The Evening Blues - 3-9-18
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features Texas guitarist Anson Funderburgh. Enjoy!
Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue - Sidetracked
"Silence never won rights. They are not handed down from above; they are forced by pressures from below."
-- Roger Baldwin
News and Opinion
The nine-day strike by more than 33,000 West Virginia teachers and other public school employees ended on Wednesday morning. Teachers returned to work in districts throughout the state, amidst growing anger over the terms of the union-backed agreement rushed through the state legislature and signed by Governor Jim Justice on Tuesday. ...
Contrary to the proclamations of the unions, however, the deal reached to end the strike is not a victory for teachers. It does nothing to address teachers’ central demand—an end to escalating health care costs through the Public Employee Insurance Agency (PEIA) that effectively wipe out any pay raises. Moreover, the one-time five percent raise for public workers will be funded by deep cuts to social programs.
The attitude of the giant corporations that control the state to the settlement of the strike was articulated by an editorial in the right-wing Charleston Daily Mail, which last week attacked teachers for refusing to follow the orders of the unions and return to work. “Three cheers for Republicans in the Senate of West Virginia,” the newspaper enthused, for not “caving to the demands of an unruly crowd by passing higher taxes.”
Instead of taxing the wealthy and the energy corporations that dominate the state and control both the Democrats and Republicans, any additional funding for meager pay increases will come from the cancelation of a free community college tuition program, a $10 million reduction in the Medicaid health care program for low-income residents, the elimination of new funding for free health care clinics, and other cuts. The Daily Mail gleefully added that perhaps the “biggest opportunity for savings is the state and county education bureaucracy”—that is, the elimination of public employee jobs.
The framework of the agreement is a provocation. Teachers did not strike to see health care and essential services for other workers ripped away. They did not fight to have meager pay increases financed by the further impoverishment of their students.
Meanwhile, in a somewhat more decent country...
Hundreds of Canadian doctors, medical specialists and residents, as well as medical students, have signed a petition protesting their own pay raises, instead asking that the money be reallocated to help nurses and patients in need.
“We, Quebec doctors who believe in a strong public system, oppose the recent salary increases negotiated by our medical federations,” reads the letter, originally posted in French, the official language in the Canadian province.
More than 700 people have added their names to the petition since it was published on February 25. As of Tuesday, at least 213 general practitioners, 184 specialists, 149 resident medical doctors and 162 medical students had signed the petition, according to CNBC.
The doctors took umbrage with the pay bumps while nurses and clerks were over overburdened and patients faced declining services because of budget cuts to the public health care system.
After months of trading insults and threats of nuclear annihilation, President Donald Trump agreed to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jung Un by the end of May to negotiate an end to Pyongyang's nuclear weapons program, South Korean and U.S. officials said Thursday. No sitting American president has ever met with a North Korea leader.
The meeting would be unprecedented during seven decades of animosity between the U.S. and North Korea. The countries remain in a state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty.
"Great progress being made," Trump tweeted after the South Korean national security director, Chung Eui-yong, announced the plans to reporters in a hastily called appearance on a White House driveway. ...
Trump clearly relished the news of the planned summit. He had made a surprise visit to the White House press briefing room on Thursday afternoon to alert reporters of a "major statement" on North Korea by South Korea. When asked by an ABC reporter if it was about talks with North Korea, he replied: "It's almost beyond that. Hopefully, you will give me credit."
Donald Trump will take a hardline position at his planned summit with the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, the White House said on Friday, as US officials scrambled to keep pace with the president after his sudden acceptance of Kim’s offer to talk.
In briefings after the surprise announcement – which would be the first ever meeting of leaders of the two countries – US officials made no mention of possible concessions that Trump might offer, other than saying that severe sanctions would stay in place until North Korea took verifiable steps to dismantle its nuclear weapons programme.
The vice-president, Mike Pence, said that Kim’s invitation to suspend nuclear tests and meet the US president proved that Trump’s strategy was working. The North Koreans “are coming to the table despite the United States making zero concessions and, in close coordination with our allies, we have consistently increased the pressure on the Kim regime”, Pence said in a statement. “Our resolve is undeterred and our policy remains the same: all sanctions remain in place and the maximum pressure campaign will continue until North Korea takes concrete, permanent, and verifiable steps to end their nuclear program.”
It remained unclear what Kim might want in return for meeting Trump. Pyongyang had not commented officially on the summit plans since they were revealed by a South Korean delegation on Thursday night. A previous deal, the 1994 Agreed Framework, involved deliveries of fuel oil and the promise to build civilian nuclear reactors for North Korea. But Kim has consistently demanded an end to what Pyongyang calls Washington’s “hostile policies” which involve its military presence on and around the Korean peninsula and joint exercises with its ally, South Korea.
The stunning announcement that Donald Trump will personally meet with Kim Jong Un to discuss North Korea denuclearization divided opinion Friday, delighting world leaders and vexing diplomats and experts.
Thursday’s bombshell news caught everyone by surprise, especially as it follows the yearlong taunting session between “Little Rocket Man” and the White House “dotard.”
Robert Kelly, an expert in inter-Korean affairs, has said he hasn't seen much in the way of praise among his peers for the announcement, suggesting Trump has overreached in an attempt to claim a "win."
Drifting around Twitter& cable news all day,& I’m not seeing many genuinely positive takes on Trump-Kim summit. A lot of anxiety, disdain that T lacks the chops 4 this, fear he’s getting played in desperation for a ‘win.’Some cautious optimism, but no really upbeat takes. Anyone?
— Robert E Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly) March 9, 2018
I got a bad feeling here
— Gen Michael Hayden (@GenMhayden) March 9, 2018
A group of experts, advocates, former officials and others are urging senators to support a bipartisan effort to end U.S. involvement in Yemen’s civil war.
“We strongly encourage you and your Senate colleagues to cosponsor and vote for S.J.Res 54, which defends the constitutional linchpin of Congress’s sole authority to declare war and promises to help end what aid groups consider the worst humanitarian crisis in the world,” the 37-person group wrote in a letter sent to every senator Thursday and obtained by The Hill.
Signatories include former U.S. ambassador to Yemen Stephen Seche; Bruce Ackerman, a Yale Law School professor who has previously challenged the legal authorization of recent U.S. wars; Nobel peace laureates Jody Williams and Tawakkol Karman; retired Lt. Col. Daniel Davis; retired Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Colin Powell; Bruce Fein, associate deputy attorney general in the Reagan administration; and former Rep. Mickey Edwards (R-Okla.).
The legislation at issue is a joint resolution from Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) that would remove U.S. forces from hostilities in Yemen between a Saudi Arabia-led coalition and Houthi rebels who receive weapons from Iran.
Turkey and Iraq’s central government in Baghdad will carry out a joint operation against Kurdish militants in northern Iraq, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying on Thursday.
Cavusoglu’s comments came as Turkey pushed ahead with a cross-border military operation against the Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria’s Afrin region.
Speaking to reporters on his flight from Germany to Austria, Cavusoglu said the Afrin operation, launched on Jan. 20, will be completed by May, according to broadcaster CNN Turk.
Cavusoglu was quoted as saying the joint cross-border operation with Iraq may start after Iraq holds parliamentary elections scheduled for May 2018, signaling Turkish troops may move to northern Iraq following the ongoing offensive.
The United States military has carried out twice as many airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Libya since President Trump took office as it has publicly acknowledged, raising questions about whether the Pentagon has sought to obscure operations in the strife-torn North African nation. ...
On its website and in news releases, the Africa Command has acknowledged only four airstrikes in Libya in the last 14 months against the Islamic State, also called ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. All of the attacks have been carried out since September. But on Thursday, a spokesman for the command, Maj. Karl J. Wiest, said four other previously undisclosed airstrikes had been carried out against Islamic State militants, most recently in January.
Major Wiest said the additional four strikes were not disclosed when they happened to protect American-backed forces or diplomatic issues. “We’re not trying to hide anything,” he said. “Our goal is always to be as transparent as possible while taking into account operational security, force protection and diplomatic sensitivities.”
He could not explain why the command did not announce the strikes some days later, after the sensitivities were presumably resolved or otherwise went away. Of the previously undisclosed airstrikes, one was launched in September, two in October and one in January.
The Front National leader, Marine Le Pen, will attempt to pull her divided far-right party together when it meets this weekend for its first conference since she lost to Emmanuel Macron in the final round of the French presidential election. Beset by political and personal rifts, and with her popularity in the post-election doldrums, Le Pen is facing opposition to her plan to rename the party in an attempt to improve its electoral chances. The move is seen by the traditional wing of the FN, founded by Le Pen’s father in the 1970s, as a betrayal of the party’s heritage. The new name will be voted on after it is unveiled on Sunday.
Ten months ago, the party was on a high after Le Pen saw off the Socialist candidate to take the FN into the second round of the presidential election with unprecedented support, though not enough to defeat Macron. However, this weekend’s conference to transform and “refound” the party is threatening to fall short of its goals of unity and optimism. Bruno Cautrès of the Centre for Political Research at Sciences Po, said the party was undergoing a “crisis of Marine Le Pen’s leadership”. ...
A recent opinion poll by Kantar Sofres confirmed the diagnosis, with 55% of respondents saying they did not wish Le Pen to be the FN candidate at the next presidential election, and fewer than one in five believing she inspired confidence.
Since taking over the party in 2011 with her father’s blessing, Le Pen has embarked on a process of “de-demonising” the FN, which has involved shrugging off its xenophobic, antisemitic, bully-boy image. n the presidential election, it appeared this strategy had paid off, as Le Pen gained more than 10 million votes (33.9%) in the final round, despite her bizarre and catastrophic performance in a debate with Macron, which cost her support. However, a questionnaire sent to party members found immigration remains the biggest preoccupation of FN supporters. The responses to the pre-conference survey, to be revealed on Saturday, are likely to echo warnings from Florian Philippot, Le Pen’s closest aide and strategist until he quit the FN last year, that it risked an “absolutely terrifying” return to its dark past, which he claimed was alienating voters.
Police in Lancashire, a county in northwest England, have rolled out a program to broadcast crime updates, photos of wanted and missing people, and safety notifications to Amazon Echo owners. ... The program marks the latest example of third parties aiding, automating, and in some cases, replacing, the functions of law enforcement agencies — and raises privacy questions about Amazon’s role as an intermediary. Lancashire County will store citizens’ crime reports on Amazon’s servers, rather than those operated by the police. ...
But broadcasting is just the beginning of the county’s plans. The next iteration of the pilot program, expected to launch by year’s end, will allow users to report crimes directly to their smart speakers. After that, Rob Flanagan, Lancashire Constabulary innovations manager, imagines that Alexa might be used not just by civilians, but internally by officers for briefings and important information. “The cop [would] be able to say ‘Give me the warrant details for Joe Blocks,’ and then it would read back that person’s warrant and details and send the information to the offices mobile device that they have on their person,” Flanagan told Gizmodo.
To David Murakami Wood, a scholar of surveillance, the program serves as a startling reminder of the growing reach that technology companies have into our daily lives, intimate habits, and vulnerable moments — with and without our permission. Alexa is hardly the first of our personal devices to be transformed into a police hotline. And given the sensitive nature of crime reporting, civil liberties experts wonder whether storing reports with a third party like Amazon might pose an obstacle to citizens hoping to report crimes anonymously.
Another major concern is cybersecurity. We don’t really know who has access to our communications with Alexa or a similar service, explained Sam Lester, an expert on consumer rights with the Electronic Privacy Information Center or EPIC, but we know that authorities have long sought evidence from our mobile phones, laptops, social media, and video games.
A white North Carolina cop who beat, choked, and used a Taser on a black man he suspected of jaywalking has resigned and will face assault charges.
Officer Christopher Hickman, 31, of Asheville, North Carolina, was removed from patrol the day after the incident occurred last August. On Thursday, Hickman officially resigned, and a judge issued a warrant for his arrest on counts of assault by strangulation, assault inflicting serious injury, and communicating threats.
Betsy DeVos Just Tried to Take Away the Ability of States to Crack Down on Abusive Student Debt Collectors
The Department of Education issued a new declaration into the federal register Friday morning that would curtail the ability of states to regulate student loan debt collectors.
For months, it had been rumored that the Trump administration was considering imposing the mandate, which is not an official rule, that would shield student loan servicers like Navient and Nelnet from state regulation. It would instead place the responsibility for regulating these companies on the federal government — which is what these companies have argued for in court.
The Education Department calls the language it issued an “interpretation,” which leaves it wide open to legal challenges from state prosecutors eager to take on student-lending firms.
The move comes at a time when attorneys general in several states are pursuing servicers for what they claim are abuses against student borrowers.
An extraordinary number of former intelligence and military operatives from the CIA, Pentagon, National Security Council and State Department are seeking nomination as Democratic candidates for Congress in the 2018 midterm elections. The potential influx of military-intelligence personnel into the legislature has no precedent in US political history.
If the Democrats capture a majority in the House of Representatives on November 6, as widely predicted, candidates drawn from the military-intelligence apparatus will comprise as many as half of the new Democratic members of Congress. They will hold the balance of power in the lower chamber of Congress.
Both push and pull are at work here. Democratic Party leaders are actively recruiting candidates with a military or intelligence background for competitive seats where there is the best chance of ousting an incumbent Republican or filling a vacancy, frequently clearing the field for a favored “star” recruit.
A case in point is Elissa Slotkin, a former CIA operative with three tours in Iraq, who worked as Iraq director for the National Security Council in the Obama White House and as a top aide to John Negroponte, the first director of national intelligence. After her deep involvement in US war crimes in Iraq, Slotkin moved to the Pentagon, where, as a principal deputy assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, her areas of responsibility included drone warfare, “homeland defense” and cyber warfare. ...
The Democratic leaders are promoting CIA agents and Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. At the same time, such people are choosing the Democratic Party as their preferred political vehicle. There are far more former spies and soldiers seeking the nomination of the Democratic Party than of the Republican Party. There are so many that there is a subset of Democratic primary campaigns that, with a nod to Mad magazine, one might call “spy vs. spy.”
Donald Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, said in February that neither Trump the presidential candidate nor Trump the businessman had anything to do with the $130,000 that Cohen paid to Stephanie Clifford, aka Stormy Daniels, a few weeks before the 2016 election.
But an email obtained by NBC News shows that Cohen used his Trump Organization email to transfer the funds to a Manhattan bank that would later be used to guarantee the silence of the ex-porn star, who had an affair with Trump around the time his son Barron was born, in 2006, and into 2007. Cohen has claimed that he used his own money (not Trump’s) to pay Clifford.
"I think this document seriously calls into question the prior representation of Mr. Cohen and the White House relating to the source of the monies paid to Ms. Clifford in an effort to silence her," Michael Avenatti, an attorney representing Clifford, told NBC News. "We smell smoke."
A key Trump administration official scheduled roughly twice as many meetings with mining and fossil-fuel representatives as with environmental groups, public records requests have revealed. Further investigation shows that some of the firms she met later benefited directly from administration decisions that weakened wilderness and wildlife protections.
As is the case with other prominent interior department officials appointed by the department secretary, Ryan Zinke, the official work calendar of his senior adviser Kathleen Benedetto indicates the remarkable access that the extractive industries have to the Trump administration.
“It makes it look like [Benedetto] is the fixer for mining companies,” said Aaron Weiss, a staffer at Center for Western Priorities, an environmental group. The interior department did not respond to multiple requests for comment. ... Benedetto, who helps oversee the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), is a longtime supporter of the mining industry. Before joining the administration, she worked as a mining adviser and geologist and was the co-founder of the Women’s Mining Coalition, a grassroots group that advocates on Capitol Hill. She was also a longtime staffer on the House natural resources committee.
Benedetto made her sympathies clear during a Denver meeting she attended with BLM staff in July. “A large amount of federal estate is being managed for conservation purposes,” which limits other uses, she said, according to notes from the meeting compiled by the BLM Wyoming state director, Mary Jo Rugwell, and obtained by the Western Values Project. “She stressed that it takes minerals (as a raw material) to drive progress.”
Benedetto’s work calendar reveals that she makes herself readily available to mining companies and lobbyists. Between March and November in 2017, she had approximately 45 meetings or calls with mining groups and more than 30 each with oil and gas groups and with environmental groups. Her calendar also shows her attending a “mining association awards luncheon” at a Washington DC hotel late last year. Many of these meetings were followed by official decisions that benefited the private companies or trade groups in question.
Ahead of Major Protest to Stop Kinder Morgan Pipeline, Company Files Injunction Against Water Protectors
Ahead of a massive anti-pipeline demonstration planned for British Columbia on Saturday, the energy company Kinder Morgan has filed an injunction against more than a dozen Canadians who have protested the company's expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline.
While Earle Peach, one of the individuals named in the injunction, told the National Observer that more than 15 people are specifically listed in the lawsuit, it also lists "John Doe" and "Jane Doe," which the environmental group Stand warned "would imply that any member of the public now risks arrest by coming within 50 meters of Kinder Morgan facilities."
Stand campaign director Karen Mahon explained, "Kinder Morgan's action is an obvious SLAPP lawsuit designed to intimidate everyday citizens and stop people from speaking out against its dirty pipeline expansion," referring to "Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation" suits that are often filed by corporations against environmental protesters in an effort to undermine free speech.
"This lawsuit tries to prevent someone from so much as standing on the side of the road and holding a sign," Mahon added. Houston-based Kinder Morgan reportedly seeks "an injunction, including an interim injunction" to prevent protesters from "obstructing roads that Trans Mountain requires" to access construction sites, as well as damages. ...
On Saturday, opponents of the expansion are slated to launch the Indigenous-led "Protect the Inlet" or Kwekwecnewtxw initiative with a mass mobilization in Burnaby, B.C. that's being coordinated by Coast Salish spiritual leaders.
Will George of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, a spokesman for the Protect the Inlet initiative, told The Seattle Times, "It is going to be like Standing Rock," when thousands of "water protecters" protested against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota two years ago. So far, more than 7,400 people have pledged to show up on Saturday.
"The similarity is we are standing up to protect our water. And we are going to do this in a peaceful way," George noted. "It is going to mark a day in history; it will be a massive mobilization."
"We intend to stop this unwanted and destructive project like we stopped the Northern Gateway Pipeline and Energy East from ever seeing the light of day," Grand Chief Stewart Phillip, president of the Union of B.C. Indian Chiefs, said earlier this week. "I am looking forward to marching with thousands of people on March 10th to send a strong message that we love the land and love the water, and will not let Kinder Morgan trample on our rights and the environment."
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets - Make a Little Love Tonight
Anson Funderburgh & Rockets The Featuring Sam Myers - Change In My Pocket
Anson Funderburgh & Sam Myers - Blue Shadows
Little Charlie Baty & Anson Funderburgh - Hideaway
Golden State Lone Star Blues Revue - Walkin' With Mr Lee
Anson Funderburgh & Sam Myers - Changing Neighborhoods
Sam Myers w/Anson Funderburgh - Monkey Around
Anson Funderburgh and Big Joe Maher - You Can't Keep A Big Man Down
Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets - Let the Good Times Roll
Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets - Texas Flood
Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets - She Knocks Me Out