The Evening Blues - 9-26-17
Hey! Good Evening!
This evening's music features delta blues singer and songwriter Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup. Enjoy!
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Greyhound Bus Blues
“Looks like what drives me crazy
Don't have no effect on you--
But I'm gonna keep on at it
Till it drives you crazy, too.”
-- Langston Hughes
News and Opinion
North Korea Is the Most Predictable Regime on Earth. The Real Threat Is the Erratic U.S. Government.
The nuclear shouting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un often seems like a maddening version of whack-a-crazy-mole, in which an unhinged comment by one of them is hastily followed by a lunatic retort from the other. Trump calls Kim “rocket man,” Kim calls Trump a “dotard,” Trump tweets that Kim “won’t be around much longer,” and on and on it goes.
This raises a serious question: Which of these awesomely flawed men is the most volatile and dangerous? The trail to an answer begins with an article that Evan Osnos wrote for the New Yorker about his recent journey to totalitarian North Korea. His “Letter from Pyongyang” reached 14,000 words and was praised as a marvel of reporting that revealed the stark yet impenetrable contours of the world’s most famous nuclear-armed nightmare. ...
I was based in South Korea for the Washington Post in the late 1980s and got lucky when I applied for a North Korean visa. The headline for a front-page story I wrote from there 28 years ago could have worked for Osnos’s article: “North Korea Maintains Orwellian System.” I do not mean to criticize anyone’s reporting – there is little room for narrative imagination when you are fed the same gruel that everyone else has been fed for a half century.
Indeed, if you are a regular reader of Western reporting from North Korea, you notice a pattern that is so unerring it nearly screams at you. For an excruciatingly long stretch of time, the North Korean regime has been saying the same thing (sometimes crazy-sounding) and acting the same way (sometimes firing missiles or detonating nuclear devices) and generally doing a bang-up job of going to the brink but never over it. North Korea has had just three leaders in its entire existence: Kim Il-sung, then his son, Kim Jong-il, then his son, Kim Jong-un. It’s crucial to understand that rather than being a wild card, North Korea is perhaps the most predictable regime in the world; they are not the X-factor in today’s unnerving game.
The “insanity” label that America attaches to North Korea has a lot of political utility. First, it colors the interpretation of everything North Korea does. The consideration of a rational motivation for undesirable actions can be prevented: the actions are assumed to be crazy. Secondly, it makes the target of blame clear. Thirdly, and most importantly, it justifies the claim that rational discussion and diplomacy are pointless and misguided. Since the regime is irrational, it is incapable of listening to reason: the only approach that works is threats, military action and regime change.
There is a long American history of calling opponents crazy. ... More than half a century ago, the insanity strategy was honed by the British and the Americans in Iran. They colorfully painted the democratically elected Mohammad Mossadeq, their target of regime change at the time, as mad, both to blame him for a political crisis and to justify the need to replace him. Publicly, the media and the politicians created a collage of lunatic adjectives to paint Mossadeq as mad. ... But they were being disingenuous. Privately, their recollections of him belied the propaganda. Sam Falle, a British foreign office expert on Iran, said years later that Mossadeq was “a sincere and honest politician.” Falle said, “He was non-violent and . . . people loved him, and saw him as a sort of Iranian Mahatma Gandhi.” Falle called Mossadeq “brilliant.” In other words, Western politicians depicted Mossadeq as the Mad Hatter in public while recognizing him as Gandhi in private. ...
More than half a century later, the same strategy is being applied to Kim Jong Un. Is Kim crazy? I don’t know. But the question in its general sense is irrelevant to American foreign policy. The North Korean leader’s sanity is only relevant in the particular area that affects his governance and foreign policy. Or, in this case, it is only really relevant in so far as it affects his nuclear weapons program and policy. And, as with Mossadeq, government pronouncements and the public diagnosis don’t align with private statements by more knowledgeable people. Siegfried Hecker, the last American to inspect North Korea’s nuclear facilities, said “[s]ome like to depict Kim as being crazy. . . . He’s not crazy and he’s not suicidal. And he’s not even unpredictable.”
William J. Perry, the former Secretary of Defense who negotiated for President Clinton with North Korea, says, “But they are not crazy, as some people believe. North Korea is a pariah state and nearly alone in the world, but there is logic to the actions of its leadership. Fundamental to that logic is an overriding commitment to keeping their regime in power, to sustain the Kim dynasty.” ... So, what is the logic to which William Perry refers? It is the logic of deterrence: ironically, a logic you adopt when you don’t believe your opponent will listen to reason. It is a logic unfortunately reinforced by the hard, historical lessons learned by Iraq and Libya when they abandoned their nuclear weapons programs. ...
So tightly does North Korea hold to the logic of their nuclear program that Siegfried Hecker calls North Korean nuclear policy predictable. The policy is predictable because it is proportional. If America threatens North Korea with nuclear destruction — as it did in the 2002 nuclear posture review, as it did when it simulated nuclear bombing attacks and as it did when Trump threatened it with total destruction — then the deterrent response will be a nuclear weapons program. Since the threat isn’t diminishing, the deterrent isn’t diminishing. But, if the threat diminished, then there could be a proportionate diminution of the deterrent. On two occasions, in 2014 and 2015, North Korea offered to freeze its testing of missiles if the U.S. froze the threatening joint military exercises it holds with South Korea. On both occasions, the U.S. rejected that offer. ... The historical pattern reveals, not the insanity of North Korean nuclear weapons program, but a very predictable logic. The insanity label may serve a utilitarian purpose by readying the American people for war, but it does not serve the truth, and it does not serve the higher priority of freezing North Korea’s nuclear weapons program and preserving peace on the Korean peninsula.
The White House moved to calm simmering tensions with North Korea Monday, calling Pyongyang’s claim that Donald Trump had declared war via Twitter “absurd.”
“Frankly the suggestion of that is absurd,” she added, offering a more measured tone than her boss – who last week decried North Korea’s leader as a “madman.”
Voting stations set up on Monday for the referendum on Kurdish independence from Iraq closed their doors at 7:00 p.m (1600 GMT) and vote counting has started, the supervising body said. ...
Seventy-eight percent of the 5.2 million eligible voters turned out to vote, Erbil-based Rudaw TV said, citing the Independent High Elections and Referendum Commission.
Iraq's parliament voted Monday to deploy military troops to oil-rich Kirkuk and other disputed areas with the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) as the controversial independence referendum is underway.
A written statement by the speaker's office said that the decision aims to protect the safety of citizens located in areas contested between Baghdad and Irbil.
Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi also issued an order to security forces to protect all Iraqi nationals in the KRG from threats and violence.
Meanwhile the parliament also voted in favor of a motion addressing the KRG to hand over oil fields to the central government and suspending public servants who cast votes in the referendum.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Monday to cut off the pipeline that carries oil from northern Iraq to the outside world, intensifying pressure on the Kurdish autonomous region over its independence referendum.
Erdogan spoke shortly after Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said Ankara could take punitive measures involving borders and air space against the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the referendum and would not recognize the outcome. ...
Erdogan, grappling with a long-standing Kurdish insurgency in Turkey’s southeast, which borders northern Iraq, said the “separatist” referendum was unacceptable and economic, trade and security counter-measures would be taken.
He stopped short of saying Turkey had decided to close off the oil flow. Hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day come through the pipeline in Turkey from northern Iraq, but he made clear the option was on the table.
“After this, let’s see through which channels the northern Iraqi regional government will send its oil, or where it will sell it,” he said in a speech. “We have the tap. The moment we close the tap, then it’s done.”
Two senior Spanish officials quoted anonymously in the media have declared the planned October 1 referendum in Catalonia totally discredited, saying it is “game over” and no one will take the vote seriously anyhow.
The officials cited seized ballot papers and claimed Catalonia doesn’t have sufficient election material left. They did say that officials may ultimately decide to allow a “mock vote” to take place, but it won’t count.
Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis accused the Catalans of being Nazis for even trying to vote, declaring “referendums are a weapon of choice of dictators.”
The Trump administration is considering plans to produce modern mini-nukes, a move that, as Politico reports, “would give military commanders more options but could also make the use of atomic arms more likely.” The Politico article takes a fairly standard approach to the issue; it quotes unnamed administration sources who support a move to build small nukes and a balancing set of sources opposed to the move. Both sides provide their reasoning. As a result, the piece is a prime example of false balance and a real misrepresentation of reality. The argument against a new generation of small nuclear weapons—an unnecessary, expensive, and strategically insupportable move that would greatly increase the likelihood of worldwide thermonuclear war—is overwhelming.
But don’t take my word for it. Read Jim Doyle’s analysis of the Defense Science Board report that was the genesis of the effort to resurrect “a rapid, tailored nuclear option for limited use” now being considered as part of a Nuclear Posture Review President Trump ordered in April. A former longtime technical staffer at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, Doyle clearly lays out all the reasons why new tactical nukes make so little sense, and why their use is so likely to lead to escalation to full-scale nuclear war that “beginning in 1977, NATO began to drastically reduce its inventory of ‘tactical’ nuclear weapons to the minimum number necessary for deterrence.”
A judge in a London court on Monday found activist Muhammad Rabbani guilty of a terrorism offense because he refused to turn over his passwords to police during a border search.
Rabbani, the 36-year-old international director of British advocacy group Cage, was arrested in November at London’s Heathrow Airport. Police had demanded he provide his phone and laptop passwords during an “examination” that was carried out under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act, a broad power authorities can use to interrogate and detain people in border areas without requiring any suspicion of wrongdoing.
Rabbani said he could not provide access to his devices because they contained confidential information, provided to him by one of Cage’s clients, about alleged acts of U.S. torture. The group, which was founded in 2003 to raise awareness about the plight of prisoners held at Guantánamo Bay, was planning to use the information in a pending lawsuit against the U.S. government.
At the end of a quick one-day trial, Judge Emma Arbuthnot at Westminster Magistrates Court ruled that Rabbani had willfully obstructed police when he declined to hand over his passwords. Rabbani avoided a possible three-month jail term and was instead handed a 12-month conditional discharge and told he must pay court costs of £620 ($835). This means a Terrorism Act offense will be recorded on his criminal record. But as long as he does not re-offend within the 12-month period, no further action will be taken against him.
Rabbani said in a statement after the verdict that the judgment highlighted the “absurdity of the Schedule 7 law” and called for it to be reformed. “If privacy and confidentiality are crimes, then the law stands condemned,” he said. “They accept that at no point was I under suspicion, and that ultimately this was a matter of having been profiled at a port. … Schedule 7 actively discriminates, and this will hopefully be the start of a number of legal challenges as more people take courage to come forward.”
Decades ago, the United States and Portugal both struggled with illicit drugs and took decisive action — in diametrically opposite directions. The U.S. cracked down vigorously, spending billions of dollars incarcerating drug users. In contrast, Portugal undertook a monumental experiment: It decriminalized the use of all drugs in 2001, even heroin and cocaine, and unleashed a major public health campaign to tackle addiction. Ever since in Portugal, drug addiction has been treated more as a medical challenge than as a criminal justice issue.
After more than 15 years, it’s clear which approach worked better. The United States drug policy failed spectacularly, with about as many Americans dying last year of overdoses — around 64,000 — as were killed in the Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq Wars combined.
In contrast, Portugal may be winning the war on drugs — by ending it. Today, the Health Ministry estimates that only about 25,000 Portuguese use heroin, down from 100,000 when the policy began.
The number of Portuguese dying from overdoses plunged more than 85 percent before rising a bit in the aftermath of the European economic crisis of recent years. Even so, Portugal’s drug mortality rate is the lowest in Western Europe — one-tenth the rate of Britain or Denmark — and about one-fiftieth the latest number for the U.S.
In the middle of a consequential week for the future of American health care, Senate Republicans are hoping to sneak through a controversial nullification of a key rule from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Republican leaders are whipping to secure the votes to overturn a rule CFPB finalized in July, which would protect financial companies from class-action lawsuits and deny consumers a day in court. The rule is among the most consequential actions the CFPB has taken since its founding.
An added wrinkle here: Executives for both Wells Fargo and Equifax, both accused of ripping off millions of consumers, will testify in Senate committees next week. Both companies have used arbitration clauses in an attempt to deny consumers access to the courts. By getting the arbitration vote out of the way before the hearings, Republicans can avoid having to hand a gift to financial companies while Wells Fargo and Equifax sit squarely in the public spotlight. With Obamacare repeal sucking up all the oxygen, this week offers a perfect cover.
The CBO projected Monday that the Republicans’ latest attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare would leave millions of Americans uninsured — prompting one conservative lawmaker to effectively kill the bill as it stands.
Moments after the CBO score was released, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine tweeted a statement saying she is opposing the bill because it would make “sweeping” changes to Medicaid, weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions, and leave tens of millions of Americans without coverage.
That last no was what Democrats needed to kill the bill — Republicans can only afford two defections and both Sen. John McCain of Arizona and Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky have stated their opposition.
The Republicans’ latest attempt at healthcare reform might be on the verge of collapse, but some are already saying they may hold the budget hostage to keep options on the table to repeal Obamacare next year.
The GOP faces a deadline of Sept. 30 (the end of the fiscal year) to pass Graham-Cassidy, their latest version of healthcare reform, and the support wasn’t there as of Tuesday. But even if they don’t meet that deadline, they’ll keep trying for an Obamacare repeal — one of President Trump’s core campaign promises.
“If we don’t get it done this week,” Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, a co-sponsor of the current bill, told NPR on Monday. “Senator [Lindsey] Graham and I have both told the leadership in the Senate that we won’t vote for a budget resolution that won’t give us the same possibility of passing a healthcare reform within that same process of budget reconciliation.”
Republicans have till Saturday to repeal Obamacare using a process called “budget reconciliation,” a complex process that would allow them to pass legislation with a simple majority rather than the filibuster-proof 60-vote majority that’s usually required in the Senate.
The chief executive of embattled credit agency Equifax announced his retirement on Tuesday, in the wake of a massive data breach that exposed the personal information of 143 million people.
Richard Smith, 57, retired with immediate effect, becoming the third senior executive to leave since the breach was reported earlier this month. Equifax’s chief information officer and chief security officer have also left the company. ...
Smith has been chairman and chief executive officer of the company since 2005. His total compensation was $14.9m in 2016, according to Bloomberg.
Roger Goodell said Wednesday that the NFL will refund the money it has received to conduct acts of “paid patriotism,” reports Eben Novy-Williams of Bloomberg News. ...
According to Arizona senators Jeff Flake and John McCain, the Pentagon has provided $9 million for staged patriotism events over the past four years. ...
NFL teams were the biggest beneficiaries involved in the “paid patriotism” acts, as they were given over $6 million to conduct events involving full-field American flag displays, enlistment and re-enlistment ceremonies and reunions between service members and their families.
The sixth mass extinction of global wildlife already under way is seriously threatening the world’s food supplies, according to experts.
“Huge proportions of the plant and animal species that form the foundation of our food supply are just as endangered [as wildlife] and are getting almost no attention,” said Ann Tutwiler, director general of Bioversity International, a research group that published a new report on Tuesday.
“If there is one thing we cannot allow to become extinct, it is the species that provide the food that sustains each and every one of the seven billion people on our planet,” she said in an article for the Guardian. “This ‘agrobiodiversity’ is a precious resource that we are losing, and yet it can also help solve or mitigate many challenges the world is facing. It has a critical yet overlooked role in helping us improve global nutrition, reduce our impact on the environment and adapt to climate change.”
Three-quarters of the world’s food today comes from just 12 crops and five animal species and this leaves supplies very vulnerable to disease and pests that can sweep through large areas of monocultures, as happened in the Irish potato famine when a million people starved to death. Reliance on only a few strains also means the world’s fast changing climate will cut yields just as the demand from a growing global population is rising.
There are tens of thousands of wild or rarely cultivated species that could provide a richly varied range of nutritious foods, resistant to disease and tolerant of the changing environment. But the destruction of wild areas, pollution and overhunting has started a mass extinction of species on Earth. The focus to date has been on wild animals – half of which have been lost in the last 40 years – but the new report reveals that the same pressures are endangering humanity’s food supply, with at least 1,000 cultivated species already endangered.
Sea ice levels in Antarctica dropped to a record low this year, but experts say there is not a clear link to climate change.
More than 60 meteorologists and scientists from around the world are holding a week-long meeting in Hobart, Tasmania, to better understand sea ice changes on the frozen continent. Dr Jan Lieser from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre said sea ice levels had experienced a “massive increase” in variability over the past few years.
Sea ice coverage fell to 2.075m sq km in March, the lowest since satellite observations began in 1979. But just three years earlier it hit a record high of more than 20m sq km. Lieser said increasing ocean surface temperatures melt the ice but may also be helping it refreeze. “More warmth into the system reduces the sea ice cover but there’s also other mechanisms,” he said. “Increased warmth increases the melt underneath shelves – that increases the fresh water balance of the ocean. “Fresh water more readily freezes at the surface, which increases the sea ice again.”
The Brazilian government’s decision to reverse a decree that allowed mining in the Amazon rainforest was hailed by environmentalists Monday.
The U-turn followed a huge outcry from conservationists, celebrities and the Catholic Church.
The ban on mining in Renca, a nature reserve in northern Brazil that covers an area larger than Denmark, will officially be reinstated by President Michel Temer Tuesday.
Donald Trump will visit Puerto Rico next Tuesday, to see some of the devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria on the lives of 3.5 million Americans. As the president announced the visit, however, one Democratic congresswoman who was born in Puerto Rico warned that his lack of attention to the disaster so far risked making it “your Katrina”.
The White House said on Tuesday Trump had also made additional disaster assistance available, “by authorizing an increase in the level of federal funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures”.
But it took the president five full days to respond to the plight of the US territory. When he finally did so on Monday night, his comments on Twitter were so devoid of empathy it threatened to spark new controversy.
Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
...It's old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars....
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
...owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities - and doing well. #FEMA
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
Hot on the heels of the billowing dispute he single-handedly provoked over African American sporting figures protesting racial inequality during the national anthem, Trump effectively blamed the islanders – all of whom are American citizens – for their own misfortune. ...
Trump’s Monday night tweets were the first comments he had made on Puerto Rico since hours before Maria made landfall as a category 4 hurricane, pummelling the island and destroying its entire power network with winds up to 155mph (250km/h). On that occasion he told the people of Puerto Rico: “We are with you.”
But for many Puerto Ricans the reality five days after the hurricane struck was that the US president had not been with them. Some 700 Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) staff were on the island in a total of 10,000 federal workers, carrying out search and rescue missions and supplying basic food and water. But Trump spent those five days mired in his self-made battle with African American sports stars, seemingly oblivious to the plight of millions of Hispanic Americans in peril in a natural disaster zone.
Five days after Hurricane Maria struck, much of Puerto Rico is still in the dark without cell phone service, electricity, gas or access to cash, leaving many people stranded without essential supplies. The death toll reached 16 on Monday, according to government officials.
“While significant progress is being made, there is still a long way to go,” a FEMA spokesperson said via email Monday. ...
But horror stories shared on social media paint a different picture. Over the weekend and into Monday Puerto Ricans used Twitter and Facebook to draw attention to vulnerable elderly and sick people, and others stranded in flooded areas with no way to call for help.
Armando Valdés said he and a group of volunteers visited a 14-story elderly home with 200 residents in San Juan on Sunday. He said both of the building’s elevators were broken and the group found people without food, water, and electricity, and no way to call 911.
Nearly three-quarters of the island is without cell service, as officials work to repair damaged telecommunications towers, a government official announced Monday morning. Thousands of people are gathering in San Juan — which remains partially flooded — to try to use their cellphones to connect with loved ones. Others are camping out on suburban freeways to try to get a signal.
“We only have signal in the capital,” Jay Fonseca, a media commentator in Puerto Rico, told Latino Rebels Radio Sunday evening. “It has become impossible to reach your family members, to get to know where water is needed. This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
The U.S. Forest Service has disavowed a legal analysis it commissioned that showed federal land managers have given state wildlife departments more authority than they really possess. In June, the agency asked the University of Montana to remove the draft report five days after "Fish and Wildlife Management on Federal Lands: Debunking State Supremacy” appeared on the Bolle Center for People and Forest's website. Three weeks later, it terminated a two-year contract with the center and its director, Martin Nie, citing the “provocative title" as a reason.
The beehive Nie and his colleagues whacked concerns who owns and controls wildlife in the nation: state fish and game departments or federal land managers. In 126 pages of Supreme Court citings, legislative history and case studies, the Bolle team argued that “the U.S. Constitution grants the federal government vast authority to manage its lands and wildlife resources … even when states object.”
“The myth that ‘the states manage wildlife and federal land agencies only manage wildlife habitat’ is not only wrong from a legal standpoint but it leads to fragmented approaches to wildlife conservation, unproductive battles over agency turf, and an abdication of federal responsibility over wildlife,” the report stated. It found that claim “especially dubious when states assert ownership as a basis to challenge federal authority over wildlife on federal lands.”
“Congress has no interest in usurping the role of states in managing hunting and fishing,” Nie said. “But the federal government can’t say it doesn’t manage public land just because they don’t want to manage the take of big-game animals. What’s baffling to us was we reminded them they have the power, and they don’t seem to want to hear it.”
Also of Interest
Here are some articles of interest, some which defied fair-use abstraction.
A Little Night Music
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - My Baby Left Me
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Dirt Road Blues
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Kind Lover Blues
Arthur ''Big Boy'' Crudup - She's My Baby
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Standing At My Window
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Rock me Mama
Arthur Crudup - That's All Right
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Gonna Follow My Baby
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup - Dust My Broom