May 20, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 3:59 AM


A Judaism bereft of its center: All the thoughtful, creative ideas in the world can't replace deep, personal, engagement with the beating heart of Judaism (Aryeh Ben David, MAY 20, 2019, Times of Israel)

I once asked a rabbi: "How is your personal relationship with God?"

Speechless, his face went white.

Then, before he answered, I asked him a second question: "When was the last time you were asked that question?"

This time he could answer: "Never."

I have raised this question countless times with rabbis over the past 10 years, hoping to hear something different. And yet - rabbis who have been in the field for 10, 20, and even 30 years have all reacted the same way. In the last five years, since beginning Ayeka's work in day schools, I have put this question up to teachers - who have also answered similarly.

We have lost our center. We have become a God-less people.

The Jewish people brought the idea of God to the world: a monotheistic God; a God who is not distant but interacts in our lives; a God who is a benevolent creator; a God who communicated directly with our ancestors for centuries.  

Now God is the one subject we don't talk about. [...]

A Judaism that has exorcised God from its core - will not survive. Period. It is an amputation following which the patient cannot live. It is doomed, no matter how many great rabbis, teachers, and pedagogically innovative programs may flourish.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 AM


Posted by orrinj at 3:47 AM


Did the Golden Age of Department Stores Bring Us Together? (STEPHEN EIDE, December 21, 2018, American Conservative)

Try as they may with their sports stadium, "mixed use," and transit-oriented development ventures, city planners have never come close to recreating the excitement of downtown during the heyday of the great urban department stores, which flourished from the late 19th century until roughly World War II. It is impossible to look at old photographs of crowds standing seven deep in front of the Macy's holiday window displays and not feel like we've lost something in a profoundly civic sense. Thousands would attend the opening of a major new store. Though chartered as for-profit companies, the old department stores embraced a business model that relied on spectacle and shopping as an experience. Department stores' social and cultural contributions to city life far outstripped their economic significance. They enhanced the quality of life of countless city residents regardless of whether or how much those residents actually shopped at them.

When generational change strains the social fabric, communities respond both by adapting old civic institutions to meet new demands and by crafting entirely new institutions. In his book City People: The Rise of Modern City Culture in Nineteenth-Century America, the German-American historian Gunther Barth places the department store in the latter category. In his view, it's no more possible to understand the development of American urban life without reference to the department store than to try to make sense of medieval society while ignoring the church. At a time of rapid and disruptive economic growth, and unprecedented levels of inequality and diversity, Barth argues that the department stores knit urban communities together.

This thesis would have sounded strange, to say the least, to many who lived through retail's late 19th- and early 20th-century convulsions. The great department stores struck many as anti-local, "anti-social," even. Neighborhood dry-goods merchants felt crushed by merciless commercial forces beyond their control and they identified the department store as the force doing the crushing. By the standards of their day, 19th-century department stores were very big business. Take for example their "fixed price" policy, which prohibited haggling. Though this would have democratic consequences (no more the-rich-don't-have-to-pay-for-anything type deals for socially prominent shoppers), most historians agree that storeowners' hands were forced by hire a small army of salespeople, who could not be trusted to bargain with the proper mix of fairness and effectiveness. [...]

Equally significant was newspaper advertising. Historian Daniel Boorstin describes newspapers as "streetcars of the mind" because of how the aggressive marketing techniques of RH Macy and John Wannamaker extended the reach of their brands even into the suburbs that were beginning to take shape outside city borders. Extravagant ad buys were necessitated by the low markup.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Ex-Trump aide Bannon praises Marine Le Pen's campaign (Reuters, 5/20/19)

May 19, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 PM


Trump and Biden, potential 2020 rivals, both head to Pennsylvania, a key battleground (JANET HOOK and ELI STOKOLS, MAY 17, 2019, LA Times)

The latest Quinnipiac University poll in Pennsylvania found Biden out-polls Trump 53% to 42%, with especially wide margins among independent voters and women.

The Trump team's own polling shows him trailing in the state.

That's a far cry from his stunning 2016 victory in Pennsylvania, which, along with narrow wins in Wisconsin and Michigan, demolished Democrats' "blue wall" of support across the industrial heartland. Not since 1988 had a Republican presidential nominee carried Pennsylvania or Michigan. Wisconsin hadn't voted for a Republican nominee since 1984.

But Trump's margin of victory in Pennsylvania was only about 44,000 votes out of about 6 million cast.

Ever since that upset, warning signs for the GOP have been flashing in Pennsylvania. In special elections in 2017, Democrats flipped some long-held GOP local offices, and Democrat Conor Lamb, a centrist, won a House seat in the heart of Trump country. The 2018 midterm election was a statewide blowout as Democrats won the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial races by double-digit margins.

Moving to get a grip on the situation, the Trump political team a few weeks ago traveled to Harrisburg, Pa., for a meeting with Republican National Committee and state GOP officials to address concerns over party infrastructure, organizational readiness and their string of losses, according to two officials with knowledge of the meeting. [...]

[R]epublicans concede that Biden will be a much more formidable opponent than Clinton in 2016.

"He was raised in northeast Pennsylvania, spent a large part of his political career in southeast Pennsylvania and fancies himself as a candidate who can garner a lot of blue-collar support from the building trades -- all of those are areas that were nontraditional supporters of the Trump campaign last time," said Mike DeVanney, a GOP consultant in Pittsburgh.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's Self-Limiting Revolution (Andrew Ferguson, 5/18/19,  The Atlantic)

Representative Joseph Crowley. At the time of his gibbeting, Crowley was the fourth-ranking member of the House Democratic leadership. Pink and fleshy, with a toothy perma-grin, he could have been drawn by Thomas Nast to represent the Machine Hack, the very symbol of complacent incumbent. He saw Ocasio-Cortez coming too late and never knew what hit him.

The film leaves it unclear what Crowley's offense was, why he deserved his unhorsing--beyond being one of the world's seemingly bottomless supply of "white dudes in suits," to use the phrase of one activist in Knock Down the House. (It's the filmmakers' bad luck that they never caught him wearing a suit.) As a liberal Democrat, he sat in the middle of his caucus ideologically--no Barbara Lee or Jamie Raskin, but a reliable "yes" vote on whatever enthusiasm public-employee unions and environmentalists placed before him.

Crowley initially avoided a debate with Ocasio-Cortez but at last relented. She tagged him for living in suburban Virginia rather than his district, as so many congressional lifers do, and for sending his children to school in their neighborhood rather than to the diploma mills back home (ditto). Crowley, she charged, helped defeat an obscure amendment to the Dodd-Frank bank-regulation bill; the amendment would have helped "working families," Ocasio-Cortez assures us. And although Crowley did his duty and called Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) "fascist," he refused to join Ocasio-Cortez in her demand that the agency be abolished.

"If you think this system is fascist," she said to Crowley, "then why don't you vote to eliminate it?"

He had no answer. That's how you know when a congressman has been in Washington too long: He loses the courage of his own demagoguery.

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


HUD's Ben Carson broke law with furniture order, GAO says (KATY O'DONNELL, 05/16/2019, Politico)

Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson broke the law when he failed to report an order for a $31,561 dining room table set for his office as well as the installation of an $8,000 dishwasher in the office kitchen, the Government Accountability Office found in a report published Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


Deutsche Bank Staff Saw Suspicious Activity in Trump and Kushner Accounts (David Enrich, May 19, 2019, NY Times)

 Anti-money laundering specialists at Deutsche Bank recommended in 2016 and 2017 that multiple transactions involving legal entities controlled by Donald J. Trump and his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, be reported to a federal financial-crimes watchdog.

The transactions, some of which involved Mr. Trump's now-defunct foundation, set off alerts in a computer system designed to detect illicit activity, according to five current and former bank employees. Compliance staff members who then reviewed the transactions prepared so-called suspicious activity reports that they believed should be sent to a unit of the Treasury Department that polices financial crimes.

But executives at Deutsche Bank, which has lent billions of dollars to the Trump and Kushner companies, rejected their employees' advice. The reports were never filed with the government. [...]

[F]ormer Deutsche Bank employees said the decision not to report the Trump and Kushner transactions reflected the bank's generally lax approach to money laundering laws. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Joe Biden's Bet That 2016 Didn't Change Everything: In many ways, he's running the same kind of campaign he would have in a pre-Trump, pre-Sanders era. (EDWARD-ISAAC DOVERE, 5/19/19, The Atlantic)

If the new rules of politics post-2016 were to hold up, the official launch rally Joe Biden held here on Saturday would mean that he is in trouble: The crowd wasn't huge, was largely white and older, and, for the most part, only really got into it when he mentioned Barack Obama or Donald Trump.

Yet Biden's high-and-getting-higher poll numbers, the early fundraising success that has surprised even his own aides, and the enthusiastic responses I heard from supporters who came out on a hot afternoon to see him don't show a candidate in much trouble at all. Biden's campaign is a bet: that in the four years since Trump launched his campaign, the country hasn't changed, the Democratic Party hasn't changed, and politics hasn't changed. that Bernie and Donald don't have Hillary to run against.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


The Hell of Working at Trump's New Favorite Network: Conspiracy theories, racist outbursts, and a whole lot of Putin love. Working for the far-right One America News Network was a deeply weird experience, former employees say. (Kevin Poulsen, 05.17.19, Daily Beast)

Ernest Champell realized there was something unusual about One America News Network during his first day on the job as a writer, when the young staffer assigned to show him the ropes announced matter-of-factly, "Yeah, we like Russia here."

Founded and helmed by 77-year-old circuit-board millionaire Robert Herring Sr., OANN launched in 2013 as an answer to the chatty, opinionated content of mainstream cable news channels--and a place for viewers too conservative for Fox News. Under Herring's direction the network embraced Trumpism enthusiastically starting in 2016, and in recent months the once-obscure cable news channel has been basking in a surge of attention from Donald Trump.

Nearly all of OANN's 24-hours of daily programming is centered at an anchordesk, with a polished TV anchor delivering headlines and introducing packaged segments in the time-honored manner of Edward R. Murrow or Walter Cronkite. But there's a twist: The segments, the interviews, the words the anchors are speaking and even the crawl at the bottom of the screen are a slurry of fake news mixed with genuine reporting; internet conspiracy theories blended with far-right rhetoric and drizzled with undiluted Kremlin propaganda.

If you don't live in a world where Donald Trump's inauguration drew record crowds, Roy Moore won the Alabama special election in a landslide, and Hillary Clinton has her political enemies assassinated, viewing OANN for a couple of hours is a surreal experience that inspires the same vague, uneasy dread you get from a David Lynch movie.

Working there is a million times worse.

"It was a really bad chapter in my life," a former OANN anchor told the Daily Beast in an interview granted on condition of anonymity. "There were lots of afternoons where I would just sit in the car and cry. I didn't understand why they were doing what they were doing." exchange your soul for Donald's Islamophobia and Nativism when you decide to defend him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Morrison's miracle: why the Australian Labor party suffered a crushing defeat (ADRIAN PABST, 5/19/19, New Statesman)

[I]t was in Queensland where the election was ultimately lost. The primary popular vote for the ALP was a paltry 26 per cent. After counting all the votes (Australia has a preferential voting system, where voters score candidates in order of preference), the swing to the Liberals ended Labor's hope of becoming the largest party and ultimately forming a government. A Labor activist summed up the mood in the party: "I have never drank so much and felt so sober".

There are some stark lessons for the ALP and other social-democratic parties in Western countries. The first and most important is that the centre-left cannot win without cultivating working class support. Rather than staking its platform on workers and their jobs, Labor instead defended a position on climate change that appeals largely to middle-class voters.

In Queensland, for example, the party's constructive ambiguity over the controversial Adani coalmine backfired. By attempting to be all things to all people, the party lost core working class voters. And what goes for rural seats in southern Queensland also applies to a host of suburban seats across the country.

Secondly, the centre-left needs a strong narrative that binds together economic and cultural concerns. Progressive themes such as climate change, equality and the inclusion of minorities are key in the battle against the Green Party and some independent candidates, but they do not deliver a popular or parliamentary majority. If it is to prevail against the Liberals, Labor also needs to speak to small-"c" conservative values of belonging to community and country.

This is even truer in the fight against the far-right populism of the One-Nation Party and the new United Australia Party led by Clive Palmer. Immediately after the results, Labor MPs and Senators have rushed to blame Palmer and his multi-million scare campaign for the party's defeat. But in reality the ALP lacked a strong story that connected with people's values - economic justice, but also social cohesion and stability in an age of upheaval.

Thirdly, Labor requires leadership that embodies the party's purpose of defending both the labour interest and the national interest. Bill Shorten, who took over in 2013, was more of a party fixer than popular leader, and could never quite shake off his image as a trade union official.

Anglospheric voters are conservative, which is why parties of the left win when they run as compassionate conservatives, not Progressives--Blair, Clinton, Obama, etc.--and why Donald's loss of the House was such a staggering achievement. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


In Iran, economic struggles trump fears of US confrontation: Iranians would rather see tensions with Washington resolved through negotiations, but are prepared to fight if war breaks out (MEHDI FATTAHI and NASSER KARIMI, 5/19/19, AP)

The Associated Press spoke to a variety of people on Tehran's streets recently, ranging from young and old, women wearing the all-encompassing black chador to those loosely covering their hair.

Most say they believe a war will not come to the region, though they remain willing to defend their country. They think Iran should try to talk to the US to help its anemic economy, even as they see US President Donald Trump as an erratic and untrustworthy adversary. [...]

Still, many pointed to the economy, not the possible outbreak of war, as Iran's major concern. Iran's rial currency traded at 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 nuclear deal. Now it is at 148,000, and many have seen their life's savings wiped out.

Nationwide, the unemployment rate is 12 percent. For youth it's even worse, with a quarter of all young people unemployed, according to Iran's statistic center.

"The economic situation is very bad, very bad. Unemployment is very high, and those who had jobs have lost theirs," said Sadeghi, the housewife. "Young people can't find good jobs, or get married, or become independent."

Retired accountant Sores Maleki speaks during an interview with the Associated Press in downtown Tehran, Iran, May 17, 2019. (Vahid Salemi/AP)
Sores Maleki, a 62-year-old retired accountant, said talks with the US to loosen sanctions would help jumpstart Iran's economy.

"We should go and talk to America with courage and strength. We are able to do that, others have done it," Maleki said. "We can make concessions and win concessions. We have no other choice."

But such negotiations will be difficult, said Reza Forghani, a 51-year-old civil servant. He said Iran needed to get the US to "sign a very firm contract that they can't escape and have to honor." Otherwise, Iran should drop out of the nuclear deal.

"When someone refuses to keep promises and commitments, you can tolerate it a couple of times, but then certainly you can't remain committed forever. You will react," Forghani said. "So I don't think we should remain committed to the deal until the end."

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Rhiannon Giddens and What Folk Music Means: The roots musician is inspired by the evolving legacy of the black string band. (John Jeremiah SullivanMay 13, 2019, The New Yorker)

To grasp the significance of what the twenty-first-century folksinger Rhiannon Giddens has been attempting, it is necessary to know about another North Carolina musician, Frank Johnson, who was born almost two hundred years before she was. He was the most important African-American musician of the nineteenth century, but he has been almost entirely forgotten. Never mind a Wikipedia page--he does not even earn a footnote in sourcebooks on early black music. And yet, after excavating the records of his career--from old newspapers, diaries, travelogues, memoirs, letters--and after reckoning with the scope of his influence, one struggles to come up with a plausible rival.

There are several possible reasons for Johnson's astonishing obscurity. One may be that, on the few occasions when late-twentieth-century scholars mentioned him, he was almost always misidentified as a white man, despite the fact that he had dark-brown skin and was born enslaved. It may have been impossible, and forgivably so, for academics to believe that a black man could have achieved the level of fame and success in the antebellum slave-holding South that Johnson had. There was also a doppelgänger for scholars to contend with: in the North, there lived, around the same time, a musician named Francis Johnson, often called Frank, who is remembered as the first black musician to have his original compositions published. Some historians, encountering mentions of the Southern Frank, undoubtedly assumed that they were merely catching the Northern one on some unrecorded tour and turned away.

There is also the racial history of the port city of Wilmington, North Carolina, where Johnson enjoyed his greatest fame. In 1898, a racial massacre in Wilmington, and a subsequent exodus of its black citizens, not only knocked loose the foundations of a rising black middle class but also came close to obliterating the deep cultural memory of what had been among the most important black towns in the country for more than a century. The people who might have remembered Johnson best, not just as a musician but as a man, were themselves violently unremembered.

A final explanation for Johnson's absence from the historical record may be the most significant. It involves not his reputation but that of the music he played, with which he became literally synonymous--more than one generation of Southerners would refer to popular dance music simply as "old Frank Johnson music." And yet, in the course of the twentieth century, the cluster of styles in which Johnson specialized--namely, string band, square dance, hoedown--came to be associated with the folk music of the white South and even, by a bizarre warping of American cultural memory, with white racial purity. In the nineteen-twenties, the auto magnate Henry Ford started proselytizing (successfully) for a square-dancing revival precisely because the music that accompanied it was not black. Had he known the deeper history of square dancing, he might have fainted.

As a travelling "Negro fiddler," Johnson epitomized the one musical figure in American history who can truly be called "ur." Black fiddlers are the trilobites of American musical history. A legal record from the mid-seventeenth century details a dispute between Virginia households competing for the services of an enslaved man who had played the fiddle all night for a party on the Eastern Shore. After that, for more than two hundred years, black fiddlers are everywhere in the written sources. Then, around the start of the twentieth century, they fade, abruptly and almost completely.

Johnson was born in the late eighteenth century, most likely on a plantation owned by a family named Hawkins, in North Carolina, near the Virginia border. Early on, he was recognized as a prodigy who could master almost any instrument, but his specialty was the fiddle--the instrument most desired for dances. His owners started hiring him out for parties and dividing the earnings with him, a common practice. Sometime in the eighteen-thirties or forties, he became free. The only attempt at a biographical treatment of him, an article written around 1900 by the Virginia newspaperman Frank S. Woodson, says that he bought his own freedom "on a credit," using money that he had made playing music. He then, according to Woodson, purchased the freedom of his wife, a seamstress named Amelia. His former master "threw in the five or six children, all boys, for good measure." The boys became his band. Johnson and his wife tended to produce talented sons.

What did they sound like? It is a profound frustration, for a person interested in early African-American music, not to be able to hear them. Johnson died ten years before the recording era began, and by then his influence had grown diffuse. But a defining quality of his band's sound is how much mixing it involved--how many styles and instrumental arrangements. There were brass instruments and wind instruments. Johnson's sons played horns of all kinds. Frank, Jr., played a snare drum. There was a bass drum. Cymbals. In 1853, a kettledrum was introduced. But there were also the instruments we associate more closely with a "minstrel" band--fiddles and banjos. A fife-and-drum sound is mentioned in a Wilmington Daily Journal article published in 1858. Johnson's band played everything at once, moving across a range of stylistic attacks, all geared for dancing. It seems impossible that its sound would not have approached, at times, proto-jazz.

It is a genuine challenge to describe how prevalent Johnson was, how dominant. According to one source, he had "for half a century ruled with absolute autocracy the aristocratic ball-rooms of the South." By any calculus, he was one of the first black celebrities in the South. I have never come across an ostensibly "lost" figure who, once you know to look for him, turns out to have left behind such an obvious trail. Johnson went from being hard to find to being impossible to escape. Researching him was like writing a history of baseball and "rediscovering" a hitter named Babe Ruth. His music was so woven into the social life of the South that it would not be an exaggeration to describe it as a kind of ever-present soundtrack. Plantation balls, picnics, barbecues, sporting events, Renaissance-style "tilting" tournaments (they were big for a while), random town ceremonies (think cornerstone-layings), university commencements (for many years, he performed at Chapel Hill, and for at least some years at Wake Forest), state fairs, agricultural fairs, firemen's balls, military "muster days," moonlight excursions on trains and boats, extended summer bookings at resort hotels, society weddings, holiday parties (including an annual Christmas party in Wilmington, where his band performed for mixed audiences, "thereby creating a warmer fellowship between the races," according to the Wilmington Star), funeral processions, and political rallies. In 1840, "when the new Capitol building was completed in Raleigh," according to an item in an 1873 issue of the Hillsboro Recorder, there were "two successive nights" of dancing, with "the well-known Frank Johnson . . . furnishing the music." During the Civil War, his band often marched at the head of regiments and was called in to play at recruitment parties. According to a story recounted by Woodson, Johnson accompanied a Confederate brigade into battle, but turned around when the shooting started.

Johnson fell on hard times after the war, and, in the end, according to a 1901 piece written by someone with the initials A.M.W., he "moved about a pathetic figure--a sort of melancholy reminder of departed joys." His death, in 1871, was reported all over--in Cincinnati, in Chicago. One newspaper in Wilmington described the turnout for his funeral as "the largest, we think, that has ever occurred in this city, it being estimated that there were at least two thousand persons in the procession, including the colored fire companies in uniform, with standards draped in mourning, the colored Masonic fraternity in regalia, etc., the whole preceded by a brass band." Pine Forest Cemetery, where he was buried, is down the street from my house; I've spent countless days looking in vain for his grave.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Academe's Extinction Event Failure, Whiskey, and Professional Collapse at the MLA (ANDREW KAY, May 10, 2019, The Chronicle Review)

How can I conjure MLA 2019 for you?

Have you ever seen that viral picture from 2017 of a party of Oregon golfers calmly putting while, in the near distance, a wildfire consumes the landscape? Trees blacken; smoke, pinkish-gray, shrouds everything in impasto blots; nature itself seems to creak, groan, and at last give way. But the golfers go blithely on. The conversion of this Edenic place into Dantean incandescence won't interfere with the genteel game they know and love -- or, if it will, they are determined to get in one last round before the region is razed. "Eye on the ball, Chet!" one can hear them saying. "Not on the cataclysm!"

Thus MLA 2019. In conference rooms located in the depths of the hotel, the field's most vigorous minds -- Lauren Berlant! Bruce Robbins! -- teed off powerfully before hushed spectators, launching fresh takes on everything from satire to the nature of critique. They often began the same way: with the stated intention to "trouble" or "disrupt" the existing paradigm by staging an "intervention." A windup would follow: "If, as Foucault suggests, ..." the speaker would say, gathering might. Then a swing, swift and superb -- the intervention sailed through the intellectual firmament, and, with luck, found its critical mark to the dazzlement of those present: birdies of theoretical acumen, eagles of originality.

Other scholars opted for modest putts, readings of Coleridge and Coetzee greeted by polite clapping. Now and then a bogey: A reading would be less than convincing, and the author would, during the Q&A, "get a little push-back" from one or more listeners (that's academese for "I'm not buying this"). It was all mannerly and urbane. People were getting in one last round.

Upstairs, the lobby served as a kind of clubhouse. There was a bar at the center with a restaurant beside it, and, at the outer edges of the room, furniture on which people lounged. In between was an open space populated by islands of academics who shared a self-conscious aesthetic that, in the case of the men, might be termed formal-flippant: hair mummified with product; scarf; sport coat; too-short khakis; and, like a bit of irreverent punctuation dropped at the end of some sartorial sentence, New Balances. A dozen women unwittingly wore the same suit from Ann Taylor, while myriad others went full flight attendant.

Old friends bumped into one another, clutching at lattés, trading news, dropping casual references to the "capitalocene." A scholar described some new project or life development; her friend nodded, wide-eyed and hypercaffeinated, uttering that trending expression of assent among the grotesquely overeducated: the rapid-fire "YahYahYah!"

All around them, the humanities burned. The number of jobs in English advertised on the annual MLA job list has declined by 55 percent since 2008; adjuncts now account for all but a quarter of college instructors generally. Whole departments are being extirpated by administrators with utilitarian visions; from 2013 to 2016, colleges cut 651 foreign-language programs. Meanwhile the number of English majors at most universities continues to swoon.

College costs too much for students to tolerate nonsense.

May 18, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 PM


GOP lawmaker says Trump's conduct meets 'threshold for impeachment' (Colby Itkowitz, May 18, 2019, Washington Post)

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.), a critic of President Trump who has entertained a run against him in 2020, became the first Republican congressman to say the president "engaged in impeachable conduct" based on the Mueller report.

The Michigan lawmaker, often the lone Trump dissenter on his side of the House aisle, shared his conclusions in a lengthy Twitter thread Saturday after reviewing the full report by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Amash wrote that after reading the 448-page report, he had concluded that not only did Mueller's team show Trump attempting to obstruct justice, but that Attorney General William P. Barr had "deliberately misrepresented" the findings. He added that "few members of Congress even read Mueller's report."

"Contrary to Barr's portrayal, Mueller's report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment," Amash wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


At campaign rally, Biden decries Democratic 'anger' and pledges unity (James Oliphant, 5/18/19, Reuters) 

Seeking to build on early momentum in his 2020 presidential bid, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden on Saturday condemned "anger" within his own Democratic Party and pledged to work to unify the country in the wake of Donald Trump's presidency.

At a rally in downtown Philadelphia, Biden, as he has done throughout the beginning stages of his campaign, made Trump his central target, blasting him as "the divider-in-chief."

But he also chided other Democratic presidential candidates in the field, suggesting that anger toward Trump within his party was not enough to win next year's presidential election.

His message, Biden said, was expressly aimed at Democratic, Republican and independent voters alike.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Trump Likely Violated Two Laws in One Tweet (Jerry Lambe, May 18th, 2019, Law & Crime)

President Donald Trump filmed a brief video from his office on Air Force One Thursday, deriding New York City mayor and newly announced presidential candidate Bill DeBlasio, calling him "the worst mayor in the history of New York City." Trump made the campaign-related video while on his way to New York for a campaign fundraiser and posted it to his official Twitter account.

In the video, the presidential seal is prominently displayed just above the window to the left of Trump, lending priceless gravitas to Trump's screed against a possible future election opponent.

After it was posted online, the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), a Washington, DC based watchdog group, responded by tweeting: "Nice political ad filmed on Air Force One. You now legally need to reimburse the Treasury for the use of Air Force One on a political trip. Since you had no problem tweeting out the video, you should have no problem tweeting out the receipts when you reimburse the taxpayers."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


Austrian leader calls for snap election amid video scandal (DAVID MCHUGH and KAMILA JAFARU, 5/18/19, AP) 

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for an early election after his vice chancellor resigned Saturday over a covertly shot video that showed him apparently promising government contracts to a purported Russian investor.

Kurz said he would ask President Alexander Van der Bellen to set a date for a new election "as soon as possible."

Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache resigned after two German publications, the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung and the weekly Der Spiegel, on Friday published extracts of a covert video purportedly showing Strache offering Austrian government contracts to a Russian woman who was allegedly interested in investing large amounts of money in Austria.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


CICERO'S REPUBLIC: IMPLANTED IN THE NATURE OF MAN (Bradley J. Birzer|, May 17th, 2019, Imaginative Conservative)

The best society, Cicero continues, cultivates us as free individuals, not for our benefit, but for the benefit of the community. "For, in truth, our country has not given us birth and education without expecting to receive some sustenance, as it were, from us in return; nor has it been merely to serve our convenience that she has granted to our leisure a safe refuge and for our moments of repose a calm retreat," he argues forcibly and persuasively. "On the contrary, she has given us these advantages so that she may appropriate to her own use the greater and more important part of our courage, our talents, and our wisdom, leaving to us for our own private uses only so much as may be left after her needs have been satisfied." Though unpalatable to modern libertine ears, Cicero's words certainly anticipate those of Edmund Burke. Additionally, Cicero notes, a man must act not merely on behalf of his own republic, but on behalf of the universe as seen through the republic and the actions of its citizens. "Do you not think it important for our homes that we should know what is happening and being done in that home which is not shut in by the walls we built, but is the whole universe, a fatherland which the gods have given us the privilege of sharing with them."

One must presume, especially given his other writings, that Cicero means an example not only for the world of any one person's generation, but for all generations, past, present, and future. Scipio, one of Cicero's characters, states as much when he famously argues: "A commonwealth is the property of a people. But a people is not any collection of human beings brought together in any sort of way, but an assemblage of people in large numbers associated in an agreement with respect to justice and partnership for the common good." In this, he echoes the future views of Edmund Burke, again, in the Anglo-Irish statesman's explanation of the eternal contract between those dead, those living, and those yet to be born. "The first cause of such an association," Scipio continues, "is not so much the weakness of the individual as a certain social spirit which nature has implanted in man." As with Aristotle, Scipio claims "man is not a solitary or unsocial creature, but born with such a nature that not even under conditions of great prosperity of every sort" does he choose to leave the company of others, permanently.

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Herman Wouk obituary: Author of The Caine Mutiny and The Winds of War who championed traditional Jewish values and American patriotism (Eric Homberger,  17 May 2019, The Guardian)

Wouk, who has died aged 103, was an award-winning novelist whose books were made into Hollywood movies, a playwright and an author of screenplays. He wrote books about Judaism and modern belief. Throughout, he voiced a conservative view of ethics and morality that remained largely unamended in the course of a writing career of more than six decades.

The Caine Mutiny (1951), awarded the Pulitzer prize for fiction, was made into a popular movie by Edward Dmytryk in 1954. In the role of the paranoid Captain Queeg, Humphrey Bogart gave one of his most mesmerising performances. The interrogation scene, with Bogart twisting ball bearings in his hand while breaking down under the questioning of the defence attorney Lt Barney Greenwald (José Ferrer), would have made a powerful end to the film. But the last scene, the celebration dinner for the acquitted defendants Maryk and Keith, accused of mutiny through relieving Queeg of his command when the minesweeper USS Caine was at risk of sinking during a typhoon, brought a different meaning to the story.

Greenwald's drunken speech in praise of Queeg and disdain for Lt Keefer (Fred MacMurray), who had encouraged Maryk and Keith, gave a moral victory to career navy men. It was the regulars like Queeg, "standing guard on this fat, dumb and happy country of ours", who saved Greenwald's mother, a "little gray-headed Jewish lady", from being melted down into a bar of soap.

Greenwald's speech made vivid theatre when Wouk's stage play, The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial, opened in New York in 1954, with Henry Fonda playing Greenwald. Dmytryk, Bogart and Ferrer had all come to the attention of the House Un-American Activities committee, seeking out political subversion, and Wouk's story provided impeccable conservative cover for them.

Wouk actually meant what Greenwald said. His conservative social and political attitudes and religious faith made him an atypical figure in American Jewish life after the second world war. He was an orthodox Jew, a Republican, a patriot and a sharp critic of assimilation. His novel Marjorie Morningstar (1955) ended with the renunciation of worldly ambition by a New York Jewish girl, and with an affirmation of marriage, suburbia, family and duty. It was one of the last moments when such a novel might have been written without apology, and published without embarrassment.

Maybe that's why people read him and not his peers?

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 AM


Lindsey Graham, Russian Oil Money & A Campaign Finance Scandal (The Democratic Coalition, May 17, 2019)

Len Blavatnik is a Russian oligarch with US and UK citizenship who donated to Sen. Graham's 2016 presidential campaign. Blavatnik made many of his billions off Russian oil. He is also long-term business partner of Kremlin-linked Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska at RuSal, the aluminum giant in which he is a major investor, as well as Viktor Vekselberg, who is entangled with Trump's personal lawyer Michael Cohen through his U.S. family office Columbus Nova.

Sen. Graham's political action committee received a total of $800,000 from Blavatnik via his company, Access Industries. He received $500,000 in May 2015 just before Donald Trump declared and another $300,000 in October 2015, long after it was publicly apparent Graham's campaign had no traction in the polls. The Blavatnik family, including Len, donated another $57,000 to Graham's campaign directly, but the Senator's campaign later returned $13,500.

Senator Graham abandoned his 2016 campaign for president on December 21, 2015. Blavatnik gave $7.35 million to PACs working for high-ranking Republicans, including both the Speaker of the House and Senate Majority Leader, during the 2015-16 federal campaign cycle. Special Counsel Robert Mueller was probing donor Blavatnik for his ties to Donald Trump and specifically a million dollar inaugural donation.

Forbes amply documented Blavatnik's source funds from the Kremlin in 2013 by exhibiting a copy of the wire transfer itself in a story entitled "The Four Horsemen of Russia's Economic Collapse." It described his sale of a private Russian oil company to state-controlled Rosneft.

This report also indicates that a Ukrainian food industry executive -- who used to work for the sanctioned Russian bank, Sberbank -- and his family, who are based in New Jersey, were also significant donors to Graham's presidential campaign, who had excessive donations returned.

May 17, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


Second U.S. appeals court rules Trump cannot end protections for 'Dreamers' (Tom Hals, 5/17/19, Reuters) 

A U.S. appeals court ruled on Friday that President Donald Trump cannot end a program that shielded from deportation immigrants brought into the country illegally as children, the second time the administration has lost an appeal on the issue.

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We're Laughing At Trump, Not With Him (CHRISTIAN SCHNEIDER  MAY 16, 2019, The Bulwark)

In crafting his famous "Matt Foley, Motivational Speaker" sketch for Saturday Night Live, Chris Farley stumbled--literally--onto a name for his style of comedy. The portly actor, who combined a graceful athleticism with a preternatural ability to crash through things, explained his popularity succinctly: "Everybody laughs when fatty falls down." [...]

But the only time Trump is truly funny is when he's trying to be deadly serious. Watching him try to explain U.S. trade deficits with China is as adorable as viewing a rat on the New York City streets try to drag a piece of pizza up a flight of stairs. It's funny because we're not laughing with him; we're laughing at him.

If SNL understood comedy it would not impersonate Donald, just show clips of him speaking.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


White House Suffering 'Unprecedented' Job Vacancies Under Trump (Alex Henderson, May 15, 2019, Alternet)

(Dareh Gregorian for NBC News)  reports that presently, there are "138 nominees awaiting confirmation by the Senate" and "132 positions that have no nominee at all." And according to Max Stier, president of Partnership for Public Service (a nonprofit that tracks presidential appointments), "what we have seen is unprecedented, with consistent vacancies across the government."

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Bad news, journalists: Robots are writing really good headlines now (BRYAN CLARK, 5/16/19, Next Web)

Primer, an AI company, recently built a tool capable of writing headlines that look like those a human would produce. It's not perfect, but in speaking with Axios, the examples it came up with were often quite good -- those that didn't miss the mark entirely, that is.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 AM


Paul Rosenzweig, Former Starr Prosecutor, Shreds Trump's Obstruction (Emily Singer, May 15, 2019, National Memo)

Trump's attempts to stonewall Congress and block the legislative branch from conducting oversight are blatant acts of obstruction of justice and are in violation of the Constitution -- according to conservative Republican lawyer Paul Rosenzweig, who served as a senior counsel on the team led by Kenneth Starr that investigated former President Bill Clinton back in the 1990s. [...]

"Adherence to the rule of law means that rules have to be applied even-handedly, regardless of whether a political party or other interest is immediately benefited," Rosenzweig said in a witness statement to the House Judiciary Committee. "It means not invoking privileges to conceal wrongdoing; and it means not invoking them to frustrate legitimate congressional inquiry."

Rosenzweig went on to say that he believes Trump's attempts to assert executive privilege, such as trying to retroactively declare special counsel Robert Mueller's report to be secret, are unconstitutional.

"If you continue to think that President Clinton's use of the privilege to avoid scrutiny of his actions was violative of his oath of office and deserving of condemnation -- as I do -- you can say no less about President Trump," he said.

Rosenzweig concluded: "Sadly, today, it increasingly appears that the president is acting in a manner designed to denigrate and disregard checks on his use of executive authority. To date, his actions appear unable to distinguish between the public interests that undergird the privilege and his own personal and political interests."

May 16, 2019

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


Flynn gave info on attempts to obstruct Mueller probe: court filing (Nathan Layne, 5/16/19, Reuters) 

Former U.S. national security adviser Michael Flynn gave Special Counsel Robert Mueller information about multiple attempts by people to obstruct the Russia investigation, according to court documents made public on Thursday.

The attempts to obstruct Mueller's probe were made by people associated with the administration of President Donald Trump or with Congress, according to the filings, which were unsealed at prosecutors' request.

Flynn "informed the government of multiple instances, both before and after his guilty plea, where either he or his attorneys received communications from persons connected to the Administration or Congress that could have affected both his willingness to cooperate and the completeness of that cooperation," Mueller wrote in a memo originally submitted under seal ahead of Flynn's planned sentencing on Dec. 18, 2018.

"The defendant even provided a voicemail recording of one such communication. In some instances, the SCO was unaware of the outreach until being alerted to it by the defendant," he wrote, using the acronym for the Special Counsel's Office.

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