September 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


Betsy DeVos's remarks on campus sex assault were right on target (Editorial Board, September 8, 2017, Washington Post)

Being held accountable -- with the threat of a loss of money -- forced colleges and universities to finally confront the problem of sexual assault and other misconduct. They were obliged to investigate, rather than cover up, complaints and to offer protections to victims of sexual abuse. At the same time, legitimate questions have been raised about whether there was an overreach by the Obama administration in its prescriptions that resulted in imbalances and injustices. Ms. DeVos, while crediting the Obama administration for bringing the issue of campus sexual assaults "into the light of day," blasted the current system as failing both victims and the accused and being too onerous for administrators.

Advocates for survivors of sexual violence seized on her criticism -- in particular her concern about the need for due process for the accused -- as a betrayal that backtracks on protections for victims. But Ms. DeVos was unequivocal in stating that there must be no tolerance for sexual misconduct and that universities and colleges have a responsibility to combat it.

She is not alone in seeing some problems with how the guidelines have been implemented, as she illustrated with stories from students -- both survivors and those accused -- about how the system failed them. In a detailed examination, the Atlantic's Emily Yoffe argued that many remedies pushed on campuses "are unjust to men, infantilize women, and ultimately undermine the legitimacy of the fight against sexual violence." Groups such as the American Association of University Professors and the American College of Trial Lawyers have called for changes in the standard of proof used in campus disciplinary proceedings. Professors in the law schools at Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania and other institutions wrote an open letter about their concern over the absence of due process.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Key Obamacare Architect Who Shunned Single-Payer Now Backs It : Max Baucus' comments show how far the debate has shifted. (Daniel Marans, 0/08/17, Huffington Post)

Former Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), a fiscal moderate who, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, presided over the passage of the Affordable Care Act, expressed his support on Thursday for the creation of a single-payer health care system.

"My personal view is we've got to start looking at single-payer," Baucus said in remarks at Montana State University, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. "I think we should have hearings... We're getting there. It's going to happen."

Single-payer health care, in which the federal government insures all citizens through one large program, is a model for universal coverage in many developed countries, including Canada, France and Australia. But it has long been viewed as a pipe dream in the United States, where a plurality of people receive coverage from their employers.

Baucus' endorsement of the idea speaks to just how dramatically the health policy debate has shifted within the Democratic Party in recent years ― particularly since the 2016 presidential run of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who made what he called "Medicare for all" a central issue of his campaign. [...]

Obamacare itself relies on a hybrid model, once favored by conservative policy experts, that combines the creation of a new private, individual insurance marketplace and an expansion of Medicaid.

The electorate of every developed democracy considers health care a right, so it is one.  All GOP derangement has done is make the less desirable option for providing it more likely.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


How Previously Accepted Peanut-Allergy Wisdom Is Being Upended (Brian Freedman , 9/07/17, Forbes)

The statement, attributed to FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb, M.D., notes that, "As the science governing allergies and diets continues to evolve, so do expert recommendations around how best to safely introduce babies and children to various foods."

He goes to note that, "the prevalence of peanut allergy has more than doubled in children from 1997 to 2008 alone. Today, about two percent of American children are allergic to peanuts." As a consequence of this, he says, "doctors began advising parents not to introduce peanut-containing foods to children under the age of three who were at high risk for peanut allergy."

Turns out that was the wrong advice.

At the end of the statement, Gottlieb announces that, "Recognizing the importance of science-based food decisions, the FDA has responded to a petition for a new qualified health claim that states 'for most infants with severe eczema and/or egg allergy who are already eating solid foods, introducing foods containing ground peanuts between 4 and 10 months of age and continuing consumption may reduce the risk of developing peanut allergy by 5 years of age.'" 

Posted by orrinj at 6:48 PM



There's a simple explanation for how the American far-right became curiously infatuated with the Arab totalitarian leader: Their hearts were won over by the Assad family's years-old propaganda campaign at home in Syria. Assad's authoritarianism uses the same buzzwords as the far-right to describe the society he's trying to build in his own country -- a pure, monolithic society of devotees to his own power. American neo-Nazis see Assad as a hero.

As the chaos of Charlottesville and its aftermath was unfolding, Assad addressed a group of diplomats in Damascus about the ongoing war in Syria. "We lost many of our youth and infrastructure," he said, "but we gained a healthier and more homogenous society."

Whereas white nationalists aim to create a healthy and homogeneous society through racial purity, for Assad it means a society free of any kind of political dissent, excluding any Syrian living outside the territory his regime controls. Anyone who does not fit Assad's specific definition of what it means to be Syrian is up for execution.

Alexander Reid Ross, a lecturer of geography at Portland State University and author of the new book, "Against the Fascist Creep," said Assad is a figure that is central to a realization of "Eurasianism." The notion "holds that Russia will lead the world out of a dark age of materialism and toward an ultranationalist rebirth of homogenous ethno-states federated under a heterogeneous spiritual empire," Reid Ross said.

In other words, the Assad dynasty, with the strong backing of Vladimir Putin's authoritarian state in Russia, is the Middle East's leading force toward creating a society that is spiritually, socially, and politically "pure." Cosmopolitanism, with diversity in political thought and social identity, is an obstacle for those aiming to realize this vision.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


Expect Special Counsel Mueller to Follow the Money (John McKay  Friday, September 8, 2017, lAWfARE)

I oversaw many cases in which a suspect's personal finances were often intimately linked to whatever wrongdoing that person had engaged in. The finances either created a motive (naked greed, for example), contained evidence or fruits of the illegal scheme itself, or provided evidence of how the scheme was concealed. For example, in one conspiracy case prosecuted by my office, we established the complicity of Russian hackers by examining related financial crimes and connecting complex schemes involving the transfer of funds to the conspirators. Similar evidence of financial transactions can establish overt acts proving the conspiracy or can connect the alleged conspirator with the crime, whether or not the crime itself is financial in nature. In fact, ignoring such evidence would severely hamstring most federal criminal investigations.

It is hard to imagine how payments by foreign governments, including Russia, would not be central to Mueller's investigation, given what is already known. To start, Donald Trump, Jr. admitted at a real estate conference in 2008 that "Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets; say in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia." As Reuters reported in March, wealthy Russians invested nearly $100 million in revenue to several of Trump's properties in Florida and New York in recent years. And beyond Russian money flowing to Trump properties in the United States, Donald Trump had tried to develop properties in Russia since the 1980s. In 2007 he declared, "We will be in Moscow at some point," and in 2013 his hosting of the Miss Universe pageant in Russia was financed by Aras Agalarov, an oligarch who is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Agalarov later worked with Trump on plans to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, though the deal fell apart. Late last month, the Washington Post reported on emails that revealed that Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, played a role in that deal, working to connect the Trump Organization with a spokesperson for Putin to help finalize it. Agalarov's son also reportedly sought to arrange the now-infamous meeting between Trump Jr. and the Kremlin-connected lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.

These financial relationships are relevant to the Russia investigation because they may speak to Trump or his associates' motive or opportunity to collude, or else provide evidence of collusion. Recently these facts were recounted as part of a civil lawsuit filed against the Trump campaign by three voters whose private information was exposed to the world as part of the Russians' hack of the Democratic National Committee. Discovery will likely be allowed in that case. Surely the special counsel must look into these issues as well.

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein granted Mueller a broad mandate to probe financial records when he authorized an investigation into "any links ... between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump" (emphasis added). There is ample reason for Mueller to believe based simply on information in the public sphere that there are financial links between Trump and Russians close to the Russian government. The only way he would be able to tell if any of these financial links connect Trump to the Russian government for purposes of influence operations is to investigate them.

Given that investigating Trump's finances is within Mueller's mandate, the president's warning that Mueller not look at Trump family finances beyond any relationship to Russia is highly inappropriate. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Five suspected al Qaeda militants killed in Yemen drone strikes (Reuters, 9/09/17) 

Five suspected al Qaeda militants were killed in drone strikes on two villages in Yemen's al Baida governorate on Saturday, a local official and residents said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Taking Risks to Move the Culture Forward { An interview with Claire Lehmann, founder of an online magazine for free thought (Clay Routledge Ph.D., 9/07/17, Psychology Today)

What inspired you to create Quillette?

It's hard to pinpoint exactly. I think there was a confluence of factors. I had been writing a few columns for the local Sydney newspaper The Sydney Morning Herald, and I was very aware that I couldn't write anything that was too academic or scholarly, and I also couldn't write anything that was too politically incorrect. It felt very constrained.

I was also pursuing graduate studies at the time in forensic psychology and was becoming increasingly cynical about the university system. I was reading Peter Thiel, and was struck by his iconoclastic views on education; in particular his claim that the higher education system is like the Vatican on the eve of the reformation. So in mid-to-late 2015, I wrote an article for the Herald about universities in Australia being a road to nowhere, dropped out of my course, and two weeks later started Quillette. [...]

Quillette has received high praise from some very influential scholars and public intellectuals. This is impressive considering that there is a dizzying number of online magazines, podcasts, blogs, and vlogs focused on politics, science, and social life. What do you think you are uniquely tapping into that has captured the attention of influential thinkers?

Yes, it's been very humbling to have such support. I think that we are simply offering up an alternative to the blank slate view of human nature that appears to be dominant within the media ecosystem.

The blank slate view, which is the idea that who we are is entirely or predominantly the product of culture and socialization, is very common in left-leaning media. And left-leaning media also happens to provide most of today's science journalism. It's kind of ironic, because the convergent evidence coming out of evolutionary psychology, biology, behavioural genetics and neuroscience that falsifies this blank slate view is simply incontrovertible at this point, but most of the media, and even the popular science media keep clinging to it. At times it's just embarrassing.

Another factor is that although conservative or libertarian magazines are less wedded to blank slate dogmas, they nevertheless do not give a lot of space to science journalism. So there is a gap in the market for data driven, scientifically literate commentary that does not conform to an outdated view of human nature. Quillette has just run with this.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Opposition leaders slam Yair Netanyahu over allegedly anti-Semitic cartoon : After David Duke tweets about story, Labor's Avi Gabbay condemns PM's son for posting a caricature 'the head of the KKK agrees with' (TOI STAFF, September 9, 2017, Times of Israel)

Opposition lawmakers on Saturday strongly criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's son for posting a cartoon over the weekend that appears to have anti-Semitic origins and has circulated on anti-Semitic websites.

The cartoon, posted Friday on Yair Netanyahu's private Facebook profile, features references to Jewish billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, the Illuminati and some sort of lizard creature. [...]

Responding to the younger Netanyahu's posting of the cartoon, which former Ku Klux Klan head David Duke shared an article about on his Twitter account, Labor party chief Avi Gabbay said it was a "sad day" when the prime minister's son shares a cartoon the leader of the KKK would agree with.

Soros's advocacy of democracy places him beyond the Pale.

Posted by orrinj at 11:48 AM


Why are Republicans working to bail out ObamaCare and raise taxes? (Ned Ryun, September 08, 2017 Fox News)

In the wake of their faux attempt to repeal ObamaCare, many Establishment Republicans have embraced ObamaCare's so-called cost-sharing subsidies. Commonly known as CRSs, these subsidies are payments the federal government makes to insurers to help offset the high costs of ObamaCare customers.

It's clear Republicans were never serious about ObamaCare repeal and now they are in fact actively working to support some of the very worst parts of ObamaCare.

Just a few years ago, House Republicans actually sued the Obama administration over CSRs, arguing, correctly, that the payments were unconstitutional because they had never been authorized by Congress. Permanent authorization of CSRs is now the top health care priority for Congressional Democrats.

Let's be honest about what these "CSRs" are. These are taxpayer-funded payments that go directly from the federal government to insurance companies that sell ObamaCare policies. You can call them whatever you like; corporate welfare, crony capitalism, but these are unconstitutional bailouts specifically designed to prop up ObamaCare and mask its true cost.

But wait: it gets worse. Much worse. Not only are Establishment Republicans poised to bail out ObamaCare, they are simultaneously going to allow the return of two suspended ObamaCare taxes. In other words, they are going to let taxes go up on their watch.

The device tax should be stiffer.

Posted by orrinj at 9:43 AM


The First White President (TA-NEHISI COATES,  OCTOBER 2017, The Atlantic)

His political career began in advocacy of birtherism, that modern recasting of the old American precept that black people are not fit to be citizens of the country they built. But long before birtherism, Trump had made his worldview clear. He fought to keep blacks out of his buildings, according to the U.S. government; called for the death penalty for the eventually exonerated Central Park Five; and railed against "lazy" black employees. "Black guys counting my money! I hate it," Trump was once quoted as saying. "The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day." After his cabal of conspiracy theorists forced Barack Obama to present his birth certificate, Trump demanded the president's college grades (offering $5 million in exchange for them), insisting that Obama was not intelligent enough to have gone to an Ivy League school, and that his acclaimed memoir, Dreams From My Father, had been ghostwritten by a white man, Bill Ayers.

It is often said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true--his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican "rapists," only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint. Trump's rise was shepherded by Steve Bannon, a man who mocks his white male critics as "cucks." The word, derived from cuckold, is specifically meant to debase by fear and fantasy--the target is so weak that he would submit to the humiliation of having his white wife lie with black men. That the slur cuck casts white men as victims aligns with the dicta of whiteness, which seek to alchemize one's profligate sins into virtue. So it was with Virginia slaveholders claiming that Britain sought to make slaves of them. So it was with marauding Klansmen organized against alleged rapes and other outrages. So it was with a candidate who called for a foreign power to hack his opponent's email and who now, as president, is claiming to be the victim of "the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history."

In Trump, white supremacists see one of their own. Only grudgingly did Trump denounce the Ku Klux Klan and David Duke, one of its former grand wizards--and after the clashes between white supremacists and counterprotesters in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, Duke in turn praised Trump's contentious claim that "both sides" were responsible for the violence.

To Trump, whiteness is neither notional nor symbolic but is the very core of his power. In this, Trump is not singular. But whereas his forebears carried whiteness like an ancestral talisman, Trump cracked the glowing amulet open, releasing its eldritch energies. The repercussions are striking: Trump is the first president to have served in no public capacity before ascending to his perch. But more telling, Trump is also the first president to have publicly affirmed that his daughter is a "piece of ass." The mind seizes trying to imagine a black man extolling the virtues of sexual assault on tape ("When you're a star, they let you do it"), fending off multiple accusations of such assaults, immersed in multiple lawsuits for allegedly fraudulent business dealings, exhorting his followers to violence, and then strolling into the White House. But that is the point of white supremacy--to ensure that that which all others achieve with maximal effort, white people (particularly white men) achieve with minimal qualification. Barack Obama delivered to black people the hoary message that if they work twice as hard as white people, anything is possible. But Trump's counter is persuasive: Work half as hard as black people, and even more is possible.

For Trump, it almost seems that the fact of Obama, the fact of a black president, insulted him personally.

For Hoffer's hero is 'the autonomous man,' the content man at peace with himself, engaged in the present.  In Hoffer's book, this hero, nourished by free societies, is set off against 'the true believer,'  who begins as a frustrated man driven by guilt, failure and self-disgust to bury his own identity in a  cause oriented to some future goal. 
            -Editor's Preface to the Time-Life Books edition of The True Believer

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


24.8 Million Americans Are Enrolled in High-Deductible Insurance Plans (Ali Meyer, September 9, 2017, Daily Beacon)

There are 24.8 million Americans who are enrolled in a high-deductible health care plan through their employer, according to data from researchers at the University of Minnesota.

According to the IRS, a high-deductible health plan is one that has a minimum deductible of $1,300 for an individual and $2,600 for a family. [...]

"High-deductible health plans are increasingly becoming the norm in commercial insurance, and there is every reason to expect this trend to continue," said Katherine Hempstead, senior advisor at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Deductibles rose considerably faster than premiums, and the share of health care spending made directly by consumers will continue to grow."

Now to get that to 300 million Americans...

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


U.S.-backed SDF launches operation in Syria's Deir al-Zor: statement (John Davison, 9/09/17, Reuters) 

U.S.-backed Syrian militias have launched an operation against Islamic State in the north of Deir al-Zor province, a statement said on Saturday.

Assaults would aim to drive the jihadist militants out of areas they hold north and east of the Euphrates river, close to the Iraqi border, said the statement from the Deir al-Zor Military Council, which is fighting as part of the Syrian Democratic Forces alliance (SDF).