Thursday Reads

Blue Girl Reading, Auguste Macke

Blue Girl Reading, Auguste Macke

Good Morning!!

Today is my birthday. I don’t feel much like celebrating, but I’m being lazy so I don’t know when this post will go up.

The wildfires in Tennessee are a real disaster. I’m hoping our beloved ANonOMouse and her family are still safe.

NBC News: Seven Deaths Confirmed as Smokies Wildfires Spread in Tennessee.

Officials were continuing to assess the damage Thursday from a ferocious wildfire that erupted across Tennessee’s Great Smoky Mountains National Park more than a week ago, killing at least seven people and gutting over 700 structures.

Drenching rain on Wednesday helped firefighters beat back the massive blaze, which still burned more than 15,650 acres and was about 10 percent contained, according to the Southern Area Incident Management Team, which assumed command of the fire.

Rescue operations have been slowed by mud and rockslides caused by the wet weather.

“The rain we received may have slowed this fire for a day or two at a critical time, but the threat from this fire is still there,” the team said.

While large swaths of the national park were ravaged, the wind-whipped flames also reached the neighboring Appalachian tourist meccas of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Maid reading in a library, Edouard John Mentha

Maid reading in a library, Edouard John Mentha

Efforts to pinpoint the cause of deadly wildfires that engulfed two popular tourist towns outside Great Smoky Mountains National Park and shut down one of the country’s most popular natural attractions focused Thursday on their devastating path through East Tennessee, where officials said at least seven people were dead and hundreds of buildings have burned.

Several people remained missing Thursday, and at least 53 people have been treated for injuries at hospitals, though their conditions were not known.

The fires are estimated to have damaged or destroyed more than 700 homes and businesses throughout Sevier County — nearly half of them in the city of Gatlinburg. Additionally, thousands of wooded acres have burned in the most-visited national park in America.

Park Superintendent Cassius Cash said that the first fires, spotted last week, were “likely to be human-caused.”

As people throughout Sevier County tried to return to their routines Thursday, some schools were still closed and access to Gatlinburg remained limited.

The story doesn’t give anymore information about the suspected causes of the fires.

Girl in grey, Louis le Brocquy

Girl in grey, Louis le Brocquy

In other non-political news, researchers have discovered that psilocybin could help people with anxiety and depression just like MyEtizolam. AP via TPM: Studies: ‘Magic Mushroom’ Psychedelic Drug May Ease Anxiety, Depression.

The psychedelic drug in “magic mushrooms” can quickly and effectively help treat anxiety and depression in cancer patients, an effect that may last for months, two small studies show.

It worked for Dinah Bazer, who endured a terrifying hallucination that rid her of the fear that her ovarian cancer would return. And for Estalyn Walcoff, who says the drug experience led her to begin a comforting spiritual journey.

The work released Thursday is preliminary and experts say more definitive research must be done on the effects of the substance, called psilocybin (sih-loh-SY’-bihn).

But the record so far shows “very impressive results,” said Dr. Craig Blinderman, who directs the adult palliative care service at the Columbia University Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian Hospital. He didn’t participate in the work.

Psilocybin, also called shrooms, purple passion and little smoke, comes from certain kinds of mushrooms. It is illegal in the U.S., and if the federal government approves the treatment, it would be administered in clinics by specially trained staff, experts say….

Psychedelic drugs have looked promising in the past for treating distress in cancer patients. But studies of medical use of psychedelics stopped in the early 1970s after a regulatory crackdown on the drugs, following their widespread recreational use. It has slowly resumed in recent years.

So people stop using drugs to recreational use, at least legally by the doctors, but the people still take all kind of drugs and supplements that help them with their body or gaining muscle or losing weight like plexus slim, which help them with all the above.

Griffiths said it’s not clear whether psilocybin would work outside of cancer patients, although he suspects it might work in people facing other terminal conditions. Plans are also underway to study it in depression that resists standard treatment, he said.

Trumpworld News

Have you heard about the conversation #tRump had with the prime minster of Pakistan? Yes, the president-elect is still talkingto foreign leaders on his personal phone without benefit of intelligence briefings or background information from the State Department.

Chair Car, Edward Hopper

Chair Car, Edward Hopper

Time Magazine: Donald Trump’s Phone Conversation With the Leader of Pakistan Was Reckless and Bizarre.

There are few foreign policy topics quite as complicated as the relationship between India and Pakistan, South Asia’s nuclear-armed nemeses. Any world leader approaching the issue even obliquely must surely see the “Handle With Care” label from miles away, given the possibility of nuclear conflict.

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump, however, doesn’t seem to have read the memo, injecting a pronounced element of uncertainty about the position of the world’s only remaining superpower on this most complex of subjects in a call with the Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif.

According to a readout of the conversation from the Pakistani authorities, he apparently agreed to visit the country and said he was “ready and willing to play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems.” He reportedly added: “You are a terrific guy. You are doing amazing work which is visible in every way.”

The hilarity of his hyperbole aside, Trump’s intervention could have serious consequences for both regional and global stability.

Do you suppose #tRump knows that both Pakistan and India have nukes and they hate each others’ guts? Anyway, read the rest at the link. Here’s the full readout of the call from Pakistan’s press information site. The Trump people don’t bother to provide any information about the god-emperor’s phone calls.

Girl Reading, Jacob Chapiro

Girl Reading, Jacob Chapiro

Yesterday the CIA head John Brennan tried to give #tRump some foreign policy suggestions via an interview with the BBC. The New York Times reports: C.I.A. Chief Warns Donald Trump Against Tearing Up Iran Nuclear Deal.

LONDON — The director of the C.I.A. has issued a stark warning to President-elect Donald J. Trump: Tearing up the Iran nuclear dealwould be “the height of folly” and “disastrous.”

During the election campaign, Mr. Trump railed against the deal, calling it a disaster and pledging to “dismantle” the historic accord, reached in 2015, in which Tehran agreed to limits on its nuclear program in return for the lifting of international oil and financial sanctions.

Representative Mike Pompeo of Kansas, a Republican whom Mr. Trump has chosen to succeed John O. Brennan as head of the C.I.A., wrote in mid-November on Twitter, “I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”

But in an interview with the BBC that was published on its website on Wednesday, Mr. Brennan warned that scrapping the nuclear deal would undermine American foreign policy, embolden hard-liners in Iran and threaten to set off an arms race in the Middle East by encouraging other countries to develop nuclear weapons.

“First of all, for one administration to tear up an agreement that a previous administration made would be unprecedented,” Mr. Brennan said in the BBC interview, which the broadcaster said was the first by a C.I.A. director with the British news media. “I think it would be the height of folly if the next administration were to tear up that agreement.”

Mr. Trump has professed admiration for President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, calling him a strong leader, and promised closer relations with Moscow, but Mr. Brennan, who was appointed by President Obama and will step down in January after four years, warned that the incoming http://Loanovao needed to be skeptical about the Kremlin.

“I think President Trump and the new administration need to be wary of Russian promises,” he told the BBC, reiterating the widely held view that Russia had carried out hacking during the United States election and blaming Moscow for the deteriorating situation in Syria.

More at the link. #tRump supposedly reads the NYT; will he pay attention? Probably not.

Women reading, Robert Breyer

Women reading, Robert Breyer

Some analysis from Vox: CIA Director John Brennan tells the BBC that Trump’s ideas are terrible.

On Wednesday morning, the BBC published excerpts from an interview with CIA Director John Brennan, the first time a serving head of America’s best-known spy agency has sat down with the British media, according to the BBC. Brennan’s comments are, unmistakably, a shot at Donald Trump. He calls Trump’s proposal to scrap the Iran deal “disastrous,” warns that “the overwhelming majority of CIA officers” oppose Trump’s call to bring back torture of suspected terrorists, and says the famously Putin-sympathetic Trump should “beware Russian promises.”

Brennan is stepping down from the CIA leadership on January 20, so he’ll never have to deal with President Trump directly. That means he’s free to do something as brazen as trash the incoming president on one of the world’s most-watched TV channels.

If you take a deeper look at Brennan’s comments, you start to realize that he’s expressing criticisms of Trump policies that are widely held in the foreign policy community.

 Take his attack on Trump’s approach to the Iran deal, which Brennan calls “the height of folly.” He warns that doing so would allow Iran to simply restart its nuclear program.

This, as my colleague Zeeshan Aleem explains, is the consensus among even anti-deal experts and policymakers. That’s because of the way the deal is structured: Iran has already gotten the sanctions relief it was promised, but has yet to fully comply with the terms of the deal that dismantle its nuclear program. If Trump were to scrap the deal on day one, Iran would have everything it wanted without having to give up too much. It would have billions of new dollars as well, and a free hand to build a nuke without pesky international inspectors.

Brennan’s position on Russia is another good example. His argument is that the Obama administration’s negotiations with Russia have mostly failed to alter Moscow’s worst behavior — for example, its slaughtering of civilians in the Syrian city of Aleppo and bombing of the moderate opposition looking to unseat Syrian strongman Bashar al-Assad.

Intelligence officials have been reduced to trying to communicate with a madman through the media. Please go over to Vox and read the rest.
Young lady reading, Mary Cassatt

Young lady reading, Mary Cassatt

You probably heard that #tRump drove someone at the Office of Government Ethics Office to nervous breakdown yesterday. Slate: Federal Ethics Agency Spent the Afternoon Sarcastically Praising Donald Trump.

The U.S. Office of Government Ethics, as its name suggests, interprets and advises federal officials on the ethics laws and rules designed to help keep them honest. “When government decisions are made free from conflicts of interest, the public can have greater confidence in the integrity of executive branch programs and operations,” its mission statement admirably declares. Given what likely awaits the agency in less than two months’ time, it understandably had some, um, thoughts on Donald Trump’s vague, predawn Twitter announcement that he will be “leaving his great business” to focus on the presidency….

Remarkably, those exclamation-filled tweets from a normally staid Twitter account don’t appear to be the result of a hack. “Like everyone else, we were excited this morning to read the President-elect’s twitter feed indicating he wants to be free of conflicts of interest,” agency spokesman Seth Jaffe said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. He added: “We don’t know the details of their plan, but we are willing and eager to help them with it.”

A few of the tweets (see the rest at Slate):

That’s it for me today. Please post your thoughts and links in the comment thread and enjoy the rest of your Thursday!


Monday Reads

Good Morning!

Well, today I’m starting with a quote from  Robert Kuttner for The American Prospect about Larry Summers’ appearance at the INET conference.  INET is the acronym for the Institute for New Economic Thinking. It was created with a $100 million grant from George Soros and no, I wasn’t invited and I didn’t attend.  Mark Thoma and Brad De Long did. You can read their blogs if you want other views.

Larry Summers, now back at Harvard, was the after-dinner entertainment, interviewed by the prodigious Martin Wolf of the Financial Times, the world’s most respected financial journalist.

Summers was terrific, acknowledging that the stimulus of February 2009 was too small, that the idea of deflating our way to recovery is insane, that de-regulation had been excessive, and that much of the economics profession missed the developing crisis because its infatuation with self-correcting markets.

If only this man had been Obama’s chief economic adviser!

He’s referring to this:

Also worth mentioning is this op-ed by former Obama economist Christina Romer on why we have abysmal unemployment. If you read and listen to both of them, it’s going to be obvious that Obama must not have listened to either of them.  No wonder they quit so early on.  That leaves Timothy-in-the-well Geithner holding the bag for this miserable recovery, imho.  Evidently, the two of them thought  what most economists were thinking for several years now but it just wasn’t evident from policy.  I guess if I heard this austerity crap was coming down the hopper during this miserable recovery, I’d have bailed before my professional credibility went to the crapper too.  Guess Timothy always has the shadow banking industry to keep him warm.  Meanwhile, Summers continues his apology tour and Romer clarifies the unemployment situation.

Strong evidence suggests that the natural rate of unemployment actually hasn’t risen very much. Instead, the elevated unemployment rate appears to reflect mainly cyclical factors, particularly a lingering shortfall in consumer spending and business investment.

Okay. The important phrase here is “lingering shortfall in consumer spending and business investment”.  That means none of these idiotic tax cuts worked.  It also means the stimulus was woefully small and ill-directed.  It also means that it’s absolutely no time to worry about austerity unless you want yet another recession.  Frankly, I think the Republicans are secretly trying to bring one on and Obama is just not that informed about economics and more concerned about chasing the mythical bi-partisan unicorn to wake the frick up.

Since BB knows that I’m a wannabe astrophysicist (or Egyptologist depending on the day of the week), she sent me another kewl science link about a star torn apart by a blackhole! NEATO!!!

On March 28, 2011, NASA’s Swift satellite caught a flash of high-energy X-rays pouring in from deep space. Swift is designed to do this, and since its launch in 2004 has seen hundreds of such things, usually caused by stars exploding at the ends of their lives.

But this time was hardly “usual”. It didn’t see a star exploding as a supernova, it saw a star literally getting torn apart as it fell too close to a black hole!

The African Union’s been chatting up their “Brother Leader”  Whacko Ghadafo and have announced the possibility of an end to the fighting in Libya. And, raise your hand if you’d like to buy the Crescent City connection because I’m entertaining offers since the Brooklyn bridge sold so well last week.

“We have completed our mission with the brother leader, and the brother leader’s delegation has accepted the road map as presented by us,” Jacob Zuma, the South African president, said.

The AU mission, headed by Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, the Mauritanian president, arrived in Tripoli on Sunday.

Besides Zuma and Abdel Aziz, the delegation includes Amadou Toumani Toure, Denis Sassou Nguessou and Yoweri Museveni – respectively the presidents of Mali, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.

Gaddafi made his first appearance in front of the foreign media in weeks when he joined the AU delegation at his Bab al-Aziziyah compound.

The committee said in a statement that it had decided to go along with a road map adopted in March, which calls for an end to hostilities, “diligent conveying of humanitarian aid” and “dialogue between the Libyan parties”.

Speaking in Tripoli, Ramtane Lamamra, the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, said the issue of Gaddafi’s departure had come up in the talks but declined to give details.

Why is it I want to sing I wanna zooma zooma zooma zooma zoom every time I read something about South Africa these days?  Well, as long as it’s not one of those horn thingies that ruined the world cup this last time out.

More crap from Crazy Republicans via Think Progress: Cantor Sees Current Medicare and Medicaid Programs As A ‘Safety Net’ For ‘People Who Frankly Don’t Need One’

Today on Fox News Sunday, host Chris Wallace questioned House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) support for a plan in which Americans “pay more out of pocket.” Defending the proposal, Cantor argued that these programs sometimes provide a “safety net” for “people who frankly don’t need one” and that the shift of the burden from the government to the beneficiary will teach government “to do more with less”:

CANTOR: We are in a situation where we have a safety net in place in this country for people who frankly don’t need one. We have to focus on making sure we have a safety net for those who need it.

WALLACE: The Medicaid people — you’re going to cut that by $750 billion.

CANTOR: The medicaid reductions are off the baseline. so what we’re saying is allow states to have the flexibility to deal with their populations, their indigent populations and the healthcare needs the way they know how to deal with them. Not to impose some mandate from a bureaucrat in washington.

WALLACE: But you are giving them less money to do it.

CANTOR: In terms of the baseline, that is correct…What we’re saying is there is so much imposition of a mandate that doesn’t relate to the actual quality of care. We believe if you put in place the mechanism that allow for personal choice as far as Medicare is concerned, as well as the programs in Medicaid, that we can actually get to a better resolve and do what most Americans are learning how to do, which is to do more with less.

Actually, 99% of Americans are doing less with less.  One percent of Americans are doing more with the corporate and rich people’s welfare that folks like Cantor have handed them on a golden platter for the last ten years.  If you have the stomach for it, the link to the TV interview is over at TP too. Frankly, I’ve been sick enough recently and don’t need to see anything that just makes me sicker.

I don’t know about you, but watching Donald Trump–the man who lost his father’s billions and then ran through government subsidies and finally made some money as a really bad reality TV star–as a potential presidential candidate has been sort’ve a surreal trip. James Polis at Richochet says that Trump is Final Proof that the Political Class Has Failed.  Trump’s potential candidacy is like an extension of his reality show with gobs of opportunism, self-promotion and narcissism. It’s bad hair gone wild.

There are two main theories cooperating to explain the Trump phenomenon:

  1. Donald Trump is today’s best self-promoter and professional opportunist.
  2. The Republican field of presumptive candidates for president is lame.

But neither of these, nor even both together, can adequately explain what’s going on. We can’t even turn for supplemental help to subtheories that emphasize the rise of celebreality culture, the fall of Sarah Palin, or The Continuing Story of Bungling Barry. These variables all appear somewhere in the equation that has produced the Trump phenomenon. But none of them explain it.

Trump is suddenly “winning” as a political figure because the political class has failed. The authority of our political institutions is weak and getting weaker; it’s not that Americans ‘lack trust’ in them, as blue ribbon pundits and sociologists often lament, so much as they lack respect for the people inside them.

My theory is that he’s just a summer replacement, along with Michelle Bachmann, that will set the stage for fall when the blue suited, pompadour-sporting  set take over to bore us to death with talks of tax cuts and subsidies ala President Dementia.  Other Republican Presidential wannabes must be thinking we’ll be tired of self-promoting, idea-less hacks by then and that they’ll look refreshing by comparison in a few months.   Oddly enough, the P woman is keeping a low profile in all of this.  Maybe she’s finally figured out that discretion is the better part of valor for a change or it could be she just has enough money  for an excellent summer vacation and has decided to exercise her options.

Okay, so I’m going to move on to something light (weirdly, spinning light, emanating from the patterned Chinese lantern covering the naked bulb in my dorm room while a John Lennon album plays Power to the People on my old turntable … oops, wrong flashback) from New Scientist. Thought mushrooms were just for old hippies and Native American Shaman?  Think again.  Here’s the headline:  Earliest evidence for magic mushroom use in Europe.

EUROPEANS may have used magic mushrooms to liven up religious rituals 6000 years ago. So suggests a cave mural in Spain, which may depict fungi with hallucinogenic properties – the oldest evidence of their use in Europe.

The Selva Pascuala mural, in a cave near the town of Villar del Humo, is dominated by a bull. But it is a row of 13 small mushroom-like objects that interests Brian Akers at Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey, Florida, and Gaston Guzman at the Ecological Institute of Xalapa in Mexico. They believe that the objects are the fungi Psilocybe hispanica, a local species with hallucinogenic properties.

Like the objects depicted in the mural, P. hispanica has a bell-shaped cap topped with a dome, and lacks an annulus – a ring around the stalk. “Its stalks also vary from straight to sinuous, as they do in the mural,” says Akers (Economic Botany, DOI: 10.1007/s12231-011-9152-5).

This isn’t the oldest prehistoric painting thought to depict magic mushrooms, though. An Algerian mural that may show the species Psilocybe mairei is 7000 to 9000 years old.

What a long strange ride it’s been ever since.

More on Obama-style Justice for Guantanamo detainees as the Supremes decline to clarify their rights.

The Obama administration has fought all attempts by lawyers for detainees to have the Supreme Court review those rulings. And while the news was overshadowed by the administration’s concession that alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed and his co-defendants will be tried by a military commission rather than federal jury — a separate issue — the court last week turned away three detainee challenges arising from Boumediene.

One group active in representing the detainees, the Center for Constitutional Rights, decried what it called the court’s refusal “to defend its Boumediene decision and other precedents from the open defiance of the D.C. Circuit.”

The government told justices that there is no reason for them to believe anything other than “lower courts have properly performed the task that this court assigned them in Boumediene v. Bush.”

“Open defiance” may go a bit far in describing the D.C. Circuit’s rulings, but there is no doubt that the court’s action in Boumediene — and its inaction since — has left few happy.

While detainee advocates complain about the court’s timidity, D.C. Senior Circuit Judge A. Raymond Randolph has received wide attention for a speech he gave last year in which he compared the justices to characters in “The Great Gatsby,” who have created a mess they expect others to clean up.

You don’t need me to start in on the Supremes this morning since BB did such a great job last night.  Please go read her thread on just exactly how bankrupt our government has become.  Believe me, it’s not an article on the deficit either.

Here’s an important information on the Koch Brothers, grand wizards of the kleptocracy.  Alternet says they’re worse than you thought and they’re the astroturf beneathe the Tea Party’s wings.

Then look at a recent position pushed by Americans for Prosperity, the Tea Party-allied astroturf group founded and funded by David Koch (and whose sibling organization, the Americans for Prosperity Foundation, he chairs):

Similarly, Americans for Prosperity supports the House continuing resolution that cuts spending by $61 billion. Those cuts would reduce the budget for the CFTC by one-third. Make no mistake: Gutting the CFTC or limiting its authority would be a boon to Wall Street businesses that use complex financial instruments. But while the result is more profits for oil companies, it means everyone else pays more at the pump.

Okay, now have a look at the Kochs’ recent direct contributions to political candidates:

The Kochs donated directly to 62 of the 87 members of the House GOP freshman class…and to 12 of the new members of the U.S. Senate.

Don’t look now. It’s Atlas Shrugged, the Movie.  Bad fiction just refuses to die when it gives erections to obsessive white men. I’m just waiting for next year’s Razzies. It’s the tale of a businessman obsessed. No, not the movie …the making of the movie …

It has taken businessman John Aglialoro nearly 20 years to realize his ambition of making a movie out of “Atlas Shrugged,” the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand that has sold more than 7 million copies and has as passionate a following among many political conservatives and libertarians as “Twilight” has among teen girls.

But the version of the book coming to theaters Friday is decidedly independent, low-cost and even makeshift. Shot for a modest $10 million by a first-time director with a cast of little-known actors, “Atlas Shrugged: Part I,” the first in an expected trilogy, will play on about 300 screens in 80 markets. It’s being marketed with the help of conservative media and “tea party” organizing groups and put into theaters by a small, Salt Lake City-based booking service.

I think I’ll pass.  I prefer those nice little British films.  I’m anxiously awaiting the redo of Upstairs, Downstairs.  I never could make it through that silly John Galt speech even when I was young and my mind was an open book.  Now, where are those lights on the ceiling when you need them?

What’s on your blogging and reading list today?