Chas' Compilation

A compilation of information and links regarding assorted subjects: politics, religion, science, computers, health, movies, music... essentially whatever I'm reading about, working on or experiencing in life.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

The Many Contexts of Gun Control

How Leaving America Changes What People Think About Guns
When you live abroad, you start to see your home country differently. I speak from experience: After moving to Switzerland in 2006, I began to see American policies for what they were—one country's way of doing things, but not necessarily the best way of doing things.

There are few examples that ring truer than America's obsession with guns. While the US leads the world in mass shootings, with 372 in 2015 alone, there has only been one mass shooting in Switzerland in the last 15 years. The Swiss rank fourth in the world in guns per capita—behind the US, Yemen, and Syria—but the ownership is rooted in a sense of safety and responsibility.

The recent shooting in Orlando, Florida, is a reminder that the United States has some of the loosest gun control laws in the developed world and the highest rate of gun-related homicide—about 15 times higher than 23 other high-income nations combined. And while news of mass shootings has sadly become normal in the United States, moving abroad can show how differently Americans view guns. We asked several American expats about how moving to another country changed their perspective on gun control. [...]
This is an interesting, thought provoking article. It has many embedded links to back up what it says. The comparisons with various other countries were interesting, especially with Switzerland, Israel and Mexico.

I support the 2nd amendment, but I don't believe it has to pre-clude responsible gun ownership. We strictly regulate the ownership and use of automobiles, because they are dangerous if not used properly. Should we not do the same with guns? I for one don't want to see assault weapons in the hands of mentally ill and unstable people.

Yes, it's a slippery slope. So aren't many things in life, yet they still need to be pondered and dealt with. On a slippery slope you tread carefully and take precautions when you have to. It can be done.

In the US, gun control tends to be a push-me pull-me of two extremes, an all or nothing argument, allowing no compromise. Yet, this article shows how some other countries have approached this issue; as a right, that comes with a responsibility. We don't have to do exactly what other nations do, but we can learn from their experiences, and perhaps adapt some of their better ideas to our own unique circumstances. Can we not find a better way for US?
     

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Saturday, July 02, 2016

Reading to change your life...

... for the better. From a Personal Development blog:

12 Good Reads that Will Change the Way You Think, Live and Love
[...] As readers, we not only learn more, but we are also more proficient at deciphering misinformation – our habit of reading gradually improves our judgment. And being able to correctly size up a situation is crucial for being effective at whatever we’re doing.

Speaking for myself, I know my reading habit has sharpened my edge. I’m always enamored when I’m working on a puzzling issue and some out-of-left-field piece of information comes to mind from something I’ve read that helps me put all the pieces together.

So with the importance of reading in mind, it’s time to read or re-read our 12 most popular posts (based on the number of reader views, social shares and comments) from this past year. If you give them a chance, each one of these quick reads has the power to change the way you think, live and love, so you can stay on track to living at your greatest potential… [...]
Some good topics covered here. The authors are Life Coaches. Excellent content, good food for thought. I will be referring to this list again and again.
     

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Brexit: Could it break up the UK?

That is just one of many concerns:
Could the UK hold another Brexit vote?
London (CNN)The UK made a historic decision to leave the European Union on Thursday -- but has so far hesitated on pulling the trigger to go.

Now questions are being asked as to whether it has to happen. Here are the scenarios in the conversation. [...]
The whole article is worth reading, but this may be the most relevant point:
[...] In Scotland -- where 62% of voters cast a ballot to remain in the EU -- Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has suggested the devolved Scottish Parliament could attempt to veto a Brexit.

She also said Scotland could pursue a second referendum on leaving the United Kingdom in the event of a Brexit. Scots voted by 55.3% to stay in the UK at an earlier referendum in 2014.

Similarly, in Northern Ireland, where 56% of voters want to remain in the EU, Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has called for a poll on a united Ireland.

Cameron said Monday that Scotland's Parliament did not have the legal power to veto the referendum result, a position backed by Mark Elliott, professor of public law at the University of Cambridge.

As Elliott explains in a blog post, this is because the UK Parliament in Westminster is sovereign, and has not given away any of its powers to devolved legislatures like those in Scotland or Northern Ireland.

But Jo Murkens, an associate professor of law at the London School of Economics, argues that while Scotland and Northern Ireland may lack the legal power to veto a Brexit, the threat of the breakup of the UK presented a "political and moral" veto.

It is incumbent on Westminster MPs -- who were not just there to "implement the view of the people," but to "exercise political judgment" -- to block the Brexit to prevent the fracturing of the kingdom, he told CNN.

"It's not 52 percent to 48 percent -- it's 2 to 2," said Murkens. "Two nations have voted to remain and two nations have voted to leave. And if the overriding objective is to keep the United Kingdom together and intact, then MPs have a duty to read this referendum result differently and say in order to preserve the UK we will not leave the EU."

Pro-Remain MPs outnumber Leave backers in the House of Commons by about 3 to 1.

Armstrong agreed that the sentiments in Scotland and Northern Ireland could play a major role in how Britain's political class navigates its way out of the crisis.

"Once that politics starts to play out a bit more, and it becomes clear that it's not just a case of the UK withdrawing from the European Union but the UK itself falling apart, that again may crystallize minds in terms of what the future looks like," he said. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links and video. It will be... interesting to see how this unfolds. I think that the powers that be will not be in a rush to break up the UK. How they will avoid it, is another question. I expect there will be a lot of negotiating and compromising attempted, but who can say where it will lead to? Time will tell.

     

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Sunday, May 15, 2016

Retirement: a thing of the past?

For growing numbers of Americans, yes:

The new golden years? Work, work, and more work
During the economic crisis, some Americans worried that they'd never be able to retire. Now there's evidence that may be playing out, given that older workers are hitting 65 and increasingly staying in the labor market.

A record number of Americans over the age of 65 are working, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. A decade ago, about 5 million senior citizens continued to work, a number that had swelled to more than 9 million last month. In 1994, slightly more than 1 out of 10 senior citizens was still working. Now, about one out of five Americans over the age of 65 remains employed.

While some seniors are likely putting off retirement because they want to continue working, it's likely that the shift reflects the economic instability that Americans of all ages are experiencing. More than half of people over 50 years old say they plan to or already have worked past their 65th birthday, with the majority of those saying it's linked to financial reasons, according to survey published this month from The Associated Press‑NORC Center for Public Affairs Research.

The ranks of elderly workers are likely to only keep growing, given that about 10,000 baby boomers turn 65 years old each day, a trend that's projected to continue through 2029.

Yet many of those boomers are woefully unprepared for retirement, at least when it comes to their financial health. In an annual survey conducted by investment firm BlackRock, baby boomers said they wanted to have about $45,500 in annual retirement income, although the average boomer had only saved up enough to produce slightly more than $9,000 in annual income.

Of course, Generation X and the millennial generation aren't likely to be in any better shape. The typical Gen Xer has far fewer retirement assets as someone of the same age had 25 years earlier, according to a J.P. Morgan study. Millennials, many of whom are just starting their careers, are hobbled by increasingly high student debt loads as well as an uneven job market.

The share of seniors in the workforce will most certainly continue to rise, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics projecting that almost 22 percent of the 65-and-older set will be working in 2024. [...]
Read the whole thing for embedded links, videos and more.

The answer for some may be to leave the country, for somewhere they can afford to retire to. It's a more attractive option to ending up like this.
     

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Elites in Both Parties Created Trump's Triumph

Here are three articles from Salon.com that make interesting observations:

We can’t vote for either one: On world stage, Clinton and Trump present different, but serious, dangers
It is pathetically impossible to determine which one would be worse, the only metric we have left. It's OK to pass
[...] The best that can be said of this political season is that the fixed framework of American politics appears to be fracturing. This will be a fine thing if it proves to be so, and I view this development as especially important in its medium-term potential on the foreign policy side. The question is whether things will truly fall apart, or at least begin to do so. Two policies hang in the balance above all others—the relationship with Israel and our fomented confrontation with Russia—and I will return to them.

For now we must accept that the process of coming apart, while desirable, could never be other than messy. And neither could we rightly expect to define its form. Political irruptions of the kind we witness are almost always uncontrollable during certain stages. Nobody knows where the water will go when the river overflows its banks. In this case, we have an egregious candidate who stands outside the political superstructure, apparently prompting paroxysms within the policy cliques and what we call the deep state, and an egregious candidate whose priority in all spheres is to reinforce both. I leave readers to assess the implications here as they might, but there is no denying it is a hard call.

[...]

Clinton, we have to conclude without qualification, holds out zero promise of an altered direction in American foreign policy. So far as I can make out, she has never once in her decades of public service evinced any modicum of imagination or original thought on a foreign policy question. This applies to means as well as ends. Clinton is shoulder-to-shoulder with Defense Secretary Carter on every question wherein their views have intersected and aired: NATO’s eastward thrust, the power transformation in the western Pacific, Syria, Iraq, the Middle East altogether. She could comfortably reappoint Carter as President Obama reappointed the hawkish Robert M. Gates (to the astonishment and dismay of many). There has been talk she could name Vicky Nuland secretary of state—more feminist progress, we would be advised in such an eventuality.

Clinton famously declared a “reset” in Russian relations during her early years as Obama’s secretary of state—amateurishly sending Sergei Lavrov some cutie-pie button so marked. (The Russian foreign minister must have looked at the ceiling half in despair.) We understood—or the Russians did, anyway—what this meant quickly enough: Let’s get back to the Yeltsin-era subservience. Vladimir Putin’s sin lies solely in his refusal; the rest is Washington’s expertise in crowd control—we being the crowd—and the Pentagon’s desire to keep defense contractors in double-digit profits.

[...]

My starting point with Trump is his position on American exceptionalism. It is implicit but discernible. He plainly considers America the greatest of great nations, fine, but he runs on the premise that it is great no longer. As the TomDispatch web site pointed out Thursday, “The Donald is the first American presidential candidate to openly campaign on a platform of American decline, while Hillary is still stuck in a world of too-many-superlatives for the waning American century.”

[...]

Here he is last Wednesday on the O’Reilly Factor, the Fox News program, when asked about the Pentagon’s recent allegations that Russian jets flew imprudently close to American ships in the Baltic. I would have said American ships sail imprudently close to Russian waters, but never mind:

“If it were me, I will tell you, I would call him [Putin] and say, ‘Don’t do it. Just stop it. Don’t do it.’ … Let’s go. Come on. We’re going to have a good relationship. Don’t do it.’”

“Don’t do it,” as an Irish journalist named Danielle Ryan has since pointed out, “is not some revolutionary position on Russia.” Of course not, and one would never select The Don to quarterback any genuine reset in Washington’s relations with Moscow. But it is impossible, simply impossible, to ignore the core thoughts: Trump takes us back to the pre-Bush II era, that time long ago when American presidents and State Department secretaries did not refuse contact with adversaries or those with alternative views. Trump would talk, not bomb, shell, sanction or subvert. He is not phobic with regard to the Russians. He does not demonize others with other perspectives. This is a positive value out of anyone’s mouth. Excellent he has introduced it into the conversation.

[...]

Hillary Clinton derives from a tradition from which American policy must break. Donald Trump by definition derives from no tradition. One cannot vote for the former, but it does not follow one therefore votes for the latter. Sanders supporters and various stripes of Hillary-haters who now contemplate voting for Trump—and one hears of many—should take note. Too many problems attaching to Trump.

To call Trump’s foreign policy thinking inchoate is too indulgent, given it implies he is doing his thinking and is not yet finished. I do not see that he has or is. In my read he still draws from the raw instinct that has propelled him in business, wherever that may be. He is a seat-of-the-pants man as yet. So we do not truly know what he would do in any given case.

He does not grasp the reality of complexity, let’s say. As noted in a previous column, there is some likelihood that the policy cliques will shove him into a crash course on the orthodoxy and the deep state’s protocol now that he is unambiguously the Republican candidate. But we do not know this yet, either.

We do not know much, in short. I confess to liking Trump’s capacity to connect with undercurrents in American society and culture that the elites of both parties have ignored with impunity for decades now. Deprivation and abuse among muddled-thinking people—political, social, economic—is no different from deprivation and abuse among the clear-minded. But this is not the same as elevating ignorance, xenophobia and “America First” nationalism to a position requiring respect.

All this puts him well beyond the pale. No vote for Trump, then.[...]
So don't vote at all? Usually I say, vote for the one who would do the least damage. Is it impossible to tell? Difficult, I concede, but I'm not entirely convinced that not voting is the answer. Though living on the West coast as I do, I have to say that I have lost any confidence that my vote has counted in any presidential election ever. Before the polls even close in the West, the Media is on the air announcing the winner. People East of the Mississippi pick the president, the rest of us... not so much.

I believe Governor's make better Presidential candidates, because they have held elected office and you can see how they chose to govern. But where are they in this election cycle? Gone. Which leaves us with:

Our awful elites gutted America. Now they dare ring alarms about Trump, Sanders — and cast themselves as saviors
Both parties ignored workers, spewed hate, enriched themselves, hollowed out democracy. Now the problem's populism?
[...] Elites on both sides insisted on not addressing the root causes of economic dissatisfaction, hence the long-foreseen rise of Trump. Paul Krugman, a Hillary acolyte, is nothing more than a neoliberal, whose prescriptions always stay strictly within orthodox parameters. Yet he was construed as some sort of a liberal lion during the Bush and Obama years. Not for him any of Bernie’s “radical” measures to ensure economic justice and fairness. Oh no, we have to stay within the orthodoxies of the economics profession. Now he’s all offended about Trump!

The worst offenders of all are the American left’s cultural warriors, who daily wage some new battle over some imagined cultural offense, which has nothing to do with the lives of normal people but only the highly tuned sensibilities of those in the academic, publishing, and media ecospheres.

The Hillary supporters have the authoritarian mentality of small property owners. They are the mirror image of the “realist” Trump supporters, the difference being that the Trump supporters fall below the median income level, and are distressed and insecure, while the Hillary supporters stand above the median income level, and are prosperous but still insecure.

To manipulate them, the Democratic and Republican elites have both played a double game for forty years and have gotten away with it. They have incrementally yet quite comprehensively seized all economic and political power for themselves. They have perverted free media and even such basics of the democratic process as voting and accountability in elections. Elites on both sides have collaborated to engineer a revolution of economic decline for the working person, until the situation has reached unbearable proportions. The stock market may be doing well, and unemployment may theoretically be low, but people can’t afford housing and food, they can’t pay back student loans and other debts, their lives, wherever they live in this transformed country, are full of such misery that there is not a single word that an establishment candidate like Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush says that makes sense to them.

This time, I truly believe, there’s not a dime’s worth of difference between them. When they did have a difference to choose from—i.e., the clear progressive choice, Bernie over Hillary, who consistently demonstrates beating Trump by double the margins Hillary does—the elites went for Hillary, even though she poses the greater risk of inaugurating Trump as president. And now you want us to listen to your panic alarms?

The game, for the elites, is over. This is true no matter what happens with the Sanders campaign. The Republican party as we have known it since the Reagan consensus (dating back to 1976) is over. The Democratic party doesn’t know it yet, but Bill Clinton’s neoliberalism (and what followed in his wake with complicity with Bush junior, and the continuation of Bush junior’s imperialist policies with Barack Obama) is also over, or well on its way to being over. The elites are in a cataclysmic state of panic, they don’t know whether to look right or left, they have no idea what to do with Trump, they don’t know what to do with the Bernie diehards, they have no idea how to put Humpty Dumpty together again.

[...]

The election of Trump would end the Republican party as we know it, but more refreshingly it would also end the Democratic party as we know it. The limits of the academic left’s distracting cultural discourse in keeping economic dissatisfaction in check would be fully exposed. Trump threatens the stability of the fearmongering discourse of Sullivan and his like. The threat to their monopoly of discourse is the real reason for the panic.

Oh, and Hillary, good luck fighting Trump with your poll-tested reactions. Your calculated “offenses” against his offensiveness against women or minorities or Muslims are going to be as successful as the sixteen Republicans who’ve already tried it. You won’t be able to take on Trump because you do not speak the truth, you speak only elite mumbo-jumbo. Trump doesn’t speak the truth either, but he’s responding to something in the air that has an element of truth, and you don’t even go that far, you speak to a state of affairs—a meritocratic, democratic, pluralist America—that doesn’t even exist. [...]
The election of Trump ending BOTH parties as we know them? In a way that does sound good... but what would they be replaced with? A Viking Raider, perhaps? Read on:

It’s not about sexism: Camille Paglia on Trump, Hillary’s “restless bitterness” and the end of the elites
We don't know if Trump can morph into a statesman. We do know the media/political class fears his threat to Hillary
[...] In our current campaign, the obvious strategy by Democratic operatives to disrupt Donald Trump’s rallies and link him to brewing fascism (via lurid media images of wild-eyed brawlers) has backfired with a bang. The seething demonstrators who blocked Trump’s motorcade at last week’s state GOP convention in Burlingame, California, forcing him and his retinue to ditch their vehicles and sprint to a rear entrance on foot, managed to alienate mainstream voters, boost Trump’s national momentum, and guarantee his sweeping victory in this week’s Indiana primary. With the withdrawal of Ted Cruz, Trump is now the presumptive GOP nominee. Great job, Dem wizards!

The helicopter TV footage of Trump and his Secret Service detail on the move was certainly surreal. All those beefy men in shiny, dark suits rapidly filing through narrow concrete barriers (like cattle chutes at a rodeo) and then scrambling up a grassy knoll! [...] The optics of the aerial photos made Trump look like a late Roman emperor being hustled to safety by the Praetorian Guard, which over time had become a kingmaker, supplanting the authority of the Senate and the old patrician class.

Trump has knocked the stilts out from the GOP establishment and crushed the pretensions of a battalion of political commentators on both the Left and Right. Portraying him as a vile racist, illiterate boob, or the end of civilization as we know it hasn’t worked because his growing supporters are genuinely motivated by rational concerns about border security and bad trade deals. Whether Trump, with his erratic impulses and gratuitous crudities, can morph toward statesmanship remains to be seen.

[...]

The aerial view of Trump at Burlingame gave me a moment of gender vertigo. His odd, brassy blonde hairdo, which I normally think of as a retro Bobby Rydell quiff, looked from behind like a smoothly backcombed 1960’s era woman’s bouffant. Shelley Winters flashed into my mind, and then it hit me: “It’s all about his mother!” I had never seen photos of Mary MacLeod Trump (who died at 88 in 2000) and immediately looked for them. Of course, there it was—the puffy blonde bouffant to which Trump pays daily homage in his impudent straw thatch.

In their focus on Trump’s real-estate tycoon father, the media seem to have missed that the teetotaling Trump’s deepest connection was probably to his strong-willed, religious mother. Born in the stark, wind-swept Hebrides Islands off the western coast of Scotland (the next North Atlantic stop is Iceland), she was one tough cookie. She and her parents were Gaelic speakers, products of a history extending back to the medieval Viking raids. I suddenly realized that that is Trump’s style. He’s not a tribal Highlander, celebrated in Scotland’s long battle for independence from England, but a Viking, slashing, burning, and laughing at the carnage in his wake. (Think Kirk Douglas flashing his steely smile in the 1958 Hollywood epic, The Vikings.) Trump takes savage pleasure in winning for its own sake—an attribute that speaks directly to the moment, when a large part of the electorate feels that the U.S. has become timid and uncertain and made far too many humiliating concessions to authoritarian foreign powers like China, Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Despite their show of bravado, most savvy Democratic strategists have surely known for months that Trump was by far the most formidable of Hillary Clinton’s potential opponents—which is why they’ve been playing the race and riot cards against him to the max. Hillary has skimmed along in her bouncing gender bubble, virtually untouched by her too chivalrous Democratic rivals. Far from Hillary (in this election cycle or the last) having a harder time as a woman candidate, she has been habitually shielded by her gender. At the early debates, for example, Martin O’Malley was paralyzed by his deference to her sacred womanhood and hardly dared raise his voice to contest her brazen untruths from three feet away. Meanwhile, in debate after debate, unconstrained by the sycophantic media moderators, Hillary rudely interrupted, talked over both O’Malley and Bernie Sanders, and hogged airtime like it was going out of style. Not until CNN’s April 14 debate in Brooklyn on the eve of the New York primary did moderators forcibly put a lid on Hillary’s obnoxious filibustering.

The most pernicious aspect of this Democratic campaign is the way the field was cleared long in advance for Hillary, a flawed candidate from the get-go, while an entire generation of able Democratic politicians in their 40s was muscled aside, on pain of implied severance from future party support. It is glaringly obvious, given how well Bernie Sanders (my candidate) has done despite a near total media blackout for the past year, that Hillary would never have survived to the nomination had she had younger, more well-known, and centrist challengers. Hillary’s front-runner status has been achieved by DNC machinations and an army of undemocratic super-delegate insiders, whose pet projects will be blessed by the Clinton golden hoard. Hillary has also profited from Sanders’ too-gentlemanly early tactics, when he civilly refrained from pushing back at key moments, such as the questionable Iowa and Nevada caucuses, which he probably would have won had there not been last-minute monkey business by party operatives. [...]
And so it grinds on. I do agree with the one author though, that Trump's success is a direct result of the actions of the political establishment that is attacking him. In a sense, they created his success by the things they have done over the past decades. Are the majority of Americans turning against the political establishment "Elites" in both parties?

Perhaps we shall see in November. Meanwhile, people on both sides can sing "It's My Party And I'll Cry If I Want To".
     

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Saturday, May 14, 2016

Oregon, the 5th BEST state to grow old in

That's what this article says:

The 5 best and worst states in which to grow old


[...] 5th best: Oregon
Oregon scores well on the quality of care available in the state, although its assisted living and nursing home costs tend to be in the middle of the pack. The state's population is rapidly aging, with its over-65 age group growing by 18 percent from 2010 to 2014, as the Baby Boomers hit retirement age.

The average cost of a year in an assisted living facility in Oregon is almost $47,000, according to Caring.com, while a nursing home will require almost $96,000 in annual costs. [...]
And the 1st best? South Dakota. Who knew?
     

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Saturday, May 07, 2016

What a real spaceship would look like

Or could look like, based on technology we already have or have within our grasp:



The video is from 2011, so no doubt there have been many revisions since. A similar, but more advanced looking ship was used in the movie The Martian. No doubt based on this design.



So when are we going to see this ship for real? Not in my lifetime, I expect. In a world where industrialized, technologically advanced nations are over budget, bordering on bankruptcy and/or currency collapse, I don't realistically see funding for projects like this for a long, long time. If ever. It may remain just a dream, only fulfilled in movies. CGI special effects are so much cheaper than reality.

For more photos from the movie, and commentary of the science, follow this link: SCIENCING THE MARTIAN
     

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Um... Trump's Trump card?

Could it be political advisor Roger Stone? Check out this interview:

Donald Trump's Donald Trump
[...] Stone, Trump’s most influential and seasoned political adviser at the time, says he quit after the do-it-myself billionaire rejected his plans to create a traditional campaign structure and a suggestion that he seek to broaden his pitch beyond working-class whites. Instead, Trump put his mouth where he wouldn’t put his money, opting for an on-the-cheap one-man road show, fortified by monster debate ratings and an unavoidable-for-comment approach to cable and network TV interviews.

“You don’t manage Donald … you can't deal with him on that basis,” Stone, nursing a mild martini hangover the morning after celebrating Trump’s blowout win in the New York primary last week, explained. During an hourlong sit-down for POLITICO’s “Off Message” podcast, the 63-year-old former Dick Nixon dirty trickster offered a candid assessment of his longtime boss’s strengths, blind spots and daunting path to the presidency.

“He envisioned a campaign which was all communications,” said Stone — who has bounced back in recent weeks to re-emerge as a key adviser to Trump as the tycoon faces a dangerous new phase of his storybook 2016. “But the notion that you could combat — let’s take Florida — $40 million worth of negative television simply by going on ‘Fox & Friends’ and responding, I rejected that idea.”

Stone doesn’t have a formal relationship with the campaign (his role is limited by his stewardship of a pro-Trump super PAC) and he wouldn’t tell me how often he talks with Trump or his top aides. But the campaign’s shotgun reorganization (his former lobbying partner Paul Manafort has layered over Stone’s rival, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski) — and germinating kinder-gentler general election pivot — bears Stone’s fingerprints.

“He’s going to have to better articulate himself on issues that are of concern to women,” Stone said of Trump, stating an obvious truth that, until recently, wasn’t all that obvious to a candidate who prides himself on political incorrectness. “He is going to have to define a pro-growth, more aspirational message for African-American voters, for Hispanic voters, where I actually think he can make inroads.”

When I asked Stone how Trump could possibly do that — and whom he should tap as a running mate— he threw out John Kasich’s name almost by rote. Then he settled on a choice that seemed to better capture his imagination: “Little Marco” Rubio.

Stone, who worked as a dark-arts political type for Nixon and later Ronald Reagan, is a paradox in wide pinstripes and oval 1930s movie-star shades. He’s known for scorched-earth muckraking (he co-authored a book dredging up Clinton scandals and recently emailed me to say that the Clintons should “be worried” about him because “I know exactly how to take them down”) but he desperately wants Trump to make his peace with women and minority voters. Stone’s the ultimate Donald insider (he’s been on Trump’s payroll, on and off, for 40 years) but his habit of telling Trump what he thinks has created an arm’s-length distance. He’s infamous for his profane tirades and crass Twitter outbursts (he once mocked Al Sharpton — a onetime friend — with a fried-chicken joke) but he’s a charming conversationalist who speaks authoritatively about political biographies and pines for lazy Saturdays lost in the stacks of Manhattan’s famous Strand bookstore.

[...]

“Without telling tales out of school, because I have a nondisclosure, ... I envisioned a campaign that used the more traditional tools of polling and analytics and targeting and paid media, and a greater depth of organization,” said Stone.

But organization isn’t what Trump is about, and Stone offered tantalizing behind-the-scenes glimpses of a gifted self-taught politician still learning a new trade, a creature of habit who “doesn’t surf the Web” ever, and still gets much of his news from tabloids. The presidency is a drinking-data-through-a-firehose job, but Trump, Stone told me, is reluctant to even sip the water fountain; he finds even minimalist policy briefings to be eye-glazing, Jeb Bush-level bores. Stone loves Trump — he says he’s one of the funniest people he knows — but conceded it’s “an adventure” trying to counsel a reality-TV billionaire who refuses to be scripted or stage-managed.

Stone paused when I asked him how he — or any other adviser — could change the developer’s mind once Trump had been set on a course of action. Tread lightly and keep it punchy was his best advice.

“When you know somebody that long, you get an understanding about how to affect their thinking without being, you know, without being insulting or overstepping a line,” he said. “Nobody puts words in Donald’s mouth. He is his own conceptualizer. All you can do is present information and let him either assimilate it or not. When you write something for him, keep it short and staccato. He’s not going to read a 40-page white paper on the economy; zero chance of that. ... Reagan was a big-picture guy. Trump is a big-picture guy.” [...]

Lots of interesting insights. Read the whole thing. It's excerpts from an interview that was an hour long podcast, which you can click on and listen to near the top of the page when you follow the link. The podcast is even more revealing, it's quite an education.
     

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Russia: Returning as a World Power?

Looks like it:

Thinking the Unthinkable: Russia Has Re-Emerged As a Great Power
The Western image of Russia and Putin in recent years has been very negative. President Obama has publicly called Vladimir Putin a “schoolboy who slouches in his chair in the back of the room“ and derided his country as a mere “regional power.”

This begs the question: how Russia could again become a major power after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991? How could Putin do this without an agrarian or consumer revolution and with the massive drop in the price of oil? If Putin is a terrible leader, then how can you explain successful interventions in Georgia (2008), Crimea (2014), Ukraine (2014-2016) and Syria (2015-2016)?

Putin, however, is actually a very shrewd leader with a brilliant Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, who relies on a capable Foreign Ministry. Putin has rebuilt Russia’s military capability by spending $49B a year on security. Russia retains 1,790 strategic nuclear weapons. With over 140 million people and 13 million college graduates, Russia has nearly a million first-class scientists, engineers and technicians, most of whom work for the military.

Many former great powers are now no longer major powers. [...]
The article goes on to show the many ways that formerly great powers -including the United States- have declined in military and economic strength, leaving the door open for Russia to fill the void, as it is now doing. Read the whole thing, the article has many embedded links as well.

As I posted previously, while American policy in the Middle East is unfocused and confused, Russia seems to know what it wants, and how to go about getting it by leveraging what they have to work with and using it to maximum effect.
     

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