Later On

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Archive for September 2016

Signs for hope: Whistleblower in ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ case gets money and an award

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Marisa Taylor reports in McClatchy:

A senior intelligence official has settled with the federal government after he alleged that he was punished for disclosing that the Pentagon’s watchdog had shielded former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta from allegations that he’d leaked sensitive information.

Daniel Meyer, who previously oversaw the Defense Department’s decisions on whistleblower cases, also accused the Pentagon inspector general’s office of targeting him for being gay.

As part of the agreement, the Pentagon inspector general’s office said it would give Meyer an undisclosed monetary settlement, according to three people with knowledge of the negotiations. They asked to remain anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter.

The inspector general’s office also promised to give Meyer two awards in “recognition for his services,” a Sept. 19 settlement document obtained by McClatchy says.

Meyer, who is now the top official overseeing whistleblower retaliation complaints for the intelligence community, agreed to drop the complaint he’d filed with an administrative panel that handles grievances by federal employees.

Meyer had accused his former Defense Department bosses of “manipulation of a final report to curry favor” with Panetta.

A draft of the inspector general’s report had concluded that Panetta had leaked classified information to the makers of the film “Zero Dark Thirty,” Meyer said. That conclusion, however, was removed from the report’s final version.

Since then, the CIA has released documents that support Meyer’s allegations.

Allegations of anti-Semitism against Joseph Schmitz, one of Donald Trump’s foreign policy advisers, also surfaced in Meyer’s complaint filed with the federal panel. Meyer contended that Schmitz, then-Pentagon inspector general, had told former Pentagon official John Crane: “I fired the Jews,” while downplaying the extent of the Holocaust. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the story, the plot thickens:

. . . Meyer’s settlement, however, comes as an investigation into a related case advances. . .

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2016 at 5:40 pm

“I’ve come to admire Hillary Clinton. What on earth happened?”

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Very interesting column in the Washington Post by Dannielle Allen, a political theorist at Harvard University and a contributing columnist for the Post. She started out not liking Hillary Clinton very much at all (and she gives her reasons), but then:

. . . Yet somehow between Clinton’s 2015 campaign announcement and the present, I’ve come to admire her. What on earth happened? Call me crazy, but I read her emails. Or at least, I read as many of them as I could. You try it. It’s no small task. And what blazes out of those emails above all is a combination of discipline and dedication to the U.S. cause. Then I started listening to her town-hall events. The discipline and dedication were richly in evidence there, too.

A vast number of her emails concern her schedule. As it happens, I’m obsessed with calendars. I’m a reasonably busy person myself, and I’ve been interested in efficiency and time management ever since as a child I read “Cheaper by the Dozen.” I have never seen anything like Clinton’s discipline and efficiency. This is a woman who knows how to use her time to get things done. As a result, she has already won the greatest reward. As a working mom, she has a daughter who plainly, adoringly loves her. What’s more, this is a woman whose stamina is unlike anything I have ever seen. . .

Read the whole thing.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2016 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Democrats, Election

Why is the American South so poor?

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Very interesting response to the question, with interesting comments as well.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2016 at 5:00 pm

Lawmaker Who Pushed Bill to Protect People Filming Police Arrested for Filming Police

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Naomi LaChance reports in The Intercept:

An Arkansas State representative who helped pass a state law protecting people who film police was arrested Monday while filming Little Rock police as they put a black man in handcuffs after a traffic stop.

The charges against Rep. John Walker have been dropped, but his colleague, fellow civil rights lawyer Omavi Shukur, faces charges for obstruction of government relations.

Officer Jeff Thompson wrote in his police report: “I ordered Walker several times to leave or be arrested. Walker replied ‘arrest me’ at which point I did.”

Police on Wednesday released dashcam video of the incident. “I’m just making sure they don’t kill you,” Walker told the man who had been pulled over, according to the police report.

Citizens who film police often face arrest or retaliation. For example:

  • Ruben An sued the NYPD in July for arresting him in while he filmed police officers in 2014.
  • Ramsey Orta, who filmed Eric Garner’s arrest in 2014, said he was later arrested in “retaliation.” He is suing the city of New York.
  • Lynwood Keith Golden was arrested after filming police in Wetumpka, Alabama in June. He has filed a lawsuit.
  • Maurice Crawley was arrested in Syracuse, N.Y., in July while filming an arrest, sparking protests.
  • Kenneth Holmes was arrested in May while filming an arrest in Austin, Texas.
  • A lawsuit alleges that police illegally detained Abdullah Muflahi, the man who filmed police officer Blane Salamoni shoot Alton Sterling. They seized his convenience store surveillance video and cell phone in Baton Rouge.

Arrest for filming are actually becoming less common, said Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst at the ACLU. “The long time that it took police officers to recognize this right was in many ways an indictment of police management. It also shows that photography is a form of power,” he told the Intercept.

In February, though,  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2016 at 4:29 pm

‘Do Not Resist’: A chilling look at the normalization of warrior cops

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UPDATE: This NY Times article is highly relevant to the story below.  /update

Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

The haunting thing about the new policing documentary “Do Not Resist” is what it doesn’t show. There are no images of cops beating people. No viral videos of horrifying shootings. Sure, there are scenes from the Ferguson protests in which riot cops deploy tear gas. But there’s no blood, no Tasings, no death. Yet when it was over, I had to force myself to exhale.

What makes this movie so powerful is its terrifying portrayal of the mundanities of modern policing. I watched the movie weeks ago, but there are scenes that still flicker in my head. We all remember the clashes between police and protesters in Ferguson. We’ve seen the photos. We saw the anger and the animus exchanged across the protest lines. What we didn’t see were the hours and hours before and after those moments. We didn’t see the MRAPs and other armored vehicles roll in, one at a time, slowly transforming an American town into a war zone. We didn’t hear the clomp of combat boots on asphalt in the quiet hours of the early morning, interrupted only by fuzzy dispatches over police radio.

It’s one thing to show an MRAP — a vehicle built for war, and for a very specific purpose in a very specific type of war — being misused after a small-town police agency obtained it from the Defense Department. “Do Not Resist” takes you to the base where those vehicles are stored. A camera trained on the window captures hundreds of MRAPs — rows and rows and rows of them — scrolling by, all destined for a police agency somewhere in America. Meanwhile, an Army specialist explains how the troops who use the vehicles get hours and hours of training before they’re entrusted to drive the trucks on a battlefield. The Pentagon then gives the trucks to police agencies to use on U.S. streets with no accompanying training at all. Sometimes, the specialist says, a police agency will find a body part in one of the trucks. They try to avoid that. But after all, these are machines of war.

The film crew then takes a ride with a small-town sheriff as he drives his hulking new MRAP through business districts and quiet neighborhoods — that is, once he figures out how to operate it. The most disturbing thing about this scene isn’t the truck itself, or the striking images of the truck in the town, or even the sheriff’s statement that it will probably mostly be used for drug raids. The most disturbing thing is that it simply doesn’t occur to the sheriff that the footage might be disturbing. He has no problem letting a film crew show this massive contraption built to withstand roadside bombs in a military convoy lumbering through his small town, because the notion that military vehicles aren’t appropriate for domestic policing is foreign to him.

Then there’s the drug raid. It’s one thing to read about a “dynamic entry” drug raid in which the police mistakenly or intentionally kill someone, or in which someone mistakenly or intentionally kills a police officer. It’s awful and tragic and unnecessary. “Do Not Resist” doesn’t show one of those. It instead shows the sort of drug raid that’s far more common. The movie depicts the raid from the beginning, as the officers from the Richland County Sheriff’s Department tactical team are meeting to discuss strategy. Some are wearing T-shirts with the tactical team’s logo. It’s a human skull imposed over two crossed AR-15s.

There are no children at the residence, the lead officer assures his colleagues. (There were.) There would be a significant quantity of illegal drugs at the house, another says. (There weren’t.) The tactical team then proceeds to raid the home of a black family in Richland County. Most officers storm the front door with their guns while one shatters some side windows as a distraction. Minutes go by. The officers’ body language eventually shows signs of frustration as their search for contraband continues to come up empty. Finally, someone finds a book bag with traces of marijuana at the bottom — not enough to smoke, much less sell. They arrest a young black man with long braids for possession.

“I never one time said you’re a bad person,” the lead officer tells his arrestee, with an odd cordiality. “I just have a job to do, and you happen to be in the middle of it.”

The officer also seems to know that the man is a student at a local technical college. He’s working toward a degree in construction. The man also runs a landscaping company to help pay for his education. The man later tells the officer that he was on his way to pick up some lawnmowers that morning. Knowing that he’s about to be arrested, he asks the officer if he could tell his employee that he was arrested and won’t be able to pick up the lawnmowers. He then gives the officer $876 in cash and asks it to give it to his employee to go pick up the mowers, along with a weed-eater.

Instead, the officer confiscates the money under civil asset forfeiture laws. There is no obvious connection between the money and the pot residue. The man volunteered the cash, mostly because he didn’t want his arrest to hurt his business. In doing so, he provided ample evidence that the cash had nothing to do with illegal activity. Still, if unchallenged, the $876 will go back to the Richland County Sheriff’s Department, even if the man is never charged with a crime. The cost of hiring an attorney for such a challenge would likely exceed $876.

Meanwhile, the man’s father asks the officers whether the police would pay for the windows they just shattered. The lead officer tells him that breaking the windows was a tactic, then adds, “The moral of the story is, don’t sell drugs from your residence.” Perhaps realizing that he had no evidence for what he had just accused the man of doing, he tried to correct himself. “I didn’t say you were actually doing it, I just said — said you were associated with … ” and then there’s some mumbling.

The striking thing about the footage is, again, the utter mundanity of the raid. A family was just violently raided over an immeasurable amount of pot. A man was arrested over that pot. The money he needed for his business was taken from him. Yet there’s no shame or embarrassment from the officers. There’s no panic that the whole thing was captured on video. That’s when it hits you.  They don’t think they’ve made a mistake. This is what they do. The lead officers later tells the camera, matter-of-factly, that the raid turned up “a personal use amount of marijuana.” Perhaps realizing that he was also on camera back at the police station promising a much larger stash of drugs, he adds, “It happens. Drug warrants are, you know, 50-50.”

The documentary also . . .

Continue reading. At the link is the trailer for the documentary.

OTOH, US police may be better than Filipino police: see this report in the NY Times: “Duterte, Citing Hitler, Says He Wants to Kill 3 Million Addicts in Philippines.” Apparently Duterte taks Hitler as a role model.

UPDATE: The comments section pointed out this post by David Grossman, the man who teaches Killology 101 “The Science of Killing” to police departments all over the country.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2016 at 3:36 pm

Teh stupid in Congress, explained in Vox

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Jennifer Williams reports in Vox:

The Senate on Wednesday voted 97-1 to override President Obama’s veto of a controversial bill, known as the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act (JASTA), that would allow the families of 9/11 victims to sue the government of Saudi Arabia for its alleged financial support of al-Qaeda.

And then things got weird.

Almost immediately after the vote, 28 senators who had just voted for the bill sent a letter to the bill’s Senate sponsors, Republican John Cornyn of Texas and Democrat Charles Schumer of New York, saying they were concerned about the “potential unintended consequences that may result from this legislation for the national security and foreign policy of the United States.”

The Obama administration has long argued that the bill could end up putting the United States at risk of being similarly prosecuted in foreign courts by undermining a long-standing tradition in foreign relations known as “sovereign immunity.” They made this argument when the bill was first up for a vote back in May and promised to veto it if it passed. Then, when it did pass, Obama vetoed it, citing once again his argument for why he thought the bill was a bad idea.

When Congress announced it would hold a vote to override the veto, Obama wrote a letterto Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, yet again making the case against the bill. But Congress voted to override the veto anyway — the first time they’d ever done so in Obama’s entire presidency.

It was only after that final vote on Wednesday to override the veto that Congress apparently figured out that — uh oh! — there might be some negative consequences to the bill they had just voted into law.

Their excuse for why they’d passed this potentially harmful bill? The Obama administration never told them it was a bad idea.

“Nobody really had focused on the potential downside in terms of our international relationships,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, said. “I think it was just a ball dropped.”

Never mind the fact that the Obama administration most definitely did explain, again and again, why they thought the bill was a bad idea, the fact is that it’s Congress’s job to understand the potential impact of any legislation they pass.

As White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest aptly put it, “what’s true in elementary school is true in the United States Congress, ignorance is not an excuse, particularly when it comes to our national security and the safety and security of our diplomats and our service members.”

Regardless, Congress still seems a little confused about all of this. Luckily, we have an explainer that should clear everything up for them — and you. Here, then, is the Obama administration’s case against the JASTA bill, and why top national security experts think he’s right. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2016 at 3:17 pm

Posted in Congress, Law, Mental Health

Teh stupid takes over the country

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In addition to the stupidity of the veto override (followed immediately by complaints that Obama should … what? refuse to accept the veto?), we have this report from David Epstein in ProPublica:

You probably heard the one about the “darkly-complected” (he’s Italian) mystery man (Penn econ professor) who caused an American Airlines flight to be grounded because of his seatmate’s concerns over the inscrutable notes (math) he was intensely scribbling (still math) while the plane taxied. In the seatmate’s defense, humans have been freaking out at the sight of differential equations since the dawn of grades. This sort of troubling misunderstanding of technical material isn’t restricted to the Bloody Mary-and-peanuts set, though. Last year, the Justice Department arrested Xi Xiaoxing, chair of Temple University’s physics department, on charges that he was a spy — he was facing a cool 80 years in prison — after they obtained schematics he had shared with Chinese colleagues of a restricted piece of research equipment. Except, it turns out the schematics were for something completely different and not restricted. The feds just didn’t know how to interpret them. As pretty woman Julia Roberts would tell a haughty store clerk: Big mistake. Big. Huge. According to an article in the Washington Post’s eclectic Outlook section, Xi’s case is a great example that “tech law needs a reboot.” Your four W’s:


As Garrett M. Graff writes in the Post article: “Both federal prosecutors and the attorneys who represent executive agencies in court are bungling lawsuits across the country because they don’t understand what they’re talking about.” OMG Garrett, do you know how high our unemployment rate would be if everyone had to know what they’re talking about??

What else?

Apparently Xi’s case is just one of a growing body of investigative tech flubs that have wasted time and resources and, ya know, sent a dozen FBI agents through a physics professor’s door. (Surprise!) Just last week, according to the Post piece, a federal judge in Iowa tossed evidence collected by the FBI in a child pornography case because the Justice Department didn’t seem to understand how its own digital investigative tools worked. … And all this after the Justice Department went to the trouble of unplugging it and plugging it back in.

What else?

The Post article details a litany of technical failings in government legal investigations. For example: “Government attorneys frequently confuse content and metadata, even though the two types of information face very different legal standards. One possible reason: The Justice Department’s decade-old Electronic Surveillance Manual is incorrect about the basic mechanics of how email works, according to a forthcoming article in the Harvard Journal of Law & Technology.” Is it just me or does it seem like the author is kind of obsessed with people knowing what they’re talking about? I bet Garrett M. Graff’s head totally does that Exorcist thing when he listens to talk radio.

What’s needed? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2016 at 3:10 pm

The veto override and Congressional puzzlement about why they did it

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Russell Berman writes in the Atlantic:

The enactment on Wednesday of the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act should have been a triumphant moment for Republican leaders in Congress. They had succeeded, after years of trying, in overriding a presidential veto for the first time and forcing a bill into law over the strenuous objections of Barack Obama.

But the morning after brought no such celebration for House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader McConnellonly pangs of regret.

“It appears as if there may be some unintended ramifications,” McConnell lamented at a press conference barely 24 hours after all but one senator voted to reject the president’s veto of the legislation, which would allow victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks to sue Saudi Arabia in U.S. court. On the other side of the Capitol, Ryan said that he hoped there could be a “fix” to the very law he allowed to pass through the House—one that would protect U.S. soldiers abroad from legal retribution that the Obama administration had warned for months would follow as a result of the law.

A White House spokesman soon derided the Republicans’ “buyer’s remorse,” and indeed, the scenario was hard to fathom: How could a Congress plagued by gridlock pass legislation with overwhelming bipartisan majorities, initiate a rare veto override, and then immediately voice regret about the problems the new law might cause?The answer is a mix of sensitive 9/11 politics, an unusually powerful bipartisan alliance, election-year timing, and a heavy dose of mistrust and miscommunication between two branches of government that rarely see eye to eye.

The bill itself is not new. For years, victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families have pushed for a change in the law that would exempt acts of terrorism on U.S. soil from the principle of sovereign immunity, which prevents lawsuits against foreign governments and officials in American court. The families want to sue the Saudi government for damages over its alleged ties to the 9/11 hijackers, 15 of whom were Saudi citizens. The Saudis have denied any involvement, and as CIA Director John Brennan made clear on Wednesday, the U.S. government has backed up their denial.

The 9/11 families had two influential senators in their corner: Charles Schumer of New York, likely the next Democratic leader, and John Cornyn of Texas, the second-ranking Republican. With their backing, a revised version of the bill cleared the Judiciary Committee in the spring and then passed the full Senate on a voice vote—a rarity for legislation that drew such vociferous opposition from the White House. Any senator could have objected, but then as now, none wanted to go on record against a proposal billed as “justice for 9/11 families.” Yet because the legislation first passed the Senate without debate, many members only became aware of the administration’s concerns in the last several weeks after Congress returned from a long summer recess. The House passed the bill in similar fashion—without much debate—two weeks ago, and Obama returned it with a veto message last Friday.“This is a bill that should have been given a greater airing,” Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland told me on Thursday. “It was not on my radar screen until after the train was leaving the station. The next thing I know, it’s on the president’s desk.” Cardin is no backbencher; he is the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee and along with the panel’s chairman, Bob Corker of Tennessee, he spent the last several days scrambling to work out a compromise with the Obama administration that would have kept the bill, as written, from becoming law. Time ran out this week, however, as McConnell decided to bring up the veto-override vote just before lawmakers left to campaign for reelection.Technically, McConnell could have waited until the lame-duck session in November, allowing more time for debate and the possibility of a compromise. Cardin said, however, that it is Senate custom to act on presidential vetoes as soon as they are received. A Senate Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity, surmised that the timing had more to do with politics and a pent-up frustration with the outgoing Obama.Either way, neither Democrats nor Republicans objected to the vote, and the 97-1 tally was an overwhelming rebuke of the White House. Only Harry Reid, the retiring Democratic leader, supported the president’s veto. Vice-presidential nominee Tim Kaine wasn’t in town to vote, but following the lead of Hillary Clinton, he said he would have gone against Obama and overturned the veto. Hours later, the House voted 348-77 to make the bill a law.

The White House was apoplectic. Josh Earnest, the press secretary, told reporters on Air Force One that the veto was “the single most embarrassing thing the Senate has done” since 1983—an apparent reference to a long-since-forgotten veto override in which Congress intervened in a federal land dispute. He went even further on Thursday, mocking lawmakers for claiming ignorance of what they were voting on and accusing them of ignoring warnings from the intelligence community, the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, and even the head of General Electric that the bill could put U.S. soldiers, personnel, and broader economic and diplomatic interests overseas in jeopardy. “What’s true in elementary school is true in the U.S. Congress: Ignorance is not an excuse,” Earnest said.

Appearing at a CNN veterans forum Wednesday night, Obama called the override “a mistake” motivated by lawmakers’ understandable concerns about emotional 9/11 politics and the looming election. He reiterated the objections he outlined in his three-page veto message—that by overturning sovereign immunity even for terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, Congress could be exposing U.S. personnel to lawsuits and other legal action all across the globe. Under current law, the U.S. government can exempt a country from sovereign immunity by having the State Department designate it as a state sponsor of terrorism (which it has not done for Saudi Arabia). “This is taking that out of our military and our intelligence and the hands of our national-security professionals and putting it into the courts,” Obama said. “And that’s a mistake.”

Continue reading.

What is amazing is that several in Congress are saying that this is not their fault. Although they voted for the bill in the first place, and then saw the President veto it and explain why, and then they voted to override the veto, somehow they seem themselves as not responsible for what happened.

We need a better Congress: smarter, more thoughtful, less corrupt, and more interested in serving the country.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2016 at 2:07 pm

Posted in Congress, Government, Law

The fat-fueled brain: unnatural or advantageous?

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Shelly Fan has a post at Scientific American that will be of interest to those who follow a low-carb, high-fat diet:

Disclaimer: First things first. Please note that I am in no way endorsing nutritional ketosis as a supplement to, or a replacement for medication. As you’ll see below, data exploring the potential neuroprotective effects of ketosis are still scarce, and we don’t yet know the side effects of a long-term ketogenic diet. This post talks about the SCIENCE behind ketosis, and is not meant in any way as medical advice.

The ketogenic diet is a nutritionist’s nightmare. High in saturated fat and VERY low in carbohydrates, “keto” is adopted by a growing population to paradoxically promote weight loss and mental well-being. Drinking coffee with butter? Eating a block of cream cheese? Little to no fruit? To the uninitiated, keto defies all common sense, inviting skeptics to wave it off as an unnatural “bacon-and-steak” fad diet.

Yet versions of the ketogenic diet have been used to successfully treat drug-resistant epilepsy in children since the 1920s – potentially even back in the biblical ages. Emerging evidence from animal models and clinical trials suggest keto may be therapeutically used in many other neurological disorders, including head ache, neurodegenerative diseases, sleep disorders, bipolar disorder, autism and brain cancer. With no apparent side effects.

Sound too good to be true? I feel ya! Where are these neuroprotective effects coming from? What’s going on in the brain on a ketogenic diet?

Ketosis in a nutshell

In essence, a ketogenic diet mimics starvation, allowing the body to go into a metabolic state called ketosis (key-tow-sis). Normally, human bodies are sugar-driven machines: ingested carbohydrates are broken down into glucose, which is mainly transported and used as energy or stored as glycogen in liver and muscle tissue. When deprived of dietary carbohydrates (usually below 50g/day), the liver becomes the sole provider of glucose to feed your hungry organs – especially the brain, a particularly greedy entity accounting for ~20% of total energy expenditure. The brain cannot DIRECTLY use fat for energy. Once liver glycogen is depleted, without a backup energy source, humanity would’ve long disappeared in the eons of evolution.

The backup is ketone bodies that the liver derives primarily from fatty acids in your diet or body fat. These ketones – ?-hydroxybutyrate (BHB), acetoacetate and acetone – are released into the bloodstream, taken up by the brain and other organs, shuttled into the “energy factory” mitochondria and used up as fuel. Excess BHB and acetoacetate are excreted from urine, while acetone, due to its volatile nature, is breathed out (hence the characteristically sweet “keto breath”). Meanwhile, blood glucose remains physiologically normal due to glucose derived from certain amino acids and the breakdown of fatty acids – voila, low blood sugar avoided!

Brain on ketones: Energetics, Oxidation and Inflammation

So the brain is happily deriving energy from ketones – sure, but why would this be protective against such a variety of brain diseases?

One answer may be energy. Despite their superficial differences, many neurological diseases share one major problem – deficient energy production. During metabolic stress, ketones serve as an alternative energy source to maintain normal brain cell metabolism. In fact, BHB (a major ketone) may be an even more efficient fuel than glucose, providing more energy per unit oxygen used. A ketogenic diet also increases the number of mitochondria, so called “energy factories” in brain cells. A recent study found enhanced expression of genes encoding for mitochondrial enzymes and energy metabolism in the hippocampus, a part of the brain important for learning and memory. Hippocampal cells often degenerate in age-related brain diseases, leading to cognitive dysfunction and memory loss. With increased energy reserve, neurons may be able to ward off disease stressors that would usually exhaust and kill the cell.

A ketogenic diet may also DIRECTLY inhibit a major source of neuronal stress, by -well- acting like a blueberry. Reactive oxygen species are unfortunate byproducts of cellular metabolism. Unlike the gas Oxygen, these “oxidants” have a single electron that makes them highly reactive, bombarding into proteins and membranes and wrecking their structure. Increased oxidants are a hallmark of aging, stroke and neurodegeneration.

Ketones directly inhibit the production of these violent molecules, and enhance their breakdown through increasing the activity of glutathione peroxidase, a part of our innate anti-oxidant system. The low intake of carbohydrates also directly reduces glucose oxidation (something called “glycolysis”). Using a glucose-like non-metabolized analogue, one studyfound that neurons activate stress proteins to lower oxidant levels and stabilize mitochondria.

Due to its high fat nature, keto increases poly-unsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs, such as DHA and EPA, both sold over-the-counter as “brain healthy” supplements), which in turn reduces oxidant production and inflammation. Inflammatory stress is another “root of all evil”, which PUFAs target by inhibiting the expression of genes encoding for pro-inflammatory factors.

Neurons on Ketones: Dampen that enthusiasm!

Excited neurons transmit signals, process information and form the basis of a functioning brain. OVER-excited neurons tend to die.

The brain teeters on a balance between excitation and inhibition through two main neurotransmitters, the excitatory glutamate and the inhibitory GABA. Tilt the scale towards glutamate, which occurs in stroke, seizures and neurodegeneration, and you get excitotoxicity. In other words, hyper-activity is toxic.

Back in the 1930s, researchers found that direct injection of various ketone bodies into rabbits prevented chemically-induced seizures through inhibiting glutamate release, but the precise mechanism was unclear. A recent study in hippocampal neurons showed that ketones directly inhibited the neuron’s ability to “load up” on glutamate – that is, the transmitter can’t be packaged into vesicles and released – and thus decreased excitatory transmission. In a model of epilepsy that used a chemical similar to glutamate to induce damage, the diet protected mice against cell death in the hippocampus by inhibiting pro-death signaling molecules. On the other end of the excitation-inhibition balance, ketones increase GABA in the synapses (where neurotransmitters are released) of rats and in the brains of some (but not all) epileptic humans subjects. This increase in inhibition may confer both anti-seizure effects and neuroprotection, though data is still scant.

Then there are some fringe hypotheses. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2016 at 10:08 am

Barrister & Mann Leviathan and a great shave

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SOTD 2016-09-30

Barrister & Mann’s Leviathan has a fragrance that I like and also lathers like a champ, this morning with Mr Pomp, a favorite brush.

Three passes with the X3 head on a UFO handle gave a BBS result with no trouble at all, and a good splash of Leviathan finished the shave.

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2016 at 8:29 am

Posted in Shaving

Good point: Had Donald Trump switched genders

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Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2016 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Election, GOP

Umbrian Chicken Alla Cacciatora

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I just made this recipe from the NY Times: Umbrian Chicken Alla Cacciatora. It was extremely tasty and quite easy. I will note that 5 good-size chicken breasts weight right about 2.5 lbs, but you could easily make six, given a large enough skillet. (I made 5, and 6 would have been crowded.)

The recipe at the link seems to have one step—returning the chicken to the skillet—totally out of place. Since I use Paprika Recipe Manager, I can easily download and edit the recipe, and here is my edited version. (PRM exports files in HTML.)

Umbrian-Style Chicken Alla Cacciatora


  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds), cut into serving pieces, or use bone-in, skin-on thighs and drumsticks: 5 good-sized thighs
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 4 to 6 cloves garlic, very finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup good-quality brine-cured olives, black or green, withOUT pits
  • 1 sprig rosemary
  • 1 handful sage leaves
  • Salt and black pepper
  • 1 cup dry white wine

Add at end:

  • Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large non-stick pan. Add chicken pieces and sear over medium heat until golden on all sides, about 12 minutes. Transfer chicken thighs to a bowl or plate.

Turn heat to low and add onions and stir frequently until the onions are caramelized, about 15 minutes. Add minced garlic, capers, olives, rosemary sprig, and sage leaves. Season with just a sprinkle of salt and black pepper.

After a couple of minutes, when everything smells fragrant, add wine. Return the chicken to the pan. Cover and simmer very slowly until the chicken is tender and cooked through (165 degrees). Start checking the temperature of the chicken after 15 minutes to avoid overcooking. Add some water if the sauce gets too dry while simmering.

When ready to serve, reheat if necessary, then add lemon juice and zest and balsamic vinegar. Taste and add more lemon if desired. Remove the rosemary sprig and serve.

The intro to the recipe notes:

Chicken alla cacciatora, or hunter’s style, is found all over Italy — but for a long time, tomatoes were not. Most American know the southern Italian version, with tomatoes, but this one is from Umbria, in the country’s center, and it’s made savory with lemon, vinegar, olives and rosemary instead of tomatoes. . .

Featured in: Umbria, Italy’s Best Kept Culinary Secret, Is Budding.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2016 at 7:33 pm

Powerful Coalition is Building Pressure on Feds to Think Again on Kratom Ban

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I think the DEA is suffering from severe anxiety because of the changing attitudes toward the War on Drugs, which has turned out to be enormously expensive, extremely destructive of civil and human rights (not to mention the governments of Mexico, Colombia, and other countries), totally ineffective, and seems to do much more harm than would be done if drugs were legalized and addiction treated medically instead of criminally. (BTW, a very interesting drug-war movie showing some outcomes of the War on Drugs is available now on Amazon Prime: Sicario, with Emily Blunt, Benicio Del Toro, and Josh Brolin: very well done.) The DEA’s anxiety is played out in its absolute refusal to face facts (e.g., saying that marijuana has no medical use, when in fact it does and has helped in pain management and PTSD without the drawbacks of severe opioid addiction that results from opioid painkillers).

Philip Smith reports in the Drug War Chronicles:

In a last ditch bid to stop the DEA from criminalizing an herb widely hailed for its ability to treat pain, depression, and anxiety, and help people wean themselves from more dangerous opioid pain relievers, a bipartisan group of lawmakers sent a letter to the agency Monday asking it to reconsider its decision to place kratom on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act.

Kratom is a southeast Asian herb made from the leaves of Mitragyna speciose, a tree related to the coffee plant. In small doses, it has a mild stimulant effect, but in larger doses, it acts like a mild opioid. To be precise, the DEA has moved to criminalize not the herb itself, but two alkaloids, mitragynine and 7-hydroxmitragynine, which activate opioid receptors in the brain.

Last month, the DEA exercised its emergency scheduling powersin announcing that it was moving kratom to Schedule I, effective at the end of this week. The drug agency said kratom poses “an imminent hazard to public safety,” citing only press reports of some 15 deaths linked to kratom use. But in at least 14 of those cases, the victims were also using other drugs or had pre-existing life-threatening conditions. (Meanwhile, some 25,000 people died of prescription drug overdoses last year.)

Kratom users, who could number in the millions, immediately raised the alarm, organizing campaigns to undo the decision and lobbying Congress for help. That’s what sparked Monday’s letter from 51 lawmakers, including 22 Republicans.

“This significant regulatory action was done without any opportunity for public comment from researchers, consumers, and other stakeholders,” reads the letter, drafted by Reps. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Matt Salmon (R-AZ). “This hasty decision could have serious effects on consumer access and choice of an internationally recognized herbal supplement.”

Given the ongoing high level of heroin and prescription opioid use and the associated overdose deaths, he DEA was hypocritical in mounting a campaign against kratom, the lawmakers said.

“The DEA’s decision to place kratom as a Schedule I substance will put a halt on federally funded research and innovation surrounding the treatment of individuals suffering from opioid and other addictions — a significant public health threat,” they wrote.

The lawmakers called on DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg to delay the emergency scheduling and instead “engage consumers, researchers, and other stakeholders, in keeping with well-established protocol for such matters.”

Since first emerging in the US a few years ago, kratom has been unregulated at the federal level, although the Food & Drug Administration began seizing shipments of it in 2014. At the state level, a half dozen states have entertained moves to ban it, but such efforts failed in all except Alabama. In other states, kratom advocates have managed to turn bans into regulation, with age restrictions and similar limits.

A ban on kratom would be disastrous, said Susan Ash, founder of the American Kratom Association. Ash said she had been diagnosed with fibromyalgia in 2006 and ended up essentially disabled under the weight of 13 different prescriptions, including opioids, benzodiazepines, and amphetamines (to counter the opioids and the benzos). She became addicted to the opioids and finally tried kratom as a last resort.

“I didn’t really want to have anything to do with a plant, but I decided to try it, and it worked day and night,” she said Tuesday. “Within two weeks, I went from home bound to starting this organization.”

With the kratom ban looming, her members are facing “our darkest hour,” Ash said. “Our average member is a middle-aged woman, about 40% of whom have experienced addition, and tens of thousands of them are using it as an alternative to pharmaceutical medications because they believe it is safer and more natural. Now, people are saying they are going to lose their quality of life, that they will be re-disabled. People are terrified. What we need is regulation, not prohibition.”

“Despite the moral, political, and scientific consensus that drug use and addiction are best treated as public health issues, the DEA wants to subject people with kratom to prison sentences,” said Jag Davies, director of communications strategy for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is also fighting the ban. “The DEA’s move would also effectively halt promising scientific investigations into the plant’s uses and medicinal benefits, including helping many people struggling with opioid addiction.”

The scientific studies are promising indeed. Researchers at Columbia University just published a study on kratom alkaloids and found that they activate opioid receptors in a way that doesn’t trigger respiratory depression, the lethal side effect of most opioids. Such research could lead to the “holy grail” of narcotic analgesics, a painkiller that doesn’t kill users and doesn’t get them addicted. . .

Continue reading.

The DEA has never shown the slightest interest in scientific findings. They operate purely from a power-based outlook: if they have the power to do something, they feel that justifies doing it.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2016 at 10:49 am

Drumbeat of mysterious deaths of JPMorgan employees continues

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Pam Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Last Thursday, September 22, 2016, the body of Ann Korkki, a Senior Administrative Assistant in the Wealth Management division of JPMorgan Chase in Denver, Colorado was found with the body of her sister, Robin Korkki, inside their luxury vacation villa at the Maia Resort on Seychelles, an island in the Indian Ocean off the East African coast. Ann Korkki was 37; her sister Robin was 42.

According to the local Seychelles newspaper, there was no sign of violence on the bodies of the women who were on a one week vacation at the resort. The mother and brother of the sisters are currently in Seychelles “pressing U.S. and local officials for details” and making arrangements to bring the sisters back to the U.S. according to a news report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, which covered the story because the sisters had attended high school in the area.

This latest unusual death of a JPMorgan Chase employee adds to a stunning roster of bizarre deaths since 2014 – a period which has also seen three felony counts leveled against the firm by the U.S. Justice Department and billions of dollars in fines for wide-ranging charges of wrongdoing.

News reports on the bizarre deaths began with Gabriel Magee, a JPMorgan Vice President who worked in computer infrastructure. Magee, 39, is alleged to have leaped from the rooftop of the 33-story JPMorgan European headquarters building at 25 Bank Street on the evening of January 27, 2014 or the morning of January 28, 2014. London tabloids initially reported that Magee’s jump was observed by “thousands of commuters” and JPMorgan colleagues. But after an official inquest, no eyewitnesses could be produced who had actually seen Magee jump. The coroner ruled that Magee’s death was a suicide.

Three weeks after Magee’s alleged leap from the bank’s skyscraper in London, a JPMorgan employee in Hong Kong, 33-year old Dennis Li (Junjie), is said to have leaped to this death on February 18, 2014 from the 30-story Chater House office building in Hong Kong where JPMorgan occupied the top floors. At the time of the death, Wall Street On Parade received elusive answers from the communication team at JPMorgan Chase as to the young man’s job function at the bank. The South China Morning Post newspaper called Li an “investment banker”;  the Standard newspaper in Hong Kong wrote that Li was an accounting major who worked in the finance department at JPMorgan. The China Times wrote that Li was a “Forex trader.” On May 20 of last year, JPMorgan Chase pleaded guilty to a felony count by the U.S. Justice Department for its role in rigging foreign currency exchange trading.

Also in February 2014 came news reports that JPMorgan Executive Director, Ryan Crane, age 37, had died suddenly at his home in Stamford, Connecticut on February 3, 2014. After approximately three months, the Connecticut Medical Examiner released the cause of death, calling it ethanol toxicity/accident.

One month after Crane’s death, on March 12, 2014, yet another alleged building leap occurred, this time in Manhattan by a former JPMorgan analyst, Kenneth Bellando, age 28. Bellando’s body was discovered outside his six-story apartment building on the East Side of Manhattan, by no means a height reliably sufficient to ensure a death outcome.

Bellando was the brother of John Bellando, a JPMorgan employee who had figured in the U.S. Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations’ report on how JPMorgan had hid losses and lied to regulators in the London Whale derivatives trading scandal that resulted in depositor losses of at least $6.2 billion in the FDIC-insured bank of JPMorgan Chase. The bank paid a total of $1.2 billion in fines to U.S. and U.K. regulators. The Justice Department brought criminal charges against two of its traders involved in the scheme. 

Two months after Bellando’s death, on May 7, 2014, Thomas James Schenkman, age 42, died suddenly in Connecticut. Schenkman was Managing Director of Global Infrastructure Engineering for JPMorgan Chase. Schenkman began his technology career with Microsoft, where he worked for 11 years. He had also previously worked at Goldman Sachs and Bear Stearns. Schenkman’s tenure at JPMorgan stretched from 2008 to the time of his death. The cause of death was eventually assigned to “atherosclerotic coronary artery disease” by the Connecticut Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

Another death by a JPMorgan worker that went initially unnoticed outside of Wall Street On Parade was that of Jason Alan Salais, age 34. The death of Salais came just six weeks before Magee’s alleged leap from the JPMorgan skyscraper in London. Salais was standing outside a Walgreens drugstore on the evening of December 15, 2013 and died of a sudden heart attack according to a family member. Salais had joined JPMorgan in 2008 with a strong background in computer technology, having previously worked as a Client Software Technician at SunGard and a UNIX Systems Analyst at Logix Communications.

Then there were the unfathomable murder-suicides in New Jersey where . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2016 at 10:09 am

Senators issue report that reveals the special interests driving opposition to Obama’s climate plan

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A press release from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):

U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Harry Reid (D-NV), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), and Edward Markey (D-MA) released a report today entitled, “The Brief No One Filed,” highlighting the real forces behind the legal challenge to President Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  The report – which is structured as an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief but was not filed with the court – demonstrates that the state officials, trade associations, front groups, and industry-funded scientists participating in the challenge actually represent the interests of the fossil fuel industry.  The Senators explain that the report is designed to “share their knowledge and understanding of the connection between the fossil fuel industry’s political spending (both open and in secret) and political blockade of any measures to address climate change.”

“The American public is aware of and alarmed by the massive influx of special interest money and considers this a top problem with elected officials in Washington,” the Senators write.  “More than 80% of Americans believe the government cannot be trusted to do what is right most of the time.  As active legislators and national leaders, [we] have a strong interest in restoring the faith of the people in our government and political system.  This starts with limiting the ability of massive dirty energy companies, either directly or through their armada of front groups, to stop anything that doesn’t serve the fossil fuel industry’s financial interests.”

The report contains substantial detail on the complex network connecting the opponents of the Clean Power Plan and the fossil fuel companies that support their effort.  The Senators note, “The briefs opposing the Clean Power Plan that some Members of Congress, state politicians, and outside organizations filed in this case may be seen as another expression of this climate denial apparatus.  In aggregate, the politician authors of these briefs have received over $107 million from the fossil fuel industry, and while they are ostensibly elected to represent the interests of their constituents, we regularly see them taking positions that are opposed to conclusions drawn about the effects of climate change by institutions and academics in their own states.”

While issuing the report to inform the public on issues surrounding the case, the Senators underscore that they “fully and enthusiastically support the brief submitted on March 31, 2016, with current and former members of Congress in support of the respondents” in the case, including the Environmental Protection Agency.  All signatories to the report released today are also signed on to that brief.

The challenge to the Clean Power Plan, West Virginia v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is slated for oral arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia tomorrow.

The full report can be accessed here.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2016 at 9:36 am

Duchamp’s Spinning Optical Experiments

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Marcel Duchamp’s creative explorations of art and its boundaries produced much good and interesting work (and doubtless many good and sometimes heated discussions). I didn’t even know about his spinning optical experiments, but they are worth looking at. Notice had some seem three-dimensional once they are in motion.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2016 at 9:29 am

Posted in Art

A blissful shave: LA Shaving Soap Co. Black Fern, WSP Prince, and the estimable Dorco PL-602

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SOtD 2016-09-29

I hacked my face up yesterday (i.e., 4 good nicks) using the Phoenix Artisans black Bakelite slant, and I’m not sure why. The blade is a natural suspect. I got quite a good shave from the white Bakelite slant (different blade), but I doubt that the color has anything to do with it. Perhaps it was prep and a sudden loss of skill (skill aphasia).

At any rate, I wanted to ensure that today’s shave would be a pleasant experience to right the balance of my personal universe. Some time ago a kind reader sent me the tiny tub of LA Shaving Soap Company’s Black Fern shaving soap, so I decided to give that a go. I used my fingertip to remove about a third of the tub and smeared that (the soap is soft) across the bottom of the bowl shown. I looked at it, decided it was more than I needed, and put back some, so I had about a quarter of the tiny tub remaining in the bowl.

Wet Shaving Products shaving brushes have proved their excellence in many shaves, and today was no different. The Prince is a stalwart little brush, and it easily worked up a fine lather as I loaded it with Black Fern. The soap is quite interesting and has a very nice fragrance. The vendor notes (at the link above):

Using the new black shaving soap formula introduced with The Black Rose, which includes activated charcoal and bentonite clay and provides lots of rich slick lather, Blackfern is our take on a floral fougere.

The scent (made, as always, with natural plant essential oils and extracts) has notes of floral lavender and geranium rounded out with patchouli and labdanum, with hints of clove and eucalyptus and orange and peppermint, which results in a very pleasant scent just in time for Spring.

This is something pretty special.

Ingredients: Vegetable Stearic Acid, Distilled Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Potassium Hydroxide, Vegetable Glycerin, Bentonite Clay, Activated Charcoal, Lavender Essential Oil, Patchouli Essential Oil, Geranium Essential Oil, Bergamot Essential Oil, Labdanum Absolute (in Sunflower Oil), Peppermint Extract, Clove Bud Essential Oil, Orange Extract, Eucalyptus Essential Oil, Vetiver Essential Oil.

The fragrance is pleasant and even tantalizing, and the lather was superb—and even with the little I put into the bowl, I have enough remaining for at least two more shaves.

The Dorco PL-602 has never yet given me a nick or anything less than a BBS shave. It’s really a remarkably good razor, and those who write it off without trying it (because it’s inexpensive or because it’s made of plastic) are missing out on some very good shaves.

Three passes, BBS result, and a good splash of Champs de Lavande from Chatillon Lux, and I’m ready for a fine day.

Written by Leisureguy

29 September 2016 at 9:04 am

Posted in Shaving

Compare and contrast the Marine Corps with the Army: Excellent answer

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I think this is well-stated. And while we’re on the topic, I heartily recommend Tom Ricks’s book Making the Corps. Extremely interesting and informative. I’m pretty sure Chris Argyris, who studied organizational learning, identified the USMC as a learning organization, and Ricks’s book provides some reasons why that is so. The book link is to inexpensive secondhand editions.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2016 at 3:50 pm

Posted in Books, Military

The Most Embarrassing Thing Senate Has Done

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Zaid Jilani and Alex Emmons report in The Intercept:

The White House reacted harshly to the Senate’s overwhelming vote on Wednesday to override President Obama’s veto of a bill that would enable the family members of 9/11 victims to sue the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in U.S. Courts.

Press Secretary Josh Earnest called it “the single most embarrassing thing the United States Senate has done possibly since 1983.”

As it happens, the White House’s principled opposition to the bill was based on its worry that it would open the door to lawsuits from foreigners accusing the U.S. government of crimes, possibly including the killing of hundreds of thousands of people in Iraq and Afghanistan, torture, deaths of innocent people with drones, and global mass surveillance.

That makes Earnest’s comment the single most hyperbolic thing he’s said since – well – ever.

For the record, here are just a few of the Senate actions in the aforementioned time period that were truly, profoundly – and therefore way more – embarrassing:

  1. Greenlighting the Invasion of Iraq: The October 2002 77-23 vote to authorize war powers for Iraq paved the way for a conflict that has consumed hundreds of thousands of lives and an outbreak of instability that still reverberates today. Only six senators even read the National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq prior to their votes.
  2. Refusing to Take Up a Bill to Address Global Warming: The House of Representatives passed a cap-and-trade plan to tackle global warming in 2009. The Senate’s leadership decided to never take it up.
  3. Deciding to Leave a Supreme Court Justice’s Seat Unfilled: Since the passing of former Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans have decided to simply leave the seat unfilled, refusing to consider Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland for the spot since March.
  4. Systematically Undermining Marriage Rights for Gay and Lesbian Americans: The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, passed in an overwhelming 85-14 vote, defined marriage as only between a man and a woman in federal law. It also allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The key features of the law werelater ruled unconstitutional.
  5. Making It Much Harder for Poor Americans to Declare Bankruptcy: The Senate voted 74-25 in 2005 to reform bankruptcy laws to make it significantly more difficult for Americans in dire financial straights to discharge their debts.
  6. Protecting America By Making Illegal Spying Legal: In 2005, the New York Times revealed that the Bush administration had allowed the NSA to illegally spy on Americans’ transnational communications without a warrant. The Bush administration claimed that it had inherent wartime authority to do that, but nonetheless urged Congress to give the president “additional authority.” Congress robustly responded to the scandal in 2007 by passing the “Protect America Act,” which effectively made what Bush did legal. In 2008, Congress passed another law that further expanded the President’s surveillance powers, while granting retroactive immunity to telecom companies that assisted in the original surveillance program.
  7. Filibustering Aid for 9/11 Responders: In 2010, Senate Republicans successfully blocked a bill that would provide health care for 9/11 first responders. After Jon Stewart shamed them for their filibuster on The Daily Show, the bill finally passed less than two weeks later. Stewart had to return to his show five years later to pressure Congress into passing an extension.

You can add other embarrassing votes in the comments.

And, speaking of global warming and how the US has done nothing substantial to combat global warming, take a look at Sarah Emerson’s article “Goodbye World: We’ve Passed the Carbon Tipping Point For Good.” That article begins:

It’s a banner week for the end of the world, because we’ve officially pushed atmospheric carbon levels past their dreaded 400 parts per million. Permanently.

According to a blog post last Friday from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, “it already seems safe to conclude that we won’t be seeing a monthly value below 400 ppm this year—or ever again for the indefinite future.” Their findings are based on weekly observations of carbon dioxide at Hawaii’s Mauna Loa Observatory, where climate scientists have been measuring CO2 levels since 1958.

What’s so terrifying about this number? For several years now, scientists have been warning us that if atmospheric carbon were allowed to surpass 400 parts per million, it would mark a serious “tipping point” into some unstoppable climate ramifications. In 2012, the Arctic was the first region on Earth to cross this red line. Three years later, for the first time since scientists had begun to record them, carbon levels remained above 400 parts per million for an entire month. . .

Continue reading. Note this image from the article:


And, on the specific Saudi aspect, note Nicolas Pelham’s NY Review of Books article “In Saudi Arabia: Can It Really Change?”

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2016 at 3:04 pm

In ‘Hitler,’ an Ascent From ‘Dunderhead’ to Demagogue

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Michiko Kakutani has a very interesting (and relevant) book review in the NY Times:

How did Adolf Hitler — described by one eminent magazine editor in 1930 as a “half-insane rascal,” a “pathetic dunderhead,” a “nowhere fool,” a “big mouth” — rise to power in the land of Goethe and Beethoven? What persuaded millions of ordinary Germans to embrace him and his doctrine of hatred? How did this “most unlikely pretender to high state office” achieve absolute power in a once democratic country and set it on a course of monstrous horror?

A host of earlier biographers (most notably Alan Bullock, Joachim Fest and Ian Kershaw) have advanced theories about Hitler’s rise, and the dynamic between the man and his times. Some have focused on the social and political conditions in post-World War I Germany, which Hitler expertly exploited — bitterness over the harsh terms of the Treaty of Versailles and a yearning for a return to German greatness; unemployment and economic distress amid the worldwide Depression of the early 1930s; and longstanding ethnic prejudices and fears of “foreignization.”

Other writers — including the dictator’s latest biographer, the historian Volker Ullrich — have focused on Hitler as a politician who rose to power through demagoguery, showmanship and nativist appeals to the masses. In “Hitler: Ascent, 1889-1939,” Mr. Ullrich sets out to strip away the mythology that Hitler created around himself in “Mein Kampf,” and he also tries to look at this “mysterious, calamitous figure” not as a monster or madman, but as a human being with “undeniable talents and obviously deep-seated psychological complexes.”

“In a sense,” he says in an introduction, “Hitler will be ‘normalized’ — although this will not make him seem more ‘normal.’ If anything, he will emerge as even more horrific.”

This is the first of two volumes (it ends in 1939 with the dictator’s 50th birthday) and there is little here that is substantially new. However, Mr. Ullrich offers a fascinating Shakespearean parable about how the confluence of circumstance, chance, a ruthless individual and the willful blindness of others can transform a country — and, in Hitler’s case, lead to an unimaginable nightmare for the world.

Mr. Ullrich, like other biographers, provides vivid insight into some factors that helped turn a “Munich rabble-rouser” — regarded by many as a self-obsessed “clown” with a strangely “scattershot, impulsive style” — into “the lord and master of the German Reich.”

• Hitler was often described as an egomaniac who “only loved himself” — a narcissist with a taste for self-dramatization and what Mr. Ullrich calls a “characteristic fondness for superlatives.” His manic speeches and penchant for taking all-or-nothing risks raised questions about his capacity for self-control, even his sanity. But Mr. Ullrich underscores Hitler’s shrewdness as a politician — with a “keen eye for the strengths and weaknesses of other people” and an ability to “instantaneously analyze and exploit situations.”

• Hitler was known, among colleagues, for a “bottomless mendacity” that would later be magnified by a slick propaganda machine that used the latest technology (radio, gramophone records, film) to spread his message. A former finance minister wrote that Hitler “was so thoroughly untruthful that he could no longer recognize the difference between lies and truth” and editors of one edition of “Mein Kampf” described it as a “swamp of lies, distortions, innuendoes, half-truths and real facts.”

• Hitler increasingly presented himself in messianic terms, promising “to lead Germany to a new era of national greatness,” though he was typically vague about his actual plans. He often harked back to a golden age for the country, Mr. Ullrich says, the better “to paint the present day in hues that were all the darker. Everywhere you looked now, there was only decline and decay.”

• Hitler’s repertoire of topics, Mr. Ullrich notes, was limited, and reading his speeches in retrospect, “it seems amazing that he attracted larger and larger audiences” with “repeated mantralike phrases” consisting largely of “accusations, vows of revenge and promises for the future.” But Hitler virtually wrote the modern playbook on demagoguery, arguing in “Mein Kampf” that propaganda must appeal to the emotions — not the reasoning powers — of the crowd. Its “purely intellectual level,” Hitler said, “will have to be that of the lowest mental common denominator among the public it is desired to reach.” Because the understanding of the masses “is feeble,” he went on, effective propaganda needed to be boiled down to a few slogans that should be “persistently repeated until the very last individual has come to grasp the idea that has been put forward.”

• Hitler’s rise was not inevitable, in Mr. Ullrich’s opinion. There were numerous points at which his ascent might have been derailed, he contends; even as late as January 1933, “it would have been eminently possible to prevent his nomination as Reich chancellor.” He benefited from a “constellation of crises that he was able to exploit cleverly and unscrupulously” — in addition to economic woes and unemployment, there was an “erosion of the political center” and a growing resentment of the elites. The unwillingness of Germany’s political parties to compromise had contributed to a perception of government dysfunction, Mr. Ullrich suggests, and the belief of Hitler supporters that the country needed “a man of iron” who could shake things up. “Why not give the National Socialists a chance?” a prominent banker said of the Nazis. “They seem pretty gutsy to me.”

• Hitler’s ascension was aided and abetted by the naïveté of domestic adversaries who failed to appreciate his ruthlessness and tenacity, and by foreign statesmen who believed they could control his aggression. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

28 September 2016 at 1:32 pm

Posted in Books, Election, GOP

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