October 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 PM


The Dubious Defense of the Jones Act (IKE BRANNON, 9/28/17, Cato)

For starters, the Jones Act probably costs us jobs. The high shipping costs engendered by the Jones Act encourage businesses to ship more things via rail or truck. Where that's not possible (as with Puerto Rico), it incentivizes businesses to import goods, rather than buy from a domestic customer and pay the prohibitively expensive toll the Jones Act imposes. In either case, fewer jobs result.

The Act makes it cheaper for U.S. livestock farmers to buy grain from overseas than from American sources, and forces states such as Maryland and Virginia to import their road salt rather than buy it from Ohio. The East Coast of the U.S. cannot afford to get lumber from the Pacific Northwest. And shipping oil from Texas to New England costs about three times as much as shipping it to Europe.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Trump's company had more contact with Russia during campaign, according to documents turned over to investigators (Tom Hamburger, Rosalind S. Helderman and Adam Entous October 2, 2017, Washington Post)

Associates of President Trump and his company have turned over documents to federal investigators that reveal two previously unreported contacts from Russia during the 2016 campaign, according to people familiar with the matter.

In one case, Trump's personal attorney and a business associate exchanged emails weeks before the Republican National Convention about the lawyer possibly traveling to an economic conference in Russia that would be attended by top Russian financial and government leaders, including President Vladi­mir Putin, according to people familiar with the correspondence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


In AI god will emerge by 2042 and write its own bible. Will you worship it? (JOHN BRANDON, OCTOBER 2, 2017, Venture Beat)

In the next 25 years, AI will evolve to the point where it will know more on an intellectual level than any human. In the next 50 or 100 years, an AI might know more than the entire population of the planet put together. At that point, there are serious questions to ask about whether this AI -- which could design and program additional AI programs all on its own, read data from an almost infinite number of data sources, and control almost every connected device on the planet -- will somehow rise in status to become more like a god, something that can write its own bible and draw humans to worship it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 PM


Bloomberg Law trains machine to highlight legal points (STEPHEN RYNKIEWICZ, 10/02/17, ABA Journal)

Bloomberg Law is the latest legal research provider to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to help lawyers analyze and cite legal opinions more effectively.

Last week Bloomberg Law unveiled Points of Law, a service that allows users to quickly identify and analyze language in a judicial opinion. By adding a layer of automated indexing to its deep online library of court opinions, Points of Law users can review a decision's legal points and find precedents that strengthen their own legal arguments, on paper or in open court.

Posted by orrinj at 4:27 PM


Freon find deals blow to ET search (Andrew Masterson, 10/02/17, Cosmos)

In a blow to the search for extraterrestrial life, astronomers have been forced to discard a chemical compound previously thought to be a reliable indicator of biological activity.

In a paper published in Nature Astronomy, the researchers report the detection of a compound comprising methyl chloride and chloromethane (dubbed freon-40) around an infant star system called IRAS 16293-2422, and in the vicinity of the much-studied comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko.

The detections were made using data from the ESO's ALMA telescope in Chile and the ROSINA instrument onboard the observatory's Rosetta probe, which is currently orbiting the comet.

In both cases, the origins of the freon-40 must predate the origins of life, thereby ruling it out as an indicator of biology.

Posted by orrinj at 4:24 PM


U.S. Interior Dept. watchdog launches investigation into Zinke's travel (Reuters, 10/02/17) 

The Interior Department's watchdog agency has launched an investigation into Secretary Ryan Zinke's travels after reports emerged last week that he had used a private plane owned by an oil executive, the inspector general's office said on Monday.

Posted by orrinj at 3:57 PM


The Madness of Saint Woodrow: Or, What If the United States Had Stayed out of the Great War? (WALTER A. MCDOUGALL, 10/02/17, Library of Law and Liberty)

Historians today conventionally speak of a "short 20th century" extending from 1914 to 1991--bracketing, in other words, the unspeakably violent and ideological era that saw two world wars and the Cold War. Historians invariably trace the origins of those horrors to the human, economic, social, and cultural destruction of the Great War, which shattered the liberal myths of progress as well as the balance of power that had prevailed for a century before 1914.

The carnage of the Great War hurled its disoriented survivors into a moral vacuum that totalitarian movements such as communism and fascism exploited. Mix in the effects of an economic cataclysm, the Great Depression that began in late 1929 and enervated the democracies even as it energized the dictatorships, and the coming of a Second World War in 1939 was just a matter of time. That crescendo of violence gave birth to a bipolar world dominated by rival empires, each with its own universal ideology and armed with nuclear weapons.

The trends of the 20th century can be made to appear inevitable and humanity subject to cruel fate. But what if we err to think it can all be traced back to 1914? What if the subsequent calamities really trace back to 1917 and the foolish American decision to join the Great War? [...]
[Niall Ferguson's] own contribution was a 52-page speculation entitled, "The Kaiser's European Union: What if Great Britain Had Stood Aside in August 1914?" It cogently argued that if Britain had not gone to war or else limited itself to a naval war of defense--options seriously considered by the cabinet of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith in 1914--the result would have been a German victory, but one that the still-mighty British Empire could have lived with. A German-dominated Mitteleuropa under the Kaiser's constitutional monarchy would not, Ferguson speculated, have differed so much from the European Union of today. And the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany would not have existed at all.

Let that serve as a model for our own (much briefer) inquiry into Woodrow Wilson's decision to lead the United States into the First World War. For President Wilson not only considered, but really made, "alternative choices" for two-and-a-half years before changing his mind and with it  the whole course of American, European, and world history in the "short 20th century." [...]

Over those weeks of early 1917, Wilson famously agonized until, by the end of March, he made up his mind to wage war. For all the historical debate over the issue, "one incontrovertible fact remains: the United States entered World War I because Woodrow Wilson decided to take the country in."[7] Moreover, he made that personal, unforced choice to preach a crusade for liberal internationalism under the worst possible circumstances.

By the spring, Wilson knew or should have known that prominent Senators led by Henry Cabot Lodge (R-Mass.) were hostile to his League of Nations idea. He knew the Allied powers led by Britain and France were hostile to most of the liberal principles he would espouse in his Fourteen Points. He knew that most of the points, not least national self-determination, were inapplicable  in much of Europe where ethnic groups were hopelessly mixed, much less in the colonial world, where nationalism was still in its infancy and the imperial rulers were now Wilson's allies. He knew that the vast majority of Germans, however war-weary, remained loyal to their emperor. He knew that to maximize his leverage at the peace conference the United States must wage a total ground war, not a limited naval war. He also knew in advance that war would undermine his domestic agenda, violate civil liberties, and unleash Americans' most bigoted instincts.

Nevertheless, Wilson chose to flip Washington's biggest "Thou shalt not"--meddle in Europe's broils--into "Thou must," and to demand that all Americans fall into line.[8] Most damning of all, Wilson knew well, unlike overconfident Europeans in 1914, exactly how hellish this war had become.[9]

Here are the four options the President had in mid-1917: 1) He could have kept the United States neutral, accepting the risk of a German victory. 2) He could have justified total war, but on the realistic grounds of preserving the European balance of power and thus U.S. security.  3) He could have gone to war over neutral rights, as in 1812, and waged a naval campaign rather than shipping an army to France. Or 4) he could preach a crusade, a holy "war to end all war," enthrall Americans with that fantasy, and hope to persuade or cajole Europeans to convert as well.

Ferguson and others have speculated that the first option might have been best. The Kaiser was not Hitler after all, and after their sacrifices in a total war the Germans themselves would likely have demanded democratic reforms. Moreover, a German victory in the Great War might well have meant no fascism, no World War II, no Holocaust, and no Cold War.

Henry Kissinger and others have speculated that the second option (which was Theodore Roosevelt's preference) might have been best, with Americans helping to restore a balance of power on terms the Allies, the Germans, and the U.S. Senate could grudgingly have accepted.

Scholars such as myself have speculated that the third choice might have been best since a naval war would have been vastly cheaper in money, blood, and damage to civic values, would have given both sides a powerful new incentive to end the carnage, and would left Europe's Great Powers to hammer out a compromise peace. 10] As we know, Wilson chose the fourth option--presumably because he had persuaded himself that God was calling America to  redeem the  horrible war by turning it into a "war for righteousness." Liberal Protestant clergy, previously divided over the war, turned zealous. Celebrity pastor Lyman Abbott thought it "more than a coincidence" that the Senate went to war on Good Friday. He called Germany heathen, America righteous, and the war the climactic chapter in God's plan for redemption.

It's not that a crusade was wrong, just that he chose the wrong crusade.  Self-determination is the American value that was at stake.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


Did Manafort Use Trump to Curry Favor With a Putin Ally? : Emails turned over to investigators detail the former campaign chair's efforts to please an oligarch tied to the Kremlin. (JULIA IOFFE AND FRANKLIN FOER, 10/02/17, The Atlantic)

On the evening of April 11, 2016, two weeks after Donald Trump hired the political consultant  Paul Manafort to lead his campaign's efforts to wrangle Republican delegates, Manafort emailed his old lieutenant Konstantin Kilimnik, who had worked for him for a decade in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

"I assume you have shown our friends my media coverage, right?" Manafort wrote.

"Absolutely," Kilimnik responded a few hours later from Kiev. "Every article."

"How do we use to get whole," Manafort asks. "Has OVD operation seen?"

According to a source close to Manafort, the initials "OVD" refer to Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and one of Russia's richest men. The source also confirmed that one of the individuals repeatedly mentioned in the email exchange as an intermediary to Deripaska is an aide to the oligarch.

Posted by orrinj at 3:38 PM


Stephen Paddock, Las Vegas Suspect, Was a Gambler, a Cipher, a 'Lone Wolf' (JOSE A. DELREAL and JONAH ENGEL BROMWICH, OCT. 2, 2017, NY Times)

His brother, Eric Paddock, who lives in Orlando, said he and his family were "shocked, horrified" by the news, saying he was "not an avid gun guy." The brother told CBS News that he knew Mr. Paddock had handguns, but that as far as he knew, Mr. Paddock did not own "machine guns."

"Where the hell did he get automatic weapons? He has no military background or anything like that," the brother said. "When you find out about him, like I said, he's a guy who lived in a house in Mesquite and drove down and gambled in Las Vegas."

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Another time in history that the US created travel bans -- against Italians (Maddalena Marinari, 10/02/17, PRI)

There was a time in US history when the government thought that a country was "not sending its best." A time when the government thought that immigrants' home countries could do more to help them screen who gets to come to the US.

It was Italy in the 1920s.

The way the Sudanese and US governments negotiated to keep Sudan off of the Trump administration's third travel ban is not a new diplomatic maneuver. A century ago, Italy too tried to negotiate its way out of restrictive immigration policies.

Like today, Americans at the end of the 19th century had fierce debates about which immigrants to admit to the US. In the midst of the largest global migration in history, many Americans remained divided over the need for immigrant labor to propel the country's meteoric economic rise and the desire to protect the US from immigrants from "inferior" countries -- at that time, China, Italy or Russia.

As one newspaper noted in the 1890s: "The floodgates are open. The bars are down. The sally-ports are unguarded. The dam is washed away. The sewer is unchoked. Europe is vomiting! In other words, the scum of immigration is viscerating [sic] upon our shores."

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Under pressure from a small but very organized lobby, the US government responded by passing increasingly sweeping immigration laws that spelled out which immigrants were admissible and which were excluded. They created barriers for those considered to be a threat -- physically, culturally or politically.

Despite the draconian legislation then, like now, the US could not hope to monitor who entered the country without the collaboration of other countries. It had influence but could not enforce its immigration laws by itself. So, the government established mechanisms of "remote control," and demanded that other countries cooperate in a visa-vetting regime.

It's not unlike what the Trump administration is demanding today.