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Archive for August 17th, 2018

The neo-Nazi murder trial revealing Germany’s darkest secrets

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A fascinating disturbing recent history with a glimpse of what lies beneath is presented by Thomas Meaney and Saskia Schäfer in the Guardian:

In the beginning, they were known as die Dönermorde – the kebab murders. The victims had little in common, apart from immigrant backgrounds and the modest businesses they ran. The first to die was Enver Şimşek, a 38-year-old Turkish-German man who ran a flower-import company in the southern German town of Nuremberg. On 9 September 2000, he was shot inside his van by two gunmen, and died in hospital two days later.

The following June, in the same city, 49-year-old Abdurrahim Özüdoğru was killed by two bullets while helping out after hours in a tailor’s shop. Two weeks later, in Hamburg, 500km north, Süleyman Taşköprü, 31, was shot three times and died in his greengrocer’s shop. Two months later, in August 2001, greengrocer Habil Kılıç, 38, was shot twice in his shop in the Munich suburbs.

The crime scenes indicated that the killers favoured a particular killing method. Typically, several shots were fired at close range to the face. Most of the bullets were traced back to a single weapon, a silenced Česká CZ 83 pistol. Police assumed that the professional method of killing, as well as the intimate nature of the murders – when they died, the victims were presumably looking directly into the eyes of their killers – meant that the murders must have been carried out by Turkish gangsters fighting out turf battles. No hard evidence ever substantiated this theory. Nevertheless, the taskforce assigned by the German authorities to the case was given the name “Bosphorus”.

The Bosphorus team tried to persuade the widow of Enver Şimşek, the first victim, to say that her husband was connected to the Turkish mafia. They invented a false story of marital infidelity – that Şimşek was having an affair and had a secret family elsewhere – in the hope that her fury would lead her to reveal his non-existent underworld ties. She said nothing, but the police continued to waste time and resources attempting to prove the killings were the work of Turkish gangs.

Three years later, in 2004, Mehmet Turgut, 25, was murdered in a kebab shop in the city of Rostock on the Baltic coast. The next attack came later that year in the form of a bomb detonated in the Keupstrasse area of Cologne – a part of town popular among Turkish immigrants. Twenty-two people were wounded. In June 2005, İsmail Yaşar, 50, was shot in his kebab shop in Nuremberg – the third murder in that city.

The following year, a 41-year-old Greek-German locksmith named Theodoros Boulgarides was killed in his newly opened shop in Munich. He was the first victim without a Turkish background. In 2006, a kiosk vendor named Mehmet Kubaşık, 39, was shot in the western city of Dortmund. Only two days after that, Halit Yozgat, 21, was killed while sitting behind his desk in the internet cafe he ran in the central German city of Kassel, 160km away.

The killings occurred in seven different cities across Germany, and were often separated by months or years. This made it difficult to connect them, though no one expected it to take until 2006 for the authorities to grasp how they were related.

From the very start, the investigation was riddled with basic errors and faulty assumptions. First, at least two of the murders took place at locations close to police stations, which should have made them unattractive sites for mafia murders. Then there was the problem of the two “Eastern-European-looking men” on bicycles whom eyewitnesses described leaving several of the crime scenes. More baffling still was a fact that surfaced during the investigation of Halit Yozgat’s killing: a German intelligence agent had been inside the cafe when the murder took place – something he later neglected to report.

In 2006, Alexander Horn, a young police profiler who prepared a report on the case for the Bosphorus team, began to cast doubts on the idea that the murders were connected to the Turkish mafia. In several cases, the victims were killed on days when they had broken with their daily routine, and were in places that no one could have predicted. It seemed more plausible that the victims had been chosen randomly by the killers, rather than singled out for vengeance by professional hitmen.

By using the same weapon, the killers also appeared to be drawing attention to their crimes and underlining the connection between them. Horn identified this as a typical tactic of far-right groups. Some officers were assigned to pursue this lead, but the focus of the investigation remained on the police’s initial theory. The media continued to refer to the killings as dieDönermorde.

In November 2011, more than a decade after the first murder, DVDs containing a curious recording were dropped off at the offices of several German newspapers. They featured a doctored episode of the 1960s cartoon series, the Pink Panther, which appeared to be a message from the killers. For the first few minutes, the Pink Panther strolls around a city, where he sees a poster calling on citizens to “Stand with your country” and “Stand with your people”. Accompanied by the jaunty chords of Henry Mancini’s theme song, the character bombs a grocery store – then the video cuts to news footage of a shop that had been similarly attacked in Cologne in 2001.

The Pink Panther lounges on his couch and watches television news clips about the so-called Dönermorde. The clips flickering on his cartoon television are of real news reports from the murder scenes, with gruesome photographs of the victims. The Pink Panther’s eyes glaze over with boredom at how long it takes the German public to realise who is behind them. With a huff of impatience, the narrator indicates a sign on the screen: the murders, the video suggests, are the work of a group calling itself the National Socialist Underground (NSU).

By the time the German press was puzzling over the Pink Panther video, the investigators’ focus had finally narrowed to a cluster of extreme rightwing groups operating in the country. The authorities had still not figured out how to find the killers, but their confusion was brought to an abrupt end on 4 November 2011, when two men used bicycles in a bank robbery in Eisenach, a town in the central German state of Thuringia. After the robbery, they loaded the bikes into a rented camper van.

After a tip-off, police found the vehicle nearby. The two men had a vast stockpile of guns and ammunition inside the vehicle, but they did not try to fight their way out. Instead, according to investigators, they chose to kill themselves and set fire to the van. (An official report later concluded that one of the men had set the van alight, killed the other and then himself.)

The bodies were identified as those of Uwe Mundlos and Uwe Böhnhardt, two longstanding but hitherto unremarkable members of Germany’s enduring far-right scene, who had escaped the police with their friend Beate Zschäpe 13 years earlier. Even before identifying the corpses, investigators had found in their van the gun of a murdered police officer, Michèle Kiesewetter, whose killing five years earlier had never been solved.

Four days after the death of Mundlos and Böhnhardt, Zschäpe called the police in the Thuringian city of Jena. “Beate Zschäpe here,” she said. “I’m the one you’re here for.” The local authorities did not immediately grasp the significance of the call, even though more than a decade earlier the police had searched for all three in connection with a series of smaller crimes. German intelligence services had also been keeping tabs on the rightwing radical scene that Zschäpe was a part of, but had lost track of her, along with Mundlos and Böhnhardt when they went underground.

The three had been living together in the town of Zwickau in an apartment that Zschäpe burned down after she learned of the deaths of Mundlos and Böhnhardt. When police later searched the scorched apartment, they found newspaper clippings about the murders of the Turkish-German businessmen, copies of the Pink Panther DVD, and the Česká pistol. This was early evidence that linked Mundlos, Böhnhardt, and Zschäpe to the murders that had first been investigated by the Bosphorus group.

On 6 May 2013, after two years of sensationalist speculation about the NSU in the German press, Zschäpe appeared for the first time in a Munich courtroom, charged with nine murders, an attack on police that included a murder, and two attempted murders by bombing. Four other men also stand accused of providing support to the NSU.

Rather than investigating how far-right killers could have operated undetected for so long, most of the German media opted for lurid coverage of the NSU, insisting that it consisted of only three people. Der Spiegel took the lead with a cover story dedicated to “ice-cold precision” of what it called the “Brown Army Faction”, with photographs that portrayed Zschäpe, Mundlos and Böhnhardt as natural-born killers, ready for their Hollywood close-ups. For the media, it was Bonnie and Clyde and Clyde – offering the salacious possibility of a murderous menage a trois. The German tabloid Bild ran the headline “The Devil has dressed up,” after Zschäpe appeared at the opening of the trial in a trouser-suit, jewellery and freshly dyed hair.

Zschäpe, now 41, has been sitting in court every weekday morning in Munich for the past three years, but she has revealed almost nothing – despite the urgent pleas of the families of the victims. While she claims that she now understands that Mundlos and Böhnhardt had conducted bank robberies and killings, she claims not to have known anything about their plans or activities while she lived with them. “They had become my family,” she said. Her plea is not guilty.

But the significance of the trial is far larger than what Zschäpe did or did not know about the killing spree. Germany’s sense of itself is also on trial. The findings of the prosecution suggest that Germany, a nation that prides itself on having confronted the dark recesses of its past with unique diligence, has left a thriving underground culture of rightwing extremism untouched.

Alternative für Deutschland – the first far-right populist party in Germany to enjoy sustained electoral success since the second world war – is only the latest in a series of symptoms of a widespread animosity toward the postwar liberal consensus. Darker currents of discontent are openly displayed on the internet – and on newsstands and television, where rightwing arguments have increasingly found favour.

The German government has been content to write off the NSU as a stand-alone terror cell of sociopaths – an unfortunate, but exceptional recrudescence of a political syndrome that the country has long since inoculated itself against. However, the NSU murder investigation and Zschäpe’s trial suggest that the organisation may have been carefully supported and protected by elements of the state itself.

The first thing to understand about the National Socialist Underground is that it was never really underground. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2018 at 6:39 pm

Philosophy shrugged: ignoring Ayn Rand won’t make her go away

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Skye C Cleary, the author of Existentialism and Romantic Love (2015) and the associate director of the Center for New Narratives in Philosophy at Columbia University (and also the managing editor of the Blog of the American Philosophical Association and teaches at Columbia, Barnard College, and the City College of New York) writes in Aeon:

Philosophers love to hate Ayn Rand. It’s trendy to scoff at any mention of her. One philosopher told me that: ‘No one needs to be exposed to that monster.’ Many propose that she’s not a philosopher at all and should not be taken seriously. The problem is that people are taking her seriously. In some cases, very seriously.

A Russian-born writer who moved to the United States in 1926, Rand promoted a philosophy of egoism that she called Objectivism. Her philosophy, she wrote in the novel Atlas Shrugged (1957), is ‘the concept of man as a heroic being, with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute’. With ideals of happiness, hard work and heroic individualism – beside a 1949 film starring Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal based on her novel The Fountainhead (1943) – it’s perhaps no wonder that she caught the attention and imagination of the US.

Founded three years after her death in 1982, the Ayn Rand Institute in California reports that her books have sold more than 30 million copies. By early 2018, the institute planned to have given away 4 million copies of Rand’s novels to North American schools. The institute has also actively donated to colleges, with the funding often tied to requirements to offer courses taught by professors who have ‘a positive interest in and [are] well-versed in Objectivism, the philosophy of Ayn Rand’ – with Atlas Shrugged as required reading.

Rand’s books are becoming increasingly popular. The Amazon Author Rank lists her alongside William Shakespeare and J D Salinger. While these rankings fluctuate and don’t reflect all sales, the company her name keeps is telling enough.

It’s easy to criticise Rand’s ideas. They’re so extreme that to many they read as parody. For example, Rand victim-blames: if someone doesn’t have money or power, it’s her own fault. Howard Roark, the ‘hero’ of The Fountainhead, rapes the heroine Dominique Francon. A couple of awkward conversations about repairing a fireplace is, according to Rand, tantamount to Francon issuing Roark ‘an engraved invitation’ to rape her. The encounter is clearly nonconsensual – Francon genuinely resists and Roark unmistakably forces himself upon her – and yet Rand implies that rape survivors, not the rapists, are responsible. Might makes right and, as Roark states earlier in the novel, the point isn’t who is going to let him do whatever he wants: ‘The point is, who will stop me?’ Rand’s championing of selfishness, and her callousness to the unfortunate, finds echoes in contemporary politics. It would not be stretching a point to say that her philosophy has encouraged some politicians to ignore and blame the poor and powerless for their condition.

Rand champions self-sufficiency, attacks altruism, demonises public servants, and vilifies government regulations because they hinder individual freedom. Yet, she conveniently ignores the fact that many laws and government regulations promote freedom and flourishing. In Atlas Shrugged, the mysterious cult-like leader and Objectivist spokesperson John Galt and his clique run away to establish a colony off the grid, free from government interference, and free to create their own rules. Yet imagine the reality of a world without regulations such as those of an environmental protection agency. Neighbours would be free to pump smog into Galt’s utopia, pollute its water supply, or spray toxic pesticides that drift and poison residents. Yet Galt rejects any duty towards others, and expects none from others. In his own words: ‘Do you ask what moral obligation I owe to my fellow men? None.’ Galt is rich, so he might be able to buy out a few neighbours. Nonetheless, Rand’s philosophy – as espoused by characters such as Galt who represent her views – assumes that we live in a world with unlimited resources and property that can be insulated from others. She ignores the fact that we share the Earth – we breathe the same air, swim in the same ocean, and drink from shared water sources.

Some libertarian philosophers, such as William Irwin in The Free Market Existentialist (2015), have proposed variations of Rand’s ideology that introduce some state control to protect people and their property from harm, force, fraud and theft (although he doesn’t specifically support an environmental protection agency). However, for Rand, writing in her essay collection The Virtue of Selfishness (1964), ‘There can be no compromise between freedom and government controls,’ and to accept any form of government control is ‘delivering oneself into gradual enslavement’. Still, Rand didn’t always live by her own philosophy: in a stellar display of hypocrisy, she collected social security payments and Medicare later in her life. In another essay, ‘The Question of Scholarships’ (1966), Rand attempted to justify accepting government benefits as partial restitution for taxes paid, or that one expects to pay in the future – and only if the recipient objects to it. The problem is not only the complexity of calculating how much government support one could rightly collect back from taxes paid – since, presumably, she also used roads, tap water, police protection, and a myriad of other things that the government provides. But it’s also in contradiction with her point that there can be no compromise between freedom and government. Moreover, it’s disingenuous to actively participate in, and benefit from, the very same system that she complained about under the guise of mooching back what was mooched from her. It might be selfish, but it’s not, as she claimed, moral.

ilifying Rand without reading the detail, or demonising her without taking the trouble to refute her, is clearly the wrong approach. Making her work taboo is not going to help anyone to think critically about her ideas either. Friedrich Nietzsche – a philosopher sometimes aligned, albeit superficially, with Rand, partly due to her Übermensch-like protagonists – warned in 1881: ‘The innocent will always be the victims because their ignorance prevents them from distinguishing between measure and excess, and from keeping themselves in check in good time.’

Rand is dangerous precisely because she appeals to the innocent and the ignorant using the trappings of philosophical argument as a rhetorical cloak under which she smuggles in her rather cruel prejudices. Her writing is persuasive to the vulnerable and the uncritical, and, apart from the overextended set-piece monologues, she tells a good story. It’s her novels that are the bestsellers, remember. Almost two-thirds of the thousands of reviewers on Amazon give Atlas Shrugged a five-star rating. People seem to be buying it for the story, and finding a convincing philosophy neatly packaged within, which they absorb almost without thinking. It’s not too much of a stretch to imagine what people find admirable in her characters: Rand’s heroes are self-interested and uncaring, but they’re also great at what they choose to do, and they stick by their principles. It’s a prime example – and warning – of fiction’s influential power.

Hoping that Rand’s ideas will, in time, just go away is not a good solution to the problem. The Fountainhead is still a bestseller, 75 years since first publication. And perhaps it’s time to admit that Rand is a philosopher – just not a very good one. It should be easy to show what is wrong with her thinking, and also to recognise, as John Stuart Mill did in On Liberty (1859), that a largely mistaken position can still contain some small elements of truth, as well as serving as a stimulus to thought by provoking us to demonstrate what is wrong with it. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2018 at 12:49 pm

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“Rigged Witch Hunt,” Meet Trump’s “Red Wave”

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A leader who lives in a delusion does his followers great harm. Susan B. Glasser reports in the New Yorker:

Donald Trump’s Presidency is often described as a reality-show version of the White House, with Trump himself as the producer, director, and main character. There’s something to the metaphor, of course; Trump is a showman, a veteran of the reality-TV genre who relishes the notion of himself as a master manipulator, able to dominate the news cycle at will by changing plotlines and introducing new controversies to distract us from the old. But the President’s volatile behavior and untethered public comments in recent days suggest that the analogy misses the mark: Trump’s act today is an unreality show. The President is not so much trying to shape our perception of events with his theatrics as he is trying to sell the American public, or at least his narrow slice of it, on an entirely opposite version of what is actually happening.

honesty wins!” the most dishonest President since Richard Nixon, and, arguably, ever, tweeted on Thursday morning. On Wednesday, he announced that he had revoked the security clearance of John Brennan, the former C.I.A. director, who has emerged as one of Trump’s fiercest public critics, citing as grounds Brennan’s supposed “erratic conduct and behavior” and “frenzied commentary,” an example if ever there was one of a President projecting onto his enemies his own attributes. To bolster his case, Trump paraphrased his friend Sean Hannity, the Fox TV host, accusing Brennan and an array of other former national-security officials of a grave crime, the very one that Trump and his advisers are being investigated for: “They tried to steal and influence an election in the United States.”

For months, Trump and amplifiers like Hannity have promoted an increasingly elaborate and Orwellian version of the 2016 election meddling, in which the actual outrage was not the Russian interference on Trump’s behalf, or the serious possibility of the Trump campaign’s collusion with it. Instead, there was a vast conspiracy to benefit Hillary Clinton by Brennan and other former officials of the Obama Administration; the special counsel, Robert Mueller; James Comey and the rest of the F.B.I.; Trump’s own Attorney General, Jeff Sessions; “17 Angry Democrats”; and a rotating cast of others. In a revelatory interview with the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, Trump even tied the plotlines together, announcing that he had decided to withdraw Brennan’s security clearance because of “the rigged witch hunt” and “sham” Brennan helped lead. “It’s something that had to be done,” he declared.

The “Rigged Witch Hunt” may have become the signature story of Trump’s unreality show, but there are many other examples. Over the next ten weeks, expect the President to emphasize, with increasing urgency and intensity, the personal campaign he has started to reshape public perceptions of the upcoming midterm elections. The numbers, the polls, the battleground map, and the entire previous history of midterm elections in the modern era suggest a Republican defeat in November of large and possibly massive proportions. And yet President Trump now insists that there will be no “blue wave,” and that a “red wave” is coming instead.

Trump first started tweeting his “red wave” slogan in June, responding to California primary-election results showing Trump’s Republican Party in serious trouble in the historically G.O.P.-leaning suburban districts that the Party needs to keep to retain control of the House. Trump insisted the opposite. “Great night for Republicans!” he wrote. “So much for the big Blue Wave. It may be a big Red Wave.”

Ever since, the President has adopted this as his election mantra. Earlier this month, he tweeted this reality-defying version of his latest plotline: “Presidential Approval numbers are very good – strong economy, military and just about everything else. Better numbers than Obama at this point, by far. We are winning on just about every front and for that reason there will not be a Blue Wave, but there might be a Red Wave!” Three days later, buoyed by a series of rallies for the Trump faithful at which he repeated his new slogan, Trump tweeted it again. “As long as I campaign and/or support Senate and House candidates (within reason), they will win! I love the people, & they certainly seem to like the job I’m doing. If I find the time, in between China, Iran, the Economy and much more, which I must, we will have a giant Red Wave!” The President repeated it again after this week’s contests: “Great Republican election results last night. So far we have the team we want. 8 for 9 in Special Elections. Red Wave!”

The problem with all these tweets is not so much that they are riddled with factual inaccuracies, although they are. (Obama’s approval numbers were better at this point; pending the results in Ohio’s Twelfth District, Republicans have only won seven of nine special elections for this Congress.) The problem is that there is no red wave in sight, nor do the Republicans who have to deal with that reality expect one to somehow magically materialize. “No, there is no red wave. There is no one who thinks that,” a Republican strategist who has been advising the Party’s keep-the-House efforts told me on Thursday. “It’s like the phrase from his book, ‘The Art of the Deal’: Lying isn’t lying if it’s in the service of Trump.”

The Republican strategist told me that he and his colleagues at the national Party know what they are up against. “He’s not convincing political operators in Washington, D.C., but that’s not his goal,” the strategist told me. “He’s convincing people wearing maga hats in Waffle Houses across the country.” Even the Wall Street Journal’s conservative opinion pages, owned by the Trump promoter Rupert Murdoch, have taken issue with this particular Trumpian alternate reality. “Our sense is that Republican voters haven’t recognized how much jeopardy the party is in. Many are content to listen only to their safe media spaces that repeat illusions about a ‘red wave’ and invoke 2016 when the media said Mr. Trump couldn’t win,” the Journal editorialized last week. “But that’s not an excuse for ignoring the evidence of GOP trouble.”

That evidence is overwhelming. “I haven’t spent thirty seconds thinking about a red wave, because I think it is totally delusional. Any Republican pollster or strategist worth their salt just rolls their eyes at the thought of it,” Charlie Cook, the dean of American election forecasters, told me. Cook, the editor of the nonpartisan Cook Political Report, has followed closely every midterm election since 1974, when the Republicans suffered historic losses amid Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, reshaping Capitol Hill for a generation. His team at the Cook Political Report currently assesses thirty-seven Republican House seats as highly vulnerable, up from twenty in January, including three more moved to “toss-ups” after the primary-election results Trump touted in his red-wave tweet this week. Another fifty Republican-held seats are currently assessed as potentially vulnerable. Given that Democrats only need to defend their two vacant seats and pick up twenty-three more to win back control of the House, they have many possible routes to a majority. As for other metrics used to assess the midterm-election outlook, Trump’s approval ratings remain historically low, hovering around forty per cent, and Democrats register leads of between eight and twelve points in most recent national surveys of generic congressional-ballot preference. Over the last twenty-one midterm elections, the President’s party has lost an average of thirty seats in the House and four in the Senate. No wonder Trump is trying to sell the one metric that is trending in his favor, the strong economy. But, even here, he is selling an alternate reality by declaring that the economy is “better than ever,” a conclusion that would surprise, among others, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and Barack Obama, each of whom saw growth numbers as good or better, depending on which ones are cited.

Cook told me that he currently believes that “we are looking at a twenty- to forty-seat loss” for Republicans in the House, along with significant losses in state legislative and gubernatorial contests. (The U.S. Senate, he said, is a much murkier picture, with anything from a small G.O.P. gain to a small Democratic gain possible.) What’s more, he added, “Republican losses would be looking in the sixty- to seventy-seat range right now,” if not for the uneven battleground dictated by partisan gerrymandering by Republican-controlled legislatures. In short, he said, the midterm election is shaping up to be a “train wreck” and “a complete shit show” for Trump and his party. So, yes, there is a blue wave—the only question is how big. Cook was categorical that Trump would not be able to somehow turn things around between now and November. “We have never seen a midterm election change directions between midsummer and Election Day,” he said. “I have never seen it happen. They either stay the same or they get worse; we’ve never seen it diminish or reverse.”

For Cook and others, Trump’s red wave comes from the same place that his “Rigged Witch Hunt” originates: Trump’s insistence on the legitimacy of his election victory in 2016 and his unwavering belief that it was the product of his own, precedent-defying brilliance. “The President is emotionally incapable of dealing with the fact that he got elected on a statistical fluke,” losing the popular vote by a wide margin and yet still winning the Electoral College, Cook said. Trump’s alternate reality for 2018 is built on the conviction that he can break the political laws of history once again, never mind that the only evidence to support that conviction, so far, is his own certainty of it. “All the experts said he was wrong and he won, and therefore there’s no reason to listen to an expert ever again.”

On Thursday, I spoke with one of the Democrats who is hoping to ride an actual blue wave this November. Tom Malinowski, a former State Department official under the Obama Administration, is running against a Republican incumbent in the Seventh Congressional District of New Jersey, a largely suburban district that includes Trump’s Bedminster golf club, where the President just spent his August vacation. (“We jokingly talk about turning his putting green blue in November,” Malinowski told me.) A Republican has represented the district since 1981, but Hillary Clinton narrowly defeated Trump there in 2016, Democratic turnout far exceeded Republican turnout in the June primary for the first time, and Malinowski has so far outraised the incumbent, Leonard Lance. Cook ranks the race a toss-up, and  . . .

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Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2018 at 12:22 pm

Trump can’t understand anything: Agent Orange example

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Jeet Heer reports in the New Republic:

Trump argues with veterans about napalm, Agent Orange and Apocalypse Now.

The Daily Beast reports that on March 17, 2017 President Donald Trump met with a delegation of veterans’ groups and got into a bizarre dispute about a film classic. Rick Weidman, co-founder of Vietnam Veterans of America (VVA), brought up the problem of Agent Orange, asking the president to broaden the number of veterans who can receive VA benefits for treatment from the herbicide, which was used during the Vietnam War. The president seemed to confuse Agent Orange with napalm, an incendiary gel that was also deployed in that conflict. The president claimed the problem with Agent Orange had already been dealt with.

The the conversation took a strange turn. As The Daily Beast describes the scene:

Attendees began explaining to the president that the VA had not made enough progress on the issue at all, to which Trump responded by abruptly derailing the meeting and asking the attendees if Agent Orange was “that stuff from that movie.”

He did not initially name the film he was referencing, but it quickly became clear as Trump kept rambling that he was referring to the classic 1979 Francis Ford Coppola epic Apocalypse Now, and specifically the famous helicopter attack scene set to the “Ride of the Valkyries.

Source present at the time tell The Daily Beast that multiple people—including Vietnam War veterans—chimed in to inform the president that the Apocalypse Now set piece he was talking about showcased the U.S. military using napalm, not Agent Orange.

Trump refused to accept that he was mistaken and proceeded to say things like, “no, I think it’s that stuff from that movie.”

Eventually the president said the problem was that Weidman “just didn’t like the movie.”

The exchange is in keeping with the haphazard way that Trump has handled veterans’ matters. The Daily Beast also notes that veterans’ issues had been part of the portfolio of former reality show star Omarosa Manigault-Newman. According to one veterans’ advocate, during a February 2017 meeting Manigault-Newman “showed up late, interrupted us, and said she was taking the lead.”

Earlier this month, ProPublica reported that a small cabal of the president’s cronies, none of them holding public office, were shaping VA policy. These wealthy friends of the president all belonged to his private club Mar-a-Lago. Members of this cabal sometimes tried to use the VA to promote their private interests.

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2018 at 11:56 am

Can the Catholic Church Reform From Within?

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The short answer is “No, it cannot. That’s been tried, and it didn’t work.” Sarah Jones writes in the New Republic:

The numbers alone are staggering: 1,000 victims, 300 priests. On Tuesday, to collective horror, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court released the results of its grand jury investigation into child sexual abuse in the state’s Catholic dioceses. The report spans all but one of the state’s dioceses and documents abuse that goes back decades. “There have been other reports about child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church,” the report begins. “But not on this scale. For many of us, those earlier stories happened someplace else, someplace away. Now we know the truth: It happened everywhere.”

Tale after tale of unimaginable exploitation and cruelty make up the grand jury report. One priest tried to tie altar boys up with rope. That same priest also belonged to a child porn ring with other priests. In a detail that reads like a fever dream, clergy gave victims large gold crucifix necklaces, which marked the children as prey to other members of the ring. One priest collected trophies of urine, pubic hair, and menstrual blood from female victims. Another impregnated a minor and urged her to get an abortion.

Throughout it all, the church stumbled over itself to protect its priests and its reputation. In 1996, the Pittsburgh diocese received a report that one priest had been repeatedly accused of “sexual impropriety”—he remained a priest until 2004. When dozens of parents complained that a different priest had inappropriately touched and ogled their naked sons at a Catholic school, the diocese removed him from the school, but issued him a letter of good standing in 2014 that denied that there had ever been any report of wrongdoing.

What happened in Pennsylvania is similar to what infamously occurred in the archdiocese of Boston, where victims were bribed into silence and accused priests were transferred to new parishes. What happened in Pennsylvania and Boston is similar again to what happened on the island of Guam, where there are 200 clergy sex abuse cases for a population of under 160,000 people and where the archbishop himself stood accused of rape. Other clergy scandals are unfolding in the cities of Buffalo and Rochester, New York; in Baltimore, Maryland; in Chicago, Illinois; in the countries of Ireland, Poland, Argentina, Australia, and Paraguay. The scandal is as universal as the church.

At this point, what could the church possibly do to cleanse itself in the eyes of its congregants and the world? And if the church cannot police itself, is there anything outside authorities can do to intervene?

The church’s secrecy is a repeating fact throughout the Pennsylvania grand jury’s narrative of predation. While dioceses did take some complaints seriously and removed priests from ministry, it’s clear that accused priests did not consistently face justice from their own church. Instead, dioceses shuffled priests from parish to parish. The report implicates some prelates: Cardinal Donald Wuerl, who served as the bishop of Pittsburgh before becoming archbishop of Washington, D.C., repeatedly allowed accused priests to remain in ministry, usually at the recommendation of the church’s own treatment centers for abusive priests.

How deep does the problem go? The sheer size of the Catholic Church means it’s difficult to know the extent of clerical abuse. In recent years, however, church officials have made efforts to provide a systematic approach to oversight and accountability. The Dallas charter, first created by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in 2002 and revised in 2005, 2011, and 2018, requires dioceses to publicize procedures for reporting abuse and to create review boards for investigating claims—boards that will include lay people as well as clergy. It further orders dioceses to “demonstrate a sincere commitment” to the “spiritual and emotional well-being” of victims and forbids dioceses from entering settlements that require confidentiality from victims unless it’s at a victim’s request.

The most important documents to emerge from the charter include two reports commissioned by the church in conjunction with the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The first, released in 2003, examined the church’s abuse record from 1950 to 2002; the second, released in 2011, examined the “causes and context” of Catholic clergy abuse, and says the absence of “human formation” courses at Catholic seminaries contributed to abuse. . .

Continue reading.

There’s much more. The article concludes:

. . . On Thursday, two full days after the grand jury report broke, the Vatican released a six-sentence statement about the report’s findings. Lessons must be learned, said the Holy See; abuse is “morally reprehensible.” It urged accountability, but did not explain how it planned to achieve that goal. Meanwhile, Pope Francis’s current itinerary for an upcoming visit to Ireland lacks a visit with victims of clergy abuse. Victims and faithful Catholics alike must then hope and trust that the church’s current procedures are enough to prevent future outbreaks of abuse—that the Vatican takes the problem seriously, though its prelates and even the pope either contribute to the problem or respond tepidly to its moral and criminal outrages.

One of the most disturbing details of the Pennsylvania report did not describe the abuse of children. “Abuse complaints were kept locked up in a ‘secret archive.’ That is not our word, but theirs; the church’s Code of Canon Law specifically requires the diocese to maintain such an archive,” the report states. “Only the bishop can have the key.”


Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2018 at 11:50 am

Plisson synthetic, QED Vetiver, iKon X3, and TOBS Mr. Taylor’s aftershave

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QED’s glycerin shave soaps were remarkably good: thick, slick lather easily created and excellent fragrances. This Vetiver shave stick did a fine job, and the iKon X3 slant (here on a UFO handle) comfortably removed every trace of stubble and roughness. A splash of Mr. Taylor’s aftershave lotion finished the shave and let me start my walk in fine fettle. Just under 65 minutes today (64 minutes 54 seconds), and quite enjoyable.

Written by Leisureguy

17 August 2018 at 10:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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