Tuesday Reads: Trump Tantrum Live From The Oval Office Tonight

Good Morning!!

The TV networks are giving Trump free time tonight to spout lies about a non-existent “crisis” at the Southern border. Fortunately, they are also giving equal time to Democrats to respond. But they should have just said no. After all, they refused to carry an Oval Office speech by Obama in 2014. Matthew Yglesias at Vox:

In 2014, Obama was ready to announce a series of executive actions on immigration in the wake of the collapse in negotiations over a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill. The plan had a lot of moving parts, but the centerpiece was to give work permits and formal protection from deportation to millions of unauthorized immigrants while focusing the nation’s immigration enforcement resources on immigrants who’d committed violent crimes.

This was, naturally, very controversial. And Obama, naturally, wanted to try to make it less controversial by convincing people that it was a good idea.

Conservative pundits were, at the time, pushing the notion that Obama was essentially seizing power like a Latin American dictator, so essentially anything that refocused the conversation on banal policy details would have played to his advantage. TV networks, however, didn’t give him what he wanted, in part because it was November sweeps time, but officially because he was playing partisan politics rather than addressing a true national emergency.

So why are they running Trump’s obviously political speech? Because they’re scared. This is what what one anonymous network executive told CNN’s Brian Stelter.

This “exec” didn’t even have the guts to let Stelter use his name!

Here’s what the U.S. Secretary of State thinks of what Trump plans to say tonight.

These people are pathetic. Meanwhile, in Turkey, more pathetic incompetence from National Security Adviser John Bolton.

Bloomberg: Erdogan Snubs Trump Adviser Bolton for Blocking Syria Roadmap.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, frustrated by evolving U.S. conditions for quitting Syria, refused to meet with visiting National Security Adviser John Bolton and ripped into U.S. proposals to give Kurds a key role in Syria after the withdrawal.

Turkey is angered that Bolton, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and top American military officials are slowing what President Donald Trump suggested only weeks ago would be a quick exit. The delay would restrict Turkey’s ability to launch an offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters it considers enemies but who allied with a U.S. coalition to oust the Islamic State terrorist group from Syria.

“Although we made a clear agreement with U.S. President Trump, different voices are emerging from different parts of the administration,” Erdogan said as Bolton prepared to leave Ankara, where he met with other Turkish officials. “Trump’s remarks continue to be the main point of reference for us.”

It looks like attempts to walk back Trump’s insane policy decisions are no longer working.

Will Trump try to declare a national emergency tonight? I have no idea, but if he does it’s going to cause more problems than any of us can predict. Here are some opinions about what could happen, beginning with the worst case scenarios

Elizabeth Goitein at The Atlantic: What the President Could Do If He Declares a State of Emergency. A brief excerpt:

It would be nice to think that America is protected from the worst excesses of Trump’s impulses by its democratic laws and institutions. After all, Trump can do only so much without bumping up against the limits set by the Constitution and Congress and enforced by the courts. Those who see Trump as a threat to democracy comfort themselves with the belief that these limits will hold him in check.

But will they? Unknown to most Americans, a parallel legal regime allows the president to sidestep many of the constraints that normally apply. The moment the president declares a “national emergency”—a decision that is entirely within his discretion—more than 100 special provisions become available to him. While many of these tee up reasonable responses to genuine emergencies, some appear dangerously suited to a leader bent on amassing or retaining power. For instance, the president can, with the flick of his pen, activate laws allowing him to shut down many kinds of electronic communications inside the United States or freeze Americans’ bank accounts. Other powers are available even without a declaration of emergency, including laws that allow the president to deploy troops inside the country to subdue domestic unrest.

This edifice of extraordinary powers has historically rested on the assumption that the president will act in the country’s best interest when using them. With a handful of noteworthy exceptions, this assumption has held up. But what if a president, backed into a corner and facing electoral defeat or impeachment, were to declare an emergency for the sake of holding on to power? In that scenario, our laws and institutions might not save us from a presidential power grab. They might be what takes us down.

Read the whole thing at The Atlantic.

At Bloomberg, Noah Feldman disagrees, because only Congress can authorize spending: No ‘Emergency’ Will Allow Trump to Build His Wall.

President Donald Trump has said that he can declare a national emergency and order his border wall to be built. He’s wrong. The U.S. Constitution doesn’t contain any national emergency provision that would allow the president to spend money for purposes not allocated by Congress. And it’s clearer than clear that Congress not only hasn’t authorized money for a wall along the border with Mexico but also doesn’t intend to do so.

The upshot is that any attempt by Trump to get around Congress by using invented emergency powers would violate the Constitution. It almost certainly would be blocked by the courts. And it would constitute a high crime and misdemeanor qualifying him for impeachment.

Of course, Trump may not care. He’s established a pattern of taking clearly unconstitutional action, waiting for the courts to block it, and winning (at least in his estimation) political points with his Republican base regardless. It would be perfectly within that pattern for Trump to announce that he can do whatever he wants in a national emergency. He is expected to lay the groundwork for such a declaration in a prime-time address Tuesday. But we should recognize any such action for what it is: a usurpation of clear constitutional commands for the purposes of political grandstanding.

A bit more detail:

The Constitution does contain an emergency powers clause. Article I, Section 9 allows for the suspension of habeas corpus in cases of rebellion or invasion.

Those emergency powers are unsurprisingly varied and broad. But none of them can displace the Constitution itself. And it is the Constitution that says the Congress appropriates money and the executive spends it.

If there were some statutory provision saying that in an emergency the president could do things Congress otherwise has told him he can’t do, that would pose an intriguing constitutional question: Which law would prevail in a conflict between one saying the president could do something and another saying he couldn’t?

But I know of no law that says the president can spend money on purposes that Congress doesn’t want him to spend it on.

From the fact that the suspension clause exists, you can deduce something very basic to the U.S. constitutional system: There are no other inherent constitutional emergency powers. Yes, the president is commander in chief, with the power to defend the United States — but he can only do that with an army authorized and paid for by Congress.

That means any emergency power the president might have must come directly from Congress. The National Emergencies Act of 1976 is Congress’s last word on what emergency powers it gives the president. That law was enacted after Senate staffers’ research revealed some 470 emergency provisions across the whole of the U.S. Code.

As Trump often says, “we’ll see what happens.”

Trump thinks he knows better than anyone about anything, and yet we can all see that he knows almost nothing about what his job entails. This video has been floating around lately.

How to explain Trump’s illusion of competency? Seemingly in answer to this question, The Washington Post has posted an article on the Dunning-Kruger effect: What’s behind the confidence of the incompetent? This suddenly popular psychological phenomenon.

You may have witnessed this scene at work, while socializing with friends or over a holiday dinner with extended family: Someone who has very little knowledge in a subject claims to know a lot. That person might even boast about being an expert.

This phenomenon has a name: the Dunning-Kruger effect. It’s not a disease, syndrome or mental illness; it is present in everybody to some extent, and it’s been around as long as human cognition, though only recently has it been studied and documented in social psychology.

In their 1999 paper, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, David Dunning and Justin Kruger put data to what has been known by philosophers since Socrates, who supposedly said something along the lines of “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing.” Charles Darwin followed that up in 1871 with “ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge.”

Put simply, incompetent people think they know more than they really do, and they tend to be more boastful about it.

To test Darwin’s theory, the researchers quizzed people on several topics, such as grammar, logical reasoning and humor. After each test, they asked the participants how they thought they did. Specifically, participants were asked how many of the other quiz-takers they beat.

Dunning was shocked by the results, even though it confirmed his hypothesis. Time after time, no matter the subject, the people who did poorly on the tests ranked their competence much higher. On average, test takers who scored as low as the 10th percentile ranked themselves near the 70th percentile. Those least likely to know what they were talking about believed they knew as much as the experts.

That’s it for me today. I’m trying to decide whether to leave the TV off tonight or just mute it until the Democratic response begins. What are you going to do?

Advertisements

Tuesday Reads

renoir-young-girl-reading

 

Good Morning!!

Today is the 40th anniversary of an amazing athletic accomplishment.

On April 8, 1974, Hank Aaron hit his 715th home run and broke Babe Ruth’s “unbreakable” record of 714.

Sadly, on August 7, 2007, steroid popping cheater Barry Bonds supposedly “broke” Aaron’s record. But in the minds of many, Aaron’s amazing achievement still stands as the one that counts.

The NY Daily News has a wonderful article about Aaron’s record and the hell he went through to reach it. Even if you don’t like baseball, I hope you’ll read it.

Remembering 715: Forty years ago, Hank Aaron rocked bias and hatred with one mighty blow.

Tom House, an Atlanta Braves reliever at the time, tells about recovering the historic ball and giving it to Aaron after he touched home plate:

The game was stopped and, as fireworks flashed in the sky and Atlanta Stadium erupted into cheers, House made a jubilant dash toward home plate, where a relieved Aaron was being congratulated. “As fast as my legs would carry me,” House recalls. He held out the ball, which Sammy Davis Jr. had offered $25,000 for, and said, “Here it is, Hammer.”

Aaron, generally a portrait of quiet dignity and grace, was crying and holding his mother, Estella. “I had not seen much emotion out of Henry. That was cool,” House says now. “They both had tears in their eyes. She kept hugging him and hugging him.

“I heard later that she wouldn’t let go because she was afraid he was going to get shot. Some of the death threats had said he’d be shot at the plate.”

Hank Aaron hits No. 715 off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing on April 8, 1974 (NY Daily News)

Hank Aaron hits No. 715 off Dodgers pitcher Al Downing on April 8, 1974 (NY Daily News)

When Roger Maris broke the Babe’s single season home run record in 1961, it was a hellish experience for Maris. The abuse he endured forever changed his life and affected his outlook; but at least Maris was white. Aaron was a black man in an era of racial turmoil.

It remains an important moment in the game’s history not just because the quiet, dignified Aaron toppled Ruth’s 714, which was probably the most famous single number in sports. But because of what Aaron endured to get there — death threats, vulgar hate mail rife with the worst kind of racism imaginable.

All these years later, the home run is significant in another way, too — it reverberates in today’s game, among today’s statistics. Plenty of people believe Aaron is still the true home run king, not the Steroid Era Barry Bonds, who topped Aaron’s career mark of 755 by seven homers.

As he approached the record Aaron was getting daily hate mail.

In a UPI story that ran in the Los Angeles Times on May 17, 1973, Aaron said he got letters filled with invective every day.

“If I were a white man, all America would be proud of me,” Aaron was quoted as saying. “But I’m black. You have to be black in America to know how sick some people are. I’ve always thought racism a problem, even with as much progress as America has made.”

Aaron said he read the mail anyway. It wasn’t going to stop him.

There’s much more in the Daily News article, and I do hope you’ll go read it.

At Time, John Friedman argues that “Hank Aaron Would Have Faced Worse Racism Today.”

Henry Aaron’s record-setting 715th home run off Al Downing on April 8, 1974 still stands today as one of the greatest milestones in Major League Baseball history. By breaking the four-decade mark of the great Babe Ruth, Aaron strode out of the shadows – and stepped into a cauldron.

This accomplishment transcended sports. By his own accounts over the years, we can recognize that Aaron went through hell during that time. It was tough enough when reporters and camera crews chronicled his every at-bat and invaded his privacy. But that was the least of it. Here, a black man stood poised—while playing in the Deep South, to boot—to claim one of the sports world’s most storied marks. Bigots hounded Aaron and made his life miserable, at a time when he should have basked in the glow of both his historic achievement and the recognition that had eluded him for decades.

Still, you know what? We might conclude that Aaron got off easy four decades ago, long before social media dominated every facet of our lives and removed any shred of privacy.

Just try to imagine how much more intense and challenging his predicament would have been. Can you picture the potential for incessant racist taunts on Facebook and Twitter, not to mention the blogosphere? In the 1970s, the haters reached Aaron by what we call “snail mail.” Today, in our sped-up-world of modern communications, Aaron would have had no escape.

Is Friedman right? I hate to think so, but after what we’ve seen after Americans elected a black president, I have to wonder.

The situation in Ukraine continues to escalate. 

Pro-Russia protesters burn tires near a regional administration building in Kharkiv in a back-and-forth clash with riot police for control of the building. (Oleg Shishkov, EPA / April 7, 2014)

Pro-Russia protesters burn tires near a regional administration building in Kharkiv in a back-and-forth clash with riot police for control of the building. (Oleg Shishkov, EPA / April 7, 2014)

The LA Times reports, Ukraine cracks down on demonstrators; Russia issues warning.

Ukrainian riot police cleared a regional administration building and public square in the eastern city of Kharkiv of hundreds of pro-Russia protesters Tuesday morning, detaining scores in the process, officials said.

“Seventy criminals were taken into custody during the operation,” Ukraine acting President Olexandr Turchinov told the parliament in televised remarks Tuesday morning.

In response, Russia’s Foreign Ministry issued a stern warning against the use of force on pro-Russia protesters in eastern Ukraine and alleged the direct involvement of private U.S. military experts.

“According to our information, Ukraine Interior Ministry and National Guard troops including militants of the illegal armed group the Right Sectort are being brought to the southeast regions of Ukraine,” read a statement posted on the Russian Foreign Ministry’s official website Tuesday. “A special concern is connected with the fact that abot 150 U.S. experts from the private military organization Greystone dressed in the uniforms of [Ukraine] special unit Sokol are involved in the operation.”

“The organizers and participants in the operation are assuming huge responsibility for the creation of threats to rights, freedoms and lives of peaceful residents of Ukraine,” the statement said.

It really doesn’t look like Russian president Vladimir Putin is going to stop with absorbing Crimea into Russia. From the Wall Street Journal this morning: Ukraine Could Be Plunged into Civil War, Warns Russia — Update.

Ukrainian police on Tuesday regained control of a government building occupied by pro-Kremlin separatists in one volatile eastern city as pro-Russian protesters in another appeared to be slipping into disarray.

As Ukraine’s new government pushed to show its authority in the region, Russia warned that the use of force to dislodge demonstrators who had taken over government offices could plunge the country into civil war.

Ukrainian officials have accused Russia of instigating the protests that began Sunday in Donetsk, Kharkiv and Luhansk, suggesting that their powerful neighbor is trying to orchestrate a takeover similar to its incursion and annexation of Crimea. They have vowed to subdue the secessionists.

Ukraine’s Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said Tuesday morning that an “antiterrorist” operation had been launched in Kharkiv and around 70 separatists who had control of the regional administration building had been arrested.

He said roughly 200 pro-Russian agitators had barricaded themselves inside overnight and threw stun grenades and fired pellet guns at police and national guard officers who had surrounded the building. He said the protesters then set fire to a wing of the building and smashed windows. After the fire was contained, Mr. Avakov said special forces units stormed the building, made the arrests and seized a cache of weapons.

“The night in Kharkiv was endlessly long,” he said. “The boorish, brutal, ordered and generously paid pro-Russian aggression of the ‘protesters’ was off the charts.”

Mr. Avakov said that the Interior Ministry was moving more forces to the east of Ukraine to protect against further separatist activity.

But Russia’s foreign ministry threatened that any heavy-handed action by Ukrainian authorities could set off further violence.

If you’d like to read an in-depth analysis of the situation, check out this blog post by Prof. John Schindler of the Naval War College, Putinism and the Anti-WEIRD Coalition.

Cornelius Gurlitt

Cornelius Gurlitt

Awhile back I wrote about the discovery of a huge collection of art works

that had been found in Germany, many of which had likely been stolen by the Nazis during WWII. Now even more stolen art works have come to light, according to this article at Raw Story: German recluse’s ‘Nazi art trove’ much bigger than first thought.

Around another 60 artworks, including pieces by Monet and Renoir, have come to light at the Austrian home of an elderly German recluse whose earlier discovered art hoard is suspected to contain Nazi-looted works.

The latest pieces were found at the property in Salzburg belonging to Cornelius Gurlitt, his spokesman said Tuesday, just months after the art world was rocked by news of a spectacular trove of more than 1,400 works unearthed at his German home in 2012.

A first inspection indicates there is no Nazi loot — artwork that the fascist regime stole from Jewish owners or bought from them cheaply under duress — in the latest discovery, spokesman Stephan Holzinger said.

“More works were located in Cornelius Gurlitt’s house in Salzburg,” he said in a statement….

The Gurlitt case first made headlines late last year when it emerged that investigators had found more than 1,400 artworks in his Munich flat, including long-lost works by masters including Matisse and Chagall.

Gurlitt is now cooperating with authorities and has agreed to return any stolen pieces. From the Times of Israel:

Gurlitt’s father, Hildebrand, was an art dealer on assignment to the Nazis who died in 1956 in an accident; his son inherited the collection. In 2012, customs agents investigating Cornelius Gurlitt for tax evasion confiscated his Munich stash of some 1,400 works.

The existence of the collection — which includes works by artists such as Picasso, Dürer, Renoir, Toulouse-Lautrec, Beckmann and Matisse – was kept under wraps until Focus magazine broke the story last fall.

Spurred by art provenance researchers and restitution advocates around the world, Germany established a task force to deal specifically with the Gurlitt case. It includes experts recommended by the Conference of Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, among others.

In the meantime, works collected by the elder Gurlitt also were found to be stashed in his son’s home in Salzburg, Austria, as well as in other locations in Austria and Switzerland.

Gurlitt, 81, has maintained that his collection is legitimate. Earlier this year, his attorneys publicized a new website where possible heirs could contact him.

Yesterday The Smoking Gun broke a surprising story about activist and MSNBC host Al Sharpton.

Rev. Al Sharpton with President Obama

Rev. Al Sharpton with President Obama

Al Sharpton’s Secret Work As FBI Informant: Untold story of how activist once aided probes of NYC wiseguys

Beginning in the mid-1980s and spanning several years, Sharpton’s cooperation was fraught with danger since the FBI’s principal targets were leaders of the Genovese crime family, the country’s largest and most feared Mafia outfit. In addition to aiding the FBI/NYPD task force, which was known as the “Genovese squad,” Sharpton’s cooperation extended to several other investigative agencies.

TSG’s account of Sharpton’s secret life as “CI-7” is based on hundreds of pages of confidential FBI affidavits, documents released by the bureau in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, court records, and extensive interviews with six members of the Genovese squad, as well as other law enforcement officials to whom the activist provided assistance.

Like almost every other FBI informant, Sharpton was solely an information source. The parameters of his cooperation did not include Sharpton ever surfacing publicly or testifying on a witness stand.

Genovese squad investigators–representing both the FBI and NYPD–recalled how Sharpton, now 59, deftly extracted information from wiseguys. In fact, one Gambino crime family figure became so comfortable with the protest leader that he spoke openly–during ten wired face-to-face meetings–about a wide range of mob business, from shylocking and extortions to death threats and the sanity of Vincent “Chin” Gigante, the Genovese boss who long feigned mental illness in a bid to deflect law enforcement scrutiny. As the mafioso expounded on these topics, Sharpton’s briefcase–a specially customized Hartmann model–recorded his every word.

Sharpton told Politico that he wasn’t technically an informant. He had turned to authorities for help because of threats against him.

“I was never told I was an informant or I had a number or none of that,” the MSNBC host told the New York Daily News. “Whether or not they used some of the other information they got during that period for other purposes, I don’t know.”

The paper reported that Sharpton said he contacted authorities after receiving death threats.

“If you’re a victim of a threat, you’re not an informant — you’re a victim trying to protect yourself,” Sharpton said.

Sharpton also noted that this isn’t breaking news; it has been reported more than once in the past.

“I don’t see this as news,” Sharpton told FoxNews.com. “This has been brought up three or four times now. I don’t understand. It’s crazy.”

The New York Daily News also has a lengthy write-up of the story if you want more details.

Those are the stories that caught my eye today. What are you reading and hearing? Please post your links in the comment thread, and have a great Tuesday!


Thursday: Hillary, Vlad, and the Crisis in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin,Hillary Rodham Clinton

Good Morning!!

We’re close to two years away from the 2016 presidential primaries, but already the media is putting everything Hillary Clinton said or does under a microscope. I don’t know how I’m going to get through this. For some reason, I just can’t help being protective of Hillary even if I don’t agree with everything she says. The latest flap is over remarks she made about Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine at a private fundraiser for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Long Beach, CA .

It began on Tuesday night when Buzzfeed’s Ruby Cramer reported what she learned from two people who attended the event: Hillary Clinton Compares Russia Moves To Nazi Aggression.

“Mrs. Clinton talked at length on the situation in the Ukraine,” said one attendee, Harry Saltzgaver, the executive editor of a group of newspapers in Long Beach.

Both Saltzgaver and a second fundraiser attendee, who requested to speak without attribution, described Clinton’s parallel between the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Adolf Hitler, who resettled tens of thousands of ethnic Germans in Eastern and Central Europe to Nazi Germany before the war.

“She compared issuing Russian passports to Ukrainians with ties to Russia with early actions by Nazi Germany before Hitler began invading neighboring countries,” Saltzgaver said. “She said, however, that while that makes people nervous, there is no indication that Putin is as irrational as the instigator of World War II.”

A reporter also provided Cramer with direct quotes:

According to the Long Beach Press Telegram, whose reporter attended the event, Clinton told attendees, “Now if this sounds familiar, it’s what Hitler did back in the 30s,” she said. “All the Germans that were … the ethnic Germans, the Germans by ancestry who were in places like Czechoslovakia and Romania and other places, Hitler kept saying they’re not being treated right. I must go and protect my people and that’s what’s gotten everybody so nervous.”

Oh no! Clinton breaks Godwin’s law! Suddenly there was a stampede to be the first to criticize her for invoking Hitler. I mean, how dare she? She’s only the former Secretary of State and a possible candidate for president in 2016.

Philip Rucker at the WaPo: Hillary Clinton’s Putin-Hitler comments draw rebukes as she wades into Ukraine conflict.

Hillary Rodham Clinton has sparked a political uproar this week by wading into the middle of the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, likening the moves of Russian President Vladimir Putin to the actions of Nazi dictator Adolf Hitler leading up to World War II.

The former secretary of state’s provocative comparison drew swift rebukes Wednesday from U.S.-Russia policy experts — including some who served under her husband, former president Bill Clinton — while attracting rare notes of support from hawkish Republicans in Congress.

The comments put Clinton, a possible 2016 presidential candidate, at odds with President Obama and her former administration colleagues, who have been measured in their statements on Ukraine in hopes of avoiding an escalation of Putin’s incursion into Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

Rucker quoted one “expert” who claimed Hillary was trying to take a “hard line” on Putin now because she had been “the face of the Obama administration’s “effort to “reset” its policy with Russia.”

Ian Bremmer, president of Eurasia Group, a nonpartisan global risk consulting firm, said Clinton’s Hitler comment signaled she was trying to “stage manage” the Russia issue.

“Hillary’s too smart to actually believe that Putin’s actions are remotely close to anything that Hitler did,” Bremmer said. “The only reason she would say that is that she believes she was vulnerable in having been the architect of the failed ‘reset’ and wants to show that she’s harder-line than anybody else.”

But former Russian Ambassador Michael McFaul disagreed.

He said Clinton was “much more skeptical” of Putin than other administration colleagues, that she was the first U.S. official to condemn Putin’s disputed 2011 election, and that she made a point of meeting with civil-society critics during official visits to Russia.

Buzzfeed’s Andrew Kaczinski followed up on his colleague’s reporting with a clarification from Hillary in a report on her appearance at at UCLA yesterday.

“The claims by President Putin and other Russians that they had to go into Crimea and maybe further into Eastern Ukraine because they had protect the Russia minorities,” Clinton said Wednesday, “that is reminiscent of claims that were made back in the 1930s when Germany under the Nazis kept talking about how they had to protect German minorities in Poland, in Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere throughout Europe. So I just want everybody to have a little historic perspective. I’m not making a comparison certainly, but I am recommending that we perhaps can learn from this tactic that has been used before.”

Clinton also assessed Putin’s personality, based on her personal experience:

“As for President Putin, I know we are dealing with a tough guy with a thin skin,” Clinton said. “I’ve had a lot of experience — well, not only with him but with people like that — but in particular with President Putin. I know that his political vision is of a greater Russia.”

“I support the administration’s call for Russia to respect its obligation and to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity of Ukraine,” Clinton added.

Still, at CNN last night Timothy Stanley chided Hillary for “raising the specter of another world war.” Sorry, but isn’t Putin the one doing that? A couple more reactions:

LA Times: Hillary Clinton highlights pragmatism in approach to Russia

Hillary Rodham Clinton defended her record as secretary of State against Republican criticism that she had been too accommodating to Russia, arguing Wednesday that she had taken a tough but pragmatic approach so the U.S. could attain its goals.

In remarks at UCLA’s Royce Hall, Clinton assertively brushed aside opponents’ suggestions that she and the Obama administration effectively invited Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s recent incursion into Ukraine by failing to blunt his aggression.

Clinton said that when she became secretary of State in 2009, “we had some business we wanted to get done with Russia.” Among the U.S. goals at the time: an arms control agreement, the creation of a pathway through Russia to provide support for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, and an effort to get Russia into the World Trade Organization.

“There is a debate in foreign policy, and you hear these voices on TV right now: ‘These are bad folks; they’re doing bad things; do nothing with them,'” Clinton said, adding that her approach was to “be smart about it; pick and choose; stand your ground on disagreements, but look for ways to get things done.”

Pointing to the administration’s accomplishments, Clinton said that the U.S. “even got [Russia] to support sanctions against Iran in the [U.N.] Security Council — something people predicted we couldn’t get done.”

NYT The Caucus Blog: Clinton Ratchets Up Criticism of Putin and Backs Obama.

Hillary Rodham Clinton continued her sharp condemnation of Russian President Vladamir V. Putin here on Wednesday, calling him “a tough guy with a thin skin” and saying she supports the Obama administration’s call for Russia to resist further intervention in neighboring Ukraine.

“His political vision is of a greater Russia. I said when I was still secretary that his goal is to re-Sovietize Russia’s periphery,” Mrs. Clinton said at the top of remarks she delivered at the University of California. In the process, she said, Mr. Putin is “squandering the potential of such a great nation. The nation of Russia.”

I think Hillary handled herself pretty well, and I agree with her tough approach to Putin. Let’s not forget that Putin has Edward Snowden and all his stolen secrets. As former NASA analyst John Schindler tweeted yesterday,

“As crisis mounts and war looms, I hope US and NATO have excellent intelligence on Russia. Too bad #Snowden compromised all that SIGINT…”

Just one last article on the crisis in Ukraine, this time from the Russian standpoint and it shows the need for Western leaders to take clear stands. From the Moscow Times: Why There Will Be War in Ukraine. Author Sergei Markov of The Institute of Political Studies argues that the current leadership in Ukraine is anti-Russian and will intimidate Russian speakers living in the country. He predicts this could eventually lead to efforts to overthrow Putin in Russia.

After that, Kiev may evict Russia’s Black Sea Fleet from Sevastopol and purge Crimea of any Russian influence. Ukraine could easily become a radicalized, anti-Russian state, at which point Kiev will fabricate a pretext to justify taking subversive action against Moscow. This looks especially likely considering that ruling coalition members from the neo-fascist Svoboda and Right Sector parties have already made territorial claims against Russia. They could easily send their army of activists to Russia to join local separatists and foment rebellion in the North Caucasus and other unstable regions in Russia. In addition, Russia’s opposition movement will surely want to use the successful experience and technology of the Euromaidan protests and, with the help and financial support of the West, try to carry out their own revolution in Moscow. The goal: to remove President Vladimir Putin from power and install a puppet leadership that will sell Russia’s strategic interests out to the West in the same way former President Boris Yeltsin did in the 1990s….

Markov too breaks Godwin’s law:

Putin made the right decision: He did not to wait for that attack and took preventative measures. Many in the West say the Kremlin’s reactions were paranoiac, but Germany’s Jews also thought the same of leaving the country in 1934. Most of them chose to believe they were safe and remained in Germany even after Hitler came to power. The infamous Kristallnacht took place five years later, one of the first early chapters in the “Final Solution.” Similarly, just four years remain until Russia’s presidential election in 2018, and there is a strong risk that subversive forces within and outside Russia will try to overthrow Putin, in part using their new foothold in Ukraine.

Will there be war in Ukraine? I am afraid so. After all, the extremists who seized power in Kiev want to see a bloodbath. Only fear for their own lives might stop them from inciting such a conflict. Russia is prepared to move its forces into southern and eastern Ukraine if repressive measures are used against the Russian-speaking population or if a military intervention occurs. Russia will not annex Crimea. It has enough territory already. At the same time, however, it will also not stand by passively while Russophobic and neo-Nazi gangs hold the people of Crimea, Kharkiv and Donetsk at their mercy.

Yikes!

So . . . what do you think? And what other stories are you following today? Please share your links in the comments. I have few I’ll post there too.


Wednesday Reads: Forest for the trees

potagesmaggiGood Morning

My internet has been acting strange lately, so I am writing this post on the fly and comments will be at a minimum.

First up, sad story from India, according to BBC News: School meal kills 22 in India’s Bihar state

At least 22 children have died and dozens more have fallen ill after eating lunch at a school in the eastern Indian state of Bihar.

The poisoning occurred in the village of Dharmasati Gandaman, 80km (50 miles) north of the state capital, Patna.

The free Mid-Day Meal Scheme aims to tackle hunger and boost attendance in schools, but suffers from poor hygiene.

Angry parents joined protests against the deaths, setting at least four police vehicles on fire.

An inquiry has begun and 200,000 rupees ($3,370) in compensation offered to the families of each of the dead.

Twenty-eight sick children were taken to hospitals in the nearby town of Chhapra after the incident and later were moved to Patna.

A total of 47 students of the primary school fell sick on Tuesday after eating the free lunch.

More deaths are possible as many of the kids are under the age of 12 and still in critical condition.

The state education minister, PK Shahi, told the BBC a preliminary investigation indicated that the food was contaminated with traces of phosphorous.

“The doctors who have attended are of the tentative opinion that the smell coming out of the bodies of the children suggests that the food contained organo-phosphorus, which is a poisonous substance,” he said.

“Now the investigators have to find out whether organo-phosphorus was accidental or there was some deliberate mischief.”

Earlier, doctors treating the patients had said “food poisoning” was the cause of the deaths.

“We suspect it to be poisoning caused by insecticides in vegetable or rice,” Amarjeet Sinha, a senior education official, told the BBC.

A doctor treating the children at a hospital in Patna said contaminated vegetable oil could have led to the poisoning.

Patna-based journalist Amarnath Tewary says villagers told local reporters that similar cases of food poisoning after having Mid-Day Meals had taken place in the area previously.

The horror of this story will only be more disturbing if it does turn out to be deliberate. I will keep you all up to date on the details as the day goes on.

Meanwhile, the Zimmerman Jury’s shitstorm has begun B37’s fellow jurors in Trayvon Martin trial bash her for leading country to believe spoke for them – NY Daily News

Four jurors in Trayvon Martin trial have issued a statement Tuesday night bashing B37 for going on TV and leading the country to believe she spoke for all of them.

Just moments after CNN aired part two of its interview with the juror known as B37, four of her fellow members on the six-woman jury issued a joint statement.

“We also wish to point out that the opinions of Juror B37, expressed on the Anderson Cooper show were her own, and not in any way representative of the jurors listed below.”

The jurors added, “We ask you to remember that we are not public officials and we did not invite this type of attention into our lives.”

More from LA Times: Zimmerman trial: 4 jurors say Juror B37 does not speak for them

The other four jurors also cited Florida law. “Serving on this jury has been a highly emotional and physically draining experience for each of us,” the statement signed by Jurors B51, B76, E6 and E40 said. “The death of a teenager weighed heavily on our hearts, but in the end we did what the law required us to do.”

It still makes me cringe to think Zimmerman got away with killing Martin, and not one charge was brought against him…aside from manslaughter…assault…battery…geez, stalking?  I guess I am rambling but it still seems inconceivable to me that there are no criminal consequences for Zimmerman’s actions, which did result in the death of an unarmed young man.

Alright, here are some links from yesterday that you should check out.

Op/ed by Katrina vanden Heuvel: Congress’s appalling Republicans – The Washington Post

There really isn’t any other word. Congressional Republicans are simply appalling. They have absolute control of the House. They set the agenda. They decide what comes to the floor. They decide what passes on to the Senate.

They know that extreme legislation isn’t going to be enacted into law. The Democratic majority in the Senate and the Democratic president stand in the way. So the legislation they choose to pass is a statement of their own values. It is simply designed to proclaim, “This is where we stand.” And for the vast majority of Americans, what they proudly proclaim is simply beyond the pale.

New blog post by Kurt Eichenwald: My Family, Our Cancer, and the Murderous Cruelty of Conservatives | Vanity Fair

My wife has breast cancer.

I write this, with her permission, while sitting in the hospital waiting room as she undergoes surgery. Afterward, there will be another surgery, radiation, and probably chemo, but what else might be in the offing is guesswork at this point. I’ll know more this afternoon, when the operation is over.

A comparison over at Juan Cole’s blog: Israel’s District 9: Its Biggest Ethnic Cleansing since 1948 | Informed Comment

30,000 Palestinian-Israelis of Bedouin heritage are are being forcibly transferred by the Israeli government, and thousands of acres of their land is being stolen from them.

The 972 article compares it to Apartheid South Africa’s District 6, the inspiration for the film, “District 9″

The Palestinian-Israelis are mounting big protests today.

Tales from the Walmart inner circle: Four Angry Wal-Mart Workers, and Four Happy Ones

Last week, we brought you some true stories from Wal-Mart workers— stories that alarmed Wal-Mart so much that they (unsuccessfully) begged their employees to send us positive stories to balance them out. Since then, we’ve received many more, both good and bad. Here are some.

Note: Wal-Mart specifically solicited its employees to send us positive stories (and furthermore, one employee tells us, “Walmart does have an official policy on employees posting on social media and yes we *can* be fired for posting content the company doesn’t like”). Despite this, we’ve received a far greater number of negative than positive stories. Today, however, we’re posting an equal number of positive and negative stories. Take them as you will. They’re all revealing in their own way.

An interesting look at Latin America, considering the recent events surrounding Snowden and the “courtship” of his “affections“:

Why Latin America Is Becoming Less Democratic – Kurt Weyland – The Atlantic

democracytop.jpg

Opponents of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stage a protest over a drawing of a gagged face during a march to commemorate the 53rd anniversary of the return of democracy after the 1958 coup in Caracas January 23, 2011. (Jorge Silvas/Reuters)

Around the turn of the millennium, prominent Latin America special­ist Scott Mainwaring highlighted the surprising endurance of democracy in that region after the transition wave of the late 1970s and 1980s.Dur­ing that interval, no democracy had permanently succumbed to a mili­tary coup or slid back into authoritarian rule. After decades marked by instability in numerous countries, especially Argentina, Bolivia, and Ec­uador, this newfound democratic resilience came as a welcome surprise.

[…]

The recent suffocation of political pluralism in a whole group of countries is with­out precedent. For the first time in decades, democracy in Latin America is facing a sustained, coordinated threat. The regional trend toward de­mocracy, which had prevailed since the late 1970s, has suffered a partial reversal. Unexpectedly, democracy is now on the defensive in parts of the region.

That is just a couple of paragraphs, go read the whole article…

There was a freaky story that you may have missed a couple of weeks ago, Mystery of Nazi Swastikas in the Forests – SPIEGEL ONLINE

Over 20 years ago, a landscaper in eastern Germany discovered a formation of trees in a forest in the shape of a swastika. Since then, a number of other forest swastikas have been found in Germany and beyond, but the mystery of their origins persist.

Blame it on the larches. Brandenburg native Günter Reschke was the first one to notice their unique formation, according to a 2002 article in the Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper. To be more precise, however, it was the new intern at Reschke’s landscaping company, Ökoland Dederow, who discovered the trees in 1992 as he was completing a typically thankless intern task: searching aerial photographs for irrigation lines.

For decade, this swastika of larch trees stood undiscovered in the middle of...

Instead, he found a small group of 140 larches standing in the middle of dense forest, surrounded by hundreds of other trees. But there was a crucial difference: all the others were pine trees. The larches, unlike the pines, changed color in the fall, first to yellow, then brown. And when they were seen from a certain height, it wasn’t difficult to recognize the pattern they formed. It was quite striking, in fact.

As he was dutifully accomplishing the task he had been given, the intern suddenly stopped and stared, dumbfounded, at the picture in his hand. It was an aerial view of Kutzerower Heath at Zernikow — photo number 106/88. He showed it to Reschke: “Do you see what this is?” But the 60-by-60 meter (200-by-200 foot) design that stood out sharply from the forest was obvious to all: a swastika.

Reschke is actually a fan of his native Uckermark region of northeastern Germany, extolling its gently rolling hills, lakes and woods, as the “Tuscany of the north.” But what the two men discovered in 1992 in that aerial photograph thrust this natural idyll into the center of a scandal.

This is one hell of a story, and at that Spiegel link there is a gallery of images that you need to see: Photo Gallery: Swastikas in the Woods – SPIEGEL ONLINE – International

The planting of swastika formations, like this one near the town of Asterode in...

The planting of swastika formations, like this one near the town of Asterode in the western state of Hesse, was popular among foresters throughout various regions of Nazi Germany. There were many swastikas in the forests surrounding Berlin until they were removed under Soviet occupation.

 4 of 12
In this same wooded area of Asterode in Hesse, the numbers "1933," the year...

In this same wooded area of Asterode in Hesse, the numbers “1933,” the year Hitler came to power, were spelled out in larch trees across a backdrop of pine forest, bursting into color in autumn. The eyesores remained for a long time, until the early 1960s, when American occupying forces discovered the trees during an aerial reconnaissance flight and complained to the local government.

But it was not just trees in the forest that took the shape of Nazi symbolism, towns..buildings and other land formations that remained hidden until discovered by views from above…seriously, go and check that article out.

One more link in connection with this story above, Misreading ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem’ – NYTimes.com

The movie “Hannah Arendt,” which opened in New York in May, has unleashed emotional commentary that mirrors the fierce debate Arendt herself ignited over half a century ago, when she covered the trial of the notorious war criminal Adolf Eichmann. One of the pre-eminent political thinkers of the 20th century, Arendt, who died in 1975 at the age of 69, was a Jew arrested by the German police in 1933, forced into exile and later imprisoned in an internment camp. She escaped and fled to the United States in 1941, where she wrote the seminal books “The Origins of Totalitarianism” and “The Human Condition.”

It is easy to cite the ‘banality of evil.’ It is much more difficult to make sense of what Arendt actually meant.

When Arendt heard that Eichmann was to be put on trial, she knew she had to attend. It would be, she wrote, her last opportunity to see a major Nazi “in the flesh.” Writing in The New Yorker, she expressed shock that Eichmann was not a monster, but “terribly and terrifyingly normal.” Her reports for the magazine were compiled into a book, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” published in 1963.

The poet Robert Lowell proclaimed Arendt’s portrayal of Eichmann a “masterpiece,” a “terrifying expressionist invention applied with a force no imitator could rival.” Others excoriated Arendt as a self-hating Jew. Lionel Abel charged that Eichmann “comes off so much better in her book than do his victims.” Nearly every major literary and philosophical figure in New York chose sides in what the writer Irving Howe called a “civil war” among New York intellectuals — a war, he later predicted, that might “die down, simmer,” but will perennially “erupt again.” So it has.

The op/ed continues to explore reviews of the film, and how Arendt’s work is still causing controversy so many years since it was first published.

Lastly, big news in Atlanta this week, LUN LUN THE GIANT PANDA GIVES BIRTH TO TWINS!

Lun Lun, a 15-year-old giant panda, gave birth to twins on July 15, 2013. The first of the tiny duo arrived at 6:21 p.m., and its twin followed at 6:23 p.m. The cubs are the first giant pandas to be born in the U.S. in 2013 and the first twins to be born in the U.S. since 1987.

The babies are doing great and according to a news release today…are healthy and fine.   Zoo Atlanta has a Panda Cam up and running, so I wanted to give you that link:

Zoo Atlanta Panda Cam

Panda Updates

Tuesday, July 16
The panda team is tired and a little stressed, but happy! So far, both cubs are doing well. We are fortunate that both were born a healthy weight and strong. Sometimes one twin is very small. As you all know, Lun Lun is a fantastic mom, and she’s even more impressive this time. The cubs are being alternated with her, which is a technique first developed by our colleagues in Chengdu and used successfully for many cubs. Lun Lun is such a good mom, though, that she is reluctant to give up whichever cub she has. So, we have not been able to swap the cubs as frequently as we would like. Because of that, both have been supplemented with some formula. Both are doing well with this. Their condition and Lun Lun’s behavior will continue to guide our actions. The next few days are especially critical. So, please continue to keep us in your thoughts. We can use the good vibes!
Rebecca Snyder, PhD, 
Curator of Mammals

There is so much information at that link to the Zoo Atlanta website, but I just want to add one more graphic which illustrates how amazing this little baby’s growth timeline really is:

Panda Developmental Timeline

Isn’t it wonderful?

Hope you have a fabulous day today, and try to stay cool out there. See you down in the comments, what are you reading and thinking about today?


Thursday Reads: The Gates of Hell and Other Nightmarish News

devil reading

Good Morning!!

Archaeologists from Italy recently announced the discovery of a “gate to hell” in Turkey. From Discovery News:

Known as Pluto’s Gate — Ploutonion in Greek, Plutonium in Latin — the cave was celebrated as the portal to the underworld in Greco-Roman mythology and tradition.

Historic sources located the site in the ancient Phrygian city of Hierapolis, now called Pamukkale, and described the opening as filled with lethal mephitic vapors.

“This space is full of a vapor so misty and dense that one can scarcely see the ground. Any animal that passes inside meets instant death,” the Greek geographer Strabo (64/63 BC — about 24 AD) wrote.

“I threw in sparrows and they immediately breathed their last and fell,” he added.

Announced this month at a conference on Italian archaeology in Istanbul, Turkey, the finding was made by a team led by Francesco D’Andria, professor of classic archaeology at the University of Salento.

Inscription dedicated to the deities of the underworld, Pluto and Kore, found at the ancient ruin of "Pluto's Gate" in Turkey. (Credit: Francesco D'Andria, University of Salento)

Inscription dedicated to the deities of the underworld, Pluto and Kore, found at the ancient ruin of “Pluto’s Gate” in Turkey. (Credit: Francesco D’Andria, University of Salento)

Among the ruins at the site D’Andria and his colleagues found

Ionic semi columns and, on top of them, an inscription with a dedication to the deities of the underworld — Pluto and Kore.

D’Andria also found the remains of a temple, a pool and a series of steps placed above the cave — all matching the descriptions of the site in ancient sources.

D’Andria himself saw birds killed by carbon dioxide fumes because they got too close to the opening to the “underworld.”

According to an article at iTech Post, “‘Gate To Hell’ In Turkey Is One Of Many Hellish Portals.”

The idea of an Earthly entranceway to hell goes all the way back to Greek and Roman mythology. The portal in Turkey was referenced by Cicero and the Greek geographer Strabo as emitting deadly vapors that caused any animal that entered it to die. But it is far from the only hellish cave portrayed by the Greeks and Romans.

In the “Rape of Persephone,” Hades abducts the spring-goddess Persephone into the underworld through a cleft in a Sicilian field. Aeneas also makes a trip to the underworld through a cave near Lake Avernus on the Bay of Naples and Odysseus makes a visit through Lake Acheron, located in northwest Greece. Orpheus travels to the underworld to retrieve Eurydice through a cave entrance at Taenarum or Cape Tenaron, located in the southern Peloponnese.

Portals to hell were also believed to exist during the medieval period. Mount Etna was thought to be an entrance to hell during this time, as was Iceland’s Mount Hekla, called the “Gateway to Hell,” which has recently shown signs of an impending eruption. Lacus Curtius was an entranceway in the Roman Forum where, according to legend, a soldier rode into the entrance to close it, never returning again. St. Patrick’s Purgatory in Ireland, considered an entrance to hell, was a famous pilgrimage site.

Supposed gates to hell abound in other portions of the globe as well, from Nicaragua to Fengdu in China.

I think there is another entrance to hell in on Capital Hill in Washington DC called the U.S. Congress.

The mile wide mirror would be able to focus the power of the sun onto a target on Earth (Daily Telegraph)

The mile wide mirror would be able to focus the power of the sun onto a target on Earth (Daily Telegraph)

There’s another big historical discovery in the news–this one is about more recent history. An old 1945 article from Life Magazine was recently rediscovered that reports on a plan by the Nazis to develop a satellite that would act as a giant “space mirror.” Supposedly it would use solar power to destroy whole cities.

There’s a piece about it at The Daily Mail that includes plenty of visual aids:

It sounds like something only a Bond villain would propose, but the Nazis planned a mile-wide ‘space gun’ powered by the sun.

The giant mirror could be used to focus the sun on a target – like the magnifying glasses used by children to create fire.

A long-forgotten article from Life magazine in 1945 revealed how ‘US Army technical experts came up with the astonishing fact that German scientists had seriously planned to build a “sun gun”’.

The giant orbital mirror would ‘focus the sun’s rays to a scorching point on the Earth’s surface’. The German army, readers were told, ‘hoped to use such a mirror to burn an enemy city or to boil part of an ocean’.

The idea came to renowned rocket scientist Hermann Oberth in 1923.

Of course the weapon was never built. The Nazis had lots of crazy ideas that would probably appeal to some wacko world leaders of today like North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, who is reportedly fantasizing about blowing up the world in present day 2013.

I know everyone thinks this is hilarious, and it is, but there are scenarios in which this sabre rattling could lead to more serious consequences. Last night the Christian Science Monitor asked: Can US trust North Korea leader to act rationally?

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s saber-rattling rhetoric and threats to restart his nuclear program could be a rational move to garner more in the way of concessions in the world community and much-needed political street-credentials among the populace and troops he commands.

But just how confident can Pentagon officials be about whether Mr. Kim is a rational actor?

Could he, in fact, be young, reckless, without great political savvy and in grave danger of making a move that could set off a chain of events – including an inadvertent war – with dire consequences?

The CSM reports that there are indications that Kim may be losing control of his military forces–there have been reports of units defecting to China. Although they were sent back, Kim may feel the need to assert his power by making these threats against other countries.

us-missile-defense_lea_s640x425

At NBC News, M. Alex Johnson lists some possible ways that things could “get out of hand” in North Korea. Read about it at the link if you’re interested.

David Blair, chief foreign correspondent at the Daily Telegraph asks: Could North Korea start a war by mistake?

When a country seems on the point of going to war, its adversaries try to identify the key signals that would show it was serious. Forget rhetorical bluster, what would country X be doing if war really was imminent? Today, North Korea is the focus of that burning question.

No one can outdo North Korea when it comes to blood-curdling threats, missile tests and, indeed, the controlled detonation of nuclear weapons. But experience shows that none of these make war inevitable.

Instead, experts have settled on the view that the Kaesong industrial park, a facility found inside North Korea but served by a workforce from the South, could be the real indicator. Through every recent crisis, Kaesong has continued operating as normal, largely because North Korea’s bankrupt regime earns desperately needed hard currency from this facility.

Now, however, things are changing. North Korea has stopped workers from the South from crossing its border to reach Kaesong. It has not gone the whole way and shut down the site altogether – and South Korean workers who stay overnight at Kaesong are being allowed to leave. In the event of war, they would probably be taken hostage. If Kaesong represents a canary in the mineshaft, then the bird is not dead yet, but it appears to be coughing and spluttering.

All these pundits are focusing on whether or not Kim is a “rational actor,” but I think we also have to consider that we have some politicians over here who are always looking for ways to get involved in another war.

In other news,

Yesterday I was reading about a young couple in their late teens who disappeared in a California forest over the weekend. They had called police to say they were lost but thought they were near their car. Authorities had been searching for them since. This morning it’s being reported that the young man has been found, but his female companion is still missing. ABC News reports:

Family and friends are sharing mixed emotions today in Trabuco Canyon, Calif., after one of two missing teen hikers was found alive Wednesday night.

Nicholas Cendoya, 19, was located by another hiker, who was not a part of the search efforts, in a thick brush shortly before sundown, officials said.

Authorities have shifted their attention to the whereabouts of Kyndall Jack, 18. She was with Cendoya hiking in Southern California’s Cleveland National Forest when the pair went missing Sunday night….

Cendoya was located about a half-mile south of where much of the search had focused.

“He is weak, severely dehydrated and slightly confused,” Division Chief Kris Concepcion of the Orange County Fire Authority said.

We don’t yet know how they got separated. I hope Kyndall can be found. People can get very confused out in the wilderness. You wouldn’t believe how many people disappear or are killed in accidents in National Parks and Forests. It’s something I’ve read a bit about.

Yesterday another law enforcement officer was murdered, this time in West Virginia.

Investigators arrested a suspect but were still searching for a motive Wednesday after a West Virginia sheriff known for his tough stance on drug dealers was shot dead in his patrol vehicle.

Mingo County Sheriff Walter E. “Eugene” Crum was eating lunch just blocks away from a courthouse when he was gunned down, officials said.

Tennis Melvin Maynard, 37, is accused in the killing, West Virginia State Police First Sgt. Michael Baylous said.

The suspect parked his car close to the sheriff’s SUV and shot through the window twice, hitting the sheriff twice in the head, according to a state official who was briefed on the investigation.

Maynard was shot by a sheriff’s deputy after a chase and is now in the hospital. So far his motive is unknown, but authorities seem concern that this case could somehow related to the murders of a prisons chief in Colorado and a district attorney, his wife, and an assistant district attorney in Texas. The deaths in Colorado and Texas are linked to white supremacist groups.

I wrote about this and about the Aryan Brotherhood prison gangs in my Tuesday morning post, so you can find more details there. If you didn’t read it, I highly recommend the Daily Beast article I quoted, “Why I fear the Aryan Brotherhood and you should too.”

The Texas DA’s had been involved in a major prosecution of the “Aryan Brotherhood of Texas,” one of the federal prosecutors in the case, Jay Hileman, withdrew for “security reasons.”

Assistant U.S. Atty. Jay Hileman announced his withdrawal from a racketeering case involving the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas on Tuesday in an email to defense lawyers, Houston attorney Richard O. Ely II told The Times.

Investigators have scrutinized the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas in recent days after two Kaufman County prosecutors were killed in attacks that followed their office’s assistance in a major federal indictment against 34 alleged leaders and members of the gang in November.

The gang had allegedly threatened to attack law enforcement officials connected to the racketeering case, though officials still have not named a suspect in the attacks against Kaufman County Assistant Dist. Atty. Mark Hasse and Dist. Atty. Mike McLelland, who was killed with his wife….

On Wednesday, Tim S. Braley, an assistant U.S. attorney and deputy chief on a Justice Department drug and gangs task force, filed a notification that he would be joining the case as lead counsel with David Karpel, who had been previously working the case with Hileman.

The Daily Beast has another scary article today–this time specifically on the Aryan Brotherhood of Texas, which is an independent group built on the model of the prison gangs which began in California’s San Quentin prison in the 1960s.

This really has been a hellish post, hasn’t it?  Soooo…. what are you hearing and reading today? Please post your links in the comments, and have a heavenly day!


Sunday Reads: Once more with confidence…

With all this heat, I could not bear to put up a picture of hot coffee…so here is a nice cool watermelon to enjoy your summer morning Sunday reads.

Good Morning!

Actually that exclamation point seems a bit overstated. I wanted to write a poetic introduction to this morning’s post. I sat on my bed with the laptop angled up on my lower legs…my fingers on the well-worn keyboard, and nothing could make them move and flick the keys, to write out words on the computer page. I just looked at my hands and saw only that my nails needed to be clipped, and the screen needed to be cleaned.

Must be the heat, it zaps any intelligent thought out of my brain, and it drives my mind into stillness. Nothingness. Only the relief pouring out of my A/C unit and the sound of my fan falls on me. Nothing.

I won’t kid you all into thinking that I have any thought-provoking comment on the news links today. These plastic keys are getting hot under the pressure of my fingertips as they sit waiting for me to get on with it.

Dammit, I should have known that naming a post, once more with confidence was just asking for trouble. So all that I wrote for the intro to this morning’s post is poof, gone. My computer froze, it too must be affected by the heat. No kidding, I had to take a picture of the computer screen so I could retype the paragraphs I did write. Ugh…

For the start of today’s post, I give you this…h/t Boston Boomer who sent me the link last night while I was having computer problems.

Weimar America …Before I even read the article I knew exactly what I was going to be reading about…what little brain cells I have left, the ones who have not melted in the heat, could grasp that headline.

What happens when a nation that was once an economic powerhouse turns its back on democracy and on its middle class, as wealthy right-wingers wage austerity campaigns and enable extremist politics?

It may sound like America in 2012. But it was also Germany in 1932.

Since I’ve been re-reading the book Banality of Evil, and just last month finished the book In the Garden of Beast, this article is not at all surprising to me.

Most Americans have never heard of the Weimar Republic, Germany’s democratic interlude between World War I and World War II. Those who have usually see it as a prologue to the horrors of Nazi Germany, an unstable transition between imperialism and fascism. In this view, Hitler’s rise to power is treated as an inevitable outcome of the Great Depression, rather than the result of a decision by right-wing politicians to make him chancellor in early 1933.

Historians reject teleological approaches to studying the past. No outcome is inevitable, even if some are more likely than others. Rather than looking for predictable outcomes, we ought to be looking to the past to understand how systems operate, especially liberal capitalist democracies. In that sense, Weimar Germany holds many useful lessons for contemporary Americans. In particular, there are four major points of similarity between Weimar Germany and Weimar America worth examining.

Please, if you read nothing else, read the rest of this article…

Next up…David Miscavige: A cult figure in the fame game  This link is about the cult of Scientology, it’s big shot leader and Sea Org…and it is freaky stuff! If you do not know what Sea Org is, you may be one of those folks who have not kept up with the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes split. Some gossip mags are speculating that Sea Org is the reason behind Holmes filing for divorce and seeking full custody of their daughter. Well, I have no comment on that…but a cult is a cult, nuff said.

At first glance, the handsome Georgian mansion in the heart of the Sussex countryside could easily be mistaken for a National Trust property. Indeed, at this time of year, Saint Hill Manor would not look out of place in a BBC costume drama; lawns are manicured and greenhouses stocked with abundant produce.

Only the presence of stern-faced young men sporting pristine black naval uniforms and white flat caps indicate Saint Hill’s true calling. The cadets are members of the Sea Org, the 6,000-strong unit within the Church of Scientology that is run along quasi-military lines and which is treated with a degree of respect that borders on fear by some of its followers.

Many members are little more than children who have signed contracts pledging to perform a billion years of service for the fledgling church which was set up in 1954 by the former pulp fiction writer L Ron Hubbard, and is famed for its celebrity followers.

Banned from having children while part of the group, Sea Org members are considered the Scientology elite, shock troops to be dispatched to the church’s trouble spots. Hubbard declared that they had “unlimited ethics powers”.

Uh…again I can only say, it’s a cult!

Small-framed, sharp-featured and with an unnerving gaze, Miscavige’s official title is “chairman of the Board of Religious Technology Centre“, a stand-alone organisation whose remit is to “preserve, maintain and protect the Scientology religion”. According to the church, the centre “holds the ultimate ecclesiastical authority regarding the standard and pure application of L Ron Hubbard’s religious technologies”.

What this means in practice, according to those who have quit the church, is that Miscavige wields absolute power over Scientology’s followers.

I will omit the Cruise/Holmes discussion and get back to Miscavige:

Scientology claims the abuse it receives is typical of the treatment meted out down the centuries to any new religion. But a plethora of lawsuits alleging that Scientology has harassed its critics, humiliated and beaten its followers and forced family members to break off contact with their loved ones, all denied by the church, have conspired to leave a sinister impression.

There is also unease over the apparent disappearance of Miscavige’s wife, Shelly, another former member of the Sea Org, who was responsible for introducing Holmes to Cruise and who has reportedly not been seen in public since 2007.

In a letter to the Observer, Jeffrey K Riffer, a lawyer who acts for Shelly Miscavige, denied claims his client was missing. “Mrs Miscavige has been working nonstop in the church, as she always has.”

Once it was the case that the church could rely on its internal disciplinary mechanism to ensure negative publicity was kept to a minimum. According to lawsuits, contested by the church, followers were threatened with manual labour if they spoke out about harsh treatment. The ever-present threat of being rejected by the church and having all links with it broken off, was enough to make even sceptical Scientologists stay silent.

But this fear no longer holds sway – even among Miscavige’s own family. “My experience in growing up in Scientology is that it is both mentally and at times physically abusive,” his niece, Jenna Miscavige Hill, told the Hollywood Reporter. “We got a lousy education from unqualified teachers, forced labour… not to mention the mental anguish of trying to figure out all of the conflicting information they force upon you as a young child…

Questions also loom about the fortunes that Miscavige spends on living up his celebrity lifestyle…

Even those who are supportive of the church are tired of Miscavige’s influence. Last New Year’s Eve, Debbie Cook, a high-profile Scientologist, emailed the church’s followers, urging them to reject its demands for money. Under Miscavige, Cook said, Scientology had become too focused on luxury buildings and was holding more than $1bn in reserve instead of spending it on spreading the religion, claims denied by the church. Miscavige, Cook claimed, had dismantled the internal checks that were supposed to prevent the church from being led by a single person.

There are claims that several of Scientology’s former followers have briefed the FBI on Miscavige’s lifestyle. It is alleged that he owns numerous vehicles, flies in corporate jets and has five stewards and two chefs at his disposal – claims denied by the church.

It is ironic that Miscavige, who by masterminding Scientology’s successful claim for tax exemption from the US Internal Revenue Service in 1993 transformed the church’s fortunes, now finds himself its biggest liability.

Well, I still can’t believe this cult is considered a “church” just thinking of all the tax exemptions alone is enough to piss me off. That there is a missing wife, crazed celebrities and indoctrination of children just adds fuel to the fire.

Let’s keep the rage flowing:  TN Tea Party Groups Demand School Textbooks Overlook Slavery

Remember the Tea Party — that reactionary right wing movement that helped lead the Republican Party into the fever swamp of madness?

Well, in places like Tennessee they found especially fertile ground, and that state’s Teabaggers are now demanding that school textbooks leave out America’s history of slavery.

A little more than a year after the conservative-led state board of education in Texas approved massive changes to its school textbooks to put slavery in a more positive light, a group of Tea Party activists in Tennessee has renewed its push to whitewash school textbooks. The group is seeking to remove references to slavery and mentions of the country’s founders being slave owners.

You know, over at the Holocaust museum there was a section that focused on propaganda, and the way the Nazi’s changed the kids history books to push the Aryan ideal and make the kids “good little Nazis.”

From Tennessee to Louisiana, the tea party nutcases are working hard to fuck up the education system. Louisiana Legislator Upset That Education Vouchers Can Go to Muslim Schools

It looks like someone’s pocket Constitution was lost before she voted in the Louisiana legislature. That’s Republican legislator Valarie Hodges, who wholeheartedly supported Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program. Well, she supported it until she discovered that — GASP! — state money could go to Muslim schools.

Now she’s just horrified.

Rep. Valarie Hodges, R-Watson, says she had no idea that Gov. Bobby Jindal’s overhaul of the state’s educational system might mean taxpayer support of Muslim schools.

“I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools,” the District 64 Representative said Monday.

“I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school,” Hodges said.

Hodges mistakenly assumed that “religious” meant “Christian.”

HB976, now signed into law as Act 2, proposed, among other things, a voucher program allowing state educational funds to be used to send students to schools run by religious groups.

Well….what about that assumption?

“Unfortunately it will not be limited to the Founders’ religion,” Hodges said. “We need to insure that it does not open the door to fund radical Islam schools. There are a thousand Muslim schools that have sprung up recently. I do not support using public funds for teaching Islam anywhere here in Louisiana.”

Well, hey, Rep. Hodges. You don’t get to pick and choose the “permissible religions” when you hand over public funds to private concerns, which is why those of us with half a brain think that public school money ought to be used to fund public institutions, especially when there is NO “founders’ religion.”

See, that way it’s easy. My tax money doesn’t go to fund stupid conservative, narrow-minded, intellectually dishonest education controlled by Catholic bishops and Southern Baptist wingnuts, and your tax money doesn’t go to Muslims. Didn’t you believe that whole “freedom of religion” thing in the Constitution?

Jezebel has a funny take on this story here: Republican Horrified to Discover that Christianity is Not the Only Religion

It’s an honest mistake, assuming that the Constitution only protects your own personal megachurch faith. But one Louisiana Republican is learning the hard way that religious school vouchers can be used to fund education at all sorts of religious schools, even Muslim ones. And while she’s totally in favor of taxpayer money being used to pay for kids to go to Christian schools, she’s willing to put a stop to the entire program if Muslim schools are going to be involved.

Valarie Hodges admitted that when she supported Governor Bobby Jindal’s school voucher program, she only did so because she assumed the religious school vouchers could only be used for Christian schools. Religious freedom means that everyone’s free to follow Valarie Hodges’ religion!

Okay, looks like I have a theme going here, and I did not even notice it.  But back to the Jezebel link:

As The Friendly Atheist points out, the brand of Christianity currently espoused by many in the religious right wing would be pretty unrecognizable to the Founding Fathers, who were pretty high on Deism and pretty low on Christian rock concerts/ talking about The Children’s collective virginity/ having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. But whatever. Facts are immaterial at this point.

Yup, there is no need to have facts…or science, or anything at all resembling intelligence.

Case in point: LePage calls IRS the ‘new Gestapo’  You know, this healthcare reform, ACA,  is what the GOP supported before it got signed into law and renamed after Obama.

Gov. Paul LePage used his weekly radio address to blast President Obama’s health care law and described the Internal Revenue Service as the “new Gestapo.”

The IRS description was a reference to a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires Americans not insured by their employers or Medicaid to buy health insurance or pay an annual penalty when filing their tax returns. The provision, known more broadly as the individual mandate, was the subject of a multi-state lawsuit, but was recently upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court.

LePage said the court decision has “made America less free.”

“We the people have been told there is no choice,” he said. “You must buy health insurance or pay the new Gestapo — the IRS.”

Maine Democratic Party Chairman Ben Grant, responding to LePage’s remarks, said, “We’ve come to expect a bunch of nonsense from Gov. LePage, but this is a step too far. There appears now to be no limit to the extreme language he will use to misinform, degrade and insult people. Somebody needs to explain to him that he’s the governor of a state, and not a talk radio host. I demand a full apology on behalf of all those who suffered at the hands of the real Gestapo.”

[…]

The debate over the mandate has become a political flash point since the health law was enacted. Republicans maintain that the requirement is an unfair tax. Democrats say the mandate was originally a Republican idea born from the conservative Heritage Foundation, which introduced the measure in 1989 as a counterpoint to calls for a single-payer health care system.

[…]

The governor added that Maine will not move forward the ACA’s insurance exchanges — the marketplaces where individuals can shop for health plans from private companies — until the proposed $800 million tab to pay for them passes Congress.

“With these looming uncertainties circling around this issue, Maine cannot move forward right now with Obamacare,” LePage said.

The governor finished his radio address by outlining his ideological opposition to the health-care law, which he said “raises taxes, cuts Medicare for the elderly, gets between patients and their doctors, costs trillions of taxpayer dollars, and kills jobs.”

“Even more disheartening is that reviving the American dream just became nearly impossible to do,” he said. “We are now a nation which supports dependency rather than independence. Instead of encouraging self-reliance, we are encouraging people to rely on the government.”

Oh boy…

Now, let’s move on to the latest news out of the Justice Department: Holder says civil rights ‘under renewed threat’

In an address to the National Council of La Raza convention in Las Vegas on Saturday, Attorney General Eric Holder told the Hispanic advocacy group that the gains of the Civil Rights era were coming “under renewed threat,” and touted the administration’s efforts in protecting the rights of minority groups and immigrants.

“Many of you know this firsthand – and have felt the impact of division, and even discrimination, in your own lives,” said Holder in his address, according to prepared remarks released by the Justice Department.”

The attorney general pledged that the civil rights advocacy group would “never have a more committed partner than the United States Department of Justice” and touted the administration’s record on those issues.

In particular, Holder highlighted the Supreme Court’s ruling last week striking down much of Arizona’s law targeting illegal immigration.

[…]

Holder said with the decision, the justices were “confirming the federal government’s exclusive authority to regulate with regard to immigration issues.”

But Holder, expressed concerns over the provision left standing. “We’ll work to ensure – as the Court affirmed – that such laws cannot be seen as a license to engage in racial profiling.  And we’ll continue to enforce federal prohibitions against racial and ethnic discrimination, in order – as President Obama has promised – to “uphold our tradition as a nation of laws and a nation of immigrants,” he said.

The attorney general also touted the administration’s decision to halt the deportation of some young illegal immigrants, a move popular within the Hispanic community, calling it “a significant – and long-overdue – improvement to our nation’s immigration policy.”

Holder said the next step was for lawmakers to push through more comprehensive immigration reform and he said the administration would “keep working with Congressional leaders – from both parties – to advance the passage of critical legislation like the DREAM Act.”

Hmmm, in an election year…yes, that would be a dream in itself. However according to Holder:

“Over the past three years, our Civil Rights Division has filed more criminal civil rights cases than during any other period in its history – including record numbers of human trafficking, hate crimes, and police misconduct cases,” said Holder, pledging that such efforts would remain a “top priority” for the department.

The Obama administration is also sending Vice President Biden to the convention. He is scheduled to speak on Tuesday.

Romney, however, will not be attending, and chose instead to send a surrogate, former Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez. Gutierrez was not given a speaking role and instead met with attendees at the conference.

Okay, that about does it for me. Except for one little wish, and that goes to Barney Frank…congratulations on getting hitched this weekend. Rep. Barney Frank Marries Longtime Partner In Newton

Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank tied the knot with his longtime partner Jim Ready on Saturday.

The 72-year-old congressman tried to keep the details of the private ceremony under wraps, but managed to drop enough clues to tip off the media.

Governor Patrick officiated the wedding.

Former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Al Green, Rep. Jim McGovern, and others were seen arriving at the Newton Marriott Saturday evening.

[…]

Ready, 42, lives in Ogunquit, Maine and runs a small business that does custom awnings, carpentry, painting, welding and other services; he is also a photographer.

And what are you all reading about this morning? Stay cool and don’t even bother walking outside today, give this video of Absolutely Fabulous a look-see…especially starting at the 8:20 mark. “Sweetie…Now prepare yourself for the heat…you’re not used to it.”