October 31, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:47 PM


Why There Was a Civil War : Some issues aren't amenable to deal making; some principles don't lend themselves to compromise. (YONI APPELBAUM, MAY 1, 2017, The Atlantic)

[T]he Civil War was fought over slavery. "Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery--the greatest material interest of the world," Mississippi declared as it seceded. "The people of the slave holding States are bound together by the same necessity and determination to preserve African slavery," said Louisiana. "The servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations," insisted Texas.

And Lincoln understood it, too. "All knew that this interest was somehow the cause of the war," he said. "To strengthen, perpetuate, and extend this interest was the object for which the insurgents would rend the Union even by war, while the Government claimed no right to do more than to restrict the territorial enlargement of it."

The entirely uncontroversial consensus among professional historians is that slavery caused the war, although this conclusion has not reached much of the general public. Leaders like Jackson, then, only postponed the inevitable reckoning. It's still tempting, though, to believe that the Civil War might have been avoided, the loss of three-quarters-of-a-million lives averted, the bloodiest conflict in our history forestalled. And for a century, many of America's political leaders did everything in their power to turn a blind eye to the carnage of slavery, staving off sectional crises.

The first century of American history, in fact, can be told through the long litany of deals struck by strong leaders working to suppress, or at least delay, open conflict over slavery. The delegates in Philadelphia were deal makers; the Constitution they produced strengthened the federal government, but at the price of shielding slavery. The three-fifths compromise ensured the South would wield disproportionate power in the House and in presidential elections; the document protected the international slave trade for 20 years.

If some at the convention had hoped that compromise might buy enough time for slavery to pass out of existence on its own, they were disappointed. Instead, slavery--in all its horrifying brutality--became a cornerstone of American economic development. An ever-increasing number of human beings were held in bondage, their labor forcibly extracted, and their financial worth heavily leveraged.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


The Papadopoulos plea has blindsided Republicans (Jennifer Rubin, October 31, 2017, Washington Post)

In August 2016, Clovis responded to efforts by Papadopoulos to organize an "off the record" meeting with Russian officials. "I would encourage you" and another foreign policy adviser to the campaign to "make the trip, if it is feasible," Clovis wrote.

Clovis is now reportedly cooperating with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. As my colleague Aaron Blake points out, Clovis's excuse, provided by his lawyer, that he was being "polite," makes no sense:

So basically, Clovis told someone to do something he opposed and was against campaign rules because he was only being a polite Midwesterner and he couldn't technically prevent him from doing it. (As a Minnesotan, I'll gladly try to use this excuse going forward.)

The strained explanation speaks to just how problematic this could be for Clovis. The campaign and the Trump transition team claimed over and over again that it had no contact with Russians during the campaign. Here we have a former Trump foreign policy aide actively setting up a potential meeting with the Russians, and Clovis giving him the thumbs-up. At one point, Papadopoulos specified that the meeting was requested by the Russian MFA (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), so there was no mistaking who was requesting the meeting.

Plainly, Papadopoulos doesn't fit the Trump talking point that Mueller is somehow "proving" no connection between the campaign and the Russians, and Clovis's involvement makes the entire talking point irrelevant. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


IRGC commander rules out war between Iran, US (Al-Monitor, October 31, 2017)

Jafari said, "These days, the US is planning to start imposing the sanctions called CAATSA [Countering America's Adversaries Through Sanctions Act] under the pretext of Iran's missile capability. While the IRGC and [Iran's] missile capability are [just a] pretext, Iran's economic capacity is the [real] target."

On the possibility that the United States might try to kill the nuclear deal, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Jafari asked, "What was the benefit of the JCPOA for us?" He noted, "The Iranian nation has repeatedly experienced Americans' not honoring their commitments."

The IRGC commander further said, "The people of Iran know the United States well, and if they relatively trusted [it] during the last four years, [that] was for the sake of the JCPOA. [Now] Iranians have lost their trust in the US for not honoring [its commitments] and [for] deception."

Posted by orrinj at 3:55 PM


Trump's Policy on Terrorism Suspects Looks Like Obama's (KRISHNADEV CALAMUR, 10/31/17, THE ATLANTIC)

[T]he Trump administration's practice with newly captured terrorism suspects hews closely to its predecessor's policy.

In July, Ali Charaf Damache, a dual Irish-Algerian citizen who is suspected of being an al-Qaeda recruiter, was transferred to the U.S. from Spain, and later appeared in federal court in Philadelphia. Damache was accused of being part of a plot to kill a Swedish cartoonist who depicted Islam's Prophet Muhammad in a cartoon. He became the first foreign citizen to be brought to the U.S. for trial in the Trump era. But his transfer to the U.S. could have also been linked to the opposition of a European country, Spain, to transfer a European citizen to Guantanamo, a facility many European view with disdain. Still, civil-rights groups praised the Trump administration for its decision to give Damache a civilian trial.

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 PM


What Did Thomas Barrack Know, and When Did He Know It? (Martin Longman, October 31, 2017, Washington Monthly)

The Iowa caucuses took place on February 1st. A couple of weeks later, Barrack and Manafort had a meeting at the Montage hotel in Beverly Hills where they discussed a packet of memos Manafort had prepared to put forth his credentials to handle the delegate fight. On February 29th, Barrack forwarded the packet to Trump along with "an effusive cover letter" that "described Mr. Manafort in terms that Mr. Trump would like, calling him 'the most experienced and lethal of managers' and 'a killer.'"

This must have seemed like a great idea to Barrack, as he could make two good friends happy at the same time. What he almost definitely didn't then realize is that Manafort had an ulterior motive and was a desperate man.

It's been known for some time that Manafort was deeply in debt when he approached Barrack about working for Donald Trump. Specifically, the New York Times reported in July that Manafort owed as much as $19 million to a Russian oligarch with mob connections named Oleg V. Deripaska.

When Barrack and Manafort made their pitch to Trump, Manafort wrote "I am not looking for a paid job," and Barrack reiterated the point in his cover letter: "[Manafort] would do this in an unpaid capacity." It wouldn't become clear until later why a man who owes millions to a mobbed-up Putin connected Russian oligarch would be looking to work for free.

On March 28th, Trump hired Manafort without pay. Soon after, this happened:

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?"

The initials OVD obviously stand for Oleg Vladimirovich Deripaska. What Manafort was hoping is that by landing his position with Trump, he could somehow free himself from the millions and millions of dollars of debt he owed to Deripaska.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


Seeking 'Dirt' from Foreign Powers Is an Impeachable Offense (Cass Sunstein, 10/31/17, TIME)

In the summer of 1787, the delegates to the constitutional convention in Philadelphia vigorously debated the question whether the president should be impeachable. James Madison, the wisest of them all, insisted that impeachable was "indispensable," because the president "might pervert his administration into a scheme of peculation or oppression."

But the most eloquent was George Mason: "Shall any man be above Justice? Above all shall that man be above it, who can commit the most extensive injustice?" Mason feared "the man who has practised corruption & by that means procured his appointment in the first instance." [...]

Viewed in light of the founding debates, Papadopoulos' conduct was traitorous -- the kind of conduct that would raise legitimate impeachment questions if it had been undertaken by a candidate personally. Recall George Mason's words. No aspirant to high office, and no adviser to any such aspirant, should engage with Russian officials about how to obtain "dirt" on a political appointment.

Posted by orrinj at 3:20 PM


Mayonnaise is disgusting, and science agrees (Kendra Pierre-Louis, 10/31/17, Popular Science)

"Feces is the universal disgust, like the first disgust," says Paul Rozin, a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania who has researched disgust since the 1980s. In addition to being an expert on disgust Rozin is also the researcher who coined the phrase "benign masochism" to explain why some humans enjoy the burn of chili peppers.

Disgust, theorizes Rozin, originally evolved as a way to keep humans safe. Hanging around each other's excrement, for example, is an excellent way to spread diseases so we learned pretty early to avoid the stuff.

"Disgusting foods are contaminating," says Rozin. "If you put a little bit of it in something, other people won't eat it." [...]

As far as Rozin knows nobody has ever done a study specifically on mayonnaise disgust, but based on his previous research on disgust he posits that it's mayonnaise's texture that's the culprit. It's viscous quality is the sort of thickness that you'd get from fluid oozing out of a rotted carcass as anyone who has ever poked a rotted squirrel with a stick can attest. Disgust also tends to align strongly with our revulsion about bodily fluids. We don't exactly market lemonade by saying that it looks like pee. And the creamy appearance of mayonnaise isn't dissimilar from what would emerge from say a popped zit. Delicious.

Of course the fact that mayonnaise triggers my sense of disgust, doesn't really matter to any company's bottom line. Stores like Ready should only care about my condiment vendetta if there are more of me.

"The percentage of people who don't like mayo it's probably close to 20 percent--it's not trivial," says Herbert Stone a food sensory consultant. I'd called Stone to figure out whether I was unique in my mayonnaise aversion. While he can't put a precise number on how many of us just dislike mayonnaise versus experience disgust, the big take away is that I'm not alone. Even a quick survey of Popular Science's office found that at least one other staff member doesn't really like mayo but she'll eat it when she has to, while another, like me, wholly avoids eating Ready's sandwich selections because the ubiquity of mayonnaise on their menu. And a quick Google search reveals websites and songs, devoted to people's hatred of this ubiquitous condiment.

"You will find this kind of polarization in other countries around the world," adds Stone, who has among other thing consulted with the Hellmann's (Best Foods) brand of mayonnaise. "And it's not just Western Europe--you will find a similar degree of like dislike in Asia as well."

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


Consumer confidence hits highest level since December 2000 (Michael Sheetz, 10/31/17, CNBC.com)

Consumers were even more optimistic in October than economists polled by Reuters expected.

Consumer confidence rose to 125.9 in October, according to the Conference Board.

The index "increased to its highest level in almost 17 years," Lynn Franco, Director of Economic Indicators at The Conference Board, said 

Posted by orrinj at 3:00 PM


WPI Study: NFL Teams Should Use New Draft Strategies (WPI, May 7, 2014)

The study, released this week, once again contrasts with the popularly held view that first-round picks provide the best value. It also raises questions about the accuracy of the draft pick value table that has traditionally been used by teams in making trades. The 79th annual NFL draft takes place May 8-10 in New York City.

The WPI team analyzed the 2012 and 2013 draft classes, and found that second round picks represent the best performance relative to a player's selection in the draft with about 70 percent of the production of first-round picks but at just 44 percent of the salary. Similarly, third-round picks provided close to 70 percent of the production of first-round picks but at just 28 percent of the salary.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Half of all internet traffic comes from bots (Sara Fischer, 10/31/17, Axios)

More than half of internet traffic is bots. Bots have always played a major role in our internet ecosystem, although not all bots are bad. (Some, for example, are used to make our search experiences more accurate.) But the bots used to spread fake news are usually bad, and bad bots make up roughly 29% of internet traffic.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Russia Says May Host Talks To Reform Syria's Constitution Next Month (Radio Free Europe, October 31, 2017)

Lavrentyev said Assad would be willing to participate in the proposed talks with other Syrians, which he said would include groups both for and against the government.

Assad "has confirmed his readiness for...the preparation of a new constitution and the holding of new parliamentary and presidential elections on this basis," Lavrentyev said, adding that Assad's acceptance of such a constitutional reform process is "a very important announcement."

Lavrentyev said the United Nations envoy for Syria, Steffan de Mistura, had also supported the idea of holding a Congress of National Dialogue "in principle."

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


UN Nuclear Inspections Chief Sees No Problems Checking Facilities In Iran (Radio Free Europe, October 31, 2017)

United Nations nuclear inspectors have encountered no problems in checking facilities in Iran to determine whether Tehran is complying with the 2015 nuclear deal, the head of the UN's atomic energy agency has said.

"Our inspectors are discharging their responsibilities without problem," International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano told reporters in Abu Dhabi on the sidelines of a conference on nuclear power on October 30.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Most Obamacare enrollees could pay less for policies next year (Tami Luhby, October 31, 2017, CNN)

While it's true that premiums for the popular silver Obamacare plan will shoot higher for 2018, most enrollees will actually end up paying less for coverage next year.

In fact, more consumers will be able to snag policies that will cost them nothing each month.

How can that be?

It's because premium subsidies are soaring too, making many plans on the exchanges more affordable. [...]

Even the Trump administration found that Obamacare plans will be more affordable next year. Some 80% of enrollees will be able to find a policy for $75 a month or less -- up from 71% this year and the highest share so far.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


The rise of artificial intelligence means doctors must redefine what they do (BRYAN VARTABEDIAN, OCTOBER 16, 2017, STAT)

Much of what we once did with our eyes, hands, and ears has been replaced by machines. In my corner of the United States, a child who comes to an emergency department with abdominal pain is likely to have a CT scan before ever being examined by a physician. The stethoscope, the very tool that shaped and defined the bedside examination, began to be phased out as a way to examine the heart sometime at the end of the last century. Other more sensitive diagnostic modalities have dulled our capacity to understand and depend upon what we see and hear.

As the medically mundane is being replaced by machines, we are entering a post-human era of medicine. In "The Innovator's Prescription," Clayton Christensen and Jason Hwang describe the landscape of medicine as evolving from one of intuitive guesswork and pattern recognition to one of precise, targeted medicine -- care well-suited, it seems, for automation and artificial intelligence.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


After Mueller Indictments, John Kelly Revives Civil War, Gold Star Phone Call Controversies (Margaret Hartmann, 10/31/17, New York)

Incredibly, that wasn't the most controversial part of the interview. When asked about a church in Virginia that recently removed plaques honoring parishioners George Washington and Robert E. Lee, Kelly gave a predicable answer about not holding historical figures by the standards of today. Then he offered this assessment of the Confederate general, and the history of the Civil War:

... It shows you how much of a lack of appreciation of history and what history is. I would tell you that Robert E. Lee was an honorable man. He was a man that gave up his country to fight for his state, which 150 years ago was more important than country. It was always loyalty to state first, back in those days, and now it's different today. But the lack of an ability to compromise led to the Civil war. And men of women of good faith on both sides made their stand.

Was Kelly trying to make sure that Tuesday's headlines would focus on the White House chief of staff suggesting the North and South just needed to "compromise" on whether it's okay to enslave people, rather than the Russia probe?