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Archive for November 8th, 2014

Who pushed over the Berlin Wall? Harald Jäger. Where is he now?

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From Mary Elise Sarotte’s piece in the NY Times:

. . . It was the Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev who had opened the door to these events. In his four years in power, he had introduced a series of social and political reforms across Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe — but to enhance his Communist Party’s control, not end it.

These reforms put the hard-line dictators in East Germany in a bind. They felt they had to make some sort of concession, too. Politburo members in East Berlin decided to make minor changes to the state’s draconian travel rules — but to retain their power to deny travel permission on a whim.

The announcement of this pseudo-reform, at an international news conference televised on the night of Nov. 9, was botched. The bumbling Politburo member running the conference, Günter Schabowski, read the news release for the first time on air. Much of his reading was garbled, but a few phrases popped out: that trips abroad would be “possible for every citizen,” starting “right away, immediately.” Shorn of their context, these phrases mistakenly gave journalists and TV viewers the impression that the wall was open.

But his error need not have been fatal. Politburo members making mistakes was nothing new, and the bottom line had not changed: The regime’s armed sentries still stood at the wall, with orders to keep the gates closed.

What had changed was the self-assurance of the people. By autumn 1989, the protest movement had gained sufficient confidence to take advantage of this incompetence. The people already knew the authorities would back down: A month earlier, peaceful protesters in Leipzig had turned out in such overwhelming numbers that the security forces, which we now know had planned a Tiananmen-style crackdown, had backed off.

And they knew they could trust each other. Stasi interrogators had once asked a prisoner named Katrin Hattenhauer, a young rebel, how she and her fellow dissidents held together despite all of the Stasi’s actions against them. She replied that shared suffering welded people together more strongly than shared success: “Where the hammer has come down, whatever is underneath is going to hold together.”

In contrast, Stasi files demonstrate how members of the regime did not trust their colleagues, or their subordinates — and that this lack of trust gravely undermined their ability to blunt the rising revolution. And so, when tens of thousands of Berliners headed toward the wall in the minutes after the news conference, the entire system cracked.

When one of the regime’s most loyal subordinates, a Stasi officer named Harald Jäger who was working the Nov. 9 night shift at a crucial checkpoint in the Berlin Wall, repeatedly phoned his superiors with accurate reports of swelling crowds, they did not trust or believe him. They called him a delusional coward. Insulted, furious and frightened, he decided to let the crowds out, starting a chain reaction that swept across all of the checkpoints that night. . .

Read the whole thing. And from a comment by Markus Ward:

Another funny but crucial detail … the night shift at the DPA office in Berlin called a quick meeting (if I remember there were two or three people) to determine exactly how to interpret “possible for every citizen,” starting “right away, immediately”. They ultimately decided for a quite uhh, let’s say under the circumstances very liberal interpretation and immediately put it on the wire. This message spread like wildfire through the news outlets and is what ultimately created those crowds hearing and led to the gates really opening. Hat’s off to these folks!

And a thought-provoking comment from “Umbrella”:

I am writing from Hong Kong, a Westernised-city within the holds of China. The situation is a bit inverted, we are just a tiny city in the midst of the concrete dragon which is China, lead by a group of government puppets who are intertwined with the 41 tycoons who control 70% of our GDP. Every day, I hear from my parents, my in-laws, my bosses, “The student movement and protests are no use, don’t fight with China, it is a regime that is omnipotent, ruthless and rich. Just give up.” But what they fail to see, or are too scared to see, is that our future is not defined by those who refuse to change, but by those who will fight for change.

UPDATE: Story about Harald Jäger today.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2014 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Daily life

A Once-Skeptical Colorado Town Embraces Marijuana Legalization

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On a more cheerful note, at least one town that once opposed legalized marijuana has now, after some experience, embraced it.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2014 at 1:32 pm

Posted in Drug laws, Government

Obama’s utter failure in Education

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Read the entire column by Paul Rosenberg in Salon. It’s powerful. Look at this one section of it:

5. Continuing Bush’s top-down war on public education.

Diane Ravitch is an education historian, author and activist who once believed strongly in much of what flies under the banner of “school reform”—until the real-world results convinced her otherwise. A former assistant secretary of education under G.H.W. Bush, no one can seriously accuse her of being a wide-eyed radical. And yet, she has emerged as the most prominent critic of Obama’s education policies—along depressingly familiar lines: they are virtual carbon copies of George W. Bush’s policies. And she’s anything but alone in raising this criticism, as she has repeatedly pointed out in her writings.

In July 2009, Ravitch wrote:

The great mystery of education policy today is why the Obama administration is embracing the Bush program. I recently wrote in Education Week (June 10) that it is time to kill the Bush-era No Child Left Behind program. The overwhelming majority of teachers agree with me. Those who educate our kids know that NCLB is a failed program that is not improving our schools but rather turning them into test-prep factories and dumbing down our kids.

Almost two years later, in March 2011, Ravitch wrote:

Over the past year, I have traveled the nation speaking to nearly 100,000 educators, parents, and school-board members. No matter the city, state, or region, those who know schools best are frightened for the future of public education. They see no one in a position of leadership who understands the damage being done to their schools by federal policies.

They feel keenly betrayed by President Obama. Most voted for him, hoping he would reverse the ruinous No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation of George W. Bush. But Obama has not sought to turn back NCLB. His own approach, called Race to the Top, is even more punitive than NCLB.

Another two years later, in May 2013, Ravitch wrote:

Remember when candidate Obama in 2008 spoke of hope and change. That encouraged many educators to believe that No Child Left Behind would be ended, tossed into the dustbin of history, where it belongs.

Sadly, President Obama built his Race to the Top right on the flawed foundation of NCLB, and made teaching to the test a necessity.

As the for-profit charters proliferated, he said nothing.

As radical governors destroyed collective bargaining and teacher due process, he said nothing.

As cyber charters grew, garnering huge profits but terrible education, he said nothing.

As vouchers spread, he said nothing.

As privatization accelerated, he said nothing.

The very idea of a “race to the top” refutes the principle of equality of educational opportunity.

If the fundamental criticism hasn’t changed much over the years, the way that it resonates—which matters enormously for base mobilization—certainly has. The growth of resistance from below was charted this past July by Jeff Bryant (a Salon contributor), in piece tellingly titled “Education ‘Reform’ Loses the Netroots.” In 2009, he wrote:

The first Netroots Nation I attended, Pittsburgh in 2009, was mostly a celebration of the Obama victory the previous year. But as events rolled out the rest of that year and into 2010, it became painfully obvious that the new White House would maintain – actually even increase – a disastrous policy agenda carried over from the George W. Bush administration for the nation’s public schools. Public schools activists looked to Netroots Nation as a venue where progressives could push back.

We had our work cut out for us.

Bryant cited 2011 as a “turning point,” when he led an impressive panel titled “Engaging Progressives in the Fight for Public Education,” in which he said “we warned attendees of the dangers of current education policies and urged attendees to get involved in the growing movement to take back our public schools.”

Finally, this year, he wrote:

Six panels on education topics – ranging from curriculum standards, to student suspensions, to student loan debt, to reclaiming the promise of public schools – presented a unified front against current “reform” policies and for a vision of equity and excellence in public education.

Indeed, the dialogue at the meeting made clear the term “education reform” has become a pejorative in the progressive community.

That’s what’s happening with the activist base. But the battle is still fiercely raging in the party at large. In California, a “reform” candidate, running as a Democrat backed by massive outside spending came within a few points of defeating incumbent Tom Torlakson in the contest for California superintendent of public instruction. For the first time ever, it was the most expensive statewide race in California for the general election cycle. The war against public education is still raging full force—and President Obama is still on the wrong side. Is it really any wonder Democrats are having base mobilization problems in light of that? . . .

By all means, read the whole thing. Note that the above is point 5.


Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2014 at 1:30 pm

Voter suppression does work: Lowest voter turnout in decades

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A big part of the GOP’s election strategy is quite simple: enact laws and regulations that make it much harder to vote, and combine that with shorter hours and fewer polling places in Democratic-heavy precincts. In other words, the idea is to win the election by any means at all.

The Democratic approach is much more defensible: get as many people to the polls as possible and work for a huge voter turnout so that election results will truly represent the will of the citizenry. In other words, while the GOP does everything in its power to ensure that only Republicans vote, Democrats do everything in their power to ensure that everyone votes. Oddly, some commentators simply cannot understand why a political party would favor having everyone vote—which reveals a disturbing attitude toward democracy. This column at ThingProgress  shows how completely these commentators miss the point—and the column concludes:

But as the bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Administration said in areport in January, we should be doing everything we can to make it easier for people to vote. Extending early voting periods, expanding voter registration opportunities and mailing ballots to all voters are all fixes that might have primarily Democratic support, but actually expand voting opportunities for everyone and increase turnout across the board. As the New York Times noted, “There’s really nothing inherently partisan about expanded voting opportunities.”

But the GOP doubled down on suppressing voters. Juan Thompson reports in The Intercept:

On Tuesday, older, white voters — who traditionally support Republicans — went to the polls in droves, while turnout among traditionally Democratic groups — the young, the minoritized, and women — was down. Indeed, overall turnout declined to an estimated 36.6% of eligible voters, the lowest rate of participation since the 1940s, despite the $3 billion spent by candidates, political parties, and super PACs.

Yes, President Barack Obama’s poor performance and approval rating undoubtedly played a role in the lower turnout. But the evidence is piling up that systematic voter suppression, including voter ID laws and dubious vote-fraud prevention software, played a significant part in keeping people from casting ballots, as well.

Take the situation in Texas, where Democrat Wendy Davis lost badly to Republican Greg Abbott in the gubernatorial race. More important than her expected defeat is that the Lone Star State had the lowest voter turnout in the country at 33%, down from 38% four years earlier. It’s difficult to determine to what precise extent Texas’s new voter ID law is to blame for the poor turnout, but “there are somewhere between 600,000 and 1.4 million registered voters in Texas without state ID,” according to Kathleen Unger, whose nonprofit, VoteRiders, works to get people the documents they need to vote. Working through local organizations, two-year-old VoteRiders went into Houston’s Harris County this year in response to what Unger called its “very restrictive” voter ID law.

Despite such efforts, some Texans were still unable to vote. Think Progress’ Alice Ollstein recently documented how some Texas voters were dropped from the rolls or denied ballots because they couldn’t afford new IDs. Ollstein couldn’t quantify such incidents, but a recent Government Accountability Office report on voter ID laws in Tennessee and Kansas foundthey decreased turnout in those two states in 2012. In Texas, there are indications the same thing happened this year, including the fact that provisional ballots increased by half on Tuesday to 16,463, an uptick from the 8,000 issued in 2010. Provisional ballots are given to voters who have difficulty proving their eligibility, and because some thwarted voters don’t even bother to cast them, they are a proxy for larger problems.


In Georgia, meanwhile, nearly 40,000 new voters mysteriously vanished from the rolls, possibly due to scrubbing by a controversial software system known as Crosscheck. Turnout was only34%, which is down six percentage points from 2010.

Over the past two years Raphael Warnock, leader of Atlanta’s historic Ebenezer Baptist Church, worked with the New Georgia Project to register some 80,000 new and mostly black voters. New Georgia Project’s efforts was the state’s largest voter registration drive in 50 years, according to reports. “It’s a fundamental, basic American right to vote”, Warnock told me. Such thinking explains why he was so angry when half of those new voters failed to appear on the rolls this fall. “The Georgia Secretary of State’s office had no explanation at all as to where those voters went”, Warnock explained. A person in the Georgia Secretary of State’s office declined comment (after alerting me to the fact that “the election’s over”). But earlier this year, that same office accused the New Georgia Project of voter registration fraud. In the end only 50 questionable forms were found.

Georgia, it must also be noted, is one of 27 states using the controversial software Crosscheck to weed out supposed voter fraud. Al Jazeera, which recently finished a months-long investigation of the program, found an astonishing 7 million Americans suspected of voter fraud on the Crosscheck lists. That despite the fact that voter fraud is almost unbelievably rare. One dogged investigator, a professor focused on election administration at Loyola University Law School, found just 31 credible incidents between 2000 and mid 2014, nationwide.

Crosscheck scours the names of voters who live in the 27 states, and if a first and last name matches in two states both persons are flagged and purged. The surnames most likely to be flagged? “The lists are heavily weighted with names such as Jackson, Garcia, Patel and Kim — ones common among minorities”, Al Jazeera reported. “List matching is an inaccurate science that burdens, disproportionately, minority voters”, said Wendy Weiser, director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. Weiser also claimed that voter complaints to her group’s hotline were higher this year than ever before. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2014 at 9:54 am

Wrapping up Slant Week with another BBS shave—and Mickey Lee soap is extemely good

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SOTD 8 Nov 2014

A marvelous shave—and today I did not a difference in the slant shave—more below.

First, let me praise Mickey Lee’s shaving soap, available through his new Web store, Mickey Lee Soapworks. It’s a superb soap, and we now have an embarrassment of riches with regard to artisanal shaving soaps: Maggard’s, Seifenglatt, Mickey Lee’s, Strop Shoppe, and the list continues. It’s very hard for me to understand why people would stick with Proraso Green or White when so many great soaps are readily available—but that, of course, is the nature of YMMV (though I suspect few of the Proraso aficionados have tried good alternatives such as the soaps listed).

The lather, as with other high-quality soaps, is immediate, rich, fragrant, and sustained: thick and creamy throughout the shave. The brush used today is the Wet Shaving Products Prince, but any good brush would love to play with this soap. I highly recommend the soap, all the more so since it is now sold in containers rather than merely as naked pucks. (I don’t care for naked pucks because I have to get a container and glue the label on the container.

The iKon DLC slant did a fine job, and finally I did notice a difference between this torqued slant and the other slants I’ve used this week, whether torqued or not. The DLC slant has quite a resonant sound, amplifying the slight noise of the blade cutting the stubble to highly audible levels—actually sort of pleasant. But so far as cutting action and efficiency: I really cannot detect any difference, and I would love to hear from any who have used both a torqued slant and one that’s not torqued—the latter being the plain humpback slant, like the iKon Shavecraft #102 or the Above the Tie slant (not yet released—but on order). I have heard from only one person who strongly maintains there’s a difference in performance and feel, but his testimony is somewhat weakened by the fact that he’s never tried a humpback slant and, according to him, never will try it since he already knows that it won’t perform so well as torqued slants. But I can’t detect the difference. Maybe you can.

Three passes with the razor, using a Personna Lab Blue blade, and no nicks: the zero pressure thing does seem to work.

A good splash of Pashana, and the weekend begins.

Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2014 at 9:19 am

Posted in Shaving

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