30 June 2017

History for the day: 1936: Gone with the Wind published

 History.com has this for 30 June:

Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, one of the best-selling novels of all time and the basis for a blockbuster 1939 movie, was published on this day in 1936.
In 1926, Mitchell was forced to quit her job as a reporter at the Atlanta Journal to recover from a series of physical injuries. With too much time on her hands, Mitchell soon grew restless. Working on a Remington typewriter, a gift from her second husband, John R. Marsh, in their cramped one-bedroom apartment, Mitchell began telling the story of an Atlanta, Georgia belle named Pansy O’Hara.
In tracing Pansy’s tumultuous life from the antebellum South through the Civil War and into the Reconstruction era, Mitchell drew on the tales she had heard from her parents and other relatives, as well as from Confederate war veterans she had met as a young girl. While she was extremely secretive about her work, Mitchell eventually gave the manuscript to Harold Latham, an editor from New York City’s MacMillan Publishing. Latham encouraged Mitchell to complete the novel, with one important change: the heroine’s name. Mitchell agreed to change it to Scarlett, now one of the most memorable names in the history of literature.
Published in 1936, Gone with the Wind caused a sensation in Atlanta and went on to sell millions of copies in the United States and throughout the world. While the book drew some criticism for its romanticized view of the Old South and its slaveholding elite, its epic tale of war, passion and loss captivated readers far and wide. By the time Mitchell won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1937, a movie project was already in the works. The film was produced by Hollywood giant David O. Selznick, who paid Mitchell a then-record-high fifty thousand dollars for the film rights to her book.
After testing hundreds of unknowns and big-name stars to play Scarlett, Selznick hired British actress Vivien Leigh days after filming began. Clark Gable was also on board as Rhett Butler, Scarlett’s dashing love interest. Plagued with problems on set, Gone with the Wind nonetheless became one of the highest-grossing and most acclaimed movies of all time, breaking box office records and winning nine Academy Awards out of thirteen nominations.
Though she did not take part in the film adaptation of her book, Mitchell did attend its star-studded premiere in December of 1939 in Atlanta, Georgia. Tragically, she died just ten years later, after she was struck by a speeding car while crossing Atlanta’s Peachtree Street. Scarlett, a relatively unmemorable sequel to Gone with the Wind, written by Alexandra Ripley, was published in 1992.
Rico says the movie was as bad as one might have expected, with the exception of the delightfully screeching voice of Prissy, played by Butterfly McQueen... 

NRA video

Ron Dicker has an article in The Huffington Post about a divisive (and, as usual, unbloggable) NRA video:
A new National Rifle Association recruitment ad appears to have outraged both gun control advocates and gun owners alike, even leading critics to launch a petition urging Facebook to delete the “inflammatory” message for “inciting violence.”
The minute-long clip, posted on the NRA’s Facebook page earlier this month, features Dana Loesch of TheBlaze who begins: 
“They use their media to assassinate real news. They use their schools to teach children that their president is another Hitler. They use their movie stars and singers and comedy shows and award shows to repeat their narrative over and over again.”
The ad continues with Loesch declaring that “their” former president advocated resistance, leading to protests that “bully and terrorize the law-abiding. The only way we stop this, the only way we save our country, and our freedom, is to fight this violence of lies with a clenched fist of truth,” the spokeswoman concludes. “I’m the National Rifle Association of America and I’m freedom’s safest place.”
Many commenters, including some who say they are gun owners, blasted the ad for being “incendiary” and “divisive” while “encouraging violence”.
A fifty-year-old former Republican from the Midwest replied to the video on Facebook, calling it “Orwellian nonsense designed to make you cheer and fist pump for your ‘freedom’, like dogs drooling when the bell gets rung.”
The commenter, who asked not to be named because he feared for his safety, said he owns firearms for his own protection and for occasional target practice. He told The Huffington Post that, despite the negative reaction to the video in some corners, he suspects it won’t damage the NRA. “I don’t think much of anything can actually backfire on them, to be honest,” he said. “Much of their core membership seems impervious to logic and reason, sadly.”
The NRA did not immediately return a request for comment on the criticism
Rico says you'll have to go there to see it, if you care...

Trump, not normal

Jenna Johnson has an unbloggable column in The Washington Post about Trump:

‘It is really not normal’.
Both sides have condemned Trump for his vulgar tweet about television host Mika Brzezinski. The president’s insults of Brzezinski bore echoes of name-calling against women during the campaign.
Rico says let's get that 25th Amendment thing going before it's too late...

That travel ban

The Clarion Project has its usual rant about Trump's travel ban for Muslims:

Impeachment? Maybe

Michael Isikoff has a Yahoo column about removing The Donald from office:

For months, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have privately counseled their more militant members to forswear talk of impeaching President Trump, telling them the political support for such a step simply doesn’t exist in the GOP-controlled Congress.
But twenty-one House Democrats, including the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee, are now pushing an equally radical alternative: they are backing a bill that would create a congressional “oversight” commission that could declare the president incapacitated, leading to his removal from office under the 25th Amendment to the Constitution.
At 12:56 p.m. Thursday, barely four hours after Trump tweeted attacks against MSNBC cable host Mika Brzezinski in crude, personal terms, Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland and the chief sponsor of the bill, sent out an email to his colleagues, urging them to get behind the measure, writing it was of “enduring importance to the security of our nation.”
“In case of emergency, break glass,” Raskin told Yahoo News in an interview. “If you look at the record of things that have happened since January, it is truly a bizarre litany of events.” Asked if Trump’s latest tweets attacking Brzezinski and her co-host Joe Scarborough, roundly condemned by members of both parties as beneath the dignity of his office, strengthened the grounds for invoking the 25th Amendment, Raskin replied: “I assume every human being is allowed one or two errant and seemingly deranged tweets. The question is whether you have a sustained pattern of behavior that indicates something is seriously wrong.” (Brzezinski and Scarborough’s response to Trump’s tweets ran in today’s Washington Post under the headline The President is not well.” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump’s tweets Thursday, saying he “fights fire with fire”.)
To be sure, even Raskin acknowledges Congress and the country are in largely uncharted waters. The 25th Amendment was adopted in 1967 in response to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and past presidential medical crises, including the heart attacks of Dwight Eisenhower and the illnesses of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, to deal with instances where presidents become incapacitated and unable to perform the duties of their office.
One of its provisions, known as Section 4, empowers the Vice President, along with a majority of the Cabinet, to make a determination that a president is “unable to discharge the powers and duties” of the office, and then provide it in writing to Congress, resulting in the president’s removal. It’s a step that has never been taken.
But Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, has seized on some largely overlooked language in Section 4 as the basis for his bill. It turns out it doesn’t only have to be the Cabinet that makes a finding of presidential incapacity; the section also permits “such other body as Congress may by law provide”, along with the Vice President, to reach the same conclusion.
Yet, in the fifty years since the 25th Amendment took effect, Congress has never set up such a body. Raskin’s bill would do so. It calls for the creation of an Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity. The commission would be a nonpartisan panel appointed by congressional leaders composed of four physicians, four psychiatrists, and three others, such as former presidents, vice presidents, or other former senior government officials. The commission, if directed by Congress through a concurrent resolution, would be empowered to conduct an examination of the president “to determine whether the president is incapacitated, either mentally or physically.”
The 25th Amendment itself says nothing about the guidelines for making such a determination, much less what kinds of perceived mental illnesses would make a president unable to perform his duties. But Raskin, who first introduced his bill in April, said that he’s been getting increased interest in the legislation among colleagues, including Republicans who have privately approached him about it on the House floor. “I’ve had tons of inquiries and lots of colleagues have been talking to me about it,” he said. “I’m convinced most Americans believe we are living in a very strange reality. The question is, what are the escape routes we have, and is the 25th Amendment is one of them?”
Raskin’s bill so far has been quietly picking up support in the Democratic caucus. Among the co-sponsors who have signed are Representative John Conyers, a Democrat from Michigan, the ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee (and the only member of Congress who was around when the 25th Amendment was enacted), and Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Democrat from Florida, the former chair of the Democratic National Committee.
But despite some talk of the 25th Amendment option in conservative circles (The New York Times columnist Ross Douthat recently urged that it be considered, and National Review contributing editor Andrew McCarthy tweeted about it Thursday, so far no Republican members of Congress have signed on to the idea. “It’s really a political decision,” said Representative Steve Cohen, a Democrat from Tennessee, who has also co-sponsored Raskin’s bill. While many of his GOP colleagues are, in the privacy of the House cloakroom, “shaking their heads” and “embarrassed” by the President, “they can’t say anything publicly” given the core support Trump has so far retained among their base, he said.
Indeed, in some respects, the political obstacles to executing the 25th Amendment are even greater than impeachment, notes Joel K. Goldstein, a professor of law at St. Louis University. Under its provisions, if a president challenged a finding of incapacity and demanded that he or she be reinstalled in office, it would require two-thirds of both chambers to block the commander in chief from doing so. (By contrast, it only takes a majority of the House to impeach a president, although two thirds of the Senate must vote to convict and remove the president.)
Moreover, as Goldstein notes, even if Congress were to create the body called for in Raskin’s bill, it couldn’t act to declare the president incapacitated without the concurrence of the Vice President. That means Vice President Mike Pence could effectively block any move to invoke the 25th Amendment option. “The vice president is a necessary party. He effectively has a veto,” said Goldstein. “He’s a deal breaker.”
Still, Raskin is undeterred. “The question is, where are we going to be six months, twelve months, eighteen months from now? The presidency is considered extremely stressful for people with the strongest mental health. We need to be prepared for all eventualities.”
Rico says who knows, it might work... (And wouldn't Pence jump at the chance to be President?)

29 June 2017

More hacking

Time has an article by Massimo Calabresi about new information on the election hacking:

The hacking of state and local election databases in 2016 was more extensive than previously reported, including at least one successful attempt to alter voter information, and the theft of thousands of voter records that contain private information like partial Social Security numbers, current and former officials tell Time.
In one case, investigators found there had been a manipulation of voter data in a county database but the alterations were discovered and rectified, two sources familiar with the matter tell Time. Investigators have not identified whether the hackers in that case were Russian agents.
The fact that private data was stolen from states is separately providing investigators a previously unreported line of inquiry in the probes into Russian attempts to influence the election. In Illinois, more than ninety percent of the nearly ninety thousand records stolen by Russian state actors contained drivers license numbers, and a quarter contained the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers, according to Ken Menzel, the General Counsel of the State Board of Elections.
Congressional investigators are probing whether any of this stolen private information made its way to the Trump campaign, two sources familiar with the investigations tell Time.
“If any campaign, Trump or otherwise, used inappropriate data the questions are: How did they get it? From whom? And with what level of knowledge?” the former top Democratic staffer on the House Intelligence Committee, Michael Bahar, told Time. “That is a crux of the investigation."
Spokesmen for the House and Senate Intelligence committees declined to comment on the search for stolen data. No one contacted for this story said they had seen evidence that the stolen, private, data had actually made its way to the Trump campaign.
The House Intelligence Committee plans to seek testimony this summer from Brad Parscale, the digital director of the Trump campaign, CNN reported last week. Hill investigators in February asked the White House and law enforcement agencies to ensure that all materials relating to contacts between the Trump administration, transition team, and campaign had with the Russians had been preserved. Parscale did not return messages requesting comment for this story. Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, referred questions regarding the investigations to Trump’s legal team, which did not respond to requests for comment.
Both intelligence committees are looking at whether and how the intrusions could have furthered Russia’s larger strategic goals of undermining US democracy, hurting Hillary Clinton and helping Donald Trump. During the run up to the vote, Obama administration cyber-security officials took steps to prepare for widespread voter registration manipulation, fearing Russia might seek to cause chaos at polling places to undermine the credibility of the election. Current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials say Russia could also have tried to use stolen voter data to gain leverage over witting or unwitting accomplices in the Trump camp, by involving them in a broader conspiracy.
The House and Senate Intelligence committees held hearings on 22 June 2017 to highlight the ongoing vulnerability of the election systems. “I’m deeply concerned,” said North Carolina Republican Senator Richard Burr, who chairs the Senate Intelligence Committee, that “we could be here in two or four years talking about a much worse crisis.”
Cyber-security officials testifying at the Senate hearing acknowledged for the first time the extent of the Russian effort to interfere with the election. Twenty-one states saw such intrusions last year, a senior official from the Department of Homeland Security, Jeanette Manfra, said. None of the intrusions affected the vote count itself, all the officials testified.
That has not reassured some Hill leaders. “There’s no evidence they were able to affect the counting within the machines,” says the top Democrat on the House Intelligence committee, Congressman Adam Schiff of California. But, he added, “the effect on the election is quite a different matter.”
The Russian efforts against state and local databases were so widespread that top Obama administration cyber-security officials assumed that, by Election Day, Moscow’s agents had probed all fifty states. “At first it was one state, then three, then five, then a dozen,” says Anthony Ferrante, a former FBI cybersecurity official and member of the White House team charged with preparedness and response to the cyber intrusion. At that point, says Michael Daniel, who led the White House effort to secure the vote against the Russian intrusions, “We had to assume that they actually tried to at least rattle the doorknobs on all fifty, and we just happened to find them in a few of them."
Many hackers, including state-sponsored ones, use automated programs to target hundreds or even thousands of computers to check for vulnerabilities. But confirming intrusions is hard. As far as officials have been able to determine, the number of actual successful intrusions, where Russian agents gained sufficient access to attempt to alter, delete, or download any information, was “less than a dozen”, current and former officials say. But that wasn’t the only worry. “In addition to the threat to the vote we were also very concerned about the public confidence in the integrity of the electoral system,” says Ferrante.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating whether any laws were broken in relation to the Russian attack. The Congressional intelligence probes also seek to determine the nature and scope of the Russian espionage operation in order to protect future elections.“The integrity of the entire system is in question,” says Bahar, “So you need the system to push back and find out what happened and why, so it never happens again.”
Rico says that, eventually, this is gonna catch up with Trump and the Russians...

Quotes for the day

Eppur si muove (Italian). “It moves, nevertheless.”
Galileo Galilei

Apocryphal quote, likely false, as explained in Fahie's biography, Galileo, His Life and Work (1903)

"It beats irregularly, nevertheless."

Rico, on his ICA heartbeat, in spite of his doctor's refusal to find it.

28 June 2017

Politics makes for very strange bedfellows

Vanity Fair has an article by Marie Brenner about Cohn and Trump:

In 1973, a brash young would-be developer from Queens met one of New York City’s premier power brokers: Roy Cohn, whose name is still synonymous with the rise of McCarthyism and its dark political arts. With the ruthless attorney as a guide, Trump propelled himself into the city’s power circles and learned many of the tactics that would inexplicably lead him to the White House years later.
Donald calls me fifteen to twenty times a day,” Cohn told me on the day we met. “He is always asking, ‘What is the status of this and that?’ ”
It was 1980. I had been assigned to write a story on Donald Trump, the brash young developer who was then trying to make a name for himself in New York City, and I had come to see the man who, at the time, was in many ways Trump’s alter ego: the wily, menacing lawyer who had gained national renown, and enmity, for his ravenous anti-Communist grandstanding.
Trump was 34 and using the connections of his father, Brooklyn and Queens real-estate developer Fred Trump, as he navigated the rough-and-tumble world of political bosses. He had recently opened the Grand Hyatt Hotel, bringing life back to a dreary area near Grand Central Terminal during a period when the city had yet to fully recover from near bankruptcy. His wife, Ivana, led me through the construction site in a white wool Thierry Mugler jumpsuit. “When will it be finished? When?,” she shouted at workers as she clicked through in stiletto heels.
The tabloids couldn’t get enough of Trumps’ theatrics. And as Donald Trump’s Hyatt rose, so too did the hidden hand of his attorney Roy Cohn, always there to help with the shady tax abatements, the zoning variances, the sweetheart deals, and the threats to those who might stand in the project’s way.
Cohn was best known as a ruthless prosecutor. During the Red Scare of the 1950s, he and Wisconsin senator Joe McCarthy, the fabulist and virulent nationalist crusader, had hauled dozens of alleged “Communist sympathizers” before a Senate panel. Earlier, the House Un-American Activities Committee had skewered artists and entertainers on similar charges, resulting in a trail of fear, prison sentences, and ruined careers for hundreds, many of whom had found common cause in fighting Fascism. But in the decades since, Cohn had become the premier practitioner of hardball deal-making in New York City, having mastered the arcane rules of the city’s Favor Bank (the local cabal of interconnected influence peddlers) and its magical ability to provide inside fixes for its machers and rogues.
“You knew, when you were in Cohn’s presence, you were in the presence of pure evil,” said lawyer Victor A. Kovner, who had known him for years. Cohn’s power derived largely from his ability to scare potential adversaries with hollow threats and spurious lawsuits. The fee he demanded for his services? Ironclad loyalty.
Trump, who would remain loyal to Cohn for many years, would be one of the last and most enduring beneficiaries of Cohn’s power. But, as Trump would confide in 1980, he already seemed to be trying to distance himself from Cohn’s inevitable taint: “All I can tell you is he’s been vicious to others in his protection of me,” Trump told me, as if to wave away a stench. “He’s a genius. He’s a lousy lawyer, but he’s a genius.”
On the day I arrived at Cohn’s office, in his imposing limestone town house on East 68th Street, his Rolls-Royce was parked outside. But all elegance stopped at the front door. It was a fetid place, a shambles of dusty bedrooms and office warrens where young male assistants made their way up and down the stairs. Cohn often greeted visitors in a robe. On occasion, IRS agents were said to sit in the hallway and, knowing Cohn’s reputation as a deadbeat, were there to intercept any envelopes with money.
Cohn’s bedroom was crowded with a collection of stuffed frogs that sat on the floor, propped against a large television. Everything about him suggested a combination of an arrested child and a sleaze. I sat on a small sofa covered with dozens of stuffed creatures that exploded with dust as I tried to move them aside. Cohn was compact, with a mirthless smile, the scars from his plastic surgeries visible around his ears. As he spoke, his tongue darted in and out; he twirled his Rolodex, as if to impress me with his network of contacts. The kind of law Cohn practiced, in fact, needed only a telephone. (The New Yorker would later report that his longtime switchboard operator taped his calls and kept notes of conversations.)
Who did not know Roy Cohn’s backstory, even in 1980? Cohn, whose great-uncle had founded Lionel, the toy-train company, grew up as an only child, doted on by an overbearing mother who followed him to summer camp and lived with him until she died. Every night he was seated at his family’s Park Avenue dinner table, which was an unofficial command post of the Favor Bank bosses who’d helped make his father, Al Cohn, a Bronx county judge, and later a State Supreme Court judge. (During the Depression, Roy’s uncle Bernard Marcus had been sent to prison in a bank-fraud case, and Roy’s childhood was marked by visits to Sing Sing.) By high school, Cohn was fixing a parking ticket or two for one of his teachers.
After graduating from Columbia Law School at twenty, he became an assistant US attorney and an expert in “subversive activities”, allowing him to segue into his role in the 1951 espionage trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. (Cohn persuaded the star witness, Ethel Rosenberg’s brother, David Greenglass, to change his testimony; in Cohn’s autobiography, written with Sidney Zion, Cohn claimed that he had encouraged the judge, already intent on sending Julius to the electric chair, to also order Ethel’s execution, despite the fact that she was a mother with two children.) Come 1953, this legal prodigy was named McCarthy’s boy-wonder chief counsel, and the news photos told the tale: the sharp-faced, heavy-lidded twenty-six-year-old with cherubic cheeks, whispering intimately into the ear of the bloated McCarthy. Cohn’s special skill as the Senator’s henchman was character assassination. Indeed, after testifying in front of him, an engineer with the Voice of America radio news service committed suicide. Cohn never showed a shred of remorse.
Despite McCarthy’s very public demise, when the hearings proved to be trumped-up witch hunts, Cohn would emerge largely unscathed, going on to become one of the last great power brokers of New York City. His friends and clients came to include New York City’s Francis Cardinal Spellman and Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. Cohn would become an occasional guest at the Reagan White House and a constant presence at Studio 54.
By the time I met with Cohn, he had already been indicted four times on charges ranging from extortion and blackmail to bribery, conspiracy, securities fraud, and obstruction of justice, but had been acquitted in each instance and, in the process, had begun to behave as if he were somehow a super-patriot who was above the law. At a gay bar in Provincetown, as reported by Cohn biographer Nicholas von Hoffman, a friend described Cohn’s behavior at a local lounge: “Roy sang three choruses of God Bless America, got a hard-on and went home to bed.”
Cohn, with his bravado, reckless opportunism, legal pyrotechnics, and serial fabrication, became a fitting mentor for the young real-estate scion. As Trump’s first major project, the Grand Hyatt, was set to open, he was already involved in multiple controversies. He was warring with the city about tax abatements and other concessions. He had hoodwinked his very own partner, Hyatt chief Jay Pritzker, by changing a term in a deal when Pritzker was unreachable on a trip to Nepal. In 1980, while erecting what would become Trump Tower, he antagonized a range of arts patrons and city officials when his team demolished the Art Deco friezes decorating the 1929 building. Vilified in the headlines and by the Establishment, Trump offered a response that was pure Roy Cohn: “Who cares?” he said. “Let’s say that I had given that junk to the Met. They would have just put them in their basement.”
For author Sam Roberts, the essence of Cohn’s influence on Trump was the triad: “Roy was a master of situational immorality. He worked with a three-dimensional strategy, which was: 
1. Never settle, never surrender.
2. Counter-attack, counter-sue immediately.
3. No matter what happens, no matter how deeply into the muck you get, claim victory and never admit defeat. As columnist Liz Smith once observed, “Donald lost his moral compass when he made an alliance with Roy Cohn.”
Let’s go back further still, to 1973. Trump, then 27, was living in a rent-controlled studio, wearing French cuffs, and taking his dates to the Peacock Alley, the bar in the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria. At the time, the lockbox of Establishment New York was tightly closed to the Trumps of Queens, despite their mansion in Jamaica Estates.
Riding around Brooklyn in a Rolls-Royce, Trump’s mother, Mary, collected quarters from laundry rooms in various Trump buildings. Trump’s father, Fred, had already beat back two scandals in which he was accused of overcharging and profiteering at some of his government-financed apartment complexes, and was now facing an even more explosive charge: systemic discrimination against black and other minority tenants. The Trumps, however, were connected to Favor Bank politicians in the Brooklyn Democratic machine, which, in tandem with the Mob bosses, still influenced who got many of the judgeships and patronage jobs. It was twilight in a Damon Runyon world, before the reformers moved in.
As Trump would later tell the story, he ran into Cohn for the first time at Le Club, a members-only nightspot in Manhattan’s East 50s, where models and fashionistas and Eurotrash went to be seen. “The government has just filed suit against our company,” Trump explained, “saying that we discriminated against blacks . . . . What do you think I should do?” “Tell them to go to hell and fight the thing in court and let them prove you discriminated,” Cohn shot back. The Trumps would soon retain Cohn to represent them.
The evidence was damning. At forty Trump-owned properties, according to the DoJ lawsuit, widespread practices were used to avoid renting to blacks, including implementing a secret code. When a prospective black renter would apply for an apartment, the paperwork would allegedly be marked with a C, indicating “colored” (a charge that, if true, would constitute a violation of the Fair Housing Act). Nevertheless, the Trumps countersued the government. “It just stunned me,” the lawyer and journalist Steven Brill recently recalled. “They actually got reporters to appear for a press conference where they announced that they were suing the Justice Department for defamation for a hundred million dollars. You couldn’t get through your second day of law school without knowing it was a totally bogus lawsuit. Of course, it was thrown out.”
A race-discrimination case of this magnitude might have sunk many a developer, but Cohn persisted. Under his guidance, the Trumps settled by agreeing to stipulations to prevent future discrimination at their properties, but without admitting guilt. (With that, a Trump strategy was launched. Decades later, when questioned about the case in one of the presidential debates, Trump would declare, “It was a Federal lawsuit and we were sued. We settled with no admission of guilt.”)
Cohn continued to go on the attack for the Trumps. “I was a young reporter just starting my first job, at The New York Post [in 1974],” book publisher David Rosenthal told me. “I was working on illegal campaign contributions and I started looking at the records that had come from a group of buildings in Brooklyn, which showed massive donations to Hugh Carey, then running for governor of New York. They had all come from buildings that I had traced to Fred Trump. My story was published and my editors were thrilled.
“The next day, my phone rang and it was Roy Cohn. ‘You piece of shit! We are going to ruin you! You have a lot of fucking nerve!’ ” Shaken, Rosenthal, then 21, went to his editors. “Their jaws dropped. I thought I was finished. I was sure Cohn’s next call would be to Dolly Schiff, the owner of the paper. Of course, the call never came. The story was true. They had skirted the New York finance laws.”
For about a decade, the tax abatements and legal loopholes that Trump was able to finesse came about, in large part, because of Cohn. The time he spent on Trump matters was not reduced to “billable hours”, wrote the late investigative journalist Wayne Barrett in Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth. Instead, Cohn asked for payment only when his cash supply ran low.
Steve Brill again saw Cohn’s stamp when Trump struck back, defending the case against Trump University. It was, Brill asserted, “a scam against the very people who eventually voted for Trump. the middle and lower middle class. The first thing Trump does is sue one of the plaintiffs. She wins and the judge awards her $800,000 in legal fees, and Trump appeals, and in that decision he’s compared to Bernie Madoff . This strategy was pure Cohn: ‘Attack your accuser.’”
After Brill’s investigation was published, Brill said, he received a call from one of Trump’s lawyers. “I understand you may do a follow-up,” he told Brill, adding a bit of advice: “Just be careful.” “Thanks,” Brill replied. “And let me give you some advice: ‘You better get the check because this guy is never going to pay you.’ Being a deadbeat was also pure Cohn.” (A White House spokesperson says this claim is totally false.)
How to explain the symbiosis that existed between Roy Cohn and Donald Trump? Cohn and Trump were twinned by what drove them. They were both sons of powerful fathers, young men who had started their careers clouded by family scandal. Both had been private-school students from the boroughs who’d grown up with their noses pressed against the glass of dazzling Manhattan. Both squired attractive women around town. (Cohn would describe his close friend Barbara Walters, the television newswoman, as his fiancée. “Of course, it was absurd,” Liz Smith said, “but Barbara put up with it.”)
Sometime during the 2016 presidential campaign, Brill noticed that Donald Trump was using Cohn’s exact phrases. “I began to hear, ‘If you want to know the truth,’ and ‘that I can tell you’, and ‘to be absolutely frank’, a sign that the Big Lie was coming,” Brill said.
Cohn, possessed of a keen intellect, unlike Trump, could keep a jury spellbound. When he was indicted for bribery, in 1969, his lawyer suffered a heart attack near the end of the trial. Cohn deftly stepped in and did a seven-hour closing argument, never once referring to a notepad. He was acquitted. “I don’t want to know what the law is,” he famously said, “I want to know who the judge is.”
When Cohn spoke, he would fix you with a hypnotic stare. His eyes were the palest blue, all the more startling because they appeared to protrude from the sides of his head. While Al Pacino’s version of Cohn (in Mike Nichols’ 2003 HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America) captured Cohn’s intensity, it failed to convey his child-like yearning to be liked. “He was raised as a miniature adult,” Tom Wolfe once observed.
Cohn liked to throw parties crowded with celebrities, judges, Mob bosses, and politicians, some of whom were either coming from or on their way to prison, causing Cohn’s close friend, the comedian Joey Adams, to remark, “If you’re indicted, you’re invited.” But it was Cohn’s circle of legal aides and after-hours pals that also held sway. “Roy loved to surround himself with attractive straight men,” said divorce attorney Robert S. Cohen, who, before taking on clients such as Michael Bloomberg, and both of Trump’s ex-wives (Ivana Trump and Marla Maples), began his career working for Cohn. “Roy had a coterie. If he could have had a relationship with any of them, he would have.”
Cohn’s cousin David L. Marcus concurred. Soon after graduating from Brown in the early 1980s, Marcus recalled, he sought Cohn out. While they had encountered each other over the years at family gatherings, Marcus’ parents had despised Cohn since his McCarthy days, and a chill had set in. But Cohn, intrigued by the attention of his long-lost cousin, welcomed him. Marcus, a journalist who would later share a Pulitzer Prize, recently said that he was astonished by the atmosphere of creepy intimacy that, in those days, seemed to perfume Cohn’s attitude toward his acolytes, including one in particular. “There was a party in the mid-1980s, where Mailer was, and Andy Warhol, when in walked Trump,” recounted Marcus. “Roy dropped everyone else and fussed over him . . . Roy had that ability to focus on you. I felt that Roy was attracted to Trump, more than in a big-brotherly way. Donald fit the pattern of the hangers-on and the disciples around Roy. He was tall and blond and, frankly, über-Gentile. Something about Roy’s self-hating-Jewish persona drew him to fair-haired boys. And at these parties there was a bevy of blond guys, almost midwestern, and Donald was paying homage to Roy. I wondered then if Roy was attracted to him.”
“Thwarted loves obsessed Roy Cohn’s life,” added a lawyer who first met Cohn in the 1960s, characterizing some of the men, both gay and straight, in Cohn’s orbit. “He would become sexually obsessed with cock-tease guys who would sense his need and not shun him. These were unrequited relationships. The way he would expiate the sexual energy was possessive mentoring. Introducing them to everyone in town and taking them places.”
Seeing Trump and Cohn enter a room together had a hint of vaudeville. Donald, standing six feet two inches, would typically enter first, with a burlesque macho-man’s gait, walking as if he led from his toes. A few feet behind would be Cohn, skinny, eyes darting, his features slightly caved in from plastic surgery. “Donald is my best friend,” Cohn said back then, shortly after he had thrown a birthday party for Trump. And over the years, several who knew Cohn would remark on Trump’s resemblance to the most infamous of Roy Cohn’s blond, rich-boy obsessions: David Schine.
Consider the episode, and the compulsion, that ended Roy Cohn’s time in the capital and Joe McCarthy’s Senate career. In the mid-1950s, Cohn was in the headlines for the malicious circus of the hearings. Scores of witnesses were being bullied by Cohn or McCarthy or both. “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?,” Cohn demanded in his nasal honk, a spectacle replayed in the evenings on television and radio.
It was amid this high drama that a young man had come into Cohn’s life. The heir to a hotel-and-movie franchise, the feckless David Schine had reportedly pulled D’s in his first year at Harvard. But, in 1952, he wrote a pamphlet on the evils of Communism and was soon introduced to Cohn. It was, for Cohn, a coup de foudre, and Schine came on the McCarthy committee as an unpaid “research assistant”. Dispatched on a tour of Europe to investigate possible subversion at army bases and American embassies, which included ridding the consular libraries of “subversive literature” (among them works by Dashiell Hammett and Mark Twain), the pair were dogged by rumors that they were lovers, but Cohn told friends that they were not. Whispers also began to swirl about McCarthy’s sexual orientation.
In lavender Washington, Cohn was known as both a closeted homosexual and homophobic, among those leading the charge against supposedly gay witnesses who he and others believed should lose their government jobs because they were “security risks”. When Schine was drafted as a private and not a commissioned officer, Cohn threatened he would “wreck the army”. McCarthy even mentioned to Robert T. Stevens, the Secretary of the Army, that “Roy thinks Dave ought to be a general and operate from a penthouse in the Waldorf Astoria.” President Dwight Eisenhower, meanwhile, angered by McCarthy’s attacks and fearful that the Senator’s zealotry was severely damaging the president’s agenda and the GOP itself, sent word to the army counsel to write a report on Cohn’s harassment tactics. According to historian David A. Nichols, the president secretly ordered the document to be released to key legislators and the press, and the revelations were explosive, resulting in the Army-McCarthy hearings. Over 36 days, twenty million Americans watched. It was all there: Cohn and Schine’s jaunt to Europe, Cohn’s ultimatums, McCarthy’s smears. The high point came when the Army’s sly Boston lawyer, Joseph Welch, shook his head in disbelief at McCarthy’s attempt to slander one of Welch’s own assistants, imploring the senator: “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?” Within weeks, Cohn was banished and McCarthy was soon censured. 
Cohn played it as a win. After the debacle, he returned to New York City and attended a party thrown in his honor at the Hotel Astor. It would be the first example of his ability to project victory from defeat and induce moral amnesia upon a mesmerized New York City, a gambit not dissimilar to those later utilized by his confrère Donald Trump.
Another of Cohn’s tactics was to befriend the town’s top gossip columnists, such as Leonard Lyons and George Sokolsky, who would bring Cohn to the Stork Club. He was irresistible to tabloid writers, always ready with scandal-tinged tales. “Roy would be hired by a divorce client in the morning and be leaking their case in the afternoon,” New Yorker writer Ken Auletta recalled. Columnist Liz Smith said she learned to distrust most items he gave her. A similar reliance on the press would also become a vital component of the young Trump’s playbook.
Roy would call me up and it was always short: ‘George, Roy,’ ” said former New York Post political reporter George Arzt, who was later Mayor Ed Koch’s press secretary. “He would drop a dime on someone, hoping I would print it.”
My initiation to the louche world of Roy Cohn came in 1980, at a lunch with Trump in the room upstairs at the 21 Club, the first time I had been there. “Anybody who is anybody here sits between the columns,” Trump told me. I was expecting our meal to be one-on-one, but a guest joined us that day. “This is Stanley Friedman,” Trump said. “He is Roy Cohn’s law partner.” The lunch agenda, not surprisingly, turned into a sales pitch, with Friedman offering a monologue on what Roy Cohn had already done for Trump. (Friedman, in pure Tammany Hall style, worked for the city while assisting Cohn, and would later go to prison for taking kickbacks in a parking-ticket scandal.)
Roy could fix anyone in the city,” Friedman told me that day. “He’s a genius. It is a good thing Roy isn’t here today. He would stab all the food off your plate.” A Cohn quirk was to rarely order food and, instead, commandeer the meals of his dining partners. I wrote then about the moment when hotel titan Bob Tisch came by the table. “I beat Bob Tisch on the convention site,” Trump said loudly. “But we’re good friends now, good friends. Isn’t that right, Bob?”
Trump, at the time, was developing a sullen moxie that rivaled Cohn’s. The lawyer Tom Baer, for instance, did not know what to expect when he got a call one day to meet with Trump. Baer had been recently appointed by Mayor Koch to represent the city in all aspects of what was to become its new convention center, and Baer was trying to line up possible partnerships. “Donald said, ‘I would be willing to contribute the land,’ ” Baer would remember. “ ‘I think it is only fair that it be named Trump Center’ after his father.
“I called Ed Koch, and he said, ‘Fuck him! Fuck him.’ I said, ‘I don’t talk that way.’ He said, ‘I don’t care how you talk! Fuck him!’ So, I used my best lawyer-ese, and I called him back and said, ‘The mayor is so grateful for your offer, but he is not inclined to agree.’ ” Some time later Trump went to Deputy Mayor Peter Solomon and reportedly proposed a deal entitling him to a four million dollar commission. (He eventually got a half million.) Recalled Baer, “He spoke to the representatives of the governor. He wasn’t going to be deterred because pisher Tom Baer told him he couldn’t do it . . . . Koch just shook his head and thought, This guy is ridiculous.”
‘Come and make your pitch to me,” Roy Cohn told Roger Stone when they met at a New York City dinner party in 1979. Stone, though only 27, had achieved a degree of notoriety as one of Richard Nixon’s political dirty-tricksters. At the time, he was running Ronald Reagan’s presidential-campaign organization in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and he needed office space.
Stone appeared on East 68th Street to find Cohn, just awakened, in his robe, sitting with one of his clients, Mob boss “Fat Tony” Salerno, of the Genovese crime family. “In front of Roy was a slab of cream cheese and three burnt slices of bacon,” Stone remembered. “He ate the cream cheese with his pointing finger. He listened to my pitch and said, ‘You need to see Donald Trump. I will get you in, but then you are on your own.’”
“I went to see him,” Stone told me, “and Trump said, ‘How do you get Reagan to 270 electoral votes?’ He was very interested in the mechanics, a political junkie. Then he said, ‘Okay, we are in. Go see my father’.” Out Stone went to Avenue Z in Coney Island, and met Fred Trump in his office, which was crowded with cigar-store Indians. “True to his word, I got $200,000. The checks came in $1,000 denominations, the maximum donation you could give. All of these checks were written to ‘Reagan For President.’ It was not illegal, it was bundling. Check trading.” For Reagan’s state headquarters, the Trumps found Stone and the campaign a decrepit town house next to the 21 Club. Stone was now, like Donald Trump, inside the Cohn tent, and Stone soon seized the moment to cash in. After Reagan was elected, his administration softened the strict rules for corporations seeking government largesse. Soon Stone and Paul Manafort, Trump’s future campaign manager, were lobbyists, reaping the bonanzas that could flow with Favor Bank introductions. Their first client, Stone recalled, was none other than Donald Trump, who retained him, irrespective of any role Manafort might have had in the firm, for help with Federal issues such as obtaining a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers to dredge the channel to the Atlantic City marina to accommodate his yacht, the Trump Princess.
“We made no bones about it,” Stone recently said. “We wanted money. And it came pouring in.” Stone and Manafort charged hefty fees to introduce blue-chip corporationslike Ronald Perelman’s MacAndrews & Forbes and Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. to their former campaign colleagues, some of whom were now running the Reagan White House. It was all cozy and connected and reminiscent of Roy Cohn.
By 2000, Stone had offered his talents to a new candidate: Trump himself. That year Stone traveled the country to help Trump explore the viability of running as a Reform Party candidate. But at a stop in Florida, things halted abruptly. “I’m tired,” Stone recalled Trump telling him. “Cancel the rest of this. I am going to my room to watch television.” In Stone’s view, “His heart was never in it.” (A White House spokesperson disputes this account.)
“You have to let Donald be Donald,” Stone explained. “We have been friends for forty years. Look what happened with the ‘birther’ push. You don’t want to hear this, but when he started that campaign seven out of ten Republicans at the time believed that Obama was born in Kenya. And, let’s face it, many still question it. Donald still believes it.” (In fact, candidate Trump released an official statement two months before Election Day asserting, unequivocally, that “Barack Obama was born in the United States.”)
Stone’s modus operandi, even to this day, has seemed to be vintage Cohn. Fired by Trump for what one of his spokesmen called Stone’s desire “to use the campaign for his own personal publicity,” Stone went into overdrive, fighting back and scheduling interviews in which he praised candidate Trump. (Stone denied he was fired and says he resigned.) Stone recently expressed concern that Jared Kushner’s inexperience and façade of centrist policies might very well scuttle the already beleaguered Trump presidency. And he fretted about Trump’s daughter Ivanka as well, saying that he found it “disturbing” when Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, in May, pledged a hundred million to a World Bank women’s entrepreneurial fund, a project she had promoted.
Yet Stone would not concede that his decades-long relationship with Trump had become strained, even though Stone, along with some members of the administration, are facing allegations that they’ve had questionable contacts with a variety of Russian nationals. (All denied any wrongdoing.) “There is nothing to any of this,” Stone claimed. “Donald knows he has my loyalty and friendship. I leave a message when I want to speak with him.”
All along there had been something deeper connecting Stone and Trump and Roy Cohn: the climate of suspicion and fear that had helped bring all three to power. Although Stone, like many around Cohn in the 1970s and 1980s, was too young to have observed how Cohn helped poison America in the McCarthy years, Stone had learned at the feet of Richard Nixon, the ultimate American paranoid. The politics of paranoia that Cohn and Stone had cynically mastered would eventually make them kindred spirits. Just as the two of them had come to prominence by exploiting a grave national mood (Cohn in the 1950s, Stone in the 1970s), it was this same sense of American angst, resurgent in 2016, that would ultimately help elect Donald Trump.
“Pro-Americanism,” Stone said, “is a common thread for McCarthy, Goldwater, Nixon, and Reagan. The heir to that tradition is Donald Trump. When you combine that with the bare-knuckled tactics of Roy Cohn or a Roger Stone, that is how you win elections. So Roy has an impact on Donald’s understanding of how to deal with the media: attack, attack, attack, never defend.”
Roger Stone was there in 1982 when Roy Cohn was at his peak. At the time, Cohn was trying to help Trump realize his dream of opening casinos in Atlantic City. Crucial to his success would be a sympathetic New Jersey governor. And Cohn and Stone were working hard to elect their candidate: Republican Tom Kean. Stone, as it turned out, was Kean’s campaign manager, and after Kean won in a close race, Stone would remain as an unofficial adviser.
Trump began to purchase boardwalk real estate. He built one casino and bought another. His prospects looked bright. But Cohn’s downfall was imminent. Word would soon begin to circulate that Cohn was battling AIDS. He denied it. He was also battling disbarment under a cloud of fraud and ethical-misconduct charges. (Cohn, along with other misdeeds, had stiffed a client on a loan and altered the terms of a virtually comatose client’s will in his hospital room, making himself its co-executor.)
Cohn tried to keep up a good face. But Trump, among other clients, began to shift his business elsewhere. “Donald found out about Cohn’s condition and just dropped him like a hot potato,” Cohn’s personal secretary, Susan Bell, was quoted as saying. (A White House spokesperson says this claim is totally false.)
Cohn sensed his growing isolation. For whatever reason, he decided, according to journalist Wayne Barrett, to help the efforts of Trump’s sister Maryanne Trump Barry, who was seeking an appointment to the Federal bench. “Maryanne wanted the job,” Stone would recall. “She did not want Roy and Donald to do anything. She was attempting to get it on her own.”
Stone remembered that, when it appeared someone else was in line for the job, Cohn approached Reagan’s attorney general, Ed Meese, for help. In the end, Barry got the plum post. “Roy can do the impossible,” Trump reportedly said when he heard the news. The next day, Barrett noted, Barry called Cohn to thank him. (According to The Times, Trump, when asked in 2015, said his sister “got the appointment totally on her own merit.” For herself, Barry admitted to Trump-family biographer Gwenda Blair that “there’s no question Donald helped me get on the bench. I was good, but not that good.”)
By 1985, Cohn was seriously ill—“I have liver cancer,” he contended—and started calling in his last markers. He phoned New York Times columnist William Safire, whom he’d known since Safire’s days as a publicist. And, sure enough, Safire ran a piece attacking the “buzzards of the bar” who had “dredged up” fraud charges to get even with Cohn, “the hard-hitting anti-legal-establishment right-winger at a time when he is physically unable to defend himself.” Roger Stone would recall Trump phoning him and asking, “ ‘Have you seen Bill Safire’s column?’ He called me to point it out to me. He said, ‘This is going to be terrific for Roy.’ “
Cohn also had asked a favor of Trump: could he give him a hotel room for his lover, who was dying of AIDS? A room was found in the Barbizon Plaza Hotel. Months passed. Then Cohn got the bill. Then another. He refused to pay. At some point, according to The New York Times’ Jonathan Mahler and Matt Flegenheimer, Trump would present Cohn with a thank-you gift for a decade of favors: a pair of diamond cuff links. The diamonds turned out to be fakes.
Tensions between the two became progressively strained. The dying Cohn, as Barrett would describe him in those waning days, would say, “Donald pisses ice water.”
That said, Trump did come out to testify on Cohn’s behalf at his 1986 disbarment hearing, one of 37 character witnesses, including Barbara Walters and William Safire. But none of it mattered. Cohn, after putting up a four-year fight, was kicked out of the New York Bar for “dishonesty, fraud, deceit, and misrepresentation.” Cohn’s nefarious practices had finally caught up with him.
Trump, by then a presence in Atlantic City, was setting his sights on a third casino. Roy Cohn, in contrast, would die almost penniless, given how much he owed the IRS. And his funeral made it clear what Cohn and his friends and family had felt, in the end, about Trump. The real-estate developer was not one of the speakers. He was not asked to be a pallbearer. Trump, in Barrett’s account, did show up, however, and stood in the back.
Thirty years later, on the day after Donald J. Trump was elected president, Roger Stone was one of the callers who got through to his old friend at Trump Tower. “Mr. President,” said Stone. “Oh please, call me Donald,” Stone remembered Trump saying.
A few moments later, Trump sounded wistful. “Wouldn’t Roy love to see this moment? Boy, do we miss him.”
Rico says some bedfellows are stranger than others...

27 June 2017

Not on Rico's bucket list: India

Watching The Lunchbox (lamentaly unembeddable and without subtitles unless you buy or rent it) does not make Rico want to visit India; entirely too many people...

The baker who refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple

From The Los Angeles Times, an article by David G. Savage about prejudice (and one Rico can't afford from The Washington Post):
The Supreme Court said Monday that it would hear a major religious liberties case that could grant new freedoms to businesses to discriminate against gays and lesbians (and potentially others), based on the faith of the owners.
The case involves the Christian owner of a Colorado bakery who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple.
The high-profile dispute pits the rights of religious individuals against gay rights, two issues that have been at the forefront of several recent Supreme Court decisions. Both are high priorities for Justice Anthony M. Kennedy, whose vote in this matter will probably be key.
In the past, Kennedy has been both a strong supporter of gay rights and a defender of religious liberty. The Colorado case is likely to become one of the court’s most contentious cases next term. It could decide whether business owners are allowed to cite their religious views as a reason for refusing to serve gay and lesbian couples. Potentially, it could sweep even more broadly, opening a religious exemption to civil rights laws that could allow discrimination against other groups. The case, to be heard in the fall, could have a wide effect in states like California that prohibit discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation.
No Federal law requires businesses to serve all customers without regard to their sexual orientation, but more than twenty states have “public accommodations” laws that prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians.
States with such anti-discrimination laws are mostly in the West, the East Coast, and upper Midwest. No state in the South or on the Great Plains has such a law.
Colorado is one of the states whose laws protect gay couples, and Jack Phillips, the owner of the Masterpiece Cakeshop in Lakewood, Colorado, was charged with violating it. In 2012, he said he politely declined to make a wedding cake for Charles Craig and David Mullins, who had planned to marry in Massachusetts, but then have a reception in their home state of Colorado. They lodged a complaint with the state civil rights commission.
The commission ruled that Phillips’ refusal to make the wedding cake violated the provision in the state’s anti-discrimination law that says businesses open to the public may not deny service to customers based on their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. The panel ordered him to provide wedding cakes on an equal basis for same-sex couples.
Phillips appealed to the Supreme Court, arguing he deserved a religious exemption based on the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech and free exercise of religion. His lawyers say he has refused to comply with the commission ruling while his appeal proceeds. They described Phillips as a “cake artist” who will “not create cakes celebrating any marriage that is contrary to his understanding of Biblical teaching.”
They also said he has refused to make cakes to celebrate Halloween or create baked goods that have “anti-American or anti-family themes” or carry profane messages.
“They said you have to create cakes for same-sex couples, so he removed himself from the market. He chose to stop making wedding cakes,” said Jeremy Tedesco, a lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom, who appealed on Phillips’ behalf.
Lawyers for the state commission and the American Civil Liberties Union urged the court to turn down the appeal in Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. They said it could open a “gaping hole” in civil rights laws if business owners could cite their religious beliefs as a valid basis for denying service to certain customers.
“This has always been about more than a cake,” Mullins said in a statement. “Businesses should not be allowed to violate the law and discriminate against us because of who we are and who we love.” James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT Project said the “law is squarely on David and Charlie’s side because, when businesses are open to the public, they’re supposed to be open to everyone.”
But Justice Kennedy, who wrote the court’s opinion upholding same-sex marriages, has also joined the court’s conservatives in upholding religious exemptions. He joined the five-to-four majority in the Hobby Lobby case, which said the Christian family who owned a chain of craft stores could refuse to provide their employees the full range of contraceptives called for by the Federal healthcare law.
Public opinion polls show that most Americans support the rights of same-sex couples to marry and that support has steadily increased, even among groups who have been opposed in the past, notably evangelical Christians. Advocates on the Christian right, however, say the government should not force believers to endorse marriages that conflict with their faith.
Two years ago, the justices turned down a similar appeal from a wedding photographer in New Mexico. Since then the issue has arisen in several other states whose laws forbid discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The appeal in the Colorado case has been pending since January, suggesting the justices were closely split on what to do. Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, a Colorado native and a well-known defender of religious liberty claims, joined the court in April.
It takes only four votes to hear the case, and on the last day before the summer recess, the justices announced they would hear the issue during the fall.
Separately on Monday, the court, in a six-to-three ruling, struck down an Arkansas law regarding birth certificates that prevented adding the names of both parents in a same-sex union. The law called for including only the biological parent. The court, in an unsigned opinion, said this rule denied the same-sex couple the same rights as opposite-sex couples and was therefore unconstitutional.
The court noted that, in Arkansas, if an opposite-sex couple used artificial insemination with an anonymous sperm donor to have a child, the mother’s husband in such a case would be listed on the birth certificate. Justices Clarence Thomas, Samuel A. Alito Jr., and Gorsuch dissented in that case, Pavan v. Smith.
Rico says that's stupid (and not very Christian), but to be expected...

Sea level rise isn’t just happening, it’s getting faster

From NOAA, an article about rising sea levels:

With continued ocean and atmospheric warming, sea levels will likely rise for many centuries at rates higher than that of the current century. In the United States, almost forty percent of the population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. Globally, eight of the world's ten largest cities are near a coast, according to the UN Atlas of the Oceans
What's the difference between global and local sea level?
Global sea level trends and relative sea level trends are different measurements. Just as the surface of the Earth is not flat, the surface of the ocean is also not flat; in other words, the sea surface is not changing at the same rate globally. Sea level rise at specific locations may be more or less than the global average due to many local factors: subsidence, upstream flood control, erosion, regional ocean currents, variations in land height, and whether the land is still rebounding from the compressive weight of Ice Age glaciers.
Sea level is primarily measured using tide stations and satellite laser altimeters. Tide stations around the globe tell us what is happening at a local level, the height of the water as measured along the coast relative to a specific point on land. Satellite measurements provide us with the average height of the entire ocean. Taken together, these tools tell us how our ocean sea levels are changing over time.
Global sea level has been rising over the past century, and the rate has increased in recent decades. In 2014, global sea level was nearly three inches above the 1993 average, the highest annual average in the satellite record (1993-present). Sea level continues to rise at a rate of about one-eighth of an inch per year.
Higher sea levels mean that deadly and destructive storm surges push farther inland than they once did, which also means more frequent nuisance flooding. Disruptive and expensive, nuisance flooding is estimated to be from three hundred to nine hundred percent more frequent within US coastal communities than it was just fifty years ago.
The two major causes of global sea level rise are thermal expansion caused by warming of the ocean (since water expands as it warms) and increased melting of land-based ice, such as glaciers and ice sheets. The oceans are absorbing more than ninety percent of the increased atmospheric heat associated with emissions from human activity.
With continued ocean and atmospheric warming, sea levels will likely rise for many centuries at rates higher than that of the current century.  In the United States, almost forty percent of the population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. Globally, eight of the world's ten largest cities are near a coast, according to the UN Atlas of the Oceans.
Sea level rise at specific locations may be more or less than the global average due to local factors, such as land subsidence from natural processes and withdrawal of groundwater and fossil fuels, changes in regional ocean currents, and whether the land is still rebounding from the compressive weight of Ice Age glaciers. In urban settings, rising seas threaten infrastructure necessary for local jobs and regional industries. Roads, bridges, subways, water supplies, oil and gas wells, power plants, sewage treatment plants, landfills, virtually all human infrastructure, is at risk from sea level rise.
Rico says that, if Trump doesn't believe it, why should we? (But, hopefully, he'll still, unfortunately, be in office and his ass will get wet when the Potomac backs up into the White House...)

No one remembers Vichy

Grayson Carter, the editor of Vanity Fair, calls them 'Vichy Republicans'.

26 June 2017

Another dead unarmed woman

Another random murder in Philadelphia of a unarmed woman walking alone:

The woman brutally killed over the weekend in park behind Dobbins High School in North Philadelphia has been identified Monday as 33-year-old Debra Gulliver (photo), CBS Philadelphia reports.
"She was with friends about an hour before in the area of Kensington and Somerset. She took the bus to that location and got off the bus and was on her way home," said Captain James Clark of the Philadelphia Police Homicide Unit.
Police said Gulliver took a shortcut home, through the park behind the high school, but never made it out.
Her body was found around 3 am. Authorities were able to locate surveillance video that shows her entering the park alone thirty minutes before the attack. "No one was following her, whoever did this we believe was already in the park," Captain Clark said.
Authorities say the attacker bludgeoned Gulliver in the face, pulled her pants to her ankles, stabbed her repeatedly from her thighs to her chest until the blade of the knife broke off inside her.
They still can't say if there was a sexual assault and still have no description of a suspect.
"We are asking for the public's help. If anyone has any information about this brutal murder, contact our unit," said Clark.
Police have interviewed a friend who was with Gulliver on the bus. They have also interviewed the passerby who found Gulliver's body.
Longtime friend Amanda Quinn says that Gulliver was happy and loving, with a soft spot for rescuing animals. "She had been talking about moving to Florida and getting away from all of this she never had the chance," said Quinn.
Quinn says she is unsure if the suspect knew Debbie or not and does not know why her friend became the target of such a vicious crime. "She could have been anyone's daughter, she could have been anyone's sister she could have been anyone's friend. She was my friend and now she's gone."
Authorities are also warning people to be vigilant, because at this time it's unclear if this attack is random, or if Gulliver was targeted.
"Be very careful. If you can walk in pairs, do not walk through dark and desolate areas. We will do our best to get this individual or individuals involved off the streets," said Clark.
Rico says if only she'd been carrying a gub...

Quote for the day

Quote for the day from the NRA:
"low-information constituents", as in stupid people who vote anyway...

24 June 2017

Why Obama's retaliation against Putin failed

From The Washington Post, an article by Osita Nwanevu, a Slate editorial assistant, about Obama and Putin:
The Washington Post published a lengthy exclusive Friday detailing the Obama administration's response in its waning days to reports that Russia had worked to interfere in the 2016 election. 
From The Post:
Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried “eyes only” instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.
Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the presidential race.
But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat, or at least damage, the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.
The Post’s report details internal debates about how to respond to the information, which was tightly guarded with extraordinary measures. The administration ultimately decided to pursue a set of limited sanctions in December, disappointing some officials. “The punishment did not fit the crime,” former ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul told The Post. A broader array of options was considered and efforts were undertaken to bolster electoral security, but the administration’s response was stymied by a number of factors. Here are a few key insights from The Post’s reporting:
Obama was wary of politicizing the scandal: As has been previously reported, President Obama and others in the administration were deeply wary of creating the impression that responses to Russia’s actions were motivated by a desire to aid Hillary Clinton’s election. The Post reports, for instance, that in September, Obama intentionally refused to place his signature on the intelligence community’s public statement about Russia’s actions. “To some, Obama’s determination to avoid politicizing the Russia issue had the opposite effect,” The Post’s Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima, and Adam Entous write. “It meant that he allowed politics to shape his administration’s response to what some believed should have been treated purely as a national security threat.”
Republicans obstructed efforts to address the situation: The Post’s report mentions Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson’s effort to warn state officials about the vulnerability of their election systems to attack. At a House hearing, Johnson said that the responses had “ranged from neutral to negative”. This was, in part, because Republican officials framed the effort as a nefarious attempt to infringe on state sovereignty. Republicans on the Hill were no more responsive. From the Post:
The Democrats were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ ” recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (a Republican from Kentucky) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting.
Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and were exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let the Republican opposition block any pre-election move.
Clinton’s likelihood of victory shaped the response: The administration assumed that a highly-likely Clinton victory in November would give the new administration ample time to pursue aggressive counteraction. Trump’s election, of course, upended things:
Suddenly, Obama faced a successor who had praised WikiLeaks and prodded Moscow to steal even more Clinton emails, while dismissing the idea that Russia was any more responsible for the election assault than “somebody sitting on their bed that weighs four hundred pounds.”
“The White House was mortified and shocked,” said a former administration official. “From national security people there was a sense of immediate introspection, of, ‘Wow, did we mishandle this’. '
Trump’s victory eventually contributed to a new sense of urgency in the administration about punitive options. One of the particularly dramatic countermeasures that Obama put into development was a major cyberweapon:
The cyber operation, still in its early stages, involves deploying “implants” in Russian networks deemed “important to the adversary and that would cause them pain and discomfort if they were disrupted,” a former US official said.
The implants were developed by the NSA and designed so that they could be triggered remotely as part of retaliatory cyber-strike in the face of Russian aggression, whether an attack on a power grid or interference in a future presidential race.
Officials familiar with the measures said that there was concern among some in the administration that the damage caused by the implants could be difficult to contain.
The weapon is just one of many details in the report that could have been ripped straight from a spy fiction novel. Other details are particularly filmic and merit a full reading. Amid the sanctions, Obama’s State Department shut down a pair of Russian compounds suspected to be centers for espionage. The motivation behind those closures included a previously unreported confrontation between a Russian military helicopter and “a vehicle being driven by the US defense attache ... on a stretch of road between Murmansk and Pechenga in northern Russia.” Overall, the report illustrates the extent to which the Obama administration, contrary to the implication of one of Trump’s recent tweets, was wracked with anxiety about how to address Russia’s actions.
Rico says, in hindsight, maybe they should have done more...

23 June 2017

Review of the new Blade Runner

Esquire has a column by Matt Miller about the upcoming Blade Runner:

So far, we only know very basic plot details about Blade Runner 2049, the upcoming sequel to Ridley Scott's 1982 masterpiece. We know it'll star Harrison Ford, reviving his character Rick Deckard, Ryan Gosling as an NYPD officer, and Jared Leto. And we know the date it will take place, as is conveniently explained in the film's title. Other than that, the film remains a glowing, neon mystery. But there is one thing we know from the early footage released so far: the film will be absolutely beautiful.
If the first trailer's weren't enough, there's a new featurette (below), which explores the making of the film. While it doesn't give many details beyond the actors hyping up the project, it does show some new scenes from the film, and, holy hell, they're gorgeous. Every single shot looks different, like some sort of near-future Renaissance painting. There's an insane diversity of settings from the classic rainy and luminous urban setting of Los Angeles, but also a new desert landscape, post-Apocalyptic rubble, clubs, museums, casinos, vehicles, and more.
"I've never worked on a film with so many sets and different lighting patterns," says director of photography Roger Deakins. And that's very clear in this featurette for the film:
Given the detailed and stunningly composed look of director Denis Villeneuve's movie Arrival, he's proven to bring a artist's eye to crafting these shots. If he can make a nerdy linguistics movie exciting and visionary, imagine what he can do with one of the most groundbreaking styles in modern science fiction.
What's really promising is a quote from art director Paul Inglis: "It's not just a replica of the first film. We're marrying the familiar with the slightly divergent in order to give ourselves an identity."
So many sequels and reboots have attempted to create a carbon copy of the original in order to deliver on nostalgia for the viewer. But what a sequel really needs to do is expand on the primary material. Visually, at least, we know Blade Runner 2049 will deliver that. Let's hope the rest lives up.
Rico says he'll see it, just for Harrison Ford...

An unnecessarily thorough review of an unnecessary movie: Henry

Esquire has a review by Dave Holmes of a movie, Henry, that he didn't like:

I just saw The Book of Henry, and I feel like I've been mugged by a Decemberists song. I am confused, annoyed, and exhausted, but that doesn't mean I don't recommend it. I actually want everyone to see The Book of Henry, just so I don't have to be in this club by myself.
I will confess that I knew nothing about it going in. I had heard the trailer was berserk, but extreme reactions about movie trailers are nothing new. I had come across vague tweets about how bananas the movie was, but everybody knows not to put too much stock in what one hears on Twitter. Still, I was intrigued, and I decided that if I was going in, I was going in blind.
Allow me to spoil it all right now, and to assure you that knowing all of the plot details will not diminish your enjoyment of this movie in the least. It is all in the execution, and the execution is fuuuuuucked uuuuuppp.
Colin Trevorrow's first movie, Safety Not Guaranteed, was about a genius manchild. The Book of Henry is about a genius childman. Henry is the smartest kid in all the land, which is apparently The Land of People Who Don't Give a Fuck, because nobody's put him into any kind of special school or even an accelerated study program. No, he's just there in his regular fifth-grade class, giving long speeches about His Legacy, and wasting time that his classmates could probably spend learning how to add or something. And then he goes home and makes cupcakes for his little brother (played by the kid from Room) with some kind of Rube Goldberg Easy Bake Oven in a treehouse he built. He does a thing where he opens a package of soap flakes near a fan and makes the house look like it's snowing, and his mom comes home from work and loves it. So, right away: super plausible.
Henry's mother is played by Naomi Watts, and she's put him in charge of her finances. He's in charge of everything in her life, really. She's a waitress, and she lives in a great big house, and she plays video games leaning way forward so you can tell she's really into it. She runs all her decisions past her eleven-year-old son, and he gives her good counsel, and then she gets drunk with her fellow waitress Sarah Silverman, who has a flirty relationship with Henry and a tattoo on her right breast that I think might be lichen.
Oh, and then next door, there is The Most Beautiful Girl in Henry's Class, with whom Naomi Watts has a secret handshake. Beautiful Girl lives with her stepdad, because her mom is dead and nobody has any relatives you don't see on camera. Beautiful Girl's stepdad is Hank from Breaking Bad, and he's also the Police Commissioner, and he molests her, but he does it in her bedroom, three feet away from the bedroom window of Henry, the smartest kid in all the land. This is a town with no good applicants for the position of parent or Police Commissioner.
So of course Henry knows what's going on, and he alerts the principal, who is played by Tonya Pinkins, because this movie is trying to break me. Or rather, he has alerted the principal, because he bursts into her office and says, "Goddammit, Janice— when the fuck are you going to do something about this?" Principal Pinkins says she can't call the police without hard evidence, even though so far she has seen bruises on this girl and had to pull her out to send her to the emergency room. Remember this; it will come back later.
Okay, so obviously Henry calls Child Protective Services, whose number he has written down in his Big Red Notebook, which will also come back later. (He has also written down "*67 makes the call anonymous," which you would think was information he could retain because he is the smartest kid in all the land. (I remember what *67 does without writing it down, and I'm dumb enough to have forgotten to keep a receipt for my ticket.) He calls, and they send a person to investigate, and the person does so by coming out to the Police Commissioner's house and asking him, "Hey, are you molesting your stepdaughter? You aren't? Okay, cool," right there on the front porch. Then Henry pulls out the Child Protective Services brochure, and on the back of it is a photo of the guy who came out to investigate, and his name is, like, Steve, The Police Commissioner's brother. You know how Child Protective Services has brochures, and on those brochures, there's a picture of the smiling face of the guy who's going to do all the investigations, like a realtor ad on a bus bench? Just normal, everyday stuff that we all recognize and identify with.
So then Henry, the smartest kid in all the land, is like "Well, I guess I'd better assassinate the Police Commissioner." He draws up big elaborate sketches of the town's bridge. He does all kinds of math-y analysis on where a person would need to stand so that their body would fall into the river. He walks right into a gun store and prices sniper rifles.
And then he gets a brain tumor and dies in two seconds.
No, I'm serious.
He has a seizure, and they rush him to the hospital for emergency brain surgery, which isn't successful, and which also doesn't require them to cut his hair even a little bit. So the doctor, who is played by Lee Pace, sits this eleven-year-old kid down, and is like: "Well, you're super going to die." And Henry is like, "Oh, is this a neuroblompazoid," or whatever, and asks a million questions about radiation and critical structures, because somehow he's gone to medical school in between making cupcakes, managing his mother's investments, and trying to murder Hank from Breaking Bad. So anyway, Sarah Silverman kisses him on the mouth and then he dies, and the second smartest person in all the land becomes the smartest person in all the land, and that's Naomi Watts, and Naomi Watts is an idiot.
Also, throughout all of this, the school is preparing for a talent show. Just hang on to that fact; it's coming back, too.
Before dying, Henry has told the kid from Room to make sure Naomi Watts reads the Big Red Notebook. So the kid takes a peek at the Notebook, and immediately deciphers it, and says: "Mom, Henry wants us to kill Hank from Breaking Bad." And Naomi Watts says: "Okay, we'll just have to think about that." And then she decides: Yes. Yes, I am going to fulfill the wishes of my dead genius child who was also my stockbroker, and I am going to murder my neighbor. She goes to the safe in her basement, where Henry has left a recorder with tapes of instructions, because he had snuck out of the hospital where he was dying of the world's fastest brain tumor to record them and put them there, and also he had access to a those little answering-machine tapes in a world where people have cell phones. So Naomi Watts follows his instructions and buys a sniper rifle, because Henry has even taught her how to bribe and threaten the guy behind the counter. She does target practice out of Henry's treehouse, which is close enough to her house that she would let her young sons play in it unsupervised, but far enough that the Police Commissioner, who lives next door, wouldn't hear sniper-rifle target practice.
Okay, so a child molester is about to get shot in the head by Naomi Watts, who's following the orders of a dead eleven-year-old. It's time for the talent show! Naomi Watts drives the kid from Room and Beautiful Girl to the event, and once it starts, she sneaks away to carry out the plan. The talent show begins with a rapping ginger kid whose rap ends with "I'm the shiznit" and a mic drop that puts the final nail in the coffin of mic drops, and not a moment too soon. And then a kid burps the alphabet. You know how grade-school talent shows are like that? The teachers and administrators say "we'll just stay completely out of your way," and offer no supervision or guidance at all. "Surprise us, children!"
So then Naomi Watts goes to the treehouse to kill Hank from Breaking Bad at a great distance with a sniper rifle, because she listened to a ninety-minute tape from her dead son and now she's in the Mossad. The plan is that she will do a little yoo-hoo whistle into one walkie-talkie, and the other walkie-talkie will be right at the spot on the bridge where Hank needs to stand so he can be shot. Hank is in his study, and he hears a faint yoo-hoo whistle off in the distance, so of course he goes right out to investigate, with his handgun. (Rifle fire: not worth checking out. A whistle in the middle of the woods, which is presumably full of birds: investigate at once.) Naomi Watts aims. Henry is still in her earbuds, giving her motivational messages. But then she slips and activates one of Henry's Rube Goldberg things, which ends up lowering a bunch of Polaroids of Henry from the ceiling. And she looks at those pictures, really looks at them, and it hits her: "I can't do this. Henry, you're a child." So then she runs back to her car, with her sniper rifle in her hands, and this is fine with everyone.
Beautiful Girl's talent show performance is an interpretive dance. Principal Pinkins watches from offstage, and she sees Beautiful Girl's eyes, and she's like: "This girl is being molested." Principal Pinkins has seen bruises, has sent her to the emergency room, has heard the testimony of the smartest kid in all the land, but it's modern dance that finally convinces her to call the police, and a school principal's description of a talent-show dance performance is sufficient for the police to send multiple cars out to Hank from Breaking Bad's house, sirens wailing. He of course shoots himself, so nice one, Henry.
The kid from Room goes last at the talent show, and everyone's wondering what he's going to do, because that's the way these things work. He comes out in a magician's cape, with a big trunk, and he says, "When I open this trunk, my brother is going to be alive again." And all the teachers and parents are like, "This would never happen in real life," and you're like, "I know, but we're nearly out of here, let's see what's in that trunk." So he says some magic words, and he opens the trunk, and all kinds of soap-flake snow shoots out of it! And also from the ceiling, I guess, because suddenly everyone's covered in it, all the way to the back of the auditorium. And then he looks around to find Naomi Watts, and she emerges from the darkness, and Beautiful Girl comes to live with them, and Naomi Watts becomes a children's book author, which I guess is what she wanted to be all along, and everyone lives happily ever after except Hank from Breaking Bad and the dead genius kid whose special wish was to murder him.
We are left to wonder whether Henry actually wanted Hank dead, or whether the whole thing was a long con to make Naomi Watts act like an adult for once. But here's the thing: In that moment when Naomi Watts looked at the pictures of young Henry and came to her senses, I actually said Yes! (Really! Out loud! But it was okay because I was the only person in the theater.) Messages are important, and this one is especially resonant at this moment in history. We do not need to follow the instructions of children! We are allowed to be adults if we want to! It is acceptable, proper, even, to stop going to Disneyland after a certain age! There is something to be said for embracing maturity, for taking responsibility of your own life, even if you have to follow a child's assassination plan for a little while to get there.
Anyway, Colin Trevorrow will direct Star Wars Episode IX, a movie everyone on Twitter will be furious about because some character's laser helmet will be the wrong color, and that's if we're lucky and our game-show-host President doesn't get us killed before then. I feel like the central message of The Book of Henry comes just a moment too late.
Go see it. Don't make me bear this alone.
Rico says the guy's on his own, as Rico won't be seeing this POS...

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