Sunday in the Sun + 10 September ’17

Sunday in the Sun logo

So here I sit, in northeastern Wisconsin, snug as a bug in a rug. It’s now two in the morning and it’s kind of balmy-cool outside (Heidi & Co woke me for a slightly urgent bit of business in the back yard), so after that I came in and flipped on the Weather Channel – and watched Irma move in on Key West in real-time.

Irma Hunter

Where Hwy 41, the so-called Tamiami Trail, comes into Naples, just before the road turns north, there’s a collection of shops and restaurants on the water called Tin City, and on the south side of that place is a tiny, 15 boat marina. I lived there for a year or so and ended up making friends with a few people there, and I had the time of my life there, too.

Right now I’m thinking about the words “storm surge,” and what that’s going to mean for Naples and, indeed, all of SW Florida going forward. Not to mention my friends.

But…a 10-12 foot storm surge?

I’d say that 90% of all homes in the Naples area are one story affairs. Twelve feet of standing water would submerge them, while twelve feet of hurricane driven storm surge will likely scrub them from this earth. People who decide to ride out Irma in these areas won’t make it. They’ll die. How many will perish? How many weeks or months will it take to come up with a valid number?

How many decided to heed the chorus of warnings issued all week? How many will try to ride it out? Oh, did you read about the sheriff down there? The one who proclaimed that anyone coming to a storm shelter would have to produce ID? He promised anyone coming in search of shelter who happened to have warrants out would find fine sleeping arrangements in the county jail. Yup, folks, that’s called compassionate conservatism.

Meanwhile… Looking at the weather maps as Irma makes landfall, I’m struck by the size of this monster…

Irma 1

Florida isn’t a terribly large state, not compared to California or Texas, but from Key West in the south to Jacksonville in the northeast it is over 400 miles “long”, so let the image above soak in a little bit. From the eye to Jacksonville, right now, we’re looking at a massive storm more than 500 miles wide, from eye to northernmost band. Now, check out this image, from Key West, taken earlier today:

Irma 2

Note the intrepid photographer taking pictures of all the cute approaching waves…

Irma 3

Then, well, kind of disappearing as a wave breaks over the sea wall. And this was more than 12 hours before the storm moved off Cuba’s northern coastline. I feel kind of sorry for this guy, too. Surely a Darwin Award winning pose if ever there was one, and you can’t even see his face.

Now, here’s another number to ponder. 200,000,000.00

As in two hundred billion. That’s Dollars, with a capital D.

In immediate property loss as a result of this storm. THIS storm. This one storm in Florida.

Not including Harvey. Oh yes, have you already forgotten about Harvey, that little ‘ol storm down there in Houston? The little storm that is projected to cost around 130,000,000.00 to clean up and sort out? We’re not even to the halfway point in hurricane season and we’re at a third of a trillion dollars. Given that our little adventures in south central Asia are costing around a trillion a year, we’re talking some serious money now.

So while FEMA’s running out of money, and Herr Drumpf wants to eliminate around 13% OF THEIR BUDGET, consider that right now they’re responding to the two largest storms in North American meteorological history. Which of course, as you well know, has nothing at all to do with climate change. As one-time child actor Kirk Cameron told us this week, it’s all happening because God is pretty upset with us.

It’d probably be in bad taste to go on much more right now, so I’m going to sit back and watch the Weather Channel some more.

Oh, while on the subject of TV, there’s a new movie out on HBO called Hidden Figures. Just watch it, okay? You won’t regret it.

The Deep End of Your Dreams + Ch06

UP2

I’m churning along with this one now, but I’ll still post small chapters for a while until I’ve finished, then I’ll post a long, consolidated version of this story. Again, obvious tie-ins to NightSide/Asynchronous Mud abound. You’ll have to dig deeper to see the tie-ins with TimeShadow.

Chapter Six

Ten years later

She sat in the stuffy compartment, rubbing the burning circles under her eyes while looking out the window at a vast, snow-covered prairie rolling by in the darkness. Her eyes felt like molten pools deep within the frozen earth, and she felt a new line of perspiration beading on her forehead.

‘Oh, God no,’ she thought, ‘I can’t get sick. Not now…’

She shook her head, leaned back and palpated the glands in her neck – but they felt soft and small so she relaxed and picked up the sheaf of papers and found her place – again – then dove back into the text, rereading an exploration of transuranic radiochemical fractionation presented only a few months ago in Naturwissenschaften, a journal of physics and chemistry published in Germany. It hadn’t taken Oppenheimer’s team at Berkeley more than a few days to grasp the importance of Hahn and Meitner’s breakthrough, yet it turned out that several groups of physicists around the United States and Canada had made the same observation – and in roughly the same time-frame. Now, varied groups of engineers, chemists and physicists were en route to Washington to meet with the president.

She almost didn’t hear the soft knock on her compartment’s door, but she looked up and shook her head, then rubbed her eyes again before speaking: “Yes?” she said to the darkness.

And then a kindly faced old porter stuck his head in past the door. “Doctor Aubuchon? Doctor Oppenheimer would like to speak with you now, down in his compartment. He says, if you don’t mind.”

“What time is it?” Claire asked.

“Not quite six, Ma’am.”

“Morning? Or afternoon?”

“It’s five-forty-three in the morning, Ma’am.”

“Right,” she sighed, adding: “I need a glass of water” – then she fished for a bottle of aspirin from her purse as the porter slipped from away. She picked up the monograph, and her notes, after she downed the tablets when the water came, then she walked down the swaying corridor to Robert’s compartment.

The door was standing wide open, and her brother Charles stood anxiously when he saw her eyes. He helped her into the chair then closed the door on his way out, never saying a word to her. No words were needed, after all.

“I think you look worse than I feel,” Oppenheimer sighed. “I’d kill for an aspirin right now.”

She nodded, pulled the bottle from her purse and passed it over, wanting more than anything else in the world to pour ice water into her burning eyes.

“You’re rubbing your eyes too much,” Robert chided. “You’ll get episcleritis. Knock it off, and I mean right now. I can’t have you going blind right…”

“I hear you.”

“So? Any new conclusions?”

“We may have underestimated the forces involved. The energy release will be cataclysmic.”

Oppenheimer nodded his head slowly. “That’s my take, too.”

“Have you heard from Werner?”

“Heisenberg? No. And I don’t expect the Reich will let this kind of free exchange of ideas continue. The implications of this work are creating shockwaves throughout the community.”

“What did Bohr have to say about it?”

“I think he’s terrified, Claire.”

“So, he confirmed?”

Oppenheimer nodded his head.

“What are you reading now?” she asked, looking at the colorful book on the little table under the window.

“This? Oh, the Bhagavad Gita,” he said, passing the book over to her.

She opened the heavy tome and looked over a page or two, then passed it back. “You read Sanskrit?”

“Yes.”

She shook her head as she looked him in the eye: “Why?”

“I get the impression, reading this now, that these events have been foretold.”

She smiled, then looked out the window again and noted the prairie was shading from gray to purple, then his words registered and she wondered what he meant. “Foretold?”

“Eternal recurrence…something like that. Have you read Jung?”

She shook her head, then looked at him again. “Something about archetypes once.”

“Precisely,” he said. “You should try to get some sleep. We’ll be in Chicago around noon.”

“Straight to D.C. from there?”

“We should arrive tomorrow morning.”

“Have you met him before?”

“Who? Roosevelt?”

“Yes.”

“Only in passing. Why?”

“Oh, something that happened years ago.”

“Something? Like what?”

“I’m not sure, but I recall seeing him on a ship – and he seemed to know me.”

He looked at her for a long while, then opened the book on his lap and began reading aloud; moments later she felt herself falling…

+++++

He looked younger…of that much she was certain. He had looked pale and used up when she’d seen him on the strange ship, but now he seemed stronger – and very sharply focused. When she walked into the conference room he looked up at her briefly, but she saw no recognition in his eyes, nothing at all to indicate they’d ever met before, and his attention had soon shifted to something Harry Hopkins was whispering in his ear.

But it was him. It was Roosevelt she’d seen on the ship, and yet now – here he was. And here she was. In the same room, looking right at him, and everything about him seemed so familiar – again. She watched the way his hands moved – soft yet decisive – and the way his eyes seemed to suck up every detail in the room…like as soon as someone entered he made an inventory of their characteristics. A Navy captain stood behind him, a man named Carlton, talking with Hopkins just now – but the captain was looking at her much more frequently, like he knew something she didn’t.

Then her brother Charles walked up to the officer and the two shook hands – and that seemed to answer that question – for the moment, anyway, then Oppenheimer walked into the room. She watched Roosevelt look up – nothing dismissive in his eyes now – and she watched Oppenheimer work his way around the room to his place at the table – by her right side. Directly across from Roosevelt, she thought. Eye-to-eye. Man-to man.

So, she thought, the president wants to look him in the eye. Wants to see beyond the truth of the moment.

Then three more men walked into the room – three men she recognized from newspaper articles, and she watched them as they walked up to her brother and the Navy captain, then as they shook hands with the president – before moving off to the shadows where Hopkins waited.

Presently the naval officer, Carlton, called the room to order, and everyone’s attention focused on Roosevelt – who coughed once, his eyes bright and wet, before he looked up from a stack of papers on the table in front of him.

“Good morning,” the president said, and there arose a chorus of good wishes from those around the huge table. “I’ve read and reread the various synopses given me by the Navy, and I’ve called this meeting to see what the scientific consensus is about the threat posed by these findings. Dr. Oppenheimer? Care to get this show on the road?”

Robert laughed, then looked over at Claire. “If you don’t mind, Mr. President, I’d prefer that my associate, Dr. Aubuchon, run through our initial observations.”

“Very well.”

Claire cleared her throat and was about to speak when Roosevelt coughed again, this time a ragged, rheumy fit, and she watched as his face turned at first red, then faintly blue. A steward poured ice water and Hopkins was by the president’s side in an instant, helping him take the glass in hand. Looks were exchanged around the table as a bottle of cough medicine was produced.

“Damn bugs!” Roosevelt grumbled between spoonfuls of medicine. He put his hands out on the edge of the table – as if steadying himself against a storm-tossed sea – then he looked at Claire and smiled. “Tell me, Doctor Aubuchon, as succinctly as you can…can a bomb be made using the theories and techniques posited in this paper?”

“That remains to be seen, Mr. President. The techniques presented, those to stream off and produce isotopes from raw ores, simply do not exist at this time. Not in the industrial quanriries needed. These are issues related to electrical and mechanical engineering, not simply matters of theoretical physics, and one of the first items that springs to mind is the vast scale needed to produce even measurable quantities. for experimentation. To produce a fission bomb of the sort being characterized would require an industrial operation that simply exists nowhere in the world.”

“Explain.”

“Well, sir, imagine a trainload of ore, uranium ore. Perhaps fifty hopper cars worth of raw ore. With optimal efficiencies, and by that I mean utilizing efficiencies of extraction that simply do not exist anywhere on earth today, we might be able to prepare a sample size of, well, sir, a thimble full of the necessary isotope to conduct preliminary experiments on.”

“Alright. Say we lick that problem. How much ore would be needed to produce a bomb?”

Oppenheimer broke in just then. “Mr President, we simply won’t know the answer to that question until we can produce enough of the necessary isotope.”

“And?” the president sighed, “just how much do you think you’d need to get to that point?”

“Perhaps a hundred thousand metric tons, Mr President,” one of the naval officers standing in the shadows said.

“Oh. Is THAT all?” Roosevelt said, his face splitting into that famously broad grin of his. “Where can we lay our hands on that much ore, Captain Henry?”

“Canada, sir.”

The President turned and looked at the captain, then at another man standing by Hopkins. “Dr Kirby, is it your belief that the machinery to accomplish this is feasible? On the necessary scale?”

“Sir, we’ve never tried to regulate currents with this degree of precision, but yes, it’s possible. Assuming we can deliver a prototype for testing within a few months, get our testing done, then ramp up production…well…yes sir. We can do it.”

Roosevelt leaned back and looked up at the ceiling for a moment, then daubed his eyes with a handkerchief. “What are we talking about here, Dr Aubuchon? What kind of bomb?”

“Mr President, I don’t think we have a frame of reference here. There’s never been anything like this, not in all human history. We are talking about a vast, elemental power, sir. The power that fuels the universe.”

“Theoretically, Dr Aubuchon. How big?”

“Mr President,” Oppenheimer broke in once again, “once again, we simply don’t know, but initial projections are staggering. Certainly one such device would be enough to destroy a large city.”

“Alright, Robert. Now, one last question. How long will it take the Germans to get there?”

Oppenheimer looked down, shook his head slowly. “There are few sources available to the Germans outside of Africa, but they’ll need to overcome an even more important barrier, sir.”

“And that is?”

“Werner Heisenberg.”

“Meaning?”

“There isn’t a more ethical scientist in Germany, Mr President. Perhaps in the world.”

“I see. And what if Mr Hitler decides to kill this ethical scientist, Dr Oppenheimer? What then?”

“In that case, Mr. President, we’d better be much further along than the Germans.”

+++++

She went from the meeting to her brother’s house in Chevy Chase and rested, but only for a few hours. She and her brother, as well as Dr. Oppenheimer, were to dine with the President and Mrs. Roosevelt that evening, and her brother groused it would be necessary for her to ‘look presentable’ for the occasion…

“No, you may not wear that nasty old cardigan tonight!” he’d almost shouted at her. “It’s covered in chalk, let alone smells like it hasn’t been cleaned since 1919!”

“No doubt it hasn’t,” Claire sighed. “It doesn’t – ‘smell,’ so why should I?”

“Because it smells like a goat.”

She’s just left it at that. “Does Anne have something I can borrow?” she asked. Charles’ wife had impeccable taste, and oodles of time to go shopping.

“You two are hardly the same size, you know, but I’ll ask. Have you considered that she’s not at all happy about not being invited to dinner tonight?”

“No, not really. I’d assume most of the things under discussion will be somewhat classified. Does she have the necessary clearance?”

Charles turned and stormed out of her room, grumbling as he thundered down the stairs – leaving Claire to wonder about her brother’s moods one more time. She took off her sweater and dropped onto the bed, and was soon fast asleep – again. She felt urgent hands shaking her awake sometime later, saw the sun was now close to the horizon and that a heavy snow was falling. She rolled over and saw Charles standing by the bed, looking at her with concern in his eyes.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

“Yes…why?”

“I’ve been shaking you for ages. I wasn’t even sure you were breathing.”

She sat up slowly, yawning as she did. “How long was I out?”

“About three hours.”

“Do I have time to shower?”

“Well, you won’t be allowed in the White House smelling the way you do right now, so I’d hop to it.”

“I do not smell, Charles.”

“Oh. I see. Perhaps you can explain that to the Golden Retriever outside your door. You know, the one who’s been trying to burrow under the door for the past half hour.” She stood and promptly passed out, falling to the floor like a sack of rocks. She felt Charles’ hands lifting her, helping her to the side of the bed. “You’re burning up, Claire. How long have you felt bad?”

“Night before last, I think. If you have a couple of aspirin handy, I’ll be alright.”

“Can you handle some orange juice?”

“Yes, that’d be nice.”

“Alright, I’ll get that going – if you think you can handle getting to the shower.”

“Help me up, would you?”

He helped her to the bathroom, and when he was sure she was steady on her feet he left her to it; when she came out a few minutes later she found some of Anne’s things laid out on her bed and she dressed, then, looking out the window at the heavy snow falling, dried her hair with a second fresh towel. Charles knocked on the door a few minutes after that, asked if she was ready to go, and he took her arm when she walked out to him.

“Thanks, big brother,” she sighed.

“You’re welcome, little sister,” he said, taking her hand in his.

The Navy had sent a courier to take them to the White House, and as they arrived at the portico she saw Oppenheimer and a turtle-faced man get out of a sedan together, and the two naval officers who’d spoken at the conference earlier were with them, too. “Who’s that with Robert?”

“Leo Szilard.”

“The Hungarian?”

“Yes. He’s at Columbia now, I think. Einstein’s shadow, I think you could say.”

“So I’ve heard. We’re not the only ones invited tonight, I see.”

“I think the guest list has expanded somewhat since we left this afternoon. Einstein will be here, and I heard Thomas Mann may be, as well.”

“The writer? Why him?”

“He’s been helping get academics out of Germany, and is coming to be seen as kind of the father figure to the exile community.”

“But with…”

“He has clearance, Claire. He hates Hitler, and he has the president’s ear.”

She shook her head as Marines came to open their door, and she took Charles’ arm and walked with him into the White House.

After so many years in California, walking from a minor blizzard into the stuffy heat of the old building’s radiator heat was a shock, and almost instantly she broke out in a sweat. Charles, of course, noticed immediately.

“Your face is the color of a plum…what’s going on with you?”

“It’s the heat, I think. As soon as we hit this air I felt like I was going to melt – from the inside out.”

“You’re starting to perspire again.”

“I think I’m going to be sick…”

A steward helped her to the nearest restroom, then a physician was summoned – and she soon found herself in one of the upstairs bedrooms, laid out like a fish on a monger’s scale. Panting now, she tried to close her eyes again – but as soon as she did she was back on the ship.

And Roosevelt was with her again, looking out the thick glass port-light by her side. Looking out at Saturn’s rings, quailing before the implications of this place. The walls were bright red, and somewhat distorted – like the floors sloped up. Regardless of whether she turned to the left or the right, she saw she was inside some sort of vast, toroidal structure.

Then she felt an eyelid being forced apart between two soft fingers, a bright light shining in the middle of her skull, making her turn away – or trying to, at least.

“Ah, good. You’re still with us,” a man’s soothing voice said…then she felt a thermometer sliding between her lips. “Under the tongue, please, if you can,” the voice said.

She sat just in silence, her eyes darting around the bedroom, echoes of red fighting for supremacy. Fingers on her wrist found her pulse, then she saw the physician counting as he watched the motion of her breath. When he was finished, he pulled out the glass thermometer and looked at the scale.

“That can’t be right,” he murmured.

“What is it?”

“Ninety five-two.”

“Wouldn’t that account for the heat I feel?”

“It might, but then again, you’d probably feel rotten. More than you can imagine.”

“What makes you think I don’t?”

The physician was shaking the thermometer down again, then he placed it in a vial of alcohol for a moment before he wiped it down. “Let’s try this again,” he sighed, slipping it under her tongue a second time.

She listened to a clock ticking in the distance, then the gurgling of hot water flowing through the radiator across the room – and she could almost imagine blood flowing through her veins as another wave of heat washed across the room. In an instant, she was standing beside Roosevelt on the toroidal floor.

“I’ll never tire of looking at this place,” he sighed – then she noticed he was standing now. No wheelchair. No hint of disability – at all.

Then an overwhelming wave of ammonia caught her unawares, her eyes parting again, that noxious light shining inside her skull.

“You passed out again,” the physician said, “and now your temperature is ninety four-three.”

“What do you think’s wrong with me?”

“I’m not quite sure, but the rather annoying thing is that you and the president are experiencing the exact same symptoms. He has – all afternoon, too.”

“I need to speak with him, right away…”

“I’m not sure that’s possible, Doctor Aubuchon.”

“It’s important. I need to ask him something.”

But the door to the room opened, and she saw Roosevelt in his chair out in the hallway, looking on with concern in his eyes; then he was wheeling himself into the room, right up to her bedside.

“Leave us, doctor,” Roosevelt said, and the physician put his things away in his little black bag and left the room, closing the door as he went.

“You were there again,” Roosevelt said, reaching out now – and taking her hand.

His skin felt so familiar, so shockingly intimate and familiar. “What were we doing there?”

The president shook his head and sighed. “I don’t know, but whatever else it may be, it’s real. Your presence here, now, confirms that.”

“This morning, when I walked in the conference room, did you recognize me?”

“No, not right away. When you spoke I began to feel…something like an echo of meeting you. Something far away, something washing over me like a memory of tomorrow. Like something that hasn’t happened yet – but has somewhere else.”

“Some other time, you mean? Something that hasn’t happened yet, but how could that be?”

“Something, or someone, related to this morning’s conference? Something being manipulated?”

“Time?” she said. “But…how?”

“How isn’t as important as why right this moment, Doctor. If we’d simply shared a delusion, the how of this might be interesting – from a psychiatrist’s point of view – but understanding the why of things will be vital going forward. From a politician’s standpoint, I should say.”

“The why of things? Is that important?”

Roosevelt tried not to laugh, but failed – though he caught himself before he started coughing again. “The why is always the most important point to consider, young lady. Why do we need to consider making bombs of uranium? Why do we need to go to war with Germany? How is a question for engineers and economists; why is my purview right now, and with events in Asia and Eastern Europe spiraling out of control right now, the answer to ‘why’ you and I are sharing this vision is suddenly the most crucial thing I can think of.”

“The first time I saw you…well, it was almost ten years ago.”

“What?” Roosevelt said, suddenly exasperated. “When was this?”

“My brother and I were headed west. I was on my way to Berkeley, to begin graduate school, and I felt myself phasing in and out of time, experiencing different outcomes to events that had happened long before. My father’s death, the sinking of the Titanic…”

“The Titanic? Why, of all…”

“I was onboard, sir, the night she went down.”

“Good God. Why didn’t I read that in your dossier?”

She shrugged. “The night of our first encounter, she missed the iceberg. And I learned my father had passed away some two weeks before, not on that night…”

“So…time had been altered, and in more ways that one?”

“Yes.”

“And you met me, for the first time?”

She nodded her head slowly. “By that window…looking…”

“At those rings?”

“Yessir.”

“The walls inside that ship…what color are they?”

“Red, sir.”

Roosevelt looked at her, trying to come to terms with these revelations, then a sudden thought came to him: “I say, you’re looking much better now. Do you feel up to going downstairs?”

She nodded her head again. “Yes, I think so.”

“Good. Let’s give it a try, shall we?”

+++++

Sitting on the train, heading back to California a few days later, she thought about that encounter, and the evening that followed, for hour after hour. About the various discussions around the table, the palpable excitement surrounding the road ahead. Entire new industries would have to be created almost overnight…precision electromagnets capable of streaming off isotopes in electron streams. Vast new transport infrastructure to carry ores from Canada and Brazil, in wartime.

Yes, war. Roosevelt had made it abundantly clear that war with both Germany and Japan, and possibly Russia, now appeared inevitable. The United States would have to fight two well-armed adversaries on opposite sides of the earth, or risk being swallowed by an imploding wall of totalitarianism. It was as simple as that.

The last resort, Roosevelt said, might very well be the fission bomb under discussion – but then he’d asked: “What then?”

“If we win this war, how in God’s name do we win the unstable peace that must surely follow? What happens after we finally open Pandora’s box?”

When they made it down to the room, a large ballroom where both cocktails and heated conversations were being consumed in unhealthy quantities, people were just shuffling off to a dining room, and Roosevelt had mysteriously disappeared. Charles and Oppenheimer saw her coming through a doorway and both rushed to her side.

“Ah,” Oppenheimer said casually, “you didn’t die, I take it?”

Charles shook his head as he walked up to her, rolling his eyes. “You look better, the color of a tangerine now. Better than that plum-red you were sporting…”

“And I feel better, too. Thanks for asking.”

“We’ve taken the liberty of putting you next to Ben Goodman…”

“Benny Goodman? The…musician?”

“No, dear,” Oppenheimer sighed, as if he was talking to a child. “Ben Goodman, the physician. The physician who held your wrist and took your temperature when you were upstairs. He seems to think you need to go to the hospital.”

“The hospital?”

“Yes. Oddly enough, he thinks both you and Franklin have pneumonia.”

“Bosh. I have no such thing. I’ve not coughed in days.”

“Indeed. You must remind me…where did you take your medical diploma?”

Ignoring Robert, she turned to Charles. “Now, where am I sitting?”

“Follow me,” her brother said, and when they gained the table a dapper looking man stood and held out her chair.

“Well, you’re looking better,” Goodman said. “How’re you feeling? Still flushed?”

She smiled and sat, and Charles sat between her and Oppenheimer. “Aspirin seems to do the trick for me,” she said, “whatever it is I’ve gotten hold of.”

“Well, drink plenty of water tonight. They tend to over-salt the food here,” Goodman said, frowning.

“You come here often, I take it?”

“I seem to have taken up residence here – rather against my will, I should add.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, it seems I’ve become the President’s Personal Physician, or some such blather. That’s what’s on the door to my office, anyway. Are you Charles’ wife?”

“Sister.”

“Indeed? Splendid!”

She looked at Goodman and smiled. “Splendid? Truly?”

“Yes indeed. Take a look around, would you? There are three females in attendance, one is serving food this evening, and one of them is Mrs. Roosevelt. You’re the third, and I’m sitting next to you. So, yes. I think that’s very splendid indeed!”

“I see. You’re not married, I take it?”

“No, but the night is young.”

Claire grinned while she tried not to shake her head.

“So, why did Charles bring you along?”

“I’m Robert Oppenheimer’s assistant.”

“Indeed,” Goodman said, frowning. “A physicist, then?”

She nodded her head, smiled a little smile, not at all triumphant. “Yes. Isn’t that the bee’s knees?”

“Are you working on all this uranium stuff?”

“I’m sorry, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

“Of course. It’s just that I am, so I naturally assumed…”

“You are?”

“Yes. Well, you see, I’d been working on establishing new protocols for radiation exposure, primarily for use with or during diagnostic imaging, when Szilard tapped me to help out. When I’m not working here, I’m stationed at the Navy Yard.”

“Oh? You’re in the Navy?”

“Yes, and sorry…no uniform tonight. I was off duty when Harry called me in to check out the President.”

“Harry?”

“Ah, you’re not into politics, I take it? Harry Hopkins. He’s been with Franklin since day one. The New Deal is his baby, if you didn’t know. Harry is one of those Progressive Optimists you read about in the Times.”

She shrugged again. “If you say so.”

“Not interested, I take it?”

She shook her head gently, though she smiled at Goodman.

“Oh dear,” he sighed, “I may fall in love with you before we get to our salads. Where are you working?”

“Berkeley.”

“Yes, of course. How stupid of me. You did say you were working with Robert.”

“Where did you go to school, Doctor?”

“Annapolis, then Georgetown. I began working with x-ray imaging devices when I did my internship, and I’ve been fascinated by the things ever since.”

“And how did you get roped into being the President’s physician?”

“Harry was out at the Yard and he had a bad cold. I ended up seeing him and that was that.”

“Chance, then?”

“Yes. Bad luck.”

She smiled when he grinned again, and she looked at his eyes a little longer this time. Kind, gentle, and deeply inquisitive. A scientist’s eyes, in other words. “So, radiological dosing? You’ll be working on this so-called uranium project, I take it?”

“Yes. So I’d imagine we’ll see each other from time to time?”

“Would you like that?”

“Yes, you know, I think I would.”

She felt her face flushing again, felt a few beads forming on her forehead, then she felt a glass of ice-water being thrust into her hand. “Drink it down, and take some ice into your mouth, roll it around…”

And without asking she did so, then she felt him grasp her wrist, begin counting-off her pulse while he watched her face and neck. “You know, even as sick as you are, you have the most enchanted eyes I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Enchanting, I think perhaps you meant to say?”

“No, enchanted. Like you’ve seen wild, magic things already. Like there’s little that makes you afraid.”

She could feel Charles looking at her, listening to this conversation, and she tried her best to ignore his eyes burning into the back of her skull, then she took a deep breath and leaned back in her chair. “You know, I’ve felt better.”

“I’d like to run you over to Georgetown, that is if you don’t mind.”

“Perhaps after dinner, Dr. Goodman,” she heard her brother saying – then she was wrapped in warm blankets of deep sleep, adrift on a sunless sea – and everywhere around her, she felt the deep vibrations of huge machinery…

(c) 2017 | adrian leverkühn | abw

Sunday in the Sun + 3 September 2017

Sunday in the Sun logo

I think the sermon of the week should be on hypocrisy, as the concept seems to be one of the guiding moral precepts of our time. And while I’d like to write a bit about religious hypocrisy in our day and age, that may be a little too oblique – like taking a cheap shot at the charlatans defining our moral debates on Faux News.

And so, let’s start by ignoring some of the more telling hypocrisies that have crept back out into the light of day recently. So, try this, from a Facebook post by Craig Hardegree:

Around this time last year, President Obama visited flooded areas of Louisiana. At the time of his visit, 13 deaths had already occurred; 7 trillion gallons of rain had already dropped; 24 inches of rainfall had already been measured; $15 billion in damages had already been estimated.

Evangelicals lambasted President Obama for not visiting sooner.

Yesterday, Trump visited a dry airport near the flooded areas of Texas. At the time of his visit, 16 deaths had already occurred; 11 trillion gallons of rain had already dropped; 49 inches of rainfall had already been measured; $50 billion in damages had already been estimated.

Trump didn’t hug a neck, kiss a cheek, wipe a tear. He didn’t encounter water falling from the sky or puddling upon the earth. He didn’t mention the loss of a police officer or the drowning of a family of six.

And evangelicals offered no criticism of Trump.

Because they are hypocrites.

Because they treated President Obama in the manner we would have expected racists to treat him.

In 2012, in anticipation of President Obama’s quick response to Hurricane Sandy, Trump tweeted:

“Not only giving out money, but Obama will be seen today standing in water and rain like he is a real President — don’t fall for it.” ~ October 30, 2012

“Obama is now standing in a puddle acting like a President–give me a break.” ~ October 31, 2012

Damned if he got to New Jersey too fast and actually got his feet wet; damned if he waited until water receded in Louisiana, as the governor asked him to do.

Same thing happened with regard to Libya after the “seeds of democracy” planted by Bush blossomed into harvest on President Obama’s watch.

Evangelicals excoriated President Obama for not immediately jumping in to protect the people of Libya from slaughter by Gaddafi. After getting other countries to go first with their troops and money, President Obama led from behind with air strikes. Then evangelicals eviscerated President Obama for getting involved in Libya.

Damned if he didn’t; damned if he did.

When Syria blossomed, President Obama asked congress to pass a resolution telling him what action they wanted him to take.

They refused.

Because once their position was recorded by vote, they couldn’t change their position to the opposite of President Obama’s position.

They wanted to be able to damn him if he went east; damn him if he went west.

When BP’s Deepwater Horizon leaked oil into the gulf in 2010, conservatives castigated President Obama for not doing enough, naming the spill, “Obama’s Katrina.”

When President Obama had a meeting with the head of BP and impressed upon him the wisdom of paying a $20 billion dollar fine, House Republican Joe Barton openly apologized to the CEO for the “shakedown” of BP by President Obama and Rand Paul said President Obama’s criticism of the foreign company was “un-American.”

Damned if he didn’t do enough; damned if he did too much.

And now evangelicals have the unmitigated gall and ungodly audacity to claim current criticism of Trump is “unprecedented” and the worst any previous president has had to endure.

They’ve gone from acting ugly to claiming victimhood.

From holy haters to hypocritical whiners.

When President Obama was asked about Syria’s chemical weapons, he said that was a red line in the sand – if Bashar used chemical weapons on his people, there will be “consequences.”

And there were.

After the incident was confirmed, President Obama forced Bashar to allow international teams to come in and ship out all of Syria’s chemical weapons.

President Obama followed through.

On August 8, Trump said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.”

The very next day, Kim Jong-un threatened the United States again, threatening to launch four missiles into Guam.

Trump did not meet the threat with “fire and fury.”

Yesterday, Jong-un launched a missile over Japan; Trump said the action was “threatening.”

Trump did not meet the threat with fire and fury.

In case Trump had failed to understand Jong-un was blatantly threatening the United States, last night Jong-un said the launch over Japan was a “meaningful prelude” to a strike to contain the American territory of Guam.

Trump did not meet the threat with fire and fury.

President Obama followed through on his “consequences” for Bashar crossing the red line.

Racist evangelicals, to this day, falsely say he didn’t.

Trump has not followed through on his “fire and fury” for Kim Jong-un making one more threat, even though Jong-un has humiliated Trump by slapping him in the face with three threats since.

And hypocritical evangelicals don’t care.

Because their criticisms were never about substance.

They were always about race.

And then there are reports from Houston that prosperity evangelicals refused to open the doors to their crystal palaces to people fleeing Harvey’s torrential rains (i.e., God’s Wrath). One assumes they didn’t want to get the carpeting wet, while other reports about the owner of a mattress store opened doors so refugees, his neighbors, by the way, would have a place to sleep. These are the same evangelicals, by the by, who wholeheartedly endorse the current occupant of the White House. The same hypocrites, I think you could say.

But the hypocrisy of our age knows no bounds, or so it seems. Take for instance two US Senators, from Texas, of course, now making the case for disaster relief funds for hard hit southeast Texas. In 2012, after Superstorm Sandy thrashed New Jersey and New York, these same two Senators cried foul…cried too much pork was in the barrel. Then, oh my, we learn what our dear GOP congress-critters have in store for us now:

Upon their return from the August recess, House Republicans are set to debate a government funding bill, a piece of legislation that seeks to cut nearly $1 billion in disaster relief funds to secure a down payment for President Donald Trump’s border wall.

However, the devastation wrought by Hurricane Harvey — which has left thousands stranded after flood waters inundated parts of Houston and its surrounding areas — complicates that funding path.

Cutting funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s disaster relief fund amid a crippling natural disaster would be politically perilous in any year. But doing so for Trump’s border wall would be even more damaging, given low public support for the wall and Trump’s promise that Mexico would be paying for the project.

This follows several patterns we’ve seen in GOP policy making circles over and over for the past few years, to wit and by way of example, putting someone who wants to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency in charge of that agency. And he then begins to delete all reference to climate change from agency material just before hurricane season. When there’s an emerging consensus that climate change is the measurable cause of recently observed rises in sea level. When there’s an emerging consensus that climate change is driving recent major flooding events not just in Texas but in Bangladesh, and elsewhere. When EPA Superfund sites are being swamped by Harvey’s floodwaters and washing untold amounts of carcinogenic compounds into the murky city streets of cities and towns all along the Gulf Coast.

This is, as I’ve alluded to before, our Crazy Eddy moment, with Crazy Eddy emerging as a central thesis in Niven & Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye. (Again, if you haven’t read this one yet, you’ve made a big boo-boo…)

Watching this GOP engineered agenda – their so-called downsizing of government to pay for tax cuts to the uber-wealthy – is like watching a slow-motion train wreck play out over decades, in effect turning a fairly well and justly functioning federal bureaucracy into a maliciously ineffective, not to mention Kafkaesque burlesque show. Our courts serve the wealthy, our legislatures too, and, well, we can all see what happens when a wealthy blowhard takes the reins of power and decides to run the ship of state up on the rocks. Can you imagine how much fun the Chinese and North Koreans are having calling this idiot’s bluff week after week, time after time?

It’s really fun, ain’t it? Like looking on passively as everything our forefathers built gets shoveled under by a covey of inbred morons and their playmates. Maybe Trump will be The End of History, after all. Maybe what comes next is post-literate society, the return of full-blown medieval demagoguery…?

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But, of course, this is just one of many points of view. Take, for instance, the view from the other side of the aisle, the view from Fox News.

Disasters bring out the best and worst in people.

There are big-hearted celebrities like Sandra BullockJ.J. Watt, Kevin Hart and others working hard to aid the flood victims. (Please donate here!)

There are reporters like CNN correspondent Ed Lavandera who rescue those in need, remembering that they are first and foremost human beings, not just journalists.

But for many in the media, the storm is just one more chance to rain on President Donald Trump’s parade. One more chance to remind ordinary Americans that they hate Texas, Texans and anyone connected to Trump. Politico and Charlie Hebdo were the worst of the pack, but there were far too many outlets and cartoonists trying to use a disaster to further their own agenda.

Politico tweeted out a cartoon from Pulitzer winner Matt Wuerker on Wednesday and it was met by a storm of controversy. The image depicts a Confederate flag-wearing man being rescued from a house emblazoned with a giant Texas flag with the word “Secede” written on it. A Gadsden flag (stating “DON’T TREAD ON ME,” used in the American Revolution and by some modern tea party groups) is being covered in the floodwaters nearby. The man shouts: “Angels! Sent by God!” The rescuer responds: “Er, actually Coast Guard … sent by the government.”

The Washington Post’s Aaron Blake summed it up nicely. “It’s almost a caricature of what you’d expect a liberal cartoonist to draw in response to conservative Texans relying upon the government in their time of crisis. The Confederate flag T-shirt. The Gadsden Flag. The reference to being saved by God (which seems extremely dismissive of Christianity). The Texas secession banner. It’s all kind of … predictable?”

Yes, predictable. Because we expected it and it happened. Left-wing Politico discovered that many people don’t actually hate the storm victims and promptly deleted the tweet. Only one problem: the cartoon is still available on the Politico website – while people have died in Texas from that very same flood.

Wuerker released the obligatory phony statement to try and fend off his numerous critics. He claimed: “It of course was not aimed at Texans in general, any more than a cartoon about extremists marching in Charlottesville could be construed as a poke at all Virginians.” Except, of course, the people dying or losing everything from the flood are Texans in general.

Wuerker’s whole Twitter account is filled with attacks on conservatives, including a retweet of a similar cartoon and one showing a photo of high-heeled swim fins for Melania Trump. That second one reflects on yet another Politico use of the flood for political gain. (See below.)

Politico wasn’t the only clueless, hateful outlet to push a cartoon making fun of flood victims. Charlie Hebdo, the controversial French publication, did its part. Its cover depicted a bunch of drowning Nazis saluting, with only their limbs and the tops of Nazi flags showing. The headline? “God Exists! He Drowned All Neo Nazis of Texas!”

This might be a good time to remind Charlie Hebdo staffers that the only reason they aren’t goose-stepping today is thanks to a ton of Americans who risked everything – including some who gave their lives – to liberate France from the Nazis in World War II. Many of these heroes came from Texas including one of the most-decorated American soldiers of World War II, Audie Murphy.

2. Let’s Play Politics With People’s Lives Part II: When CNN correspondent Rosa Flores shoved a microphone in the face of one flood victim, she got more than she bargained for. “But y’all sit here, y’all trying to interview people during their worst times – like that’s not the smartest thing to do,” said the angry woman. She went on to toss a few four-letter words at CNN before it cut the segment. Just as Ed Lavandera showed the sensitive side of journalism, this showed the insensitive.

There was a lot of that.

MSNBC’s amazingly biased Katy Tur (D-J school) complained that it was too early for President Trump to go to Texas. She went on that “there’s real concern that his going there is going to have to divert, at least a little bit, some resources away from the rescue effort and toward him.” CBS’s openly left-wing morning co-host Gayle King wondered if it was “the best time for him to come?”

Then when the president got to Texas, both “Morning Joe” and CNN complained he didn’t have enough empathy. “Morning Joe” co-host Mika Brzezinski followed her usual froth-at-the-mouth line that there was “something wrong with” the president. CNN’s Jeff Zeleny whined that there was “very little in terms of empathy from this president.”

Then there was Slate, with a headline just complaining about … stories of heroism. “Why It’s Misleading to Say That Houston Showcases ‘America at Its Best.’” The subhead to the story added: “Natural disasters shouldn’t be used for the purpose of national mythmaking.”

Pretty sure those thousands of heroes and volunteers aren’t myths. But Slate’s integrity sure is.

3. Hurricanes Must Mean Global Warming: Weather coverage is reliable. A lack of major storms must mean climate change. The first major storm to make landfall in more than a decade? Climate change again. It’s the perfect answer to every question.

The horrendous flooding in Texas meant journalists moved from the first strategy to the second. And they did so with ease. So many that it was impossible to tell the “journalism” from the opinion. One claimed, “there’s a connection between rising global greenhouse gas levels and the extreme weather now being inflicted.” (Journalism, allegedly). “Now we have a moral duty to talk about climate change.” (Opinion).

Apparently, we don’t have a moral duty to discuss how the Galveston hurricane of 1900 was far and away the most deadly in American history – with between 6,000 and 12,000 dead. But that wouldn’t be climate change, so journalists won’t discuss it.

CBS’s Manuel Bojorquez also pointed the finger also at Houston development while interviewing one climate change alarmist. “He says when Harvey came ashore, the storm laid bare another problem decades in the making: The massive paving over of the area’s natural wetlands and prairies,” explained Bojorquez.

Of course, if one wanted to push an agenda, it’s worth noting that Houston has been led by Democratic mayors for 35 years. A point Bojorquez didn’t bring up.

4. Chinese Water Torture Journalism: Journalists would love it if Russia or some similar big story took down the Trump administration. Failing that, they have chosen the time-honored method of the Chinese Water Torture. The goal is to damage President Trump with a series of mindless, minor stories.

We had two wonderful examples this week. First, the outrage over the First Lady Melania Trump’s shoes. Yes, I’m embarrassed to type that. Even more embarrassing were the comments coming from journalists who used the shoes as “a symbol for what many see as the disconnect between the Trump administration and reality.”

The number of heels who whined about heels could have filled a shoe store – The Daily Beast, Politico, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Vanity Fair. Refinery29 writer Maria Del Russo called Melania “flood watch Barbie.”

And Vogue’s Lynn Yeager was much mocked for her criticism of the first lady. “But what kind of message does a fly-in visit from a First Lady in sky-high stilettos send to those suffering the enormous hardship, the devastation of this natural disaster?” she wrote. Conservatives on social media skewered Yeager’s own lack of sartorial excellence. Firebrand Milo Yiannopoulos’s critique was so harsh I won’t even quote it. But it was well-earned.

Then there were the Finns. During a press conference with Finnish President Sauli Niinisto, Trump made the unforgivable mistake of mixing up two journalists sitting next two each other. The two women were both blonde and almost identical height, but the mix-up became international news.

The Washington Post carried an Associated Press story that led with: “It appeared to be a case of all blondes look alike for President Donald Trump,” and USA Today went with, “Well, mistakes happen.”

These all harken back to the standard liberal ways to attack conservatives. All conservatives must be: stupid, crazy, racist or evil … or some combination all four. The heels story was an attempt to make the Trumps look heartless and therefore evil, and the goal of the Finns pieces was to make Trump look stupid.

It’s been a media strategy that dates at least to President Reagan. We’ve just never seen it deployed on this extensive a scale before.

5. Goodbye Columbus, Hello Aztec Sacrifice: Nothing says tolerance like ripping someone’s heart out in a ritual sacrifice. Welcome to the City of Angels. So intent are liberals there to express their disdain for European culture, they now want to celebrate a barbaric native culture.

And The Los Angeles Daily News helped them do it. The City Council just approved replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day (just rolls right off the tongue). During that debate, the Daily News wrote a story citing one man and “pointing to his own ‘indigenous identity’ connected to the Aztecs.”

The story went on about his Aztec ties for four full paragraphs, never mentioning some of the pesky details about the Aztecs like human sacrifice on a massive scale. Just last month, NPR posted a story on its website headlined: “Aztec ‘Tower Of Skulls’ Reveals Women, Children Were Sacrificed.” Pretty sure Journalism 101 would cover that in the “who” or “what” questions.

Hurray For Hollywood: “F*** Donald Trump” seems all the rage on the Left Coast. It was played off camera during MTV’s Video Music Awards and nearly forgotten rapper Eminem chanted his version of it, “F*** Trump,” leading a concert audience in England to do the same. Meanwhile, hateful former celebrity Kathy Griffin unapologized for her crazy beheading Trump photo. The theoretical comedian even launched a “Laugh Your Head Off” tour, probably replacing her, “I Have No Talent” dates.

The left isn’t done bashing Texas and the South. The new B movie “Bushwick” depicts a world where “Texas has seceded from the United States” and, for some reason, secessionist troops travel all the way to Bushwick in Brooklyn to invade. (Why not pick Philly and at least get some cheesesteaks?) I don’t blame the idiot “creative” minds behind the movie. I blame the media people who already love it, in the midst of a disaster in Texas.

The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane began his clueless review of this movie with: “Some films have all the luck.” Because depicting Texans as awful villains while they are being heroic rescuing men, women and children and even pets is so trenchant.

In another example of bashing of conservatives, CNN is using Labor Day to release The Reagan Show,” a new anti-Reagan movie. The ads show Reagan saying: “Together we will make America great again.” Given how anti-Trump CNN is, this could reach Acosta-level stupidity.

Sounds reasonable, doesn’t it?

But I think the best propaganda usually does.

Still, there are the key words and phrases that pop up in this piece, words that really paint the truest picture of intent. If you go back to the earliest days of the Third Reich you read potent descriptives of Jews as vermin. All sorts of adjectives paint Jews as rat-like in this body of work, and in the Fox News  piece we get echoes of the same treatment…i.e., liberals as rabid beasts, “foaming at the mouth.” It’s part of a process, the process of dehumanization. You inculcate your reader/viewer with the point of view that your political opponent is somehow different from yourself, and in a very fundamental way. They are less than human…they are sub-human. You convince your readership that it is okay to hate these subhumans, and from there it isn’t a big stretch to cattle cars and concentration camps.

Time will tell. Ready to take that route again?

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Some other articles worth reading this week…

  1. ‘Your eyes start itching’: pollution soars in Houston after chemical industry leaks

  2. Triple Threat: New Pneumonia Is Drug-Resistant, Deadly And Contagious

  3. Getting Googled by your doctor?
  4. There’s a reason Trump has so many movie cameos...
  5. What we know about Russian efforts to hack the 2016 election is just the tip of the iceberg.

wall cloud 817

This little cloud appeared overhead midweek and was followed minutes later with furious lightning and then a thirty-minute downpour that flooded streets and knocked out traffic signals. Fun stuff, kinda of a mini-Harvey, and a reminder of how powerless we are before these kinds of events.

GBvLA2

Then, of course, there was a pleasant cool breeze at my second Packers game of the pre-season. Hard to imagine it being 105 degrees in Los Angeles this week when it barely got into the 60s here, and I’d guess the Rams enjoyed the respite despite being walloped by the home team.

Ah, yes, nothing better than an early autumn.

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And, so, back to it. Hope you have a good week.

Sunday in the Sun + 27 August 2017

Sunday in the Sun logo

It seems clear to me now, and hopefully to some of you reading this blog, that something terrible has gone wrong with this country. We’ve collectively given it a name – Trump – but I’m afraid the problem runs much deeper than any one man. It’s as though decades, perhaps even centuries – of enlightenment thought has caved-in under the weight of too many inherent contradictions, or, perhaps, the responsibilities of freedom have proven too onerous. I have never been able to imagine the sheer horror felt by political technocrats during the Weimar Republic – until now – when, after Hitler’s ascendancy, they watched all their carefully laid out structures melt away in a rain of solid hate. Article 48, anyone?

Trump, like Hitler, liked to shore up his flagging ego with carefully orchestrated “rallies” – and Trump held a doozy this week in Phoenix. That rally, in and of itself, wouldn’t be of too much concern absent other emergent trends, notably those concerning Trump’s Voter Fraud Initiative – and the personnel he’s brought in to lead this effort. Too, we can see the fruits of these initiatives in North Carolina and Kansas, and we can discern further peril when we look at the failure of the Legislative Branch to act as an effective check on the Executive, as well as the dangers inherent in a Supreme Court packed with right-wing ideologues. It’s as though Republicans, in their rush to impose one party rule in this country, have used every dirty trick in the book to sweep away constitutional restraint. In doing so, in their quest for absolute power, they are destroying the American experiment in democracy.

So, will Trump, the courts and our Congress collude to postpone elections? This question, and the lingering idea of Weimar, only makes this week’s cover of the German news magazine Der Spiegel all the more ironic. And troubling.

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A little closer to home, from this week’s Time Magazine:

Democracy In North Carolina Could Disappear. Is Your State Next?

The unraveling of longstanding democratic norms (not to mention decency norms) in Washington, D.C., is understandably transfixing many Americans. But we should not lose sight of the fact that democratic values are under assault in the states, too.

Nowhere is this more prevalent than in North Carolina. There, a case questioning some basic tenets of representative government is playing out before the state Supreme Court right now. On the surface, the case involves a power struggle between the newly elected Democratic governor and the Republican-controlled state legislature over control of the state election process. But more importantly, the case is about how much a legislative majority can manipulate the rules to make its advantage permanent — regardless of what the voters decide.

North Carolina is a closely divided state. It voted just under 50% for Obama in 2008 and for Trump in 2016, and it regularly holds some of the closest Senate and gubernatorial elections in the country. In 2010 Republicans rode a national wave to take control of the state legislature for the first time since 1899 and assumed full political control of the state in 2013. In 2016, however, the incumbent Republican Governor lost his reelection bid to Democrat Roy Cooper. Then things turned ugly.

Seventeen days before Cooper was to take office, the Republican-dominated legislature passed a package of sweeping changes designed to limit his authority, which the outgoing Republican governor signed into law. The centerpiece of this effort was a plan to ensure continued Republican dominance of powerful state and county boards of elections, which are responsible for running elections in the state and have been controlled by appointees from the Governor’s party for more than a century. (The original law was struck down by a state court in March but then reenacted over Cooper’s veto with only minor changes.)

The new law extends the tenure — indefinitely, for all intents and purposes — of the sitting Republican-appointed Executive Director of the State Board of Elections, North Carolina’s leading election official. She would otherwise have been supplanted by a new Democratic appointee. The law also awards half the seats on state and local election boards to Republicans, which allows them to block any changes to voting rules adopted by the previous Republican-controlled bodies. The law even says Republicans get to chair all election boards during every crucial election year when the President, Governor and all statewide officials are on the ballot.

These changes leave little doubt as to who would really be in charge of North Carolina’s election process — and that is the point. Some legislative leaders openly admitted that one of their main goals of the election board law was to keep Republicans in power.

State legislators have tried to justify this power grab by pointing to Democrats’ efforts to increase their political power in the state in the 1970s and 1980s. But while North Carolina Democrats don’t have clean hands, this latest Republican gambit to control the election process is part of a dangerous historic escalation.

North Carolina’s new election board law is part of a series of actions the Republican majority in the legislature has taken to consolidate their hold on power since 2010. They passed aggressive gerrymanders that gave their party 10 of the closely divided state’s 13 congressional seats and super-majorities in both houses of the state legislature. They also sought to disenfranchise Democratic-leaning constituencies — especially African-Americans and young people — by imposing sweeping new voting restrictions, including cutbacks to early voting, strict voter ID requirements and reductions in voter registration opportunities.

These prior efforts to game the political system have been roundly rebuked by the courts. The U.S. Supreme Court recently struck down both North Carolina’s congressional and state legislative maps as unconstitutional racial gerrymanders. And last year, the Fourth Circuit federal appeals court struck down the state’s new voting law, famously criticizing the “almost surgical precision” with which the legislature targeted black voters.

As the state supreme court considers the constitutionality of this latest effort to change the state’s electoral laws later this month, the legislature’s nakedly partisan motives and its past efforts to tweak the system for partisan advantage will likely loom large over the court’s deliberations — as they should. As more and more courts are recognizing, efforts to rig the electoral system are simply inconsistent with constitutional democracy.

Whether the North Carolina legislature gets away with its electoral power grab could have widespread repercussions. Although its democratic breakdown is extreme, the state is the canary in the coal mine. Throughout the country, democratic norms are under tremendous pressure. State legislatures are increasingly experimenting with anti-democratic electoral laws, like new restrictions on voting access and extreme gerrymandering. These anti-democratic strategies are gaining traction at the national level, where a presidential commission is expected to promote regressive voting laws.

The North Carolina Supreme Court is neither the first nor the last court to face an important test of the strength of our constitutional democracy. How it performs could be an early sign of whether we are in for more bad news — or are finally turning a corner.

Or, try this one, from AP via the Washington Post:

Uncounted Kansas ballots fuel fears about Kobach’s proposals

A conservative firebrand promoting President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud oversees a Kansas election system that threw out at least three times as many ballots as any similarly sized state did, fueling concerns about massive voter suppression should its practices become the national standard.

Only six states — all among the top 10 in population — discarded more votes during the 2016 election than the 33rd-largest state of Kansas, according to data collected by the bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency that certifies voting systems. Kansas’ 13,717 rejected ballots even topped the 13,461 from Florida, which has about seven times as many residents.

Critics of Kansas’ election system argue its unusually high number of discarded ballots reflects policies shaped over several elections that have resulted in many legitimate voters being kept off voter rolls in an effort to crack down on a few illegitimate ones.

There is particular attention on Kansas now because its secretary of state, Kris Kobach, is co-chairman of Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The architect of strict election policies requiring voter ID and proof of citizenship, Kobach has suggested Kansas’ rules could become a national panacea for voter fraud, which Trump — without providing proof — blames for Hillary Clinton’s popular vote victory.

“It is somewhat ironic that (Kobach) is claiming to really care about the integrity of voter rolls when this suggests that there may be a real problem that Kansas has with keeping voter rolls up to date,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center for Justice’s Democracy Program.

Kansas Elections Director Bryan Caskey argues it is difficult to compare states because their election laws differ and that Kansas officials are actually more aggressive than other states at getting ballots in the hands of would-be voters.

“I am understandably a little defensive about it because our routine is that if you walk in the door you get a ballot,” Caskey said. “… Even if there is no way that ballot is going to count, to at least give us a chance to do a little research to see if we can count it, and many states don’t do that.”

Under federal law, almost all states are required to hand out a provisional ballot to anyone who shows up at a polling place but isn’t listed on the voter rolls. The purpose of provisional ballots is to preserve the ballot until a voter’s eligibility is determined and alert officials of a breakdown in election administration, so Weiser argues a high number of them could be “a red flag that something is quite wrong.”

Jason Kander, the former Democratic secretary of state in neighboring Missouri, says it’s “not at all true” that poll workers in Kansas hand out provisional ballots to voters who would’ve been turned away in other states. He argues most election officials are aggressive about handing out regular ballots whenever possible because the provisional ones can be thrown out for something as small as a sloppy signature.

Missouri discarded 3,803 ballots in November — about a quarter of Kansas’ total. Kansas gave out 40,872 provisional ballots, compared to 5,511 for Missouri.

“Secretary Kobach uses every trick that he can to make it as hard as possible for eligible voters to cast a ballot — whether it is unconstitutional legislation, targeting immigrants or forcing more eligible voters to use provisional ballots,” said Kander, president of Let America Vote, a voting rights advocacy group. “He is on a crusade to stop people from voting and now the president of the United States has given him a bigger platform.”

According to Kobach’s office, Kansas did reject 931 provisional ballots because voters either lacked documentary proof of citizenship when they registered or failed to show sufficient identification at the polls. 

By far the largest chunk of the state’s rejected ballots — 10,148 — was due to other polling-site issues such as voters who were not registered in the state or who tried to cast ballots at precincts in the wrong jurisdiction.

In Kansas, if a voter moves to another county without updating the registration address, the entire ballot is discarded. However, when a voter shows up in the wrong polling place but the correct county, the only votes that are counted are the races that overlap both jurisdictions. Kansas had 22,726 ballots that were partially counted in 2016.

The Kansas policy on out-of-county voting is much stricter than rules in many other states. Some states, including California and Ohio, hand out provisional ballots as a way to update their lists of voter addresses and then counts the full verified ballot.

Fifteen states, plus the District of Columbia, also allow people to register and cast a ballot on the same day, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Kobach derailed a bill during the last legislative session that would have instituted same-day registration in Kansas.

Some Kansas voters — although the exact number is unclear — even went to the polls incorrectly believing they had legally registered, misled by erroneous confirmations the online registration system generated. Emails Kobach’s office provided to The Associated Press under an open records request show problems with the online system dated back months before the general election, although state officials did not recognize it as a systemic glitch until the month before the election.

The office explained it didn’t tell the public about the problem because it had received only “occasional reports of a few people.” Instead, county officials were told to only count the ballots of unregistered voters who produced a computer printout of the online confirmation. Anyone without such proof received a provisional ballot, but those were later discarded.

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James Clapper, Obama’s Director of National Intelligence, summed up feelings of many in the intel community (or should we bow to the pressures of the moment and just call them the establishment/Deep State?) when he stated, at the conclusion of Trump’s Phoenix rally (video from CNN): James Clapper, former director of National Intelligence, said Wednesday morning he questioned President Donald Trump’s fitness for office. “I really question his ability to be — his fitness to be — in this office, and I also am beginning to wonder about his motivation for it,” Clapper told CNN’s Don Lemon on “CNN Tonight. “Hours after Trump delivered a defiant speech in Phoenix, Arizona, Clapper said he found the President’s rally “downright scary and disturbing.” Clapper denounced Trump’s “behavior and divisiveness and complete intellectual, moral and ethical void.” “How much longer does the country have to, to borrow a phrase, endure this nightmare?He should have quit while he was ahead after last night,” Clapper referring to Trump’s announcement on US strategy in Afghanistan. “Again, I think the real Trump came through.”

How much, indeed.

So, let’s take stock for a moment. Assume for a moment that Trump is indeed colluding with the Russians. And assume that Republicans in Congress and in the Supreme Court are colluding with Trump. Would that mean, in effect, that all three branches of government are in Putin’s pocket?

And, would it matter? By undermining American democratic institutions with autocratic techniques that come straight out of Putin’s playbook, aren’t Republicans doing Putin’s work for him?

America? Love it or leave it? Sound familiar, or am I carrying this whole irony thing too far? Anyway, the courts continue to be the only viable firewall we have against this assault, as evidenced by a recent court decision against the Texas Voter ID law.

+++++

Could things get any weirder? Well, when oil enters the equation, things can get that way, in a hurry. Take, for instance, Saudi involvement in 9/11. Questions keep popping up, and here’s a story I read last April that somehow seems more timely as the river passes by.

One Man’s Quest to Prove Saudi Arabia Bankrolled 9/11

When Jim Kreindler got to his midtown Manhattan office on Friday, July 15, 2016, he had a surprise waiting for him. Twice in the previous eight years, Kreindler had been in the room as then-President Barack Obama promised Kreindler’s clients he would declassify a batch of documents that had taken on near mythic importance to those seeking the full truth of who had helped plan and fund the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Now, Kreindler learned, “the 28 pages” as they were known, were open for inspection and it was up to his team to find something of value. It wasn’t long before they did—a single, vague line about a Somali charity in Southern California.

That obscure reference would soon become part of the backbone of an argument that Kreindler and his firm have been making for a long time: Without financial and logistical support from members of the government of Saudi Arabia, the 9/11 attacks would have never taken place.

Proving the link between Saudi Arabia and the hijackers has been Kreindler’s nearly sole focus since the moment, several days after the Twin Towers fell, when grieving families began to file into the lobby of the burly, boisterous 61-year-old’s firm. That firm, Kreindler & Kreindler, was started by his grandfather and brought to prominence by his father, Lee, who the families knew was the man who had won a $3 billion judgment against Libya for the bomb that in 1988 destroyed Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. They were hoping he could find the culprit here, too. But, just over a year after the attacks, Lee was dead from a stroke. The case, and some 850 clients, became Jim’s to manage.

On that July morning, the case had slogged on for nearly a decade and a half. Some judges found it too large and unwieldy to understand. Sometimes it seemed as though Kreindler’s own government were actively working against the firm; agencies denied Freedom of Information Act requests and shared information with the Saudis as often as with his team. “I’ve stopped calling what our government has done a cover-up,” says former Senator Bob Graham, the co-chair of Congress’s 9/11 Joint Inquiry and the most prominent voice alleging a connection between the Saudis and the hijackers. “Cover-up suggests a passive activity. What they’re doing now I call aggressive deception.”

Saudi Arabia was Kreindler’s focus because many, including well-placed people like Graham, had long suspected that it had played a role in the plot, a charge the Saudis had always vociferously denied. Suspicions were fueled, however, by what the U.S. government had chosen not to reveal after the attacks. The post-9/11 Joint Inquiry, the first U.S. investigation led by the House and Senate intelligence committees, had exposed nearly 1,000 pages of documentation and evidence to public scrutiny. But upon its release in 2002, President George W. Bush ordered a small portion—the 28 pages—to remain classified. They were allegedly full of unpursued leads that hinted at a relationship between the 19 hijackers—15 of whom were Saudi nationals—and people possibly linked to the Saudi government. Then came the later 9/11 Commission, whose own members protested drastic, last-minute edits that seemed to absolve the Saudi government of any responsibility.

Kreindler’s team knew they were unlikely to ever find a smoking gun, a document that they jokingly referred to as “a thank-you note from Osama bin Laden to the Saudi King.” But even before the release of the 28 pages, they thought that they had amassed enough circumstantial evidence to meet the standards of a civil suit, where the burden of proof is considerably lower than in criminal court. Over the course of 15 years, Kreindler’s firm had named hundreds of defendants, ranging from wealthy Middle Eastern businessmen to even wealthier charities. In that time, the firm had compiled a tremendous amount of revealing information on its defendants—from the inner workings of secretive Swiss bank accounts to internal audits of massive corporations. So much information, in fact, that its lawyers often wondered whether the people they were suing knew what they were handing over. Legally, the firm knew it would be difficult to win a case against Saudi Arabia—the country had never been considered a state supporter of terrorism, which was the minimum standard needed for a lawsuit. Still, the firm kept tabs on the most interesting evidence suggesting a connection between the Saudi government and the plotters, especially a support network in Southern California. Yet there was skepticism that Kreindler’s team could ever turn its immense amount of data into a winning case. A newspaper editor once derisively described the firm’s evidence as being burdened by the presence of “Too many Mohameds.”

But on March 20, 2017, for the first time in the case’s long history, the firm named the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as its lead defendant. This was made possible because the Justice Against Sponsors of Terrorism Act, a bill that allows U.S. nationals to sue countries even if those countries have not been deemed a state sponsor of terrorism, had passed in September and survived Obama’s veto.

The new filing—which seeks $10 million per death, the same as in the Lockerbie suit—is chock full of obscure names of private citizens and massive charities. Some of the names would be familiar to anyone who has waded into the minutiae of the Joint Inquiry and the lengthy, bestselling 9/11 Commission report. But the new filing also contains a narrative about a trail of money that Kreindler’s team believes will help further implicate the Saudis. That trail is still centered in Southern California, but it involves people whom the firm says no one has connected before. One of the key players: a lanky former teacher’s aide in San Diego.

Early on the morning of January 22, 2004, Omar Abdi Mohamed sat across from Immigration and Customs Enforcement Senior Agent Steve Schultz looking untroubled. Mohamed, 42, 6’2’’ and rail thin, may have believed he had been called in to talk about his pending citizenship, for which he had applied four years earlier. But the real reason for the interview was more serious. Mohamed was one of roughly 25 men in the San Diego area who had been targeted by a Joint Terrorism Task Force established in the wake of 9/11. The goal was to use immigration laws to charge, convict and deport people suspected of having terrorist ties. Mohamed may have thought Agent Schultz to be harmless. He couldn’t have been more wrong.

According to a government transcript, as the interview began Mohamed sketched out some of the details of his life. His first wife had been killed during a civil war in their home country of Somalia, and their son, now a teenager, lived in the same refugee camp in Kenya where Mohamed’s parents had settled. Mohamed had arrived in the United States in 1995 on a religious worker’s visa. He had come to work and study under the tutelage of an imam at a local mosque. Not long after he arrived he got a job as an instructor’s aide in the San Diego City School system, where he helped young Somalis adjust to American culture. Mohamed had arrived in America with his second wife and their two kids. They now had four more. He was fluent in Arabic, well-versed in English, and knew some Swahili. He had a master’s in health care management and dreams of opening an African food market, and he had started two separate nonprofits aimed at assisting his fellow countrymen. One was something like an after-school program designed to keep kids from joining the gangs that had become a problem among second-generation immigrants. The other was called the Western Somali Relief Agency. It was meant to help the hundreds of thousands of Somalis still struggling from the after-effects of a famine. Mohamed, it seemed, was a man doing his best to raise a family and benefit his community.

Agent Schultz knew all this. He and Mohamed had gone over much of the same territory in another interview two years earlier. For this interview, though, Schultz wanted to start somewhere different. “The things that I was concerned about are the travel that you listed here,” he told Mohamed, according to transcripts. “Have you done any travel since the last time that we interviewed you?”

Mohamed said he had recently come back from Australia. Then he did something that, according to the complaint, had become routine when speaking to federal officials: He told part of the truth. In their previous interview, Mohamed had told Schultz that he had cousins in Sydney whom he visited often. What he had failed to mention was his real reason for the visit—the birth of his second child with his third wife, a native Australian.

In his initial conversation with Schultz, Mohamed had said he had seven children— the teenager in Kenya and the six who lived with him and their mother in a one-story stucco home with a white picket fence. Mohamed had neglected to tell Schultz that the Australian woman had just given birth to their first child. Now he left out another detail. That most recent trip to Australia had been planned so Mohamed could visit his newest child, his ninth in total. His failure to give the government a proper accounting of his offspring would eventually be one of the details that led to Mohamed’s deportation. But Schultz had more pressing matters on his mind.

Mohamed had claimed previously that the Western Somali Relief Agency brought in almost nothing in donations. “It didn’t make it,” he had told Schultz. Money was so tight, he said, that if he and his organization had been given a box of blankets they wouldn’t have been able to afford postage for shipping.

By now, according to the agent’s later grand jury testimony, Schultz knew this to be untrue. As he and Mohamed were speaking, Schultz’s colleagues were rifling through that stucco home and finding deposit slips that told a very different story. Far from destitute, the Western Somali Relief Agency had received more than $370,000 in donations in less than three years. The vast majority of that money had come from the suburban Chicago branch of an international nonprofit called Global Relief, according to the indictment that the government would ultimately file against Mohamed. In the two years between Mohamed’s first interview and his second, Global Relief had been designated by the United States Treasury Department as a supporter of terrorism due to its alleged connections to Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, according to Schultz’s grand jury testimony. What’s more, the agents discovered checks that showed Mohamed quickly moved the cash he had received from Global Relief to a money transfer service that operated throughout the Middle East. For a nonprofit allegedly created to provide humanitarian assistance, the series of events looked suspicious. So did the fact that Mohamed refused to tell the truth.

Schultz also knew something else. Mohamed had claimed that his one and only job was as a teacher’s aide. But ICE officials had just discovered that was also untrue. Even before his arrival in the United States, Mohamed had been employed as a “propagator” for the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Islamic Affairs, an agency long suspected of ties to extremists. For nearly a decade, Mohamed had received $1,750 a month to provide written reports on the local Islamic community. Even Mohamed’s listed reason for obtaining a religious worker’s visa, that he was to assist a San Diego imam, had been untrue. That same imam had told Schultz that Mohamed didn’t actually do any work. The mosque where he was supposedly first employed was just a small apartment. The story had been a ruse meant to help him gain entry into the United States.

Roughly 45 minutes into their conversation, Schultz asked Mohamed to stand up. He told him he was under arrest for immigration fraud. Mohamed pleaded with the agent. “I didn’t hide anything,” he said as he was being handcuffed. “I swear to God you have the wrong information.” Within two years, Mohamed would be gone from the country for good.

This might have been the last anyone ever heard of Mohamed if it hadn’t been for a member of Kreindler’s team who noticed that one vague line in the “28 pages.” It was a reference to a Somali nonprofit that, according to an FBI agent, “may allow the Saudi government to provide al Qaeda with funding through covert or indirect means.” They knew of only one Somali nonprofit with Saudi ties in San Diego—Mohamed’s Western Somali Relief.

In their 15 years on the case, Kreindler’s team hadn’t persuaded the U.S. government to provide them much of anything useful. And it certainly hadn’t had any success with the government’s Saudi counterparts. But they had spent more than a decade legally compelling some of the largest charities in the Middle East to hand over documents. Many individuals within the U.S. government knew these charities had provided financial and logistical support for the people and groups American officials labeled as terrorists. This trove of documents had grown into a database made up of terabytes worth of information—the firm’s well-organized haystack. And after Kreindler started looking more closely at Omar Abdi Mohamed, the firm found a needle.

During his 2004 interview with ICE, Mohamed said he once had been visited by an official from the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, the same department from which he was receiving a monthly check. Mohamed gave the man’s name as “Khaleid”, though the last name he offered was garbled. The ICE agent helpfully provided him with one: Sowailem. Khaleid Sowailem was, at the time, the head of Da’Wah, a department within the ministry whose stated goal is proselytizing. It’s a mission the Saudis accomplish by spending more than anyone in the world to build, staff and support madrassas and mosques to spread Wahhabism, the ultraconservative form of Islam unique to the kingdom and embraced by Osama bin Laden. It’s the main reason why one analyst once described Saudi Arabia as “both the arsonist and the firefighter” when it comes to global terrorism. It only made sense, then, that a man like Mohamed, a “propagator,” would be of interest to Sowaleim, the bureaucrat in charge of propagation.

Bob Graham had long suspected that men like Sowailem working in the Ministry of Islamic Affairs were the strongest link between the hijackers and the Saudis. “I came to the conclusion that there was a support network by trying to assess how the 19 hijackers could pull it off with their significant limitations,” Graham told me recently. “Most couldn’t speak English, most had never been in the United States, and most were not well educated. How could they carry out such a complex task?” Graham’s suspicions were heightened by the connections between the ministry and two men in what had come to be known as the San Diego cell.

The first man was Fahad al-Thumairy, an imam at the King Fahad mosque in Los Angeles who was known for his virulently anti-American views. Thumairy was also an employee of the Ministry of Islamic Affairs. The second was Omar al-Bayoumi, a garrulous man who many in San Diego’s Islamic community assumed to be a spy, since he could often be found walking around with a video recorder, taping everyone he encountered. Bayoumi was also paid by the Saudis—he had been employed in a series of ghost jobs since the ‘70s, according to the complaint. He was also the man who had made a claim that many U.S. investigators still find too coincidental to be true.

In a post-9/11 interview with the FBI, Bayoumi had said that he was dining in a Middle Eastern restaurant in Los Angeles in early 2000 when he happened to strike up a conversation with two complete strangers with familiar accents. A friendship developed, based off that single encounter. Bayoumi helped the strangers find apartments in San Diego; threw them a large welcome party; co-signed their leases and provided them money for rent; let them borrow his cellphone; even introduced them to people who helped them obtain drivers licenses and contact flight schools. Those two men were hijackers Khalid al-Mihdhar and Nawaf al-Hazmi, the first plotters to enter the United States, whose lives would end when American Airlines Flight 77 crashed into the Pentagon.

The FBI has long believed that Bayoumi’s chance encounter came immediately after meeting with Thumairy. Shortly after that meeting, Bayoumi’s $3,000-a-month Saudi salary was bumped up to $7,000. To people like Graham, the implication was clear: Thumairy, a Ministry of Islamic Affairs employee, had tasked Bayoumi with helping the hijackers settle into a foreign country, and his Saudi employers had provided him with extra cash to do so.

Kreindler’s team knew all of this, as did any student of 9/11. What they didn’t know was whether there was any link to Mohamed, or to the man whom ICE agents had identified as his boss. So Kreindler’s team took Sowailem’s name and plugged it into their database. They got a hit. Years before, Kreindler had received hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from a Saudi-funded charity called World Assembly of Muslim Youth, which according to the complaint, was linked to Al Qaeda. There, at the top of a single page, it found a note from Khaleid Sowailem written on official letterhead from the ministry. On that note was Sowailem’s phone number at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. They then plugged that number into the database and, again, out came a hit—this time, one that linked back to the men Kreindler and the rest of the world had already heard of.

According to heavily redacted FBI records gathered after 9/11, in the three months after Bayoumi allegedly randomly ran into and befriended the two hijackers, he also made nearly 100 calls to Saudi officials in the U.S. Thirty of those calls went to the number that Kreindler had uncovered as Sowailem’s direct line. What’s more, Kreindler’s team knew that in December 2003 the U.S. State Department had quietly revoked the diplomatic credentials of two dozen Saudi personnel. Kreindler knew that the State Department published complete lists of diplomats every quarter. They checked the last listing in 2003—Sowailem’s name was on it. They then checked the first listing in 2004—Sowailem’s name was gone.

In its new filing, Kreindler contends not only that Omar Abdi Mohamed was receiving and passing on hundreds of thousands of dollars from another charity, Global Relief, known to support Al Qaeda, but that the money itself was used to fund the attack. Here’s Kreindler’s theory:

Sometime late in 1998, a Somali Al Qaeda operative named Mohamed Sulaiman Barre established a branch of Dahabshiil in Karachi, Pakistan. (Dahabshiil is like an Islamic Western Union. A Somali-owned, Dubai- and London-based money transfer service.) Barre, who would later be held and interviewed repeatedly at Guantanamo Bay, operated the branch out of his apartment and internet cafes. He never had it registered, either, which meant that a branch supposedly intended to receive and send money to and from the whole world only had the capacity to accept it.

Also in Karachi at the same time was Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of 9/11. KSM, as U.S. officials later called him, was the point man for getting money to the 19 hijackers. He did this in a number of different ways, including by sending $100,000 via courier to his nephew in Dubai, who would later wire it to the hijackers in the U.S. (In the interim, KSM’s nephew hid the cash in a laundry bag stored under his bed.)

According to court documents filed in the case against him, starting in December 1998 and continuing until May 2001 Omar Abdi Mohamed wrote 65 checks—some as small as $370; others as large as $60,000—to Dahabshiil. The total amount, some $370,000, is roughly the same as what the 9/11 Commission estimated as the cost of the plot. When John Pistole, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, testified in 2003 before the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs, he acknowledged a “continuing investigation” into the “origin of the funding of 9/11 back to financial accounts in Pakistan.” When Pakistan’s CIA-equivalent raided Barre’s apartment in November 2001, its agents found that the Dahabshiil employee’s address book was full of aliases and phone numbers for senior Al Qaeda officials. They also interrupted Barre as he shredded documents.

To the people at Kreindler, there’s something else suspicious about Mohamed’s money transfers. It’s not just that he lied about them to the government. Or lied about the fact that he conducted them while working for the Saudis. It’s also the timing. The transfers came just months after two massive truck bombs went off almost simultaneously in front of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. One of the statements issued by 9/11 Commission staff shows that in the aftermath of those bombings, Vice President Al Gore made a trip to Riyadh with the express purpose of getting the Saudis to give American investigators more access to people who could shed light on Al Qaeda’s financial backing—people who were already in Saudi custody. The Saudis, the 9/11 Commission staff wrote, were “reluctant or unable to provide much help … the United States never obtained this access.”

Kreindler’s theory holds that in the wake of the embassy bombings and increased pressure from then-President Bill Clinton’s administration for the Saudis to provide investigative assistance, Al Qaeda was either encouraged or decided independently to make its money harder to trace. Kreindler’s complaint and other government documents, including the indictment against Omar Abdi Mohamed, trace a circuitous route that would take hundreds of thousands of dollars from the Chicago office of the Al Qaeda-linked charity Global Relief on to San Diego and Omar Abdi Mohamed’s Western Somali Relief Agency, then through the money transfer service Dahabshiil to Karachi, Pakistan, where a waiting Khalid Sheikh Mohammed sent it to his nephew in Dubai, who put it into the pockets of the 19 men who would travel to the United States.

Kreindler’s team knows the chain they’ve put together is missing a link. They have no direct evidence that when Mohamed wrote checks to Dahabshiil from his charity’s bank accounts that they ended up in the Karachi branch. Yet they do have Barre, the Al Qaeda operative who set it up, telling U.S. investigators specifically that he received money from Somalis in the U.S. Kreindler also has the knowledge that the U.S. Department of Defense has extensive records seized at the time of Barre’s arrest that they’ve yet to share with them or anyone else. They, of course, would like to see those records.

In the aftermath of the “28 pages” release, the Saudis once again proclaimed their innocence and asserted that the details within were vindicating. (Neither Michael Kellogg, the lawyer representing the Saudis in the lawsuit, nor the Saudi Embassy would answer questions for this story.) And there is always the possibility that a very small number of officials in one branch of government, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs, went rogue without the knowledge or blessing of the kingdom’s royal family. But Kreindler has experienced that scenario before with Libya, where then-Libyan leader Muammar al-Qadhafi paid the settlement even as he denied ordering the bombing. Even if that happens, Kreindler believes he and his clients still win.

There’s also another element that ties the 9/11 case back to Libya. “Our secret sauce,” says Kreindler, “is sharing all the information we have with Justice and State and then getting to the point where plaintiffs’ demand for compensation becomes part of U.S. policy.” In short, Kreindler thinks he can win by being transparent and accommodating with a series of administrations that have shown no willingness to offer their own transparency or accommodation.

Omar Abdi Mohamed’s second wife and their six children still live in San Diego today. When reached by phone, one of them, now an adult, says her father is living happily in Nairobi, Kenya, with his third wife, the Australian, and the children they have together. That adult daughter, who didn’t want to be named, says the family isn’t sure whether her father has plans to return to the United States, though she thinks he may have recently reached out to an immigration attorney. What Mohamed’s daughter does finally know is that the case she had always assumed was a mere religiously motivated witch hunt actually had the weight of evidence behind it. It’s fair to characterize her reaction to this new information as shock. She promised to pass along my contact information to Mohamed at his new home in Nairobi. She said she thought there was a chance he would call. So far he hasn’t.

Similar attempts to reach ICE’s Schultz and the FBI agent who helped investigate Mohamed were also unsuccessful. During Mohamed’s immigration trial, the government successfully persuaded a judge to suppress the evidence it had gathered against him, citing matters of national security. In late March, Jim Kreindler’s firm received a formal notice from the Justice Department that its request to review that evidence would be denied.

What happens next in Kreindler’s case against Saudi Arabia is unclear. JASTA allowed him and his firm to name the country as a defendant, but the bill has come under serious attack since its passage. (Congress overrode Obama’s veto, the first of his two terms.) Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham have spent a considerable amount of time arguing against it, and continue to argue to water it down, saying that if other countries pass similar laws the nation hurt most by the trend may be our own. Then there is the Saudi lobbying apparatus, which at one point last fall numbered more than 10 firms and millions of dollars in fees per month. Just recently, the Daily Caller reported that U.S. military veterans were allegedly being offered what they thought were merely free trips to Washington, D.C., that were actually a Saudi-backed attempt by a lobbying firm to use former service members to argue against JASTA.

Least known of all is what might happen now that Donald Trump is president. During the campaign, Trump described Obama’s veto of JASTA as “shameful” and “one of the low points of his presidency.” Once in office, however, Trump has seemingly reverted to the status quo. He recently held a series of high-level meetings with Saudi deputies that the country’s delegates described optimistically as a “historic turning point” in the two allies’ relationship. Trump’s administration is now said to be weighing even greater involvement in Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, which the Saudis see as a proxy battle with Iran, its primary Middle East antagonist. The Trump State Department has also approved a resumption of sales of precision-guided weapons to the Saudis, a measure that was suspended late in the Obama administration.

It seems exceedingly unlikely that Kreindler’s firm will receive anything like the sort of treatment it got from the U.S. government during its two decades-long case against Libya. Back then, the firm worked hand in glove with high-ranking officials in the State Department in order to resolve the Lockerbie case—paying victims’ families their settlement money was one of the conditions Qadhafi had to satisfy in order to have key economic sanctions finally lifted. In lieu of that level of support, Kreindler has identified a series of smaller measures Trump could take that would still help his case and, just as important, paint a fuller picture of the years and months of stateside planning prior to 9/11. Key among those are FBI reports that might shed light on who, if anyone, was helping the terrorists in the many other American cities in which they lived. As Bob Graham points out, the only reason the evidence in San Diego is compelling is because we actually know it, a result of some good detective work by a member of his Joint Inquiry staff. “I believe if we knew all the facts,” Graham says, “We would find that there were people similar to al-Bayoumi and Mohamed in southeast Florida, Virginia and New Jersey.”

That we don’t have definitive answers is a testament to the enduring secrecy that persists almost 16 years later. It’s also a testament to the patience of people like Kreindler, whose team has been working that whole time to get what it needs to prove its case, and who believes that no matter who is in office, there will only be one conclusion.

“If the president does nothing, we’ll still prevail,” he says. “The only question is how much longer it will take.”

from Politico

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Some other links worth following:

  1. Could events in Charlottesville provide further openings for Russian intervention?
  2. So, just what does corporate censorship of the news look like?
  3. Arpaio Pardon Would Show Contempt for Constitution. And there would be only one remedy for Trump’s disrespect: impeachment.

  4. The term ‘climate change’ was changed to simply ‘climate’ on website of the National Institutes of Health, the world’s leading public health research body The National Institutes of Health deleted multiple references to climate change on its website over the summer, continuing a trend that has been ongoing since the Trump administration took charge of the dot-gov domain.
  5. Twice a day since the beginning of the Trump administration, a special folder is prepared for the president. The first document is prepared around 9:30 a.m. and the follow-up, around 4:30 p.m. Former Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and former Press Secretary Sean Spicer both wanted the privilege of delivering the 20-to-25-page packet to President Trump personally, White House sources say. These sensitive papers, described to VICE News by three current and former White House officials, don’t contain top-secret intelligence or updates on legislative initiatives. Instead, the folders are filled with screenshots of positive cable news chyrons (those lower-third headlines and crawls), admiring tweets, transcripts of fawning TV interviews, praise-filled news stories, and sometimes just pictures of Trump on TV looking powerful.
  6.  

Not enough for you? Well then, you haven’t had your weekly dose of paranoia, courtesy of Clusterfuck Nation.

Or…just for grins…

Trumpcat

…is it just me, or is Trump beginning to sound more and more like Bill the Cat?

bill-the-cat

And so, anyway, well…you know what I mean, right? Does word salad sound like THBBft-t-t-t-t?

Adios, y’all, and keep on picking through the threads.

Sunday in the Sun + 20 August 2017

Sunday in the Sun logo

It feels like this country, like our president, is on some kind of weird, parabolic trajectory. We went up and up for two hundred years and had just kind of peaked around the time Lee Harvey’s bullets smashed into JFKs head and neck, and it seems like we’ve been headed down ever since. It’s kind of hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong, but I’d say – after watching the events of last week unfold – that the blame (if such a thing even exists) resides somewhere in our schools. Right?

How can decades of teaching the horrors of the holocaust be met with such profound emotional ambivalence, and on such a broad scale? Yes, there’s been outrage in the press, true enough, yet there are so-called NAZIs marching in our cities and the response by most republicans has been “so what?”. And I say most, as that’s the consensus reached by multiple polling organizations in the US this week. As in: 80% of republicans just don’t see it as a problem. I guess that’s the same 80% who see Russia’s interference in elections around the globe as “no big deal,” too.

But if schools have covered these things, and covered them in nauseating detail, where is the disconnect? Why can’t otherwise “good people” see the danger to our way of life in their passivity?

So, what happens when little Johnny comes home from school? Does he play ball with kids down the street before heading in to do his homework and have dinner with his family? Maybe. Sixty years ago he did. But what about today? What does little Johnny do after school these days?

You know the answer to this question better than I do. Johnny is confronted with choices we never had sixty years ago, isn’t he? Television was ‘Leave it to Beaver’ and ‘Father Knows Best,’ and you tossed the football (in autumn) with Dad right after he got in from work, right before Mom finished making supper. Today? Mom and Dad are both working and they probably get in late from work. Dinner? It’s more than likely to be at a local restaurant, as the more than likely single parent is usually too tired to cook.

Yet this is the familiar ‘family values’ narrative of American collapse, isn’t it? As in, the collapse of America is predicated on the collapse of the American family. Yet, if this is so, what caused this collapse?

Hyper-predatory capitalism? Does that ever get blamed? If you look at the collapse of the middle class in America, what causes and effects can you smell wafting away in the background? The drive to off-shore high paying middle class jobs, perhaps? In the name of share-holder value? All the Carl Icahn’s roaming the prairie, swallowing up and consolidating solid companies, spitting out the deadwood (i.e., terminated employees) who could no longer contribute to middle-class equity sharing, and all the trickle down effects such distributed wealth generated.

Now, magnify that on a large scale, say tens of millions people over decades, and look at the consequences. Look at Detroit, at Cleveland or Buffalo. Then look at a recent nighttime image from one of China’s mega-cities. Look at the growth. At the wealth generated by America shedding it’s real wealth (her people’s well being, her work-force) in the name of short term profit taking. This is the reality of income inequality. This is Trump’s reality, writ large.

Cities decaying, school budgets withering as tax bases shrink, ignorance blossoming.

But could it be that was a deliberate strategy? If an enlightened citizenry is the key to preventing things like this from happening, why cut school budgets? Why pay your teachers abysmally low wages compared to, say, Europe? And why are several 50-60 million dollar football stadiums opening up this year in Texas, for high school football games no less, when budgets for everything else are being cut?

A more important question. Why is the Hate of NAZIism still alive and well – in America, and elsewhere, even Berlin – more than 70 years after all the myriad guns fell silent along the Rhein?

Is hate like a virus? Can it take hold and spread through a population like a virus? If so, can the virus of Hate take hold within a family and remain in a semi-dormant state within those walls? If it can, how could a teacher ever hope to counter it – when Johnny goes home and watches Hate on TV, practices Hate inside the alternate reality of a video game, and then listens to a disgruntled parent rattle on about how Hate is the only way to change the sorry state of affairs in this country?

And lets not forget…the press is your enemy. That teachers are union backed lesbian communists out to impose their radical feminist agenda on your unsuspecting, too-trusting children.

Lots of patterns out there, coming into sharp relief then fading away. Lots of chaos in the noise, but if you look long enough the patterns are still out there.

+++++

So…Trump’s narcissistic paranoia. Bannon’s desire to burn it all down. Kim’s insecurity. Kind of a perfect storm, right? Then throw some more fuel on the fire. Some alt-right crazy fuel, in a progressive college town in Virginia. Hate: In Your Face. It works every time. Ever hear of the Reichstag fire?

Or: like someone that hates the EPA becoming head of the EPA. That kind of ‘In Your Face.’ It’s a strategy. Pure and simple. Outrage the left, get them to focus on little flare ups here and there and they’ll forget to keep their eyes on the bigger issues. Right now? It’s get rid of all the talk about income inequality. It’s about tax cuts, for you know who. The real meat and potatoes issue for the Cock Brothers and their ilk. Getting government off their backs so they can keep all their social engineering projects going. You can’t play the long game if you’re focused on snakes in the grass, can you?

Heard much about Russia and Trump this week?

Thought not. And Bannon gets fired, only to say he’s going back to Breitbart to fan the flames of Trump’s War?

Patterns in the chaos, indeed.

+++++

Remember Frank Capra? Perhaps his most accessible film is Mr Smith Goes to Washington, a heartfelt exploration of how power corrupts, especially in politics. Perhaps a better understanding of current events can be gleaned from Capra’s other classic on American politics, State of the Union. Startling parallels between politics in the 1950 and today emerge, notably the dark underbelly of Republican politics exposed through the McCarthy era witch hunts. It’s Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn at their best.

+++++

Music matters? Well, the word is Fink. Try This is the Thing, from Distance and Time. Of course, Looking Too Closely has become something of a classic, and was recently featured in the film Collateral Beauty. Decent folk-rock-jazz, any way you splice it.

+++++

Picked up a new TV this week, one of Sony’s new 4k OLED units, and so came home and hooked it up to my Apple TV – then downloaded the new Alien: Covenant film. What a piece of work Ridley Scott’s latest installment is, too. From the first, what struck me most about the new technology in this TV is the startling clarity pulled out of ordinary BlueRay discs. Images are so clear they no longer look “cinematic”, however…instead images look too sharp, almost too clear, and not at all like movies seen in first gen DVDs. Of the Alien film? About all I can say is it’s Dark, and I do mean DARK. The special effects are beyond gorgeous, with imagery of the ship in orbit over a cloud wreathed world shattering in startling purity. Compare the clouds flickering with lightning to anything you’ve seen before and tell me this isn’t a paradigm shift. Anyway, the story is a sequel to Prometheus, as well as a prequel to the original Alien, and as stories go this one is pretty good, with the only negative a somewhat clichéd ending that breaks no new ground – but should set up one hell of a sequel. Still, the existential pain from this film lingers.

+++++

Startrees

Above, an image from a friend down under, out under the stars on his farm near Melbourne, Oz. No light pollution down there, eh?

+++++

 

I’ll be spending some more time in the care of my good doctors this week, so should remain fairly quiet for a few more weeks. Sorry for that, but as hard as I’ve tried to make it so, “it’s” no longer an avoidable issue. Anyway, if you get out under the sun on Monday, remember to use some sort of protective gear if you check out the eclipse. Here in the American midwest, that will arrive just after noon.

Take care.

 

 

Sunday in the Sun + 13 August 2017

Sunday in the Sun logo

One thing you have to say about Donald Trump…with him in charge there’s rarely a dull week in Washington.

Yet…as easy as the answer may seem, just why is he in charge? What brought Trump to power? Can we even reduce the phenomenon down to a single thing? This may be the single greatest dilemma of our time, yet my guess is the answer has been staring us in the face, and for a very long time.

We live in a cultural moment that seemingly venerates celebrity over real accomplishment, one that often places value on the imagined exploits of fantasy figures over the real achievements of scientists and engineers. India, for example, sent a probe to Mars for 160 million dollars while at the same time we were off to see Star Wars and Alien sequels that cost something like 200 million to make, each. I have no idea who Kim Kardashian is, let alone what, if anything, she’s ever done, yet for some reason she’s famous and millions of people follow her every move. There are millions of people in this country living in abject poverty, and an unknown but growing number of homeless, yet professional athletes make tens of millions of dollars per year – and taxpayers foot the bill to construct immense new coliseums for their gladiators. then drive to the games passing all the forgotten people in the shadows. Ever see the film My Man Godfrey? There’s nothing new about all this…it’s a basic fact of life both in America and, increasingly, around the world, but there are real policy consequences to this state of affairs. The things we ignore say a lot about who we are as a people.

Without beating this horse to death, I ran across an interesting article in The Atlantic this week, titled How America Went Haywire, and I think you’ll enjoy reading this one a few times. The piece talks about things that have been bothering me, literally, for decades, if only because the essential bedrock of “common sense” that held our country together seemed reasonably intact until recently, maybe as recently as the Clinton era, the 1992-2000 interregnum. Looking back now, W’s election seems to me to mark a vague transition from common sense to the triumph of sheer lunacy in public discourse, when the term “crazies” took on a more immediate, and lasting, consequence. While the Obama years may, someday, come to be viewed as a period of relative calm before the storm, and I mean that in the same way the Weimar Republic was the calm before Hitler’s storm, it may be too soon to tell. Still, who knows? Is it too soon to see these kinds of trends taking shape, despite what you read on Brietbart or The Huffington Post? I mean, there’s a lot of noise out there, but The Truth Is Out There.

Isn’t it?

Well, one thing is certain. Decisions are being made in Washington – right now – that will impact the coming century in profound ways. Perhaps even in predictable ways. I’m speaking, of course, about two things of some import: North Korea and climate change.

About the time it was announced, earlier this week, that North Korea has (probably) miniaturized a warhead and therefore made the leap necessary to credibly threaten the mainland United States, Trump decided to utter one of the most “interesting” thoughts of his still-young presidency: “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening beyond a normal state, and as I said they will be met with fire and fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.”

It’s amazing, despite the Word Salad flow of Trump’s utterances, how such pronouncements tend to sound alike, isn’t it? I mean, this pronouncement could easily be mistaken for something Kim might say. Or, as has been pointed out, Harry Truman. There’s bluster, but then there’s nuclear bluster. The effect makes my skin crawl. And, it’s destabilizing.

Yet, then there’s the whole climate change morass, and to that I’d ask that you keep firmly in mind the “Haywire” article linked above when you read the following couple of posts. The first piece, from the failing New York Times, concerns the very nature of scientific inquiry; namely, how can effective investigations be conducted in a climate of fear. Fear that your work may, in effect, be used against you – as your results may not be politically comfortable to the Party in Power’s stated position on the matter. This is, I assume you know, dangerous stuff. As dangerous as putting a climate change denialist in charge of the EPA, or Rick Perry in charge of the DOE. I don’t know what Trump is trying to do, other that tear down every safety net erected over the last seven decades (recalling that the EPA was a Nixon creation only makes all this even more ironic), but I can imagine decades from now people looking back at this era and wondering what was in our water.

The corollary of fear is, I guess, ignorance. Willful ignorance. Such as: “In a bold new strategy unveiled on Monday in the Guardian, the US Department of Agriculture – guardians of the planet’s richest farmlands – has decided to combat the threat of global warming by forbidding the use of the words. Under guidance from the agency’s director of soil health, Bianca Moebius-Clune, a list of phrases to be avoided includes “climate change” and “climate change adaptation”, to be replaced by “weather extremes” and “resilience to weather extremes”.”

This is the same policy approach put in place in Florida a few years back. Ignore the problem and it will go away, as in: if you linguistically ignore the issue, then it doesn’t exist, right? Only now we have the mayor of Miami rallying support for climate change legislation, as streets disappear when high tides roll in.

It goes without saying, I reckon, but here I go, repeating myself one more time. This planet, indeed, this universe, simply doesn’t care what we do. If we wreck our home, if we kill off all life on this planet, there’s no one out there who’s going to give a damn, and it will be as if we never existed. Maybe someday a bunch of alien archeologists will happen by our ammonia encrusted rock and they’ll look down on the ruins and shake their heads, or tentacles, and maybe they’ll try to reconstruct all the things we did wrong back in the day – then just go on about their business, reaching back into the night for the answers they find.

Just one more misguided species who couldn’t get their act together in time; isn’t that right, Mr Spock?

Or, try this, from The Onion: “WASHINGTON—Sounding the alarm on yet another devastating effect of climate change, a report released Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that even a modest rise in global temperatures is likely to increase the number of Americans who fucking reek. “If the upward trend in average global temperature continues, we’ll almost certainly see a corresponding uptick in the proportion of Americans who just stink like rancid cheese,” said lead author Roger Agnew, explaining that with each degree centigrade the climate warms, the number of Americans who can singlehandedly clear out a room with their B.O. grows exponentially. “Our models project that the heat trapped by elevated levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could cause as many as 50 million Americans to develop an unbearably ripe stench capable of wafting as far as the Canadian border. We must ask ourselves: Do we want our children to inherit a world that smells like total ass?” Fanning the air in front of his nose, Agnew emphasized that climate change was real and that the effects of it could already be detected.”

Still, consider that Trump’s bedrock support hung at something like 40% for the first few months of his presidency, then drifted down to 38 – and is now fluttering in a dying breeze…at 33%. Republicans no longer fear him, or his constituency…as 33 is apparently a number that can be safely ignored. Yet…nothing drives up poll numbers like a little war.

Right, George?

+++++

Here are a few other interesting bits of gnews that passed our way this week, in case you missed them.

Sebastian Gorka, a White House national security adviser, defended President Donald Trump’s silence on an explosion at a Minnesota mosque by suggesting it could have been a fake hate crime “propagated by the left.” When asked on MSNBC Tuesday why Trump had yet to publicly comment on the Saturday incident, Gorka said the president wants to wait until he learns more about it. Trump, though, often is quick to comment on other attacks, particularly those carried out by Muslims. (HuffPost)

Steady improvements in American life expectancy have stalled, and more Americans are dying at younger ages. But for companies straining under the burden of their pension obligations, the distressing trend could have a grim upside: If people don’t end up living as long as they were projected to just a few years ago, their employers ultimately won’t have to pay them as much in pension and other lifelong retirement benefits. (Bloomberg)

Trump’s Stalled Trade Agenda is Leaving Industries in the Lurch,” reads the lead story in the business section of Tuesday’s New York Times. Apparently, the uncertainty over whether Trump will impose tariffs on imported steel has been spurring foreign suppliers to ship more steel to the U.S.—which simply makes it more difficult for domestic producers to compete. Adam Behsudi of Politico has a fantastic, deeply reported article this week on how Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Partnership—and the ensuing efforts by other countries to negotiate trade deals among themselves—is undermining the ability of U.S. agriculture producers to export. “I’m scared to death,” said Ron Prestage, a North Carolina businessman who had just made a big investment in a meat-processing plant in anticipation of more business after the passage of TPP. Behsudi also interviewed corn farmers in Iowa who have seen the price of their product gyrate in response to Trump’s hostile tweets toward Mexico. Trump promised to get Americans better deals on international trade. Instead he’s only delivered migraines. (Slate)

The latest government numbers reported find that drug overdose deaths in 2016 continued to climb despite ongoing efforts to stem the the overdose epidemic. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, estimates for the first nine months of 2016 were higher than the first nine months of the previous year, which had already reached an all time high of 52,404. Of those, more than 33,000 were attributed to opioid drugs including legal prescription painkillers as well as illicit drugs like heroin and street fentanyl. (CNN)

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump has no immediate plans to declare the nation’s opioid epidemic a public health emergency, a decision that flies in the face of the key recommendation by the President’s bipartisan opioid commission. Public health experts had said that an emergency declaration was much needed in turning the tide to save American lives. The commission, headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, was resolute in maintaining the importance of an emergency declaration: “Our citizens are dying,” it said. (CNN)

Most nights, Montgomery County, Ohio’s morgue is packed with new bodies. This is what one of the deadliest drug epidemics in U.S. history looks like. (CNN, link to video)

The federal government plans to give the exclusive license for a new liver cancer drug to a pharmaceutical company owned by China’s 63rd-richest man, HuffPost has learned. The National Institutes of Health proposes to grant Salubris Biotherapeutics, Inc. exclusive worldwide rights to a portfolio of patents on antibody drugs used to treat liver cancer, according to a notice published Monday on the Federal Register. The firm is the Maryland-based arm of Shenzhen Salubris Pharmaceuticals Co., Ltd., the Chinese drugmaker valued at roughly $5 billion and run by former Shenzhen mayor and billionaire Ye Chenghai, who with his family controls about 66 percent of the company. The proposal comes amid growing public backlash to deals that give pharmaceutical companies monopolies on drugs and vaccines developed through taxpayer-funded research without requiring them to sell the drugs back to Americans at a reasonable price. Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed a new rule that would require federal agencies and federally funded nonprofits, such as research universities, to secure a reasonable pricing agreement from a manufacturer before granting it exclusive rights to drugs, vaccines or other health care products. (HuffPost)

Washington (CNN) Democrats aren’t the only people in Washington who have stood in the way of Donald Trump’s agenda over his first six months in office. Even members of the Republican President’s own party haven’t been the easiest to work with at the beginning of his term, disagreeing on everything from the Russia investigation to health care reform to those early morning tweets. The President’s relationship with Republicans in Congress has become more complicated after he criticized senators for not passing a health reform bill and then large majorities passed a Russian sanctions bill over his objection. So who are these Republicans who aren’t always on board with Trump? They range from moderate governors to conservatives in the Senate — and when it comes to Trump’s tweets — more Republicans than you might think (CNN, with video).

Ten years ago, Fumiko Chino was the art director at a television production company in Houston, engaged to be married to a young Ph.D. candidate. Today, she’s a radiation oncologist at Duke University, studying the effects of financial strain on cancer patients. And she’s a widow. How she got from there to here is a story about how health care and money are intertwined in ways that doctors and patients don’t like to talk about. (NPR)

A former Republican senator is calling on lawmakers to use the 25th Amendment to kick President Donald Trump out of office. He is sick of mind, impetuous, arrogant, belligerent and dangerous,” Gordon Humphrey, who represented New Hampshire from 1979 to 1990, said in a letter to his state’s members of Congress obtained by Manchester ABC station WMUR. Humphrey, who vehemently opposed Trump in last year’s election, said the president’s comments threatening North Korea with “fire and fury” show that he is “impaired by a seriously sick psyche” and could lead the nation into nuclear war. 

In the letter, reprinted in the Concord Monitor, Humphrey wrote: 

The president alone has the authority to launch nuclear weapons, the only restraint being the advice of senior advisors who might be present at the time of crisis, and Donald Trump has shown repeated contempt for informed and wise counsel.”

Humphrey said the president’s “sick and reckless conduct could consume the lives of millions,” and he should be relieved of his duties “at the earliest possible date” (HuffPost)

 

So, here we are, walking along the road towards the brink of – what? Extinction (whether via miscalculated nuclear exchange, ignoring the scientific consensus of climate change – or through some other wanton act of brazen hubris) – and the daily gnews is full of interesting tidbits concerning the rights of the marginalized (usually some endangered Housewife of Beverly Hills these days) or the continuing exploits of the Kardashian Klan. I don’t know about you, but with our focus on things like this it’s easy to think we may not be long for this world. That said, here are some pictures from Lambeau Field, and the first pre-season game of 2017.

 

Ya know, for a doomed species we do have our good points. There’s hardly anything finer that a foot long brat and a cold pint where Vince Lombardi & Co made their own kind of history fifty years ago.

Later, y’all.

Sunday in the Sun + 6 August 2017

Sunday in the Sun logo

One of the reasons I glommed onto the idea of Wisconsin as a place to relocate centered around the idea of weather. It’s generally cooler up north (not to mention very cold in winter) compared to most of the US, and, with the Great Lakes just minutes away, there’s also water. Two elements conducive to life going forward…for me, anyway. I don’t like heat, and I’ve grown nervous watching encroaching wildfires as they surrounded me in Colorado. Snowfall levels were intense in January, but overall short-lived this past year, and stream levels were way down by May. Living with a well for water in an era of declining snow-packs and unpredictable rainfall, and let’s not even talk about increasing heat, struck me as risky at best. Too, medical facilities in Steamboat were simply inadequate to my needs going forward, not to mention way over-priced, so…off we went.

Unfortunately, we arrived up here about the same time as half of Arizona and New Mexico, and so ran into a feeding frenzy of real estate buying. I have never seen such nervous, almost panic-stricken buying in my life, and finding a house meant moving fast and trying to secure a contract in the relentlessly frenetic atmosphere of a seller’s market proved difficult. I was in and out of deals on five houses inside of two weeks, and lost out in two bidding wars as I simply refused to get sucked into paying too much for way too little. I finally found something close to ideal as the market simmered down last week, and was able to close within days. Today, some new furniture came; next week more stuff arrives so I’ll at least be able to settle down and write some this weekend. The Deep End of Your Dreams will need 2-3 more chapters to reach a conclusion, so that should take me to September…or thereabouts.

I’m of two minds about writing these gnews posts. I did so originally as a way to deal with my own simmering frustration after watching last November’s election results, which I still view as suspect. Suspect? How so? Well, it seems we’ll never know if electronic voting machines were hacked, and if we did find out just what the devil would we be able to do about it?

Nothing. As in nada. Yet there are tell-tale hints that something like this may have occurred. Probable? Who knows, and the same sorts of rumors popped up in 2000, in Bush v Gore. Maybe it’s just pure BS, or perhaps not, but when predicted outcomes fall so far outside of expectations, something unexpected happened. Polling errors of this magnitude have made a lot of people suspicious of cyber-intervention, but more mundane explanations abound..

And me, of two minds? Why now?

Well, the whole Trump thing may well be coming off the rails on it’s own, yet even so berating Trump seems to me at this point an exercise in futility. Trump, and Trump’s deepest backers, seem endowed with an almost endless contempt for the truth, yet the truth is beginning to alarm a significant number of other people – both in and outside of the republican mainstream – and I think that’s the most significant thing that’s happened in a long, long time.

Almost everywhere I’ve been the past month the divisions I’ve written about in these posts has been astonishingly apparent to even a casual observer. There’s a sense that “something’s wrong” out there, maybe even a simmering hint of betrayed angst amongst the less than sincere Trump aficionado. Still, party stalwarts like former Reagan and Bush I speechwriter Peggy Noonan have had enough. In a Wall Street Journal Op-Ed two weeks ago she opined that it was time for Republicans to wake up and smell the rotting roses, because the stench was coming from the general direction of the rose garden, and since her piece came out the cry from more and more conservative organs has echoed her frightened refrain. Trump’s grip on the “establishment wing” of the party has never been firm, but what little he enjoyed has now slipped away, and even political newcomers who rode the Tea-Party wave into the Senate, like Arizona’s Jeff Flake, are turning on Trump. Needless to say, senators like McCain and Graham have made their feelings clear for a while, yet few listened. That’s changing now, and so the past week’s newspapers have been filled with stories about “panic in the West Wing” as yet another new reality soaks in. As Mueller circles overhead, how long before the 25th Amendment is invoked? How long do the establishment types let this go on before they risk Trump taking down the Republican Party? Let alone risk Trump letting Prince Vlad take a sizable chunk of Eastern Europe, or start yet another war in Korea.

Still, for me there’s the whole “conscience” thing. Watching idly while Rome burns seems to me to be the worst thing a person could do, while sitting on fences has never been my thing. I’ve written these posts with the idea in mind that I might help get more people involved in the discussion, because we all need to listen at least as much as we talk about these things.

+++++

With all the noise in the media over the last two months about health care, has socialized medicines’ time finally come? Will Bernie Sander’s vision of Medicare-for-all suddenly become the next Big Thing? Well, read this article, from The American Conservative, on the conservative rationale for universal coverage. With recent polling showing that somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of Americans now favor the idea, we may not be as far off from such a policy change as you think. One thing has emerged as political bedrock, however: once a policy “giving” something like healthcare to people is set in place, it’s not politically feasible to take it away. Even with something as ludicrously inadequate as the ACA (ObamaCare) has proven to be, the act provided a lot more coverage than many people had ever experienced, and Trump’s admonishment that he’ll simply let the act implode is as morally reprehensible as it is illegal. The Executive Branch enforces laws – all laws – not simply the laws it wants to, and the ACA is the law of the land, for now, anyway. Trumps abrogation of executive authority is just another example of his disdain for the American political tradition – at least as envisioned by our founding fathers, and that’s been part of the real “wake-up” call received by policy makers this week. Trump is dangerous, in other words, to the US Constitution. They “get that” now. So, they finally seem to be grasping the idea that ignorance and narcissism are actually dangerous things.

Then there’s the other argument – that our current system (in the US) distorts medical decision making, with financial prerogatives often taking the place of “best practices” arguments. Want to read more? Try this one, from Slate.

+++++

Growing old, and all the idiotic consequences thereof, seems to be a recurrent theme these days, both here and elsewhere around the web. And here’s a good essay from Down Under, by a Gonzo journalist of the Hunter S Thompson School of Reckless Abandon, that contributes to the mayhem. Titled I’m A Good Candidate for Sudden Death, it’s as thoughtful as it is fun to read.

+++++

“Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) on Friday refused to answer a voter’s questions about a bill critics say will paralyze public health agencies and make it easier for corporations to pollute. He then laughed in the woman’s face when she asked him to stop taking donations from fossil fuel giants.” (Huffington Post)

+++++

From the Food for Thought department: “Donald Trump’s new chief of staff has vowed to impose military discipline and straighten things out, as one might expect of a retired marine general facing a gigantic mess. John Kelly’s appointment has been greeted as “an almost perfect lab test of whether a Trump White House can be functional”: he is highly respected, is not part of a faction, and has been promised that all staff, even family members, will report to him (good luck with that, General Kelly). He may, indeed, quash the crudest outbursts of an internecine war fought on multiple fronts, as he sought to in dismissing director of communications Anthony Scaramucci. Yet it seems highly unlikely that he will be able to end the incompetence and infighting of this administration. It is far from clear that the president really wants him to. There are several reasons for the farcical tussle for control in the West Wing, but the primary one is the man in the Oval Office. “Changing the boss’s behaviour? That would warrant a fifth star,” joked David Axelrod, senior adviser to President Obama.” (read the original at The Guardian)

+++++

Well, back to work and time to write. Got to find some eclectic bookcases today, too. Later…