March 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:20 AM


Macro or micro? Fight looms over evolution's essence : Is evolution driven by genes, individuals or entire species? A new paper promises to ignite ferocious debate (Stephen Fleischfresser, 3/23/17, Cosmos)

In a paper, yet to be peer-reviewed, on the biological pre-print repository bioRxiv, Simpson has outlined a renewed case for species selection, using recent research and new insights, both scientific and philosophical. And this might be too much for the biological community to swallow.

The debate over levels of selection dates to Charles Darwin himself and concerns the question of what the 'unit of selection' is in evolutionary biology.

The default assumption is that the individual organism is the unit of selection. If individuals of a particular species possess a trait that gives them reproductive advantage over others, then these individuals will have more offspring.

If this trait is heritable, the offspring too will reproduce at a higher rate than other members of the species. With time, this leads to the advantageous trait becoming species-typical.

Here, selection is operating on individuals, and this percolates up to cause species-level characteristics.

While Darwin favoured this model, he recognised that certain biological phenomena, such as the sterility of workers in eusocial insects such as bees and ants, could best be explained if selection operated at a group level.

Since Darwin, scientists have posited different units of selection: genes, organelles, cells, colonies, groups and species among them.

Simpson's argument hinges on the kind of macroevolutionary phenomena common in palaeontology: speciation and extinction over deep-time. Species selection is real, he says, and is defined as, "a macroevolutionary analogue of natural selection, with species playing an analogous part akin to that played by organisms in microevolution".

Simpson takes issue with the argument that microevolutionary processes such as individual selection percolate up to cause macroevolutionary phenomena.

He presents evidence contradicting the idea, and concludes that the "macroevolutionary patterns we actually observe are not simply the accumulation of microevolutionary change... macroevolution occurs by changes within a population of species." that they have no idea how--or whether--it works, just pet theories.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Read President Trump's Interview With TIME on Truth and Falsehoods (Michael Scherer, March 22, 2017, TIME)

One of my ideas here is that throughout the campaign and now as president, you have used disputed statements, this is one of them that is disputed, the claim that three million undocumented people voted in the election...

Well I think I will be proved right about that too.

The claim that Muslims celebrated on 9-11 in New Jersey...

Well if you look at the reporter, he wrote the story in the Washington Post.

But my idea is that whatever the reality of what you are describing, the fact that they are disputed makes them a more effective message, that you are able to spread the message further, that more people get excited about it, that it gets on TV.

Well now if you take a look at the votes, when I say that, I mean mostly they register wrong, in other words, for the votes, they register incorrectly, and/or illegally. And they then vote. You have tremendous numbers of people. In fact I'm forming a committee on it.

But there's no evidence that 3 million people voted with...

We'll see after the committee. I have people say it was more than that. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Eyeing Trump's Budget Plan, Republican Governors Say 'No, Thanks' (ALEXANDER BURNS, MARCH 22, 2017, NY Times)

As Mr. Trump and his advisers press for bone-deep cuts to the federal budget, Republican governors have rapidly emerged as an influential bloc of opposition. They have complained to the White House about reductions they see as harmful or arbitrary, and they plan to pressure members of Congress from their states to oppose them.

Of acute concern to Republicans are a handful of low-profile programs aimed at job training and economic revitalization, including regional development agencies like the Appalachian commission and the Delta Regional Authority, which serves eight Southern and Midwestern states, seven of them with Republican governors. They are also protective of grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development and a $3.4 billion job training program funded through the Labor Department.

Mr. Trump's budget office has proposed to eliminate or deeply slash funding for all of those programs, along with dozens of others.

Kim S. Rueben, a budget expert at the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center, said the retrenchment in Mr. Trump's spending plan appeared to be significantly out of step with his campaign promises to use the federal government as a machine for creating jobs, especially in distressed Midwestern and rural areas.

"It just seems like you're going after places that are so pivotal to what you are arguing you wanted to do for your base," Ms. Rueben said of Mr. Trump's budget. "They're cutting all sorts of infrastructure projects and economic development projects at the same time that the president is still talking about how much of an investment he's going to put into infrastructure."

The White House's proposed cuts would be felt in matters well beyond economic development: A budget briefing circulated last week by the National Governors Association, a nonpartisan group, identified a long list of Trump-backed cuts to programs that support states. They include the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, a $3 billion project in the Department of Health and Human Services that helps people pay for heating and air-conditioning, and the Community Development Block Grant program, a $3 billion initiative of the Department of Housing and Urban Development that funds local projects from affordable housing to Meals on Wheels.

A budget briefing circulated last week by the National Governors Association, a nonpartisan group, identified a long list of Trump-backed cuts to programs that support states.

Those cuts could come on top of a potentially huge restructuring of the federal Medicaid program under a Republican-backed health care law. A number of Republican governors, including John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandoval of Nevada, have publicly criticized the bill under consideration in the House of Representatives because they say it would impose an impossible fiscal burden on states.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


The Problem With Climate Catastrophizing (Oren Cass, 3/21/17, Foreign Affairs)

Climate change may or may not bear responsibility for the flood on last night's news, but without question it has created a flood of despair. Climate researchers and activists, according to a 2015 Esquire feature, "When the End of Human Civilization is Your Day Job," suffer from depression and PTSD-like symptoms. In a poll on his Twitter feed, meteorologist and writer Eric Holthaus found that nearly half of 416 respondents felt "emotionally overwhelmed, at least occasionally, because of news about climate change." 

For just such feelings, a Salt Lake City support group provides "a safe space for confronting" what it calls "climate grief."

Panicked thoughts often turn to the next generation. "Does Climate Change Make It Immoral to Have Kids?" pondered columnist Dave Bry in The Guardian in 2016. "[I] think about my son," he wrote, "growing up in a gray, dying world--walking towards Kansas on potholed highways." Over the summer, National Public Radio tackled the same topic in "Should We Be Having Kids In The Age Of Climate Change?" an interview with Travis Rieder, a philosopher at Johns Hopkins University, who offers "a provocative thought: Maybe we should protect our kids by not having them." And Holthaus himself once responded to a worrying scientific report by announcing that he would never fly again and might also get a vasectomy. 

It always begins with hating humans.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


They Smashed Banks for Pol Pot. Now They're Founding Them. (JULIA WALLACEMARCH 22, 2017, NY Times)

MALAI, Cambodia -- For years, Tep Khunnal was the devoted personal secretary of Pol Pot, staying loyal to the charismatic ultracommunist leader even as the Khmer Rouge movement collapsed around them in the late 1990s.

Forced to reinvent himself after Pol Pot's death, he fled to this outpost on the Thai border and began following a different sort of guru: the Austrian-American management theorist and business consultant Peter Drucker.

"I realized that some other countries, in South America, in Japan, they studied Drucker, and they used Drucker's ideas and made the countries prosperous," he said.

The residents of this dusty but bustling town are almost all former Khmer Rouge soldiers or cadres and their families, but they have come to embrace capitalism with almost as much vigor as they once fought to destroy class distinctions, free trade and even money itself.

Mr. Tep Khunnal helped lead the way, as a founder of an agricultural export company and a small microfinance bank for farmers before rising to become the district governor. From that position, he encouraged his constituents to follow suit.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


Dames, detectives and dope: why we still love hardboiled crime (David Barnett , 23 March 2017, The Guardian)

Back in 1920, Henry Louis Mencken and George Jean Nathan ran a magazine for the well-heeled women and their sugar daddies up on Long Island: the Smart Set, they called it.

The Smart Set wasn't doing so well - but Mencken had an idea. He had noticed that a periodical called Detective Story Magazine, was flying off newsstands, so he started his own crime pulp: Black Mask, the first issue of which landed in October 1920, complete with a woman being menaced with a burning branding iron on the cover.

Mencken had no illusions about Black Mask, writing to a friend that it was "a lousy magazine" but "it has kept us alive during a very bad year". After just eight issues, Mencken and Nathan sold it on to a Madison Avenue publishing company - but there it pioneered a brand new genre: the hardboiled detective story.

Hardboiled is all about cynical, complex detectives; think of Humphrey Bogart's turns as Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe or Dashiell Hammett's private eye, Sam Spade. What's now considered the first hardboiled story was published by Black Mask in 1922: The False Burton Combs, written by Carroll John Daly ("I ain't a crook; just a gentleman adventurer and make my living working against the law breakers. Not that work I with the police - no, not me. I'm no knight errant either." The archetype was born: men out for justice and/or revenge, pounding perpetually rainy streets in a dark American city. [...]

Amid an explosion of pulp crime magazines - Dime Detective, Detective Tales, Strange Detective, Ace G-Man Stories - in the 20s and 30s, Black Mask would publish some of the greats: Hammett's The Maltese Falcon, early stories by Chandler, and Erle Stanley Gardner.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


'New' wave-like cloud finally wins official recognition (Matt McGrath, 3/23/17, BBC)

Last revised in 1987, its new fully-digital edition includes the asperitas after campaigns by citizen scientists. [...]

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) publishes the atlas, and also has the final say on the contents, including the addition of "new" clouds and cloud features.

This time around 12 new terms have been added. The best known of these is asperitas, meaning rough-like in Latin, as the clouds can look like the tossing of the waves at sea when viewed from below.

These clouds were first recorded over Iowa in the US in 2006, but soon a torrent of similar images from around the world began to pour in to the Cloud Appreciation Society, a citizen science body.

They began to lobby the WMO for official recognition of the cloud type. But the fact that it has now been officially included came as something of a surprise.

"Back in 2008, I thought the chances of this becoming official were really minimal," said Gavin Pretor-Pinney, president of the society.

"At first the WMO were saying they had no plans to do a new edition, but over time I think they began to realise there is an interest among the public in clouds and there is a need for that interest to be an informed one, there's a need for this authoritative work."

Asperitas becomes the first addition of a new recognisable term since 1953.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


Americans' Shift To The Suburbs Sped Up Last Year (Jed Kolko, 3/23/17, 538)

The suburbanization of America marches on. Population growth in big cities slowed for the fifth-straight year in 2016,1 according to new census data, while population growth accelerated in the more sprawling counties that surround them.

The Census Bureau on Thursday released population estimates for every one of the more than 3,000 counties in the U.S. I grouped those counties into six categories: urban centers of large metropolitan areas; their densely populated suburbs; their lightly populated suburbs; midsize metros; smaller metro areas; and rural counties, which are outside metro areas entirely.

The fastest growth was in those lower-density suburbs. Those counties grew by 1.3 percent in 2016, the fastest rate since 2008, when the housing bust put an end to rapid homebuilding in these areas.

March 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 PM


US Officials: Info suggests Trump associates may have coordinated with Russians (Pamela Brown, Evan Perez and Shimon Prokupecz,  March 22, 2017, CNN)

The FBI has information that indicates associates of President Donald Trump communicated with suspected Russian operatives to possibly coordinate the release of information damaging to Hillary Clinton's campaign, US officials told CNN.

This is partly what FBI Director James Comey was referring to when he made a bombshell announcement Monday before Congress that the FBI is investigating the Trump campaign's ties to Russia, according to one source.

New Poll Shows Trump's Base Eroding, Approval Rating Sliding, as 60 Percent Find Him Dishonest (Elliot Hannon, 3/22/17, sLATE)

If it feels, to you, like Donald Trump is doing a terrible job as president--you're not alone. Recent polls have shown the president's support cratering to historic lows, and a new Quinnipiac University poll released Wednesday confirmed Trump's unpopularity. Trump's job approval rating stands at 37 percent with a whopping 56 percent of Americans disapproving of the job Trump's doing. By comparison, nearly two-thirds of Americans approved of Barack Obama at a similar stage, and George W. Bush had an approval rating nearing 60 percent, while roughly 1-in-4 Americans disapproved of the former presidents two months into their first terms.

Inside the numbers, Trump's support is eroding among Republicans--dropping 10 points--and his support among white voters and men--two demographics whose support was crucial to his election win--has also dipped. Trump's personal characteristics are also proving to be deeply unpopular. According to Quinnipiac's nationwide survey conducted March 16-21, some 60 percent of Americans think the president is not honest and does not share their values; 66 percent believe he is not level-headed; and 57 percent say President Trump does not share their values.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM

EVEN BETTER THAN THE RANT (profanity alert)...:

A classic Dallas Green tirade (Ray Didinger, August 11, 1980, Philadelphia Daily News)

The Phillies had just lost the opener, 7-1, in the style that has become their trademark, slipping into defeat as if it were a lounge chair. The loss was their third straight to the Pirates, their ninth straight on the road and it splashed kerosene on the fire that was already burning in the manager's belly. 

DALLAS GREEN STALKED into the clubhouse and opened up on his players, spraying them with a machine-gun burst of anger. The news media were locked outside but that hardly mattered, what with Green 's voice echoing through the Allegheny Mountains. 

"This bleeping game isn't easy," Green bellowed. "It's tough, especially when you have injuries. But you guys (have) got your bleeping heads down.

"You've gotta stop being so bleeping cool. Get that through your bleeping heads. If you don't, you'll get so bleeping buried, it ain't gonna be funny. 

"Get the bleep off your asses," Green said, "and just be the way you can be because you're a good bleeping baseball team. But you're not now and you can't look in the bleeping mirror and tell me you are. 

"You tell me you can do it but you bleeping give up. If you don't want to bleeping play, get the bleep in that (manager's) office and bleeping tell me because I don't want to bleeping play you."

That was Dallas Green 's best shot, his longest and surely his loudest thrust at what remains of this team's conscience. The Phillies reflected on Green's words, then went out and lost the nightcap, 4-1, swinging the bats as grudgingly as lifers working on a Leavenworth rockpile.  [...]

THE PHILLIES HAVE about as much chance of winning the National League East as Ted Kennedy has of stealing the Democratic nomination away from Jimmy Carter. But, like a crusty old campaign manager, Dallas Green is not about to concede until the last delegate is counted. to check out the roster of players it was hurled at.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 PM


In a Rare Survey, Cubans Express a Hunger for Economic Growth (AZAM AHMED, MARCH 21, 2017, NY Times)

For the Cuban state, led by Raúl Castro, allowing entrepreneurs to open small businesses, normalizing relations with the United States and expanding tourism have been central to the country's hunt for economic growth.

These three policies were among the most highly supported by the Cubans interviewed in the survey, done by the independent research group NORC at the University of Chicago. Eight of 10 Cubans interviewed felt tourism to the country should be increased, and 95 percent said having a high level of economic growth was an extremely or very important goal.

And yet Cubans seemed to have little faith in their government's capacity to deliver on those goals. Only three in 10 felt the economy would improve in the next three years. And just 13 percent said the current economy was good or excellent. Three-quarters of Cubans believed they must be careful in saying what they think, at least sometimes.

Over half of those Cubans interviewed said they would like to leave the country if given a chance, and 70 percent of those individuals said they would move to the United States if they could.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


Why the Intelligence Community Was Focused on Michael Flynn (Martin Longman, March 20, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Back in November, when President-elect Trump announced his intention to make Michael Flynn his national security adviser, I called it a catastrophic pick and, citing a May/June article by Michael Crowley in Politico Magazine, I noted that a senior Obama administration had said about Flynn that "It's not usually to America's benefit when our intelligence officers--current or former--seek refuge in Moscow." In the same article, Crowley referred to Flynn's attendance at the December 10, 2015 10-year anniversary gala for RT, the Russians' state-propaganda news network (and his subsequent employment at RT), as "perhaps the most intriguing example of how the Russians have gone about recruiting disaffected members of that establishment..."

The idea that Michael Flynn, who had recently served as the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, may have been "recruited" by the Russians was certainly of keen interest to the intelligence community. This was clear from anonymous quotes that came out at the time: "He was that close to a despot, an enemy to the U.S., at an event for the Russian government's propaganda arm," a senior U.S. intelligence official said at the time about Flynn's attendance at the RT celebration." Even what Michael Flynn was doing in the open was considered a potential crime, due to Flynn's security clearances and his responsibilities as a retired officer of the U.S. military.

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


To Promise Free Things Is to Lie (Ben Shapiro, 3/22/17, National Review)

President Trump represents the notion, ascendant in Republican circles, that the only way to win elections is to fib to the American people. Power is its own justification, and there is no better way to demonstrate power than by promulgating a big lie. That fits with Trump's view of the world, in which success is its own virtue.

With the Journal and NR admitting that Donald is a congenital liar the bubble risks being breached.

Posted by orrinj at 9:19 AM


Iran Steps Up Supplies to Houthis, Including 'Kamikaze' Drones (Jamie Dettmer, 3/22/17, Voice of America)

They are nicknamed "kamikaze" drones. Houthi forces and those aligned with former President Ali Abdullah Saleh in Yemen are using them to target the missile-defense systems of Saudi-led coalition forces, weapons analysts say. [...]

Government forces dominate in the south and east of the impoverished country on the tip of the Arabian Peninsula, but Houthis, who are an offshoot of Shi'ite Islam, control the larger towns in the northwest, including the capital, Sana'a.

CAR researchers report that Houthi- and Saleh-aligned forces employ many of the drones to target the Saudi coalition's Patriot surface-to-air missile systems.

"They do so by crashing the UAVs into the systems' radar sets (specifically the circular main phased arrays) -- directing the UAVs by programming their systems with open-source GPS coordinates of the Patriots' positions," researchers said.

"While the coalition deploys Patriot systems to counter missile threats, the destruction of the Patriots' radar systems enables Houthi- and Saleh-aligned forces to target coalition assets with volleys of missile fire unhindered," they added.

The use of these drones illustrates the Houthi- and Saleh-aligned forces' ability to employ low-cost technology against the coalition's sophisticated military assets, researchers said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


One key stumbling block is causing Wall Street to question Trump's whole economic agenda (Pedro Nicolaci da Costa , 3/22/17, Business Insider)

Now that healthcare has turned into such a debacle that even the country's ruling party and its president cannot agree on even its basic framework, those second and third parts of Trump's legislative agenda are likely to be weakened, delayed and in some cases, foregone.

Goldman Sachs Economist Alec Phillips said in a recent podcast he's telling clients to tamp down their enthusiasm.

"If you look at the chronology of this, right after the election, there was a discussion about this was going to be a 2017 tax cut," Phillips said. "Now it's clearly a 2018 tax cut. Who knows, it could be a 2018-2019 story ultimately."

As for infrastructure, "what everyone was expecting, we might get a little bit of that but that's not what's going to be driving things."

Trump has in fact publicly admitted he would have preferred to start his reform agenda with tax cuts now that he realizes what a behemoth healthcare can be.  As CNBC's Carl Quintanilla aptly put it, Trump has made the issue of healthcare sound like "the vegetables you need to eat before you get to the good stuff."

Donald Trump's presidency is the 'most failed first 100 days ever', says US historian (Charlotte England, 3/22/17, The Independent)

"To be as low as he is in the polls, in the 30s, while the FBI director is on television saying they launched an investigation into your ties with Russia, I don't know how it can get much worse," Douglas Brinkley, a best-selling biographer of presidents Gerald Ford, Franklin Roosevelt, and Theodore Roosevelt, told The Washington Post. 

He added: "This is the most failed first 100 days of any president."

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


White House Health Care Full-Court Press Changes Few Minds (John T. Bennett, 3/22/17, Roll Call)

The president warned House Republicans they could face tough primary challenges and the party could lose both chambers if the health care bill dies. Trump also warned them that killing the measure would virtually derail his plans to pursue a tax overhaul package -- with massive cuts popular with Republican members and voters alike -- later this year.

However, hours later, as Republican House members scurried about during a vote series and senators left a lunch meeting with Pence, they spoke not of the power of the presidential pressure campaign, but about their lingering concerns about a list of policy provisions still in the bill. 

He ran behind all of them in their districts.  He owes them, not vice versa.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 AM


AP Exclusive: Manafort had plan to benefit Putin government (JEFF HORWITZ and CHAD DAY, 3/22/17, AP) 

President Donald Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, secretly worked for a Russian billionaire to advance the interests of Russian President Vladimir Putin a decade ago and proposed an ambitious political strategy to undermine anti-Russian opposition across former Soviet republics, The Associated Press has learned. The work appears to contradict assertions by the Trump administration and Manafort himself that he never worked for Russian interests.

Manafort proposed in a confidential strategy plan as early as June 2005 that he would influence politics, business dealings and news coverage inside the United States, Europe and the former Soviet republics to benefit the Putin government, even as U.S.-Russia relations under Republican President George W. Bush grew worse. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


A President's Credibility : Trump's falsehoods are eroding public trust, at home and abroad. (WSJ, March 21, 2017)

If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We're not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods. [...]

[T]he President clings to his assertion like a drunk to an empty gin bottle, rolling out his press spokesman to make more dubious claims. 

A drunk would have been preferable to a pathological liar. But did he ever have any credibility?

Trump Winery in Virginia seeks more foreign workers (AP, Mar. 20, 2017)

Trump Vineyard Estates, better known as Trump Winery, asked to bring in 29 workers this season through the federal H-2A visa program, The Daily Progress reported ( ). The program enables agricultural employers who anticipate a shortage of domestic workers to bring foreign workers to the U.S. to do agricultural jobs or perform other temporary or seasonal services.

Trump Vineyard Estates, owned by Eric Trump, initially applied for six foreign workers in December. Two months later, the company applied for 23 more. Both job orders for Trump Vineyard Estates say the primary tasks include planting and cultivating vines, adding grow tubes and pruning grape vines.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


A freight train sings me an iron lullaby : The screech of the rails, the blast of the horn say all is well. (Robert Klose, MARCH 22, 2017, CS Monitor)

Winter nights in rural Maine are marked by a dense silence, reinforced by the snow-laden landscape. As someone who grew up in a city, I am acutely aware of this and sometimes find myself straining, as I lie in bed, for evidence of civilization beyond the walls of my house. Every so often I receive it - the passing rumble of the freight train.

The railroad tracks lie not 500 feet from my front door. I drive or walk over them every day, and when I do, I often take time to glance down their length, to where the shining rails coalesce and disappear into the woods in the distance. I may even get to see the train itself. I watch as it approaches, slowly and inexorably, its boxcars swaying on straining sleepers. As I sit in my idling car before the blinking warning lights, I have a front-row seat to one of industrial America's great shows as the behemoth clanks and squeals past me, its engineer ensconced high up in the black diesel locomotive like a pasha. 

Seeing the train by day is always a treat, but hearing it in the dead of night is comforting. 

Nothing beats the sound of the trains running along the Connecticut River.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Syrian army sends reinforcements as rebels press Hama attack (Reuters, 3/22/17)

The areas of Hama province targeted in the latest assault form part of the western region of Syria where Assad has shored up his rule during the six-year-long conflict against an array of insurgents seeking to topple him.

The military source said insurgent groups had mobilized large numbers for the assault that was targeting towns including Soran, some 20 km (12 miles) north of Hama city, and Khattab, about 10 km northwest of it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Sebastian Gorka, Uphold Your Oath To The America People (Jane Eisner, March 21, 2017, The Forward)

Remember, in the end, Gorka doesn't work for Trump, or for his patron, chief strategist Steven Bannon. He works for me. And for you. [...]

On March 21, the Forward again asked the White House whether Gorka has high level security clearance and whether that clearance is necessary for his position on the new Strategic Initiatives Group, which Daily Beast National Security reporter Kimberly Dozier describes as "an internal White House think tank" created by Bannon and Trump adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The administration's answer to our question spoke volumes: "No comment."

The public, and the press, have a right to receive a definitive answer as to whether Gorka joined Vitézi Rend; three separate leaders told the Forward on the record that Gorka swore allegiance to the group. He also signs his name with Vitézi Rend special "v," and he wore the group's medal to one of Trump's inaugural balls. [...]

We also have a right to question Gorka's credentials. He presents himself as an expert on radical jihadist ideology, but does not speak Arabic, has spent no time in the Middle East, has never published in peer-reviewed journals, and holds views about Islam that are outside the mainstream of both Democratic and Republican thought.

And that is why the refusal of Klein and others on the Jewish right to insist on answers to these important questions is so disturbing. Gorka's belief that the West is engaged in a war with global jihadists, and that a virulent ideology sweeping through the Islamic world must be forcefully repulsed, so neatly dovetails with their worldview that they are willing to dismiss all these other reasonable concerns. Concerns that ought to worry us as Jews. Concerns that ought to worry us as Americans.

Some organizations, including the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect, have called for Gorka's resignation from the administration. Others like the Anti-Defamation League have called on him to disavow his past ties.

We have a simple request that we repeat again: Answer the questions we have a right to ask.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Ricardo's brilliant insight (DONALD J. BOUDREAUX, March 21, 2017, Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

Until Ricardo published his "Principles," the belief was that a country that can produce a greater quantity of every good and service than any other country has nothing to gain -- and will only lose -- by trading internationally. Intuitively, this seems correct. If Portugal can produce more cloth and more wine than Great Britain can, the Portuguese appear to be better at producing both. How could the Portuguese possibly benefit by importing one of these goods from Britain?

Ricardo showed how. He explained that a country's ability to produce more of some good than can be produced elsewhere does not mean that country necessarily is that good's most efficient producer. Efficiency in producing some good -- say, cloth -- is reflected not in how much cloth can be produced but, instead, in how many other goods must be sacrificed to produce cloth.

Assume (as Ricardo did) that the Portuguese can produce more wine and more cloth than the British can. Yet also recognize, along with Ricardo, that in each country, producing more wine means producing less cloth, and producing more cloth means producing less wine. What matters, said Ricardo, is the amount of wine Portugal gives up to produce more cloth compared to the amount of wine Britain gives up to produce more cloth.

Suppose producing an additional bolt of cloth causes Portuguese wine production to fall by four gallons, but causes British wine production to fall by only two gallons. Under these circumstances, the British produce cloth at a lower cost than the Portuguese do, even though Portugal is capable of producing absolutely more cloth than Britain is.

So if the British sell the Portuguese a bolt of cloth for, say, three gallons of wine, both gain. Producing the bolt of cloth cost the British only two gallons of wine, while they sell it for three gallons. The Portuguese get a bolt of cloth by sacrificing only three gallons of wine rather than sacrificing four gallons to produce the cloth themselves.

Now extend the insight past nations to the relationship between men and machines.  We can have machines produce nearly all goods and services more efficiently and cost-effectively than we do and in exchange we have to sacrifice nothing except the very idea of labor.  Now that's comparative advantage.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


The Republican Health-Care Unraveling (PAUL STARR, MARCH 22, 2017, American Prospect)

Imagine if Donald Trump had been a genuine populist and followed through on his repeated promises to provide health insurance to everybody and take on the pharmaceutical and insurance industries. Populists in other countries have done similar things, and Trump might have consolidated support by emulating them.

Of course, Trump's promises about health care weren't any more genuine than his promises about Trump University. But even if he had been in earnest, he would have still faced a problem. Unlike right-wing populists elsewhere, Trump did not come to power with a party of his own or well-developed policies. He came tethered to the congressional Republicans, entirely dependent on them to formulate and pass legislation. That dependence will likely complicate Trump's ambitions in such areas as trade policy. But nothing so far has made more of a mockery of Trump's populism than the health-care legislation introduced in early March by Paul Ryan and the House Republican leadership and fully backed by Trump.

The Ryan bill is abhorrent for many reasons. It calls for a massive tax cut for people with high incomes, while costing millions of other Americans--24 million by 2026, according to the Congressional Budget Office--their health coverage. It would turn Medicaid from a right of beneficiaries into a limited grant of funds to the states, and it pays for the tax cuts for the rich with cuts in health care for the poor. The bill's reduced tax credits for insurance make no adjustment for low income, while some credits would go to people with incomes over $200,000.

But what is most amazing about the bill is how badly it treats constituencies and states that voted for Trump and the GOP.

The quicker Trumpcare dies the sooner Ryan can move to the Third Way program he actually supports.

Mitch McConnell's Trumpcare Plan Is to Lose Fast (Jonathan Chait, 3/22/17, New York)

Trumpcare may or may not grind out enough votes to pass the House. In the Senate, it's hopelessly short of the 50 votes it needs. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has laid out a wildly aggressive time frame, under which his chamber would essentially xerox the House bill and pass it into law within a few days -- no hearings, no negotiations. A few weeks ago, I suggested the possibility that McConnell's plan was not wildly aggressive but actually designed to fail. His latest comments make this scenario seem far more likely.

"We're not slowing down," McConnell told reporters Tuesday. "We will reach a conclusion on health care next week." And while he is brimming with certainty about the speed of the process, he is hardly confident of its outcome: "We'll either pass something that will achieve a goal that we've been working on," he said. "Or not."

Ron Wyden and Paul Ryan's Bipartisan Plan for Health Care and Medicare Reform (Avik Roy ,  12/15/11,  Forbes)

The heart of the Wyden-Ryan plan is to use competitive bidding to allow private insurers to compete with traditional, 1965-vintage fee-for-service Medicare. If you want to learn more about competitive bidding, see this piece I wrote about Mitt Romney's proposal for Medicare reform. If that doesn't quench your thirst, you can read the definitive book on competitive bidding: Bring Market Prices to Medicare, by Robert Coulam, Roger Feldman, and Bryan Dowd.

The basic idea behind competitive bidding is that, say, on a county-by-county basis, you let private plans and traditional Medicare offer plans with the same actuarial value compete, to see who can offer the same package of benefits the most efficiently. Each plan in a given county will name a price for which they are willing to offer these services, and seniors are free to pick whichever plan they want. However, the government will only subsidize an amount equal to the bid proposed by the second-cheapest plan. If you want a more expensive plan, you have to pay the difference yourself.

As I mentioned in the Romney post linked to above, competitive bidding has some left-of-center fans; indeed, a form of competitive bidding was part of the Senate version of Obamacare. It also has fans on the Right, most notably Yuval Levin, dean of the conservative entitlement-reform wonk set. A key concern I mentioned in the Romney post is that competitive bidding, if not structured correctly, puts private insurers at a disadvantage to the government plan. It would be important to ensure that there is a level playing field between the public and private options under such a system.

The plan would only go into effect for people aged 55 or younger today. These future seniors would buy insurance on a "Medicare Exchange," which would require plans to guarantee coverage regardless of pre-existing conditions, and require plans to charge similar premiums to those who are healthier or sicker.

The Art of the Trump: Call It Corum's Law (Jimmy Breslin, 6/07/90, Newsday)

Trump survives by Corum's Law. This is a famous, well-tested theory and is named after Bill Corum, who once wrote sports for the Hearst papers when they were in New York. He had a great gravel voice and did radio and television announcing for the World Series and heavyweight championship fights. He was a round little guy who was the youngest Army major in World War I, and when he came back he announced, "I just want to smell the roses." He read Balzac at the bar, often wrote exciting English, drank a ton of whiskey and lost as much money as he could find at the racetrack. He was a tough guy who understood weakness. 

Corum was asked to become the head of the Kentucky Derby by Louisville businessmen who said they had a grave problem. Newspapers all over the world claimed Louisville was a place where Derby visitors were robbed. Prices were tripled, touts were everywhere and women who were supposed to be available and uncommonly glamorous turned out to be nothing more than common thieves.

Corum glanced at the clips and threw them in the air. "This is great. There is nothing better for a championship event than a treacherous woman. If a guy from North Dakota goes home from here after the race and has to be met because he doesn't even have cab fare left, that guy is going to say to himself, 'Wow. I must have had a hell of a time. I can't wait for next year.' But if that same guy goes home and he still has half his money, he is going to say 'I guess I didn't have such a great time at the Kentucky Derby after all.'

"Because, gentlemen, this is the rule. A sucker has to get screwed." Corum ran the Kentucky Derby on this premise for years, and the game was good for all of Louisville. No sucker ever wept.

Today, Corum's Law runs all of Donald Trump's situation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Why Letting Go, for Trump, Is No Small or Simple Task (GLENN THRUSH and MAGGIE HABERMAN, MARCH 21, 2017, NY Times)

The two most influential role models in Mr. Trump's youth were men who preached the twin philosophies of relentless self-promotion and the waging of total war against anyone perceived as a threat.

Mr. Trump, according to one longtime adviser, is perpetually playing a soundtrack in his head consisting of advice from his father, Fred, a hard-driving real estate developer who laid the weight of the family's success on his son's shoulders. Mr. Trump's other mentor was the caustic and conniving McCarthy-era lawyer Roy Cohn, who counseled Mr. Trump never to give in or concede error.

Mr. Trump's fixation on Mr. Obama and an F.B.I. investigation into Russian influence in the 2016 election echo his actions in New York decades ago, when he engaged in bitter personal battles with the mayor, Edward I. Koch, and the city fathers of Atlantic City. The battles were often to the detriment of Mr. Trump's real estate and gambling businesses, according to Tim O'Brien, author of "TrumpNation," a 2005 biography that documented his early years.

"I don't think there's anything new here in his behavior,'' said Mr. O'Brien, now the executive editor of Bloomberg View. "He's been doing this kind of thing for the last 45 years.''

"He's deeply, deeply insecure about how he's perceived in the world, about whether or not he's competent and deserves what he's gotten," he added. "There's an unquenchable thirst for validation and love. That's why he can never stay quiet, even when it would be wise strategically or emotionally to hold back."

With those two as his role models there was never a chance he'd develop into a decent human being.

Posted by orrinj at 4:37 AM


Russia underplayed losses in recapture of Syria's Palmyra (Maria Tsvetkova, 3/22/17, Reuters)

Russia's force in Syria has suffered losses since late January more than three times higher than the official toll, according to evidence gathered by Reuters, a tally that shows the fight in Syria is tougher and more costly than the Kremlin has disclosed.

Eighteen Russian citizens fighting alongside Moscow's allies, the Syrian government forces, have been killed since Jan. 29 -- a period that coincided with intense fighting to recapture the city of Palmyra from the Islamic State group.

The Russian defense ministry has publicly reported only five servicemen's deaths in Syria over the same period, and its officials' statements have not mentioned any large-scale Russian ground operations in the fight for Palmyra.

March 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM

10 OUT OF 10:

Colin Dexter obituary : Crime writer who created the deep-thinking Oxford detective Inspector Morse (Dennis Barker, 21 March 2017, tHE gUARDIAN)

Intellectually rather like Morse, Dexter was a master of the literary high wire. Morse's first name was kept under wraps for years, always presenting audiences with a riddle to be solved - a riddle almost as interesting as the one about why Morse, though presented as constantly falling in love with women, never married one.

Only gradually was it leaked out that his first name began with an E. But the secret about his first name - in real life it would have appeared on documents easily accessible at the police station - was not dispelled until 1996, when there was a landslide of useful publicity about the disclosure that the name was not Edward, nor Ernest, or even Enoch, as some pundits had speculated, but Endeavour - because Morse's parents had been Quakers who greatly admired Captain Cook, whose ship bore that name. [...]

The first of the Inspector Morse novels, Last Bus To Woodstock (1975), was written because, with his wife, Dorothy, and two sons, Dexter was on holiday in north Wales at a time when the rain never seemed to stop. Thoroughly miserable and bored, he read both the detective novels in their holiday accommodation, decided that they were not much good and thought he could do better. With the benefit of medieval and suburban Oxford as the setting (Dexter reckoned that he would never have become a writer had he moved to Rotherham), Last Bus to Woodstock proved the point.

The names for the characters were chosen with the same liking for intellectual riddles as the plots. He chose the name for Morse, and for all the others in the novel, except for the murderer, from a crossword, at a time when he entered regularly for the Observer Ximenes puzzle, which was won more often by Sir Jeremy Morse and a Mrs B Lewis.

Once it was obvious that he had found a winning character and setting, Dexter seriously set about writing detective novels. There were 12 more in the Morse series, including Service of All the Dead (1979), for which he won the Silver Dagger award of the Crime Writers' Association, The Dead of Jericho (1981), another Silver Dagger-winner, The Wench is Dead (1989), for which he won the Gold Dagger, The Way Through the Woods (1992), another Gold Dagger-winner, and the last, The Remorseful Day (1999), which killed off Morse, as well as a short-story collection, Morse's Greatest Mystery (1993).

The first of 33 episodes of the Inspector Morse television series was presented in 1987, with John Thaw as Morse and Kevin Whately as Lewis, and Dexter himself appearing in various cameos. When the novels ran out, Dexter wrote additional scripts for Morse before turning over the series to other writers. The last episode, in 2000, featured Morse's death, and after Thaw's death in 2002, Dexter stipulated that no other actor should reprise the role. However, the story continued in a spin-off series, Lewis (2006-15), and a prequel series, Endeavour, with Shaun Evans as the young Morse, which began in 2012.

Dexter was often asked whether he wrote for a readership or for himself. His answer was that he wrote for his old English teacher Mr Sharp. He would write a page and then ask himself, "Would Mr Sharp like that?" His aim was to feel that Mr Sharp would give it at least eight out of 10.

Posted by orrinj at 1:39 PM


Exclusive: Iran steps up support for Houthis in Yemen's war - sources (Jonathan Saul, Parisa Hafezi and Michael Georgy, 3/21/17, rEUTERS)

 Iran is sending advanced weapons and military advisers to Yemen's rebel Houthi movement, stepping up support for its Shi'ite ally in a civil war whose outcome could sway the balance of power in the Middle East, regional and Western sources say.

Iran's enemy Saudi Arabia is leading a Sunni Arab coalition fighting the Houthis in the impoverished state on the tip of the Arabian peninsula - part of the same regional power struggle that is fuelling the war in Syria.

Sources with knowledge of the military movements, who declined to be identified, say that in recent months Iran has taken a greater role in the two-year-old conflict by stepping up arms supplies and other support. This mirrors the strategy it has used to support its Lebanese ally Hezbollah in Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 1:32 PM


Lack of 2 state solution is existential threat to Israel -- ex-Mossad chief (Tamar Pileggi, 3/21/17, The Times of Israel)

The only existential threat facing Israel is its defiant refusal to pursue a two-state solution to the conflict with Palestinians, ex-Mossad director Tamir Pardo warned on Tuesday.

"Israel has decided not to choose, and is hoping the conflict will one day resolve itself, or that the Arabs will disappear in some kind of cosmic miracle," he said at a Netanya conference in memory of his late predecessor, Meir Dagan.

Pardo said that unless Israel acts to separate itself from Palestinians, Arabs from the West Bank and Gaza Strip would eventually outnumber Jews, who could one day find themselves a dwindling minority in a Jewish state.

Posted by orrinj at 12:00 PM


Inside the identity crisis at the Independent Journal Review, the outlet that has become a powerhouse in the Trump era (Oliver Darcy, 3/21/17, Business Insider)

The opportunity to shadow Tillerson did little to change that perception. IJR reporter Erin McPike, who was trailing Tillerson, was not filing stories from the road during the week. Nor was she sending out real-time updates to colleagues covering the secretary's movements. McPike blamed her superiors in a tweet, saying they had told her to solely focus on a profile piece -- a decision that was ultimately reversed later under mounting pressure and allowed her to break some news about his trip and views toward the media.

Back at home, another firestorm erupted when IJR's viral editor, Kyle Becker, published a conspiracy theory about former President Barack Obama to the website. Without evidence, Becker suggested that perhaps there was a connection between Obama's Hawaii visit and a state judge's ruling which blocked Trump's second travel ban.

Reporters took notice and ridiculed the baseless report. IJR's congressional reporter, Joe Perticone, tendered his resignation. And IJR was forced to issue a full retraction.

In an email obtained by Business Insider, Becker apologized to his colleagues for "showing a lack of judgement." However, while Becker took the fall, he was not the only person to blame, a source familiar with the matter told Business Insider.

IJR's chief content officer, Benny Johnson, had been warned earlier in Slack that the story about Obama was an unfounded conspiracy theory, but assigned it to Becker anyway, the source said. [...]

In conversations with more than a dozen current and former employees, most of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, several individuals said the incidents were emblematic of larger problems at IJR. Current and former staffers said the website, chasing clicks, has veered sharply to the right in recent months to feed its conservative base the red meat it desired. [...]

The pressure to package stories in a way more palatable to tastes of the website's conservative audience was even felt by some members of the news team who were beholden, in the early days, to click quotas of upwards of 500,000 a week, according to two sources. The attitude is a familiar one for many sites focused on the ever-increasing hyper-partisan nature of political news, as they hold their writers to traffic goals and struggle to find a balance between telling the news and satisfying their audiences.

"I felt ashamed of a lot of the stuff that I had to publish there," said one former staffer. "There's stuff that I had to write at IJR that I wouldn't want my professors to read. Not because it was authored in a bad way, but the way we were covering stories and issues was an embarrassment to political reporting."

The Right's attempt to consume only edgy media and avoid the mainstream just leaves them misinformed. 

March 2017
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29 30 31