May 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Pelosi Blames Clinton's Loss on Party's Hardline Abortion Stance (JOHN MCCORMACK, 5/03/17, National Review)

"You know what? That's why Donald Trump is president of the United States--the evangelicals and the Catholics, anti-marriage equality, anti-choice. That's how he got to be president," Pelosi told the Washington Post. "Everything was trumped, literally and figuratively by that."

Indeed, the Democrats' declining performance solely among evangelicals between 2012 and 2016 was enough to cost Hillary Clinton the election, as Ramesh Ponnuru wrote at National Review in December.

In her Washington Post interview, Pelosi urged Democrats to welcome pro-life voters and some candidates. "I grew up Nancy D'Alesandro, in Baltimore, Maryland; in Little Italy; in a very devout Catholic family; fiercely patriotic; proud of our town and heritage, and staunchly Democratic," Pelosi said. "Most of those people--my family, extended family--are not pro-choice. You think I'm kicking them out of the Democratic Party?"

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Is The GOP Health Bill Morphing Into Yet Another Big Federal Program? (Alison Kodjak, 5/03/17, NPR)

First there was Medicare, then Medicaid, and then Obamacare. Now we move to Trumpcare, or whatever it eventually is labeled, which seems to be turning into another big federal program to pay the bills for people with expensive illnesses.

House Republicans, trying to gather enough support to get their health care bill passed, keep adding pots of money to the proposal to pay the costs of people with high medical costs. The cash would likely go to "high-risk pools," which pay the expenses of the very sick so that insurance companies don't have to.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Gluten-free diet should not be eaten by people who are not coeliac, say scientists (Sarah Knapton, 2 MAY 2017, The Telegraph)

Researchers at Harvard University looked at data from nearly 120,000 people over 26 years and found that going gluten-free did not cut the risk of heart disease.

And they warned that restricting dietary gluten may result in a low intake of whole grains, which are known to be beneficial for the heart.

"The popularity of a low gluten or gluten-free diet in the general population has markedly increased in recent years," said Dr Andrew Chan, of Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital in the BMJ.

"However these findings underscore the potential that people who severely restrict gluten intake may also significantly limit their intake of whole grains, which may actually be associated with adverse cardiovascular outcomes

"The promotion of gluten-free diets among people without coeliac disease should not be encouraged."

We've only been eating the stuff for 12,000 years.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Netflix Edits 'Bill Nye' Episode to Remove Segment Saying Chromosomes Determine Gender (Alex Griswold, May 3, 2017, Free Beacon)

When uploaded to Netflix, an episode of the educational children's show "Bill Nye the Science Guy" cut out a segment saying that chromosomes determine one's gender.

In the original episode, titled "Probability," a young woman told viewers, "I'm a girl. Could have just as easily been a boy, though, because the probability of becoming a girl is always 1 in 2."

"See, inside each of our cells are these things called chromosomes, and they control whether we become a boy or a girl, " the young woman continued. "See, there are only two possibilities: XX, a girl, or XY, a boy."

But in the version of the episode uploaded to Netflix, the segment has been cut entirely.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Dems Need a Celebrity Apprentice (Josh Kraushaar, May 2, 2017, National Journal)

Thanks to Pres­id­ent Trump's un­pop­ular­ity, Demo­crat­ic en­ergy is sky-high and the party's path to a polit­ic­al comeback looks clear. But at a time when celebrity has be­come an es­sen­tial as­set in polit­ics, the party's most elect­able crop of fu­ture lead­ers is vir­tu­ally an­onym­ous. Pro­spect­ive Demo­crat­ic can­did­ates like Sens. Kirsten Gil­librand of New York, Amy Klobuchar of Min­nesota, and Cory Book­er of New Jer­sey, as well as New York Gov. An­drew Cuomo, barely re­gister in polls. With buzz now the coin of the realm, not be­ing able to gen­er­ate non­stop news cov­er­age has be­come a ser­i­ous li­ab­il­ity. Dur­ing a re­cent pan­el about the Demo­crat­ic Party's fu­ture, a top Demo­crat­ic strategist only half-jok­ingly com­men­ted that she'd work to draft act­ress Kerry Wash­ing­ton in­to the pres­id­en­tial race. This is the im­pact of Trump's 2016 cam­paign on our body polit­ic.

In­deed, the Demo­crat­ic Party's most re­cog­niz­able can­did­ates are either past their primes, out of the polit­ic­al main­stream, or both. Up­com­ing vis­its to early-vot­ing states by War­ren, Sanders, and Biden are the equi­val­ent of a base­ball team re­ly­ing on a bunch of aging vet­er­ans whose best days are long be­hind them. "Bernie Sanders is now the lead­er of the Demo­crat­ic Party," lamen­ted one party of­fi­cial, at­trib­ut­ing Sanders's stand­ing to his su­per­i­or name iden­ti­fic­a­tion and deep con­nec­tion to his so­cial­ist-minded sup­port­ers.

If the party was run like a busi­ness, it would be look­ing to mar­ket pro­spect­ive can­did­ates to its core con­sumers--a young and di­verse con­stitu­ency that has grown in­creas­ingly dis­il­lu­sioned with polit­ics. The Demo­crats' lead­ing can­did­ates, however, are a demo­graph­ic mis­match: Biden will be 77 years old in 2020, and the memory of his ser­vice to Pres­id­ent Obama will have faded. Sanders will be push­ing 80 by the next pres­id­en­tial cam­paign, and he sounds more in­ter­ested in chan­ging the dir­ec­tion of the party than be­com­ing pres­id­ent. War­ren is the young­est of the bunch, but if elec­ted, would be the old­est pres­id­ent in Amer­ic­an his­tory. All would be run­ning on a plat­form of eco­nom­ic pro­gressiv­ism at a time when the en­ergy on the Left is fueled by iden­tity polit­ics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


With More Dems Than GOPs, House Passes $1.1 Trillion Spending Bill (Amber Athey, 05/03/2017, Daily Caller)

The final vote tally was 309-118 and 103 Republicans voted against the bill, meaning more Democrats voted for the bill than Republicans.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Canada's Largest Grocer Is Planning for Prolonged Food Deflation (Sandrine Rastello, May 3, 2017, Bloomberg)

Loblaw Cos. is fighting a price war with Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Metro Inc. and other rivals, offering discounts to lure more customers and keep revenue growing. That means there may be little prospect of a pick up in prices that have been dropping since the end of last year, with competition becoming a full-on deflation factor.

"While we expect deflation to moderate in the coming quarters, we see no signs of the competitive intensity easing," Loblaw Chief Executive Officer Galen Weston told analysts on an earnings call Wednesday. "As a result, we do not expect inflation to turn positive in 2017."

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Spiritual leader of Iranian Reformists backs Rouhani (Rohollah Faghihi, May 3, 2017, Al Monitor)

On May 2, Khatami stated on his website that First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri "and the wise figures of the country believe the interests of the people and the country is in the continuance of [a Rouhani presidency]."

"Today, Mr. Rouhani not being elected would mean the increased likelihood of the return of [Iran's] isolation and sanctions," wrote the Reformist heavyweight.

Khatami, a widely popular figure in Iran who played a significant role in Rouhani's 2013 victory, continued, "All of us, along with Mr. Jahangiri, will support Mr. Rouhani." [...]

Meanwhile, in a May 2 interview with the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif strongly defended Rouhani's legacy.

"The reality is that this is a choice that will determine in which direction the country will move in the next four years," Zarif said, underscoring that it will take time to remedy the effects of economic sanctions levied on Iran during the eight-year presidency of hard-liner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whom Rouhani defeated in 2013.

Referring to Iran's nuclear deal, the foreign minister added, "The time for the efforts related to the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] to bear fruit will gradually arrive. ... For the continuance of Iran's power, the policies of the past four years should be continued."

Referring to the expansion of Iran's economic relationships with other countries following the signing of the nuclear deal, Zarif said, "Today, foreign policy has come to help people's livelihoods. ... Protecting the JCPOA" should be the next government's top priority.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Moqtada al-Sadr: In Iraq, a fiery cleric redefines himself as nationalist patriot (Jane Arraf, MAY 3, 2017, CS Monitor)

[T]he still relatively young cleric, the son and the son-in-law of two Shiite clerics revered for their concern for the poor, has increasingly made an effort to portray himself as an Iraqi patriot. Now, he is poised to consolidate his position not only as an influential political kingmaker but as someone who can mobilize potentially millions of followers from Baghdad to the southern coastal city of Basra.  

In April, he even broke with other Iraqi Shiite leaders in calling on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Iran, to step down to save the country from more bloodshed. 

"He really is someone who has provided a social and political outlet for the impoverished, particularly for those southerners who have never had a chance to have their say in middle-class and upper-class politics, which defines much of what goes on in Baghdad," says Ahab Bdaiwi, a specialist in Islamic history at Leiden University in the Netherlands.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


The Comey Letter Probably Cost Clinton The Election  (Nate Silver, May 3, 2017, 538)

The letter isn't the only reason that Clinton lost. It does not excuse every decision the Clinton campaign made. Other factors may have played a larger role in her defeat, and it's up to Democrats to examine those as they choose their strategy for 2018 and 2020.

But the effect of those factors -- say, Clinton's decision to give paid speeches to investment banks, or her messaging on pocket-book issues, or the role that her gender played in the campaign -- is hard to measure. The impact of Comey's letter is comparatively easy to quantify, by contrast. At a maximum, it might have shifted the race by 3 or 4 percentage points toward Donald Trump, swinging Michigan, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida to him, perhaps along with North Carolina and Arizona. At a minimum, its impact might have been only a percentage point or so. Still, because Clinton lost Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin by less than 1 point, the letter was probably enough to change the outcome of the Electoral College.

And yet, from almost the moment that Trump won the White House, many mainstream journalists have been in denial about the impact of Comey's letter. The article that led The New York Times's website the morning after the election did not mention Comey or "FBI" even once -- a bizarre development considering the dramatic headlines that the Times had given to the letter while the campaign was underway. Books on the campaign have treated Comey's letter as an incidental factor, meanwhile. And even though Clinton herself has repeatedly brought up the letter -- including in comments she made at an event in New York on Tuesday -- many pundits have preferred to change the conversation when the letter comes up, waving it away instead of debating the merits of the case.

The motivation for this seems fairly clear: If Comey's letter altered the outcome of the election, the media may have some responsibility for the result.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Creationism By Another Name (Ferran Suay, 5/02/17, Quillette)

[H]ow can a species rid itself of the laws that govern the rest of life on the planet?

Only a few minutes of thought reveals all this to be extraordinarily unscientific. Are we to believe that evolutionary pressures, which have configured the anatomy of the body and the brain, cannot also be used to explain and understand the whys and wherefores of human behaviour? Everyone agrees that we have opposable thumbs because those of our ancestors born with this mutation possessed certain reproductive advantages and left more living descendants on Earth. As this trait continued to provide benefits to subsequent generations, it became so dominant it is now the norm for the vast majority of humans. The same can be applied to the standing position, and to the size and the particular anatomical configuration of the human brain. This is all uncontroversial.

Why should the same logic not apply to human behaviour? Let's take physical aggression, for example--the tendency to impose on others through coercion. Didn't aggressive individuals enjoy (some) reproductive advantages? Didn't the most aggressive males climb the hierarchy of social groups thereby enhancing their ability to attract resources and mates? Didn't that privilege the transmission of aggressive genes to the next generation? The statistics on violent crime reveal a very clear over-representation of the male sex. Without needing to study the numbers, anyone with eyes in their head can conclude that human males are generally considerably more physically aggressive than females.

However, unlike the shape of our hands, the standing position, or the anatomy of the brain, this trait is not a universally accepted product of evolution. Instead, it is a response to social conditioning, such as patriarchal education, the nefarious influence of the media, or the excessive availability of violent video games. In this scenario, miraculously, evolutionary pressures have no part to play, and the socio-environmental, psychosocial, or psycho-socio-environmental variables (we can keep on juxtaposing terms until we find a sufficiently abstruse formulation) are the sole determinants of behaviour.

Because the people defending these statements don't or won't explicitly deny the theory of evolution, we must understand that they accept it, but only up to a point; a point at which a deity arbitrarily decided that, from this moment onwards, humans would be exempt from this process. Henceforth, the method that led us to understand what shaped the brain cannot be applied to explain how it produces behaviour.


More comical than curious.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Donald Trump's Very Good Idea: Raise the Gas Tax (THE EDITORIAL BOARD, MAY 3, 2017, NY Times)

The federal fuel tax -- 18.4 cents per gallon for gasoline and 24.4 cents for diesel - was supposed to pay to fix and expand the country's roads and transit systems, but Congress has refused to increase it since 1993. Between inflation and the higher fuel economy of cars, the tax is hardly up to the job. Highway-related tax revenue was only $37.4 billion in the 2015 fiscal year.

Use it to offset taxes on income and savings.  Use tolls to pay for infrastructure.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


The most clueless man in Washington (Damon Linker, May 3, 2017, The Week)

What if it's foolish to treat anything Trump says or does as more or less substantive or important or revealing or significant than any other? What if all of it is a distraction, all the way down?

A distraction from what? From everything: From what the government (Congress, the courts, the rest of the executive branch) is really doing. From who's really in charge, formulating foreign policy, and acting as commander-in-chief of the armed forces. From what's happening in the wider world -- both in the U.S. and abroad.

The takeaway from Trump's first 100 days in office isn't a list of accomplishments or failures but rather a nugget of hard-won knowledge about the president himself: He is so comprehensively ignorant of policy and history, so thoroughly lacking in a core of settled beliefs or convictions, that the Oval Office might as well be unoccupied.

If only....
Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


An Anonymous White House Official (Who Is Totally Steve Bannon) : How to tell who's leaking what in the Trump administration. (Katy Waldman, 5/02/17, Slate)

Good news, beginners: A Bannon quote is pretty easy to spot. When he's on the record, Trump's bellicose chief strategist speaks in jargon befitting a student of ancient martial historians and fascist philosophers. He has vowed to fight for "the deconstruction of the administrative state." He has invoked "Judeo-Christian values" as the answer to a "metastasizing" "Islamic fascist" movement.

When Trump removed Bannon from the National Security Council in early April, Rosie Gray at the Atlantic reported that "a senior White House official cast the move as not a demotion for Bannon," but as a strategic rearrangement of key pieces on the administration's chess board. Bannon's role on the committee, this source continued, was to "de-operationalize" the changes wrought by former National Security Adviser Susan Rice. "Job done," the source told Gray.

Sussing out that this "senior White House official" was Bannon himself would have been easy even if the Washington Post hadn't lifted the veil of anonymity hours later. One tell was that the quote advanced a narrative favorable to Bannon, a guy who is not, shall we say, well-liked. The bigger signal was the source's use of a conspiratorial, faux-intellectual, mostly nonsensical word. Reince Priebus has never de-operationalized anything in his life.

Likewise, consider the line "You'll see the setting of the predicate," uttered anonymously to the New Yorker's Ryan Lizza before the House Intelligence Committee held its first public hearing on Russian intervention in the election. The statement is confusing and arcane as a piece of rhetoric. It also presumes there's some kind of deep tactical framework for what should be a straightforward procedure. That sounds a lot like Bannon.

My colleague Ben Mathis-Lilley also pegs the chief strategist, a former investment banker with ties to the city of stars, as a font of "corny Hollywood pitch language." Mathis-Lilley pointed me to the below quote from a New Yorker article on a brewing showdown between Congress and the White House:

"Next week is going to have quite high drama," a top White House official, who sounded excited by the coming clash, told me. "It's going to be action-packed. This one is not getting as much attention, but, trust me, it's going to be the battle of the titans. And the great irony here is that the call for the government shutdown will come on--guess what?--the hundredth day. If you pitched this in a studio, they would say, 'Get out of here, it's too ridiculous.' This is going to be a big one."

The gleeful pugnacity, the instinct for theater, the tendency to see the world in terms of grand contests, the references to film studios, the fact that this would make for a very bad movie--this is pure Bannon. The alternate theory, that the quote sprang from Trump himself, is undermined by its general coherence, its quasi-erudite titan metaphor, and the deployment of the word irony, which may not exist in Trump's vocabulary.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Reinhold Niebuhr & Executive Order 9066 (Marc LiVecche, May 3, 2017, Providence)

Niebuhr made some simple points that shouldn't be heavy lifts. The first was a demand for basic discrimination: that it was incumbent upon the U.S. to distinguish between those Japanese Americans who had given every indication that they were loyal and those who gave reason to be wary. He admitted to having no doubt that there were, or could be, disloyal members within the Japanese American community. He simply argued that, until one faced a situation of last resort, that there was time for less drastic methods to deal with the potential peril.

Niebuhr is well known both for believing the war against Nazism and Japanese militarism needed to fought and that the gloves should come off to fight for the win. Still, his call for discrimination extended, he urged, to distinguishing between essential liberties, upon which democratic governments rest, and more peripheral liberties, which might be curtailed in emergencies. "The mass evacuation of Americans," he suggested, "without due process of law must certainly be regarded as the abrogation of an essential right."

Because it was, Niebuhr understood that in striving for American security, America had hobbled itself in other, equally essential, dimensions. To get at this, he recorded a letter from a Japanese American pastor. The pastor describes the "uncertainty, fear, and heartbreaking disappointment" of those in his congregation. His flock did not, in the days of war, expect to live lives of calm but it was nevertheless "a blow to America-loving, peaceful, permanent residents who have lived in America for 30-50 years to be suddenly classified as 'enemy aliens' and receive treatment as such." He points to the extraordinary service many Japanese Americans were already doing in the American armed forces as a model of the general patriotic fervor of the Japanese American community. Indeed, over 5,000 Japanese were already in service and many more would follow when the draft would be extended to include Japanese Americans in confinement. That so many Japanese answered this call despite their treatment points to an extraordinary capacity for virtue that all Americans ought to be proud to claim as deeply American. Meanwhile, this pastor insisted, he and his people were, through their confinement, "Willing to go a second mile in serving and suffering for our nation." We ought to relish calling such as these our neighbors and fellow countrymen.

The record shows that America has learned from its errors in WWII.