April 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 PM


Iranian officials give 'muted' response to US missile strike in Syria (Arash Karami, April 10, 2017, Al Monitor)

In his comments April 9 to the country's military commanders, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei saved his harshest words for European leaders rather than the United States. Recounting the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq War, he said, "The hypocritical European governments who claim there was chemical weapons use in Syria, during the [Iran-Iraq] war, gave tons of chemical weapons to [Iraqi President] Saddam [Hussein] for him to attack the war front and our regions in Sardasht and Halabja." (Halabja, a Kurdish town in Iraq, had been taken by Iran shortly before the chemical attack in 1988.) In contrast, in response to the United States' launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at Shayrat air base, Khamenei said, "What the Americans did, it was wrong and a strategic mistake."

Iran long ago pronounced Assad expendable.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM

2020 VISION:

Is Nikki Haley Improvising Her Way to Great Power? (Ed Kilgore, 4/10/17, New York)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley just had a remarkably good week: She went public with an attack on the Assad regime's use of chemical weapons, at a time when the Trump administration seemed at sea on the subject. Then the president shocked the world by firing cruise missiles at Syria, seeming to vindicate not only Haley's words about Assad, but also her past harsh criticism of Russia. Coincidentally or not, in the middle of all this turmoil she was named (along with Energy Secretary Rick Perry) a member of the Principals Committee of the National Security Council, at the same time that Stephen Bannon lost his seat.

And then, just as the entire political world begged for some sort of broader strategy surrounding the missile strike, Haley told CNN that "regime change" in Syria is "inevitable," which the many politicians and pundits who favor direct intervention to topple Assad gleefully treated as administration policy. Even if it's not, the fact that Haley could take that position and not be called on the carpet by her ostensible bosses (including the secretary of State) tells you a lot.

Nikki Haley benefits from chaos in Trump White House, emerges as the darling of the hawks (James Hohmann April 10, 2017, Washington Post)

Her comments on the Sunday shows also make clear that Haley doesn't think she takes marching orders from Foggy Bottom.

-- Articulating support for a policy of regime change in Syria is not the first time that Haley has gone farther out on a limb than her counterparts in the administration.

At her confirmation hearing, she telegraphed that she'd be an independent voice by touting the value of the NATO alliance and expressing hope that Trump would come around.

In her first address to the U.N. Security Council, she laced into Russia. Even as Donald Trump signaled openness to working with Vladimir Putin, she declared that Crimea does not belong to Moscow and that sanctions won't be lifted anytime soon. "We cannot trust Russia. We should never trust Russia," Haley said unequivocally during an interview on the "Today" show.

She reiterated U.S. support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict when Trump appeared to edge away from it.

She has also spoken of the need for America to show moral leadership in the world, again putting her at odds with the worldview espoused by her boss.

Last week, before it was clear Trump would order a strike on Syria, the ambassador brought poster-board-sized pictures of the victims of the chemical weapons attack to a speech at the United Nations. In a powerful eight-minute speech, as she spoke of children foaming at the mouth and being carried in the arms of desperate parents, the mother of two was the first U.S. official to publicly threaten unilateral action. "We cannot close our eyes to those pictures," she said. "We cannot close our minds to the responsibility to act."

-- All the chaos inside the Trump administration over the past 80 days has allowed Haley to get away with the kind of freelancing that would ordinarily cause someone in her position to be rebuked. In fact, she's been left alone. As she said on ABC the weekend before last, "The president has not once called me and said, 'Don't beat up on Russia.' He has not once called me and told me what to say."

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


General Ivanka? First Daughter Said to Have Pushed Her Father to Bomb Syria (Emily Zanotti, April 10, 2017, Heat Street)

After seeing pictures of Syrian children, dead from Bashar Al-Assad's Sarin gas attacks, Ivanka Trump put the screws to her father to do something dramatic, according to diplomatic cables sent between the US and UK Prime Minister Theresa May.

The UK's Sunday Times reported that Ivanka saw the photos on television and was "genuinely shaken." She tweeted out a response, and as her father, the President was working to control his infighting Oval Office, quietly influencing him to take immediate action.

Posted by orrinj at 3:22 PM


Important New Bipartisan Bill To Advance Accountability for International Crimes in Syria (Beth Van Schaack, April 10, 2017, Just Security)

Following on the heels of last week's chemical weapon attack in Syria, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Corker (R-TN), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Todd Young (R-IN) have introduced the Syria War Crimes Accountability Act of 2017, which authorizes the United States to provide technical and other forms of assistance to investigations and other credible transitional justice efforts, including a potential hybrid tribunal.  (C-Span video is here). In his press release, Sen. Rubio--chair of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on human rights said:

We must bring to justice those responsible for the Syrian regime's barbaric attacks and repeated use of chemical weapons.

Senator Cardin, ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, stated:

The United States must lead the international community in holding Assad accountable for his war crimes and his brutal victimization of the Syrian people over the last six years.

In drafting this proposed legislation, lawmakers interfaced with a range of organizations engaged in documentation and litigation, including the Commission for International Justice & Accountability (CIJA) in Lisbon, which is devoted to documenting crimes in Syria & Iraq, and the Center for Justice & Accountability (CJA) in San Francisco, a human rights law firm.

Assad was never going to withstand the defeat of ISIS, but he's no longer useful.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Breitbart editors tell staffers to stop writing stories critical of Jared Kushner, sources say (Oliver Darcy , 4/10/17, Business Insider)

Employees at Breitbart News have been asked by senior editors to refrain from writing stories critical of Jared Kushner, two people familiar with the matter told Business Insider.

Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


Crouching Donald, Paper Tiger (Barry Eichengreen, APR 10, 2017, Project Syndicate)

Donald Trump's comments about China during the US presidential campaign didn't exactly bolster high hopes for Sino-American relations once he was elected. Trump denounced China for "taking our jobs," and "[stealing] hundreds of billions of dollars in our intellectual property." He repeatedly accused China of manipulating its currency. The low point came last May, when Trump warned his followers that, "We can't continue to allow China to rape our country. That's what they're doing. It's the greatest theft in the history of the world."

Given such inflammatory rhetoric, many people understandably felt considerable trepidation in the run-up to Trump's summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate. It wasn't hard to imagine a refused handshake or the presentation of a bill for payment, like the one Trump reportedly gave visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel (a report denied by the White House).

Instead, Trump treated Xi with considerable deference. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:22 AM


Russia Walks Back Threats of Retaliation If US Strikes Syria Again (Rob Garver, April 10, 2017, Fiscal Times)

Kremlin officials on Monday publicly distanced themselves from a what appeared to be a threat by commanders on the ground in Syria to attack US interests if the Trump administration orders any more strikes against the regime of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.

Only the Right takes Russia's military seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Top Dems Attack Gabbard After She Fails to Blame Assad for Gas Attack (Charles Fain Lehman, April 10, 2017, Free Beacon)

Top Democrats are calling for the replacement of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii) after she refused on Friday to blame Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad for the chemical weapons attack in Syria that killed at least 100 Syrian civilians last week.

Gabbard said during an interview with CNN's Wolf Blitzer on Friday that she was "skeptical" Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack on Syrian citizens, CNN reported.  Gabbard said the U.S. should not be "sending American tax payer dollars on these failed regime change wars."

Syria nerve agent attack: why it made sense to Assad (Emma Graham-Harrison, 7 April 2017, The Guardian)

Fighting still raged across the battered country but his army and the collection of militias and foreign militaries backing his government had the upper hand, and the White House appeared to have taken any push for regime change off the table. [...]

[A]ssad's military gains since 2015 have been slow and costly. His army is battle-weary and although they have won decisive battles, the war is far from over.

Joshua Landis, a long-time Syria observer and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma, said chemical weapons could be attractive to a leader running low on military alternatives.

"I think Assad and his generals want to win and have a depleted and exhausted army," Joshua Landis said, when asked on Twitter if he thought the Syrian leader would have used chemical weapons. [...]

Since the 2013 sarin attack on a Damascus suburb, there have been government attacks using chlorine gas which have brought almost no repercussions. Sarin is much deadlier, and its use easier to prove through testing, making it a more powerful but riskier form of chemical weapon.

Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Israel's conservatives face tough lesson: Trump's policies may not be so different from Obama's approach (Joshua Mitnick, 4/10/17, LA Times)
When Donald Trump was elected president in November, euphoric Israeli right-wing politicians saw it as a green light to annex parts of the West Bank and declare an end to the idea of a Palestinian state.

But since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed recently to rein in expansion of settlements in the West Bank at the request of the U.S., many of the same politicians are wondering if the Trump administration may turn out to be disturbingly similar, in their eyes at least, to the Obama administration.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


White House on edge as 100-day judgment nears : 'We've got essentially two-and-a-half weeks to turn everything around,' says one Trump staffer. (SHANE GOLDMACHER 04/10/17, Politico)

More than 30 Trump staffers piled into a conference room in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building adjoining the White House, according to a half-dozen attendees who described the Tuesday meeting.

Mike Dubke, Trump's communications director, and his deputy, Jessica Ditto, kicked off the discussion of how to package Trump's tumultuous first 100 days by pitching the need for a "rebranding" to get Trump back on track.

"I think the president's head would explode if he heard that," one of the White House officials present said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


An alleged Russian hacker has been arrested in Spain -- and it may be connected to the US election (Aritz Parra and Raphael Satter, 4/10/17, Associated Press)

An alleged Russian hacker has been detained in Spain at the request of American authorities, an arrest that set cybersecurity circles abuzz after a Russian broadcaster raised the possibility it was linked to the U.S. presidential election. [...]

RT quoted Maria Levashova as saying that armed police stormed into their apartment in Barcelona overnight, keeping her and her friend locked in a room for two hours while they quizzed Levashov. She said that when she spoke to her husband on the phone from the police station, he told her he was told that he had created a computer virus that was "linked to Trump's election win."

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Legendary Climate Scientist Likes a GOP Proposal on Global Warming : James Hansen, the "father of climate change awareness," wants the same carbon fee-and-dividend strategy proposed by Republicans (Annie Sneed on April 10, 2017, Scientific American)

Pres. Donald Trump issued a major executive order last week that, if successful, could undercut the nation's fight against global warming. In particular, the order kicks off an attempt to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon emissions from the power sector. While Trump's move represents a big blow to U.S. climate efforts, the renowned scientist James Hansen sees a different--and, he argues, better--way forward on global warming. "The problem is the Clean Power Plan is really not that effective," says Hansen, former director of NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and adjunct professor at Columbia University's Earth Institute, who brought climate change to the U.S. public's attention in his famed 1988 congressional testimony. "It's a tragedy that [the Obama administration] continued to pursue a regulatory approach."

The solution Hansen believes will work best is one recently advocated by a group of Republican statesmen: a "carbon fee and dividend." Although it is not a tax, the approach would put a price on carbon--a step Hansen thinks is absolutely essential for cutting back greenhouse gas emissions. Hansen, who has been called the father of climate change awareness, recently spoke about the issue along with Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs, a leading expert on economic development, at the New York Society for Ethical Culture. Scientific American followed up with Hansen, also director of the Climate Science, Awareness and Solutions program at Columbia, to discuss this strategy and how he thinks it will help the U.S. turn the tide on global warming.

When you can cloak good economic policy in a green mantle you've got an easy win.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM


Democracy Has Stood Up to Trump (Yascha Mounk, 4/10/17, Slate)

[C]hecks and balances are, for now, holding up reasonably well. The judiciary has done a great job at reining Trump in. Though they have repeatedly drawn the president's ire, the country's judges show no sign of being cowed by him. Federal courts have halted two executive orders on immigration and seem likely to take an active role in curtailing executive overreach in the coming years.

The executive branch, whose functioning could most easily be sabotaged by decrees from the White House, has so far preserved its independence as well: The intelligence community has resisted pressures to alter its findings to protect the president from allegations of collusion with Russia. The FBI is investigating Trump. For now, the neutrality of key state institutions remains on full display.

Finally, though Republicans control both houses of Congress, even the legislature has frustrated Trump at multiple turns. Democrats in the House stood united against the GOP health care plan. Democrats in the Senate stood united against confirming Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. While those parts of the far left who seem to hate moderate Democrats more than they hate extremist Republicans like to accuse Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer of being cynical corporate shills who never find the courage to stand up for anything, their determination has, over the last months, been clear to anybody who cared to take a look.

The story is, unsurprisingly, a lot more bleak when you look at congressional Republicans. Some, like Devin Nunes, have demonstrated that they are willing to stoop to any low, and to break any democratic norm, to support their president. Many, like Paul Ryan, have made occasional noises of displeasure before falling into lockstep whenever it comes down to an actual vote. Only a few, like John McCain and Ben Sasse, have criticized Trump in clear terms, and indicated that they might--at some as yet unknown point in the ever-receding future--be willing to walk their talk. But while courage mostly continues to be missing in action among GOP officeholders, the incongruence of their ideological coalition has so far been just as effective in frustrating Trump's most ambitious plans.

Republicans control Washington and he's not one.
Posted by orrinj at 6:43 AM


Maximizers vs. minimizers: The personality trait that may guide your medical decisions - and costs (Laura Scherer and Brian Zikmund-Fisher, 4/09/17, The Conversation)

[I]magine two 50-year-old men who both experience chronic heartburn.

One is a maximizer who goes to the doctor and receives a prescription medication for his heartburn. At the same visit, he also gets a blood test that suggests that he should be taking a statin for his cholesterol, as well as a blood test to screen for prostate cancer that triggers multiple follow-up tests.

By contrast, the other 50-year-old man is a minimizer who does not go to the doctor when he feels heartburn symptoms. Instead, he adjusts his diet to address the problem. He does not end up taking any medications or getting any medical tests.

In our research, maximizers report that they receive more medical care than people with more minimizing tendencies. For example, maximizers take more prescription medications, visit the doctor more frequently, are more likely to get vaccines and blood draws, and have even had more overnight hospital stays in the past 10 years, as compared to minimizers. These associations exist even though maximizers do not tend to be sicker than minimizers and are just as likely to report having health insurance.

When there is a choice to be made between doing more versus doing less, maximizers will probably push for more, whereas minimizers will be satisfied to do less. Maximizers often opt for more active treatment interventions. For example, maximizers are more likely to say they would prefer surgery over physical therapy for treatment of back pain, or chemotherapy over palliative care for end-stage cancer.

Is it better to be a maximizer or a minimizer?

It might seem like people who receive more medical care will be healthier, because they take care of health issues before they become big problems. However, there is increasing evidence that a lot of medical care that people receive provides minimal benefit and can even cause harm.

Let's return to our two 50-year-old men. The maximizer might be better off because his heartburn symptoms and cholesterol levels are being actively treated. However, the minimizer might have improved his heartburn symptoms or even his cholesterol-related risks without chancing any side effects from medications. Moreover, research indicates that screening for prostate cancer often does more harm by leading to overdiagnosis - that is, diagnosis and treatment of cancers that will never grow or spread. Thus, the maximizer might experience a variety of physical and emotional problems related to his prostate cancer screening test that the minimizer simply avoided.

Both HSAs and National Health save money by tilting us towards minimization.

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Drugs That Work In Mice Often Fail When Tried In People (Richard Harris, 4/10/17, NPR)

"Imagine you were doing a human drug trial and you said to the FDA, 'OK, I'm going to do this trial in 43-year-old white males in one small town in California,'" Garner says -- a town where everyone lives in identical ranch homes, with the same monotonous diets and the same thermostat set to the same temperature.

"Which is too cold, and they can't change it," he goes on. "And oh, they all have the same grandfather!"

The FDA would laugh that off as an insane setup, Garner says.

"But that's exactly what we do in animals. We try to control everything we can possibly think of, and as a result we learn absolutely nothing."

Garner argues that research based on mice would be more reliable if it were set up more like experiments in humans -- recognizing that variation is inevitable, and designing to embrace it rather than ignore it. He and his colleagues have recently published a manifesto, urging colleagues in the field to look at animals in this new light.

"Maybe we need to stop thinking of animals as these little furry test tubes that can be or even should be controlled," he says. "And maybe instead we should think of them as patients."

That could solve some of the problems with animal research, but by no means all.

Scientists make far too many assumptions about the underlying biology of disease when creating animal models of those illnesses, says Gregory Petsko, who studies Alzheimer's disease and other neurological disorders at the Weill Cornell Medical School.

"It's probably only when you get to try your treatments in people that you're really going to have any idea how right those assumptions were," Petsko says.

In his field, the assumptions are often poor, or downright misleading. And Petsko says this mindset has been counterproductive. Scientists in his field have "been led astray for many years by relying so heavily on animal models," he says.

Requiring that new drugs pass human tests before going to market would save a ton of money.