June 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


The Outcast: Tales from the Worst Fisherman in the World : In a family full of fishermen, one hapless angler could hook just about anything except a fish. But that didn't keep him from a lifetime of trying to land the big one (RICK BRAGG, June/July 2017, Garden & Gun)

I should have given up, I suppose, after the goat.

He was not a regular goat. He was more part goat, part rhinoceros, about the size of a small horse, but with devil horns. He looked out on the world through spooky yellow eyes, and smelled like...well, I do not have the words to say. My little brother, Mark, bought him at the sprawling trade day in Collinsville, Alabama, for seventy-five dollars; I would have given him a hundred not to. The first thing the creature did, after coming into our possession, was butt the side of a truck. You have to be one terror of a goat to assault a Ford. His name, my little brother said, was Ramrod.

"Why would you buy such a thing?" I asked my brother. He told me he planned to purchase a bunch of nanny goats to "get with" Ramrod, after whatever courtship it was that goats required. Ramrod would beget little Ramrods, who would beget more, till the whole world was covered in ill-tempered mutant goats. I think, sometimes, we did not love that boy enough. 

Ramrod moved into his new home in a beautiful mountain pasture in northeastern Alabama, and, first thing, butted heads with my mother's ill-tempered donkey, Buckaroo. Buck staggered a few steps, and his head wobbled drunkenly from side to side, but he did not fall unconscious. This, in Buck's mind, constituted a victory, and he trotted off, snorting and blowing, like he was somebody.

My point is, Ramrod was a goat not to be messed with.

Later that year, I was fishing with my brothers in the stock pond in that same pasture. The water was mostly clear, and you could see the bream in the shallows and the dark shapes of bass in the deeper end. For a change, even I was catching fish and pulled in a few nice little bass. My cast, to me, was immaculate, my aim perfect, my mechanics sound, especially for the clunky crankbait I was throwing.

"But I'm not gettin' much distance," I complained to my big brother, Sam.

"It's fine," he said, and with an easy flick of his wrist sent a black rubber worm sailing beyond my best cast of the day.

I decided to put a little more mustard on it. I let my lure dangle about a foot and a half from the tip of the rod, reared back, torqued, and started forward with a powerful heave...and hooked Ramrod, who had crept up behind me to do me some kind of grievous harm, right between his horns.

Ramrod, who for perhaps the first time in his long life seemed unsure of what to do, took off running. My drag, which was not set for a goat of any size, sang.

Sam, who has never been too surprised by anything in his whole laconic, irritating life, gazed at the retreating goat as if this were a thing he witnessed every single day.

"Can't remember if that was a ten-pound test I put on that baitcaster," he said, as if it made a difference.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


Initial Comments on James Comey's Written Testimony (Benjamin Wittes, June 7, 2017, lAWFARE)

James Comey's seven-page written statement, released by the Senate Intelligence Committee this afternoon in connection with Comey's impending testimony tomorrow, draws no conclusions, makes no allegations, and indeed, expresses no opinions. It recounts, in spare and simple prose, a set of facts to which Comey is prepared to testify under oath tomorrow. Despite this sparseness, or maybe I should say because of it, it is the most shocking single document compiled about the official conduct of the public duties of any President since the release of the Watergate tapes.

Let me begin by walking through the document and annotating it a bit with those reasonable inferences that Comey leaves implicit but which a member of Congress, or a member of the public, should certainly consider. That is, let me start by considering in a narrow-bore way what some of these facts mean. Having done so, I'll zoom out and try to make sense of the big picture as Comey takes the stand tomorrow. Comey proceeds in his statement chronologically. I am going to treat matters more thematically--which will mean bouncing around a bit in the document. The following comments will make more sense if readers first take the time to read the statement in its entirety, something I think it incumbent on citizens and other stakeholders in this society to do. [...]

[I] will make three general observations based on this document alone.

First, Comey is describing here conduct that a society committed to the rule of law simply cannot accept in a president. We have spent a lot of time on this site over seven years now debating the marginal exertions of presidential power and their capacity for abuse. Should the president have the authority to detain people at Guantanamo? Incinerate suspected terrorists with flying robots? Use robust intelligence authorities directed at overseas non-citizens? These questions are all important, but this document is about a far more important question to the preservation of liberty in a society based on legal norms and rules: the abuse of the core functions of the presidency. It's about whether we can trust the President--not the President in the abstract, but the particular embodiment of the presidency in the person of Donald J. Trump--to supervise the law enforcement apparatus of the United States in fashion consistent with his oath of office. I challenge anyone to read this document and come away with a confidently affirmative answer to that question.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM


How California Helps the U.S. Economy (Mike McPhate, JUNE 5, 2017, NY Times)

Over the last five years, California has outperformed the nation in just about every important economic metric. Yes, the state is big, accounting for about 12 percent of the nation's population. But its share of economic growth has been even bigger.

California accounted for 17 percent of job growth in the United States from 2012 to 2016, and a quarter of the growth in gross domestic product.

"What these numbers say is that California is crucial to U.S. growth, far beyond what we could expect from our population alone," said Stephen Levy, director and senior economist of the Center for Continuing Study of the California Economy in Palo Alto.

California was hit hard by the housing bust and recession, so it makes sense that the state would have a stronger rebound. But it also shows how the recovery has been guided by what Mr. Levy calls "the three Ts," which are technology, trade and tourism.

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM


Move Over Gal Gadot! Israelis Give UN Ambassador Nikki Haley A Hero's Reception (Nathan Guttman, June 7, 2017, The Forward)

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM

60-40 NATION:

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


James Comey's Opening Statement on Trump, Annotated : The former FBI director is testifying Thursday before the Senate Intelligence Committee on his interactions and conversations with the president. (ELAINE GODFREY, 6/07/17, The Atlantic)

January 27 Dinner

The President and I had dinner on Friday, January 27 at 6:30 pm in the Green Room at the White House. He had called me at lunchtime that day and 3 invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time, with the whole family coming the next time. It was unclear from the conversation who else would be at the dinner, although I assumed there would be others.

It turned out to be just the two of us, seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.

The President began by asking me whether I wanted to stay on as FBI Director, which I found strange because he had already told me twice in earlier conversations that he hoped I would stay, and I had assured him that I intended to. He said that lots of people wanted my job and, given the abuse I had taken during the previous year, he would understand if I wanted to walk away.

My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship. That concerned me greatly, given the FBI's traditionally independent status in the executive branch.

I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my tenyear term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not "reliable" in the way politicians use that word, but he could always count on me to tell him the truth. I added that I was not on anybody's side politically and could not be counted on in the traditional political sense, a stance I said was in his best interest as the President.

A few moments later, the President said, "I need loyalty, I expect loyalty." I didn't move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence. The conversation then moved on, but he returned to the subject near the end of our dinner.

At one point, I explained why it was so important that the FBI and the Department of Justice be independent of the White House. I said it was a paradox: Throughout history, some Presidents have decided that because "problems" come from Justice, they should try to hold the Department close. But blurring those boundaries ultimately makes the problems worse by undermining public trust in the institutions and their work.

Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things 4 about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, "I need loyalty." I replied, "You will always get honesty from me." He paused and then said, "That's what I want, honest loyalty." I paused, and then said, "You will get that from me." As I wrote in the memo I created immediately after the dinner, it is possible we understood the phrase "honest loyalty" differently, but I decided it wouldn't be productive to push it further. The term - honest loyalty - had helped end a very awkward conversation and my explanations had made clear what he should expect.

During the dinner, the President returned to the salacious material I had briefed him about on January 6, and, as he had done previously, expressed his disgust for the allegations and strongly denied them. He said he was considering ordering me to investigate the alleged incident to prove it didn't happen. I replied that he should give that careful thought because it might create a narrative that we were investigating him personally, which we weren't, and because it was very difficult to prove a negative. He said he would think about it and asked me to think about it.

As was my practice for conversations with President Trump, I wrote a detailed memo about the dinner immediately afterwards and shared it with the senior leadership team of the FBI.

February 14 Oval Office Meeting

On February 14, I went to the Oval Office for a scheduled counterterrorism briefing of the President. He sat behind the desk and a group of us sat in a semi-circle of about six chairs facing him on the other side of the desk. The Vice President, Deputy Director of the CIA, Director of the National CounterTerrorism Center, Secretary of Homeland Security, the Attorney General, and I were in the semi-circle of chairs. I was directly facing the President, sitting between the Deputy CIA Director and the Director of NCTC. There were quite a few others in the room, sitting behind us on couches and chairs.

The President signaled the end of the briefing by thanking the group and telling them all that he wanted to speak to me alone. I stayed in my chair. As the participants started to leave the Oval Office, the Attorney General lingered by my chair, but the President thanked him and said he wanted to speak only with me. The last person to leave was Jared Kushner, who also stood by my chair and exchanged pleasantries with me. The President then excused him, saying he wanted to speak with me.

When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, "I want to talk about Mike Flynn." Flynn had resigned 5 the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn't done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.

The President then made a long series of comments about the problem with leaks of classified information - a concern I shared and still share. After he had spoken for a few minutes about leaks, Reince Priebus leaned in through the door by the grandfather clock and I could see a group of people waiting behind him. The President waved at him to close the door, saying he would be done shortly. The door closed.

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, "He is a good guy and has been through a lot." He repeated that Flynn hadn't done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go."

How are we supposed to have any respect for anyone who continues to work for him?
Posted by orrinj at 12:09 PM


The horrors of getting hit by a pitch : They call it "hardball" for a reason. It's hard, and it hurts when it hits you, especially at 90-plus mph. (Tim Kurkjian, 8/03/12, ESPN )

[H]it-by-pitch numbers are confusing. Former Braves infielder Mark Lemke holds the major league record for most plate appearances -- 3,664 -- without getting hit by a pitch. The Mariners' Michael Saunders is the active player with the most plate appearances without a hit batsman; he's just over 1,000. Yet Lemke and Saunders were hit plenty of times in the minor leagues. Former major league outfielder Herm Winningham had 2,069 plate appearances without getting hit and says he never got hit by a pitch in the minor leagues, either. "The last time I got hit," he once said, "was diving back into first base on a pickoff throw." ESPN analyst John Kruk got hit by a pitch twice in 4,603 plate appearances. How can that be? Mickey Mantle was hit 13 times in his career. Tony Gwynn was hit 24 times.

The all-time leader is Hughie Jennings, whose career began in the 1800s. He was hit 287 times, once every 19.3 plate appearances. Craig Biggio was hit 285 times, followed by Tommy Tucker (272), Don Baylor (267), Jason Kendall (254) and Ron Hunt (243). Baylor, big and burly and tough, once was asked which one of the 267 hurt the most, and he grunted and said, "None of them." Kendall, who isn't as big or burly but is as tough as they come and got hit by pitches on purpose all the time, said of his 254, "They all hurt."

F.P. Santangelo, who played for four teams during his seven-year career, laughed and said, "I'm in the hit-by-pitch hall of fame -- most hit-by-pitches in a season by a switch-hitter: 25. I was a .245 hitter. I hit leadoff. I had to get on base any way I could. On-base percentage was my only good statistic. I learned how to lean in and get hit by strikes. Kendall and I had a side bet one year on who could get hit most; we bet a case of beer. I'd see him on the field before a game and I'd say, 'I'm at 17,' and he'd say, 'I'm at 18.' I think I still owe him a case of beer."

Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


Trump administration wants to make internet spying law permanent (Dustin Volz, 6/06/17, Reuters)

The Trump administration supports making permanent a law that allows for the collection of digital communications of foreigners believed to be living overseas and which pass through U.S. phone or internet providers, a senior White House official said.

Don't they know we oppose national security when it catches our side communicating with the Russians? 

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Iraqi Kurds Plan Independence Referendum on Sept. 25 (Reuters, 6/06/17) 

Iraq's Kurdish region plans to hold a referendum on independence on Sept. 25, an official said on Wednesday.

Trying to preserve a tri-partite Iraq was noble, but wrong.
Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


Tocqueville Unplugged (SAMUEL GREGG, 6/06/17, Law & Liberty)

In the midst of all this political maneuvering, there was one segment of opinion with whom Tocqueville refused to have any dealings. Some first-time readers of the Recollections may be surprised, if not shocked, to discover just how much Tocqueville loathed Jacobins, socialists, and the radical left in general. Throughout the Recollections, he refers to them derisively--but, as it turned out, accurately--as "Reds." These groups are portrayed as inimical not only to liberty and order but to civilization itself. Their goal, Tocqueville comments, was "not to change the form of government but to alter the order of society." Another way he expressed this hostility was to say: "Wherever I see liberty, there is no socialism."

Consider Tocqueville's description of one of the most prominent revolutionary socialist leaders: Louis-Auguste Blanqui. He is presented as someone "whose memory has filled me with disgust and horror," not to mention "sickly, nasty, and filthy, with the sallow pallor of a rotting corpse" who "looked as though he had just emerged from a sewer." Here it's worth noting that Blanqui's unswerving commitment to violence in the pursuit of radical goals, which appalled Tocqueville at the level of both means and ends, exerted considerable influence on Vladimir Lenin but also Benito Mussolini.

Tocqueville's visceral reaction to the "Reds" matters because what immediately struck him about the February 1848 Revolution was that it "had not been just primarily but solely and exclusively a popular uprising that had bestowed all power on 'the people' in the strict sense of the term, meaning the classes that work with their hands."

The socialist politicians, says Tocqueville, were the most dangerous because "they more fully reflected the true character of the February Revolution and the passions it unleashed." It was, he adds, fortunate that they were "more men of theory than men of action." One cannot help but recall that figures like Lenin--that rare intellectual who was also a consummate man of action--studied the 1848 revolution in great detail to learn from their predecessors' mistakes.

Nor did Tocqueville believe that radical socialists or other revolutionary elements could be handled with kid gloves. He regarded them as demagogues, their ideas as bordering on criminality, and their motives as rooted in envy and malice. This may help explain why Tocqueville does not hide his enthusiastic support for the Provisional Government's decision to call in the regular army and the National Guard under the command of General Louis-Eugène Cavaignac to engage in what Tocqueville acknowledges was the take-no-prisoners crushing of the June Days uprising.

His readiness to support those willing to act directly, even mercilessly, against those bent on the destruction of life, liberty, and property was one reason why Tocqueville belonged to what was called the Parti de l'Ordre. This grouping of moderate monarchists and conservative republicans had no truck with Bonapartism or absolutism. But it was even more opposed to the radical Left's naked thuggery. The repression of the June Days insurrectionists by what he calls "our forces" was "awful" but also "necessary."

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM


James Comey reportedly asked Jeff Sessions not to leave him alone with Trump (The Week, June 6, 2017)

In February, Comey pulled Sessions aside and told him that he felt several of his private interactions with Trump had been inappropriate, and he wanted Sessions to protect the FBI from White House influence, officials told the Times. Sessions told Comey, who did not reveal what he spoke with Trump about, that he couldn't promise him Trump wouldn't attempt to talk with him privately again.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Intelligence Chief Told Others Trump Sought FBI Intervention (Adam Entous, 6/06/17, The Washington Post)

On March 22, less than a week after being confirmed by the Senate, Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats attended a briefing at the White House together with officials from several government agencies. As the briefing was wrapping up, Trump asked everyone to leave the room except for Coats and CIA Director Mike Pompeo.

The president then started complaining about the FBI investigation and Comey's handling of it, said officials familiar with the account Coats gave to associates. Two days earlier, Comey had confirmed in a congressional hearing that the bureau was probing whether Trump's campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 race.

After the encounter, Coats discussed the conversation with other officials and decided that intervening with Comey as Trump had suggested would be inappropriate, according to officials who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive internal matters.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Pro-Assad alliance threatens to hit U.S. positions in Syria (Reuters, 6/07/17)

A military alliance fighting in support of President Bashar al-Assad said on Wednesday it could hit U.S. positions in Syria, warning that its "self-restraint" over U.S. air strikes on government forces would end if Washington crossed "red lines".

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Exclusive: Jeff Sessions suggested he could resign amid rising tension with President Trump (JONATHAN KARL, Jun 6, 2017, ABC News)

As the White House braces for former FBI Director James Comey's testimony Thursday, sources tell ABC News the relationship between President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions has become so tense that Sessions at one point recently even suggested he could resign.

Yes, please.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


7 said killed, 4 taken hostage in raid on Iranian parliament (SUE SURKES June 7, 2017, Times of Israel)

Two people were confirmed killed and several others were reported injured after armed men burst into Tehran's parliament building and the mausoleum of revolutionary founder Ruhollah Khomeini on Wednesday, with state media reporting at least two suicide bombings. The Islamic State group claimed responsibility.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


ALVIN PLANTINGA'S MASTERFUL ACHIEVEMENT (William Doino Jr., 6 . 5 . 17, First Things)

Plantinga's first important work, God and Other Minds, re-examined the classic arguments for and against God. It concluded that belief in the existence of God was rational, just as belief in other minds is. Arguments for the existence of other minds cannot be proven with certitude, yet most everyone accepts them as a given fact. Similarly, a religious believer's personal encounter with the divine authorizes belief in a divine mind and creator--even if such a being cannot be strictly inferred from the secular world. Though these arguments sound simple, Plantinga worked them out with great intricacy and depth, and his book moved many skeptical minds toward belief.

 His second major work, God, Freedom and Evil, proved even more consequential, as it dealt with the oft-heard objection that a good God is incompatible with a world filled with evil. Plantinga responded by asserting that this argument presumes, but does not establish, a contradiction between God and the existence of evil. Even an omnipotent and loving God would not create free creatures who would always choose to do good-- for to ensure that, God would have to deprive them of genuine freedom (which includes the freedom to do wrong). Plantinga further maintained that the overriding value of human free will is a more-than-credible reason a benevolent God might have for allowing the existence of evil. The book was so well argued that it is still widely credited, even by non-believers, for successfully rebutting this particular charge against God's existence.

In The Nature of Necessity, Plantinga continued his ground-breaking work, updating and expanding  St. Anselm's famous  "ontological argument," delivering another powerful reason for belief.

It is worth noting that in 1966, the year before Plantinga began his theistic trilogy, Time published its sensational cover story, "Is God Dead?" By 1980, however, the somewhat chastened magazine acknowledged he was not: "God is making a comeback Most intriguingly, this is happening not among theologians or ordinary believers--most of whom never accepted for a moment that he was in any serious trouble--but in the crisp, intellectual circles of academic philosophers, where the consensus had long banished the Almighty from fruitful discourse." The man Time credited more than any other for this turnabout was "America's leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God, Alvin Plantinga." 

Soon after this, Plantinga began a new trilogy, culminating in what many consider his  masterpiece,Warranted Christian Belief, a 500- page tour de force in which he not only defended theism, but basic Christian theology and Holy Scripture against a wide range of determined critics.

That anti-Cartesian recognition--that there's no rational difference between believing in God and believing in anything else--is the Anglospheric difference that thwarted Rationalism and all the murderous ideologies it produced here. 
Posted by orrinj at 5:18 AM


Small wearable devices may lead to big health care savings (YIFTAH BEN AHARON JUNE 7, 2017, STAT)

About half of all Americans have one or more chronic conditions -- heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease, arthritis, and asthma, to name a few. Many chronic conditions arise from unhealthy lifestyles that include the usual suspects: poor diet, little or no exercise, and stress. These conditions account for the majority of deaths in the United States, and up to 86 percent of health care expenditures.

Look at diabetes as an example. Nearly 30 million Americans are now living with diabetes, and another 86 million have prediabetes, a higher-than-normal blood sugar level that can lead to diabetes. This disease accounts for unnecessary loss of vision, amputations, heart disease, kidney damage, and premature death. It also costs Americans $245 billion a year. But chronic diseases like diabetes need not take such huge personal or economic tolls. Easily implemented changes that digitize components of health and health care can lighten the load for people, their doctors, and the country at large.

Millions of Americans currently use devices to monitor their health and fitness. These include scales, activity monitors (Fitbit, Apple Watch, Microsoft Band, and the like), heart rate and blood sugar monitors, and more. The data they record can help people take more control over their health and lifestyles. They can also help doctors keep track of their patients' health, as information from these devices can be uploaded into electronic health records. Data from such devices could also alert doctors or first-aid workers to a problem that requires immediate attention, like a stroke or heart attack.

Personal health devices are already -- or soon will be -- sophisticated enough to detect medical conditions. For instance, if your fitness device indicates that your usual activity level has fallen off but your heart rate is higher than usual, it could be a sign that you are coming down with the flu or other infectious disease.