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.