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Archive for October 12th, 2018

“I Listened to All Six Trump Rallies in October. You Should, Too”

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Susan B. Glasser writes in the New Yorker:

From the start of the Trump Presidency, many Beltway wise men, and more than a few of Donald Trump’s own advisers, said, Don’t pay attention to the tweets; forget the overheated language and the alarming one-liners coming out of Trump’s constant campaign-style rallies. Pay attention to the policy. They repeated this even after Trump fired his White House chief of staff and Secretary of State on Twitter, and started making policy announcements to his followers that his advisers didn’t know about. They are still, essentially, telling us to disregard what the President says. On Thursday, that was exactly the response offered by Trump’s chief economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, when he was asked about a series of attacks by the President on the “loco” Federal Reserve, which Trump said had “gone crazy” by raising interest rates and, in his view, causing the week’s precipitous stock-market decline. “The President says a lot of things,” Kudlow told reporters on the drive outside the White House, where Trump’s advisers are often found in the mornings, cleaning up this or that remark from the President. “He has a lot of fun.”

Trump does indeed say a lot of things, which causes another problem for those watching him. Not only do his advisers tell us to disregard his comments, but he makes so many of them. Almost two years after his election upset, we still haven’t quite figured out how to deal with the daily flood of bombastic rhetoric, instant punditry, and rambling soliloquies that Trump increasingly chooses to spend his time on in office.

So what would happen if the President of the United States threw a rally and the cameras didn’t show up? Since Trump entered politics to round-the-clock cable coverage, this has been the demand of some of Trump’s biggest opponents, those who believe that real-time televising of what Trump says when he says it has both created and enabled this serial fabulist by giving him an unchallenged platform.

Well, we’re starting to find out. On Wednesday, Trump flouted convention and flew to Erie, Pennsylvania, for a political rally as one of the most intense hurricanes to hit the United States in decades pounded Florida. The President attributed his decision not to cancel to the thousands of people already lined up to hear him. “It’s a very important rally,” he told reporters. When he got there, however, even the usually reliable Fox News refused to carry the show, sticking with weather reports on the storm and its prime-time lineup. Even as Trump was onstage, Politico reported that Fox’s ratings for coverage of his recent rallies had dropped below those of its regular shows. (At one point, when I switched over to check Fox, not only was Trump still shut out but the Fox host was joking with a guest about emotional-support animals.) The only national network to air the Pennsylvania rally live was C-span 2.

But I think it’s a mistake. The problem is that there are so many outrages, we are in danger of ignoring them, or dismissing them as mere spectacle. The torrent of Trump’s words is exhausting, contradictory, annoying, and more than occasionally amusing, and it’s fair to ask what some of it amounts to. I certainly don’t think all the networks need to air his remarks live and in full all the time. Still, tuning out the President is hardly the way to understand him. So I decided to watch all of Trump’s rallies in October, as he is stepping up his midterm campaigning.

The first thing to note is that there are a lot of them; the President has already done six so far, as the election draws near, spending, as the Washington Post put it, “sixty percent of the evenings in October so far” speaking to big crowds in Trump-friendly places like Johnson City, Tennessee; Southaven, Mississippi; Topeka, Kansas; Rochester, Minnesota; Council Bluffs, Iowa; and Erie. He has two more planned for this weekend. Trump is generally onstage for more than an hour, so that’s a lot of Trump. Six hours and fifty-one minutes of Trump, to be precise.

The headlines from these events are by now familiar: Trump’s celebration of his victimized but ultimately confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh; Trump’s mocking of Kavanaugh’s female accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, after he initially called her “very credible”; Trump’s  escalating rhetoric about “wacko” Democrats as an “angry mob” that would destroy due process, even as the angry mob listening to him chanted “lock her up” at the mere mention of Dianne Feinstein, a senator not accused of any crime.

That leaves a lot of what would be considered news in any other moment. Among the things I heard the President of the United States do: make fun of a female candidate in Iowa by giving her a derogatory nickname. Accuse a U.S. senator of being a “drunk.” Claim that Hillary Clinton engaged in a conspiracy with Russia to rig the election (which she lost). He called the European Union a “brutal” alliance “formed to take advantage of us.” He attacked American libel laws and the World Trade Organization.

Many of the statements are not only untrue but are repeated from event to event, despite the industry of real-time Trump fact-checking and truth-squadding that now exists. This summer, the Washington Post’s Fact Checker looked at all the statements in one rally and determined that seventy-six per cent of the ninety-eight factual assertions Trump made were untrue, misleading, or baseless. Since then, Trump seems not only undeterred but to be stepping up his pace. He claimed that Justice Kavanaugh was No. 1 in his class at Yale and Yale Law School in at least three of his events over the past week, despite Yale not even calculating class rankings. On Wednesday, Trump repeated several of his greatest-hits fallacies, such as asserting that fifty-two per cent of women supported him in 2016 (that number was forty-two per cent), and that numerous new steel-manufacturing plants are being opened (none are), and that “clean, beautiful coal” is coming back (it isn’t).

Still, fact-checking is far too narrow a lens through which to view the rallies. Certainly, Trump pours out untruths and whoppers at these events; the more defensive he is, the more he seems to unleash them. But I found myself reeling most at the end of my rally-watching marathon not from the lying but from the bleak and threatening world view offered by a President who is claiming credit for making America great, strong, and respected again, while terrifying his fans with the grim spectre of the scary enemies he is fending off. Even more than they did in 2016, these threats come accompanied by an increasingly grandiose rewriting of history. What’s happened since his election, Trump said in Pennsylvania, “has been the greatest revolution ever to take place in our country,” or maybe even anywhere in the world. His victory “superseded even Andrew Jackson.” “America,” he said, “is winning like never before.”

The biggest difference between Trump and any other American President, however, is not the bragging. It’s the cult of personality he has built around himself and which he insists upon at his rallies. Political leaders are called onstage to praise the President in terms that would make a feudal courtier blush, and they’re not empty words. These are the kinds of tributes I have heard in places like Uzbekistan, but never before in America. “Is he not the best President we have ever had?” the Mississippi senator Cindy Hyde-Smith enthused. (Trump then praised her for voting “with me one hundred per cent of the time.”) In Erie on Wednesday, a Republican congressman, Michael Kelly, gave the most sycophantic speech of the ones I listened to this month. Trump, he yelled to the crowd, is “the strongest President we have seen in our lifetime.” Addressing Trump, he said, “You are the best! You are the best!” Trump did not need to leave his “luxurious” life behind for the indignities of political combat, but he did. “I am so grateful,” Kelly concluded, “that an American citizen came out of nowhere to take the reins and reform and retake this nation.”

No wonder his followers think this way. In Trump’s telling at these rallies, he is the hero of every story. All ideas, big or small, flow through him now that he is President. He personally ordered the Ambassador in Israel to renovate a building for the new American Embassy there using “beautiful Jerusalem stone.” (Never mind that all buildings in the city are required to be faced with it.) He had “the greatest idea” to get veterans better medical care by allowing them to go to private doctors, confounding the experts who told him, “Sir, we’ve been working on this for forty-four years,” and couldn’t fix the problem. Same with an N.F.L. dispute with Canada. “Nobody could get it done,” Trump said. “I did it in two minutes.”

Then there are the stunners that we already know Trump thinks are true. But listen to them for almost seven hours in an election season, and remember, this is the President; maybe we shouldn’t just screen this out, or pretend it doesn’t matter. Every single rally included multiple attacks on the media and “fake news.” In Mississippi, the press bashing began seconds into the speech; in Pennsylvania, it took seven minutes; in Minnesota, ten. Deadbeat allies, rapacious foreigners ripping us off, and murderous gang members from MS-13 also figured in every one of the speeches.

Touting his record, surprisingly, is not necessarily at the heart of Trump’s speeches, as it might be for a more conventional politician. “The biggest tax cut in history,” which Republican leaders once wanted to make the centerpiece of their 2018 campaigns, is generally mentioned close to the one-hour mark by Trump. He brags of blowing up nafta and replacing it with the “brand-new” U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, though experts say the agreement represents more of an update to the free-trade pact than a destruction of it. He invariably mentions withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. But other accomplishments are aspirational, as when he talks about proposing a new Space Force branch of the military or promises to start “building the wall” with Mexico. Given two full years of the Trump Administration and Republican control over all three branches of government, there is remarkably little policy wonkery here.

Some of Trump’s comments, while overheated, are standard-issue partisan rhetoric. There are ritual denunciations of socialist-leaning Democrats who want to raise taxes while Republicans crack down on crime and spend more money on defense. Every Republican President in my lifetime has uttered a version of those words during election season. Where Trump differs starkly is in his insistence—made at an increasingly high pitch as the week went on—thatDemocrats not only want to legislate their way to socialism but that they are an actual clear and present danger to Americans.

We already know that Trump is the most truth-challenged President ever, that he distorts, misrepresents, and makes things up; that he has something to hide on his taxes; that he loves to mock, bully, criticize, insult, and belittle rivals.

Besides, there were plenty of important issues to occupy Washington this week that did not involve the President’s rallies, from the fate of the missing Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi to the sudden plunge of the stock market to the damage from Hurricane Michael. Never mind the big news from the White House on Thursday, when Trump had lunch with the rapper Kanye West, who dropped the phrase “crazy motherfucker” in what was undoubtedly the most profane West Wing photo-op ever. Trump had plenty to say about all of it.

So why I am writing about this? Why spend nearly seven bleary-eyed hours over six rallies listening to the President? That’s six full renditions of Lee Greenwood’s “I’m Proud to Be an American,” six times hearing Trump rip off Churchill’s “never surrender” speech, six times listening to him insult “low I.Q.” Maxine Waters and “Crooked Hillary” and “Crazy Bernie” and, his new favorite, “Da Nang Dick” Blumenthal.

Watching hours of Trump at his rallies, it’s easy to sympathize with the desire to ignore them. John Dean tweeted a picture of the crowd waiting in line for the Erie rally and derided it as a “meaningless show.” For supporters, it’s hyperbole, just rhetoric, entertainment, part of the unvarnished appeal; for opponents, it’s old news painful to watch, maybe, but inconsequential, narrow-casting to his base. One of the reasons we tune out is because views of Trump are so fixed. Look at the Presidential approval ratings, and “you would think it’s been a pretty boring couple years,” as Amy Walter, the Cook Political Report editor, likes to put it. Trump’s ratings have barely budged, no matter the day’s outrage or the nutty things he tells his followers: the same range of thirty-eight to forty-three per cent of Americans approve of him, according to the Real Clear Politics polling average, and the same majority of fifty to fifty-three per cent disapprove of him, as has been the case since the early weeks of his Administration.

Much of the coverage of these events tends to be theatre criticism, or news stories about a single inflammatory line or two, rating Trump’s performance or puzzling over the appeal to his followers. But what the President of the United States is actually saying is extraordinary, regardless of whether the television cameras are carrying it live. It’s not just the whoppers or the particular outrage riffs that do get covered, either. It’s the hate, and the sense of actual menace that the President is trying to convey to his supporters. Democrats aren’t just wrong in the manner of traditional partisan differences; they are scary, bad, evil, radical, dangerous. Trump and Trump alone stands between his audiences and disaster. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2018 at 8:27 pm

Saudi crown prince bragged that Jared Kushner gave him CIA intelligence about other Saudis saying ‘here are your enemies’ days before ‘corruption crackdown’ which led to torture and death

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And Donald Trump handed code-word intelligence to Russian officials in the Oval Office. The White House currently is occupied by extremely ignorant people. Ryan Parry and Josh Boswell report in the Daily Mail:

  • Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman met with Jared Kushner in October
  • Salman has since bragged about using classified intelligence from Kushner as part of a crackdown on ‘corrupt’ princes and businessmen in Saudi Arabia
  • He said the intelligence from Kushner included information on those who were disloyal to Salman and who were his ‘enemies’, insiders tell DailyMail
  • Kushner’s attorney’s spokesman said it was ‘false’ that the president’s son-in-law passed on secrets and that he was ‘well aware of the rules’
  • The crown prince launched his crackdown on corruption in November, days after he met Kushner for talks in Riyadh
  • Hundreds were rounded up, including princes from rival parts of the Saudi royal family and some of the country’s wealthiest businessmen
  • But the crackdown saw accusations of torture and at least one reported death

Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman bragged of receiving classified US intelligence from Jared Kushner and using it as part of a purge of ‘corrupt’ princes and businessmen, can disclose.

The de facto ruler of the Middle East’s largest economy is currently on a US tour which has seen him meet President Donald Trump in the White House, hold talks with a string of the country’s richest and most influential people and book the entire Four Seasons in Beverly Hills for himself and his entourage.

Sources have told that the prince – known by his initials MBS – has been boasting about his close relationship with the president’s son-in-law and senior adviser, and the intelligence which he has told his circle Kushner passed to him.

The crackdown on ‘corruption’ in the Saudi kingdom was led by MBS and began in November, days after he had met Kushner for talks in Riyadh.

But it saw allegations of torture as hundreds were rounded up, including princes from rival parts of the Saudi royal family and some of the country’s wealthiest businessmen. revealed a photograph showing the detainees sleeping on the floor of a ballroom at the Riyadh Ritz Carlton, and disclosed that some had been tortured.

The New York Times later reported that one of the detainees had died from his injuries.

Most are said to have reached ‘settlements’ with the Saudi government, and MBS himself boasted in a 60 Minutes interview that the government had regained at least $100 billion from them.

Kushner claimed through his attorney Abbe Lowell that it was a ‘false story’.

Peter Mirijanian, Lowell’s spokesman, said: ‘The alleged exchange never happened. Mr Kushner was and is well aware of the rules governing information and follows those rules.’

Despite Kushner’s denial sources have told how MBS boasted in private that Kushner was the source of intelligence used in the round-up.

He also told members of his circle that the intelligence included information on who was disloyal to him. There is no way to independently verify the truth of the boast.

‘Jared took a list out of names from US eavesdrops of people who were supposedly MBS’s enemies,’ said one source, characterizing how MBS spoke about the information.

‘He took a list out of these people who had been trashing MBS in phone calls, and said ‘these are the ones who are your enemies’.

MBS was actually bragging about it in Saudi Arabia when it happened, that he and Jared sat up until 4am discussing things, and Jared brought him this list.’

The Riyadh source said: ‘They sat for several hours together. They literally laid out the future map of the entire region, that’s why they stayed up to the early hours of the morning from the afternoon before.’

The intelligence allegedly discussed during Kushner’s visit to the Middle East last October was said to have came from U.S. wiretaps on conversations between Arab royals in hotels in London, in major U.S. cities and even on yachts docked close to Monte Carlo, a favorite playground of the super-rich.

A separate source told that it was being said in the Gulf that the president’s son-in-law took a copy of information from the daily intelligence briefing provided by the intelligence community to the White House, and shared its contents with MBS.

The intelligence named several family members who were opposed to his rise, it was said.

‘Kushner got hold of an intelligence briefing,’ said the Riyadh palace source, recounting the version which originated with MBS. ‘At that time he had a high level of security clearance and had access to that. He copied it and provided its contents to MBS.

‘The CIA are doing their job by briefing the president on what is happening internationally.

‘This is a briefing by the CIA to tell the president that some members of the Saudi royal family are plotting in this and that country.

‘Kushner took that part of the briefing and flew to Saudi Arabia to impress MBS.’

The disclosure comes after The Intercept reported that Kushner had a late night meeting with Salman and discussed the names of Saudis who opposed his power grab.

MBS bragged to his closest regional ally, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed – the de facto joint ruler of the United Arab Emirates – and others that Kushner was ‘in his pocket,’ a source told The Intercept.

Access to the president’s daily brief is closely guarded, but Trump has the legal authority to allow Kushner to disclose information contained in it as the president is the ultimate declassifying authority and legally free to do so at any time.

However if Kushner, 37, had passed on names to the Saudis, the move would be a stunning intervention by the US into the internal affairs of an allied nation.

If Trump’s son-in-law, however, discussed the names with the Saudi prince without Trump’s specific permission, he may have violated federal laws around the sharing of classified intelligence.

Kushner’s access to intelligence is an issue which has come to bedevil the White House.

He has been unable to secure a permanent security clearance, for reasons which remain unknown.

In February chief of staff John Kelly moved to prevent any White House official with only interim security clearance from having access to top secret/sensitive compartmented information, meaning Kushner can only access ‘top secret’ material. . .

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Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2018 at 7:04 pm

The decline of the moral authority of the US: The Five-Year-Old Who Was Detained at the Border and Persuaded to Sign Away Her Rights

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Sarah Stillman reports in the New Yorker:

Helen—a smart, cheerful five-year-old girl—is an asylum seeker from Honduras. This summer, when a social worker asked her to identify her strengths, Helen shared her pride in “her ability to learn fast and express her feelings and concerns.” She also recounted her favorite activities (“playing with her dolls”), her usual bedtime (“8 p.m.”), and her professional aspirations (“to be a veterinarian”).

In July, Helen fled Honduras with her grandmother, Noehmi, and several other relatives; gangs had threatened Noehmi’s teen-age son, Christian, and the family no longer felt safe. Helen’s mother, Jeny, had migrated to Texas four years earlier, and Noehmi planned to seek legal refuge there. With Noehmi’s help, Helen travelled thousands of miles, sometimes on foot, and frequently fell behind the group. While crossing the Rio Grande in the journey’s final stretch, Helen slipped from their raft and risked drowning. Her grandmother grabbed her hand and cried, “Hang on, Helen!” When the family reached the scrubland of southern Texas, U.S. Border Patrol agents apprehended them and moved them through a series of detention centers. A month earlier, the Trump Administration had announced, amid public outcry over its systemic separation of migrant families at the border, that it would halt the practice. But, at a packed processing hub, Christian was taken from Noehmi and placed in a cage with toddlers. Noehmi remained in a cold holding cell, clutching Helen. Soon, she recalled, a plainclothes official arrived and informed her that she and Helen would be separated. “No!” Noehmi cried. “The girl is under my care! Please!”

Noehmi said that the official told her, “Don’t make things too difficult,” and pulled Helen from her arms. “The girl will stay here,” he said, “and you’ll be deported.” Helen cried as he escorted her from the room and out of sight. Noehmi remembers the authorities explaining that Helen’s mother would be able to retrieve her, soon, from wherever they were taking her.

Later that day, Noehmi and Christian were reunited. The adults in the family were fitted with electronic ankle bracelets and all were released, pending court dates. They left the detention center and rushed to Jeny’s house, in McAllen, hoping to find Helen there. When they didn’t, Noehmi began to shake, struggling to explain the situation. “Immigration took your daughter,” she told Jeny.

“But where did they take her?” Jeny asked.

“I don’t know,” Noehmi replied.

The next day, authorities—likely from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (O.R.R.)—called to say that they were holding Helen at a shelter near Houston; according to Noehmi, they wouldn’t say exactly where. Noehmi and Jeny panicked. Unable to breathe amid her distress, Noehmi checked herself into a local hospital, where doctors gave her medication to calm her down. “I thought we would never see her again,” Noehmi said. She couldn’t square her family’s fate with the TV news, which insisted that the government had stopped separating migrant families.

Helen had been brought to Baytown, a shelter run by Baptist Child & Family Services, which the federal government had contracted to house unaccompanied minors. Helen was given a pack of crayons and spent the summer coloring patriotic images: busts of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, the torch on the Statue of Liberty. She was granted an hour of “Large Muscle Activity and Leisure Time” each day, and received lessons on the human respiratory system, the history of music, and “the risk and danger of social media.” “Helen,” a caseworker observed, “has excellent behavior at all times.” She had no major sources of stress, her reports noted, aside from “being separated from her family.” Her teachers encouraged her to develop “smartgoals”—ambitions that are “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.” Helen’s goal was simple: “Minor disclosed wanting to live with her mother and family in the U.S.”

According to a long-standing legal precedent known as the Flores settlement, which established guidelines for keeping children in immigration detention, Helen had a right to a bond hearing before a judge; that hearing would have likely hastened her release from government custody and her return to her family. At the time of her apprehension, in fact, Helen checked a box on a line that read, “I do request an immigration judge,” asserting her legal right to have her custody reviewed. But, in early August, an unknown official handed Helen a legal document, a “Request for a Flores Bond Hearing,” which described a set of legal proceedings and rights that would have been difficult for Helen to comprehend. (“In a Flores bond hearing, an immigration judge reviews your case to determine whether you pose a danger to the community,” the document began.) On Helen’s form, which was filled out with assistance from officials, there is a checked box next to a line that says, “I withdraw my previous request for a Flores bond hearing.” Beneath that line, the five-year-old signed her name in wobbly letters.

As the summer progressed with no signs of Helen’s return, Noehmi and Jeny contacted lupe, a nonprofit community union based in the Rio Grande Valley, to ask for help winning Helen’s release. Founded by the famed activists César Chávez and Dolores Huerta in 1989, lupe fights deportations, provides social services, and organizes civil mobilizations on behalf of more than eight thousand low-income members across south Texas; Jeny, employed as an office cleaner, was one such member. Tania Chavez, a strategy leader forthe organization, met with the family to hear their story.

Helen’s case didn’t fit the typical lupe mold. “Historically, we have served longtime residents of the Rio Grande Valley,” Chavez told me, “but since this new surge of refugees came about, we’ve been on the front lines of advocacy against family separation.” Freeing Helen struck Chavez as a tangible and urgent goal. “Right away, we said, ‘How do we help this little girl?’ ” she said. As Chavez saw it, the girl’s seizure by the government showed that the family-separation crisis hadn’t been resolved, as many Americans believed—it had simply evolved.

The first stage of the family-separation crisis unfolded largely out of public view, not long after Trump took office. By January, 2018, when I began collecting the stories of parents who had been separated from their children at the border, the government denied that these separations were happening without clear justifications, and insisted that they weren’t encouraged by official policy. In the late spring, the Secretary of Homeland Security, Kirstjen Nielsen, was still espousing this line, even as she ramped up “zero tolerance” prosecutions—criminally charging parents with “illegal entry,” and seizing their kids in the process.

Stage two of the crisis unfolded in the national spotlight. As the number of separations soared past two thousand, and their wrenching details surfaced, hundreds of thousands of Americans protested in the streets. Laura Bush said that the practice broke her heart. The American Academy of Pediatrics denounced it as “abhorrent,” noting that the approach could inflict long-term, irrevocable trauma on children. On June 20th, the President issued an executive order purporting to end the practice.

Now stage three has commenced—one in which separations are done quietly, lupe’s Tania Chavez asserts, and in which reunifications can be mysteriously stymied. According to recent Department of Justice numbers—released because of an ongoing A.C.L.U. lawsuit challenging family separations—a hundred and thirty-six children who fall within the lawsuit’s scope are still in government custody. An uncounted number of separated children in shelters and foster care fall outside the lawsuit’s current purview—including many like Helen, who arrived with a grandparent or other guardian, rather than with a parent. Many such children have been misclassified, in government paperwork, as “unaccompanied minors,” due to a sloppy process that the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General recently critiqued. Chavez believes that, through misclassification, many kids have largely disappeared from public view, and from official statistics, with the federal government showing little urgency to hasten reunifications. (O.R.R. and U.S. Customs and Border Protection did not respond to requests for comment.)

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Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2018 at 11:57 am

The Love Story that Upended the Texas Prison System

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Ethan Watters writes in Texas Monthly:


On November 9, 1967, Fred Cruz was in his sixth year of a fifteen-year robbery sentence and starting yet another stint in the hole. Of the many punishments the Texas prison system doled out to inmates, solitary confinement was one of the most brutal on the body and the soul. It wasn’t Cruz’s first time there, but it wasn’t something one got used to. The Ellis Unit, about fourteen miles north of Huntsville in a boggy lowland area of East Texas, was known as the toughest prison in the system, and there was no worse place to be in Ellis than solitary.

The cell’s darkness was so complete it made the eyes ache. On some occasions, Cruz was given a thin blanket and nothing else—no clothes and no mattress for the steel bunk. His toilet was a hole in the floor. He’d receive only three slices of bread a day with a full meal twice a week, and had shed multiple pounds from his already thin frame. After two weeks, an outer door to the cell would be opened, allowing in light from the hallway. This would be considered a “release” from solitary. Then the warden or an officer would come by and assess the sincerity of Cruz’s contrition. If he failed that yes-sir-no-sir encounter, the solid steel door would be shut again and the days of darkness would recommence.

Cruz’s ability to maintain his composure through interminable silence and darkness was better than that of many other inmates, but still uneven. Sometimes a panic would rise in his chest, his heart would pound, and he couldn’t catch his breath. Some days he simply wished for death.

But if he got his mind right, he could keep it together. Cruz’s upbringing had made him tough. Abandoned by his father, he came of age in the late fifties and early sixties in the segregated Mexican-American barrios on the West Side of San Antonio. It was a place where you joined a gang or risked becoming a victim. He ran with the Mirasoles and dressed in street pachuco style: zoot suits with pleated pants and suspenders. Members of his family sold drugs, and run-ins with the law were a regular occurrence. Cruz was nineteen and serving a short stint for selling marijuana when he learned that his older brother Frank had been shot dead by the police during a failed hold-up.

From that childhood grew an emotional steeliness, but it wasn’t until he started this fifteen-year stint in 1961 for robbery that he began to develop an intellectual and a spiritual strength. He took to reading difficult texts in philosophy and legal theory. He learned about yoga and Eastern religions, and started a correspondence with a Buddhist priest in San Francisco. It was the sixties, and though he was in prison, Cruz was aware of the cultural awakenings happening in the world around him. He read Joseph Campbell’s The Masks of God and Rammurti Mishra’s Fundamentals of Yoga. He was drawn to the Buddhist idea that peace of mind came not from the external world, but from personal insights into truth and reality.


That morning’s “infraction” had been stupid and petty. As Cruz’s squad prepared for the short journey to the cane fields, a friend had offered him a seat on a work wagon. A prison guard, Officer Graham, told Cruz to get on a different wagon, which he promptly did, although he couldn’t help making an offhand comment. “Personally,” he said, in his quiet but steady cadence, “I’m not particular about which trailer I go to work in.”

Cruz’s response might have sounded innocuous to anyone not schooled in the subtextual game of prison obedience and resistance. But any prisoner who heard the comment certainly knew it was a brazen challenge to the guard’s authority.

“You’re not going to take over my squad,” Officer Graham yelled at Cruz. “You aren’t going to run anything while you are working under me!”

That evening, after a full day of cutting cane and the open-air strip search that was required after prisoners used any tools, Cruz was called into the major’s office, where he found almost the entire prison hierarchy waiting for him, including Officer Graham and Assistant Warden McKaskle.

“What’s your trouble?” began one of the captains.

“I don’t know, sir,” said Cruz. “That’s what I’m here to find out.”

“Well, you’re sure fixing to find out right now,” said the captain. Then, Officer Graham told his story about Cruz getting on the wrong wagon. Cruz, he said, had been “running his head with them others. I told him to get off my trailer, and he opened his mouth to me.”

Captain Ramsey announced the penalty: “That will be one gallon of peanuts.” Shelling peanuts was at the low end of the punishment scale, a nasty, mind-numbing task that would keep Cruz up half the night and leave his fingers blistered and raw.

“Just a minute,” said Cruz. “Don’t I get to say anything at all?”

“Sure,” McKaskle said. “You got anything you want to say?”

He could have let it go right there and just taken the punishment. He knew that if he objected things would only get worse. But it wasn’t in Cruz’s character to let things go, and he bridled at arbitrary rules. So he launched into his defense, speaking slowly and looking his accusers in the eye. Many who guarded or served time with him would remember his preternatural calm. Even when being interrogated or brutally beaten, he stared out at the world as if nothing could surprise him, as if his true self had receded deep inside to watch events unfold from a distance. Cruz was only 27, but he had the sort of inner strength that could unnerve those charged with keeping him in line.

Cruz asked the men to tell him exactly what prison regulation he’d broken. Was there a rule about which work wagon he rode on or whom he sat next to? “I’m entitled, under your rules, to a fair hearing,” he told the group. “I’m refusing to go along with the recommendation at this time. I wish to appeal the decision of this committee to the prison board.”

“Very well,” said McKaskle. “You may do that when you are released from solitary.”

And so another confrontation with authority came to a close. A page was added to Cruz’s folder of offense reports, a file that was already thick enough to make a thump when dropped on the warden’s desk. The new entry read: “Insubordination—refused peanuts.”

Many of the other offenses chronicled in that disciplinary file were just as petty. Cruz had only recently been transferred to Ellis from another prison when he drifted away from his squad’s cotton row. For that, he had lost ninety days of “good time.” (Accruing good time allowed prisoners to take as many as two days off their sentences for every day they kept their noses clean. But looking at a guard sideways could be enough to wipe those “good time” days away.) On another occasion, while picking cotton, Cruz had asked a guard for water with the words “no water, no work.” For that he received a week in solitary. Then there was the time he received the punishment of standing on a rail, which meant standing for days at a time on a six-by-two plank turned sideways. The offense that day: “inmate started chasing an armadillo.”

The infractions went on and on: “unsatisfactory work” … “creating a disturbance” … “impudence” … “refusal to work” … “disobeying a direct order” … “disrespectful attitude” … “insolence” … “insubordination” … “insubordination.”

Cruz always lost, but with each encounter he learned a little more about the nature of the Texas Department of Corrections. He learned it the same way someone can learn a great deal about the nature of a grizzly by poking it with a stick.

Finding the Law

Cruz’s record up to that point confirmed the assessments most prison officials had made when he entered the system in 1961, after an arrest and conviction for the aggravated robbery of an ice house in San Antonio. He’d been described as an eighth-grade dropout and a “hardened incorrigible” with an IQ of 87, one who was an “extremely poor prospect” for rehabilitation.

A clinical psychologist named William Gates, who interviewed Cruz, was the only one who saw something different. To his eyes, Cruz was “intellectually bright” as well as “suspicious, and prone to be hostile to authority.” In a report to the warden, Gates warned that Cruz had “leadership potential,” and that if the prison authorities failed to keep him in line he would “most certainly be a disturbing influence.”

Gates should have been a fortune teller, because it wasn’t just dumb stuff like chasing armadillos or talking back to low-level turnkeys that would get Cruz in trouble. When not working in the fields, Cruz dedicated himself to studying law. Cut off from the siren calls of heroin, marijuana, and alcohol, he’d begun reading textbooks, as well as documents like  Supreme Court opinions, the Bill of Rights, and the Constitution. And although he had no illusions of fairness inside the walls of Texas prisons, he came to understand, and long for, the platonic ideal of justice. He almost worshiped it.

Cruz’s early attempts at writing court filings mostly focused on appealing his own case on the grounds of inadequate representation. He had always denied that he’d robbed the ice house and claimed his court-appointed lawyer had been so disengaged that he failed to call an alibi witness. And while lower courts routinely dismissed Cruz’s pleadings, Cruz became known among his fellow inmates as someone who understood the legal system. They called him a “writ writer” and sought him out for help with their own appeals and filings.

Unfortunately, helping other prisoners with legal issues, or keeping legal books or documents in one’s cell, was strictly against the rules. Even talking to another prisoner about the law was a violation and could be punished with weeks of hunger and darkness in the hole. Cruz did several stints in solitary for possessing or sharing contraband books and documents—including Cochran’s Law Lexicon, 4th EditionCasebook on Criminal Procedures in the Courts of Texas; and The Constitution of the United States of America.

So Cruz lost good time: first weeks, then months, then years. But the punishments wouldn’t stop him. Using his growing legal acumen, he would become the most dangerous man in the cloistered and labyrinthine Texas prison system—a danger not to the other prisoners but to those with real power: the officers and the wardens, and George Beto, the director of the Texas Department of Corrections. As unlikely as it would have seemed as Fred Cruz sat in solitary in the winter of 1967, he would see to it that many of those men’s careers ended in disgrace. The effort would fundamentally alter prison systems across the country.

But he wouldn’t do it alone.


By all reasonable imaginings, Frances Jalet and Fred Cruz should never have met.

Jalet was born in Boston, and had been among the first cohorts of women to graduate from Columbia Law School, in 1937, but, like many educated women of that era, she found it difficult to put that education to use. She’d gotten married in 1935 and eventually moved to Darien, Connecticut, where the only jobs she could find were teaching and typing. She and her husband had five children, and Frances took charge of raising them. She went to church, she sang in the choir, she volunteered for good causes.

Then, while Jalet’s husband was flying a friend’s private plane on a trip to Chicago, his flight went down; he barely survived the crash. He came home irrevocably changed by the serious head injury he had sustained. He drank heavily and was unpredictable and angry. At one point he became so out of control he had to be hauled off in a straitjacket.

For several years, Jalet tried to keep the marriage going, but by 1954 it was over. Divorced, she  moved with her kids to Washington, D.C. for a job with the American Association of University Women. That was one of a series of moves and short-term positions that lasted only a year or two. By the summer of 1959, she had finally found a job that stuck—as a staff attorney on the New York Law Revision Commission in Ithaca, New York. She held that position for eight years, until the last of her children was out of the house.

Jalet longed to be a part of the burgeoning civil rights movements, and saw this moment in time as her opportunity. “I am now without home ties,” she wrote. “My children are grown and need me less. My material needs are small. I want simply to spend all the rest of the time that might be mine giving assistance to those who need it.”

She applied for and was awarded a Reginald Heber Smith Fellowship. It was the first year of the program, which was funded by the federal Office of Economic Opportunity to attract lawyers from top law schools into the field of poverty law. The honor was mostly reserved for attorneys just starting out in their careers, and Jalet’s age made her stand out. After six weeks of intensive training, the fifty “Reggies” were scattered to poverty law centers across the country with the guarantee of a modest stipend from the federal government. Jalet asked where her services were most needed. The answer: Texas.

So, late in the summer of 1967, she packed her car and set out on the long drive to Austin. After a difficult marriage and two decades of motherhood, she was suddenly off on a new adventure. She drove west and south, through the August heat and thunderstorms. She was 56 years old.

A few days after she got to town, the Austin American-Statesman ran a short profile of this peculiar woman who had moved from the East Coast to Texas to help low-income plaintiffs. The writer of the story called her “Portia for the Poor,” after the heroine in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice—a rich heiress who dresses up as a man and fools everyone into believing she is a competent lawyer.

The next week, she received a letter from a prisoner named Fred Cruz. He’d read the article, he said, and wondered if she could help him with his case. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2018 at 11:48 am

Learning another language should be compulsory in every school

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And I will again point out that learning Esperanto as your first foreign language makes learning other languages easier and faster: see this article.

Daniel Everett, dean of arts and sciences, professor of global studies, and professor of sociology at Bentley University in Massachusetts, writes in Aeon:

In the 1960s, in our public schools in California along the border with Mexico, Spanish language-learning was a requirement, beginning in sixth grade. I couldn’t wait to get to sixth grade to start learning Spanish. Our school was more than 50 per cent Mexican-Americans, and I was keen to understand them as they switched back and forth from fluent English to fluent Spanish (or, as they called it, ‘Mexican’). As I began to learn it, my friends asked if I spoke Spanish at home. No, just in school. I was invited to join a Mexican rock ’n’ roll band based in Tijuana, and we performed at Mexican dances and on Mexican television, where I sang lead on ‘La Bamba’ and other songs. My aunt used to say I looked like a bastard brother among the other members of the group. I loved it. I had two identities, Dan the American and Daniel the Chicano (or so my friends would tell me – ‘You’re an honorary Mexican, cabrón!’)

Learning Spanish changed my life. It taught me more about English, it gave me friendships and connections and respect I never could have otherwise received. Just as learning Portuguese, Pirahã and smatterings of other Amazonian languages continued to transform me during my entire life.

Now, after spending most of my adult life in higher education, researching languages, cultures and cognition, I have become more convinced than ever that nothing teaches us about the world and how to think more effectively better than learning new languages. That is why I advocate for fluency in foreign languages. But for this to happen, language-learning needs to make a comeback as a requirement of both primary and secondary education in the United States. Learning another language benefits each learner in at least three ways – pragmatically, neurologically and culturally.

Pragmatically, consider the benefits of language-learning for the businessperson working alongside speakers of other languages. Although it might be tempting to use English as a lingua franca in new business situations, the investment of learning the language of your colleagues and customers tells them: ‘I respect you.’ It can transform colleagues and customers into friends. Think about it – you appreciate the effort of someone who has learned to speak your language. Their communication in the language of your home helps you to relate better to them, to see them as less ‘other’. In fact, some people feel threatened just hearing a foreign language. Languages have power. Why not partake in that power instead of fearing it?

No matter what you do for a living, language-learning brings practical advantages. Whether you work in a restaurant or are a scholar or a tourist or just a stay-at-home Joe, fluency in other languages is a gift that will keep on giving for the rest of your life. You will understand the world better – imagine being able to watch soccer in Spanish or Italian as well as in English! That alone is a pretty good return. But as we are going to learn directly, beyond the practical benefits, language will expand your knowledge and your very intelligence. If you learn the language in your 20s, you’ll reap benefits for 50 to 60 years, ceteris paribus (all thing being equal, for those who didn’t study Latin). Say it takes you two years of hard work and constant practice to learn a language. To maintain it will require, let’s say, about one hour a week of conversation or foreign-language television. Yet it will benefit you for the rest of your life. If it takes two years to learn another language, and you have the benefit of that language for the rest of an average lifespan, that is roughly a 900 per cent return on investment. Not bad at all.

Beyond the pragmatic benefits to learning languages are humanistic, cultural benefits. It is precisely because not all languages are the same that learning them can expand our understanding of the world. Every language has evolved in a specific geocultural niche, and thus has different ways of talking and codifying the world. But this is precisely why learning them is so beneficial. Take, for example:

John borrowed $10,000 from the bank of Mom and Dad to pay down his college loan.

The Pirahã language of the Amazon has no words for numbers or for “borrow,” “dollars,” “bank,” “mom,” “dad,” “college,” or “loan. So this sentence cannot be translated into Pirahã (it could be if their culture were to change and they learned about the modern economy). On the other hand, consider a common Pirahã phrase:

Piibooxio xigahapaati.

This phrase means ‘go upriver’ in Pirahã. Innocuous enough, until you realise that Pirahãs use this phrase instead of the less precise ‘turn left’ or ‘turn right’ (which depends on where the speaker and hearer are facing) – this is uttered from deep within the jungle or at the river’s edge – all Pirahãs carry a mental map of tens of thousands of acres of jungle in their heads, and thus know where all points of reference are, whether a river or a specific region of the jungle. They use absolute directions, not relative directions as, say, the average American does when he says ‘turn left’ (vs the absolute direction, ‘turn north’). So to use Pirahã phrases intelligibly requires learning about their local geography.

Forty years ago, when I was a Christian (I am now an atheist), I was convinced that Christians should evangelise others with the gospel by learning their language and translating the Bible into all languages. This was because my then-mission, Wycliffe Bible Translators, convinced me that one’s mother tongue is the language in which one feels, one tells one’s secrets in, and expresses one’s spirituality in. The Catholic mass changed from Latin to local languages in the 1960s when the Church realised that people cannot fully embrace their religion emotionally and culturally unless it is expressed in their mother tongue. On a more pedestrian level, why do English speakers, even today, find it more objectionable to say: ‘You are full of shit’ as opposed to: ‘You are full of faeces’? Because the Germanic words of our historical mother tongue still engage us emotionally more than the Latinate words that seeped into our language from Caesar and William the Conqueror. Learning another’s mother tongue opens a doorway into their psyche.

Language-learning induces reflection both on how we ourselves think and communicate, and how others think. Thus it teaches culture implicitly. Languages should be at the very heart of our educational systems. Learning languages disables our easy and common habit of glossing over differences and failing to understand others and ourselves. You cannot achieve fluency in another language without learning its speakers’ perspectives on the world, and thereby enriching your own conceptual arsenal. The actual work of learning new ways of talking – new sounds, grammars, storytelling, understandings of the Universe – stretch and build the mind.

Neurologically, learning another language actually makes us smarter. There is evidence that learning new languages causes growth in our cerebral grey matter, with more synaptic connections formed in our brains. I have often thought of the brain as very similar to a muscle, in that exercise strengthens it. And this is a growing consensus among many researchers. There is even some evidence that language-learning can postpone the onset of Alzheimer’s.

I try to make the case in much of my recent work that humans evolved for greater cognitive flexibility than any other creatures. Learning languages exploits and expands that flexibility. Language-learning is a cognitive workout – it gives us more knowledge and teaches us more ways of using knowledge. It makes us smarter.

Language-learning has been replaced in many schools by more vocational courses. For example, some claim that learning computer codes is equivalent to learning foreign languages. Yet the cultural matrix required for learning human languages makes them quite unlike computer languages, which are mere syntax, supplemented by a growth in knowledge within a narrow domain. So how do we get language back into US schools? Administrators have to re-recognise its benefits – culturally, socially and cognitively. The classical curriculum is often ridiculed for placing Latin at its core. I agree that we should teach live languages too, not just dead ones. But learning languages is vital to a world in which understanding of others is crucial yet handicapped when we try to do it monolingually.

Learning other languages goes beyond textbooks. It requires  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2018 at 10:56 am

Phoenix CK-6 shaving soap, on the Sharpologist list of great shaving soaps

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Sharpologist recently took a fresh look at shaving soaps, which have come a long way over the past decade. I of course succumbed and bought several from his list of the best, and one has arrived: Phoenix Artisan’s Formula CK-6, here in the Doppelgänger Oxblood label, a recreation of Penhaligon’s Sartorial fragrance:

CK-6 is the result of some serious exploration of various fats, and the formula includes Kokum Butter, Cocoa Butter, Shea Butter, Jojoba Wax, Bacuri Butter, Cupuacu Butter, and Murumuru Butter. Phoenix Artisan explains:

Bacuri Butter: is very popular in the north of Brazil, it comes from the seeds of a beloved local fruit with a rich pulp, and flavor.

Bacuri butter has a high absorption rate, due to its high level of tripalmitin (50% to 55%), which penetrates the skin quickly. The high amount of fatty palmitoleic acid (5%), compared to other oils (less than or equal to 0.5 to 1.5%), makes the Bacuri oil a fantastic emollient, and a super moisturizing agent. Think killer post shave feel!

Capuacu Butter: is a close cousin to the cacao plant, the trees and fruits are similar, however, cupuacu has a richer pulp. Cupuacu butter is naturally softer than cacao, therefore easier to use, and offers more benefits than the cocoa butter.

Cupuacu butter has very high water absorption capacity (Over 200% Greater Than Lanolin)- Read that again. Due to its capacity for water absorption and the ability to obstruct the evaporation of moisture from the skin, Cupuaçu butter just might be one of the best moisturizing ingredients available. (take that Lanolin!) Fun Fact: Chocolate can also be made from cupuacu – it is called “cupulate”.

Murumuru Butter: is a phenomenally slick butter that gives a most excellent skin feel and slip. It is called the “vegetable silicone” for its ability to rapidly replace mineral silicon in the dermis. It comes from the seeds of a palm tree that is very abundant in the wet regions of  the Amazon forest.

Murumuru Butter is also rich in vitamin A and C and Omega fatty acids 3, 6, and 9. The main fatty acid found in this butter is called Lauric acid (at an astonishing 47%) It also has myristic acid, oleic, palmitic and linoleic acids. 

When these 3 sisters combine with Kokum, Cocoa, Jojoba & Shea you get some serious Premium, Luxury, Fatty Lather; killer creamy, slick, buttery goodness that possesses Superb Residual Slickness and Earth Shattering Post Shave Feel! You will not even need to use a balm after and good luck keeping your hands off your face all day!

As to the Doppelgänger name:

We created The Doppelgänger Collection or in plain English, a Clone Line or series of some popular fragrances that a lot of you really enjoy. It was also the perfect scent to introduce our New CK-6 Formula with. So far we have Sauvage (Dior) , Sartorial (Penhaligon’s) and Chaps (Ralph Lauren) ready to go but I do believe if this series is a success, you will see more of these modern classics popping up.

With that as background, I turn now to the shave. I like this fragrance, but fragrances are very much YMMV. It smells better in the lather than on the puck, FWIW.

And that lather! It truly is remarkably good. I am seriously trying to cut back on shaving soaps, but after this shave I am thinking I somehow need more CK-6 shaving soaps. I’m very impressed. Thick, slick, wonderful lather that leaves my skin feeling exceptionally nice.

I don’t recall the provenance of the razor I used, but it clearly is an Edwin Jagger head on some stainless handle. It did a fine job, and the splash of Doppelgänger Oxblood aftershave renewed the fragrance and finished the job with flair.

I highly recommend the CK-6 formula. Really striking.

Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2018 at 8:18 am

Posted in Shaving

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