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Archive for November 5th, 2015

The Push for Legal Marijuana Spreads

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The NY Times has a good editorial:

Support for making marijuana legal is increasing around the world, and that is a good thing. Earlier this week, the Mexican Supreme Courtopened the door to legalizing the drug by giving four plaintiffs the right to grow cannabis for personal use.

In Canada, the newly sworn in prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has said he intends to change the law so people can use the drug recreationally; medicinal use is already legal in that country. And in the United States, Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president, recentlyintroduced a bill that would let states decide if they want to make the drug legal without worrying about violating federal law.

Laws banning the growing, distribution and possession of marijuana have caused tremendous damage to society, with billions spent on imprisoning people for violating pointlessly harsh laws. Yet research shows that marijuana is far less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, and can be used to treat medical conditions like chronic pain.

The Mexican Supreme Court’s ruling, which applies only to the four plaintiffs seeking a right to grow marijuana, does not strike down the country’s marijuana laws. But it will open the way to more legal challenges and put pressure on President Enrique Peña Nieto and the Mexican Congress to change the law, which has helped to fuel drug-related crime in the country.

Prohibition in Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas will also become harder to maintain if California voters legalize recreational use of marijuana. Activists there are seeking to put legalization initiatives on the2016 ballot. California was the first state to allow medicinal use of the drugin 1996, and it is a big market for illegal Mexican cannabis. It would make little sense for Mexico to spend countless millions a year in drug enforcement to ban a substance that is legal and regulated across its northern border all the way up the western coast to Canada. Oregon and Washington have already legalized the drug, as have Colorado, Alaska and the District of Columbia.

Some proponents of keeping prohibition in place might be encouraged by the defeat of an Ohio legalization initiative on Tuesday. But voters did the right thing by rejecting that measure because it would have granted a monopoly over the growing and sale of legal marijuana to a small group of investors. Even the acting administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration, Chuck Rosenberg, who opposes legalization, describedthat ballot measure as an “anomaly.” (Mr. Rosenberg also said marijuana was “harmful and dangerous” but he acknowledged that other dangerous substances are “perfectly legal.”)

What’s needed now is responsible leadership from President Obama and Congress. They ought to seriously consider the kind oflegislation Mr. Sanders has proposed. His bill would remove marijuana, or “marihuana” as it is called in federal law, from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, which is meant for drugs that have a high potential for abuse and no medical use.

This change would allow states to decide if they want to make the drug legal and how to regulate it without being limited by federal law. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 8:13 pm

Posted in Drug laws

The pro-Clinton Center for American Progress doesn’t look so good in its emails

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Glenn Greenwald has a lengthy report in The Intercept that includes several of the emails. The charges are serious, and the undermining of open discussion is shameful. I encourage you to read the whole thing.

Leaked internal emails from the powerful Democratic think tank Center for American Progress (CAP) shed light on several public controversies involving the organization, particularly in regard to its positioning on Israel. They reveal the lengths to which the group has gone in order to placate AIPAC and long-time Clinton operative and Israel activist Ann Lewis — including censoring its own writers on the topic of Israel.

The emails also provide crucial context for understanding CAP’s controversial decision to host an event next week for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. That event, billed by CAP as “A Conversation with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” will feature CAP President Neera Tanden and Netanyahu together in a Q&A session as they explore “ways to strengthen the partnership between Israel and the United States.” That a group whose core mission is loyalty to the White House and the Democratic Party would roll out the red carpet for a hostile Obama nemesis is bizarre, for reasons the Huffington Post laid out when it reported on the controversy provoked by CAP’s invitation.

The emails, provided to The Intercept by a source authorized to receive them, are particularly illuminating about the actions of Tanden (right), a stalwart Clinton loyalist as well as a former Obama White House official. They show Tanden and key aides engaging in extensive efforts of accommodation in response to AIPAC’s and Lewis’ vehement complaints that CAP is allowing its writers to be “anti-Israel.” Other emails show Tanden arguing that Libyans should be forced to turn over large portions of their oil revenues to repay the U.S. for the costs incurred in bombing Libya, on the grounds that Americans will support future wars only if they see that the countries attacked by the U.S. pay for the invasions.

For years, CAP has exerted massive influence in Washington through its ties to the Democratic Party and its founder, John Podesta, one of Washington’s most powerful political operatives. The group is likely to become even more influential due to its deep and countless ties to the Clintons. As the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent put it earlier this year: CAP “is poised to exert outsized influence over the 2016 president race and — should Hillary Clinton win it — the policies and agenda of the 45th President of the United States. CAP founder John Podesta is set to run Clinton’s presidential campaign, and current CAP president Neera Tanden is a longtime Clinton confidante and adviser.”

The recent CAP announcement of the Netanyahu event has generated substantial confusion and even anger among Democratic partisans. Netanyahu “sacrificed much of his popularity with the Democratic Party by crusading against the Iran nuclear deal,” the Huffington Post noted. Netanyahu has repeatedly treated the Obama White House as a political enemy. Indeed, just today, Netanyahu appointed “as his new chief of public diplomacy a conservative academic who suggested President Obama was anti-Semitic and compared Secretary of State John Kerry’s ‘mental age’ to that of a preteen.”

A core objective of Netanyahu’s trip to Washington is to re-establish credibility among progressives in the post-Obama era. For that reason, the Huffington Post reported, “the Israeli government pushed hard for an invite to” CAP and “was joined by [AIPAC], which also applied pressure to CAP to allow Netanyahu to speak.”

The article quoted several former CAP staffers angered by the group’s capitulation to the demands of the Israeli government and AIPAC; said one: Netanyahu is “looking for that progressive validation, and they’re basically validating a guy who race-baited during his election and has disavowed the two-state solution, which is CAP’s own prior work.” Matt Duss, a former foreign policy analyst at CAP, said “the idea that CAP would agree to give him bipartisan cover is really disappointing” since “this is someone who is an enemy of the progressive agenda, who has targeted Israeli human rights organizations throughout his term, and was re-elected on the back of blatant anti-Arab race-baiting.” Yet another former CAP staffer, Ali Gharib, published an article in The Nation noting that Netanyahu has all but formally aligned himself with the GOP, writing: “That a liberal institution feels the need to kowtow to AIPAC in a climate like this speaks volumes about either how out of touch or how craven it can be.”

But none of this should be surprising. The Nation previously investigated CAP’s once-secret list of corporate donors, documenting how the group will abandon Democratic Party orthodoxy whenever that orthodoxy conflicts with the interests of its funders. That article noted that “Tanden ratcheted up the efforts to openly court donors, which has impacted CAP’s work. Staffers were very clearly instructed to check with the think tank’s development team before writing anything that might upset contributors.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 5:07 pm

The Woman Who Stared at Wasps

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Evolution has shaped baroque solutions in creating networks of benefits and trade-offs in various lifeforms. Take, for example, wasps…  Veronique Greenwood interviews Joan Strassmann in Quanta:

As an undergraduate in the 1970s, Joan Strassmann split her time between writing short stories and laying siege to the office of her mentor, the sociobiologist Dick Alexander. For two years, she insisted on meeting with him every Friday to discuss research, a schedule that she now thinks was probably quite an imposition. “He would give me so much reading,” she recalled, “it would take me forever. I would work night and day to finish it, and maybe this was his strategy — maybe he was hoping I’d cancel or something.” But that intense focus became one of the hallmarks of her pioneering research on social insects. link

In graduate school at the University of Texas, Austin, Strassmann began to study wasps that live in hierarchical colonies, starting with a nest that was thriving in a tractor shed near the main campus. “I was really planning to work on something else, some other social organism, like ground squirrels,” said Strassmann, now at Washington University in St. Louis. “Everyone knew that I was actually terrified of wasps.” But on a dare, she and a friend ventured into the shed and painted each wasp with a different identifying dot of paint, the standard preparation for studying the social dynamics of an insect colony. Then she just started watching them. And watching them.

She was in good company. Insects that live incooperative colonies — ants, termites, and some wasps and bees — have fascinated scientists for more than a century because they pose an evolutionary conundrum. Darwin himself saw their way of life as a challenge to his ideas. The theory of evolution seems to predict that each individual will fight to pass on its traits, but in a colony, only a very small number of insects actually get to reproduce: the queens and their mates. The rest give up their chance to contribute to the gene pool, caring for the offspring of others instead. How could this lifestyle, known as eusociality, have evolved? How could it make sense for the ancestors of modern worker bees or wasps to give up their autonomy? It seems biologically implausible.

Right around the time Strassmann was in college, however, biologists began to understand how social insects could fit into the framework of evolutionary theory. In aseminal paper, W.D. Hamilton proposed that cooperation might make sense in closely related individuals that share enough genes. If a bee with a maiden-aunt helper produces twice as many offspring as it might have otherwise, that arrangement makes evolutionary sense for the non-reproducing assistant, which is indirectly passing on its genes. But that benefit is reduced as relatedness declines, so eusociality would only arise among close relatives.

Strassmann found clear evidence of Hamilton’s idea in her tractor-shed wasps. When a nest is destroyed, its members will disperse to sister nests in a pattern that reflects their level of relationship to the queens. Each wasp serves only the leaders it is most closely related to. Strassmann continued to study wasps over the next 20 years with her husband and collaborator, David Queller, and the two have uncovered many other details of how relatedness shapes the behavior of social insects, including how colonies keep relatedness high when multiple queens reign, and what it takes to turn a worker into a queen.

About 17 years ago, however, the pair began to shift to a new model organism, the amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. They suspected that this unusual creature could offer new insights into the dynamics of cooperation. In moments of starvation, these soil-dwelling amoebas crowd together and build a tower rising above the ground from which they disperse their spores to other, more hospitable places. Some 20 percent of the group will sacrifice themselves to build the tower with their bodies, while the rest take advantage of it to spread their genes.

Quanta Magazine spoke with Strassmann about the evolution of social insects, the secret lives of queen wasps, and what she’s learned about cooperation from a single-celled creature. An edited and condensed version of the interview follows.

QUANTA MAGAZINE: You began to study social wasps just as scientists were debating the origins of eusociality. What was that like?

JOAN STRASSMANN: It was a really exciting time. W.D. Hamilton’s paper came out in 1964, but it wasn’t really appreciated until the early ’70s, when I was in college. He outlined the framework of something called inclusive fitness, which is the sum of the effects of an individual’s actions on its own and others’ reproduction. Ultimately, it is the measure of an individual’s actions on the representation of its genes in the next generation.

You would help relatives, because they share genes with you. But it’s not quite as simple as that. People often act like you’ll always help a sibling more than a cousin, and so on, but the costs and benefits are really crucial. For example, you wouldn’t help sisters who share half your genes unless they would have at least double the number of progeny as a result of of your help.

Relatedness is easy to assess with molecular techniques. Assessing the costs and benefits, though, requires that you really understand the biology of the individuals in their natural habitat. Dave and I have a paper laying out two major benefits social insects gain from joining forces: fortress defense, where two of you can guard better than one, especially if you live in a nest with a tiny opening; and life insurance, where if one of you dies, the other ensures the survival of your babies. Fortress defense and life insurance are the two main reasons that cooperating could be beneficial in social insects.

Are there behaviors or traits that make it easier to become eusocial?

Yes — they’re actually very well known. The ancestors of social insects are parasitic wasps. As a parasite, you don’t want to make your host sick until you’re going to kill it, so these wasps don’t really poop as larvae. They just sort of hold it in. The same goes with social insects — you really don’t want to poop in the nest. How you control the poop in social organisms is a really important question.

Then there is maternal care. . .

Continue reading.

Do read the whole thing. It becomes more and more interesting.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 4:52 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

Companies Will Be Able to Sue Governments For Breaking TPP Copyright Rules

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This almost seems part of a power transition from government to multi-national corporations. Jordan Pearson reports in Motherboard:

Canada is the most-sued country under international free trade agreements that make it possible for private companies to sue governments for billions of dollars if a law threatens to hurt their profits. Now more legal trouble could be on the way under the Trans Pacific Partnership.

The full text of the Trans Pacific Partnership, the massive international trade deal that loops in 12 countries amounting to 40 percent of the world’s GDP, was released on Thursday after seven years of negotiations carried out entirely in secret.

Experts say that a stipulation in the investment chapter of the TPP means that lawsuits from foreign corporations—Hollywood studios and device manufacturers like Apple or Samsung, for example—are on the way for Canada, especially over issues like device hacking, tinkering, and digital piracy.

The chapter states that intellectual property rights are one of the grounds a company can sue a government over, which is too bad, because the IP chapter is a fucking mess. For example, if Apple took issue with Canada’s laws that say it’s okay to bypass Apple’s digital “locks” on the iPhone so you can switch carriers, it would have grounds for a lawsuit.

“Something that might get Canada in trouble very directly is if any company not based in Canada says they don’t want this cell phone unlocking thing that you allow in your copyright law, and that the CRTC now actually requires companies to let you do,” Tamir Israel, a staff lawyer for the Canadian Internet Policy and Public Interest Clinic, told me in an interview.

“That’s one specific example where if we get sued over that,” Israel continued, “we’ll have to go to an international tribunal and prove to them that the competitive landscape in Canada requires this, and it’s almost 50/50 as to what they’ll say.”

Another example: . . .

Continue reading.

In the meantime: Obama Signs Official Letter of Intent to Join the TPP

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 4:46 pm

Day Before Deadly Bombing, U.S. Official Asked if Any Taliban Were “Holed Up” At MSF Hospital

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Murtaza Hussain reports in The Intercept:

report released today by the medical aid group Doctors Without Borders (Médicins Sans Frontieres, or MSF) alleges that a U.S. gunship killed doctors and medical staff as they fled from a burning hospital targeted in a deadly October 3 aerial bombardment in Kunduz, Afghanistan. In addition to documenting the havoc wreaked by the attack, the report also claims that just a day before the bombing, an unnamed U.S. government official in Washington, D.C. had contacted the organization asking whether any Taliban fighters were “holed up” at the Kunduz hospital facility.

In a speech given in Kabul announcing the release of the report, Christopher Stokes, general director of MSF, said that the organization has yet to receive any explanation for the attack from the U.S. military. In light of the evidence that has now been compiled by the organization, “a mistake is quite hard to understand and believe at this stage,” Stokes added.

In its 13-page report on the initial results of its investigation into the incident, MSF says that it found no evidence to support the allegation that armed combatants had been present at the hospital, or that there had been any fighting occurring in the vicinity of the site. In the days leading up to the attack, an average of 117 patients had been receiving treatment in the hospital at any given time. Among these patients were wounded local civilians, government soldiers and Taliban forces, in keeping with both international law and MSF’s own policy of neutrality and treating injured patients without discrimination.

As documented in the report, on September 29, less than a week before the deadly bombing, MSF staff reaffirmed their GPS coordinates in communications with the U.S. Army, Department of Defense and Afghan government officials, all of whom provided either written or verbal acknowledgement of the location information. As fighting in Kunduz intensified around that time, culminating in a humiliating temporary takeover of the city by Taliban forces, a U.S. government official in Washington, D.C. contacted MSF on October 2 inquiring about the safety of its staff and asking whether there were any Taliban “holed up” at the Kunduz hospital or at any of their other facilities.

The next day, at roughly 2 a.m. local time, “MSF international staff members sleeping in the administrative building were woken up by the sound of the first explosions,” as an AC-130 gunship opened fire on the hospital compound. Over the next hour at least 30 MSF staff and patients were killed. Among these casualties were immobile patients in the hospital ICU who were burned alive in their beds, an MSF doctor decapitated after being struck by shrapnel, and a patient in a wheelchair killed as he tried to escape from the inpatient ward.

As the attack continued, despite increasingly frantic communications by MSF to the U.S. military informing them that the hospital was under bombardment, desperate staff were forced to operate on their own grievously injured co-workers. During the attack “an MSF doctor suffered a traumatic amputation to the leg in one of the blasts,” the report notes, explaining that “he was later operated on by the MSF team on a make-shift operating table on an office desk, where he died.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 4:23 pm

War is exciting, peace is boring: George H.W. Bush

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A very interesting comment in The Intercept by Jon Schwarz. He concludes:

It’s all just further proof that Adam Smith was right was he wrote this in The Wealth of Nations 239 years ago:

In great empires the people who live in the capital, and in the provinces remote from the scene of action, feel, many of them, scarce any inconveniency from the war; but enjoy, at their ease, the amusement of reading in the newspapers the exploits of their own fleets and armies. … They are commonly dissatisfied with the return of peace, which puts an end to their amusement, and to a thousand visionary hopes of conquest and national glory from a longer continuance of the war.

Regular people hate war, because they pay the price. But powerful people love it. That’s why there’s so much.

Read the whole thing, which shows an application of the principle.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 4:21 pm

Bad arguments for a “war on cops”

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Radley Balko has a very interesting round-up of journalists and pundits who used the death of Fox Lake Police Department Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz as showing how there is a war on cops. We now know that Gliniewicz had been embezzling public funds for years, that he thought it was about to come out, and he deliberately staged his suicide to look like an attack. (Details in this NY Times story.) Balko’s article is worth reading in its entirety. It begins:

We now know that Fox Lake, Illinois police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz killed himself in what local officials are calling a “carefully staged suicide,” likely to cover up the fact that he had been embezzling public funds for years. But in the days following Gliniewicz’s death, pundits, new outlets, and advocates quickly lumped his death in with that of Houston Dep. Darren Goforth to blame police critics, Black Lives Matter, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, and just about anyone else who was worried about police brutality for fostering and encouraging a “war on cops.”

We now know that not only was Gliniewicz’s death a suicide, but the man who killed Goforth, Shannon J. Miles, has a history of mentally illness, and oncenearly killed a man over an argument over what TV show to watch, but no connection to Black Lives Matter or any other anti-police brutality activist group.

Here’s a partial list of people and outlets who used Gliniewicz’s death to push a “war on cops” narrative:

Lloyd Green, at The Daily Beast:

As in 1968, crime again stands to dislodge the Democrats from the White House, in the same way that in 1988 crime helped propel George H.W. Bush to Ronald Reagan’s third term.

Look around—history can repeat itself. This past week, three mengunned down police Lt. Joe Gliniewicz in the President’s adopted home state of Illinois, even as people were mourning the execution-style killing of Darren Goforth, a Harris County Texas Sheriff’s Deputy.

Yet Obama and his party appear helpless, hostages to the same demographic forces they courted, and then rode to power.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, at Hot Air:

Over the last week, we’ve seen a disturbing trend of police officers being murdered on the job. Texas Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth was killed Friday, gunned down while pumping gas for no apparent reason other than the uniform on his back. And just yesterday, in my neighboring state of Illinois, police Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was assassinated by three men, who are still on the run.

Pat Buchanan:

Barack Obama, as chief law enforcement officer of the United States, is going to have to stop acting like a conscientious objector in this war on cops.

Wednesday, another officer, in Fox Lake, Illinois, Lt. Charles “GI Joe” Gliniewicz, was gunned down. Last Friday, Darren Goforth, a Houston deputy sheriff, was shot 15 times by an alleged black racist.

President Obama called the widow of Deputy Goforth, but he has yet to show the same indignation and outrage he exhibited at what happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida and Michael Brown in Ferguson.

Note that the man who killed Goforth was mentally ill, and not connected to Black Lives Matter. Moving on, here’s Ron Hosko, president of the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund, writing in USA Today:

In the wake of the execution-style murder of another law enforcement officer last Friday and with a manhunt underway near Chicago after the murder of yet another officer, renewed finger-pointing and incendiary actions threaten to widen the divide between the police and some in the communities they serve.

Police Chief Rodney Jones, in the San Bernadino County Sun:

Garcia’s arrest in Fontana underscored what Fontana Police Chief Rodney Jones said was an uptick this year in people resisting arrest and fleeing from officers. Whether that was related to the increased scrutiny and fear of police was not clear, but Jones suspects there’s a connection.

“You can’t ignore the fact that the timing is consistent with the media coverage of what has occurred in Ferguson and in New York and in other cases. The timing is fairly consistent,” Jones said.

In the past month alone, four police officers or sheriff’s deputies were killed in the line of duty across the country, and at least one of the killings was a suspected execution.

On Sept. 1, Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, a 30-year veteran of the Lake County Sheriff’s Department in Illinois, was fatally shot in a marsh while chasing three people.

From NBC 5 Chicago: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 3:44 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement, Media

The Republican Class War

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George Packer has written a long and thoughtful article in the New Yorker about the struggles within the Republican Party as it tries to get itself ready for the 2016 election. It’s well worth reading. It begins:

One recent morning at the Jefferson Hotel, in Washington, D.C., Peter Wehner, a conservative writer who served as an adviser for the past three Republican Presidents, described his party’s problems over a bowl of oatmeal. He said, “We got clobbered in 2012”—the fifth Presidential election out of the past six in which the Republican candidate lost the popular vote. “There’s a demographic problem. White votes are going down two points every year. We’re out of touch with the middle class.” Mitt Romney—whose very hair embodies wealthy privilege—was nominated at a national convention, in Tampa, that became an Ayn Rand-style celebration of business executives, the heroic “makers.” During the campaign, Romney wrote off forty-seven per cent of the country—the “takers”—as government parasites. He went on to lose badly to President Barack Obama, whom Republicans had regarded as an obvious failure, a target as vulnerable as Jimmy Carter. In the shock of that defeat, Wehner said, some conservatives realized that “there was a need for a policy agenda that reaches the middle class.” He added, “This was not a blinding insight.”

A generation ago, Democrats lost five of six Presidential elections; in 1992, Bill Clinton, calling himself a New Democrat, ended the streak. Clinton didn’t repudiate the whole Democratic platform—government activism on behalf of ordinary Americans remained the Party’s core idea—but he adopted positions on issues like crime and welfare that were more closely aligned with the views of the majority, including some rank-and-file Democrats. The message, Wehner said, was as much symbolic as substantive: “ ‘We’re not a radical party; we’ve sanded off our rougher edges, and you can trust me.’ ” He went on, “The hope for some of us was that our candidate in 2016 would be the Republican version of Clinton”—a conservative reformer who, having learned from past defeats, championed economic policies that placed Republicans on the side of the hard-pressed, including non-white Americans, the soon-to-be majority.
For fresh ideas, such a candidate had only to turn to a group of Republican thinkers who call themselves “reformocons,” of whom Wehner is a leader. Last year, the reformocons published a pamphlet of policy proposals called “Room to Grow,” on health care, education, taxes, entitlements, and other topics. In an introduction, Wehner writes, “Americans do not have a sense that conservatives offer them a better shot at success and security than liberals. For that to change, conservatives in American politics need to understand constituents’ concerns, speak to those aspirations and worries, and help people see how applying conservative principles and deploying conservative policies could help make their lives better.”
The essays don’t upend Republican orthodoxy. They argue that government should intervene on behalf of poor and middle-income Americans, but in ways that apply market principles to public policy, taking power away from Washington and giving individuals more options. Some proposals are familiar: school choice, health-care savings accounts. Others are more daring—for example, having college education underwritten by private investors, then repaid over the next decade as a predetermined percentage of graduates’ earnings. A few ideas, such as a wage subsidy that would increase the pay of workers making less than forty thousand dollars a year, building on the Earned Income Tax Credit, could easily garner bipartisan support.

“Room to Grow” contains a striking description of the American economic landscape: children born into poverty with little chance of escaping it, and middle-class families overwhelmed by the rising costs of health care and education while their incomes stay flat. It’s not that different from the story that Elizabeth Warren, the liberal Massachusetts senator, tells. After years of ignoring these stark realities—or of blaming big government, in the spirit of Ronald Reagan—some Republicans have begun to sound more like Abraham Lincoln or Theodore Roosevelt.
The reformocon project shows how extreme mainstream conservatism has become in its opposition to anything involving the state. The reformocons court right-wing censure simply by acknowledging that the middle class is under pressure, and that government has a role to play beyond cutting taxes. The reckless, and ultimately doomed, shutdown of the federal government by congressional Republicans, in October, 2013, precipitated the first conference of reformocons, in Middleburg, Virginia, and that led to “Room to Grow.”
When the 2016 Presidential campaign began, an organizer of the conference, April Ponnuru, became a policy adviser to Jeb Bush. Governor John Kasich, of Ohio, read an essay by Wehner and Michael Gerson, a speechwriter in the Bush White House, titled “A Conservative Vision of Government,” and expressed approval to an aide. Senator Marco Rubio, of Florida, sought policy advice from several reformocons, including Yuval Levin, who, as editor of the quarterlyNational Affairs, is the group’s foremost intellectual. Earlier this year, Rubio published a book, “American Dreams: Restoring Economic Opportunity for Everyone,” interwoven with the personal stories of struggling Floridians. Most of the policy ideas came directly from “Room to Grow,” a debt that Rubio acknowledged effusively.
To the reformocons, the Republican Presidential race appeared to be stocked with candidates who were eager to take the Party into the twenty-first century. “I thought it was a group of people who would make that case,” Wehner said. He looked up from his oatmeal with a wan smile. “But then came Mr. Trump.” . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 3:26 pm

Posted in Election, GOP, Government

Rights Groups Call on U.S. Agencies to Appoint Human Rights Contact

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It seems that the US government is not all that interested in human rights, something you often detect in governments that institute programs of torture and protect the torturers. In The Intecept Jenna McLaughlin points out a good example of government indifference:

More than two dozen civic groups groups are asking why government agencies haven’t found somebody to respond to possible human rights violations within the agencies’ areas of responsibility — as required by a 1998 executive order.

The groups sent letters to six agencies on Wednesday — the Department of Defense, the Department of Justice, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence — echoing their past request for a point of contact who can respond to violations of international human rights treaties.

The authors of the letter, including government accountability, civil rights, and consumer advocate organizations, pointed to the recent decision by the EU Court of Justice — invalidating a free-flowing data-sharing pact between the U.S. and Europe out of privacy concerns — as a reason for urgency in filling the role.

“The United States is lagging behind most of the free world with its disregard of the rights of the rest of the world,” wrote Amie Stepanovich, U.S. policy manager for Access Now, in an email to The Intercept. “It is now more important than ever for the U.S. to recognize that human rights treaties have force beyond our borders.”

President Obama himself has argued that foreigners deserve a higher standard of protection following NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden’s disclosures about U.S. international spying.

As the letter points out, government agencies are required by Bill Clinton’s Executive Order 13107 to appoint and publicize an officer to handle concerns or questions about human rights, including internationally.

“A first step would be implementing a mechanism for agencies to accept complaints, and they haven’t even been able to take that simple act,” wrote Stepanovich. “We call on those agencies to act now.”

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 3:20 pm

Justin Trudeau is doing some very interesting things in Canada

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He’s brought back the census so the government can know what’s going on and plan/respond accordingly. His new cabinet, announced Wednesday morning, is 50 percent women. (When a journalist asked why, Trudeau answer, “Because it’s 2015.”) And the Ministry of Environment is now the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.


Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 3:17 pm

An intriguing exposition of Shakespeare’s genius

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Fintan O’Toole has an interesting review in the NY Review of Books:

The Year of Lear: Shakespeare in 1606
by James Shapiro
Simon and Schuster, 367 pp., $30.00

Even by its own standards of extremity, King Lear ends on a note of extraordinary bleakness. The audience has just been through the most devastating scene in all of theater: Lear’s entrance with his dead daughter Cordelia in his arms and the words “Howl, howl, howl, howl!” coming from somewhere deep inside him. All is, as Kent puts it, “cheerless, dark, and deadly.”

Albany, the weak, widowed, and childless man who is all that remains of political authority, goes through the ritual end-of-play motions of rewarding the good and punishing the bad, but these motions are self-consciously perfunctory. When he says, “What comfort to this great decay may come/Shall be applied,” we know that the comfort will be small and cold. Albany promises to restore Lear to his abandoned kingship, but the old king utterly ignores the offer of power, and promptly dies.

Albany then tries to appoint Edgar and Kent as joint rulers, but Kent replies that he, too, intends to die shortly. No one, it seems, is willing to perform the necessary theatrical rites of closure, to present even the pretense that order has been restored. And so the only possible ending is the big one. Because the play cannot end, the world must end. In the original version that Shakespeare completed in 1606, the last lines are Albany’s:

The oldest have borne most. We that are young
Shall never see so much, nor live so long.

Why will the young not live to be old? Because the end of the world is coming. The bad news does not end there. This is not even the Christian apocalypse, in which the bad are damned to Hell and the good ascend into the eternal bliss of Heaven. We’ve just seen a version of that last judgment, with the rather pitiful Albany playing God the Father:

              All friends shall taste
The wages of their virtue, and all foes
The cup of their deservings….

This assurance of just deserts is immediately undercut by one of the most terrifying images of injustice, Lear’s raging at a universe in which dogs, horses, and even rats have life but his daughter will never have any again, in this world or the next: “Never, never, never.” This is why King Lear was so unbearable that it was Nahum Tate’s infamous version, with its happy ending for Lear, Cordelia, and Edgar, that held the stage from 1681 to 1843, and why a critic as discerning as Samuel Johnson supported Tate’s alterations on the grounds that Shakespeare’s ending violates the natural human desire for justice. Johnson admitted to finding the original ending so upsetting that he did not reread it until his duties as an editor of Shakespeare forced him to do so.

This aversion is not unreasonable. King Lear is not apocalyptic, it is far worse. Instead of deserved damnation and merited salvation, there is merely the big fat O, the nothing that haunts the play, the “O, O, O, O!” with which Lear expires. Even Shakespeare seems to have thought twice about this utter annihilation of hope and justice. When he rewrote the play, probably two or three years after its first performance in 1606, he allowed Lear (and the audience) one little moment of merciful illusion. Instead of that terrible “O, O, O, O!,” Lear is permitted to lapse with his dying breath into the fantasy that Cordelia’s dead lips are moving after all. It is as if even Shakespeare, watching his own play, could not quite bear its unyielding ferocity.

That such a play is possible at all is one of the great wonders of human creation. That it was written by a liveried servant of a Calvinist king who devoutly believed in salvation and damnation, and performed at his court, seems almost inexplicable. Or at least it seemed inexplicable before James Shapiro’s wonderfully illuminating The Year of Lear.

Shapiro’s A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599, published in 2005, broke new ground in the subtlety, vividness, and richness of its explorations of the relationship between Shakespeare’s plays and their immediate social and political settings.* He repeats that achievement for 1606, an astonishing year in which Shakespeare finished the first version of King Lear, probably wrote all of Macbeth, and almost certainly wrote and staged Antony and Cleopatra. Shapiro plunges these tragedies back into the whirlpool of plots and plagues, of religious and political anxieties, from which they emerged. He does not drown them in historical detail, but he does bring them before us still wet from their struggle to emerge from the urgent currents of politics and power.

Shapiro has a marvelous ability to use his formidable scholarship, not to pluck out the heart of Shakespeare’s mysteries, but to put the beating heart of the contemporary back into them. His great gift is to make the plays seem at once more comprehensible and more staggering. The better we understand the immediate materials with which Shakespeare was working and the political pressures to which he was responding, the more profoundly we can appreciate the alchemy of his transformations.

To see Shakespeare as a court official working to please his political masters is not to reduce him to the level of functionary or propagandist. It is to marvel anew at the ways in which he could use even such humbling demands as sources of imaginative energy. Though it may be incidental to his purpose, Shapiro effectively overturns the Romantic conception of the artist as the champion of freedom over necessity. We begin to see a Shakespeare for whom the distinction between freedom and necessity is scarcely relevant. Here is Shakespeare as an opportunist in every sense, a political operator taking advantage of a shift in power and a voracious artist for whom the need to please new masters is not a restriction but a creative stimulus.

In April 1603, James VI of Scotland, then just thirty-six, began his long ride from Edinburgh to London, where he would succeed the childless Elizabeth I as James I of England. This was an unlikely event: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 3:12 pm

Posted in Books

Small Towns Face Rising Suicide Rates

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Very interesting article in the NY Times by Laura Beil. It includes some positive steps that can help assuage the problem, and it describes well the situation that creates the problem:

. . . Rural adolescents commit suicide at roughly twice the rate of their urban peers, according to a study published in the May issue of the journal JAMA Pediatrics. Although imbalances between city and country have long persisted, “we weren’t expecting that the disparities would be increasing over time,” said the study’s lead author, Cynthia Fontanella, a psychologist at Ohio State University.

“The rates are higher, and the gap is getting wider.”

Suicide is a threat not just to the young. Rates over all rose 7 percent in metropolitan counties from 2004 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In rural counties, the increase was 20 percent.

The problem reaches across demographic boundaries, encompassing such groups as older men, Native Americans and veterans. The sons and daughters of small towns are more likely to serve in the military, and nearly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans live in rural communities.

The C.D.C. reported last year that Wyoming has the highest suicide rate in the nation, almost 30 deaths per 100,000 people in 2012, far above the national average of 12.6 per 100,000. Not far behind were Alaska, Montana, New Mexico and Utah, all states where isolation can be common. The village of Hooper Bay, Alaska, recently recorded four suicides in two weeks.

In one telephone survey of 1,000 Wyoming residents, half of those who responded said someone close to them had attempted or died by suicide.

In September, mental health experts, community volunteers and law enforcement officers gathered in Casper to discuss possible solutions. Among the participants was Bobbi Barrasso, the wife of Senator John Barrasso, who has made suicide prevention a personal and political mission.

“Wyoming is a beautiful state,” she told the crowd. “We have great open spaces. We are a state of small population. We care about one another. We’re resourceful, we’re resilient, we cowboy up. And of course, I’ve learned it’s those very things that have led to a high incidence of suicide in our state.”

Rural suicide arises from all the circumstances Ms. Barrasso noted and more. Despite a sleepy “Mayberry” sort of image, the realities of small-town life can take an outsize toll on the vulnerable. A combination of lower incomes, greater isolation, family issues and health problems can lead people to be consumed by day-to-day struggles, said Emily Selby-Nelson, a psychologist at Cabin Creek Health Systems, which provides health care in the rural hills of West Virginia.

“Rather than say, ‘I need help,’ they keep working and they get overwhelmed. They can start to think they are a burden on their family and lose hope.”

Country life can be lonely for people in the grip of mental illness or emotional upheaval, and the means to follow through on suicidal thoughts are close at hand. Firearms, the most common method, are a pervasive part of the culture; 51 percent of rural households own a gun, compared with 25 percent of urban homes, the Pew Research Center reported last year.

Experts also note a mind-set, born long ago of necessity, dictating that people solve their own problems. . .

The article does suggest some approaches that can help.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 2:42 pm

The Mükava adjustable reading table

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This is the perfect thing for those looking for something like this. Looks to be very well made. No assembly required—take that, Ikea.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 9:00 am

Posted in Daily life

The $20 Edwin Jagger with a stainless handle

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SOTD 5 Nov 2015

An extremely nice shave today with a super-smooth result.

The Satin Tip synthetic easily made a fine lather from Meißner Tremonia’s Moroccan Rhassoul. I continue to wish that the Satin Tip loft was about 5mm greater, but I recognize that it does a fine job as is. now offers a really superb razor for the novice (and for more experienced shavers, for that matter): for $20, an Edwin Jagger/Mühle head on a stainless steel SE handle, which is the combination shown above. My SE handle is an iKon, and the handle Italian Barber is using is not identified as an iKon, but the two handles look much alike. I did three very comfortable passes and readily achieved a BBS result with no problems.

A good splash of Cavendish, a very nice aftershave from Phoenix Artisan Accoutrements, and I’m ready for a new day.

Written by Leisureguy

5 November 2015 at 8:30 am

Posted in Shaving

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