Later On

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

Archive for June 7th, 2017

Trumpcare Could Screw Millions With Employer Insurance

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Uh-oh. Corporations can now cut their employer contributions to your healthcare by a LOT. Kevin Drum has a post that explains:

Here’s something that’s been brewing for a while, but is only now starting to get some attention. The Trumpcare bill that passed the House allows states to waive the ten essential benefits mandated by Obamacare. But this doesn’t just affect individual insurance purchased on the exchanges. It also affects employer insurance:

Under the House bill, large employers could choose the benefit requirements from any state—including those that are allowed to lower their benchmarks under a waiver, health analysts said. By choosing a waiver state, employers looking to lower their costs could impose lifetime limits and eliminate the out-of-pocket cost cap from their plans under the GOP legislation.

A company wouldn’t have to do business in a state to choose that state’s benefits level, analysts said. The company could just choose a state to match no matter where it is based.

….A House GOP spokesman [said] the bill didn’t intend to touch employer plans and any unintended consequences could be addressed by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

Please raise your hand if you trust Tom Price to take care of this little boo-boo after the fact. Anyone? . . .

Continue reading.

And definitely read this post by Drum.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 4:12 pm

Why I can’t trust cops: The death of Tashii Brown, who asked police for help

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D. Watkins writes in Salon:

It’s crazy to think that in this phase of my life — I’m a 30-plus-year-old writer, speaker and college professor — I would probably not stop for the police if I was standing outside, especially not in my own neighborhoods in Baltimore. Even though I pay their salaries, I still feel like they are not working for me.

People who are lucky enough to be equipped with privilege and resources often find themselves confused about why. When they hear about a cop hurting a civilian, they say things like “Why did that person run away from the police?” and “People who run must be guilty.”

I can’t blame those people for not being able to understand a reality outside of their own. It seems like most American’s can’t. But I do feel that we all are responsible for offering counter narratives as often as possible in an effort to dilute the beliefs of the ignorant — specifically, the belief that black always equals “wrong.” Even though they’ll never probably fully understand, at least they’ll have a glimpse into the world that us with dark skin are forced to endure.

Here is such a glimpse: According to news reports, Tashii S. Brown, 40, approached police officer Kenneth Lopera in a Las Vegas casino on May 14 and asked for help. Brown was African American and Lopera is not, which is why I’m not surprised that Brown, the person requesting help from a police officer, ended up being chased, tased repeatedly, punched and placed in a martial arts-style chokehold. According to the coroner, Brown died of asphyxiation due to police restraint.

Lopera was arrested on Monday and charged with involuntary manslaughter. The narrative of how the situation turned from Brown asking for help to being suspected of car jacking and then ending up dead is for Lopera and his lawyers to create as they prepare for trial — the victim isn’t around to tell his side of the story.

According to Las Vegas Police Protective Association official Steve Grammas, Lopera will plead not guilty even though there is body camera footage of Brown, who was unarmed, on the ground with both of his hands up.

“Officer Lopera did nothing criminal,” Grammas stated. “We prepared him for the worst case scenario, and it came true.”

Like so many other police employees and law enforcement apologists, Grammas apparently sees nothing wrong with killing an unarmed black man. Police killings of innocent black people are usually excused away as a matter of improper training or a simple mistake or mishap, not racism.

Lopera is now out on $6,000 bail and . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 4:08 pm

Sam Brownback’s trickle-down “experiment” has officially failed

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Sophia Tesfaye reports in Salon:

After five long years, a coalition of conservatives, moderate Republicans and Democrats finally came together to deliver the major death blow to Gov. Sam Brownback’s failed supply-side economics experiment — by voting for the largest tax increase in state history.

Although the Republican governor of the Sunflower State had earlier vetoed the effort to overturn his failed tax-reform experiment, his action proved impotent after lawmakers immediately voted to override his veto late on Tuesday night.

The Senate voted 27 to 13, and the House followed by agreeing 88 to 31 to override Brownback’s veto, The Kansas City Star reported. Both Republican-led chambers of the Kansas legislature had already voted to end the state’s failed trickle-down economics experiment in February, but the Senate had been unable to muster enough votes to override Brownback’s veto.

This time around, however, supporters of the bill to raise taxes had four votes more than the two-thirds majority needed to override Brownback’s veto — provided by GOP leaders in the legislature. As the Star reported:

A major vote in the House came from the leading Republican in the chamber.

House Speaker Ron Ryckman, an Olathe Republican, resisted tax increases for much of the 2017 session.

But Tuesday night, Ryckman voted to override the governor’s veto. He had not voted for the tax plan when it passed the House Monday night.

Immediately after the House adjourned Ryckman rushed to his office and didn’t answer a question from a reporter about his vote.

After Brownback took office in 2011, he and the Republican-dominated legislature joined forces to cut the state’s already low tax rates even further. Brownback pursued even more aggressive reforms in the following years, completely eliminating the state income tax for owner-operated businesses, known as pass-through entities.

Brownback promised at the time that his “experiment” would act “like a shot of adrenaline into the heart of the Kansas economy.”

Instead, the Kansas economy tanked.

Since the right-wing conservative became governor, Kansas’ growth rate has been below that of the Midwest region and the nation every year. Kansas faces projected budget shortfalls nearing nearly $1 billion through June 2019. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 2:05 pm

Posted in GOP, Government

Who Is Dangerous, and Who Dies?

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Errol Morris writes in the NY Times:

The death penalty, like abortion, is one of those hot-button topics that keeps popping up into the public consciousness, a roach motel for meretricious ideas and bad public policy — including racism. I would bet that if it involved putting white people to death for killing black people, it would have been abolished years ago. Still, it persists. Except our society — until recently — has come to believe that overt expressions of racism might not be a good thing. Better to keep a fig leaf over it than to explore its underbelly.

In 1972, the Supreme Court found in the 5-4 decision of Furman v. Georgia that the death penalty as practiced in this country was unconstitutional under the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. But the majority couldn’t agree on a rationale for its decision, so instead of one majority opinion, five separate concurrences were produced. While Justices Brennan and Marshall found the death penalty itself to be cruel and unusual punishment, Justices Stewart, White and Douglas focused on its arbitrariness, leaving the door wide open for states to rejigger their statutes and return to executions.

In 1973, Texas did just that — the sentencing phase of a capital trial was separated from the guilt phase, and the jury was asked to consider “whether there is a probability that the defendant would commit criminal acts of violence that would constitute a continuing threat to society [future dangerousness].” In response to the Furman decision, Governor Preston Smith commuted the death sentences of 52 inmates in Texas, clearing out death row entirely. In 1976, consolidating cases from five different states (Georgia, Florida, Texas, North Carolina and Louisiana), the court in Gregg v. Georgia found that the death penalty was not unconstitutional in every case. Executions in Texas, now by lethal injection — Old Sparky, the Texas electric chair, had been retired — started back up in 1982.

I first became involved with all this while making my film “The Thin Blue Line.” I had read about Dr. James Grigson, an expert witness regularly called by the state of Texas. Some referred to him as “Dr. Death” because he would routinely find that the defendant posed a risk of future dangerousness, and thus should be executed. I met with Dr. Grigson in 1985, and on his recommendation I started interviewing Texas death row inmates. Among those Dr. Grigson had testified posed a risk of future dangerousness was Randall Dale Adams, a convicted cop killer — or at least, so it seemed.

My film was finished, and Mr. Adams was exonerated. I had thought — stupidly, it turned out — that Dr. Grigson had been put out of business. Not so. The “dangerousness” provision of the Texas law remained very much in place. But I forgot about it. I had done my fair share of good — got an innocent man out of prison.

Then, not long ago, I read about the case of Buck v. Davis, decided by the Supreme Court on Feb. 22. Duane Buck had been convicted of capital murder in 1997. He killed his ex-girlfriend and one of her friends. The details of the crime are appalling, but no less appalling is that Dr. Walter Quijano discussed Mr. Buck’s race as a factor in determining his future dangerousness. African-Americans, Dr. Quijano argued, are more likely to commit acts of violence. Though Dr. Quijano opined that Mr. Buck was not a risk of future dangerousness, his testimony about race remained an element for the jury to consider.

Dr. Quijano has given similar testimony in other death penalty cases since 1991. Prompted by the Supreme Court’s decision in Saldaño v. Texas (2000), which vacated the sentence of Victor Hugo Saldaño because Dr. Quijano had testified that Mr. Saldaño’s Hispanic ethnicity made him a greater risk of future dangerousness, State Attorney General John Cornyn promised that his office would not object if the other defendants (Mr. Buck among them) sought to overturn their death sentences based on Dr. Quijano’s testimony. In Mr. Buck’s case, though, they did object, claiming that since it was the defense attorney who put Dr. Quijano on the stand and allowed his testimony into the record without objection, the State of Texas owed the defendant nothing.

I called Mr. Buck’s attorney Christina Swarns, litigation director of the NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund Inc., to discuss the case.

CHRISTINA SWARNS: Thank you so much for reaching out about the Duane Buck case.

ERROL MORRIS: It brought alive a lot of feelings that go back so many years. One of the horrors of the “Thin Blue Line” case involved the prediction of future violence. You had a psychiatrist, “the hanging psychiatrist,” Dr. James Grigson, who would make predictions of future violence based on a diagnosis of sociopathy. He would testify the defendant is a sociopath and will kill and kill again. I am offended that this law still exists. I believe it came out of the Dallas district attorney’s office and was written with Dr. Grigson in mind. Various prosecutors thought: “We have these psychiatrists in our hip pocket. Why not fashion a law which will allow us to make use of this in the courtroom?” And that is exactly what they did, except they overplayed their hand. As a result many of these cases were retried on grounds of improper jury selection and Fifth Amendment violations. And then 25 years later, along comes Duane Buck.

CHRISTINA SWARNS: Everyone was horrified by the fact that the damaging testimony was introduced by the defense counsel. It explicitly, out loud, links race to dangerousness. This is not implicit bias; this is explicit, first-generation racism. This is the good old stuff. And that’s bad, but it’s even worse that his own lawyer brings it in.

ERROL MORRIS: Not ineffective counsel, but counsel actively undermining the case.

CHRISTINA SWARNS: Predictions of future dangerousness are absurd, and then to be put in a capital punishment box which is already so contaminated by racial bias. The introduction of evidence linking race to dangerousness — like that which was presented in the Duane Buck case — was an inevitable product of future dangerousness in the capital punishment system in Texas. Because the Texas death penalty system was already so contaminated and corrupted by racial bias, the Duane Buck death sentence was a predictable outcome of that mess.

ERROL MORRIS: And yet you kept losing in the courts.

CHRISTINA SWARNS: Yes. For me, having litigated it for the last six years, I was astonished every time we lost. Clearly someone is going to correct this thing. It plays on so many of the obvious flaws in the system.

ERROL MORRIS: Can you tell me about the attempts made “to correct this thing”? . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 12:40 pm

Initial Comments on James Comey’s Written Testimony

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Benjamin Wittes writes at Lawfare:

James Comey’s seven-page written statement, released by the Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon in connection with Comey’s impending testimony tomorrow, draws no conclusions, makes no allegations, and indeed, expresses no opinions. It recounts, in spare and simple prose, a set of facts to which Comey is prepared to testify under oath tomorrow. Despite this sparseness, or maybe I should say because of it, it is the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes.

Let me begin by walking through the document and annotating it a bit with those reasonable inferences that Comey leaves implicit but which a member of Congress, or a member of the public, should certainly consider. That is, let me start by considering in a narrow-bore way what some of these facts mean. Having done so, I’ll zoom out and try to make sense of the big picture as Comey takes the stand tomorrow. Comey proceeds in his statement chronologically. I am going to treat matters more thematically—which will mean bouncing around a bit in the document. The following comments will make more sense if readers first take the time to read the statement in its entirety, something I think it incumbent on citizens and other stakeholders in this society to do.

The first broad theme I want to highlight here is the effort on the part of the President to engage his FBI director in a relationship of patronage and the overwhelming discomfort this effort caused Comey. This a theme I wrote about based on my own contemporaneous conversations with Comey, but to see it fleshed out across a number of different incidents is nevertheless jarring.

Comey is explicit that he saw Trump as attempting to enmesh him in an inappropriate relationship at the time. Of the January 27 dinner, for example, he writes that, “My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.” And it’s hard to read this meeting any other way, at least not as Comey describes it. The President repeatedly asked for “loyalty,” was not satisfied with a promise of “honesty,” and the two compromised only awkwardly over the term “honest loyalty.” Trump specifically dangled the question of Comey’s keeping his job over his head. In their last conversation, on April 11, Comey reports that Trump emphasized to him that “I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.”

Throughout the document, Comey reports extreme discomfort with Trump’s behavior generally, and this aspect of it particularly. At that dinner, Comey felt compelled to tell the President that he was not “reliable” in the way politicians expect. He reports that the President’s efforts to engage him in a “patronage” relationship “concerned me greatly, given the FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch.” He describes the interaction as a “very awkward conversation.”

Remarkably, even before that meeting, Comey was so uncomfortable with Trump that he had already begun writing memos recording every interaction he had with the President and sharing them with the FBI’s senior leadership. After their first meeting, on January 6, Comey recounts:

I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.

Indeed, it contrasts sharply with his interactions with Obama, whom he admired a great deal. And he makes that point specifically:

I spoke alone with President Obama twice in person (and never on the phone) – once in 2015 to discuss law enforcement policy issues and a second time, briefly, for him to say goodbye in late 2016. In neither of those circumstances did I memorialize the discussions. I can recall nine one-on-one conversations with President Trump in four months – three in person and six on the phone.

In other words, Comey is saying here how little he trusted Trump from the beginning, and that Trump’s behavior caused him to behave differently than he had in the past.

This brings me to the second broad theme about Trump’s conduct, which is . . .

Continue reading. Full text of Comey’s statement in a scrolling window at the link.

See also “Takeaways From Comey’s Prepared Testimony for the Senate Select Intelligence Committee.”

See also “The critical information in James Comey’s written statement,” Jennifer Rubin’s column in the Washington Post.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 12:33 pm

The Myth of Kindly General Robert E. Lee

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Adam Sewer writes in the Atlantic:

The strangest part about the continued personality cult of Robert E. Lee is how few of the qualities his admirers profess to see in him he actually possessed.

Memorial Day has the tendency to conjure up old arguments about the Civil War. That’s understandable; it was created to mourn the dead of a war in which the Union was nearly destroyed, when half the country rose up in rebellion in defense of slavery. This year, the removal of Lee’s statue in New Orleans has inspired a new round of commentary about Lee, not to mention protests on his behalf by white supremacists.

The myth of Lee goes something like this: He was a brilliant strategist and devoted Christian man who abhorred slavery and labored tirelessly after the war to bring the country back together.

There is little truth in this. Lee was a devout Christian, and historians regard him as an accomplished tactician. But despite his ability to win individual battles, his decision to fight a conventional war against the more densely populated and industrialized North is considered by many historians to have been a fatal strategic error.

But even if one conceded Lee’s military prowess, he would still be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans in defense of the South’s authority to own millions of human beings as property because they are black. Lee’s elevation is a key part of a 150-year-old propaganda campaign designed to erase slavery as the cause of the war and whitewash the Confederate cause as a noble one. That ideology is known as the Lost Cause, and as historian David Blight writes, it provided a “foundation on which Southerners built the Jim Crow system.”

There are unwitting victims of this campaign—those who lack the knowledge to separate history from sentiment. Then there are those whose reverence for Lee relies on replacing the actual Lee with a mythical figure who never truly existed.

In the Richmond Times Dispatch, R. David Cox wrote that “For white supremacist protesters to invoke his name violates Lee’s most fundamental convictions.” In the conservative publication Townhall,  Jack Kerwick concluded that Lee was “among the finest human beings that has ever walked the Earth.” John Daniel Davidson, in an essay for The Federalist, opposed the removal of the Lee statute in part on the grounds that Lee “arguably did more than anyone to unite the country after the war and bind up its wounds.” Praise for Lee of this sort has flowed forth from past historians and presidents alike.

This is too divorced from Lee’s actual life to even be classed as fan fiction; it is simply historical illiteracy.

White supremacy does not “violate” Lee’s “most fundamental convictions.” White supremacy was one of Lee’s most fundamental convictions.

Lee was a slaveowner—his own views on slavery were explicated in an 1856 letter that it often misquoted to give the impression that Lee was some kind of an abolitionist. In the letter, he describes slavery as “a moral & political evil,” but goes on to explain that:

I think it however a greater evil to the white man than to the black race, & while my feelings are strongly enlisted in behalf of the latter, my sympathies are more strong for the former. The blacks are immeasurably better off here than in Africa, morally, socially & physically. The painful discipline they are undergoing, is necessary for their instruction as a race, & I hope will prepare & lead them to better things. How long their subjugation may be necessary is known & ordered by a wise Merciful Providence. Their emancipation will sooner result from the mild & melting influence of Christianity, than the storms & tempests of fiery Controversy.

The argument here is that slavery is bad for white people, good for black people, and most importantly, it is better than abolitionism; emancipation must wait for divine intervention. That black people might not want to be slaves does not enter into the equation; their opinion on the subject of their own bondage is not even an afterthought to Lee.

Lee’s cruelty as a slavemaster was not confined to physical punishment. In Reading the Man, the historian Elizabeth Brown Pryor’s portrait of Lee through his writings, Pryor writes that “Lee ruptured the Washington and Custis tradition of respecting slave families,” by hiring them off to other plantations, and that “by 1860 he had broken up every family but one on the estate, some of whom had been together since Mount Vernon days.” The separation of slave families was one of the most unfathomably devastating aspects of slavery, and Pryor wrote that Lee’s slaves regarded him as “the worst man I ever see.”

The trauma of rupturing families lasted lifetimes for the enslaved—it was, as my colleague Ta-Nehisi Coates described it, “a kind of murder.” After the war, thousands of the emancipated searched desperately for kin lost to the market for human flesh, fruitlessly for most. In Reconstruction, the historian Eric Foner quotes a Freedmen’s Bureau agent who notes of the emancipated, “in their eyes, the work of emancipation was incomplete until the families which had been dispersed by slavery were reunited.”

Lee’s heavy hand on the Arlington plantation, Pryor writes, nearly led to a slave revolt, in part because . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 12:18 pm

Posted in Daily life, Education

The GOP has lost interest in policy

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Bob Cesca writes in Salon:

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook massacre, there was only one piece of gun control legislation that made it to a vote. The measure, introduced by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., would have closed the gun show and internet loopholes for firearm sales, and — well, that’s it. Nothing else was attached — no gun bans, no gun confiscations, nothing.

Despite the heartbreaking impact of Sandy Hook, this was the most ballsy piece of legislation the Senate could muster — and the amendment failed anyway, even though it enjoyed the support of 86 percent of the voters surveyed in 2013. Only 13 percent of the voters polled opposed the amendment. That last part is crucial. The Republican Senate voted down the legislation despite 86 percent support, including a 74 percent level of support from National Rifle Association members.

Why did the Republicans vote against an amendment that enjoyed such overwhelming support? It could have been the piles of cash and influence being injected into to the GOP’s haggard veins by the gun lobby. It could also have been an early indication that the Republican Party is more interested in trolling liberals than legislating based on sensible policy. Regardless of whether the congressional Republicans’ opposition to the Manchin-Toomey amendment was more than trollery, it’s obvious that, today, President Donald Trump’s Republican Party is all about supporting actions aimed simply to piss off the left, rather than authoring policy-based legislation that will objectively help make life easier for Americans.

After all, a significant chunk of Trump’s reputation is wrapped up in his obnoxious Twitter habit — a habit that seems to be partly inspired by the tone and content of “Fox & Friends,” mixed with his desperate need for attention. Even before he announced his presidential candidacy, Trump was a Twitter troll, and just about everything he does is geared toward fluffing his rally supporters, including the tormenting of liberals. For example, his desire to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act isn’t about constructing a better health care system; it’s about crapping all over the legacy of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and Obama’s supporters. It’s about revenge. And his people don’t seem to care that their health coverage will be among the first to be rescinded if the law passes as written. They don’t care because repealing Obamacare pisses off liberals.

Likewise, Trump’s posture on the climate crisis — quite likely driven by alt-right troll Steve Bannon — is obviously about trolling the left as well as the meanies in Europe who (rightfully) mocked him during his Mr. Magoo-like overseas trip. In his remarks about the U.S. pulling out of the Paris climate accords last week, Trump said he represents Pittsburgh and not Paris, even though the agreement was merely composed in Paris and isn’t a product of the administration of the newly elected Emmanuel Macron. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that Trump’s decision on the Paris accord was made out of spite rather than a realistic assessment of the deal. Indeed, it’s fair to assume that Trump hasn’t read the agreement at all, beyond perhaps a one-page summary composed by his beleaguered staff — at best. All he knows is that it’s linked to Europe and Europe hates him, so screw it. He’s out.

What about public support for the agreement? Irrelevant — if you’re a Trump Republican, that is. Sure, 59 percent of voters are opposed to abandoning the deal, but in the age of Trump trolling, all that matters is that the president’s disciples are jazzed about pulling out, mainly because liberals are crushed by Trump’s decision. Who cares if nearly 6 in 10 voters support it? There are liberals and Europeans to troll.

Among the many trolling tactics on climate change is the old “but it’s snowing!” line. Most of us have beaten our faces against brick walls trying to swat down this one. Accordingly, Politico reported on Monday that Trump apparently said during a golf outing, “They can’t even get the weather report right, so how come they think they can get that right?”

Yeah. I know.

Made famous by Trump’s favorite television network, Fox News, and repeated by Trump’s favorite website, Drudge Report, this fallacy involves discrediting the scientific consensus on the climate crisis by appealing to the ignorance of low-information voters who don’t know the difference between climate and weather. Yes, it snowed in Boston last year, but that doesn’t mean the planet isn’t warming at an alarming rate. The fact that it’s chilly at your house in January doesn’t mean it’s not sweltering in the Southern Hemisphere, where, during our northern winters, it’s summertime. In other words, your backyard isn’t the globe. Sorry. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 9:09 am

An airline tried to get a musician to check her 17th-century violin. A ‘wrestling match’ ensued.

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US airlines—particularly, it seems, United Airlines—have become actively hostile to customers. Cleve Wootson, Jr., reports in the Washington Post:

For the small fraternity of people who make their living coaxing musical notes out of vulnerable pieces of wood and metal, few things are more terrifying than seeing an expensive, defenseless instrument disappear on that little conveyor belt at the airport.

Horror stories abound. A musician checked his $45,000, 75-year-old cello, which airport workers promptly placed beneath somebody’s golf clubs, snapping its neck. A noted German soloist said airport workers roughed up his cello case. After his flight, he found his $20,000 bow broken in half. A Florida State University music student on a flight to Tallahassee found splinters of wood where her cello used to be.

Those stories and many, many more have converged into an unwritten musicians’ rule: Never trust an airline with your instrument.

So when a Houston-based gate agent at United Airlines told Yennifer Correia that she would have to check her 17th-century violin, which costs more than her car, the first words out of her mouth were: “What are my other options?”

The situation soured from there, her attorney says, resulting in what is becoming another black eye for an airline industry that dragged a bleeding man off an overbooked flight this spring and allegedly booted a family from a flight over a birthday cake.

Correia, a classical violinist on her way to play in the summer season at the Missouri Symphony Orchestra, asked for an airport supervisor. But the supervisor said there were no other options. The violin had to be checked.

Her attorney, Phil MacNaughton, recounted what happened from there. Correia told the supervisor, “I can’t not take my violin on board. I’ll pay the money. I’ll take another flight. Just tell me what I can do.”

As the altercation intensified, Correia told the agents that she would appeal to their bosses and asked the supervisor for her name, MacNaughton said. The supervisor said she wanted Correia’s name and reached for the tag on her luggage.

“Without provocation, the supervisor for the Chicago-based carrier then lunged for Ms. Correia’s case and, incredibly, tried to wrestle it away from the musician,” said a statement written by MacNaughton.

“I start screaming, ‘Help, help, help, can somebody record what’s happening because this lady’s trying to take my personal suitcase from me,’” Correia told Houston NBC-affiliate KPRC.

The supervisor said she was going to call security, and Correia apparently responded, “Please do.” Then the supervisor dashed off. That was the last Correia saw of her.

During the scuffle, MacNaughton said, Correia’s hand was injured. She doesn’t believe there is permanent damage, but she went to see a hand specialist “because the stakes are high.”

United Airlines didn’t offer an account of what happened. . .

Continue reading.

Natually enough, United Airlines refuses to comment.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 9:04 am

Posted in Business, Daily life

“I Fought For a Better Israel Than This”

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Hirsh Goodman has a long read in Politico about his experience in Israel, a story of dashed dreams:

had been in Israel for just over two years and was nine months into my compulsory military service when war came.

I had just received my wings and red beret and achieved a childhood dream of becoming an Israeli paratrooper. Growing up in apartheid South Africa, I had but one goal: to be an Israeli. And now I was preparing to defend a nation even younger than I.

The Egyptians, for the first time since 1956, had moved forces into Sinai, massing 100,000 men and 900 tanks virtually on Israel’s southern border. Transistor radios carried increasingly dire reports: The Iraqis had sent troops and jets to bolster the Jordanian army on our eastern front, where Israel was just nine-miles wide at its narrowest. To the north, the Syrians were digging in their artillery on the Golan Heights from where they could look down on the Israeli settlements and towns. On May 26, 1967, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser said it plain in a public speech: “This will be total war. Our basic aim will be to destroy Israel.”

Two days later, Levi Eshkol, the indecisive prime minister, read from a handwritten text without his glasses, stumbling over last-minute corrections. Public confidence plummeted. The patriotic songs on the radio began to sound as hollow as the assurances of government spokesmen. The economy came to a near halt as tens of thousands of reserves were called up and cars and trucks were commandeered for military service. People were told to tape their windows and blockade entrances against shrapnel. Much of central Israel was within Jordanian artillery range and there was a distinct feeling that we would be overrun.

In desperation, Eshkol asked his political and ideological enemy, Menachem Begin, the right-wing leader, to create a unity government. Begin agreed on the condition Eshkol invite another political rival, Moshe Dayan, a former chief of staff and war hero, to join them as minister of defense.

Soon after, we were waiting to board a plane for a planned jump on Egyptian positions in northern Sinai. The jump was canceled when it was learned that the Egyptians had peppered their positions with iron stakes to impale us. Instead, we moved on the ground to a dense eucalyptus grove close to where the borders of Israel, Egypt and Gaza meet. Early on the morning of June 5, flanked by tanks and with Israeli jets whizzing overhead, we advanced on Sheikh Zuweid, a complex of trenches surrounded by barbed wire and mine fields. It was my turn at the head of the column when, out of nowhere, an Egyptian soldier appeared, his Kalashnikov cocked and pointing at me. I emptied the magazine of my Uzi in controlled bursts. I felt no sense of victory as he died, just relief that the situation was not reversed.

That night, our mood turned to elation when we heard over our crackly radio that our air force had destroyed 90 percent of the Egyptian air force in a surprise attack that morning. With little opposition, we reached Kantara on the Suez Canal in what seemed lightning speed. The radio delivered more good news: Israel had taken East Jerusalem and all of the West Bank to the Jordan River and all of Sinai. Nasser’s army, like his air force, was decimated, the dunes of Sinai littered with the discarded boots of fleeing troops. On the sixth day, after losing the Golan Heights, Syria joined Egypt and Jordan in agreeing to a cease-fire.

Israel’s astonishing, almost miraculous victory imprinted the still-young nation’s presence indelibly on the Middle East. But though the war led to eventual peace with Egypt and Jordan, it never brought it full acceptance from its neighbors. And even though it ensured Israel’s existence, in the long term it may have done as much harm as good. I feel that I have earned the right to say this: For 50 years, I have watched as a soldier, journalist, husband and father as successive Israeli governments failed to leverage this victory into lasting peace, as Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank eroded the country morally, democratically and in the esteem of the international community.

Never have I seen Israel as divided as it is now, almost at war between those who want the occupation to end and those who want to keep the West Bank’s 2.7 million Palestinians under Israeli rule in perpetuity, seemingly oblivious to the cost involved. I left South Africa as a young man because I hated racism and apartheid. Israel’s occupation of the West Bank is not apartheid, but is unfair. Being an occupier of another people is not what I had in mind when I came to the country or when I went to war in 1967. I wanted to help build a country where my children would live and their children after them. But the failure to make peace puts this in jeopardy if Israel slides from being a democratic, moral and tolerant Jewish state into the pariah apartheid South Africa once was.

But in June 1967 these feelings were many years away. All we could hear was cheering. As we marched back into Israel, crowds strewed flowers in our path, lavished us with sweets. We rode through the Lion’s Gate of the Old City of Jerusalem bound for the Western Wall. Even for secular Jews like me, it was a dizzying and emotional moment. But even in that victory tour there were the signs of the struggles to come. In a string of Palestinian villages east of the Old City, we saw white flags hanging from homes and the stunned looks on the faces of those who watched us drive by.

It took a while to digest that our role had shifted from conqueror to occupier. Back on duty in the Sinai, there were some uneasy moments, like escorting prisoners of war for interrogation, knowing what lay in store for them, or turning pleading civilians away at roadblocks, under strict orders not to let them through, no matter what reason they gave.

About a month into this routine there was an incident that left me deeply conflicted for the first time since arriving in Israel. Palestinian fedayeen operating out of Gaza started laying mines on the railway line to the Israeli border. Someone came up with the idea that the best way to prevent this was to place a flatbed carriage loaded with Palestinians in front of the engine.

Late one night, several of us were sent to a refugee camp in southern Gaza with orders to round up about 20 young men for “carriage duty.” As our miserable victims were dragged from their homes, trembling at the feet of armed soldiers screaming at them in Hebrew, a language they could not understand, I felt a wave of nausea come over me. I saw South African police rounding up “pass-offenders” for mandatory jail terms; despite myself, I heard echoes of the Holocaust as we forced these confused and terrified people onto a train carriage. My feelings were not rational or proportional—there was no comparison between this and the Holocaust, I knew. But I couldn’t shake my conscience. I felt that what I had done was inconsistent with why I had come to Israel. I feared becoming, once again, a stranger in my own land.

***

The period after the war was heady. Suddenly we could camp in Sinai and dive in the Red Sea; put a note in the Western Wall and pop off to Bethlehem for cheap shopping and lunch. Israelis packed Jericho’s open-air restaurants and markets, buying up bags of local fresh oranges as fast as the sellers could grow them. We moved around freely and without fear, even through the refugee camps in Gaza en route to some of the beaches on the Mediterranean. There was a sense of security in the land. Israel had strategic depth and full control over the territories it conquered, little thought being given to the fate of the 1.5 million Palestinians now under Israeli military occupation.

Moshe Dayan, the defense minister, said the Palestinians would be happy with limited self-rule, minus control over security issues and foreign affairs. Others, like Begin, believed that economic prosperity would solve the problem. Only the police minister, Eliahu Sasson, had the courage to state the obvious. He urged his cabinet colleagues to compromise with the Arabs even in the absence of full peace and to reach an agreement on the West Bank as quickly as possible, warning of possible collapse if the occupation continued. But in September came the “three nos” from the Arab League summit in Khartoum: No peace with Israel. No recognition of Israel. No negotiations with Israel. I don’t think I remember a week without conflict since.

Renewed hostilities began almost immediately. Israeli forces dug the Bar Lev Line on the east side of the Canal as Egyptian artillery shells began to rain down with increasing frequency. The few weeks I spent stationed there—utterly exposed—were probably the most frightening of my life. By the time a cease-fire was reached with Egypt in August 1970, over 1,400 Israelis had been killed, nearly twice as many as in the Six-Day War and nothing to show for it.

Nasser had found Israel’s Achilles’ heel: a high sensitivity to casualties. Everyone had a son, brother, cousin, husband in uniform. With barely 2 million Jews in the country, virtually no family or community was left unscathed.

On March 18, 1968, a school bus hit a mine in the Negev. This was the 38th attack by the fedayeen in three months and Israel decided to retaliate. I was in the hospital with chicken pox, furious I would not be on the raid. The target was Karameh, a town in central Jordan, where Yasser Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization had their headquarters. Israel assembled a huge force of paratroops, infantry and armor. It was supposed to be a cakewalk. Our goals were to destroy the Palestinian base of operations, kill or capture anyone there, including Arafat, and send a strong signal to the Jordanian monarch to end the terror against Israel from across his border.

The cakewalk ended in disaster. Against all predictions the Jordanians joined in the fray and the Palestinians put up fierce resistance in a 15-hour house-to-house battle. Israel was stunned when the full scale of the debacle became known: 32 soldiers killed, 69 injured, 17 tanks hit and four tanks abandoned behind enemy lines. A year earlier, Israel had conquered the Arab world. Now, its forces were routed by a vagabond band of Palestinian terrorists.

Levi Eshkol died of a heart attack in February 1969. Some said he could not stand the pain of the mounting death toll. Golda Meir, once referred to by David Ben-Gurion as “the best man in my cabinet,” came out of retirement to become Israel’s first and only female prime minister. Begin, who opposed yielding “one inch” of territory, stormed out of the unity government when Meir agreed to “withdraw to secure and recognized boundaries in the framework of a comprehensive peace settlement.” As it turned out, Meir and her cabinet were no less hawkish than he. Dayan said “rather Sharm el Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm el Sheikh” while Meir rejected overtures from the Egyptians to end the conflict.

Three years later Israel was to pay the price.

***

By the time war broke out again, on Saturday October 6, 1973, I was married with two small children and had recently been appointed military correspondent of the Jerusalem Post, then Israel’s only English-language daily. For weeks we had been reporting on massive troop movements on the Egyptian side of the Canal and the sudden recall of 20,000 Soviet advisers from Egypt in early October, reminiscent of Nasser’s expulsion of United Nations’ forces just six years before. Though war was clearly on the horizon, Israel’s intelligence chief, Eli Zeira, insisted otherwise. At 2 o’clock in the afternoon on Friday, October 5, Zeira sat at the head of a long, shiny table peeling chilled almonds with a silver penknife. He had summoned the military correspondents to castigate us for causing public panic; the Egyptian troop movements west of the Canal, he said, were only exercises.

Minutes after the surprise attack exactly one day later—which happened to be Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar—the phone rang in our Jerusalem apartment. It was the army spokesman asking me to hurry to headquarters in Tel Aviv. Generally, not a car moves on Yom Kippur, but this day the traffic was heavy with reservists rushing to their units as their code words came over the radio, usually silent on the holy day.

Earlier that morning, Meir had refused a request by chief of staff David Elazar to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Syrians. She said she could not risk the wrath of the Americans. President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger, had told her that under no circumstances was Israel to be seen as starting a war. Israel had to wait for the Arabs to make the first move. It was a costly decision.

That night, I attended a news conference by the prime minister, defense minister and the chief of staff. They assured us that this was not war, just localized Syrian and Egyptian actions that would be contained soon, all of which I reported faithfully in my story the next morning. But by that afternoon, it was war and I was no longer a reporter. I had been called into active duty after hastily preparing the public shelter in our building with water, tinned food and whatever comfort I could find before leaving for the front.

That night, in the cold of a cloudless evening in the Judean desert near the Jordan River, I sat with my comrades huddled again around a transistor radio listening to the news: Tens of thousands of Egyptian soldiers were crossing the Canal virtually unopposed, Israel’s paltry forces there overrun, Syrian armor was advancing on the Golan. There was nothing between the Jordan River and Jerusalem except for us, a reserve paratroops battalion, and a few old tanks. Our planes were coming down like flies in Sinai and on the Golan. Our air force, still basking in the victory of 1967, had totally underestimated the effectiveness of the Soviet-supplied mobile anti-aircraft missiles. On the ground, anti-tank missiles ripped through Israeli armor with ease. So dire had the situation become, said the voice on the radio, that all air force operations had been diverted to the north to try and stop the Syrians. The threat posed by the Egyptians was less immediate, with a lot of sand between the Canal and Tel Aviv, but they were still advancing.

Our fear was palpable as we listened to the radio that night. Nothing was said, but we truly believed that Israel once again was on the brink of destruction.

Once it was clear that Jordan’s King Hussein would not join the war we were redeployed to the Hermon, a 7,000-foot-high range overlooking Syria and Lebanon, where we were to stay as reservists, far from family and home for nine freezing months, some of us in jeopardy of financial ruin. I was still in my 20s, had been in Israel for just eight years and was in my third war. Since being released from active service in 1969 I had spent hundreds of days in the reserves fighting terrorists over the Jordanian and Lebanese borders. More than once I thought of my kids and what their future would be in this land of never-ending conflict, sometimes even harboring secret doubts as to the viability of Israel’s long-term survival.

The Yom Kippur War cost Israel over 2,600 killed and some 10,000 wounded—a tremendous price for a small country. It also eventually cost the Labor Party its three-decade hegemony over Israeli politics. In May 1977, Begin, the man Ben-Gurion once compared to Hitler, won the election by a landslide. Begin called his election “a turning point for the Jewish people” and encouraged young religious Zionists to build their homes in Judea and Samaria, “Israel’s biblical homeland, never to be returned.”

Begin’s rhetoric seemed to portent a right-wing agenda, but behind the scenes he was laying the groundwork for peace with Egypt culminating in a secret meeting on September 16 faciliated by King Hassan of Morocco between Israeli foreign minister Moshe Dayan and Egyptian Deputy Prime Minister Hassan Tuhami. Then on November 19, 1977, the unthinkable happened. Egyptian President Anwar Sadat arrived in Israel, stepping off his plane onto a red carpet, received by an honor guard and a 21-gun salute.

I watched the scene on television with Eitan Haber, a colleague from Yedioth Ahronoth, a Hebrew afternoon newspaper. We cried with joy. The next morning, Sadat told the Knesset that “We really and truly welcome you to live among us in peace and security.” Begin would go on to declare, “No more war, no more bloodshed and no more threats.”

It was as if the Messiah had arrived.

At a joint news conference in Jerusalem during the Sadat visit, Begin declared that for Israel, territory was “holy.” Sadat responded that for Egypt territory was “holy as well.” Ultimately, Israel gave up every inch of the Sinai, establishing the precedent of land for peace. But there was one issue the two men didn’t touch. In making their peace Sadat and Begin thought they could sweep the Palestinian problem under the carpet. The issue was “referred to committee” where it would remain unresolved and festering to this day.

For the next 16 months I would cover the peace process from up close. I was one of the first Israeli reporters in Egypt. I was more moved seeing the pyramids than when I first touched the Western Wall back in June 1967. Finally, I felt Israel had received formal recognition of its existence as the homeland of the Jewish people, and that now, with Egypt, the most powerful country in the Arab world, on our side, Israel was safe.

During that period, I spent weeks and weeks in Egypt. I traveled relatively freely through the country, unashamedly and without fear telling all and sundry that I was from Israel. I was received warmly, something that would change over time. Many things stand out in my mind from that period, but prime among them is a conversation I had with General Abdel Ghani-el Gamasy, the then-Egyptian minister of defense and architect of Egypt’s strategy in the 1973 war. I asked him why the Egyptian forces, having crossed the canal so easily, had stopped in Sinai and not continued to Tel Aviv.

Egypt’s strategy, he replied, was not to conquer Tel Aviv, but to achieve enough of a victory to restore Egyptian dignity before pursuing a path toward peace. You cannot negotiate on your knees, but only eye to eye, I remember him saying—a sentence that has come back to haunt me many times when thinking how we relate to the Palestinians as masters, not equals.

***

The first Palestinian intifada erupted like wildfire on December 9, 1987. Yitzhak Rabin, the defense minister, was in Washington to address a conference at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, where I was a fellow at the time. It soon became apparent something was amiss. Rabin looked increasingly agitated. It was soon clear why: That morning, a military truck had hit and killed four Palestinians in the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza. Riots were breaking out across the occupied territories and Israeli troops were coming under a hail of stones.

On the way back to Tel Aviv, Rabin made the unfortunate statement that “we will break their bones.” A few days later, a CBS crew filmed Israeli soldiers doing exactly that and the war was on. Israel was at a total loss as to how to deal with rock-throwing Palestinians. The narrative had been reversed, casting them as David and Israel as Goliath. The military’s inability to suppress the uprising became clear to me once I was back at the paper after my return from Washington. During one unforgettable visit to the Central Command, Amram Mitzna, a general who was to go on to become the mayor of Haifa, showed me a rock-slinging catapult reminiscent of Roman times that was to be used against the Palestinians. This, he said, one hand proudly resting on the monster’s side, is our answer. I felt like I was in Chelm, the fictional town in Yiddish folklore where idiots reside.

In June 1992, Rabin was elected prime minister with a significant majority. We were with friends in Tel Aviv and a loud whoop of joy filled the streets when the results were announced. Though Rabin had been a hard-liner when the intifada broke out, he was seen as a pragmatist, a leader with a vision as opposed to the man he beat: the dour and largely unsuccessful Yitzhak Shamir, also known as “Mr. Nyet” for his propensity to say “no” to everything. With Rabin’s election came new hope.

Rabin had a clear vision of what he wanted to achieve. He set up a strong liberal-left coalition and allowed his deputy, Shimon Peres, to carry out top-secret exploratory talks with the PLO under the aegis of the Norwegian government. These evolved into the Oslo Accords, signed with a reluctant handshake between Rabin and Arafat on the White House lawn, a beaming Bill Clinton between them, on September 13, 1993.
It was a ray of sunlight that would not last.

Rabin was demonized by the right wing at mass rallies where the victor of 1967 was scorned as a traitor with pictures of him in a Nazi SS uniform. Chanting crowds carried a coffin with his name on it. Rabbis of prominent yeshivas on the West Bank incited violence in “the name of the land” and religious fanatics gathered outside Rabin’s home to recite the pulsa denura—the mother of all curses said to bring death within a year. . .

Continue reading.

Tomorrow will be the 50th anniversary of Israel’s attack on the unarmed USS Liberty, which killed 34 crew members and wounded 171. The USS Liberty was an intelligence outpost, listening to transmissions from the 6-Day War that was going on. We don’t know exactly what it was about—NSA knows, but continues to keep details secret. Presumably the USS Liberty was listening to transmissions that the Israelis did not want them to hear. Another report states:

Fifteen years after the attack, an Israeli pilot approached Liberty survivors and then held extensive interviews with former Congressman Paul N. (Pete) McCloskey about his role. According to this senior Israeli lead pilot, he recognized the Liberty as American immediately, so informed his headquarters, and was told to ignore the American flag and continue his attack. He refused to do so and returned to base, where he was arrested.

Later, a dual-citizen Israeli major told survivors that he was in an Israeli war room where he heard that pilot’s radio report. The attacking pilots and everyone in the Israeli war room knew that they were attacking an American ship, the major said. He recanted the statement only after he received threatening phone calls from Israel.

The pilot’s protests also were heard by radio monitors in the U.S. Embassy in Lebanon. Then-U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dwight Porter has confirmed this. Porter told his story to syndicated columnists Rowland Evans and Robert Novak and offered to submit to further questioning by authorities. Unfortunately, no one in the U.S. government has any interest in hearing these first-person accounts of Israeli treachery. [Washington Report]

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 8:41 am

Posted in Mideast Conflict

Omega Baby Boar, Valobra, Baili BD171, and Lenthéric Tweed

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I don’t use the Omega Baby Boar often, but decided to bring it out and went for a shave stick as well, the Valobra shave stick shown. This was rash: with a shave stick it’s best if the initial loading of the brush, from the soap scraped by your stubble from the stick, is ample. The Wee Scot can do it, but boar brushes tend to have less lather capacity in general than badger brushes.

The Baby Boar quickly worked up a very fine lather—Vaolobra’s shave stick is good soap—but in fact I did not have enough lather for the third pass and had to reload. That’s actually not a problem, but leaves one with a feeling of having cheated (as when getting someone else to provide a difficult word in a crossword puzzle). Still, plenty of lather with the reload.

The BD171 is a terrific razor. The more I use it, the more I like it. Very smooth, comfortable, and close shave this morning with no problems. I also rather like the handle.

A splash of Lenthéric Tweed, and I’m ready for the day.

Written by LeisureGuy

7 June 2017 at 8:13 am

Posted in Shaving

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