July 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:09 PM


Opposition Research Is No Dark Art (Tracy Sefl, 7/13/17,  The Washington Post)

No matter how Trump Jr. thinks political researchers spend their days, opposition research is not a dark art. (I'm not sure I'd even consider it any kind of art.) Done well, it's a thoughtful, directed process of compiling known facts and figures about relevant life and career elements of an opponent to bolster an argument.

But even when done badly, opposition research still has nothing to do with what Trump Jr. did. There are lines that trained and talented political operatives wouldn't cross. The emails Trump Jr. released Tuesday show he has no idea where they are.

When I joined the Democratic National Committee for the 2004 presidential election, I thought I could approach opposition research through the lens of the scientific method, as I'd studied in the field of sociology. I was there to answer the question, "Why should George W. Bush be defeated?" From there, I would formulate hypotheses and seek evidence from the litany of things he had said and done.

That litany came mostly from mundane sources such as Nexis or C-Span. Diligently, the research team would compile and cite every piece of data. Then data could be packaged in any number of ways: by year, by topic, by state, for an ad, for a fundraiser, for a speech, and yes, even to assist the media in their reporting.

I confess I quickly learned that the day-to-day reality of opposition research wasn't always quite that tidy. Here's why: When people are invested in your candidate, they want to participate. They have ideas, suggestions, "hot tips."

Phone calls to the main line of the campaign get routed . . . to research. Generically addressed letters and emails get routed . . . to research. Friends of friends of your second cousin's neighbor's mail carrier somehow get your mobile number. (I never saw a serial killer-style missive written with letters cut from a magazine, but some came close.)

However strange the source, everything was read, every voice mail listened to. Occasionally, a staffer might fall prey to a blocked number and be trapped listening to a long, fantastical story, offering only benign "mmhmm"s while colleagues offered sympathetic looks. You might even say researchers, however maligned, are unfailingly polite.

But in a normal campaign, that's where it stops.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 PM


Trump Needs to Come Clean. Democrats Need to Be Careful. (Eli Lake, 7/13/17, Bloomberg View)

As someone who has written columns pointing out that many claims against Trump and his advisers have been speculative and unsubstantiated, I see this supposed nothing burger as a tipping point. From now on, it strains credulity to give the president and his aides any benefit of the doubt when it comes to Russia. After all, a little more than a month after his June 9, 2016, meeting with Kremlin insider Natalia Veselnitskaya, the president's son was on CNN saying the entire Russia allegation was fake news. That line is no longer operative.

Posted by orrinj at 9:27 PM

ROY COHN LITE (profanity alert):

Trump Lawyer Marc Kasowitz Threatens Stranger in Emails: 'Watch Your Back , Bitch' (Justin Elliott, July 13, 2017, ProPublica)

Posted by orrinj at 9:25 PM


Peter W. Smith, GOP operative who sought Clinton's emails from Russian hackers, committed suicide, records show (Katherine Skiba, David Heinzmann and Todd Lighty, 7/13/17, Chicago Tribune)
A Republican donor and operative from Chicago's North Shore who said he had tried to obtain Hillary Clinton's missing emails from Russian hackers killed himself in a Minnesota hotel room days after talking to The Wall Street Journal about his efforts, public records show.

In a room at a Rochester hotel used almost exclusively by Mayo Clinic patients and relatives, Peter W. Smith, 81, left a carefully prepared file of documents, which includes a statement police called a suicide note in which he said he was in ill health and a life insurance policy was expiring.

Days earlier, the financier from suburban Lake Forest gave an interview to the Journal about his quest, and it published stories about his efforts beginning in late June. The Journal also reported it had seen emails written by Smith showing his team considered retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, then a top adviser to Republican Donald Trump's campaign, as an ally. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:09 PM


Saudi Arabia boosting extremism in Europe, says former ambassador (Patrick Wintour, 13 July 201, The Guardian)

Saudi Arabia has been funding mosques throughout Europe that have become hotbeds of extremism, the former British ambassador to Saudi Arabia Sir William Patey has said.

His remarks come a day after the government published a brief summary of a Home Office-commissioned report into the funding of extremism in the UK. The full report is not being published for security reasons.

Patey said he did not believe Saudi Arabia was directly funding terrorist groups, but rather an ideology that leads to extremism, and suggested that its leaders might not be aware of the consequences. "It is unhealthy and we need to do something about it," he said.

The magic orb says they know.

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 PM

BEDLAM (self-reference alert):

Federal Report Criticizes Harsh Treatment Of Lewisburg Prisoners (Joseph Shapiro, 7/13/17, NPR)

A new federal report harshly criticizes the way the Bureau of Prisons treats inmates with mental illness, singling out treatment at the prison at Lewisburg, Pa.

The report by the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General says BOP violates its own policies by keeping prisoners with mental illness in solitary confinement for too long and with too little treatment.

At Lewisburg, the report finds many of the harsh practices that were outlined in an investigation last year by NPR and, The Marshall Project, a nonprofit news organization focused on criminal justice.

The Grandfather Judd was intolerant of poor prison conditions on the bench.  At one point he sentenced a guy to Lewisburg but was concerned because he didn't know personally what conditions were like.  So on his next break he took the Grandmother and went to visit.  At one point she and the warden realized the judge wasn't with them on their tour anymore and when they found him he was quizzing the guy he'd incarcerated about how he liked it....

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 PM


The Magnitsky Act - Russian lawyer in Trump Jr. meeting lobbied against it; why does Putin hate it so much? (Norman Naimark, July 13, 2017, Fox News)

Vladimir Putin greeted the Magnitsky Act with outrage, indignation, and derision. After all, he stated in an interview, people die in prisons all the time. What was the big deal about Magnitsky? He was already upset that American officials had allegedly interfered in the Russian election process by encouraging anti-Putin demonstrations, thus calling the legitimacy of his election to the Presidency in March 2012 into question. And now he was insulted that loyal members of his administration were criminalized by the Magnitsky Act and limited in their dealings with the West. (The European Parliament adopted a version of the Magnitsky Act in April 2014).

The only way Moscow could think of retaliating was to ban the widespread adoption of Russian children by American couples in December 2012, pointing to the death of an adopted Russian child, Dimitrii Yakovlev, who had been abused by his American parents and died while being left alone in an overheated automobile in 2012. In April 2013, the Russian government also placed 18 Americans on a list of alleged human rights violators who were banned from Russia.

The Magnitsky Law and the Russian outraged reaction to it were nails in the coffin of Obama's "reset." Despite some very modest accomplishments at the outset of the Obama administration, Russian-American relations have been at a relatively low point ever since. Sanctions that were added to the Magnitsky restrictions as a consequence of Putin's annexation of the Crimea in March 2014 and the poorly disguised Russian intervention in Donetsk and Luhansk (in eastern Ukraine) in the months and years thereafter have created the impression in some parts of international society that Russia is an "outlaw" state and Putin a criminal ruler. This runs directly counter to Putin's image of himself and of the country whose interests he claims to defend.

It is no wonder that the issues of the Magnitsky Act and the ban on American adoptions were brought up in conversations between the highly placed Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and the Trump campaign. These insults to Putin's sense of national honor remain a very tender spot in the seemingly impervious exterior of the Russian dictator.

Trump May Lift Sanctions on Russia to 'Give Collaboration' a 'Chance' (Eric Levitz, 7/13/17, New York)

Virtually every member of Congress believes that the Kremlin's attempt to compromise our election merits retaliatory sanctions. But the Trump White House apparently thinks that the best way to prevent Russia from meddling in our elections again is to make sure that Moscow suffers no lasting punishment for its previous interference. Last December, the Obama administration seized two Russian diplomatic compounds in retaliation for those efforts. Trump has, reportedly, been trying to find a way to give those back since his very first days in office.

On Thursday, Jake Tapper asked the White House's senior cable news surrogate Sebastian Gorka  to explain the administration's reasoning.

"We want to give collaboration and cooperation a chance," Gorka explained. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Trump's Russian Laundromat : How to use Trump Tower and other luxury high-rises to clean dirty money, run an international crime syndicate, and propel a failed real estate developer into the White House. (CRAIG UNGER, July 13, 2017, New Republic)

In 1984, a Russian émigré named David Bogatin went shopping for apartments in New York City. The 38-year-old had arrived in America seven years before, with just $3 in his pocket. But for a former pilot in the Soviet Army--his specialty had been shooting down Americans over North Vietnam--he had clearly done quite well for himself. Bogatin wasn't hunting for a place in Brighton Beach, the Brooklyn enclave known as "Little Odessa" for its large population of immigrants from the Soviet Union. Instead, he was fixated on the glitziest apartment building on Fifth Avenue, a gaudy, 58-story edifice with gold-plated fixtures and a pink-marble atrium: Trump Tower.

A monument to celebrity and conspicuous consumption, the tower was home to the likes of Johnny Carson, Steven Spielberg, and Sophia Loren. Its brash, 38-year-old developer was something of a tabloid celebrity himself. Donald Trump was just coming into his own as a serious player in Manhattan real estate, and Trump Tower was the crown jewel of his growing empire. From the day it opened, the building was a hit--all but a few dozen of its 263 units had sold in the first few months. But Bogatin wasn't deterred by the limited availability or the sky-high prices. The Russian plunked down $6 million to buy not one or two, but five luxury condos. The big check apparently caught the attention of the owner. According to Wayne Barrett, who investigated the deal for the Village Voice, Trump personally attended the closing, along with Bogatin.

If the transaction seemed suspicious--multiple apartments for a single buyer who appeared to have no legitimate way to put his hands on that much money--there may have been a reason. At the time, Russian mobsters were beginning to invest in high-end real estate, which offered an ideal vehicle to launder money from their criminal enterprises. "During the '80s and '90s, we in the U.S. government repeatedly saw a pattern by which criminals would use condos and high-rises to launder money," says Jonathan Winer, a deputy assistant secretary of state for international law enforcement in the Clinton administration. "It didn't matter that you paid too much, because the real estate values would rise, and it was a way of turning dirty money into clean money. It was done very systematically, and it explained why there are so many high-rises where the units were sold but no one is living in them." When Trump Tower was built, as David Cay Johnston reports in The Making of Donald Trump, it was only the second high-rise in New York that accepted anonymous buyers.

In 1987, just three years after he attended the closing with Trump, Bogatin pleaded guilty to taking part in a massive gasoline-bootlegging scheme with Russian mobsters. After he fled the country, the government seized his five condos at Trump Tower, saying that he had purchased them to "launder money, to shelter and hide assets." A Senate investigation into organized crime later revealed that Bogatin was a leading figure in the Russian mob in New York. His family ties, in fact, led straight to the top: His brother ran a $150 million stock scam with none other than Semion Mogilevich, whom the FBI considers the "boss of bosses" of the Russian mafia. At the time, Mogilevich--feared even by his fellow gangsters as "the most powerful mobster in the world"--was expanding his multibillion-dollar international criminal syndicate into America. [...]

[E]ven without an investigation by Congress or a special prosecutor, there is much we already know about the president's debt to Russia. A review of the public record reveals a clear and disturbing pattern: Trump owes much of his business success, and by extension his presidency, to a flow of highly suspicious money from Russia. Over the past three decades, at least 13 people with known or alleged links to Russian mobsters or oligarchs have owned, lived in, and even run criminal activities out of Trump Tower and other Trump properties. Many used his apartments and casinos to launder untold millions in dirty money. Some ran a worldwide high-stakes gambling ring out of Trump Tower--in a unit directly below one owned by Trump. Others provided Trump with lucrative branding deals that required no investment on his part. Taken together, the flow of money from Russia provided Trump with a crucial infusion of financing that helped rescue his empire from ruin, burnish his image, and launch his career in television and politics. "They saved his bacon," says Kenneth McCallion, a former assistant U.S. attorney in the Reagan administration who investigated ties between organized crime and Trump's developments in the 1980s.

It's entirely possible that Trump was never more than a convenient patsy for Russian oligarchs and mobsters, with his casinos and condos providing easy pass-throughs for their illicit riches. At the very least, with his constant need for new infusions of cash and his well-documented troubles with creditors, Trump made an easy "mark" for anyone looking to launder money. But whatever his knowledge about the source of his wealth, the public record makes clear that Trump built his business empire in no small part with a lot of dirty money from a lot of dirty Russians--including the dirtiest and most feared of them all.

All of the defenses of Donald essentially boil down to the assertion that he's too dumb, incompetent or ignorant to have understood what he was involved in his whole life--or all three.

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM



As the chart below shows, just 1 percent of the population accounts for 20 percent of all personal health care spending, and the top 5 percent of population for half of all spending. Many people in that range suffer from one or more chronic conditions like diabetes, kidney failure, or AIDS that require expensive treatment year after year. Their medical needs are literally uninsurable by traditional standards. They are not just at high risk of needing care; they are certain to need it. And even if an insurer could be persuaded to cover them, an actuarially fair premium would exceed the annual income of all but the very wealthiest among the chronically ill.

Preserving coverage for people with preexisting conditions is popular among both liberal and conservative voters. A recent poll from Politico showed that only 42 percent of Republicans favored allowing states to opt out of a requirement to cover people with such conditions.

Conservatives policy experts have made some very reasonable proposals for dealing with those at the top of the cost curve. One of the most attractive is universal catastrophic coverage, or UCC for short. UCC would cover the top-of-the-curve health care needs of all Americans, subject to a deductible that limited out-of-pocket expenses to a substantial, but not impossibly high, percentage of their income.

Universal catastrophic coverage has an impeccable conservative pedigree. It was proposed back in the 1970s by Martin Feldstein, who would go on to serve as Ronald Reagan's chief economic adviser. In 2004, Milton Friedman, then a fellow at the Hoover Institution, endorsed the concept. An up-to-date version, specifically designed to address the problems of the ACA, is outlined by Kip Hagopian and Dana Goldman in National Affairs.

The exact parameters of the program would be subject to negotiation, of course, but let's sketch some possibilities, for the sake of discussion. Suppose the deductible is set at 10 percent of the amount by which a household's income exceeds the Medicaid eligibility level, now about $40,000 for a family of four. Under that formula, a middle-class family earning $85,000 a year would face a deductible of $4,500 per family member, with a cap of twice that amount for households of more than two people. By the same formula, the deductible for a household with $1 million of income would be $96,000.

The high-deductible policy might be provided directly by the government, as an extension of Medicare. Alternatively, following the Swiss example, people could choose among private insurers offering policies meeting the program's standards. In that case, UCC would resemble an expanded version of Medicare Advantage -- originally a Republican idea but one that now enjoys bipartisan support. [...]

Fiscal conservatives might, quite properly, ask how UCC could be financed. A large chunk of it could be paid for with another proposal favored by many on the political right -- abolishing the tax deductibility of employer-sponsored insurance (ESI), which currently costs the federal budget an estimated $235 billion per year. That oddity of the US health care system is a holdover from World War II, when employers lavished in-kind benefits on scarce workers to evade wartime wage controls. Both its liberal and conservative critics say it is long overdue for repeal.

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Are Diets Just Placebos? : The idea is at least worth considering--and it would explain a lot of strange things about how dieting works.  (Erik Vance, 7/13/17, Slate)

If no diet has turned out to be a silver bullet for weight loss, then what could explain why some of them at least seem to work, at least for some time? In looking at our rampant dieting culture, I realized that there are a lot of elements that remind me of the placebo effects we see in other parts of our lives. And this got me thinking: Perhaps it's not the contents of the diet that matters. Perhaps it's simply the act of dieting. Is it possible that, rather than the specifics of the food regime you undertake, it's the mere act of starting a diet--any diet--that makes you thinner? Could it be that the inherent placebo effect that comes with any diet is what's causing you to lose weight?

Self-discipline is its own reward.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


What theologians and environmentalists can learn from Sufjan Stevens (Christine E. McCarthy, June 28, 2017, America)

[T]he independent record label 4AD released "Planetarium," a collaboration between singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens, composer Nico Muhly, The National guitarist Bryce Dessner and percussionist James McAlister. While the conceit of the 17 tracks is a meditation on the major celestial bodies of the solar system, the album is very much about humanity. The cosmos is treated not so much as a natural wonder as a source for myths that serve the drama of the human search for meaning. From the title of the album (Planetarium, a human-made structure) to the sweeping interplay of classical instrumentation and mechanized sound, the listener encounters the majesty of space through human filters. The texture and variety of the album's soundscape creates liminal spaces between the sacred and the profane, the mundane and the cosmic, prompting us to consider how we finite creatures want to live in the face of the infinite.

As a theologian, whatever transcendent decentering the music accomplishes, I am most interested in Stevens's poetic lyrics, which fans have long admired for their rich layering of Christian, Greek and Roman mythic imagery over the writer's narrative storytelling and autobiography. In the final three-song sequence, the story of humanity is refracted through the light of our Anthropocene era. The instrumental "In the Beginning" leads into "Earth," the penultimate, 15-minute track at the heart of album's narrative arc. For all the meaning we cast onto the heavens, for all our "hallelujahs," Earth is where "living things refuse to offer/ Explanations of their worth/ We in turn avenge the Author/ With paranoia and prediction/ Exploration, competition/ Ceremony, inner anguish/ Lord, I pray for us." Humankind launches head first into labor and industry only to see too late the beauty of the Earth.

In the end, with "Mercury," the final track, people are as quicksilver as the Roman god. There is no set answer, no known future for the many crises of our own design. But we are reminded that each person is a "Carrier, friend" of our divine and earthly histories, so "Where do you run?"

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


AP Exclusive: Senator profits from outsourcing he slams (BRIAN SLODYSKO, 7/13/17, http://m.startribune.com/ap-exclusive-senator-profits-from-outsourcing-he-slams/434204763/?section=politicsASSOCIATED PRESS) 

An Indiana senator railed against Carrier Corp. for moving manufacturing jobs to Mexico last year, even as he profited from a family business that relies on Mexican labor to produce dye for ink pads, according to records reviewed by The Associated Press.

Joe Donnelly, considered one of the nation's most vulnerable Democratic senators up for re-election next year, has long blasted free-trade policies for killing American jobs. He accused Carrier, an air conditioner and furnace maker, of exploiting $3-an-hour workers when it announced plans to wind down operations in Indiana and move to Mexico.

However, an arts and crafts business Donnelly's family has owned for generations is capitalizing on some of the very trade policies -- and low-paid foreign labor -- the senator has denounced.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


House rejects Trump's Middle East aid cuts (Bryant Harris, July 12, 2017, Al Monitor)

Congress rejected the Donald Trump administration's proposed cuts to Middle East aid today, in some cases even voting to increase assistance over the current year's budget.

While the State Department request for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1 sought deep cuts across the board, members of the House foreign aid spending panel made clear they wouldn't be touching aid to key US allies such as Egypt, Jordan, Morocco and Tunisia. In addition, the House state and foreign operations bill released today makes clear that the administration's proposal to turn some foreign military financing grants into loans is also a nonstarter.

Posted by orrinj at 8:50 AM


The Smoking Gun for Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump Campaign Committee (Paul Seamus Ryan, July 13, 2017, Just Security)

In our complaint filed Monday, Common Cause named both Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump campaign committee (Donald J. Trump for President, Inc.) as alleged violators of federal campaign finance law. To the extent any campaign finance laws were broken, Donald Trump Jr. is directly liable. He received and accepted the invitation for the meeting; he helped coordinate the meeting; he hosted and attended the meeting.

Why did we name the campaign committee? We named the Trump campaign committee because Donald Trump Jr. was an "agent" of the campaign committee under federal campaign finance law. FEC regulations define agent to include "any person who has actual authority, either express or implied, to ... solicit, receive, direct, transfer, or spend funds in connection with any election." Donald Trump Jr. played a leadership role in his father's presidential campaign and was authorized to solicit contributions--he headlined many fundraising events.

Why didn't we name Manafort or Kushner in our complaint? Although Manafort and Kushner attended the meeting, Donald Trump Jr. told the New York Times that he had not told Manafort and Kushner what the meeting was about. While I found it hard to believe that two incredibly busy individuals would agree to attend a meeting they knew nothing about, we opted to take Donald Trump Jr. at his word for the purposes of filing a complaint. And if Manafort and Kushner were actually in the dark heading into the meeting, it's possible they did not commit the campaign finance law violation alleged in our complaint.

Federal law prohibits a foreign national from directly or indirectly making a "contribution or donation of money or other thing of value" in connection with a U.S. election, and prohibits a person from soliciting, accepting or receiving such a contribution or donation from a foreign national. Federal law defines "contribution" to include "any gift ... of money or anything of value made by any person for the purpose of influencing any election for Federal office." And the FEC by regulation defines "solicit" to mean "to ask, request, or recommend, explicitly or implicitly, that another person make a contribution, donation, transfer of funds, or otherwise provide anything of value."

Donald Trump Jr. was offered opposition research on Hillary Clinton from a Russian. Opposition research is a thing of immense value to candidates--they regularly pay opposition research firms (like this one or this one) handsomely to produce opposition research. Donald Trump Jr. requested a telephonic meeting, which evolved into a face-to-face meeting, with a Russian in order to obtain this opposition research. Donald Trump Jr. then attended a meeting with the Russian lawyer, admittedly with the expectation of receiving this in-kind contribution of opposition research. (In his interview with Sean Hannity, and subsequent to our filing, Donald Trump Jr. also admits to "pressing" the Russian lawyer for the information that he was told to believe she had.)

The New York Times' revelation of these facts made clear to Common Cause that Donald Trump Jr. and, by extension, the Trump campaign, had violated the federal law ban on soliciting contributions from foreign nationals.

MORE (profanity alert):
Watch Donald Trump's Weird Cameo in Video By Russian Pop Star at Center of Scandal (Matthew Oshinsky  |  July 10, 2017, Paste)

Here's the skinny: Emin Agalarov is a Russian pop star with minimal talent and, if his song "In Another Life" is any indication, an inadequate budget for paying songwriters to help his career along. If that were all there was to say about him...it would be good news for Donald Trump. Alas, Agalarov has a much more interesting backstory. His father, Aras Agalarov, is a Moscow real-estate tycoon with close ties to Russian president Vladimir Putin, according to the New York Times. The elder Agalarov also has ties to President Trump, having partnered with the Big Orange to stage the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow. And to complete the circle, Agalarov Sr. and Trump Jr. also "worked together to bring a Trump Tower to Moscow," though those plans fell through.

It gets weirder. It was the younger Agalarov, the Times reports, who hatched the June 2016 meeting between Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr.--a meeting that also included Jared Kushner and then-Trump campaign chief Paul Manafort--at Trump Tower in New York. Are the Agalarovs so enamored with Trump that they'd weasel their way into his most pressing affairs? Apparently, yes. They were only returning the favor. (That's Trump pictured above with Emin Agalarov at the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant.)

That, amazingly enough, brings us to the criminally stupid video for Agalarov's 2014 banger, "In Another Life," in which the scion doses off during a boring board meeting (as if anyone could sleep with that bargain-basement EDM going on) and awakens in a dream where he is surrounded and chased around by several frisky beauty-pageant contestants. He also sits down to play a piano when there is clearly no piano being played in the song. So far, so good. But just as Agalarov is starting to enjoy his house full of pageant beauties (which is probably how his waking life normally goes), he is jolted awake by the sound of the entire world's nightmare.

"Wake him up right now!" blares Trump, who has suddenly appeared at the head of the boardroom table in what, until yesterday, would have been a confusing cameo. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 AM


Putin's 'sock puppets': How Russia 'uses' anti-GMO activists to undermine crop biotech and science (Henry Miller, June 28, 2017 | Genetic Literacy Project)

In a report from the Office of the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, RT was implicated in Russian hacking during last year's presidential election. The report found the network uses the internet and social media to conduct "strategic messaging for the Russian government" and that its programming is "aimed at undermining viewers' trust of US democratic procedures."

In addition, there is what a New York Times news article called "a particularly murky aspect of Russia's influence strategy: freelance activists who promote its agenda abroad, but get their backing from Russian tycoons and others close to the Kremlin, not the Russian state itself."

Genetic engineering in agriculture is a sector that holds intense interest for the Russians. Harkening back to the Lysenkoism catastrophe for Soviet agriculture in the Soviet Union, their expertise and R&D in that area are virtually nil, and there is a ban on genetically engineered organisms from abroad entering the country, so they've adopted a strategy of trying to stymie its development elsewhere.

As Berezow pointed out:

RT has never been fond of GMOs [genetically modified organisms], which are largely the result of American innovation. In a 2015 article, RT reported on Russia's decision to ban GMO food production in Russia. Tellingly, one of the protesters shown in the report is holding a sign that reads, "Goodbye America!" The anti-GMO stance is not based on science or health concerns; instead, it's based entirely on hurting U.S. agricultural companies.

And that brings us to the U.S. home-grown anti-genetic engineering movement, which is well-coordinated and well-financed. It's unclear how or if it is directly supported by Russia; it may simply be that, as one of my colleagues, a prominent Russia expert, speculated, "Whatever stirs up trouble in the U.S., Russia is ready to help make it worse."

Neither wing has a monopoly on useful idiots.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


US economy grows moderately but wage growth disappoints (Deutsche-welle, 7/12/17)

Fed members have been divided over the threat of inflation and the amount of slack in labor markets, even though unemployment currently sits at only 4.4 percent. Federal Reserve banks in San Francisco and St. Louis said the scarcity of workers had put upward pressures on wages. [...]

But those reports contrast with official figures, which showed a monthly increase in average hourly earnings of less than 0.2 percent in June, below analyst expectations. In the US, wages are considered a litmus test for whether economic growth actually trickles down to its citizens.

Disappointing wage growth in recent years has coincided with the slow pace of inflation, which currently sits at 1.4 percent, with little indication it will rise above the Fed's two percent target.

Labor has no value.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


This Is How Robots Will Pick Off Apple Pickers (Jon Markman ,   6/28/17, Forbes)

It looks like a giant vacuum cleaner and it's set to disrupt the fruit-harvesting business.

Like most startups, Abundant Robotics saw a problem it thought could be solved with technology.

So the Hayward, Calif., company built a prototype, got funding from the likes of Alphabet, and started work.

The goal was to build a robot capable of picking apples as effectively as humans do. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


"Baseball Is Our Game" (Walt Whitman, Imaginative Conservatism)

"I like your interest in sports ball, chiefest of all base-ball particularly: base-ball is our game: the American game: I connect it with our national character. Sports take people out of doors, get them filled with oxygen generate some of the brutal customs (so-called brutal customs) which, after all, tend to habituate people to a necessary physical stoicism. We are some ways a dyspeptic, nervous set: anything which will repair such losses may be regarded as a blessing to the race. We want to go out and howl, swear, run, jump, wrestle, even fight, if only by so doing we may improve the guts of the people: the guts, vile as guts are, divine as guts are!" --from With Walt Whitman in Camden, vol. 2

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Virginia Man Pleads Guilty to Shooting, Running Over Bald Eagle (Kathryn Covert, July 12, 2017, Free Beacon)

A Virginia man on Tuesday pleaded guilty to killing a bald eagle, first shooting and wounding it before running over the bird with his all-terrain vehicle.

Allen H. Thacker, 62, of Smithfield, Va. shot the bald eagle because he was upset it was taking fish from a pond located on his property, according to a Department of Justice press release.

Bald Eagle Bounces Back After Decades of Persecution (Robert Winkler, 6/20/02,  National Geographic News)

While shooting, trapping, and poisoning took their toll, human population growth and land-clearing along navigable rivers and estuaries destroyed prime eagle habitat. Before European settlement, 250,000 to 500,000 bald eagles ranged across North America, and as late as the mid-1800s, wintering eagles reportedly fished the waters off New York's Manhattan Island by the hundreds, sometimes devouring their catch in Central Park.

"The relationship between human development and the absence of bald eagles has been documented in various places across the country," said David A. Buehler, author of the bald eagle monograph in the recently published Birds of North America: Life Histories for the 21st Century.

"In general," Buehler added, "eagles avoid developed areas, where their risk of mortality rises. Shooting, trapping, poisoning, collisions with man-made structures, scarcity of prey, and poor nesting and roosting habitat are among the dangers. I think it was the human persecution, however, that ultimately 'taught' eagles in an adaptive sense to avoid people."

With the westward expansion of human settlements, persecution and habitat destruction whittled away at eagle numbers. By 1940, the bird's rarity compelled Congress to pass the Bald Eagle Protection Act, which outlawed the killing and disturbing of eagles, as well as the possession of eagle parts, including feathers, eggs, and nests.

After studies showed that salmon populations were not harmed by eagle predation, this law ended a bounty system in Alaska that claimed 128,000 eagles between 1917 and 1952. The actual number of slaughtered eagles probably exceeded 150,000, since many bounties were never collected.

For a long time, the Bald Eagle Protection Act, designed also to protect the beleaguered golden eagle, was not strictly enforced. At one Wyoming ranch, for example, eagles were systematically shot for their perceived threat to livestock. According to a 1970 report, more than 770 bald eagles were shot at this ranch, and hunters were paid $25 for each carcass. Responding to a public outcry over such flagrant violations, the government began to crack down.

Just when it was finally benefiting from legal protections, the bald eagle took a heavy blow from DDT, a pesticide that enters the food chain and causes reproductive failure. Widely used after World War II to control mosquitoes and other insects, DDT was wreaking havoc among many bird species. Raptors were particularly vulnerable--over time, animals higher in the food chain accumulate more DDT.

New research on the effects of DDT challenges the long-held belief that eggshell thinning was the primary cause of reproductive failure in birds. "The thinning did occur," said Buehler, "but it was probably not actually responsible for the reproductive failure."