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-W├╝rttemberg: 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 naivet├ę, 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.