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Month: June 2016 (page 1 of 2)

Macedonian president revokes all pardons in wiretapping scandal

gjorge ivanov macedonia president

Macedonian president Gjorge Ivanov has revoked all pardons that he controversially issued in the country?s wiretapping scandal.

Ivanov had been under continuous large-scale public pressure from protesters in Macedonia and from Western diplomats to revoke the pardons, which he granted on April 12.

The pardons were granted to 56 public figures, including former prime minister and VMRO-DPMNE leader Nikola Gruevski and socialist opposition leader Zoran Zaev, in connection with allegations of illegal eavesdropping on thousands of Macedonians.

The wiretapping scandal deepened Macedonia?s already considerable political crisis. A June 2015 EU-brokered deal envisaged the government?s resignation, early parliamentary elections and the assignment of a special prosecutor to investigate the illegal surveillance.

Ivanov?s amnesty decision effectively halted the work of the special prosecutor and led to widely-supported public protests demanding his resignation.

On May 27, he withdrew the amnesty for 22 politicians, though without disclosing who they were.

In a statement on June 6, Ivanov said that although the law had been changed for those who had not had their amnesty withdrawn to lodge applications to do so, none had applied.

Ivanov said that in the previous 10 days, there had been various interpretations of his decision to revoke some of the amnesties and he criticised what he called attempts to ?score petty political points?. He said that his decision had been intended to contribute to national reconciliation and offer a way out of the political crisis in the country.

He announced the amnesties of the remaining 34 individuals were also being revoked.

Macedonia had been scheduled to have early parliamentary elections on June 5, postponed from a previous date, but the elections were called off, with the EU and the US among those underlining that conditions were not conducive to free and fair polls in the country.



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Remembering D-Day

At 10:30 p.m. 30 years ago the loudspeaker bawls ?All hands man your battle stations? and a bugle blows ?general quarters,? and I jump out of my berth on the heavy cruiser USS Quincy, Capt. Senn commanding, give an embarrassed glance at the frightened young man in war correspondent?s uniform looking out at me from the mirror and say, ?You fool, you damn fool, with a wife and family, what in hell are you doing here!? and go on up to the open bridge to observe D-Day. June 5-6, 1944. We are going to invade Normandy.

A couple of hours before this the chaplain prayed for us. Out in the breeze or down, in the engine room men bared their heads. I looked back toward England and wondered: something marvelous was going on. All the world?s ships were coming our way. Big ships, little ships, convoys with barrage balloons tugging them ahead. British ships, Dutch ships. Free French ships. Their names mingled like a chant. The British names came down through history: The Black Prince, for instance, buddying up with the old battlewagons Texas and Arkansas. One transport was the Susan B. Anthony (sunk within hours).

?Ask and it shall be given; seek and ye shall find,? said the chaplain. We hoped it was so, and it was no time for doubts. ?Our help is in the Lord. …?

Now it is midnight. The sky is overcast. Somewhere up there the moon is one night from being full. Once it glows out and casts us in full relief in a silvery patch. Our ship is flanked by shadowy destroyers. There are only dim red battle lights. Suddenly over in France there is a spurt? of tracer bullets and a falling meteor that I suppose is really an airplane. I keep thinking of home, where they are finishing supper at seven and getting ready for homework. We are probably all thinking the same thing. We talk in whispers.

Here is a wonderful thing! We are on a dark sea moving at half speed toward history and here are little pinpricks of cheery light, bobbing discreetly on the surface ?a mine-swept safety lane marked so that even a landsman could follow it. They give a wonderful emotional release?somebody has been here, somebody has planned this. A sense of the immensity of this thing slowly grows.

There is no harbor ahead so we are taking our harbors with us?so-called mulberries and gooseberries, to be cre- ated by sinking old warships and mer- chant ships as jetties against rough weather. They are chugging out under their own power like the Black Prince and the Susan B. Anthony. We were briefed on this but we don?t believe it. We will attack about where William the Conqueror sailed for England in 1066.

It is 3 a.m.; it is 4 a.m. We are six miles off shore, off what will be called Utah Beach. By now the enemy must know what?s up. Bombers? roar overhead. Flares drop inland. I am so wrought up I do knee bends. A thou- sand youngsters are on board almost as inexperienced as I. It is pathetic to hear them ask my opinion. Everything?s fine, I say. Now we wait three miles off shore. All nine guns point at the beach. 5:30 a.m. There are yellow streaks in the cloud cover. Now! The guns go off and the Quincy bounces. Dawn finds us on Germany?s doormat like the morning milk bottle.

I don?t know much about battles. After an hour of this there is a certain sameness. First I am frightened and then bored and ashamed of both emotions. We are supposed to soften up shore batteries for the landing parties. At six am we still bang away methodically, like a thunderbolt worked by clockwork. At 6:30 the landing craft hit the beaches. The immensity of sky and land dwarfs everything so that from here you have to hear the noise and strain at the binoculars to know a battle is going on. Maybe this is true of all battles. If you are in the middle you can?t figure the score. A destroyer is hit, a mine explodes with a geyser higher than the National Press Building, a plane lays a smoke screen. Our destroyers practically walk on the beach. A little French village with a spire nestles in the cliffs.

And now runty little barges go ashore like a line of beetles. They are brave men aboard. Except for the luck of the draw I would be on one. I pick out a squarish little craft with a lace of foam in front. It is like picking out a particu- lar ant. What would I be doing now if I were aboard, instead of Ken Crawford of Newsweek? Would I have the guts? God knows. The one I have picked reaches the beach, loses its foam, waddles up ?I can?t see her but I bet the seasick GIs are glad to exchange horrors.

Nine a.m., 10 a.m., noon. The cook has made a mistake. He thought yesterday was D-Day and served ice cream and cake; now it?s just beans.

It is afternoon. I could sleep a week. I put on headphones in the communications room. A German broadcast denies any troops are ashore. They seem befuddled. We have attacked Dieppe and Dunkirk, they say. A BBC broadcast says we are winning. Cheers. Nobody here has any idea. Mostly it is a communications jargon, the sound of a battle: the parent voice crying out loudly and commandingly. Suddenly a quiet voice identifies itself. ?I am pinned down,? says the quiet voice. ?I am be- tween machine gun pillbox crossfire.?

The drama is in that line of landing craft, so close to us I can almost see faces. I can see the burly skipper of the nearest and notice his arms are akimbo. He looks contemptuously at the USS Quincy. I bet he comes from the North River. I bet he is a tugboat captain. He sweeps the battle with an uncomplimentary eye. If he spoke he would have a Jersey accent and would take no back talk from nobody, see? ?not from no warship, not from no Germans. We let go an eight-inch salvo over his right ear that must at least establish a feeling of mutual respect.

About 11 that night, double summertime, begins a great droning. An unending line of bombers comes out of England each towing a paratroop glider. They are in single line formation, so many that they arch the sky from horizon to horizon. After the first batch comes a second, and as it passes flying high the first begins to return, without the gliders, which have crash-landed. Paratroopers in silk webs are in treetops, steeples?behind the lines. It is a cavalry charge and I have seen it. I am unable to speak. I look up, my eyes are wet. It is like a religious experience. This is my country doing this. I am doing this. That swine?Hitler. I am so proud.

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Bulgarian minority party BDC parliamentary group implodes

parliament national assembly Bulgaria

One of the parliamentary groups in Bulgaria?s National Assembly, the Bulgarian Democratic Centre, collapsed on June 3 when one of its constituent parties left, taking their five MPs with them.

For a parliamentary group to be officially recognised in Bulgaria?s Parliament, it must have a minimum 10 members. The Bulgarian Democratic Centre now has nine.

Roumen Yonchev said that his People?s Union party had decided to leave the Bulgarian Democratic Centre because it had become clear during discussions over changes to memberships of parliamentary standing committees that they had no power over decisions in the group.

The Bulgarian Democratic Centre?s Krassimir Kovachka tabled changes to the group?s representatives on parliamentary committees on June 3 that saw People?s Union MPs, including Yonchev, removed from key committees.

The five People?s Union MPs will sit as independents, swelling the number of independents in the 240-member Bulgarian Parliament to 25. The other independents are a mixture of MPs who formerly sat for, among others, the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the Bulgarian Socialist Party and the Patriotic Front.

An important effect of the collapse of the group is that now those nominated as committee members by the now-defunct Bulgarian Democratic Centre group will all lose their committee seats, because independent MPs have no automatic entitlement to committee memberships.

The Bulgarian Democratic Centre group had a chequered history since its MPs were elected to the National Assembly in Bulgaria?s October 2014 early parliamentary elections.

Initially it was the group of Nikolai Barekov?s populist project Bulgaria Without Censorship.

In May 2014, Barekov was the centre of a well-funded campaign in European Parliament elections, but his BWC won only two MEP seats, one of which went to Barekov and one to another politician, nationalist Angel Dzhambazki. Barekov and Dzhambazki later became politically estranged, leaving Barekov as the sole BWC MP.

Barekov and his party?s group in the National Assembly also broke with each other, and the group was renamed Bulgarian Democratic Centre. The group had had an inauspicious start, when one of its MPs quit the BWC group before the new Parliament held its first sitting.

While Corporate Commercial Bank majority shareholder Tsvetan Vassilev had been seen as an important backer of Barekov, in the first months in Parliament the BDC group came to be seen as close to wealthy energy sector business person Hristo Kovachki.

Recently, after former BSP leader Georgi Purvanov?s 11-MP ABC group walked out of Prime Minister Boiko Borissov?s government and went into opposition, BDC?s 14-member group had largely taken its place in a working arrangement to support the government in Parliament, though with no formal coalition arrangement.

However, the People?s Union MPs were reported to have been in talks with Purvanov?s ABC about political co-operation. The five are required to sit as independents because rules of procedure do not allow MPs who quit one group to join another.

The split of the five People?s Union MPs from the nine others is largely a division between those interested in co-operation with Purvanov?s party and those willing to continue in some form of arrangement with Borissov?s GERB.

The October 2014 elections had put eight parliamentary groups into the National Assembly, now reduced to seven with the implosion of the BDC.




Popstar: The Lonely Island’s Last Stand

When you break down the reasons that the Lonely Island have been so successful?their skill at flawlessly mimicking various pop music styles, their knack for shareable short-form videos?the comedy trio?s secret weapon may be the most overlooked: their abiding affableness. Satirists as prototypical nice Jewish boys (even if only two of the three members are Jewish), Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, and Jorma Taccone made their name sending up celebrity culture and popstar ego, but they did it without leaving their targets burnt. Rewatch the Lonely Island?s best Digital Shorts, and you?ll notice that the punching bag is often the trio or their alter egos, such as Samberg?s clueless ?Dick in a Box? lover-man. In their world, even eternal laughing stock Michael Bolton ends up looking kinda cool.

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is far from a perfect film, but it may be the ideal delivery device for the group?s particular brand of pop-culture absurdity. Since breaking out in 2005 with the Saturday Night Live short ?Lazy Sunday,? the Lonely Island have radiated a lot of geeky good cheer while seeming hip about it, making the inherent dorkiness of their white-dudes-doing-black-music shtick not just funny but resiliently fresh. In this new mockumentary, about a former boy-band sensation learning that his stranglehold on the charts isn?t permanent, the trio?s mockery remains as kind as ever. Deep down, they love the shallowness of the musical forms they lampoon?if they didn?t, they wouldn?t have been able to make so many great pop songs over the last decade.

If ?Popstar? is a solid encapsulation of what made the Lonely Island great, it?s also a sign that the trio?s best days are probably behind it.

Drawing plenty of inspiration from This Is Spinal Tap, the movie stars Samberg as Conner4Real, who was the charismatic phenom in the group the Style Boyz, which also included his Sacramento childhood chums Owen (Taccone) and Lawrence (Schaffer). But Conner?s solo stardom drove Lawrence into angry obscurity?he?s now a bitter farmer in the middle of nowhere?and forced Owen to become a glorified extra in Conner?s ridiculously lavish solo shows.

Directed by Schaffer and Taccone, Popstar follows a predictable path as Conner?s sophomore disc, CONNquest, gets ready to drop, quickly fading from the charts and leaving our vapid hero at an existential crossroads. The film?s title is a play on the recent music documentary/image-maintenance Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, but it?s typical of Lonely Island that Bieber isn?t really set up to be knocked down. Instead, Popstar is a gleeful smorgasbord of dopey jokes set in and around the pop music world, playfully goofing on the divas, the pretentious, and the pathetic hangers-on that fall into its orbit. It?s impossible to imagine any star watching this movie and thinking it?s making fun of him?the Lonely Island have always been so loving and nonspecific in their barbs that it?s clear they?re riffing on our shared affection for a particular target as opposed to our derision. (?Dick in a Box? and its sequels probably wouldn?t have been quite so beloved if we sensed that the trio hated Color Me Badd.)

There?s a tradeoff for the Lonely Island?s benign form of ridicule: Popstar is an exceedingly superficial gloss on all that ails the music industry. Written by all three Lonely Island members, the film recruits the trio?s famous friends?Questlove, Usher, Nas, Mariah Carey, Simon Cowell?to play themselves as talking heads discussing Conner?s progress, humorously exaggerated in their praise of this utter lightweight. No joke draws blood, or elicits even a wince. (It?s telling that the only really vicious attacks are leveled at TMZ, which is universally loathed?particularly by celebrities, which the Lonely Island and their pals are.) As in their videos and songs, Popstar reserves most of its meanest stingers for the guys themselves?particularly Conner, who?s a relatively harmless egomaniac. (At worst, he?s a shameless pilferer of black musical styles, an oblivious homophobe, and a dude who doesn?t understand that nobody wants a love song that ties nasty sex with the killing of Osama bin Laden.)

Popstar?s overriding tone is that of chummy insider-ness, Samberg and his crew affectionately roasting an entertainment-industrial complex they know intimately. But while that might feel insufferably cozy, the trio rely on their usual pose, which is to position themselves as the nerds at the party. In their SNL music videos, it was always T-Pain, Rihanna, or Akon who was the cool member of the duet, with part of the humor being that Samberg?s doofus stood out amidst the pop-star fabulousness. Likewise, Conner may be a star, but Samberg plays him with such adorable vulnerability that his cosmic comeuppance is both unsurprising and slightly depressing. (Like the bozo head-bangers at the center of This Is Spinal Tap, Conner isn?t that evil, so we don?t really relish his fall from grace.) For all their success as songwriters and video-makers, the Lonely Island have managed to remain seemingly ordinary, and as such Popstar?s best running joke is the juxtaposition of these three geeks alongside Snoop Dogg, Adam Levine, and other actual stars.

If Popstar is a solid encapsulation of what made the Lonely Island great, it?s also a sign that the trio?s best days are probably behind it. Starting with their 2009 debut album Incredibad, the Lonely Island have demonstrated an impressive ability to meld pop hooks, cultural commentary and great jokes into dynamic three-minute tunes, parodying and paying homage to their musical targets simultaneously. The Wack Album, released in 2013, was the group?s spottiest, and Conner?s songs in Popstar don?t peak as high as a Lonely Island fan might wish. Likewise, there?s a sense that this movie says just about everything these guys will ever need to say about fame or the music industry: the two subjects that have been their bread and butter since 2005. If that?s the case, then this is a fine finale. They go out not at the height of their powers, but with their inexhaustible affection still happily intact.

Grade: B

Looking for more movie recommendations? Check out the latest episode of the Grierson & Leitch podcast.

Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly for the New Republic and host a podcast on film, Grierson & Leitch. Follow them on Twitter @griersonleitch or visit their site

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Bernie Sanders Has Already Won California

Does the outcome of next Tuesday?s California primary matter? Conventional wisdom says no; news outlets are already pinpointing the precise time of the evening when Hillary Clinton will clinch the nomination with victories elsewhere?three hours before the polls close in the Golden State.

Naturally, this perturbs Bernie Sanders fans, who see it as one more way the Democratic nomination contest has been rigged from the start. But they should know that the election in California is of critical importance?not to deciding the 2016 Democratic nomination (already a done deal), but to determining the future of the Democratic Party. The coalition Sanders has assembled in California, and the way he?s campaigned in the state, is a sneak preview of the next generation of liberal politics, in a state that?s always seen as a bellwether for the rest of the nation. In a sense, the final vote tally really doesn?t matter?because, in the most important and lasting ways, Sanders has already won California.

I?ll be perfectly honest: As a California resident, I never thought Sanders had a chance to win the state, or even to compete as strongly as he has. I?ve seen way too many ideologically strident campaigns fail to deliver results in what?s generally considered America?s most liberal state. I remember one House candidate in 2008, backed by Progressive Democrats of America, who lost a primary to someone who never spent a dime, mainly because she had ?educator? as her ballot designation. That race had incredibly low turnout, which is sadly the norm in a state without much of a political culture.

Delegates and vote counts and nominations aside, the Sanders campaign has reinvented Democratic politics in California.

California is a liberal state, but it?s also a ?machine? state: The labor federation?s preferred candidates, or the Democrats with high name recognition, are typically quite successful. The state is so massive that organizing on the ground can prove impossible. So can encouraging higher turnout among normally less-reliable voting groups.

This all made Hillary Clinton look like the perfect candidate for California. She garnered all the important endorsements, including governor and one-time bitter rival Jerry Brown. She certainly has the name ID. And she?s had an edge throughout the Democratic primary season with minority voters?which bodes well for a majority-minority state. A year ago this time, Clinton was up on Sanders in the well-respected Field Poll by a rather intimidating margin: 66-9.

But recent enhancements to voter registration laws have fostered political participation in California. Diligent work by progressives in 2012 to mobilize young and minority voters helped save the state, in fact, when they turned out to pass a budget-balancing tax hike on people making over $500,000 a year. (Don?t believe the Jerry Brown hagiographies; it was progressives, who forced Brown to place a winnable initiative on the ballot, who really primed California for its turnaround.) In just the first three months of this year, nearly 1 million voters registered?most of them Democratic, with big spikes for Latinos and young voters.

Those new voters have changed the composition of California?s electorate?and they?ve helped turn the Sanders-Clinton contest into, well, a contest. The most accurate polls statewide show the race a virtual tie; the Field Poll puts Clinton at 45 percent and Sanders at 43.

That doesn?t mean Sanders will win the state on Tuesday. Clinton is leading by nine points among the large number of Democrats who have already voted, meaning Sanders has the bigger challenge of turning voters out on Election Day. Not many will: In 2014, an incredible 69 percent of the votes in California were cast before election day in early voting or vote by mail. And to guard against a late Sanders surge, Clinton has returned to the state with her husband, planning 30 events in the final five days before the primary. She?s also made a million-dollar TV ad buy, nearly matching Sanders?s $1.5 million in ad spending.

?You have the power to choose a new direction for the Democratic Party,? Sanders says in ?California,? the aptly named ad he?s been running in the state. It sounds like typical political happy talk, but his campaign has actually borne it out. Sanders has camped out in California for weeks, campaigning in spots that haven?t welcomed Democrats in many years, including Central Valley towns like Visalia and Vista and Bakersfield and Santa Maria, which are now between 45 and 70 percent Latino.

Sanders hasn?t just shown up to greet Californians and then jetted out. With a robust volunteer base, he?s been able to muster a statewide ground game, in contrast to most Democrats who prefer to run up the score in California?s urban metropolises. Clinton is still winning the Central Valley, but Sanders is keeping pace enough to remain competitive overall, thanks to a strong advantage in the Bay Area.

What is more striking is how the demographic splits we?ve seen across the country in the primaries aren?t translating to California. Sanders is only losing the Latino vote in the Field Poll 46-42. The African-American vote, while in favor of Clinton, is not the blowout we?ve seen elsewhere (57-36), and Sanders is winning the ?Asian-American/other? category, which is actually bigger than the black vote (there are twice as many Asian-Americans as African-Americans in California), by a healthy margin.

The reason for this is an incredible divide on age, which does mirror what we?ve seen in other primaries. Sanders is winning 75-15 among Californians under 30, while Clinton has nearly a two-to-one advantage among voters 50 and older. Among first-time voters, Sanders is winning by a remarkable 60-21. This first-time voter split is similar to other primaries. The difference is that California simply has a lot more young voters to surge to the polls and make manifest Sanders?s ?political revolution.?

Demographically, California represents the Democratic Party?s future. Latino voters in the state are young, in many cases the sons and daughters of immigrants who were born and raised elsewhere. And these voters have been engaged by an explicitly progressive message. That will matter long after this presidential race is over. Assuming that national Democrats don?t completely alienate the Latino electorate, the changing face of California?s voter population will determine a new generation of leadership. A realignment is happening in California, where the most powerful politicians in the state?Jerry Brown, Dianne Feinstein, and Barbara Boxer ?are all septuagenarians or older, and either termed out, retiring, or on the way. (To those watching the Democrats? geriatric presidential primary, this may sound familiar.) Young, ambitious, and (mostly) nonwhite politicians will fill those seats, and could lead the nation someday. At the least, they?ll lead the biggest chunk of liberal America, whose ideas and policies will resonate across the country.

In the short term, that could mean that instead of a Governor Gavin Newsom in 2018?instead of someone who?s strong on social issues but more moderate economically, in the Clinton mold?you could see John Chiang, the more liberal son of Taiwanese immigrants. You could see a Latino breakthrough statewide, reflecting their dominance in the state?s legislative leadership. And all would-be leaders will have to pay heed to the large bloc of progressive young voters that the Sanders campaign has helped to usher in.

Delegates and vote counts and nominations aside, Sanders?s campaign has reinvented Democratic politics in California. When?not if?his progressive successors rebuild the coalition, it will change liberal politics, both here and across the country.

here in the manual

Why Obama Turned Left on Social Security

In a speech this week in Indiana, President Barack Obama announced a major shift in his position on Social Security. ?It?s time we finally made Social Security more generous and increased its benefits,? Obama declared, ?so today?s retirees and future generations get the dignified retirement that they have earned.?

This is a welcome change from Obama?s past support for a so-called Grand Bargain that likely would have included cuts to Social Security benefits. It is tempting to view it as evidence of how Obama ?really? thinks about the issue, in the same way that his support for gay marriage, after years of opposing it, was seen as a reflection of his real views. But the shift on Social Security isn?t about Obama per se. Rather, it?s an excellent example of how political pressure from below can facilitate change. It also demonstrates the limitations of a president?s ability to impose his vision on the country.

Until 2014, Obama?s budget proposals included an offer to reduce the growth of Social Security benefits by changing how the cost-of-living increase is calculated, in exchange for a deal including upper-class tax increases. Obama, in other words, has not only dropped even contingent proposed cuts, but is also calling for an expansion of benefits. This is a big deal.

Admittedly, on a substantive level, it isn?t much different from his previous position. Tying ?chained-CPI? Social Security cuts to upper-class tax increases no Republican Congress was ever going to pass was an indication that Obama was not actually trying to cut Social Security. The idea was to propose ?entitlement reforms? that Beltway journalists tend to love in a form that would ensure Republican rejection. I happen to think this was dumb politics?no special effort is required to make the Republican conference look rejectionist, and being even theoretically open to such cuts weakens the Democratic brand and diminishes the ability of Democrats to attack Republicans for going to war on Social Security. But there?s no reason to believe Obama had any particular commitment to cutting Social Security.

What has changed, then, is the politics. The leader of the Democratic Party believes it?s in his political interest to support expanding rather than cutting Social Security. The pushback against chained-CPI from both Democratic voters and many congressional Democrats was crucial in making this happen. And you can bet Obama has been paying attention to Bernie Sanders?s strong presidential run, too, which has shown there is an appetite for a stronger welfare state. He changed his public position on Social Security for the same reason he belatedly came out in support of same-sex marriage rights: that?s where the party was.

What?s interesting about this dynamic is that it is precisely the opposite of what should have happened according to a popular theory of political change that focuses on the president imposing his will on the public.

The ?Overton Window,? posthumously named after the conservative think tank writer Joseph Overton, holds that there is a range of policy changes considered acceptable to the mainstream. Politicians are unlikely to step well outside of that window, so the center of gravity is crucial and attempting to move it is essential for transformative political change.

One variant of the Overton Window combines the idea with a belief in the power of the presidential bully pulpit. When presidents push for major policy changes, the theory goes, they win even if they lose in the short term. George W. Bush?s big push to privatize Social Security in his second term might have crashed and burned?but by moving the political center of gravity, it made some kind of privatization, or at least big Social Security cuts, more palatable.

But, in fact, Bush?s big push was, from a liberal perspective, the best thing to ever happen to the program. If anything, Bush?s failed initiative moved the political center of gravity on the issue to the left, making major cuts to Social Security benefits politically toxic.

Remember, Bill Clinton in his second term was open to at least some form of private accounts, and might well have cut a deal with congressional Republicans if not for the Lewinsky scandal. In contrast, while bad policy, the chained-CPI cuts Obama theoretically offered would not have fundamentally changed the program. And even theoretical Social Security cuts that had no chance of passing generated enough opposition within the Democratic Party to compel Obama to support expanding benefits rather than cutting them.

You can see a similar drift leftward on the Republican side, where there has been notably less enthusiasm about repeating Bush?s politically suicidal act. Paul Ryan?s 2011 budget, which called for a wide array of cuts as well as the privatization of Medicare, did not include any proposal for changing Social Security at all, instead proposing the kind of bipartisan blue-ribbon panel politicians call for when they don?t want to actually do anything. And the Republican candidate for president, Donald Trump, is not only against Bush-style privatization, but opposes Social Security cuts altogether.

Presidents proposing policy changes outside the Overton Window might make more radical changes seem plausible. It can also backfire and move the window in the opposite direction. The latter is what Bush inadvertently accomplished. There?s no empirical or theoretical reason to think that presidents pushing hard and failing to advance a policy directive is the path to political progress.

Policy change, in other words, rarely comes from the top of the party down. It comes from the bottom up. Barack Obama changed because of pressure within the party. And the pressure needs to keep coming to ensure that Hillary Clinton joins him.

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US gives Bulgaria generally positive review on fight against terrorism


An annual report by the US state department on counter-terrorism has noted a number of positive aspects of Bulgaria?s efforts but identified some shortcomings too.

The US state department report on counter-terrorism for 2015 said that the government of Bulgaria had continued to deport people it considered national security risks, and had increased extradition of suspected foreign terrorist fighters from Bulgaria.

The Bulgarian government has worked to enhance its terrorism prevention and enforcement tools by criminalising foreign terrorist fighters, developing a new counterterrorism strategy, enhancing operations of its National Counterterrorism Centre, and announcing plans to draft a comprehensive law on measures against terrorism, the report said.

The US and Bulgaria had launched a new Bilateral Counterterrorism Working Group to bolster bilateral cooperation. The group members represented different agencies in the Bulgarian government and include the Deputy Minister of Interior, who co-chairs the group, as well as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Counterterrorism Coordinator and representatives of the information services.

The report noted that Bulgaria is a member of the Global Coalition to Counter the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and has repeatedly responded to requests for assistance, including in March, when the Ministry of Defence provided weapons and munitions to the Iraqi Kurdistan Region?s Peshmerga.

Bulgaria prosecutes terrorism under several general provisions of the Penal Code, which has been amended multiple times since it was first enacted in 1968, the report said.

In 2015, the National Assembly adopted amendments to the Penal Code that provide for the prosecution of individuals, including foreign terrorist fighters, who support, plan, and facilitate the commission of terrorist acts in Bulgaria and abroad.

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Bigfoot skull fossil is a amateur mistake of wishful thinking (UPDATED)

(Originally published on Jun 23, 2013)
The assumptions in this story are astounding.

Man believes he found fossilized Bigfoot head.

?I found a fossilized Bigfoot skull.?

A journalist can go his or her entire life waiting to hear those six magic words. And yet, on a recent weekday afternoon, that very thing happened.

Todd May, of Ogden, dropped by the offices of the Standard-Examiner to see if someone would be interested in a story about a fairly impressive fossil find. After showing off a couple of digital photos, May offered six even more compelling words ? ?Do you want to see it?? ? followed by the motherlode of sentences: ?It?s out in the trunk of my car.?

May says he found it in the mouth of Ogden Canyon, Utah. He thinks it?s a skull because he has run into the real thing, he says, in his outdoor excursions before.

First, we are asked to believe he has actually seen a Bigfoot in real life. Then, we are asked to accept that this piece rock is not just a fossil but a fossil skull. And not just a fossil skull, but a skull of Bigfoot. Talk about a stretch of credulity.

It could be a fossil. It is not a skull and it is not Bigfoot. There is a mistaken assumption that you can create lithified bone in just a little while. It takes millions of years.

Here is the video of his find. He notes that HE SEES features of soft tissue, like tongue and nose. That would make this even more dubious since tongues don?t fossilize. They may mummify ? but there is nothing (like bone) from a tongue that would be mineralized and end up a fossilized.

UPDATE: This story reappears in April 2016: Throwback Thursday: Man believes he found fossilized Bigfoot head
For reasons unknown, though I think the guy just wants attention, it is now back in the mainstream news.

Man claims to have found Bigfoot skull

I feel bad for posting this story. It?s ludicrous. But, there you have it ? the power of wishful thinking, or of just wanting to get into the local newspaper.

It's a rock, not a bigfoot head. Sorry to disappoint but let's be serious here...

It?s a rock, not a bigfoot head. Sorry to disappoint but let?s be serious here?

For a similar story, check out this one where the collector thought he had an alien head. (Spoiler: So do I.)

One thing geologists do on a fairly regular basis is to inform people who think they found something awesome like a fossil or meteorite that it is not that thing, and there is a more mundane explanation. You know, often they don?t believe us. Sigh. Back to the real world.


Harry Crews? Wild Ride

When Harry Crews was sixteen, scraping through high school with the dream of someday becoming a novelist, he decided it was time to meet a real writer, face to face. He selected Frank Slaughter, a bestselling author of historical fiction, who wrote books with titles like Buccaneer Surgeon and Devil?s Gamble: A Novel of Demonology. Crews hitchhiked 110 miles south to Florida from his relatives? place in rural Bacon County, Georgia, found Slaughter?s number in the Jacksonville phone book, and called his house to arrange an appointment. But Slaughter?s wife answered the phone, and informed Crews that the author was out getting a haircut. He immediately turned back around for Bacon County.

BLOOD, BONE, AND MARROW: A BIOGRAPHY OF HARRY CREWS by Ted GeltnerUniversity of Georgia Press, 448 pp

?I mean, writers don?t get haircuts,? Crews said later. ?I just couldn?t put together my own love of literature?the mystery, the overwhelming, profound, grandness of literature?with going to the barbershop and getting your hair cut.?

Over the next six decades, Crews made himself into the kind of writer that you could sooner imagine setting himself on fire than sitting quietly for a haircut. He cultivated an image as an outsized, Bacchanalian figure, the Lord Byron of the Okefenokee swamp, devoted equally to the arts of letters and partying. By the time of his death in 2012, Crews had published 15 novels, several collections of nonfiction, and a memoir. With his dark, often satirical writing, he had become a cult hero in certain circles, earning admiration from an odd mixture of literary and Hollywood heavyweights, including Madonna, Francis Ford Coppola, Sean Penn, Barry Hannah, and Norman Mailer.

But, as journalist Ted Geltner demonstrates in Blood, Bone and Marrow, his clear-eyed biography of the author, Crews?s most enduring character was himself. Just fact-checking the outlandish stories about Crews?s behavior must have been daunting work. (No, he didn?t hike all the way from Georgia to Vermont to show up at the Bread Loaf Writers? Conference, but yes, he did once list services from a prostitute and a tattoo parlor as ?business expenses? while on assignment for Playboy.) Geltner?s biography, the first of any kind on Crews, manages to unearth the writer from the accumulated crust of legend and rumor.

Born in 1935, Crews grew up the son of a tenant farmer in, as he called it, the ?worst hookworm and rickets part of Georgia,? and suffered through a childhood marked with tragedy and terror. His father died before he was two years old; when he was five, Crews contracted polio, and not long after his recovery he fell into a vat of boiling water, burning almost all of the skin off his body. Geltner dutifully covers Crews?s early life, but his retelling is, unsurprisingly, no match for A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, Crews?s searing memoir about his first seven years that represents the peak of his storytelling prowess.

When Crews begins to pursue his literary ambitions?after a stint in the Marines and a period working at a ketchup factory in San Francisco while hanging around beatnik bars trying to get Kerouac to talk shop?Geltner?s portrait of the author gains steam. Enrolled in the University of Florida, Crews studied under the literary legend Andrew Lytle, a spokesman for the Southern Agrarian movement and one of Flannery O?Connor?s favorite teachers. Lytle became a father figure for Crews, and he fostered in him the idea that writers were a class apart from other people. At one dinner at a fancy restaurant, Lytle, sensing Crews?s discomfort with the elegant surroundings, picked up his soup and slurped it from the bowl. ?Remember son, we?re better than they are,? Lytle told Crews. ?We?re writers.?

Through graduate school and during several years teaching English?first at a middle school and then at a junior college in Fort Lauderdale?Crews applied himself feverishly to the task of refining and submitting his work, until William Morrow finally bought his manuscript for The Gospel Singer, a novel about a faith healer returning to the tiny town of Enigma, Georgia with violent consequences. Over the next eight years, Crews would publish seven more books reflecting his different obsessions, among them learning karate, training hawks, and rounding up rattlesnakes. Almost every morning that he was not too hungover or inebriated to function, Crews would wake up at 4 a.m. and try to grind out 500 words on a new story. ?Put your ass on the chair,? was Crews?s operational mantra.

His dogged, near religious dedication to writing fiction was paralleled only by his devotion to getting completely ripshit. Crews managed to parlay the publication of The Gospel Singer into a job as an assistant professor at the University of Florida, a position he would hold for the better part of 30 years. The move to Gainesville and the success of his first novel exacerbated Crews?s worst tendencies. Crews had married?then divorced and re-married?Sally Ellis, a fellow student from his undergraduate days. Their marriage, which had survived the tragic drowning of their eldest son, Patrick, soon fell apart, brought to the breaking point by Crews?s constant drinking and sleeping around. Without the structure of family, beholden only to the gods of fiction and the remarkably understanding administration at the University of Florida, Crews?s life became an endless series of bacchanals and bar fights.

The ?crazy party? stories in Blood, Bones, and Marrow?the time Crews showed up drunk at his lecture dressed as a gorilla, the one where he broke up with a woman by peeing inside her car, that day he passed out in a pool of vomit in the faculty lounge?begin to blur together after awhile. Through the fog of alcoholism and self-destruction, what comes into focus is his remarkable output. This was thanks in no small part to the women in his life, including his ex-wife Sally and long-term girlfriends Maggie Powell and George Kinson, who cleaned Crews up, typed out his longhand manuscripts, and kept him out of harm?s way as best they could.

Crews would regularly get involved with his young students. As one ex-girlfriend put it to Geltner, ?he destroyed the lives, psychologically, of a lot of people.? And yet, the author was still capable of immense generosity?he cut a $1000 check, unbidden, to help one of his students through a semester of graduate school. Even in his worst days, his classes drew long waiting lists, and his sheer, unwavering ardor for literature inspired a generation of U.F. grads. Though Crews was a champion bridge burner, he managed to attract a crew of followers and fans. His brand of wild-man charm is evident throughout Blood, Bones, and Marrow. Even after all the unflattering stories, you?d still like to get a beer with Crews (though perhaps not two.)

Geltner is himself one of those followers. During the last four years of Crews?s life, when Geltner was working at The Gainesville Sun, he developed a friendship with the author. Crews, who had by then largely traded the bottle for prescription painkillers, had been ravaged by decades of hard living. After years of crashing in one spare room or another, Crews didn?t even have copies of his own out-of-print early work. Barely mobile and in worsening pain, Crews depended on Geltner and a small crew of acquaintances to ferry him on errands.

Throughout the book, an obvious warmth for his subject shines through, though Geltner doesn?t let it interfere with the thoroughness of his reporting. If there is a fault in Blood, Bones, and Marrow, it might be that it is a bit too thorough?reading it, you sometimes wish Geltner had excised passages about outside players in the Crews story to get back to the main event. It?s a small complaint for a work that does real justice to a complicated, outsized literary figure.

Crews kept writing until close to his final days. At one point, after he lost the use of his legs, he dragged himself by his arms to the keyboard to make his 4 a.m. appointment, chastising a houseguest, who wandered in at 7 for coffee, about being a late riser. But he had ruined relationships with several publishers and more or less severed his ties with the university he had taught at for 29 years. He found that more people wanted to hear about his drinking days than read his fiction.

When you build a persona with that kind of gravity, it takes a lot for your writing to reach escape velocity. ?Most people are more interested, it seems, in talking about what I?m supposed to have done ? than they are interested in my books,? Crews told an interviewer late in life. ?It?s a mistake I started making early, and I never knew it was a mistake until it was too late.? At times, Geltner is one of those people; he certainly devotes as much ink to Crews? antics to his actual writing. But the intersection of career and personality is a complicated place. Trying to separate the conjoined twins of Harry Crews, the shit-kicking, vodka-swilling legend, and Harry Crews, the person, is a delicate, messy operation. Blood, Bone, and Marrow manages to do it without either dying on the table.

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Grierson & Leitch Episode 19: X-Men: Apocalypse, Alice Through the Looking Glass, and Midnight Run

This week on the podcast, New Republic film critics Tim Grierson and Will Leitch battle it out over X-Men: Apocalypse:  Is the film an unnecessary addition to a well-worn franchise, or is it emotionally grounded enough to elevate it above the rest of the year?s superhero offerings? Grierson and Leitch are in total agreement, however, on the sequel nobody asked for: Alice Through the Looking Glass.

For the Reboot segment, the guys revisit the 1988 mob comedy Midnight Run, starring Robert De Niro. Leave a review of the podcast on iTunes and include the name of a favorite film, the guys might discuss your pick in a future episode.

Follow Grierson & Leitch on Twitter @griersonleitch or visit their site To ask questions or comment about the podcast, email them at

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