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.