July 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Russian Lawyer Reportedly Offered Dirt On DNC Just Days Before Document Dump (Chuck Ross,  07/14/2017, dAILY cALLER)
A former Soviet military intelligence officer told the Associated Press on Friday that a Russian lawyer he accompanied to a June 9, 2016, meeting at Trump Tower offered to provide information about illicit financial activity carried out by the Democratic National Committee.

Nine days later, on June 18, Guccifer 2.0, the hacker believed to be a front for Russian spy agencies, dropped a bombshell. [...]

Rinat Akhmethsin, the former Soviet agent and a lobbyist operating in Washington, D.C., told the Associated Press that he attended the meeting along with Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer.

The pair were associated with the Human Rights Accountability Global Initiative Foundation, a small non-profit that aims to roll back a law that imposes sanctions on Russian criminals.

Veselnitskaya and Trump Jr. have said that the Trump Tower meeting centered on the Magnitsky Act.

But Akhmetshin said that Veselnitskaya brought a plastic folder full of printed-out documents to the meeting. Veselnitskaya's documents "detailed her claims about the contributions to the Democratic National Committee," AP reported.

Akhmetshin said he did not know if the documents came from the Russian government but that he believes that Veselnitskaya left the information with the Trump team members.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Pentagon says leader of Afghan Islamic State branch killed in US raid (AFP,  July 14, 2017)

US forces killed the leader of the Islamic State group's Afghanistan branch in a raid earlier this week in the northeastern province of Kunar, the Pentagon said Friday.

"US forces killed Abu Sayed, the emir of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria -- Khorasan Province (ISIS-K) -- in a strike on the group's headquarters in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, July 11," Pentagon spokeswoman Dana White said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Bungled Collusion Is Still Collusion (CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER, July 13, 2017, National Review)

My view was: Collusion? I just don't see it. But I'm open to empirical evidence. Show me. 

The evidence is now shown. This is not hearsay, not fake news, not unsourced leaks. This is an e-mail chain released by Donald Trump Jr. himself. A British go-between writes that there's a Russian government effort to help Trump Sr. win the election, and as part of that effort he proposes a meeting with a "Russian government attorney" possessing damaging information on Hillary Clinton. Moreover, the Kremlin is willing to share troves of incriminating documents from the Crown Prosecutor. (Error: Britain has a Crown Prosecutor. Russia has a State Prosecutor.) 

Donald Jr. e-mails back. "I love it." Fatal words.

Posted by orrinj at 1:35 PM


What happens when automation comes for highly paid doctors (Matt McFarland, July 14, 2017, CNN)

Radiologists, who receive years of training and are some of the highest paid doctors, are among the first physicians who will have to adapt as artificial intelligence expands into health care.

Radiologists use medical images, such as X-rays, CT scans, MRIs, ultrasounds and PET scans, to diagnose and treat patients. The field has greatly improved patient care, but has also driven up health care costs.

Precise numbers are hard to come by, but most estimates place radiology as an $8 billion industry in the U.S. Globally, the market is expected to grow from $28 billion to $36 billion by 2021, according to research firm Marketsandmarkets.

The tech and radiology communities expect artificial intelligence to transform medical imaging, providing better services at lower costs. For example, if you're getting an MRI, an AI program can improve the analysis, leading to better treatment.

"This is going to be transformational," said Keith Dreyer, vice chairman of radiology computing and information sciences at Massachusetts General Hospital. "Every month there's going to be a new algorithm that we're going to use and integrate into our solutions. When you look back we'll say, 'How did I ever live without this?'"

It required massive self-absorption to believe that thinking machines would take over manual labor before mere thought processes.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


Israel's Secret Arab Allies (NERI ZILBER, JULY 14, 2017, NY Times)

Israel has peace and diplomatic agreements with Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority, so military ties with them may not come as a complete surprise. Less well known, however, is the increasingly close relationship with the Arab Gulf states, like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Such ties are often referenced only obliquely by Israeli government ministers as "shared interests" in the security and intelligence realms against the common Iranian threat. Yet in recent years, reports have surfaced about clandestine meetings between Israeli intelligence chiefs and their Gulf counterparts. Meir Dagan, the former Mossad chief, allegedly traveled to Saudi Arabia in 2010 for secret talks about Iran's nuclear program. Public encounters with retired Saudi Arabian officials are now commonplace, whether in Washington, Munich or even Jerusalem. Business ties are growing, too, including the sale of Israeli agriculture but also cyber, intelligence and homeland security technology to the Gulf (usually through third parties).

Taken as a whole, Israeli activities in Syria, Jordan, the West Bank, Egypt and the Gulf can no longer be viewed in isolation from one another. 

There is a natural alliance of the Israelis and the autocrats against Arab self-determination.
Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Why health savings accounts are a bust for the poor but a boost for the privileged (Simon Haeder, 7/13/17, The Conversation)

Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) were established by the same legislation that created the Medicare Part D prescription drug benefit in 2003. HSAs allow individuals to make tax-deductible contributions, withdraw money tax-free to pay for qualified medical expenses and avoid taxes on the money invested in the account.

Enrollment in HSAs has skyrocketed to nearly 20 million people, but there's a catch. Very few, if any, of those 20 million people are poor. The HSAs allow individuals to use tax-protected funds for medical purposes for years to come. Some have even called them the "new 401(k)'s."

While these savings accounts can be good for people of a certain income level, I have concerns that they will overlook the needs of the poor, who not only stand to gain very little from the tax advantages but who also are unlikely to have thousands of dollars to contribute to such plans.

After Trumpcare fails, the easy bipartisan reform is to universal HSAs, fully fund them and then means test all social programs for the elderly.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


Details in Donald Trump Jr.'s emails align with parts of the explosive Trump-Russia dossier (JIM EDWARDS, Jul 12th 2017, Business Insider)

The astonishing emails posted on Twitter by Donald Trump Jr. on Tuesday display parallels with the controversial unverified leaked document from a former British spy that BuzzFeed published back in January.

Steele's document also says that the Russian government has collated a file of information on Hillary Clinton:

And Steele's document then goes on to say that the Kremlin had been feeding documents about Clinton to Trump's camp:


Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Individual Insurance Market Performance in Early 2017 (Cynthia Cox and Larry Levitt, 7/10/17, Kaiser)

Concerns about the stability of the individual insurance market under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) have been raised in the past year following exits of several insurers from the exchange markets, and again with renewed intensity in recent months as debate over repeal of the health law has picked up. Our earlier analysis of premium and claims data from 2011 - 2016 found that insurer financial performance indeed worsened in 2014 and 2015 with the opening of the exchange markets, but showed signs of improving in 2016. A similar analysis by S&P looking at a subset of Blue Cross Blue Shield plans found a comparable pattern.

In this brief, we look at recently-released first quarter financial data from 2017 to examine whether recent premium increases were sufficient to bring insurer performance back to pre-ACA levels. These new data offer more evidence that the individual market has been stabilizing and insurers are regaining profitability.

We use financial data reported by insurance companies to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners and compiled by Mark Farrah Associates to look at the average premiums, claims, medical loss ratios, gross margins, and enrollee utilization from first quarter 2011 through first quarter 2017 in the individual insurance market.1 These figures include coverage purchased through the ACA's exchange marketplaces and ACA-compliant plans purchased directly from insurers outside the marketplaces (which are part of the same risk pool), as well as individual plans originally purchased before the ACA went into effect.

As we found in our previous analysis, insurer financial performance as measured by loss ratios (the share of health premiums paid out as claims) worsened in the earliest years of the Affordable Care Act, but began in improve more recently. This is to be expected, as the market had just undergone significant regulatory changes in 2014 and insurers had very little information to work with in setting their premiums, even going into the second year of the exchange markets.

Loss ratios began to decline in 2016, suggesting improved financial performance. In 2017, following relatively large premium increases, individual market insurers saw significant improvement in loss ratios, averaging 75% in the first quarter. First quarter loss ratios tend to follow the same pattern as annual loss ratios, but in recent years have been 10 to 15 percentage points lower than annual loss ratios.2 Though 2017 annual loss ratios are therefore likely to end up higher than 75%, this is nevertheless a sign that individual market insurers on average are on a path toward regaining profitability in 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 10:26 AM


Considering the Legal Defenses of the Trump Jr. Meeting (Bob Bauer, July 14, 2017, JustSecurity)

[I]t is worth reviewing some of the key points made against the "rush to judgment" and note the more contestable contentions.

1. The campaign finance laws are not criminally enforceable and were never intended to apply in the circumstances.

Remarkably, one of the President's lawyers made this argument, and it is easy to dispose of, because it is simply wrong. Congress crafted the campaign finance laws with both civil and criminal enforcement.  52 U.S.ยง 30109. Moreover, in 2002 Congress amended the statute to direct the U.S. Sentencing Commission to provide for enhancements when campaign finance violations  involve "a contribution, donation, or expenditure from a foreign source."  In day-to-day enforcement of the federal law, the Federal Election Commission (FEC) 'may seek a civil fine from a candidate for accepting illegal contributions or for other violations, but if the candidate appears to have had criminal intent,, the agency may refer the matter for prosecution to the Department of Justice.  The DOJ does not have to wait for the FEC's referrals.  Nothing in the foreign national prohibition from enforcement removes it from the statutory scheme for criminal enforcement.

Moreover, to say that the campaign finance law has never been applied in similar circumstances, is to say nothing meaningful. It has not been applied, because there has been only one case similar to this, and the exception occurred well before the enactment of the Federal Election Campaign Act. President Nixon and his campaign in 1968 evidently conspired with the South Vietnamese government to scuttle peace talks with North Vietnam. Nixon used intermediaries to send a message that the South Vietnamese should hold out for a Republican victory and a peace deal on more favorable terms that his Administration would deliver.

Since then, no presidential campaign has done anything like that - - until now. It makes no sense to argue the law should not be applied, by its plain terms, to activities within its clear scope, because up to this point no campaign has attempted what it is alleged that the Trump campaign has done here.

2. The information that the Trump campaign was seeking was only opposition research - information - and is not a "thing of value" within the election laws.

This, too, is not sustainable on any reading of the applicable precedent. "Anything of value" means what it says - - anything of value. That is to say, it refers to whatever goods or services that a campaign acquires to advance its electoral objectives. Moreover, that's precisely how the Federal Election Commission has read the term. Rick Hasen has come up with examples of the breadth of the Commission's interpretation of the term "anything of value." And that interpretation clearly covers information-opposition research.

A related argument advanced by Orin Kerr rests on the belief that only items that could be acquired in the marketplace, and for which there is a commercial equivalent, could constitute a "thing of value." It is not clear what the argument is based on. Any thing of value seems to mean just that, and whether it was acquired legally, or could be purchased somewhere, doesn't seem to have much bearing on whether it was beneficial to the campaign. [...]

4. An interpretation of the foreign national prohibition to apply to a communication about opposition research imperils free speech

Hasen has also done a nice job of exposing the limitations of this constitutional defense. The Supreme Court has been clear that free-speech considerations will be read narrowly in evaluating the constitutional limits on the regulation of foreign national electioneering activity.

Here the emphasis on electioneering: the Court affirmed a decision that allows for a foreign national to join wholesale in the public policy debate in the United States.  Russia could, for example, express its opinion on a range of issues, through written, televised, or digital communications on health care, tax policy and purely domestic issues. It cannot, however, seek to influence an election-not independently, or in coordination with a campaign, and not through the use of any medium of communication. 

The legal stuff is all interesting, but at it's core the question is whether Congress is obligated to remove the perp-in-chief from office.

Posted by orrinj at 10:22 AM


US judge expands list of relatives exempted from travel ban (JENNIFER SINCO KELLEHER July 14, 2017, AP) 

In another setback for US President Donald Trump, a federal judge in Hawaii has further weakened his already diluted travel ban by vastly expanding the list of family relationships with US citizens that visa applicants can use to get into the country. [...]

US District Judge Derrick Watson on Thursday ordered the government not to enforce the ban on grandparents, grandchildren, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, aunts, uncles, nieces, nephews and cousins of people in the United States.

"Common sense, for instance, dictates that close family members be defined to include grandparents," Watson said in his ruling. "Indeed grandparents are the epitome of close family members."

Not only did the Court ruling make the ban unenforceable--as Justice Thomas articulated--but it required that it be ended altogether by the time it could ever be reheard.

Posted by orrinj at 10:16 AM


U.S. consumer prices unchanged; retail sales fall again (Lucia Mutikani, 7/14/17, Reuters) 

U.S. consumer prices were unchanged in June and retail sales fell for a second straight month, pointing to tame inflation that could diminish prospects of a third interest rate increase from the Federal Reserve this year. [...]

The so-called core CPI, which strips out food and energy costs, edged up 0.1 percent in June, rising by the same margin for three straight months. The core CPI increased 1.7 percent year-on-year after a similar gain in May.

The Fed has a 2 percent inflation target and tracks a measure which is currently at 1.4 percent.

Posted by orrinj at 10:11 AM


Forecast of weak economic growth raises big questions about Trump's populist agenda (Damian Paletta, Ana Swanson and Max Ehrenfreund, July 13, 2017, Washington Post)

Trump's combination of setbacks and delays on key policy initiatives highlight how the president is struggling to advance a populist vision of governing in a Republican Party that historically has not been receptive to such an approach.

With his budget and health care, Trump is falling in line with some of his party's most conservative voices, even if the policies threaten to harm many of the working-class voters who elected him.

On trade -- an issue where he could act unilaterally -- Trump is facing opposition from companies, foreign allies and numerous White House advisers who say restricting imports could hurt U.S. industry broadly far more than it helps steel companies.

The delay on steel imports follows a decision not to label China a currency manipulator as he advocated during the campaign, and a last-minute decision not to abandon the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he had often maligned.

"He certainly, as a president, has not been able to articulate a coherent agenda that responded to the concerns of the country, or the concerns of the people who elected him. A lot of them were low-income blue-collar whites, and his agenda is not addressing those concerns or those problems," said Peter Wehner, a former speechwriter for Republican president George W. Bush. "House and Senate Republicans weren't in tune with what he was running on either, so that was always going to be a problem."

The success of his agenda required a Democrat Congress.  when Republicans down ticket carried him in with them it rendered him a nullity, if a bumptious one.
Posted by orrinj at 10:07 AM


Who is Rinat Akhmetshin, the Fifth Person in the Don Jr. Meeting? (Aidan McLaughlin, July 14th, 2017, Mediate)

Speculation is rampant over the mysterious fifth person who attended the meeting between Donald Trump Jr. and a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower in June, 2016 -- and AP have now confirmed that it was Rinat Akhmetshin, a former Soviet counter intelligence officer.

The now infamous meeting between the president's son, Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya, Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner was disclosed after a series of New York Times reports prompted Don. Jr to confess to having attended the gathering with the goal of obtaining dirt on Hillary Clinton from the Russian government.

Per the Daily Beast, Veselnitskaya represents HRAGI, which has lobbied to end the ban on American adoption of Russian children -- a policy put in place in response to the Magnitsky Act.

Even Chuck Grassley claims Akhmetshin is a Russian operative.

Posted by orrinj at 9:58 AM


Inside the link between the Russian lawyer who met Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump dossier (Josh Rogin, July 11 , 2017, Washington Post)

Veselnitskaya has been a major detractor of the Magnitsky Act, a law that penalizes Russian officials accused of participating in the detention and subsequent death of Sergei Magnitsky. Magnitsky, who died in detention after being severely beaten, was Browder's lawyer and had uncovered a $230 million tax fraud scheme perpetrated by Russian authorities.

"Repealing the Magnitsky Act was the single biggest priority of Vladimir Putin and she was acting as the single most active proxy of the Russian government to achieve that objective in Washington," Browder said. "I'm sure that this was an attempt by the Russian government to repeal sanctions that annoyed them by going to the possible next president of the United States."

Fusion GPS has said that it was working for the law firm BakerHostetler, which was representing Prevezon, a Russian holding company based in Cyprus, in its defense against Justice Department allegations that Prevezon laundered money stolen in the fraud Magnitsky uncovered. Veselnitskaya was Prevezon's lawyer. Fusion GPS started working on the case in 2013 and the case settled in May with no admission of guilt by Prevezon.

Fusion GPS told me its work on the Prevezon case had nothing to do with the 2016 presidential election and they were not involved in the outreach to the Trump campaign.

"Fusion GPS learned about this meeting from news reports and had no prior knowledge of it," the company told me in a statement. "Any claim that Fusion GPS arranged or facilitated this meeting in any way is false."

As a subcontractor for BakerHostetler, Fusion GPS would not have been required to register under FARA. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


Billion-Barrel Mexico Find Could Spur Rush on Next Oil Auctions (Adam Williams, Amy Stillman, and Giacomo Tognini, 7/13/17, Bloomberg)

A billion-barrel crude discovery in Mexico could be just the lure the country needs to boost investment from oil majors as it lacks the wherewithal to reverse years of sagging output.

At a time when global oil prices were cratering, and drillers were nervously cutting exploration funds, Mexico's earliest auctions drew spotty interest. Since then, however, European drillers led by Italy's Eni SpA have increasingly become involved. The find in Mexico's shallow waters could drive added interest -- and higher bids -- in future auctions as the government seeks to boost production that's fallen by a third in the past decade.

On Wednesday, Premier Oil Plc, Sierra Oil & Gas and Talos Energy LLC announced the first Mexican discovery by explorers other than state-owned Pemex in 80 years, a reservoir with an estimated 1.4 billion to 2 billion barrels. With new auctions set for the end of the year, the find promises to rev up interest in Mexico's energy riches moving forward, said Pablo Medina, an analyst at the consulting firm Wood Mackenzie Ltd.

"Future bids will likely be more aggressive," Medina said in a telephone interview. "This obviously increases the attention people will pay. The area contiguous to this block is going to go up in value, no question." [...]

The find has "de-risked a little bit some of these shallow-water opportunities" in Mexico as it confirms that other explorers have the potential to find assets that Pemex either overlooked or couldn't develop, said Jeremy Martin, vice president of energy and sustainability at the Institute of the Americas, speaking over the phone from La Jolla, California.

Posted by orrinj at 8:57 AM


Trump's legal team faces tensions -- and a client who often takes his own counsel (Philip Rucker, Ashley Parker and Devlin Barrett July 13, 2017, Washington Post)

He won't follow instructions. After one meeting in which they urged Trump to steer clear of a certain topic, he sent a tweet about that very theme before they arrived back at their office. 

He won't compartmentalize. With aides, advisers and friends breezing in and out of the Oval Office, it is not uncommon for the president to suddenly turn the conversation to Russia -- a subject that perpetually gnaws at him -- in a meeting about something else entirely. 

And he won't discipline himself. Trump's legal team, led by Marc E. Kasowitz of New York, is laboring to underscore the potential risk to the president if he engages without a lawyer in discussions with other people under scrutiny in widening Russia inquiries, including Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and senior adviser. 

Nearly two months after Trump retained outside counsel to represent him in the investigations of alleged Russian meddling in last year's election, his and Kushner's attorneys are struggling to enforce traditional legal boundaries to protect their clients, according to half a dozen people with knowledge of the internal dynamics and ongoing interactions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly.

 Jared Kushner, son-in-law and senior adviser to President Trump, listens during session with cybersecurity experts at the White House in January. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
Compounding the challenges have been tensions between Trump's and Kushner's legal teams in a frenzied, siege-like environment. Senior White House officials are increasingly reluctant to discuss the issue internally or publicly and worry about overhearing sensitive conversations, for fear of legal exposure.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Fiery Heaven, Bastard Earth: The Cosmology of "Game of Thrones" (Jedediah Purdy, JULY 13, 2017, LA Review of Books)

Up to the beginning of this season, viewers have met three elemental forces, two of them named in the Song of Ice and Fire. The forces of Ice, the armies of the blue-eyed ice-demon known only as the Night King, stand for an end to human (and perhaps all warm-blooded) life. Although commentators have hoped that these chittering escapees from a gross anatomy lecture were an inessential narrative folly, Martin's own series title and his placement of a White Walker (the ravening zombie slaves of the Night King) in the first scene of Book I suggest they play a central role. His challenge is to make them count as more than undifferentiated super-villains.

Fire comes in the form of the dragons that are bound to Daenerys Targaryen ("Mother of Dragons" to her followers), who were once the source of political authority in Westeros, after enabling earlier Targaryens to conquer the island and unite its kingdoms. There are clues that dragons' flame will destroy White Walkers, and that it is the only thing likely to do so on a scale that will save humans from the army of the dead approaching from the North. This power is linked to a more general metaphysical fire principle. "Dragon glass," something like volcanic obsidian, destroys Walkers when it is formed into a weapon. So do swords of Valyrian steel, which have become precious tokens of ancient and high-status houses, but also hint at the forces that destroyed the high civilization of Valyria that forged them, now collapsed and remembered mainly in legend. There are hints in the books that Valyria fell to, or into, something resembling nuclear apocalypse. Ice kills, yes; but fire, while it sustains and renews life, also consumes it in flame, and tends to rage out of control.

If there is promise of a balance or integration of elemental forces, it is in the earth-based powers that the aboriginal Westerosi, the Children of the Forest, knew intimately. These powers are concentrated in the red-and-white Weir Trees, which the First Men, the early colonist ancestors of some modern Westerosi, adopted into their remnant regional religion, focused on the Old Gods. (Roughly speaking, it may help to imagine most Westerosi as Anglo-Saxons, the First Men as the already-present Celts, and the Children of the Forest as the Fairy Folk of Celtic story, here presented as having preceded the First Men.)

These earth-energies have moved from the margins of the story to loom increasingly large. Brandon Stark, who seems to have the strongest link to such forces in his generation of siblings, concluded the final episode of the sixth season by entering a mystical chthonic reverie beneath a vast weir tree in the far north, attended by the last of the Children of the Forest. Whatever he is gathering there is the last living link between the ancient world of the Children and the all-but-disenchanted world where the story began, and has been foreshadowed as an important resource in the impending war between life and death, the Night King's armies and humanity. If fire is the life-force so proudly strong it can consume life itself, then earth seems to be its counterpoint, humble and rooted in a more than metaphorical sense, alive with consciousness that links humans, their animal alter egos, and the trees that serve as spiritual cellular towers for devotees of the Old Gods. (The logic of the scheme suggests a place for water, but so far the sea is just the home of the Ironborn, temperate-zone Vikings with a reincarnation sideline of their own.)

What it means to bring these forces together will say a lot about how Game of Thrones imagines order in general. The implication so far is that death lies in division, hope in ever higher-order commonality. The contest for the throne of Westeros remains the engine of many of the most engaging plots, but in the larger scheme of the story it is a mistake, a bloody, sapping distraction from "the real war" to preserve life against the Night King. The deeply felt animus between the Southrons of the civilized kingdoms and the tribal, semi-anarchic Wildlings is a kind of confused substitute for the misremembered struggle against White Walkers: the degenerated, depopulated Night's Watch, guardians of the Wall separating North from South, imagine that the Wall was built to keep out Wildlings, and no longer quite believe in Walkers -- until they meet them.

Don't mistake your element for the world: frequently, the tragedy in Game of Thrones pivots on characters who wholeheartedly believe in principles that are noble but parochial and incomplete, and fail when they enter wider fields. Ned Stark, father of the siblings at the story's center, is loyal and lawful. By unflinchingly and punctiliously executing a Night's Watch deserter at the beginning of the first book -- an act intended, incidentally, as a lesson to his children on the burdens of upholding the law -- he fails to learn that the Walkers are on the move. He dies, honorably but futilely, in a palace struggle, high-mindedly oblivious to the larger landscape on which the story's stakes are emerging. Alliser Thorne, a knighted [***]hole but a loyal soldier in the Night's Watch, assassinates Jon Snow because Jon has allied himself with the Wildlings. Jon's pan-human diplomacy is the right move in the expansive moral vision of Game of Thrones, but a betrayal of the keystone principle of the Night's Watch, to protect the South against the North. But parochialism is beginning to yield. When the young Starks retake Winterfell in the penultimate HBO episode to date, they do so not just to assert their family claim -- a "game of thrones" move par -- but also to fortify the North against the White Walkers, a move in the war of Ice and Fire. The defense of a dynasty has become something else, the vanguard of the human -- even the terrestrial -- struggle for life.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Why Andrew Wyeth's Art - Once Derided - Has Outlived His Critics (Nic Rowan, 7/13/17, Acculturated)

When the Museum of Modern Art purchased Andrew Wyeth's painting, "Christina's World" in 1948, art critics were furious. The painting--which features a woman crippled by polio crawling up a hill toward an old farmhouse--was a crowd pleaser, hyper-realistic, and contrary to the current abstract trends. Wyeth quickly became (and has remained) one of the most popular and divisive American artists: beloved by hoi polloi but loathed by cognoscenti.

Yesterday would have been Wyeth's 100th birthday, and the critics are finally starting to appreciate his genius. This summer, the Brandywine River Museum of Art near Wyeth's home in Chadd's Ford, Pennsylvania, is celebrating the artist with a comprehensive retrospective show. In addition, Yale University Press has released Andrew Wyeth, in Retrospect a book of critical essays commemorating his career. This is the second major Wyeth show since the Smithsonian National Gallery of Art organized a 2014 exhibit focusing solely on his fascination with windows.

It's a touch ironic that Wyeth should be receiving all this attention while his contemporaries--Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline, Elaine de Kooning--over whom the art world once swooned, have been sequestered to quiet showrooms in urban haute bourgeois galleries. But it makes sense. Unlike the abstract expressionists, Wyeth's work endures because he portrayed his subjects naturally, interlocked in a dance between chaos and order, always on the brink of both, in an upward struggle toward clarity.

Beauty is objective.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 AM


Trump Plans to Certify that Iran Is in Compliance With Nuclear Deal (STEPHEN F. HAYES, MICHAEL WARREN, 7/13/17, Weekly Standard)

President Donald Trump plans to recertify Iranian compliance with the Iran nuclear deal before the congressionally mandated deadline to do so on Monday, according to four sources with knowledge of his thinking on the issue. The decision, which continues to provide Iran sanctions relief for their alleged fulfillment of the terms of the deal, comes after an intense internal debate about the pros and cons of recertification and just days after leading hawks on Capitol Hill urged the president to refuse certification.

As a candidate, Trump vowed repeatedly to "tear up" the Iran nuclear deal. In a speech before AIPAC in March 2016, Trump said: "My number one priority is to dismantle the disastrous deal with Iran." Aides describe his support for recertification as grudging and caution that he could change his mind before the deadline next week.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been the leading advocate for recertifying the deal, as the Trump administration already did once back in April. Tillerson believes that because the deal was front loaded with benefits for Iran, leaving it now would reduce the ability of the international community to seek compliance at a time when Iran is already reaping rewards for simply signing the deal. Secretary of Defense James Mattis backs Tillerson on recertification, while Steve Bannon has argued for abandoning the agreement.