January 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


The Patriots Won With Less Talent Than Usual (Ty Schalter, 1/27/17, 538)

The New England Patriots team that takes the field for Super Bowl LI will have far less star power than that of the Patriots team that won Super Bowl XLIX two years ago. But star power can be deceiving: This season's AFC champions are very much in the same league as the last six Super Pats squads. Despite this season's injuries, suspensions and trades that prioritized the future at the cost of the present, the Patriots finished No. 1 in wins, No. 1 in scoring defense, No. 3 in scoring offense and No. 1 in Football Outsiders' DVOA. Head coach Bill Belichick had already built a resume worthy of the Hall of Fame, but the Patriots' emphatic 36-17 win over the Steelers on Sunday might make this season his most impressive achievement yet. [...]

Kyle Van Noy, a former second-round pick whom the Patriots traded for in October, is one of the scrap-heap guys who have played a vital role for this no-name Patriots defense. From the time he made his Patriots debut in Week 11 through the end of the regular season, Van Noy finished fifth on the Patriots in combined tackles and assists. Against the Steelers on Sunday, he registered four solo tackles and forced the second-half fumble that clinched the game.

Despite these fill-ins, the Patriots led the NFL in regular season DVOA for the first time since the 2010 season.

Before the Steelers saw their season ended -- emphatically -- by New England, they had won nine straight games. Pittsburgh also had five players named to the Pro Bowl; in the AFC, only the Raiders had more. If there was an AFC team with the talent and experience to go into Gillette Stadium and win a playoff game, Pittsburgh was it. Yet the Steelers were out-coached and out-executed.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Trump turns noncommittal on Jerusalem embassy move (Jerusalem Post, 23 January 2017)

Once committed to quickly moving America's embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, the Trump administration is now expressing caution, promising only to review the matter extensively and in consultation with "stakeholders" in the conflict.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Islamic State Is Collapsing -- So Why Is It Suddenly So Successful Against Assad? (James Miller, 1/23/17, Radio Liberty)

The physical "dawla," or "state," that was solidified by IS in 2014 at one point stretched from northwestern Syria to the outskirts of Baghdad in Iraq. Now it is attacked on all sides and is rapidly shrinking.

On the eastern front, the Iraqi government, the Kurdish peshmerga, Turkish military units, Iraqi militias, U.S. Special Forces, and a broad coalition of international air support led by the United States has liberated Ramadi and Fallujah from IS control and is now rapidly retaking IS's western Iraqi stronghold, Mosul. It has been a tough fight, but progress in Mosul is now daily, or even hourly, news.

On the western front, in Syria, the Turkish military and Syrian rebels have dealt major blows to IS. Azaz, Jarabulus, Mari, and (most importantly) Dabiq have all been liberated from IS since August. The Turkish coalition has met heavy resistance in the IS stronghold of Al-Bab, but they are making progress in cleaving IS's territory in two pieces. IS's defeat is only a matter of time -- and lives.

At IS's center, the U.S. backed Syrian Defense Force (SDF), made up largely of Kurdish fighters, has eaten a giant crater in the northern part of IS's territory. The SDF is now threatening the IS capital, Raqqa, which is now regularly targeted by U.S. and coalition air strikes.

Together these three coalitions are besieging all of IS's most important cities. They are threatening to capture IS's most important oil and gas resources as well. Perhaps most importantly, the United States believes that it has trapped many of the extremist group's most important leaders in this area.

It's hard to imagine, then, that a fourth coalition, fighting for far less important outposts, would be losing ground to IS's offensives.

This fourth group is the coalition supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. It is made up of Russian soldiers, special forces, and private mercenaries (many of whom cut their teeth during Russia's invasion of Ukraine), as well as commandos from Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Lebanese Hizballah extremists, and Shi'ite militiamen from Iraq. The purported mission of this coalition is to fight terrorists. And yet they have often let extremist groups like IS expand their territory while they concentrated on defeating U.S.-backed rebel groups, some of which were specifically organized to fight IS.

During the pro-Assad coalition's campaign to capture Aleppo from anti-Assad rebels, IS launched a surprise operation to recapture the historic city of Palmyra. IS easily won a victory there because so few military units were left to guard the city.

It's difficult to imagine a better scenario from the American perspective.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Israeli security establishment to Netanyahu: Don't touch Iran deal (Ben Caspit, January 23, 2017, Al Monitor)

The problem with Netanyahu is that he, like Trump, currently does not have the backing of the security and intelligence networks of their respective countries. Perhaps even the opposite is true. Those in Israel's various security branches are worriedly keeping track of developments. The recommendation of all the security branches, from the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to the Mossad and Military Intelligence, is unequivocal: not to beg the Americans to reopen the nuclear agreement. Period. True, the IDF and Mossad were not enthusiastic about the deal itself, which has innate shortcomings and problems. Israel is convinced that a different approach in the negotiations could have brought about better results. But since the nuclear deal was signed, those in Israel's security system feel that reopening the agreement would cause more damage than it would benefit Israel. That is because such a step would necessarily cause a dramatic confrontation between the United States and Iran.

According to Israeli intelligence (and all the other intelligence organizations in the West), Iran is, at this point in time, adhering closely to the agreement. A reopening of the agreement would cause an immediate loss of the deal's main achievements, which are deferring Iranian nuclear danger by 10-15 years and lengthening the estimated Iranian "breakout time" (toward nuclear bomb capabilities) from only three months in the past to an estimated year and a half in the present (at least). The Israeli security system views the agreement as a positive development, despite the fact that it is full of holes and incomplete. The IDF's multiyear strategic plan is based on this deal. "We have a 10-year strategic opportunity to build up our strength, change our approach and carry out strategic processes," said a highly placed Israeli military source speaking on the condition of anonymity to Al-Monitor. "That is the gift that the nuclear agreement gave Israel, and that is an irrevocable opportunity we must not squander."

Iran, according to a highly placed Israeli military expert, is an enemy of an entirely different order of magnitude compared to all the other traditional enemies Israel coped with, till now. Iran is a regional power, with substantively greater abilities than the countries bordering Israel. Israeli intelligence is keeping a close eye on the domestic situation in Iran. After decades of Israeli hopes for the fall of the ayatollah regime, Israel is lowering its expectations and hopes. "The Iranian government is stable," a member of the Israeli security system told Al-Monitor on the condition of anonymity. And he knows what he is talking about.

It turns out that the IDF' Military Intelligence wing conducts opinion polls in Iran. Modern media methods allow everyone to conduct polls anywhere, whether by social networks, telephone or special programming and algorithms that are capable of measuring and assessing the stability of a regime via what appears on the internet. Israeli experts believe that despite some inner agitation in Iran and despite the fact that there are more Iranians interested in freedom and Western brand names and values, still, President Hassan Rouhani's regime is stable. The Iranian nation still views Rouhani as their authentic representative, and the inner agitation doesn't threaten the regime. 

the most important thing to keep in mind is that Iran supports self-determination in the Middle East and Bibi opposes it, for obvious reasons.
Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Poll: Majority Of Americans Want SCOTUS To Restrict Abortion (HANK BERRIEN, JANUARY 23, 2017, daily Wire)

According to a new Marist Poll sponsored by the Knights of Columbus, Americans are strongly opposed to using tax dollars to fund abortions and want the U.S. Supreme Court to limit the period in which abortions are available.

59% of voters thought abortion is morally wrong. 83% of respondents oppose tax dollars to support abortion in other countries; 61% want to stop taxpayers from funding abortions in the United States. 87% of Trump supporters want the U.S. funding to stop, as opposed to 39% of Clinton supporters.

But even among Clinton supporters, 55% support limiting the period in which abortions are legal; 91% of Trump supporters agree. 74% of Americans overall want abortion restricted to the first trimester; 74% of those, amounting to 55% of Americans, want the Supreme Court to restrict the time period for abortions.

34% of voters said restricting abortion should be implemented immediately; another 25% fell it is important to implement restrictions. Remarkably, 44% of those who identify as pro-choice, say restricting abortion is an immediate priority or important.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


David Gelernter and the Life of the Mind (Joseph Bottum, January 20, 2017, Free Beacon)

Kaplan hangs her column on the hook of a news item, an announcement by press secretary Sean Spicer that Gelernter had met with Donald Trump to discuss the administration's science policy--and possibly to be vetted as the new president's chief science adviser. The position would make sense. Gelernter had taken to the pages of the Wall Street Journal in October to announce his support for Trump (albeit with admitted reluctance). In so doing, he became one of the few neoconservative intellectuals to endorse the Republican candidate.

Of course, to admit that would require Kaplan to admit that Gelernter is an intellectual, and she attempts throughout the column to prove the Yale professor is simply not an intellectual. "If appointed, he would be the first computer scientist to take the job, and the first adviser who is not a member of the National Academy of Sciences," she writes. "He has expressed doubt about the reality of man-made climate change--something that 97 percent of active researchers agree is a problem. And his anti-intellectualism makes him an outlier among scientists."

The proof she offers for his anti-intellectualism follows in the next sentence: "Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said he hadn't heard of Gelernter until Tuesday." Kaplan had opened her column by naming Gelernter "a pioneer in the field of parallel computation" for his early work in computer programing. From such a beginning, you'd think she intends to criticize Rosenberg for never having heard of the man.

But no. Rosenberg is the foil by which the Washington Post develops its implicit claim that "intellectual" and even "scientist" identify what is essentially a social class, as though to say: You're one of us, one of our kind, or you're not an intellectual. Not a scientist. Not a thinker. Not a scholar. Not our sort, my dear.

And since politics over the past few decades has become perhaps the key marker of social class for those who see themselves as the intellectual elite, David Gelernter's politics mean that he cannot be an intellectual. Unfortunately, he's undeniably a very smart man, one of the youngest people ever to receive tenure at Yale. A dilemma, yes?

For Kaplan and the Washington Post's headline writers, the way out seems to be to declare that he's actually anti-intellectual. He has, from time to time, used his smarts to argue against the politics held by the class that occupies the key intellectual positions in the culture. He has, for that matter, attacked academics for identifying themselves as a superior social class, notably in his 2012 book, America-Lite: How Imperial Academia Dismantled Our Culture (and Ushered in the Obamacrats). A better or more charitable reader might have noticed Gelernter's irony in that book when he suggests that American culture was weakened by "an increasing Jewish presence at top colleges," while Gelernter himself is a major Jewish presence at one of America's top colleges.

Irony, however, doesn't come easy to Kaplan and Rosenberg. They're too sincere, earnest, and convinced of their rightness for any such frivolity. They find the logic too convincing: To support Trump is to be déclassé, and to be inferior socially is to be inferior intellectually. David Gelernter cannot be an intellectual if he has the wrong politics, and the only way he could support or work with Donald Trump is by being anti-intellectual.

The normally astute Mr. Bottum stumbles into confusion here in his eagerness to defend Mr. Gelernter from a truism.  It is precisely because he is a scientist that Mr. Gelernter is anti-intellectual.  The dirtier secret though is that Donald Trump is an intellectual, which is why he pushes a political/economic program which can withstand the evidence of what results it has produced when applied in the real world.  A trade war and closed borders must be good thing just because you think they will punish Mexicans, Chinese, and other non-whites, no matter what happened in the 30s after we imposed racial quotas and Smoot-Hawley. The intellect can imagine the regime would "work" and that suffices.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


How Congress And Trump Can Reform Taxes To Put America First (Mike Lee, JANUARY 23, 2017, The Federalist)

A number of economists on the Right and Left recognize the advantages of cutting corporate taxes and raising shareholder taxes. Although there are some important differences, this general approach is similar to a 2014 plan by Eric Toder of the Urban Institute and the American Enterprise Institute's Alan Viard. Indeed, in a global economy with global investment opportunities, there is no reason for the United States not to tax all income the same.

But, you might ask, won't hiking capital gains and dividends tax rates chase investment offshore? Not with that 0 percent corporate rate! That's the beauty of this approach.

For foreign investors, it would be an offer they couldn't refuse. But even for American investors, it would be a better deal than they could get anywhere else. Today, our 35 percent corporate tax rate, 20 percent rate on capital gains and dividends, and the 3.8 percent Medicare surtax add up to a 50 percent real top federal tax rate on investment income.

After eliminating the corporate tax, we could raise tax rates on capital gains and dividends all the way up to par with labor income (top rate today: 39.6 percent), and investors could still come out ahead, just not as much as workers will, and only if they invest in the United States. Americans would still be free to invest their capital around the world. They will just have to pay the same tax rates in their income all other Americans pay. Thus, this tax reform would not advantage workers over investors; it simply levels the playing field that globalization and current policy have tilted against them.

The good Senator first needs to explain why we wish to punish income and investment.

Posted by orrinj at 2:45 PM


Trump at the CIA : Mr. President, the election is over. (WSJ, Jan. 22, 2017)

[M]r. Trump...couldn't resist turning the event into an extended and self-centered riff about the size of his campaign rallies, the times he's been on Time magazine's cover and how the "dishonest" media misreported his inaugural crowds. He all but begged for the political approval of the career CIA employees by suggesting most there had voted for him.

Such defensiveness about his victory and media coverage makes Mr. Trump look small and insecure. It also undermines his words to the CIA employees by suggesting the visit was really about him, not their vital work. The White House is still staffing up, but was it too much to ask National Security Adviser Michael Flynn's staff to write up five or 10 minutes of formal remarks that had something to do with the CIA?


Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


Meretz chief accuses Netanyahu of 'serving apartheid lobby' (Tamar Pileggi, 1/23/17, Times of Israel)

Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon on Monday blasted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plan to expand Israeli construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, saying the pledged move proved his government "operates at the service of the apartheid lobby." [...]

"One who surrounds and restricts the Palestinian neighborhoods of East Jerusalem is in service of the apartheid lobby. There has been an attempt by the Israeli government in recent years to Judaize East Jerusalem," she said.

Galon went on to warn that Israeli government policies -- not US President Donald Trump's contentious promise to move his country's embassy to Jerusalem -- would ignite violent clashes among Palestinian residents of Jerusalem.

"When the state abandons the security of East Jerusalem residents without doing anything to improve their lives, the subsequent violence will not be over transferring the embassy, but the pressure cooker that Netanyahu is heating," she said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


The Long March Ahead For Democrats : What Saturday's Women's Marches tell us about the party's path back to power. (Nate Silver, 1/23/17, 538)

As FiveThirtyEight did for the tea party protests in April 2009 and for the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011, we sought to collect credible estimates of crowd sizes at the Women's Marches based on local news accounts. We wanted to avoid estimates given by march participants or organizers, since these often exaggerate attendance compared with estimates by public officials such as local police and fire departments. In St. Louis, for example, police estimated the crowd at 13,000 participants, while a march organizer said 20,000 people had come. [...]

Nonetheless, it's clear that the Women's Marches drew huge numbers of people. For most of the largest marches, we were able to identify a crowd-size estimate from public agencies, such as a police department or a mayor's office, or which was provided by nonpartisan experts who sought to estimate crowd sizes using photography or other techniques. Where we weren't able to find such sources, we discounted the reported march sizes by 40 percent if they were based on estimates given by organizers3 or by 20 percent if a news account's sourcing was ambiguous.

Even with this relatively cautious approach, we estimated the aggregate crowd size at 3.2 million people among the roughly 300 U.S. march sites4 for which we were able to find data. Our estimate of 3.2 million marchers is lower than other estimates that take organizer-provided estimates at face value, but is nonetheless an impressive figure. By comparison, using a similar technique, we estimated the tea party rallies on April 15, 2009, drew around 310,000 participants among about 350 cities.

Why the Women's March on Washington drew bigger crowds than Trump's inauguration (Emily Crockett, Jan. 19th, 2017, Vox)

One of the poll's many striking findings is this: While it may not have lost Trump the election in the end, the leaked 2005 Access Hollywood tape that featured Trump bragging about his ability to sexually assault women -- specifically, that he could "grab [women] by the pussy," kiss them without consent, and do whatever he wanted to them because he's a star -- had a major impact on many Americans, and hasn't been forgotten.

Most Americans surveyed, 83 percent, remembered hearing about the tape. Almost all of those surveyed (91 percent) said they found Trump's comments "unacceptable," and most (61 percent overall, 66 percent of women, and 55 percent of men) said they felt "upset" by the comments.

And many of those who felt upset were actually motivated to do something about it.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


How Will Congress Cope With Trump? (Michelle Cottle, Jan. 23rd, 2017, The Atlantic)

[P]retty much everything about Trump's handling of his new gig has lawmakers speculating, in part because he is the first president with no record of public service. "It's a totally unique situation in American history," said senior House Republican Tom Cole. With Obama, "you at least had a clue," said Cole. But Trump? "We don't really know how he's going to react."

A House Democratic aide (who, like most people I spoke with, wished to remain nameless on the topic of Congress's navigating the Trump era) put it less charitably: "It's uncharted territory with a madman at the helm."

Amidst the ambiguity, however, there are Big-Picture adjustments that Hill folks acknowledge need to be made--by both teams--some of which go to the heart of how Congress has functioned (or not) in recent years.

For triumphant Republicans, the central challenge extends beyond the strategic into the existential: They must learn to function stripped of their unifying identity as anti-Obama warriors. Democrats, meanwhile, will be attempting a precarious balancing act of disagreeing, strongly and often, yet without being so disagreeable that they brass off the white-working-class Trump voters they are so desperate to win back.

This is a tougher transformation than you might think. For the past eight years, whether in the majority or minority, the House or the Senate, GOP lawmakers have rallied their conference, and their voters, around a single, straightforward mission: to make life as difficult as possible for the 44th president.

This was especially true in the House, where the bulk of Republicans were expressly elected to fight Obama. Less than a third of the conference has served under any other president. For the rest, a life of stalwart opposition is all they have ever known. And as frustrating as it may have been at times, the goal of stopping Obama at all costs stood clear and constant--comfortable even.

That all ended Friday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


WBUR Poll: Republican Gov. Baker More Popular Than Democrat Sen. Warren (Simón Rios, 1/23/17, WBUR)

[A]ccording to a new WBUR poll, only 44 percent think Warren "deserves reelection." Forty-six percent think voters ought to "give someone else a chance."

"No one's going to look at a 44 percent reelect number and think that that's a good number," said Steve Koczela, president of The MassINC Polling Group, which conducts surveys for WBUR. "No one's going to look at it being close to even between 'reelect' and 'give someone else a chance' and think that that's reassuring." [...]

Warren's numbers contrast sharply with those of Gov. Charlie Baker. His favorability rating is 59 percent -- 8 points better than Warren. But what's more striking is that only 29 percent of poll respondents think someone else should get a chance at the governor's office.

Paging Senator Brown....

Posted by orrinj at 7:17 AM


How the Women's March Reinforced Every Negative Stereotype about Women EVER (SUSAN L.M. GOLDBERG, JANUARY 22, 2017, PJ Media)

The Women's March has done nothing more than highlight the utter abject failure that is modern feminism by focusing on feminists who happily personify every single negative stereotype about women. They are directionless airheads unable to properly channel their emotions verbally, let alone practically. So, they get together, stomp their feet and whine about nothing. But, you can't say "nothing" because if you do they'll start pulling out the PMS metaphors and threaten to...what, exactly? Go shopping? Drink wine? Pet a cat?

If you want to embrace your girl power, let's go less YaYa Sisterhood and more Working Girl. Trump or not, America's women have more freedom and dignity than most women in the world, especially those enslaved by Sharia law. Instead of using all that power and authority to whine and complain, take a cue from Melanie Griffith and use your power to your advantage to lift another woman up. Perhaps one who's working against her will as a sex slave, or one who is forced to hide her face under a hijab, or one who's facing a lifetime of harassment and abuse because she lives in an Islamic society, or one who is suffering in silence after having an abortion, or one who is still suffering the trauma of being tossed away because she was born a girl.

Those are the women Western feminists have the time, money and resources to help. Time, money and resources that are currently being spent on feel-good marches that produce armchair activists who dub themselves "community organizers" and host wine and cheese events to talk about "issues." Because who wants to really help a woman in need when you can just bitch about your own problems over Merlot?

...was that each cohort resented the other as much as they resent Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Republicans: Schumer Broke His Word on Pompeo Confirmation (Stephen F. Hayes, Jan. 23rd, 2017, Weekly Standard)

According to sources familiar with the discussions, Schumer asked his Republican colleagues to delay Pompeo's hearing for one day. "Democrats asked that the hearing be moved so that six hearings did not occur on one day," says a senior Democratic senate aide. "That many cabinet hearings in a single day had only happened once in American history, and it was an unfair schedule to senators on both sides. Republicans accommodated that request."

Among the reasons Schumer cited: Senator Dianne Feinstein, who had until this Congress been ranking member on the Senate Intelligence Committee and is currently ranking member on Senate Judiciary, complained that the schedule would prevent her from attending hearings for both Pompeo and Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions.

McConnell consulted Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, Intel committee member Tom Cotton, and the incoming Trump administration. Republicans agreed to delay Pompeo, whose team was happy to have an extra day to prepare. But the Republicans had a condition. If we agree to push back Pompeo's hearing for a day, they told Schumer, you must agree to include him in the group of national security officials who will be confirmed by a voice vote on Inauguration Day, January 20. According to these sources, Schumer agreed, with alacrity, having secured the delay he'd sought.

But on January 19, one day before Trump's inauguration, Ron Wyden said he'd seek to delay Pompeo's confirmation when the Senate convened late Friday afternoon. That evening Cotton, who is close to Pompeo from their time together in the House of Representatives, began calling his colleagues on the Senate Intelligence Committee, including Wyden, seeking to avoid the delay. Some of the calls were cordial. Others were testy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Trump Crowd Size Estimate May Involve 'The Power Of Positive Thinking' (Tamara Keith, Jan. 22nd, 2017, NPR)

To understand how President Donald Trump could look out at the National Mall as he delivered his inaugural address and see what "looked liked a million and a half people. Whatever it was, it was, but it went all the way back to the Washington Monument," it may be instructive the read the words of a man Trump has referred to as "my pastor."

The now-deceased celebrity pastor Norman Vincent Peale wrote about the ability of the mind to create its own more-positive reality.

"Any fact facing us, however difficult, even seemingly hopeless, is not so important as our attitude toward that fact," Peale wrote. "A confident and optimistic thought pattern can modify or overcome the fact altogether."

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Audibles at the Line (compiled by Andrew Potter, Football Outsiders)

Aaron Schatz: They called unnecessary roughness on Ha Ha Clinton-Dix after the first Falcons touchdown, and the Falcons just kicked deep from the 50 for an easy touchback. I do not understand why we are not seeing more onside kicks in that situation. With the touchback at the 25, you are talking about the difference between an unsuccessful onside kick and a successful touchback being roughly FIFTEEN YARDS. That is absolutely worth giving up for a 10 to 15 percent chance of keeping the ball and putting your offense back on the field -- especially in a game like this where we know there will be a ton of points scored!

And it took Green Bay two plays to move the ball past where they would have recovered a failed onside kick. Two plays.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


The U.S. shale oil business is not dead (Alanna Petroff, January 19, 2017, CNN Money)

Saudi Arabia tried to kill off the U.S. oil boom. Instead, it just made the industry more efficient.

The U.S. shale industry is "much leaner and fitter" following a massive slump in oil prices last year, according to the International Energy Agency.

"Not only is the [U.S.] rig count rising, but recent reports tell us that the productivity of shale activity has improved in leaps and bounds," the IEA said in a new report released Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Ships steer bullish bets for liquefied natural gas (Financial Times, 1/23/17)

The looming glut is focusing attention on whether existing customers stretching from Asia to the UK will benefit from lower prices, but also whether LNG can increase its market share by utilising a growing fleet of ships that can deliver directly into power plants and gas networks.

These so-called floating storage and regasification units (FSRUs) have become the key to opening up new markets to LNG over the past five years, allowing deliveries into countries like Egypt and Argentina without the need for expensive new onshore import terminals.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Book Review : THE GENIUS OF JUDAISM AND BERNARD-HENRI LÉVY : The morally minded French public intellectual applies 21st-century chutzpah to our radical age (Adam Kirsch, January 20, 2017, The Tablet)

The left, in particular, has long despised Lévy, in something like the way it came to despise Christopher Hitchens. That is because, even as he claims to be a socialist himself, he stands for three things that are anathema to the contemporary left. First, he is fundamentally opposed to the idea of revolution; he came to prominence in the 1970s as a spokesman for the "New Philosophers," a group of young thinkers who rejected the violent revolutionary fantasies of French Marxists and Maoists. Second, he advocates an interventionist foreign policy in defense of humanitarianism and human rights--most recently, he supported the NATO action in Libya. Since at least the Iraq War, if not earlier, this idea has been scorned by the left as a mere fig leaf for Western imperialism, and a recipe for international chaos (with Libya as a case in point). And third, Lévy is a committed Jew, who places Jewishness and the state of Israel at the heart of his political and intellectual identity.

This is particularly significant in a French context, because in recent years Alain Badiou, often considered France's greatest living philosopher, has helped to turn anti-Judaism into an intellectual point of pride. To Badiou, and his epigone Slavoj Žižek, Judaism is the enemy of utopianism; just as Jews denied Christ, so Jewish liberals today deny the transcendent dimension of the revolutionary Event. The only good Jews, according to this school, are the ones who reject solidarity with other Jews and turn themselves into revolutionaries and pariahs, like Spinoza and Marx. In particular, this form of left-wing anti-Judaism demands hostility to Israel as a token of liberation from Jewish particularism.

The significance of Lévy's new book, The Genius of Judaism, can fully appear only if this French context is kept in mind. Essentially, what Lévy does here is to accept all the charges against him, and turn them against his enemies. Yes, he writes, he is an enemy of revolutionary violence, a defender of Israel, and an interventionist--all because he is a Jew. But Jewishness is not an illegitimate form of identity, a betrayal of universalism, a vestigial backwardness, as much of the European left believes. On the contrary, it is precisely in his Jewishness that Lévy locates the inspiration for his progressive politics. The genius of Judaism--the title pays homage to the famous 19th-century book by Chateaubriand, The Genius of Christianity--is for Lévy "a certain idea of man and God, of history and power," which inspires his thinking and his actions.

When it comes to elucidating this genius, however, Lévy is not wholly satisfying. 

His problem is that Judaism is central to the Anglosphere but modern Zionism is a function of the Continent. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Why it's never funny to laugh at effeminate men (JEMAL POLSON, 23 JANUARY 2017, The Telegraph)

An odd thing happened as I attended a screening for Split recently. The film, opening in cinemas this month, sees James McAvoy play Kevin - a man with dissociative identity disorder. McAvoy does a fantastic job adopting the various personas Kevin is forced to live with - but I found myself squirming at the audience's reaction to one of Kevin's personalities. The camp, effeminate male one.

Every time McAvoy started to camp it up on screen, the audience - mostly men - would erupt with laughter. Why? This was no Kenneth Williams run-around; McAvoy was playing the personality seriously, not for laughs. Yet the people around me saw it naturally as a punchline. They thought the camp personality was a joke to ease the film's high tension.

The perception that effeminate or camp men are funny is, sadly, prevalent. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Civility: When Mere is More (Susan McWilliams, JANUARY 20, 2017, LA Review of Books)

Mere Civility is centered in the years after the Reformation, when the emergence of myriad Protestant sects splintered communities across Western Europe. [...]

Take the way in which Bejan's recovery of that uncivil era challenges the yearning for lost civility that is a commonplace of the chattering class. By revealing that there is little historical basis to justify such a yearning, Bejan exposes that yearning to be more romantic than rational. It is not grounded in deep knowledge of the history of modern liberalism, particularly in the early modern period when questions of civility were at the fore. It is grounded mostly in wishful thinking.

So today, when public intellectuals -- political theorists foremost among them -- make calls to restore or strengthen civility, their wistfulness clouds out wisdom. They aim at a standard that is more aspirational than actual, imagining civility to augur a society flourishing with mutual respect, empathy, fellow-feeling, open-mindedness, peace, love, rainbows, unicorns, and kumbayas (or at least some of those). Scholars as distinct as Martha Nussbaum, John Rawls, and Jeremy Waldron all imagine civility as the key to social harmony and imbue it with almost celestial importance.

As appealing as those visions of social harmony are, though, Bejan reminds us that they neglect key facts of human psychology. We humans are partial creatures, and we invariably disagree about important matters. When we encounter people with whom we differ about those important matters, we get frustrated with them. We disrespect them. We feel contempt for them. We try to ignore them. At best, we somewhat clunkily navigate through our disagreements. Even if we have deep and abiding love for someone, we can become unhinged with rage when that someone sees important issues differently -- a phenomenon Americans confront every year when trying to figure out how to survive Thanksgiving dinner with relatives whose political positions are anathema. You can call it a success if nobody gets stabbed with a carving knife; you're courting disappointment if you wish for much more.

Civility, therefore, should not be grounded in the unrealistic wish for fundamental human concord, but has to have its roots in what Bejan calls "the messy real word of unmurderous coexistence between individuals divided on the fundamentals and mutually disdainful of others' contrary commitments."

In other words, against the contemporary wish for more civility, Bejan would have us aspire to mere civility.

She takes this term from Roger Williams, the political and religious leader who, having been kicked out of Massachusetts by the Puritans, founded the Providence Plantation -- what would eventually become Rhode Island -- in the service of spiritual freedom. For Williams, the question of how you maintain some amount of order in a society where there are deep and enduring differences was an immediate and practical one. He did not imagine that profound mutual respect was going to emerge under such conditions. To the contrary: He knew that when faced with deep and enduring differences, people were going to want to yell at each other. Williams himself wanted to do that; he was an evangelist who never tired of telling others how damnable their beliefs were. His mere civility was a means by which people could be true to their own partiality within the context of a functioning society. Williams did not think that civility required deep respect for the inner lives of other individuals, just a minimal respect for social order. Bejan describes Williams's thought this way: "While we are stuck in the same boat with people we hate, we had better learn to make the most of it. There is no reason, however, to think that this will make us respect or like each other more. It is usually the opposite."

When compared with Williams, contemporary political theorists look pretty darn naïve, or at least pretty darn removed from real politics. Bejan becomes her most passionate self on this point, almost jumping off the page in italics. "In equating civility with mutual respect, theorists necessarily move the discussion to an aspirational realm of ideal theory in which the kinds of problems civility is needed to address do not even arise," she writes. These are "scholars we might hope would know better and be able to offer something more precise. It seems reasonable to expect theorists to understand reality, first, before moralizing about how to change it."

One of the subtle but important undertones of Bejan's argument is the idea that many contemporary intellectuals are blinded by a secularism that is best (if somewhat strangely) described as holier-than-thou. They fail to learn from debates among early moderns because those debates were couched in religious terms; they quickly assume that the debates have little to offer us in this more "enlightened" time. To paraphrase Bejan, they assume that religion was the problem (or that religion is the problem), when really people are the problem. We humans may have achieved many things in the last 500 years, but we have not transcended ourselves.

...that not only are our own times not special, but they are comparatively consensual. We have partisanship for its own sake, not because we have many actual political differences.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Popping Bubbles : I finally stepped out of my progressive bubble--and now I understand why people hate "the liberal elite" (Annalisa Merelli January 10, 2017, Vox)

On Facebook, my heavily "blue feed" shared news and commentary that unanimously condemned the victory of the "no" camp. Many of these articles claimed the vote was yet another example of democracy failing progress: The misguided, misinformed people who had voted "no" were helping to stunt Italy's growth or, worse, had fallen for the xenophobic promises and empty slogans of politicians like Grillo and Salvini.

Misguided, misinformed people like, me apparently.

I voted no, first and foremost because I disagreed with the reform. I didn't do it because I want Italy to leave Europe, dislike immigrants, or because I despise career politicians. Quite the contrary, in fact. I, too, am worried that Italy might end up going backwards, closing borders, and limiting chances. But--after gathering as much information as I could on the reform and its likely consequences--I concluded that, amongst other issues, the proposed changes to the constitution would end up making a future populist government's life unnecessarily easy and even more dangerous.

It was a difficult vote, and while I stand by it, I don't discount the possibility that history may prove me wrong. So I was eager to hear the reasons why so many of my friends had voted "yes." Before and after the vote, I wanted to understand their points, and I certainly respected their choices.

But they--the yes voters, whose opinions and commentary filled my social media platforms--didn't seem to have the same respect for my reasoning. As an opinionated citizen with consistently liberal views, I am used to being attacked and insulted by conservatives for my choices and opinions. But the liberal critiques I read weren't so much attacking my decision as they were questioning my intelligence and my ability to understand the issue.

For the first time in my life, I was on the outside of the so-called liberal bubble, looking in. And what I saw was not pretty. I watched as many of my highly educated friends and contacts addressed those who disagreed with them with contempt and arrogance, and an offensive air of intellectual superiority.
It was surprising and frustrating to find myself lumped in with political parties and ideologies I do not support. But it also provided some insight into why many liberals seem incapable of talking with those who hold different opinions. (This is, broadly speaking, not just a liberal problem.) In so much of what I read, there was a tone of odious condescension, the idea that us no voters were perhaps too simpleminded or too uninformed to really grasp the situation.

The majority of these arguments did not explain why my choice was wrong. And after reading piece after piece of snarky, bitter commentary, I too lost the desire to engage with my yes-voting peers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


Chris Hogan is another Pats rags-to-riches story. (Kenneth Arthur|Jan. 23rd, 2017, Sports on Earth)

Hogan declined the option to play football at schools like UConn and Rutgers, instead going to Penn State -- which would seem like a really obvious choice, if it weren't for the fact that he didn't play football at Penn State. He played lacrosse. Said Hogan back in 2011 on why he chose the sport: "I had more influences on me playing lacrosse than I did have people telling me to play football ... If I could go back four years, I would have absolutely played football."

Still, Hogan was an exceptional lacrosse player, a senior captain, and when his time ran out, he still had one year of NCAA eligibility remaining. He opted to use it to play football at Monmouth, mostly doing what he does best: being a freak athlete. He had three touchdowns on offense (on only 12 catches) and three interceptions on defense. Not much could get him recognized by NFL scouts, especially since he wasn't invited to the combine. Not much other than a 4.47 in the forty-yard dash and 28 reps on the bench at Fordham's pro day. Yes, he had to go to another school just to get a pro day.

Now Hogan was a becoming a bit of a legend, getting workouts with various teams, being "that guy from that small school that intrigues everyone" during the 2011 NFL Draft. Nobody selected Hogan that year due to his almost complete lack of experience beyond high school, but he signed as an undrafted free agent with the San Francisco 49ers.

New Niners head coach Jim Harbaugh didn't see enough in Hogan to keep him around, as he was limited with an ankle injury, and he was released during final cuts. He was picked up by the New York Giants, but cut 11 days later. He was available for the next three months, finally signing with the Miami Dolphins practice squad in late December and then a futures contract in January. During the 2012 "Hard Knocks" series on HBO, Hogan became a featured personality, mostly because of a catchy nickname given to him by Dolphins teammate Reggie Bush: "7-Eleven" (because like the convenience store, he's always open).

Hogan wasn't open enough to keep a job, though, as he was released once again, until he signed with the Bills that November. By 2013, he got his first regular-season playing time, catching 10 passes for 83 yards. Then in 2014, three years after entering the league, he was a bona fide NFL receiver, catching 41 passes for 426 yards and four touchdowns with Buffalo. He showed no dropoff in 2015 under new head coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Greg Roman, catching 36 for 450 yards and two touchdowns. None of this should lead you to believe that Hogan was on a path to be a postseason superstar, though.

Which is one of the many reasons why none of us are Bill Belichick.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


New Front Runner Emerges In The SCOTUS Contest (Kevin Daley, Jan. 22nd, 2017, Daily Caller)

Judge Neil Gorsuch of the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals may be the leading candidate for President Donald Trump's first appointment to the Supreme Court.

Jan Crawford of CBS News, a veteran court-watcher, reports Trump may be close to settling on Gorsuch. At 49, he could conceivably serve on the Court for over 30 years if he is confirmed by the Senate.

A Marshall scholar with degrees from Oxford and Harvard Law School, Gorsuch clerked for Justices Anthony Kennedy and Byron White on the high court before entering private practice in Washington at Kellogg, Huber, Hansen, Todd, Evans & Figel PLLC. He served in the U.S. Department of Justice for two years prior to his nomination to the 10th Circuit in 2006 by President George W. Bush. He was approved by the Senate on a voice vote, as he was not considered a controversial nominee. [...]

He is consistently identified as one of the finest writers on the federal bench given his elegant and unpretentious prose.

January 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 PM


'Alternative facts:' Why the Trump team is 'planting a flag' in war on media (Brian Stelter, January 22, 2017, CNN)

The alternative to "facts" is "fictions."

But President Trump's special adviser Kellyanne Conway proposed something new on Sunday: "alternative facts."

The strange phrase entered the lexicon when Conway told NBC's Chuck Todd that the numerous misstatements in press secretary Sean Spicer's angry statement to reporters Saturday were actually "alternative facts."

The phrase called into the question Conway's understanding of the word "facts" and caused widespread mockery on Sunday.

New White House press secretary Sean Spicer's grudge against the media dates back DECADES (GEOFF EARLE, 22 January 2017, Daily Mail)

New White House press secretary Sean Spicer's angry tirade against White House reporters on his first day on the job wasn't his first clash with the press: while in student government he brought a complaint against his college paper after it called him 'Sean Sphincter.'

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 PM


TRUMP'S VAINGLORIOUS AFFRONT TO THE C.I.A. (Robin Wright   January 22, 2017, The New Yorker)

The death of Robert Ames, who was America's top intelligence officer for the Middle East, is commemorated among the hundred and seventeen stars on the white marble Memorial Wall at C.I.A. headquarters, in Langley, Virginia. He served long years in the region's hellholes--Beirut; Tehran; Sanaa, Yemen; Kuwait City; and Cairo--often in the midst of war or turmoil. Along the way, Ames cultivated pivotal U.S. operatives and sources, even within the Palestine Liberation Organization when it ranked as the world's top terrorist group. In April, 1983, as chief of the C.I.A.'s Near East division, back in Washington, Ames returned to Beirut for consultations as Lebanon's civil war raged.

Shortly after 1 p.m. on April 18th, 1983, Ames was huddling with seven other C.I.A. staff at the high-rise U.S. Embassy overlooking the Mediterranean, when a delivery van laden with explosives made a sharp swing into the cobblestone entryway, sped past a guard station, and accelerated into the embassy's front wall. It set off a roar that echoed across Beirut. My office was just up the hill. A huge black cloud enveloped blocks.

It was the very first suicide bombing against the United States in the Middle East, and the onset of a new type of warfare. Carried out by an embryonic cell of extremists that later evolved into Hezbollah, it blew off the front of the embassy, leaving it like a seven-story, open-faced dollhouse. Sixty-four were killed, including all eight members of the C.I.A. team. It was, at the time, the deadliest attack on an American diplomatic facility anywhere in the world, and it remains the single deadliest attack on U.S. intelligence. (Only one of the thirty attacks on U.S. missions since then, in Nairobi, in 1998, has been deadlier.)

Ryan Crocker, the embassy's political officer, had met with Ames earlier that day. Crocker was blown against the wall by the bomb's impact, but escaped serious injury. He spent hours navigating smoke, fires, and tons of concrete, steel, and glass debris, searching for his colleagues.

"This is seared into my mind, irretrievably," Crocker recalled for me this weekend. "There wasn't an organized recovery plan, not in the initial hours after the bombing. I was de facto in charge that first awful night, when you dug a little and shouted out in case there was someone alive there, and then dug a bit more. Somewhere that night, I was on that rubble heap, and a radiator caught my eye. There was an object at the foot of the radiator. It looked like a beach ball, covered thick with dust. It was Bob Ames's head."

Ames left behind a widow and six children. He was so clandestine that his kids did not know that he was a spy until after he was killed. President Ronald Reagan and his wife, Nancy, saw the flag-draped coffins of the American victims arrive at Andrews Air Force Base, and met with the families of the deceased.

Reagan, who had known Ames, recounted the meetings in his diary, according to Kai Bird's book about Ames, "The Good Spy": "We were both in tears--I know all I could do was grip their hands--I was too choked up to speak." More than three thousand people turned out for the memorial service at the National Cathedral for Ames and the other American victims.

On his first full day in office, President Trump spoke at the C.I.A. headquarters in front of the hallowed Memorial Wall, with Ames's star on it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:27 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


In R-rated anti-Trump rant, Madonna muses about 'blowing up White House' (Eric Levenson, January 21, 2017, CNN)

Ever the provocateur, Madonna dropped a trio of f-bombs and admitted that she's "thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House" during a speech at the Women's March on Washington on Saturday.

Donald Trump and New York Tabloids Resume Their Elaborate Dance (MICHAEL M. GRYNBAUM, APRIL 11, 2016, NY Times)

In trying to influence a story, Mr. Trump's techniques ran the gamut from pugilistic to flattering to downright bizarre. Sometimes, his approach used all three.

Sue Carswell, a former writer for People magazine, had been wooing Mr. Trump for an interview in 1991 by mailing him gifts of pink Hermès ties. ("This is all back in the days when we had expense accounts," she recalled.) When Mr. Trump claimed he'd had an affair with Carla Bruni -- who denied it -- Ms. Carswell found herself on the telephone with a Trump spokesman who introduced himself as John Miller, and who claimed that Madonna and Kim Basinger were eager to date the real estate developer.

It dawned on her that the spokesman sounded a lot like somebody else: Mr. Trump. Ms. Maples, a friend, confirmed that it was indeed her husband on the line, impersonating his own (fake) spokesman. 

Just because we'd prefer that he not be president is no excuse for violence.
Posted by orrinj at 3:11 PM


Netanyahu says Palestinians can have a 'state minus' (TIMES OF ISRAEL, January 22, 2017)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told cabinet ministers Sunday that he was prepared to give the Palestinians a "state minus." [...]

Netanyahu was responding to Science Minister Ofir Akunis (Likud), who told the ministers that he opposes the prime minister's position and rejects a two-state solution. The minister insisted that this is also the official stance of the Likud party, according to the Haaretz daily.

"If you would listen to the details of my position I'm sure that you would not oppose it," the prime minister told Akunis.

At least he's not pretending the offer is just.

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