March 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Chuck Berry (RIP) Reviews Punk Songs by The Ramones, Sex Pistols, The Clash, Talking Heads & More (1980) (Open Culture, March 18th, 2017)

When the punk wave broke in the UK and the States in the mid-1970s, it threatened to leave behind the established rock bands that once seemed so rebellious. Pete Townshend, the guitar-smashing songwriter of The Who, said: "I kind of welcomed [the arrival of punk], challenged it, and wanted it to happen, and then I realized that the person they wanted to shoot was me." And indeed Sid Vicious, of the Sex Pistols, would say, "I don't have any heroes. They're all useless to me."

And yet despite the posturing, punk remained rooted in the rock tradition, paying tribute, whether they knew it or not, to their musical fathers (The Beatles, The Who, The Stones) and even the grandfathers (Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly). In Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk (a book I completely recommend) editor Legs McNeil writes:

Then the Ramones came back, and counted off again, and played their best eighteen minutes of rock n roll that I had ever heard. You could hear the Chuck Berry in it, which was all I listened to, that and the Beatles second album with all the Chuck Berry covers on it.

It all goes back to Chuck Berry, and Berry knew it. In a 1980 interview with the zine Jet Lag, Berry shared his thoughts on the punk anthems of the day and spotted his influence in many of them.

People tend not to get that punk rock was nostalgic and just a way to purge rock of the pernicious pretensions of the Beatles.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Inside Trump's White House, New York moderates spark infighting and suspicion (Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, March 18, 2017, Washington Post)

Inside the White House, they are dismissed by their rivals as "the Democrats."

Outspoken, worldly and polished, this coterie of ascendant Manhattan business figures-turned-presidential advisers is scrambling the still-evolving power centers swirling around President Trump.

Led by Gary Cohn and Dina Powell -- two former Goldman Sachs executives often aligned with Trump's eldest daughter and his son-in-law -- the group and its broad network of allies are the targets of suspicion, loathing and jealousy from their more ideological West Wing colleagues.

On the other side are the Republican populists driving much of Trump's nationalist agenda and confrontations, led by chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, who has grown closer to Chief of Staff Reince Priebus in part to counter the New Yorkers.

As Trump's administration enters its third month, the constant jockeying and backbiting among senior staff is further inflaming tensions at a time when the White House is struggling on numerous fronts -- from the endangered health-care bill to the controversial budget to the hundreds of top jobs still vacant throughout the government.

The emerging turf war has led to fights over White House protocol and access to the president, backstabbing and leaks to reporters, and a heated Oval Office showdown over trade refereed by the president himself.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Israel threatens to 'destroy' Syrian air defence systems  (AFP, 3/19/17) 

Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Sunday threatened to destroy Syrian air defence systems after they fired ground-to-air missiles at Israeli warplanes carrying out strikes.

"The next time the Syrians use their air defence systems against our planes we will destroy them without the slightest hesitation," Lieberman said on Israeli public radio.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Key U.S. Senate committee leaders say Russia sanctions must remain (Patricia Zengerle, 3/19/17, Reuters)

Senator Mike Crapo, the panel's Republican chairman, said reducing sanctions could encourage Moscow to continue aggressive actions, three years after it annexed Ukraine's Crimea region.

Senator Sherrod Brown, the ranking Democrat, said the panel should look at increasing sanctions.

"Russia remains a hostile, recalcitrant power, deploying its military, cyber-enabled information espionage activities and economic tactics to harm the United States and drive a wedge between it and its allies," Crapo said. [...]

Trump's first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, was forced from that position last month after revelations that he had discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia with Moscow's ambassador to the United States before Trump took office.

Brown noted a report by U.S. intelligence agencies concluding that Russia sought to interfere in the 2016 U.S. election on Trump's behalf. He said the committee should focus on how it can strengthen its response to Russia.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Debate over Southern Baptist leader exposes racial rift (ADELLE M. BANKS, 3/18/17, Religion News Service)

A total of 81 percent of white evangelicals voted for Trump. But the nation's largest evangelical denomination is also striving to improve its race relations -- especially given its Civil War-era history of defending slavery -- and Moore has been one of the SBC's most vocal champions of that effort.

Alan Cross, a Southern Baptist minister who authored a book on racism and Southern evangelicals, said the declarations by black Southern Baptists "were very strong and I do believe were key in moving this in a healthy direction."

"Seeing the SBC led by African-American pastors in calling for reconciliation in this divide is significant," he said.

Two of three recent statements featuring black leaders' support of Moore compare him to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., a leader whose messages about justice were rejected by some of his generation, including some Southern Baptists. [...]

[Former Southern Baptist Convention President Fred Luter]s was the first name on a letter posted on the New Orleans Baptist Association website responding to a request received by the Louisiana Baptist Convention to study recent actions by the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

"Dr. Moore speaks with a prophetic voice to this generation," said Luther and other signatories, including black, white and Hispanic Baptists. "We may not like everything that he says, but we fear what our faith community may become if we lose his voice."

Moore has told RNS that he is confident he will remain in his post. Ken Barbic, who chairs the ERLC board, has described Moore as "a Gospel-centered and faithful voice for Southern Baptists."

A third endorsement came from Arlington, Texas, pastor Dwight McKissic, who suggested that predominantly minority churches may want to determine their future contributions to the Southern Baptist Convention based on the final decision on Moore's status in the denomination.

"The implications of the Executive Committee's investigative report is staggering and could be tantamount to an earthquake in the Convention," McKissic predicted.

"If Moore is marginalized or fired, 80-90 percent of Southern Baptist Black Churches who share Moore's views on President Trump would also simultaneously feel as if their political convictions regarding the current President of the United States would also be officially reprimanded, rejected and rebuked by the Southern Baptist Convention."

McKissic proposed the original language for the resolution adopted at last year's SBC annual meeting that called for repudiating the Confederate flag, a step Moore called for the previous year, saying "Let's take down that flag."

When that statement was adopted, Moore said Southern Baptists "made history in the right way."

"This denomination was founded by people who wrongly defended the sin of human slavery," he said. "Today, the nation's largest Protestant denomination voted to repudiate the Confederate battle flag, and it's time and well past time."

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


Let's give workers a retirement savings plan at work (Gary Burtless, March 7, 2017, Brookings)

Automatic payroll withholding to help workers save for retirement should be a no-brainer. Both conservatives and liberals worry that Social Security will lack funds to pay for promised benefits after 2030. At the same time, about one-third of workers are "not too confident" or "not at all confident" they will have enough money to live comfortably when they retire. Under these circumstances it seems sensible to make it as easy as possible for workers to save for retirement in the workplace. Twelve years ago George W. Bush proposed giving workers the option of placing up to 4% of their wages or $1,000 in private retirement accounts. (The funds would have come from workers' Social Security contributions.) Oddly, however, most conservative lawmakers are opposed to practical steps to put retirement savings plans in every workplace. This position seems puzzling in view of conservatives' opposition to raising taxes to pay for future Social Security pensions. If Social Security benefits must be trimmed to keep the system solvent, it makes sense to offer all workers, including those without a company pension plan, a simple way to accumulate private retirement savings. [...]

When enrollment in a retirement plan is simple and when savings are automatically subtracted from wages in each pay period, the great majority of prime-age workers will accumulate retirement savings. Even if many end up saving too little, all will have the opportunity of saving something. Most will accumulate more than would be the case if they were forced to save outside of a workplace plan.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Islamic State's wane sets the stage for regional superpower Iran  (Avi Issacharoff, 3/19/17, The Times of Israel)

Not much is left of the Syria of six years ago. Nearly half a million people have been killed and unknown millions have been wounded. Five million people have left their homes, either displaced or as refugees (a fifth of a population of approximately 22 million). Syria's economy is crushed, its infrastructures is in ruins, and its population suffers from constant shortages of power, water, and proper medical treatment.

What the Astana talks have made abundantly clear is that Syria is no longer in Syrian hands. An unholy mixture of superpower and other foreign interests is reshaping the map of what used to be Syria. Its coastal strip and several of its large cities are still controlled by Bashar Assad, the nominal president. That area, once known as "Alawistan" for the politically dominant Alawite branch of Islam, is now known by Israeli officials as "Assadistan" (because Sunni residents are the majority in those areas by close to 70 percent), while the rest of the territory is divided among moderate rebel groups, extremists such as Islamic State and Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, Kurds and Turkey.

But the picture is even more complicated. The influence of foreign players such as Russia, the United States, and, of course, Iran, is visible in those areas as well. Islamic State's weakness in the region and its loss of the territory that it used to control -- due to massive American aerial attacks, among other things -- has resulted, simultaneously, in the entrenchment of significant Iranian influence throughout Syria, mainly in the areas controlled by Assad.

Thus Iran, as it takes advantage of the civil war in Syria and Islamic State's takeover in Iraq, is looking more and more like the big winner of the Arab Spring in the region stretching from Tehran to Latakia and southward to Beirut. The Shiite crescent, which King Abdullah of Jordan warned about more than a decade ago, is amassing unprecedented power in the region even without possessing an atomic bomb and with its nuclear program frozen. If the saying "Islam is the solution" was common in the past, particularly among the Sunnis (in reference to groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas), perhaps the saying from now on should be that Shiite Islam is the solution.