Thursday, September 03, 2015

Gandhi: Feet of Clay?

What did Mahatma Gandhi think of black people?

By Rama Lakshmi September 3 at 1:00 AM, WashPost

Was Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the revered leader of India’s freedom movement, a racist?

A controversial new book by two South African university professors reveals shocking details about Gandhi’s life in South Africa between 1893 and 1914, before he returned to India.

During his stay in South Africa, Gandhi routinely expressed “disdain for Africans,” says S. Anand, founder of Navayana, the publisher of the book titled “The South African Gandhi: Stretcher-Bearer of Empire.”

According to the book, Gandhi described black Africans as “savage,” “raw” and living a life of “indolence and nakedness,” and he campaigned relentlessly to prove to the British rulers that the Indian community in South Africa was superior to native black Africans. The book combs through Gandhi’s own writings during the period and government archives and paints a portrait that is at variance with how the world regards him today.

Much of the halo that surrounds Gandhi today is a result of clever repackaging, write the authors, Ashwin Desai and Goolam Vahed, professors at the University of Johannesburg and the University of KwaZulu Natal.

(More here.)

Hillary Clinton Uses G.O.P.’s Words to Aid Her Arguments

SEPT. 2, 2015

Hillary Rodham Clinton falters, and Republicans ride to her rescue.

When White House controversies dogged Mrs. Clinton as first lady, the independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr made her sympathetic with his Javert-like investigations. When Mrs. Clinton showed flaws during her 2000 Senate race, Rudolph W. Giuliani and Rick Lazio looked even worse to many New Yorkers. And when the attacks on American diplomats in Libya sullied her record as secretary of state, Republicans struck many viewers as overreaching when they badgered her at a televised hearing.

Now, as she seeks the Democratic presidential nomination, Mrs. Clinton is struggling with declining poll numbers, questions about her honesty and doubts about her ultimate electability. And once again, her Republican rivals are allowing her to turn their own words against them in ways that could help win over some of her skeptics.

By branding Mexicans as rapists, calling the children of immigrants “anchor babies,” denouncing abortions for rape and incest victims, and threatening to shut down the government over federal aid to Planned Parenthood, Republicans are giving Mrs. Clinton political help as she tries to divert attention from her woes and bounce back from a politically challenging summer.

Several Democratic Party officials with qualms about Mrs. Clinton, for instance, said she had reassured them about her political acumen and fighting form with a fiery speech Friday that assailed Donald J. Trump over his “hateful” remarks about immigrants, Senator Marco Rubio on his unwavering opposition to abortion, and Jeb Bush for saying he was not sure “we need a half a billion dollars for women’s health issues.”

(More here.)

Coordinated Strategy Brings Obama Victory on Iran Nuclear Deal


WASHINGTON — Just before the Senate left town for its August break, a dozen or so undecided Democrats met in the Capitol with senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia who delivered a blunt, joint message: Their nuclear agreement with Iran was the best they could expect. The five world powers had no intention of returning to the negotiating table.

“They basically said unanimously this is as good a deal as you could get and we are moving ahead with it,” recalled Senator Chris Coons, the Delaware Democrat who lent crucial support to the deal this week despite some reservations. “They were clear and strong that we will not join you in re-imposing sanctions.”

For many if not most Democrats, it was that message that ultimately solidified their decisions, leading to President Obama on Wednesday securing enough votes to put the agreement in place over fierce and united Republican opposition. One after another, lawmakers pointed to the warnings from foreign leaders that their own sanctions against Iran would be lifted regardless of what the United States did.

But the president’s potentially legacy-defining victory — a highly partisan one in the end — was also the result of an aggressive, cooperative strategy between the White House and congressional Democrats to forcefully push back against Republican critics, whose allies had begun a determined, $20 million-plus campaign to kill the deal.

Overwhelmed by Republicans and conservatives in previous summers when political issues like the health care legislation were effectively put on trial, Democrats sought to make sure that momentum remained behind the president on the Iran agreement in both the Senate and the House.

(More here.)

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

The Moderate Republican’s Case for Donald Trump

Only Trump can make the GOP sane again—by losing in a landslide to Hillary Clinton.

By Bruce Bartlett
07/27/15, 07:48 PM EDT

Hardline conservatives paint George H.W. Bush as a failure because he raised taxes in 1990 despite routinely giving Reagan a pass for much greater violations of conservative orthodoxy. In effect, Bush paid the price for Reagan’s heresies. His defeat was also part of a plan by the GOP’s most conservative members to take operational control of the party in a way that they had never been able to do before. Bush’s defeat was considered a small price to pay to put people like Newt Gingrich and Tom DeLay in charge of party policy.

The Republican takeover of Congress in 1994 validated this strategy. The 1996 defeat of Bob Dole, a throwback to the Eisenhower-Nixon-Ford era (he was Ford’s running mate in 1976), was further validation.

Conservatives were not enthusiastic about George W. Bush in 2000, in part because they feared that he would follow in his father’s footsteps. But Bush knew that as long as he kept throwing tax cuts at the conservative base, he was free to pursue traditional moderate Republican policies in areas such as expanding Medicare, financial regulation, education, trade and the budget.

By 2008, conservatives were frustrated with their lack of substantive policy progress during the Bush years. Even the tax cuts that bought him their support were scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. In many ways, the rise of the Tea Party was as much a reaction to Bush’s infidelities to conservative principles as it was to the election of Barack Obama.

(More here.)

What Donald Trump Understands About Republicans

Thomas B. Edsall, NYT
SEPT. 2, 2015

Donald Trump’s success is no surprise. The public and the press have focused on his defiant rejection of mannerly rhetoric, his putting into words of what others think privately. But the more important truth is that a half-century of Republican policies on race and immigration have made the party the home of an often angry and resentful white constituency — a constituency that is now politically mobilized in the face of demographic upheaval.

Demographic upheaval may be understating it. From 1970 to 2010, the Hispanic population of the United States grew fivefold, from 9.6 million to 50.5 million. From 2000 to 2010, the number of white children under 18 declined by 4.3 million while the number of Hispanic children grew by 4.8 million. In 2013, white children became a minority, 47.7 percent of students ages 3 to 6.

We have become familiar with Trump’s selling point — that he, more than any other Republican candidate, voices nativist and protectionist views in aggressive and abrasive terms, without qualm: “I Love the Mexican people. I do business with the Mexican people, but you have people coming through the border that are from all over. And they’re bad. They’re really bad.” He has vilified Latin American immigrants as “bringing drugs, bringing crime” and as “rapists.”

Not very subtly, Trump conflates American blacks with Mexican immigrants. “I know cities where police are afraid to even talk to people because they want to be able to retire and have their pension,” he declared in Nashville on Aug. 29. “That first night in Baltimore,” when rioting broke out in protest over the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, “they allowed that city to be destroyed. They set it back 35 years in one night because the police weren’t allowed to protect people. We need law and order!”

Urban gangs, in turn, provide Trump with an opportunity to link immigration and crime. “You know a lot of the gangs that you see in Baltimore and in St. Louis and Ferguson and Chicago, do you know they’re illegal immigrants?” Trump vows that after the election, “they’re going to be gone so fast, if I win, that your head will spin.”

(More here.)

Louisiana Lays Bare Difficulty in Push to Cut Planned Parenthood Funding

SEPT. 1, 2015

NEW ORLEANS — Dr. Stephanie Taylor recently showed off the private community health center here, newly built on the site of a women’s clinic wrecked by Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, pointing out the colorful furnishings, germ-resistant flooring and, in the sunny lobby, a welcoming Tree of Life mural. So it was a tad incongruous when she added, “We’re at ground zero for sexually transmitted infections.”

Dr. Taylor’s point was twofold: Demand for tests and treatment is great, not just in this neighborhood beyond the French Quarter, but all over Louisiana. And clinics like this CrescentCare Health and Wellness Center need all the allies they can get — including the state’s two Planned Parenthood clinics, one here and one in Baton Rouge, whose public funds are now threatened by Republicans in the state capital and in Congress.

“We have a syphilis epidemic right now in New Orleans,” said Dr. Taylor, the medical director overseeing programs to combat sexually transmitted infections for the State Office of Public Health. She is also the director of Louisiana State University’s sexually transmitted infections program, which operates in the wellness center here. Louisiana ranks first among the states in cases of gonorrhea, second in chlamydia, and third in syphilis and H.I.V., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(More here.)

As China’s Economy Falters, Military Parade Offers Chance to Burnish Image

Soldiers from the People's Liberation Army training last week for the military parade. Credit Damir Sagolj/Reuters

SEPT. 1, 2015

BEIJING — Few things distract an anxious nation in economic trouble quite like a jaw-dropping military parade featuring a cavalcade of gleaming high-tech weaponry, 12,000 goose-stepping soldiers and fighter jets filling the skies with synchronized plumes of candy-colored smoke.

China celebrates a new national holiday on Thursday, honoring the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II with events across the country, a three-day holiday and a martial spectacle that will rumble through the ceremonial heart of the capital. President Xi Jinping ordered up the festivities long before the latest round of economic news, but the timing could hardly be better for the Communist Party as it grapples with a slumping stock market and fears that a slowdown could spur social unrest.

The event allows Mr. Xi to push a much bolder nationalist agenda just as the Chinese public is beginning to question the party’s main source of legitimacy: its ability to deliver economic growth.

“As social conflicts continue to sharpen, the party needs to divert attention, and of course a parade is a good way to do that by whipping up nationalist fervor,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian in Beijing.

Though billed as a commemoration of the war’s end, the holiday has been carefully conceived to project Mr. Xi’s vision for a “rejuvenated” China: a rising military power that will stand up to rivals — most notably Japan and its main ally, the United States. But the turn to the past has left the party open to criticism that it is manipulating the history of the war to overstate the Communist role in ending Japan’s 14-year occupation of parts of China.

(More here.)

GOP presidential candidates extreme, not moderate

“Sixteen months before the election, some candidates are becoming too unhinged to be plausible as conservative presidents.” — George Will
by Tom Maertens
Special to the Mankato Free Press
Posted: Tuesday, September 1, 2015 6:00 am

The Republican National Committee’s post mortem on the 2012 election concluded that Republicans needed to be more moderate if they wanted to retake the White House, including more inclusive of women, more tolerant on gay rights and more supportive of immigration reform.

Easier said than done. The 1960s civil rights legislation and Nixon’s racist “southern strategy” chased most of the yahoos and rednecks from the Democratic party into the GOP, where they formed its Tea Party base. GOP politicians constantly pander to them with inflammatory stories about that black Kenyan Muslim socialist dictator in the White House and reflexively oppose his policies.

Just how deranged is today’s Republican Party? Ben Carson labeled Obamacare “the worst thing since slavery,” and called America “very much like Nazi Germany.”

Iowa Rep. Steve King has repeatedly stated that the U.S. Supreme Court's gay marriage ruling now means "you can marry my lawnmower."

More ominously, Scott Walker announced that he might bomb Iran on his first day in the Oval Office. His foreign policy advisor, Kevin Hermening, previously advocated nuclear strikes against five Muslim-majority countries, according to various media reports including those in The Intercept and The Weekly Standard.

Ted Cruz has called the Obama administration “the world’s leading financier of radical Islamic terrorism.” Cruz supports a constitutional amendment that bans contraception and has asserted that “There is no place for gays or atheists in my America. None. Our Constitution makes that clear.” He obviously hasn’t read the Constitution; ditto Rick Santorum, who contends that separation of church and state is a communist idea, not an American one.

Bobby Jindal has proposed disbanding the Supreme Court because of its gay marriage ruling. He also threatened that, if elected, he would sic the IRS — a symbol of government oppression to Republicans — on Planned Parenthood.

Rand Paul claims to be a libertarian, but libertarianism apparently doesn’t apply to women’s freedom to choose: he has joined the right-wing jihad against Planned Parenthood based on deceptively edited videos.

Marco Rubio, Mike Huckabee and Scott Walker all think rape and incest victims who become pregnant should be forced to give birth. (Polls show that 83 percent of Americans believe otherwise.)

Mike Huckabee has asserted that the Supreme Court can't overrule God, and since Huckabee hears voices, he thinks God is telling him U.S. troops can be used to prevent women from getting abortions, even though the procedure is legal in the U.S.

Ben Carson is another vocal anti-abortionist, except that he participated in a research project using aborted fetuses in 1992, according to CNN and the Washington Post.

Rick Perry thinks the solution to recent theater shootings is to arm everyone, raising the prospect of vigilantes and cowboy wannabes blazing away in dark crowded movie theaters.

The schizophrenic states’ rights advocate and small government proponent Chris Christie has declared in town hall meetings and on Fox News that he would overturn state marijuana legalization laws in Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Alaska and use the federal government to deal with “diseased” marijuana users.

Carly Fiorina asserted that "liberal environmentalists” caused California’s drought, reflecting the usual Republican hostility toward clean air and water regulations.

Jeb Bush has blamed Hillary Clinton for the Middle East mess while simultaneously declaring that his disaster-prone brother, George, is his principal advisor on Middle East issues. And Jeb is the smart one? He also wants to “phase out” Medicare.

Donald Trump, the one with the narcissistic personality disorder, has characterized his critics and competitors as “losers,” “total losers,” “haters,” “dumb,” “idiots,” “morons,” “stupid,” “dummy” and “disgusting,” striking a chord, the Washington Post suggested, with voters’ contempt for the Republican establishment, a group that Matt Taibbi characterized in Rolling Stone as “filterless half-wits, scam artists and asylum Napoleons.”

Former Bush Treasury official Bruce Bartlett characterized that establishment as “filled with people who are crazy, and stupid, and have absolutely no idea of what they are taking about.”

Thomas Friedman, writing in The New York Times, agreed: “the base of the [Republican] party and so many of its billionaire donors reflect the angry anti-science, anti-tax, anti-government, anti-minorities, anti-gay rights and anti-immigration views of the Tea Party and its media enforcer, Fox News."

Even conservative columnist George Will agreed: “Sixteen months before the election, some candidates are becoming too unhinged to be plausible as conservative presidents.”

(Original here.)

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Clinton’s accusers are running out of ammunition

Dana Milbank Opinion writer, WashPost, September 1 at 5:51 PM

Conservative activist James O’Keefe, whose undercover videos brought down ACORN and embarrassed National Public Radio, came to Washington Tuesday to unveil evidence of “illegal activity conducted by high-level employees within Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.”

He then rolled tape of . . . a Canadian woman attempting to buy a T-shirt and some campaign pins at a Clinton rally. To O’Keefe, this was evidence of foreign contributions being made to Clinton – an “illegal activity” with a total value of $75.

Many of the 50 reporters who showed up at the National Press Club for this unveiling felt as if they had been punked.

“My first reaction is this is about buying a T-shirt,” said one. “It doesn’t seem like much of a bombshell.”

“Is this the best thing you have?” I asked O’Keefe.

“Is this a joke?” inquired Olivia Nuzzi of the Daily Beast. “This feels like a prank… We’re talking about buying campaign swag.”

(More here.)

The Saudis Gambled and Texas Won

Energy innovators across the U.S. will always beat those who bet against capitalism.

By Glenn Hegar, WSJ
Aug. 31, 2015 7:20 p.m.

In November 2014, the leaders of Saudi Arabia made one of the biggest bets in history. Their strategy was flawed, and they’ve already lost.

In an OPEC meeting that month, Saudi Arabia announced it would maintain high oil-production levels despite falling prices. The Saudis were betting that by keeping prices low they could protect their market share and kill America’s energy renaissance—a rebirth driven largely by Texas, which produces 37% of America’s oil and 28% of its marketed natural gas.

The Saudi strategy seemed to make sense. The conventional wisdom was that energy producers working in “tight” shale formations would be squeezed by low prices, since their extraction methods—hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling—are more expensive than conventional drilling. So, surely, once that happened Texas would be in serious trouble.

Columnists at the New York Times and elsewhere said the “Texas miracle” was fading, or even dead . . . and some of them seemed happy about it.

But an interesting thing happened on the way to the collapse of the Texas economy—it didn’t collapse.

(More here.)

A History Lesson

How Trump Can Ensure Democratic Dominance for Generations

It happened before, 90 years ago, when the GOP cracked down hard on immigrants. Republicans never recovered.

By Michael Kazin,
09/01/15, 08:31 PM EDT

Donald Trump knows the United States will never deport eleven million undocumented immigrants or do away with birthright citizenship. But what if we did—what would be the political impact if Trump and other angry nativists in the GOP actually achieved most or all the changes they desire, cutting immigration back sharply?

We already know, because something very similar happened once before in American history. Ninety years ago, two Republican presidents—Warren Harding and Calvin Coolidge—and a Congress dominated by Republicans enacted equally harsh policies against immigrants. Their success helped usher in the longest period of one-party rule in the 20th century. But it was the Democrats, not the GOP, who benefited, in one of the most whopping instances of unintentional consequences in American political history.

During the 1920s, federal lawmakers reversed the traditional policy of welcoming newcomers from nearly every land. Fear of foreigners carrying the bacillus of Bolshevism from Europe and of diluting the purity of the “Nordic” race led them to pass the most sweeping restrictions in U.S. history. By large majorities, Congress enacted quotas that explicitly discriminated against would-be immigrants from southern and eastern Europe and banned all Arabs and all Asians except for Filipinos, who were then U.S. colonial subjects. In supporting the restrictive Johnson-Reed Act of 1924, one senator proudly exclaimed, “Thank God we have in America perhaps the largest percentage of any country in the world of the pure, unadulterated Anglo-Saxon stock … We now have sufficient population in our country for us to shut the door and to breed up a pure, unadulterated American citizenship.”

The new policies were effective: Over 18 million people migrated to the U.S. between 1880 and 1920. From 1930 to 1960, during the new era of highly restricted immigration, only four million made the trip.

(More here.)

Sid Blumenthal's raw advice for Hillary

From Iran to Boehner, the longtime confidant of the Clinton family offered the former secretary of state extensive — and seemingly unfiltered — advice.

By Nahal Toosi,
Updated 09/01/15, 12:31 PM EDT

Israel? It needs some "tough love."

Iran? Use the "iron fist in the velvet glove approach."

Republican leader John Boehner? "Louche, alcoholic, lazy and without any commitment to any principle."

If Hillary Clinton ever needed insights on something — or even if she didn't — Sidney Blumenthal was happy to oblige.

The latest batch of Clinton emails released late Monday sheds more light on how Blumenthal, the liberal writer and longtime confidant of the Clinton family, was an inescapable presence in the former secretary of state's digital life during her years at Foggy Bottom.

To be sure, Clinton received advice from many third parties, but the quantity and audacity of the missives from Blumenthal — a divisive figure in Washington — stand out. Although Clinton has described Blumenthal’s advice as unsolicited, the emails released so far show that, at times, she sought his counsel and he wasn't always right — such as when he assured her that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown had a solid shot at keeping his post just days before the election that ousted him.

(More here.)

Violent Protest Follows Kiev Vote on Autonomy for East Ukraine

AUG. 31, 2015

KIEV, Ukraine — The results of a fiercely contested parliamentary vote over autonomy for eastern Ukraine were counted on Monday, partly in blood: 265 in favor, three major parties opposed and one dead policeman.

About 120 other officers were also wounded in an attack during a protest that intensified after Parliament approved a measure on constitutional changes that could grant autonomy to parts of the Luhansk and Donetsk regions.

The authorities said a man later identified as a member of a nationalist party had thrown a grenade at the police lines.

The violence underscored the tensions over a vote that many here see as a concession to Russia in exchange for peace.

Monday’s vote in Parliament was just a first step. Changing the status of the rebel eastern regions, as demanded by President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in peace talks in Minsk, Belarus, last winter, involves both an amendment to the Constitution, which must receive final approval from a supermajority of 300 of Parliament’s 450 members, and a separate law passed by that chamber.

The measure is fiercely opposed by Ukrainian nationalists and many others, who loathe any concession to Mr. Putin and see him as the driving force behind a civil war that has claimed more than 6,500 lives.

President Petro O. Poroshenko had conceded the constitutional change, which is included in the text of the Minsk agreement, with a metaphorical gun to his head: thousands of Ukrainian soldiers surrounded by Russian-backed rebels near the Ukrainian railroad town of Debaltseve.

(More here.)

As His Term Wanes, Obama Champions Workers’ Rights


WASHINGTON — With little fanfare, the Obama administration has been pursuing an aggressive campaign to restore protections for workers that have been eroded by business activism, conservative governance and the evolution of the economy in recent decades.

In the last two months alone, the administration has introduced a series of regulatory changes. Among them: a rule that would make millions more Americans eligible for extra overtime pay, and guidelines suggesting that many employers are misclassifying workers as contractors and therefore depriving them of basic workplace protections. That is an issue central to the growth of so-called gig economy companies like Uber.

A little more than a week ago, a federal appeals panel affirmed an earlier regulation granting nearly two million previously exempted home care workers minimum wage and overtime protections. And on Thursday, President Obama’s appointees to the National Labor Relations Board pushed through an important ruling that makes it easier for employees of contractors and franchises to bargain collectively with the corporations that have sway over their operations.

“These moves constitute the most impressive and, in my view, laudable attempt to update labor and employment law in many decades,” said Benjamin I. Sachs, a professor at Harvard Law School and a former assistant general counsel for the Service Employees International Union. The goal, he said, is to “keep pace with changes in the structure of the labor market and the way work is organized.”

(More here.)

Monday, August 31, 2015

Iranians erase ‘Death to America’ graffiti on wall of former U.S. Embassy

By Ishaan Tharoor August 31 at 11:10 AM, WashPost

Reports in Iranian state media over the weekend appeared to show a handful of Iranian men painting over anti-American graffiti on the wall of what was once the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.

The removal of the "Death to America" slogan from the side of a very sensitive political site may be a sign, the Jersualem Post muses, of "a new era." A majority of Iranians support the nuclear deal reached in July between Iran and world powers, which could eventually lead to a wider rapprochement with Washington.

Diplomatic relations between Iran and the United States were formally severed in April 1980, five months after militant supporters of the 1979 Islamic revolution ransacked the U.S. Embassy and took Americans hostage, holding them for more than a year. The building is now preserved as sort of museum to the revolution, replete with a host of plaques and signs decrying U.S. imperialism, as well as wax statues of American officials plotting their sabotage.

After rounds of negotiations between Iran and its Western interlocutors yielded a definitive nuclear agreement in July, European governments and companies have swiftly sought to bolster ties with Iran and sniff out new opportunities within its huge domestic market, soon to be unshackled from a host of international sanctions.

(More here.)

Is your cereal going green?

General Mills Sets Ambitious Goal for Greenhouse Gas Cuts

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. — Aug 30, 2015, 2:00 PM ET
By STEVE KARNOWSKI Associated Press

General Mills has set an ambitious goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions 28 percent by 2025 — not just within its own operations but from farm to fork to landfill.

CEO Ken Powell, in outlining the plan to The Associated Press ahead of the company's official announcement Monday, said General Mills is compelled to act because climate change ultimately will be bad for business.

General Mills will invest more than $100 million in energy efficiency and clean energy within its own facilities worldwide, and partner with suppliers to foster more sustainable agricultural practices, including sourcing products from an additional 250,000 acres of organic production globally by 2020.

"We think that human-caused greenhouse gas causes climate change and climate volatility and that's going to stress the agricultural supply chain, which is very important to us," Powell said in an interview at company headquarters in suburban Minneapolis. "Obviously we depend on that for our business, and we all depend on that for the food we eat."

Other major food companies have greenhouse gas goals, but General Mills officials said they know of no other major player that has targeted its entire chain — from raw material suppliers to consumers. The company estimates that 92 percent of greenhouse gases associated with that chain come from entities it doesn't control.

(More here.)

Wall St. Policy Poses a Challenge for Presidential Candidates

AUG. 30, 2015

Even seven years after the financial crisis, Wall Street has lost none of its ability to stir partisan rancor.

The Republican presidential candidates are almost entirely unified behind repealing the Dodd-Frank financial overhaul legislation approved by a Democratic-controlled Congress after the 2008 collapse, which was brought on by reckless mortgage lending. That rollback would undoubtedly allow for more unfettered trading and lending.

Pushing in the opposition direction, Hillary Rodham Clinton’s two challengers for the Democratic nomination have made it a priority to bring back a Depression-era law that would force the biggest banks to break up.

Mrs. Clinton has joined the chorus of Democrats demanding more oversight of Wall Street, recognizing that the issue has become a rallying cry among progressive activists and is bound up in the broader debate on income and wealth inequality.

But Mrs. Clinton, who has won strong financial support from Wall Street in the past, has been piecing together a more unexpected set of policy proposals — including a change in the way capital gains, or profits on investments, are taxed. Her proposals so far strike a more moderate note than those of her fellow Democrats, but they also have a more realistic chance of becoming law if she is elected president.

(More here.)

Defection of Perry Aide to Trump Camp Has Iowans Fearing for Image

AUG. 30, 2015

DES MOINES — Is Iowa for sale?

That is the perception sending shudders through the state’s Republicans, after the leader of Rick Perry’s Iowa campaign quit when Mr. Perry suspended pay to staff members, then quickly went to work for Donald J. Trump, who he had earlier said lacked a “moral center.”

The head-spinning dismount and remount came three weeks after another embarrassing episode for the state’s Republicans. A long-running scandal over under-the-table payments to a state senator to endorse Ron Paul’s presidential bid in 2011 led to the federal indictment this month of Mr. Paul’s former campaign manager.

On Tuesday, at a meeting of the Polk County Republican Party in Des Moines, the two events were linked in many conversations — as they have been all week by Iowa’s political insiders, who are hypersensitive about the state’s privileged role as the first to vote in presidential races.

Many non-Iowans resent the attention paid to the state, which will hold its caucuses Feb. 1. To deflect the doubters, party officials and the state’s ranks of paid strategists strive for an image of ethical professionalism and a level playing field for all candidates, which is now being questioned.

(More here.)

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Maybe it's genetic

Jeb Bush’s foot-in-mouth problem

By Dana Milbank Opinion writer August 28 at 10:17 AM, WashPost

What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.

Jeb Bush has been stumping his way across the country, explaining what he would do as president. But nobody seems to understand what the heck he’s talking about.

In July, he said that “people need to work longer hours” as part of an economic recovery. Then he said his remarks had been misinterpreted.

A couple of weeks later he said “we need to figure out a way to phase out” Medicare. Then he complained that critics were taking his remarks out of context.

(More here.)

Fear and Loathing in the anti-virus world

Exclusive: Russia's Kaspersky threatened to 'rub out' rival, email shows

SAN FRANCISCO | By Joseph Menn, Reuters

In 2009, Eugene Kaspersky, co-founder of one of the world's top security companies, told some of his lieutenants that they should attack rival antivirus software maker AVG Technologies N.V. (AVG.N) by "rubbing them out in the outhouse," one of several previously undisclosed emails shows.He was quoting from Vladimir Putin's famous threat a decade earlier to pursue Chechen rebels wherever they were: "If we catch them in the toilet, then we will rub them out in the outhouse."

Former employees say that the reprisal Kaspersky was pushing for was to trick AVG's antivirus software into producing false positives - that is, misclassifying clean computer files as infected.
As previously reported by Reuters, the plan involved creating fake virus samples and malware identifications to fool competitors into disabling or deleting important files, thereby creating problems for their customers.

(More here.)

Friday, August 28, 2015

The town that DuPont poisoned

Welcome to Beautiful Parkersburg, West Virginia

Home to one of the most brazen, deadly corporate gambits in U.S. history.


“Hold on to something,” Jim Tennant warned as he fired up his tractor. We lurched down a rutted dirt road past the old clapboard farmhouse where he grew up. Jim still calls it “the home place,” although its windows are now boarded up and the outhouse is crumbling into the field.

At 72, Jim is so slight that he nearly disappears into his baggy plaid shirt. But he drives his tractor like a dirt bike. We sped past the caved-in hog pen and skidded down a riverbank. The tractor tipped precariously toward the water, slamming into a fallen tree, but Jim just laughed.

When we had gone as far as the tractor could take us, Jim climbed off and squeezed through a barbed-wire fence. On the other side was a lush field teeming with crabapple and sycamore, and beyond that, the muddy trickle of water, known as Dry Run Creek, that has brought Jim’s family so much heartache. “This is what Dry Run looks like in the wet season,” Jim told me. “Summer grazing was in the hollow up there—before they destroyed everything, at least.”

The Tennant clan farmed the fertile patch of soil around the home place for more than a century. In the 1950s, Jim’s father ran off, leaving his wife to look after nine cows, two mules, one hog and five children. But the family got by, eating turtle and muskrat and peddling anything it could grow or forage—wild watercress and elderberries in the spring; ginseng and lima beans in the summer; hay and apples in the fall. Their West Virginia farm eventually grew into a 700-acre operation, with more than 200 head of cattle and enough corn to pack a 35-foot silo. Jim and his wife Della bought a house on an adjoining plot of land and swapped the outhouse for an indoor toilet.

(Story and videos here.)

The Mystery of ISIS

(Reuters) A still from a video released by ISIS on April 19, which appears to show the execution of Ethiopian Christians by members of Wilayat Barqa, an affiliate of ISIS in eastern Libya
The New York Review of Books
August 13, 2015 Issue

ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror
by Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan
Regan Arts, 270 pp., $14.00 (paper)

ISIS: The State of Terror
by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger
Ecco, 385 pp., $27.99

The author has wide experience in the Middle East and was formerly an official of a NATO country. We respect the writer’s reasons for anonymity. —The Editors

Ahmad Fadhil was eighteen when his father died in 1984. Photographs suggest that he was relatively short, chubby, and wore large glasses. He wasn’t a particularly poor student—he received a B grade in junior high—but he decided to leave school. There was work in the garment and leather factories in his home city of Zarqa, Jordan, but he chose instead to work in a video store, and earned enough money to pay for some tattoos. He also drank alcohol, took drugs, and got into trouble with the police. So his mother sent him to an Islamic self-help class. This sobered him up and put him on a different path. By the time Ahmad Fadhil died in 2006 he had laid the foundations of an independent Islamic state of eight million people that controlled a territory larger than Jordan itself.

The rise of Ahmad Fadhil—or as he was later known in the jihad, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi—and ISIS, the movement of which he was the founder, remains almost inexplicable. The year 2003, in which he began his operations in Iraq, seemed to many part of a mundane and unheroic age of Internet start-ups and a slowly expanding system of global trade. Despite the US-led invasion of Iraq that year, the borders of Syria and Iraq were stable. Secular Arab nationalism appeared to have triumphed over the older forces of tribe and religion. Different religious communities—Yezidis, Shabaks, Christians, Kaka’is, Shias, and Sunnis—continued to live alongside one another, as they had for a millennium or more. Iraqis and Syrians had better incomes, education, health systems, and infrastructure, and an apparently more positive future, than most citizens of the developing world. Who then could have imagined that a movement founded by a man from a video store in provincial Jordan would tear off a third of the territory of Syria and Iraq, shatter all these historical institutions, and—defeating the combined militaries of a dozen of the wealthiest countries on earth—create a mini empire?

(More here.)

When ISIS Rapists Win

David Brooks, NYT
AUG. 28, 2015

The ISIS atrocities have descended like distant nightmares upon the numbed conscious of the world. The first beheadings of Americans had the power to shock, but since then there has been a steady barrage of inhumanity: mass executions of Christians and others, throwing gay men from rooftops, the destruction of ancient archaeological treasures, the routine use of poison gas.

Even the recent reports in The Times about the Islamic State’s highly structured rape program have produced shock but barely a ripple of action.

And yet something bigger is going on. It’s as if some secret wormhole into a different historical epoch has been discovered and the knowledge of centuries is being unlearned.

This is happening in the moral sphere. State-sponsored slavery seemed like a thing of the past, but now ISIS is an unapologetic slave state. Yazidi women are carefully cataloged, warehoused and bid upon.

(More here.)

The Clinton 'Scandal' That Isn't

[TM note: speaking from experience, this piece is right on the mark.]

By David Ignatius - August 28, 2015

WASHINGTON -- Does Hillary Clinton have a serious legal problem because she may have transmitted classified information on her private email server? After talking with a half-dozen knowledgeable lawyers, I think this "scandal" is overstated. Using the server was a self-inflicted wound by Clinton, but it's not something a prosecutor would take to court.

"It's common" that people end up using unclassified systems to transmit classified information, says Jeffrey Smith, a former CIA general counsel who's now a partner at Arnold & Porter, where he often represents defendants who allegedly misused classified information.

"There are always these back channels," Smith explains. "It's inevitable because the classified systems are often cumbersome and lots of people have access to the classified emails or cables." People who need quick guidance about a sensitive matter often pick up the phone or send a message on an open system. They shouldn't, but they do.

"It's common knowledge that the classified communications system is impossible and isn't used," argues one former high-level Justice Department official. Several former prosecutors say flatly that such sloppy, unauthorized practices, while technically violations of law, wouldn't normally lead to criminal cases.

Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state has been a nagging campaign issue for months. Critics have argued that the most serious problem is possible transmission of classified information through that server. Many of her former top aides have sought legal counsel. But experts in national-security law say there may be less here than it might appear.

(More here.)

Crash-Test Dummies as Republican Candidates for President

Paul Krugman, NYT
AUG. 28, 2015

Will China’s stock crash trigger another global financial crisis? Probably not. Still, the big market swings of the past week have been a reminder that the next president may well have to deal with some of the same problems that faced George W. Bush and Barack Obama. Financial instability abides.

So this is a test: How would the men and women who would be president respond if crisis struck on their watch?

And the answer, on the Republican side at least, seems to be: with bluster and China-bashing. Nowhere is there a hint that any of the G.O.P. candidates understand the problem, or the steps that might be needed if the world economy hits another pothole.

Take, for example, Scott Walker, the governor of Wisconsin. Mr. Walker was supposed to be a formidable contender, part of his party’s “deep bench” of current or former governors who know how to get things done. So what was his suggestion to President Obama? Why, cancel the planned visit to America by Xi Jinping, China’s leader. That would fix things!

Then there’s Donald Trump, who likes to take an occasional break from his anti-immigrant diatribes to complain that China is taking advantage of America’s weak leadership. You might think that a swooning Chinese economy would fit awkwardly into that worldview. But no, he simply declared that U.S. markets seem troubled because Mr. Obama has let China “dictate the agenda.” What does that mean? I haven’t a clue — but neither does he.

(More here.)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Inquiry Weighs Whether ISIS Analysis Was Distorted

AUG. 25, 2015

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon’s inspector general is investigating allegations that military officials have skewed intelligence assessments about the United States-led campaign in Iraq against the Islamic State to provide a more optimistic account of progress, according to several officials familiar with the inquiry.

The investigation began after at least one civilian Defense Intelligence Agency analyst told the authorities that he had evidence that officials at United States Central Command — the military headquarters overseeing the American bombing campaign and other efforts against the Islamic State — were improperly reworking the conclusions of intelligence assessments prepared for policy makers, including President Obama, the government officials said.

Fuller details of the claims were not available, including when the assessments were said to have been altered and who at Central Command, or Centcom, the analyst said was responsible. The officials, speaking only on the condition of anonymity about classified matters, said that the recently opened investigation focused on whether military officials had changed the conclusions of draft intelligence assessments during a review process and then passed them on.

(More here.)

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

This Billionaire Governor Taxed the Rich and Increased the Minimum Wage

Now Minnesota's Economy Is One of the Best in the Country

C. Robert Gibson, HuffPost
Updated: 04/26/2015 5:59 am EDT

The next time your right-wing family member or former high school classmate posts a status update or tweet about how taxing the rich or increasing workers' wages kills jobs and makes businesses leave the state, I want you to send them this article.

When he took office in January of 2011, Minnesota governor Mark Dayton inherited a $6.2 billion budget deficit and a 7 percent unemployment rate from his predecessor, Tim Pawlenty, the soon-forgotten Republican candidate for the presidency who called himself Minnesota's first true fiscally-conservative governor in modern history. Pawlenty prided himself on never raising state taxes -- the most he ever did to generate new revenue was increase the tax on cigarettes by 75 cents a pack. Between 2003 and late 2010, when Pawlenty was at the head of Minnesota's state government, he managed to add only 6,200 more jobs.

During his first four years in office, Gov. Dayton raised the state income tax from 7.85 to 9.85 percent on individuals earning over $150,000, and on couples earning over $250,000 when filing jointly -- a tax increase of $2.1 billion. He's also agreed to raise Minnesota's minimum wage to $9.50 an hour by 2018, and passed a state law guaranteeing equal pay for women. Republicans like state representative Mark Uglem warned against Gov. Dayton's tax increases, saying, "The job creators, the big corporations, the small corporations, they will leave. It's all dollars and sense to them." The conservative friend or family member you shared this article with would probably say the same if their governor tried something like this. But like Uglem, they would be proven wrong.

Between 2011 and 2015, Gov. Dayton added 172,000 new jobs to Minnesota's economy -- that's 165,800 more jobs in Dayton's first term than Pawlenty added in both of his terms combined. Even though Minnesota's top income tax rate is the 4th-highest in the country, it has the 5th-lowest unemployment rate in the country at 3.6 percent. According to 2012-2013 U.S. census figures, Minnesotans had a median income that was $10,000 larger than the U.S. average, and their median income is still $8,000 more than the U.S. average today.

(More here.)

Scott Walker falls flat on his face

By Dana Milbank Opinion writer August 24 at 5:46 PM

This is what happens when you try to trump the Donald.

Scott Walker has for two decades won primary elections by refusing to allow any Republican to outmaneuver him on the right. So when Donald Trump, father of the Central Park ice rink, began skating circles around the Republican presidential field with his perfect execution of hard-line conservative positions, the Wisconsin governor tried to keep up by attempting more daring ideological leaps.

But in recent days, Walker has spun himself into a triple axel — and landed on his face.

First, asked by NBC’s Kasie Hunt whether he supported ending birthright citizenship — a constitutional principle in place since the Civil War era — Walker said: “I think that’s something we should, yeah, absolutely, going forward.”

(More here.)

A guide to Hillary Clinton's most sensitive emails

The former secretary of state has argued that no emails on her account were marked as classified at the time she received them.

By Josh Gerstein,
8/25/15 10:32 AM EDT

Hillary Clinton stored at least 63 emails on a private server that have now been deemed classified by the State Department, a collection of messages that contains diplomatic information not normally discussed in public.

The messages already released contain just one with “SECRET” information withheld at the request of the FBI and the rest of the classifications at the lowest tier, “CONFIDENTIAL” — a level usually invoked for diplomatic communications.

However, some of the emails on Clinton’s server that appear most sensitive did not get either classification. They include near-real-time reports on the violence that unfolded in Libya in 2011 and 2012.

Two of the messages sent on unclassified systems are updates from Chris Stevens, the U.S. ambassador killed in the Benghazi attacks in 2012. One mentions contingency plans to evacuate American diplomats by sea. Another gives details about safety precautions Stevens’ team is taking at its hotel and about tactics being used by Libyan militias.

POLITICO reviewed 63 emails posted on the State Department website that are formally marked as classified, as well as two others Fox News has cited as potentially classified. POLITICO discovered another with similar sensitive content during its review.

(More here.)

Abortion and Down Syndrome

AUG. 25, 2015

It is tempting to dismiss the latest anti-choice salvo from Ohio lawmakers, which would criminalize abortions based on a fetal diagnosis of Down syndrome, as a blatantly unconstitutional ploy that would never be enforced.

That would be a mistake. The bill stands a disturbingly good chance of approval this fall by the state’s Republican-controlled legislature, which has been passing abortion restrictions as quickly as it can write them in the four-plus years since Gov. John Kasich, a Republican who is also running for president, took office.

These politicians routinely spout the virtues of limited government, and yet they are eager to place all manner of obstacles in the way of women trying to exercise their constitutional right to an abortion. The latest bill would go even further, purporting to tell a woman that her personal, private reason for ending her pregnancy is not good enough.

A similar bill passed in North Dakota in 2013 bans abortions on the grounds of fetal genetic anomalies, including Down syndrome. The law has not yet been enforced — under existing Supreme Court precedent it is hard to see how it could be — but as with so many restrictions on a woman’s right to choose, that is not the only measure of its power.

(More here.)

A Warning on China Seems Prescient

Kenneth Rogoff, a crisis expert. Credit Gleb Shchelkunov/Kommersant Photo, via Getty Images
Andrew Ross Sorkin, NYT
AUG. 24, 2015

Kenneth Rogoff has long warned of a potential financial crisis in China.

Mr. Rogoff, a professor of economics at Harvard University, accurately predicted the eurozone debt crisis and for years has been telling anyone who would listen that China posed the next big threat to the global economy. He is starting to look right, again.

“In economics, things take longer to happen than you think they will, and then they happen faster than you thought they could,” Mr. Rogoff said on Monday from Cambridge, Mass., repeating a favorite line from Rudi Dornbusch, the German economist. (Mr. Rogoff sat in on Mr. Dornbusch’s class at M.I.T. in 1977.)

Mr. Rogoff, who is a chess grandmaster, has made a career of studying financial crises. After the 2008 financial crisis, Mr. Rogoff co-wrote “This Time Is Different,” a seminal book that examined eight centuries of financial crises.

Every financial crisis, he and his co-author, Carmen M. Reinhart, concluded, stems from the same simple problem: too much debt.

(More here.)

Jimmy Carter’s Unheralded Legacy


WASHINGTON — AS Jimmy Carter moves into the twilight of his life, it is enormously frustrating for those of us who worked closely with him in the White House to witness his presidency caricatured as a failure, and to see how he has been marginalized, even by his fellow Democrats, since he left office in 1981.

His defining characteristic was confronting intractable problems regardless of their political cost. His closest aide and confidant, Hamilton Jordan, ruefully joked that the worst argument to make to President Carter to dissuade him from action was that it would hurt him politically.

A former one-term governor of Georgia, Mr. Carter won with a colorblind campaign, and in office he stayed faithful to his message of uplifting the poor of all races at the risk of losing his white Southern base.

Mr. Carter understood that, after Watergate, trust in government needed to be restored. He imposed gift limits and financial disclosure rules on his appointees; slowed the revolving door of officials departing to lobby their former departments; and appointed inspectors general to root out fraud and mismanagement.

(More here.)

Monday, August 24, 2015

Europe Facing New Uncertainty in Terrorism Fight

French soldiers patrolled a train station in Paris on Saturday after Friday's thwarted train attack. CreditBinta/Associated Press
AUG. 23, 2015

PARIS — Two days after a young Moroccan man was thwarted from an apparent plan to cause carnage on a Paris-bound express train, European officials confronted the deepening quandary of what additional steps they could take in the face of such attacks on soft targets, short of paralyzing public spaces or even more intrusive surveillance.

Enhanced security and surveillance measures had already filtered out the young man, Ayoub El Khazzani, 26. But he was one of thousands of Europeans who had come on the radar of authorities as potential threats after traveling to Syria.

The sheer number of militant suspects combined with a widening field of potential targets have presented European officials with what they concede is a nearly insurmountable surveillance task. The scale of the challenge, security experts fear, may leave the Continent entering a new climate of uncertainty, with added risk attached to seemingly mundane endeavors, like taking a train.

Yet with all that the authorities already knew about him, he managed to board unhindered the heavily traveled Amsterdam-to-Paris high-speed train with a sack of weaponry, probably in Belgium, and was ready to inflict serious damage, with dozens of rounds of ammunition, an AK-47, an automatic pistol and a box cutter. If not for the fortuitous presence of three Americans, and the help of a British and a French passenger in the train car, many could have died.

(More here.)

Russia’s Playing a Double Game With Islamic Terror

Michael Weiss, The Daily Beast

Even as America touts its counterterrorism partnerships with Russia, evidence points to the FSB directly feeding Dagestanis to ISIS.

It is an article of faith among the many critics of the current Russian government that, however unpleasant Vladimir Putin may be, he is still a necessary partner in one crucial field of U.S. foreign policy: cooperation in the war on Islamic terrorism.

Proof, if it were needed, for how valued this cooperation is among U.S. policymakers came in the conspicuous absence of Alexander Bortnikov, the director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Russia’s domestic intelligence agency, from sanctions levied by the Treasury Department against Russian officials. The sanctions targeted bureaucrats involved in both the invasion and occupation of Crimea and the unacknowledged maskirovka war that Moscow is still waging in eastern Ukraine—a war that has drawn amply on the resources of the FSB and has included several “former” FSB officers on the battlefield. Not only was Bortnikov not sanctioned, he was invited by the White House last February as a guest to President Obama’s three-day conference on “countering violent extremism,” whereas the current FBI director, James Comey, was not.

That conference was held principally because of the international threat posed by ISIS and the coalition war against it in Syria and Iraq, not to mention the Chechen identity of the Tsarnaev brothers, perpetrators of the 2013 Boston marathon bombings. Bortnikov’s presence was a mutual recognition by the U.S. and Russia that fighting jihadism is a shared challenge between two countries now embroiled in a pitched stand-off over the fate of Europe and much else.

(More here.)

Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Was Worse?

La Documentation Francaise Soon after liberation, an emaciated child survivor is carried out of camp barracks by Soviet first-aid workers. Auschwitz, Poland, after January 27, 1945
Timothy Snyder, NYRB

As we recall the Red Army’s liberation of Auschwitz on January 27, 1945, sixty-six years ago today, we might ask: who was worse, Hitler or Stalin?

In the second half of the twentieth century, Americans were taught to see both Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union as the greatest of evils. Hitler was worse, because his regime propagated the unprecedented horror of the Holocaust, the attempt to eradicate an entire people on racial grounds. Yet Stalin was also worse, because his regime killed far, far more people—tens of millions, it was often claimed—in the endless wastes of the Gulag. For decades, and even today, this confidence about the difference between the two regimes—quality versus quantity—has set the ground rules for the politics of memory. Even historians of the Holocaust generally take for granted that Stalin killed more people than Hitler, thus placing themselves under greater pressure to stress the special character of the Holocaust, since this is what made the Nazi regime worse than the Stalinist one.

Discussion of numbers can blunt our sense of the horrific personal character of each killing and the irreducible tragedy of each death. As anyone who has lost a loved one knows, the difference between zero and one is an infinity. Though we have a harder time grasping this, the same is true for the difference between, say, 780,862 and 780,863—which happens to be the best estimate of the number of people murdered at Treblinka. Large numbers matter because they are an accumulation of small numbers: that is, precious individual lives. Today, after two decades of access to Eastern European archives, and thanks to the work of German, Russian, Israeli, and other scholars, we can resolve the question of numbers. The total number of noncombatants killed by the Germans—about 11 million—is roughly what we had thought. The total number of civilians killed by the Soviets, however, is considerably less than we had believed. We know now that the Germans killed more people than the Soviets did. That said, the issue of quality is more complex than was once thought. Mass murder in the Soviet Union sometimes involved motivations, especially national and ethnic ones, that can be disconcertingly close to Nazi motivations.

(More here.)

Sunday, August 23, 2015

One Year After War, People of Gaza Still Sit Among the Ruins

Few of the thousands of homes destroyed in last summer's war between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza, including in Beit Lahiya, have been rebuilt. Credit Tomas Munita for The New York Times
A year after the halt to hostilities between Israel and Palestinian militants in the Gaza Strip on Aug. 26, 2014, not a single one of the nearly 18,000 homes destroyed or severely damaged in Gaza is habitable.


GAZA CITY — The men of Shejaiya still come daily to sit vigil in the desolate ruins of their neighborhood, drinking tea and playing chess. But these days, there are also clusters of construction workers on Shejaiya’s dirt paths, finally pouring a few cement foundations and hammering together wood planks.

Fouad Harara, 56, arrives at his house on Montar Street before 6 a.m. to check the previous day’s work against his thick wad of engineering blueprints. He returns at midday with chicken and rice for the 10 men who have, over the past four weeks, completed the cinder-block ground floor where Mr. Harara plans to revive his electrical-services business and erected pylons for the second of seven sketched stories.

“Exactly the way it was,” Mr. Harara said of what would replace the home he built in 1993, one of hundreds flattened by Israeli attacks on Shejaiya, the Gaza City neighborhood that abuts the border fence, during the war last summer. “I was comfortable in this place,” he added. “We lost everything, but it’s still in my memory.”

(More here.)