May 29, 2017

Meanwhile. . .

Daily Beast - [A] newly released Government Accountability Office report [finds] that 62% of service members who received less than honorable discharges suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injuries, or other mental-health illnesses. Misconduct based discharges, or “bad papers,” bar more than 57,000 veterans from receiving many benefits, including treatment from the Department of Veterans Affairs. Among its findings, the report stated that individual service branches only inconsistently adhered to Department of Defense policy on misconduct separations, or did not adhere to their own policies they set to ensure that service members with mental health issues didn’t fall through the cracks.

May 28, 2017

The Constitution and mentally unstable presidents

Dean Falvy, Newsweek, Feb 2017- The Twenty-fifth Amendment provides a process for the president to declare himself “unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office.” In that case, the vice president becomes the acting president until the president recovers from his disability.

This is simple enough when the president is aware of an upcoming medical procedure and voluntarily invokes the Twenty-fifth Amendment for a limited period of time, as President Reagan and President George W. Bush did on three separate occasions. But what if the president is so physically or mentally disabled as to be unable to recognize or acknowledge his own disability?

As I discussed in a previous article on Trump’s chances of completing his term, Section 4 of the Twenty-fifth Amendment provides an “involuntary” procedure allowing the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet to notify the leaders of Congress that the president is disabled. In that case, “the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President.”

This assures continuity of government if the president falls victim to a sudden illness. But if the president recovers—or disputes the existence of a disability at all—he can attempt to reclaim his office by informing Congress. This will happen automatically, unless the vice president and a majority of the Cabinet provide a further declaration to Congress within four days that the president remains disabled.

If that happens, Congress must convene and make a high-stakes decision: Who is entitled to exercise the powers of the presidency, the president or the vice president?

But the president has a clear advantage in this contest: He will regain his powers unless the House and the Senate each confirm his disability by two-thirds majorities. To put it in the simplest terms, the support of either 34 senators or 145 members of the House would be sufficient to restore power to an allegedly disabled president.

In the case of physical disability, invocation of the Twenty-fifth Amendment is likely to be straightforward. In most cases, an inability to communicate will signal the president’s disability, and the restoration of communication will mark the end of it.

Mental disability is an entirely different kettle of fish. It is not necessary to argue that the president is “insane” in a legal or clinical sense—the constitutional standard is simply whether he is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the office.

What if a president “performs” his duties, but does so erratically and irrationally? And if the president loudly insists that he is capable, will the vice president and Cabinet dare invoke the Twenty-fifth Amendment, even if they are privately convinced that he is not?

As long as he retains the loyalty of a substantial minority in either the House or Senate, the president can turn the tables on his scheming lieutenants and reclaim his office. Once restored to his powers, the president can (and certainly would) dismiss the Cabinet members who doubted his capacity.

Word: Journalism

Just stumbled upon this, which seems oddly applicable to current discussions
Journalism has never been the art of the ideal. Its basic problem is that it attempts to perpetrate the truth, relying for financial support on readers, listeners, and advertisers, who have relatively little interest in the pursuit of this goal. It's a bit like a priest being supported by the proceeds of a whorehouse. - Sam Smith, 1960

What's a humanities?

From our overstocked archives. Donald Trump wants to kill the National Endowment for the Humanities. Your editor was involved in bringing a humanities council to DC, the last place without one. This is an article I wrote at the time. 

Sam Smith, 1979 - I have to confess something. I have strayed from the civic abstinence I promised on these pages a while back. I have once again joined a committee. But it's just a small committee and I think I can handle it. If not, drive me home and I'll never do it again. Promise.

The committee is called the DC Community Humanities Council. Fifty states and Puerto Rico have such committees - and the funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities that follow in their wake - but DC, through a combination of federal inertia and local indifference, has been years late to the gate. . .

I was invited to serve on the committee by the NEH for reasons that are not entirely clear, but presumably have something to do with what is known in the trade as "community outreach," or, as Senator Scoop Jackson put it even less felicitously the other day, providing another "rung on the spectrum." Since I had complained in print about the lack of a local humanities committee, I thought I ought to put some time where my mouth was. But there was another less honorable reason for my willingness to accept the invitation. You see, what the folks at NEH don't know is that not only did I graduate from college magna cum probation but I was so indifferent to the humanities and scholarship in general that my English instructor once sent me a neatly written card that read: "Mr. Cole requests the pleasure of your attendance at the next regular meeting of his course." Many of the courses I did attend left me thoroughly befuddled. The first hint that joining the fellowship of educated men was going to be a treacherous business came when I returned to my room after the initial day of classes. I settled down to dash off a bit of Max Weber before supper. Ten pages in, my heart went into a barrel roll and my hands began to rattle. I hadn't understood one word the man was saying. This exquisite form of panic would return many times over the next four years.

I struggled to separate the thoughts of Locke from the sermons of Cotton Mather; Veblin and Bentham congealed in my brain; Karl Marx was, as far as I could discern, the opiate of sadistic professors; and when I walked into an examination hall I was certain that all around me could balance more philosophers within the margins of a blue book than I. The die was cast early as one of my anthropology professors noted on a paper. "This is pretty good journalism," she wrote of my painfully conceived review of the Naga situation, "but it is bad anthropology."

I left the ivy-bedizened halls vowing never to return and, in fact, never did except for an occasional guest talk to the class of a professor or two of eccentric tastes. For me to be invited to share responsibility for the fate of the humanities with genuine, certified, dissertating scholars was too good an offer to pass up - not unlike an ex-con being asked to serve on a judicial nominations commission.

So of course I accepted. This first thing that happened was that a friend, when I told her of the project, described herself as "one of nine people in the city who knows what the humanities are." I passed on the remark to an historian who asked, "Don't you think that figure is a little high?"

Right away I knew I was in trouble. One of the real pleasures of graduating from college is that seldom thereafter does anyone ask you to define your terms. I had been away from the academic world for twenty years and had sort of assumed that in the interim they had come up with handy definitions for things like the "humanities." But apparently we were heading for square one -- back to Humanities 10: "Define the humanities and illustrate by example, citing sources where applicable." .

It all came back. The slush of ideas, concepts, symbolism, metaphors, imagery, and philosophies through which I had so laboriously slogged during college, and so assiduously avoided since, was underfoot once more and I could feel my socks getting wet and clammy.

I had voluntarily agreed to serve a cause whose meaning and purpose I thought I understood, but which I couldn't decently explain to anyone who didn't understand. I had done so somewhat whimsically and capriciously, in part because I sensed it all had something to do with constructive irrelevance, a subject which has come to interest me after years of excessive relevance and the not totally satisfying product of the same. It also seemed to favor my anarchistic side, since the humanities like to ask questions without providing answers while politics tends to provide answers without asking questions. Further, humanists have a reputation for not doing anything useful, so perhaps if I became associated with them, people would stop asking me to do things that were useful.

But that would hardly do when we had to go out and explain what we were about and why anyone should be interested. You can't tell a sullen scribe from one of the dailies who asks "What do you see as the role of the humanities in this city?" something like, "If you have to ask, you'll never know." So I decided I better find out what a humanities really was before the National Endowment blew my cover and decided that this community outreach business had gone far enough. Here is some of what I found:

The word humanities doesn't mean much to most people. Most people to whom it does mean much work on college campuses. For them it means pretty much what it did when I was in college: it's what you major in if you're not in the physical or social sciences, haven't decided what to do with your life or want to go to law school but would like to learn something first.

Here are some of the humanities: philosophy, comparative religion, history, ethics, literature.

Here is one thing the humanities have in common: you feel a little foolish listing them on a job application form.

That may be one reason that most people who know about the humanities are found on college campuses: no one else will hire them.

There's another reason: Some people on campus feel that the humanities shouldn't be talked about too much off campus. They feel the humanities are a profession and that you should have a Ph.D. to be "in" them. They want people to treat them like physicians and lawyers and CPAs and lieutenant colonels, so they call each other 'Doctor' a lot.

It is confusing because it suggests that you might need a license to think about literature, religion, history or philosophy. This is not necessarily true. It is still further confusing because humanities scholars, when they're not calling themselves 'Doctor,' call themselves "humanists." Off campus, the word sometimes has a different meaning. The woman down the street may be called "a real humanist" because she set up a senior citizen center or organized the heart drive, even though she doesn't know who Kierkegaard was. You can't be a humanist on campus without knowing who Kierkegaard was, no matter how much you raise for the heart fund.

Finally, it is confusing because in many people's minds, a doctor is meant to fix something. Humanist-type doctors are hard-pressed to prove that they do. And in our scientific and technological society, we tend to discount what can't be proved. There is no morality program you can slip into the computer, no antibiotic against cultural vacuity, no certifiable benefits to be achieved through an acquaintance with the past and no minimum daily requirement for literature.

I think a part of what the National Endowment for the Humanities is trying to do is to end some of this confusion. This is good because even though the word "humanities" is not used that much off campus, we use what it describes all the time. We just don't have a name for it.

We practice it without a license and without credit. Some of the biggest issues of our lives are concerns of the humanities. Like whether we accept a politician's definition of "acceptable risk" at a nuclear power plant. Like publicly funded abortions or legalized gambling or how we distribute political power .

These are also political questions and their philosophical, historical or religious core often gets hidden behind the politics, which is too bad because good politics is a poor substitute for a good philosophy, whereas good philosophy can makes good politics.

Our best presidents, for example, were those who convinced people not just of their politics but of its philosophical or ethical base. The New Deal, the War on Poverty, the civil rights legislation and the Peace Corps would never have gotten off the ground if people hadn't accepted the philosophy before the politics.

We need, as Martin Marty said, a place from which to view the world. The media and the merchandisers would like us to think otherwise. They want us to acquiesce in their plan to create packaged consumers for their packaged products - whether it be artificial eggs, a new TV series or a president. They would like us to want more than to be. The thing that keeps us in rebellion is a part of what the humanities are about. This is the revolutionary aspect of the National Endowment for the Humanities. It proposes to fund the dangerous notion that we can still think for ourselves. That we still want to know why we do things as well as when and how much it will cost. That we still have some choices left. . .

Whatever a humanities is, it used to be different. Rod French, a scholar at George Washington University who happens to be both an academic and a non-academic humanist, described it this way in a paper prepared for the National League of Cities:

"At the opening of the modern age, in the city states of Italy in the 14th and 15th centuries, humanist scholars and poets handled state correspondence, represented their sovereigns as diplomatic emissaries and wrote orations for great civic occasions. But already in the 16th century, this whole class of scholars began a long decline into disgrace and neglect. Their ambition and poor judgment was responsible in part, but they were also the victims of deep social changes. The rise of the middle class and the democratic revolutions of the 18th century further displaced humanists from positions of influence. And then industrialization placed a premium on a set of new skills. Those who persisted in studying the humanities were forced to the margins of public life. . . .In the Renaissance, the term humanist referred to men (almost exclusively} who dedicated themselves to the study of the humanities. That happened to mean to them the study of the literature and history and politics and ethics and art of classical Greece and Rome. Today, hardly anyone in public life feels they need a humanist and few humanists feel they need a public life . . .

"The only way to get the humanist down from the ivory tower is to drag him into public affairs. If his alleged contribution proves in actual experience to be trivial or ephemeral, then the game is up. If the managers of society refuse even to give his questions a hearing then we can conclude fairly that they are not really friends of the good society."

Here is one more historical note: Tocqueville called the French Revolution the first great event in history brought about by men of letters. The Russian Revolution was another. So, as late as this century, some humanists have been found relevant.

The National Endowment for the Humanities says that all programs funded by state humanities committees should have "scholars involved centrally." Artists can get money from their national endowment without scholars being centrally involved in their sculpture or dance. Governments are more leery of unformed ideas than they are of unformed stone, which may be why federally funded thinking must be accompanied by licensed personnel. I think humanities scholars should have to prove that their ideas are worth something, just like anyone else, but they're on the dole far less than most groups, there isn't much risk that they will turn into a mandarin class in the near future, and they need the money, so what the hell. You can always pull the anchovies off the pizza if you don't like them..

One of the problems with defining the humanities is that it is hard to do anything well without them. A doctor or a nuclear physicist who isn't also a humanist can cause a lot of trouble. One of the purposes of the humanities is to give some direction to the other things we do. The humanities are often at their most potent when they modify something else rather than being just an end. Of course, you don't have to justify interest in the humanities on the basis of social utility. After all, the Declaration of Independence ranked the pursuit of happiness only after life and liberty as a basic right. It hasn't fared so well since. The humanities, among other things, have to do with the pursuit of happiness. As Hubert Humphrey said when the bill establishing the National Endowment passed, "At last the Congress voted for fun; at last the Congress voted and said let's have something that celebrates the rights of man to sheer fun."

But, then again, we may be too late. Newsweek seems to think so. It ran a headline over a book review recently that read: "Albert Camus: The Last of the Humanists." I hope not. . .

So what's a humanities? I can't really give you one answer. But I can give you several. It's asking why before we say yes. It's remembering something someone wrote two centuries ago when we can't remember what we wrote yesterday. It's mistakes we don't have to make because they've already been made and solutions we don't have to dream up because someone has already thought of them. It's how we got where we are and where we might go from here. It's things we can't measure yet know have depth and breadth. It's parts of our culture we might lose like the Indian tribe writing its language down and putting it in a book. It's parts of our culture that we're often slow to recognize as such, like the legislature in Georgia finally making "Georgia on My Mind" the state song and inviting Ray Charles to come down and sing it. It's the moral, philosophical, and historical issues hidden behind the political babble. It's rights and beliefs and their protection. It's preserving the past and the future and not just exploiting today. It's thinking as well as talking, questioning as well as answering. And it's placing human values and culture at the center of our world and making machines and technology and Channel Seven serve us rather than the other way around.

If we talk about things like these, we'll be talking humanities whether we know it or not. And I think we'll be reminded that they really do matter. And have all along. 

What we can learn from Montana

The recent Montana congressional election, while producing a GOP victory, had a substantially lower Republican margin than Trump has gotten in 2016. But more significant is the fact that as recently as five years ago the state had a Democratic governor with the largest approval rating in the country. The record of Brian Schweitzer is a good lesson for how Democrats can do well (and could have down better with Schweitzer rather than Clinton as their presidential candidate)

Wikipedia - Schweitzer consistently held one of the highest approval ratings among governors in the nation, with polls regularly showing a rating of above 60 percent.Due to term limits in Montana, he was barred from running for a third term in 2012.

As governor he supported and signed into law voluntary full-time kindergarten. Governor Schweitzer was instrumental in implementing, for the first time since the Constitutional Convention of 1972 called on the State to “recognize the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians."Indian Education for All was funded in House Bill 2 and signed into law by Governor Schweitzer on May 6, 2005.[30]

As one of his first endeavors, Schweitzer proposed and passed the “Best and Brightest” scholarship program. This scholarship has given the opportunity to more than 2700 students to study at any of Montana's 2-or 4-year public colleges and universities, including community and tribal colleges.

Montana's electrical generation capacity increased more during his term as Governor than the previous 16 years combined. Schweitzer has been a catalyst for alternative energy development in Montana. The state had 1 MW of wind power online in January 2005; by the end of 2012 Montana was expected to exceed 600 MW of wind power.

 Schweitzer signed into law the Montana Firearms Freedom Act, The law exempts firearms made and kept in Montana from Federal firearms regulations. It applies mostly to non-military types of firearms, along with ammunition and accessories such as silencers provided that these items are manufactured in the state, and do not leave the state.

In 2011, Schweitzer announced his intention to provide single-payer health care in Montana, based on the Canadian model.

On May 3, 2006, Schweitzer granted posthumous pardons to 78 persons convicted of sedition during World War I for making comments that were critical of the war. These were the first posthumous pardons in Montana history, but the convictions had become notorious in recent years because Montana's sedition law had been one of the broadest and harshest of its time: one man went to prison for calling food rationing a joke, while others were targeted because they refused to physically kiss a U.S. flag or to buy Liberty Bonds.

Following the suicide of Iraq war veteran Chris Dana in 2007, Governor Schweitzer started the Yellow Ribbon Program. Schweitzer testified in Washington D.C. saying, “the federal government does an excellent job at turning a civilian into a warrior, I think they have an equal responsibility in turning that warrior back into a civilian.” More than 13% of adult Montanans are veterans.[citation needed] This program developed policies and procedures that each Montana guardsman would undergo to ensure that physical and mental health were documented before, during, and after deployment. Automatic enrollment into the Veterans Affairs system would also be required of guardsmen to ensure delivery of benefits entitled. Following its success in Montana, the Yellow Ribbon Program was implemented nationally and is now a part of the National Defense Act.

The Trump Dump

The Trump White House on Saturday omitted Gauthier Destenay, the husband of Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel, from the caption to an official photograph of the spouses of Nato leaders, taken at this week’s summit in Brussels. Destenay, a Belgian architect, married Bettel in 2015, becoming the first same-sex spouse of a leader of a European Union member state.

Word: A thought for our time

- Gangsters don't hire family members because they're qualified. Gangsters hire family members because they're less likely to talk to the FBI.

May 27, 2017

Now we know the big difference between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump

Hillary Clinton violated national security by using a private server. Jared Kushner wanted to violate national security by using a Russian server.

Trump complains to EU leaders about problems with his setting up golf courses in Europe

The Hill  - President Trump reportedly complained to world leaders about roadblocks he has faced setting up golf courses in the European Union.

Belgian daily newspaper Le Soir reported Trump told Belgian Prime Minister he has mixed feelings about the European Union due to issues he has faced in the past setting up golf courses within its borders.

“Every time we talk about a country, he remembered the things he had done. Scotland? He said he had opened a club. Ireland? He said it took him two and a half years to get a license and that did not give him a very good image of the European Union.,” a source told Le Soir.

“One feels that he wants a system where everything can be realized very quickly and without formalities.”

Trump has not distanced himself from conducting business at his golf clubs. He has visited them 25 times, according to The New York Times.

Kushner's felon father and two ex-inmate friends back in his business

Bloomberg - It’s hard to find work right out of prison. But Avram Lebor and Richard Goettlich walked from their Alabama penitentiary into top jobs at the real estate company then run by Jared Kushner, now President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser. The two men, convicted in separate sprawling fraud schemes, were hired several years ago by his father, Charles Kushner, who had been locked up in the same federal prison with them.

As 36-year-old Jared Kushner settles into a White House role that includes personnel decisions and Middle East peace, the most extensive organizational experience he has to draw from is his lifetime at the closely held family real estate company, where his father is once again deeply involved. It’s a business where, like Trump’s, family and loyalty loom large. Management at Kushner Cos. has been mercurial, its feuds bruising and its political influence considerable. Recent joint ventures and investments expanded by Jared could lead to opportunities for unseen influence. Given the company’s history, ethics lawyers say, such opportunities merit close watching.

“It can’t hurt to be doing business with Jared Kushner’s family,” said Larry Noble, general counsel for the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan organization focused on election laws. “It’s a road to the administration. At the very least they’re going to have an inside track.”

Alzheimer's disease is soaring

Web MD - As more baby boomers age, deaths from Alzheimer's disease have jumped 55 percent, and in a quarter of those cases the heavy burden of caregiving has fallen on loved ones, U.S. health officials report.

"Alzheimer's disease is a public health problem that affects not only people with Alzheimer's disease, but also the people who provide care to them, which is often family members," said report author Christopher Taylor. He's an epidemiologist at the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion.

One Alzheimer's expert described the news as dire.

"This is an enormous problem that is only growing, it's only going to get worse -- we are staring at a tsunami of Alzheimer's disease," said Keith Fargo, director of scientific programs and outreach at the Alzheimer's Association.

California Democrats decry US support for Israeli occupation

Mondoweiss - At the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento Palestinian rights supporters steered to passage a groundbreaking resolution that puts California Democrats far ahead of the national and other state parties. Time will tell whether the new resolution can become a model for other Democratic Party institutions, and more importantly, whether it will help accelerate a shift in the party’s stance on Israel/Palestine.

The resolution starts by decrying the fact that despite occasional criticism of Israel’s ongoing occupation, successive U.S. administrations have failed to take “actual steps to change the status quo and bring about a real peace process.” It warns about inflammatory moves by the Trump administration and notes that they are encouraging even more illegal settlement building and anti-democratic measures by Israel’s government.
The resolution starts by decrying the fact that despite occasional criticism of Israel’s ongoing occupation, successive U.S. administrations have failed to take “actual steps to change the status quo and bring about a real peace process.” It warns about inflammatory moves by the Trump administration and notes that they are encouraging even more illegal settlement building and anti-democratic measures by Israel’s government. - See more at:
The resolution starts by decrying the fact that despite occasional criticism of Israel’s ongoing occupation, successive U.S. administrations have failed to take “actual steps to change the status quo and bring about a real peace process.” It warns about inflammatory moves by the Trump administration and notes that they are encouraging even more illegal settlement building and anti-democratic measures by Israel’s government. - See more at:
The resolution starts by decrying the fact that despite occasional criticism of Israel’s ongoing occupation, successive U.S. administrations have failed to take “actual steps to change the status quo and bring about a real peace process.” It warns about inflammatory moves by the Trump administration and notes that they are encouraging even more illegal settlement building and anti-democratic measures by Israel’s government. - See more at:

Trump had Russia mania thirty years ago

Raw Story - Nobel Peace Prize-winning cardiologist Bernard Lown claims that Donald Trump approached him in 1986 and asked him for information that would help him secure a key U.S. government post in Moscow.

In an interview with the Hollywood Reporter, Lown says that Trump asked him for information about Mikhail Gorbachev, who had just risen to become the Soviet Union’s head of state in 1985. Lown also says Trump revealed plans to ask President Ronald Reagan to appoint him to “an official post to the USSR in order to negotiate a nuclear disarmament deal on behalf of the United States, a job for which Trump felt he was the only one fit.”

Trump told Lown that his plan was to sit down in a room with Gorbachev and use his negotiating prowess to end the entire Cold War in the span of a mere hour.

“I sat there dumbfounded,” said the 95-year-old Lown, who was born in the former Soviet satellite state of Lithuania. “Who is this self-inflated individual? Is he sane or what?”

Things to do while waiting for Trump to go away

Amend the Constitution to do away with Citizens United

Charter school teachers prepare to strike

in These Times - For the third time in eight months, Chicago charter school teachers are on the verge of going on strike.After a year of negotiations with management for their first contract since unionizing last spring, close to 50 teachers, paraprofessionals and teacher assistants at Passages Charter School are prepared to walk off the job Thursday morning if an agreement is not reached. It would be the first time teachers at a U.S. charter school ever went on strike.

The Russian side of Trump update

Daily Beast  - A quartet of stories, published on Friday ... each touched on a facet of the ongoing investigation into the Kremlin’s attempts to influence the outcome of last year’s U.S. presidential election. Two, concerning White House senior adviser and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, allege that one of the president’s closest confidantes engaged in previously undisclosed communications with Russian ambassador Sergei Kislyak, including an alleged attempt to set up a secret communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin.

Kushner’s proposed backchannel, first reported by The Washington Post, would have protected discussions between the transition team and the Russian government from being monitored by U.S. intelligence agencies—and, since they were to have been conducted using Russian diplomatic facilities in the U.S., would have almost certainly exposed those discussions to Russian intelligence agencies. ..

Later on Friday night, Reuters, citing seven current and former U.S. officials, reported that Kushner had at least three previously undisclosed contacts with Kislyak during and after the presidential election, two of which occurred between April and November of last year. None of those contacts with Kislyak were disclosed in Kushner’s application for top-secret security clearance before his father-in-law’s inauguration in January.

Jamie Gorelick, Kushner’s attorney, stated that Kushner “participated in thousands of calls in this time period,” and “has no recollection of the calls as described.”

Jazz break