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How long has this been going on? Jennifer Rubin writes really good columns these days (with example)

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I remember when Jennifer Rubin was praising Mitt Romney without reserve, only later to admit that after his defeat that she was just making statements that she thought would help him. You can see why I stopped reading her column.

But for whatever reason—and I suspect that Trump has some credit for unleashing her recent clarity of vision—the columns are pretty good these days, and today’s is excellent:

The Wall Street Journal reports: “U.S. employers added a seasonally adjusted 178,000 jobs in November and the unemployment rate fell to 4.6%, the Labor Department said Friday. While the rate was the lowest since August 2007, it reflected some people finding jobs while even more dropped out of the workforce.”

Certainly troubling trends continue. (“Declining participation in the labor force is one of the nation’s more worrisome economic trends, highlighting crosscurrents that have lifted the prospects of many Americans while creating new challenges for others.”) And there are some specific bright spots. (“A broad measure of unemployment and underemployment, which includes those who have stopped looking and those in part-time jobs who want full-time positions, was 9.3% in November, down from 9.5% the prior month and the lowest level since April 2008. The rate averaged 8.3% in the two years before the recession.”) However, as we anticipate a new administration with a president who painted the U.S. economy as a wreck, some perspective is in order.

Credit is due to President George W. Bush and, in turn, President Obama (and the Federal Reserve and the presidents’ respective treasury secretaries) for the emergency measures that averted a meltdown of the financial system. Bush passed and Obama continued the Troubled Assets Relief Program, which right- and left-wing populists bitterly opposed.

My colleague Robert Samuelson wrote: “One lesson of the financial crisis is this: When the entire financial system succumbs to panic, only the government is powerful enough to prevent a complete collapse. Panics signify the triumph of fear. TARP was part of the process by which fear was overcome. It wasn’t the only part, but it was an essential part. Without TARP, we’d be worse off today.” That was in 2010, when unemployment was close to 9 percent.

Given the large gap in time between the nearly billion dollar stimulus and the onset of real job growth, we are less convinced that this played much of a role in reviving a then-$15 trillion economy. (Liberals complained it was too small to work — before deciding that it gave us the “Obama recovery.”)

The alarmists on all sides got it wrong. Obamacare didn’t sink the economy, nor did the expiration of a sliver of the Bush tax cuts. Those on the right who claimed otherwise were wrong.  Meanwhile, the absence of a second stimulus did not prevent us from reaching 4.6 percent unemployment. Inequality did not, contrary to the president’s frequent claims, impede recovery. The left had those things wrong. Populists were also off base: Trade deals don’t prevent us from growing or adding substantial numbers of jobs. (We have job churn, not losses because of trade, and many other factors.) The trade deficit does not mean we are losing jobs or failing to grow; the opposite is true.

Each side will claim the recovery would have been better and faster if it had its way, but our point is that essential gridlock for eight years after TARP did not cause economic calamity. We should promote pro-growth, pro-job programs butwith caution and humility to admit the U.S. economy left to its own devices generally recovers. (There certainly are other reasons — inequality, upward mobility, wage growth — for pursuing some robust policy changes. Liberals, conservatives and populists will differ as to what those are.)

What is not in dispute is that Donald Trump will enter office in January with an economy that is nothing like the dystopia he painted. Before charging off to throw up tariffs or pass a massive tax cut that opens up a gusher of red ink, or throw 11 million people out of the country, perhaps some caution is warranted. We are not now in a recession, and we should stop pretending we are to justify extreme measures which carry unintended consequences. We are growing at 3.2 percent at last count; and Trump’s treasury nominee declares we can grow at a rate — get this — of between 3 and 4 percent.

We suggest getting back to reality and assessing our real needs:

  • We have a gap between skills and the needs of the 21st century economy.
  • We need to upgrade infrastructure.
  • We have a Byzantine . . .

Continue reading.

Of course, one cannot overlook the other enormous drain on the economy: the war of unwarranted aggression. Lest we forget, George W. Bush undertook an invasion of Iraq, then bungled the recovery beyond belief, creating a breakdown that seems to have rippled across the Mideast. On hindsight, George W. Bush dealt a serious economic wound to the US, along with the moral wounds (the innovation of instituting torture as an actual government policy, along with mass surveillance of the public). And, TBH, we all might be better off if Bush had not been so dismissive of the national security intelligence briefings, an attitude that seems even worse in our President-Elect, who simply refused to believe the intelligence he received in the briefly, blowing it off because his own impressions (formed from cable TV and Twitter) are different.

At any rate, the GOP is directly responsible for much of the damage our country has suffered in the 21st century. So far. And, based on what we see of Trump, the GOP will soon be responsible for much more damage. And just to be clear, this is reality we’re talking about: what your daily life will be like four years from now.

Written by LeisureGuy

4 December 2016 at 1:50 pm

Most businesses do not understand the stakes: Of 9 Tech Companies, Only Twitter Says It Would Refuse To Help Build Muslim Registry For Trump

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Sam Biddle reports for The Intercept:

Every American corporation, from the largest conglomerate to the smallest firm, should ask itself right now: Will we do business with the Trump administration to further its most extreme, draconian goals? Or will we resist?

This question is perhaps most important for the country’s tech companies, which are particularly valuable partners for a budding authoritarian. The Intercept contacted nine of the most prominent such firms, from Facebook to Booz Allen Hamilton, to ask if they would sell their services to help create a national Muslim registry, an idea recently resurfaced by Donald Trump’s transition team. Only Twitter said no.

Shortly after the election, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty wrote a personal letter to President-elect Trump in which she offered her congratulations, and more importantly, the services of her company. The six different areas she identified as potential business opportunities between a Trump White House and IBM were all inoffensive and more or less mundane, but showed a disturbing willingness to sell technology to a man with open interest in the ways in which technology can be abused: Mosque surveillance, a “virtual wall” with Mexico, shutting down portions of the internet on command, and so forth. Trump’s anti-civil liberty agenda, half-baked and vague as it is, would largely be an engineering project, one that would almost certainly rely on some help from the private sector. It may be asking too much to demand that companies that have long contracted with the federal government stop doing so altogether; indeed, this would probably cause as much harm and disruption to good public projects as it would help stop the sinister ones.

But the proposed “Muslim registry,” whether it be a computerized list of people from two dozen predominately Muslim nations who enter the country (as revealed in Kris Kobach’s fatuously exposed Homeland Security agenda) or a list of all Muslims in the U.S., is both morally appalling and effectively pointless. In November 2015, asked by a reporter if the country should create “a database or system that tracks Muslims in this country,” Trump replied, “There should be a lot of systems … beyond databases. I mean, we should have a lot of systems.” The New York Times reported that Trump added he “would certainly implement that — absolutely.” At a rally later that week, he told the crowd, “So the database — I said yeah, that’s all right, fine.” The next day, George Stephanopoulos asked Trump, “Are you unequivocally now ruling out a database on all Muslims?” Trump replied, “No, not at all.” Although Trump attempted to walk back these comments during the campaign, a registry of some form is now back on the table, at least as far as Kobach is concerned.

Even on a purely hypothetical basis, such a project would provide American technology companies an easy line to draw in the sand — pushing back against any effort to track individuals purely (or essentially) on the basis of their religious beliefs doesn’t take much in the way of courage or conviction, even by the thin standards of corporate America. We’d also be remiss in assuming no company would ever tie itself to such a nakedly evil undertaking: IBM famously helped Nazi Germany computerize the Holocaust. (IBM has downplayed its logistical role in the Holocaust, claiming in a 2001 statement that “most [relevant] documents were destroyed or lost during the war.”)

With all this in mind, we contacted nine different American firms in the business of technology, broadly defined, with the following question: . . .

Continue reading.

The way companies march to the drumbeat of an authoritarian government is well documented. Today I read this post on Facebook:

When I was in 7th grade, our teacher put on a video and told us to take notes. Ten minutes in, she threw the lights on and shouted at Steven Webb Sladki, telling him he wasn’t taking notes and he should have been. But the thing was, Steve was taking notes. I saw it. We all saw it. The teacher asked if anyone wanted to stand up for Steve. A few of us choked out some words of defense but were immediately squashed. Quickly, we were all very silent. Steve was sent to the principal’s office. The teacher came back in the room and said something like “See how easy that was?” We were reading “Anne Frank.” I started to understand. I just thought now was a good time to share this story. Don’t ever let anyone tell you that what you see with your own eyes isn’t happening.

The same thing virtually all corporations are doing: collaborating in the compromise of our Constitutional values.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 5:38 pm

Pleasant afternoon: Simple pleasures, greatly enjoyed

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The Wife and I had lunch at a new Indian restaurant in Carmel, then I stopped by BevMo to see out some good vermouth, seduced by this article in Craftsmanship magazine. I’m enjoying a drink by Julia Childs that is mentioned in the article: a reverse Martini (5-1, but the 5 is a good vermouth, the 1 is the gin). And on the stove I’m cooking this classic chicken soup recipe by Julia Moski (who is very reliable). I’m following the recipe except that I added two star anise and the juice of two lemons to the soup water. I’m using the 7-qt pot, but probably an 8-qt would be better. So it goes.

And I’ve done the cutting and chopping to make stir-fried tofu and peppers for dinner tonight, another excellent recipe from Martha Rose Shulman. However, my store carries 1-lb blocks of tofu, so from now on I’m making a double recipe to use the whole block of tofu. Last time I made it, I sprinkled white sesame seeds over it, and that seemed to go well.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 3:39 pm

Posted in Daily life, Food, Recipes

He got life without parole for pot. And he was just denied clemency.

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US drug laws need serious reshaping. Tana Ganeva reports in the Washington Post:

Ferrell Scott was sentenced to life in prison for possession and conspiracy to distribute marijuana, a drug that’s now legal in many states and turning a handsome profit for the (primarily white) pot industry. Scott, like many nonviolent drug offenders serving long sentences, is black. Without any chance at parole, despite an exemplary behavior record, he appealed to President Obama for clemency. He found out that his bid for clemency had been denied when he got an email about “bad news” from a friend. Thinking something bad had happened to his 93-year-old mother, he called home. His daughter answered, crying, and told him the news.

“She cried like a baby and she was telling me that she didn’t know what she was supposed to do now. Couldn’t understand it,” Scott tells The Watch in a phone interview.

“Why haven’t I been contacted? I hope this is a mistake. My God I’m f—–!” he wrote to Amy Povah, who runs CAN-DO, an advocacy group for prisoners incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses.

It’s not a mistake. His name is on the list of clemency denials published on the Justice Department’s website on Tuesday.

“I don’t know what I’m gonna do, what’s gonna happen,” Scott says. “Well, I kind of know what’s going to happen. I’m going to be here for the rest of my life. I don’t know, man, I’m so depressed and shaken. I honestly thought I would get it.” Scott then brings up a good point: Obama has admitted to using the drug that landed Scott in prison for life.

The list of prisoners denied clemency is headlined “COMMUTATIONS DENIED BY PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA.” But that language, which suggests that the president personally reviewed each prisoner’s petition and decided that it was not deserving of a shorter sentence, isn’t accurate.

Obama doesn’t look at each petition. Rather, he sees (at most) the advice of the Justice Department’s Office of the Pardon Attorney and then the White House counsel. The pardons office also often seeks input from the prosecutor’s office that led the initial trials. And while criminal-justice advocates have praised Obama for commuting the sentences of a record number of prisoners — more than 1,000 — some advocates say the decision-making process is too arbitrary and slow.

Mark Osler, a former federal prosecutor who worked in Detroit in the 1990s and is now a leading advocate for “sentencing and clemency policies rooted in principles of human dignity,” tells The Watch that the problem lies in the process, which he says is long and inefficient. “It’s not like everyone sits down and decides together. It’s a bunch of different people in different offices, they all have different perspectives. Even a minor failure at any of those steps and everything grinds to a halt.”

“The program is embedded in the DOJ, which is a building full of prosecutors,” he says, and as a former prosecutor, Osler can tell you it’s not a profession that encourages self-reflection over past mistakes. The winding process can thwart even the best presidential intentions. “Obama clearly cared about the project of clemency, a fact that was reflected in the letter he sent to each clemency recipient,” Osler wrote in a paper published this year, “Given that interest, one wonders why his administration was so slow to take up a significant number of clemency cases. The answer, very likely, lies in the layers of redundant bureaucracy.”

Craig Cesal is another marijuana lifer who just found out his clemency was denied. “My crime was that my truck repair business in Chicago fixed trucks operated by a Florida long-haul trucking company whose drivers trafficked marijuana in the south,” he writes to The Watch. He was convicted of conspiracy to distribute marijuana and after a nightmarish plea process detailed here, the government pulled its offer. So he got life.

Cesal suspects that his clemency was denied because of a bogus motion filed in a Georgia court. Since presidential clemency is supposed to be a last resort, Cesal thinks that at some point in the process, someone saw there were ongoing court proceedings over his case and dismissed his application for clemency.

Other prisoners previously interviewed by The Watch were shocked when they found out they weren’t granted a commutation — as have the people advocating on their behalf.

U.S. District Judge Mark W. Bennett called the sentence he was forced to give to Lori Kavitz for a nonviolent drug offense “idiotic” at the time, and has written a letter to the Office of the Pardon Attorney begging for her release. Kavitz is still in prison. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

3 December 2016 at 10:25 am

Why the Dakota Access Pipeline is a Big Deal: Bismarck residents got the Dakota Access Pipeline moved without a fight

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It’s extremely difficult, perhaps even impossible, not to see rank, overt, festering racism and class warfare here. T. J. Rafael reports in PRI:

Snowfall has made its way to North Dakota, adding an element of concern to the ongoing battle over the Dakota Access Pipeline. On Monday, North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple ordered an emergency evacuation of protesters working to block the construction of the $3.8 billion pipeline, citing safety concerns with the oncoming winter weather.

This announcement comes just days after the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers issued a letter to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, stating that the land they manage north of the Cannonball River will be closed on December 5. Anyone found on the land after that date will be considered trespassers and subject to prosecution.

For several months, the local Native American community and other protesters have been arguing that the pipeline could threaten the reservation’s water supply. But this is actually an updated routing — after the original routing was rejected for similar reasons. The original pipeline was to be routed just north of Bismarck, North Dakota, according to Karen Van Fossan, minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bismarck, North Dakota.

“I actually read about the original pathway, or an original pathway of the pipeline, in our local newspaper,” she says. “It’s our understanding, and I’ve talked to everybody who I know who would have known about it in advance, that we never even in Bismarck had to make an objection. The pathway was moved away from our drinking supply without our even needing to go to a meeting or write a letter.”

Van Fossan says she believes a decision was independently made to reroute the pipeline to its current location. Bismarck city officials did not respond to a request for comment.

“Nobody I know ever knew anything about the routing north of Bismarck,” Van Fossan says.

Though Bismarck is 92.4 percent white, according to 2015 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, Van Fossan says many residents in the city are “aghast” by the events playing out in Standing Rock, and are standing in solidarity with the indigenous protesters and other demonstrators. . .

Continue reading.

Support from sidelines is sometimes hard to distinguish from being looky-loos. And the police are so in the pocket of big business that they are just about at open warfare against a protest—that is, the exercise of a constitutional right. It’s very like Orwell’s 1984, which I hope everyone is rereading: “Rights are Wrong. Constitution is Against the Law. Expressing your right is criminal behavior. Force solves most problems. Plus any multimilion dollar setllement will be paid by the taxpayer, so it’s essentially free to us. I feared for my life.”

UPDATE: Trump will support the Dakota Pipeline project: He’s an investor in it. See this post.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2016 at 4:04 pm

“Religious freedom” laws are a two-edged sword: Satanic Temple Says Texas’s New Rules on Fetal Burial Violate Their Religious Freedom

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Religious freedom laws that attempt to force non-believers to heed the tenets of a particular religion or to allow believers of a particular religion freedom to ignore laws if they see those laws as impinging on their religion, are (IMO) a pestilence. If you offer a service to the public, you don’t get to pick and choose whom you serve since that is an open doorway to discrimination, which may be based on religion (“We don’t serve [Catholics, or Protestants, or Christians in general, or Jews, or Muslims, or Satanists, etc.]”), race (and it’s worth noting that in the US religion gave full support to enslaving African-Americans), and so on. If your religion forbids you to take medication (as some religions do—for example, Christian Science, Seventh-Day Adventists), you are not required to take medications, but if you use your beliefs to prevent others from taking medications, it is not religious freedom and religious imposition.

Anna Merlan posts at Jezebel:

In December, Texas will impose new rules requiring all fetal remains to be buried or cremated, a sneaky way to impede abortion access and make patients feel just a little worse, all at the same time. The Satanic Temple, the nation’s best and foremost trolls, declared today that under federal religious freedom laws, their members must be granted immunity from the new rules.

Texas’s new rules (not a “law,” since it didn’t go through a legislative process, but a bureaucratic one), stipulate that fetal remains have to be buried or cremated by hospitals or healthcare providers. The rules won’t apply to miscarriages or abortions that occur at home, and healthcare providers won’t be required to obtain death certificates for fetal tissue, which could have created privacy concerns.

Nonetheless, the Satanic Temple sees the whole thing for what it is: a naked bid to elevate fetal tissue to the status of a human being. In a press release, Satanic Temple spokesperson Lucien Greaves called the new rules, which go into effect December 19, “a direct violation” of the group’s religious beliefs.

“Texas health officials are baldly imposing the view that the fetal tissue is elevated to personhood—a religious opinion that conflicts with our own,” Greaves is quoted as saying. “If Texas is going to treat the disposal of fetal tissue differently from the disposal of any other biological material, in contradiction to our own religious beliefs, they need to present a compelling state interest for doing so. Of course, there is no such state interest, and it’s perfectly clear the demand for fetal tissue burial is a punitive measure imposed by sadistic theocrats. It’s clear these officials deem harassment an acceptable form of pushing their misguided religious agendas.”

The Satanic Temple, you will recall, said the same thing about anti-abortion legislation in Missouri, saying their members should be immune from those aswell, because Satanic tenets hold that the body is inviolate and shouldn’t be subject to outside influence. In both cases, they cite a law that conservatives fervently love, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), a federal law passed in 1993 and mirrored by state laws in 20 states. The Satanic Temple is insisting that Texas provide a “compelling reason” why the state shouldn’t honor their religious beliefs. . .

Continue reading.

I think the source of the problem is the unconscious assumption by legislators that everyone had the same religious belief as the legislators.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2016 at 2:35 pm

Using Ecstasy to treat PTSD: ‘I felt like my soul snapped back into place’

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Another drug shows great therapeutic promise, reported at PBS by Caleb Hellerman:

In nearly a decade trying to recover from post-traumatic stress disorder caused by childhood abuse, Jessi Appleton compiled a medical chart that reads like a Chinese restaurant menu. Biofeedback. Neurofeedback. Anti-depressants. Anti-anxiety medication. She tried a popular treatment called Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), where she spent hours letting her gaze follow a therapist’s hand as it moved through carefully prescribed patterns. She tried another gaze-based therapy, called brainspotting.

“EMDR helped the most, but I was hitting a wall,” says Appleton. “I was suicidal. I was like this ghost sort of thing, walking through life. And I felt like nothing was going to change.”

Then she tried a new experimental treatment: therapy under the influence of MDMA, better known as Ecstasy. Her therapist suggested she sign up to be part of a pilot study. After three sessions, she said, “I felt like my soul snapped back into place.”

Appleton, 32, was treated in Boulder, Colorado, in a study arranged and funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), an organization that has long pursued a strategy of supporting rigorous scientific research into otherwise illegal drugs.

On Tuesday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave the treatment an important boost, when agency officials met with officials from MAPS to start clearing the way for one or more large-scale research studies. According to Rick Doblin, MAPS’ founder and executive director, officials with the FDA’s Division of Psychiatry Products will not require additional studies prior to launching a Phase 3 trial, a critical round of testing that determines whether a medical treatment can be approved for widespread use.

“It was a very collaborative discussion, in light of the need to develop new treatments for PTSD for veterans and others,” Doblin says. “They recognize that this is a novel treatment, combining psychotherapy and pharmacotherapy, and there’s nothing else like it right now.”

The FDA says that federal law and internal regulations prohibit the agency from commenting on studies about pending applications or drugs still in development.

Details will be worked out over the next several months, but Doblin says that Phase 3 is likely to include at least 230 patients treated at roughly a dozen sites around the country.

Doblin and Appleton’s lead therapist, psychotherapist Marcela Ot’alora, say the therapy component is crucial. After a handful of preparatory meetings, the patient takes the drug under the watchful eyes of a two-person treatment team — almost always a man and a woman. Across studies, the dosage varies, but it is typically between 75 and 125mg, enough to trigger a strong experience. Like others, Appleton wore eyeshades and spent several hours lying back on a small couch, mostly in silence.

“It’s a lot of inner dialogue,” Appleton recalls. “Sometimes you’re terrified, sometimes relaxed, sometimes it’s other emotions. It’s intense, and by the end it’s exhausting.”

Ot’alora says her role is mostly supportive. Echoing Appleton’s description, she says the drug seems to help patients let go of their inner critic, or inner demons. “That part of you becomes a witness, saying, ‘This is what’s happening to you, this is what happened to you and this is how it felt.’ It’s very matter of fact.” . . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing. There’s quite a bit more.

Written by LeisureGuy

2 December 2016 at 12:45 pm

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