November 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


The Trump-Russia-WikiLeaks Alliance and Campaign Finance Laws (Bob Bauer, November 20, 2017, Just Security)

This is a case in which, in the face of specific federal law prohibitions on foreign national contributions, a presidential campaign openly welcomed the intervention of a foreign power and communicated private encouragement and support of the specific steps Russia and its agents, including WikiLeaks, took to intervene. On further investigation into matters like the revisions in the GOP platform on Ukraine, it may turn out that the campaign rewarded its Russian ally with changes in policies for which the Putin regime was actively agitating. It seems that many of those unconvinced that there is a serious legal problem approach this case like a garden-variety campaign finance question, taking each disclosure in turn and trying to determine whether it somehow "makes the case."  The law prohibits a foreign national from providing a campaign with any "thing of value," but they are unsure that the materials the Russians stole and disseminated qualify as such.  The law prohibits coordination between a campaign and a foreign national, but they don't see the public appeals for Russian support, reinforced with private messaging such as Don Jr's emails with WikiLeaks, or meeting with Kremlin emissaries, as quite fitting within the statutory definition. Rather than judge Wikileaks as has the Director of the CIA-as a "hostile non-state intelligence service" -they picture it more as an informational site available for third-party posting.

But this is not a garden-variety campaign finance case. In such cases, the state's regulatory interests are painstakingly balanced against citizens' constitutional rights.  In the Trump-campaign Russia relationship, the balance is not the same, for the indisputable reason that Russia has no constitutional right to participate in a US election and the Trump campaign has no such right to solicit or receive the benefits of that participation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


Sources: McMaster Mocked Trump's Intelligence At A Private Dinner (Joseph Bernstein, 11/20/17, BuzzFeed News)

National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster mocked President Trump's intelligence at a private dinner with a powerful tech CEO, according to five sources with knowledge of the conversation.

Over a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz -- who has been mentioned as a candidate for several potential administration jobs -- McMaster bluntly trashed his boss, said the sources, four of whom told BuzzFeed News they heard about the exchange directly from Catz. The top national security official dismissed the president variously as an "idiot" and a "dope" with the intelligence of a "kindergartner," the sources said.

A sixth source who was not familiar with the details of the dinner told BuzzFeed News that McMaster had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump's intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


Time to Stop the War Against Imports (Steven Globerman, November 17, 2017, Real Clear Policy)

Supporters claim that tariffs will create more jobs and higher incomes in the U.S. by substituting American-made products for foreign products. This claim is, at best, disingenuous and, at worst, simply wrong. To be sure, tariffs on softwood lumber imports from Canada will likely create more employment in sawmills in the Pacific Northwest. However, it will also lead to higher costs for builders of new homes and renovators of existing homes. This will result in overall less employment of construction workers and those working in activities related to home construction, including mortgage brokers, title insurers, and architects. This does not create more employment. At best, it simply changes the mix of employment.

Since Boeing is not currently producing a direct substitute for Bombardier's C-Series plane, it is not even clear that the tariff proposed against Bombardier will lead to increased employment at Boeing. A tariff will certainly not encourage Boeing to improve its efficiency. However, if the proposed tariffs against Bombardier are finalized, they will almost certainly force Delta and other U.S. airlines to use planes that are less efficient for their businesses. This, in turn, suggests that U.S. airlines will pay lower wages to their employees than they otherwise would or raise prices to their customers. Either way, this will result in lower real incomes for Americans who work in the airline industry or consume its services.

When imposing countervailing and anti-dumping duties, U.S. trade authorities often focus on the effects imports have on specific domestic industries and thus the narrow economic interests of particular companies and their employees. Trade administrators should instead adopt a broader social benefit-cost perspective, as they are supposed to do when negotiating trade agreements. Very few actions to raise the price of specific imports would pass a test for positive net social benefits. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


More Immigrants Needed In Iceland (GEIR FINNSSON SOCIETY, 11/20/17, Icelandic Review)

In order to keep up the GDP growth, it is necessary for Iceland to have more people living there and working. According to Halldór, it is of vital importance to help immigrants learn Icelandic, in order to prevent them from becoming isolated.

"We need to make an effort to bring more people to the country to work. At the same time, we need to ensure that it's desirable to work here and that people can feel like they're doing something important. This is why it's highly important for us to accommodate foreign workers and help them be a part of the Icelandic community."

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


AIPAC-Sponsored Briefing Slams Trump Policy on Iran, Advocates Closer Ties to Islamic Republic (Adam Kredo, November 20, 2017, Free Beacon)

A policy expert at an off-the-record briefing for Capitol Hill staffers on Monday sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, slammed Trump administration efforts to crack down on Iran and advocated in favor of closer ties with the Islamic Republic, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the conversation.

AIPAC, the country's most prominent pro-Israel organization, sponsored an Iran briefing at its Washington, D.C., headquarters with policy experts Ilan Goldenberg and Michael Singh, according to those familiar with the event.

It's not too late to save Israel from itself...yet...
Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


'A long winter': White House aides divided over scope, risks of Russia probe (Ashley Parker and Carol D. Leonnig, November 19, 2017, Washington Post)

The investigation reached a critical turning point in recent weeks, with a formal subpoena to the campaign, an expanding list of potential witnesses and the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. Some within Trump's circle, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, have already been interviewed by Mueller's investigators, while others such as Hope Hicks -- the White House communications director and trusted confidant of the president -- and White House counsel Donald McGahn are expected in coming weeks. 

One Republican operative in frequent contact with the White House described Mueller's team "working through the staff like Pac-Man."

"Of course they are worried," said the Republican, who insisted on anonymity to offer a candid assessment. "Anybody that ever had the words 'Russia' come out of their lips or in an email, they're going to get talked to. These things are thorough and deep. It's going to be a long winter."  [...]

"The president says, 'This is all just an annoyance. I did nothing,' " said one person close to the administration. "He is somewhat arrogant about it. But this investigation is a classic Gambino-style roll-up. You have to anticipate this roll-up will reach everyone in this administration."

...the prosecution starts at the tail.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:34 AM


Mueller Wants to Know More About the Justice Department's Role in Comey's Firing (Margaret Hartmann, 11/20/17, New York)

Now the special counsel's team is requesting documents that make it sound a lot like they're looking into whether Trump himself obstructed justice by firing Comey, in addition to all the Russia contacts former campaign officials can't quite remember.

ABC News reported that in the last month, Mueller's team requested Justice Department emails and other documents related to the firing of Comey, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions's decision to recuse himself from all investigations related to the Russia matter. Muller already sought White House documents related to the FBI director's dismissal, but this would be the first time he's directed a records request to the Justice Department - the department in charge of his entire probe.

November 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Can Lebanon handle truth about Hariri, Saudi Arabia? (aL mONITOR,  November 19, 2017)

"I am unable to convince anybody that you aren't a prisoner in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, that you're not a hostage, that you're not under house arrest even though we are in your own house," said Paula Yacoubian in her interview with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri last week. "Even I myself am being accused of being part of this theater."

During the interview, conducted on his own Future TV, Hariri assured Yacoubian that all was fine and that he was not a captive in the kingdom, all the while drinking perhaps a quart of water and looking tired and at times on the verge of tears, saying at one point, "I have to think about my family, too. ... You know what I went through when my father died."

As one of the Marx Brothers once said, "Who are you gonna believe, me or your own eyes?" Not a single cab driver in Beirut or Cairo is buying Hariri's assurances that he has been acting of his own free will or that his visit to the kingdom was simply in the context of his special and brotherly relationship with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Also not buying it are French President Emmanuel Macron, whose intervention led to Hariri's release, due to the good offices of United Arab Emirates Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed; German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel, who criticized Saudi interference in Lebanese affairs, prompting a crisis in German-Saudi relations; Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who said that he considered Hariri to "be held and detained, contrary to the Vienna Convention"; Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, who called out Saudi Arabia for "irresponsibility and a reckless leadership in the region that is just trying to bully countries into submission."

Israeli minister reveals covert contacts with Saudi Arabia (Jeffrey Heller, Stephen Kalin, 11/19/17, Reuters) 

An Israeli cabinet minister said on Sunday that Israel has had covert contacts with Saudi Arabia amid common concerns over Iran, a first disclosure by a senior official from either country of long-rumoured secret dealings.

What's the point of secrecy when you have such an obvious shared desire to thwart Arab democracy?

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM

A THEOCON, NOT A NEOCON (profanity alert):

'I Want This for George' : Iraq, a family dynasty and George H.W. Bush's secret pain over his son's complicated legacy. (MARK K. UPDEGROVE, November 19, 2017, Politico)

Well after his son had left office, 41 observed that "Cheney had his own empire and marched to his own drummer." If so, it wasn't something 41 addressed with his son during his administration. Any feelings 41 had about the matter were outweighed by his confidence in his son and his inherent optimism that everything would turn out all right. He "didn't worry" about Cheney's influence on 43's presidency, he said in 2013. "It's true," Barbara Bush confirmed in the same interview, "he didn't worry about that. He had great faith in George." Instead, 41 used whatever sway he had with his son to gently question Cheney's recommendations, not Cheney himself.

"I never talked to him about it," Cheney reflected. "He never expressed views of it one way or the other. I've assumed that 41 and 43 talked about it, but I wasn't there. ... He didn't come in and say, 'Dick, you need to do X or Y.' That just wasn't his style." Tellingly, though, 41 said in a 2006 interview that he and Cheney "used to be close," while he remained more closely connected to other alumni in his administration who were then serving 43.

Barbara Bush was more vocal in her criticisms of Cheney, citing her belief that he had changed discernibly between her husband's administration and her son's due to the heart attacks he had suffered. "I think his heart operation made a difference," she maintained, indicating that her view was largely influenced by Baker and Scowcroft. "I always liked him, but I didn't like him so much for a while because I thought he hurt George. ... I think he pushed things a little too far right."

The president was aware of his parents' wariness of the influence of Cheney and the neocons on him. "I'm confident they concerned Dad and Mother," he said, believing that they, in turn, were influenced by the "inside-the-Beltway chatterers" he grew to disdain. Forty-three was appalled by his mother's privately stated belief that he was "unduly influenced" by the neocons "clearly steering him to the right." "Surely, you've got more confidence in your son that I would make up my own mind," he told her on more than one occasion. "If you don't agree with it, it's one thing, but I'm plenty capable of making my own decisions."

Barbara recalled her son's admonishment. "Mom, when you're criticizing someone in my administration, you're criticizing me," he had said. Afterward, she kept her doubts to herself.

Mom, when you're criticizing someone in my administration, you're criticizing me," Bush said. Afterward, she kept her doubts to herself.

Forty-three was incredulous that anyone--let alone his mother-- would believe that he wasn't the one calling the shots of his presidency. "I hear the voices and I read the front page and I hear the speculation," an exasperated Bush said in mid-April 2006, as Washington buzzed that he should replace Rumsfeld at the Pentagon. "But I'm the decider, and I decide what's best." As he put it six years after he left office, "The fact that there was any doubt in anyone's mind about who the president was blows my mind," adding that Cheney and Rumsfeld "didn't make one f[***]ing decision."

Still, why hadn't 43 further sought his father's advice on Iraq?

Because it was 41's mess he was fixing?  

When W won the nomination there were three mistakes his father had made that he was certain to rectify: Dan Quayle, hiking taxes and leaving Saddam in power. As to the last, W's case for the war was not just a devastating indictment of Saddam but of his own father's gullibility.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


The Magazine Interview: Rob Goldstone on setting up Trump Jr and Russia (ADAM BIRKAN, 11/19/17, THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE)

To recap, it was Goldstone who in early June 2016 fired off a hastily written and now forensically dissected email to his acquaintance Don Trump Jr, just days after his father had wrapped up the Republican presidential nomination. Goldstone outlined a striking proposal from a client of his, a Russian pop singer and oligarch's son who had once discussed Moscow property deals with Trump Jr after his family staged the Miss Universe pageant there in 2013. On offer were said to be "official documents" from the "crown prosecutor of Russia" that would "incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father".

Their email exchange -- including the younger Trump's now famous response, "If it's what you say it is, I love it" -- has been a key focus for the Department of Justice's investigation into Russian interference in the election. So is the meeting that Goldstone attended a few days later in Trump Tower's glass-walled boardroom, with its sweeping views across Central Park. There, Trump's oldest son was joined by Jared Kushner, the candidate's son-in-law and close adviser, and Paul Manafort, then campaign chairman and now indicted for allegedly laundering millions of dollars from unrelated lobbying work for Ukraine's pro-Kremlin leader.

The three men had carved time out of packed schedules to meet a delegation promising "dirt" on Clinton -- a clear signal they were not surprised that the highest echelons of Russian government apparently wanted to intervene to help Trump. Across the table sat four Russians, including a high-powered female lawyer with Kremlin ties and a lobbyist who, it later emerged, was a former Soviet intelligence officer. [...]

Goldstone has had plenty of time to reflect on the events of June 2016. It started with a call from Emin Agalarov, the Russian pop star and businessman whose singing career he managed and whose father, Aras, is a Moscow property magnate. Goldstone had worked with Emin on the deal to bring the Miss Universe contest to Moscow in 2013 -- and with it Trump, who co-owned the pageant, for a visit that is also now at the centre of US investigations. The Agalarovs staged the show at their Crocus property complex and, with other Russian entrepreneurs, laid out $20m to fund the event.

"So when people ask why some music publicist was involved in all this, well, I was always the conduit, the Mr Go-To, between the Agalarovs and the Trumps," Goldstone says.

Although he was accustomed to unusual requests from his celebrity clients, he says he was still taken aback when Emin called him about the now infamous Trump meeting.

"I remember specifically saying to Emin, you know, we probably shouldn't get involved in this. It's politics, it's Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Neither of us have any experience in this world. It's not our forte. I deal with music. You're a singer and a businessman."

However, Emin was insistent that Goldstone contact the Trumps. "His mantra was always 'Rob can do it'. All I had to do was facilitate a meeting, he said, after which I walk away from it and whatever comes of it, thank you very much."

So Goldstone kicked into publicist mode, took the information supplied to him by Emin, "puffed up" the language, arranged the meeting -- and thought little of it for more than a year until American journalists started to call his phone as he finished lunch at a Greek taverna in mid-July.

"I should have listened to that little voice in my head," Goldstone says. "But I never thought in a million years that an email I wrote in about three minutes to Don Jr would be examined by the world many times over. I just needed to get him to respond. I could have said that the Russian attorney believes she found a black hole, or believes Santa is real, it didn't really matter. So when he replied, 'If it's what you say it is, I love it,' I just thought my teaser had worked. [...]

Goldstone's role in making this particular introduction will come under scrutiny when he is interviewed by investigators in Washington. Whatever the outcome, his view on the motives and mindset of Trump Jr, Kushner and Manafort is also expected to be under the spotlight.

It is an offence under American law for someone involved in a political campaign to receive material benefit -- normally a financial donation -- from a foreign national. There has been debate among legal scholars about whether the law also covers the intent to benefit from services such as "opposition research".

Trump Jr has since acknowledged that he went into the meeting expecting to hear such material about his father's rival. That is why he brought along Manafort and Kushner, after copying them into his email trail with Goldstone under the subject line "Russia -- Clinton -- private and confidential".

However, the White House's changing account of the purpose and contents of the meeting fuelled accusations that a cover-up was under way. An initial statement noted only that Veselnitskaya wanted to talk about the Magnitsky Act and Russian adoption policy. The legislation, which was passed by Congress in 2012, froze the American bank accounts and imposed US travel bans for senior Russian officials held responsible for the death in a Moscow prison in 2009 of Sergei Magnitsky, an accountant who was jailed and beaten after investigating high-level tax fraud.

The legislation is widely loathed by Putin and his inner circle, and the Kremlin ordered a ban on the adoption of Russian children by Americans as retaliation. Russian politicians, lawyers and lobbyists have long pushed for the sanctions to be ended. According to Goldstone, this appeared to be the true motive for Veselnitskaya's meeting with the Trump team. But US media has reported that she first made a series of allegations concerning contributions to Clinton and the Democrats from a well-known investment fund, linked to Bill Browder, a long-standing foe of Putin and driving force behind the Magnitsky acts in the US, Britain and Canada.

"Within minutes of starting, Jared said to her, 'Could you just get to the point? I'm not sure I'm following what you're saying,' " Goldstone says.

It was then that she started talking in detail about the provisions of the Magnitsky legislation and adoptions, he says. "I believe that she practised a classic bait-and-switch. She got in there on one pretext and really wanted to discuss something else."

Goldstone described Kushner as "furious" and said that Manafort did not seem to look up from checking his messages.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


What if Ken Starr Was Right? (Ross Douthat, Nov. 18, 2017, N Y Times)

[W]ith Paula Jones and Monica Lewinsky, we know what happened: A president being sued for sexual harassment tried to buy off a mistress-turned-potential-witness with White House favors, and then committed perjury serious enough to merit disbarment. Which also brought forward a compelling allegation from Juanita Broaddrick that the president had raped her.

The longer I spent with these old stories, the more I came back to a question: If exploiting a willing intern is a serious enough abuse of power to warrant resignation, why is obstructing justice in a sexual harassment case not serious enough to warrant impeachment? Especially when the behavior is part of a longstanding pattern that also may extend to rape? Would any feminist today hesitate to take a similar opportunity to remove a predatory studio head or C.E.O.?

There is a common liberal argument that our present polarization is the result of constant partisan escalations on the right -- the rise of Newt Gingrich, the steady Hannitization of right-wing media.

Some of this is true. But returning to the impeachment imbroglio made me think that in that case the most important escalators were the Democrats. They had an opportunity, with Al Gore waiting in the wings, to show a predator the door and establish some moral common ground for a polarizing country.

And what they did instead -- turning their party into an accessory to Clinton's appetites, shamelessly abandoning feminist principle, smearing victims and blithely ignoring his most credible accuser, all because Republicans funded the investigations and they're prudes and it's all just Sexual McCarthyism  -- feels in the cold clarity of hindsight like a great act of partisan deformation. that either Bill, himself, or henchman Bruce Lindsey wrote the talking points memo. Just like firing Director Comey, it is obstruction of justice on its face.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Judaism Is The Star At A Bible Museum Built By Evangelicals (Ron Kampeas, November 19, 2017, The Forward)

The museum celebrates Jews and Judaism as the noble, beloved and even feared antecedents to Christianity, and argues that its best modern expression is in the State of Israel. And it makes the case that the Bible is not merely to be studied but to be believed.

Speaking at the dedication Friday, Steven Green, the president of Hobby Lobby and the museum's chairman of the board, said museumgoers should come away realizing that the Bible "has had a positive impact on their lives in so many different ways and when they leave they will be inspired to open it."

It especially celebrates the Bible's Jewish origins, notably those made manifest in modern Israel. The dedication included a rabbi, Israel's ambassador to the United States, the Israeli minister of tourism and the director of the Israel Antiquities Authority.

At times, the event seemed like a pro-Israel gala. Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador, celebrated the museum as a signifier of the Jewish claim to Jerusalem. The Bible nurtured Jews through 2,000 years of exile until they were able to "rebuild the original DC -- David's Capital," he said.

Yariv Levin, the tourism minister, read a letter from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who sent "warm greetings from Jerusalem, the eternal and undivided capital of Israel."

The deference to Judaism is evident in the museum logo, a B flat on its face resembling the tablets of the Ten Commandments, and the museum store, where Star of David pendants glitter next to crucifixes. If you have $80 to spare, you can choose a crucifix or Hanukkah menorah made from Jerusalem stone facing each other on the same shelf.

The museum also makes the Bible as unmistakably American as someone named, well, Charlton Heston. One permanent exhibit is dedicated to the biblical underpinnings of the abolition of slavery and of the civil rights movement.

An American seder is indistinguishable from the 4th of July except for the quality of the eats. Of course, that's why Israel hates American Jews.

Posted by orrinj at 10:27 AM


Blue States Practice the Family Values Red States Preach (Nicholas Kristof, Nov. 18, 2017, NY Times)

According to the Youth Risk Behavior Survey of 32 states, those with the highest percentage of high school students who say they have had sex are Mississippi, Delaware, West Virginia, Alabama and Arkansas. All but Delaware voted Republican in the last presidential election.

Meanwhile, the five states with the lowest proportion of high school students who have had sex were New York, California, Maryland, Nebraska and Connecticut. All but Nebraska voted Democratic.

When evangelical kids have sex, they're less likely to use birth control -- and that may be a reason (along with lower abortion rates) that red states have high teen birthrates.

Nine of the 10 states with the highest teen birthrates voted Republican in 2016. And nine of the 10 states with the lowest teen birthrates voted Democratic.

"Red regions of the country have higher teen pregnancy rates, more shotgun marriages and lower average ages at marriage and first birth," Naomi Cahn and June Carbone wrote in their important 2010 book, "Red Families v. Blue Families."

The liberal impulse may be to gloat: Those conservatives thunder about "family values" but don't practice them. But there's also perhaps a measure of hypocrisy in the blue states. As Cahn and Carbone put it: "Blue family values bristle at restrictions on sexuality, insistence on marriage or the stigmatization of single parents. Their secret, however, is that they encourage their children to simultaneously combine public tolerance with private discipline, and their children then overwhelmingly choose to raise their own children within two-parent families."

Liberals, in other words, may be wary of strict moral codes, but they want to make damn sure that their own kids don't have babies while in high school. It helps that they believe in comprehensive sex education and reliable birth control. [...]

Divorce rates show a similar pattern: They tend to be higher in red states than in blue states, with Arkansas highest of all. "Individual religious conservatism is positively related to individual divorce risk," according to a 50-state study reported in the American Journal of Sociology.

Posted by orrinj at 10:19 AM


Illinois Gov out to smash bankrupt 'blue model' (George F. Will, November 19, 2017, Boston Herald)

The strangeness of the contest between Rauner and the likely Democratic nominee (J.B. Pritzker, an heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune) is that Rauner's real opponent is a Democrat who has been in the state assembly since Richard Nixon's first term (1971) and has been speaker all but two years since Ronald Reagan's first term (1983). Michael Madigan from Chicago is the "blue model" of government incarnate. This model is the iron alliance of the Democratic Party and government workers' unions. Madigan supports Pritzker, who is committed to the alliance. This is the state of the state under it:

Unfunded state and local government retirement debt is more than $260 billion and rising. Unfunded pension liabilities for the nation's highest-paid government workers (overtime starts at 37.5 hours) are $130 billion and are projected to increase for at least through the next decade. Nearly 25 percent of the state's general funds go to retirees (many living in Texas and Florida). Vendors are owed $9.5 billion. Every five minutes the population -- down 1.22 million in 16 years -- declines as another person, and an average of $30,000 more in taxable income, flees the nation's highest combined state and local taxes. Those leaving are earning $19,600 more than those moving in. The workforce has shrunk by 97,000 this year. There has not been an honestly balanced budget -- a constitutional requirement -- since 2001. The latest tax increase, forced by the legislature to end a two-year budget impasse, will raise more than $4 billion, but another $1.7 billion deficit has already appeared.

The one Democrat who did not vote for Madigan for speaker this year says he's since been bullied. Another Democratic legislator -- an African-American from Chicago's South Side, a supporter of school choice -- broke ranks to give Rauner a victory on legislation requiring arbitration of an impasse with a 30,000-member union. Madigan enlisted Barack Obama to campaign against the heretic, who was purged. These were warnings to judges, who must face retention elections. They -- including the one who refused to trigger arbitration by declaring a negotiation impasse -- are, Rauner says, "part of the machine" in this "very collectivist state."

Thuggishness has been normalized: Because Rauner favors allowing municipalities to pass right-to-work laws that prohibit requiring workers to join a union, Madigan's automatons passed a law (Rauner's veto stood) stipulating up to a year in jail for local lawmakers who enact them.

In 2018, Rauner will try to enlist voters in the constructive demolition of the "blue model." It is based on Madigan's docile herd of incumbent legislators, who are entrenched by campaign funds from government unions. Through them government, sitting on both sides of the table, negotiates with itself to expand itself. Term limits for legislators, which a large majority of Illinoisans favor, would dismantle the wall.

A 60 percent supermajority of the legislature is required for such a constitutional reform. So, next year voters will be urged to oppose any legislature candidate who will not pledge to vote to put term limits on the ballot. And all candidates will be asked how often they have voted for Madigan for speaker -- he has a 26 percent approval rating -- and to pledge not to sin again.

Illinois is essentially pre-thatcher Britain.

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Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


The Hidden History of Trump's First Trip to Moscow : In 1987, a young real estate developer traveled to the Soviet Union. The KGB almost certainly made the trip happen. (LUKE HARDING November 19, 2017, Politico)

It was 1984 and General Vladimir Alexandrovich [...] Kryuchkov faced several challenges. First, a hawkish president, Ronald Reagan, was in power in Washington. The KGB regarded his two predecessors, Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, as weak. By contrast Reagan was seen as a potent adversary. The directorate was increasingly preoccupied with what it believed--wrongly--was an American plot to conduct a preemptive nuclear strike against the USSR.

It was around this time that Donald Trump appears to have attracted the attention of Soviet intelligence. How that happened, and where that relationship began, is an answer hidden somewhere in the KGB's secret archives. Assuming, that is, that the documents still exist.

Trump's first visit to Soviet Moscow in 1987 looks, with hindsight, to be part of a pattern. The dossier by the former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele asserts that the Kremlin had been cultivating Trump for "at least five years" before his stunning victory in the 2016 US presidential election. This would take us back to around 2011 or 2012.

In fact, the Soviet Union was interested in him too, three decades earlier. The top level of the Soviet diplomatic service arranged his 1987 Moscow visit. With assistance from the KGB. It took place while Kryuchkov was seeking to improve the KGB's operational techniques in one particular and sensitive area. The spy chief wanted KGB staff abroad to recruit more Americans.

In addition to shifting politics in Moscow, Kryuchkov's difficulty had to do with intelligence gathering. The results from KGB officers abroad had been disappointing. Too often they would pretend to have obtained information from secret sources. In reality, they had recycled material from newspapers or picked up gossip over lunch with a journalist. Too many residencies had "paper agents" on their books: targets for recruitment who had nothing to do with real intelligence.

Kryuchkov sent out a series of classified memos to KGB heads of station. Oleg Gordievsky--formerly based in Denmark and then in Great Britain--copied them and passed them to British intelligence. He later co-published them with the historian Christopher Andrew under the title Comrade Kryuchkov's Instructions: Top Secret Files on KGB Foreign Operations 1975-1985.

In January 1984 Kryuchkov addressed the problem during a biannual review held in Moscow, and at a special conference six months later. The urgent subject: how to improve agent recruitment. The general urged his officers to be more "creative." Previously they had relied on identifying candidates who showed ideological sympathy toward the USSR: leftists, trade unionists and so on. By the mid-1980s these were not so many. So KGB officers should "make bolder use of material incentives": money. And use flattery, an important tool.

There's a reason the only thing propping up the real estate business is oligarchs and money-launderers.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Trump still loves polls : The president often decries surveys showing him with slumping support as fake, but advisers say he can't stop himself from obsessively keeping track. (JOSH DAWSEY and STEVEN SHEPARD 11/18/2017, Politico)

Aides in the White House often show Trump polls designed to make him feel good, according to aides and advisers. Usually they're the ones that focus just on voters who cast ballots for him in 2016 or are potential Trump supporters --Trump's base--but occasionally include public polls like Rasmussen, depending on what the numbers say. [...]

George W. Bush cared less about polling early in his term, said Ari Fleischer, his former press secretary.

"If you came into his office and said, 'The polls say this, the polls say that' -- it was the easiest way to get kicked out," said Bush's former press secretary Ari Fleischer. [...]

But while Trump's aides sometimes go out of their way to give him the rosiest view, Trump himself tracks the Gallup data almost every day, two advisers say, and always knows what the numbers say. When Trump decided to shake up his senior staff this summer, he frequently cited his sinking poll numbers to advisers and friends as a reason he needed to make a change.

It means Trump often has a complicated routine of keeping up with polls--which paint a dismal picture, giving him an average approval rating of 38 percent, according to RealClearPolitics--and getting upset privately, while blustering and calling them "fake" in public. ought to have been never to make anyone as insecure as LBJ and Nixon president again.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Jewish Home minister threatens to bolt coalition over Trump peace plan (RAOUL WOOTLIFF, 11/19/17, Times of Israel)

"The National Union will not remain in a government that recognizes a Palestinian state," Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel said in statement following a Hadashot news (formerly Channel 2) report on the plan, referring to the faction he heads within the nationalist Jewish Home Party.

The ruling coalition has a narrow majority of 66 out of 120 MKs, leaving the government vulnerable to threats from junior partners. If the National Union, which is made up of just Ariel and MK Bezalel Smotrich, were to leave the coalition, it would not, however, eliminate the government's majority and trigger new elections.

But Ariel said he and Smotrich are not alone in their position and would be joined by other lawmakers in bringing the government down if the reports are true.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Finally Seeing the Forest for the Trees : After a spate of trauma and loss, Maura Kelly retreats to the Hudson Valley where she is converted into a nature person. (Maura Kelly | Longreads | November 2017, Longreads)

Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I never got the whole nature thing. In my middle-class town, surrounded by neatly engineered housing developments, the little "nature" I knew was unnatural. The grass of the boxy lawns, stripped of dandelions, shined a uniform pesticide green. The most memorable tree of my youth lived like a caged beast in an indoor shopping mall; Shel Silverstein would've wept to see it, imprisoned between the food court escalator and a fake waterfall with wishful pennies glittering on its floor. In my state, even the ocean was tainted; the beaches of the Jersey Shore were a riot of oversized umbrellas and slick men in banana hammocks blasting their boomboxes. One summer, so much trash washed up on the sand that it made headlines, hypodermic needles and all. The Garden State, so-called, but it wasn't exactly Eden. Since I never went to summer camp, since my parents had no country hideaway, I was a kid who thought the Great Outdoors wasn't all that great. A tree by any other name was just as boring as every other tree.

All that began to change slowly during my undergraduate years in a postcard-perfect New England town. There I began to understand how beautiful nature could be. I still didn't want to commune with it or anything. (Camping seemed like a fantastically bad idea; why anyone would want to sleep on the cold hard ground in a place without a proper toilet was beyond me.) But the trees surrounding my campus and the mountains around my college town pleased my eye in a way that was new to me. There, in New Hampshire, I also went on the first hikes of my life. But despite my burgeoning Romantic sensibility, I saw those excursions up the mountain as little more than a chance to exercise while hanging out with friends. As for opportunities to stop and smell the pine needles, I was determined to avoid them. All I wanted was to rush to the top of Mount Cube and race back down again -- fast enough to burn some calories -- and I got annoyed when anyone tried to slow me down to ooh-and-ah over some dumb mushroom. [...]

One sticky day, I was jogging along a well-shaded stretch of blacktop when I noticed, on the rough trunk of a big red maple, a white slap of paint. A "blaze," a trail marker. Wasn't it? But no, it couldn't be. Because there was no trail anywhere around here. Or was there?

Looking closer, I saw it: a wide path there at the foot of the maple. I doubt I would've even stopped except that I'd been thinking for days how I should try to find an unpaved road where I could run. My knees were feeling squeaky, and dirt is easier on your joints than asphalt. Trying to make up my mind about whether I should try the trail, I treaded water, jogging in place, not wanting to sacrifice my elevated heart rate. But even just standing at the start of the trail, the cloud of colder air hovering around the trees was so deliciously cool that I had to dive in.

Because this path was so easy to miss, so vaguely marked as to be almost invisible, I expected it to be some skimpy thing. Surely, the wooded area I'd happened into could not be all that thick or deep; otherwise, it would be marked by a signpost and a dirt parking spot for cars. And yet, it sure seemed thick and deep. Fantastically tall trees were all I could see stretching ahead of me, and to my left and right. No more than a few minutes in it became clear that a vast wilderness was indeed hidden away right there, just beyond the road lined with wild raspberries where I jogged every morning. This alternate world that sprung up out of nowhere astounded me. I suddenly understood how a storyteller might conjure up a book like The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

After a few minutes' jogging, I glanced back to where I'd begun and saw that the road had utterly vanished, swallowed up by verdant foliage. How strange, that I could so quickly leave behind what seemed like the whole world. It scared me a bit. And the path was so rocky and uneven, too, that I worried I'd twist an ankle. I hurried back to the safety of the road to finish my jog. Still, I'd seen enough of that Narnia that I had to see more, so I returned that night a couple hours before sunset, to take it slow and explore.

The trail went up, over, down, in an ever-changing landscape, through thick bushes, past vast shaded fern meadows, along a marsh brilliant with crimson flowers. Here and there meandered remnants of stonewalls, piled up by farmers hundreds of years ago, before they learned that the farming was better out west. Other than those lines of rock, though, I could see no civilization, hear no civilization, think no civilization. The whooshing birds, the humming brook, the whispering grasses, this miracle of silence, swept my head clean. The rich mineral smell of the air -- my lungs expanded with it, and my spirit too. "Who would have thought my shriveled heart/Could have recovered greenness?" as the poet George Herbert said. Not I, captain, not I!

I began taking short hikes every evening during what movie people call the "magic hour," when the light is most mercurial and affecting, soft and slowly dying. As I soon discovered, my walking spot was part of the mammoth Appalachian Trail, the longest hiker's footpath in the world. The Trail ran all through the town where I now lived, providing easy access to at least a dozen different entry points. I tried them all. Walking this bit or that, I got to know the names of things. The shrubs were mountain laurel, the slender red blooms were cardinal flowers, the trees with the pale bark like peeling paint were birch. One evening I saw a strange ornament hanging from a bush: an ashen gray pagoda, like a birdhouse, so intricate I was sure it had to be a work of human art. Yet it looked truly ancient. Had it survived some fire during the days of Lao-tze? I described this fascinating thing to anyone who would listen. (I'd once done the same with a song from a Chanel No. 5 commercial, asking and asking till I discovered it was Nina Simone singing.) I'd grope for ways to describe this objet d'art -- like an old lantern, almost? Origami, almost? Like it was made out of paper? Then someone said: "A paper wasp's nest." And yes, it was!

I had what I half-jokingly call "my nervous breakdown." Half-jokingly, though it was no joke. A perfect storm of events -- a break-up, a career disappointment, a professional trauma -- knocked me down.
But the real power of those woods came simply from the trees. Whatever effect Fort Greene Park had on me was multiplied exponentially in the seemingly endless forest that surrounded the A.T. All the pop guru talk of "being present" had done little more than chafe me before, but in the woods being present came, well, naturally. There, I wasn't thinking about the more fabulous places I could be or should be, or the more fabulous person. I was just so content to be there, in that restorative place, which re-charged my soul like sleep re-charges the body.

I never started hiking with any special plan or goal other than getting out of the woods before the dark set in. Very rarely did I walk to an outlook or vantage point. Maybe putting one foot in front of the other was enough to distract the anxious part of my mind, to trick it into feeling useful and busy, thereby freeing up some higher part of my consciousness for calm reflection on my life. In the woods, I didn't forget about all the things that were troubling me -- my existential loneliness, the crushing disappointments of my life -- but I could think about them without being knocked down by emotion. I began to effortlessly understand all this mindfulness stuff: The things that passed through my head weren't as much of a big deal as they so often seemed. My thoughts came from me, but were not me. They weren't permanent or final; they often weren't an accurate reflection of reality, either. All of which is to say that during my first summer in the Hudson Valley, I really started to get the whole nature thing -- just in time to help me withstand the tragedy speeding towards me from the future.

November 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 PM


To Save Their Water Supply, Colorado Farmers Taxed Themselves (LUKE RUNYON, 11/18/17, All Things Considered)

Simpson recalls the thinking: "If we don't act, we might not be here. As early as the next 10 years. So it's not like something that's going to happen 100 years from now."

For farmers, the options were simple. Keep pumping until everyone's water ran out. Or cut back. After years of court cases and in-fighting, Simpson says the farmers eventually made a painful decision. They agreed that to save their livelihoods, everyone had to pay more for water.

"It incentivizes conservation efforts because it hits your pocketbook directly," Simpson says.

For six years now, farmers have been paying more every time they turn on their pump -- three or four times more. That can be tens of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of dollars each year for water. Farmers who manage some of the valley's most heavily irrigated fields end up paying $75 for every acre-foot of water that comes out of the ground, and another $8 for every acre of crops they're irrigating with the groundwater.

This was the first time in the U.S. that a group of farmers did something like this -- voting to tax their water use. And no one really knew if it would work.

Turns out, it does: Farmers who had to pay the fees cut their water pumping by 30 percent. "We were able to determine that yes, they've been able to reduce their groundwater extraction pretty substantially," says Kelsey Cody, part of a University of Colorado research team that analyzed pumping before and after the fees went into effect.

The researchers had another important finding: Those same farms aren't closing up shop because of the high cost of water.

Today, the aquifer in the San Luis Valley isn't quite re-charged, but Cody says the initial results are promising. Farmers are already talking about raising their fees even higher in an attempt to cut back their pumping even further. With aquifers in danger of running dry in many communities in the Midwest and West, the San Luis Valley could provide a model, says Cody.


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Palestine, but without expulsions (Arutz Sheva, 18/11/17)

Hadashot Sof Hashavua claimed to reveal US President Donald Trump's peace plan, as understood by senior Israeli officials who spoke to the US negotiation team.

According to the report, Trump intends to offer the Palestinian Authority (PA) its own country. The plan will include land swaps, but not necessarily along the pre-1967 borders.

In addition, the PA will receive millions of dollars to allow it to build a viable economy. Most of the funds will come from Sunni Arab countries, who will encourage PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas to accept the offer.

Posted by orrinj at 11:38 AM


Yellowstone eruption could plunge Earth into another ICE AGE (SEAN MARTIN, Nov 18, 2017, Daily Express)

A YELLOWSTONE eruption could plunge Earth into another ICE AGE, researchers have warned.

That calculation is based on the last time Yellowstone erupted, around 630,000 years ago, which cast a volcanic ash cloud over the globe and led to a massive decrease in temperatures worldwide.

Two separate eruptions 170 years apart each reduced the global temperature by three degrees celsius, according to a new study.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Danny Ainge recalls Bobby Doerr as a caring mentor (Adam Himmelsbach, NOVEMBER 17, 2017, Boston Globe)

When Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge was a rookie with the team in 1981, he quickly became comfortable with the NBA game and did not feel far behind the veterans. But when he was a rookie infielder with the Blue Jays in 1979, he was much more inquisitive, much more green. So he was thankful to have Red Sox legend Bobby Doerr, who was then Toronto's hitting coach, as a mentor. [...]

"I learned a lot from him about just the mental part of hitting," Ainge said. "He would talk about that a lot. He would talk to me about strategies of most pitchers. It was just amazing how he was able to teach me about just thinking the game of baseball."

Ainge, who was just 20 years old during his rookie season with the Blue Jays, said that Doerr would often sit with him in the dugout and analyze games in real time. He had an uncanny ability to look at the pitcher, the batter, and the circumstance, and predict exactly what would happen next.

"He'd ask me what pitch was coming, and I'd say a high fastball out of the strike zone," Ainge said. "And he'd say, 'No, he's going to throw him a curve in the dirt.' And sure enough, it was a curve in the dirt. 'Now what pitch?' And I'd say, 'Fastball, outside.' And he'd say, 'No, it's going to be a fastball high and out of the strike zone.' And it was."

Posted by orrinj at 10:03 AM


Malcolm Young dead: AC/DC co-founder dies aged 64 (Roisin O'Connor, 11/18/17, Independent)

AC/DC's co-founder and creator Malcolm Young has died aged 64.

The legendary guitarist passed away surrounded by family, following a long battle with dementia.

Born 6 January 1953 in Glasgow, Scotland before emigrating with his family to Australia in 1963, Young was best know for being the driving force behind the band he co-founded with his younger brother Angus in 1973.

He wrote the band's material and came up with many of their biggest and best guitar riffs. AC/DC would go on to become one of the biggest rock bands in history, racking up hits including "Back In Black", "Highway to Hell", "You Shook Me All Night Long", and many more. The brothers were credited as co-writers on every song they recorded, from their 1975 debut High Voltage to 2014's Rock or Bust.

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Republican Governors' 2018 Dilemma: What to Do About Trump? (Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns, Nov. 18, 2017, NY Times)

"I do think Virginia was a wake-up call," said Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, who took over here as chairman of the governors association. "There's a pretty strong message there. When Republicans lose white married women, that's a strong message."

In a series of closed-door meetings, governors tangled over how best to avoid being tainted by Mr. Trump, and debated the delicate task of steering Mr. Trump's political activities away from states where he might be unhelpful. Several complained directly to Vice President Mike Pence, prodding him to ensure that the White House intervenes only in races in which its involvement is welcome.

A larger group of governors from agricultural and auto-producing states warned Mr. Pence that Mr. Trump's proposed withdrawal from the North American Free Trade Agreement could damage them badly.

Republicans have long anticipated that the midterm campaign will prove difficult. But the drubbing they suffered in Virginia, where they lost the governorship by nine percentage points, along with at least 15 State House seats threaded throughout the state's suburbs, has the party's governors worried that 2018 could be worse than feared.

Voters appear eager to punish Mr. Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Ivanka and the fugitive from Panama (NED PARKER, STEPHEN GREY, STEFANIE ESCHENBACHER, ROMAN ANIN, BRAD BROOKS and CHRISTINE MURRAY Filed Nov. 17, 2017, Reuters)

In the spring of 2007, a succession of foreigners, many from Russia, arrived at Panama City airport to be greeted by a chauffeur who whisked them off in a white Cadillac with a Donald Trump logo on the side.

The limousine belonged to a business run by a Brazilian former car salesman named Alexandre Ventura Nogueira, who was offering the visitors a chance to invest in Trump's latest project - a 70-floor tower called the Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower. It was the future U.S. president's first international hotel venture, a complex including residential apartments and a casino in a waterfront building shaped like a sail.

"Mr Nogueira was an outgoing and lively young man," remembered Justine Pasek, who was crowned Miss Universe by Donald Trump in 2002 and was acting in 2007 as a spokesperson for Nogueira's company, Homes Real Estate Investment & Services. "Everybody was so impressed with Homes as they seemed to be riding the top of the real estate boom at the time," she said.

One of those Nogueira set out to impress was Ivanka, Trump's daughter. In an interview with Reuters, Nogueira said he met and spoke with Ivanka "many times" when she was handling the Trump Organization's involvement in the Panama development. "She would remember me," he said.

Ivanka was so taken with his sales skills, Nogueira said, that she helped him become a leading broker for the development and he appeared in a video with her promoting the project.

A Reuters investigation into the financing of the Trump Ocean Club, in conjunction with the American broadcaster NBC News, found Nogueira was responsible for between one-third and one-half of advance sales for the project. It also found he did business with a Colombian who was later convicted of money laundering and is now in detention in the United States; a Russian investor in the Trump project who was jailed in Israel in the 1990s for kidnap and threats to kill; and a Ukrainian investor who was arrested for alleged people-smuggling while working with Nogueira and later convicted by a Kiev court.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Judge and Altuve (Bill James, November 17, 2017)

 The bedrock assumption upon which all sabermetrics is founded is that the importance of each statistical accomplishment depends upon its connection to wins and losses.   It was a belief of sportswriters and baseball professionals, in the pre-analytical era, that individual player statistics could be dismissed because they had little to do with wins and losses.   The connection between individual player statistics and wins and losses was not well understood, in 1970, by any of us.  In 1974 the Oakland A's hit just .247, second-lowest average in the American League, but the team won the World Series and was third in the league in runs scored.  It was easy, at that time, for people to use statistical anomalies like that to dismiss the significance of individual batting statistics.   See here; here's a team that was just about the worst-hitting team in the league, but they won the World Series.   Batting stats don't mean nothin'. 

Without valid statistical analysis, they could make any argument that they wanted to make.   RBI are the game's most important stat. The stolen base is the key to the modern offense.  Walks are things that the pitcher does, not things that the batter does.  The sacrifice bunt is a great play.   Pitchers can be evaluated by won-lost records.  Johnny Bench is not an all-time great catcher because he never hit .300.  One argument was as good as another.

Modern analysis, sabermetrics, whatever you want to call it. . . .we overcame that kind of thinking by making two critical assumptions:  that each statistical accomplishment acquires its significance by its connection to wins and losses, and that every statistic must be looked at in the context of its outside influences.  The most critical assumption was the first one, that each statistic acquires its importance by its connection to wins and losses.   When we were moving out of the primordial soup, that was the first and most critical step. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM

CAT? (self-reference alert)(profanity alert):

These Elaborate Cardboard Boxes Are Exactly What Your Cat Needs (REBECCA OCONNELL APRIL 12, 2016, Mashable)

No matter how much money you spend on a well-made or elaborate piece of kitty furniture, they're always going to prefer to play or snooze in a regular old cardboard box. Bulgarian company Cacao Furniture knows this, and combines the best of both worlds, offering fun and creative cat shelters made from the feline's favorite material. Each cardboard box is beautifully crafted, making them an attractive alternative to the ones that house your internet purchases.

The Judd Spawn are always appalled when I tell them that it was a big deal in the 'hood when someone would get a new fridge or washer, because we would get the box to play with.  Of course, they're even more flabbergasted by the idea of our favorite game: "Get the Stick Stuck in the Tree".  [And we'll not mention the rules of "A-S-S"....]

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


This country figured out how to stop teen substance abuse, so why has no one else? (EMMA YOUNG, 10/16/17, Bhekisisa)

At Metropolitan State College of Denver, Milkman was instrumental in developing the idea that people were getting addicted to changes in brain chemistry. Kids who were "active confronters" were after a rush - they'd get it by stealing hubcaps and radios and later cars, or through stimulant drugs. Alcohol also alters brain chemistry, of course. It's a sedative but it sedates the brain's control first, which  can remove inhibitions and, in limited doses, reduce anxiety.

"People can get addicted to drink, cars, money, sex, calories, cocaine - whatever," says Milkman. "The idea of behavioural addiction became our trademark."

This idea spawned another: "Why not orchestrate a social movement around natural highs: around people getting high on their own brain chemistry - because it seems obvious to me that people want to change their consciousness - without the deleterious effects of drugs?"

By 1992, his team in Denver had won a $1.2-million government grant to form Project Self-Discovery, which offered teenagers natural-high alternatives to drugs and crime. They got referrals from teachers, school nurses and counsellors, taking in kids from the age of 14 who didn't see themselves as needing treatment but who had problems with drugs or petty crime.

"We didn't say to them, you're coming in for treatment. We said, we'll teach you anything you want to learn: music, dance, hip hop, art, martial arts." The idea was that these different classes could provide a variety of alterations in the kids' brain chemistry, and give them what they needed to cope better with life: some might crave an experience that could help reduce anxiety, others may be after a rush.

At the same time, the recruits got life-skills training, which focused on improving their thoughts about themselves and their lives, and the way they interacted with other people. "The main principle was that drug education doesn't work because nobody pays attention to it. What is needed are the life skills to act on that information," Milkman says. Kids were told it was a three-month programme. Some stayed five years.

In 1991, Milkman was invited to Iceland to talk about this work, his findings and ideas. He became a consultant to the first residential drug treatment centre for adolescents in Iceland, in a town called Tindar. "It was designed around the idea of giving kids better things to do," he explains. It was here that he met Gudberg, who was then a psychology undergraduate and a volunteer at Tindar. They have been close friends ever since.

Milkman started coming regularly to Iceland and giving talks. These talks, and Tindar, attracted the attention of a young researcher at the University of Iceland, called Inga Dóra Sigfúsdóttir. She wondered: what if you could use healthy alternatives to drugs and alcohol as part of a programme not to treat kids with problems, but to stop kids drinking or taking drugs in the first place? 

In Iceland, a massive study revealed that teens who shied away from substances usually participated in organised activities, spent time with their parents and felt cared for at school.  

Have you ever tried alcohol? If so, when did you last have a drink? Have you ever been drunk? Have you tried cigarettes? If so, how often do you smoke? How much time do you spend with your parents? Do you have a close relationship with your parents? What kind of activities do you take part in?

In 1992, 14-, 15- and 16-year-olds in every school in Iceland filled in a questionnaire with these kinds of questions. This process was then repeated in 1995 and 1997.

The results of these surveys were alarming. Nationally, almost 25% were smoking every day, over 40% had got drunk in the past month. But when the team drilled right down into the data, they could identify precisely which schools had the worst problems - and which had the least. 

Their analysis revealed clear differences between the lives of kids who took up drinking, smoking and other drugs, and those who didn't. A few factors emerged as strongly protective: participation in organised activities - especially sport - three or four times a week, total time spent with parents during the week, feeling cared about at school, and not being outdoors in the late evenings.

"At that time, there had been all kinds of substance prevention efforts and programmes," says Inga Dóra, who was a research assistant on the surveys. "Mostly they were built on education." Kids were being warned about the dangers of drink and drugs, but, as Milkman had observed in the US, these programmes were not working. "We wanted to come up with a different approach."

The mayor of Reykjavik, too, was interested in trying something new, and many parents felt the same, adds Jón Sigfússon, Inga Dóra's colleague and brother. Jón had young daughters at the time and joined her new Icelandic Centre for Social Research and Analysis when it was set up in 1999. "The situation was bad," he says. "It was obvious something had to be done."

Using the survey data and insights from research including Milkman's, a new national plan was gradually introduced. It was called Youth in Iceland.

Laws were changed. It became illegal to buy tobacco under the age of 18 and alcohol under the age of 20, and tobacco and  alcohol advertising was banned. Links between parents and school were strengthened through parental organisations which by law had to be established in every school, along with school councils with parent representatives. Parents were encouraged to attend talks on the importance of spending a quantity of time with their children rather than occasional "quality time", on talking to their kids about their lives, on knowing who their kids were friends with, and on keeping their children home in the evenings.

A law was also passed prohibiting children aged between 13 and 16 from being outside after 10pm in winter and midnight in summer. It's still in effect today.

Home and School, the national umbrella body for parental organisations, introduced agreements for parents to sign. The content varies depending on the age group, and individual organisations can decide what they want to include. For kids aged 13 and up, parents can pledge to follow all the recommendations, and also, for example, not to allow their kids to have unsupervised parties, not to buy alcohol for minors, and to keep an eye on the wellbeing of other children.

These agreements educate parents but also help to strengthen their authority in the home, argues Hrefna Sigurjónsdóttir, director of Home and School. "Then it becomes harder to use the oldest excuse in the book: 'But everybody else can!'"

State funding was increased for organised sport, music, art, dance and other clubs, to give kids alternative ways to feel part of a group, and to feel good, rather than through using alcohol and drugs, and kids from low-income families received help to take part. In Reykjavik, for instance, where more than a third of the country's population lives, a Leisure Card gives families 35,000 krona (£250) per year per child to pay for recreational activities.

Crucially, the surveys have continued. Each year, almost every child in Iceland completes one. This means up-to-date, reliable data is always available.

Between 1997 and 2012, the percentage of kids aged 15 and 16 who reported often or almost always spending time with their parents on weekdays doubled - from 23% to 46% - and the percentage who participated in organised sports at least four times a week increased from 24% to 42%. Meanwhile, cigarette smoking, drinking and cannabis use in this age group plummeted.

Iceland's capital, Reykjavik, developed a curfew for youth after large-scaled research showed an association between substance abuse and being out late. It's still in effect today.

"Although this cannot be shown in the form of a causal relationship - which is a good example of why primary prevention methods are sometimes hard to sell to scientists - the trend is very clear," notes Álfgeir Kristjánsson, who worked on the data and is now at the West Virginia University School of Public Health in the US. "Protective factors have gone up, risk factors down, and substance use has gone down - and more consistently in Iceland than in any other European country."

One of the things that conservatives sometimes have trouble grasping is that a government program that reduces social pathologies is conservatives.

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Injured defector's parasites and diet hint at hard life in North Korea (Josh Smith, Hyonhee Shin, 11/18/17, Reuters)

At a briefing on Wednesday, lead surgeon Lee Cook-jong displayed photos showing dozens of flesh-colored parasites - including one 27 cm (10.6 in) long - removed from the wounded soldier's digestive tract during a series of surgeries to save his life.

"In my over 20 year-long career as a surgeon, I have only seen something like this in a textbook," Lee said.

The parasites, along with kernels of corn in his stomach, may confirm what many experts and previous defectors have described about the food and hygiene situation for many North Koreans.

"Although we do not have solid figures showing health conditions of North Korea, medical experts assume that parasite infection problems and serious health issues have been prevalent in the country," said Choi Min-Ho, a professor at Seoul National University College of Medicine who specializes in parasites.

The soldier's condition was "not surprising at all considering the north's hygiene and parasite problems," he said.

How many more of them do we have to starve to show we aren't barbaric?

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM



300 days after becoming the 45th US President on January 20th, average prices of a luxury room at his hotels has dropped by 20 per cent, FairFX reveals. Of his 13 hotels, 10 are offering rooms at a lower rate this weekend than when he took office, a 26 per cent price cut. The cheapest rooms at his hotels saw such a drop, while prices for the most expensive rooms fell by 20 per cent, equivalent to roughly £1,400.

A two-night stay at Trump's Las Vegas hotel costs only £232 this weekend, a fall of 64 per cent from when the President took office. This is followed by Trump Panama, where prices have fallen 32 per cent. Losses at Trump's Scottish golf resorts have doubled since he took office, and room prices have fallen 28 per cent and eight per cent at his Macleod House & Lodge and Turnberry resorts respectively.

Ian Strafford-Taylor, CEO of travel money expert FairFX said: "When it comes to holidays timing is everything, and just 300 days after Trump's inauguration, prices for a weekend in one of his hotels have for the most part decreased.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Ecstatic Zimbabweans celebrate expected Mugabe downfall (Joe Brock, MacDonald Dzirutwe, 11/18/17, Reuters)

Emotions ran over on Harare's streets as Zimbabweans spoke of a second liberation for the former British colony, alongside their dreams of political and economic change after two decades of deepening repression and hardship.

Mugabe's downfall is likely to send shockwaves across Africa, where a number of entrenched strongmen, from Uganda's Yoweri Museveni to Democratic Republic of Congo's Joseph Kabila, are facing mounting pressure to step aside.

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The Manafort indictment is killing D.C.'s secret lobbying business (Christina Sterbenz and Alex Thompson, Nov 17, 2017, Vice)

For years, there's been an open secret in Washington power circles: It's highly profitable, if morally dubious, to secretly promote the interests of foreign governments, dictators, or oppressive regimes.   

Then came Paul Manafort's indictment.

At the end of October, Trump's former campaign manager was charged for working for Ukraine for nearly a decade without telling the U.S. government. Special Counsel Bob Mueller, who's overseeing the Russia investigation, could also bring a similar case against former Trump adviser Mike Flynn for over half a million dollars' worth of work he did as a foreign agent of Turkey, including writing an op-ed in strong support of the country on Election Day.

"That served as a wake-up call to current FARA registrants that they can't make errors that they know are errors."

Now, D.C. has snapped to attention. Lobbyists and media consultants working on behalf of foreign governments, known as foreign agents, are scrambling to lawyer up and tell the government, as required by the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). And because of decades of non-disclosure, some congressional offices have even been going through their records to check who, exactly, they've been meeting with.

Information wants to be free.  Just make lobbyists (and investigators, if you want to reach Fusion) register all their clients.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


The Trials and Triumph of Trollope (Dwight Longenecker, 11/18/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Trollope began to write as he traveled around Ireland for his work. He wrote constantly and made himself a writing-desk so he could continue writing even while traveling by train. Persistent in his work he wrote in a letter during this period: "Pray know that when a man begins writing a book he never gives over.... The evil with which he is beset is as inveterate as drinking--as exciting as gambling." His determination, hard work, and eventual success makes him one of English literature's most prolific novelists and a prime candidate for patron saint of struggling writers.

Eventually, Trollope moved back to England, and after a spell working in Salisbury, he wrote his most famous work, the six-volume Chronicles of Barsetshire. Concerned with the intrigues of the cathedral clergy and the landed gentry, The Chronicles of Barsetshire portrays Victorian English life with all its high moral values and noble ideals as well as its greed, snobbery, and hypocrisy.

As a former priest of the Church of England, The Warden and Barchester Towers hold a favorite place in my library. The politics and personalities of the Victorian Church of England were still very much alive in the Church of England I inhabited in the 1980s and 1990s. I could name my own versions of the unctuous and ambitious Evangelical Rev. Mr. Slope (he added the 'e' to his name for euphony). I knew well the urbane and gentlemanly cathedral canons like Septimus Harding and the strident and striding Archdeacon Grantly. Anyone who had met a certain Archbishop of Canterbury and Mrs. Archbishop would recognize the reincarnations of Bishop and Mrs. Proudie. My visits to the Church of England now are rare, but when I'm there I still espy the ghosts of Barchester haunting the towers of the Church of England today.

The third novel in Trollope's series is Doctor Thorne. This story veers away from the cathedral and deals with the hard times of the country doctor's niece, Mary. Having grown up with the children of the local squire, Gresham, she falls in love with his heir, Frank. Mary is lovely but illegitimate, and therefore an unworthy match for Frank. The Greshams are in dire straits because, while they are from the top drawer, their bottom line is blank. They are in debt to a local working-class man made good--the itchingly named Sir Roger Scratcherd. The plot unfolds with the poor aristocrats trying to marry money, and the rich parvenus longing for social acceptance. A fairly predictable plot twist means everyone lives happily ever after, but the work is a delightful turn on Victorian England, and for my money, is far more enjoyable than Dickens' often didactic and shallow fiction.

Amazon has launched into film production and recently hired the English Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes to produce a four-part film version of Trollope's tale. Filmed with the impeccable taste we have come to expect from British costume-dramas, the Amazon film features excellent acting, gorgeous British country homes, actors with cut-glass accents and drawing-room manners interrupted by boorish behavior and bold ambition.

Trollope's characters and plot are not cardboard cutouts. He is kind to all--observing the snobbery and greed with a tolerant, dry humor. Even the villains are shown to have some redeeming traits, and if they have faults they are caused by circumstances beyond their control. The terrible ones die humbly, and the frightful snobs are redeemed. And at the end of Fellowe's film version is a scene of repentance and forgiveness that is truly moving.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


UN 'seriously concerned' by Israeli plan to deport African migrants (Times of Israel, 11/18/17)

The UN refugee agency expressed "serious concern" Friday over Israel's plan to deport or jail thousands of African migrants in the coming months.

The proposal by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan would shutter the southern Israeli Holot detention center for African migrants within four months, in anticipation of "large-scale" deportations. Those who refuse deportation will be jailed.

The colour-coded Israeli ID system for Palestinians (Linah Alsaafin, 11/18/17, Al Jazeera)

As Israel expanded its control and occupation over four territories in the aftermath of the Six Day War, it devised a system of population control that remains in place five decades later.

After the 1967 war, the Israeli military declared the occupied territories to be closed areas, making it mandatory for Palestinian residents to obtain permits to enter or leave. Palestinians who were abroad during that time missed out on the subsequent population census and were not granted identification papers.

The clear delineator that has separated and dictated the lives of these Palestinians is the colour-coded identification system issued by the Israeli military and reinforced in 1981 through its Civil Administration branch. Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip have green IDs - generally issued once they turn 16 - while Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Israel have blue IDs.

A tragic full circle from yellow stars.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


7 Questions with Mavis Staples (Raisa Bruner, November 9, 2017, TIME)

You have this persistent optimism. What's your secret to staying hopeful?

I just believe. It's not just for black people, what I'm singing about. It's to bring us all together. I've seen us have a black government; that's something I never thought I would see. As far as us coming together as one, I'm gonna keep on praying. But I don't think I'm going to see us coming together like that in my lifetime. When I saw that man marching in Charlottesville with torches, my mind was going, The next thing they're going to do is torch a cross. I've seen burning crosses. The only thing that's different is that the Charlottesville marchers didn't have white sheets over them. My heart gets heavy, but when I sing these songs, I get lifted.

What's it like to work with Jeff Tweedy as a producer and writer when you're making this music?

He didn't want to release the song "If All I Was Was Black." And he definitely didn't want it to be the title of the album. So I had to tell him, "Tweedy, you are black. You know me inside out, and I know you. You're black." Jeff Tweedy is a person who has beauty and good in his heart. This is my third album with him. He's a poet.

You're heading on tour with your longtime friend and collaborator Bob Dylan. Why do you like working with him?

We met when I was 17 and Bobby was 16. He's a good friend, and this is what friends do. We come together.

I've heard that you were once more than friends.

We were courting. And we would snuggle every now and then. He proposed, but I felt like I was too young. I'm older now. I just might propose to him! I don't know what might happen. The world would be shocked if Bob and I got married, so I won't do that. I'm just happy we're friends.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


A Great Migration From Puerto Rico Is Set to Transform Orlando (Lizette Alvarez, Nov. 17, 2017, NY Times)

Ten intolerable days after Hurricane Maria trounced Puerto Rico, Sahria Garcia finally got a call from her brother on the island. The call lasted three minutes and the news shook her: Her family had lost everything -- jobs, houses, possessions, cars -- and had spent days foraging for food, ice and water.

Ms. Garcia, who lives in a small Orlando apartment with her three children, did not hesitate: "Don't even ask," Ms. Garcia said she told her brother during their conversation. "This is your house."

Last week, they arrived -- two brothers, their wives and their four children -- and plopped onto newly bought bunk beds. The family is one small part of a sudden exodus of tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans racing to Florida after Hurricane Maria, a migration so large it rivals those from New Orleans to Houston after Hurricane Katrina and from Cuba to Miami during the Mariel boatlift.

The scale is larger than any previous movement of Puerto Ricans to the mainland, including the wave that arrived after World War II, said Jorge Duany, the director of the Cuban Research Institute at Florida International University and an expert on Puerto Rican migration. "It's a stampede."

More than 168,000 people have flown or sailed out of Puerto Rico to Florida since the hurricane, landing at airports in Orlando, Miami and Tampa, and the port in Fort Lauderdale. Nearly half are arriving in Orlando, where they are tapping their networks of family and friends. An additional 100,000 are booked on flights to Orlando through Dec. 31, county officials said. Large numbers are also settling in the Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach areas.

With so many arriving so abruptly, the migration is expected to transform Orlando, a city that has already become a stronghold of Puerto Ricans, many of them fleeing the island's economic crisis in recent years. The Puerto Rican population of Orlando has exploded from 479,000 in 2000 to well over one million this year, according to the Pew Research Center. The impact of this latest wave is likely to stretch from schools and housing to the work force and even politics. Puerto Ricans, who are American citizens and tilt Democratic, could sway the electoral results of one of the country's most pivotal swing states.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Saudi Arabia recalls ambassador to Berlin over Gabriel Lebanon comments (Middle East Online, 11/18/17) 

Earlier in the week Gabriel had said: "Lebanon has earned the right to decide on its fate by itself and not become a pinball of Syria or Saudi Arabia or other national interests".

November 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:09 PM


The Russia investigation's spectacular accumulation of lies (Michael Gerson, November 16, 2017, Washington Post)

I spent part of my convalescence from a recent illness reading some of the comprehensive timelines of the Russia investigation (which indicates, I suppose, a sickness of another sort). One, compiled by Politico, runs to nearly 12,000 words -- an almost book-length account of stupidity, cynicism, hubris and corruption at the highest levels of American politics.

The cumulative effect on the reader is a kind of nausea no pill can cure. Most recently, we learned about Donald Trump Jr.'s direct communications with WikiLeaks -- which CIA Director Mike Pompeo has called "a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia" -- during its efforts to produce incriminating material on Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election. But this is one sentence in an epic of corruption. There is the narrative of a campaign in which high-level operatives believed that Russian espionage could help secure the American presidency, and acted on that belief. There is the narrative of deception to conceal the nature and extent of Russian ties. And there is the narrative of a president attempting to prevent or shut down the investigation of those ties and soliciting others for help in that task.

In all of this, there is a spectacular accumulation of lies. Lies on disclosure forms. Lies at confirmation hearings. Lies on Twitter. Lies in the White House briefing room. Lies to the FBI. Self-protective lies by the attorney general. Blocking and tackling lies by Vice President Pence. This is, with a few exceptions, a group of people for whom truth, political honor, ethics and integrity mean nothing. [...]

We are witnessing what happens when right-wing politics becomes untethered from morality and religion.

What does public life look like without the constraining internal force of character -- without the firm ethical commitments often (though not exclusively) rooted in faith? It looks like a presidential campaign unable to determine right from wrong and loyalty from disloyalty. It looks like an administration engaged in a daily assault on truth and convinced that might makes right. It looks like the residual scum left from retreating political principle -- the worship of money, power and self-promoted fame. The Trumpian trinity.

Kushner failed to disclose outreach from Putin ally to Trump campaign (KEN DILANIAN and CAROL E. LEE, 11/17/17, NBC)

One source familiar with Kushner's testimony before congressional intelligence committees said he specifically denied, under oath, that he was familiar with any attempts by WikiLeaks to contact the campaign. But, according to the source, Kushner was sent an email by Trump Jr. about his conversations on Twitter with WikiLeaks, which were first disclosed by the Atlantic this week. Kushner forwarded an email about the WikiLeaks conversations to communications director Hope Hicks, the source said. A second source familiar with Kushner's testimony did not dispute that account. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


Kushner received emails from Sergei Millian -- an alleged dossier source who was in touch with George Papadopoulos (Natasha Bertrand , 11/17/17, Business Insider)

President Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, was copied on emails sent to the Trump campaign last year from Sergei Millian, the Belarus-born businessman who has worked with the Trump Organization and was reportedly a key source in the explosive dossier alleging ties between Trump and Russia.

Senate Judiciary Committee leaders said on Thursday that Trump campaign officials had handed over " communications with Sergei Millian, copied to Mr. Kushner," that Kushner had apparently failed to disclose voluntarily. The center of that request, according to CBS News, is an apparent request from a Russian national to meet with Trump.

It is still unclear who was communicating with Millian, but a Washington Post profile of Millian from March could offer a clue: Millian told associates last year that he was in regular touch with George Papadopoulos -- a campaign foreign policy adviser who earlier this year pleaded guilty about making false statements to the FBI about the extent and nature of his contacts with Kremlin-linked foreign nationals.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Gillibrand: Bill Clinton Should Have Resigned Over Lewinsky Affair (Conor Beck, November 16, 2017, Free Beacon)

Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D., N.Y.) said Thursday that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency due to his extramarital relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

When asked if Clinton should have resigned at the time, Gillibrand paused and told the New York Times, "Yes, I think that is the appropriate response."

November 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:05 PM


Kushner got emails about WikiLeaks, Russia in 2016, lawmakers say (KYLE CHENEY, 11/16/2017, Politico)

Jared Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite" and forwarded them to another campaign official, according to a letter to his attorney from the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Kushner failed to turn over the relevant documents when they asked for them last month.

Given the volume of water that Chairman Grassley has carried for the White House on these investigations that's a shocking admission.

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Christopher Steele believes his dossier on Trump-Russia is 70-90% accurate : The respected ex-MI6 officer told Guardian journalist and author Luke Harding that his FBI contacts greeted his intelligence report with 'shock and horror' (Julian Borger, 15 November 2017, The Guardian)

One of the reasons his dossier was taken seriously in Washington in 2016 was Steele's reputation in the US for producing reliable reports on Russia, according to Harding's book.

Between 2014 and 2016, he authored more than a hundred reports on Russia and Ukraine, which were commissioned by private clients but shared widely within the state department and passed across the desks of the secretary of state, John Kerry, and the assistant secretary Victoria Nuland, who led the US response to the annexation of Crimea and the covert invasion of eastern Ukraine.

The sources for those reports were the same as those quoted in the dossier on Trump, which included allegations that the Kremlin had personally compromising material on the US president, including sex tapes recorded during a trip to Moscow in 2013, and that Trump and his associates actively colluded with Russian intelligence to influence the election in his favour.

Years earlier, Steele shared the results of his investigation of the global football organisation, Fifa, with a senior FBI official in Rome; that led to an investigation by US federal prosecutors, and ultimately the arrest of seven Fifa officials.

"The episode burnished Steele's reputation inside the US intelligence community and the FBI. Here was a pro, a well-connected Brit, who understood Russian espionage and its subterranean tricks. Steele was regarded as credible," Harding writes.

The book traces Steele's career as an MI6 officer, sent to Moscow in 1990 under cover of working as the second secretary in the UK chancery division at the embassy.

While there, the young spy was witness to the 1991 attempted coup and looked on when Boris Yeltsin climbed on a tank in central Moscow to denounce the plotters.

Steele left Moscow in 1993 and was later posted to Paris before taking a senior post on MI6's Russia desk in London in 2006. Because his name had been on a list of MI6 officers leaked and published in 1999, he was unable to return to Moscow. But he was chosen to lead the MI6 investigation of the assassination of the former FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko by radioactive poisoning in 2006.

Steele left MI6 in 2009, to start up a commercial intelligence firm, Orbis, with a former colleague, Christopher Burrows. Soon after its founding, Orbis began working with Fusion GPS, a Washington-based company doing political and business research, which commissioned the investigation of Trump in 2016.

Steele delivered a total of 16 reports to Fusion between June and early November 2016, but his sources started to go quiet beginning in July, when Trump's ties to Russia came under scrutiny. According to Harding's account, Steele was shocked by the extent of collusion his sources were reporting.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 PM


Something to be thankful for: the cost of a 2017 Thanksgiving dinner is lower than last year and 23% lower than 1986 (Mark J. Perry, November 16, 2017, AEI Ideas)

4. Compared to the cost of a Thanksgiving dinner in 1986 of $63.87 (in 2017 dollars), today's classic turkey dinner is 23.1% cheaper at $49.12 this year.

5. Measured in time worked at the average hourly wage for all private production workers of $22.22 in October 2017, the "time cost" of this year's classic turkey dinner is only 2.21 hours, down by 3.5% from 2.29 hours last year and at the lowest level since 1986 when this annual AFBF report started (see bottom chart). Compared to 1986 when the average American would have worked 3.21 hours to earn the income necessary to purchase the turkey dinner for 10, the "time cost" for a worker today (2.21 hours) is 31.2% lower.

Bottom Line: The fact that a family in America can celebrate Thanksgiving with a classic turkey feast for less than $50 and at a "time cost" of only 2.21 hours of work at the average hourly wage for one person means that we really have a lot to be thankful for on Thanksgiving: an abundance of cheap, affordable food. 

It's hard to overstate how much richer we are than we were at the end of the Cold War.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


This Trade Treaty Got Better when the US Bailed (Jeffrey A. Tucker, 11/16/17, FEE)

What is downright humiliating for Americans is that the treaty became better only after the US withdrew from it. 

What did this move portend for the cause of free trade? Some despaired that it would signal a new trend toward protectionism, not only for the US but the world. There is a certain nationalist myopia in this judgment. Americans are inclined to believe that if Washington is against something, that something won't happen at all. 

What many people did not expect is that the treaty would go ahead in any case, without US participation.

The remaining nations forged ahead and reached a new agreement on November 11. The US finds itself excluded, which could cause real problems for American exporters to countries like Malaysia, Japan, Australia, and Peru. Canada's lobster industry, for example, will soon have better access to the foreign marketplace than the U.S.'s, which could cause serious problems for an entire industry.

But here is what is most striking. The new draft of the agreement excludes the entire section on Intellectual Property - the most annoying and anti-freedom part of the deal that had huge prominence in all the treaty drafts.

Given the cost to America and the benefit to our allies, it's arguably the largest foreign aid spending deal in U.S. histor.

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM


Bannon: Stephen Miller Is 'The Last Man Behind Enemy Lines' (Aiden Pink, 11/16/17, The Forward)

Breitbart proprietor Steve Bannon has said that fellow nationalist Stephen Miller is the "last man behind enemy lines" at the White House.

Bannon, the former White House Chief Strategist, was pushed out of the White House in August under pressure from new Chief of Staff John Kelly. Fellow-nationalists and Breitbart contributors like Sebastian Gorka also exited around that time.

Beauregard has to go too.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Dem Senators Up for Reelection in 2018 Give Away Franken Contributions (Charles Russell, November 16, 2017, Free Beacon)

A growing list of Democratic senators up for reelection in 2018 are donating to charity campaign money that they received from Sen. Al Franken (D., Minn.) or his leadership PAC, following allegations that Franken groped and kissed a woman without her consent in 2006.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D., Wis.) joined that list on Thursday afternoon, saying on CNN that Franken's alleged behavior "isn't acceptable."

Beyond Baldwin, at leave five Democratic senators--Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey (Pa.), and Joe Donnelly (Ind.)--said they will give the contributions from Franken or his Midwest Values PAC to local charities, Politico reported Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


The new Bible museum tells a clear, powerful story. And it could change the museum business. (Philip Kennicott, 11/15/17, Washington Post)
The $500 million Museum of the Bible opens this weekend. (Essdras M Suarez for The Washington Post)
When the Museum of the Bible opens this weekend, it will set a new standard for how this country's museums fuse entertainment and education. The $500 million, privately funded project is as large as some of the Smithsonian's premier attractions, including the National Museum of African American History and Culture. It is rich in content, stocked with historic treasures and carefully plotted to appeal to audiences of all ages. It brings to museum design the sophisticated marketing intelligence of the Oklahoma City-based Green family, who have used a fortune made from the Hobby Lobby retail chain to promote evangelical Christian causes. Their latest venture is a museum that offers a one-stop-shopping cultural experience, with history, art, architecture, theater and music conveniently packaged under one roof.

What it does well, it does as well or better than any museum in the country, and its failings, which are significant, will be difficult to detect for anyone who isn't a scholar, or firmly committed secularist.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Pentagon accidentally retweets call for Trump to resign (ROBERT BURNS, 16 November 2017, AP)

The tweet was posted Thursday by a person whose Twitter handle is @ProudResister. It said, "The solution is simple. Roy Moore: Step down from the race. Al Franken: Resign from congress. Donald Trump: Resign from the presidency. GOP: Stop making sexual assault a partisan issue. It's a crime as is your hypocrisy."

Manning says the person who had retweeted the item was an authorized operator of the official Defense Department Twitter account, which has 5.2 million followers.

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Before He Was Tapped By Donald Trump, Controversial Judicial Nominee Brett J. Talley Investigated Paranormal Activity (GIDEON RESNICK & SAM STEIN, 11.13.17, Daily Beast)

Brett J. Talley, nominated by President Donald Trump to the Federal District Court in Montgomery, Alabama, has never tried a case, is married to a White House lawyer, and has been dubbed as unqualified by the American Bar Association.

He also has a fervent interest in investigating and writing about paranormal activities.

On his questionnaire for the Senate Judiciary Committee, a copy of which was provided to The Daily Beast, Talley says that he was part of The Tuscaloosa Paranormal Research Group from 2009-2010. The group, according to its website, searches for the truth "of the paranormal existence" in addition to helping "those who may be living with paranormal activity that can be disruptive and/or traumatic."

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Al Franken Should Resign Immediately : Democrats' credibility on sexual harassment is at stake.  (Mark Joseph Stern, 11/16/17, Slate)

On Thursday morning, Los Angeles radio host Leeann Tweeden wrote a disturbing article alleging that Sen. Al Franken sexually harassed her on a 2006 USO tour. According to Tweeden, Franken coerced her into "rehearsing" a kiss for a skit, then forcefully stuck his tongue in her mouth. She also provided a photograph of Franken appearing to grope her while she slept.

There is no rational reason to doubt the truth of Tweeden's accusations, no legitimate defense of Franken's actions, and no ambiguity here at all: Franken should resign from the Senate immediately. Democrats should call for him to step down straightaway. This revelation is a test of the Democratic Party's consistency, honesty, and decency. If Democrats wish to preserve whatever moral standing they have today, they must exhort Franken to leave the Senate, with no hesitation or reservations.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Bill Clinton should have resigned (Matthew Yglesias,   Nov 15, 2017, vox)

At the time I, like most Americans, was glad to see Clinton prevail and regarded the whole sordid matter as primarily the fault of congressional Republicans' excessive scandal-mongering. Now, looking back after the election of Donald Trump, the revelations of massive sexual harassment scandals at Fox News, the stories about Harvey Weinstein and others in the entertainment industry, and the stories about Roy Moore's pursuit of sexual relationships with teenagers, I think we got it wrong. We argued about perjury and adultery and the meaning of the word "is." Republicans prosecuted a bad case against a president they'd been investigating for years.

What we should have talked about was men abusing their social and economic power over younger and less powerful women.

The United States, and perhaps the broader English-speaking world, is currently undergoing a much-needed accountability moment in which each wave of stories emboldens more people to come forward and more institutions to rethink their practices. Looking back, the 1998 revelation that the president of the United States carried on an affair with an intern could have been that moment.

It was far from the most egregious case of workplace sexual misconduct in American history. But it was unusually high-profile, the facts were not in dispute, the perpetrator had a lot of nominal feminist ideological commitments, and political leaders who shared those commitments had the power to force him from office. Had he resigned in shame, we all might have made a collective cultural and political decision that a person caught leveraging power over women in inappropriate ways ought to be fired. Instead, we lost nearly two decades.

The relationship with Lewinsky was a sideshow.  The core of the case for impeachment was that he obstructed justice in Paula Jones's civil suit, a case where his behavior was non-consensual. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Roy Moore to Mitch McConnell: 'Bring. It. On.' (The Associated Press, 11/16/17)

Ever defiant, Moore offered fighting words in a tweet addressed to the top Senate Republican: "Dear Mitch McConnell, Bring. It. On."

Chris Hansen, executive director of the national GOP's Senate campaign committee, fired back, "'Bring It On' is a movie about cheerleaders."

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Moderate Collins back in prominent role in Senate tax drama (Susan Cornwell, 11/16/17, Reuters) 

"I have data that demonstrates for certain middle-income individuals and couples, who do not qualify for subsidies under the ACA ... that the premium increase will outweigh the tax cut that they get," she said. "I suspected this, based on what I know about insurance markets, but now I have the actual data."

Collins was one of a handful of Republicans who voted in July to block a broader Republican attempt to dismantle Obamacare, former Democratic President Barack Obama's signature healthcare law.

The failure of the final repeal effort, in which Collins was joined in opposition by fellow Republicans John McCain and Lisa Murkowski, was a stinging defeat for President Donald Trump and Republican congressional leaders eager to fulfill their campaign promise to scrap Obamacare.

Collins, 64, a senator since 1997, decided last month against running for governor of Maine in favor of staying in the Senate, where her status as a centrist Republican willing to work with Democrats has made her one of the most influential members of Congress.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


Go Ahead, Republicans. Investigate Hillary. Again. (Froma Harrop, 11/16/17, Creators.

Yes, that again. There was absolutely zero wrong with or troubling about the Uranium One transaction. Even Fox News viewers who heard Shep Smith dismiss the wild charges as nonsense know that.

And that's why Democrats should resist the urge to chase this non-scandal down the rabbit hole of Trumpian distraction. Provoking them to become players -- to angrily defend Hillary with their files of facts -- is the point of Trump's game.

So go ahead, investigate Hillary for the 10,000th time. Other than a monumental waste of taxpayer dollars, there's little harm in taking another look at the Uranium One sale. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


New editor of UK's Gay Times suspended for anti-Semitic, sexist, racist tweets (Times of Israel, 11/16/17)

The newly appointed editor of Britain's prominent Gay Times magazine was suspended this week after a series of anti-Semitic, homophobic and racist tweets emerged.

Josh Rivers's offending tweets exposed by BuzzFeed UK this week date back to 2010 and also disparage Africans, Asians, and overweight and homeless people.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Iran pushing for Hamas-Hezbollah reconciliation : Observers said former allies are both likely to benefit from rapprochement. (Middle East Online, 11/16/17)

Saleh al-Arouri, Hamas's deputy political chief, had a rare public meeting with Hezbollah Secretary- General Hassan Nasrallah in Bei­rut on October 31. The meeting occurred soon after Arouri visited Iran.

Pro-Hezbollah al-Manar TV said Arouri and Nasrallah discussed "the Zionist aggression against Gaza and its ramifications" follow­ing an Israeli attack on a tunnel in the Gaza Strip that killed eight members of the Palestinian group Islamic Jihad.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh took part in a Hezbollah-sponsored con­ference on the Balfour Declaration on November 1 in Beirut, which kicked off with a message from Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Other senior partici­pants included Hezbollah's deputy chief Sheikh Naim Qassem.

Observers said both sides were likely to benefit from rapproche­ment.

"It is no secret that Hamas, de­spite having different positions regarding the Syrian crisis, needs Hezbollah when it comes to fund­ing, training, securing supply lines for weapons and providing resi­dence for Hamas cadres in Leba­non," Adnan Abu Amer, wrote on the website Al-Monitor.

"For its part, Hezbollah needs a Palestinian movement, such as Hamas, to restore its popularity among Arab public opinion, which it lost after being involved in the wars in Syria, Iraq and Yemen against Sunni Muslims. Hamas... may help dispel Hezbollah's sec­tarian image," Amer added.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 AM


If Saudi Arabia Reforms, What Happens to Islamists Elsewhere? (KAMEL DAOUD, NOV. 16, 2017, NY Times)

Some time ago, an Algerian cartoonist known as le Hic summarized the situation in Saudi Arabia with a few harsh strokes of his pen: In a drawing, the Saudi king announces his resolve to combat terrorism while pointing a gun at his own head. The entire Saudi paradox was distilled into that cartoon: The country produces, sponsors, shelters and feeds the Islamism that threatens its foundations and its future.

How could this be? One has to go back nearly three centuries to begin to answer this question. Around 1744, a tribal chieftain, Muhammad ibn Saud, formed an alliance with an ultraconservative preacher named Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab and created the first monarchical state on the Arabian Peninsula. On the one hand, there was the Saud family, governing the country by right of blood and succession; on the other, there was Wahhabism, an ultra-puritanical and extreme version of Islam it called the original Islam. A family and a clergy -- the whole welded together over the decades as much by oil revenues as by the legitimacy deriving from proximity to Islam's holiest sites.

But Wahhabism is also, of course, one of the matrices of global jihadism today: an ideological and financial source of the Islamists' power and their constellation of fundamentalist mosques, television networks dedicated to sermonizing, and various political parties throughout the Muslim world. Saudi Arabia feeds the hand that is killing it, little by little, and other countries as well.

It took the West being heavily hit by Islamist terrorism for it to appreciate fully the measure of this menace, long camouflaged. 

November 15, 2017

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When Carl Sagan Warned the World About Nuclear Winter (Matthew R. Francis, 11/15/17, SMITHSONIAN.COM)

If you were one of the more than 10 million Americans receiving Parade magazine on October 30, 1983, you would have been confronted with a harrowing scenario. The Sunday news supplement's front cover featured an image of the world half-covered in gray shadows, dotted with white snow. Alongside this scene of devastation were the words: "Would nuclear war be the end of the world?"

This article marked the public's introduction to a concept that would drastically change the debate over nuclear war: "nuclear winter." The story detailed the previously unexpected consequences of nuclear war: prolonged dust and smoke, a precipitous drop in Earth's temperatures and widespread failure of crops, leading to deadly famine. "In a nuclear 'exchange,' more than a billion people would instantly be killed," read the cover. "But the long-term consequences could be much worse..."

Posted by orrinj at 1:49 PM


With Trump Back In D.C., Mueller's Investigation Enters The West Wing (Tamara Keith, 11/15/17, NPR)

In addition to campaign activities like the June 2016 Trump tower meeting with a Russian delegation attended by the president's son and top aides, Mueller's investigation is also understood to be looking into the drafting of a misleading statement about that meeting, the firing of FBI Director James Comey and the case of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Pompeo emerges as favorite to succeed Tillerson (ELIANA JOHNSON and ANNIE KARNI, 11/15/2017, Politico)

The CIA director's favored status in the West Wing has made him the odds-on choice to succeed Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, according to more than half a dozen administration officials and outside advisers familiar with the White House's current plans. [...]

Pompeo has established himself as a Cabinet member willing to perform uncomfortable cleanup duty for the president, defending Trump at some of the lowest points of his presidency. He made the Sunday show rounds to defend the president's response to a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August, even as other administration officials went silent. Last week, he took a meeting at Trump's request with Willian Binney, a conspiracy theorist who has denied any Russian interference in the 2016 election, which appeared to lend credence to a theory that has been discredited by the CIA and every other American intelligence agency.

Pompeo has, however, publicly broken with the president over the question of Russian interference in the election, making clear that the CIA's view differs from that of the president himself, who has steadfastly refused to say explicitly that he believes in Russian malfeasance. When Trump on Saturday said that he believed Vladimir Putin was sincere when he denied any meddling, the CIA reiterated that the agency stood by its assessment that the Kremlin was behind email hacks and social media campaigns designed to benefit Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 AM


The Mysterious Origins of the Roman Republic (Bradley J. Birzer, 11/15/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Exactly how the Roman republic came into existence remains shrouded in mystery. Critically so. As with our tradition of English common law and the necessity of knowing that its origins are "beyond the memory of man," from "time immemorial," "ancient beyond memory or record," and "time out of mind," so it is with the best republics. If we could identify the exact moment of origin and the originator or originators, a republic would lose one of its most important components: that it is a reflection of cosmic nature and not of human will. Its continuation must be of the will--just as with a trial by jury and the presumption of innocence. These must be guarded by the will, but they cannot rest in their origins in the mind of man (or men). If they did, they would lose their power and their very essence.

The Roman Republic, then, arrived not by the hand of any one founder, but by the revolution of a whole people against the political tyranny and moral corruption of the rulers, the Etruscans. Of all the ancient peoples of the Mediterranean, modern scholars know very little about the Etruscan people, other than their language (not fully) and the art that remained long after the Romans overthrew them. In contrast to the rustic simplicity of the Latins, the Etruscans appear to be a soft, sensual, and decadent people. The Romans must have despised them not just for their intrusive governance, but for their sexual libertinism and their effete civilization.

Whatever their successes--and they were many, especially in art and engineering--the Etruscans lost favor with the Romans, and the Romans violently overthrew them in 510 B.C. The following year, the Romans established a republic, only the second in recorded history. The Carthaginians had beaten them to it, but the North Africans had established a commercial republic, while the Romans desired a virtuous one.

Certainly, the Roman republic was not a democratic one, but, rather, an aristocratic one, with most of the power residing in the Senate (meaning "wise old men"), a body of the ruling families that controlled the finances, internal security, and foreign affairs. In his history of Rome, the Greek thinker Polybius claimed that Rome had a tripartite balance of powers from the beginning, even if power resided in the aristocracy. Around the Senate, according to Polybius, the people as a whole provided checks and balances, as did the executives through various offices. Almost nothing is recorded of the first few centuries of Roman republican history, so one theory or one guess, generally, is as good as any other. One way or another, the Roman constitution evolved to incorporate formal institutions representing the aristocratic, the democratic, and the executive elements of government.

Hating virtue is why Left and Right hate the Republic.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Trump Returns From Asia With Little in Hand (Brian Bennett and Noah Bierman , November 15, 2017, Chicago Tribune)

 In the photo, President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping stand shoulder to shoulder in front of the yellow-tiled palace where emperors ruled the Middle Kingdom, as China called itself for centuries.

It was the first time a U.S. president had stood for a portrait with the head of China's Communist Party in the middle of the ancient Forbidden City, what has long been the psychic heart of China. The next day the country's state-controlled newspapers ran the image across their front pages.

Trump had been in Beijing only for a few hours, but already Xi had gotten what he wanted: to be seen, inside China at least, as an equal to the American president. What remains unclear is what Trump has gotten.

Just hours after his arrival, the president had demonstrated how willing he was to be flattered and to flatter back, while getting little in return...

In fairness to Donald, if you assume that for him the point of the trip was to serve authoritarian regimes and not America, it was another ringing success.

Posted by orrinj at 6:33 AM


Republicans' hilariously pathetic attempt to manufacture another Hillary Clinton scandal (Paul Waldman, November 15, 2017, The Week)

They've got her now, just you wait.

Republicans in Congress have Hillary Clinton in their sights, and it's all going to be different this time. They're demanding that the Justice Department appoint a special counsel to investigate Clinton, or more specifically, a couple of different matters relating to her, including the sale of a company that mines uranium and the Russia dossier, in which an opposition researcher assembled potentially damaging information on Donald Trump in 2016. What America obviously needs is a prosecutor with unlimited resources and subpoena power to get to the bottom of these matters, because ... because ... well because Hillary Damn Clinton, that's why! [...]

What is the point of all this? The answer is a bit complicated, but first let's quickly address the Republicans' complaint. In their fantasy world, what demands investigation is chiefly this: Hillary Clinton gave 20 percent of our uranium to Russia in exchange for donations to the Clinton Foundation, and there was obviously something fishy going on. However, every bit of the previous sentence is false, other than that there is a person named "Hillary Clinton," a thing called "uranium," a place called "Russia," and an organization called the "Clinton Foundation."

Fox News should really change their motto to "Hilariously pathetic!"

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


THE GRACEFUL LIFE OF BOBBY DOERR (Mike Lupica, 11/14/17, Sports on Earth)

You can still see the four of them, Ted Williams and Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky and Dom DiMaggio, at the corner of Van Ness and Ipswich, near Gate B at Fenway Park, the statue that is simply known as "Teammates." They came from the West Coast, they all did, to play baseball in their youth for the Red Sox, before and after World War II, to become legends not just of Boston baseball and that time for the Red Sox, but also of lasting friendship.

The man who had become our oldest living ballplayer, Robert Pershing Doerr -- born in 1918 and named after a famous figure of World War I and who later would join the Army near the end of World War II despite a punctured eardrum -- died on Tuesday morning at the age of 99. Doerr died in Oregon, a state he came to love the way he loved baseball and his family.

He played second base for the Red Sox for 14 years and was an All-Star nine times and was finally elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986, by what was still known as the Veterans Committee in those days. Williams, of course, was the great theatrical star of his Red Sox teams, the man still called the greatest pure hitter who ever lived, the game's last .400 hitter. But Doerr, in their time together, was a quiet star in Boston himself, the man whom Williams called "the silent captain" of their teams.

"Bobby Doerr was undoubtedly the greatest gentleman -- in every sense of the word -- in the constellation of all-time Red Sox stars," said former Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino. "I will miss him, but I will not forget him or his graciousness."

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM


Iran's path to becoming an LNG exporter (Bijan Khajehpour November 14, 2017, Al Monitor)

By the late 2000s, however, the international partners in the first two ventures were forced to abandon the projects given the intensification of nuclear sanctions against Iran. What remained was the third project, Iran LNG, and the frustration in Tehran that massive investments in the LNG sector had gone to waste. In fact, in light of the withdrawal of international companies and potential technology providers, Iran excluded any role for LNG in its subsequent gas sector strategy.

Developments in a number of fields have since compelled Iranian petroleum sector strategists to reconsider and take a more serious look at LNG. The factors contributing to the shift in strategy include the following:

Growth in gas production: Iran's actual gas production and potential for exports have increased substantially, allowing the country to plan for major export activity.

Availability of Western technology: The lifting of nuclear sanctions has made it feasible for Tehran to again secure the needed technologies and equipment to construct LNG complexes. [...]

The first steps in the shift have already been taken. Tehran signed an agreement with Oman to export Iranian gas to Oman via pipeline and then to use excess capacity in Oman to produce LNG. This first step was designed to put Iran, as a small player, on the global LNG map. The second step was taken when Tehran signed an agreement with the Norwegian company Helma Vantage to provide it with FLNG capacity. The advantage of an FLNG facility is that it can be shifted if gas supply locations change due to the flow of projects. This means that a floating LNG unit can be installed depending on where new sources of gas become available. In the meantime, Total SA, the French company that signed the South Pars Phase 11 agreement with Tehran in July, is in talks with Iran to acquire Iran LNG, mentioned above.

November 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:07 PM


Justice Dept. to Weigh Inquiry Into Clinton Foundation (Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, Nov. 13, 2017, NY Times)

 The Justice Department said Monday that prosecutors were looking into whether a special counsel should be appointed to investigate political rivals President Trump has singled out for scrutiny, including Hillary Clinton. [...]

The letter appeared to be a direct response to Mr. Trump's statement on Nov. 3, when he said he was disappointed with his beleaguered attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and that longstanding unproven allegations about the Clintons and the Obama administration should be investigated.

Let us be the first to get on record as alleging that the Special Counsel is irreparably tainted as evidenced by his failure to indict.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Pool of negative yielding debt swells to nearly $11tn (Financial Times, 11/14/17)

Nearly $11tn of sovereign and corporate bonds trade with a yield below zero, according to data from Bloomberg Barclays Indices. The $10.9tn figure includes notes and bonds in the benchmark global aggregate index as well as Bloomberg Barclays' US, Euro, UK and Japanese short-Treasury indices at the end of October.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM



HACKING FACE ID, the facial recognition system built into Apple's iPhone X, isn't easy. Unless, it turns out, you're a very specific hacker--say, a rare 10-year-old kid, trying to break into the phone of whichever of your parents looks the most like you.

Attaullah Malik and Sana Sherwani made that discovery earlier this month, when their fifth-grade son, Ammar Malik, walked into the bedroom of their Staten Island home to admire their new pair of iPhone Xs just after they'd set up Face ID. "There's no way you're getting access to this phone," the older Malik remembers his wife telling her son, in a half-joking show of strictness.

Malik offered to let Ammar look at his phone instead, but the boy picked up his mother's, not knowing which was which. And a split second after he looked at it, the phone unlocked.

The boy who looks exactly like his Mom can obviously never go near a schoolyard again.

Posted by orrinj at 4:45 PM


Secret Finding: 60 Russian Payments "To Finance Election Campaign Of 2016" (Jason Leopold (BuzzFeed News Reporter) Anthony Cormier (BuzzFeed News Reporter) Jessica Garrison (BuzzFeed News Reporter), 12/14/17, BuzzFeed News)

On Aug. 3 of last year, just as the US presidential election was entering its final, heated phase, the Russian foreign ministry sent nearly $30,000 to its embassy in Washington. The wire transfer, which came from a Kremlin-backed Russian bank, landed in one of the embassy's Citibank accounts and contained a remarkable memo line: "to finance election campaign of 2016."

That wire transfer is one of more than 60 now being scrutinized by the FBI and other federal agencies investigating Russian involvement in the US election. The transactions, which moved through Citibank accounts and totaled more than $380,000, each came from the Russian foreign ministry and most contained a memo line referencing the financing of the 2016 election.

Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM



In the wake of the Equifax scandal, Congress has been under pressure to act. But the price of modest reforms in Washington is often much larger giveaways elsewhere, and that pattern holds true in the agreement announced Monday between nine Senate Democrats and the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee. [...]

Four Banking Committee Democrats -- Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Mark Warner, D-Va. -- negotiated the bill with committee chair Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, after ranking Democrat Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, broke off talks on a compromise bill with Crapo just last month. Warner's Virginia colleague Tim Kaine, last year's vice presidential nominee, signed on as an original co-sponsor of the bill, along with Joe Manchin D-W.Va., Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., Gary Peters D-Mich., and Angus King, I-Maine, who caucuses with Democrats. The Democratic support would give the legislation enough support to break a filibuster, if all Republicans signed on.

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 AM


Publius' Conservative Values (GREG WEINE, 11/14/17, Law & Liberty)

[F]ederalist 6 isn't only about the nature of commercial republics or the proclivity of polities toward conflict, but also about the method of political science. Hamilton identifies his choices clearly. Suggestively, he dismisses as "projectors in politics" those who count on a pacific relationship between the states. Their plans and predictions are founded on air. Hamilton, by contrast, looks back into the concretely known, enjoining his reader: "Let experience, the least fallible guide of human opinions, be appealed to for an answer to these inquiries."

Hamilton returns repeatedly to the differences between off-the-cuff speculation and on-the-ground experience. In Federalist 8, still detailing the possibilities of interstate conflict, he declares that "these are not vague inferences deduced from speculative defects in a constitution . . . they are solid conclusions, drawn from the natural and necessary progress of human affairs." Federalist 15 calls experience "that best oracle of wisdom."

Nor does his writing partner, James Madison--author of some of The Federalist's boldest appeals to reason--much disagree. In the course of Federalist 14's famous appeal to reason, Madison writes:

Is it not the glory of the people of America, that whilst they have paid a decent regard to the opinions of former times and other nations, they have not suffered a blind veneration for antiquity, for custom, or for names, to over-rule the suggestions of their own good sense, the knowledge of their own situation, and the lessons of their own experience?

Notice that what Madison rejects is "a blind veneration" of the old and traditional, which conservatism does not require. Conservatism requires giving the past due deference as an accumulated storehouse of wisdom and experience. What Madison calls reason is not the abstract, speculative reason that repels the Burkean. It is, rather, rooted in "good sense," one's "situation"--that is, concrete circumstances--and in what "experience" teaches.

Similarly, Madison's Federalist 37, which delineates the difficulties the Philadelphia Convention faced, points to experience as a guide even as it acknowledges its limited scope in the American constitutional context:

The most that the convention could do in such a situation, was to avoid the errors suggested by the past experience of other countries, as well as of our own; and to provide a convenient mode of rectifying their own errors as future experience may unfold them.

The succeeding paper adds that any errors in the Constitution result from a lack of experience and, crucially, that only future experience will reveal them. Earlier, in Federalist 20, Madison had called experience "the oracle of truth; and where its responses are unequivocal, they ought to be conclusive and sacred." He proceeds in Federalist 52 to call experience "the guide that ought always to be followed whenever it can be found."

Any reader of The Federalist is familiar with Publius' method of historical inquiry, which ranges from the experience of Greek confederacies to that of medieval and contemporary Europe. By Federalist 85, the concluding paper, Hamilton--having begun the enterprise with a call to "reflection and choice"--has come full circle. There, referring to David Hume, Hamilton writes:

The zeal for attempts to amend, prior to the establishment of the constitution, must abate in every man, who is ready to accede to the truth of the following observations of a writer, equally solid and ingenious: "to balance a large state or society (says he) whether monarchical or republican, on general laws, is a work of so great difficulty, that no human genius, however comprehensive, is able by the mere dint of reason and reflection, to effect it. The judgments of many must unite in the work: EXPERIENCE must guide their labour: TIME must bring it to perfection: and the FEELING OF inconveniences must correct the mistakes which they inevitably fall into, in their first trials and experiments." (Emphasis in original.)

Hume rejects "mere" reason and reflection, by which he means the isolated individual speculating in the abstract. Such is the case for Hamilton too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Russia says U.S. providing cover for Islamic State in Syria (Reuters, 11/14/17) 

The United States is providing de-facto cover for Islamic State units in Syria and only pretending to fight terrorism in the Middle East, the Russian Defence Ministry said on Tuesday.

Only Vlad and his bots thought he could be in Syria without having to fight the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Qatari emir says 'thousand times better off' without Gulf allies (Middle East Online, 11/14/17)

Months into a dispute that has seen Doha cut off from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, Qatar's emir said Tuesday his country was "a thousand times better off" without them.

In a speech to the Shura Council, the upper house of parliament, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said his government had nonetheless put in place contingency plans as he expected the bitter political dispute with his neighbours and former allies to drag on. [...]

Iran, Turkey and most recently Spain have stepped in to help Qatar secure food imports amid a boycott by four Arab states.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt in June announced they had severed ties with Qatar, sealing off the emirate's only land border in the wide-ranging boycott.

They accuse Qatar's government of supporting Islamist extremism and fostering close ties with Iran.

November 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


The Fate of Rome (Charlotte Salley, NOVEMBER 13, 2017, aMERICAN sCHOLAR)

Recent scientific evidence suggests two of the forces that caused Rome to crumble were climate change and pandemic disease. Historian Kyle Harper examines how, even after hundreds of years as the powerhouse of the Mediterranean and beyond, Rome ultimately could not withstand the debilitating effects of a "little ice age" and a population dwindling from plague.

We are reliably told by our betters that climate is invariant in the absence of man-made change.

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Bill Clinton: A Reckoning : Feminists saved the 42nd president of the United States in the 1990s. They were on the wrong side of history; is it finally time to make things right? (CAITLIN FLANAGAN, 11/13/17, The Atlantic)

[L]et us not forget the sex crimes of which the younger, stronger Bill Clinton was very credibly accused in the 1990s. Juanita Broaddrick reported that when she was a volunteer on one of his gubernatorial campaigns, she had arranged to meet him in a hotel coffee shop. At the last minute, he had changed the location to her room in the hotel, where she says he very violently raped her. She said she fought against Clinton throughout a rape that left her bloodied. At a different Arkansas hotel, he caught sight of a minor state employee named Paula Jones, and, Jones says, he sent a couple of state troopers to invite her to his suite, where he exposed his penis to her and told her to kiss it. Kathleen Willey said that she met him in the Oval Office for personal and professional advice and that he groped her, rubbed his erect penis on her, and pushed her hand to his crotch.

It was a pattern of behavior; it included an alleged violent assault; the women involved had far more credible evidence than many of the most notorious accusations that have come to light in the past five weeks. But Clinton was not left to the swift and pitiless justice that today's accused men have experienced. Rather, he was rescued by a surprising force: machine feminism. The movement had by then ossified into a partisan operation and it was willing--eager--to let this friend of the sisterhood enjoy a little droit de seigneur.

The notorious 1998 New York Times op-ed by Gloria Steinem must surely stand as one of the most regretted public actions of her life. It slut-shamed, victim-blamed, and age-shamed; it urged compassion for and gratitude to the man the women accused. Moreover (never write an op-ed in a hurry; you'll accidentally say what you really believe), it characterized contemporary feminism as a weaponized auxiliary of the Democratic Party.

Called "Feminists and the Clinton Question," it was written in March of 1998, when Paula Jones's harassment claim was working its way through court. It was printed seven days after Kathleen Willey's blockbuster 60 Minutes interview with Ed Bradley. If all the various allegations were true, wrote Steinem, Bill Clinton was "a candidate for sex addiction therapy." To her mind, the most "credible" accusations were those of Willey, whom she noted was "old enough to be Monica Lewinsky's mother." And then she wrote the fatal sentences that invalidated the new understanding of workplace sexual harassment as a moral and legal wrong: "Even if the allegations are true, the President is not guilty of sexual harassment. He is accused of having made a gross, dumb, and reckless pass at a supporter during a low point in her life. She pushed him away, she said, and it never happened again. In other words, President Clinton took 'no' for an answer."

Steinem said the same was true of Paula Jones. These were not crimes; they were "passes." Broaddrick was left out by Steinem, who revealed herself as a combination John and Bobby Kennedy of the feminist movement: the fair-haired girl and the bareknuckle fixer. The widespread liberal response to the sex crime accusations against Bill Clinton found their natural consequence 20 years later in the behavior of Harvey Weinstein: Stay loudly and publicly and extravagantly on the side of signal leftist causes and you can do what you want in the privacy of your offices and hotel rooms. But the mood of the country has changed. We are in a time when old monuments are coming down and when men are losing their careers over things they did to women a long time ago.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Saudis walk back escalation in Yemen, Lebanon as dramatic moves backfire (ZEINA KARAM, 13 November 2017, AP) 

Saudi Arabia's dramatic moves to counter Iran in the region appear to have backfired, significantly ratcheting up regional tensions and setting off a spiral of reactions and anger that seem to have caught the kingdom off guard.

Now it's trying to walk back its escalations in Lebanon and Yemen.

On Monday, the kingdom announced that the Saudi-led coalition fighting Shiite rebels in Yemen would begin reopening airports and seaports in the Arab world's poorest country, days after closing them over a rebel ballistic missile attack on Riyadh.

The move came just hours after Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who shocked the nation by announcing his resignation from the Saudi capital on November 4, gave an interview in which he backed off his strident condemnation of the Lebanese militant Hezbollah, saying he would return to the country within days to seek a settlement with the Shiite militants, his rivals in his coalition government.

...he should know better than to mess with our Shi'a allies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


The Secret Correspondence Between Donald Trump Jr. and WikiLeaks (JULIA IOFFE, 11/13/17, The Atlantic)

Just before the stroke of midnight on September 20, 2016, at the height of last year's presidential election, the WikiLeaks Twitter account sent a private direct message to Donald Trump Jr., the Republican nominee's oldest son and campaign surrogate. "A PAC run anti-Trump site is about to launch," WikiLeaks wrote. "The PAC is a recycled pro-Iraq war PAC. We have guessed the password. It is 'putintrump.' See 'About' for who is behind it. Any comments?" (The site, which has since become a joint project with Mother Jones, was founded by Rob Glaser, a tech entrepreneur, and was funded by Progress for USA Political Action Committee.)

The next morning, about 12 hours later, Trump Jr. responded to WikiLeaks. "Off the record I don't know who that is, but I'll ask around," he wrote on September 21, 2016. "Thanks." [...]

WikiLeaks played a pivotal role in the presidential campaign. In July 2016, on the first day of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee's servers that spring. The emails showed DNC officials denigrating Bernie Sanders, renewing tensions on the eve of Clinton's acceptance of the nomination. On October 7, less than an hour after the Washington Post released the Access Hollywood tape, in which Trump bragged about sexually assaulting women, Wikileaks released emails that hackers had pilfered from the personal email account of Clinton's campaign manager John Podesta.

On October 3, 2016, WikiLeaks wrote again. "Hiya, it'd be great if you guys could comment on/push this story," WikiLeaks suggested, attaching a quote from then-Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton about wanting to "just drone" WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange.

"Already did that earlier today," Trump Jr. responded an hour-and-a-half later. "It's amazing what she can get away with."

Two minutes later, Trump Jr. wrote again, asking, "What's behind this Wednesday leak I keep reading about?" The day before, Roger Stone, an informal advisor to Donald Trump, had tweeted, "Wednesday@HillaryClinton is done. #WikiLeaks."

WikiLeaks didn't respond to that message, but on October 12, 2016, the account again messaged Trump Jr. "Hey Donald, great to see you and your dad talking about our publications," WikiLeaks wrote. (At a rally on October 10, Donald Trump had proclaimed, "I love WikiLeaks!")

"Strongly suggest your dad tweets this link if he mentions us," WikiLeaks went on, pointing Trump Jr. to the link, which it said would help Trump's followers dig through the trove of stolen documents and find stories. "There's many great stories the press are missing and we're sure some of your follows [sic] will find it," WikiLeaks went on. "Btw we just released Podesta Emails Part 4."

Trump Jr. did not respond to this message. But just 15 minutes after it was sent, as The Wall Street Journal's Byron Tau pointed out, Donald Trump himself tweeted, "Very little pick-up by the dishonest media of incredible information provided by WikiLeaks. So dishonest! Rigged system!"

Two days later, on October 14, 2016, Trump Jr. tweeted out the link WikiLeaks had provided him. "For those who have the time to read about all the corruption and hypocrisy all the @wikileaks emails are right here:," he wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


A London Meeting of an Unlikely Group: How a Trump Adviser Came to Learn of Clinton 'Dirt' (SHARON LaFRANIERE, DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK, ANDREW HIGGINS and MICHAEL SCHWIRTZNOV. 10, 2017, NY Times)

At midday on March 24, 2016, an improbable group gathered in a London cafe to discuss setting up a meeting between Donald J. Trump, then a candidate, and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia.

There was George Papadopoulos, a 28-year-old from Chicago with an inflated résumé who just days earlier had been publicly named as a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump's campaign. There was Joseph Mifsud, a Maltese academic in his mid-50s with a faltering career who boasted of having high-level contacts in the Russian government.

And, perhaps most mysteriously, there was Olga Polonskaya, a 30-year-old Russian from St. Petersburg and the former manager of a wine distribution company. Mr. Mifsud introduced her to Mr. Papadopoulos as Mr. Putin's niece, according to court papers. Mr. Putin has no niece.

The interactions between the three players and a fourth man with contacts inside Russia's Foreign Ministry have become a central part of the inquiry by the special prosecutor, Robert S. Mueller III, into the Kremlin's efforts to interfere with the presidential election. Recently released court documents suggest that the F.B.I. suspected that some of the people who showed interest in Mr. Papadopoulos were participants in a Russian intelligence operation.

The March 2016 meeting was followed by a breakfast the next month at a London hotel during which Mr. Mifsud revealed to Mr. Papadopoulos that the Russians had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." That was months before the theft of a trove of emails from the Democratic National Committee by Russian-sponsored hackers became public.

Mr. Mueller's investigators are seeking to determine who -- if anyone -- in the Trump campaign Mr. Papadopoulos told about the stolen emails. Although there is no evidence that Mr. Papadopoulos emailed that information to the campaign, Mr. Papadopoulos was in regular contact that spring with top campaign officials, including Stephen Miller, now a senior adviser to President Trump, according to interviews and campaign documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The revelations about Mr. Papadopoulos's activities are part of a series of disclosures in the past two weeks about communications between Trump campaign advisers and Russian officials or self-described intermediaries for the Russian government. Taken together, they show not only that the contacts were more extensive than previously known, but also that senior campaign officials were aware of them.

There's nothing more likely than intercourse between the Alt-right and Putin proxies.

Posted by orrinj at 12:53 PM


Lawmakers allege State Dept. covering up U.S. military support to IRGC (Adam Kredo, November 13, 2017, Daily Beacon)

U.S. officials acknowledged Iranian-backed forces in Iraq could be using American-made arms, an admission that comes amid growing concern on Capitol Hill the U.S. government is quietly working with militia fighters in Iraq who are directly tied to the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), according to multiple sources familiar with the situation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM


New Pacific trade deal could leave U.S. playing catchup (Daniel Shane, 11/13/17, CNNMoney)

Brokered on the sidelines of a summit of Pacific nations in Vietnam, the initial accord is "a huge, huge step forward," said Alexander Capri, a senior fellow at National University of Singapore's Business School. [...]

Trump has expressed preference for negotiating one-on-one trade agreements with other countries, saying he can ensure a better deal for American workers.

But remaining TPP members like Japan and Vietnam, whom Trump visited on his Asia tour, will be less inclined to do one-on-one trade deals with the U.S. if the new TPP is finalized soon, according to Capri.

"The Trump team basically just wants to pound these guys into submission," he said. "No trade partner of the U.S. wants to do a bilateral with them."

Posted by orrinj at 5:06 AM


After a Disciplined Week in Asia, Trump Unloads on Critics (Mark Landler, Nov. 12, 2017, NY Times)

It was hard to say what prompted the sudden change in the president's demeanor, though the first lady, Melania Trump, who often plays a moderating influence on her husband, dropped off the trip in Beijing, after visiting the Great Wall of China and stroking the paw of a panda bear at the Beijing Zoo.

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 AM



Since early October, autonomous trucks built and operated by the startup Embark have been hauling Frigidaire refrigerators 650 miles along the I-10 freeway, from a warehouse in El Paso, Texas, to a distribution center in Palm Springs, California. A human driver rides in the cab to monitor the computer chauffeur for now, but the ultimate goal of this (auto) pilot program is to dump the fleshbag and let the trucks rumble solo down the highway.

"This is the first time someone has demonstrated this end-to-end," Embark CEO Alex Rodrigues says. "It showcases the way that we see self-driving playing into the logistics industry."

Posted by orrinj at 4:46 AM



Just months before Spencer was born, the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians opened a casino near McCoy's home, and promised every one of its roughly 15,000 tribal members--among them Skooter and Michelle--an equal cut of the profits. The first payouts came to $595 each--a nice little bonus, McCoy says, just for being. "That was the first time we ever took a vacation," McCoy remembers. "We went to Myrtle Beach."

Once Spencer arrived, the checks covered the family's car payments and other bills. "It was huge," McCoy says. He graduated college and went on to coach football at the local high school for 11 years. Two decades later, McCoy still sets aside some of the money the tribe gives out twice a year to take his children--three of them, now--on vacation. (He and Michelle are separated.) And as the casino revenue has grown, so have the checks. In 2016, every tribal member received roughly $12,000. McCoy's kids, and all children in the community, have been accruing payments since the day they were born. The tribe sets the money aside and invests it, so the children cash out a substantial nest egg when they're 18. When Spencer's 18th birthday came three years ago, his so-called "minor's fund" amounted to $105,000 after taxes. His 12-year-old sister is projected to receive roughly twice that.

McCoy is now general manager of the Cherokee Boys Club, a nonprofit that provides day care, foster care, and other services to the tribe. At 41, he has a shaved head and wears a gray Under Armour T-shirt over his sturdy frame, along with a rubber bracelet around his wrist that reads, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."

The casino money made it possible for him to support his young family, but the money his children will receive is potentially life-altering on a different scale. "If you've lived in a small rural community and never saw anybody leave, never saw anyone with a white-collar job or leading any organization, you always kind of keep your mindset right here," he says, forming a little circle with his hands in front of his face. "Our kids today? The kids at the high school?" He throws his arms out wide. "They believe the sky's the limit. It's really changed the entire mindset of the community these past 20 years."

These biannual, unconditional cash disbursements go by different names among the members of the tribe. Officially, they're called "per capita payments." McCoy's kids call it their "big money." But a certain kind of Silicon Valley idealist might call it something else: a universal basic income. [...]

It was here, in the quiet shadow of the mountain range, that a team of researchers including Jane Costello, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the Duke Institute for Brain Sciences, decided to ground the Great Smoky Mountains Study of Youth. Costello wanted to find out about the need for mental health and psychiatric services for children in rural America, and in 1993 the researchers began studying 1,420 children, 350 of whom were members of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. They divided the group into three age cohorts--9-year-olds, 11-year-olds, and 13-year-olds--and gave their parents thick, detailed personality surveys called the Child and Adolescent Psychiatric Assessment, which were completed every year until the kids turned 16 and then again every few years until they turned 30. Looking for indicators of behavioral or emotional troubles, the researchers asked questions about whether the children ever engaged in physical fights and whether they had trouble being away from home.

Costello and her team also recorded household data like parents' occupations, history of domestic violence, and, crucially, income. When the study began, about 67 percent of the American Indian kids were living below the poverty line. It wasn't until after the casino opened that Costello began to notice that household income among the Cherokee families was going up. It was subtle at first, but the trend turned sharply upward as time went on, eventually lifting 14 percent of the Cherokee children in the study above the poverty line. Household income for those families who were not Cherokee, meanwhile, grew at a slower rate.

It was an awakening for Costello, who had accidentally stumbled onto an entirely new line of inquiry on the impact of unconditional cash transfers on the poor. "I suddenly thought, 'Oh my god,'" Costello remembers. [...]

The Eastern Band's change in fortunes also shifted the course of Costello's research. "We thought it'd be interesting to see if it made any difference" to the children's mental health, she says. They also started comparing the younger Cherokee children, whose families started accruing money earlier in their lives, to the older ones. They wanted to answer a simple question: Would the cash infusion benefit these kids in measurable ways?

The answer defied Costello's initial hypothesis. "I thought, 'There's such a pit of poverty there that this isn't going to make any difference; it's trivial,'" she remembers. "But it wasn't." Now the body of research that she and other academics have built has become a favorite point of reference for universal basic income advocates, providing some of the most compelling evidence yet of the positive effects of bestowing unconditional sums of cash on the poor.

In two studies, one published in 2003 and a follow-up in 2010, Costello compared children who were lifted out of poverty after the casino opened to those who had never been poor. She scored them based on the presence of what researchers referred to as emotional disorders, like depression and anxiety, as well as behavioral disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

Before the casino opened, Costello found that poor children scored twice as high as those who were not poor for symptoms of psychiatric disorders. But after the casino opened, the children whose families' income rose above the poverty rate showed a 40 percent decrease in behavioral problems. Just four years after the casino opened, they were, behaviorally at least, no different from the kids who had never been poor at all. By the time the youngest cohort of children was at least 21, she found something else: The younger the Cherokee children were when the casino opened, the better they fared compared to the older Cherokee children and to rural whites. This was true for emotional and behavioral problems as well as drug and alcohol addiction.

Other researchers have used Costello's data to look at different effects of the casino payments. One fear about basic income is that people will be content living on their subsidies and stop working. But a 2010 analysis of the data, led by Randall Akee, who researches labor economics at the University of Southern California, found no impact on overall labor participation.

Of course, the casino also brought jobs to the area, and the majority of the roughly 2,500 people the casino employs are tribal members. This would seem to confound the question of whether the tribal payment or casino income made the difference in the children's lives, but Akee looked into this too. He found that, among the parents in Costello's study, employment didn't go up or down after the opening of the casino.

Akee also looked at the effects of the money on education and found that more money in the household meant children stayed in school longer. The impact on crime was just as profound: A $4,000 increase in household income reduced the poorest kids' chances of committing a minor crime by 22 percent.

All of this amounted to substantial financial benefits for the community as a whole. "This translates to fewer kids in jail, fewer kids in in-patient care," Costello says. "Then there are the other costs you can't calculate. The cost of people not killing themselves? That's a hard one."

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 AM


Was Vichy France a Puppet Government or a Willing Nazi Collaborator? : The authoritarian government led by Marshal Pétain participated in Jewish expulsions and turned France into a quasi-police state (Lorraine Boissoneault, 11/09/17, SMITHSONIAN.COM )

Did the regime collaborate with Nazis out of self-preservation, or did it have its own agenda? 

The misconception that the Vichy Regime was the lesser of two evils endured only for the first few decades after the war. Since then, as more archival material has come to light, historians have gradually come to see the collaborators as willing participants in the Holocaust. Before the Nazis ever demanded the Vichy government participate in anti-Semitic policies, the French had enacted policies that removed Jews from civil service and began seizing Jewish property. "The Vichy French government participated willingly in the deportations and did most of the arresting," Paxton says. "The arrests of foreign Jews often involved separating families from their children, sometimes in broad daylight, and it had a very powerful effect on public opinion and began to turn opinion against Pétain."

One particularly notable roundup was July 1942's Vel d'Hiv, the largest deportation of Jews from France that would occur during the war. Among the 13,000 Jews arrested and deported to Auschwitz were 4,000 children--removed with their parents for "humanitarian" reasons, according to French Prime Minister Pierre Laval. If they stayed behind, he reasoned, who would care for them? All told, the Vichy regime helped deport 75,721 Jewish refugees and French citizens to death camps, according to the BBC.

Did the French public support the Vichy leaders?

It's a complicated question, since the Vichy government was in power for four years. As Michael Curtis writes in Verdict on Vichy: Power and Prejudice in the Vichy France Regime, "The Vichy regime seemed to have early popular support, while the Resistance was at first limited. If there had been a public referendum, the French people, in a state of confusion after the military defeat, concerned with material interests, and distressed by the German occupation of the north of the country, might well have approved of Vichy. At one extreme there was great brutality, especially by the violently anti-Semitic paramilitary Milice, while on the hand the number of protestors and heroic resistors against Vichy and the Nazis grew larger throughout the war."

Paxton agrees that support waned over the course of the German occupation, but also points out the public overwhelmingly supported Pétain's regime at the start. And while the Resistance began early on in the start of the war, "resisters were always a minority," writes Robert Gildea in Fighters in the Shadows: A New History of the French Resistance. 

November 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 9:10 PM


Dark-matter hunt fails to find the elusive particles (Elizabeth Gibney, 08 November 2017, Nature)

Physicists are growing ever more frustrated in their hunt for dark matter -- the massive but hard-to-detect substance that is thought to comprise 85% of the material Universe. Teams working with the world's most sensitive dark-matter detectors report that they have failed to find the particles, and that the ongoing drought has challenged theorists' prevailing views.

The latest results from an experiment called XENON1T at the Gran Sasso National Laboratory in Italy, published on 30 October1, continue a dry spell stretching back 30 years in the quest to nab dark-matter particles. An attempt by a Chinese team to detect the elusive stuff, the results of which were published on the same day2, also came up empty-handed. Ongoing attempts by space-based telescopes, as well as at CERN, the European particle-physics laboratory near Geneva, Switzerland, have also not spotted any hints of dark-matter particles.

The findings have left researchers struggling for answers. "We do not understand how the Universe works at a deeper and more profound level than most of us care to admit," says Stacy McGaugh, an astrophysicist at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


TV interview with Lebanon PM fuels rumors of Saudi coercion : Full of odd moments, Saad Hariri's first television appearance since shock resignation failed to present message of calm or control (AP, 11/12/17)

A much-awaited live interview was conducted with Hariri on Sunday night by Future TV, a channel associated with his political party. It sought to dispel those rumors, but also raised some new questions.

At one point during the interview, Hariri's eyes were wide open, moving to the back of the room. The camera caught a man in the back corner, behind the interviewer, who was holding what appeared to be a rolled paper. The man, whose face was outside the frame, soon disappeared but not before the camera moved back to Hariri, who was staring toward him with an angry and disgusted look. [...]

After his belligerent resignation speech last week, Hariri looked sad and tired on Sunday, at times holding back tears in the interview that went on for over an hour. He repeatedly drank water, finishing his glass and asking for more, prompting Yacoubian to hand him her own glass of water. He pleaded with her to finish the questioning after an hour has passed. "You made me tired," he said.

He repeatedly said he was ready to die for Lebanon -- his father, former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, was killed by a car bomb in Beirut in 2005 -- but he added that he didn't want his children to go through that kind of ordeal. When asked about reports that he is not communicative and doesn't use his phone much, he said: "I am in a reflective state," adding that he didn't want any distractions amid a very busy schedule.

His demeanor triggered a new hashtag, #UnderPressure, reflecting that people were unconvinced he was a free man.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:57 PM


Surprise! Obamacare Enrollment Is Actually Rising : It's possible that Republican efforts to kill the program backfired and helped to save it (Megan McArdle, 11/12/17, Bloomberg View)

Donald Trump wants Obamacare to implode. That's not a mischievous inference from his legislative misadventures; that's a direct quote. "As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!"

It's thus somewhat surprising that on his watch, enrollment currently seems to be on track for its best year ever. In the first four days, 601,462 people signed up for insurance through the federal marketplace, a significantly faster pace than in earlier years. And almost a quarter of them were new to the exchanges.

This is probably not what you expected. It's not what I expected. Premiums are rising, insurers are pulling out, and the administration seems somewhat uninterested in encouraging people to enroll, having shortened the open enrollment period and defunded the cost-sharing subsidies for low-income enrollees. [...]

[T]he premium increases have fallen especially heavily on the "benchmark" plans, which are the second-lowest-cost Silver plan available on a given exchange. Premiums for Bronze, Gold and Platinum plans have also gone up, but not so much. But because the premium subsidies are calculated based on that benchmark plan, this has the odd side-effect of making the other plans more attractive, at least to folks who are eligible for a subsidy. For many of the subsidy-eligible, the cost of a Gold plan, which covers 80 percent of expected health-care expenses, may actually be cheaper this year than it was last year, not because the cost of the plan fell, but because the subsidies rose so much. And many young and healthy people will be able to get a Bronze plan, which covers 60 percent of "actuarial value," for practically peanuts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:44 PM


Dems in the driver's seat on DACA (Jonathan Swan, 11/12/17, Axios)

[B]ased on conversations with White House sources, top Hill aides from both parties, and immigration-restrictionist power-brokers, we have concluded that, at the moment, progressive Democrats hold a superior negotiating position to immigration hardliner Republicans.

This is because, on the DACA issue, President Trump has already blinked. Both publicly -- in a Sep. 5 tweet, when he hinted he may reinstate DACA unilaterally if Congress can't save it -- and privately, the president has indicated he doesn't have the stomach to let DACA die.

One conservative member of Congress, who has discussed DACA with the president, told me Trump made very clear to him he was prepared to keep the protections in place beyond March -- when the program is currently set to expire -- if Congress does nothing.

Roy Beck, an influential immigration hawk who runs NumbersUSA, said Trump's nominee for DHS Secretary, Kirstjen Nielsen, further reduced the administration's leverage last week when she assuredin her confirmation hearing she would protect DACA recipients. "This doesn't strike me as being from the art of negotiations book, does it?" Beck told me.

Stephen Miller, one of the White House's only immigration hardliners, is telling conservative activists that Trump will back legislation giving current DACA recipients legal status -- aka amnesty -- in exchange for legislation ending chain, or family, migration. And Miller doesn't want the must-pass December spending bill to include a DACA fix.

That appears to be a non-starter. Top Democratic Senate aides have told me they think it's hilarious that Miller thinks he can get this deal, and that chain migration isn't going anywhere.

Grow the chains longer.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Breitbart aims to discredit Roy Moore's accusers (Jonathan Swan, 11/12/17, Axios)

Steve Bannon has sent two of Breitbart News' top reporters, Matt Boyle and Aaron Klein, to Alabama. Their mission: to discredit the Washington Post's reporting on Roy Moore's alleged sexual misconduct with teenagers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM


How Trump Is Using Bush-Era Laws to Deport Christians : The plight of Indonesian Christians living in New Hampshire and New Jersey reveals the deep roots of the current immigration regime. (KRITHIKA VARAGUR, November 10, 2017, New Republic)

These deportees, whose names have been changed to protect their identities, didn't realize it, but they were all walking targets for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. And not just in the months that Donald Trump has been president, but for nearly 15 years. In 2003, dozens of undocumented Indonesians registered for a post-9/11 program that could qualify as a "Muslim registry" of sorts. That program, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, or NSEERS, was a database of adult male "noncitizens" from 25 countries, all Muslim-majority except North Korea, designed to monitor potential terrorists. The 83,000 entries, ironically, included a number of Christians, like David and John, who came from the world's largest Muslim-majority country.

Six men from New Jersey were suddenly deported this year, while 47 in New Hampshire have been given orders to leave. They had all been living quietly in the United States for decades before being apprehended by an ICE that has been emboldened by the Trump administration. The New Jersey men were forced to board planes back to Indonesia, while those in New Hampshire have been granted a temporary stay of removal while a judge considers a lawsuit on their behalf. But the outlook is dim.

Indonesian Christians came to America in the 1990s partly because of flaring religious tensions as the Suharto regime collapsed in 1998. Today there's another wave of religious intolerance in Indonesia, which crested last spring when Jakarta's Chinese Christian governor was jailed for blasphemy, and continues to this day in a steady drip of anti-Christian actions.

Another grim irony of the deportations is that the Indonesian men in Central Jersey voluntarily registered themselves for NSEERS, under the encouragement of Kaper-Dale. They reasoned that doing so might improve their candidacy for legal status in the eyes of law enforcement if their asylum cases were ever reopened. "At the time, we thought honesty was the best policy. It turned out to be the very worst policy," said Kaper-Dale. "If I could go back I'd say no way, don't even register--that if there's any government program for immigrants, just assume it's something evil."

The deep roots of NSEERS show how the seemingly unprecedented immigration turmoil of the Trump era--which has been roundly condemned for being "not normal"--is, in fact, deeply precedented. The patchwork nature of immigration regulations means that any individual's legal status is subject to the whims of local, state, and federal authorities.

"The Indonesian community is an interesting case, as these are people originally identified by NSEERS who are now targeted for deportation precisely because of the fact that they have prior removal orders," said Shoba Wadhia, an immigration law professor at Pennsylvania State University. "It's fair to say there are parallels between some of the immigration policies developed after 9/11 and those of the present administration."

The New Jersey Indonesians' trials started long before Trump. They had a major scare in 2009, when 41 men received deportation orders based on their NSEERS registration. Kaper-Dale brokered a unique agreement with local immigration officials whereby 72 undocumented Indonesian men could remain in their homes if they checked in with ICE every month.

It was a tenuous agreement from the start. In 2011, a change of leadership in state ICE led to more deportation orders for those same men, leading five of them to seek sanctuary in Kaper-Dale's church. David, the man who was deported in May, said of that period, "Frankly, I almost gave up. It was very hard to live in the sanctuary for eight months as I had a family that depended on me to pay rent, take my kid to school, and so forth." They were eventually allowed to return to their families as long as they wore ankle monitors with GPS tracking.

After the 2016 election, the fragile set-up really started to disintegrate, starting with Trump voiding special ICE arrangements.

There's no mystery here. Donald is not a Christian.  He is a racist.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Trump, Clinton camps both offered slice of dossier firm's work: sources (Mark Hosenball, 11/09/17, Reuters)

The White House and Republican lawmakers have attacked the firm, Fusion GPS, over the dossier compiled by a former British spy that is central to investigations in Congress and by a special counsel into conclusions by U.S. spy agencies that Moscow interfered in the 2016 presidential election and wanted to help Trump win.

The sources told Reuters that the negative information that Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya wanted to give to Republican Trump's campaign at a June 2016 meeting in New York had been dug up by Fusion GPS in an unrelated investigation.

Like lobbyists, they'll investigate anyone you hire them to.  Because they're so good at it everyone wants to hire them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Bob Mueller Seems to Be Closing in on Mike Flynn -- and the Indictments Could Be Explosive (Cristian Farias, 11/11/17, New York)

The White House was reportedly relieved when Robert Mueller, the special counsel probing Russian interference in last year's presidential election, didn't announce federal charges against Michael Flynn, Donald Trump's former national-security adviser and the shortest-lived holder of that office. Instead, Mueller made his first public splash by indicting Paul Manafort and his aide Rick Gates and cutting a plea deal with foreign-policy adviser George Papadopoulos -- all for conduct during or predating the campaign.

But a new report in today's Wall Street Journal should rock the Trump administration, if not the president himself, because it deals with postelection conduct that may have continued even after the inauguration. Mueller is said to be investigating whether Flynn and his son were scheming with the government of Turkey to essentially kidnap Fethullah Gulen, a cleric living in Pennsylvania who has long been a thorn in the side of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The purported plot, if carried out, would've netted the Flynns up to $15 million. [...]

[T]he stakes for Trump are even higher. As much as the president likes to claim that the special counsel's work is a ruse and that he's not personally implicated in the fact-finding mission, it was this prong of the probe -- not Manafort's, not his son's meeting in Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected lawyer -- that so worried him so as to instruct James Comey to drop it. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go," the fired FBI director recalled Trump saying during his explosive Senate testimony. When Comey didn't do as told, Trump fired him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Superconducting quantum computer achieves ten-qubit entanglement (Physics World, Nov 10, 2017)

Physicists in China and the US have built a ten-qubit superconducting quantum processor that could be scaled up to tackle problems not solvable by classical computers. The performance of the device was verified using quantum tomography, which showed that the new approach can generate a true ten-partite Greenberger-Horne-Zeilinger (GHZ) state - the largest yet achieved in a solid-state system.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 PM


Former Salafist cleric stuns Morocco with calls for gender equality (Ilhem Rachidi, November 6, 2017, Al Monitor)

For years, Mohamed Abdelwahab al-Rafiqi, also known as Abu Hafs, was a hardcore Salafist defending a strict application of Sharia and jihadist ideas. But after spending nine years in jail for inciting terrorism, his discourse has changed dramatically. Since his release in 2012, he has spoken out in defense of individual liberties and on taboo topics in Moroccan society such as freedom of conscience and the decriminalization of homosexuality.

More recently, Abu Hafs outraged conservatives by addressing an extremely sensitive subject that many political and religious actors refuse to even discuss in the kingdom and throughout the Muslim world: equality in inheritance rights between men and women. Under current Moroccan law, a female inheritor is entitled to half of what her male counterpart gets.

"I think it is time to launch this dialogue because there is a great deal of injustice against women on this issue," Abu Hafs told Al-Monitor. "Moroccan society has witnessed great social and economic developments. The law must be adapted to these changes."

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 PM


Jerry Brown, President of the Independent Republic of California (DAVID SIDERS November 11, 2017, Politico)

The morning after the election, the leaders of the state Senate and assembly issued a joint statement in which they said they "woke up feeling like strangers in a foreign land." Brown had joked before the election that if Trump were to become president, "We'd have to build a wall around California to defend ourselves from the rest of this country."

Now, the state Legislature and a large share of Brown's constituents expected him to hoist it up--to assert California's sovereignty in the Trump state. As Trump started dismantling his predecessor's climate policies, Brown helped organize an alliance of 14 states and the island of Puerto Rico, pledging to meet their share of the U.S. commitment to the Paris climate accord. He redoubled his efforts outside of the United States, expanding on a joint project with the German state of Baden-Württemberg: recruiting nearly 200 mostly subnational governments to sign a nonbinding pact to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius, the threshold beyond which many scientists predict environmental catastrophe. On top of that, Brown negotiated legislation extending California's signature cap-and-trade program for an additional 10 years, then signed an agreement with leaders of Ontario and Quebec to integrate their cap-and-trade systems with California's.

Trump's election shook Brown and his home state in other ways, too: California relied on billions of dollars in federal health care funding that Trump threatened to undo, and the president's hard line on immigration sowed fear among California's large population of undocumented immigrants. When the Trump administration started conducting immigration sweeps in Los Angeles, protesters strung "No I.C.E" signs from freeway overpasses, and Brown--who had signed legislation granting undocumented immigrants driver's licenses and access to college financial aid--negotiated state legislation curbing local law enforcement officials' ability to cooperate with federal immigration agents.

By this fall, California's feuding with Washington had grown so routine that it barely registered as news when, during the span of seven hours one day last month, state Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced four separate lawsuits against the Trump administration on issues ranging from health care and education to immigration and oil extraction on public and tribal lands.

Before Trump's election, Brown existed largely at the margins outside California. When he returned to office in 2011, a fellow Democrat held the White House, and no one had to look West for an expression of leftist causes. In that context, Brown presented as a moderate, taking criticism from environmentalists for his permissiveness of hydraulic fracturing, while others dismissed as insignificant the nonbinding climate agreements he pursued.

But then Trump, less than a month in office, told a national TV audience, "California is in many ways out of control." Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, addressing California Republicans shortly after Brown signed legislation expanding protections for undocumented immigrants, said that if California kept this up, it would eventually "try to secede from the union." The governor factored so heavily in the specter of a civil war that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, himself a Californian, slipped in a speech last month in which he rebuked one "President Brown."

The nation's most populous state was cleaving from Washington, and Brown was its marshaling force.

"Trump is leaving many vacuums, and I think Jerry Brown has long imagined himself as a kind of global player," says Orville Schell, who wrote a biography of Brown in 1978 and remains in contact with him. "He does see California, as the sixth-largest economy of the world, as capable of playing more of a nation-state-like role."

The question is whether California is only one nation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 PM


Take Heed, GOP: Voters Like Medicaid (Paul Waldman, 11/12/17,  The Washington Post)

If you're looking for a microcosm of the national picture on what has become one of the most important functions the government serves, you couldn't do much better. The public wants Medicaid, but Republicans hate it and will do everything they can to undermine it.

Both sides of that coin have never been more apparent than they are now. Just Tuesday, Seema Verma, the Trump administration official who oversees Medicare and Medicaid, announced that the administration will now encourage states to adopt work requirements for the program, even though most Medicaid recipients already come from households where someone is employed.

The real point of this is to make recipients jump through more hoops and reduce the number of people on the program. In fact, the Trump administration is explicitly rejecting the idea that the purpose of Medicaid is to make sure people have health insurance. In Verma's speech, she said she wants to get people off Medicaid. "The thought that a program designed for our most vulnerable citizens should be used as a vehicle to serve working age, able-bodied adults does not make sense," she said. Allowing states more flexibility to kick people off the program will enhance "the dignity and respect of high expectations."

That's the GOP position, and Republicans do have reason to be worried about it. They've been alarmed by Medicaid's growth in recent years, since the program (along with the Children's Health Insurance Program, which is essentially a Medicaid subsidiary) now provides insurance to more than 74 million Americans. Since many Republicans would literally rather see someone have no insurance than get health coverage from the government, they find that to be an abomination.

Yet the public does not share these views. Polls show that Medicaid is spectacularly popular, even with Republican voters. In Kaiser Family Foundation polls, 74 percent of Americans have a favorable view of the program (including 61 percent of Republicans) and 87 percent want its funding increased or kept the same (including 76 percent of Republicans). In states that refused the expansion of Medicaid, 73 percent have a favorable view of the program. It was the fact that their bills would have slashed Medicaid as much as any other factor that led to their demise.

That brings us to the implications of the Maine vote for the future. Even though Republican officials in 19 states refused the expansion -- in which the federal government would pay for almost all the cost of insuring their poor citizens -- voters in those states don't seem to agree with the choice their representatives made. Which means that if activists can put measures on the ballots in those states to accept the expansion, they may succeed not only in changing the policy but also in shaping the debate and getting more Democratic-friendly voters to the polls.

Just because every electorate in a developed democracy considers health care a right does not mean the GOP can't craft a conservative universal health care system. It does mean that failure to do so will give us National Health.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Brennan: Trump 'Intimidated' by Putin, 'Fear' Driving His Behavior Toward Russians (David Rutz, November 12, 2017, Free Beacon)

"I think Mr. Putin is very clever in terms of playing to Mr. Trump's interest in being flattered, and also I think Mr. Trump is, for whatever reason, intimidated by Mr. Putin, afraid of what he could do or what might come out as a result of these investigations," Brennan said. "So it's very worrisome, and I think it sends a worrisome, very disturbing signal to our allies and partners who are concerned about Russian interference in their democratic processes, as well. So it's either naiveté, ignorance or fear, in terms of what Mr. Trump is doing vis-a-vis the Russians."

Tapper asked Brennan if he wondered if rumors that the Russians had "compromising material" about Trump were relevant, given his ambiguity about Putin.

"Well, I don't know if Mr. Trump is considering that," Brennan said. "I just know that he has been very determined to try to delegitimize any effort to come up with the truth in terms of this investigation. His attacks on the intelligence community, on the assessment, the attacks on the media, this is an effort to, again, try to undermine those quarters that could pose a serious threat to him."

"Also, I think it shows the insecurity that he still feels about the election, and how Russian interference may have contributed, in fact, to that election. So I think there's a combination of factors that are motivating the president at this time," he added.

Brennan also called Trump's language regarding the election interference "puzzling."

"It's very clear that the Russians interfered in the election, and it's still puzzling as to why Mr. Trump does not acknowledge that and embrace it, and also push back hard against Mr. Putin. The Russian threat to our democracy and our democratic foundations is real," Brennan said. [...]

Brennan also had sharp words for the "political hacks" attack by Trump.

"I found it particularly reprehensible that on Veterans Day that Donald Trump would attack and impugn the integrity and the character of Jim Clapper, who served in uniform for 35 years, who responded to the call of his country to go to Vietnam," Brennan said. "To impugn the character of somebody like Jim Clapper on Veterans Day, who has dedicated so much of his life to this country, I just find that outrageous, and I think it's something Mr. Trump should be ashamed of, but it doesn't seem as though anything he does he feels any shame whatsoever."

It is only fair that we anti-Donald types accept the possibility that he is genuinely anti-American and pro-Putin, like many of the alt-right..

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Companies Are Making Bigger Profits Than Expected (Stan Choe, 11/12/17, AP)

Corporate profits keep chugging along.

Companies have lined up in recent weeks to tell investors that they earned more during the summer than Wall Street had forecast, and the big numbers offer some reassurance for the market's skeptics.

Stock prices tend to track corporate profits over the long term, so the better-than-expected growth helps to validate the stock market's record-setting run, at least somewhat. Still, this earnings season also includes some signs the eight-plus-year rally is nearer the finish than the start.

Coming into this earnings reporting season, many analysts were forecasting a dud. Insurers forced to make big payout for hurricane damage would drag earnings sharply lower for the financial sector. Lower commodity prices would pull down profits for raw-material producers.

Just ahead of earnings season, analysts were penciling in only 3.2 percent growth in earnings per share for companies in the S&P 500. Those same companies produced a robust 11 percent growth in earnings per share in the spring.

Posted by orrinj at 5:55 PM


Hariri 'held for refusing to confront Hezbollah' (Al Jazeera, 11/11/17)

From the moment his plane touched down in Saudi Arabia on Friday, November 3, Saad Hariri was in for a surprise.

There was no line-up of Saudi princes or ministry officials, as would typically greet a prime minister on an official visit to King Salman, senior sources close to Hariri and top Lebanese political and security officials said. His phone was confiscated, and the next day he was forced to resign as prime minister in a statement broadcast by a Saudi-owned TV channel. [...]

Sources close to Hariri say Saudi Arabia has concluded that the prime minister - a long-time Saudi ally and son of late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, who was assassinated in 2005 - had to go because he was unwilling to confront Hezbollah.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 PM


Medicaid Expansion Takes A Bite Out Of Medical Debt (ALEX SMITH, 11/10/17, NPR)

Researchers Aaron Sojourner and Ezra Golbertstein of the University of Minnesota studied financial data from 2012 to 2015 for people who would be eligible for Medicaid where it was expanded.

They found that in states that didn't expand, the percentage of low-income, nonelderly adults with unpaid medical bills dropped from 47 to 40 percent within three years.

"The economy improved and maybe other components of the ACA contributed to a 7 percentage point reduction," Sojourner says. "Where they did expand Medicaid, it fell by almost twice as much."

Those states saw an average drop of 13 percentage points, from 43 to 30 percent.

In Kansas, the rate of medical debt for nonelderly adults fell by 4 percentage points to 27 percent. In Missouri, the rate dropped 4 points to 31 percent, according to the Urban Institute. In Maine, it dropped only 1.4 percentage points between 2012 and 2015.

Medicaid, as opposed to private insurance, is the key, says The Urban Institute's Kyle Caswell, because it requires little out-of-pocket costs.

Even if Medicaid patients need lots of care, there aren't on the hook for big out-of-pocket costs in the same way someone with private insurance might be.

"We would certainly expect that their risk to out-of-pocket expenses to be much lower, and ultimately the risk of unpaid bills to ultimately be also lower," Caswell says.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 PM


Trump's Mar-a-Lago looking for foreign workers after bosses say there are not enough qualified Americans  (Rozina Sabur, 10 NOVEMBER 2017, The Telegraph)

Donald Trump's upscale Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida is looking to hire 70 foreign workers after its managers said there are not enough Americans qualified and willing to fill the jobs.

November 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:49 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Israel says downed Syrian spy drone over Golan Heights (Maayan Lubell, 11/11/17, Reuters) 

Israel shot down a Syrian spy drone over the Golan Heights on Saturday, the Israeli military said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Right as it joined the Trump campaign, this data firm reportedly contacted WikiLeaks . (THe Week, November 10, 2017

Cambridge Analytica reached out to WikiLeaks' Julian Assange about Hillary Clinton's leaked emails in early June 2016, as the company was in contract talks with the Trump campaign, The Wall Street Journal reports. In July 2016, WikiLeaks began posting thousands of Clinton- and DNC-related emails.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Roy Moore says he never dated young girls without their mother's permission (The Week, 11/11/17)

Moore, however, didn't deny that he dated teenagers when he was in his 30s, instead saying, "I don't remember dating any girl without the permission of her mother."

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM


Robert Mueller is reportedly digging into a meeting between Michael Flynn and a notoriously pro-Russia congressman (Kelly O'Meara Morales, 11/11/17,  Week)

For his part, Rohrabacher has long been viewed as a friend of Russia. In 2012, the FBI reportedly warned Rohrabacher that Russian spies were actively trying to recruit him. And in May, The Washington Post published audio of a conversation in which House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) told Republican lawmakers, "There's two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM


Putin: restriction on Russian media is attack on free speech (Denis Pinchuk, 11/11/17, REuters)

On Friday, the pro-Kremlin speaker of the lower house of Russia's parliament, Vyacheslav Volodin, said legislation could be introduced next week designating U.S. and some other foreign media operating in Russia as foreign agents.

..that a free media is anti-Russian.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


How to win like (Bill) Clinton (Rahm Emanuel and Bruce Reed, November 8, 2017, Washington Post)

Show Americans what you're for. Clinton understood that ideas are the most underrated weapon in politics and the best chance a party has to change minds. He ran the wonkiest campaign in memory and made real solutions to real problems -- sending young people to college in return for national service, rewarding work with the earned-income tax credit, steering capital to poor neighborhoods through community development banks -- the test for his opponents. Attacking "the brain-dead politics of both parties," he declared: "Americans know what we're against. Let's show them what we're for."

A quarter-century later, President Trump seems to be against everyone and everything. Republicans need to remember that whatever Americans may feel about how many National Football League players take a knee, they care far more whether their children can afford college or their employer will give them a raise.

In the Trump era of fake policy and fun-house mirrors, Democrats must be more focused than ever on real answers. Opposition parties talk about problems. A majority party has to make clear how it will solve them.

Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, George W. Bush, John Key, David Cameron, Barack Obama etc. all won the same way, by running on the Third Way--which focuses on using capitalist means to fund social welfare ends--and there is a wide opening there right now.  Here are a few policies they could make the center of a platform:

(1) Immigration reform--to allow the free movement of peoples subject to screening at borders

(2) Global free trade liberalization

(3) Universal health care based on HSAs

(4) Personal social security accounts

(5) Universal education savings accounts, government-funded from birth to 18

(6) Ending the taxation of income, profits, investment and savings

Of course, the key to the whole agenda is that Republicans can run on it and win too.

Posted by orrinj at 4:34 AM

IT'S A PURITAN NATION (profanity alert):

Bob Dylan and his vengeful, conservative God : The surprising thing about Dylan's evangelical Christian period? It isn't all bad. (YO ZUSHI, 11/09/17, New Statesman)

By the time he released Slow Train Coming (1979), his first album consisting of only devotional music, Christianity had become not just source material for Dylan but his monomaniacal focus. Jesus had once been invoked in his lyrics as a kind of cultural shorthand alongside Shakespeare, Achilles, Mr Clean, Aretha Franklin and TS Eliot - as one mythological character among a cast of many - but now he was "the way, the truth and the life". And the singer's Messiah wasn't the God of love, but an archly conservative God of vengeance.

Dylan the convert derided abortion and casually referred to San Francisco as "a dwelling place for homosexuals". He wrote nasty lyrics about Arabs "walkin' around like kings/Wearing fancy jewels and nose rings", and launched into lengthy, hectoring speeches at live performances in which he welcomed what he saw as the coming annihilation of mankind. "Don't be dismayed by what you read in the newspapers, about what's happening to the world," he said at a show in Tempe, Arizona. "The world as we know it is being destroyed... There's gonna be a war... called the War of Armageddon. It's gonna happen in the Middle East. Russia will come down and attack first. You watch for that sign." [...]

As in 1965, when he "went electric" and alienated folkies with his new rock combo, there were reports of walkouts and widespread heckling at his Christian concerts. Dylan, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature last year, has long claimed to be a mere "song-and-dance man". Yet what first distinguished him from his peers were his words and the way he phrased them at the microphone. Now, in his worst gospel songs, he offered only a single message delivered in a series of uniformly shrill yelps: repent and convert, or else.

The problem, I think, was less his personal religious views than the narrowness of his new lyrical concerns. In much of his best work, he is thrillingly imprecise. In the late-1990s song "Red River Shore" (which for my money is the greatest thing he has ever written), he moves effortlessly from wishing he "could have spent every day of my life" with a lost love to a story of "a guy" who could raise the dead - Jesus again - with little need for explanation. What holds it all together is his committed vocal, the beauty of the music and the sense that beyond the song exists a larger world that we can only imagine.

Meanwhile, in the gospel-era "Do Right to Me Baby" we are instructed, "Do unto others like you have them... do unto you," over five verses that add little of any substance to the title. The poetry often died when the preaching began.

But Dylan was not to be deterred. Month after month he travelled across America and then across Europe with his Christian revue, which began with a backstage prayer meeting for the band, followed by a mini-set of hymns performed by the female backing singers. Then Dylan would take to the stage and present one Bible basher after another, ignoring his better-known and better-loved earlier material. Attempting to convert his entire audience, he interspersed the music with speeches that often sounded like the threats of a warlord or the witchfinder general: "Every knee shall bow, every tongue will confess!" When the response was hostile, he blamed it on the Devil, whom he claimed was "working all kinds of mischief in the crowds we visit". [...]

And that's the surprising thing about Dylan's evangelical Christian period: it isn't all bad. Some of it - the Blakean "Every Grain of Sand", the stirring hymns "Pressing On" and "Saving Grace", the powerful confessional "When He Returns" - is among the most deeply felt and affecting recordings of his career. Sifting through the new retrospective album Trouble No More, which covers the years 1979 to 1981, I found startlingly good live performances of songs such as "What Can I Do for You?", as well as previously unreleased gems such as "Ain't No Man Righteous, No Not One".

Clinton Heylin's new book, Trouble in Mind, documents the tours and recording sessions with an obsessive detail that, at the very least, encourages the reader to come at it all afresh. Heylin claims that the gospel period "more than matches any commensurate era in [Dylan's] long and distinguished career", which is plainly a factual error. But his interrogation of what it was all for is, to fans like me, highly illuminating.

Despite being an atheist, I've always had a weird fondness for gospel-era Bob, even in his most disappointingly dogmatic moments. Just as I don't have to condone senseless murder to love Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" ("I shot a man in Reno just to watch him die"), I feel no compulsion to agree with anything Dylan has to say about God in order to be moved by his songs of praise and mean-spirited condemnation. But when, in "Saving Grace", he sings, "There's only one road and it leads to Calvary," his voice straining and the organ exploding in ecstatic joy, I am almost converted. Almost. In a 1997 Newsweek interview, a less aggressively spiritual Dylan said: "I find the religiosity and philosophy in the music... The songs are my lexicon. I believe in the songs." I suppose I believe in them, too.

November 10, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM



A PLAN FOR the United Arab Emirates to wage financial war against its Gulf rival Qatar was found in the task folder of an email account belonging to UAE Ambassador to the United States Yousef al-Otaiba and subsequently obtained by The Intercept.

The economic warfare involved an attack on Qatar's currency using bond and derivatives manipulation. The plan, laid out in a slide deck provided to The Intercept through the group Global Leaks, was aimed at tanking Qatar's economy, according to documents drawn up by a bank outlining the strategy.

The outline, prepared by Banque Havilland, a private Luxembourg-based bank owned by the family of controversial British financier David Rowland, laid out a scheme to drive down the value of Qatar's bonds and increase the cost of insuring them, with the ultimate goal of creating a currency crisis that would drain the country's cash reserves. [...]

THE NEW PROJECT comes amid -- and, if implemented, would escalate -- a regional crisis that reached new heights in June, when the UAE and Saudi Arabia led a bloc of Gulf nations in blockading and cutting off diplomatic relations with Qatar. U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently faulted the blockading countries for intransigence, but President Donald Trump has largely taken the opposite approach, emboldening Saudi Arabia and the Emirates at the expense of Qatar, which is home to one of the largest overseas U.S. military bases in the world.

Posted by orrinj at 8:22 AM

TRADE IS DIFFERENT (self-reference alert):

The Trouble With Globalization : Undermined by the false narratives that have destabilized it, globalization is at risk. (Dani Rodrik , October 20, 2017, Milken Review)

Electorates around the world were told not only that globalization was inevitable, but also that it necessarily took the particular form they were witnessing. The nation-state, it was said, was the enemy of globalization, and therefore had to get out of the way. Globalization required ever-stronger global rules mandated by trade agreements, multilateral organizations and international networks of regulators. But not to worry: it would promote economic progress and political harmony, even if not for everyone right away.

None of this was quite true. There is nothing inevitable about advancing economic integration, nor about the route that globalization takes if it does move forward. And contrary to conventional wisdom, nation-states are absolutely essential to globalization because they provide the public services ranging from law enforcement to macroeconomic stabilization that are needed for open markets to thrive. By the same token, global governance is largely superfluous: proper trade, financial, monetary and regulatory policies required to sustain an open world economy do not require much coordination when governments do their jobs well.

One of the central arguments of Redefining Sovereignty was that while conservatives are perfectly right to be hostile to transnational political institutions, economics requires yielding some sovereignty where trade between nations is concerned.  

Posted by orrinj at 8:17 AM


Jumpin' Joe (Robert Silverman, Victory Journal)

In December 1974, while playing for the ABA's Spirits of St. Louis, Caldwell was placed on indefinite suspension. According to the Spirits, he'd convinced star rookie Marvin "Bad News" Barnes to jump the team, an allegation Caldwell has always denied. For this, Caldwell says he was placed on a reserve list by the Spirits, sending him into basketball limbo. He then spent decades in courtrooms trying to prove that the ABA and his old team had conspired to keep him from playing pro basketball. The question of whether he was blackballed--and if the ABA violated U.S. antitrust laws--was litigated for over twenty years. It was finally decided in 1996, when the U.S. Supreme Court dismissed the case.

"They made this one lie stand and it destroyed my career, my finances," he says.

It was far from Caldwell's only legal battle. He also spent nine years fighting Tedd Munchak, the one-time owner of the Carolina Cougars, who sued Caldwell in 1973 to avoid fulfilling the terms of a contract that would have paid Caldwell $6,600 per month pension--$600 for every season of his career--starting at age 55. According to Munchak, there was a typo in the deal and his intent actually was to pay Caldwell only $60 a month. He also spent an additional seven years enmeshed in a legal battle trying to recoup the $220,000 in salary the Spirits should have paid him, but had withheld, thanks to the 1974 suspension. And for an additional 14 years, he fought to extricate himself from a court-ordered bankruptcy that snatched away that last payment from the Spirits once he'd won it back.

Caldwell has a raconteur's ease, punctuated with a remarkable ability to recall specific dates and details. While he rarely waxes nostalgic about the games themselves, he'll recite chapter and verse about his post-basketball legal battles. He has kept all of the paperwork from the years winding through the legal system in his home outside Tempe. He originally bought the property for his mother but has lived there since 1978. Over the years, various members of his family have resided there too, including Caldwell's grandson and soon-to-be Duke freshman Marvin Bagley III, expected to be a top-3 pick in the 2018 NBA draft. 

Boxes filled to the brim with old and yellowing documents, all the contracts and supporting evidence, sit in Caldwell's bedroom. A letter sent by ESPN apologizing for its depiction of him in the 30 for 30 documentary High Spirits is framed and hung on on his wall with pride, as if the act of maintaining and cataloguing this personal legal library is a justification in and of itself.

But his stacks of files are important signifiers of another basketball era, when labor could be crushed by management, owners could casually sling racist epithets, and it was unclear if professional basketball would ever prove to be anything more than a fringe sport. And yet, on the court, "Pogo Joe" or "Jumpin' Joe,"--a long-limbed, athletic, defensive stopper--was the furthest thing from an anachronism. According to Curtis Harris, a doctoral student at American University focusing on basketball history, Caldwell is as good an avatar as you'll find of an athlete whose game foreshadowed the present.

"The way he jumped, the way he attacked, both on offense and defense," Harris explains, "You look at the court back then, like 1966, at a game with Joe Caldwell, after 30 seconds, you'd say, 'Yeah, Joe Caldwell's not just a guy that's not just existing out there; he's out there progressing what's going to happen in basketball.'"

His peers certainly agree. Walt Frazier cackles with joy when asked about Caldwell's game.

"Jumping Joe, Pogo Joe," he says, his high-wattage grin practically bursting through the phone, "This guy was a phenomenal leaper. He could run. He was like Westbrook on the court, man. Very athletic. From the half court, [he would] maybe take one dribble, go down, and dunk the ball ... His stupendous dunk shots, that was his trash talking symbol." Frazier likens that pose to the iconic silhouette of Michael Jordan, "Cause he would go up with one hand, just float through the air. Man, just a ferocious type of dunk."

Bob Costas, who served as play-by-play man for the Spirits at the ripe old age of 22, only got to see Caldwell play for a month, but he raves about his abilities.

"He could use his strength for positioning and he had leaping ability on top of it," Costas says. "He played bigger than 6-4, 6-5 the same way Charles Barkley did," a comparison that Caldwell echoed in a 1993 interview with The New York Times' Richard Sandomir, saying he played small forward like "Charles Barkley without the extra weight.

Costas recalls a game between the Spirits of St. Louis and Utah Stars in 1974 in which Caldwell faced off against 19-year-old Moses Malone. Caldwell shut Malone down, holding him to a four-point outing despite Moses' six-inch height advantage.

Harris says that Kawhi Leonard is the current player Caldwell reminds him of the most, even if Caldwell lacks Leonard's shooting and ball-handling skills. Caldwell rejected that idea outright. "If my hands were like [Leonard's] ... Man, I hate to think," he says, practically giggling at the thought. "I used to ask God all the time, 'God, why do you not give me long fingers?' And I'd hear a voice inside of my head say, 'Well, I can't give you everything.'"

If Caldwell's game has aged well, the series of events that prematurely ended his career have all but been forgotten. They shouldn't be. He not only fought for his own contractual rights; he worked tirelessly against the pending ABA-NBA merger, serving as a plaintiff in Oscar Robertson's class-action antitrust lawsuit that forced the NBA grant players the right to free agency. You can draw a straight line across time from his actions (and that of all the NBA's early labor pioneers) and the political and cultural agency wielded by the likes of LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.

Caldwell's story is one about a financially-strapped league trying to claw back a chunk of cash, or as Caldwell tells it, "They were trying to flim-flam me out of my money." But Caldwell's labor efforts were why a target had been placed on his back to begin with. Because he wanted players to be guaranteed a livable pension after their careers were over; because he wasn't willing to remain silent when allegations of rigged games arose; and because wouldn't continue play for an owner who threw around racial slurs, he was labeled a "troublemaker" and "clubhouse lawyer." He had to be punished, lest others follow his lead.

Because of that, Caldwell says, "They destroyed everything."

Posted by orrinj at 6:11 AM

PRO-ROBOT IS PRO-LIFE (profanity alert):

Las Vegas' self driving bus only needed 2 hours to prove human drivers suck (Matthew Hughes, 11/09/17, Next Web)

It's been a mixed week for self-driving vehicles, after an autonomous bus in Los Vegas collided with a truck just two hours after it hit the streets.

The vehicle didn't crash due to a software error. Rather, it was rear-ended by a human-driven truck. Fortunately the damage wasn't too severe, with a city official describing it as a "fender bender." There are no reports of any injuries or fatalities as a result of the crash, and the truck driver was lucky enough to walk away with a ticket. [...]

Ironically, the incident has served to highlight one of the best arguments in favor of self-driving cars: they're safe. Unlike humans, they don't get tired or get distracted. Autonomous busses can't impair their abilities by drinking alcohol or taking drugs. And overall, they're unbelievably cautious, and are hard-coded to drive within a set of parameters designed to ensure the safety of all passengers, and others on the road.

This tech can't come soon enough. In 2016, 37,461 people died in car accidents, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). 

Many on the right can only cast themselves as pro-life by considering abortion in isolation from the rest of human existence.

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


The Illusionist : Daniel Dennett's latest book marks five decades of majestic failure to explain consciousness. (David Bentley Hart, Summer 2017, New Atlantis)

It seems to me that we have come this way before. Some of the signposts are new, perhaps -- "Bacteria," "Bach," and so on -- but the scenery looks very familiar, if now somewhat overgrown, and it is hard not to feel that the path is the same one that Daniel Dennett has been treading for five decades. I suppose it would be foolish to expect anything else. As often as not, it is the questions we fail to ask -- and so the presuppositions we leave intact -- that determine the courses our arguments take; and Dennett has been studiously avoiding the same set of questions for most of his career.

In a sense, the entire logic of From Bacteria to Bach and Back (though not, of course, all the repetitious details) could be predicted simply from Dennett's implicit admission on page 364 that no philosopher of mind before Descartes is of any consequence to his thinking. The whole pre-modern tradition of speculation on the matter -- Aristotle, Plotinus, the Schoolmen, Ficino, and so on -- scarcely qualifies as prologue. And this means that, no matter how many times he sets out, all his journeys can traverse only the same small stretch of intellectual territory. [...]

In the pre-modern vision of things, the cosmos had been seen as an inherently purposive structure of diverse but integrally inseparable rational relations -- for instance, the Aristotelian aitia, which are conventionally translated as "causes," but which are nothing like the uniform material "causes" of the mechanistic philosophy. And so the natural order was seen as a reality already akin to intellect. Hence the mind, rather than an anomalous tenant of an alien universe, was instead the most concentrated and luminous expression of nature's deepest essence. This is why it could pass with such wanton liberty through the "veil of Isis" and ever deeper into nature's inner mysteries.

The Cartesian picture, by contrast, was a chimera, an ungainly and extrinsic alliance of antinomies. And reason abhors a dualism. Moreover, the sciences in their modern form aspire to universal explanation, ideally by way of the most comprehensive and parsimonious principles possible. So it was inevitable that what began as an imperfect method for studying concrete particulars would soon metastasize into a metaphysics of the whole of reality. The manifest image was soon demoted to sheer illusion, and the mind that perceived it to an emergent product of the real (which is to say, mindless) causal order.

Here, in this phantom space between the phenomenal and physical worlds, is just where the most interesting questions should probably be raised. But Dennett has no use for those. He is content with the stark choice with which the modern picture confronts us: to adopt either a Cartesian dualism or a thoroughgoing mechanistic monism. And this is rather a pity, since in fact both options are equally absurd.

Not that this is very surprising. After five decades, it would be astonishing if Dennett were to change direction now. But, by the same token, his project should over that time have acquired not only more complexity, but greater sophistication. And yet it has not. For instance, he still thinks it a solvent critique of Cartesianism to say that interactions between bodies and minds would violate the laws of physics. Apart from involving a particularly doctrinaire view of the causal closure of the physical (the positively Laplacian fantasy that all physical events constitute an inviolable continuum of purely physical causes), this argument clumsily assumes that such an interaction would constitute simply another mechanical exchange of energy in addition to material forces.

In the end, Dennett's approach has remained largely fixed. Rather than a sequence of careful logical arguments, his method remains, as ever, essentially fabulous: That is, he constructs a grand speculative narrative, comprising a disturbing number of sheer assertions, and an even more disturbing number of missing transitions between episodes. It is often quite a beguiling tale, but its power of persuasion lies in its sprawling relentlessness rather than its cogency. [...]

Admittedly, part of the problem bedeviling Dennett's narrative is the difficulty of making a case that seems so hard to reconcile with quotidian experience. But that difficulty is only exacerbated by his fierce adherence to an early modern style of materialism, according to whose tenets there can be no aspect of nature not reducible to blind physical forces. For him, the mechanistic picture, or its late modern equivalent, is absolute; it is convertible with truth as such, and whatever appears to escape its logic can never be more than a monstrosity of the imagination. But then the conscious mind constitutes a special dilemma, since this modern picture was produced precisely by excluding all mental properties from physical nature. And so, in this case, physicalist reduction means trying to explain one particular phenomenon -- uniquely among all the phenomena of nature -- by realities that are, in qualitative terms, quite literally its opposite.

Really, in this regard, we have progressed very little since Descartes's day. The classical problems that mental events pose for physicalism remain as numerous and seemingly insoluble as ever. Before all else, there is the enigma of consciousness itself, and of the qualia (direct subjective impressions, such as color or tone) that inhabit it. There is simply no causal narrative -- and probably never can be one -- capable of uniting the phenomenologically discontinuous regions of "third-person" electrochemical brain events and "first-person" experiences, nor any imaginable science logically capable of crossing that absolute qualitative chasm.

The dishonesty at the core of Cartesian Metaphysics--which relieves Rationalists of the obligation to demonstrated that Reason is rational--can obviously never be overcome.  And poor Mr. Dennett has spent years apologizing for his one moment of honesty.

November 9, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 2:32 PM


Lebanon FM demands return of Hariri from Saudi Arabia : Questions raised in Lebanon about fate of its prime minister Saad Hariri, as his retirement from Riyadh coincided with the announcement in Saudi Arabia of 'anti-corruption' purge. (Middle East Online, 11/09/17)

Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil on Thursday demanded the return of prime minister Saad Hariri from Saudi Arabia, where he announced days ago his shock resignation.

"Today we demand the return to the nation of our Prime Minister Saad Hariri," tweeted Bassil.

The foreign minister is the son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun, who has not yet accepted Hariri's resignation and is awaiting his return before taking any decision.

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM


Partisans Have Starkly Different Opinions About How the World Views the U.S. (Pew Research, 11/09/17)

For many years, Republicans and Democrats generally shared the same views about whether Russia represented a major threat to the U.S. In 2014, 58% of Republicans and 50% of Democrats said "growing authoritarianism in Russia" was a major threat and as recently as last year, 37% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans described "tensions with Russia" as a major threat.

But partisan differences increased sharply after the presidential election, amid reports that Russia interfered in the campaign. In January, 67% of Democrats and 41% of Republicans said Russia's power and influence were a major threat. These views have changed little since January; currently, 63% of Democrats and 38% of Republicans say Russia is a major threat to the U.S.

Partisanship and thought are ever strangers.

Posted by orrinj at 1:31 PM


White House chief of staff tried to pressure acting DHS secretary to expel thousands of Hondurans, officials say (Nick Miroff, November 9, 2017, NY Times)

On Monday, as the Department of Homeland Security prepared to extend the residency permits of tens of thousands of Honduran immigrants living in the United States, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly called Acting Secretary Elaine Duke to pressure her to expel them, according to current and former administration officials.

 Duke refused to reverse her decision and was angered by what she felt was a politically driven intrusion by Kelly and Tom Bossert, the White House homeland security adviser, who also called her about the matter, according to officials with knowledge of Monday's events, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Fortunately, the Deep State stopped them.

Posted by orrinj at 10:33 AM


In China, Trump Places His Bets on Flattering Xi Jinping (MARK LANDLER, JULIE HIRSCHFELD DAVIS and JANE PERLEZ, NOV. 9, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's warm words, on a state visit to China replete with ceremony but short of tangible results, showed a president doubling down on his gamble that by cultivating a personal connection with Mr. Xi, he can push the Chinese leader to take meaningful steps on North Korea and trade.

In public, Mr. Trump projected an air of deference to China that was almost unheard-of for a visiting American president. Far from attacking Mr. Xi on trade, Mr. Trump saluted him for leading a country that he said had left the United States "so far behind." He said he could not blame the Chinese for taking advantage of weak American trade policy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


Deep in Yemen war, Saudi fight against Iran falters (Noah Browning, 11/09/17, Reuters) 

More than two years into a war that has already left 10,000 dead, regional power Saudi Arabia is struggling to pull together an effective local military force to defeat the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that has seized large parts of Yemen.

The dysfunction is a reminder to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that his campaign to counter arch-enemy Iran in the Middle East, including threats against Tehran's ally Hezbollah, may be hard to implement.

During a rare visit to a large area of Yemeni territory controlled by the pro-Saudi government, journalists saw a patchwork of mutually suspicious army units, whose loyalty to disparate regions and commanders has hindered their war against Houthi fighters.

The Houthi are a nation.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


The Strange Pleasure of Seeing Carter Page Set Himself on Fire (Rick Wilson, 11.08.17, Daily Beast)

Legal scholars watching Page's borderline insane interviews, reviewing his bizarre public statements and reading the wackadoodle transcripts of his testimony to congressional investigators have expressed various levels of shock. His testimony this week must have dismayed his friends in Trump world; a long, rambling, performance art piece before the House which confirmed key sections of the Steele Dossier and opened up entirely new venues for investigation.

The emerging paper trail of his forays into Russia has been an amazing mosaic of comic-opera misunderstandings, grand and petty corruptions, grade-school category errors, and fundamental delusions about Putin's kleptocracy. In short, Page is a perfect example of the ad-hoc weirdness of the Trump campaign, Trumpism's deep, misplaced love of Putin's Russia, and the power of magical thinking among the coterie of misfit toys Trump calls his advisors. Page is weird and wrong and in most campaigns he'd be the weirdest, wrongest dog in the pack. In Trump world, Carter Page is in the middle quintile.

A bizarre fascination with Russia as an ally shaped the view of many of Trump's foreign policy advisors like Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, Stephen Miller, Seb Gorka and the rest of the Foreign Policy Center for Kids Who Can't Read Good and Want To Read Good. Yes, a meaningful fraction of it is informed by an alt-rightish belief that the U.S. and Russia are white Christian allies in the global war on Islam and brown people in general, but some of it is just their natural inclination toward nationalist authoritarianism.

It's easier to have sympathy for the guys--like Manafort--who were just looking to cash in on the Donald/Vlad relationship than for the guys driven purely by hatred of Muslims, Jews, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 7:29 AM


Bad News For House Republicans: Clinton Won't Be On The Ballot In 2018 (Harry Enten, 7/24/17, 538)

[M]idterm elections are different from those that take place in presidential election years. And midterm elections that take place with an unpopular president in office are very different from presidential election years that have two historically unpopular candidates at the top of the major-party tickets.

Republican congressional candidates in 2016 may not have gotten much help from Trump, but they got a big boost from someone else: Hillary Clinton. Clinton, it's easy to forget, was only modestly more popular than Trump. According to Gallup, Clinton had the second-worst unfavorable rating of any major-party presidential candidate in modern history, behind only Trump. In the 2016 exit polls, 55 percent of voters had an unfavorable view of Clinton.

Clinton's unpopularity turned out to be a key factor in 2016 congressional races. Unsurprisingly, people who had a favorable view of Clinton primarily voted for Democrats in House races, while people with a favorable view of Trump primarily voted for Republican candidates. But among the 19 percent of voters who had an unfavorable view of both presidential candidates, House Republican candidates won by a margin of 30 percentage points. (Some voters may have cast a ballot for a Republican House candidate in the belief that a House controlled by the GOP would balance Clinton's power after what most Americans thought would be a Clinton win.)

Next year, though, Clinton won't be on the ballot (although Trump continues to tweet about her). That could be a big problem for House Republican candidates, especially if Trump remains unpopular. That's because realistically, the only way for Democrats to take back the House is to run up huge margins among voters who don't like Trump.

In part because of Clinton's unpopularity, Democrats in 2016 won among voters who had an unfavorable view of Trump by only 50 percentage points. That may seem like a lot, but Democrats will need to do much better if they want to take back the House. Based on Trump's current approval rating, House Democratic candidates probably need to win Trump disapprovers by something close to a 70- or 75-point margin in 2018.1

Two surveys conducted this spring by SurveyMonkey for FiveThirtyEight suggest that Democrats may get the margin they need among Trump disapprovers to take back the House.

'Winning' Isn't Winning : If the American electorate continues to have a low opinion of the president, then Republicans should calculate that drag into their electoral expectations. (Kevin D. Williamson, November 8, 2017, National Review)

So, here's the math: Ed Gillespie, the Republican candidate for governor of Virginia, won nine out of ten votes among Virginians who approve of President Donald Trump. He lost nine out of ten votes among those who disapprove. He lost by nine points.

Trump's approval rating in Virginia is 42 percent. His approval rating nationally is lower than that -- about 38 percent. Trump partisans like to sneer at opinion polling and proffer the cliché that the only poll that matters is the one on Election Day.

Virginia governor-elect Ralph Northam, a Democrat, surely agrees.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


Voters just sent a message: Republicans are way out of step on health care (Editorial Board, November 8, 2017, Washington Post)

The health-care message was hammered home in Virginia and Maine by huge electoral margins. In exit polls across the Old Dominion, 2 out of 5 voters identified health care as their top concern -- more than twice as many as named any other issue. Among those health-care voters, 77 percent favored the Democratic candidate, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, who supports Obamacare and expanding Virginia's Medicaid program under the law; just 23 percent backed the Republican, Ed Gillespie, who opposes both.

In Maine, a referendum to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, which would extend health insurance to some 80,000 low-income adults, won in a landslide, 59 percent to 41 percent. That was a direct rebuke to the Republican governor, Paul LePage, who vetoed Medicaid expansion five times after it was approved, also five times, by the state legislature.

The outcome in Maine, which would become the 32nd state to expand Medicaid under Obamacare but the first to do so by referendum, may prompt similar ballot measures in other GOP-dominated holdout states. Nationwide, some 2.5 million uninsured adults who could gain access to Medicaid live in the remaining states that have balked at expansion; about 15 million Americans have signed up for Medicaid under the expansion. be crosswise with the electorate on the purposes for which government itself exists.

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


Criticized for ship holdings, Ross owns more than previously known and the deals continue : Most of the 75 ships transport oil and gas products worldwide, presenting a conflict of interest for the commerce secretary as he negotiates trade deals. Records show 11 purchases since March. (Tom Scheck and Maria Curi, 11/08/17, American Public Media)

An APM Reports investigation reveals Ross has financial ties to 36 previously undisclosed ships that are spread among at least nine companies. Combined with the Russia-tied company -- Navigator Holdings Ltd. -- Ross has a financial interest in at least 75 ships, most of which move oil and gas products across the globe. The value of those ships stands to grow as Ross negotiates trade deals on behalf of the U.S. and advises on U.S. infrastructure policy. And one fund linked to Ross was still buying and selling ships after Ross was confirmed as Commerce secretary.

APM Reports compiled the list by combing through Ross' financial disclosure forms, relying on business filings in the U.S., Luxembourg, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands, searches through shipping trade publications and through the internet domains of major shipping companies across the globe. [...]

Today as Commerce secretary, Ross is positioned to help shape the export practices of the U.S. He's forcefully advocated for reducing the nation's trade deficit across the globe, notably in China, Mexico and Canada. In May, he announced a deal that pushes China to buy more natural gas from U.S. exporters. A chief beneficiary of those increased exports is shipping.

Ross' first investments were stakes in Diamond S. Shipping, a crude oil carrier, and Navigator Holdings, a company that moves liquid petroleum products.

He invested at a time when the shipping industry appeared to have bottomed out after the Great Recession -- the industry had too many ships to move too few products. It was a classic investment strategy for Ross, who's made his money by buying and selling distressed companies in troubled sectors.

In 2002, for example, he scooped up steel companies LTV Corp., Acme Steel and Bethlehem Steel in bankruptcy. He cut costs by laying off workers, installing new work rules and stripping employee pension funds. Three years later, he sold the repackaged company for $4.5 billion, an investment strategy he used years later in the coal and textiles industries.

His hunch about shipping a few years later stemmed from the oil and gas boom in the U.S. A drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing in shale rock formations -- fracking -- in the U.S. produced large amounts of crude oil, natural gas and other petroleum products. His investment in Diamond S. Shipping and Navigator Holdings was a bet that energy exports would spur growth in the shipping industry.

"There is optimism that shale gas and oil will transform the U.S. economy and require unprecedented oceangoing capacity," Ross said at the Marine Money Asia Week forum in 2012.

Most of Ross' ships -- 80 percent -- move oil and gas products. But the stark reality is that Ross' investments haven't paid off.

The share price of Navigator Holdings declined 47 percent since it debuted in 2013 at $19 a share. His investment firm held a 61 percent stake in the company when Ross, the majority investor, took the company public in 2013, according to business filings.

Ross also shelved his attempts to take Diamond S. Shipping public in 2014 because he felt the stock price for the company was too low.

Shipping continues to have an overcapacity problem, according to Ben Nolan, managing director of Marine Transportation Research at Stifel Financial Group, and the sector is far from its high valuations of 15 years ago.

He said that while shipping is gradually recovering, many private equity investors who gambled on the industry five years ago have cut their losses. He said others, like Ross, continue to wait for the big return.

"A lot of the reason that they still have those positions is they anticipate at some point there is going to be a better exit," he said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 AM


Flynn worries about son in special counsel probe (Jim Sciutto and Marshall Cohen, 11/08/17, CNN)

Flynn's troubles extend to Congress, where his activities have attracted the attention of the House oversight committee. The panel's top Republican and Democrat made a stunning announcement in April after their own inquiry: Flynn likely broke federal law by taking a paid speaking engagement in Russia without US government approval, and he hid the payments from FBI investigators reviewing the security clearance he is afforded as a retired lieutenant general.

After that announcement, Flynn's attorney told CNN that Flynn wasn't hiding anything and that he had briefed the Pentagon's Defense Intelligence Agency "both before and after" the trip to Moscow.
FBI investigators also have scrutinized a series of phone calls during the Trump transition between Flynn and the Russian ambassador to the US at the time, Sergey Kislyak. The conversations centered on US sanctions against Russia and whether they would remain in place during the Trump administration.

When Trump took office in January 2017, Flynn served as his national security adviser, but he resigned after one month amid questions about the Kislyak calls and his other links to Russia.

The Logan Act, passed in 1799, bans private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, but it is hardly ever used in practice. More pressing for Flynn might be what he told the FBI about the calls.

CNN reported that Flynn initially told investigators sanctions weren't discussed but changed his answer to say he didn't remember. Mueller could use this to charge Flynn with making false statements -- the same charge that former Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos pleaded guilty to last month.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


RussiaGate Latest (WhoWhatWhy, 11/09/17)

Trump Aide Coordinated Moscow Trip with Campaign Officials

The transcript of Carter Page's testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, which includes details on his July 2016 trip to Moscow, has been made public Tuesday. Page, a former aide to then-candidate Donald Trump, initially claimed that the visit was unrelated to campaign business, but the newly-released records show that he had coordinated the trip with high-ranking Trump officials. Over email, Page informed then-campaign manager Corey Lewandowski and current White House communications director Hope Hicks that he met with Russian officials and said he had "insights and outreach" to share with the team.

Russian Twitter Backing for Trump Began Soon After Candidacy Announcement

Russian interference in the US election began just a few weeks after Donald Trump announced his bid for president. Analysis by the Wall Street Journal shows that these coordinated efforts were more strategic than previously thought, heavily skewing toward pro-Trump content by a 10:1 margin. Content critical of Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican primarily contender Jeb Bush was generated at equal or greater margins.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Trump cooperates with Chinese effort to control image (Joe McDonald, 11/09/17, AP) 

U.S. President Donald Trump was a cooperative partner for Beijing's sweeping efforts to control the message of his heavily choreographed visit to China.

Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, took no questions at an event Thursday billed as a news briefing, a reduction of already minimal press interaction during previous visits by American leaders.

During a 2014 visit by then President Barack Obama, Xi took a symbolic single question from a reporter for a Chinese state newspaper. He brushed off an American reporter's question about whether Beijing might ease restrictions on journalist visas, saying vaguely that media outlets had to obey China's laws.

Trump, who has called the media the "enemy of the American people," also took no questions during an event at which Chinese companies signed contracts to buy American jetliners, soybeans and other goods. [...]

"Both of them are sensitive and vigilant about the media," said Zhang Lifan, an independent political analyst in Beijing. "They worry there might be some tricky questions that would embarrass them."

November 8, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


House panel drops effort to force testimony on Trump 'dossier' (Mark Hosenball, 11/08/17, Reuters)

Fusion GPS lawyer Joshua Levy said in a statement that Republican Representative Mike Conaway and Democrat Adam Schiff, leaders of the U.S. House Intelligence Committee's investigation of Trump campaign contacts with Russia, had "agreed to withdraw a subpoena" served on Glenn Simpson, a founder of the firm.

"Mr. Simpson will instead sit for a voluntary interview next week, and nothing will be said at that interview - per the agreement of Mr. Conaway and Mr. Schiff - shall interfere with Mr. Simpson's ability to assert privileges in this investigation," Levy said.

He said that under this agreement, Fusion GPS would be allowed to "cooperate while honoring its obligations to clients."

Posted by orrinj at 12:55 PM


Sheep 'trained to recognise celebrities' in Cambridge study (bbc, 11/08/17)

...they've been taught to defend collusion between Donald and Russia in an American experiment.

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM


Highlights of Adam Schiff's AP Interview: Manafort's Kremlin Ties, Facebook Stonewalling, More (Ryan Goodman, November 8, 2017, Just Security)

Congressman Adam Schiff (D-Calif) provided an in-depth interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday. Schiff's remarks have an added weight this morning.[...]

Making connections: Manafort's reaching out to Kremlin-connected oligarchs in exchange for campaign information and Trump Tower meeting

SCHIFF: It's also been reported in The Washington Post and I can only talk about the public report that Manafort was reaching out to Oleg Deripaska while he was campaign manager, offering information about the campaign he's running in an effort to collect more of the money from Ukraine that he was laundering. And this is very significant because you have Manafort reaching out -- if these allegations are correct -- to the Kremlin essentially by reaching out to oligarchs close to the Kremlin, offering information in exchange for money. And you have the Kremlin reaching out to Manafort, Kushner and the president's son at the same time offering information on Hillary Clinton in exchange for help with sanctions. And those communications are running in opposite directions contemporaneously. Any intelligence agency worth their salt is going to put these things together. And the Russians have very competent intelligence agencies. So it's one issue about the degree to which these are being orchestrated by Russian intel. It's another about how aware Russian intel is. And it's another in terms of what actions the Russians concluded they would take on the basis of this outreach and this evident willingness passively to accept a meeting, aggressively to seek out a meeting with the object of exchanging information of value, to obtain something of value, so that I think is the significance of the matter for us.

Posted by orrinj at 12:37 PM


Japan's Demographic Lessons for Europe (DANIEL GROS, Nov 8, 2017, Project Syndicate)

With real output - the key measure of economic performance - having risen by only about 15% since 2000, or less than 1% per year, Japan easily seems the least dynamic of the worlds' major economies. But given Japan's demographics - the country's working-age population has been shrinking by almost 1% per year since the start of this century - this result is remarkable.

In fact, Japan's growth rate per working-age person was close to 2% - much higher than in the US or in Europe. Though the US economy grew more than 35% since 2000, its working-age population also grew markedly, leaving the annual growth rate per working-age person at only about 1%.

That indicator - growth rate per working-age person - is not widely used by economists, who instead focus on GDP per capita. By that measure, Japan is doing about as well as Europe and the US. But, while per capita indicators are useful for assessing a country's consumption potential, they do not provide an adequate picture of growth potential, because they include the elderly and the young, who do not contribute to production. Even in Japan, with its high life expectancy, those over the age of 70 do not contribute much to output.

So, given its rapidly declining potential, Japan has been extraordinarily successful. A key reason is that it has put a growing proportion of its working-age population to work: unemployment is today at a record low of less than 3%, and almost 80% of those who could work have a job, compared to about 70% for Europe and the US.

Japan's achievement of full employment and high job growth over the last two decades is all the more noteworthy in view of near-permanent deflation during this period (most prices are still lower today than they were 15-20 years ago). This should give food for thought to those who maintain that deflation imposes unbearable economic costs.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Trump rally: 3rd best since World War II (Matt Egan, November 8, 2017, CNN Money)

The S&P 500 has soared 21% since the close of trading on Election Day 2016. That's the third-best performance during a president's first year since World War II, behind only President George H. W. Bush and President John F. Kennedy, according to Sam Stovall of CFRA Research.

The stock market also hit a record number of records under Trump. The S&P 500's 60 all-time highs since the election is unmatched during a president's first year in office, according to CFRA.

That achievement underscores the fact that Trump inherited a stock market near all-time highs and an economy that was in solid shape. It also highlights how remarkably tranquil the rally has been. Sharp drops and steep gains have been rare.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


Voters in Maine approve expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare (Brendan O'Brien, 11/08/17, Reuters) 

Voters in Maine on Tuesday approved a ballot initiative to expand the state's Medicaid program under Obamacare, sending a clear signal of support for the federal healthcare law to lawmakers in the state and Washington D.C.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


EU, U.S. affirm Lebanon support, diverging from Saudi (Tom Perry, 11/08/17, Reuters) 

The European Union on Wednesday affirmed support for Lebanon following the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, echoing U.S. backing for the Beirut government which Saudi Arabia has accused of declaring war.

When the Sa'uds can order a PM to resign against his will, it's not really a difficult call.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Israel tells its envoys to back Saudis, Hariri against Hezbollah, Iran - report (STUART WINER, 11/08/17, Times of Israel)

Iran and Saudi Arabia have long been at odds and back feuding Shiite and Sunni forces throughout the region. Although they do not share formal diplomatic ties, Israel has reportedly forged ties with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states over a shared distrust of Iran.

They have an obvious shared desire to thwart self-determination.

Posted by orrinj at 5:19 AM


What Explains U.S. Mass Shootings? International Comparisons Suggest an Answer (MAX FISHER and JOSH KELLER, 11/07/17, NY Times)

[A]n ever-growing body of research consistently reaches the same conclusion.

The only variable that can explain the high rate of mass shootings in America is its astronomical number of guns.

The top-line numbers suggest a correlation that, on further investigation, grows only clearer.

Americans make up about 4.4 percent of the global population but own 42 percent of the world's guns. From 1966 to 2012, 31 percent of the gunmen in mass shootings worldwide were American, according to a 2015 study by Adam Lankford, a professor at the University of Alabama.

Adjusted for population, only Yemen has a higher rate of mass shootings among countries with more than 10 million people -- a distinction Mr. Lankford urged to avoid outliers. Yemen has the world's second-highest rate of gun ownership after the United States.

The staggering number I heard on Here and Now is that America has 5% of the minors in the developed world and 95% of the gun deaths among minors.

November 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:09 PM


Drugstore pain pills as effective as opioids in ER patients (ASSOCIATED PRESS, NOVEMBER 7, 2017)

Emergency rooms are where many patients are first introduced to powerful opioid painkillers, but what if doctors offered over-the-counter pills instead? A new study tested that approach on patients with broken bones and sprains and found pain relievers sold as Tylenol and Motrin worked as well as opioids at reducing severe pain.

The results challenge common ER practice for treating short-term, severe pain and could prompt changes that would help prevent new patients from becoming addicted.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


Forbes drops bombshell on Wilbur Ross -- and its own reporting (Tom Kludt, November 7, 2017, CNN)

A story published by Forbes on Tuesday tracked what it portrayed as a web of deception spun by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. But the story also cast a critical shadow over Forbes' own reporting, and raises serious questions about the credibility of the magazine's widely-cited ranking of billionaires.

The article, a 3,000-word feature written by Forbes reporter Dan Alexander, alleges that Ross repeatedly embellished his net worth by crediting himself with his investors' money. Alexander's digging apparently began last month, when the magazine told Ross that he was being taken off The Forbes 400, an annual ranking of the richest people in America.

Financial disclosure forms filed after Ross' nomination to the Commerce Department showed he had less than $700 million in assets, far lower than the $2.9 billion Forbes had listed as his net worth a year earlier. And Alexander claims he ultimately found that Ross had been inflating his worth dating back to 2004, when he had first cracked The Forbes 400.

"It seems clear that Ross lied to us, the latest in an apparent sequence of fibs, exaggerations, omissions, fabrications and whoppers that have been going on with Forbes since 2004," Alexander wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 2:28 PM


CIA DIRECTOR MET ADVOCATE OF DISPUTED DNC HACK THEORY -- AT TRUMP'S REQUEST (Duncan Campbell, James Risen, November 7 2017, The Intercept)

CIA DIRECTOR MIKE Pompeo met late last month with a former U.S. intelligence official who has become an advocate for a disputed theory that the theft of the Democratic National Committee's emails during the 2016 presidential campaign was an inside job, rather than a hack by Russian intelligence.

That's even funnier than the American Conservative running a story by Scott Ritter, from the same pro-Russian front.

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


U.S. lawmakers aim to comply with Iran nuclear deal: EU  (Reuters, 11/07/17) 

U.S. lawmakers signaled they plan to ensure the United States complies with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal despite U.S. President Donald Trump's misgivings about the pact, the European Union's foreign policy chief said on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 AM


Trump Adviser Met With Russian Deputy Prime Minister During Campaign (Radio Free Europe, November 07, 2017)

Under repeated questions about the contact -- which he had at times denied in the past -- Page said that he had spoken to Dvorkovich after his speech at Moscow's New Economic School.

"It was a very brief interaction. It was some nice pleasantries. I cannot recall the precise words I said, but it was sort of best wishes, and, you know, that's about it," Page said.

Page, a former Merrill Lynch investment banker in Moscow, testified that he saw Dvorkovich again at a dinner during a second trip to Russia in December 2016.

When asked if he had a private meeting with Dvorkovich on that trip, Page replied: "We did."

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 AM


Is Lebanon caught in a Saudi-Iran regional power play? (Linah Alsaafin & Farah Najjar, 11/07/17, Al Jazeera)

Hariri's business and political links to Saudi Arabia stretch back to his father, Rafik Hariri, a business tycoon and former prime minister who was assassinated in 2005, a year after resigning his premiership.

"Saad Hariri inherited his father's business across the kingdom, including partnerships and financial ties with some of the princes included in the purge," said Ibrahim Halawi, a lecturer in contemporary Middle East politics at the Royal Holloway University in London.

The government in Riyadh wanted to "kill two birds with one stone", Halawi told Al Jazeera - consolidating power locally, "which required moving Hariri to Riyadh and taking over his assets ... [and] simultaneously attempting to shake Hezbollah's comfortable seat in Hariri's 'unity government'."

Hariri's prime ministership lasted barely a year after a prolonged political deadlock left Lebanon without a president and parliament for 11 months.

The government was an unusual national unity coalition of pro- and anti-Syria government parties, including Hezbollah and Hariri's Future Movement.

But this underscored for Saudi Arabia the dangers of a coalition composed of parties with opposing interests, particularly when Hezbollah appeared to hold the most sway. 

Yemeni President Hadi 'under house arrest' in Riyadh (Al Jazeera, 11/07/17)

Saudi Arabia has barred Yemen's president, along with his sons, ministers and military officials, from returning home for months, Yemeni officials told The Associated Press.

The officials said the ban was prompted by enmity between President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi and the United Arab Emirates, which is part of the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi rebels and has come to dominate southern Yemen, the portion of the country not under rebel control. [...]

Hadi's inability to get back to southern Yemen underscores the president's loss of authority - even in the south that is nominally under his administration.

Since Hadi left Yemen in February, he has repeatedly sent written requests to Saudi King Salman asking to return. None were processed, said a Yemeni security commander.

In August, Hadi even went to Riyadh airport, planning to return to his temporary capital, Aden, in southern Yemen - but he was turned back from the airport, the commander said.

Two other Yemeni officials confirmed that Hadi, his sons and several ministers with him in Riyadh have been prevented from going to Yemen. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to discuss the situation.

"The Saudis have imposed a form of house arrest on them," the commander said. "When Hadi asks to go, they respond it's not safe for him to return as there are plotters who want to take his life and Saudis fear for his life."

November 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Trump's Government of One (Jonathan Swan, 11/06/17, Axios)

In late June, President Trump hosted a group of Native American tribal leaders at the White House[...]

The chiefs explained to Trump that there were regulatory barriers preventing them from getting at their energy. Trump replied: "But now it's me. The government's different now. Obama's gone; and we're doing things differently here."

"So what I'm saying is, just do it."

There was a pause in the room and the tribal leaders looked at each other.

"Chief, chief," Trump continued, addressing one of the tribal leaders, "what are they going to do? Once you get it out of the ground are they going to make you put it back in there? I mean, once it's out of the ground it can't go back in there. You've just got to do it. I'm telling you, chief, you've just got to do it."

The tribal leader looked back at one of the White House officials in the room -- perhaps somebody from the White House Counsel's office -- and he said "can we just do that?" The official equivocated, saying the administration is making progress and has a plan to roll back various regulations.

Trump interjected again: "Guys, I feel like you're not hearing me right now. We've just got to do it. I feel like we've got no choice; other countries are just doing it. China is not asking questions about all of this stuff. They're just doing it. And guys, we've just got to do it."

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


Russian lawyer claims Trump Jr. promised to reconsider anti-Russia law 'if we come to power' (The Week, 11/06/17)

Veselnitskaya claimed Donald Trump Jr. told her "looking ahead, if we come to power, we can return to this issue and think what to do about it." He reportedly added: "I understand our side may have messed up, but it'll take a long time to get to the bottom of it." Trump Jr. had agreed to the meeting apparently because Veselnitskaya claimed Hillary Clinton's campaign was being funded in part by money that evaded United States tax laws. When Veselnitskaya failed to present any documented proof, the meeting allegedly fell apart.

November 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


With Manafort, It Really Is About Russia, Not Ukraine (EVELYN N. FARKAS, NOV. 5, 2017, NY Times)

In 2010, with Mr. Manafort's help, Mr. Yanukovych was elected president. His campaign, primarily targeting voters in the east, was based on opposition to NATO and advocacy for Russian-language rights. Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates received tens of millions of dollars for this work. Vladimir Putin -- who had already invaded and occupied part of the Republic of Georgia -- made it clear that Moscow was determined to keep Ukraine out of NATO and firmly within Russia's sphere of influence.

In November 2013, after on-and-off flirtations with the West, Mr. Yanukovych rejected a pending agreement to join the European Union. The Ukrainian people took to the streets again, starting in a Kiev square known as the Maidan. Mr. Yanukovych ordered his special forces to shoot and kill over 100 unarmed demonstrators and subsequently fled the country, despite a political transition settlement brokered by the United States and European Union, with Russian assent.

Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2014, annexed Crimea and shortly thereafter instigated a separatist movement in Mr. Yanukovych's home region, Donetsk. The result was a war between Russia and Ukraine that continues to this day.

Mr. Yanukovych was in exile in Russia, but Mr. Manafort continued to work in Ukraine for the Opposition Bloc, the successor party to the discredited Party of Regions, and indirectly, for Russia's interests, since this party continued to be pro-Moscow -- and anti-EU and anti-NATO. And then in March 2016 Mr. Manafort became Mr. Trump's campaign chairman. At the July Republican convention, his staff intervened to weaken the party platform concerning Ukraine, striking a clause advocating for lethal defensive military assistance for Ukraine. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump was praising Mr. Putin, advocating for greater cooperation with Russia and speaking skeptically about NATO and its collective defense mission.

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


Miners Aim 'Very Sci-fi' Drones at Dark, Dangerous Places (Mike Cherney, Nov. 5, 2017, WSJ)

Hundreds of feet underground here, scientists are experimenting with a technology that could transform how mining companies dig out rocks in dangerous, pitch-black caves: fully autonomous drones.

The drones would fly without any pilot assistance into areas too risky for human miners. Using a rotating laser similar to those on autonomous cars, they would create three-dimensional maps more detailed than what is available now, helping miners excavate more gold and other commodities that might otherwise be missed.

"It's very sci-fi," said Zachary McLeay, a production engineer for Australian gold producer Northern Star Resources Ltd. , after seeing a drone fly into a dark cavern during a recent test.

The trial, at Northern Star's Jundee gold mine in Western Australia, is part of a broader effort by the global mining industry to embrace automation, which is driving down costs and improving safety. It also might lead to fewer jobs. Companies from South Africa to Australia are already using technology such as driverless trucks, mechanized drilling and extra-long conveyor belts to improve productivity as they look to rebound from the recent downturn in commodity prices.

Automation can "save lives, and also save time and save money," said Mehmet Kizil, associate professor and mining-engineering program leader at the University of Queensland in Australia. "The industry's made a big jump in adopting this technology because the biggest cost in mining is labor."

Posted by orrinj at 7:15 PM


Saudi Prince, Asserting Power, Brings Clerics to Heel (BEN HUBBARD, NOV. 5, 2017, NY Times)

For decades, Saudi Arabia's religious establishment wielded tremendous power, with bearded enforcers policing public behavior, prominent sheikhs defining right and wrong, and religious associations using the kingdom's oil wealth to promote their intolerant interpretation of Islam around the world.

Now, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is curbing their power as part of his drive to impose his control on the kingdom and press for a more open brand of Islam.

Before the arrests on Saturday of his fellow royals and former ministers on corruption allegations, Prince Mohammed had stripped the religious police of their arrest powers and expanded the space for women in public life, including promising them the right to drive.

Dozens of hard-line clerics have been detained, while others were designated to speak publicly about respect for other religions, a topic once anathema to the kingdom's religious apparatus.

If the changes take hold, they could mean a historic reordering of the Saudi state by diminishing the role of hard-line clerics in shaping policy. That shift could reverberate abroad by moderating the exportation of the kingdom's uncompromising version of Islam, Wahhabism, which has been accused of fueling intolerance and terrorism.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Trump said Japan should have shot down N. Korea missiles (KYODO NEWS, 11/05/17)

Trump questioned Japan's decision not to shoot down the missiles when he met or spoke by phone with leaders from Southeast Asian countries over recent months to discuss how to respond to the threats from North Korea, the sources said.

The U.S. president said he could not understand why a country of samurai warriors did not shoot down the missiles, according to the sources.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 PM


Why So Many People Choose the Wrong Health Plans (RICHARD H. THALER NOV. 4, 2017, The New York Times)

If you get health insurance from your employer, you have to make decision every year about which coverage to choose.

So here is a warning: If you are simply sticking with an old plan with a low deductible, that may well be a wrong and costly choice.

You might wonder how anyone could say that choosing one plan over another is "wrong." Surely such a choice depends on personal preferences about doctors, premiums, deductibles and other factors. And that's all true.

But the mistake I am referring to is different. Because of human quirks, lack of understanding and overly complicated plans, many people are paying more without getting anything extra in return.

Economists have a term for a situation like this, where one option is better than another under any circumstances, dominance. And that is what we see in many workplaces: The cheaper health care plan, at every level of medical spending, often has a higher deductible -- a higher spending hurdle that must be reached before reimbursements begin.

Because people tend to keep the older, low-deductible plans they already have -- and because they are often frightened by high deductibles -- large numbers of workers and their families are spending more than they need to on health care.

Employers--until the government does so--should just default everyone into the catastrophic/HSA plan.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


How Curious George's creators saved the beloved monkey from the Nazis (Gabe Friedman, 11/05/17, JTA)

Hans Augusto Rey (née Reyersbach) and Margret Waldstein first met in Hamburg in the 1920s. Margret, who had studied art at the influential Bauhaus school and whose father was a member of the German parliament, left Germany for Brazil in 1935 to escape the rising tide of anti-Semitism. Hans had been working in Rio de Janeiro as a bathtub salesman. The pair, who had met over a decade before in Germany, married that year and moved to Paris.

Hans worked as a cartoon illustrator for a newspaper, and Margret wrote copy. A French publisher was impressed with some of Hans' animal drawings and suggested they work on a children's book. Their first work was "Raphael and the Nine Monkeys," and one of those monkeys would later become George.

By June 1940, the situation in Paris looked grim as Hitler's troops began to close in. Millions of people flocked to trains heading to the south of the country, and the Reys could not get a ticket.

They didn't own a car, so they decided to flee by bike, as Louise Borden explains in "The Journey That Saved Curious George." The only problem: They couldn't find a bike anywhere, either.

Somehow, Hans did something that sounds like a plot point in a children's fantasy book: He made two bikes that night using spare parts. That incredible act likely saved their lives, as well as the future of the monkey that would become Curious George.

Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


Russia funded Facebook and Twitter investments through Kushner associate : Institutions with close links to Kremlin financed stakes through business associate of Trump's son-in-law, leaked files reveal (Jon Swaine and Luke Harding,  5 November 2017, tHE gUARDIAN)

Two Russian state institutions with close ties to Vladimir Putin funded substantial investments in Twitter and Facebook through a business associate of Jared Kushner, leaked documents reveal.

The investments were made through a Russian technology magnate, Yuri Milner, who also holds a stake in a company co-owned by Kushner, Donald Trump's son-in-law and senior White House adviser. [...]

The money flowed through investment vehicles controlled by Milner, who also invested in a startup in New York that Kushner co-owns with his brother. Kushner initially failed to disclose his own holding in the startup, Cadre, when he joined Trump's White House. that the Trumpies even felt enough qualms not to disclose their ties.
Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


Leaked Documents Show Wilbur Ross Concealed Ties to Putin Cronies (RICHARD ENGEL and AGGELOS PETROPOULOS, 11/05/17, NBC)

Wilbur Ross, the commerce secretary in the Trump administration, shares business interests with Vladimir Putin's immediate family, and he failed to clearly disclose those interests when he was being confirmed for his cabinet position.

Ross -- a billionaire industrialist -- retains an interest in a shipping company, Navigator Holdings, that was partially owned by his former investment company. One of Navigator's most important business relationships is with a Russian energy firm controlled, in turn, by Putin's son-in-law and other members of the Russian president's inner circle.

Posted by orrinj at 9:54 AM


Robert Mueller's Brilliant Strategy for Outmaneuvering Trump Pardons : The president cannot save Paul Manafort. (Jed Handelsman Shugerman, 11/05/17, Slate)

Mueller's moves may make strategic sense because of a shadow hanging over the entire investigation: the potential that President Donald Trump might use his presidential pardon power to protect possible accomplices in potential crimes.

Mueller knows that Trump can pardon Manafort (or any defendant) in order to relieve the pressure to cooperate with Mueller and to keep them quiet. But Mueller also knows that presidential pardons affect only federal crimes and not state-level crimes. On the one hand, double jeopardy rules under the Fifth Amendment prevent a second prosecution for the same crime, but the doctrine of dual sovereignty allows a state to follow a federal prosecution (and vice versa). So in theory, Manafort and Papadopoulos can't rely on Trump's pardons to save them even after a conviction or a guilty plea.

But in practice, state rules can expand double jeopardy protections and limit prosecutions. In fact, New York is such a state. New York is the key state for Mueller because New York has jurisdiction over many alleged or potentially uncovered Trump-Russia crimes (conspiracy to hack/soliciting stolen goods/money laundering, etc.), and New York state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and New York district attorneys are not politically constrained from pursuing charges.

New York's Criminal Procedure Law 40.20 states, "A person may not be twice prosecuted for the same offense." The issue is that New York defines "prosecution" broadly. Section 40.30 continues:

Except as otherwise provided in this section, a person "is prosecuted" for an offense, within the meaning of section 40.20, when he is charged therewith by an accusatory instrument filed in a court of this state or of any jurisdiction within the United States, and when the action either: (a) Terminates in a conviction upon a plea of guilty; or

(b) Proceeds to the trial stage and a jury has been impaneled and sworn or, in the case of a trial by the court without a jury, a witness is sworn.

The New York statute does not allow a state prosecution to follow a federal prosecution ("a court of any jurisdiction within the United States") for the same basic facts. The bottom line: If Mueller starts a trial on all of the potential charges, and then Trump pardons Manafort, Mueller will not be able to hand off the case to state prosecutors. And thus he would have lost leverage at the time of the indictment if he seemed headed toward losing the state prosecution as a backup.

Instead, Mueller wisely brought one set of charges (mostly financial crimes that preceded the campaign), and he is saving other charges that New York could also bring (tax fraud, soliciting stolen goods, soliciting/conspiring to hack computers). Mueller also knew that his indictment document on Monday would include a devastating amount of detail on paper without relying on any witnesses to testify, showing Mueller had the goods on a slam-dunk federal money laundering case. Then he dropped the hammer with the Papadopoulos plea agreement, showing Manafort and Gates that he has the goods on far more charges, both in federal and state court.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Poll: Trump's performance lags behind even tepid public expectations (Dan Balz and Scott Clement November 5, 2017, Washington Post)

Trump began his presidency with only modest expectations on the part of a public that was divided coming out of last year's contentious election. Roughly 100 days into his presidency, 42 percent said he had accomplished a great deal or a good amount while in office. Today, that has declined to 35 percent.

Meanwhile, 65 percent say he has accomplished "not much" or "little or nothing." This is up from 56 percent last spring. Forty-three percent of all Americans give him the lowest possible rating, saying he has accomplished "little or nothing."

The minimal expectations were key to his survival last November and his failure to fulfill even them a testimony to the Founders.
Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM



Osama bin Laden had funny YouTube videos of cats and babies delivered to his compound when he was hiding, according to a new release.

Bin Laden didn't have an internet connection when he was at the Abbottabad hideout, so that he couldn't be traced. That presumably means that the videos were instead brought to him on a hard drive or similar, and loaded onto his computer for watching later.

The videos include a compilation of funny cat videos and the viral hit Charlie Bit My Finger, in which a baby named Charlie bites a toddler's finger. They are named descriptively, apparently so that the man who planned the 9/11 attacks could access them later - one video is called "funy_cats", for instance.

Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


James Franklin chases down his players to make sure they shake hands after loss (Sam Cooper, Nov 4, 2017, Yahoo)
Penn State suffered a brutal loss for a second straight week, but head coach James Franklin was not going to let his players leave the field without shaking hands.

Immediately after Michigan State's Matt Coghlin made the winning field goal as time expired, cameras panned to Franklin who was curiously sprinting toward some of his players, who were heading to the visitors locker room. It quickly became clear he wasn't happy linebacker Koa Farmer decided not to shake hands with any MSU players. Franklin instructed Farmer and others to turn around and do so.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Yemen's Houthis fire ballistic missile at Riyadh (Faisal Edroos , 11/05/17, Al Jazeera)

Yemen's Houthi rebels have claimed responsibility for a loud explosion in Riyadh, saying they fired a long-range ballistic missile that travelled more than 800km over the border with Saudi Arabia. [...]

In an interview with Al Jazeera earlier this month, Mohammed Abdul Salam, a spokesman for the Houthi rebels, threatened to escalate operations on the Yemeni-Saudi border and target deep inside the Kingdom.
"The Saudis started the war. Our response will continue and increase, whether it's targeting deep inside Saudi Arabia, targeting military positions where Saudi jets fly from, or military bases inside Yemeni territory," Abdul Salam said.

"Abu Dhabi and others that target Yemen, are as far as we're concerned, a fair military target. Any country that targets Yemen will be struck by our missiles."

Posted by orrinj at 8:01 AM


Why Would Republicans Scrap the Adoption Tax Credit? (JOHN MCCORMACK, 11/04/17, The Weekly Standard)
The federal adoption tax credit is a tiny sliver of federal spending--the $300 million spent annually equals less than 0.01 percent of the federal budget. But the House GOP's proposal to scrap this little tax credit as part of their overhaul of the tax code is already receiving a lot of pushback.

"The adoption tax credit is not just one more policy issue. Vulnerable children ought to be a priority for us all," tweeted Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. "Amen. Being pro-life means being pro-adoption. Congress must remember this as we work through the details of tax reform in the coming weeks," Nebraska GOP senator Ben Sasse replied. [...]

According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, keeping the adoption tax credit would cost the federal government $3.8 billion over 10 years. That's a small amount of money in a multi-trillion-dollar tax overhaul. Over 10 years, the House GOP's proposed changes to the estate tax alone (immediately doubling the exempt amount to $11 million and then eliminating it after 2023) will reduce federal revenues by $172 billion--meaning that cutting the inheritance tax will cost 50 times more than eliminating the adoption tax credit.Mind you, adoption advocates argue that the adoption tax credit doesn't actually cost taxpayers $3.8 billion in practice. Chuck Johnson, president of the National Council for Adoption, points out that Republicans are always arguing that tax plans should be scored "dynamically" in order to account for the impact tax cuts will have on economic growth--but they have failed to consider the overall impact of the adoption tax credit on state and federal budgets.

"What they don't factor in is the total cost to society with a child in foster care," Johnson tells THE WEEKLY STANDARD. The costs to taxpayers of keeping a child in foster care--health care, food, housing, social workers, and administrators--are far greater than the one-time tax credit adoptive families may receive.

"Comparing the per-child cost of subsidized adoption from foster care with the cost of maintaining a child in foster care, one concludes that the child adopted from foster care costs the public only 40 percent as much as the child who remains in foster care," according to a report from the National Council for Adoption. "The difference in cost per child per year amounts to $15,480."

"You've got to look at the total cost. You've got to look at the future savings," says Johnson. Children who get out of foster care and into permanent families are better off, which is good for them and good for society. "Children get in families who help them become self-sufficient contributing members of society, instead of folks we have to provide care to for the rest of their lives," says Johnson.

You have to remember why the credit was adopted in the first place.
Posted by orrinj at 7:58 AM


The Trump Administration's Looming Political Crisis : It's been a chaotic year since the election. But the Mueller investigation signals that the most eventful days are still ahead. (Steve Coll, 11/05/17, The New Yorker)

Last week, congressional committees summoned representatives from Facebook, Google, and Twitter to grill them about how they could possibly have allowed polarizing, race-baiting ads to be placed on their platforms by companies linked to the Kremlin. On Facebook alone, during the campaign, Russian ads reached more than a hundred million Americans. It is shocking that only now, and after early denials from Facebook that the ads were a serious problem, are we discovering the vast online spread of manipulative content linked to Russia. At a minimum, as Representative Adam Schiff, the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, put it, "the Russians mounted what could be described as an independent expenditure campaign on Mr. Trump's behalf."

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:27 AM


Wait, did Bernie Sanders win the election? (Scott Sumner, 11/05/17, EconLog)

 After winning all the branches of government, you'd sort of expect the GOP to propose at least a token reduction in the top rate.

Now the Wall Street Journal reports that the GOP plans to raise the top federal income tax rate to 49.4%:

The House GOP's reform proposal for individual taxes is a mess, but now we learn it also includes a stealthy 45.6% marginal tax rate on some high earners. This dishonest surcharge betrays the GOP's purposes of growing the economy and simplifying the code, and Republicans ought to kill this gift to the left that will be slapped on more Americans when Democrats return to power.
[I added the additional 3.8% income tax to the regular income tax, something our media always forgets to do.]

Now let's consider a wealthy person in California. Under Obama that person faced a top rate of roughly 50%, combining state and federal incomes taxes. Under the new GOP plan, the top rate for Californians would soar to 62.7%, a rate one associates more with Thomas Piketty or Bernie Sanders, rather than the Ronald Reagan GOP. 

Of course Donald is Bernie, but why would we tax income, profits, and returns at all?

November 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 PM


Hysterical mobs are crudely judging history. One book offers a better way. : a review of Grant by Ron Chernow  (George F. Will, November 3, 2017, Washington Post)

He was hopelessly naive regarding the rascality unleashed by the sudden postwar arrival of industrialism entangled with government. But the corruptions during his administration showed only his negligence, not his cupidity. More importantly, Grant, says Chernow, "showed a deep reservoir of courage in directing the fight against the Ku Klux Klan and crushing the largest wave of domestic terrorism in American history." He ranks behind only Abraham Lincoln and Lyndon B. Johnson as a presidential advancer of African American aspirations.

After the presidency, he was financially ruined by his characteristic misjudgment of the sort of miscreants who abused his trust when he was president. His rescuer from the wreckage inflicted by a 19th-century Madoff was Mark Twain, who got Grant launched on his memoirs. This taciturn, phlegmatic military man of few words, writing at a punishing pace during the agony of terminal cancer, produced the greatest military memoir in the English language, and the finest book published by any U.S. president.

Chernow is clear-eyed in examining and evenhanded in assessing Grant's defects. He had an episodic drinking problem but was not a problem drinker: He was rarely incapacitated, and never during military exigencies or when with Julia, his wife. Far from being an unimaginative military plodder profligate with soldiers' lives, he was by far the war's greatest soldier, tactically and strategically, and the percentage of casualties in his armies was, Chernow says, "often lower than those of many Confederate generals."

Sentimentality about Robert E. Lee has driven much disdain for Grant. Chernow's judgment about Lee is appropriately icy: Even after failing to dismember the nation, he "remained a southern partisan" who "never retreated from his retrograde views on slavery."

Geoffrey Perret makes the point, in his fine Grant bio, that his reputation as president suffers because he was the first to oversee the massively enlarged government that the Civil War left behind.  So the scandals of his administration, which seemed unique at the time, became routine in ensuing decades.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 PM


Justice was served in the Bergdahl case (Peter Bergen, 11/04/17, CNN)

Col. Nance had to weigh a number of mitigating factors as he determined Bergdahl's sentence. (Note: I have met with members of Bergdahl's family.)

The first factor, of course, is the five years Bergdahl spent as a prisoner of the Taliban.

Bergdahl mounted a number of escape attempts after which he spent years confined in a cage suitable for an animal.

He was also tortured, beaten with thick rubber hoses and copper wire.

The second, is Bergdahl's diagnosis of schizotypal personality disorder.

According to the Mayo Clinic, "People with schizotypal personality disorder are often described as odd or eccentric... the person with schizotypal personality disorder responds inappropriately to social cues and holds peculiar beliefs."
Given this diagnosis, it's not clear why Bergdahl was allowed into the military in the first place. Some evidence for Bergdahl's strange mindset is provided by his observation to the podcast "Serial" after he was released by the Taliban that when he had left his base in Afghanistan he believed he was embarking on some kind of "Jason Bourne" mission. Moving around alone in Taliban areas in Afghanistan, Bergdahl proved an easy target for Taliban foot soldiers, not some kind of action hero.

A third factor that the judge likely weighed in his decision was that Bergdahl provided useful information about the Taliban to US intelligence agencies when he was debriefed.

Finally, the judge said he would also weigh prejudicial statements made by President Trump about the case as a mitigating factor.

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


Trump finally discovered he can't force the feds to prosecute Clinton -- and he's not happy (Dara Lind, Nov 3, 2017, Vox)

Trump opened up to talk-radio host and Mediaite contributor Larry O'Connor on Thursday, in an interview broadcast on Washington radio station WBAL. "The saddest thing," Trump told O'Connor, "is because I'm the president of the United States, I'm not supposed to be involved in the Justice Department."

The idea that the head of the government can't use his power to prosecute his enemies is literally at the core of the idea of the "rule of law" as it's understood in America. Outside legal experts and lawmakers from both parties have been making that argument for months.

But it seems that it came as a nasty surprise to President Donald Trump, and it's not clear when he found out that he couldn't manipulate the activity of the Justice Department -- of if he has, in fact, made a decision he won't try to soon reverse.

Remember that he certainly didn't seem to know that he wasn't "supposed to be involved" when he (allegedly) demanded the loyalty of FBI Director James Comey; fired Comey (ostensibly for being too harsh on Hillary Clinton), and later admitted that he'd fired Comey because he thought the FBI's investigation of ties between his campaign and the Russian government was "fake news."

And he certainly didn't know he wasn't "supposed to be involved" when for months he held a grudge against his own attorney general and close adviser Jeff Sessions, because Sessions felt that his entanglement in the Russia scandal was a reason to recuse himself from the federal investigation rather than trying to quash it. (That move led to the eventual appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller, who indicted former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort earlier this week.)

It is not ideal, to say the least, for a president to learn on the job about fundamental principles of American governance. But it appears that at some point, someone got through to him, and explained that Comey and Sessions weren't acting deliberately to spite the president but were trying to uphold the integrity of their offices. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:03 PM

THE 4%:

Territorial losses suffered by Islamic State in Syria, Iraq (SARAH EL DEEB and SUSANNAH GEORGE, 11/04/17,  Associated Press)

With new losses, the Islamic State group has been driven from more than 96 percent of the large parts of Iraq and Syria it once held, crushing its goal of establishing a "caliphate" in the region. [...]

The Syrian city of Boukamal is the last major urban center in the hands of IS.

The group also is spread along the Syria-Iraq border in villages in the provinces of Hassakeh and Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria.

There also are small IS cells in Iraq's Nineveh, Anbar and Salahudin provinces, where the central government has lacked strong control for years.

Along this thin line on the border of the two countries, the militants still have a presence in a region running west of the Euphrates River toward the Syrian desert, between Deir el-Zour and Homs provinces. There also is a small IS presence near Damascus.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Memo Reveals Details of Hillary Clinton-DNC Deal (ALEX SEITZ-WALD, 11/04/17, NBC)

In exchange for Hillary for America's (HFA) helping the cash-strapped DNC raise money, the party committee agreed "that HFA personnel will be consulted and have joint authority over strategic decisions over the staffing, budget, expenditures, and general election related communications, data, technology, analytics, and research."

Specifically, the DNC agreed to hire a communications director from "one of two candidates previously identified as acceptable to HFA." And while the DNC maintained "the authority to make the final decision" on senior staff in the communications, technology and research departments, the party organization said it would choose "between candidates acceptable to HFA."

The memo stipulates the DNC had to hire a communications director by September 11, 2015, months before the first nominating contests in early 2016.

However, the memo also made clear that the arrangement pertained to only the general election, not the primary season, and it left open the possibility that it would sign similar agreements with other candidates.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM


'The Coffee Boy' Spills It In Trump's Lap : George Papadopoulos was only trying to make the boss happy. Now he's working for Mueller. (JACK SHAFER November 04, 2017, Politico)

From a position of almost absolute powerlessness inside the Trump campaign, he made repeated attempts via his sketchy Russian and Russophile connections to consummate meetings between Trump and Putin or between Trump other Russian leaders in the months before the election. As a cooperating witness in the Mueller probe, the hapless and unaccomplished Papadopoulos may deliver doofus danger to the Trump: Depending on what he heard and saw inside the campaign, his testimony could spark a chain reaction capable of toppling the presidency.

You can't deny Papadopoulos' doofus bona fides. He lied to the FBI, doofus style, which easily caught him in his fibs. Before joining the Trump campaign in March 2016, he labored on the Ben Carson campaign, making him a doofus' doofus. When Trump met with the Washington Post editorial board on March 21, 2016, he presented Papadopoulos to the world, calling him "an energy and oil consultant, excellent guy." As we now know, being described in superlatives by Trump almost always marks the subject as an incompetent.

On March 31, 2016, Papadopoulos pitched the idea of a Trump-Putin meeting at a meeting of Trump's national security team, which including Papadopoulos and now-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Trump was so proud of the event, he captured and tweeted it. Mueller immortalized it this way: "When defendant PAPADOPOULOS introduced himself to the group, he stated, in sum and substance, that he had connections that could help arrange a meeting between then-candidate Trump and President Putin," the plea states. According to CNN, Trump didn't rule out such a meeting with the Russian leader, although Sessions is said to have batted the pitch down. He is reported to have said that such a meeting would look bad if it ever got out. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:21 AM

CITIES WERE A MISTAKE (self-reference alert):

Every person in London now breathes dangerous levels of toxic air (John McKenna, 10/06/17, WEF)

The population of London hit 8.8 million people this year and every one of them is breathing dangerous levels of polluted, toxic air.

Every district of the UK's capital city exceeds safe levels for the most dangerous type of air pollutants.

The Wife and I have been watching Escape to the Country on Netflix and growing increasingly bitter at the awesome country houses available super-cheap over there.  

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


You Asked, We Answered: What's Up With That 'Chicken Farmer I Still Love You' Rock? (PAIGE SUTHERLAND, 11/03/17, NHPR)

If you've ever driven on Route 103 heading up to Sunapee for some swimming or skiing, you might have seen this piece of graffiti on the side of the road in Newbury.

It's on this giant rock right off the highway and it reads: "Chicken Farmer I Still Love You" in big white letters. And it's been there for decades.

As part of our series Only in NH, in which we answer questions from around the state about New Hampshire oddities, NHPR's Paige Sutherland tries to solve the mystery behind the chicken farmer love rock.

Posted by orrinj at 9:08 AM


The Education of Betsy DeVos : President Donald Trump's most controversial, ideological Cabinet pick is discovering the limits of her power. (TIM ALBERTA November/December 2017, Politico)

DeVos may have been Trump's most controversial Cabinet nominee--the first in American history to require a tiebreaking confirmation vote cast by the vice president. Yet she runs the administration's smallest and arguably least potent federal department; DeVos does not enforce America's laws like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, or direct its international relations like Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. And after nine months in office, it has become apparent to the education secretary that she has limited power to transform the nation's schools. When it comes to the most contentious debates surrounding America's K-12 system--vouchers, standards, incentives, tests--DeVos had more tangible influence as a private citizen in Michigan than she does now in Washington.

Public schools receive little of their funding from the feds--roughly 9.1 percent in the 2015-16 school year, according to the National Education Association--giving Washington minimal leverage over states and localities. The 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), seen as a bipartisan rebuke to the perceived overreach of both George W. Bush and Barack Obama, further decentralized much of K-12 decision-making to an unprecedented degree. It's true that the secretary has more autonomy when it comes to higher education: Student loans and regulatory guidance, among other things, are within her purview. But this is not where DeVos has focused her decades of advocacy work--nor was it the focus of the entrenched resistance warning of her plans to decimate the nation's public schools.

"It's ironic that she emerged as the Cabinet nominee to draw the strongest and most visceral opposition, given the constraints on the ability of any secretary of education to effect dramatic change in American education," says Martin West, an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education who served as Mitt Romney's top education adviser in 2012. "Those constraints are greater now than ever given the restrictions on the secretary's authority that were built into ESSA."

The bureaucracy is much more formidable and difficult than I had anticipated--and I expected it to be difficult."

This scaled-down role happens to square with DeVos' small-government worldview. "President Trump and I know our jobs," she told a Republican conference on Mackinac Island, Michigan, one week after visiting Kansas City Academy. "It's to get out of the way." But she clearly had more ambitious aims when taking the job--and has grown frustrated at her inability to achieve them. In several interviews this fall with Politico Magazine, DeVos repeatedly returns to the word "bureaucracy": how it smothers creativity, blocks innovation, slows change to a glacial pace. When I ask what has surprised her most about the job, DeVos does not hesitate. "The bureaucracy is much more formidable and difficult than I had anticipated--and I expected it to be difficult," she says. "It's even worse. And you know, in talking to a lot of the great career staff, it's like everybody nods their heads when you talk about this ... yet it seems like everyone is powerless to do anything about it."

Everyone except for her. DeVos is currently undertaking an administration-mandated review of the department, from the top down, hunting for inefficiency and excess. From what she has seen so far, DeVos tells me she will recommend a "significantly lighter footprint." 

Posted by orrinj at 8:45 AM


Sonny Rollins Spent A Mythical 'Night at the Village Vanguard' 60 Years Ago Today (Nat Chinen, 11/03/17, NPR)

One of the greatest jazz albums ever made was recorded 60 years ago today. It's A Night at the Village Vanguard, a live date by saxophonist Sonny Rollins, featuring a muscular backdrop of bass and drums. It's not a carefully plotted concept album, nor a manifesto, but a document with the slangy nonchalance of a conversation overheard on the street, extemporaneous and unburdened. It's a slice of musical vérité that captures a true master of the form on a good day, in a generous and jocular mood.

At 87, Rollins is an acknowledged eminence in American culture: Earlier this year his archives were acquired by the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture at the New York Public Library, and there's a serious effort afoot to rename the Williamsburg Bridge in his honor.

He's also legendarily self-effacing, the harshest critic and most reluctant listener of his own past work. By his estimation, he hasn't heard A Night at the Village Vanguard since shortly after it was released. But, when I asked him to talk about the album and the circumstances around its creation, he readily obliged.

Posted by orrinj at 8:42 AM


Your Sentencing Advice Isn't Helpful, Mr. President (Andrew C. McCarthy, November 4, 2017, National Review)

The twaddle President Trump tweeted (here and here) in urging the "DEATH PENALTY!" for Sayfullo Saipov, the West Side Highway jihadist, is maddening -- and not just on its face. Only days earlier, the commander-in-chief had been chastised for intemperate remarks affecting another case, the court-martial of Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl.

As we recounted in a recent column, Trump's bull-in-a-china-shop routine rumbled through the sentencing proceedings of the deserter and former Taliban prisoner. Unwilling (or is it unable?) to utter the words "no comment" when asked about the case during a press conference, the president reaffirmed his campaign-trail incitements about the "dirty, rotten traitor" (for whom he'd pantomimed a firing-squad execution).

Trump, or at least someone at the White House, must have known that the defense had already moved to get the case thrown out on the theory that Trump had prejudiced Bergdahl's fair-trial rights. When he denied this motion, the military judge explained that candidate Trump had not been in command authority when he made his remarks. The clear message to the White House was that this would be a much tougher call if Trump spewed such demagoguery as president. Seemingly taking this as a dare rather than prudent advice, he proceeded to spew it as president. Naturally, the defense renewed the motion. After a few days of hand-wringing, the manifestly irritated judge denied it, on grounds that were far less defensible. Yesterday, undoubtedly concerned that the president's comments could result in a reversal on appeal if a stiff sentence were imposed, the judge sentenced Bergdahl to no jail time -- notwithstanding that desertion can carry a lengthy term of imprisonment, and Bergdahl's desertion resulted in soldiers' being severely wounded in the search for him.

Earlier, aware of the problems his off-the-cuff remarks had already caused in the court-martial, the president nevertheless butted into the West Side Highway jihadist's legal proceedings. He was moved to do so, he said, because the justice system "is a joke and it's a laughingstock." Well, it is if the president turns it into one.

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Two popular conservative Twitter personalities were just outed as Russian trolls (Rob Tornoe, 11/03/17,

Jenna Abrams was a popular figure in right-wing social media circles. Boasting nearly 70,000 followers, Abrams was featured in numerous news articles during the 2016 election, spotlighted by outlets as varied as USA Today, the Washington Post, the BBC, and Yahoo! Sports. Her tweet about CNN airing porn during Anthony Bourdain's show (it didn't) was reported by numerous outlets.

But Abrams never existed.

According to information released by House Democrats earlier this week, Abrams was one of more than 2,750 fake Twitter accounts created by employees at the Internet Research Agency, a "troll farm" funded by the Russian government based in St. Petersburg. In addition to the Abrams account, several other popular conservative social media personalities -- @LauraBaeley, SouthLoneStar, Ten_GOP -- were all revealed to be troll accounts. All have been deactivated on Twitter.

According to the Daily Beast, the agency developed a following around the Abrams account by offering humorous, seemingly non-political takes on pop culture figures like Kim Kardashian. The agency also furnished the fake account, which dates back to 2014, with a personal website, a Gmail account and even a GoFundMe page.

Once the Abrams account began to develop a following, the tone of its tweets shifted from pokes and prods at celebrities to divisive views on hot topics like immigration and segregation.

"To those people, who hate the Confederate flag. Did you know that the flag and the war wasn't about slavery, it was all about money," the Abrams account wrote in April of 2016. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


Inside story: How Russians hacked the Democrats' emails (RAPHAEL SATTER, JEFF DONN and CHAD DAY,  11/04/17, AP)

It was just before noon in Moscow on March 10, 2016, when the first volley of malicious messages hit the Hillary Clinton campaign.

The first 29 phishing emails were almost all misfires. Addressed to people who worked for Clinton during her first presidential run, the messages bounced back untouched.

Except one.

Within nine days, some of the campaign's most consequential secrets would be in the hackers' hands, part of a massive operation aimed at vacuuming up millions of messages from thousands of inboxes across the world.

An Associated Press investigation into the digital break-ins that disrupted the U.S. presidential contest has sketched out an anatomy of the hack that led to months of damaging disclosures about the Democratic Party's nominee. It wasn't just a few aides that the hackers went after; it was an all-out blitz across the Democratic Party. They tried to compromise Clinton's inner circle and more than 130 party employees, supporters and contractors.

While U.S. intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia was behind the email thefts, the AP drew on forensic data to report Thursday that the hackers known as Fancy Bear were closely aligned with the interests of the Russian government.

The AP's reconstruction-- based on a database of 19,000 malicious links recently shared by cybersecurity firm Secureworks -- shows how the hackers worked their way around the Clinton campaign's top-of-the-line digital security to steal chairman John Podesta's emails in March 2016.

It also helps explain how a Russian-linked intermediary could boast to a Trump policy adviser, a month later, that the Kremlin had "thousands of emails" worth of dirt on Clinton. [...]

By the second half of April, the DNC's senior leadership was beginning to realize something was amiss. One DNC consultant, Alexandra Chalupa, received an April 20 warning from Yahoo saying her account was under threat from state-sponsored hackers, according to a screengrab she circulated among colleagues.

The Trump campaign had gotten a whiff of Clinton email hacking, too. According to recently unsealed court documents, former Trump foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos said that it was at an April 26 meeting at a London hotel that he was told by a professor closely connected to the Russian government that the Kremlin had obtained compromising information about Clinton.

"They have dirt on her," Papadopoulos said he was told. "They have thousands of emails." [...]

The same afternoon, just as the American electorate was digesting a lewd audio tape of Trump boasting about sexually assaulting women, WikiLeaks began publishing the emails stolen from Podesta.

The publications sparked a media stampede as they were doled out one batch at a time, with many news organizations tasking reporters with scrolling through the thousands of emails being released in tranches. At the AP alone, as many as 30 journalists were assigned, at various times, to go through the material.

Guccifer 2.0 told one reporter he was thrilled that WikiLeaks had finally followed through.

"Together with Assange we'll make america great again," he wrote.

Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


The Sleazy Case Against Mueller's Probe (Bret Stephens, NOV. 3, 2017, NY Times)

The truth about Fusion is that it is paid to dig up dirt by whoever is willing to pay for the dirt. Its business model relies on the Beatles' timeless insight that "everybody's got something to hide except me and my monkey."

But questions about Fusion's credibility, client list or aggressive tactics are irrelevant. Fusion brokered the dossier but Steele produced it. What's relevant is his credibility, the reliability of his sources and the truthfulness of their claims.

These check out. Bill Browder, the anti-Putin campaigner who is an outspoken critic of Fusion, calls Steele "a top-class person whose reputation is beyond reproach." At least one of Steele's possible Russian sources was found dead and three others were charged with treason, suggesting, as one Wall Street Journal news account noted, that the Kremlin was cleaning out the moles who had betrayed its hand in last year's election meddling.

As for the allegations themselves, former C.I.A. station chief John Sipher laid out the decisive case for their broad truthfulness in a lengthy article in September in Just Security.

"Well before any public knowledge of these events," Sipher notes, Steele's report "identified multiple elements of the Russian operation including a cyber campaign, leaked documents related to Hillary Clinton, and meetings with Paul Manafort and other Trump affiliates to discuss the receipt of stolen documents. Mr. Steele could not have known that the Russians stole information on Hillary Clinton, or that they were considering means to weaponize them in the U.S. election, all of which turned out to be stunningly accurate."

(After this column went to print, The Times reported that Trump foreign-policy adviser Carter Page met with Russian government officials in a July 2016 trip to Moscow, something he has long denied. This further confirms another claim made in the Steele dossier.)

There's more of this, but you get the point: The suggestion that the Steele dossier has been discredited is discreditable to the point of being dishonest.

Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Relocated Hanover Bear Was Shot, Killed in Quebec (Jordan Cuddemi, 11/01/17, Valley News)

One of the three juvenile bears that raided trash cans and even entered a Hanover home under the watchful eye of their mother was shot and killed within weeks of being relocated to northern New Hampshire last spring, wildlife officials said.

New Hampshire Fish and Game Bear Project Leader Andrew Timmins said he received confirmation on Wednesday that the yearling was lawfully shot and killed on June 16 by a hunter in Quebec, 18 days after the bears were captured and brought to Pittsburg, N.H.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Why MLB Is Hot, and the NFL Is Not (Thomas Boswell, 11/03/17, The Washington Post)

This World Series cast baseball in sharp relief against an NFL season that so far is drab, injury-filled, controversy-laden and so full of parity that almost nobody is worth watching. However, the difference between the directions of the two sports is deeper than that and follows long trend lines.

These days, baseball is smart, innovative, in love with change and so dynamic you can hardly keep up with it, while the NFL has been asleep for decades, collecting cash and becoming sclerotic.

MLB is broad-minded, inclusive, not just multicultural, but multi-continental and in touch with the best in traditional core American values. Yuli Gurriel didn't just get booed to the high heavens in Southern California for his racist gesture and remark toward the Dodgers' Yu Darvish in Game 5. The introduction of his name in the heart of Texas brought a strong undercurrent of boos and tepid cheers. And MLB's commissioner said any sort of racist gesture or remark had "no place" in his game and would be disciplined strongly.

These days, baseball is in sync with the lucrative digital world with its enormous marketable MLB data bank. MLB wishes for transformation and progress, while respecting its past.

The half-in-the-bag-before-kickoff NFL, in its often family-unfriendly venues, is cornball and square and doesn't know it has mustard on its forehead and beer spilled in its shoes. New ideas? Hey, congratulations on that zone blitz, 25 years ago. What, you stole the read option from college? That lasted 18 months.

Baseball evolves, sometimes so fast that your head swims. But it's change that is fun, controversial and infinitely debatable. Just five years ago, nobody thought that, by now, most teams would use radical defensive shifts leaving huge swaths of the field undefended, or that hitters would discover "launch angle," transform their value in one offseason and turn hitting theory on its head.

Back then, a blink ago, Stephen Strasburg's fastball was news. Now, in the age of "core strength" and study of biomechanics, most teams have relievers who touch 100 mph and maybe a starter or two as well. Oh, Lordy, what are hitters going to do? Maybe choke up three inches on the bat with two strikes like those bums Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo. Or, disguised behind one stance, have multiple swing styles so that you can use the whole field like Daniel Murphy.

Who says you're a "starting pitcher" or a "reliever." Once you get to postseason, you're just "a pitcher." Be ready. Rich Hill got pounded on the back with congratulations after a pair of World Series starts in which he got just 12 and 14 outs. Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton, starters, got the final 11 and 12 outs in Houston's wins in Games 3 and 7.

"I'm not trying to bring back the three-inning save," said Astros Manager A.J. Hinch, a Stanford grad. But he was. Everybody from Firpo Marberry in the '20s to Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage would be proud. If the Dodgers had come back to win Game 7, one hero would have been that long reliever with 12 outs of shutout work: Clayton Kershaw.

We now have starters who, on occasion, are not even allowed to pitch long enough to qualify for a win, but we have "high-leverage" multi-inning relievers, such as Andrew Miller, who worked in the innings of most dire need in 2016 -- 19⅓ innings in 10 games -- and almost got Cleveland a World Series win.

Hello, NFL, are you around here anywhere? Speak up.

About what? The NFL hasn't had a new idea in 15 years, unless Bill Belichick had it. The NFL is just formulaic frat-house-on-the-lawn touch football with conservative five-yard passes that you could throw when you were 14 years old. Bubble screen, shallow pick route, draw, stretch sweep, quick hitch, punt. Yippee!

Unfortunately, popularity brings with it television and ads, prolonging games endlessly.  Soccer and rugby are the only sports you can watch a whole game of anymore.

November 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 PM


Iraqi Shi'ite militia says will fight IS in Syria border town (Reuters, 11/04/17) 

An Iraqi Shi'ite militia fighting Islamic State in Iraq near the border with Syria will also take on the jihadist group in the Syria border town of Albu Kamal, the militia's spokesman was quoted as saying on Friday.

Jaafar Hussaini, the spokesman for the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia, one of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF) fighting alongside the Iraqi army against Islamic State, was speaking to Lebanese television channel al-Mayadin.

Posted by orrinj at 2:37 PM


Trump's Talent for Remaining Unpopular -- in This Economy -- Is Truly Impressive (Eric Levitz, 11/02/17, New York)

Last month, the American economy added 261,000 jobs -- payroll growth that pushed the unemployment rate down to 4.1 percent, a low unmatched since the end of the Clinton presidency. Over those same 31 days, Donald Trump's approval rating fell by 2.1 percent in RealClearPolitics' poll of polls, with just 39 percent of the public expressing a favorable opinion of their nation's leader on All Hallow's Eve.  [...]

It's hard to overstate what a remarkable achievement this is -- and not just for Trump himself. Generally speaking, the ruling party enjoys credit -- and suffers blame -- for America's macroeconomic conditions. And yet, despite inheriting one of the strongest economies the U.S. has seen this millennium, the Republican Party spent much of the past month trailing Democrats by double digits in the 2018 congressional race: By October's end, roughly 47 percent of Americans wanted Democrats to take over Congress next year, while just 38 percent wanted to see the GOP retain it, according to FiveThirtyEight's poll aggregator.

Posted by orrinj at 11:20 AM


NAFTA Withdrawal Would Increase, Not Lower, U.S. Trade Deficit With Mexico (John Brinkley , 11/02/17, Forbes)

There is no scenario under which withdrawing from NAFTA would benefit the United States economically. Most economists say it would reduce economic growth and increase the U.S. trade deficit with Mexico and the world. It would not create jobs, particularly now with the United States at nearly full employment.

Mexico and Canada will continue pursuing free trade agreements with other countries, including the nine other parties to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Trump jettisoned on his second day in office. The 11 TPP countries are reportedly close to a deal. Canada has a new free trade agreement with the European Union. Mexico and the EU are negotiating one. The United States was negotiating an FTA with the EU, but that went into the ditch when Trump took office.

So "all our biggest competitors will have access to Canada and Mexico, and we won't," National Trade Council president Rufus Yerxa said. "This is more the U.S. withdrawing from the trend in the world than the U.S. joining the trend in the world."

Posted by orrinj at 11:15 AM


Unemployment Rate Drops to 4.1%, Lowest Level in 17 Years (Ali Meyer, November 3, 2017, dAILY bEACON)

The unemployment rate for all Americans declined from 4.2 percent in September to 4.1 percent in October, the lowest level in 17 years, according to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The number of unemployed individuals dropped from 6,801,000 to 6,520,000 in October.

The unemployment rate measures the percent of those who did not have a job and actively looked for one over the month.

The "real" unemployment rate, otherwise known as the U-6 measure, declined from 8.3 percent in September to 7.9 percent in October. [...]

The labor force participation rate, which is the percentage of the population that has a job or actively looked for one in the past month, declined from 63.1 percent in September to 62.7 percent in October.

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


Most Counties Will Have Free 2018 Exchange Plans for Low-Income Enrollees (Caroline F. Pearson , Chris Sloan, Elizabeth Carpenter | Nov 02, 2017, aVALERE)

New analysis from Avalere finds that nearly 98% of counties with exchanges operated by will have free bronze plan options for low-income consumers aged 50 earning 150% of poverty or less ($18,090 for an individual or $36,900 for a family of four).

"This year, more than ever, it is important for consumers to shop around and compare their options across metal levels," said Chris Sloan, senior manager at Avalere. "The dramatically higher subsidies mean consumers could be getting much better deals for bronze and gold plans for 2018." 

In 2018, these highly-subsidized consumers will also have access to free silver plan options in 18% of counties. Further, 10% of counties will have free gold plan options available to individuals making $18,090, or 150% of poverty, per year. While availability of free subsidized options decreases for individuals with higher incomes, 2018 will have a high number of free subsidized options. 

Avalere experts link the increased availability of free plan options to the Administration's decision to end cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers. This decision has led to substantially higher premium subsidies in 2018, as insurers increase premium levels to make up for the lack of CSR payments. 

"The curious effect of the Administration's elimination of the cost-sharing reduction payments is that many subsidized individuals may find that they pay less for premiums in 2018," said Caroline Pearson, senior vice president at Avalere.

Posted by orrinj at 11:06 AM


DoD is Losing the Budget Endgame (JOHN CONGER, 11/03/17, Defense One)

It turns out that a budget deal has indeed been struck, but it left DoD out in the cold. The House and Senate just passed a concurrent budget resolution for fiscal year 2018, but they focused their negotiations on making sure they could pass a tax reform bill, and designated all of their budget flexibility toward that end. The defense budget was left at the BCA cap level: $52 billion below the budget request.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


The Sins of Leon Wieseltier : The climb and fall. (JOSEPH EPSTEIN, 11/02/17, Weekly Standard)

Upon his quitting the New Republic, a famous think tank quickly took Leon on as its Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow (Daddy would have been proud) and the Atlantic appointed him a contributing editor. The wealthy widow of Steve Jobs stepped up to fund a new magazine he planned to edit called Idea. In a well-known anecdote, the conductor Herbert von Karajan is said to have got into a cab, and when the driver asked him where he wished to go, von Karajan replied, "It doesn't matter. They want me everywhere." Leon Wielseltier seemed to be in the same condition.

Even better punch-line : "No, that is Christ, He just thinks He's von Karajan"

Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM



[A] funny thing happened on the way to a third Obama term. Winning endowed the things Trump said during the campaign with an import they'd previously lacked. He was, back then, a hopeless renegade, troubling but not threatening. Then, the returns from Florida and Wisconsin came in on the evening of November 8. And while many understood that his "rigged system" was just an excuse, "drain the swamp" sure sounded like a promise.So as the presidential inauguration approached, anticipation bubbled through the sulfurous nexus of Capitol Hill politicians, special interest groups and their K Street lobbyists, the media, the establishment and just about everyone else who had dismissed Trump and his slogans as a publicity stunt. There was now a question, rather urgently in need of an answer: Was he serious about all that "swamp" stuff?

Not really, revealed former House Speaker and loyal Trump supporter Newt Gingrich, admitting to NPR on December 21 that "drain the swamp" was never a genuine promise. "I'm told he now just disclaims that," Gingrich said a month before Trump was to assume the Oval Office. "He now says it was cute, but he doesn't want to use it anymore."

Someone from Trump Tower must have placed an angry call, because the former speaker soon tweeted that he'd overstated the case. But that didn't kill the story. That same day, Politico wondered if "drain the swamp" would be Trump's "first broken promise." It cited the access-peddling lobbying firm of Trump's first campaign manager, Corey R. Lewandowski, as well as the consulting firm with troubling foreign ties run by his incoming national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn. "Trump and his allies have engaged in some of the same practices they accused Hillary Clinton of exploiting and vowed to change," Politico wrote.

Now, a year after the election--and more than a year after Trump first made that pledge to the American people--many observers believe the swamp has grown into a sinkhole that threatens to swallow the entire Trump administration. The number of White House officials currently facing questions, lawsuits or investigation is astonishing: Trump, being sued for violating the "emoluments clause" of the U.S. Constitution by running his Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.; Paul J. Manafort, the second Trump campaign manager, indicted on money laundering charges in late October; Flynn, for undisclosed lobbying work done on behalf of the Turkish government; son-in-law and consigliere Jared Kushner, for failing to disclose $1 billion in loans tied to his real-estate company; and at least six Cabinet heads being investigated for or asked about exorbitant travel expenses, security details or business dealings. [...]

Trump friend Christopher Ruddy, the publisher of conservative outlet Newsmax, laughed off the suggestion that Trump would enter public service to enrich himself, as critics have suggested. At the same time, he added, "I don't think it's like they wake up in the morning and say, 'How can we drain the swamp today?'"

Ruddy thinks Trump can only do so much to fulfill his promise on ethics. "At the end of the day, the swamp rules," he told me, referencing the enormous class of unelected technocrats that will outlast Trump's presidency, as well as all the ones that come after.

But according to the presidential historian Robert Dallek, no American leader has acted with more unadulterated self-interest as Trump. Dallek says that in terms of outright corruption, Trump is worse than both Ulysses S. Grant and Warren G. Harding, presidents who oversaw the most flagrant instances of graft in American political history. Grant's stellar reputation as a Civil War general is tarnished in part by the Whiskey Ring scandal, in which Treasury Department officials stole taxes from alcohol distillers; members of Harding's administration plundered oil reserves in Teapot Dome, a rock outcropping in Wyoming that has lent its name to the most notorious example of government corruption in American political history. In both cases, the fault of the president was in his lack of oversight. As far as Dallek is concerned, something more nefarious is at work in the White House of Donald Trump.

"What makes this different," Dallek says, "is that the president can't seem to speak the truth about a host of things." Trump isn't just allowing corruption, in Dallek's view, but encouraging it. "The fish rots from the head," he reminds.

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


War of All Against All (Lindsey Hilsum NOVEMBER 23, 2017, New York Review of Books)

Syria was not the cradle of the Islamic State, but the revolution created a vacuum into which the militants stepped to impose their experiment in living. Their propaganda films show the glory of martyrdom for Allah, set to a soundtrack of heroic Koranic chanting, but reality is more banal: last year, a few days after Syrian government forces drove ISIS out of Qaryatayn, a largely Christian village near Homs, in the ruins of a desecrated monastery I found a notebook detailing payments to fighters, including a record of who had been on leave, extra money allocated to those with disabled relatives, a log of loan repayments, and a note about a fighter who had missed his wedding because he was with the tank division at the time.

Tadmur, the modern town adjacent to the ancient site of Palmyra, which had also been occupied by ISIS, was destroyed by Syrian regime and Russian bombing. Among the black flags and religious slogans was a sign reading "Department of Human Resources." In the rubble, I found advertisements for administrative jobs: ISIS had needed people skilled in Excel, Word, and Photoshop for their printing department. They replicated the most unlikely bureaucratic structures--in The Caliphate at War, Ahmed S. Hashim notes that an early attempt at government included the creation of a Ministry of Fisheries.

Pulling together speeches, other documents, and firsthand journalistic accounts, Hashim describes in detail the genesis of the group in Iraq, including the rift between the upstart caliphate and al-Qaeda, the first global jihadist movement. He traces much of the new, more extreme ideology back to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the "sheikh of slaughterers," who led al-Qaeda in Iraq until he was killed by a US air strike in 2006. A Sunni Arab chauvinist, Zarqawi was more interested in killing Iraqi Shias than those Osama bin Laden used to call "the far enemy," the Americans. In the end, the split between the two groups was less about ideology and more about territory and power. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS, refused to obey an edict from the al-Qaeda high command demanding that he confine himself to Iraq. He claimed that, on principle, he would not recognize the Sykes-Picot line, the colonial boundary between Syria and Iraq imposed by the British and French in 1916. In fact, he accurately assessed the weakness of the forces ranged against him and realized that no one could stop him from declaring himself caliph of the entire region.

As a former "politico-military" adviser to US forces, Hashim has expertise in Iraq, not Syria, and he has little new to say about what it was like to live under ISIS in either country. He does, however, assemble interesting statistics on how they governed. In 2015, according to The Economist, the GDP of the Islamic State reached $6 billion, more than several Caribbean island states and small African countries. Income streams included kidnapping, human trafficking, extortion, taxation, confiscation of property as punishment, sales of antiquities, and sales of oil and gas. Contrary to widespread belief, donations from wealthy Gulf Arabs accounted for a very small part of ISIS financing. The move into Syria enabled it to seize oil fields around Deir Ezzor and Hasakah. Once Western governments realized that the best way to undermine ISIS was to disrupt the market for smuggled oil while launching air strikes on the oil fields it controlled, the days of jihadist government were numbered.

Exacerbating sectarianism necessarily diminishes the Alawite state.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Exclusive: Carter Page testifies he told Sessions about Russia trip (Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, Thu November 2, 2017, CNN)

Former Trump foreign policy adviser Carter Page privately testified Thursday that he mentioned to Jeff Sessions he was traveling to Russia during the 2016 presidential campaign -- as new questions emerge about the attorney general's comments to Congress about Russia and the Trump campaign.

Posted by orrinj at 6:06 AM


Mueller grand jury investigating top DC lobbyists (DESMOND BUTLER, 11/02/17, AP) 

Special counsel Robert Mueller's grand jury is investigating a prominent Democratic lobbyist and a former GOP congressman for their involvement in an influence campaign on behalf of Ukrainian interests tied to Paul Manafort, according to a person with direct knowledge of the investigation.

At the center of the widening probe are Tony Podesta, a longtime Democratic operative, and Vin Weber, a former GOP congressman and leader of his own high-powered lobbying firm, Mercury LLC. The two men were hired as part of a multimillion-dollar lobbying effort directed by Manafort and longtime associate Rick Gates.

With the emphasis on the Ukrainian lobbying efforts, Mueller's criminal probe is moving beyond investigating ties between the Trump campaign and Russia and is aggressively pursuing people who worked as foreign agents without registering with the Justice Department. More witnesses are expected before the grand jury in coming weeks.

Representatives for Weber's firm and Podesta said they are cooperating with the special counsel's investigation.

No one actually gets prosecuted just for failing to register, but you can make their lives miserable.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 AM


Census shows pervasive decline in 2016 minority voter turnout  (William H. Frey, May 18, 2017, Brookings)

Racial minorities, especially black Americans, played a pivotal role in Barack Obama's 2008 and 2012 presidential wins. Now, newly released Census Bureau data confirm what many have anticipated: that both minority and black voter turnout took a decided downturn in last November's elections-- helping to compound the impact of the lower than 2012 vote margins that Democrat Hillary Clinton received in her loss to Donald Trump. Minority and black turnout was not only lower in the national statistics but also in key swing states.

November 2, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 PM


Trump's chief economist says we need more immigrant workers, not less (Lydia DePillis, 11/02/17,   @CNNMoney)

Trump's top economic adviser, Kevin Hassett, has long maintained that the U.S. should embrace more immigrant workers, not fewer.

While a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in 2013, Hassett wrote that the U.S. could add half a percentage point to economic growth by doubling the number of immigrants it lets into the country, especially if they come on employer-sponsored visas.

"Perhaps surprisingly for a country that has long thought of itself as a nation of immigrants, the U.S. falls far behind almost all the other countries in the number of immigrants it admitted in 2010 relative to its population size," Hassett wrote.
Hassett, who is now the chair of Trump's Council of Economic Advisers, reiterated that position just last week in testimony before the Joint Economic Committee.

"As an economist, if you want more output, you need more input, and labor is one of those inputs," Hassett responded. "For any economy, immigration is an important source of labor."

There is no economic case to be made for Donald's side.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 PM


Trump nominee Sam Clovis withdraws after Russia probe link (dEUTSCHE-wELLE, 11/02/17)

US President Donald Trump's nominee for the Department of Agriculture's (USDA) chief scientist withdrew from consideration for the post on Thursday after media reports linked him to an ongoing investigation of Russian interference in the presidential election.

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 PM


Alimony tax break killed in GOP tax plan (Jackie Wattles, November 2, 2017, CNN)

One tax break on the chopping block in the House Republicans' tax reform bill -- alimony payments.

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 PM


How Robots Will Help the U.S. Navy Avoid Future Collisions (PATRICK TUCKER, 11/02/17, Defense One)

Japanese, Chinese, and Norwegian shipbuilders have announced plans to build self-driving robotic vessels. Google, working with Rolls Royce, is applying its Google Cloud Machine Learning Engine to develop autonomous ship driving techniques that any number of companies might adopt. In many ways, a robot helmsman has it easier than a self-driving car, so long as everybody is broadcasting enough data to be detectable to everyone else.

One key takeaway from the fatal collisions is that the Navy's problems are very human in nature. Talking about the new report and its conclusions on Thursday, Adm. John Richardson, Chief of Naval Operations, said the Navy has too few people with too little training driving too few ships. There was, he said, too much pressure on the crewmen of ships in the Pacific to be everywhere at once, and that led to sailors steering ships and operating sensors and navigational equipment without proper training.

"These were fundamental mistakes of ship driving," he said, mistakes compounded by issues related to operational pressures.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Sessions under renewed scrutiny on Capitol Hill (Manu Raju, Evan Perez and Marshall Cohen, 11/02/17, CNN)

There is interest from Democrats on both the Senate intelligence and judiciary committees for Sessions to formally clarify his remarks made before both committees given what's now known about his interactions with Papadopoulos, a Senate aide told CNN. The source said the request for clarification could take several forms, such as having Sessions testify again or submitting a clarification in writing, but that has not yet been determined.

On Wednesday, lawmakers from both parties said Sessions needs to explain the discrepancies. And Democrats were sharply critical.

"Jeff Sessions concealed his meetings with the Russians and he had an obligation to be more forthcoming about meetings that involved Papadopoulos," said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat who sits on the Senate judiciary committee.

Sen. Martin Heinrich, a New Mexico Democrat who sits on the Senate intelligence committee, said that despite Sessions' testimony before the panel earlier this year, "it turns out he was at this meeting with George Papadopoulos. Papadopoulos proposed meeting with Putin and Trump. He didn't disclose that to the committee."

Heinrich added it calls into question "whether he is being honest and forthright with the committee and what does that mean for the highest law enforcement officer in the country?"

Sen. John Cornyn, the No. 2 in Republican leadership who serves on the intelligence and judiciary panels, said he was unaware of Sessions' attendance at that meeting until now.
He added: "I certainly think it's a legitimate area of inquiry" for lawmakers to pursue.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 AM


Mitch McConnell finally has something to brag about: Judicial appointments (Paul Kane November 2, 2017, Washington Post)

No Republican has voted against any of Trump's judicial nominees so far, and in some cases a handful or so of Democrats are willing to cross the aisle. On Tuesday, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) joined two other Democrats and all 52 Republicans to confirm Amy Corey Barrett to the 7th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, after Republicans pounced on Democratic questioning about the University of Notre Dame law professor's Catholic faith.

And although McConnell hasn't done so yet, he has broad support in his caucus to abolish a traditional courtesy that allowed senators, even those in the minority, to block judicial appointments from their home states.

This man takes credit for Neil Gorsuch's appointment: Mitch McConnell

He's moving quickly. After this week, the Senate will have confirmed eight appellate-level judges, with enough time to move a couple more before the end of the year.

In contrast, in 2009, Obama's first year in office, he saw just three Circuit Court judges confirmed.

The one reason Evangelicals could vote for him is paying off thanks to Mitch. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM



As methods of gaining international recognition go, putting your sheep population to use is one of the more unusual. But in a country where there are seven sheep for every five humans, it might not be such a bad idea.

With a population of 70,000 sheep and just 50,000 people, the remote Faroe Islands have previously struggled to get international recognition on Google Maps. Wounded that their roadways haven't been documented for the rest of the world's perusal, one local resident (alongside the tourist board) decided it would be a good idea to employ the islands' woolly creatures in order to help visitors explore the landscape. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 AM


Special Report: Drowning in grain - How Big Ag sowed seeds of a profit-slashing glut (Rod Nickel, 9/27/17, Reuters) 

On Canada's fertile Prairies, dominated by the yellows and golds of canola and wheat, summers are too short to grow corn on a major scale.

Paul Gregoire, an Agronomic Research Specialist with Monsanto, examines corn on Monsanto's research farm near Carman, Manitoba, Canada August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Zachary Prong
But Monsanto Co (MON.N) is working to develop what it hopes will be North America's fastest-maturing corn, allowing farmers to grow more in Western Canada and other inhospitable climates, such as Ukraine.

The seed and chemical giant projects that western Canadian corn plantings could multiply 20 times to 10 million acres by 2025 - adding some 1.1 billion bushels, or nearly 3 percent to current global production.

The question, amid historically high supplies and low grain prices, is whether the world really needs more corn.

A global grains glut is now in its fourth year, with supplies bloated by favorable weather, increasingly high-tech farm practices and tougher plant breeds.

The bin-busting harvests of cheap corn, wheat and soybeans are undermining the business models of the world's largest agriculture firms and the farmers who use their products and services. Some analysts say the firms have effectively innovated their way into a stubbornly oversupplied market.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


U.S. Prosecutors Consider Charging Russian Officials in DNC Hacking Case (Aruna Viswanatha and  Del Quentin Wilber, Nov. 2, 2017, WSJ)

The Justice Department has identified more than six members of the Russian government involved in hacking the Democratic National Committee's computers and swiping sensitive information that became public during the 2016 presidential election, according to people familiar with the investigation.

Prosecutors and agents have assembled evidence to charge the Russian officials and could bring a case next year, these people said. Discussions about the case are in the early stages, they said.

If filed, the case would provide the clearest picture yet of the actors behind the DNC intrusion. U.S. intelligence agencies have attributed the attack to Russian intelligence services, but haven't provided detailed information about how they concluded those services were responsible, or any details about the individuals allegedly involved.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Inside the rise and fall of Gary Cohn's Fed dreams : President Donald Trump is set to nominate current Federal Reserve governor Jerome Powell to replace Janet Yellen. (BEN WHITE and NANCY COOK 11/02/2017, Politico)

The former Goldman Sachs president, now Trump's top economic adviser, was a front-runner for the Fed job until August, when he publicly broke with the president over his handling of fatal neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

As recently as last month, the two still appeared at odds. Guests at a black-tie gala in Washington in mid-October honoring First Lady Melania Trump were treated to an awkward display between the two, as the president stared straight ahead and continued to make small talk with others while Cohn was trying talk to him, said an attendee.

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


HOW EX-SPY CHRISTOPHER STEELE COMPILED HIS EXPLOSIVE TRUMP-RUSSIA DOSSIER : The man behind the infamous dossier that raises the possibility that Donald Trump may be vulnerable to Kremlin blackmail is Russia expert Christopher Steele, formerly of M.I.6. Here's the story of his investigation. (HOWARD BLUM, APRIL 2017, Vanity Fair)

In September 2015, as the Republican primary campaign was heating up, he was hired to compile an opposition-research dossier on Donald Trump. Who wrote the check? Simpson, always secretive, won't reveal his client's identity. However, according to a friend who had spoken with Simpson at the time, the funding came from a "Never Trump" Republican and not directly from the campaign war chests of any of Trump's primary opponents.

But by mid-June 2016, despite all the revelations Simpson was digging up about the billionaire's roller-coaster career, two previously unimaginable events suddenly affected both the urgency and the focus of his research. First, Trump had apparently locked up the nomination, and his client, more pragmatic than combative, was done throwing good money after bad. And second, there was a new cycle of disturbing news stories wafting around Trump as the wordy headline splashed across the front page of The Washington Post on June 17 heralded, INSIDE TRUMP'S FINANCIAL TIES TO RUSSIA AND HIS UNUSUAL FLATTERY OF VLADIMIR PUTIN.

Simpson, as fellow journalists remembered, smelled fresh red meat. And anyway, after all he had discovered, he'd grown deeply concerned by the prospect of a Trump presidency. So he found Democratic donors whose checks would keep his oppo research going strong. And he made a call to London, to a partner at Orbis he had worked with in the past, an ex-spy who knew where all the bodies were buried in Russia, and who, as the wags liked to joke, had even buried some of them.

'Are there business ties in Russia?" That, Steele would offer to Mother Jones, was the bland initial thrust of his investigation after he was subcontracted by Fusion for a fee estimated by a source in the trade to be within the profession's going rate: $12,000 to $15,000 a month, plus expenses.

Steele had known Russia as a young spy, arriving in Moscow as a 26-year-old with his new wife and thin diplomatic cover in 1990. For nearly three years as a secret agent in enemy territory, he lived through the waning days of perestroika and witnessed the tumultuous disintegration of the Soviet Union under Boris Yeltsin's mercurial and often boozy leadership. The K.G.B. was onto him almost from the start: he inhabited the spy's uncertain life, where at any moment the lurking menace could turn into genuine danger. Yet even at the tail end of his peripatetic career at the service, Russia, the battleground of his youth, was still in his blood and on his operational mind: from 2004 to 2009 he headed M.I.6's Russia Station, the London deskman directing Her Majesty's covert penetration of Putin's resurgent motherland.

And so, as Steele threw himself into his new mission, he could count on an army of sources whose loyalty and information he had bought and paid for over the years. There was no safe way he could return to Russia to do the actual digging; the vengeful F.S.B. would be watching him closely. But no doubt he had a working relationship with knowledgeable contacts in London and elsewhere in the West, from angry émigrés to wheeling-and-dealing oligarchs always eager to curry favor with a man with ties to the Secret Service, to political dissidents with well-honed axes to grind. And, perhaps most promising of all, he had access to the networks of well-placed Joes--to use the jargon of his former profession--he'd directed from his desk at London Station, assets who had their eyes and ears on the ground in Russia.

How good were these sources? Consider what Steele would write in the memos he filed with Simpson: Source A--to use the careful nomenclature of his dossier--was "a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure." Source B was "a former top level intelligence officer still active in the Kremlin." And both of these insiders, after "speaking to a trusted compatriot," would claim that the Kremlin had spent years getting its hooks into Donald Trump.

Source E was "an ethnic Russian" and "close associate of Republican US presidential candidate Donald Trump."

This individual proved to be a treasure trove of information. "Speaking in confidence to a compatriot," the talkative Source E "admitted there was a well-developed conspiracy of cooperation between them [the Trump campaign] and the Russian leadership." Then this: "The Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC) to the WikiLeaks platform." And finally: "In return the Trump team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defense commitments in the Baltic and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine."

Then there was Source D, "a close associate of Trump who had organized and managed his recent trips to Moscow," and Source F, "a female staffer" at the Moscow Ritz-Carlton hotel, who was co-opted into the network by an Orbis "ethnic Russian operative" working hand in hand with the loquacious Trump insider, Source E.

These two sources told quite a lurid story, the now infamous "golden showers" allegation, which, according to the dossier, was corroborated by others in his alphabet list of assets. It was an evening's entertainment, Steele, the old Russian hand, must have suspected, that had to have been produced by the ever helpful F.S.B. And since it was typical of Moscow Center's handwriting to have the suite wired up for sound and video (the hotel's Web site, with unintentional irony, boasts of its "cutting edge technological amenities"), Steele apparently began to suspect that locked in a Kremlin safe was a hell of a video, as well as photographs.

Steele's growing file must have left his mind cluttered with new doubts, new suspicions. And now, as he continued his chase, a sense of alarm hovered about the former spy. If Steele's sources were right, Putin had up his sleeve kompromat--Moscow Center's gleeful word for compromising material--that would make the Access Hollywood exchange between Trump and Billy Bush seem, as Trump insisted, as banal as "locker-room talk." Steele could only imagine how and when the Russians might try to use it.

What should he do? Steele dutifully filed his first incendiary report with Fusion on June 20, but was this the end of his responsibilities? He knew that what he had unearthed, he'd say in his anonymous conversation with Mother Jones, "was something of huge significance, way above party politics." Yet was it simply a vanity to think that a retired spy had to take it on his shoulders to save the world? And what about his contractual agreement with Simpson? Could the company sue, he no doubt wondered, if he disseminated information he'd collected on its dime?

In the end, Steele found the rationale that is every whistle-blower's sustaining philosophy: the greater good trumps all other concerns. And so, even while he kept working his sources in the field and continued to shoot new memos to Simpson, he settled on a plan of covert action.

The F.B.I.'s Eurasian Joint Organized Crime Squad--"Move Over, Mafia," the bureau's P.R. machine crowed after the unit had been created--was a particularly gung-ho team with whom Steele had done some heady things in the past. And in the course of their successful collaboration, the hard-driving F.B.I. agents and the former frontline spy evolved into a chummy mutual-admiration society.

It was only natural, then, that when he began mulling whom to turn to, Steele thought about his tough-minded friends on the Eurasian squad. And fortuitously, he discovered, as his scheme took on a solid operational commitment, that one of the agents was now assigned to the bureau office in Rome. By early August, a copy of his first two memos were shared with the F.B.I.'s man in Rome.

"Shock and horror"--that, Steele would say in his anonymous interview, was the bureau's reaction to the goodies he left on its doorstep. And it wanted copies of all his subsequent reports, the sooner the better.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Trump's surprisingly good choice for Fed chair (Jeff Spross, November 2, 2017, The Week)

To begin with, Powell may be a Republican, but he was actually first nominated to the Fed's board of governors by President Obama in 2012, as part of a compromise with the congressional GOP. Before that, Powell had racked up a long career in private equity, served as a Treasury Department official under President George H.W. Bush, and did a stint at the Bipartisan Policy Center, a D.C. think tank. He's about as "safe" and nonideological a pick as they come.

Everyone also seems to agree that Powell's approach to interest rates will be almost indistinguishable from what Yellen would've done. "He's made relatively few public pronouncements on monetary policy since joining the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, and the statements he has made don't indicate any major disagreements with Yellen," Matt Yglesias summed up at Vox. 

November 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 PM


NPR's Head Of News Resigns Following Harassment Allegations (MERRIT KENNEDY, 11/01/17, NPR)

NPR's senior vice president for news, Michael Oreskes, has resigned following allegations of sexual harassment from several women.

The accounts of two women, first published by The Washington Post, describe Oreskes unexpectedly kissing them during meetings in the late 1990s, while he was Washington bureau chief for The New York Times. An NPR employee has also come forward publicly about harassment that allegedly occurred during a business meeting-turned-dinner in 2015.

"This morning I asked Mike Oreskes for his resignation because of inappropriate behavior," NPR CEO Jarl Mohn wrote in an email to NPR staff on Wednesday. "I have received his resignation, effective immediately."

Posted by orrinj at 7:03 PM


Robert Mueller Will Never Get to the Bottom of Russia's Meddling (Ivan Krastev NOV. 1, 2017, NY Times)

Here, we can start with a simple observation: While Russia's meddling was a shock in the West, in Russia it was neither surprising nor scandalous. In my recent discussions with Russian foreign policy experts, they have made clear that if Moscow wants to be a world power, on an equal footing with Washington, it should be able and willing to match the United States. Russian leaders believe that Washington interferes in their domestic politics and that the United States intends to orchestrate a regime change in Moscow. So if they take that as given, the Kremlin should be able to similarly meddle and to show the world that it has the capabilities and will to do so. Reciprocal action is, after all, how you gain the respect of your enemies and the loyalty of your allies.

The common sense in Moscow foreign policy circles today is that Russia can regain its great power status only by confronting the United States, not by cooperating with it. Speaking two weeks ago at the Valdai International Discussion Club, President Vladimir Putin declared that post-Communist Russia's gravest mistake was "putting its trust in the West." In the 1990s, Boris Yeltsin's Russia wanted to imitate the West, its values and institutions; today Moscow is focused on mirroring Western policies with respect to Russia, doing to West what Russians believe the West is doing to them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 PM


Navy Says Deadly Ship Collisions Were 'Avoidable,' Faults Lack Of Preparation (COLIN DWYER, 11/01/17, NPR)

The U.S. Navy has completed its investigations into the deadly collisions that damaged two of its warships just months apart this summer, describing what went wrong in a report published Wednesday. The report is dozens of pages long, but if those errors could be described in a word, it would be "avoidable."

"Both of these accidents were preventable and the respective investigations found multiple failures by watch standers that contributed to the incidents." the Navy's top officer, Adm. John Richardson, said in a statement.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM

BLAME THE JEW! (profanity alert):


For the first time since the investigation began, the prospect of impeachment is being considered as a realistic outcome and not just a liberal fever dream. According to a source, advisers in the West Wing are on edge and doing whatever they can not to be ensnared. One person close to Dina Powell and Gary Cohn said they're making sure to leave rooms if the subject of Russia comes up. [...]

Trump, meanwhile, has reacted to the deteriorating situation by lashing out on Twitter and venting in private to friends. He's frustrated that the investigation seems to have no end in sight. "Trump wants to be critical of Mueller," one person who's been briefed on Trump's thinking says. "He thinks it's unfair criticism. Clinton hasn't gotten anything like this. And what about Tony Podesta? Trump is like, When is that going to end?" According to two sources, Trump has complained to advisers about his legal team for letting the Mueller probe progress this far. Speaking to Steve Bannon on Tuesday, Trump blamed Jared Kushner for his role in decisions, specifically the firings of Mike Flynn and James Comey, that led to Mueller's appointment, according to a source briefed on the call. When Roger Stone recently told Trump that Kushner was giving him bad political advice, Trump agreed, according to someone familiar with the conversation. "Jared is the worst political adviser in the White House in modern history," Nunberg said. "I'm only saying publicly what everyone says behind the scenes at Fox News, in conservative media, and the Senate and Congress." [...]

Bannon's sense of urgency is being fueled by his belief that Trump's hold on power is slipping. The collapse of Obamacare repeal, and the dimming chances that tax reform will pass soon--many Trump allies are deeply pessimistic about its prospects--have created the political climate for establishment Republicans to turn on Trump. Two weeks ago, according to a source, Bannon did a spitball analysis of the Cabinet to see which members would remain loyal to Trump in the event the 25th Amendment were invoked, thereby triggering a vote to remove the president from office. Bannon recently told people he's not sure if Trump would survive such a vote.

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


Ex-British spy paid $168,000 for Trump dossier, U.S. firm discloses (Mark Hosenball, 11/01/17, Reuters) 

A Washington research firm paid a former British spy's company $168,000 for work on a dossier outlining Russian financial and personal links to Donald Trump's 2016 election campaign, the U.S. firm said in a statement on Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:38 PM


The South Only Embraced States' Rights as It Lost Control of the Federal Government (Caleb McDaniel, 11/01/17, The Atlantic)

That record shows loyalty to nation had long been important. A veteran of the Mexican-American War, Lee had no problem fighting for national glory 170 years ago. Nor did he see a conflict between national and state loyalty 158 years ago, when he suppressed the insurrection at Harpers Ferry upon the president's orders.

The truth is that Lee and his fellow slaveholders were ardent nationalists in the decades leading up to the Civil War, as the Princeton historian Matthew Karp described in his recent book This Vast Southern Empire. And no wonder: For most of its history, the nation had usually protected and served the interests of slaveholders. For example, in 1850, the draconian Fugitive Slave Law--passed as part of an attempted "compromise" to reduce sectional conflict--ensured that the federal government would assist in the return of runaway slaves from the North to the South. By then, the U.S. Supreme Court had already overturned laws passed by Northern states that sought to interfere with the capture of fugitive slaves. And as the scene at Harpers Ferry showed, slaveholders relied on the potential power of the national government to assist in putting down insurrections in their states that might threaten the system of slavery.

Secessionists chose treason when they realized the country would no longer give them what they wanted.
Essentially, the nation worked for slaveholders, even to the point of overruling Northern states' rights. Not surprisingly, those slaveholders were powerfully committed to the Union on whose power they depended. As long as the nation worked for them, they worked for the nation.

So what changed to make secessionists desert the country they loved? In brief: the rise of the Republican Party and the election of Abraham Lincoln, who refused to use national power to advance slavery any longer. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


Jews for Jesus poll: 1/5 of Jewish millennials believe Christ was God (BEN SALES, 1 November 2017, TA) 

Are Jewish millennials the most religious generation?

And do one-fifth of them think Jesus was God in human form?

Yes and yes, says a new survey of 599 Jews born from 1984 to 1999. [...]

For those accustomed to thinking of millennials as religiously uninvolved and skeptical of traditional practices, the survey has some surprising news: Eighty percent of Jewish millennials self-identify as "religious Jews," as opposed to just a slim majority of all Jews. And nearly half say being Jewish is "very important" to them, higher than any other generation.

That commitment to Judaism comes through in specific practices as well. Almost a quarter of Jewish millennials attend religious services once a week, according to the survey, and one in three prays every day. A majority says "God loves people."

Ari Kelman, a Jewish studies professor at Stanford University who was interviewed as part of the report, said the study suggests a cohort distinct from all others.

"These don't look like Jews I recognize," he said of the millennials surveyed. "I was not willing to just write them off entirely. Maybe these are Jews we've never seen before. We know religion is changing, we know parameters of identity are changing, so why would we expect different generations to look exactly the same?"

The data on Jesus might be especially surprising to Jews who, if they agree on nothing else, believe that Jews for Jesus and its "messianic" philosophy are beyond the pale. The survey found that 21 percent of Jewish millennials believe Jesus was "God in human form who lived among people in the 1st century." And 28 percent "see him as a rabbi or spiritual leader, but not God."

The openness to non-Jewish practice extends beyond that: 42 percent of respondents say they celebrate Christmas. A majority says one can hold other faiths and still be Jewish. And the survey found that one-third of Jewish millennials believe "God desires a personal relationship with us." [...]

But Pew actually backs up some of the statistics on Christianity. It found that a third of all respondents had a Christmas tree at home, and 34 percent said belief in Jesus as the Messiah was compatible with being Jewish.

All the Jews in this household celebrate Christmas, but one suspects it's only for the carols, candlelight service and schwag.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Lebanese media: Israel bombed weapons depot in Syria (JUDAH ARI GROSS, 1 November 2017, Times of Israel)

Israeli jets destroyed a weapons facility in western Syria on Wednesday night, according to Lebanese media.

The Syrian army's 72nd Brigade was said to have fired anti-aircraft missiles at the Israeli Air Force jets, though there were no reports of planes being shot down.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Health Insurance Suddenly Just Got Cheaper for a Lot of People (Beth Skwarecki, 11/01/17, Lifehacker)

[S]ome government funny business around CSR payments means silver plans are way more expensive than usual. But the government also gives subsidies to help low and middle income families pay for insurance--and the dollar amount of those subsidies is based on the price of silver plans. So the subsidies are now also huge.

This means that, if you get a subsidy, your silver plan will likely be about the same out-of-pocket price as last year. But that means you could also save money by buying a cheaper bronze plan instead. For many people, the subsidies are large enough they can get a bronze plan for free.

The Wall Street Journal reports that a 60-year-old making $36,000 a year could get a zero-premium plan in more than half of the nation's counties. Even at an income of $48,000, a 60-year-old could still get zero-premium insurance in more than 600 counties. In California, half a million people could pay the state's minimum charge of $1/month.

Even if you don't get a deal that good, a lot of people will find something cheap. For example, last year, 71 percent of people on the exchanges could get a plan for less than $75/month. This year, according to a report from the federal government, 80 percent of people can. And that's on average; in some states, like Alabama, more than 90 percent of people shopping on the exchanges will find a plan for $75 or less.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Watch a former Trump aide say incriminating things about Russia on live TV (Alex Ward, Oct 31, 2017, Vox)
Hayes asked Carter, who along with Papadopoulos served as a foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, if he was ever on email chains with Papadopoulos. "Probably a few," Page responded. Hayes then pressed for more specifics, asking if Carter and Papadopoulos were on email chains about Russia. "It may have come up from time to time," Page said. "There's nothing major."

Let's stop right there for a moment. Papadopoulos admitted to lying about his interactions with Russians, and Carter didn't mind saying that he could possibly be on Russia-related emails. That's a startling admission -- and he said it on television.

And that's not all. Page also discussed his July 2016 trip to Russia, which came soon after Papadopoulos requested to set up a meeting between Russian officials and Trump campaign members. But Page told Hayes that he didn't represent the campaign during that journey and didn't know about Papadopoulos's efforts to broker a meeting.

Which demonstrates two things: the Trumpies may just be so corrupt that they genuinely don't see anything wrong with colluding with Russia; and, they are too incompetent to collude competently.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Iran Commanders Say Supreme Leader Limiting Ballistic Missile Range (Radio Free Europe, October 31, 2017)

Two top Iranian military commanders say that Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has restricted the range of ballistic missiles manufactured in the country to 2,000 kilometers.

It is the first time that high-ranking Iranian officials have mentioned a range limitation imposed by Khamenei, the commander in chief of the country's armed forces.