After a particularly deadly and costly hurricane season, Moody’s, one of the major credit ratings agencies, announced their credit ratings will tighten for states and municipalities that don’t adequately prepare for climate change in report on Nov. 28. ... The consequences of Moody’s decision could force the hand of municipal governments that have long downplayed their vulnerability to storms or floods, as Houston long did, in favor of speedy development, as the Texas Tribune and ProPublica pointed out in a 2016 investigation.
There’s a debate between social scientists about whether climate change facts can change peoples’ minds or just polarize them further. For example, conservatives who are more scientifically literate are less worried about global warming. In essence, education arms them with the tools to more easily reject evidence and information that conflicts with their ideological beliefs. This has been called the “smart idiot” effect and it isn’t limited to climate change; it’s also something we’re seeing with the Republican tax plan.
However, other research has shown that conservatives with higher climate-specific knowledge are more likely to accept climate change – a result that holds in many different countries. For example, when people understand how the greenhouse effect works, across the political spectrum they’re more likely to accept human-caused global warming.
Social scientists have also debated whether communicating the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming moves the needle in a positive or negative direction. Previous research led by Stephan Lewandowsky has shown that informing people about the expert consensus increases acceptance of human-caused global warming. However, Yale social scientist Dan Kahan has remained unconvinced and continues to argue that 97% consensus messaging is polarizing and therefore counter-productive.
To test which side is correct, social scientists Sander van der Linden, Anthony Leiserowitz, and Edward Maibach conducted a survey of over 6,000 nationally-representative Americans, of which 934 were conservatives with at least a college degree. This is the group for which facts should hypothetically be most polarizing, because they have the tools to most easily find ways to reject those facts and an ideological bias against accepting climate science. ...
In the control group, college-educated conservatives thought the expert consensus was about 64%, and college-educated liberals put the number at 78% (a 14% partisan gap). After being informed about the actual 97% consensus, the conservative answer increased to 83% while the liberal response rose to around 90% (a 7% partisan gap). Notably, not only did highly-educated conservatives respond positively by generally accepting the facts and adjusting their views accordingly, but the ideological gap on this question shrunk in half. It’s a clear example that facts aren’t necessarily polarizing.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Jimmy Liggins - Troubles Good-Bye
Jimmy Liggins - Talking That Talk
Jimmy Liggins - Rough Weather Blues
Jimmy Liggins & His Drops of Joy - I Can't Stop It
Jimmy Liggins - Lookin' For My Baby
Jimmy Liggins - That's What's Knockin' Me Out
Jimmy Liggins - Drunk
Jimmy Liggins and his Drops of Joy - The Washboard Special
Jimmy Liggins - Homecoming Blues
Jimmy Liggins - Last Round