February 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:23 PM


  Dismal Results From Vouchers Surprise Researchers as DeVos Era Begins (Kevin Carey, Feb. 23rd, 2017, NY Times)

The first results came in late 2015. Researchers examined an Indiana voucher program that had quickly grown to serve tens of thousands of students under Mike Pence, then the state's governor. "In mathematics," they found, "voucher students who transfer to private schools experienced significant losses in achievement." They also saw no improvement in reading.

The next results came a few months later, in February, when researchers published a major study of Louisiana's voucher program. Students in the program were predominantly black and from low-income families, and they came from public schools that had received poor ratings from the state department of education, based on test scores. For private schools receiving more applicants than they could enroll, the law required that they admit students via lottery, which allowed the researchers to compare lottery winners with those who stayed in public school.

They found large negative results in both reading and math. Public elementary school students who started at the 50th percentile in math and then used a voucher to transfer to a private school dropped to the 26th percentile in a single year. Results were somewhat better in the second year, but were still well below the starting point.

This is very unusual. When people try to improve education, sometimes they succeed and sometimes they fail. The successes usually register as modest improvements, while the failures generally have no effect at all. It's rare to see efforts to improve test scores having the opposite result. Martin West, a professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, calls the negative effects in Louisiana "as large as any I've seen in the literature" -- not just compared with other voucher studies, but in the history of American education research.

There's always the chance that a single study, no matter how well designed, is an outlier. Studies of older voucher programs in Milwaukee and elsewhere have generally produced mixed results, sometimes finding modest improvements in test scores, but only for some subjects and student groups. Until about a year ago, however, few if any studies had shown vouchers causing test scores to decline drastically.

In June, a third voucher study was released by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative think tank and proponent of school choice. The study, which was financed by the pro-voucher Walton Family Foundation, focused on a large voucher program in Ohio. "Students who use vouchers to attend private schools have fared worse academically compared to their closely matched peers attending public schools," the researchers found. Once again, results were worse in math.

Three consecutive reports, each studying one of the largest new state voucher programs, found that vouchers hurt student learning. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM


Trump Deportation Threats to Constrict Already-Tight Job Market (Patricia Laya, February 22, 2017, Bloomberg)

President Donald Trump's sweeping crackdown on undocumented immigrants will strain an already tight U.S. job market, with one study suggesting that removing all of them would cost the economy as much as $5 trillion over 10 years.

That represents the contribution of the millions of unauthorized workers to the world's largest economy, about 3 percent of private-sector gross domestic product, according to a recent paper issued by the National Bureau of Economic Research. At an average of $500 billion in output a year, removing all such immigrants would be like lopping off the equivalent of Massachusetts from the U.S. economy, said study co-author Francesc Ortega.

Posted by orrinj at 1:15 PM


Boehner: Republicans won't repeal and replace Obamacare (DARIUS TAHIR, 02/23/17, Politico)

Boehner, who resigned in 2015 amid unrest among conservatives, said at an Orlando health care conference that the idea that a repeal-and-replace plan would blitz through Congress is just "happy talk."

Instead, he said changes to former President Barack Obama's signature legislative achievement would likely be relatively modest.

"[Congressional Republicans are] going to fix Obamacare - I shouldn't call it repeal-and-replace, because it's not going to happen," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 1:07 PM


Neanderthals' DNA makes its presence felt : A gene's ancestry changes the way it is regulated, affecting appearance and health. (Dyani Lewis, 2/23/17, Cosmos)

When scientists sequenced the Neanderthal genome in 2010, it became apparent that prehistoric dalliances had taken place between Neanderthals and our European and Asian ancestors.

A faint afterglow of these matings is still present in the genomes of modern humans. Around 2% of the genomes of non-Africans is of Neanderthal origin.

In some cases, carrying the Neanderthal version of a gene has been linked to changes in fat metabolism, depression and lupus risk.

Posted by orrinj at 12:48 PM


Trump trade data proposal defies common sense, honest accounting (DANIEL GRISWOLD, 02/23/17, The Hill)

Reconfiguring U.S. trade numbers in such a fashion would be a bad idea motivated by an economically shaky assumption. The assumption is that exports are the positive side of the trade ledger and imports are the negative side. Therefore, a trade deficit is a net negative for the U.S. economy.
By reducing the official count of exports and enlarging the trade deficit, or so the thinking goes, policymakers may be more likely to take steps to "fix" the deficit by reducing imports. 

This mercantilist approach misses the core reality of trade -- Americans benefit from imports and exports, arguably even more so. Imported goods benefit the vast majority of Americans by spurring more competition to satisfy consumers with better products at lower prices. This raises the real wages of American workers, especially low-income workers who spend a larger share of their budgets on such tradable goods and food, clothing, and shoes.  

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


La La Land has the world's worst traffic congestion (Charisse Jones, 2/20/17 , USA TODAY)

Cheap gas and a surging economy are taxing the nation's roads and contributing to congestion that cost U.S. motorists almost $300 billion last year in wasted time and fuel, according to a new report.

Los Angeles had the worst traffic in the world among the 1,064 cities studied by transportation analytics firm INRIX. The average driver wasted 104 hours sitting in gridlock during the busiest commuting times last year, and lost $2,408 each in squandered fuel and productivity. [...]

New York motorists spent 89 hours on average in traffic during peak periods last year. The average San Francisco driver cooled their heels behind the wheel 83 hours on average in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Manafort faced blackmail attempt, hacks suggest : Stolen texts appear to show threats to expose relations between Russia-friendly forces, Trump and his former campaign chairman. (KENNETH P. VOGEL, DAVID STERN and JOSH MEYER 02/23/17, Politico)

Attached to the text is a note to Paul Manafort referring to "bulletproof" evidence related to Manafort's financial arrangement with Ukraine's former president, the pro-Russian strongman Viktor Yanukovych, as well as an alleged 2012 meeting between Trump and a close Yanukovych associate named Serhiy Tulub.

"Considering all the facts and evidence that are in my possession, and before possible decision whether to pass this to [the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine] or FBI I would like to get your opinion on this and maybe your way to work things out that will persuade me to do otherwise," reads the note. It is signed "Sergii" -- an alternative transliteration of Leshchenko's given name -- and it urges Manafort to respond to an email address that reporters have used to reach Leshchenko.

In the text to Manafort's daughter to which the note was attached, the sender writes from a different address, "I need to get in touch with Paul i need to share some important information with him regarding ukraine investigation." The sender adds "as soon as he comes back to me i will pass you documents," but also warns: "if I don't get any reply from you iam gonaa pass it on to the fbi and ukrainian authorities inducing media."

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


The Future of Not Working (Annie Lowrey, Feb. 23rd, 2017, NY Times Magazine)

The villagers had seen Western aid groups come through before, sure, but nearly all of them brought stuff, not money. And because many of these organizations were religious, their gifts came with moral impositions; I was told that one declined to help a young mother whose child was born out of wedlock, for example. With little sense of who would get what and how and from whom and why, rumors blossomed. One villager heard that GiveDirectly would kidnap children. Some thought that the organization was aligned with the Illuminati, or that it would blight the village with giant snakes, or that it performed blood magic. Others heard that the money was coming from Obama himself.

But the confusion faded that unseasonably cool morning in October, when a GiveDirectly team returned to explain themselves during a town meeting. Nearly all of the village's 220 people crowded into a blue-and-white tent placed near the school building, watching nervously as 13 strangers, a few of them white, sat on plastic chairs opposite them. Lydia Tala, a Kenyan GiveDirectly staff member, got up to address the group in Dholuo. She spoke at a deliberate pace, awaiting a hum and a nod from the crowd before she moved on: These visitors are from GiveDirectly. GiveDirectly is a nongovernmental organization that is not affiliated with any political party. GiveDirectly is based in the United States. GiveDirectly works with mobile phones. Each person must have his or her own mobile phone, and they must keep their PIN secret. Nobody must involve themselves in criminal activity or terrorism. This went on for nearly two hours. The children were growing restless.

Finally, Tala passed the microphone to her colleague, Brian Ouma. "People of the village," he said, "are you happy?"

"We are!" they cried in unison.

Then he laid out the particulars. "Every registered person will receive 2,280 shillings" -- about $22 -- "each and every month. You hear me?" The audience gasped and burst into wild applause. "Every person we register here will receive the money, I said -- 2,280 shillings! Every month. This money, you will get for the next 12 years. How many years?"

"Twelve years!"

Just like that, with peals of ululation and children breaking into dance in front of the strangers, the whole village was lifted out of extreme poverty. (I have agreed to withhold its name out of concern for the villagers' safety.) The nonprofit is in the process of registering roughly 40 more villages with a total of 6,000 adult residents, giving those people a guaranteed, 12-year-long, poverty-ending income. An additional 80 villages, with 11,500 residents all together, will receive a two-year basic income. With this initiative, GiveDirectly -- with an office in New York and funded in no small part by Silicon Valley -- is starting the world's first true test of a universal basic income. The idea is perhaps most in vogue in chilly, left-leaning places, among them Canada, Finland, the Netherlands and Scotland. But many economists think it might have the most promise in places with poorer populations, like India and sub-Saharan Africa.

GiveDirectly wants to show the world that a basic income is a cheap, scalable way to aid the poorest people on the planet. "We have the resources to eliminate extreme poverty this year," Michael Faye, a founder of GiveDirectly, told me. But these resources are often misallocated or wasted. His nonprofit wants to upend incumbent charities, offering major donors a platform to push money to the world's neediest immediately and practically without cost.

What happens in this village has the potential to transform foreign-aid institutions, but its effects might also be felt closer to home. A growing crowd, including many of GiveDirectly's backers in Silicon Valley, are looking at this pilot project not just as a means of charity but also as the groundwork for an argument that a universal basic income might be right for you, me and everyone else around the world too.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


McMaster May Reorganize Trump's Foreign Policy Team Once Again (PETER BAKER, FEB. 22, 2017, NY Times)

While the decision to give Mr. Bannon a seat was a conscious one, Mr. Trump's team did not intend to reduce the role of the intelligence director or Joint Chiefs chairman, officials said. In crafting their organization order, the officials said, Mr. Trump's aides essentially cut and pasted language from Mr. Bush's organization chart, substituting the national intelligence director for the C.I.A. director, who back then was the head of the nation's spy agencies.

What Mr. Trump's team did not realize, officials said, was that Mr. Obama's organization chart made those two positions full members of the committee.

As a practical matter, Mr. Trump's aides may not have intended a substantive change...

Thank you, God, for only allowing this presidency during a time of peace and plenty...

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


The True Story of the Comey Letter Debacle (Bethany McLean, Feb. 21st, 2017, Vanity Fair)

Even more famous is Comey's dramatic hospital-room confrontation with members of the Bush administration, in early March of 2004, over the secret warrantless domestic-eavesdropping program, which caused a national furor when the press revealed its existence in late 2005. In what The Washington Post later called "the most riveting 20 minutes of Congressional testimony. Maybe ever," Comey told the story of how he, as acting attorney general, filled in for his boss, John Ashcroft, who was hospitalized. After refusing to re-authorize the program, which he believed was illegal, Comey discovered that other members of the administration were planning an end run to get an incapacitated Ashcroft to sign off on it in his hospital bed. Comey "ran, literally ran," up the stairs to prevent that, he testified. The next day he considered resigning.

"To know Jim Comey is also to know his fierce independence and his deep integrity," said President Obama when, nine years later, he nominated him to serve as F.B.I. director. "He was prepared to give up a job he loved rather than be part of something he felt was fundamentally wrong."

Well, yes. But did Comey really believe that the program was "fundamentally wrong"?

President Bush quickly gave his support to making changes to the program--changes that have never been disclosed publicly--and Comey stayed on as D.A.G. until August 2005, as the wiretapping program continued. The London newspaper The Guardian obtained a classified report about the incident, which made Comey's objections seem to be less broadly substantive and more about legal technicalities involving just one part of the program.

Many would argue that legal technicalities are critically important, but some of Comey's former D.O.J. colleagues carped to The New York Times that his actions had not been as heroic as they were portrayed. One observer cites Comey's willingness to say, "I know what's right," even when doing so causes potentially avoidable drama. Another person who knows Comey well says, "There is stubbornness, ego, and some self-righteousness at work." [...]

On July 5, Comey held the press conference in which he announced that agents had found thousands of e-mails that contained government secrets, all of which had traveled unsecure, unclassified channels on Clinton's private e-mail network. Nonetheless, he said, "we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges," in large part because they did not find intent, which is a critical element of most criminal cases.

Comey certainly knew that the career prosecutors, who had been working hand-in-glove with the F.B.I. agents, would agree with the decision. But he made it clear he hadn't even informed the D.O.J., whose responsibility it is to decide whether to authorize an indictment, that he was holding a press conference. Lynch corroborated this, admitting that the D.O.J. had learned of the press conference only "right before." Indeed, some at the D.O.J. turned to CNN to find out what Comey was saying.

Plenty of Comey's longtime admirers were appalled that he had spoken at all, because by doing so he blew through several of the Justice Department's long-standing policies. "It was an unprecedented public announcement by a non-prosecutor that there would be no prosecution," says someone who once worked for Comey. The F.B.I. does not talk publicly about its investigations, and "it does not make prosecutorial decisions. Full stop."

"[Comey] has said he did not consult with anyone at the D.O.J. beforehand so he could say it was the F.B.I.'s recommendation," observes another former prosecutor. "But right there that is a massive act of insubordination."

Comey then, according to his critics, compounded his mistake by declaring Clinton's conduct and that of her aides "extremely careless." This was another breach of protocol. Neither prosecutors nor agents criticize people they don't charge. "We don't dirty you up," says Richard Frankel, who retired from the F.B.I. in early 2016 and now consults for ABC News. And Comey's choice of language opened another can of worms. Unlike other criminal statutes, which, as a rule, require intent, the Espionage Act does allow for prosecutions of those who display "gross negligence."

Those close to the case were also shocked by what Comey didn't say. For instance, he didn't point out that the "classified" e-mails had not been marked that way when they were sent or received, and didn't point out that all the e-mails were to people who work in government--not to outsiders who aren't supposed to receive such information. "He gave a very skewed picture," says one person involved in the case. "The goal has to be that people understand the decision, and it came out exactly the opposite."

How to explain Comey's omissions? "I don't think he was that well briefed," says another person involved in the case. "It's a function of being at the bureau and of Comey's personality. It is so easy to get insular there. And Comey is not someone who cross-examines his own people. . . . It came across like there was something specific, but there was nothing there."

Those who know Comey say that, while the decision for him not to recommend prosecution was an easy one, his unprecedented decision to speak about it publicly wasn't. Some believe he might have taken the public route even without the tarmac incident, in part because he worried that prosecutors at Main Justice, instead of bringing the investigation to a close, would dither.

There's also speculation that Comey's decision to criticize Clinton was influenced by his prior experience, from Whitewater to Marc Rich, with her and her husband. But sources close to Comey insist that isn't true, and that his decision to go into more detail was influenced by his desire to make people believe the process had been fair despite the appearance of impropriety. An F.B.I. source says that since the details of the investigation were going to come out, framed in hyperpartisan ways via congressional hearings and FOIA requests, Comey wanted to offer an apolitical framing of the facts first.

Critics, however, see in his decision a whisper of the Ashcroft hospital confrontation, with the dark side fully apparent. "This gets into speculation, but knowing Jim, he decides it is all totally f[*****]d up and that he has to save the department and he alone can do it," says someone who knows him well. "Megalomania kicked in."

Comey had put his years of public service and his sterling reputation on the line, but that did nothing to persuade Republicans about the fairness of his investigation, and they refused to let go of the matter. In a July 7 congressional hearing, an incredulous Representative Trey Gowdy (Republican, South Carolina) proceeded to grill him about Clinton's e-mail practices, statements under oath, and legal infractions, ultimately exclaiming, "Help the reasonable person . . . understand why she appears to be treated differently than the rest of us would be."

Congress asked Comey to testify again on September 12, but he reportedly declined. They asked again, on September 28. This time, he obliged, and confirmed that the F.B.I. would not reopen its investigation. No findings at that point "would come near" to prompting such a measure, he told the congressmen. Louie Gohmert (Republican, Texas) continued the Republican harangue: "[The F.B.I. has] never seen anything like this."

With the bureau's probity questioned by Gohmert and others, Comey sprang to the defense. "You can call us wrong," he said, "but don't call us weasels. We are not weasels. We are honest people and . . . whether or not you agree with the result, this was done the way you would want it to be done."

Agreeing to appear in front of the House Judiciary Committee about the investigation was yet another mistake, many believe, forcing Comey to answer questions he normally wouldn't have. Lamar Smith (Republican, Texas) asked him if he'd reopen the case if he found new information. "It's hard for me to answer in the abstract," said Comey, who was under oath. "We would certainly look at any new and substantial information."

Throughout the whole process it seemed like, for him, the investigation was primarily about his own reputation.

Posted by orrinj at 9:00 AM


U.S. appeals court upholds Maryland's ban on assault rifles (Reuters, 2/23/17)

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit decided 10-4 that the Firearm Safety Act of 2013, a law in response to the massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, by a gunman with an assault rifle, does not violate the right to bear arms within the Second Amendment.

"Put simply, we have no power to extend Second Amendment protection to the weapons of war," Judge Robert King wrote, referring to the "military-style rifles" that were also used during mass shootings in Aurora, Colorado, San Bernardino, California, and Orlando, Florida.

These are "places whose names have become synonymous with the slaughters that occurred there," he wrote, noting that the Supreme Court's decision in the 2008 District of Columbia v. Heller case excluded coverage of assault weapons.

Actually, only weapons of war are protected by the 2nd Amendment, but those only for use by the states'  well-regulated militias.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Most scientists 'can't replicate studies by their peers' (Tom Feilden, 22 February 2017, BBC)

From his lab at the University of Virginia's Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies.

"The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results."

You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable.

The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions.

Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


The bar where you CAN'T pick up! (FREYA NOBLE, 2/22/17,  DAILY MAIL AUSTRALIA)

For women sick of men approaching them at bars, there is a new venue where cocktails with girlfriends can be enjoyed in peace. [...]

'We have a set of house rules, and the one that people have found most interesting is that gentlemen don't approach ladies,' owner Mike Kadinski told Daily Mail Australia.

'And the rule is, if a gentleman is lucky enough to be approached by a lady, he speaks to her as if he would speak to his mother,' he added. 

Homey has some serious Oedepal issues, no?

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Sorry, Coal. Solar Is Where the Jobs Are (Erika Fry, Feb 21, 2017, Forbes)

According to a recent report from the Energy Department, the coal electric generation sector employed just 86,035 people--57,325 of them miners--in 2016. That's far fewer than the number who now work in solar: 370,000, up 25% from 2015. The wind-energy workforce, meanwhile, ballooned 32%, to 101,738, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics pronounced "wind turbine service technician" the nation's fastest-growing occupation, projecting 108% growth between 2014 and 2024.

Compare that with the fate of coal miners, whose number dwindled by 24% last year.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


Upsurge In Violence Prompts Pakistan To Broaden Antiterror Campaign (Radio Liberty, February 23, 2017)

Pakistan has been on high alert since last week's wave of attacks, including an Islamic State suicide bombing at a famed Sufi shrine that killed at least 90.

The devastating assault on the shrine in Sindh came after a Taliban suicide bombing in Lahore on February 13, which killed 13 people, and a series of other attacks.

A resurgence of the Taliban and IS would be a major blow to Pakistan, where optimism about a recent decline in violence had been growing after a decade-long war on militancy.

Prior to last week's attacks, Pakistan's antiterrorist operations had focused mainly on the country's troubled northwestern tribal region and militants there linked to the Taliban and Al-Qaeda.

All against the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Air Force Stumped by Trump's Claim of $1 Billion Savings on Jet (Anthony Capaccio, February 22, 2017, Bloomberg)

The Air Force can't account for $1 billion in savings that President Donald Trump said he's negotiated for the program to develop, purchase and operate two new Boeing Co. jets to serve as Air Force One.

"To my knowledge I have not been told that we have that information," Colonel Pat Ryder, an Air Force spokesman, told reporters Wednesday when asked how Trump had managed to reduce the price for the new presidential plane. "I refer you to the White House," Ryder said. A White House spokesman didn't respond to repeated inquiries about Trump's comments.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


America is afflicted with a deleterious disease: Loneliness (Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry, February 21, 2017, The Week)

Over time, I've grown to believe that the root cause of all these maladies lies in a simple word: loneliness.

For decades, loneliness has quietly been on the rise in America. Traditionally, America was known as a society of "joiners": not only churches, but lodges and fraternal organizations, civic society groups, PTAs, kids' baseball teams, Boy Scouts, fraternities and sororities, you name it. This was a uniquely American thing. There is a French word for "entrepreneur," but there is no French word that captures the quintessentially American concept of "community" -- as in "this is a great community" or "he's a leader in the community." Famously, this feature of American life is what most stunned Alexis de Tocqueville when he visited American shores in the 19th century.

Americans are more divorced than ever, and less churched than ever. The sociologist Robert Putnam chronicled the new American loneliness in his book Bowling Alone, which shows the declining trends of membership in all social organizations, from labor unions to PTAs to fraternal organizations to volunteering with the Boy Scouts and the Red Cross. Putnam mostly blames technology and its atomization forces -- and the book was written nearly two decades ago, a positive dark age compared to today's attention-sucking technologies.

A 2014 study by the National Science Foundation found that one in four Americans (one in four!) said they have no one with whom they can talk about their personal troubles or triumphs; the number doubles to more than half of Americans if immediate family is not counted. 

This is just one unfortunate side effect of how many hours Americans spend at work and in their cars.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


The link between your belief in free will, and your happiness (Conn Hastings, 10 February 2017, World Economic Forum)

In a recent study published in Frontiers in Psychology, Jingguang Li, professor at Dali University, and his research team show the link between belief in free will and happiness exists in Chinese teenagers.

They found that 85% of the Chinese teenagers expressed a belief in free will, and that this was positively correlated with happiness.

Free will describes the ability to make independent choices, where the outcome of the choice is not influenced by past events. The existence of free will is the subject of debate among psychologists, neuroscientists and philosophers.

The argument against free will is that each decision we make is completely influenced by our previous life experience, so that given a certain choice this experience will trigger us to respond in a certain way, which is not a free choice.

Different perspectives on free will can color our thinking of concepts such as personal responsibility, guilt, ambition and forward planning.

Interestingly, previous studies with Western participants have shown that people who believe in free will tend to be happier.

Oddly enough, those who deny free will are never okay with the idea of being punched in the face...

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


California Really Has What It Takes to Secede : But is America's largest state ready for the wars that would follow? (JAMES POULOS, FEBRUARY 21, 2017, Foreign Policy)

California secessionists also understand that there are fewer practical hurdles, compared with other parts of the country, to parting ways with the USA. A smaller or more parochial corner of America would never contemplate secession, if only because the achievement of such willful idiosyncrasy would come at the cost of isolation and obscurity. For California, however -- approximately the sixth-largest economy in the world -- independence wouldn't necessarily bring economic hardship. Perennial worries about entertainment and tech flight to states dangling incentives might spike in the early days of a new California Republic. But citizens won't blink at the inevitable higher subsidies lawmakers and a Democratic governor will be quick to offer those anchor industries. And the other pillars of California's economy -- tourism and agriculture -- can't be relocated by skittish investors.

...the simpler reality is that America already vastly exceeds the optimal size of a nation and is going to get much larger in coming decades thanks to immigration. Devolution is just a natural step to deal with that.  

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 AM


Sweden video that inspired Trump was edited 'unethically', photographer who shot it says
 (The Local, 23 February 2017)

Photographer Emil Marczak who filmed the interview has now backed the claims from the officers about being misrepresented. He says that Horowitz had a clear agenda and "repeatedly tried to get the police to agree with him".

"To double check that my recollection is correct I went through the raw footage, and it confirms how the police have portrayed events. They said repeatedly that they had no information which could substantiate this kind of statement," Marczak told DN.

The camera operator added that he would not have taken the job if he knew "how unethically and frivolously the material would have been cut together".

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 AM


Mnuchin says dollar strength reflects confidence in U.S. economy: WSJ (Reuters, 2/22/17)

Echoing comments he made last month during his Senate confirmation hearing, Mnuchin said the dollar's strength reflected the United States' stronger economic performance compared with the rest of the world and the greenback's status as a reserve currency.

He told the Journal that the dollar's value was "a reflection of the confidence that kind of people have in the U.S. economy."

President Donald Trump said before his inauguration in January that the dollar's strength against the Chinese yuan was "killing us" and making it hard for U.S. companies to compete, roiling global currency markets.

February 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


How Trump's campaign staffers tried to keep him off Twitter : The trick? Making sure his media diet included a healthy dose of praise. (TARA PALMERI 02/22/17, Politico0

President Donald Trump's former campaign staffers claim they cracked the code for tamping down his most inflammatory tweets, and they say the current West Wing staff would do well to take note.

The key to keeping Trump's Twitter habit under control, according to six former campaign officials, is to ensure that his personal media consumption includes a steady stream of praise. And when no such praise was to be found, staff would turn to friendly outlets to drum some up -- and make sure it made its way to Trump's desk.

"If candidate Trump was upset about unfair coverage, it was productive to show him that he was getting fair coverage from outlets that were persuadable," said former communications director Sam Nunberg. "The same media that our base digests and prefers is going to be the base for his support. I would assume the president would like to see positive and preferential treatment from those outlets and that would help the operation overall."

All the President's yes-men (Peter Jones, 25 February 2017, The Spectator)

Tacitus saw that absolutism lay at the heart of the imperial system. To maintain it, the emperor surrounded himself with men who owed loyalty to no one but himself, and over whom he could therefore exert total control. The result was a culture of acquiescence in whatever the emperor wanted, well exemplified by the Roman senator Sallustius Crispus, who fawned that 'the circumstances of imperial rule are such that the accounts will come right only if submitted to the approval of one person'. Everyone knew who that was.

There was another consequence. Tacitus reported that the emperor Vitellius was so ignorant of soldiering that 'he always had to ask someone else'. So disastrous were the results that experienced centurions decided to enlighten him. 'But Vitellius' close advisers kept them away, since the emperor had developed the habit of regarding good advice as disagreeable and listening only to what was pleasing -- and fatal.'

This desire for the pleasing brought in its train the refusal to face facts. When Rome, under Nero, suffered a disastrous defeat in Armenia, the victory trophies which had been prematurely put up were left standing. 'It was appearances that counted; the truth was despised,' said Tacitus. All this added up in his eyes to the corruption of public life on a massive scale.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Trump forgets his Obama criticisms : The new president, who attacked Obama for golfing and personal travel, spends his first month outdoing his predecessor. (JOSH DAWSEY 02/21/17, Politico)

The new president has taken three weekend getaways in the first month of office, spending millions of taxpayer dollars in Secret Service protection and about 25 percent of his time away from the White House. The Secret Service has also paid for security for expensive business trips for his sons' business ventures to foreign countries.

The actions seem to fly in the face of how he mocked Obama's travel. "President Barack Obama's vacation is costing taxpayers millions of dollars -- unbelievable!" he wrote in one of many tweets criticizing Obama for taking a trip.

Trump has headed to the golf course at least six times since he took office, another favorite criticism against Obama. Trump mocked Obama more than two dozen times for golfing amid problems in the White House.

"Can you believe that, with all of the problems and difficulties facing the U.S., President Obama spent the day playing golf. Worse than Carter," Trump said in 2014.

Trump said last August that if he became president, he wouldn't have time for golf. "I'm going to be working for you, I'm not going to have time to go play golf," he said at an event in Virginia.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Robot studies shed fast light on insect evolution (Anthea Batsakis, 2/22/17, Cosmos)

By simulating and testing different gaits for six legs, the researchers found the speediest results with a "bipod gait"- a walking style requiring only two legs being in contact with the ground at a time. It's comparable to the gait used by horses or dogs.

Perhaps the more interesting aspect of the research, though, is that lead researchers Pavan Ramdya, from the University of Lausanne, and Robin Thandiackal, from Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale De Lausanne, then"reverse-engineered" their findings with experiments on fruit flies.

Fruit flies might not be the Usain Bolts of the insect world but they do have the ability to walk upside down, thanks to the sticky pads on their legs.

When the researchers disabled that stickiness using drops of polymer, the flies took on the same quicker bipod gait modelled by their algorithm.

"It's really interesting that by doing these simulations, and thinking about robot theory, they figured out that there should be another way nature can work," says Roberts, who was not involved in the study. "Often scientists observe nature and try and work out why something happens, but this is kind of the reverse."

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Milo Yiannopoulos and the Church of Winning (BEN HOWE,  FEB 21, 2017, The Atlantic)

After a dozen women came forward to claim that they had all personally interacted with the version of Trump heard in that recording, Trump offered no indication he was not the man they accused him of being. He issued some threats about lawsuits, pointed to the behavior of Bill Clinton, and hid behind the evangelical support he enjoyed as proof that the criticisms were moot. The message: He could grab a woman by her--wherever--in the middle of 5th Avenue and not lose their votes.

In spite of this, Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress and others continued to provide the spiritual security that their religious followers needed to feel okay with their vote. They went on TV, tweeted support, wrote articles, met with the president, and came out emphasizing that Hillary Clinton was worse.

Some went so far as to interpret biblical passages to accommodate their newly flexible worldview, a stark contrast to the principled stand many of them (or the fathers on whose credibility they trade) took in the 1990s when a Democrat was the president.

Evangelical leaders of this stripe seemed to indicate that such petty and insignificant things as "moral depravity" were irrelevant now that the questions were raised by a Republican.

White evangelicals voted for Trump by a wide margin; eighty percent supported him, according to exit polls. But the election didn't resolve the questions; a month into his presidency, Trump supporters are still defending the indefensible.

Yiannopoulos is simply an extension of the moral ambiguity that evangelical leadership has helped to solidify on the right. Instead of certitude or clarity, many of the national leaders who are responsible for helping to guide millions of Christians trying to navigate the muddy waters of life in American politics have opted for moral relativism. They gave Trump a pass. Will evangelicals now give Trump's surrogates and spokespersons a pass as well?

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


McConnell-linked group to hardliners: It's repeal AND replace (Jonathan Swan  David Nather, 2/21/17, Axios)

A political advocacy group with ties to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is sending a message to conservative hardliners: We're repealing and replacing Obamacare, so get used to it.[...]

The poll's main findings:

Only 17 percent of Americans surveyed -- the poll sampled 1,201 likely voters in 12 Senate battleground states -- think Obamacare should be repealed immediately, while 34 percent think it should be repealed only when a replacement is ready.

Even among Republicans, only 33 percent think the law should be repealed immediately, while 56 percent say it should be repealed when a replacement is ready.

The Right is trapped so deep in the bubble they think taking away health care is popular.

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 AM


Trump's envoys head to Mexico as cracks emerge in border wall plan (Rory Carroll, 22 February 2017, The Guardian)

Mexico will host its first high-profile Donald Trump envoys this week with at least one consolation: the proposed border wall is itself walled in, for now, by Washington bureaucracy.

Federal agencies are reportedly resisting the idea and Congress is hesitant to fund it, leaving the president fighting a lonely battle to keep his campaign promise.

Instead of a 2,000-mile "big, beautiful wall", Trump may emerge from Washington's policy labyrinth with a fence covering a few hundred miles.

"He hasn't made any progress other than say we're going to do it," said Seth Stodder, a former senior homeland security official who focused on border security under the Obama and Bush administrations. "They're pretty far away. I don't think they've made much progress."

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM


'Every person deserves to rest in peace': American Muslims raising money to repair vandalized Jewish cemetery (Colby Itkowitz, February 21, 2017, Washington Post)
An American flag still stands next to one of more than 170 toppled Jewish headstones after a weekend vandalism attack on Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in University City, a suburb of St Louis, Mo., on Feb. 21. (Tom Gannam/Reuters)
After the desecration of a Jewish cemetery in St. Louis over the long holiday weekend, an incident in which more than 150 headstones were toppled or damaged, two American Muslim activists started a fundraiser to help pay for needed repairs.

"Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America," the fundraising page on the site LaunchingGood reads. "We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who has undoubtedly been shaken by this event."

Within a few hours of going up Tuesday afternoon, the page had exceeded its goal of raising $20,000.

Tarek El-Messidi, who created the campaign with fellow activist Linda Sarsour said when he saw the news about the vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in the St. Louis suburb of University City, he was reminded of a story about the prophet Muhammad, who had stood up when a Jewish funeral procession passed. When asked why, he said, "Is it not a human soul?"

February 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


Fed's Williams Says Historically Low Interest Rates Will Persist (Rich Miller, February 21, 2017, Bloomberg)

Historically low interest rates are here to stay, making it much harder for central banks in wealthy countries to prevent and limit recessions in the future, according San Francisco Federal Reserve Bank President John Williams.

Rates are at best in line with historical norms, but more likely historically high given deflationary pressures.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


For better and for worse, Trump's presidency upsets many norms (Jonah Goldberg, 2/21/17, National Review)

[T]he dynamic that concerns me is how a climate of "mere anarchy" has been loosed upon Washington. Trump spent much of the campaign touting, celebrating, and promoting WikiLeaks as a "treasure trove." "I love WikiLeaks!" Trump told a crowd that was chanting "Lock her up!"

He's changed his tune of late, railing on Twitter against "the low-life leakers!" and insisting that stories based on leaks are outrageous and fraudulent: "FAKE NEWS media, which makes up stories and 'sources,' is far more effective than the discredited Democrats -- but they are fading fast!"

Now, there's certainly an important difference between government officials releasing top-secret information to settle political scores and a foreign government aiding in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. But in the environment we're in now, such distinctions seem more like niceties or talking points for professional spinners.

And that's because in a world where one side sees inconvenient rules as illegitimate, it's only natural that the other side will see rules that inconvenience them as illegitimate too.

This applies not just to laws or democratic norms, but to simple good manners. Trump and his biggest supporters saw nothing wrong with insinuating that Ted Cruz's father was an accomplice to JFK's murder. They shrugged at his insults of his political opponents and even their wives. He and they reject any suggestion that he should apologize for such statements. But the merest slight against Trump or his family is an outrage.

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