August 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Walmart apologizes for sign marketing guns as back-to-school items (Jackie Wattles, August 9, 2017, CNN Money)

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


James Damore's Legal Case Against Google Isn't So Clear (CALE GUTHRIE WEISSMAN, 8/09/17, Fast Company)

"I think it's interesting that he filed a claim with the NLRB," says Miriam Cherry, a law professor at Saint Louis University who specializes in employment law. "That's maybe not the typical route that most people would take." This claim invokes a certain section-8(a)1-which prohibits employers from interfering with workers who are organizing to advocate for their own labor rights, or, as Cherry (and the law) describes it, "protected concerted activity." Often, NLRB claims involve unions, and Google-along with nearly every other tech company-is not unionized.

The idea is that if someone is making an appeal to workers on behalf of workers, the company cannot retaliate and fire that person. Though workers represented by unions are given more protections, section 8(a)1 protects everyone. Cherry offers herself as an example, explaining that she's a professor who's not in a union, but she still has the right to reach out to other employees about working conditions. That action, she says, would be protected. Because Damore wrote his memo in the style of a call to action to his coworkers to discuss Google, it could potentially be protected under section 8(a)1.

Cherry's colleague, professor Matt Bodie, who specializes in labor law and the NLRB, is also intrigued by her interpretation of Damore's situation. "From a workplace perspective, you can say [Damore] was trying to rally his fellow employees to oppose certain diversity initiates that Google has taken up," says Bodie. Those types of claims, Bodie adds, are generally brought by more than one person-for example, a group of people who collectively complain about their wages or conditions. This complaint is different: While he's reaching out to other employees, Bodie notes that the memo is "still personal." And this is a situation that the Labor Board hasn't really addressed yet.

Another route, which Damore has yet to take up in court, is his protection of free speech. This is a claim that will likely be even harder to prove. Law professor David Yamada of Suffolk University in the U.K. puts it plainly: "Private sector employees do not have general free speech rights."

If speech had no consequences it would hardly be worth protecting from government interference.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Saudi Arabia Is Trying to Remake the Middle East In Its Image (MICHAEL HORTON, August 8, 2017, American Conservative)

No country has done more to spread radical Islam than Saudi Arabia. For the better part of four decades, the oil rich nation has--through public and private institutions--funded a multiplicity of organizations dedicated to spreading the most radical and reductionist interpretations of Islam.

In short, the weaponization of Islam is a core part of Saudi foreign policy. It is the primary means by which the country projects power and secures influence in countries across the Middle East and the broader Muslim world. So far, with U.S. complicity, the strategy has enjoyed great success.

Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser degree other Gulf nations, are engaged in a kind of cultural terraforming. Centuries of diverse and divergent religious traditions within Islam--in countries like Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq--have been swept away by an influx of Saudi-educated clerics and Saudi-produced religious materials. These Saudi-influenced imams and religious literature teach the radical brand of Islam that predominates in Saudi Arabia: Wahhabism. [...]

The current grand mufti, Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah al ash Sheikh, has issued fatwas (religious proclamations) that have called for the destruction of all churches in the Arabian Peninsula, upheld the rights of men to take ten year old girls as brides, banned the playing of chess, and declared the entire population of Iran to be apostates.

Beliefs like these do little to help a country, even an extraordinarily wealthy one, modernize and empower its citizenry, most especially women. Despite its wealth, Saudi Arabia is struggling with a booming population, increasing levels of poverty and unemployment, and bloody sectarian divisions. The country, much like its Gulf-based neighbors, remains dependent on foreign workers. This is particularly the case for jobs that require high levels of technical expertise. Manufacturing in Saudi Arabia is limited and the economy remains almost entirely dependent on oil exports.

These internal issues contribute to Saudi Arabia's fear of what it views as growing Iranian influence in the region. These fears are not unjustified. In contrast with Saudi Arabia, Iran possesses a formidable military, a relatively diverse economy with a comparatively vibrant manufacturing sector, and a growing well-educated middle class. Perhaps most critically, Iraq--thanks to the US invasion of that country--is now firmly within the Iranian sphere of influence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Trump clings to control his Twitter account as John Kelly consolidates authority (Sarah Westwood, 8/09/17, Washington Examiner)

[A] handful of top advisers --including Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, Kellyanne Conway, and chief strategist Steve Bannon -- were exempted from Kelly's reach by requiring Trump's permission to remove or reassign, a source close to the White House said.

But while the president has offered Kelly a level of control Priebus never managed to obtain, Trump has resisted giving his new chief of staff veto power over the spontaneous and provocative tweets that often serve as a distraction for his administration.

A series of news reports suggesting Kelly had sought oversight of Trump's Twitter account, including a report that claimed Kelly wanted to know in advance what the president planned to post, made their way to Trump's desk last week, a person familiar with the situation told the Washington Examiner.

Trump "was pissed when he read Kelly wanted to control his Twitter feed," the person said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM



In the Arab world, where freedom of expression and opposing voices have traditionally been silenced either through censorship, threat, imprisonment, or death, Al Jazeera has been an ongoing revolutionary act for nearly two decades.

As George Orwell famously put it, "In a time of deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."  

In many ways, our mission at Al Jazeera mirrors Orwell's quote, giving voice to the dreams, frustrations, dissent, opinions, and aspirations of the millions of voiceless and faceless people from some of the most repressive places on earth.  

When Al Jazeera first came on the scene over two decades ago, media in the Arab region was completely dominated by Arab dictators. The sycophantic propaganda and the stranglehold on free expression exercised by these regimes promoted a one-sided view aimed at protecting their own power status. No room was left for the voices of opposition and dissent.

Our uncompromising pursuit of the truth and raw reality on the ground has made Al Jazeera loved by its audiences, but hated by governments.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


White House Watch: Who's Trying to Knife H.R. McMaster? : Someone in the White House is working overtime to drive a wedge between the president and his national security adviser. (MICHAEL WARREN, 8/07/17, Weekly Standard)

McMaster recently fired two National Security Council staff members--Derek Harvey and Ezra Cohen-Watnick--in part because both aides regularly met with Bannon without notifying McMaster. Bannon is senior counselor to the president and initially had a seat on the National Security Council before President Trump removed him in April. A third Bannon ally at the NSC, Rich Higgins, was fired by McMaster's deputy Ricky Waddell.

Soon after the firings, the critical articles and posts about McMaster ramped up, several of which have White House sourcing. Caroline Glick, a conservative columnist at the Jerusalem Post, posted on her Facebook page late on August 2 that McMaster is "deeply hostile to Israel and to Trump" and implied he was sympathetic to Islamist ideology. Citing senior White House officials "aware of his behavior," Glick wrote that McMaster "constantly refers to Israel as the occupying power and insists falsely and constantly that a country named Palestine existed where Israel is located until 1948 when it was destroyed by the Jews."

At Circa on August 3, Sara Carter provided a leaked copy of a letter McMaster sent to Obama national security adviser Susan Rice notifying her that her security clearance had been extended. Carter quoted an unnamed "senior West Wing official" who said the letter "in effect is a White House pardon" for Rice's possible violations of unmasking guidelines. But it turns out McMaster signed similar letters for other living national security advisers from both parties, a pro-forma practice to allow the former officials to legally discuss classified information with current government officials. Sources told the Daily Beast, and I have confirmed, that Cohen-Watnick was the person who earlier this year provided McMaster with these letters for his signature. Only the Rice letter was leaked. A White House source told the Beast "Cohen-Watnick's office did not handle such matters, and that his office would not have had access to such a letter regarding Rice" but I'm told by two sources that Cohen-Watnick was the NSC staffer who got McMaster to sign the letters.

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


Trump Falls Under the Shadow of Spiro Agnew (Jeffrey Frank, August 7, 2017, The New Yorker)

On August 7, 1973, the Wall Street Journal published a startling story: Spiro Agnew, elected in 1968 as Richard Nixon's Vice-President, was under investigation for tax evasion, bribery, and various corrupt practices, most dating back to 1967, when Agnew became the governor of Maryland. Agnew's first reaction was a relatively restrained statement: "I am under investigation for possible violations of the criminal statutes," he said, adding, "I am innocent of any wrongdoing."
Then, at a press conference a day later, Agnew called the allegations "damned lies," as well as "false and scurrilous and malicious"; he certainly wasn't going to resign. A few days after that, he said, "I will fight, I will fight to prove my innocence," and over the next sixty-five days he never stopped attacking leaks and fighting what he called "smear publicity." The Agnew case, briefly, got as much attention as the Watergate scandal, which was then closing in on President Nixon following the start of televised Senate Watergate hearings, in mid-May, and the revelation, in mid-July, that a voice-activated taping system had been installed in the White House.

All this comes to mind when considering questions surrounding President Trump, his family, and his business associates. As the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and the team he's hired investigate Russian interference in the 2016 Presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, the Watergate investigation is often invoked. But what's known so far seems to bear more resemblance to the Agnew investigation. [...]

The Agnew investigation had been under way for more than six months when U.S. Attorney George Beall informed Agnew's lawyer of the allegations and, without issuing a formal subpoena, asked for Agnew's bank statements, cancelled checks, deposit tickets, and savings-account books dating back to 1967. Mueller's team appears to be taking a similarly thorough approach; investigators so far have asked the White House for documents connected to Flynn, and to preserve communications concerning a meeting, in June, 2016, that included Donald Trump, Jr.; Jared Kushner, the President's son-in-law and senior adviser; and Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer. It may not be possible to learn what's going on inside a grand-jury room, but the credentials of Mueller's expanding legal team carry strong hints. One recent addition, Greg Andres, a defense lawyer who specializes in white-collar crime, had been a former deputy assistant attorney general in the criminal division of the Justice Department; there, as Reuters reported, he was in charge of a program focussed on foreign bribery.

A Trump lawyer, John Dowd, told Bloomberg News that Trump's businesses lie beyond the bounds of Mueller's mandate, but Mueller's mandate is Russian collusion, and Trump's companies have had ties to Russia for at least thirty years. While Trump has made a number of untrue statements on that subject, the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, recounting that history, reminded readers that, in 2008, Donald Trump, Jr., said that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets." 

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Conservative Koch Brothers Are Secret Investors in 'Wonder Woman' (Exclusive) (Tatiana Siegel, 8/09/17, Hollywood Reporter)

Sources say Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch -- who are worth a combined $96.2 billion and wield enormous power in political circles as major backers of right-wing politicians -- took a significant stake valued at tens of millions of dollars in RatPac-Dune Entertainment. Now-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin brought the brothers in as investors as part of a $450 million deal struck in 2013 -- a move that was never disclosed because RatPac-Dune is a private company.

Though Mnuchin is no longer involved with the slate financing facility, having recently put his stake into a blind trust in order to avoid a conflict of interest, the Koch brothers continue to be stakeholders in such films as Wonder Woman, Dunkirk and Steven Spielberg's upcoming Ready Player One.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


FBI conducted predawn raid of former Trump campaign chairman Manafort's home (Carol D. Leonnig, Tom Hamburger and Rosalind S. Helderman, August 9, 2017, Washington Post)

Federal agents appeared at Paul Manafort's home without advance warning in the predawn hours of July 26, the day after he met voluntarily with the staff for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The search warrant was wide-ranging and FBI agents working with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III departed the home with various records. Jason Maloni, a spokesman for Manafort, confirmed that agents executed a warrant at one of the political consultant's homes and that Manafort cooperated with the search.

Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 10:54 AM


Happy Birthday, King

Symphony in Riffs: 

Benny Carter would have turned 110 yesterday.  (Sorry this is a day late, but we're traveling.)  14 years after his passing, his music...both his own recordings and performances of his tunes and arrangements by others...lives on.  (Photos by Benny's great friend, Ed Berger who died earlier this year.)

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


The Paradox of Google's Diversity Disaster (JOSEPHINE LIVINGSTONE, August 9, 2017, New Republic)

Arguments that cite innate biological differences between the minds of men and women are incorrect, and they're not an acceptable part of a public discourse about gender.

So I get that we're all supposed to consider gender just a choice nowadays, but it's worth noting that it takes pretty radical surgery and chemical treatments to make it so that folks can even pretend to change.

How likely is it that our mental processes are identical if our physical forms aren't?

And did 6000 years of evolution really render the two genders indistinguishable?

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Trump Campaign Turns Over Thousands of Documents in Russia Probe (Steven T. Dennis, 8/09/17, Bloomberg)

The Trump campaign turned over about 20,000 pages of documents on Aug. 2, committee spokesman George Hartmann said Tuesday. Manafort provided about 400 pages on Aug. 2, including his foreign-advocacy filing, while Trump Jr. gave about 250 pages on Aug. 4, Hartmann said. The committee had asked them last month to start producing the documents by Aug. 2.  [...]

The committee asked for all records regarding any attempts or interest in obtaining information about Hillary Clinton from Russian government or affiliated sources, including the June 2016 meeting of Trump Jr., Manafort, Trump senior adviser Jared Kushner and a group of Russians including lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

The committee asked for documents related to any attempt to coordinate or use information related to Russia's attempts to influence the election. It sought Manafort's registration filings and contacts with the Justice Department under the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Trump Is Losing His Battle With the Republican Party : The president's major achievements all dovetail with longstanding GOP priorities, while nearly all of his distinctive policy proposals have stalled or failed. (DAVID A. GRAHAM  AUG 8, 2017, The Atlantic)

Why has Trump failed to push his own pet causes through, even as conservative Republican policies prosper? Wasn't this the Trump who had bent the GOP to his will and overcome the fearsome party establishment? One culprit is Trump's lack of discipline and short attention span, and his manifest lack of interest in the details and mechanics of policymaking. But some of his failures are rooted in the very same party takeover. Because he captured the GOP by blitzkrieg, having little experience in politics, he arrived in Washington not only without his own experience to draw on but also without the benefit of the exterior structures--think-tanks, lobbying concerns, outside-spending groups--upon which most presidents can rely. Though most Oval Office occupants have more experience than Trump, they also don't usually need to do all the work of pushing policies through Congress.

Building that support structure requires time, capturing existing institutions, or both. The closest Trump had to that was the Heritage Foundation, a venerable conservative think tank that had taken a turn away from providing intellectual heft for the GOP to becoming, under the leadership of former Senator Jim DeMint, a gadfly that pushed Tea Party concepts on the party and punished any renegades. Heritage embraced Trump early on.

But the awkward fit was clear. In response to Trump's call for a $1 trillion infrastructure package, Heritage produced a plan that downplayed direct federal projects, relying heavily instead on tax credits and public-private partnerships to have private-sector companies do the work, rather than the government. What little detail Trump has offered on his infrastructure plan since the election seems close to the Heritage blueprint, but that means it's a long way from what he seemed to be promising on the trail, and in any case it's going nowhere. Meanwhile, Heritage's board pushed DeMint out and the think tank seems to be reinventing itself.

So it's not just Trump's infrastructure plan that has failed to materialize; it's also the metaphorical infrastructure Trump requires to advance his agenda. The president promised during the campaign that "I alone can fix it," and despite his struggles so far, he shows no signs of wavering from the insistence on going it alone.

It isn't hard to see a line between these struggles and a New York Times report over the weekend about the shadow 2020 contest arising between Republicans who are quietly preparing presidential runs if Trump decides, or is forced, not to run for reelection in three years--or perhaps even if he does. One of those potential candidates is Vice President Pence, whom the Times noted has taken a variety of preparatory steps, even while maintaining his allegiance to Trump. (Indeed, Pence fiercely denied the report, despite the steps he has taken.) A few months ago, it looked like Trump had successfully conducted a hostile takeover of the Republican Party. Two-hundred days into his presidency, things look a little different. Having stymied his distinctive policy innovations and successfully implemented their own, why wouldn't GOP mandarins finish the job off and shove Trump aside in favor of a Republican who can do all the same things--and without the chaos and embarrassment that Trump lugs along with him?

He nominates whichever judges we tell him to and he gets to star in a reality show where he pretends to be president : it's a pretty good deal.