The Evening Blues - 8-9-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features jazz banjo player Ikey Robinson. Enjoy!
Ikey Robinson - My Four Reasons
"My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes."
-- President Ronald Reagan
News and Opinion
For once, Donald Trump has a point. “We can’t let a madman with nuclear weapons let on the loose like that,” he told Philippine President Roderigo Duterte, according to the transcript of their bizarre phone conversation that was leaked to The Intercept in May. The madman that the U.S president was referring to, of course, was North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. The madman that the rest of us should be worried about, however, is Trump himself, who — lest we forget — has the sole, exclusive and unrestricted power to launch almost 1,000 nuclear warheads in a matter of minutes, should he so wish.
Most nonproliferation experts — as well as former President Jimmy Carter and a number of former Pentagon and State Department officials, both Republican and Democrat — agree that the brutal and murderous Kim, for all his bluster, is not irrational or suicidal but is bent on preserving his regime and preventing a U.S. attack. Nuclear weapons are a defensive, not an offensive, tool for the North Korean leadership — which, as Bill Clinton’s defense secretary William Perry observed on Fox News in April, may be “ruthless and…reckless” but “they are not crazy.” ...
Consider Trump’s reaction this week to a confidential U.S. intelligence assessment — leaked to the Washington Post — that the DPRK is now able to construct a nuclear warhead small enough to fit inside its missiles. “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States,” the president declaimed, in response to a reporter’s question at his Bedminster Golf Club on Tuesday. “They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state. And as I said, they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power the likes of which this world has never seen before.”
How is this not an unhinged response from the so-called Leader of the Free World? ... Republican Senator John McCain, who has never met a “rogue nation” he did not want to bomb, invade or occupy. “I take exception to the president’s words,” McCain said on Tuesday, adding: “That kind of rhetoric, I’m not sure how it helps.” I mean, just how crazy do you have to be to advocate a preemptive nuclear strike that even McCain cannot get behind?
Rex Tillerson has sought to calm nerves in the wake of an exchange of aggressive rhetoric between Donald Trump and the North Korean regime, insisting there was no “imminent threat of war” and that Americans could “sleep well at night”.
The US secretary of state was talking to reporters on the way back to Washington from a tour of Asia hours after Trump had threatened to engulf North Korea with “fire and fury like the world has never seen” and Pyongyang responded by saying it was “carefully examining” a plan to carry out a missile strike on Guam, and create an “enveloping fire” around the US territory in the Pacific 3,400km (2,100 miles) from the Korean peninsula. ...
Tillerson defended Trump over his bellicose language, which shocked US allies and has been heavily criticised in the US and around the world as reckless. “What the president is doing is sending a strong message to North Korea in language that Kim Jong-un can understand, because he doesn’t seem to understand diplomatic language,” Tillerson said. “I think the president just wanted to be clear to the North Korean regime on the US unquestionable ability to defend itself, will defend itself and its allies.”
This his was the moment many Americans, along with the rest of the world, feared. This – precisely this – was what alarmed us most about the prospect of Donald Trump becoming president of the United States. Not that he would hire useless people or that he would tweet all day or use high office to enrich himself and his family or that he’d be cruel, bigoted and divisive – though those were all concerns. No, the chief anxiety provoked by the notion of Trump in the White House was this: that he was sufficiently reckless, impulsive and stupid to bring the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Of course, cooler heads might soon prevail. China might find the diplomatic back-channel that persuades North Korea to step back from the current clash with Washington. The Pyongyang regime might calculate for itself that, despite its latest threat to attack the US airbase in the Pacific island of Guam, further escalation risks its own survival. Or the generals that now flank Trump – John Kelly as chief of staff, Jim Mattis as defense secretary – might succeed in talking their boss down from the ledge.
But make no mistake. Trump’s remarks on Tuesday have pushed the US to the precipice of nuclear confrontation with North Korea. We have to hope that both parties will step back, but be under no illusion that the brink is where we stand. And Trump put us there. ...
Trump’s predecessors have all understood the approach put so memorably by Theodore Roosevelt: “Speak softly, and carry a big stick.” Meaning, that if you carry a big stick, you don’t need to speak loudly. Indeed, you ought to speak softly, so that you don’t ever have to wield that stick. The risk Trump has created is that he will now feel compelled to follow through on his threat, lest he be seen to lose credibility. His “fire and fury” talk has, therefore, put pressure not only on Kim but on himself. He has painted himself into a corner.
Reacting to Trump's "crazy" comments and to the growing fear that the U.S. is inching closer to nuclear war, activists and lawmakers urged Congress to revive legislation that would strip the executive branch of the power to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike.
"No U.S. President, certainly not Trump, should have sole authority to initiate an unprovoked nuclear war," wrote Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
In an interview with MSNBC's Chris Hayes Tuesday night, Markey said Trump's comments "bring us back to August of 1945, when nuclear weapons were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki." ...
Others echoed Markey's call for legislation that would remove the power to launch a nuclear first strike from the president. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), pointing to previous reporting by Common Dreams, highlighted the urgent necessity of removing the power to launch a nuclear first strike from the hands of the president—a move that has proven to be immensely popular.
In May, as Common Dreams reported, more than 500,000 people signed a petition expressing support for the Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017, a bill introduced by Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) that, if passed, would bar the president from launching a nuclear strike without congressional authorization.
Who would Jesus bomb?
Not Texas megachurch pastor Robert Jeffress.
Shortly following the president's remarks, Jeffress—who is also one of Trump's "evangelical advisers"—released a statement declaring that "God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-un," the leader of North Korea.
This fella is on to something:
It’s safe to say, I think, that the American experiment is at an end. No, America might not be finished as in civil war and secession. But it is clearly at an end in three ways. First, to the world, as a serious democracy. Second, to itself, as a nation with dignity and self-respect. Third, its potential lies in ruins. Even if authoritarianism is toppled tomorrow, the problems of falling life expectancy, an imploding middle class, skyrocketing inequality, and so on, won’t be.
What does America not have that the rest of the rich world does? Public healthcare, transport, education, and so on. Every single rich nation in the world has sophisticated, broad, and expansive public goods, that improve by the year. Today, even many medium income and even poor nations are building public healthcare, transport, etc. America is the only one that never developed any. American leaders are pretending like the relationship above is a great, confounding mystery. Like dumbfounded dinosaurs watching the mushroom cloud engulf the land, never — not once — in American media will you read a column, hear a voice, or see a face discussing the above. ...
Working societies — if they are to endure, grow, and cohere, if they are to prosper, hang together, and really mature — need moral universals. Moral universals are simply things that people believe everyone should have. ... Moral universals anchor a society in a genuinely shared prosperity. Not just because they “spread the wealth”, though they do: because, more deeply, moral universals civilize people. ...
So: what really went wrong in America? Moral universals civilize people, but there aren’t any moral universals. The public goods universals result in educate, inform, train, school people, let them live long and peaceful lives. But Americans — whether it is today’s extremists or yesterday’s slave-auctioneers and owners — believe that moral universals are just a “cost”, a “tax”, and so forth. They have never seen — and still don’t see — the benefits: the civilizing process that democracy depends vitally on.
Steady improvements in American life expectancy have stalled, and more Americans are dying at younger ages. But for companies straining under the burden of their pension obligations, the distressing trend could have a grim upside: If people don’t end up living as long as they were projected to just a few years ago, their employers ultimately won’t have to pay them as much in pension and other lifelong retirement benefits.
In 2015, the American death rate—the age-adjusted share of Americans dying—rose slightly for the first time since 1999. And over the last two years, at least 12 large companies, from Verizon to General Motors, have said recent slips in mortality improvement have led them to reduce their estimates for how much they could owe retirees by upward of a combined $9.7 billion, according to a Bloomberg analysis of company filings. “Revised assumptions indicating a shortened longevity,” for instance, led Lockheed Martin to adjust its estimated retirement obligations downward by a total of about $1.6 billion for 2015 and 2016, it said in its most recent annual report. ...
Absent a war or an epidemic, it's unusual and alarming for life expectancies in developed countries to stop improving, let alone to worsen. “Mortality is sort of the tip of the iceberg,” says Laudan Aron, a demographer and senior fellow at the Urban Institute. “It really is a reflection of a lot of underlying conditions of life.” The falling trajectory of American life expectancies, especially when compared to those in some other wealthy countries, should be “as urgent a national issue as any other that’s on our national agenda,” she says. ...
There’s no simple answer for why longevity gains are slowing. For years, economists and public health experts have been trying to ascertain what’s behind America’s troubling death trends, among them a rise in death rates for certain demographic groups. A much-discussed 2015 paper suggested that mortality was rising for middle-aged white Americans, citing suicides, drug overdoses, and alcohol, collectively sometimes referred to as “deaths of despair.” Women have been particularly affected.
Even the formerly staid, moderate members of the think tank community now have ants in their pants and are in a full-blown Putin panic. Worth reading in full.
In July, [the German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) announced] that it was creating the Alliance for Securing Democracy (ASD), which would seek “to work to publicly document and expose Vladimir Putin’s ongoing efforts to subvert democracy in the United States and Europe.” The ASD, which according to a GMF spokesperson is “funded by a group of American private individuals and small family foundations,” is, in reality, an alliance between longtime Republican neocons and Democratic war hawks such as William Kristol, David Kramer, former CIA acting director Michael Morell, Hillary Clinton foreign-policy adviser Jake Sullivan and former US ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul.
On Wednesday GMF announced the creation of a new project under the auspices of the ASD, Hamilton 68, taking its name from Federalist Paper 68, which expounds on the danger of foreign influence on American democracy. According to a press release announcing the project:
Hamilton 68 will help journalists and ordinary people alike identify Russian messaging themes and detect active disinformation or attack campaigns at the start. This will reduce the effectiveness of Russia’s attempts to influence Americans’ thinking, and deter this activity in the future.
... So far, the site has listed mainstream news outlets like TheAtlantic.com and conservative sources like TheDailyCaller.com and FoxNews.com alongside Russian-funded outlets like RT.com and SputnikNews.com on its watch list.
There are a few problems with the new project, the first being that the tweets GMF highlights as “Russian propaganda” cannot be said to be propaganda by any meaningful measure of the term. ... Why does GMF cite tweets linking to stories on police brutality and a widely bellicose pronouncement by Senator Lindsey Graham? The import of GMF’s project is clear: Reporting on anything that might put the United States in a bad light is now tantamount to spreading Russian propaganda.
Despite Historically Low Interest Rates, Consumers Are Paying an Average of 14 Percent on Credit Card Debt
On August 7 the Federal Reserve released an updated report on consumer debt. It raises more questions about how the big Wall Street banks are making all those billions of dollars in profits. Since 2012, the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury note has yielded below 2.5 percent for the majority of that period. But according to the Federal Reserve chart above, on all consumer credit card accounts assessed interest, the interest rate charged to consumers has moved from 12.96 percent in 2012 to 14 percent as of May 2017. ...
From 2012 to the end of the second quarter of 2017, total consumer debt has expanded from $2.9 trillion to $3.855 trillion on a seasonally adjusted basis, according to the latest Fed report.
One has to seriously question if the persistent subpar growth rate of 2 percent or less for the U.S. economy and the continuing closures of retail stores is directly related to the obscene interest rates being charged to U.S. consumers by the mega Wall Street banks that hold the majority of credit card debt. The 14 percent average rate blurs the fact that many consumers are being charged in excess of 20 percent on their credit cards.
On Tuesday, the Los Angeles Times reported the City Council voted to draft a law requiring companies seeking or doing business with the city to disclose financial connections to the controversial wall, whose bidding process has been stalled over disputes about its fairness.
The proposed law wouldn’t ban firms that worked on the wall from doing business with L.A. altogether, but its backers hope it’ll inform Angelenos about connections to a project with an immense impact on the city.
“We want to know if there are people who do business with the city of Los Angeles … who wish to profit from building a wall that would divide us from our nearest and dearest neighbor, Mexico,” Councilman Gil Cedillo said Tuesday. “Immigrants are the foundation, here in Los Angeles, of our economy. They are tightly woven into the social fabric of this city. And you cannot separate them or divide their families here in this city without disrupting the character of this city.”
FBI agents raided the Alexandria home of President Trump’s former campaign chairman late last month, using a search warrant to seize documents and other materials, according to people familiar with the special counsel investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.
Federal agents appeared at Paul Manafort’s home without advance warning in the predawn hours of July 26, the day after he met voluntarily with the staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee.
The search warrant was wide-ranging and FBI agents working with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III departed the home with various records. Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, confirmed that agents executed a warrant at one of the political consultant’s homes and that Manafort cooperated with the search.
Manafort has been voluntarily producing documents to congressional committees investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. The search warrant indicates investigators may have argued to a federal judge they had reason to believe Manafort could not be trusted to turn over all records in response to a grand jury subpoena. ...
Manafort has provided documents to both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate and House intelligence committees. The documents are said to include notes Manafort took while attending a meeting with Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June 2016.
Since before the election, poor white voters largely have been blamed for the rise of Donald Trump. Although their complicity in his election is clear and well established, they’re continually targeted as if their actions are the primary reason Trump won. But in fact, higher-earning, college-educated whites supported him at even greater rates. t’s quite easy to brand the working class as the most rabidly xenophobic and racist group of whites. Whether they’re brandishing Confederate flags or vociferously vowing to “Make America Great Again,” their beliefs about white supremacy are completely exposed for the world to witness. It’s much harder to see how those atop the economic pyramid not only greatly benefit from white supremacy but actually use racism to their advantage — generally from behind the scenes.
In short, when we hold the working class responsible for white supremacy, other whites are absolved of racial wrongdoing. By allowing the spread of civic ignorance, by propagating historical lies and political untruths, and by engendering an insidious form of racism, upper-class whites are undoubtedly just as culpable — if not more so — than working-class whites in the quest to maintain white supremacy. Certainly, there is no apology for the racism of working-class whites, nor any excuse; but we should seek to understand the ways in which white supremacy and power are completely intertwined. Throughout American history, the economic elite have used vile forms of racism to perpetuate the current hierarchy — politically, socially and economically. White supremacy is most commonly conceptualized as a way for lower-class whites to feel socially superior to people from other ethnic backgrounds. More important, though, white supremacy is a tried-and-tested means for upper-class whites to grow their wealth and power.
Whether pitting laborers of different races against each other, stoking racial fears through a sensationalistic and profit-driven media or politically scapegoating entire nationalities, America’s white elite have successfully modernized age-old strategies of using racism to prevent the formation of a broad coalition of people along class lines.
The final draft of the U.S. Global Change Research Program's Climate Science Special Report, prepared and meticulously peer reviewed by dozens of federal climate scientists and academic consultants, is as weighty as it is stark. And after an eleventh-hour leak to The New York Times, it may become as definitive as the thoroughly footnoted body of science it encompasses.
Overwhelming evidence, the report says, shows that manmade climate change is being felt every day, and is worsening fast. ... Would the Trump Administration deep-six the report? Some scientists involved in the process reportedly were worried about that.
So someone arranged to get it published on the website of The New York Times—a leak that broke protocol but ensured that no last-minute blue pencils could be surreptitiously applied by anyone politically inspired to meddle with the opus, a part of a long formal process that by law produces a National Climate Assessment every four years. ...
Peter Frumhoff, director of science and policy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said that "federal scientists' concerns that the administration will try to change or suppress this report are well-founded. The Trump administration has consistently demonstrated its lack of regard for science and evidence, including on climate change." ...
The publication of this fifth edition lays down a marker. It would be hard, for example, for any revisionist to try to undo the EPA's landmark "endangerment finding" that underpins regulations of carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act without taking into account the findings that are so completely laid out here.
With excessive heat warnings and temperatures reaching the triple digits from northern California through Washington state (places where air conditioning is far from a given), it’s a bit hard to fathom that this week should have been even hotter. All-time records could have been set up and down the coast, if it hadn’t been for the thick smoke streaming down from more than 100 massive forest fires in British Columbia, about 500 miles north.
You heard that right — the smoke in places like Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver was so thick it changed the weather. At Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, smoke even kept flights from taking off. (From the air, you couldn’t even see the ground.) In Seattle on Thursday, the air quality was worse than in Beijing. ... This interplay between fire and hot weather has inspired a bleak and eerie feeling for people in this part of the country. As climate scientist Sarah Myhre writes for Seattle’s alternative newspaper, the visceral experience of climate change in the future might feel a lot like it does this week in the Emerald City. ...
In a normal year, Seattle reaches 90 degrees only three times. In this week’s heatwave alone, Seattle may reach that mark seven days in a row. In parts of southern Oregon, temps rose above 110 degrees this week even despite the smoke. And the latest forecast shows that the smoke might stick around for at least another week. ... As the New York Times points out, only about one-third of Seattle’s homes have air conditioning. The inability to cool down is a public health hazard in extended heatwaves like this; studies of hyperthermia consistently show that it’s the lack of overnight recovery time that can become deadly.
It’s peak hurricane season, but the nation’s worst weather disaster right now is raging on the High Plains.
An intense drought has quickly gripped much of the Dakotas and parts of Montana this summer, catching farmers and ranchers off-guard. The multi-agency U.S. Drought Monitor recently upgraded the drought to “exceptional,” its highest severity level, matching the intensity of the California drought at its peak.
The Associated Press says the dry conditions are “laying waste to crops and searing pasture and hay land” in America’s new wheat belt, with some longtime farmers and ranchers calling it the worst of their lifetimes. Unfortunately, this kind of came-out-of-nowhere drought could become a lot less rare in the future. ...
Recently, as the climate has warmed and crop suitability has shifted, the Dakotas and Montana have surpassed Kansas as the most important wheat-growing region in the country. The High Plains is now a supplier of staple grain for the entire world. According to recent field surveys, more than half of this year’s harvest may already be lost.
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Ikey Robinson & His Band - Got Butter On It
Banjo Ikey Robinson - Pizen Tea Blues
Ikey Robinson - A Minor Stomp
The Rhythm Aces (Jabbo Smith, Omer Simeon, Cassino Simpson, Ikey Robinson) - Jazz Battle
Banjo Ikey Robinson & His Bull Fiddle Band - Rock Me Mama
Jabbo Smith & His Rhythm Aces (w Omer Simeon, Alex Hill, Ikey Robinson) - Tanguay Blues
Jabbo Smith & His Rhythm Aces (w Alex Hill & Ikey Robinson) - Michigander Blues
Howard Armstrong, Ted Bogan, Ikey Robinson - Railroad Blues
Jabbo Smith w/Ikey Robinson & His Band - Ready Hokum
The Hokum Boys - Gin Mill Blues