Lazy Saturday Reads

Woman Reading by a Window Gari Melchers – circa 1905

Good Afternoon!!

I’ve been trying to find out where Trump is this weekend. I haven’t heard anything about him going to Florida, and I’m afraid that may mean there will be more chaos in the White House over the weekend. Will Scott Pruitt lose his job? Or will Trump really try to use him to replace Jeff Sessions? Is Trump really preparing to talk to Robert Mueller, as CNN reports?

Exclusive: Trump begins informal prep for potential Mueller interview.

President Donald Trump has begun the initial steps of preparing for a possible interview with the special counsel, a White House official and a person familiar with the situation said Friday, a sign the President’s legal team is intensifying its deliberations over whether to allow him to come under Robert Mueller’s questioning.

One source familiar with the proceedings stressed the preparation efforts is “in its infancy.”
The preparations have been short and informal and included going over potential topics with the President that Mueller would likely raise in an interview, the people said.

The President has not formally agreed to sit for an interview with Mueller.

But word of early preparations is the clearest sign yet that Trump and his team remain open to an interview with Mueller, despite concerns from some people close to the President that such an interview could expose him to possible charges of perjury.

According to Tina Nguyen at Vanity Fair, Trump is now targeting one of his last “adult” advisers: Running Out of Punching Bags, Trump Turns on Mattis.

Drinking Coffee And Reading In The Garden Painting by Edward Killingworth Johnson

Until recently, Donald Trump’s campaign to purge naysayers had spared the Pentagon. In the absence of more proximate targets, however, it appears the president has turned his attention to foreign policy, jeopardizing his relationship with perhaps his only remaining sane adviser. Indeed, in the past week, Trump has made James Mattis’s job nearly impossible by declaring that he would send the military to guard the border with Mexico (the White House later clarified that he meant the National Guard), and insisting that the U.S. pull out of Syria (something Mattis promised last year would not happen), leading to a spectacular showdown on Tuesday, when the conflict between Trump and his generals reportedly boiled over during a meeting of top aides in the Situation Room.

According to the Associated Press, Mattis argued “that an immediate withdrawal” from Syria “could be catastrophic and was logistically impossible to pull off in any responsible way,” and offered a one-year timeline as an alternative—to which Trump responded that five or six months ought to do the trick, and “indicated that he did not want to hear in October that the military had been unable to fully defeat the Islamic State and had to remain in Syria for longer.” A person familiar with the meeting told CNN that attendees left Tuesday’s meeting “beside themselves,” arguing that Trump’s lack of desire to put together any sort of recovery plan for Syria—restoring basic needs such as water, power, and roads—would most certainly tip the country back into ISIS’s hands. “It is a huge gamble that ISIS is not going to come back and that we are going to rely on others to stabilize Syria,” an official said.

The same official noted the hypocrisy in Trump’s choice: “The president blasted Obama for a timeline in Iraq, but that is in essence what we have been given.”

From the AP article:

It wasn’t the result top national security aides wanted. Trump’s desire for a rapid withdrawal faced unanimous opposition from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Pentagon, the State Department and the intelligence community, all of which argued that keeping the 2,000 U.S. soldiers currently in Syria is key to ensuring the Islamic State does not reconstitute itself.

Adolfe Monet reading in the garden, by Claude Monet

But as they huddled in the Situation Room, the president was vocal and vehement in insisting that the withdrawal be completed quickly if not immediately, according to five administration officials briefed on Tuesday’s White House meeting of Trump and his top aides. The officials weren’t authorized to discuss internal deliberations and requested anonymity.

If those aides failed in obtaining their desired outcome, it may have been because a strategy that’s worked in the past — giving Trump an offer he can’t refuse — appears to have backfired.

Rather than offer Trump a menu of pullout plans, with varying timelines and options for withdrawing step-by-step, the team sought to frame it as a binary choice: Stay in Syria to ensure the Islamic State can’t regroup, or pull out completely. Documents presented to the president included several pages of possibilities for staying in, but only a brief description of an option for full withdrawal that emphasized significant risks and downsides, including the likelihood that Iran and Russia would take advantage of a U.S. vacuum.

Ultimately, Trump chose that option anyway.

Will Mattis resign if Trump insists on pulling the U.s. military out of Syria? Or will Trump fire him? John Bolton is expected to begin his job as National Security Adviser on Monday. Will he agree with Trump’s newly formed foreign policy?

Chief of Staff John Kelly has also lost influence on the newly “emboldened” Trump according to CBS News: Trump freezes out chief of staff John Kelly, says he’s “tired of being told ‘no.'”

When President Donald Trump made a congratulatory phone call to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, White House chief of staff John Kelly wasn’t on the line. When Mr. Trump tapped John Bolton to be his next national security adviser, Kelly wasn’t in the room.

And when Mr. Trump spent a Mar-a-Lago weekend stewing over immigration and trade, Kelly wasn’t in sight.

Oscar Bluhm In the Pergola, 1892

Kelly, once empowered to bring order to a turbulent West Wing, has receded from view, his clout diminished, his word less trusted by staff and his guidance less tolerated by an increasingly go-it-alone president.

Emboldened in his job, Mr. Trump has rebelled against Kelly’s restrictions and mused about doing away with the chief of staff post entirely. It’s all leading White House staffers and Trump allies to believe that Kelly is working on borrowed time….

Mr. Trump recently told one confidant that he was “tired of being told no” by Kelly and has instead chosen to simply not tell Kelly things at all, according to a person who was not authorized to publicly discuss private conversations and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The stock market isn’t happy with Trump’s push for a trade war. Yahoo News (AP): Stock Market Plummets After Trump Explores $100 Billion in New Chinese Tariffs.

Another increase in trade tensions has stocks falling sharply Friday as the U.S. considers an even larger set of tariffs on imports from China and the two countries exchange pointed statements. Technology companies and banks are taking some of the worst losses.

Stocks have changed direction again and again this week as investors tried to get a sense of whether a trade dispute between the two nations will escalate, an outcome that could have major consequences for the global economy. The market didn’t get any help from a March jobs report that was weaker than expected.

The Dow Jones industrial average fell dropped 581 points, or 2.4 percent, to 23,916 as of 2:15 p.m. Eastern time. Earlier it fell as much as 620 points.

The S&P 500, which many index funds track, lost 53 points, or 2 percent, to 2,608. The Nasdaq composite slid 135 points, or 1.9 percent, to 6,940. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks dipped 29 points, or 1.9 percent, to 1,513.

The Dow average, which contains numerous multinational companies including industrial powerhouses Boeing and Caterpillar, has swung dramatically this week, with about 1,300 points separating its highest and lowest marks. It fell as much as 758 points Monday, then recovered all of those losses, and late Thursday it was up as much as 519 points for the week. It’s down 0.7 percent for the week.

CNBC: Trump’s tariff gamble with China could be catastrophic for the economy, the GOP — and his own presidency.

Reading in the garden, 1915 – Nikolay Bogdanov-Belsky

Donald Trump has decided to gamble his presidency on the idea that he can threaten big tariffs on China and force the world’s second-largest economy to back down.

If he fails — and the odds are that he will — the fallout from a tariff battle with China could derail an otherwise strong U.S. economy, threaten Republican majorities in the midterm elections and turn the second half of Trump’s first term into a dismal slog to avoid impeachment votes.

So far, the exact scenario that free traders inside the White House and on Capitol Hill feared is playing out. China scoffed at Trump’s initial $50 billion in threatened tariffs and announced their own, aimed directly at Trump’s red-state base with levies on agricultural and manufactured products.

Although Trump has repeatedly bragged about stock market gains since he has been “president,” Bloomberg reports that Trump is now in 8th place in rankings of presidential success with the markets:

The Republican president’s renewed ramblings on trade dominated U.S. equity markets this week, with a tweet-induced swoon on Friday leaving the S&P 500 Index 1.4 percent lower than where it started on Monday. The gauge swung wildly, notching four moves of at least 1 percent in the five days, and the Cboe Volatility Index spiked above 20, nearly double its level for the past year.

All of which has dented Trump’s reputation as the stock market president.

The numbers from Axios:

Dow Jones Industrial Average return, if you invested in that basket of stocks, for a president’s first 444 days (ranked since 1900,) per Bloomberg:

FDR : 70.4%
Reagan: 41.4%
Teddy Roosevelt: 37.4%
Obama: 32.5%
Bill Clinton: 32.2%
George H.W. Bush: 21.4%
Trump: 20.7%

BTW, according to Think Progress, Trump doesn’t want his trade war to interfere with his daughter’s self-dealing: Ivanka Trump’s clothing company will be spared from tariffs, thanks to her dad.

U.S. officials say they used an algorithm to determine which goods to exclude from new tariffs. According to the Washington Post, the list was drafted to achieve “the lowest consumer impact,” ensuring goods like clothing and toys were excluded so as not to raise the cost on domestic consumer goods.

Reading Man in Park — August Macke 1915

Exempting clothing from the tariffs provides a big break to American clothing companies that hold trademarks in China. One of those clothing companies belongs to the First Daughter of the United States, Ivanka Trump.

A recent report by the Huffington Post found that the president’s daughter and closest adviser rakes in a total of $1.5 million a year from the Trump Organization while still working at the White House.

Her dual role as adviser to the president and private business executive has continuously raised ethical red flags. No one can be entirely sure that public policy by this administration isn’t being driven by business motives, or whether countries may pursue business deals with the Trump family as a means to curry political favor with the administration.

Once again, I’ve barely touched on all the important news that has broken over the past couple of days. I’ve reached the point of having to shut down for part of every day, because I’m so overwhelmed. Of course I’m not alone it that. In this vein Brian Klaas asks at The Washington Post: Can democracy survive information overload?

Last month, President Trump floated the idea of executing drug dealers; got sued by a porn star and a Playboy model; repeatedly attacked the FBI, his own attorney general and the Justice Department; instigated a trade war that punished long-standing U.S. allies; explicitly praised authoritarian consolidations of power in China and Egypt; “joked” about becoming “president for life”; congratulated Vladimir Putin on winning a sham election and reportedly invited him to the White House right after Russia’s government allegedly attempted to murder a former spy on the soil of the United States’ closest ally.

He also bullied a journalist for his physical appearance; boasted about making up statistics in meetings with Canada’s government; live-tweeted his favorite TV show; fired his secretary of state on Twitter; lost his Veterans Affairs secretary, national security adviser, chief economic adviser, communications director and a personal aide whose reported gambling habit was deemed a security riskhired a new national security adviser who has repeatedly called to bomb North Korea and Iran; lashed out at the special counsel, who is investigating the president for potential crimes; and threatened to beat up the former vice president of the United States until he cried.

Woman Reading in a Garden by Harold Harvey

That’s just a small selection of news from March 2018: one crazy month of one crazy presidency.

This inescapable, overwhelming and disorienting flurry of activity, which has become the new normal since Trump’s inauguration, begs two simple but profound questions: Can democracy survive information overload? And can it survive a president who knows how to use the resulting chaos to dodge democratic accountability?

Authoritarian rulers have long understood that controlling and manipulating information are crucial to subverting democracy and getting away with breaking the rules. That’s why dictatorial governments such as China and Russia not only work overtime to control media and censor inconvenient facts but also use troll armies to spew out 24/7 torrents of disinformation. Despite Trump’s obvious envy of such methods, he’s stuck with American democracy, so he has innovated out of necessity. He can’t shut down the press or censor Democrats, but he can blind the American electorate with a steady smokescreen of bewildering stories pouring out of the White House.

From Ronald Reagan to Barack Obama, any one of those stories above would have captivated national attention for weeks, or more likely, months. But with Trump, even the most scandalous topic soon disappears into a never-ending flow of revelations. By the time the morning news shows end, it’s on to the next spectacle of dysfunction. We’re living in a chronic state of whiplash.

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Thursday Reads: This Sh**t Never Ends!

Bette Davis

Good Afternoon!!

As usual in the horrifying new world of Trump, there is so much shocking news that there’s no way to deal with all of it. I guess the top story has to be that Trump’s former lawyer John Dowd dangled pardons in front of Michael Flynn and Paul Manifort last summer.

The New York Times: Trump’s Lawyer Raised Prospect of Pardons for Flynn and Manafort.

A lawyer for President Trump broached the idea of Mr. Trump’s pardoning two of his former top advisers, Michael T. Flynn and Paul Manafort, with their lawyers last year, according to three people with knowledge of the discussions.

The discussions came as the special counsel was building cases against both men, and they raise questions about whether the lawyer, John Dowd, who resigned last week, was offering pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the investigation.

The talks suggest that Mr. Trump’s lawyers were concerned about what Mr. Flynn and Mr. Manafort might reveal were they to cut a deal with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, in exchange for leniency. Mr. Mueller’s team could investigate the prospect that Mr. Dowd made pardon offers to thwart the inquiry, although legal experts are divided about whether such offers might constitute obstruction of justice.

Mr. Dowd’s conversation with Mr. Flynn’s lawyer, Robert K. Kelner, occurred sometime after Mr. Dowd took over last summer as the president’s personal lawyer, at a time when a grand jury was hearing evidence against Mr. Flynn on a range of potential crimes.

Flynn ultimately took the safe route and agreed to cooperate with the Mueller investigation; but this could explain why Paul Manafort is holding out even though the evidence against him is overwhelming and he could face life in prison if convicted.

Cary Grant, 1960

Constitutional experts are now discussing whether Trump could get away with pardoning Manafort and others, even if he did it with corrupt intent. Some opinions:

Alex Whiting at Just Security: Why Dangling a Pardon Could Be an Obstruction of Justice—Even if the Pardon Power is Absolute. A brief excerpt:

Some experts have argued that the pardon power is absolute and that the President’s motives in issuing a pardon thus could not be questioned, while others contend that it could be a crime to issue a pardon for corrupt purposes (such as in exchange for cash). But the debate over the absolute nature of the pardon power is actually not relevant to the alleged incidents involving Trump’s lawyer. Indeed, that entire debate can be set aside for the moment. Why? Because there’s been no pardon. Instead, a pardon has only been dangled before Flynn and Manafort, and the analysis of whether that action could become part of an obstruction case against Trump raises entirely different considerations….

The pardon dangle works completely differently—and in important respects has the opposite effects. First, this kind of dangle is not a public act. Therefore, as long as it remained secret, it could be done without incurring any of the political downstream consequences that come with actually pardoning someone. It hides the President from scrutiny rather than exposes him to it as a potential check on the use of the power. Second, the objective of the dangle appears to have been to foreclose the prospect of Flynn and Manfort’s cooperating or testifying. Once again, this is the opposite effect of an actual exercise of the pardon. The message of the dangle was sufficiently clear: hang in there and keep fighting (do not cut a deal with the special counsel) because you will be pardoned before you spend a day in jail. The President and his lawyer’s hope would have been that with the threat of jail eliminated, neither former aid would feel compelled to plead guilty and cooperate with Mueller to reduce his sentence. But, since they were not actually pardoned or not yet anyway, they still kept their Fifth Amendment privileges, and so Mueller could not simply demand they testify before the Grand Jury. In this way, the dangle could operate to stop any cooperation from Flynn and Manafort, who could then be pardoned later if and when they were indicted or even after their cases went through pretrial, trial and appeal. Indeed, you also have to put yourself back at the time these events all took place: before Manafort was indicted and Flynn pleaded guilty. That’s when the dangle could work its magic.

Ava Gardner

Because a pardon dangle is secret and seeks to discourage cooperation with an ongoing investigation without public scrutiny or consequences, it should be analyzed differently than a pardon when it comes to an obstruction case.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Littman at The Washington Post: We may know why Paul Manafort has kept quiet. But his bet is still risky.

Manafort’s refusal to cooperate can’t be driven by a rational calculation that he has any reasonable chance of escaping conviction, multimillion-dollar legal fees and a prison sentence that will result in years behind bars.

The indictments against him lay out an overwhelming case of money laundering in particular. The meticulously gathered evidence will be as clear for the jury as a laundry detergent commercial: The jury will see the dirty money go in and the clean money come out. To the extent there had been a small risk, inherent in paper-driven chases, that the jury could become bored at the accounting presentation and tune out, Mueller now has a narrator for the trial in Manafort’s co-conspirator Rick Gates.

So is hoping for a Trump pardon a good bet for Manafort?

…the Times story does not definitively solve the Manafort mystery. First, Dowd’s reported overture, particularly if done with the president’s knowledge or consent, could have constituted a conspiracy to obstruct justice, a separate impeachable offense. That presumably is why the story includes a categorical denial from Dowd that he ever discussed pardons for the president’s former advisers with lawyers. For Dowd, the conduct would be putting his license at risk.

Second, Manafort surely recognizes that he can’t fully count on Trump, both because the president is a habitual liar and because the political dynamic is subject to such extreme and violent turns. (Of course, under this hypothesis, Manafort retains the valuable insurance policy of spilling the goods if Trump double-crosses him, leaving both huge losers in a real-life prisoners dilemma.)

Marcello Mastroianni

Third, Manafort could still be required to testify after any pardon, when he would no longer be in federal jeopardy. Undoubtedly, the plan would be for him to deny assurances of a pardon from Trump. Still, were Mueller to catch him in a lie, the special counsel would surely come down on him.

Finally, it is likely that in the event of a pardon for federal crimes, which is all Trump can provide, some state attorneys general, such as New York’s Eric T. Schneiderman, would prosecute Manafort for financial crimes under their potent state statutes.

Maybe Manafort figures a possible pardon is a better bet than hoping Putin doesn’t send his goons to shut him (Manafort) up for good.

A few more pardon stories:

Bloomberg: Pardon Talk Could Put Trump Lawyer in Hot Water.

CNN: Emails reveal DOJ would have ‘very little involvement’ if Trump tweeted a pardon.

The Washington Post: This overlooked part of the Constitution could stop Trump from abusing his pardon power.

Another big story broke late yesterday. Trump fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Today Shulkin is speaking out, claiming he was fired because he opposed privatizing the VA. Shulkin spoke to NPR’s Morning Edition:

Fired Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin tells NPR’s Morning Edition that political forces in the Trump administration want to privatize the VA — and that he was standing in the way.

“There are many political appointees in the VA that believe that we are moving in the wrong direction or weren’t moving fast enough toward privatizing the VA,” he said. “I think that it’s essential for national security and for the country that we honor our commitment by having a strong VA. I was not against reforming VA, but I was against privatization.”

Lauren Bacall

Those political forces may be why Shulkin says he wasn’t allowed to speak out to defend himself against an ethics controversy over use of funds on a trip to Europe that he says was overhyped and intended to weaken him.

“This was completely mischaracterized,” Shulkin said. “There was nothing improper about this trip, and I was not allowed to put up an official statement or to even respond to this by the White House. … I think this was really just being used in a political context to try to make sure that I wasn’t as effective as a leader moving forward.”

Shulkin argued his case in an op-ed at The New York Times: David J. Shulkin: Privatizing the V.A. Will Hurt Veterans.

That’s a lot of news, but I’ve barely touched on everything that’s happening. Here’s a shocking Trump corruption story that broke at The Guardian this morning: FBI looked into Trump plans to build hotel in Latvia with Putin supporter.

In 2010, a small group of businessmen including a wealthy Russian supporter of Vladimir Putin began working on plans to build a glitzy hotel and entertainment complex with Donald Trump in Riga, the capital of Latvia.

A senior Trump executive visited the city to scout for locations. Trump and his daughter Ivanka spent hours at Trump Tower with the Russian, Igor Krutoy, who also knows compatriots involved in arranging a fateful meeting at the same building during the 2016 US election campaign.

Then the Latvian government’s anti-corruption bureau began asking questions.

The Guardian has learned that talks with Trump’s company were abandoned after Krutoy and another of the businessmen were questioned by Latvian authorities as part of a major criminal inquiry there – and that the FBI later looked into Trump’s interactions with them at Latvia’s request.

Michael Caine

Those involved deny that the inquiry was to blame for the deal’s collapse.

Latvia asked the US for assistance in 2014 and received a response from the FBI the following year, according to a source familiar with the process. Latvian investigators also examined secret recordings in which Trump was mentioned by a suspect.

This means the FBI looked into Trump’s efforts to do business deals in the former Soviet Union earlier than was widely known. Robert Mueller, the special counsel, is now investigating other Trump dealings with Russians as part of his wide-ranging criminal inquiry into alleged collusion between Moscow and members of Trump’s 2016 campaign team.

The Riga developers saw their potential partner in New York as a ticket to lucrative western revenues.

This shit just never ends. I haven’t even touched on the North Korea news or the Bolton mess or the fact that Trump wants to put his personal physician in charge of the VA. More headlines to check out:

The Washington Post: Who is Trump’s new Veterans Affairs pick, Ronny Jackson?

NBC News: Kim Jong Un met China’s Xi. What does it mean for Trump summit?

CNBC: China says North Korea wants denuclearization, but Kim Jong Un’s motives remain shrouded in mystery as Trump meeting approaches.

The Washington Post: Three big questions about a Trump-Kim summit.

Business Insider: Kim Jong Un became a regional power overnight by saying a single, meaningless word to Trump.

Vox: “Otherwise, they subpoena”: White House lawyer Ty Cobb on why Trump is cooperating with Mueller.

Bloomberg: Kelly Loses White House Clout as Trump Blazes Own Path.

CNN: Did Trump campaign and John Bolton PAC get help from overseas?

Talking Points Memo: WSJ: Kushner Has Phoned Bolton For Advice In The Past Year.

BBC News: Julian Assange has internet cut at Ecuadorean embassy in London.

The Daily Beast: ICE Now Detaining Pregnant Women, Thanks to Trump Order.

Slate: It’s Time to Stop Yammering About Liberal Bias.

 


Thursday Reads: The “President” is Mentally Incompetent

Good Morning!!

Breaking stories this morning:’

— First, Rep. Deven Nunes is “temporarily stepping aside” from the House Intelligence Committee’s investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, according to the AP. Details to come. According to MSNBC, Trump himself wanted this to happen because he’s “concerned about his dropping poll numbers.” We’ll learn more as the day goes on, but it seems more likely that this decision probably comes from Prince Jared.

Nunes released a statement saying that left-wing groups had made baseless charges against him to the ethics committee, and he’s made this decision even though the complaints are politically-motivated. Democratic ranking member gave a brief statement in which he said he appreciates Nunes’ decision and looks forward to working with Rep. Conaway (R-Texas) who will now lead the investigation.

— Second, Paul Ryan held a press conference this morning to pretend that Trump-Ryancare is still alive. Supposedly the House is reaching consensus around a high risk pool–something that would never work to lower premiums for everyone. They’re all going home for Easter break soon, so we’ll see what happens when they come back. IMHO, this is just a face-saving effort by Ryan.

The Dallas News has a “developing” story on Conaway taking over: Texas’ Conaway takes over Russia meddling probe, as embattled Intel chairman steps down.

WASHINGTON — Texas Rep. Mike Conaway is taking the helm of the House-led probe into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, after embattled Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes agreed to step aside Thursday.

Conaway, a Midland Republican, is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and a member of the Intelligence Committee. He chaired the Ethics Committee several years ago — considered one of the more thankless tasks in Congress, given its role in policing and occasionally punishing colleagues.

He’s one of the few CPAs in Congress. Before his election in 2004, one of his clients was the oil firm owned by future president George W. Bush.

Also happening today:

President Xi Jinping of China

NBC News: Trump and China President Xi Jinping to Meet, ‘Set a Framework’ for Relations.

As Donald Trump gets set to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a tête-à-tête at the Mar-a-Lago club in Florida on Thursday, experts say it’s time for the U.S. leader to let his past hostile comments about the Asian powerhouse fade with the Florida sunset.

Trump must start building a solid personal relationship with his counterpart and open a starter dialogue on a number of sensitive issues between the two nations, analysts add.

“Well, it’s going to be very interesting, nobody really knows, we have not been treated fairly on trade, no presidents taken care of that the way they should have, and we have a big problem on North Korea, so we’re going to see what happens,” Trump told Fox News on Thursday about his upcoming meeting with Xi.

“I’ll tell you we’ll be in there pitching, and I think we’re going to do very well” Trump added.

While the Chinese are strategic and conservative in their policy and diplomacy maneuvers, Trump has earned his reputation as brash and somewhat unpredictable, often venting governing frustrations on Twitter in 140 characters or less.

“[The Chinese] know that you cannot conduct foreign policy by Twitter, by tweeting, and brashness,” former Ambassador to China Max Baucus told NBC News.

I’m sure the Chinese know that all they have to do is say nice things about Trump and he’ll give away the store. He’s going to get played. I just hope it won’t be too damaging.

Mitch McConnell is determined to get Neil Gorsuch through the Senate despite a Democratic filibuster, and it looks like  he will exercise the so-called “nuclear option.” The sad fact that Gorsuch is obviously guilty of plagiarism doesn’t seem to matter to Republicans.

Now I want to move on to what I  believe is the most important story for the U.S. and the world right now.

After yesterday, I’m convinced that nothing that happens in the news is more important than the fact that the man who is pretending to be “president” is not only completely unqualified but also mentally unfit. There is something seriously wrong with Trump’s cognitive processes, and whether it’s dementia, drugs, or simple stupidity, we’re all in deep trouble.

New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman

Did you read the transcript of the interview Trump gave to The New York Times yesterday? I want to quote two sections of it here. During a discussion of the Gorsuch nomination, Trump claimed that Democrats have told him privately that they really don’t object that much to the pick, and here is his example:

TRUMP: Elijah Cummings [a Democratic representative from Maryland] was in my office and he said, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.”

HABERMAN: Really.

TRUMP: And then he went out and I watched him on television yesterday and I said, “Was that the same man?”

[Laughter.]

TRUMP: But I said, and I liked him, but I said that was really nice. He said, in a group of people, “You will go down as one of the great presidents in the history of our country.” And then I watched him on television and I said, “Is that the same man that said that to me?”

Did Trump somehow confuse Elijah Cummings with some other black man? WTF is he talking about, why don’t these reporters press him on it? This “interview” could easily pass as an evaluation of a mental patient by two psychiatrists. Here’s another section in which Trump claims that the story of Susan Rice’s unmasking of U.S. persons when she was Obama’s National Security Adviser is “a massive story.”

I think the Susan Rice thing is a massive story. I think it’s a massive, massive story. All over the world, I mean other than The New York Times.

HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.

TRUMP: Huh?

HABERMAN: We’ve written about it twice.

TRUMP: Yeah, it’s a bigger story than you know. I think —

HABERMAN: You mean there’s more information that we’re not aware of?

TRUMP: I think that it’s going to be the biggest story.

New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush

THRUSH: Why? What do you think —

TRUMP: Take a look at what’s happening. I mean, first of all her performance was horrible yesterday on television even though she was interviewed by Hillary Clinton’s P.R. person, Andrea Mitchell [the NBC News journalist]. Course you’ve been accused of that also.

HABERMAN: Mostly by you, though.

TRUMP: No, no, no. Mostly by a lot of people. So you know, we’ll see what happens, but it looks like it’s breaking into a massive story.

THRUSH: What do you think are — what other shoes are there to drop on this?

HABERMAN: Yeah, what else could we learn on this?

TRUMP: I think you’re going to see a lot. I think you’ll see a lot.

HABERMAN: In terms of what she did and in terms of [unintelligible]?

TRUMP: I think in terms of what other people have done also.

HABERMAN: Really?

TRUMP: I think it’s one of the biggest stories. The Russia story is a total hoax. There has been absolutely nothing coming out of that. But what, you know, what various things led into it was the story that we’re talking about, the Susan Rice. What’s happened is terrible. I’ve never seen people so indignant, including many Democrats who are friends of mine. I’ve never seen them acting this way. Because that’s really an affront on them, you know, they are talking about civil liberties. It’s such an affront, what took place.

THRUSH: What other people do you think will get ensnared in this? Can you give us a sense? How far this might extend

HABERMAN: From the previous administration.

TRUMP: I think from the previous administration.

THRUSH: How far up do you think this goes? Chief of staff?

TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but —

THRUSH: President?

TRUMP: I don’t want to say, but you know who. You know what was going on. You probably know better than anybody. I mean, I frankly think The Times is missing a big thing by not writing it because you’re missing out on the biggest story there is.

Why are these NYT reporters (Maggie Haberman and Glenn Thrush) patronizing Trump like this? I guess they are drawing him out to demonstrate that he’s a simpleton, but shouldn’t this be treated as a national emergency? The “president” is not well. No wonder there are always multiple “minders” in the room when he’s speaks publicly. Why are so many people pretending that this is somehow normal? We are facing multiple foreign crises right now and we have an incompetent “president” whose 36-year-old son-in-law appears to be running the government.

Yesterday’s Trump press conference with King Abdullah of Jordan was just as embarrassing. Trump spouted a lot of stream-of-conscientious nonsense about how disturbed he was by the chemical attack in Syria and that he had changed his point of view, and reporters pretended he had actually said something meaningful. Here’s the NYT story, for example. Yet Trump said nothing to explain what his policy was previously or what he had changed it to. He even went through that song-and-dance about how he won’t tell anyone ahead of time about what he’ll do “militarily.” This man is nuts, and the press should start saying so.

As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night, Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is every bit as incompetent as the “president.” Tillerson made a statement a couple of days ago that basically gave Asad permission to do whatever he wanted to the Syrian people. Business Insider reports:

Tillerson told reporters while he was in Turkey last week that the “longer-term status of President [Bashar] Assad will be decided by the Syrian people.”

The remark signaled a shift in the US’s official position toward the Syrian strongman. Though they were criticized for failing to act against Assad, President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State John Kerry had long called for Assad to step down in a monitored transition of power.

The US’s ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, took an even stronger position than Tillerson, telling reporters that the administration’s “priority is no longer to sit there and focus on getting Assad out.”

Haley’s comments stood in stark contrast to those of the previous UN ambassador, Samantha Power, who directly confronted Assad and his Russian and Iranian allies during a UN Security Council meeting in December with a fierce address.

“Three member states of the UN contributing to a noose around civilians. It should shame you. Instead, by all appearances, it is emboldening you,” Power said at the time. “You are plotting your next assault. Are you truly incapable of shame?”

And of course there’s the growing threat from North Korea, which Tillerson also likely aggravated. The Week: Rex Tillerson says the U.S. has ‘spoken enough about North Korea,’ won’t comment on latest missile launch.

Not long after the news broke that North Korea launched a missile into the Sea of Japan, Tillerson released a brief statement Tuesday night confirming the launch of “yet another intermediate-range ballistic missile,” adding two very terse sentences: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.” If you seek words of comfort in these uncertain times or angry declarations and threats of retaliation, Tillerson made it clear you had better look elsewhere.

If this is the secretary of state’s way of hinting he wants out of the job, Tillerson should know by now that all he needs to do is tag Jared Kushner, say, “You’re it,” and call it a day. Catherine Garcia

Here’s Charles M. Blow: Creeping Toward Crisis.

I am racked with anxiety that our buffoonish “president” — who sounds so internationally unsophisticated and who is still operating under a cloud of illegitimacy — is beginning to face his first real foreign crises.

What worries me most is that he seems to have no coherent plan, at least not one that he is willing or able to communicate. “I don’t show my hand” isn’t a strategy to conceal a plan as much as one to conceal the absence of a plan.

His statements are all bluster and bungling and bosh. Our commander in chief is not in full command of his emotions or facts or geopolitics.

We may sometimes think that the absurdity of Trump’s endless stream of contradictions and lies ends at the nation’s borders, but it doesn’t. The world is watching, and the world is full of dangerous men who see killing as a means of maintaining and exerting power. They see in Trump a novice and know-nothing, and they will surely test his resolve.

Trump has exposed himself to the world as an imbecile and burned through American credibility with his incessant lying. Even many of our allies seem confused and worried about where we stand and how we plan to proceed.

Trump is full of pride, obsessed with strongman personas, and absent of historical and geopolitical perspective. This is the worst possible situation. The man who could bring us into military engagement is woefully deficient in intellectual engagement.

Please go read the rest at the NYT.

It will clearly be another busy and chaotic day in politics. What stories are you following?

More information here: https://www.mddwi.com/


Lazy Saturday Reads: #tRump – Bull in a China Shop

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Good Afternoon!!

Yesterday I spent the afternoon and evening with my brother’s family–they invited me for a birthday dinner and family movie. Unsurprisingly, while I wasn’t paying attention for a few hours the president-elect did massive damage to U.S. foreign policy, overturning decades-long policies on China. And it appears this wasn’t about policy but about enriching the #tRump family business.

Ann Gearan at The Washington Post: Trump speaks with Taiwanese president, a major break with decades of U.S. policy on China

President-elect Donald Trump spoke Friday with Taiwan’s president, a major departure from decades of U.S. policy in Asia and a breach of diplomatic protocol with ramifications for the incoming president’s relations with China.

The call is the first known contact between a U.S. president or president-elect with a Taiwanese leader since before the United States broke diplomatic relations with the island in 1979. China considers Taiwan a province, and news of the official outreach by Trump is likely to infuriate the regional military and economic power.

The exchange is one of a string of unorthodox conversations with foreign leaders that Trump has held since his election. It comes at a particularly tense time between China and Taiwan, which earlier this year elected a president, ­­­Tsai Ing-wen, who has not endorsed the notion of a unified China. Her election angered Beijing to the point of cutting off all official communication with the island government.

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It is not clear whether Trump intends a more formal shift in U.S. relations with Taiwan or China. On the call, Trump and Tsai congratulated each other on winning their elections, a statement from Trump’s transition office said….

A statement from the Taiwanese president’s office said the call lasted more than 10 minutes and included discussion of economic development and national security, and about “strengthening bilateral relations.”

Trump claimed the call was initiated by Taiwan’s president, but that was a lie, NBC News reports:

BEIJING — A phone call between Donald Trump and Taiwan’s leader that risks damaging relations between the U.S. and China was pre-arranged, a top Taiwanese official told NBC News on Saturday.

Trump — who lambasted China throughout the election campaign and promised to slap 45 percent tariffs on Chinese goods — tweeted that Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen had called him.

“Maintaining good relations with the United States is as important as maintaining good relations across the Taiwan Strait,” Taiwanese presidential spokesman Alex Huang told NBC News. “Both are in line with Taiwan’s national interest.”

He added that the call had not been a surprise.

Apparently the call was carefully planned and scheduled by Trump staffers. It was also reported that bomb-thrower John Bolton was seen at Trump tower yesterday. Could he have helped instigate this?

After the media reported foreign policy experts’ heads exploding, Trump defensively tweeted again.

China was apparently on the phone with the White House right after the news broke, and they have now filed a complaint with the U.S. about this breach of diplomacy. The Guardian:

China has lodged “solemn representations” with the US over a call between the president-elect, Donald Trump, and Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen.

Trump looked to have sparked a potentially damaging diplomatic row with Beijing on Friday after speaking to the Taiwanese president on the telephone….

The US closed its embassy in Taiwan – a democratically ruled island which Beijing regards as a breakaway province – in the late 1970s after the historic rapprochement between Beijing and Washington that stemmed from Richard Nixon’s 1972 trip to China.

Since then the US has adhered to the “One China” principle, which officially considers the independently governed island to be part of the same single Chinese nation as the mainland.

Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry, said in a statement on Saturday: “It must be pointed out that there is only one China in the world and Taiwan is an inseparable part of Chinese territory. The government of the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government representing China.”

Geng added: “This is a fact that is generally recognised by the international community.”

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#tRrump is a real bull in a china shop, so to speak. But what was his real goal in talking to Taiwan? Think Progress: Trump’s unusual phone call is great for his business, dangerous for America.

Trump is mixing his business with the presidency. Today was a stark illustration that the combination is extremely dangerous — to Americans and the world.

The Financial Times, citing three sources, reports that Trump called Tsai Ying-wen, the president of Taiwan, on Friday. The call is a symbolic breach of the United States’ “One China” policy, which recognizes Beijing as the only government and which has been in place since 1972.

The call will antagonize China and risks “opening up a major diplomatic dispute with China before he has even been inaugurated.”

The incident is raising eyebrows because the Trump Organization, in which Trump plans to maintain ownership as president, is actively seeking new business opportunities in Taiwan. The Shanghaiist reported on the Trump Organization’s interest last month:

A representative from the Trump Organization paid a visit to Taoyuan in September, expressing interest in the city’s Aerotropolis, a large-scale urban development project aimed at capitalizing on Taoyuan’s status as a transport hub for East Asia, Taiwan News reports.With the review process for the Aerotropolis still underway, Taoyuan’s mayor referred to the subject of the meeting as mere investment speculation. Other reports indicate that Eric Trump, the president-elect’s second son and executive vice president of the Trump Organization, will be coming to Taoyuan later this year to discuss the potential business opportunity.

#tRump is trying to turn our country into a wholly owned subsidiary of the #tRump organization.

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In just the past couple of days, Trump has bumbled through bizarre phone calls with Pakistan’s prime minister Nawaz Sharif and Philippine strongman Rodrigo Duterte. Do you supposed #tRump even knows that China, Pakistan and sworn enemy India have nukes?

The Atlantic: Lessons From Trump’s ‘Fantastic’ Phone Call to Pakistan.

This week, the U.S. president-elect spoke with the Pakistani prime minister and, according to the Pakistani government’s account of the conversation, delivered the following message: Everything is awesome. It was, arguably, the most surprising presidential phone call since George H.W. Bush got pranked by that pretend Iranian president.

Pakistan, Donald Trump reportedly told Nawaz Sharif, is a “fantastic” country full of “fantastic” people that he “would love” to visit as president. Sharif was described as “terrific.” Pakistanis “are one of the most intelligent people,” Trump allegedly added. “I am ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.” ….

Like their problems with India?

It’s unclear how accurate the Pakistani government’s record of the discussion is, though the language does have a Trumpian ring to it (Trump’s transition team released a much more subdued summary of the call). But what’s surprising about the account is how disconnected it is from the current state of affairs. Everything is not awesome in U.S.-Pakistan relations. The two countries are the bitterest of friends. They have long clashed over the haven that terrorist groups have found in Pakistan and over U.S. efforts, including drone strikes and the raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound, to kill those terrorists. Pakistan, a nation with a growing arsenal of nuclear weapons, is the archenemy of India, another nuclear-armed state and a critical U.S. ally. U.S. officials see Pakistan—with its weak political institutions and suspected government support for militant groups in Afghanistan and the contested territory of Kashmir—as an alarming source of regional instability. The suspicion is mutual: Just a fifth of Pakistanis have a favorable view of the United States. Trump himself has argued that Pakistan “is probably the most dangerous” country in the world, and that India needs to serve as “the check” to it.

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The reports also provoked a caustic response from the Indian government, which opposes U.S. mediation in its border dispute with Pakistan. “We look forward to the president-elect helping Pakistan address the most outstanding of its outstanding issues: terrorism,” a spokesman for the Ministry of External Affairs said. And, ultimately, they forced Pakistani officials to backpedal after initially publicizing the conversation. “Our relationship with the United States is not about personalities—it is about institutions,” a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs clarified. In other words, a brief, breezy conversation had real reverberations on the subcontinent.One lesson of the phone call is that words matter, especially in international relations where information is patchy, things get lost in translation, rhetoric is often interpreted as policy, and a government’s credibility is only as good as its word. (Think of all the people in the United States puzzling over what policies Trump will pursue as president; now imagine trying to do that from Islamabad or New Delhi.)

 

And now Pakistan is sending an envoy to meet with the #tRump bumblers. The Indian Express reports:

Pakistan has decided to send an envoy to the US to hold meetings with Donald Trump’s transition team, two days after a “productive” telephonic conversation between Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and the President-elect. Pakistani Prime Minister’s special assistant for foreign affairs Tariq Fatemi will visit the US this weekend to meet officials of the Trump transition team.

Fatemi’s meeting with officials of Trump transition team was confirmed by Jalil Abbas Jilani, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US. “Besides meeting members of the transition team, Fatemi will meet officials of the outgoing Obama administration,” said Jilani.

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Huffington Post: Donald Trump Praises Philippines Deadly Drug War And Invites Leader To White House.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump praised Philippines leader Rodrigo Duterte for his war on drugs that has left thousands dead, Duterte said on Saturday after the two held a phone conversation in which Trump also invited Duterte the White House.

“He was quite sensitive also to our worry about drugs. And he wishes me well … in my campaign and he said that … we are doing it as a sovereign nation, the right way,” Duterte said in a statement. Duterte has conducted a severe crackdown on drugs in the country, where police and vigilante groups have killed thousands.

Trump’s brief chat with the firebrand Philippine president follows a period of uncertainty about one of Washington’s most important Asian alliances, stoked by Duterte’s hostility towards President Barack Obama and repeated threats to sever decades-old defense ties.

The call lasted just over seven minutes, Duterte’s special advisor, Christopher Go, said in a text message to media, which gave few details. Trump’s transition team had no immediate comment.

So #tRump is on the record supporting mass murder now. Awesome.

Two more links to check out:

The New York Times: How Trump’s Calls to World Leaders Are Upsetting Decades of Diplomacy.

The Washington Post: Donald Trump keeps confirming fears about his diplomatic skills.

Isn’t there anyone who can do something about this monster before he destroys our country and/or blows up the world? We are so screwed.

What stories are you following today?


Thursday Reads: A Mixed Bag of News

Girl reading on a stone porch, by Winslow Homer

Girl reading on a stone porch, by Winslow Homer

Good Morning!!

The images in this post are from the blog, Reading and Art. I don’t have any central theme this morning, just a mixed bag of news stories. beginning with damaging explosions in Tianjin, China.

CNN reports, Tianjin blasts: Dozens dead; areas of Chinese port city devastated.

You can see the devastation everywhere: in the hollowed out shells of barely-standing buildings, in the anguished faces of relatives waiting for news of loved ones, in the parade of scorched cars.

But what was it that set off the terrifying blasts that ripped through warehouses housing hazardous chemical materials, sending fireballs shooting across the sky and shaking tall buildings more than 2 miles away?

Hours later, amid the destruction in this northern Chinese port city of more than 13 million, the exact cause remained unclear.

A thick chemical odor hung in the air. Fires still burned in the waterfront industrial district where the explosions went off. And the grim toll kept mounting.

At least 44 people are confirmed dead, 12 firefighters among them, officials said Thursday. More than 500 are hospitalized, 52 with severe injuries. Dozens of firefighters are missing.

Local authorities suspended firefighting efforts Thursday because of a lack of information about the “dangerous goods” stored at the warehouse at the heart of the blasts, the state-run Xinhua news agency said.

CNN has dramatic photos at the link. A few more stories on the disaster:

Vice News: Video Emerges of Horrific Tianjin Explosion as Death Toll Rises.

USA Today, 12 firefighters among 50 dead in Chinese port city explosions.

This is a developing story, and it sounds like the death toll is likely to rise.

Girl reading under an oak tree, by Winslow Homer

Girl reading under an oak tree, by Winslow Homer

You’ve probably heard by now that Jimmy Carter has cancer that has spread from his liver to other organs.

Washington Post, Former president Jimmy Carter, 90, announces that he has cancer.

Former president Jimmy Carter announced Wednesday that he has cancer and will be undergoing treatment at Emory Healthcare in Atlanta.

Carter, 90, said the disease was discovered during recent liver surgery to remove “a small mass” and that the cancer “is now in other parts of my body.”

“I will be rearranging my schedule as necessary so I can undergo treatment by physicians at Emory Healthcare,” Carter said in a statement on the Carter Center Web site. “A more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

In a statement, President Obama said he and first lady Michelle Obama wished Carter “a full and fast recovery.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with [wife] Rosalynn and the entire Carter family as they face this challenge with the same grace and determination that they have shown so many times before,” Obama said in a statement released by the White House. “Jimmy, you’re as resilient as they come, and along with the rest of America, we are rooting for you.”

The president also spoke with Carter on Wednesday evening to wish him “full and speedy recovery” and extended best wishes on behalf of himself and first lady Michelle Obama, White House spokesman Eric Schultz said.

According to NBC News, Carter said “a more complete public statement will be made when facts are known, possibly next week.”

Sunlight and shadow, by Winslow Homer

Sunlight and shadow, by Winslow Homer

Sweden has dropped some of its charges against Julian Assange.

Wall Street Journal, Sweden Runs Out of Time on Parts of Assange Probe.

STOCKHOLM—Swedish prosecutors on Thursday ran out of time to pursue two of four investigations into allegations of sexual assault against WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has been living at the Ecuadorean embassy in London since 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden for questioning.

Prosecutors said that probes into suspected unlawful coercion and sexual molestation would be dropped as the five-year limit that Swedish law allows for such charges to be brought has come to an end.

The five-year deadline for a second count of sexual molestation will be reached Aug. 18, prosecutors said. If the statute of limitation on that allegation also comes into effect, Mr. Assange would be left facing a single, more serious accusation of rape, over which prosecutors have until 2020 to question him….

Mr. Assange was accused of the crimes by two women during a visit to Sweden in August 2010. Prosecutors requested Mr. Assange return to Sweden from the U.K to face questioning.

The WikiLeaks founder, who denies the crimes, refused to return to Sweden, saying he feared he would extradited from Sweden to the U.S. where he could face trial over the publication by WikiLeaks of classified U.S. documents.

Assange says he is disappointed, according to BBC News.

The Wikileaks founder said he was “extremely disappointed” and said the Swedish prosecutor had avoided hearing his side of the story….

He sought asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy in London in 2012 to avoid extradition to Sweden, fearing he would then be sent to the US for questioning about the activities of Wikileaks.

Under Swedish law, charges cannot be laid without interviewing the suspect.

Mr Assange said he was innocent and claimed prosecutors had refused to visit him at the embassy.

They also refused to promise not to send him to the US if he were to go to Sweden, he said.

Mr Assange said: “I am strong but the cost to my family is unacceptable.”

The new novel, by Winslow Homer

The new novel, by Winslow Homer

In clown car news, Mike Huckabee said some more insane things about Planned Parenthood and abortion.

Talking Points Memo, Huckabee: DOJ Should ‘Criminally Prosecute Planned Parenthood.’

“I would also invoke the 15th and Fourteenth Amendments,” he said on Wednesday. “This is the power that we have to stop this incredible, barbaric scourge of abortion. Not just stop funding Planned Parenthood, but we need to invoke the Fifth and 14th Amendment. The Fifth Amendment guarantees due process for every person. The 14th Amendment guarantees equal protection under the law for every person.”

Huckabee said that he believes that unborn children are people, guaranteeing them Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.

“I would take that position. I would act on behalf of those unborn children, and I would let those who want to slaughter babies, those who want to sell their body parts, let them sue me,” he said.

In response, Melissa McEwan writes:

Again, this is less like chipping away at Roe and more like taking a bulldozer to it.

I have said many times (for instance) that fetuses are valued more highly than the people who carry them, that the potential life of every fetus is more important than the actual life of a pregnant person. Never has this been more clear.

If Mike Huckabee, or any of his fellow Republican candidates, had their way, fetuses would have not equivalent rights, but more rights than any pregnant person.

Protip, Huckabee: “Slaughtering babies” is already against the law.

The country school, by Winslow Homer

The country school, by Winslow Homer

CNN reports on a study showing that kids in elementary school are getting crushing amounts of homework.

Kids have three times too much homework, study finds; what’s the cost?

The study, published Wednesday in The American Journal of Family Therapy, found students in the early elementary school years are getting significantly more homework than is recommended by education leaders, in some cases nearly three times as much homework as is recommended.

The standard, endorsed by the National Education Association and the National Parent-Teacher Association, is the so-called “10-minute rule” — 10 minutes per grade level per night. That translates into 10 minutes of homework in the first grade, 20 minutes in the second grade, all the way up to 120 minutes for senior year of high school. The NEA and the National PTA do not endorse homework for kindergarten….

Parents reported first-graders were spending 28 minutes on homework each night versus the recommended 10 minutes. For second-graders, the homework time was nearly 29 minutes, as opposed to the 20 minutes recommended.

And kindergartners, their parents said, spent 25 minutes a night on after-school assignments, according to the study carried out by researchers from Brown University, Brandeis University, Rhode Island College, Dean College, the Children’s National Medial Center and the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

Homer, Winslow 6

That is ridiculous and harmful. Children at younger ages learn far more from play and interacting with other kids than from regimented school assignments.

“It is absolutely shocking to me to find out that particularly kindergarten students (who) are not supposed to have any homework at all … are getting as much homework as a third-grader is supposed to get,” said Stephanie Donaldson-Pressman, the contributing editor of the study and clinical director of the New England Center for Pediatric Psychology.

“Anybody who’s tried to keep a 5-year-old at a table doing homework for 25 minutes after school knows what that’s like. I mean children don’t want to be doing, they want to be out playing, they want to be interacting and that’s what they should be doing. That’s what’s really important.”

The Pope is coming to the U.S., and one of his stops will be at a jail in Philadelphia.

Reuters: At drab Philadelphia jail, anxious times precede papal visit.

One of 17 stops on the pope’s first U.S. tour, the visit to the inner-city jail is a reminder of the emphasis the Argentine pontiff has placed on social justice issues since being named head of the Roman Catholic Church in March 2013.

The pope’s stop at the Philadelphia facility will be the latest in a series of prison visits by Francis, an outspoken opponent of the death penalty and lengthy prison terms. He has counseled teenagers in juvenile detention in Brazil. In Bolivia, he kissed inmates in the country’s most violent prison.

His visit also comes at a time when a growing number of Democrats and Republicans are questioning tough criminal sentencing policies that have left the United States with the highest incarceration rate in the developed world. Barack Obama, who last month became the first sitting U.S. president to tour a federal penitentiary, has called for legislation overhauling sentencing rules.

Advocates for prisoner rights say they are pleased the pope has decided to put the issue on his agenda during the U.S. tour, which will include attending a conference on family life in Philadelphia, plus stops in Washington and New York.

Morning glories, by Winslow Homer

Morning glories, by Winslow Homer

I was going to write about Hillary and the media’s obsession with her emails, but I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Instead, here’s an inspirational piece from Peter Daou and Tom Watson at #HillaryMen.

Hillary’s Path to History Will Get Much Rougher and She’s Ready.

There is a manic urge among the media, the GOP and the elite commentariat to Stop Hillary – to block a woman from reaching the pinnacle of American political leadership.

Each poll, news story or issue that appears to harm her is seized upon with a strange combination of desperation and glee. It’s an unsavory process but Hillary knew what she was in for when she decided to seek the presidency a second time.

As #HillaryMen, we’re undaunted by the negative stories, unwavering in our support for Hillary and unyielding in our commitment to help smash the ultimate gender barrier.

Ending a 44-0 shutout that has lasted nearly a quarter millennium was never going to be easy. There is no cakewalk to the White House. And certainly not for a woman.

We’ve worked in politics and media for nearly two decades. Peter is a veteran of two presidential campaigns, including Hillary’s 2008 run. We’ve seen every permutation of every attack, every rise and fall in the polls, every gaffe and every zinger, every debate moment and debate aftermath, every nervous election night and every election surprise.

We know what lies ahead for Hillary’s campaign and we realize there will be times when the obstacles seem insurmountable. They are not.

For all practical purposes, the 2016 race is just getting underway. As the first summer of the campaign winds down, the rhetoric heats up and political prognostications start climbing in pitch. The fall frenzy begins in a matter of weeks.

I plan to head over to #HillaryMen every time I get angry and/or anxious about something written or said about her in the media. In case you haven’t read it yet, here’s a link to “The Facts about Hillary Clinton’s Emails” at her campaign website.

What else is happening? Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread, and enjoy your Thursday.


Wednesday Reads: Put up your dukes!

a8ade4f956b30d8e6b99b03acfea9da1Good Morning

Oi! Put up your dukes and lets duke it out!

WordPress has fugged up with their editor, which means that the pictures and formatting may be a little off in this post. That said the images are all found on pinterest and are all various vintage picture of women boxing.

Why?

Because, the shit going on with the Supremes is something that makes me want to put on a pair of boxing gloves and kick some PLUB #HobbyLobby loving ass.

Justice Kennedy Thinks Hobby Lobby Is An Abortion Case — That’s Bad News For Birth Control | ThinkProgress

“Your reasoning would permit” Congress to force corporations to pay for abortions, Kennedy told Verrilli. This was not the Anthony Kennedy that worried about c65cfc1d1ec08b5d3d8a8a07be5446b8conservatives imposing their anti-gay “animus” on others, this was the Anthony Kennedy that views abortion as a grave moral wrong. Shortly after Kennedy made this statement, Justice Kagan’s face dropped. It appeared that she’d just figured out that she would be joining a dissenting opinion.

It’s worth noting that Kennedy expressed a different concern than one offered shortly thereafter by Chief Justice John Roberts. Hobby Lobby objects to four forms of contraception on the mistaken ground that these contraceptive methods are actually forms of abortion — a brief filed by numerous medical organizations explains that they are not. Roberts, however, suggested that someone’s mere belief that something is an abortion is enough to trigger an religious exemption to federal law.

More from :

SCOTUSblog: Birth control, business, and religious beliefs: In Plain English

Wednesday round-up : SCOTUSblog

Ugh….but that fucked up crap about the pill being “abortion” aside, last night Boston Boomer put up a tweet in the comments that I think needs to be shared up on the front page.

This brings up a good point, one of the tweets in this thread says that Hobby Lobby responded…

Some of the tweets mention the “myth” of infanticide and forced abortions…which is bullshit. Take a look at this from Telegraph:

Malaysia Airlines missing flight exposes tragedy of China’s ‘orphaned’ one-child parents

Much has been written about the human rights abuses associated with China’s notorious one-child policy: the forced abortions, sterilisations and even cases of infanticide as rural families sought to rid themselves of girls they thought were less useful than boys.

But the disappearance of MH370 has cast light a less well-known but equally devastating phenomenon: that of the “orphaned” parents who, through accident or illness, lost the only child the Chinese government allowed them to have.

There are an estimated one million so-called “shidu” families in China, with state media reporting that around 76,000 new families are “orphaned” each year.

“When you lose your only child, it feels like the sky has fallen in,” said one bereaved Shanghai mother, who lost her only daughter and her husband to a 2012 car accident.

“Because of the one-child policy a million families have lost their offspring forever,” added the woman, who requested anonymity because of the politically sensitive nature of the subject. “It is an ethical tragedy. Nobody can take away the pain.”

2ee90dc1af530f0f0d9815faf83b983cRecent months have seen several major Chinese cities and provinces including Beijing and Shanghai start to change the controversial birth control policy, relaxing family planning rules so parents who are both only children can now have two children.

On the subject of lost children…grown children…the numbers have gone up in the death toll over in the Washington state landslide claims up to 24, more than 100 missing.

The number of dead climbed to as high as 24 with the recovery Tuesday of two more bodies and another eight believed to have been located in the debris.

Authorities did not immediately release the identities of the dead nor did they provide details about where the bodies were found.

At least 176 people are unaccounted for. Officials have stressed those unaccounted for are not necessarily all victims of the disaster. They say they believe many names have been duplicated.

Three sheriff’s deputies who specialize in missing persons cases have begun reviewing the lists to get a more accurate count, Snohomish County Emergency Management Director John Pennington said.

And if death from plane crash or mudslide is not depressing enough, how about Ebola: W Africa scrambles to prevent Ebola spread

West African nations scrambled to contain an outbreak of the deadly Ebola virus suspected to have killed at least 59 people in Guinea, with symptoms of the disease reported in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia as well.26392ed054c7d10c9eca5bd8d5187606

The spread of Ebola, one of the most lethal infectious diseases known, has spooked nations with weak health care systems. In Guinea’s southeast, home to all the confirmed cases, residents are avoiding large gatherings and prices in some markets have spiked as transporters avoid the area.

Health authorities in Liberia said they had now recorded eight suspected cases of Ebola, mainly in people who crossed the border from Guinea.

Five of these had died but tests were still being carried out to check if the cases were indeed Ebola, the Reuters news agency reported.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) said a total of 86 suspected cases, including 59 deaths, had been reported in southeastern Guinea near the border with Sierra Leone and Liberia.

This next quote is very scary:

“People are really frightened. They have seen people die in a matter of just two or three days. They are constantly worried who is going to be the next fatality,” said Joseph Gbaka Sandounou, who manages operations for aid agency Plan International in Guekedou.

On to more “newsy” link goodness. Major Garrett has a piece up over at National Journal: Obama Tries to Put Putin in His Place—Again

Moments after deflecting a question about his diminished influence on the world stage, President Obama described Russia as a “regional power” operating in Crimea out of weakness, not strength.

Women boxing at the 1904 Olympic Games in St. LouisNoting Russia’s long-standing influence in all of Ukraine, Obama said Russian President Vladimir Putin’s illegal annexation of Crimea “indicates less influence, not more.”

I guess that’s why Ukraine’s defense minister resigned and Ukrainian troops bugged out of Crimea, leaving it to Russian forces. This is the only “off ramp” that matters in Crimea. Ukraine and its rhetorically florid Western allies took it. Not Putin.

Even as the White House insists Crimea is not “lost” (Putin can find it without satellite imagery, after all), the grudging language of concession seeps from every corridor of Ukrainian talks here.

“It’s not a done deal in the sense that the international community by and large isn’t recognizing the annexation of Crimea,” Obama said, before acknowledging the “facts on the ground” favored Russia. “It would be dishonest to say there is a simple solution to resolving what has already taken place in Crimea.”

Obama and European leaders are rattled and resentful, thunderstruck that the wispy bonds of international “norms” could be so easily shredded. Fearful of the precedent they appear incapable of reversing, and desperate to limit Putin’s ambitions to Crimea, the G-7 nations have effectively conceded Crimea. They threatened “sectoral sanctions” if Putin further bulldozed international law by gobbling up more of Ukraine or plowing into Moldova. Weak or strong, Putin enforces the new Crimean status quo. All he’s lost is Russia’s G-8 membership pin and decoder ring.

21f8ff404ae8a0dc78db6ac4d7605447Read the rest at the link.

One of our astronauts hitched a ride yesterday. Leaving politics behind, Russian-U.S. crew blasts off for space | Reuters

Two Russian cosmonauts and a U.S. astronaut blasted off for six-month stay aboard the International Space Station on Tuesday, a partnership unaffected by the political rancor and economic sanctions triggered by Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

The Russian Soyuz rocket carrying cosmonauts Alexander Skvortsov and Oleg Artemyev and NASA astronaut Steven Swanson lifted off at 5:17 p.m. EDT from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.

The trip to the space station, a $100 billion research laboratory that flies about 260 miles above Earth, was scheduled to take about six hours. However, an unknown problem caused the crew’s Soyuz capsule to skip two planned steering maneuvers, delaying the crew’s arrival until Thursday.

“The crew is in no danger. The Soyuz (is) equipped with plenty of consumables to go even beyond the next two days, should that be become necessary. Nobody expects that that will be the case,” mission commentator Rob Navias said during a NASA Television broadcast.

 

558a1149bb572582b62fb754a235f37cMy son has a sinus infection, and was home from school yesterday…so he watched the launch live.

At Least Russia and the U.S. Still Get Along in Outer Space – NationalJournal.com

NASA, however, is not worried about the Ukraine crisis taking a toll on space exploration.

“We do not expect the current Russia-Ukraine situation to have an impact on our long-standing civil space cooperation with Russia, which goes back decades, including our partnership on the International Space Station program,” said NASA spokesman Joshua Buck in a statement to National Journal. “We are confident that our two space agencies will continue to work closely as they have throughout various ups and downs of the broader U.S.-Russia relationship.”

The International Space Station has indeed weathered terrestrial political storms in the past. “It doesn’t appear that we are affected by what’s going on diplomatically with the Russians,” Al Sofge, director of NASA’s human exploration and operations division, has said of the conflict in Syria and Russia’s protection of American whistle-blower Edward Snowden. “I don’t know that we’ve ever even discussed it.”

After 16 years in orbit, the International Space Station is truly a bilateral effort. The station, divided into American and Russian segments, uses American solar arrays and power systems, Russian life-support systems, and a navigation system that comes from both nations.

61fb77482bb012d4afdb794135b78746The U.S. and Russia first collaborated in space in July 1975, when a Soviet Soyuz capsule carrying two cosmonauts docked with a U.S. Apollo module carrying three astronauts. In the 1990s, after the Soviet Union collapsed, the U.S. asked Russia to join its work on the International Space Station. Russia was too financially strapped to build a program of its own, BBC’s Melissa Hogenboom explained in 2012, and the U.S. was behind schedule on the project and needed help.

This “reluctant codependency,” as NBC space analyst James Oberg dubbed it, persists to this day. At the International Space Station, Russia depends on NASA’s electronics and communications technology, which are more advanced. The U.S. depends on Roscosmos, the Russian federal agency, to send its astronauts to space. After NASA retired its space-shuttle program in 2011, Russia became the sole nation with the capability of carrying astronauts and cargo to and from space. Even U.S. national security satellites are powered into orbit on an American rocket with a Russian-built rocket engine.

While Jake was watching that rocket take off, I told him the Russians would not mess up that arrangement, they are getting paid. How much?

Right now, NASA pays $70.7 million per seat to send its astronauts to space on Russian Soyuz capsules, $8 million more than a previous agreement. But by 2017, NASA officials say the U.S. should be able to send its astronauts to the International Space Station on its own, thanks to private American spaceflight companies.


bfc76f7e8d948480492ab98762023746I will put this other link here for you, Zandar Versus The Stupid: Last Call For One Hell Of A Coincidence, where an article in the Business Insider by Michael Kelley is asking the question:

 

U.S. officials think that Russia recently obtained the ability to evade U.S. eavesdropping equipment while commandeering Crimea and amassing troops near Ukraine’s border.

The revelation reportedly has the White House “very nervous,” especially because it’s unclear how the Kremlin hid its plans from the National Security Agency’s snooping on digital and electronic communications.

One interesting fact involved is the presence of Edward Snowden in Russia, where he has been living since flying to Moscow from Hong Kong on June 23.

In July, primary Snowden source Glenn Greenwald told The Associated Press that Snowden “is in possession of literally thousands of documents that contain very specific blueprints that would allow somebody who read them to know exactly how the NSA does what it does, which would in turn allow them to evade that surveillance or replicate it.”

So it’s either a crazy coincidence that the Russians figured out how to evade NSA surveillance while hosting the NSA-trained hacker, or else it implies that Snowden provided the Russians with access to the NSA’s blueprint.

ad91d1fe340080ba3d708415fa8cd55eNo doubt Kelley’s article is going to draw a massive screed from Double G and the usual suspects.  But as the people who support Snowden’s actions remind us, we need to have a serious debate about American intelligence capabilities, and that includes debating the consequences of someone with the vast knowledge of these capabilities defecting to a foreign country.

I’ve said on a number of occasions that the actions of Snowden and his partners are not consistent with the goal of reigning in the NSA through existing means, but very consistent with the goal of taking it upon themselves to irreparably damage our intelligence-gathering abilities as a lesson to the Unites States government.

The threats have been made that if anything happens to Snowden, the full trove of information would be leaked.

Zandar asks…

It’s a reasonable question to ask if that’s already happened.

5d1338d26584ed11f5ecee7dd896309aSo, over at CNN they are looking for news since their 24/7 coverage of MH Flight 370 is coming to a close….Two CNN Producers Arrested in Sad Attempt to Break into the WTC Site

Two CNN producers were arrested today after trying—and failing miserably—to break into the World Trade Center site for a story about people who successfully broke in.

A CNN spokesperson said that producers Connor Boals, 26, and Yon Pomrenze, 35, were on assignment “but were not asked to sneak onto the WTC site.”

According to reports, the pair first tried to talk their way past security guards into the heavily guarded construction site. When that failed, they tried scaling a nearby fence. Both times officers merely turned them away.

The tipping point came on their third attempt, when they tried to forcibly push their way through a security checkpoint.

That coup de grâce got Boals and Pomrenze cuffed and booked on criminal trespass, obstruction of governmental administration and disorderly conduct charges.

4bf0f9fa812baf0dacba764f4cdd93c8Sad…sad…sad…when all they had to do was head on over to Jersey: Body parts injure 4 after man killed by train

A man was struck and killed by a train Tuesday in a gruesome scene that left others on the New Brunswick Station platform injured.

Preliminary eyewitness accounts suggest that the man was struck after leaning into the path of the oncoming train while standing on the station platform.

As a result of the collision, at least four other people waiting on the platform were struck by parts of the man’s body, officials said.

The incident happened at about 5 p.m. EDT and involved a New York-bound Northeast Corridor train carrying about 300 passengers, NJ Transit spokesman John Durso said.

1240957702d17d444ef8d846a8420c41Three of the four people who were hurt went to the hospital with injuries…eek! Now that is a “story” those producers could have gotten into…dirty laundry there. Literally.

 

Back to the MH370 for a moment: Families of Flight MH370 Victims Issue Blistering Statement | Vanity Fair

The families on the receiving end didn’t take kindly to the message or the manner in which it was delivered. Families gathered in Beijing read a blistering rebuke of Malaysian Airlines and authorities on Monday:

“At 10pm on March 25, the Malaysian prime minister sent a statement to the families of MH370 passengers without any direct evidence that MH370 crashed in the south Indian ocean and no people survived. 

From March 8 when they announced that MH370 lost contact to today, 18 days have passed during which the Malaysian government and military constantly tried to delay, deceive the passengers’ families and cheat the whole world.

This shameless behaviour not only fooled and hurt the families of the 154 passengers but also misguided and delayed rescue actions, wasting a large quantity of human resources and materials and lost valuable time for the rescue effort.

If the 154 passengers did lose their lives, Malaysia Airlines, the Malaysian government and military are the real executioners who killed them. We the families of those on board submit our strongest protest against them.

cbb4858fba066dab03fa9df6171a770dWe will take every possible means to pursue the unforgivable crimes and responsibility of all three.”

Malaysia Airlines claims a representative for the company told the assembled families in person, and that phone calls and SMS messages were only sent to relatives who were not in the family-support center.

The rest of the links are in quick dump fashion:

What happens when a female student in a hot pink top walks through Cairo University? – News – Student – The Independent

A shocking video shows a female student being sexually harassed as she walks through her campus at Cairo University in Egypt.

Wearing a pink top and tight jeans, the young woman is whistled and shouted at as she makes her way through the site amongst a growing group of men following her.

54ed3e8e1cff5ddfbb033982fed1f78dUniversity guards are seen in the clip, which has gone viral on social media, escorting her off the premises after she hid in a toilet to escape the group, who were allegedly trying to remove her clothes.

The school Dean blamed the girl of course…video at the link.

From the fuckwads in my state, In Georgia, Carry a Gun, Just Not in the Capitol – NYTimes.com

There’s a lot of concern about new legislation in Georgia that expands how people can buy, carry and use guns. It reduces some licensing requirements and provides Georgians with a stronger “Stand Your Ground” defense should they feel threatened and decide to open fire. Some critics were calling it the “guns everywhere” law. That’s so unfair. Georgia’s lawmakers are not allowing everyone’s safety to be endangered by gun-slinging people. They are deeply concerned, for example, with their own.

The bill, passed on Thursday and awaiting the governor’s signature, will, among other things, allow people to carry concealed weapons into more places — including ones, like bars, which conveniently enough are spots where they are likely to be put to use.

They may also be carried in unsecured areas of airports. Even toting a gun in secured areas will merely be a misdemeanor in Georgia as long as you did it by mistake. After all, who among us has not had the embarrassing experience of forgetting they were carrying their Glock semiautomatic through airport security?

put em up (louise adler in a promo shot for the match in which she defeated joe rivers, 1926)Republican lawmakers in the Georgia House tried — and failed — to require colleges and churches to allow concealed weapons. The law bans them on college campuses (thank goodness for that, at least) and requires armed Georgians to get permission from their church before they go to Sunday services packing heat.

But, while patting themselves on the back for protecting the Second Amendment rights of their fellow citizens and dismissing any notion that guns could be a danger to the public, Georgia lawmakers were careful to continue to ban the carrying of weapons in government buildings with security checkpoints, like the Capitol itself, though guns are welcomed in buildings without screening.

aa99047510b526beb2a9c32518e0b111How thoughtful of them.

Barbara Boxer: Why no Viagra complaints? – Tal Kopan – POLITICO.com

As the Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday about the Obamacare mandate on birth control coverage, Sen. Barbara Boxer questioned why those up in arms about the requirement have no problem with most insurance covering Viagra.

“I have never heard Hobby Lobby or any other corporation, I could be wrong, or any other boss complain that Viagra is covered in many insurance plans, practically all of them, or other kinds of things, you know, for men, which I won’t go into,” Boxer said Tuesday on MSNBC’s “Jansing & Co.”

Yeah, isn’t every sperm sacred?

After 27 years, Burger King Baby finds birth mom, feels pure joy

A woman who, as a newborn, was abandoned in the bathroom of a Pennsylvania fast-food restaurant said Tuesday she has found her birth mother just three weeks after launching a search that garnered worldwide attention.

Next…another blast from 80s’ past, an interview with Boy George: Boy George Discusses New Album, Gender Identity, Madonna And More

BOY GEORGE

If you’re ever given 60 minutes to sit down with Boy George, one of the most beloved pop icons of the 20th century, in a private club on the west side of Manhattan in the middle of February, take them.

In the course of that hour, you’ll not only be treated to stories about how as a teen, his brothers would cross the street so they didn’t have to be seen with him and find out if he ever considered transitioning to the other end of the gender binary, but you’ll also quickly realize that he is one of the most thoughtful — and refreshingly honest — interview subjects you’ve ever had the pleasure of encountering.

cbca6008e95235ed0e672a50a1753923Next, tales of animals…remember that zoo in Copenhagen? The one that killed the young giraffe and butchered it then fed it to the lions?

Look what the zoo did to the lions: Danish zoo that killed giraffe puts down four lions

Two lions and their two 10-month-old cubs, all from the same family, were put down on Monday to make way for a new male after the zoo failed to find a new home for the felines.

Copenhagen Zoo said in a statement: “Because of the pride of lions’ natural structure and behaviour, the zoo has had to euthanise the two old lions and two young lions who were not old enough to fend for themselves”.

The cubs “would have been killed by the new male lion as soon as he got the chance,” it added.

1a6487da34751cbe267773eaa6dcaaaeWTF? Am I right?

On the case of inbreeding and genetic defects…no I am not talking about Banjoville, Birth Defects In Last Woolly Mammoths Suggest Inbreeding May Have Led To Species’ Extinction

Scientists studying 12,000-year-old mammoth fossils unearthed near the North Sea discovered that many of them had extra ribs along their neck vertebrae. Cervical ribs, while innocuous on their own, are usually a sign that something went wrong during the animal’s development and are associated with chromosome abnormalities and even cancer.

Researchers found that cervical ribs were 10 times more common in woolly mammoths from the North Sea than in modern elephants. Scientists were stunned to find such a high rate of cervical ribs among European woolly mammoths.

[…]

c9b35a5b9b503c99e6692addb351750e“The high incidence and large size of the cervical ribs [in woolly mammoths] indicates a strong vulnerability, given the association of cervical ribs with diseases and congenital abnormalities in mammals,” the researchers noted in a study published in the journal PeerJ. “The vulnerable condition may well have contributed to the eventual extinction of the woolly mammoths.”

Scientists theorized that there are two possible explanations for the high frequency of cervical ribs in the last of the mammoths. The first is that there was rampant inbreeding among the last mammoth populations. This theory fits nicely with the idea that climate change fragmented the woolly mammoth’s habitat, isolating small pockets of the animals from each other. These groups would have lost their genetic variation through inbreeding, which would have made them susceptible to abnormalities and disease.

The second theory is that woolly mammoth mothers suffered prenatal stress due to outside factors like famine and disease.

298ffe3ca111580ab030cbe356597c34And finally, Goats are far more clever than previously thought

Goats learn how to solve complicated tasks quickly and can recall how to perform them for at least 10 months, which might explain their remarkable ability to adapt to harsh environments, say researchers at Queen Mary University of London.

Writing in the journal Frontiers in Zoology today, the scientists trained a group of to retrieve food from a box using a linked sequence of steps; first by pulling a lever with their mouths and then by lifting it to release the reward.

The goats’ ability to remember the task was tested after one month and again at 10 months. They learned the task within 12 trials and took less than two minutes to remember the challenge.

01c3b3abfac3402491e3c50d798f1a9a“The speed at which the goats completed the task at 10 months compared to how long it took them to learn indicates excellent long-term memory,” said co-author Dr Elodie Briefer, now based at ETH Zurich.

Before each learning session, some of the goats had the opportunity to watch another goat to demonstrate the task.

Dr Briefer added: “We found that those without a demonstrator were just as fast at learning as those that had seen demonstrations. This shows that goats prefer to learn on their own rather than by watching others.”

Wow, I wonder if a goat could learn that the birth control pill does not = an abortion? Yeah, they sound like they are smarter than some of the Supremes sitting on the bench.

Have a great day, and let us know what you are reading and thinking about today.


Lazy Saturday Afternoon Reads

Spring is on the way!

Spring is on the way!

 

Good Afternoon!!

I woke up this morning with my eyes so scratchy and watery that I couldn’t read anything on-line until I took a long hot shower. It’s either a cold, a sinus infection, or very early pollen in the air–or maybe all three. Who knows? Anyway, I’m feeling better now.

There’s plenty of news this morning, but not a lot of *new news,* if you know what I mean. The Middle East is still in chaos, Malaysian Airlines 370 is still missing, Republicans are still insane; yet the Earth still continues to turn on its axis. I’ve tried to find a few stories worthy of your attention–I’ll let you be the judge.

UPDATE (11:57 Eastern):

There actually is some breaking news from Ukraine. BBC News is reporting that Russian troops storm[ed a] Ukraine airbase in Crimea, shots fired.

Shooting and explosions have been heard as Russian troops – backed by armoured vehicles – stormed a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea.

Reports say at least one person was injured during the assault on Belbek base, near Sevastopol. The base is now said to be under Russian control.

Earlier, several hundred unarmed protesters seized a Ukrainian naval base at Novofedorivka, western Crimea.

Pro-Russian militia has also been seizing Ukrainian Navy ships.

The BBC’s Ian Pannell, in Crimea, says the Ukrainian troops on the peninsula feel beleaguered and abandoned by their chiefs in Ukraine….

In Belbek, two armoured personnel carriers burst through the wall of the base followed by Russian troops firing weapons in the air.

An ambulance was then seen entering the base amid reports that at least one person was injured.

The Ukrainian soldiers were later gathered at the base main square in front of the heavily armed Russian troops.

The storming followed an ultimatum by the Russians to surrender.

Did you hear that Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has blocked Twitter in his country?

Reuters: Furious reaction, political split after Turkey bans Twitter.

A court blocked access to Twitter after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s defiant vow, on the campaign trail on Thursday ahead of March 30 local elections, to “wipe out” the social media service, whatever the international community had to say about it.

Industry Minister Fikri Isik said talks with Twitter were taking place and the ban would be lifted if the San Francisco-based firm appointed a representative in Turkey and agreed to block specific content when requested by Turkish courts.

Twitter turkey

What’s Erdogan’s problem with social media?

Erdogan, who has dominated Turkish politics for 11 years, is battling a corruption scandal that has been fed by social media awash with alleged evidence of government wrongdoing. He did not mention the Twitter ban at two campaign rallies on Friday.

Turkey’s main opposition party said it would challenge the ban and file a criminal complaint against Erdogan on the grounds of violating personal freedoms. The country’s bar association filed a separate court challenge.

Twitter users called the move a “digital coup”, some comparing Turkey to Iran and North Korea, where social media platforms are tightly controlled. There were also calls for protests.

“Waking up to no Twitter in Turkey feels like waking up to a coup. The modern equivalent of occupying the radio stations,” U.S. author and journalist Andrew Finkel, who has reported from Turkey for more than 20 years, said on his Twitter account.

This morning Reuters reports that

Turks attempting to access Twitter have found an Internet page carrying court rulings saying that a “protection measure” has been taken, blocking the site.

But many have been able to get around the ban, either by using virtual private network (VPN) software or changing their Domain Name System (DNS) setting, effectively disguising their computers’ geographical whereabouts.

By Saturday, though, computers that had been set with DNS numbers widely circulated to help people get around the ban were not able to access the Internet at all.

“Apparently alternate DNS servers are also blocked in Turkey. New settings are being circulated,” wrote one Twitter user.

Apparently twitter is very popular in Turkey. The Washington Post has lots more reactions to the Turkish Twitter ban.

I know everyone is sick of the missing MH370 story, so I’ll just give you one link to a minor update.

WaPo: Australia expands search for missing jetliner as China investigates new satellite image.

Chinese satellite image

Chinese satellite image

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — China released a new image of a “suspected floating object” in the Indian Ocean on Saturday, in the vicinity of an Australian-led search that has brought fresh hope to the hunt for a missing Malaysia Airlines jetliner.

China has sent ships to investigate, according to the Malaysian government.

The Chinese government said one of its satellites spotted the object on March 18, about 75 miles west of the location released by Australia earlier this week.

A grainy image of the latest find was tweeted Saturday by Chinese state television, CCTV. It is dated two days after the two images released by Australia.

The search for the missing airliner has now entered a third week, with the main hope for a breakthrough hinging on planes and ships being able to locate floating objects picked up by satellites in a desolate stretch of ocean almost as close to Antarctica as to Australia.

Michelle Obama is on a good will tour of China with her mother and two daughters. Time reports on the First Lady’s defense of “the free internet” in a speech at Peking University.

First Lady Michelle Obama used a trip to China Saturday to promote the liberating “power of technology” in a veiled swipe at the harshly restrictive Internet and media environment in the country.

At her first—and only—major speech scheduled during her…trip…Obama said that new technology can “open up the entire world and expose us to ideas and innovations we could never have imagined.”

“It is so important for information and ideas to flow freely over the Internet and through the media,” she said. “Because that’s how we discover the truth, that’s how we learn what’s really happening in our communities, in our country and our world.”

President Xi Jinping and his wife welcomed U.S. first lady and her mother and daughters

President Xi Jinping and his wife welcomed U.S. first lady and her mother and daughters

 

I never watch the Sunday talk shows, because they are horrible; but Paul Waldman of WaPo’s The Plum Line apparently hasn’t given up on them.

Waldman asks: Can the Sunday shows get better?

Most members of Congress would kill to be interviewed on one of the shows, since getting such an appearance instantly brands you as an important person whose opinions are worth listening to. But “Meet the Press,” the oldest and most venerated of the shows, has been struggling of late, falling behind “This Week” and “Face the Nation” in the ratings, leading to some rumors about David Gregory’s future. But as Michael Calderone reports in the Huffington Post, the network is “doubling down” on Gregory as it tries to gingerly step its way into the digital world. The problem, though, is what they put on the air every Sunday.

There’s a conceit about the Sunday shows, that they hold the powerful accountable. It’s where “newsmakers” come to be raked over the coals, unable to escape the probing queries of savvy and unrelenting interrogators. But it’s awfully hard to watch the shows and believe that’s true. What happens instead is that the powerful come on the shows, and the hosts try (and almost always fail) to trap them with various kinds of “gotcha” questions, which the powerful handle by returning again and again to their carefully planned messages. The result, even for those of us who love listening to and talking about politics and policy, is remarkably tedious.

Meet the press

So how can these awful shows be improved?

Let me make a couple of suggestions I know they’d never consider. First, ban all party chairs, White House communication staff, party “strategists,” and anyone else whose primary objective is to spin from ever, ever, ever appearing on the show. Ever. To ask a question I’ve raised elsewhere: Has anyone anywhere in the United States turned off their TV and said, “Wow, that interview with Reince Priebus was really interesting”? Of course not, and the same applies to his Democratic counterpart, Debbie Wasserman Schultz. That’s because their job is to deliver talking points, and they do so with a discipline worthy of the Marine Honor Guard, no matter what questions they’re asked. And they get plenty of time on cable, so why waste valuable minutes on a Sunday show by letting them repeat the same talking points they’ve recited 100 times that that week?

And while we’re at it, why not go farther and cut down the interviews with elected officials and candidates by three-quarters or so? I’m serious. When was the last time you saw a truly edifying interview on a Sunday show with a senator or member of Congress? If you want to talk about what’s going on in Ukraine, I could hardly care less what John McCain (the shows’ most frequent guest) thinks about it, and I doubt I’m alone. He knows next to nothing about the situation, and as a minority party senator with almost no support among his colleagues, he’ll have precisely zero impact on the outcome of events. So how about, as a first rule, the people you bring on should 1) know as much as possible about the things you’re going to discuss, and 2) have little if any interest in spinning?

Good luck with that. I’d say the very best thing that could be done is to ban both John McCain and Lindsey Graham from ever appearing on Sunday shows. And for heaven’s sake get rid of David Gregory and put Bob Schieffer permanently out to pasture. BTW, Bob’s guest tomorrow will be Mitt Romney because he undoubtedly has all the answers on what’s up with Russian and Ukraine.

A few more quick hits . . .

Politico: Judge strikes down Mich. same-sex marriage ban

Reuters: Pope appoints former child victim to church group on sex abuse

Talking Points Memo: Creationists Complain Tyson’s ‘Cosmos’ Isn’t Giving Them Airtime

Business Insider: North Dakota State Is America’s Team

So . . . what stories are you following today? Let us know in the comment thread and have a terrific weekend!