September 20, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 AM

A SENSE OF WHO YOU ARE (profanity alert):

New racial controversy batters DeSantis: This is the fifth race-related issue concerning the Florida candidate, his gubernatorial campaign or one of its supporters. (MARC CAPUTO, 09/20/2018, Politico)

A Republican activist who donated more than $20,000 to Ron DeSantis and lined up a speech for him at President Trump's Mar-a-Lago club called President Obama a "F---- MUSLIM N----" on Twitter recently, in addition to other inflammatory remarks.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 AM


Posted by orrinj at 4:21 AM


The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far :For two years, Americans have tried to absorb the details of the 2016 attack: hacked emails, social media fraud, suspected spies -- and President Trump's claims that it's all a hoax. The Times explores what we know and what it means. (SCOTT SHANE and MARK MAZZETTI, 9/20/18, NY Times)

Consider 10 days in March. On March 15 of that year, Mr. Trump won five primaries, closing in on his party's nomination, and crowed that he had become "the biggest political story anywhere in the world." That same day in Moscow, a veteran hacker named Ivan Yermakov, a Russian military intelligence officer working for a secret outfit called Unit 26165, began probing the computer network of the Democratic National Committee. In St. Petersburg, shift workers posted on Facebook and Twitter at a feverish pace, posing as Americans and following instructions to attack Mrs. Clinton.

On March 21 in Washington, Mr. Trump announced his foreign policy team, a group of fringe figures whose advocacy of warmer relations with Russia ran counter to Republican orthodoxy. Meanwhile, Unit 26165 was poring over the bounty from a separate attack it had just carried out: 50,000 emails stolen from the Clinton campaign's chairman.

On March 24, one of the members the Trump foreign policy team, George Papadopoulos, sat in the cafe of an upscale London hotel with a Russian woman who introduced herself as Mr. Putin's niece and offered to help set up a meeting between the Russian president and Mr. Trump. The woman and the adviser exchanged frequent messages in the weeks that followed. Today, Mr. Padadopoulos is unsure that those messages came from the person he met in the cafe.

The Russian intervention was essentially a hijacking -- of American companies like Facebook and Twitter; of American citizens' feelings about immigration and race; of American journalists eager for scoops, however modest; of the naïve, or perhaps not so naïve, ambitions of Mr. Trump's advisers. The Russian trolls, hackers and agents totaled barely 100, and their task was to steer millions of American voters. They knew it would take a village to sabotage an election.

Russians or suspected Russian agents -- including oligarchs, diplomats, former military officers and shadowy intermediaries -- had dozens of contacts during the campaign with Mr. Trump's associates. They reached out through email, Facebook and Twitter. They sought introductions through trusted business connections of Mr. Trump's, obscure academic institutions, veterans groups and the National Rifle Association.

They met Trump campaign aides in Moscow, London, New York and Louisville, Ky. One claimed the Russians had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton; another Russian, the Trump campaign was told, would deliver it. In May and June alone, the Trump campaign fielded at least four invitations to meet with Russian intermediaries or officials.

In nearly every case, the Trump aides and associates seemed enthusiastic about their exchanges with the Russians. Over months of such probing, it seems that no one alerted the Federal Bureau of Investigation to the foreign overtures.

Mr. Trump's position on the Russian contacts has evolved over time: first, that there were none; then, that they did not amount to collusion; next, that in any case collusion was not a crime. That is mere semantics -- conspiracy is the technical legal term for abetting the Russians in breaking American laws, such as those outlawing computer hacking and banning foreign assistance to a campaign.

Whether Mr. Trump or any of his associates conspired with the Russians is a central question of the investigation by Mr. Mueller, who has already charged 26 Russians and won convictions or guilty pleas from the former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn; the former campaign chairman, Paul J. Manafort, and his deputy, Rick Gates; and from Mr. Papadopoulos. Mr. Trump's personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, has pleaded guilty in a separate case.

But none of the convictions to date involve conspiracy. There remains an alternative explanation to the collusion theory: that the Trump aides, far from certain their candidate would win, were happy to meet the Russians because they thought it might lead to moneymaking deals after the election. "Black Caviar," read the subject line of an email Mr. Manafort got in July 2016 from his associate in Kiev, Ukraine, hinting at the possibility of new largess from a Russian oligarch with whom they had done business.

Nina L. Khrushcheva, a professor of international affairs at the New School and the great-granddaughter of the Soviet premier Nikita S. Khrushchev, said that what Russia pulled off, through creativity and sheer luck, would have been the envy of Mr. Putin's predecessors: puncturing the American sense of superiority and insisting on Russia's power and place in the world.

"This operation was to show the Americans -- that you bastards are just as screwed up as the rest of us," Professor Khrushcheva said. "Putin fulfilled the dream of every Soviet leader -- to stick it to the United States. I think this will be studied by the K.G.B.'s successors for a very long time."

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 AM


Walmart is where the trade war comes home (Nathaniel Meyersohn, 9/19/18, CNNMoney)

Other retailers and consumer goods companies, including Ace Hardware and Joann fabric and craft stores, also lobbied the administration.

Target (TGT) said the tariffs will "hurt American consumers," and said working families will pay more for school and college essentials like notebooks, calculators, binders and desks.

The administration did not bend to the company's plea. It imposed tariffs on those goods -- although it did spare bicycle helmets, high chairs, car seats and playpens from the final list. It also left off Apple Watches and Air Pods, a reprieve for Apple.

Target and Walmart will now face a tough choice: They can absorb the higher costs from tariffs by taking a hit to their profit margins, or they can pass some of the price increases on to their customers.

"Either consumers will pay more, suppliers will receive less, retail margins will be lower, or consumers will buy fewer products or forego purchases altogether," Walmart warned in its letter.

The National Retail Federation, a trade group, estimated that a 25% tariff on furniture would cost Americans $4.5 billion more per year, while a 25% levy on travel items like luggage and handbags would cost an additional $1.2 billion.

Washing machines were an early example of how tariffs filter down to shoppers. The Trump administration imposed a 20% trade penalty on washers earlier this year, and laundry equipment prices spiked close to 20% in recent months, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Walmart will have to wrestle with the price question in a big way. Of the company's $500 billion in sales last year, about $50 billion was linked to Chinese imports or investments in Chinese businesses, estimated Greg Melich, a retail analyst at MoffettNathanson.

And raising prices is anathema to Walmart, a company that controls 10% of the US retail market and has a customer base of low- and middle-income Americans.

"Given that Walmart was such a huge source of cheap products for low income customers over the years, this really hurts the very people that Trump professes to help," said Sucharita Kodali, a retail analyst for research firm Forrester.

Racism isn't cheap.

Posted by orrinj at 4:08 AM


'The Apprentice' book excerpt: At CIA's 'Russia House,' growing alarm about 2016 election interference (Greg Miller, September 19, 2018, Washington Post)

In the months leading up to the 2016 election, senior Russia House officials held a series of meetings in a conference room adorned with Stalin-era posters, seeking to make sense of disconcerting reports that Moscow had mounted a covert operation to upend the U.S. presidential race.

By early August, the sense of alarm had become so acute that CIA Director John Brennan called White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough. "I need to get in to see the president," Brennan said, with unusual urgency in his voice.

Brennan had just spent two days sequestered in his office reviewing a small mountain of material on Russia. The conference table at the center of the dark-paneled room was stacked with dozens of binders bearing stamps of TS/SCI -- for "top secret, sensitive compartmented information" -- and code words corresponding to collection platforms aimed at the Kremlin.

There were piles of finished assessments, but Brennan had also ordered up what agency veterans call the "raw stuff" -- unprocessed material from informants, listening devices, computer implants and other sources. Clearing his schedule, Brennan pored over all of it, his door closed, staying so late that the glow through his office windows remained visible deep into the night from the darkened driveway that winds past the headquarters building's main entrance.

The description of Brennan and this article is adapted from "The Apprentice: Trump, Russia and the Subversion of American Democracy," a Washington Post book, which will be published Oct. 2 by Custom House. [...]

At the time of Brennan's request for a meeting with President Barack Obama, election anxiety about Russia was already surging. Weeks earlier, WikiLeaks had dumped nearly 20,000 emails stolen from Democratic Party computers, material from an audacious hack that authorities almost immediately traced to the Kremlin. Meanwhile, the Republican nominee, Donald Trump, was praising Russian President Vladimir Putin with inexplicable vigor and had even called on Russian spy agencies to hack his opponent.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 AM


Trump feels angry, unprotected amid mounting crises (Ashley Parker and Philip Rucker, September 19, 2018, Washington Post)

President Trump's declaration that "I don't have an attorney general" was not merely the cry of an executive feeling betrayed by a subordinate.

It was also a raw expression of vulnerability and anger from a president who associates say increasingly believes he is unprotected -- with the Russia investigation steamrolling ahead, anonymous administration officials seeking to undermine him and the specter of impeachment proceedings, should the Democrats retake the House on Nov. 6. [...]

"Everybody in the White House now has to look around and ask, 'Who's taping? Who's leaking? And who's on their way out the door?' It's becoming a game of survival," said a Republican strategist who works in close coordination with the White House, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly.

Some of Trump's allies believe he has legitimate cause for worry.

"The president should feel vulnerable because he is vulnerable -- to those that fight him daily on implementing his agenda," Stephen K. Bannon, a former chief White House strategist, wrote in a text message.

Amen. Always bet on America,

September 19, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


FBI, DOJ Plan Redactions Despite Trump's Document Order (Chris Strohm, September 19, 2018, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump has demanded the "immediate declassification" of sensitive materials about the Russia investigation, but the agencies responsible are expected to propose redactions that would keep some information secret, according to three people familiar with the matter.

The Justice Department, FBI and Office of the Director of National Intelligence are going through a methodical review and can't offer a timeline for finishing, said the people, who weren't authorized to speak publicly about the sensitive matter.

Meanwhile, he's also acknowledged that not only has he not read any of the material but that he's basically just responding to the talking heads who think there must be a conspiracy hiding somewhere. It's another delicious disaster of his own making.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Democratic Primary Turnout Is Up 64%. Will That Matter in November?: Republicans, by comparison, saw 22 percent more people vote this season than in the 2014 midterms. (ALAN GREENBLATT | SEPTEMBER 19, 2018, Governing)

The primary season came to a close last Thursday in New York. Across the country this year, citizens cast nearly 23 million votes in Democratic primaries. That's more than the 19 million votes that were cast in Republican primaries -- and a big jump over the 14 million votes cast in Democratic primaries back in 2014. That year, 15.5 million votes were cast in Republican primaries.

Democratic turnout doubled in 14 states this year, compared with 2014, while doubling in only one state's GOP primary. That was Vermont, where Democratic turnout increased by an even greater percentage. Republican turnout was up at least 70 percent in Connecticut, Florida, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

"Republicans have tended to show up more than Democrats, but there's a lot of enthusiasm among Democrats for remaking the composition of state and local bodies," says Edie Goldenberg, a University of Michigan professor of public policy.

Democrats this year appear to be motivated in large part by the presidency of Donald Trump, whom they view with nearly universal disdain.

"Unfortunately, anger's a pretty powerful motivator, and the left is motivated -- more so by the president and others in Washington than me -- but they're motivated," Wisconsin GOP Gov. Scott Walker told Governing in an interview last month.

Posted by orrinj at 3:49 PM


'The Most Dangerous Branch' portrays the Supreme Court as a threat to democracy: Former Newsweek legal affairs editor David A. Kaplan makes a strong and compelling case that the Supreme Court will remain over-involved in setting and amending policy and laws. (Erik Spanberg, 9/05/18, CS Monitor)

The biggest problem Kaplan has with the judiciary branch is its propensity to insert itself into policy debates that would be better served through the back and forth of legislative adjustments and voter sentiment (not only looking to Congress, but also state and local laws and ordinances). In doing so, the court demoralizes Congress in particular from deciding, or attempting to re-shape, issues and laws. How does that happen? Conventional wisdom holds that the court will decide the hottest-button issues, as it has ever since Roe v. Wade in 1973.

Even before the opening page, Kaplan's message is clear from the title. "The Most Dangerous Branch" resonates even more with Court and legal aficionados. Alexander Bickel, the late Yale Law professor and renowned Supreme Court follower and commentator, wrote a seminal history called "The Least Dangerous Branch," published in 1962. Bickel, who died in 1974, was known for his belief in judicial restraint, a philosophy based on hewing as closely to possible to the specific determination of a case without broadening a ruling or judgment beyond that narrow scope. Following that formula, the courts leave it to the legislative and executives branches - and, in doing so, the broader populace who vote for and against lawmakers - to establish policy.

During the 2016 presidential election, 70% of voters in exit polls said appointments to the Supreme Court were the most important factor, or one of the most important, when deciding whether to support a candidate. Such figures demonstrate the court-as-policy-setter motif has not just infected governing bodies, but the populace as a whole.

Or, as Kaplan writes, "'Judicial activism' is what the other guy does. But in truth, everybody's an activist now." The point hammered home by the author is that democracy ceases to exist in a society governed by the judiciary.

He finds ample hypocrisy on the left and right alike, ripping what he describes as the squishy arguments of Harry Blackmun, who wrote the majority opinion in Roe determining access to abortion as a right, and Antonin Scalia, a frequent dissenter on gay rights and author of the 2008 Heller decision determining an individual right to own guns is part of the Second Amendment.

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM


Kavanaugh, too? Christine Blasey Ford's account is missing key details of assault (Penny Nance, Sept. 19, 2018, USA Today)

Twenty years after Bill Clinton -- then the attorney general and highest ranking law enforcement officer in the state of Arkansas -- allegedly raped Juanita Broaddrick, she remembered every detail as she told NBC's Lisa Myers during a prime time interview. She even remembered Clinton biting her lip during the attack and smirking as he left the room -- arrogantly telling her she needed to take care of it.

Something awful happened to all three of us. But Dr. Ford's inability to remember key details of the attempted rape she's alleging, in pointing an accusing finger at D.C. Circuit Court Judge Brett Kavanaugh -- who's been nominated to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court -- could lead to something awful as well. If Judge Kavanaugh is innocent -- perhaps a victim of mistaken identity -- but still denied the crowning achievement of a life in the law, that would indeed be a travesty.

Ford can't remember the year the incident happened, she can't remember how she got to the house party, or how she got home. She told no one about it at the time and the issue came to the forefront during a couples therapy session six years ago. Her therapist's notes never mention Kavanaugh and actually mention four boys involved, although she says there were only two.

Judge Kavanaugh has vigorously denied Ford's claim, not just saying this particular incident didn't happen but that no such incident happened in his entire life. The Senate Judiciary Committee, and the American people, are scheduled to hear from both of them on Monday.

For Ms Ford to be taken seriously she needs to make a serious accusation.

Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


'Rising out of Hatred' chronicles one man's ideological metamorphosis: Derek Black's account of turning away from a familial and ideological legacy of hate is at once disturbing and uplifting. (David Holahan, 9/18/18, CS Monitor)

[H]is white nationalist pedigree was impeccable. His parents were racists; his father once headed the Alabama chapter of the Ku Klux Klan. His extended family members were virtually all white nationalists and he dated like-minded girls growing up in West Palm Beach, Florida. His godfather was David Duke, the nationally prominent white power proponent and former Grand Wizard of the KKK. Derek's mother once had been married to Duke.

Before Derek was born, his father, Don Black, and a small group of ragtag racists were arrested in 1981 for plotting to invade the small Caribbean island of Dominica and turn it into a "white utopia." They never made it out of the United States. Don Black served three years in federal prison.

Derek Black attended his first white nationalist convention at age nine and by high school, he and his father hosted a local radio program on which they discussed such burning questions as, are Jews white? They are not, the duo averred. 

In 1996, Don Black also had established Stormfront, the nation's first major racist website; one regular visitor was Dylann Roof. In 2015, Roof gunned down nine black congregants in a South Carolina church and is awaiting execution. Derek helped manage Stormfront and even started a separate white nationalist website for children.

In 2010, Derek Black went off to college, hoping that students and faculty would remain clueless about his racist bona fides (so much for white pride). Although New College in Sarasota was largely white, he began to encounter fellow classmates of color, including a Peruvian immigrant, as well as a nice young girl who - he discovered after growing fond of her - was Jewish.

It was a brave new world for Derek. Here, in the flesh, were the people whom he was denouncing in Internet forums and on the radio. And, surprise, surprise, he liked them, and they liked him - some of them even continued to engage with him after he was outed as a white nationalist. His friend Matthew still invited him to Shabbat dinners. 

The tug of war for Derek's soul was on: his family and old pals pulling in one direction, his new friends in the other.

In 2016, disturbed by the result of the presidential election, Derek Black went public with his apostasy. He recognized Donald Trump's game plan. He had used it himself to win a seat as a committeeman for Palm Beach County in 2008, when he was just 19 years old. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Spain reveals Trump planned WALL in Sahara Desert to deal with Europe's 'migrant problem' (Natalia Penza, 9/19/18, Daily Express)

SPAIN'S Foreign Minister Josep Borrell has revealed US President Donald Trump suggested a wall in the Saharan Desert as the solution to Europe's migration problems.

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


Trump: "I don't have an attorney general" (Axios, 9/19/18)

"I don't have an Attorney General. It's very sad. ... A lot of people have asked me to [fire Sessions]. And I guess I study history, and I say I just want to leave things alone, but it was very unfair what he did."

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Gwynne Dyer on the future of the world (Conversations, ABC)

Gwynne Dyer was trained as a military historian.

He's served in the navies of Canada, the US, and the UK.

As an historian, Gwynne's research has focused on war, and the upheaval of civilizations.

He thinks the current turmoil is not a prelude to global chaos, but rather a sign of growing pains, as the world enters a new phase.

While automation will increase wealth and productivity, it will continue to eliminate countless jobs.

Gwynne says this means finding new ways to put real money in the pockets of people who are forced into unemployment.

In turn, we will have more time to devote to raising kids, caring for older people, and pursuing meaningful work.

Good Pod fodder.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Robots or Jobs? The Tax Law's Uncertain Impact on Communities: State and local leaders need to pay a lot of attention to how businesses take advantage of the federal law's capital-investment provisions. (Donnie Charleston, 9/19/18, Governing)

Our economy has been moving for quite some time toward a new normal whereby capital investment, job growth and wage growth are increasingly disconnected from one another.

This is reflected in a number of underlying trends. One of those is the evolving structure of our economy, which now features more knowledge-based firms that exhibit huge productivity numbers while relying on relatively few workers. Another trend is industries adopting automation and machine-learning technologies that replace human inputs. This is where full expensing becomes important. As the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this year, nearly half of manufacturers added automation in 2017 -- before the new tax law's full-expensing provision took effect.

And there are other industry-level automation trends underway that we should be paying attention to. MIT economist David Autor's research shows, for example, that workers are contributing less added value to the final products they produce, a decline due to increased automation.

What does all of this mean for local governments? That will depend on the structure of the local economy. As Autor notes, the adoption rate of labor-saving technologies differs by industry, and by extension it differs across geography. So it's time for state and local government leaders to start analyzing automation trends in each of their major industries and sub-sectors, paying particular attention to those with the highest level of automation or robot penetration, including transportation, plastics and chemicals, metals, food, and electronics.

The point of an economy is to create wealth, so we ought not disincentivize productivity/profits.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


'They remain puppets': Sesame Street, once again, shuts down speculation over Bert and Ernie's sexual orientation (Elahe Izadi, 9/19/18, Washington Post)

"As we have always said, Bert and Ernie are best friends," the company said in a statement Tuesday. "They were created to teach preschoolers that people can be good friends with those who are very different from themselves. Even though they are identified as male characters and possess many human traits and characteristics (as most Sesame Street Muppets do), they remain puppets, and do not have a sexual orientation."

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Why women - including feminists - are still attracted to 'benevolently sexist' men (Pelin Gül & Tom R. Kupfer, 9/19/18, The Conversation)

If a man offers to help a woman with her heavy suitcase or to parallel park her car, what should she make of the offer?

Is it an innocuous act of courtesy? Or is it a sexist insult to her strength and competence?

Social psychologists who describe this behavior as "benevolent sexism" firmly favor the latter view.

But researchers have also revealed a paradox: Women prefer men who behave in ways that could be described as benevolently sexist over those who don't.

How could this be?

Some say that women simply fail to see the ways benevolent sexism undermines them because they're misled by the flattering tone of this brand of kindness. Psychologists have even suggested that benevolent sexism is more harmful than overtly hostile sexism because it is insidious, acting like "a wolf in sheep's clothing."

As social psychologists, we had reservations about these conclusions. Aren't women sophisticated enough to be able to tell when a man is being patronizing? [...]

In our recently published research, we asked over 700 women, ages ranging from 18 to 73, in five experiments, to read profiles of men who either expressed attitudes or engaged in behaviors that could be described as benevolently sexist, like giving a coat or offering to help with carrying heavy boxes.

We then had the participants rate the man's attractiveness, willingness to protect, provide and commit, and their likelihood of being patronizing.

Our findings confirmed that women do perceive benevolently sexist men to be more patronizing and more likely to undermine their partners.

But we also found that the women in our studies perceived these men as more attractive, despite the potential pitfalls.

So what made them more attractive to our participants? In their responses, the women in our study rated them as more likely to protect, provide and commit.

...and not Ms Ford not at all. Men have a higher standard of care.

Many men are sexually harassed in the workplace - so why aren't they speaking out? (Robin Bailey, 3/13/18, The Conversation)

Academic research supports the idea that women do experience more sexual harassment in the workplace than men. However, emerging evidence suggests that sexual harassment against men in the workplace also exists and is on the rise.

When all reported complaints of sexual harassment to the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and Fair Employment Practices agencies was analysed between 1997 and 2011, most of the cases were reported by women, however, the percentage of cases filed by men between these dates increased by 15%.

In a similar long-term study of 522 workers, up to 58% of women and 37% of men reported experiencing some level of sexual harassment. This sample seems to indicate that the gap is not as wide as some believe.

Overall, sexual harassment against men is not as widely studied as sexual harassment against women; this has called into question whether the reported figures of men who have been sexually harassed may actually be much higher than currently stated. On top of this, men may be more reluctant to report sexual harassment than women. There are a number of suggested reasons for this - stigma being one of them. Many men may be too embarrassed to report sexual harassment, or they may consider it to be "unmanly" to report such behaviour.

Another reason may be perceptual differences. What is deemed to be sexual harassment may differ between men and women. A number of findings indicate that men can view certain behaviour, deemed as sexual harassment by women, as less threatening or serious - and sometimes even flattering.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


The US has become a nation of suburbs (Christopher Boone, 9/19/18, The Conversation)

Since 1970, more Americans have lived in the suburbs than central cities. In 2010, suburbanites outnumbered city and rural dwellers combined for the first time. We Americans live in a suburban nation.

Despite several concerted efforts by city governments to lure residents, suburbanization continues largely unabated. Census figures from earlier this year show that suburbs of warm climate "Sun Belt" cities in the South and West continue to grow, while cities in the cold climate "Snow Belt" of the Midwest and Northeast decline.

Smaller metropolitan areas with fewer than 500,000 people have also grown, related to an improving economy and job creation in smaller urban centers. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 AM


Binge drinking and blackouts: Sobering truths about lost learning (Jamie Smolen, 9/19/18, The Conversation)

Tens of thousands of college students nationwide will cheer for their football teams this weekend. Some of those who show up for the game after tailgate drinking may not remember the highlight touchdowns that they cheered so loudly for. Others may have trouble remembering even a rousing celebration of victory. Binge drinking, the leading type of alcohol misuse for college students, is the culprit. Drinking too much too fast can cause memory loss, sometimes called a blackout, erasing any recollection of an enjoyable life event.

What's more, research is suggesting that binge drinking in the college brain can impair not only learning but memorizing. Deficiencies in both of these crucial neurocognitive processes would probably make studying very difficult, and far less productive. In such a case, maintaining a high academic standing might be impossible.

While many young people may euphemistically refer to binge drinking as "partying," those of us who study addiction know that it is a serious health risk for young people. We have long known of the immediate risks from assault, death by motor vehicle and suicide linked to drinking. But the effects of binge drinking affect learning inside and outside the classroom and can have adverse effects on making successful transitions throughout life.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Is Trumpism a new religion?: The loss of churches leaves a gap which populist politics can fill (Peter Franklin,  19 SEPTEMBER 2018, UnHerd)

Which brings us to the actual subject of this UnPacked: Trumpism - and, in particular, Alex Wagner's argument in the Atlantic that Trump worship, if not quite a religion in its own right, is a religion substitute:

"You could draw a straight line from a disenfranchised, pessimistic, resentful audience to Trump's brand of fear-driven, divisive politics, but this would leave out an equally important part of the Trump phenomenon, and something critical to its success: the elation. Go to a Trump rally, speak to Trump supporters, and the devotion is nearly evangelical."

As Henry Olsen explains in regard to both America and Germany, there's strong evidence for a link between support for populism and decline of religious adherence among previously religious populations. The loss of churches - and also other community institutions - leaves a gap which populist politics is well placed to fill.

Of course, it's a poor substitute for community, let alone true faith. Populism is to social capital what junk food is to nutrition, but on it other hand it's cheap, accessible and habit-forming.

Wagner quotes W Bradford Wilcox who has tweeted a wealth of evidence on the difference between Trump voters who do attend church regularly and those who don't. Those who never or seldom went to church were significantly more likely than the weekly congregants to have less favourable views of ethnic minorities, to say white identity was very important to them, to want stricter controls on immigration and to have supported Trump in the Republican Primaries. Perhaps most significantly, the 'unchurched' group were less likely to be satisfied with their family relationships, neighbourhoods and communities than those at the other end of the churchgoing scale.

The cultlike fanaticism with which they deny reality is especially revealing.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Checkmate: In chess, as in life, there are no guarantees (Thomas Chatterton Williams, September 19, 2018, American Scholar)

I like to believe that the amount of effort that I've put into learning the game and practicing against superior players should give me the upper hand in these encounters, and yet ... it doesn't. Not always, anyway, and not nearly as frequently as I would hope. Every game starts afresh, and when we played last week, I took one game from my brother, before he proceeded to beat me soundly. The experience exposed a meaningful parallel between the game I love and the broader life it mimics: there are no permanent victories.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Trump rails on top Florida ally over Hurricane Maria flap  (ALEX ISENSTADT and MARC CAPUTO 09/18/2018, Politico)

President Donald Trump is privately lashing out at one of his top allies, Ron DeSantis, angrily accusing the Florida Republican gubernatorial nominee of publicly betraying him.

The president has told close associates in recent days that he views DeSantis -- who won his Aug. 28 GOP primary thanks to Trump's strong support -- as profoundly disloyal for distancing himself from the president's assertion that the Hurricane Maria death toll was inflated by Democrats for political purposes. aren't Trumpbot enough. Denying the personal corruption is easy; the true believers defend the policies.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM



Unlike Kavanaugh, Barrett, 46, has no White House records and less than a year of court writings for senators to scrutinize, only law review articles and public comments. Based on what we know of her record, "I can't think of an area of law where she would vote differently than Kavanaugh on high-profile issues," says Ilya Shaprio, a senior fellow in constitutional studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. But there is one key difference: a less consistent respect for legal precedents, aka stare decisis.

Barrett argued in a 2013 Texas Law Review article that because of the way Supreme Courts had been weaponized by ideological interests from both parties, "a more relaxed form of constitutional stare decisis is both inevitable and probably desirable."

"I tend to agree with those who say that a justice's duty is to the Constitution and that it is thus more legitimate for her to enforce her best understanding of the Constitution rather than a precedent she thinks is clearly in conflict with it," Barrett wrote. That should be much scarier to the abortion rights crowd than Kavanaugh's past mild, criticisms of the landmark 1973 decision legalizing abortion from a constitutional standpoint.

This almost inevitably has to play out with the Democrats "winning" by putting an ideologue on the Court because of gender.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Why Russians Keep Visiting Mariia Butina in Prison: Take it from this former spook: It ain't because they're concerned about her well-being. (ALEX FINLEY, September 17, 2018, Politico)

Since her arrest in Washington, D.C., in July, Mariia Butina, the gun-slinging Russian student accused by the U.S. government of being a spy for her Motherland, has been languishing in a jail cell. Earlier this month, in documents arguing Butina should be held in detention because she is a flight risk, prosecutors revealed that Butina has gotten quite a bit of attention from top Russian officials.

According to the prosecution's filing, the Russian government has conducted six consular visits to Butina and passed four diplomatic notes to the U.S. Department of State about her case. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has spoken twice to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to complain about Butina's incarceration and prosecution. As prosecutors noted, in the days following Butina's arrest, the official Kremlin Twitter account changed its avatar to a picture of her and launched #FreeMariaButina. RT--a Russian news outlet funded by the Russian government--has written a number of articles about her, decrying her prosecution and detention. According to prosecutors, "Russia has issued more diplomatic notes on the defendant's behalf in the past month than for any other Russian citizen imprisoned in the United States in the past year. Put simply, the Russian government has given this case much more attention than other cases."

As a former intelligence officer, I found these details intriguing. It seems likely that Russian officials visiting Butina in prison are looking to protect more than just the rights of a Russian citizen. They are looking to protect their ongoing intelligence operations. 

If you'd funneled $30 million through the NRA to the best asset your country had ever had you'd want to protect your investment too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Obamacare lawsuit boosts Democrats in state AG races: The threat to protections for Americans with pre-existing conditions has injected new energy and cash into many races. (ALICE MIRANDA OLLSTEIN, 09/18/2018, Politico)

With a blue wave already forecast for this November's midterm elections, and the battle over the Affordable Care Act now playing out in the courts rather than in Congress, Democrats seeking to claim as many as a half dozen attorney general seats are using a lawsuit brought by 20 Republican AGs to abolish Obamacare as a political battering ram -- highlighting its threat to the health law's popular protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

The lawsuit has already injected unexpected energy and cash into many of the 30-plus races across the country for state attorneys general -- a dozen of which are seen as competitive. Democratic challengers in battleground states like Florida, Wisconsin, Georgia and Arizona are attacking the incumbents for bringing the lawsuit and vowing to withdraw their states from the case or join with states defending Obamacare.

Many are cutting ads saying the lawsuit could threaten health coverage for tens of millions of people with preexisting conditions, from children with cancer to adult diabetics, and holding rallies featuring people who struggled to obtain insurance before Obamacare due to a health condition.

Even in deeply conservative Texas, where the Republican governor is set to coast to an easy reelection, Democratic challenger Justin Nelson has relentlessly hammered the already scandal-plagued state Attorney General Ken Paxton on his role as the lead plaintiff in the case and is now within one point of Paxton in the polls.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 AM


Supreme Court green-lights order requiring 'dark money' groups to name political donors (Peter Weber, 9/19/18, The Week)

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court allowed a lower-court ruling to take effect that will require nonprofit advocacy groups to disclose the names of political donors at least through the 2018 midterm elections, handing a win to campaign finance reformers and a loss to Crossroads GPS and other nonprofits that specialize in using secret "dark money" donations to influence political campaigns.

Last month, Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell in Washington, D.C., had sided with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) against Crossroads GPS, an influential conservative group, and threw out a decades-old Federal Elections Commission (FEC) rule shielding donors to political nonprofits. With the Supreme Court denying Crossroads GPS's request for a stay, "we're about to know a lot more about who is funding our elections," said CREW executive director Noah Bookbinder.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Sometimes Voters Just Want Competence (Froma Harrop, September 18, 2018, Creators)

The conservative National Review recently put forth the "riddle" that four of the six states in deep-blue New England have Republican governors. Three of them -- Charlie Baker in Massachusetts, Phil Scott in Vermont and Chris Sununu in New Hampshire -- are quite popular. These states don't send a single Republican to Congress.

"Why, then, are Republicans doing so well?" the article asks.

There's no mystery. It's because most of the voters don't give a rat's tail whether their governors have a "D" or an "R" after their name. New Englanders tend to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative, and so are their Republican governors.

The Republican leaders in Washington, on the other hand, are socially conservative and fiscally reckless. The parade of $1 trillion federal deficits now coming our way is entirely the handiwork of the Trump administration and enabling Republicans. These numbers are astounding, especially given the strong economy.

Some of the most fiscally responsible governors, meanwhile, are Democrats. California's Jerry Brown will be leaving office with a budget surplus of $9 billion. As governor of Vermont, Democrat Howard Dean was so tight with the purse that frustrated liberals called him "the best Republican governor we ever had."

Maryland is a liberal state with a moderate Republican governor. Larry Hogan is polling well ahead of his Democratic challenger, Ben Jealous. Several prominent state Democrats have endorsed him. The reason is simple: He's doing the job.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


Aging Japan: Military recruiters struggle as applicant pool dries up (Linda Sieg, Ami Miyazaki, 9/19/18, Reuters)

Amid a rock-bottom birth rate, the number of Japanese age 18 to 26 - the core of the recruitment pool - has shrunk to 11 million from 17 million in 1994. That group is forecast to shrink to 7.8 million over the next 30 years.

That has left the SDF unable to hit recruitment quotas since 2014. Overall, the military was only able to recruit about 77 percent of the 9,734 lowest-rank enlisted personnel it had sought in the year ending in March.

"Twenty years from now, unless we can replace a considerable number of people with robots, it'll be hard to maintain the current level of war capability," said Akihisa Nagashima, a former parliamentary vice defense minister and conservative independent lawmaker.

The rest are right behind.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Tightening Texas race boosts Democrats' hopes of taking Senate: Reuters poll (Chris Kahn, 9/19/18, Reuters)

Among the bright spots for Democrats: U.S. Representative Beto O'Rourke of Texas had a 2-percentage-point lead over Cruz among likely voters in the state and U.S. Representative Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona had a 3-point lead over Republican congresswoman Martha McSally in the race to succeed U.S. Senator Jeff Flake, one of Trump's most vocal critics from within his own party.

Both leads are within the poll's 4-percentage-point credibility intervals, a measure of precision, meaning the candidates are drawing about the same level of support.

The finding suggests that O'Rourke has a shot at becoming the first Democrat to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate in a quarter century.

"There's a possibility it could happen. I'm not saying probable. But it's possible," said Larry Sabato, director of the UVA Center for Politics.

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