July 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:07 PM


Justice Department's Corporate Crime Watchdog Resigns, Saying Trump Makes It Impossible To Do Job (DAVID SIROTA, 07/02/17, IB Times)
One of the Justice Department's top corporate crime watchdogs has resigned, declaring that she cannot enforce ethics laws against companies while, she asserts, her own bosses in the Trump administration have been engaging in conduct that she said she would never tolerate in corporations.

Hui Chen -- a former Pfizer and Microsoft lawyer who also was a federal prosecutor -- had been the department's compliance counsel. She left the department in June and broke her silence about her move in a recent LinkedIn post that sounded an alarm about the Trump administration's behavior.

"Trying to hold companies to standards that our current administration is not living up to was creating a cognitive dissonance that I could not overcome," Chen wrote. "To sit across the table from companies and question how committed they were to ethics and compliance felt not only hypocritical, but very much like shuffling the deck chair on the Titanic. Even as I engaged in those questioning and evaluations, on my mind were the numerous lawsuits pending against the President of the United States for everything from violations of the Constitution to conflict of interest, the ongoing investigations of potentially treasonous conducts, and the investigators and prosecutors fired for their pursuits of principles and facts. Those are conducts I would not tolerate seeing in a company, yet I worked under an administration that engaged in exactly those conduct. I wanted no more part in it."

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Low-income families spend 40% of their money on luxuries (Leslie Albrecht, June 30, 2017, Market Watch)

It turns out that all Americans, regardless of income, spend a large percentage of their income on luxuries.

People who make the most money spend the biggest chunk of their incomes on luxury goods, but even the poorest households spend a significant amount for luxuries, according to an analysis released this week by Deutsche Bank Research.

The wealthiest families (the top fifth of earners) spend around 65% of their incomes on luxury goods and 35% on necessities, according to the study, which looked at spending habits between 1984 and 2014. Middle-income households weren't far behind: They spend 50% on luxuries and 50% on necessities.

Even the lowest income families (the bottom fifth of earners) spend 40% on luxuries and 60% on necessities, according to the study's author, Torsten Slok, chief international economist for Deutsche Bank Securities.

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Jewish Philanthropist Ends Aid To Israel Over Kotel, Conversion Controversies (Aiden Pink, 7/02/17, The Forward)

In the past week, the government suspended plans to build an egalitarian prayer section at the Western Wall, and froze for six months a proposal to pass a law denying citizenship to non-Israelis who convert to Judaism outside the auspices of the state rabbinate, which is controlled by ultra-Orthodox rabbis.

"It isn't a matter of Reform or Conservative," Fisher told the paper. "This is a serious act of contempt for the rabbis and leaders of our communities. They say 'you don't matter. They say to our women 'your Judaism isn't Judaism.' It is intolerable and we have an obligation to put an end to it."

Posted by orrinj at 12:39 PM


St. Anthony's Unanswered Prayer : Over 45 years, Bob Hurley turned his Jersey City basketball program into an unlikely national power. Now, after 28 state titles and decades of staving off closure, St. Anthony is shutting its doors, and the Friars family is trying to cope with running out of miracles. (sam Fortier, 6/30/17, the Ringer)

A few minutes before 7 on a warm May night in Jersey City, New Jersey, the first of 200 or so guests arrive for what one event organizer calls "the final celebration of life" for the fabled St. Anthony High School basketball team. They climb up the brownstone steps to White Eagle Hall, the old gym about a mile from the school itself, where head coach Bob Hurley's Friars, who never had a home gym of their own, practiced for the better part of three decades until 2003. As the attendees pull open the mahogany doors and walk into the main hall, they mostly gasp. They remember White Eagle as a dingy, cramped gym, but a $6 million renovation that began in 2012 and concluded this spring has produced an ornate concert venue. During the renovation, a crew wiping away grime on the ceiling discovered two handcrafted, stained-glass murals, and they ripped up the basketball court and refashioned it as bar counters and balcony flooring. Now, the onstage guitarist, sensitive to the occasion, plays only slow, acoustic jazz and blues.
"Well," a woman says to her friends as they enter the hall, "they turned the temple of basketball into a whorehouse." [...]

Onstage, Hurley takes the microphone in his Merrells, blue jeans, and trademark sweater-vest. During his 45-year, one-school career, he never had a home gym, yet he won 1,184 games and 28 state titles -- a national record for a high school hoops program. Hurley loved the White Eagle days because he thought beating everyone after practicing in a converted bingo hall that lacked heat in the winter symbolized his squad. He says as much onstage, and the crowd thunders with applause as Hurley remarks on fan-favorite players and coaches, the eight Friars teams that went undefeated, and the four that won a national championship.

Hurley thanks everyone for coming to the dinner. He asks for a standing ovation for the St. Anthony teachers in attendance and ambles offstage. He doesn't go two steps before a line forms in front of him, each person waiting his or her turn to talk with the man who turned their hometown team into a national fixture.

"We did everything we could."

"This was bigger than ball for a lot of us."

"I guess we finally found a game we couldn't win."

Posted by orrinj at 12:34 PM


Iran Says It Will Sign $4.8 Billion Gas Deal With France's Total (RFE/RL, 7/02/17)

French energy giant Total will sign a multibillion-dollar agreement to develop an Iranian offshore gas field on July 3, Iran's Oil Ministry said, in the biggest foreign deal since sanctions were eased last year.

The more oil the Shi'a and Christians pump the more we undermine the Salafi and Putin.

Posted by orrinj at 12:30 PM


Study: Israel Losing Support Among Democrats, Minorities, Millennials (Ben Sales, July 2, 2017, JTA) 

[W]hat do you think of when you think of Israel? If you're like most Americans, you picture walls of concrete enclosing an austere and strict country. The men wear black hats, the women long skirts. Everyone looks pretty serious.

That's what Brand Israel Group, a group of former advertising professionals who set out to sell Israel to Americans, found in a series of focus groups beginning in 2005. The group has since commissioned two surveys of the American public -- in 2010 and 2016 -- and didn't like what it found.

According to the surveys, Israel has pretty broad backing among American citizens, but is losing support among a range of growing demographics. As pro-Israel advocates tout "shared values" between the United States and Israel, fewer and fewer Americans actually think they believe the same things as Israelis.

"Shared values are the bedrock of our relationship, and young Americans do not believe Israel shares our values," said Fern Oppenheim, one of the group's co-founders.

Posted by orrinj at 12:27 PM


The Crumbling ISIS Caliphate (David Ignatius, July 02, 2017, Washington Post)

As the battle for Raqqah begins in earnest, this city offers a preview of what's ahead:

-- The black balloon of the ISIS caliphate is deflating quickly in Syria, as in Iraq. There may be up to a year of hard fighting left, but the surprise for U.S. officials is that the battle in eastern Syria is going faster and better than expected. In a symbol of that advance, Kurdish commanders gave McGurk the ring of an ISIS emir who once used it to seal orders to kill Tabqa's inhabitants. The emir blew himself up when he was surrounded in May, leaving behind the ring and its now-empty claim of authority.

-- The confrontation with Syria and Russia that led to the shoot-down of a Syrian fighter jet just south of here two weeks ago seems to have eased, at least for now. Despite the Russians' public protests, they quietly agreed last weekend on a roughly 80-mile "deconfliction" line that stretches from a few miles west of here to a village on the Euphrates called Karama. That line appears to be holding, and it's a promising sign that broader U.S.-Russian cooperation in Syria may be possible.

-- The Kurdish-led militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces has shown it can defeat ISIS, so long as it's backed by U.S. air power. The Tabqa battle in May was perhaps the most ambitious and daring operation of the war so far. Five hundred SDF soldiers were airlifted across Lake Assad in V-22 Osprey helicopters in a raid that caught ISIS by surprise. The SDF suffered about 100 killed and more than 300 wounded in the bloody operation, but it worked, and in this part of the world, success breeds success. Arab refugees are now streaming toward the Kurdish-led SDF, rather than away, and 8,200 U.S.-trained Arab forces are joining the front lines.

Lt. Gen. Stephen Townsend, who commands U.S. and coalition forces in Syria and Iraq, explains in an interview that the Kurdish military leadership here is "the thickener, the hardener you put on the glue to make it hold."

McGurk repeats at every meeting with local officials that the U.S.'s ability to fix Syria is limited. America can help defeat ISIS, and it can provide quick stabilization support to repair water, electricity and other infrastructure. But it can't do everything.

...illustrates the importance of getting them to cluster.
Posted by orrinj at 12:22 PM


Pence's "polite distance" from Trump (Axios, 7/02/17)

As part of navigating this volatile White House, look for Pence to spend even more time outside Washington, including an upcoming foreign trip.

"Changes for him are ones that also apply broadly to the White House," an adviser said. "Both of them need to go out and sell more. ... When they don't, they respond all day to handful of journalists and politicians out to kill them."

Traveling gives the V.P. physical and psychological distance from a West Wing where presidential aides privately speculate about a President Pence. The dilemma is similar to that facing every White House #2 who wants a political future -- but is more acute because of the swarm of investigations.

"He needs to chart an independent course, with more distance from Trump," says an ally of both leaders. "Not so much on issues -- they're well aligned on issues. He needs distance from the behavior and personal foibles -- polite distance."

...he's less viable in 2020. No one ever longed for a President Agnew.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


This is the impact that culture has had on our evolution (Kevin Laland, 5/19/17, Project Syndicate)

Is there an evolutionary explanation for humanity's greatest successes - technology, science, and the arts - with roots that can be traced back to animal behavior? I first asked this question 30 years ago, and have been working to answer it ever since.

Plenty of animals use tools, emit signals, imitate one another, and possess memories of past events. Some even develop learned traditions that entail consuming particular foods or singing a particular kind of song - acts that, to some extent, resemble human culture.

But human mental ability stands far apart. We live in complex societies organized around linguistically coded rules, morals, and social institutions, with a massive reliance on technology. We have devised machines that fly, microchips, and vaccines. We have written stories, songs, and sonnets. We have danced in Swan Lake.

Developmental psychologists have established that when it comes to dealing with the physical world (for example, spatial memory and tool use), human toddlers' cognitive skills are already comparable to those of adult chimpanzees and orangutans. In terms of social cognition (such as imitating others or understanding intentions), toddlers' minds are far more sophisticated.

The same gap is observed in both communication and cooperation. Vaunted claims that apes produce language do not stand up to scrutiny: animals can learn the meanings of signs and string together simple word combinations, but they cannot master syntax. And experiments show that apes cooperate far less readily than humans.

Thanks to advances in comparative cognition, scientists are now confident that other animals do not possess hidden reasoning powers and cognitive complexity, and that the gap between human and animal intelligence is genuine. So how could something as extraordinary and unique as the human mind evolve?

A major interdisciplinary effort has recently solved this longstanding evolutionary puzzle. The answer is surprising. It turns out that our species' most extraordinary characteristics - our intelligence, language, cooperation, and technology - did not evolve as adaptive responses to external conditions. Rather, humans are creatures of their own making, with minds that were built not just for culture, but by culture. In other words, culture transformed the evolutionary process.

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REPORT: Bernie Sanders's Wife Tried To Kick A Bunch Of DISABLED PEOPLE Out Of Their Group Home (Eric Owens, 07/01/2017, Daily Caller)
The wife of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders attempted to evict 16 disabled residents from a group home facility when, as president of now-defunct Burlington College, she was trying to negotiate the multimillion-dollar acquisition of 33 acres of prime real estate and a building owned by the local Roman Catholic Diocese.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Egg Oversupply Means Prices Will Stay Low for This Year (Sydney Maki, 7/02/17, Bloomberg)

It doesn't matter if you like them hard-boiled, scrambled or soaked in heart-clogging hollandaise sauce: When eggs are this cheap, it's a good time to get cracking.

Supplies in the U.S. have surged so much in recent months that prices are the lowest for this time of year in at least a decade. It will probably take awhile for consumers to eat through the surplus inventory, so the government is predicting egg costs will drop more than any other food group in 2017.

6 Reasons Why Eggs Are The Healthiest Food on The Planet (Kris Gunnars, June 22, 2017, authority Nutrition)

One whole egg contains an amazing range of nutrients.

Just imagine... the nutrients in there are enough to turn a single fertilized cell into an entire baby chicken.

Eggs are loaded with vitamins, minerals, high quality proteins, good fats and various other lesser-known nutrients.

One large egg contains (1):

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin): 9% of the RDA.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin): 15% of the RDA.
Vitamin A: 6% of the RDA.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid): 7% of the RDA.
Selenium: 22% of the RDA.

Eggs also contain small amounts of almost every vitamin and mineral required by the human body... including calcium, iron, potassium, zinc, manganese, Vitamin E, Folate and many more.

A large egg contains 77 calories, with 6 grams of quality protein, 5 grams of fat and trace amounts of carbohydrates.

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 AM


The Short, Unhappy Life of a Libertarian Paradise : The residents of Colorado Springs undertook a radical experiment in government. Here's what they got. (CALEB HANNAN, July/August 2017, Politico)

For a city, like the country at large, that was hurting economically, Steve Bach seemed like a man with an answer. What he promised sounded radically simple: Wasteful government is the root of the pain, and if you just run government like the best businesses, the pain will go away. Easy. Because he had never held office and because he actually had been a successful entrepreneur, people were inclined to believe he really could reinvent the way a city was governed.

The city's experiment was fascinating because it offered a chance to observe some of the most extreme conservative principles in action in a real-world laboratory. Producers from "60 Minutes" flew out to talk with the town's leaders. The New York Times found a woman in a dark trailer park pawning her flat screen TV to buy a shotgun for protection. "This American Life" did a segment portraying Springs citizens as the ultimate anti-tax zealots, willing to pay $125 in a new "Adopt a Streetlight" program to illuminate their own neighborhoods, but not willing to spend the same to do so for the entire city. "I'll take care of mine" was the gist of what one council member heard from a resident when she confronted him with this fact.

That's where Colorado Springs was frozen in the consciousness of the country--a city determined to redefine the role of government, led by a sharp-elbowed businessman who didn't care whom he offended along the way (not unlike a certain president). But it has been five years since "This American Life" packed up its mics. A lot has changed in that time, not least of which is that the local economy, which nearly drowned the city like a concrete block tied around its balance sheet, is buoyant once again. Sales tax revenue has made the books plump with surplus. Enough to turn those famous streetlights back on. Seven years after the experiment began, the verdict is in--and it's not at all what its architects planned.

One of the lessons: There's a real cost to saving money.

Take the streetlights. Turning them off had saved the city about $1.25 million. What had not made the national news stories was what had happened while those lights were off. Copper thieves, emboldened by the opportunity to work without fear of electrocution, had worked overtime scavenging wire. Some, the City Council learned, had even dressed up as utility workers and pried open the boxes at the base of streetlights in broad daylight. Keeping the lights off might have saved some money in the short term, but the cost to fix what had been stolen ran to some $5 million.

"Sometimes the best-laid plans don't work out the way you'd hope," says Merv Bennett, who served on the City Council at the time and asked officials at the utilities about whether the savings were real.

There has been a lot of this kind of reckoning over the past half-decade. From crisis came a desire for disruption. From disruption came, well, too much disruption. And from that came a full-circle return to professional politicians. Including one--a beloved mayor and respected bureaucrat who was short-listed to replace James Comey as FBI director--who is so persuasive he has gotten Colorado Springs residents to do something the outside world assumed they were not capable of: Five years after its moment in the spotlight, revenue is so high that the same voters who refused to keep the lights on have overwhelmingly approved ballot measures allowing the city to not only keep some of its extra tax money, but impose new taxes as well.

In the process, many residents of Colorado Springs, but especially the men and women most committed to making the city thrive, have learned a few other lessons. That perpetual chaos can be exhausting. That the value of the status quo rises with the budget's bottom line. And that it helps when the people responsible for running the city are actually talking with one another. All it took was a few years running an experiment that everyone involved seems happy is over.

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 AM


Nearly Everyone's a Winner: Funds Rose Again Last Quarter (Stan Choe, 7/02/17, AP)

The good times keep rolling for fund investors.

Nearly every type of fund rose last quarter, whether focused on stocks or bonds, U.S. or foreign. Gains were so widespread that more than 7,000 of the roughly 7,600 funds that Morningstar tracks made money over the last three months. The nearly universal climb for funds means many retirement accounts and other portfolios are the largest they've ever been. The average 401(k) balance had already come into the second quarter at a record level, according to Fidelity. [...]

The largest mutual fund by assets, and one that's the centerpiece of many retirement portfolios, closed out its seventh straight quarter of gains. Vanguard's Total Stock Market Index fund returned 3.1 percent for the three months through Thursday.

Only the economy he inherited--and his failure to enact any of his plans--is keeping Donald above water.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


That Diss Song Known as 'Yankee Doodle' (DAVID SEGALJULY 1, 2017, ny tIMES)

To decode this very un-P.C. put-down, you first need to know that the song has only a nominal connection to pasta. The macaronis were members of a subculture of British fops in the 1760s and 1770s, who took their name from the Italian ingredient that would have seemed exotic and sophisticated in England at the time. The trend started with aristocrats, but caught on with middle- and working-class lads as well. [...]

The ostentation of the macaroni would prompt talk about sexual orientation. In a 1999 academic article in "Fashion Theory: The Journal of Dress, Body and Culture," Peter McNeil explained that "as soon as the macaroni stereotype entered the middle-class press the character was interpreted as sodomitical." Macaronis were jeered at with fictional names that probably sounded more homophobic at the time: "Lord Dimple," "Sir William Whiffle," "Marjorie Pattypan."

Now to the Revolutionary War. As in armed conflicts before and since, militias on both sides had a large catalog of derisive tunes to lift their spirits. King George III was a favorite target for the Americans, and the Americans were a favorite target for the British. The melody for "Yankee Doodle" had been around for a couple of hundred years, but a tailored-for-the-moment rendition quickly became the most popular tune in the Redcoat repertoire.

The lyrics were venomous. "Yankee" was a withering word for a colonist. A "doodle" was a rube or a fool, and the doodle in this song rides a pony, instead of a horse, which makes him ridiculous. And why is the titular bumpkin heading to town? He hopes to become one of those hyperstylized fellows known as a macaroni.

Here's the clincher: The doodle can't pull it off. He thinks that sticking a feather in his cap will suffice to join Britain's most effete club. In reality, he needs an elaborate costume. The subtext -- actually, it might just be the text -- is that this quintessential American is a homosexual so daft that he can't even demonstrate his homosexuality.

O.K., it's the 1770s. It's war. You expected nice?

Unfortunately for the British, the Americans started winning the war. And the more the Americans won, the more they embraced "Yankee Doodle" as their own. By the time the Battle of Bunker Hill rolled round, in June 1775, the Continental Army had the song in heavy rotation. After a clinching victory at the Battle of Saratoga, in September 1777, the Americans were serenading their defeated foes with "Yankee Doodle." This was pure agony for the British, as an English officer named Thomas Aubrey reported.

" 'Yankee Doodle' is now their paean, a favorite of favorites, played in their army, esteemed as warlike as the 'Grenadiers' march -- it is the lover's spell, the nurse's lullaby," he wrote. "It was not a little mortifying to hear them play this tune, when their army marched down to our surrender."