June 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


These states are best, worst for raising children (Daniella Emanuel, June 14, 2017, CNN)

New Hampshire is the best state in which to raise a child, while Mississippi is the worst, according to a report published Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The study measured 2015 data from the private Population Reference Bureau on the topics of economic well-being, education, health, and family and community.

Top states for overall child well-being were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Vermont and Minnesota, with Iowa and Connecticut tied for fifth place.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Progressives Now Angry at Social Justice Icon Ben & Jerry's Over Workers' Rights (Emily Zanotti, June 19, 2017, Heat Street)

Apparently, two years ago, Ben & Jerry's promised to take part in the "Milk With Dignity" program (weirdly, not "Dairy With Dignity," which would have been catchier). The campaign asks major corporations that use milk in their food products to work to ensure migrant workers who help produce the milk are treated fairly.

But because Ben and Jerry are, at heart, dirty capitalists, they began negotiations with the organizations, to structure their commitment in such a way that it protected their bottom line. They also claimed to the Washington Post that they wanted to get real details on farm worker treatment from the migrants themselves, so that the agreement could be realistic.

"It has to work for the farmers, the farm owners, and it has to work for the businesses involved and that's the complex piece," a representative of the company told media.

But the Vermont group Migrant Justice says that's just unacceptable. Realism? Who needs it! Profit? Well, that's just disgusting.

Ben & Jerry's sucks up milk from 80 Vermont dairy farms, and that's a lot of workers who aren't being paid a "living wage."

"We've been negotiating in good faith," said Will Lambek, director of Migrant Justice. "It's an unacceptable delay."

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Creating a Universe in the Lab? The Idea Is No Joke (Zeeya Merali, June 19, 2017, Discover)

Physicists aren't often reprimanded for using risqué humor in their academic writings, but in 1991 that is exactly what happened to the cosmologist Andrei Linde at Stanford University. He had submitted a draft article entitled 'Hard Art of the Universe Creation' to the journal Nuclear Physics B. In it, he outlined the possibility of creating a universe in a laboratory: a whole new cosmos that might one day evolve its own stars, planets and intelligent life. Near the end, Linde made a seemingly flippant suggestion that our Universe itself might have been knocked together by an alien 'physicist hacker'. The paper's referees objected to this 'dirty joke'; religious people might be offended that scientists were aiming to steal the feat of universe-making out of the hands of God, they worried. Linde changed the paper's title and abstract but held firm over the line that our Universe could have been made by an alien scientist. 'I am not so sure that this is just a joke,' he told me.

Fast-forward a quarter of a century, and the notion of universe-making - or 'cosmogenesis' as I dub it - seems less comical than ever. I've travelled the world talking to physicists who take the concept seriously, and who have even sketched out rough blueprints for how humanity might one day achieve it. Linde's referees might have been right to be concerned, but they were asking the wrong questions. The issue is not who might be offended by cosmogenesis, but what would happen if it were truly possible. How would we handle the theological implications? What moral responsibilities would come with fallible humans taking on the role of cosmic creators?

That way stands the Cross.

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 PM


Why "Angels in America" is back : Roy Cohn, a central character in the play, was in real life a big influence on Donald Trump (The Economist, Jun 15th 2017)

In "Angels", Roy serves as an object lesson in the cost of self-deceit. As in real life, he is gay, deeply closeted, dying of AIDS--which, even in his final months, he insists to the public is liver cancer--and accused of rampant ethical violations. Feeling obliged to lie about a central truth of his life, he grows so accustomed to deception that it becomes second nature. And he will stop at nothing to maintain his veneer of invincibility. Joe, a closeted, strait-laced Mormon, finally loses his faith in Roy when he asks Joe to abuse a job he has been offered in the attorney-general's office in order to protect Roy from disbarment.

This is a faithful representation of Cohn, a formative influence on Mr Trump. As Peter Fraser, Cohn's final lover, told the New York Times last year, "I hear Roy in the things he says quite clearly--that bravado, and if you say it aggressively and loudly enough, it's the truth. That's the way Roy used to operate to a degree, and Donald was certainly his apprentice." The president developed his approach to adversaries by watching Cohn humiliate them, in the media and in court: he once described his attack-dog attorney as "vicious to others in his protection of me".

Political pundits have consistently misread Mr Trump, predicting either that his star would fade or, later, that he would have to adapt to conventional expectations of the presidency. Mr Kushner's script would have provided a more accurate prognostication. Roy never changes his spots, remaining hateful even on his deathbed: "Better dead than red!" he screams at the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg, the accused Russian spy he had helped send to the electric chair 30 years earlier. He refuses to share his precious stash of AZT, an experimental AIDS drug, with his nurse Belize, even when Roy's looming death means he has no more use for the pills. Those still waiting for Cohn's former client to "pivot" towards the centre should take note. And the lesson Mr Trump has taken from Cohn's ultimate defeat at the hands of hated bureaucrats--he was disbarred a few weeks before he died in 1986--was not the importance of playing by the rules but rather the perils of being laid low by illness. In the president's recollection, "they only got [Cohn] because he was so sick": a memory that may help explain his publishing a letter from his doctor during the 2016 campaign claiming Mr Trump would be the healthiest president ever elected.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Democrats propose tobacco, alcohol tax increases (Matthew Albright, 6/16/17, The News Journal)

Democrats have unveiled plans to raise taxes on alcohol, cigarettes and "vaping" products as part of their solution to the state's $400 million budget quandary. 

Combined, the proposals would raise $18.8 million for the next fiscal year. The increases would take effect in September. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Putin's Pro-Trump Plot Has Backfired Spectacularly : Russia's meddling in the U.S. election has not panned out for the autocrat. (ERIC SASSON, June 19, 2017, New Republic)

Donald Trump's election was supposed to be a boon to Putin. Instead, things have been going quite poorly for him. Whatever goals the Russians had in meddling in the U.S. presidential election last year, be it to elect a president more favorable to lifting sanctions, punish Hillary Clinton, discredit Western democracies, or, as many analysts say, sow chaos in Washington and disrupt the international liberal order, Putin seems to be failing on most counts.

There is indeed chaos in Washington, though largely contained to the White House, and Trump has injected some uncertainty into longstanding relationships with allies. His refusal to affirm the mutual-defense commitment of the NATO treaty and his withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement are sowing divisions between America and Europe that could do long-term damage. The Trump administration seems uninterested in promoting democratic values abroad, and surely any time the U.S. retreats in its leadership role, it benefits other world powers such as Russia and China.

But earlier fears of a dramatic shift in U.S. foreign policy, driven by Trump's isolationist rhetoric and friendliness toward strongmen, are not panning out. Trump stacked his national security and foreign policy teams with establishment picks who have largely stuck to conventional Republican positions: punitive policies against Russia, Cuba, and Iran; cooperation with China on deterring North Korea; more troops in Afghanistan, and more bombs in Syria.

It seems Putin may have misjudged just how powerful our presidency is. Even more so, he seems to have severely misjudged the power of the American media, which is determined to overturn every rock with regards to the Russian hacking story. Back home, Putin is used to receiving far more favorable press--and when Russian media doesn't fall in line, he simply shuts them down or finds ways to change the subject.

But the subject stubbornly refuses to change in America, and is getting worse by the day. The domino effect since the Russian hacking revelations--starting with national security advisor Michael Flynn's firing, then Comey's, and now the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller--have not only forced Republicans to double-down on their anti-Russia rhetoric, but have even forced the president to abandon any hopes for a Russian reset, for fear of corroborating the collusion narrative. As defiant as Trump can be, even he must realize that any overture toward Russia now will be viewed as suspect.

Putin's troubles are hardly limited to the U.S.

When Donald Trump brought Miss Universe to Moscow : How a 2013 beauty pageant explains Trump's love for Russia and obsession with Vladimir Putin. (MICHAEL CROWLEY 05/15/2016, Politico)

On June 18, 2013, Donald Trump had some exciting news: He would soon be whisking dozens of the world's most beautiful women to Russia.

"The Miss Universe Pageant will be broadcast live from MOSCOW, RUSSIA on November 9th," Trump tweeted that day, referring to the beauty pageant he owned at the time. "A big deal that will bring our countries together!"

And maybe not just the countries, Trump said: "Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant," he tweeted later that day. "[I]f so, will he become my new best friend?"

Now that he's headed for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump talks often about establishing warmer relations with Vladimir Putin. That's a sharp break from the Washington establishment consensus for punishing Russia's president over his policies in Ukraine and Syria.

Trump has said his understanding of Russia is based in part on the 2013 Miss Universe event in Moscow, where the Manhattan mogul watched 86 contestants don shimmering evening gowns and skimpy swimsuits for what he would call "the world's biggest and most iconic beauty contest."

"I know Russia well," Trump told Fox News on May 6. "I had a major event in Russia two or three years ago, which was a big, big incredible event." Asked whether he had met with Putin there, Trump declined to say, though he added: "I got to meet a lot of people."

"And you know what?" he continued. "They want to be friendly with the United States. Wouldn't it be nice if we actually got along with somebody?"

Critics ridiculed the idea that Trump gleaned any real understanding of Russia from hosting a beauty pageant there. But the deeper story of how he brought the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow -- a classic Trumpian tale of money, power and pulchritude -- does shed fresh light on the business interests and personal contacts that have helped to shape his views about the country. It also reveals more about his personal courtship of Putin, which long predates his presidential bid.

At the heart of the episode is Trump's relationship with Aras Agalarov, a billionaire Russian real estate mogul with ties to Putin, and Agalarov's rakish son, Emin, 36, a dance-pop singer with ambitions to international stardom who got Trump to appear in one of his music videos.

Posted by orrinj at 3:08 PM


'Full Measure': Quitting Congress (Sharyl Attkisson, 6/19/17, Sinclair Broadcast Group)

Just a couple of months ago, we profiled Congressman Jason Chaffetz, the Republican chairman of the powerful House Oversight Committee which was poised to dig deep on wide-ranging investigations into government mischief, waste, fraud and abuse. A few weeks later, Chaffetz abruptly resigned from Congress. We asked the "Oversight Man" what changed his mind about being a lead watchdog with not only a GOP majority in Congress, but also a Republican in the White House. He told me it's more a matter of what hasn't changed. [...]

Attkisson: "Some people might think this is a great time to be a Republican chairman of an important committee because Republicans control the House, they're the majority in the Senate, and they hold the president's office. That means, you would think, that federal agencies can't stonewall investigations of spending, waste, fraud and abuse."

Chaffetz: "The reality is, sadly, I don't see much difference between the Trump administration and the Obama administration. I thought there would be this, these floodgates would open up with all the documents we wanted from the Department of State, the Department of Justice, the Pentagon. In many ways, it's almost worse because we're getting nothing, and that's terribly frustrating and, with all due respect, the attorney general has not changed at all. I find him to be worse than what I saw with Loretta Lynch in terms of releasing documents and making things available. I just, that's my experience, and that's not what I expected."

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM



THE GOP'S 2016 presidential upset wasn't surprising just because it put Donald Trump in the White House; it also proved the party had vastly improved its ability to exploit data, including precision ad targeting campaigns on Facebook. Now comes the fallout of all that information hoarding: A California-based security researcher says Republican-linked election databases were inadvertently exposed to the entire internet, sans password, potentially violating the privacy of almost every single registered voter in the United States.

The data trove was apparently made public by accident by one of the data-mining companies that compiled it. It includes a mix of private information and data gleaned from public voter rolls: "the voter's date of birth, home and mailing addresses, phone number, registered party, self-reported racial demographic, voter registration status" as well as computer "modeled" speculation about each person's race and religion, according to an analysis provided by to The Intercept.

Posted by orrinj at 9:56 AM


Russia threatens to shoot down US-led coalition jets over Syria (Times of Israel, June 19, 2017)

Russia's defense ministry said it was suspending coordination with the United States in Syria over so-called "de-confliction zones" after the Americans downed a Syrian government fighter jet.

The military isn't interested in Donald's alliance with Vlad.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Before Baseball-Reference, Statheads Relied On The 'Big Mac' : The first really good baseball encyclopedia weighed 6.5 pounds and helped kick off the sabermetrics revolution. (Rob Neyer, 5/01/17, 538)
For diehard baseball fans, a world without Sean Forman's Baseball-Reference.com is difficult to imagine. But the site is relatively new; it didn't grace the Internet until 2000. Before that, for seamheads interested in baseball statistics there was only ... print. Print? Yes, print. You remember print.

One of those print compendiums of baseball information was a 6.5-pound behemoth nicknamed "Big Mac," and it changed how people think about the sport. A world without the Big Mac might not just mean a world without Baseball-Reference.com, it might also mean a world without Bill James, which might mean a world without sabermetrics, a world without "Moneyball," a world without the analytics that have transformed so many other sports. As John Thorn, Major League Baseball's official historian, says today, "It was a revolution. This was the 'Moby-Dick' of baseball statistics, not only for its size, but also for its place in baseball history."

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Mueller team lawyer brings witness-flipping expertise to Trump probes (Karen Freifeld, 6/19/17, Reuters)

A veteran federal prosecutor recruited onto special counsel Robert Mueller's team is known for a skill that may come in handy in the investigation of potential ties between Russia and U.S. President Donald Trump's 2016 campaign team: persuading witnesses to turn on friends, colleagues and superiors.

Andrew Weissmann, who headed the U.S. Justice Department's criminal fraud section before joining Mueller's team last month, is best known for two assignments - the investigation of now-defunct energy company Enron and organized crime cases in Brooklyn, New York - that depended heavily on gaining witness cooperation. [...]

Robert Ray, who succeeded Kenneth Starr as the independent counsel examining former President Bill Clinton, noted that Trump's fired former national security advisor, Michael Flynn, has already offered through his lawyer to testify before Congress in exchange for immunity, suggesting potential willingness to cooperate as a witness.

"It would seem to me the time is now to make some decisions about what you have and what leverage can be applied to get the things you don't have," Ray said, referring to Mueller's team.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Rosenbergs: Still Guilty After All These Years (Kathy Shaidle, September 23, 2008, FrontPageMagazine.com)

For close to sixty years, Morton Sobell dined out on his reputation as one of the innocent "progressives," wrongly convicted, along with Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, of spying for the Soviet Union. After his 1969 release from Alcatraz prison, Sobell was feted by communist regimes in Cuba and canonized by fellow leftists as yet another victim of a wicked American justice system. All that changed last week.

Sobell, now 91, has finally admitted the truth. He really had been a Soviet spy - and so had Julius Rosenberg. As the New York Times - no right-wing tribune - put it in a recent report, the pair was part of "a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information, and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb." Sobell still maintains that the information he passed along to America's enemies wasn't especially significant, but he has at last abandoned the pretence, which he maintained for nearly half a century, that he was never a Soviet agent.

Sobell's confession is not coincidental. It came just days before the National Archives released long-secret grand jury testimony in the world famous Rosenberg espionage case. Nevertheless, it has definitively shattered one of the enduring myths of the progressive Left. For generations of leftists, the innocence of the Rosenbergs was an article of faith. It bolstered their self-image as noble, if misunderstood idealists, forever doomed to persecution by a corrupt American system. Columbia University professor Eric Foner's claim that the Rosenberg's were singled out as part of "a determined effort to root out dissent" was a typical expression of the Left's revisionism. Sobell's admission has exposed it as self-serving nonsense. The Rosenbergs' were in fact guilty as charged.

This much is apparent even to the Rosenbergs' staunchest supporters: their children. Until Sobell's confession, the Rosenbergs' sons, Robert and Michael Meeropol, had championed their parents' innocence. Even when declassified documents proved that Americans really had been spying for the Soviet Union, the Meeropols refused to acknowledge that their parents had been among them. As recently as two years ago, the Rosenbergs' granddaughter, Rachel Meeropol, insisted that they "weren't guilty of what they were convicted of." But even for the Meeropols, this defense is now indefensible. Michael Meeropol told the New York Times after Sobell's confession, "I don't have any reason to doubt Morty."

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Trump Torpedoes Europe's Far Right (ROBERT HUNZIKER, 6/10/17, Counterpunch)

Back in the day, meaning 2016 and during the initial months of 2017, the far right in Europe gravitated to Trump's right side or hardnosed libertarianism, unaffectionately known as Los Destructo, under direction of Bannon, which leaves little or no room for those whom voted for Trump in the first place. Remarkably, comatose bewildered American voters in November 2016 essentially bequeathed votes to reality TV flat screens nestled in their basement family rooms.

Did they waste votes?

Nowadays, but not in 2016, Europe's far right would likely say: "Yes, they wasted their votes."

Whereas, only a few short months ago on November 9, 2016: "Cas Mudde, a Dutch political scientist at the University of Georgia, says, 'Trump's win gives a narrative of success, of possibility, to far-right parties in Europe, because Trump won despite all the predictions. So they can say to people, 'You're not wasting your vote if you come out and vote for us. We will actually do much better than what everyone says.' " (Source: Eleanor Beardsley, Trump's Election Gives Hope To Europe's Far Right, NPR, Nov. 9, 2016.)

How quickly things change once reality exposes delusion. As of today throughout Europe Trump's burgeoning affliction is like an outbreak of small pox, stay away. The hard evidence is found in polling and voting data. Continent-wide anybody associated with Trump is standing in a deep pile of doo-doo. Proof: Since Trump won the White House, every major European election crushes far right candidates. The true reality of Trump has turned the world to the value of neoliberalism as a safety valve, warts and all.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


U.S. Quietly Admits Covert CIA Role in Iranian Coup (Adam Kredo, June 19, 2017, Free Beacon)

The Trump administration has released a long-suppressed and classified government report disclosing U.S. clandestine action in Iran that outlines America's role in the country's 1953 coup, the State Department announced last week in a move that is likely to roil the Islamic Republic.

The report, which details covert U.S. operations in Iran, has been the source of controversy for quite some time, as the former Obama administration had suppressed its publication in a bid to avoid upsetting Iran during diplomatic efforts to foster the landmark nuclear deal.

While a small portion of the report still remains classified, its release marks the first time the United States is officially acknowledging its clandestine role in the 1953 coup against the Iranian government led by Mohammad Mosadeq.