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.

STORY BY MARIAH BLAKE
VIDEO AND PHOTOS BY EMILY KASSIE

“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

By MARK MAZZETTI and MATT APUZZO, NYT
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, Politico.com
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

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD, NYT
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

By STUART E. EIZENSTAT, NYT, AUG. 25, 2015

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
By ADAM NOSSITER, NYT
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.

By JODI RUDOREN and MAJD AL WAHEIDI, NYT, AUG. 22, 2015

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.)

National Cancer Institute Finally Concedes: ‘Cannabis Kills Cancer’

Author: Sarah August 22, 2015 3:45 pm, AddictingInfo

For far too long we have been told about the “dangers” of cannabis. That it is an illegal drug that can cause us harm. However, the United States government is finally owning up to the benefits of cannabis. Not only that, they now have studied, and are conceding, that it can actually kill cancer cells.

Now, when you visit the NIH National Cancer Institute’s PDQ updated website summary for “Cannabis and Cannabinoids” you will see a very conflicting message — Cannabis kills cancer, but it is still illegal on a national level.

Yes, something that kills cancer cells is still considered illegal in the United States. If that doesn’t make you furious, I don’t think much of anything else will.

If you’re unfamiliar with the term cannabinoids, they are described as such:

(More here.)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Drug banned in Europe used for U.S. pork

Pork Industry Admits Using Muscle Stimulant Ractopamine

By s.e. smith, Care2, via Truthout

As if the pork industry - complete with crowded "gestation crates," abuse in slaughterhouses and grim conditions for pigs - wasn't bad enough, many farms use a variety of feed additives to boost profits. While the law bars the use of hormones, that doesn't mean pork produced conventionally is drug-free, and one of the most commonly used drugs is ractopamine, a growth stimulant. The beta-adrenergic agonist stimulates pigs to put on muscle, instead of fat, producing lean meat that's more valuable per pound. For the agricultural industry, the economic bottom line is always the most important. Ractopamine is also used in cattle and turkeys as part of a cocktail of drugs and feed designed to push animals to grow as heavy as possible as quickly as possible.

But some 160 nations ban ractopamine, reflecting concerns about human exposure to the drug through meat consumption. Animal studies and observation indicate that the drug can be harmful for many pigs, who can develop heart palpitations and other complications as a result of high doses of the drug, while humans can experience what amounts of a heady shot of adrenaline when they're exposed to it. In fact, the drug has arisen in the context of sports doping, where officials argue it could confer a competitive advantage - and some athletes barred for doping have claimed that ractopamine in their blood came from meat, not the deliberate consumption of the drug.

By and large, consumers are unaware that the compound is used in the production of their meat - farmers aren't required to disclose it, and while labels like "natural" and "organic" are more tightly regulated, conventionally-produced meat can include a variety of additives without needing to alert consumers. Ractopamine, however, has been dragged into the labeling wars, this time by a pork producer who wanted to sell meat specifically labeled "ractopamine-free" and encountered resistance from both regulatory agencies and the pork industry. He won the fight to add the label to his products. But along the way, his case illustrated the giant gaps in food labeling law and consumer awareness, the additives the meat industry uses freely without disclosure and escalating battles over food labels.

(Continued here.)

The Power Revolutions

Natural gas, solar power and data-driven efficiency are making big gains, but history shows that the shift away from coal and oil won’t be fast or neat

By Daniel Yergin, WSJ
Aug. 21, 2015 11:56 a.m. ET

Energy innovation and energy “transition” are today’s hot topics. President Barack Obama aims to have 20% of U.S. electricity come from wind and solar by 2030. Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has gone one better: A few weeks ago, she pledged that, within 10 years of her taking office, there would be enough renewable electricity to power every home in America. That would certainly be a sprint, given that wind and solar now account for less than 6% of our electricity.

Some are more cautious about such prospects. Bill Gates recently committed $2 billion to “breakthrough” energy innovation because he is convinced that current technologies can reduce carbon-dioxide emissions—and the human contribution to climate change—only at costs that he has called “beyond astronomical.”

One thing is certain: Over the next few months, with the approach of December’s big climate-change conference in Paris—more than 190 countries are expected to attend—the discussion will grow more intense over how quickly the planet can move away from coal, oil and natural gas and toward a low-carbon future.

Such energy transitions are nothing new. They have been going on for more than two centuries. They have been transformative and undoubtedly will be again—but if history teaches anything, it is that they don’t happen fast.

(More here.)

Hillary Clinton aide: Gowdy committee has classified docs on server, too

By Rachael Bade, Politico.com
8/21/15 6:28 PM EDT

Hillary Clinton’s campaign, under fire over the ongoing emails controversy, is pointing a finger at House Republican Benghazi investigators, accusing the panel of having classified documents on an unsecured system just like Clinton did.

On a phone call Friday afternoon, campaign spokesman Brian Fallon said the House Select Committee on Benghazi had on an unsecured computer system at least one Clinton email that State did not consider classified — but which the intelligence community now considers classified.

“[Benghazi Chairman] Trey Gowdy treated emails, in this case, in the same way Hillary Clinton did, considering them unclassified and … storing them on unclassified computer systems,” Fallon said. “So in light of this I don’t really see what leg Congressman Gowdy has to stand on in his criticisms of Secretary Clinton on this point.”

Fallon called on Gowdy personally to confirm the allegation, suggesting perhaps he could also have to turn over his staff’s technology like Clinton has done with the Justice Department: “By the same logic that is now being applied to Hillary Clinton’s email, some could say that the House Benghazi Committee should also have its systems looked at to see if they have emails that are now considered classified.”

(More here.)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Climate change plays a big role in California's epic drought

New study gives California crisis managers something else to worry about: evapotranspiration.

By Katherine Bagley, InsideClimate News
Aug 20, 2015

As California’s four-year drought has drinking and groundwater reserves at dangerously low levels, households rationing water and the agricultural sector struggling to keep its crops alive, the question has been: how much of a culprit is climate change? New research published Thursday now says as much as 27 percent of the drought can be attributed to global warming.

That new research published in the peer-reviewed journal Geophysical Research Letters, by scientists at Columbia University and the University of Idaho, examines how quickly warming temperatures from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is sucking California's soils and plants dry, a process known as evapotranspiration, and how drastically that process is increasing the severity of the current drought, said the study’s lead author, Park Williams, a Columbia bioclimatologist.

"Climate change is like a bully," Williams said. "Warmer temperatures steal moisture from California's water budget like a bully would from a bank account. Every year, as temperatures continue to rise, they take more and more moisture away. In the beginning it isn't really detectable, but after 120 years of warming, it is." And with no rainfall to replace the moisture during periods of drought, he explained, this lack of soil moisture worsens dry conditions.

The drought currently desiccating California has cost the state's economy an estimated $2.7 billion in 2015. The Central Valley is literally sinking 2 inches per month as dwindling groundwater supplies are sucked up to feed agricultural irrigation systems. Giant sequoia forests are showing early signs of dying of thirst. Wildfires are sweeping through dry California woods.

(Continued here.)

Robert Menendez and Chuck Schumer may not matter much on Iran

To have any prayer of scuttling the pact, the GOP still needs many more Democrats to break with Obama

By Burgess Everett, Politico.com
Updated 8/19/15 7:16 AM EDT

They’ve got Chuck Schumer and Robert Menendez.

But Republicans need a whole lot more Democrats to have any hope of derailing President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran.

Indeed, the most pressing question at this point is whether they can even get the 60 votes in opposition that are needed to break a filibuster and get a disapproval resolution to Obama’s desk. Senate Majority Mitch McConnell himself has all but said overriding a veto isn’t going to happen as Congress prepares to vote on the deal when it returns from its monthlong recess in September.

The announcements by Schumer two weeks ago and then Menendez on Tuesday certainly were a boon to Republican lawmakers and groups still holding out hope of squelching the controversial accord. But after those two New York-area senators, it becomes more difficult to identify other Democrats who’ll be willing to break with Obama on his signature foreign policy initiative.

Even the opposition by Schumer and Menendez may pack less punch than it might appear at first blush. Schumer, the presumptive Democratic leader-in-waiting, insists he isn’t whipping fellow Democrats to join him in voting against the deal. And the spring indictment of Menendez on corruption charges forced him to cede his status as Senate Democrats’ point man on foreign policy to the far less hawkish Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland.

(More here.)

Scott Walker’s Immigration Shift Is His Latest Tack to Right

[LP note: It's all about winning. Ethics be damned.]

Republican presidential candidate has a long history of dropping moderate positions in his races

By Reid J. Epstein, WSJ
Aug. 20, 2015 7:02 p.m. ET

In 1993, Scott Walker ran to the right of his rivals on abortion, opposing it in all circumstances, including the life of the mother. In 2006, he changed a long-held position against the death penalty. And in 2010, in a matter of hours, he flipped from opposing to supporting an Arizona crackdown on immigrants.

At each step in the Wisconsin governor’s career, he has run against Republican opponents with one overriding strategy: Never letting anybody get to the right of him. That helps explain his move this week to instantly embrace the toughest position on immigration after Republican presidential primary opponent Donald Trump released his policy platform on the matter.

After slipping in polls in must-win Iowa, Mr. Walker is positioning his campaign to compete with Texas Sen. Ted Cruz for the slice of the GOP electorate angry with everyone in Washington. It’s a plan with one big condition attached. For it to work, Mr. Trump will need to alienate those voters, who are rallying to him, or quit the race.

“He understands the anger that people are feeling out there and the reason why Donald Trump is catching on the last six weeks,” said Jonathan Burkan, a Walker fundraising bundler who participated in a Monday conference call in which the governor sought to reassure jittery supporters by promising to show more passion on the stump.

(More here.)

Thursday, August 20, 2015

A Nat Geo journalist’s remarkable and ingenious quest to track down ivory smugglers

By Michael E. Miller August 17, WashPost

It was the moment that many journalists fear most: getting arrested in a foreign country. But Bryan Christy wasn’t too upset by his predicament.

He had created it, after all.

Christy, an investigative reporter for National Geographic, was traveling through Dar es Salaam’s international airport in Tanzania recently when officials spotted something strange during an X-ray scan of his luggage.

“Open that one,” an official ordered.

Inside his suitcase, they found what appeared to be a pair of elephant tusks worth thousands of dollars on the black market.

Christy was arrested. He spent a night sleeping on a desk at the airport before American diplomats convinced local officials that the journalist’s seemingly insane story was true.

(More here.)

The Republican Party Is Becoming a Bloodbath

Donald Trump is causing conservatives to turn on each other, and it's not pretty

By Brian Beutler, TNR

The political media tends to process each Donald Trump controversy anew, or if not anew then as the latest in a series of contretemps, any one of which would have ended the candidacy of a more traditional politician. Trump began the race as a birther, then slandered Mexican immigrants as rapists, then belittled Senator John McCain for being captured and tortured in Vietnam, then attacked conservative media darling Megyn Kelly, with various smaller dustups sprinkled in between. In each instance, or for the totality of these iconoclasms, we have been told that Donald Trump is defying “political gravity.”

There’s a logic to covering Trump like this, particularly if you operate under the assumption that he won’t be the GOP presidential nominee—that something he says or does or did in the past will eventually cause his poll numbers to collapse. If his demise is baked into the plot, why not grab some popcorn and pass it around till it finally happens?

Of the many drawbacks to this kind of myopic voyeurism, the biggest of all is that it obscures the carnage his candidacy is creating on the right as he mows down its sacred cows. Within the conservative movement, the fight over Trump is being waged mostly by surrogates, but surrogates can’t elevate or ennoble it. Instead it has degenerated into a vulgar farce befitting its main object—Trump himself.

(More here.)

It hurts to say it, but sometimes Donald Trump speaks the truth

Trevor Timm, The Guardian
Last modified on Thursday 20 August 2015

Donald Trump offends entire voting blocks at will, constantly gets his facts wrong, and most of his policy positions are either contradictory or insane. Yet, on some issues, he’s also right.

His deliberate forays into xenophobia and arrogance on immigration and foreign policy certainly remain awful and ugly, but there’s also another reason he continues to sit atop the Republican polls: he speaks a particular kind of truth about some issues the way only someone with no filter can. These days, his venom particularly stinging to other Republicans, whom he has no problem attacking with a delightful abandon that is usually considered sacrilegious in inter-party primaries.

Or as Jon Stewart described it: “Trump has no control over the projectile vomit of dickishness that comes out of his mouth every time he opens it. It was inevitable that some of his word-puke was going to get on [Republicans].” And sometimes it’s just fun to watch. You can despise the man and dread his presidency, but still enjoy the show.

His criticism of “frontrunner” Jeb Bush – who is really only the frontrunner in the minds of billionaires – have been spot on, yet not something any of the other candidates would dare say for fear of denigrating the last two Republican presidents, Jeb’s brother and father. Trump took credit for the record audience during the first GOP debate by remarking, “Who do you think they were watching? Jeb Bush?” He’s right – Bush is boring. And I don’t mean boring in the technocratic, attention-to-details way. I mean he is mind-numbingly unoriginal and can’t even express those unoriginal ideas in a politically adept manner.

(More here.)

Mike Huckabee blunders his way through Israel press conference

Republican presidential candidate calls Russia ‘the Soviet Union’ and implies that the West Bank borders a hostile state rather than Jordan

Peter Beaumont, The Guardian

Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee delivered a confused and garbled press conference in Jerusalem during a brief campaign stop, which included a controversial fundraising visit to a settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories.

At times taking positions to the right of Israel’s government, the former governor of Arkansas at one stage described Russia as the “Soviet Union” – when referring to its plans to supply Iran with S-300 anti-aircraft missiles – before correcting himself.

He also seemed to suggest that the West Bank bordered one of Israel’s enemies, as opposed to Jordan, which has long enjoyed a peace treaty with Israel.

As Huckabee left the press conference, he also said he was unsure if he would be the first US president to abandon a commitment to a two-state solution, despite having no policy he could articulate on the future of Palestinians.

The press conference followed meetings with senior Israeli figures, including prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and followed his visit to the settlement of Shilo on the occupied West Bank where he held a private fundraiser with wealthy American settlers.

(More here.)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Just another couple of right-wingers in moderates' clothing

Kasich and Bush: More Like Other Extreme GOP Candidates Than Perceived

Randy Borntrager, HuffPost
Posted: 08/18/2015 1:54 pm EDT

Discussions of Governor Kasich's role in the 2016 election have centered around his strategy of defining himself to voters as an alternative to Jeb Bush: a moderate, compassionate conservative without Bush's last name. This strategy presupposes that both Bush and Kasich are in fact middle-of-the-road Republicans who hold moderate positions that would make them electable next November.

That proposition is false. While Kasich and Bush certainly took a more measured tone in the first Republican debate compared to, say, Donald Trump, their policy positions and records as governor in Ohio and Florida show that they're just as extreme and far-right as the rest of the Republican field.

Few issues demonstrate the extreme agenda of Bush, Kasich, and the Republican Party more than a woman's right to choose. Kasich has directly targeted access to legal abortion in Ohio though enacting medically unnecessary, cumbersome laws that closed abortion clinics. He signed a bill including a policy that restricts rape crisis counselors from providing referrals to abortion services to rape survivors. Jeb Bush calls himself the "most pro-life governor in modern times." As governor, he tried to restrict the ability of a mentally disabled rape victim to have an abortion. The "Scarlet Letter" law enacted during Bush's term as governor required a single mother who did not know the father of her child to pay for a month-long newspaper ad before putting her child up for adoption. The ad had to include personal details about the mother and her sexual history, complete with dates and locations where the child could have been conceived. Bush and Kasich are just as bad as their fellow candidates like Scott Walker, who recently signed a 20-week abortion bill even though he promised voters in his last campaign that the right to choose is between a woman and her doctor; or Marco Rubio, who co-sponsored a 20-week abortion bill in the Senate.

(More here.)

Putin's economy may be in a lot worse shape than previously thought

Rob Garver, The Fiscal Times
Aug. 18, 2015, 7:55 PM

The Russian economy is in a full-blown recession and, according to analysts that study it, may be in even worse shape than is apparent to outside observers.

Last year, in addition to harsh international sanctions imposed over the invasion of Crimea, the Russian people suffered a massive devaluation of the ruble against international benchmark currencies.

It took 30.4 rubles to buy one U.S. dollar in January 2013. By the end of January 2015, the price had more than doubled to 69.5 rubles to a dollar.

Much of the fall was driven by the decline in oil prices, which are key to Russia’s energy-heavy economy.

The Kremlin spent tens of billions of dollars in foreign currency reserves in a largely futile attempt to prop up the ruble, and was eventually assisted by a firming of oil prices in the early part of this year, which drove the exchange rate down to about 50 rubles to the dollar.

(More here.)

Unrest in the Middle East: It's the climate, stupid!

The World’s Hot Spot

Thomas L. Friedman, NYT
AUG. 19, 2015

Here’s my bet about the future of Sunni, Shiite, Arab, Turkish, Kurdish and Israeli relations: If they don’t end their long-running conflicts, Mother Nature is going to destroy them all long before they destroy one another. Let me point out a few news items you may have missed while debating the Iran nuclear deal.

On July 31, USA Today reported that in Bandar Mahshahr, Iran, a city adjacent to the Persian Gulf, the heat index soared to 163 degrees “as a heat wave continued to bake the Middle East, already one of the hottest places on earth. ‘That was one of the most incredible temperature observations I have ever seen, and it is one of the most extreme readings ever in the world,’ AccuWeather meteorologist Anthony Sagliani said in a statement.

“While the temperature was ‘only’ 115 degrees, the dew point was an unfathomable 90 degrees. ... The combination of heat and humidity, measured by the dew point, is what makes the heat index — or what the temperature actually feels like outside.”

Then we saw something we’ve not seen before: An Iraqi government was sacked over its failure to deliver air conditioning. Two weeks ago, the prime minister, Haider al-Abadi, abolished all three vice-presidential posts and the office of deputy prime minister and proposed sweeping anti-corruption reforms after weeks of street protests over the fact that the government could supply electricity for air-conditioning for only a few hours a day during weeks of 120-degree temperatures.

(More here.)

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Scott Walker, Marco Rubio Propose ‘Plans’ to Replace Obamacare

By Jonathan Chait, New York Mag

Today, Scott Walker and Marco Rubio have published plans — really, not so much plans as skeletal descriptions of planlike concepts — to replace Obamacare. Their fundamental dilemma is that Obamacare provides a popular benefit to millions of voters. Appealing to the conservative base demands they eliminate the program that provides this benefit. Appealing to the general election requires them to promise something to compensate the victims of repeal. How will they fund that something? This is the basic problem that for decades has prevented Republicans from offering a health-care plan. Rubio and Walker show that they still have no answer.

The usual pattern in politics is for politicians to turn complex problems into simple ones. But covering the uninsured is a simple problem they want to make complex. The main reason people lacked insurance before Obamacare is that they did not have enough money to afford it. Some of those uninsured people had unusually high health costs. Some of them had unusually low incomes. Boiled down, Obamacare transferred resources from people who are rich and healthy to people who are poor and sick, so the poor and sick people can afford insurance.

It cuts funds, but not benefits, from Medicare. And it transfers resources to sick people through regulations. The individual insurance market is reorganized so that insurers can’t deny essential health services or jack up prices to people with preexisting conditions. This means people with expensive medical needs pay less, and people with cheap medical needs have to pay more. Repealing Obamacare means eliminating all these forms of redistribution from the rich and healthy to the poor and sick. And replacing them with … what?

(More here.)

Conservatives double down on pro-life extremism

By Dana Milbank Opinion writer August 18 at 3:34 PM, WashPost

It is becoming difficult to escape the conclusion that conservatives would rather fight about abortion than reduce it.

Candidates in this month’s Republican presidential debate tripped over themselves to display their pro-life extremism, disavowing exceptions that would permit abortion in cases of rape, incest or even to save the life of the mother — non-starters all in American public opinion.

Next month, when Congress returns from recess, some Republicans are threatening to shut down the federal government in order to defund Planned Parenthood’s offering of contraception and other women’s health services — to punish the group for the abortions it provides without federal funds.

I wrote a couple of weeks ago that if Republicans succeed in their effort, and thereby reduce women’s access to birth control, the likely outcome will be more abortions. This expanded on an earlier column noting the hopeful signs that the use of long-acting, reversible contraceptives such as new-generation IUDs can reduce abortions.

(More here.)

Planned Parenthood Gains Some Traction in Fight Over Antiabortion Group’s Videos

Four states find no violations of fetal-tissue laws, and Obama administration warns three others seeking to cut funding

By Stephanie Armour, WSJ
Updated Aug. 17, 2015 8:28 p.m. ET

Planned Parenthood Federation of America appears to be gaining traction in its efforts to push back against videos targeting it and state efforts to cut its funding.

The Center for Medical Progress, which released undercover videos that it says show Planned Parenthood illegally profits from the sale of fetal tissue to medical researchers, is now under investigation in two states over the videos. In addition, the Obama administration warned Alabama, Arkansas and Louisiana that they might be in violation of federal law after moving to choke off Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood.

At the same time, Planned Parenthood has been cleared of the antiabortion group’s allegations in Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts and South Dakota, four of the dozen or so states investigating its fetal-tissue programs. Planned Parenthood said that only three states—California, Oregon and Washington—have programs where women can donate remains following an abortion, and all of those programs follow federal law.

(More here.)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Jihad and Girl Power: How ISIS Lured 3 London Teenagers

By KATRIN BENNHOLD, NYT, AUG. 17, 2015

LONDON — The night before Khadiza Sultana left for Syria she was dancing in her teenage bedroom. It was a Monday during the February school vacation. Her niece and close friend, at 13 only three years younger than Khadiza, had come for a sleepover. The two girls wore matching pajamas and giggled as they gyrated in unison to the beat.

Khadiza offered her niece her room that night and shared a bed with her mother. She was a devoted daughter, particularly since her father had died.

The scene in her bedroom, saved on the niece’s cellphone on Feb. 16 and replayed dozens of times by Khadiza’s relatives since, shows the girl they thought they knew: joyful, sociable, funny and kind.

As it turned out, it was also the carefully choreographed goodbye of a determined and exceptionally bright teenager who had spent months methodically planning to leave her childhood home in Bethnal Green, East London, with two schoolmates and follow the path of another friend who had already traveled to the territory controlled by the Islamic State.

(More here.)