You are browsing the archive for 2018 January 29.

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The Uncomfortable Truth About Whole Foods and Amazon's Grocery Monopoly

January 29, 2018 in Blogs

By Jacob Bacharach, AlterNet

Late capitalism resembles Soviet logic, especially when it comes to consumer options.


Of all the derangements of contemporary American political culture—and there are many—the gormless liberal pursuit of a shapeless Russia conspiracy has got to be the dumbest. Anyone can see the actual outlines of contacts between the Trump family, business organization and campaign (as if there was any meaningful distinction separating the three): the perennially under-capitalized Trump long ago burned most of his bridges to the major organs of American finance and has, for most of the last couple of decades, depended on foreign cash from people and institutions even less concerned with due diligence than our own Wall Street casinos.

I have no doubt that some within the Russian state saw in Trump’s desperate need for cash a potential avenue to modest influence, but really, would these savage oligarchs be so foolish as to imagine that a man so mercurial, so petulant, so uninformed, and frankly so stupid would be the path to an actual realignment of Russo-American foreign policy? Did these evil geniuses, any more than any of the rest of us, actually imagine he would win?

Try telling that to the internet’s dedicated sleuths. A collection of speed-sniffers, hack novelists and extremely minor Clinton hangers-on, they have spun out an elaborate fantasia on a Russian theme. It is, I admit, almost majestic in its baroque intensity. Among other charmingly silly errors of basic fact, many seem convinced that Russia remains a communist state, that the hammer and sickle still fly over the Kremlin (which they frequently mix up with St. Basil’s Cathedral), that the KGB still exists.

It’s a weird conceit. Russia may be one of the least communist states in the world, and whatever its former spies and commissars may have once believed, they were perfectly pleased to rush in and make money once Western shock therapy broke the country and its economy like an egg. If any state is a successor to the latter days of the Soviet Union—gerontocratic, sclerotic, limping toward a crackup it can’t yet see coming—I’d argue it ain’t Russia at all. …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Undercover Ink: How Spies Use Tattoos

January 29, 2018 in History

By Anna Felicity Friedman

 Richard Speck, accused slayer of eight student nurses. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Tattoos are more common in the workplace than ever before, but they can still be an occupational hazard. Particularly when your profession happens to be spy.

Spycraft often involves moving between legal and criminal worlds—and few things are as risky as being discovered while gathering intelligence. Common sense dictates that for spies, ink would serve as a means of easy recognition. Tattoos, after all, have long been used to determine identity, from verifying allegiances to specific gangs to providing clues in forensic investigations.

The identification of criminals has often hinged on distinguishing marks, from mundane burglars to famous perps like the Chicago mass murderer Richard Speck. When Speck was rushed to Cook County Hospital after a suicide attempt on July 17, 1966, he was recognized by a doctor who had seen his “Born to Raise Hell” tattoo publicized in the newspaper.

Richard Speck, accused slayer of eight student nurses. (Credit: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images)

Criminals have even been outed by the absence of crucial tattoos. In a famous 19th-century legal case, Australian national Arthur Orton reinvented himself as shipwreck victim Roger Tichborne, heir to a family fortune. Orton was revealed as an imposter, in part, due to his lack of certain tattoos that Tichborne was known to have worn.

A gruesome account of the consequences of being a tattooed spy comes from the 17th-century travel account of Scotsman William Lithgow. In his memoir, Lithgow tells the tale of being captured in Málaga, Spain, in 1620, where the governor  “swearing, cursed and said, ‘thou leyest like a Villane, thou art a spy and a traytor,’” and accused Lithgow of providing intelligence learned in Spain to a visiting English ship.  (The memoir wisely does not confirm if Lithgow was indeed spying). He was imprisoned and tortured at the hands of Spanish inquisitors, who tried to force a confession.

Part of Lithgow’s torture involved having a tattoo flayed from his skin. He had received this tattoo—a royal crown commemorating King James I of England—while traveling in the Holy Land. His cringe-worthy account begins: “The Corrigidor…gave direction, to teare a sunder, the name, and Crowne (as hee sayd) of that Hereticke King, and arch-enemy to the Holy Catholicke Church.”

Lithgow then proceeded to relate a method by which taut cords were used to excise a chunk of flesh out of his arm to remove the offensive mark “cutting the Crowne, sinewes and flesh to the bare bones.” Lithgow’s arm would …read more

Source: HISTORY

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After Aziz Ansari, Here’s How We Can Make Sex Fun Again

January 29, 2018 in Blogs

By Liz Posner, AlterNet

Consent should be fun, not a politically correct topic delegated to liberal campuses.


Talking about sex can be hard. If the Aziz Ansari debate has taught us anything, it’s that many men and women lack the language to comfortably communicate what they want and don’t want from a sexual encounter. Until now, conversations around consent have been largely delegated to liberal college campuses, in the domain of young activists, and have been a subject of much mockery among those on the right. Aziz Ansari’s case gives us a chance to change that. There really is a way to make consent something ordinary men and women actually want to practice in their own lives. No one wants to be responsible for the worst night of somebody's life, after all. 

People are understandably uneasy about discussing consent alongside the current wave of allegations of sexual misconduct and assault. For years, conservatives have mocked consent advocates and rolled their collective eyes at “yes mean yes” laws. Many people who agree that Harvey Weinstein is a villain are skeptical about Ansari (and the two cases are admittedly very different). Even left-leaning mainstream media has gotten in the game now: the New York Times published an op-ed calling the Aziz Ansari episode “bad sex,” and the Washington Post has written that the #MeToo movement “should give one pause.” 

Putting aside the important conversations about what kinds of allegations will hold up in a court of law, it’s a good time to remember that talking about sex shouldn’t be so bleak. Asking for consent isn't supposed to feel weird or unnatural. Activists promoting consent frequently claim it can make sex better. Nicole Mazzeo, founder of Pleasure Pie, a Boston-based activist group that promotes sex positivity, agrees that being asked “Do you want to do this?” during sex is a turn-on. “Sometimes I forget to ask myself what I want, so that increases my enjoyment,” she says. 

Sex, according to Mazzeo, “needs to be mutual, enthusiastic. When you’re being sexual with someone, everyone should be excited about it …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Marriage Licenses: Alabama Legislature Moves Toward Less Government Meddling

January 29, 2018 in Economics

By Ryan McMaken

certificate.PNG

By: Ryan McMaken

According to a variety of sources, Alabama's state legislature may “end marriage licenses” if a bill now being heard in the legislature goes forward.

On it's surface, this would certainly appear to be a step in the right direction. The idea that the state should be in a position to decide who can be married — and who cannot be — requires a high degree of trust in the state and its ability to regulate and control societal institutions that ought to be regarded as far beyond the state's level of competence.

As Andrew Syrios has noted, the government takeover of the institution — in the West, at least — is largely a modern invention1:

The institution of marriage has been a bedrock of civilization, but that had nothing to do with government. In fact, it’s important to note that governments didn’t become involved in the institution until relatively recently. And once involved, their role has been far from benevolent. Stephanie Coontz describes the history as follows:

For 16 centuries, Christianity also defined the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s wishes. If two people claimed they had exchanged marital vows — even out alone by the haystack — the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.

Not until the 16th century did European states begin to require that marriages be performed under legal auspices. In part, this was an attempt to prevent unions between young adults whose parents opposed their match.

In the American colonies, marriages were required to be registered, but that was about it. Then came a combination of Jim Crow and the Eugenics movement and wise bureaucrats decided they needed to direct the decisions of their benighted citizenry.

In practice, though, what would a “legislative fix” abolishing government marriage really look like?

That remains unclear, although it seems that the Alabama legislature is taking a crack at it.

According to The Montgomery Advertiser: a new process of registering marriages would replace marriage licenses …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

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The President’s Annual State of the Union Address, Explained

January 29, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

President Franklin Delano delivers his 1941 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. (Credit: Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

These days, the State of the Union—the yearly speech by the U.S. president in front of the two houses of Congress, giving his view on the state of the nation and his legislative goals for the year—is as familiar a late January tradition as failing New Year’s resolutions and playoff football. But though its roots go all the way back to the nation’s founding, the State of the Union as we know it is a thoroughly modern tradition.

As President Donald Trump prepares to address Congress for his 2018 State of the Union address, take a look back at the history of this high-profile presidential tradition.

WHAT IS THE STATE OF THE UNION?

Article II, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution states that the president “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

According to the National Archives, George Washington first fulfilled this particular presidential duty on January 8, 1870, when he addressed the new Congress in the Senate Chamber of Federal Hall in New York City (then the U.S. capital). But Thomas Jefferson, the third president, chose to give his annual message to Congress in writing rather than make the trek to the Capitol—kicking off a tradition that would last nearly a century.

In 1913, Woodrow Wilson decided to buck that tradition. Shortly after his inauguration, Wilson went to Capitol Hill to make a speech about tariffs, becoming the first president since John Adams to presume to address Congress directly, on its own turf. That December, Wilson returned before Congress to give the first modern State of the Union address (though it wouldn’t officially be called that until Franklin D. Roosevelt’s presidency).

President Franklin Delano delivers his 1941 State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress. (Credit: Library of Congress/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

THE EXECUTIVE BRANCH ADDRESSES CONGRESS

The Constitution put into place a deliberate separation of powers between the three branches of the federal government, tasking the legislative branch with making the nation’s laws, the executive branch with enforcing them and the judicial branch with interpreting and applying them.

But Wilson, a Progressive Democrat, believed the nation would benefit from a more active, visible president working alongside Congress in the lawmaking process. By choosing to deliver his annual message directly …read more

Source: HISTORY

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Donald Trump Is Even More Clueless About Climate Change Than You Think

January 29, 2018 in Blogs

By Lorraine Chow, EcoWatch

A new interview with Piers Morgan exposes the president in all his ignorance.


President Trump, notorious for his views on climate change, again said something about the topic that's the opposite of what's actually happening.

“The ice caps were going to melt, they were going to be gone by now, but now they're setting records,” POTUS told host Piers Morgan during an interview on UK television network ITV broadcast Sunday.

Well, the polar ice caps are indeed setting records—for melting. Here's a GIF showing the extent of the frightening sea ice loss in the Arctic from 1979-2016.

And here's a graph that NASA released last year showing how sea ice extent has sunk to record lows at both poles.

These line graphs plot monthly deviations and overall trends in polar sea ice from 1979 to 2017 as measured by satellites. The top line shows the Arctic; the middle shows Antarctica; and the third shows the global, combined total. The graphs depict how much the sea ice concentration moved above or below the long-term average. (They do not plot total sea ice concentration.) Arctic and global sea ice totals have moved consistently downward over 38 years. Antarctic trends are more muddled, but they do not offset the great losses in the Arctic.Joshua Stevens / NASA Earth Observatory

After the ITV interview, ten different climate scientists contacted by the Associated Press said Trump was wrong about climate change.

“Clearly President Trump is relying on alternative facts to inform his views on climate change. Ice on the ocean and on land are both disappearing rapidly, and we know why: increasing greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels that trap more heat and melt the ice,” Rutgers University climate scientist Jennifer Francis explained.

Trump's comment was similar to one he tweeted in 2014: “the POLAR ICE CAPS are at an all-time high, the …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Who Is the Washington Post Kidding with This Trump Headline?

January 29, 2018 in Blogs

By Liz Posner, AlterNet

Media critics everywhere are rolling their eyes.


At this point you’ve got to be pretty naive to think there’s a chance that Donald Trump can redeem himself as president. Most progressives have lowered the bar of expectation for him to such a historic low that liberal pundits like Fareed Zakaria consider Trump's bombing of Syrian military bases, which resulted in 16 civilian deaths, a presidential high point.

Plenty of people wake up every morning simply grateful that Trump hasn't launched a nuclear war. But the center-left mainstream media takes a more rose-colored view. Case in point: an optimistic-to-the-point-of-idiotic Sunday Washington Post headline that triggered many eyerolls this weekend.

Media critic and NYU professor Jay Rosen pointed out the absurd front-page headline on Twitter:

The Washington Post later changed this headline to something more neutral: “Amid turmoil, Trump seeking a reset with State of the Union.” But the original headline had already been syndicated at local papers across the country, including the Salt Lake Tribune and the Florida Times-Union

The Post editors may have taken a leaf out of Karl Rove’s book, of all people. Rove told Fox News on Sunday that, “This is a moment where [Trump] can reset, but the reset depends upon him following through in the weeks and months ahead.”

You’d think liberal journalists would know better than to channel Karl Rove, but here we are. This is the same country that gives Donald Trump endless second chances at redemption, yet administers draconian punishments to first-time offenders for carrying a few grams of pot. It should go without saying that there is no hope that Trump won’t continue to be a horrendous bully in 2018, but precedent holds that the mainstream media will parse his State of the Union address for evidence of an elusive pivot. As political scientist Norman Ornstein writes on Twitter:

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Andrew McCabe Resigns as Deputy Director of the FBI

January 29, 2018 in Blogs

By Travis Gettys, Raw Story

Will Christopher Wray follow him out the door?


Deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe has stepped down from his position ahead of his planned departure.

McCabe has been a target of President Donald Trump’s wrath since the campaign over donations made to his wife’s congressional campaign by Hillary Clinton allies, reported NBC News.

FBI director Christopher Wray reportedly threatened to resign after Trump asked him to fire McCabe.

 

 

Related Stories

…read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Profit and Charity Are Not Mutually Exclusive

January 29, 2018 in Economics

By Christopher Westley

profits.PNG

By: Christopher Westley

What does Larry Fink have against profit? Fink is the CEO of the mega investment firm BlackRock, and in an open letter to CEOs earlier this month he calls for a ramping up of social investing and social management of corporate America.

That these firms might exist to earn profits is left unstated. Meanwhile, one reading Fink might conclude BlackRock believes businesses exist to (a) fight low wage growth, (b) furnish retirement, (c) increase worker saving, (d) provide job security, (e) reduce societal anxiety and polarization, (f) spend on infrastructure, (g) counter adverse effects of automation and climate change, and (h) serve a social purpose. Such are the principles of Fink’s “new model of shareholder engagement.”

Fink’s letter is just the latest salvo in an old academic fight that has been waging in the United States for decades over what obligations firms owe society. But it is more than that, given BlackRock’s influence over the firms in which it invests.

What’s new in his argument is his call for expanded corporate activism in response to the failures of government. Fink writes:

We … see many governments failing to prepare for the future. … As a result, society increasingly is turning to the private sector and asking that companies respond to broader societal challenges. Indeed, the public expectations of your company have never been greater. Society is demanding that companies, both public and private, serve a social purpose. To prosper over time, every company must not only deliver financial performance, but also show how it makes a positive contribution to society. Companies must benefit all of their stakeholders, including shareholders, employees, customers, and the communities in which they operate.

Let’s admit: There’s something here that appeals to anarcho-capitalist principles, pointing to a world in which things like infrastructure or retirement are the sole domain of private actors. But beyond that, there is much to criticize about what Fink thinks.

Some thoughts.

First, an ominous omission from Fink’s letter is any explicit use of the word profit as something that should be considered a legitimate firm goal. If investors took Fink seriously, they would bail out of BlackRock’s inflated stock, the price of which has risen 16 percent in the last three weeks.

The reason is that, however laudable board diversity or carbon emissions or payroll size or retirement may be, none of this matters if firms aren’t first concerned with maximizing revenues …read more

Source: MISES INSTITUTE

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On “Releasing the Memo”

January 29, 2018 in Economics

By Julian Sanchez

Julian Sanchez

In the rapidly escalating war between the GOP and the FBI, a
number of House Republicans appear to believe they’ve
discovered their own atomic bomb: A memorandum
produced by the staff of Intelligence Committee chair Devin Nunes.
The memo, according to several Republican members who’ve read
it, purports to document scandalous political abuse of surveillance
powers, part of a wider conspiracy against Donald Trump within the
Bureau. In a phrase widely echoed on Trump-friendly media, Rep.
Steve King (R-Iowa) has suggested that the conduct revealed in the
memo amounts to a scandal “worse than Watergate.” On
Monday evening—yielding to a social media campaign they
themselves launched—House Republicans voted to #ReleaseTheMemo, disregarding a
warning from the Justice Department that doing so would be
extraordinarily reckless.”

We already have a rough idea of what the memo is likely to say:
It reportedly finds particular fault with the Foreign Intelligence
Surveillance Act order the Bureau obtained to wiretap former Trump
campaign advisor Carter Page, and above all its purported reliance
on the now-infamous Steele Dossier. Named for Christopher
Steele—the former MI6 officer who compiled it at the behest
of commercial intelligence firm Fusion GPS—the dossier
originated as opposition research into Trump’s ties to the
Russian government, funded by the Democratic National Committee and
the Clinton campaign. CNN reported back in April that the memo was
“used to bolster” the Bureau’s case for a warrant
on Page before the FISA court, leading many Trump boosters to
conclude that the whole of the Russia investigation is little more
than the extension of a Democratic hit job, employing underhanded
tactics borrowed from J. Edgar Hoover’s COINTELPRO
playbook.

There is abundant reason to regard all this as, at the very
least, a misreading of the facts, and likely a disingenuous one as
well. But it’s worth pausing for a moment to consider what
follows if we take it at face value. On the worst version of the
story, high-ranking FBI and Justice Department officials, in
service of a sweeping conspiracy to elect Hillary
Clinton—exactly how is
left somewhat vague
—laundered a hodgepodge of unverified
hearsay produced by Democratic operatives to dupe the FISA Court
into authorizing electronic surveillance of an American citizen who
had been working for the Trump campaign. The appropriate response
to this scandalous conduct is typically said to be a purge of the
“Deep State” conspirators from the ranks of the
intelligence community. But surely if this story were true, its
implications would be far more radical.

Conspicuously, many of
the representatives who’ve most vocally touted the supposedly
explosive contents of the Nunes memo do …read more

Source: OP-EDS