Later On

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Archive for October 25th, 2019

Republicans Are Sneering at Impeachment. It Will Backfire.

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Kevin Drum has a powerful post at Mother Jones:

Marc Thiessen has taken on the thankless task of defending the ridiculous riot Republicans staged on Wednesday, as they gathered in the Capitol basement to protest closed impeachment hearings being held in a SCIF, a room specially designed to be immune to electronic eavesdropping. Let’s hear his case:

Let’s be clear: There is nothing wrong with holding hearings behind closed doors as long as there is due process. During the Nixon impeachment much of the evidence was presented in closed-door sessions. But there was not a flood of leaks from those executive sessions, as we are seeing today. And unlike today, the minority could issue subpoenas, and the president’s counsel was present to cross-examine witnesses and present evidence. Secrecy and fairness go hand in hand. One without the other is corrupt.

Funny thing: Thiessen mentions Watergate but fails to mention the Clinton impeachment. Why? Because in 1998 the House barely even bothered to hold impeachment hearings, relying instead on the Starr Report to do its work for them. And needless to say, there were no national security implications to Bill Clinton’s semen stains, and therefore no need for closed hearing held in a SCIF.

As for leaks, permit me a huge guffaw. Since there were no hearings to speak of in Clinton’s case, there were no leaks either. But that’s because Ken Starr’s shop had been leaking with abandon for months and months while it compiled its report. And let’s not even get started on Republican leaking during the Benghazi and Hillary email affairs. It’s a wonder Washington DC ever dried up after those House investigations.

Thiessen also says this:

As American Enterprise Institute President Robert Doar has pointed out, the Nixon inquiry was a model of bipartisan cooperation. The Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Peter Rodino (N.J.), assembled a unified staff (including Doar’s father, John, a Republican whom Rodino appointed as special counsel). The full House voted on authorizing the inquiry. Etc.

This would be a good point except that what’s changed in the past half century isn’t the partisanship of Democrats but that of Republicans. Faced with overwhelming evidence of presidential malfeasance toward Ukraine, Republicans so far have unanimously refused to give the investigation the time of day. Instead they complain about process; they pass along absurd conspiracy theories on Fox News; and they insist that extorting a foreign country for help with a presidential campaign is a mere pecadillo, not impeachable at all.

Thiessen is right about the “partisan nature” of the Trump impeachment proceedings, but the partisan nature is almost entirely on the Republican side. There are a dozen Republicans in the SCIF who have heard all the evidence and participated in the questioning. If there were anything in the testimony so far that was favorable to the president, I can pretty much guarantee they’d be leaking it gleefully. If they haven’t, it’s because there’s been nothing but bad news for Trump so far.

Let’s cut the crap. These are preliminary hearings. Republicans are participating. They’re being held in a SCIF because there are potential national security issues involved. The evidence against Trump so far is overwhelming. And yet, Republicans refuse to take it seriously. To paraphrase Thiessen himself, “If the facts are on the Republicans’ side, they have nothing to fear from serious and thorough cooperation.” So far we’ve seen nothing of that.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2019 at 6:51 pm

Tempeh chili at last

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Not quite as planned (the story of my life), but quite good nonetheless. I started with a recipe from a Washington Post newsletter and adapted it. This is the recipe as adapted, not the original

2 servings (with changes, more like 6 servings)

2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced crosswise (white and green parts)
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
juice of 3 limes
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 cloves Red Russian garlic, minced and allowed to rest
8 oz homemade red-kidney-bean tempeh, diced
1 large green bell pepper, chopped
2 large jalapeños, chopped small including core and seeds
2 tablespoons no-salt-added tomato paste
1 cup cooked Red Fife wheat (substitute any other intact whole-grain wheat)
One 15.5-ounce can no-salt-added black beans, with the liquid
6 tomatillos, chopped
8 San-Marzano-style grape tomatoes, sliced
2 teaspoon ground chimayo chile
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
2 teaspoons Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton; see headnote)
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons Wright liquid smoke
1 tablespoon horseradish

First, make the two-onion quick pickles: Combine the scallions and half the red onion slices in a medium bowl. Add the lime juice. Let stand while you make the remainder of the recipe, or at least for 10 minutes. (I let it sit for an hour.)

On to the black beans: Heat the oil until shimmering in a large skillet. I used the Field No. 10, but I did not “heat the oil,” I heated the skillet over medium-high heat. Once the skillet was hot, I added the oil and then the remaining sliced red onion. Cook without stirring for about 3 minutes, until lightly browned.

Add the garlic and let it sauté for about 1 minute, then add the tempeh and the chopped peppers. Sauté for about 5 minutes, stirring from time to time, then add the tomato paste and cooked wheat berries and continue to sauté for a few minutes more.

Add the black beans with their liquid, the tomatillos and tomatoes, and the chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, oregano, Dijon mustard, liquid smoke, and horseradish. Stir to incorporate. Cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the liquid reduces to a thick sauce.

Serve in a bowl and top with pickled onions and a bit of the lime juice.

It was extremely tasty and hearty. The absence of salt is deliberate.

What would I do differently next time? I probably would add 1-2 teaspoons dried thyme. I might also include a chopped red or yellow bell pepper for color and to bulk it out more—using low-calorie vegetables to add bulk and thus increase the number of servings (and reduce calories per serving) is a useful trick. I think I would also 8-10 oz Crimini mushrooms cut into large chunks, along with the peppers, and I would sauté until the mushrooms released their liquid.

Oh, and cilantro. I have it, forgot to add it at the end—but it will be good on the leftovers.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2019 at 6:06 pm

Why do people hate vegans?

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I’m not a vegan, and in fact I don’t even eat like one: like a vegan, I do exclude meat, dairy, and eggs from my diet, but unlike a vegan, I focus on eating whole foods and exclude refined foods such as refined sugar and foods that contain it (the natural sugar in a whole food like fruit is fine), foods made from flour (I eat a lot of grain, but intact whole grain), and “product foods” manufactured from refined ingredients using industrial processes and generally including excessive amounts of salt, of sugar (high-fructose corn syrup because it’s cheap), bad oils (typically cottonseed and/or soybean oil because they’re cheap)—foods such as bottled salad dressings, imitation meats (“bacon,” “sausage,” “field roast,” Beyond Beef, the Impossible Burger).

Even so, I also have noticed on-line (in Quora for example) a surprising hostility to the idea of excluding meat from one’s diet—the comments about the (very interesting) documentary The Game Changers are often strongly condemnatory, though obviously the athletes and their coaches see a whole-food plant-based diet as quite beneficial, and you certainly can’t argue that their diet hurts their athletic performance—indeed, their experience is that their diet helps their performance.

So why the hostility? I think it is a meme thing. As I’ve noted previously, I think people construct their identity from aspects of culture—memes—that they adopt. Indeed, it’s often explicit: “I’m a doctor” or “lawyer” or “farmer” or “student” or “parent” or whatever. Those roles are memes, and those roles are just one aspect of the enormous assemblage of assimilated memes that each of us views as our “self.”

One of those aspects of identity is one’s diet. Every culture has its own foods, and those foods are part of the identity of those who belong to that culture. When vegans (or vegetarians or those who follow a whole-food plant-based diet) reject the eating of meat, those who do eat meat feel that their very identity has been attacked, that their selfhood is threatened, that their ego is rebuked—and so they become angry and hostile.

George Reynolds has a long and interesting column in the Guardian on this, and I found it worth reading. It begins:

From the hunger strike to the edible projectile, history offers abundant examples of food being used for political ends. Even so, the crowd of vegans who gathered in central London earlier this year are unlikely to forget the moment when Gatis Lagzdins skinned and ate a raw squirrel.

Along with his co-conspirator Deonisy Khlebnikov, Lagzdins performed his stunt at the weekly Soho Vegan Market on Rupert Street. He would subsequently demonstrate at VegFest in Brighton (although this time his snack of choice was a raw pig’s head) as part of a self-proclaimed “carnivore tour” intended to highlight the evils of a plant-based diet. At the London event, he wore a black vest emblazoned with the slogan: “Veganism = Malnutrition.”

The war on vegans started small. There were flashpoints, some outrageous enough to receive press coverage. There was the episode in which William Sitwell, then editor of Waitrose magazine, resigned after a freelance writer leaked an email exchange in which he joked about “killing vegans one by one”. (Sitwell has since apologised.) There was the PR nightmare faced by Natwest bank when a customer calling to apply for a loan was told by an employee that “all vegans should be punched in the face”. When animal rights protesters stormed into a Brighton Pizza Express in September this year, one diner did exactly that.

A charge commonly laid against vegans is that they relish their status as victims, but research suggests they have earned it. In 2015, a study conducted by Cara C MacInnis and Gordon Hodson for the journal Group Processes & Intergroup Relations observed that vegetarians and vegans in western society – and vegans in particular – experience discrimination and bias on a par with ethnic and religious minorities.

Once a niche interest group parodied in TV shows such as The Simpsons (in which a character describes himself as a “level five vegan” who refuses to eat anything that casts a shadow), in the past two years, vegans have been thrust into the limelight. A philosophy rooted in non-aggression has found itself at the heart of some of the most virulent arguments on social media. In November 2018, Good Morning Britain hosted a debate titled “Do people hate vegans?”; the political website Vox tackled the question in even more direct fashion a week later, asking: “Why do people hate vegans so much?”

These recent displays of enmity towards vegans represent a puzzling escalation in hostilities, just as a consensus is starting to form that eating less meat would almost certainly be better for everyone – and the Earth. Of course, eating less meat does not mean eating no meat whatsoever, and the extreme prohibitions associated with going vegan (no animal products, no eggs, no leather, no wool) suggest it could have been just another Atkins diet or clean-eating fad – a flash in the pan that blows up and then dissipates, leaving behind nothing more than a dose of mild regret. Instead, just when the growth might have been expected to plateau, it kept on growing. A 2016 Ipsos Mori survey suggested the total number of vegans in the UK had increased more than 360% in the preceding decade, to more than 500,000.

Big business has been quick to cash in. The Los Angeles-based company Beyond Meat, producer of plant-based burgers whose taste and texture are as much like minced beef as possible, recently went public and soon afterwards hit a valuation of $3.4bn; huge conglomerates such as Nestlé and Kellogg’s are moving into the fake-meat market; supermarkets and restaurant chains have introduced vegan ranges. Yet perhaps the definitive proof of veganism’s mainstreaming – and the backlash against it – came in January this year, when the beloved high-street bakery chain Greggs announced it was launching a Quorn-based vegan sausage roll. It was pilloried by Piers Morgan, who tweeted: “Nobody was waiting for a vegan bloody sausage, you PC-ravaged clowns.” It turns out Morgan was mistaken: the vegan sausage roll was such a hit that the company’s share value leapt by 13%.

Of course, what we grow, harvest, fatten and kill is political. A Tesco advert showcasing vegan produce met protests from the National Farmers Union who claimed it “demonised” meat, while Shropshire deputy council leader Steve Charmley unleashed a tweet-storm when confronted with pro-vegan advertising in a county he claimed was “built on agriculture”. This moment, and this conflict, were a long time coming. The rise of veganism is a question less of personal taste than of generational upheaval; less about meat and fish and dairy than the systems that put them on our tables in such excessive quantities. Ultimately, the vegan wars are not really about veganism at all, but about how individual freedom is coming into conflict with a personal and environmental health crisis.

n many cultures, the practice of abstaining entirely from animal produce has an established history: with their belief systems rooted in nonviolence, many Rastafarians, followers of Jainism and certain sects of Buddhism have been swearing off meat, fish, eggs and dairy for centuries. In large swathes of the west, though, public awareness of what veganism actually entails has been sketchy. There wasn’t even a commonly accepted English-language name until 1944, when a British woodworker called Donald Watson called a meeting with a handful of other non-dairy vegetarians (including his wife, Dorothy) to discuss a less cumbersome label for their lifestyle. They considered alternatives such as dairyban, vitan and benevore before settling on the term we use today, a simple contraction of vegetarian on the grounds that “veganism starts with vegetarianism and carries it through to its logical conclusions”.

But those logical conclusions did not stop at abstaining from certain foods. The original vegans were not pursuing a diet so much as a belief system, a wholesale ideology – one that rejected not just animal protein but also the way animals had become part of an industrial supply chain. In the 1970s, Carol J Adams started work on the book that would appear, two decades later, as The Sexual Politics of Meat: a seminal feminist text that positioned veganism as the only logical solution to a social system that reduced both women and animals to desirable, but disposable, flesh.

In the early 70s, other activists were considering how veganism might provide a viable alternative to existing food systems. In 1971, Diet for a Small Planet by the social policy activist Frances Moore Lappé introduced an environmental justification for going vegetarian or vegan to a global audience (it eventually sold more than 3m copies). In the same year, counter-culture hero Stephen Gaskin founded a vegan intentional community, The Farm, in Lewis County, Tennessee, bringing together some 300 like-minded individuals. Four years later, The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook by Louise Hagler announced: “We are vegetarians because one-third of the world is starving and at least half goes to bed hungry every night,” and introduced western audiences to techniques for making their own soy-based products such as tofu and tempeh.

The Farm Vegetarian Cookbook fixed a certain vegan aesthetic in the minds of mainstream meat-eating culture for decades to come. Veganism became synonymous with soybeans and brown rice, with ageing hippies spooning beige bowlfuls of worthy grains and pulses – not the glamorous, vibrant, youthful practitioners that now radiate positivity from their Instagram feeds.

It is hard to overstate the role social media has played in transforming veganism’s image, with its facility for fostering an instant sense of community. Witness any number of viral internet phenomena – from Woman Laughing Alone with Salad to acai bowls and this generation’s staple, avocado toast – that have helped free it from its musty old associations. Instagram in particular gave vegan food mainstream exposure, repackaging it (good for you and photogenic!) for the low-attention-span internet age. Not everyone sees this as a positive development: the vegan writer and podcast host Alicia Kennedy considers it troubling that the internet has transformed something with such a rich political history into “a wellness thing” that allows would-be consumers to label themselves vegans without having to engage with the “excess baggage” of ideology. Another American writer, Khushbu Shah, has argued that the popularisation of veganism via social media has erased non-white faces and narratives from the dominant discourse, as white bloggers and influencers fashion a lifestyle in their image.

At the same time, a similar transformation was happening to the food vegans were eating. A blossoming street food scene in major cities influenced a dirtier, trashier vegan aesthetic that gave the diet a further boost. Recipe channels on YouTube and Facebook such as BOSH! – a glossy young male duo – used video to make stunt dishes (apple pie tacos; a plant-based take on a McDonald’s McMuffin; a watermelon “Jaegerbomb”) that injected some much-needed fun into the diet. (Tellingly, the BOSH! dudes, Henry Firth and Ian Theasby, refer to themselves not as chefs but “food remixers”.)

The language began to reflect a new, more approachable veganism. Descriptors such as “plant-based” gained in popularity, effectively rebranding the worthy brown stodge of popular imagination into something green and vital. Other neologisms such as “flexitarian” (a term denoting someone who is predominantly vegan or vegetarian but who occasionally eats meat or fish, added to the Oxford English Dictionary in June 2014) recast daunting vegan ideology as a fun, healthy, casual thing to try.

Cultish initiatives like Veganuary (an annual campaign encouraging people to go meat-free for the first month of the year, launched in 2014) and Meat Free Mondays tapped into this spirit – moving away from wholesale dietary transformation and towards something more manageably sporadic, with the added gloss of being able to share (that is, brag about) the experience online. Beyoncé declared an interest in veganism – at least, for breakfast – while athletes such as Venus Williams (who took up a raw vegan diet to combat a health condition) and Lewis Hamilton played a vital role in raising awareness and turning something once seen as weird and a little annoying into a desirable lifestyle.

Helping the cause was the growing body of scientific literature suggesting that some of the processes that produce the modern western diet were catastrophically bad for us. Bee Wilson wrote in these pages about the health effects of processed pork in a piece titled “Yes, bacon really is killing us.” Food in the Anthropocene, a report commissioned by the Lancet in conjunction with the global nonprofit Eat (a startup dedicated to transforming the global food system) concluded that “unhealthy diets are the largest global burden of disease”, and that meat-heavy food production is “the largest source of environmental degradation”. A major study led by a team from Oxford University, published in the journal Nature in October 2018, showed that huge reductions in meat-eating are essential to slow the rate of climate change. Livestock production has been shown to lead to dangerous levels of deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions. Factor in pop-science phenomena like the documentaries Cowspiracy! and What the Health – available on Netflix – and your diet suddenly seemed like a way you could save the world.

Big Meat continues to lobby aggressively in favour of our God-given right to eat animal flesh, resulting in a series of legal prohibitions surrounding what can and cannot be called “meat”’ or even – in one US state – a “veggie burger”. But veganism’s virality has proved irresistible. From about 2015, vegan and plant-based cookery manuals started to proliferate at a dazzling rate, with the BOSH! boys selling upward of 80,000 copies and spending four weeks on the Sunday Times bestseller list (today, Amazon lists more than 20,000 results for the search term “vegan cookbook”). Sales of plant milks skyrocketed; financial results at the manufacturer of plant-based protein Quorn soared as what one analyst referred to as the “battle for the centre of the plate” began to draw (fake) blood. By 2018, Byron, M&S and Pret had invested heavily in vegan ranges. It was, this paper proclaimed, “the year that veganism moved out of the realms of counter-culture and into the mainstream”. In 2014, Veganuary’s inaugural campaign had attracted just 3,300 participants; by 2019 the number was greater than 250,000, with 53% of them under the age of 35.

But veganism’s explosive growth alone does not explain why it attracted such controversy. There is something inherent to veganism and vegans that arouses deeper feelings. What is it about the vegan lifestyle that stirs such strong emotion in those who don’t happen to share it? Why do people hate vegans so much?

arly attempts to establish a vegan utopia did not go well. In the 1840s, the transcendentalist philosopher Amos Bronson Alcott (father of the author of Little Women, Louisa May) founded Fruitlands in Harvard, Massachusetts – a vegan community intended to be nothing less than a second Eden. But Alcott’s insistence that crops had to be planted and fields tilled by hand meant that not enough food could be grown for all of the members (even though the population peaked at just 13); a diet of fruit and grains, typically consumed raw, left participants severely malnourished. Just seven months after opening, Fruitlands closed – derided, in the words of one biographer, as “one of history’s most unsuccessful utopias”.

The timing was unfortunate for American vegetarians, who were already engaged in a pitched battle with public opinion. Vegetarians and vegans in the 19th century – known as Grahamites after the Presbyterian minister and diet reformer Sylvester Graham, who campaigned against meat-eating on the grounds that it was both unhealthy and morally repugnant – were the subject of frequent vitriolic editorials in the popular and medical press of the day, which described them as “cadaverous”, “feeble”, “half-crazed”, “sour-visaged” and “food cranks”.

In the 21st century the terminology may have changed but the sentiment remains much the same. The 2015 study conducted by MacInnis and Hodson found that only drug addicts were viewed more negatively among respondents. It concluded: “Unlike other forms of bias (eg, racism, sexism), negativity toward vegetarians and vegans is not widely considered a societal problem; rather, [it] is commonplace and largely accepted.”

In 2011, sociologists Matthew Cole and Karen Morgan observed a phenomenon they called “vegaphobia”, demonstrating that the British media consistently portrayed vegans in a negative light. In the days after her story broke, Selene Nelson, the freelancer at the centre of the Waitrose magazine row, was called “humourless”, “combative” and “militant”. In 2017, residents of the Swiss town of Aargau reportedly called for a vegan foreign resident to be denied citizenship because she was “annoying”, and the glee with which the global media retold the story revealed a widespread and casual prejudice. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Sylvester Graham, BTW, was the inventor of the Graham cracker.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2019 at 2:50 pm

Inspector General says that the Veterans Administration whistleblower office mostly screwed whistleblowers

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This seems typical of an authoritarian government. Kevin Drum posts at Mother Jones:

Ukrainegate is deservedly monopolizing the headlines right now, but let’s not forget all the garden variety corruption still going on under the Trump administration. Take the Department of Veterans Affairs, for example. A couple of years ago President Trump set up an office to protect VA whistleblowers and encourage them to come forward. That’s a great idea for an agency that’s obviously had a lot of problems.

But Trump, of course, has a very personal view of whistleblowing: it only counts if it’s whistleblowing against enemies, not friends. The guy in charge got the message loud and clear:

The office’s first executive director, Peter O’Rourke, instead used his position to stifle claims and retaliate against the employees the new organization had been designed to protect, the IG report found. Mr. O’Rourke, who once directed a conservative political action committee and then consulted for the VA, leveraged his power as head of the whistleblower office to end investigations into allies and failed to provide basic reports to Congress on the office’s operations, investigators said.

Mr. O’Rourke eventually rose to acting secretary of the VA before leaving the department last year. He is now the executive director of the Florida Republican Party.

Even Richard Nixon never quite leveraged the federal bureaucracy to screw his enemies as systematically as Trump seems to have done. It’s really pretty remarkable.

And note this report: “White House to federal agencies: cancel New York Times and Washington Post subscriptions.”

And very much worth reading “On “Human Scum” and Trump in the Danger Zone” by Susan Glasseer in the New Yorker. She writes:

At 1:48 p.m. on October 23rd, Donald Trump posted a tweet that, in any other political moment, would be a strong contender for the worst public statement ever made by a President of the United States. Attacking enemies within his own party, Trump wrote, “The Never Trumper Republicans, though on respirators with not many left, are in certain ways worse and more dangerous for our Country than the Do Nothing Democrats. Watch out for them, they are human scum!”

But, of course, this is not any other moment. The Times has tracked hundreds of insults that Trump has already made since entering public life. He has called his critics “dogs,” “losers,” and “enemies of the people”; praised racists and trafficked in casual misogyny; derided people from nations he calls “shithole countries”; and labelled American cities where he is unpopular as rat-infested hellholes. This is not even the first time that Trump has used the word “scum”; in June, 2018, he referred to the lead F.B.I. officials who had investigated him as the “scum on top” of the agency. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that, with such a record, his Never Trumper tweet was not treated as major news (although a Republican House member from Illinois, Adam Kinzinger, did say on CNN that it was “beneath the office of the Presidency”). Arguably, the tweet was not even his most offensive and inflammatory of the week, a distinction that might belong to Trump’s self-pitying, racially charged, and willfully ahistorical lament, from Tuesday, that the impeachment proceedings against him in the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives amounted to “a lynching.” In some ways, these Trumpisms have become so abhorrent—and frequent—that it may be easier to ignore them than to contemplate them.

Still, the President’s “human scum” tweet bears noting. First of all, it is quite simply the language of tyrants and those who aspire to be tyrants. Hitler called his enemies human scum, and so did Stalin. In recent years, the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, often referred to as “the Trump of South America,” denounced refugees as “the scum of humanity,” and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin, denounced Sergei Skripal, the former spy recently poisoned by Russian agents, in Britain, as a disloyal “scumbag.” The North Korean dictator, Kim Jong Un, with whom Trump says he has a “love affair,” executed his uncle after a show trial in which he was called “despicable human scum . . . worse than a dog.” Kim’s regime, it should be noted, also called Trump’s former national-security adviser John Bolton, who differed with the President on the subject of North Korea, a “bloodsucker” and “human scum.”

The other reason to consider Trump’s words this week is because of what is happening around him. In the twenty-four hours between Trump’s “lynching” tweet and his “human scum” tweet, William B. Taylor, Jr., the acting Ambassador to Ukraine, offered the most damning testimony against the President yet in the month-old congressional impeachment inquiry. Taylor, a Vietnam veteran and career Foreign Service officer, was called out of retirement by the Trump Administration to serve in Ukraine after the President fired the previous Ambassador at the behest of his private attorney, Rudy Giuliani. Taylor flew in from Kiev in defiance of a State Department demand that he not coöperate with the House probe, and he brought with him a fifteen-page opening statement, which offered specific, detailed evidence of the pressure campaign waged by Trump and Giuliani to force Ukrainian officials to investigate the former Vice-President Joe Biden, and which discredited conspiracy theories about Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. election. This campaign, Taylor said, included explicitly linking Ukraine’s willingness to undertake these investigations to nearly four hundred million dollars in security assistance and a Presidential meeting. Trump even personally insisted that the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, announce the probes himself, to put Zelensky “in a public box.” Committee sources told reporters that there were “gasps” in the room when Taylor testified. The diplomat was describing not one but multiple quid pro quos, in which Trump appeared to condition American assistance to a beleaguered, war-torn ally on actions that would be taken for his personal political benefit. Even the Senate Majority Whip, the Republican John Thune, of South Dakota, called the emerging picture “not a good one” for Trump.

The Presidential freakout of recent days can only be understood in that context. Trump is adjusting to a new political reality, one that is taking shape in a secure conference room on Capitol Hill, and it is a dangerous one for him: he now faces the very real possibility of impeachment in the House and a trial in the Senate, and just in time for the start of the 2020 election year.

For the first thousand or so days of the Trump Presidency, it has been a near-certainty in Washington that Trump might someday be impeached in the House, but he could never be convicted by the Republican-controlled Senate. And by near-certainty I mean as close to absolutely, a hundred-per-cent positive as is possible in an uncertain world. There might be one or two or five wobbly Republicans, it was believed, but never twenty—the number of votes needed to convict him, assuming all Democrats and Independents also vote for his removal. Essentially, the political world agreed with the premise of Trump’s tweet—that the Never Trump opposition to him within the Republican Party had faded to the point of political irrelevance, leaving those remaining against him within the G.O.P. an outnumbered minority, if not actually “on respirators.”

As a strict matter of numbers, that is still correct. . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2019 at 1:54 pm

Inside Trump’s First Pentagon Briefing

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From Politico: “Guy Snodgrass is former chief speechwriter for Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. He is the author of Holding the Line: Inside Trump’s Pentagon With Secretary Mattis, from which this article is adapted.”

ong before real planning for it began, and long before the first news stories about it, those of us in the top levels of the Pentagon heard President Donald Trump demand the military parade he would eventually get. The bizarre request was one of the first signs I had of the enormous rift between my boss at the time, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and the president.

The clash came in the middle of Trump’s first Pentagon briefing on America’s military and diplomatic “laydown”—a term of art used to describe all of the locations around the world with U.S. forces and embassies—on July 20, 2017. Mattis, for whom I was working as chief speechwriter, had hoped the briefing would educate Trump on the United States’ longstanding commitment to the rest of the world. That is not at all what happened.

Instead, the president burst out in the middle of the meeting.

“I just returned from France,” he said. “Did you see President Macron’s handshake?” he asked no one in particular. “He wouldn’t let go. He just kept holding on. I spent two hours at Bastille Day. Very impressive.”

A pause.

“I want a ‘Victory Day.’ Just like Veterans Day. The Fourth of July is too hot,” he said, apparently out of nowhere. “I want vehicles and tanks on Main Street. On Pennsylvania Avenue, from the Capitol to the White House. We need spirit! We should blow everybody away with this parade. The French had an amazing parade on Bastille Day with tanks and everything. Why can’t we do that?”

Those of us in the control room linked to the Pentagon conference room shifted uncomfortably, shooting glances at each other. Where was this going? We’d opened the control room door 30 minutes before to improve air flow. A Secret Service agent poked his head in, apparently uncomfortable with the conversation and the light it cast on the president. “Hey,” he asked, “do you guys need to still be in here?”


It was far from what Mattis had expected as he prepared meticulously for the meeting just hours before.

As the seconds ticked down, Mattis’ nervous energy had been palpable. Unusually so. Normally stoic and deliberate with his movements, this morning he was electrified. He was pacing in his office in the Pentagon, moving from a standing desk that faced the Potomac to the small circular table and back again. He shuffled his notes, putting them into a nondescript dark blue folder, pausing for a few seconds in hesitation before pulling them out again to rearrange their order. Things needed to be perfect.

I understood why he was nervous. We all did. At any time, this briefing would be a big deal for the department, regardless of the president. But in Trump’s case, the briefing had a heightened importance.

Just a few weeks earlier, Trump had declared America’s unilateral withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. He was also threatening to dismantle the nuclear deal with Iran, withdraw from NATO, pull U.S. forces back from South Korea, Germany and Japan, give Russia a pass on its electoral interference in the 2016 election, and, in his spare time, start a war with North Korea.

In private, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Mattis feared these actions signaled America’s diminished authority as a world leader and emboldened China, Russia and Iran to fill the vacuum. They felt incredible pressure to educate the president, believing that if only Trump could be made to recognize the value of American allies and the stability afforded by the presence of our troops, he’d reconsider and alter course.

If anyone could change the president’s mind, it was Mattis. He had maintained a close relationship with Trump since he was confirmed in early 2017, visiting the White House two or three times a week for meetings, lunch and sometimes dinner. It was obvious to us that Trump valued Mattis’ opinion and simply liked having him around to bounce ideas off.

I suspect Trump also liked that, as far as cabinet members go, Mattis was about as low-key as a senior official could get. He was careful not to seek the spotlight and minimized his interaction with the press, explaining, “If I say six and the president says a half dozen, I guarantee you the article the next day is going to be ‘the secretary of defense and the president disagree on the fundamentals.’”

The plan for the briefing was for Mattis to speak first, walking Trump through details on every U.S. military deployment abroad, demonstrating America’s return on investment. Tillerson would follow with slides on U.S. embassies and missions abroad. National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn would speak last to highlight the importance of global trade flows. I would be in an adjoining control room, watching, listening and running the slide show.

As lead organizer for the briefing, I arrived hours early to ensure everything was ready before setting up shop in the control room. The president, however, was running a few minutes behind, which only added to the tension.

When Trump’s motorcade finally pulled up, Mattis greeted the president at his armored limo, known as “The Beast,” and they posed for a quick photo. Reporters shouted questions, to which the president simply replied, “We’re doing very well against ISIS. ISIS is falling fast,” before Mattis whisked him into the entryway and to the conference room.

Trump stood at the head of the table facing three large television screens. He was joined by Vice President Mike Pence, Tillerson, chief of staff Reince Priebus, and senior adviser Jared Kushner. Seated to his left were Mattis, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Joe Dunford and Cohn. Notably absent was National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster. Sitting with the “back benchers,” or senior officials who sit in chairs along the walls of the room, was Steve Bannon.

Trump took his place at the head of the table with a frown fixed on his face. Offering few greetings to anyone, he sat with his arms crossed, refusing to look at Mattis. To me it seemed that his mind was already made up. He appeared to see this entire briefing as pointless—but perhaps I was reading too much into all of this. At least I hoped so.

As planned, Mattis kicked off the meeting with remarks we had rehearsed in his office a number of times. Mattis tends to turn professorial during important meetings, providing the audience with excessive detail rather than tailoring his approach to the group he’s speaking with. This instinct worsens when he is anxious about an event, and he will spend an inordinate amount of time on tactical details that have little bearing on strategic outcomes in order to bolster his confidence level. Unfortunately, to the room his opening sounded too much like a lecture.

Trump scowled.

Mattis worked through his first slide about “chokepoints,” extremely narrow, landlocked corridors between larger bodies of water. He then shared his philosophical view about America’s two fundamental powers of intimidation and inspiration, telling the president a story I’d heard many times.

Years before, a terrorist had attempted to kill then-two-star general Mattis with an improvised explosive device. Marines notified Mattis that they had captured the terrorist as he was trying to place the device on the road Mattis frequently traveled, using two 155-millimeter mortar rounds, a car battery and a detonator. Not the terrorist’s finest day. As Mattis told me during a meeting in his office, “The terrorist realized as he stared down the rifle barrels pointed at him that he was in danger of losing his 401(k).”

Mattis decided to speak with the terrorist after he was apprehended. Once in a holding room, Mattis slid a cup of coffee across the table to help break the ice as he sat down. Ultimately, the terrorist wanted to know: “Do you think if I’m really good at Guantanamo, will they let me move to America after I’m released?” As Mattis told it, the story represents two fundamental powers: We can intimidate others through our military superiority, but America’s power to inspire is every bit as—and perhaps even more—powerful.

Mattis continued with his briefing, walking through in exacting detail the force ratios in each major geographic location. He sought to convince the president that our allies and partners put forward far more troops in support of stability abroad than America does. In short, America gets a good deal from an overseas military presence.

The president frowned, fiddling with the papers in front of him while glancing around the room.

Mattis’ third slide triggered a stronger response from Trump. A visual depiction of our Pacific posture, this slide zoomed in on the U.S. forces located in Japan and South Korea—forces that had kept the peace in both countries for more than six decades. It detailed the numbers of troops in each country, the cost to American taxpayers, and the costs borne by our allies to support forces in their country. Mattis made the point that America had been willing to accept unfair terms following World War II in order to get both countries back on their feet, but that now would be an opportune time to update our trade agreements should Trump desire to do so.

Mattis loved this slide because it outlined the significant contributions both nations were making, with Japan footing part of the bill to shift U.S. Marines from Okinawa to Guam, and South Korea paying to move Army soldiers to a new base. He emphasized to the president the importance of Japan paying to offset the costs for a new base, saying it was the first time in history they’d done so.

“Who is paying the rest of the bill for the move to Guam?” the president demanded. He was upset that Japan was only covering a part of the total costs required to relocate the base.

There was silence. But only briefly.

“Our trade agreements are criminal,” Trump thundered—despite the fact that Mattis was not talking about anything trade-related. “Japan and South Korea are taking advantage of the United States.” This was decidedly not the message Mattis’ slide intended to convey.

Out of nowhere, the president added, “And the USS Ford [the navy’s newest aircraft carrier] is completely out of control with cost overruns!”

Mattis struggled to regain control of the meeting. In one sense he got what he’d wanted. The president was definitely engaged, but not in the way Mattis had hoped.

Twenty-five minutes later, it was Tillerson’s turn to run the gauntlet. Tillerson was by nature a slow talker. I could tell at once that was not an endearing quality to Trump. When Tillerson’s turn was over, Trump looked like a kid who had been told it was time for recess.

Cohn’s brief was easily the best of the three. It consisted of only three slides. Sensing the president’s mood, Cohn was in and out in under five minutes. All eyes shifted to the president. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more. In fact, there’s a book.

The picture depicted is grim.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2019 at 11:40 am

The meaning of life? A Darwinian existentialist has his answers.

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Michael Ruse, the Lucyle T Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy and director of the history and philosophy of science at Florida State University and writter or editor of  more than 50 books, including most recently On Purpose (2017), Darwinism as Religion (2016), The Problem of War (2018) and A Meaning to Life (2019), writes in Aeon:

I was raised as a Quaker, but around the age of 20 my faith faded. It would be easiest to say that this was because I took up philosophy – my lifelong occupation as a teacher and scholar. This is not true. More accurately, I joke that having had one headmaster in this life, I’ll be damned if I want another in the next. I was convinced back then that, by the age of 70, I would be getting back onside with the Powers That Be. But faith did not then return and, as I approach 80, is nowhere on the horizon. I feel more at peace with myself than ever before. It’s not that I don’t care about the meaning or purpose of life – I am a philosopher! Nor does my sense of peace mean that I am complacent or that I have delusions about my achievements and successes. Rather, I feel that deep contentment that religious people tell us is the gift or reward for proper living.

I come to my present state for two separate reasons. As a student of Charles Darwin, I am totally convinced – God or no God – that we are (as the 19th-century biologist Thomas Henry Huxley used to say) modified monkeys rather than modified mud. Culture is hugely important, but to ignore our biology is just wrong. Second, I am drawn, philosophically, to existentialism. A century after Darwin, Jean-Paul Sartre said that we are condemned to freedom, and I think he is right. Even if God does exist, He or She is irrelevant. The choices are ours.

Sartre denied such a thing as human nature. From this quintessential Frenchman, I take that with a pinch of salt: we are free, within the context of our Darwinian-created human nature. What am I talking about? A lot of philosophers today are uncomfortable even raising the idea of ‘human nature’. They feel that, too quickly, it is used against minorities – gay people, the disabled, and others – to suggest that they are not really human. This is a challenge not a refutation. If a definition of human nature cannot take account of the fact that up to 10 per cent of us have same-sex orientation, then the problem is not with human nature but with the definition.

What, then, is human nature? In the middle of the 20th century, it was popular to suggest that we are killer apes: we can and do make weapons, and we use them. But modern primatologists have little time for this. Their findings suggest that most apes would far rather fornicate than fight. In making war we are really not doing what comes naturally. I don’t deny that humans are violent, however our essence goes the other way. It is one of sociability. We are not that fast, we are not that strong, we are hopeless in bad weather; but we succeed because we work together. Indeed, our lack of natural weapons points that way. We cannot get all we want through violence. We must cooperate.

Darwinians did not discover this fact about our nature. Listen to the metaphysical poet John Donne in 1624:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

Darwinian evolutionary theory shows how this all came about, historically, through the forces of nature. It suggests that there is no eternal future or, if there is, it is not relevant for the here and now. Rather, we must live life to the full, within the context of – liberated by – our Darwinian-created human nature. I see three basic ways in which this occurs.

First, family. Humans are not like male orangutans whose home life is made up mainly of one-night stands. A male turns up, does his business, and then, sexually sated, vanishes. The impregnated female births and raises the children by herself. This is possible simply because she can. If she couldn’t then, biologically it would be in the interests of the males to lend a hand. Male birds help at the nest because, exposed as they are up trees, the chicks need to grow as quickly as possible. Humans face different challenges, but with the same end. We have big brains that need time to develop. Our young cannot fend for themselves within weeks or days. Therefore humans need lots of parental care, and our biology fits us for home life, as it were: spouses, offspring, parents, and more. Men don’t push the pram just by chance. Nor boast to their co-workers about their kid getting into Harvard.

Second, society. Co-workers, shop attendants, teachers, doctors, hotel clerks – the list is endless. Our evolutionary strength is that we work together, helping and expecting help. I am a teacher, not just of my children, but of yours (and others) too. You are a doctor: you give medical care not just to your children, but to mine (and others) too. In this way, we all benefit. As Adam Smith pointed out in 1776, none of this happens by chance or because nature has suddenly become soft: ‘It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own self-interest.’ Smith invoked the ‘invisible hand’. The Darwinian puts it down to evolution through natural selection.

Though life can be a drag sometimes, biology ensures that we generally get on with the job, and do it as part of our fulfilled lives. John Stuart Mill had it exactly right in 1863: ‘When people who are fairly fortunate in their material circumstances don’t find sufficient enjoyment to make life valuable to them, this is usually because they care for nobody but themselves.’

Third, culture. Works of art and entertainment, TV, movies, plays, novels, paintings and sport. Note how social it all is. Romeo and Juliet, about two kids in ill-fated love. The Sopranos, about a mob family. A Roy Lichtenstein faux-comic painting; a girl on the phone: ‘Oh, Jeff… I love you, too… but…’ England beating Australia at cricket. There are evolutionists who doubt that culture is so tightly bound to biology, and who are inclined to see it as a side-product of evolution, what Stephen Jay Gould in 1982 called an ‘exaptation’. This is surely true in part. But probably only in part. Darwin thought that culture might have something to do with sexual selection: protohumans using songs and melodies, say, to attract mates. Sherlock Holmes agreed; in A Study in Scarlet (1887), he tells Watson that musical ability predates speech, according to Darwin: ‘Perhaps that is why we are so subtly influenced by it. There are vague memories in our souls of those misty centuries when the world was in its childhood.’

Draw it together. I have . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2019 at 9:56 am

Posted in Daily life

Baby Smooth, Eufros Rosa Bourbon, & Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel

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That’s a Sabini brush (with ebony handle) and a fine brush it is. It had no problem in working up a fine lather from JabonMan’s Eufros Rosa Bourbon, and the Baby Smooth is as good as it gets for a conventional razor. Three passes, and than a splash of Thayers Rose Petal Witch Hazel with Aloe Vera. This is a toner, so no alcohol. The fragrance is pleasant but fleeting. A very nice start for an overcast and rainy day.

Written by Leisureguy

25 October 2019 at 8:28 am

Posted in Shaving

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