Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Short Takes

Twelve missing in floods in Texas.

Kurdish leader blames Iraqi forces for losses to ISIS.

Tornado kills 13 in Mexico border city.

Bug out: Ladybugs released as high school prank.

R.I.P. John F. Nash, mathematician profiled in A Beautiful Mind; Anne Meara, comedian and actress.

The Tigers lost split the series with the Astros and lost Monday to Oakland.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Sunday Reading

Obama on the Middle East — Jeffrey Goldberg’s interview in The Atlantic covers Iran, Iraq, and Israel, and the history of presidential legacies in dealing with all three of them.

“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”

The president—the self-confident, self-contained, coolly rational president—appears to have his own anxieties about the nuclear talks. Which isn’t a bad thing.

Jimmy Carter’s name did not come up in our Oval Office conversation, but it didn’t have to. Carter’s tragic encounter with Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic Revolution, is an object lesson in the mysterious power of Iran to undermine, even unravel, American presidencies. Ronald Reagan, of course, also knew something of the Iranian curse. As Obama moves to conclude this historic agreement, one that will—if he is correct in his assessment—keep Iran south of the nuclear threshold not only for the 10- or 15-year period of the deal, but well beyond it, he and his administration have deployed a raft of national security-related arguments to buttress their cause. But Obama’s parting comment to me suggests he knows perfectly well that his personal legacy, and not just the future of global nuclear non-proliferation efforts (among other things), is riding on the proposition that he is not being played by America’s Iranian adversaries, and that his reputation will be forever tarnished if Iran goes sideways, even after he leaves office. Obama’s critics have argued that he is “kicking the can down the road” by striking this agreement with Iran. Obama, though, seems to understand that the can will be his for a very long time.

The Candidate the Tea Party Hates — Jenna McLaughlin at Mother Jones finds out it is not Hillary Clinton.

The tea party hates South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, and the feeling is mutual. It attacked the Republican lawmaker mercilessly during his Senate reelection campaign in 2014, but Graham held his seat with 55 percent of the vote. “Kicking the crap out of the tea party is the most fun Senator Lindsey Graham has ever had,” wrote Molly Ball for The Atlantic last June after interviewing the South Carolina Republican on the eve of his primary election victory, when he faced six no-name challengers, one of them a tea party pick, in his deep red state’s Republican primary.

On June 1, Graham plans to join the crowded GOP 2016 field, according to his preannouncement on Monday. And his soon-to-be presidential campaign raises the question: How will the Graham/tea pary feud continue?

The animosity between this three-term senator and tea partiers began before his 2014 reelection campaign, triggered in part by Graham’s intermittent attempts to work with Democrats in the Senate. Such moves have enraged staunch conservatives. The Greenville GOP compiled a list of 29 offenses that they “strongly disapprove of and hold to be fundamentally inconsistent with the principles of the South Carolina Republican Party.”* Right-wing blogs have nicknamed him “Flimsy Lindsey” and “Grahmnesty” because he disagreed with his party on climate change, immigration reform, and a few other hot-button Republican issues.

Climate change triggered the first tea party salvos against Graham. In the fall of 2009, tea partiers in South Carolina and beyond bashed Graham for his support of energy legislation that aimed at reducing carbon emissions. In an editorial titled “Graham’s Dalliance With Cap-And-Trade Crowd a Bad Move,” Michael Costello of the Idaho’s Lewiston Tribunewrote, “If Republicans really want to completely alienate this crowd and give birth to a third party, they should follow the lead of Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). [He] has thrown his lot in with John Kerry (D-Mass) to push one of the worst pieces of legislation in American history, the carbon cap and trade bill.”

Soon after that, as Politico reported, the conflict between Graham and tea partiers “sparked a mutiny back home” in South Carolina. The Charleston County Republican Party, in a written resolution, slammed Graham for stabbing Republicans in the back and undercutting “Republican leadership and party solidarity for his own benefit.” Politico noted that “bubbling” conservative discontent blew up because of the climate change bill but was also fueled by Graham’s support for immigration reform and changes at the US detention facility Guantanamo Bay. Graham, a hawk who often criticizes President Barack Obama’s national security policies, didn’t try to make peace with his conservative critics. Instead, he called detractors of immigration reform “bigots” and refused to disavow or stop his occasional bipartisan efforts.

“I’m making that a tea party goal to get scoundrels like Lindsey Graham out of office,” Greg Deitz, a Charleston Tea Party organizer, told Politico.

London Mystery House — Ed Caesar in The New Yorker on the biggest house in London and the question of who owns it.

Witanhurst, London’s largest private house, was built between 1913 and 1920 on an eleven-acre plot in Highgate, a wealthy hilltop neighborhood north of the city center. First owned by Arthur Crosfield, an English soap magnate, the mansion was designed in the Queen Anne style and contained twenty-five bedrooms, a seventy-foot-long ballroom, and a glass rotunda; the views from its gardens, over Hampstead Heath and across the capital, were among the loveliest in London. For decades, parties at Witanhurst attracted potentates and royals—including, in 1951, Elizabeth, the future Queen.

In May, 2008, I toured Witanhurst with a real-estate agent. There had been no parties there for half a century, and the house had not been occupied regularly since the seventies. The interiors were ravaged: water had leaked through holes in the roof, and, upstairs, the brittle floorboards cracked under our footsteps. The scale of the building lent it a vestigial grandeur, but it felt desolate and Ozymandian. A few weeks later, Witanhurst was sold for fifty million pounds, to a shell company named Safran Holdings Limited, registered in the British Virgin Islands. No further information about the buyers was forthcoming.

In June, 2010, the local council approved plans to redevelop the house and five and a half acres of grounds, maintaining Witanhurst as a “family home.” It was the culmination of a long battle with other Highgate residents, who did not welcome such an ambitious project. Since then, Witanhurst’s old service wing has been demolished and replaced with the so-called Orangery—a three-story Georgian villa designed for “everyday family accommodation.” And beneath the forecourt, in front of the main house, the new owners have built what amounts to an underground village—a basement of more than forty thousand square feet. (The largest residential property in Manhattan is said to be a fifty-one-thousand-square-foot mansion, on East Seventy-first Street between Madison and Fifth, owned by Jeffrey Epstein.) This basement, which is connected to the Orangery, includes a seventy-foot-long swimming pool, a cinema with a mezzanine, massage rooms, a sauna, a gym, staff quarters, and parking spaces for twenty-five cars. In late 2013, the local council approved plans for a second basement, beneath the gatehouse, which will connect that building to both the main house and the Orangery. Earlier this year, the owners also sought planning permission to extend an underground “servants’ passage.”

When the refurbishment is complete, Witanhurst will have about ninety thousand square feet of interior space, making it the second-largest mansion in the city, after Buckingham Palace. It will likely become the most expensive house in London. In 2006, the Qatari royal family bought Dudley House, on Park Lane, for about forty million pounds; after a renovation, its estimated resale value is two hundred and fifty million pounds. Real-estate agents expect that the completed Witanhurst will be worth three hundred million pounds—about four hundred and fifty million dollars.

If a vast and lavishly appointed house in Manhattan—a palace nearly double the size of the White House—were being redeveloped on the edge of Central Park, New Yorkers would want to know who lived there. Londoners are equally inquisitive, and concerted efforts have been made to uncover the identity of Witanhurst’s owners. Shortly after the house was sold, it became known—from local gossip and publicly accessible planning documents—that Witanhurst belonged to a family from Russia. Several newspapers speculated that the owner was Yelena Baturina, Russia’s richest woman, and the wife of Yury Luzhkov, then the mayor of Moscow. (Luzhkov and Baturina reportedly enriched themselves while he was in office, before Luzhkov clashed with the Russian government; she now lives in London.) Baturina denied owning Witanhurst, and in 2011 she sued the London Sunday Times for publishing an article titled “BUNKER BILLIONAIRESS DIGS DEEP.”

The Baturina lawsuit and the continued secrecy surrounding Witanhurst have intensified the guessing game. Generally, the names of homeowners in Britain are listed in the Land Registry, which can be read for a small fee. But listings for properties owned by offshore companies do not disclose individual beneficiaries. In the British Virgin Islands, records reveal merely the name of the “registered agent” of Safran Holdings—Equity Trust Limited, a local agency that holds several such positions and is connected to the company by name only—and the company’s post-office box, on the island of Tortola.

A recent investigation by the Financial Times found that more than a hundred billion pounds’ worth of real estate in England and Wales is owned by offshore companies. London properties account for two-thirds of that amount. Charles Moore, a former editor of the Telegraph, says that London’s property market has become “a form of legalized international money laundering.” For Highgate residents, however, worries about the lack of transparency in the purchase of Witanhurst have come second to a more English concern. People irritated by the construction noise and the traffic that have blighted their normally quiet neighborhood have no owner to complain to—only managers.

Doonesbury — Everything you say.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Short Takes

Iraqi-backed militiamen were gathering to try to re-take Ramadi.

President Obama will limit sending military equipment to local police.

Biker shootout in Waco could result in up to 175 people being charged, some for capital murder.

The western drought has spread to Washington where the governor is declaring a statewide emergency.

The Tigers lost 3-2 to the Brewers.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Short Takes

ISIS captures Ramadi as Iraqi forces bug out.

Amtrak to resume service from Philadelphia to New York.

American envoy holds talks with Russia on peace deal with Ukraine.

Marine helicopter goes down in Hawaii; 12 injured.

R.I.P. Former Miami Dolphin Garo Yepremian.

The Tigers lost 2-1 to the Cardinals.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Short Takes

The Amtrak train that derailed in Philadelphia was traveling at twice the speed limit.

Fast track trade authority could be back on track.

Traces of banned chemical weapons found in Syria.

House votes to end N.S.A. bulk phone data gathering.

Vatican to recognize the state of Palestine.

The Tigers lost to the Twins 6-2.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Short Takes

Amtrak train derails en route from Philadelphia to New York City; at least 5 dead.

U.S. Marine Corps helicopter missing on rescue mission in Nepal.

Keeping an eye on Iranian ships off the coast of Yemen.

Senate Democrats slow down “fast track” trade bill.

Verizon buys AOL.

No charges filled in police shooting of unarmed black teen in Madison.

The Tigers beat the Twins 2-1 in 10.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Short Takes

Nepal hit with another major earthquake.

The Obama administration is giving conditional approval to drilling for oil in the Arctic.

Liberia is declared Ebola-free.

Secretary of State Kerry to meet with Putin.

Health insurers are ordered to give free contraception.

Severe weather left destruction and fatalities in the Plains and Midwest.

The Tigers had the night off.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Short Takes

Rough weather across the Plains on Mothers Day.

E.U. plans to punish Mediterranean immigrant smugglers.

Four charged with killing two policemen in Mississippi.

Former President Jimmy Carter returns early from Guyana due to illness.

Raúl Castro met with Pope Francis; considers going back to church.

Happy birthday, Melissa.

The Tigers had a rough weekend and last night lost a 10-inning heartbreaker to K.C. 2-1.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Short Takes

Tories win close to a majority in the British election.

Drone kills al-Qaeda leader who claimed credit for Charlie Hebdo attack.

The U.S. is arming and paying moderate Syrian rebels.

Senate passes Iran nuclear deal review bill.

Another for-profit college hits the hard times.

The Tigers finally win one off the Chicago White Sox 4-1.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Short Takes

Lots of tornadoes hit the Midwest and Plains states.

Netanyahu works out a deal to form a government for Israel.

Chicago will pay reparations to victims of police torture.

The New England Patriots did deflate their balls.

R.I.P. Former House Speaker Jim Wright, 92.

The Tigers dropped another to the White Sox 7-6.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Short Takes

Secretary of State Kerry made an unannounced visit to Somalia.

Twitter Trail: Police follow the moves of the Texas shooters via social media.

Attorney General Lynch went to Baltimore.

President Obama is nominating Gen. Joseph Dunford, Jr. as the new head of the Joint Chiefs.

Hillary Clinton promises to go “even further” on immigration.

The Tigers lost to the White Sox 5-2.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Short Takes

Baltimore lifts curfew.

Italians rescue 4,500 migrants at sea.

Freed Nigerian women tell of Boko Haram kidnapping horror.

Suspect charged in shooting of New York police officer.

Nepal’s bureaucracy blamed as supplies pile up.

The Tigers split the series with K.C., winning Saturday night 2-1 and last night 6-4.

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Short Takes

Baltimore: 111 people still remain behind bars without being charged.

Hillary Clinton on prison reform and race.

Nigerian authorities say 200 girls and women have been rescued from Boko Haram.

California is under orders to cut greenhouse emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.

A key official connected to the George Washington Bridge closure is going to plead guilty.

The Tigers beat the Twins 10-7.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Short Takes

Officials send reinforcements to Baltimore.

The death toll in Nepal passed 5,000.

Iranian forces seized a ship flagged to the Marshall Islands and boarded it off the coast of Iran.

Tyson Foods will end using antibiotics on their chicken.

The NFL will give up its tax-exempt status.

The Tigers lost to the Twins 3-2.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Short Takes

Aftershocks hit Nepal after Saturday’s earthquake; death count at over 3,200.

Israel says it launched airstrike along Syrian border.

Two dead, five missing after storm hits Alabama regatta.

Hawaii passes bill to raise smoking age to 21.

R.I.P. William Price Fox, author of Southern novels.

The Tigers wrapped up a series against Cleveland, winning 8-4.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Short Takes

President Obama apologizes for drone strike in Pakistan that killed two hostages.

France: Police say they’ve foiled five terror attacks since Charlie Hebdo.

Finally: Loretta Lynch confirmed as Attorney General.

The Deal’s Off: Comcast walks away from Time Warner merger.

The Tigers lost to the Yankees again 2-1.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Short Takes

Yemen: More Saudi airstrikes after the coalition said they would stop.

Oklahoma concedes that fracking causes earthquakes.

Millions of chickens may have to be destroyed because of bird flu.

The Senate voted 99-0 on the human trafficking bill, clearing the way for Loretta Lynch to be confirmed as Attorney General.

The Tigers lost to the Yankees 13-4.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Short Takes

Iran scoffs at Congress’s attempt to horn in on the nuclear deal.

A man in a one-person auto-giro landed on the west lawn of the Capitol.

Arizona cop rams suspect with patrol car.  (Hey, at least he didn’t shoot him.)

Airbus adding more seats to planes.  Comfy?

The Tigers beat the Pirates 1-0.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Short Takes

Cuba is off the list of state sponsors of terrorism.

The UN voted to slap sanctions on Yemen.

Senate committee votes out legislation to give Congress a say in the Iran nuclear agreement.

Atlanta educators get prison time for cheating scandal.

Neo-Nazi charged in hate-crime murder of gay North Carolina community college staff member.

The Tigers shut out the Pirates, 2-0.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Short Takes

Iraq security forces launched another attack against ISIS.

Four former Blackwater guards were sentenced for their part in murdering people in Iraq.

A Tulsa, Oklahoma reserve deputy sheriff was charged with manslaughter in the shooting of black man over the weekend.

The Tennessee Supreme Court is halting capital punishment in the state for the rest of the year.

Good move: Indiana is hiring a P.R. firm to help restore its image.

All good things… The Tigers finally lose a game, 5-4, to the Pirates.