June 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


Mueller Is Coming for Trump (Mark Joseph Stern, 6/15/17, Slate)

And what, exactly, will Mueller find now that he has substantially broadened the scope of his investigation? It's impossible to say, but easy to speculate. Reporters have already uncovered an astonishing amount of disturbing information about Trump. There's the Azerbaijan hotel project propped up by graft and bribery with ties to Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The charitable foundation accused of self-dealing and tax fraud. The questionable Deutsche Bank loans with ties to Moscow. The close association with allegedly criminal international companies. The journalists chasing these leads have hit snags, obstacles, and insurmountable walls, leading to stories that suggest the possibility of law-breaking but end with lingering uncertainty. Mueller need not put up with such stonewalling. He has the tools to dig much deeper.

Trump is now in a painful position: Either allow the investigation to continue and risk exposure of his possible criminality or fire Mueller and weather the resulting political catastrophe. Trump has already entertained the idea of terminating the special counsel. Although his advisers talked the president out of it for now, his surrogates have begun spreading anti-Mueller talking points--a coordinated effort to smear the special counsel that seems designed to preserve the possibility of his firing. Kellyanne Conway claimed Mueller's team opposed Trump's presidency, while Newt Gingrich insisted Mueller is "setting up a dragnet of obstruction" aimed at "undermining and crippling the Trump presidency." Trump himself has tweeted that Mueller's investigation is "the single greatest WITCH HUNT in American political history- led by some very bad and conflicted people!"

If Trump does fire Mueller, he will prove that he truly is terrified to have his past inspected by law enforcement--so terrified that he'd be willing to spark an enormous political firestorm. It's not clear, however, that terminating Mueller would help Trump in any way. Trump thought he could stop the Russia investigation by firing FBI Director James Comey, going so far as to tell Russian officials that Comey's termination would solve the problem. But it only saddled Trump with Mueller.

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Refugees May Be Good For The Economy (Kathryn Casteel and Michelle Cheng, 6/12/17, 538)

A new working paper from the National Bureau of Economic Research, however, argues that it is a mistake to focus on the costs of refugee resettlement without also looking at the economic and financial benefits.

"You can't just look at one side of this equation. [They're] getting benefits, but they're also generating income," said William Evans, a Notre Dame economist and one of the paper's authors. "They're living [here], so therefore they are paying taxes."

To try to estimate both the costs and benefits of admitting refugees, Evans and his coauthor, research assistant Daniel Fitzgerald, used data from the American Community Survey to identify people who are likely to be refugees. From that group, researchers pulled a sample of 18-to-45-year-olds who resettled in the U.S. over the past 25 years and examined how their employment and earnings changed over time. They found that the U.S. spends roughly $15,000 in relocation costs and $92,000 in social programs over a refugee's first 20 years in the country. However, they estimated that over the same time period, refugees pay nearly $130,000 in taxes -- over $20,000 more than they receive in benefits.

The authors found that, when compared to rates among U.S.-born residents, unemployment was higher and earnings were lower among adult refugees during their first few years in the country, but these outcomes changed substantially over time. After six years in the U.S., refugees were more likely to be employed than U.S.-born residents around the same age. The longer they live longer in the U.S., the more refugees' economic outcomes improved and the less they relied on government assistance. While refugees' average wages are never as high as the average for U.S.-born residents, after about eight years in the U.S., refugees aren't significantly more likely to receive welfare or food stamps than native-born residents with similar education and language skills.

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 PM


Study: AC/DC's 'Highway To Hell' More Theologically Accurate Than 96% Of Modern Worship Songs (Babylon Bee, June 16, 2017)

The study examined over 800 songs and compared their theology to the Scriptures, and found that the Australian rock group's 1979 classic was "significantly more accurate" than over 96% of them.

"While modern worship songs tend to contain little theology, an anemic view of sin, and a poor understanding of the work of the Holy Spirit, 'Highway to Hell' has a very biblical view of the doctrine of hell," a CCLI rep said. "Lead singer Bon Scott had a clear understanding of man's natural inclination toward sin and the inevitable judgment of God that follows."

"Just take a look at some of those lyrics in that hard-hitting first verse," the head CCLI researcher told reporters. "'Don't need reason, don't need rhyme, Ain't nothing I would rather do / Going down, party time, My friends are gonna be there too.'"

"Bon Scott's understanding of mankind's depravity clearly rivaled anything Paul wrote in the third chapter of Romans," he added. "It's better than that song that keeps inviting the Holy Spirit in like He's some kind of coy puppy dog."

Posted by orrinj at 4:11 PM


Trump's Strange Retreat from Cuba : More smoke than fire, Trump's new policy could still derail an island's fragile turn toward the future. (MICHAEL GRUNWALD June 17, 2017, Politico)

Bendixen & Amandi also polled Cuban nationals in 2015, and what they found echoed the grumbling we heard last week on the ground: Cubans are down on their government. This is partly because of repression--short-term detentions of dissidents are on the rise, while dissident blogs (as well as porn) are blocked on the Internet--but mostly because of the lousy state-run economy. More than two thirds of Cubans said they were satisfied with their health care system--my father-in-law had to visit a clinic, and got excellent treatment plus prescription drugs at zero cost--but only two fifths were satisfied with their political system, and just one fifth with their economic system. And that was before the Venezuelan economy totally collapsed, depriving Cuba of its ideologically driven subsidies. The poll also found that 70 percent of Cubans would like to open a business, something they can only do now if they get a license to pursue one of 201 government-approved professions, ranging from "disposable lighter repair" to "piñata maker/seller" to "button coverer."

We got a sense of that entrepreneurial spirit when we knocked on the door of my father-in-law's childhood home in Camaguey, a once-prosperous agricultural center with maze-like streets supposedly designed to confuse the pirates who periodically preyed on locals. It's not prosperous anymore, and the woman who answered the door told us the house has been subdivided into a dozen or so modest apartments. (We later found one that was less modest and newly renovated; unsurprisingly, the owners were a military officer and a government official.) Hers included the home's grand foyer, which still had the original pink-and-green floral tile, but was now a bit grimy because she makes some money by charging commuters to park their bicycles there during business hours. "We all do what we can to live," she told us.

In Old Havana, a similarly entrepreneurial taxi driver named Lazaro gave us a ride in his 1955 Crown Victoria; his grandfather, a chauffeur, had inherited the car from a sugar-baron client who fled Cuba after the revolution. Lazaro had spent five years as a nurse in Venezuela, but realized he could make more money driving tourists at home; he said his business really took off with female clients after he painted the Crown Vic pink. He said he recently made $800 in three days when his car was used in the film Fast and Furious 8, which sounded impressive, except he said a pal had made $80,000 by letting the moviemakers drive his own vintage car into Havana Harbor. Even better, his pal had salvaged the wreck and repaired it to working condition.

Necessity is the mother of invention, and Cuba is full of necessity; one Camaguey woman was selling pigeon eggs out of her foyer. There are certainly glimmers of a private economy that didn't exist a decade ago. Airbnb reports its bookings have funneled $40 million to ordinary Cubans since 2015. Families are running restaurants out of their homes that seem less likely to serve bread that tastes like cardboard or "beef" made from horsemeat. Data mules go door-to-door selling external hard drives known as "paquetes" that provide a week worth of news, films and TV dramas for Cubans without Internet access. And it's no surprise that 96 percent of Cubans told Bendixen & Amandi that more tourism would benefit Cuba, because many of those approved professions--from bike-taxi drivers to "habaneras" who dress up in colonial garb to pose for photos--depend on visitors.

Still, the monopoly force of the government hovers over the private economy. The police confiscate the bike taxis of drivers caught pedaling their customers the wrong way on one-way streets. Cubans can rent out their property, but they're not allowed to own multiple properties. My father-in-law, Humberto Dominguez, an Orlando-area family doctor who is one of those communist-hating, Trump-supporting Cuban exiles, was favorably impressed with the rare-in-the-tropics cleanliness and safety of Cuba's streets, until I reminded him that police states tend to be pretty good about that kind of thing.

Anyway, most of Cuba's economy is still a government-run system that simply doesn't work. Communist-controlled stores tend to be laughably overstaffed--usually by sales associates who betray no interest in sales--and undersupplied. We saw an appliance store with only one brand of refrigerator, a medical-supply store that carried only towels and laundry detergent, and a massive window display for a home furnishings store that featured just one pinkish vase in the corner. We met a bookstore manager who seemed genuinely distraught about the turgid revolutionary tracts and anti-American propaganda she had to sell. Her shelves included only one American author, the leftist Naomi Klein.

In many ways, normalization hasn't lived up to the hype. Obama allowed Americans credit card companies to do business in Cuba, but most haven't. The opening was supposed to upgrade Cuba's dismal telecom infrastructure and bring Internet to the masses, but that hasn't happened either. The tentative steps toward engagement between American and Cuban diplomats have slowed, as both sides have waited to see what the Trump era would bring. Still, the opening has generated some positive economic activity, even though the negatives of the Venezuelan meltdown have overshadowed it. Former Miami congressman Joe Garcia, who spent years shaming political deviants from the hard-line exile position as director of the Cuban American National Foundation, has become a political deviant himself; he no longer believes that isolating Cuba will do any good for the Cuban people.

"We've seen more change in the last two years than we had seen in the last 50," Garcia said. "Obviously it's not enough change. But at least now you can get a croqueta in Havana and have a decent chance there will be real ham in it."

Posted by orrinj at 12:56 PM


This is the impact robots are having in jobs in the US (Jay Fitzgerald, 5/11/17, WEF)

On average, the arrival of one new industrial robot in a local labor market coincides with an employment drop of 5.6 workers.

With America's workers already squeezed by forces ranging from international competition to offshoring to new information technologies, concern is growing about the impact of robots on jobs and wages.

In Robots and Jobs: Evidence from U.S. Labor Markets (NBER Working Paper No. 23285), Daron Acemoglu and Pascual Restrepo find that deployment of robots reduces employment and wages, but they caution that it is difficult to measure net labor market effects. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:52 PM


Russia claims it killed two more Islamic State commanders in Syria: Ifax (Reuters, 6/17/17)

The Russian defense ministry said on Saturday it had killed two Islamic State field commanders, named as Abu Omar al-Beljiki and Abu Yassin al-Masri, in air strikes near the eastern Syrian city of Deir al-Zor, Interfax news agency reported. [...]

The Russian defense ministry said on Saturday it killed around 180 militants and the two commanders al-Beljiki and al-Masri in air strikes close to Deir al-Zor on June 6 and June 8.

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


The next energy revolution: The promise and peril of high-tech innovation (David Victor and Kassia Yanosek, June 13, 2017, Brookings)

[A]s the cost of renewables is plummeting and their share of the power supply is rising, they have begun to transform electricity markets. In Germany, wind and solar power account for almost 30 percent of the power mix; in Hawaii, they account for about a quarter. Traditional utilities have struggled to adapt. In March, grid operators in California shut down 80 gigawatt-hours of the state's renewable power because the grid couldn't handle the afternoon solar surge; without more capacity to store power, even larger curtailments will occur. In Texas, among many other places, prices occasionally turn negative when the wind is blowing hard but people don't need too much electricity--in other words, companies are paying customers to use the electricity they generate. Utilities that have failed to see these changes coming have floundered. The market valuations of the top four German utilities are about one-third the level they were a decade ago--in large part because they were stuck with the costs of the old electric power system even as the government provided lavish support for renewables.

Renewables are just one part of this transformation. In the coming years, utility companies may face an existential challenge from smaller and more decentralized energy systems known as "microgrids." Microgrids first emerged decades ago, driven by customers, such as the U.S. military, that prized reliability above all else and that did not mind paying more for it: military bases have to keep functioning even if the bulk power grid fails. Early adopters also included remote communities, such as in Alaska, that are far from the conventional grid. But now, microgrids are spreading to other places, such as university campuses and hospitals, where they generate reliable power and are often designed to save money by using waste energy to heat and cool buildings.

New technologies, such as fuel cells and battery storage systems (to store extra power produced by renewables), along with more sophisticated software, have led to even smaller systems called "nanogrids," which Walmart and other megastores have begun to adopt. And picogrids may be next. As more and more people rely less on the traditional grid for power (while still interconnecting with it to help ensure reliability), policymakers and companies will need to create new regulatory systems and business models. Some states, such as New York, have embraced these changes, aggressively promoting decentralization by rewarding companies that invest in decentralized systems. But no one has yet worked out a detailed plan for how to integrate new grids with traditional power systems.

The second major source of innovation is better data analytics. Oil companies, for example, have begun to use complex algorithms to analyze massive amounts of data, making it easier for them to find oil and gas and to manage production. In April 2017, for example, bp announced that, using these methods, it had identified another 200 million barrels of oil in an existing field in the Gulf of Mexico. According to bp, data crunching that used to take a year now takes just a few weeks. And cloud processing makes it possible to generate millions of scenarios for developing an oil field. When firms can evaluate more options, production from fields can rise by five percent, with a 30 percent cut in the investment required to drill holes and begin producing oil. The industry has also begun to use data analytics for "predictive maintenance," reducing unplanned downtime by analyzing historical data to predict equipment failures before they happen. This practice, pioneered by industries such as the aircraft engine business, is helping cut costs on oil and gas rigs, where compressors and other rotating equipment can cause costly interruptions when they fail.

The third and most important trend is automation. In remote offshore oil fields, robots have already begun to perform dangerous tasks, such as connecting pipes during drilling operations, a job traditionally carried out by the versatile workers known as "roustabouts." Soon, intelligent automated systems will enable remote drilling, controlled almost entirely by a handful of high-tech workers in onshore data rooms hundreds of miles away. And companies are developing robots that can live on the ocean floor and inspect offshore pipe lines and underwater equipment. At the moment, offshore oil rigs typically employ 100-200 workers, a figure that could fall. Although people remain indispensable for critical safety roles that require complex decisionmaking, automation will transform the industry's work force. According to a McKinsey study, within ten years, oil and gas companies could employ more data scientists with Ph.D.'s than geologists.

Automation has already changed the power industry, where smart meters have all but eliminated manual meter readings. In the future, automation, along with better data analytics, will make it easier to manage the variation in supplies that comes from using renewable sources such as wind and solar energy and more complex, decentralized grids. It can also make the grid more reliable. The inability of grid operators to understand what is happening in real time plays an important role in many power outages; automation and improved human-computer interaction could make blackouts much rarer.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 PM


Muslims today face a deep malaise. We must confront it (Nabil Echchaibi, 17 June 2017, The Guardian)

How can we reconcile the anarchic savagery of our worst Muslims today with the humanist generosity of our best Muslims of yesterday? What have we to offer the world today?

Besides the brutality of colonialism and imperialism, I often wonder about our own responsibility in this squandering of energy. Our humanist ancestors of a bygone golden age towered over the world because they chose, at their own peril at times, to engage history and project their knowledge in favor of all humanity.

Sadly, Isis is only the cumulative result of people who have long expelled themselves from history, neither moving things forward, nor bringing back anything new. This is the tragedy of being rendered superfluous. In fact, the viscerality of Isis has deep and painful roots in a relentless process of atomization of the Muslim individual. The vast majority of Muslims have not resorted to violence, but they have not effectively risen up against the closing of free thought, either.

Many have written about this historical decline and often in unsavory ways, assigning Islam an unflattering place in the waiting room of history. My aim here is not to disparage a civilization, but to diagnose its current malaise, one that inflicts Muslims today and prevents them from thinking themselves into the world, not because they are incapable of doing it, but because of a coordinated campaign to deny them the right to do it. Like many Muslims, I feel the weight of this tension everyday because the distance between our religious leaders and the world in which we live is a gaping hole.

The biggest orchestrator of this campaign is not Isis. That is only one of its sad manifestations. It is Saudi Arabia and its rampant Wahhabi religiosity which cripples everything Muslim today. Its literalist theology is suffocating and has no place in the modern world.

How can we tolerate a religious system which still flogs its people in public squares, denies its women basic rights like driving and looking out windows and criminalizes any form of dissent? Weighty words fit for a colossal peril that is Saudi Arabia. I do not mince my words because this tragedy has gone on for too long and it robs Muslims around the world of their ability to think their religion anew.

In fact, I agree with Algerian author Kamel Daoud who made a subtle distinction between a "black Isis" and a "white Isis". Black Isis, he says, beheads, pillages, kills indiscriminately, and destroys the cultural heritage of humanity, whereas white Isis - Saudi Arabia - is better dressed and cleaner, but it does more or less the same thing.

Saudi Arabia has produced, according to Daoud, a "fatwa valley" and a massive industry of theologians, imams, mosques, books, cartoons and religious editorials and satellite television channels. Oil has not only polluted the planet, but it has significantly stalled the intellectual and religious march of Islam by erecting prison walls around thinking and innovation. This is not an extreme view to hold. It is one largely shared in the streets of Muslim-majority countries. Yet, we don't act on it.

This should also explain the pain I endured after watching Donald Trump dance with the royals of Saudi Arabia last month. The violence of that scene is infuriating because it tells every Muslim that no matter how the Saudis, the custodians of the most sacred sites in Islam, violate human rights, bomb and starve the children of Yemen, or foreclose any opening for religious moderation, the US will simply look away because oil and free trade have far more value than Muslims fighting for their right to freedom.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Why I Dissented Again (Neel Kashkari, President @MinneapolisFed, , 6/17/17, Medium)

For me, deciding whether to raise rates or hold steady came down to a tension between faith and data.

On one hand, intuitively, I am inclined to believe in the logic of the Phillips curve: A tight labor market should lead to competition for workers, which should lead to higher wages. Eventually, firms will have to pass some of those costs on to their customers, which should lead to higher inflation. That makes intuitive sense. That's the faith part.

On the other hand, unfortunately, the data aren't supporting this story, with the FOMC coming up short on its inflation target for many years in a row, and now with core inflation actually falling even as the labor market is tightening. If we base our outlook for inflation on these actual data, we shouldn't have raised rates this week. Instead, we should have waited to see if the recent drop in inflation is transitory to ensure that we are fulfilling our inflation mandate.
When I'm torn between faith and data, I look at decisions from a risk management perspective.

The risk of raising rates too soon is a continuation of the FOMC's track record of coming up short of our inflation objective. As this Atlanta Fed survey² recently indicated, many people already believe that our 2 percent inflation goal is a ceiling rather than a symmetric target. Raising rates will just further strengthen that belief. And if inflation expectations drop, as we've seen in some other countries (and there are signs it might be happening here in the United States), it can be very challenging to bring them back up.

The risk of not moving soon enough generally doesn't appear to be large. If inflation does start to climb, that will actually be welcome. We will move toward our target, and I believe the FOMC will respond appropriately. And if it leads to a moderate overshoot of 2 percent, that shouldn't be concerning since we say we have a symmetric target and not a ceiling.

The Phillips Curve was propounded in 1958, before women and blacks joined the mainstream labor force in substantial numbers.  Here is the labor force participation rate since then:

You'd be hard-pressed to find any association between inflation and employment over the years since Reagan, Thatcher and Volcker broke inflation.

On the other hand, at the time Phillips was writing the percentage of the labor force in unionized jobs was at its peak. And a significant portion of breaking inflation was the action the Gipper and Iron Lady took against unions. 

The potential exists that inflation is not so much a monetary phenomenon as a function of wage demands and disempowering labor has quashed said demands, or at least the power to have them met.   

Posted by orrinj at 11:12 AM


Meet the all-star legal team who may take down Trump (Rebecca Tan and Alex Ward  Jun 15, 2017, Vox)

Led by special counsel Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, the team includes heavy hitters like Michael Dreeben, an expert on criminal law who has argued more than 100 cases in front of the Supreme Court, and Andrew Weissmann, a seasoned prosecutor who's spent his career going after organized crime.

Adding to the firepower are James Quarles, a former assistant special prosecutor for the Watergate investigation; Jeannie Rhee, a former senior adviser to former Attorney General Eric Holder and a white-collar crime specialist; and Aaron Zebley, a cybersecurity expert who spent decades in the FBI before joining a private practice.

The appointments come amid growing signs that Trump himself is in Mueller's crosshairs: On Tuesday night, the Washington Post reported that the special counsel was directly investigating whether the president's decision to fire former FBI Director James Comey was an effort to obstruct justice.

The Mueller team is setting up interviews with the nation's top intelligence officials to find out whether Trump had asked them to try to persuade Comey to drop the FBI's probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, according to the Post. The New York Times, meanwhile, reported Tuesday night that Mueller was also looking into possible money laundering by Trump campaign staffers and associates.

The fact that Mueller's team can conduct such a broad probe -- one apparently looking into every possible angle of the Trump-Russia scandal, from possible financial crimes to outright collusion with the Kremlin -- is a reflection of just how much legal firepower he has assembled.

Trump's team, by contrast, is led by Marc Kasowitz, a Wall Street lawyer with minimal experience in federal investigations who burst onto the national scene with a typo-ridden statement defending the president. His top two partners so far, Michael Bowe and Jay Sekulow, are known more for their time on TV than their time in the courtroom, and don't have anywhere near the background Mueller's team boasts to take on this challenge.

It's like the Globetrotters vs. the Generals.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


Why Trump Attacked His Own Deputy Attorney General (Ryan Lizza, June 16, 2017, The New Yorker)

To Rosenstein's friends and defenders, the content of the memo was not controversial. "A lot of prosecutors, whatever their political stripes, said Rod is right about the role of an investigator versus a prosecutor," Trusty said. "Nobody should be getting up the way Comey did and saying, 'Here are a bunch of offenses, but we're not going to prosecute.' "

Trump immediately fired Comey and released the Rosenstein memo to the public to explain his decision. Democrats and many lawyers in Washington who had a high opinion of Rosenstein were shocked that he allowed himself to be used by Trump and Sessions in such a blatant scheme to oust the person investigating the President's own campaign. Senator Chuck Schumer wrote to Rosenstein warning that the Deputy Attorney General had "imperiled" his reputation as an "apolitical actor."

"The content of that memo is totally in keeping with Rod," the former Obama official said. "He's a by-the-book guy, and he was deeply offended by how Comey broke the rules. The thing I don't understand is how Rod let himself get played like that."

The fallout from Rosenstein's Comey memo may have been the result of a clash between the two men's distinguishing characteristics: Comey's zealous self-regard for his own independence and Rosenstein's adherence to the letter of the law and Justice Department guidelines. Rosenstein may have genuinely believed that he was correcting an egregious harm to the Justice Department committed by Comey, one that still offended many lawyers there.

And Comey may have made his own mistake. Before Comey was fired, he apparently never went to Rosenstein and explained the steps that Trump had taken to try to shut down the investigation of Michael Flynn. If Comey had, Rosenstein would have known that Trump was taking actions that looked a lot like obstruction of justice. "If Comey had gone to Rod, he would never have written that memo," the Obama official said. "Those alarm bells should have gone off for Rod anyway, but Comey, by keeping it so close and feeling he's not accountable to anyone, made it easier for Rod."

But Trump and Sessions's ploy backfired. Some observers suggested that Rosenstein felt used and betrayed by the President and Sessions. Whether Rosenstein was trying to correct a mistake or not, his actions since Comey's firing have been widely commended. When he appointed Mueller as special counsel to oversee the investigation, Rosenstein's statement announcing the decision was scrupulously fair to Mueller, the President, and Trump-campaign associates. 

"My decision is not a finding that crimes have been committed or that any prosecution is warranted. I have made no such determination," he wrote. "What I have determined is that based upon the unique circumstances the public interest requires me to place this investigation under the authority of a person who exercises a degree of independence from the normal chain of command."

In testimony this week, when rumors were spreading that Trump wanted to fire Mueller, Rosenstein, to whom Mueller reports, made it clear that he would not carry out Trump's order to remove Mueller unless, as Justice Department guidelines say, there was "just cause."

While Rosenstein has said that he has "no reservations about my role" in firing Comey, his actions to safeguard the independence of the investigation and publicly warn Trump that he would not obey an order to fire Mueller may have triggered Trump's wrath on Friday morning. Ironically, Trump is now alluding to the fact that Rosenstein was--wittingly or not--a part of the plot to get rid of Comey. Trump may be seizing on that fact as a way to push Rosenstein into recusing himself from the Russia investigation. (Rosenstein has reportedly already raised the issue of recusal internally, at the Justice Department.)

It is classic Trump: he ensnared Rosenstein in a scheme to get rid of Comey. Now that Rosenstein has tried to correct his error and insulate the investigation from further meddling, Trump is using Rosenstein's role in the scheme to try to push him aside. (If this sounds like a plot from "The Sopranos," it's because there were, in fact, several episodes like this.)

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


Full transcript: NYU business school professor and L2 founder Scott Galloway on Recode Decode (RECODE STAFF  JUN 15, 2017, Recode)

On this episode of Recode Decode, hosted by Kara Swisher, business intelligence expert Scott Galloway talks a mile a minute about advertising, brands, the change in retail and how the job landscape is becoming "three million lords and 350 million serfs." Make sure you stick around for the final third of the conversation, where he does lightning evaluations of the biggest internet-era businesses.

You can read some of the highlights from the interview at that link, or listen to it in the audio player below. We've also provided a lightly edited complete transcript of their conversation.

When I go home tonight I'll be in Florida. I'll watch "Modern Family" as I do on every Thursday night. I can download it at ABC.com or I can download it on iTunes and pay $2.99 for 21 minutes uninterrupted. I'll pay the $2.99. If you are wealthy, a signal of that is that the advertising in your life is going down, so the traditional advertising industrial complex is crumbling, which means traditional brand equity built via broadcast advertising is declining. What does that mean for young people if you're going to work in the media? Make sure you're going to work for something that's not ad supported or that has some large subscription component. You want to go to work for HBO, not ABC.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Rule of Law: The Great Foundation of Our Constitution (Matthew Spalding, 6/17/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Over time, the rule of law had come to be associated with four key components. First, the rule of law means a formal, regular process of law enforcement and adjudication. What we really mean by "a government of laws, not of men" is the rule of men bound by law, not subject to the arbitrary will of others. The rule of law means general rules of law that bind all people and are promulgated and enforced by a system of courts and law enforcement, not by mere discretionary authority. In order to secure equal rights to all citizens, government must apply law fairly and equally through this legal process. Notice, hearings, indictment, trial by jury, legal counsel, the right against self-incrimination--these are all part of a fair and equitable "due process of law" that provides regular procedural protections and safeguards against abuse by government authority. Among the complaints lodged against the king in the Declaration of Independence was that he had "obstructed the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers," and was "depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury."

Second, the rule of law means that these rules are binding on rulers and the ruled alike. If the American people, Madison wrote in Federalist 57, "shall ever be so far debased as to tolerate a law not obligatory on the legislature, as well as on the people, the people will be prepared to tolerate any thing but liberty." As all are subject to the law, so all--government and citizens, indeed all persons--are equal before the law, and equally subject to the legal system and its decisions. No one is above the law in respect to enforcement; no one is privileged to ignore the law, just as no one is outside the law in terms of its protection. As the phrase goes, all are presumed innocent until proven guilty. We see this equal application of equal laws reflected in the Constitution's references to "citizens" and "persons" rather than race, class, or some other group distinction, as in the Fifth Amendment's language that "No person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." [...]

Third, the rule of law implies that there are certain unwritten rules or generally understood standards to which specific laws and lawmaking must conform. There are some things that no government legitimately based on the rule of law can do. Many of these particulars were developed over the course of the history of British constitutionalism, but they may be said to stem from a certain logic of the law. Several examples can be seen in the clauses of the U.S. Constitution. There can be no "ex post facto" laws--that is, laws that classify an act as a crime leading to punishment after the act occurs. Nor can there be "bills of attainder," which are laws that punish individuals or groups without a judicial trial. We have already mentioned the requirement of "due process," but consider also the great writ of "habeas corpus" (no person may be imprisoned without legal cause) and the rule against "double jeopardy" (no person can be tried or punished twice for the same crime.) Strictly speaking, none of these rules are formal laws but follow from the nature of the rule of law. "Bills of attainder, ex-post facto laws and laws impairing the obligation of contracts," Madison wrote in Federalist 44, "are contrary to the first principles of the social compact, and to every principle of sound legislation."

Lastly, even though much of its operation is the work of courts and judges, the rule of law ultimately is based on, and emphasizes the centrality of, lawmaking. This is why, although we have three coequal branches of government, the legislature is the first among equals. But as those who make law are themselves subject to some law above them, this gives rise to the idea that there are different types of laws, some of which are more significant and important, and thus more authoritative than others. The rule of law--especially in terms of key procedural and constitutional concepts--stands above government. By definition and by enforcement it is a formal restraint on government. It judges government in light of a higher standard associated with those ideas. The more authoritative or fundamental laws have an enduring nature. They do not change day to day or by the whim of the moment and cannot be altered by ordinary acts of government.

Republicanism requires that we be equally free, not free.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


In Praise of All Those Strict Dads From Our Pasts (Tom Shillue, 6/17/17, TIME)

Some might wonder why my brother and I were so afraid to ask our father for anything. The reason is simple: dads were meaner in the 1970s. Back then, fearing your dad was what you did. That's why so many guys of my generation had such an attachment to Star Wars. We all remember that dramatic scene in The Empire Strikes Back, and the deep, chilling voice of Darth Vader as he confronts Luke Skywalker: "Luke, I am your father!" Boys like me everywhere were sitting in the movie theater clutching their popcorn bucket thinking, Yeah that makes sense... I can't believe I didn't see that one coming!

As much as the world was changing in the 1970s, the world inside our home was much like the America of decades past, or centuries, even. Think about it: our country was about to have its two hundredth birthday, and I'll bet my dad wasn't much different from George Washington's dad; stoic, stern, and authoritarian. But George Washington turned out okay, and we would, too.

I understand that I had a great and fortunate childhood. I was not the victim of strict parenting, but a beneficiary of it. When someone hears me say "Mean Dads," they might think, But my dad was mean and he ruined my life! But that's a different story. Of course, real abuse is a tragedy, but what passes as "mean" today used to just be called "parenting."

I spent much of my childhood in fear. Fear of God, fear of my parents, fear of the other adults in the neighborhood, fear of bullying kids. But fear is not always a bad thing--it keeps you alive. Fearing actual danger is very important. As you grow up you learn which fears are real and which are not, and it's always liberating to discover when one of your fears is unfounded. You think, My dad is going to kill me when he finds out! But then he doesn't kill you. You live to see another day. Your dad is not a murderer­ that's great news to a kid!

Then you realize, Perhaps he wants me to think that he is going to kill me, so next time I'll think twice before starting a fire in the garage. Dad worked in mysterious ways, like someone else I know. Fearing God is obviously important, but how are you going to fear God if you don't fear your dad? He's not God, of course, but for a while he's a pretty good stand-in.

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 AM


Only Mass Deportation Can Save America (Bret Stephens JUNE 16, 2017, NY Times)

On point after point, America's nonimmigrants are failing our country. Crime? A study by the Cato Institute notes that nonimmigrants are incarcerated at nearly twice the rate of illegal immigrants, and at more than three times the rate of legal ones.

Educational achievement? Just 17 percent of the finalists in the 2016 Intel Science Talent Search -- often called the "Junior Nobel Prize" -- were the children of United States-born parents. At the Rochester Institute of Technology, just 9.5 percent of graduate students in electrical engineering were nonimmigrants.

Religious piety -- especially of the Christian variety? More illegal immigrants identify as Christian (83 percent) than do Americans (70.6 percent), a fact right-wing immigration restrictionists might ponder as they bemoan declines in church attendance.

Business creation? Nonimmigrants start businesses at half the rate of immigrants, and accounted for fewer than half the companies started in Silicon Valley between 1995 and 2005. Overall, the share of nonimmigrant entrepreneurs fell by more than 10 percentage points between 1995 and 2008, according to a Harvard Business Review study.

Nor does the case against nonimmigrants end there. The rate of out-of-wedlock births for United States-born mothers exceeds the rate for foreign-born moms, 42 percent to 33 percent. The rate of delinquency and criminality among nonimmigrant teens considerably exceeds that of their immigrant peers. A recent report by the Sentencing Project also finds evidence that the fewer immigrants there are in a neighborhood, the likelier it is to be unsafe.


Immigrants cheering at the start of a naturalization ceremony in Atlanta last fall. Credit David Goldman/Associated Press
And then there's the all-important issue of demographics. The race for the future is ultimately a race for people -- healthy, working-age, fertile people -- and our nonimmigrants fail us here, too. "The increase in the overall number of U.S. births, from 3.74 million in 1970 to 4.0 million in 2014, is due entirely to births to foreign-born mothers," reports the Pew Research Center. Without these immigrant moms, the United States would be faced with the same demographic death spiral that now confronts Japan.

Bottom line: So-called real Americans are screwing up America. Maybe they should leave, so that we can replace them with new and better ones: newcomers who are more appreciative of what the United States has to offer, more ambitious for themselves and their children, and more willing to sacrifice for the future.

The immigrants are the Americans.

America's new tobacco crisis: The rich stopped smoking, the poor didn't  (William Wan June 13 , 2017, Washington Post)

Hidden among the steady declines in recent years is the stark reality that cigarettes are becoming a habit of the poor. The national smoking rate has fallen to historic lows, with just 15 percent of adults still smoking. But the socioeconomic gap has never been bigger.

Among the nation's less-educated people -- those with a high-school-equivalency diploma -- the smoking rate remains more than 40 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Today, rural residents are diagnosed with lung cancer at rates 18 to 20 percent above those of city dwellers. By nearly every statistical measure, researchers say, America's lower class now smokes more and dies more from cigarettes than other Americans.

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 AM


Populism, X: The imperative of freedom : On the struggle to keep government in the hands of a free people. (Roger Kimball, June 2017, New Criterion)

The question of sovereignty, I believe, takes us to the heart of what in recent years has been touted and tarred as the populist project.

Consider Britain. Parliament answers to the British voters. The European Union answers to--well, to itself. Indeed, it is worth pausing to remind ourselves how profoundly undemocratic is the European Union. Its commissioners are appointed, not elected. They cannot be turned out of office by voters. If the public votes contrary to the wishes of the E.U.'s commissars in a referendum, they are simply presented with another referendum until they vote the "right" way. The E.U.'s financial books have never been subject to a public audit. The corruption is just too widespread. Yet the E.U.'s agents wield extraordinary power over the everyday lives of their charges. A commissioner in Brussels can tell a property owner in Wales what sort of potatoes he may plant on his farm, how he must calculate the weight of the products he sells, and whom he must allow into his country. He can outlaw "racism" and "xenophobia"--defined as harboring "an aversion" to people based on "race, colour, descent, religion or belief, national or ethnic origin" and specify a penalty of "at least" two years' imprisonment for infractions. He can "lawfully suppress," as the London Telegraph reported, "political criticism of its institutions and of leading figures," thus rendering the commissars of the E.U. not only beyond the vote but also beyond criticism.

It's a little different in the United States. I'll come to that below. At the moment, it is worth noting to what extent the metabolism of this political dispensation was anticipated by Alexis de Tocqueville in his famous passages about "democratic despotism" in Democracy in America. Unlike despotism of yore, Tocqueville noted, this modern allotrope does not tyrannize over man--it infantilizes him. And it does this by promulgating ever more cumbersome rules and regulations that reach into the interstices of everyday life to hamper initiative, stymie independence, stifle originality, homogenize individuality. This power, said Tocqueville, "extends its arms over society as a whole."

It does not break wills, but it softens them, bends them, and directs them; it rarely forces one to act, but it constantly opposes itself to one's acting; it does not destroy, it prevents things from being born; it does not tyrannize, it hinders, compromises, enervates, extinguishes, dazes, and finally reduces each nation to being nothing more than a herd of timid and industrious animals of which the government is the shepherd.

Tocqueville's analysis has led many observers to conclude that the villain in this drama is the state. But the political philosopher James Burnham, writing in the early 1940s in The Managerial Revolution, saw that the real villain was not the state as such but the bureaucracy that maintained and managed it. It is easy to mock the apparatchiks who populate the machinery of government. Thus James H. Boren writes wickedly that "the noblest of all of man's struggles are those in which dedicated bureaucrats, armed with the spirit of dynamic inaction, have fought to protect the ramparts of creative nonresponsiveness from the onslaughts of mere citizens who have demanded action in their behalf." But the comic potential of the morass should not blind us to the minatory nature of the phenomenon. Indeed, it presents a specimen case of the general truth that the preposterous and the malevolent often co-mingle. The shepherd of which Tocqueville wrote was really a flock of shepherds, a coterie of managers who, in the guise of doing the state's business, prosecuted their own advantage and gradually became a self-perpetuating elite that arrogated to itself power over the levers of society.

Anatomizing this sleight-of-hand is at the center of "James Burnham's Managerial Elite," Julius Krein's essay in the inaugural issue of American Affairs. "Although the managerial elite uses the state as an instrument to acquire power," Krein notes, "the real enemy is not the state but rather the managerial separation of political and economic power from the liberal social contract."

This separation of the real power of society from the economy and political life renders the managerial elite all but untouchable. And this, as Burnham saw, was the property neither of liberalism nor of conservatism but rather of anterior forces that engulfed both. "The contradiction of contemporary conservatism," Krein writes,

is that it is an attempt to restore the culture and politics of bourgeois capitalism while accelerating the economy of managerialism. Because of its failure to recognize this contradiction, "much of conservative doctrine is, if not quite bankrupt, more and more obviously obsolescent," as Burnham wrote in 1972. Since then it has only evolved from obsolescent to counterproductive. At this point, expanding "free markets" no longer has anything to do with classical American capitalism. It is simply the further emancipation of the managerial elite from any obligations to the political community. Likewise, promoting democracy as an abstract, universalist principle only undermines the sovereignty of the American people by rejecting national interests as a legitimate ground of foreign policy.

Sovereignty, Burnham saw, was shifting from Parliaments to what he called "administrative bureaus," which increasingly are the seats of real power and, as such, "proclaim the rules, make the laws, issue the decrees." As far back as the early 1940s, Burnham could write that " 'Laws' today in the United States . . . are not being made any longer by Congress, but by the nlrb, sec, icc, aaa, tva, ftc, fcc, the Office of Production Management (what a revealing title!), and the other leading 'executive agencies.' " And note that Burnham wrote decades before the advent of the epa, hud, cfpb, fsoc, the Department of Education, and the rest of the administrative alphabet soup that governs us in the United States today.

I am convinced that the issue of sovereignty, of what we might call the location of sovereignty, has played a large role in the rise of the phenomenon we describe as "populism" in the United States as well as Europe. For one thing, the question of sovereignty, of who governs, stands behind the rebellion against the political correctness and moral meddlesomeness that are such conspicuous and disfiguring features of our increasingly bureaucratic society. The smothering, Tocquevillian blanket of regulatory excess has had a wide range of practical and economic effects, stifling entrepreneurship and making any sort of productive innovation difficult.

But perhaps its deepest effects are spiritual or psychological. The many assaults against free speech on college campuses, the demand for "safe spaces" and "trigger warnings" against verbal or fashion-inspired "micro-aggressions" (Mexican hats, "offensive" Halloween costumes, etc.) are part of this dictatorship of political correctness. In The Road to Serfdom, Friedrich Hayek said that one of the "main points" of his argument concerned "the psychological change," the "alteration of the character of the people," that extensive government control brought in its wake. The alteration involves a process of softening, enervation, infantilization even: an exchange of the challenges of liberty and self-reliance--the challenges, that is to say, of adulthood--for the coddling pleasures of dependence. Max Weber spoke in this context of "Ordnungsmenschen," men who had become increasingly dependent on an order imposed upon them from above. Breaking with that drift becomes more and more difficult the more habituated to dependence a people becomes. In this sense, what has been described as a populist upsurge against political correctness is simply a reassertion of independence, a reclamation of what turns out to be a most uncommon virtue, common sense.

The issue of sovereignty also stands behind the debate over immigration: indeed, is any issue more central to the question Who governs? than who gets to decide a nation's borders and how a country defines its first person plural: the "We" that makes us who we are as a people?

The reason that populism is an epithet is because it is the claim of the marginal to popularity.  Note that as populism is defined by American Heritage and accepted by Mr. Kimball--a political philosophy directed to the needs of the common people and advancing a more equitable distribution of wealth and power--the great populist movement of modernity is Communism, which has always had to seize power violently rather than winning at the ballot box. It is this marginal nature that gives us claims to populism by both the far Left and the far Right.  And even though there is considerable overlap between the two, few Bernie Bros would accept that they are similar to the alt-right, nor vice versa.

Immigration--the example Mr. Kimball chooses--provides the perfect example of these phenomena.  Donald and his supporters oppose immigration for racial/cultural reasons while Bernie and his oppose it for religious and trade-unionist reasons.  But the American people support it in overwhelming numbers, including most who voted for either of them. Their populism is not merely unpopular nationally but antithetical to the ethos of the citizenry.

Mr. Kimball is right then, to decry immigration as a failure of popular sovereignty; he just has it exactly backwards.  It is the refusal of the wings in Congress to pass immigration reform that is thwarting sovereignty.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 AM


Posted by orrinj at 12:26 AM


Post-Election Period Has Destabilized the 'Platform of the Alt-Right' (Paul Farhi, 6/16/17, The Washington Post)

Faced with an advertiser boycott and plummeting readership, Breitbart News has lately been trimming back some of its more extreme elements in what may be a bid for more mainstream respectability.

Gone: Prominently displayed stories appealing to overt racial prejudice, such as reports and essays about crimes committed by African-Americans. Articles such as "Five Devastating Facts about Black-on-Black Crime" and "Black-on-Black Crime: Blame it on the System and Ignore the Evidence" have all but disappeared from the site.

Gone: Reporter Katie McHugh, who was fired by Breitbart this month for tweeting after the latest terrorist attack in London, "There would be no terror attacks in the U.K. if Muslims didn't live there." McHugh doubled down on the vitriol when an Iranian-American, actor Pej Vahdat, called her "a real moron." In reply, she tweeted, "You're an Indian," then deleted it.

Long gone: Milo Yiannopoulos, once Breitbart's biggest star and a magnet for accusations that the site promoted misogyny, white ethno-nationalism and demonization of immigrants. Yiannopoulos was forced out in February amid exposure of videos in which he spoke favorably about pedophilia.

Delayed: Breitbart's long-touted plans to expand to France and Germany. The company disclosed Euro-expansion plans last year, but has little to show for it so far.

Breitbart hitched itself to Donald Trump's presidential campaign last year and reaped an enormous spike in reader traffic and media attention. Its former chairman, Stephen K. Bannon -- who once declared Breitbart "the platform of the alt-right" -- became Trump's campaign chairman and later his chief White House strategist.

But the post-election period hasn't been very kind to Breitbart.

Attention is fatal to extremism.