March 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 12:28 PM


Trumpcare Is the Culmination of All the GOP's Health-Care Lies (Jonathan Chait, 3/07/17, New York)

The best indication of the quality of the plan is that it has drawn almost universal scorn from the health-care-policy community. It's predictable that experts on the left would dislike Trumpcare. But the right seems barely any more favorable. Conservatives like Peter Suderman, Philip Klein, Bob Laszewski, and Avik Roy, who have spent years savaging Obamacare, are united in their disdain for its replacement.

The artificial role of the House GOP's self-created deadline played a crucial role in the development of Trumpcare. After the surprising election handed them full control of government, Republicans quickly decided to capitalize on power with a pair of lightning-strike budget assaults. First, they would repeal Obamacare while delaying any consideration of its alternative, perhaps for several years. Having eliminated Obama's health-care law -- and, especially, the taxes on the affluent that helped finance it -- the baseline of expected revenue would be lower. This would enable Republicans to then pass another huge tax cut later in the summer, which they could construct in a way to appear not to lose any revenue (and thus, because of arcane but important budgetary rules, be permanent). After passing their tax cut, they could leisurely set out to design a new plan to replace Obamacare.

When Republicans quickly discovered repealing Obamacare without a replacement was wildly unpopular -- polling under 20 percent -- they had to change strategies. The new approach would force them to pass a repeal-and-replace all at once, so Republicans in Congress could reassure voters they had something in place after taking away Obamacare. But now they had a vastly more complicated task. They had to do something very hard on a schedule that was designed to do something relatively easy.

Posted by orrinj at 12:18 PM


Tucker Carlson: 'Cannot Overstate' How Much 'Republicans in D.C. Hate Donald Trump' (Chandler Gill, March 7, 2017, Daily Beacon)

Fox News host Tucker Carlson told the 2017 International Association of Fire Fighters Legislative Conference on Monday that Republicans in Washington, D.C. hate President Donald Trump more than Democrats do.

"All of them," Carlson said, referring to Republicans in the nation's capital. "You cannot overstate the degree to which Republicans in D.C. hate Donald Trump. I mean, they really hate him."

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


White House aides struggle to defend Trump wiretap claims (Ashley Parker and Jenna Johnson March 6, 2017, Washington Post)

Speaking to reporters from the White House briefing room without cameras present, White House press secretary Sean Spicer referred reporters to his weekend statement calling on the House and Senate intelligence committees to investigate the wiretapping charges as part of their broader probe of alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. He refused to add clarity or context to Trump's Twitter missives, saying neither the president nor the White House would comment further until the congressional investigations are completed.

"I'm just going to let the tweet speak for itself," Spicer said.

The lack of seriousness in the defenses is priceless.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Trump vs. Free Trade (Richard A. Epstein, March 6, 2017, Defining Ideas)

The great mystery of Trump's mindset is that he does not carry over the market-driven principles of his sensible domestic policies into the realm of international trade. The introduction of national borders does not mean that the gains from competition, certainty, and administrative simplicity no longer apply. The key principle of comparative advantage applies in both contexts. A good analogy is trade between states in the United States: Open trade among our states has produced growth and lowered costs for goods and services--and it could do the same at the level of nations.

It's just racial hysteria.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Rumblings of a 'Deep State' Undermining Trump? It Was Once a Foreign Concept (JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS, MARCH 6, 2017, NY Times)

The concept of a "deep state" -- a shadowy network of agency or military officials who secretly conspire to influence government policy -- is more often used to describe countries like Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan, where authoritarian elements band together to undercut democratically elected leaders. But inside the West Wing, Mr. Trump and his inner circle, particularly his chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, see the influence of such forces at work within the United States, essentially arguing that their own government is being undermined from within.

Fascism, as opposed to Nazism, communism, etc., generally allies with traditional institutions--church, business, judiciary, military, etc.--to protect the state from destruction.  That's why places like Spain, Portugal, Chile, the Philippines, etc. were able to avoid the disaster of communist regimes.  

In a democracy, all of us are the deep state. They are our institutions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


The Promise of Blockchain Is a World Without Middlemen (Vinay Gupta, MARCH 06, 2017, Harvard Business Review)

The blockchain is a revolution that builds on another technical revolution so old that only the more experienced among us remember it: the invention of the database. First created at IBM in 1970, the importance of these relational databases to our everyday lives today cannot be overstated. Literally every aspect of our civilization is now dependent on this abstraction for storing and retrieving data. And now the blockchain is about to revolutionize databases, which will in turn revolutionize literally every aspect of our civilization.

IBM's database model stood unchanged until about 10 years ago, when the blockchain came into this conservative space with a radical new proposition: What if your database worked like a network -- a network that's shared with everybody in the world, where anyone and anything can connect to it?

Blockchain experts call this "decentralization." Decentralization offers the promise of nearly friction-free cooperation between members of complex networks that can add value to each other by enabling collaboration without central authorities and middle men.

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 AM


Islamists accused of plotting attack on Saudi king in Malaysia ( Jeevan Vasagar, 3/07/17, Financial Times)

Malaysia's police chief Khalid Abu Bakar said the men arrested in February, who were suspected of links to militant groups including Isis, had plotted to attack King Salman bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud while he was visiting Kuala Lumpur last week. 

Wahabbi v. Wahabbi!

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Carbon emissions in the UK have fallen to a 120-year low (Akshat Rathi, 3/07/17, Quartz)

The last time the UK emitted less carbon dioxide than it did in 2016, most Brits were still traveling by horse and carriage. [...]

Carbon emissions in 2016 fell by 5.8% compared with 2015, and the use of coal fell by a record 52% over the same period. More oil and gas was burned that year, but both are relatively cleaner fuels. The UK also generated more power from wind than coal for the first time ever last year.

The precipitous drop in coal use was attributed to UK's carbon tax, which doubled in 2015 to £18 ($22) per metric ton of CO2.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Trump Knows the Feds Are Closing In on Him : The president's recent tweets aren't just conspiratorial gibberish - they're the erratic ravings of a guilty conscience. (MAX BOOT, MARCH 6, 2017, Foreign Policy)

One would be tempted to say that the president's reliance on "alternative facts" to smear his predecessor is the real scandal here were it not for the fact that an actual, honest-to-goodness scandal -- one that may conceivably rival Watergate -- is at the bottom of this ruckus. Why, after all, did Trump have a midweek meltdown that dashed pundits' hopes that he would act in more sober fashion? The answer is as obvious as it is significant: On the evening of March 1, the day after his lauded speech, major new revelations emerged about the mysterious links between the Trump camp and the Kremlin.

The New York Times was first out of the gate that evening with a story reporting: "American allies, including the British and the Dutch, had provided information describing meetings in European cities between Russian officials -- and others close to Russia's president, Vladimir V. Putin -- and associates of President-elect Trump, according to three former American officials who requested anonymity in discussing classified intelligence. Separately, American intelligence agencies had intercepted communications of Russian officials, some of them within the Kremlin, discussing contacts with Trump associates."

The Times story would have been big news were it not almost immediately overshadowed by a Washington Post article with an even more alarming finding: "Then-Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) spoke twice last year with Russia's ambassador to the United States, Justice Department officials said, encounters he did not disclose when asked about possible contacts between members of President Trump's campaign and representatives of Moscow during Sessions's confirmation hearing to become attorney general."

Smaller but still significant revelations followed the next day. The Wall Street Journal reported that Donald Trump Jr. "was likely paid at least $50,000 for an appearance late last year before a French think tank whose founder and his wife are allies of the Russian government in efforts to end the war in Syria." (What could Trump Jr. say that would possibly be worth $50,000?) J.D. Gordon, Trump's national security advisor during the campaign, admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had directly intervened at Trump's instigation to remove the language in the 2016 Republican platform which had called on the United States to arm Ukraine against Russian aggression. And campaign advisor Carter Page admitted that, contrary to his earlier denials, he had met with the Russian ambassador at the Republican National Convention. It is hard to imagine why so many people would lie if they didn't have something pretty significant to cover up.

Out of all of these revelations it was the news about Sessions -- which may open him to perjury charges -- that was the most significant. In response to the Post report, the attorney general was forced to recuse himself from the Kremlingate inquiry, much to the fury of President Trump, who was not consulted about this decision. This is what led to Trump's wild-eyed rants on Twitter, designed to distract from the real scandal and to convince his more credulous followers that he is the victim of a plot by his predecessor.

But why would Sessions' recusal make Trump so unhinged? The president must have felt relatively confident that the "Kremlingate" probe would go nowhere as long as it was in the hands of Trump partisans such as Sessions, Rep. Devin Nunes of the House Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Richard Burr of the Senate Intelligence Committee. But with Sessions out of the picture, the way is now clear for the deputy attorney general -- either the current placeholder, career Justice Department attorney Dana Boente, or Trump's nominee to replace him, Rod Rosenstein, another career government lawyer -- to appoint a special counsel because of the "extraordinary circumstances" surrounding this case.

Senior U.S. Justice nominee to face Senate grilling over Russia probe (Joel Schectman, 3/07/17, Reuters)

Rod Rosenstein, nominated by President Donald Trump to be deputy attorney general, would handle the Russian investigation if he is confirmed by the Senate because Attorney General Jeff Sessions has recused himself from the matter. [...]

Sessions said the deputy attorney general would be responsible for the Russia-related investigations.

U.S. intelligence agencies concluded last year that Russia hacked and leaked Democratic emails during the election campaign as part of an effort to tilt the vote in Trump's favor. The Kremlin has denied the allegations. [...]

The 26-year Justice Department veteran is seen by many current and former department officials as a politically neutral pick. Named as Maryland's top prosecutor by President George W. Bush, Rosenstein stayed in office through the Obama administration.

"Doing an investigation into ties to Russia or the president, Rod is just going to find the facts and apply the law whether it's an indictment or closing the case," said Bonnie Greenberg, a federal prosecutor in Maryland, who worked with Rosenstein for 11 years. "That's the essence of Rod."

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Donald Trump's revised travel ban may not satisfy the courts (Democracy in America, Mar 6th 2017, The Economist)

Another potential constitutional roadblock is likely to plague Mr Trump's new release, however: the claim of religious discrimination. The First Amendment prohibits the government from favouring one religion over another, and the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment bars it from discriminating on religious grounds. In its February ruling, the Ninth Circuit noted that "numerous statements by the president about his intent to implement a 'Muslim ban'" and evidence that the first order "was intended to be that ban" constituted a plausible case against the travel rules. "[E]vidence of purpose beyond the face of the challenged law" is fair game, the Ninth Circuit noted.

In a clear signal that Mr Trump's lawyers understand this embarrassing pedigree as a stumbling block, they struck a key line from the January 27th order: a sentence permitting refugee applications from minorities (that is, Christians) who have been subject to "religious-based persecution". The new executive order contains language insisting that this conspicuous deletion should not be misinterpreted. The original line "did not provide a basis for discriminating for or against members of any particular religion", the order reads, and "was not motivated by animus toward any religion". This has the flavour of protesting too much. The thumbprint of Mr Trump's campaign promise to ban Muslims from America (a call that remains on his website) will continue to mar his most-refined-to-date plan and is certain to give rise to new lawsuits. When courts ask whether the second go at a travel ban amounts to unconstitutional religious discrimination, Mr Trump's press releases, speech transcripts and tweets will all be entered into the record as evidence of the ban's true purpose.

The original travel ban had a related problem the new order does not quite correct: the lack of a lucid explanation of why the restrictions serve the cause of national security. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Hyperloop One shows off its first super fast test track in the Nevada desert (Rich McCormick,  Mar 7, 2017, The Verge)
Hyperloop still feels a little more like science fiction than an actual project, but as new pictures from superfast transportation company Hyperloop One show, the technology is slowly making its way into the real world. The new images give an insight into how construction is progressing on Hyperloop One's very own hyperloop in the Nevada desert, showing suspended track that could one day carry (possibly screaming) passengers at ridiculous speeds across the United States.

The test track -- known as DevLoop -- is 500 meters long and 3.3 meters in diameter, giving enough space for Hyperloop One to conduct public trials of its technology in the first half of this year. The track itself can be found some 30 minutes from Las Vegas, out in the kind of desert that hyperloop pods could one day traverse in minutes.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


2,100 Iran fighters said killed in Iraq, Syria (AFP, March 7, 2017)

More than 2,000 fighters sent from Iran have been killed in Iraq and Syria, the head of Iran's veterans' affairs office said Tuesday.

"Some 2,100 martyrs have been martyred so far in Iraq or other places defending the holy mausoleums," Mohammad Ali Shahidi told the state-run IRNA news agency.

Their boots; our air power--an ideal division of responsibilities.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


Conservatives pan House Obamacare repeal bill (RACHAEL BADE 03/06/17, Politico)

A handful of House conservatives on Monday evening criticized GOP leaderships' newly released Obamacare replacement bill, foreshadowing trouble for the repeal effort even after leaders tried to assuage the far-right.

Some House Freedom Caucus members dismissed the bill as creating a new "entitlement program" by offering health care tax credits to low-income Americans. A Republican Study Committee memo sent to chiefs of staff, obtained by POLITICO, echoed those comments and blasted the bill's continuation of the Medicaid expansion for three years.

"This is Obamacare by a different form," former Freedom Caucus chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told POLITICO. "They're still keeping the taxes in place and Medicaid expansion, and they're starting a new entitlement."

It even keeps the Heritage mandate, as any reform bill has to.