April 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


WikiLeaks trolls CIA director (JOE UCHILL, 04/13/17, The Hill)

WikiLeaks hit back at CIA Director Mike Pompeo on Thursday after he criticized the website.

Pompeo called WikiLeaks a "non-state hostile intelligence service" that had done "great harm to our nation's national security."

The site hit back by posting one of Pompeo's now-deleted tweets from 2016 citing the group's work publishing leaked documents from the Democratic National Committee.

Posted by orrinj at 7:14 PM


C.I.A. Had Evidence of Russian Effort to Help Trump Earlier Than Believed (ERIC LICHTBLAU, APRIL 6, 2017, NY Times)

The C.I.A. told senior lawmakers in classified briefings last summer that it had information indicating that Russia was working to help elect Donald J. Trump president, a finding that did not emerge publicly until after Mr. Trump's victory months later, former government officials say.

The briefings indicate that intelligence officials had evidence of Russia's intentions to help Mr. Trump much earlier in the presidential campaign than previously thought. The briefings also reveal a critical split last summer between the C.I.A. and counterparts at the F.B.I., where a number of senior officials continued to believe through last fall that Russia's cyberattacks were aimed primarily at disrupting America's political system, and not at getting Mr. Trump elected, according to interviews.

...whether President Obama, Susan Rice and company were too scrupulous in not revealing what they knew.

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Trump's Syria Strike Was Constitutional (JOHN YOO, April 13, 2017, National Review)

This time, President Trump has the Constitution about right. His exercise of war powers rests firmly in the tradition of American foreign policy. Throughout our history, neither presidents nor Congresses have acted under the belief that the Constitution requires a declaration of war before the U.S. can conduct military hostilities abroad. We have used force abroad more than 100 times but declared war in only five cases: the War of 1812, the Mexican-American and Spanish-American wars, and World Wars I and II. 

Without any congressional approval, presidents have sent forces to battle Indians, Barbary pirates, and Russian revolutionaries; to fight North Korean and Chinese Communists in Korea; to engineer regime changes in South and Central America; and to prevent human-rights disasters in the Balkans. Other conflicts, such as the 1991 Persian Gulf war, the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan, and the 2003 Iraq War, received legislative "authorization" but not declarations of war. The practice of presidential initiative, followed by congressional acquiescence, has spanned both Democratic and Republican administrations and reaches back from President Trump to Presidents Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and George Washington. [...]

Those in the pro-Congress camp call upon the anti-monarchical origins of the American Revolution for support. If the Framers rebelled against King George III's dictatorial powers, surely they would not give the president much authority. It is true that the revolutionaries rejected the royal prerogative, and they created weak executives at the state level. Americans have long turned a skeptical eye toward the growth of federal powers. But this may mislead some to resist the fundamental difference in the Constitution's treatment of domestic and foreign affairs. For when the Framers wrote the Constitution in 1787, they rejected these failed experiments and restored an independent, unified chief executive with its own powers in national security and foreign affairs. 

The most important of the president's powers are those of commander in chief and chief executive. As Alexander Hamilton wrote in Federalist No. 74: 

The direction of war implies the direction of the common strength, and the power of directing and employing the common strength forms a usual and essential part in the definition of the executive authority. 

Presidents should conduct war, he wrote, because they could act with "decision, activity, secrecy and dispatch." In perhaps his most famous words, Hamilton wrote: "Energy in the executive is a leading character in the definition of good government. . . . It is essential to the protection of the community against foreign attacks."

Sadly for England, the Executive is more monarchical than the King.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


British spies were first to spot Trump team's links with Russia (Luke Harding, Stephanie Kirchgaessner and Nick Hopkins,  13 April 2017, The Guardian)

Britain's spy agencies played a crucial role in alerting their counterparts in Washington to contacts between members of Donald Trump's campaign team and Russian intelligence operatives, the Guardian has been told.

GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious "interactions" between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.

Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump's inner circle and Russians, sources said.

The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence - known as sigint - included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the "Five Eyes" spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.

Another source suggested the Dutch and the French spy agency, the General Directorate for External Security or DGSE, were contributors.

Wow, Susan Rice controls all our allies?

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Undercooled meat. Dangerous fish. Health inspectors zing Trump's Mar-a-Lago kitchen (JOSE LAMBIET, 4/13/17, Miami Herald)

Just days before the state visit of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to Mar-a-Lago, President Donald Trump's Palm Beach private club, Florida restaurant inspectors found potentially dangerous raw fish and cited the club for storing food in two broken down coolers.

Inspectors found 13 violations at the fancy club's kitchen, according to recently published reports -- a record for an institution that charges $200,000 in initiation fees.

Three of the violations were deemed "high priority," meaning that they could allow the presence of illness-causing bacteria on plates served in the dining room.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Susan Rice Is Cleared. It's Time to Shine the Spotlight Back Where It Belongs. (Nancy LeTourneau,  April 13, 2017, Washington Monthly)

[I]t's time to once again shine the spotlight on what Rep. Nunes and his buddy in the White House Ezra Cohen-Watnick were up to.

As a reminder, we now know that Cohen-Watnick was the one who summoned Nunes to a clandestine meeting at the White House to review the "evidence" he had uncovered that some of Trump's associates had their communication with foreign targets collected incidentally. Cohen-Watnick had been tasked (probably by his boss Michael Flynn) to review the "unmasking" procedures used during the Obama administration. It is very likely that this was an attempt to uncover what the intelligence community knew about Flynn's contacts with Russians.

When Cohen-Watnick initially took his findings to the White House counsel's office, he was told to cease and desist these activities because it was likely illegal given the investigation that is currently underway into the Trump campaign's possible collusion with the Russia.

At that point, Cohen-Watnick decided to do an end-around that cease and desist order and shared the information with Nunes, who went on to talk about it with the press and share it with Trump, but not with his colleagues on the Intelligence Committee.

We learned much of that from an AP report that was published on April 4th, and on April 6th (after having met with Speaker Paul Ryan the previous night), Rep. Nunes stepped down. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Is dark energy an illusion? (Adrian Cho, Apr. 3, 2017 , Science)

Strictly speaking, however, the FLRW equation applies to a smooth and homogeneous universe. So to calculate the scale factor at each step, cosmologists typically assume the universe is smooth and use its average density--determined from the simulation--as the FLRW metric's input. That's a bit dicey, because general relativity says that mass and energy warp spacetime. As a result, space should expand faster in emptier regions and slower in crowded ones, where the galaxies' gravity pulls against the expansion. Thus, in principle, inhomogeneities in the universe can feed back through the dynamics and affect the universe's expansion.

Gábor Rácz and László Dobos, astrophysicists at Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, and their colleagues set out to capture that "backreaction." They simulated a cube of space measuring 480 million light-years along each side. Instead of using the FLRW metric to calculate at each time step a single scale factor for the entire cube, they broke the cube into 1 million miniuniverses and then used the equation to calculate the scale factor in each of them. "We assume that every region of the universe determines its expansion rate itself," Dobos says. The researchers then calculated the average of the many scale factors, which can differ from the scale factor calculated from the average density.

The team's virtual universe evolved much as the real one has, with its expansion accelerating over the past few billion years. That happened even without adding space-stretching dark energy to the simulation, the researchers report in a paper in press at the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society. The results suggest that it may be possible to explain away dark energy as an illusion, Dobos says.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Ex-British spy chief Sir Richard Dearlove suggests Donald Trump may have borrowed money from Russia (Jack Maidment, 13 APRIL 2017, The Telegraph)

Former British spy chief Sir Richard Dearlove said in an interview with Prospect magazine that potential deals to keep Mr Trump's property empire afloat may still "linger". [...]

[S]ir Richard, who was Chief of the Secret Intelligence Service, MI6, between 1999 and 2004, told Prospect: "What lingers for Trump may be what deals - on what terms - he did after the financial crisis of 2008 to borrow Russian money when others in the west apparently would not lend to him."

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Donald Trump's Long March problem (BYRON YORK, 4/12/17, Washington Examiner)

A new president needs to staff his administration with people who will be loyal to him. Donald Trump's problem is that he does not have enough loyalists to staff the White House, much less the entire executive branch.

Previous presidents have come to Washington after enough time in politics to develop concentric circles of loyalists who can take jobs at all levels of government. Just look at the people who stood ready to help the Bush family or the Clintons over the years.

Trump, who never held public office before winning the presidency, didn't have that. In addition, he campaigned with an abrasive style that alienated a significant portion of the Republican Party's political talent. Beyond that, Trump's way of running his business, even though it made him a billionaire, was small in scale -- in his Trump Tower office, he relied heavily on a tight circle of people who were either related to him or had been with him for a very long time. [...]

On the question of the federal bureaucracy, many Trump supporters are dismayed by the slowness with which he is hiring for the various government departments and agencies. According to a database compiled by the Partnership for Public Service and the Washington Post, out of 553 important positions that require Senate confirmation -- and that is by no means all the political appointments Trump has to make-- only 22 Trump nominees have been confirmed, while another 53 have either been formally nominated or are awaiting formal announcement of their nominations. That leaves 478 jobs with no nominee at all.

GAO says it's investigating Trump transition team (KELSEY SUTTON, 04/12/17, Politico)

The Government Accountability Office will investigate whether members of President Donald Trump's transition team followed federal guidelines and ethics rules during the presidential transition, following complaints lodged by Democratic lawmakers in November.

In a letter dated April 5 to Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland and Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, the GAO confirmed that it would examine the transition team, including reviewing its use of federal funds and looking into the team's communications with foreign governments. The letter was posted to Warren's website this week and reported by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Russian Stocks Erase Trump Euphoria as Relations Reach New Low (Ksenia Galouchko, April 13, 2017, Bloomberg)

While Tillerson and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov were talking through their disagreements in negotiations in Moscow late on Wednesday, the Micex Index closed at its lowest level since before the U.S. election on Nov. 8. By 12:55 p.m. in Moscow on Thursday it had slid another 0.6 percent.

A spat this month between Russia and the U.S. over Syria has erased any last remnants of optimism among investors that Trump will make good on campaign promises to improve strained relations between the two countries. While in November the Micex rallied on bets Donald Trump's election victory would result in a lifting of sanctions that have damped growth since 2014, now traders are starting to price in the prospect of new penalties against the Kremlin.

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


Oil demand growth slows for second year (BBC, 4/13/17)

Demand for oil is expected to slow for the second year in a row, the International Energy Agency has said. [...]

But the organisation predicted supply would grow in coming months, with US oil-producing firms driving the increase.

The IEA said it expected non-Opec production, of which the US and Russia account for the biggest chunk, to rise by 485,000 barrels a day in 2017 to a total of 58.1 million barrels a day.

US production had already climbed to 9 million barrels a day in March, up from a September low of 8.6 million barrels per day.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


How to ensure everyone a guaranteed basic income   (Steven Pearlstein March 24, 2017, Washington Post)

Guaranteed-income schemes can take various forms, but in its simplest the government sends every citizen an annual check in an amount sufficient to keep the wolf from the door when misfortune strikes but not large enough to satisfy anyone's idea of a good life. Paying for it would require raising taxes in some fashion that would have the effect of clawing some or all of the money back from most households while hitting up the wealthy for even more. [...]

With the growing affluence generated by the Industrial Revolution, however, came the gradual rise of the welfare state, a safety net woven from myriad programs offering cash and services to anyone who was poor, disabled or involuntarily unemployed. Enforcing such conditionality not only required a large and expensive bureaucracy, but created a perverse incentive for beneficiaries to remain poor and unemployed so as not to lose their benefits. It was the desire to free the poor from this "welfare trap" and eliminate the bureaucratic middlemen that revived interest in a universal guaranteed income in the 1960s and attracted support from across the ideological spectrum.

As free-market champion Friedrich Hayek saw it, guaranteeing everyone a subsistence income was the moral precondition for opposing broader socialist schemes to equalize incomes. For Milton Friedman, it was an opportunity to eliminate expensive layers of government bureaucracy. [...]

Although their goal is utopian, Van Parijs and Vanderborght aim to infuse it with economic and political realism.

They are strongest when framing the guaranteed income as an economic dividend to which all citizens are entitled. In any country, they argue, only a small portion of the income earned in any year is a result of individual work effort, ingenuity and risk-taking. The rest is explained by the natural resources with which that country is endowed, the physical infrastructure, the collective know-how of fellow citizens, the quality of public and private institutions, and the degree of trust that greases the wheels of commerce, politics and everyday life. This "social capital," as the economist Herbert Simon once called it, was developed by many people over many generations and provides a collective inheritance that is now unequally and unfairly apportioned by markets in setting wages and salaries.

"What a basic income does is ensure that everyone receives a fair share of what none of us today did anything for," Van Parijs and Vanderborght write.

Giving some a fairer share, of course, means taking a share away from others, and these Belgian academics certainly don't shy away from the redistributionist nature of their project. In their ideal setup, every adult would get the equivalent of an annual unconditional allowance from the government equal to one-quarter of the country's average personal income (in the United States, that would be about $12,000). Exactly who would win and lose, and by how much, would be depend on the structure of the tax regime used to finance it.

While this give-with-one-hand, take-away-with-the-other quality strikes some as inefficient, it is that structure that allows guaranteed-income plans to avoid the "welfare trap" caused by today's "conditional" welfare programs. But it also makes them a tough sell politically. The sums involved would be enormous. And the ripple effects -- on wages, labor participation and the fate of other social benefits -- make it difficult for many people to imagine how it would all turn out.

The claw back comes in the form of consumption taxes.
Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


India's ID system is reshaping ties between state and citizens (The Economist, Apr 12th 2017)

Linking ration cards to an Aadhaar number, and thus to the biometric data tied to it, means a single person cannot have more than one and ghosts can have none. The original pitch to politicians--the scheme was adopted by the previous government, but has been embraced by Narendra Modi, the prime minister--was that Aadhaar would help make welfare more efficient. The potential gains are huge. One official estimate suggests that "leakage" in subsidy payments meant that only 27% of the money ended up in the right hands: not so much a leaky bucket as a sieve.

Over 400,000 ghost children were struck off school rolls in just three states after schools were required to match their pupils to Aadhaar numbers to keep receiving state funds. By weeding out false claims, authorities say they have saved $8bn in two-and-a-half years; the annual central-government budget for subsidies is about $40bn. That may be an exaggeration, and critics say there are other ways to improve the administration of subsidies. But the savings clearly outstrip the roughly $1bn cost of deploying Aadhaar.

Changing the mechanics of how a benefit is received is often just as important as the benefit itself. Development experts like the fact that, at least in theory, a villager can gain access to a subsidy in a distant city. This removes a big barrier to internal migration. A project to purge electoral lists found 800,000 fictitious voters in Punjab, a state of 30m. The authorities suspect that 30% of driving licences are fake, many of them duplicates to help drivers evade bans--a ruse that would be impossible if all licences were linked to Aadhaar.

Indeed, the improvements in accuracy and efficiency are so enormous that the government now wants to use Aadhaar more broadly than originally advertised. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Jackie did it his way ... with courage (Richard Justice, 4/14/12, MLB.com)

Please, let's not sanitize Robinson's story. He indeed was a man of grace and dignity, but the truth is, he was treated like an animal, actually worse than an animal. He was a member of the Dodgers only on the field.

Some of his teammates treated him well, but he was never really one of them. While they stayed in fine hotels and ate great food, Jackie was forced to stay in hotels so hot and filthy that he'd sometimes soak the bed sheets in ice water to cool the room. He ate his meals in the backs of kitchens, often alone, at least until Branch Rickey added Roy Campanella in his second season and Don Newcombe in his third.

To get back to a part of town that accepted him wasn't easy, and Robinson sometimes waited an hour on street corners for a cabbie who would stop for a black man. He was proud and stubborn, and he knew people were counting on him. The editor of a black New York weekly wrote that Robinson "would be haunted by the expectations of his race. ... White America will judge the Negro race by everything he does. And Lord help him with his fellow Negroes if he should fail them."

Robinson loved baseball more than baseball loved him, and he wanted to show the world that a black man could succeed in a white man's league. Nothing has been the same for baseball -- or America -- since April 15, 1947.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Inside Bannon's struggle: From 'shadow president' to Trump's marked man (Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Robert Costa April 12, 2017, Washington Post)

[O]ne Bannon friend, reflecting on them Wednesday, likened Bannon to a terminally ill family member who had been moved into hospice care.

The man not long ago dubbed the "shadow president" -- with singular influence over Trump's agenda and the workings of the federal government -- is struggling to keep his job with his portfolio reduced and his profile damaged, according to interviews Wednesday with 21 of Trump's aides, confidants and allies. [...]

Trump also is increasingly embracing more mainstream policy positions championed by daughter Ivanka Trump, son-in-law Jared Kushner and their allies, including ascendant National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, instead of Bannon's brand of combative nationalism. [...]

Trump's three oldest children -- Donald Jr., Ivanka and Eric -- and Kushner have been frustrated by the impression of chaos inside the White House and feel that their father has not always been served well by his senior staff, according to people with knowledge of their sentiments. The Trump heirs are interested in any changes that might help resuscitate the presidency and preserve the family's name at a time when they are trying to expand the Trump Organization's portfolio of hotels.

...and replace them with these photos of the Bering Sea.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


How artificial intelligence is revolutionizing healthcare (BEN DICKSON, 4/12/17, Next Web)

One of the most basic yet efficient use cases of artificial intelligence is to optimize the clinical process. Traditionally, when patients feel ill, they go to the doctor, who checks their vital signs, asks questions, and gives a prescription. Now, AI assistants can cover a large part of clinical and outpatient services, freeing up doctors' time to attend to more critical cases.

Your.MD is an AI-powered mobile app that provides basic healthcare. The chatbot asks users about their symptoms and provides easy-to-understand information about their medical conditions. The platform has a vast network of information that links symptoms to causes.

The assistant uses natural language processing and generation to provide a rich and fluid experience, and machine learning algorithms to create a complex map of the user's condition and provide a personalized experience.

Your.MD suggests steps and measures to remedy the illness, including warning users when they need to see a doctor.

UK's National Health Service (NHS) has approved the information Your.MD provides. This means as opposed to self-diagnosis, users don't have to worry about the authenticity and reliability of the guidance they get.

Other health assistants such as Ada integrate their technology with Amazon Alexa to improve the user experience. Ada becomes smarter as it gets familiar with the user's medical history. Aside from generating a detailed symptom assessment report, Ada also provides the option to contact a real doctor.

Babylon Health, another intelligent health companion, complements its assistance by following up with users on past symptoms, and in case the need arises, setting up live video consultation with a general practitioner.

Health assistants save patients a trip to the doctor for more trivial diseases. Also, in areas where doctors and clinics are in short supply, it can save patients hours of waiting in line.