Nominating discrimination?

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FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Thomas  Farr is sworn in during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Thomas Farr is sworn in during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

Senate GOP taking up judicial nominee some call ‘the worst’


Associated Press

Monday, November 26

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Republicans are working to soon fill the nation’s longest judicial vacancy with a North Carolina lawyer whose nomination has raised objections from black lawmakers and civil rights groups concerned about his work defending state laws found to have discriminated against African-Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has helped push 84 of President Donald Trump’s nominees over the finish line and is itching for more. With just a few more weeks to go before Congress adjourns for the year, he has teed up a vote on the nomination of Thomas Farr, 64, to serve as a district court judge in North Carolina.

The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced Farr’s confirmation with a party-line vote back in January, meaning McConnell has waited about 10 months and until after the midterm elections to hold a vote on the floor.

Senators tend to save their biggest fights in the judicial arena for Supreme Court and appeals court nominees, but Farr’s nomination has proved an exception.

“It’s hard to believe President Trump nominated him, and it’s even harder to believe the Senate Republicans are considering it again,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York in one of about 20 tweets he has sent out in recent days concerning Farr.

Farr has the backing of home-state Sens. Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, both Republicans. They have noted that Farr was also nominated to the same position by former President George W. Bush and has a “well qualified” rating from the American Bar Association. They have protested the implication that Farr is racially insensitive or biased.

“I think absolutely destroying a good man’s reputation is inappropriate,” Tillis said before the committee advanced Farr’s nomination.

In introducing Farr last year, Burr said the judiciary needs good people and he “fills every piece of the word good.”

But Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., described Farr as “probably the worst of the litter” when it comes to Trump’s judicial nominees.

“Could this administration have picked an individual who is more hostile to the rights of minorities than this man? It is hard to imagine,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said in the same committee hearing.

GOP leaders in charge of the North Carolina Legislature hired Farr and others at his firm to defend congressional and legislative boundaries that the Legislature approved in 2011. A federal court eventually struck some boundaries down as racial gerrymanders and the Supreme Court affirmed that decision.

Farr also helped defend a 2013 law that required photo identification to vote, reduced the number of early voting days and eliminated same-day registration during that period.

North Carolina Republicans said that requiring voter ID would increase the integrity of elections. But the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the state provided no evidence of the kind of in-person voter fraud the ID mandate would address. The Richmond, Virginia-based court said the law targeted black voters “with almost surgical precision.”

Farr told lawmakers that, as an advocate, he vehemently disagreed with the argument that the North Carolina Legislature sought to curtail the voting rights of people of color or any other voter. But, said, “I am obligated to follow the decision by the 4th Circuit and pledge that I will do so.”

The history of the particular judicial opening Farr would fill has also contributed to the acrimony.

President Barack Obama nominated two African-American women to serve on the court, but neither was granted a hearing and their nominations stalled. If confirmed, they would have been the first blacks to serve in that particular district, which is about 27 percent black.

Farr also served as a lawyer for the re-election campaign of Republican Sen. Jesse Helms in 1990. The Justice Department alleged that about 120,000 postcards sent overwhelmingly to black voters before that election was intended to intimidate them from voting.

Farr said he was not consulted about the postcards and did not have any role in drafting or sending them. He said that after he had been asked to review the card, “I was appalled to read the incorrect language printed on the card and to then discover it had been sent to African Americans.”

The explanation has failed to win over the NAACP.

“The courts are supposed to be where we can find and seek justice. But Farr’s lifetime crusade is to disenfranchise African Americans and deprive them of their rights,” said Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau. “He belongs nowhere near a bench of justice.”

Democratic lawmakers called on the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, to schedule Farr for another round of testimony about his role in the Helms’ campaign, but Grassley declined.

With a 51-49 majority, Republicans will have little margin for error in confirming Farr.

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., has already pledged to oppose all judicial nominees until he gets a vote on legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller.

Opinion: The Mirage of ‘Reality TV’ Clouds Reality in Nuclear Negotiations With North Korea

By Ivan Eland

Because President Donald Trump was a reality TV star, he is oriented toward winning each day’s news cycle, or at least deflecting any bad news of the day via distraction. Given that his governing style depends on such day trading, he basked in the ultimate high of startling the world with his unlikely summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore last June. There he signed a vague summit agreement with Kim and then later tweeted that “there is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Yet since then, things have not gone well in U.S.-North Korea negotiations to make the North Korean nuclear and missile threats evaporate, as Trump promised. Kim pocketed the international legitimacy that the leader of the Free World gave the dictator of a small, rogue state and has not even provided a list of his nuclear weapons, missiles and facilities, let alone getting rid of them. In fact, unsurprisingly, a U.S. think tank has recently cataloged 13 of 20 undeclared North Korean missile sites.

The first jolting reality is that the supposedly kooky and irrational Kim has used the need of Trump’s monstrous ego for pomp and circumstance to play the inexperienced U.S. president. The second harsh actuality is that the North Koreans saw the United States overthrow Saddam Hussein of Iraq and Moammar Gadhafi of Libya after they gave up their nuclear programs and are thus reluctant to experience the same fate.

Because no viable U.S. military option exists to take out all of North Korea’s missiles, small nuclear weapons stockpile and related facilities, the United States will eventually need to use its vastly superior atomic arsenal to deter any attack from a nuclear North Korea — as it has successfully done in the past with more formidable nuclear foes such as those of China and the Soviet Union (and its successor state Russia).

Yet the fear of U.S. military planners is not really that the North Korean autocrat will ever attack the United States with nuclear weapons — a suicidal mission given the vast dominance of the U.S. nuclear arsenal compared to the small number of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles in possession of “Dear Leader.”

Even now, doubt exists among some analysts about the North’s capability to launch a long-range missile containing a nuclear warhead, have it survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere, and accurately hit a target in the United States. Their real apprehension is less with American security and more with the preservation of the informal U.S. Empire in the Asia/Pacific region.

The reasoning among military planners and nuclear analysts is that if North Korea even had some possibility of hitting the United States with a long-range nuclear-tipped missile, it could attack, invade, harass or intimidate South Korea or Japan and then threaten the United States with nuclear retaliation if it came to the aid of either of its allies militarily.

The solution to this problem and the remedy to the valid perennial irritant on which Trump has shined a spotlight — the U.S. subsidizing the defense of now wealthy allies and getting little in return in terms of economic benefits, such as the full opening of their markets — is to ween Japan and South Korea off U.S. military protection, thus spurring them both to spend more money on defense.

And if that required them developing and deploying nuclear weapons to deter North Korea or other potential regional adversaries, Trump’s suggestion that such a course would not be objectionable might be acceptable. After all, Japan and South Korea are not Iran and have been responsible actors on the international stage for decades now. Nuclear proliferation to unstable or rogue states is one thing and to stable, lawful nations is an entirely different matter.

Much of the problem with U.S.-North Korea relations lies with the continued American military tutelage of South Korea and Japan. The United States now has almost $22 trillion in national debt and can no longer afford such a dangerous, forward-based and overextended military posture in East Asia.

On the 100th anniversary of the end of the horrific World War I, Americans should remember that alliances should be temporary means to a nation’s security and are not ends in themselves. In the early 20th Century, none of the great powers in Europe wanted a general war on the continent, but their entangling alliances dragged them into what would become a brutal meat grinder. Also, America’s founding generation cautioned about “permanent” and “entangling” alliances, but modern-day politicians have forgotten their warnings. The anniversary of World War I is a great time to jog their memories.


Ivan Eland is senior fellow at the Independent Institute. He wrote this for

The Conversation

Blockchain systems are tracking food safety and origins

November 21, 2018


Nir Kshetri

Professor of Management, University of North Carolina – Greensboro

Disclosure statement

Nir Kshetri does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

When a Chinese consumer buys a package labeled “Australian beef,” there’s only a 50-50 chance the meat inside is, in fact, Australian beef. It could just as easily contain rat, dog, horse or camel meat – or a mixture of them all. It’s gross and dangerous, but also costly.

Fraud in the global food industry is a multi-billion-dollar problem that has lingered for years, duping consumers and even making them ill. Food manufacturers around the world are concerned – as many as 39 percent of them are worried that their products could be easily counterfeited, and 40 percent say food fraud is hard to detect.

In researching blockchain for more than three years, I have become convinced that this technology’s potential to prevent fraud and strengthen security could fight agricultural fraud and improve food safety. Many companies agree, and are already running various tests, including tracking wine from grape to bottle and even following individual coffee beans through international trade.

Tracing food items

An early trial of a blockchain system to track food from farm to consumer was in 2016, when Walmart collected information about pork being raised in China, where consumers are rightly skeptical about sellers’ claims of what their food is and where it’s from. Employees at a pork farm scanned images of farm inspection reports and livestock health certificates, storing them in a secure online database where the records could not be deleted or modified – only added to.

As the animals moved from farm to slaughter to processing, packaging and then to stores, the drivers of the freight trucks played a key role. At each step, they would collect documents detailing the shipment, storage temperature and other inspections and safety reports, and official stamps as authorities reviewed them – just as they did normally. In Walmart’s test, however, the drivers would photograph those documents and upload them to the blockchain-based database. The company controlled the computers running the database, but government agencies’ systems could also be involved, to further ensure data integrity.

As the pork was packaged for sale, a sticker was put on each container, displaying a smartphone-readable code that would link to that meat’s record on the blockchain. Consumers could scan the code right in the store and assure themselves that they were buying exactly what they thought they were. More recent advances in the technology of the stickers themselves have made them more secure and counterfeit-resistant.

Walmart did similar tests on mangoes imported to the U.S. from Latin America. The company found that it took only 2.2 seconds for consumers to find out an individual fruit’s weight, variety, growing location, time it was harvested, date it passed through U.S. customs, when and where it was sliced, which cold-storage facility the sliced mango was held in and for how long it waited before being delivered to a store.

Preventing counterfeiting

Beyond tracking products’ origins, blockchain systems are helping ensure cheap plonk isn’t sold in bottles promising expensive wines. Some counterfeiters get their hands on empty wine bottles with top-quality labels, refill them with cheaper wine and reap fraudulent profits.

A secure database could help buyers identify if any of these wines are counterfeit. Matt Pourney/Wikimedia Commons

In December 2016, wine expert Maureen Downey debuted a blockchain system that gives each bottle a unique digital identity combining more than 90 pieces of data about its production, ownership and storage history – including high-resolution photographs and data from the glass and cork. As the bottle moves from winery to distributors and resellers, the data are updated, and can easily be checked by warehouses, retailers and even auction houses.

More recently, Downey’s system has been updated to fight even more sophisticated wine counterfeiters, who have reverse-engineered a wine-preservation system to extract wine without opening the bottle. The upgraded protection embeds a small microchip above the top of a wine’s cork, so if someone removes the capsule wrapper or pierces the chip, it will be unreadable.

Ensuring living wages

Consumers are worried not only about contaminated or counterfeit food products. Many consumers say they prefer products that are environmentally friendly and contribute to improved living and working conditions of small farmers and workers. Middlemen siphon off a lot of the money. In the US$200 billion global coffee industry, for instance, only 10 percent stays in producing countries.

Global sales of products approved by Fairtrade, a major certifier of products that respect environmental and human-rights concerns, reached $9.6 billion in 2017. But Fairtrade and other programs like it have not substantially improved poor people’s lives. A study of small farms growing flowers, coffee and tea in Ethiopia and Uganda indicated that areas dominated by Fairtrade producers paid lower wages compared to farms that were larger, commercial and not Fairtrade-certified.

Colorado-based Coda Coffee seeks to ensure fair payments by using a blockchain system to track its coffee from African farms to U.S. coffee shops. The system includes a camera that takes a three-dimensional scan of each bean’s outer fruit, called a cherry, paying farmers more if they supply bigger and riper cherries and recording the amount paid in a blockchain database for consumers to inspect later.

The bean’s record is updated as it is processed, packed, blended with other beans, roasted and ground, letting consumers know who did what to the bean and how much they got paid. Wholesalers and roasters can learn about where it came from and how it was handled, and evaluate the resulting taste, informing future purchasing decisions.

These are far from the only examples – countless others around the world are underway.

Ensuring data integrity

Blockchain systems are secure, but their data – like other databases – are only as accurate as what is entered. Fraudsters may try to counterfeit certifications of organic processes or farm inspections.

In addition, most of the food products in developing economies like Africa and China are produced on very small farms that don’t have access to technology or internet connectivity. Blockchain systems can also be expensive, which is part of why early trials have involved high-end beef, wine and coffee.

The research already happening holds the promise of developing cheaper systems that are easier to use and trust – for farmers, food processing plants and customers alike.

The Conversation

In the 1600s Hester Pulter wondered, ‘Why must I forever be confined?’ – now her poems are online for all to see

November 21, 2018


Samantha Snively

PhD Candidate in Early Modern Literature, University of California, Davis

Disclosure statement

Samantha Snively is a volunteer contributing editor The Pulter Project.


University of California provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.

In 1996, a graduate student named Mark Robson was creating a digital catalog of the University of Leeds’ Brotherton Library when he discovered a small manuscript on the shelf. The elegantly titled “Poems Breathed Forth by the Noble Hadassas” contained 120 poems and a half-finished prose romance.

As far as Robson could tell, the manuscript hadn’t been read in over 250 years. He hadn’t heard of the “Noble Hadassas” – nor had anyone he asked.

But a riddle scribbled in the manuscript offered a hint about her true name: “Marvel not my name’s concealed / In being hid it is revealed.”

In the Biblical story of Esther, “Hadassah” is Esther’s Jewish name. In early modern England, “Hester” and “Esther” were versions of the same name. They’re also anagrams. That allusion to “Esther” – in addition to a couple of references to an estate named Broadfield – gave scholars just enough evidence to search public records for possible authors.

The mystery manuscript turned out to be a collection of poems by a 17th-century English woman named Hester Pulter.

At first glance, the verses of a self-taught, unpublished poet might not seem remarkable. But Pulter was writing in an era of chaos and change in England. She was eager to explore some of the most exciting scientific ideas of the time. And in a time when women were expected to be silent and chaste, she took risks in her poetry and confidently expressed her ideas.

Now, a collaboration between literary scholars across the globe is bringing Hester Pulter’s poems to the public, in the form of an open-access digital edition called The Pulter Project, which launched on Nov. 15, 2018.

Who was Hester Pulter?

Pulter was born into the aristocratic Ley family in 1605 and married Arthur Pulter when she was relatively young. After marrying, she spent much of her life at the isolated Pulter estate, which was over a day’s journey from London. She wrote most of her poems at home and would occasionally travel to London to visit other family members.

Since Pulter mainly kept to herself and rarely left her home, most of what we know about Hester comes from public records. She gave birth to 15 children, only two of which survived to adulthood, and lived through the English Civil War, which lasted from 1642 to 1651.

Literary scholar Alice Eardley, who produced the first scholarly edition of Pulter’s works in 2014, has suggested that Pulter’s relative isolation inoculated her from pressure by readers or literary society to conform to a certain style or subject matter. It gave her the freedom to write innovative, opinionated, emotionally complex poetry.

Pulter’s poems, which range from the political to the autobiographical, appear to have been written throughout the 1640s and 1650s. In the 1660s, Hester worked with a scribe to create a presentation copy of her draft poems, making notes and annotations on the manuscript.

It’s likely she never intended to publish her poems, however. In 17th-century England, women who published risked being seen as vulgar and sexually suspect. In order to avoid slander, the few women who did publish usually wrote about topics more aligned with proper womanly values: household guides, devotional books and diaries or memoirs of their husbands.

An aristocratic woman like Hester would have been expected to behave modestly, keep quiet and focus on her household rather than write about political conflicts and scientific experimentation. Pulter’s small family may have read her work, but it seems that her poems sat untouched after her death until they were rediscovered in 1996.

Poetry that’s observant, personal and political

Although Pulter lived a relatively isolated existence, her poems reveal a deep intellectual engagement with the most pressing issues and ideas of the mid-1600s. From the references she makes in her work, it’s clear that she had read works of natural history, alchemy and descriptions of America like William Wood’s “New England’s Prospect.”

She also appears to have kept up with major scientific discoveries, including Galilean astronomy and the microscope. In “Universal Dissolution,” she acknowledges Galileo’s discoveries, describing the sun as the “front and center of all light,” the star around which all other “orbs perpetually do run.”

Pulter was also a keen observer of nature. In “The Pismire,” she describes watching an ant colony at work for an afternoon. “View But This Tulip” shows off her familiarity with alchemy and early experimental practices, and in it she begins to think about the human body as composed of recyclable atoms. These poems place her within a culture of experimental observation that was part of the rise of modern science.

And she certainly didn’t shy away from expressing her political views.

Hester’s parents were Royalists – supporters of Charles I – and she remained a Royalist even when many of her extended family and neighbors supported Parliament instead. Many of her poems express grief at the havoc the civil war caused in England, and mourn a breakdown of religious and social hierarchy.

In “On that Unparalleled Prince Charles, His Horrid Murder,” she compares a country without a king to the universe without a sun, both of which fall into chaos.

But her political poems avoid outright tribalism. Instead, they’re nuanced and well-informed, and they critique the ruling class for their role in social collapse.

Pulter is equally comfortable writing about personal experiences like her illnesses or a child’s death. She surveys the effects of time on her body in “Made When I Was Sick, 1647,” and in “Upon the Death of My Dear and Lovely Daughter, Jane Pulter,” deals with the grief of losing yet another child. It’s tinged with envy of parents with healthy children:

All you that have indulgent parents been,

And have your children in perfection seen

Of youth and beauty: lend one tear to me,

And trust me, I will do as much for thee,

Unless my own grief do exhaust my store;

Then will I sigh till I suspire no more.

She also expresses early feminist ideas, and addresses, in complex ways, how society constricts women’s behavior, devalues their work and diminishes their intellectual value.

From “Why Must I Thus Forever Be Confined?”:

Why must I thus forever be confined

Against the noble freedom of my mind?

Whenas each hoary moth, and gaudy fly

Within their spheres enjoy their liberty.

Reaching new readers

Hester Pulter is clearly worth knowing. Her works speak to the major issues of 17th-century England and provide a rare lens on English culture.

In an effort to bring Pulter’s poems to the public, early modern literature professors Wendy Wall and Leah Knight created The Pulter Project. They collaborated with a host of other scholars from the U.S., Canada, Australia and England to create a free, digital edition of Pulter’s works.

The Pulter Project allows readers to toggle between scans of the manuscript, basic and annotated editions of poems, and explanatory notes. Readers can also explore “curations” for each poem, which are images and selections from texts relevant to the content of a given Pulter poem.

Editors draw on their expertise of 17th-century English culture to contextualize the poems and also make connections to modern culture. The curated materials for “Made When I Was Not Well,” for example, discuss “invisible woman syndrome,” the social phenomenon of women disappearing from public view when they reach middle age, or are ridiculed and criticized for attracting public attention.

Curations for “My Love is Fair” explore racialized beauty standards, topics just as relevant for 17th-century readers as they are for today’s intersectional feminists.

The Pulter Project shows what’s possible when the literary canon is expanded to include new writers and more women. Poets like Hester Pulter change our understanding about who could – and did – participate in the scientific, political and intellectual debates of centuries ago.

FILE – In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Thomas Farr is sworn in during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File) – In this Sept. 20, 2017, file photo, Thomas Farr is sworn in during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on his nomination to be a District Judge on the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
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