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Hold up: Mattis’ DOD transgender policy is exactly what Trump ordered

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All the breathless reporting that President Trump’s cabinet is in rebellion and disarray are wrong on this one. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis is doing exactly what Donald Trump ordered him to do.

The memorandum, signed by Trump, orders Mattis to:

(a)  maintain the currently effective policy regarding accession of transgender individuals into military service beyond January 1, 2018, until such time as the Secretary of Defense, after consulting with the Secretary of Homeland Security, provides a recommendation to the contrary that I find convincing; and
 
(b)  halt all use of DoD or DHS resources to fund sex reassignment surgical procedures for military personnel, except to the extent necessary to protect the health of an individual who has already begun a course of treatment to reassign his or her sex.

Section 2(a) takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018, and 2(b) on March 23, 2018. Mattis has until Feb. 21, 2018 to submit a plan to comply with a “transgender ban” or evidence as to why the Obama-era directive should be kept–in whole or part–intact.

The implementation plan shall adhere to the determinations of the Secretary of Defense, made in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, as to what steps are appropriate and consistent with military effectiveness and lethality, budgetary constraints, and applicable law.  As part of the implementation plan, the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Secretary of Homeland Security, shall determine how to address transgender individuals currently serving in the United States military.  Until the Secretary has made that determination, no action may be taken against such individuals under the policy set forth in section 1(b) of this memorandum.

What did the press report?

USA Today: “Mattis freezes transgender policy; allows troops to continue serving, pending study.”

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis late Tuesday announced that transgender troops will be allowed to continue serving in the military pending the results of a study by experts.

That’s exactly what he was told to do by his Commander-in-Chief.

If Feb. 21, 2018 comes along and Mattis decides to keep transgenders in the military, despite Trump’s objections, after submitting his expert report, then the media can claim Trump has been “reversed.”

Large organizations take time to make changes, and, as Trump is learning, nothing happens in the DOD without a study and a 60-slide Powerpoint deck along with a 200-page report.

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Entertainment and Sports

Hat is back: Miles signs 5-year contract to coach Kansas

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Hat is back Miles signs 5-year contract to coach Kansas

LAWRENCE, Kan. (AP) — Les Miles is headed back to the Big 12 and another massive rebuilding job, this time taking on the downtrodden program at Kansas in a splashy hire aimed at energizing a weary fan base.

The deal was finalized shortly before Miles arrived at the airport in nearby Topeka on Sunday. Miles signed a five-year contract that will pay him $2,775,000 annually with retention bonuses of $775,000 due in November 2020 and $500,000 in November 2022.

“Since the beginning of our search, we focused on identifying and recruiting an experienced head coach with a track record of success on and off the field,” Kansas athletic director Jeff Long said in a statement. “Les Miles is exactly what we need right now.”

Miles was considered the front-runner for the Jayhawks’ job from the moment David Beaty was told he would not be retained two weeks ago. The 65-year-old Miles has a close relationship with Long dating to their days together at Michigan, and Miles had told those around him he wanted back in coaching.

Miles and Long had been in frequent contact over the past two weeks, and it became clear a deal was close when LSU announced Thursday it had agreed to a buyout with its former coach. Miles agreed to a lump sum of $1.5 million of the remaining $6.5 million he was owed under terms of his buyout.

The school has planned an introductory news conference for later Sunday.

“I am humbled by the opportunity to lead the KU football program and I am grateful for Chancellor (Doug) Girod and Jeff Long for the opportunity,” Miles said. “We will bring Jayhawk Football back and we will do it with outstanding coaches, tremendous student-athletes of character and ability and un unrelenting drive for excellence. My family and I cannot wait to be part of the KU family.”

The quirky Miles has been out of coaching since 2016, when he was fired by LSU after a 2-2 start. His support among Tiger fans had waned considerably in a span of just a few years, even though Miles won at least 10 games in seven of his 11 full seasons, twice reached the national title game and beat Ohio State for the 2007 championship. He went 114-34 at LSU.

The most vocal critics argued that Miles had been unable to keep up with the times, sticking to an unexciting and often-stagnant attack during college football’s offensive explosion.

Miles had inherited a winner when he was chosen by LSU to succeed Nick Saban in 2005, but he had proven with Oklahoma State that he could also build a program from scratch.

The Cowboys had just one winning season in 12 years before Miles, their program in similar shape to the Jayhawks. But the longtime college and pro assistant thrived in his first head job, finding some overlooked prospects, developing them and eventually reaching three straight bowl games. He was 28-21 at Oklahoma State.

“I have no doubt that Coach Miles will have an immediate impact on our football program and our university,” Girod said. “Together as Jayhawks, we will rebuild our football program the right way, winning championships and continuing to graduate young men of character.”

The Jayhawks haven’t had a winning season or reached a bowl game since 2008, the year before Mark Mangino was forced to resign under pressure. Turner Gill won five games over two seasons before getting fired, and Charlie Weis managed six wins in two-plus seasons before he was let go.

By that point, the program had become the laughingstock of the Big 12.

The Jayhawks were woefully short on scholarship players, their facilities were decrepit, their fanbase had grown apathetic and the even the administration seemed to have little interest in supporting football. Beaty’s contract lagged far behind his peers financially, and there was little money at his disposal for hiring assistant coaches and other administrators.

Long has promised to rectify those issues, even announcing that a $300 million renovation to aging Memorial Stadium had been put on the backburner while money was invested in the program itself.

The first and most important investment came in the head coach.

Miles would earn $15.125 million by fulfilling his five-year contract. He also can earn a series of incentives: $1 million for reaching the national title game; $350,000 for a playoff semifinal; $100,000 for a New Year’s Six game; $100,000 for making the Big 12 title game; and $75,000 for any other bowl game. Miles also can earn $50,000 each for being the Big 12 and national coach of the year, $15,000 for having a Broyles Award-winning assistant, and up to $50,000 for the team’s GPA.

His contract also includes a one-year, one-time rollover extension that is triggered by winning six games in a season, and benefits such as a country club membership and moving expenses.

The Jayhawks, who lost to sixth-ranked Oklahoma on Saturday to leave Beaty with a 6-31 record in three-plus seasons, will finish out their year under their former coach Friday against Texas

___

More AP college football.

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Entertainment and Sports

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs would be terrible if the Coen brothers didn’t make it

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The Ballad of Buster Scruggs would be terrible if the Coen brothers didnt make it

Directors often get too much credit for making movies great. That’s not the case with the Coen brothers. In their latest release, their presence in the director’s chairs and behind the writing desks took what should have been a mediocre Old West anthology and made it clever enough that most viewers will enjoy it. Others, like me, will hate it despite their presence.

The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a Coen brothers film made for Netflix that doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is why 91% of critics reviewed it favorably on Rotten Tomatoes. But the thumbs-up/thumbs-down approach by Rotten Tomatoes makes the rating a bit misleading. Many of the “positive” reviews I read were essentially homages to the Coen brothers. There were many complaints about the six-part anthology that were followed by “… but it’s the Coen brothers, so…”

That’s the big plus in the movie. The Coens were able to tell the six stories the way only they could with such attention to detail that I almost watched it a second time even though I hated it. The critic in me detested what the movie tried to do. The fan in me loved how the Coens tried to do it.

Unfortunately, that means the only valid reason to watch it is to see the Coens do their thing. That’s enough of a reason if you’ve already seen all of their other extraordinary works. If you’ve missed any of them, I’d start there before using The Ballad of Buster Scruggs as a filler to get you through until their next masterpiece.

I normally don’t do spoilers. In fact, I make a point to not even spoil important components like mood or tone. Since this is a case where I’m not only going against the grain of other reviewers but I’m also trying to dissuade certain people from seeing it, I’ll go ahead and warn that there are spoilers ahead.

As noted already, this movie doesn’t take itself seriously. There are six completely separate stories tied together by two things: death and the historical Old West. We’ll deal with the death aspect shortly, but one good thing I can say about the movie is that I’ve never seen one capture the beauty of the period like this one. Even on a small screen, the sets are stunning. It’s a shame that such amazing cinematography will have so few see it on the big screen.

Now, let’s deal with death. It’s the overarching theme throughout, and it’s noteworthy that none of the reviews I read seemed to catch onto the specificity of the deaths. In order from first to last, the deaths are whimsical, ironic, undeserved, deserved, and tragic. This is done in a very particular order to keep the audience engaged. It’s an emotional ebb and flow that the Coens have mastered over three decades of filmmaking.

The opening story shares its title with the movie itself. It’s a live-action cartoon with stunning aspects that make the viewer laugh, marvel, and finally scratch his or her head. Buster Scruggs’ death is as quick and unexpected as the death the character dishes out throughout his story.

The second story, Near Algodones, demonstrates the inevitability of death for one who chooses a life of crime. Both times the lead character is captured and set to hang are comical and ironic, as if saying Death won’t be cheated by death. His final scene is the last real laugh we get in the movie.

As is common for the Coen brothers, there’s no attempt to ease in to a drastically changing mood. From beginning to end, Meal Ticket makes us feel melancholy and turns it up near the end of the third story. The only temporary relief is seeing an orange chicken mesmerizing a simple-minded crowd with its ability to do basic math on command, a not-so-subtle allusion to President Trump and his adoring fans.

The star of the anthology is the fourth story, All Gold Canyon, as Tom Waits delivers on multiple connections. He touches nature as both an intruder and its defender. He talks to his goal, “Mr Pocket,” like a friend about to deliver the good news of riches heading his way. The best line of the movie comes out in a dialogue between Waits and the pocket of gold when he says, “I’m old, but you’re older.” All of this combines for a deep connection we’re able to feel with his character. We may like or dislike other characters, but we actually connect with this one. Any of the stories could be fleshed out to be a standalone film, but this one would probably yield the best one.

The fifth story, The Gal Who Got Rattled, is another one that could easily expand. It made me think someone could make an interesting series about life on the Oregon Trail that followed the guides back and forth in their exciting journeys. Instead, we get a glimpse at the trail, another glimpse of irony surrounding an annoying dog that survives both of its masters, and then a fleeting glimpse of real action as Grainger Hines fearlessly takes on a group of Commanche who want his scalp and the young lady he’s protecting.

The Mortal Remains rounds out the movie. It’s the only story that doesn’t end in death, though it’s predicated by death; two of the five characters in this story are bounty hunters with the body of their most recent prey strapped to the top of the carriage they’re riding.

There are different interpretations for this segment of the movie. Some say the self proclaimed “reapers” are taking the souls of the other three passengers to their resting place. This theory lends to the apprehension and dread they demonstrate when they finally get there. Others say they simply fear that death may come to them soon, which is why they hesitate to enter the hotel. I lean towards the first interpretation. The three in the carriage with the bounty hunters/reapers died normally while the body on the roof had to be hunted down, which is why he has to be carried to his final resting place instead of walking there like the other three.

Who knows? The Coens.

The stories in this movie were accumulated over 25 years. It’s very possible that there is a much deeper underlying meaning to all of this that the Coens may or may not ever reveal. It could be personal, like their own private joke about Hollywood; watching Meal Ticket definitely lends itself to the notion that the highest level of art can’t be as popular as a counting chicken. There may be nothing to it at all. The Coens know, and unless they’re changing their style, they aren’t telling us their secrets.

An uncanny number of reviews I read noted a variation of the idea that the whole was less than the sum of the parts.

The bottom line: Lots of people loved this movie for everything the Coen brothers bring to the table. Some, like me, hated it because it’s six stories that individually could have been great but compressing them into one movie didn’t do them justice.

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Economy

To those who don’t care about the national debt, consider this

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To those who dont care about the national debt consider this

The national debt has been growing dramatically for decades. It’s so great that most Americans seem to dismiss it altogether; if we haven’t been harmed by it already, it obviously can’t hurt us, right? This sort of “head in the sand” thinking is why lawmakers refuse to tackle it. As long as the people don’t seem to care, why should they?

It’s time to care. It’s been time to care for a while but the collective ignoring of it has brought it to the level that now, in 2018, we are nearing the point of no return.

Why? Because the astronomical interest is now going to noticeably affect how the government operates. We’ve spent years pretending like the interest isn’t a big deal even though it was growing to unsustainable levels during the Clinton administration. Now, we’re seeing it reach levels that are tangible. Why? Because the cost to cover it is now great enough that other areas are going to need to be cut.

In 2017, the interest on our debt was $263 billion. That’s 6.6% of federal government spending. We’re on track to spend more on interest than Medicaid in 2020 and more on interest than defense by 2023. Let me repeat that:

By 2023, we will spend more in interest on the national debt than we spend on national defense.

Normally, we can take CBO predictions with a grain of salt because they’re usually off (see Obamacare predictions for CBO’s epic failures) but this one relies on simple math. Even in a humming economy with the best case scenarios in play, you can’t overcome interest without paying down the debt.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans have any intention of paying off the debt. This is why candidate Trump went from promising to pay off the national debt in eight years, then ten years, then paying part of it off, then finally proclaiming himself the “king of debt” – all within the period of one month on the campaign trail.

To get the national debt in line will require an ironclad commitment backed by irrevocable legislation that spans two- to four-decades. It means entitlement reform, budget limits, cutting entire agencies and possibly even departments, and commitments to rein in all forms of discretionary spending.

In other words, the only way to get the national debt to a manageable level – not even getting it to zero but somewhere much lower than it is – would require commitments by politicians that none of them are willing to make. Oh, there might be a couple of Senators and a handful of Congressmen who would embrace such measures, but even those ones won’t buck the system to the point that they’d push hard for it without a mandate by voters.

We are the only hope for the very near future. If Americans don’t care that our tax dollars are being used to pay interest on the mountainous debt that has been accumulated in recent years, let alone the debt that preceded it, then we shouldn’t expect politicians to care, either. This can has been kicked down the road for decades, but the road is coming to a very abrupt end soon. It’s beyond unsustainable. We’re on the verge of collapsing under the weight of our own mistakes.

As long as voters ignore the national debt, neither party will pay attention to it, either. We will drown in our own ignorance if we don’t act soon. In the past, they said the debt will affect our children and grandchildren. Now, the debt is starting to affect us.

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