August 30, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


How to Fight Secular Stagnation (Michael Spence, AUG 30, 2016, Project Syndicate)

A second condition supporting [secular stagnation]1 is rooted in the impact of heightened uncertainty - about growth, job security, policies and regulations, and the many developments that could affect any of those factors - on investment and consumption. People simply don't know whether their governments are going to start making progress in combating deflationary pressure, countering rising inequality, addressing social and political fragmentation, and restoring economic growth and employment.

With future demand far from guaranteed, private investment has been declining in many countries, including, most recently, China. The same goes for household consumption, particularly in the advanced economies, where a larger share of consumption is optional (for example, replacing consumer durables, traveling, and eating out at restaurants).

It takes a second to process that worry--the deflationary epoch has produced a situation where, for the first time in human history, consumption is optional for most of us.  And we're supposed to combat that?

Record Number of 401(k) Savers Increased Contributions in Q1 2016 (Rebecca Moore, 4/29/16, ASSETINTERNATIONAL.COM)

Total savings rate for 401(k) savers hit a record level in Q1 2016, Fidelity reports.

Its quarterly analysis of Fidelity-administered 401(k) and individual retirement accounts (IRAs) finds the total savings rate for 401(k) savers, which combines individual contributions plus employer contributions, reached 12.7% in Q1, topping the previous record high of 12.5% in Q1 2008. In addition, a record 13.6% of 401(k) investors increased their savings rate in Q1, an increase from the previous high of 12.9% in Q1 of 2015.

Even Fidelity's annual analysis of small business retirement plans found that for self-employed 401(k) accounts, self-employed (SEP) IRAs and Savings Incentive Match Plan for Employees (SIMPLE), contributions increased in every plan category.

Home prices have finally recovered from the housing crash (Kathryn Vasel, July 28, 2016, Money)
The median home price in the U.S. was $231,000 last month, according to a report from ATTOM Data Solutions (formerly RealtyTrac). That's 9% higher than a year ago and 1% above the previous record of $228,000 hit in July 2005.

U.S. household net worth rose to $88.1 trillion in first quarter: Fed (Reuters, 6/09/16)

The net worth of U.S. households rose in the first quarter as a boost in real estate values offset a fall in stock market prices, a report by the Federal Reserve showed on Thursday.Families' net worth increased to $88.1 trillion over the quarter, up from a revised $87.3 trillion in the previous period.

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


Addicted to Making Campaign Contributions? (RUSSELL BERMAN, 8/29/16,  The Atlantic)

When Bernie Sanders asked for money to fuel his underdog presidential campaign, Geraldine Bryant didn't even need to think about it.

"I loved Bernie, and every time he asked for money, I just gave it to him," Bryant told me in a recent phone interview. A filmmaker in Manhattan, Bryant gave the Sanders campaign 44 separate contributions over a nine-month period between October and June, in amounts ranging from $1 to $2,000. The donations totaled $14,440--more than five times the legal limit that an individual can give to a presidential primary campaign.

Lorraine Grace, an environmentalist and educator who runs a nonprofit organization north of San Francisco, gave the Sanders campaign 17 contributions during the height of the Democratic primary between December and May, in amounts ranging from $15 to $2,000. It added up to $8,625. "I donate almost like automatic," Grace explained. "Bernie Sanders' campaign reaches out to me? Bingo. Donation."

Bryant and Grace epitomize the fund-raising juggernaut that Sanders built virtually from scratch in 2015, allowing a small-state senator with little national following and a non-existent donor base to match Hillary Clinton dollar-for-dollar through much of their hard-fought Democratic primary. Sanders raised $231 million from more than 2.7 million donors, relying on grassroots support rather than the wealthy bundlers who collect large checks for establishment candidates.

But the constant fundraising requests that produced that shower of cash can be troubling in their own way. They're reminiscent of the marketing strategies used by casinos, tobacco companies, and even "the old Nigerian scams," said Timothy Fong, co-director of the Gambling Studies Program at UCLA. The solicitations convey "a sense of urgency, the very impulsive, it's an opportunity that can't be missed," he said. "It's very similar to what drug dealers use or casinos use to get people to continue to play."

Posted by orrinj at 11:43 AM


Finally, a California government pension safety valve (The San Diego Union-Tribune Editorial Board,  Aug. 27, 2016)

A unanimous state appeals court ruling that local and state governments can make "reasonable" changes in pension terms going forward is the best news on the California pension front ... ever.

For decades, under what was known as "the California rule," once a government employee was hired, her or his pension benefits could only be increased, not reduced. This was based on the assumption that these benefits amounted to a contract between employer and employee.

But in a ruling on unions' push to continue late-career pension spiking in Marin County despite a 2012 state law saying such maneuvers were no longer legal, Associate Justice James Richman made a broader point: "While a public employee does have a 'vested right' to a pension, that right is only to a 'reasonable' pension -- not an immutable entitlement to the most optimal formula of calculating the pension."

Posted by orrinj at 11:32 AM


Chart of the Day (Mark J. Perry, 8/29/16, AEI Ideas). 


The trend in the chart above shows another remarkable energy milestone for which we can thank hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling, and the resulting shale revolution. In 2016 so far through July, US consumer spending on "energy goods and services" (includes gasoline and other energy goods, and of electricity and natural gas services) has been only 3.8% of total personal consumer expenditures. As the chart shows, that marks the first time in US history back to 1929 that the share of consumer spending on energy has been below 4%. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:25 AM


LePage says he is considering resignation, apologizes (ERIC RUSSELL, 8/30/16,

Gov. Paul LePage raised the possibility Tuesday that he may not finish his second term, amid mounting pressure from Democrats and members of his own party to amend for his recent actions.

"I'm looking at all options," the Republican governor said while appearing on WVOM, a Bangor talk radio station. "I think some things I've been asked to do are beyond my ability.

Governing is about all the people, not just the ones most similar to you.

August 29, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


Gene Wilder Dies at 83; Star of 'Willy Wonka' and 'Young Frankenstein' (DANIEL LEWIS, AUG. 29, 2016, NY Times)

With his haunted blue eyes and an empathy born of his own history of psychic distress, he aspired to touch audiences much as Charlie Chaplin had. The Chaplin film "City Lights," he said, had "made the biggest impression on me as an actor; it was funny, then sad, then both at the same time."

Mr. Wilder was an accomplished stage actor as well as a screenwriter, a novelist and the director of four movies in which he starred. (He directed, he once said, "in order to protect what I wrote, which I wrote in order to act.") But he was best known for playing roles on the big screen that might have been ripped from the pages of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.

He made his movie debut in 1967 in Arthur Penn's celebrated crime drama, "Bonnie and Clyde," in which he was memorably hysterical as an undertaker kidnapped by the notorious Depression-era bank robbers played by Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty. He was even more hysterical, and even more memorable, a year later in "The Producers," the first film by Mr. Brooks, who turned it into a Broadway hit.

Mr. Wilder played the security-blanket-clutching accountant Leo Bloom, who discovers how to make more money on a bad Broadway show than on a good one: Find rich backers, stage a production that's guaranteed to fold fast, then flee the country with the leftover cash. Unhappily for Bloom and his fellow schemer, Max Bialystock, played by Zero Mostel, their outrageously tasteless musical, "Springtime for Hitler," is a sensation.

The part earned Mr. Wilder an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actor. Within a few years, the anxious, frizzy-haired, popeyed Mr. Wilder had become an unlikely movie star.

He was nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance as the wizardly title character in "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" (1971). The film was a box-office disappointment, partly because of parental concern that the moral of Roald Dahl's story -- that greedy, gluttonous children should not go unpunished -- was too dark in the telling. But it went on to gain a devoted following, and Willy Wonka remains one of the roles with which Mr. Wilder is most closely identified.

He had the one quality that separates great comic actors from their peers, the ability co convince us of their empathy, on the one hand, but frighten us with the hint that they could be genuinely mad or even evil , on the other.  


Posted by Glenn Dryfoos at 6:44 PM


Happy Bird-day!

See: All That Jazz #30

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Lessons from a 28 Year-Long Evolutionary Experiment (Jeffrey Marlow | August 29, 2016, Discover)

Every morning, a scientist walks into a lab in East Lansing, Michigan, grabs a pipette, and mixes two liquids. One is a cloudy brew of E. coli cells, billions of organisms thick; the other is a sterile solution with glucose and essential nutrients. One part A, 99 parts B, and back in the incubator it goes; over the next 24 hours, the cells will double nearly seven times, adapting to the broth in the process.

And so it goes in the lab of Richard Lenski, a Professor of Microbial Ecology at Michigan State University, just as it has for the last 28 years. That's more than 65,000 generations of E. coli, the "lab rat" of microbiology; the associated experiments have generated freezers' worth of samples and burned through enough petri dishes to fill a warehouse.

It started with 12 replicate populations of the same E. coli strain, each allowed to propagate on its own as it adapted to the glucose- and citrate-containing food source. "Is evolution this invariable slow and gradual process?" Lenski recalls wondering as he set up the first agar plates.

...designed and guided by an intelligent being?

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Colombia's Milestone in World Peace (STEVEN PINKER and JUAN MANUEL SANTOS, AUG. 26, 2016, NY Times)

The peace treaty announced this week between the government of Colombia and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, marks more than the end of one war. It is a milestone for peace in the Americas and the world.

The 52-year war between the Colombian state and the FARC is the oldest and only armed conflict in the Western Hemisphere, and the last one held over from the Cold War. From Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, war -- in the classic sense of a violent conflict over governance or territory fought by at least one national army -- has disappeared. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


The stock market boom of the Obama years (The Week, 8/29/16)

President Obama has presided over some of the best years to invest of the last century, The New York Times reports. The stock market has risen 11.8 per­cent on an annualized basis since Obama took office, the third best performance during an American presidency since 1900. Market performance was only better under Calvin Coolidge (25.5 per­cent) and Bill Clinton (15.9 percent).

Consider that had you been prescient enough to buy shares of a low-cost stock index fund on Mr. Obama's first inauguration day, on Jan. 20, 2009, you would now have tripled your money. Stock market performance of this level has rarely been surpassed. [The New York Times]

Posted by orrinj at 2:13 PM


Battleground States: Georgia ( Michael Nelson, August 25, 2016, Cook Political Report)

Charles S. Bullock III is the Richard Russell Professor of Political Science at the University of Georgia and the author of several books on southern politics, including the coedited The New Politics of the Old South, now in its fifth edition. What follows is the text of an email interview on Georgia politics today.  [...]

Is Georgia's electorate changing in ways that advantage either party? 

In addition to the higher turnout rates among African Americans, Georgia's electorate is becoming more diverse. The numbers of Hispanics and Asian Americans are growing. In 2014, for the first time the exit poll provided an estimate of Hispanic preferences. The exit poll estimate put the Hispanic share of the vote at 4% while the state's post-election audit was much lower at 1%. In part the difference is attributable to the recency with which the state added Hispanic as a category when voters register. Previously, the options were black, white or other and some Latinos who registered before having Hispanic as a choice identified themselves as white. 

Younger Georgians are more Democratic than their parents or grandparents. In 2014 not only did Millennials favor the Democrats (Michelle Nunn for Senate and Jason Carter for governor), so did voters aged 30 - 44. Polls this year also show younger voters tending Democratic while the older voters continue to prefer Trump. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM


Solid U.S. consumer spending boosts prospect of Fed rate hike (Lucia Mutikani, 8/29/16, Reuters)

U.S. consumer spending increased for a fourth straight month in July amid strong demand for automobiles, pointing to a pickup in economic growth that could pave the way for the Federal Reserve to raise interest rates this year. [...]

Low inflation, however, suggests the U.S. central bank could wait until its December policy meeting before raising borrowing costs.

"This report is a mixed bag for the Fed. While the consumer sector is continuing to advance solidly, progress towards the Fed's inflation mandate has stalled," said Michelle Girard, chief economist at RBS in Stamford, Connecticut.

The disconnection of economic growth and inflation is over thirty years old now.
Posted by orrinj at 2:00 PM


Brexit is actually boosting the UK economy (Nicole Gelinas, 8/29/16, NY Post)

Two months ago, the world's wise men were warning that if UK voters decided to "Brexit" from the European Union, they'd rain down economic crisis. Guess what? Today, Britain is fine -- and has even seen a boost from its "Leave" vote.

The International Monetary Fund, central bank chiefs, academic economists -- you know, the people who study the economy for a living -- said Brexit would be a disaster.

Then-Prime Minister David Cameron warned that Britons who voted to leave would risk their Social Security-style pensions. President Obama said Britons would have to "go to the back of the queue" to ink trade deals with the United States.

Now, though, Britain is showing how real free-market economics can correct political mistakes -- if, indeed, Brexit was a mistake.

After the vote, the British pound plummeted. Financial traders believed their government's warnings and ditched the currency.

Before Brexit, one British pound was worth $1.48. Today, it's worth $1.32. The pound has fallen against other currencies, too. That has meant record visitors to Britain this summer -- and tourists spending record amounts of money, too.

In the month before Brexit, airline reservations to Britain were down compared to the previous year, the Guardian reported. After the Brexit vote, they jumped 4.3 percent -- and wealthier tourists bought more jewelry and watches.

Other parts of the economy haven't suffered, either. Consumer confidence and domestic spending are both up. "Retail sales smashed expectations in August," the Daily Mail noted on Friday. Manufacturing and home-sales reports are well and good.

Posted by orrinj at 1:56 PM


In Hebron, Fatah faces a civil war at the polls (Avi Issacharoff, 8/29/16, The Times of Israel)

These are the first elections in more than a decade in which voting is taking place at the same time in both Gaza and the West Bank, and Hamas and Fatah are going head-to-head.

Whatever the result, it will affect not only the status of these organizations but also of their leaders, and could even seep into the relationship between the Palestinians and Israel. While these elections are local, and won't directly change anything politically or security-related between Israel and the Palestinian, a sweeping win by the hardline Islamist movement Hamas is still liable to ramp up the amount of suspicion and lack of trust between the two peoples.

As in the other cities in the West Bank, the trouble in Hebron is that because there are so many secular slates of candidates, there is a reasonable chance that the more moderate camp of Fatah and groups of its ilk will split the secular vote, paving the way for victory by Hamas candidates.

For Hamas's leaders in Gaza and abroad, the vote marks an extraordinary opportunity to take stock of where public opinion stands.

But fear of arrests by Israel or the Palestinian Authority have kept Hamas from openly running its members for office in the municipalities, forcing the movement to content itself with semi-independent figures who are known as Hamas supporters.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


A New Kind Of Ethical Diamond Is Made, Not Mined (JESSICA LEBER 08.29.16, Co.Exist)

In one end of a facility in Silicon Valley goes electricity--lots of it. Out the other, comes an armored truck stashed with diamonds.

In the middle are 8,000°F plasma reactors and more than $100 million in investment to power a startup that is on a mission to make ethical, sustainable diamonds in California. [...]

Lab-made diamonds aren't new. Since the 1950's, they've been used in industrial applications, but they always had impurities that kept them out of the jewelry sector until recently. Only in the last five years, a few companies achieved the holy grail: colorless diamonds that could not be distinguished from the real thing.

It's impossible to overstate deflation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:40 PM


How Tripoli Was Taken: The Lightning Advance That Ended Gadhafi's Rule (Clemens Höges, 8/29/11, der Spiegel)

The advance on Tripoli begins on Sunday, August 21, in Zawiya, a city of 250,000 on the coastal road, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) west of Tripoli. A column of rebel combat vehicles stretches for a kilometer along the road, heading east. It is a ragtag force that includes cars filled with fighters and the rebels' combat vehicles: pickup trucks with machine guns, rocket launchers and rapid-fire guns mounted on the beds. Most of the rebels are from the Nafusa Mountains, and they are traveling in groups identifiable by their stickers, groups like the Zintan Brigade and the Tripoli Brigade. With about 2,000 men Uraibi's group, the Jadu Brigade, is one of the largest.

Whenever the convoy comes to a stop in the scorching heat, the pickups spread out from the road, firing at individual buildings or groups of soldiers. Then it continues on its way in a cloud of dust and diesel fumes, leaving the air smelling of burnt gunpowder. A thin man with a salt-and-pepper beard, wearing a green canvas uniform, squats by the side of the road. Ali A., a businessman from the western German city of Giessen, is taking a short break from the war.

The war began for him 22 years ago, he says, when he fled through the desert. His rage against the regime began to grow in Germany, where he managed to get by, first as an asylum seeker and later as a German citizen. But he felt disconnected from the life he was living there, gleaning bits and pieces of news about his real life in Libya from friends in the country. He prefers not to see his last name in print, especially in SPIEGEL, fearing that the German authorities could decide to prosecute him for killing people in Libya. The man, who operates a rocket launcher, has no idea how many people he has killed.

As a young man living in Jansur, a Tripoli suburb, he printed flyers with a group of friends. They distributed the flyers outside schools at night, demanded more democracy and protested against Gadhafi's senseless war in Chad, where more than 7,500 Libyans were killed by the time it ended in 1987.

Gadhafi's secret police tracked down the small group, and one day they came to his parents' house to arrest him. He wasn't home, but he happened to call the house while the men were there. His brother told him about the police and Ali, fearing that he would be sent to prison for years, never even went home that day, leaving his wife and their three-month-old daughter behind.

"I didn't know that it would take 22 years," he says, speaking German with a faint regional dialect from the western state of Hesse.

Only three days after the uprising began in Benghazi, Ali closed his business in Giessen. He flew to Tunisia and crossed the border into the mountains, where he joined the Nafusa rebels and then joined another group of rebels from Jansur. The group has now formed its own brigade, the Jansur Brigade, probably the smallest with only 40 men.

He knows that his daughter now has a child of her own. But neither his wife nor his daughter know that he is coming, that he is a soldier in this war and that he is killing others so that he can return to life in Jansur.

Suddenly his comrades call out to him. It's time to move on. They are approaching a bridge where Gadhafi's soldiers are waiting with tanks. He climbs behind the steering wheel of the black Ford F-150. The pickup is camouflaged with mud, and other rebels are now manning the rocket launcher on the bed, which they take turns operating. "I can see them," he says. But the men quickly lose sight of one another in this chaotic war, and in his case it's because his only means of communication is a German mobile phone that doesn't work here in Libya. He accelerates and the group starts driving toward the rumbling sound of gunfire near the bridge, where only fighters dare to go.

As Abu Bakr Uraibi will later recount, his group with the Jadu Brigade is nearby-- and not moving from the spot. Uraibi has learned a lot in recent months.

Shortly after the uprising began, he took his wife and five children and drove home to Jadu. He was afraid that Gadhafi's troops would attack the towns in the Nafusa Mountains, and he knew immediately which side he would take. The people living in the mountains are not Arabs but Berbers, the original inhabitants of Libya, with their own language and writing that looks like primitive rock drawings. "Gadhafi always discriminated against Berbers," says Uraibi. "He didn't trust us."

Uraibi is doing relatively well, he says, but he is fighting for the future. "Gadhafi ruined our country, the healthcare system, the schools. Our oil makes us as rich as the sheikhs on the Gulf. But where is the money? And why do we isolate ourselves? We could have tourists, we could travel and we could be open."

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Surprisingly Little Evidence for the Usual Wisdom About Teeth (Aaron E. Carroll, AUG. 29, 2016, NY Times)

What about everything else? It turns out there's a whole journal dedicated to the idea that we could use more rigor in dental recommendations. Evidence-Based Dentistry either publishes systematic reviews or summarizes reviews from other organizations, like the Cochrane Collaboration.

The good news is that brushing appears to work. But it's important to know that it's brushing with fluoride toothpaste that matters, not the brushing alone. Doing that doesn't just prevent gingivitis and plaque formation; it also prevents cavities, which is the outcome that we care most about.

My dentist has always recommended a powered toothbrush. The evidence seems to agree that, as many randomized controlled trials confirm, powered toothbrushes reduce both plaque and gingivitis more than regular toothbrushes. An older Cochrane review concluded that the rotating powered toothbrushes were superior than the side to side powered brushes. I use the latter, and this disappointed me. But the difference between the two types, while statistically significant, was really small.

There appear to be no good randomized controlled trials on brushing frequency. The other studies that do exist, while flawed, seem to support twice-a-day brushing.

Surely the twice-a-year teeth cleanings matter? In 2005, Evidence-Based Dentistry highlighted a systematic review on the effects of routine scaling and polishing (you call it teeth cleaning). Researchers found eight randomized controlled trials that were on point, but they were all judged as having a high risk of bias. The results were all over the map. Their conclusions were that the evidence isn't of sufficient quality to reach any conclusions as to the benefits or harms of scaling and polishing. [...]

What about preventive dental visits themselves? In 2013, Bisakha Sen, Nir Menachemi and colleagues used data from the Alabama Children's Health Insurance Program to follow more than 36,000 children to see how preventive dental visits affected dental care and spending over time. They found that preventive visits were associated with fewer visits for restorative dental care in the future, implying that there was an improvement in oral health. But they found that, for the most part, more than one annual preventive visit in children was not cost-effective.

Further work found that it may have been the use of sealants, and not preventive visits in general, that had this protective effect. Since sealants could be applied without an actual visit to the dentist, that brings into question whether a more cost-effective means of getting sealant on children's teeth might be possible -- using a lower-cost dental hygienist, perhaps. Fluoride varnish appears to work well, too.

No review of dental health would be complete without at least acknowledging water fluoridation. Much of the evidence is old because it's getting hard to do studies. It would be somewhat unethical to withhold fluoridation at this point from some people, because the evidence in favor of the practice is so compelling.

In fact, fluoride is so important that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that in areas where the water supply is deficient, providers prescribe oral fluoride supplementation to children. They recommend the use of fluoride varnish as well.

To recap, there's good evidence that brushing twice a day with fluoride toothpaste is a good idea, especially with a powered toothbrush. For children, there's good evidence that the use of fluoride varnish or sealants can be a powerful tool to prevent cavities. The rest? It's debatable.

The value of "death panels" is that we could just stop paying for these things and make them pure consumer goods.

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


The Genetics of Type 2 Diabetes Is a Mess : A recent study shows why genetic advances in medicine are so challenging. (Michael White, 8/29/16, Pacific Standard)

After more than a decade of large, high-tech studies, the genetic basis of diabetes remains, for the most part, unexplained.

Type 2 diabetes is one of the major diseases that biomedical scientists hope to conquer with genomics. It's one of our most common diseases -- the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that nearly 10 percent of all Americans have it. Diabetes is also expensive: It accounts for an estimated $176 billion in medical costs each year. And while most of us have the impression that diabetes is something you prevent with a healthy diet and exercise, the disease also has a strong genetic component.

By understanding the genetics of diabetes, we hope to combat the disease in three big ways. First, we'll be able to identify people with a high genetic risk, and make them the focus of prevention efforts. Second, we might recognize and specifically treat different molecular forms of the disease -- different people likely have different underlying genetic mutations, which means that not all diabetics respond the same way to a one-size-fits-all therapy. And third, genetics will help us understand the disease's molecular underpinnings, and guide us toward better treatments that directly target those molecules. If we achieved all three goals, we would indeed revolutionize the treatment of diabetes.

And so, for the past decade, researchers have conducted large genetic studies, involving at first thousands, and now tens of thousands of diabetics. The results have been somewhat disappointing: Though researchers have linked dozens of mutations with diabetes, we're clearly still missing much of the picture. Known mutations account for only 10 percent of the estimated genetic contribution to the disease. After more than a decade of large, high-tech studies, the genetic basis of diabetes remains, for the most part, unexplained.

To find the missing mutations in diabetes, scientists of two large international research consortia performed a deeper DNA analysis of a large set of study subjects. Earlier studies used a lower-cost, coarse-grained scan of the subjects' DNA. These scans only had the power to detect mutations that are relatively common in the population. In this most recent study, the researchers decided to survey the subjects' genomes much more comprehensively.

The hypothesis behind this approach is that diabetes is a bit like Leo Tolstoy's famous claim about unhappy families: Each case of diabetes is affected by genetics in its own way. 

Close.  But, rather, each diabetic is affected by his family in its own way.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Meet the man siphoning money from Donald Trump : A 25-year-old with no Trump ties raises $1 million by dangling 'dinner' with the GOP nominee. (SHANE GOLDMACHER 08/29/16, Politico)

At a glance, the two websites look virtually indistinguishable. Both feature a photo of Donald Trump, in a suit and red tie, in front of a giant American flag. Both seemingly offer a chance for two to win dinner with Donald Trump.

One is at; the other is at

The first belongs to Trump's campaign. The second is a scheme run by Ian Hawes, a 25-year-old Maryland man who has no affiliation with Trump or his campaign and who has preyed on more than 20,000 unsuspecting donors, collecting more than $1 million in the process.

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Fight for Syria's Aleppo exposes limits of Russian air power (Maria Tsvetkova and Christian Lowe, 8/29/16, Reuters)

Russia's politically-sensitive and ultimately fruitless decision to launch bombing missions on Syria from Iranian soil has exposed the limits to its air power, leaving Moscow in need of a new strategy to advance its aims.

People familiar with Russia's military said Moscow opted for the sorties from Iran - and Tehran agreed to allow them - because they were struggling to achieve their aim of crushing rebels in the city of Aleppo.

The gamble failed and rebels fighting their ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Aasad, remain ensconced in parts of Aleppo.

Posted by orrinj at 12:47 PM


Putin's Stooge (Owen Matthews , 8/28/16, Newsweek)

Not since the beginning of the Cold War has a U.S. politician been as fervently pro-Russian as Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. Just four years after his predecessor Mitt Romney declared Russia to be Washington's greatest geopolitical threat, Trump has praised President Vladimir Putin as a real leader, "unlike what we have in this country." Trump has also dismissed reports that Putin has murdered political enemies ("Our country does plenty of killing also," he told MSNBC), suggested that he would "look into" recognizing Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula and questioned whether the United States should defend NATO allies who don't pay their way. When Russian hackers stole a cache of emails in July from the Democratic National Committee's servers, as security analysts have shown, Trump called on "Russia, if you're listening," to hack some more.

"Trump is breaking with Republican foreign doctrine and almost every Republican foreign thinker I know," says Michael McFaul, U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. "He is departing radically from Ronald Reagan, something never done by any Republican Party presidential candidate."

It's easy to see why Putin views Trump's ascendancy as a godsend--and why he mobilized his cyberspies and media assets to his aid, according to security analysts. "Trump advocates isolationist policies and an abdication of U.S. leadership in the world. He cares little about promoting democracy and human rights," continues McFaul. "A U.S. retreat from global affairs fits precisely with Putin's international interests."

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM

"HEY, WILLIE, I NEED A LOOP" (profanity alert):

SECRET LIFE OF A COUNTRY CLUB CADDY (Andrew Kahn, MAY 27, 2014, Narratively)

Country club caddying is much different than working for a professional golfer. You are not asked for distances on every shot or to read the green on every putt, nor do you have to be as concerned with the emotional state of your golfer. It has just one requirement: an ability to walk five miles with up to fifty pounds on your shoulders. Patience certainly helps. Even as a veteran, there were times I'd wait for a loop from seven a.m. until noon. There was an internal struggle between wanting to get on the course and knowing that's just the start of your work. "Gotta make a day's pay," Billy, who was also a full-time firefighter, would always say when you asked if he was sticking around.

Leaving was not easy, anyway. Communicating with the caddy master was like deciphering code. I'd ask whether it was worth staying and get a shrug in return. He'd catch me trying to leave and say, "Hey, where do you think you're going?" and I'd slink back to the bench like a dog who knows he's misbehaved. Two hours later he'd see me sitting there and say, "You're still here?" My friend and I were terrified of him and would play rock-paper-scissors to decide who'd talk to him. But he was fair. If he made you wait around one day he'd get you out early the next, often with a high-paying group.

Once on the course, I learned to zone out while still paying attention so I could get from the first tee to the eighteenth green in what seemed like less time than it really was. Splitting the round into smaller benchmarks was key. I'd tell myself, Just get to the fourth tee, then get through seven. I'd get a free Gatorade at the turn (after nine holes) and a hot dog for a dollar if I wanted. After I climbed the big hill on thirteen, I felt like I was heading home.

Sometimes I'd lose both my focus and sight of the ball. It was never good when I turned my head as if the ball was passing, only to hear it land twenty yards behind me. But even worse was when I didn't hear or see it at all. This warranted one of several stall tactics. The key was to let the golfer lead me to his ball, presuming he saw it. I've untied and retied my shoes, gone to the nearest water fountain to wet my towel, cleaned every club in the bag, stretched -- anything to kill the time until the golfer walked towards his ball. Of course, if neither of us saw it, I was screwed.

When the round was done, I'd put the money from each golfer in separate pockets. Once they were out of sight I counted it. A veteran looper told me the rate was $37.50 a bag when he started in 1996. It was $40 to $50 when I started and $60 to $70 by the time I stopped in 2008. Now it's up to $80 a bag, minimum. The super loopers doing two a day are making at least $320 in cash.

After a summer of single-bag loops and occasional one-and-ones (one bag and one putter from a cart-riding golfer, for half the fee of a bag), I graduated to doubles. The difference between carrying two bags compared to one is less than you think, physically, and if you're going to spend two hours sitting and another four on the course, you'd rather get $100 than $50.

Although, working for two golfers meant twice as many complaints. There are a few I've heard more than a hundred times: "I barely touched it" -- said when a golfer hammers a putt ten feet past the hole. "That's not fair. I hit that sooo well" -- said after a shot lands in a sand trap or the rough or some other undesirable location. And my favorite: "The ball's just not travelling well today" -- said when a golfer's shots repeatedly come up short of the green. I've never heard a golfer say the conditions were making the ball travel farther than usual. One time a woman I was caddying for hit a tree -- in plain sight no more than thirty yards away -- and yelled at her husband, "Why didn't you tell me that tree was there?"

It was always amusing when a horrible player would ask how far away a hole is and I'd tell him "about 135, 140," and he'd say, "Well, which is it? 135 or 140?" as if it mattered. More often than not he was going to shank it sixty yards anyway. And when he did, he'd likely blame it on his clubs. As I heard one golfer tell his annoying partner, "It's not the arrows. It's the Indian."

I saw caddies cheat for their golfers by moving a ball from the rough to the fairway. I even heard about a "hole-in-one caddy," fired a few years before I started, who turned good shots into lifetime memories on holes where the golfer couldn't see the green's surface, in the hopes of getting better tips. It sure as hell wasn't worth losing my job over something like that and I didn't care enough about how well my golfer played.

Never saw a caddie cheat for his golfer, but I've seen plenty cheat a golfer who was a jerk and/or a bad tipper.  It's easy enough to foot wedge one into the rough or step on one and bury the lie.

August 28, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 PM


10,000th Syrian reaches US this week in resettlement program (KARIN LAUB, Aug. 28, 2016, AP)

The U.S. will reach its target this week of taking in 10,000 Syrian war refugees in a year-old resettlement program, the U.S. ambassador to Jordan said Sunday, after meeting families headed to California and Virginia.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Burden of Health-Care Costs Moves to the Middle Class (ANNA LOUIE SUSSMAN, Aug. 26, 2016, WSJ)

Growth in overall health-care spending is slowing, but middle-class families' share of the tab is getting larger, squeezing households already feeling stretched financially. [...]

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a health-care research nonprofit, found deductibles for individual workers have soared in the past five years, rising 67% since 2010 without adjusting for inflation, roughly seven times earnings growth over the same period. A separate Kaiser analysis of tens of millions of insurance claims found patient cost-sharing rose by 77% between 2004 and 2014, driven by a 256% jump in deductible payments.

"The growth in deductibles for workers shows no sign of slowing," said Larry Levitt, senior vice president at the foundation. "What consumers have been paying has been going up much faster than wages. Even people who are insured are having problems paying medical bills."

Transfer more and it will slow more.

Posted by orrinj at 5:02 PM


For Hillary Clinton and Democrats, a Public Shift Toward 'God-Talk' (SAMUEL G. FREEDMAN AUG. 27, 2016, NY Times)

The Clinton campaign, meanwhile, has given voice to the religious principle of love -- an explicitly Christian concept that is espoused by most monotheistic faiths -- as the root of liberal policies.

"It was extraordinary during the convention to hear this discussed explicitly and implicitly," said the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss III, the pastor of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago and the author of a forthcoming book about the scriptural interplay of love and justice.

"Most of America views love in a very sentimental capacity," Dr. Moss said. "But the way God loves us -- agape -- is not about me liking someone or me feeling good about someone, but about God making a deep demand" on humans to seek the kind of equitable society that Dr. King termed "the beloved community."

Jennifer A. Herdt, a professor of Christian ethics at Yale Divinity School, made a similar observation.

"Liberals have been more comfortable talking about justice than love," she said. "What we're now seeing is the recovery of an understanding of love and justice as connected to each other, this notion of love reviving the heart of democracy. Because democracy has a heart. It's not just about your individual project. It's about coming together."

Indeed, Mr. Trump's serial disparagements of Muslims, Mexican immigrants, disabled people, African-American protesters and women -- and his campaign's popularity among white supremacists and anti-Semites -- gave the Democrats a wide berth to position themselves as the party of lovingkindness.

However expedient in this election cycle, the party's decision to use religiously inflected language reflects a shift. Of course, virtually every candidate for president has intoned the expected mantra "God bless America." The "civic religion" of Cold War America, with its evocation of a "Judeo-Christian tradition," was used by politicians of all stripes to contrast devout America from "godless Communism."

Yet the first Catholics to seek the presidency -- the Democratic candidates Alfred E. Smith, in 1928, and John F. Kennedy, in 1960 -- had to publicly promise not to take orders from the pope in order to quell bigoted attacks. On issues such as abortion, same-sex marriage and aid to parochial schools, the Democrats have coalesced around separation of church and state.

The one contrary example in modern liberalism was the civil rights movement. No matter how much progressives might wish to play it down, that political effort was organized by members of the clergy, mobilized through churches and infused with religious language. In a 1962 sermon, "Levels of Love," Dr. King based the quest for civil rights in agape's command that humans should emulate God by loving others, even their enemies, however different in class, race, religion, and political belief.

In this exceptionally divisive presidential campaign, such Christian language has connected to people in other faiths -- especially those who have been on the recent receiving end of bias and hate crimes.

"The language of the civil rights movement is deeply familiar to anyone who is familiar with the Quran," said Omid Safi, the director of Duke University's Islamic Studies Center. "One of the most-known verses in the Quran is that God commands you to engage in love and justice. And to love your fellow human being in that way is to merge with the divine current."

Valarie Kaur, a filmmaker and activist who is Sikh, said she heard in the convention's language a version of her religion's concept of "chardi kala," meaning to serve God and humanity through "relentless love and optimism."

"We've seen a resurgence of the language of love this election season for a reason," she said. "The escalation of hate and vitriol has been so extreme and confrontational that Americans are hungry for a potent language in return."

Posted by orrinj at 4:49 PM


Immigration Flip-Flop Leaves Trump Campaign Flailing on Sunday Shows : If his campaign team's performance on the Sunday shows this week tells us anything, it's that even they have no idea what his "new" immigration policy is. (Tim Mak, 08.28.16, Daily Beast)

Asked about the so-called "deportation force" that Trump had promised, vice presidential candidate Mike Pence said that the idea was a "mechanism, not a policy"--as if there was a distinction between the two. 
"I mean, you're going to hear more detail in next two weeks that lays out all the policies," Pence said on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday morning. "I think Donald Trump will articulate what we do with the people who are here... what you see going on right now--and I think, at a certain level, it's very refreshing, because it's the Donald Trump that I see every day--is, you see a CEO at work."

Gov. Chris Christie, who chairs Trump's transition team, seemed similarly unable to elucidate precisely what Trump's policy would be in coming days.

"There's going to be, you know, some decisions he's going to have to make as president regarding these folks, and I think what he's said [is] let's get let's first get all of the bad actors out of the country," Christie said on ABC's "This Week."

Meanwhile, on CBS's "Face the Nation," Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway couldn't answer the question of whether undocumented immigrants would need to deport themselves or whether there would be a "deportation force."  [...]

Those who have supported Trump's previous immigration stances are fed up. Mark Krikorian, who leads the anti-immigration Center for Immigration Studies, which is frequently cited by the campaign, told The Daily Beast earlier this week that he was a fan of the extensive immigration plan that Trump had put out last summer while running for the Republican nomination. 

"It's pretty detailed," Krikorian said. "It's just that he's never read it." 

If Trump is going to clarify his remarks, not even the chairman of the Republican National Committee seems to know exactly when that will be.

"You're going to find out from Trump very shortly. He's going to be giving prepared remarks on the issue I think very soon. I don't want to give a date," Reince Preibus dutifully told NBC's Chuck Todd on "Meet the Press."

There's a deliciously insipid quality to the whole notion of turning something these folks pretend is serious--illegal immigration--into a massive game of red rover, where all that we really require is that they cross a line and then step back over.
Posted by orrinj at 4:36 PM


Trump might already be out of time : With negative perceptions hardened, his late adjustments on policy and rhetoric could sway too few people to matter. (ELI STOKOLS 08/28/16, Politico)

The Republican nominee -- three months after clinching the nomination -- has begun frantically trying to reposition himself in the past week, installing a new campaign manager and controversial CEO to help him escape the straitjacket that his 14 months of incendiary comments and hard-edged policy positions have him in.

His task, GOP insiders readily concede, seems close to impossible. In an interview Wednesday night, Trump's new campaign manager, Kellyanne Conway, recognized how long it may take to improve the public's negative perceptions of the GOP nominee, likening her turnaround project to turning a tanker.

Trump may not have that kind of time. Early voting begins in 26 days in Minnesota and in 32 other states soon after that. And already, as summer inches to its end, 90 percent of Americans say they've decided. For all the televised daily drama this race has provided, the final outcome itself is shaping up to be less dramatic than any presidential election since 1984.

"Kellyanne is good at this, but she's got a very damaged candidate and it's very late in the game," said Tony Fratto, a GOP operative in Washington and former deputy press secretary to President George W. Bush. "I think it's too late, in fact. I don't believe he can change. All of this is trying to trick voters into thinking there is a better Donald Trump out there. There is no better Donald Trump."

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Plouffe Annoys Chuck Todd When He Calls Trump a 'Psychopath' (Alyssa Canobbio, August 28, 2016, Free Beacon)

In a previous conversation with Todd, Plouffe had expressed concern with Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton winning Virginia and Colorado. Noting the states seem safely in Clinton's column, Todd asked him how he didn't seem to assess those states correctly.

"I think the assessment was that Donald Trump would try and do some things to appeal to the middle of the electorate, to appeal to the suburban college educated women. He's not. Basically we have a psychopath running for president," Plouffe said. "He meets the clinical definition, OK?"

Todd immediately took issue with Plouffe diagnosing Trump on television and stopped him and asked if he had a degree in psychology.

"Is that fair? We're jumping to conclusions here," Todd said.

What "Psychopath" Means (Scott O. Lilienfeld, Hal Arkowitz, December 1, 2007, Scientific American)

First described systematically by Medical College of Georgia psychiatrist Hervey M. Cleckley in 1941, psychopathy consists of a specific set of personality traits and behaviors. Superficially charming, psychopaths tend to make a good first impression on others and often strike observers as remarkably normal. Yet they are self-centered, dishonest and undependable, and at times they engage in irresponsible behavior for no apparent reason other than the sheer fun of it. Largely devoid of guilt, empathy and love, they have casual and callous interpersonal and romantic relationships. Psychopaths routinely offer excuses for their reckless and often outrageous actions, placing blame on others instead. They rarely learn from their mistakes or benefit from negative feedback, and they have difficulty inhibiting their impulses.

Donald Trump: Sociopath? (JAMES HAMBLIN  JUL 20, 2016, The Atlantic)

Labeling people from afar is an inherently flawed endeavor, of course, especially with regard to mental health. Many psychologists and psychiatrists say that their work could never be done remotely, and should never be attempted outside of the standard, one-on-one approach to diagnosis. Many regard anything less as patently unethical. But certain extenuating circumstances seem to make this exercise worthwhile.

Psychiatrists often bestow labels knowing less about the facts of people's lives and actions than we collectively know today about Donald Trump's. We're also legitimized in this endeavor by the fact that sociopathy and psychopathy--which are similar, and sometimes used interchangeably--are not formal psychiatric diagnoses. The terms "sociopath" and "psychopath" do tend to be thrown around casually by people in need of an insult that carries an air of empiricism. "My boss is a sociopath" is to say that this is not just an opinion or judgment, but a fact. But different people define the terms differently, with understandings converging around the feature of lacking "a conscience."  

The closest thing to psychopathy or sociopathy in The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM)--the book that defines every mental illness and outlines how mental-health professionals should make the diagnosis--is either Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Antisocial Personality Disorder.

Other analysts have focused on the applicability of Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which the Mayo Clinic defines by "an inflated sense of [one's] own importance, a deep need for admiration and a lack of empathy for others. But behind this mask of ultra-confidence lies a fragile self-esteem that's vulnerable to the slightest criticism." One psychologist, Ben Michaelis, called Trump "textbook Narcissistic Personality Disorder." Psychologist George Simon called Trump "so classic that I'm archiving video clips of him to use in workshops because there's no better example of his characteristics."

To more wholly assess the claim of sociopathy, then, it may be more illustrative at this point to consider the Antisocial Personality Disorder side of the picture, which focuses on deceit, manipulation, disregard for the rights of others, and failure to take responsibility for one's actions.

According to the DSM, Antisocial Personality Disorder should be diagnosed in a person who meets two criteria about the way they function in the world, and criteria about their personal traits. In the realm of the latter, the person must also demonstrate two other traits: antagonism and disinhibition.

Antagonism can be characterized by hostility, manipulativeness, deceitfulness, or callousness. It's worth considering these one by one.

Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM


Trump's 2,000-Mile Mistake (Francis Wilkinson, 8/26/16, Bloomberg View)

Even Donald Trump recognizes that he has an immigration problem. No, I'm not talking about his wife, Melania, whose promised news conference detailing her sketchy immigration history has, almost three weeks after Trump announced it, still failed to materialize. I'm talking about the pronouncements -- mass deportations, the famous Mexican-financed border wall -- that have been the centerpiece of Trump's presidential campaign.

With November's election fast approaching, it seems Trump is having second thoughts. Given this particular candidacy, it's equally plausible that Trump is having first thoughts. There is no evidence that he has ever seriously considered any issue, including immigration. His purpose throughout the Republican primary was to convey hostility to Hispanic immigrants, and to validate the hostility of his crowds. Accusing Mexicans of crimes and promising deportations and a wall to keep them out accomplished his goal. Were his pronouncements actual policies that Trump intended to carry out? I don't know. Maybe.

Now, polls are showing the limits of bigotry and boorishness in a general election. While the horse-race numbers have been generally bad for Trump, a Pew Research poll released this week is arguably worse. It reveals why he might want to wiggle out of his promises to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants and erect an impenetrable wall along the southwestern border.

August 27, 2016

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Trump Is the Titanic (JONATHAN V. LAST, 8/25/16, Weekly Standard)

What I was trying emphasize with all the poll talk Wednesday is that this race is over. There is no coming back from where Trump is now. A candidate with high-favorables and a semi-competent campaign--say, Bob Dole--couldn't do it. A conspiracy-obsessed narcissist who is hated by 60 percent of the country and whose operation spends more money on hats and private planes than on voter turnout isn't going to do it.

Here's the #realtalk: Donald Trump is not going to be elected president. And if you're serious about blunting Hillary Clinton's agenda, then you need to accept this reality and start working to save (1) as many marginal Senate seats as possible and (2) the House.

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