June 30, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


U.S. consumer spending up just 0.1% despite income gain (Associated Press, 6/30/17)

Americans enjoyed a healthy increase in income in May, but didn't spend much of the gain.

The Commerce Department said Friday that personal income rose 0.4% in May, up from a 0.3% increase in April. But consumer spending rose just 0.1% after climbing 0.4% in both March and April.

Now move it from savings to investment.

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


India is finally getting its 'big bang' tax reform (Rishi Iyengar, June 30, 2017, CNN Money)

The new Goods and Services Tax will replace more than a dozen central and state tariffs, duties and fees levied -- often at different rates across India's 29 states -- on nearly everything sold in the country.

From Saturday, all goods and services will be placed in one of five different tax brackets -- from 0% for most agricultural and food products to 28% for items like jewelry and large electronic appliances.

Each product will now attract a single tax rate across the country, at a stroke removing the long delays faced by truck drivers at every state border where they've had to complete multiple forms and pay officials.

"We should be looking at this as a really big positive," said Shilan Shah, India economist at research firm Capital Economics. The reform will "boost trade among different states, which will help lift domestic demand," he added.

The International Monetary Fund forecasts that the GST will eventually lift India's gross domestic product growth back above 8%. It slipped to 6.1% last quarter following the country's massive cash ban last year.

Oxford Economics estimates that the reform could add 0.6% to India's annual growth rate over the next 15 years.

"It should also go a long way in reviving investors' confidence in Modi's series of 'big-bang' reforms," noted Priyanka Kishore, lead Asia economist at Oxford Economics.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


Trump's Best Deal Ever: Privatize the Interstates (Vernon L. Smith, June 27, 2017, WSJ)

How could you use the money from highway and land sales to benefit all Americans--and improve your own popularity? By creating a new Permanent Citizens Fund, invested in stocks, bonds and real estate world-wide. Every citizen would hold an equal share, with annual dividends paid in cash.

Better highways, more land for productive development plus a permanent fund sending checks to every citizen. A guaranteed basic income financed from public assets waiting to be monetized and put to work. You might even get the progressives' vote. Have you ever made such a great deal?

If you think it's pie in the sky, ask an Alaskan. The Alaska Permanent Fund, initiated in 1976 to distribute oil revenue, has a market value I estimate at $72,000 for each Alaskan citizen. Annual dividends began in 1982, when the public corporation that administers the fund cut the first checks for $1,000. Little wonder that Alaska is second among all the states in income equality.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Mixing Politics with Business: A Master List of Trump's Conflicts of Interest (Kate Brannen, June 30, 2017, just Security)

Remember that giant pile of manila folders?

They were stacked high at Donald Trump's press conference on Jan. 11. While no one was allowed to take a closer look at them, the unlabeled folders were said to contain the documents that Trump had signed in order to hand over control of his business to his two sons, Don Jr. and Eric.

The move was supposed to free Trump of any conflicts of of interest as he became president, or at least give the appearance that he'd done that. Sheri Dillon, of the law firm Morgan Lewis, said at the January press conference that Trump had asked her firm to design a structure that would "completely isolate him from the management of the company." As part of this arrangement no new foreign deals would be made while Trump was president. New domestic deals would be allowed but would undergo vigorous vetting, according to Dillon. Trump would limit how much information about the business could be shared with him. And the Trump Organization, through its social media and marketing materials, would not refer to Trump as president.

Dillon also addressed the Emoluments Clause in the Constitution, which is meant at a minimum to protect the American public from a foreign government being able to bribe the president. Dillon argued that it could not be construed to cover fair value goods or services, for example, paying one's bill at a Trump hotel. (Trump is now facing three Emoluments lawsuits that argue these kinds of payments represent exactly the kind of foreign payments that the Constitution sought to prohibit.) Despite asserting that foreign governments' spending money at Trump properties could not be considered an emolument, Dillon said Trump would voluntarily donate all profits made from foreign government payments to his hotels to the U.S. Treasury.

This was the ethics plan that Trump laid out for himself and his family. It was meant to assure the public that Trump's private business interests would never overlap or influence his duties as president. His daughter, Ivanka, and her husband, Jared Kushner, made somewhat similar arrangements for themselves and their companies as they got ready to work in the White House. While all three distanced themselves to some degree from the companies and brands that carry their names, their financial stakes in the Trump and Kushner business empires remain the same. As for Trump's sons, they frequently attend White House events and remain very much a part of the political scene surrounding their father.

It has become difficult to track these conflicts of interest stories as they often get drowned out by competing headlines. To help keep up, below is an attempt at a master list. It's not comprehensive, but it starts to paint a picture of the vast number of issues that require oversight and scrutiny during this presidency. If you see anything I've missed, please send it my way. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:10 PM


States refuse Trump panel request for voter information (Chris Kenning, 6/30/17, Reuters)

A growing number of U.S. states Friday refused to provide voters' names, addresses and other personal information requested by a panel that President Donald Trump created to investigate voter fraud, saying the demand was unnecessary and violated privacy.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Iran cracks down on Salafists in wake of Tehran attacks (Fazel Hawramy, June 30, 2017, Al Monitor)

The five young attackers who pledged allegiance to the Islamic State (IS) in a video released shortly after the attacks appear to have traveled from Kermanshah province to Tehran undetected in early June. The rare but deadly strikes targeted two of the most guarded locations in the capital: the parliament and the mausoleum of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

How these men obtained firearms and explosives to carry out the attacks is not clear, but Iranian officials have admitted that the country's security establishment was taken by surprise. On June 27, parliament's National Security and Foreign Policy Commission held its second closed-door session to examine the June 7 attacks. "In this session, the new plan to maintain the security of the parliament and the ways to confront future possible incidents were discussed and necessary measures were taken," the semi-official Iranian Students' News Agency reported about the meeting. Iran has held IS directly responsible for the attacks, but it ultimately blamed the United States and "regressive" regimes in the Persian Gulf region for supporting the group. As a symbolic gesture, on June 18 Iran fired several missiles from the Kurdish areas in the west of the country, where the attackers came from, at an IS position in northeast Syria. "Our enemies should know that Tehran is not London or Paris; this was a small measure, and if they make another mistake, we will strike them with deadlier attacks," said Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the commander of the Aerospace Force of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC).

Since the June 7 attacks, security forces have taken no chances and have rounded up a large number of individuals mainly associated with Salafist groups in a bid to crack down on their activities, sources inside Iran and human rights activists from outside the country told Al-Monitor.

The Shi'a and Christians are fighting the same war.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Corker hold puts Saudi arms deal at risk (Jack Detsch, June 29, 2017, Al Monitor)

On Monday, Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., sent a letter to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson vowing to block future arms sales to Gulf countries pending a resolution to the regional dispute over Qatar. The letter is widely seen as an effort to give Tillerson more leverage as he tries to negotiate an end to the crisis, which began June 5 when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut ties with Doha over its alleged support for terrorism.

Gotta love the Deep State conspiring against Donald and his Salafi pals.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


American Jews Are Furious About The Western Wall -- But What Can They Do? (Nathan Guttman, June 29, 2017, The Forward)

American Jewish leaders are typically thrilled to meet with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel's prime minister, and equally happy to host Israeli lawmakers at home.

Not this week. On Monday, an angry Steven Nasatir, president of Chicago's Jewish federation, left Netanyahu's office feeling angry and vowing that his community would be assembling a blacklist of those Israeli officials who supported two controversial new measures: one withdrawing from a deal to allow egalitarian prayer at the Western Wall, and another that would make the Orthodox rabbinate the sole authority on conversions in Israel. Anybody who did, he said, would get the cold shoulder from the Windy City's Jews.

"God bless 'em, but they're not welcome in our community, period," he told The Times of Israel.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM



June 29, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


'Repeal and Replace'? Try 'Tweak and Move On' (GEORGE WILL, June 28, 2017, National Review)

The health-care debate is no longer about the existence of government subsidies, mandates, and regulations -- they're not going anywhere.

And never were...

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Hannity: Trump should not have published tweets about 'Morning Joe' host (Oliver Darcy, 6/29/17, CNNMoney)

"I don't think the president should have tweeted it," Hannity said on his nationally syndicated radio program.

Imagine how craven you have to be to keep defending him?

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


OPEC, Oil Prices and Disruptive Innovation : Cost-cutting advances in shale are weakening the cartel's grasp of energy market dynamics (Mohamed A. El-Erian, 6/29/17, Bloomberg)

Until this quarter, the revised approach was largely successful in stabilizing prices in a range that both producers and consumers could live with. But, below the surface, its durability was slowly being eroded by three factors: signs that exempt OPEC producers may move the production needle more than initially expected; indications of non-adherence to the ceilings by non-OPEC producers; and, most importantly, by the increasing ability of non-traditional suppliers to operate at lower prices given both ample market financing and cost-cutting innovation.

This third factor puts OPEC in a particularly tricky situation, as illustrated by the literature on disruptive innovation. Pioneered by Harvard Business School's Clayton Christensen, it shows how technological advances can empower new entrants to take market share from established providers, and to do so at declining prices. New value chains are created, either in a new parallel market or, as illustrated by what Southwest Airlines did to the major airlines in the U.S. a few decades ago, in an existing market.

In the case of shale, the disruptive innovations started out with high unit production costs. As such, the producers were initially just an irritant to established suppliers, including OPEC. But, with time, rapid evolution and adaptation allowed them to capture a growing market share, while also redefining the pricing dynamics for the industry as a whole. If this disruption process proceeds further, it will force established suppliers to seek more fundamental adaptations or risk a greater secular decline that is increasingly hard to reverse.

At first, the non-traditional energy supplies were expensive, small and relatively localized. But their impact has been changing, especially when powered by cost-cutting innovations, allowing them to climb the value-added chain. Most recently, they have surprised many by being able to increase output at the new $45 to $55 per barrel price that OPEC helped establish and maintain.

Unlike companies facing such disruption (again think established firms versus new entrants), OPEC members have fewer cost-cutting strategies available to them. They can't merge and consolidate as some disrupted companies have been forced to, and their existing cost structures are relatively entrenched. Their main strategic alternatives boil down to either going all out to undermine the disruptor -- implying oil prices probably around $20 to $30 for a while -- or they manage a gradual secular reduction in revenues due to eroding market share that proves very hard to regain.

In terms of the market, these dynamics suggest the establishment of a series of price ranges around a declining trend. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM



In an off-camera White House briefing on Wednesday afternoon, Thomas Homan, the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, admitted that undocumented immigrants do not, in fact, commit more crimes than Americans.

Homan's statement, while backed by decades of research, undermines the Trump administration's contention that unauthorized immigrants are more likely to be dangerous or violent compared to native-born Americans. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Will Robots Rule Finance? (Nafis Alam, Sunway University and Graham Kendall, University of Nottingham | June 29, 2017, Discover)

According to consulting firm Opimas, in years to come it will become harder and harder for universities to sell their business-related degrees. Research shows that 230,000 jobs in the sector could disappear by 2025, filled by "artificial intelligence agents".

Are robo-advisers the future of finance?

Many market analysts believe so.

Investments in automated portfolios rose 210 percent between 2014 and 2015, according to the research firm Aite Group.

Robots have already taken over Wall Street, as hundreds of financial analysts are being replaced with software or robo-advisors.

In the US, claims a 2013 paper by two Oxford academics, 47 percent of jobs are at "high risk" of being automated within the next 20 years - 54 percent of lost jobs will be in finance.

This is not just an American phenomenon. Indian banks, too, have reported a 7 percent decline in head count for two quarters in a row due to the introduction of robots in the workplace.

Perhaps this is unsurprising. After all, the banking and finance industry is principally built on processing information, and some of its key operations, like passbook updating or cash deposit, are already highly digitized.

Now, banks and financial institutions are rapidly adopting a new generation of artificial intelligence-enabled technology (AI) to automate financial tasks usually carried out by humans, like operations, wealth management, algorithmic trading and risk management.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Will Anti-Choice "Fetal Heartbeat" Law Go National? (Kyle Mantyla, June 29, 2017, Alternet)

Radical Religious Right activist Janet Porter appeared on Gordon Klingenschmitt's "Pray In Jesus Name" program yesterday to provide an update on the status of the federal version of her "Heartbeat Bill," which seeks to ban abortion from the moment a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can happen as early as six weeks into pregnancy and often before a woman even knows that she is pregnant.

The bill was introduced by Rep. Steve King back in January and Porter has spent the last several months making multiple trips to Washington, D.C., to rally support for what she says will be a "foot in the door" to completely outlawing abortion. The House bill already has over 100 co-sponsors and Porter reported that "we could have a hearing as early as July" and a full vote on it by September.

"We've got, I believe, a window right now where we have the opportunity to do more than regulate abortion, do more than defund abortion," she said. "We actually have the opportunity to end it in nearly every case for every child whose heartbeat can be heard."

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


The Rebirth of the TPP (Koichi Hamada , 6/29/17, Project Syndicate)

The TPP's mega-regional approach can bring greater economic gains than a bilateral deal, as it spurs trade and investment flows - including by harmonizing regulations and standards - across a larger swath of the global economy. But, unlike the WTO, it is not so large, and does not encompass such diverse parties, that it is overwhelmingly difficult to reach agreement.

The mega-regional approach may have one more advantage, shared with the WTO: the involvement of more parties can dilute the authority of a major country and thus limit its ability to strong-arm its negotiating partners into an unbalanced agreement. Indeed, this may be precisely why Trump, with his penchant for "deal-making" and promises of an "America first" trade policy, rejected the TPP. In his view, bilateral negotiations put the US, as a political and economic hegemon, in a stronger bargaining position.

What Trump fails to recognize is that, while a small country may feel intimidated by the US at the negotiating table, it can still stand up and walk away. More important, even if the US can use its weight to secure more favorable provisions in a bilateral negotiating context, the benefits do not necessarily outweigh those of larger-scale agreements.

That is certainly the case with the TPP, which contained some provisions that were highly beneficial for the US economy. Specifically, the agreement would have given US businesses access to markets that had long been largely closed. The provisions on intellectual property rights, accounting, and conflict resolution were so favorable to Wall Street and US lawyers that they have been criticized for being unfair to the other parties. They were agreed, however, because of the expectation that China would eventually have to adhere to those standards.

In that sense, as Columbia University's Jagdish Bhagwati said to me, "the TPP was a bit like allowing people to play golf in a club, but only if they also attended a particular church over the weekend." The deal's signatories were in it for the golf - that is, the expanded trade and investment flows. But they couldn't avoid the obligation to accept rules that would benefit the US, in the hope that the liturgy might help to constrain China's behavior.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Robotics, driverless tech are taking over mining jobs (Patrick Thibodeau, 10/28/16, Computerworld)

In the next decade, the mining industry may lose more than half of its jobs to automation, according to a new report. That's not based on future technologies, but on automated equipment being deployed today.

The mining industry is primed for automation. It's capital intensive, buys expensive equipment and pays relatively well.

This industry is adopting self-driving trucks, automated loaders and automated drilling and tunnel-boring systems. It is also testing fully autonomous long-distance trains, which carry materials from the mine to a port, according to the report by the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Winnipeg, Canada.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Who's afraid of Trump? Not enough Republicans -- at least for now.  (Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker, June 27, 2017, Washington Post)

In private conversations on Capitol Hill, Trump is often not taken seriously. Some Republican lawmakers consider some of his promises -- such as making Mexico pay for a new border wall -- fantastical. They are exhausted and at times exasperated by his hopscotching from one subject to the next, chronicled in his pithy and provocative tweets. They are quick to point out how little command he demonstrates of policy. And they have come to regard some of his threats as empty, concluding that crossing the president poses little danger. [...]

One senior Republican close to both the White House and many senators called Trump and his political operation "a paper tiger," noting how many GOP lawmakers feel free "to go their own way."

Posted by orrinj at 4:42 PM


As Affordable Care Act Repeal Teeters, Prospects for Bipartisanship Build (ROBERT PEAR and THOMAS KAPLAN, JUNE 28, 2017, NY Times)

With his bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act in deep trouble, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, raised an alternate possibility on Tuesday: Either Republicans come together, or he would have to work with Democrats to shore up the deteriorating health law.

That raised a tantalizing prospect: bipartisanship.

The idea is not so far-fetched. For years, Republicans and Democrats have explored avenues for changing or improving President Barack Obama's health care law, from tweaks to the requirement for employers to offer health insurance to revisions involving how the marketplaces created under the law operate.

Obamacare was Republican to begin with.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


ISIS is losing Mosul and most of its income (Charles Riley, June 29, 2017, CNN)

Analysts and security experts at IHS Markit estimate that the terror group's earnings have plunged by 80% over the past two years as territorial losses starved it of oil and tax revenue. [...]

"Territorial losses are the main factor contributing to the Islamic State's loss of revenue," Ludovico Carlino, senior Middle East analyst at IHS Markit, said in a statement.

The analysts said that average monthly oil revenue is down 88% from 2015, while income from taxation and confiscation has fallen by 79%.

Three years since the group declared a self-styled Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, ISIS is reeling from losses across its so-called caliphate.

Their inability to form a government anywhere ever has always made their pretensions a joke.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM



If the world continues its rate of greenhouse-gas emissions, America will feel the effects in just a few decades. But not all parts of the country will be affected in the same way. 

According to a new study, the economies of states in the South, Midwest, and mid-Atlantic will suffer the most, seeing gross domestic product losses of up to 28 percent. Meanwhile, many states along the United States' northern border may actually see small boosts to their GDP as their fields produce higher yields, their buildings require less energy to heat in winter, and fewer residents die of cold-related causes. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Elmo: Refugee kids are just like us (Melissa Mahtani, 6/26/17, CNN)

"Elmo thinks it's important to know that everybody is the same deep down and that's very important."

Elmo also noted some of the differences between kids here and there. "It was really sad because Elmo's new friends told Elmo that they had to leave their homes because it wasn't safe for them to stay," he said. "And that made Elmo really sad and sometimes a bit scared."

Elmo likened the experience to when Big Bird's nest was destroyed. "That was really sad at first. But then the whole community came and rebuilt Big Bird's nest and it was all better."

"It's really important to help people when they need help," he added.

Elmo went to Jordan as part of a pilot program with Sesame Workshop and the International Rescue Committee. The two organizations are partnering to provide preschool education along with educational materials to refugee children across the Middle East.

Sherrie Westin, Sesame Workshop's Executive Vice President of Global Impact, explained how the partnership came about.

"Sesame has had a long history at looking at issues from a child's perspective and given the staggering number of children who are displaced today, we knew this was an area where we really had to try to do something to help and we knew we couldn't do it alone" she told CNN's Clarissa Ward.

Poll: Younger Republicans More Liberal on Immigration (DANIEL TRIELLI, 6/25/17, Associated Press)

The survey finds that while 41 percent of Republicans of all ages believe immigrants face a lot of discrimination in the United States, the percentage increases to 60 percent among Republicans between 18 and 29 years old. Only a third of GOP voters 65 and older say immigrants experience discrimination.

Researchers also said 74 percent of young whites believe immigrants face discrimination a lot, compared to 57 percent of white Americans of all ages.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


Battle for Mosul: Ruins of Great Mosque of al-Nuri retaken (BBC, 6/29/17)

Using a pejorative term for the jihadist group, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said retaking the site marked "the end of the fake Daesh state".

"We will not relent, our brave forces will bring victory," he added. "We will continue to fight Daesh until every last one of them is killed or brought to justice."

The mosque is of great symbolic importance to both sides because Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only public appearance as IS leader there days after the jihadist group proclaimed the creation of a "caliphate" exactly three years ago.

Posted by orrinj at 4:17 PM


The Violence of Donald Trump (Rolling Stone, 6/29/17)

"I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came...to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!" the president fumed on Twitter.

His words were met with quick condemnation from members of his own party. Sen. Lindsey Graham wrote, "Mr. President, your tweet was beneath the office and represents what is wrong with American politics, not the greatness of America." Sen. Ben Sasse echoed his sentiment, writing: "Please just stop. This isn't normal and it's beneath the dignity of your office."

Speaker Paul Ryan struck a similar tone when he was asked about the comments on Thursday. "Obviously I don't see that as an appropriate comment," Ryan said. "What we're trying to do around here is improve the tone, the civility of the debate. And this obviously doesn't help do that."

Sen. Susan Collins of Maine was more forceful, writing on Twitter: "This has to stop - we all have a job - 3 branches of gov't and media. We don't have to get along, but we must show respect and civility." Kansas Rep. Lynn Jenkins likewise tweeted that the president's comments were "not okay."

Yeah, but Hillary!

Posted by orrinj at 3:56 PM


This Former GOP Congressman Loathed Obamacare -- Until He Lost His Own Coverage (Hayley Miller, 6/26/17, Huffington Post)

David Jolly, a former Republican member of Congress who campaigned against Obamacare, said he's had a change of heart since losing his own health insurance this year.

Jolly, who represented Florida's 13th Congressional District until he was unseated last fall, opened up about his personal health care struggles during a discussion of the GOP health care bill Monday on MSNBC.

"I lost my doctor, and I lost my plan in 2013, and I was angry about Obamacare, and I ran for Congress," Jolly said. "But in 2017, as an unemployed person with a preexisting condition, I knew Obamacare was there as a safety net if my wife and I needed it."

Jolly became unemployed Jan. 4, when his term in Congress ended. He didn't elaborate on his medical condition.

"While I ultimately chose a private-sector plan, I also knew in 2017 [that] Obamacare provided an exchange that was a safety net that wasn't there before," Jolly said. "To be honest with you, if I had had to rely on it, I knew it was there."

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Anti-ISIS Strategy Resembles Obama's (Karen DeYoung, 6/29/17, The Washington Post)

The Pentagon is putting the final touches on a promised new counter-Islamic State strategy for Syria and Iraq, and it looks very much like the one the Obama administration pursued, according to senior defense officials.

The core of the strategy is to deny territory to the militants and ultimately defeat them, and to stay out of Syria's civil war pitting the Syrian government of President Bashar Assad, Iran and Russia against domestic opposition forces. [...]

Mattis agreed with a reporter on Tuesday who asked if, rather than trying to prevent government and militia advances, the coalition is trying to "compartmentalize" the valley, effectively leaving the regime and Iran in control of areas they are able to conquer from the militants.

Asked whether he is worried about possible conflict with them as U.S. forces continue to pursue the Islamic State in the same area, Mattis said, "Not if the Iranian militia doesn't attack us, no."

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


General Electric Builds an AI Workforce : As part of its shift toward high-tech businesses, the 125-year-old company is threading artificial intelligence throughout its operations, starting with its scientists.
 (Elizabeth Woyke  June 27, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

Fifteen years ago, GE's machine operators and technicians monitored its aircraft engines, locomotives, and gas turbines by listening to their clanks and whirs and checking their gauges. Today, the company uses AI to do the equivalent, even predicting failures in advance. By marshaling this technology, GE hopes to become one of the world's top software providers by 2020, a quest that amped up in 2011 with a $1 billion initiative to collect and analyze sensor data from machines. Creating smarter models via AI is the next step in the company's strategy--one that it hopes will give it an advantage over longtime rivals like Siemens and software giants, such as IBM, that are now expanding into industrial analytics. [...]

Besides forecasting a machine's life expectancy, the virtual models allow GE to optimize the operation of its products. GE says digital twins are increasing the amount of electricity wind farms produce by as much as 20 percent and reducing annual fuel consumption and carbon emissions for one of its locomotives by 32,000 gallons and 174,000 tons a year, respectively. More than 700,000 models have been delivered to clients, a number that could exceed one million by the end of this year.

The technology depends on artificial intelligence to continually update itself. What's more, if data is corrupted or missing, the company fills in the gaps with the aid of machine learning, a type of AI that lets computers learn without being explicitly programmed, says Colin Parris, GE Global Research's vice president for software research. Parris says GE pairs computer vision with deep learning, a type of AI particularly adept at recognizing patterns, and reinforcement learning, another recent advance in AI that enables machines to optimize operations, to enable cameras to find minute cracks on metal turbine blades even when they are dirty and dusty.

Take the tiny robot, a little bigger than a Matchbox car, used to inspect working engines. Using computer vision and a variety of AI techniques, the bot can look for cracks inside plane engines by riding on top of a slowly moving fan blade.

Similar technology can be attached to a drone to find corrosion on the 200-foot-high flare stacks that burn off excess gas released at oil and gas production sites.

June 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 PM


Tillerson blows up at top White House aide (JOSH DAWSEY , ELIANA JOHNSON and ALEX ISENSTADT 06/28/2017, Politico)

The normally laconic Texan unloaded on Johnny DeStefano, the head of the presidential personnel office, for torpedoing proposed nominees to senior State Department posts and for questioning his judgment.

Tillerson also complained that the White House was leaking damaging information about him to the news media, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Above all, he made clear that he did not want DeStefano's office to "have any role in staffing" and "expressed frustration that anybody would know better" than he about who should work in his department - particularly after the president had promised him autonomy to make his own decisions and hires, according to a senior White House aide familiar with the conversation.

The episode stunned other White House officials gathered in chief of staff Reince Priebus's office, leaving them silent as Tillerson raised his voice. In the room with Tillerson and DeStefano were Priebus, top aide Jared Kushner and Margaret Peterlin, the Secretary of State's chief of staff.

The encounter, described by four people familiar with what happened, was so explosive that Kushner approached Peterlin afterwards and told that Tillerson's outburst was completely unprofessional, according to two of the people familiar with the exchange, and told her that they needed to work out a solution.

Get out while you can.
Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


Posted by orrinj at 9:45 AM


How Donald Trump Misunderstood the F.B.I. : Since Watergate, the bureau has come to view itself as an essential, and essentially independent, check on the president. (TIM WEINERJUNE 27, 2017, NY Times Magazine)

''I take the president at his word -- that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,'' James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, said in June, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee a month after his abrupt dismissal from his post by the president. Comey was referring to the account Trump gave in an NBC interview on May 11 -- and Comey fought back on the rest of the story as Trump told it. Trump, he said, ''chose to defame me and, more importantly, the F.B.I. by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the work force had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.''

Trump, Comey said, had asked his F.B.I. director for his loyalty -- and that seemed to shock Comey the most. The F.B.I.'s stated mission is ''to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States'' -- not to protect the president. Trump seemed to believe Comey was dutybound to do his bidding and stop investigating the recently fired national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. ''The statue of Justice has a blindfold on because you're not supposed to be peeking out to see whether your patron is pleased or not with what you're doing,'' Comey said. ''It should be about the facts and the law.''

Trump might have been less confused about how Comey saw his job if he had ever visited the F.B.I. director in his office. On his desk, under glass, Comey famously kept a copy of a 1963 order authorizing Hoover to conduct round-the-clock F.B.I. surveillance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was signed by the young attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, after Hoover convinced John F. Kennedy and his brother that King had Communists in his organization -- a reminder of the abuses of power that had emanated from the desk where Comey sat.

'What do you do when you're mugged by the president of the United States?'
One of history's great what-ifs is whether the Watergate investigation would have gone forward if Hoover hadn't died six weeks before the break-in. When Hoover died, Nixon called him ''my closest personal friend in all of political life.'' Along with Senator Joseph McCarthy, they were the avatars of anti-Communism in America. Hoover's F.B.I. was not unlike what Trump seems to have imagined the agency still to be: a law-enforcement apparatus whose flexible loyalties were bent to fit the whims of its director.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


India's Historic Tax Overhaul, GST: What You Need To Know (Sindhuja Balaji ,  6/27/17, Forbes)

This Saturday, India will witness the implementation of the historic Goods & Services Tax (GST) - a consumption based tax levied on the sale, manufacture and consumption of goods and services across India.

Starting July 1, India's plethora of tax brackets will be subsumed under one common tax structure - GST. For an easier overview of taxes, and a closer surveillance on businesses, GST has been divided into three major taxes: Central Goods & Services Tax (CGST), State Goods & Services Tax (SGST) and Integrated Goods & Services Tax (IGST). The aim is to eventually ensure transparency between suppliers and consumers, and between taxpayers and the government, and make India a unified market for global trade.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


NH Utility Regulators Lift Cap on Net Metering For Residents With Solar-Powered Homes (Kyle Plantz, 6/27/17, NH Journal)

State utility regulators decided to remove the limits on how much surplus energy owners of solar panels can sell back into the grid. This highly anticipated decision is expected to have a significant impact on the growing solar industry in New Hampshire.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Left-Wingers Furious After Accidentally Buying Spoof Book Titled 'Why Socialism Works' (Lukas Mikelionis, June 28, 2017, Heat Street)
A new guide on the wonders of socialism titled "Why Socialism Works" has left lovers of the Left in a fury after they discovered that every one of its 169 pages sums up the political orthodoxy with the simple two-word message: "It doesn't".

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


I'm Glad the Dyke March Banned Jewish Stars (BARI WEISS, JUNE 27, 2017, NY Times)

Has there ever been a crisper expression of the consequences of "intersectionality" than a ban on Jewish lesbians from a Dyke March?

Intersectionality is the big idea of today's progressive left. In theory, it's the benign notion that every form of social oppression is linked to every other social oppression. This observation -- coined in 1989 by Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw -- sounds like just another way of rephrasing a slogan from a poster I had in college: My liberation is bound up with yours. That is, the fight for women's rights is tied up with the fight for gay rights and civil rights and so forth. Who would dissent from the seductive notion of a global sisterhood?

Well, in practice, intersectionality functions as kind of caste system, in which people are judged according to how much their particular caste has suffered throughout history. Victimhood, in the intersectional way of seeing the world, is akin to sainthood; power and privilege are profane.

By that hierarchy, you might imagine that the Jewish people -- enduring yet another wave of anti-Semitism here and abroad -- should be registered as victims. Not quite.

Why? Largely because of Israel, the Jewish state, which today's progressives see only as a vehicle for oppression of the Palestinians -- no matter that Israel has repeatedly sought to meet Palestinian claims with peaceful compromise, and no matter that progressives hold no other country to the same standard. China may brutalize Buddhists in Tibet and Muslims in Xinjiang, while denying basic rights to the rest of its 1.3 billion citizens, but "woke" activists pushing intersectionality keep mum on all that.

The Boy was an RA at UNH this past year, which involves all sorts of sensitivity training (PC re-education.  So they're going around the room and saying what challenges they've had to overcome.  You know, "I'm a Haitian Wiccan lesbian," etc.  It gets to him and, unable to think of any appropriate victimhood, he goes with : "I'm kinda fat and half-Jewish?"

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 AM


Who's afraid of Trump? Not enough Republicans -- at least for now. (Philip Rucker, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker June 27, 2017, Washington Post)

Scrambling to line up support for the Republican health-care bill, President Trump got on the phone Monday with Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and urged him to back the measure.

The president's personal plea was not enough. On Tuesday, Lee said he would vote against the bill. Senate GOP leaders later postponed the planned health-care vote because too many other Republican senators also opposed -- for now, at least -- legislation that would deliver on Trump's campaign promise to scale back the law known as Obamacare.

Trump had hoped for a swift and easy win on health care this week. Instead he got a delay and a return to the negotiating table -- the latest reminder of the limits of his power to shape outcomes at the opposite end of Pennsylvania Avenue.

History suggests that presidents who have governed successfully have been both revered and feared. But Republican fixtures in Washington are beginning to conclude that Trump may be neither, despite his mix of bravado, threats and efforts to schmooze with GOP lawmakers.

Donald's problem was obvious on Election Day, when he not only ran behind JHillary but behind the GOP downticket.  He needs them; they don't need him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Oil pipeline firms' discounts rile clients, roil markets (Catherine Ngai, 6/27/17, Reuters)

For pipeline operators to secure financing to build pipelines and storage facilities, they need oil producers, refiners and traders to sign long-term contracts to use space on the pipelines.

Pipeline firms can then use the guaranteed revenue from those contracts as collateral. Firms shipping on the pipeline have historically benefited from the long-term deals because they offered a discount compared to the price of buying space occasionally.

But now, in the wake of a two-year oil price crash, pipeline firms are still struggling to keep their lines full. So their marketing arms are offering steep discounts to ad-hoc buyers of pipeline capacity - which irritates customers whose long-term contracts are now more expensive than spot purchases. [...]

Some of those pipeline firms are offering prices as low as 25 percent of federally regulated rates, creating a secondary market that undercuts shippers with long-term contracts, according to four sources at companies that regularly ship on the pipelines.

The discounts emerged after a global glut and crashing oil prices caused many shippers to let their pipeline contracts lapse or declare bankruptcy.

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


U.S. House Votes 423-4 To Reaffirm NATO's Mutual-Defense Guarantee (Radio Liberty, June 28, 2017)

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted nearly unanimously to reaffirm NATO's guarantee that all members defend each other, weeks after President Donald Trump raised doubts about U.S. support for that guarantee.

The House, which is controlled by Trump's fellow Republicans, voted 423-4 on June 27 for a resolution "solemnly reaffirming" the U.S. commitment to Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 AM


Manafort Registers as Foreign Agent, Reveals Firm Earned $17 Million for Ukraine Lobbying (Margaret Hartmann, 6/27/17, New York)

Manafort forgot to mention his work as a foreign agent. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call,Inc.
Paul Manafort became the second former Trump campaign official to retroactively register as a foreign agent on Tuesday, following former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. Manafort, who stepped down as Trump's campaign manager following reports about his work for a pro-Russia political party in Ukraine, disclosed that his firm earned $17.1 million between 2012 and 2014 from former President Viktor Yanukovych's Party of Regions.

The filing shows that Manafort and his business associate Rick Gates, who also worked for the Trump campaign, gave "strategic counsel and advice to members of the Party of Regions regarding their interaction with U.S. government officials and other Western influential persons to advance the goal of greater political and economic integration between the Ukraine and the West." The firm also counseled the European Center for a Modern Ukraine, a pro-Yanukovych nonprofit.

Well, FDR/Truman and Stalin shared employees too.

June 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Report: White House Battling With Disney Over Robot Trump's Speech in Hall of Presidents (Emily Zanotti, June 27, 2017, Heat Street)

Proving there is no battle too small for the Trump Administration to undertake, the White House is now in a feud with the House of Mouse--Disney--over what an animatronic President Trump will say to tourists who visit the Hall of Presidents.

Disney is eager to add President Trump to its lineup of American leaders in the Liberty Square attraction at its Disney World resort in Orlando, Fla., and confirmed they'd be adding Robot-Trump early in 2016. Disney Imagineers say they have a mechanical bust of the Republican all ready to go.

But robot-Trump has to speak; each American President has his own auto-animatronic body double in the Hall of Presidents, and each gives a short speech to tourists. The sitting President goes last, and typically gets to deliver the longest message to Disney's millions of visitors.

According to Vice, Disney's Imagineers typically work with the incoming Presidential administration to write a short speech that is positive and uplifting, but also reflects the new President's personal themes and agenda.

This time around, though, a source close to the matter told Vice, Trump's team said they wanted to author the speech alone, and politely avoided speaking any further with Disney's engineering team. "When Disney tried to get this process started earlier this year, Trump's people said, 'We'll be writing the speech that the president's audio-animatronic figure will be saying.'"

Just don't have him speak.
Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


A weekend in Texas with ZeroHedge readers, Part 1 (Alexandra Scaggs, 6/26/17, Alphaville)

This is Part 1 of a three-post series about the 'ZeroHedge Live Fight Club and Symposium' in Marfa, Texas.

Just travelling from New York to Marfa is an initiation into the disorienting scale of Texas space -- a five-hour flight to Phoenix, one-hour flight to El Paso and three-hour drive to Marfa, with three time-zone changes along the way.

I made the trek last weekend to join readers of the conspiracy-minded financial blog ZeroHedge. It wasn't an official blog event, as we were repeatedly told by its organiser, who writes for the blog under the name hedgeless_horseman. His posts announcing the ZeroHedge Live Fight Club and Symposium initially provoked some worry among left-leaning residents of Marfa, a roughly 2000-person "hipster paradise" and hub of contemporary art in the Chihuahuan Desert.

Their concern was unwarranted but understandable, given the blog's famously aggressive tone. It probably didn't help that ZeroHedge was also used as a lead-in for a 2016 New Yorker piece about the alt right, despite its financial focus and a political bent that is more Drudge than Richard Spencer. As hotels were booked in the weeks leading up to the event, ZeroHedge commenters spent plenty of pixels discussing the state's open carry laws. So it wasn't too much of a stretch to think the town was about to host a big group of belligerent conservative conspiracy theorists.

As it turns out, all it takes to fill much of Marfa's lodging is a burgeoning tourism scene, a wedding party, and roughly 55 visiting blog readers, who were remarkably friendly and pleasant for an event with "Fight Club" in its title.

Among those readers:

A soft-spoken former bank IT worker in wire-rimmed glasses, who says he drove around for months after the financial crisis before settling down the street from his parents in Arkansas;

A sandy-blond-haired single father named Steve, who was on holiday before starting a new job;

A former Wall Street mortgage-security structurer turned Texas mortgage originator, whose name is Jay;

A man with a cowboy hat and mustache who said he hadn't read ZeroHedge, and just came by on invitation of a guy at El Cosmico down the road. I didn't get the chance to speak with him, but another guest told me his name is Rusty, which seems almost too fitting to be true;

A personable contractor with muttonchops who used to work in Afghanistan. He now spends his bicycle commute observing the behavioural patterns of young people in his Austin neighborhood, as kind of a Jane Goodall for gentrifiers. ("You can tell how long they've been there by how many dogs they have", he tells me);

A deeply suntanned man wearing a "TAXATION IS THEFT" t-shirt.

One Marfa resident told me she suspected the group wanted to fulfill a "Wild West fantasy". Maybe so -- that's a reason she and her partner moved there, she said. While there's no real frontier left, the closest thing might just be west Texas, which remains sparsely populated and feels cut off from the world because of its geography. Even in Marfa, there are far more gas stations (4) than radio stations (1).

Romanticised ideas of the 19th-century US frontier have been exceptionally persistent in certain parts of the American psyche, which became very clear during the discussions that weekend.

No one ever gets tired of fleecing gold bugs.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Jack Ma: World leaders must make 'hard choices' or the next 30 years will be painful (Anita Balakrishnan, 21 Jun 2017, CNBC.com)

Ma said the emerging opportunities -- and risks -- from artificial intelligence and globalization are two of the topics that keep him on the road.

"This is why I'm traveling, talking to all the government and state leaders and telling them move fast. If they do not move fast, there's going to be trouble," Ma said. "So when we see something is coming, we have to prepare now. My belief is that you have to repair the roof while it is still functioning."

There could be benefits from artificial intelligence, Ma said, as people are freed to work less and travel more.

"I think in the next 30 years, people only work four hours a day and maybe four days a week," Ma said. "My grandfather worked 16 hours a day in the farmland and [thought he was] very busy. We work eight hours, five days a week and think we are very busy."

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


Netanyahu's unexpected confrontation with US Jews (Mazal Mualem, June 27, 2017, Al Monitor)

A deep rift has been emerging in that relationship since June 25. In fact, that rift is so deep that there has never been anything like it in the relationship between the Jews of the United States and the Israeli government. The unrest was instigated by two volatile moves supported by Netanyahu. The first was a surprising decision that the prime minister brought before his Cabinet, suspending the Western Wall compromise, approved by the government in January 2016. This compromise involved the creation of a mixed-gender prayer space at the Western Wall, which would allow all denominations of Judaism to pray there.

The American Jewish community faced a second blow soon after that when the Ministerial Committee on Legislation approved the Conversion Law, circumventing a Supreme Court ruling and placing exclusive authority over conversions in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. (To be enacted, the bill would have to be adopted by Knesset plenum.) Conversions performed by Reform and Conservative rabbis in Israel and abroad would not be recognized, and their converts would not be eligible for Israeli citizenship based on the Law of Return. This law offers all Jews -- either by birth or conversion -- Israeli citizenship upon arriving in Israel.

These two steps were rightfully deemed a major victory for the ultra-Orthodox parties. They got the prime minister to surrender to their demands and dragged him into an unprecedented crisis with the American Jewish community, most of which is identified with Reform and Conservative Judaism.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


Three journalists leaving CNN after retracted article (Brian Stelter, June 26, 2017, CNN)

Three CNN journalists, including the executive editor in charge of a new investigative unit, have resigned after the publication of a Russia-related article that was retracted.

Thomas Frank, who wrote the story in question; Eric Lichtblau, an editor in the unit; and Lex Haris, who oversaw the unit, have all left CNN.

"In the aftermath of the retraction of a story published on CNN.com, CNN has accepted the resignations of the employees involved in the story's publication," a spokesman said Monday evening.

An internal investigation by CNN management found that some standard editorial processes were not followed when the article was published, people briefed on the results of the investigation said.

Didn't they ever watch All the President's Men?

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Raqqa: Secret video shows ISIS losing chokehold on its 'capital' (Salma Abdelaziz, Nick Paton Walsh and Mohammed Eyad Kourdi,  June 27, 2017, CNN)

Just the fact that activists filmed the secret footage now obtained exclusively by CNN is perhaps the most telling sign that the self-proclaimed capital of a reign of terror is coming to an end.

For years, anyone caught with such material would have been killed by ISIS. Phones and cameras were banned and confiscated and so-called perpetrators punished in barbaric ways.
Now it seems there is less fear, and the opponents are able to do what was once unthinkable -- to show us life in Raqqa as US-backed and other Syrian forces encircle the city in the long attempt to extinguish ISIS.

And the many scenes that we see show a ruling group as they are -- often confused, sometimes vain. We also see civilians becoming more brave, even brazen as they challenge their oppressors. This is a city that can smell its liberation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


Pakistan deploys force of 15,000 to protect Chinese nationals (South China Morning Post, 25 June, 2017)

Pakistan has deployed a 15,000-strong military force to protect Chinese nationals working on energy and infrastructure projects in the country, the president said on Sunday, after the abduction of a Chinese couple raised safety concerns.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Grant Shapps: Conservative manifesto was world's worst (BBC, 6/27/17)

"It was because we had forgotten the lessons of previous election campaigns," said Mr Shapps, who was Tory chairman between 2012 and 2015. [...]

If the party had not proposed policies such as ending the winter fuel allowance for better off pensioners and ending the guarantee that the state pension would rise by at least 2.5% a year - plus its social care reforms swiftly categorised as a dementia tax and "raising the spectre of fox hunting as an issue... then we would have a majority today", said the former minister.

"We had an unnecessary election and, actually, the world's worst manifesto from the world's oldest political party," he added.

He refused to be drawn on Mrs May's future but said he was speaking out now to ensure the party did not learn wrong lessons from the election result, which saw Mrs May lose her Commons majority.

If it repeated the mistakes it made in the run up to the 8 June polling day it "would never win an election again," he warned.

She failed to run as Thatcher/Blair.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


How the Right Gets Reagan Wrong : And what will happen if they don't start getting him right. (HENRY OLSEN June 26, 2017, Politico)

The young Reagan was an ardent devotee of FDR and the Democratic Party. His friends from that era say he memorized FDR's "fireside chats" and incessantly prattled on about New Deal liberalism. Many assume that his political outlook changed so much as he moved to the right that he rejected FDR and the New Deal. But Reagan always said "I didn't leave the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party left me." Taking that line seriously is the first step to getting Reagan right.

Reagan's early conservative talks before he rose to national fame during Goldwater's bid for the presidency in October 1964 argued that certain government social programs weren't needed to meet "humanitarian aims." He would criticize bureaucrats who bossed people around or programs that gave aid to people who didn't need it. He did not, however, join other conservatives and say New Deal programs were unconstitutional or an improper thing for government to do. Nor, if the programs genuinely met a legitimate need, did he criticize them for costing too much.

Quite the contrary. I just about fell off my chair in the Reagan Library when I heard him say this in a 1958 speech: "In the last few decades we have indulged in a great program of social progress with many welfare programs. I'm sure that most of us in spite of the cost wouldn't buy many of these projects back at any price. They represented forward thinking on our part."

He repeated similar sentiments in every speech I listened to, even saying in 1961, "Any person in the United State who requires medical attention and cannot provide for himself should have it provided for him." That year, he supported an alternative to Medicare called the Kerr-Mills Act that gave federal funds to states so they could help poor senior citizens pay for medical care, even writing to a longtime friend that "if the money isn't enough I think we should put up more."

Reagan did not change his stripes as he became conservatism's hero, and continued to preach his own unique conservative vision. He told viewers of the October 1964 "Time for Choosing" speech endorsing Goldwater, the speech that made him a national political star, that conservatives were for "telling our senior citizens that that no one in this country should be denied medical care for lack of funds." He campaigned for governor of California saying talk "in America of left and right" was "disruptive talk, dividing us down the center." He said his "Creative Society," intended to be a non-bureaucratic alternative to Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society," wasn't "some glorified program for passing the buck and telling people to play Samaritan and solve their problems on their own while government stands by to hand out Good Conduct ribbons." And when he became governor, he pushed through a then-record tax increase after his efforts to "cut, squeeze, and trim" government could not balance the budget.

He didn't alter his views when he ran for and became president, either. He often said, "Those who, through no fault of their own, must depend on the rest of us" would be exempt from budget cuts. He pushed through three tax increases as president, one of which made Social Security solvent for the past 35 years.

Reagan got these ideas from FDR, and often paraphrased lines uttered by his one-time idol. The line that government should support "those who, through no fault of their own," could not support themselves came from FDR, who used that exact phrase frequently to describe who deserved government help. In the Time for Choosing speech, Reagan chastised liberals by saying "the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they're ignorant; it's that so much they know isn't so." Reagan had adapted that line from a nearly identical variant uttered by FDR in his seventh fireside chat. Even Reagan's famous closing statement in the 1980 presidential debate against Jimmy Carter, when he asked Americans if they were better off than they were four years ago, was a direct paraphrase of a section of FDR's fifth fireside chat.

Conservative Republicans who didn't cotton to FDR didn't notice this, but the blue-collar voters who became known as "Reagan Democrats" sure did. During his governor's race, Reagan's margins were an astounding 36 percent to 44 percent larger than those of the 1962 Republican gubernatorial nominee, Richard Nixon, in towns dominated by blue-collar whites. He did dramatically better than other Republican presidential nominees in similar counties and towns when he ran for president, too. As one person told Reagan biographer Lou Cannon in 1984, "He isn't really like a Republican. He's more like an American, which is what we really need."

The singular fact of Reagan's life is that he was an adult during the Depression.

June 26, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Elected as a Tea Party Conservative But Governing as a Centrist : A lot of the hard-line GOP governors who won in 2010 have surprised their supporters with a shift toward pragmatism. What's driving the change? (ALAN EHRENHALT,  JUNE 2017, Governing)

Kasich was one of 17 new Republican governors lifted into office on a conservative electoral tide in the Tea Party election of 2010. All but one (Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania) were re-elected in 2014, so at the start of this year 16 were still serving. These governors vary enormously in temperament, ambition and political competence. But one thing can be said of most of them: They have governed more or less from the center, sometimes bewildering the conservative activists who helped them get elected. Some have behaved as centrists from day one; others, like Kasich, have undergone well-publicized transformations. But as a group, they tend to reinforce the idea that a governorship is a moderating influence on most people who come to hold one.

It isn't always easy to tell a change in core beliefs from a change in image. Nikki Haley of South Carolina reflects that ambiguity. A member of the Tea Party Class of 2010, she staked out a position in her first gubernatorial term as a conservative loose cannon, more interested in scoring political points against her personal enemies in the legislature than in pursuing any particular policy agenda. She handed out "report cards" to individual lawmakers and told visitors to the legislative chambers to "take a good shower" when they left the Capitol. The state House speaker, a fellow Republican, accused her of having a penchant for "middle-school insults."

So it's hard to imagine the Nikki Haley who took office in 2011 being chosen as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, even by a president as unorthodox as Donald Trump. But it wasn't the Haley of 2011 who got the U.N. job. It was the seasoned second-term governor who had developed a reputation across the country as a voice of moderation and compassion in tragic times. When nine African-Americans were murdered by a white supremacist in Charleston in 2015, Haley responded with symbolic but powerful gestures of sympathy, ordering the removal of the Confederate flag from the state Capitol grounds and mandating that state police wear body cameras as a check against discriminatory conduct.

"Everything I've done leading up to this point," Haley said in her second term, "has always been about diplomacy." That wasn't remotely true, but it was emblematic of the public figure she had become. In the months before she left office, Haley was still quarreling with legislators, including some whom she tried to oust in primaries in 2016. But it wasn't her streak of residual pettiness that had come to define her in the public mind; it was the statesmanlike qualities she had managed to exhibit in moments when it counted. [...]

Taken as a group[...]the GOP governors elected in 2010 have governed more from the center than from the right. In most cases, they have proved to be significantly more moderate than the Republican legislatures with which they shared power. Bill Haslam of Tennessee is Exhibit A in this category. He has spent the past seven years dealing with hard-right legislative initiatives, most famously a bill in 2016 that would have made the Bible the official state book. Mary Fallin has had similar problems in Oklahoma; Republicans in the legislature, initially her strong supporters, have consistently fought against her efforts to increase taxes to fund public schools.

It's why effective presidents have nearly all been governors first.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Warren Buffett's disarmingly simple investment strategy, explained by big data (Mitch Tuchman, June 26, 2017, Market Watch)

 Just because Buffett talks happy, that doesn't mean stocks are going to go up.

Rather, stocks go up and it doesn't surprise Buffett when they do. When the contrary happens -- inevitably, the economy slips and stocks fall back -- Buffett doesn't try to dress up bad news as good.

In fact, as he often counsels his own managers, bring the bad news first. He does the same thing when talking to his investors.

All of this neatly lines up with the long-term investment experience. Bull markets last longer than bear markets. Stocks tend to outpace inflation. Prudently invested money compounds.

To reject these ideas as mistaken or naive is to reject the experience of decades upon decades of economic growth. As Buffett told investors in his 2015 letter:

American GDP per capita is now about $56,000. As I mentioned last year that -- in real terms -- is a staggering six times the amount in 1930, the year I was born, a leap far beyond the wildest dreams of my parents or their contemporaries. U.S. citizens are not intrinsically more intelligent today, nor do they work harder than did Americans in 1930. Rather, they work far more efficiently and thereby produce far more. This all-powerful trend is certain to continue: America's economic magic remains alive and well.

Consider that the main "problem" we face as a society is that wealth creation requires decreasing labor inputs.
Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM


Obama and Trump both promised peace. They delivered war. (W. James Antle III, June 23, 2017, The Week)

There's an old political joke that goes like this: "They told me that if I voted for Goldwater, we'd be at war in Vietnam within a year. Well sure enough, I voted for Goldwater and now a year later we're at war in Vietnam!"

Everything old is new again. Try this one: "They told me that if I voted for Clinton, we'd be at war with Syria within a year. Well sure enough, I voted for Clinton and less than a year later, we're at war in Syria!"

Before President Trump took office, he didn't want to intervene militarily in Syria in part because he wanted to avoid a confrontation with Russia and focus on ISIS instead. "I don't like [Syrian President Bashar] Assad at all, but Assad is killing ISIS," Trump argued during his second debate with Hillary Clinton. "Russia is killing ISIS. And Iran is killing ISIS. ... I think you have to knock out ISIS."

Then the president started bombing Syria in April. Now Russia has reacted to the downing of a Syrian aircraft by warning coalition airplanes and drones that they're fair game to be targeted if they fly west of the Euphrates river. That includes America's aircrafts.

Hopefully, a crisis between two nuclear-armed powers will be averted. But Trump campaigned on a less interventionist foreign policy, eschewing destabilizing regime change, nation-building, and policing the world. He has governed by deepening our involvement in Syria and giving his defense secretary the authority to set troop levels in our 16-year war in Afghanistan.

We are a Crusader State.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


Google CEO Pichai, Walmart India's Iyer hail GST bill as 'game-changing reform' (Sundar Pichai, 6/26/17, Hindustan Times)

Chief executives of tech giant Google and Indian arm of the American retail giant Walmart have hailed the the goods and services tax (GST) bill, calling it "game changing reform".

The GST regime, ready to kick off on July 1, will ease business barriers and help bring down prices of essential commodities in the long run, Walmart India CEO Krish Iyer said, after attending Prime Minister Narendra Modi's , CEOs roundtable conference in the US on Sunday.

"We reiterated our commitment to India. We talked about the various things we do in terms of global sourcing, global technology center and the work that we do in the space of farmer's and women's economic empowerment," Iyer told ANI.

On GST, he said, "I believe that GST is a game changing reform. It is not just a tax reform but is a new way of doing business which will remove a lot of barriers which exist in the country and will eventually help in bringing down the prices of essential commodities."

He added that GST would help small and medium enterprises and suppliers.

GST is claimed to be India's biggest tax reform that will subsume 15 different central and state levies. The GST Council has finalised four slabs under which almost all the commodities and services will be taxed, thus eliminating the cascading effect of the present taxation system.

This is expected to make taxation more transparent, formalise economy and accelerate its growth. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:10 PM


Amazon Robots Poised to Revamp How Whole Foods Runs Warehouses (Spencer Soper and Alex Sherman, 6/26/17, Bloomberg)

In negotiations, Amazon spent a lot of time analyzing Whole Foods' distribution technology, pointing to a possible way in which the company sees the most immediate opportunities to reduce costs, said a person familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified because the issue was private. Amazon, through a spokesman, declined to comment, as did Whole Foods.

Experts say the most immediate changes would likely be in warehouses that customers never see. That suggests the jobs that could be affected the earliest would be in the warehouses, where products from suppliers await transport to store shelves, said Gary Hawkins, CEO of the Center for Advancing Retail and Technology, a Los Angeles nonprofit that helps retailers and brands innovate. As Amazon looks to automate distribution, cashiers will be safe-- for now.

"The easiest place for Amazon to bring its expertise to bear is in the warehouses, because that's where Amazon really excels," Hawkins said. "If they can reduce costs, they can show that on the store shelves and move Whole Foods away from the Whole Paycheck image."

Amazon sees automation as a key strategic advantage in its overall grocery strategy, according to company documents reviewed by Bloomberg before the Whole Foods acquisition was announced.

Whole Foods has 11 distribution centers specializing in perishable foods that serve its stores. It also has seafood processing plants, kitchens and bakeries that supply prepared food to each location. Those are the places where Amazon could initially focus, according to experts.

Amazon has its own network of warehouses around the country with an abundant assortment of goods, and there are thousands of robots in those facilities. As Amazon's business has grown, its warehouses have become more specialized. Most inventory is in its largest warehouses within driving distance of big cities, but as it tries to deliver products faster, the company is utilizing smaller delivery hubs in cities packed with the kind of products people want quickly, like a phone charger or a toothbrush you forgot to pack on a trip. 

I'd been wanting one of vacuum stainless steel water bottles, but $40 for the Hydro Flask 32oz seemed pricey.  There's a sale right now on the comparable Portable Human version for $25.  Ordered it Saturday morning and received it Sunday morning with Prime member shipping.  

It's not possible to overstate deflation.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


It's All About that Stay (and Its Surprising Limits) (Marty Lederman, June 26, 2017, Just Security)

[T]he case will be moot for two other reasons:  For one thing, the 90-day entry ban goes into effect 72 hours from now, at least as to some aliens (see below), and thus it will expire by its terms on September 27.  Moreover, as the Court explains, by October the Section 2 "internal review" should be completed ("[W]e fully expect that the relief we grant today will permit the Executive to conclude its internal work and provide adequate notice to foreign governments within the 90-day life of §2(c)."), and therefore the predicate for the entry ban will be kaput by then, too. [...]

The most remarkable thing about the Court's action, today, however, is that it has denied the motions to stay the injunctions not only as applied to aliens with particular relationships to the (U.S. person) plaintiffs in these cases, but also as to other aliens who have analogous relationships with other U.S. persons-"foreign nationals who have a credible claim of a bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States"-even if those U.S. persons are not plaintiffs in either of the two cases!  That is a huge victory for the plaintiffs.

Posted by orrinj at 11:27 AM


Supreme Court declares churches eligible for some public funds (Richard Wolf, 6/26/17, USA TODAY)

The justices ruled 7-2 that Missouri stretched the constitutional separation of church and state too far by declaring a Lutheran church ineligible to receive a competitive state grant for playground resurfacing. The decision could have implications for more than 30 states that block public funds from going to religious organizations.

Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the decision. Only Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented.

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


Supreme Court revives Trump travel ban order (Lawrence Hurley, 6/26/17, Reuters)

The court, which narrowed the scope of lower court rulings that had completely blocked his March 6 executive order, said it would hear arguments on the legality of one of Trump's signature policies in his first months as president in the court's next term, which starts in October.

The justices granted parts of his administration's emergency request to put the order into effect immediately while the legal battle continues.

The court said that the travel ban will go into effect "with respect to foreign nationals who lack any bona fide relationship with a person or entity in the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


Two of the world's biggest advertisers are cutting back on their digital ad spend (Tanya Dua, 6/26/17, Business Insider)

Procter & Gamble and Unilever have both aggressively pushed for more transparency in the murky digital media landscape in recent years, even threatening to pull back on digital spending unless the system is cleaned up. And now, it seems like the world's biggest advertisers are putting their money where their mouths are.

Both P&G and Unilever appear to have pulled back on their digital spending, materially reducing their budgets as well as the number of sites they buy on. According to estimates from MediaRadar, a New York-based advertising intelligence company, P&G's ad spend dropped 41% year-over-year, while Unilever's dropped 59%. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Why We Must Make a Mockery of Trump (HOWARD JACOBSON, JUNE 23, 2017, NY Times)

Communism's failure of humor is the subject of Milan Kundera's first novel, "The Joke." For writing the words "Optimism is the opium of mankind! A healthy spirit stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!" on the back of a postcard to a girlfriend, Ludvik Jahn is expelled from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and sent to work in the mines.

The more monocratic the regime, the less it can bear criticism. And of all criticism, satire -- with its single ambition of ridiculing vanity and delusion -- is the most potent.

This can be only because the boastful are thin-skinned and the intolerant are forever looking over their shoulders. Mr. Trump himself is visibly easy to wound. Should this be a reason to hold back? "Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?" the great satirist Alexander Pope asked. The question was rhetorical. Wounding the vainglorious is a pleasing pastime in itself and contributes to their demoralization. Fire enough salvos of comedy and their solemn edifices start to crumble. It might be a slow process, but it is at least the beginning.

Derision is a societal necessity. In an age of conformity and populist hysteria, it creates a climate of skepticism and distrust of authority. If mercy droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, derision spurts up as though from a pantomime geyser, drenching the braggart and the fool in the foulest ordures.

The unique problem that Donald presents the satirist is that he self-satirizes continuously.
Posted by orrinj at 9:09 AM


Ending the Fed's Permanent Inflation Policy (JAMES R. ROGERS, 6/26/17, Law & Liberty)

The Federal Reserve Board seeks to maintain an inflation rate around two percent per year. While this rate might sound low for older types who remember double-digit inflation rates in the late 70s and early 80s, and a rate of 5.4 percent as recently as 1990, why tolerate, let alone seek to sustain, any inflation at all? Why not seek to establish zero inflation and stable prices? After all, even an inflation rate of only two percent a year means nominal prices still double every 36 years. And while people can and do broadly adjust their behavior in the face of anticipated inflation, it's not a seamless process. Inflation distorts people's economic decisions, whether as producers or consumers, labor or capital, and so imposes costs on us all.

The Fed aims to maintain a two-percent inflation rate because it fears a lower inflation rate would deprive it of the monetary policy tools it needs in case of recession. As Ben Bernanke explained at a 2013 press conference: "If you have zero inflation, you're very close to the deflation zone and nominal interest rates will be so low that it would be very difficult to respond fully to recessions. And so historical experiences suggested that 2 percent is an appropriate balance." Basically, the Fed intentionally seeks to create and sustain a positive inflation rate in order, in turn, to sustain nominal interest rates higher than would exist with zero inflation.

The decoupling of demand and prices allows for permanent good deflation.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Pittsburgh to introduce all-electric cars to city fleet (ADAM SMELTZ, 6/26/17, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The first all-electric cars bought by the City of Pittsburgh should roll into town within weeks, an early step toward dropping all gasoline- and diesel-fueled vehicles from the city fleet.

Two electric Ford Focuses will join the pool as early as July -- and two electric Chevrolet Bolts by late autumn -- as the city starts to phase out its fossil-fuel-powered vehicles by 2030, said Slim Forsythe, a fixed-assets manager. The push falls under Mayor Bill Peduto's goals to address climate change, including all-renewable electricity use for city operations.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Trump is terrified of the investigation into his relationship with Russia -- and he should be (Max Boot, 6/25/17, Business Insider)

It's not hard to see why Trump would be so terrified: Mueller is universally respected for his integrity and doggedness, and he has been assembling a hunter-killer team of crack investigators and lawyers to help him. Together they have over a century of experience at the Justice Department unraveling complex, white-collar conspiracies. One of them even speaks Russian.

Trump's attack dogs have been desperately trying to discredit the rebooted Untouchables, but the best they could come up with is that three of Mueller's hires contributed to Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign. If that's disqualifying for government service, then Trump himself should resign; he has donated at least $100,000 to the Clinton Foundation, far more than any of Mueller's staff gave to her campaign.

What worries Trump is not that Mueller may be a Democratic partisan -- the very idea is ludicrous, given that he was appointed to run by the FBI by President George W. Bush -- but that the Marine combat veteran cannot be bought off or intimidated.

This has always been Trump's M.O. -- witness his attempts to win pledges of "loyalty" from James Comey in return for allowing him to stay on as FBI director. Comey wouldn't play ball, and neither will Mueller.

So that right there is enough reason for Trump to be scared now that he is being investigated by Mueller for obstruction of justice -- a crime which he essentially admitted on national television when he said that he fired Comey to shut down the investigation into the "Russia thing."

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Empathetic Eye : Take another look at the art of George W. Bush. (JAMES GARDNER, 7/03/17, Weekly Standard)

[T]he works included in this new book are another matter. Mr. Bush has learned an astonishing amount in the intervening years--during which he has studied under three distinguished teachers--and the latest results require no special pleading. The transformation is subtle: Bush works in the same Neo-Expressionist idiom as before, but he now does so with vastly greater skill. That, in itself, is a striking development in a 70-year-old man who, into his sixties, exhibited an indifference to art that verged on hostility. [...]

Some of the images in this volume continue to betray those elements of amateurism that were more pronounced in Bush's earlier works: He learned to paint before he learned to draw, and his ability to depict the full human figure, especially in motion, is still underdeveloped. But such weaknesses come as no surprise. Far more interesting is the fact that many of these works break through to real power and insight. Their technique, as I have suggested, is largely a response, perhaps indirectly, to such German Expressionist portraitists as Max Beckmann, Oskar Kokoschka, and Ernst Ludwig Kirchner. And so the forehead of Sergeant First Class Jeremy Henderson is rendered in bright orange while his graying temples are green. Sergeant Daniel Caràra is a composite of purples, browns, and golds.

But in general, the former president, like Lucian Freud, is restrained in the degree of formal and chromatic distortion that he allows himself. As with all of these forebears, Bush uses thick strokes and (I believe) a palette knife to produce a lively likeness that is hardly photographic, even though he chooses to paint from photographs rather than from live sitters. But even without seeking a photographic likeness, these paintings have the unassailable ring of truth. At their best, they powerfully communicate the living, breathing essence of the man or woman in question.

According to many who have met George W. Bush--and this seems likely even to those of us who know him only by way of television--one of his most potent gifts as a politician is his interpersonal skills, his empathy, and his ability to connect to each person he encounters. It is this quality, perfectly transmitted through his art, that animates and imparts to it a rare power. Bush has an uncanny knack for painting eyes, which often challenge more inveterate portraitists. This skill seems to bring viewers into direct commun­ion with the subjects of his paintings. Almost by definition, given the injuries that first brought these men and women to the president's attention, their eyes betray some pain. Sometimes it is clear and present, at other times residual but still importunate in memory.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


Seattle's Minimum Wage Hike May Have Gone Too Far (Ben Casselman and Kathryn Casteel, 6/25/17, 538)

In January 2016, Seattle's minimum wage jumped from $11 an hour to $13 for large employers, the second big increase in less than a year. New research released Monday by a team of economists at the University of Washington suggests the wage hike may have come at a significant cost: The increase led to steep declines in employment for low-wage workers, and a drop in hours for those who kept their jobs. Crucially, the negative impact of lost jobs and hours more than offset the benefits of higher wages -- on average, low-wage workers earned $125 per month less because of the higher wage, a small but significant decline.

"The goal of this policy was to deliver higher incomes to people who were struggling to make ends meet in the city," said Jacob Vigdor, a University of Washington economist who was one of the study's authors. "You've got to watch out because at some point you run the risk of harming the people you set out to help."

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


There's only one Trump -- that's a key challenge for Democrats targeting GOP seats in 2018 (Karen Handel, 6/25/17, LA Times)

Democrats have hoped that President Trump's deep unpopularity would propel them to gains in next year's midterm election as they fight to take control of the House and improve their position in the Senate.

But last year's contests and this year's special elections suggest a complication: Trump is so distinctive a politician that it's hard to persuade voters that other Republican candidates are carbon copies of the president. Trump's outsized persona makes even those Republicans who share his views seem more moderate, an important attribute to swing voters.

That presents a problem for the party out of power.

June 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Russian official linked to South Florida biker club spent millions on Trump condos (LILY DOBROVOLSKAYA AND NICHOLAS NEHAMAS, 6/25/17, Miami Herald)

[T]he tale of Igor Zorin offers a 21st-century twist with all the weirdness modern Miami has to offer: Russian cash, a motorcycle club named after Russia's powerful special forces and a condo tower branded by Donald Trump.

Zorin is a Russian government official who has spent nearly $8 million on waterfront South Florida homes, hardly financially prudent given his bureaucrat's salary of $75,000 per year. He runs a state-owned broadcasting company that, among other duties, operates sound systems for the annual military parade that sends columns of soldiers and tanks rumbling through Moscow's Red Square.

Zorin has other Miami connections, too: His local business associate, Svyatoslav Mangushev, a Russian intelligence officer turned Miami real-estate investor, helped found a biker club called Spetsnaz M.C. Spetsnaz is a group of motorcycle-loving South Florida expatriates who named themselves after the Russian equivalent of Delta Force or Seal Team Six.

Spetsnaz members once asked for official recognition from Russia's biggest biker gang, the Night Wolves, an infamous group that has strong ties to Russia's security services. The Night Wolves played a role in the Ukrainian uprising, once had their flag flown in outer space by Russian cosmonauts and are under U.S. sanctions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


Trump's Deflections and Denials on Russia Frustrate Even His Allies (MAGGIE HABERMAN, JUNE 25, 2017, NY Times)

In the span of 72 hours, President Trump described the email hacking that roiled the 2016 campaign as a Democratic "hoax" and as clear aggression by Russia that his predecessor, President Barack Obama, failed to address.

Other times, Mr. Trump has said the hacking might have been done by China.

Or, as he claimed during the first general election debate, the hacking could have been the work of a lone wolf weighing 400 pounds, sitting on his bed at home.

Then there was the time Mr. Trump blamed "some guy in his home in New Jersey."

Or, as Mr. Trump has also suggested, there might not even have been hacking at all...

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Want states to have health reform flexibility? The ACA already does that (Jason Levitis and Stuart M Butler, June 21, 2017, Brookings)

As Congress struggles to balance the goals of flexibility and adequate health coverage, it's worth noting that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) already includes a measure that does exactly that. Section 1332 of the ACA allows for "state innovation waivers" that provide broad flexibility for states to redesign their health insurance markets while ensuring that health coverage is not jeopardized.

Section 1332 was the bipartisan brainchild of Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) and former Senator Bob Bennett (R-UT). The measure allows states to waive or modify many of the central coverage provisions of the ACA, redirecting the current federal subsidies flowing to the state toward implementing the state's own plan. To protect individuals, a waiver may be approved only if it won't leave more people uninsured or make coverage less affordable or comprehensive.  A waiver also cannot increase federal deficits.

Section 1332 has received praise from both ends of the ideological spectrum. Last year, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle wrote in the Washington Post that the waivers "can achieve what both sides earnestly wish for: providing more Americans with access to more affordable, flexible, patient-centered health care." The Trump administration has also been strongly supportive, encouraging states to apply and providing a detailed checklist to help states develop applications.

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


The Missing Ingredient in BCRA: Humility (Mike Lee, 6/25/17, Medium)

No, the Senate healthcare bill released yesterday does not repeal Obamacare. It doesn't even significantly reform American healthcare.

It cuts taxes. It bails out insurance companies. It props up Obamacare through the next election. It lays out plans to slow Medicaid spending beginning in 2025, but that probably won't happen. And it leaves in place the ham-fisted federal regulations that have driven up family health insurance premiums by 140 percent since Obamacare was implemented.

Posted by orrinj at 11:35 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


Saving Babies: The Efficacy and Cost of Recent Changes in the Medicaid Eligibility of Pregnant Women (Janet Currie, and Jonathan Gruber, December 1996, Journal of Political Economy )

A key question for health care reform in the United States is whether expanded health insurance eligibility will lead to improvements in health outcomes. We address this question in the context of the dramatic changes in Medicaid eligibility for pregnant women that took place between 1979 and 1992. We build a detailed simulation model of each state's Medicaid policy during this era and use this model to estimate (1) the effect of changes in the rules on the fraction of women eligible for Medicaid coverage in the event of pregnancy and (2) the effect of Medicaid eligibility changes on birth outcomes in aggregate Vital Statistics data. We have three main findings. First, the changes did dramatically increase the Medicaid eligibility of pregnant women, but did so at quite differential rates across the states. Second, the changes lowered the incidence of infant mortality and low birth weight; we estimate that the 30-percentage-point increase in eligibility among 15-44-year-old women was associated with a decrease in infant mortality of 8.5 percent. 

Paying for pregnancy and birth seems like something the two parties could agree on.
Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


Posted by orrinj at 10:49 AM


Bernie Sanders and his wife are being investigated by the FBI -- now they're lawyering up (Chris Enloe, 6/25/17, The Blaze)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and his wife, Jane, have hired top-notch defense attorneys amid an FBI investigation probing Jane for potentially committing fraud.

It was reported last month that the FBI is actively investigating Jane for potentially committing fraud during the time that she served as the president of Burlington College between 2004 and 2011.

Even folks on the Left and Right who hate capitalism gotta make a buck...

Posted by orrinj at 10:47 AM


Breaking with tradition, Trump White House forgoes Ramadan dinner (Jennifer Hansler, 6/24/17, AP)

For the first time in nearly two decades, the White House did not host an iftar dinner to commemorate Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting.

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Koch chief says health care bill insufficiently conservative (Steve People, 6/25/17, AP)

Tim Phillips, who leads Americans For Prosperity, the Koch network's political arm, called the Senate's plans for Medicaid "a slight nip and tuck" of President Barack Obama's health care law, a modest change he described as "immoral."

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM



PHYSICISTS HAVE WONDERED for decades whether infinitely dense points known as singularities can ever exist outside black holes, which would expose the mysteries of quantum gravity for all to see. Singularities--snags in the otherwise smooth fabric of space and time where Albert Einstein's classical gravity theory breaks down and the unknown quantum theory of gravity is needed--seem to always come cloaked in darkness, hiding from view behind the event horizons of black holes. The British physicist and mathematician Sir Roger Penrose conjectured in 1969 that visible or "naked" singularities are actually forbidden from forming in nature, in a kind of cosmic censorship. But why should quantum gravity censor itself?

Now, new theoretical calculations provide a possible explanation for why naked singularities do not exist--in a particular model universe, at least.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Israel strikes Syrian army after stray fire lands in Golan (Deutsche-Welle, 6/25/17)

An Israeli aircraft carried out strikes in Syria after 10 projectiles landed in the occupied Golan Heights on Saturday, the Israeli military said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Domestic Terrorism: Home Is Where The Hate Is (David Neiwert, June 25, 2017, National Memo)

"Anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country," Trump said at one campaign speech in Ohio. During another, in Philadelphia, he drove home the attack: "We now have an administration and a former secretary of state who refuse to say 'radical Islamic terrorism.' "

It was a strange place to make his point. The only Islamist terror attack in Pennsylvania over the past 15 years was committed by Edward Archer, a mentally ill man who shot and injured a police officer in early 2016, later telling investigators that he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State. Far-right episodes of violent extremism were far more common.

Just two years before Trump's Pennsylvania speech, anti-government radical Eric Matthew Frein ambushed two police officers in the township of Blooming Grove, killing one and wounding another, then led law enforcement authorities on a 48-day manhunt in the woods. (He was sentenced to death in April.)

Two months before that, police discovered that Eric Charles Smith, who ran a white supremacist church out of his home in the borough of Baldwin, had built a stockpile of some 20 homemade bombs.

In 2011, Eli Franklin Myers, an anti-government survivalist, shot two police officers, killing one, before being shot dead by state troopers in the small town of Webster. And in 2009, white supremacist Richard Poplawski opened fire on Pittsburgh police officers who had responded to a domestic dispute at his mother's home, killing three and leaving two injured before surrendering. Poplawski, who was active on far-right websites, said he feared the police represented a plot by Obama to take away Americans' guns.

This contrast, between Trump's rhetoric and the reality of domestic terrorism, extends far beyond Pennsylvania. A database of nine years of domestic terrorism incidents compiled by The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute and Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting has produced a very different picture of the threat than that advanced by the current White House.

From January 2008 to the end of 2016, we identified 63 cases of Islamist domestic terrorism, meaning incidents motivated by a theocratic political ideology espoused by such groups as the Islamic State. The vast majority of these (76 percent) were foiled plots, meaning no attack took place.

During the same period, we found that right-wing extremists were behind nearly twice as many incidents: 115. Just over a third of these incidents (35 percent) were foiled plots. The majority were acts of terrorist violence that involved deaths, injuries or damaged property.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


D.C. Memorial for 6 Nazi Spies Raises Questions (John Woodrow Cox, 6/24/17, The Washington Post)

A team of power company workers were trudging through a seldom-visited thicket in Southwest Washington when they spotted something odd in a ditch.

Protruding from the grass was a rectangular slab of granite.

They looked closer, and an inscription on the surface came into focus. What they saw astonished them.

It was a memorial. In honor of Nazi spies. On U.S. government property.

"In memory of agents of the German Abwehr," the engraving began, "executed August 8, 1942."

Below that were six names and below those was another cryptic line: "Donated by the N.S.W.P.P."

News of the unsettling discovery soon reached Jim Rosenstock, who worked in resource management for the National Park Service and also happened to be a local history buff. He was curious, but also skeptical. How could someone have planted such an item there? And why? And -- above all -- who?

Rosenstock needed to see it for himself so he, too, made the hike into Blue Plains, a woody area known best for a wastewater treatment plant and an abundance of mosquitoes. And that's when he saw the stone.

"I kind of started doing a little bit of my own research," Rosenstock recalled of that day in 2006 when he began to help unravel an only-in-Washington mystery, complete with World War II espionage, nationwide panic, a mass electrocution, J. Edgar Hoover chicanery, white supremacists, classic federal bureaucracy and a U.S. Supreme Court case that played a significant role in America's modern war on terror.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


High School Students Saving for College (Tim Grant, 6/25/17, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

High school students who grew up during the 2007-09 recession whose parents rode out the financial struggle are showing a greater tendency to save for college, avoid debt, and embrace attending two-year community colleges and vocational schools, according to the latest survey by the College Savings Foundation.

Sophomores, juniors and seniors across the country surveyed by the Washington-based foundation in its eighth annual "How Youth Plan to Fund College" survey are targeting schools that will lead them to careers while keeping costs in check. They also appear to be relying less on loans and scholarships as opposed to their savings and expectations for working through college.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Internet From Space Gets Closer to Reality (Brian Fung, 6/25/17, The Washington Post)

For many, it's been a years-long pipe dream: Ultra-fast, lag-free Internet that comes to your PC or smartphone via satellite instead of a wire into your home. Facebook, Google and even SpaceX have all explored the idea, partly in hopes of selling broadband access to a growing market with enormous potential -- the developing world.

But now, a former Googler and friend of Elon Musk has beaten them all to the punch, becoming the first to receive permission to actually build a next-generation satellite Internet service that targets U.S. customers. If it takes off, the project could benefit Americans nationwide by providing broadband anywhere in the United States, particularly in rural areas where it can be difficult to provide fast Internet connections using traditional ground-based cables.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


A Jewish American who immigrated to Israel asks why refugees can't (JP O' MALLEY June 25, 2017, Times of Israel)

When Mya Guarnieri Jaradat arrived in Israel 10 years ago from the United States, she was supposed to have come on a one-year trip to complete her master's thesis. Like so many others, she prolonged her stay. But what made her expatriation in the Jewish state unique were the motivations behind it.

There were two issues that caused her to prolong her initial educational and cultural sojourn: a love of Hebrew and commitment to learning it fluently, and the desire to work with the state's marginalized communities in south Tel Aviv.

Jaradat began her work primarily with migrant workers from southeast Asian countries such as Thailand or the Philippines, as well as African asylum seekers from countries including Eritrea and South Sudan. Her initial observation was that there was massive poverty among these communities. But Jaradat also began to witness how most of the people she spoke with also had few legal, civic or labor rights.

What started off as volunteer work soon transitioned into journalism, which led Jaradat on the path to eventually becoming an Israeli citizen.

"As soon as I took on Israeli citizenship, I felt a strong sense of responsibility for what the Jewish state was doing in my name," says Jaradat.

Jaradat has continued working as a journalist, covering Israel, the West Bank and Gaza in a wide host of publications around the globe, including The Nation, The New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC, the far-left Israeli blog +972, and Al Jazeera.

The outspoken Jewish-American reporter claims that Israel's policy on migrant workers and asylum seekers is shaped by what she calls a paradoxical double-sided contradiction "to maintain a particular demographic balance necessary for the state to be both 'Jewish and democratic.'"

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


On Health-Care Reform, George W. Bush Was Misunderestimated (Christopher Pope, 6/16/17, National Review)

The recent slowdown in the growth of health-care spending has been most noticeable in Medicare costs and premiums for employer-based plans -- not coincidentally, the two parts of the system least altered by the ACA. Nor is it any coincidence that the growth of costs began its decline in 2003, when MMA overhauled Medicare and revolutionized the structure of employer-provided plans.

President Bush was vilified by conservatives for the immediate expense of the Part D drug benefit included in the MMA, but this ended up costing 50 percent less than the CBO initially estimated it would. In fact, a recent analysis found that, by providing incentives for beneficiaries to switch to cheaper generic drugs where appropriate, Part D has accounted for 60 percent of the total slowdown in Medicare costs since 2011. And Part D aside, the MMA has been remarkably successful in achieving its primary aim: a broader structural transformation of Medicare. [...]

[T]he availability of privately managed Medicare Advantage plans offers a genuine alternative to politically micromanaged care delivery, and such plans have begun to revolutionize the Medicare program. Medicare Advantage delivers the same package of benefits with a higher quality of care for an average of $1,200 less per beneficiary than the government could directly. Plans can then use these savings to attract enrollees by filling in cost-sharing gaps and providing supplemental dental, vision, or hearing coverage that is not part of the standard benefit.

Options for Medicare beneficiaries to choose privately managed HMO coverage were established in the early 1980s and expanded to PPOs and fee-for-service plans by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. Unfortunately, the BBA drove payments below the costs of delivering the standard Medicare benefit package in many areas, and so enrollment declined by 23 percent in the years following its enactment. By solving that problem, the MMA caused enrollment to soar from 5.3 million in 2003 to 17.6 million in 2016 -- a trend that continued despite payments' being trimmed back by the ACA.

Almost a third of Medicare beneficiaries -- and a majority of those without Medicaid or employer-funded supplemental coverage -- now choose to receive comprehensive coverage from private plans. By mitigating the dysfunctions that Medicare imposes on the health-care-delivery system, MA's growth has even been shown to reduce hospital costs for commercially insured younger populations that aren't covered by Medicare.

The MMA also initiated a revolution in employer-based coverage, by extending the tax deductibility of health insurance to out-of-pocket spending from the Health Savings Accounts of those enrolled in high-deductible plans. This provision helped correct a long-standing bias in the tax code, which had caused third-party (i.e. insurer) management of health-care spending to displace direct consumer control. It was projected to cost only $6 billion in lost federal revenue from 2004 to 2013, but it has had a huge impact.

The proportion of employees enrolled in plans with deductibles above $1,000 increased from 10 percent in 2006 to 51 percent in 2016, while the share receiving payments into private accounts to help cover out-of-pocket expenses increased from 4 percent to 29 percent over the same period. A recent NBER analysis credited the diffusion of high-deductible plans as the primary factor in slowing the growth of health-care spending.

W was transformational.  The UR and Donald are caretakers--of varying competence.

June 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


The New Senate Republican Bill Will Transform American Health Care (Avik Roy, 6/24/17, Forbes)

The Senate bill includes and refines the best part of the House bill: its reforms of Medicaid, the dysfunctional government-run health care program for the poor whose enrollees have no better health outcomes than the uninsured.

Because the Senate bill's tax credits are robustly means-tested and available to those below the poverty line, the bill is able to repeal Obamacare's Medicaid expansion while offering higher-quality coverage to individuals who signed up for Medicaid under the expansion.

The reason that Medicaid's health outcomes are so poor is because the outdated 1965 Medicaid law places a laundry list of constraints on states' ability to manage their Medicaid programs. As a result, the main tool states have to keep Medicaid costs under control is to pay doctors and hospitals less and less each year for the same care. Hence, many doctors don't take Medicaid, and Medicaid enrollees struggle to gain access to care.

The Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 addresses these problems in several ways.

First, the bill repeals Obamacare's Medicaid expansion, and replaces it with tax credits so that low-income Americans can buy the coverage of their choice at an affordable price.

Second, the bill gives states a new set of tools to make their Medicaid programs. For example, under Obamacare, states are only allowed to check if someone is eligible for Medicaid once a year, even if that enrollee has moved to a different state, or becomes no longer eligible, or is no longer alive. Jonathan Ingram of the Foundation for Government Accountability, in a recent report, recommended allowing states to redetermine eligibility more frequently and thereby culling their rolls of ineligible individuals.

Third, the bill puts the legacy Medicaid program on a long-term per-capita cap tied to medical inflation through 2025, and conventional inflation (CPI-U) thereafter. This change is important, because Medicaid per-enrollee spending is growing at a slightly slower rate than Medical inflation; hence, making the program sustainable requires the use of CPI-U. The fiscal sustainability of Medicaid is essential to making sure that those who depend on the program can know it will be there for them in the future.

Posted by orrinj at 9:59 AM


Milford man completes journey from forced labor to U.S. citizenship (Andy Hershberger  , 6/23/17, WMUR)

Andrew Flynn was one of dozens of people who became U.S. citizens after a ceremony Friday in Concord, but the Milford man's path to citizenship started on a very dark road.

About 17 years ago, Flynn and three other men came to New Hampshire from Jamaica to work for a tree service company, but they ended up being forced to work and live in horrible conditions. [...]

Flynn is now married with a 2-year-old daughter, a house and a good job installing satellite dishes. He said the past is past, and he's focused on building a future in a country that he loves.

"The freedom, the people. It's a great nation. It's a great country," he said. "What can I say? Everything is good about it."

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Trump is struggling to stay calm on Russia, one morning call at a time (Ashley Parker, Philip Rucker, June 23, 2017, Washington Post)

Inside and outside the White House, advisers and friends are also engaging in quiet, informal conversations about when it makes sense for embattled Chief of Staff Reince Priebus to step aside -- and who his replacement should be. Some of Priebus's most senior colleagues speak ill of his leadership abilities, with one tagging him "the most imperiled person here," although others insist Priebus is in solid standing with the president.

Some in the White House fret over what they view as the president's fits of rage, and Trump's longtime friends say his mood has been more sour than at any point since they have known him.

They privately worry about his health, noting that he appears to have gained weight in recent months and that the darkness around his eyes reveals his stress.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


Obama Did What He Had to Do : His cautious response to Russian interference protected our democracy. (William Saletan, 6/23/17, Slate)

There's plenty to second-guess in Obama's management of this episode. But the idea that he failed because Trump won is wrong. Obama's job wasn't to prevent the election of a particular person, even one as awful as Trump. Obama's job was to preserve the country. That meant protecting the integrity of our elections and public faith in them, which he did, to the extent possible after Russia had already hacked into the Democratic National Committee and spread misinformation. The next task--exposing the full extent of Russia's interference, punishing it, and deterring future attacks--is up to Trump. If he fails, the responsibility to hold him accountable falls to Congress. And if Congress fails, the job of electing a new, more patriotic legislature falls to voters.

According to the U.S. intelligence community's Jan. 6 assessment, Vladimir Putin's long-term goal in directing the interference campaign was to "undermine public faith in the US democratic process." Obama responded accordingly. "We set out from a first-order principle that required us to defend the integrity of the vote," Obama's former chief of staff, Denis McDonough, told the Post. Russia's hacks and leaks were bad, but corruption of voter rolls and election tallies would be far worse. So the Obama administration focused on alerting state officials, fortifying cyberdefenses, and privately threatening Russia with retaliation.

Why didn't Obama raise public alarms about Russian infiltration? Because that might have backfired. "Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged," says the Post. "Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia's efforts to discredit the outcome." According to the paper, Obama and his team "worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign." Rather than speak up when the CIA first warned him about Putin's moves, Obama waited for "a high-confidence assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies on Russia's role and intent." He asked congressional Republicans to join him in cautioning citizens and state election officials. You can argue that this was politically naïve. But Obama wasn't playing politics. He was trying to unite the country.

There's the problem with secrecy in a nutshell : the idea that only certain citizens should see information. Open source it all and let the market sort it out.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM


"I am Richard II; know ye not that?" or, when Shakespeare was actually politically controversial (Susan Rella, 6/20/17, Melville House Press)

Now let me tell you about another play. It involves a king so bogged down by the personal and political conflicts of his staff of toadies that his ability to govern is utterly compromised. False narratives are spun on all sides until even the king doesn't know what's true. There are accusations of money laundering, of treason, of murder. While feigning innocence, the king stokes conflict by proposing a duel between the fighting factions, WWE-style -- as we come to learn that he was the mastermind behind all these misdeeds. But no one will call him on his actions; a king's power is absolute.

At the last minute, he cancels the pay-per-view smackdown, claiming to put country before politics; instead, he banishes those we now know were merely acting under his orders. But rather than quell the PR catastrophe, this act breaks it wide open. Come to find out, the king has not only depleted the royal coffers but he's--get this--personally profiting off government business. Matters, as always, come to a head, and the king is given a choice: give up your crown peacefully, or have it wrested from you. Problem solved? Hardly. Past grudges are never forgotten, and in the confusion of transitioning power, the deposed king is murdered -- by someone who thought he was operating under the new king's orders. The cycle restarts. [...]

[W]hat makes Richard II so damning, and so much stronger a political firestarter than Julius Caesar (or any of Will's other histories) is how wretchedly incompetent Richard is. He becomes the agent of his own demise, and every choice he makes shows a complete inability to govern. We feel sympathetic toward him only because he is utterly pathetic.

And the queen, if rumor is true, knew that this perception was the real threat to her rue, far more damaging than portrayals of a murdered monarch's violence. Her archivist, William Lambarde, claimed that Elizabeth, while lamenting that the play was performed forty times in "open streets and houses" during her rule, went on to declare bitterly, "I am Richard II, know ye not that?"

But how did Elizabeth punish the bringers of this message? Did she ban the play? Fine the troupe? Arrest the playwright? Denounce all involved and call for their excoriation? No. She never commented publicly on the play or rebuked the Bard or his troupe for writing and staging it. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 AM


Study indicates robot could produce book advertisements, says veteran publisher Leslie Norins, on Analizir.com (Dr. Leslie Norins, 20 Jun, 2017, PRNewswire)

[Dr. Leslie Norins], a four-decade publisher of medical newsletters, planned to advertise a medical mystery novel he was publishing.  He decided to examine 100 book ads from the New York Times Book Review, hoping to find the "best one", so he could draw inspiration from its features.

To his surprise, he found there was no single ad that stood out.  In fact, his detailed analysis showed all 100 book ads contained the same two components:  an image of the book's cover, which included the title and author, and some laudatory review quotes centripetally arranged around it.   There was no other significant ingredient.

The only variables in the ads were the letters, font and point size of the textual items, and the color palette used.

Dr. Norins commented, "This situation is ripe for a robot, as a template for inserting each common feature could be created in advance. The ad technician would only need to load the image of the book cover, and type in the reviewer quotes.  Then select from a short list of options the font and point size of type, the color palette, and the layout."

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Prior to Snowden, NSA Had No Clue How Many Were Approved to Download Top Secret Info (Natalie Johnson, June 24, 2017, Daily Beacon)

The National Security Agency did not know how many officials were authorized to download and transfer top secret data from its servers prior to the high-profile leaks by former contractor Edward Snowden, according to a recently declassified government report.

June 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Opposite Day (Joshua M Brown, 6/23/17, The Reformed Broker)

Unless the bulk of these millennials are on the verge of buying their first home (doubtful), they should have no more than a few months' salary in cash and very little fixed income exposure.

But they think they're being prudent by going the other way around. Kids, listen up - a lot of you are going to live to 100. Start investing as though you'd like to have some money left once you get there.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


In 'incredible feat,' Canadian sniper kills IS fighter from 2 miles away (TIMES OF ISRAEL, June 23, 2017)

A Canadian special forces sniper killed an Islamic State fighter in Iraq from 2.1 miles away, in what was feted as a new world military record for a confirmed kill from that distance, Canadian media reported on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Home prices are sky high, but mortgages are still cheap (Kathryn Vasel, June 23, 2017, CNN Money)

The median existing home price climbed to $252,800 in May, according to the National Association of Realtors, exceeding the peak hit in June 2016 of $247,600.

At this point, home prices have been rising every month for more than five years. [...]

Cities across the U.S. are facing major housing shortages, which means buyers have to compete for homes with bidding wars and offers well above asking price.

"Prices are moving up and properties are moving quickly," said Danielle Hale, NAR's managing director of housing research.

Builders aren't building enough houses to keep up with demand and current homeowners are hesitant to list their properties because they're worried they won't be able to buy a new home.

"We have tremendous demand for housing, but there is nothing available to buy, said Keith Gumbinger, vice president of HSH.com.

We're going to need an awful lot of immigrants to build all the homes we need.

Posted by orrinj at 6:43 PM


Carrier Employees Brace for Layoffs as Trump's Deal to Save Jobs Loses Its Shine (Scott Cohn, June 23, 2017, CNBC)

More than 600 employees at a Carrier plant in Indianapolis are bracing for layoffs beginning next month, despite being told by President Trump that nearly all the jobs at the plant had been saved. The deal, announced with great fanfare before Trump took office, was billed not only as a heroic move to keep jobs from going to Mexico but also as a seismic shift in the economic development landscape.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


FBI Fired Sebastian Gorka for Anti-Muslim Diatribes (Spencer Ackerman, 06.21.17, Daily Beast)

Law-enforcement officials attending an August 2016 lecture from Gorka, whose academic credentials and affiliation with a pro-Nazi group have recently come under fire, were disturbed to hear a diatribe against Muslims passed off as instruction on the fundamentals of counterterrorism.

Gorka told attendees at the Joint Terrorism Operations Course, an introductory-level class for participants in the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Force, that all Muslims adhere to Sharia law, which he said is in conflict with the U.S. Constitution and American democratic values. Officials familiar with his lecture said Gorka taught law-enforcement officials there is no such thing as mainstream Muslims--only those radicalized and those soon to be radicalized.

The following month, a senior FBI official assured outraged and embarrassed colleagues that the bureau would no longer use Gorka for any subsequent lectures or instructions, according to documents reviewed by The Daily Beast. [...]

Attendees of the Joint Terrorism Operations Course include FBI partners from around the country, including the Drug Enforcement Administration, U.S. Marshals, Secret Service, Department of Homeland Security, and sheriffs and major police departments nationwide. The course occurs at the the FBI's training complex in Quantico, Virginia.

FBI officials considered Gorka's August lecture risible, counterproductive to actual counterterrorism, and an embarrassment to the FBI's professionalism. Sources said Gorka made the bureau look ignorant in front of the law-enforcement entities it relies on to bolster domestic counterterrorism efforts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Warner Calls for Lowering Corporate Tax Rate: 'We Are Not Competitive at This Point' (David Rutz, June 20, 2017, Free Beacon)

Sen. Mark Warner (D., Va.) called for lowering the U.S. corporate tax rate to the "mid-to-low 20s" during an appearance Tuesday on CNBC's "Squawk Box."

The current combined federal and state tax rate for corporations in the U.S. is 39.1 percent, the highest of all developed countries.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Coats Tells House Investigators President Trump Seemed Obsessed with Russia Probe (KEN DILANIAN, 6/22/17, NBC)

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told House investigators Thursday that President Trump seemed obsessed with the Russia probe and repeatedly asked him to say publicly there was no evidence of collusion, a U.S. official familiar with the conversation told NBC News. [...]

Admiral Mike Rogers, director of the NSA, has also told associates that Trump asked him to say publicly there was no evidence of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Russian election interference effort.

Both Rogers and Coats declined to do that, saying it would have been inappropriate, a former senior intelligence official familiar with the matter told NBC News. Rogers had his deputy write a memo about the conversation. [...]

Coats and Rogers declined to answer questions about their conversations with the president when they appeared recently in an open hearing of the Senate intelligence committee.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


Who were Donald Trump's voters? Now we know   (Karlyn Bowman, June 23, 2017 | Forbes)

[Young research fellow at the CATO Institute Dr. Emily] Ekins's analysis identified Staunch Conservatives as the largest cluster of Trump supporters at 31 percent. They are loyal Republicans, solid fiscal conservatives, have traditional values, and are politically aware. They worry about legal and illegal immigration. They are a little older, more likely to be male than female, and have higher socio-economic status than some of the other groups. They are the group most likely to be NRA members.

Free Marketeers, at 25 percent, are, as their name suggestions, confident in market forces. They are free traders, favor smaller government, and have moderate-to-liberal views on immigration and race. Their vote was a vote against Clinton and they are loyal GOP-ers (although they have doubts about Trump). They are largely male, middle-aged, most likely to come from the Midwest. They have more formal education than other clusters and higher incomes. Their views on immigration were more liberal than other Trump groups.

American Preservationists (a 20 percent cluster) are the core group that propelled Trump to the nomination. Nearly nine in ten of these voters described their vote as a vote for Trump, and more than three-quarters (77 percent) had a very favorable opinion of him. The Preservationists have lower levels of formal education and lower incomes than other Trump groups. They favor higher taxes on the rich, back the social safety net, believe the economic and political systems are rigged, and are skeptical of free trade. They are very skeptical about immigration. They vote for both Democrats and Republicans and look like Democrats on many economic issues.

Anti-Elites (19 percent) lean to the progressive end of the economic spectrum and believe the economic and political systems are rigged. Their views on immigration, race, and American identity are relatively moderate compared to other groups. Nearly half had favorable opinions of Clinton in 2012, but they moved sharply against her in 2016. They are slightly younger than the other Trump groups.

The final Trump group, The Disengaged, were 5 percent of his voters. They don't follow politics, they are distant from institutions and are skeptical of immigration. They support a temporary Muslim travel ban. They are younger and are more female than male.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


Republicans' Health-Care Bills Boil Down to ... More Obamacare : The Senate is not proposing to "repeal and replace." It's just tweaking for tax reform. (Megan McArdle, June 22, 2017, Bloomberg View) 

I called the House health care bill "Obamacare Lite," but compared to the Senate bill, the House was offering a radical new taste sensation. The Senate bill touches very little of the underlying architecture of Obamacare; all it does is eliminate the insurance mandates, cut spending and give states somewhat more autonomy in how those dollars are spent. Repeal Obamacare, you say? They're barely even worrying it.

Probably this was necessary to negotiate the tricky Senate math; supporters need almost every Republican to vote for it. Keeping the moderates and the conservatives on board means no radical shifts, or angry hospital lobbyists calling Republican senators whose states participated in the Medicaid expansion.

But while there are a few things to like in this bill, overall, it's a mess. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Obama's secret struggle to punish Russia for Putin's election assault (Greg Miller, Ellen Nakashima and Adam Entous, June 23, 2017, The Washington Post)

Early last August, an envelope with extraordinary handling restrictions arrived at the White House. Sent by courier from the CIA, it carried "eyes only" instructions that its contents be shown to just four people: President Barack Obama and three senior aides.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin's direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race.

But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin's specific instructions on the operation's audacious objectives -- defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.

But at the highest levels of government, among those responsible for managing the crisis, the first moment of true foreboding about Russia's intentions arrived with that CIA intelligence.

The material was so sensitive that CIA Director John Brennan kept it out of the President's Daily Brief, concerned that even that restricted report's distribution was too broad. The CIA package came with instructions that it be returned immediately after it was read. To guard against leaks, subsequent meetings in the Situation Room followed the same protocols as planning sessions for the Osama bin Laden raid.

It took time for other parts of the intelligence community to endorse the CIA's view. Only in the administration's final weeks in office did it tell the public, in a declassified report, what officials had learned from Brennan in August -- that Putin was working to elect Trump.

Only the perps stood to gain from not telling the American voter exactly what was going on.

Posted by orrinj at 3:53 PM


Trump's putdown of wind energy whips up a backlash in Iowa  (RYAN J. FOLEY, 6/23/17, AP) 

President Trump's putdown of wind energy at his Iowa rally was denounced Thursday across the state, which takes pride in its position as a national leader in wind generation.

Trump was talking up his support for coal during his speech in Cedar Rapids on Wednesday night when he said: "I don't want to just hope the wind blows to light up your homes and your factories." He paused before adding, "as the birds fall to the ground," a reference to birds killed by turbines.

The remark drew some cheers and laughs inside the arena but didn't go over well across Iowa, where the rapid growth of the state's wind energy industry has been a bipartisan success story. Environmentalists and politicians said the president's suggestion that wind is unreliable was outdated and off-base, and noted that bird deaths have been minimized and aren't a source of controversy in Iowa.

America is a place with which he is wholly unfamiliar.

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Sean Spicer explains Trump lied about tapes to make Comey think he'd 'better tell the truth' (Becca Stanek, 6/23/17, The Week)
White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer made an on-camera appearance Friday on Fox News to discuss President Trump's recent admission that he has no tapes of his conversations with former FBI Director James Comey. Spicer denied Democrats' claims that Trump had falsely indicated on Twitter that he'd recorded his conversations with Comey to "intimidate" the FBI director.

So if you admit to trying to intimidate witnesses it's still obstruction.

June 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


In 24 States, 50% or More of Babies Born on Medicaid (Terence P. Jeffrey, March 24, 2017, CNSNews.com)  

In 24 of the nation's 50 states at least half of the babies born during the latest year on record had their births paid for by Medicaid, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

You can't claim to be the pro-life party and stop caring once the kid leaves the womb.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 PM


Supreme Court sets higher bar for stripping citizenship (Reuters, 6/22/17)

The Supreme Court handed a setback to the Trump administration on Thursday by making it harder for the government to strip immigrants of U.S. citizenship in a case involving an ethnic Serb woman who lied about her husband's military service after Yugoslavia's collapse.

The justices ruled 9-0 that a naturalized American citizen cannot be stripped of citizenship if a lie or omission on immigration forms was irrelevant to the government's original decision to grant entry into the United States.

They rejected the Trump administration's stance that the government should be able to revoke citizenship of people for even minor misstatements in the citizenship application process.

Posted by orrinj at 3:12 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:38 PM


Americans want states to pick up federal climate policy slack (Barry Rabe, Sarah Mills, and Christopher BorickTuesday, June 20, 2017, Brookings)

This high support for renewable energy technologies particularly among this group of Americans indicates the diverse factors driving renewable energy deployment across the country--economic motivations in particular. A majority of Americans (81 percent) believe wind and solar energy create jobs. The numbers are nearly as high among those who think there is no solid evidence that global warming is occurring: 70 percent believe solar energy creates jobs while 74 percent believe the same of wind energy. As many states have previously found, clean energy policies aimed at creating "green jobs" rather than "carbon-free energy" often appeal to a wider constituency.

Posted by orrinj at 12:35 PM


Canada's Trump Strategy: Go Around Him (MAX FISHER JUNE 22, 2017, NY Times)

As President Trump disrupts alliances across the map, nearly every level of government in Canada has taken on new duties in a quietly audacious campaign to cajole, contain and if necessary coerce the Americans.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's strategy for managing Mr. Trump is unlike anything tried by another ally. And he has largely succeeded where even experienced leaders like Angela Merkel of Germany have fallen short. [...]

The Doughnut Strategy

So Canada turned to courting every other level of government, forming something like a doughnut around a White House-shaped hole.

Donald who?

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Trump Turns an Iowa Rally Into a Venting Session (MAGGIE HABERMAN, JUNE 21, 2017, NY Times)

Free from his handlers for roughly 70 minutes, Mr. Trump described his administration as he wished it to be: one in which he had made historic governing accomplishments and been stymied solely by the "resistance."

"I think health care is going to happen, and infrastructure is going to happen, and I look forward to being able to produce it," he said.

He derided trade deals despite an Iowa economy that relies in part on exports. He denounced the $6 trillion spent and the lives lost in the Middle East over the last 15 years, despite his administration's decision to reauthorize troops in Afghanistan.

He toggled back and forth between telling farm-rich Iowa that he had fought for forgotten voters and lauding the wealth of Gary D. Cohn, his top economic adviser and a former executive at Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street giant that Mr. Trump derided in commercials in 2016.

"In those particular positions, I just don't want a poor person -- does that make sense?" he said of Mr. Cohn's job and that of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, another immensely wealthy man whom Mr. Trump lauded as a "legendary Wall Street genius."

"Brilliant business minds" are what the economy needs, he said.

And the president frequently embellished details during his speech, or told outright falsehoods. He tried to catch himself at one point, saying, "I have to be a little careful, because they'll say, 'He lied!'"

But he nonetheless plowed ahead, including misstating whether the Paris climate agreement, from which he plans to withdraw the United States, is binding. While doing so, he also prompted the audience to name the agreement themselves. "P... p... p," he said.

"Like hell it's nonbinding!" thundered Mr. Trump, who in fact called the accord nonbinding in his Rose Garden speech announcing the withdrawal this month.

"We're not even campaigning, and look at this crowd!" he said at another point. The rally was advertised, sponsored and organized by his campaign committee.

He also repeated his frequent, untrue campaign refrain that the United States is one of the world's highest-taxed nations.

The president dismissed the potency of wind-harnessed energy in a state filled with thousands of turbines. "I don't want to just hope the wind blows to light up your house and your factory," he said, "as the birds fall to the ground."

And he vented throughout against the news media: "the fake news," he said, one of his favorite and most therapeutic invocations.

Mr. Trump also condemned Democrats as "obstructionists" -- but then added that he wanted to work with them and might be damaging those prospects. "But who cares," he concluded. He ignored the fact that Republicans hold majorities in Congress.


Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Trump suggests creating law enacted in 1996 (MALLORY SHELBOURNE, 06/21/17, The Hill)

President Trump in a rally on Wednesday evening said immigrants who enter the United States should not be eligible for welfare benefits for five years, though such a law has already existed for 20 years.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 AM


Will Robert Mueller Separate Fact From Fiction? (David Von Drehle, 6/20/17, TIME)

The special counsel is, like Trump, the scion of a wealthy family, raised at a boarding school and educated in the Ivy League. But the life choices of Robert Swan Mueller III, 72, suggest a decidedly different temperament from the one that occupies the Oval Office. Unlike Trump, who says he has few if any personal heroes, Mueller's path was marked by a profound admiration for a role model he met at Princeton, a student a year ahead of him named David Spencer Hackett.

"I played lacrosse with David," Mueller explained last year in a speech at West Point. "He was not necessarily the best on the team, but he was a determined and a natural leader." Hackett's decision to join the Marine Corps, and his death in 1967 while rallying his platoon during an ambush in Vietnam, moved Mueller to follow in Hackett's footsteps. "Many of us saw in him the person we wanted to be," Mueller said.

Trump once joked with radio shock jock Howard Stern that chasing women while risking STDs was his version of Vietnam, adding, "It is very dangerous." He might have chosen a different analogy if he had served as Mueller did. Commissioned in the Marine Corps and trained at Army Ranger School, Lieut. Mueller led a rifle platoon in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. Wounded in combat, he received a Bronze Star with a V for valor as well as a Purple Heart and two Navy Commendation Medals.

Mueller told his West Point audience that his military experience instilled in him a desire to continue to serve his country. After earning a law degree from the University of Virginia and learning the ropes as an associate at a large law firm, he joined the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco, where he rose to chief of the criminal division.

In 1989, Mueller moved to Washington, where he soon took charge of the entire Justice Department's criminal division. Under his watch, department lawyers prosecuted major cases involving terrorism, organized crime, drugs and money laundering. Although his voter registration said Republican, Mueller earned the confidence of leaders in both parties. In 1998, Democrat Bill Clinton appointed him U.S. Attorney for Northern California. Republican George W. Bush called him back to Washington as Deputy Attorney General, then picked him to lead the FBI in 2001.

Mueller's first official day at the Hoover Building was Sept. 4. A week later, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington plunged the bureau into one of the most tumultuous periods in its history. Mueller's challenge was to transform a primarily domestic law-enforcement agency into a global counterterrorism force-while breaking down cultural barriers to information sharing and pulling the paper-pushing bureau into the digital age. Many agents found Mueller to be bullheaded as he shook up personnel rules and rammed through technology updates. And he made mistakes, including a botched investigation of the 2001 anthrax attacks in D.C., Florida, New York and New Jersey, in which an innocent man was hounded in the press while Mueller and his agents ignored the real killer. But overall, in the judgment of FBI historian Ronald Kessler, no director in the modern era "has had a greater positive impact on the bureau than Mueller."

As director, Mueller worked closely with Comey, who was appointed Deputy Attorney General in 2003. Together, they threatened to resign in 2004 over a White House plan to preserve a program of warrantless wiretaps. Their frantic dash to the bedside of ailing Attorney General John Ashcroft to ward off a delegation of White House arm twisters on a mission to save the program was a heroic high point for friends of Mueller and Comey-and an example of their sanctimony to their detractors. Either way, they won: Bush agreed to make changes to the program. When Mueller's extended term at the FBI ended in 2013, few were surprised that Obama installed Comey in his place.

Praise was widespread and bipartisan for Mueller's appointment on May 17 as special counsel. But that enthusiasm was not shared at the White House. As the gravity of his miscalculation sets in, Trump has been lashing about for someone to blame. Attorney General Sessions, one of his earliest supporters, offered to resign after a bawling out from Trump, who feels that he would not be in this pickle if Sessions had not recused himself from the Russia investigation.

Trump is also furious with the flip-flopping Democrats who went from hating Comey (they blamed his public hand-wringing over her emails for Hillary Clinton's loss in November) to hailing him as a martyr. "The Democrats should be ashamed," Trump tweeted. "This is a disgrace!"

And then there's Deputy Attorney General Rosenstein, who wrote a memo at Trump's request that the White House briefly used to justify the Comey firing, then appointed the special counsel. "I am being investigated for firing the FBI Director by the man who told me to fire the FBI Director!" the President tweeted. "Witch hunt!" That June 16 outburst caught Capitol Hill Republicans flat-footed. "Is this part of a new plan?" an adviser to House Speaker Paul Ryan asked a White House aide. Of course not, the aide answered. "Do you think we would plan to have the President of the United States implicate himself?"

Friends report that the wrathful President discussed the possibility of firing Mueller, an idea that horrifies White House advisers and terrifies veteran congressional Republicans. The last President to try such a thing was Nixon, who sparked the so-called Saturday Night Massacre in 1973 by ordering the ouster of Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox.

Beyond the disastrous politics of such a move, it's unclear how Trump could execute this step. Justice Department regulations tightly govern the removal of a special counsel, which can be done "only by the personal action of the Attorney General" and only for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest or for other good cause." With Sessions recused, the power of removal passed to Rosenstein-but his involvement in the Comey firing could force his recusal as well. Rosenstein has assured a Senate committee that he would not carry out an unjustified firing. "If there were not good cause, it wouldn't matter to me what anybody says," he averred. If Rosenstein refused to fire the special counsel, the order would go next to another Senate-confirmed Justice official. With the Solicitor General's office still unfilled, that leaves Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, who hasn't said publicly how she would respond.

Trump's alternative to this uncertainty might be to exercise his constitutional authority to rewrite the Justice Department regulations, giving himself the firing authority. Such a step would smack of despotism in a capital that cherishes checks on power.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Democrats Seethe After Georgia Loss: 'Our Brand Is Worse Than Trump' (ALEXANDER BURNS and JONATHAN MARTIN, JUNE 21, 2017, NY Times)

A small group of Democrats who have been critical of Ms. Pelosi in the past again pressed her to step down on Wednesday. And in a private meeting of Democratic lawmakers, Representative Tony Cárdenas of California, Ms. Pelosi's home state, suggested the party should have a more open conversation about her effect on its political fortunes.

But the most acute and widely expressed concerns were economic. Speaking after a meeting of the Democratic caucus on Wednesday morning, Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York said the party was preparing to be "aggressively focused on job creation and economic growth." And Representative Jim Himes of Connecticut, who represents an affluent district near New York City, said Democrats must do more to compete with what he described as expansive and unrealistic promises by President Trump.

"It's not enough to say, 'I want jobs,'" Mr. Himes said.  [...]

Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who tried to unseat Ms. Pelosi as House minority leader late last fall, said she remained a political millstone for Democrats. But Mr. Ryan said the Democratic brand had also become "toxic" in much of the country because voters saw Democrats as "not being able to connect with the issues they care about."

"Our brand is worse than Trump," he said.

US has 5.7 million job openings, near record high (Patrick Gillespie, 5/09/17, CNNMoney)

Looking for a job? America has 5.7 million openings.

That's close to the record number of job openings reported by the Labor Department since it started tracking them in 2000. The US had an all-time high of 5.9 million openings last July.

Everyone who is willing to work has a job.  The disconnect between Democrats and Americans is cultural, not economic.
Posted by orrinj at 6:15 AM


Stepping out of the shadows, Saudi Arabia's next king is a young, ambitious risk-taker (AYA BATRAWY June 22, 2017, Times of Israel)

Domestically, MBS expanded his reach by turning to outside consulting firms to launch a plan to overhaul the kingdom's economy. His goal is to drastically reduce the country's dependence on oil exports after a plunge in prices nearly crippled Saudi Arabia's ability to spend on national projects and foreign efforts.

MBS vowed to end Saudi Arabia's "addiction" to oil, and pushed through politically-sensitive austerity measures that curbed spending on subsidies and the public sector -- where the majority of Saudis are employed.

His Vision 2030 plan and its accompanying National Transformation Plan grabbed international headlines when he announced the country would publicly list a percentage of Saudi Aramco.

Social reforms, he's argued, are also needed in order to bring the deeply conservative nation into the 21st Century. MBS has promised amusement parks and more fun for his generation of millennials. For the first time in decades, Saudis can attend musical concerts in the kingdom and the powers of country's feared religious police have been curbed.

In retrospect, deciding to export US oil and force a transition to alternative energy sources in the West will be seen as the decisive steps in the WoT.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


As Solar Pushes Electricity Prices Negative, 3 Solutions for California's Power Grid (LESLIE KAUFMAN, JUN 14, 2017, Inside Climate News)

For a time this spring in California, as the snow melted above hydroelectric dams, the sun shone on solar arrays, and the wind whipped through turbines, the state was confronted with both a blessing and a curse.

It arrived as an overwhelming flood of cheap, clean electricity. At times it drove wholesale prices below zero. And it has left grid operators in California, and in other parts of the country, wondering how to cope with the upending of power markets by abundant renewable energy.

California has led the pack in adding renewable energy to its grid. How it manages the challenges of energy over-abundance may determine whether other states follow in its clean energy footsteps.

Some worry that if California bungles the transition to clean energy, it could undermine the state's own incredibly rapid solar build-out--from 300 megawatts on the grid in 2008 to nearly 15,000 megawatts today--which has put California well ahead of its milestones toward deep decarbonization. 

The crux of the issue that arose this spring is that in the middle of some days, California produced so much renewable energy it drove wholesale electricity prices below zero--what's known as negative pricing.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Airbus concedes defeat to Boeing in Paris order race (Reuters, 6/22/17)

Airbus (AIR.PA) conceded defeat to arch-rival Boeing (BA.N) at the Paris Airshow on Thursday as a last-minute haul of almost 100 orders, including new interest from Iran, failed to close a gap opened up by the launch of Boeing's new 737 model.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM


In this part of the Midwest, the problem isn't China. It's too many jobs. (Danielle Paquette June 20, 2017, Washington Post)

Each day at Zimmer Biomet headquarters, machinists on one robot-assisted factory floor churn out about 3,000 metallic knee parts. They are facing pressure to crank up the pace as the population ages and demand soars.

But the artificial-bone giant is grappling with a steep downside of the nation's low unemployment rate: It is struggling to find enough workers, despite offering some of the region's best pay and benefits. Forty positions sit open.

Other manufacturers in ­Kosciusko County, home to roughly one-third of global orthopedic device production, are running into the same problem.

The lack of laborers not only threatens to stunt the growth of these companies, experts warn, but it could also force them to decamp their home town in search of workers.

With the U.S. unemployment rate at a 16-year low of 4.3 percent, employers across the country are dealing with a dearth of potential hires. Economists say that talent shortages are growing constraints on the country's economic expansion, especially as millions of baby boomers enter retirement.

But the shortage is particularly problematic in places such as Kosciusko County, where the unemployment rate rests at 2 percent. Of the county's 41,136 adults who can work, 40,311 are employed, according to government statistics.

This region -- a land of clear lakes, duck farms and medical device makers -- escaped the industrial decline that rocked other communities throughout the Rust Belt.

It prospered, thanks to a local industry that proved largely immune to competition from China and Mexico.

But without more people to grow Warsaw's business, the chances of companies relocating is "extraordinarily high," said Michael Hicks, a labor economist at Indiana's Ball State University.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Islamic State blows up historic Mosul mosque where it declared 'caliphate' (Marius Bosch and Maher Chmaytelli, 6/21/17, Reuters)

''Blowing up the al-Hadba minaret and the al-Nuri mosque amounts to an official acknowledgement of defeat,'' Iraqi Prime Minister said in a brief comment on his website.

June 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Fill up your ebook reader with beautifully formatted free classics (ABHIMANYU GHOSHAL, 6/20/17, Next Web)

You've probably heard of Project Gutenberg, an incredible initiative that's turned over 54,000 books whose copyrights have expired into freely downloadable ebooks. But they aren't formatted as well as most ebooks you'd pay for, and issues with justification, odd spaces and inconsistent typography can distract from the reading experience.

That's where Standard Ebooks comes in. This volunteer-driven project beautifies Project Gutenberg ebooks by fixing typesetting, making minor corrections in punctuation and grammar, adding covers and enhancing metadata. The result is a more enjoyable ebook that looks better on your device.

Of the 54,000 ebooks available from Project Gutenberg, Standard Ebooks has tackled about 100 titles that you can grab for free and read on your phone, Kindle, Kobo or desktop.

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 AM


The Trump Administration Is Working to Hold Russia Accountable for Ukraine -- Whether Trump Likes It Or Not (PATRICK TUCKER, 6/20/17, Defense One)

Vice President Mike Pence and other national-security leaders are dragging President Donald Trump along in a growing effort to hold Russia accountable for illegal actions in Ukraine. For evidence of that just look at how two very different people interpreted Tuesday's meeting in the Oval Office.

As Trump sat for his first photo-op with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, the U.S. Treasury Department unveiled new sanctions aimed at Russian citizens, banks, and other entities that support the Russian soldiers who are - unofficially - attacking the government of Ukraine. After the meeting, a reporter asked Poroshenko whether Trump had discussed the future of the U.S. Russian-sanctions policy. "I think it is obvious. To date, the U.S. adopts additional sanctions almost every day. I consider the position of the United States as a solid, reliable and strategic partner of Ukraine," said Poroshenko, avoiding any mention of the U.S. president, according to an official readout from his office.

Trump, too, declined the opportunity to take credit for the Treasury Department's decision. The White House readout of the meeting says only that the two leaders discussed "the peaceful resolution to the conflict in eastern Ukraine and President Poroshenko's reform agenda and anti-corruption efforts."

That fits with a pattern. In a now-infamous May 10 meeting in the Oval Office, Trump told Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak that his "critics cared about the issue" of Ukraine. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:01 AM


Robert Mueller terrifies President Trump. Of course he wants him gone. (Richard Painter and Norman Eisen, June 20, 2017, USA Today)

He is about as good a special counsel as one can imagine, having bipartisan credentials and deep prosecutorial experience -- far more than the late Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. And Mueller is assembling a dream team of expert deputies. Of course the president would love an excuse to get rid of Mueller.

We have rebutted claims that Mueller's prior law firm affiliation posed a conflict -- under the District of Columbia's tough professional conduct rules, it does not. But Trump's surrogates continue to manufacture new and ludicrous conflict of interest claims against Mueller. One is that because he worked closely with James Comey at the FBI and because Comey is a material witness to the obstruction of justice part of the case, Mueller cannot investigate and if appropriate prosecute the obstruction of justice charge.

We are not aware of any precedent for a prosecutor being required to recuse from a case simply because a colleague who was also a law enforcement officer was a material witness in the case. Nor do the applicable rules of professional conduct for attorneys or prosecutors require it. In fact, many prosecutors are close friends with police officers, detectives, FBI agents and other law enforcement officials. Indeed, the rules even explicitly state that a lawyer can act as an advocate in a trial in which another lawyer currently in the same law firm is a witness -- so clearly, a former colleague would not be a problem. To preclude prosecutors from working on cases solely for these kinds of reasons would unduly hamper the course of justice.

Another argument is that Mueller should not have hired any lawyers for his staff who made significant campaign contributions. This overlooks that Mueller himself was a registered Republican when he was appointed by President George W. Bush to head the FBI, and he was named special counsel by Trump's own deputy attorney general, Rod Rosenstein.

His critics apparently feel that Mueller has not sufficiently solidified his GOP credentials by making significant campaign contributions recently. But to them, his deeper sin is that he appointed to his staff a handful of lawyers who made contributions to Democrats. This presumably makes the entire enterprise a partisan "witch hunt."

This objection is frivolous. Presidents of both political parties have for a long time appointed campaign contributors to be U.S. attorneys and top Justice Department officials. Every American is subject to being prosecuted by these officials who were also campaign contributors to one party or the other. But a Republican special counsel who hires a handful of Democrats is presumed to be biased against the most powerful man in the country, the president? Nonsense.

...who doesn't believe that he fired Comey?

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


The Meaningless Politics of Liberal Democracies : The desire for theocracy in the Muslim world can be partly understood through the failures of Western secularism.  (EMMA GREEN  JUN 8, 2016, The Atlantic)

In his new book Islamic Exceptionalism, Shadi Hamid--an Atlantic contributor, a scholar at Brookings, and a self-identified liberal--calls Affleck's declaration a "well-intentioned ... red herring." Islam really is different from other religions, he says, and many Muslims view politics, theocracy, and violence differently than do Christians, Jews, or non-religious people in Europe and the United States.

Perhaps his most provocative claim is this: History will not necessarily favor the secular, liberal democracies of the West. Hamid does not believe all countries will inevitably follow a path from revolution to rational Enlightenment and non-theocratic government, nor should they. There are some basic arguments for this: Islam is growing, and in some majority-Muslim nations, huge numbers of citizens believe Islamic law should be upheld by the state. But Hamid also thinks there's something lacking in Western democracies, that there's a sense of overarching meaninglessness in political and cultural life in these countries that can help explain why a young Muslim who grew up in the U.K. might feel drawn to martyrdom, for example. This is not a dismissal of democracy, nor does it comprehensively explain the phenomenon of jihadism. Rather, it's a note of skepticism about the promise of secular democracy--and the wisdom of pushing that model on other cultures and regions. 

Most Islamists--people who, in his words, "believe Islam or Islamic law should play a central role in political life"--are not terrorists. But the meaning they find in religion, Hamid said, helps explain their vision of governance, and it's one that can seem incomprehensible to people who live in liberal democracies.

...if Bernie Sanders introduced a measure calling for all traces of Judeo-Christianity law to be expunged from the Republic? It's no coincidence that the Protestant North/Anglosphere is thriving while secular Europe is dying.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


What If Donald Trump Doesn't Sink The Republican Party? (David Harsanyi, JUNE 21, 2017, The Federalist)

You can try and grasp at moral victories, of course, as I saw a number of liberal pundits on cable television trying to do yesterday. You can tell yourself that Ossoff had come closer than any Democrat ever in the sixth district. But there are numerous problems with this optimism. For one, there won't be many red districts were the president is less popular. Democrats are going to have to flip some of these seats to win back a majority. Second, it's difficult to imagine how the environment could be any worse for the GOP (though, of course, that too is possible.) Moreover, Ossoff spent a record $25 million on a House race, yet Handel still outran not only him but Trump, as well.

This last point is mentioned as often as the others, yet it's probably the most important. Trump's approval rating in the sixth district is at the national average of 35 percent, which is to say exceptionally low for a Republican area. Trump had won the district by less than two percentage points back in November. According to a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution poll, the majority of Republicans surveyed (55 percent) said "expressing their opinion on Trump wasn't a factor in their decision-making."

Now, I realize that neither Ossoff nor Handel mentioned the president much during the race -- which, in itself, bolsters the theory that Trump might not be as consequential in these races as Dems hope. But the race was nationalized. Its implications were national. The coverage was national. The parties treated the race as one that would have national implications. Certainly, the money that poured into the race was national. One imagines that every Georgian Republican who went to the polls understood what this race meant for the future of the parties. When you nationalize races, Republicans will take more than the president into account.

Donald ran behind the bottom of the ticket in November--he was carried to victory on Republican party coattails.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


The truth about the Fed and inflation (Rick Rieder, BlackRock Chief Investment Officer of Global Fixed Income)

[W]e believe the excessive obsession some market watchers have with the Fed hewing to its 2% inflation target is shortsighted. Here's the truth about the Fed and inflation: The Fed adopted its 2% inflation target only quite recently, in 2012. Prior to that, the central bank was comfortable with an inflation level slightly lower than 2% and looked past the small variations around its previously preferred target range.

Today, massive technological disruptions and long-term demographic trends are remaking the inflation landscape, and we believe both investors and policy makers need to abandon an overly rigid view of price change.

Historically, technological innovation has proved to be deflationary, exerting downward pressure on prices. This is evident in the chart below, showing the drastic drop in computing and storage costs over the last 60 years. Based on the chart below, an iPhone in 1991 storage and computing cost dollars would be worth $1.44 million--per phone. An iPhone today costs a miniscule fraction of that.

Technological innovation is disrupting traditional business models of many industries, putting a lid on prices and influencing inflation in the economy overall. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


White supremacists are killing in the name of an ancient Nordic religion (Will Carless, 5/25/17, PRI)

They planned to rob a jewelry store and use the money to stockpile guns, ammo and explosives. Then they would charge into churches and synagogues, slaughtering as many people as possible in the name of their religion.

The man in Kansas wanted to kill as many Jewish people as possible. So he drove to two Jewish centers, where he shot and killed three people, all of them Christians. He told the court that sentenced him to death that he had mistaken his victims for Jews.

"I wanted to kill Jews, not people," he told the court that sentenced him to death.

Across the country in Spokane, Washington, another man plotted to kill President Barack Obama. Prosecutors say he planned a "final solution," a battle that would ultimately be won by stealing nuclear material for dirty bombs or flying hijacked airplanes into buildings.

These men, and possibly thousands more like them across the United States, share a common religious ideology.

They're white supremacists who have turned to an ancient heathen religion known most commonly as Odinism. In at least six cases since 2001, professed racist Odinists have been convicted of plotting -- or pulling off -- domestic terrorism attacks, according to a review of terrorism cases by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting.

And across the Atlantic, the man who carried out the 2011 mass murders at a summer camp in Oslo, Norway, Anders Breivik, has attracted new attention after telling a court he long has identified as an Odinist.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


PREJUDICE AND THE BLAINE AMENDMENTS (Philip Hamburger, 6 . 20 . 17, First Things)

Maine Representative James G. Blaine (1830-93) was born to a Catholic mother and a father who later converted to Catholicism; as a child, he apparently was baptized in the Catholic Church. As an adult, however, he had presidential ambitions. He does not seem to have harbored anti-Catholic animosity, and he refused to be drawn into "any avowal of hostility or unfriendliness to Catholics." But in an era of profound anxieties about Catholics, including fears about their voting power and about the danger of their introducing papal tyranny, he was eager to be elected. He therefore proposed a constitutional amendment in late 1875 that would have rewritten the First Amendment--applying it to the states, and adding that "no money raised by taxation in any State for the support of public schools ... shall ever be under the control of any religious sect."

For decades, states had used taxes to support public and private schools controlled by Protestants, with the goal not merely of Americanizing but of Protestantizing Catholic children. 

Within the confines of the text and history, it is nearly impossible to run afoul of the Establishment part of the 1st.

June 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


Loopstok more than an unusual name (Damien Sordelett, 6/20/17, MLB.com)

Sicnarf Loopstok's resolution for his third season with Class A Advanced Lynchburg was simple: Swing for the fences. [...]

The 13th-round selection in the 2013 Draft out of Western Oklahoma State College returned to Aruba during the offseason and worked with former Major Leaguer Eugene Kingsale on hitting, defense at first base and a plethora of other small details needed during the course of the lengthy season.

Loopstok also credited current Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts with providing some tips and insight as he continues his development in Lynchburg.

"For us to get that information and some advice from them, it really meant a lot to us," he said. "It was a good thing."

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


Newly Uncovered Recordings Find Thelonious Monk In His Prime (TOM MOON, 6/20/17, NPR)

In 1959, the peak of his playing years, Thelonious Monk did something he'd never done before: record music for a film. Released in the U.S. as Dangerous Liaisons, the French film Les Liaisons Dangereuses featured nearly 30 minutes of Monk's music, none of which ever made it to a record. But the master tapes resurfaced last year, and were first released as a vinyl exclusive on Record Store Day this April. The music collected in Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 is a discovery that offers fresh perspective on the jazz visionary's heyday. [...]

Monk laid down the music for the film on July 27, 1959. Romano had prepared a list of cues -- they only had a day to record, and the pressure was on. But those plans went out of the window almost immediately, as Monk and his crew ripped through some of his well-known compositions. The playing throughout Les Liaisons Dangereuses 1960 is lively and spirited -- Monk scampers around the piano, finding delight in every register, jabbing at chords in ways that jolt his rhythm section. And occasionally, he takes a few left turns, among them a tender rendition of the hymn "We'll Understand It Better By And By."

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM


Despite Concerns About Blackmail, Flynn Still Heard C.I.A. Secrets (MATT APUZZO, MATTHEW ROSENBERG and ADAM GOLDMAN, JUNE 20, 2017, NY Times)

At the F.B.I., the C.I.A., the Justice Department and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence -- agencies responsible for keeping American secrets safe from foreign spies -- career officials agreed that Mr. Flynn represented an urgent problem.

Yet nearly every day for three weeks, the new C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, sat in the Oval Office and briefed President Trump on the nation's most sensitive intelligence -- with Mr. Flynn listening. [...]

The concerns about Mr. Flynn's vulnerabilities, born from misleading statements he made to White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador, are at the heart of a legal and political storm that has engulfed the Trump administration. Many of Mr. Trump's political problems, including the appointment of a special counsel and the controversy over the firing of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, can be ultimately traced to Mr. Flynn's tumultuous tenure.

Time and again, the Trump administration looked the other way in the face of warning signs about Mr. Flynn. Mr. Trump entrusted him with the nation's secrets despite knowing that he faced a Justice Department investigation over his undisclosed foreign lobbying. Even a personal warning from President Obama did not dissuade him.

...but the obstruction is.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Judge, jury and executioner: The ballad of 'Cowboy' Joe West (Jeff Passan, 6/20/17, Yahoo Sports)

See, when Joe West is behind the plate and a fresh-to-the-big-leagues kid in the batter's box, West expects the rookie to introduce himself. Do that, West said, "and next time up you can call me a [expletive]." Don't do that, West said, and it's just disrespecting the game.

"A lot of problems we have today as umpires are based on how society brings up people," West said. "When I came to the big leagues, if a player got out of line, the umpire took care of it right then. Our umpires coming out of the minor leagues - they're not letting them take care of it. A player will come to the big leagues not knowing what he's supposed to do."

Lest you think West is simply a graybeard who wants things to be how they once were, it isn't true. He loves instant replay. Seriously.

"The best thing that ever happened with replay is the umpires get to review their work and everyone else's and learn from things done correctly and mistakes that are made," he said. "They'll sit in there and dissect the play. I think it's been great for the game. The funny thing about it is baseball spent $40 million to prove we're 99 percent right."

But ...

"When we put in replay, I thought there would be no arguments," West said. "The first year we put in replay, ejections went up 20 percent. Baseball is a funny game. It's typically American. If you don't succeed it's someone else's fault. And the first person you want to look at is the official. Just look at our last election. When Hillary lost, it's someone else's fault. The Russians. Wikileaks. It's the fact you couldn't stand up and say I lost. Nobody in today's society wants to say I wasn't good enough. Baseball is a game of failures. The last hitter who hit .400 is dead and gone. There isn't going to be another of those. For anybody to think this is a perfect game, they're kidding themselves. Let's be honest: How do you hit a round ball with a cylindrical bat square."

That is Joe West. That, in 141 words, is him being thoughtful, bombastic, brash, exaggerated, contemplative and introspective. That is 40 years of marriage between a titan and the game he loves. And to see Joe West as anything but a fundamental part of nearly half a century of baseball would be wrong. The game was what it was, is what it is, because of Joe West.

It's impossible to say whether there will be another of him because he is an archetype: the principled belligerent. West believes in the end. The means are malleable. If it takes him running a guy to make his point, he runs him. If it takes him grabbing Jonathan Papelbon's jersey - something for which he earned a one-game suspension and near-unanimous praise throughout the game for putting a boor in his place - then grab he will.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Fountainheads of Fusionism (Jordan J. Ballor, June 6th, 2017, Public Discourse)

[I] believe that fusionism is a phenomenon that illustrates a deeper and more fundamental connection between social conservatism and economic liberty. To better understand this connection, let us consider the relationship between Edmund Burke and Adam Smith.

Reconsidering Burke and Smith

There is extensive literature on both Burke and Smith and upon the relationship between the two. Without reviewing it all, I should simply note that the view that Burke and Smith's conceptions of political economy are complementary has a long pedigree. It goes all the way back, in fact, to Adam Smith himself, who said (according to Burke) that after first conversing "on subjects of political economy" that Burke was "the only man, who, without communication, thought on these topics exactly as he did." Burke's biographer, Robert Bissett, who passes along this oft-repeated quotation, also observes that Burke talked in very high terms of Dr. Adam Smith; praised the clearness and depth of his understanding, his profound and extensive learning, and the vast accession that had accrued to British literature and philosophy from these exertions; and described his heart as being equally good with his head, and his manners as peculiarly pleasing.

As William Clyde Dunn puts it, "The views which Smith and Burke each held with regard to the other's field of major interest show a close ideological relationship between the two. There is much of Burkian politics in Adam Smith." Burke, in fact, briefly reviewed Smith's Theory of Moral Sentiments quite favorably in print. He calls Smith's treatise "one of the most beautiful fabrics of moral theory, that has perhaps ever appeared." Burke also corresponded privately to Smith in 1759, again praising the work: "I am not only pleased with the ingenuity of your Theory; I am convinced of its solidity and Truth." In Burke's view, a special virtue of Smith's theory was its grounding in timeless truth about the human person. "A theory like yours founded on the Nature of man, which is always the same, will last, when those that are founded on his opinions, which are always changing, will and must be forgotten," says Burke.

Though he praised the work highly, Burke reserved judgment on some of the particulars of Smith's project in The Wealth of Nations, preferring to see how particular policy proposals and application of prudential judgments might play out in relation to timeless and objective truths about reality and human society. In Burke, we see this connection to the past, to tradition, to culture, and to religion as a source and foundation for moral virtue.

Burke and Smith did not hold identical religious views, nor did they agree upon all details of political economy. Still, there is a broad coherence and complementarity between their perspectives about the relationship between virtue and social order. Keeping Burke and Smith in conversation can help us to hold on to tradition while still being open to dynamism. It can help us to respect religion, make right use of reason, and hold together both freedom and virtue.

In succeeding generations, there was a close connection between religion--Christianity in particular--and classical political economy. As Paul Heyne put it, "Protestant clergymen played a prominent part in the early teaching of economics in the United States, especially prior to the Civil War, and their doctrines generally lauded the productive as well as the moral virtues of the American economy." This connection between clergy and classical political economy was evident not only in the United States, but also overseas.

The Future of Fusionism

While not advocating a simplistic return to a bygone age of "clerical laissez-faire," as Heyne calls it, I do advocate a return to the moral foundations of the free economy represented by Burke and Smith. In particular, reconnecting virtue and liberty can help us sort out the contemporary challenges of nationalism and internationalism.

We need a proper balance between nationalism and internationalism, or what has been called cosmopolitanism. Burke can help us realize that we are all rooted in particular places and among a particular people, whether defined by creed, ethnicity, or culture. We cannot cease to be a member of a political society any more than we can cease to be a member of a family or a member of the human race, and it is the challenge presented by much contemporary populism that we must properly order and orient these different aspects of our individual identities.

Much contemporary economics proceeds as if the economic argument, whether it is on an issue like the minimum wage or free trade or welfare transfers, ought to be the end of the discussion. If the cost-benefit analysis comes out in favor of a particular policy, then that policy should be enacted. Yet, even if there is an economic consensus on a particular question, that should not be the end but rather the beginning of the policy discussion. Advocates of the liberal order and of the connection between freedom and virtue must work to put the political back into political economy. Lord Acton said it well: "Political economy cannot be supreme arbiter in politics. Else you might defend slavery where it is economically sound and reject it where the economic argument applies against it."

A corollary of this correction to the dynamic dichotomy between nationalism and internationalism is the proper valuation of the "middle things," those institutions and realities that lie between the individual and the collective, and especially the state, as an expression of identity. We can think here of Burke's "little platoons," or Tocqueville's observations about civil society and voluntary associations. It isn't of course only strictly voluntary associations that mediate between the individual and the state, though. There are families, which we are naturally born into or at least become part of independent of an act of rational willing on our parts. There are churches, which, depending on the ecclesiology, we are born into or at least nurtured in before the age of consent. Even our earthly citizenship defies a "voluntary association" identification, as we are all born a citizen of some nation or some political order. All of these things are real and have consequences and meaning for people and cannot simply be elided into a dichotomy of individual and state. For the most part, these "middle things" are where life is lived and given its meaning, where we are formed and express our virtues and our vices.

Wealth of Nations can not be read in isolation from Moral Sentiments and still make sense.
Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


Trump's Renewed Russia Sanctions Look A Lot Like Obama's (ROBBIE GRAMER, JUNE 20, 2017, Foreign Policy)

"It looks like a list that would have come out under the last administration," said Sean Kane, an international trade and sanctions expert at Hughes Hubbard & Reed law firm.

And the timing couldn't be better. For starters, they're in the wake of the European Union's new agreement to extend sanctions against Russia for another year, signaling transatlantic solidarity -- something that appears to be a rare commodity in the Trump era.

The new measures also come a week after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to pass another round of sanctions against Russia, a strong check against what was widely seen as Trump's plans to soften Washington's stance toward the Kremlin. They also come on the same day Russia is trying to price its new bond issuance, which could scuttle Moscow's plans to breath new life into its anemic economy.

As diplomatic icing on the cake, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko visited Washington Tuesday on the heels of the announcement, signaling the Trump administration's willingness to back Kiev after growing fears it'd sell out the government there for some form of grand bargain with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Always bet on the Deep State.

Posted by orrinj at 3:19 PM


Secret Government Report: Chelsea Manning Leaks Caused No Real Harm (Jason Leopold, 6/20/17, BuzzFeed News)

In the seven years since WikiLeaks published the largest leak of classified documents in history, the federal government has said they caused enormous damage to national security.

But a secret, 107-page report, prepared by a Department of Defense task force and newly obtained by BuzzFeed News, tells a starkly different story: It says the disclosures were largely insignificant and did not cause any real harm to US interests.

Regarding the hundreds of thousands of Iraq-related military documents and State Department cables provided by the Army private Chelsea Manning, the report assessed "with high confidence that disclosure of the Iraq data set will have no direct personal impact on current and former U.S. leadership in Iraq."

Open source everything and let the market determine the value of what we think we know.
Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


How the Democrats Lost Their Way on Immigration : In the past decade, liberals have avoided inconvenient truths about the issue. (PETER BEINART, JULY/AUGUST 2017, The Atlantic) 

In 2005, a left-leaning blogger wrote, "Illegal immigration wreaks havoc economically, socially, and culturally; makes a mockery of the rule of law; and is disgraceful just on basic fairness grounds alone." In 2006, a liberal columnist wrote that "immigration reduces the wages of domestic workers who compete with immigrants" and that "the fiscal burden of low-wage immigrants is also pretty clear." His conclusion: "We'll need to reduce the inflow of low-skill immigrants." That same year, a Democratic senator wrote, "When I see Mexican flags waved at proimmigration demonstrations, I sometimes feel a flush of patriotic resentment. When I'm forced to use a translator to communicate with the guy fixing my car, I feel a certain frustration."

The blogger was Glenn Greenwald. The columnist was Paul Krugman. The senator was Barack Obama.

Prominent liberals didn't oppose immigration a decade ago. Most acknowledged its benefits to America's economy and culture. They supported a path to citizenship for the undocumented. Still, they routinely asserted that low-skilled immigrants depressed the wages of low-skilled American workers and strained America's welfare state. And they were far more likely than liberals today are to acknowledge that, as Krugman put it, "immigration is an intensely painful topic ... because it places basic principles in conflict."

The only difference between Donald and Bernie is why they hate immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


The rise and fall of ISIL explained : Three years after Mosul takeover, here is a breakdown of ISIL's path from its very beginnings to its current decline. (Al Jazeera, 6/20/17)

After Saddam Hussein was removed from power, the US-led transitional coalition embarked on a widespread overhaul of the national government, pruning its ranks of members from Hussein's Baath party.

The Iraqi military was also disbanded, creating "a bulge of angry, disenfranchised Sunni technocrats" among the population. In their book, Stern and Berger estimate that more than 100,000 Baathists were removed from their posts.

Some of them would be poached by Zarqawi's organisation and would later fill the higher ranks of ISIL, proffering a wealth of military knowledge that, among some Baathists, extended as far back as the Iraq-Iran war.

As then-Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki paid hollow lip service to ideas of inclusion while simultaneously employing sectarian-based policies, Zarqawi played on feelings of disaffection in the country's Sunni communities. With his 2004 establishment of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Zarqawi had the blessing of Osama bin Laden to advance towards a total war against Shia Muslims.

"Zarqawi himself was deeply sectarian, but also saw that provoking Sunni-Shia confrontation would work in his favour," said Richard Atwood, New York director of the International Crisis Group, whose work focuses on al-Qaeda and ISIL. "He instigated attacks on Shia religious symbols, provoking a sectarian civil war."

Al-Qaeda in Iraq merged with other groups in 2006 and adopted the name the Islamic State in Iraq while still maintaining tenuous ties to al-Qaeda leadership. According to the Wilson Center, on October 15, 2006, Abu Ayyub al-Masri, who took over the group after Zarqawi's death, announced the establishment of the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI), with Abu Omar al-Baghdadi as its leader.

By 2010, divides between Sunni and Shia Muslims were extensive, but left unaddressed by an increasingly authoritarian Maliki who, at that point, had named himself his own interior and defence minister.

The state could no longer provide basic services, such as electricity; powerful Sunni tribes, once promised positions in the government in exchange for cooperating with US occupying forces, were shunted aside.

In 2011, anti-government protests erupted across the country. Security forces cracked down, and the state's violent response stoked the furore of a wide array of emerging opposition groups.

As ISIL wedged itself into the deepening furrows between Sunni and Shia Muslims, the group also focused its energies on provoking discord within sects. Demonstrating a savvy for identifying long-present tensions, it infiltrated Sunni tribal communities and turned sub-tribes or generations against each other through the selective backing and funding of groups, Atwood explained. 

"[ISIL's] rise was very much rooted in deteriorating Sunni-Shia relations and Maliki's rule. "ISIL rebuilt underground networks and sleeper cells gradually. Its ranks, including at leadership level, were also reinforced by prison breaks."  [...]

Today, ISIL's territories are shrinking as its fighters face mounting pressure from a US-led coalition, as well as Syrian President Assad's regime backers. Many observers have sounded the coalition attack on Mosul as ISIL's death knell. However, ISIL will always present tremendous problems for state governments - even in its retreat.

"There is a political crisis in Iraq that no one is resolving," said Yezid Sayigh, a senior fellow at Carnegie's Middle East Center." The real question becomes what, if anything at all, is the Iraqi government doing to produce a new political environment because that will shape how local groups respond to ISIL disappearing."

Throughout the years, ISIL has both instrumentalised and deepened sectarian anger and distrust towards states in the region. As ISIL loses land, these sentiments will only pose more trouble for governments attempting to rule in the aftermath.

Last year, the Iraqi parliament angered Sunni politicians when it approved a law to legalise the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an anti-ISIL force composed of various militia fighters. The PMF now operates alongside the Iraqi military forces - an outrageous affront, according to Sunni Iraqis, who accuse the PMF of committing human rights atrocities against civilians.

Furthermore, foreign powers fighting ISIL have brought with them a separate set of difficulties which, in the coming years, will have an immense effect on the political futures of Iraq and Syria.

The fight against ISIL has created a splintering array of groups who hold different interests and benefit from diverse foreign backers. After ISIL, Iraq's weakened state will be charged with the task of creating a harmonious and inclusive political future among this fragmentation, according to Sayigh. 

Given that the Sunni don't think the Shi'a majority should govern Iraq, why should the Shi'a continue to seek the harmony and inclusiveness that made ISIS possible?  Give the Sunni a state of their own or give them to the Sunni neighbors.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


How Highway Tolls Can Make US Infrastructure Great Again (Robert Krol, 6/20/17, The Fiscal Times)

When we do finally get around to focusing on the president's infrastructure plan, the provision eliminating tolling restrictions on interstate highways deserves particular attention. [...]

First, fuel taxes can no longer be relied upon to provide a stable funding source for highway programs. Fuel taxes currently provide about three quarters of the revenues used to fund the federal Highway Trust Fund, and they're an important source of revenue for state and city highway spending as well. But with vehicles getting better fuel mileage each year, and with the growth of electric cars, fuel taxes may not be effective for much longer. Switching our reliance to tolls will provide a more reliable revenue source for the future.

Second, user fees and tolls are not like other taxes governments use to fund programs. Income, payroll, and corporate taxes alter people's behavior, resulting in fewer hours worked and less investment, causing the economy to operate less efficiently. Tolls also affect behavior, but in a good way. Tolls reduce congestion and pollution.

Congestion is a major problem in urban areas of the country. Variable tolls -- which can be set higher during rush hour drive times and lower during off-peak hours -- create incentives for people to car pool, switch to mass transit and change travel times, reducing congestion. This could potentially save billions of dollars each year in wasted time and fuel.

It's not necessary to toll all the lanes on an interstate to have a positive impact. Tolls can be placed on selected express lanes or implemented to allow solo drivers to use underutilized car-pool lanes. Even this small step leads to improved traffic flows in the non-tolled lanes, benefiting all drivers with faster, more reliable, trips.

Also, with better management of urban congestion, we just might find that we don't need to build as much highway capacity as we thought, saving billions of dollars that can be put to better use.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Solar energy is killing coal, despite Trump's promises (Matt Egan, June 20, 2017, CNN Money)

By 2040, U.S. power generation from renewable energy is likely to skyrocket by 169%, according to a recent forecast from the research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Coal-fired power is projected to plunge by 51% in the United States over the same period.

"The greening of the world's electricity system is unstoppable," wrote Seb Henbest, the lead author.

Despite Trump's promises, more and more electric utilities are expected to dump coal as businesses and individuals adopt solar panels. That's because of a simple economic reality: Renewable energy costs are poised to continue dropping thanks to a gush of investment.

The Bloomberg researchers measured energy costs by calculating the lifetime expenses of generating power from a new plant, including permitting and expenses.

On that basis, the cost of electricity from solar has already cratered by nearly 75% since 2009, and it's expected to plummet 66% further by 2040, according to the forecast.

Solar is already "at least as cheap as coal" in some countries, including the United States, Germany, Australia, Spain and Italy, the report said. The cost of wind power could also be cut in half.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Oil threatens to plunge into bear-market territory (Mark DeCambre, June 20, 2017, MarketWatch)

U.S. crude-oil prices on Tuesday were on the brink of crossing into bear-market territory, defined as a drop of at least 20% from a recent peak, as the the market continues to be dogged by oversupply concerns. 

Another Bad Sign for OPEC and the Oil Bulls (Javier Blas, 6/20/17, Bloomberg Businessweek)

First, U.S. oil companies amassed a record-large inventory of wells drilled and waiting for the moment to be completed, unleashing their torrent of crude. What's more, a turnaround in output from Nigeria and Libya left the market seeking new places to store it all. So, once again, the volume of oil held at sea in tankers is rising, yet another indicator that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries' output cuts haven't ended a global glut. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


This is the one climate solution that's best for the environment -- and for business (George P. Shultz and Lawrence H. Summers June 19, 2017, Washington Post)

We are convinced that the carbon dividends approach first put forward by one of us (Shultz) along with former secretary of state James A. Baker III a few months ago can strengthen the U.S. economy in ways highly valued by both the left and right and simultaneously spur global efforts to address climate change. Adopting a carbon dividend approach would pay huge dividends for the global climate, the U.S. economy and U.S. leadership in the world.

Our carbon dividend strategy has four interrelated elements that account for its strength: a gradually rising and revenue-neutral carbon tax; carbon dividend payments made equally to all Americans, to be funded using all the carbon-tax revenue; rollback of costly command-and-control regulations that were implemented because the environmental costs of carbon fuels have not been incorporated into their price; and border adjustment to ensure a level playing field and U.S. competitiveness.

A carbon tax set at $40 per ton would achieve substantially greater reduction in greenhouse-gas emissions than all of the regulation now on the table. The application of a border carbon adjustment that levied a tax on the carbon content of imported products would incent other countries to adopt carbon pricing, increasing its impact and preventing free-riders. So the carbon dividend approach is best for the environment.

It would also be best for economic growth, which explains why prominent companies are backing it. The alternative to a carbon tax is not the application of the free market. It is the current extensive regulatory apparatus in which government judges the products and production techniques that businesses employ and mandates particular business practices. The enactment of a significant carbon tax justifies the removal of these regulations, thus taking a burden off the economy. And unlike regulation, carbon dividends are consistent with border adjustment, assuring that U.S. firms are not disadvantaged against foreign exporters and carbon-intensive products.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Janet Yellen and the Case of the Missing Inflation (Neil Irwin, JUNE 14, 2017, NY Times)

The Fed has defined stable prices as inflation of 2 percent. Right now, not only are key inflation measures below that level, but they are also falling. The most recent reading of the inflation measure favored by the Fed is at only 1.5 percent. And the Consumer Price Index, excluding volatile food and energy prices, rose 1.7 percent over the year ended in May, down from 2.2 percent in February.

The gap between rates on regular and inflation-protected bonds suggests that consumer prices in the United States will rise only 1.6 percent a year in the next five years, down from 2 percent in March. Even for the five years after that, the rate of inflation implied by bond prices has fallen from 2.1 percent to 1.9 percent.

The recent inflation numbers are not so low as to suggest some deflationary spiral is imminent. It's probably not worth obsessing too much over prices rising 1.5 percent instead of the targeted 2 percent. The direct cost of mildly undershooting the Fed's inflation target is low, favoring creditors over debtors, for example, but it's not likely to cause any broad economic distress.

What is worrisome is not direct economic damage, but the fact that the Fed has missed its (arbitrary) 2 percent target in the same direction -- undershooting -- year after year. If it's not a drop in prices for cellphone plans, it's a falloff in oil prices, or cheaper imports because of a strong dollar.

That in turn implies that the low-growth, low-inflation, low-interest-rate economy since 2008 isn't going anywhere. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


At height of Russia tensions, Trump campaign chairman Manafort met with business associate from Ukraine  (Rosalind S. Helderman, Tom Hamburger and Rachel Weiner June 19, Washington Post)

Kilimnik is of interest to investigators on the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is examining possible links between the Trump campaign and Russia, said a person familiar with the inquiry.

Kilimnik's name also appeared this spring in a previously undisclosed subpoena sought by federal prosecutors looking for information "concerning contracts for work . . . communication or other records of correspondence" related to about two dozen people and businesses that appeared to be connected to Manafort or his wife, including some who worked with Manafort in Kiev.

The subpoena was issued by a federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Virginia, where, until recently, Manafort's business was headquartered. The subpoena did not specify whether it was related to the FBI's investigation of Russian interference in the U.S. election or a separate inquiry into Manafort's business activities. Investigators in the Eastern District of Virginia have been assisting with the Russia investigation.

In Ukraine, Kilimnik's political adversaries have said he may be working with Russian intelligence. U.S. officials have not made that charge.

Kilimnik rejected the allegation, telling The Post in his written statement that he has "no relation to the Russian or any other intelligence service."

His dinner with Manafort came as Trump's campaign chairman was facing mounting questions about his work in Ukraine and his business ties to allies of Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


How We Became Bitter Political Enemies (EMILY BADGER and NIRAJ CHOKSHI, JUNE 15, 2017, NY Times)

Surveys over time have used a 100-point thermometer scale to rate how voters feel toward each other, from cold to warm. Democrats and Republicans have been giving lower and lower scores -- more cold shoulder -- to the opposite party. By 2008, the average rating for members of the other party was barely above 30. That's significantly worse than how Democrats rated even "big business" and how Republicans rated "people on welfare."

By 2016, that average dropped by about five more percentage points, dragged down in part by a new phenomenon: For the first time, the most common answer given was zero, the worst possible option. In other words, voters on the left and right now feel downright frigid toward each other.

Last year, for the first time since it began asking the question in 1992, the Pew Research Center reported a majority of Democrats and Republicans said they held "very unfavorable" views of the opposing party. Since Pew published those findings last summer, that extreme distaste has receded a bit: So far this year, 45 percent of Democrats and 46 percent of Republicans hold "very unfavorable" views of the opposing party.

That conclusion follows a sweeping 2014 Pew study that found that "partisan antipathy is deeper and more extensive" than at any point in the last two decades.

That negativity appears to have fed a growing perception that the opposing party isn't just misguided, but dangerous. In 2016, Pew reported that 45 percent of Republicans and 41 percent of Democrats felt that the other party's policies posed a threat to the nation.

The fear of what harm the other party could cause appears to be a major motivator behind party affiliation. "It's at least as much what I don't like about the other side as what I like about my own party," said Jocelyn Kiley, associate director of research at the Pew Research Center.

When asked why they identified as Republican, 68 percent of respondents told Pew that a major factor was the harm that Democratic policies posed, just surpassing the 64 percent who cited the good that could come of their own party's policies. Among Democrats, 62 percent said fear of Republican policies was a major factor for their affiliation, while 68 percent cited the good of their own party's policies.

Independents, who outnumber members of either party and yet often lean toward one or the other, are just as guided by fear. More than half who lean toward either party say a major reason for their preference is the damage the other party could cause. Only about a third reported being attracted by the good that could come from the policies of the party toward which they lean.

Opposing partisans are also likely to find each other harder to reason with. Last year, Pew found that 70 percent of Democrats and 52 percent of Republicans considered members of the opposing party to be more close-minded than other Americans. Significant shares also considered opposing partisans exceptionally immoral, lazy and dishonest, though Democrats held those views somewhat less. About a third of either party viewed the opposition as less intelligent than other Americans.

Past surveys show that such views have worsened with time. Americans in 1960 were more likely to allow that members of the other party were intelligent, and they were less likely to describe opposing partisans as selfish.

In 1960, just 5 percent of Republicans and 4 percent of Democrats said they would be unhappy if a son or daughter married someone from the other party. In a YouGov survey from 2008 that posed a similar question, 27 percent of Republicans and 20 percent of Democrats said they'd be "somewhat" or "very upset" by that prospect. By 2010, that share had jumped to half of Republicans and a third of Democrats.

Today, partisan prejudice even exceeds racial hostility in implicit association tests that measure how quickly people subconsciously associate groups (blacks, Democrats) with traits (wonderful, awful). That's remarkable, given how deeply ingrained racial attitudes are in the United States, and how many generations they've had to harden, according to work by Mr. Iyengar and the Dartmouth political scientist Sean J. Westwood.

"We have all of these data which converge on the bottom-line conclusion that party is the No. 1 cleavage in contemporary American society," Mr. Iyengar said.

This is all largely a function of the End of History and the fact that there are nearly no significant policy differences between the parties (anywhere in the Anglosphere).

The presidencies of Bill Clinton and Barrack Obama were more "conservative" than that of Ronald Reagan.  The Bushes' were more liberal than Carter's.  And Donald Trump ran to the left of even failed Democratic nominees, like Walter Mondale and George McGovern.

When there were genuine intellectual differences between the two major political postures you could obviously engage with the ideas of the other guy and respect at least his seriousness.  But with everyone adhering to the same neoliberal political ideology, we left fighting pitched battles over ultimately trivial differences. All our politics has come to resemble the academic politics once (supposedly) described by Henry Kissinger:

[P]olitics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 AM


Big Oil Steps Up Support for Carbon Tax (Timothy Puko, June 20, 2017, Fox Business)

Some of the world's largest oil companies and the country's biggest auto maker are joining a group pushing the U.S. government to tax carbon in an effort to slow climate change.

General Motors Co., Exxon Mobil Corp. and BP PLC are among almost a dozen companies joining the Climate Leadership Council, a new organization that advocates replacing many environmental regulations with a simplified tax on businesses that release carbon into the atmosphere. The plan proposes directly paying out this money to all citizens to defray the likely costs from rising energy prices.

A group of influential Republicans, including former secretaries of State George Shultz and James Baker, have spearheaded the group's efforts, which are at odds with many in their own party.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


Cures deemed worse than misdiagnosed chronic Lyme disease (Andrew Masterson, 6/20/17, Cosmos)

The peak public health body in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has issued a warning about treatments offered for a disease that doesn't exist.

Chronic Lyme disease - not to be confused with standard Lyme disease, which does exist - is claimed by a minority of doctors and many self-proclaimed healers to be a long-term health condition marked by fatigue, lethargy and generalised pain.

No serious medical organisation recognises the disease as real, and no peer-reviewed study has ever identified a causal agent for it. 

June 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


These states are best, worst for raising children (Daniella Emanuel, June 14, 2017, CNN)

New Hampshire is the best state in which to raise a child, while Mississippi is the worst, according to a report published Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The study measured 2015 data from the private Population Reference Bureau on the topics of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Top states for overall child well-being were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Minnesota, with Iowa and Connecticut tied for fifth place.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Progressives Now Angry at Social Justice Icon Ben & Jerry's Over Workers' Rights (Emily Zanotti, June 19, 2017, Heat Street)

Apparently, two years ago, Ben & Jerry's promised to take part in the "Milk With Dignity" program (weirdly, not "Dairy With Dignity," which would have been catchier). The campaign asks major corporations that use milk in their food products to work to ensure migrant workers who help produce the milk are treated fairly.

But because Ben and Jerry are, at heart, dirty capitalists, they began negotiations with the organizations, to structure their commitment in such a way that it protected their bottom line. They also claimed to the Washington Post that they wanted to get real details on farm worker treatment from the migrants themselves, so that the agreement could be realistic.

"It has to work for the farmers, the farm owners, and it has to work for the businesses involved and that's the complex piece," a representative of the company told media.

But the Vermont group Migrant Justice says that's just unacceptable. Realism? Who needs it! Profit? Well, that's just disgusting.

Ben & Jerry's sucks up milk from 80 Vermont dairy farms, and that's a lot of workers who aren't being paid a "living wage."

"We've been negotiating in good faith," said Will Lambek, director of Migrant Justice. "It's an unacceptable delay."

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Creating a Universe in the Lab? The Idea Is No Joke (Zeeya Merali, June 19, 2017, Discover)

Physicists aren't often reprimanded for using risqué humor in their academic writings, but in 1991 that is exactly what happened to the cosmologist Andrei Linde at Stanford University. He had submitted a draft article entitled 'Hard Art of the Universe Creation' to the journal Nuclear Physics B. In it, he outlined the possibility of creating a universe in a laboratory: a whole new cosmos that might one day evolve its own stars, planets and intelligent life. Near the end, Linde made a seemingly flippant suggestion that our Universe itself might have been knocked together by an alien 'physicist hacker'. The paper's referees objected to this 'dirty joke'; religious people might be offended that scientists were aiming to steal the feat of universe-making out of the hands of God, they worried. Linde changed the paper's title and abstract but held firm over the line that our Universe could have been made by an alien scientist. 'I am not so sure that this is just a joke,' he told me.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century, and the notion of universe-making - or 'cosmogenesis' as I dub it - seems less comical than ever. I've travelled the world talking to physicists who take the concept seriously, and who have even sketched out rough blueprints for how humanity might one day achieve it. Linde's referees might have been right to be concerned, but they were asking the wrong questions. The issue is not who might be offended by cosmogenesis, but what would happen if it were truly possible. How would we handle the theological implications? What moral responsibilities would come with fallible humans taking on the role of cosmic creators?

That way stands the Cross.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Why "Angels in America" is back : Roy Cohn, a central character in the play, was in real life a big influence on Donald Trump (The Economist, Jun 15th 2017)

In "Angels", Roy serves as an object lesson in the cost of self-deceit. As in real life, he is gay, deeply closeted, dying of AIDS--which, even in his final months, he insists to the public is liver cancer--and accused of rampant ethical violations. Feeling obliged to lie about a central truth of his life, he grows so accustomed to deception that it becomes second nature. And he will stop at nothing to maintain his veneer of invincibility. Joe, a closeted, strait-laced Mormon, finally loses his faith in Roy when he asks Joe to abuse a job he has been offered in the attorney-general's office in order to protect Roy from disbarment.

This is a faithful representation of Cohn, a formative influence on Mr Trump. As Peter Fraser, Cohn's final lover, told the New York Times last year, "I hear Roy in the things he says quite clearly--that bravado, and if you say it aggressively and loudly enough, it's the truth. That's the way Roy used to operate to a degree, and Donald was certainly his apprentice." The president developed his approach to adversaries by watching Cohn humiliate them, in the media and in court: he once described his attack-dog attorney as "vicious to others in his protection of me".

Political pundits have consistently misread Mr Trump, predicting either that his star would fade or, later, that he would have to adapt to conventional expectations of the presidency. Mr Kushner's script would have provided a more accurate prognostication. Roy never changes his spots, remaining hateful even on his deathbed: "Better dead than red!" he screams at the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, the accused Russian spy he had helped send to the electric chair 30 years earlier. He refuses to share his precious stash of AZT, an experimental AIDS drug, with his nurse Belize, even when Roy's looming death means he has no more use for the pills. Those still waiting for Cohn's former client to "pivot" towards the centre should take note. And the lesson Mr Trump has taken from Cohn's ultimate defeat at the hands of hated bureaucrats--he was disbarred a few weeks before he died in 1986--was not the importance of playing by the rules but rather the perils of being laid low by illness. In the president's recollection, "they only got [Cohn] because he was so sick": a memory that may help explain his publishing a letter from his doctor during the 2016 campaign claiming Mr Trump would be the healthiest president ever elected.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Democrats propose tobacco, alcohol tax increases (Matthew Albright, 6/16/17, The News Journal)

Democrats have unveiled plans to raise taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and "vaping" products as part of their solution to the state's $400 million budget quandary. 

Combined, the proposals would raise $18.8 million for the next fiscal year. The increases would take effect in September. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Putin's Pro-Trump Plot Has Backfired Spectacularly : Russia's meddling in the U.S. election has not panned out for the autocrat. (ERIC SASSON, June 19, 2017, New Republic)

Donald Trump's election was supposed to be a boon to Putin. Instead, things have been going quite poorly for him. Whatever goals the Russians had in meddling in the U.S. presidential election last year, be it to elect a president more favorable to lifting sanctions, punish Hillary Clinton, discredit Western democracies, or, as many analysts say, sow chaos in Washington and disrupt the international liberal order, Putin seems to be failing on most counts.

There is indeed chaos in Washington, though largely contained to the White House, and Trump has injected some uncertainty into longstanding relationships with allies. His refusal to affirm the mutual-defense commitment of the NATO treaty and his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement are sowing divisions between America and Europe that could do long-term damage. The Trump administration seems uninterested in promoting democratic values abroad, and surely any time the U.S. retreats in its leadership role, it benefits other world powers such as Russia and China.

But earlier fears of a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy, driven by Trump's isolationist rhetoric and friendliness toward strongmen, are not panning out. Trump stacked his national security and foreign policy teams with establishment picks who have largely stuck to conventional Republican positions: punitive policies against Russia, Cuba, and Iran; cooperation with China on deterring North Korea; more troops in Afghanistan, and more bombs in Syria.

It seems Putin may have misjudged just how powerful our presidency is. Even more so, he seems to have severely misjudged the power of the American media, which is determined to overturn every rock with regards to the Russian hacking story. Back home, Putin is used to receiving far more favorable press--and when Russian media doesn't fall in line, he simply shuts them down or finds ways to change the subject.

But the subject stubbornly refuses to change in America, and is getting worse by the day. The domino effect since the Russian hacking revelations--starting with national security advisor Michael Flynn's firing, then Comey's, and now the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller--have not only forced Republicans to double-down on their anti-Russia rhetoric, but have even forced the president to abandon any hopes for a Russian reset, for fear of corroborating the collusion narrative. As defiant as Trump can be, even he must realize that any overture toward Russia now will be viewed as suspect.

Putin's troubles are hardly limited to the U.S.

When Donald Trump brought Miss Universe to Moscow : How a 2013 beauty pageant explains Trump's love for Russia and obsession with Vladimir Putin. (MICHAEL CROWLEY 05/15/2016, Politico)

On June 18, 2013, Donald Trump had some exciting news: He would soon be whisking dozens of the world's most beautiful women to Russia.

"The Miss Universe Pageant will be broadcast live from MOSCOW, RUSSIA on November 9th," Trump tweeted that day, referring to the beauty pageant he owned at the time. "A big deal that will bring our countries together!"

And maybe not just the countries, Trump said: "Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant," he tweeted later that day. "[I]f so, will he become my new best friend?"

Now that he's headed for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump talks often about establishing warmer relations with Vladimir Putin. That's a sharp break from the Washington establishment consensus for punishing Russia's president over his policies in Ukraine and Syria.

Trump has said his understanding of Russia is based in part on the 2013 Miss Universe event in Moscow, where the Manhattan mogul watched 86 contestants don shimmering evening gowns and skimpy swimsuits for what he would call "the world's biggest and most iconic beauty contest."

"I know Russia well," Trump told Fox News on May 6. "I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago, which was a big, big incredible event." Asked whether he had met with Putin there, Trump declined to say, though he added: "I got to meet a lot of people."

"And you know what?" he continued. "They want to be friendly with the United States. Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with somebody?"

Critics ridiculed the idea that Trump gleaned any real understanding of Russia from hosting a beauty pageant there. But the deeper story of how he brought the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow -- a classic Trumpian tale of money, power and pulchritude -- does shed fresh light on the business interests and personal contacts that have helped to shape his views about the country. It also reveals more about his personal courtship of Putin, which long predates his presidential bid.

At the heart of the episode is Trump's relationship with Aras Agalarov, a billionaire Russian real estate mogul with ties to Putin, and Agalarov's rakish son, Emin, 36, a dance-pop singer with ambitions to international stardom who got Trump to appear in one of his music videos.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


'Full Measure': Quitting Congress (Sharyl Attkisson, 6/19/17, Sinclair Broadcast Group)

Just a couple of months ago, we profiled Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee which was poised to dig deep on wide-ranging investigations into government mischief, waste, fraud and abuse. A few weeks later, Chaffetz abruptly resigned from Congress. We asked the "Oversight Man" what changed his mind about being a lead watchdog with not only a GOP majority in Congress, but also a Republican in the White House. He told me it's more a matter of what hasn't changed. [...]

Attkisson: "Some people might think this is a great time to be a Republican chairman of an important committee because Republicans control the House, they're the majority in the Senate, and they hold the president's office. That means, you would think, that federal agencies can't stonewall investigations of spending, waste, fraud and abuse."

Chaffetz: "The reality is, sadly, I don't see much difference between the Trump administration and the Obama administration. I thought there would be this, these floodgates would open up with all the documents we wanted from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Pentagon. In many ways, it's almost worse because we're getting nothing, and that's terribly frustrating and, with all due respect, the attorney general has not changed at all. I find him to be worse than what I saw with Loretta Lynch in terms of releasing documents and making things available. I just, that's my experience, and that's not what I expected."

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM



THE GOP'S 2016 presidential upset wasn't surprising just because it put Donald Trump in the White House; it also proved the party had vastly improved its ability to exploit data, including precision ad targeting campaigns on Facebook. Now comes the fallout of all that information hoarding: A California-based security researcher says Republican-linked election databases were inadvertently exposed to the entire internet, sans password, potentially violating the privacy of almost every single registered voter in the United States.

The data trove was apparently made public by accident by one of the data-mining companies that compiled it. It includes a mix of private information and data gleaned from public voter rolls: "the voter's date of birth, home and mailing addresses, phone number, registered party, self-reported racial demographic, voter registration status" as well as computer "modeled" speculation about each person's race and religion, according to an analysis provided by to The Intercept.

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


Russia threatens to shoot down US-led coalition jets over Syria (Times of Israel, June 19, 2017)

Russia's defense ministry said it was suspending coordination with the United States in Syria over so-called "de-confliction zones" after the Americans downed a Syrian government fighter jet.

The military isn't interested in Donald's alliance with Vlad.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Before Baseball-Reference, Statheads Relied On The 'Big Mac' : The first really good baseball encyclopedia weighed 6.5 pounds and helped kick off the sabermetrics revolution. (Rob Neyer, 5/01/17, 538)
For diehard baseball fans, a world without Sean Forman's Baseball-Reference.com is difficult to imagine. But the site is relatively new; it didn't grace the Internet until 2000. Before that, for seamheads interested in baseball statistics there was only ... print. Print? Yes, print. You remember print.

One of those print compendiums of baseball information was a 6.5-pound behemoth nicknamed "Big Mac," and it changed how people think about the sport. A world without the Big Mac might not just mean a world without Baseball-Reference.com, it might also mean a world without Bill James, which might mean a world without sabermetrics, a world without "Moneyball," a world without the analytics that have transformed so many other sports. As John Thorn, Major League Baseball's official historian, says today, "It was a revolution. This was the 'Moby-Dick' of baseball statistics, not only for its size, but also for its place in baseball history."

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Mueller team lawyer brings witness-flipping expertise to Trump probes (Karen Freifeld, 6/19/17, Reuters)

A veteran federal prosecutor recruited onto special counsel Robert Mueller's team is known for a skill that may come in handy in the investigation of potential ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign team: persuading witnesses to turn on friends, colleagues and superiors.

Andrew Weissmann, who headed the U.S. Justice Department's criminal fraud section before joining Mueller's team last month, is best known for two assignments - the investigation of now-defunct energy company Enron and organized crime cases in Brooklyn, New York - that depended heavily on gaining witness cooperation. [...]

Robert Ray, who succeeded Kenneth Starr as the independent counsel examining former President Bill Clinton, noted that Trump's fired former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has already offered through his lawyer to testify before Congress in exchange for immunity, suggesting potential willingness to cooperate as a witness.

"It would seem to me the time is now to make some decisions about what you have and what leverage can be applied to get the things you don't have," Ray said, referring to Mueller's team.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Rosenbergs: Still Guilty After All These Years (Kathy Shaidle, September 23, 2008, FrontPageMagazine.com)

For close to sixty years, Morton Sobell dined out on his reputation as one of the innocent "progressives," wrongly convicted, along with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, of spying for the Soviet Union. After his 1969 release from Alcatraz prison, Sobell was feted by communist regimes in Cuba and canonized by fellow leftists as yet another victim of a wicked American justice system. All that changed last week.

Sobell, now 91, has finally admitted the truth. He really had been a Soviet spy - and so had Julius Rosenberg. As the New York Times - no right-wing tribune - put it in a recent report, the pair was part of "a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information, and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb." Sobell still maintains that the information he passed along to America's enemies wasn't especially significant, but he has at last abandoned the pretence, which he maintained for nearly half a century, that he was never a Soviet agent.

Sobell's confession is not coincidental. It came just days before the National Archives released long-secret grand jury testimony in the world famous Rosenberg espionage case. Nevertheless, it has definitively shattered one of the enduring myths of the progressive Left. For generations of leftists, the innocence of the Rosenbergs was an article of faith. It bolstered their self-image as noble, if misunderstood idealists, forever doomed to persecution by a corrupt American system. Columbia University professor Eric Foner's claim that the Rosenberg's were singled out as part of "a determined effort to root out dissent" was a typical expression of the Left's revisionism. Sobell's admission has exposed it as self-serving nonsense. The Rosenbergs' were in fact guilty as charged.

This much is apparent even to the Rosenbergs' staunchest supporters: their children. Until Sobell's confession, the Rosenbergs' sons, Robert and Michael Meeropol, had championed their parents' innocence. Even when declassified documents proved that Americans really had been spying for the Soviet Union, the Meeropols refused to acknowledge that their parents had been among them. As recently as two years ago, the Rosenbergs' granddaughter, Rachel Meeropol, insisted that they "weren't guilty of what they were convicted of." But even for the Meeropols, this defense is now indefensible. Michael Meeropol told the New York Times after Sobell's confession, "I don't have any reason to doubt Morty."

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Trump Torpedoes Europe's Far Right (ROBERT HUNZIKER, 6/10/17, Counterpunch)

Back in the day, meaning 2016 and during the initial months of 2017, the far right in Europe gravitated to Trump's right side or hardnosed libertarianism, unaffectionately known as Los Destructo, under direction of Bannon, which leaves little or no room for those whom voted for Trump in the first place. Remarkably, comatose bewildered American voters in November 2016 essentially bequeathed votes to reality TV flat screens nestled in their basement family rooms.

Did they waste votes?

Nowadays, but not in 2016, Europe's far right would likely say: "Yes, they wasted their votes."

Whereas, only a few short months ago on November 9, 2016: "Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist at the University of Georgia, says, 'Trump's win gives a narrative of success, of possibility, to far-right parties in Europe, because Trump won despite all the predictions. So they can say to people, 'You're not wasting your vote if you come out and vote for us. We will actually do much better than what everyone says.' " (Source: Eleanor Beardsley, Trump's Election Gives Hope To Europe's Far Right, NPR, Nov. 9, 2016.)

How quickly things change once reality exposes delusion. As of today throughout Europe Trump's burgeoning affliction is like an outbreak of small pox, stay away. The hard evidence is found in polling and voting data. Continent-wide anybody associated with Trump is standing in a deep pile of doo-doo. Proof: Since Trump won the White House, every major European election crushes far right candidates. The true reality of Trump has turned the world to the value of neoliberalism as a safety valve, warts and all.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


U.S. Quietly Admits Covert CIA Role in Iranian Coup (Adam Kredo, June 19, 2017, Free Beacon)

The Trump administration has released a long-suppressed and classified government report disclosing U.S. clandestine action in Iran that outlines America's role in the country's 1953 coup, the State Department announced last week in a move that is likely to roil the Islamic Republic.

The report, which details covert U.S. operations in Iran, has been the source of controversy for quite some time, as the former Obama administration had suppressed its publication in a bid to avoid upsetting Iran during diplomatic efforts to foster the landmark nuclear deal.

While a small portion of the report still remains classified, its release marks the first time the United States is officially acknowledging its clandestine role in the 1953 coup against the Iranian government led by Mohammad Mosadeq.

June 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 PM


Influence-rich Saudis blow through Sunni unity (Bruce Riedel, June 15, 2017, Al Monitor)

Qatar has long been an irritant and gadfly of the Saudi royal family and other leaders. While suppressing dissent at home, Qatar has encouraged it abroad. It shares an enormous natural gas deposit with Iran and together with Oman has been a voice in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for keeping ties open with Tehran. Saudi Arabia is apparently determined to put Qatar in its place.

Now the GCC is broken into three camps. There is the Saudi-Bahrain-UAE bloc, which has severed ties and closed borders to Doha. Then come outliers Kuwait and Oman, leaving Qatar alone. Although close to Riyadh, Kuwait is trying to mediate what has become the worst split in the history of the GCC.

Iran was quick to offer support for Qatar. Iranian officials are also blaming the Saudis for the Islamic State terrorist attack on Tehran. Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has accused the Saudis of supporting Sunni dissidents in the Kurdish, Arab and Baluchi communities against the Iranian government. The Saudis broke off relations with Iran a year ago. Iran is stepping up its support for the Houthi rebels in Yemen, where the Saudis have been bogged down for more than two years. Iranian advisers are helping the Yemenis with their missile strikes. It's a cheap game for Tehran to exploit the Saudi vulnerabilities in Yemen, Iraq and elsewhere.

Turkey is taking the unprecedented step of deploying troops to the defense of Qatar. A century ago, the founder of the modern Saudi state, King Abdul-Aziz Al Saud, helped engineer the withdrawal of the Ottoman Empire from the Arabian Peninsula and the Persian Gulf, with British assistance. Now his son has precipitated the return of the Turkish army to both, and it's unlikely to leave. [...]

Trump is profoundly unpopular with Muslims around the world. Even in the kingdom, only a handful of Saudi citizens when polled last fall wanted him to be elected. He is still trying to get his Muslim ban enacted in the United States. The Saudi royal family embraced Trump because he is not Barack Obama. He doesn't care about human rights or gender equality, he hates the free press and he loves strong men. His leadership means no more criticism of Saudi support for sectarian violence against Shiites.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Iran launches missile strike into Syria in response to Tehran attacks (AP, 6/18/17)

Iran's Revolutionary Guard said Sunday it launched missiles into eastern Syria targeting Islamic State militants in response to a June 7 attack on Iran's parliament and a shrine in Tehran. [...]

The launch of surface-to-surface medium range missiles into Syria's Deir el-Zour province comes as Islamic State militants fleeing a US-led coalition onslaught increasingly try to fortify their positions there.

US warplane shoots down Syrian fighter jet (afp, 6/18/17)

A US fighter jet shot down a Syrian regime plane on Sunday, after it dropped bombs on forces fighting the Islamic State in northern Syria, the American-led coalition said. [...]

Meanwhile, fighting broke out on Sunday for the first time in Syria between regime troops and a US-backed alliance of Kurdish and Arab fighters, a monitoring group said.

Posted by orrinj at 11:39 AM


Help wanted: Why Republicans won't work for the Trump administration  (Lisa Rein and Abby Phillip June 17, 2017, Washington Post)

Trump's firing of FBI Director James B. Comey last month and the escalating probe into Russian interference in the presidential election have made hiring even more difficult, say former federal officials, party activists, lobbyists and candidates who Trump officials have tried to recruit.

Republicans say they are turning down job offers to work for a chief executive whose volatile temperament makes them nervous. They are asking head-hunters if their reputations could suffer permanent damage, according to 27 people The Washington Post interviewed to assess what is becoming a debilitating factor in recruiting political appointees.

The hiring challenge complicates the already slow pace at which Trump is filling senior leadership jobs across government.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Russia Renewed Unused Trump Trademarks in 2016 (MIKE McINTIRE, JUNE 18, 2017, NY Times)

[W]hile no Trump Tower graces the Moscow skyline, the Russian authorities recently made sure that another piece of valuable property -- the intellectual kind -- bearing the same name remained safely in Mr. Trump's portfolio.

Last year, while hacking Democrats' emails and working to undermine the American presidential election, the Russian government also granted extensions to six trademarks for Mr. Trump that had been set to expire. The Trump trademarks, originally obtained between 1996 and 2007 for hotels and branding deals that never materialized, each had terms that were coming to an end in 2016. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Trump's Business Ties in the Gulf Raise Questions About His Allegiances (DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, JUNE 17, 2017, NY Times)

President Trump has done business with royals from Saudi Arabia for at least 20 years, since he sold the Plaza Hotel to a partnership formed by a Saudi prince. Mr. Trump has earned millions of dollars from the United Arab Emirates for putting his name on a golf course, with a second soon to open.

He has never entered the booming market in neighboring Qatar, however, despite years of trying.

Now a feud has broken out among these three crucial American allies, and Mr. Trump has thrown his weight firmly behind the two countries where he has business ties, raising new concerns about the appearance of a conflict between his public role and his financial incentives.

Mr. Trump has said he is backing Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates because Qatar is "a funder of terror at a very high level." But his stance toward Qatar, which is host to the largest American air base in the region, has differed sharply from the positions of the Pentagon and State Department. The secretaries of defense and state have stayed neutral, urging unity against the common enemy of the Islamic State.

...he stays bought.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


"I like the sound of that!" Wine descriptions influence consumers' expectations, liking, emotions and willingness to pay for Australian white wines (Lukas Dannera, Trent E. Johnsona, Renata Ristica, b, Herbert L. Meiselmanc, Susan E.P. Bastiana, 5/25/17, Food Research International) 

Regular white wine consumers (n = 126) evaluated the same set of three commercially available white wines (mono-varietal Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc) under three information levels. Session 1, blind tasting (no information provided) and Session 2, informed tasting (held at least 1 week later) with both basic (sensory description of the wines) and elaborate (sensory plus high wine quality and favourable winery information) descriptions followed by liking, wine-evoked emotions (measured with the Australian Wine Evoked Emotions Lexicon (AWEEL)) and willingness to pay evaluations. Before tasting the wine in session 2, consumers also rated expected liking.

Results showed that information level had a significant effect on all investigated variables. The elaborate information level evoked higher expectations before tasting the wines, plus resulted in higher liking ratings, elicitation of more intense positive (e.g. contented, happy and warm-hearted) and less intense negative emotions (e.g. embarrassed and unfulfilled), and a substantial increase in willingness to pay after tasting the wines compared to the blind condition, with the basic condition ranging in-between. These results were consistent across the three wine samples.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


'Tower blocks could be torn down' - Sadiq Khan (Press Association, 18 JUNE 2017)

High-rise tower blocks dating from the 1960s and 1970s could be torn down in the wake of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire, London mayor Sadiq Khan said.

Writing in the Observer, Mr Khan it may well be the "defining outcome of this tragedy that the worst mistakes" of that era become a thing of the past.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


Trump Is Offering Populism, Minus the Free Candy (Neil Irwin, JUNE 17, 2017, NY Times)

[C]onsider an alternate history of the Trump administration: one in which the president embraced the lessons of right-wing populists from abroad.

It's Jan. 21, and Mr. Trump is newly sworn in. Shrugging off the snark from liberals on Twitter about the size of his inauguration crowds, he directs his staff to go to work on the Make America Great Again Act of 2017.

They dust off the policy white paper that the campaign staff issued months earlier, and spend their time on Capitol Hill trying to cobble together a coalition to pass a bill aimed at helping the people who put Mr. Trump in the White House.

The bill has lots of money to fight the opioid epidemic and to invest in communities left behind by the modern economy. There is money to prop up troubled health insurance markets, so that Mr. Trump can say he has replaced Obamacare with something better. There are a trillion dollars for public infrastructure -- not some complex tax credit that favors revenue-generating projects in affluent areas, but the brute force of government dollars to build roads and bridges in every corner of the nation.

Each project, of course, will have a big sign crediting the Make America Great Again Act with a big photo of Mr. Trump flashing a thumbs up.

To help keep conservatives and business interests on board with all that spending, the bill loosens environmental laws and bank regulations, among other policy goodies that make C.E.O.s' hearts flutter. But it wouldn't achieve a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate unless packaged with those aforementioned goodies that appeal to Democrats. Maybe it could increase the minimum wage, but also include a tax credit for companies that hire American workers to offset the cost to businesses.

The government would pay for it all with higher deficits. Free candy for everyone! [...]

Based on the early policy moves of the Trump administration, spending too much on goodies for his working-class supporters isn't something Americans need to fear. He has chosen a very different path -- even when following through would be more consistent with his campaign promises.

During the campaign, Mr. Trump promised not to cut Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid. As president, his budget would cut the Social Security disability insurance program and Medicaid.

His first major legislative effort was a health care bill that would cause 23 million people to lose coverage, according to the Congressional Budget Office's estimate, while cutting taxes for the affluent. It would hit older Americans, who disproportionately voted for Mr. Trump, particularly hard in the form of higher health insurance costs. The bill, which is being revised by the Senate, is deeply unpopular, according to public opinion polls.

Despite the president's talk of a bold $1 trillion infrastructure plan, there is not yet an actual legislative proposal, and the approach the administration has described relies heavily on tax credits to encourage private investment. That tends to limit the scope of any projects to those that can generate revenue to pay off investors.

On taxes there is also no legislative proposal yet, and the bullet points the administration has released imply much bigger advantages for corporations and the highest earners than for middle-class Americans.

On opioid addiction and other problems facing some of the troubled communities that heavily favored Mr. Trump at the voting booth, the most visible thing the administration has done is appoint a task force. His budget would slash regional development funds, through the Appalachian Regional Commission and the Delta Regional Authority, for example, both of which benefit areas that voted overwhelmingly for Mr. Trump.

On top of it all, Mr. Trump has set a political tone that makes it harder to change course and find bipartisan support for something like the MAGA Act later. Instead of putting Democrats in a jam by proposing something broadly popular, the president has made it easy for them to be united in opposition.

He's the world's first UnPopulist.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Republicans debating remedies for corporate tax avoidance (David Morgan, 6/17/17, Reuters)

Lawmakers say the current tax code incentivizes profit shifting overseas because of the high 35 percent U.S. corporate income tax rate and rules that allow companies to hold profits abroad tax free until returned to U.S. soil.

Without effective measures against tax avoidance, experts and lobbyists said tax legislation could trigger a new exodus of income and assets abroad. Because Trump and Republicans in Congress also want to end U.S. taxes on foreign earnings, companies could eliminate their U.S. tax bills altogether without restrictions.

Tax reduction strategies have been employed for decades by companies including Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O), Apple Inc (AAPL.O) and Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O).

Independent analysts estimate the federal government misses out on more than $100 billion a year in corporate tax revenues as a result of tax reduction maneuvers. That is equal to one-third of the $300 billion in annual corporate tax revenues.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Why the falling cost of light matters (Tim Harford, 2/06/17, BBC World Service)

He burned 20lb (9kg) of wood, kept track of how long it burned for and carefully recorded the dim, flickering firelight with his meter.

Next, he bought a Roman oil lamp, fitted it with a wick, and filled it with cold-pressed sesame oil.

He lit the lamp and watched the oil burn down, again using the light meter to measure its soft, even glow.

Bill Nordhaus's open wood fire had burned for just three hours on 9kg of wood.

But a mere eggcup of oil burned all day, and more brightly and controllably.

Why did he do this?

He wanted to understand the economic significance of the light bulb.

But Prof Nordhaus also wanted to illuminate a difficult issue for economists: how to keep track of inflation, the changing cost of goods and services. [...]

Imagine gathering and chopping wood 10 hours a day for six days.

Those 60 hours of work would produce 1,000 lumen hours of light.

That is the equivalent of one modern light bulb shining for just 54 minutes, although what you would actually get is many more hours of dim, flickering light instead. [...]

According to Prof Nordhaus's research, if you set aside one whole week a year to spend 60 hours devoted exclusively to making candles - or earning the money to buy them - that would enable you to burn a single candle for just two hours and 20 minutes every evening. [...]

By 1900, one of Thomas Edison's carbon filament bulbs would provide you with 10 days of bright, continuous illumination, 100 times as bright as a candle, for the money you could earn with our 60-hour week of hard labour.

By 1920, that same week of labour would pay for more than five months' continuous light from tungsten filament bulbs.

By 1990, it was 10 years.

A couple of years after that, thanks to compact fluorescent bulbs, it was more than five times longer.

The labour that had once produced the equivalent of 54 minutes of quality light now produced 52 years.

And modern LED lights continue to get cheaper and cheaper.

Switch off a light bulb for an hour and you are saving illumination that would have cost our ancestors all week to create.

It would have taken Benjamin Franklin's contemporaries all afternoon.

But someone in a rich industrial economy today could earn the money to buy that illumination in a fraction of a second.

LED bulbs offer sharper, cheaper and more energy efficient illumination

And of course, unlike oil lamps and candles, modern light bulbs are clean, fire-safe and controllable.

The light bulb has become an icon of innovation.

It has transformed our society into one where we can work, read, sew or play whenever we want to, regardless of how dark the night has become.

But the price of light alone tells a fascinating story: it has fallen by a factor of 500,000, far faster than official inflation statistics suggest.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Author Reconsiders Urging Cities to Cater to Millennials (Jonathan O'Connell, 6/17/17, The Washington Post)

Richard Florida's argument, in short, was that to save themselves from postindustrial ruin, cities needed to attract the best young talent in computer programming, engineering, finance, media and the arts so their towns could build economies based upon the venture capital and start-up companies the new workforce would produce.

Often taking a cue from Florida's mantra, real estate developers dialed up hip but tiny apartments designed for creative millennials and outfitted them with coffee bars, gyms, pool tables, bocce courts, pool decks and fire pits. Mayors invested in better sidewalks, bike lanes and business incubators aimed at nurturing the new arrivals and keeping them around longer.

Somewhere along the way, however, Florida realized that the workers he so cajoled were eating their cities alive.

In places such as New York, San Francisco, Seattle and arguably Washington, the mostly white, young and wealthy "creative class" has so fervently flocked to urban neighborhoods that they have effectively pushed out huge populations of mostly blue-collar and often poor or minority residents.

"I think, to be honest, I and others didn't realize the contradictory effect," Florida said in April at a panel discussion. He said he realizes now that prompting creative types to cluster in small areas clearly drove living costs to such heights that low-income and often middle-income households have been forced elsewhere, creating a divide.

"We are cramming ourselves into this limited amount of space. And at the same time that the super-affluent, the advantaged, the creative class -- we could go on and on (with what to call them) -- the techies, global super-rich, absentee investors, invest in these cities, they push others out ... and it carves these divides," he said.

The strategy is working, now just give the displaced vouchers to move out of the city, where they can enjoy a higher quality of life and get better education for their kids.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM


Teen Tobacco Use Hits a Record Low, With Sharp Drop in Vaping (Laurie McGinley, 6/17/17, The Washington Post)
Teenagers' use of e-cigarettes fell sharply last year, while overall tobacco use declined to a new low, according to data that some antismoking advocates said could signal a turning point in the decades-long effort against youth smoking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's annual report on youth and tobacco found that 11.3 percent of high school students used e-cigarettes in 2016, compared with 16 percent the year before. That's the first drop since the CDC started keeping track of e-cigarettes in 2011.

In addition, just 8 percent of high-schoolers smoked cigarettes last year, while a little over 20 percent reported using "any tobacco product," which includes cigars, hookahs, pipes, smokeless tobacco and small, leaf-wrapped cigarettes called bidis, as well as regular and e-cigarettes. Both those numbers are the lowest on record, the agency said.

"This is unimaginable, extraordinary progress," said Matthew Myers, president of the nonprofit Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, noting that almost 30 percent of young people smoked cigarettes in 2000. "This is a change of a cosmic nature that has the potential to dramatically impact lung cancer, heart disease, asthma and other problems."

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM



PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP had almost certainly never heard the name Aaron Zebley before the announcement that the former FBI agent was joining the special counsel investigation into ties between Trump's campaign and Russia. But to those who have followed the arc of the bureau during the past twenty years, Zebley's is a name that underscores just how far-reaching and dogged--and potentially long--the probe will likely be.

Just ask Steve Gaudin's ex-girlfriend.

She wasn't at all happy when Zebley, her boyfriend's FBI partner, called at 3 one morning in August, 1999. Despite all of Gaudin's international travel, chasing al Qaeda long before the terrorist group was a household name, he and his girlfriend had managed to settle down in New York City and carve out a life together in between his overseas terrorist hunts. The couple was even looking forward to an imminent, albeit brief, summer vacation.

But then came the call from Zebley.

"I've found Ali Mandela," Zebley said, excitedly. Mandela, the fugitive terrorist suspected of helping execute the previous year's bombings of US embassies in East Africa, appeared to still be on the continent, he told Gaudin. Somewhere in South Africa. They had to leave immediately.

Angry at yet another sleepless night--and vacation--ruined by the bureau's demands, Gaudin's girlfriend gave him some advice: Don't bother coming back.

But that was just the way it was for the elite agents on one of the FBI's most storied squads. Nothing could come between them and their search for justice.

The details of that trip--and the subsequent capture of one of America's most wanted terrorists by Zebley and Gaudin--help illuminate the makeup of the special counsel team that former FBI director Robert Mueller is assembling. It's a team that contains some of the nation's top investigators and leading experts on seemingly every aspect of the potential investigation--from specific crimes like money laundering and campaign finance violations to understanding how to navigate both sprawling globe-spanning cases and the complex local dynamics of Washington power politics.

Given that Donald hates the FBI and the Justice Department, how can anyone who has worked for either be impartial?  

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


This Father's Day, Remembering A Time When Dads Weren't Welcome In Delivery Rooms (DEENA PRICHEP, 6/18/17, NPR)

June 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Mueller Is Coming for Trump (Mark Joseph Stern, 6/15/17, Slate)

And what, exactly, will Mueller find now that he has substantially broadened the scope of his investigation? It's impossible to say, but easy to speculate. Reporters have already uncovered an astonishing amount of disturbing information about Trump. There's the Azerbaijan hotel project propped up by graft and bribery with ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The charitable foundation accused of self-dealing and tax fraud. The questionable Deutsche Bank loans with ties to Moscow. The close association with allegedly criminal international companies. The journalists chasing these leads have hit snags, obstacles, and insurmountable walls, leading to stories that suggest the possibility of law-breaking but end with lingering uncertainty. Mueller need not put up with such stonewalling. He has the tools to dig much deeper.

Trump is now in a painful position: Either allow the investigation to continue and risk exposure of his possible criminality or fire Mueller and weather the resulting political catastrophe. Trump has already entertained the idea of terminating the special counsel. Although his advisers talked the president out of it for now, his surrogates have begun spreading anti-Mueller talking points--a coordinated effort to smear the special counsel that seems designed to preserve the possibility of his firing. Kellyanne Conway claimed Mueller's team opposed Trump's presidency, while Newt Gingrich insisted Mueller is "setting up a dragnet of obstruction" aimed at "undermining and crippling the Trump presidency." Trump himself has tweeted that Mueller's investigation is "the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history- led by some very bad and conflicted people!"

If Trump does fire Mueller, he will prove that he truly is terrified to have his past inspected by law enforcement--so terrified that he'd be willing to spark an enormous political firestorm. It's not clear, however, that terminating Mueller would help Trump in any way. Trump thought he could stop the Russia investigation by firing FBI Director James Comey, going so far as to tell Russian officials that Comey's termination would solve the problem. But it only saddled Trump with Mueller.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Refugees May Be Good For The Economy (Kathryn Casteel and Michelle Cheng, 6/12/17, 538)

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, however, argues that it is a mistake to focus on the costs of refugee resettlement without also looking at the economic and financial benefits.

"You can't just look at one side of this equation. [They're] getting benefits, but they're also generating income," said William Evans, a Notre Dame economist and one of the paper's authors. "They're living [here], so therefore they are paying taxes."

To try to estimate both the costs and benefits of admitting refugees, Evans and his coauthor, research assistant Daniel Fitzgerald, used data from the American Community Survey to identify people who are likely to be refugees. From that group, researchers pulled a sample of 18-to-45-year-olds who resettled in the U.S. over the past 25 years and examined how their employment and earnings changed over time. They found that the U.S. spends roughly $15,000 in relocation costs and $92,000 in social programs over a refugee's first 20 years in the country. However, they estimated that over the same time period, refugees pay nearly $130,000 in taxes -- over $20,000 more than they receive in benefits.

The authors found that, when compared to rates among U.S.-born residents, unemployment was higher and earnings were lower among adult refugees during their first few years in the country, but these outcomes changed substantially over time. After six years in the U.S., refugees were more likely to be employed than U.S.-born residents around the same age. The longer they live longer in the U.S., the more refugees' economic outcomes improved and the less they relied on government assistance. While refugees' average wages are never as high as the average for U.S.-born residents, after about eight years in the U.S., refugees aren't significantly more likely to receive welfare or food stamps than native-born residents with similar education and language skills.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


Study: AC/DC's 'Highway To Hell' More Theologically Accurate Than 96% Of Modern Worship Songs (Babylon Bee, June 16, 2017)

The study examined over 800 songs and compared their theology to the Scriptures, and found that the Australian rock group's 1979 classic was "significantly more accurate" than over 96% of them.

"While modern worship songs tend to contain little theology, an anemic view of sin, and a poor understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit, 'Highway to Hell' has a very biblical view of the doctrine of hell," a CCLI rep said. "Lead singer Bon Scott had a clear understanding of man's natural inclination toward sin and the inevitable judgment of God that follows."

"Just take a look at some of those lyrics in that hard-hitting first verse," the head CCLI researcher told reporters. "'Don't need reason, don't need rhyme, Ain't nothing I would rather do / Going down, party time, My friends are gonna be there too.'"

"Bon Scott's understanding of mankind's depravity clearly rivaled anything Paul wrote in the third chapter of Romans," he added. "It's better than that song that keeps inviting the Holy Spirit in like He's some kind of coy puppy dog."

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Trump's Strange Retreat from Cuba : More smoke than fire, Trump's new policy could still derail an island's fragile turn toward the future. (MICHAEL GRUNWALD June 17, 2017, Politico)

Bendixen & Amandi also polled Cuban nationals in 2015, and what they found echoed the grumbling we heard last week on the ground: Cubans are down on their government. This is partly because of repression--short-term detentions of dissidents are on the rise, while dissident blogs (as well as porn) are blocked on the Internet--but mostly because of the lousy state-run economy. More than two thirds of Cubans said they were satisfied with their health care system--my father-in-law had to visit a clinic, and got excellent treatment plus prescription drugs at zero cost--but only two fifths were satisfied with their political system, and just one fifth with their economic system. And that was before the Venezuelan economy totally collapsed, depriving Cuba of its ideologically driven subsidies. The poll also found that 70 percent of Cubans would like to open a business, something they can only do now if they get a license to pursue one of 201 government-approved professions, ranging from "disposable lighter repair" to "piñata maker/seller" to "button coverer."

We got a sense of that entrepreneurial spirit when we knocked on the door of my father-in-law's childhood home in Camaguey, a once-prosperous agricultural center with maze-like streets supposedly designed to confuse the pirates who periodically preyed on locals. It's not prosperous anymore, and the woman who answered the door told us the house has been subdivided into a dozen or so modest apartments. (We later found one that was less modest and newly renovated; unsurprisingly, the owners were a military officer and a government official.) Hers included the home's grand foyer, which still had the original pink-and-green floral tile, but was now a bit grimy because she makes some money by charging commuters to park their bicycles there during business hours. "We all do what we can to live," she told us.

In Old Havana, a similarly entrepreneurial taxi driver named Lazaro gave us a ride in his 1955 Crown Victoria; his grandfather, a chauffeur, had inherited the car from a sugar-baron client who fled Cuba after the revolution. Lazaro had spent five years as a nurse in Venezuela, but realized he could make more money driving tourists at home; he said his business really took off with female clients after he painted the Crown Vic pink. He said he recently made $800 in three days when his car was used in the film Fast and Furious 8, which sounded impressive, except he said a pal had made $80,000 by letting the moviemakers drive his own vintage car into Havana Harbor. Even better, his pal had salvaged the wreck and repaired it to working condition.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and Cuba is full of necessity; one Camaguey woman was selling pigeon eggs out of her foyer. There are certainly glimmers of a private economy that didn't exist a decade ago. Airbnb reports its bookings have funneled $40 million to ordinary Cubans since 2015. Families are running restaurants out of their homes that seem less likely to serve bread that tastes like cardboard or "beef" made from horsemeat. Data mules go door-to-door selling external hard drives known as "paquetes" that provide a week worth of news, films and TV dramas for Cubans without Internet access. And it's no surprise that 96 percent of Cubans told Bendixen & Amandi that more tourism would benefit Cuba, because many of those approved professions--from bike-taxi drivers to "habaneras" who dress up in colonial garb to pose for photos--depend on visitors.

Still, the monopoly force of the government hovers over the private economy. The police confiscate the bike taxis of drivers caught pedaling their customers the wrong way on one-way streets. Cubans can rent out their property, but they're not allowed to own multiple properties. My father-in-law, Humberto Dominguez, an Orlando-area family doctor who is one of those communist-hating, Trump-supporting Cuban exiles, was favorably impressed with the rare-in-the-tropics cleanliness and safety of Cuba's streets, until I reminded him that police states tend to be pretty good about that kind of thing.

Anyway, most of Cuba's economy is still a government-run system that simply doesn't work. Communist-controlled stores tend to be laughably overstaffed--usually by sales associates who betray no interest in sales--and undersupplied. We saw an appliance store with only one brand of refrigerator, a medical-supply store that carried only towels and laundry detergent, and a massive window display for a home furnishings store that featured just one pinkish vase in the corner. We met a bookstore manager who seemed genuinely distraught about the turgid revolutionary tracts and anti-American propaganda she had to sell. Her shelves included only one American author, the leftist Naomi Klein.

In many ways, normalization hasn't lived up to the hype. Obama allowed Americans credit card companies to do business in Cuba, but most haven't. The opening was supposed to upgrade Cuba's dismal telecom infrastructure and bring Internet to the masses, but that hasn't happened either. The tentative steps toward engagement between American and Cuban diplomats have slowed, as both sides have waited to see what the Trump era would bring. Still, the opening has generated some positive economic activity, even though the negatives of the Venezuelan meltdown have overshadowed it. Former Miami congressman Joe Garcia, who spent years shaming political deviants from the hard-line exile position as director of the Cuban American National Foundation, has become a political deviant himself; he no longer believes that isolating Cuba will do any good for the Cuban people.

"We've seen more change in the last two years than we had seen in the last 50," Garcia said. "Obviously it's not enough change. But at least now you can get a croqueta in Havana and have a decent chance there will be real ham in it."

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


This is the impact robots are having in jobs in the US (Jay Fitzgerald, 5/11/17, WEF)

On average, the arrival of one new industrial robot in a local labor market coincides with an employment drop of 5.6 workers.

With America's workers already squeezed by forces ranging from international competition to offshoring to new information technologies, concern is growing about the impact of robots on jobs and wages.

In Robots and Jobs: Evidence from U.S. Labor Markets (NBER Working Paper No. 23285), Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo find that deployment of robots reduces employment and wages, but they caution that it is difficult to measure net labor market effects. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Russia claims it killed two more Islamic State commanders in Syria: Ifax (Reuters, 6/17/17)

The Russian defense ministry said on Saturday it had killed two Islamic State field commanders, named as Abu Omar al-Beljiki and Abu Yassin al-Masri, in air strikes near the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, Interfax news agency reported. [...]

The Russian defense ministry said on Saturday it killed around 180 militants and the two commanders al-Beljiki and al-Masri in air strikes close to Deir al-Zor on June 6 and June 8.

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


The next energy revolution: The promise and peril of high-tech innovation (David Victor and Kassia Yanosek, June 13, 2017, Brookings)

[A]s the cost of renewables is plummeting and their share of the power supply is rising, they have begun to transform electricity markets. In Germany, wind and solar power account for almost 30 percent of the power mix; in Hawaii, they account for about a quarter. Traditional utilities have struggled to adapt. In March, grid operators in California shut down 80 gigawatt-hours of the state's renewable power because the grid couldn't handle the afternoon solar surge; without more capacity to store power, even larger curtailments will occur. In Texas, among many other places, prices occasionally turn negative when the wind is blowing hard but people don't need too much electricity--in other words, companies are paying customers to use the electricity they generate. Utilities that have failed to see these changes coming have floundered. The market valuations of the top four German utilities are about one-third the level they were a decade ago--in large part because they were stuck with the costs of the old electric power system even as the government provided lavish support for renewables.

Renewables are just one part of this transformation. In the coming years, utility companies may face an existential challenge from smaller and more decentralized energy systems known as "microgrids." Microgrids first emerged decades ago, driven by customers, such as the U.S. military, that prized reliability above all else and that did not mind paying more for it: military bases have to keep functioning even if the bulk power grid fails. Early adopters also included remote communities, such as in Alaska, that are far from the conventional grid. But now, microgrids are spreading to other places, such as university campuses and hospitals, where they generate reliable power and are often designed to save money by using waste energy to heat and cool buildings.

New technologies, such as fuel cells and battery storage systems (to store extra power produced by renewables), along with more sophisticated software, have led to even smaller systems called "nanogrids," which Walmart and other megastores have begun to adopt. And picogrids may be next. As more and more people rely less on the traditional grid for power (while still interconnecting with it to help ensure reliability), policymakers and companies will need to create new regulatory systems and business models. Some states, such as New York, have embraced these changes, aggressively promoting decentralization by rewarding companies that invest in decentralized systems. But no one has yet worked out a detailed plan for how to integrate new grids with traditional power systems.

The second major source of innovation is better data analytics. Oil companies, for example, have begun to use complex algorithms to analyze massive amounts of data, making it easier for them to find oil and gas and to manage production. In April 2017, for example, bp announced that, using these methods, it had identified another 200 million barrels of oil in an existing field in the Gulf of Mexico. According to bp, data crunching that used to take a year now takes just a few weeks. And cloud processing makes it possible to generate millions of scenarios for developing an oil field. When firms can evaluate more options, production from fields can rise by five percent, with a 30 percent cut in the investment required to drill holes and begin producing oil. The industry has also begun to use data analytics for "predictive maintenance," reducing unplanned downtime by analyzing historical data to predict equipment failures before they happen. This practice, pioneered by industries such as the aircraft engine business, is helping cut costs on oil and gas rigs, where compressors and other rotating equipment can cause costly interruptions when they fail.

The third and most important trend is automation. In remote offshore oil fields, robots have already begun to perform dangerous tasks, such as connecting pipes during drilling operations, a job traditionally carried out by the versatile workers known as "roustabouts." Soon, intelligent automated systems will enable remote drilling, controlled almost entirely by a handful of high-tech workers in onshore data rooms hundreds of miles away. And companies are developing robots that can live on the ocean floor and inspect offshore pipe lines and underwater equipment. At the moment, offshore oil rigs typically employ 100-200 workers, a figure that could fall. Although people remain indispensable for critical safety roles that require complex decisionmaking, automation will transform the industry's work force. According to a McKinsey study, within ten years, oil and gas companies could employ more data scientists with Ph.D.'s than geologists.

Automation has already changed the power industry, where smart meters have all but eliminated manual meter readings. In the future, automation, along with better data analytics, will make it easier to manage the variation in supplies that comes from using renewable sources such as wind and solar energy and more complex, decentralized grids. It can also make the grid more reliable. The inability of grid operators to understand what is happening in real time plays an important role in many power outages; automation and improved human-computer interaction could make blackouts much rarer.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 PM


Muslims today face a deep malaise. We must confront it (Nabil Echchaibi, 17 June 2017, The Guardian)

How can we reconcile the anarchic savagery of our worst Muslims today with the humanist generosity of our best Muslims of yesterday? What have we to offer the world today?

Besides the brutality of colonialism and imperialism, I often wonder about our own responsibility in this squandering of energy. Our humanist ancestors of a bygone golden age towered over the world because they chose, at their own peril at times, to engage history and project their knowledge in favor of all humanity.

Sadly, Isis is only the cumulative result of people who have long expelled themselves from history, neither moving things forward, nor bringing back anything new. This is the tragedy of being rendered superfluous. In fact, the viscerality of Isis has deep and painful roots in a relentless process of atomization of the Muslim individual. The vast majority of Muslims have not resorted to violence, but they have not effectively risen up against the closing of free thought, either.

Many have written about this historical decline and often in unsavory ways, assigning Islam an unflattering place in the waiting room of history. My aim here is not to disparage a civilization, but to diagnose its current malaise, one that inflicts Muslims today and prevents them from thinking themselves into the world, not because they are incapable of doing it, but because of a coordinated campaign to deny them the right to do it. Like many Muslims, I feel the weight of this tension everyday because the distance between our religious leaders and the world in which we live is a gaping hole.

The biggest orchestrator of this campaign is not Isis. That is only one of its sad manifestations. It is Saudi Arabia and its rampant Wahhabi religiosity which cripples everything Muslim today. Its literalist theology is suffocating and has no place in the modern world.

How can we tolerate a religious system which still flogs its people in public squares, denies its women basic rights like driving and looking out windows and criminalizes any form of dissent? Weighty words fit for a colossal peril that is Saudi Arabia. I do not mince my words because this tragedy has gone on for too long and it robs Muslims around the world of their ability to think their religion anew.

In fact, I agree with Algerian author Kamel Daoud who made a subtle distinction between a "black Isis" and a "white Isis". Black Isis, he says, beheads, pillages, kills indiscriminately, and destroys the cultural heritage of humanity, whereas white Isis - Saudi Arabia - is better dressed and cleaner, but it does more or less the same thing.

Saudi Arabia has produced, according to Daoud, a "fatwa valley" and a massive industry of theologians, imams, mosques, books, cartoons and religious editorials and satellite television channels. Oil has not only polluted the planet, but it has significantly stalled the intellectual and religious march of Islam by erecting prison walls around thinking and innovation. This is not an extreme view to hold. It is one largely shared in the streets of Muslim-majority countries. Yet, we don't act on it.

This should also explain the pain I endured after watching Donald Trump dance with the royals of Saudi Arabia last month. The violence of that scene is infuriating because it tells every Muslim that no matter how the Saudis, the custodians of the most sacred sites in Islam, violate human rights, bomb and starve the children of Yemen, or foreclose any opening for religious moderation, the US will simply look away because oil and free trade have far more value than Muslims fighting for their right to freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Why I Dissented Again (Neel Kashkari, President @MinneapolisFed, , 6/17/17, Medium)

For me, deciding whether to raise rates or hold steady came down to a tension between faith and data.

On one hand, intuitively, I am inclined to believe in the logic of the Phillips curve: A tight labor market should lead to competition for workers, which should lead to higher wages. Eventually, firms will have to pass some of those costs on to their customers, which should lead to higher inflation. That makes intuitive sense. That's the faith part.

On the other hand, unfortunately, the data aren't supporting this story, with the FOMC coming up short on its inflation target for many years in a row, and now with core inflation actually falling even as the labor market is tightening. If we base our outlook for inflation on these actual data, we shouldn't have raised rates this week. Instead, we should have waited to see if the recent drop in inflation is transitory to ensure that we are fulfilling our inflation mandate.
When I'm torn between faith and data, I look at decisions from a risk management perspective.

The risk of raising rates too soon is a continuation of the FOMC's track record of coming up short of our inflation objective. As this Atlanta Fed survey² recently indicated, many people already believe that our 2 percent inflation goal is a ceiling rather than a symmetric target. Raising rates will just further strengthen that belief. And if inflation expectations drop, as we've seen in some other countries (and there are signs it might be happening here in the United States), it can be very challenging to bring them back up.

The risk of not moving soon enough generally doesn't appear to be large. If inflation does start to climb, that will actually be welcome. We will move toward our target, and I believe the FOMC will respond appropriately. And if it leads to a moderate overshoot of 2 percent, that shouldn't be concerning since we say we have a symmetric target and not a ceiling.

The Phillips Curve was propounded in 1958, before women and blacks joined the mainstream labor force in substantial numbers.  Here is the labor force participation rate since then:

You'd be hard-pressed to find any association between inflation and employment over the years since Reagan, Thatcher and Volcker broke inflation.

On the other hand, at the time Phillips was writing the percentage of the labor force in unionized jobs was at its peak. And a significant portion of breaking inflation was the action the Gipper and Iron Lady took against unions. 

The potential exists that inflation is not so much a monetary phenomenon as a function of wage demands and disempowering labor has quashed said demands, or at least the power to have them met.   

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


Meet the all-star legal team who may take down Trump (Rebecca Tan and Alex Ward  Jun 15, 2017, Vox)

Led by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, the team includes heavy hitters like Michael Dreeben, an expert on criminal law who has argued more than 100 cases in front of the Supreme Court, and Andrew Weissmann, a seasoned prosecutor who's spent his career going after organized crime.

Adding to the firepower are James Quarles, a former assistant special prosecutor for the Watergate investigation; Jeannie Rhee, a former senior adviser to former Attorney General Eric Holder and a white-collar crime specialist; and Aaron Zebley, a cybersecurity expert who spent decades in the FBI before joining a private practice.

The appointments come amid growing signs that Trump himself is in Mueller's crosshairs: On Tuesday night, the Washington Post reported that the special counsel was directly investigating whether the president's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey was an effort to obstruct justice.

The Mueller team is setting up interviews with the nation's top intelligence officials to find out whether Trump had asked them to try to persuade Comey to drop the FBI's probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to the Post. The New York Times, meanwhile, reported Tuesday night that Mueller was also looking into possible money laundering by Trump campaign staffers and associates.

The fact that Mueller's team can conduct such a broad probe -- one apparently looking into every possible angle of the Trump-Russia scandal, from possible financial crimes to outright collusion with the Kremlin -- is a reflection of just how much legal firepower he has assembled.

Trump's team, by contrast, is led by Marc Kasowitz, a Wall Street lawyer with minimal experience in federal investigations who burst onto the national scene with a typo-ridden statement defending the president. His top two partners so far, Michael Bowe and Jay Sekulow, are known more for their time on TV than their time in the courtroom, and don't have anywhere near the background Mueller's team boasts to take on this challenge.

It's like the Globetrotters vs. the Generals.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Why Trump Attacked His Own Deputy Attorney General (Ryan Lizza, June 16, 2017, The New Yorker)

To Rosenstein's friends and defenders, the content of the memo was not controversial. "A lot of prosecutors, whatever their political stripes, said Rod is right about the role of an investigator versus a prosecutor," Trusty said. "Nobody should be getting up the way Comey did and saying, 'Here are a bunch of offenses, but we're not going to prosecute.' "

Trump immediately fired Comey and released the Rosenstein memo to the public to explain his decision. Democrats and many lawyers in Washington who had a high opinion of Rosenstein were shocked that he allowed himself to be used by Trump and Sessions in such a blatant scheme to oust the person investigating the President's own campaign. Senator Chuck Schumer wrote to Rosenstein warning that the Deputy Attorney General had "imperiled" his reputation as an "apolitical actor."

"The content of that memo is totally in keeping with Rod," the former Obama official said. "He's a by-the-book guy, and he was deeply offended by how Comey broke the rules. The thing I don't understand is how Rod let himself get played like that."

The fallout from Rosenstein's Comey memo may have been the result of a clash between the two men's distinguishing characteristics: Comey's zealous self-regard for his own independence and Rosenstein's adherence to the letter of the law and Justice Department guidelines. Rosenstein may have genuinely believed that he was correcting an egregious harm to the Justice Department committed by Comey, one that still offended many lawyers there.

And Comey may have made his own mistake. Before Comey was fired, he apparently never went to Rosenstein and explained the steps that Trump had taken to try to shut down the investigation of Michael Flynn. If Comey had, Rosenstein would have known that Trump was taking actions that looked a lot like obstruction of justice. "If Comey had gone to Rod, he would never have written that memo," the Obama official said. "Those alarm bells should have gone off for Rod anyway, but Comey, by keeping it so close and feeling he's not accountable to anyone, made it easier for Rod."

But Trump and Sessions's ploy backfired. Some observers suggested that Rosenstein felt used and betrayed by the President and Sessions. Whether Rosenstein was trying to correct a mistake or not, his actions since Comey's firing have been widely commended. When he appointed Mueller as special counsel to oversee the investigation, Rosenstein's statement announcing the decision was scrupulously fair to Mueller, the President, and Trump-campaign associates. 

"My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination," he wrote. "What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."

In testimony this week, when rumors were spreading that Trump wanted to fire Mueller, Rosenstein, to whom Mueller reports, made it clear that he would not carry out Trump's order to remove Mueller unless, as Justice Department guidelines say, there was "just cause."

While Rosenstein has said that he has "no reservations about my role" in firing Comey, his actions to safeguard the independence of the investigation and publicly warn Trump that he would not obey an order to fire Mueller may have triggered Trump's wrath on Friday morning. Ironically, Trump is now alluding to the fact that Rosenstein was--wittingly or not--a part of the plot to get rid of Comey. Trump may be seizing on that fact as a way to push Rosenstein into recusing himself from the Russia investigation. (Rosenstein has reportedly already raised the issue of recusal internally, at the Justice Department.)

It is classic Trump: he ensnared Rosenstein in a scheme to get rid of Comey. Now that Rosenstein has tried to correct his error and insulate the investigation from further meddling, Trump is using Rosenstein's role in the scheme to try to push him aside. (If this sounds like a plot from "The Sopranos," it's because there were, in fact, several episodes like this.)

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Full transcript: NYU business school professor and L2 founder Scott Galloway on Recode Decode (RECODE STAFF  JUN 15, 2017, Recode)

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, business intelligence expert Scott Galloway talks a mile a minute about advertising, brands, the change in retail and how the job landscape is becoming "three million lords and 350 million serfs." Make sure you stick around for the final third of the conversation, where he does lightning evaluations of the biggest internet-era businesses.

You can read some of the highlights from the interview at that link, or listen to it in the audio player below. We've also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

When I go home tonight I'll be in Florida. I'll watch "Modern Family" as I do on every Thursday night. I can download it at ABC.com or I can download it on iTunes and pay $2.99 for 21 minutes uninterrupted. I'll pay the $2.99. If you are wealthy, a signal of that is that the advertising in your life is going down, so the traditional advertising industrial complex is crumbling, which means traditional brand equity built via broadcast advertising is declining. What does that mean for young people if you're going to work in the media? Make sure you're going to work for something that's not ad supported or that has some large subscription component. You want to go to work for HBO, not ABC.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Rule of Law: The Great Foundation of Our Constitution (Matthew Spalding, 6/17/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Over time, the rule of law had come to be associated with four key components. First, the rule of law means a formal, regular process of law enforcement and adjudication. What we really mean by "a government of laws, not of men" is the rule of men bound by law, not subject to the arbitrary will of others. The rule of law means general rules of law that bind all people and are promulgated and enforced by a system of courts and law enforcement, not by mere discretionary authority. In order to secure equal rights to all citizens, government must apply law fairly and equally through this legal process. Notice, hearings, indictment, trial by jury, legal counsel, the right against self-incrimination--these are all part of a fair and equitable "due process of law" that provides regular procedural protections and safeguards against abuse by government authority. Among the complaints lodged against the king in the Declaration of Independence was that he had "obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers," and was "depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury."

Second, the rule of law means that these rules are binding on rulers and the ruled alike. If the American people, Madison wrote in Federalist 57, "shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty." As all are subject to the law, so all--government and citizens, indeed all persons--are equal before the law, and equally subject to the legal system and its decisions. No one is above the law in respect to enforcement; no one is privileged to ignore the law, just as no one is outside the law in terms of its protection. As the phrase goes, all are presumed innocent until proven guilty. We see this equal application of equal laws reflected in the Constitution's references to "citizens" and "persons" rather than race, class, or some other group distinction, as in the Fifth Amendment's language that "No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." [...]

Third, the rule of law implies that there are certain unwritten rules or generally understood standards to which specific laws and lawmaking must conform. There are some things that no government legitimately based on the rule of law can do. Many of these particulars were developed over the course of the history of British constitutionalism, but they may be said to stem from a certain logic of the law. Several examples can be seen in the clauses of the U.S. Constitution. There can be no "ex post facto" laws--that is, laws that classify an act as a crime leading to punishment after the act occurs. Nor can there be "bills of attainder," which are laws that punish individuals or groups without a judicial trial. We have already mentioned the requirement of "due process," but consider also the great writ of "habeas corpus" (no person may be imprisoned without legal cause) and the rule against "double jeopardy" (no person can be tried or punished twice for the same crime.) Strictly speaking, none of these rules are formal laws but follow from the nature of the rule of law. "Bills of attainder, ex-post facto laws and laws impairing the obligation of contracts," Madison wrote in Federalist 44, "are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation."

Lastly, even though much of its operation is the work of courts and judges, the rule of law ultimately is based on, and emphasizes the centrality of, lawmaking. This is why, although we have three coequal branches of government, the legislature is the first among equals. But as those who make law are themselves subject to some law above them, this gives rise to the idea that there are different types of laws, some of which are more significant and important, and thus more authoritative than others. The rule of law--especially in terms of key procedural and constitutional concepts--stands above government. By definition and by enforcement it is a formal restraint on government. It judges government in light of a higher standard associated with those ideas. The more authoritative or fundamental laws have an enduring nature. They do not change day to day or by the whim of the moment and cannot be altered by ordinary acts of government.

Republicanism requires that we be equally free, not free.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


In Praise of All Those Strict Dads From Our Pasts (Tom Shillue, 6/17/17, TIME)

Some might wonder why my brother and I were so afraid to ask our father for anything. The reason is simple: dads were meaner in the 1970s. Back then, fearing your dad was what you did. That's why so many guys of my generation had such an attachment to Star Wars. We all remember that dramatic scene in The Empire Strikes Back, and the deep, chilling voice of Darth Vader as he confronts Luke Skywalker: "Luke, I am your father!" Boys like me everywhere were sitting in the movie theater clutching their popcorn bucket thinking, Yeah that makes sense... I can't believe I didn't see that one coming!

As much as the world was changing in the 1970s, the world inside our home was much like the America of decades past, or centuries, even. Think about it: our country was about to have its two hundredth birthday, and I'll bet my dad wasn't much different from George Washington's dad; stoic, stern, and authoritarian. But George Washington turned out okay, and we would, too.

I understand that I had a great and fortunate childhood. I was not the victim of strict parenting, but a beneficiary of it. When someone hears me say "Mean Dads," they might think, But my dad was mean and he ruined my life! But that's a different story. Of course, real abuse is a tragedy, but what passes as "mean" today used to just be called "parenting."

I spent much of my childhood in fear. Fear of God, fear of my parents, fear of the other adults in the neighborhood, fear of bullying kids. But fear is not always a bad thing--it keeps you alive. Fearing actual danger is very important. As you grow up you learn which fears are real and which are not, and it's always liberating to discover when one of your fears is unfounded. You think, My dad is going to kill me when he finds out! But then he doesn't kill you. You live to see another day. Your dad is not a murderer­ that's great news to a kid!

Then you realize, Perhaps he wants me to think that he is going to kill me, so next time I'll think twice before starting a fire in the garage. Dad worked in mysterious ways, like someone else I know. Fearing God is obviously important, but how are you going to fear God if you don't fear your dad? He's not God, of course, but for a while he's a pretty good stand-in.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Only Mass Deportation Can Save America (Bret Stephens JUNE 16, 2017, NY Times)

On point after point, America's nonimmigrants are failing our country. Crime? A study by the Cato Institute notes that nonimmigrants are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of illegal immigrants, and at more than three times the rate of legal ones.

Educational achievement? Just 17 percent of the finalists in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search -- often called the "Junior Nobel Prize" -- were the children of United States-born parents. At the Rochester Institute of Technology, just 9.5 percent of graduate students in electrical engineering were nonimmigrants.

Religious piety -- especially of the Christian variety? More illegal immigrants identify as Christian (83 percent) than do Americans (70.6 percent), a fact right-wing immigration restrictionists might ponder as they bemoan declines in church attendance.

Business creation? Nonimmigrants start businesses at half the rate of immigrants, and accounted for fewer than half the companies started in Silicon Valley between 1995 and 2005. Overall, the share of nonimmigrant entrepreneurs fell by more than 10 percentage points between 1995 and 2008, according to a Harvard Business Review study.

Nor does the case against nonimmigrants end there. The rate of out-of-wedlock births for United States-born mothers exceeds the rate for foreign-born moms, 42 percent to 33 percent. The rate of delinquency and criminality among nonimmigrant teens considerably exceeds that of their immigrant peers. A recent report by the Sentencing Project also finds evidence that the fewer immigrants there are in a neighborhood, the likelier it is to be unsafe.


Immigrants cheering at the start of a naturalization ceremony in Atlanta last fall. Credit David Goldman/Associated Press
And then there's the all-important issue of demographics. The race for the future is ultimately a race for people -- healthy, working-age, fertile people -- and our nonimmigrants fail us here, too. "The increase in the overall number of U.S. births, from 3.74 million in 1970 to 4.0 million in 2014, is due entirely to births to foreign-born mothers," reports the Pew Research Center. Without these immigrant moms, the United States would be faced with the same demographic death spiral that now confronts Japan.

Bottom line: So-called real Americans are screwing up America. Maybe they should leave, so that we can replace them with new and better ones: newcomers who are more appreciative of what the United States has to offer, more ambitious for themselves and their children, and more willing to sacrifice for the future.

The immigrants are the Americans.

America's new tobacco crisis: The rich stopped smoking, the poor didn't  (William Wan June 13 , 2017, Washington Post)

Hidden among the steady declines in recent years is the stark reality that cigarettes are becoming a habit of the poor. The national smoking rate has fallen to historic lows, with just 15 percent of adults still smoking. But the socioeconomic gap has never been bigger.

Among the nation's less-educated people -- those with a high-school-equivalency diploma -- the smoking rate remains more than 40 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, rural residents are diagnosed with lung cancer at rates 18 to 20 percent above those of city dwellers. By nearly every statistical measure, researchers say, America's lower class now smokes more and dies more from cigarettes than other Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Populism, X: The imperative of freedom : On the struggle to keep government in the hands of a free people. (Roger Kimball, June 2017, New Criterion)

The question of sovereignty, I believe, takes us to the heart of what in recent years has been touted and tarred as the populist project.

Consider Britain. Parliament answers to the British voters. The European Union answers to--well, to itself. Indeed, it is worth pausing to remind ourselves how profoundly undemocratic is the European Union. Its commissioners are appointed, not elected. They cannot be turned out of office by voters. If the public votes contrary to the wishes of the E.U.'s commissars in a referendum, they are simply presented with another referendum until they vote the "right" way. The E.U.'s financial books have never been subject to a public audit. The corruption is just too widespread. Yet the E.U.'s agents wield extraordinary power over the everyday lives of their charges. A commissioner in Brussels can tell a property owner in Wales what sort of potatoes he may plant on his farm, how he must calculate the weight of the products he sells, and whom he must allow into his country. He can outlaw "racism" and "xenophobia"--defined as harboring "an aversion" to people based on "race, colour, descent, religion or belief, national or ethnic origin" and specify a penalty of "at least" two years' imprisonment for infractions. He can "lawfully suppress," as the London Telegraph reported, "political criticism of its institutions and of leading figures," thus rendering the commissars of the E.U. not only beyond the vote but also beyond criticism.

It's a little different in the United States. I'll come to that below. At the moment, it is worth noting to what extent the metabolism of this political dispensation was anticipated by Alexis de Tocqueville in his famous passages about "democratic despotism" in Democracy in America. Unlike despotism of yore, Tocqueville noted, this modern allotrope does not tyrannize over man--it infantilizes him. And it does this by promulgating ever more cumbersome rules and regulations that reach into the interstices of everyday life to hamper initiative, stymie independence, stifle originality, homogenize individuality. This power, said Tocqueville, "extends its arms over society as a whole."

It does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one's acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.

Tocqueville's analysis has led many observers to conclude that the villain in this drama is the state. But the political philosopher James Burnham, writing in the early 1940s in The Managerial Revolution, saw that the real villain was not the state as such but the bureaucracy that maintained and managed it. It is easy to mock the apparatchiks who populate the machinery of government. Thus James H. Boren writes wickedly that "the noblest of all of man's struggles are those in which dedicated bureaucrats, armed with the spirit of dynamic inaction, have fought to protect the ramparts of creative nonresponsiveness from the onslaughts of mere citizens who have demanded action in their behalf." But the comic potential of the morass should not blind us to the minatory nature of the phenomenon. Indeed, it presents a specimen case of the general truth that the preposterous and the malevolent often co-mingle. The shepherd of which Tocqueville wrote was really a flock of shepherds, a coterie of managers who, in the guise of doing the state's business, prosecuted their own advantage and gradually became a self-perpetuating elite that arrogated to itself power over the levers of society.

Anatomizing this sleight-of-hand is at the center of "James Burnham's Managerial Elite," Julius Krein's essay in the inaugural issue of American Affairs. "Although the managerial elite uses the state as an instrument to acquire power," Krein notes, "the real enemy is not the state but rather the managerial separation of political and economic power from the liberal social contract."

This separation of the real power of society from the economy and political life renders the managerial elite all but untouchable. And this, as Burnham saw, was the property neither of liberalism nor of conservatism but rather of anterior forces that engulfed both. "The contradiction of contemporary conservatism," Krein writes,

is that it is an attempt to restore the culture and politics of bourgeois capitalism while accelerating the economy of managerialism. Because of its failure to recognize this contradiction, "much of conservative doctrine is, if not quite bankrupt, more and more obviously obsolescent," as Burnham wrote in 1972. Since then it has only evolved from obsolescent to counterproductive. At this point, expanding "free markets" no longer has anything to do with classical American capitalism. It is simply the further emancipation of the managerial elite from any obligations to the political community. Likewise, promoting democracy as an abstract, universalist principle only undermines the sovereignty of the American people by rejecting national interests as a legitimate ground of foreign policy.

Sovereignty, Burnham saw, was shifting from Parliaments to what he called "administrative bureaus," which increasingly are the seats of real power and, as such, "proclaim the rules, make the laws, issue the decrees." As far back as the early 1940s, Burnham could write that " 'Laws' today in the United States . . . are not being made any longer by Congress, but by the nlrb, sec, icc, aaa, tva, ftc, fcc, the Office of Production Management (what a revealing title!), and the other leading 'executive agencies.' " And note that Burnham wrote decades before the advent of the epa, hud, cfpb, fsoc, the Department of Education, and the rest of the administrative alphabet soup that governs us in the United States today.

I am convinced that the issue of sovereignty, of what we might call the location of sovereignty, has played a large role in the rise of the phenomenon we describe as "populism" in the United States as well as Europe. For one thing, the question of sovereignty, of who governs, stands behind the rebellion against the political correctness and moral meddlesomeness that are such conspicuous and disfiguring features of our increasingly bureaucratic society. The smothering, Tocquevillian blanket of regulatory excess has had a wide range of practical and economic effects, stifling entrepreneurship and making any sort of productive innovation difficult.

But perhaps its deepest effects are spiritual or psychological. The many assaults against free speech on college campuses, the demand for "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" against verbal or fashion-inspired "micro-aggressions" (Mexican hats, "offensive" Halloween costumes, etc.) are part of this dictatorship of political correctness. In The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek said that one of the "main points" of his argument concerned "the psychological change," the "alteration of the character of the people," that extensive government control brought in its wake. The alteration involves a process of softening, enervation, infantilization even: an exchange of the challenges of liberty and self-reliance--the challenges, that is to say, of adulthood--for the coddling pleasures of dependence. Max Weber spoke in this context of "Ordnungsmenschen," men who had become increasingly dependent on an order imposed upon them from above. Breaking with that drift becomes more and more difficult the more habituated to dependence a people becomes. In this sense, what has been described as a populist upsurge against political correctness is simply a reassertion of independence, a reclamation of what turns out to be a most uncommon virtue, common sense.

The issue of sovereignty also stands behind the debate over immigration: indeed, is any issue more central to the question Who governs? than who gets to decide a nation's borders and how a country defines its first person plural: the "We" that makes us who we are as a people?

The reason that populism is an epithet is because it is the claim of the marginal to popularity.  Note that as populism is defined by American Heritage and accepted by Mr. Kimball--a political philosophy directed to the needs of the common people and advancing a more equitable distribution of wealth and power--the great populist movement of modernity is Communism, which has always had to seize power violently rather than winning at the ballot box. It is this marginal nature that gives us claims to populism by both the far Left and the far Right.  And even though there is considerable overlap between the two, few Bernie Bros would accept that they are similar to the alt-right, nor vice versa.

Immigration--the example Mr. Kimball chooses--provides the perfect example of these phenomena.  Donald and his supporters oppose immigration for racial/cultural reasons while Bernie and his oppose it for religious and trade-unionist reasons.  But the American people support it in overwhelming numbers, including most who voted for either of them. Their populism is not merely unpopular nationally but antithetical to the ethos of the citizenry.

Mr. Kimball is right then, to decry immigration as a failure of popular sovereignty; he just has it exactly backwards.  It is the refusal of the wings in Congress to pass immigration reform that is thwarting sovereignty.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:26 AM


Post-Election Period Has Destabilized the 'Platform of the Alt-Right' (Paul Farhi, 6/16/17, The Washington Post)

Faced with an advertiser boycott and plummeting readership, Breitbart News has lately been trimming back some of its more extreme elements in what may be a bid for more mainstream respectability.

Gone: Prominently displayed stories appealing to overt racial prejudice, such as reports and essays about crimes committed by African-Americans. Articles such as "Five Devastating Facts about Black-on-Black Crime" and "Black-on-Black Crime: Blame it on the System and Ignore the Evidence" have all but disappeared from the site.

Gone: Reporter Katie McHugh, who was fired by Breitbart this month for tweeting after the latest terrorist attack in London, "There would be no terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn't live there." McHugh doubled down on the vitriol when an Iranian-American, actor Pej Vahdat, called her "a real moron." In reply, she tweeted, "You're an Indian," then deleted it.

Long gone: Milo Yiannopoulos, once Breitbart's biggest star and a magnet for accusations that the site promoted misogyny, white ethno-nationalism and demonization of immigrants. Yiannopoulos was forced out in February amid exposure of videos in which he spoke favorably about pedophilia.

Delayed: Breitbart's long-touted plans to expand to France and Germany. The company disclosed Euro-expansion plans last year, but has little to show for it so far.

Breitbart hitched itself to Donald Trump's presidential campaign last year and reaped an enormous spike in reader traffic and media attention. Its former chairman, Stephen K. Bannon -- who once declared Breitbart "the platform of the alt-right" -- became Trump's campaign chairman and later his chief White House strategist.

But the post-election period hasn't been very kind to Breitbart.

Attention is fatal to extremism.

June 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


Weak inflation erodes conviction at Fed on rate hikes (Ann Saphir and Lindsay Dunsmuir, 6/16/17, Reuters)

When the Federal Reserve raised rates earlier this week, Fed Chair Janet Yellen expressed confidence that recent weak inflation readings were transitory. Fed officials on Friday signaled that doubts are simmering.

In an interview with Reuters on Friday, Minneapolis Federal Reserve President Neel Kashkari said he was not alone at the U.S. central bank in his view the Fed should have waited to raise interest rates until it was sure the recent drop in price pressures really is temporary. [...]

"The run of weaker core inflation readings has clearly rattled some Fed officials," Capital Economics wrote in a note to clients earlier on Friday.

The U.S. unemployment rate fell to a 16-year low of 4.3 percent in May, but the Fed's preferred measure of underlying inflation has been running below target for more than five years and in April slowed a second month to 1.5 percent.

That has led to some beginning to question the validity of the traditional narrative of a tight labor market eventually sparking higher inflation.

"Recent global developments add doubt to whether the traditional dynamics still work," Barclays economist Christian Keller said on Friday. He cited the examples of Japan and Germany, whose unemployment levels have declined to levels not seen since the early 1990s but where wage pressures also remain sluggish.

The four most recent downturns have all been caused by the Fed hiking rates into the teeth of deflation, though only the one where hikes revealed institutional fraud produced a recession.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


A Reported Investigation of Trump Would Have Widespread Legal Implications (ARI MELBER and PHIL HELSEL, 6/16/17, NBC News)

[T]he expanded scope of the probe is a turning point, and raises several legal implications:

-- An FBI inquiry of the Comey firing makes it more likely Rosenstein could be a witness, and thus potentially meet the parameters for recusing himself from overseeing Mueller's investigation.

Rosenstein told The Associated Press in an article published on June 3 that he would recuse himself if he were to become a subject of Mueller's investigation.

"I've talked with Director Mueller about this," Rosenstein told the AP. "He's going to make the appropriate decisions, and if anything that I did winds up being relevant to his investigation then, as Director Mueller and I discussed, if there's a need from me to recuse I will."

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has already recused himself in the investigation because of his role in the Trump campaign.

-- An obstruction inquiry reviewing Comey's firing makes it more likely that other government officials involved in that act, or related activity, could face legal exposure.

Federal employees interacting with the Trump administration regarding FBI staffing or this investigation, for example, may want to consider retaining counsel.

If the FBI is pursuing a theory that the Comey firing may be part of a larger obstruction effort, for example, then staff who knowingly assist with the original or related acts could face exposure. As a general matter, the Department of Justice can theoretically make an obstruction case against multiple people.

-- This report asserts the obstruction inquiry began before Mueller took over.

Comey was fired on May 9, and Mueller was appointed on May 17. The suggestion is that the career FBI agents already determined obstruction warranted investigation, independently and before Mueller took over. [...]

[I]n the event an investigation were to find potential high crimes, the process is to refer such information or material to Congress, which the Constitution provides as the adjudicative body for alleged high crimes and misdemeanors by a president.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


In Search of Fear : Notes from a high-wire artist. (Philippe Petit, Lapham's Quarterly)

How to disrupt the body language of fear

Before my high-wire walk across the Seine to the second story of the Eiffel Tower, the seven-hundred-yard-long inclined cable looked so steep, the shadow of fear so real, I worried. Had there been an error in rigging calculations? No. I had just forgotten how high were my expectations, how mad I was to have conceived such a project. On the spot I vanquished my anxiety by imagining the best outcome: my victorious last step above a cheering crowd of 250,000.

If imagination does not work, turn to the physical side of things. Give yourself a time-limit ultimatum: start counting! Yes, choose a number--not too high--and when you hear footsteps on your porch at three am, unfreeze your trepidation by whispering to yourself, "At ten, I open the door! One, two, three, four..."

A clever tool in the arsenal to destroy fear: if a nightmare taps you on the shoulder, do not turn around immediately expecting to be scared. Pause and expect more, exaggerate. Be ready to be very afraid, to scream in terror. The more delirious your expectation, the safer you will be when you see that reality is much less horrifying than what you had envisioned. Now turn around. See? It was not that bad--and you're already smiling.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Historical Returns of the Market Portfolio (Ronald Q. Doeswijk, Trevin Lam and Laurens Swinkels, June 1, 2017, SSRN)

Using a newly constructed unique dataset, this study is the first to document returns of the market portfolio for a long period and with a high level of detail. Our market portfolio basically contains all assets in which financial investors have invested. We analyze nominal, real, and excess return and risk characteristics of this global multi-asset market portfolio and the asset categories over the period 1960 to 2015. The global market portfolio realizes a compounded real return of 4.38% with a standard deviation of 11.6% from 1960 until 2015. In the inflationary period from 1960 to 1979, the compounded real return of the GMP is 2.27%, while this is 5.57% in the disinflationary period from 1980 to 2015. The reward for the average investor is a compounded return of 3.24%-points above the saver's. 

The deflationary epoch is the Golden Age.

Posted by orrinj at 3:23 PM


THE SOVEREIGN MYTH (JACOB T. LEVY, 6/16/17, Niskanen Center)

One of the defining organizational facts about the state as we know it -- the modern Weberian state that crystallized in Europe over the course of early modernity -- is that it is symbiotic with transnational finance. In part, but it's an important part, the modern state is a creation of the bond market, and so is the modern democratic state. Medieval mercantile cities had long been able to borrow money at better interest rates than other political units. In early modernity, states that were relatively representative and relatively commercial learned that they could do the same. First Holland, then England, gained crucial advantages in international competition from their ability to borrow cheaply; the credit market trusted representative governments that incorporated important parts of the commercial classes much more than they trusted absolute monarchs. And Britain's ability to out-borrow France eventually contributed to the bankruptcy of the latter state and the onset of the Revolution.


This is uncontroversial but, from many ideological perspectives, uncomfortable. It means that the growth, stability, and expansion of powerful states governed by representative democracy was in part a creation of the credit market, bondholders, and international finance. That's not a world in which democratic decision makers ever had unconstrained sovereign decision-making authority over public finance, even in the powerful core states of the international system. It also means that the representative state emerged out of a kind of market competition for creditworthy providers of government. The representation of those who would have to be taxed in the future to repay the debt was taken as much more credible than a king's prediction that his son would probably find the money somewhere. Moreover, the innovative financial instruments that characterize modern financial markets were often created by, or around, public or quasi-public entities like the Bank of England and the Dutch East India Company. And once these processes got underway, the validity of transnational debt in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries was often enforced at gunboat-point by powerful states.

Thus, imagined histories of democratic sovereignty over the economy cannot survive contact with the actual history of the emergence of democratic states. Neither can imagined histories of an immaculately conceived market innocent of the world of coercive states. Modern liberal markets and modern democratic states evolved together, and each contributed to the development of the other in their familiar forms. I think that this history is somewhat more compatible with the kind of theory Andy Sabl recently developed in this space, one that takes seriously the connections and affinities among the fundamental institutions of liberal society: the free commercial market, the constitutional democratic state, civil society governed by associational freedom, and the rule of impersonal law. It's the attempt to split these apart, whether to celebrate the democratic state alone or the market alone, that runs into trouble.

My point is not only the familiar one (no less crucial and true for being familiar!) that broad economic forces are always outside of any one state's control. Every local economy is always affected by global economic forces, once markets have been integrated; and this is true regardless of how the local economy is organized. The Soviet Union spared no effort to subject its economy to deliberate planning and control, but it was still at the mercy of global swings in the price of oil. No state can legislate away the existence of changes in relative prices. Neither can a state just decide to have technological innovations or productivity increases, to say nothing of whether there are such innovations elsewhere that have positive spillover effects, or that hurt a local sector by competition. I think all of this is generally recognized -- although one might sometimes wonder, given the popularity of claims about nation-states and democratic electorates controlling their economic destinies.


But I mean to also emphasize that even the things that states do govern about their economies, they have never sovereignly controlled. The public budget, the tax system, public debt, monetary and exchange policy: these have always been constrained by international actors. Indeed, the finance provided by the international actors has often been a precondition for the states' ability to decide these matters at all.

And modern sovereignty just holds that it is the electorate and its representatives who get to decide at all, not that they will be able to control everthing.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


'Practice really makes perfect' in ax throwing : On International Ax Throwing Day, physicist Metin Tolan tells DW how best to launch the tool - and explains why the traditional way of hurling them is relatively weak. (Deutsche-welle, 6/15/17)

In clubs where beginners practice ax throwing and in competitions, the throwers aren't allowed to spin for safety reasons, even though that seems to be the best way to cover great distances. Competitive ax throwers raise the ax with both hands and launch it forward. What do you think of this technique?

I totally understand that spinning is too risky. It's tough to know when to let go and having a stray ax fly around would simply be too dangerous.

Posted by orrinj at 3:15 PM


How the President's "Clarifying" Memorandum Destroys the Case for the Entry Ban (Leah Litman and Steve Vladeck, June 15, 2017, Justsecurity)

The government's argument for suspending all entry into the United States of non-citizens from seven (now six) Muslim-majority countries has, from its inception, been predicated on two separate--but related--claims: First, that such a ban is a necessary "temporary pause" to allow the government to review its internal procedures for granting entry in the future to nationals from these countries.  Second, that the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Attorney General have "determined" that such review (and, therefore, such a "temporary pause") was necessary for national security. In other words, the most outward-facing (and controversial) aspect of the Executive Orders--the entry ban--was simply a means to their more important, inward-facing end, the internal review procedures.

Two developments on Wednesday have called this understanding--and, with it, much of the underlying justification for the entry ban--into serious question. First, President Trump signed a memorandum "clarifying" that the provisions of the second Executive Order (and their 90-day clock) become effective only once the current injunctions are "lifted or stayed," a move designed apparently to preempt the argument (based on the plain language of the Executive Order) that it expired last night at midnight. Second, the Justice Department filed a little-noticed motion in the Ninth Circuit to issue the mandate in Hawaii v. Trump immediately--so that those aspects of the Executive Order that Monday's Ninth Circuit ruling un-enjoined (to wit, the internal review procedures) could go into immediate effect (although the clarifying memorandum provides that they won't go into effect until 72 hours after the injunction is formally lifted).

As we explain in the post that follows, in the process, these developments de-couple the entry ban from the internal review procedures--and, in doing so, undermine (perhaps fatally) the government's strongest arguments for the ban itself. 

No one takes the pretexts seriously.

Posted by orrinj at 2:40 PM


The death of cash (Melissa Thompson, 6/15/17, Next Web)

Bad news for anyone who loves unhygienic, bacteria-circulating dollar bills: cash is on its way out. But for the rest of us, there is reason to rejoice. Cash costs us a lot of money. A recent study by Tufts showed that consumers lose about $200 billion annually by using cash.

This includes ATM fees, and other losses associated with cash use, like the time and transportation it takes to drive to the bank (which is, since you're wondering, 28 precious minutes per month, per person).

But, the study maintains, "cash derives its value from the information it contains and is a classic information good, which can be replaced by a digital substitute."

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


With shift on Cuba, Trump could undercut his company's hotel-industry rivals  (Drew Harwell and Jonathan O'Connell June 15, 2017, Washington Post)

[A]s the owner of a real estate company with a big stake in hotels and resorts, Trump brings an added element to an issue that is unique to his presidency -- the ability, through his official actions, to undermine a growth area for his industry rivals who have raced in recent years to establish a foothold in a lucrative new market.

Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which merged with Marriott International to form the world's largest hotel chain, last year debuted the first Cuban hotel managed by a U.S. company in nearly 60 years, taking advantage of President Barack Obama's 2014 move to normalize relations with Cuba and lighten regulations enforcing the U.S. embargo on the island.  [...]

As part of an ethics pledge, Trump's company has vowed to pursue no new foreign deals during his presidency, making a potential foray into Cuba off limits for now. Yet, according to one industry expert, a presidential directive restricting efforts there by Starwood or other hotel chains would, in effect, neutralize a chief rival's ability to gain an early advantage.

"What's the president going to say? That the largest hotel company in the world, a competitor, is not allowed to renew its license" to operate in the country? asked Julia Sweig, a longtime Cuba scholar and former adviser to Starwood who has called for normalizing relations with the island. "That could be interpreted as the president is going to hold things up for the competition until the Trump Organization is ready to go down there."

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Catalans woo immigrants in quest to split from Spain (Sonya Dowsett, 6/16/17, Reuters)

Catalonia has one of the highest percentages of immigrants in Spain, just under 14 percent of residents are foreign-born, and their votes may gain crucial votes for the independence movement in what is likely to be a close-run race.

Including them in the movement for nationhood is key says Catalonia's deputy governor, Oriol Junqueras. "We want to be a very open and integrated society," he told Reuters in Barcelona.

Campaigners are even encouraging migrants without the right to vote to ask work mates and friends to vote for independence and are advocating Catalan nationality for all migrants living in the region if it leaves Spain.

"All those who are officially registered as living in Catalonia will have the right to Catalan nationality from day one of independence," said Uruguayan Ana Surra, Spanish member of parliament for Catalan pro-independence party ERC.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM


'A reckoning for our species': the philosopher prophet of the Anthropocene : Timothy Morton wants humanity to give up some of its core beliefs, from the fantasy that we can control the planet to the notion that we are 'above' other beings. His ideas might sound weird, but they're catching on. (Alex Blasdel, 6/15/17, The Guardian)

The Anthropocene idea is generally attributed to the Nobel prize-winning atmospheric chemist Paul Crutzen and the biologist Eugene Stoermer, who started popularising the term in 2000. From the outset, many took Crutzen and Stoermer's concept seriously, even if they disagreed with it. Since the late 20th century, scientists have viewed geological time as a drama punctuated by great cataclysms, not merely a gradual accretion of incremental changes, and it made sense to see humanity itself as the latest cataclysm.

Imagine geologists from a future civilisation examining the layers of rock that are in the slow process of forming today, the way we examine the rock strata that formed as the dinosaurs died off. That civilisation will see evidence of our sudden (in geological terms) impact on the planet - including fossilised plastics and layers both of carbon, from burning carbon fuels, and of radioactive particles, from nuclear testing and explosions - just as clearly as we see evidence of the dinosaurs' rapid demise. We can already observe these layers forming today.

For a couple of years, a lively debate over the usefulness of the concept unfolded. Detractors argued that humanity's "geological signal" was not yet loud enough to justify the coronation of a new epoch, or that the term had no scientific use. Supporters wondered when they should date the Anthropocene's start. To the advent of agriculture, many millennia ago? To the invention of the steam engine in the 18th century and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution? To 5.29am on 16 July 1945, the moment when the first-ever nuclear test exploded over the New Mexico desert? (Morton, in his all-embracing way, treats each of these moments as pivotal.) Then, in 2002, Crutzen set out his arguments in the scientific journal Nature. The idea of a moment in planetary history in which human influence was predominant seemed to tie together so many disparate developments - from retreating glaciers to fresh thinking about the limits of capitalism - that the term quickly spread to other earth sciences, and then beyond.

From the geocentric universe to the homocentric...

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


The Trump Idea Liberals Should Like : Privatizing air traffic control has worked well for countries like Canada. (Adam Minter, Bloomberg)

The FAA's troubles don't differ significantly from those Canada faced before 1996, except perhaps in terms of scale. Nav Canada, the user-financed, non-profit corporation that purchased Canada's air traffic control system for $1.1 billion, has solved most of those problems by introducing private-sector efficiency and incentives where none had existed before.

Freed of burdensome government contracting rules, Nav Canada is able to hire quickly and pay competitively, and set strict deadlines for tasks to be accomplished. The company has also been able to take advantage of new navigation technologies more quickly than the U.S. government has.

For example, Canadian controllers now use satellite-based GPS to track aircraft that are outside radar coverage, whereas their American counterparts still often rely on paper-and-pencil. Canadian controllers can space in-flight planes more closely and thus develop more efficient routes. This allows airlines to schedule flights more flexibly and improve on-time performance -- not to mention reduce fuel use, improve margins and shrink carbon emissions.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 AM


The Case for Obstruction Charges (DANIEL HEMEL and ERIC POSNERJUNE 15, 2017, NY Times)

[T]he case against Mr. Trump involves three key events. First, James Comey said that when he was the F.B.I. director, the president told him in a Valentine's Day chat, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go." Two Federal Courts of Appeals have held that similar "I hope" statements can -- depending on the context -- support charges of obstruction.

Second, President Trump reportedly asked the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, in a private meeting in late March if Coats could get the F.B.I. to back off its Flynn probe. President Nixon's attempt to use the C.I.A. to shut down the Watergate investigation was one of the reasons the House Judiciary Committee voted for articles of impeachment on obstruction charges.

Last, President Trump fired Mr. Comey on May 9 and then said on television that the firing was related to the Russia inquiry -- a signal to Comey's replacement, Acting Director Andrew McCabe, that he should roll back the investigation if he wanted to stay on as F.B.I. chief.

Even if none of those specific incidents would qualify as obstruction on its own, federal courts have said that an entire course of conduct can constitute obstruction. And whether Mr. Trump succeeded in his efforts is legally irrelevant, because federal law criminalizes attempted obstruction as well as successful obstruction. Nor does it matter whether there was an actual underlying crime.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 AM


Russia Says It May Have Killed IS Leader Al-Baghdadi In Air Strike (Radio Liberty, June 16, 2017)

The Russian Defense Ministry says the leader of the extremist group Islamic State (IS), Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, may have been killed in a Russian air strike in Syria late last month.

June 15, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM



Fans might not know the identity of the older man in the Angels uniform observing workouts and games at the minor league complex, but Bobby Knoop is there just about every day that school is in session for the youngest of the Angels farmhands.

The 78-year-old former big league second baseman and major league coach watches workouts and games from his ubiquitous lawn chair, perched behind the fence on one of the complex fields. Here he can get a good view of what's happening on the field, occasionally taking breaks between innings to work on the crossword puzzle from the daily newspaper. At times, he'll head to a side field to hit fungoes and give individual instruction to infielders. During the Arizona League season or when there's an extended spring training game in Tempe Diablo Stadium, he settles into a seat on the concourse level, where he gets a bird's eye view of the field.

Bottom line--if there's baseball happening at the Angels minor league complex, Knoop is likely nearby.

Knoop's professional career dates back to 1956 when the Southern California teenager signed with the Milwaukee Braves. Selected by the Angels in the December 1963 Rule 5 draft, Knoop made his big league debut in 1964, launching a playing career that spanned nine seasons with the Angels, White Sox and Royals. Regarded as one of the best defensive second basemen of his era, Knoop won three Gold Gloves. In his best years he teamed with All-Star shortstop Jim Fregosi, who played 18 years in the bigs followed by a 15-year managerial career.

"He was my teammate, of course, but more than that he was my roommate," Knoop said about the late Fregosi, ". . . my closest and dearest friend in baseball."

Knoop's acrobatic movements around the keystone earned him the nickname "Nureyev," after Rudolph Nureyev, the Russian ballet dancer of the era. That name was coined by Angels beat writers after Knoop told them his mother insisted he take ballet lessons as a child. 

...for Jimmy Reese.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Lobbyist for Russian interests says he attended dinners hosted by Sessions  (Stephanie Kirchgaessner, 15 June 2017, The Guardian)

An American lobbyist for Russian interests who helped craft an important foreign policy speech for Donald Trump has confirmed that he attended two dinners hosted by Jeff Sessions during the 2016 campaign, apparently contradicting the attorney general's sworn testimony given this week.

Sessions testified under oath on Tuesday that he did not believe he had any contacts with lobbyists working for Russian interests over the course of Trump's campaign. But Richard Burt, a former ambassador to Germany during the Reagan administration, who has represented Russian interests in Washington, told the Guardian that he could confirm previous media reports that stated he had contacts with Sessions at the time.

"I did attend two dinners with groups of former Republican foreign policy officials and Senator Sessions," Burt said.

Posted by orrinj at 11:55 AM


Kerry killed peace by coddling Israel (Dan Rothem, 6/15/17, Times of Israel)

Earlier this week, Haaretz revealed the contents of the draft peace proposals developed by Secretary of State John Kerry and presented to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in early 2014. The documents are the most comprehensive American attempt to present the outlines of a peace agreement since Israeli-Palestinian negotiations began more than a quarter of a century ago. What the texts demonstrate, strikingly, is how inadequate and uninformed was Kerry's understanding of the building blocks that a peace agreement must entail. [...]

Clearly, on Jerusalem the American language fell significantly short of what Palestinians heard in the past. While Clinton, Barak, and Olmert endorsed Palestinian sovereignty in all the Arab parts of East Jerusalem (except the Old City, where Olmert envisioned an internationalized special regime), Kerry succumbed to Netanyahu's intransigence against Palestinian sovereignty in any part of Jerusalem, limiting the American position to a mere acknowledgment of Palestinian aspirations there. Only after having discredited himself by articulating this overtly Israeli-biased formula in February did Kerry ultimately arrive at ideas inferior to, but not contradicting, what Clinton had introduced in 2000.

On refugees, the American text unabashedly and exclusively addressed Israeli interests but failed to even mention narrative issues dear to Palestinians: recognition of refugee rights and of responsibility for the creation of the refugee problem. Clinton, Barak, and Olmert dealt to varying degrees with these issues. The Palestinians rejected all formulas as insufficient. Why Kerry believed his inferior formula would be acceptable to Abbas is a mystery.

Finally and most elaborately, we arrive at the question of borders. At least three members of Kerry's team and one informed outsider told me -- both during and after Kerry's failed effort -- that Netanyahu went "even beyond Olmert" on borders. It sounded unreliable, but I eagerly anticipated the publication of the text.

The American language stated that borders will be based on the 1967 lines with "mutually-agreed swaps whose size and location will be negotiated," so that Palestine's eventual territory will be "corresponding in size" to the West Bank and Gaza territory conquered by Israel in 1967. These positions, in some variations, are what Palestinians had heard from Clinton, Bush, Obama, Barak, and Olmert. And despite the good intentions of them all, it falls short of Abbas's basic need: that swaps -- representing a compromise on top of the Palestinian historic compromise of forfeiting 78 percent of historical Palestine and settling for the 22 percent that is the West Bank and Gaza -- will need to be equal in size and quality. And despite all past evidence that any attempt to gain an advantage for Israel of even one-half of one percent in the swap ratio is a deal breaker, Kerry and his team stretched the English language to its limits, avoiding at all cost the only word that could bring about a breakthrough: 'equal.'

Posted by orrinj at 11:50 AM


Manafort still doing international work (KENNETH P. VOGEL, 06/15/2017, Politico)

Manafort in recent weeks has either consulted or worked with a Chinese construction billionaire looking to expand his business overseas and a telecommunications firm interested in regulatory approval from governments in Asia and the Middle East, as well as an investment fund claiming links to the Chinese government, according to documents and interviews.

Manafort quietly consulted on a proposal under which the Chinese fund -- the China Development Fund -- would invest $30 billion or more in the Puerto Rican government's bond debt and possibly the island's critical infrastructure, according to documents and interviews with four people familiar with the negotiations, including a Manafort business partner.

One of the people, a lawyer involved in the discussions, said Manafort indicated that he could convince the Trump administration to support any resulting deal, because he's remained in contact with Trump's team, and that he played a role in helping to soften Trump's tough campaign rhetoric on China.

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


CEOs to Trump: You're failing (Matt Egan, June 15, 2017, CNN)

A stunning 50% of the CEOs, business execs, government officials and academics surveyed at the annual Yale CEO Summit give Trump an "F" for his first 130 days in office.

The survey, released earlier this week, found that another 21% give Trump's performance a "D" so far. Just 1% of the 125 leaders polled awarded the billionaire an "A."

Posted by orrinj at 11:27 AM


Why treating breast cancer with less may be more (Ashish A. Deshmukh, Anna Likhacheva, 6/15/17, The Conversation)

For decades, breast cancer was considered such a formidable foe that doctors who treated it and women who had it wanted to use everything in their arsenal to fight it.

That included the radical Halsted mastectomy, which often took out chest muscles along with the breast and left women disfigured.

It also included lengthy radiation treatments, sometimes for as long as seven weeks (known as conventionally fractionated radiation), given every day Monday through Friday after surgery. This form of radiation comes at great cost to women and causes hardships for those who live far away from radiation clinics. [...]

Multiple randomized trials have shown that a 3- to 4-week course of whole breast radiation therapy is equivalent to a 6- to 8-week course. In fact, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network (NCCN) guidelines endorse the short hypofractionated course as the preferred approach.

Despite all this, American doctors have not widely adopted the new strategy. The reasons for this are varied, including dissemination of new findings to private practitioners and financial incentives of treating with a longer course. Our current fee-for-service reimbursement structure pays more for the longer treatment, which may be a factor in the surprisingly slow adoption of the convenient hypofractionated whole breast radiotherapy approach.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


Poll: Americans don't think Trump respects the nation's traditions (Darlene Superville and Emily Swanson, 6/15/17, )

Most Americans say they think President Trump has little to no respect for the country's democratic traditions, according to a new poll that underscores the difficulty Mr. Trump faces in uniting a country deeply divided about his leadership. [...]

Trump was unpopular among Americans overall even as he was elected president, but the poll shows that even many Republicans have doubts. Nearly a third of Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican party think Trump has little to no respect for the country's democratic institutions, and a quarter disapprove of the job he's doing as president.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Oil hits six-week low as OPEC fails to curb oversupply (Christopher Johnson, 6/15/17, Reuters)

Oil prices dropped to six-week lows on Thursday, under pressure from high global inventories and doubts about OPEC's ability to implement agreed production cuts.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Democrats and Republicans: Play Ball! (Carl M. Cannon, June 15, 2017, Real Clear Politics)

Speaking for the 40 percent of Americans who no longer identify with either party, something that transcends temporary shows of bipartisanship would be welcome. Pelosi made such a gesture Wednesday. From the House floor, while looking in the direction of the Republicans, she said she prays weekly for every member of Congress and for Donald Trump's family--and even for a "successful" Trump presidency.

So, what would a gesture look like on the baseball diamond? Here's a modest idea. Instead of Democrats competing against Republicans, how about choosing up sides the way American kids do on the schoolyard? Each team captain would pick a player, in order, and they must alternate picks, one Republican, then one Democrat. Don't play against the other party, play with them--for this one night.

We've seen overtures like this before. Members stood on the Capitol steps and sang together on 9/11. For a while, they sat with an opposite-party buddy during the State of the Union address. Maybe this one could start a trend--a new kind of streak in a game that has been one of streaks. Before winning, 8-7, last year, the Republicans had lost seven annual congressional baseball games in a row. Prior to that, Democrats had dropped 11 of the previous 12.

At one point in the late 1950s, Sam Rayburn got so tired of Democrats losing that he cancelled the game under the pretext that members had more important things to do. From the beginning--and this game began in 1909--each party has been vigilant lest the other team bring in a ringer. The GOP figured out how to do it first: In 1968, North Carolina voters sent former St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher Wilmer "Vinegar Bend" Mizell to Congress. Only six or seven years removed from the major leagues, Mizell proved unhittable for Democratic batters.

The Democratic manager is reported to have strode out to the mound with the following ultimatum: "If this guy throws one more pitch, we walk off the field." And so, an unwritten rule was instituted: former pros can participate in the congressional game, but not at the position they played in the majors.

This tradition lasted until 1987, when the Republicans tried to avenge a loss the year before by trotting Jim Bunning out to the mound. He was freshman House member from Kentucky, and would also become an actual baseball Hall of Famer with a plaque in Cooperstown and everything. He was also 55 years old, however, and the Democrats ended up winning a wild game, 15-14. But who cares?

Winning an exhibition game is not what matters. What matters is that these people learn to work together. Maybe if they played together first, it would help. Rep. Rodney Davis, an Illinois Republican, seems to think so. Davis was at the plate taking batting practice Wednesday morning when the first shots rang out. He didn't put the blame solely on a disturbed gunman. He faulted the vicious and overheated nature of our current national political discourse.  "This hate has led to gunfire," he said, his voice rising with emotion. "It has to stop."

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


U.S. Continues Military Relations With Qatar, Despite Alleged 'Terrorism' Links (Radio Liberty, June 15, 2017)

The U.S. military conducted naval exercises with Qatar on June 14 and readied an agreement to sell the small Persian Gulf nation fighter jets, despite White House charges that it sponsors "terrorism."

Two U.S. Navy vessels arrived in Doha to take part in a joint military exercise with the Qatari Emiri Navy, Qatar news agency QNA reported. [...]

Moreover, the Pentagon last week praised Qatar for its "enduring commitment to regional security."

It's not terrorism when we do it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 AM


An Aztec Temple Emerges in Heart of Mexico City (REUTERS, JUNE 12, 2017)

The site is near the Templo Mayor, another massive Aztec ruin. The excavations, begun in 2009, reveal a section of what was the foundation of a huge circular temple dedicated to the Aztec wind god Ehecatl and a part of a ritual ball court.

Archaeologists have also found 32 severed male neck vertebrae in a pile just off the court -- probably sacrifices linked to the Aztec ballgame.

Ritual beheadings for delay of game?

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


Cuba's Castro sets elections timetable (Deutsche-Welle, 6/15/17)

Municipal assembly delegates are nominated by neighbors and do not have to belong to the Communist Party, although the path to the National Assembly and ultimately to the presidency is controlled by the party.

The electoral notice coincides with a period of uncertainty for Cuba. 

The group that has ruled the country since the 1959 revolution is dying out and Cuba's main political and trade ally Venezuela is in crisis. For the past decade, Venezuelan oil subsidies have been crucial to Cuba's economy. [...]

Castro's first vice president, the 57-year-old Miguel Diaz-Canel, is widely tipped to assume Castro's mantle, but there is also talk of a radical break with the older generation and an embrace of the market reforms that have been a feature of Castro's nine-year rule.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Tillerson retreats from pledge to fill anti-Semitism envoy post (RON KAMPEAS, June 15, 2017, Times of Israel)

Since Congress established the position with a 2004 law, the role of the envoy has been to train career State Department officers and diplomats in identifying and combating anti-Semitism and to encourage embassies and bureaus to more closely monitor anti-Semitism. The envoy has not functioned as a stand-alone entity but rather is part of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, and supervises about five career State Department staffers.

European Jewish community officials have said that having an envoy has delivered a message to their governments that the United States is focused on anti-Semitism.

At the subcommittee hearing, Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., asked Tillerson for a timeline for the hire. Earlier this year there were reports that the Trump administration, eyeing massive budget cuts to the State Department, planned to eliminate the role. National Jewish groups and Congress members expressed outrage, and in April a State Department spokesman told JTA that the department did not in fact plan to eliminate the position and was reviewing candidates to fill it.

Lawmakers have noted that because the role was created by statute, the Trump administration cannot eliminate the post.

In fairness, Donald's approval rates are so low he can't afford to antagonize his base.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Southern Baptists voted overwhelmingly to condemn 'alt-right white supremacy'  (Sarah Pulliam Bailey, June 14, 2017, Washington Post)

Members of the Southern Baptist Convention voted Wednesday to condemn a white nationalist movement, but only after fierce backlash following their decision a day earlier not to move forward with a similar resolution.

The decision was met with a standing ovation as about 5,000 members of the denomination voted at their annual convention to affirm their opposition to the alt-right movement, which seeks a whites-only state. But it was not a decision easily reached. [...]

While several Southern Baptist leaders have served on Trump's evangelical advisory board, many younger Southern Baptists -- including the denomination's Ethics and Religious Liberty president Russell Moore, 45 -- vocally opposed his candidacy. [...]

The new text of the resolution noted some of the convention's previous actions on race, including how Southern Baptists voted in 1995 to apologize for the role that slavery played in the convention's creation. It noted how in 2012 it elected its first black president. More than 20 percent of Southern Baptist congregations, it says, identifies as predominantly nonwhite.

"Racism and white supremacy are, sadly, not extinct but present all over the world in various white supremacist movements, sometimes known as 'white nationalism' or 'alt-right,' " the resolution states. Southern Baptists "decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy, as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and "we denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as of the devil."

Moore and Steve Gaines, the president of the SBC, who worked on the revised resolution, declined to comment on the resolution before it came to a vote. But Moore said he was encouraged by the decision to revisit the resolution. "They recognize that white supremacy in this alt-right guise is dangerous and devilish and we need to say something," Moore said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say  (Devlin Barrett, Adam Entous, Ellen Nakashima and Sari Horwitz, June 14, 2017, Washington Post)

The officials said Coats, Rogers and Ledgett would appear voluntarily, though it remains unclear whether they will describe in full their conversations with Trump and other top officials or will be directed by the White House to invoke executive privilege. It is doubtful that the White House could ultimately use executive privilege to try to block them from speaking to Mueller's investigators. Experts point out that the Supreme Court ruled during the Watergate scandal that officials cannot use privilege to withhold evidence in criminal prosecutions.

The obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter. Mueller's office has taken up that work, and the preliminary interviews scheduled with intelligence officials indicate that his team is actively pursuing potential witnesses inside and outside the government.

The interviews suggest that Mueller sees the question of attempted obstruction of justice as more than just a "he said, he said" dispute between the president and the fired FBI director, an official said.

Investigating Trump for possible crimes is a complicated affair, even if convincing evidence of a crime were found. The Justice Department has long held that it would not be appropriate to indict a sitting president. Instead, experts say, the onus would be on Congress to review any findings of criminal misconduct and then decide whether to initiate impeachment proceedings.

Comey confirmed publicly in congressional testimony on March 20 that the bureau was investigating possible coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians. [...]

As part of the probe, the special counsel has also gathered Comey's written accounts of his conversations with Trump. The president has accused Comey of lying about those encounters.

Mueller is overseeing a host of investigations involving people who are or were in Trump's orbit, people familiar with the probe said. The investigation is examining possible contacts with Russian operatives as well as any suspicious financial activity related to those individuals.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


Senate Votes To Limit Trump's Power To Lift Russia Sanctions (Michele Kelemen, 6/15/17, NPR)

The Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bill to impose new sanctions on Russia and to make sure the Trump administration doesn't change course without congressional buy in.

Idaho Republican Sen. Mike Crapo, one of the sponsors of the legislation, says, "Americans are concerned about Russia's behavior in the Ukraine and Syria and they are concerned about Russia's increased cyber intrusions. "Many of us on both sides of the aisle feel the U.S. needs to be much stronger in its response to Russia."

Crapo says Russia's President Vladimir Putin has become increasingly belligerent, nationalistic and autocratic.

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire adds that it was important to send a bipartisan message to the Kremlin, which she says tried to undermine U.S. elections.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


Too much medical care: bad for you, bad for health care systems (H. GILBERT WELCH, JUNE 15, 2017, Stat)

Here's a question to ask your doctor: Have you ever had a patient who suffered from getting too much medical care? Assuming she has the time and the inclination to talk, I bet you'll hear an interesting story.

A 2011 survey of American primary care physicians found that nearly half thought their patients received too much medical care. Remember, that's doctors talking.

Medical interventions toward the end of life are probably the most familiar example of too much medical care. Death is often preceded by multiple visits to the hospital or prolonged stays, which typically involve procedures and interventions. These may or may not lengthen life, but they almost certainly make it more painful.

For the last 25 years, I have examined the other end of the spectrum: too much medical care among those who are well. In the past, people sought medical care because they were sick. Now we encourage the well to get examined to determine if they are not, in fact, sick.

Old doctor joke: What is a well person? Someone who hasn't yet been thoroughly examined.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


Child Health Insurance Rates Go Up Across U.S., Down in Maine (Jackie Farwell, 6/14/17, Governing)

In Maine, 6 percent of children, or about 14,000, lack health insurance. That's a 50 percent increase from 2010, when 4 percent had no coverage, according to the foundation's 2017 Kids Count Data Book.

Only one other state, North Dakota, saw increasing numbers of uninsured children between 2010 and 2015, the report found.

In the rest of the country, the expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare was largely responsible for fewer children lacking health insurance in 2015 than before the recession, according to the report. Maine did not expand the health insurance program for low-income residents, and instead tightened eligibility for Medicaid during the past five years under Gov. Paul LePage.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


This Soccer Club Has Everything You'd Want Except ... (LEANDER SCHAERLAECKENS, JUNE 14, 2017, NY Times)

In most every way, Asbury Park F.C. is like any professional soccer club in the world. It has slick jerseys manufactured by a major sporting goods brand, with a shirt sponsor and a recognizable logo in the club's black-and-white color scheme.

The team is nicknamed "the Tillies," a somewhat mystifying shorthand to new followers befitting a historic team. Even the F.C. suffix connotes a more European "football club" rather than a less authentic-sounding "soccer club."

Naturally, A.P.F.C., as it is referred to by those in the know, maintains carefully curated social media accounts and sells an extensive merchandise line, including new and retro replica jerseys. All are available in an online shop that tends to sell out quickly whenever a new item is introduced. With celebrity fans as brand ambassadors and architectural renderings of their plans for a new stadium, the Tillies are similar to any club with ambition.

But in one significant way, Asbury Park Football Club is different from every other soccer team: It doesn't actually play soccer.

The author also has one of the great Twitter handles : @LeanderAlphabet

June 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:32 PM



However the fire spread, it wasn't supposed to. High-rise buildings are built to keep any fires that start in the unit where they begin--with fire-resistant materials from steel and concrete to resistant coatings and insulation. Everything else, the stuff people fill their units with, is a lot more flammable. That's the building's "fuel load;" it's what catches fire. The trick is to keep that fire from spreading. "Then we'll layer in systems," says Robert Solomon, a fire protection engineer with the National Fire Protection Association. "Automated sprinklers, a robust fire alarm system that includes emergency voice evacuation system. You'll get some verbal instructions, and then once the fire department arrives they can use that system to provide real-time information."

In a residential building with all those defenses in place, some fire engineers think defend-in-place is the best strategy. "You should be able to, in many cases, stay in the unit if it's not the one affected by the fire," says Carl Baldassarra, head of the fire protection practice at the engineering firm Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates. "If you have a building that wasn't built to allow that kind of strategy, then you need to look at other means, like a good egress system."
In other words: evacuate. But exactly the best way to do that in a residential high-rise fire isn't as well-understood as compartmentation and suppression. And as more and more places around the world solve their housing crunches by building up, that's going to become a serious problem.

Don't build up.

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM



Carol Moore, the final president at Burlington College,] and others say a land deal Jane Sanders championed in 2010 caused Burlington College's closure last year. The school had purchased a 33-acre waterfront parcel from the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington for $10 million with hopes of greatly expanding the small, alternative liberal arts college.

"Enrollment that year was about 195 and the budget just over $4 million, less than half of this ill-advised investment," Moore wrote in the Chronicle of Higher Education. "What were they thinking?"

That deal is under scrutiny by federal authorities, who are examining whether Jane Sanders accurately represented donations to the college used as collateral to back the bank loan.

While the land deal has grabbed headlines, a second agreement has also come under fire.

Moore is equally critical of a deal Jane Sanders brokered between the college and Driscoll's Vermont Woodworking School, a facility in Franklin County where Burlington College students took courses.

In interviews with VTDigger, Moore said the college got the short end of the stick.

"This was a sweetheart deal for Carina Driscoll, Jane Sanders' daughter," said Moore. Driscoll is the stepdaughter of Bernie Sanders.

Posted by orrinj at 3:51 PM


Baseball Field Shooting Brings Out Some of Congress's Hidden Badasses (Emily Zanotti, June 14, 2017, Heat Street)

Rep. Brad Wenstrup, a GOP Congressman from Cincinnati, rushed to Scalise's aid. An Iraq war veteran and doctor, Wenstrup sprang into action, enlisting Alabama Rep. Mo Brooks as his battlefield nurse. Brooks held a cloth over Scalise's wound to minimize blood loss while Wenstrup cut Scalise's clothes away and stabilized the injured Congressman.

One member of Scalise's security detail was shot in the leg, but assisted in treating his boss. Although details are unclear, it's believed Scalise's wounded bodyguard was among those who shot back at Hodgkinson, wounding him.

Wenstrup later described the event on Twitter as "like being in Iraq again," though unlike in his previous war zone experience, this time Wenstrup was unarmed.

Rep. Jeff Flake also remained cool, assisting another shooting victim, Congressional staffer Zachary Barth, who dove into a dugout where Flake and some colleagues had taken cover.

After Scalise's security detail and Capitol Police had neutralized the shooter, Flake ran out on to the field where Scalise was being treated, grabbed his phone and called Scalise's wife, so she wouldn't hear about his injuries on the news.

Both Mo Brooks and Sen. Rand Paul, who was also present, extolled the bravery of those same Capitol Police officers who ended up in a firefight with Hodgkinson.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM


Mattis Is Punting the Military Buildup to 2019 (Frederico Bartels, 6/14/17, Heritage)

Secretary of Defense James Mattis has news for Congress and for the nation: The military buildup will have to wait until next year.

Mattis delivered that message in a back-to-back series of appearances before Congress, one of them taking place in a rare primetime hearing on Monday night.

During both testimonies--which were delivered before the House and Senate Armed Services Committees, respectively--Mattis told the Congress that the military buildup promised by President Trump will have to wait until next year. 

As when Bill Clinton took office post-Cold War, Donald's post-WoT presidency will see defense spending cut in half as a percentage of GDP.

Posted by orrinj at 3:02 PM


The Conservatism Behind Star Wars (Craig Shirley and Scott Mauer, 6/11/17,  The Washington Post)

By 1977, the Soviet Union was agitated, and it appeared, by most measures, that they were winning the Cold War. Nikita Khrushchev and Leonid Brezhnev took a strong tone against the West and against capitalism, especially in keeping their hold on occupied Eastern Europe. "We will bury you," Khrushchev had proclaimed in 1956. Two decades later, many feared that he was right.

All these issues put a damper on the American spirit, and this could be seen no more clearly than in movies at the time, such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975, or Taxi Driver in 1976. A sense of doom was always around the corner and always prevalent. Even the fun Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was a celebration of crooks.

And then along came Star Wars. It was a story of a young group of independent rebels fighting against an oppressive, collectivist empire for the freedom of the galaxy. The former government was even known as "the Old Republic." The Force is a hint of Judeo-Christianity as a unifying agent for goodness, and A New Hope screams conservative optimism. The militarized Galactic Empire was ruled with an iron fist by a Politburo and an emperor. Its main tactics for unity and stability were enslavement, fear, death and destruction, especially with its new planet-killing weapon. Its uniforms of masked, bright-white armor destroyed any sense of identity; a soldier was simply a number. On the other hand, the Rebels, a loose collection of ragtag freedom fighters, staged an all-out attack on the Empire to erase it from the galaxy. They were a small, motivated force who learned they could defeat a large, unmotivated force. It was George Washington against the British Empire.

..just more coherent and Christian.


Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


Tillerson signals trouble for Senate's bipartisan Russia sanctions deal (ELANA SCHOR 06/13/2017, Politico)

As the Senate gears up to pass a bipartisan deal to punish Russia and restrict President Donald Trump from any attempt to ease sanctions, his administration and House Republicans are signaling that the agreement has a shaky future.

Senators in both parties have urged Trump to avoid leveling any veto threat on the Russia sanctions deal that's on track for passage Wednesday, which sets up a congressional review process if the president decides to ease or remove penalties against Moscow.

But Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Tuesday that the agreement to get tough on Russia would shut off communications with Moscow that he'd like to keep open for now.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


Tales of the Midnight Sun - on the night train from Kiruna to Stockholm : Travel writer Rossella Tatti on multicultural meetings on board the Arctic Polar Circle train to Swedish Lapland. (Rossella Tatti, 14 June 2017, The Local)

A trip to Swedish Lapland will not only bring you memories of endless days and midnight sun, but also an insight into the richness one can find when travelling - I suggest alone - on a night train passing through the Swedish forests.

Travelling by train more than 20 hours to reach the city of Kiruna located in Swedish Lapland, 67°51'20N, and then go back to the south of Sweden, is an experience which I would advise everyone to do. The view from the train is simple and random, yet it will not have you bored for the entire journey, as eventually you will meet people with sleeping issues just as you, other solo travellers, or people just commuting between cities. If not, the landscape will leave you speechless and you may like to start a competition with yourself on how many reindeers or moose you spot while the train eats kilometres in the Lapland jungle.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Three key questions Sessions didn't answer (Peter Grier, JUNE 14, 2017, CS Monitor)

Attorney General Sessions appeared to have a two-pronged strategy for his appearance, which came in the wake of fired FBI Director James Comey's dramatic testimony last week.

The first prong was to defend his own integrity in regards to dealings with Russians. He did this forcefully, right from the start: Any insinuation that he had colluded with Russian agents in the dissemination of leaked Democratic emails prior to the 2016 election is an "appalling and detestable lie," Sessions said in the hearing's opening moments.

The second prong was to avoid saying anything about his dealings with President Trump. This was difficult due to the fact that the president has not invoked executive privilege to prevent his communications with Sessions from becoming public.

Instead, Sessions declined to answer specific questions due to Justice Department policy, and on the grounds that he was preserving for Trump the ability to raise the executive privilege shield in this matter if he so desires.

Sessions can't invoke executive privilege, but he's using it a lot (Noah Bierman, 6/14/17, LA Times)

Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions is having a hard time shaking questions about his refusal to testify about his conversations with President Trump, which has forced him to invoke a circuitous interpretation of the president's right to executive privilege. 

Not long after Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) grilled him about "impeding this investigation" by declining to answer questions, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) took a shot.

It's not up to Sessions to invoke executive privilege. It's up to the president, making it tricky for Sessions to use that right to avoid answering questions.

"I understand" the right to executive privilege, King said. "But the president hasn't asserted it," King told Sessions after he refused to discuss his conversations with Trump about the firing of FBI Director James B. Comey.

"I am protecting the right of the president to exert it if he chooses," Sessions replied.

That struck King as confusing. How could Sessions use an executive privilege that has not been invoked? "I don't understand how you could have it both ways," he said.

Even if there were some imaginary way the AG could do this; Donald's offer to testify himself would seem to have waived any potential claim on behalf of staff.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 AM


Oil From OPEC's Rivals to Exceed Demand Growth in 2018, IEA Says (Grant Smith, 6/14/17, Bloomberg)

The U.S., Brazil, Canada and other producers outside the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries will increase output next year by the most in four years, the IEA said. So while the cutbacks should reduce the world's bloated oil inventories to average levels by the time they're scheduled to end next spring, demand for OPEC crude won't be high enough for the group to reverse the curbs without seeing stockpiles rise again.

"Our first outlook for 2018 makes sobering reading for those producers looking to restrain supply," said the Paris-based IEA, which advises most of the world's major economies on energy policy.

OPEC's simple problem. Despite Saudi cuts, it's shipping more oil (Clyde Russell, 6/14/17, Reuters)

While output is no doubt important, for the immediate market impact it's probably better to focus on what the group is actually exporting.

Vessel-tracking and port data in Thomson Reuters Eikon shows that for the first five months of 2017, OPEC exported 25.6 million bpd.

This figure is only shipments by tanker and is filtered to show vessels that have already discharged, are discharging or are en route to their destination.

The shipments for the first five months of this year are slightly higher than the 25.4 million bpd the producer group exported via tankers in the same period in 2016.

June 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:22 PM


Trump's move to deport Iraqi Christians stirs outcry : Many of the people detained in weekend raids were from Michigan, a swing state Trump barely won in 2016. (NAHAL TOOSI 06/13/2017, pOLITICO)

During the 2016 campaign, Trump captured the hearts of many Americans of Middle Eastern Christian descent through his tough anti-Islamist talk. Activists familiar with the community said many in it voted for Trump because they were convinced he would stop the decimation of their people in the Middle East.

Trump's administration has kept up the pro-Christian, anti-Islamist rhetoric. Just last week, Vice President Mike Pence denounced the "genocide" being committed by the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, in regions where Christians have long lived.

"Christianity faces unprecedented threats in the land where it was given birth and an exodus unrivaled since the days of Moses," Pence said during the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast.

The U.S. formally declared that the Islamic State was committing genocide against Christians and other groups last year under the Obama administration.

Trump's efforts to impose a travel ban contributed to unease among Christians in the U.S. who trace their lineage to the Middle East. Even though the first attempt at the ban included references to giving admissions preference to religious minorities from the Middle East, the ban also halted the entry of refugees to the United States. Many refugees from the region are Christians.

But although the Trump administration has aggressively stepped up deportations of people illegally in the United States, few Christians from Iraq and other parts of the Middle East expected raids aimed at them.

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 PM


Most Trump real estate now sold to secretive buyers (Nick Penzenstadler , Steve Reilly and John Kelly ,  June 13, 2017, USA Today)

Since President Trump won the Republican nomination, the majority of his companies' real estate sales are to secretive shell companies that obscure the buyers' identities, a USA TODAY investigation has found.

Over the last 12 months, about 70% of buyers of Trump properties were limited liability companies - corporate entities that allow people to purchase property without revealing all of the owners' names. That compares with about 4% of buyers in the two years before,

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 PM


Kamala Harris Pummels Jeff Sessions So Badly That John McCain Has to Stop Her (Jonathan Chait, 6/13/17, New York)

In his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions did a very evasive thing. Sessions would refuse to answer questions about President Trump, but would not cite any legal basis for this refusal. Instead, he described his refusal as a long-standing "policy" of the Department of Justice. Several Democrats on the committee noted the absurdity of his position, but the most effective interlocutor was California senator Kamala Harris, who, in a brutal exchange, exposed the fact that the "policy" was just made up.

Is the policy is written down, she asked? "I think so," replied Sessions -- an answer lacking the level of legal precision one might hope to get from the federal government's top attorney. Harris tried to drill down into just how Sessions learned about this policy. Sessions said he had followed a "principle," which apparently is more of an oral tradition or something. That's when John McCain, off-camera, jumped in to complain about Harris's questioning.

California apparently has a bar exam.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 PM


Trump calls House health care bill 'mean' (Dan Merica, Jim Acosta, Lauren Fox and Phil Mattingly, June 13, 2017, CNN)

President Donald Trump told Republican senators lunching at the White House Tuesday the House-passed health care reform bill he celebrated earlier this year was "mean."

Trump made clear multiple times that he was pleased that the Senate negotiations appeared to be moving away from where the House version of the repeal and replace effort ended up, according to three sources familiar with the meeting.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 PM


REPORT: Medical Cost Trends Show Improvement (Robert Donachie, 06/13/2017, Daily Caller)
The U.S. is slated to enter a period of medical cost equilibrium, where the forces that drive up health costs are offset by a demand for value-based health care system, according to a report released to The Daily Caller News Foundation Tuesday morning by PriceWaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute (PwC).

PwC projects the medical cost trend to be 6.5 percent in 2017, a growth rate nearly half that of 2007.

A medical cost trend is the projected percentage point increase in the cost of treating a given patient from one year to the next. The data is incredibly valuable for players in the medical field, as it allows them to anticipate the costs of doing business from year to year. Insurance companies, for example, use medical cost trends to forecast premium increases for the future.

"Single-digit growth is the now the new normal," PwC Health Research Institute leader Ben Isgur told TheDCNF. "No longer will we see huge fluctuations."

Keep pushing people into high-deductible plans.
Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Trump's disapproval rating hits an all-time high of 60 percent (Becca Stanek, 12/13/17, The Week)

President Trump's disapproval rating hit 60 percent in Gallup's daily tracking poll out Tuesday. That marks an all-time high for Trump's presidency, beating out his previous high of 59 percent.

Oh yeah?  Well...Hillary!

Posted by orrinj at 12:08 PM


Russian Cyber Hacks on U.S. Electoral System Far Wider Than Previously Known (Michael Riley and Jordan Robertson, 6/13/17, Reuters)

Russia's cyberattack on the U.S. electoral system before Donald Trump's election was far more widespread than has been publicly revealed, including incursions into voter databases and software systems in almost twice as many states as previously reported.

In Illinois, investigators found evidence that cyber intruders tried to delete or alter voter data. The hackers accessed software designed to be used by poll workers on Election Day, and in at least one state accessed a campaign finance database. Details of the wave of attacks, in the summer and fall of 2016, were provided by three people with direct knowledge of the U.S. investigation into the matter. In all, the Russian hackers hit systems in a total of 39 states, one of them said.

The scope and sophistication so concerned Obama administration officials that they took an unprecedented step -- complaining directly to Moscow over a modern-day "red phone." In October, two of the people said, the White House contacted the Kremlin on the back channel to offer detailed documents of what it said was Russia's role in election meddling and to warn that the attacks risked setting off a broader conflict.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Trump's Personal Lawyer Boasted That He Got Preet Bharara Fired (Jesse Eisinger and Justin Elliott, 6/13/17, ProPublica)
Marc Kasowitz, President Donald Trump's personal lawyer in the Russia investigation, has boasted to friends and colleagues that he played a central role in the firing of Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, according to four people familiar with the conversations.

Kasowitz told Trump, "This guy is going to get you," according to a person familiar with Kasowitz's account. [...]

As ProPublica previously reported, at the time of Bharara's firing the Southern District was conducting an investigation into Trump's secretary of the health and human services, Tom Price. [...]

The Southern District of New York conducts some of the highest profile corporate investigations in the country. According to news reports, it is currently probing Fox News over payments made to settle sexual harassment charges against the network's former chairman, the late Roger Ailes. The office is also looking into Russian money-laundering allegations at Deutsche Bank, Trump's principal private lender. [...]

One of the names floated to replace Bharara is Edward McNally, a partner at Kasowitz's law firm. More than three months after Bharara was fired, Trump has not nominated anyone to fill the Southern District job or most of the other U.S. attorney positions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:54 AM


Donald Trump's Cabinet members, ranked by their over-the-top praise of Trump  (Chris Cillizza, 6/12/17 CNN)

The folks who refused to acknowledge Donald at all--Pruitt, Kelly, Nikki, McMahon, DeVos--deserve credit.  The women seem particularly good at dealing with an insecure male boss.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


'Travel Ban' Buffoonery (MAX BOOT, JUNE 5, 2017, Commentary)

[T]here was no evidence when he wrote those words that the terror attack on London Bridge was carried out by citizens of Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, or Yemen, the six countries affected by the ban. Indeed, there have been no terror attacks carried out anywhere in the West this year by citizens of those states. Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was of Libyan extraction. He was born in Britain and was a British citizen, and, therefore, would have been free to travel to the United States even if the travel ban were in effect.

The original justification for the executive order on January 27 was that the United States was at such heightened risk of attacks from foreign jihadists that it was necessary to place a 90-day suspension on all entry from seven Muslim countries (Iraq was later dropped from the list). The speciousness of this justification is evident from the fact that, 129 days later, there still have not been any Islamist terrorist attacks in the United States. There hasn't even been any evidence of foiled plots carried out by nationals of the six target countries.

Surely, Trump isn't claiming that we need a 90-day pause starting now because his administration hasn't been able to study the problem and issue an effective response during the previous 129 days? That would be quite an admission of failure on the administration's part. In reality, of course, all of the evidence points to the fact that our border vetting programs were already effective when Trump took office and didn't need much reform.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Trump is likely to get much, much worse. Here are a few big things to watch for. (Greg Sargent June 12, 2017, Washington Post)

Politico's Playbook this morning tries to sum up the thinking among Republicans. The gist: Republicans are increasingly worried they will lose the House amid a "toxic political environment that appears to be worsening." They cite the possibility that they won't secure any serious legislative wins, as well as "serious concerns" about "more revelations" coming on Trump. In the background, special counsel Robert S. Mueller III's investigation "remains the wild card." [...]

[H]ow much worse could this get? The chatter on the Sunday shows hinted at where we may be headed. Here are a few things to watch for:

The tapes Trump hinted at turn out not to exist. On ABC's "This Week," Jay Sekulow, a member of Trump's legal team, said Trump will make a decision very soon on whether to release the tapes he may have made of his conversations with then-FBI Director James B. Comey.  After the news broke that Trump may have demanded a "loyalty" pledge from Comey, the president tweeted that Comey had better hope he doesn't have tapes of their conversations. Trump has since hinted he still might release them, and congressional investigators have demanded them.

This state of play is utter lunacy in its current form -- the White House has still not said whether these tapes exist, even as Trump hints they might still be coming, and we are so numb to Trump's daily crazy at this point that we now oddly treat this as somewhat unremarkable. Maybe they do exist. But what happens if the White House, in response to those congressional demands, ultimately confirms that they don't? Experts think the White House will have to come clean in some way. At that point, it would be confirmed that Trump invented the existence of these tapes to chill Comey from offering a full public accounting of the events leading up to his firing -- which itself was a massive abuse of power, given that Trump allowed it was because of the FBI's Russia probe -- in the full knowledge that Comey was going to serve as a witness before long. What will Republicans say about that?

Trump tries to get the special prosecutor fired. Also on ABC's "This Week," Sekulow refused to rule out the possibility that Trump might end up trying to order Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to fire Mueller. It is possible that Trump is cognizant enough of the history here (Richard Nixon tried pretty much the same thing) to avoid the drastic step of trying to get Mueller axed mainly because he's closing in on wrongdoing.

But Trump is not inclined to let institutional constraints limit his options, and he and his team have already shown themselves to be less than shrewd at gaming out the consequences of trampling on them. The circumstances of Trump's firing of Comey are a case in point. The White House thought it could get away with floating the idea that Rosenstein had provided the rationale (his memo fingered Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email probe). But that story fell apart, raising the possibility that Rosenstein had provided Trump cover for the real rationale, which Trump subsequently admitted on national television was Comey's handling of the Russia probe. This basically required Rosenstein to appoint the special counsel.

Donald Trump latest approval rating and impeachment odds (Patrick Scott  Ashley Kirk, 13 JUNE 2017 , The Telegraph)

[T]he bookmakers are banking on things getting worse for Trump with the latest odds from Ladbrokes showing that he is more likely than not to fail to make it to the end of his first term in office.

Their latest odds are as follows:

Impeachment or resignation before 2020: 4/7 (64 per cent chance)

To serve full first term: 5/4 (44.4 per cent chance)

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


Are public pensions a thing of the past for young workers? (Katie Lobosco, June 13, 2017, CNN MOney)

New teachers and state workers will no longer get a traditional pension in Pennsylvania.

The new plan combines elements of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-style account.
Overall, new workers will contribute more of their salary, work longer, and likely receive a smaller payout in retirement than under the current system, according to a report from the state's Independent Fiscal Office.

We are all Third Way now.
Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


If Trump Fires Mueller (Or Orders His Firing) (Jack Goldsmith, June 13, 2017, Lawfare)

By design, the regulations curb the special counsel's independence but in narrow respects offer the special counsel some protective insulation. The critical provision on both points is § 600.7. On the one hand, this provision makes clear that the special counsel is subject to all of "the rules, regulations, procedures, practices and policies of the Department of Justice" and that the Attorney General may not only compel the special counsel to justify "any investigative or prosecutorial step" but also may countermand the special counsel on a proposed course of action so long as he notifies Congress of the conflict. On the other hand, the regulations also provide a measure of protection by setting three specific terms for special counsel's removal: the special counsel can be removed only (1) by the Attorney General, (2) for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies," and (3) in writing, which must include "the specific reason" for special counsel's termination.

This raises several questions of interpretation, which are interlinked.    

The first issue is what supposed misconduct might constitute the basis for Mueller's removal. The standard for firing special counsel, remember, is "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies."  It is hard to see what Mueller has done that would warrant termination under this standard.  Trump might claim that Mueller has a conflict of interest because the firm he left represents the Trump family is some matters. But the Justice Department's own ethics experts ruled that there is no conflict and "that Mr. Mueller's participation in the matters assigned to him is appropriate."  Perhaps Trump would claim that Mueller has a conflict because Comey and he are friends and "brothers in arms," but it is hard to see how this constitutes a conflict in the investigation of the Russia matter.  Maybe Trump will come up with some other reason under the regulation.

Second, under the regulation, the decision to terminate lies not with Attorney General Jeff Sessions but with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who is the acting attorney general for purposes of the Russia investigation. So in the first instance, presumably, Trump could order Rosenstein to fire Mueller.  Rosenstein would then have to decide whether he believed the reasons Trump gave were adequate under the regulation. If so, he could carry out the order. If not, and if he refused to do it, Trump could fire him--or he might simply resign in the face of Trump's order (more on which below).

Third, if Rosenstein resigns, that raises a question of who becomes the acting attorney general.  Succession in the Department is, to a point, outlined by statute: where the attorney general and deputy attorney general are unable, the associate attorney general "shall act" as attorney general. Otherwise the attorney general "may designate" the solicitor general and the assistant attorneys general, "in further order of succession," to act as attorney general. That means it could go down the line until an assistant attorney general did not resign and instead carried out the President's order. (Succession is complicated by the fact that, after Rosenstein, there are only two other confirmed officials in DOJ: Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand, and Acting Assistant Attorney General for the National Security Division Dana Boente, who was previously confirmed to be the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.  A tad more on this below.)  If the officers after Brand also resign, then an executive order on DOJ succession recently promulgated by Trump would control. (This barely noticed executive order would potentially assume great significance if Trump fires Mueller.)  

Fourth, there are a number of hard questions about whether Trump could circumvent the regulations--either ignore them or abrogate them--and fire Mueller himself.  The argument at bottom is that all executive power is vested in the President; law enforcement is at the core of Executive power; there is no contrary statutory directive, as in Morrison v. Olson; and the Special Counsel rule is just a regulation promulgated by the Executive Branch, not a law, and is thus ultimately subject to change or disregard by Executive order.  On the other hand, there is this important point made in Nixon v. United States concerning Special Prosecutor Jaworski and the regulation then in force, 38 Fed.Reg. 30739, which required "extraordinary improprieties" for his removal:

So long as this regulation is extant it has the force of law.  In United States ex rel. Accardi v. Shaughnessy, 347 U.S. 260 (1954), regulations of the Attorney General delegated certain of his discretionary powers to the Board of Immigration Appeals and required that Board to exercise its own discretion on appeals in deportation cases. The Court held that so long as the Attorney General's regulations remained operative, he denied himself the authority to exercise the discretion delegated to the Board even though the original authority was his and he could reassert it by amending the regulations. Service v. Dulles, 354 U.S. 363, 388 (1957), and Vitarelli v. Seaton, 359 U.S. 535 (1959), reaffirmed the basic holding of Accardi.

Here, as in Accardi, it is theoretically possible for the Attorney General to amend or revoke the regulation defining the Special Prosecutor's authority. But he has not done so. So long as this regulation remains in force the Executive Branch is bound by it, and indeed the United States as the sovereign composed of the three branches is bound to respect and to enforce it. Moreover, the delegation of authority to the Special Prosecutor in this case is not an ordinary delegation by the Attorney General to a subordinate officer: with the authorization of the President, the Acting Attorney General provided in the regulation that the Special Prosecutor was not to be removed without the "consensus" of eight designated leaders of Congress (emphasis added).

In the Watergate context President Nixon never sought to alter or circumvent the relevant regulations, and thus they remained in force and binding.  But what if Trump issued a directive that fires Mueller and abrogates or ignores the Special Counsel regulations, including the authority to appoint and terminate, and the limiting criteria for termination? There are good constitutional arguments in support of this possibility.  There are also countervailing arguments grounded in the principle that only the agency head that appoints the officer, and not the President, can remove the officer.  This principle is reflected in the regulation itself, and is consistent with Nixon's approach to the Special Prosecutor in Watergate.  

Last week, the Trumpies were saying he wouldn't have truly obstructed justice unless he fired Mueller, not just Comey.  This week they say he should fire Mueller.

June 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


ICE arrests in metro Detroit terrify Iraqi Christians (Kyung Lah, Joe Sutton, Carma Hassan and Joe Sterling, 6/12/17, CNN)

A family Sunday at the beach turned out to be a nightmare for the Barash family and for metro Detroit's Chaldean population -- Catholics who hail from Iraq.

Authorities seized Moayad Barash, 47, and whisked him away, his daughter Cynthia, 18, said.

Barash, a Baghdad native, was one of 30 to 40 people seized by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents on Sunday -- all of whom face the threat of deportation.

"My dad is Christian and Donald Trump is sending him back to a place that is not safe whatsoever," Cynthia Barash said, referring to the persecution of Christians in Baghdad, Mosul and across the largely Muslim nation.
The ICE action comes amid the Trump administration's crackdown on immigration.

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


Trump's 7 guidelines for relaunching Israeli-Palestinian talks (Uri Savir, June 11, 2017, aL mONITOR)

The Palestinian leadership was very pleased with President Donald Trump's decision not to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, and especially for the reason given: the need to aspire to a peace process. The PLO source said that President Mahmoud Abbas took credit for it and thanked President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt, King Abdullah of Jordan and King Salman bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia for their support. The source emphasized that after the Riyadh summit (during Trump's May 20 visit), coordination between the leaderships of the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia has strengthened; the four leaders aim to insert the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative into the American's terms of reference for the opening conference of the negotiations. The deep rift between the United States and the European Unit on the Paris Climate Accords generated greater Palestinian focus on their dialogue with Washington.

The PLO official added that according to current Palestinian assessment, the administration staff will upgrade its activity through the next months in order to propose to Trump a set of founding principles as a basis for a regional conference to launch the negotiations. It is also possible that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson will visit the region in the near future in this context.

The Palestinian negotiating team believes that, unlike President Barack Obama, Trump will stay away from detailed terms of reference that will predetermine permanent status issues. The official believes that Trump's guideline principles will be relatively vague, creating a symmetry between Israeli and Palestinian interests. Possible guidelines as the Palestinians have heard from their sources at the US Consulate in Jerusalem may include seven or more elements.

A first principle would be that of peace between the two parties that puts an end to the conflict. Another element would be the right of each side to determine its future and character, in the context of peaceful coexistence. A third principle would be stringent security and anti-terror arrangements, especially regarding Israel's security and Palestinian demilitarization. The guidelines will also include a role for Jordan and the Arab League in security monitoring after a permanent agreement, backed by the United States; settlement building restraint by Israel during the negotiations; and normalization of relations by the Arab states with Israel in parallel to the negotiations. Finally, the guideline will determine that the negotiations need to deal with all permanent status issues, including Jerusalem and refugees.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


The Enduring Mystery of Jon Ossoff (GRAHAM VYSE, June 12, 2017, nEW rEPUBLIC)

The most common interpretation of Ossoff's success is that, to quote Handel, he "talks like a Republican." The Weekly Standard dubbed Ossoff "a political Janus, flirting with progressives while campaigning like a moderate." National Journal political editor Josh Kraushaar similarly attributed Ossoff's strength to "run­ning like a mod­er­ate Republican--hardly talk­ing about Pres­id­ent Trump":

For all the talk about the power of the in­creas­ingly-strident left-wing base, Demo­crat­ic op­er­at­ives re­cog­nize that the way to win elec­tions is through woo­ing in­de­pend­ents and per­suad­able voters. The key voters in up­com­ing con­gres­sion­al and gubernat­ori­al con­tests are sub­urb­an­ites, many of whom have little af­fin­ity for Trump but want to hear a pos­it­ive agenda from the op­pos­i­tion. They're also wary of a left­ward lurch--tone-deaf­ness on the ter­ror­ist threat, open­ness to single-pay­er health care, to name a couple of ex­amples--that seems to be gain­ing trac­tion with­in the Demo­crat­ic Party.

It's true that Ossoff hasn't distinguished himself as a populist firebrand or leftist ideologue, but rather as a "mild-mannered, centrist candidate," in the words of Ed Kilgore, a New York magazine columnist and former policy director for the now-defunct centrist Democratic Leadership Council. Ossoff's campaign ads focus on "working with anyone" and cutting wasteful government spending and the national deficit. He "has often eschewed progressive politics to campaign on fiscal responsibility and 'sense over nonsense,'" as The Washington Post put it. "He has appealed to progressive Berniecrats primarily by positioning himself against Trump," Mother Jones observed, "but without pushing their core platform positions like single-payer health care, free tuition, or steep taxes on the rich."

Posted by orrinj at 3:42 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:55 PM


Trump slams media for failing to cover nonexistent energy stock boom (Matt Egan, June 12, 2017, CNN Money)

Trump said the "drilling & energy sector" is "way up" since the election.

But if Trump's Oval Office desk isn't covered with articles detailing a boom in drilling and energy stocks, it's because there isn't one. These stocks have done terribly since the election.

The S&P 500's energy sector is down more than 4%, even as the Dow has soared since November 8. Energy is actually the only sector among 11 in the S&P 500 to lose ground since Trump's win.

Posted by orrinj at 2:48 PM


Appeals court refuses to reinstate Trump travel ban (LYDIA WHEELER, 06/12/17, The Hill)

In a unanimous ruling Monday, a three-judge panel on the court said Trump's order does not offer a sufficient justification to suspend the entry of more than 180 million people on the basis of nationality.
Though the Immigration and Nationality Act gives the president broad powers to control the entry of foreigners, the judges said the president's authority is subject to certain statutory and constitutional restraints.

Trump stoked controversy last week by again labeling his order a "travel ban" on Twitter. White House officials had rejected that phrase, saying the administration action is not a ban, but is rather setting up a system of extreme vetting.

The judges on Monday cited Trump's tweets in defending its finding that the order does not provide a rationale explaining why permitting entry of nationals from the six designated countries under current protocols would be detrimental to the interests of the United States

"Indeed, the President recently confirmed his assessment that it is the 'countries' that are inherently dangerous, rather than the 180 million individual nationals of those countries who are barred from entry under the President's 'travel ban.'" they wrote in a footnote, citing Trump's June 5th tweet.

Posted by orrinj at 1:27 PM


...to one represented by the sycophant...
Posted by orrinj at 1:25 PM


Supreme Court rules to allow lower-cost biosimilars to market faster in Sandoz-Amgen case (ED SILVERMAN, JUNE 12, 2017, Stat)

In a highly anticipated decision, the U.S. Supreme Court reduced the time that companies will have to wait before selling lower-cost versions of expensive biologic medicines, a move that is expected to save the health care system piles of money.

The 9-to-0 ruling came in response to sharply contrasting views of the complex procedures found in the Biologics Price Competition and Innovation Act, which is supposed to determine when biosimilar drugs can be launched.

Posted by orrinj at 10:56 AM


Trump's Credibility Problem : The high price of Donald Trump's low character (KEVIN D. WILLIAMSON June 12, 2017, National Review)

Assume, for the sake of argument, that all of these claims end up being completely without merit. How should we go about investigating them?

It is impossible to get at that in a meaningful way without considering the unsettling question: What sort of man is the president of these United States? We know he is a habitual liar, one who tells obvious lies for no apparent reason, from claiming to own hotels that he does not own to boasting about having a romantic relationship with Carla Bruni, which never happened. ("Trump is obviously a lunatic," Bruni explained.) He invented a series of imaginary friends to lie to the New York press about both his business and sexual careers. He has conducted both his private and public lives with consistent dishonesty and dishonor. He is not a man who can be taken at his word.

Conservatives used to care about that sort of thing: Bill Bennett built a literary empire on virtue, and Peggy Noonan wrote wistfully of a time "When Character Was King." But even if we set aside any prissy moral considerations and put a purely Machiavellian eye on the situation, we have to conclude that having a man such as Trump as president and presumptive leader of the Republican party is an enormous problem for conservatives and for the country corporately. 

One's tolerance of Donald seems to be almost entirely a function of one's nativism and Islamophobia.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


From 'caliph' to fugitive: IS leader Baghdadi's new life on the run (Michael Georgy and Maher Chmaytelli, 6/12/17, Reuters)

Islamic State fighters are close to defeat in the twin capitals of the group's territory, Mosul in Iraq and Raqqa in Syria, and officials say Baghdadi is steering clear of both, hiding in thousands of square miles of desert between the two.

"In the end, he will either be killed or captured, he will not be able to remain underground forever," said Lahur Talabany, the head of counter-terrorism at the Kurdistan Regional Government, the Kurdish autonomous region in northern Iraq. "But this is a few years away still," he told Reuters.

One of Baghdadi's main concerns is to ensure those around him do not betray him for the $25 million reward offered by the United States to bring him "to justice", said Hisham al-Hashimi, who advises Middle East governments on Islamic State affairs.

"With no land to rule openly, he can no longer claim the title caliph," Hashimi said. "He is a man on the run and the number of his supporters is shrinking as they lose territory."

Allah favored the Christians and Shi'a over the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Marc Kasowitz, Call Your Lawyer (Paul Rosenzweig, June 12, 2017, Lawfare)

Today's New York Times contains this tidbit in an article about Marc Kasowitz and his role in the Trump White House: "In recent days, Mr. Kasowitz has advised White House aides to discuss the inquiry into Russia's interference in last year's election as little as possible, two people involved said. He told aides gathered in one meeting who had asked whether it was time to hire private lawyers that it was not yet necessary, according to another person with direct knowledge."

This minor detail seems to confiirm what Benjamin Wittes and Quinta Jurecic have already suggested more broadly--that Kasowitz, a real estate civil litigator from New York, is not familiar with the rules relating to criminal investigations.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Indian creator of $3,500 self-driving car: "Reaching Level 5 autonomy will take a decade in India" (ABHIMANYU GHOSHAL, 6/12/17, Next Web)

Back in 2010, when [Dr. Roshy John] was taking a cab home from the airport late at night in Kochi, he noticed that the driver was sleepy and driving callously as a result. That's when he decided to look into creating a solution so people wouldn't have to risk their lives to earn a living, and so passengers would be able to count on a safe ride home.

Over the next few years, John independently took upon the task of building a self-driving system from scratch.

Working with a team of engineers from his firm, John began, as people do with most robotics projects, by creating a simulation of the vehicle driving around a virtual city with roads, obstacles and conditions that human drivers encounter in the real world.

Next John's team set to work gather data from the field by mounting cameras onto real cars and driving the vehicles around town and on highways.

He then bought a Tata Nano, a tiny $3,500 hatchback that's barely 122 inches long, and took it apart so he could figure out how to steer and control the manual-transmission car remotely. John fitted it with sensors, actuators and cameras, as well as a system to automatically handle the steering, gas, brakes and gearbox.

The next step was to make the entire setup modular, so it could be fitted onto other cars quickly and deployed into tests on real roads as soon as the opportunities presented themselves.

Speaking to TNW at NASSCOM's Drive with IoT event last week, John, who's now the Global Practice Head at TCS, said that the company has now managed to achieve Level 4 autonomy with its driverless technology, and has made some strides in Level 5 autonomy (fully self-driving). It's now developing this tech further for clients including Tata Motors (which owns brands like Jaguar and Land Rover).

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Broadway Tickets, for the Price of an Economics Lesson (JAMES B. STEWART, JUNE 8, 2017, NY Times)

"At the most basic level, all pricing is about allocating scarce resources," said Robert Phillips, the head of marketplace optimization sciences at Uber, the car service that has pioneered surge pricing in local transportation. Surge pricing is another form of dynamic pricing. (Mr. Phillips previously headed Columbia University's Center for Pricing and Revenue Management.)

"I've worked in theater, concerts and sports," he said, "and they all have a similar problem: For extreme hits, demand at what people would consider a reasonable price far exceeds supply."

From an economics perspective, "this is simply a rationing problem," he added. "If you keep prices low, people will buy tickets and resell them on the secondary market. Someone is going to pay a market-clearing price, no matter how high. The only question is who should get the money: the investors and performers and creators, or a speculator who managed to snap up the tickets the moment the box office opened?" [...]

The Harvard economist N. Gregory Mankiw paid $2,500 apiece last fall for prime tickets to "Hamilton," which he bought two weeks before the performance via StubHub. As he put it in a subsequent column in The Times, "In a perfect world, everyone would have the opportunity to see a megahit like 'Hamilton.'"

But "it was only because the price was so high that I was able to buy tickets at all on such short notice," he added. "If legal restrictions or moral sanctions had forced prices to remain close to face value, it is likely that no tickets would have been available by the time my family got around to planning its trip to the city." [...]

[A]s I discovered, it helps to be flexible. While I started out this week looking for "Hello, Dolly!" tickets, I ended up at "Groundhog Day," a new show with seven Tony nominations, including best musical and best actor, for a small fraction of the price of seeing Bette Midler. Seats for "Groundhog Day" were available at TKTS for half-price and online for $50. (And I loved it.)

Dynamic pricing and super-premium prices may be relatively new, but the scarcity of tickets for hit shows has a long tradition. Mr. Schumacher cited "My Fair Lady," the "Hamilton" of the 1955-56 Broadway season. As Broadway lore has it, a man in the audience turned to his neighbor, an older woman, and asked why the fifth-row center seat next to her was empty.

"My husband died," she replied.

"Didn't anyone else want to come?" he asked.

"No," she answered. "They're all at the funeral."

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Trump's Economic Agenda Is Almost Dead : A once-in-a-generation opportunity is slipping away. (Barry Ritholtz, 6/12/17, Bloomberg)

Let's begin with the observation that the long-awaited "pivot towards being presidential" hasn't arrived, and by all indications never will. Those of us who harbored hopes for a comprehensive corporate tax reform, for repatriation of trillions of overseas dollars, for an infrastructure plan, and perhaps even for a lowered personal income tax rate, are coming to recognize the folly of our wishful thinking. That window of opportunity now looks like casements in South Florida during hurricane season.

The good news is that the global economy keeps expanding as corporate profits rise and the post-credit-crisis recovery continues apace. Left to its own devices, even as the Federal Reserve normalizes rates, the economy has the potential to grow for several more years before its next cyclical stumble.

The bad news is that the self-inflicted wounds of the most undisciplined presidency in history are increasingly likely to blow its chances of passing any of the aforementioned economic stimulus measures.  The trifecta of tax reform, repatriation and infrastructure investment could put the U.S. on very strong footing for the next several decades. Such was the legacy of Ronald Reagan, who oversaw a similar "once in a generation" economic boost that resonated for the next 30 years. 

Trump is no Reagan. The current president started with a generational opportunity, in the form of a GOP sweep of the White House and Congress. On November 9, I placed the odds of passing a robust economic legislative agenda at 96 percent. The day Trump took office, cracks in my optimism appeared.   By March, I had lowered the odds to a still healthy 75 percent. Now I'm thinking 25 percent, and even that might be optimistic.

Let the weight of that missed opportunity sink in for a minute.

To be fair, Reagan (and Thatcher and Volcker) broke inflation and then Reagan and Thatcher won the Cold War to boot, giving us the boom.  Taxes had little to do with anything (taxes as a percentage of GDP were little changed in his last year from his first).

What the GOP is blowing is a chance to reform what we tax--consumption instead of income, savings and profits.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Congressional Baseball Game To Honor British Terror Victims (Alex Gangitano, 6/12/17, Roll Call)

British Ambassador Nigel Kim Darroch will throw out the first pitch at Thursday's Congressional Baseball Game as spectators at Nationals stadium recognize the victims of the Manchester and London terror attacks. [...]

"We are grateful to have Sir Kim join us to throw out the first pitch at the Congressional Baseball Game," Republican manager Rep. Joe Barton said. "As one of our most special allies, we stand with the British people and would like to honor the first responders and victims of the recent terror attacks."

All you need to know about Donald Trump's Washington : the British Ambassador will have thrown out a first pitch but the president won't have.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


WHAT EVERYBODY GETS WRONG ABOUT KUSHNER'S LEGAL WOES (Martin J. Sheil, retired branch chief of the IRS Criminal Investigation division, 6/12/17, WhoWhatWny)

[I]f prosecuting Kushner in 2017 under the Logan Act is not any more viable than prosecuting Logan was in 1799, what statute should DOJ and the special prosecutor be looking at?

The answer is the International Emergency Economic Powers Act (IEEPA), which is the primary law under which the US sanctions programs are issued. This federal law was signed by President Jimmy Carter on December 28, 1977.

IEEPA authorizes the president to regulate commerce after declaring a national emergency in response to any unusual and extraordinary threat to the US which has a foreign source. In this case, the relevant parts are as follows:

"It shall be unlawful for a person to violate, attempt to violate, conspire to violate or cause a violation of any license, order, regulation, or prohibition issued under this chapter." (emphasis added)

Criminal Penalty:

"A person who willfully commits, willfully attempts to commit, or willfully conspires to commit, or aids or abets in the commission of, an unlawful act described in subsection (a) shall, upon conviction, be fined not more than $1,000,000 or if a natural person, may be imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both." (emphasis added)

The US has successfully levied huge fines on banks and corporations that tried to evade federal sanctions on foreign countries.

A list of recent IEEPA offenders and their penalties is as impressive as it is informative:

1.  In 2014, BNP Paribas & Commerzbank AG were required to pay almost $9 billion & $285 million respectively to resolve investigations into concealed transactions involving sanctioned entities.

2.  In 2015, Schlumberger Oilfield Holdings Ltd., the world's largest oilfield services company, paid a $237 million settlement and negotiated a criminal plea wherein DOJ charged a unit of Schlumberger with conspiracy to violate sanctions imposed against Iran & Sudan.

3.  On 3/18/17 ZTE a giant Chinese Telecommunications company plead guilty to criminal charges of violating US sanctions on North Korea & Iran and was required to pay $1.2 billion

What got banks into trouble was so-called wire transfer "stripping." This means that before performing a wire transfer, the bank removes pertinent information such as customer names and/or addresses to avoid economic sanctions violation detection.

If Kushner wanted to further US collusion with Russia in circumventing economic sanctions, either in Russia or Syria, concealment of any American involvement would certainly be required. VEB, which is the favorite bank of Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as that of Russia's oligarchs, would be more than capable of stripping the identity of any American individuals involved.

In the case of the Trump campaign's off-the-books meetings with Russians, we know that Flynn had at least 18 undisclosed communications with Sergey Kislyak  prior to Trump's inauguration. At least one of those discussions with the Russian ambassador reportedly concerned economic sanctions on Russia. Flynn lied to Vice President Mike Pence, saying that his conversation with Kislyak did not address economic sanctions, and was eventually fired as a result. Later it was discovered that Flynn did not disclose his travels and contacts in Moscow, nor his receipt of approximately $45k from the Kremlin-backed RT television network in Russia in December of 2015. Furthermore, it was found that he lied to the DOD about his contacts and the foreign payments.

As part of Russia's punishment for its annexation of Crimea, VEB was placed under sanctions in July 2014. The bank suffered extensive economic losses from the sanctions and Putin was compelled to bail out VEB with over $20 billion in government subsidies.

According to multiple media reports, it has recently come to light that Flynn arranged a meeting at Trump Tower in December of 2016 (prior to inauguration) with Kislyak and Kushner. Shortly after this meeting another meeting was arranged by Kislyak with Kushner and Gorkov. In January the secret Ukraine peace plan was delivered to Flynn's desk by Trump attorney Michael Cohen and, according to recent media reports, the State Department began plans to revoke economic sanctions against Russia.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 AM


Was the Rise of ISIS Inevitable? (A. TREVOR THRALL and JOHN GLASER, 6/06/17, Cato)

In the latest issue of Survival, Hal Brands and Peter Feaver address an important debate in American foreign policy circles. Was the rise of ISIS inevitable, or was it the result of misguided U.S. policies? Most agree it is the latter, but the dispute gets fraught on the question of whether it was U.S. military interventionism or inaction that deserves the blame. Some say it was the invasion of Iraq that led to the rise of ISIS. Others insist it was Obama's decision to withdraw from Iraq in 2011.

Brands and Feaver use counterfactual analysis to assess whether different U.S. policy decisions at four "inflection points" could have nipped the rise of ISIS in the bud. The first of these points was the Bush administration's decision to invade Iraq in 2003. The other three occurred during the Obama administration and include the decision not to press Iraq to allow the United States to leave behind a significant number of U.S. troops, the decision not to intervene aggressively early on in the Syrian civil war, and the decision not to intervene more forcefully to help the government of Iraq defeat ISIS before it took the city of Mosul.

The authors take a middle road, arguing that, "the rise of ISIS was indeed an avertable tragedy," but that both restraint and activism share the blame. Had U.S. policymakers not invaded Iraq in 2003, or been more aggressive in Iraq and Syria from 2011-2014, they argue, "ISIS might not have emerged at all." [...]

The most problematic issue is their treatment of the invasion of Iraq. By bundling the invasion of Iraq with the other three inflection points, the authors introduce a false sense of equality among them, making it seem as if they were all the same sort of decision, and of equal magnitude. In so doing, they obscure the most critical lesson from not only the invasion of Iraq but from the entire war on terror: the fact that American military intervention creates more problems than it solves, leading to destabilization and the amplification of civil conflicts.

For the Realist, it is always worthwhile to keep even genocidal dictators in place because they provide "quiet."  America, on the other hand, exists to destabilize any regime where the citizenry is not allowed self-determination.

On the other hand, Brands and Feaver are nearly correct about the aggression required to prevent ISIS, but that aggression needed to be directed by the Shi'a, starting in 2003.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


What Is the Future of Conservatism? (SAMUEL GOLDMAN, 5/02/17, Liberty & Law)

The political theorist Mark Lilla provides a useful starting point in his recent book The Shipwrecked Mind (2016). He describes reaction as the yearning to overturn a present condition of decadence and recover an idealized past. The pursuit of social transformation distinguishes reaction from the conservative inclination to cherish and preserve what actually exists.

If reaction is temperamentally unconservative, it is also historically antiliberal. In the 18th and 19th centuries, reactionary thought challenged the public/private distinction, free markets, constitutional government, and the public authority of reason. These critiques were often brilliant and remain major accomplishments of political theory. For all their insight, however, the reactionaries struggled to propose appealing alternatives to liberalism. Some defended the old prerogatives of altar and throne. Others articulated a kind of aristocratic anarchism that held some literary appeal but was hard to accept as a guide to practical politics.

The historical opposition between liberalism and reaction has led some analysts to impose a sharp separation between an essentially liberal Anglo-American conservatism and a reactionary European Right. Because it is politically flattering as well conceptually clarifying, I have been tempted to make this distinction myself. But I now think the opposition between liberalism and reaction is only contingent. When reaction is defined as the attempt to recover a lost golden age rather than commitment to a specific historical order, it becomes compatible with liberalism.

Liberalism and reaction can overlap in a specific kind of decline narrative--one according to which private conduct used to be protected, government was properly limited, reason ruled. There was a veritable golden age of freedom. But this paradise was interrupted by a calamity that undermined liberalism and imposed different principles of social order. Unless confronted, the substitution threatens to become permanent.

This decline narrative is not just an abstract possibility. Although it can be presented in several versions, it provides a template for the self-understanding of American conservative thought. It does not matter precisely which period is identified as the golden age or what event serves as that intervening calamity. Whether the point at which things went wrong is the Civil War, the Progressive movement, the New Deal, or the Great Society, the basic structure is the same.

It might be objected that even if American conservative thought involves a reactionary pattern of historical reasoning, it does not seek classically reactionary ends. Few American conservatives admired early modern absolutism or ancient paganism (although more expressed affection for the antebellum South). But they have dabbled in the endorsement of non-liberal means to liberal ends.

In the American context, that usually means adopting populist strategies that cater to the prejudices of the public. Conservative intellectuals have been willing to accept support where they could find it, without inquiring too deeply into its sources. In particular, the role of conspiracy theories and racism in generating support for putatively liberal candidates and policies tends to be downplayed or ignored. Conservatives have also been less than vigilant about limited government when sympathetic figures are in office. Concerns about executive power, for example, have a way of disappearing when Republicans occupy the White House.

The divergences are not simply lapses from principle. Reaction is, in a paradoxical way, more hopeful than liberalism. Instead of placing its faith in the long-term salutary effects of countless private actions, it depends on the acquisition and assertion of power. Like Antonio Gramsci's Marxism, reaction could be characterized as pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.

Reaction, like Progressivism, is the opposite of Conservatism.

Ten Conservative Principles (Russell Kirk, Kirk Center)


Sixth, conservatives are chastened by their principle of imperfectability. Human nature suffers irremediably from certain grave faults, the conservatives know. Man being imperfect, no perfect social order ever can be created. Because of human restlessness, mankind would grow rebellious under any utopian domination, and would break out once more in violent discontent--or else expire of boredom. To seek for utopia is to end in disaster, the conservative says: we are not made for perfect things. All that we reasonably can expect is a tolerably ordered, just, and free society, in which some evils, maladjustments, and suffering will continue to lurk. By proper attention to prudent reform, we may preserve and improve this tolerable order. But if the old institutional and moral safeguards of a nation are neglected, then the anarchic impulse in humankind breaks loose: "the ceremony of innocence is drowned." The ideologues who promise the perfection of man and society have converted a great part of the twentieth-century world into a terrestrial hell.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Why Trump Is Like This : The president's biographer explains the man, his motivations, and what made him this way. (Isaac Chotiner, 6/12/17, Slate)

To discuss Trump's formative years, as well as the current state of his presidency, I spoke by phone recently with Marc Fisher, a senior editor at the Washington Post and the author, with Michael Kranish, of Trump Revealed: The Definitive Biography of the 45th President. Fisher spent hours interviewing Trump for the book and has continued to analyze him in these early months of his presidency. [...]

Isaac Chotiner: What surprises you most and least about Trump's presidency thus far?

Marc Fisher: For a guy who takes great pride in being a provocateur and being unpredictable, he's remarkably consistent. The great satisfaction of covering him as president is that his behavior tracks the main themes of his life prior to the presidency quite beautifully. This is a guy who really does not change much. In fact, in one of our early interviews, he said, "I'm pretty much the same guy I was when I was 7 years old." The patterns of behavior through his life are shockingly consistent.

What are those?

It's everything from his unitary focus on himself and what's good for his bottom line to his very solitary, lonely nature as a man, to his willingness to run over and destroy anyone he sees as being in his way. He is quite consistently someone who likes to make mischief and thinks of himself as a jokester, and yet he's also someone who deeply believes that he can manage and fix just about anything.

Probably one of the most important aspects of his personality is that for Donald Trump there's really no tense other than the present tense. He doesn't think terribly much about the future, and he also doesn't at all acknowledge that the past exists. I think he almost uniquely, in my experience, doesn't really experience the past in his day-to-day life. When you ask him about things that took place earlier in his life, it's almost as if they come fresh to him every time you mention them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Competition for Offshore Wind Gets Serious in Massachusetts (Philip Marcelo, 6/11/17, Associated Press)

The state's electric utilities -- National Grid, Eversource and Unitil -- are slated to release by June 30 their requirements for projects seeking to develop the state's first ocean-based wind farm.

That sets in motion an ambitious effort to put Massachusetts ahead of states like New York, New Jersey and Maryland also seeking to establish their presence in the nascent U.S. industry. Here's a primer on where things stand:

A state law passed last year to boost Massachusetts' use of renewable energy outlines the process for developing offshore wind power.

The law calls for generating at least 1,600 megawatts of power, roughly enough electricity to power 750,000 homes annually, from offshore wind by 2027.

To accomplish this, the utilities are required to secure long-term contracts with wind farm developers in at least two phases: a bid request this month and another in 2019.

The law also calls for generating up to 1,200 additional megawatts from other clean energy sources, including hydropower, onshore wind power and solar power by 2027.

At least three companies have expressed interest in the bid: Rhode Island's Deepwater Wind, Denmark's DONG Energy and Vineyard Wind of New Bedford, Mass.

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 AM


U.S. Has a Large Number of Visa Overstays (Michael Matza, 6/11/17, The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Today, various studies show, overstays are the leading source of unlawful immigration, and make up more than 40 percent of the nation's estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants.

A Department of Homeland Security "entry-exit" report released last month showed that nearly 629,000 people who came to the United States on a visa in fiscal year 2016 stayed after it expired, and were still here at the end of the year.

The latest research undercuts President Donald Trump's claim that "a big, beautiful wall," at a cost of $20 billion to $40 billion, is the answer to illegal immigration.

"No dollar spent on a border wall will stop someone from overstaying a visa," said Philadelphia lawyer William Stock, a former national president of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Almost everyone who "played by the rules" was out of visa at some point, like our First Lady.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


Top U.S. diplomat quits China post because of his faith. (Julia Duin, 6/11/17, Get Religion)

A few days ago, America's acting ambassador to China did a most curious thing. He resigned over President Donald Trump's decision to pull out of the Paris climate agreement. Note that this person was posted in the capital of the world's largest carbon polluter while representing the world's second largest carbon polluter.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 AM


Cooperstown offers escape into baseball lore (TROY E. RENCK, 6/09/12, The Denver Post)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y.  -- Walking through the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is like following bread crumbs for 100 years.

The world is beautiful, ugly, memorable ... a living, breathing postcard collage. This wasn't my first time in Cooperstown, but it was my first time with my family. The difference in sharing is striking.

It's obvious by my job that I love baseball. Connecting the dots with them was much more rewarding.

With apologies to Abner Doubleday, everything starts with Babe Ruth. When they were growing up, my kids loved the movie "The Sandlot," so each turn helped place the Great Bambino in context. They marveled at statistics and more than anything, his size. His jersey could have served as a blanket for campers at Cooperstown Dreams Park. When my kids saw Ruth's bat, they paused in amazement. It was part piano leg, part tree trunk.

Suddenly, the moans about USSSA-approved BBCOR bats seemed hollow. When it comes to baseball history, there's Ruth and everyone else. My boys no longer wonder why he's considered the greatest after perusing Ruth's pitching stats. It would be the equivalent of Josh Hamilton working as the Rangers' No. 3 starter.

In museums (or in Las Vegas), we always wonder "if these walls could talk." At Cooperstown, they do. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


The Motor City's Blight Busters : With a bottom-up approach, Detroit is making surprising progress toward turning around its neighborhoods. (BOB GRAVES | JUNE 12, 2017, Governing)
Housing blight was another visible sign of Detroit's decay. An estimated 78,000 structures, some 29 percent of all of those in the city, were in need of demolition or other intervention to restore neighborhoods, attract investment and end decades of decline. Today Detroit is running the largest blight-removal program of its kind in the nation. Tens of millions of dollars in state and federal funds are critical for the turnaround, but so is innovation by the city and a variety of stakeholders who are putting the funds to work more effectively through an online technology platform, the Detroit Demolition Tracker.

It's another example of the impact of a bottom-up approach. Brian Farkas, director of special projects for the Detroit Building Authority, explained in an interview that as recently as 2012 residents were not in the loop on the demolitions. There was a paper-based system with information limited to door hangers that included little more than a phone number to call for information. Demolitions weren't focused on specific neighborhoods but were taking place in scattered patterns throughout the city, which reduced the visual impact and impeded neighborhood revitalization efforts.

The Demolition Tracker upgraded both data inputs and outputs. Residents can type in their address and find an array of information about what is happening in the immediate block and neighborhood. "We were striving to give citizens an understanding of what's happening in their neighborhood," Farkas explained. "This was best done through map images rather than raw data."

The demolitions, Farkas noted, are erasing the underlying cause of "blight flight" and proving to be the foundation of rebirth for these neighborhoods. Research has shown that removing blighted structures not only raises the values of the housing that remains but also produces far-reaching effects. Where property values are rising, crime, unemployment and failing education all improve. Every blighted house that is knocked down, Farkas said, makes it easier to solve broader social problems.

...that demolition won't fix.

June 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


How Obamacare may morph into Medicaid (JB Silvers, 6/11/17, The Conversation)

[I]f their numbers indicate they cannot make a profit, health insurance providers can leave. This is important, since insurers are making broad guesses regarding projected costs and premiums for consumers when they file so early, with little experience to back their decisions.

This year, they have much less certainty regarding the ground rules and subsidies on the exchanges. If they make the reasonable assumption that the government will cut back on their subsidies, as Republicans have indicated they will, the premiums they set now must reflect this additional risk in the future, since insurers will still be legally committed to their filings. Judging from early indications, this additional uncertainty will drive up premiums over 20 percent, although the underlying general increases in health care costs are less than 5 percent.

On top of this, the additional cost sharing reduction (CSR) subsidies under the silver plans are literally being held hostage by the president. A pending court case and President Trump's statements give credibility to the threat of withholding these payments.

The loss of these would require additional premium increases of 19 percent to offset the reduced government support.

These subsidies are critical to the many people buying silver plans since they reduce the average out-of-pocket cost of copays and deductibles radically from the standard 30 percent (i.e., the part not covered by the silver plans) to only 6 percent for the lowest-income people and somewhat higher for those with greater income.

The insurers' dilemma

As a former CEO of an insurance company, I can say that this would create a huge dilemma for me. Premiums must be sufficient to cover likely costs, or I will lose my job!

But I don't know what costs will be, and now I can only guess at what subsidies will be available. So, I must file rates that cover the most extreme possibilities.

The resulting high premiums will be excessive for those not receiving subsidies. These folks most likely will just revert to their former uninsured status.

This will leave only those low-income purchasers whose subsidies under the ACA will automatically rise to offset the higher premiums, leaving the net cost to the working poor the same based on the percentage of their income that is deemed "affordable.". [...]

In any event, the delay and uncertainty, along with predicted reactions of insurers, will guarantee that only low-income working people who are eligible for subsidies will be covered by exchange plans.

Ironically, these are akin to the folks that Medicaid covers now but at a higher level of income than what would qualify for coverage normally. Thus, the result of the impending meltdown of the exchanges may be effectively an extension of Medicaid-type coverage to a greater number of working poor than we have now.

By destroying the initial thrust of the ACA exchanges to give affordable options to everyone regardless of income or health status, we may effectively wind up just extending our current and revamped Medicaid programs for the poor to those with somewhat higher incomes - an ironic result for those bent on reducing Medicaid. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 PM


The Amount of Your Compensation Going Toward Benefits Keeps Rising (JOSH ZUMBRUN, Jun 9, 2017, WSJ)

Every month, the Labor Department's jobs report helps shine a light on the growth of overall wages, which has been slow in recent years. But what gets far less attention are the other components of compensation -- health insurance, paid leave, retirement benefits -- that in recent years have generally outpaced wage growth, as shown in new Labor Department data released Friday. [...]

Taking inflation into account, the gap in growth rates between wages and benefits becomes starker. Real wages have grown just 4% in total since 2006, according to this report's measure. Real benefits have grown 12.4% over that period.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


'Total and Complete Vindication'? No Way. (MAX BOOT, JUNE 9, 2017, Foreign Policy)

The president's Republican defenders act as if the fact that his attempts to quash the Russia probe were unsuccessful somehow exonerates him. But Richard Nixon wasn't successful in obstructing justice, either -- and he was still forced to resign.

Comey has now testified under oath that Trump tried to secure a pledge of "loyalty" from him in return for remaining the FBI director, and that Trump tried to pressure him into "letting Flynn go" while Flynn was under FBI investigation. The cover story of Trump defenders that the president was only offering a nonbinding suggestion won't wash. When the president tells a subordinate he "hopes" that something will occur, that is, in effect, an order -- and Comey interpreted it as such, even if he did not carry it out.

Why wasn't Trump more explicit in ordering Comey to drop the Flynn probe? Because he knew that doing so would be improper. In fact, he knew that even talking to Comey about it was wrong, which is why he cleared the room on Feb. 14 before doing so. Trump clearly hoped that, with a wink and a nudge, he would get the FBI director to drop the investigation into his former national security advisor, who may well have damning information that he could reveal if pressed. (In fact, Flynn has offered to testify in return for immunity.)

Want more evidence of a cover up? The Washington Post reported that Trump asked Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, and Mike Pompeo, the CIA director, to pressure Comey to back off the Flynn probe. This request, which Coats and Pompeo do not deny, is all too reminiscent of one of the articles of impeachment against Nixon, who also tried to use the CIA to stop an FBI investigation of executive branch misconduct.

The final and most convincing evidence of obstruction of justice involves Comey's firing on May 9. The reasons Trump initially gave were, as Comey noted, "lies, plain and simple." Initially Trump claimed that he was firing Comey because the FBI was in "disarray" and the director was a "showboat." But within days, Trump admitted to NBC's Lester Holt that the real reason was because he wanted to end the investigation into the "Russia thing." Trump then told the Russian foreign minister and ambassador that before he fired Comey ("a real nut job"), "I faced great pressure because of Russia." Now, "that's taken off. I'm not under investigation."

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


The GOP That Failed : The party didn't decide. And now Republicans are stuck with Trump. (JEFF GREENFIELD, June 10, 2017, Politico)

[T]he governing wing of the party was fully aware that Trump was not to be trusted with the levers of power. In January of last year, National Review devoted an entire issue to a symposium where 22 prominent Republicans and conservatives detailed their militant opposition to the candidate Texas Governor Rick Perry--who is now Trump's energy secretary--called "a cancer" on the American political system. Until his nomination was all but assured, Trump had the backing of a lone Republican senator, Sessions (who is now his embattled attorney general).

More broadly, the whole idea of a disparate party coming together at a convention was, for decades, rooted in the "vetting" process; those experienced in the mechanics of politics and governments would decide which of the candidates were best equipped to win an election and carry out the party's agenda in Washington. It's beyond obvious that in the decades since primaries replaced power brokers as the delegate-selecting process, this role has attenuated. But it survives today as an "In-Case-Of-Emergency-Break-Glass" tool. And the question is: Why didn't the Republican Party employ it?

Explanations have ranged from the fragmented nature of the opposition--no early consensus choice as with George W. Bush in 2000--to the underestimation of Trump's appeal (the establishment candidates like Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio and Christie spent their time and money attacking each other, while Ted Cruz was constantly praising Trump, hoping to ride in his wake when he collapsed).

But one often overlooked reason--and one for parties to remember if they hope to avoid future Trumps--is that the rules of the GOP greatly benefited Trump. The party allows winner-take-all primaries by congressional district or statewide-- which, in many states, hugely magnified Trump's delegate totals. Trump won 32 percent of the South Carolina vote but all 50 delegates. He won 46 percent of the Florida vote but all 99 delegates. He won 39 percent of the Illinois vote, but 80 percent of the 69 delegates. By contrast, Democrats--who abolished winner-take-all primaries more than 40 years ago, insist on a proportional system, much like parents cut the cake at a children's birthday party. The result is that an intensely motivated minority cannot seize the lion's share of delegates.

Another rule may well have stayed the hand of Republicans who saw in Trump an unacceptable nominee. The Democratic Party gives more than 700 people seats as "superdelegates." Every senator, every House member, every governor and a regiment of party officials are, by rule, unbound. They make up 15 percent of the total votes at the convention. Republicans only have some 150 "automatic" delegates--7 percent of the total--and they must vote the way their state's primary voters did. Thus, the whole idea of an emergency brake is almost nonexistent in the GOP.

Democrats were scared into adding superdelegates by the nomination of George McGovern and his electoral performance. But thanks to Hillary, Donald is president. 

Posted by orrinj at 1:03 PM


Trump lawyer refuses to rule out firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller (Bonnie Christian, 6/11/17, The Week)
Attorney Jay Sekulow, a member of President Trump's legal team, on Sunday refused to rule out the possibility of the president attempting to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the probe into possible collusion between the Trump team and Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

There's no difference between firing Comey and firing Archibald Cox.

Posted by orrinj at 9:07 AM



Erik Hoel, a 29-year-old theoretical neuroscientist and writer, quoted the passage in a recent essay in which he laid out his new mathematical explanation of how consciousness and agency arise. The existence of agents--beings with intentions and goal-oriented behavior--has long seemed profoundly at odds with the reductionist assumption that all behavior arises from mechanistic interactions between particles. Agency doesn't exist among the atoms, and so reductionism suggests agents don't exist at all: that Romeo's desires and psychological states are not the real causes of his actions, but merely approximate the unknowably complicated causes and effects between the atoms in his brain and surroundings.

Hoel's theory, called "causal emergence," roundly rejects this reductionist assumption.

"Causal emergence is a way of claiming that your agent description is really real," said Hoel, a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University who first proposed the idea with Larissa Albantakis and Giulio Tononi of the University of Wisconsin, Madison. "If you just say something like, 'Oh, my atoms made me do it'--well, that might not be true. And it might be provably not true." [...]

Hoel and collaborators have been developing the mathematics behind their idea since 2013. In a May paper in the journal Entropy, Hoel placed causal emergence on a firmer theoretical footing by showing that macro scales gain causal power in exactly the same way, mathematically, that error-correcting codes increase the amount of information that can be sent over information channels. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Fixed Mortgage Rates Are Stuck in Long Slide (Kathy Orton, 6/11/17, The Washington Post)

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average sank to 3.89 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 3.94 percent the previous week and 3.6 percent a year ago. The 30-year fixed rate has fallen 16 basis points in the past month. (A basis point is 0.01 percentage point.)

The 15-year fixed-rate average dropped to 3.16 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 3.19 percent the previous week and 2.87 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average remained the same, at 3.11 percent. It was 2.82 percent a year ago.

Mortgage rates tend to follow the path of long-term bond yields. As investors buy up bonds, sending prices higher, that drives yields down.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury plunged to a seven-month low last week, slumping to 2.14 percent Tuesday. In less than three months, it has dropped 46 basis points from its peak this year at 2.6 percent.

Ironically, while we're saving ourselves from Donald's economic ignorance, the Fed could deep-six the economy anyway.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


The Worst Thing That Happened to Donald Trump this Week (Paul Rosenzweig, June 9, 2017, Lawfare)

What's the worst thing that happened to Donald Trump this week?  It was NOT Director Comey's testimony.  Rather, it must be the late Friday news that Robert Mueller has hired Michael Dreeben, on a part-time basis, to help with his investigation.  Dreeben, a deputy in the Office of the Solicitor General, has argued more than 100 cases before the Supreme Court. [...] [H]e is quite possibly the best criminal appellate lawyer in America (at least on the government's side).  

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


Iran delivers food to Qatar amid concerns of shortages (Deutsche-Welle, 6/11/17)

Five Iranian cargo planes arrived in Doha on Sunday with food supplies as sanctions placed by the neighboring Gulf states have started to hurt Qatar.

"So far five planes carrying ... vegetables have been sent to Qatar, each carrying around 90 tones of cargo, while another plane will be sent today," Iran Air spokesman Shahrokh Noushabadi said.

"We will continue deliveries as long as there is demand" from Qatar, Noushabadi added.

It's a struggle between supporters of self-determination and authoritarians.

Qatari FM: For Arabs, Hamas is a resistance movement (Al Jazeera, 6/11/17)

"The US views Hamas as a terror organisation. But to the rest of the Arab nations, it is a legitimate resistance movement. We do not support Hamas, we support the Palestinian people," [Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani] said.

Hamas is the Palestinian group that has governed Gaza since 2007. The small strip of land, home to nearly two million Palestinians, has been under a crippling Israeli blockade for a decade.

On Wednesday, Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said Qatar must end its support for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood before ties with other Arab Gulf states could be restored.

Jubeir added that Qatar was undermining the Palestinian Authority and Egypt in its support of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Donald Trump's state visit to Britain put on hold (Patrick Wintour, 11 June 2017, The Guardian)

Donald Trump has told Theresa May in a phone call he does not want to go ahead with a state visit to Britain until the British public supports him coming.

The US president said he did not want to come if there were large-scale protests and his remarks in effect put the visit on hold for some time.

Good trivia question : who is the only other president not to meet Queen Elizabeth during her reign? (Hint : It's not who you think--he met her here on a state visit, though he never made it there.)

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


The Power of Inertia: More Workers Save in Their 401(k) (Stan Choe, 6/11/17, AP)

 Here's a look at some of the trends found from Vanguard's survey, up and down:

Workers are more likely to be saving.

Across Vanguard's plans, 79 percent of all workers eligible to save in a 401(k), 403(b) or similar account are doing so. That's up from 68 percent a decade ago, and a big reason for it is that workers are getting a more forceful push to do so.

Nearly half of employer plans, 45 percent, sign their workers up automatically for the retirement plan. That's triple the rate from 10 years ago. Workers still have the choice to opt out, but requiring that extra step means more end up saving, and it's another example of trying to use inertia to help. Only 10 percent of workers in plans with automatic enrollment aren't participating, versus 37 percent at plans where signing up is voluntary.

Most typically, employers are enrolling workers to contribute 3 percent of their pay. Not only that, many have also set their programs to automatically raise workers' savings rates each year. Most increase contributions by 1 percentage point, most typically up to a cap of 10 percent.

Lower-income workers are seeing the biggest participation increase.

Workers pulling down big paychecks have always been the most likely to save in a 401(k). More than 90 percent of workers making $100,000 or above participated in their plan last year, the same as it's been through the past decade.

The story hasn't been so good for lower-income workers, who likely feel less comfortable diverting some of their paycheck. A decade ago, for example, only 45 percent of workers making less than $30,000 annually participated in their plan. That was less than half the rate of the highest-paid workers.

But the participation rate for lower-income workers has been steadily climbing in recent years, and hit an estimated 65 percent last year. So while they still participate less often, the gap between how much lower-income workers participate and how much other groups do is narrowing.

Younger workers are also more likely to save than before.

Odds are only slightly better than a coin flip that a young employee under the age of 25 is setting aside some pay in a 401(k) or similar plan. Last year, an estimated 54 percent of such eligible workers were doing so. But that's a much higher rate than a decade ago, when only 38 percent of them were.

Just create a 401k-type account for every newborn and put $10k a year in them through age 18, invested in retirement date mutual funds.  Let individuals and employers contribute directly to the accounts.  Make them--and all currently existing retirement accounts--heritable, but only directly into other individual accounts.  Then means-test all governmental retirement benefits. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Cultural appropriation: A modest proposal (Michael Barone, May 4, 2017, Washington Examiner)

Attentive readers will notice that "culture" is a euphemism. The objection is not to participating in a culture but to doing so when you're not of the right genetic ancestry. Usually that's a group currently regarded as subject to discrimination or derogatory slurs. But there is a certain historical myopia at work here. Other groups have also suffered from discrimination and ridicule over long periods of American history, and still are in some quarters. Shouldn't they be included?

Take one of which I am a member, Italian-Americans. The National Italian American Foundation estimates our numbers, based on Census and other data, at around 16 or 17 million, 5 percent of the nation's population. NIAF celebrates their achievements and welcomes others to join in. The first time that all four major-party nominees for president and vice-president appeared on the same stage was at NIAF's 1984 annual dinner -- though only one of them had Italian ancestry.

But what if Italian-Americans started objecting to cultural appropriation? By, for example, complaining that Americans of non-Italian descent were appropriating Italian culture by consuming pizza and pasta?

The logical corollary would be to stamp out this hijacking of cultural heritage. At school lunchrooms, pupils would be required to show proof of Italian ancestry being getting a pizza slice. Supermarket checkout counters would require similar proof from putative pasta purchasers. Similarly for paninis at Panera Bread, chicken parmesan at Olive Garden, etc.

If appropriation of one culture is wrong, then appropriation of any culture is wrong. Isn't it? [...]

Actually, American history is the story of one cultural appropriation after another, from English law to Thai cuisine, to our great mutual benefit. You shouldn't have to submit a DNA sample to partake.

...or their parents at a supermarket...

June 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


Trump nominee for powerful bank regulator post misrepresented college degree (Jim Puzzanghera, 6/10/17, LA Times)

Joseph Otting, the former chief executive of Pasadena's OneWest Bank whom Trump nominated Tuesday to be the next comptroller of the currency, has claimed to be a graduate of the School of Credit and Financial Management at Dartmouth.

"Joseph Otting is not a Dartmouth graduate," Diana Lawrence, the college's associate vice president for communications, said Saturday. "Dartmouth does not have a school of credit and financial management." [...]

Otting's misrepresentation of the degree was first reported by Bloomberg News.

There is is a continuing education program called the Graduate School of Credit and Financial Management offered by the National Assn. of Credit Management in Columbia, Md.

The program consists of a pair of two-week sessions in consecutive years and now is held at American University in Washington, D.C.

Bloomberg reported that the program used to be held at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H., but wasn't affiliated with the school.

Records show that Otting graduated from the program in 1992 when he was a midlevel manager at Union Bank in Beverly Hills, Bloomberg said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 PM


Trump's Support Drops in Military Communities (DANTE CHINNI, 6/10/17, NBC)

An analysis of Gallup polling data comparing the first 100 days of Trump's presidency to the month of May shows that Trump's job approval in military counties dropped sharply in the last month -- from an average 51 percent approval and 41 percent disapproval in the first 100 days to 43 percent approval and 52 percent disapproval for May.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Islamic State's Collapse. Death of the IS Propaganda Machine (Bassem Mroue, June 10, 2017, AP)

The Islamic State group's propaganda machine used to be confident, promising that its self-declared caliphate would be "lasting and expanding." But in recent months, as the group's territory has shrunk, its messages have as well.

Far from the boastful, self-aggrandizing videos of the past, the group is now urging fighters to resist and not run away from the battlefield. The quality of the videos has dropped as well after some of the extremists' most prominent propagandists and producers were killed.

Slickly produced IS propaganda videos shot from multiple angles with religious songs in the background used to spread fear among the group's opponents, with gruesome footage of beheadings, shootings, confessions of detainees and sophisticated attacks against their rivals. In the videos, the group boasted that Muslims from all over the world were flocking to what they called the "first caliphate" since the fall of the Ottoman Empire a century ago.

Now the videos mostly urge fighters to be steadfast and call on the local population to join the group after hundreds of IS fighters have been killed over the past months.

"The propaganda of the organization has become zero to be frank. It indicates their collapse and that the group is retreating," said Omar Abu Laila, a Syrian opposition activist now based in Germany who is originally from Syria's eastern province of Deir el-Zour, held by IS. "Their calls for people to join the group are signs of weakness."

A major blow came in August, when an airstrike in Syria claimed by the U.S. and Russia killed Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the group's chief spokesman and senior commander who was known for fiery speeches that used to boost the morale of fighters. In 2014, after the group declared its caliphate, al-Adnani vowed to conquer Baghdad as well as the Shiite holy cities of Najaf and Karbala in southern Iraq.

Another blow came in October when a U.S. airstrike in Syria killed Wael al-Fayadh, better known as Abu Mohammed al-Furqan, who was in charge of producing highly professional propaganda videos. One of the group's main media arms, Al-Furqan Media, was named after him. He was replaced by Abu Bashir al-Maslawi, who was killed a short time later.

In late May, the founder of the group's Aamaq news agency, Baraa Kadek, was reportedly killed along with his daughter in an airstrike in the eastern Syrian town of Mayadeen.

A video released last month titled "Answer the Call" urged young men to join IS to make up for the loss of manpower.

"What are you waiting for? The infidels have gathered around us from all over the world," it said, showing scenes of IS fighters trying to persuade men in mosques and clubs to join the fight as suicide bombers.

You don't get to pick your enemies, but the UR did defeat his comprehensively, mostly thanks to the idiocy of their believing their own propaganda and gathering in one place.  ISIS was Lee.  OBL was Longstreet.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Iran's Aseman signs final deal for 30 Boeing 737s: IRNA (Reuters, 6/10/17)

Aseman Airlines has signed a final deal to buy 30 Boeing (BA.N) 737 MAX jets in Iran's first new business with the U.S. planemaker since President Donald Trump took office vowing to take a tougher stance toward the country.

Aseman and Boeing had signed a tentative deal in April. Iran's state news agency IRNA reported that representatives of Aseman and Boeing signed the final agreement in the capital Tehran on Saturday.

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 PM


Wonder Woman Is Propaganda : Why debating the "feminist" stakes of a movie about American military ideology is a laughable prospect. (JOSEPHINE LIVINGSTONE, June 6, 2017, New Republic)

Looking around at the kids stuffed densely into the theater, I realized that this movie paints with the big, bold strokes of childhood. It's a movie for kids, a movie intended to teach them what it means to be an American hero. That's the political sensibility of the DC Comics world, no matter how different or exceptional its superhero protagonists, or how often the word "feminist" is used to promote its movies.

Wonder Woman is very strong and beautiful. She fights against an evil woman with a tremulous voice who covers a facial injury with a mask. An American man leads this strong woman into conflict with Germans. Germans are evil and Americans are good. Disability is evil and beauty is good. Weakness is evil and strength is good. Friendship and idealism will win the war, and some immortal demigoddess protects our freedom.

The engine of American ideology drives Wonder Woman, which is in the end a movie about violence. It is also a surreal movie, because of the way it draws upon the world's past to make a distinctly American fiction. Wonder Woman has no use for global history except as grist for American exceptionalism, which animates the storylines of so many heroes in the comic book universe, from Captain America to Superman. And so the surreality at the heart of American identity gets recycled, producing comic book movies to feed our least noble hungers.

By painting the meaning of military victory in World War I in these colors, Wonder Woman explained to those children huddled with me that political morality has an aesthetic and a sexuality. Beauty, strength, goodness, bravery: These are your values, and here is how your values must look. 

What is the point of feminism if it does not teach that women are capable of fulfilling our values?

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


ANOTHER STRANGE MOMENT from Friday's press conference withTRUMP and Romanian President Klaus Iohannis. (Politico Playbook, 6/10/17)

REPORTER: "Thank you. Mr. President, were there any discussion about the Visa Waiver Program for Romania? Is there a time frame for including our country in this program? Thank you." 

TRUMP: "We didn't discuss it --" 

IOHANNIS: "Yes --" 

TRUMP: "We didn't discuss it. But there would be certainly -- it would be something we will discuss. Mr. President." 

IOHANNIS: "I mentioned this issue, and I also mentioned it during other meetings I had, because this is important for us, it's important for Romanians who want to come to the United States."

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


FROM HADAS GOLD (Politico Playbook, 6/10/17)

KELLYANNE CONWAY was overheard Thursday night talking about her West Wing co-workers to fellow revelers at a party. Conway was having an off-the-record conversation with a group of reporters and other attendees at the British Embassy at their election-night watch party. She said President Donald Trump told her to "go out there and say 'Jim Comey is going to have to wait and see about the tapes.'"

"I mean, that's basically the same thing as 'no comment,'" she said. Conway also mimicked Reince Priebus urging White House aides to stop leaking, and wondered aloud what Marc Short -- the legislative director -- does all day. She also said she is "the one catching the slings and arrows in the West Wing." The source who heard Conway created a Twitter account about the evening, naming it @kellyanneleaks and posting photos and tweets from the event. Two other sources confirmed Conway's remarks.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


As Voodoo Economics Collapses in Kansas, Trump Takes It National (Jonathan Chait, 6/08/17, New York)

In 2015, Grover Norquist, who has successfully defined unconditional opposition to taxes as the defining tenet of party orthodoxy, waxed enthusiastic about one state in particular that was leading the way for the nation. "Kansas is the future," he told an interviewer. "Kansas is the model." Kansas was the state where Sam Brownback, the former congressman who mentored a young staffer named Paul Ryan, implemented supply-side tax cuts that, Brownback promised, would usher in prosperity and fiscal stability.

Now Brownback's tax cuts have failed so dramatically and incontrovertibly that the state's Republican legislature overrode Brownback's veto to eliminate them. Incredibly, a majority of the Republicans in both chambers of the state legislature voted against the tax cuts. In a new interview with Russell Berman, Norquist insists the failure in Kansas does not tell us much at all about anything. "If you're a Republican looking for a model," he says, "Kansas is not the model."

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM


Mexico shows off new optimism after fearing the worst in Trump's early days (David Agren, 10 June 2017, The Guardian)

[El Tri]  kicked off the Trump era with a 2-1 victory over the US in Columbus, Ohio, four days after the election, and has since then sailed through World Cup qualifying.

On Sunday, Mexico will once again confront the US - this time on home ground at the Estadio Atzeca. A victory here would almost guarantee its spot in Russia 2018.

Similarly, the darkest fears prompted by Trump's victory have given way to cautious optimism across Mexico.

Early fears that US protectionism could unravel 25 years of economic integration have faded. Investors are feeling bullish again. Even the peso, which plummeted in the days after the US election, has recovered, hitting a 10-month high Thursday.

"Mexico is no longer the tiny partner you can bully around," said José Merino, a political scientist at the Autonomous Technological Institute of Mexico (Itam). "We've turned into a very competitive world exporter."

The rebound also stems from a consensus that the disaster scenarios spun as Trump prepared to take office are unlikely to materialise. Investors are betting that the deep integration of the US and Mexican economies, with firms establishing supply chains on both sides of the border, is too deeply established to uproot.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


Is Trump Guilty Of Obstruction Of Justice? Comey Laid Out The Case (Domenico Montanaro, 6/10/17, NPR)

"I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go," Trump told Comey, according to Comey's notes. "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

Trump now denies he said this, both through his lawyer and in a news conference Friday.

But as the investigation picked up steam, and Flynn was increasingly a key player, the president fired Comey. The White House initially cited a memo from the deputy attorney general about Comey's handling of the Clinton email investigation during the campaign.

Trump later undermined that rationale in an interview with NBC's Lester Holt. Comey believed the reasoning was dubious, and, for him, the NBC interview confirmed that it was due to the Russia investigation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Hanover Bears  Still Mired  In Politics (Allie Morris, 6/05/17, Concord Monitor)

Republicans at the Statehouse are all about local control and property rights. But a selectman in Pittsburg says he was never consulted, or even alerted, when Hanover's nuisance bears recently pardoned by Republican Gov. Chris Sununu were shipped into town.

"It's frustrating," said Richard Judd, whose sentiment was echoed more bluntly by a lawmaker who represents the sparsely populated northern most part of the state.

"I don't appreciate the North Country being a dumping ground. We're not collecting rabid skunks in the North Country and dumping them in Newfields," said Democratic Sen. Jeff Woodburn, referencing Sununu's hometown.

...that this is the biggest issue in the state.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


NYC City Is a Train-Lovers Paradise with Subways, Grand Central and a Transit Museum (Melanie Carroll, 6/10/17, Associated Press)

If you're a rail fan or happen to have one in your family, New York City is a great place to visit. Arguably the most transit-friendly city in America, New York dazzled my 8-year-old son, not only with its ubiquitous subway lines but also with various train-related destinations. During our urban adventure, we visited the best-known train terminal in the nation, crossed the East River on an aerial tram and strolled through vintage passenger cars.

Simply riding the subway, at $2.75 a pop, was a treat for us. On our way to the New York Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn, we took the Q train, which runs over the Manhattan Bridge. Despite stormy skies, we had a good view of the Brooklyn Bridge across the way, the East River below and lower Manhattan from the last car. We walked several blocks and eventually found the museum in the decommissioned Court Street subway station. The street entrance can be deceiving: It looks and feels like an actual subway station because it once was, although now it's got museum signs on it. You even have to go down two flights of stairs below street level, just like you would for a real subway station, to enter.

Inside, my son loved the old-fashioned wooden subway turnstiles from the last century. But the old passenger cars on the platform level really got his attention. He pretended that one of the cars, once used in an elevated train in Brooklyn, was rolling down the tracks and he was running after it to get on. The beautiful lightweight wooden body coach was made in Newark, Ohio, in 1907 for the Brooklyn Rapid Transit Company, or BRT. The car was in service in New York between 1908 and 1969 before its restoration in 1979, according to the New York Transit Museum.

I was fascinated by the old advertisements and announcements posted inside the 20 retired passenger cars. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Comey hearing draws massive online crowds (Sara Fischer, 6/10/17, Axios)

Parts of fired FBI Director James Comey's Thursday Senate testimony was seen by 89 million people on Facebook. Nielsen estimates 19.5 million people saw it on live television.

And the US economy was not a lick less productive than any other day.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Why UK Prime Minister Theresa May Flopped In Last Night's Election (Christopher Jacobs, JUNE 9, 2017, The Federalist)

How could May, thought a shoo-in to win a landslide only a month ago, flop so resoundingly against an opponent so weak?

As with Hillary Clinton's loss to Trump, it took some effort. May, like Clinton, played a safe campaign, in which she didn't seem comfortable, while Corbyn relished interactions with voters and constituents. Her campaign manifesto prompted a U-turn from the prime minister mere days after its launch, angering traditional Conservative supporters and giving the party a bumbling appearance, at a time when May had promised to provide strong and stable leadership.

There were other factors, too. In the wake of last year's referendum to exit the European Union, the UK Independence Party vote collapsed. It appears some working-class voters who voted UKIP at the last election shifted back to Labour instead of voting Conservative.

Safe?  She ran on nothing and did it badly. Boris Johnson would have crushed Corbyn.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Scientists use machine learning algorithms to create a real-life Doodle God (Tristan Greene, 6/09/17, Next Web)

Scientists from the University of Liverpool have taught computers to sift through the infinite possibilities of atoms in search of new materials. The computers use machine-learning to help scientists narrow their focus when combining atoms to create something entirely new.

This new research will allow scientists to input previously known materials into a machine learning algorithm so that the computer can then predict what similar atomic pairings will produce.

Liverpool Materials Chemist, Professor Matt Rosseinsky, said:

Machines are learning what we want from them, and in return they are teaching us how to make sense of the building blocks of our universe.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Tina Fey nails young white-girl entitlement : Ellie Kemper's character is the ideal person to boggle at the preciousness of campus culture and hold feminists up to the standards they demand from others (Fiona Sturges, 10 June 2017, The Guardian)

[At Columbia University] Kimmy is tutored in the ways of "seventh wave" feminism by her new college chums, who police their peers' every utterance for perceived injustice. They are also reduced to simpering puddles when a male student, Austin, invites them to an anti-Valentine's Day party. "He is so woke," one coos. "The only micro-aggression was when he called us 'guys'," another sighs.

Naturally, Kimmy is left tying herself in knots trying to master the semantics of modern-day equality: "Man, you guys are so smart. Oops. I just called you guys 'guys'. Sorry. And can I say 'man'? Boy, this is hard. Now I said 'boy'. Oh brother. Help me!"

After precious little preamble, Austin then presents Kimmy - who, lest we forget, is a victim of sexual abuse - with a consent form for sex. Kimmy may be inexperienced in the business of relationships, but the weirdness of the exchange isn't lost on her. It takes a night out listening to her new girlfriends quacking about owning their sexuality while wearing crippling heels for her to conclude: "They're just kids. Tall kids with big words."

June 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:40 PM


Trump nominates new round of federal and district judges (JOSH DELK AND LYDIA WHEELER, 6/08/17, The Hill)
Carrie Severino, chief counsel and policy director of the Judicial Crisis Network, complimented Trump's latest round of judicial nominations, writing in the conservative National Review that "it's a fantastic list, again drawing from his previous success from his Supreme Court list... many of the nominees are well known in the conservative legal movement..." Severino said that these nominations are a "major victory" for Americans concerned with constitutionalism in the judiciary.
Trump also nominated University of Pennsylvania Law Professor Stephanos Bibas for the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The White House called Bibas "one of the nation's leading experts in criminal law and procedure." Also nominated is Ralph Erickson of North Dakota for the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Eid and Bibas are both listed by the conservative Federalist Society as "legal experts."
Jonathan Alder, a professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Law, stated "President Trump continues to put forward superlative judicial nominees with sterling credentials and impressive intellects."

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM



In a paper published Wednesday in The New England Journal of Medicine, Yale University scientists analyzed invasive tumor data from hundreds of thousands of breast cancer patients nationwide. The researchers divided the tumors according biological features--how closely they resembled normal breast cells and whether they had certain hormone receptors. Turns out those features could predict whether a small tumor would grow into a big one. Most don't. And those that do become problematic grow so quickly that mammograms rarely identified them before patients could feel a lump.

"For 100 years we thought that small cancers had a better prognosis because we caught them earlier," says surgeon and study co-author Donald Lannin. "But it turns out small cancers have better outcomes because they're fundamentally different in their composition." [...]

Until recently, the prevailing theory among cancer researchers was that most breast cancers have a lead time of three to four years, give or take. (Lead time being the time between when a mammogram can discern a tumor, and when that tumor becomes problematic.) But Lannin's study showed that most aggressive cancers progress to life-threatening within just a year or two. On the other hand, a large proportion of small cancers grow so slowly that they have a lead time of as long as 20 years. Since breast cancer is most frequently diagnosed among women aged 55 to 64, that means that some patients may never actually get cancer. These women could avoid the expense and side effects of chemotherapy, hormone therapies, and mastectomies, all of which remain blunt instruments of disease control.

Nothing better illustrates the overlap of comedy and tragedy than cancer "survivors" who insist that their surgery worked because they didn't develop cancer. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


This former GOP congressman voted to impeach Clinton. He thinks Trump's transgressions are worse. (Becca Stanek, 6/09/17, The Week)

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) claims he still wouldn't be calling for impeachment even if a Democrat were in President Trump's shoes, but former GOP congressman Bob Inglis isn't buying it. In a tweet Friday morning, Inglis chided Ryan, writing, "You know this isn't true."

.@SpeakerRyan you know this isn't true. You know that you would be inquiring into impeachment if this were a D. https://t.co/mBFn4aCGi4

-- Bob Inglis (@bobinglis) June 9, 2017

When CNN's Jake Tapper retweeted Inglis' post insisting that Ryan "would be inquiring into impeachment" if a Democrat's conversations with a fired FBI director were the topic of a congressional hearing, Tapper noted that Inglis was once a Republican congressman. Inglis responded, reminding Tapper what else he once was: a member of the Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach former President Bill Clinton.

Posted by orrinj at 1:01 PM


Did Comey violate privilege by leaking memo? Trump's lawyer will reportedly file complaint (DEBRA CASSENS WEISS, 6/09/17, ABA Journal)

Trump lawyer Marc Kasowitz will reportedly file a complaint over the leaked memo, report NBC News, CNN, Fox News and Reuters. The stories are based on an anonymous source. According to Reuters, Kasowitz will file a complaint with the Justice Department's inspector general and will make a "submission" to the Senate Judiciary and Senate Intelligence committees.

But the memo does not appear to be illegal or to violate executive privilege, according to University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck in a Washington Post article. Other experts interviewed by the Los Angeles Times and ABC News agree with that view.

CNN also points out that the Justice Department has limited jurisdiction over former employees. If the department finds wrongdoing it can make a note in Comey's file to be used if he seeks employment there in the future.

The only apparent qualification required to work with Donald is that you be entirely unfamiliar with the Constitution and the law.

Posted by orrinj at 12:27 PM


The Health Care Debate Is Moving Left : How single-payer went from a pipe dream to mainstream. (Reihan Salam, 6/09/17, Slate)

[M]y guess is that support for single-payer will keep increasing in the months and years to come. This is despite the fact that I believe creating a single-payer system would be a costly mistake, for reasons ably outlined by Chris Pope in National Review and Megan McArdle in Bloomberg View.

Why do I think single-payer health care will keep growing more popular? Part of it is the availability heuristic. The more familiar the idea of a single-payer health care system becomes, and the more mainstream Democratic politicians embrace it, the "safer" it will be for people to support the idea. A single-payer system is no longer seen as a crazily socialistic idea relegated to the fringes of the political debate. It's an idea that is taken seriously by serious people.

Indeed, a key part of the new push for single-payer health care is branding it "Medicare for all." Medicare is a single-payer system that offers coverage to every American over the age of 65. Though no one would describe Medicare as perfect, it's pretty popular. So naturally the idea of opening Medicare to everyone has a lot of appeal. Of course, there's a case to be made that Medicare has in some ways made America's health system worse by serving the interests of politically powerful hospitals over those of patients, but I digress.

The single-payer cause also benefits from the fact that Obamacare has been a mixed bag. While coverage expansion via Medicaid appears to have gone fairly smoothly in the states that have signed up for it, the move to expand coverage via Obamacare's new state-based insurance exchanges has been far rockier. If the exchanges represent the best managed competition can do, it's no wonder many have concluded that the smarter move is to further expand public insurance programs, as we've been doing for decades under Democratic and Republican administrations alike. Medicare for all is, according to this line of thinking, simply the next logical step. Here too there is another way of looking at things: Had Obamacare used the exchanges more narrowly as a vehicle for insuring the uninsurable, not as a means of transforming the entire individual insurance market, it might have proven more popular and effective.

But the most important reason behind the single-payer boomlet, I believe, is the health policy failures of Republicans. While the GOP has spent years attacking Obamacare, it has proven utterly incapable of offering an attractive alternative. If the GOP had such an alternative, it would nudge centrist Democrats in its direction. But as long as the right doesn't have a workable plan for fixing America's health system, it should come as no surprise that the center of gravity on health policy is shifting left.

Americans, like the citizens of every developed democracy, consider health care a right, so it is one.  The argument is over how universal health care will be delivered, but the GOP is still stuck on whether.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


For Trump, the 'Cloud' Just Grew That Much Darker (PETER BAKER, JUNE 8, 2017, NY Times)

While delivered in calm, deliberate and unemotional terms, Mr. Comey's testimony on Thursday was almost certainly the most damning j'accuse moment by a senior law enforcement official against a president in a generation. In a Capitol Hill hearing room, the astonishing tableau unfolded of a former F.B.I. director accusing the White House of "lies, plain and simple" and asserting that when the president suggested dropping an investigation into his former national security adviser, "I took it as a direction." [...]

"This was a devastating day for the Trump White House, and when the history of the Trump presidency is written, this will be seen as a key moment," said Peter H. Wehner, who was White House adviser to President George W. Bush. "My takeaway is James Comey laid out facts and was essentially encouraging Mueller to investigate Trump for obstruction. That's a huge deal." [...]

Washington has not seen a spectacle quite like this since the days of Watergate, Iran-contra or President Bill Clinton's impeachment. Whatever the controversies under Mr. Bush and President Barack Obama, neither was ever accused of personal misconduct by a current or former law enforcement official in such a public forum.

Indeed, Mr. Comey highlighted the difference by noting that he had never taken notes of his conversations with either of those presidents because he trusted their basic integrity, but he did write memos about each of his one-on-one encounters with Mr. Trump because "I was honestly concerned that he might lie about the nature of our meeting."

In any other presidency, the events laid out by Mr. Comey -- Mr. Trump asking for "loyalty" from the F.B.I. director who was investigating the president's associates, then asking him to drop an investigation into a former aide and ultimately firing him when he did not -- might have spelled the end.

But Mr. Trump has tested the boundaries of normal politics and upended the usual rules. To his supporters, the inquiries are nothing more than the elite news media and political establishment attacking a change agent who threatens their interests.

"This is like an explosive presidency-ending moment," said John Q. Barrett, a law professor at St. John's University in New York and an associate independent counsel during the Iran-contra investigation in Ronald Reagan's presidency. "But we have a different context now."

The articles of impeachment drafted against President Richard M. Nixon and Mr. Clinton both alleged obstruction of justice, in effect making clear that such an action could qualify under the "high crimes and misdemeanors" clause of the Constitution. The "smoking gun" tape that doomed Mr. Nixon in 1974 recorded him ordering his chief of staff to have the C.I.A. block the F.B.I. from investigating the Watergate burglary. Critics said that Mr. Trump's comments to Mr. Comey effectively cut out the middle man.

The House impeached Mr. Clinton in 1998 for lying under oath and obstructing justice to cover up his affair with Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern, during a sexual harassment lawsuit. The obstruction alleged in Mr. Clinton's case was persuading Ms. Lewinsky to give false testimony, advising her to hide gifts he had given her to avoid any subpoena and trying to find her a job to keep her happy. After a trial, the Senate acquitted him.

As a political matter, both Mr. Nixon and Mr. Clinton faced a House under control of the opposition party, while Mr. Trump has the benefit of a Republican House that would be far less eager to open an impeachment inquiry.  [...]

Tellingly, the Republicans on the Senate Intelligence Committee paid no heed to the talking points distributed in advance by the Republican National Committee at the behest of the White House. Instead of attacking Mr. Comey's credibility, as the R.N.C. and Donald Trump Jr. did, the Republican senators praised him as a patriot and dedicated public servant. They largely accepted his version of events, while trying to elicit testimony that would cast Mr. Trump's actions in the most innocent light possible.

Posted by orrinj at 6:05 AM


Why a Top Republican Wants to Keep Paying the Obamacare Insurers (Rob Garver, June 8, 2017, Fiscal Times)

[R]epublicans in the House of Representatives filed a lawsuit seeking to have the payments declared illegal, and the Trump administration has repeatedly refused to commit to their continued payment.

The result is that insurance firms across the country are warning that they will either have to hit customers with large rate increases to make up for the risk of payments being cut off, or will have to stop serving all or part of the exchange system entirely.

Republicans have insisted that the ACA is a flawed system that is collapsing under its own weight, but repeated statements from nonpartisan analysts and from insurers themselves indicate that the biggest problem facing the marketplace right now is uncertainty about the government's position when it comes to supporting the exchanges.

In prepared remarks delivered before a House Ways and Means Committee hearing on the Department of Health and Human Services' budget request Thursday, Chairman Kevin Brady came out and called for Congress to specifically allocate money for the CSR payments. [...]

"As the Senate considers the AHCA, we must work together to deliver an expedited solution to help stabilize the insurance market and help lower premiums for Americans trapped in Obamacare today. We should act within our constitutional authority now to temporarily and legally fund Cost Sharing Reduction payments as we move away from Obamacare and toward a patient-centered system that truly works for the American people."

He also indicated that he accepts the claim of insurance firms that uncertainty about government support for the ACA is part of the problem with the market right now.

"Insurers have made clear the lack of certainty is causing 2018 proposed premiums to rise significantly," he said. "When these payments are funded by Congress, families trapped in Obamacare should expect these proposed premiums to be reduced significantly."

Brady's statement seems, at least implicitly, to suggest that the effort to replace the ACA with the GOP-sponsored American Health Care Act may not come to fruition in time to rescue the health insurance markets.

If you break it, you own it.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


Goodbye doctors, hello robots (TRISTAN GREENE, 6/08/17, Next Web)

The future of healthcare isn't more Doctors: it's more programmers. The Stanford University AI Lab has been making the tech-site rounds with 'Woebot' a new offering that uses Facebook messenger to check in with patients. It asks questions and plays games until it has collected enough data to make treatment suggestions.

That may not quite be on par with the traditional image of a soft-spoken head-shrinker directing you through a breakthrough about your mother - or the fistful of pills approach that many psychiatrists advocate today. It is, however, a pretty cool start; even if it is a little basic.

Elsewhere in the field researchers have used AI bots like Ellie to learn about PTSD by observing veterans as they responded to specific questions. The data collected wasn't then converted into a treatment program as is the intent of Woebot, but it helps advance the study of trauma-related stress and anxiety disorders.

When I got my smartphone it started tracking my steps, which allows me to the perform most basic of real-time analysis concerning my daily fitness trends. Take that idea, a fitness tracker like Samsung Health, and expand it infinitely.

Sensors and user input only go so far, the current return is nothing more than anecdotal research with only a modest amount of personalization. Artificial intelligence could be used to find a non-invasive treatment plan tailored to fit me -- without drugs or mountains of insurance paperwork. I need a real-time treatment plan that adjusts to me, not a therapist who will see me on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Comey Testimony Raises New Questions About Jeff Sessions And Russia (Arnie Seipel, 6/08/17, NPR)

Comey said in his opening statement that his leadership team at the FBI agreed not to share this with Sessions for the following reason: "We concluded it made little sense to report it to Attorney General Sessions, who we expected would likely recuse himself from involvement in Russia-related investigations."

Comey also pointed out that they were right - Sessions recused himself from the Russia investigation less than two weeks later.

The question is why Sessions recused himself.

Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee took advantage of Comey's mention of this in his opening statement to raise such questions about Sessions' recusal on Thursday.

"What was it about the attorney general's interactions with the Russians or his behavior with regard to the investigation that would have led the entire leadership of the FBI to make this decision?" asked Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.

Comey responded, "He was very close to and inevitably going to recuse himself for a variety of reasons. We also were aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic."

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 AM


James Comey Came Prepared : From the moment Comey met Trump, he understood the man and started building his case. (William Saletan, 6/08/17, Slate)

At Thursday's hearing, Comey offered more detail and explanation about why he created this paper trail. He said he documented the Jan. 6 conversation based on a "gut feeling" about "the nature of the person" he had just met. "I was honestly concerned he might lie about the nature of our meeting," said the former FBI director. So he wrote it all down.

In his written testimony, Comey described extensive discussions with his FBI leadership team after a Feb. 14 meeting in which Trump, after clearing the room of other officials, asked Comey to lay off Trump's recently ousted national security adviser, Michael Flynn. Comey wrote a memo on the encounter and made sure the memo was unclassified, so it could be more easily shared. At the hearing, Comey said he and his team "decided the best move would be to hold [the memo], keep it in a box." He suggested that he had concealed Trump's improper request from other people in the White House in part because Trump or his aides might become FBI targets. "I wouldn't want to alert the White House it had happened," Comey said of Trump's request about Flynn, "until we figured out what we were going to do with it investigatively."

Comey didn't just stow memos at the FBI. He gave at least one copy to Daniel Richman, a friend who teaches at Columbia Law School. On May 12, when Trump tweeted a warning that "James Comey better hope that there are no 'tapes' of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press," Comey was ready. He asked Richman, by his own admission, "to share the content of the memo with a reporter." Comey explicitly testified that he did this to trigger an escalation: "I asked him to because I thought that might prompt the appointment of a special counsel."

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 AM


Catalonia sets vote on independence from Spain for Oct. 1 (Reuters, 6/09/17)

Catalonia will hold a referendum on splitting from Spain on October 1, the head of the regional government said on Friday, setting the stage for several month of heightened confrontation with the central government which says such a vote is illegal and will not take place.

June 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


Comey just revealed the severity of Trump's threat to America (Ryan Cooper, June 8, 2017, The Week)

Boiled down to its essential framework, Comey's story goes like this. After the election, Trump made repeated, personal contact with the FBI director in an attempt to suborn his professionalism. In a private dinner with the president, Comey got the strong sense that Trump was trying to "create some sort of patronage relationship," and he repeatedly tried to buffalo Comey into promising "loyalty." Comey was extremely uncomfortable with this, trying to say he would only promise honesty, but eventually agreed to "honest loyalty" to end the conversation. Disturbed, Comey immediately began creating a paper trail of memos documenting every aspect of his meetings with Trump.

In a subsequent one-on-one meeting, Trump attempted to get Comey to drop the investigation into Mike Flynn, saying: "He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." Comey agreed that Flynn was a good guy, but did not promise to drop the investigation. In the later questioning, Senator Feinstein (D-Calif.) asked why Comey had not told Trump off for even asking that, and Comey replied that he was so stunned he didn't even think to confront him. "Maybe if I were stronger, I would have," he said.

Trump then made two calls to Comey, saying that the investigations into potential Russia connections were creating "a cloud" over his presidency, asking what Comey could do to "lift the cloud" and if he could make it known that Trump was not personally under investigation. In the second one on April 11, Trump pretty clearly referenced the stooge relationship he thought he had created, saying "I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know."

Some days after that, of course, Trump fired Comey, citing his mishandling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails, and how his poor leadership of the FBI was creating a morale crisis. Only days later Trump admitted in an interview with Lester Holt that the Russia investigation was the real reason.

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


Comey 'Queasy' About Former AG Loretta Lynch's Request on Clinton Email Scandal (Emily Zanotti, June 8, 2017, Heat Street)

Comey, who was in charge of the inquiry into the Clinton scandal that dominated election headlines, testified that Lynch asked him to call the FBI's probe a "matter" and not an "investigation."

Comey also told senators that the change "confused and concerned" him --giving him a "queasy feeling"--and led him to believe that Lynch was trying to align the administration's official line on the investigation with the Clinton campaign's.

Posted by orrinj at 2:16 PM


This One Tweet May Lead to Donald Trump's Impeachment (Matthew Continetti, June 8, 2017, Washington Free Beacon)

It now looks like the most consequential Tweet of his presidency to date came a few days after he fired James Comey as FBI director. At 8:26 a.m. on Friday, May 12, Trump wrote: "James Comey better hope that there are no "tapes" of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!"

That tweet, Comey told the Senate, prompted the now-private citizen to instruct a friend, Columbia Law professor Daniel Richman, to share with the New York Times the contents of contemporaneous memos he had written describing his interactions with the president. The article, published a week to the day Comey was fired, revealed that the president had asked the FBI director to end the criminal investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Why did Comey have Richman call the Times? Because, he told the Senate, he hoped that the disclosure of the memo would prompt the appointment of a special counsel to investigate Russia's involvement in the 2016 election and possible collusion with associates of the president's campaign. That is exactly what happened May 17, the day after the Times piece, when Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named as counsel former FBI director Robert Mueller.

And though Comey would not say if he believed President Trump obstructed justice by urging him to "let go" the investigation into Flynn, he did say he was sure that Mueller would investigate whether obstruction of justice had occurred.

Obstruction of justice, of course, being something past congresses have considered a "high crime and misdemeanor" worthy of presidential impeachment.

In other words: By firing Comey and then tweeting recklessly about it, Trump elevated a long-running but manageable problem--the so-called "Russia thing"--into an independent investigation that seriously endangers his presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 12:13 PM


James Comey trolls Trump: 'I take the president at his word -- I was fired because of Russia' (Travis Gettys, 08 JUN 2017, Raw Story)

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) asked the former FBI director why he believed the president had fired him -- and Comey pointed to Trump's own public statements.

"I take the president at his word -- I was fired because of the Russia investigation," Comey said.

Which is dispositive as regards obstruction.

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


Comey explains that the FBI is aware of ties between Jeff Sessions, Russia that he can't disclose (The Week, 6/08/17)

"In your statement you said that you and the FBI leadership team decided not to discuss the president's actions with Attorney General Sessions," Wyden began. "Even though he had not recused himself. What was it about the attorney general's own interactions with the Russians, or his behavior with regard to the investigation, that would have led the entire leadership team of the FBI to make this decision?"

Comey replied that the FBI knew Sessions was going to recuse himself but added cryptically, "We were also aware of facts that I can't discuss in an open setting that would make his continued engagement in a Russia-related investigation problematic." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


What Good Is a Treasury Department if You Don't Have the Staff to Run It? : By relying on career people rather than political hires, Steven Mnuchin risks losing his ability to influence policy debates. (Saleha Mohsin and Robert Schmidt, 6/08/17, Bloomberg)

Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin has one of the biggest to-do lists in Washington: Rewrite the tax code, spearhead a repeal of financial regulation, and persuade Congress to raise the debt ceiling. The agenda would be staggering in the best of circumstances, but he has a more urgent problem--a skeletal staff.

Mnuchin, a former Wall Street banker turned Hollywood financier, is the only Senate-confirmed official at Treasury. His pick for the No. 2 job, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. wealth manager Jim Donovan, recently dropped out, leaving Mnuchin with no deputy secretary, no undersecretaries, and one assistant secretary. Nominees for two undersecretary positions, the third-highest-­ranking jobs at Treasury, are stuck in the Senate, while another, for domestic finance, has yet to be named.

Instead, Mnuchin is relying on a small group of "counselors" that he's assembled who don't require confirmation. Each of these four senior aides, which include Craig Phillips, an ex-BlackRock Inc. executive and top Hillary Clinton donor, have large areas of oversight, including debt management, tax policy, and budget issues. Mnuchin also has hundreds of career staffers at his disposal. Of the 27 key remaining positions that require Senate confirmation, eight have nominees, according to the Partnership for Public Service, a Washington-based nonprofit. "Treasury has made significant progress building our team," says a Treasury spokesman. Stephen Myrow, a Treasury aide during the George W. Bush administration, says that without political hires, Mnuchin will have a harder time pushing policies forward. "The civil servants are reluctant to make tough calls without having the policy direction from a new administration," he says.

Financial industry executives and lobbyists who have had meetings at Treasury say the hallways are unusually quiet and many offices have closed doors and blank nameplates. Some still display the names of Obama political appointees. A disorganized White House ­personnel process has slowed things down, as has a rigorous vetting of potential nominees' social media accounts designed to look for any anti-Trump remarks.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


I asked 6 legal experts if Trump obstructed justice. Here's what they told me. (Sean Illing,  Jun 8, 2017, Vox)

For Jimmy Gurulé, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, Comey's statements are more damning: "It is difficult to construe President Trump's statements on February 14 to former FBI Director Comey as anything other than a request to terminate the FBI investigation of Gen. Flynn for reasons other than the merits of the case. This is an attempt to endeavor and influence the due administration of justice under the federal obstruction of justice statute." [....]

[T]he plainest legal definition of obstruction of justice is something like this: acting with the specific intent to interfere with a judicial proceeding.

How strong is the case that Trump obstructed justice based on what we already know? [...]

Gurulé also sees at least three instances in which the president arguably violated obstruction of justice laws. The first is the actual firing of Comey. "If it's clear that this was done with the aim of interfering with the investigation, that's obstruction of justice."

The second instance has to do with Trump's conversations with Comey. "We know that the president asked Sessions and others to leave the room so that he could talk privately with Comey," Gurulé says. "If the president urged Comey to back off Flynn, or even if he expressed his desire to see Flynn left alone, that strikes me as endeavoring to influence or obstruct the due administration of justice."

Still, the question of intent remains. But if it's true that this conversation occurred as reported and as Comey details, it would appear that the president wanted Comey to make a decision regarding the investigation based on something other than the merits of the case -- and that's obstructing justice by any reasonable standard.

The third potential instance of obstruction is Trump's alleged conversation with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. According to the Washington Post, Trump asked Coats in March "if he could intervene with then-FBI Director James B. Comey to get the bureau to back off its focus on former national security adviser Michael Flynn in its Russia probe." As with the Comey interactions, the whiff of obstructionism is strong here.

These are all discrete cases, Gurulé says, and they shouldn't be conflated. Even if there's a sound justification for Comey's firing, "that doesn't pertain at all to the conversation between Trump and Comey or between Trump and Coats."

Particularly if the prospect of impeachment is in question, whether Trump committed obstruction of justice is relevant, but that doesn't necessarily make it more or less likely to happen. Ultimately, as Christopher Slobogin, a professor of criminal law at Vanderbilt University, told me, "Congress gets to decide what constitutes a high crime and misdemeanor for impeachment purposes."

Which is to say, even if Trump did obstruct justice, he will not be impeached unless a Republican-controlled Congress decides he ought to be.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


With Leaders Like This, Britain Should Panic : The U.K. election has been a contest of inadequates. (Clive Crook, 6/08/17, Bloomberg View)

[I]nstead of championing a solidly pro-market centrism, May adopted a semi-skimmed leftism heavy on industrial-policy meddling and other piecemeal dirigisme. That went down badly not because voters are opposed to piecemeal dirigisme -- many quite like it -- but because it forced her to be vague and non-committal while standing in front of posters saying "Strong and Stable Leadership." Her refusal to debate head-to-head with Corbyn didn't look all that strong either.

Her single biggest mistake was to announce and then immediately take back a plan to make old people with assets pay more toward their care at the end of their lives. Again, please note, the idea wasn't wrong in principle. Households of modest means shouldn't have to pay higher taxes so that large inheritances can pass to the heirs of the well-situated. But May had no right to be surprised by the hostile reaction -- such policies are always unpopular. Worst of all was her decision to retreat, deny and dither in response. Strong and stable, my foot.

Despite everything, polls in the closing days of the campaign have shown the Tories ahead. For this, give Corbyn the credit. Thanks to him, May is still likely to be prime minister next week, perhaps with an enlarged majority. 

...if you can't get rid of these two?

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


The Godfather in the White House (Simon Maloy, June 8, 2017, The Week)

The prepared testimony former FBI Director James Comey provided to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence ahead of his hearing today is an altogether remarkable document. It confirms much of the scandalous and anonymously sourced reporting that emerged from Donald Trump's abrupt dismissal of Comey, and it reveals a president who is thoroughly consumed by the scandals plaguing his still-young administration. But more importantly, it portrays a sitting president of the United States who conducts business like a sort of low-rent mafioso. [...]

What this tells us is that Trump's view of government is rooted firmly in patronage and profound contempt for the idea that the president is bound by laws. Public servants are expected to show fealty to the Constitution, and they take an oath to that effect. Serving under Trump, however, means serving Trump and doing whatever he asks out of fealty and respect. [...]

By making "loyalty" an overriding requirement for service in the executive branch, Trump is ensuring that the only people who will seek out and succeed in public service are strivers and toadies. Trump's erratic behavior and constellation of scandals have already made it damn near impossible to find competent recruits for key administration jobs that remain vacant. Trump even had difficulty finding outside counsel to represent him in the Russia investigations, as top law firms worried that he would disregard their advice and stiff them on the bill. The sort of person who would happily sign up with a turmoil-ridden executive branch that requires slavish loyalty to the president very likely doesn't have the public's interest foremost in their mind.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Will robots replace therapists? (Kayla Matthews, June 8, 2017, The Week)

You've heard the news: Robots are coming for our jobs. Bookkeepers, umpires, factory workers, and even legal assistants could all see their employability disappear in the next 20 years.

But what about jobs that require a more personal, human touch? Surely those are safe, right?

Actually, new innovations suggest that artificial intelligence is invading even the world of physical and mental health care. For the millions of people seeking mental health treatment from a living, breathing human, this raises a question: What role will robots and AI play in the world of therapy? Will therapists and counselors be replaced by our unfeeling robot overlords?

We're already seeing AI make some advancements here. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


Comey testimony to detail 'awkward silence,' protecting Trump from embarrassment and demands for 'loyalty' (David S. Cloud, Joseph Tanfani and David Lauter, 6/07/17, LA Times)

President Trump demanded "loyalty" from former FBI Director James B. Comey and asked him to drop at least part of the bureau's investigation of former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn, Comey plans to testify to Congress Thursday.

In a prepared statement posted on the Senate Intelligence Committee website, Comey says that in a private dinner with Trump on Jan. 27, the president asked him if he wanted to remain as head of the FBI and told him "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty."

"I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence," Comey says. He told Trump that he could promise "honesty," he says.

When Trump responded "honest loyalty," Comey said "you will get that from me." The two men may have "understood the phrase 'honest loyalty' differently," he said.

Is he really asking us to believe that Donald maintained a silence?

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Intel Directors Won't Discuss Trump Talks (Deb Riechmann and Eric Tucker, 6/07/17, Associated Press)

Lawmakers verbally sparred with top intelligence chiefs on Wednesday after they staunchly refused to answer questions about conversations they had with President Donald Trump regarding probes into Russian activities during the election. [...]

Even mild-spoken Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, got testy. He demanded to know what legal basis justified Coats' refusal to answer questions.

"I'm not sure I have a legal basis..."

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


James Comey Is Not Alone : The press, anonymous sources, and public testimony have all converged to corroborate the former FBI director's story about Donald Trump. (William Saletan, 6/08/17, Slate)

[A]s we learn more about Trump and Russia, a curious thing is happening. The three tarnished institutions--media, government, and law enforcement--are converging. Comey, the press, and people in the Trump administration are telling compatible and often highly similar stories about what's going on behind the scenes. A common, underlying force--reality--is pulling them together and isolating Trump.

Three events in less than 24 hours illustrate this convergence. The first was Tuesday night's Washington Post report on conversations between Trump and senior officials about the Russia investigation. The second was a Wednesday hearing before the Senate Intelligence Committee, at which some of those officials testified. The third was the committee's release of Comey's written testimony, scheduled for delivery Thursday, about his meetings with Trump.

The Post reported that in late March, Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, told "associates" about Trump's efforts to enlist him in protecting Trump's former national security adviser, Michael Flynn. At a March 22 meeting, Trump asked Coats whether he could get Comey to "back off" from investigating Flynn. The Post, citing anonymous officials, reported that Trump asked both Coats and Mike Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, to issue statements "denying the existence of any evidence of coordination between his campaign and the Russian government." Both men reportedly refused.

Most of the corruption--the High Crime--has always been public : Donald promised Vlad that he'd lift sanctions and assist Russia; Donald asked the Russians to hack Hillary; Vlad hacked Hillary; Donald staffed the administration with guys tied to Russia; administration officials told Donald he was already too tainted to lift sanctions.

What Comey and others have added is just the fact that Donald tried getting them to stop looking into the business ties to Russia, the potentially criminal stuff.  Of course, whether or not there was any, trying to stop the investigation and firing the investigator who refused to quash it is obstruction of justice on its face.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


What the Judges Know About Trump (Linda Greenhouse, JUNE 8, 2017, NY Times)

[Watts v. State of Indiana] lives on for a single line in Justice Felix Frankfurter's opinion for the court. "There comes a point," Frankfurter wrote, "where this court should not be ignorant as judges of what we know as men."

For weeks this spring, that line rattled around in my mind. I had never read the Watts opinion until the other day, when I finally traced the line to its source. But I'd read several recent judicial opinions for which the line is highly pertinent, even revelatory. The most recent was Chief Judge Roger Gregory's majority opinion for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit two weeks ago, upholding a nationwide injunction against President Trump's Muslim travel ban.

The president's executive order "in text speaks with vague words of national security," Judge Gregory wrote, "but in context drips with religious intolerance, animus and discrimination." Drawing on candidate Donald Trump's professed goal of keeping Muslims out of the country, the judge observed that the order "cannot be divorced from the cohesive narrative linking it to the animus that inspired it."

What we know as men.

Nevermind his determination to antagonize judges; his reputation among lawyers generally is unimaginably low, as witness the quote the other day in the story about how no one wants to take his case: "The guy won't pay and he won't listen." Lawyers don't mind representing scum, but they do mind not getting paid.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 AM



Virtually every single poll tracking President Donald Trump's approval rating showed the figure plummeting Monday morning, well below the margin of error compared to the rising level of support for impeachment. The results follow Trump's controversial decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate accord; the ongoing investigation into his campaign's possible ties to the Kremlin is also a factor.

The president's approval rating dipped from nearly 42 percent to just 36 percent over the weekend, according to a Gallup daily tracking poll published Monday. Trump's declining popularity is inching closer toward his all-time low of 35 percent as president in March, when Gallup had the president's approval at just 35 percent. What's more, nearly 43 percent of American voters support the idea of beginning the official impeachment process for Trump, according to a Politico/Morning Consult poll published Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


The Democratic Party Is in Worse Shape Than You Thought (Thomas B. Edsall JUNE 8, 2017, NY Times)

Priorities USA, in surveys and focus groups, studied "drop off voters," those who lean Democratic but failed to vote in either 2014 or 2016. By and large, these voters were members of the coalition that elected and re-elected Barack Obama:

people of color (41% African-American, Hispanic, or Asian), young (22% under the age of 29), female (60%), and unmarried (46% single, separated, widowed, or divorced).

Priorities found that drop off voters were distinctly lukewarm toward Hillary Clinton:

Just 30% describe themselves as very favorable to Clinton, far lower than the 72% who describe themselves as very favorable to Barack Obama.

Priorities also studied Obama-to-Trump voters. Estimates of the number of such voters range from 6.7 to 9.2 million, far more than enough to provide Trump his Electoral College victory. The counties that switched from Obama to Trump were heavily concentrated in the Midwest and other Rust Belt states.

To say that this constituency does not look favorably on the Democratic Party fails to capture the scope of their disenchantment.

The accompanying chart illustrates this discontent. A solid majority, 77 percent, of Obama-to-Trump voters think Trump's economic policies will either favor "all groups equally" (44) or the middle class (33). 21 percent said Trump would favor the wealthy.

In contrast, a plurality of these voters, 42 percent, said that Congressional Democrats would favor the wealthy, slightly ahead of Congressional Republicans at 40 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Crossing the Red Line: How Russian Interference in Western democracy is Backfiring (Ulrick Speck,  29 May 2017, ISN Blog)

Besides the Ukraine conflict, tensions between the West and Russia have also arisen because the latter began to interfere in the domestic political spheres of leading Western democracies. There are three major cases so far: in Germany, the Lisa case in Berlin in January 2016, a Russian disinformation campaign (and before that the hacking of computer systems of the German parliament, in 2015); in the US, the hacking and publishing of documents from the Democratic National Committee during the presidential campaign in July 2016; and in France, financial and other support for Marine Le Pen as well as hacking during the presidential campaign in May 2017.

In Western capitals a consensus has emerged that the Kremlin is using 'active measures' in order to undermine politicians it considers hostile to Russian interests and backing those it considers sympathetic to the Kremlin. More generally, the aim seems to be to undermine the credibility of democratic institutions and to weaken the ability of Western democracies to cooperate by sowing distrust.

The Kremlin is using a number of instruments to achieve these goals, including: State-owned foreign media such as the TV-channel 'Russia Today' and its news agency Sputnik; cyberattacks with the subsequent publication of private e-mails and classified information; social media (trolls and Twitter bots); open support for parties and politicians; and NGOs such as the Dialogue of Civilizations Research Institute in Berlin.

In many cases, especially as regards the cyber dimension of this type of political warfare, it is impossible to identify a 'smoking barrel' to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the Kremlin has been involved. This allows the Russians to continue denying any involvement in such activities.

And yet there is an increasing awareness about these Russian tactics among experts, officials and the general public. A number of politicians and intelligence agencies have talked publicly about the rise in disinformation and influence operations, and many point their fingers at Russia.

If the Kremlin's overall goal is to improve relations with the West, then such activities are counterproductive. Russian interference in the domestic politics, especially in elections, of major Western countries is leading to a further deterioration of the relationship. Those in the West who argue in favour of detente, of an easing of sanctions and a rapprochement with the Kremlin, find it much more difficult to defend this course of action because of the rising anger over Russian political warfare tactics.

The corruption has backed Donald so far into a corner that he can do nothing to help Vlad. Though, in fairness, Vlad did manage to avoid the worst possible outcome for him--Hillary would have been an active opponent, not just a nullity. 

June 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


The Outcast: Tales from the Worst Fisherman in the World : In a family full of fishermen, one hapless angler could hook just about anything except a fish. But that didn't keep him from a lifetime of trying to land the big one (RICK BRAGG, June/July 2017, Garden & Gun)

I should have given up, I suppose, after the goat.

He was not a regular goat. He was more part goat, part rhinoceros, about the size of a small horse, but with devil horns. He looked out on the world through spooky yellow eyes, and smelled like...well, I do not have the words to say. My little brother, Mark, bought him at the sprawling trade day in Collinsville, Alabama, for seventy-five dollars; I would have given him a hundred not to. The first thing the creature did, after coming into our possession, was butt the side of a truck. You have to be one terror of a goat to assault a Ford. His name, my little brother said, was Ramrod.

"Why would you buy such a thing?" I asked my brother. He told me he planned to purchase a bunch of nanny goats to "get with" Ramrod, after whatever courtship it was that goats required. Ramrod would beget little Ramrods, who would beget more, till the whole world was covered in ill-tempered mutant goats. I think, sometimes, we did not love that boy enough. 

Ramrod moved into his new home in a beautiful mountain pasture in northeastern Alabama, and, first thing, butted heads with my mother's ill-tempered donkey, Buckaroo. Buck staggered a few steps, and his head wobbled drunkenly from side to side, but he did not fall unconscious. This, in Buck's mind, constituted a victory, and he trotted off, snorting and blowing, like he was somebody.

My point is, Ramrod was a goat not to be messed with.

Later that year, I was fishing with my brothers in the stock pond in that same pasture. The water was mostly clear, and you could see the bream in the shallows and the dark shapes of bass in the deeper end. For a change, even I was catching fish and pulled in a few nice little bass. My cast, to me, was immaculate, my aim perfect, my mechanics sound, especially for the clunky crankbait I was throwing.

"But I'm not gettin' much distance," I complained to my big brother, Sam.

"It's fine," he said, and with an easy flick of his wrist sent a black rubber worm sailing beyond my best cast of the day.

I decided to put a little more mustard on it. I let my lure dangle about a foot and a half from the tip of the rod, reared back, torqued, and started forward with a powerful heave...and hooked Ramrod, who had crept up behind me to do me some kind of grievous harm, right between his horns.

Ramrod, who for perhaps the first time in his long life seemed unsure of what to do, took off running. My drag, which was not set for a goat of any size, sang.

Sam, who has never been too surprised by anything in his whole laconic, irritating life, gazed at the retreating goat as if this were a thing he witnessed every single day.

"Can't remember if that was a ten-pound test I put on that baitcaster," he said, as if it made a difference.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Initial Comments on James Comey's Written Testimony (Benjamin Wittes, June 7, 2017, lAWFARE)

James Comey's seven-page written statement, released by the Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon in connection with Comey's impending testimony tomorrow, draws no conclusions, makes no allegations, and indeed, expresses no opinions. It recounts, in spare and simple prose, a set of facts to which Comey is prepared to testify under oath tomorrow. Despite this sparseness, or maybe I should say because of it, it is the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes.

Let me begin by walking through the document and annotating it a bit with those reasonable inferences that Comey leaves implicit but which a member of Congress, or a member of the public, should certainly consider. That is, let me start by considering in a narrow-bore way what some of these facts mean. Having done so, I'll zoom out and try to make sense of the big picture as Comey takes the stand tomorrow. Comey proceeds in his statement chronologically. I am going to treat matters more thematically--which will mean bouncing around a bit in the document. The following comments will make more sense if readers first take the time to read the statement in its entirety, something I think it incumbent on citizens and other stakeholders in this society to do. [...]

[I] will make three general observations based on this document alone.

First, Comey is describing here conduct that a society committed to the rule of law simply cannot accept in a president. We have spent a lot of time on this site over seven years now debating the marginal exertions of presidential power and their capacity for abuse. Should the president have the authority to detain people at Guantanamo? Incinerate suspected terrorists with flying robots? Use robust intelligence authorities directed at overseas non-citizens? These questions are all important, but this document is about a far more important question to the preservation of liberty in a society based on legal norms and rules: the abuse of the core functions of the presidency. It's about whether we can trust the President--not the President in the abstract, but the particular embodiment of the presidency in the person of Donald J. Trump--to supervise the law enforcement apparatus of the United States in fashion consistent with his oath of office. I challenge anyone to read this document and come away with a confidently affirmative answer to that question.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


How California Helps the U.S. Economy (Mike McPhate, JUNE 5, 2017, NY Times)

Over the last five years, California has outperformed the nation in just about every important economic metric. Yes, the state is big, accounting for about 12 percent of the nation's population. But its share of economic growth has been even bigger.

California accounted for 17 percent of job growth in the United States from 2012 to 2016, and a quarter of the growth in gross domestic product.

"What these numbers say is that California is crucial to U.S. growth, far beyond what we could expect from our population alone," said Stephen Levy, director and senior economist of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto.

California was hit hard by the housing bust and recession, so it makes sense that the state would have a stronger rebound. But it also shows how the recovery has been guided by what Mr. Levy calls "the three Ts," which are technology, trade and tourism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


Move Over Gal Gadot! Israelis Give UN Ambassador Nikki Haley A Hero's Reception (Nathan Guttman, June 7, 2017, The Forward)

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM

60-40 NATION:

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


James Comey's Opening Statement on Trump, Annotated : The former FBI director is testifying Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee on his interactions and conversations with the president. (ELAINE GODFREY, 6/07/17, The Atlantic)

January 27 Dinner

The President and I had dinner on Friday, January 27 at 6:30 pm in the Green Room at the White House. He had called me at lunchtime that day and 3 invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time, with the whole family coming the next time. It was unclear from the conversation who else would be at the dinner, although I assumed there would be others.

It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.

The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.

My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI's traditionally independent status in the executive branch.

I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my tenyear term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not "reliable" in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody's side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.

A few moments later, the President said, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.

At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some Presidents have decided that because "problems" come from Justice, they should try to hold the Department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work.

Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things 4 about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, "I need loyalty." I replied, "You will always get honesty from me." He paused and then said, "That's what I want, honest loyalty." I paused, and then said, "You will get that from me." As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase "honest loyalty" differently, but I decided it wouldn't be productive to push it further. The term - honest loyalty - had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.

During the dinner, the President returned to the salacious material I had briefed him about on January 6, and, as he had done previously, expressed his disgust for the allegations and strongly denied them. He said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn't happen. I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren't, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative. He said he would think about it and asked me to think about it.

As was my practice for conversations with President Trump, I wrote a detailed memo about the dinner immediately afterwards and shared it with the senior leadership team of the FBI.

February 14 Oval Office Meeting

On February 14, I went to the Oval Office for a scheduled counterterrorism briefing of the President. He sat behind the desk and a group of us sat in a semi-circle of about six chairs facing him on the other side of the desk. The Vice President, Deputy Director of the CIA, Director of the National CounterTerrorism Center, Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and I were in the semi-circle of chairs. I was directly facing the President, sitting between the Deputy CIA Director and the Director of NCTC. There were quite a few others in the room, sitting behind us on couches and chairs.

The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair. As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my chair, but the President thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me. The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and exchanged pleasantries with me. The President then excused him, saying he wanted to speak with me.

When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, "I want to talk about Mike Flynn." Flynn had resigned 5 the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn't done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.

The President then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information - a concern I shared and still share. After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock and I could see a group of people waiting behind him. The President waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly. The door closed.

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, "He is a good guy and has been through a lot." He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

How are we supposed to have any respect for anyone who continues to work for him?
Posted by orrinj at 12:09 PM


The horrors of getting hit by a pitch : They call it "hardball" for a reason. It's hard, and it hurts when it hits you, especially at 90-plus mph. (Tim Kurkjian, 8/03/12, ESPN )

[H]it-by-pitch numbers are confusing. Former Braves infielder Mark Lemke holds the major league record for most plate appearances -- 3,664 -- without getting hit by a pitch. The Mariners' Michael Saunders is the active player with the most plate appearances without a hit batsman; he's just over 1,000. Yet Lemke and Saunders were hit plenty of times in the minor leagues. Former major league outfielder Herm Winningham had 2,069 plate appearances without getting hit and says he never got hit by a pitch in the minor leagues, either. "The last time I got hit," he once said, "was diving back into first base on a pickoff throw." ESPN analyst John Kruk got hit by a pitch twice in 4,603 plate appearances. How can that be? Mickey Mantle was hit 13 times in his career. Tony Gwynn was hit 24 times.

The all-time leader is Hughie Jennings, whose career began in the 1800s. He was hit 287 times, once every 19.3 plate appearances. Craig Biggio was hit 285 times, followed by Tommy Tucker (272), Don Baylor (267), Jason Kendall (254) and Ron Hunt (243). Baylor, big and burly and tough, once was asked which one of the 267 hurt the most, and he grunted and said, "None of them." Kendall, who isn't as big or burly but is as tough as they come and got hit by pitches on purpose all the time, said of his 254, "They all hurt."

F.P. Santangelo, who played for four teams during his seven-year career, laughed and said, "I'm in the hit-by-pitch hall of fame -- most hit-by-pitches in a season by a switch-hitter: 25. I was a .245 hitter. I hit leadoff. I had to get on base any way I could. On-base percentage was my only good statistic. I learned how to lean in and get hit by strikes. Kendall and I had a side bet one year on who could get hit most; we bet a case of beer. I'd see him on the field before a game and I'd say, 'I'm at 17,' and he'd say, 'I'm at 18.' I think I still owe him a case of beer."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


Trump administration wants to make internet spying law permanent (Dustin Volz, 6/06/17, Reuters)

The Trump administration supports making permanent a law that allows for the collection of digital communications of foreigners believed to be living overseas and which pass through U.S. phone or internet providers, a senior White House official said.

Don't they know we oppose national security when it catches our side communicating with the Russians? 

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Iraqi Kurds Plan Independence Referendum on Sept. 25 (Reuters, 6/06/17) 

Iraq's Kurdish region plans to hold a referendum on independence on Sept. 25, an official said on Wednesday.

Trying to preserve a tri-partite Iraq was noble, but wrong.
Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


Tocqueville Unplugged (SAMUEL GREGG, 6/06/17, Law & Liberty)

In the midst of all this political maneuvering, there was one segment of opinion with whom Tocqueville refused to have any dealings. Some first-time readers of the Recollections may be surprised, if not shocked, to discover just how much Tocqueville loathed Jacobins, socialists, and the radical left in general. Throughout the Recollections, he refers to them derisively--but, as it turned out, accurately--as "Reds." These groups are portrayed as inimical not only to liberty and order but to civilization itself. Their goal, Tocqueville comments, was "not to change the form of government but to alter the order of society." Another way he expressed this hostility was to say: "Wherever I see liberty, there is no socialism."

Consider Tocqueville's description of one of the most prominent revolutionary socialist leaders: Louis-Auguste Blanqui. He is presented as someone "whose memory has filled me with disgust and horror," not to mention "sickly, nasty, and filthy, with the sallow pallor of a rotting corpse" who "looked as though he had just emerged from a sewer." Here it's worth noting that Blanqui's unswerving commitment to violence in the pursuit of radical goals, which appalled Tocqueville at the level of both means and ends, exerted considerable influence on Vladimir Lenin but also Benito Mussolini.

Tocqueville's visceral reaction to the "Reds" matters because what immediately struck him about the February 1848 Revolution was that it "had not been just primarily but solely and exclusively a popular uprising that had bestowed all power on 'the people' in the strict sense of the term, meaning the classes that work with their hands."

The socialist politicians, says Tocqueville, were the most dangerous because "they more fully reflected the true character of the February Revolution and the passions it unleashed." It was, he adds, fortunate that they were "more men of theory than men of action." One cannot help but recall that figures like Lenin--that rare intellectual who was also a consummate man of action--studied the 1848 revolution in great detail to learn from their predecessors' mistakes.

Nor did Tocqueville believe that radical socialists or other revolutionary elements could be handled with kid gloves. He regarded them as demagogues, their ideas as bordering on criminality, and their motives as rooted in envy and malice. This may help explain why Tocqueville does not hide his enthusiastic support for the Provisional Government's decision to call in the regular army and the National Guard under the command of General Louis-Eugène Cavaignac to engage in what Tocqueville acknowledges was the take-no-prisoners crushing of the June Days uprising.

His readiness to support those willing to act directly, even mercilessly, against those bent on the destruction of life, liberty, and property was one reason why Tocqueville belonged to what was called the Parti de l'Ordre. This grouping of moderate monarchists and conservative republicans had no truck with Bonapartism or absolutism. But it was even more opposed to the radical Left's naked thuggery. The repression of the June Days insurrectionists by what he calls "our forces" was "awful" but also "necessary."

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


James Comey reportedly asked Jeff Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump (The Week, June 6, 2017)

In February, Comey pulled Sessions aside and told him that he felt several of his private interactions with Trump had been inappropriate, and he wanted Sessions to protect the FBI from White House influence, officials told the Times. Sessions told Comey, who did not reveal what he spoke with Trump about, that he couldn't promise him Trump wouldn't attempt to talk with him privately again.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Intelligence Chief Told Others Trump Sought FBI Intervention (Adam Entous, 6/06/17, The Washington Post)

On March 22, less than a week after being confirmed by the Senate, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats attended a briefing at the White House together with officials from several government agencies. As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey's handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump's campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.

After the encounter, Coats discussed the conversation with other officials and decided that intervening with Comey as Trump had suggested would be inappropriate, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Pro-Assad alliance threatens to hit U.S. positions in Syria (Reuters, 6/07/17)

A military alliance fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday it could hit U.S. positions in Syria, warning that its "self-restraint" over U.S. air strikes on government forces would end if Washington crossed "red lines".

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Exclusive: Jeff Sessions suggested he could resign amid rising tension with President Trump (JONATHAN KARL, Jun 6, 2017, ABC News)

As the White House braces for former FBI Director James Comey's testimony Thursday, sources tell ABC News the relationship between President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has become so tense that Sessions at one point recently even suggested he could resign.

Yes, please.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


7 said killed, 4 taken hostage in raid on Iranian parliament (SUE SURKES June 7, 2017, Times of Israel)

Two people were confirmed killed and several others were reported injured after armed men burst into Tehran's parliament building and the mausoleum of revolutionary founder Ruhollah Khomeini on Wednesday, with state media reporting at least two suicide bombings. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


ALVIN PLANTINGA'S MASTERFUL ACHIEVEMENT (William Doino Jr., 6 . 5 . 17, First Things)

Plantinga's first important work, God and Other Minds, re-examined the classic arguments for and against God. It concluded that belief in the existence of God was rational, just as belief in other minds is. Arguments for the existence of other minds cannot be proven with certitude, yet most everyone accepts them as a given fact. Similarly, a religious believer's personal encounter with the divine authorizes belief in a divine mind and creator--even if such a being cannot be strictly inferred from the secular world. Though these arguments sound simple, Plantinga worked them out with great intricacy and depth, and his book moved many skeptical minds toward belief.

 His second major work, God, Freedom and Evil, proved even more consequential, as it dealt with the oft-heard objection that a good God is incompatible with a world filled with evil. Plantinga responded by asserting that this argument presumes, but does not establish, a contradiction between God and the existence of evil. Even an omnipotent and loving God would not create free creatures who would always choose to do good-- for to ensure that, God would have to deprive them of genuine freedom (which includes the freedom to do wrong). Plantinga further maintained that the overriding value of human free will is a more-than-credible reason a benevolent God might have for allowing the existence of evil. The book was so well argued that it is still widely credited, even by non-believers, for successfully rebutting this particular charge against God's existence.

In The Nature of Necessity, Plantinga continued his ground-breaking work, updating and expanding  St. Anselm's famous  "ontological argument," delivering another powerful reason for belief.

It is worth noting that in 1966, the year before Plantinga began his theistic trilogy, Time published its sensational cover story, "Is God Dead?" By 1980, however, the somewhat chastened magazine acknowledged he was not: "God is making a comeback Most intriguingly, this is happening not among theologians or ordinary believers--most of whom never accepted for a moment that he was in any serious trouble--but in the crisp, intellectual circles of academic philosophers, where the consensus had long banished the Almighty from fruitful discourse." The man Time credited more than any other for this turnabout was "America's leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God, Alvin Plantinga." 

Soon after this, Plantinga began a new trilogy, culminating in what many consider his  masterpiece,Warranted Christian Belief, a 500- page tour de force in which he not only defended theism, but basic Christian theology and Holy Scripture against a wide range of determined critics.

That anti-Cartesian recognition--that there's no rational difference between believing in God and believing in anything else--is the Anglospheric difference that thwarted Rationalism and all the murderous ideologies it produced here. 
Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Small wearable devices may lead to big health care savings (YIFTAH BEN AHARON JUNE 7, 2017, STAT)

About half of all Americans have one or more chronic conditions -- heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, and asthma, to name a few. Many chronic conditions arise from unhealthy lifestyles that include the usual suspects: poor diet, little or no exercise, and stress. These conditions account for the majority of deaths in the United States, and up to 86 percent of health care expenditures.

Look at diabetes as an example. Nearly 30 million Americans are now living with diabetes, and another 86 million have prediabetes, a higher-than-normal blood sugar level that can lead to diabetes. This disease accounts for unnecessary loss of vision, amputations, heart disease, kidney damage, and premature death. It also costs Americans $245 billion a year. But chronic diseases like diabetes need not take such huge personal or economic tolls. Easily implemented changes that digitize components of health and health care can lighten the load for people, their doctors, and the country at large.

Millions of Americans currently use devices to monitor their health and fitness. These include scales, activity monitors (Fitbit, Apple Watch, Microsoft Band, and the like), heart rate and blood sugar monitors, and more. The data they record can help people take more control over their health and lifestyles. They can also help doctors keep track of their patients' health, as information from these devices can be uploaded into electronic health records. Data from such devices could also alert doctors or first-aid workers to a problem that requires immediate attention, like a stroke or heart attack.

Personal health devices are already -- or soon will be -- sophisticated enough to detect medical conditions. For instance, if your fitness device indicates that your usual activity level has fallen off but your heart rate is higher than usual, it could be a sign that you are coming down with the flu or other infectious disease.

June 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Some Inconvenient Facts for the Fed (Justin Lahart, June 6, 2017, WSJ)

The yield on the 10-year Treasury note on Tuesday slipped to its lowest in more than a half-year - an indication that bond investors have downgraded their growth and inflation expectations.

If facts mattered they'd cut rates.  But rates are about psychology.

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 PM


Why Nikki Haley's outlier status is useful for White House - up to a point (Howard LaFranchi, JUNE 6, 2017, CS Monitor)

Last month, Ms. Haley was captured by global television cameras packing boxes of staples for Syrian refugees during a visit to an aid distribution center in Turkey - clad in her khaki pants and aid worker's vest. The intrigue was not so much that an American diplomat was rolling up her sleeves to call attention to the world's worst humanitarian crisis. Rather, it was that here was a representative of the new president promoting international humanitarian action and pledging US support for refugees and human rights at the same time her boss is seen widely to be downplaying those traditional American foreign-policy values and goals.

Four months into a Trump presidency typified by transactional diplomacy, retreat from American-led multilateralism, and Mr. Tillerson's brand of interests-first, values-later international relations, Haley is the foreign-policy outlier.

Already the administration's lone voice demanding global respect for human rights and democratic aspirations, the former South Carolina governor and daughter of Indian immigrants took her soapbox from New York to Geneva Tuesday. There, she addressed the UN's Human Rights Council - underscoring the importance she assigns to the issue. (Her staff made a point of trumpeting that Haley would be the first US ambassador to the UN to speak to the council.)

Indeed Haley is so outspoken and public with her message - especially compared with the private and rhetorically parsimonious Tillerson - the world might be excused for thinking she is the new administration's chief diplomat.

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


First Amendment Nonprofit Threatens to Sue Trump for Blocking People on Twitter (Alex Griswold, June 6, 2017, Free Beacon)

A prominent First Amendment advocacy institute at Columbia University is threatening to sue President Donald Trump  unless he stopped blocking people on Twitter.

The Knight First Amendment Institute claimed in a letter Tuesday that Trump's Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, is a "designated public forum" that the government cannot ban individuals from for expressing contrary views.

While Donald is under no obligation to maintain such a public form, once he decides to do so he's subject to rules he won't like.

Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


White House Won't Say If Trump Backs Attorney General Sessions (Justin Sink, 6/07/17, Bloomberg)

The top White House spokesman wouldn't say whether President Donald Trump retains confidence in Attorney General Jeff Sessions on Tuesday, following a series of Trump tweets a day before criticizing the Justice Department's handling of his travel ban against predominantly Muslim countries.

"I have not had a discussion with him about that," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer responded after a reporter asked whether Trump continued to support Sessions.

Spicer gave a similar answer when asked May 9 whether Trump retained confidence in then-FBI Director James Comey. Trump fired Comey later that day.

Posted by orrinj at 4:53 PM


White House tries to regroup, but Trump isn't helping (AP, 6/06/17)

[T]he president's free-wheeling, undisciplined style has made it nearly impossible for the White House to regroup after weeks of damaging reports about possible ties between his campaign and Russia, as well as a steady drumbeat of speculation about internal conflict and disarray. The struggle will come to a head Thursday when fired FBI Director James Comey is due to testify on Capitol Hill.

Efforts to create a "war room" stocked with former campaign officials and top-flight lawyers now appear stalled. Three people briefed on the matter said the process has been bogged down by a lack of decision-making in the West Wing over how to proceed, as well as reluctance from some of those the White House hoped to recruit about serving a president who keeps getting in his own way.

"Anybody with press chops looks at this and they're fearful there's not a path to succeed," said Sara Fagen, former White House political director for George W. Bush.

Even George Conway, the husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, appeared to give voice to the frustrations Monday. Mimicking a favorite Trump expression, Conway wrote on Twitter that the president's comment on the travel ban won't help the administration get votes in the Supreme Court, "which is what actually matters. Sad."

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Mom charged after boy's teeth pulled in Walmart restroom (AP, 6/06/17)

Prosecutors said Monday that the 47-year-old woman bought hand sanitizer and needle-nose pliers from the store, then took them into the restroom and pulled two of her 7-year-old son's teeth.

New pliers?  They spoil kids these days.

Posted by orrinj at 4:02 PM


Ray Dalio Has Growing Concerns About Donald Trump (Katia Porzecanski, 6/06/17, Bloomberg)

Billionaire hedge fund manager Ray Dalio, who was initially bullish on Donald Trump's ability to stimulate the economy, is growing increasingly concerned about the potential consequences of his presidency.

"When faced with the choices between what's good for the whole and what's good for the part, and between harmony and conflict, he has a strong tendency to choose the part and conflict," Dalio said in a LinkedIn post Monday. "The more I see Donald Trump moving toward conflict rather than cooperation, the more I worry about him harming his presidency and its effects on most of us."

Posted by orrinj at 3:33 PM


Nevada's legislature just passed a radical plan to let anybody sign up for Medicaid (Sarah Kliff, Jun 6, 2017, Vox)
Nevada, with little fanfare or notice, is inching toward a massive health insurance expansion -- one that would give the state's 2.8 million residents access to a public health insurance option.

The Nevada legislature passed a bill Friday that would allow anyone to buy into Medicaid, the public program that covers low-income Americans. It would be the first state to open the government-run program to all residents, regardless of their income or health status. [...]

Democrats explored the possibility of a Medicare buy-in during the health care debate in 2009 and 2010. The buy-in option was relatively narrow, only allowing Americans over 55 to participate in the program. Those under the age threshold would still be limited to private health insurance plans.

Early versions of the Affordable Care Act included the buy-in provision. But the Senate was forced to drop the Medicare buy-in from its bill when it couldn't get the entire caucus behind the idea. Health industries fought aggressively against the idea, which could disadvantage insurers by cutting into their market share.

In the wake of Trump's election, health policy experts have begun to explore whether it might make more sense to build a national health care system around Medicaid rather than Medicare.

"Medicaid is the better fit," Columbia University's Michael Sparer recently wrote at the New York Times. It has a more generous benefits package, is less costly and is developing more innovative care-management strategies. Moreover, the integration of the Obamacare exchanges into Medicaid would be relatively seamless: Many health plans are already in both markets.

Medicaid and Medicare are similar programs in that they are publicly run and large, covering 62 million and 43 million Americans, respectively. They can use their large membership to negotiate lower prices with hospitals and doctors. Medicaid tends to have the lowest payment rates. On average, Medicaid pays 66 percent of what Medicare pays doctors.

In Nevada, Medicaid pays 81 percent of Medicare rates.

This has the advantage of keeping Medicaid a relatively low-cost program per person -- but also the disadvantage of some doctors deciding not to accept Medicaid's lower rates. A recent federal survey estimates that 68.9 percent of doctors are accepting new Medicaid patients, compared to 84.7 percent accepting new patients with private insurance.

Still, Medicaid enrollees generally report being relatively happy with their coverage. They look nearly identical to people with employer-sponsored coverage in surveys about how well they think their health plan works.

States have significant sway over how their health insurance programs work and whom they cover. Thirty-two states, for example, have historically participated in a Medicaid buy-in program that lets certain disabled Americans who don't otherwise qualify for coverage pay to join the program.

States vary significantly in how much pregnant women can earn and still qualify for the program. Some states cover comprehensive dental benefits, while others cover nothing at all.

This variation is an opportunity for states that want to experiment with the public program by tacking on a buy-in option. If Nevada's bill does become law, it will show other states how such a program might work -- and if it works well, liberal states may be inclined to mimic the idea.

But the variation also makes it difficult to see Nevada serving as the start of a national public option. Yale University's Jacob Hacker argues that while this option might work in a single state, trying to use Medicaid as the model for a national public option would mean people in different states would get significantly different coverage.

"If the argument is this will be a foundation for coverage for everyone, I think that's questionable," he says. "It's going to be difficult to harmonize all the state efforts."

Republicans in Washington will eventually have to harmonize them, having offered no viable alterntives to Obamacare.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


How Donald Trump Shifted Kids-Cancer Charity Money Into His Business (Dan Alexander , June 29, 2017, Forbes)

In reviewing filings from the Eric Trump Foundation and other charities, it's clear that the course wasn't free--that the Trump Organization received payments for its use, part of more than $1.2 million that has no documented recipients past the Trump Organization. Golf charity experts say the listed expenses defy any reasonable cost justification for a one-day golf tournament.

Additionally, the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which has come under previous scrutiny for self-dealing and advancing the interests of its namesake rather than those of charity, apparently used the Eric Trump Foundation to funnel $100,000 in donations into revenue for the Trump Organization.

And while donors to the Eric Trump Foundation were told their money was going to help sick kids, more than $500,000 was re-donated to other charities, many of which were connected to Trump family members or interests, including at least four groups that subsequently paid to hold golf tournaments at Trump courses.

All of this seems to defy federal tax rules and state laws that ban self-dealing and misleading donors.

Posted by orrinj at 3:18 PM


Let's scrap regulations in favor of a carbon tax (Alex Brill, 6/06/17, AEIdeas)

[C]onservative voters - and groups that Republicans would like to see vote conservative - are increasingly interested in policies to mitigate the real risk of climate change. More importantly, pro-growth fiscal reforms will be critical for the well-being of future generations. With these realities in mind, here are the three key components of a deregulatory carbon tax reform:

Roll back burdensome carbon-related regulations. As conservatives well know, command-and-control regulations can be inefficient and restrain our economy. Many existing regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions are textbook examples of this.There should be a definitive legislative rollback of these regulations for the simple reason that they do not work well. The motivation is not disregard for the environment or climate, but distrust in the regulatory state as an efficient instrument.

Let a carbon tax do well what regulations do poorly. A transparent carbon tax would reduce emissions in a more efficient manner than any strategy developed by bureaucrats in Washington. Consumers would respond to a uniform price on carbon emissions by using less energy, and producers by developing technologies to reduce the carbon intensity of the energy that is consumed. Undeniably, a carbon tax would raise the price of certain consumer goods, including electricity and gasoline. That is a reality that should not be denied, or avoided. It is, in fact, the policy's intent. The tax on these goods would make explicit a cost otherwise not recognized.

Finance a large, pro-growth tax cut. In addition to achieving a market-driven reduction in emissions, a carbon tax would generate revenue that could be used to offset the cost of eliminating other taxes that impose greater harm on the economy. Deciding which taxes to cut or eliminate will depend in part on the success of the current tax reform effort, but there is mounting evidence that a reduction in the corporate income tax would have a meaningful impact on capital stock and ultimately on workers' wages. Turning carbon tax revenues into universal welfare payments, as some have suggested, would not promote long-run economic growth.

It makes no sense to tax income, savings, investments and profits.

Posted by orrinj at 3:16 PM


NSA Leaker Outed Thanks to Modern Printer Technology (Patrick Lucas Austin, 6/06/17, Lifehacker)

On Saturday NSA contractor Reality Leigh Winner, who leaked classified documents to The Intercept, was arrested. The leaked intelligence report from the NSA detailed Russian cyberattacks allegedly directed at election officials and electronic voting equipment company VR Systems.

The Justice Department's arrest warrant request stated the classified information printed was tracked to Winner, one of six who printed out the report, and the only one who had e-mail contact with The Intercept. The printed report scanned and published by the publication contained tracking information used to identify and arrest Winner.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


Can We Live Without Enchantment? (Wilfred M. McClay & Donald A. Yerxa, June 5, 2017, Big Questions Online)

One of Plato's greatest dialogues describes Socrates' encounter with the young prodigy Theaetetus, who would become one of the most influential mathematicians of the ancient world. As Plato recounts the story, Theaetetus became so captivated by Socrates' dialectical puzzles that he confessed himself "dizzy" with "wondering" whether these mysteries and puzzles could ever be unraveled. To which Socrates responded with undisguised joy: "This sense of wonder is the mark of the philosopher. Philosophy indeed has no other origin."

Aristotle readily agreed; it was "wonder" that led the first philosophers to engage in their characteristic activity. And Thomas Aquinas, commenting on Aristotle, explained that philosophers "were moved to philosophize as a result of wonder" and that they are "concerned with wonders."

In our own day, the connection between the sense of wonder and the drive to know has been powerfully challenged. Max Weber famously declared in the early twentieth century that the rationalizing spirit of modern life -- one of the greatest of the West's intellectual achievements -- led to the "disenchantment of the world," a cold and forbidding view of our world devoid of even the slightest touches of human spontaneity or the least shadows of provocative mystery. Does philosophy end in a disenchanted world, in which there are no mysteries left to gaze at in wonder?

How we got to this doleful point is beyond the scope of this essay. But it is enough to point out that we do not seem to be content to stay there. A growing number of scholars, such as Morris Berman, James K.A. Smith, Robert Orsi, Joshua Landy, Michael Saler, Ervin László, Robert Pogue Harrison, Gregory Bateson, Alister McGrath, and many others, have pushed back and either questioned the idea that we moderns are fully disenchanted or have gestured toward the need for a re-enchantment of the world. To hope that one can usher enchantment back into the world by an act of will or a process of rational argument may seem like a paradoxical endeavor. But instead of thinking of this as a hopelessly self-contradictory act, or a childish impulse, we are more inclined to view it positively, as pointing toward a real and profound human need. There is a need for wonder, enchantment, and mystery -- not merely as instruments to produce the flickering romantic allure of a candlelit room, but as something essential to our human flourishing.

The authors are not wrong, they're just arguing against an inane premise, as regards the Anglosphere.  Look at the top grossing movies of all time and try to say our world was ever disenchanted with a straight face.  Reason never won a toehold here
Posted by orrinj at 2:57 PM


U.S. military praises Qatar, despite Trump tweet (Phil Stewart, 6/06/17, Reuters)

The Pentagon on Tuesday renewed praise of Qatar for hosting a vital U.S. air base and for its "enduring commitment to regional security," sticking to a message of reassurance even as President Donald Trump, via Twitter, applauded a decision by Arab powers to cut ties to the Gulf ally.

It was the latest example of the tightrope that U.S. officials are walking as Trump's tweets raise questions about existing U.S. policy and the carefully scripted talking points used to explain it.

In the case of Qatar, the stakes are high. More than 11,000 U.S. and coalition forces are deployed to or assigned to al Udeid Air Base, from which more than 100 aircraft operate.

Of those 11,000, nearly 1,000 work in a combined air operations center that helps oversee missions for campaigns in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, the military says.

Qatar obviously needs to expedite its own transition to constitutional monarchy, but its support for the Shi'a and the Muslim Brotherhood makes them one of our only Sunni Arab allies

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


Is there a neo-Nazi storm brewing in Trump country? : Can national socialism, repackaged as 'white identity' politics, earn votes in rural counties that voted for Trump? (Lois Beckett, 6/06/17, The Guardian)

Measured in numbers, white nationalists and neo-Nazis remain the fringe of the fringe. Last year's BronyCon, the annual conference of grown men who take an ironic fascination in the cartoon My Little Pony, attracted 7,600 people. Anthrocon, a convention of "furries" who like to do fun things while wearing fuzzy, full-body animal costumes, attracted more than 7,000. The Kentucky neo-Nazi summit in April attracted about 150 people, about 75 of them members of the Traditionalist Worker party. Heimbach claims that his party has 600 dues-paying members nationwide. They do not call themselves Nazis. Heimbach said the term Nazi is a slur, and that he draws inspiration from many fascist and national socialist regimes, not just Germany's.

Heimbach said being labeled a Nazi would undermine his attempt to educate the American people about "what national socialism truly is", claiming it invokes "every lie and every over-the-top media creation of the last 72 years [since 1945]".

Ryan Lenz, an analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks American hate groups, sees no justification for his argument. It is fair to label Heimbach a Nazi because he is an avowed national socialist, Holocaust denier and antisemite.

"In this context, Nazi is not a slur. It's not an attack. It's an accurate description," he said.

Neo-Nazi activism in America has been undermined for decades by what both extremist leaders and hate group monitors describe as incredibly childish infighting. Neo-Nazis have squabbled over their religious differences (some are Christian; others are pagans, some worshipping the Norse god Odin; one or two, a Neo-Nazi leader claimed, are even Buddhist), over their uniform and symbol choices, over which neo-Nazi stole which other neo-Nazi's girlfriend.

"Most of these people are malignant contrarians who have a lot of loyalty and trust issues," said Lenz.

But Trump's rise to power has encouraged the extremists to try to bridge their divides. Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan leaders were jubilant over an openly xenophobic, politically incorrect presidential candidate who promised to stop illegal immigration and enact a Muslim ban - and they have pursued news coverage, attracting headlines and staging dramatic photos.

Posted by orrinj at 12:19 PM


Trump Tanks His Own Case at the Supreme Court (Noah Feldman, 6/06/17, Bloomberg View)

Insisting that the executive order is a "travel ban" is problematic on multiple legal levels.

First, there's the tone of contempt for the legal process itself. The lawyers in question are Trump's: The opposition is happy to call the order a travel ban. When you insult your own lawyers, the rest of the legal system tends to notice.

As for insulting the lower court judges who have treated the order as a travel ban, that's practically begging the Supreme Court to vindicate those judges. Even Justice Neil Gorsuch, during his confirmation process, suggested that attacks on the judiciary trouble judges. The rest of the justices, who unlike Gorsuch owe Trump nothing, are going to be extremely vigilant about the legitimacy of the judiciary as a whole.

You can almost hear Justice Elena Kagan making a deadly serious joke in oral argument, asking some hapless attorney from the solicitor general's office whether she should be calling the order a travel ban, as the president tweeted, or an executive order, as the lawyers have put it.

Of course, the legal briefs that Trump's administration has filed don't call the order a travel ban. And there's a reason for that: A travel ban is at this point really difficult, not to say impossible, to defend in court.

Linguistically, a travel ban sounds a lot like a Muslim ban -- which is what the original ban was popularly called, and what gave rise to multiple courts' conclusion that the order was motivated not by national security but by unconstitutional anti-Muslim prejudice.

The Justice Department strategy, such as it is, has been to minimize the idea that the current executive order is just a direct continuation of the original Trump idea floated during the campaign and tainted by previous statements by the president as well as his adviser Rudy Giuliani, who at one time claimed that Trump had asked him to find a way to make a Muslim ban legal.

Trump's second tweet further devastated the department' strategy by suggesting the direct continuity of the second order with the first. Bizarrely, Trump said that the Department of Justice -- not the White House - "should have stayed with the original travel ban, not the watered down, politically correct version they submitted" to the Supreme Court.

Leave aside the fact that the second executive order came from the White House over Trump's signature, not from the Department of Justice. By saying that it was "submitted" to the Supreme Court he is suggesting that the only point of the second version was to survive judicial review. Calling it politically correct and watered down strongly indicates that he doesn't mean it.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


Pence's Battleground Stops, PAC Raise Eyebrows Amid Trump Scandals (John T. Bennett, 5/24/17, Roll Call)

Vice President Mike Pence has quietly spent his weekends visiting key battleground states, raising eyebrows in political circles about just what the ambitious politician is up to as scandals threaten Donald Trump's presidency.

Last weekend provides a glaring -- and fascinating -- example. The former Indiana congressman and governor returned to the Hoosier State to deliver the commencement address at Notre Dame. But his route back home included stops in two perennial presidential battlegrounds: Pennsylvania and Ohio.

And those stops -- which followed other weekend travel through swing states and light red counties -- came just days after Pence shocked the political set by establishing his own political action committee.

The Pennsylvania and Ohio appearances also came after a whirlwind week that featured bombshell after bombshell about the president allegedly interfering with a federal investigation into possible ties between his campaign and Russian officials. As Pence's office finalized weekend travel plans, by midweek, talk of impeachment had quickly gone from extreme to mainstream.

White House officials on Friday were reportedly conducting research on just how the House would run impeachment proceedings. The next day, Pence flew first to Grove City, Pennsylvania, where he delivered remarks at a community college. From there, he took Air Force Two to Dayton, Ohio, where he addressed military personnel at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base.

With Ms Haley separating herself so completely from Donald, the VP can't afford to be left behind in the 2020 race.

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


U.S. job openings hit record high; skills mismatch rising (Lucia Mutikani, 6/06/17, Reuters)

Job openings, a measure of labor demand, increased 259,000 to a seasonally adjusted 6.0 million in April, the highest since the government started tracking the series in 2000.

The monthly increase was the largest in just over a year and pushed the jobs openings rate to 4.0 percent, the highest since last July, from 3.8 percent in March.

We're gonna need a lot more immigrants.

Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


Four top law firms turned down requests to represent Trump (Michael Isikoff, 6/06/17, Yahoo News)

Top lawyers with at least four major law firms rebuffed White House overtures to represent President Trump in the Russia investigations, in part over concerns that the president would be unwilling to listen to their advice, according to five sources familiar with discussions about the matter. [...]

"The concerns were, 'The guy won't pay and he won't listen,'" said one lawyer close to the White House who is familiar with some of the discussions between the firms and the administration, as well as deliberations within the firms themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Trump seeks legislative wins as clock ticks, Russia probe looms (Ayesha Rascoe, 6/06/17, Reuters)

Elected pledging to overhaul the healthcare system and slash taxes, Trump has yet to notch a major legislative win, and time is running out before lawmakers leave Washington for August.

Doing nothing has worked well for everybody but him so far.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


London Terror Attack: It's Time to Confront Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia (JOHN WIGHT, 6/06/17, Counter Punch)

It is time for an honest conversation about Wahhabism, specifically the part this Saudi-sponsored ideology plays in radicalizing young Muslims both across the Arab and Muslim world and in the West, where in the UK people are dealing with the aftermath of yet another terrorist attack in which innocent civilians were butchered and injured, this time in London.

The US, British and French governments can no longer credibly claim to be serious about fighting terrorism or religious extremism while cosying up to what is a medieval kleptocracy in Riyadh. Just days prior to the attack in London it was reported that a UK government inquiry into the role of Saudi money in funding terrorism is likely to be shelved, due to the sensitive nature of its findings. The report was originally commissioned at the behest of the Liberal Democrats, while in coalition government with the Tories back in 2015. It was sanctioned by then Prime Minister David Cameron in return for Lib Dem parliamentary support for British airstrikes in Syria. Given that the British government just signed £3.5 billion worth of arms export licences to Saudi Arabia, the suppression of the report's findings is a scandal.

The Saudis have long enjoyed diplomatic and political support from successive British governments, based on its largesse as the biggest customer of UK arms sales, which according to the UK-based organization, Campaign Against the Arms Trade (CAAT), has been worth £4.1 billion since 2015. Some of the weapons sold to the Saudis are being used in its on-going war in Yemen, where its forces have been engaged in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

There are also the billions in Saudi investment into London, especially in the city's lucrative property market. Money, as everyone knows, buys influence, including political influence, which is where we discern the pristine and unalloyed hypocrisy involved in demonizing Russia, Syria, and Iran, the countries that are in the front line against this medieval poison, while courting Saudi, Qatari, and other Gulf State business and money, where state-sanctioned imams spew out hate speech against 'apostates' and 'infidels' on a regular basis.

The most concerning development in recent years, however, vis-à-vis Saudi influence in the West, is the extent to which Riyadh has been funding the building of mosques as a way of promoting its ultra-conservative and puritanical interpretation of Islam, one completely incompatible with the 21st century.

In 2015 Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel came out in public and accused the Saudis of funding mosques in which extremism is regularly promoted. In an interview with the German magazine Bild am Sonntag, Mr Gabriel said, "We have to make clear to the Saudis that the time of looking away is over. Wahhabi mosques all over the world are financed by Saudi Arabia. Many Islamists who are a threat to public safety come from these communities in Germany."

If Donald was interested in making America safer, he'd ban Salafis, whose politics is incompatible with the Republic, instead of Muslims.

June 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 PM


Trump Grows Discontented With Attorney General Jeff Sessions (PETER BAKER and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JUNE 5, 2017, NY Times)

Few Republicans were quicker to embrace President Trump's campaign last year than Jeff Sessions, and his reward was one of the most prestigious jobs in America. But more than four months into his presidency, Mr. Trump has grown sour on Mr. Sessions, now his attorney general, blaming him for various troubles that have plagued the White House.

The discontent was on display on Monday in a series of stark early-morning postings on Twitter in which the president faulted his own Justice Department for its defense of his travel ban on visitors from certain predominantly Muslim countries. Mr. Trump accused Mr. Sessions' department of devising a "politically correct" version of the ban -- as if the president had nothing to do with it.

In private, the president's exasperation has been even sharper. He has intermittently fumed for months over Mr. Sessions' decision to recuse himself from the investigation into Russian meddling in last year's election, according to people close to Mr. Trump who insisted on anonymity to describe internal conversations. In Mr. Trump's view, they said, it was that recusal that led eventually to the appointment of a special counsel who took over the investigation.

Getting rid of Sessions would be a big victory for the Deep State, not that Donald would understand he could only get someone of such extreme views through because of senatorial courtesy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:42 PM


White House Pushed to Drop Russia Sanctions--Even After Firing Michael Flynn (Kimberly Dozier, 06.05.17, Daily Beast)

In one email exchange, a State Department official feels the need to explain that lowering punitive sanctions on the Russian oil industry would be rewarding Moscow--without getting anything from the Kremlin in return.

"Russia continues to occupy Ukraine including Crimea--conditions that led to the sanctions have not changed," the official wrote.

The continued discussion of unilaterally lifting sanctions on Russia came after the dismissal of retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as White House national security adviser. Flynn is now in the crosshairs of congressional and Justice Department investigators looking into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia, which the U.S. intelligence community concluded carried out a year-long campaign to influence the 2016 elections in Trump's favor.

The Obama administration imposed sanctions against Russia for annexing Crimea, invading eastern Ukraine, supporting the Syrian regime, and later, for alleged cyberattacks meant to influence the U.S. election. European nations imposed similar sanctions over Ukraine in 2014 and renewed them late last year.

Just after Trump took office, it sounded like he was going to change all that. "They have sanctions on Russia--let's see if we can make some good deals with Russia," Trump said in January to the Times of London.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Is there Genius and Power in Covfefe? (David Danford| June 3, 2017, American Greatness)

Here's a bold claim: President Trump's "covfefe" tweet was a genius move that is a very powerful demonstration of his ability to persuade. I know, I know--it sounds crazy. But hear me out; what do you have to lose? Consider this a whimsical thought experiment to counter the ill effects of consuming too much of the fake news out there.

The case for the genius and power of covfefe begins with the question of whether the tweet might be  intentional. Recent revelations―that "covfefe" might actually be a phonetic spelling of an Arabic word meaning "I will stand up" (spelled "c-o-v f-e-'-f-e" if you use Google Translate)―suggest it might be. Of course, Arabic and English do not share a common alphabet and Arabic has many dialects, so there is a high probability of a bad translation either way.

Skeptics (and fierce anti-Trumpers) will argue that no Arabic speaker would say this strictly translates, and this may be true. But that is hardly relevant. If Trump is signaling, it probably is not to Arabic speakers writ large, in which case a version translatable by Google is sufficient even if intellectuals sneer at the linguistic prowess of "stupid" Trump supporters.

The fact remains:  Either it was intentional or it was an intensely strange and coincidental mistake.

The common interpretation appears to be that Trump, whether because of  incompetence, exhaustion, or ill-health, was trying to type the word coverage when he wrote covfefe. Even if you don't assume Trump is a moron, this is possible as it was an early morning tweet and Trump is in his seventies.


Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


English is not normal : No, English isn't uniquely vibrant or mighty or adaptable. But it really is weirder than pretty much every other language (John McWhorter, Aeon)

English started out as, essentially, a kind of German. Old English is so unlike the modern version that it feels like a stretch to think of them as the same language at all. Hwæt, we gardena in geardagum þeodcyninga þrym gefrunon - does that really mean 'So, we Spear-Danes have heard of the tribe-kings' glory in days of yore'? Icelanders can still read similar stories written in the Old Norse ancestor of their language 1,000 years ago, and yet, to the untrained eye, Beowulf might as well be in Turkish.

The first thing that got us from there to here was the fact that, when the Angles, Saxons and Jutes (and also Frisians) brought their language to England, the island was already inhabited by people who spoke very different tongues. Their languages were Celtic ones, today represented by Welsh, Irish and Breton across the Channel in France. The Celts were subjugated but survived, and since there were only about 250,000 Germanic invaders - roughly the population of a modest burg such as Jersey City - very quickly most of the people speaking Old English were Celts.

Crucially, their languages were quite unlike English. For one thing, the verb came first (came first the verb). But also, they had an odd construction with the verb do: they used it to form a question, to make a sentence negative, and even just as a kind of seasoning before any verb. Do you walk? I do not walk. I do walk. That looks familiar now because the Celts started doing it in their rendition of English. But before that, such sentences would have seemed bizarre to an English speaker - as they would today in just about any language other than our own and the surviving Celtic ones. Notice how even to dwell upon this queer usage of do is to realise something odd in oneself, like being made aware that there is always a tongue in your mouth.

At this date there is no documented language on earth beyond Celtic and English that uses do in just this way. Thus English's weirdness began with its transformation in the mouths of people more at home with vastly different tongues. We're still talking like them, and in ways we'd never think of. When saying 'eeny, meeny, miny, moe', have you ever felt like you were kind of counting? Well, you are - in Celtic numbers, chewed up over time but recognisably descended from the ones rural Britishers used when counting animals and playing games. 'Hickory, dickory, dock' - what in the world do those words mean? Well, here's a clue: hovera, dovera, dick were eight, nine and ten in that same Celtic counting list.

The second thing that happened was that yet more Germanic-speakers came across the sea meaning business. This wave began in the ninth century, and this time the invaders were speaking another Germanic offshoot, Old Norse. But they didn't impose their language. Instead, they married local women and switched to English. However, they were adults and, as a rule, adults don't pick up new languages easily, especially not in oral societies. There was no such thing as school, and no media. Learning a new language meant listening hard and trying your best. We can only imagine what kind of German most of us would speak if this was how we had to learn it, never seeing it written down, and with a great deal more on our plates (butchering animals, people and so on) than just working on our accents.

As long as the invaders got their meaning across, that was fine. But you can do that with a highly approximate rendition of a language - the legibility of the Frisian sentence you just read proves as much. So the Scandinavians did pretty much what we would expect: they spoke bad Old English. Their kids heard as much of that as they did real Old English. Life went on, and pretty soon their bad Old English was real English, and here we are today: the Scandies made English easier.

I should make a qualification here. In linguistics circles it's risky to call one language 'easier' than another one, for there is no single metric by which we can determine objective rankings. But even if there is no bright line between day and night, we'd never pretend there's no difference between life at 10am and life at 10pm. Likewise, some languages plainly jangle with more bells and whistles than others. If someone were told he had a year to get as good at either Russian or Hebrew as possible, and would lose a fingernail for every mistake he made during a three-minute test of his competence, only the masochist would choose Russian - unless he already happened to speak a language related to it. In that sense, English is 'easier' than other Germanic languages, and it's because of those Vikings.

Old English had the crazy genders we would expect of a good European language - but the Scandies didn't bother with those, and so now we have none. Chalk up one of English's weirdnesses. What's more, the Vikings mastered only that one shred of a once-lovely conjugation system: hence the lonely third‑person singular -s, hanging on like a dead bug on a windshield. Here and in other ways, they smoothed out the hard stuff.

They also followed the lead of the Celts, rendering the language in whatever way seemed most natural to them. It is amply documented that they left English with thousands of new words, including ones that seem very intimately 'us': sing the old song 'Get Happy' and the words in that title are from Norse. Sometimes they seemed to want to stake the language with 'We're here, too' signs, matching our native words with the equivalent ones from Norse, leaving doublets such as dike (them) and ditch (us), scatter (them) and shatter (us), and ship (us) vs skipper (Norse for ship was skip, and so skipper is 'shipper').

But the words were just the beginning. They also left their mark on English grammar. Blissfully, it is becoming rare to be taught that it is wrong to say Which town do you come from?, ending with the preposition instead of laboriously squeezing it before the wh-word to make From which town do you come? In English, sentences with 'dangling prepositions' are perfectly natural and clear and harm no one. Yet there is a wet-fish issue with them, too: normal languages don't dangle prepositions in this way. Spanish speakers: note that El hombre quien yo llegué con ('The man whom I came with') feels about as natural as wearing your pants inside out. Every now and then a language turns out to allow this: one indigenous one in Mexico, another one in Liberia. But that's it. Overall, it's an oddity. Yet, wouldn't you know, it's one that Old Norse also happened to permit (and which Danish retains).

We can display all these bizarre Norse influences in a single sentence. Say That's the man you walk in with, and it's odd because 1) the has no specifically masculine form to match man, 2) there's no ending on walk, and 3) you don't say 'in with whom you walk'. All that strangeness is because of what Scandinavian Vikings did to good old English back in the day.

Finally, as if all this wasn't enough, English got hit by a firehose spray of words from yet more languages. After the Norse came the French. The Normans - descended from the same Vikings, as it happens - conquered England, ruled for several centuries and, before long, English had picked up 10,000 new words. Then, starting in the 16th century, educated Anglophones developed a sense of English as a vehicle of sophisticated writing, and so it became fashionable to cherry-pick words from Latin to lend the language a more elevated tone.

It was thanks to this influx from French and Latin (it's often hard to tell which was the original source of a given word) that English acquired the likes of crucified, fundamental, definition and conclusion. These words feel sufficiently English to us today, but when they were new, many persons of letters in the 1500s (and beyond) considered them irritatingly pretentious and intrusive, as indeed they would have found the phrase 'irritatingly pretentious and intrusive'. (Think of how French pedants today turn up their noses at the flood of English words into their language.) There were even writerly sorts who proposed native English replacements for those lofty Latinates, and it's hard not to yearn for some of these: in place of crucified, fundamental, definition and conclusion, how about crossed, groundwrought, saywhat, and endsay?

But language tends not to do what we want it to. The die was cast: English had thousands of new words competing with native English words for the same things. One result was triplets allowing us to express ideas with varying degrees of formality. Help is English, aid is French, assist is Latin. Or, kingly is English, royal is French, regal is Latin - note how one imagines posture improving with each level: kingly sounds almost mocking, regal is straight-backed like a throne, royal is somewhere in the middle, a worthy but fallible monarch.

To speak English is to help create it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


TOP-SECRET NSA REPORT DETAILS RUSSIAN HACKING EFFORT DAYS BEFORE 2016 ELECTION (Matthew Cole, Richard Esposito, Sam Biddle, Ryan Grim, June 5 2017, The Intercept)

RUSSIAN MILITARY INTELLIGENCE executed a cyberattack on at least one U.S. voting software supplier and sent spear-phishing emails to more than 100 local election officials just days before last November's presidential election, according to a highly classified intelligence report obtained by The Intercept.

The top-secret National Security Agency document, which was provided anonymously to The Intercept and independently authenticated, analyzes intelligence very recently acquired by the agency about a months-long Russian intelligence cyber effort against elements of the U.S. election and voting infrastructure. The report, dated May 5, 2017, is the most detailed U.S. government account of Russian interference in the election that has yet come to light. [...]

The report indicates that Russian hacking may have penetrated further into U.S. voting systems than was previously understood. It states unequivocally in its summary statement that it was Russian military intelligence, specifically the Russian General Staff Main Intelligence Directorate, or GRU, that conducted the cyber attacks described in the document...

Posted by orrinj at 3:47 PM


Iran's supreme leader attacks US for support of Saudi Arabia (Arash Karami, June 5, 2017, Al Monitor)

On US President Donald Trump's adoption of Saudi Arabia's positions with respect to Iran and criticism by US officials of Iran's presidential election during a recent Saudi trip, Khamenei said, "The president of America stands next to a tribal leader and does a sword dance and then criticizes the vote of 40 million people in our election."

Amen, Ali.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Top court exempts church-affiliated hospitals from pension law (Andrew Chung, 6/05/17, Reuters)

The court ruled 8-0 that church-affiliated organizations are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, a 1974 law that forces private employers to follow rules aimed at protecting pension plan participants.

The ruling was a victory for New Jersey-based Saint Peter's Healthcare System, Illinois-based Advocate Health Care Network and California-based Dignity Health, which had faced separate employee lawsuits accusing them of wrongly claiming a religious exemption under ERISA.

Federal agencies had long interpreted the law as exempting not just church plans but also those of church-affiliated organizations. [...]

Writing for the court, Justice Elena Kagan said the law's religious exemption applies to plans whether they were established by churches themselves or organizations affiliated with the churches.

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


LONDON : On ugliness and nobility in terror (Paul Berman, June 5, 2017, The Tablet)

Terrorist attacks express hatred, and it would be inhuman, it would be foolish, it would be self-deluded, to respond with anything but a hatred of our own--not with a blind or crazed hatred, not with insanity, but with hatred nonetheless. I do not care what the life stories of the sundry London terrorists will turn out to be, just as I do not care about the life story of the Manchester terrorist. Has the Manchester terrorist had to suffer the indignities of being a Muslim living in a non-Muslim society that was generous enough to offer him a decent life? His sufferings do not interest me. I am writing in the immediate aftermath of the London attacks and about the new set of terrorists I know nothing at all--not even their names, for the moment. I do not care about their names. Will it turn out that these people, too, the London terrorists, have undergone the indignities of ordinary life? Will it turn out that their families are shocked, shocked to learn the truth? Will the terrorists turn out to be people who did badly at school, or were arrested for drunk driving? Or were they people who did well at school and have never been arrested? It is a matter of indifference to me. I do not think that terrorist acts are expressions of sociological anguish, nor are they expressions of psychological anguish, nor are they the malign by-product of British imperialism, or of Zionism. The terrorist acts are the expressions of their own doctrine, and of nothing else. They are an existential choice, which is loathesomeness itself. An uglier movement than Islamist terrorism has never existed. More powerful movements have existed. But uglier ones, no. Islamist terror is the ultimate in repulsiveness.

Each new report of a terrorist atrocity brings with it news of people who responded nobly. In Manchester at the pop concert, a couple of homeless tramps were reported to have made themselves instantly helpful. The homeless men were the lowest of the low, but they were men with souls and a moral sense, and they rose to the occasion. I am writing in the first hour or two after the reports from the London attentats have been posted, and I do not know who will turn out to have responded well and nobly. But already The New York Times has published a Reuters photo by Hannah McKay of seven police officers under the headline, "Police officers responded to the attack at the London Bridge on Saturday night." Responded? There are seven officers in the photo, one of whom might be a woman, and they are running at full speed, their feet lifted off the pavement. The sight of that photo makes me inhale. Those officers are running toward danger, toward their duty, toward the obligation that society has put on them, toward a degree of violence that cannot be known. Here is nobility.

The photo makes me pause for a moment to reflect on the President of the United States. I picture that man running in the other direction--away from America's responsibility to the world, away from America's obligation to lead, away from America's historic destiny to rally the world to better purposes. But never mind the president.

...as when it is used to secure self-determination; it fails when it demonstrates the superiority of our values to those of the actors.

Posted by orrinj at 11:42 AM


Trump Bolsters Legal Case Against His 'Travel Ban' in Insane Tweetstorm (Eric Levitz, 6/05/17, New York)

Say a prayer for the unscrupulous Justice Department lawyer in your life: As a Supreme Court battle over Trump's "travel ban" looms, the president chose to start his week by trading the credibility of his administration's case for some likes and retweets. [...]

The president has the impulse control of a 14-year-old who just discovered Red Bull-vodka shots -- and the racial politics of an elderly white man who just discovered Breitbart. Trump's Monday tweetstorm is yet another example of that first trait mitigating the destructive potential of the latter one.

The president's latest posts make life harder for defenders of his embattled executive order for at least four reasons...

Our friends on the Right really need to figure out that as you are defending him he's undercutting you.  He's not actually defensible.

Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


 Why it's time for Sweden to fully accept English in the workplace : Sweden needs to fully embrace English in the workplace (Johan Alsén, 6/04/17, The Local)

Swedish organizations can no longer afford to place English-speaking candidates outside the recruitment process. Many companies within the IT industry for example have changed their corporate language to English - and more industries will likely follow. This transformation is necessary to be able to utilize international expertise and specialists who are not fluent in Swedish.

Unfortunately, the trend has been somewhat slowed by a conservative public sector.  In the public sector, all documentation and agreements are generally in Swedish and therefore the demand of Swedish skills, both written and spoken, are prioritized.

With the high level of English competency among Swedes and the increasing contact with the working-world outside Sweden, the latter demand in the public sector should be challenged.  Together with the Dutch and Danes, the Swedes are the most competent in English as a second language (according to a survey carried out by EF Education 2016). It is time for authorities and public enterprises to rethink excluding those with an ability to communicate in English.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Is Trump a victim of the 'Deep State?' (NIALL STANAGE, 06/05/17, The Hill)

Is President Trump being undermined by a "Deep State" eager to leak damaging information about him?

The president's allies, both within the White House and in friendly media outlets, say the answer is yes. Trump himself has complained repeatedly that he is being victimized by underhanded leaks.

We've all conspired to prevent him from doing any serious damage. Imagine this numbskull left to his own devices?

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


The New 'Wonder Woman' Is Really A Story About Jesus (M. Hudson, JUNE 5, 2017, The Federalist)

[T]he Wonder Woman movie is the story of Christ, and it is obvious from Director Patty Jenkins' decisions that this was planned. The movie is wrapped up in faux Greek mythology, true, but there's no mistaking the Christology here. To make sure you're getting the message, the cinematographer practically hits you over the head with it in shots such as Diana descending slowly to the ground in the attitude of the cross.

Since there's no way to adumbrate this thesis without revealing plot details, please stop reading now if you haven't seen the movie and don't wish the plot spoiled.

Posted by orrinj at 8:24 AM


Isolation by the West fuels a tech startup boom in Iran (ADAM SCHRECK June 5, 2017, Times of Israel)

The Islamic Republic remains in many ways cut off economically from the rest of the world. Big-name Western brands shun the market for fear of violating terrorism-related sanctions that remain in place even after the country's landmark 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.

That means no KFC -- just local upstarts like "Iran Fried Chicken" -- or credit and ATM cards connected to global banking networks. Visitors to the country must carry in thick wads of dollars. Many popular social-networking sites like Facebook are blocked by government censors.

Order from Amazon or call an Uber? Forget about it.

In their place, a surprisingly active tech startup scene has sprung up. It's driven by a growing number of Iranian millennials who see their country of 80 million people not as an isolated outcast but as a market ripe with opportunity.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Are printable solar panels the future of solar power? (The Week, June 5, 2017)

"Despite places like Australia being bathed in sun, the cost of traditional silicon-based solar cells hasn't inspired people to buy, buy, buy," said Johnny Lieu at Mashable . But new superthin, printable solar panels could bring the price of rooftop solar power down dramatically. Researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia are testing solar cells that use electronic inks printed on plastic film to conduct electricity. The panels are less than one-tenth of a millimeter thick and can be printed quickly in large quantities.

Eventually, the panels could cost as little as $8 per square meter, says Newcastle professor Paul Dastoor, who is leading the project. That's considerably less than Tesla's new solar roof shingles, which run around $235 a square meter.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


From Maine, a Call for a More Measured Take on Health Care (JENNIFER STEINHAUER, JUNE 4, 2017, NY Times)

Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, has spent a lot of time thinking about how to deal with these "subsidy cliffs," even as her party's leaders press for the wholesale repeal of the Affordable Care Act, President Barack Obama's signature domestic achievement.

As she and a handful of other Republican senators think about repairs rather than replacements, discussions that will intensify this week after the Memorial Day break, they are frustrating the grander ambitions of the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky -- not to mention President Trump -- to unravel the law as the House did last month.

Ms. Collins's résumé (she once oversaw Maine's insurance bureau), her relentless practicality and her state's particular vulnerability within the health care debate -- its population is old and largely poor, with a sizable part-time work force -- have placed her at the center of an issue that conservatives have tried to dominate in Congress.

"There is no denying that the Affordable Care Act has made insurance available to millions of Americans and allowed people to leave corporate jobs and start businesses," Ms. Collins said. "We are disproportionately affected, which is one reason I've spent so much energy on this issue."

Ms. Collins, omitted from the working group convened by Mr. McConnell, has formed a bipartisan working group that may help build a foundation for future changes should Senate Republicans fail on their own, which seems increasingly likely.

The only open question is how much additional money the GOP will end up throwing at Obamacare.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Donald Trump's Triumph of Stupidity : German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other G-7 leaders did all they could to convince Trump to remain part of the Paris Agreement. But he didn't listen. Instead, he evoked deep-seated nationalism and plunged the West into a conflict deeper than any since World War II.  (Der Spiegel, June 02, 2017)

The newly elected French president, Emmanuel Macron, went first. It makes sense that the Frenchman would defend the international treaty that bears the name of France's capital: The Paris Agreement. "Climate change is real and it affects the poorest countries," Macron said.

Then, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reminded the U.S. president how successful the fight against the ozone hole had been and how it had been possible to convince industry leaders to reduce emissions of the harmful gas.

Finally, it was Merkel's turn. Renewable energies, said the chancellor, present significant economic opportunities. "If the world's largest economic power were to pull out, the field would be left to the Chinese," she warned. Xi Jinping is clever, she added, and would take advantage of the vacuum it created. Even the Saudis were preparing for the post-oil era, she continued, and saving energy is also a worthwhile goal for the economy for many other reasons, not just because of climate change. [...]

Still, it is likely that none of the G-7 heads of state and government expected the primitive brutality Trump would stoop to when announcing his withdrawal from the international community. Surrounded by sycophants in the Rose Garden at the White House, he didn't just proclaim his withdrawal from the climate agreement, he sowed the seeds of international conflict. His speech was a break from centuries of Enlightenment and rationality. The president presented his political statement as a nationalist manifesto of the most imbecilic variety. It couldn't have been any worse.

His speech was packed with make-believe numbers from controversial or disproven studies. It was hypocritical and dishonest. In Trump's mind, the climate agreement is an instrument allowing other countries to enrich themselves at the expense of the United States. "I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris," he said. Trump left no doubt that the well-being of the American economy is the only value he understands. It's no wonder that the other countries applauded when Washington signed the Paris Agreement, he said. "We don't want other leaders and other countries laughing at us anymore. And they won't be. They won't be." [...]

The U.S. is led by a president who feels more comfortable taking part in a Saudi Arabian sword dance than he does among his NATO allies. And the estrangement has accelerated in recent days. First came his blustering at the NATO summit in Brussels, then the disagreement over the climate deal in Sicily followed by Merkel's speech in Bavaria, in which she called into question America's reliability as a partner for Europe. A short time later, Trump took to Twitter to declare a trade war -- and now, he has withdrawn the United States from international efforts to combat climate change. [...]

For Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany, the alliance with the U.S. was always more than political calculation, it reflected her deepest political convictions. Now, she has -- to a certain extent, at least -- terminated the trans-Atlantic friendship with Trump's America.

In doing so, the German chancellor has become Trump's adversary on the international stage. And Merkel has accepted the challenge when it comes to trade policy and the quarrel over NATO finances. Now, she has done so as well on an issue that is near and dear to her heart: combating climate change.

Merkel's aim is that of creating an alliance against Trump. If she can't convince the U.S. president, her approach will be that of trying to isolate him. In Taormina, it was six countries against one. Should Trump not reverse course, she is hoping that the G-20 in Hamburg in July will end 19:1. Whether she will be successful is unclear.

Trump has identified Germany as his primary adversary. Since his inauguration in January, he has criticized no country -- with the exception of North Korea and Iran -- as vehemently as he has Germany. The country is "bad, very bad," he said in Brussels last week. Behind closed doors at the NATO summit, Trump went after Germany, saying there were large and prosperous countries that were not living up to their alliance obligations.

And he wants to break Germany's economic power. The trade deficit with Germany, he recently tweeted, is "very bad for U.S. This will change."

Merkel's verdict following Trump's visit to Europe could hardly be worse. There has never been an open break with America since the end of World War II; the alienation between Germany and the U.S. has never been so large as it is today. When Merkel's predecessor, Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, refused to provide German backing for George W. Bush's invasion of Iraq, his rebuff was limited to just one single issue. It was an extreme test of the trans-Atlantic relationship, to be sure, but in contrast to today, it was not a quarrel that called into question commonly held values like free trade, minority rights, press freedoms, the rule of law -- and climate policies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Obama: a Hollow Man Filled With Ruling Class Ideas (PAUL STREET, 6/02/17, Counter Punch)

What on Earth motivated the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian and law professor David J. Garrow to write an incredibly detailed 1078-page (1460 pages with endnotes and index included) biography of Barack Obama from conception through election to the White House? Not any great personal affinity for Obama on Garrow's part, that's for sure. Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama is no hagiography. On the last page of this remarkable tome, Garrow describes Obama at the end of his distinctly non-transformative and "failed presidency" as a man who had long ago had become a "vessel [that] was hollow at its core."

Near the conclusion, Garrow notes how disappointed and betrayed many of Obama's former friends felt by a president who "doesn't feel indebted to people" (in the words of a former close assistant) and who spent inordinate time on the golf course and "celebrity hobnobbing" (1067). Garrow quotes one of Obama's "long-time Hyde Park [Chicago] friend[s]," who offered a stark judgement: "Barack is a tragic figure: so much potential, such critical times, but such a failure to perform...like he is an empty shell...Maybe the flaw is hubris, deep and abiding hubris...." (1065). Garrow quotes the onetime and short-lived Obama backer Dr. Cornel West on how Obama "posed as a progressive and turned out to be a counterfeit. We ended up with a Wall Street presidency, a national security presidency...a brown-faced Clinton: another opportunist." [...]

Garrow's mammoth biography is a tour de force when it comes to personal critique, professional appraisal, and epic research and documentation. His mastery of the smallest details in Obama's life and career and his ability to place those facts within a narrative that keeps the reader's attention (no small feat at 1078 pages!) is remarkable.  Rising Star falls short, however, on ideological appraisal. In early 1996, the brilliant left Black political scientist Adolph Reed, Jr. captured the stark moral and political limits of what would become the state and then national Obama phenomenon and indeed the Obama presidency.  Writing of an unnamed Obama, Reed observed that:

"In Chicago...we've gotten a foretaste of the new breed of foundation-hatched black communitarian voices; one of them, a smooth Harvard lawyer with impeccable do-good credentials and vacuous-to-repressive neoliberal politics, has won a state senate seat on a base mainly in the liberal foundation and development worlds. His fundamentally bootstrap line was softened by a patina of the rhetoric of authentic community, talk about meeting in kitchens, small-scale solutions to social problems, and the predictable elevation of process over program - the point where identity politics converges with old-fashioned middle-class reform in favoring form over substance."

Garrow very incompletely quotes Reed's reflection only to dismiss it as "an academic's way of calling Barack an Uncle Tom."  That is an unfortunate judgement. Reed's assessment was richly born-out by Obama's subsequent political career.  Like his politcio-ideological soul-brothers Bill Clinton and Tony Blair (and perhaps now Emmanuel Macron), Obama's public life has been a wretched monument to the dark power of the neoliberal corporate-financial and imperial agendas behind the progressive pretense of façade of telegenic and silver-tongued professional class politicos.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Why Russia Can't Be America's Ally: What Putin Doesn't Want You to Know About Moscow's Persecution of Christians and Covert Support for Radical Islamists (George Barros, May 12, 2017, Providence)

Recently within the American conservative and Christian zeitgeists I have noticed a growing positive view of Vladimir Putin and desire for a U.S.-Russia Christian military alliance against Islamic terrorism. As both a conservative Christian American and a policy specialist on Russia and Eastern Europe, this is a perilous line of thinking. The growing trend among conservatives to support Putin's Russia is problematic because Russian President Vladimir Putin and the Russian Orthodox Church (ROC) engage in activities that run directly contrary to U.S. national security objectives, values of Western civilization writ large, and teaching of Christian scripture.

Perceptions that Russia is a defender of Christendom in an increasingly secular world are not based in reality. Any discussion concerning the relationship between Christianity and Russia cannot fail to take into consideration the Russian Orthodox Church, which dominates practically all aspects of Christianity in Russia. It is well known among Sovietologists that the ROC historically has been used by the Kremlin and serves as an extension of the Russian state and its intelligence services--it is no coincidence that the head of the Russian Orthodox Church is a decorated KGB agent. (This issue warrants a paper on its own, and I will write more on this topic later.) Because of this, Christians in Russia who refuse to be de facto subjugated to the Kremlin vis-à-vis communion with the ROC suffer government persecution.

There is little to no religious liberty in Putin's Russia, and I'm not referring to interfaith pluralism; Russia is rife with examples of non-Christian religious groups suffering from state persecution. Even within Christendom in Russia, Christians who do not completely recognize the authority of the Kremlin's Moscow Patriciate are persecuted. There are several public examples of how the Russian State uses its power to defend the Russian Orthodox Church's (and the Kremlin's) monopoly on faith.

Protestant missionaries usually suffer under Russian law and government authorities. Take for example the unfortunate case of Donald Ossewaarde, an American Baptist Missionary in Russia who, for hosting a Bible study in his home in violation of Russia's Yarovaya Law[1], was arrested, fined 40,000 rubles, intimidated by Russian authorities, and forced to end his ministry. Also citing the Yarovaya Law, a Russian court ordered the destruction of 40 Bibles distributed by the Salvation Army that were not properly registered with the state. Moscow's suppression is not strictly confined to Russia, either, as we have photographic evidence depicting the injuries inflicted upon Ukrainian evangelical pastor Aleksandr Khomchenko when Kremlin operatives in eastern Ukraine tortured him to convert to Russian Orthodoxy.

Even within Eastern Orthodoxy, Orthodox Christians who don't adhere specifically to the ROC are persecuted. A Russian court ordered for the only Ukrainian Orthodox Church in Russia to be demolished at the expense of the Ukrainian diocese, and ROC clergy condone the Kremlin's war in eastern Ukraine as a type of "orthodox jihad" against Ukrainian Orthodox apostates who do not recognize the one true and "rightful" Eastern Orthodox patriarchate--the Moscow Patriarchate.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 AM


Muslims and Latinos unite during Ramadan, breaking fast with tacos at mosques (Anh Do, 6/04/17, LA Times)

Orange County activists Rida Hamida and Ben Vazquez wanted to find a way to promote unity among the region's Muslim and Latino communities, so they came up with a novel idea.

After daily fasting as part of the holy month of Ramadan, dozens of local Muslims joined their Latino neighbors Saturday night in the parking lot of the new Islamic Center of Santa Ana to take part in the inaugural event of the campaign dubbed Taco Trucks at Every Mosque.

Organizers said the idea is to demystify Islam through the sharing of food and to unite two groups, Muslims and Latinos, facing increasing discrimination in the Trump era. They invited community members to sit down together after sunset -- and the breaking of the day's fast -- with a meal called iftar.

"This is perfect timing. The purpose of this month is to give charity, to grow our character and our inner lives and to nourish our soul through service. What better way to do that than by learning from one another?" asked coordinator Hamida, whose goal is to host taco trucks that will serve halal tacos at every mosque in Orange County. More than 400 people attended the event.

Raising funds to pay for tortilla-wrapped treats is Hamida's response to an oft-repeated statement from Marco Gutierrez, founder of Latinos for Trump, who last year warned that mainstream American culture soon would be swamped by Latino culture, courtesy of tacos.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


Japan, Short on Babies, Reaches a Worrisome Milestone (JONATHAN SOBLE, JUNE 2, 2017, NY Times)

Since Japan began counting its newborns more than a century ago, more than a million infants have been added to its population each year.

No longer, in the latest discomforting milestone for a country facing a steep population decline. Last year, the number of births in Japan dropped below one million for the first time, the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare said on Friday. [...]

But the real decline has barely begun.

After Japan's population hit a peak of 128 million at the start of the current decade, it shrank by close to a million in the five years through 2015, according to census data. Demographers expect it to plunge by a third by 2060, to as few as 80 million people -- a net loss of a million a year, on average. [....]

Fewer young people means fewer workers to support a growing cohort of retirees, adding strains to pension and health care systems. Already, in some rural areas, a majority of residents are over 65, and empty houses are a spreading blight.

In a speech to business leaders this week, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for a "national movement" to address Japan's demographic challenges. The government has taken steps to keep older workers in their jobs longer, and to encourage companies to invest in automation.

"The labor shortage is getting serious," he said. "To overcome it, we need to improve productivity."

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


(BRIAN BARRETT, 06.05.17, Wired)


Today, an IBM-led group of researchers have detailed a breakthrough transistor design, one that will enable processors to continue their Moore's Law march toward smaller, more affordable iterations. Better still? They achieved it not with carbon nanotubes or some other theoretical solution, but with an inventive new process that actually works, and should scale up to the demands of mass manufacturing within several years.

That should also, conveniently enough, be just in time to power the self-driving cars, on-board artificial intelligence, and 5G sensors that comprise the ambitions of nearly every major tech player today--which was no sure thing.

Today, an IBM-led group of researchers have detailed a breakthrough transistor design, one that will enable processors to continue their Moore's Law march toward smaller, more affordable iterations. Better still? They achieved it not with carbon nanotubes or some other theoretical solution, but with an inventive new process that actually works, and should scale up to the demands of mass manufacturing within several years.

That should also, conveniently enough, be just in time to power the self-driving cars, on-board artificial intelligence, and 5G sensors that comprise the ambitions of nearly every major tech player today--which was no sure thing.

June 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


U.S. Ambassador contradicts Trump over criticism of London mayor (David Lawler, 6/04/17, Axios)

What Lewis Lukens said, from the embassy twitter account: "Commend the strong leadership of the @MayorofLondon as he leads the city forward after this heinous attack."

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


The coming Democratic civil war (JOEL KOTKIN, 6/04/17, Orange County Register)

The two most remarkable campaigns of 2016 -- those of Trump and Bernie Sanders -- were driven by different faces of populist resentment. Yet, increasingly, the Democrats' populist pretensions conflict with their alliance with ascendant "sovereigns of cyberspace," whose power and wealth have waxed to almost absurd heights. Other parts of their upscale coalition include the media, academia and the upper bureaucracy.

This affluent base can embrace the progressives' social agenda -- meeting the demands of feminists, gays and minority activists. But they are less enthusiastic about the social democratic income redistribution proposed by Bernie Sanders, who is now, by some measurements, the nation's most popular political figure. This new putative ruling class, notes author Michael Lind, sees its rise, and the decline of the rest, not as a reflection of social inequity, but rather their meritocratic virtue. Only racism, homophobia or misogyny -- in other words, the sins of the "deplorables" -- matter.

The Washington Post, owned by Jeff Bezos, the world's third-richest man, reflects this socially liberal, but oligopolistic, worldview. Last spring, Bezos worked assiduously to undermine Sanders' campaign, then promoted Clinton, and now has become a leading voice in the anti-Trump "resistance." The gentry wing of the party, which dominates fundraising and media, as the opposition to Sanders reveals, likes its money. The tech community is famously adept at avoiding taxes.

How long can this odd pairing of socialism and oligopoly persist?


Posted by orrinj at 1:24 PM


Cambodia opposition claims victory in local elections (SOPHENG CHEANG, 6/04/17, ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Cambodia's opposition claimed a victory in local elections Sunday that could shake Prime Minister Hun Sen's longtime grip on power.

Hun Sen has repeatedly warned of civil war if his Cambodian People's Party loses the majority in city and village councils to the main opposition party, which had made major gains in the general election four years ago, when it claimed it was cheated out of outright victory. Sunday's polls could have a major impact on Cambodia's political landscape ahead of the 2018 general election.

Opposition party spokesman Yim Sovann said his Cambodia National Rescue Party won about 500 communes out of the country's 1,646.

He said his party received 46 percent of the vote, up from 30 percent in the last local elections in 2012, while the ruling party got 51 percent, down from 62 percent in 2012.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Within eight minutes suspects were dead: timeline of the London Bridge attack (The Guardian, 4 June 2017)

10.08pm - Police are called to reports of a van hitting pedestrians on London Bridge. Witness accounts emerge of a van driving into a crowd of people at about 50mph and several bodies on the street. [...]

10.16pm - Armed officers arrive on the scene and shoot the three attackers dead outside the Wheatsheaf Pub.

'Incredibly brave' stabbed police officer fought off attackers armed with just a baton (Helena Horton, 4 JUNE 2017, The Telegraph)

A British Transport Police officer, who has only been with the force for two  years, has been praised for his remarkable bravery in the face of terror.

The man, who remains unnamed, is recovering from his injuries in hospital after he was stabbed during the London Bridge terror attack as he confronted the attackers armed with only a baton.

The officer was one of the first on the scene after he responded to calls for help from the public after a vehicle ploughed into pedestrians on London Bridge.

BTP chief constable Paul Crowther, who visited the officer in hospital where he is in a stable condition after suffering face, head and leg injuries, said he showed "enormous courage in the face of danger".

Our destruction of ISIS is not limited to a random eight minute spurt.

New report finds ISIS' caliphate 'is on a path to collapse' (Pamela Engel, Apr. 22, 2017, Business Insider)

Iraqi special-operations forces arrest a person suspected of belonging to ISIS in western Mosul, Iraq, February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
A new report from the Rand Corporation found that the terrorist group ISIS has lost most of the territory it once controlled and that its self-declared "caliphate" is now "on a path to collapse."

The report found that ISIS, also known as the Islamic State, "has lost substantial control of territory and people since 2014 in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya and Nigeria," putting it in danger of losing its state, which it calls a "caliphate," altogether.

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


One of Trump's potential Fed picks is a huge fan of negative interest rates (Matthew C Klein, 6/02/17, FT Alphaville)

[I]t's also worth noting that Goodfriend's opposition to balance sheet expansion is paired with a radical willingness to embrace deeply negative rates. Negative rates are the one policy option Fed officials have studiously avoided discussing in public even though they have been adopted by the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan, the Swedish Riksbank, and of course the Swiss National Bank.

Goodfriend presented on the subject at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City's economic symposium at Jackson Hole in 2016. To Goodfriend, refusing to let nominal interest rates drop below zero is analogous to the gold standard and exchange rate pegs...

Else rates become usurious.

Posted by orrinj at 12:12 PM


The Abortion Battlefield (Marcia Angell JUNE 22, 2017, NY Review of Books)

When it became more difficult to confront doctors at their clinics because of better protection, antiabortion extremists found them at their homes and churches. After Shannon's attempt on his life, George Tiller was later murdered in his church by a friend of Shannon's. Another doctor, Barnett Slepian, wrote about the intimidation he experienced:

The members of the local non-violent pro-life community may continue to picket my home wearing large "Slepian Kills Children" buttons, which they did on July 25. They may also display the six-foot banner.... They may continue to scream that I am a murderer and a killer when I enter the clinics at which they "peacefully" exercise their First Amendment Right of freedom of speech.... But please don't feign surprise, dismay and certainly not innocence when a more volatile and less restrained member of the group decides to react to their inflammatory rhetoric by shooting an abortion provider. They all share the blame.

Four years later, Slepian was murdered at his home. The total count between 1978 and 2015, writes Haugeberg, was eleven murders (nine of them physicians), twenty-six attempted murders, 185 arsons, forty-two bombings, and 1,534 vandalizations of clinics.

The attention of antiabortion advocates also turned to legislative efforts to restrict the right to abortion, with the hope of regulating it out of existence. Many states, particularly Republican strongholds, began to pass legislation that put onerous and often humiliating conditions on women seeking abortions and on the doctors providing them. In the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Supreme Court considered a challenge to the Pennsylvania Abortion Control Act, which set a twenty-four-hour waiting period for women seeking abortions, and required doctors to provide them with information designed to dissuade them from their decision. Although the Court affirmed a constitutional right to abortion, which could not face an "undue burden," it eroded that right substantially. As Sanger writes:

The Court announced that Roe had undervalued the state's interest in potential unborn life, an interest which Casey now fixed at the moment of conception. States were now within their rights to persuade pregnant women against abortion from the start.

The trimester system of Roe v. Wade, in which fetal interests came into play only in the third trimester, was gone.

Since then, and particularly since Republicans have gained control of most state governments, states have rushed to pass new laws that treat pregnant women like errant children. According to Haugeberg, "Between the 2010 midterm elections and 2015, states adopted 231 new restrictions on abortion."

Consider Alabama's Women's Right to Know Act. It requires a twenty-four-hour waiting period prior to an abortion. Before the procedure, the physician must first perform an ultrasound examination of the fetus, and must ask the woman if she would like to see the image. After the procedure, she must complete a form acknowledging either that she looked at the image of her fetus or that she was "offered the opportunity and rejected it." Ten states have enacted similar legislation. Some include a requirement that the physician describe the fetus in detail to the woman.

Texas went even further. It added two more requirements to its already daunting restrictions. The first required all abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and the second required all abortion clinics to be licensed as "ambulatory surgical centers," essentially mini-hospitals. These requirements would put many abortion clinics out of business, as the legislators well knew--and intended. The case eventually reached the Supreme Court, which held in Whole Women's Health v. Hellerstedt (2016) that these additional requirements put an "undue burden" on the exercise of a constitutional right--one of the few pieces of good news in recent years for defenders of abortion rights.

Still, about half the abortion clinics in Texas have had to close, as have many in other states. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 95 percent of abortions are performed in freestanding clinics, not in hospitals or doctors' offices, so widespread closures have an enormous impact. [...]

The latest figures from the Guttmacher Institute are for 2014. They show a rapid drop in abortions to the lowest level since Roe v. Wade, about half the frequency from the peak in 1980. The decline probably reflects better methods of contraception, but it is likely that it also reflects the growing difficulties in obtaining abortions.

Posted by orrinj at 12:05 PM


Taiwan offers to help China transition to democracy on Tiananmen anniversary (Deutsche-Welle, 6/05/17)

Taiwan's president, Tsai Ing-wen, said the biggest gap between Taiwan and China is democracy and freedom, needling Beijing at a time when relations between China and the self-ruled island are at their nadir.

She said Taiwan was willing to share its experiences of transitioning to democracy in the late 1980s to ease the pains of such a transition for the mainland.

"For democracy: some are early, others are late, but we all get there in the end," Tsai said, writing in Chinese on her Facebook page and posting some of her comments in English on Twitter.

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


Nikki Haley says 'Trump believes the climate is changing' and 'pollutants are part of the equation' (The Week, 6/04/17)

"President Trump believes the climate is changing and he believes pollutants are part of the equation," U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley told CNN's Jake Tapper in an interview that taped Saturday and aired in full on Sunday. "Just because we got out of a club doesn't mean we don't care about the environment," she added.

Has there ever been another cabinet member who so flagrantly goes about their own business as if the president did not exist?

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


The (Really) Lucky Country: how our growth led to complacency, and bad politics (Peter Hartcher , 6/02/17, Sydney Morning Herald)

At three consecutive national elections - in 2007, in 2010 and again in 2013 - the voters refused to re-elect the governments that presided over these conditions.

This is at odds with history. These are the only occasions since the creation of the modern two-party system in 1949 on which the Australian people have rejected a national government at a time of economic growth.

First, the people dismissed the Howard government in 2007 although it had presided over an 11-year boom, already the longest on record.

Second, the Rudd and Gillard governments delivered Australian growth even in the midst of global economic calamity in 2008-09, but they reaped no political reward. Rudd was dispatched by his own party before the people had a chance. Gillard lost Labor's majority at the 2010 election and only survived in a minority arrangement.

Finally, Labor was swept out decisively in the 2013 poll. The people did return the Coalition under Malcolm Turnbull at last year's election, but only just - Turnbull governs with the slimmest possible margin, one seat.

It's not only the people who've become complacent about economic performance.

The eminent political economist Ross Garnaut says the Great Australian Complacency, as he calls it, took hold of the political system from 2000. This locates it halfway through the Howard era. 

How can he be so specific? Because, after John Howard and Peter Costello enacted their landmark reform of the tax system in 2000, they lost interest in further reform, on Garnaut's reckoning.

And this marked the end of not only Howard-Costello reforms but an entire generation of near-continuous reform efforts that started in the years of the Hawke-Keating governments.

Australia, famously forecast by Singapore's Lee Kwan Yew to become the home to the "poor, white trash of Asia", was in economic decline in the 1970s and 80s. Keating agreed with Lee. He warned of Australia as a future "banana republic".

Crisis begat action. By 2007, Lee acknowledged the success of Australia's reform era. "You have changed," he told Costello. "Your country is a different place now."

Success bred complacency. The old policymaker's adage has been proved anew: "Good times make bad policy."

By late Howard years, ambition and rigour were lost and spending grew wanton. 

Budget night came to resemble "Christmas night in the pirates' cave" in the words of the former Treasury budget examiner Stephen Anthony, as the government lavished handouts and tax cuts in the forlorn hope that it could win the people's gratitude. 

The former Treasury secretary Ken Henry, who served Keating and Costello, dates the onset of complacency in the political system and the wider public around the same time.

"We had drifted into a state of complacency in the years before the GFC [global financial crisis of 2007-8]," Henry says. "Remarkably, the GFC didn't shock us out of it." 

Why should Australia care? By good management and good luck, the economy continued to grow even as the Western world collapsed. The complacency deepened.

So the Australian people relieved their governments of responsibility for the economy. And governments relieved themselves. 

This seems to have had a liberating effect on the political class, which has indulged itself mightily. Without a crisis, without a serious purpose, the political parties, Labor and Liberal alike, have indulged personal ambition and factional vendettas in a frenzy of regicide.

"So in the century up to 2010," writes Rod Tiffen, Sydney University professor emeritus of political science, "three sitting prime ministers were victims of party coups. Then in just five years three more followed [Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard and Tony Abbott]."

Australia started to burn through leaders faster than the notoriously impatient Italians. The fever spread to opposition parties, state parliaments. Plotting, coup-making became the chief preoccupation.

"In the 1960s, there were no successful leadership challenges in the major parties, federal or state, but since 1970 fully 73 leaders have been ousted by their colleagues."

Tiffen's Disposable Leaders confirms Australia's dubious distinction as the most febrile, restless and murderous political jurisdiction among parliamentary democracies: "This forced turnover of leaders is not the norm in any other country."

The former Sydney correspondent for the BBC, Nick Bryant, dubbed Canberra the "coup capital of the Western world". 

He was struck by the contrast between Australia's growing economic and strategic bulk and the derangement of its self-absorbed political class: "As the country has grown stronger, its politics have become nastier."

Of course, the reason our economies are so strong is precisely because there is so little difference between our political parties.  Neoliberalism is so dominant in the world generally but in the English-speaking world in particular that no one proposes doing more than mucking around at its edges for show; which partisans of both sides then treat as revolutionary and go at each other hammer and claw.  Meanwhile, even the incremental political steps they may be able to effect get swamped by global economic forces, as witness the kerfuffle over the Paris treaty. The fundamental reality of our politics is that we are too affluent to care much if our systems could be more efficiently run, making reform quite difficult.  Stasis is working out rather well for everyone.  Our politics is become Kissinger's academia.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


India to sell only electric cars by 2030 (Jackie Wattles, June 3, 2017, CNN)

India is one of the world's most polluted countries. Its energy department said in a blog post that it has set the "ambitious" target to stop selling gas-powered vehicles in an attempt to clean up its air.

As the country's economy has boomed, new industries and commuters have spewed pollutants in the air at staggering rates. Now, its 1.3 billion residents are suffering. One estimate says India's air contributes to 1.2 million deaths per year. 
Doctors have said breathing the air in New Dehli, the nation's capital, is like smoking 10 cigarettes a day.

India's energy minister, Piyush Goyal, said recently that the country will help facilitate the electric car effort by offering subsidies for a couple of years. "After that," he said, "the cost of electric vehicles will start paying for themselves."

The government's National Electric Mobility Mission Plan wants annual sales of electric and hybrid cars to hit 6 million to 7 million by 2020.

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


What Winston Churchill and George Orwell had in common : A new book from Thomas E Ricks explores the similarities between two 20th century mavericks.  (JOHN GRAY, 6/04/17, New Statesman)

Freedom of expression, Orwell believed, was threatened by what he called "the poisonous effect of the Russian mythos on English intellectual life". He went on to cite an episode that illustrated this:

When Germany collapsed, it was found that very large numbers of Soviet Russians - mostly, no doubt, from non-political motives - had changed sides and were fighting for the Germans. Also, a small but not negligible portion of the . . . displaced persons refused to go back to the USSR, and some of them, at least, were repatriated against their will. These facts, known to many journalists on the spot, went almost unmentioned in the British press, while at the same time Russophile publicists in England continued to justify the purges and deportations of 1936-38 . . .

The episode to which Orwell refers was the forced repatriation by the British and other Allied governments of about two million Soviet citizens who had ended up as displaced persons in Europe after the end of the Second World War. Some who were compelled to return may have participated in Nazi atrocities and been war criminals; others were prisoners of war whom the Nazis had used as slave labour. Many were Russian conscripts who had joined the Germans in the vain hope of better treatment.

As some of these displaced people had families with them, many of those that were sent back were women and children. Not all were in fact Soviet citizens - some had left Russia during or soon after the civil war. Knowing that repatriation could lead to execution or a long spell in the Gulag, many resisted return, some of them committing suicide or killing their infants in view of the British and American soldiers who were tasked with clubbing them on to trains. The repatriation policy was implemented under the Yalta Agreement, though the pact did not authorise coercion and Stalin seems to have been surprised that it was enforced with such vigour.

In the years following the war the displaced people to whom Orwell refers were not much more than a nuisance for Western governments. He could have been under no illusion when he wrote about them that he could do anything to alter their fate. He wrote partly to illustrate the ­self-censorship being practised by many journalists at the time, but more fundamentally because he believed it was his duty to bear witness to the truth. He felt compelled to report the facts, even if - as in this case - doing so would have no practical effect.

Thomas Ricks does not examine this particular episode, but it illustrates a trait that Orwell shared with Winston Churchill.

Huh?  Churchill actually had the power to prevent turning over millions of victims to the USSR but did so anyway.  The episode shows them to be nothing alike. Instead, it shows how we lost WWII.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Iraqi Shi'ite paramilitaries take Baaj town west of Mosul from Islamic State: arm (Reuters, 6/04/17)

Shi'ite paramilitaries have captured the Iraqi town of Baaj from Islamic State, further shrinking the northern region under jihadist control as part of a U.S.-backed campaign to retake the city of Mosul, the Iraqi military said on Sunday.

Eight months into the Mosul offensive, Islamic State (IS) militants have been dislodged from all of the city except an enclave along the western bank of the Tigris river.

IS's grip on the Iraqi side of the northern region along the border with Syria, a desert area where Iraqi and U.S. sources believe IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is hiding, has been ebbing as forces fighting on the side of Iraq's government have advanced.

The Iraqi air force provided cover for the thrust into Baaj of the Shi'ite paramilitaries known as Popular Mobilisation, said a statement from the Iraqi joint operations command.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


The Specialists' Stranglehold on Medicine (JAMIE KOUFMAN, JUNE 3, 2017, NY Times)

The Affordable Care Act was misnamed; it should have been called the Access to Unaffordable Care Act. In 2015 health care spending reached $3.2 trillion -- $10,000 for every man, woman and child in America. While our health care system is the most expensive in the world by far, on many measures of performance it ranked last out of 11 developed countries, according to a 2014 Commonwealth Fund Report.

But deregulation will not fix it. To the extent that we can call it a market at all, health care is not self-correcting. Instead, it is a colossal network of unaccountable profit centers, the pricing of which has been controlled by medical specialists since the mid-20th century. Neither Republicans nor Democrats have been willing to address this.

Most Americans mistakenly believe that they must see specialists for almost every medical problem. What people don't know is that specialists essentially determine the services that are covered by insurance, and the prices that may be charged for them.

Physician specialty groups have created "societies" to provide education, establish clinical guidelines and handle public relations. These range from the Society of Surgical Oncology to the group that represents me and my ear, nose and throat colleagues, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery. They are also lobbyists, charged with maximizing the incomes of member doctors by influencing pricing decisions made by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Those prices become the benchmarks for private health insurance companies, too.

There are so many specialty organizations because each develops authority over a niche market and vigorously guards its turf. Imagine building a house by allowing each workman to do his own thing. The plumber would put a sink in every room. The electrician would install chandeliers on every ceiling. The carpenter would panel every room in luxurious wood. That's how health care works.

Though they would vigorously deny it, entrepreneurial doctors often treat each patient as an opportunity to make money. Research shows that physicians quickly adapt their treatment choices if the fees they get paid change. But the current payment incentives do more than drive up costs -- they can kill people.

We ought to be providing the guaranteed access that provides people with peace of mind while denying them the actual health care that costs money.  That's why death panels are so important.

June 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


When America Barred Italians (HELENE STAPINSKI, JUNE 2, 2017, NY Times)

Women like my great-great grandmother Vita Gallitelli came to America for more than simply a better job. Subject to the whims of their padroni -- the men who owned the feudal land upon which they toiled -- Italian women were commonly the victims of institutionalized, systematic rape. There was a practice known as "prima notte" that allowed the landowner to sleep with the virgin bride of his worker, which extended into the 20th century.

The husbands couldn't protest, since they would be barred from working the farm and their families left to starve. As it was, they were barely staying alive. In the 1800s, half the children born in Basilicata -- the instep of Italy's boot -- died before age 5. It's the reason Italian-American families hold big bashes for their 1-year-olds even today. [...]

So our desperate great- and great-great grandparents came in droves from Italy, spurred on by industrial barons in need of cheap labor who welcomed them with open arms to America. They would scrape together the 300 lire -- the cost of three houses at the time -- to book passage here, to the land of dreams, where menial, often dangerous jobs no one else wanted awaited them. Some, like my relatives, came here illegally, under false names. Or as stowaways. On one ship alone, 200 stowaways were found. [...]

The United States government used the theories of Cesare Lombroso, a 19th-century Northern Italian doctor, to stop more of his suffering, starving countrymen and women from immigrating.

Lombroso, a traitor to his own people, was convinced that there was such a thing as a "natural born criminal." He measured the heads and body parts of thousands of fellow Italians -- particularly Southerners -- and came up with a description that matched the description of most of the immigrants coming over at the time: short, dark, hairy, big noses and ears.

He compared them to lower primates and said they were more likely to commit violent crimes when they arrived in the United States than immigrants from Germany, Norway, Austria, Sweden, England and every other European country.

Lombroso -- and a growing sea of American nativists -- branded the Southern Italians savages and rapists, blaming them for the crime that was on the rise in the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


A Revitalized Pittsburgh Says the President Used a Rusty Metaphor (KIM LYONS, EMILY BADGER and ALAN BLINDER, JUNE 2, 2017, NY Times)

"I was elected," the president said, "to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris."

But the president was hardly speaking about a place of domestic political strength: Although Mr. Trump carried Pennsylvania last fall, 75 percent of voters in Pittsburgh voted for Hillary Clinton.

In defiance of the president, city leaders vowed again on Thursday to pursue their own climate action. Pittsburgh, they point out, is the wrong metaphor anyway: The former steel hub has spent the last 30 years trying to remake its economy in precisely the mold that climate advocates envision.

Once among the most polluted cities in the country, Pittsburgh today is increasingly rebuilding around greener medical complexes, research universities and tech offices. In place of steel mills, the city now has its own Google outpost and test track for autonomous cars. The U.S. Steel Tower, the tallest building in town, now bears the name of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. The local renewable energy industry employs 13,000 people, according to the city.

Pittsburgh, Mayor Bill Peduto said Thursday, is an example of how environmentalism can also mean economic development. It was a very different message from the one the president delivered hours earlier at the White House, where he warned that the international climate pact would cost the American economy too much.

"To some, Pittsburgh is still the 1975 Pittsburgh, a steel mill town based on heavy industry, still struggling through the post-Depression," said Mr. Peduto, a Democrat, when asked why he thought the president had singled out his city (particularly in light of its reliably liberal politics). "I also think it's the first city they thought of that started with a 'P'."

Posted by orrinj at 3:45 PM



THE EMAILS PROVIDED so far to the The Intercept show a growing relationship between the United Arab Emirates and the pro-Israel, neoconservative think tank called the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

On the surface, the alliance should be surprising, as the UAE does not even recognize Israel. But the two countries have worked together in the past against their common adversary, Iran.

On March 10 of this year, FDD CEO Mark Dubowitz authored an email to both the UAE's ambassador to the United States, Yousef Al-Otaiba, and FDD Senior Counselor John Hannah -- a former deputy national security adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney -- with the subject line "Target list of companies investing in Iran, UAE and Saudi Arabia."

"Dear, Mr. Ambassador," Dubowitz wrote. "The attached memorandum details companies listed by country which are doing business with Iran and also have business with the UAE and Saudi Arabia. This is a target list for putting these companies to a choice, as we have discussed."

Dubowitz's attached memorandum includes a lengthy list of "non-U.S. businesses with operations in Saudi Arabia or UAE that are looking to invest in Iran."

The list includes a number of major international firms, including France's Airbus and Russia's Lukoil.

Presumably, the companies are being identified so that the UAE and Saudi Arabia can pressure them over investing in Iran, which is seeing an expansion of foreign investment following the 2015 nuclear deal.

Israel and the Gulf monarchies have grown closer in recent years, as both sides fear that Iran is moving closer to normalization with the West and will therefore increase its own influence and power in the region. But admissions of the alliance between the two are still rare in public. One high-level Israeli official, discussing the relationship on background for a previous HuffPost profile of Otaiba, laid out the politics of it. "Israel and the Arabs standing together is the ultimate ace in the hole. Because it takes it out of the politics and the ideology. When Israel and the Arab states are standing together, it's powerful," he said.

The hacked emails demonstrate a remarkable level of backchannel cooperation between a leading neoconservative think tank -- FDD is funded by pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson, an ally of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is one of the largest political donors in the United States  -- and a Gulf monarchy.

None of the regimes can withstand self-determination.
Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


How the Natural Resources Business Is Turning into a Technology Industry (Jonathan Woetzel, Scott Nyquist, JUNE 02, 2017, Harvard Business Review)

Consider how the dynamics of demand are changing. The adoption of robotics, internet-of-things technology, and data analytics -- along with macroeconomic trends and changing consumer behavior -- are fundamentally transforming the way resources are consumed. Technology is enabling people to use energy more efficiently in their homes, offices, and factories. At the same time, technological innovation in transportation, the largest single user of oil, is helping to lower energy consumption as engines become more fuel efficient and the use of autonomous and electric vehicles grows.

As a result, demand for resources is flattening out. (Copper, often used in consumer electronics, is the exception.) At the McKinsey Global Institute, we modeled these trends and found that peak demand for major commodities like oil, thermal coal, and iron ore is in sight and may occur as soon as 2020 for coal and 2025 for oil. At the same time, renewable energies including solar and wind will continue to become cheaper and will play a much larger role in the global economy's energy mix. We estimated that renewables could jump from 4% of global power generation today to as much as 36% by 2035 in our accelerated technology scenario.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Nunes-led House Intelligence Committee asked for 'unmaskings' of Americans (Adam Entous and Ellen Nakashima June 2, 2017, Washington Post)

According to a tally by U.S. spy agencies, the House Intelligence Committee requested five to six unmaskings of U.S. organizations or individuals related to Trump or Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton between June 2016 and January 2017. Officials familiar with the matter said that the committee's requests focused on the identities of U.S. organizations that had been hacked by the Russians in 2016. Officials declined to say how many of the requests came from Democrats vs. Republicans.

The chairman of the committee wields enormous control over the actions of its members and requests for more information from intelligence agencies. Officials said that committee rules require the chairman to sign off on the requests, even ones that are not his own.

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 AM


How Freud's Only Visit to America Made Him Hate the U.S. for the Rest of His Life (RAY CAVANAUGH, 6/03/17, Mental Floss)

The psychoanalyst's chief problem: stomach trouble, which he blamed on American cooking. There was one meal in particular that inflamed his stomach and his ire, a steak prepared by culinary "savages" at a campfire during an excursion in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York. For the rest of his life, he would refer to this trip as the beginning of his "American colitis." (Some scholars, though, say his digestive problems long predated the cookout.)

Freud's ego was also bruised on a side visit to Niagara Falls, where a guide at the Cave of the Winds called him "the old fellow." (His mood improved when he saw a wild porcupine, one of the main objectives of his trip.) But a bigger problem was his own personal Niagara Falls, courtesy of prostate trouble and exacerbated by the lack of public bathrooms, even in New York City. Of the bathrooms that did exist, he complained, "They escort you along miles of corridors and ultimately you are taken to the very basement where a marble palace awaits you, only just in time."

Perhaps worst of all was his insomnia: American women were giving him erotic dreams and affecting his ability to get a good night's sleep. While in Worcester, he confided in Carl Jung, who had also been invited to speak, that he hadn't "been able to sleep since [he] came to America" and that he "continue[d] to dream of prostitutes." When Jung pointed out a rather obvious solution to this problem, Freud indignantly reminded him that he was married.

Freud also found Americans far too informal. As radical as his ideas seemed for the time, Freud was a highly proper man, and he could barely conceal his distaste when an amiable Yankee dared to address him by his first name.

Beyond lack of formality, Freud (or "Sigmund," as his improper American buddies called him) took issue with the coeducational system then more prevalent in the U.S. In his view, explained a few decades later, "The girls develop more rapidly than the boys, feel superior to them in everything and lose their respect for the male sex." The consequence was that American women "lead the men around by the nose, make fools of them, and the result is a matriarchy ... In Europe, things are different. Men take the lead. That is as it should be."

Nothing so becomes the Anglosphere as its hostility to intellectualism.

Posted by orrinj at 9:12 AM


PODCAST : Bjorn Lomborg: The U.S. Was Right to Withdraw From the Paris Climate Accord (Nick Gillespie, Jun. 2, 2017, Reason)

[A]s Lomborg stressed during an interview with Reason's Nick Gillespie, the Paris accord and the earlier Kyoto Protocol are terrible ways to tackle the problem and the United States was right to withdraw from the treaty. If you're interested in protecting the environment and helping the world's poor, says Lomborg, there are cheaper and more-effective ways to reach those goals.

Just increase taxes on coal and oil.
Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Stocks just got a majorly bullish signal (Joe Ciolli, May 31, 2017, Business Insider)

US consumer sentiment has proved fickle in recent decades, gyrating unexpectedly and generally keeping investors on their toes.

But when it has stayed high for a prolonged period, it has historically unlocked massive gains for stocks.

That's exactly what is happening right now. In fact, we seem to be about halfway into one of those high-confidence periods, after University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Index data last Friday kept the trend intact.

Sentiment has been this high for this long on just five other occasions since 1978, according to data compiled by Morgan Stanley. The S&P 500 saw a median return of 21% in the one year following each positive reading and a 42% gain over a two-year period, according to the firm's data.

The S&P 500's 17% rally since June 2016 is roughly in line with that history. And perhaps more important for market speculators, it signals that the index could have 21% to 25% left to climb over the next year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Trump's continued search for new FBI chief seen as chaotic: sources (Julia Edwards Ainsley, 6/03/17, Reuters)

President Donald Trump is still looking for a new FBI director more than three weeks after he fired James Comey, and sources familiar with the recruiting process say it has been chaotic and that job interviews led by Trump have been brief.

Three close associates of three contenders for the job, all of whom have been interviewed by Trump, said the candidates were summoned to the White House for 10- to 20-minute conversations with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

Those conversations, which followed initial interviews at the Justice Department, have been light on questions about substantive issues facing the agency, the three associates said.

While the department has compiled a long list of candidates for the White House, there has been no "clear framework or logic for who was interviewed and why," said one of the sources.

Another of the three sources described the process as chaotic and said that in one interview, Trump spoke mostly about himself and seemed distracted.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


An impossible task : James Mattis tries to reassure Asian allies about Donald Trump (Lexington, 6/02/17, The Economist)

There was something almost heartbreaking about the questions posed by the audience to the defence secretary, a lean man with a craggy face, the cropped silver hair of a Marine, and a laconic speaking-style. An Australian delegate noted Mr Trump's dismissive comments about NATO, and his withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a big trade pact, and from the Paris climate accord. Should the region worry that it is seeing the "destruction of the rules-based order", the Australian asked. A member of the Japanese parliament wondered aloud whether America still shares "common values" with its allies, or just security interests.

This being a blog rather than a newspaper article, readers may indulge the author for quoting Mr Mattis's replies at some length. The defence secretary is not a dissident within the Trump administration. He is a loyal servant of a democratically-elected president. But in his defence of the post-war order, he was trying to tell his Asian audience that some principles and instincts are so deeply rooted in the American spirit that they can survive the swings and counter-swings of electoral politics.

We surrounded Donald with generals precisely to prevent him from doing anything meaningfully destructive.

James 'Mad Dog' Mattis quotes Churchill to reassure allies over Donald Trump (Nicola Smith, 3 JUNE 2017, The Telegraph)

"To quote a British observer, from some years ago, bear with us, once we've exhausted all possible alternatives, the Americans will do the right thing," he said, referring to a quote often attributed to Churchill. "So we will still be there, and we will be there with you."

A clever way of saying your putative boss is choosing bad alternatives.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 AM


INVISIBLE PRESIDENT : a review of We Are the Change We Seek: The Speeches of Barack Obama edited by e. j. dionne jr. and joy-ann reid (Barton Swaim, June 2017, First Things)

The speech's real solution wasn't any set of policies but Obama himself.

Which I guess is why the speeches by President Obama are even duller than those of Senator Obama. Often his presidential addresses led you to expect some crucial insight, only to give you routine political speechifying. In a 2015 speech to the National Prayer Breakfast, for instance, Obama enunciated two principles that should guide Americans of faith as they "counteract" the intolerance perpetrated by "hate groups." The first is humility: "I believe that the starting point of faith is some doubt--not being so full of yourself and so confident that you are right and that God speaks only to us, and doesn't speak to others." The second: We need to "uphold the distinction between our faith and our governments. Between church and between state. . . . Our government does not sponsor a religion, nor does it pressure anyone to practice a particular faith, or any faith at all."

Why was this and similarly feeble material included in a grandly titled book of presidential addresses? The only answer I can summon is that the people who admire Obama the most, the book's editors and purchasers, sincerely feel that the forty-third president is a great orator and a serious intellectual. And that, in essence, is the defining problem of the Obama presidency and Barack Obama himself: His admirers see in him what they want to see. Maybe this can be said of all politicians. Once you decide you like and admire a politician for a set of reasons, you interpret contrary evidence in the most favorable possible way. [...]

[O]bama's most fervent supporters have long insisted on seeing an imaginary version of the real thing: confident yet humble, transcending partisan rancor and ideology, and above all a brilliant intellectual able to think outside the old categories and explain it all to a nation in crisis. The editors of We Are the Change We Seek put it as well as anyone: "For his supporters--and, increasingly, as his term concluded, for Americans who had grown weary of the endless partisan wars--Obama remained a figure intent on evoking Abraham Lincoln's appeal to the 'better angels of our nature.'"

So distant is this observation from anything I recognize in the presidency of Barack Obama that I can't help thinking of Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man. Near the end of the book, the narrator realizes the whites who had purported to help him had never seen him for who and what he was. "They were very much the same, each attempting to force his picture of reality upon me and neither giving a hoot in hell for how things looked to me. I was simply a material, a natural resource to be used. . . . [I]t all came out the same--except I now recognized my invisibility." For the white liberals who idolize him, Obama has a gift, all right. He's invisible. 

The flip side, of course, is that those who hated the UR saw him the same way as those who loved him; they just opposed what the Left dreamt they saw in him.

But, at the end of his presidency, we can fairly confidently say that, other than the mere fact of his ethnicity, he will be remembered for only a few virtually invisible things : continuation of the Bush/Bernanke economy rescue (which he deserves credit for endorsing during the presidential campaign); the Heritage health care plan (which is just a way-stop between W's health reform act and the eventual universal law); passage and expansion of free trade rules; and the continuation of the WoT to defeat ISIS. He essentially served the third and fourth terms of W.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 AM


Voormi's Plan to Revolutionize Our Outerwear and the Mountain-Town Economy (Axie Navas, Oct 15, 2015, Outside)

Since the 1970s, companies had been making shells the same way: by sandwiching a waterproof membrane between two pieces of fabric. Confined by overseas supply chains and textiles sourced largely from two companies--eVent and Gore-Tex--innovation was incremental at best.

So in 2010, English established Voormi, named for a fictional, yeti-like mountain-dwelling beast, in a rusty, flood-prone building in Pagosa Springs, Colorado. Setting up shop in, say, Boulder, which is home to dozens of outdoor companies, would have made life easier. But the team he assembled--his son, Dustin, a guide on Denali; Doug Lumb, who spent 43 years at Polartec developing fabrics used by Nike, Salomon, and the U.S. military; and Timm Smith, a former chemical engineer at Gore-Tex--worried that moving to a gear hub would only breed more cookie-cutter apparel. Pagosa Springs, a town of 1,700 surrounded by nearly three million acres of national forest and wilderness, seemed like the perfect undiscovered mountain playground. 

"Working in Pagosa allows us to focus on things that are needed rather than things that are trending," Smith says. 

What was needed, they decided, wasn't another new material but an entirely new approach to making it. "If you lay out all the garments in the industry, they're all made in one or two factories, and they all perform the same way," says Dustin English, who serves as Voormi's director of product integrity. "We wanted to make something unique from natural fibers using resources in the area we're playing in."

Instead of gluing pieces of fabric to a membrane, Voormi developed a way to knit a textile--in this case, wool--through it. The new method, patented under the name Core Construction, creates a single-layer jacket that's mostly weatherproof but wears like a fleece. The technology will debut in two shells this October--the men's Fall Line and women's High-E--which will be sold along with Voormi's other products in 40 retailers and at Voormi.com. In Outside's tests, Core Construction was adept at deflecting snow and wind, was warm enough to wear all day on a ski hill, and fit and felt like a sweatshirt. It didn't hold up in sleet, but according to Smith, it isn't meant to. "There are a lot of 100 percent seam-taped hard shells out there," he says. "I'm not sure the world needs another one."

The breakthrough fabric isn't the only way that Voormi is trying to change the way apparel companies work. Instead of outsourcing production, it built factories in small towns in Colorado. The wool comes from merino sheep raised in the Rocky Mountains, gets turned into yarn in North and South Carolina, and is stitched into apparel in Pagosa Springs and Rifle, Colorado. Think of it as the craft-beer approach to manufacturing, more Oskar Blues than Coors. 

Merino wool is remarkable not only because of the range of temperatures in which it remains comfortable and its water-shedding qualities but because it doesn't retain body odors the way most synthetic work out clothes eventually do.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


U.S. States, Cities, Businesses Pledge To Honor Paris Climate Accord (Radio Liberty, June 03, 2017)

"Americans don't need Washington to meet our Paris commitments, and Americans are not going to let Washington stand in the way of fulfilling it," Bloomberg said following a meeting in Paris with French President Emmanuel Macron on June 2.

Bloomberg, who is the United Nations secretary-general's special envoy for cities and climate change, said the United States had led the world on emission reductions over the past decade.

But most of the work was done by citizens, businesses, and cities, he said, not the federal government, aided by market forces that have made solar energy, wind energy, and natural gas cheaper to use in generating power than coal.

It's almost like acknowledging that capitalism matters more than transnationalism.

Tillerson faces task of defending Trump's decision to allies (JOSH LEDERMAN AND MATTHEW LEE June 3, 2017, Times of Israel)

Trump's climate reversal is the latest challenge he has presented to Tillerson, a newcomer himself to the world of diplomacy who is still working to establish his credibility as an advocate of American foreign policy. Not only did Trump appear to overrule Tillerson's advice concerning the Paris agreement, but the decision fanned fears of the US abdicating its global leadership role and shunning international consensus on the world's most pressing issues.

Tillerson wasn't the only Cabinet member to skip the Rose Garden ceremony where Trump announced his decision, but his absence was perhaps the most glaring. He met Trump only hours earlier in the White House. Tillerson's aides maintained that he decided to follow his own schedule, which had him in his seventh-floor office on Thursday afternoon as Trump was speaking.

Aides could not say if Tillerson watched the president on television. But he will be almost surely be required to recite the rationale for Trump's pullout from the agreement cutting carbon emissions, given that his agency led the Paris deal negotiations and will now have to manage the international fallout.

"I don't think we're going to change our ongoing efforts to reduce those emissions in the future," Tillerson said Friday, playing down the president's decision. "So hopefully people can keep it in perspective."

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Bogota's bibliophile trash collector who rescues books (Smriti Daniel, 6/03/17, Al Jazeera)

Finding Anna Karenina in the rubbish would change Jose Alberto Gutierrez's life.

It was 20 years ago, but Jose still remembers first glimpsing the Russian classic by Leo Tolstoy in the rubbish outside a home in Bogota's Bolivia neighbourhood. The rubbish collector loaded his truck with the rest of the waste, but took the book home. It was the start of a wonderful obsession.

Today, the 55-year-old lives on a steeply sloping road in the La Nueva Gloria barrio, in the southern reaches of Colombia's sprawling capital.

The outside of his modest two-storey house blends in with its neighbours, but inside, it couldn't be more different. This is the home of La Fuerza de las Palabras, Spanish for "The Strength of Words", a community library.

"In August, it will be 17 years since we created this library," Jose says.

Jose's family used to rent out the downstairs to tenants. They still live on the first floor, but books have invaded all three rooms on the ground floor. There, you cannot see the tiles, except for a narrow pathway that winds through the rooms. It is bordered with stacks of books which brush the ceiling - the last time Jose counted, there were some 25,000 - and it feels like every day more books find him. The library has begun to send tendrils into the upstairs family space as well. An entire wall and some new shelves in their dining area are covered in novels.

June 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 PM


Harvard Law Journal Concludes Unborn Babies Have Constitutional Rights (CORTNEY O'BRIEN, JUN 2, 2017, Life News)

The Fourteenth Amendment, which was adopted in 1868, declares that no state shall "deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws." A debate that has been raging in courtrooms for years is whether the "life" part includes unborn persons.

Harvard Law student Joshua Craddock did some constitutional soul searching to answer that question in a new report for the Harvard Law Journal, concluding that unborn babies do fall under the Fourteenth Amendment's protections.

One might look to dictionaries of legal and common usage, the context of the English common law tradition, and cases that attempted to construe the meaning of the text in a manner consistent with original meaning. Using this methodology, it is reasonable to construe the Fourteenth Amendment to include prenatal life. The structure of the argument is simple: The Fourteenth Amendment's use of the word "person" guarantees due process and equal protection to all members of the human species. The preborn are members of the human species from the moment of fertilization. Therefore, the Fourteenth Amendment protects the preborn. If one concedes the minor premise (that preborn humans are members of the human species), all that must be demonstrated is that the term "person," in its original public meaning at the time of the Fourteenth Amendment's adoption, applied to all members of the human species.

In addition to using language to prove his point, Craddock puts his conclusions in context, noting that at the time the Fourteenth Amendment was written, several states called the unborn person a "child" in their anti-abortion laws. Moreover, The Stream notes, in 1859, the American Medical Association mandated that the government must protect the "independent and actual existence of the child before birth."

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM


India, Once a Coal Goliath, Is Fast Turning Green (GEETA ANAND, JUNE 2, 2017, NY Times)

Just a few years ago, the world watched nervously as India went on a building spree of coal-fired power plants, more than doubling its capacity and claiming that more were needed. Coal output, officials said, would almost triple, to 1.5 billion tons, by 2020.

India's plans were cited by American critics of the Paris climate accord as proof of the futility of advanced nations trying to limit their carbon output. But now, even as President Trump pulls the United States out of the pact, India has undergone an astonishing turnaround, driven in great part by a steep fall in the cost of solar power.

Experts now say that India not only has no need of any new coal-fired plants for at least a decade, given that existing plants are running below 60 percent of capacity, but that after that it could rely on renewable sources for all its additional power needs.

Rather than building coal-fired plants, it is now canceling many in the early planning stages. And this month, the government lowered its annual production target for coal to 600 million tons from 660 million.

The entire coal industry employs fewer people than Arby's (Christopher Ingraham March 31, 2017, Washington Post)

Another largely overlooked point about coal jobs is that there just aren't that many of them relative to other industries. There are various estimates of coal-sector employment, but according to the Census Bureau's County Business Patterns program, which allows for detailed comparisons with many other industries, the coal industry employed 76,572 people in 2014, the latest year for which data is available.

That number includes not just miners but also office workers, sales staff and all of the other individuals who work at coal-mining companies.

Although 76,000 might seem like a large number, consider that similar numbers of people are employed by, say, the bowling (69,088) and skiing (75,036) industries. Other dwindling industries, such as travel agencies (99,888 people), employ considerably more. Used-car dealerships provide 138,000 jobs. Theme parks provide nearly 144,000. Carwash employment tops 150,000.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 PM


The Spiritual Shape of Political Ideas : How it is that we once again find ourselves rooting out sin, shunning heretics, and heralding the end times (JOSEPH BOTTUM, 12/01/14, Weekly Standard)

Every day she must search her conscience. Every day she must confront her flaws--discern the dark that dwells within her, seek the grace to turn toward the light. Oh, she is a moral person, she believes: good willed and determined to do good deeds, instructing us all about the heart's deep iniquity. But even she, Kim Radersma, a former schoolteacher now preaching our bondage to sin--even she still feels the fault inside her. Even she must struggle to be saved. And if someone like Kim Radersma has to fight the legacy of inner evil, think of all that you must do. Think how far you are from grace, when you do not even yet know that you are lost and blind.

In another age, Radersma might have been a revivalist out on the sawdust circuit, playing the old forthright hymns on a wheezy harmonium as the tent begins to fill. In a different time, she might have been a temperance lecturer, inveighing in her passion-raw voice against the evils of the Demon Rum. In days gone by, she might have been a missionary to heathen China, or an author of Bible Society tracts, or the Scripture-quoting scourge of civic indifference--railing to the city-council members that they are like the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:16, neither hot nor cold, and God will spew them from his mouth.

But all such old American Christian might-have-beens are unreal in the present world, for someone like Kim Radersma. Mockable, for that matter, and many of her fellow activists today identify Christianity with the history of all that they oppose. She wouldn't know a theological doctrine or a biblical quotation if she ran into it headlong. And so Radersma now fights racism: the deep racism that lurks unnoticed in our thoughts and in our words and in our hearts.

The better to gird herself for the struggle, she gave up teaching high-school students to attend the Ph.D. program in Critical Whiteness Studies at Ontario's Brock University. But even such total immersion is not enough to wash away the stain of inherited sin. "I have to every day wake up and acknowledge that I am so deeply embedded with racist thoughts and notions and actions in my body," she testified to a teachers' conference on white privilege this spring. "I have to choose every day to do antiracist work and think in an antiracist way."

Radersma is hardly alone in feeling this way (except perhaps for the peculiar bit about racist actions in her body). Discussions of the kind of racial privilege that she hates have been much in the news. A Princeton undergraduate named Tal Fortgang, for example, received considerable notice for a student newspaper column in which he recounted the Holocaust suffering and hard work of his family, all to explain why he rejected Ivy League demands that he identify himself as racially and economically privileged. Television host Bill O'Reilly mocked a "Checking Your Privilege" orientation program at Harvard, claiming to be exempt from white privilege himself because he had to find jobs while he was young. And the response from any number of commentators was that Fortgang and O'Reilly just didn't get it. Just didn't grasp the insidious way the shared guilt of racism appears in the form of white privilege. Just didn't see their own sinfulness.

So profound is the sin, in fact, that not even its proponents escape. The more they are aware of white privilege, the more they see it everywhere, even in themselves. "There is not space here to list all the ways in which white privilege plays out, but it is clear that I will carry this privilege with me until the day white supremacy is erased," admitted University of Texas professor Robert Jensen in an essay assigned to Wisconsin high-school students in 2013. At the Daily Beast website, columnist Sally Kohn added that "racial bias is baked" into American history. "It's just something we all learn to do." She did note the nearly universal condemnation that met explicitly racist comments from the likes of Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy and California billionaire Donald Sterling this year. But all that, she insisted, actually distracts from awareness of the real racism that dwells in every white American heart.

Some of this, of course, derives from the perception of actual economic and social effects still lingering in the long aftermath of racial slavery and segregation. But taken just as a concept, considered purely in its moral shape, white privilege is something we've seen before--for the idea is structurally identical to the Christian idea of original sin. Indeed, the relation involves more than just a logical parallel, the natural contours of any idea about shared guilt and inherited fault. Historically and genealogically (as Nietzsche taught us to phrase such things), there is a clear path that leads from original sin, in which the most advanced Americans once commonly believed, to the idea of white privilege that they now assume.

The problem is that they choose to feel guilty only about things that they/we can neither be blamed for nor change, instead of for their/our actual sins. It's fun to wallow in chattel slavery.  After all, the fact that we ended it generations ago means we don't have to actually do anything about it know.  By both dwelling on it and, obviously, not engaging in it, we get a cheap feeling of superiority.  On the other hand, Ms Radersma and her cohort could be a positive force against ongoing racism if they were active against abortion, which has killed more American blacks than were imported to America as slaves.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM



THE ROBOT IS building a tesseract. He motions at a glowing cube floating before him, and an identical cube emerges. He drags it to the left, but the two cubes stay connected, strung together by glowing lines radiating from their corners. The robot lowers its hands, and the cubes coalesce into a single shape--with 24 square faces, 16 vertices, and eight connected cubes existing in four dimensions. A tesseract.

This isn't a video game. It's a classroom. And the robot is Brian Greene, a physicist at Columbia University and bestselling author of several popular science books. His robot avatar teaches a semicircle of student robots, each wearing a shoulder badge of their home country's flag. The classroom is outer space: Greene and the arc of student-robots orbit Earth. After he shows the students the tesseract, Greene directs his class to try making four, five, even six dimension objects. This is a virtual reality course on string theory; the lesson happens to be about objects with more than three dimensions.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Trump's So-Called Withdrawal from Paris: Far From Over (Harold Hongju Koh, Dena Adler, Joanna Dafoe, Peter Posada, Conor Dwyer Reynolds and Eugene Rusyn, June 2, 2017, jUSTlAW)

On Thursday, President Trump announced his intent that the United States "withdraw" from the Paris Agreement, the landmark climate change treaty that establishes national greenhouse gas emission reduction targets. If the United States were actually to exit the Agreement, it would not only jeopardize humanity's best chance at preventing global climate disaster, but also disadvantage the United States' status in the international economic order. Thankfully, President Trump's rhetoric launched little meaningful legal action--for the simple reason that we're still a part of the Paris Agreement until after the next presidential election.

International law makes clear that U.S. presidents cannot simply delete signatures like the one on the Paris Agreement. The U.S. entered into the Paris Agreement under the full force of the law, and the global community can only recognize withdrawal under the terms specified in the agreement text. Article 28.1 of the Paris Agreement states a party cannot give notice of withdrawal to the U.N. Secretary General until "three years from the date on which this Agreement has entered into force." Since the Paris Agreement entered force on November 4, 2016--mere days before Trump's election--the earliest date that the U.S. could even give such legal notice would be November 4, 2019. That notification would then take a year to enter into effect, meaning that Trump cannot legally withdraw the U.S. from the Agreement until November 4, 2020, the day after the next U.S. presidential election.

In the meantime, it is not clear what legal meaning Trump's withdrawal announcement really has. [...]

Businesses have also seized the important opportunity to address climate change and support the Paris Agreement. The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, pioneered by Bill Gates, will invest $1 billion in companies that provide affordable clean energy. Through the We Mean Business Coalition, 471 companies with over $8 trillion in market capitalization have undertaken more than 1000 climate action commitments. For this same reason, hundreds of major companies and investors, including DuPont, eBay, Nike, Unilever, Levi Strauss & Co., Hilton, Adobe, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Hewlett Packard have publicly urged President Trump to remain in the Paris Agreement. Even oil and gas companies--including Shell and Exxon Mobil--have endorsed remaining in the agreement. President Trump claims his job is to give America "a level playing field" and that the Paris Agreement would provide other countries with "an economic edge" over the United States, but business leaders have agreed that future economic prosperity is best advanced by remaining in the Paris Agreement.

These actions are real while Trump's Rose Garden speech yesterday has as much legal force as one of his tweets. 

The agreement will be obsolete by then.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


Former Diplomats: Trump Team Sought to Lift Sanctions on Russia (KEN DILANIAN, 6/01/17, NBC News)

The Trump administration was gearing up to lift sanctions on Russia when the president took office, but career diplomats ginned up pressure in Congress to block the move, two senior former State Department officials told NBC News Thursday.

It's the latest evidence that President Trump moved to turn his favorable campaign rhetoric about Russia into concrete action when he took power.

Daniel Fried, who served as a senior diplomat until he retired in late February, said he became aware of the sanctions effort in the early weeks of Trump's presidency. [...]

So Fried and another former diplomat, Tom Malinowski, who was assistant secretary of state for human rights, began lobbying Congress to pass legislation codifying the sanctions, Malinowski told NBC News. A bill has been introduced in the Senate, but it has not passed.

The Trump team backed off, Malinowski said he believes, because officials came to see that lifting the sanctions would look terrible light of the drumbeat of revelations over potential Trump campaign coordination with the Russian election interference effort.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM

June 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 PM


Donald Trump's Ancien Régime (Yair Mintzker, JUN 1, 2017, Project Syndicate)

History doesn't repeat itself, but, as Mark Twain allegedly said, "it does rhyme." Trump, too, rhymes with the past. But his presidency is not a replay of twentieth-century fascism, as Yale historian Timothy Snyder and others have argued. Rather, the TV-obsessed US president is recreating something much older, and more in keeping with a Disney fantasy: his own princely court.

This explains why Trump is preoccupied with appearances and regal roleplaying, and why his administration has reprised classic courtly archetypes, down to the court fool. He has a beautiful princess daughter who can do no wrong, and emasculated grown sons who linger in their father's shadow. His foreign-born wife has a thick accent, and lives in a separate residence. Like a modern-day Marie Antoinette, she is often accused of profligacy and frivolity.

Beyond the family, Trump has a courtly entourage, complete with the evil adviser, Steve Bannon; the favored duke, Jared Kushner; a host of bankers; and, lest we forget, Sean Spicer, the jester. The only figure still missing from this cast of characters is the Rasputin-like mystic, whispering arcane advice in the king's ear. America should be on the lookout for his or her arrival.

The fact that Trump's presidency seems to have escaped from the set of a seventeenth- or eighteenth-century period drama is no accident. Europe's Baroque court culture was built around immensely entitled men who knew very little about the workings of government.

This generated considerably insecurity, which manifested in striking ways. Their palaces were not just magnificent architectural structures, but also venues for maintaining social control. According to a contemporary description of Louis XIV, which could easily be applied to Trump, "[t]here was nothing he liked so much as flattery or, to put it more plainly, adulation; the coarser and clumsier it was, the more he relished it."

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM


Behind Tiger Woods's arrest and pain meds lies a problematic surgery (IKE SWETLITZ, JUNE 1, 2017, STAT)

[W]hat's been less discussed is the role of the back surgery Woods recently underwent, called spinal fusion. Woods had the surgery in April "to alleviate ongoing pain in his back and leg," according to his website. (This was his fourth back surgery.)

According to the police report, one prescription Woods has is the opioid pain reliever Vicodin, possibly related to the back surgery -- though Woods's agent would not say if that was the reason, according to the Washington Post.

But the incident points to a bigger problem with such surgeries: Spinal fusions are rising in prevalence even though they often don't work, leave patients in pain, and can drive patients to long-term dependence on pain relievers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Hot water and antimicrobial soaps don't get your hands any cleaner : You're probably washing your hands wrong. (Kendra Pierre-Louis, 6/01/17, Popular Science)

[H]istorical surveys have found that most people are told to wash their hands in the warmest water they can tolerate. In general, people associate warmer water temperatures with cleaner hands. The study, however, didn't find this to be true. Water temperature had no effect. That's probably because the temperatures that we know kill bacteria (think boiling) are also likely to burn our flesh (ouch).

This isn't the first study to find that temperatures don't affect hand cleanliness. A 2002 study in the journal Food Service Technology garnered a similar result.

The authors also found that anti-bacterial soaps didn't really work either. Hands washed with regular soap were about as clean as those scrubbed down with the antimicrobial stuff, a finding that isn't novel. In fact, last year the FDA banned 19 additives that are put into soap to make them antimicrobial. In explaining the ban, which takes effect this fall, Janet Woodcock--director of the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research (CDER)--stated that, "Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term." [...]

Each of the 20 subjects were actually tested four times--each using a different duration of soap lathering (5, 10, 20, and 40 seconds). "That was just the time people were lathering with the soap--it doesn't include rinse time--and we saw a statistically significant difference between 5 seconds and 20 seconds," says study author Donald Schaffner, a food risk analysis researcher at Rutgers University. "We did not see a difference between 10 and 20 seconds and 20 and 40 seconds.

In other words, five seconds of lathering up the soap isn't long enough to get your hands clean. Ten seconds is the magic number.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends hand washing for about 20 seconds, roughly as long as it takes to sing the lyrics to "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star". But since that time is supposed to include both lathering and rinsing, it easily gets us into the range that Schaffner found in his study.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Trump's embassy waiver is another key policy disagreement with Israel (RAPHAEL AHREN June 1, 2017, Times of Israel)

In 1972, then-congressman Gerald Ford called for moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Two years later, Ford -- now president -- was asked by Israel's ambassador in Washington at the time, Yitzhak Rabin, about the embassy's relocation.

"In the Oval Office you view things differently than from the House of Representatives," Rabin quoted Ford as replying.

Twenty years after this episode Congress passed a law stipulating the embassy be moved to Jerusalem, but allowing presidents to delay the relocation every six months.

Giving credence to Ford, on Thursday, Donald Trump became the fourth US president to sign a presidential waiver ordering the delay, just as his predecessors have done 36 times since the late 1990s.

Disappointing Jewish and Evangelical supporters in Israel and the US, but not really surprising anyone, Trump set his signature underneath the exact same "presidential determination" that Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama made before him.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM



Lawrence Ellsworth's dueling days are mostly over. For one thing, his knees are a little balky. For another, his knuckles have begun to swell with arthritis. But he still carries himself with a certain confidence--savoir-faire, you could call it, or the amiable swagger of a man who is well acquainted with rapier and dagger, a man who has dedicated the better part of his life to the lore and lure of those weapons.  The hair helps, too. And the goatee. Ellsworth is now in his early sixties. His hair has gone white but he still enjoys the lustrous cascade of a buccaneer nearly half his age.

Professionally, Ellsworth defies easy description. He is an author and a dramaturge, a translator, an historian and the "Lead Loremaster" of a world known as Nirn, which includes the continent of Tamriel and also various slipstream dimensions.

The first time we met was in a subterranean lair--not quite a gymnasium, not quite a dungeon--in Central Harlem. That's where, on Friday evenings, the longsword enthusiasts of New York City meet to do battle. There were blades everywhere--mounted on the brick walls, resting on ledges, gripped by the hands of men and women ready to draw and engage. Ellsworth was there as the club's honored guest. Amidst the clanging steel and grunting parries, he seemed very much at ease.

"With fencing, so much of it is about deceit," he told me. "You want to get the other man into a routine, a way of thinking, then show him that he's wrong. There's a narrative arc." Nearby, a large man dressed in black went for a wicked blow to his opponent's midsection. Ellsworth watched the action thoughtfully. "With the longsword there's an added component--you're also trying hard not to get killed."

Swordplay is Ellsworth's genre of choice, his life's enduring passion. (Ellsworth is the name he's chosen for his literary career; his surname is Schick.) In 2014, he served as editor of The Big Book of Swashbuckling Adventure, a centuries-spanning gallery of cutthroats and knights errant. Earlier this year, the publisher Pegasus released his translation of Alexandre Dumas's lost Musketeer novel, The Red Sphinx. There are now plans to refresh the entire series. To all his work, Ellsworth brings an evangelizing zeal. "Who wouldn't want to face deadly danger with confidence and élan?" he asks in the Big Book's introduction. "Who can deny the thrill of clashing blades, hairbreadth escapes, and daring rescues?"

Not I. Certainly not Ellsworth. Together we perched on a pair of hand-carved stools and watched as a young man with a samurai-style beard led the others through a series of sword-thrusting drills.

"The appeal of all this," Ellsworth said, taking in the room with a sigh. "It's eternal. The clothes change from one generation to another but not the impulse or the thrill."

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM

LET THE TIGER OUT OF THE CAGE! (self-reference alert):

LSU Students Accuse 'Violent' Tiger Mascot of Being 'Symbol of White Oppression' (Lukas Mikelionis, June 1, 2017, Heat Street)

Students at Louisiana State University have started an online petition urging the establishment to change its "Tigers" mascot, claiming it's the symbol of "white oppression".

Which reminds us of a story which is also apropos Frank Deford's death.

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 AM


Trump weighing return of Russian compounds seized over election meddling: report (MAX GREENWOOD,  05/31/17, The Hill)

A former adviser to Obama told The Post that they had "no intention" of ever giving the compounds back to Russia. 

Russia reportedly did not retaliate due in part to former National Security adviser Michael Flynn, who indicated in a phone call to Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak that things would change under Trump.

Is it still corruption if you take the bribes in public?

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


Lebanon Chief Says Police Won't Try to Enforce Immigration Laws (Tim Camerato, 5/31/17, Valley News)

Police Chief Richard Mello promised Lebanon residents on Tuesday that city officers will not be used to round up undocumented immigrants who haven't committed a violent crime.

The police department also will continue to refrain from asking drivers about their immigration status during traffic stops, he told a crowd of more than 50 people attending a community forum at the Seminary Hill School.

"We're not immigration officials, nor do we want to be, nor should we be," Mello said. "I have enough issues on the local level within the community to spend my time on. I don't need to spend it chasing after people who may be undocumented."

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


New England's Last Big Coal Plant Shuts Down (Matt O'Brien And Jennifer Mcdermott, 5/31/17, Associated Press)

New England's largest -- and one of its last -- coal-fired power plants was shutting down permanently on Wednesday.

The Brayton Point Power Station was scheduled to power down before a midnight Thursday deadline, culminating a decades-long shift from coal, oil and nuclear energy to lower-cost natural gas.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


1980 Doctor's Letter Helped Fuel Opioid Epidemic (Marilynn Marchione, 6/01/17, AP)

Nearly 40 years ago, a respected doctor wrote a letter to the New England Journal of Medicine with some very good news: Out of nearly 40,000 patients given powerful pain drugs in a Boston hospital, only four addictions were documented.

Doctors had been wary of opioids, fearing patients would get hooked. Reassured by the letter, which called this "rare" in those with no history of addiction, they pulled out their prescription pads and spread the good news in their own published reports.

And that is how a one-paragraph letter with no supporting information helped seed a nationwide epidemic of misuse of drugs like Vicodin and OxyContin by convincing doctors that opioids were safer than we now know them to be.

On Wednesday, the journal published an editor's note about the 1980 letter and an analysis from Canadian researchers of how often it has been cited -- more than 600 times, often inaccurately.

Most used it as evidence that addiction was rare, and most did not say it only concerned hospitalized patients, not outpatient or chronic pain situations such as bad backs and severe arthritis that opioids came to be used for.

"This pain population with no abuse history is literally at no risk for addiction," one citation said. "There have been studies suggesting that addiction rarely evolves in the setting of painful conditions," said another.

"It's difficult to overstate the role of this letter," said Dr. David Juurlink of the University of Toronto, who led the analysis. "It was the key bit of literature that helped the opiate manufacturers convince front-line doctors that addiction is not a concern."

One of the great flaws of the American health care system is that doctors have an incentive to give you anything you ask for, like pain medications you don't need. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


Mets apologize after mascot's middle finger, say person won't wear costume again (ESPN.com, 6/01/17)

Video on social media showed Mr. Met walking down a tunnel at the ballpark, turning around and giving the middle finger to the fans. It was unclear what, if anything, the fans said to the mascot before he made the gesture. [...]

A Mets official told The Associated Press more than one person wears the Mr. Met costume during each season, and the person who wore it Wednesday night will not work in the costume again.

Mr. Met, known for an oversize head with baseball seams, is among the sport's most recognized mascots. Technically, he has only four digits on his hand -- three fingers and a thumb.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


Teaching a stone to fly (FRANK BURES,  May 24, 2017 , Minnesota Monthly)

Late one afternoon last summer, our family arrived at a campsite on the western shore of Lake Michigan. We had been driving all day, across Wisconsin on our way further east. The four of us--my wife and two daughters, ages 7 and 10--set up our tent, made dinner, then went down to the water. Two-foot waves were rolling across the lake, a taste of what lay ahead: We were going to the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping Competition--the oldest, most prestigious rock-skipping tournament in the United States, if not the world. Every Fourth of July, elite skippers (many former and current world-record holders) take turns throwing their stones into the waters where lakes Huron and Michigan meet, also known for having rolling, two-foot waves crashing on the beach.

I looked down, saw a decent skipping stone, and picked it up. My daughters were watching. The older one spoke up.

"Are you prepared for the fact that you probably won't win?" she asked.

I threw the stone.

"Four," she said. "But it caught a wave."

My shoulders sagged.

"Don't doubt yourself, Daddy!"

Her younger sister looked at her. "But you doubted him," she said.

"That's different."

Posted by orrinj at 4:57 AM


Kendrick Lamar and Chance the Rapper are right about God (Christian Schneider, May 30, 2017, USA Today)

While Chicago's Chance -- an electric rubber band of optimism -- uses his album Coloring Book to describe the suffering around him, he also praises God as the source of all of his blessings. Chance has been praised as a pioneer of "gospel rap," which explains why seeing him perform his exhortations about God's love in person is such a joyous experience.

Contrast that with Kendrick Lamar, whose recent album DAMN. portrays a God that imposes dire consequences for not following His teachings. Lamar's God is like the IRS -- He's always watching, and punishment might be heading your way when He decides you need an audit.

"Our God is a loving God," Lamar told DJBooth in an email. "Yes. He's a merciful God. Yes. But he's even more so a God of DISCIPLE. OBEDIENCE. A JEALOUS God."

"And for every conscious choice of sin, will be corrected through his discipline," Lamar continues. "Whether physical or mental. Direct or indirect. Through your sufferings, or someone that's close to [sic] ken. It will be corrected."

Not exactly a slogan one will find on a coffee mug at Target. But as Miguelito notes, Chance and Kendrick are "two sides of one coin, illustrating two separate but necessary ways for the religious believer to move through the world."

While that may be true, Lamar's conception of God is by far the more useful.  [...]

[W]hat is the point in devoting your life to serving God if you just think His beliefs merely happen to track along with yours? Do you support the death penalty? Well, then God probably does, too. Think the Lord is cool with you abandoning your children? He probably wouldn't want you to feel bad about it! Do you secretly believe La La Land was better than Moonlight? Then so does God! (Just kidding -- even a super chill God couldn't stand being lectured about jazz by Ryan Gosling.)

The main benefit of religious belief is to compel people to serve themselves and others. Worshiping a higher power is supposed to make you do things you normally wouldn't do. Without some sort of need to follow God's orders, you turn into one of those insufferable "spiritual but not religious" hippies that hopefully God is saving for lightning bolt practice.

The idea of a harsh, demanding God has a long tradition in American gospel music, particularly among the African-American Pentecostals of the early twentieth century -- many of whom survived slavery.

"Yes, He killed the rich and poor / And He's going to kill more / If you don't turn away from your shame," sings Elder David R. Curry and his congregation in the 1930 song Memphis Flu. God's vengeance is always lurking in songs like Reverend Sister Mary Nelson's Judgment, which counsels, "Well, all you hypocrite members / You wasting your time away / My God's calling for workmens / And you had better obey." As Matt Labash once wrote about Pentecostal hymns, "Holiness types didn't play around."