Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Your Papers Please? Today's News for October 18th

Daily Mail:
They were previously allowed to use mere driving licenses.

But residents of some US states will soon require additional ID, such as passports, if they wish to embark on air travel - even if just domestically.

That's the new procedure on the horizon for people from states that have not yet introduced the standards required by the 2005 Real ID Act, which demands stricter regulations for state-issued IDs.

The states that haven't yet fallen into line each now have a grace period of three months to meet the revised criteria.

This deadline expires on 22 January 2018.

Travellers from states that miss the deadline will risk being detained at airport security and prevented from boarding flights if they don't have a passport or other TSA-approved form of identification, such as a green card, border crossing card or military ID.

This includes both international and domestic journeys.

Have you noticed how the U.S. has become ID obsessed?

Remember the old movies which showed some Soviet soldier demanding papers from civilians? Welcome to the USSA.

Regardless, January should be fun.

In other news...

The Hill:
In their recent article in The Hill, John Solomon and Alison Spann reported on the Obama Justice Department's slow-walk investigation of Moscow's bribery, kickbacks, extortion and money laundering "designed to grow Vladimir Putin's atomic energy business inside the United States."

Obama administration figures involved in the 2009-15 investigation include Robert Mueller, James Comey, Rod Rosenstein and Andrew McCabe - all of whom are involved in some fashion in the current investigation of President Donald Trump's alleged collusion with Russia.

Despite extensive information as early as 2009 that Moscow had compromised an American uranium trucking firm and that Russian nuclear officials had routed millions of dollars to benefit former President Bill Clinton's charitable foundation, Hillary Clinton's State Department and other government agencies on the Committee on Foreign Investment (including Attorney General Eric Holder) unanimously approved the partial sale of the Canadian mining company, Uranium One, to the Russian nuclear giant Rosatom in October 2010.

Multiple current and former government officials told The Hill they did not know whether the FBI or DOJ ever alerted committee members to the apparent Russian criminal activity. Likewise, major congressional figures were also kept in the dark.
The New York Times reported the Clinton Foundation bribe from the Russians in April 2015, and yet there was no outrage over it. If the media treated the Obama administration like they do Trump, Obama would have been run out of office or Clinton would have been in jail before she could have even run for office. Instead, the media ignored the story after the initial report.

Finally, in local Georgia news...

CNN:
Georgia Republican gubernatorial candidate Michael Williams says he will give away a bump fire stock to show "solidarity with gun owners across the nation."

The devices, which are also known as bump stocks and allow semi-automatic weapons to fire at a rapid pace, became the focus of a public debate on gun violence in the wake of the Las Vegas massacre, which left 58 people dead. The shooter used bump stocks to increase the carnage, authorities have said.

"The tragedy in Las Vegas broke my heart, but any talk of banning or regulating bump stocks is merely cheap political lip service from career politicians. In reality, the bump stock is the new, shiny object politicians are using to deceive voters into believing they are taking action against gun violence," Williams, a Georgia state senator, said in a statement. "Many firearms experts determined the Las Vegas shooter's use of a bump stock actually prevented more casualties and injuries due to its inconsistency, inaccuracy, and lack of control."
Disclaimer: I am against gun control in any form.

That said, I find this political stunt rather distasteful. Then again, creating legislation during a period of intense emotions is inherently dangerous.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

ISIS Falls: Today's News for October 17th


Independent:
US-backed militias have completely taken Isis' de facto capital, Raqqa, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Tuesday, in a major symbolic blow to the jihadist group.

The fall of Raqqa, where Isis staged euphoric parades after its string of lightning victories in 2014, is a potent symbol of the movement's collapsing fortunes. The city was used as a base for the group to plan attacks abroad.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias backed by a US-led international alliance, has been fighting Isis inside Raqqa since June.
It is rare that simply backing militias works this well. This speaks volumes to the SDF's determination and organization.

As for ISIS, the rest is just clean-up duty.

In other news...

The Guardian:
Spain has signalled a hardening line over Catalonia by jailing the leaders of two of the largest separatist organisations in a move seen as taking Madrid closer to imposing central rule over Catalonia.

In the first imprisonment of senior secessionist figures since Catalonia’s 1 October independence referendum, the court ordered the heads of the Catalan National Assembly (ANC) and independence group Omnium to be held without bail pending an investigation for alleged sedition.

Prosecutors said that the ANC’s Jordi Sànchez and Omnium’s Jordi Cuixart played central roles in orchestrating pro-independence protests that last month trapped national police inside a Barcelona building and destroyed their vehicles.

Around 200 people flocked to the Catalan government’s headquarters in Barcelona on Monday in a peaceful show of support for both men, with some chanting “Freedom” and waving “Democracy” banners.

The ANC, which has organised protests of hundreds of thousands of secessionists in the past, called for further peaceful demonstrations around Catalonia on Tuesday.

The Catalan regional president, Carles Puigdemont, commented on Twitter: “Spain jails Catalonia’s civil society leaders for organising peaceful demonstrations. Sadly, we have political prisoners again” – an allusion to Spain’s military dictatorship under Francisco Franco.
You are no longer a democracy or a republic when your central government behaves this way.

The sad part about this is that this conflict could be neutralized with a simple good faith effort by the Spanish government. Instead, this is likely to escalate into bloodshed.

Finally, in the fake news story of the day...

Business Insider:
The Russian lawyer who met with President Donald Trump's son, son-in-law, and campaign chairman last June at Trump Tower brought a memo with her to that meeting that contained many of the same talking points as one written by the Russian prosecutor's office two months earlier.

The memo Natalia Veselnitskaya provided to the Trump campaign last year focused on banker-turned-human rights activist Bill Browder, whose reputation has become inextricably linked to the global human-rights campaign he launched in 2009 after tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in a Russian prison.

...Browder told Business Insider on Monday that "the Veselnitskaya memo has exactly the same talking points as the Russian government's position on the Magnitsky case."

"That is the strongest indication to date that Veselnitskaya is an agent of the Russian government and not some independent operator as she claims," he said. 
"Agent" is a very loaded word. The definition that applies here is "one who is authorized to act for or in the place of another". It is not "one engaged in undercover activities (such as espionage)". But in this whole Russiagate silliness, that is likely the takeaway by most Leftist readers.

The problem with the "spy" definition is that Veselnitskaya was never covert about her intent to try and sell Trump's representatives about the need to get rid of the Magnitsky Act, except possibly in her reasons given for the meeting, being some kind of info about potentially illegal contributions being given to the Clinton campaign, which the idiot son Donald Trump Jr. fell for completely.

The more proper definition of what Veselnitskaya was doing was acting as a lobbyist for the Russian government. But "agent" does work, as long as you remove the James Bond aspects from it.

But there is nothing illegal about giving a false reason for a meeting, or even having a meeting. Since nothing ever came from the meeting, this investigation is a dead end. Someone needs to tell Business Insider this horse is dead.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Around the World: Today's News for October 16th

CNN:
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Sunday his diplomatic efforts will continue as long as they possibly can despite the saber-rattling on both sides of the Pacific.

"Those diplomatic efforts will continue until the first bomb drops," Tillerson said on CNN's "State of the Union."
Yogi Berra couldn't have said it better.

Over in Europe...

Express:
Sebastian Kurz has declared victory in the Austrian elections following the latest vote projections, which could see him form an alliance with the far-right in a crushing blow for the European Union (EU).

The People’s Party (OVP) got 31.6 per cent of the vote, according to exit polls from pollster SORA. 

Mr Kurz's party is tough on migration, easy on taxes and widely Eurosceptic after rebranding itself over the last few months to propel its popularity in the wealthy Alpine nation.

The 31-year-old is expected to form a coalition with the right-wing populist Freedom Party (FPO), founded by a former SS officer, who got 26.9 per cent of the vote, according to the latest projections.

Speaking after 85 per cent of the votes were counted, Mr Kurz told his cheering supporters: "Today we have won a huge mandate to change this country, and I promise you I will work with all my energy for change.

"We want to establish a new culture in politics. And we want to change the country for the better.”

The Social Democratic Party, the largest party in the last government, are in third place with 26 per cent. 
How many elections does the Left have to lose before they realize they suck?

In another part of Europe...

Associated Press (via Yahoo News):
Catalonia's president is facing a critical decision that could determine the course of the region's secessionist movement to break away from Spain.

The Spanish government has given Carles Puigdemont until Monday morning to clarify if he did or didn't actually declare independence earlier this week.

Puigdemont told Catalan lawmakers Tuesday that he had "accepted" a mandate for independence based on the results of a disputed referendum, but that he wanted parliament to delay its implementation "for a few weeks" to give one last chance to open negotiations with Spain.

If Puigdemont replies "Yes" to Madrid on Monday, then Spain's government has given him until Thursday to back down or else Catalonia's ample self-rule could be temporarily suspended.

But if Puigdemont replies "No," he will likely face rebellion from hardliners inside the secessionist camp which could topple his government and force a regional election for Catalonia. The far-left CUP party said on Saturday that it will withdraw its key support from Puigdemont's government if he fails to make a firm statement for a declaration of independence and deliver on that promise in the regional parliament.
There is only one good answer for Puigdemont, and that is "yes". From a historical perspective, rebels and people who speak truth to power tend to be remembered with reverence (i.e. Winston Churchill and Che Guevera). Leaders who go along to get along get lumped in with Neville Chamberlain.

Regardless of what he decides, Puigdemont's situation is unenviable. But there will almost certainly be a Spanish civil war at the end of this. Puigdemont just has to decide which side he takes.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Weekly Finale: Valerie Ghent

Welcome to another weekly musical finale.

A basic rule of thumb I have is if a musician follows me on Twitter, I will give their music a listen. Needless to say, they aren't always impressive. Occasionally, one impresses me with more than one song. Valerie Ghent is an impressive one.

Ghent's music is clearly descended from the New York City music scene, as evidenced by her song "New York City Streets":



Her vocals are solid and smooth, similar to Sade, although Ghent doesn't quite have Sade's pipes and range. There are some songs where Ghent tries to hit high notes that will make you cringe. One of those songs which she ruins that way is "Get Funkay", which starts out like it's going to be fun until she hits the chalkboard-scratching note (about 30 seconds into it):



Fortunately, she doesn't try vocal gymnastics too much, and stays within her range on most songs. One of her better efforts recently was her cover of Ben E. King's "Supernatural Thing":



Speaking of Ben E. King's version, here it is:



I won't say which version is better, as both Ghent and King have their virtues with the song. King's version is a little slower and more relaxed (dare I call it "cooler"?), whereas Ghent's version is a little more upbeat.

That is all for me this week. Have a great weekend, and come back here Monday for more blogging goodness.

Trump Declares War on Obamacare: Today's News for October 13th

CNN:
President Donald Trump plans to end a key set of Obamacare subsidies that helped lower-income enrollees pay for health care, the White House said Thursday, a dramatic move that raises questions about the law's future.

The late-night announcement is part of Trump's aggressive push to dismantle aspects of his predecessor's signature health law after several failed attempts by Congress to repeal it earlier this year.

It also puts the spotlight back on Congress, where lawmakers in both parties have urged the administration to continue the payments to stabilize the Obamacare markets in the short term.

While senior congressional Republicans oppose the payments themselves -- they sued the Obama administration to stop them and have tried for years to repeal the underlying law altogether -- there's recognition of what ending them suddenly could do to the millions of Americans insured through the Obamacare exchanges.

Democrats have repeatedly pressed the administration for a longer term commitment that the payments would be made, but Trump has directed his advisers to keep them on a month-to-month basis, in part for negotiating leverage, according to sources with knowledge of the discussions.
Is Trump actually planning to end the subsidies? Or is this a bluff? Keeping "them on a month-to-month basis" sounds more like a negotiating ploy than an actual plan to end them.

On the other hand, nowhere in this article, or any of the other articles in other media sources covering this story, is there any indication that the subsidies are REQUIRED under the law. It seems the subsidies are allowed to be paid under the law, but they aren't required. That is an important distinction, which is the difference indicating Trump's action's legality.

By the way, before you listen to all the gloom and doom and massive numbers of people losing health insurance, consider this part of the story:
Obamacare enrollees eligible to receive premium subsidies, which are not affected by Trump's move, will continue to get discounted rates. But those who don't could see their costs skyrocket again next year.
The poor and low income will still have their health insurance subsidized.

But there is an important aspect to Obamacare which President Trump actually fixed Thursday:

Real Clear Politics:
The president signed an executive order "to promote healthcare choice and competition" Thursday morning at the White House.

It is said to expand access to "association health plans" – group plans written by trade associations, small businesses, and other groups. Such large group plans do not have to abide by all the requirements of individual plans under 'Obamacare.' The order also tasks administration officials to develop policies to increase competition in the health insurance industry.

..."We’re going to have great health care across state lines," Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity Wednesday night. "People can buy it. It will cost the government nothing."
If Trump has actually done this, and it has been one of the Right's health care wishes for many years, this will be huge. Sadly, it only applies to part of the health insurance market.

In other news...

Raw Story:
Gem Aimable, a 19-year-old Army National Guard private, was in uniform when a white man she cut off in traffic followed her multiple blocks to accost her. It was the first time someone had ever called her the n-word to her face in her 19 years, and after a friend shared her ordeal on Twitter, she soon went viral.

“[The man] told me to never forget that I am nothing but a n**ger and that us n**gers do not deserve to serve this very country and to take off my uniform and to kill myself,” Aimable wrote in her post on October 10.

In an interview with Raw Story, Aimable has spoken out about the incident, about those who believe protesting racism is unpatriotic, and about moving forward.

When the man first confronted her with the racial slur, Aimable said that her initial response was one of anger, and then of fear.

“I wanted to fight him. I wanted to make him take those words back,” she told Raw Story. “I also remembered that I am in uniform and I must conduct myself accordingly. Also, I, as an African American or a n**ger in his sense, I tend to be stereotyped as violent, so why fulfill their stereotypes?”

Though it was her first brush with such violent racism, Aimable said that living as an African American with the country’s current race relations has weighed heavy on her.

“With this uniform comes a lot of power and responsibilities,” she said. “There are moments were I wish I could join friends in protest. Instead, I write poetry on equality for all especially the LGBT community and poetry on racism.”
There is a lot in this story.

First, let's start with the fact, which the story makes, that she cut him off. So she caused a road rage incident. When people are angry, especially when dealing with complete strangers, they are likely to say things they would never say normally, strictly to hurt feelings. This is not a case of some random stranger walking up to her on the street and tossing racial slurs at her. This is a case of she did something wrong and earned the fury she received.

Second, does road rage merit racism? One can reasonably argue that racism should never be used in any situation. This guy crossed the line, even if he did have a valid reason to do it. Road rage doesn't validate pulling a gun and shooting someone, nor does it validate racist comments. She was wrong, but so was he.

Third, while this story does prove that racism exists, there is another aspect to consider: "It was the first time someone had ever called her the n-word to her face in her 19 years". 60 years ago, I doubt there was a 19 year old black person in America who could have made that statement. Contrary to the "America is racist" argument, it also needs to be admitted that things are much better than they were.

Finally, we have to give Aimable her props: Faced with overt and malicious racism, she quietly took it. Regardless of why, she defused the situation by not reacting to it. This situation could have had an ugly ending if she had reacted angrily to it. She was clearly the better person. If you ever need to understand why "turning the other cheek" is a valid strategy, look no further than this story.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Weinstein Story: Today's News for October 12th

(hat tip to Variety for the pic)
Time to dip into the Harvey Weinstein story...

Fox News:
Hollywood is in chaos, and all because of one man: Harvey Weinstein.

Multiple allegations of rape, sexual harassment and trading sex for movie roles have forced one of the most powerful men in show business out of his company and begging for help and forgiveness.

But the ripples extending from the wake of Weinstein’s dramatic fall extend much further than his business and personal relationships and so far show no signs of abating.

From the women he allegedly abused, to the associates who allegedly knew about his behavior all along but stayed silent, to the A-list actors and actresses who depend on him for their career-making roles, many of the biggest Tinseltown titans are wondering what their lives — and show business itself —  will look like in a post-Weinstein town.
Weinstein has long been a supporter of Leftist politicians and causes, so the Right-wing media is having a blast with this story. This almost reads like one of CNN's Trump-Russia stories, except for the fact we have actual people with direct knowledge of Weinstein's behavior stepping forward.

Now, many stars, including but not limited to, Angelina Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Rose McGowan, have come out and accused Weinstein of incidents of sexual harassment and even rape. (The full list of his accusers is here.)

Apparently, Weinstein's illicit behavior has been rumored in Hollywood for awhile:
In 2013, Seth MacFarlane joked during the Academy Awards nomination press conference that the five best supporting actress nominees “no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein.” His co-presenter Emma Stone uncomfortably laughed at his punchline.

...Ewan McGregor alleged on Wednesday via Twitter that it was a known Hollywood secret writing, “It's about time this came to light and he is getting [his] just deserts. Heard rumours over the years but this is awful. Bye Bully!"
But the big reason the right is dancing on the grave of Weinstein's reputation is his connections to Democratic Party politicians:

CNN:
Hillary Clinton said in an interview with CNN on Wednesday that she will donate the money Harvey Weinstein contributed to her political campaigns after multiple sexual assault allegations were leveled against the powerful Hollywood mogul.

Clinton, in an interview with CNN's Fareed Zakaria as part of her ongoing book tour, said she was "sick" and "shocked" when she found out about the sexual assault allegations, first revealed in a bombshell report by The New York Times and then further reported in a detailed report by The New Yorker.

"I was appalled. It was something that was just intolerable in every way," she said. "And, you know, like so many people who've come forward and spoken out, this was a different side of a person who I and many others had known in the past." 
Ironically, she could just as easily have made these comments about her husband decades ago. But she knows whose coattails she is riding.

This is typical Left-wing behavior, excusing the illicit behavior of those on their side of the political spectrum. It has been obvious since the National Organization for Women overlooked Bill Clinton's predatory sexual behavior back in the 1990's.

Even the New York Times, which broke the story, has been accused of burying it before:

Vulture:
Though the New York Times has been widely celebrated for its article exposing decades of sexual-harassment accusations against Harvey Weinstein, one journalist claims the paper sat on an earlier article detailing the producer’s misconduct. Sharon Waxman, founder of the Wrap, writes that her own investigative reporting, which took her on an international trip to uncover rumors of Weinstein’s sexual misconduct, was cut from the Times in 2004 under pressure from several Hollywood elites. Waxman alleges in the Wrap that Matt Damon and Russell Crowe called her “directly” to dispel the reports she was following about Miramax’s Italian head Fabrizio Lombardo, who was allegedly hired “to take care of Weinstein’s women needs.” She says that because of their influence, and interference from Weinstein, whose company was a big advertiser in the Times, the article was edited to remove the more salacious details. Damon and Crowe had previously worked with Weinstein on pictures like Good Will Hunting, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and Cinderella Man.
We can only hope that women will see that nobody, not even beloved Leftist icons like Weinstein, is above being held accountable for their illegal and immoral behavior. It is especially good to see that even a Leftist rag like the New York Times is ready to practice what they preach.

Now that Hollywood is in the media spotlight for sexual harassment, another famous person has become accused:

CNN:
Ben Affleck has apologized for groping Hilarie Burton during an appearance on MTV's "Total Request Live" years ago.

The incident took place when Burton, who recurs on Fox's "Lethal Weapon," was a co-host on MTV's "Total Request Live," a daily music video countdown that ran for ten years until 2008 and was recently revived by the network.

"I acted inappropriately toward Ms. Burton and I sincerely apologize," Affleck wrote on Twitter.

Video of the incident resurfaced Wednesday after Affleck joined a chorus of others in denouncing the actions of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, who stands accused of numerous incidents of sexual harassment and three incidents of rape.
Aside from hypocrisy, Affleck got accused of a bit more:

Mediaite:
Actress and director Rose McGowan called Ben Affleck a liar after the actor released a statement claiming he had no prior knowledge of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct.

McGowan — one of the numerous women to settle with Weinstein — said that Affleck knew about the Hollywood producer’s reported sexual harassment all along, but chose not to speak up about it.

More specifically, the Scream and Charmed actress said Affleck responded to McGowan’s sexual assault allegations against Weinstein by saying, “Goddamnit! I told him to stop doing that!” — which would suggest he knew something even before McGowan came forward.

“You said that to my face. The press [conference] I was made to go to after assault. You lie. Ben Afflec fuck off,” tweeted McGowan. Adding, “You want to play let’s play.”
It is clear that Affleck was covering for one of his own kind, namely another sexual predator. It makes you wonder how many other men in Hollywood were covering for Weinstein because they were doing the same thing themselves?

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Wednesday Wisdom: Ron Paul


"One of the worst aspects of the census is its focus on classifying people by race. When government tells us it wants information to help any given group, it assumes every individual who shares certain physical characteristics has the same interests, or wants the same things from government. This is an inherently racist and offensive assumption. The census, like so many federal policies and programs, inflames racism by encouraging Americans to see themselves as members of racial groups fighting each other for a share of the federal pie."--Ron Paul