Tuesday, June 23, 2015

News Nuggets 1522

The Tokuchinoura region of Japan.  From the Huffington Post.

TODAY'S BIG NUGGET: Fighting Racist Fire with Literal Fire

Burning Confederate Flags (Joe Lapointe) from the Detroit Free Press
"In that South Carolina will never willingly take down the flag, the time has come for opponents to exercise their First Amendment right to free speech and burn the Confederate flag — at the state Capitol in South Carolina, in front of the White House, in front of Fox News or maybe even outside the Grand Ol' Opry."
I am not sure I actually endorse this plan -- but I find it has a certain in-your-face quality that progressives usually eschew (at least since the flag-burning days of the Vietnam era -- which I never thought was a good idea).  This tactic could actually have the potential of bringing home graphically, dramatically, and in a no-shit kind of way how offensive the confederate flag is for TOO MANY Americans.  For too long defenders of this flag have been able to get away with the unstated assumption that somehow they are more American or their views as white South Carolinians or Mississipians carry more weight than their fellow African American citizens.  DONE!  Interestingly, it seems the floodgates of change on this issue have really opened just in the last 72 hours. When you look at how FAST some of the other hottest of hot button "culture war" issues (gay marriage, marijuana legalization) have shifted recently, you have to wonder: what else might be possible for related issues such as gun control, police violence, campaign finance reform?  This flag episode shows that the politics on some issues can shift ... almost overnight!

TODAY'S SECOND BIG NUGGET: Irrational Tribal Politics Over ...Everything

The Duggars, Duck Dynasty, And The Irrational Tribalism Of Conservatives (Amanda Marcotte) from Talking Points Memo
Kudos to whatever trickster thought it wise to poll Romney voters, asking them to rate how they feel about the Duggar family from TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting and how they feel about President Obama. The result—67 percent of Romney voters like the Duggars better than they like Obama—perfectly encapsulates one of the most troubling aspects of modern conservatism: the way that it’s ultimately about irrational tribal politics over everything else."

Why Democracies Dominate

America’s Edge over China from the National Interest
"The place to look for an answer to whether China really will become the globe’s most dominant power is not primarily in the economic or military realm. The more pertinent area of interest is China’s domestic political institutions, and they suggest that a more equivocal answer is warranted to the question of whether China will emerge as number one. ...  America’s institutions are its key competitive advantage in the coming contest with China."

Europe Deals a Double Blow to Putin’s Russia

Europe Deals a Double Blow to Putin’s Russia from Foreign Policy Magazine 
"A Belgian court goes after Russian assets in the decade-old Yukos case just as Brussels renews economic sanctions on Moscow through the rest of the year."

China's Bubble Will Burst

Stand Back (Clive Crook) from Bloomberg 
"The fact that a lot of shares have been bought with borrowed money will worsen the impact on many households and put lenders at risk as well. The blow to confidence will be all the greater because the government has acted so conspicuously as a market cheerleader. That's why the bursting of the stock-market bubble could conceivably deflate the myth that what Beijing commands of the economy shall be so."

The Populist Backlash in Europe

The Old Continent Creaks (Arthur Goldhammer) from Democracy Journal 
"Austerity and the failures of the technocratic elite have created the current populist backlash. France’s experience is instructive—and, possibly, ominous."
This is something I have been saying for years: democracies cannot afford to do nothing in the face of prolonged economic hardship.  European leaders are facing a double whammy here (of their own making) by PROMISING that austerity would solve something.  Well, they are seven years into this economic downturn and the unemployment numbers out of the EU range from really soft to really bad.

Trying to Put a Period on One of the Darkest Chapters in US History

Senate Votes To Outlaw Torture from the Huffington Post
"In a landmark showing, lawmakers voted overwhelmingly Tuesday to outlaw the practice of torture and solidify a noncoercive method of intelligence interrogation, indicating a firm departure from the years of the Bush-era torture program -- a period that many have characterized as one of the darkest chapters in the nation’s history."

Poll: Social Intelligence and Computer Knowledge Seen as more important than College

When It Comes to Getting a Job, Americans Believe Skills Trump College from the Atlantic
"People see social intelligence and computer knowledge as more important than a four-year degree in preparing for the workplace, according to a new poll.
"Social intelligence"?  You ... what? ... play well with others!?

The Obsolescence ... of Work?

A World Without Work (Derek Thompson) from the Atlantic
"For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?"

A New Social Contract for a Nation of Freelancers

Shared Security, Shared Growth (Nick Hanauer & David Rolf) from Democracy Journal
"Our changing economy has given rise to a nation of freelancers and contractors—and the need for a twenty-first-century social contract."

Why so many Americans are unmarried

Singles nation (Stephanie Hanes) from the Christian Science Monitor
"Singles now outnumber married adults in the US. What's behind that social shift – and why it matters."

Same-sex unions ... with Kids

What Could Gay Marriage Mean for the Kids? (Gabriela Herman) from the New York Times
"When courts consider same-sex unions, they often ask about what life is like for children with gay parents. Here are some answers."

With Gun Control, Self Defense is No Defense

Using Guns In Self-Defense Is Rare, Study Finds from the Huffington Post  
"American gun owners are far more likely to injure themselves or someone else with their firearm than to stop a criminal, according to a new study from a group calling for tighter gun control."

Pope Condemns Weapons Makers

Pope says weapons manufacturers can't call themselves Christian from Reuters
"Francis issued his toughest condemnation to date of the weapons industry at a rally of thousands of young people at the end of the first day of his trip to the Italian city of Turin."

It’s not Fox News’ America anymore!

Americans want a dialogue on race and gun violence after Charleston (Sophia Tesfaye) from Salon
"Right downplays guns & racism in wake of latest massacre, but Americans say it's time for a serious discussion."

The "Big Surprise" of Jeb's Campaign

Jeb Bush's 18-month shadow campaign (Marc Caputo) from Politico Magazine  
"... many in the world of national politics thought it more likely than not that Jeb wouldn’t run in 2016, especially because they were certain his protegé, Sen. Marco Rubio, would."
It just goes to show that DC never lacks for an infinite number of beltway dunces.  As regular readers here know, I have been predicting for, oh, about 18 months that Jeb was going to run. 

The Candidate that Brings Real Gusto to the 2016 Race!

Trump: The 'Carnival Barker' Joins the 2016 Circus (Russell Berman) from the Atlantic
"To the chagrin of Republicans and delight of Democrats, Donald Trump jumped in to the presidential race with his typical gusto."
Berman's photos and "analysis" are priceless!

Rush Limbaugh’s downward spiral continues

Another demotion, another step toward irrelevancy (Eric Boehlert) from Salon
"The conservative yakker has a new home at one of Boston's cellar-dwelling outposts. This is Rush's life in 2015."

Sunday, June 14, 2015

News Nuggets 1521

Ice on Lake Baikal in eastern Russia.  From National Geographic.

TODAY'S BIG NUGGET: America's Overwhelming Power ... and Under-whelming Confidence

Iran and the Obama Doctrine (Thomas Friedman) from the New York Times 
"Obama said his view was that “engagement,” combined with meeting core strategic needs, could serve American interests vis-à-vis these three countries far better than endless sanctions and isolation. He added that America, with its overwhelming power, needs to have the self-confidence to take some calculated risks to open important new possibilities..."

How one of Russia's top US experts tries to explain America

"America has a simple ideology" (Max Fisher) from Vox
""The idea that the United States aims at a 'color revolution' in Moscow is the single most frequently repeated theme of official Russian rhetoric." This is more than paranoia or government propaganda; it is the accepted worldview: that Russia is under constant threat from a hostile and irrational United States."

China: Important, yes. But Dangerous...?

Just How Great a Threat Is China? (James Fallows) from the Atlantic 
"It is the most important country for America’s future. Does that mean it’s the most dangerous? ... The extent to which the PLA feels circled-in and outgunned by the U.S. military is almost impossible for most Americans to imagine. In the United States, everyone assumes that China is ever-ascendant, while America is overcommitted, war-weary, and generally played-out."

Putin's war ... on Information

Putin Fears His Own People (Kaj Leers) from Real Clear World
"While Russian troops are again massing at the Ukrainian border, and the first reports of renewed fighting are heard, Russian President Vladimir Putin is cracking down hard on the free flow of information in his republic. What is Putin preparing for? And what can be done to break the hold he imposes on his people? ... Reports show that Putin is gearing up for something. He has made it illegal for anyone to report on deceased Russian soldiers in peacetime, and he has organized mobile crematoriums in a bid to prevent burials of the corpses of Russian soldiers. ... This approach requires the United States and its European allies to put some serious muscle into information warfare."

This Is How America Will Remember Barack Obama

This Is How America Will Remember Barack Obama (George Condon) from the National Journal
"So much of a politician's life is choreographed, but the pain of Joe Biden's loss was real for this president. And America witnessed it."

Why Americans Are Turning Against Free Trade

Why Americans Are Turning Against Free Trade (David Frum) from the Atlantic
"When the proceeds of growth are not widely shared, the consensus in favor of pro-growth measures cracks."

What foreign governments tell their citizens about the perils of vacationing in the United States

Don’t Make Jokes About Bombs, and No Nude Sunbathing from Foreign Policy Magazine
" When foreign countries offer travel advice and warnings to their citizens en route to the United States, what exactly do they say? Thanks to Google Translate — triangulated with several other free online translation services — I was able to trawl through the websites of a dozen countries’ ministries of foreign affairs, looking for advice to U.S.-bound travelers. ... German tourists are warned not to get sick in the United States — healthcare in the United States costs so much that “often it is cheaper … to fly back to Germany and deal with [your medical problems] here.”"

The Pope's Response to Sexual Abuse - Starting to Get it Right

Pope Creates Tribunal for Bishop Negligence in Child Sexual Abuse Cases from the New York Times
"Responding to years of complaints from victims of clergy sexual abuse, the Vatican announced on Wednesday that Pope Francis had approved a plan to subject Roman Catholic bishops to judgment and discipline by a new tribunal if they are accused of covering up or failing to prevent
misconduct. The tribunal is intended to address what victims’ advocacy groups say has been, at best, decades of mishandling of sexual abuse cases involving minors by clergy, and at worst, the covering up of abuses by priests."

The Try-Hard Generation

The Try-Hard Generation (Fareed Zakaria) from the Atlantic
"I will grant that on American campuses today, there is a pervasive culture of achievement, often in a narrow pre-professional sense. But it’s strange to blame the students for something that is largely beyond their control. After all, they did not devise the intense system of tests that comprise the gateway to American higher education, nor did they create the highly competitive job market in anxious economic times. Admissions offices now prize nothing less than perfection."

Other Measures of Crisis in Higher Ed

Why I Defaulted on My Student Loans (Lee Siegel) from the New York Times 
"I refused to waste my life to pay back a pointless and overbearing debt. ... Moneyed stumbles never seem to have much consequence. Tax fraud, insider trading, almost criminal nepotism — these won’t knock you off the straight and narrow. But if you’re poor and miss a child-support payment, or if you’re middle class and default on your student loans, then God help you. Forty years after I took out my first student loan, and 30 years after getting my last, the Department of Education is still pursuing the unpaid balance. "

Innovative Ways to Control Guns!

Gun killings fell by 40 percent after Connecticut passed this law from the Washington Post
"... in the summer of 1994, lawmakers hustled through a gun control bill in a special session. They hoped to curb shootings by requiring people to get a purchasing license before buying a handgun. The state would issue these permits to people who passed a background check and a gun safety training course."

A perfect penalty coming out of an imperfect justice system

What do you think of the death penalty now, Justice Scalia? (Leonard Pitts) from the Miami Herald
"The argument against the death penalty will never have the visceral, immediate emotionalism of the argument in favor. It does not satisfy that instinctive human need to make somebody pay — now! — when something bad has been done. Rather, it turns on quieter concerns, issues of inherent racial, class, geographic and gender bias, issues of corner-cutting cops and ineffective counsel, and issues of irrevocability, the fact that, once imposed, death cannot be undone. Those issues were easy for you to ignore in mocking Blackmun. They are always easy to ignore, right up until the moment they are not. This is one of those moments, sir,..."
The predictable outcome when a perfect penalty comes out of an imperfect justice system.

U Wisconsin -- Who's Next?

Goodbye, Madison (Josh Marshall) from Talking Points Memo
"As he readies to run for president and grabs whatever low hanging fruit on the conservative agenda tree he can find, Scott Walker is now planning to strip tenure from professors in the University of Wisconsin higher education system."
NO ONE should be surprised by this -- and it would be a mistake to think this was simply the product of a right wing nutcase like Scott Walker. Elected officials and university presidents and administrators alike are beginning to realize that they don't need tenure to attract a very good quality faculty -- and that the savings can be enormous!  A majority of professors teaching college-level humanities courses are already temporary faculty.  

Penn State, the Catholic Church, ... and Now Republican Leaders

Who Else Knew About Dennis Hastert’s Cover-Up? (Frank Rich) from New York Magazine
"As the circle widens, what's the chance that some of Hastert's congressional colleagues have knowledge of a cover-up — beyond scant rumors — and that one will eventually come forward? We are talking about two potential cover-ups here. ... Writing about the case in Vanity Fair in 2007, Gail Sheehy quoted a source who accused Hastert of having “attempted a cover-up” of his dereliction of duty in the Foley case — a cover-up that involved coordination with John Boehner (then the majority leader), Roy Blunt (then majority whip, now a senator), and Thomas Reynolds (a New York congressman who also slinked away into retirement in the scandal’s aftermath). If the church and Penn State could finally clean house, surely the House of Representatives must do the same. Whether it does or not, a press exhumation of this case may well come to haunt the 2016 election."

A Field of Has-Beens and Never-Wases: The GOP's 2016 "Contenders"

Why Do So Many Obvious Losers Think They Can Be President? (Kevin Drum) from Mother Jones
"It's not based on polls, nor anything the candidates have said, nor any detailed analysis of which blocs of voters each one will appeal to. It's just my gut feeling. So here it is: my ranking of the 2016 Republican presidential field: ... The thing that strikes me whenever I actually type up this list is how few legitimate contenders I find."

For Obama Critics, Real Leadership Will require More than Speeches and Tough Talk

Can America Lead Again? (Anne Applebaum) from Slate
"It will take more than speeches and tough talk. ... This isn’t 1979, and a revival of Reaganism isn’t going to work: America’s allies are as wary of American belligerence as they are of American indecision."

5 takeaways from Clinton's relaunch rally.

5 takeaways from Clinton's relaunch rally. And one big one: This was Hillary being Hillary. (Glenn Thrush) from Politico Magazine
"... it did reflect Clinton’s stated goal inside the campaign – creating an ideological “foundation” for the next 17 months of campaigning. And it certainly reflected the Hillary her staff knows: a little long-winded, earnest to a fault, and above all, trying very hard to connect with her party’s base."

Not Even in the Gate Yet ... and Stumbling

How Jeb Bush’s campaign ran off course before it even began (Ed O'Keefe and Robert Costa) from the Washington Post
"In interviews this week, dozens of Bush backers and informed Republicans — most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to comment candidly — described an overly optimistic, even haughty exploratory operation."
Interesting.  Regular readers know that I view Bush as the most formidable GOP candidate in the field this year.  But I will have to say that, in the last six week, Bush's campaign reminds me most of Hillary's campaign from '08.  So far, he and his team have seemed very disconnected from both the mood and agenda of GOP primary voters and from the broader electorate.  Fortunately, there is no Republican Obama on the GOP side this season.

The stunning fall of the right’s angriest bloviator

Rush Limbaugh is cooked (Eric Boehlert) from Salon
"Indianapolis' WIBC is just the latest station to drop him like a bad habit. His days of relevance are numbered."

Friday, June 5, 2015

News Nuggets 1520

A beach at Stokksnes in southeastern Iceland.  From the Huffington Post.

TODAY'S BIG NUGGET: The Real Threats Facing America in 2015

Chill Out, America (Stephen Walt) from Foreign Policy Magazine
"TV news, think-tank pundits, and politicians all want you to see threats around every corner. Don't fall for it. ...  in fact, it’s hard to identify any looming or imminent external threats, and certainly none as dire as the dangers that other societies face or as serious as the challenges the United States has overcome in the past. .... With typical hyperbole, the Wall Street Journal now sounds the alarm about the emergence of Russia, Iran, and China as “regional hegemons” (a label that greatly exaggerates each state’s position) and blames this supposed “hegemony” on an “American retreat.” A key reason these three states are in a somewhat better position today than they were a decade ago is that too many U.S. leaders have listened to the Wall Street Journal‘s foreign policy advice and squandered American power in a series of pointless and failed crusades."

The Emerging "Arms for Soccer Balls" Scandal

A dark day for Fifa after claims of arms deals for World Cup votes from the Guardian [of the UK]
"The shockwaves from the corruption scandal that brought down Sepp Blatter continue to reverberate, with claims in Germany that the 2006 World Cup vote was influenced by a shipment of rocket-propelled grenades and allegations in Egypt that a Fifa executive solicited bribes during the 2010 bidding race."
This scandal just got SOOO much darker than I had suspected.  I am beginning to wonder if FIFA is going to survive as a professional sport organization.

Germany's Demographic Crunch

Germany dominance over as demographic crunch worsens from the Daily Telegraph [of the UK]
"Germany's workforce will shrink by 6m over the next 15 years, declining even faster than Japan's. ... The crunch is aggravated by the double effect of a powerful post-war baby boom followed by a countervailing baby bust – the so-called “Pillenknick”. The picture in Portugal (nine) and Italy (9.2) is almost as bad."

When the US Should Be In the Fight ... and When Not

Contain and Amplify (Thomas Friedman) from the New York Times
"U.S. policy now should be “containment, plus amplification.” Let’s help those who manifest the will to contain ISIS, like Jordan, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and the Kurds in Iraq, and amplify any constructive things that groups in Yemen, Iraq, Libya, or Syria are ready to do with their power, but we must not substitute our power for theirs. This has to be their fight for their future. If the fight against ISIS is not worth it to them, it surely can’t be for us."

The Problem with U.S. Allies

It’s hard to get good help these days from Brookings
"Paradoxically, U.S. capacity-building efforts infantilized rather than empowered our allies, especially the European and Arab states, creating a level of dependency that, at least until very recently, stifled independence. The Obama administration, like its predecessors, urged these countries to develop capacity but simultaneously signaled to them that America would ultimately defend them when they got into trouble."

Obama Looking Strong for the Stretch Run

Things are looking up for President Obama (Jonathan Allen) from Vox 
"President Obama's standing with the American public is improving as he nears the final 18 months of his presidency, and a combination of solid economic numbers, finding common ground with Republicans, and a diminished need to serve as the partisan leader of Democrats should augur well for the stretch run."

Obamacare Lawsuit Sourcing Widespread Anxiety in the GOP

Obamacare Obstructing States Start to Freak at the Consequences (Josh Marshall) from Talking Points Memo
"Tonight the Wall Street Journal has a fascinating look something we may soon hear a lot more about in a very rushed and chaotic fashion. Last month, an outfit called the Milbank Memorial Fund (as best I can tell a relatively non-ideological foundation focused on health care policy) held a secret one day meeting in Chicago for officials from states who may suddenly find their citizens cut off from Obamacare health care insurance subsidies because of the new GOP challenge to the law. The verdict. Basically that they're screwed. There's simply no way for states to set up exchanges in time for this year - just at the purest technical level, setting aside whatever politics are involved."

Hastert and the Foley Scandal

Hastert and the Foley Scandal (Josh Marshall) from Talking Points Memo 
"Set aside whether this past had any role in Hastert's office's laggard response to warnings about Foley. Hastert was hiding an explosive secret. He must have been terrified of exposure. A thundering denunciation of Foley would seem like the kind of move which almost would have invited a past victim to step forward."

Hastert Scandal Largely Unearthed back in 2006!

Flashback: Investgative Journalist Broke Ex-Speaker Hastert Blackmail Sex Scandal in 2006 from
These folks had little or no credibility back in 2006 -- but boy are they crowing now!
"In 2006, Hastert was involved with the cover-up of a major sex scandal involving Republican congressmen.  ... “There is also much focus on the relationship between House Speaker Dennis Hastert and his chief of staff, 56-year old Scott Palmer. Hastert and Palmer, Hastert’s longtime unmarried adviser, live together in a DC townhouse along with Hastert’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Mike Stokke, while Hastert’s wife Jean lives in Yorkville, Illinois and stays at a hotel when she visits Washington."

Woman says her brother was a victim of ex-Speaker Hastert

Woman says her brother was a victim of ex-Speaker Hastert from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
"A woman today named her deceased brother as a victim of sexual abuse by J. Dennis Hastert, the former House speaker, saying the abuse took place while he was a student at the Illinois high school where Mr. Hastert was a wrestling coach."

Gay Therapy Programs - A Form of Consumer Fraud?

Can Sexuality Be Changed? (Olga Khazan) from the Atlantic
"A trial in New Jersey this week will determine whether telling gay people that they can become straight constitutes consumer fraud. The ruling might mean the end of so-called “conversion therapies” for good. ... The case is being brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Alabama-based civil-rights group, which is arguing that JONAH-style treatment—and other “gay conversion therapies” like it—amount to consumer fraud. Quite simply, the SPLC argues, conversion therapy doesn’t work. People can’t become ex-gay, and making promises to the contrary is a false bill of goods."

The GOP's Worst Enemy: Fox News?

Fox News Eats Its Own (Bill Scher) from Politico
"The GOP’s worst enemy is turning out to be the friendliest network. ... The recent gaffes on Fox News by Republican candidates are not because Fox News journalists are suddenly out to get Republicans. It’s because even a softball question can trip up a candidate not ready for prime time."

Rubio's Continuing Problems with Cuban Voters

Cubans Really Don't Like Marco Rubio from Mother Jones
"...  they saved a particular brand of venom for Marco Rubio. Cab drivers, bartenders, artists—everyone seem to have something to say about Marco Rubio, and none of it was kind. A few suggested that as a Cuban-American Rubio should display some concern for economic struggles of every day Cubans..."

Jeb's Continuing Problems with Conservatives

Romney Had Problems With Conservatives. Jeb’s May Be Worse from the Wall Street Journal
"Jeb Bush may have a lot of advantages as the 2016 race begins – money, name recognition, a network of supporters. But Mr. Bush has a problem with conservatives. How bad is it? Compare his standing to that of 2012 Republican nominee Mitt Romney, who famously struggled to win over his party’s base. Mr. Romney’s numbers appeared healthier than Mr. Bush’s, around the same point in the races."