Monday, October 14, 2019

Something to Know - 14 October

We all know that Trump is a very sick man, who is over his head, and is working to achieve Steve Bannon's goal of destructing the administrative state.   However, now we have an Attorney General, who is way out of his lane, in a very ugly and repugnant fashion.   You need to read this:

AG Barr blames 'moral upheaval' on conspiring US secularists

10/14/19 12:49 PMUPDATED 10/14/19 01:18 PM

There's some disagreement among religious scholars over the phases of the Great Awakening, which are periods of Christian revival that began in the early 18th century. But according to Donald Trump, he may be responsible for helping usher in the latest phase.

"I was called by the great pastors of this country in a call about a week ago," the president told Fox News' Jeanine Pirro over the weekend, "and they said they have never seen electricity in the air, enthusiasm in the air. Churches are joining. People are joining the church." Trump added this Christian revival is the result of "everybody" knowing that "the Russian witch hunt was a faux, phony fraud. And we got rid of that. And then they came up with this Ukrainian story that was made up by Adam Schiff."

Evidently, this politically inspired Great Awakening is necessary, at least according to Attorney General William Barr, who spoke a day earlier at Notre Dame's law school and condemned societal ills on conspiring American secularists.

"We see the growing ascendancy of secularism and the doctrine of moral relativism," he said. "Basically every measure of this social pathology continues to gain ground."

He described several social issues as "consequences of this moral upheaval."

"Along with the wreckage of the family, we are seeing record levels of depression and mental illness, dispirited young people, soaring suicide rates, increasing numbers of angry and alienated young males, an increase in senseless violence and a deadly drug epidemic."

Bill Barr, with a conspiratorial flare, added, "This is not decay. This is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the forces of mass communication, popular culture, the entertainment industry and academia, in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values."

I can appreciate the fact that Barr is "neck-deep" in the scandal that's likely to lead to the president's impeachment, and perhaps his bizarre tirade against non-religious Americans was intended to solidify Team Trump's support among Christian conservatives.

But that's not much of an excuse for the attorney general's offensive speech.

For one thing, it's factually wrong. There are complex factors that contribute to problems such as drug abuse, gun violence, mental illness, and suicide, but to assume these issues would disappear in a more religious society is absurd. There are plenty of Western societies, for example, that are far more secular than the United States, and many of them are in better positions on these same social ills.

For that matter, if Barr is concerned about "the doctrine of moral relativism," he may want to consider the broader relationship between his boss and his social-conservative followers – many of whom have decided to look the other way on Donald Trump's moral failings because they approve of his political agenda.

But even putting aside these relevant details, it was the circumstances that were especially jarring: the nation's chief law-enforcement officer delivered public remarks in which he alleged non-religious citizens of his own country are conspiring to advance a sinister "social pathology."

Roughly one-in-five Americans considers themselves atheists, agnostics, or lacking in any specific faith affiliation. The idea that their attorney general sees them as part of a nefarious force, conspiring in the shadows to undermine morality, isn't just ridiculous; it's at odds with the country's First Amendment principles.

Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics, described Barr's comments as "repugnant," adding, "His job is to defend the First Amendment. But this immoral, unpatriotic, borderline monarchist and defender of corruption has other ideas."


Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

- Kris Kristofferson

Something to Know - 14 October

At long last.  A news item that wipes Trump off the front page.  Well, not exactly, since the Kurds are now calling Tump an unreliable ally and a CHICKEN, as our troops make a hasty retreat.

It's only $4.99. But Costco's rotisserie chicken comes at a huge price

Updated 2:25 PM ET, Fri October 11, 2019

At the back of Costco's stores, past the televisions, jewelry, jumbo-sized ketchup jugs and tubs of mixed nuts, is one of the retailer's most prized items: The rotisserie chicken that costs just $4.99.

Cheap Kirkland Signature rotisserie chickens aren't only a quick way for families to get dinner on the table. For Costco, the chickens are a lure, pulling customers into stores and getting them to browse the aisles, adding sometimes hundreds of dollars worth of items to their shopping carts before they pick up that bird.
The chickens have become almost a cult item. 91 million were sold last year, double the number from a decade earlier. They have their own Facebook page with nearly 13,000 followers.
So Costco is willing to go to extreme lengths to keep its chickens at $4.99. For the past few years, it's been recruiting farmers for this moment: The official opening of a sprawling, $450 million poultry complex of its very own in Nebraska.
It's a highly unusual move for one of the world's largest retailers. Costco will control the production process from farm to store, making key decisions down to the grain chickens eat and the type of eggs hatched. Costco has even put its socially-conscious corporate reputation on the line, fending off local critics who have rallied against the Nebraska operation.
This is a big experiment not only for Costco, but the broader industry as well. Retailers will be watching Costco's plan closely. It's one of the largest-scale tests of a store's ability to become its own meat supplier. And there's no guarantee it will work.
Costco's $4.99 birds. The company sold more than 90 million rotisserie chickens last year.

The 'inexorable rise of chicken'

Costco is so determined to keep its rotisserie chickens at $4.99 that it's been willing to lose money selling them in the past. Even as competitors increased their rotisserie chickens to $5.99 in recent years, Costco held its price steady.
    "As prices changed dramatically and we saw the competition raising the price, it was a hot price," Costco's chief financial officer Richard Galanti said in 2014.
    Costco was willing to sacrifice "$30 million, $40 million a year on gross margin by keeping it at $4.99," Galanti said the following year. "That is what we do for a living."
    Jeff Lyons, senior vice president of fresh foods at Costco, who joined the company in 1990 as its first meat buyer, declined to say whether Costco still loses money selling them. But rotisserie chickens have been a "very, very good business and very consistent growth for a long period of time," he said. "We're right about 100 million right now."
    But in recent years, it has become even more difficult for Costco to keep its rotisserie chicken prices down. Americans are eating more chicken than ever before, and the company faces supply challenges and cost pressures in the highly concentrated poultry industry.
    A small number of massive producers dominate America's chicken supply: Tyson, Pilgrim's Pride, Sanderson Farms, Perdue and Koch Foods. Together, those companies control more than 60% of America's $65 billion poultry market, according to Watt Poultry, a meat industry publication.
    "A more consolidated industry has more bargaining power against its customers," said Timothy Ramey, a longtime poultry industry analyst.
    Costco wants to reduce its reliance on those big producers.
    Traditional chicken suppliers are also producing fewer birds to be sold as rotisserie chickens.
      An estimated 15% of chickens today are sold as whole birds, down from around 50% of all poultry in the 1980s, according to the Department of Agriculture. Instead, they are chopped up into breasts, legs, thighs, chicken nuggets and wings to feed Americans' insatiable appetite for chicken at grocery stores and fast-food restaurants.
      "Make no mistake: Consumers want cheap Walmart chicken," said Ramey. "That explains the inexorable rise of chicken."
      As the number of full-sized birds in production drops, bird weights are going up to keep up with demand. Companies like Tyson Foods can make a higher profit by cutting up and skinning heavier chickens and selling their parts.
      Bird weights are expected to continue rising, presenting a problem for Costco. Costco needs birds around six pounds to cook in stores.
      "We were having trouble getting the size bird we wanted on a consistent basis," said Lyons from Costco. "We couldn't take a seven-pound bird or an eight-pound bird and make it work. They're too big. They wouldn't even fit on our rotisserie line."
      Bird sizes are growing to feed demand for chicken.

      Chicken operations in Nebraska

      That's why Costco is seizing control of its chicken supply chain. Costco believes it can slash costs by bringing production in house, saving up to 35 cents per bird.
      It has already done the same with hot dogs.
      Costco sold kosher hot dogs at food courts until 2009, but suppliers started to run low on beef. So it brought production in-house and switched to its own Kirkland Signature-brand hot dogs. Costco now produces 285 million hot dogs at a plant in California.
        Costco picked Nebraska for the poultry plant because the area had grain, water and labor available. Those are the three biggest costs involved with chicken production.
        Although Nebraska is not known for chicken production, corn prices have fallen in recent years, leading to interest from farmers looking for new opportunities. The United States' trade war with China has also taken a toll on farmers.
        "We had to have farmers who were willing to grow for us, and we found overwhelming support," Walt Shafer, a veteran Pilgrim's Pride executive overseeing Costco's operations in Nebraska, said in a recent interview. "These grain farmers out here want to diversify."
        The retailer is building a poultry complex in Fremont, Nebraska, a farming town near the Iowa border. The complex includes a processing facility, hatchery and feed mill.
        The nearly 400,000 square-foot plant in Fremont will employ 950 workers. The plant will take 45 weeks to ramp up to full production. Once it's at full speed, the plant will process about 100 million chickens a year, or 40% of Costco's annual chicken needs. Costco will process around two million birds a week in Nebraska to supply to stores on the West Coast.
        Costco's nearly 400,000 square-foot processing plant in Fremont, Nebraska will eventually process about 100 million chickens a year.
        Costco is partnering with Nebraska farmers to raise breeder hens to lay eggs. Those eggs will then go into hatcheries, and the chicks will be delivered to Nebraska growers. The chicks will grow for around 42 days in hundreds of specialized barns in the area until they mature into six-pound broilers —chickens raised specifically for their meat. Then they're off to the processing plant.

        If the Costco plant is successful, other major food retailers will likely make a business case for bringing animal protein needs in-house."


        There are few examples of retailers vertically integrating in the agricultural industry like this, experts say. Walmart is seizing control of part of its Angus beef supply chain, and both Walmart and Kroger have integrated their milk supplies. But none are as sweeping as Costco's operations in Nebraska.
        "Costco's poultry complex is more than just a multi-million dollar experiment from a retailer known for doing things differently," said Will Sawyer, an animal protein economist at CoBank, a leading agriculture lender. "If the Costco plant is successful, other major food retailers will likely make a business case for bringing animal protein needs in-house."

          Contract concerns

          $4.99 broilers come at a price beyond Costco's bottom line.
          Costco has billed itself as a socially responsible and worker-friendly company, even earning praise and a store visit from then-President Barack Obama for raising its minimum wage in 2014.
          But by getting into the chicken business, it's wading into a controversial industry with many skeptics, including some who come from Costco's customer base. Its poultry farm ambitions have sparked backlash among environmentalists and farmers' advocates in the Fremont area.
          Opponents of the plant in Fremont like Randy Ruppert, a local activist, worry about the environmental impact of the plant and poultry barns, such as water contamination from runoff, ammonia from chicken feces and other health risks. In neighboring Iowa, poultry operations have been linked to high levels of nitrates in tap water.
          "They are bringing degenerative farming to Nebraska, nothing else," said Ruppert, who formed a nonprofit group, Nebraska Communities United, that has led resistance to the company. Critics packed local town halls to voice concerns and put up anti-Costco signs in the area.
          Some residents in Fremont and surrounding towns oppose Costco entering Nebraska.
          The poultry industry has also come under heavy scrutiny for offering unfair contracts to chicken farmers. Around 90% of broilers in the United States are raised under contracts with farmers. Under the contract system, farmers build the barns and invest in their upkeep, while larger companies supply them with chicks and feed.
          Grain farmers in Nebraska, who previously farmed corn and soybeans, are investing $350 million collectively and building barns to raise chickens. Most of the farmers had not previously grown chickens, so Costco is responsible for educating and leading the farmers.
          Costco claims that it's setting a "new and improved standard" for industry contracts. "Our contract, we think, has one of the best pay rates in the industry," Shafer said in the interview.
          Opponents, however, argue that Costco's 15-year contracts are a risky investment for farmers.

          They are bringing degenerative farming to Nebraska — nothing else."


          "We all hoped that Costco was going to present the opportunity to start to build a better system for poultry," said Lynn Hayes, an attorney at Farmers' Legal Action Group, a nonprofit group that provides legal services to farmers.
          But the contracts are a "letdown," she said. "It's still far from good enough to justify the kind of investments that farmers have to put into it" because their barns can't be repurposed for other uses if their operations disappoint.
          Robert Taylor, a professor emeritus of agricultural economics at Auburn University and a longtime critic of the poultry industry, blasted Costco's contracts. "This particular form of contract agriculture essentially makes the farmer an indentured servant," he said. "The farmer is basically reduced to a chicken house janitor."
          Taylor argued that Costco growers' annual income for chicken farming will come out to around $60,000 after labor expenses. That's a lot less than the $90,000 to $130,000 Costco says farmers will bring home in pay.
          Costco pushed back on these charges.
          Shafer, the executive leading poultry operations in Nebraska for Costco, said "we have one of the lowest risk poultry contracts available" because Costco's poultry business keep growing every year.
          "I have no doubt that Costco will continue to do the right thing by our growers for the next 15 years and beyond," he said.
          Despite a contentious response and the high costs of pushing into the poultry industry, Costco remains confident that the Nebraska experiment is key to its growth.
          "We know that we're going to be in poultry. We see the future," said Costco's Lyons. "We're always working five to 10 years out front."


          Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

          - Kris Kristofferson

          Saturday, October 12, 2019

          Something to Know - 12 October

          This story from today's NY Times starts to assemble the tawdry characters who are involved (just like Watergate) in the Impeachment Inquiry.  You might like to add the trio of Mikey Pence, Pompous Pompeo, and Bully Barr to this mix.  Keep a list, since this will undoubtedly increase in the coming weeks and months.   Since the White House is completely stonewalling the investigation (adding Obstruction of Justice), this will slow the time needed to fully investigate, and to the WH discomfort and the GOP members of Congress, this will all spill into the activity of the General Election.   Hopefully no Gremlins this time

          All the President's Henchmen

          Mr. Trump has assembled a colorful cast of characters who are having trouble keeping their stories straight.


          Ms. Cottle is a member of the editorial board.

          • Oct. 11, 2019

          CreditCreditIllustration by Nicholas Konrad; photographs by Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times, Kevin Hagen and Tamir Kalifa for The New York Times

          It has often been noted that President Trump holds a vision of his job more befitting a Latin American caudillo than the leader of the world's oldest democracy. His geopolitical idols trend toward the autocratic — Kim Jong-un, Rodrigo Duterte, Mohammed bin Salman, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin. He suffers delusions of grandeur, proclaiming himself "the Chosen One" and having "great and unmatched wisdom." He accuses those who challenge him of treason, and he regularly wipes his feet on the constitutional principle of checks and balances.

          Witness the over-the-top letter his White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, sent House Democrats this week, the gist of which was: Your impeachment investigation is illegitimate, and we will not participate. As if this were the president's prerogative. Legal experts mostly dismissed the letter as a political stunt. Gregg Nunziata, a former counsel to Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, called it "bananas." Walter Shaub, who resigned as head of the Office of Government Ethics in 2017 over the administration's glaring lack of ethics, said that it "mistakes Trump for a king."

          Fortunately, Mr. Trump's dreams of dominance tend to bump up against the hard realities of incompetence — his and that of his cronies. It has long been apparent that the president has a peculiar eye for talent. The repercussions of this were on display this week as the Ukraine scandal at the heart of the impeachment inquiry continued to unspool, spotlighting a fresh batch of colorful characters and questionable behavior.

          In one of the more bizarre impeachment twists to date, two businessmen involved in the president's efforts to dig up dirt on former Vice President Joe Biden were arrested on campaign finance violation charges as they were trying to leave the country on Wednesday. Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman are Soviet-born naturalized Americans who have been working closely with Rudy Giuliani, the president's personal lawyer, to investigate Mr. Biden, one of the president's chief political rivals, and his son Hunter, who had business dealings in Ukraine. The men were also helping search for evidence to support a (debunked) conspiracy theory blaming Ukraine for the 2016 hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

          Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman were scheduled to testify before Congress this week about their work with Mr. Giuliani. In addition to hooking up Mr. Giuliani with Ukrainian prosecutors, the pair allegedly supported an effort that proved successful to recall Marie Yovanovitch, the ambassador to Ukraine, who they claimed was bad-mouthing Mr. Trump.

          Looking to influence American officials, the men arranged for large donations to, among other political causes, the 2018 campaign of Representative Pete Sessions, the Texas Republican who lost his seat last year and is now pondering a comeback. The pair reportedly pressed Mr. Sessions to help remove Ms. Yovanovitch. In May of last year, Mr. Sessions sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling for the ambassador's dismissal. (Mr. Sessions has denied being influenced by the men.) Mr. Trump recalled Ms. Yovanovitch this spring, several months before her assignment was scheduled to end, without explanation.

          According to the federal indictment unsealed on Thursday, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman "conspired to circumvent the federal laws against foreign influence by engaging in a scheme to funnel foreign money to candidates for federal and state office so that the defendants could buy potential influence." They were arrested at Washington's Dulles International Airport Wednesday evening, about to board an international flight with one-way tickets. Earlier that day, the men were seen having lunch with Mr. Giuliani at the Trump International Hotel near the White House. The full nature of Mr. Giuliani's relationship with Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman is unclear. Among other connections, Mr. Parnas helped found an aptly named firm, Fraud Guarantee. On Thursday, Mr. Giuliani confirmed to The Times that he was retained by the firm last year to provide legal and business advice — but then he backtracked and said maybe it wasn't Fraud Guarantee he worked for after all.

          These were not the only associates/clients of Mr. Giuliani to make news this week. Multiple reports also surfaced about Mr. Giuliani's efforts in 2017 to have top officials, including then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, intervene to have the Justice Department drop its criminal case against — or possibly arrange a prisoner swap for — an Iranian-Turkish gold trader represented by Mr. Giuliani. Mr. Tillerson balked.

          Mr. Trump was coy Friday evening about whether Mr. Giuliani still represents him. "I don't know," he told reporters. "I haven't spoken to Rudy."

          Not that Mr. Giuliani was the only impeachment player making waves. Looking to shore up its defense team, the White House has recruited Trey Gowdy, the former Republican congressman from South Carolina who ran a committee that investigated the Benghazi terrorist attack of 2012. This news displeased some members of Mr. Trump's existing legal team. Victoria Toensing, a Washington lawyer unofficially assisting Mr. Giuliani on various presidential projects, suggested the Trump team thinks of Mr. Gowdy as "a joke."

          Michael Pillsbury, one of Mr. Trump's advisers on China policy, was also having trouble staying on message. On Wednesday, Mr. Pillsbury told The Financial Times that he got "quite a bit of background on Hunter Biden from the Chinese" during a trip to Beijing last month — information of fresh relevance in light of Mr. Trump's public call last week for China to investigate the Bidens. Just hours after his remarks were reported, Mr. Pillsbury showed up on C-Span, not only denying his quote but insisting that he had not spoken to The Financial Times in a month. The FT then published its email exchange with Mr. Pillsbury containing the exact quote.

          Then there's poor Rick Perry. The energy secretary received a congressional subpoena regarding Ukraine. It seems his work there on energy issues somehow got tangled up with Mr. Parnas's and Mr. Fruman's efforts to install some of their allies atop the state-run energy giant Naftogaz. Also, Mr. Trump has said that his now infamous July 25 phone call with the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, was at Mr. Perry's behest. Mr. Perry acknowledges that he repeatedly asked Mr. Trump to hold a call with Mr. Zelensky, but only to discuss energy issues.

          By week's end, the impeachment drama had taken on the feel of a telenovela crossed with a mob movie wrapped up in a true crime procedural and decorated with psychedelic TikTok clips. In a word: bananas.

          But with a cast of bumblers, grifters and self-promoters like those Mr. Trump seems to favor, one should expect nothing less.


          Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

          - Kris Kristofferson

          Friday, October 11, 2019

          Andy Borowitz

          Nation Shocked That Giuliani Has Associates

          Photograph by Michael Reynolds / Shutterstock

          WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—After learning that two of Rudy Giuliani's associates had been charged with federal campaign-finance crimes, millions of Americans expressed their stunned disbelief that Giuliani had associates.

          "By 'associates,' do they mean people who actually associate with Giuliani?" Carol Foyler, who lives in St. Louis, said. "This whole story doesn't add up."

          "I read that these quote-unquote associates of Giuliani's were actually business associates," Tracy Klugian, of Butte, Montana, said. "If that means he was paying them a lot of money to associate with him, that could explain everything."

          "It said on the news that these associates were foreign-born," Kevin Lockdale, of Portland, Maine, said. "Maybe they don't speak English too well and so they don't realize that everything Giuliani says is batshit. I mean, I know I'm grasping at straws, but I'm trying to make sense of this whole associates thing."

          Harland Dorrinson, a clinical psychologist who has done a ten-year study on the social isolation of despised people, said that the existence of Giuliani's two associates should give "hope to the detestable" everywhere. "Honestly, if Giuliani can have associates, anyone can," he said.


          Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose.

          - Kris Kristofferson