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Archive for August 1st, 2017

Is Trump becoming seriously unbalanced, mentally? Robert Reich talks to a Republican former Congressman.

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From Facebook:

Robert Reich

This morning I phoned my friend, a former Republican member of Congress.

Me: What’s going on? Seems like the White House is imploding, and Republicans are going down with the ship.

Him (chuckling): We’re officially a banana republic.

Me: Seriously, what are you hearing from your former colleagues on the Hill?

Him: They’re convinced Trump is out of his gourd.

Me: So what are they going to do about it?

Him: Remember what I told you at the start of this circus? They planned to use Trump’s antics for cover, to get done what they most wanted – big tax cuts, rollbacks of regulations, especially financial. They’d work with Pence behind the scenes and forget the crazy uncle in the attic.

Me: Yeah.

Him: Well, I’m hearing a different story now. Stuff with Sessions is pissing them off. And now Trump’s hired that horse’s ass Scaramucci — a communications director who talks dirty on CNN! Plus Trump’s numbers are in freefall. They think he’s gonna hurt them in ’18 and ’20.

Me: So what’s the plan?

Him: They want him outa there.

Me: Really? Impeachment?

Him: Doubt it, unless Mueller comes up with a smoking gun.

Me: Or if he fires Mueller.

Him: Not gonna happen.

Me: So how do they get him out?

Him: Put someone else up in ’20. Lots of maneuvering already. Pence, obviously. Cruz thinks he has a shot.

Me: But that won’t help them in the midterms. What’s the plan before then?

Him: Lots think he’s fritzing out.

Me: Fritzing out?

Him: Going totally bananas. Paranoia. You want to know why he fired Priebus, wants Sessions out, and is now gunning for Tillerson?

Me: He wants to shake things up?

Him (chuckling): No. The way I hear it, he thinks they’ve been plotting against him.

Me: What do you mean?

Him: Twenty-fifth amendment! Read it! A Cabinet can get rid of a president who’s nuts. Trump thinks they’ve been preparing a palace coup. So one by one, he’s firing them.

Me: I find it hard to believe they’re plotting against him.

Him: Of course not! It’s ludicrous. Sessions is a loyal lapdog. Tillerson doesn’t know where the bathroom is. That’s my point. Trump is fritzing out. Having manic delusions. He’s actually going nuts.

Me: And?

Him: Well, it’s downright dangerous.

Me: Yeah, but that still doesn’t tell me what Republicans are planning to do about it.

Him: Look. How long do you think it will be before everyone in Washington knows he’s flipping out? I don’t mean just weird. I mean really off his rocker.

Me: I don’t know.

Him: No all that long.

Me: So what are you telling me?

Him: They don’t have to plot against him. It will be obvious to everyone that he’s got to go. That’s where the twenty-fifth amendment really does comes in.

Me: So you think…

Him: Who knows? But he’s losing it fast. My betting is he’s out of office before the midterms. And Pence is president.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 August 2017 at 8:50 pm

US Criminal Justice system: She Was Convicted of Killing Her Mother. Prosecutors Withheld the Evidence That Would Have Freed Her.

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Emily Bazelon reports in the NY Times:

By the time Noura Jackson’s conviction was overturned, she had spent nine years in prison. This type of prosecutorial error is almost never punished.

Noura Jackson called 911 at 5 a.m. on Sunday, June 5, 2005. ‘‘Please, I need, I need an ambulance, I need an ambulance right now!’’ she cried. ‘‘Someone broke into my house. My mom — my mom is bleeding.’’ She panted as she waited a few long seconds for the operator to transfer her. ‘‘She’s not breathing,’’ Noura said, sounding desperate, when an emergency dispatcher came on the line. ‘‘She’s not breathing. She’s not breathing. Please help me. There’s blood everywhere!’’

When the police arrived, Jennifer Jackson’s body lay on her bedroom floor in the brick home she owned in a well-kept Memphis neighborhood. Noura’s mother, a 39-year-old successful investment banker, had been stabbed 50 times. The brutal violence on a quiet block made local headlines, generating shock and anxiety in the middle-­class corners of the city.

The police began their investigation with few leads. Jackson lived alone with her only child, Noura, who was 18 at the time. She had divorced Noura’s father when Noura was a baby. Investigators found broken glass on the kitchen floor, from a windowpane in the door that led from the garage to the kitchen. But the window seemed to have been broken from the inside, because the hole it made lined up with a door lock that could be seen only from the kitchen. And no one had seen an intruder. The police questioned Jackson’s on-­again-­off-­again boyfriend. He called her around midnight on the night she was killed but told the police that he hung up before she answered and then went to sleep at his home, more than an hour from Memphis.

The police also questioned Noura. She said she found her mother’s body when she came home after being out all night. She had gone to a couple of parties with friends and then drove around by herself, stopping at a gas station and a Taco Bell.

With concern about the case mounting — ‘‘Mystery Stabbing Death Unsolved,’’ local ABC news reported that August — the case went to Amy Weirich, who at 40 was a rising star in the Memphis prosecutor’s office. A long-­distance runner and the mother of four children, Weirich was a former chief of the gang-­and-­narcotics unit and the first woman to be named deputy district attorney in Shelby County. She was considered a highly skilled trial lawyer.

Studying the case, she developed a theory: Noura was bridling under her mother’s rules and killed her for money that she could use to keep partying with her friends. Jackson’s estate was valued at $1.5 million, including a life insurance policy. Weirich also argued that Noura and her mother were struggling over whether to sell a few cars that Noura inherited from her father, Nazmi Hassanieh, a former Lebanese Army captain. After a long separation, Noura got back in touch with her father when she was 16, and he texted and called her often. Sixteen months before her mother was killed, Hassanieh was shot to death in a Memphis convenience store he owned. His murder was never solved.

The police came to arrest Noura that September as she was finishing up a babysitting job. She had no history of violence, and the case quickly became a local sensation. Weirich asked for a life sentence. The judge, Chris Craft, eventually set a bond of $500,000. Unable to pay, Noura spent a total of three and a half years in jail awaiting trial, on a heavy regimen of anti-­anxiety and antidepressant medication.

Noura’s private lawyer, Valerie Corder, thought Weirich’s case was weak. At the time of Noura’s indictment, the police were waiting for the DNA results from samples taken from the blood spattered around Jackson’s bedroom. When the results came back, they suggested that two or three people, whose identities were unknown to the police, had been in Jackson’s bedroom. Noura’s DNA was excluded as a match for any of the three DNA profiles. But Weirich dismissed the absence of Noura’s DNA. The DNA results ‘‘didn’t point to anything, as DNA often doesn’t,’’ she told me in an interview this past spring. No physical evidence ever linked Noura to the killing.

Noura’s trial aired live on Court TV in February 2009. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 August 2017 at 5:55 pm

‘The moment when it really started to feel insane’: An oral history of the Scaramucci era

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A week in Washington summarized by Monica Hesse, Ben Terris, and Dan Zak in the Washington Post:

Historical eras are usually defined retrospectively: wait 10 years, analyze the major players in a big event, figure out what it all meant. But who has the patience for that now, when every week feels like a year and Monday is a blur by Friday?

Last week, July 24 to 28, was a news and spectacle avalanche. The White House press secretary had just resigned. It was Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci’s first day. The president was at Twitter-war with his own attorney general. Along with Jared Kushner’s closed-door testimony, and a bizarro Boy Scout Jamboree, and pants-wetting news from North Korea, and the dramatic return of a cancer-stricken John McCain, and, and, and.

So we tried to wrap our arms around each bonkers news cycle and re-create for posterity what it was like to be alive for just one week in 2017.

Presenting: An oral history of the Era of the Mooch — condensed and edited for clarity — as told by senators, Boy Scouts, soldiers, journalists, parents, talking heads, Wall Street traders and the CEO of an arcade-game company in Florida.


The White House’s “American Heroes Week” starts, and at 8:49 a.m. — as Kushner is about to testify — the president calls Attorney General Jeff Sessions “beleaguered” on Twitter.

Kat Timpf, Fox News host and libertarian columnist: We were talking a lot about Jeff Sessions and that whole situation is kind of, you know — we’ve never seen anything like that before. What’s. Happening.

Matt Schlapp, chair of the American Conservative Union and Trump surrogate: So much happened last week, it’s hard to even know where to start.

Max Boot, senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations: His weekly Saturday-morning meltdown was especially severe this week. You’re just trying to catch up, and then I’m catching up to the reactions to the tweets. It’s like being woken up with a pitcher of water on my face every morning.

Robin Springer, Trump supporter and arcade-game dealer in Yulee, Fla.: I’m mad at him for getting on Jeff Sessions. I have no problem with raking someone over the coals, but it needs to be done in private. Jeff Sessions — what a nice man.

In the afternoon the president departs for West Virginia to speak at the quadrennial Boy Scouts Jamboree.

Eli Stokols, Wall Street Journal: I was the pool reporter on duty the day of the Boy Scout Jamboree. We rolled to the Jamboree down this dirt road and came upon an amphitheater.

Jarren Cook, 15, Scout from West Virginia: I’ve been in Scouts for 10 years. I’m doing my Eagle project building benches at a state park. That morning was pretty calm. . . . They gave us boxed dinners with turkey sandwiches and fig bars.

David Bender, 15, Scout from Indiana: Secret Service had shut down the whole area. We had to go through security. I was in my seat by 2:30.

Stokols: You didn’t realize until you walked into the amphitheater that it was like a giant campaign rally. These are probably the biggest crowds he’s seen since Inauguration Day. And knowing how Trump feeds off of crowds — you know this is now going to be a thing.

David: I know the speeches aren’t supposed to be political. I was hoping to hear how we can help our communities and embody Scouting values. When he said, Who the hell wants to talk about politics? — I wish you could have seen my face cheer up.

Stokols: When he said, “Who the hell wants to speak about politics?” it was an immediate red flashing light to me that things were about to get political.

The president proceeds to deliver an address lambasting the “fake news media” and the Washington “cesspool.” He joked about firing his health and human services secretary — who was onstage with him. He told a meandering story about yachts. And he sneered at Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.

Jarren: What he did was, he said, “Did Barack Obama ever come to a jamboree?” And we all said, “Nooooo!” Because he had never came to a jamboree. A president should take the time to support Boy Scouts.

David: When he said, “Barack Obama,” I screamed “Oh my God,” and put my hands over my head. It was so unreal. I thought I was in a dream. He got the crowd to boo. It made me so sad.

Jarren: I remember when he said not to lose momentum on anything you do. It reminded me to never give up.

Timpf: It’s a strange thing to use your time in front of tens of thousands of teenagers to brag about your election win and your partying days in New York.

Stokols: When you’re covering a speech like that, it’s like a microcosm of covering the whole presidency. You’re just treading water — you’ll fixate on one thing that’s kind of wild and then you’ll miss something else. I missed the “Under the Trump administration you’ll be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again when you go shopping” thing because I was so busy trying to make sense of the yacht story.

David: There were disagreements all over camp. Some people saying “F Trump,” some people saying “MAGA.” I heard there was a troop from New York that had a troop from Texas right next to them and the leaders had to keep them separate.

Jarren: I went back and charged my phone on a solar charger. Then I organized my tent, and we took our showers by 9:30 because quiet time was at 10.


The day starts with another Twitter drubbing of Sessions. . .

Continue reading. And so it goes, through the week.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 August 2017 at 5:06 pm

Why editing out ‘democracy’ matters

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Jennifer Rubin has a column on alarming steps being taken in the State Department by our amateur Secretary of State:

Republicans of all people should know that scrubbing words from an administration’s vocabulary (e.g., “Islamic terrorism” or “Islamic fundamentalism”) can be a powerful signal to enemies and friends around the globe. Language is the stock and trade of diplomats, so even small changes can carry great weight. When changes come in a context in which the administration’s commitments and/or intentions are unclear, word choice can be even more powerful, whether it is intended to be so or not.

That’s why my colleague Josh Rogin’s scoop on the State Department considering excising “democracy” and “just” (as in a “just society”) from its mission and purpose statements matters so much. Former State Department employees told Rogin that eliminating the changes are “neither accidental nor inconsequential.” Foreign policy gurus agree, slamming the language shift and the State Department’s performance more generally. “A decision to erase ‘democracy’ from the State Department’s mission statement would be both disturbing and wrong,” Michael Abramowitz of Freedom House tells me. “America should stand up for both its interests and its values. We will be safer and more prosperous if we live in a world governed by democracies, and we should make democracy support a central goal of our foreign policy.”

Speaking to a small group of reporters on Tuesday, the ranking Democrat of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Ben Cardin (Md.), said he was “extremely concerned” about the State Department, citing lack of staffing and the edits Rogin reported. “Democratic countries don’t go to war against each other,” he said. He observed that democracies save the United States “significant resources.” Combined with rumors that staff and programs are getting axed, Cardin said the entire situation was “demoralizing.” He bluntly decried the absence of coherent policies on a whole range of issues. The mild-mannered Cardin rarely expresses such abject frustration with the entire State Department, but the situation is plainly reached a critical stage. I imagine Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is going to get an earful soon.

The language change and the leak of the language underscore both a management and a policy failure at State that has prompted a torrent of criticism from conservatives and liberals alike. As to the management failure, a leak such as this inevitably results when the secretary and a tight-knit group of advisers isolate themselves from everyone else. The drafters may not have realized the significance of the change; only through a leak could concerned members of the department communicate their objection. Moreover, systematically stripping tens of thousands of people of the opportunity to weigh in on matters large and small will prompt them to become resentful, to provide leaks and to foot-drag. In the business world this sort of high-handedness might have worked, but in government Tillerson has set himself up for an unwinnable battle that will consume his staff and paralyze his department.

The more serious, substantive issue at State concerns the administration’s attempt to obliterate democracy as a central element in our foreign policy. President Trump and Tillerson seem utterly ignorant when it comes to what has made America great around the world. “Thomas Jefferson was America’s first Secretary of State, and his role in sculpting the great documents of our democracy infused his diplomacy that human rights and democracy as America had achieved them were meant to be universal conditions,” foreign policy wonk Steve Clemons remarked via email. “The fact that today’s Department of State is lobotomizing democracy promotion from its mission defames Jefferson, undermines a key source of American power and status in the world, and robs America of its purpose.”

This comes at the worst possible time, when we are engaged in diplomatic, ideological and, in some cases, military battle with non-democratic regimes, who see our commitment to democracy as insincere and hypocritical. When we lop off our commitment to democracy, thuggish leaders breathe a sigh of relief in Iran, Russia, China, Turkey, Venezuela, Cuba and elsewhere. They can tighten their hold on power, crack down even further on their people and be assured that it will cost them nothing on the international stage. We signal to countries such as Poland and Hungary that are falling in with anti-democratic populism and that the shift away from a free society is of no consequence to us. We lose not simply our animating purpose but a key tool in foreign policy — the ability to shame, undermine, weaken and sanction repressive regimes.

The shift away from democracy, says, former State Department official and now frequent Trump critic Eliot Cohen “makes a mockery of the claim that this is normal Republican foreign policy. It’s a betrayal of it by people who should know better.

One suspects downgrading of democracy reflects not only the twisted “America first” philosophy Trump and Stephen K. Bannon have brought with them but also an over-correction from the George W. Bush years, when “democracy promotion” became tangled up in the Iraq War. (The latter was started over WMD’s, for the record, not to “impose democracy.”)  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 August 2017 at 4:11 pm

The 14 Fake Olive Oil Companies Are Revealed Now – Avoid These Brands

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I highly recommend that anyone who uses olive oil (which should be everyone) read Extra Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, by Tom Mueller. The book explained how Whole Foods could sell their Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil for $9/liter: it was not extra virgin olive oil and in fact it mostly was not olive oil at all. Actual EVOO runs more like $22/liter. The book is entertaining and informative; at the link are inexpensive secondhand copies.

As a result, I stopped buying any imported olive oil at all. As the book documents, counterfeit olive oil is pandemic, and nothing is done: not only do governments not stop it, they don’t even slow it down. I buy only California certified extra virgin olive oil that is bottled by the producers.

The blog Native Love has a list:

It was found that even 7 of the biggest olive oil makers in the USA, mix their items with cheap oils to get more profits. Namely, one of the products we regard as healthiest and a remedy for longevity has been corrupted

Apparently, even 70% of olive oil sold in the U.S. stores is fake, as they have been cut with cheaper, inferior oils like canola and sunflower oil! This is similar to the 2008 practice in Italy. This meant seizure for 85 oil farms that mixed some percentage chlorophyll with sunflower and canola to the olive oil.

The oil was mixed, colored, perfumed and flavored too, and these things made the Australian government investigate their oils. The results were awful. After that, not one brand named extra virgin olive oil got the 2012 certificate of approval.

These scams made the University of California to study 124 imported brands of extra virgin olive oil and discovered that more than 70% of the samples did not pass the test.


Continue reading.

A more satisfying list: the list of California Oil Council Certified Olive Oils.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 August 2017 at 1:21 pm


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I just came across Bonsai Empire today, and got interested again in Bonsai. The photo is of a Shohin Bonsai (that is, one that can be held in the hand) from the 2017 World Bonsai Convention.

Jason Kottke has a nice bonsai post.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 August 2017 at 1:11 pm

Posted in Daily life

RazoRock’s Italian-flag synthetic brush, Phoenix Artisan Solstice, and the 102

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It took three good shakes to read the wetted brush for the soap, but then it did an excellent job. This brush is a bit larger than my ideal, but it works fine, and I do love the Solstice fragrance.

The 102 is a miracle-worker: my face was baby smooth, and never so much as the threat of a problem. A splash of The Holy Black aftershave, and the day is launched.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 August 2017 at 9:09 am

Posted in Shaving

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