Saturday, September 05, 2015

Insiders: Scott Walker the biggest loser of the summer

'He's been on all three sides of every two-sided issue,' one Iowa Republican insider said.

By Katie Glueck,
Updated 09/04/15, 08:39 AM EDT

It's been a cruel summer for Scott Walker and Martin O'Malley.

That's the assessment of this week's POLITICO Caucus, our weekly bipartisan survey of the top activists, operatives and strategists in Iowa and New Hampshire. Ahead of Labor Day weekend, insiders weighed in on who won — and who lost — the summer in their own parties and the results couldn't have been clearer.

On the Republican side, nearly half of GOP insiders said Walker, the Wisconsin governor, had the worst summer on their side of the aisle. In Iowa, where he was until recently considered the front-runner but now lags in polls, insiders were particularly down on him: 56 percent said he had lost the summer.

"He can't seem to find his way on any given issue with a handheld GPS," an Iowa Republican said of Walker. "He's been on all three sides of every two-sided issue. For the last two months hasn't made a single policy pronouncement that he or his staff hasn't had to clarify or clear up within two hours. When you're reduced to saying 'yeah' doesn't mean 'yes,' you're in trouble. 'Unintimidated' has given way to 'uninformed' and 'unprepared.'"

(More here.)

Talk in G.O.P. Turns to a Stop Donald Trump Campaign

SEPT. 4, 2015

Quiet conversations have begun in recent weeks among some of the Republican Party’s biggest donors and normally competing factions, all aimed at a single question: How can we stop Donald Trump?

Republican strategists and donors have assembled focus groups to test negative messages about Mr. Trump. They have amassed dossiers on his previous support for universal health care and higher taxes. They have even discussed the creation of a “super PAC” to convince conservatives that Mr. Trump is not one of them.

But the mammoth big-money network assembled by Republicans in recent years is torn about how best to defuse the threat Mr. Trump holds for their party, and haunted by the worry that any concerted attack will backfire.

In phone calls, private dinners and occasional consultations among otherwise rivalrous outside groups, many have concluded that Mr. Trump’s harsh manner and continued attacks on immigrants and women were endangering the party’s efforts to compete in the general election. Yet after committing hundreds of millions of dollars to shape the Republican primary contest and groom a candidate who can retake the White House, the conservative donor class is finding that money — even in an era of super PACs and billion-dollar presidential campaigns — is a devalued currency in the blustery, post-policy campaign fashioned by Mr. Trump, driven not by seven-figure advertising campaigns but by Twitter feuds and unending free publicity.

(More here.)

Friday, September 04, 2015

Cricket casserole

Cricket farmer on eating insects: 'Wow, this is a better way to go'


As a third-generation cricket farmer in West Monroe, La., Jack Armstrong has seen the family business evolve. When his grandfather started it in the 1940s, most of the crickets were sold for bait. His father began selling crickets as food for iguanas, bearded dragons and other exotic pets. Now, Armstrong is taking the business in a new direction: breeding insects for people to eat.

Though only a small fraction of the roughly 12 million crickets Armstrong sells a week end up on people’s plates now, he’s hopeful that interest in edible insects will rise. He explained why in a recent interview with The Times.

It’s about planning for the future: By the time his grandchildren take over the company, crickets for human consumption could be the most lucrative part of the business, he says.

How long have you been selling crickets for people to eat?

The big push on edible crickets for human consumption has probably been about the past few years. It started jumping from a novelty item sold in novelty stores to companies asking, “Can we make energy bars? Can we make chips?”

The bigger customers that we’re selling to have been demanding that they want to buy 18 to 20,000 pounds of crickets at a time.

(Continued here.)

Mealworms medium-rare … anyone?



Gillian Spence plunges her hand into a shallow tray of 10,000 writhing mealworms. She comes up with a handful of the inch-long, beige-colored grubs, which squirm over and between her fingers.

Most are destined to become bait for fish or food for reptilian pets. But not all of them.

"A lot of orders now are going to restaurants," she says.

Spence's Compton company, Rainbow Mealworms, supplies the mealworms and their larger, feistier cousins, called superworms, to a number of edible-insect businesses across the country. One, called Hotlix, puts them inside lollipops.

Mealworms and superworms aren't actually worms at all — they're the larval forms of two species of darkling beetles. They're also two of the roughly 1,900 insect species that are good for people to eat, according to the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization.

(Continued here.)

Ronald Reagan, Heretic

Timothy Egan, NYT

In just under two weeks, the Republicans who want to be president will gather in Simi Valley, Calif., at the presidential library of Ronald Reagan for their second debate. You can expect much brown-nosing, bloviating and outright fabricating in homage to the patron saint of all true conservatives, the charming 40th president.

If only the candidates were truthful to the man and his record. For the real Ronald Reagan — serial tax-raiser, illegal immigrant amnesty granter, deficit creator, abortion enabler, gun control supporter and peacenik — would never be allowed on the stage. The party has moved so far to the right from Reagan’s many centrist positions that the guy would be told to go find a home among the Democrats.

More than three decades after Reagan was first elected, his name is invoked, like political Tourette’s syndrome, by everyone from Scott Walker to Donald Trump. But there’s a gaping disconnect among Republicans between the Reagan worship of 2015 and the reality of his long, public career.

Start with immigration, and the police-state proposals that have driven Trump to the top of Republican polls. As president, Reagan signed a bill that granted amnesty to nearly three million people who were in this country illegally. And then he went a step further, acting on his own after signing the first bill, to extend amnesty to another 100,000 people.

Reagan would never back the authoritarian roundup and deportation that Trump advocates, or the Big Brother tracking of immigrants “like FedEx packages,” as Gov. Chris Christie has proposed.

(More here.)

Disband the Benghazi Committee


Washington — NOT long after it was formed last year, members of the Select Committee on Benghazi gathered to meet privately with family members of the four Americans killed on that dreadful night in Libya in 2012. The meetings were emotional, and the chairman assured those present that the committee would be scrupulously nonpartisan and devoted to finding out the truth of what had happened.

Instead, the Select Committee became little more than a partisan tool to influence the presidential race, a dangerous precedent that will haunt Congress for decades. This is all the more painful when you consider how grievously the committee has let down those families, along with the rest of the American people.

On rare occasions, Congress has determined that an issue is of such surpassing significance that a focused, resource-intensive inquiry is called for, and it creates a special investigatory committee. Among the very first was one formed after the election of George Washington in order to investigate the disastrous defeat of the St. Clair expedition in the 1791 Battle of Wabash. Since then, Congress has convened select committees to investigate everything from Teapot Dome to Pearl Harbor, from Watergate to Hurricane Katrina.

(More here.)

How AIPAC Lost the Iran Deal Fight

By Karoun Demirjian and Carol Morello, September 3 at 6:12 PM, WashPost

Not since George H.W. Bush was president has the American Israel Public Affairs Committee sustained such a public defeat on an issue it deemed an existential threat to Israel’s security.

But the Iran nuclear deal has Washington insiders wondering if the once-untouchable lobbying giant has suffered lasting damage to its near-pristine political reputation.

In fighting the deal, AIPAC and its affiliates mustered all of its considerable resources: spending tens of millions on television ads in the home states of undecided lawmakers and organizing a fly-in to blitz lawmakers on Capitol Hill – another is planned for next week when Congress returns from August recess to vote on a resolution of disapproval. But all that noise amounted to a humbling and rare defeat this week, when President Obama secured a strong enough plurality in the Senate to protect the pact from efforts to dismantle it.

Many say AIPAC’s efforts were doomed to fail in the aftermath of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s combative speech to Congress in March — an appearance brokered by Israel’s ambassador to the U.S. along with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) without White House consultation. Many of AIPAC’s supporters also blame President Obama and what they see as a process he rigged and a debate he polarized.

(More here.)

Friendship Between Putin and Xi Becomes Strained as Economies Falter

SEPT. 3, 2015

BEIJING — They have met more than a dozen times and stood shoulder to shoulder during Thursday’s military parade here. But the once-vaunted relationship between the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, and Russia’s leader, Vladimir V. Putin, has come under strain as the economies of their countries have faltered.

Two landmark energy deals signed last year for Russian natural gas to flow to China have made little progress and were barely mentioned when the two men met for talks after watching the show of weapons Thursday on Tiananmen Square. The bilateral trade that was predicted to amount to more than $100 billion this year instead reached only about $30 billion in the first six months, largely because of a reduced Chinese demand for Russian oil.

Mr. Putin has enjoyed basking in the stature of Mr. Xi, who leads one of the world’s largest economies. But with the recent stock market turmoil in China and the slowest economic growth in a quarter-century, Beijing will be unable to provide the ballast that Mr. Putin has sought against economic sanctions imposed on Russia by Europe and the United States after its annexation of Crimea, not to mention plummeting oil prices worldwide.

“Russia was dependent on China growing and driving the demand for its commodities: oil, gas and minerals,” said Fiona Hill, a Russia specialist at the Brookings Institution in Washington. “China was an alternative to Europe.”

(More here.)

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.)