Friday, July 29, 2016

Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down North Carolina Voter ID Provision - The New York Times

Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down North Carolina Voter ID Provision - The New York Times:

"A federal appeals court on Friday struck down North Carolina’s voter identification requirement, upending voting procedures in a crucial state slightly more than three months before Election Day."

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Sweating Under the Heat Dome

CreditGreg Kletsel
Houston — For those of you now trapped under the heat dome in the Northeast, I feel your pain. Temperatures are parked in the 90s, and you don’t need the weatherperson to tell you that the heat index makes it feel like 100-plus.
I know that on these steamy afternoons, it can be hard to tell the stoners from people just shuffling from one patch of shade to the next. No matter what you are wearing, the sun still sears through to your skin; and no matter how often you shower, you always feel heat-sticky and never clean. I sometimes wonder whether we should even be driving in this weather, because road rage nowadays seems as much a part of summer as bikinis and beer.
I know all of this because I have survived more Texas summers than I care to count — and worse still, Houston summers, which run from May until after Halloween. There are hotter places on the planet — like Death Valley, Calif., or Dallas — but we have high humidity, too. Ever taken a wet sauna in your good clothes before going to work? We do it every day.
Then there are the bugs. I’m not one of those people who likes to brag that everything is bigger in Texas, but in this case, it’s true. Imagine a flying insect the size and sheen of a chocolate Easter egg; that will help you picture the hideous tree roach infestation I’m currently enjoying. O.K., a smallish chocolate Easter egg. Our fleas aren’t bigger than other people’s fleas, but we have lots because we never had a freeze to kill them off last winter.
And this year, along with the threat of West Nile-virus-carrying mosquitoes, we have Zika to worry about. NBC News called Houston a “Zika Virus Hotspot” last week, thanks to the abundance of abandoned old tires, which, after a heavy rain, serve as perfect breeding grounds for the nasty critters.
“Houston is a perfect place for Zika to take hold and reach a crisis point,” the report went on, no doubt setting off alarms at our Convention and Visitors Bureau.
So, thanks to Houston, I have a few summer survival tips to offer.
First, most conventional wisdom is useless. Yes, you might feel a little cooler if you wear linen and cotton instead of polyester, along with a ridiculous “S.P.F.” sun hat. (Really, is there any other kind?) As for those sunscreens that promise to keep you cool, they do so for the five seconds you’re spraying them on.

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When it comes to bugs, torches dipped in citronella fuel might keep your patio marginally pest free, but at the expense of warming yourself near, well, a fire. So often, self-protection in summer comes down to a choice of which feels less nasty on the skin: sunscreen or bug repellent.
Much of this discomfort can be avoided by simply staying inside for the duration of the summer. Gone are the days of my childhood, when I would sit with pals poleaxed in front of a clattering window unit. Downtown Houston has six miles of underground tunnels that work like Montreal’s, but in reverse: They’re air-conditioned for summer rather than heated against winter’s icy blasts. The central business district looks like a ghost town because everyone is underground sipping steaming macchiatos.
And they are shivering. The local obsession with climate control means that indoor temperatures require visitors to accessorize a cotton dress or linen suit with a down jacket.
At home, things are different. Cooling comes at a price: An average domestic electricity bill during the Houston summer can be $400 a month, so we try to control costs. The smartest way to do that, short of turning down the thermostat, is to keep up with the maintenance. This requires the formation of an ever-deepening relationship with your A.C. repairman, who will change your filters and come out on July 4 when the unit breaks down.
You should know that people who have made this career choice tend to be irascible and, often, nuts. I once spent two hours listening to mine wax on about his puppy; I would have gazed on adoringly for any amount of time so long as he fixed my unit. Whatever insane amount you lavish on your hairdresser or babysitter at Christmastime, double it for your A.C. guy. Better yet, get him a Ford F-450 truck.
Or get out of town. It helps to have friends with homes in cooler places. When I was growing up, well-heeled Texans had summer homes in the Hill Country, which isn’t that far from — or much cooler than — our major cities. In recent decades, the 1 percent has gone farther afield. Like rich people everywhere, they’ve bought summer “cottages” in Aspen, Jackson Hole, Nantucket or towns in Maine with scary, brooding names.
For the rest of us, this creates an opportunity for a three-month mooch-fest — depending on how many wealthy friends you can cultivate before Memorial Day. It’s advisable to decline the first invitation to avoid seeming desperate.
If nothing else works, try denial. I have a Houston friend who maintains, with a straight face, that it always cools off at night. This is technically true — if you consider sticky nights in the 80s “cool.”
Sometimes, walking late with our panting dogs, I get so delirious I find myself ducking into the shade from our new LED streetlights. And that’s no Texas brag.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Woody Guthrie Wrote of His Contempt for His Landlord, Donald Trump’s Father

Woody Guthrie, the American singer and musician, circa 1960.Credit Getty Images
More than a half-century ago, the folk singer Woody Guthrie signed a lease in an apartment complex in Brooklyn. He soon had bitter words for his landlord: Donald J. Trump’s father, Fred C. Trump.
Mr. Guthrie, in writings uncovered by a scholar working on a book, invoked “Old Man Trump” while suggesting that blacks were unwelcome as tenants in the Trump apartment complex, near Coney Island.
“He thought that Fred Trump was one who stirs up racial hate, and implicitly profits from it,” the scholar, Will Kaufman, a professor of American literature and culture at the University of Central Lancashire in Britain, said in an interview.
Mr. Kaufman said he came across Mr. Guthrie’s writings about Fred Trump while he was doing research at the Woody Guthrie Center’s archives in Oklahoma. He wrote about his findings last week for The Conversation, a news website.
In December 1950, Mr. Guthrie signed a lease at the Beach Haven apartment complex, Mr. Kaufman wrote in his piece. Soon, Mr. Guthrie was “lamenting the bigotry that pervaded his new, lily-white neighborhood,” he wrote, with words like these:
I suppose
Old Man Trump knows
Just how much
Racial Hate
he stirred up
In the bloodpot of human hearts
When he drawed
That color line
Here at his
Eighteen hundred family project
Mr. Guthrie even reworked his song “I Ain’t Got No Home” into a critique of Fred Trump, according to Mr. Kaufman:
Beach Haven ain’t my home!
I just can’t pay this rent!
My money’s down the drain!
And my soul is badly bent!
Beach Haven looks like heaven
Where no black ones come to roam!
No, no, no! Old Man Trump!
Old Beach Haven ain’t my home!
Mr. Guthrie died in 1967, and in the 1970s, the Justice Department sued the Trumps, accusing them of discriminating against blacks. (A settlement was eventually reached; at the time, Trump Management noted the agreement did not constitute an admission of guilt.)
A spokeswoman for Donald Trump declined to comment on Mr. Guthrie’s writings.
Mr. Kaufman, the author of “Woody Guthrie, American Radical,” said Mr. Guthrie would be repulsed by the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump. He pointed to Mr. Trump’s comments about Mexicans and Muslims, and contrasted the candidate’s sentiments to those of Mr. Guthrie in his song “Deportee,” written about a plane crash that killed Mexican farm workers.
“Woody was always championing those who didn’t have a voice, who didn’t have any money, who didn’t have any power,” Mr. Kaufman said. “There’s no doubt that he would have had maximum contempt for Donald Trump, even without the issue of race.”
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Friday, July 15, 2016

Donald Trump and Mike Pence: The Political Reality Show - The New York Times

Donald Trump and Mike Pence: The Political Reality Show - The New York Times:

"Donald Trump’s selection of Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana to be his running mate was attended by the frenzied will-he, won’t-he drama Americans have come to expect from his campaign. But there’s more political realism than reality show in the choice of Mr. Pence, Mr. Trump’s biggest compromise yet with the establishment Republicans he claims to reject."

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Thursday, July 7, 2016

Philando Castile Shooting in Minnesota Leads Governor to Seek U.S. Investigation - The New York Times

Philando Castile Shooting in Minnesota Leads Governor to Seek U.S. Investigation - The New York Times:

"Minnesota’s governor called on Thursday for a federal investigation into the shooting of a black man by a police officer during a traffic stop near St. Paul, after millions of people watched the bloody, dying man in a grisly video recorded by his girlfriend and streamed live moments after the shooting."

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Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Chilcot Report on Iraq War Offers Devastating Critique of Tony Blair

Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, left, at the White House with President George W. Bush in January 2003. CreditDoug Mills/The New York Times
LONDON — Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain went to war alongside the United States in Iraq in 2003 on the basis of flawed intelligence that went unchallenged, a shaky legal rationale, inadequate preparation and exaggerated public statements, an independent inquiry into the war concluded in a report published on Wednesday.
The long-awaited report by the Iraq Inquiry Committee, led by a retired civil servant, John Chilcot, takes up 12 volumes covering 2.6 million words, four times longer than “War and Peace,” and took seven years to complete, longer than Britain’s combat operations in Iraq. It concluded that Mr. Blair and the British government underestimated the difficulties and consequences of the war and overestimated the influence he would have over President George W. Bush.
The result amounts to a broad indictment of Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war that overthrew Saddam Hussein and its aftermath, and it portrays Mr. Blair as trying without success to restrain Mr. Bush, to push him to obtain full United Nations Security Council authorization and to warn about the difficulties of the war — and deciding to go to war alongside Washington nonetheless.
Judging that Britain should stand by the United States, Mr. Blair told Mr. Bush in a private note as early as July 28, 2002, “I will be with you, whatever.” Mr. Blair knew by January 2003 that Washington had decided to go to war to overthrow Mr. Hussein and accepted the American timetable for the military action by mid-March, pushing only for a second Security Council resolution that never came, “undermining the Security Council’s authority,” the report concludes.
The report is likely to underline in Britain the sense that Mr. Blair was “Washington’s poodle,” the phrase widely used by Mr. Blair’s critics at the time. The report says the lessons from the British government’s conduct are that “all aspects” of military intervention “need to be calculated, debated and challenged with the utmost rigor,” and decisions, once made, “need to be implemented fully.”
Mr. Chilcot, speaking for the inquiry as a whole, concluded that “sadly, neither was the case in relation to the U.K. government’s actions in Iraq.” And he emphasized that Britain’s relationship with the United States was strong enough “to bear the weight of honest disagreement.”
“It does not require unconditional support where our interests or judgments differ,” he continued.
The inquiry, while revealing little that changes the understanding of the war, its preparation and aftermath, pulls no punches on a deeply flawed British governmental process.
“It is now clear that policy on Iraq was made on the basis of flawed intelligence and assessments,” Mr. Chilcot said. “They were not challenged, and they should have been.”
The report says: “At no stage was the hypothesis that Iraq might not have chemical, biological ornuclear weapons or programs identified and examined” by the Joint Intelligence Committee.
“The assessed intelligence had not established beyond doubt either that Saddam Hussein had continued to produce chemical and biological weapons or that efforts to develop nuclear weapons continued,” the report said.
“The J.I.C. should have made that clear to Mr. Blair,” who spoke of Mr. Hussein’s possessing “vast stocks” of weapons of mass destruction when there was no definitive evidence to support them, according to the report.
“The U.K. chose to join the invasion of Iraq before the peaceful options for disarmament had been exhausted,” the report said. “Military action at that time was not a last resort.”
In the end, the British government “failed to achieve its stated objectives,” the inquiry concluded, and said that “Mr. Blair overestimated his ability to influence U.S. decisions on Iraq.”
Mr. Blair was said to have been advised by his diplomats and ministers of “the inadequacy of U.S. plans” and their concern “about the inability to exert significant influence on U.S. planning.” But he chose to override their objections.
The inquiry concluded, bluntly: “Mr. Blair eventually succeeded only in the narrow goal of securing President Bush’s agreement that there should be U.N. authorization of the post-conflict role.”
Influence, it said, “should not be set as an objective in itself.”
“The exercise of influence is a means to an end,” it said.

Chilcot on Iraq Inquiry Conclusions

John Chilcot, who led a seven-year inquiry into the war in Iraq, announced the committee’s conclusions in London on Wednesday, saying the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was based on flawed intelligence.
 By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS on Publish DateJuly 6, 2016. Photo by Jeff J. Mitchell/Getty Images. Watch in Times Video »
The inquiry did not make any judgment on legal culpability. Outside the convention center where Mr. Chilcot spoke, near Parliament, demonstrators chanted and held up a sign reading: “Blair Must Face War Crimes Trial.”
In a statement issued later on Wednesday, Mr. Blair said that he took “full responsibility for any mistakes, without exception or excuse,” but he emphasized that he had not been accused of falsifying intelligence or misleading his cabinet colleagues, and that he had made no “secret commitment to war.”
Mr. Blair had previously said that he had no regrets about acting to remove Mr. Hussein from power. He has denied inventing or distorting intelligence, but he accepts that there were flaws in the intelligence process, and he says that he now understands more about the complications of the Middle East. Once the report was published, he said in May, he looked forward to participating in “a full debate” on the issues.
But the inquiry is quietly scathing. “The judgments about the severity of the threat posed by Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction were presented with a certainty that was not justified,” it said.
The current leader of the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn, has called the war illegal.
The verdict of the inquiry into the planning and conduct of British military involvement in Iraq was withering, rejecting Mr. Blair’s contention that the difficulties encountered after the invasion could not have been foreseen.
“We do not agree that hindsight is required,” Mr. Chilcot said. “The risks of internal strife in Iraq, active Iranian pursuit of its interests, regional instability and Al Qaeda activity in Iraq were each explicitly identified before the invasion.”
Over all, Mr. Chilcot continued, “the government’s preparations failed to take account of the magnitude of the task of stabilizing, administering and reconstructing Iraq, and of the responsibilities which were likely to fall to the U.K.”
With the military also conducting operations in Afghanistan, resources were stretched, having an impact on the availability of helicopters and surveillance equipment.
Britain’s Defense Ministry was slow to respond to the threat from improvised explosive devices, and there were unacceptable delays in providing properly protected patrol vehicles, the report said.
British forces began withdrawing from Basra, Iraq, in September 2007.CreditCpl. Steve Follows/British Ministry of Defense
By 2007, the British were forced to do deals with militia in the southern city of Basra, releasing detainees in exchange for an end to targeting of its forces.
“It was humiliating that the U.K. reached a position in which an agreement with a militia group which had been actively targeting U.K. forces was considered the best option available,” Mr. Chilcot said.
Mr. Blair is blamed directly for many failings. “Despite concerns about the state of U.S. planning, he did not make an agreement on a satisfactory post-conflict plan a condition of U.K. participation in military action,” the document said. “The U.K. was fully implicated” in the decisions of the postwar Coalition Provisional Authority, “but struggled to have a decisive effect on its policies.”
The cabinet did not discuss military options or their implications. At the same time, a laudable, “can do” attitude among the military meant that “at times in Iraq, the bearers of bad tidings were not heard.”
The war killed about 200 Britons, including 179 British troops, almost 4,500 American personnel and more than 100,000 Iraqis.
The Iraq Inquiry held public hearings from 2009 to 2011, taking evidence from more than 150 witnesses and analyzing 150,000 documents. The release of the report was repeatedly delayed, in part by disagreements over the inclusion of classified material, including conversations between Mr. Blair and Mr. Bush, whose communications with Mr. Blair were not released by the United States, and in part because individuals set to be criticized were allowed to read drafts of the report and respond to them before a final version was written.
Sarah Helm, the wife of Mr. Blair’s then chief of staff, Jonathan Powell,wrote on Monday about a Blair-Bush phone conversation she overheard in early March 2003, about which she took notes. In a discussion about a second Security Council resolution, Mr. Bush was described as jokey and bluff, praising Mr. Blair for his “true courage,” while Mr. Blair emphasized that “we’ve got to make people understand we are not going to war because we want to but because there is no alternative.”
Mr. Bush said: “You know, Tony, the American people will never forget what you are doing. And people say to me, you know, is Prime Minister Blair really with you all the way? Do you have faith in him? And I say: ‘Yes, because I recognize leadership when I see it. And true courage. He won’t let us down.’ ”
Mr. Blair laughed, unsure, Ms. Helm recounted, then said, “Well, it might be my epitaph.”
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