July 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:35 PM


An ultra-Orthodox rabbi explains why his community opposes the Western Wall deal (ANDREW TOBIN, July 4, 2017, JTA)

According to Nachum Eisenstein, the chief rabbi of eastern Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox Ma'alot Dafna neighborhood, Reform and Conservative Judaism threaten to undermine the survival of the Jewish people.

"The reason why Judaism is the only religion that survived throughout thousands of years and all the massacres and all the attempts to destroy it is that the ours is the only religion that has always been the same, the way it was given to us on Mount Sinai," Eisenstein said in an interview. "Who gave you, the Conservative and the Reform, the authority to make up a new religion?"

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


The man who went on a hike - and never stopped walking (Robert Moor, 3 July 2017, The Guardian)

In his 61st year on this earth, the man who calls himself Nimblewill Nomad left home and walked a very long way through the mountains - about 10 million steps, he estimates, or 4,400 miles. Then, he took another, even longer walk. And then another one. And then another. Soon, he had given away almost all of his money and taken to walking almost year-round, roaming the post-industrial wilderness of North America in what he called "a desperate search for peace".

His fellow long-distance hikers speak of him in mythical terms. They told me that, in order to avoid foot infections, he had chosen to have all 10 of his toenails surgically removed. He was said to never carry more than 10lbs on his back, and to have invented a tiny stove that ran on twigs and grass, so he wouldn't have to carry fuel.

Over 15 years, he had hiked 34,000 miles. First he completed the so-called Triple Crown of long-distance trails: the Appalachian trail (2,200 miles), the Pacific Crest trail (2,650 miles), and the Continental Divide trail (3,100 miles). Then he went on to complete all 11 national scenic trails in 2013. Triumphant, fulfilled, and nearing his 75th birthday, he vowed to hang up his hiking boots.

Then, the next spring, he was back. He announced he would complete a grueling road-walk from New Mexico to Florida, in order to complete a route he had named the Great American Loop, which connected the four farthest corners of the continental US. This, he claimed, would be his last long hike.  [...]

In west Texas, the highway stretched in a straight line to a vanishing point on the horizon. Space and time started to play tricks on him. He walked for hours each day and never seemed to progress, the distant mountains retreating faster than he could catch them. The highway was lined with mileage markers, and he checked each one to convince himself that the numbers were changing.

His plan was to walk from gas station to gas station, but buildings of any kind were sometimes dozens of miles apart. If people hadn't stopped to give him water, he may well have died. When he emerged from the desert, vultures were circling ominously over his head.

Other than the vultures, almost all of the wildlife he had seen was dead (most of it roadkill), including a crushed coral snake, two mule deer, a raccoon, an armadillo, numerous birds, and a group of dead coyotes wired, inexplicably, to a fence. [...]

He retired in 1993 and began spending more time living alone on a plot of land he was developing beside Nimblewill creek in Georgia. He and his wife started to drift apart. There followed a dark period of about five years, about which he said he didn't remember much. When I later called up his sons - neither of whom had spoken with him in years - they recalled him as a caring father and a dutiful provider, but also someone who was easily frustrated, prone to bouts of drunken brooding, and, occasionally, loud (but never violent) outbursts of rage.

His new house sat near the base of Springer Mountain, which he would regularly climb. His hikes gradually grew longer; he began systematically hiking the Appalachian trail section by section, eventually reaching as far as Pennsylvania. Then, in 1998, at the age of 60, he decided to set out on his first "odyssey", a 4,400 walk from Florida to Cap Gaspé in Quebec, along a sketchy agglomeration of trails, roads, and a few pathless wilderness areas.

Not long before, he had been diagnosed with a heart block, but he declined the doctor's admonitions to have a pacemaker installed. His sons assumed he would not make it home alive.

On the trail, Eberhart renamed himself after his adopted home, Nimblewill creek. He began in the swamps of Florida and hiked north on flooded trails, where the dark, reptilian waters sometimes reached to his waist. When he emerged from the swamps, all 10 of his toenails fell off. By the time he reached Quebec, it was already late October.

Over the past nine months, he had experienced a slow religious awakening, but his faith was shaken as he passed through those grim, freezing mountains. "Dear Lord, why have you forsaken me?" he asked, upon seeing the weather darken one day at the base of Mont Jacques Cartier. However, a lucky break in the storm allowed him to reach the snowy mountaintop, where he sat in the sun, feeling "the warm presence of a forgiving God". After reaching the trail's end, he returned to the south (on the back of a friend's motorcycle) and, in a blissful denouement, walked another 178 miles from a town near Miami down to the Florida Keys, where he settled into "a mood of total and absolute, perfect contentment, most near nirvana".

He returned home a different man. He stopped showering. He kept his hair long. He began ruthlessly shedding his possessions; over the course of three days, he burned most of the books he had collected over his lifetime, one by one, in a barrel in his front yard.

In 2003, he and his wife divorced. He ceded the house and most of his assets to his ex-wife, and signed over his other real estate holdings, including the land at Nimblewill creek, to his two sons in an irrevocable trust. Since then, he has lived solely off his social security checks. If those funds ran out by the end of the month, he went hungry. But what he had gained was the freedom to walk full time, which felt to him like freedom itself. "As if with each step," he wrote, "these burdens were slowly but surely being drained from my body, down to the treadway beneath my feet and onto the path behind me."

Three days I walked with Eberhart, through swampland and farmland and urban wasteland. To pass the hours, we talked; sometimes we argued. I discovered he held a fierce belief in an almighty God, and could not bring himself to believe in the science of Darwinian evolution or anthropogenic climate change. He also held a dogged belief in personal freedom, including the freedom to pollute the atmosphere with fossil fuels. "If I want to buy an airplane and fill it full of a thousand gallons of fifty-dollar-a-gallon fuel, and I got the money to do it, goddamn it, leave me alone!" he exclaimed at one point, in exasperation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 PM


Teenagers Have Stopped Getting Summer Jobs--Why? (DEREK THOMPSON  JUN 9, 2017, The Atlantic)

[T]eenagers aren't spending more time on the couch, but rather spending more time in the classroom. Education is to blame, rather than indolence. Teens are remaining in high school longer, going to college more often, and taking more summer classes. The percent of recent high-school graduates enrolled in college--both two-year and four-year--has grown by 25 percentage points. That is almost exactly the decline in the teenage labor-force participation rate.

With tougher high-school requirements and greater pressure to go to college, summer classes are the new summer job. The percent of 16-to-19-year-olds enrolled in summer school has tripled in the last 20 years, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The rise may be directly related to the fact that parents and high schools are encouraging students to take on more classwork, according to Ben Steverman, a Bloomberg reporter who covers teen employment. He finds that the percentage of high-school grads completing at least four years of English, three years of science, math, and social science, and two years of foreign language has sextupled since the early 1980s.

No tradition is more American than our certitude that Education is failing, even as it keeps improving.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


New political alliance unites Iraqi religious and secular parties (Hassan al-Shanoun, July 2, 2017, Al Monitor)

The Sadrists traditionally have been led by activist Shiite cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, while Al-Wataniya has generally been seen as a secular party.

The Sadrist Political Committee issued a statement, saying, "The two parties have agreed on forming a parliamentary front that includes members from the movement and coalition. The members are to reach understandings that are in line with the post-Mosul liberation phase [from the Islamic State (IS)] and expedite the rectification of the electoral process by changing the members of the electoral commission and choosing independent figures who live up to people's expectations. The Sadrist-Allawi alliance also is to approve a new electoral law that guarantees voter opinion and contributes to a political process that respects Iraqis' will."

Al-Wataniya coalition member of parliament Jamila al-Obeidi said that the Sadrist movement is the group closest to having a unified national identity, making it easier to reach a political agreement with the Sadrists to serve the country.

Sadr becomes first Iraqi Shi'ite leader to urge Assad to step down (Reuters, 4/09/17)

Iraq's influential Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr called on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to "take a historic heroic decision" and step down, to spare his country further bloodshed.

Sadr, who commands a large following among the urban poor of Baghdad and the southern cities, is the first Iraqi Shi'ite political leader to urge Assad to step down.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Iraq's triumph and trials in fight against Islamic State (BEN KESLING, 7/03/17, The Wall Street Journal)

Three years ago, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi proclaimed the existence of an Islamic State caliphate and proceeded to sweep his forces through northern Iraq and towards Baghdad, threatening the viability of the fragile country.

Today, the leader declaring an end to the caliphate is someone few would have imagined in the position, Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. A man seen as the favourite of none but acceptable to all, the 65-year-old former electrical engineer has managed to turn that tepid sentiment into a defining strength.

Over nearly three years in office, Abadi has narrowed gaps between Iraq's warring Shia and Sunni politicians. He balanced competing interests among geopolitical rivals Iran and the US, and spearheaded an overhaul of Iraqi security forces, which had fled advancing Islamic State fighters. Iraq is close to retaking Mosul, Islamic State's psychologically important stronghold.

"Abadi has magnificently shifted between leading and balancing," says Jon Alterman, director of the Middle East program at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "If he led too much then there'd be too many alienated people, and if he balanced too much there would be no forward progress."

Today, Iraq's security forces are on the verge of defeating Islamic State, the key requirement if the nation wants to enjoy a stable and cohesive future, despite daunting challenges that remain. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


Saudi-led Qatar blockade brings Iran, Turkey together (Saeid Jafari, July 3, 2017, Al Monitor)

Turkey's decision to stand by Qatar has divided the region in two. On the one side are Saudi Arabia and its Arab allies who are against Doha, and on the other side are Turkey, Iran and, to a lesser extent, Russia, who supports Doha.

Turkey, and especially President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has continually enjoyed close ties with Qatar's leaders. Their joint support for the Muslim Brotherhood is strong commonality between the two nations. After the fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Erdogan expressed full backing for the Brotherhood and Egypt's president at the time, Mohammed Morsi. This is while Qatar has also had close ties with the Brotherhood and enjoys warm relations with the Palestinian Hamas movement. These two groups have always been at the center of Saudi hostility, which is why it was not surprising that on June 7 Turkey's parliament ratified military agreements that allowed its troops to be deployed to a Turkish military base in Qatar.

The Sa'uds are demanding that the Qataris abandon democratic movements and the free press.  It's obvious which is the American side.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


American Reds, Soviet Stooges (Harvey Klehr, JULY 3, 2017, NY Times)

It was not until 1956, when Khrushchev told Soviet Communists that Stalin had been a mass murderer, that American Communists were willing to believe what had been widely known for years. The persecutions of McCarthyism and the Cold War seriously depleted the ranks of the C.P.U.S.A., but it took the word of a Soviet Communist leader to destroy the faith in Communism that had sustained many Americans. By 1959, the C.P.U.S.A., which had once numbered nearly 100,000 members, was reduced to fewer than 3,000.

The C.P.U.S.A.'s vulnerability had a great deal to do with its dependence on Moscow. For much of its existence, the party could not have functioned without Moscow gold. One of its first leaders, the journalist John Reed, was given more than a million rubles' worth of czarist jewels and diamonds to smuggle into America to support the fledgling American movement. In the 1920s, Armand Hammer, the future head of Occidental Petroleum, used money derived from Soviet concessions to underwrite The Daily Worker and fund communist operations in Europe. Without Soviet money, the C.P.U.S.A. would not have been able to hire the hundreds of full-time organizers and support an array of front groups and publications that enabled it to outspend and out-organize its left-wing rivals.

Beginning in the late '50s and continuing into the late '80s, the K.G.B. delivered millions of dollars to the C.P.U.S.A. through two brothers, Jack and Morris Childs, both of whom were actually working for the F.B.I. as double agents. These subsidies, carefully monitored by the F.B.I., kept the C.P.U.S.A. alive as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Soviet Union. In return, the longtime party leader, Gus Hall, faithfully supported every Soviet foreign policy initiative, ranging from the U.S.S.R.'s conduct during the Cuban missile crisis to the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968 and the party's subsequent denunciations of Eurocommunism.

Several hundred American Communists carried their devotion to the Soviet Union even further, working, mostly without recompense, for Soviet intelligence agencies. Virtually all of the approximately 500 Americans who served as Soviet spies between the '30s and early '50s, including senior government officials like Alger Hiss, Harry Dexter White and Laurence Duggan, were either Communists or Communist sympathizers. The C.P.U.S.A. had a clandestine apparatus that cooperated with the K.G.B. and the Soviet intelligence directorate, vetting potential recruits and occasionally suggesting useful sources. Three successive party leaders -- Lovestone, Browder and Eugene Dennis -- knew and approved of this relationship.

That the leaders of an American political party always under attack for its Soviet connections would take the incredibly risky step of actually working with Soviet intelligence speaks volumes about the ultimate loyalties of the American Communist Party. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


'I Have Passed the Point of Reacting': How the Watergate News Cycle Reads Today (JON MEACHAM, JULY 2, 2017, NY Times Book Review)

Afterward, she couldn't recall who had the idea first. It was Tuesday, Sept. 4, 1973, and Elizabeth Drew, a newly hired Washington writer for The New Yorker, came in to see the magazine's editor, William Shawn, after Labor Day weekend. "I told him that I had an intuition that within a year this country would change vice president and president," Ms. Drew recalled in an introduction to a 40th-anniversary edition of her 1974 book, "Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon's Downfall." Vice President Spiro T. Agnew, a popular figure with the growing conservative base of the Republican Party, was facing suspicions of accepting bribes for services rendered during his years as governor of Maryland. More important, President Richard M. Nixon seemed incapable of putting Watergate -- a catchall term for the White House's involvement in political espionage, break-ins and subsequent cover-ups -- behind him. The result of the conversation: Ms. Drew would begin to write a journal of life in Washington for the magazine. [...]

The power of the Drew volume comes from the slow but steady accretion of detail. When it is reported that the Nixons had paid $792.81 in income taxes in 1970 and $878.03 in 1971, a White House spokesman says only this: "We consider that the President's tax returns are private, just like any other citizen's, and we're not going to comment further." The pace of events was dizzying. Agnew resigns and pleads no contest in court. Nixon's men authorize a break-in at the office of the Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg's psychiatrist. Breathtaking White House tapes dribble out. "The city seems to be reeling around amidst the events and the breaking stories," Ms. Drew writes. "In the restaurants, the noise level is higher. At the end of the day, someone says, 'It's like being drunk.'"

There was no respite. "One gets a picture of the president and several of his formerly most trusted aides circling each other, each of them in a position to put the knife to the others," Ms. Drew writes. "It is the court of the Borgias. It is the government of the United States." The labor leader George Meany speculates openly about Nixon's "dangerous emotional instability," and Nixon pounds the press, advising Americans to beware "frantic, hysterical reporting." When Carl Albert, the speaker of the House, is asked his view of the disappearance of key conversations from the White House tapes, he says simply, "I have passed the point of reacting." Nixon's assistant John Ehrlichman, musing about the nature of the Republic, says: "The president is the government." The whole political life of the nation beggared belief. "It is harder than ever to know where reality stops and fantasy begins," Ms. Drew wrote. "When, time after time, the incredible proves to be fact, it's quite an achievement for something to remain incredible."

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 AM



The modern navy has many ladders. Its officers can earn their stripes at sea or in the air. They can prosper by navigating the shoals of technocracy. But the one sure path to glory is the same as in Roman times: victory at sea. Sailing in harm's way is a matter of vocation.

Capt. Will Rogers III, USN, spent his career preparing for combat. Winning his commission in December 1965 at the age of 27, Rogers came late to the navy, but he made up for lost time with a gung-ho attitude and-after a spell on the staff of the chief of naval operations --friends in high places. In 1987, Rogers won command of the navy's most prized high-tech hip, an Aegis cruiser. The billion-dollar Vincennes seemed a sure ticket to flag rank. But Rogers, who, like many peacetime naval officers had never been under fire, longed to see action.

On July 3, 1988, Captain Rogers got his wish. He sought out and engaged the enemy in a sea battle in the Persian Gulf. From the captain's chair of a warship's combat information center, he made life-and-death decisions in the heat of conflict. It was the moment he had yearned and trained for, and it should have been the apex of his life in the service.

Only it wasn't much of a battle. Rogers had blundered into a murky, half-secret confrontation between the United States and Iran that the politicians did not want to declare and the top brass was not eager to wage. The enemy was not a disciplined naval force but ragtag irregulars in lightly armed speedboats. Fighting them with an Aegis cruiser was like shooting at rabbits with a radar-guided missile. And when it was over, the only confirmed casualties were innocent civilians: 290 passengers and crew in an Iranian Airbus that Captain Rogers's men mistook for an enemy warplane.

The destruction of Iran Air Flight 655 was an appalling human tragedy. It damaged America's world standing. It almost surely caused Iran to delay the release of the American hostages in Lebanon. It may also have given the mullahs a motive for revenge-and provoked Teheran into playing a role in the December 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103. For the navy, it was a professional disgrace. The navy's most expensive surface warship, designed to track and shoot down as many as 200 incoming missiles at once, had blown apart an innocent civilian airliner in its first time in combat. What's more, NEWSWEEK has learned, the Vincennes was inside Iranian territorial waters at the time of the shoot-down--in clear violation of international law. The top Pentagon brass understood from the beginning that if the whole truth about the Vincennes came out, it would mean months of humiliating headlines. So the U.S. Navy did what all navies do after terrible blunders at sea: it told lies and handed out medals.

This is the story of a naval fiasco, of an overeager captain, panicked crewmen, and the cover-up that followed. 

Ironically, while it was accidental, it conformed with the image of the Great Satan that the leaders of the Revolution had come to believe.  So it appeared we were willing to even shoot down passenger jets and that was an asymmetrical war too far for them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Unexpected Impact of Travel Ban (Nick Wadhams, Kartikay Mehrotra, Bob Van Voris And Erik Larson, 7/02/17, Bloomberg News)

The refugee ban will actually add more refugees.

Trump used his power to reduce refugee entries for the current fiscal year to 50,000 from the target of 110,000 set by President Barack Obama. But the number of refugees who enter the U.S. is likely to end up higher. Under the Supreme Court's June 26 ruling, refugees who have "bona fide" ties to the country may be admitted, and they don't count as part of the cap.

Immigration advocates say more than half the refugees admitted each year have such ties. So even though the U.S is just days away from hitting the 50,000 figure, many more refugees may enter the country while the 120-day ban is in effect.

"In all likelihood, I would expect we would end up with more than 50,000 this year," said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and former assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration. "Once we get to 50,000 there will inevitably be some number of refugees that meet the 'bona fide' test and if the administration monkeys around with that by trying to slow down approvals, then they'll be in violation of the court decision."

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Anti-Semitic, racist Reddit user behind Trump anti-CNN tweet (SUE SURKES AND AP, July 3, 2017)

A user of an alt-right forum on the social news site Reddit who has posted anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and racist items has claimed credit for a video tweeted by US President Donald Trump Sunday to attack the media.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Egypt 'worse off on every indicator' since 2013 coup : After a revolution and a military coup, Egypt faces abuses to a degree unseen in the Mubarak years, analysts say. (Zena al-Tahhan, 7/03/17, Al Jazeera)

[S]isi's rise in June 2014 was supposed to herald a new era of stability. He introduced rapid economic reforms, such as slashing fuel subsidies and raising taxes in an effort to ease unemployment and generate long-term revenues. He also initiated several new infrastructure projects, including the expansion of the Suez Canal and the country's farmland area, which he said would make Egypt more self-sufficient and generate jobs. As violence dwindled, tourism revenues increased.

Yet experts say the temporary stability, which has begun to erode, came at the cost of public freedoms.

"Some Egyptians have accepted the return of some of the 'old guard' because they believe that, for all its faults, the Mubarak regime brought them more stability than the Morsi regime," Sarah Yerkes, a fellow at the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Al Jazeera. "In the long run, this type of thinking is irrational - Mubarak was only able to control Egypt for so long - but in the short run, some people are willing to put up with more repression [and] less freedom in exchange for what they perceive to be greater stability."

Shortly after Morsi's removal, the military-backed interim government embarked on a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood supporters, many of whom who continued to stage counterprotests and express their support for Morsi.

In August 2013, the army and security forces attacked a demonstration in Rabaa al-Adawiya Square, killing some 1,000 Morsi supporters. Human Rights Watch described it as "one of the largest killings of demonstrators in a single day in recent history".

And in a widely criticised mass trial, Egypt sentenced hundreds of alleged supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to death - "the biggest mass sentence given in modern Egyptian history", according to Amnesty International. The movement, which is Egypt's oldest, most influential Islamist group, was also banned and had its assets seized before being declared a "terrorist organisation" by the government.

"The violent repression of Morsi's supporters sent a stark message to all Egyptians that under the resurgent authoritarian rule of the Sisi regime: Dissent will not be tolerated. Along with the mass imprisonment of over 50,000 people, this has ensured that opposition to the regime has remained limited in the years since," Abdullah al-Arian, a professor of history at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service in Qatar, told Al Jazeera.

No one thought the coup- would improve things for Egyptians; it was supposed to shut them up.