April 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:33 PM


Border Lawmakers Balk at Donald Trump's Wall Request (Laura Meckler and  Kristina Peterson, April 21, 2017, WSJ)

Not a single member of Congress who represents the territory on the southwest border said they support President Donald Trump's request for $1.4 billion to begin construction of his promised wall, according to a Wall Street Journal survey, testing the administration's ability to reach a deal on government funding next week.

Most lawmakers representing the region--both Democrats and Republicans--said they are opposed and many said they have unanswered questions. A few were noncommittal, but not a single member of the House or Senate representing the region expressed support for the funding request. That includes nine members of the House and eight senators across four states: Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

He has to be the least powerful first term president besides Andrew Johnson and Gerald Ford.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


There Is Nothing Left of Trump's Supposed Economic Populism (David Atkins, April 22, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Entire oceans of ink have been spilled over the question of how much of Trump's support came from prejudice versus economic anxiety (hint: it's both and they're interconnected.) But no matter the answer, what's clear by now is that Trump's economic populist agenda on behalf of the white working class no longer exists if it ever did. His betrayals of Main Street on behalf of Wall Street have been gradual and numerous, but two executive orders yesterday seal the deal:

President Trump signed a set of executive actions Friday ordering a review of significant 2016 tax regulations along with two separate reviews aimed at rolling back Dodd-Frank financial regulations. [...]

Trump has trussed up giveaways to Wall Street in worker-friendly language, but the intent is clear: to give the finance industry free rein to predate at will-though as Matt Yglesias notes, even the executive orders themselves are empty legislative husks designed to give Trump the illusion of accomplishments before the 100-day mark. Still, even an empty gift to Wall Street remains a gift.

There is now nothing left of Trump's promises to workers. Better healthcare and lower premiums than the Affordable Care Act? Nope. Pressure against Chinese currency manipulation and offshoring of jobs? Not anymore. Keeping advisers who listen to Trump's base instead of Goldman Sachs? Suckers.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


Le Pen goes back to her roots on immigration as poll countdown begins (Le Monde, 2017-04-19)

Facing a slight slump in opinion polls just one week before the first-round of France's presidential election, far-right candidate Marine Le Pen has returned to her party's core issues: immigration and security.

With only five days left before the first round on April 23 (the top two in the first round go through to the decisive second round on May 7), and with opinion polls forecasting a tight race that is barely possible to predict, Le Pen on Monday re-focused her campaign on immigration.

It is familiar territory for the leader of the National Front (FN), a party which has campaigned on an anti-immigrant platform for over 40 years.

For months Le Pen has been among the frontrunners, and her campaign seemed to be already planning ahead to the critical second round. But amid fresh concerns she could be squeezed out in the first round, her team is now attempting a mini re-launch appealing directly to the FN's traditional voter base. [...]

The new and drastic proposal appears to be aimed at focusing the public debate around the FN's signature issue in the final stretch, and it is a strategy the party has exploited in the past.

A month before France's 2015 regional election, Le Pen called on all asylum seekers to be kicked out at the height of Europe's migrant crisis. During the last presidential election, in 2012, she sparked a heated debate about the ritual slaughter of livestock by certain religions only weeks before the vote.

Posted by orrinj at 1:12 PM


Why I Take Fake Pills : Surprising new research shows that placebos still work even when you know they're not real (Robert Anthony Siegel, May 2017, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE)

Ted Kaptchuk, Kelley's boss and the founder and director of PiPS, has traveled an eccentric path. The child of a Holocaust survivor, he became embroiled in radical politics in the 1960s and later studied Chinese medicine in Macao. ("I needed to find something to do that was more creative than milking goats and not so destructive as parts of the antiwar movement.") After returning to the U.S., he practiced acupuncture in Cambridge and ran a pain clinic before being hired at Harvard Medical School. But he's not a doctor and his degree from Macao isn't even recognized as a PhD in the state of Massachusetts.

Kaptchuk's outsider status has given him an unusual amount of intellectual freedom. In the intensely specialized world of academic medicine, he routinely crosses the lines between clinical research, medical history, anthropology and bioethics. "They originally hired me at Harvard to do research in Chinese medicine, not placebo," he told me, as we drank tea in his home office. His interests shifted when he tried to reconcile his own successes as an acupuncturist with his colleagues' complaints about the lack of hard scientific evidence. "At some point in my research I asked myself, 'If the medical community assumes that Chinese medicine is "just" a placebo, why don't we examine this phenomenon more deeply?'"

Some studies have found that when acupuncture is performed with retractable needles or lasers, or when the pricks are made in the wrong spots, the treatment still works. By conventional standards, this would make acupuncture a sham. If a drug doesn't outperform a placebo, it's considered ineffective. But in the acupuncture studies, Kaptchuk was struck by the fact that patients in both groups were actually getting better. He points out that the same is true of many pharmaceuticals. In experiments with postoperative patients, for example, prescription pain medications lost half their effectiveness when the patient did not know that he or she had just been given a painkiller. A study of the migraine drug rizatriptan found no statistical difference between a placebo labeled rizatriptan and actual rizatriptan labeled placebo.

What Kaptchuk found was something akin to a blank spot on the map. "In medical research, everyone is always asking, 'Does it work better than a placebo?' So I asked the obvious question that nobody was asking: 'What is a placebo?' And I realized that nobody ever talked about that."

To answer that question, he looked back through history. Benjamin Franklin's encounter with the charismatic healer Franz Friedrich Anton Mesmer became a sort of paradigm. Mesmer treated patients in 18th-century Paris with an invisible force he called "animal magnetism." Franklin used an early version of the placebo trial to prove that animal magnetism wasn't a real biological force. Franklin's one mistake, Kaptchuk believed, was to stop at discrediting Mesmer, rather than going on to understand his methods. His next question should have been: "How does an imaginary force make sick people well?"

Kaptchuk sees himself as picking up where Franklin left off. Working with Kelley and other colleagues, he's found that the placebo effect is not a single phenomenon but rather a group of inter-related mechanisms. It's triggered not just by fake pharmaceuticals but by the symbols and rituals of health care itself--everything from the prick of an injection to the sight of a person in a lab coat.

And the effects are not just imaginary, as was once assumed. Functional MRI and other new technologies are showing that placebos, like real pharmaceuticals, actually trigger neurochemicals such as endorphins and dopamine, and activate areas of the brain associated with analgesia and other forms of symptomatic relief. As a result of these discoveries, placebo is beginning to lose its louche reputation.

"Nobody would believe my research without the neuroscience," Kaptchuk told me. "People ask, 'How does placebo work?' I want to say by rituals and symbols, but they say, 'No, how does it really work?' and I say, 'Oh, you know, dopamine'--and then they feel better." 

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


Trump condos worth $250 million pose potential conflict (Nick Penzenstadler , Steve Reilly and John Kelly , 4/20/17, USA TODAY)

President Trump's companies own more than 400 condo units and home lots whose sale could steer millions of dollars to Trump, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

USA TODAY spent four months cataloging every property Trump's companies own across the country. Reporters found that Trump's companies are sitting on at least $250 million of individual properties in the USA alone. Property records show Trump's trust and his companies own at least 422 luxury condos and penthouses from New York City to Las Vegas, 12 mansion lots on bluffs overlooking his golf course on the Pacific Ocean and dozens more smaller pieces of real estate. The properties range in value from about $200,000 to $35 million each.

Unlike developments where Trump licenses his name to a separate developer for a flat fee, profits from selling individual properties directly owned by his companies ultimately enrich him personally.

Trump has never disclosed a complete, unit-by-unit inventory of his companies' real estate holdings or sales, nor is he required to do so by federal law. Trump says he's separated himself from his businesses, but the trust set up in January is run by his sons. Trump is the only beneficiary and can withdraw funds at any time.

The volume of real estate creates an extraordinary and unprecedented potential for people, corporations or foreign interests to try to influence a president. Anyone who wanted to court favor with the president could snap up multiple properties or purposefully overpay. They could buy in the name of a shell company, making it impossible for the public to know who was behind the sales.

The potential for conflicts is exacerbated by Trump's refusal to release his tax returns or fully separate himself from his businesses, breaking with precedent set by presidents going back four decades. Since Congress passed the Ethics in Government Act in 1978, all six presidents from Carter to Obama established blind trusts or limited investments to assets like mutual funds. Trump has not.

The president is exempt from most conflict-of-interest laws that apply to others working in the federal government. He is not required to disclose when units sell or who bought them.

He is barred by the Constitution from receiving gifts from foreign governments or officials. Trump's assessment that the ban doesn't apply to market-rate transactions is debated in lawsuits and among ethics experts.

Regardless, it may be impossible for the public to even know who is behind purchase because the rules governing real estate transactions allow for shell companies to make purchases without disclosing who actually paid the money.

"Anyone seeking to influence the president could set up an anonymous company and purchase his property," said Heather Lowe, director of government affairs at Global Financial Integrity, a D.C.-based group aimed at curbing illicit financial transactions. "It's a big black box, and the system is failing as a check for conflicts of interest."

Since Election Day, records show Trump companies have sold at least 14 luxury condos and home-building lots for about $23 million. Half were sold to limited liability companies. No names were listed in deeds, obscuring buyers' identities.

Since launching his White House bid, Trump's companies have sold at least 58 units nationwide for about $90 million. Almost half of those sold to LLCs. [...]

A couple of weeks before the Republican National Convention, a Las Vegas financial firm filed paperwork to found Milan Investment Limited in Nevada.

Days later, the newly minted company went on a buying spree. Milan spent $3.1 million over four months to buy 11 luxury condos in a shimmering golden tower near the Strip that Trump owns with friend and casino mogul Phil Ruffin. Trump Ruffin LLC collected the last of the money weeks before Trump was elected.

Milan Investment tracks back to what appears to be an incorrect address, the strip mall office of a financial services firm.

The owner, Thomas Sullivan, said he never heard of Milan Investment but said a federal "regulatory" agency visited his office in person asking similar questions. He declined to identify the agency.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Yelp for Health: Using the Wisdom of Crowds to Find High-Quality Hospitals (Paul Howard & Yevgeniy Feyman, April 12, 2017, Manhattan Institute)

Online tools like ZocDoc, HealthGrades, and Yelp have become popular among people who search for information about physicians and hospitals. Yelp, one of the most widely used platforms, allows patients to rate health-care providers through a five-star rating system that can include narrative text reviews. In 2015, Yelp partnered with ProPublica to publish average wait times, readmission rates, and the quality of communication scores for more than 25,000 hospitals, nursing homes, and dialysis clinics. According to some research, Yelp reviews correlate with Medicare surveys such as the Hospital Consumer Assessment of Healthcare Providers and Systems (HCAHPS). We don't know, however, how accurate these reviews are for identifying quality doctors and hospitals.

This paper examines whether there is a correlation between Yelp reviews of New York State hospitals and objective measures of hospital quality. We find that higher Yelp ratings are correlated with better-quality hospitals and that they provide a useful, clear, and reliable tool for comparing the quality of different facilities as measured by potentially preventable readmission rates (PPR), a widely accepted metric.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


Britain set for first coal-free day since the industrial revolution (Georgia Brown, 21 April 2017, The Guardian)

The UK is set to have its first ever working day without coal power generation since the industrial revolution on Friday, according to the National Grid.

The control room tweeted the predicted milestone, adding that it is also set to be the first 24-hour coal-free period in Britain.

The UK has had shorter coal-free periods in 2016, as gas and renewables such as wind and solar play an increasing role in providing the country with power. The longest continuous period until now was 19 hours - first achieved on a weekend last May, and matched on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Trump legal tab: $4 million and rising : A trail of legal cases stemming from his unconventional campaign still dogs the president months after the election. (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 04/20/17, Politico)

During his campaign, Donald Trump promised to pay the legal bills of supporters who beat up protesters at his rallies, but a POLITICO analysis found that Trump's campaign hasn't always paid its own legal bills in a timely or transparent fashion.

The analysis of court and campaign filings found that Trump's campaign committee is still spending heavily to defend against ongoing civil lawsuits alleging assault, incitement, threats and other illegal behavior by the president, his supporters and staff. But in at least four ongoing cases, Trump's campaign had yet to make a publicly disclosed payment to the law firms representing it, paid months late or paid in tiny amounts that don't appear commensurate with the amount of work performed by the firms.

...the main narrative about 2016 is that Donald capitalized on poor whites who think the wealthy Establishment is taking them for a ride, so it's fun to see them pay his legal bills, or at least the ones he does pay....
Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Maine's Immigrants Boost Workforce Of Whitest, Oldest State In U.S. (Hansi Lo Wang, 4/20/17, All Things Considered)

A demographic crisis looms over Maine, the oldest and whitest state in the U.S. with one of the country's lowest birth rates.

Employers are already feeling the effects on Maine's workforce as they struggle to fill positions with "old Mainers" -- long-time residents in a state where many take pride in their deep family roots, especially along the shores of Washington County.[...]

Large communities of mainly Somali and Sudanese refugees have formed in Maine's largest cities, Portland and Lewiston. Rudelitch says Washington County also needs more immigrants and other newcomers to help sustain the local economy.

"We're making the argument that over time, there will be a much bigger economy for all of us to have a share of if we welcome people who choose to move here," he says.

Newcomers have been moving to the county, specifically to the small town of Milbridge, with a population of just over 1,300, according to the 2010 Census.

While Latinos make up just over 1 percent of Maine's residents, about 6 percent of Milbridge's residents are Latino, many of them families drawn by jobs in lobster processing, blueberry picking and wreath making.

Maria Paniagua Albor works in the office of a lobster processing plant, where she says most of the workers are Hispanic, either from Puerto Rico or Mexico. The white workers, she says, she can count on one hand.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


7 Easy-to-Make Endurance Fuels That Are Cheaper and Tastier Than Energy Bars : And more effective (Michael Easter Apr 20, 2017, Outside)

A year ago, I solved an energy crisis. I had signed up for a 24-hour, unsupported, military-style team endurance event that would involve carrying hundreds of pounds of gear over 50 miles, a bit of swimming, and a thousand or so burpees tossed in for good measure. All things considered, I would burn just north of 15,000 calories during the event.

As I stood scanning the energy bar aisle at my local outdoor store, I realized that carrying even half my calorie requirements in my favorite bars, at $3.50 a pop, would run me $73.50--half the cost of feeding a family of four for an entire week.

I decided to improvise and pointed my truck toward a nearby discount grocery store. There, I considered my needs: a huge amount of calories in a small package and, preferably, something tasty. I grabbed peanut butter, jelly, and a seedy wheat bread--and some thin-sliced mozzarella, because why not. The resultant sandwich, while admittedly strange, packed in more than 30 grams of protein--the magic number for refueling working muscle, according to a 2009 study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association--and nearly 700 calories. Yet it took up no more room in my pack, cost just 80 cents each, and was truly delicious. The math: per calorie, the bars would have been ten times more expensive.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


No other artist mixed religion and sex like Prince (Kimberly Winston, April 20, 2017, Religion News Service)

Now, amid the anniversary appreciations and concerts, Prince's faith is gaining recognition as a driving force behind his music. In January, Yale University held a three-day conference on the music of Prince and David Bowie -- who also died in 2016 -- that included a panel on religion and spirituality in their work.

A handful of scholars and critics are also producing books that, in part, explore the influence of faith on the music of Prince.

One of those is Ben Greenman, whose "Dig If You Will the Picture: Funk, Sex, God and Genius in the Music of Prince" was released this month. He says that in a career that spanned almost four decades, Prince's music was always concerned with religion -- but what kind of religion depends on where in his career the record needle touches down.

"Early on, he came on as an iconoclast, charging hard against conventional conceptions of morality, sexuality, and spirituality, though he always straightforwardly credited God in his liner notes," Greenman said in an email. "Between (the 1984 and 1985 albums) 'Purple Rain' and 'Around the World in a Day,' he seemed to grapple with his carnal urges and to appeal to God for self-control and a better understanding of love versus lust."

Prince's early music reflects his upbringing by devout Seventh-day Adventist parents in Minneapolis. His father -- also a musician -- was strict. "He was so hard on me," Prince told Tavis Smiley in 2009. "I was never good enough." His parents divorced, and as a teenager Prince went to live with a neighbor.

Seventh-day Adventists are millennialists -- believers in an imminent end times -- and multiple Prince songs, including the hit "1999," include doomsday scenarios:

I was dreamin' when I wrote this, forgive me if it goes astray
But when I woke up this mornin', could've sworn it was judgment day
The sky was all purple, there were people runnin' everywhere
Tryin' to run from the destruction, you know I didn't even care

At the end, Prince sings, "Can't run from revelation, no."

Prince's version of the end times is not full of fear or grief. Instead, it is full of hope, joy and anticipation.

"You get to be in paradise," said Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania who spoke at the Yale conference. "Yes, there might be destruction, but it is also going to be a great thing. This is not a fearful thing. It is heaven or paradise."

But there was a darker, B side, too. "Sign O' the Times," released in 1987, included his most overtly Christian song to date, "The Cross," a soulful brooding on the Crucifixion:

Black day, stormy night
No love, no hope in sight
Don't cry for he is coming
Don't die without knowing the cross

Ghettos to the left of us
Flowers to the right
There'll be bread for all, y'all
If we can just, just bear the cross, yeah

Karl Jacobson, an assistant professor at Augsburg College in Prince's hometown of Minneapolis, said this song helped him better understand his own Lutheran faith. In an appreciation he wrote for the blog BibPopCult, he likened the song to Martin Luther's "theology of the cross" -- the idea that the cross is all a Christian needs to know who God is.

"It tells the truth about a troubled world," Jacobson writes. " ... If we can just bear the cross -- bear the truth it shows us about our world and about ourselves and about this God, and bear it with us as we live our lives, then this whole world will be kept and fed in the cross of Christ."

To Toure, who describes Prince as a preacher in some of his songs, the message is even simpler:

"For him there was no need to separate the things we do on Saturday night from the things we do on Sunday morning."

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Cautious Optimism About The New In-House Wine Brand From Sam's Club (Brian Freedman, 4/21/17, Forbes)

The recent announcement that Sam's Club will be selling wine from their in-house Member's Mark brand has set off a bomb of speculation about what this means for their competition with Costco, whose own Kirkland brand of wine has not just gained a fair amount of respectability but also accounts for substantial profits for the mega-store.