October 19, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Trump appointee tapped days ago to run Interior Department's watchdog office resigns amid controversy (Lisa Rein, Josh Dawsey and Juliet Eilperin October 19, 2018, Washington Post)

A top Trump administration political appointee who just two days ago was on track to lead the Interior Department's inspector general's office resigned Friday from the federal government, according to an administration official.

Suzanne Israel Tufts was scheduled to be interviewed Friday morning for another inspector general position elsewhere in the government, according to a person with knowledge of the interview. But she did not show up for the appointment.

Her departure ends a madcap week, as the administration quickly scuttled an arrangement to make Tufts acting Interior watchdog amid media reports and scrutiny from Capitol Hill lawmakers. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


Poll shows Utah voters are behind Prop 3, expanding Medicaid, which state lawmakers oppose  (Benjamin Wood, 10/19/18, Salt Lake Tribune)

Support has grown for a ballot initiative seeking to fully expand Medicaid and provide health care to roughly 150,000 low-income Utahns, according to a new Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics poll.

The poll shows 59 percent of Utah voters favor Proposition 3, up from 54 percent in a similar survey conducted in June. The share of voters opposing the initiative fell slightly from 35 percent to 33 percent between the two polls.

Obamacare is finally working (and Republicans still want to kill it) (Rick Newman, October 19, 2018, Yahoo News)

President Trump might not mind if people starting calling Obamacare Trumpcare, because the controversial health program signed into law in 2010 is finally stabilizing.

After several years of sharp rate hikes, insurance premiums for people participating in Affordable Care Act exchanges are actually due to fall in 2019. The Trump administration says the average premium for a typical plan will drop by 1.5% next year. That's based on rates insurance companies must file with the states in which they operate. About 9 million Americans buy insurance on an ACA exchange.

"There's been a lot of tumult under the ACA up till now," says Larry Levitt, a senior vice president at the Kaiser Family Foundation. "But there's no question it's viable, in the face of significant headwinds. The ACA is embedded in the health care system."

Posted by orrinj at 4:22 AM


How Republicans could (barely) hang on to the House: Unlikely? Definitely. Impossible? No. (RACHAEL BADE, 10/18/2018, Politico)

Just about every poll predicts it won't happen: Suburban voters are too fed up with Donald Trump, and Democrats too awash in cash, for Nancy Pelosi's party not to seize the House on Nov. 6.

And yet House Republicans -- and privately, even a few Democrats -- say the GOP could still hang on, if only by a few seats. [...]

Nevertheless, it's indisputable Republicans are in a serious jam: Democrats have infinitely more paths to win the chamber than Republicans do of holding it. Even Republicans admit that Democrats have already closed out about 15 races, well over halfway to the 23 seats they need to win the majority. Democrats are competing in more than 75 districts currently represented by Republicans, giving them ample room to secure the final dozen seats needed to take the majority.

At the same time, Republicans say there's no question that their lot has improved in the past few weeks. Their internal polls show the president's approval ratings have increased by an average of 5 points in a handful of swing districts, giving Republicans who were underwater a fighting chance.

GOP fortunes have improved in a grab bag of districts, from Trump strongholds where the Kavanaugh battle has energized conservatives, to racially diverse districts where incumbents with strong connections to voters appear to be staving off challengers. [...]

Of course, everything would have to break their way for Republicans to eke out a victory. For one, several party officials said it's critical that President Donald Trump not antagonize more suburban women in the run-up to the election with comments like the "horseface" insult he hurled at Stormy Daniels this week.

They also said they need to prolong the momentum of the Kavanaugh confirmation for a few more weeks -- or, better, build upon it.

Except that the seat doesn't hang in the balance.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


Justice Dept. Rank-and-File Tell of Discontent Over Sessions's Approach (Katie Benner, Oct. 19, 2018, NY Times)

During his 20 months in office, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has swept in perhaps the most dramatic political shift in memory at the Justice Department, from the civil rights-centered agenda of the Obama era to one that favors his hard-line conservative views on immigration, civil rights and social issues.

Now, discontent and infighting have taken hold at the Justice Department, in part because Mr. Sessions was so determined to carry out that transformation that he ignored dissent, at times putting the Trump administration on track to lose in court and prompting high-level departures, according to interviews over several months with two dozen current and former career department lawyers who worked under Mr. Sessions. Most asked not to be named for fear of retribution.

President Trump has exacerbated the dynamic, they said, by repeatedly attacking Mr. Sessions and the Justice Department in baldly political and personal terms. And he has castigated rank-and-file employees, which career lawyers said further chilled dissent and debate within the department.

The people interviewed -- many yearslong department veterans, and a third of whom worked under both the Bush and Obama administrations -- said that their concerns extended beyond any political differences they might have had with Mr. Sessions, who is widely expected to leave his post after November's midterm elections.

"Since I've been a lawyer, going back to the late 1970s, I can't recall a time when morale has been as low as I have heard from some former colleagues," said Robert Litt, a former Justice Department official during the Clinton administration. [...]

The president has also frequently targeted Rod J. Rosenstein, who as deputy attorney general oversees the day-to-day operations at the department as well as the special counsel investigation. In a turnabout this month, Mr. Trump declared his relationship with Mr. Rosenstein good, to the relief of some federal prosecutors. To them, Mr. Rosenstein's office symbolizes the department's independence because he oversees its inquiries into the president and his inner circle.

More unnerving, employees said, was the president's threat to remove the security clearance of Bruce Ohr, a civil servant who worked to combat Russian mobs and oligarchs. The message, said one lawyer in the criminal division: Doing your job can make you vulnerable to a career-ending attack.

Two former attorneys said that they stepped away from Russia-related work as a result.

"The underlying message from Trump is that department employees are either enemies of the White House or vassals doing its bidding," said Norman L. Eisen, who served as special counsel for ethics and government reform under Mr. Obama. Mr. Eisen is co-counsel for the plaintiffs in a lawsuit accusing Mr. Trump of violating the Constitution by maintaining a stake in his hotel in Washington.

As a target of Mr. Trump's high-profile rebukes, Mr. Sessions has gained cautious support even from some rank-and-file lawyers who find his culture wars zeal distasteful. They cited instances where he pushed back on Mr. Trump's broadsides and his simply enduring months of presidential invective.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


A President Who Believes He Is Entitled to His Own Facts (Maggie Haberman, Oct. 18, 2018, NY Times)

He accepts less-than-credible denials from autocratic heads of state about nefarious acts. He disputes the existence of man-made climate change and insists that photographic evidence of the crowd at his inauguration is fake, part of a media plot to harm him.

Over the course of 21 months, President Trump has loudly and repeatedly refused to accept a number of seemingly agreed-upon facts, while insisting on the veracity of a variety of demonstrably false claims that happen to suit his political needs. In the process, he has untethered the White House from the burden of objective proof, creating a rich trove for professional fact-checkers, and raising questions about the basis for many of his decisions.

"If there's no truth, how do we discuss and make decisions that are rooted in fact?" said Rob Stutzman, a Republican operative based in California. "It's been abandoned. And it's something that the Republican base certainly isn't going to revolt on him on. But it is a huge fundamental problem of how to govern when there are no facts." [...]

Mr. Trump's approach has profound consequences for the credibility of the presidency and the boundaries of acceptable political discourse. It also has serious ramifications for his advisers, as well as people who hear the president's words outside the United States. And, according to Mr. Hayden, it particularly affects the intelligence officials whose job it is to present Mr. Trump with the information he needs to make critical national security decisions.

"Intelligence is all about context, which is history and consequence," said Mr. Hayden, and intelligence officials are "trying to pull him into an agreed view of objective reality."

But in briefings and meetings, Mr. Trump has frequently chosen to adhere to his own beliefs on issues such as the Iran nuclear deal. He has declared that pact to be "a horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made," based on his belief that Iran was not in compliance with it, despite evidence to the contrary.

For Mr. Trump, personal relationships are more important than institutional ones. That means he "gives weight to data based on who told him, not the evidentiary stack underneath it," Mr. Hayden said.

The result is that the Russian president or the North Korean leader can seem to have a greater impact with Mr. Trump than his own State Department or C.I.A. His willingness to repeat claims like the notion that Mr. Khashoggi was the victim of "rogue killers" is a function of that, Mr. Stutzman said.

"This rhetoric really matters," he said, "in that it belies how little he fundamentally understands the institutions of American democracy."

...when the facts contradict everything you feel, it's natural to hate them.

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


'He's my guy': Trump praises Gianforte for assault on Guardian reporter (Ed Pilkington, 19 Oct 2018, The Guadian)

Donald Trump has praised Greg Gianforte, the Congress member from Montana, for violently attacking a Guardian reporter, saying that someone who performs a body slam is "my guy".

Trump described in glowing terms the physical assault that occurred on 24 May 2017 when Ben Jacobs, the Guardian's political correspondent, was asking Gianforte a question about health care policy in the course of a special congressional election in Bozeman, Montana. The US president incited cheers and chants from a crowd of about 8,000 supporters on Thursday night when he said: "Greg is smart. And by the way, never wrestle him. You understand. Never."

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 AM


A piercing screen: How Watership Down terrified an entire generation: As the animated classic turns 40, Ed Power speaks to director Martin Rosen and explores the film's legacy (Ed Power, 10/19/18, The Independent)

"That's part of nature - nature is very tough," explains Martin Rosen, Watership Down's director, speaking as the film marks its 40th anniversary this weekend. "Richard [Adams] was very strong on that element. I felt it was absolutely critical. I did not make this picture for kids at all. I insisted that the one-sheet [the film poster] indicate how strong a picture it was by having Bigwig the rabbit in a snare. I reckoned a mother with a sensitive child would see that - a rabbit in a snare with blood coming out its mouth - and reckon, 'well maybe this isn't for Charlie - it's a little too tough'." [...]

There was no PG rating in the UK in 1978 - so it was either U (universal) or 15. It was felt the former was more fitting. The film's suitability became an unlikely source of debate two years ago when Channel 5 aired it at 2.25pm on Easter Sunday. Families across Britain sat down to what they presumed would be a tale of cuddly derring-do in the woodland.

Instead, they and their children were assailed by an hour and a half of death and cruelty. After the Channel 5 switchboard and Twitter feed lit up with complaints, the head of the British Board of Film Classification intervened, saying that, released today, Watership Down would almost certainly carry a PG rating.

"The film has been a U for 38 years, but if it came in tomorrow it would not be," said David Austin. "Standards were different then." It's a debate likely to be reignited when the BBC and Netflix debut their new TV adaptation of the book this December (it's as yet unclear whether it will be as gruesome as the movie).

Adams, who died in 2016 aged 96, was aware his story could be considered visceral - but saw no reason why he should apologise. In an interview with The Telegraph in 2014, he said: "I never consider the readers. I was allowed to read anything I liked when I was little, and I liked all sorts of things that I shouldn't have been reading." [...]

[T]he idea that such films have the potential to distress an entire generation has been challenged by recent research. Death on the screen can provide a healthy basis for children to discuss difficult subjects, a 2017 University of Buffalo study found.

"These films can be used as conversation starters for difficult and what are oftentimes taboo topics like death and dying," said a study author. "These are important conversations to have with children, but waiting until the end of life is way too late."

With a BBC/Netflix adaptation due on Christmas Day, Adams's world of feuding rabbits is likely to have a fresh lease of relevance. It already has its modern equivalents: Coco is similarly matter-of-fact about the reality of death.

The notion that you're "protecting" kids from wrestling with themes like freedom v. security and the reality of death is a mark of adults being juvenile themselves.

October 18, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Move On: Read a transcript of Slow Burn: Season 2, Episode 8. (LEON NEYFAKH, OCT 17, 2018, Slate)

This last episode, mainly about Juanita Broaddrick, was spookily well-timed to coincide with the Kavanaugh, where the role of the two parties was simply reversed.

Similarly, at the end of the series the big takeaway seems to be one simple thought experiment:

Suppose a legal case for sexual assault against Donald Trump, like Summer Zervos's.

Now suppose that Stormy Daniels, or whatever consensual partner, was called to testify but was willing to lie in court about the relationship and that Donald and Michael Cohen wrote out a set of talking points for her to pass to other witnesses to help them lie about it as well.

Would any Democrat in America really say that this was not obstruction of justice? Could any decent Republican honestly disagree?

Mr. Neyfakh makes a significant mistake in telling his story almost exclusively through the lens of the relationship between Bill and Monica, when the point is that they both sought to deny Paula Jones justice in an American court of law.  That is the central truth of the impeachment that Clinton fans have to avoid.

Approved Articles of Impeachment (Washington Post, December 20, 1998)

Following is the text of the two articles of impeachment passed by the House on December 19. 

1. The president provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury regarding the Paula Jones case and his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. 

Approved by House 228-206

3. The president obstructed justice in an effort to delay, impede, cover up and conceal the existence of evidence related to the Jones case. 

Approved by House 221-212

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 PM


Saudi Arabia bans journalist for criticising Donald Trump (Samuel Osborne,  5 December 2016, The Independent)

A Saudi Arabian journalist and commentator has been banned by his country for criticising US President-elect Donald Trump.

Jamal Khashoggi has been banned from writing in newspapers, making TV appearances and attending conferences, Middle East Eye reports.

After Mr Khashoggi criticised Mr Trump's Middle East policies at a Washington think-tank on 10 November, an official Saudi spokesman said he did not represent the Kingdom in a statement to the Saudi Press Agency.

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Kelly, Bolton Get in Profane Shouting Match Outside the Oval Office (Jennifer Jacobs, October 18, 2018, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's chief of staff and his national security adviser engaged in a profanity-laced argument outside the Oval Office on Thursday, according to three people familiar with the episode.

The chief of staff, John Kelly, and the national security adviser, John Bolton, fought over immigration and border crossings, including the performance of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, one person familiar with the matter said.

Bolton criticized Nielsen, a former Kelly deputy whom he advocated to replace him at the department. Trump sided with Bolton, the person said, which may once again stir speculation that Kelly will soon depart the White House.

It would be pretty amazing if General Kelly got canned for not being sufficiently anti-immigrant.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


Just about everything you've read on the Warren DNA test is wrong (Glenn Kessler, October 18, 2018, Washington Post)

Warren's DNA was sequenced and analyzed by a group led by Carlos Bustamante, a well-regarded Stanford University geneticist. Researchers studied a fraction -- far less than 1/1000th -- of Warren's DNA, and then compared it to the DNA of 148 people from Finland, Italy, Spain, China, Nigeria and North and South America. Additional comparison was done with 185 individuals from Utah and Great Britain.

As one might expect, the vast majority of Warren's DNA indicated European ancestors. But five genetic segments were identified, with 99 percent confidence, as being associated with Native American ancestry. The largest segment identified was on Chromosome 10.

"While the vast majority of the individual's ancestry is European, the results strongly support the existence of an unadmixed Native American ancestor in the individual's pedigree, likely in the range of 6-10 generations ago," the report said. [...]

The most important point is this: The results in Warren's DNA test are static. The percentage of Native American DNA in her genome does not shrink as you go back generations. There could be one individual in the sixth generation -- living around the mid-1800s, which is similar to Warren family lore -- or possibly a dozen or more ancestors back to the 10th generation, which would be about 250 years ago. The results are consistent with a single ancestor, however.

...doesn't know their ancestry back that short a time?

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Who Will Speak for the Democrats? (Michael Hirsh, NOVEMBER 8, 2018, NY Review of Books)

If Democrats win the House (and the Senate, though that's still considered a long shot), the best-case scenario for the party may be that, as Republicans did after 2010, they fall back on their common hatred for the man in the White House.

The temptation to do this will be enormous: according to Gary Jacobson, a scholar at the University of California at San Diego who has tracked electoral data going back to the 1940s, a sitting president has never been as central an issue in a midterm election as Trump is in 2018. Despite an unemployment rate that is near mid-twentieth-century lows and other good economic news, public outrage at Trump's offensive policies and statements--the "Muslim ban," the separation of families seeking asylum, his ceaseless barrage of insults aimed at women, African-Americans, and other minorities--has kept him at 50 percent-plus disapproval ratings, according to most major polls. To become a party that stands for little else than ousting a hated president is an enticing but perilous path--especially if you fail.

The Republican Party establishment lost its base after Mitt Romney's defeat in 2012, and one can trace a direct line from that reckoning to the rise of the incendiary populist outsider who cost the party its soul (or, at the very least, its platform) and has since become the GOP's sole owner and proprietor. Or witness those sixteen hapless Trump rivals in the 2016 GOP primaries, several of whom (like Romney) tried and failed to square the demands of the base with the evidence of their more reasonable voting records (the exception being Ted Cruz, who came in second to Trump). It wasn't until August, after Trump was nominated, that Republicans really knew--for good or ill--who or what they were voting for.

Win or lose on November 6, Pelosi will have a pack of progressives at her back--and so will the eventual Democratic presidential nominee in 2020. For the Democrats this reckoning is ultimately about whether their leadership can finally acknowledge that since the Reagan era they've too often been a party of counter-punchers. They've sought merely to temper free-market ideology without offering an alternative vision of their own. Judging from her 2017 memoir, What Happened, and various postmortems, Hillary Clinton still doesn't seem to fully grasp--or at least admit--that the seeds of the (largely white) working-class distress that sank her campaign were planted during her husband's presidency, with its embrace of Wall Street deregulation and GOP-driven deficit-cutting that left a pittance for job retraining and adjustment programs.

Barack Obama did little better. Perhaps the greatest irony of his "Yes, we can" presidency was that income inequality actually increased during his terms. Obama's administration failed to send a single major Wall Street, real estate, or insurance executive to jail despite their complicity in the biggest securities fraud in history. Under pressure from the right, Obama too became a proud deficit cutter. And he submitted to his financial gurus, Tim Geithner and Larry Summers, when they argued that the moral hazard of bailing out millions of desperate underwater homeowners was far too risky, even as they shrugged off the moral hazard of bailing out big banks.

Just as Bill Clinton's greatest successes came once he had a Republican Congress to collaborate with, so too would a Democratic Congress help our protectionist, isolationist president.

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


A Drone's-Eye View of a $3 Billion Fall Foliage Heaven: There's a lot of green in those red, yellow and orange leaves. (Sally Sorte, 10/18/18, Real Clear Life)
Money really does grow on trees.

Camera-toting tourists have been descending upon New England in droves for its iconic display of fall colors, even since the autumnal equinox in the Northeast. It's a rite of autumn.

While summer is still the frontrunner, Technicolor foliage fireworks in fall account for the second most important season for tourism in this part of the U.S. Leaf-peeping has been estimated to be a $3-plus billion industry for the six states of New England, with earnings growing each year. There's a lot of green in those red, yellow and orange leaves.

The New Hampshire Division of Travel and Tourism Development projects 3 million out-of-state visitors this fall. The hotel and restaurant industry expects these visitors to translate into $1.4 billion in sales, or a 5 percent increase in spending year over year.

While many areas of the U.S. get their own version of leaf season - swaths of golden aspens in the Colorado Rocky Mountains and vibrant trails in Tennessee's Smokey Mountains - there is something quintessential about New England fall. Maple, oak, elm, pine, ash, beech, and birch trees marble that particular landscape to the delight of locals and visitors alike.

In addition to its forests' chromatic variety, New England offers an array of classic fall activities.  You can go apple picking, take a hayride, navigate a corn maze, enjoy a cider donut, frolic in a rainbow of crunchy leaves, and rev up for Halloween.

The delicious irony is that our foliage is so uniquely spectacular in no small part because we clear cut our forests when we settled here.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Study: Work less, live longer (CNN, Oct 15, 2018)

Four ways a shorter workweek could help improve your health:

       1.  Less stress

A study published in the Journal Psychological Medicine in 2011 found that working more than 55-hours per week was associated with symptoms of anxiety and depression among people ages 44 to 66 who were employed full-time.

Those who worked less had a lower risk of those symptoms.

       2.  Sleep more

A lack of sleep may lead to poor performance, memory and difficulty processing information. 

Getting the right amount of sleep can improve your health. 

       3.  Improve your heart health 

Working less could lower the risk of coronary heart disease among adults. 

       4.  Spend more time with loved ones

They can help combat loneliness and encourage a person to engage in leisure activities and exercise.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Kremlin Foe Navalny Accepts Challenge To 'Duel' (Radio Liberty, October 18, 2018)

Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has accepted a challenge to a "duel" from the head of Russia's National Guard and has proposed a venue and his weapon of choice.

In a comical-but-defiant video published on October 18, Navalny expressed his "thanks" to Rosgvardia Director Viktor Zolotov and offered to meet him in a live televised debate. [...].

Despite the sometimes-humorous nature of the video, Navalny offered strong criticism of Zolotov and Putin's administration.

He said that, with the original challenge to a duel, Zolotov had "proven" that "inadequate and insane" people are in power in Russia.

He added that Zolotov and Putin are turning Russia into "a banana republic."

Navalny showed images of luxurious properties in and around Moscow and in other Russian regions, claiming they were bought by Zolotov and members of his family for "stolen money."

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Treasury Secretary Mnuchin backs out of Saudi conference amid Khashoggi situation (KATHRYN WATSON, 10/18/18,  CBS NEWS)

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin will not attend the Future Investment Initiative summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as questions linger about what happened to journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Mnuchin and White House press secretary Sarah Sanders announced on Twitter Thursday.

'tis well we face no challenges, because this is the weakest presidency since Geral Ford's.

Posted by orrinj at 3:35 PM


Japan eases immigration restrictions to fill chronic care worker shortage (Sally Herships, 10/18/18, PRI)

Walk through the sliding glass doors of the Shirokane no Mori nursing home in Tokyo and you'll find a cabinet with individual cubbies where visitors can leave their shoes and borrow a pair of slippers. 

It feels homey for the seniors and care workers who spend their days with them. 

"I like Japan. It's very convenient. You can go to go anywhere by train," says 29-year-old Putu Supadmi, a care worker from Indonesia, through a translator. "I don't need any motorcycle or vehicles or cars. And everything is clean and the food is tasty. So I like it."

Supadmi has a big smile and a long black ponytail. She's been taking care of people at this nursing home for four years. Japan needs more workers like her because its aging population doesn't have enough workers to care for the elderly. 

 By 2040, one in three among Japan's 111 million people is projected to be elderly, according to Japan's National Institute of Population and Social Security Research.

In the past, Japan allowed mostly highly skilled professionals in the country. Now, due to severe labor shortages, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has ordered the government to look into new policies that would attract less skilled workers to fill additional jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Analysis: Israel torn between Saudi Arabia, Turkey on Khashoggi affair (Ben Caspit, October 18, 2018, Al Monitor)

Behind the scenes, Israel continues to side with Saudi Arabia. As such, it has no choice but "overlook" the Khashoggi incident. "The fight against Iran stunts everything else," one senior Israeli minister told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. "Israel's national security and the Iranian threat top our agenda, whereas Saudi Arabia's internal affairs are less important and less interesting [to Israel] right now."

The minister added, "If this had happened during the Obama administration, the Americans would have turned against Saudi Arabia at full speed, as seen in the president's Cairo speech [2009]."

According to the minister, Trump takes the opposite approach, which is much more suited to the circumstances of the Middle East. "It should be remembered," the minister said, "that [former President Barack] Obama was quick to throw [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak under the bus, as soon as the demonstrations erupted in Tahrir Square. With him, democracy came before all else. With Trump, that would never have happened. The president understands handling the Iran issue is more important now, and democracy will have to wait. After all, the ideals of President Thomas Jefferson don't really exist here, in the Middle East."

Donald, Bibi and the Sa'uds hate Iran precisely because it is democratic. And they are anti-American because of those ideals.

Posted by orrinj at 4:30 AM


Social Justice Warriors Aren't Funny: Laughter and enjoyment are out, emotional support are in, as Netflix's latest comedy special makes clear. (SCOTT BEAUCHAMP, October 16, 2018, American Conservative)

There's an older episode of The Green Room with Paul Provenza when the late Patrice O'Neal, arguably one of the best stand-up comics in recent history, gets serious for a moment, saying: "I love being able to say anything I want. I had to learn how to stop caring about people not laughing. Because the idea of comedy, really, is not everybody should be laughing. It should be about 50 people laughing and 50 people horrified. There should be people who get it and people who don't get it."

O'Neal gets right to the chaotic, trickster heart of comedy with that statement. Comedy at its best balances humor against shock-not necessarily vulgarity, mind you, but a sort of unsettling surprise. It's a topsy-turvy glimpse at an uncanny, upside-down world, which, if the joke lands, provides a bulwark against torpor and complacency. Great comedy inhabits the absurdity of the world. It makes itself into a vantage point from which everything seems delightfully ridiculous, including (often especially) the comedians themselves. We wouldn't need comedy in a world that wasn't absurd. Perhaps that's why Dante only included humor in his Inferno. There is no absurdity in paradise.

Unfortunately, Hannah Gadsby's Nanette, a comedy special recently released on Netflix, only embraces the non-laughter half of O'Neal's dictum. It's the very epitome of self-serious, brittle, didactic, SJW "comedy." It's not funny. And worse, it's not meant to be. Gadsby, a queer Australian comedian, uses her "stand-up special" as a way to destroy the very medium she pretends to be professionally engaged in. Her basic argument is that, since comedy is by its very nature self-deprecating (true), people who define themselves as members of an oppressed minority shouldn't engage in comedy because they're only participating in the violence already being done to them by society at large.

To take existence that seriously is to oppress oneself.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Khashoggi Crisis Widens Trump Rift With Congress on Saudi Arabia (Toluse Olorunnipa  and Daniel Flatley, October 18, 2018, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump is facing increased pressure from Congress over his handling of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's disappearance, exposing a widening rift between the White House and Capitol Hill over the U.S. relationship with Saudi Arabia.

Lawmakers from Trump's own party, including the president's ally Senator Lindsey Graham, are openly voicing their discontent and threatening to sanction the Saudi government over the objections of the president, who has sought to build a closer relationship with Riyadh.

The stark differences underscore that Saudi Arabia enjoys far greater respect in the Oval Office than in the Capitol. Many lawmakers harbor a distrust of the kingdom dating back to its connection to the Sept. 11 attacks. Its bloody involvement in Yemen's civil war and interference in Lebanese politics have cost it further U.S. support.

The Trump administration, meanwhile -- led by the president's son-in-law, Jared Kushner -- has drawn ever closer to the Saudis as it fashions a strategy in the Mideast that revolves around the kingdom.

The saving grace of the past two years is that no one cares what Donald wants.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 AM


Revealed: Russian billionaire set up US company before Trump Tower meeting (Jon Swaine and Scott Stedman, 18 Oct 2018, The Guardian)

The billionaire, Aras Agalarov, created the US company anonymously while preparing to move almost $20m into the country during the time of the presidential election campaign, according to interviews and corporate filings.

The company was set up for him in May 2016 by his Russian-born accountant, who has also managed the US finances of compatriots accused of mishandling millions of dollars. One of those clients has its own connection to the Trump Tower meeting.

In June 2016, Agalarov allegedly offered Trump's team damaging information from the Kremlin about Hillary Clinton, their Democratic opponent. The offer led Trump's eldest son to hold a meeting at their Manhattan offices that is now a focus of the inquiry into Moscow's election interference by Robert Mueller, the special counsel.

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 AM


Bourgeoisie of the World, Unite! (Oliver Wiseman, 10/16/18, Human Progress)

Homi Kharas and Kristofer Hamel, two of the researchers behind the work, done under the auspices of the World Data Lab, characterise the global middle class as having enough discretionary income to buy consumer durables like fridges and motorcycles; being able to spend money on entertainment like trips to the cinema; and being fairly confident that they can weather an economic shock without falling back into extreme poverty.

The more precise measure they use is earnings of between $11 and $110 per day on a 2011 purchasing power parity basis.

The researchers divide the world's population into four groups. They estimate that 600 million people are poor (living on under $1.90 per day); 3.2 billion people are financially vulnerable (living on between $1.90 and $11 per day); 3.6 billion people meet their definition of middle class and 200 million people are rich (living on more than $110 per day).

Explaining the significance of what they are describing, Kharas and Hamel do not mince their words: "For the first time since agriculture-based civilization began 10,000 years ago, the majority of humankind is no longer poor or vulnerable to falling into poverty."

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 AM


US is seeing 'relentless rise in household wealth,' Credit Suisse report says (Holly Ellyatt, 10/18/18, CNBC)

Household wealth in the U.S. is continuing to see an "unbroken spell of wealth gains" but China has replaced Japan in second place in the world wealth hierarchy, according to Credit Suisse's latest report on global wealth.

During the 12 months since the bank's last report to mid-2018, aggregate global wealth rose by $14 trillion to $317 trillion, representing a growth rate of approximately 4.6 percent, according to the Global Wealth Report 2018, published by Credit Suisse's Research Institute on Thursday.

This growth rate was lower than last year, but higher than the average growth rate in the post-2008 era, the report noted.

"The United States continued its unbroken spell of wealth gains since the global financial crisis, adding another $6 trillion to the stock of global wealth," Credit Suisse's annual report noted, saying that rising household wealth in the U.S. was "seemingly relentless."

Total wealth and wealth per adult in the U.S. have grown every year since 2008, even when total global wealth suffered a reversal in 2014 and 2015. The U.S. has accounted for 40 percent of all increments to world wealth since 2008, and 58 percent of the rise since 2013, Credit Suisse said.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


What the Arab world needs most is free expression (Jamal Khashoggi, October 17, 2018, Washington Post)

A note from Karen Attiah, Global Opinions editor

I received this column from Jamal Khashoggi's translator and assistant the day after Jamal was reported missing in Istanbul. The Post held off publishing it because we hoped Jamal would come back to us so that he and I could edit it together. Now I have to accept: That is not going to happen. This is the last piece of his I will edit for The Post. This column perfectly captures his commitment and passion for freedom in the Arab world. A freedom he apparently gave his life for. I will be forever grateful he chose The Post as his final journalistic home one year ago and gave us the chance to work together.

I was recently online looking at the 2018 "Freedom in the World" report published by Freedom House and came to a grave realization. There is only one country in the Arab world that has been classified as "free." That nation is Tunisia. Jordan, Morocco and Kuwait come second, with a classification of "partly free." The rest of the countries in the Arab world are classified as "not free."

As a result, Arabs living in these countries are either uninformed or misinformed. They are unable to adequately address, much less publicly discuss, matters that affect the region and their day-to-day lives. A state-run narrative dominates the public psyche, and while many do not believe it, a large majority of the population falls victim to this false narrative. Sadly, this situation is unlikely to change.

The Arab world was ripe with hope during the spring of 2011. Journalists, academics and the general population were brimming with expectations of a bright and free Arab society within their respective countries. They expected to be emancipated from the hegemony of their governments and the consistent interventions and censorship of information. These expectations were quickly shattered; these societies either fell back to the old status quo or faced even harsher conditions than before.

My dear friend, the prominent Saudi writer Saleh al-Shehi, wrote one of the most famous columns ever published in the Saudi press. He unfortunately is now serving an unwarranted five-year prison sentence for supposed comments contrary to the Saudi establishment. 

Stifling a free press is just one of the interests Donald shares with the Sa'uds.

Posted by orrinj at 4:04 AM


Jamal Khashoggi: Pompeo all smiles in meeting with Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman over journalist disappearance (Tom Barnes, 10/18/18, Independent)

When asked if Saudi authorities had disclosed whether Mr Khashoggi was alive or dead, the secretary of state claimed the matter had not come up during discussions.

"I don't want to talk about any of the facts, they didn't want to either..."

Maybe the Sa'uds dissolved Mr. Pompeo's conscience is acid too.

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


Elizabeth Warren Falls for Trump's Trap--and Promotes Insidious Ideas About Race and DNA (Masha Gessen, October 16, 2018, The New Yorker)

She is also reinforcing one of the most insidious ways in which Americans talk about race: as though it were a measurable biological category, one that, in some cases, can be determined by a single drop of blood. Genetic-test evidence is circular: if everyone who claims to be X has a particular genetic marker, then everyone with the marker is likely to be X. This would be flawed reasoning in any area, but what makes it bad science is that it reinforces the belief in the existence of X--in this case, race as a biological category.

That danged Gould conundrum.

Posted by orrinj at 4:01 AM


Why Are Afghanistan's Elections Crucial?: How this week's parliamentary elections will reshape Afghanistan's political future. (Noah Coburn, October 16, 2018, The Diplomat)

One of the successes of the past 17 years has been to entrench the idea of elections as the key to political transitions in Afghanistan. This fragile step toward democratization and the idea that the government can be held accountable to the people could be undermined by a failed or deeply contested voting process. The progress in recent weeks of talks between the Taliban and U.S. representatives will be deeply compromised if a legitimate Afghan government is not seen as a part of the negotiation process.

Despite this, there are far fewer international monitors providing oversight and international troops providing security than in recent rounds of voting in 2009, 2010, and 2014 and there are signs that these elections could be even more destabilizing than earlier waves. To stem the violence, the Afghan government has announced that 54,000 security forces will be deployed to protect the polls. Even with these forces, already 2,000 polling stations have been deemed too risky to open, and at least seven parliamentary candidates have been killed.

To combat fraud, biometric devices are being sent to polling stations around the country, but Afghan politicians have raised concerns about their reliability, and there's a possibility that these devices could undermine the legitimacy of the elections if they are seen as being manipulated and corrupted. In previous elections, rumors about the fallibility of the ink used to mark the fingers of voters led to an increase in conspiracies about fraud.

Even before the voting there is evidence to suggest the process has been corrupted. For example, the number of voters registered in some provinces is higher than the actual number of people believed to be living there.

Public confidence in the government and the Independent Election Commission is already low. District elections, mandated in the constitution but never held, were dropped by the Commission over the summer, as were elections in the contested province of Ghazni. This suggests to many Afghans that the commission may not be equipped to manage either the logistics or the political pressure that will come with this vote.

Other indicators are more positive and there has been a large amount of interest and mobilization around a series of younger parliamentary candidates. Many of these candidates, who have been educated and come of age in the years since the U.S. invasion in 2001, represent a genuine alternative from the generation of Afghan leaders who earned their reputations during the war against the Soviets and the ensuing civil war that tore the country apart.

The issue is that even if young incumbents are elected to replace this older generation, there is little to suggest that the outgoing members of parliament will go quietly. In the 2014 election, supporters of both current President Ashraf Ghani and CEO Abdullah Abdullah dismissed the vote as corrupted. When the threats of violence became more serious, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry stepped in to negotiate a truce between the two sides. With 250 seats up for grabs, negotiating between various interest groups, commanders and political parties will be far more challenging.

Posted by orrinj at 4:00 AM


One step at a time: desperate families join the migrant caravan: Thousands are walking to US border, away from hunger and violence of Central America (José Alejandro García, 18 Oct 2018, The Guardian)

More than 2,000 people fleeing poverty and violence have joined the convoy of people travelling on masse through Central America, walking along the roadside with strollers and wheelchairs or hitching rides on pickup trucks and buses.

Five days after they set off from the Honduran city of San Pedro Sula, they have already crossed much of neighbouring Guatemala. And despite growing fatigue, many said they were determined to reach the United States and ask for asylum. Few seemed aware of Donald Trump's demand that regional governments stop them - or of Mexico's warning that anyone who enters the country in an "irregular manner" faces detention and deportation.

On Wednesday, Mexico's government sent two planeloads of federal forces to the border city of Tapachula, some of the equipped with riot gear. The deployment suggested that Mexico would not allow the caravan to head north together as it did with a similar group in April, infuriating Trump.

Most of the migrants said they were trying to escape the biting poverty and breathtaking violence that has turned Central America into one of the most dangerous regions in the world. Luz Abigail, 34, was traveling with her one-year-old son. "It's so hard to hear my boy say: 'Mami, I'm hungry' - and know that I only have enough money to buy him a juice box," she says.

One of the few unaccompanied children with the group was Mario David, 12, who left home in Honduras because his family is so impoverished. "The little money we have gets stolen by the gangs," he said.

Mario said he hoped to reach the US and get an education and a job. What would he study? "Anything - as long as I can make a good buck," he laughed.

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