March 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 PM


Ryan, Senate Intel committee see no evidence of Trump wiretap (Manu Raju, Tom LoBianco and Theodore Schleifer, Thu March 16, 2017, CNN)

The speaker of the House, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman and the ranking Democrat on the committee said Thursday that they've seen no evidence of President Donald Trump's accusation that he was wiretapped last year by his predecessor.

Senate Intelligence Committee chair Richard Burr and ranking member Mark Warner issued a statement Thursday, saying "based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016."

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Michael Flynn, Trump's former national security adviser, paid more than $33,750 by Russian TV in 2015: top House Dem (CNN, MARCH 16, 201)

Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former national security adviser, was paid more than $33,750 by Russia's state-run broadcaster RT TV-Russia for a speech in Moscow in December 2015, a top Democrat on the House Oversight Committee has learned.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


There was Never a National Security Need for the Travel Ban (Robert Loeb, March 16, 2017, Lawfare)

If, as the President and his aides state, the chaos in the specified six countries prevents reliable decisions, then consular officers, properly instructed, will more often deny visas; and if the information is always unreliable, then visas will be regularly denied. But this could have been done on a case-by-case basis, looking at the actual records of the applicant under uniform standards--and without any religious or nationality discrimination. Under this regime, there would be no Muslim or six-country ban, but all of the EO's stated objectives would be met, without any potential court challenge.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Steve Bannon Failed His Father, Not AT&T (Froma Harrop, March 16, 2017, National Memo)

Marty Bannon did all the right things, mostly. He raised five children, lived modestly, worked hard and bought as much stock in his employer, AT&T, as he could. When AT&T's stock price plunged in the 2008 economic meltdown, Bannon sold at a loss of more than $100,000, he said.

The stock was then selling for about $29 a share. It's now around $42. A big mistake bailing out, Bannon admits.

But where was Steve Bannon -- his big shot son, a former Goldman Sachs banker and now political adviser to Donald Trump -- when he unloaded his life savings at the bottom of the market? Apparently not calling home and saying, "Dad, don't sell your stock now." Or the younger Bannon could have sent him the popular essay written in October 2008 by investment guru Warren Buffett. It was titled "Buy American. I Am."

These white nationalists are too invested in the twilight of civilization to be sensible about economic investments. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:58 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:43 AM


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Posted by orrinj at 9:22 AM


With Trump's new travel order blocked and his health bill flailing, his agenda's in tatters (Andrew Prokopandrew, Mar 16, 2017, Vox)

We're not even two months into Donald Trump's presidency, and his agenda is in deep trouble.

What was to be his most significant executive action -- his immigration and travel "ban" aimed at refugees and people from several predominantly Muslim countries -- was dealt another blow Wednesday night, when a federal judge blocked a revised version of it just hours before it was set to go into effect. [...]

So Trump's top executive action remains on ice -- and it's becoming clear that his top legislative priority is in very serious trouble too. As I wrote yesterday, the things that need to happen for the American Health Care Act to reach Trump's desk aren't yet happening.

Instead, swing Republicans are turning against the GOP bill after this week's dismal CBO report, while conservatives continue to criticize it from the right. Speaker Paul Ryan now admits that the bill can't even pass the House as is, let alone the Senate.

Ryan is weighing a major revision of the bill before taking it to the House floor. But it's difficult to see how he can please both the Freedom Caucus (which wants deeper cuts) and the Coverage Caucus (which is concerned about millions of people losing coverage). The upshot is that Trump lacks a significant legislative accomplishment and doesn't seem to be close to getting one.

And let's not lose track of the funniest fail--his budget asks for money to build the Wall; which he promised Mexico would fund....

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


How the GOP healthcare plan would worsen the opioid crisis (Doyle McManus, 3/15/17, LA Times)

A drug epidemic is ravaging the United States, and it's getting worse, not better. More than 52,000 Americans died from drug overdoses in 2015, more than died from automobile accidents or firearms. That's far more than died from overdoses in any year during the crack epidemic of the 1980s.

Most of those deaths were from opioids - prescription painkillers, heroin and fentanyl, a dangerous synthetic drug. In Maryland, where I live, opioid deaths jumped 62% in the first three quarters of 2016; Gov. Larry Hogan, a moderate Republican, declared a state of emergency and asked the federal government for help.

But you wouldn't know that from the American Health Care Act of 2017, the House Republican proposal to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a smaller, cheaper health insurance program.

Not only does the bill offer no solutions for the drug crisis; it would make the problem worse by making dramatic cuts in Medicaid, the healthcare program that covers low-income people.

Make consumers pay for their own meds and they'll stop taking them.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


A Leftist and a Conservative Join Forces to Defend Free Speech (Conor Friedersdorf, Mar. 16th, 2017, The Atlantic)

[T]here is a new effort, undertaken largely by people who are alarmed by illiberalism on the political right, to turn some of their attention to illiberalism on campus, as if heeding Hayek's advice to revitalize old truths for a new generation.

An incident at Middlebury College appears to have been particularly galvanizing.

Days after protesters shouted down social scientist Charles Murray, insisting that the man who wrote The Bell Curve, a book that posited a genetic explanation for measured gaps in IQ differences between racial groups, should not be permitted to speak on campus--then mobbed him as he tried to leave Middlebury, injuring a professor walking alongside him--two of America's most prominent public intellectuals, leftist philosopher Cornel West and conservative legal scholar Robert P. George, are allying to tout the value of an unencumbered public discourse.

Best to begin with their most important sentence.

"All of us should be willing--even eager--to engage with anyone who is prepared to do business in the currency of truth-seeking discourse by offering reasons, marshaling evidence, and making arguments," the men declared in a public statement.

That standard neatly sidesteps the tricky troll problem.

Beyond trolls, the men give little wiggle room, insisting that neither matters of great import nor the fraught subject of identity is exempt.  "The more important the subject under discussion, the more willing we should be to listen and engage," they insist, "especially if the person with whom we are in conversation will challenge our deeply held--even our most cherished and identity-forming--beliefs."

Counseling respective engagement even with those "perspectives that we find shocking or scandalous," and invoking "the virtues of intellectual humility, openness of mind, and, above all, love of truth," they lament "all-too-common efforts" by people "to try to immunize from criticism opinions that happen to be dominant in their particular communities." And while they nod toward the right to peaceful protest, rightfully calling it "sacrosanct," they urge that "before exercising that right, each of us should ask: Might it not be better to listen respectfully and try to learn from a speaker with whom I disagree? Might it not better serve the cause of truth-seeking to engage the speaker in frank civil discussion?"

That ethos "protects us against dogmatism and groupthink," they note, "both of which are toxic to the health of academic communities and to the functioning of democracies."

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


The Kremlin's so-called "partners" (ALEXANDER MOROZOV 16 March 2017, OpenDemocracy)

[B]eginning with the US presidential elections, important changes are taking place -- and it's hard to know what to call them or how to describe them. Externally, we see that people who were supposed to communicate with "the Russians" are losing their positions. And this is accompanied by public scandals. It's not the case that these people cooperated with some questionable goals in mind, but they'd come into contact with a taboo -- zashkvar in Russian criminal slang.

No one doubted the loyalty of US national security adviser Michael Flynn, but he resigned because of his "contacts" with the Russians. A few days ago, the vice-speaker of Lithuania's parliament resigned. Mindaugas Bastys left because the Lithuanian security services refused him access to secret data. But the list of Russian citizens whom Bastys had contact with over the years doesn't contain anything particularly shocking -- representatives of Russian state corporations in Lithuania, the usual suspicious Russian businessmen and so on.

The recent hack of the email account of hitherto unknown Alexander Usovsky, who was working for the Kremlin in Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Balkans, shows that Konstantin Malofeev, an Orthodox Russian businessman known for financing separatists in the Donbas, discussed or in fact conducted operations against elections in Bosnia and Poland.

Malofeev's activities are an extreme example of Russia's openly subversive actions in other states. But when you look at Usovsky's emails, and you're aware of the state Russian affairs in Europe, you realise that Malofeev's strategy and tactics are no different from the actions of dozens and hundreds of similar actors beyond Russia's borders. Before Crimea, for those who cooperated with the "Russians", these activities looked like "supporting Russia's interests". Now these people are beginning to figure out what this really meant.

"What have we got ourselves involved in?" they asked themselves -- people who'd performed one-off services or participated in "Petersburg Dialogue" (a German-Russian public form), the Valdai Club, the "Dialogue of Civilisations" (another public forum) and the dozens of other programmes where Russian money was involved. the fact that their investment in Donald has backfired so badly.
Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Feminists stage bloody fake abortion on woman dressed as Virgin Mary (Claire Chretien, March 13, 2017, LifeSiteNews) 

Feminists in pink masks pretended to commit an abortion on a woman dressed as the Virgin Mary outside a northern Argentina cathedral as part of an International Women's Day protest last week.

A photo of the protest shows what looks like blood and body parts gushing from between the Virgin Mary's legs, facilitated by the pink mask-wearing feminists. The woman dressed as the Virgin Mary holds a fist in the air. She appears to be smiling and wearing a rosary around her neck. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


Futures up on Fed's dovish rate-hike outlook (Yashaswini Swamynathan, 3/16/17, Reuters)

U.S. stock index futures rose on Thursday after the Federal Reserve raised interest rates for the first time this year, but indicated it was in no hurry to increase the pace of tightening.

In other words, they're just raising rates to prove her hawkish bona fides, even though economic conditions suggest lowering them is more appropriate.  We've seen this play with Greenspan and Bernanke and it's always ends badly.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


There's never a dull moment in a Biagini bullpen: Jays reliever can be scared and silly and stuck in the bathroom sometimes. (ROSIE DIMANNO, March 15, 2017, Toronto Star)

We asked big Joe Biagini about the secrets of the bullpen.

"We have a rule where we can't talk. So it's kind of tough to learn about each other. It was my rule. That was when they locked me in the bathroom so I don't really get to talk much."

This, of course, is Biagini being Biagini, characteristically droll. You never know where his skewed humor will land.

"On a serious note? I hate serious notes. We talk about anything. A lot of it is other than baseball. If you're locked into every single possible awareness of what's happening in the game, you kind of get burned out a bit. Every conversation is odd. I would say it's odd if it's not odd because there's a lot of strange stuff going on."

Quite Zen-ish, that.

"The personalities of people who make up the bullpen takes it in different directions," he says.

In the Blue Jays' bullpen, veteran Jason Grilli has been the alpha male, setting the tone, and that's not likely to change when the team makes the final decisions on its relief cadre composition for 2017. Grilli is also the primary story-teller, "off-the-record" content, says Biagini. "But pretty much everybody has a story about somebody. It's fun to tap into that knowledge."

Sometimes they play word games. Sometimes they discuss their favourite Bible verses. "We spend so much time sitting there together. You're going to go crazy if you don't come up with something. I describe it as, there's so much going on and so little going on at the same time. With so little happening, there's so much happening.''

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Justin Trudeau Brings Ivanka Trump to Broadway Show on Welcoming Outsiders (MICHAEL PAULSON, MARCH 15, 2017, NY Times)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, whose emphasis on welcoming refugees has been at odds with the harsher stance of the Trump administration, on Wednesday night brought Ivanka Trump to a Broadway show that celebrates generosity toward foreigners in need.

The surprise pairing at the new musical "Come From Away" was rich with symbolism, as Mr. Trudeau tries to maintain his country's close relationship with the United States despite substantial differences in public policy. Ms. Trump, the president's daughter and a close adviser, sat in Row F between Mr. Trudeau and Nikki R. Haley, the American ambassador to the United Nations, and directly behind a former Canadian prime minister, Jean Chrétien.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 AM


Donald Trump Sees Himself in Andrew Jackson : The president deserves the Jackson legacy, but not for the reasons he'd like. (Jamelle Bouie, 3/16/17, Slate)

Trump, who hung a portrait of Jackson in the Oval Office, sees himself in the seventh president of the United States. [...]

That's one view of Jackson. There is another. That perspective sees Jackson in a different tradition. Not of democracy, but of white supremacy. This Jackson was a planter who built his wealth and influence with the stolen labor of more than 200 enslaved Africans. He forced Native Americans off their land in a campaign of removal that claimed thousands of lives in service of white expansion and white hegemony.

Jacksonian democracy, in other words, was a racial democracy built on a foundation of ethnic cleansing, committed to race hierarchy and enslavement. And while Jackson rejected the nullification theories of his vice president, John C. Calhoun, he all but embraced the South Carolinian's view that slavery--and racial caste more broadly--was "the best guarantee to equality among the whites." Along with that racial ideology, he brought ceaseless condemnation of elite corruption and a profoundly anti-government philosophy that contributed to the panic of 1837, a crushing depression that lasted more than a half-decade.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Clean Energy Could Spark a Trade War Between the US and China (NICK STOCKTON. 03.16.17, Wired)

According to a recent report by Advanced Energy Economy, clean energy is worth $1.4 trillion worldwide. Coins indeed.

The US has historically been a huge innovator in clean energy. An American invented solar panels, Vermont had the first megawatt wind turbine, and naturalized citizen Elon Musk (ever heard of him?) has built the first industrial-scale battery company and arguably deserves the credit for mainstreaming electric vehicles. And the US still has a lot of momentum; renewable energy sources are starting to drop in price such that they actually undercut fossil fueled power without government subsidies.

A lot of those US innovations started off with government help. The Department of Energy's $32 billion loan program helped many clean energy companies get their start. (And despite high-profile failures like Solyndra, the overall failure rate of companies enrolled in the program is only 2.7 percent.) The DOE also funds a lot of early-stage research--through programs like ARPA-E, and tech transfer programs at many of its national labs--nurturing technology until it's ready for private companies to commercialize. "The vast majority of new technologies that scale up and become big biz success stories have many years of life symbiotically linked with government," says Ion Yadigaroglu, partner and managing principal at Capricorn Investment Group. "There are no private subsidies for the kind of early-stage R&D work that flows from the government, and if you shut that down, then X years after the fact you see a lot less innovation flowing to the private market."

These are exactly the kinds of programs that President Trump and congressional Republicans have threatened to axe. Also worrying are the administration's stances on immigration and trade policies. "We rely on being magnet for talented people in order to keep innovating in this sector," says Yadigaroglu. Elon Musk, who Yadigaroglu calls a "one man show in saving the world" was an immigrant.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Painter in Chief: George W. Bush Publishes Portraits (Philip Kennicott, 3/15/17, The Washington Post)

They are the work of an amateur painter who is focused on his craft. In the introduction, Bush writes: "I'm not sure how the art in this volume will hold up to critical eyes. After all, I'm a novice. What I am sure of is that each painting was done with a lot of care and respect."

He also cites some major 20th-century figures as personal exemplars: Lucian Freud, Wayne Thiebaud, Jamie Wyeth, Ray Turner, Fairfield Porter and Joaquín Sorolla. In the use of heavy impasto, the reduction of the face to a rough topography of color, and the particular love of sharp and sometime jarring contrasts, the work of Turner is perhaps the closest fit for comparison. But you can see what he has taken from Freud, Thiebaud and (the sadly neglected) Porter as well. The presence of Sorolla (a Spanish artist who died in 1923) suggests that underneath Bush's modernist expressionism is an unrealized hankering after old-fashioned Impressionist nuance.

Bush's opening essay and the capsule biographies he writes about each subject are charming. He lightly ribs his mother in this account of his first experience with the paint brush: "For the first time in my sixty-six years, I picked up a paintbrush that wasn't meant for drywall. I selected a tube of white paint and another labeled Burnt Umber. While I wasn't aware at the time that it was a color, I liked the name, which reminded me of Mother's cooking."

In his descriptions of the men and women he paints, he cites their struggles with grievous war wounds, post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and the myriad difficulties of reintegrating into civilian life. Although there is increasing concern in the medical community about whether we are over-diagnosing PTSD and including too many disparate psychological issues under its label, there is genuine empathy in Bush's embrace of the stories told by these soldiers.

Those who bristled at the former president's displays of machismo while in office (his infamous landing on an aircraft carrier and premature declaration of victory in Iraq, or his 2003 invitation to Iraqi militants to "bring 'em on") may be surprised by the fluency of his embrace of the importance of therapy, talking things through, turning to others for help, confronting pain and finding meaning. Describing Cpl. David Smith's recovery from a suicide attempt, Bush writes: "Dave sought professional counseling and got prescription medication for his anxiety, depression, and nightmares. Having confronted his trauma and learned to understand and accept it, he began building a new life."

About the PTSD of Petty Officer 3rd Class Chris Goehner, Bush writes: "Little by little, Chris started to recover. He got down from twelve medications to zero. He realized alcohol didn't numb the memories but exacerbated them. He started to participate in marathons and triathlons as therapy." A recurring narrative of hitting bottom, reaching out, then rebirth and the embrace of things like sport, travel or helping others echoes Bush's Christian understanding of redemption.

Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


It's Bill Belichick's NFL now. Everyone else is just along for the ride (Karen Guregian, March 16, 2017, Boston Herald)

The Patriots coach and chief decision-maker had the Dont'a Hightower free agency situation pegged from the outset. No franchise or transition tag was necessary. He let his defensive captain take a stroll on the open market and find his worth, knowing no crazy money would be offered. At least, not by any desirable teams. The Hoodie was right, of course.

Of all the in-house free agents on the Pats' list, Belichick needed Hightower to remain. He was the top priority for the defending Super Bowl champions. There was no option in sight at linebacker who could provide all Hightower brings to the table.

Belichick figured no team would place as much value on Hightower, who's able to rush off the edge, blitz from the inside, stuff the run and cover running backs and tight ends in the Patriots system. No one values that kind of versatility as much as the coach who has five Super Bowl rings since 2001.

On the one hand, if you owned a team you'd want another coach who valued versatility, particularly since it's so underpriced.  On the other hand, there aren't any.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


Trump's allies melting away on wiretapping claims (JULIE PACE, March 16, 2017, AP)

President Donald Trump's explosive allegation that Barack Obama wiretapped his New York skyscraper during the presidential campaign has left him increasingly isolated, with allies on Capitol Hill and within his own administration offering no evidence to back him up.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Trump Responds to Travel Ban Setback by Undermining His Case Even Further (Margaret Hartmann, 3/15/17, New York)

Watson agreed that it's wrong to undertake a "judicial psychoanalysis of a drafter's heart of hearts," but he said he didn't have to. "There is nothing 'veiled' about this press release: 'Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,'" the judge wrote. He continued:

Nor is there anything "secret" about the Executive's motive specific to the issuance of the Executive Order: Rudolph Giuliani explained on television how the Executive Order came to be. He said: "When [Mr. Trump] first announced it, he said, 'Muslim ban.' He called me up. He said, 'Put a commission together. Show me the right way to do it legally.'"

On February 21, 2017, commenting on the then-upcoming revision to the Executive Order, the President's Senior Adviser, Stephen Miller, stated, "Fundamentally, [despite "technical" revisions meant to address the Ninth Circuit's concerns in Washington,] you're still going to have the same basic policy outcome [as the first]."

These plainly-worded statements, made in the months leading up to and contemporaneous with the signing of the Executive Order, and, in many cases, made by the Executive himself, betray the Executive Order's stated secular purpose. Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the Court for purposes of the instant Motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, "secondary to a religious objective" of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims.

Basically, the Trump administration can't publicly declare again and again that they intend to find a way to legally discriminate against Muslims, then turn around and claim that the ban does no such thing.

So, how did the president respond to this latest setback? By complaining that the current order is just a "watered-down version" of the original, more discriminatory order, and bringing up "radical Islamic terrorists."

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Dutch PM Rutte sees off anti-Islam Wilders challenge (Al Jazeera, 3/16/17)

Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, has easily defeated his far-right rival Geert Wilders, partial vote counts show, in elections seen as a measure of populist support in Europe.

With more than 93 percent of votes counted, Rutte's liberal VVD party was set to win 33 seats, making it the largest in the new 150-seat parliament, with Wilders and his Freedom Party (PVV) beaten into second place with 20 seats, the Dutch national broadcaster NOS said on Thursday. [...]

Wilders had pledged to close the borders to Muslim immigrants, shut mosques, ban sales of the Quran and leave the EU if he won the polls.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


EXCLUSIVE: Nazi-Allied Group Claims Top Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka As Sworn Member (Lili Bayer and Larry Cohler-Esses, March 16, 2017, The Forward)

Sebastian Gorka, President Trump's top counter-terrorism adviser, is a formal member of a Hungarian far-right group that is listed by the U.S. State Department as having been "under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany" during World War II, leaders of the organization have told the Forward.

The elite order, known as the Vitézi Rend, was established as a loyalist group by Admiral Miklos Horthy, who ruled Hungary as a staunch nationalist from 1920 to October 1944. A self-confessed anti-Semite, Horthy imposed restrictive Jewish laws prior to World War II and collaborated with Hitler during the conflict. His cooperation with the Nazi regime included the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Jews into Nazi hands.

Gorka's membership in the organization -- if these Vitézi Rend leaders are correct, and if Gorka did not disclose this when he entered the United States as an immigrant -- could have implications for his immigration status. The State Department's Foreign Affairs Manual specifies that members of the Vitézi Rend "are presumed to be inadmissible" to the country under the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


I am, therefore I think: Daniel Dennett's hard problem : Words turned our brains into minds, and got us hung up on the ghost in the machine. But a new book isn't going to banish that spectre (Julian Baggini,  April 2017, Prospect Magazine)

[W]e need a way of understanding consciousness that preserves our humanity, while being fully compatible with our best science. The philosopher Daniel Dennett--a prominent New Atheist whose best-known book is Breaking the Spell--has for decades been trying to deliver on both counts.

But his critics claim he has failed. His major work Consciousness Explained (1991) was mockingly referred to as "Consciousness Ignored" or "Consciousness Explained Away." Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Galen Strawson famously said that Dennett should be prosecuted under the Trades Description Act.

Dennett's latest book, From Bacteria to Bach and Back, is unlikely to win over his critics. Their outrage is due to Dennett's failure to address what is known as the "Hard Problem" of consciousness: "Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?" as David Chalmers puts it. Dennett says his "refusal to play ball with my colleagues is deliberate." He realises that--as in politics--if you debate on your opponents' terms, you have already lost. To win, you must set the agenda. His bet is that if you understand consciousness in the right way, the Hard Problem will be exposed as an artefact of an outmoded way of thinking--a pseudo-problem comparable to the fruitless quest in the early 20th century for the élan vital that animates matter.

This approach, however, leaves Dennett almost completely silent on the very thing that characterises consciousness: subjective feeling. This is partly why Dennett is often accused of effectively denying that consciousness exists, of claiming that we are no more aware than zombies.

...Mr. Dennett would be the first repeat laureate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Low carbon drive 'cuts household bills' (Roger Harrabin, 3/16/17, BBC)

Britain's low carbon energy revolution is actually saving money for households, a report says.

Households make a net saving of £11 a month, according to analysis from the Committee on Climate Change.

It calculates that subsidies to wind and solar are adding £9 a month to the average bill, but that rules promoting energy efficiency save £20 a month.

Cut the subsidies; hike the carbon taxes.