March 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


The GOP Is America's Party of White Nationalism : The Republican party's racists were once pushed to the fringes. In the Trump era, they're in charge. (MAX BOOT, MARCH 14, 2017, Foreign Policy)

The list of King's asinine, bigoted, and offensive words and acts is too long to recount. But here's the thing. It's not really possible anymore to dismiss him "as a fringe player in legitimate policy debates," as the New York Times notes that many Republicans would like to do. That may have been true at one time, in the days when the Republican Party was defined by Reagan. But those days are long past. Today it's Donald Trump's party, and there is not much breathing room between King and Trump when it comes to white nationalism.Today it's Donald Trump's party, and there is not much breathing room between King and Trump when it comes to white nationalism. Indeed, after initially supporting Ted Cruz in last year's primaries, King has become an avid Trump supporter.

The echoes between the two men -- the Iowa contractor-turned-congressman and the New York real estate magnate-turned-president -- are uncanny and disturbing. As Amber Phillips of the Washington Post pointed out last year:

In 2013, King said most immigrants were "drug mules." In his presidential campaign launch, Trump made his infamous claim that Mexican immigrants were "bringing drugs, they're bringing crime. They're rapists."

King said in 2010 that racial profiling is an important law enforcement tool. Trump endorsed broad racial profiling after the Orlando, Florida, attack, calling it "common sense."

In 2008, King questioned how a president with the middle name Hussein would play in the war on terror. After Orlando, Trump questioned the president's commitment to fighting terrorists by seemingly suggesting his loyalties could be compromised.

The ideological links between King and Stephen Bannon, Trump's chief strategist, are even closer. In a 2015 Breitbart radio interview, Bannon lauded King as "a great mentor to all of us and a great friend of the site, and a true warrior." [...]

The Bannons and Kings appear intent, with Trump's help, on undoing much of that progress toward a more inclusive society. They are pursuing a vision they share with foreign far-right leaders such as Wilders and Marine Le Pen. They want to turn the Republican Party into a "blood and soil" nationalist party and the United States into a white-supremacist stronghold.

Sadly, their worldview has become so mainstream that, while a few Republicans are willing to decorously disagree with King ("I'd like to think he misspoke and it wasn't really meant the way it sounds," House Speaker Paul Ryan said), none is willing to champion a motion to censure him or even expel him from the House Republican caucus. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 PM


Thune proposal would means-test tax credits in House bill (Caitlin Owens, 3/14/17, Axios)

Sen. John Thune, the third-highest ranking member of the Senate, is working on a proposal to partially means test the tax credits in the House Obamacare repeal and replacement bill.

In a sit-down with Axios, Thune said he wants to avoid "creating a new middle class entitlement," which the current House bill could do by spreading the federal assistance too far up the income scale. Instead, his proposal would give more assistance to low-income people and cap the assistance at a lower income level than it currently is. "It would be a more progressive-type benefit," he said.

Give everyone an HSA at birth, fully funded to at least 18. Means test all public benefits, including tax breaks.

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


Where Do ISIS Fighters Go When the Caliphate Falls? (Colin P. Clarke and Amarnath Amarasingam, 3/14/17, Rand)

The Islamic State is reeling. With its finances cut in half over the past six months, its media and information operations in tatters, and the offensive in western Mosul eating through its territory, the end of its so-called caliphate across the Middle East seems near. While a clear-cut victory is far from inevitable, at the current rate, it is conceivable that U.S. forces and their allies will defeat ISIS in Iraq and Syria by killing and capturing its fighters, driving the group from key cities and villages in what formerly constituted its vaunted caliphate, and ultimately taking Raqqa, its stronghold.

Posted by orrinj at 1:44 PM


Evolution Runs Faster on Short Timescales (Carrie Arnold, March 14, 2017, Quanta)

In the 1950s, the Finnish biologist Björn Kurtén noticed something unusual in the fossilized horses he was studying. When he compared the shapes of the bones of species separated by only a few generations, he could detect lots of small but significant changes. Horse species separated by millions of years, however, showed far fewer differences in their morphology. Subsequent studies over the next half century found similar effects -- organisms appeared to evolve more quickly when biologists tracked them over shorter timescales.

Then, in the mid-2000s, Simon Ho, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Sydney, encountered a similar phenomenon in the genomes he was analyzing. When he calculated how quickly DNA mutations accumulated in birds and primates over just a few thousand years, Ho found the genomes chock-full of small mutations. This indicated a briskly ticking evolutionary clock. But when he zoomed out and compared DNA sequences separated by millions of years, he found something very different. The evolutionary clock had slowed to a crawl.


Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


This one chart shows how far behind the US lags in healthcare (World Economic Forum, 14 March 2017)

The chart, courtesy of Oxford economist Max Roser, plots per-capita health-care spending against life expectancy for the world's wealthiest countries over the past 40-plus years:

Posted by orrinj at 11:18 AM


How Algorithms Can Help Beat Islamic State : Hany Farid 'changed the world' by combating child porn. Now his software could suppress terrorists online.. (JOSEPH RAGO, March 11, 2017, WSJ)

[Dartmouth College. Prof. Hany Farid, chairman of the department, is] a founder of the computer-science field known as digital forensics. In the late 1990s as a postdoctoral researcher, he was among the first to recognize that mathematical and computational techniques to authenticate digital images and other media would be useful to society. [...]

In 2008 this research pulled Mr. Farid into another underworld--child pornography. In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a ban on "virtual" child porn--computer-generated images that "appear to depict minors but were produced without using any real children." Mr. Farid is sometimes brought in as an outside expert when a defendant claims the material at issue is virtual.

The child-porn industry was nearly defunct by the 1990s, because negatives and videotapes can be confiscated and destroyed. "Then the internet came," Mr. Farid says, "and all hell broke loose."

Supply can create its own demand. Much like jihadists, deviants formed a global community, finding each other online and sharing what are really crime-scene photos. Like ISIS agitprop, material is continuously copied, cut, spliced, resized, recompressed and otherwise changed, in part to evade detection as it is retransmitted again and again.

Mr. Farid worked with Microsoft to solve both problems--detection and replication. He coded a tool called Photo DNA that uses "robust hashing" to sweep for child porn. "The hashing part is that you reach into a digital image and extract a unique signature. The robust part is if that image undergoes simple changes, the fingerprint shouldn't change. When you change your clothes, cut your hair, as you age, your DNA stays constant," he says. "That's what you want from this distinct fingerprint."

The algorithm matches against a registry of known illegal signatures, or hashes, to find and delete photographs, audio and video. Photo DNA is engineered to work at "internet scale," says Mr. Farid, meaning it can process billions of uploads a day in microseconds with a low false-positive rate and little human intervention.

Monitoring by Photo DNA, which is licensed by Microsoft at no cost and now used in most networks, revealed that the nature of the problem was "not what we thought it was," says Ernie Allen, the retired head of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Child pornography was far more widely circulated than law enforcement believed. "Hany Farid changed the world," Mr. Allen adds. "His innovation rescued or touched the lives of thousand of kids, and uncovered perpetrators, and prevented terrible revictimization as content was constantly redistributed."

Mr. Farid linked up with the Counter Extremism Project to apply the same robust-hashing method to extremist propaganda. But this effort has encountered resistance. "The pushback from the tech companies has been pretty strong," the project's Mr. Ibsen says dryly.

U.S. law immunizes internet companies from criminal and civil liability for content that travels over their transoms. Their terms of service forbid abusive content, but they rely on users instead of algorithms to police violations. "It's a very slow and tedious process: You wait for it to get reported, somebody has to review it, they make mistakes," Mr. Farid says. "They take down the Vietnam napalm girl on Facebook."

Liability aside, what about their moral obligations to help prevent death, injury and destruction? "In my mind, we're not asking them even to do something that they haven't said they want to do already. We're saying, hey, would you please do the thing that you promised you would do?" he explains. "I am simply saying, look, for free, you can automate this and make it really efficient and really fast and save you money on the side."

It's just a different deviance.

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 AM


THERE IS NO DEEP STATE : The problem in Washington is not a conspiracy against the President; it's the President himself.  (David Remnick, 3/20/17, The New Yorker)

"Deep State" comes from the Turkish derin devlet, a clandestine network, including military and intelligence officers, along with civilian allies, whose mission was to protect the secular order established, in 1923, by the father figure of post-Ottoman Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. It was behind at least four coups, and it surveilled and murdered reporters, dissidents, Communists, Kurds, and Islamists. [...]

One day earlier this month in Palm Beach, just after 6 a.m., the President went on a vengeful Twitter binge. Trump reads little but has declared himself "the Ernest Hemingway of a hundred and forty characters," and that morning he levelled what the Times rightly called "one of the most consequential accusations made by one president against another in American history." With no evidence, save the ravings of the talk-radio host Mark Levin and an account, in Breitbart News, of Levin's charges of a "silent coup," Trump accused President Obama of tapping his "wires" at Trump Tower. He compared the unsubstantiated offense to "McCarthyism" and "Nixon/Watergate."

By now, Trump's tactics are familiar. Schooled by Roy Cohn, Joseph McCarthy's protégé, in the dark arts of rage, deflection, insult, and conspiracy-mongering, Trump ignited his political career with "birtherism," and he has kept close by his side Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart, who traffics in tinfoil-hat theories of race, immigration, and foreign affairs. Together, they have artfully hijacked the notion of "fake news," turning it around as a weapon of insult, diversion, division, and attack.

One does not have to be ignorant of the C.I.A.'s abuses--or of history, in general--to reject the idea of an American Deep State. Previous Presidents have felt resistance, or worse, from elements in the federal bureaucracies: Eisenhower warned of the "military-industrial complex"; L.B.J. felt pressure from the Pentagon; Obama's Syria policy was rebuked by the State Department through its "dissent channel." But to use the term as it is used in Turkey, Pakistan, or Egypt is to assume that all these institutions constitute part of a subterranean web of common and nefarious purpose. The reason that Trump is so eager to take a conspiratorial view of everything from the C.I.A. to CNN is that an astonishing array of individuals have spoken out or acted against him. Above all, he is infuriated that intelligence and investigative services have been looking into possible Russian connections to him, his advisers, his campaign, and his financial interests.

The American deep state is, likewise, just a matter of our institutions defending the Novus Ordo Seclorum.  But, being a Republic, those institutions are much wider and more deeply established than anywhere else and serve the citizenry openly, rather than special interests clandestinely.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Checks and balances : Trump says he'll let the media decide where he donates his salary (Gabrielle Bluestone on Mar 13, 2017, VICE)

White House press secretary Sean Spicer on Monday confirmed reports that President Donald Trump has not been donating his salary to charity as he promised he would during the campaign. Instead, Spicer said, Trump is waiting until the end of the year to donate a lump sum in part so that the media can weigh in on the beneficiary.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


It won't be easy to bring back millions of manufacturing jobs (Brookings Institution, Nov. 18th, 2016)

[T]he total inflation-adjusted output of the U.S. manufacturing sector is now higher than it has ever been. That's true even as the sector's employment is growing only slowly, and remains near the lowest it's been. These diverging lines--which reflect the sector's improved productivity--highlight a huge problem with Trump's promises to help workers by reshoring millions of manufacturing jobs. America is already producing a lot. And in any event, the return of more manufacturing won't bring back many jobs because the labor is increasingly being done by robots.

Boston Consulting Group reports that it costs barely $8 an hour to use a robot for spot welding in the auto industry, compared to $25 for a worker--and the gap is only going to widen. More generally, the "job intensity" of America's manufacturing industries--and especially its best-paying advanced ones--is only going to decline. In 1980 it took 25 jobs to generate $1 million in manufacturing output in the U.S. Today it takes five jobs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


How Hamas is winning hearts and minds in Europe : Via conferences and hierarchies of Muslim Brotherhood, Gaza-based Islamist terror group building global infrastructure to challenge PLO's standing as Palestinians' sole legitimate representative (Avi Issacharoff, 3/14/17,  The Times of Israel)

At the end of February, in Istanbul, the Palestinians Abroad Conference convened with the purported goal of promoting global support for the Palestinians. Its actual purpose was to bolster the status of Hamas in the international arena.

Many of the organizers of the conference, which was attended by thousands of Arabs and Palestinians from all over the world, are of Palestinian origin. But to those who closely followed what happened in Istanbul, it became clear that many of the organizers and attendees had something else in common: they are known to have been members -- for decades -- of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated networks all over Europe.

This was not the first conference of its kind. Many like it have taken place in recent years. Many of the same faces are present -- including current and past members of the Muslim Brotherhood, at a more or less official level, and current and past members of Hamas.

Their shared goal is to promote international legitimacy for Hamas -- in Europe, Africa, the Middle East (of course) and even in Latin America -- in a bid to challenge the PLO's international standing as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.

Hamas, in this way, is slowly but surely establishing a global infrastructure of supporters who are providing not only encouragement and legitimacy, but also quite a bit of financial assistance.

Tracing the outlines of this infrastructure lends some surprising insights. For example, Britain turns out to be hosting more of this semi-official activity by Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood than any other country in Europe.

No one knows better than the Brits that the End of History requires decolonization.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


White House analysis of Obamacare repeal sees even deeper insurance losses than CBO (PAUL DEMKO, 03/13/17, Politico)

A White House analysis of the GOP plan to repeal and replace Obamacare shows even steeper coverage losses than the projections by the Congressional Budget Office, according to a document viewed by POLITICO on Monday.

The executive branch analysis forecast that 26 million people would lose coverage over the next decade, versus the 24 million CBO estimates.