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?