July 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Saudi Arabia's New Crown Prince Is a Bumbling Hothead. (RICHARD SOKOLSKY,  AARON DAVID MILLER, June 29, 2017, Politico)

Who knows whether or not the young king will be able to live up to these expectations on the domestic side. Countervailing forces and challenges might limit his horizons. But one thing is already stunningly clear when it comes to his handling of foreign policy: In two short years, as the deputy crown prince and defense minister, MBS has driven the Kingdom into a series of royal blunders in Yemen, Qatar and Iran, and he has likely overpromised what Saudi Arabia is able and willing to do on the Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking front. Far from demonstrating judgment and experience, he's proven to be reckless and impulsive, with little sense of how to link tactics and strategy. And sadly, he's managed to implicate and drag the new Trump administration into some of these misadventures, too.

We don't blame the crown prince for snookering Washington into its schemes and designs--this is almost entirely the fault of a White House that seems naively to believe Riyadh and the Sunni Gulf coalition are critical to helping the United States achieve its three key Middle East goals: destroying ISIS, rolling back Iran and delivering Arab-Israeli peace. Based on Saudi behavior since King Salman and MBS came to power in 2015, it's not at all clear that Riyadh can deliver on any of these objectives. Indeed, if Washington doesn't lay down some rules and distance itself from Saudi misadventures, it will find its objectives even more elusive.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


American Culture: A Story (Bruce Frohnen, May 2017, Imaginative Conservative)

[I]n the interest of brevity, I will skip just a bit further forward, to Mount Sinai. Following Russell Kirk,[1] we can pick the story up here because it set the Israelites apart from their neighbors in a politically crucial way. I refer, of course, to the handing down by God of the Ten Commandments; a transformative, defining moment for the Israelites, and for those whom they influenced.

Some point out that the Ten Commandments were not all that different from other codes, like the Code of Hammurabi. But that is not the point. The point is that it was Hammurabi's code, a law handed down by a supposedly sacred political power, who saw himself as the creator of right and wrong--just as, I would argue, our liberal friends tend to see both law and government. Moses, on the other hand, gave the Israelites God's law, and thereby established a higher law tradition, according to which worldly governors can be judged by standards higher than their own will.

Again in the interest of brevity, I will just mention some other parts of the story: man's discovery of the powers of reason in Greece; our training in the virtues of republican government in Rome; I even will skip over the utterly transformative moment in a later Jerusalem, when God saved man's transcendent humanity by Himself becoming Man, and, through His death and resurrection, making clear our duty to love one another as ourselves. I instead will move to a lesser-known part of the story, set in early medieval Rome. For it was here that the Pope won the struggle with the Holy Roman Emperor, and gained the right to appoint bishops, which formerly had been appointed by the emperor himself.

So what?

So, this victory institutionalized Mount Sinai. It set up a separate religious authority, independent of the state, which would tell kings they were behaving wrongly, even excommunicate them and tell their subjects they owed them no allegiance. That investiture struggle institutionalized the higher law tradition and made natural law the standard of all governments and societies in the west. It made possible the Great Charter of Britain, which guaranteed the rights of the church, of the barons, and of the towns, in the face of a centralizing king. And that charter--and others like it on the continent--made possible the flourishing of towns, guilds, parishes, families, and other associations, which gained their own chartered rights, along with the ability and will to defend them.

Strong associations meant a multiplicity of authorities, protecting both communal and independent action through legal and customary rights. They also constituted a diversity of groups within which one acted, and to which one could look for protection. This diversity, these groups, and these rights came into bad odor in the era of absolutism and centralization. But, for a variety of reasons we need not go into, in Britain in particular there was resistance to this centralizing trend, which said, "There can be only one sovereign, one source of power and authority." Instead, there continued a healthy--though unfortunately difficult and at times bloody--competition among social and political authorities.

It was in the midst of this competition that the first settlers came to America. Many of them were seeking money. They had troubles. Others, for a long time the more successful settlers, were seeking to set up communities of faith and virtue, to follow the way of their Lord in common. Most of the colonies had their own charters, as well as an ocean keeping British authority safely distant, and allowing them to become self-governing local societies, themselves made up of largely self-governing communities. Self-government became second nature.

There was an abortive attempt to change all this, which we tend to forget, but which earlier Americans kept vividly in their minds. In 1688, as he was trying to consolidate power in Britain, James II also sought to consolidate power in America, erasing borders, dismissing legislatures, and assuming full sovereignty. The colonists resisted, fiercely. I skip over the rather nasty anti-Catholicism that was a part of this resistance because that is what adults do; because the fact that a sin was involved does not mean that it was either the cause of, or caused by, the event. The point is, the Glorious Revolution became a defining moment for Americans because it was not simply a British event; it also was American. The Glorious Revolution of 1688 showed, to both peoples, the increasing power of charters, and of petitions of grievances charging kings with violating inherited rights, to defend pre-existing ways of life.

Posted by orrinj at 5:21 PM


Army is in danger of being reduced to a mere 'gendarmerie', former Chief of the General Staff warns  (Camilla Turner, 1 JULY 2017, The Telegraph)

The army is in danger of being reduced to a mere "gendarmerie", a former army chief has warned, as he says that the emphasis spending on "big ticket machinery" has led to a squeeze on manpower.  

General Lord Richard Dannatt, a former Chief of the General Staff, said that "any thought of Britain being taken seriously in the world after Brexit would disappear" if forces are cut any further.

None too soon.

Posted by orrinj at 5:18 PM


The Time I Got Recruited to Collude with the Russians (Matt Tait  Friday, June 30, 2017, LawFare)

A few weeks later, right around the time the DNC emails were dumped by Wikileaks--and curiously, around the same time Trump called for the Russians to get Hillary Clinton's missing emails--I was contacted out the blue by a man named Peter Smith, who had seen my work going through these emails. Smith implied that he was a well-connected Republican political operative.

Initially, I assumed the query must have been about my work on the DNC hack; after all, few people followed my account prior to the DNC breach, whereas my analysis of the break-in at the DNC had received considerably more coverage. I assumed his query about the "Clinton emails" was therefore a mistake and that he meant instead to talk to me about the emails stolen from the DNC. So I agreed to talk to him, thinking that, whatever my views on then-candidate Trump, if a national campaign wanted an independent non-partisan view on the facts surrounding the case, I should provide it to the best of my ability.

Yet Smith had not contacted me about the DNC hack, but rather about his conviction that Clinton's private email server had been hacked--in his view almost certainly both by the Russian government and likely by multiple other hackers too--and his desire to ensure that the fruits of those hacks were exposed prior to the election. Over the course of a long phone call, he mentioned that he had been contacted by someone on the "Dark Web" who claimed to have a copy of emails from Secretary Clinton's private server, and this was why he had contacted me; he wanted me to help validate whether or not the emails were genuine. [...]

Over the course of our conversations, one thing struck me as particularly disturbing. Smith and I talked several times about the DNC hack, and I expressed my view that the hack had likely been orchestrated by Russia and that the Kremlin was using the stolen documents as part of an influence campaign against the United States. I explained that if someone had contacted him via the "Dark Web" with Clinton's personal emails, he should take very seriously the possibility that this may have been part of a wider Russian campaign against the United States. And I said he need not take my word for it, pointing to a number of occasions where US officials had made it clear that this was the view of the U.S. intelligence community as well.

Smith, however, didn't seem to care. From his perspective it didn't matter who had taken the emails, or their motives for doing so. He never expressed to me any discomfort with the possibility that the emails he was seeking were potentially from a Russian front, a likelihood he was happy to acknowledge. If they were genuine, they would hurt Clinton's chances, and therefore help Trump.

When he first contacted me, I did not know who Smith was, but his legitimate connections within the Republican party were apparent. My motive for initially speaking to him was that I wondered if the campaign was trying to urgently establish whether the claims that Russia had hacked the DNC was merely "spin" from the Clinton campaign, or instead something they would need to address before Trump went too far down the road of denying it. My guess was that maybe they wanted to contact someone who could provide them with impartial advice to understand whether the claims were real or just rhetoric.

Although it wasn't initially clear to me how independent Smith's operation was from Flynn or the Trump campaign, it was immediately apparent that Smith was both well connected within the top echelons of the campaign and he seemed to know both Lt. Gen. Flynn and his son well. Smith routinely talked about the goings on at the top of the Trump team, offering deep insights into the bizarre world at the top of the Trump campaign. Smith told of Flynn's deep dislike of DNI Clapper, whom Flynn blamed for his dismissal by President Obama. Smith told of Flynn's moves to position himself to become CIA Director under Trump, but also that Flynn had been persuaded that the Senate confirmation process would be prohibitively difficult. He would instead therefore become National Security Advisor should Trump win the election, Smith said. He also told of a deep sense of angst even among Trump loyalists in the campaign, saying "Trump often just repeats whatever he's heard from the last person who spoke to him," and expressing the view that this was especially dangerous when Trump was away.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


The Case For a Universal  Basic Income (Sebastian Johnson, 7/01/17, The Los Angeles Times)

There are competing ideas about how exactly the policy should work. Advocates on the left call for a UBI that would increase benefits to the poor and be financed by increasing taxes on corporations and the wealthy. Conservative advocates favor an approach wherein programs in the current safety net, such as Social Security and food stamps, are replaced with a UBI. Others favor an incrementalist policy in which current safety net programs are expanded to include all Americans, while another faction wants to build a UBI program from scratch. Despite their differences, all approaches to UBI policy share the core goal of establishing an income floor for every American.

An income floor would help American workers in a number of critical ways. Relieved of the immediate pressure to pay bills, workers could pursue training for the kinds of jobs that automation will bring. A universal basic income would allow skilled workers to take entrepreneurial risks they cannot afford now. It would also allow Americans to work fewer hours but maintain their living standards, leaving more time for caregiving and raising children. Overall, UBI would provide a significant boost to the American middle class, which has stagnated even as productivity and overall wealth continue to rise. By putting more money into the pockets of workers, a UBI could fuel aggregate demand and job growth in different sectors across the country.

Momentum is building. Child poverty experts in growing numbers have called on states and the federal government to consider a child allowance -- UBI for kids -- that would help level the playing field for low- and middle-income families. The California Senate is considering ambitious cap-and-trade legislation that would send "climate dividend rebates" to every citizen. Even some oil companies are in favor of schemes to tax carbon and send checks to every American.

Posted by orrinj at 4:59 PM


Latinos key to U.S. economic growth, study finds (Octavio Blanco, 7/01/17, CNNMoney)

In 2015, the 55 million Latinos living and working in the U.S. were responsible for $2.13 trillion -- or 11.8% -- of America's $18.04 trillion gross domestic product, according to a study released Thursday by the Latino Donors Collaborative, a nonpartisan association of Latino business, political and academic leaders.

And those contributions are expected to continue to grow.

By 2020, the researchers estimate that Latinos will fuel nearly a quarter of all U.S. GDP growth, and represent 12.7% of the country's total GDP. Helping to power that growth will be the growing number of young Latinos who will be joining the workforce as an older generation of American workers -- the Baby Boomers -- retire.

Posted by orrinj at 4:09 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


Trump blasts states for refusing to give voter data: Twitter (rEUTERS, 7/01/17)

President Donald Trump lashed out on Saturday at the growing number of states refusing to give voters' names, addresses and sensitive personal information to a commission he created to investigate alleged voter fraud.

Sound strategy : Donald v. America  

Posted by orrinj at 1:02 PM


Tillerson argued with a second White House aide (JOSH DAWSEY and ELIANA JOHNSON 06/30/2017, pOLITICO)

Miller pushed Tillerson and the State Department to be tougher on immigration and make changes to the programs they control, according to four people familiar with the conversation in the West Wing. John Kelly, the head of the Department of Homeland Security, was also present. [...]

Tillerson made it "quite clear" to Miller that he wanted autonomy over his department, one of these people said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


American Patriotism: It Really Is Pretty Special (Mark Lilienthal, 7/01/17, The Valley News)

[W]hen I lived in rural Burgundy, I can tell you that I never saw anyone dressed up as Marianne, France's version of Uncle Sam. No one in my village could give you the French equivalent of "American as Mom and apple pie." Burgundians don't throw their arms over each others' shoulders and belt out patriotic songs, even on Bastille Day.

By contrast, American patriotism is a cornucopia of our individualism. Think of all the way our American pride manifests itself. Just glance at a catalog I got recently: American flags on indoor/outdoor rugs, wine glasses, polo shirts. Online, the bonanza continues: onesies with Abraham Lincoln wearing shades, and dog bandanas, vintage shaving mugs, cufflinks, and parasols covered with the Stars and Stripes. There is seemingly no end to American creativity when it comes to showing the world how wonderful it is to be us.

When we turn music on, the patriotic assault is hard to dodge. No matter your Sirius XM, Spotify or Pandora channel, you're certain to encounter the artistic take on what it means to live here. I could make a playlist full of songs that no self-respecting American would dream of turning off: R.O.C.K in the U.S.A., This Land is Your Land, God Bless the USA, Ray Charles' version of America the Beautiful, Take Me Home, Country Roads, and America -- a song that can give as many goosebumps as the reading of the Declaration of Independence, whether you are listening to Neil Diamond's lyrics or Simon and Garfunkel's take --would all make the cut. On the B side, we could delve into another aspect of American patriotism, namely our right to poke fun at ourselves, or even roundly criticize our society. When one hears all that inside an anthem that brings a stadium crowd to its feet, you know it's an American song. If you just skip over those pesky lyrics, Born in the USA could easily be our national anthem. Who hasn't felt a twinge of moral conflict while turning up the volume on Pink Houses, American Girl, Fortunate Son, or American Pie?

I wanted to make sure I wasn't being too harsh on my French friends, so I reached out to some good Gauls for their take. Jean-Fran├žois Leon, who was raised in France and now lives in Norwich, commented that while there are some patriotic songs in French culture, they are violent songs, rooted in the Revolution, not popular hits. He continued, "It is unimaginable to envision a French person burning the flag." Naively, I thought it was because they have a deeper reverence for the bleu, blanc, rouge. He quickly disabused me of that notion, explaining that the opposite is true: French wouldn't burn the flag because the flag itself has such little value in French life. "If we burned it, it wouldn't shock anyone, so we would never do it."

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Movie review: 'Okja' and the power of free markets to save lives (REV. BEN JOHNSON, JUNE 30, 2017, Acton)
Okja, the new film from the director of Snowpiercer, was simultaneously released online and in the theater to coincide with the extended Fourth of July holiday. But Okja, which seeks to portray capitalism in a negative light, deserves to be remembered for its portrayal of how free markets save lives. [...]

Ultimately, what saves Okja (the animal, not the film) is free market capitalism. Mija makes a consumer choice that she values her pet more than a solid gold statue. Mirando seeks to make a profit by catering to human needs. The conclusion of this film is the flip-side of Adam Smith's famous dictum that prosperity is not caused by the entrepreneur's benevolence; much less is a corporation primarily motivated by sadism. It bears remembering that the free market has long been involved in conservation - including the preservation of species facing extinction - from the Hawk Mountain Sanctuary Association in Pennsylvania, to the Sea Lion Caves of Oregon, to the work of Ducks Unlimited in preserving wetlands through private ownership.

Okja accurately teaches that each individual affects the world by choosing which products to purchase. Every dollar is a vote for or against a good or service. Only when denied this choice can a system impose barbarism on an unwilling society.

Fans of the free market would do well to vote with their dollars and watch something else besides Okja this summer.

...but, so far as I could discern, the gist of Snowpiercer was that the suicide of our species is preferable to income inequality.  

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


GOP operative who sought Clinton emails cited Trump aides: report (MAX GREENWOOD, 06/30/17, The Hill)  

A Republican activist who sought last year to obtain Hillary Clinton's personal emails that had been deleted from a private email server had included the names of top Trump campaign officials in a recruiting document, The Wall Street Journal reported Friday.

Among those listed in the document are now-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, now-counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, now-Agriculture Department policy adviser Sam Clovis and former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

The document is dated Sept. 7, 2016, according to the Journal.

Around that time, GOP activist Peter Smith began assembling a team of lawyers, tech experts and Russian-speaking investigators to obtain 33,000 of Clinton's private emails that he believed had been stolen by hackers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


A MAP OF THE SOUL (Michael Egnor, 6 . 29 . 17, First Things)

I'm a neuroscientist and professor of neurosurgery. The mind-brain question haunts me. Neurosurgeons alter the brain on a daily basis, and what we find doesn't fit the prevailing view that the brain runs the mind as computer hardware runs software.

I have scores of patients who are missing large areas of their brains, yet who have quite good minds. I have a patient born with two-thirds of her brain absent. She's a normal junior high kid who loves to play soccer. Another patient, missing a similar amount of brain tissue, is an accomplished musician with a master's degree in English.

How can this be? It wasn't until I read Thomas Aquinas that I began to understand.

Aquinas began by reaching back to an earlier thinker. Following Aristotle, he posited that the human soul has three kinds of powers. It has vegetative powers, which serve physiological functions such as heartbeat, respiration, and metabolism. It has sensitive powers, such as sensation, perception, memory, sensitive appetite, and locomotion. The vegetative and sensitive powers are caused by matter, in a purely physical way.

But the human soul also has intellect and will, powers of a wholly different kind. With our intellect, we can think of universal concepts, such as mercy and justice and abstract mathematics. With our will, we can act on abstract principles. Because thinking of abstract concepts entails thoughts removed from particular things, Aquinas reasoned, intellect couldn't be a material thing. Intellect and will are immaterial powers.

Aquinas taught that our soul's immaterial powers are only facilitated by matter, not caused by it, and the correlation is loose. His insight presaged certain findings of modern neuroscience.

Wilder Penfield, an early-twentieth-century neurosurgeon who pioneered seizure surgery, noted that during brain stimulation on awake patients, he was never able to stimulate the mind itself--the sense of "I"--but only fragmented sensations and perceptions and movements and memories. Our core identity cannot be evoked or altered by physical stimulation of the brain.

Relatedly, Penfield observed that spontaneous electrical discharges in the brain cause involuntary sensations and movements and even emotions, but never abstract reasoning or calculation. There are no "calculus" seizures or "moral" seizures, in which patients involuntarily take second derivatives or ponder mercy.

Similar observations emerge from Roger Sperry's famous studies of patients who had undergone surgery to disconnect the hemispheres of the brain. This was done to prevent seizures. The post-operative patients experienced peculiar perceptual and behavioral changes, but they retained unity of personal identity--a unified intellect and will. The changes Sperry discovered in his research (for which he won a Nobel Prize) were so subtle as to pass unnoticed in everyday life.

In the past decade, British researcher Adrian Owen has found using fMRI imaging that some patients with such severe brain damage that they are considered to be in a persistent vegetative state are actually capable of sophisticated thought. The "comatose" patients' brain scans show that, in reply to questions by an examiner, the patients are in fact thinking and imagining.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


US teen birth rate drops to all-time low (Susan Scutti, 6/30/17, CNN)

In the United States, teen-aged moms are increasingly rare. In 2016, the teen birth rate dropped 9% compared to the previous year, a new government report published Friday found. This record low for teens having babies continues a long-term trend.

The birth rate among teen girls has dropped 67% since 1991, according to the National Center for Health Statistics, which presented preliminary data for 2016 based on a majority (99.9%) of births.