October 3, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Trump raised Biden with Xi in June call housed in highly secure server (Kylie Atwood, Kevin Liptak, Pamela Brown, Jim Sciutto and Gloria Borger, 10/03/19, CNN)

During a phone call with Xi on June 18, Trump raised Biden's political prospects as well as those of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who by then had started rising in the polls, according to two people familiar with the discussion. In that call, Trump also told Xi he would remain quiet on Hong Kong protests as trade talks progressed.

The White House record of that call was later stored in the highly secured electronic system used to house a now-infamous phone call with Ukraine's President and which helped spark a whistleblower complaint that's led Democrats to open an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

...if you go after my opponents?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Rudy Fingers Trump for Firing Ambassador in Ukraine Plot (Jonathan Chait, 10/03/19, New York)

The whistle-blower complaint at the heart of the Ukraine scandal alleges that the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, was fired because Rudy Giuliani and his allies had attacked her as hostile to President Trump and his goal of ginning up an investigation of Joe Biden. But the report had to connect some dots. It had no direct evidence that Trump had fired her over the Biden investigation.

Now there is evidence. It comes from, of all people, Giuliani himself. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, the Trump lawyer admits that -- the language is the Journal's characterization -- "in the lead-up to Ms. Yovanovitch's removal, he reminded the president of complaints percolating among Trump supporters that she had displayed an anti-Trump bias in private conversations. In Mr. Giuliani's view, she also had been an obstacle to efforts to push Ukraine to investigate Mr. Biden and his son Hunter."

So Giuliani's account heavily suggests that Trump decided to fire Yovanovitch because she was standing in the way of their plan to pressure Ukraine to go after Biden. 

...that Rudy is being run by the Deep State?

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Unfit for Office: Donald Trump's narcissism makes it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires. (GEORGE T. CONWAY III, 10/03/19, The Atlantic)

No president in recent memory--and likely no president ever--has prompted more discussion about his mental stability and connection with reality. Trump's former chief of staff John Kelly is said to have described him as "unhinged," and "off the rails," and to have called the White House "Crazytown" because of Trump's unbalanced state. Trump's former deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein, once reportedly discussed recruiting Cabinet members to invoke the Twenty-Fifth Amendment, the Constitution's provision addressing presidential disability, including mental disability.

Rosenstein denies that claim, but it is not the only such account. A senior administration official, writing anonymously in The New York Times last September, described how, "given the instability many witnessed, there were early whispers within the cabinet of invoking the 25th Amendment"--but "no one wanted to precipitate a constitutional crisis." And NBC News last week quoted someone familiar with current discussions in the White House warning that there is "increasing wariness that, as this impeachment inquiry drags out, the likelihood increases that the president could respond erratically and become 'unmanageable.'" In September, a former White House official offered a similar assessment to a Business Insider reporter: "No one knows what to expect from him anymore," because "his mood changes from one minute to the next based on some headline or tweet, and the next thing you know his entire schedule gets tossed out the window. He's losing his shit."

Even a major investment bank has gotten into the mix, albeit in a roundabout way: JPMorgan Chase has created a "Volfefe Index"--named after Trump's bizarre May 2017 "covfefe" tweet--designed to quantify the effect that Trump's impulsive tweets have on interest-rate volatility. The bank's press release understatedly observed that its "volatility fair value model" shows that "the president's remarks on this social media platform [have] played a statistically significant role in elevating implied volatility."

The president isn't simply volatile and erratic, however--he's also incapable of consistently telling the truth. Those who work closely with him, and who aren't in denial, must deal with Trump's lying about serious matters virtually every day. But as one former official put it, they "are used to the president saying things that aren't true," and have inured themselves to it. Trump's own former communications director Anthony Scaramucci has on multiple occasions described Trump as a liar, once saying, "We ... know he's telling lies," so "if you want me to say he's a liar, I'm happy to say he's a liar." He went on to address Trump directly: "You should probably dial down the lying because you don't need to ... So dial that down, and you'll be doing a lot better."

That was good advice, but clearly wishful thinking. Trump simply can't dial down the lying, or turn it off--even, his own attorneys suggest, when false statements may be punished as crimes. A lawyer who has represented him in business disputes once told me that Trump couldn't sensibly be allowed to speak with Special Counsel Robert Mueller, because Trump would "lie his [**]s off"--in effect, that Trump simply wasn't capable of telling the truth, about anything, and that if he ever spoke to a prosecutor, he'd talk himself into jail.

Trump's lawyers in the Russia investigation clearly agreed: As Bob Woodward recounts at length in his book Fear, members of Trump's criminal-defense team fought both Trump and Mueller tooth and nail to keep Trump from being interviewed by the Office of Special Counsel. A practice testimonial session ended with Trump spouting wild, baseless assertions in a rage. Woodward quotes Trump's outside counsel John Dowd as saying that Trump "just made something up" in response to one question. "That's his nature." Woodward also recounts Dowd's thinking when he argued to Trump that the president was "not really capable" of answering Mueller's questions face to face. Dowd had "to dress it up as much as possible, to say, it's not your fault ... He could not say what he knew was true: 'You're a [***]ing liar.' That was the problem." (Dowd disputes this account.) Which raises the question: If Trump can't tell the truth even when it counts most, with legal jeopardy on the line and lawyers there to help prepare him, is he able to apprehend the truth at all?

Behavior like this is unusual, a point that journalists across the political spectrum have made. "This is not normal," Megan McArdle wrote in late August. "And I don't mean that as in, 'Trump is violating the shibboleths of the Washington establishment.' I mean that as in, 'This is not normal for a functioning adult.'" James Fallows observed, also in August, that Trump is having "episodes of what would be called outright lunacy, if they occurred in any other setting," and that if he "were in virtually any other position of responsibility, action would already be under way to remove him from that role."

Trump's erratic behavior has long been the subject of political criticism, late-night-television jokes, and even speculation about whether it's part of some incomprehensible, multidimensional strategic game. But it's relevant to whether he's fit for the office he holds. Simply put, Trump's ingrained and extreme behavioral characteristics make it impossible for him to carry out the duties of the presidency in the way the Constitution requires. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


The Snake-And-Alligator Border Moat: A Budget Analysis (PETER W. SINGER, 10/03/19, Defense One)

Workforce Costs: While there is no Government Services Administration standard for alligators, preliminary research indicates a unit cost of approximately $150 for hatchlings and $2,000 for adults. We may be able to supplement this with lower-cost alligators sourced from police auctions. (Another idea: a gator bounty could have a positive ancillary effect on "Florida Man" turnout for the 2020 election.) For planning purposes, we should assume an initial Alligator Border Guard force of 19,540 alligators, sustainably split between adults and hatchlings, for an initial buy of $21,005,500. At roughly $6.80 in shipping costs per pound, transportation costs will require another roughly $40,447,800.

For the 1,954,000-member Snake Border Guard, the optimal force laydown should mix water moccasins (for maximum water effectiveness) and brightly colored coral snakes (for maximum visual deterrence). The present price per snake is approximately $350, generating a cost of $683,900,000. Unfortunately, snakes have a limited life span, meaning after the initial purchase, we will have to pay this same fee seven years from now. But that is a problem to be solved by another president, hopefully Ivanka.

Additional Cost Elements: One challenge of adding a dangerous animal-based border guard is that it introduces three additional cost elements. Snakes and alligators do not require a salary, but do require food. There is an argument that our new guard force will be able to subsist on the flesh of illegal immigrants, but there is no guarantee that we will have the proper distribution of family members of sufficient size and weight (especially problematic are the small children) to sustain the new border system.

Therefore, we should plan that each member of the Alligator Border Guard unit will require roughly 300 pounds of food a year. Gator food pellets price at approximately $13 per pound, costing $76,206,000 per year. The snakes can exist on smaller amounts of food. Frozen rats come in at roughly $149 per pack (available on Amazon, but not Amazon Prime, so we'll have to wait a week), yielding a cost of $291,146,000 each year.

Unfortunately, for all its experience at holding children in cages, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is not trained or equipped to maintain so many animals in cages. Care for the snake and alligator force will require at least one specialist per mile. Presently, the average starting salary of a zoologist is $38,212, which, adding in expected costs and benefits, comes to $130,665,934 per year.

Finally is the ever problematic health care issue, for which Obama is to blame. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 PM


The Ukraine Whistle-Blower Did Everything Right (BRIAN BARRETT, 10.03.2019, Wired)

"I've been working with whistleblowers for 40 years," says Tom Devine, legal director at the Government Accountability Project, a whistle-blower protection and advocacy organization. "I've never seen a disclosure which was handled more flawlessly, and more scrupulously followed the rules, than this one." [...]

In fact, House Intelligence staffers did exactly what they were supposed to do in these situations: tell the whistle-blower to lawyer up, and submit a complaint to an inspector general. That's their long-established role in the whistle-blower ecosystem. "Like other whistle-blowers have done before and since under Republican- and Democratic-controlled committees, the whistle-blower contacted the committee for guidance on how to report possible wrongdoing within the jurisdiction of the intelligence community," Intel Committee spokesperson Patrick Boland said in a statement. "Consistent with the committee's longstanding procedures, committee staff appropriately advised the whistle-blower to contact an inspector general and to seek legal counsel."

What also gets lost is that these interactions happen all the time. "The intelligence committees are approached by prospective whistle-blowers several times a month, probably. That is not unusual," says Julian Sanchez, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute who focuses on national security issues. "Folks who are talking about coordination, as if this is some kind of inherently dodgy activity, are just revealing that they're not very familiar with intelligence or how this works."

If anything, Schiff and the whistle-blower went out of their way to follow appropriate channels. There's a constitutional argument, Sanchez says, that Congress could have accepted the report itself, rather than redirect it through the prescribed whistle-blower channels. Instead, Schiff's team appears to have followed the statute to the letter.

Other attacks on the whistle-blower's credibility and process are similarly misinformed. A recent news report erroneously claimed that the intelligence community until recently required that whistle-blowers have first-hand knowledge of events. This has already been debunked repeatedly, though that didn't stop Trump from amplifying the bogus information. The upshot: The form in question was updated in August 2019, but has allowed for second-hand knowledge of events since long before that.

As it should! Cries of "hearsay" have dogged the whistle-blower complaint since it first came out. Trump's defenders have sought to illegitimatize its contents because the author was not, for instance, on the controversial phone call between Trump and Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky. It's yet another canard.

"That assertion is a shameless legal bluff," says Devine. "We'd eliminate 95 percent of law enforcement activity if agencies couldn't investigate on the basis of hearsay evidence. The point of an investigation is to see how decisively the initial leads can be confirmed and corroborated."

Fortunately for all involved, the White House itself has provided that corroboration, in the form of a call transcript that lines up neatly with the whistle-blower's assertions. The hearsay argument is moot, because the underlying facts have already been proven correct.

...one could hardly expect them to know how to do the right thing and properly.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Trump seized on a conspiracy theory called the 'insurance policy.' Now, it's at the center of an impeachment investigation. (Ben Collins, 10/03/19, NBC)

An anonymous post from March 2017 on the far-right 4chan message board teased a conspiracy theory that would eventually make its way to the White House.

"Russia could not have been the source of leaked Democrat emails released by Wikileaks," the post teased, not citing any evidence for the assertion.

The post baselessly insinuated that CrowdStrike, a cybersecurity firm that worked with the Democratic National Committee and had been contracted to investigate a hack of its servers, fabricated a forensics report to frame Russia for election interference. The 4chan post was published three days before then-FBI Director James Comey testified before Congress about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

And that was how it started. That post is the first known written evidence of this unfounded conspiracy theory to exonerate Russia from meddling in the 2016 election, which more than two years later would make its way into the telephone call that may get President Donald Trump impeached. (Federal law enforcement officials have repeatedly made it clear that Russia unquestionably did meddle in the election.)

In the years that followed the original 4chan post, at least three different but related conspiracy theories would warp and combine on the fringes of the internet, eventually coalescing around Ukraine's supposed role in helping Trump's 2016 opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Ukraine wasn't originally part of the theory, but in July, Trump floated CrowdStrike's name during a call with the president of Ukraine as just one piece of a convoluted conspiracy accusation. That phone call is now at the center of a congressional investigation and impeachment inquiry into whether the president abused his power for political gain.

"I would like to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike ... " Trump said on the call, according to a White House summary. "I guess you have one of your wealthy people. ... The server, they say Ukraine has it."

To even people who have followed these theories closely, Trump's call felt detached from any sense of logic.

"It's a whole new mountain of nonsense," said Duncan Campbell, a British digital forensics expert who investigated the original claim about CrowdStrike.

This omnibus conspiracy theory has been frequently referred to on far-right blogs, Fox News and recently by the president as the Democrats' "insurance policy," a reference to the supposed setup as a way to impeach the president if Trump were to win the election.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Rudy Giuliani was reportedly warned he got 'untrustworthy' dirt on the Bidens (Kathryn Krawczyk, 10/03/19, The Week)

The testimony was held behind closed doors, but the two sources say Volker "said he tried to caution Guiliani that his sources, including Ukraine's former top prosecutor, were unreliable," per the Post. Volker also reportedly said he told Ukrainians to stay out of U.S. politics.

ABC News also reports that Volker shared text messages with Congress to other top American diplomats, which read "I think it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."

Posted by orrinj at 2:49 PM


Neo-Nazi coast guard officer pleads guilty to gun and drug charges (Associated Press,  3 Oct 2019)

In a February court filing, prosecutors said Hasson "intends to murder innocent civilians on a scale rarely seen in this country". They also said he had espoused extremist views for years and drafted an email in which he said he was "dreaming of a way to kill almost every last person on the earth".

Prosecutors claimed Hasson drew up what appeared to be a hitlist that included the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer, and the presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris. Network TV journalists Chris Hayes and Joe Scarborough of MSNBC and CNN's Chris Cuomo and Van Jones were also mentioned.

Hasson also targeted two supreme court justices and two social media executives and searched online for their home addresses in March 2018, within minutes of searching firearm sales websites, according to prosecutors.

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


John Bolton's Revenge Tour: The former national security adviser trashes Trump's foreign policy as rumors swirl about Ukraine leaks. (CURT MILLS • October 3, 2019, American Conservative)

Often hailed as a lawyer, scholar and diplomat, Bolton is something else--a Republican. He volunteered for Barry Goldwater's doomed 1964 campaign during his youth. He is so strident a free marketeer that he even told Edward Luce of the Financial Times in 2007 that he identified as a "libertarian." While his foreign policy says otherwise, he's not going over to a political party on second base with socialism.

What Bolton needs now is an old favorite: regime change. He needs the Trump presidency to end. This has spurred the rumor du jour in America's capital city, that Bolton is somehow behind the leaks that have led House Democrats to launch an impeachment inquiry into Trump.

A former senior National Security Council official told me that after early Trump administration leaks, the White House took extraordinary means to ensure state secrecy. The New York Times in recent weeks detailed just how elaborate these measures were, and just how closed the circle around Trump is--at least as it pertains to seeing or hearing any details of what the president says to foreign leaders by phone.

The cloud of suspicion around Bolton is enormous. A former senior administration official characterized Bolton as "THE witness for the prosecution." That the scandal has now ensnared Pompeo, his friend-turned-enemy who listened in on the call with Ukraine's president, is just the cherry on top. Pompeo is vying to be Henry Kissinger as Democrats look to create more John Ehrlichmans.

Which all begs the question: Is John Bolton Deep Throat?

It's too delicious that the guy brought in to topple the Iranian regime topple Donald instead. Every step of the WoT has benefitted our Shi'a allies.

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:26 PM


The Origins of the Ukrainian Conspiracy Theories (Nancy LeTourneau, October 3, 2019, Washington Monthly)

Back in July, Buzzfeed reporters wrote an in-depth profile of the two men who arranged for both Shokin and Lutsenko to meet with Giuliani in order to bring their allegations to the attention of the Trump administration: Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

Both men were born in the Soviet Union and had immigrated to the United States -- Parnas in 1976, when he was 4, and Fruman as a young adult.

Both eventually settled in South Florida, where Parnas worked for three stockbrokerages that were later expelled by regulators for fraud and other violations -- though he was never individually charged -- and racked up nine court judgments for failing to pay loans and other debts. One of his businesses, Fraud Guarantee, set up to help people safeguard against fraud and other financial crimes, was evicted in 2015 for not paying the office rent, records show.

Fruman, 53, continued to make his money in Ukraine, running an export business that ships goods to and from the United States and a boutique hotel in Odessa -- long known as a hub for both tourism and organized crime. One of his investments, a milk canning plant, was declared bankrupt seven years ago over debts that reached nearly $25 million.

Given that these two men are not only fraudsters, but bad fraudsters, it might seem surprising that last year they began pumping big dollars into the coffers of Trump super PACs and Republican campaigns. For example, in May 2018, a company owned by Parnas and Furman, Global Energy Producers, made a $325,000 donation to America First Action, a political action committee supporting Trump's re-election. ABC News reported that "the company has no listed office address or phone number, no announced deals or contracts, and a bare bones one-page website that features only a countdown clock that long ago ticked down to zeros."

Because of a lawsuit alleging fraud brought against Parnas, he was forced to turn over bank records "that showed a company he owned had received a payment of $1.26 million from the client trust account of a lawyer specializing in real estate and foreign investments." The donation to America First Action was made two days later and within a week, Parnas and Furnam posted a photo of themselves at breakfast with Donald Trump Jr. at the Beverly Hills Polo Lounge.

the least surprising aspect of the Trump years is how the Right became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Vlad Putin: he's a white Nationalist who particularly enjoys repressing Muslims.

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


MGM Resorts To Pay Up To $800 Million In Las Vegas Shooting Settlement (Bobby Allyn, 10/03/19, NPR)

MGM Resorts International has agreed to pay up to $800 million to settle thousands of liability claims stemming from the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas, lawyers announced Thursday, almost exactly two years after the massacre.

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


Posted by orrinj at 11:55 AM


Republican Senators Pushed for Ukraine Reforms at Same Time as Joe Biden (Audrey McNamara, 10.03.19, Daily Beast)

A 2016 letter sent by Republican members of the Senate Ukraine Caucus echoes calls for reforms to Ukraine's prosecutor general's office and judiciary that were made by then-Vice President Joe Biden. The letter, signed by Republican senators Rob Portman, Mark Kirk, and Ron Johnson, as well as several Democrats, urged the former Ukrainian president to reform the country's government to address longstanding corruption, including the removal of Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. "Succeeding in these reforms will show Russian President Vladimir Putin that an independent, transparent and democratic Ukraine can and will succeed," reads the letter. "It also offers a stark alternative to the authoritarianism and oligarchic cronyism prevalent in Russia...We similarly urge you to press ahead with urgent reforms to the Prosecutor General's Office and judiciary."

Yeah, but they're a bunch of RiNO's who were in Hunter's pocket!

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


House Democrats Are So Focused on Ukraine That They're Overlooking Another Impeachable Offense: It's an allegation that Trump committed a stunning act of betrayal. (David Corn, 10/03/19, Mother Jones)

Last Friday night, the Washington Post published a stunning article reporting that during an Oval Office meeting in May 2017, Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and then-Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that Trump was unconcerned about Moscow's attack on the 2016 presidential election. Trump noted the Russians that their assault on the United States was no big deal because the United States did the same in other countries, according to three former officials. It was at this meeting that Trump, as had been previously reported, revealed highly classified information to his Russian visitors and said that his firing of FBI chief James Comey the previous day had relieved "great pressure" on him. Yet Trump's comments dismissing the importance of the Russian attack--which, according to the US intelligence community, was mounted in part to help Trump win the White House--now stands as the most significant moment of that gathering, where Trump and the two Russians were photographed smiling. 

The Post noted that after this discussion, White House officials took steps to keep Trump's comments from becoming public, and limited distribution of a memo summarizing the conversation to only a few officials with the highest security clearances. The memo was kept from officials who normally would have access to this sort of report.

Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


Trump says China should investigate Bidens (Axios, 10/03/19)

REPORTER: What exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens on the phone call?

TRUMP: Well I would think if they were honest about it, they would start a major investigation into the Bidens. It's a very simple answer. They should investigate the Bidens. How does a company newly formed and all these companies -- by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens. Because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine. So I would say that President Zelensky, if it were me, I would recommend that they start an investigation into the Bidens. Because nobody has any doubt that they weren't crooked. That was a crooked deal 100%

Yeah, but Adam Schiff!

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Trump tweets overwhelm GOP impeachment defense (David M. Drucker, October 03, 2019, Washington Examiner)

Trump's tweets and public comments from personal attorney Rudy Giuliani often diverge from party messaging and catch Republicans on Capitol Hill off guard. That makes it difficult for them to defend Trump from a Democratic impeachment inquiry that they believe stands on weak political grounds.

"The president's tweets and the, 'What planet are they on?' defenses from his staunchest supporters not only actively hurt making substantive defenses the president will need, they also send a [bad] message to voters," said Republican operative Doug Heye, a former House GOP leadership aide.

It's hard to narrow down, but isn't the best part of the clownshow when the Trumpbots accuse people of lying and then Donald comes out and admits he engaged in the alleged wrongdoing?  After all, his poor lickspittles are still trying to discredit the whistleblower when the transcript confirms everything he alleged.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:47 AM


Perilous times for Trump: By 45%-38%, Americans support impeaching him over Ukraine, poll finds (Susan Page, 10/03/19, USA TODAY)

[4]4%-35%, those surveyed say the Senate, which would then be charged with holding a trial of the president, should convict Trump and remove him from office.

...if we set a standard that we are willing to impeach someone just for: racist business practices; racist politics; racist policies; sexual assault; cover-up; collusion with an enemy; treason; obstruction of justice; diverting tax dollars to their businesses; etc.; then how are we going to get people like that to run for president?

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Rudy Giuliani has been asking an imprisoned Paul Manafort for information on Ukraine (The Week, 10/03/19)
Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


Dallas ex-cop given 10 years for shooting death of Botham Jean, then Jean's brother forgave, embraced her (Peter Weber, 10/02/19, The Week)

A jury in Dallas sentenced former Dallas police officer Amber Guyger to 10 years in Texas state prison Wednesday for fatally shooting her downstairs neighbor Botham Jean in 2018, after walking into his apartment and thinking it was her own. Guyger is white and Jean was black. After the sentence was handed down, Jean's 18-year-old brother, Brandt Jean, told Guyger he forgave her, wished she didn't have to go to jail, and knew his late brother would want her to turn her life over the Christ.

"I love you as a person and I don't wish anything bad on you," Jean told Guyger, 31, then he asked the judge, "I don't know if this is possible, but can I give her a hug?" Judge Tammy Kemp, who is also black, said yes, then she also hugged Guyger as she was led from the courtroom and handed her a Bible.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Album Of The Week: Wilco Ode To Joy (Chris DeVille, October 1, 2019, Stereogum)

Ode To Joy is an album about seeking hope and meaning in a world that seems to be decaying beyond repair, so it's fitting that Wilco saved some of the best musical flourishes on for the songs where Tweedy zooms out to reckon with the state of humanity at large. The staggering "Before Us" builds from downtrodden whispers ("Remember when wars would end? Now when something's dead, we try to kill it again") to monumental swells of beauty encircling the refrain, "Alone with the people who have come before us." The political "Citizens" repeats the phrase "white lies" until you're forced to hear every possible meaning, all while the band builds nervous energy around a minimal groove. Lead single "Love Is Everywhere (Beware)" uses guitar curlicues to poke holes in the notion that good will prevail without any effort on your part.

That song leads directly into its thematic cousin "Hold Me Anyway," a stunning twilight pop-rocker where Tweedy blessedly lends his voice to the sort of soaring melody that has proven elusive in the latter-day Wilco catalog. It's a nearly perfect unity of Wilco's various eras, at once a wistful mirage and an urgent call to arms. As harmonized guitars slice across melancholy keyboard chords, Tweedy -- who talks in his book about how badly he wants to discuss mortality at dinner parties -- poses some questions most people try to avoid thinking about: "When you die, who's to blame? Did you think everything would be OK?"

If Tweedy is urging his listeners to wake up from their stupor, he's doing so from a place of humility. Among the album's prettiest and least complicated songs, "One And A Half Stars" depicts a battle to keep pushing forward when you could just as easily stay in bed. It's one of the most relatable tunes on an album full of them, Tweedy espousing his desire to change and the inertia that sometimes feels impossible to overcome. "There is no mother like pain," he suggests at one point, before concluding with a lament: "I can't escape my domain." With a title that seems to refer to unenthusiastic reviews, it's hard not to hear the song as another referendum on the state of his own creativity. Yet Ode To Joy is proof that Tweedy and his band can still wring exhilaration from exhaustion.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Could this plastic-eating enzyme be the miracle solution to our plastic problem? (ADELE PETERS, 10/02/19, fast Company)

Three years ago, Japanese scientists discovered a tiny new bacteria with an unusual ability: The organism, which lived in soil near a plastic bottle recycling plant, could eat plastic. A year later, a plastic-eating fungus was discovered in a landfill in Pakistan. The year after that, a college student discovered plastic-eating bacteria in a polluted site in Houston. Now, researchers from Hitachi and Cambridge Consultants, an engineering and product development company, plan to use synthetic biology to manufacture a similar plastic-eating enzyme. It could later be used in recycling plants or in the environment--and potentially even in the ocean, where as much as 12.7 million metric tons of plastic ends up every year.

"Attacking the problem biologically means that you have the ability to come up with a range of solutions," says James Hallinan, business development manager of synthetic biology at Cambridge Consultants. The company, which has worked in various fields for nearly 60 years, started working in synthetic biology in 2015. "It's really about the engineering of biology, making it predictable and definable and reproducible," he says. "And this idea that, in the future, more and more products are going to be made via a biological process, as compared to the old traditional way of making things from chemicals, and in particular petrochemicals."

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Trump is a national embarrassment (Joel Mathis, October 3, 2019, The Week)

If you need an example of how President Trump's brand of leadership continues to harm America's standing on the world stage, look no further than Wednesday's joint press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinistö. Niinistö opened his remarks by speaking of his visits to the American History Museum, the African American History Museum, and the National Museum of the American Indian. He paid tribute to America's democratic values, saying, "Mr. President, you have here a great democracy. Keep it going on."

Trump, in contrast, was decidedly less dignified. He baselessly accused a critic of treason and then raged at a Reuters reporter who had the temerity to ask follow-up questions about the Ukraine scandal. He went on a tirade against America's "fake" and "corrupt" news media, before quoting Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity singing his praises. "I'm very, very happy living the way I'm living," he insisted. Niinistö chuckled in evident embarrassment at the whole spectacle unfolding around him.

This press conference was a clown show.

...is that he's not even at the top of the list of most notorious clowns ever; Pennywise and John Wayne Gacy have him beat.  So sad.

Posted by orrinj at 6:08 AM


Being 'church' means accepting and welcoming 'the other' (Steve Givens, 10/02/19, St. Louis Post Dispatch)

"It is not reported how Zaccheus got out of the sycamore," Buechner writes, "but the chances are good that he fell out in pure astonishment."

If he was astonished, imagine the look on the faces of the "good" people around him --the ones who prayed in the temple all the time, the ones who paid their taxes and tithes, the ones who had been hoping and praying for this Messiah. Perhaps this was the one and now was the time. But then Jesus calls Zaccheus down from the tree and they begin to think he's not the one after all. He couldn't possibly be.

After all, he eats with tax collectors. He talks to Samaritan women and comes to the defense of prostitutes. He welcomes strangers and immigrants and feeds the hungry. He heals without prior authorization. He looks first with love and corrects later and if necessary. He sees beyond our national origins straight into our hearts. He's surely a lunatic, they thought.

But the joke was on them; not on Zaccheus. The joke's on us. If we want to be followers of Jesus, we don't get to waggle our pointer fingers at the sinners, the immigrants, the poor, and the hungry, telling them to shape up and live like us or ship out. We just have to love, to welcome and accept them.

"The unflagging lunacy of God," Buechner writes. "The unending seaminess of man. The meeting between them that is always a matter of life or death and usually both."

I think it's John Dominic Crossan who explains away Christ healing lepers as just Him sitting down to eat with the unclean, those who violated kosher laws.  This attempt to demystify Christ captures just how revolutionary He was and how comical it would have been to be at His side. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Echoes of Benghazi Criticism and Anger Confront Pompeo in Ukraine Inquiry (Lara Jakes and David E. Sanger, Oct. 2, 2019, NY Times)

As a member of Congress, Mike Pompeo drove the Republican inquiry into the killing of a United States ambassador in Benghazi, Libya, and made clear there was no place for politics in American diplomacy. Nor, he said, would he tolerate "dithering" by an Obama administration State Department that he called "deeply obstructive of getting the American people the facts that they needed."

Now, as secretary of state, Mr. Pompeo is facing a political crisis that directly challenges his leadership of the department he once excoriated. He is accused by House Democrats of blocking their impeachment inquiry by resisting the release of information to Congress that may shed light on the Trump administration's shadow foreign policy with Ukraine.

And career diplomats, some of whom blame the Trump administration for dismembering the Foreign Service and undercutting American diplomacy, are expected to be among the first witnesses telling their stories to Congress during its inquiry.

"In many ways this seems to be a situation where he's reaping what he sowed," said Derek Chollet, the executive vice president of the German Marshall Fund, who served in both the State and Defense Departments under President Barack Obama.