December 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 PM


Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked (Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker, Dec. 14, 2017, Washington Post)

Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president -- and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality -- have impaired the government's response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government.

Rather than search for ways to deter Kremlin attacks or safeguard U.S. elections, Trump has waged his own campaign to discredit the case that Russia poses any threat and he has resisted or attempted to roll back efforts to hold Moscow to account.

His administration has moved to undo at least some of the sanctions the previous administration imposed on Russia for its election interference, exploring the return of two Russian compounds in the United States that President Barack Obama had seized -- the measure that had most galled Moscow. Months later, when Congress moved to impose additional penalties on Moscow, Trump opposed the measures fiercely. [...]

Even before Trump was sworn in, a group of senators including John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.) had begun drafting legislation to impose further sanctions on Russia.

In the ensuing months, McCain's office began getting private warnings from a White House insider. "We were told that a big announcement was coming regarding Russia sanctions," a senior congressional aide said. "We all kind of assumed the worst."

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had blocked the sanctions bill from moving forward at the behest of Tillerson, who kept appealing for more time to negotiate with Moscow.

But after Comey's firing in early May, and months of damaging headlines about Trump and Russia, an alarmed Senate approved new sanctions on Russia in a 98-to-2 vote.

Trump at times seemed not to understand how his actions and behavior intensified congressional concern. After he emerged from a meeting in Hamburg with Putin, Trump said he and the Russian leader had agreed upon the outlines of a cooperative cybersecurity plan.

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) described the proposed pact as "pretty close" to "the dumbest idea I've ever heard" and introduced additional provisions to the sanctions bill that would strip Trump of much of his power to undo them -- a remarkable slap at presidential prerogative.

Then, in late July, new information surfaced about the extent of Trump's interactions with Putin in Hamburg that sent another wave of anxiety across Capitol Hill.

At the end of a lavish banquet for world leaders, Trump wandered away from his assigned seat for a private conversation with the Russian leader -- without a single U.S. witness, only a Kremlin interpreter.

A Trump administration official described the reaction to the encounter as overblown, saying that Trump had merely left his seat to join the first lady, Melania Trump, who had been seated for the dinner next to Putin. Whatever the reason, little over a week later both chambers of Congress passed the sanctions measure with overwhelming margins that would withstand any Trump veto.

Trump's frustration had been building as the measure approached a final vote. He saw the bill as validation of the case that Russia had interfered, as an encroachment on his executive authority and as a potentially fatal blow to his aspirations for friendship with Putin, according to his advisers.

In the final days before passage, Trump watched MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program and stewed as hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski declared that the bill would be a slap in the face to the president.

"He was raging," one adviser said. "He was raging mad."

After final passage, Trump was "apoplectic," the adviser recalled. It took four days for aides to persuade him to sign the bill, arguing that if he vetoed it and Congress overturned that veto, his standing would be permanently weakened.

"Hey, here are the votes," aides told the president, according to a second Trump adviser. "If you veto it, they'll override you and then you're f---ed and you look like you're weak."

Trump signed but made his displeasure known. His signing statement asserted that the measure included "clearly unconstitutional provisions." Trump had routinely made a show of bill signings, but in this case no media was allowed to attend.

The reaction from Russia was withering. Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev taunted the president in a Facebook post that echoed Trump's style, saying that the president had shown "complete impotence, in the most humiliating manner, transferring executive power to Congress."

Putin, who had shown such restraint in late December 2016, reacted to the new sanctions with fury, ordering the United States to close two diplomatic properties and slash 755 people from its staff -- most of them Russian nationals working for the United States.

Rather than voice any support for the dozens of State Department and CIA employees being forced back to Washington, Trump expressed gratitude to Putin.

"I want to thank him because we're trying to cut down on payroll," Trump told reporters during an outing at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. -- remarks his aides would later claim were meant as a joke. "We'll save a lot of money." [...]

Aides attribute Trump's affection for Putin to the president's tendency to personalize matters of foreign policy and his unshakable belief that his bond with Putin is the key to fixing world problems.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM



Firms that supply automated machines and other assembly line robots, including Rockwell Automation Inc. and Emerson Electric Co., have in recent weeks celebrated the tax reform provision, expecting increased revenue as clients order more products.

John Stroup, the chief executive of Belden, discussed the capital expenditure provision with J.P. Morgan Vice President Ashwin Kesireddy earlier this month during an investor meeting.

"I would expect there to be an acceleration of capital investment in certain categories if, in fact, the tax plan is passed with the provisions you just mentioned," said Stroup. "There's already a number of factors why people are investing in automation as an example. This would just be another one where they could expense the investment and get the added benefit of the tax shield, which is substantial," he added.

A similar exchange occurred on the last call with investors hosted by Emerson Electric, which produces robots and parts used on the factory floor, including machines used for automotive manufacturing. David Farr, the chief executive of the company, said he expects increased orders from his company's automation department if the tax bill passes with beneficial provisions on capital expenditures.

The instant capital expenditure provision has been long sought and championed by the manufacturing industry.

The easiest way to reduce the labor cost of manufacture is to get rid of it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


Poll: Americans Overwhelmingly Support 'Zero Tolerance' On Sexual Harassment (Danielle Kurtzleben, 12/14/17, NPR)

Nearly 9 in 10 Americans believe that "a zero-tolerance policy for sexual harassment is essential to bringing about change in our society."

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


When America Was a Developing Country (Addison Del Mastro, Dec. 13th, 2017, American Conservative)

Consider this. The World Bank defines a "high-income country"--a rough analogue for a developed country--as having a GNI per capita at or above $12,476 [2]. The United States reached this threshold in 1979 [3], according to one of the World Bank's calculations. Investopedia states [4], "Some economists feel $12,000 to $15,000 [GDP per capita] is sufficient for developed status, while others do not consider a country developed unless its per capita GDP is above $25,000 or $30,000." The United States achieved a $12,000 GDP per capita in 1980 [5], and it achieved a $25,000 per capita GDP in 1992. Depending on which of very many methods is used to calculate these numbers, the years can be pushed back a couple or a few decades. Even then, they are surprising, generally placing the United States' transition from developing to developed nation in the early post-war era, which is to say the 1950s.

As for GDP growth rates, rapidly developing countries typically post somewhere between 5 to 10 percent. Look at the growth rates for China or India over the last few years, or for South Korea and Taiwan in the 1980s and '90s. Mature economies eke out between 1 and 3 percent--if they're lucky, 4. The last time the United States grew by over 5 percent was 1984 [6], and that was during an economic recovery. Such numbers were posted commonly in the 1970s and earlier, and have since vanished.

This is further evidence that America could reasonably be described as a developing country up until about the 1960s, when mass-produced consumer goods became widely available, labor-saving devices had vanquished laborious housekeeping chores, and social goods like health and education were enjoyed by the majority of the population (ensuring a racially equal distribution was another story, of course). The disappearance of the countryside-urban divide into long stretches of suburbia also indicated a higher level of economic development, though not necessarily a superior living arrangement.

In thinking about all of this, and having completed my degree in public policy with a cohort largely made up of Chinese students, I began to notice an uncanny similarity between what I knew of modern China and the United States of yore. Based on GDP data, one could make the case that China is roughly in the phase of development that the United States was in from around 1890 to 1950: the period of rapid industrial growth. Anecdotally, this is the time when the skyscrapers go up. It is also the period before skyscrapers are snidely derided as a certain kind of measuring contest.

The social attitudes of the Chinese students I have met are also reminiscent of the American 1950s. For example, they have very little sense of identity politics or social justice ideology, which are probably epiphenomena of the West's gratuitous affluence. At a Chinese New Year party, one classmate prepared an incredible spread of homemade dumplings. Another classmate offered the compliment, with no hint of sarcasm, that she was like a great Chinese housewife. In my experience, the Chinese view marriage and family as mostly normal and expected stepping stones in life, without all of the ideological freight that they have acquired for us. When it comes to politics, their attitudes are more like those of the machine politician age: cynical about the ability of both government and markets to operate without patronage and corruption. Yet they aren't cynical about the value of hard work and merit, and perhaps deemphasize the undeniable structural aspects of poverty; another Chinese classmate of mine once said, as if it were an unorthodox opinion, that perhaps the poor are not poor only because they are lazy.

If what I've just described reminds you of bygone American attitudes, it is only because a sincere work ethic, social traditionalism, and hard-nosed realism about politics and self-interest are not "Chinese" attitudes or "American" attitudes. What they are is developing country attitudes. This is something that those who pine for an earlier era must understand. It is not only that the desired economic and social arrangements are long gone--it is that their psychology is also long gone.

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


The Occupation of Japan (MacroHistory)

Japan's military establishment was demobilized, but unlike in Germany a central government was allowed, with MacArthur behind the scenes appearing as giving "suggestions" and "advice" and as a benevolent overseer. Emperor Hirohito was still looked to as the nation's chief of state, or at least father figure. MacArthur and the US State Department saw MacArthur's job as ensuring domestic stability.

MacArthur made rules in Japan in the name of all the Allies as head of what was called the Far Eastern Commission. But in fact it was the US that was in charge, the US seeing this as its right given the contribution it had made to defeating the Japanese. He remained concerned about both democracy in Japan and the ability of Japan to maintain a healthy economy. Japan was economically devastated. People were hungry and many were desperate. US leaders believed that reparations payments were impractical - while Stalin was criticizing the US for being too lenient with the Japanese.

Sixty-seven percent in Britain and thirty-three percent in the United States had favored the execution of Hirohito, and most Americans, focusing on the righteousness of their cause and the evil of Japan's efforts, did not want to see Hirohito continue as emperor. This righteousness ignored, and Hirohito allowed to remain as emperor, helped create an image among the Japanese of US benevolence.

The strategy of hearts and minds worked well. US troops were not roaming about intervening in local politics. Local government had remained intact. The Japanese were relieved. People who had seen the Americans as devils and barbarians now saw them as quite human. This was helped by foreign troops levels in Japan remaining low - at less than 200,000 after 1945 and before the Korean War.

Democracy was seen as a winner, as it had been among the Japanese at the close of World War I. Democracy was again winning support among the Japanese, and Americans were winning respect for their belief in democracy, political freedom and the dignity of common people, including peoples of other nationalities. The belief in empire and militarism was rapidly evaporating. Ordinary Japanese were criticizing wartime leaders - who were being blamed for the war more than was the Emperor. Cooperation was now seen as the more workable way for the nation to conduct itself vis-à-vis other nations. Darwinism applied to international affairs - the view also of the Italian and German fascists - was dissipating, as was respect for the old military virtues.

Stories of atrocities by Japanese soldiers returned with Japan's soldiers from China and the Pacific. Veterans confessed. Men who had fought for their country, many of them walking the street in their old uniforms, were disturbed by looks of disrespect and disgust. Some Japanese continued to be unaware of atrocities committed by their military. Some who had served as camp guards chose not to remember the brutality there. And some Japanese made the excuse that people would hear elsewhere in the world: that during war occasional brutality was to be expected.

One of the first things that MacArthur did in Japan was to have political prisoners released, thousands of them, including Communists - some of whom were returning from exile. Everyone was to be free to participate in politics, to run for office and campaign. Over 300 political parties were in the making.

Labor unions had been outlawed in Japan, and MacArthur reversed this. From no labor unions in 1945, by the end of 1946 Japan would have 17,265 different unions. And much of the labor union leadership fell into the hands of those who believed in class struggle: the Communists.

A new constitution was in the making, written behind the scenes by a group of Americans selected by MacArthur. In its preamble was the prohibition of restoring war as a means of resolving international disputes - a "renunciation of war" tailored for a defeated aggressor nation. The Emperor presented the draft of the constitution to Japan's parliament. Women were given the vote, and the voting age was lowered from 25 to 20. In April 1946, campaigning for seats in parliament was enthusiastic. And thirty-nine women were elected to seats. Japan's Communist Party won six seats and 6.3 percent of the vote. The conservative Liberal Party won the most seats - 148 of a total of 464 - and it formed a governing coalition with the Progressive Party, which had won 110 seats.

MacArthur had already been working on reforms. In early November 1945 MacArthur's command had moved to reduce the power of Japan's business conglomerates - the Zaibatsu - shocking Japanese business elite. Land reform, meanwhile, was underway, initiated by the Japanese themselves - something the Japanese had been toying with during the war. The reform took land from absentee landlords and gave it to those who had been tenant farmers. Lands with tenant farmers were to be divided into no larger than 2.45 acre plots and given to the tenants.

MacArthur did impose censorship on the Japanese. Newspapers and radio broadcasting were censored, including news that censorship existed. No unfavorable opinion about the occupation was allowed. Discussions on the effects of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki were forbidden. Motion pictures were censored, including the work of filmmakers whose movies had been forbidden during the war years. By January 1946, 670 newspaper articles had been banned. And US military authorities had textbooks screened.

A directive from MacArthur's headquarters in December 1945 ordered the deletion of all references to Japan's Shinto religion from school textbooks, and school trips to Shinto shrines were forbidden. The Americans disliked Japan's mix of state and religion, and Shinto had been a state sponsored religion - much as Christianity had been in Europe, except that the religion was headed by what had been believed to be a living divinity - the Emperor. In his 1946 New Year message, Hirohito proclaimed that he was not divine and that rather than his reign resting on ancient myths it was based on "mutual trust and affection."

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


New Year To Bring New Test For Trump Administration On Key Russia Sanctions (Miles Parks, 12/14/17, NPR Morning Edition)

Five years ago, President Obama signed a bill imposing sanctions on a group of powerful people there charged with involvement in the death of a Russian lawyer who uncovered a $230 million tax fraud scheme -- and then died in government custody. The sanctions infuriated Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Since then, the State Department has put more people on its sanctions list, usually at the beginning of each year, and the choice it makes next month about who or how many people it adds could be consequential.

"This is the big test for Donald Trump about whether he is really a friend of Putin's or whether he's a tough guy as to whether he actually adds names," said Bill Browder, a financier-turned-advocate who pushed for the sanctions.

"This is highly significant and highly pregnant with meaning whatever he does or doesn't do, if he really wants to take the wind out of the sails of this collusion narrative," Browder also said.

December 13, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM



But the electric motor is in the midst of launching a far bigger, far more subtle revolution--not in cars, but robots. Open up a robotic arm and you'll find that its joints are actually electric motors, known as actuators. Actuators make robots leap and run and do backflips and lift 500-pound pipes (different robots, mind you, thank God). The electric car? That's impressive as hell, but just the beginning. It's robots that are fueling the quiet ascendance of the electric motor.

So what is an electric motor, exactly? Well, it's an opposition machine. Inside the device are permanent magnets and an electromagnet; apply current to the electromagnet and it pushes against the permanent ones, spinning the motor. Typically, this is paired with a gearbox, because electric motors are most efficient when they spin at very high speeds. And because the electric motor isn't working alone, but with a transmission, the whole operation is called an actuator. So every time you see a robot move, it's the magic of magnets at work--a seemingly simple force that powers an incredible variety of machines. And actuators are growing more precise and more sensitive by the day.

"Developing highly capable and low cost and easy to use actuators is of paramount importance for the future of robotics," says roboticist Howie Choset of Carnegie Mellon University. "If we want to really hit the tipping point with robotics, so robots can reach the masses, we have to make these systems easy to use as well as low cost."

That revolution is already well under way. 3-D printers that lay down carbon fiber are making it easier than ever for roboticists to iterate their actuators quickly. Even cooler: 3-D metal printing is emerging, which would mean engineers could print out magnets for actuators on demand.

Meanwhile, the cost of actuators is plummeting. "Then there's not a whole lot for costs in a robot besides the actuators," says roboticist Stephen McKinley of UC Berkeley. "That's where the cost for a robot arm lies." An actuator that used to set you back $3,500 has fallen to perhaps $1,700. That's thanks in part to a growing robotics industry that's creating an economy of scale for the parts.

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 PM


Mueller's Boss Pledges to Protect Russia Probe Against GOP: 'I Would Not' Fire Him (Spencer Ackerman, 12.13.17, Daily Beast)

Rosenstein called Mueller "a dedicated, respected and heroic public servant," specifically mentioning the former FBI director's Vietnam combat experience.

Asked if he saw any good cause to fire Mueller, Rosenstein flatly answered: "No."

If Rosenstein was ordered to do so regardless - a direction that would most likely come from Trump - Rosenstein answered, "I would not."

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Ex-NHL star's wife: Trump made advance on me in elevator (Associated Press, December 13, 2017)

The wife of Hall of Fame hockey player Luc Robitaille has tweeted about an advance she says Donald Trump made on her more than two decades ago in an elevator at Madison Square Garden.

Stacia Robitaille wrote Monday on Twitter that Trump "was aggressive & told me I was coming home with him. I laughed, stating I was married to a Ranger. He guaranteed me my husband didn't make as much money as him. #ThisIsOurPresident."

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:42 PM


Trump Rating Hits Record Low : Democrats have 15 point edge in generic House vote (Monmouth University Polling Institute, December 13, 2017)

Donald Trump's current job approval rating is the lowest registered in the Monmouth University Poll  since he took office, with the biggest drop coming from independent women. Most voters think that the president has not been successful at moving his agenda through Congress and feel his decision to move the U.S. embassy in Israel will destabilize the Middle East. Monmouth's initial generic House ballot match-up for the 2018 election finds Democrats holding a 15 point advantage over Republicans.

Pres. Trump's current job rating stands at a net negative 32% approve and 56% disapprove. This marks his lowest rating in Monmouth's polling since taking office in January. Prior polls conducted over the course of the past year showed his approval rating ranging from 39% to 43% and his disapproval rating ranging from 46% to 53%.

The decline in Trump's job rating has come much more from women - currently 24% approve to 68% disapprove - than from men - currently 40% to 44%. In September, Trump had a 36%-55% rating among women and a 44%-42% rating among men.

Even Republicans unbothered by his serial sexual assaults, collusion with Putin and obstruction of justice won't be willing to run on a ticket with those kinds of numbers. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Report: Omarosa Manigault Began Cursing After Being Fired, Was Escorted by Secret Service Out of White House (Jack Heretik, December 13, 2017, Daily Beacon)

Trump administration aide Omarosa Manigault reportedly had to be escorted out of the White House by Secret Service officers after she was fired by Chief of Staff John Kelly. [...]

When told she could stay until Jan. 20, she became enraged and began cursing. Manigault also reportedly tried to enter the White House residence in order to speak with the president.

They're a class operation.

Posted by orrinj at 2:04 PM


The Public Isn't Buying It: Confidence in the FBI is Very High (Mieke Eoyang, Ben Freeman, Benjamin Wittes  Wednesday, December 13, 2017, Lawfare)

The average confidence rating for the FBI in this poll measured in at 3.34. That compares favorably to any other institution we poll on, save the military, which had an average confidence score of 3.78. The question polled here is subtly different from our other polls, which measure confidence in institutions as protectors of national security. This one asks about confidence in general--on the theory that the President's attacks on the Bureau have been general attacks, not limited to the national security function. That said, the FBI's rating was notably higher than the next highest institution, the intelligence community more broadly, which had an average confidence measure of 3.04. Forty-seven percent of respondents give the FBI higher confidence ratings, either 4 or 5. And fully 74 percent repose at least some confidence in the Bureau--that is, give it at least a rating of 3. By contrast, only 26 percent give the FBI lower confidence ratings, that is a rating of only 1 or 2.

It's surprisingly easy, nowadays, to measure someone's attachment to reality by their opinion on an investigation.  All the same folks who were certain we about to lock Hillary up are positive that Donald is winning his fight with Justice.

Posted by orrinj at 1:53 PM


GOP relieved at Roy Moore, Steve Bannon defeats: 'We dodged a missile' (David M. Drucker, Dec 13, 2017, Washington Examiner)

"Tonight's results are clear -- the people of Alabama deemed Roy Moore unfit to serve in the U.S. Senate," said Sen. Cory Gardner of Colorado, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, in a release that read like a victory statement.

"We didn't just dodge a bullet, we dodged a missile," added a senior Republican strategist, in an interview with the Washington Examiner, requesting anonymity in order to speak candidly. 

A great night for Jeff Flake and Bob Corker.

How Doug Jones beat Roy Moore in deep-red Alabama (The Week, 12/13/17)

[J]ones won 96 percent of black voters, and turnout was high in Alabama's "black belt." He also beat Moore among younger voters (62 percent to 36 percent), and in the counties with the two biggest universities, Auburn and University of Alabama, both of which President Trump won last year. Also, turnout was lower in strongly Republican counties, Kornacki said. "You didn't have Republicans in these counties going out and switching parties and voting Democrat, you just didn't have them coming out at all. They weren't turning out, they weren't energized, and again, in these Democratic areas, you saw the opposite."

Who needs non-whites, the young and the educated?

Posted by orrinj at 1:50 PM


U.S. core inflation slows, puts spotlight on 2018 interest rate outlook (Lucia Mutikani, 12/13/17, Reuters)

Last month, the cost of healthcare services slipped 0.1 percent, the first drop since May, with prices for doctor visits falling 0.8 percent. In the 12 months through November, the cost of doctor visits tumbled 1.8 percent, the biggest decline since records started in 1947.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Senate misses 60 day window to reimpose Iran sanctions (Aaron Magid, December 13, 2017, Jewish Insider)

President Donald Trump announced with great fanfare that he was decertifying the nuclear deal with Iran on October 13. Under the terms of the Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act (INARA), both the Senate and House had a special 60 day period to reimpose nuclear sanctions against Iran. On the Senate side, under this special provision, only a simple majority was required with 51 Senators. However, the 60 day window has passed with the legislative branch unable to snap back new sanctions against Tehran

Posted by orrinj at 1:34 PM


Lebanese army to get $120 million in U.S. aid  (Reuters, 12/13/17)

The United States, which wants to prevent violence spilling over from Syria into Lebanon, will give the Lebanese army $120 million more in aid to boost border security and counter-terrorism work, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon said on Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 AM

AMEN, BRO'! (profanity alert):

Investigator On Russia-Trump Ties Called Trump 'Idiot' Before His Election (Radio Liberty, December 13, 2017)

A senior FBI agent removed from U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation this year referred to Donald Trump before his election as an "idiot," according to e-mails turned over to Congress and seen by U.S. media.

Peter Strzok, a senior counterintelligence investigator who was dismissed from the Russia investigation this summer, referred to Trump as an "idiot" in response to an e-mail from another FBI agent, Lisa Page, in August 2015.

"I just saw my first Bernie Sanders bumper sticker. Made me want to key the car," Page wrote, referring to the left-wing senator who ran against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.

"He's an idiot like Trump. Figure they cancel each other out," Strzok replied.

In a March 2016 message, Page, who later was also detailed to the Russia investigation, said: "God trump is a loathsome human....omg he's an idiot."

"He's awful," Strzok replied.

Melania's emails probably read much the same.
Posted by orrinj at 6:35 AM


Trump and Bannon Can't Save the Day (QUIN HILLYER, DEC. 13, 2017, NY Times)

As for Mr. Moore, his campaign spent the final days relentlessly flogging e-messages that said that the judge was the victim of a smear campaign devised by Mitch McConnell, the Republican Senate leader, and his "establishment" allies. Typical of them was the emailed fund-raising plea that included the insistence that "This race will not be decided by Mitch McConnell and the forces of evil."

Yes, "forces of evil." Mr. Moore's team was saying that the leader of his own party in the legislative body he wanted to join was an "evil" part of "powerful forces who hate our Christian conservative values. Powerful forces who hiss and howl at the mere mention of God, morality and obedience to the Constitution."

This is an example of why Mr. Moore's strengths and weaknesses are quite Trumplike. He attracts unusually intense support from people who see the entire system as rigged, but by so sharply drawing lines even against his own party, he turns off moderate suburbanites who usually lean Republican.

Mr. Bannon's two final-week appearances on Mr. Moore's behalf probably did more harm than good. Not only did he effectively insult the state's flagship university, but his demagogic attacks against numerous prominent Republicans backfired in a big way -- especially when he blasted Mitt Romney, the Mormon former presidential candidate, for "hiding behind his religion."

Finally, there was the Trump factor. The president backed Mr. Moore with numerous public statements and tweets, held a pro-Moore rally nearby, and recorded a robo-call on Mr. Moore's behalf. But exit polls showed that half of the voters in this formerly Trump-besotted state were now saying that their impressions of the president were negative.

We're well beyond peak racism.  We tried it last November and didn't like it.

Will Trump's lows ever hit rock bottom? (The Editorial Board, Dec 12, 2017, USA Today)

A president who would all but call Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand a whore is not fit to clean the toilets in the Barack Obama Presidential Library or to shine the shoes of George W. Bush.  

This isn't about the policy differences we have with all presidents or our disappointment in some of their decisions. Obama and Bush both failed in many ways. They broke promises and told untruths, but the basic decency of each man was never in doubt.  

Donald Trump, the man, on the other hand, is uniquely awful. His sickening behavior is corrosive to the enterprise of a shared governance based on common values and the consent of the governed.

It should surprise no one how low he went with Gillibrand. When accused during the campaign of sexually harassing or molesting women in the past, Trump's response was to belittle the looks of his accusers. Last October, Trump suggested that he never would have groped Jessica Leeds on an airplane decades ago: "Believe me, she would not be my first choice, that I can tell you." Trump mocked another accuser, former People reporter Natasha Stoynoff, "Check out her Facebook, you'll understand."  Other celebrities and politicians have denied accusations, but none has stooped as low as suggesting that their accusers weren't attractive enough to be honored with their gropes.

December 12, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


A day after Putin's victory speech in Syria, Moscow traces months of anonymous bomb threats to Syrian terrorists (Interfax, 12 december 2017)

Since September 2017, cyber-terrorists have made more than 2,700 anonymous bomb threats in 190 cities, forcing costly evacuations at shopping centers, movie theaters, state administrative buildings, and schools across Russia. By mid-November, more than 1 million people had been swept up in the evacuations. Federal agents have stated that the culprits are using IP telephony, making it difficult to track the calls.

Posted by orrinj at 2:39 PM


What Are the Odds We Are Living in a Computer Simulation? (Joshua Rothman, June 9, 2016, The New Yorker)

The simulation argument begins by noticing several present-day trends in technology, such as the development of virtual reality and the mapping of the human brain. (One such mapping effort, the brain Initiative, has been funded by the Obama Administration.) The argument ends by proposing that we are, in fact, digital beings living in a vast computer simulation created by our far-future descendants. Many people have imagined this scenario over the years, of course, usually while high. But recently, a number of philosophers, futurists, science-fiction writers, and technologists--people who share a near-religious faith in technological progress--have come to believe that the simulation argument is not just plausible, but inescapable.

The argument is based on two premises, both of which can be disputed but neither of which are unreasonable. The first is that consciousness can be simulated in a computer, with logic gates standing in for the brain's synapses and neurotransmitters. (If self-awareness can arise in a lump of neurons, it seems likely that it can thrive in silicon, too.) The second is that advanced civilizations will have access to truly stupendous amounts of computing power. Bostrom speculates, for example, that, thousands of years from now, our space-travelling descendants might use nanomachines to transform moons or planets into giant "planetary computers." It stands to reason that such an advanced civilization might use that computing power to run an "ancestor simulation"--essentially, a high-powered version of the video game "The Sims," focussed on their evolutionary history. The creation of just one such simulated world might strike us as extraordinary, but Bostrom figures that thousands or even millions of ancestor simulations could be run by a single computer in the future. If that's true, then simulated human consciousnesses could vastly outnumber non-simulated ones, in which case we are far more likely to be living inside a simulation right now than to be living outside of one.

The more interesting question is: what are the odds we can tell the difference?

Posted by orrinj at 2:29 PM

WHEN THE BEST DEFENSE OF YOUR GUY... (profanity alert):

What I Saw Inside Roy Moore's Barn Burner : The message made zero sense. People lapped it up. (CHARLES P. PIERCE, DEC 12, 2017, Esquire)

Moore was defended against the allegations of child molestation by an old Army buddy who told a story about how they all were taken to a brothel in Vietnam one night and Moore refused to pay for sex with prostitutes who may have been underage. [...]

This was the first time I'd ever seen the Steve Bannon Show in person, and I was struck by how completely full of painfully obvious horses[***]t he is. A rootless cosmopolitan, a former investment banker at Goldman Sachs, a former producer who worked in godless Hollywood, a man who wouldn't have a public career at all had he not latched onto a lunatic wingnut zillionaire from the proletarian enclaves of the Hamptons, Bannon came down to Midland City like a combination of Elmer Gantry and an aluminum siding salesman, unspooling angry banalities about the contempt other people have for the "working class," about how he is one with all the old white folks gathered in the activity barn because they all share a fealty to a pussy-grabbing casino bankrupt who's coherent for about 20 minutes in the morning. This is the oldest scam in American politics. I thought better of Bannon, at least in terms of his material.

At bottom, Bannon's entire spiel is an endless bluff against his own barely concealed hypocrisy. He came down here, he maintained, to defend Moore, who lost his job as chief justice of the Alabama supreme court twice for attempting to nullify decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court, against what Bannon referred to as The Nullification Project. But at no point was Bannon, the last heir to House Harkonnen, more transparently lacking in shame as when he identified himself with the military families in the audience. The man sells tinhorn empathy like a payday lender. He told the crowd that the "elites," who are not Steve Bannon, start wars because "they know that it won't be their kids who die."

It's your sons and daughters who are over there. Our most precious resource, squandered by the elites in this country. You know why? It's not their sons and daughters over there. They want you to pay for it. They want your kids to enforce it. Under Donald Trump, that deal's changed.
This, of course, in the service of a president* who skipped Vietnam because his feet hurt. Nobody in that president*'s family ever has served in the military, although the Klan-curious paterfamilias once fought bravely in the battle against black people living in his buildings. Eventually, you grow tired of this grubby hucksterism. You grow tired of the people who cheer for it. You grow tired of it all, and exhausted in the attempt to make sense of human beings so obviously jonesing for the kind of illusions in which a former investment banker in a camo jacket and 31 dress shirts is really one of them, and in which a judge who has been credibly accused of sexual misconduct with teenage girls is really as close a friend to Jesus as they are. that he insisted on freebies at a whorehouse....

Posted by orrinj at 12:21 PM


Why Melania, Ivanka and Jared's mayoral election votes didn't count   (LEONARD GREENE, 12/11/17, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)
[T]he First Lady did not sign the envelope she put the ballot in as required by BOE, so her vote wasn't counted. [...]

Trump's daughter Ivanka also botched her ballot. It was filled out correctly, but she didn't mail it until Election Day -- which was too late to be counted, officials said.

Her husband, Jared Kushner, didn't mail his back at all, according to the board.

White House reportedly overrun with cockroaches, mice and ants
Officials said the President's ballot was fine. But that was before the Daily News pointed out to an official that the date of birth on his application was a full month off.

Trump, 71, was born on June 14, 1946, but his ballot application lists his birthday as July.

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


WH lawyer told Trump that Flynn misled FBI and Pence (Kara Scannell, 12/04/17, CNN)

The White House's chief lawyer told President Donald Trump in January he believed then-national security adviser Michael Flynn had misled the FBI and lied to Vice President Mike Pence and should be fired, a source familiar with the matter said Monday.

The description of the conversation raises new questions about what Trump knew about Flynn's situation when he urged then-FBI Director James Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn and whether anyone in the White House, including the President himself, attempted to obstruct justice. [...]

A week later, McGahn was provided a transcript of what Flynn and Kislyak discussed and the conclusion was that it was inconsistent with what Pence said publicly he had been told by the national security adviser.

Despite McGahn's recommendation that Trump fire Flynn, the retired lieutenant general was kept on. Flynn was forced out in mid-February after news outlets reported about Yates' warning to McGahn.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


These ocean drones are trawling for climate change data (Katy Scott, 10/27/17, CNNTech)

The drones, which cruise at a leisurely 3-5 miles per hour, are doing work typically reserved for manned research ships -- but for a small fraction of the cost.

California-based Saildrone, which raised $14 million in funding from impact investors last September, says its drones can be operated for only 5% of the cost of a manned vessel.

Rio Tinto puts its faith in driverless trucks, trains and drilling rigs (The Economist, Dec 7th 2017)

FOR millennia, man has broken rocks. Whether with pickaxe or dynamite, their own or animal muscle, in a digger or a diesel truck, thick-necked miners have been at the centre of an industry that supplies the raw materials for almost all industrial activity. [...]

On a visit to Rio's Hope Downs 4 mine in the Pilbara, it is eerie at first to watch 300-tonne trucks speeding uphill in a cloud of red dust with no one in the cab. Then it becomes endearing, as you watch supersized robotic mammoths so safety-obsessed that when sagebrush blows in their way, they judder to a halt.

As for the mine's managers, they are struck by the silence; there is no longer a steady stream of banter across drivers' two-way radios. They also welcome the productivity gains. Over a 12-hour period, they say, manned trucks are competitive, but over 24 hours and longer, the absence of coffee breaks, fatigue and driver changeovers begins to tell. The autonomous trucks stop only once a day for refuelling. "Then you pat them on the bum and out they go again," one says. He adds that the workforce at the mine is already about one-third lower as a result of automation. The 76 autonomous vehicles in Rio's 400-strong truck fleet in the Pilbara are an estimated 15% cheaper to run than the rest.

Two hours' flight away, at Rio's operations centre in Perth, engineers remotely control the equipment with screens and computers. "You have to blow dust in their faces to make them feel like they're in the Pilbara, otherwise it's too comfortable," quips an executive, as he oversees desk-bound employees operating two of Rio's six autonomous rigs digging into the Pilbara rock. Rio's boss of iron ore, Chris Salisbury, says that autonomy enables drilling to run for almost a third longer on average than with manned rigs, and to churn through 10% more metres per hour. The extra data collected helps the firm to evaluate the quality of the ore for further digging.

Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


How Steve Bannon Rescued Roy Moore's Campaign Against All Odds (Joshua Green, 12/12/17, Bloomberg)

[I]t was an ultimatum from Fox News host Sean Hannity, delivered on his Nov. 14 broadcast, that posed the direst threat. "For me, the judge has 24 hours," Hannity told his viewers, after excoriating Moore. "You must immediately and fully come up with a satisfactory explanation for your inconsistencies." He added, "If you can't do this, then Judge Moore needs to get out of the race." In 2017, a Republican candidate can overcome disapproval from party leaders, but losing the conservative media is usually fatal. [...]

Bannon worked to create a counter-narrative that ultimately would change many Republicans' perception of the scandal. A former filmmaker, he's long been captivated by the propaganda films of Leni Riefenstahl, the Nazi filmmaker, and the Soviet director Sergei Eisenstein for their power to shape public sentiment. Earlier this year, Bannon told the New Yorker's Jane Mayer his 2012 anti-Obama film "The Hope and the Change," had consciously mimicked Riefenstahl's infamous, "Triumph of the Will." Her film, he added, "seared into me" that unhappy voters could be influenced if they felt they were being conned. 

"Riefenstahl and Eisenstein both created an image of their nation that coalesced in the minds of citizens and shaped public opinion through narratives, which is essentially what Bannon is doing in politics," says Nadia Szold, a filmmaker and documentarian who has studied Bannon's films and discussed his influences with him. "They all evoke emotions like nostalgia, patriotism or paranoia that strengthen a collective sentiment."

Nationalism, not patriotism.  They hate America.
Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


#MeToo spotlight increasingly pointed at past Trump conduct (JONATHAN LEMIRE, 12/12/17, AP)

The president's advisers were stunned Sunday when one of the highest-ranking women in the Trump administration broke with the White House line and said the accusers' voices "should be heard."

"They should be heard, and they should be dealt with," Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a CBS interview. "And I think we heard from them before the election. And I think any woman who has felt violated or felt mistreated in any way, they have every right to speak up."

Haley's comments infuriated the president, according to two people who are familiar with his views but who spoke on condition of anonymity because they aren't authorized to speak publicly about private conversations. Trump has grown increasingly angry in recent days that the accusations against him have resurfaced, telling associates that the charges are false and drawing parallels to the accusations facing Republican Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore.

2020 beckons.

Posted by orrinj at 7:26 AM


Roy Moore's wife fights anti-Semitic tag: 'One of our attorneys is a Jew' (AP, 12/12/17)

Posted by orrinj at 6:24 AM



City Sector Model analysis shows that by 2000, 83.5 percent of major metropolitan area residents lived in the automobile oriented, principally postwar suburbs and exurbs. The exurbs largely include both urban development and rural areas within the metropolitan area (which is both the labor market and housing market).

The share of residents living in the suburbs and exurbs increased to 85.3 percent in 2010. The share of growth in the Urban Core was so small between 2000 and 2010 that the exurbs passed the urban core in population. The exurban population now leads that of the Urban Cores by 3,000,000.

The most recent data, from the ACS 2012 to 2016 rolling survey (middle year: 2014) places the suburban and exurban share of major metropolitan area population at 85.5 percent. Since 2010, suburban and exurban growth has accounted for an even higher 90.5 percent of population growth (Figure 1). The share of growth in the Urban Core was 9.5 percent, well below its 14.5 percent share of the 2010 population. Even the prewar Central Business Districts, part of the urban core had growth that fell nearly one-third short of their 1.3 percent 2000 population (1.0 percent).

The overall growth in the suburbs and exurbs was 6.6 million from 2010. The Later Suburbs accounted for 3.4 million new residents, the Earlier Suburbs 2.0 million and the Exurbs 1.1 million. The Urban Core added 0.7 million, approximately 70,000 in the Central Business Districts and 610,000 in the Inner Ring (Figure 2). Overall suburban and exurban growth was nearly 10 times Urban Core growth.

Posted by orrinj at 6:09 AM


Poll: 45% of Israelis believe its democracy in 'danger' (MARISSA NEWMAN, 12/12/17, Times of Israel)

Overall, some 45% of respondents agreed that Israel's democracy is in "serious danger." This sentiment was far more prevalent among left-wing Jewish respondents (72%) and Arab Israelis (65%), while just 23% of religiously identified and right-wing respondents agreed.

Nearing the bottom of the list of public trust in institutions was Israel's Chief Rabbinate (20%), while the IDF again came in first place, with 81% of all Israelis and 88% of Jewish Israelis placing their confidence in the military. [...]

Some 79% of secular Jewish Israelis believe "the religious population is gradually taking control of the state," while the majority of religious Jewish Israelis disagree, the poll said.

Just 15% of ultra-Orthodox and 16% of religious Jews agreed with the statement on encroaching religious control, according to the survey.

Some 75% of the Jewish left, 74% of Arab Israelis, 61% of Jewish secular Israelis -- and 42% of Jewish Israelis overall -- said the Jewish component of Israel's character was "too strong," the survey said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 AM


Iran Thrives in the Levant on Weakened States Threatened by Sunni Radicalism (Fabrice Balanche, December 12, 2017, The Caravan)

The announced defeat of the Syrian rebellion and the Islamic State is favoring the extension of Iranian influence in the Levant. The Iranian corridor between Beirut and Tehran via Baghdad and Damascus is now a reality. Territorial continuity was achieved symbolically at the end of May 2017, when Iranian-funded Shia militias joined on both sides of the Syrian-Iraqi border north of al-Tanf. In Iraq, Iranian allies Syria and Lebanon dominate; people support them out of fear, default, or sympathy. If the West wants to fight against the Islamic Republic's influence in the Levant, it must understand the root causes pushing more and more Lebanese Christians, Iraqi Shiites, and Syrian Sunni Arabs into the Iranian camp. [...]

Whenever a Sunni country proclaims itself the defender of the Palestinian cause--as Egypt under Gamal Abdel Nasser or Iraq under Saddam Hussein--Iran can exploit it to conquer the Arab street. As long as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict persists, the congenital anti-Israeli feeling of the Ayatollah's regime will exert a power of attraction over Sunni Arabs. After the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah was the most popular personality in the Arab world. In Syria, a few thousand Sunnis even converted to Shiism. Therefore, this parameter should always be taken into consideration, even if it is not the main one.

However, the real cause of Iran's rise in the Levant is sectarian and religious. Paradoxically,  theocratic Iran became the protector of non-Sunnis and even secular Sunnis against jihadism.

The main fear of Christians and Shiites in the Levant is to be overwhelmed by Sunni Islam. Although the Sunnis are a minority in Lebanon and Iraq, they consider themselves the only legitimate community to exercise power, since they belong to the majority in the Arab and Muslim world. The concept of minority-majority needs to be assessed throughout the Middle East to understand the fear that drives non-Sunnis and the sense of superiority that drives Sunnis. The ethnic criterion introduces more complexity in the case of the Kurds. Although Kurds are mostly Sunnis in Syria and Iraq, they were marginalized by the Arab Sunnis, too.

December 11, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:21 PM


Google's true origin partly lies in CIA and NSA research grants for mass surveillance (Jeff Nesbit, December 08, 2017, Quartz)

Two decades ago, the US intelligence community worked closely with Silicon Valley in an effort to track citizens in cyberspace. And Google is at the heart of that origin story. Some of the research that led to Google's ambitious creation was funded and coordinated by a research group established by the intelligence community to find ways to track individuals and groups online.

The intelligence community hoped that the nation's leading computer scientists could take non-classified information and user data, combine it with what would become known as the internet, and begin to create for-profit, commercial enterprises to suit the needs of both the intelligence community and the public. They hoped to direct the supercomputing revolution from the start in order to make sense of what millions of human beings did inside this digital information network. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:02 PM


'Humans will worship AI MESSIAH' God Robot religion expected to boom :" A so-called "God Robot" will be worshipped by millions of people because it will have mankind's best interests at heart, it has been claimed. (Rachel O'Donoghue, 11th December 2017, Daily Star)

John Mitchell, a lawyer and AI expert, said human beings, in general, tend to "worship supreme understanding".

Mr Mitchell claims the same drive that compels people to believe in God and follow religions will work for Artificial Intelligence.

He explained: "We [believe] there must be some higher power that causes lightning, sunsets, and crashing waves - or at least speaks to the bottom of our beings, rather than ignore them as ho-hum background."

Dr. Stephen Thaler, the President and CEO of Imagination Engines and an AI and consciousness expert, has claimed people will rely on AI to provide solutions to society's problems.

"An AI would provide the equivalent of a 'Messiah' - having many orders of magnitude more processing elements than the brain, enabling it to gift us with solutions to the most daunting social, political, economic, and environmental challenges," he said.

Of course, one of the most persuasive reasons to believe Christianity is true is that the Messiah did not gift us any of those things.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 PM


Jailed Russian hacker says the FSB coordinated his cyber-attacks on Hillary Clinton and the DNC (The Bell, 11 december 2017, Meduza)

This summer, Konstantin Kozlovsky, a Yekaterinburg resident accused of working with the hacker group "Lurk," reportedly declared in court that he acted "under the command of Russian Federal Security Service agents" when he participated in the hacking of the U.S. Democratic National Committee and stole Hillary Clinton's emails. According to the newsletter The Bell, Kozlovsky made this announcement on August 15, at a hearing to extend his arrest.

Posted by orrinj at 5:20 PM


Trump Takes Credit for Killing Hundreds of Regulations That Were Already Dead (Alan Levin and Jesse Hamilton, 12/11/17, Bloomberg)

[G}overnment records--and in some cases the agencies carrying out Trump's policies--tell a very different story.

For one thing, only a handful of regulations have actually been taken off the books. That's due to laws that keep government policies from wildly swinging back and forth every time moving trucks show up at the White House.

Rather, the claim of victory in the war on regulation is instead based almost entirely on stopping proposed rules that haven't yet made their way through the machinery of government. The White House says it has killed or stalled 860 pending regulations. It's done this by withdrawing 469, listing another 109 as inactive and relegating 282 to "long term."

A Bloomberg News review has found even those claims are exaggerated. Hundreds of the pending regulations had been effectively shelved before Trump took office. Others listed as withdrawn are actually still being developed by federal agencies. Still more were moot because the actions sought in a pending rule were already in effect.

He will depart office leaving no traces of ever having been there.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM



I've been CEOing Wolfram Research for more than 30 years now. But what does that actually entail? What do I end up doing on a typical day? I certainly work hard. But I think I'm not particularly typical of CEOs of tech companies our size. Because for me, a large part of my time is spent on the front lines of figuring out how our products should be designed and architected, and what they should do.

Thirty years ago I mostly did this by myself. But nowadays I'm almost always working with groups of people from our 800 or so employees. I like to do things very interactively. And in fact, for the past 15 years or so I've spent much of my time doing what I often call "thinking in public:" solving problems and making decisions live in meetings with other people.

I'm often asked how this works, and what actually goes on in our meetings. And recently I realized: What better way to show (and perhaps educate) people than just to livestream lots of our actual meetings? So over the past couple of months, I've livestreamed nearly 40 hours of my internal meetings--in effect taking everyone behind the scenes in what I do and how our products are created. (Yes, the live streams are also archived.)

One of the greatest and most obvious problems that any bureaucracy faces is that you can not realistically expect honest feedback up the food chain, precisely because the people you're asking risk being eaten.  Opening up your decision-making processes to people at no such risk is a good thing.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


The Male Mentorship Crisis and 'Call Me By Your Name' (Mark Judge, 12/11/17, Acculturated)

Most informed and honest people are familiar with the statistics about fatherless boys--how young men who grow up in homes without fathers are twice as likely to end up in jail as those who come from traditional two-parent families; how they have a higher risk of suicide and behavioral disorders; and how they are much more likely to drop out of school. Yet while these figures are striking and bolster the conservative argument that fathers are indispensable, there is also something to be said for the liberal case that it takes a village to raise a child. There once was a time when young men from bad homes could find male mentors in churches, the military, or even just fixing cars around the neighborhood.

One of the things that touched me so deeply about Call Me By Your Name is that the mise-en-scène was so similar to my own experience of adolescence. In the film it is the summer of 1983, and Elio Perlman is spending it with his family at their seventeenth-century villa in Lombardy, Italy. He meets Oliver, a handsome doctoral student who's working as an intern for Elio's father, a professor of classic archeology. The two characters are surrounded by lush beauty: the sun-drenched town square, the cool sensuality of a pool, a villa filled with intoxicating ideas and art. They fall in love.

While we are culturally in the middle of a 1980s revival that sees no sign of ending (see, for example, Stranger Things and the return of synth pop), Call Me By Your Name was far more evocative of the 1980s I remember when I was a high school student. My father was a writer for National Geographic, and my life, like Elio's, was suffused with art, writing, beauty and ideas. The conversations around the dinner table, especially when we were joined by a friend of my father's who was a scholar, were similar to the passionate dissertations given by Elio and his father, Mr. Perlman. Like Elio, I spent magical summers swimming, smoking and chasing girls.

Intelligent men like Oliver would often come into my life, either through my father or at places like tennis or football camp. But there was a crucial difference between these men and Oliver in Call Me By Your Name: None of these men came on to me sexually. The very idea would have been considered bizarre and evil--because they were men and I was still a boy.

Kevin Spacey stated the truth of the matter succinctly when he responded to revelations that he'd preyed on minors by saying, "I choose now to live as a gay man."

Posted by orrinj at 10:00 AM


Focus on Flynn, Trump timeline suggests obstruction is on Mueller's mind (CAROL E. LEE and JULIA AINSLEY, 12/11/17, NBC)

Special counsel Robert Mueller is trying to piece together what happened inside the White House over a critical 18-day period that began when senior officials were told that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was susceptible to blackmail by Russia, according to multiple people familiar with the matter.

The questions about what happened between Jan. 26 and Flynn's firing on Feb. 13 appear to relate to possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump, say two people familiar with Mueller's investigation into Russia's election meddling and potential collusion with the Trump campaign.

Multiple sources say that during interviews, Mueller's investigators have asked witnesses, including White House Counsel Don McGahn and others who have worked in the West Wing, to go through each day that Flynn remained as national security adviser and describe in detail what they knew was happening inside the White House as it related to Flynn.

Some of those interviewed by Mueller's team believe the goal is in part to determine if there was a deliberate effort by President Trump or top officials in the West Wing to cover up the information about Flynn that Sally Yates, then the acting attorney general, conveyed to McGahn on Jan. 26. In addition to Flynn, McGahn is also expected to be critical to federal investigators trying to piece together a timeline of those 18 days.

Posted by orrinj at 9:48 AM


Explosion rocks New York commuter hub, one suspect in custody  (Reuters, 12/11/17)

An explosion rocked New York's Port Authority, one of the city's busiest commuter hubs, on Monday morning and police said one suspect was injured and in custody but that no-one else was hurt in the rush-hour incident.

We destroy their dream of a caliphate; they....

Posted by orrinj at 9:40 AM


The Myth of Vladimir Putin the Puppet Master : Russia's strongman president has many Americans convinced of his manipulative genius. He's really just a gambler who won big. (JULIA IOFFE,  JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018, The Atlantic)

Over the past year, Russian hackers have become the stuff of legend in the United States. According to U.S. intelligence assessments and media investigations, they were responsible for breaching the servers of the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. They spread the information they filched through friendly outlets such as WikiLeaks, to devastating effect. With President Vladimir Putin's blessing, they probed the voting infrastructure of various U.S. states. They quietly bought divisive ads and organized political events on Facebook, acting as the bellows in America's raging culture wars.

But most Russians don't recognize the Russia portrayed in this story: powerful, organized, and led by an omniscient, omnipotent leader who is able to both formulate and execute a complex and highly detailed plot.

Gleb Pavlovsky, a political consultant who helped Putin win his first presidential campaign, in 2000, and served as a Kremlin adviser until 2011, simply laughed when I asked him about Putin's role in Donald Trump's election. "We did an amazing job in the first decade of Putin's rule of creating the illusion that Putin controls everything in Russia," he said. "Now it's just funny" how much Americans attribute to him.

A businessman who is high up in Putin's United Russia party said over an espresso at a Moscow café: "You're telling me that everything in Russia works as poorly as it does, except our hackers? Rosneft"--the state-owned oil giant--"doesn't work well. Our health-care system doesn't work well. Our education system doesn't work well. And here, all of a sudden, are our hackers, and they're amazing?"

Nevermind that they had no impact on the election results--Director Comey gets that honor--but the mere fact of their attempted interference has increased sanctions, despite Donald's promises to Vlad.  They are the played, not the players.

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


The U.S. Has Way Too Many Secrets : A Q&A with Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive ecrets are really worth keeping. (James Gibney, 12/11/17, Bloomberg)

How much does it cost to keep a secret? Well, the U.S. government sort of has an answer: $16.89 billion. That's how much it spent in 2016 to classify information that it deems too sensitive to be released to the public. Some secrets are worth keeping, of course -- like how to cook up chemical weapons, for instance. But others, less so. Rodney McDaniel, a top National Security Council official during the administration of President Ronald Reagan, estimated that only 10 percent of classification was for the "legitimate protection of secrets." Former New Jersey Governor Tom Kean, a head of the 9/11 commission, said that "three quarters of what I read that was classified should not have been." In fact, he argued that overclassification had left the U.S. more vulnerable to the 9/11 attacks. And that's to say nothing of its everyday effects on government accountability and efficiency, congressional oversight and public awareness.

Shortly after the government released a trove of documents on the assassination of John F. Kennedy, I sat down with Tom Blanton, the director of the National Security Archive, to talk about America's dysfunctional mechanisms for classifying and declassifying information.  [...]

JG: So, there's no magical process by which those things that should be declassified by a certain time frame because of laws on the books actually do get declassified.

TB: Yeah, there are no magic wands. Steven Garfinkel, who used to run the Information Security Oversight Office, the government's internal watchdog on classification, once described coming into a Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility, or SCIF, that was wall-to-wall with boxes dating back to the 1920s, '30s, '40s, '50s. He took about an hour and sampled stuff and then waved a wand and said, "let it go." Few people within the government are willing to take that level of responsibility. But with the tsunami of electronic records that's coming, the idiocy of this page-by-page, line-by-line review is a total failure. The backlog is enormous, and it's only growing.

JG: And as you've noted, a lot of the email traffic isn't even being logged and stored.

TB: Part of that was a deliberate government decision back in the 1990s. We brought the original lawsuit to force Presidents Reagan, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton to save White House email. We won. But when we tried to expand that principle to the rest of the government during the 1990s, the so-called decade of openness, the government fought tooth and nail. We only found out because of the Hillary Clinton email business that no secretary of state has systematically saved their email, until John Kerry did.

JG: Isn't it true that as a result of Clinton's private server, we have a lot more of her emails than we would otherwise have had?

TB: Yes, much more than if she'd stuck with

By keeping intelligence secret we get the blindness of experts instead of the wisdom of crowds.
Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


Trump Will Have A Hard Time Stopping The Russia Investigation -- Even If He Fires Mueller (Amelia Thomson-DeVeaux, Dec. 11, 2017, 538)

"The system we have actually seems to work pretty well," Josh Chafetz, a professor of law at Cornell Law School, said of the return to special prosecutors appointed by the attorney general. "In the few cases where a prosecutor has been fired, the blowback was so intense that a new one was appointed very quickly." [...]

Special counsel Kenneth Starr's investigation of Bill and Hillary Clinton's investment in a real estate entity called the Whitewater Development Company fell squarely into this category. The investigation officially launched in August 1994 to look at Bill Clinton's dealings while he was a state official, and it resulted in charges for a wide range of Clinton associates, including the sitting governor of Arkansas. But Starr then expanded his inquiry to include a probe of White House aide Vince Foster's death (after three years, Starr reaffirmed the conclusion that Foster had committed suicide), claims that the Clintons had fired aides in the presidential travel office to give jobs to their friends (no intentional wrongdoing was found), and an investigation of allegations that Clinton had encouraged Monica Lewinsky to lie about their affair under oath, which ultimately led to Clinton's impeachment.

"It was becoming clear that when you freed the independent counsel from all checks -- political and budgetary -- they could keep expanding their purview kind of indefinitely," Chafetz said. "There was a real sense that he (Starr) had lost perspective of what this investigation was supposed to be for and was pursuing Clinton personally."

With the office of the independent counsel under fire -- even Starr eventually turned on it, calling it "constitutionally dubious" -- Congress chose not to renew it in 1999. The Department of Justice issued regulations instead providing for the appointment of a special prosecutor by the attorney general -- a functional return to the pre-1978 status quo.

Since then, the regulations have been invoked only three times: in 1999, to investigate the FBI's actions in the 1993 raid on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas (the special prosecutor criticized the way the raid was handled, but no charges were brought); in 2003, to investigate the leak of undercover CIA agent Valerie Plame's name by the George W. Bush administration (Bush aide I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, was convicted); and the Russia investigation this year.

Despite Democrats' anxiety, Barrett said he's confident that even if Trump did direct the deputy attorney general to fire Mueller -- an order that Justice Department officials might be unwilling to carry out -- the special prosecutor position wouldn't stay vacant for long.

"Robert Mueller is widely perceived as a competent and credible law enforcement official," Barrett said. 

...are imagining that anyone cares whether it is Robert Mueller who leads the investigation, just because they care so fiercely for Donald, and that the investigator matters more than the facts, a function of their bubble, which tells them that Hillary was guilty and Donald innocent.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


UK is the top destination for European jobseekers despite Brexit, study suggests (Karthick Arvinth, December 11, 2017, IB Times)

That "despite" is precious.

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM


U.S.-backed Syrian forces, Iraqi army coordinate at border: SDF (Reuters, 12/11/17) 

Commanders of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance of Kurdish and Arab militias, met with Iraqi military leaders on Sunday. They "discussed protecting the Syrian-Iraqi border in the region adjacent to Deir al-Zor province, and how to finally eradicate Daesh mercenaries there," the SDF said in a statement.

"The two sides decided to form a joint coordination center to guarantee the security of the border," it said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 AM


GOP Tax Promotes Offshoring Of US Jobs (Leo Gerard, 12/11/17, AlterNet)

Ford hit Michigan and its auto workers with some crappy holiday news. Instead of building a $700 million electric vehicle factory in Michigan as promised in January, Ford will construct the plant in Mexico.

Ford reneged on its promise to Michigan workers just days after the Senate passed a tax plan intended to end levies on corporate profits made at factories offshore - in places like Mexico. News of the letdown also arrived just days before new negotiations on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) are to begin in Washington, D.C.

Ford and other giant corporations got what they wanted out of Republicans on taxes, dramatically lower levies on domestic profits and total elimination on foreign profits. That makes Mexico an even more attractive manufacturing site for them than NAFTA did.

Posted by orrinj at 6:10 AM


Trump accusers to unite for first time, demand congressional investigation into allegations (JACQUELINE THOMSEN, 12/10/17, The Hill)

Women who have publicly accused President Trump of sexual misconduct will call for Congress to investigate the allegations at a press conference on Monday.

The women will unite for the first time to demand the probe and share details of their allegations against Trump, according to a press release.

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Russian military chief criticizes U.S., Japan and South Korea drills  (Reuters, 12/11/17) 
Russia's military chief warned on Monday that military exercises by Japan, the United States and South Korea aimed at countering North Korea only raise hysteria and create more instability in the region.

You're darn tootin'; that is our role in the world.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


Putin orders Russian forces to start pulling out of Syria (Reuters, 12/11/17) 

President Vladimir Putin on Monday ordered Russian forces in Syria to start withdrawing, saying that after a two year military campaign, Moscow and Damascus had achieved their mission of destroying Islamic State.

December 10, 2017

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NFL HELL: Ticket Prices Fall To $10 As Teams Struggle To Fill Stadiums (EMILY ZANOTTI December 10, 2017, Daily Wire)

It turns out, if you can still stomach a professional football game, you can now get tickets for about the same price as a couple of Starbucks lattes.

According to Vivid Seats, an NFL ticket reselling site, seat prices at most NFL stadiums have bottomed out, leaving fans able to snag a lower level seat for a Buffalo Bills game for an astounding three dollars. Tickets at center field, right on the fifty-yard line (typically hard to find), will run you around $30.

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What The Guardian Can Learn from Watergate Coverage : On the importance of making the "right" mistakes (Craig Silverman, JULY 22, 2011, Columbia Journalism Review)

Another similarity is that the Post and The Guardian each made errors during the course of their investigations. No, that's not shocking. Errors are a byproduct of producing journalism. That maxim is even more true when it comes to complicated, difficult stories that stretch over months and years and work to reveal information that powerful forces seek to keep hidden.

When the stakes are this high, and the story goes on this long, you will get some things wrong. It's almost about making the right mistakes. Put another way, it's about avoiding the ones that can damage people and your credibility, or that arise as a result of carelessness or confirmation bias.

This reality was articulated by Philip Meyer in his book, The Vanishing Newspaper. He wrote that mistakes can sometimes--sometimes--be a valuable part of the process:

A newspaper with a zero level of factual errors is a newspaper that is missing deadline, taking too few risks, or both. The public, despite the alarms raised [in studies by the industry], does not expect newspapers to be perfect. Neither do most of the sources quoted in the paper. The problem is finding the right balance between speed and accuracy, between being comprehensive and being merely interesting.
To date, The Guardian has published at least seven corrections related to its phone hacking reporting. Its sister paper, The Observer, issued at least two. (These numbers are based on Nexis searches.)

During their Watergate reporting, Woodward and Bernstein committed two critical mistakes. The latter almost completely derailed their work. Their first mistake came on October 6, 1973 when they wrongly accused three men of receiving information resulting from illegal wiretaps placed in Democratic Party headquarters prior to the famous burglary.

Then, a story on October 25 of that same year almost booted the pair off the Watergate beat. It was by comparison a less egregious error: the duo had misattributed information. But that misattribution undermined their revelation that President Nixon's chief of staff, Bob Haldeman, had controlled a large slush fund for the re-election committee. Here's how I described the error in my 2007 book:

The story said that the proof of Haldeman's involvement had come from grand jury testimony by Hugh Sloan... Their error was that Sloan, though he had confirmed the fact privately, had not told the grand jury that Haldeman controlled the fund. The Post's story was true, but this single error, which didn't change the fact of Haldeman's involvement, threatened to unravel all the good work they and their editors had done.
Though less damaging than the first error, it ended up being far more costly. It gave the president's press secretary the opening he needed to go after the Post and get the rest of the media to press the paper for answers.

"I don't respect the type of shabby journalism that is being practiced by the Washington Post," Ron Ziegler told reporters.

"It kind of underlined the whole thing and the fragility of where we were," Post executive editor Ben Bradlee said later. "It was hard to win and easy to lose."

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


Donald Trump: America's First Post-White President : Trumpism is not a simple retread of the white supremacy of the past, but a new form of the self-destructive politics of ressentiment. (Richard Thompson Ford, 12/10/17, American Interest)

Racial politics can tell us something about Trump's popularity, but, ironically, the history of American race relations suggests that Trump's mystifyingly loyal supporters are less like the recalcitrant white supremacists of the past and more like the beleaguered and desperate African-Americans who--against their better natures and better judgment--followed demagogues such as the Nation of Islam's overtly anti-Semitic Louis Farrakhan, who rose to prominence by organizing the Million Man March in 1995, and supported charlatans such as Washington DC's "Mayor for Life" Marion Barry, who was reelected even after serving time for smoking crack cocaine.

In their embrace of the crass, bigoted, impulsive Trump, white working-class voters resemble no group more than the poor and working-class African-Americans who flocked to support Farrakhan in the 1990s. Like Trump, Farrakhan was a vulgar embarrassment to the mainstream: His rise to a leading role in black politics baffled and dismayed responsible political leaders, who initially shunned him for his sexism, corruption, and anti-Semitism. Farrakhan was, like Trump, a skillful demagogue who exploited the frustration of people who had been treated with contempt by the powerful and privileged. Like Trump, Farrakhan spoke in the unrefined cadence and style of the people and, like Trump, he traded in slanders and conspiracy theories that were alloyed with just enough truth to make them plausible to an uneducated and deeply suspicious audience. Farrakhan and Trump both spoke of a return to traditional values and old hierarchies--a message that resonated in communities plagued by joblessness, nihilism, addiction, and crime. Although many mainstream black politicians and opinion leaders shunned the Million Man March because of its defining sexism and the outspoken anti-Semitism of its organizer (#NeverFarrakhan!), many others joined in, gambling that they could harness the momentum of a reckless and self-serving bigot and turn it to their own purposes. Predictably the egotistical Farrakhan insisted that he himself was larger than the movement he had galvanized: "Today, whether you like it or not, God brought the idea . . . through me." Similarly, after his list of exaggerated crises facing the nation, Trump declared at the Republican National Convention: "I am your voice. . . . I alone can fix it."

Of course, unlike Farrakhan's admirers, Trump's hard-core supporters are white--members of a privileged class who have no need of the petty politics of ressentiment. Or are they? It's now conventional wisdom in academia to insist that race is a "social construction." A prominent account of race and racism describes a process of "racial formation" in which racial groups are constantly recreated through a host of social interactions and political decisions. Racial groups change over time--old races gradually atrophy and die and new ones slowly emerge to take their place: In the 18th century, Pennsylvania's Germans (the Pennsylvania Dutch or Deutsche) were considered a "swarthy" distinct race; according to historian Noel Ignatiev, the Irish "became white" only in the late 19th century; fair-skinned Pakistanis are "black" in the United Kingdom; it's not clear whether recent immigrants to the United States from Ethiopia or Ghana count as "African-American." Like the 19th-century Irish, today some dark-skinned people are becoming more and more "white" in terms of privilege and socialization (think of South Asians in Silicon Valley). 

Posted by orrinj at 10:06 AM


'He was thrown to the wolves': Former FBI agents defend ousted Mueller investigator as Trump attacks 'rigged' DOJ (Natasha Bertrand , 12/10/17, Business Insider)

Former FBI agents who spoke to Business Insider this week characterized the outcry as "nonsense" aimed at discrediting an investigation that has dogged Trump and the GOP more broadly for over a year.

Frank Montoya, Jr., a former FBI special agent who served as the Director of the Office of the National Counterintelligence Executive, was blunt.

"There is a lot of anger in the FBI (the entire intelligence community, for that matter) over how this president will say nary a negative word about the Russians, but will insult us every chance he gets," he said. [...]

Former FBI agents who knew and worked with Strzok acknowledged that he should have been more circumspect with his comments, even if they were private, given the highly politicized nature of both the Clinton and Russia probes. But they broadly characterized him as a professional who never expressed his political opinions when conducting an investigation.

Montoya, who served in the bureau for over two decades, called Strzok "an exceptional agent" and "rising star" whose removal from Mueller's probe was "a g reat loss to the investigation."

"Moscow was happy, I'm sure when that happened," he said.

"There's a lot of partisan political white noise out there about Pete's supposed 'bias,'" Montoya said. "It's all nonsense. I've known Pete for a long time. I didn't know what his political opinions were. Never asked. Never cared. That's the way it was for the vast majority of us."

Another veteran FBI counterintelligence agent who knew Strzok but requested anonymity to discuss internal DOJ decisions called him an "expert" in counterintelligence work who "rose to the level of Deputy Assistant Director in the usual way: by being a reliable, consistent, and capable member of the executive team."

The nature of FBI investigations makes it impossible for one employee to exert outsized influence over others, former agents emphasized.

"There's been a lot of accusation lately in the public arena about how Pete's supposed biases may have affected outcome of the email investigation and predication for Russia investigation," Montoya said. "More nonsense."

"Pete wasn't the only guy working on those cases," he added. "His was one voice, albeit an important one, but there were other important voices in the mix, too."

With regard to the email investigation, Montoya said, "p rofessional, experienced prosecutors and senior leadership (above Pete) in the FBI played the key roles in the final decision not to prosecute Clinton.

Pete may have helped draft the public messaging at the conclusion of the case, but he didn't act alone. I participated in quite a few of these matters myself and the planning process was always a group effort."

Former FBI unit chief Mark Rossini, who spent 17 years at the bureau, largely agreed.

"It would be literally impossible for one human being to have the power to change or manipulate evidence or intelligence according to their own political preferences," he said.

" FBI agents, like anyone else, are human beings. We are allowed to have our political beliefs. If anything, the overwhelming majority of agents are conservative Republicans," he added.

Former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa made a similar point in an interview earlier this week.

"The FBI investigators who are working on any given day will probably be mostly politically conservative," Rangappa said, drawing from her interactions with agents under President George W. Bush. That is one reason, she said, why Republicans should "think carefully" about the precedent they're setting in pointing to agents' political leanings as evidence of a tainted investigation.

...and replace them with Trump loyalists, which means no conservative Republicans.

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Tax Plans May Give Your Co-Worker a Better Deal Than You (Patricia Cohen, Dec. 9, 2017, NY Times)

In most places, a dollar is a dollar. But in the tax code envisioned by Republicans, the amount you make may be less important than how you make it.

Consider two chefs working side by side for the same catering company, doing the same job, for the same hours and the same money. The only difference is that one is an employee, the other an independent contractor.

Under the Republican plans, one gets a tax break and the other doesn't.

That's because for the first time since the United States adopted an income tax, a higher rate would be applied to employee wages and salaries than to income earned by proprietors, partnerships and closely held corporations.

The House and Senate bills vary in detail, but both end up linking tax rates to a whole new set of characteristics like ownership, day-to-day level of involvement, organizational structure or even occupation. These rules, mostly untethered from income level, could raise or lower tax bills by hundreds or thousands of dollars for ordinary taxpayers and millions of dollars for the largest eligible businesses.

"We've never had a tax system where wage earners were substantially penalized" relative to other types of income earners, said Adam Looney, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a former Treasury Department official.

...there are more thoughtful ways of doing so.

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TUNED UP IN THE SPIRIT (David Ramsey, November 21, 2017, Oxford American)

They are a peculiar people, the Old Regular Baptists will be quick to tell you. And they have a peculiar way of singing. It is an old way, unchanged--nearly gone but for the stubborn insistence of churches like Mt. Olivet. First a single voice: "The time draws nigh when you and I." Then many voices, repeating the line unaccompanied in a wobbly melody, only much slower, more elaborate, quite loud, spreading out two or three tones along every syllable. The process continues, the songleader "giving out" or "lining out" each line in a brief and piercing call, which is then decorated by the congregation in a dirgelike swell. They sound like a high-lonesome battalion, marching home through billows of mist.

Lined-out hymnody, the scholars call it-- the oldest English-language religious-music oral tradition in North America, a tradition with roots stretching back to parish churches in England in the early 1600s and perhaps further still. Some people find it a strange sound. One researcher who went hunting for descriptions of lined-out singing from turn-of-the-century travelers in Appalachia told me that a few words kept popping up: mournful, wailing, confusion. Other people, me among them, are overtaken. The Old Regulars say it has a "drawing power." Sitting there surrounded by the swoon and sway of those voices, I could feel it in my teeth. I am tempted to say that my reaction was physical. But those who were singing would say that it was precisely the opposite. I cannot claim to know. It felt like the blood in my body was a river.

There are no instruments in an Old Regular Baptist church save for the human voice. The lined-out hymns have no pulse beat: Try to clap your hands or tap your feet, and you'll find no beat to land on. The musicologists say that the rhythm is governed by breath time as opposed to metronomic time, and is remarkably consistent--sixteen seconds for six-syllable lines and twenty seconds for eight-syllable lines. That is very, very slow. There is a deliberative concentration to the way that the Old Regular Baptists sing, a special attention to sound. Which makes sense: They are about the hard work of attention to the spirit, a patience for revelation. Several women and several men wept openly that Sunday as they sang. Some sat in silence and waited for the spirit to move them. Others gripped the pew in front of them and sang as loudly as distressed birds.

There is no harmony in the singing, only melody. The tunes are elusive to newcomers, buried in the lilt and cadence, which can sound like chanting. The Old Regulars sing together, but they are not a chorus; each voice is distinct. Each is moved, less or more or not at all, in their own way. As one later explained to me: "It's just the way the spirit is."

Before Churches Had Songbooks, There Was 'Lined-Out' Gospel (John Burnett, 10/15/13, NPR Morning Edition)

Deep in the hills of Appalachia, there's a mournful, beautiful style of church music that hasn't changed since the 18th century.

The hymns of the Old Regular Baptist Church are sung in the so-called "lined-out" style brought to America by British colonists. It can be heard in the town of Sassafras, Ky., hidden in a hollow between mountainsides covered with sugar maple and yellow buckeye and shot through with veins of bituminous coal.

On a Saturday morning in September, several hundred men and women -- many solidly built, with square faces -- have gathered in a Depression-era building to worship and sing. They settle into green-cushioned pews in a large, well-lit sanctuary. One of the men sitting behind the pulpit, under the picture of a kneeling Jesus, feels moved to start a song.

"Let milk and honey flow..."
He sings a line of a hymn. Once the congregation recognizes it, it repeats the line in unison, its voices swelling in a minor mode. This is what's called lined-out hymnody.

"When shall I reach that happy place..."
Unlike the Southern a cappella tradition of sacred harp or shape-note singing, lined-out hymns have no musical notation. People listen, and they sing. The tradition began when churches didn't have songbooks.

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The North Korea Debate Sounds Eerily Familiar (KORI SCHAKE, 12/10/17, Defense One)

The Trump White House talking about North Korea sounds eerily and increasingly like the George W. Bush administration in the run-up to the Iraq War. Officials make similar arguments about the necessity of acting against a gathering storm; proudly claim understanding of the adversary's motivations; express frustration at countries that should be likewise alarmed at the problem not supporting American policy; and believe the sand is running out in the hourglass before military attacks are required. They admit no alternative interpretation of the facts. They are blithely dismissing enormous damage their policy would incur for regional allies. They seem innocent of understanding the disastrous and isolating consequences for America's role in the world to choose preventive war rather than the moral heights of restraint in the face of threats.

Indeed, the argument for removing the North Korean and Syrian regimes is identical to the one for Iraq and W should have done it in '03.  America should not tolerate murderous totalitarian regimes anywhere, but owes a particular obligation where we left such a regime in control of populations after a war.

President's Remarks at the United Nations General Assembly  (George W. Bush, New York, New York, 09/11/02)

We know that Saddam Hussein pursued weapons of mass murder even when inspectors were in his country. Are we to assume that he stopped when they left? The history, the logic, and the facts lead to one conclusion: Saddam Hussein's regime is a grave and gathering danger. To suggest otherwise is to hope against the evidence. To assume this regime's good faith is to bet the lives of millions and the peace of the world in a reckless gamble. And this is a risk we must not take.

Delegates to the General Assembly, we have been more than patient. We've tried sanctions. We've tried the carrot of oil for food, and the stick of coalition military strikes. But Saddam Hussein has defied all these efforts and continues to develop weapons of mass destruction. The first time we may be completely certain he has a -- nuclear weapons is when, God forbids, he uses one. We owe it to all our citizens to do everything in our power to prevent that day from coming.

The conduct of the Iraqi regime is a threat to the authority of the United Nations, and a threat to peace. Iraq has answered a decade of U.N. demands with a decade of defiance. All the world now faces a test, and the United Nations a difficult and defining moment. Are Security Council resolutions to be honored and enforced, or cast aside without consequence? Will the United Nations serve the purpose of its founding, or will it be irrelevant?

The United States helped found the United Nations. We want the United Nations to be effective, and respectful, and successful. We want the resolutions of the world's most important multilateral body to be enforced. And right now those resolutions are being unilaterally subverted by the Iraqi regime. Our partnership of nations can meet the test before us, by making clear what we now expect of the Iraqi regime.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately and unconditionally forswear, disclose, and remove or destroy all weapons of mass destruction, long-range missiles, and all related material.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all support for terrorism and act to suppress it, as all states are required to do by U.N. Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will cease persecution of its civilian population, including Shi'a, Sunnis, Kurds, Turkomans, and others, again as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will release or account for all Gulf War personnel whose fate is still unknown. It will return the remains of any who are deceased, return stolen property, accept liability for losses resulting from the invasion of Kuwait, and fully cooperate with international efforts to resolve these issues, as required by Security Council resolutions.

If the Iraqi regime wishes peace, it will immediately end all illicit trade outside the oil-for-food program. It will accept U.N. administration of funds from that program, to ensure that the money is used fairly and promptly for the benefit of the Iraqi people.

If all these steps are taken, it will signal a new openness and accountability in Iraq. And it could open the prospect of the United Nations helping to build a government that represents all Iraqis -- a government based on respect for human rights, economic liberty, and internationally supervised elections.

The United States has no quarrel with the Iraqi people; they've suffered too long in silent captivity. Liberty for the Iraqi people is a great moral cause, and a great strategic goal. The people of Iraq deserve it; the security of all nations requires it. Free societies do not intimidate through cruelty and conquest, and open societies do not threaten the world with mass murder. The United States supports political and economic liberty in a unified Iraq.

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Trump's Tax Bill Promise Taking a U-Turn (Damian Paletta, 12/10/17, The Washington Post)

The GOP tax plan on the cusp of becoming law diverges wildly from the promises President Donald Trump and top advisers said they would deliver for the middle class -- an evolution that shows how traditional Republican orthodoxy swamped Trump's distinctive brand of economic populism as it moved through Washington.

The bill was supposed to deliver benefits predominantly to average working families, not corporations, with a 35 percent tax cut Trump proposed on the campaign trail as part of the "Middle Class Tax Relief and Simplification Act." [...]

As top lawmakers from the House and the Senate now rush to complete negotiations to push the tax plan into law, it amounts to a massive corporate tax cut, with uneven -- and temporary -- benefits for the middle class that could end up increasing taxes for many working families in future years.

All told, the plan would cut taxes for businesses by $1 trillion, would cut an additional $100 billion in changes to the estate tax for the wealthy, and spreads the remaining $300 billion over 10 years among all households at every income level.

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


VIRGINIA'S $40 TOLL ROAD BETTER BE THE FUTURE OF DRIVING (Aaarian Marshall, 12/09/17, Wired)

The express lanes on Interstate 66 near DC, previously reserved for vehicles carrying two or more people, opened up to solo travelers. Except those single-occupancy vehicles have to pay a toll, one that fluctuates according to demand. The world watched, aghast, as tolling prices hit $40 for folks headed into the capital on Tuesday morning.

Yes, that's a crazy amount of money. But as the nation struggles to pay for its not-so-great infrastructure--and waits on the Trump administration to release a funding plan for our roads, bridges, and transit--this sort of congestion pricing is looking pretty great.

The nice thing about congestion charges isn't just that they can encourage people to take public transit, or at least to carpool, but that they make drivers pay for their role in creating traffic and spewing greenhouse gases. Forty bucks is a lot for a toll, but it just might be the fair price for the right to drive by yourself down a majorly busy highway. The scourge we know as traffic costs the American economy about $125 billion to traffic per year, according to traffic analytics company Inrix.

Places like London, Norway, Singapore, and Sweden have successfully implemented such schemes. American cities in California, Washington, Colorado, Texas, Minnesota, and elsewhere have used express lanes and congestion charges to alleviate traffic and raise extra money.

Paying for your own externalities is simple tax justice.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


After Brexit, UK aims for trade deal with EU that tops Canada pact (Elizabeth Piper, 12/10/17, Reuters) 

Britain is aiming to secure a comprehensive free trade deal with the European Union and wants it to be signed shortly after it leaves the bloc in 2019, Brexit minister David Davis said on Sunday. [...]

The EU has been considering a post-Brexit free trade deal with Britain along the lines of one agreed last year with Canada.

But the UK economy is nearly twice the size of Canada's and British officials have said that their current alignment with EU standards and much closer trading links with the continent give them scope for an even deeper relationship.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Sununu Sides With Indonesians Facing Deportation (Michael Casey, 12/10/17, AP)

[W]hen Trump's immigration crackdown reached the state's tiny Indonesian community this year, Sununu wrote a letter to his fellow Republican in October in which he said he was "respectfully requesting your administration reconsider its decision to deport these individuals" and urging it consider a "resolution that would allow them to remain in the United States."

Sununu insisted the case of the Indonesians was different from that of visitors from the Middle East or Syrian refugees hoping to settle in New Hampshire. The Indonesians had been in the state for decades, raising families, working and staying out of trouble, he argues.

"This really isn't an issue of illegal immigration in the traditional sense."

That's exactly what it is.

Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


France caught in war with wolves (AFP, 10 December 2017)

Fear -- as well as fascination -- of wolves has historic roots fed by many children's stories, including famous versions by the Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault.

"When Charles Perrault wrote 'Little Red Riding Hood' in 1697, it was during the worst series of attacks by wolves with at least 500 children killed each year," said Jean-Marc Moriceau, an historian of wolves in France.

The grey wolf was wiped out in the country in the 1930s and only returned in 1992 via Italy -- currently home to around 2,000 wolves -- then into Switzerland and Germany.

Since the Bern Convention of 1979, the wolf has gone from public enemy to a protected species as "a fundamental element of our natural European heritage".

In some countries, like Romania and Poland where there have always been wolves, people adapt to treat an attack on sheep "like an accident, like a flock that falls into a ravine", says Farid Benhammou, a specialist on predators.

"But in the new zones of (wolf) colonisation -- in France and in some regions of Italy and Spain -- there are major tensions."

December 9, 2017

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Notes on Nationalism (George Orwell)

By 'nationalism' I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled 'good' or 'bad'(1). But secondly -- and this is much more important -- I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By 'patriotism' I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality. [...]

A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist -- that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating -- but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also -- since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself -- unshakeably certain of being in the right. [...]

It would be an oversimplification to say that all forms of nationalism are the same, even in their mental atmosphere, but there are certain rules that hold good in all cases. The following are the principal characteristics of nationalist thought:

Obsession. As nearly as possible, no nationalist ever thinks, talks, or writes about anything except the superiority of his own power unit. It is difficult if not impossible for any nationalist to conceal his allegiance. The smallest slur upon his own unit, or any implied praise of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can relieve only by making some sharp retort. [...]

Instability. The intensity with which they are held does not prevent nationalist loyalties from being transferable. To begin with, as I have pointed out already, they can be and often are fastened up on some foreign country. One quite commonly finds that great national leaders, or the founders of nationalist movements, do not even belong to the country they have glorified. Sometimes they are outright foreigners, or more often they come from peripheral areas where nationality is doubtful. Examples are Stalin, Hitler, Napoleon, de Valera, Disraeli, Poincare, Beaverbrook. The Pan-German movement was in part the creation of an Englishman, Houston Chamberlain. For the past fifty or a hundred years, transferred nationalism has been a common phenomenon among literary intellectuals. With Lafcadio Hearne the transference was to Japan, with Carlyle and many others of his time to Germany, and in our own age it is usually to Russia. [...]

Indifference to Reality. All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. A British Tory will defend self-determination in Europe and oppose it in India with no feeling of inconsistency. Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage -- torture, the use of hostages, forced labour, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, forgery, assassination, the bombing of civilians -- which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by 'our' side. [...]

The nationalist not only does not disapprove of atrocities committed by his own side, but he has a remarkable capacity for not even hearing about them. . [...]

Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be a genuine doubt about the most enormous events. For example, it is impossible to calculate within millions, perhaps even tens of millions, the number of deaths caused by the present war. The calamities that are constantly being reported -- battles, massacres, famines, revolutions -- tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources. What were the rights and wrongs of the Warsaw rising of August 1944? Is it true about the German gas ovens in Poland? Who was really to blame for the Bengal famine? Probably the truth is discoverable, but the facts will be so dishonestly set forth in almost any newspaper that the ordinary reader can be forgiven either for swallowing lies or failing to form an opinion. The general uncertainty as to what is really happening makes it easier to cling to lunatic beliefs. Since nothing is ever quite proved or disproved, the most unmistakable fact can be impudently denied. Moreover, although endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge, the nationalist is often somewhat uninterested in what happens in the real world. What he wants is to feel that his own unit is getting the better of some other unit, and he can more easily do this by scoring off an adversary than by examining the facts to see whether they support him. All nationalist controversy is at the debating-society level. It is always entirely inconclusive, since each contestant invariably believes himself to have won the victory. Some nationalists are not far from schizophrenia, living quite happily amid dreams of power and conquest which have no connection with the physical world.

Inside Trump's Hour-by-Hour Battle for Self-Preservation  (MAGGIE HABERMAN, GLENN THRUSH and PETER BAKERDEC. 9, 2017, NY Times)

Around 5:30 each morning, President Trump wakes and tunes into the television in the White House's master bedroom. He flips to CNN for news, moves to "Fox & Friends" for comfort and messaging ideas, and sometimes watches MSNBC's "Morning Joe" because, friends suspect, it fires him up for the day.

Energized, infuriated -- often a gumbo of both -- Mr. Trump grabs his iPhone. Sometimes he tweets while propped on his pillow, according to aides. Other times he tweets from the den next door, watching another television. Less frequently, he makes his way up the hall to the ornate Treaty Room, sometimes dressed for the day, sometimes still in night clothes, where he begins his official and unofficial calls.

As he ends his first year in office, Mr. Trump is redefining what it means to be president. He sees the highest office in the land much as he did the night of his stunning victory over Hillary Clinton -- as a prize he must fight to protect every waking moment, and Twitter is his Excalibur. Despite all his bluster, he views himself less as a titan dominating the world stage than a maligned outsider engaged in a struggle to be taken seriously, according to interviews with 60 advisers, associates, friends and members of Congress.

For other presidents, every day is a test of how to lead a country, not just a faction, balancing competing interests. For Mr. Trump, every day is an hour-by-hour battle for self-preservation. He still relitigates last year's election, convinced that the investigation by Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, into Russia's interference is a plot to delegitimize him. Color-coded maps highlighting the counties he won were hung on the White House walls.

Before taking office, Mr. Trump told top aides to think of each presidential day as an episode in a television show in which he vanquishes rivals. People close to him estimate that Mr. Trump spends at least four hours a day, and sometimes as much as twice that, in front of a television, sometimes with the volume muted, marinating in the no-holds-barred wars of cable news and eager to fire back.

"He feels like there's an effort to undermine his election and that collusion allegations are unfounded," said Senator Lindsey Graham, a Republican from South Carolina who has spent more time with the president than most lawmakers. "He believes passionately that the liberal left and the media are out to destroy him. The way he got here is fighting back and counterpunching. [...]

In almost all the interviews, Mr. Trump's associates raised questions about his capacity and willingness to differentiate bad information from something that is true.

Monitoring his information consumption -- and countering what Mr. Kelly calls "garbage" peddled to him by outsiders -- remains a priority for the chief of staff and the team he has made his own. Even after a year of official briefings and access to the best minds of the federal government, Mr. Trump is skeptical of anything that does not come from inside his bubble. [...]

Other aides bemoan his tenuous grasp of facts, jack-rabbit attention span and propensity for conspiracy theories.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 PM


Martin Luther King Jr.'s 'Letter From Birmingham Jail' (The Atlantic)

You express a great deal of anxiety over our willingness to break laws. This is certainly a legitimate concern. Since we so diligently urge people to obey the Supreme Court's decision of 1954 outlawing segregation in the public schools, it is rather strange and paradoxical to find us consciously breaking laws. One may well ask, "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer is found in the fact that there are two types of laws: there are just laws, and there are unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "An unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine when a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law, or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas, an unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality ...

There are some instances when a law is just on its face and unjust in its application. For instance, I was arrested Friday on a charge of parading without a permit. Now, there is nothing wrong with an ordinance which requires a permit for a parade, but when the ordinance is used to preserve segregation and to deny citizens the First Amendment privilege of peaceful assembly and peaceful protest, then it becomes unjust.

Of course, there is nothing new about this kind of civil disobedience. It was seen sublimely in the refusal of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego to obey the laws of Nebuchadnezzar because a higher moral law was involved. It was practiced superbly by the early Christians, who were willing to face hungry lions and the excruciating pain of chopping blocks before submitting to certain unjust laws of the Roman Empire. To a degree, academic freedom is a reality today because Socrates practiced civil disobedience.

We can never forget that everything Hitler did in Germany was "legal" and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was "illegal." It was "illegal" to aid and comfort a Jew in Hitler's Germany. But I am sure that if I had lived in Germany during that time, I would have aided and comforted my Jewish brothers even though it was illegal. If I lived in a Communist country today where certain principles dear to the Christian faith are suppressed, I believe I would openly advocate disobeying these anti-religious laws ...

I have no fear about the outcome of our struggle in Birmingham, even if our motives are presently misunderstood. We will reach the goal of freedom in Birmingham and all over the nation, because the goal of America is freedom. Abused and scorned though we may be, our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America.

Posted by orrinj at 11:02 AM


The Case for the Baker in the Gay-Wedding Culture War (Andrew Sullivan, 12/09/17, New York)

The baker's religious convictions are not trivial or obviously in bad faith, which means to say he is not just suddenly citing them solely when it comes to catering to gays. His fundamentalism makes him refuse to make even Halloween cakes, for Pete's sake. More to the point, he has said he would provide any form of custom-designed cakes for gay couples -- a birthday cake, for example -- except for one designed for a specific celebration that he has religious objections to. And those religious convictions cannot be dismissed as arbitrary (even if you find them absurd). Opposition to same-sex marriage has been an uncontested pillar of every major world religion for aeons.

And so, if there are alternative solutions, like finding another baker, why force the point? Why take up arms to coerce someone when you can easily let him be -- and still celebrate your wedding? That is particularly the case when much of the argument for marriage equality was that it would not force anyone outside that marriage to approve or disapprove of it. One reason we won that debate is because many straight people simply said to themselves, "How does someone else's marriage affect me?" and decided on those grounds to support or acquiesce to such a deep social change. It seems grotesquely disingenuous now for the marriage-equality movement to bait and switch on that core "live and let live" argument. And it seems deeply insensitive and intolerant to force the clear losers in a culture war into not just defeat but personal humiliation.

This all could have been avoided by creating a unique civil union status instead, as Howard Dean tried to do. As with Obamacare, conservatives went down opposing the hill we should have been defending.

Posted by orrinj at 10:55 AM


From Ho, Ho, Ho to No, No, No! Office Parties Feel the Chill (Laura M. Holson, Dec. 8, 2017, NY Times)

Remember the scene in the movie "Office Christmas Party" when the head of human resources grabbed the D.J.'s microphone and told employees to have sex in the parking lot instead of in their cubicles? Wait, you didn't see it?

Well, anyway: Those days are over, even in jest. Holiday gatherings have become toned-down affairs as executives respond to demands to cut costs, improve company morale and, this year, address sexual harassment in the workplace.

More companies are focusing their efforts on holiday parties that promote teams and foster cooperation. A growing favorite are parties at bowling alleys and escape rooms...

Every corporate function is an escape room.

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Robot Takeover Matters Less If We're All Shareholders (Noah Smith, 12/09/17, Bloomberg View)

As technologies such as machine learning become more advanced, there's a real possibility that automation could start making human labor superfluous on a large scale. So far, nothing like that appears to be happening; as machines improve, humans keep finding new valuable things to do. But there's no guarantee that it won't happen in the future. So it's important to have some way to protect a broad swath of the populace against this scenario.

A social wealth fund provides just such a way. If automation replaces human labor, it means the labor share of income will continue to fall:

That would mean the share of income going to capital owners -- corporate profit, land rent and interest income -- would go up. A social wealth fund would automatically redirect that increased capital income back to the same people whose labor income fell, canceling out much or all the harmful impact. In other words, a social wealth fund is a way to redistribute benefits of the robots.

The beauty of this policy is that it doesn't require the government to take a stand on whether automation will hurt workers. If automation proves to be a boon to workers instead of a threat, as in the past, then wages will stay high and the social wealth fund's payouts will be more modest. Either way, workers and the middle class are protected against change that's almost impossible to predict.

Actually, a social wealth fund would protect against other big economic changes. Labor's share of income is already going down -- probably due to globalization, industrial concentration, falling worker bargaining power, land price appreciation and other forces. Every one of those trends sends more money into the hands of shareholders, landlords and bondholders. So a social wealth fund would provide insurance against the future intensification of any or all of these developments.

So the social wealth fund seems like a great idea. But there are also difficulties and dangers involving its implementation. The main challenge is the issue of corporate control.

Social Security would, likewise, be much better off had we followed Bill Clinton's plan to invest the trust funds in stocks, but government ownership of a large voting interest in corporate America seems obviously problematic.  This is why we should pursue the Third Way and transfer stock ownership to al;l Americans via devices like personal SS accounts, O'Neill accounts, HSAs and the like.  

The ideal is that the labor share of wealth creation trend towards zero.  But that does require a different means for redistributing wealth than the one we currently prefer--jobs.  Universal stock ownership accomplishes that end nicely.

[N.B. : One of the more insidious conservative goals it achieves is to give every citizen a vested interest in maximizing capitalism.]

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Posted by orrinj at 9:55 AM


Federal Appeals Judge Alex Kozinski Accused Of Sexual Harassment (Ina Jaffe, 12/08/17, NPR)

Six women have accused a federal appeals court judge of sexual misconduct, according to The Washington Post. Alex Kozinski serves on the Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit and was formerly that court's chief judge.

Heidi Bond, who clerked for Kozinski in 2006 and 2007, said he called her into his office and showed her pornography on his computer. He asked her if she thought the images were "photoshopped." He asked her if they turned her on.

Posted by orrinj at 9:38 AM


The Great Al Franken Moment (Gail Collins, Dec. 8, 2017, NY Times)

Now we live in a world where men who were hoping to hand over their business to the next generation, or maybe have a doctor in the family, look at their new baby girl without a shred of disappointment. I saw all this happen, and it knocks me out whenever I think about it.

But it's a revolution still in the making. The struggle for equal opportunity is far from over, and men haven't all adapted to the presence of women at the next desk, in the conference room or driving together to the big meeting in Dayton.

Some are lecherous bosses who think their power gives them a version of the right of the old lords to sample the favors of every girl in the neighborhood. Some are otherwise nice people under the deeply mistaken impression they're so attractive no woman would mind a surprise hand up her skirt.

It was inevitable that sooner or later, we'd need to go through a huge social trauma that would firmly establish the new rules. And here we are. We've had three resignations from Congress this week. (One involved a lawmaker asking female staff members if they'd act as a surrogate mother. Try to imagine a female representative inquiring whether men in the office want to be sperm donors.) There are sexual harassment crises in state legislatures from Alaska to Florida. The entertainment and communications worlds are rocking.

"This is our moment," said Representative Jackie Speier, the San Francisco Democrat who's been one of the leaders of the anti-harassment forces in Congress.

The moment won't really have arrived until the same thing is happening everywhere from Wall Street to Silicon Valley to fast-food franchises. But it's a start.

"It does feel like a tipping point," said Estelle Freedman, a Stanford University historian who's written extensively about the way earlier generations of American men cheerfully recast rape as "seduction" and sexual harassment on the streets as "mashing."

The critical combination, Freedman said, was a new ethos combined with the movement of women into positions of power. Franken was forced out of the Senate because there were women senators who could lead the call for him to go. "And it was women journalists who broke the Harvey Weinstein story," Freedman noted. "All these strains are coming together."

Isn't it the great Leanne Tweeden moment?

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


US Petroleum Reserve Lease Sale in Alaska Draws Just 7 Bids (DAN JOLING, 12/09/17, Associated Press)

President Donald Trump's efforts to make the United States "energy dominant" with help from Alaska got off to modest results Wednesday.

The Interior Department made its largest-ever lease offering within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska: 900 tracts covering 16,100 square miles (41,700 sq. kilometers), roughly the size of New Hampshire and Massachusetts combined.

But oil companies submitted bids on just seven tracts covering 125 square miles (324 sq. kilometers). [...]

The petroleum reserve bids Wednesday pulled in $14.99 per acre, an amount that shows "fuzzy math" by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans who hope to collect $1 billion from Arctic refuge lease sales to help pay for Trump's proposed tax cut, said Kristen Miller, conservation director of the Alaska Wilderness League.

"At that price, leasing the entirety of the Arctic Refuge coastal plain's 1.5 million acres would raise slightly more than $11 million in revenue for the federal government, a far cry from the billion dollar lie that Trump and Republicans are feeding the American public," she said in a statement.

Oman moves closer to a post-oil economy (Megan O'Toole, 12/08/17, Al Jazeera)

 The future of Oman, situated along a vast stretch of coastline reaching the strategic Strait of Hormuz, is linked to the sea - and the country's ability to leverage this connection will be key to its economic development in the years ahead.

2018 marks the middle of a five-year diversification strategy that builds on Oman's long-term vision to shift from an oil-based economy towards other critical sectors, including manufacturing, logistics, tourism, fisheries and mining.

In an era of low oil prices, Oman - which has the lowest GDP per capita among the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and an unemployment rate surpassing 17 percent - wants to refashion itself as a hub for shipping and industry. Facilities such as the special economic zone at Duqm, established in 2011 with a goal of becoming a commercial powerhouse, will play a significant role in this transition.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Roy Moore: America "was great at the time when families were united -- even though we had slavery" (German Lopez, Dec 8, 2017, Vox)

When a black man at a September rally asked what President Donald Trump means by "make America great again," Moore acknowledged, the Los Angeles Times reported, that the country had a history of racial tensions. Then he answered the question: "I think it was great at the time when families were united -- even though we had slavery. They cared for one another. People were strong in the families. Our families were strong. Our country had a direction."

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 AM


Powerful Iraqi militia leader appears on Lebanon-Israel border (AP, 12/09/17)

A powerful Iran-backed Iraqi militia commander has visited the Lebanon-Israel border expressing support for the Lebanese and Palestinians against the Jewish state.

Qais al-Khazali of the Iranian-backed Asaib Ahl al-Haq, or League of the Righteous, a group that staged major attacks against US troops before their withdrawal from Iraq in 2011, appeared in military uniform in a video while touring the border with Israel along with members of Lebanon's Hezbollah terror group.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


Assad's false victory must be rejected (Bahia al-Mardini, 12/09/17, Al Monitor)

Assad and the Syrian regime must be held to account for their crimes, and so must the armed fighters whose brutality has matched that of the very dictator they pledged to replace.

Victory will only come when Syria enjoys true democracy. That means we need to believe in the justice of international institutions and the compassion of our international friends to help us negotiate for a freer Syria.

Seven years ago the conflict began with the arrest and killing of peaceful Arab Spring demonstrators who wanted three very simple things; political change, fair elections and a say in the kind of constitution they would live under. We cannot give up on their ambitions.

I have seen first-hand just how important the talks are for uniting those who believe in positive change. I was the director of media for the Syrian Opposition delegation in 2012; we went there armed with fierce courage and ambitious hope.

Despite the suffering that still plagues Syria, I am optimistic. While the Syrian regime is once again stalling progress at every turn with the help of Russia, I am confident that international determination to see progress will not retreat. It is clear that the regime does not want peace nor is it serious about reaching a fair solution.  While Russia uses Syria as a pawn in their game of chess, countries like the UK, where I live, remain committed to achieving peace and seeing a sustainable future for the people of Syria. 

If the world remains united in the stance that Syria deserves better than Assad and better than terrorism, I hope we will get the ending we deserve.
Real victory will be declared when Syria is a sovereign state, with democracy and human rights at its core. A new constitution must be created by the Syrian people which includes the participation of all segments of society, the protection of minorities and the full representation of women. We must also ensure the safe return of refugees and the release of prisoners unfairly detained under Assad. This requires a review of the legal system and most importantly the establishment of free and fair multi-party elections. Syrians must be free to choose their leadership. 

And sovereignty requires self-determination.

Posted by orrinj at 7:55 AM

IN SERVICE (profanity alert):

Jazz Legend Sonny Rollins on Retiring His Sax, His Legacy, and the Secret to Life (David Marchese, 12/06/17, Vulture)

Sonny Rollins is, inarguably, on any short list of greatest living American musicians. So vast, intelligent, and witty is his improvisational skill, and so satisfying the sheer, sensuous life force of his saxophone playing. And though the 87-year-old has very likely blown his last note in public -- a diagnosis of pulmonary fibrosis has made that a near-certainty -- he's left behind a 66-year-long trail of joyous, searching recordings and live performances. If you've got a heart, Sonny Rollins's music can touch it. That's what I think; he disagrees. "I dedicated my life to my music," says Rollins without regret, speaking on the phone from his home in upstate New York, "and I never got it to where I wanted it be."

Rollins has been feeling autumnal these days, partly because he recently donated his massive personal archives to New York's Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and partly because he had to put down his horn. (The memory of his beloved wife, Lucille, who passed away in 2004, also hangs heavy.) "When you're on the wrong side of 87," says Rollins, "there's all sorts of things happening to you, and they all make you look back at the life you've lived." He gives a short, rasping laugh. "But I've been lucky, haven't I?" [...]

So if not through your music, how have you been able to give? 

By being a nice person. By going by the golden rule: Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you. Trying to observe that rule, trying to be kind, not trying to hurt anybody's feelings. It's just about thinking of others, and how you can do something for them. I'm okay. I'm not worrying about the ending. I've gotten so much in my life, so much love -- more from the public than I probably deserve. My life now is about what I can do for others. That's what life means. That's what it should always mean.

You mentioned that in your moments of reflection, you think about what you have and haven't achieved musically. In both categories, what stands out? 

Achievements -- I don't know. The thing about me is that I was always practicing my instrument. I knew that's what I had to do to improve. Here's an incident I remember: I was playing in Munich and we had a nice concert that night, which is not always the case. During the concert, I'd been trying to work on some musical passages, and after it was over, when everybody was leaving, I was in my dressing room trying to work out this little passage. Everyone was leaving and I'm this little room playing. See? I knew what I had to do to get better. My thing, my burden, in my life was that I had to stop blowing my horn, so I never got to the musical place I wanted to get to. That was my bête noire -- what does that mean?

Do musical ideas still pop into your head?

Oh god, always. I can't get rid of them. It's just a little trial that I have to endure. I still finger my horn, too. I deal with it. It's all good, man. It's all good.

When you say you were trying to get to a certain place with your music, can you explain what that place was? Are you talking about getting technically better on your instrument? Or was it about getting better at conveying emotion? 

I wanted to be able to play anything that I thought of, and that required a certain level of technical facility. I wanted to have a general, comfortable feeling that whatever it was I wanted to do on my horn -- bang -- I'd be able to do it.

So the desire to keep improving wasn't about the emotion that the technical facility was presumably in service of?

I leave the emotion to the higher powers. The emotion is the spiritual part of music -- of everything -- and trying to understand where that comes from or how to achieve that would be like trying to understand God. When I was playing, I just wanted to get the technical part as best I could and leave the other part to the universal spirit. If I'd do my part, the universe would do its part. That's also one of the things I've come to understand about life: I have to do my part in every aspect of my life. If I'm trying to be a good person, I've got to do the work to be that. I don't think any honest person is egotistical enough to feel that they've got every aspect of their life under control. But everyone has the capacity to work on those things, whether it's getting mad too fast or getting better at your horn. If you seriously try to correct your faults, then the universe will do its part, it will take you in. The universe is good, David. I believe that. The universe is good, and it's there for us to realize it.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 AM


DEATH RATTLE : Searching for the old jawbone (John Jeremiah Sullivan  |  November 21, 2017, Oxford American)

In the African-influenced musics of Latin America one often hears a uniquely electrifying percussion instrument known as la quijada, the jawbone. Actually it goes by multiple names in several different Spanish-speaking countries, but quijada is the closest thing to standard nomenclature. The word, in a musical context, refers to the lower jawbone of an ass or, less commonly, a horse. When the animal dies, the instrument makers cut off the head and boil it, until all of the flesh is gone, then detach the jawbone, leaving the teeth intact. Or in certain places they bury the head first. This is thought to harden the bone somehow. Most often the whole lower bone of the animal's jaw is used, such that the instrument is shaped like a giant wishbone. Other times the jawbone is (again, wishbone like) snapped in half, so that each side becomes a functional drumstick, and these sticks are then used to bang on another percussion instrument, of whatever kind. But a traditional quijada typically involves the whole jawbone.

There is a technical term for the kind of instrument it is, a wonderful word: idiophone. An idiophone is something that you hit to make a distinctive sound. That's all there is to it. No strings, no flute-holes, just an object that you strike. A triangle would be the most obvious example. The root "idio" here means singularity or itself-ness or sole, as in, "alone." Think idiosyncratic--not in sync with others, obeying its own rhythm. Or idiom--an expression that makes sense only in the language to which it belongs. Or idiot--one who can't participate in the conversation.

When playing this particular idiophone, there are two main ways to bring out its sound. One is to run a piece of iron (or whatever small, hard, stick-shaped thing is handy) down and along the rows of teeth. This produces a hard-edged rasp, a quick, zippy, grating sound, a bit like what you hear when a zydeco player runs sticks down a washboard; the washboard-as-instrument most likely evolved from the quijada. There are in fact several more traditional percussion instruments that produce a not-dissimilar sound. You have probably seen an object that looks like a little section of bamboo with a series of divots carved into it on one side. By rubbing a stick across those divots one can achieve a quijada-like effect, or rather the effect specifically of the iron-on-teeth method of quijada-playing. The other main method is different and stranger and more special. It involves punching or beating the jawbone with the side of your fist. And the sound produced by this second method cannot really be compared with anything. Because the teeth are all still there in the skull. But the gums have dried up and been boiled and scraped away. Now the teeth are hanging there in sockets that are too big for them to fill on their own. And when you bash the side of the jawbone with your closed fist, all of the teeth rattle at once. Inside the bone. It is literally a death rattle. It does something to the rhythm of a song that can't be accounted for with any musical term, sends it into not a different tempo, necessarily, but a different imaginative sphere. Envision being in a dark club, somewhere with one light bulb, and the band is ripping, everyone's dancing. Music and lust are in the air, intermingling. Suddenly there's a guy in the room who is jumping around holding an actual skull, or part of one. He's assaulting it with his fist. It is putting out a music that simply does not care if you feel like dancing or not. The feeling is of being seized, sent into spasms.

December 8, 2017

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The Racist Right Looks Left : At Richard Spencer's secret conference, white supremacists denounce corporate capitalism. (Donna Minkowitz, 12/08/17, The Nation)

On the way to Richard Spencer's top-secret white-supremacist conference on November 19, a young African-American woman drove me in her Uber from Washington, DC, to the rolling hills of Maryland horse country. On the peaceful drive past large, beautiful estates, she told me how she'd had to work three jobs--as a DHL courier, Amazon-warehouse deliverywoman, and Uber driver--just to continue to live in ever-more-expensive DC, where she'd grown up. When we finally got to the winery that Spencer's National Policy Institute had booked, Mike Enoch of the Daily Shoah podcast, who promulgated the slur "dindu nuffins" for African Americans, was holding forth on the horrors of "corporate neoliberalism."

Then Eli Mosley of the campus group Identity Evropa, who calls Jews "oven-dodging...kikes," took Enoch one further: "We need to be explicitly anti-capitalist. There's no other way forward for our movement." As 60 mostly young, male racists gathered around him, Mosley, whose real name is Elliott Kline, confidently predicted, "Twenty eighteen is going to be the year of leftists joining the white-nationalist movement!"

On opposing free trade and free movement of people they share obvious interests.

Posted by orrinj at 8:08 PM


Why Roy Moore Considers America the 'Focus of Evil in the Modern World' (Jonathan Chait, 12/08/17, New York)

In August, Roy Moore told an interviewer that the United States was "the focus of evil in the modern world," because "we promote a lot of very bad things," such as same-sex marriage. Told by the interviewer that Vladimir Putin makes the same argument, Moore replied, "Maybe Putin is right." The interview has resurfaced on social media. This is not a strange, discursive gaffe. Like many of Moore's controversial utterances, this is a more blunt and more extreme formulation of a recognizable strand of right-wing conservative thought.

Vladimir Putin has cultivated a role as the leader of an international far-right movement. Earlier this year, Franklin Foer detailed the ideological and geopolitical currents that allowed the Russian dictator to assume this role. "A 2013 paper from the Center for Strategic Communications, a pro-Kremlin think tank, observed that large patches of the West despised feminism and the gay-rights movement and, more generally, the progressive direction in which elites had pushed their societies," he wrote. And so Putin "could become," as the paper's title blared, 'The New World Leader of Conservatism.'"

The commonalities between Putin's conservatism and Moore's run deep. Its fixations center on the evils of Islamic radicalism and Islam in general, nonwhite immigration and the threat of "replacement," and the decline of traditional Christian morality, especially the rise of gay rights. This is the conservatism of Trump, Bannon, and Steve King rather than Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


The Latest Viral Right-Wing Conspiracy Theory (Martin Longman, December 8, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Briefly, the revelation is that a man named Bruce Ohr who was serving as the associate deputy attorney general has just been demoted, and the supposed cause of this demotion is that he had personal contact with Christopher Steele, the British ex-MI6 officer who authored the infamous dossier on Donald Trump. These contacts happened during the election, but Ohr also met around Thanksgiving of last year with Glenn Simpson, the founder of Fusion GPS, who had hired Steele to investigate Trump's Russian connections. It's not clear to me why this should be scandalous in the least, but it is supposed to confirm a conspiracy theory that the only reason that the intelligence community launched a counterespionage and counterintelligence investigation of Trump is because of this so-called fake or dodgy dossier, and that the whole thing was coordinated with Obama's Department of Justice from the beginning.

In response, let me begin with something basic. All the way back in April The Guardian reported on how the American intelligence community became interested in the Trump campaign's ties to Russia. For a while, the answer actually served as fodder for a different conspiracy angle when Sean Spicer accused Britain's version of the National Security Agency of bugging Trump Tower.

GCHQ first became aware in late 2015 of suspicious "interactions" between figures connected to Trump and known or suspected Russian agents, a source close to UK intelligence said. This intelligence was passed to the US as part of a routine exchange of information, they added.

Over the next six months, until summer 2016, a number of western agencies shared further information on contacts between Trump's inner circle and Russians, sources said.

The European countries that passed on electronic intelligence - known as sigint - included Germany, Estonia and Poland. Australia, a member of the "Five Eyes" spying alliance that also includes the US, UK, Canada and New Zealand, also relayed material, one source said.

Another source suggested the Dutch and the French spy agency, the General Directorate for External Security or DGSE, were contributors.

So, from late 2015 until the early summer of 2016, U.S. intelligence officials received alarming reports of contacts between Trump associate and Russian intelligence officers and assets. These reports came from the intelligence services of the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Australia, the Netherlands, Estonia and Poland.

Let me add one other juicy tidbit to this before I move on:

According to one account, GCHQ's then head, Robert Hannigan, passed material in summer 2016 to the CIA chief, John Brennan. The matter was deemed so sensitive it was handled at "director level". After an initially slow start, Brennan used GCHQ information and intelligence from other partners to launch a major inter-agency investigation.

Now, ask yourself, who has more credibility? An ex-MI6 officer working under contract to do opposition research for Fusion GPS or the intelligence services of seven of our closest allies? Who had more influence, Christopher Steele or Robert Hannigan, the then-head of GCHQ?

The increasing hysteria of the right is just an inevitable reaction to their guy taking on water.  That their defenses of Donald are actually accusations against him is no different than him proudly tweeting polls that show him to be broadly despised.
Posted by orrinj at 7:55 PM


Trump's National Security Strategy is Decidedly Non-Trumpian (Kate Brannen, December 8, 2017, JustSecurity)

Strategically, the Trump administration's NSS "is thematically consistent with many previous administration's strategies," the official who's read the full draft said. "In fact, it even shares many similarities with" the Obama administration's 2015 Strategy.

According to the official, Trump's NSS, like Obama's, identifies the security of the U.S. homeland, particularly against terrorist threats and weapons of mass destruction, as a priority; both recognize that promoting economic prosperity is core to sustained U.S. global leadership; both highlight the value of preserving an open and liberal international order that has often times benefited the United States; and both underscore the importance of preserving core American principles and values. "What's most striking is how disconnected the Trump NSS is from the words and actions of the president himself, the man whose endorsement will ultimately be needed to provide the NSS any credibility," the official said.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


'Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary' On Netflix Brings Story Of Jazz Giant Down To Earth  (Benjamin H. Smith, Dec 8, 2017, Decider)

Written and directed by John Scheinfeld, who also helmed the music docs The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Who Is Harry Nilsson (And Why Is Everybody Talkin' About Him?), Chasing Trane's approach is to treat Coltrane's life as a straight narrative. This makes for a good linear viewing experiencing but doesn't quite do him justice. Through interviews with his family and friends, fans and biographers, and in his own words, which are read aloud by the actor Denzel Washington, we learn about his personal beginnings, his formative musical steps, and the spiritual and artistic triumphs that would take him across the world, making music that was global in its influence and appeal.

John Coltrane grew up an only child in rural North Carolina during the "Jim Crow" era, which "proceeded from slavery," in the words of Coltrane fan and famed intellectual Cornell West. The yolk of racial oppression gave Coltrane's music it's emotional gravity, as it did so much African-American music, however, his background in the church showed him a means to transcend its social limitations. Both of his grandfathers were ministers and the church was also where he was first exposed to the joys of music. In the early '40s he and his mother moved to Philadelphia where he began to study the saxophone, and a 1945 performance by jazz great Charlie Parker set in stone his desire to become a professional musician.

Parker inspired Coltrane's progressive melodicisms but he also inspired him to pick up the hypodermic needle. He began abusing heroin and alcohol, and earned a reputation for being unreliable. He secured a gig in Dizzy Gillespie's band, but was fired after the bandleader caught him shooting up between sets and later joined the Miles Davis Quintet, who also sacked him due to his drug use. In 1957 he quit heroin cold turkey, emerging from the painful withdrawals spiritually and artistically renewed. As we hear him say via one of Washington's voiceovers, "I could play better. I could think better. Everything."

Hitting vinyl in 1957, Coltrane began making a name for himself as one of jazz's most inspired and adventurous musicians. In-between increasingly excellent albums under his own name, he sat in with the genre's foremost talents, including a reconstituted Miles Davis Quintet, who in 1959 issued Kind of Blue, regarded by many as the greatest jazz album of all time. In both his playing and compositions, Coltrane exhibited a fearless searching quality, which reflected his omnivorous listening habits and Universalist spiritual beliefs. His work increasingly began looking skyward, to a non-denominational God, whom he celebrated through music, with which to "make others happy." 1965's A Love Supreme, which was recorded 53 years ago this December 9th, is the culmination and ultimate synthesis of his musical and spiritual pursuits, the four-part suite being a personal thank you note from the artist to God.

John Coltrane's "final tour" as Miles Davis' sideman will be the focus of the upcoming sixth volume in Davis' Bootleg Series. (Rolling Stone, 12/09/17)

The four-disc The Final Tour: Bootleg Series Vol. 6, due out March 23rd, collects five concerts the legendary trumpeter and saxophonist performed together as part of their Spring 1960 Jazz At The Philharmonic European Tour: Two shows at Paris's L'Olympia Theater on March 21, two shows at Stockholm's Konserthuset on March 22nd and their March 24th gig at Copenhagen's Tivolis Koncertsal.

The shows would mark the final time Coltrane served as Davis' sideman - ending a five-year tenure that bore classic LPs like 'Round About Midnight, Milestones and Kind of Blue - before Coltrane embarked on his own career as bandleader. The Final Tour features many of Davis' greatest hits at the time as well as cuts of the then-new Kind of Blue.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 PM


Surrounded by Books (John Lukacs, NOVEMBER 02, 2017, Chronicles)

The "Blessings of Old Age"?  Oh, not at all.  How very soon I shall be dead.  In a year?  In a few months?  In a few weeks?  I hope that I will not be constrained to move from here to a communal nursing home.  I hope; but I cannot know.  What I know is that, after my death, this library, this house, will instantly be changed.  They are my inheritance for my children and my stepson.  My house will be sold at once.  My books will go to the library of the University of Notre Dame, thanks to the excellent Rev. Wilson D. (Bill) Miscamble, C.S.C.  My furniture and the decorations, chests, vitrines, armoires, antique clocks, paintings, and etchings on the walls will be dispersed among my children or sold.  They are still my surroundings, which in this country I assembled from an older America, England, France, Austria, and even one or two pieces from my family in Hungary, miraculously regained almost 70 years ago.  Perhaps I have been not much more than an ephemeral owner of an outdated museum.  I am not a survivor.  I am a crumbling remnant.  A remnant of the very end of the Bourgeois Age and a remnant of the Age of Books.  Ave atque vale.

Five-hundred years after the beginning of the Age of Books, the mass of printed materials is still enormous, while the custom of reading and the numbers of readers have enormously declined.  There are no useful statistics of this devolution, of which television has been a main instrument, but there were symptoms of that even before this decline.  More and more people had been reading not books, but newspapers and other periodical publications.  Then in the mid-1950's, even the enormous Curtis publishing empire, whose monumental building in Philadelphia towered over Independence Hall, began to collapse.  Its main publications were the Saturday Evening Post (with an enormous circulation in the early 20th century) and the Ladies' Home Journal.

What Cicero was supposed to have said 2,000 years ago ("All I want is a book and a garden") and a literate Englishman 200 years ago ("A study full of books is worth more than a purse full of money") were statements from a long-faded past.  But it was not until the end of the 20th century that the disappearance of large numbers of readers finally led to drastic changes in the publishing of all kinds of reading matter, very much including books.  The massive influence of pictures and images had already preceded that (the movies).  But the death of the Age of Books, and of newspapers and magazines, was, indeed, television, followed by the Internet.  Already by the early 1990's, many weeklies, magazines, journals, and quarterlies ceased to exist.  Entire large and traditional publishing houses went out of business.  Others cut their staffs to minimums.  Bookstores began to disappear.  In most schools there still was a minority of good students.  Even they read very little.

All of these transformations may suggest one momentous change: the declining effect of words.  "In the beginning was the Word"--and at the end of an age?  The incredible spread and availability of communications holds little promise, because communications are only instruments of transmissions.  Meanwhile, a great and deep consequence of the declining human respect for, and therefore the function of, words is the increasing evidence of the weakening of attention, seen in more and more spheres of life.

Still, history is unpredictable.  God writes straight with crooked lines.  And things are never quite as bad (or as good) as they seem.  Books will always exist.  Jefferson's category of the educated minority, on whose existence the prospects of civilized mankind depend, is no longer enough.  To educated we need to add interested.  The very impulse of human attention depends on human interest, a quality often involved with humility, with our capacity of seeing beyond ourselves.  This awareness sometimes issues from reading.

In 1955, Harold Nicolson wrote, "I am confident that in coming generations the proportion of uninteresting people will be much diminished, whereas the proportion of interesting people will increase."  In 1950, the great English bibliophile Holbrook Jackson (borrowing from Aldous Huxley) declared, "the proper study of mankind is books."  I am uncertain about the first of these statements, but not about the second.  Now consider that Jacob Burckhardt and Johan Huizinga, two of the greatest historians of the Age of Books, wrote their most famous histories less for professional academic historians than for what in their lifetime could still be regarded as an educated and interested public.  And when on occasion someone asked Burckhardt how best to study history, the great man answered in three words: "Bisogna saper leggere."

"You must know how to read."

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 PM


NFL Quarterbacks Are Leaning On The Short Pass -- And It's Not Working (Scott Kacsmar, 12/08/17, 538)

Picture this common scene on a Sunday afternoon. Your team could really use a scoring drive to turn the tide. On a 3rd-and-10, before the quarterback is even pressured, he quickly throws a 2-yard pass, and the receiver is tackled a few yards later to bring up fourth down. The crowd grumbles, the offense casually jogs off the field and the punting unit comes on. Better luck next time. [...]

Generally, safe passes like that don't accomplish much, and we have the data to back that up. How does that 2-yard pass on 3rd-and-10 work out? According to the ESPN Stats & Information Group, quarterback passes thrown no more than 2 yards beyond the line of scrimmage on third down with at least 10 yards to go have been converted only 10.9 percent of the time this season. On throws that travel at least 10 yards, quarterbacks have converted 38.6 percent of the time. So an offense can more than triple its conversion rate just by doing the most obvious thing when trying to move the chains: throwing the ball past the imaginary yellow line on your TV screen.

And yet despite this, NFL teams are leaning on the short pass more than ever. The same league that transformed into a passing league over the past 10 years is slowing morphing into something else: the dump-off league.

There are some risks with throwing deeper, of course, such as a higher interception rate. And in some special situations, getting a first down isn't the primary goal of a drive, especially when facing third-and-long. Sometimes teams are just trying to get enough yards to make a field-goal attempt shorter. Or with a big lead in the second half, they're hoping for an easy completion that will run some clock and gain field position.

But when an offense really needs to score points, playing it safe and throwing short of the sticks on third down is often the inferior strategy. We looked at the data from ESPN Stats & Info for passes on 3rd-and-10 or longer for Weeks 1 to 13. We divided the passes between those thrown short of the sticks and those thrown at or beyond the sticks: [...]

The completion rate for short throws is more than 30 percentage points higher than the rate for longer passes and yet the conversation rate is more than 30 points lower. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


The Christian Baker Need Not Have Ended Up at the Supreme Court (Ryan T. Anderson, December 08, 2017, Daily Signal)

Agree or disagree, but Phillips believes he is serving Christ with every cake he makes. He has previously turned down requests to create Halloween-themed cakes, lewd bachelor party cakes, and a cake celebrating a divorce. He was never reprimanded over those decisions, but the same-sex-wedding cake plunged him into hot water. [...]

Part of the problem is that Colorado misunderstood the Supreme Court's ruling in favor of same-sex marriage in Obergefell v. Hodges. Colorado claims that the court held "opposition to same-sex marriage" to be "tantamount to discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation."

In fact, as Chief Justice John Roberts pointed out during the Masterpiece oral arguments, the court in Obergefell noted that belief in marriage as the union of husband and wife is held "in good faith by reasonable and sincere people here and throughout the world." The court stated in its majority opinion that "many who deem same-sex marriage to be wrong reach that conclusion based on decent and honorable religious or philosophical premises, and neither they nor their beliefs are disparaged here."

The states should not disparage these people and their decent and honorable beliefs, either. [...]

We must refuse to use anti-discrimination laws as swords to impose sexual orthodoxy on the nation. As Americans continue to disagree about sex, we must refuse to weaponize the redefinition of marriage.

Even Kennedy seemed alert to this in oral arguments for Masterpiece. "Tolerance is essential in a free society," he said. But, he continued, "It seems to me that the state in its position here has neither been tolerant nor respectful of Mr. Phillips' religious beliefs."

Posted by orrinj at 11:47 AM


EU and Japan free trade deal covers 600 million people (Ivana Kottasová, December 8, 2017, CNN Money)

Japan and the European Union have finalized a huge free trade deal that covers 600 million people and almost a third of the global economy.

The Economic Partnership Agreement, which has been in the works since 2011, will remove tariffs on almost all European exports, including cheese and wine. Japanese automakers and electronics firms will face fewer barriers in the EU.

Posted by orrinj at 11:45 AM


Coming To Congress: The Great Pervert Purge (JOSEPH CURL, December 8, 2017, Daily Wire)

 Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) is asking the Senate to give him information about sexual harassment claims and settlements against senators and their staffers.

"I plan to publicly disclose this information because I believe it will provide some insight into the scope of the problem and help determine solutions for preventing and addressing future incidents," Kaine wrote in his request to the Senate Office of Compliance, which handles congressional workplace complaints.

The Virginia Democrat said sexual misconduct would continue in Congress if reports of such actions are hidden away, as they are now. The Office of Compliance has a complicated procedure for women to report sexual misconduct -- one that is more geared toward keeping the alleged perpetrator masked than helping the victim

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


November Jobs Report: Economy Adds 228,000 Jobs; Unemployment Steady (BILL CHAPPELL, 12/08/17, NPR)

The U.S. economy added 228,000 jobs in November, according to the monthly jobs report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The unemployment rate remained steady at 4.1 percent, unchanged from October.

"Employment growth has averaged 174,000 per month thus far this year, compared with an average monthly gain of 187,000 in 2016," the agency's acting Commissioner William J. Wiatrowski said of the report.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


Trump's support among white evangelicals has dropped 17 points since February (Christopher Matrthews, 12/08/17, The Week)

Trump still has majority support from Republicans (76 percent) and white evangelical Protestants (61 percent), but those are the only groups polled where Trump's approval rating is higher than 46 percent. The 17-point drop among evangelicals since February is especially steep.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Hillsdale is conservative, not right-wing : Conservatism isn't about right-wing policy proposals (Michael Lucchese,  December 7, 2017, The Collegian)

At Hillsdale College, conservatism is not a catechism of policy prescriptions. It does not mean protecting particular tax rates or levels of entitlement spending -- although these are important questions which are sometimes debated on campus. [...]

Students at Hillsdale are open-minded and willing to question their beliefs because of their conservatism, not in spite of it. Hillsdale is a place where young people choose to learn from old books, and that's what makes us conservative. We believe that the truly great things, the things most worth studying, never really change. They are permanent.

Russell Kirk, the late founder of modern American conservatism and a former faculty member at Hillsdale College, explained that "By 'the Permanent Things' [we] meant those elements in the human condition that give us our nature, without which we are as the beasts that perish. They work upon us all in the sense that both they and we are bound up in that continuity of belief and institution called the great mysterious incorporation of the human race."

It starts even before students get to campus. Freshmen are asked to read Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics" the summer before they begin classes. Then, every student is required to go through a demanding core curriculum which focuses on the great books -- no football player, science nerd, or frat boy can escape life-changing encounters with Homer, Augustine, and Shakespeare.

Over time, the Hillsdale student accumulates a broad knowledge of the Western heritage. But even more than that, Hillsdale initiates her students into a conversation with the greatest minds of human history. For the Hillsdale student, that conversation is not merely of antiquarian interest. It raises urgent questions which provide the very foundations of Western civilization and our way of life.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Crime, terrorism and teen pregnancies: is it really all doom and gloom? (Bobby Duffy, 12/08/17, The Guardian)

A new survey from Ipsos Mori reveals that the public in 38 countries have deeply inaccurate views about crime, terrorism and many other important social issues. And this is not just the result of random guessing - there is a systematic pattern to our errors. We tend to think things are worse than they are, and they're going downhill fast.

The Perils of Perception study found that only 7% of people think the murder rate is lower in their country than it was in 2000 - but it is actually significantly down in most countries, and, across the countries overall, it's down 29%.

Only 19% think deaths from terrorist attacks are lower in the past 15 years than they were in the 15 years before that, when in fact they are also significantly down across most of these countries - and overall they are around half the level they were.

People hugely overestimate the proportion of prisoners in their countries who are immigrants, too: the average guess is 28% when it's actually only 15%.

Teenage pregnancy is overestimated across the world, often by a staggering amount. Overall, the average guess is that 20% of teenage girls give birth each year when the reality is 2%. Some countries think that around half of teenage girls give birth each year, when the highest actual figure in any country is 6.7%.

...some people see the glass as half full. We see the glass as too large."

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 AM


After years of delays, Vietnam's privatization plans move up a gear  (Anshuman Daga, Mai Nguyen, 12/08/17, Reuters)

Hanoi has already changed the rules to speed up future privatizations from next year. Among the changes are the introduction of a book-building process for initial public offerings and an easing of its restrictions on strategic partners.

Vietnam is speeding up its privatization drive as it grapples with a deteriorating fiscal picture, including a budget deficit and growing public debt at a time when it wants to devote more money to developing the nation's infrastructure.

Private share sales and listings are booming. Mall operator Vincom Retail VRE.HM raised $741 million last month in Vietnam's biggest equity offering, which attracted cornerstone investors such as Singapore sovereign wealth fund GIC and major U.S. fund manager Franklin Templeton. Total demand for the shares reached $2 billion.

Next year, the government has slated 181 state-owned companies to make divestments of stakes to investors and 64 more for broader share sales through IPOs. Altogether, the government has said it wants to sell stakes in at least 533 companies by 2020 through direct sales or IPOs.

And this doesn't include dozens of companies who were on the 2017 list but won't get to market this year. According to the latest publicly available government figures, Vietnam had only managed 26 divestments in the first eight months of this year from a 135-long list that was planned. The 44 IPOs target this year is also likely to be missed, with only 38 IPOs slated to be completed by year-end, a government committee said.

"You have a lot of global asset managers, frontier market investors, hedge funds and others that want to capture and participate in the growth of emerging markets and frontier markets like Vietnam," said Jeffrey Perlman, Southeast Asia head of Warburg Pincus, which together with a consortium, sold part of its stake in Vincom Retail in the float.

"If you can provide them a conduit with which to do that and a business they can understand, they'll want to participate," said Perlman.

Vietnam's strong economy and roaring stock market underpin its appeal.

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Women are happier with less attractive men, study shows (Narjas Zatat, 12/08/17, Independemt)

Posted by orrinj at 6:53 AM


Posted by orrinj at 6:30 AM


GE: Layoffs Due  To Green Fuels (Michelle Chapman, 12/07/17, AP)

General Electric Co. will cut 12,000 jobs in its power division as alternative energy supplants demand for coal and other fossil fuels, and energy demand declines overall.

The company said on Thursday that the cuts to both office and production jobs, will help "right-size" GE Power in a traditional power markets that is being upended globally.

The cuts, representing 18 percent of all jobs at GE Power, will take place largely outside of the U.S. Many will be in Europe, where other energy companies already have announced reductions.

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Birth Control Pills Still Linked to Breast Cancer, Study Finds (RONI CARYN RABIN, DEC. 6, 2017, NY Times)

Women who rely on birth control pills or contraceptive devices that release hormones face a small but significant increase in the risk for breast cancer, according to a large study published on Wednesday.

The study, which followed 1.8 million Danish women for more than a decade, upends widely held assumptions about modern contraceptives for younger generations of women. Many women have believed that newer hormonal contraceptives are much safer than those taken by their mothers or grandmothers, which had higher doses of estrogen.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 AM


Britain and EU clinch divorce deal to move Brexit talks onto trade (Gabriela Baczynska, William James, 12/08/17, Reuters) 

Britain and the European Union struck a divorce deal on Friday that paves the way for talks on trade, easing pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May and boosting hopes of an orderly Brexit.

Transnationalism was always an empty threat in the Anglosphere.

December 7, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM


Al Franken isn't sorry (Matthew Walther, December 7, 2017, The Week)

It's a comfort to know that today was perhaps the very last time that any of us will have to see the self-satisfied visage of Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) leering contemptuously from the floor of the Senate. What I do not understand is why.

No one who listened carefully to Franken's remarks this morning could walk away from them with any notion of why he is bothering to resign. He stood there in his purple tie grinning smugly, explaining, as if to a sensitive child, why he had done nothing wrong. 

Even more precious was the bit about how ironic it is that he has to go but Donald remains.  It's like the "he did it too" that children use.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


Stark Partisan Divisions Over Russia Probe, Including Its Importance to the Nation (Pew Research, 12/07/17)

 A majority of Americans say they think senior members of Donald Trump's administration definitely or probably had improper contacts with Russia during last year's presidential campaign. And most are at least somewhat confident that special counsel Robert Mueller will conduct a fair investigation into the matter.

This is what the Right calls winning.

Posted by orrinj at 7:57 PM


Exclusive: Previously undisclosed emails show follow-up after Trump Tower meeting (Jim Sciutto, Manu Raju and Jeremy Herb, 12/07/17, CNN)

In one email dated June 14, 2016, Goldstone forwarded a CNN story on Russia's hacking of DNC emails to his client, Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, and Ike Kaveladze, a Russian who attended the meeting along with Trump Jr., Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Manafort, describing the news as "eerily weird" given what they had discussed at Trump Tower five days earlier.

Posted by orrinj at 7:23 PM


Congressman Trent Franks resigns  (Reuters, 12/07/17) 

U.S. Representative Trent Franks said on Thursday he will resign after two former staff members complained about discussions he had with them about efforts to find a surrogate mother.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


Blood-covered naked woman, several pigs flee burning home after domestic incident, cops say (Fox News, 12/07/17)
Posted by orrinj at 10:10 AM


The Cake Is Just the Beginning : Justice Gorsuch's radical First Amendment theory could sabotage civil rights law. (Mark Joseph Stern, 12/07/17, Slate)

Gorsuch's startling proposal arrived midway through arguments, as Colorado Solicitor General Frederick Yarger defended the state's civil rights commission. Yarger was attempting to explain why Colorado's treatment of Jack Phillips, the baker, did not run afoul of his rights to free speech or free exercise of religion. Gorsuch jumped in with "a quick question about the remedy" that Colorado imposed on Phillips after finding that he had violated state nondiscrimination law.

Gorsuch, with a look of grave concern, said:

As I understand it, Colorado ordered Mr. Phillips to provide comprehensive training to his staff, and it didn't order him to attend a class of the government's own creation or anything like that, but to provide comprehensive staff training.

Why isn't that compelled speech and possibly in violation of his free-exercise rights? Because presumably he has to tell his staff, including his family members, that his Christian beliefs are discriminatory.

Yarger, who seemed befuddled by the question, responded honestly, telling Gorsuch that "a training requirement is a common remedy that is used in many civil rights cases." The justice, however, pressed on.

"But this isn't attending your training, Mr. Yarger," Gorsuch said. "This order was ordering him to provide training and presumably compelling him to speak, therefore, and to speak in ways that maybe offend his religion and certainly compel him to speak."

By this point, Yarger looked genuinely alarmed. And rightfully so: Gorsuch had essentially declared that a law which requires managers to teach their employees about the requirements of nondiscrimination law violates the First Amendment.

How could requiring teaching that religious beliefs are wrong not violate free exercise and Establishment?

Posted by orrinj at 7:08 AM


Senate Republicans Made a $289 Billion Mistake in the Handwritten Tax Bill They Passed at 2 a.m. Go Figure. (Jordan Weissmann, DEC. 06, 2017, Slate)

It appears that Senate Republicans managed to make a $289 billion or so mistake while furiously hand-scribbling edits onto the tax bill they passed in the wee hours of Saturday morning. The problem involves the corporate alternative minimum tax, which the GOP initially planned to repeal, but tossed back into their stew at the last second in order to raise some desperately needed revenue. The AMT is basically a parallel tax code meant to prevent companies from zeroing out their IRS bills. It doesn't allow businesses to take as many tax breaks but, in theory, is also supposed to have a lower rate.

Except not under the Senate bill. When Mitch McConnell & co. revived the AMT, they absentmindedly left it at its current rate of 20 percent, the same as the new, lower rate of the corporate income tax that the bill included. As a result, many companies won't be able to use tax breaks that were supposed to be preserved in the legislation, including the extremely popular credit for research and development costs. Corporate accountants started freaking out about this over the weekend, but the situation reached high farce when a group of lawyers from Davis Polk pointed out that, by leaving the AMT intact, Republicans had essentially undermined their bill's most important changes to the international tax code. just to appear to have done something, so we get credit for the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


How is Equality Baked into Our Constitution? (Vincent Phillip Muñoz, December 5, 2017, American Greatness)

Phillips in effect assaulted the dignity of Craig and Mullens. He assaulted their dignity by refusing to recognize the legitimacy of their marriage and the moral propriety of their sexuality. In our new religion, the self--the identity that we put forth to the world--is the new deity. Denying the "self" of others is heretical.

It is a violation of equality because equality in this view means having one's identity affirmed by others. To be equal means to be recognized in one's identity, whatever that identity may be. The act of recognition itself is necessary to the realization of equality. If one's identity is not respected or recognized or affirmed--if one is "disrespected," to use an awkward term--one is denied equality.

The older understanding of equality was different. The older understanding, the founders' understanding that animated our original Constitution, held that we are equal in our natural liberty--we each equally possess dominion over our own lives and therefore over our own labor and faculties. And thus we can choose to labor or choose to contract with one another when we, the possessor of these things, see fit to engage them. We cannot be compelled to use them. Equality in this older understanding was realized, as Lincoln said in Peoria in 1854, by letting "each man do precisely as he pleases with all which is exclusively his own."

The older understanding of equality included a presumption of liberty--an individual was free to employ his labor or not according at his own discretion--this was an essential aspect of what it meant to be free--the ability to own and control one's own labor.

We've recognized certain exceptions to this freedom. In situations of monopoly or governmental licensing or privilege--then if one was generally open for business, one had to take all-comers. And, of course, there had to be an exception for race because of our original sin of slavery and continued denial of justice through legally enforced segregation--sins that involved denying black Americans the equal freedom to control their labor and enter freely into contracts with others. These were the exceptions to the presumption of liberty, a liberty that followed from our natural equality.

The older understanding of equality held that if you didn't do anything to another person--if you just left him alone--then you did not harm him. Again, Americans have made certain exceptions, notably for race. But these were exceptions. True, expressing one's opinions alone might offend someone. In the older understanding, however, as long as you did not interfere with another's right to express his opinions or in some way interfere with his God-given natural and equal liberty, speech alone couldn't harm another.

The new progressive understanding is different. Speech and the expression of opinions that fail to recognize the self-chosen identity of another inflict what is now called "dignitary harms." Speech that offends protected classes can be shut down--this is what we are seeing on college campuses all over the nation--and businesses like Masterpiece Cakeshop that refuse to engage in commerce for reasons associated with certain protected identities can be fined or sanctioned.

This new view of equality--that equality requires affirmation by others--is incompatible with our true understanding of freedom.  

Equality and liberty are significant political issues, but what's really missing in the progressive understanding is a simple sense of decency.  The demand for recognition is a form of coercion.   Regardless of how you feel about a baker's politics or religion, he has no capacity to force his views upon you until you attempt to enter into a business transaction with him.  There is no compelling social reason that you should be allowed to force yours on him.

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 AM


Syrian govt delegation to return to Geneva on Sunday for peace talks: SANA (Reuters, 12/07/17)

The government delegation blamed its departure on the opposition's uncompromising stance on Assad's future. Last month, the opposition drew up a statement in a meeting in Riyadh that rejected any future role for Assad in Syria.

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 AM


Paris has one of highest rates of psychosis, new study finds (AFP, 7 December 2017)

Paris and southeast London have the highest rate of people reporting psychotic episodes, according to a new international study that compared rates of the mental disorder in six countries. [...]

"An alternative explanation could be that owner-occupied housing is an indicator of social stability and cohesiveness, relating to stronger support networks."

December 6, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 PM


Trump Jr. cites attorney-client privilege in not answering panel's questions about discussions with his father (KYLE CHENEY, 12/06/2017, Politico)

Posted by orrinj at 8:10 PM


The Hidden Player Spurring a Wave of Cheap Consumer Devices: Amazon (Farhad Manjoo, Dec. 6, 2017, NY Times)

A few weeks ago, Wyze Labs, a one-year-old start-up in Seattle, sent me its first gadget to try. It's a small, internet-connected video camera, the kind you might use for security or to keep tabs on your dog or your baby.

On the surface, the camera doesn't sound special. Like home internet cameras made by Nest or Netgear, the Wyze device can monitor an area for motion or sound. When it spots something, it begins recording a short clip that it stores online, for access on your phone or your computer.

But the WyzeCam has one groundbreaking feature that no rival can match. It is being sold for such an unbelievably low price -- $20 -- that it sent me tunneling into the global gadget industry to figure out how Wyze had done it. That, in turn, led to a revelation about the future of all kinds of products, from cameras to clothes.

That future? We're going to get better products for ludicrously low prices, and big brands across a range of categories -- the Nests and Netgears of the world -- are going to find it harder than ever to get us to shell out big money for their wares.

There's a hidden hero in this story -- or, if you're a major brand, a shadowy villain. It's Amazon.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


U.S. trade gap soars as imports from China hit record high (DOUG PALMER, 12/05/2017, Politico)

The U.S. trade deficit jumped 8.6 percent in October as imports from China and other suppliers hit a record high ahead of the holiday shopping season, a Commerce Department report released Tuesday showed.

The monthly trade gap totaled $48.7 billion, the highest level for a full month since President Donald Trump took office on Jan. 20.

Ahead of the election, a Trump campaign adviser asserted they could eliminate the deficit in one or two years. Instead, the 2017 deficit is on track to exceed the 2016 level of $505 billion.

If Donald resigned today his major achievements would be accidentally leading to the removal of sexual abusers from positions of power and ruining some immigrant lives for no reason. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:15 PM


America's Forgotten Post-War Conservative : Vance Packard predicted the anxieties of 1950s America--and our present day--better than almost anyone. (ADDISON DEL MASTRO • December 6, 2017, American Conservative)

Vance Packard is not a name that comes to mind when you think of mid-century conservatives. Certainly, you won't hear him mentioned alongside William F. Buckley, James Burnham, or Russell Kirk. If Packard is remembered at all, it is as the author of the anti-advertising tome The Hidden Persuaders, and more generally as a left-leaning critic of consumer capitalism and of America's complacent Cold War culture.

That image is not exactly wrong, but it is woefully incomplete. Vance Packard may have been a liberal in his own time, but today he reads as a reasonable and fundamentally conservative voice in an era that was redefining at breakneck speed the nature of American life. [...]

In A Nation of Strangers, published in 1972, Packard presciently warned against the "attrition of communal structure" brought on by Americans' increasing tendency to move, splitting up extended families and rooted communities. This was often, he noted, a result of corporate ladder-climbing, which required transferring often and all over the country. He recounts an anecdote involving a CEO who forced his entire company to relocate halfway across the country rather than relocate himself.

Packard also decried the suburban trend towards wiping out true public spaces. Two decades before the great mall-building spree of the 1990s, he worried that shopping malls were becoming the only "public" spaces where young people could meet up and hang out. That they were designed to promote consumerism was a feature, not a bug. Packard, it seems, was something of a New Urbanist.

Among the hopeful signs--reversals of trends he saw in Nation of Strangers--are deurbanization, declining mobility, telecommuting, grown children living at home, etc.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 PM


I Believe Franken's Accusers Because He Groped Me, Too (TINA DUPUY, 12/06/17, The Atlantic)

Tweeden's story rang true to me. I'd told myself I was the only one. I'd been groped by Franken in 2009. [...]

Nearly 20 years ago, during Kenneth Starr's investigation of President Bill Clinton, I was taking night classes, waiting tables, and chasing boys who looked like Ricky Martin. At the time, the focus on Clinton's sex life seemed to me a Republican-fueled, puritanical media frenzy. I thought it was a crusade to penalize consensual sex. Clinton was the first Baby Boomer president. He came of age during the sexual revolution and his wife was an "overbearing yuppie wife from hell"; there was a counter-culture couple in the West Wing! To family-values Republicans, the Clintons were an affront to all that was good and holy.

When Toni Morrison called Bill Clinton the first black president, she wasn't saying he was down with the cause; she was saying he was dismissed and demeaned by the existing power structure. Clinton was born poor in a backwater state, raised by a single mother. He ate Big Macs, played the sax, and chased women. And when, Morrison wrote, "his unpoliced sexuality became the focus of the persecution," African American men felt a kinship. "The message was clear: 'No matter how smart you are, how hard you work, how much coin you earn for us, we will put you in your place or put you out of the place you have somehow, albeit with our permission, achieved,'" Morrison wrote. "'You will be fired from your job, sent away in disgrace, and--who knows?--maybe sentenced and jailed to boot. In short, unless you do as we say (i.e., assimilate at once), your expletives belong to us.'"

Gloria Steinem penned her own defense, "Feminists and the Clinton Question," in The New York Times. "Like most feminists, most Americans become concerned about sexual behavior when someone's will has been violated; that is, when 'no' hasn't been accepted as an answer," she wrote. In 1998, this was the final word for feminists: Yes, Bill was a womanizer, but, relax, the ladies liked it.

I ignored the very idea that Bill Clinton raped Juanita Broaddrick. I put it in the same category as Bill Ayers, the New Black Panther Party, and Benghazi: A shorthand swipe Republicans lob on cable TV. Besides, I liked Bill Clinton. I had a single mother too.  I also liked Hillary. As first lady, she made old men furious for not "knowing her place." The Clintons were an inspiration to me.

Then Tweeden tweeted #metoo.

Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


Day 3 I-66 toll hits $23. Are commuters finding alternatives? (Luz Lazo, December 6, 2017, Washington Post)

During the Wednesday morning rush hour, solo drivers on I-66 express lanes faced tolls near $23 for the 10-mile stretch from the Capital Beltway to the District line. That was much lower than Monday and Tuesday when tolls hit $34.50 and $40, respectively.

State transportation officials say demand to use the lanes is lessening, leading to the lower toll rates. (In a dynamic toll system, rates continually adjust to traffic conditions- prices go up when the lanes get full and decrease when traffic is lighter).

On Monday, the alternative routes to I-66 saw traffic counts rise between six and eight percent in the morning commute. Route 29, saw the biggest impact, with a traffic increase of 8 percent in the morning and up to 11 percent during the evening rush.

DC itself should just be closed to traffic.

Posted by orrinj at 5:31 PM


Investigators probe European travel of Trump associates : Questions linger about 2016 trips by Donald Trump Jr., Carter Page, Michael Cohen and other Trump associates. 9JOSH MEYER 12/06/2017, Politico)

Congressional investigators are scrutinizing trips to Europe taken last year by several associates of President Donald Trump, amid concern they may have met with Kremlin-linked operatives as part of Russia's interference in the 2016 presidential election. [...]

When a House Intelligence Committee member asked Page last month about his end-of-summer 2016 visit to Budapest, for instance, Page initially said he "did a lot of sightseeing and went to a jazz club. Not much to report."

Under further questioning, Page admitted to meeting with a Hungarian government official who some congressional investigators suspect is an intelligence officer and cryptically offered that "there may have been one Russian person passing through there."

Trump Jr. flew to Paris late in the campaign to meet with and speak before a foreign policy group with ties to Russian officials. Cohen traveled three times to Europe last year, though he strongly denies the claim in a controversial dossier on Donald Trump's Russia connections that he met secretly with a Russian official in Prague.

At this point, it seems inevitable that even the most scurrilous parts of the dossier will be proved.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 PM


Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


Democratic Senators turn on Al Franken (Alexi McCammond, 12/06/17, Axios)

Even though many of claims against Franken are from before he served in the U.S. senate, the mounting calls for his resignation show that Democratic lawmakers aren't tolerating any behavior from their colleagues.

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 AM


'Holy crap': Experts find tax plan riddled with glitches : Some of the provisions could be easily gamed, tax lawyers say. (BRIAN FALER 12/06/2017, Politico)

Republicans' tax-rewrite plans are riddled with bugs, loopholes and other potential problems that could plague lawmakers long after their legislation is signed into law.

Some of the provisions could be easily gamed, tax lawyers say. Their plans to cut taxes on "pass-through" businesses in particular could open broad avenues for tax avoidance.

Others would have unintended results, like a last-minute decision by the Senate to keep the alternative minimum tax, which was designed to make sure wealthy people and corporations don't escape taxes altogether. For many businesses, that would nullify the value of a hugely popular break for research and development expenses.

Some provisions are so vaguely written they leave experts scratching their heads, like a proposal to begin taxing the investment earnings of rich private universities' endowments. The legislation H.R. 1 (115) doesn't explain what's considered an endowment, and some colleges have more than 1,000 accounts.

In many cases, Republicans are giving taxpayers little time to adjust to sometimes major changes in policy. An entirely new international tax regime, one experts are still trying to parse, would go into effect Jan. 1, only days after lawmakers hope to push the plan through Congress.

The GOP basically has enough votes in each house to pass any bill that cuts the corporate tax rate, so why not just strip everything else out and pass that?
Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


Four Promising Takeaways from the Masterpiece Cakeshop Oral Argument (David French, December 5, 2017, National Review)

First, Kristen Waggoner, the ADF attorney arguing for Jack Phillips strongly and clearly made the most vital point -- the issue was the artistic message, not the identity of the customer. Here's a key part of the transcript:

JUSTICE GINSBURG: What if -- what if it's -- if it's an item off the shelf? That is, they don't commission a cake just for them but they walk into the shop, they see a lovely cake, and they say we'd like to purchase it for the celebration of our marriage tonight. The Colorado law would prohibit that. Would you claim that you are entitled to an exception?

MS. WAGGONER: Absolutely not. The compelled speech doctrine is triggered by compelled speech. And in the context of a pre-made cake, that is not compelled speech.

In other words, Masterpiece Cakeshop not only serves gay customers, it would sell a gay couple a wedding cake. What he won't do is use his artistic talents specifically and intentionally for the purpose of celebrating a same-sex union. That's the vital distinction. That's what implicates the compelled speech doctrine. Good on Waggoner for making the distinction up front.

...should Colorado be able to compel the owner of a Jewish deli to put cheese on roast beef sandwiches for customers who don't keep kosher? 

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


Coal CEO: Senate tax plan 'wipes us out' (Matt Egan, December 6, 2017, CNN)

Coal CEO Robert Murray warns that if the Senate version of tax reform is enacted by President Trump he'll be destroying thousands of coal mining jobs in the process.

"We won't have enough cash flow to exist. It wipes us out," Murray told CNNMoney in an interview on Tuesday. [...]

For coal companies, it could be a double-whammy. It would preserve the Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) and impose new limits on the interest payments that businesses can write off. Murray Energy estimates that these changes would raise its tax bill by $60 million per year.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Microwave weapon could fry North Korean missile controls, say experts (CYNTHIA MCFADDEN, WILLIAM M. ARKIN, KEVIN MONAHAN and KENZI ABOU-SABE, 12/05/17, NBC)
The U.S. has microwave weapons that proponents believe could stop North Korea from launching missiles by frying their electronics.

The weapons were discussed at an August White House meeting related to North Korea, according to two U.S. officials with direct knowledge.

Posted by orrinj at 5:43 AM


Posted by orrinj at 5:22 AM


The Flaw in Strategic Genius Steve Bannon's Plan to Sour Utah Voters on Mitt Romney (Margaret Hartmann, 12/05/17, New York)

"You hid behind your religion. You went to France to be a missionary while men were dying in Vietnam. Do not talk about honor and integrity," Bannon said. [...]

Attacking Romney probably won't have any effect on the Alabama race, but it may come back to bite Bannon's preferred candidate in Utah. It's unclear if the 83-year-old Hatch will run for reelection, or if Romney would launch a primary challenge. However, a recent poll showed 3 of 4 Utahns want Hatch to retire, and Romney would destroy him if the 2018 election were held today.

Regardless of whether Hatch or Romney run, now Bannon's endorsement will be toxic to any candidate in Utah. The state is 63 percent Mormon, and presumably those voters - who aren't big Trump fans to begin with - do not see Romney's missionary work as a flimsy excuse to avoid Vietnam service. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:11 AM


These 3D-printed objects don't need batteries to connect to Wi-Fi (ABHIMANYU GHOSHAL, 12/06/17, Next Web)

One of the big tradeoffs that comes with the convenience of having smart devices run your home is the hassle of keeping them powered, either with batteries or by plugging them into the wall. But a new project devised by researchers at the University of Washington could one day help guide the creation of gadgets that don't require any power at all to stay online.

Vikram Iyer, Justin Chan, and Shyamnath Gollakota from UW figured out a way to 3D-print plastic objects with wireless capabilities baked right in - no power source or electronics necessary.

December 5, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:20 PM


Saudis fail at their own conspiracy (Bruce Riedel, December 5, 2017, Al Monitor)

At a minimum, Saudi and coalition intelligence seems to have been caught off guard by the balance of power in the rebel-held north. Presumably they expected Saleh to do better. Or they just didn't do their homework. Since the removal of Mohammed bin Nayef as crown prince this year, the security services have been less effective. But any intelligence lapses pale in comparison with the larger policy failures.

The Saudi conspiracy lacked a strategy for implementing it once Saleh flipped. There was no concrete plan to assist him and his loyalists. It is as misguided as the original decision to enter the war 2½ years ago when Saudi Defense Minister Prince Mohammed bin Salman promised a quick Decisive Storm operation would defeat the Houthis, Saleh and the Iranians.

The Houthis called Saleh's death historic and have appealed to his followers to remain in the rebellion and fight the Saudi coalition and Hadi. It's too soon to say how solid their grip on Sanaa and the north will be, but they have decisively won the first round. They have a strong nationalist message; most Yemenis despise their rich Gulf neighbors. [...]

The war in Yemen is costing Riyadh about $5 billion a month. It is a humanitarian catastrophe for the Yemeni people. The Saleh fiasco demonstrates that the Saudi coalition is flailing without a way out. The only winner is Iran. Washington needs to help Riyadh find a way out of the quagmire.

What's bad for the Sa'uds is good for the Middle East.

Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


The Chief of Entertainers : Trumpet virtuoso Dizzy Gillespie was a jazz prophet, a musical genius, and a scatterbrained whirlwind (David Grogan, DECEMBER 4, 2017, American Scholar)

Dizzy grew up the youngest of nine children of James and Lottie Gillespie in a racist backwater of South Carolina. James, a brick mason in Cheraw who moonlighted as a pianist and manager of a ragtag local band, encouraged all the Gillespie kids except John Birks, an irrepressible mischief maker, to take up music. "Every Sunday after church, my father would get his razor strap and whup me, even if I hadn't done anything wrong," Dizzy recalled. In 1927, when he was 10, his father died of a severe asthma attack. "The first thing I did was to take that razor strap and cut it into a thousand pieces. Nobody used it after that."

Five years later, a neighbor lent him a trumpet, and his natural affinity for the instrument earned him a scholarship at the Laurinburg Institute, an African-American prep school 28 miles from Cheraw. When Lottie moved to Philadelphia in 1935, he dropped out of school a few months shy of graduation to follow her. Armed with a pawnshop trumpet, which he carried in a paper bag, he soon landed a gig in a traveling band led by trombonist Frankie Fairfax. "Guys in the band joked about me being 'that dizzy trumpet player from down south.' The name stuck."

A reservoir of simmering rage, which Dizzy had learned to keep a lid on as a youngster, added a whiff of danger to his demeanor and boiled over on one notable occasion early in his career. Dizzy got his first taste of commercial success in 1939 when he joined the Cab Calloway band. He was abruptly fired two years later when Calloway mistakenly accused him of throwing a spitball during a musical interlude by a small ensemble, the Cab Jivers. "Cab grabbed me by the collar and I had my knife out in a second," Dizzy said. "I nicked him on his butt, and next thing you know there was blood all over his white suit."

Losing the cushy gig freed Dizzy to spend more time playing with Charlie Parker, whom he'd met in Kansas City in 1940 while traveling with the Calloway band. "He was up in a hotel room playing 'Sweet Georgia Brown,' " Dizzy recalled. "I'd never heard anything like the sound he got from that raggedy horn." Over time they became soulmates, first in jam sessions in New York and later as musical co-conspirators in bands led by pianist Earl Hines and singer Billy Eckstine. Dizzy formed his own band in 1945 and included Bird in his front line. Their partnership culminated in an eight-week booking nearly a year later at Billy Berg's in Hollywood. When Dizzy returned to New York, Bird lingered on the West Coast. "I gave him all his money and a ticket back, and what he did with it, God knows," Dizzy recalled. "He suffered a nervous breakdown after that and went into Camarillo State Hospital."

In 1947, Bird surprised Dizzy when he showed up at his first major concert at Car-negie Hall. "He walked out on stage with a rose," Dizzy said. "It probably cost him his last 75 cents." Even though the two teamed up for several historic concerts and recordings in the years that followed, Bird's erratic behavior gradually tore them apart. Dizzy was forever haunted by his last encounter with Bird, a week before his death in March 1955. "I ran into him at a club called the Embers, on 52nd Street in New York, and he looked so sad. He said, 'Save me.' I said, 'Man, nobody can save you. You have to save yourself.' When I heard he died, it broke me up. I thought I would never get over it."

Dizzy credited one person with making sure he didn't get sucked into a vortex of self-destruction like Bird. "My wife, Lorraine, is my Rock of Gibraltar," he said. When they met in 1937, paying gigs were scarce for Dizzy and she was a petite young widow earning subsistence wages as a member of a traveling troupe of chorus girls. Dizzy was attracted by her lissome beauty and wicked sense of humor, as well as her moral rectitude. "While the rest of the chorus girls were up in the wings looking for musicians who would take them to after-hours joints, she'd be down in the dressing room, knitting or crocheting or reading." At first she ignored the mash notes Dizzy sent her. But their romance blossomed after she saw him begging outside the Apollo Theater in Harlem for 15 cents to buy a bowl a soup. Lorraine curbed Dizzy's reckless spending, helped him negotiate with shady booking agents, and brought a sense of emotional stability to his life.

"She saved him from the dope and all the other stray things in the world of jazz," says Jacques Muyal, a Swiss businessman and jazz producer who was one of Dizzy's closest friends. Lorraine was also Dizzy's secret muse. In a conversation with Muyal shortly after Dizzy's death, she may have solved a mystery that has long obsessed jazz aficionados: the origin of the word bebop. "Lorraine said Dizzy liked to come to the Cotton Club rehearsals and the chorus girls sometimes practiced their dance steps without music, marking the rhythms by chanting be bop be bop."

Over the years, Lorraine turned increasingly inward. She had a Catholic altar installed in a dedicated prayer room at the house in Englewood and kept what Dizzy described as "the cleanest residence in the world," with plastic covers on the white furniture in the living room. On the rare occasions Dizzy was home, he slept in the buzzard's nest and hung out with his friends and fellow musicians in the basement rec room, which was equipped with a piano, set of drums, and pool table. But he telephoned Lorraine daily from the road, and they would laugh about the latest developments in their favorite soap opera, As the World Turns. Shortly after they celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1990, I asked him to share his secret of matrimonial success. "Never tell your wife she is wrong," he said. "If she's wrong, she knows it. But she doesn't want to hear it."

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM


The Evidence Is Damning: What Team Trump Knew and When : We already know that the Trump campaign was aware of -- and intended to profit from -- Moscow's interference in the election. (COLIN KAHL, DECEMBER 4, 2017, Foreign Policy)
The evidence is now irrefutable that Trump, his associates, and Republican leadership more broadly conspired to give Moscow a pass despite (or perhaps because of) Russia's attack on our democracy.

While much remains unknown about the full extent and nature of the relationship between Team Trump and Russia's 2016 election activities, we actually know a great deal already. We know that Kremlin intermediaries reached out to Trump foreign-policy advisor George Papadopoulos and then to Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., in the spring of 2016 offering "dirt" on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton (including, in Papadopoulos's case, an offer of "thousands of emails"). We know that several other senior Trump campaign officials were aware of these approaches, failed to report them to the FBI, and encouraged the outreach. We also know that, in the summer of 2016, then candidate Trump called on Russia to "find" Clinton's missing emails, and that several campaign surrogates (including Roger Stone and the Trump campaign's data firm Cambridge Analytica) and at least one prominent Republican operative (Peter W. Smith) reached out to WikiLeaks (which was laundering information for Moscow) and to Russian hackers to get additional dirt on Clinton.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Trump lawyers say judge lacks jurisdiction for defamation lawsuit (Jonathan Allen, 12/05/17, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump's lawyers told a New York state judge on Tuesday that under the U.S. Constitution she had no jurisdiction over the president and therefore urged her to dismiss a defamation lawsuit by a woman who has accused Trump of sexual harassment. [...]

Zervos's lawyers, including Gloria Allred, have cited the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Clinton v. Jones, which allowed former Arkansas state employee Paula Jones' sexual harassment lawsuit against Bill Clinton to proceed in 1997 while he was still U.S. president.

...will get him a more favorable judge?

Posted by orrinj at 5:15 PM


Donald Trump Jr. asked Russian lawyer for info on Clinton Foundation (KEN DILANIAN and NATASHA LEBEDEVA, 12/05/17, NBC News)

Donald Trump Jr. asked a Russian lawyer at the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting whether she had evidence of illegal donations to the Clinton Foundation, the lawyer told the Senate Judiciary Committee in answers to written questions obtained exclusively by NBC News. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Russia Banned from Winter Olympics by I.O.C. (Rebecca R. Ruiz and Tariq Panja, Dec. 5, 2017, NY Times)

Russia's Olympic team has been barred from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The country's government officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not be displayed at the opening ceremony and its anthem will not sound.

Any athletes from Russia who receive special dispensation to compete will do so as individuals wearing a neutral uniform, and the official record books will forever show that Russia won zero medals.

That was the punishment issued Tuesday to the proud sports juggernaut that has long used the Olympics as a show of global force but was exposed for systematic doping in previously unfathomable ways. The International Olympic Committee, after completing its own prolonged investigations that reiterated what had been known for more than a year, handed Russia penalties for doping so severe they were without precedent in Olympics history.

The ruling was the final confirmation that the nation was guilty of executing an extensive state-backed doping program. The scheme was rivaled perhaps only by the notorious program conducted by East Germany throughout the 1960s, '70s and '80s.

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM


Dustin Hoffman grilled over sexual misconduct claims (NZ Herald, 6 Dec, 2017)

A starry anniversary discussion of the film Wag the Dog turned testy when moderator John Oliver confronted Dustin Hoffman about allegations of sexual harassment.

Hoffman seemed blindsided and defensive by the line of questioning from the host of HBO's Last Week Tonight.

Hoffman explained the accusation was 40 years old.

The victim wasn't.

Posted by orrinj at 4:51 PM


Raising graduation rates, one expectation at a time : SHIFT IN THOUGHT  One probable reason for the steady rise in high school graduation rates may lie in higher expectations of schools and in teacher attitudes toward students. (The Monitor's Editorial Board, DECEMBER 5, 2017, CS Monitor)

A surprising example of progress is the Chicago Public Schools. Despite the city's social and economic disadvantages, its schools have shown above-average progress in raising the reading and math levels for elementary students, according to new research by Stanford University. One reason, according to The New York Times, are the attitudes of educators. "Whatever kids come in here, we know we can grow them," one principal, Tracey Stelly, told the Times. "When kids come in the building, they know, 'This is where I belong.' "

Research studies that prove teacher attitudes can improve - or worsen - a student's performance are surprisingly few. Perhaps the most definitive study is a recent one by Seth Gershenson of American University and Nicholas Papageorge of Johns Hopkins University. They used data that tracked 10th-grade students into adulthood and also measured what teachers expected of each child in future performance. The scholars showed that students randomly assigned to a teacher whose expectations were 40 percent higher than another teacher were 7 percent more likely to complete a four-year college degree.

Teachers do make the ultimate difference in education, not in positive thinking but in understanding each student's innate abilities and qualities of thought. They can help students overcome disadvantages often seen as intractable, such as family dysfunction or poor skills in English. And with this high expectation in the classroom, more students are able to finish 12th grade, raising the educational attainment for the whole United States.

Such was the power of a president who was a Christian instead of a bigot.

Posted by orrinj at 4:47 PM


Saleh's Death in Yemen Sends a Message to Other Dictators (KRISHNADEV CALAMUR,  DEC 4, 2017, The Atlantic)

Saleh's apparent death, six years after Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi was killed and his body paraded on the streets of his hometown of Sirte, will send a signal to strongmen around the world, most notably Syria's Bashar al-Assad. Assad is more firmly in control of Syria than at any point since the civil war began in March 2011. But his rule, despite military and diplomatic support from Russia and Iran, is fragile. Syria's Arab neighbors and Turkey all want him gone--as does the United States. As long as he remains in power, instability will almost certainly remain a feature of Syrian politics and life. But the fate of Saleh and Qaddafi before him is a powerful example of what dictators most fear--not just losing their power, but losing their lives. Assad could thus cling closer to his political benefactors in order to ensure he doesn't meet the same fate.

After Saddam Hussein, who was hanged in Iraq in 2006, and Qaddafi, Saleh is the third former Arab dictator to be killed following a regime change in the region. Other longtime Arab leaders, from Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, were also ousted in the Arab uprisings of 2011, but survived. Where leaders clung on to power in the face of protests, such as in Syria and Bahrain, civil war and political unrest, respectively, have become the norm. And the fates of Hussein and Qaddafi, in particular, are believed to preoccupy another incumbent dictator outside the Middle East: Regional experts say Kim Jong Un accelerated his nuclear and missile programs in part because both leaders, after giving up such programs, saw their regimes and their lives ended. They say he sees these weapons as an insurance policy against ending up like them.

Saleh never possessed weapons of mass destruction. But in the nearly four decades since he assumed the presidency in 1978 of what was then North Yemen, he consolidated his power and that of his family. At various points, he allied with Saudi Arabia, the United States in its war on terrorism, and Saddam. But as the Arab Spring swept through the region, his hold on power became tenuous. Protests against him grew, he barely survived an assassination attempt, and agreed in 2012 to hand over power to his deputy, Abd Rabbu-Mansour Hadi.

Things might have stayed that way had it not been for the Houthis.

Posted by orrinj at 12:20 PM


ABC News Chief EVISCERATES Staff Over Michael Flynn Error, Tape Reveals (EMILY ZANOTTI December 5, 2017, dAILY wIRE)

ABC News president James Goldston was caught on tape laying into his own staff on Monday, excoriating reporters - and especially chief investigative reporter Brian Ross - for getting their facts wrong in a story about Michael Flynn's dealings with the FBI. [...]

"I don't think ever in my career have I felt more rage and disappointment and frustration that I felt through this weekend and through the last half of Friday," Goldston told the ABC newsroom.

"I don't even know how many times we've talked about this, how many times we have talked about the need to get it right," he added. "That how we have to be right and not first. About how in this particular moment, with the stakes as high as these stakes are right now, we cannot afford to get it wrong."

Posted by orrinj at 12:17 PM


Roy Moore suggests George Soros is headed to hell  (JTA, 12/05/17) 

Roy Moore, the controversial Alabama Senate candidate endorsed by President Donald Trump, said George Soros' agenda is "not our American culture" and suggested the Jewish billionaire philanthropist was headed to hell.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


Doctor out sick? A substitute physician is no worse for patients' health (MAX BLAU, DECEMBER 5, 2017, Stat)

It's long been thought that hospitalized patients are better off getting treatment from full-time doctors instead of temp physicians. Those temps are called in to cover for doctors' sick days, vacation, or staff vacancies. But new research finds that a doctor's employment status may have little to do with quality of care.

Doctors who are employed under short-term contracts -- called locum tenens (Latin for "to hold a place") -- provided a similar level of care as staff doctors, a study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association found. Researchers came to that conclusion after analyzing 1.8 million Medicare patients hospitalized between 2009 and 2014 who were treated by general internists. No significant difference in 30-day mortality rates was seen between patients treated by temp physicians compared to those treated by staff physicians.

Posted by orrinj at 8:51 AM


Why You Should Surround Yourself With More Books Than You'll Ever Have Time to Read
An overstuffed bookcase (or e-reader) says good things about your mind. (Jessica Stillman , 12/05/17, Inc.)

[A]uthor and statistician Nassim Nicholas] Taleb writes:

A private library is not an ego-boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real-estate market allows you to put there. You will accumulate more knowledge and more books as you grow older, and the growing number of unread books on the shelves will look at you menacingly. Indeed, the more you know, the larger the rows of unread books. Let us call this collection of unread books an antilibrary.

An antilibrary is a powerful reminder of your limitations - the vast quantity of things you don't know, half know, or will one day realize you're wrong about. By living with that reminder daily you can nudge yourself towards the kind of intellectual humility that improves decision-making and drives learning.

"People don't walk around with anti-résumés telling you what they have not studied or experienced (it's the job of their competitors to do that), but it would be nice if they did," Taleb claims.

Why? Perhaps because it is a well known psychological fact that is the most incompetent who are the most confident of their abilities and the most intelligent who are full of doubt. (Really, it's called the Dunning-Kruger effect). It's equally well established that the more readily admit you don't know things, the faster you learn.

So stop beating yourself up for buying too many books or for having a to-read list that you could never get through in three lifetimes. All those books you haven't read are indeed a sign of your ignorance. But if you know how ignorant you are, you're way ahead of the vast majority of other people.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Deutsche Bank receives subpoena from Mueller on Trump accounts: source (Reuters, 12/05/17) 
Special Counsel Robert Mueller has asked Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) to share data on accounts held by U.S. President Donald Trump and his family, a person close to the matter said on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Congressman Conyers to retire after harassment accusations: reports (Reuters, 12/05/17) 

U.S. congressman John Conyers, the longest serving member of the House of Representatives, will announce on Tuesday he does not plan to run for re-election, U.S. media said following accusations of sexual harassment against the Michigan Democrat.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 AM


Flynn's Plea Raises New Questions About Whether Trump Obstructed Justice : Before firing then-FBI Director James Comey, the president reportedly asked him not to prosecute the former national-security adviser. (ADAM SERWER  DEC 1, 2017, The Atlantic)

Trump fired Comey in May, and has said publicly that he was considering the Russia investigation when he did so; that fueled allegations of obstruction of justice. A week after Comey's firing, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel, granting him a broad mandate to investigate crimes related to Russian interference, including potential obstruction.

"If it turns out that General Flynn has information implicating Mr. Trump in a crime, there's now a much stronger inference that Mr. Trump was obstructing justice if he asked Comey to let the investigation of General Flynn go," said Bruce Green, a law professor at Fordham University and a former associate special counsel in the Iran-Contra affair.

According to the statement of the offense Mueller issued, Flynn informed a senior member of the Trump transition team on December 29, 2016, that Kislyak had contacted him. During that conversation, they discussed that senior members of the transition team did not want Russia "to escalate the situation" with regard to sanctions. On January 24, four days after Trump took office, Flynn attempted to mislead federal investigators looking into the matter. Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified to Congress that she warned the White House that Flynn had been compromised by those conversations on January 26, four days before she was fired for ordering Justice Department officials not to defend Trump's newly issued travel ban. Flynn was not forced to resign until February 13, after his conversations with Kislyak were reported in the press.

"Many points that might form the basis of an obstruction case flow through Flynn," said Clinton Watts, a former FBI special agent who is currently a fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. "President Obama warned Trump about Flynn before he took office. Yates contacted the White House about Flynn and was fired shortly after. Trump pressured Comey about Flynn and then later fired him." [...]

But Flynn's plea could be even more perilous for another, even closer presidential adviser: Jared Kushner, who is also the president's son-in-law. According to The Daily Beast,  Kushner "best fits the description" of the senior transition official with whom Flynn discussed his outreach to Kislyak. NBC News reported Friday afternoon that Kushner is indeed the senior transition official named in the document. If it was Kushner, his own statements to investigators will be closely scrutinized.  

"If Mr. Trump knew that Flynn met with the Russian ambassador at Mr. Kushner's request and then lied about it, one can assume that Mr. Trump wanted to shut down the FBI investigation to protect his son-in-law more than Flynn," Green said.

"It's now clearer that Trump was aware--or certainly should have been aware--that a continuing investigation of Flynn would bring things closer to him and his family, as it now has," said a former Justice Department official. "So it's not merely that a continuing investigation might serve as a continuing distraction, or be a source of political embarrassment. It's that it could point to the involvement--and potential criminal liability--for him and members of his family. It goes to motive, which is not something that the prosecutor needs to prove, but it sure makes life easier in making and proving [a] case."

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 AM


Netanyahu Ditches US Jews for alliance with Christian Evangelicals and the Alt-right (Jonathan Cook., 12/05/17, Middle East Online)

Jews in the US mostly subscribe to the progressive tenets of a liberal secularism or Reform Judaism. In Israel, by contrast, the hard-line Orthodox rule supreme on religious matters.

Since the 1967 occupation, Israel's Orthodox rabbis have controlled prayers at the Western Wall, marginalising women and other streams of Judaism. That has deeply offended Jewish opinion in the US.

Trapped between American donors and Israel's powerful rabbis, Netanyahu initially agreed to create a mixed prayer space at the wall for non-Orthodox Jews. But as opposition mounted at home over the summer, he caved in. The shock waves are still reverberating.

Avraham Infeld, a veteran Israeli liaison with the US Jewish community, told the Haaretz newspaper this week that the crisis in relations was "unprecedented". American Jews have concluded "Israel doesn't give a damn about them".

Now a close ally of Netanyahu's has stoked the fires. In a TV interview last month, Tzipi Hotovely, the deputy foreign minister, all but accused American Jews of being freeloaders. She condemned their failure to fight in the US or Israeli militaries, saying they preferred "convenient lives".

Her comments caused uproar. They echo those of leading Orthodox rabbis, who argue that Reform Jews are not real Jews - and are possibly even an enemy.

According to a report in the Israeli far-right newspaper Makor Rishon, which is owned by Sheldon Adelson, a US casino billionaire and Netanyahu's patron, the Israeli prime minister set out his rationale for sacrificing the support of liberal Jews overseas at a recent closed-door meeting with officials.

He reportedly told them that non-Orthodox Jews would disappear in "one or two generations" through low birth rates, intermarriage and more general assimilation. Liberal Jews were a "lost cause" in his view, and wedded to a worldview that was incompatible with Israel's future.

Both on demographic and ideological grounds, he added, Israel should invest in cultivating stronger ties to Orthodox Jews and Christian evangelicals.

Evangelicals can not ultimately support racism over democracy, despite the fetish.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Russia expects new sanctions to further sour its ties with U.S. in 2018: RIA (Reuters, 12/05/17)

Moscow expects new complications in its relationship with the United States in early 2018 because of possible new U.S. sanctions on Russia, the RIA news agency cited Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as saying on Tuesday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 AM


Yemen's chaos deepens after rebels kill ex-president Saleh (AHMED AL-HAJ and MAGGIE MICHAEL, 12/05/17, Times of Israel)

Saleh's slaying likely gives the rebels the upper hand in the days-long fighting for Sana'a while also shattering hopes by Yemen's Saudi-backed government that the former president's recent split with the Iranian-backed rebels, known as Houthis, would have weakened them.

The only question is the size and boundaries of Houthistan.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Israel again fires missiles at Syria site: Observatory (Al Jazeera, 12/05/17)

Israel again fired missiles at a Syrian military facility near Damascus late on Monday, according to a war monitor, the second reported Israeli strike in Syria in the past week.

Syrian forces responded by firing anti-aircraft missiles at Israeli jets, Lebanese news channel Al-Mayadeen reported, adding the Israeli attack targeted a scientific research centre near Jamraya on the outskirts of the Syrian capital.

Getting Israel to fight Assad is nearly as savvy as getting Assad and Putin to fight ISIS for us.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


The 10 Events You Need To Know To Understand The Michael Flynn Story (Miles Parks, 12/05/17, NPR)

1. President Obama sanctions Russia

On Dec. 28, 2016, then-President Obama ejects 35 Russian diplomats from the United States and introduces new sanctions against a number of Russian security services and individuals.

The move is retribution for Russia's interference in the 2016 election, detailed in the unclassified summary of a highly classified report by the intelligence community early in the new year.

2. Flynn confers with transition officials and talks sanctions with Russia

On Dec. 29, Flynn speaks with the Russian ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, as well as a "senior official" of the presidential transition team, according to court documents in Flynn's case.

The documents describe how Flynn spoke his colleague in the administration-in-waiting -- identified by some outlets as former deputy national security adviser K.T. McFarland -- about what to tell the Russian ambassador about the sanctions. Then he spoke with Kislyak on the phone.

"Flynn called the Russian ambassador and requested that Russia not escalate the situation and only respond to the U.S. sanctions in a reciprocal manner," say the court documents. The Trump camp wants to offer Moscow the prospect for a better relationship once Trump is inaugurated.

On Dec. 31, Kislyak calls Flynn back and says Russia indeed will not escalate, as he asked. Russian President Vladimir Putin confirms that with a public announcement, which Trump hails on Twitter. [...]

9. Trump fires Comey

On May 9, Trump fires Comey, saying in an interview two days later that the FBI director was a "showboat" and a "grandstander."

Trump also mentions the FBI's Russia investigation, which Comey was leading -- "this Russia thing," as Trump calls it.

December 4, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 PM


Sessions argued in Clinton impeachment that presidents can obstruct justice (KYLE CHENEY, 12/04/2017, pOLITICO)

In 1999, Sessions - then an Alabama senator - laid out an impassioned case for President Bill Clinton to be removed from office based on the argument that Clinton obstructed justice amid the investigation into his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.

"The facts are disturbing and compelling on the President's intent to obstruct justice," he said, according to remarks in the congressional record.

Sessions isn't alone. More than 40 current GOP members of Congress voted for the impeachment or removal of Clinton from office for obstruction of justice. They include Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell - who mounted his own passionate appeal to remove Clinton from office for obstruction of justice - Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley and Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, who was a House member at the time.

Posted by orrinj at 7:12 PM


Remembering Stalin's Hunger : Review: 'Red Famine' by Anne Applebaum (Joseph Bottum, December 2, 2017, Free Beacon)

Just as starvation follows a familiar course in each individual, so food shortages all follow a recognizable pattern. As Amartya Sen showed in his classic 1981 study, Poverty and Famines, government is a primary cause of scarcity. Modern famines aren't acts of God so much as acts of politics: born of the actions and inactions of distant officials, the incompetence and cupidity of local administrators, and, perhaps most of all, the imposition of bad policy at the highest reaches of power.

Here in 2017, the centennial of the Russian Revolution, Applebaum insists that we look again at how the Ukrainian famine was allowed to begin and how it was allowed to continue. The particulars she relates are fascinating, but, as Sen would have predicted, the overall story traces a murderous arc that ought to be familiar: the death of millions in the exercise of tyrannical power. When we forget what Communist tyranny did, we forget why we must always resist its return.

In the battles that followed the Bolshevik revolution, the system of Soviet  republics slowly emerged in part as Lenin's way to coopt the peasants and tie them to the Russian government that was determined to keep the breadbasket of Ukrainian territory within the new Communist territory. Stalin began his own rule by expanding the policy, allowing Ukraine to keep some distinctive national elements.

By 1927, however, Stalin felt the political situation had become both more secure and more fragile. International threats loomed large in the Russian mind, even while greater controls over the population allowed large-scale attempts to modernize the Soviet republics. The peasants as a class, especially the richer peasants known as kulaks, resisted Communist efforts and thereby seemed in league with foreign powers. So Stalin began confiscating land to form collective farms.

It was, in conception, a political masterstroke, aimed at solving all his problems at once. Forcing the peasants to join collective farms would disempower the kulaks and thereby weaken Ukrainian identity. Collectivization promised a uniform modernizing of agriculture, which would increase yields across the Soviet empire. Even more, it would allow greater state control of agriculture--providing Moscow with Ukrainian food to distribute to less treasonous Soviet areas, ensuring their loyalty to Moscow. The collective farms would even provide grain that could be sold abroad, bringing in the cash necessary for Stalin's radical plans to build a modern industrial base for the Soviet Union.

Unfortunately, the farming population resisted, which Stalin took as sedition. Brutal police enforcers from the cities were sent in to punish the peasants, killing anyone they suspected of hiding grain and confiscating even the seed they needed for the next planting. And so the familiar tale of modern famine began to march toward its inevitable conclusion. "Starvation," Applebaum points out, "was the result of the forcible removal of food from peoples' home; roadblocks that prevented peasants seeing work or food; blacklists imposed on farms and villages."

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


McFarland Contradicted Herself on Russia Contacts, Congressional Testimony Shows (Michael S. Schmidt and Sharon LaFraniere, Dec. 4, 2017, NY Times)

An email sent during the transition by President Trump's former deputy national security adviser, K.T. McFarland, appears to contradict the testimony she gave to Congress over the summer about contacts between the Russian ambassador and Mr. Trump's former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

Ms. McFarland had told lawmakers that she did not discuss or know anything about interactions between Sergey I. Kislyak, who had been Moscow's ambassador to the United States, and Mr. Flynn, according to Senate documents.

But emails obtained by The New York Times appear to undermine those statements. In a Dec. 29 message about newly imposed Obama administration sanctions against Russia for its election interference, Ms. McFarland, then serving on Mr. Trump's transition team, told another transition official that Mr. Flynn would be talking to the Russian ambassador that evening.

Emails Dispute White House Claims That Flynn Acted Independently on Russia (Michael S. Schmidt, Sharon LaFraniere and Scott Shane, Dec. 2, 2017, NY Times)

On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump's victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, "which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him," she wrote in the emails obtained by The Times.

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Why Trump's Lawyer is Dead Wrong on Obstruction of Justice (Daniel Hemel, December 4, 2017, JustSecurity)

President Donald Trump's personal lawyer, John Dowd, now claims that the president "cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer" under Article II of the Constitution. Dowd's remarks, reported Monday morning by Axios, have little basis in text or history, and they fly in the face of a decades-old bipartisan consensus: the obstruction of justice statutes indeed apply to the president.

As Eric Posner and I note in a forthcoming California Law Review article, obstruction of justice is a crime with roots in the nation's founding. The Declaration of Independence charged King George III with "obstruct[ing] the administration of justice, by refusing his assent to the laws for establishing judiciary powers." That alone is evidence that the founding generation did not believe that heads of state were immune from obstruction charges. And while Article II instructs the president to "take care that the laws be faithfully executed," that does not give him carte blanche to wield his law enforcement powers any way he chooses. [...]

While the Clinton impeachment was controversial, the claim that the obstruction statutes applied to the president was not. The House Judiciary Committee's report said that the first article of impeachment against Nixon had established a "clear precedent" that a president who used his position of power to obstruct the administration of justice committed an impeachable offense. Clinton's defenders quickly conceded that the obstruction statutes applied to the president. A group of more than 400 law professors sent a letter to Congress opposing impeachment but acknowledging that "[a] President who corruptly used the Federal Bureau of Investigation to obstruct an investigation would have criminally exercised his presidential powers."

Posted by orrinj at 9:34 AM


Trump's Lawyer Claims the President Is Above the Law (Jonathan Chait, 12/04/17, New York)

[T]rump continues to make it chillingly clear that his unceasing attacks upon the system are neither accidental nor a mistake borne of naïvete. Trump believes he commands the government with the same totality he commands his business. His lawyer, John Dowd, has elevated this assumption to official presidential doctrine in an explosive interview with Mike Allen. A "president cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief law enforcement officer under [the Constitution's Article II] and has every right to express his view of any case," he says.

It is easy to hyperventilate about various Trumpian offenses, but Dowd is claiming on Trump's behalf virtual immunity from the law. The powers he is asserting, and the dangers it would bring, have almost no limit.

...but obviously wrong as regards impeachment.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Office holiday parties get another look as scandals continue (MARLEY JAY, 12/04/17, AP) 

With a series of high-profile workplace sex scandals on their minds, employers are making sure their holiday office parties don't become part of the problem.

There will be less booze at many. An independent business organization has renewed its annual warning not to hang mistletoe. [...]

"As soon as you introduce alcohol at an off-site activity, peoples' guards are dropped," said Ed Yost, manager of employee relations and development for the Society for Human Resource Management based in Alexandria, Virginia. "It's presumed to be a less formal, more social environment. Some people will drink more than they typically would on a Friday night or a Saturday because it's an open bar or a free cocktail hour."


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THE URBAN REVIVAL IS AN URBAN MYTH, AND THE SUBURBS ARE SURGING (Joel Kotkin and Alan Berger 12/04/2017, New Geography)

Cities are about people. Where they move suggests their reasonable aspirations.

Even when Levittown was being built 70 years ago, there has always been a portion of the population -- particularly the young, well-educated, affluent and often childless -- that craves the density and excitement of downtown (CBD) life. But this group -- heavy with members of the media -- consequently attracts vastly outsized attention.

In fact, 151 million people live in America's suburbs and exurbs, more than six times the 25 million people who live in the urban cores (defined as CBDs with employment density of 20,000+ people per square mile, or places with a population density of 7,500+ people per square mile--the urban norm before the advent of the automobile) of the 53 metropolitan areas with populations over one million.

In fact, ten of those 53 metropolitan areas (including Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix and San Antonio) have no urban core at all by this measure, according to demographer Wendell Cox. The New York City metropolitan area is America's only one where more people live in the urban core than in the suburbs -- and it's about an even split there.

In the last decade, about 90% of U.S. population growth has been in suburbs and exurbs, with CBDs accounting for .8% of growth and the entire urban corps for roughly 10%. In this span, population growth of some of the most alluring core cities -- New York, Chicago, Philadelphia--- has declined considerably. Manhattan and Brooklyn, have both seen their rate of growth decline by more than 85% since 2011. Nationally, core counties lost over 300,000 net domestic migrants In 2016 (with immigrants replacing some some of those departees), while their suburbs gained nearly 250,000.

Three key groups -- seniors, minorities and millennials -- all prefer the suburbs.

December 3, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 5:33 PM


Operative Offered Trump Campaign 'Kremlin Connection' Using N.R.A. Ties (NICHOLAS FANDOS, DECEMBER 3, 2017, NY Times)

A conservative operative trumpeting his close ties to the National Rifle Association and Russia told a Trump campaign adviser last year that he could arrange a back-channel meeting between Donald J. Trump and Vladimir V. Putin, the Russian president, according to an email sent to the Trump campaign.

A May 2016 email to the campaign adviser, Rick Dearborn, bore the subject line "Kremlin Connection." In it, the N.R.A. member said he wanted the advice of Mr. Dearborn and Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, then a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Trump and Mr. Dearborn's longtime boss, about how to proceed in connecting the two leaders.

Russia, he wrote, was "quietly but actively seeking a dialogue with the U.S." and would attempt to use the N.R.A.'s annual convention in Louisville, Ky., to make " 'first contact.' "

No one can be surprised the NRA is anti-American.

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


Trump, Defending Himself After Flynn Guilty Plea, Says F.B.I. Is in 'Tatters' (Michael D. Shear, Dec. 3, 2017, NY Times)

In an extraordinary attack on the top law enforcement body in his own government, Mr. Trump accused the F.B.I. and its career investigators of having a bias against him.

He said in a tweet that the agency's reputation was in ruins because of Mr. Comey's tenure, during which the F.B.I. conducted what he called the "phony and dishonest" investigation into the private email server used by his rival in the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton.

...for pursuing a fake inquiry; it was a congressional referral.

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'There can be no second Putin': Russia looks to prospect of future without Vladimir as sources say he has considered quitting (Oliver Carroll, 18 November 2017, Independent)

From interviews with academics, government and near-government players, some anonymous, The Independent can reveal a picture of intense uncertainty at the heart of power.

It is a picture that shows the President's grip on the Kremlin to be as strong as ever - but only because it needs to be.

Vladimir Putin is, sources say, tired. And he is reluctant to engage in a major national election - again. The campaign will be reduced to a bare minimum; there will be no repeat of the exhausting test of the 2011-2012 elections, when Mr Putin declared his candidacy six months early. [...]

Squaring the digital narrative with the analogue reality of an ageing leader is where things get difficult. The recession may be over, but most Russians have experienced four years of declining real terms income. There has been a fundamental shift in public mood that, according to polls, favours change over stability.

The Kremlin has not been able to agree on a serious programme of reform in response, says Valery Solovei, a professor of the Moscow State Institute for International Relations. Indeed, the election offer has already been scaled back. Rather than projecting a confident future, the promise is now on improving productivity and efficiency.

"There is a growing sense that this election is less about the future, as it is about the end," said Mr Solovei.

Gleb Pavlovsky, a former Kremlin advisor and head of the Effective Politics Foundation, told The Independent that the regime was entering a "terminal" phase. "Whichever way you play it, this campaign is about transitioning to a post-Putin Russia," he said.  

Sanctions and Syria could hardly have worked out better.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Trump alters story on why he fired Flynn (CALVIN WOODWARD and KEN THOMAS, 12/02/17, AP)

Doing so suggests the president knew at the time that Flynn had done something that is against the law, and therefore the investigation could not be as frivolous as he's been portraying.

It's also unclear how he would know that, if information about Russian contacts had not reached him, as he has been implying in his own defense.

Flynn left the White House in February, only acknowledging that he had given an incomplete account to Pence of his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. After Trump forced Flynn out, he asked FBI Director James Comey to end the bureau's probe in the matter, according to Comey's account. Comey refused, and Trump fired him, too.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Trump pulls United States out of UN migration pact (Deutsche-Welle, 12/03/17)

The non-binding declaration includes a set of pledges to protect migrants, foster migrant integration, develop guidelines on the treatment of vulnerable migrants and strengthen global governance of migration, among other issues.

Always fun when the nativists pretend it is not immigration they object to, just the current imbalance of where they come from. Then the hood slips...

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 AM


Study: One-third of U.S. Workers Will Be Replaced by Robots by 2030 (Danielle Paquette, 12/03/17, The Washington Post)

Over the next 13 years, the rising tide of automation will force as many as 70 million workers in the United States to find another way to make money, a new study from the global consultancy McKinsey predicts.

....not determine how it should be distributed.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Ireland by Train (Patti Nickell, 12/03/17, Lexington Herald-Leader)

There is something about trains that has captivated me since childhood. Maybe it's the gentle rocking back and forth as it crisscrosses the country; maybe it's the mournful sound of the train's whistle in the night, with its promise of places yet to be seen -- and perhaps, best of all, it's the knowledge that I'm not squeezed into a seat on a plane.

Alas, living in the U.S., I'm not able to indulge my passion for trains much, which makes it all the more wonderful when I'm somewhere where I can. That most recent somewhere was Ireland, and the train wasn't your common garden variety type, but the Belmond Grand Hibernian.

Officially launched in August of 2016, the Grand Hibernian is a sister train of other Belmond acquisitions, the Venice-Simplon Orient Express and the Royal Scotsman. Often referred to as "country houses on rails," they embody the very essence of luxurious train travel.

I left Dublin's Heuston Station for a two-night Taste of Ireland tour (north to Belfast on the first day and south again to Cork on the second), but there is also a four-night Loughs and Legends, or the two itineraries can be combined for a real Irish adventure.

I found that many of those onboard didn't really care where they were going; it was the train itself that was the appeal.

December 2, 2017

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Start at
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Emails Dispute White House Claims That Flynn Acted Independently on Russia (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, SHARON LaFRANIERE and SCOTT SHANE, DECEMBER 2, 2017, NY Times)

[E]mails among top transition officials, provided or described to The New York Times, suggest that Mr. Flynn was far from a rogue actor. In fact, the emails, coupled with interviews and court documents filed on Friday, showed that Mr. Flynn was in close touch with other senior members of the Trump transition team both before and after he spoke with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak, about American sanctions against Russia.

While Mr. Trump has disparaged as a Democratic "hoax" any claims that he or his aides had unusual interactions with Russian officials, the records suggest that the Trump transition team was intensely focused on improving relations with Moscow and was willing to intervene to pursue that goal despite a request from the Obama administration that it not sow confusion about official American policy before Mr. Trump took office.

On Dec. 29, a transition adviser to Mr. Trump, K. T. McFarland, wrote in an email to a colleague that sanctions announced hours before by the Obama administration in retaliation for Russian election meddling were aimed at discrediting Mr. Trump's victory. The sanctions could also make it much harder for Mr. Trump to ease tensions with Russia, "which has just thrown the U.S.A. election to him," she wrote in the emails obtained by The Times.

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The Arabs need us to support democracy (ELLIOTT ABRAMS, December 2017 / January 2018, Standpoint)

Do Arabs even want democracy, in the sense in which we use the term? What do we mean by it, first of all? A system in which the citizens of a state participate in ruling themselves through regular, contested elections to select officials; a system of impartial justice, where judges are independent; respect for basic human rights such as freedom of speech, press, and assembly; protection of certain rights from majoritarian rule through constitutional provisions. If we start with these, it is very hard to argue that (with exceptions I will explain) Arabs do not want them, and would prefer living in states where the police are free to grab you from your home, beat you, and jail you -- or would prefer living in states where a dictator steals a vast fortune, makes his son his successor, and silences anyone who complains about it. And indeed, repeated and respectable surveys do show that Arabs want democracy. The "Arab Barometer" series of polls and those by the Pew Research Center have given strong evidence of this for over a decade. The country-by-country series of surveys of opinion, Five Years After the Uprisings, conducted in 2016 by Arab Barometer found, for example, that respondents agreeing that "despite its problems, democracy is better than all other political systems" reached 86 per cent in Tunisia, 79 per cent in Morocco, 84 per cent in Lebanon, 86 per cent in Jordan, and 74 per cent in Algeria.

But will Arab democracies be "illiberal democracies," where majority rule will be the means of imposing constraints on freedom? They will, in two areas: religion and sexual matters, to a degree. Neither the French style of laïcisme nor the American pattern of state neutrality will be acceptable in Arab states, where Islam will clearly have a special position. Religious tolerance is a necessary goal, but expecting absolute neutrality between Islam and other religions (or irreligion) is unrealistic. And as to sexual mores, gender roles, while changing, are doing so slowly; true equality of males and females is distant; an end to discrimination against homosexuality is not in sight. Beyond these areas, it is reasonable to expect Arab democracies to meet the standard Western definitions of what democracy means.

The Tunisia case does suggest that democracy is possible, and it has been achieved in other Muslim states around the world, from Senegal to Indonesia. The very great obstacles to achieving democracy tell us that the struggle will be long and arduous -- but that does not explain why Westerners might be indifferent or even hostile to the argument for promoting democracy in the Arab Middle East. That is explained by a different matter: the so-called "security dilemma".

The concept is not new. During the Cold War, the United States and its allies often overlooked the abuses of dictatorial regimes because they were on "our side" against the Soviets. Anti-Communism was all the argument they needed to secure Western support, and human rights abuses were greeted with silence or mild reproofs. The purported dilemma was that if the dictators were overthrown and political openings followed, the Communists might take power. This did indeed happen in Cuba in 1959 and Nicaragua in 1979, so the argument was not entirely without force.

But over time this approach was jettisoned, in part as leaders concluded that the dictators' abuses might actually inspire support for Communism: announcing the Alliance for Progress (to promote development in Latin America) in 1962, John F. Kennedy said: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Reagan, as staunch an anti-Communist as ever existed, helped push out Marcos in the Philippines, Pinochet in Chile and Chun Doo-hwan in South Korea, among other dictators, because he understood that point. 

Good in so far as it goes, but the neocons remain confused about the democratic nature of Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood.

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After news broke Friday that Flynn had pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his contacts with Russia's ambassador during the 2016 campaign and is cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller, White House lawyer Ty Cobb released a statement attempting to distance the administration from Flynn.

The statement refers to Flynn as a "former Obama administration official" who worked at Trump's White House for 25 days. Cobb says Flynn's lies "mirror the false statements to White House officials," which led to his resignation in February. 

'I took it as a direction': Comey testifies on crucial Valentine's Day meeting with Trump (CHRISTOPHER BRENNAN, June 8, 2017,NY Daily News)

Trump allegedly asked everyone to leave so he could have a one-on-one with Comey before bringing up the investigation into disgraced National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and saying "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go."

Posted by orrinj at 8:36 AM


Exclusive - Mideast nuclear plan backers bragged of support of top Trump aide Flynn (Warren Strobel, Nathan Layne, Jonathan Landay, 12/02/17, Reuters) 

Backers of a U.S.-Russian plan to build nuclear reactors across the Middle East bragged after the U.S. election they had backing from Donald Trump's national security adviser Michael Flynn for a project that required lifting sanctions on Russia, documents reviewed by Reuters show. [...]

"Donald Trump's election as president is a game changer because Trump's highest foreign policy priority is to stabilise U.S. relations with Russia which are now at a historical low-point," ACU's managing director, Alex Copson, wrote in a Nov. 16, 2016 email to potential business partners, eight days after the election.

18 U.S. Code § 2381 - Treason

Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Google Just Bought Enough Wind Power to Offset 100% of Its Energy Use (Grace Donnelly, December 1, 2017, Fortune)

Google will buy 536 megawatts of wind power, adding to the company's already large supply, making it the biggest corporate purchaser of renewable energy, according to a statement Thursday.

The Alphabet subsidiary will purchase wind energy from four different power plants: two in South Dakota, one in Iowa and one in Oklahoma.

Google announced at the end of last year that it would reach 100% renewable energy in 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 7:22 AM


Senate Passes Sweeping Republican Tax Overhaul Bill (Jim Tankersley, Thomas Kaplan and Alan Rappeport, Dec. 1, 2017, NY Times)

Mr. Corker was alarmed by the projections. But many of his colleagues greeted them with distrust, both because they expected tax cuts to generate more robust economic growth than the forecasters projected and because they felt burned by unflattering analyses of their health care proposals issued this year by the Congressional Budget Office.

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Israel fires missiles at Syria military post near Damascus (Ellen Francis, Tom Perry and Dan Williams, 12/02/17, Independent)

Israeli missiles struck a military position near Damascus and Syria's air defence system responded on Saturday, destroying two of them, Syrian state television said.

"The Israeli enemy launched...several surface-to-surface missiles towards a military position," it said, adding there had been "material losses at the site.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


We Must Save Israel From Its Government (Ehud Barak, Dec. 1, 2017, NY Times)

For anyone who cares about Israel, this is no time for niceties. What we need now is plain speaking, even pained speaking -- and action. For all of Israel's great achievements in its seven decades of statehood, our country now finds its very future, identity and security severely threatened by the whims and illusions of the ultranationalist government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

In its more than three years in power, this government has been irrational, bordering on messianic. It is now increasingly clear where it is headed: creeping annexation of the West Bank aimed at precluding any permanent separation from the Palestinians.

This "one-state solution" that the government is leading Israel toward is no solution at all. It will inevitably turn Israel into a state that is either not Jewish or not democratic (and possibly not either one), mired in permanent violence. This prospect is an existential danger for the entire Zionist project.

That's the reason they're cozying up to regimes that oppress their populations and oppose democratic regimes and movements.

December 1, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM



One person close to the Trumps believes that as loyal as the president is to his family, the first priority always has been, and will continue to be, his own survival. "This is about his legacy. His legacy is on the line," this person told me recently, referring to the president. "If you think he's going to tie himself to the kid, you don't know anything. And people who say that his love for [Ivanka] means he'll stand by [Jared]--the truth of the matter is he left them once before," this person added, referring to his divorce from Ivana Trump in the 1990s. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:04 PM


Battle may be brewing in Sinai between al-Qaeda, IS groups (Al Monitor, December 1, 2017)

In an audio recording released Nov. 11, al-Qaeda adherent Jund al-Islam declared war on much larger Wilayat Sinai, which is associated with IS, and claimed responsibility for the Oct. 11 attack on a Wilayat Sinai vehicle that killed the four passengers. Jund al-Islam is vowing to eradicate Wilayat Sinai members if they do not repent and abandon what it calls "Baghdadi law," which it says violates Sharia in part because it targets civilians and fellow Muslims.

Though no group has come forward yet, Wilayat Sinai is a top suspect in the Nov. 24 bombing and shooting attack on a Sinai mosque that killed more than 300 people and injured at least 100. Area villagers reported Wilayat Sinai had threated them a week before the attack.

Jund al-Islam also declared war on the Egyptian army, which it described as an "apostate." 

All against the Salafi...including the Salafi...
Posted by orrinj at 12:07 PM


Posted by orrinj at 12:02 PM


Fiscal reform lessons from the Anglosphere (Alex Brill, Sean Speer, December 1, 2017, Real Clear Policy)

The Anglosphere countries have all been confronted with fiscal crises due to overspending, high debt levels, and a political tendency to put off reform. [...]

 In each case, fiscal reforms mostly focused on government spending rather tax hikes. The economic and social outcomes were generally positive. Anti-austerity warnings failed to materialize. The "fiscal dividend" resulting from greater budgetary discipline enabled a raft of positive economic reforms, including lowering personal and corporate tax rates. The main takeaway is that well-designed fiscal reform can be part of a pro-growth, pro-opportunity agenda.

More specifically, the experience of these Anglosphere countries offers U.S. policymakers five common lessons:

1. Transparency is essential to secure public support for fiscal reform. Reformers must be clear about the scope of the problem and build broad-based support for proportionate solutions. Fiscal reform cannot be a single-party issue.

2. Clear fiscal rules, targets, and criteria can strengthen political will and demonstrate progress to the public. Bogus accounting or arithmetic complexity reduces the chance that reforms will be successful.

3. Focus on reforming government spending rather than resorting to higher taxes. Raising taxes will only dampen economic growth and exacerbate the government's fiscal challenges at the precise moment that dynamism and growth are needed.

4. Fiscal reform must involve a clear-eyed review of all government spending. That means no ring-fencing of the defense budget or carve-outs for favored social services.

5. Fiscal reform ought to be part of a broader agenda focused on reviving American dynamism and opportunity. Eliminating the budget deficit and stabilizing the debt are necessary but not sufficient steps toward a stronger U.S. economy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:52 AM


Syrian rebels shoot down regime helicopter near Israel border (AFP, 12/01/17)

"Rebel groups shot down a regime helicopter with a guided missile near the border with Lebanon and the (Israeli-) occupied Golan," said the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


ABC report on Flynn rocks Wall Street (Sruthi Shankar, 12/01/17, Reuters) 

U.S. stocks sank on Friday after ABC News reported former national security adviser Michael Flynn was prepared to tell investigators that Donald Trump directed him to make contact with Russians during last year's presidential elections.

The Statement of the Offense is devastating by itself, as the Trump team colluded with an enemy on how to deal with punitive sanctions.
Posted by orrinj at 8:35 AM


For some Russian oligarchs, sanctions risk makes Putin awkward to know (Darya Korsunskaya, Katya Golubkova and Gleb Stolyarov, 12/01/17, Reuters) 

The threat of new U.S. sanctions has spread anxiety among Russia's wealthiest people that their association with President Vladimir Putin could land them on a U.S. government blacklist, members of the business elite say. [...]

"People are on edge," said a senior figure in a major Russian company.

"If they classify you as close to Putin, just try proving it's not the case," the figure said. "The Americans' tactics are clear: they need to cause pain in all ways possible for those who support Putin."

While most of the business elite remains loyal to Putin, the prospect of personal sanctions -- which can prevent travel abroad or access to foreign bank accounts and freeze foreign assets -- has prompted some to steer clear, the sources said.

Fortunately, neither Vlad nor Donald understands America.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


White House maintenance orders reveal cockroaches, ants and mice infestations (JOHN BOWDEN, 11/30/17, The Hill)

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Trump reportedly says a government shutdown could help him (Erica Pandey, 12/01/17, Axios)

His rationale is reportedly that refusing to budge on immigration will curry favor with his base of supporters who were unhappy he struck a debt ceiling deal with Democrats in the fall.

He's probably not wrong that even the 20% that represents his base needs shoring up, but that won't help him.

Posted by orrinj at 5:40 AM


Trump Pressed Top Republicans to End Senate Russia Inquiry (JONATHAN MARTIN, MAGGIE HABERMAN and ALEXANDER BURNSNOV. 30, 2017, NY Times)

President Trump over the summer repeatedly urged senior Senate Republicans, including the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, to end the panel's investigation into Russia's interference in the 2016 election, according to a half dozen lawmakers and aides. Mr. Trump's requests were a highly unusual intervention from a president into a legislative inquiry involving his family and close aides.

Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina, the intelligence committee chairman, said in an interview this week that Mr. Trump told him that he was eager to see an investigation that has overshadowed much of the first year of his presidency come to an end.

"It was something along the lines of, 'I hope you can conclude this as quickly as possible,'" Mr. Burr said. He said he replied to Mr. Trump that "when we have exhausted everybody we need to talk to, we will finish."

In addition, according to lawmakers and aides, Mr. Trump told Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, and Senator Roy Blunt, Republican of Missouri and a member of the intelligence committee, to end the investigation swiftly.