March 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 PM


Exclusive: Tillerson plans to skip NATO meeting, visit Russia in April - sources (Arshad Mohammed and John Walcott, 3/20/17, rEUTERS)

U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to skip an April 5-6 meeting of NATO foreign ministers for a U.S. visit by the Chinese president and will travel to Russia later in the month, U.S. officials said on Monday, a step allies may see as putting Moscow's concerns ahead of theirs.

Posted by orrinj at 3:40 PM


WAS NAZI GERMANY MADE IN AMERICA? : A new history argues convincingly that institutionalized racism and common-law pragmatism in the United States inspired Hitler's policies : a review of James Q. Whitman's dedicates his new book Hitler's American Model (David Mikics, March 20, 2017, The Tablet)

Scholars have long known that the American eugenics movement inspired the Nazis; now Whitman adds the influence of America's immigration policy and its laws about race. Today, Whitman's idea that Nazism looked to America for inspiration is liable to throw us into a moral panic. But there's another side to the story, and in the Trump era, especially, we can benefit from taking a hard look at it. Our president was elected in part because he capitalized on an America-first nationalism that hunts ruthlessly for external and internal enemies. In this view, rootless cosmopolitans, immigrants, and the lawless inner cities constantly threaten the real America.

Historians have downplayed the connection between Nazi race law and America because America was mainly interested in denying full citizenship rights to blacks rather than Jews. But Whitman's adroit scholarly detective work has proved that in the mid-'30s Nazi jurists and politicians turned again and again to the way the United States had deprived African-Americans of the right to vote and to marry whites. They were fascinated by the way the United States had turned millions of people into second-class citizens.

Strange as it may seem to us, the Nazis saw America as a beacon for the white race, a Nordic racial empire that had conquered a vast amount of Lebensraum. One German scholar, Wahrhold Drascher, in his book The Supremacy of the White Race (1936), saw the founding of America as a "fateful turning point" in the rise of the Aryans. Without America, Drascher wrote, "a conscious unity of the white race would never have emerged." Rasse and Raum--race and living space--were for Nazis the keywords behind America's triumph in the world, according to historian Detlef Junker. Hitler admired the American commitment to racial purity, praising the anti-Indian campaigns that had "gunned down the millions of Redskins to a few hundred thousand."

In the 1930s the American South and Nazi Germany were the world's most straightforwardly racist regimes, proud of the way they had deprived blacks and Jews, respectively, of their civil rights.
Hitler was not wrong to look to America for innovations in racism. "Early 20th-century America was the global leader in race law," Whitman writes, more so even than South Africa. Spain's New World Empire had pioneered laws tying citizenship to blood, but the United States developed racial legislation far more advanced than that of the Spaniards. For nearly a century African-American slavery was a monumental stain on Jefferson's Declaration of Independence and its claim that "all men are created equal." The Naturalization Act of 1790 stated that "any alien, being a free white person" could become an American--the Nazis noted with approval that this was an unusual case of racial restriction on citizenship. California barred Chinese immigration in the 1870s; the whole country followed suit in 1882.

World War I gave an added impetus to the focus of racialist doctrines on immigration and immigrants. The Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917 banned Asian immigrants along with homosexuals, anarchists, and "idiots." And the Quota Law of 1921 favored Northern European immigrants over Italians and Jews, who were mostly barred from immigrating. Hitler praised American immigration restrictions in Mein Kampf: The future German dictator lamented the fact that being born in a country made one a citizen, so that "a Negro who previously lived in the German protectorates and now resides in Germany can thus beget a 'German citizen.' " Hitler added that "there is currently one state in which one can observe at least weak beginnings of a better conception ... the American Union," which "simply excludes the immigration of certain races." America, Hitler concluded, because of its race-based laws, had a more truly völkisch idea of the state than Germany did.

In the area of racial restrictions on marriage, America stood alone as a pioneer. The American idea that racially mixed marriage is a crime had a strong impact on the Nuremberg Laws. In the 1930s nearly 30 American states had anti-miscegenation laws on the books, in some cases barring Asians as well as African-Americans from marrying whites. The Nazis eagerly copied American laws against miscegenation. The Nuremberg Laws, following the American model, outlawed marriages between Jews and non-Jews.

In one respect American race law proved too harsh for the Nazis. In America, the "one drop" rule reigned: Often, you were counted as black if you had as little as one-sixteenth Negro blood. But the Nazi hardliners' proposal to define Germans with one Jewish grandparent as Jews did not get approved at Nuremberg. Instead, quarter- and even half-Jews were treated with relative leniency. Mischlinge, half Jews, could be counted as Aryans, unless they were religiously observant or married to a Jew.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


FBI confirms investigation into possible Russian ties to Trump campaign (Russell Brandom,  Mar 20, 2017, The Verge)

"I have been authorized by the Department of Justice to confirm that the FBI, as part of our counterintelligence mission, is investigating the Russian government's efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election," Comey told the committee, "and that includes investigating the nature of any links between individuals associated with the Trump campaign and the Russian government, and whether there was any coordination between the campaign and Russia's efforts." According to the director, the investigation has been ongoing since July of last year.

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


How the establishment throttled President Trump (Michael Brendan Dougherty, Mar. 20th, 2017, The Week)

The establishment that Trump defeated in the election is still able to strike back. Part of this is just American federalism coming back to life. It was notable that America's states were able to successfully challenge the executive order travel ban. These checking institutions and powers may have been largely quiet over the last two administrations, as presidents have expanded the use of executive orders, but that wasn't a sign that they were dead.

And it turns out the establishment can still wage a defensive battle within the bureaucracy of the federal government. Even though Trump's two predecessors tried to create better relations with Moscow, intelligence agencies and media outlets seem to act in concert to make any possible improvement of U.S.-Russian relations impossible. They filled the air with Trump and Russia stories -- some true, some merely speculative, or even trashy. The true stories seem to have been the undoing of Michael Flynn as national security adviser. But ones that are merely suggestive, or half-true, have plagued the administration since its inception and will act as leverage against Trump trying to lean against the Beltway's foreign policy class on this issue.

And even Trump's appointed officials, like Nikki Haley as ambassador to the U.N., have tended to emphasize the continuity of America's foreign policy, rather than carry out some grand Trumpian revolution in it.s are still more likely to involve just incremental changes in policy, not enormous paradigm shifts, whatever candidates promise. Trump will be here for four to eight years, but the establishment might be eternal.

Congress, conservatives, the courts, the states, the media, etc. or Little Finger, the Nativist fringe and its media bubble?

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


The fight to recapture Mosul is grinding closer to the mosque where ISIS declared its 'caliphate' (Tony Gamal-Gabriel and Edouard Guihaire in Baghdad, AFP) 

Elite Iraqi forces said they were battling house by house in the Old City of Mosul on Saturday, inching towards the mosque where the Islamic State group proclaimed its "caliphate" in 2014.

Iraq began an operation on February 19 to retake west Mosul, which is the last major Islamic State group urban bastion in the country and includes the Old City.

It would have been bad enough losing to the Crusaders, but ISIS couldn't even withstand the apostates.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


The US may be restarting an asylum agreement with Australia that Trump blasted as a 'dumb deal' (Colin Packham and Aaron Bunch, 3/20/17, Reuters) 

U.S. officials began taking fingerprints of asylum seekers in an Australian-run camp on the Pacific island of Nauru on Monday, signaling that vetting of applicants for resettlement in what U.S. President Donald Trump called a "dumb deal" has restarted.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Oil drops on rising U.S. drilling, steady OPEC supply (Henning Gloystein, 3/20/17, Reuters)

Traders said that prices came under pressure from rising U.S. drilling and ongoing high supplies by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) despite its pledge to cut output by almost 1.8 million barrels per day (bpd) together with some other producers like Russia.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


Stanford's Big Health Care Idea : How an unconventional team of doctors figured out how to provide high-need university employees with better health care, for less money. (Heather Boerner, April/May 2017, American Prospect)

When Arnold Milstein arrived at Stanford University in 2010 to create the Clinical Excellence Research Center, he already had several careers' worth of experience in medical innovation. He had been in private practice as a psychiatrist; founded a health care consulting company; examined the organizational structure of hospitals and private practices, poring over the data on the quality of health care; and applied what he learned to improve care for Boeing employees in Seattle and hotel workers in Atlantic City. The biggest lesson he took from all those experiences was that American health care was ill-serving the very people who needed it the most. He had come to Stanford to study ways to make health care work better.

Tall and slim, with a kind face and short hair cropped straight across his forehead, the sixty-seven-year-old Milstein explains the problem succinctly: "It's a 5/50, 10/70 world." That is, 5 percent of patients account for 50 percent of health care spending, and 10 percent account for 70 percent, whether they're insured privately or by the government. These high spenders are the sickest and frailest, patients Milstein calls the "medically fragile."

At Stanford, in sunny, health-conscious California, Milstein saw the same thing. As a member of Stanford's employee benefits committee, which oversees the university's self-funded health insurance plan, he knew that medically fragile Stanford employees were sucking up the vast majority of health care spending and straining Stanford's system, without many signs of improved health. He had a theory for why this was happening. The patients weren't the problem; the problem was that the health care system was treating them the way it treats everybody else.

Milstein also had a theory for how to solve the problem. What if you took the concept of an intensive care unit--a single location that pulls together all the personnel and technology needed to care for the sickest patients in a hospital--and applied it to patients who were well enough not to be in the hospital but a lot sicker than the average patient in a primary care doctor's practice? Some of these people are old and frail, but many are young, hold down jobs at Stanford, raise families, and coach Little League, even though they have one or more chronic illness, like diabetes, depression, or cancer. They are among the most expensive to care for not just because they are sick, but also because the health care system is inefficient and disorganized when it comes to taking care of their multiple conditions. Why not organize the care around them the way a hospital organizes all the nurses, doctors, and technology needed for patients in the ICU?

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Trump's approval rating among US Jews is 31%, poll finds (JTA March 20, 2017)

President Donald Trump's approval rating among Jews in the United States is 31 percent.

The figure is more than 10 percent lower than the president's overall approval rating of 42 percent, according to a Gallup poll taken from Jan. 20, the day Trump was sworn in, to March 15.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 AM


Two quantum physicists walk in and out of a bar ...: Can humour be reduced to a pure equation? And what do dead cats have to do with it? Cathal O'Connell, 3/2017, Cosmos)

In the new work, published in Frontiers in Physics, Australian physicist Kirsty Kitto and Canadian psychologist Liane Gabora have applied the mathematics of quantum theory to puns. [...]

Consider: Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.

Here, during the set-up, we interpret the situation one way, and once the punch line comes, there is a shift in our understanding (oh, the insect likes bananas). That gets the laugh.

But scientists trying to express this cognitive processing in the form of an equation haven't got very far. Instead, the authors of the new work argue that it is not the shift of meaning, but rather our ability to perceive both meanings simultaneously, that makes a pun funny. That's where quantum theory comes in.

One of the central phenomena in quantum theory is superposition -- where a particle can be in two states at once. That's what led the Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger to come up with a scenario where a cat could be understood to be alive and dead at the same time.

Schrödinger and his colleagues developed the maths to deal with these conundrums a century ago. Now, Kitto and Gabora have done the same for the pun.

"Funniness is not a pre-existing 'element of reality' that can be measured," says Gabora. "It emerges from an interaction between the underlying nature of the joke, the cognitive state of the listener, and other social and environmental factors. This makes the quantum formalism an excellent candidate for modelling humour."'s no coincidence that Creation is a comedy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 AM


Trump budget cuts immigration aid and local police are stunned (Alan Gomez, 3/16/17, USA TODAY)

Throughout his campaign, Trump said he would help local communities enforce immigration laws and vowed to punish those that didn't -- generally referred to as "sanctuary cities" -- by withholding federal funds. Yet his budget would eliminate the State Criminal Alien Assistance Program, which would deny aid to localities that help enforce his ramped-up deportation program. The move would save the federal government $210 million this year.

That proposal came as a shock to officials in Miami-Dade County, which became the first jurisdiction in the country to shed its "sanctuary city" status by fully complying with Trump's immigration authorities. Mayor Carlos Gimenez ordered his jail to honor all requests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to detain undocumented immigrants, a controversial move that was approved by the county commission but led to sweeping protests in a county where a majority of residents are foreign-born.

Posted by orrinj at 4:32 AM


Pentagon leaders have reportedly given their White House political overseer a Soviet-era nickname (Peter Weber, 3/20/17, Washington Post)

At the Environmental Protection Agency, for example, Don Benton -- a former Washington state senator who ran Trump's campaign in the state -- offered his unsolicited opinion on policy matters so frequently that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has reportedly disinvited him from meetings, in a situation one official described to The Post as out of an episode of Veep. Pentagon officials privately call Brett Byers, charged with keeping an eye on Defense Secretary James Mattis, "the commissar," The Post reports, helpfully explaining that the nickname is "a reference to Soviet-era Communist Party officials who were assigned to military units to ensure their commanders remained loyal."