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.