Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for April 2017

What Trump and his staff are learning in the White House

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Politico has a fascinating report by Josh Dawsey, Shane Goldmacher, and Alex Isenstadt:

The 70-year-old leader of the free world sat behind his desk in the Oval Office last Friday afternoon, doing what he’s done for years: selling himself. His 100th day in office was approaching, and Trump was eager to reshape the hardening narrative of a White House veering off course.

So he took it upon himself to explain that his presidency was actually on track, inviting a pair of POLITICO reporters into the Oval Office for an impromptu meeting. He sat at the Resolute desk, with his daughter Ivanka across from him. One aide said the chat was off-the-record, but Trump insisted, over objections from nervous-looking staffers, that he be quoted.

He addressed the idea that his senior aides weren’t getting along. He called out their names and, one by one, they walked in, each surprised to see reporters in the room—chief of staff Reince Priebus, then chief strategist Steve Bannon, and eventually senior adviser Jared Kushner. “The team gets along really, really well,” he said.

He turned to his relationships with world leaders. “I have a terrific relationship with Xi,” he said, referring to the Chinese president, who Trump recently invited for a weekend visit at his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Finally, he rattled off the biggest hits of his first three months and promised more to come.

It was classic Trump: Confident, hyperbolic and insistent on asserting control.

But interviews with nearly two dozen aides, allies, and others close to the president paint a different picture – one of a White House on a collision course between Trump’s fixed habits and his growing realization that this job is harder than he imagined when he won the election on Nov. 8.

So far, Trump has led a White House gripped by paranoia and insecurity, paralyzed by internal jockeying for power. Mistrust between aides runs so deep that many now employ their own personal P.R. advisers — in part to ensure their own narratives get out. Trump himself has been deeply engaged with media figures, even huddling in the Oval Office with Matt Drudge.

Trump remains reliant as ever on his children and longtime friends for counsel. White House staff have learned to cater to the president’s image obsession by presenting decisions in terms of how they’ll play in the press. Among his first reads in the morning is still the New York Post. When Trump feels like playing golf, he does — at courses he owns. When Trump feels like eating out, he does — at hotels with his name on the outside.

As president, Trump has repeatedly reminded his audiences, both public and private, about his longshot electoral victory. That unexpected win gave him and his closest advisers the false sense that governing would be as easy to master as running a successful campaign turned out to be. It was a rookie mistake. From the indignity of judges halting multiple executive orders on immigration-related matters—most recently this week—to his responses to repeated episodes of North Korean belligerence, it’s all been more complicated than Trump had been prepared to believe.

“I think he’s much more aware how complicated the world is,” said former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who serves as an informal administration adviser. “This will all be more uphill than he thought it would be because I think he had the old-fashioned American idea that you run for office, you win, then people behave as though you won.”

Trump has had some successes. He nominated and saw confirmed a new Supreme Court justice, rolled back Obama-era regulations, and oversaw dramatic military actions in Syria and Afghanistan. He has signed rafts of executive actions, unilateral decisions familiar to the former Trump Organization president.

Yet he approaches the 100-day mark with record-low approval ratings and no major legislative accomplishment to his credit. Nothing hit Trump harder, according to senior White House officials, than the congressional defeat of his first major legislative package—the bill to repeal Obamacare. As he sat in the Oval Office last week, Trump seemed to concede that even having risen to fame through real estate and entertainment, the presidency represented something very different.

“Making business decisions and buying buildings don’t involve heart,” he said. “This involves heart. These are heavy decisions.”

More than 200 of Trump’s campaign promises are scribbled in marker on a whiteboard in Steve Bannon’s West Wing office, which he calls his “war room.” Other pledges are printed and taped beneath a poster that says: “Make America Great Again.”

“Deport 2 million criminal illegal immigrants,” reads one pledge. Others call for all of President Obama’s executive orders to be reversed and for the U.S. to exit the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA. A few have large check marks next to them. Another sign notes 11 have been delayed. It’s a visual encapsulation of how Bannon sees the presidency about keeping promises.

In Kushner’s office, just steps away, there’s no “Make America Great Again” memorabilia. Instead, the whiteboard lists deadlines for bipartisan projects in his newly-founded Office of American Innovation on infrastructure and veterans’ affairs. Kushner often talks about the presidency like it’s a business, describing it privately as “entrepreneurial” and in “beta mode.” He often doesn’t mind when Trump flip-flops, if it’s in the service of striking a deal.

The gap in worldview and temperament between the two has produced the most combustible, and consequential, conflict in the West Wing. In the first days following Trump’s inauguration, it was Bannon who pushed to speed through a blitz of executive orders, including the ill-fated travel ban. And it’s been Kushner, a 36-year-old real estate scion, who’s leaned the other way, encouraging his capricious father-in-law to espouse less divisive positions.

“It’s an ideas and ideology battle every day,” one senior administration official said.

Perhaps the defining and unanswered question of the Trump presidency is what he truly believes in. Is he the inflexible immigration hardliner who described undocumented Mexican immigrants as “rapists” in his June 2015 kickoff speech or the president who recently said those brought here illegally as children should “rest easy” because he doesn’t plan to deport them? Will he try to make deals with Democrats? Or will he devote himself to Bannon’s nationalist agenda? And, other than winning, what does Trump really want?

No single day was more telling about the ambiguity of Trumpism than April 12. It was that day that Trump not-so-quietly reversed himself on at least four of his campaign promises. He canceled a federal hiring freeze imposed in his first week. He flipped on labeling China a currency manipulator. He endorsed the Export-Import bank that he had called to eliminate. He declared NATO relevant, after trashing it repeatedly on the campaign trail.

“I said it was obsolete,” Trump said. “It is no longer obsolete.”

Trump’s critics and supporters alike are equally flummoxed about what this president stands for. . . .

Continue reading. And do read the whole thing. Later:

“I kind of pooh-poohed the experience stuff when I first got here,” one White House official said of these early months. “But this shit is hard.”

and then later after that:

But they’re learning. One key development: White House aides have figured out that it’s best not to present Trump with too many competing options when it comes to matters of policy or strategy. Instead, the way to win Trump over, they say, is to present him a single preferred course of action and then walk him through what the outcome could be – and especially how it will play in the press.

“You don’t walk in with a traditional presentation, like a binder or a PowerPoint. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t consume information that way,” said one senior administration official. “You go in and tell him the pros and cons, and what the media coverage is going to be like.”

And more:

“He has always been a guy who loves the idea of being a royal surrounded by a court,” said Michael D’Antonio, one of Trump’s biographers.

Many of those aides spent the opening weeks of the presidency pushing their own agendas – and sparring with one another. Priebus brought into the White House his chief of staff, chief operating officer and chief strategist from the RNC; Bannon has his own P.R. person and two writers from Breitbart; Kushner brought allies from the business world, and recently recruited his own publicity adviser; Conway has her own chief of staff; now Ivanka Trump has a chief of staff, too.

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2017 at 1:55 pm

Rooney Victorian and Lenthéric, iKon 101 and Guerlain Vol de Nuit

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Lenthéric shaving soap is one of my favorites: great lather, terrific fragrance. (Lenthéric is still a perfume house and once it was prominent in the field.) The Rooney Victorian shone easily brought forth the lather, and the iKon 101 did a fine job. I realized that, once my iKon S3S is gone, this will be my only asymmetric razor, and the 101 is barely asymmetric.

Three passes, rinse, and a splash Guerlain Vol de Nuit as an aftershave. (I chose it because I wanted an aftershave whose fragrance was as good as that of the soap.)

Written by Leisureguy

27 April 2017 at 12:35 pm

Posted in Shaving

Report: New Orleans prosecutors threatening witnesses with fake subpoenas

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Another in the series of examples of the U.S. today, in a column by Radley Balko in the Washington Post:

If you thought the New Orleans district attorney’s office hit rock bottom when its prosecutors started locking up rape victims, sending innocent men to death row or bringing perjury charges against witnesses who recant after they were pressured by police to testify to things that didn’t happen . . . think again.

From the Lens:

The notice Tiffany Lacroix received in November had “SUBPOENA” printed at the top, next to a logo of the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s Office. It ordered her to meet with a prosecutor to discuss the upcoming trial of Cardell Hayes, charged with murdering former Saints player Will Smith.

“A FINE AND IMPRISONMENT MAY BE IMPOSED FOR FAILURE TO OBEY THIS NOTICE,” it declared.

But it wasn’t authorized by a judge. It wasn’t issued by the Clerk of Court, which sends out subpoenas. And Lacroix wouldn’t have gone to jail if she had ignored it. In other words, it was fake.

The notice came from District Attorney Leon Cannizzaro’s office. His prosecutors are using these fake subpoenas to pressure witnesses to talk to them — a tactic that defense lawyers and legal experts said is unethical, if not illegal.

Remarkably, the office isn’t denying the charge, it’s defending it. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 7:34 pm

Silencing a low-carb rebel

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UPDATE: The best articles seem to be in FoodMed.net, and they have a category for the Noakes trial. The articles are listed in descending chronological order, so start with the last article listed and read your way up. It really is fascinating. /update

Bill Gifford has a very interesting article in Outside Online, one of a series of links posted by DietDoctor.com on the Noakes case. Here are the links in the order they were published, the earliest (the aforementioned Bill Gifford article) first:

The Silencing of a Low-Carb Rebel

Big Food Vs. Professor Noakes: The Final Crusade

Professor Noakes About the Twitter Trial and Challenging Dogma

The Twitter Hearing of Professor Noakes Is Almost Over

Professor Tim Noakes Found Innocent!

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 4:52 pm

Trump’s five biggest deficiencies are on full display

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Jennifer Rubin has a particularly good post today in the Washington Post. I always point out that she is a conservative Republican.

President Trump’s approval rating nearing the 100-day mark hovers at about 40 percent. The latest CBS News poll, for example, found that 53 percent of Americans disapprove of his performance, while only 41 percent approve. Among independents, only 38 percent approve. Fifty-seven percent say they are either “concerned” or “scared.” The last week or so has highlighted the range of problems and deficiencies that plague this presidency.

First, we saw Ivanka Trump get booed in Germany trying to vouch for her father as a protector of the family. We also saw the chairman and ranking Democrat of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee declare that they believed that former national security adviser Michael Flynn (who didn’t make it through the first month on the job) broke the law in failing to disclose monies he was receiving from Russian and Turkish clients during the campaign. This president, to put it mildly, has a corruption problem, a nepotism problem and a competency problem. His staff is stocked with extremists (e.g. Stephen K. Bannon, Sebastian Gorka, Stephen Miller), hapless characters (Reince Priebus, Sean Spicer) and unqualified relatives (Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner) with substantial conflicts of interest.

Second, Trump’s emoluments problems, conflicts of interest and refusal to release his tax returns become more hobbling with each passing week. Whether it is the State Department hawking Mar-a-Lago or a tax plan that likely saves him millions (if we had his returns, we’d know for sure), Trump leaves us wondering whether he views the presidency as another of his get-rich-quick schemes. Needless to say, Republicans would be apoplectic if Hillary Clinton had done a fraction of this.

Third, he has no appealing legislative agenda. The latest incarnation of Trumpcare (3.0, or is it 4.0?) would be even less appealing to voters and GOP moderates as the last version. It still contains a big tax cut for the rich, still makes insurance more expensive for older Americans in rural areas and still rolls back Medicaid — but now states can also opt out of the list of essential health benefits. It’s unclear how this would get through Senate reconciliation. Trump’s half-baked tax plan — which apparently would grant enormous tax benefits to the rich and open up a gaping hole in the budget — doesn’t seem like an attractive proposition for anyone outside his core base. Trump’s agenda, in short, forces GOP House members to choose between doing nothing and doing things the voters hate. Good luck to House Republicans trying to explain themselves to voters in 2018.

Fourth, Trump remains so woefully ignorant that he comes across as duplicitous. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 4:47 pm

Bribe Cases, a Secret Jared Kushner Partner and Potential Conflicts

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Jesse Drucker reports in the NY Times:

It was the summer of 2012, and Jared Kushner was headed downtown.

His family’s real estate firm, the Kushner Companies, would spend about $190 million over the next few months on dozens of apartment buildings in tony Lower Manhattan neighborhoods including the East Village, the West Village and SoHo.

For much of the roughly $50 million in down payments, Mr. Kushner turned to an undisclosed overseas partner. Public records and shell companies shield the investor’s identity. But, it turns out, the money came from a member of Israel’s Steinmetz family, which built a fortune as one of the world’s leading diamond traders.

A Kushner Companies spokeswoman and several Steinmetz representatives say Raz Steinmetz, 53, was behind the deals. His uncle, and the family’s most prominent figure, is the billionaire Beny Steinmetz, who is under scrutiny by law enforcement authorities in four countries. In the United States, federal prosecutors are investigating whether representatives of his firm bribed government officials in Guinea to secure a multibillion dollar mining concession. In Israel, Mr. Steinmetz was detained in December and questioned in a bribery and money laundering investigation. In Switzerland and Guinea, prosecutors have conducted similar inquiries.

The Steinmetz partnership with Mr. Kushner underscores the mystery behind his family’s multibillion-dollar business and its potential for conflicts with his role as perhaps the second-most powerful man in the White House, behind only his father-in-law, President Trump.

Although Mr. Kushner resigned in January from his chief executive role at Kushner Companies, he remains the beneficiary of trusts that own the sprawling real estate business. The firm has taken part in roughly $7 billion in acquisitions over the last decade, many of them backed by foreign partners whose identities he will not reveal. Last month, his company announced that it had ended talks with the Anbang Insurance Group, a Chinese financial firm linked to leading members of the ruling Communist Party. The potential agreement, first disclosed by The New York Times, had raised questions because of its favorable terms for the Kushners.

Dealings with the Steinmetz family could create complications for Mr. Kushner. The Justice Department, led by Trump appointees, oversees the investigation into Beny Steinmetz. Even as Mr. Kushner’s company maintains extensive business ties to Israel, as a top White House adviser, he has been charged with leading American efforts to broker peace in the Middle East as part of his broad global portfolio.

“Mr. Kushner continues to work with the Office of the White House Counsel and personal counsel to ensure he recuses from any particular matter involving specific parties in which he has a business relationship with a party to the matter,” said Hope Hicks, a White House spokeswoman. . .

Continue reading.

The U.S. government is now led by a thoroughly corrupt and unethical family. And the GOP Congress is on board with that.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 1:32 pm

Big Pharma’s Dirtiest Dealer

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Many (most?) corporations nowadays lack any sort of moral compass or ethical guidelines. They judge all actions by how those actions affect profits; actions that increase profits are deemed “good,” actions that don’t improve profits are deemed “bad.” Legal, moral, and ethical considerations do not matter.

Here’s an example, reported in Motherboard by David Bienenstock:

Insys Therapeutics executives suffered multiple arrests for bribing doctors to prescribe its fentanyl-based pain medication while funding anti-weed campaigns and developing its own lab-made THC drug.

Sarah Fuller first got her hands on Subsys in January 2015, when FedEx delivered a box containing a twenty-day supply of the fentanyl-based mouth spray. During the fifteen months from her first dose of Subsys, Insys Therapeutics’s flagship opioid pain medication, until her death at 32 from a fatal overdose, Medicare shelled out $250,544 to cover the drug, STAT News reported.

According to Fuller’s family and transcripts of their lawsuit against Insys, she had previously struggled with opioid dependency following two car accidents that left her with painful fibromyalgia. But after experiencing kidney problems related to prescription painkillers, she’d subsequently gone cold turkey and was off all pharmaceuticals the first time she visited with Dr. Vivienne Matalon (whose license was subsequently suspended) in her office in Cherry Hill, New Jersey.

That’s where Fuller reportedly encountered an Insys sales rep, who was present during one of her doctor’s appointments to helpfully explain how spraying Subsys under her tongue every four hours would work wonders on that pesky pain. Never mind her history of abuse, or that Subsys had only ever been approved for cancer patients with breakthrough pain.

“As far as I’m concerned they killed her,” Sarah’s mother told STAT in a video interview, referring to both Dr. Matalon and the Insys sales rep.

Read more: Can Weed Cure America’s Opioid Epidemic?

In my fifteen years of reporting on the War on Drugs—the disproportionate government crackdown on certain communities using narcotics—I’ve never seen a case that pulled back the curtain and tied the whole room together quite like Insys Therapeutics.

First, you’ve got a publicly-traded pharmaceutical company pushing fentanyl, a drug that’s 50 times stronger than heroin. And then you’ve got the same company donating half-a-million dollars to a smear campaign against cannabis legalization in Arizona, where Insys is based, while simultaneously developing its own synthetic THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the main psychoactive component of cannabis) drug with full state and federal government approval. What a magnificent intersection of irony, hypocrisy, and corruption.

Meanwhile, given the way the War on Drugs is generally conducted in America, the only truly surprising event in this whole sordid affair is that the Federal Bureau of Investigation actually stepped in last year and arrested six former Insys executives, including the company’s one-time CEO, for allegedly “leading a nationwide conspiracy to bribe medical practitioners to unnecessarily prescribe a fentanyl-based pain medication and defraud healthcare insurers.”

Not to mention the countless people who got seriously hooked on Subsys. Throw in multiple lawsuits and a looming Congressional investigation, and it’s all taken a sizable toll on the company’s bottom line. On April 4, Insys reported a 41.6 percent decline in quarterly revenue, presumably the only negative outcome the company really cares about.

But it’s not all bad news for Insys. Just last month the company won approval from the Drug Enforcement Administration to start selling Syndros, a wholly lab-produced 100 percent THC liquid. Meaning, as far as the federal government is concerned, a cancer patient smoking a joint in California is a criminal in possession of a Schedule 1 narcotic with no proven medical value and a high risk of abuse. But Insys can produce and sell marijuana’s most psychoactive component in its purest possible form.

How is this okay with the DEA? According to a Washington Post investigation, since 2005, at least 42 officials from the agency have gone on to work for Big Pharma, including 31 directly from a division tasked with regulating the industry.

Congress, however, is about to step in.

Continue reading.

Do read the entire article. There’s a lot more and it shows how very broken the U.S. has become.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 1:15 pm

Other law-enforcement links worth looking at

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More links from Radley Balko this morning:

More at the link above.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 12:59 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Alabama’s answer to finding that innocent people are put on death row: Speed up executions

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Radley Balko notes: “Eight people who served time on Alabama’s death row have been exonerated. That includes one man freed last February. Still, state officials want to shorten appeals and speed up executions.” This is now the kind of country the U.S. has become. I never thought I would see such a perversion of the government. Knowing that innocent people would have been executed under the Alabama proposal and pushing for the proposal anyway shows some serious moral deficiency.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 12:54 pm

Posted in Law

Ivanka Trump does an extreme version of the Clinton Foundation (a Foundation strongly criticized by the Trumps, among others)

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This is a jaw-dropping post from Kevin Drum at Mother Jones:

From Josh Marshall:

This is really quite astounding. In this morning’s edition of Mike Allen’s not-Playbook from Axios he introduces what seems to be Ivanka Trump setting up something that sounds a lot like the Clinton Foundation, only in this case run from within the White House by a top presidential aide who is also the President’s daughter, who also runs her own large international company and who also has two brothers who are currently running the President/Father’s company and trying to rake in as much money as possible on the fame and power of the presidency.

Here is Mike Allen:

Ivanka Trump told me yesterday from Berlin that she has begun building a massive fund that will benefit female entrepreneurs around the globe. Both countries and companies will contribute to create a pool of capital to economically empower women.

“The statistics and results prove that when you invest in women and girls, it benefits both developed and developing economies,” she said. “Women are an enormous untapped resource, critical to the growth of all countries.”

  • Under the radar: Canadians, Germans and a few Middle Eastern countries have already made quiet commitments, as have several corporations, a source said.
  • How it’ll work: The fund will provide working and growth capital to small- and medium-sized enterprises.
  • Who’s involved: President Trump is a huge supporter of his daughter’s idea, and she has consulted with World Bank Group President Jim Yong Kim about how to pull it off in a huge way.

 

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 12:31 pm

Man Fined $500 for Crime of Writing ‘I Am An Engineer’ in an Email to the Government

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The United States is going in a very bad direction. Read this article in Motherboard. The First Amendment is under attack from various directions, but this one is surprising.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 12:15 pm

Posted in Government, Law

Republicans won’t accept for themselves what they force on others: Healthcare division

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Kevin Drum points out how Republicans tacitly acknowledge that the plan they want for the public is one that they themselves will not accept:

. . . The latest Republican amendment to their health care bill allows states to opt out of Obamacare’s essential requirements. But it doesn’t apply to Congress. They are exempted. Just to refresh your memory, here’s the list of essential benefits:

  1. Ambulatory patient services.
  2. Emergency services.
  3. Hospitalization.
  4. Maternity and newborn care.
  5. Mental health and substance use disorder services, including behavioral health treatment.
  6. Prescription drugs.
  7. Rehabilitative and habilitative services and devices.
  8. Laboratory services.
  9. Preventive and wellness services and chronic disease management.
  10. Pediatric services, including oral and vision care.

The state of Wisconsin, for example, could choose to approve plans that don’t include doctor visits (#1), hospitalization (#3), or prescription drugs (#6). House Republicans apparently think that’s just fine.

But for themselves, their plans will include every single benefit on that list. I’m not normally too bothered by political hypocrisy, but this really jumps the shark. Back in 2009, Republicans gleefully proposed an amendment to Obamacare that would make it apply to Congress. They apparently figured that this would show up Democrats who didn’t want to eat their own dog food. But no: Democrats were perfectly willing to be covered by their own law. They shrugged, voted for the amendment, and Republicans were then stuck using Obamacare for their insurance.

But now that they’re in charge, Republicans are dead set on not eating their dog food. And who can blame them? Their dog food sucks. . .

Continue reading.

The GOP really is despicable, though the odds are that there must be some in the Republican party who are not. But they are not in Congress.

From a different report in the Washington Post by David Weigel:

“Removing protections for people with preexisting conditions will go down in infamy as one of the most heartless acts of this Republican Congress,” said DCCC spokesman Tyler Law. “As proof of the repeal bill’s devastating impact, Republican members of Congress are exempting themselves from the punishment they are willing to inflict on their constituents.”

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 11:28 am

Wonderful canned peeled whole cherry tomatoes

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Photo shows front and back of can. They are extremely tasty but also adorably cute. Tonight I’m using a can in a shrimp dish I’m making up (along with spring onions and green garlic).

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 11:20 am

Posted in Food

Steps toward an authoritarian government in the US: The Border Is All Around Us, and It’s Growing

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Laila Lalami writes in the NY Times Magazine:

The Border Patrol agent watched our Prius approach, then signaled for us to stop. Behind him stood several others in green uniforms, hands resting on holsters, eyes hidden behind sunglasses. German shepherds panted in the heat. “Are you all U.S. citizens?” the agent asked, leaning against the driver’s-side window and glancing around our car. “Yes,” said one of my companions, an artist from Iowa. “Yes,” echoed the other, a poet from Connecticut. Then it was my turn. “Yes,” I said. The agent’s gaze lingered on me for a moment. Then he stood up and waved us through the border.

Except this was not a border: This was the middle of Interstate 10 between El Paso and Marfa, Tex. No matter. At the Sierra Blanca checkpoint, agents can make arrests for drugs or weapons, share information with federal agencies and turn undocumented immigrants over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement. There are many such checkpoints scattered throughout the continental United States — borders within borders.

Borders mark the contours of nations, states, even cities, defining them by separating them from all others. A border can be natural — an ocean, a river, a chain of mountains — or it can be artificial, splitting a homogeneous landscape into two. Often it is highly literal, announcing itself in the shape of a concrete wall, a sand berm, a tall fence topped with barbed wire. But whatever form it takes, a border always conveys meaning. Hours before my encounter with the Border Patrol, as the airplane I was on began its descent, I saw from my window seat the wall that separates El Paso from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. On one side were gleaming towers, giant freeways and sprawling parks; on the other, homes huddling together in the afternoon light, winding streets and patches of dry grass. Here you will find safety and prosperity, the wall seemed to say, but over there lie danger and poverty. It’s a message that ignores the cities’ joint history, language and cultures. But it is simple — one might say simplistic — and that is what gives it power.

For much of the United States’ history, national frontiers were fluid, expanding through territorial conquest and purchases. But at the start of the 20th century, as Arizona and New Mexico approached statehood and the country’s continental borders became stable, so did the desire to secure them and police them — first through congressional acts that prohibited immigration from certain countries and later through the building of fences and walls. During his campaign for the presidency, Donald Trump often promised to extend a wall along the Southern border and have Mexico pay for it. At his rallies, this promise was met with cheers and chants of “Build that wall!” When Vicente Fox, a former president of Mexico, declared that his nation had no intention of paying for any such wall, Trump’s response was, “The wall just got 10 feet higher.” The more it was challenged, the higher it became, as if literalizing the border could make all debate about it disappear.

Continue reading the main story

Whether the administration can find the money to construct an immense border wall remains to be seen. In the meantime, the legal apparatus around it is already being built. This month, speaking to Customs and Border Protection officers in Nogales, Ariz., Attorney General Jeff Sessions promised them “more tools in your fight against criminal aliens” — including charging immigrants who repeatedly cross into the United States illegally with felonies and, when possible, with document fraud and aggravated identity theft, which can carry mandatory prison time. His language was the language of war: Nogales, Sessions said, was “ground zero” in the fight to secure the border, a place where “ranchers work each day to make an honest living” while under threat from “criminal organizations that turn cities and suburbs into war zones, that rape and kill innocent civilians.” Under the new administration, he said, his Justice Department was prepared for the fight: “It is here, on this sliver of land, on this border, where we first take our stand.”

In this kind of rhetoric, the border separates not just nationals from foreigners, rich from poor and north from south, but also order from chaos, civilization from barbarians, decent people from criminals. Location becomes character, with everything that designation entails. A person is either American and an honest worker, or she is not American and is a criminal alien. The two categories are seen as inherent and inflexible.

In January, Trump signed an executive order temporarily barring nationals of seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, even if they were green-card holders or refugees who had already been cleared for resettlement. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 9:39 am

Mickey Lee’s Bee-Witched shaving soap and the RazoRock Old Type

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My G.B. Kent BK4 brush made a very nice lather from Mickey Lee’s Bee-Witched shaving soap, a soap that has a honey fragrance. It was a one-off, not part of his regular line, but I hope he brings it back at some point. Honey is not often used in shaving soap, which is too bad: it’s a wonderful fragrance.

Yesterday in using the RazoRock-branded Baili BD179, I commented that though it is quite comfortable, it is not so efficient as some of my razors. Today I’m using the RazoRock Old Type, which is equally comfortable but much more efficient, and the difference is striking: today a BBS result without effort and without problems.

A splash of Fine’s Clean Vetiver, and the day begins.

Written by Leisureguy

26 April 2017 at 9:36 am

Posted in Shaving

Somehow, I’m not surprised: Texas makes it nearly impossible to obtain records in police abuse cases

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

Here’s a harrowing story out of Texas, where a couple in the town of Mesquite have spent the past several years trying to learn how and why their son died after being arrested by local police.

Kathy and Robert Dyer received the phone call out of every parent’s nightmares at 3 a.m. on Aug. 14, 2013. A Mesquite police officer was telling them their 18-year-old son, Graham, was in the hospital with a serious head injury. They should come as quickly as possible.

They sped in the dark south to Dallas from their home on a dirt road outside of Paris, in Northeast Texas, arriving at Baylor University Medical Center at dawn. Graham lay unresponsive in the intensive care unit beneath a bristle of medical tubes and instrumentation.

Outside his room, Kathy recalled, a group of police officers prevented them from entering: “They said he was in serious trouble — that he had felony charges for assaulting an officer.” The police told her Graham had been out of his mind on LSD and had bitten one of the officers while they were taking him into custody. He’d seriously injured himself inside the police cruiser as they drove to the jail.

Graham eventually died. After the funeral, his parents noticed items in the hospital records that didn’t match the police account the night he was arrested. So they asked police department for records. They were denied.

As the Austin American-Statesman reports, under state law, police agencies aren’t required to turn over records from investigations that don’t result in a conviction. Because Graham is dead, there would be no conviction.

The particularly pernicious thing here is that the law was intended to protect innocent people from being maligned by police investigations that don’t result in criminal charges. Here, it was being used by a police agency to prevent a dead teen’s parents from learning how their son died. The story only gets more frustrating from there.

Civil rights attorneys say that Texas’s unfriendly law enforcement open records law, when combined with recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions, create a potent legal Catch-22 that can thwart police accountability.

In the past, civilians like the Dyer family pursuing excessive force claims filed lawsuits to shake loose documents from law enforcement agencies that might prove their case. Yet a pair of high court opinions handed down over the past decade have required civil rights lawsuits to contain ever-more detailed facts about the alleged violations.

“The Supreme Court in recent cases has made it clear that a civil rights claim has to be fairly precise in laying out specific facts outlining cause of action,” said Ranjana Natarajan, director the University of Texas Law School’s civil rights clinic. “You have to say what happened, who did what.”

Those can be the very same details that Texas’s records laws currently allow police to withhold. The result: “It’s very difficult for plaintiffs in civil rights lawsuits, especially when the victim has died, to put together a case,” Natarajan said.

With Texas law exempting basic police records from release, families and their lawyers often must conduct their own costly investigations into what happened before they even know if a case is worthy of a lawsuit. “A lot of families never even bother filing civil rights lawsuits because they know they’ll never get enough information,” Natarajan said. “So the courts never hear them.”

You can’t help but wonder if that’s exactly the point. To file a lawsuit, you need details. But you have to file a lawsuit to force the police to release details.

Graham’s parents did finally . . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . This problem isn’t limited to Texas. Law enforcement agencies know that federal courts require specificity in these types of lawsuits. So there’s a strong incentive to be as stingy with information as possible. We saw this in Kansas, where a couple wrongly raided by a local SWAT team had to spend $25,000 in attorney and court fees just to get a copy of the affidavit for the search warrant the police obtained for the raid. Last year, I wrote about the case of two Michigan women who were wrongly raided by masked Drug Enforcement Administration agents. The agents never gave their names and weren’t wearing badges or name tags. The women spent nine years trying to get the DEA to reveal the agents’ names. It never did, nor would the federal courts compel the agency to do so. The two women finally lost in court last summer — no names, no lawsuit. . .

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2017 at 5:52 pm

Strengthening one’s resilience in the face of adversity

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Jason Kottke has an interesting review of the new book by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. Kottke’s post begins:

Two years ago, Facebook COO and Lean In author Sheryl Sandberg lost her husband to an unexpected death. The loss left her bereft and adrift. Grieving hard, she struggled to figure out how to move forward with her life. The result of her journey is a book co-authored by Adam Grant called Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy.

After the sudden death of her husband, Sheryl Sandberg felt certain that she and her children would never feel pure joy again. “I was in ‘the void,’” she writes, “a vast emptiness that fills your heart and lungs and restricts your ability to think or even breathe.” Her friend Adam Grant, a psychologist at Wharton, told her there are concrete steps people can take to recover and rebound from life-shattering experiences. We are not born with a fixed amount of resilience. It is a muscle that everyone can build.

Option B combines Sheryl’s personal insights with Adam’s eye-opening research on finding strength in the face of adversity.

Jessi Hempel’s piece on Sandberg is a good overview on the book and that period in her life, particularly in relation to Sandberg’s return to work and how that changed leadership & communication at Facebook. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2017 at 4:23 pm

The Secret Power of the Cell’s Waste Bin

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Esther Landhuis writes in Quanta:

At a conference in Maine during the summer of 2008, the biochemist David Sabatini stood before an audience of his peers, prepared to dazzle them with a preview of unpublished results emerging from his lab at the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The presentation did not go over well. His group was studying mTOR, a cellular enzyme he and colleagues had discovered more than a decade earlier. Among other things, they had tried to find out where mTOR aggregates inside cells, since this seemed likely to help explain the enzyme’s remarkable but mysterious influence over diverse cellular growth processes. Sabatini proudly projected a slide with the team’s findings, showing the enzyme arrayed along the surface of the organelles called lysosomes.

The audience was dubious. “People literally got up and said, ‘David, that’s the trash bin of the cell. It doesn’t make sense. Why decorate the outside of a trash can?” Sabatini recalled.

Over the nine years since Sabatini’s talk, lysosomes have won more respect. Research continues to show that lysosomes transcend the trash can role, acting as crucial advisers to the nucleus in its job of genetic regulation. That leap in status was obvious at the fourth Gordon Research Conference on Lysosomal Diseases, held March 5-10 in Barga, Italy. The lysosome was also celebrated in a paper that appeared last October in Annual Reviews of Cell and Developmental Biology, “The Lysosome as a Regulatory Hub.” Its authors, the San Francisco Bay Area researchers Rushika Perera and Roberto Zoncu, observed that recent studies have “raised the status of the lysosome from a catabolic dead end to a key signaling node, with far-reaching implications for our understanding of the logic of metabolic regulation both in health and in disease.”

In this loftier reckoning of lysosomes, the organelles deftly integrate metabolic information from throughout the cell and communicate it to the nucleus. Like snooping garbage collectors who learn the secrets of all the homeowners on their route, lysosomes gain a uniquely informed perspective on a cell’s status by picking through its molecular discards. And some of the finely tuned genetic controls of the nucleus would possibly be pilotless without them.

Lysosomes first drew attention in the 1950s, when the Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve stumbled across the saclike intracellular structures while trying to purify a protein found in rat livers. He named the previously unknown sacs after the Greek for “digestive body” because their contents were highly acidic and filled with enzymes that break down virtually any biomolecule that’s set before them. De Duve received a Nobel Prize for his discovery in 1974, but biologists were unenthusiastic about the organelle. Researchers nicknamed the lysosome “the recycle bin of the cell, or the trash can — nothing interesting,” said Zoncu, a biochemist at the University of California, Berkeley.

It wasn’t that lysosomes didn’t seem important — waste disposal systems inevitably are. They are responsible for digesting a cell’s damaged, malformed, superfluous or otherwise undesirable proteins and organelles, along with excess sugars and fats. When genetic defects cause lysosomes to make too little of any of the 60 or more enzymes associated with them, waste products pile up inside cells and cause lysosomal storage diseases, such as Tay-Sachs, Niemann-Pick and other disorders. Moreover, as a series of experiments led by Yoshinori Ohsumi (first at the University of Tokyo, then at Japan’s National Institute for Basic Biology) demonstrated in the 1990s, lysosomes are also instrumental in the vital process of autophagy, which allows cells to cannibalize their own organelles for resources in times of need and to combat the effects of illness and aging. That work brought Ohsumi a Nobel Prize in 2016 — a second Nobel to be awarded for work involving the cell’s lowly trash can.

But in the 1980s, when Andrea Ballabio, the founder of the Telethon Institute of Genetics and Medicine in Naples, was starting out in biological research, studies of the lysosome focused almost exclusively on what goes on inside it. He recalls the field as heavily and narrowly disease driven: Lysosome investigators purified enzymes that were deficient or dysfunctional in specific lysosomal storage disorders.

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2017 at 4:17 pm

Posted in Evolution, Science

Very nice inexpensive TTO safety razor, with Van Yulay After Dark

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The razor shown is the Baili BD179, which I purchased from Italian Barber, where it is called RazoRock Quick-Change DE Safety Razor and sells for $10. It’s a hefty little guy. I thought at first it was stainless steel and could not figure how it could be priced so low, but it is an electroplated alloy (of what, it’s not said). The action is smooth, and the workmanship (fit and finish) are extremely good. Gillette TTO owners will be interested to know that there are no endcaps to come off and be lost. (Some Gillette TTOs also omit endcaps, but you see them on the Super Speeds and the Fat Boy and Slim Handle and Super Adjustable.)

So, how does it shave?

I used my Van Yulay After Dark shaving soap and the marvelous Omega 21762 boar brush, easily getting a very nice and very slick lather. The soap’s ingredients:

Stearic Acid, Aloe Vera, Coconut Fatty Acid, Castor, Glycerin, Potassium Hydroxide, Coconut-Emu-Babassu-Olive-Argan-Jojoba-Oils, Calendula, Extracts, Poly Quats, Sodium Lactate, Allantoin, Silica, Liquid Silk, Bentonite Clay, Essential Oil, and EO’s and Fragrance.

Not vegan because of the emu oil, but a very nice soap indeed.

With prep complete, I set to work with the razor. It came with a pack of Derby Extra blades, but I went with Personna Lab Blue. The razor is very comfortable and also efficient (though not so efficient as some). It did a fine job, and I think this would be an excellent razor for a novice who wants a TTO razor.

I am still surprised by the heft, fit, and finish. Definitely worth $10.

A splash of After Dark aftershave splash, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by Leisureguy

25 April 2017 at 10:03 am

Posted in Shaving

Body Double: What Medieval Executive Theory Tells Us About Trump’s Twitter Accounts

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Quinta Jurecic writes at Lawfare:

In 1571, an English jurist named Edmund Plowden, trying to make sense of cases involving the sale and purchase of land owned by various monarchs, argued:

[T]he King has in him two Bodies, viz., a Body natural, and a Body politic. His Body natural (if it be considered in itself) is a Body mortal …  But his Body politic is a Body that cannot be seen or handled, consisting of Policy and Government, and constituted for the Direction of the People. . . .

Plowden’s evocative phrasing would become famous in modern times because of the work of one Ernst Kantorowicz, a mid-twentieth-century medieval historian who named a seminal study of the medieval attitude toward the person of the monarch after the concept of “The King’s Two Bodies.” Kantorowicz’s book, a sprawling and ambitious text chronicling the developing “medieval political theology” of monarchical succession and the creation of the modern state, takes as its starting point Plowden’s distinction between the king’s mortal “body Natural” and his eternal “body Politic.” The former is human; the latter is an immortal entity constituting the quasi-spiritual essence of monarchical authority and the state itself. While the king’s body natural ages and dies, the body politic continues onward as the doubled self of his successors.

Among other sources, Kantorowicz draws heavily on Shakespeare, whose Richard II and Henry V dramatize each monarch’s struggle with his human fragility in the face of a divine task. The night before the battle of Agincourt, Henry V ponders that, “all [of the King’s] senses have but human conditions: his ceremonies laid by, in his nakedness he appears but a man; and though his affections are higher mounted than ours, yet, when they stoop, they stoop with the like wing.”

The astute reader will instinctively see what I’m driving at here: President Trump’s two Twitter accounts. Indeed, I want to propose here almost entirely with a straight face that the relationship between the @POTUS and @realDonaldTrump accounts is the new manifestation of a very old dynamic. That is, the distinction between @POTUS and @realDonaldTrump is the distinction between the office and the person who fills it, what we might call the President’s “Twitter politic” and his “Twitter natural.”

Because in the moment that Donald Trump stood before the nation and swore the oath of office on January 20th, he quietly gained control not merely of the nuclear football but of that other most crucial of tools in the presidential arsenal: the @POTUS Twitter account. Under the terms of the Obama administration’s “Digital Transition” plan—yes, there really was a Digital Transition plan—President Obama’s official tweets migrated to @POTUS44, while @POTUS itself was wiped clean for the next administration’s use. And it is also a matter of public record that the President of the United States—an aggressive and insatiable Twitter user—has continued to post from his preexisting personal account: the @realDonaldTrump feed.

We live in strange times.

We don’t normally conceptualize of the President as having two bodies, as medieval thinkers once did of the English king, but constitutional democracy’s emphasis on institutional over individual power and legitimacy still echoes Kantorowicz’s description. This is what undergirds the distinction between suing a government officer in his or her personal, versus official, capacity. And with respect to the President, in particular, it is what undergirds the Supreme Court’s decision in Clinton v. Jones denying the President immunity for, as the Court puts it, “the unofficial conduct of the individual who happens to be the President.”

In this sense, the concept of “the president’s two bodies” is by no means specific to the Trump administration. But President Trump’s two Twitter accounts provide an ongoing, real-time dramatization of the idea. @POTUS is a digital metonym for the office of the Presidency: a vessel filled in turn by each new occupant. The account came to be Trump’s on his assumption of the office. And it will presumably not follow him when he leaves it. @realDonaldTrump, by contrast, is an unusually intimate look into the very personal preoccupations and anxieties of the man who sits behind the desk, many (if not most) of them disconnected from the work of governing and official business in any sense that we would have previously understood. His possession of this account long predates his presidency, and he uses it for everything from official statements to television reviews, media criticism, and overly-capitalized intensifiers. SAD!

Trump has, in his brief 95 days in office, succeeded in blurring the distinction between the office of the Presidency in general and the fact of his presidency in particular. But ironically, his pattern of behaving in a manner inconsistent with the dignity of the office—recall that at his first public appearance following his inauguration, he stood in front of the CIA’s Memorial Wall, lied about the number of people who had attended the previous day’s inaugural ceremony, and whined about press coverage of the crowd—heightens the contrast between the weakness and humanity of the President’s body natural and the abstract majesty of the body politic. Hence the constant confusion over whether or not Trump is “acting presidential” and what that would mean.

The whiplash is visibly confusing other actors in their interaction with the presidency. The Supreme Court justices in the Youngstown steel seizure case faced the question of the emergency authority of the President of the United States, not of the person of Harry S. Truman. By contrast, the rulings of federal judges in the travel ban cases are inextricably tied to the person and personal behavior of Donald Trump.

The Twitter natural and the Twitter politic dramatize these tensions every day. How are we to understand the President’s tweets from his @realDonaldTrump account versus his @POTUS account? Is the dividing line as clean as I’ve portrayed it above, with tweets from the former being “unofficial” and from the latter being “official,” or is the reality more complex? Legally speaking, is a tweet from @realDonaldTrump, the personal account, covered by the presidential immunity articulated by the Supreme Court in Nixon v. Fitzgerald? Ought policymakers in the executive branch take tweets from both accounts seriously as guidance, or only from the one? Or, as they often seem to, from neither?

@POTUS is clearly an official government account. It mostly tweets out press releases, links to speeches and press conferences, and photographs of the President meeting with dignitaries or otherwise at work in the Oval Office. The account description also indicates that the bulk of the tweets are sent by Dan Scavino, Trump’s Director of Social Media; tweets written by the President are signed with his initials and are relatively far and few between.

In contrast, Trump registered @realDonaldTrump in March 2009 and began using it to tweet in his capacity as a private citizen starting that May. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

24 April 2017 at 6:39 pm

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