December 31, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 10:34 PM


Is Putin Losing Control of Russia's Conservative Nationalists? (ALEXANDER BAUNOV, October 10, 2017, Foreign Affairs)

In recent years, Putin has been happy to inculcate a conservative, nationalist ideology in Russia, which much of the Russian Orthodox Church has supported. And he has encouraged protestors, worshippers, and ordinary Russians to propagate this creed to demonstrate that this is a grassroots movement, not something imposed from the top down by the Kremlin.

By doing so, however, Putin has undermined his own authority. In threatening the makers of an innocuous movie with violence and intimidating members of Russia's cultural elite, the conservative nationalist movement has demonstrated its ugly side, and Putin seems unable to stop it. Doing so would enrage the so-called patriotic part of the political establishment he has emboldened over the last few years.

Up until now, the Kremlin's standard domestic political model has been to lay out a general goal and allow lower levels of society to lead the way there. With the new movie, however, the model has malfunctioned, and the Kremlin is now forced to deal not with one extremist but with a full-blown social phenomenon.

The paradox of the Matilda controversy is that, if he so chose, Putin could halt Poklonskaya in her tracks. But once her grassroots initiative grew large enough for him to notice, it already had the backing of some of his Kremlin allies and associates with whom he does not want to pick a fight. (These include figures such as Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov, Putin's own confessor and an important link between the Church and Russian special services.) The cost of pacifying the anti-Matilda campaign is now sufficiently high that it could mean alienating many of his most ardent supporters.

Posted by orrinj at 10:24 PM


Iranian conservatives welcome protests, for now (Al-Monitor, December 31, 2017)

Some of the most interesting comments have been made by conservative officials and pundits who have all previously condemned protests, especially the 2009 Green Movement protests. Ahmad Tavakoli, a former parliamentarian and member of the Expediency Council, called the street protests "predictable" due to the administration's economic policies. He compared the policies to those of Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's presidency in the 1990s; Tavakoli called them "harsh policies," presumably referring to neoliberal economic measures to cut subsidies. 

Addressing the protests that started in Mashhad, former hard-line parliament member Hamid Rasaei accused media linked to Rouhani of censoring those who are "protesting the current situation." Mehdi Mohammadi, the former adviser to Saeed Jalili, a former nuclear negotiator under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, wrote that "protesting against economic difficulties is the right of the people." Conservative analyst Vahid Yaminpour tweeted, "It has been reported that the president has called an emergency meeting. I hope that before the security and intelligence ministers give their reports on how to quiet the protesters, the economic ministers will think about how to improve the current situation."

Posted by orrinj at 10:22 PM


Likud calls for annexation of parts of West Bank (A Jazeera, 12/31/17)

Israel's governing Likud party has approved a draft resolution urging its leaders to formally annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, a move that is expected to further anger Palestinians.

Posted by orrinj at 4:25 PM


Rouhani offers protesters 'space for criticism,' but warns against violence (AGENCIES and TOI STAFF, 12.31/17, Times Of Israel)

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani said Sunday that government bodies must provide "space for criticism," as he sought to head off days of unrest, but warned protesters that violence was unacceptable.

"Criticism is different to violence and destroying public property," he said in a cabinet meeting, according to the state broadcaster.

How Rouhani can use protests to advance reform (Mohammad Ali Shabani, December 31, 2017, Al Monitor)

The president has a unique opportunity to lead the way and transform a great challenge into a great opportunity.

First, his administration must act on its promises to provide outlets for the expression of grievances. There has been an increase in acceptance of differences of opinion in the discourse of the Islamic Republic, as seen in Rouhani's emphasis on his Citizens' Rights Charter and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's public recognition that there are Iranians who do not support the Islamic Republic (and even urging these constituencies to take part in elections). One important and tangible move would be to engage with other centers of power, including the judiciary and the security services, to realize promises to license peaceful protests. Even conservative voices such as the spokesman of the parliament's national security and foreign policy commission have urged the latter. It would be an astounding achievement for Rouhani to sow the seeds to produce what prominent member of parliament Ali Motahari has noted is lacking in Iran: namely, a "culture of protest."

Second, Rouhani should address the genuine economic grievances -- which also have to do with increased expectations stemming from his own promises -- by addressing concerns about the impact of the neoliberal aspects of his proposed budget bill. The latter includes reconsiderations of the schedule of subsidy cuts and to also open the door to new modes of wealth transfer.

Last but certainly not least, rather than allowing the protests to become a tool for his domestic opponents and an opportunity for radicals to reassert their relevance, Rouhani must engage with the supreme leader to convince him of the need to tackle unaccountable centers of power and money. The president fired an important salvo in this game when he published details of budget allocations and through his recent revelations about the undue influence of opaque actors on financial markets. In the view of some, that very salvo is what helped mobilize the current protests. But in the long run, if the opportunity before him is seized, Rouhani could have in his hands his perhaps greatest chance to confront the vested interests that are preventing his agenda for reform. 

December 30, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


State Dept. posts Huma Abedin emails found on Anthony Weiner's laptop (Zachary Cohen, 12/30/17, CNN)

The emails weren't marked as classified, though the FBI later found classified information contained in some emails recovered from Weiner's laptop.

...was always going to be fatal to the House GOP's charges.

Posted by orrinj at 12:14 PM


How the Russia Inquiry Began: A Campaign Aide, Drinks and Talk of Political Dirt (SHARON LaFRANIERE, MARK MAZZETTI and MATT APUZZODEC. 30, 2017, ny tIMES)

During a night of heavy drinking at an upscale London bar in May 2016, George Papadopoulos, a young foreign policy adviser to the Trump campaign, made a startling revelation to Australia's top diplomat in Britain: Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

About three weeks earlier, Mr. Papadopoulos had been told that Moscow had thousands of emails that would embarrass Mrs. Clinton, apparently stolen in an effort to try to damage her campaign.

Exactly how much Mr. Papadopoulos said that night at the Kensington Wine Rooms with the Australian, Alexander Downer, is unclear. But two months later, when leaked Democratic emails began appearing online, Australian officials passed the information about Mr. Papadopoulos to their American counterparts, according to four current and former American and foreign officials with direct knowledge of the Australians' role.

The hacking and the revelation that a member of the Trump campaign may have had inside information about it were driving factors that led the F.B.I. to open an investigation in July 2016 into Russia's attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of President Trump's associates conspired.

If Mr. Papadopoulos, who pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I. and is now a cooperating witness, was the improbable match that set off a blaze that has consumed the first year of the Trump administration, his saga is also a tale of the Trump campaign in miniature. He was brash, boastful and underqualified, yet he exceeded expectations. And, like the campaign itself, he proved to be a tantalizing target for a Russian influence operation.

Everyone outside the Trump campaign--from Steele to MI6 to john McCain to David Corn to the Aussies--apparently shared the information with US authorities as fast as the could, for the obvious reasons. 
Posted by orrinj at 11:14 AM


WikiLeaks Turned Down Leaks on Russian Government During U.S. Presidential Campaign : The leak organization ignored damaging information on the Kremlin to focus on Hillary Clinton and election-related hacks. (JENNA MCLAUGHLIN | AUGUST 17, 2017, Foreign Policy)
In the summer of 2016, as WikiLeaks was publishing documents from Democratic operatives allegedly obtained by Kremlin-directed hackers, Julian Assange turned down a large cache of documents related to the Russian government, according to chat messages and a source who provided the records. 

WikiLeaks declined to publish a wide-ranging trove of documents -- at least 68 gigabytes of data -- that came from inside the Russian Interior Ministry, according to partial chat logs reviewed by Foreign Policy. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:11 AM


CIA Director Mike Pompeo: 'WikiLeaks will take down America any way they can' (Josh Siegel, Jul 20, 2017, Washington Examiner)

CIA Director Mike Pompeo condemned WikiLeaks as dangerous to America during comments at the Aspen Security Forum on Thursday.

"WikiLeaks will take down America any way they can," Pompeo said in a conversation with New York Times columnist Bret Stephens.

Asked about comments President Trump made during the presidential campaign, when Trump declared "I love WikiLeaks," Pompeo said he holds a different view.

"I don't love WikiLeaks," Pompeo said.

Pompeo has taken a tougher line on WikiLeaks since becoming CIA director. Earlier this year he referred to WikiLeaks as a "hostile intelligence service." The secrets-leaking website was tied to the Russians by multiple intelligence agencies in a January report.

But in June 2016 during the campaign, when Pompeo was a Republican House lawmaker from Kansas, he tweeted a link to hacked documents obtained by WikiLeaks of emails from the Democratic National Committee.

Donald Trump Jr.'s Messages With WikiLeaks Point to Campaign-Finance Violations (BOB BAUER  NOV 16, 2017, The Atlantic)

Donald Trump Jr.'s private Twitter correspondence with WikiLeaks adds significant detail to the emerging picture of a political alliance between the Trump campaign and Russia in 2016. It provides evidence of criminal violations of federal campaign-finance rules, which prohibit foreign spending in U.S. elections.

The prohibition has a broad sweep. It disallows contributions, donations, or "anything of value" provided by a foreign national to sway an election. It also bars a campaign from offering "substantial assistance" to a foreign national engaged in spending on American races. Trump Jr.'s messages not only powerfully support the case that the Trump campaign violated these rules, but they also compound the campaign's vulnerability to "aiding and abetting" liability under the general criminal laws for assisting a foreign national in violating this spending ban.

The exchanges show how the campaign, in this instance through Trump Jr.'s activities, provided specific support and encouragement to WikiLeaks, which by then had effectively partnered with Russia to attack Hillary Clinton's candidacy and promote Donald Trump's. Russia devoted resources to hacking Democratic emails; WikiLeaks funded their distribution. In public and private communications, the campaign endorsed and facilitated their actions.

Posted by orrinj at 11:03 AM


US stocks mount milestone-shattering run in 2017 (Alex Veiga, 12/30/17, AP)

Several factors kept the market on an upward grind for most of the year and repeatedly drove stock indexes to all-time highs. The global economy rebounded, while the U.S. economy and job market continued to strengthen, which helped drive strong corporate earnings growth.

Investors also drew encouragement from the Trump administration's and Republican-led Congress' push to slash corporate taxes, roll back regulations and enact other pro-business policies. Congress passed the $1.5 trillion tax overhaul bill, which reduces corporate taxes from 35 percent to 21 percent, last week. [...]

In Europe, Britain's market closed the year with a gain of 7.6 percent. Indexes in Germany and France finished 2017 with gains of 12.5 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively. Japan's Nikkei and Hong Kong's benchmark index notched gains of 19.1 percent and 36 percent, respectively.

The gains in overseas markets reflect how economies in Japan, Europe, China and many developing nations began growing in tandem with the U.S. for the first time in a decade.

The U.S. lagged the rest of those economies early in the year, but caught up by summer and delivered GDP growth of 3.1 percent in the second quarter and a 3.3 percent gain in the third, its fastest rate in three years. [...]
on't see better places to get a return as long as the economy and company earnings continue to improve, Christopher said.

"People have just been waiting for pullbacks to buy the dips," he said. "There's still a lot of cash on the balance sheets of businesses and households."

By some measures, the market is looking expensive. The S&P 500 is now trading around 18 times forward earnings. That's above the historical average of 16, which suggests stocks are expensive heading into 2018.

Even so, eight years into the bull market, many analysts expect stocks to keep climbing next year.

"We expect the bull market to continue in 2018, but at a more moderate pace," said Terry Sandven, chief equity strategist at U.S. Bank Wealth Management.

Just as Republicans with Obamacare, Democrats are wasting their breath predicting that the tax bill will cause a recession.  The US is not going to defy the global economy.

Posted by orrinj at 10:57 AM


Obamacare Will Survive in 2018 (Max Nisen, Dec 27, 2017, Bloomberg)

 The Trump administration's treatment of the individual insurance market has ranged between neglect and sabotage.

It cut funding for ACA advertising and enrollment-assistance efforts, shortened the enrollment period, and stopped payment of an insurer subsidy. That was enough to help boost premiums -- though it doesn't appear to have hurt enrollment as much as some might have expected.

The toxic cherry on top was the GOP tax bill's effective repeal of the ACA's individual mandate.

This will be a blow starting in 2019. Fewer people will sign up for insurance on the exchanges (and in general). The people that do sign up and stick with their insurance will tend to be sicker.

As predicted, the GOP could only make Obamacare more expensive, not repeal it. That which voters in a democracy believe to be a right is ultimately a responsibility of government.

Posted by orrinj at 10:43 AM


Presidential Word Salads (Yuval Levin, December 29, 2017, National Review)

There's lots to marvel at in the partial transcript the New York Times released of reporter Michael Schmidt's interview with President Trump yesterday. But I think my favorite part has got to be this little bit about health care:

But Michael, I know the details of taxes better than anybody. Better than the greatest C.P.A. I know the details of health care better than most, better than most. And if I didn't, I couldn't have talked all these people into doing ultimately only to be rejected.

Now here's the good news. We've created associations, millions of people are joining associations. Millions. That were formerly in Obamacare or didn't have insurance. Or didn't have health care. Millions of people. That's gonna be a big bill, you watch. It could be as high as 50 percent of the people. You watch. So that's a big thing. And the individual mandate. So now you have associations, and people don't even talk about the associations. That could be half the people are going to be joining up. ... With private [inaudible]. So now you have associations and the individual mandate.

I believe that because of the individual mandate and the associations, the Democrats will and certainly should come to me and see if they can do a really great health care plan for the remaining people. [Inaudible.]

After reading this, it is advisable to take a moment to wonder at the absurdity of life, to offer a quiet prayer of thanks for the fact that any of us is still alive, and then to pursue--yet again, and surely not for the last time--that recurring question of our era: What in the world is the president talking about?

The first paragraph, in which we see him interrupting his own boasting with the realization that since no health-care bill passed he should probably stop saying he worked to convince Republicans to vote for one, is just comedy gold.

Whereas the Press would correct such a mistake, Donald will repeat it until the Vladbots believe it too, like the notion that he's decreased regulation.

Trump Binges on Collusion Talk to Ring Out Year (JACK SHAFER December 30, 2017, Politico)

Like advertising writers, sloganeers and propagandists, Trump appreciates the power repetition has on the lax mind. Properly executed, the right catchphrase can work as both setup and punch line and occupy mind-space in friends and adversaries even when spoken out of context. By repeatedly pressing the "no collusion" hotkey, Trump challenges his foes, who believe he has compromised his country, to prove it--or to shut up. He also succeeds in cueing his allies to ridicule his enemies.

In the interview, Trump claimed plenty of "no collusion" company, including Senator Dianne Feinstein and "virtually every Democrat." Democrats, he said, "walk around blinking" the no-collusion belief at each other. Who else attests to no collusion? The Republicans and famed attorney Alan Dershowitz, he said. "I actually think that it's turning out," Trump said, that "there was collusion on behalf of the Democrats. There was collusion with the Russians and the Democrats. A lot of collusion." (You'll recall Trump and his team attempted to "flip the script" on Democrats not long ago with the thin claim that the Hillary Clinton campaign had colluded with Russia when it commissioned the Steele dossier.)

There is no idiocy so obvious that his fans won't repeat it ad nauseum.

Posted by orrinj at 10:28 AM


Sue Grafton, Writer of Alphabet Mysteries, Dies (John Antczak, 12/29/17, Associated Press)

Grafton began her "alphabet series" in 1982 with A is for Alibi. Her most recent book, Y is for Yesterday, was published in August.

"Many of you also know that she was adamant that her books would never be turned into movies or TV shows, and in that same vein, she would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name," her daughter wrote. "Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y."

Humphrey said Grafton had been struggling to find an idea for "Z" while undergoing treatment for rare and usually fatal cancer of the appendix, which was discovered in a routine colonoscopy.

"Nothing's been written," he told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. "There is no Z."

He added with a laugh, "Nobody in this family will ever use the letter Z again."

Posted by orrinj at 10:23 AM


Defense Chief Mattis Sees U.S. Civilian Presence In Syria Increasing (Radio Liberty, December 30, 2017)

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis says he expects there will be a larger U.S. civilian presence in Syria soon since the fight against the Islamic State (IS) extremist group is nearing a conclusion.

Mattis said in Washington on December 29 that U.S. diplomats and contractors are likely to return to the war-torn Middle East country as the focus turns to reconstruction and security.

Putin tells Assad Russia will help defend Syrian sovereignty: Kremlin (Reuters, 12/30/17) 

Russian President Vladimir Putin told his Syrian counterpart Bashar al-Assad in a new year's greeting that Russia will continue supporting Syria's efforts to defend its sovereignty, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

It has none.

Posted by orrinj at 10:05 AM


A 'martyr' sniper, who once fought against Israel, now a saint to Iraq's Shiites (HAMZA HENDAWI and SINAN SALAHEDDIN, 12/30/17, AP) 

In his martyrdom, he has virtually become a new saint for Iraq's Shiites. His poster adorns shop windows, men and women wear his image as badges. Poems praise his valor. His sniper's rifle, with which he's said to have killed nearly 400 Islamic State group terrorists, is now enshrined in a museum in the holiest Shiite city.

Ali Jayad al-Salhi, an expert sniper in his early 60s and veteran of multiple wars, was killed in September in clashes with IS in northern Iraq. He was subsequently vaulted into legend. Shiites around Iraq trade stories of how, out of piety, he left his home, wife, 10 children and 20 grandchildren to join a Shiite militia to fight in what he saw as a war between humanity and evil.

Al-Salhi is a powerful symbol in the religious, near messianic mystique that has grown up around Iraq's Shiite militias in tandem with their increasing political and military might after they helped defeat the Islamic State group. Known as the "Popular Mobilization Forces" or "Hashed" in Arabic, the militias have emerged from the war with the image of an almost holy force protecting the Shiite Muslim majority. 

December 29, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 PM


Political Typology Reveals Deep Fissures on the Right and Left (Pew Research, 10/24/17)

The political typology finds two distinctly different groups on the right - Core Conservatives and Country First Conservatives, who both overwhelmingly approve of Trump, but disagree on much else - including immigration and whether it benefits the U.S. to be active internationally.

Core Conservatives, who are in many ways the most traditional group of Republicans, have an outsized influence on the GOP coalition; while they make up just 13% of the public - and about a third (31%) of all Republicans and Republican-leaning independents - they constitute a much larger share (43%) of politically engaged Republicans.

This financially comfortable, male-dominated group overwhelmingly supports smaller government, lower corporate tax rates and believes in the fairness of the nation's economic system. And a large majority of Core Conservatives (68%) express a positive view of U.S. involvement in the global economy "because it provides the U.S. with new markets and opportunities for growth."

Country First Conservatives, a much smaller segment of the GOP base, are older and less educated than other Republican-leaning typology groups. Unlike Core Conservatives, Country First Conservatives are unhappy with the nation's course, highly critical of immigrants and deeply wary of U.S. global involvement.

Nearly two-thirds of Country First Conservatives (64%) - the highest share of any typology group, right or left - say that "if America is too open to people from all over the world, we risk losing our identity as a nation."

A third Republican group, Market Skeptic Republicans, sharply diverges from the GOP's traditional support for business and lower taxes. Only about a third of Market Skeptic Republicans (34%) say banks and other financial institutions have a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, lowest among Republican-leaning typology groups.

Alone among the groups in the GOP coalition, a majority of Market Skeptic Republicans support raising tax rates on corporations and large businesses. An overwhelming share (94%) say the economic system unfairly favors powerful interests, which places the view of Market Skeptic Republicans on this issue much closer to Solid Liberals (99% mostly unfair) than Core Conservatives (21%).

In contrast to Market Skeptic Republicans, New Era Enterprisers are fundamentally optimistic about the state of the nation and its future. They are more likely than any other typology group to say the next generation of Americans will have it better than people today. Younger and somewhat less overwhelmingly white than the other GOP-leaning groups, New Era Enterprisers are strongly pro-business and generally think that immigrants strengthen, rather than burden, the country.

Posted by orrinj at 8:06 PM


The Year of Lost Opportunities : Trump's accomplishments are meager, and pretty ordinary Republican stuff. (Kevin D. Williamson, December 29, 2017, National Review)

The tax bill contains an important structural reform, implementing a "territorial" tax system that brings the United States closer into accord with the practices of other countries with advanced economies. Under a territorial tax system, corporations pay the U.S. government taxes on their earnings from business activity in the United States, and then pay to the Netherlands taxes on their Dutch activities, to the Irish taxes on their income earned in Ireland, etc. Before, the United States had claimed the right to tax the worldwide income of U.S. firms beyond their obligations to national governments abroad: e.g., if Big Bigness Inc. owes 15 percent income tax in Canada but 31 percent in the United States, it would have been obliged to pay Ottawa first and then pay the difference to Washington.

It is worth remarking that the Republican tax bill celebrated by President Trump, who purports to be a nationalist, is a great victory for the hated enemies of the Trump movement -- the people they denounce as "globalists." The move to a territorial tax system is a very big deal if you are the CEO of Apple or serve on the board of a transnational pharmaceutical corporation. Its appeal will be less immediate to the opportunistic populists who bemoan the loss of textile-mill jobs 60 years ago in towns they've never heard of and abominate the dreadful Chinese. Many of the firms that offshore work to countries such as India and Mexico will receive a welcome tax cut under the Republican bill. That's all fine, but it isn't exactly what Trump ran on, either.

Other provisions of the tax bill touched taxes only tangentially. For example, the bill repeals the "individual mandate," the provision of the Affordable Care Act that obliges individuals to purchase insurance. One of the critical failures of the Affordable Care Act -- one that distinguishes it from the more successful Swiss system upon which Obamacare is loosely modeled -- was that the mandate was too weak and toothlessly enforced. That meant that the beneficiary pool was older and sicker than it would have been with a more rigorously enforced mandate (Swiss compliance is nearly 100 percent), putting upward pressure on prices and contributing to the restriction of consumers' choices. There were two intelligent ways to go about addressing that: The first would have been repealing the Affordable Care Act and replacing it with a more market-oriented alternative, which Congress failed to do; the second would have been strengthening the mandate, which would have helped to shore up the aspects of the ACA that voters and their representatives approve of, namely the mandate that insurers cover preexisting conditions without penalty. (This turns the very idea of insurance on its head, of course, but contempt for such realities is almost universal in the American health-care debate.) Republicans are celebrating their repeal of the individual mandate, but what they have in fact accomplished is to have left a bad law in place while making it worse for the sake of political pageantry.

Tax cuts and half-assed health-care reform: pretty ordinary Republican stuff. Trump the revolutionary -- he of the syntactically aborted slogan "I Alone Can Fix!" -- has in his first year of action pursued a course of legislative action (to the extent that he actually has pursued it all) that would have been ridiculed as lily-livered if it had been offered up by Nelson Rockefeller. He did so while pursuing a rhetorical course that would have embarrassed Benito Mussolini. (Il Duce was, for all his crimes, literate.) The more imaginative and audacious Republicanism of the Jack Kemp school is for now dormant if not dead, as is the optimistic and patriotic spirit of the Reagan movement, which has been supplanted by the great and endless sneer of talk radio and the gaping witless maws of cable news.

Of course, Democrats favor corporate tax reform and Republicans could have gotten a stricter Heritage mandate included in the original plan had they legislated. Hating the other extracted significant costs.

Posted by orrinj at 7:52 PM


Why Gratitude Makes Us Happier (Rachel DiCarlo Currie, 12/26/17, Acculturated)

In a trio of studies published in 2003, for example, psychologists Robert Emmons of UC-Davis and Michael McCullough of the University of Miami found that individuals who deliberately focused on gratitude as part of their weekly or daily routine experienced a range of "emotional, physical, or interpersonal benefits," including greater happiness, better sleep, and stronger connections to other people.

Discussing their results, Emmons and McCullough emphasized the connection between gratitude and relationships. "The experience of gratitude, and the actions stimulated by it, build and strengthen social bonds and friendships," they explained. "Moreover, encouraging people to focus on the benefits they have received from others leads them to feel loved and cared for by others."

Separate research, by psychologists Sara Algoe of the University of North Carolina, Jonathan Haidt of NYU, and Shelly Gable of UC-Santa Barbara, examined gift-giving among college sorority sisters and how it affected the women's feelings for one another. "Gratitude," they concluded, "may initiate a relationship-building cycle between recipient and benefactor."

By the same token, a lack of gratitude can make us feel alienated, neglected, aggrieved, and resentful, thereby hampering our ability to create and maintain meaningful, positive relationships.

In short: Gratitude is an essential lubricant of social harmony.

That's true at the personal level, and also at the national level. This holiday season, many people are feeling utterly disgusted both with the state of American politics and with various trends in American culture. I sympathize. Yet we all should recognize that, if taken too far, our disgust could make things even worse. Despite America's long list of serious challenges, our political and cultural inheritance remains one of the world's most precious commodities.

The value of that inheritance--the way it enriches our lives each and every day--imposes certain responsibilities on us. We show our gratitude by acknowledging and embracing those responsibilities. To do otherwise is not only to be ungrateful, but also to weaken the historical bonds that define our identity as Americans.

We live in a time when our two great challenges are how to provide health care coverage to people who don't need health care and how to distribute wealth once creating it requires no labor input.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 PM


10 Best History Books of Last 10 Years (Brandon Christensen, December 28, 2017, Real Clear History)

9. Orderly and Humane: The Expulsion of the Germans After the Second World War (2012), by RM Douglas. 

There has been a ton of great research on the Eastern Front of World War II since the fall of the Berlin Wall. This scholarship may well be put on the back burner again as geopolitics once again get a little more heated in that part of the world. In the meantime, books such as Timothy Snyder's Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin and Tara Zahra's Lost Children: Reconstructing Europe's Families After World War 2 are some of the essentials in this regard, but for my money Colgate historian RM Douglas's 2012 book is the best of them all, at least from an Anglo-American standpoint. The subject matter is brutal and self-explanatory, so if light-hearted histories are your thing, skip this book. If you are more of a rationalist and skeptic of power, you'll find much to enjoy about Douglas's well-written history, including the turning of a blind eye by Allied forces as non-Germans ruthlessly purged German-speaking women and children from the lands they had lived in for decades or centuries. Lebensraum wasn't conceived of by Nazis as a space that needed to be cleared for Germans, it was a place already occupied by German-speaking peoples - again, sometimes for centuries - that needed to be cleared of the German speaker's neighbors. Chapter 10 ("The International Reaction") is alone worth the price of admission, as it details quite explicitly how the victorious democracies of World War II allowed one of the largest ethnic cleansing campaigns to happen right under their noses.

Posted by orrinj at 7:31 PM


Scattered Protests Erupt in Iran Over Economic Woes  (THOMAS ERDBRINK, DEC. 29, 2017, NY Times)

President Hassan Rouhani began his second term in August after winning re-election on promises to revitalize an economy hurt by sanctions. Although foreign investment is rising, the country continues to survive mainly on oil sales. Youth unemployment stands at more than 40 percent, sluggish state-owned enterprises control significant sectors of the economy, and American sanctions prevent most international banks from providing financing or credit to Iran.

Many of the international sanctions against Iran were lifted under the 2015 accord on Iran's nuclear program. But unilateral American sanctions on doing financial transactions with Iran remain in place, and the cumulative effect of sanctions has been severe. Mr. Rouhani, who heralded the agreement as a fresh start, has faced criticism for not doing enough to jump-start the economy.

We want to further modify their behaviors and they need more economic help.
Posted by orrinj at 7:28 PM


IS says it was behind Saint Petersburg supermarket bombing (AFP, 29 December 2017)

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility on Friday for a bomb attack Wednesday that tore through a Saint Petersburg supermarket and wounded 14 people.

"The attack that targeted a shopping center in Saint Petersburg the day before yesterday was carried out by an Islamic State-linked group," IS said in a statement via its propaganda agency Amaq.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 PM


Who's Winning Trump's War With the Press? (JACK SHAFER December 27, 2017, Politico)

Being the most mistake-prone president in history hasn't prevented Trump from capitalizing on the press corps' recent errors. First he ripped ABC News' Brian Ross for a botched piece that reported Russian collusion during the campaign and then he scalped CNN, his favorite whipping boy, for reporter Manu Raju's monumental goof about the alleged special access that Donald Trump Jr. had been given to a WikiLeaks dump--a dump that was already in the public domain. No press slight has been too minor for Trump to howl about. When a tweet by the Washington Post's Dave Weigel incorrectly captioned a photo from one of Trump's rallies--only to 'fess up to the error shortly afterward--Trump went all Old Testament on journalists. "They are out of control," Trump tweeted of the press. "Major lies written, then forced to be withdrawn after they are exposed...a stain on America!" Trump wants Weigel and Ross fired for their mistakes, and his press secretary has called for the sacking of ESPN anchor Jemele Hill for calling him a bigot.

These miscues in Trump coverage don't necessarily mean that the press has a special vendetta against him, and one suspects he knows that. The making of mistakes cannot be divorced from the making of journalism. As historian David Greenberg notes in Republic of Spin, mistakes littered the coverage of the Watergate scandal. Greenberg writes:

Reporters, swept up in the chase, made mistakes that they failed to correct. In May 1973, Walter Cronkite opened the CBS Evening News with an item erroneously implicating a Bethesda bank run by Pat Buchanan's brother in Watergate money-laundering. The AP falsely reported that [John] Ehrlichman was present at a key cover-up meeting among Nixon, Haldeman, and Dean. ABC's Sam Donaldson wrongly asserted that James McCord had implicated departed aide Harry Dent in the White House sabotage efforts; Donaldson was forced to apologize. News outlets also overplayed trivial items, as the New York Times did by placing on the front page a three-column story about the possibility that Nixon's campaign had received gambling money from the Bahamas. As [Washington] Post editor Robert Maynard conceded, there was "a lot of fast and loose stuff being printed."

Additional Watergate screw-ups: The Washington Post's Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein "committed two critical mistakes" in their reporting on the scandal, as Craig Silverman showed in a 2011 Columbia Journalism Review piece.

I dredge up Watergate as a point of comparison not because it was especially flawed, but because it wasn't. I dredge it up because, like the current Trump coverage, it was closely scrutinized and whenever the news is closely scrutinized, more errors will be discovered. That's why the New York Times publishes more corrections than any other newspaper--because it's the most heavily analyzed (and, of course, because the Times believes in error correction). Maybe somebody should explain to our presidential press critic that the news organizations he so disparages do the most aggressive policing of media miscues, especially if the miscues appear in a competing outlet.

As the Press is defined by its eagerness to correct errors--especially each others--Donald is defined by his repetition of falsehoods.
Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Iran cities hit by anti-government protests (BBC, 12/29/17)

The protests spread to other cities in the north-east, and and some developed into broader anti-government demonstrations, calling for the release of political prisoners and an end to police beatings.

On Friday, despite warnings from authorities, the demonstrations spread further to some of the biggest cities in the country.

They represent the most serious and widespread expression of public discontent in Iran since mass protests in 2009 that followed a disputed election, correspondents say.

What are people complaining about?

What began as a protest against economic conditions and corruption has turned political.

Slogans have been chanted against not just Mr Rouhani but Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and clerical rule in general.

Demonstrators were reportedly heard yelling slogans like "The people are begging, the clerics act like God". Protests have even been held in Qom, a holy city home to powerful clerics.

There is also anger at Iran's interventions abroad. In Mashhad, some chanted "not Gaza, not Lebanon, my life for Iran", a reference to what protesters say is the administration's focus on foreign rather than domestic issues.

Other demonstrators chanted "leave Syria, think about us" in videos posted online. Iran is a key provider of military support to the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria.

The economic is the political.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


Russian tankers fueled North Korea via transfers at sea (Reuters, 12/29/17)

Russian tankers have supplied fuel to North Korea on at least three occasions in recent months by transferring cargoes at sea, according to two senior Western European security sources, providing an economic lifeline to the secretive Communist state.

The sales of oil or oil products from Russia, the world's second biggest oil exporter and a veto-wielding member of the United Nations Security Council, breach U.N. sanctions, the security sources said.

Sink them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


Bipartisan DACA, spending talks set to commence with White House (KYLE CHENEY, 12/29/2017, Politico)

Trump has signaled in recent days that he would support a measure to protect undocumented immigrants who arrived in the country as minors in exchange for wall funding and other stiff border security measures that Democrats have ardently opposed.

"The Democrats have been told, and fully understand, that there can be no DACA without the desperately needed WALL at the Southern Border and an END to the horrible Chain Migration & ridiculous Lottery System of Immigration etc," Trump tweeted Friday morning. "We must protect our Country at all cost!"

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer brushed off the president's tweet.

Democrats could hardly ask for a better position than Donald having to fold or shut down the government over his nativism.  There is no reason for them to give anything with the issue framed this way.

Posted by orrinj at 5:01 PM


....than the Left celebrating the majority in Gore v. Bush.

Posted by orrinj at 4:38 PM


A Putin-Friendly Oligarch's Top US Executive Donated $285,000 to Trump : The head of Viktor Vekselberg's American subsidiary helped finance Trump's inauguration. (DAVID CORN AND DAN FRIEDMANAUG. 17, 2017, Mother Jones)

Earlier this year, as Donald Trump, then the president-elect, was trying to counter news reports that Russia had hacked the 2016 election to help him win, the head of the American subsidiary of a Russian conglomerate owned by a Russian oligarch with close ties to President Vladimir Putin made a huge donation to Trump.

On January 6--the day the US intelligence community reported that Putin had approved a covert operation to subvert the presidential campaign to assist Trump--Andrew Intrater donated $250,000 to Trump's inauguration fund.

Intrater is the CEO of Columbus Nova, the lone American subsidiary of Renova Group, a giant holding company owned by oligarch Viktor Vekselberg with interests in the metals, mining, chemical, construction, transport, energy, telecommunication, and financial sectors in Russia and abroad. Intrater, an American citizen, is Vekselberg's cousin, according to filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In June, Intrater also made a $35,000 contribution to a joint fundraising committee for Trump's reelection and the Republican National Committee.

Intrater has no public history as a major political funder; his Trump donations dwarf his previous contributions. According to Federal Election Commission records, his only past political donations were $2,600 in 2014 to a business associate running as a Republican for Congress, $1,200 to Democratic New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson's 2008 presidential campaign, and $250 to the late Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts in 1995. Intrater's hefty gift to the inauguration fund earned him special access to inaugural events, including a dinner billed as "an intimate policy discussion with select cabinet appointees," according to a fundraising brochure obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

Vekselberg is one of Russia's richest men. Bloomberg recently estimated his net worth at $15.5 billion. The same month that Intrater pumped that quarter of a million dollars into Trump's inauguration bank account, Vekselberg publicly expressed hope for the lifting this year of the tough US and European economic sanctions imposed on Russia after it annexed Crimea and supported pro-Russian separatists fighting in Ukraine.

This is the deal the investigation thwarted.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


Contra Trump, Collusion Is Already a Slam Dunk (Martin Longman December 29, 2017, Washington Monthly)

Trump actually asked the Russians to hack into Clinton's private server, which would be a crime, and retrieve the 33,000 emails she failed to turn over because, she says, they were not work-related. Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner had a meeting with the Russians where they were promised dirt on Clinton. The head of Cambridge Analytica, a contractor for the Trump campaign, actually contacted WikiLeaks and requested access to Clinton's deleted mails. Roger Stone and Randy Credico actually communicated with Guccifer 2.0 and Julian Assange to get advanced warning about what kinds of information would be forthcoming in each batch of leaks.

Let's start with the essential point that hacking into the computer systems of the DNC and the DCCC are crimes. Using a phishing attack to steal John Podesta's email password is a crime. Seeking to gain access stolen goods makes you an accessory to the crime and perhaps also a co-conspirator or conspirator after the fact. I'll leave it to lawyers and prosecutors to define the exact statutes that might be implicated, but if what the Russians did was criminal, and it was, then what Trump's team was doing was also criminal. [...]

There's a big collusion story and there's a small one, too. The small one is already proven. Team Trump asked for stolen documents while knowing they were stolen. They made good faith offerings (a change in the Republican Party platform, for example) and dangled sanctions relief in order to entice the Russians to share illegally obtained dirt on Hillary Clinton. These are crimes. That's collusion.

The case for collusion is contained in Donald's public statements.  The Mueller investigation is just about what criminal charges should be brought.

Posted by orrinj at 1:22 PM


<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" data-lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">Actually, USPS package delivery is a profitable arm of the service which helps subsidize  letter and rural delivery. USPS also benefits from Amazon-built sort facilities that feed into USPS's last mile network. <a href=""></a></p>&mdash; Jay Caruso (@JayCaruso) <a href="">December 29, 2017</a></blockquote>
<script async src="" charset="utf-8"></script>

Posted by orrinj at 1:11 PM


A Russian bank sanctioned by the U.S. over Crimea is now kaput  (Meduza, 29 december 2017)

Russia's Central Bank has revoked the license of "Severnyi Kredit"(Northern Credit) bank, which has been targeted by U.S. sanctions since June 2017 because of the bank's work in Crimea. The Central Bank determined that Severnyi Kredit has completely exhausted its capital reserves.

There's a reason Vlad was so frantic to try and help Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 12:57 PM


Judge Rules on AZ Ban of Mexican-American Studies (TOM BLUNT, December 29, 2017, Signature Reads)

After notoriously banning numerous books which had been included under the umbrella of a Mexican-American Studies curriculum, schools in Tucson, Arizona have been informed by a federal judge that their actions were "not for a legitimate educational purpose, but for an invidious discriminatory racial purpose and a politically partisan purpose." From now on, the law which had been created specifically to hobble such programs will be unenforceable. Here's a list of all the banned books which students will now be able to read as they explore their Mexican heritage, which includes Sherman Alexie, James Baldwin, and Rudolfo A. Anaya.

Another literary coup occurred this week when the ongoing court case over Milo Yiannopoulos's scrapped book revealed an editor's notes on the original manuscript, which include numerous corrections, omissions, and disgusted reactions. While Milo haters rejoiced at this treasure trove of criticism, author Roxane Gay posted a reminder of the purpose of these notes: "They show how the editor was going to make hatred palatable." 

Posted by orrinj at 12:51 PM

How to make Millionaire Mashed Potatoes (Kevin Pang, 12/29/17, Lifehacker)

Millionaire Mashed Potatoes

3 lbs. Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut to 1/2-inch rounds
1 1/2 sticks butter, cubed and chilled
1 cup heavy whipping cream
Salt and pepper

Peel your potatoes and cut them into rounds 1/2-inch thick. In a colander, run cold water and scrub off--as best you can--the starchy surface with your thumbs. Toss these into a pot of cold water, enough to submerge the potatoes with an extra inch of water. Turn the heat to high and bring to a boil. Set a timer for 30 minutes. In the mean time, take 1 1/2 sticks of butter from the fridge and cube them. Place butter into a bowl and back into the fridge. In a separate sauce pot, warm heavy cream over very low heat.

Your potatoes will absolutely be cooked after 30 minutes (to be extra sure, pierce with a knife--it should slide in with no resistance). Empty over a sink back into the colander (be careful!). You'll now press these potatoes through a ricer back into the waterless-but-still-hot pot. Once done, add the chilled cube butter in three batches, whipping the potatoes with a large metal spoon vigorously. Sprinkle in salt and pepper to taste. Slowly pour in the warmed cream, and keep whipping with the spoon. You may choose not to add the full cup of cream, but I like my potatoes ethereally fluffy. Sprinkle on fresh chives, add gravy if you desire (see recipe below), and serve immediately.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


The economy is roaring. Why isn't Trump popular? (W. James Antle III, December 29, 2017, The Week)

We are on track to end the year with a 4.1 percent unemployment rate, a 17-year low. The economy grew by 3.2 percent last quarter, only the second example of consecutive quarterly growth in excess of 3 percent in three years. The U.S. added some 1.7 million new jobs in year one of Trump.

You can poke holes in these statistics, as Trump did himself when he painted a dismal picture of the economy during the campaign despite generally favorable data. Labor force participation rates are still low by historical standards, suggesting some of the jobless have stopped seeking work entirely. Others are employed in jobs that pay less than the ones they lost in the recession. Growth isn't shared equally, with a few parts of Trump Country lagging. Health-care costs continue to eat into family incomes.

One can even quibble over how much better economic conditions are under Trump than former President Barack Obama, who certainly inherited a worse economy from his own predecessor. Of course, the recession Bill Clinton ran against in 1992 under the "economy, stupid" theory had actually ended before he even formally declared his candidacy, so these things are par for the course.

Still, the economy is doing well enough for Trump to reap some political benefits. Instead his job approval rating sits below 40 percent in the RealClearPolitics polling average, with 56.2 percent disapproving. A recent Reuters/Ipsos survey found only 35 approval, 60 percent disapproval. Democratic congressional candidates are favored by nearly 13 points in the generic ballot while 59.3 percent of Americans think the country is on the wrong track.

If it was all about the economy, Trump's approval rating should be better than 50 percent. Yet 60 percent view the president unfavorably in a recent CNN poll.

Of course, it doesn't help that he's at war with everything that produced the boom.

Posted by orrinj at 7:51 AM


Hermitage Capital's Browder Sentenced In Absentia By Moscow Court (Radio Liberty, December 29, 2017)

A court in Moscow has sentenced Hermitage Capital head William Browder to nine years in prison in absentia after finding him guilty of deliberate bankruptcy and tax evasion.

Browder, who has led a global push for sanctions against Russian officials implicated in the death of imprisoned Russian whistle-blower Sergei Magnitsky, also was fined 200,000 rubles (about $3,500) and banned from conducting business activities in Russia for three years.

The most delicious part of the collusion between Vlad and Donald is that it wasn't necessary and didn't do any good; all it did was cripple Donald so much that he can't lift the sanctions as he promised. Indeed, the Deep State has toughened them.

Posted by orrinj at 7:48 AM


Nat Hentoff: The Free-Thinking Quick-Change Artist of the Village Voice 1925-2017 (JACK SHAFER December 28, 2017, Politico)

Hentoff looked like an Old Testament prophet--"I belong to the 4,000-year-old tradition of atheistic Judaism," he told me, as I edited one of his pieces--and could argue the law better than most lawyers, lecturing judges on precedents and procedures. But he wasn't an argumentative man. Instead, he practiced persuasion in his 70-plus years of work. As the journalist Tobin Harshaw once observed, Hentoff could provoke intense disagreement among his readers without necessarily provoking anger. While he didn't bring peace to the American valley, his work did inspire respect across the political spectrum. What other writer could possibly earn a Viking's send-off from both National Review and the Nation?

In his later years, Hentoff's opposition to abortion made him persona non grata in many corners, including at the Voice, where some writers shunned him. He opposed abortion, he said, for the same reason he opposed capital punishment: To make any sense, he wrote, the fight for life must be "indivisible." The position made him a million enemies on the left, as did his criticisms of other forms of political piety. Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, Hentoff wrote, were as insincere protectors of the Bill of Rights as George W. Bush. But the enmity Hentoff faced made him happy, because he didn't take himself that seriously. "I found out that having a byline can quickly make you an authority to people who aren't very intelligent about authority," he said in a documentary about his life.

Hentoff loved practically all music but especially jazz, making his first professional mark as a disc jockey and then as a critic. "No writer did more for jazz," acknowledged the critic Terry Teachout. Hentoff's close relationships with such jazz figures as Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington, Bill Evans and Charles Mingus, all of whom he wrote liner notes for, made him "one of the last living links to the founding fathers," as Teachout put it. (One of Hentoff's most famous sets of liner notes was for--you guessed it--Bob Dylan.) Hentoff returned to the subject of jazz again and again in his books and articles, as if recharging himself for his more profane works. Reading his pieces, you find yourself humming to a deep rhythm of his invention.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


The Great Trade War That Didn't Happen in 2017 : What if globalization is just getting started? (Daniel Moss, 12/29/17, Bloomberg)

Buying and selling of goods and services across borders not only increased this year, but also grew more than anticipated. Next year may test whether that's a durable trend or just an accident that flew in the face of politics. 

Part of the thanks goes to a more vigorous global economic expansion. The resilience of the international system should also get its due: Supply chains that snake around the globe took decades to build up and aren't just going to go away overnight because of a few tweets from you-know-who. Broad forces at work are bigger than one man.  

This again makes me wonder whether politics, an arena where many journalists feel the most comfort, is overrated in its ability to influence underlying economic currents. Call me an economic determinist; the world hasn't ended despite geopolitical ructions left and right.

December 28, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:19 PM


Homes in U.S. Gained $2 Trillion in Value This Year, Zillow Says (Patrick Clark, 12/28/17, Bloomberg)

The value of the entire U.S. housing stock increased by 6.5 percent -- or $2 trillion -- in 2017, according to a report from Zillow. 

And we know one incontrovertible way to drive those values much higher.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 PM


How to Get Wyoming Wind to California, and Cut 80% of U.S. Carbon Emissions (James Temple  December 28, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

Several miles south of Rawlins, Wyoming, on a cattle ranch east of the Continental Divide, construction crews have begun laying down roads and pads that could eventually underpin up to 1,000 wind turbines. Once complete, the Chokecherry and Sierra Madre project could generate around 12 million megawatt-hours of electricity annually, making it the nation's largest wind farm. 

But how do you get that much wind power to where it's actually needed?

The Denver-based company behind the project hopes to erect a series of steel transmission towers that would stretch a high-voltage direct-current transmission line 730 miles across the American West. It could carry as much as 3,000 megawatts of Wyoming wind power to the electricity markets of California, Nevada, and Arizona. With the right deals in place, the transmission line could deliver solar-generated electricity back as well, balancing Wyoming's powerful late-afternoon winds with California's bright daytime sun.

The $3 billion TransWest Express Transmission Project is among a handful of proposed direct-current transmission lines in the United States, and one of the furthest along in the planning process. It underscores the huge promise of these high-capacity lines to unlock the full potential of renewable energy.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


What do we really know about Russia and the 2016 election? (PRI's The World, December 28, 2017)

The World's Marco Werman spoke with Mark Mazzetti, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist with The New York Times.

Marco Werman: How do we know that Russia actually attempted to influence the election?

Mark Mazzetti: We base it on the near-universal assessment of American intelligence, law enforcement officials, foreign governments, etc., that Russia did in fact attempt to disrupt the 2016 campaign. I think that is not really in dispute at the moment, even though to a large extent the American intelligence community hasn't really shown its work to provide direct evidence of why. But after a year of reporting, I don't, and my colleagues don't, and our competitors don't, really hear anyone who credibly questions whether it happened.

And are you still using the word "alleged" to describe this?

No. We say it is a fact.

So what exactly did the Russians do, or, at least, what do we know they did?

What is pretty firmly established now is that Russians, or people working on behalf of the Russians, carried out a pretty extensive campaign of hacking Democrats, Democratic operatives, the DNC, advisers to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and spilling those emails out as a way to discredit her and her campaign. There was also a parallel effort by the Russians, or again people working on behalf of the Russians, to spread propaganda and fake news through Facebook, Twitter, etc., that would be particularly damaging to the Clinton campaign and would in effect help out the Trump campaign in 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 6:14 PM


Planned Parenthood Closes Abortion Clinic Operating for 18 Years After It Loses Taxpayer Funding (STEVEN ERTELT, DEC 27, 2017, LifeNews)

LifeNews can report excellent news today from the state of Iowa. There, a Planned Parenthood abortion business that had been killing unborn children for 18 years is closing down. The abortion company blamed the Iowa state legislature for revoking its taxpayer funding as the reason why. [...]

The Planned Parenthood abortion affiliate in Iowa received about $2.7 million in tax dollars per year from the grant and the state. Instead the money is going to places that don't do abortions. Iowa will now spend an equal amount on family planning services by tapping a separate federal grant. This money will go to organizations that don't perform abortions.

While Planned Parenthood no longer would receive tax dollars, community health care facilities would. These clinics are far more numerous than Planned Parenthoods, and they offer comprehensive health services that the abortion chain does not.

Blamed should be credited. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:15 PM


Russia says Tokyo's deployment of U.S. missiles a blow to relations (Reuters, 12/28/17) 

A decision by Japan to deploy a U.S. missile defense system will damage Moscow's relations with Tokyo and is a breach by Washington of a landmark arms control treaty, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


The Trump White House Set Record for First-Year Staff Departures (Eric Levitz, 12/28/17, New York)

In its first year, the Trump administration posted a turnover rate fit for a season of The Apprentice. National security adviser Michael Flynn didn't last a month. Communications director Anthony Scaramucci barely put in a week before publicly deriding the White House's chief strategist's (alleged) affinity for auto-fellatio. That strategist, Steve Bannon, followed chief of staff Reince Priebus and press secretary Sean Spicer back to the private sector by summer's end.

In total, 21 of the administration's 61 senior officials were either allowed to resign, fired, or reassigned in 2017. That 34 percent first-year turnover rate is the highest in at least four decades -- and double the previous record set by the Reagan administration -- according to Kathryn Dunn-Tenpas of the Brookings Institution.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


These US Troops Were Killed In Combat During Trump's First Year In Office (Vera Bergengruen, 12/28/17, Buzz Feed)

The number of US troops who died in war zones rose in 2017, the first year of Donald Trump's presidency, for the first time in six years.

They think getting Americans killed makes them look tough.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


Roy Moore Challenges Election Results With Help From Holocaust Denier (Aiden Pink, 12/28/17, The Forward)

His complaint cited three "experts" who argued in affidavits that voter fraud occurred. One of those experts, James Condit, Jr., has previously written and spoken about Zionist control of the media, the Nazi Party and the Catholic Church, that Israel played a role in the September 11, 2001 terror attacks, and that it was "preposterous" that six million Jews died in the Holocaust or that there were gas chambers at Auschwitz. [...]

Another of Moore's "experts," Richard Charnin, claims to have "mathematically" proven that there was a conspiracy to kill former President John F. Kennedy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:54 PM


Devin Nunes Shouldn't Be Outing Russian Sources (Martin Longman, December 28, 2017, Washington Monthly)

The first thing the FBI wanted to know from Steele after they saw his earliest memos was how reliable his information was, and Steele supplied his sources to them in an effort the get them to take his intelligence seriously. There's someone else who claims to know the sources, and that's a man named David Kramer who works as a senior fellow at the McCain Institute for International Leadership at Arizona State University.

Kramer traveled to London in late-Novemeber 2016 to meet with Steele in person. He took a copy of the dossier back to the United States where he handed it off to Sen. John McCain. McCain, in turn, gave the dossier directly to FBI Director James Comey. But, of course, the FBI had been receiving Steele's dispatches since July so they didn't need McCain package.

Kramer testified on December 19th before the House Intelligence Committee. He asserted that he knew Steele's sources, but he refused to provide their identities. As a result, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes has slapped a subpoena on Prof. Kramer in the hope that he will spill what he knows.

Chairman Nunes supposedly recused himself from the Russia investigation but he's still issuing subpoenas. That's a concern, but it's more troubling that he's asking for information that would help Putin liquidate the people who talked to Steele.

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


Brazil defense ministry opposes giving up Embraer control to Boeing (Reuters, 12/28/17)

Boeing and Embraer said last week they were discussing a "potential combination", in a move that would consolidate a global passenger jet duopoly provided Brazil's government gives its blessing. 

Posted by orrinj at 11:26 AM


Crime in New York City Plunges to a Level Not Seen Since the 1950s (ASHLEY SOUTHALL, DEC. 27, 2017, NY Times)

It would have seemed unbelievable in 1990, when there were 2,245 killings in New York City, but as of Wednesday there have been just 286 in the city this year -- the lowest since reliable records have been kept.

In fact, crime has fallen in New York City in each of the major felony categories -- murder and manslaughter, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, grand larceny, and car thefts -- to a total of 94,806 as of Sunday, well below the previous record low of 101,716 set last year.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Jailed Russian says he hacked DNC on Kremlin's orders and can prove it (KEVIN G. HALL, DECEMBER 27, 2017, McClatchy)

A jailed Russian who says he hacked into the Democratic National Committee computers on the Kremlin's orders to steal emails released during the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign now claims he left behind a data signature to prove his assertion.

In an interview with Russia's RAIN television channel made public Wednesday, Konstantin Kozlovsky provided further details about what he said was a hacking operation led by the Russian intelligence agency known by its initials FSB. [...]

"Based on my experience and understanding of professional intelligence operations, the blending of criminal activity with sanctioned intelligence operations is an old page out of the Russian intelligence-services playbook," said Leo Taddeo, chief information security officer for Cyxtera Technologies and a former head of cyber operations in the FBI's New York office. "What the defendant (in Russia) is describing would not be inconsistent with past Russian intelligence operations."

Kozlovsky's claims include an assertion that for the past seven years he was under the control of Major Gen. Dmitry Dokuchayev, who he said gave him orders to breach the DNC servers to interfere in the U.S. election process.

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Iran's supreme leader lashes out at Ahmadinejad (Al-Monitor, December 27, 2017)

After months of verbal clashes in Iran between former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and judiciary chief Sadegh Amoli Larijani, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has given a speech harshly criticizing Ahmadinejad. [...]

It should be noted that following Khamenei's public "advice" to Ahmadinejad not to run in the May 2017 presidential election, he defied it and decided to register as a candidate anyway. He was ultimately disqualified by the Guardian Council, which is tasked with vetting candidates. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 AM


Islamic State claims blasts at Afghan Shi'ite center, news agency that kill dozens (Abdul Aziz Ibrahimi, Akram Walizada, 12/28/17, Reuters) 

Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a Shi'ite cultural center and news agency on Thursday in the Afghan capital that killed dozens of people attending a conference.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


Putin calls Saint Petersburg blast 'act of terror' (AFP, 12/28/17)

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday called an explosion that tore through a Saint Petersburg supermarket, wounding 13 people, "an act of terror."

The genius of getting Vlad to fight ISIS for us is that he has to reap what we sowed. His panic about us training them is revelatory.

December 27, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 4:31 PM



A Republican congressional candidate running to replace House Speaker Paul Ryan is now championing the work of a white nationalist academic that portrays Jews as a scheming enemy of Western civilization--an incendiary move that prompted his ally Steve Bannon to drop his support.

Paul Nehlen's endorsement of Kevin MacDonald's book, The Culture of Critique, on Tuesday appeared to double down on previous posts that embraced so-called anti-Semitic and white supremacist ideas--a trend that has worried rights' groups. [...]

Nehlen, who stumped for Alabama Senate candidate Roy Moore, was a favorite of Breitbart News' Bannon when he ran against Ryan for the same seat in 2016. 

Posted by orrinj at 4:26 PM


Southern California home prices surge, tying an all-time high (Andrew Khouri, 12/27/17, LA Times)

Southern California home prices surged 8.6% in November compared with a year earlier, tying an all-time high that underscores a drum-tight housing market with few properties for sale, according to a report released Wednesday.

....because they need a whole lot of construction.


Posted by orrinj at 4:21 PM


Mueller probe outgrows its 'witch hunt' phase (Michael Isikoff, 12/27/17,Yahoo News)

[A]s Trump prepares to end his first year in office, the witch hunt narrative may have outlived its usefulness. Mueller's investigation has expanded and gained serious traction: The president's former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, and Manafort's chief deputy, Rick Gates, have been indicted. His former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty and is now a cooperating witness. So too is a former foreign policy adviser, George Papadopoulos, who has admitted lying to the FBI about repeated contacts with alleged Russian cutouts who had offered the Trump campaign "dirt" on Hillary Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails." [...]

In just the last few weeks, his prosecutors have begun questioning Republican National Committee staffers about the party digital operation that worked with the Trump campaign to target voters in key swing states. They are seeking to determine if the joint effort was related to the activities of Russian trolls and bots aimed at influencing the American electorate, according to two of the sources.

In what is potentially another ominous sign for the White House, the lawyer for Jared Kushner, the president's son in law and senior adviser who was in charge of the campaign's digital operation, recently began searching for a crisis public relations firm to handle press inquiries -- a step frequently taken by people who believe they may be facing criminal charges. [...]Back in January, when the issue first starting getting political traction, the president and his top aides denied that he and his campaign had any connections to Moscow. "I have nothing to do with Russia," Trump tweeted at the time.

Since then, Mueller's team and congressional investigators have detailed numerous contacts, meetings and email exchanges between Trump's campaign and Russian-connected operatives and officials that were unknown to the public when voters went to the polls in November 2016. Jeff Sessions, the Trump campaign's chief national security adviser, met with the Russian ambassador at a hotel reception and later in his Senate office. Papadopoulos met with a Russia-connected professor and a woman introduced as "Putin's niece" in an effort to set up a summit between Trump and the Russian president. And most famously, Donald Trump Jr., Kushner and Manafort all met in Trump Tower with a delegation of Russians who they believed had derogatory information on Hillary Clinton -- including "official documents" -- that came straight from the highest levels of the Kremlin.

Before they do stop using the meme, can we at least pause to consider the sublimity that they latched onto the same defense as American communists did during the Cold War. The Right is the Left.

Posted by orrinj at 2:24 PM

IT COULDN'T SURVIVE WITHOUT SUBSIDIES (not that it can with them):

The Tax Bill's Gift to Big Coal  (EMILY ATKIN, December 25, 2017, New Republic0

According to Oil Change International, the U.S. federal government provides a combined $14.7 billion in various annual subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, the vast majority of which remained untouched in the tax bill. And while the majority of those subsidies favor the oil and gas industry, 20 percent go toward incentivizing coal consumption and production. What's more, the effective tax rate for coal--which is less than 1 percent--stays the same. In other words, the government still sacrifices billions in revenue every year to prop up coal, an industry that most energy analysts agree is dying.

Posted by orrinj at 2:02 PM


Don't hire more people, build smarter AI (Shai Wininger, 12/27/17, Next Web)

Think of what your life looked like only 25 years ago. There was no iPhone, no App Stores, no Facebook, no Amazon, no Twitter, no Big Data, no Google, no cloud and certainly no AI. Going back even further, say 90 years back -- you get to when the large US corporations, such as insurance companies and banks, were founded. Back then, executives had a simple formula -- make money, hire more people, earn even more money, hire even more people.

But, times are changing, and like my old CD player which fell into disuse, organizations that won't break away from that century-old way of thinking will find it very hard to compete with the new breed of businesses built on technology, and not on headcount.

Driverless cars, autonomous trucks and ships, and robotic warehouses will become an integral part of our lives sooner than most of us realize. But autonomous technology reaches far beyond eliminating operating machinery. It has the power to unlock entirely new business models: when there are no drivers, there's no need for car ownership, parking, gas stations or garages. Merely changing how we drive cars will affect how we design our future streets, highways, and cities.

Yet there's one area still largely ignored by AI innovation: the organization itself.

If you spend the better part of your day in an office, think about all the repetitive tasks you do daily: gather data, update your peers and manager, compose reports, fill out forms, coordinate events, track progress, order stuff, sign documents, send out purchase orders, etc.

Most of these tasks can be automated by bots.

Future Autonomous Organizations will rely on AI to run routine and complex tasks better and cheaper than us humans can.

Above average is over.

Posted by orrinj at 1:58 PM


The Tax Law's New Way Of Measuring Inflation Could Take A Toll On Taxpayers (Jim Zarroli, 12/27/17, NPR)

A little-remarked-upon provision changing the way inflation is calculated is among the big changes contained in the tax overhaul signed by President Trump last week.

The new method, using the so-called "chained" consumer price index to determine when to adjust tax brackets and eligibility for deductions, is expected to push more Americans into higher tax brackets more quickly. In the past, the tax code used the traditional CPI measure issued by the Labor Department each month.

By switching to this new method, the government will bring an additional $134 billion into federal coffers over the next decade, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Posted by orrinj at 1:57 PM


Airbus ready to phase out A380 if fails to win Emirates deal: sources (Tim Hepher, 12/27/17, Reuters) 

Airbus is drawing up contingency plans to phase out production of the world's largest jetliner, the A380 superjumbo, if it fails to win a key order from Dubai's Emirates, three people familiar with the matter said.

It was doomed from the start.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Ten Silver Linings in 2017 (Claire Felter, December 13, 2017, CFR)

1. The World Health Organization reports in October that global measles deaths have decreased by more than 80 percent since 2000 to an estimated ninety thousand last year. The drop is part of a broader decline in child mortality, which has been more than halved since 1990. [...]

6. The number of people living in extreme poverty, making $1.90 or less per day, continues its steady drop, falling from roughly 35 percent of the world's population in 1990 to 8.4 percent in late 2017, according to the Vienna-based World Data Lab. [...]

10. The eurozone economy grows 2.5 percent more in the third quarter of 2017 than in the same period a year prior. The increase puts the zone's economy on track to see its highest annual growth since before the 2008 global financial crisis. Unemployment in the single-currency area drops to 9.1 percent, its lowest level since early 2009.

Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Chicken of the Woods : This mushroom tastes just like chicken. (Atlas Obscura, 12/27/17)

If you find the prospect of mushroom foraging daunting, Laetiporus sulphureus might be a good place to start. Considered by some experts to be one of the "foolproof four," this fungus's bright-orange, multi-layered appearance makes it easy to identify. Even better: Inside its velvety tiers is a meaty flesh that tastes like chicken.

Nicknamed "the chicken of the woods," the mushroom is a favorite among vegetarians. Since it cannot be consumed raw, chefs find many creative ways to incorporate the mushroom's fruiting body into dishes. They sautee pieces to make omelets and stir-fries, mix them into creamy pasta sauces, or bread and fry them into nuggets.

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


Russia accuses U.S. of training former Islamic State fighters in Syria  (Reuters, 12/27/17)  

The chief of the Russian General Staff has accused the United States of training former Islamic State fighters in Syria to try to destabilize the country.

America is the greatest force for destabilization in the world.

December 26, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:05 PM


Robert Mueller May Indict Paul Manafort Again (Betsy Woodruff, 12.26.17 , Daily Beast)

"Superseding indictments are frequently brought in financial investigations due to defendant recalcitrance to cooperate and also because they take so long to be put together," said Martin Sheil, a retired supervisory special agent for the IRS' criminal investigations unit.

Mueller has been working with IRS criminal investigators, as The Daily Beast first reported in August. Those agents specialize solely in financial crimes with a tax nexus; their cooperation was an early indicator that money mattered to Mueller.

And Manafort and Gates may not be the only Trump campaign alums with headache-generating finances. On Dec. 1, retired Gen. Michael Flynn--the president's former national security adviser--pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his communications with Russian government officials. Court documents indicate that Flynn has agreed to help Mueller's team with their investigation in exchange for leniency.

Sheil noted that if Flynn isn't as cooperative as Mueller expects, then his financial dealings could be easy fodder for Mueller.

"Flynn did not disclose payments received from Russia in 2015 nor Turkey in 2016 on his Security Disclosure forms," Sheil said. "What is the likelihood he reported these sums on his tax returns?"

Additional trouble for Team Trump could arise out of the blizzard of subpoenas that reportedly went out to Deutsche Bank in the last few weeks.

The German mega-bank is likely accustomed to hot water. In January of 2017, they agreed to pay $425 million to the New York Department of Financial Services to settle allegations that they let Russian traders engage in what those regulators called "a money-laundering scheme." In that particular scheme, Russians moved $10 billion to the United States.

It's an eye-popping concession, but one that largely got lost in the noise of Trump's inauguration and the political implications of Russian efforts to intervene in the 2016 elections. But it points to close ties between the bank and Kremlin elites. The bank's lawyers signed court documents admitting they were "on clear notice" about their insufficient safeguards against unlawful activity (PDF)--while the multibillion-dollar scheme was unfolding. In fact, those lawyers admitted their traders in Moscow went "to significant lengths" to make the scheme work. They even admitted that one of their Moscow supervisors appeared to have taken bribes related to the scheme that were worth up to $2.3 million. It was underway from 2011 to early 2015.

Jared Kushner and Trump himself have had significant dealings with the bank, which also helped the hedge fund of billionaire Trump patron Robert Mercer trim billions from its tax bill. The bank has long interested congressional investigators looking into potential connections between Trump World and the Kremlin. And if reports about Mueller's subpoena of the bank are correct--and the White House says emphatically that they are not--then Mueller's money trail may be making a pit stop in Germany.

Posted by orrinj at 5:13 PM


ARE WE DIFFERENT PEOPLE IN DIFFERENT LANGUAGES?  (Ana Menéndez, November 19, 2015, Literary Hub)

The Latvian student was struggling with his assignment. I had asked all the students in my writing class at Maastricht University in the Netherlands--where instruction was in English--to translate one of their stories into their native language.

The Latvian student, B., was one of 23 who had signed up for the first year of creative writing minor I had designed for the university. This inaugural class comprised one of the most linguistically diverse groups I had ever taught. Only one--my single American--was monolingual. The rest spoke 12 different languages among them. For most of my students, English was their second or third language and yet they used it beautifully, writing stories and poems that were among the most interesting I had come across as a teacher of writing.

So I was surprised to discover that this last assignment requiring them to write in the language they had first spoken was especially difficult. Like B., many students found it nearly impossible to complete.

B. had been born in Latvia and had moved to the Netherlands with his family around the age of 10. He had already written an accomplished, rather adult story, a gothic tale involving a bit of violence and a bit of love. The translation assignment nearly did him in. He was in my office every week, unable to start the project, and then when he did, unable to make any progress. Finally, I asked him to try to pinpoint what was the root of his problem. He thought for a moment and then lit up.

"The problem," he explained, "is that this is a very dark story and Latvian is just not that kind of language."

I asked him what he meant.

"You see," he replied. "Latvian is a very sweet and beautiful language."

A sweet and beautiful language. I smiled. And then gently broke it to him that it's not the language that was sweet and beautiful; it was the 10-year-old boy who stopped using it exclusively when he acquired a new one. He was able to finish his translation after that. But I don't know if he ever quite believed me. Latvian will always remain for him the sweet and innocent language of childhood. As it probably must.

At its most basic level, we have language in order to communicate. One can easily imagine that the first human articulation was some version of "Watch out!"

But the struggles of my Latvian student show that language also communicates our deepest selves back to us, as if words were a shroud that give form to our inner world. Language is power and protest, inclusion and exclusion. It is game and braggadocio.

We can't adopt English universally fast enough.

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


California governor pardons immigrants facing deportation (Associated Press, 12/26/17)

Gov. Jerry Brown on Saturday announced pardons or sentence reductions for some 150 convicted criminals, including two Cambodian refugees facing deportation and a woman who has spent 33 years in prison despite a bungled plea deal that could have freed her decades ago. [...]

It's the second consecutive round of pardons where Brown has intervened on behalf of immigrants deported or facing deportation because of criminal convictions. Around Easter, he pardoned three men who served in the U.S. military but were deported to Mexico after completing sentences for various crimes. One, former Marine Marco Chavez, returned to the U.S. on Thursday, 15 years after he was deported following a dog-beating conviction.

The pardons come two months after Brown signed sanctuary legislation limiting state and local cooperation with federal enforcement of immigration laws.

Brown, a former Jesuit seminarian, continued his tradition of timing his decisions around major Christian holidays including Christmas.

Posted by orrinj at 3:13 PM


Syria says military jet downed in northern Hama, pilot killed (Reuters, 12/26/17)

Militant group Tahrir al Sham - a fighting force dominated by members of Al Qaeda's former branch in Syria - said it hit the plane.

Posted by orrinj at 3:09 PM


Trump has scored some successes in foreign policy (Peter Bergen, 12/26/17, CNN)

The first win is that Trump enforced a real "red line" against the use of nerve gas in Syria by the regime of Bashar al-Assad, something that Obama had failed to do. On April 4, 2016, the Syrian regime used sarin, a nerve gas, against civilian targets in the rebel-held town of Khan Sheikhoun, killing more than 80 people.

Trump called the attack an "affront to humanity" and said that it "crossed a lot of lines for me. When you kill innocent children, innocent babies ... that crosses many, many lines -- beyond a red line."
Two days after the sarin attack, American warships launched 59 cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield, the first direct military action that the United States has taken against Assad's regime.
Assad hasn't used chemical weapons against his own people since Trump ordered those cruise missile strikes in April. [...]

What is clear is that ISIS is almost completely defeated in Syria and is largely eliminated from all of its havens in Iraq. The defeat of ISIS has been a long time coming, and most of the anti-ISIS campaign took place under the Obama administration. But the Trump national security team helped to hasten the defeat of ISIS in two ways.

First, Trump decided to equip the anti-ISIS Syrian Democratic Forces -- a largely Kurdish militia -- with mortars, anti-tank weapons, armored cars and machine guns. Those forces captured ISIS's de facto Syrian capital, Raqqa, in October.

Second, Trump allowed American ground commanders greater latitude to carry out operations in war zones such as Iraq and Syria without consulting higher up the chain of command. Pentagon brass had long chafed at what they considered to be the micromanagement of military operations by the Obama White House.

Always bet on the Deep State.
Posted by orrinj at 3:04 PM


US home prices surge 6.2 percent, outpacing wage growth (AP, 12/26/17) 

Standard & Poor's said Tuesday that its S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller national home price index stood in October a solid 6 percent above its previous 2006 peak. [...]

As the economy has steadily recovered from the 2008 financial crisis, demand from would-be buyers has steadily improved. The 17-year low unemployment rate of 4.1 percent has left more Americans confident enough to put bids on homes. Sales of existing homes in November reached their strongest pace since December 2006, according to the National Association of Realtors. But the sales growth hasn't compelled more people to list their homes for sale, as the number of properties on the market has tumbled nearly 10 percent in the past 12 months.

Thanks, Donald!

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Brexit deal could be template for EU ties to Ukraine, Turkey, Germany's Gabriel says  (Reuters, 12/26/17) 

An EU agreement with Britain on relations after Brexit could serve as a model for ties with other countries that want to be as close as possible to the bloc but are not yet ready to join, such as Ukraine and Turkey, Germany's foreign minister said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:16 AM


Global Tax War Threatens Living Standards (James S. Henry, December 26, 2017,

Australia's Finance Minister warned that its economic growth rate might fall by a third unless it responds fast to the Trump/Goldman Sachs legislation. Accordingly, he promised that Australia will soon slash its own corporate tax rate from 30% to 25%. He said even that rate may be too high.

Just this week, Argentina's conservative President Mauricio Macri--who reportedly maintains close ties with Trump--announced plans to cut Argentina's corporate tax rate from 35% to 25% by 2020.

In Europe, Austria's new government just announced that it is considering a similar reduction.

Norway cut its 25% corporate income tax rate to 24% this month. More cuts may be coming.

France's corporate tax rate will be cut from 33% to 27% by 2022. Britain moved pre-emptively last April, cutting its corporate rate from 20% to 19% with plans to reduce it to 17% in 2020.

South Korea, Mexico and Chile are also actively considering corporate tax cuts, in response to the U.S. measure, my interviews with key global tax analysts around the planet reveal.

No one has yet answered why we should tax the creation/increase of wealth, which is universally accepted as a social good.

Posted by orrinj at 4:50 AM


No longer a 'lonely battle': How the campaign against the Mueller probe has taken hold (Michael Kranish, Devlin Barrett and Karoun Demirjian, December 24, 2017, Washington Post)

Among current and former law enforcement officials, the public attacks on the FBI are seen as an indirect way of trying to discredit Mueller and blunt future findings he may issue, a view shared by many Democratic lawmakers.

"There is a concerted push from the White House . . . and their allies to bring the investigations to a halt," Rep. Adam B. Schiff, the top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview. "They are also trying to attack Mueller's credibility and the credibility of the FBI, so that whatever Mueller finds can be rejected . . . as a fake.

"The White House would like to have the best of both worlds," he added. "They make the public case that they are cooperating, while their allies do the dirty work."

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 AM


Electric and plug-in hybrid cars whiz passed 3m mark worldwide (Adam Vaughan, 25 Dec '17, The Guardian)

The number of fully electric and plug-in hybrid cars on the world's roads has passed the 3m mark, as manufacturers ramp up their plans for mass production of battery-powered vehicles.

Industry watchers said the milestone was passed in November, with the growth rate indicating that electric car sales are now running at around 1m a year. The rapid growth is being driven by government incentives, manufacturers launching models for a wider mix of drivers and falling battery costs.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


White House Counsel Knew in January Flynn Probably Violated the Law (MURRAY WAAS, DECEMBER 20, 2017, Foreign Policy)
The White House turned over records this fall to special counsel Robert Mueller revealing that in the very first days of the Trump presidency, Don McGahn researched federal law dealing both with lying to federal investigators and with violations of the Logan Act, a centuries-old federal law that prohibits private citizens from negotiating with foreign governments, according to three people with direct knowledge of the confidential government documents.

The records reflected concerns that McGahn, the White House counsel, had that Michael Flynn, then the president's national security advisor, had possibly violated either one or both laws at the time, according to two of the sources. The disclosure that these records exist and that they are in the possession of the special counsel could bolster any potential obstruction of justice case against President Donald Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 4:05 AM


Carmen Yulín Cruz : For becoming the face of Puerto Rico during its greatest disaster  (KEITH JOHNSON, 12/24/17, Foreign Policy : Global Thinkers 2017)

Cruz's feud with Trump has made her a household name outside Puerto Rico and bolstered her political standing on the island; she notes that people who stop her in the street now refer to her as the "mayor of Puerto Rico." There's chatter that Cruz will next aim for the governor's mansion, although she has batted away speculation. Her high-profile battle with Trump was hardly the first time she'd taken on a bully in the pulpit -- she's nicknamed "Pitirre," after a tiny bird that aggressively defends itself against intruders. [...]

Even though a pitirre is a Tyrannus dominicensis, Cruz is anything but -- in sharp stylistic contrast to her best-known sparring partner.

When people, apparently from her own party, slapped posters around San Juan in late 2015 calling her a "traitor" for slamming the administration of the then-governor, Cruz ordered city workers to leave them up.

"I've got to protect the right of people to say what they want, even if what they say is against me," she told El Nuevo Día, a Puerto Rican newspaper. "In fact, especially when what they're saying is against me."

Posted by orrinj at 4:03 AM


The Hunt for ISIS Pivots to Remaining Pockets in Syria (ERIC SCHMITT, DEC. 24, 2017, NY Times)

With names like Joint Stars and Rivet Joint, the American spy planes are trying to track the last Islamic State fighters and top leaders, eavesdrop on their furtive conversations, and steer attack jets and ground forces to kill or capture them.

The three-year American campaign has largely achieved its goal of reclaiming territory in Syria and Iraq, and the Islamic State's religious state, or caliphate, appears all but gone. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:52 AM


Feathered guests from the east: Helen Macdonald's winter reflection : Hawfinches are legendarily mysterious, secretive and difficult to find, writes the author of H Is for Hawk. (HELEN MACDONALD, 12/24/17, New Statesman)

This autumn, there has been an unprecedented invasion from Europe. It has been reported in the national press and has set internet message boards on fire. People have left their homes expressly to search for the immigrants and some have set up microphones to detect their calls at night. Between mid-October and mid-November, 50 passed through Greenwich Park in London and more than 150 were seen at one location in East Sussex on 12 November. They've come to Britain because of food shortages in their countries of origin, and there's a general hope among those who look for them that they'll find what they need here, settle in and stay.

The new arrivals are hawfinches. If you've never seen one, imagine a chaffinch on steroids, painted soft salmon pink, black, white, russet and grey. Their enormous, cherry-stone-cracking beak resembles a pair of side-cutting steel pliers and is quite capable of severing a human finger. With coppery eyes set in an ink-black bib and mask, their overall appearance always reminds me of an exquisitely dressed pugilist. They are rare and declining in Britain -  around 800 pairs breed here - and I saw my first on a winter's evening in the late 1990s while driving through the Forest of Dean in a rainstorm at dusk. As I rounded a corner, a single bird flew up from the verge, caught in my headlights, its pied wings strobed through bright lines of falling water before it disappeared back into the dark.

The encounter was every bit as ghostly and strange as the species' reputation among British birdwatchers

December 25, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:49 AM


How Can I Possibly Believe That Faith Is Better Than Doubt? (Peter Wehner, DEC. 25, 2017, NY Times)

Not seeing and still believing is held up by Jesus as a greater thing than seeing and believing. But I'm not sure I have ever fully grasped what it is about faith that makes it precious in the eyes of God. Recently, with the help of friends -- pastors, theologians, authors, fellow believers -- I've tried to deepen my understanding on that subject.

To start out, it's worth noting that treating Christian faith as different from proof doesn't mean it's antithetical to evidence and reason. Christianity is a faith that claims to be rooted in history, not abstract philosophy. St. Paul wrote that if Jesus was not resurrected from the dead, the Christian faith is "futile" and followers of Jesus are "of all people most to be pitied."

Christians would say, in fact, that reason is affirmed in Scripture -- "Come now, and let us reason together," is how the prophet Isaiah puts it -- and that faith properly understood is consistent with and deepens our understanding of reality. "Reason purifies faith," George Weigel, my colleague at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, told me. "Faith without reason risks descending into superstition; reason without faith builds a world without windows, doors or skylights."

But faith itself, while not the converse of reason, is still distinct from it. If it seems like that's asking too much -- if you think leaps of faith are for children rather than adults -- consider this: Materialists, rationalists and atheists ultimately place their trust in certain propositions that require faith. To say that truth is only intelligible through reason is itself a statement of faith. Denying the existence of God is as much a leap of faith as asserting it. As the pastor Tim Keller told me, "Most of the things we most deeply believe in -- for example, human rights and human equality -- are not empirically provable."

As Mr. Wehner notes, the central Anglospheric insight is that Reason itself can not be grounded in reason--it requires an ur-statement of faith.  This renders Reason just another variant of the panoply of human religions.  Its main distinction is not that it has any greater access to truth, but that it is the ugliest, most inhumane, most hopeless of the faiths, in its denial that human beings have any intrinsic value and that there is any basis for judging human behavior.

Of course, many religions come out of such an analysis little better.  Polytheism and animism can not ground objective morality.  Many religions, including, most tragically, Judaism are racial and not universal.  Sunni Islam makes God a sort of dictator, supposes that the words of a mere man (actually men, given what we know of the Koran) are infallible and--a trait it shares with all the worst political philosophies--imagines that mankind can achieve perfection.  

Which brings us to the question of why one should have faith in Christianity rather than any of the other choices, and the answer is: aesthetics.  It is the beautiful story. 

Consider the story of the Christ:

The Creator gifts us a world which He imagines to be perfect, but Man sins and Falls and God drives us from the Garden to suffer for our sins.

As time goes by He grows increasingly frustrated with us, even being tempted to our destruction, but negotiating several covenants with us instead, to try and police our behavior, but also His.

Eventually, He determines that the only way He can hope to understand His Creation is to live as one of us.

Thus, Jesus is born, in the form and manner of an average Joe.

He experiences life as a mortal, preaching to us about what He expects from us, but unable to conform even Himself to those expectations.

On the Cross, He goes so far as to despair of His own existence, violating His prime commandment. He dies having failed to live up to His own standards, but having achieved insight into why we do likewise.

In recognition of the incompatibility of mortality with the divine plan He intercedes on our behalf and secures us the possibility of the grace we can not earn ourselves.

What appeals about such a faith?  Begin with the fact that the God of the Bible is rather human.  Forget the claims of the Church and read the text and you find a Being who is distinctly lacking in omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence.  In the first set of encounters between Man and God we even find Him jealous of us: expelling us from Eden before we eat from the Tree of Life and become like him; favoring Abel, who lives Edenically, over Cain, who is independent; destroying the Tower of Babel lest we become His rivals; etc..  As the Christ we find Him threatening that He comes with a sword, scourging the moneylenders, and crying out: My Lord, My Lord, why hast Thou forsaken Me?

Meanwhile, what is the Bible but the long account of His attempts to be reconciled to Man?  He gives us repeated chances and agrees to accept limitations on Himself, because. despite our flaws, His love for us endures.  Indeed, the power of the Christ story lies in the very aspect of it that made life so hard for Christian missionaries: God so loves Man that He is even willing to become one of us and experience death in order to comprehend us.  We preach Christ crucified.  Ours is the God who died. 

There simply is no more beautiful story that men tell themselves.  It is why the One Story is repeated in part or in whole in nearly every great fiction of the West.  

Obviously, it helps that, to the extent men can comprehend, it is uniquely "true"--in its comprehension of human nature--and infinitely valuable--in its provision of objective morality and the bases for the End of History--true in ways that are inaccessible to Reason and other faiths.  But, here too, because of what we know of Reason, these are really aspects of the faith's beauty, not matters of "truth."

So what is it we celebrate at Christmas?  All the Virgin Birth and Wise Men stuff is really needless accretion.  Boiled down to its essence, the cause for celebration is that the helpless human baby in the manger is God, a God who has set aside His divinity in order to be more like us and try to understand us better, even to the point of His own mortality. This most powerful Being, the Creator os us and our Universe, somehow loves us so much that He is willing to stoop to our level, despite all our failings.  Why, Mr. Wehner asks, is faith better than doubt?  Because the Faith is beautiful.   

May you and your families have a very Merry Christmas and a splendid 2018.  And may all of us keep in our hearts and minds the wonder that we live in a wonderful world and are profoundly lucky creatures. 

GOD BECOME BABY (Peter J. Leithart, 12 . 4 . 15, First Things)

Arians and Nestorians kept God at a respectable distance from the all-too-human Jesus, but the Church closed the gap by insisting that, from beginning to end, the Gospels present the life of a single hero, Jesus, the incarnate Son of God. Arians and Nestorians thought they could understand divine nature without the Gospel, and then they tried to retrofit the Gospel into what they already knew. The orthodox did the opposite: They discerned that the Gospel reveals the only God who is, strange and disreputable as he may appear. If that meant revising all they thought they knew about God, so be it.

Apart from sects outside the mainstream of Christianity--Jehovah's Witnesses being the most prominent--Arianism is no longer a viable option. Nestorianism has had more staying power. Many instinctively read the Gospels in a soft-Nestorian fashion, shifting from Jesus the man to Jesus the Son of God as seems appropriate. That "Nestorian shuffle" is a hard habit to break.

But it needs to be broken, since the good news depends on letting the Gospels re-teach us about God, the God who was "made like his brethren in all things" (Heb. 2:17). To become a sympathetic, saving priest, God the Son was born as an infant, learned to turn over and crawl; he learned to walk on human feet and to speak the language of his parents; he went through puberty, and no doubt his legs and arms were gangly for a time. God came near, entered into our weakness and misery, so that he could know and redeem human life from the inside. That is the good news of God, because it proclaims the God of the good news.


Posted by orrinj at 7:45 AM


Why Saad Hariri Had That Strange Sojourn in Saudi Arabia (ANNE BARNARD and MARIA ABI-HABIBDEC. 24, 2017, NY Times)

Lebanon's prime minister, Saad Hariri, was summoned at 8:30 a.m. to the Saudi royal offices -- unseemly early, by the kingdom's standards -- on the second day of a visit that was already far from what he had expected.

Mr. Hariri, long an ally of the Saudis, dressed that morning in jeans and a T-shirt, thinking he was going camping in the desert with the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.

But instead he was stripped of his cellphones, separated from all but one of his usual cluster of bodyguards, and shoved and insulted by Saudi security officers. Then came the ultimate indignity: He was handed a prewritten resignation speech and forced to read it on Saudi television.

This, it seemed, was the real reason he had been beckoned to the Saudi capital, Riyadh, a day earlier: to resign under pressure and publicly blame Iran, as if he were an employee and not a sovereign leader. Before going on TV, he was not even allowed to go to the house he owns there; he had to ask guards to bring him a suit.

As bizarre as the episode was, it was just one chapter in the story of Prince Mohammed, the ambitious young heir apparent determined to shake up the power structure not just of his own country but of the entire region. At home, he has jailed hundreds of fellow princes and businessmen in what he casts as an anticorruption drive. Abroad, he has waged war in Yemen and confronted Qatar.

The day Mr. Hariri was ordered to report to Riyadh, he was just a pawn in the crown prince's overall battle: to rein in the regional ambitions of Saudi Arabia's longtime rival, Iran.

The WoT is a matter of all against the Salafi/Wahabbi.

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Christmas Nocturne (JAMES WOLCOTT, DECEMBER 23, 2011, Vanity Fair)

[T]he movie that best captures the mood of Christmas for me is one that isn't thought of as a holiday classic at all--Whit Stillman's Metropolitan. A comedy of manners (and how rare is that in movies! rare in contemporary fiction itself, for that matter, where introspection drives a forklift), Metropolitan takes place over the Christmas vacation for a cliquish covey of debutantes and swains known as the Sally Fowler Rat Pack who seem to languish on sofas for large amounts of the movie, a shipwreck party engaged in gossip, teasing, intellectual namedropping, card playing, and fin de siecle musings, all of which would sound as indolently precious and brittlely arch (the privileged class flexing his pinched nostrils) if it weren't for the range of notes Stillman's dialogue and actors achieve--from the ingenuous sweetness of Carolyn Farina's Audrey (a true daughter of Jane Austen) to the parrot bite of Chris Eigeman's Nick, with his fiercely held opinions about, well, everything: "The cha-cha is no more ridiculous than life itself."

In its rotating meet-ups of a very select group, Metropolitan is reminiscent of the party novels of English novelists such as Evelyn Waugh (Vile Bodies) and Anthony Powell (Afternoon Men), a succession of set-pieces thinly tied together with grayish hangovers and severe fallouts from the evenings' dissipations. The soirees in Metropolitan don't have the vigor and debauchery of Waugh's blowouts because the drinking doesn't intensify into sloppy furor and shattered glass--its characters aren't chasing fun with the feral zeal of a foxhunt. They behave as if being a member of the urban haute bourgeoisie (UHB) conferred stricter standards on conduct and decorum than being born into the loutish aristocracy. The poignance of the film--akin to the poignance of Barry Levinson's Diner--is our understanding that this is the last time the gang will be together before the diaspora of adulthood, and that they are already nostalgic for what they haven't quite left behind. A cloud of reminiscence hangs over the characters as they're starting to miss something that hasn't yet gone.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 AM


Now we're tearing children from their parents? (Jack Schwartz, 12/24/17, Times of Israel)

Proponents of a proposal under consideration by the Trump administration to separate parents from children whose families are caught illegally crossing the border can cite precedent in American history. In the antebellum South, black slaves who were rented among masters could be auctioned off at the start of the year when their owners' contracts expired. In effect, they could be wrenched from their families and sold down the river to far-away plantations in the Deep South. Of all the travails of slavery, the prospect of parents being separated from their children and never again seeing their kin was among the worst.

From the masters' viewpoint, they were simply collateral, sold to satisfy mortgage payments, bank loans or gambling debts. It was like selling livestock. The anguish of the slaves was irrelevant, since they were considered a subspecies, incapable of the refined sensibilities of their white owners who were impervious to the tears of parents torn from their children. Under this system, upwards of 10 percent of American slaves -- probably a low figure -- faced January 1 with dread. After abolition, newspapers throughout the South were filled with the ads of former slaves desperate to reunite with their families who'd been sold to far-off plantations. Too often, the search was in vain.

The thread that links the plight of the erstwhile slaves and the victims of this current policy, which has the blessings of the White House, is the assumption that they are somehow alien to our culture, a lesser order, at once threatening and docile, who can be dealt with in whatever manner we see fit to advance or protect our own interests. In both cases, the policy was, and is, state sanctioned and perfectly legal. the desire to "teach them a lesson."

Posted by orrinj at 7:34 AM


Christmas, Scrooge, and Vocation (GENE VEITH, 12/19/17, Patheos)

The Christmas Carol is about vocation.  Scrooge has to learn to love and serve his neighbors, which is the purpose of all vocations.  As an employer, he has to learn to see employees like Bob Cratchitt as human beings with families and with struggles, to love them and then to serve them, even as they serve him in their work.  Scrooge has to learn to love and serve his family, including his earnest nephew and his bride.  He has to learn to love and serve his neighbors in the London alleys who are poor and destitute.  He has to learn to love and serve the urchins in the street and the passersby in the square.

The catalyst for this archetype of self-seeking capitalism discovering the true purpose of his vocations in the family, the workplace, and the community is the spirit(s) of Christmas.

Today, too, Christmas has to do with our vocations.  Consider our "secular" sentiments and customs:

"Christmas is a time for family."  Our vocations in the family.

"Christmas is for kids."  Family vocation + homage to the Christchild.

Office parties.  Our economic vocations.

Shopping.  Our economic activities as part of the exchange of vocation. Whereas usually, our economic activities pursue our rational self-interests, our Christmas shopping makes us think about the interests of the neighbor we are shopping for.

Gifts.  Giving and receiving gifts is the image both of the grace of God in Christ and the mutual giving and receiving that takes place in every vocation.

Is Christmas too materialistic?  Well, it's not as materialistic as God becoming flesh, redeeming our sinful flesh, and sending us back into the material world to live out our faith in love and service to our physical neighbors.

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


The Great AI Paradox : Don't worry about supersmart AI eliminating all the jobs. That's just a distraction from the problems even relatively dumb computers are causing. (Brian Bergstein,  December 15, 2017, MIT Technology Review)

Since machines can process superhuman amounts of data, you can see why they might drive more safely than people in most circumstances, and why they can vanquish Go champions. It's also why computers are getting even better at things that are outright impossible for people, such as correlating your genome and dozens of other biological variables with the drugs likeliest to cure your cancer.

Even so, all this is a small part of what could reasonably be defined as real artificial intelligence. Patrick Winston, a professor of  AI and computer science at MIT, says it would be more helpful to describe the developments of the past few years as having occurred in "computational statistics" rather than in AI. One of the leading researchers in the field, Yann LeCun, Facebook's director of AI, said at a Future of Work conference at MIT in November that machines are far from having "the essence of intelligence." That includes the ability to understand the physical world well enough to make predictions about basic aspects of it--to observe one thing and then use background knowledge to figure out what other things must also be true. Another way of saying this is that machines don't have common sense.

The computer that wins at Go is analyzing data for patterns. It has no idea it's playing Go as opposed to golf.

This isn't just a semantic quibble. There's a big difference between a machine that displays "intelligent behavior," no matter how useful that behavior is, and one that is actually intelligent. Now, let's grant that the definition of intelligence is murky. And as computers become more powerful, it's tempting to move the goalposts farther away and redefine intelligence so that it remains something machines can't yet be said to possess.

But even so, come on: the computer that wins at Go is analyzing data for patterns. It has no idea it's playing Go as opposed to golf, or what would happen if more than half of a Go board was pushed beyond the edge of a table. When you ask Amazon's Alexa to reserve you a table at a restaurant you name, its voice recognition system, made very accurate by machine learning, saves you the time of entering a request in Open Table's reservation system. But Alexa doesn't know what a restaurant is or what eating is. If you asked it to book you a table for two at 6 p.m. at the Mayo Clinic, it would try.

Is it possible to give machines the power to think, as John McCarthy, Marvin Minsky, and other originators of AI intended 60 years ago? Doing that, Levesque explains, would require imbuing computers with common sense and the ability to flexibly make use of background knowledge about the world. Maybe it's possible. But there's no clear path to making it happen. That kind of work is separate enough from the machine-learning breakthroughs of recent years to go by a different name: GOFAI, short for "good old-fashioned artificial intelligence."

December 24, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 11:10 PM


Posted by orrinj at 3:06 PM


Disaster on the Horizon: The Price Effect of Sea Level Rise (Asaf Bernstein, University of Colorado at Boulder, Matthew Gustafson, Pennsylvania State University - Smeal College of Business, Ryan Lewis, University of Colorado, Boulder,  December 2, 2017, SSRN)

Homes exposed to sea level rise (SLR) sell at a 7% discount relative to observably equivalent unexposed properties equidistant from the beach. This discount has grown over time and is driven by sophisticated buyers and communities worried about global warming. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Goodbye Russia: A generation packs its bags : Russia's leading environmental activist is one of more than a million people - many of them young and well-educated - who have packed their bags and left the country in recent years (Lucy Ash, 12/23/17, BBC)

Between 2000 and 2014, approximately 1.8 million Russians left the country, according to Alina Polyakova, director of research for Europe and Eurasia at the Atlantic Council in Washington. Earlier this year she warned the trend was intensifying and called this outward migration of largely well-educated young people "a significant national security threat to the Russian Federation".

Calculating the numbers of people who have left the country is complicated by the fact that most retain their Russian passports even if they gain passports or residence permits in other countries. The State Statistics Service counted 350,000 emigrants in 2015 - 10 times more than in 2010.

On the top floor of a shopping mall in Berlin I meet another of the new emigres, 33-year-old Asya Parfenova. She used to be a journalist in Moscow and took part in the Election Observers movement in 2012 and 2013, reporting on voters being ferried around polling stations - apparently voting multiple times - and on suspiciously stuffed ballot boxes.

"I'm probably the only one of my election observer friends who has never been in prison," she says, raising an eyebrow.

Asya started a company which enabled her to get a working visa in Germany. She runs an Escape Room - a team game in which players are locked up and have to solve complex puzzles, as a clock is ticking, to win their freedom.

"I like rules which are clear and we don't have those in Russia," she says. "The government is always pushing the idea of stability but Russia is actually the least stable place now because nobody can predict what will happen tomorrow, how laws will be interpreted - and this is very damaging for business."

Parfenova adds that many successful entrepreneurs in Russia are now trying to get a foothold in foreign markets. "They are trying to prepare, as we say, a 'spare airport', a safe place to land in case there is no possibility of landing in Russia any more."

Another new slang word has crept into the Russian language, says Artemy Troitsky, Russia's leading music critic - poravalism, or "time-to-get-out-of-here-ism". A high-profile poravalist himself, Troitsky now lives in Estonia, like Chirikova.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


The Five Best Christmas Movies You've (Probably) Never Seen (Arthur Herman, December 23, 2017, National Review)

The Bishop's Wife (1947). Cary Grant is the omnicompetent urbane angel who's come to Earth to save a bumbling bishop (David Niven) from his obsession with building a costly cathedral, which has alienated him from his friends, his parishioners, and his wife, played by Loretta Young in what I think is her single best role on film. The graceful performances by Grant, Niven, and Young, plus Monty Woolley as a bumptious professor of ancient history and Elsa Lanchester as the bishop's mousy maid, raise what might have been a limp version of It's A Wonderful Life to the level of cinematic art.

Meet John Doe (1941). No Christmas movie list is complete without a Frank Capra film, and in this one we again get the treat of Barbara Stanwyck as a dishonest journalist. This time she's trying to save her job by penning a phony letter from someone claiming he's going to commit suicide on Christmas Eve in order to protest the injustices in the world, and signing himself "John Doe." When the letter causes a publicity sensation, she has to find a real John Doe and recruits a shy, out-of-work semi-pro ball player (Gary Cooper). The pair quickly become caught up in a national frenzy of John Doe Clubs, which turn out to be manipulated by a wealthy millionaire with dark political ambitions. As a penetrating commentary on American democracy, and an exploration of the possibilities as well as dangers of a runaway populism, the movie not only puts Capra's earlier Mr. Smith Goes to Washington in the shade, but gives us an important film to watch in the era of Donald Trump as well as at Christmas.

Not only is Bishop's Wife tremendous, but the nakedness of the angel's desire is profoundly Christian.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


Politicians more polarized than voters, Stanford political scientist finds (CLIFTON B. PARKER, 12/20/17,

Stanford political scientist and Hoover fellow Morris Fiorina finds that American political parties are polarized, but that doesn't reflect ordinary voters.

The Stanford News Service recently interviewed Fiorina about the topic: [...]

Citizens should realize that nearly everyone featured in the political media is "abnormal" (in a statistical sense, but probably in other senses as well).  The sorting process I have described is much more evident among the small minority that is most politically involved; most Americans are not, but these normal Americans are not the ones featured in the media. Bear in mind that less than 2 percent of the eligible electorate subscribes to the New York Times. About 1 percent of the electorate watches Fox News or Stanford's Rachel Maddow in the evening.

If you're one of those who watch Anderson Cooper on CNN (and I imagine that a lot of people reading this are), consider that about the same number of Americans at about the same time are watching Yogi Bear re-runs on Nick at Nite (admittedly, some of those viewers are too young to vote).

As always, most Americans are working, raising their families and otherwise going about their daily lives, not paying much attention to the political wars being fought by political elites.

All you really need to know about the American consensus is that the gay Muslim Socialist Kenyan president passed the Heritage health plan and cut taxes more than the GOP just did, while waging a global war on terror and expanding trade more than any prior executive.  The universal acceptance of democracy, capitalism, and protestantism means that we have nothing significant left to argue over, so the parties are reduced to fighting over who gets credit for identical policies.  This makes all politics more personal and bitter even as it declines into triviality. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Iraq Invites Energy Companies For Building New Oil Pipeline (Radio Liberty, December 24, 2017)

Iraq's Oil Ministry invited oil companies on December 24 to submit statements of interest in building a new pipeline from the northern city of Kirkuk to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

The state-run Oil Projects Company said that the planned 350-kilometer oil pipeline will carry up to 1 million barrels a day.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 AM


A universal story: Christmas in NH celebrated with many customs, in many tongues (SHAWNE K. WICKHAM, 12/24/17, NEW HAMPSHIRE SUNDAY NEWS)

This Christmas in New Hampshire, if you wish, you can hear the Catholic Mass said in Portuguese at a Nashua church or in Vietnamese in Manchester. A Concord church will celebrate the birth of the Christ child in Swahili.

A Presbyterian church in Rochester will sing and pray in Indonesian. And Christmas carols will be sung in Polish at a Manchester cathedral.

The language and customs may vary but the story they all celebrate is timeless and universal.

The Rev. Jason Wells is executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches. An Episcopal priest, he'll preach on Christmas at the state prison for women.

Wells said the story of the nativity transcends cultural and language differences.

"If we're middle class people who will go back to our Christmas trees in the suburbs, like me, or if we're women in prison on a drug charge, or if we're here from another country where we rarely hear our own language spoken anymore except when we go to church, we're reaching the same human nature, the same kinds of concerns and fears, doubts and addictions," Wells said. "We all have need of the same message of hope."

Bishop Paul Sobiechowski is pastor of Holy Trinity Cathedral in Manchester, a parish of the Polish National Catholic Church. These days, he said, most parishioners are fourth- or fifth-generation Polish, so the Mass is celebrated in English.

But some of the carols they sing on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day will be in the old tongue. And families will celebrate traditional customs, breaking the "oplatki" wafer that is embossed with a nativity scene before sharing a meatless dinner on Christmas Eve.

For believers, Sobiechowski said, "Christmas is the celebration of that moment in time when God became man."

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 AM


And Then The Barrier Broke: Remembering Jackie Robinson's first 10 days as a big leaguer : How Jackie Robinson survived a torrent of pressure and prejudice in his first ten days as Major League Baseball's first black player. (JAY JAFFE April 14, 2017, Sports Illustrated)

On a cool Tuesday at Ebbets Field, 26,623 fans--an estimated 14,000 of whom were black -- came out for the Opening Day festivities, around 5,000 fewer than the team's home opener the year before. The Brooklyn Eagle's Harold C. Burr cited the smallpox scare and the absence of Durocher as reasons that attendance was down, "but everyone knew the real reason," wrote Jonathan Eig, author of Opening Day: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Season. "White Brooklynites were not accustomed to being surrounded by black Brooklynites, and they were not eager to discover how it felt."

Brooklyn borough president John Cashmore threw out the game's first pitch; a photograph (similar to this one) of him greeting Robinson ran in the Eagle, near one of the Dodgers infield that featured second baseman Eddie Stanky with his left arm on Robinson's right shoulder (similar to this)--a sign of acceptance that was hardly universal among the Dodgers. Though teammates such as Ralph Branca and Gene Hermanski shook Robinson's hand upon his arrival in the clubhouse, Georgia-born Dixie Walker, who had spearheaded a petition to keep Robinson off the team, conspicuously turned his head away from the newcomer in the team photo.

Acting manager Clyde Sukeforth, who had scouted Robinson and summoned him to Brooklyn to meet with Rickey and sign his first professional contract on August 28, 1945, wrote Robinson into the lineup's second spot. He would face lefty Johnny Sain, renowned for one of the league's nastiest curveballs and coming off a 20-14, 2.21 ERA season. Asked by an Associated Press reporter before the game whether he had any butterflies in his stomach, Robinson replied, "Not a one. I wish I could say I did because then maybe I'd have an alibi if I don't do so good." In the stands, an underdressed Rachel Robinson and son Jackie Jr. tried to keep warm, with an assist from the mother-in-law of future Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella, who placed the boy inside her fur coat.

"Jackie is very definitely brunette," said Mississippi-born radio announcer Red Barber as Robinson and the rest of the Dodgers took the field behind lefty starter Joe Hatten, who quickly induced Braves leadoff hitter Dick Culler to ground to third baseman Spider Jorgenson, who was also making his big league debut.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 AM


"Ride the High Country": An Elegy on Leadership (David Hein, 12/22/17, Imaginative Conservative)

Excellent films can be prolegomena or adjuncts to nonfiction studies of character. They can function as trailers to incite interest, provoke questions, and create memories, which viewers might then employ as touchstones for future cognition. For students of leadership for a just society, Ride the High Country crystallizes beliefs and codes of behavior worth studying, affirming, and claiming today. And this film does so, not at all as a didactic and hence desiccated artifact, but as a still-absorbing story that reaches out to mind, heart, and will in a manner that is irreplaceable.

Among this movie's widely appreciated episodes, the ending is the most famous: one of the most powerfully evocative death scenes in all of cinema history. It's a scene that--rather troublingly--marks not only the death of the film's good guy, a former United States Marshal named Steve Judd (played by Joel McCrea), but also, potentially, the death of all he has stood for through many years of dedicated service to law and order in the West.

That somber assessment is made possible by this film's opening scenes, in which Steve rides into town and mistakenly supposes that the cheering throngs are saluting his past glory as a highly regarded peace officer. Instead, they're whooping it up for a (dishonest) race between a camel and a horse. Sitting tall in the saddle, the bemused Steve Judd is merely in the way. It's the early twentieth century, a horseless carriage chugs slowly through the center of town, and a uniformed constable (not a sheriff with a six-gun) yells at Steve, who, after some years of barely scraping by, looks a little the worse for wear in his shabby apparel: "Get out of the way, old man; can't you hear? Can't you see you're in the way?"

In real life, Ride the High Country marked all kinds of disappointing closures. But in the film, when Steve dies, the viewer is deeply satisfied that this lawman's principal concern is realized. Earlier in this movie, riding a trail in the mountains with Gil Westrum (Randolph Scott), his partner from years before, Steve speaks lines that are unabashedly moral; in fact, un-self-consciously religious. To today's audiences, familiar with either overly sentimental or casually dismissive renderings of Christian themes in films (and, interestingly, Ride the High Country includes a violent, misshapen Christian, Elsa's father, Joshua Knudsen), the straightforward treatment in this Western might well prove a relief.

Gil, who had served as Steve's deputy in the cause of frontier justice, has decided that society owes him some recompense. Reduced to performing in a carnival as a cheap counterfeit of a western hero (playing a sharpshooter called the Oregon Kid), Gil is unwilling to die a poor man; he plans to steal the gold shipment that he, Steve, and a young man named Heck Longtree (Ron Starr) have been hired to protect on its journey from the Coarse Gold mining camp in the high Sierras to the town bank in Hornitos, California.

Gil wants to entice Steve to join him in this theft--it's only stealing from a bank, after all, and they're entitled to the gold after all those years of loyal service, taking bullets for next to nothing. Approaching his theme indirectly, Gil asks Steve: "You know what's on the back of a poor man when he dies? The clothes of pride. And they are not a bit warmer to him dead than they were when he was alive. Is that all you want, Steve?"

But Gil cannot convince his old partner to break his code of honor. Indeed, Steve's ethics appear to have a transcendent status, a metaphysical heft that more than compensates for the outward shame of his frayed cuffs and threadbare coat. A tough sheriff who'd set him straight years before when Steve was just starting out had an advantage over the younger man which went beyond physical strength: "See, he was right, and I was wrong," Steve informs Gil, and "that makes the difference." "Who says so?" Gil asks. Steve replies: "Nobody. That's something you just know." Morality has an objective grounding apart from individual preferences.

On the trail through the mountains, Steve makes it clear that he's still dedicated to living by this sense of right and wrong, come what may. His reply to Gil's "Is that all you want, Steve?" is "All I want is to enter my house justified." It's a line that Sam Peckinpah--who rewrote much of the original film script--borrowed directly from his father and, in all likelihood, indirectly from Luke 18:14, in which the humble tax collector (who confesses himself "a sinner"), rather than the Pharisee, went down to his house justified before God.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 AM



THE life of man consists of impulses which spring from the coming together of inner desires and outer impressions. By the word desires is here not meant the intelligent want of a definite object, but the mere outreaching of vital energy. Desires and impressions, so far as our knowledge attains, cannot exist independently, that is to say, there can be no living organism without the constant interaction of an inner vital energy and an enveloping world. Impulses tend to pass into mental and physical activities, of the latter of which many belong to our animal functions and scarcely reach to the senses. Mental activities react in the form of new desires, physical activities in the form of new impressions. Certain activities are beneficial to our organization, others are detrimental. The sum of desires and impressions we call the great self-moving, incessant flux.

Beside the flux of life there is also that within man which displays itself intermittently as an inhibition upon this or that impulse, preventing its prolongation in activity, and making a pause or eddy, so to speak, in the stream. This negation of the flux we call the inner check. It is not the mere blocking of one impulse by another, which is a quality of the confusion of the flux itself, but a restraint upon the flux exercised by a force contrary to it.

In the repeated exercise of the inner check we are conscious of two elements of our being - the inner check itself and the stream of impulses - as coexistent and cooperative, yet essentially irreconcilable, forces. What, if anything, lies behind the inner check, what it is, why and how it acts or neglects to act, we cannot express in rational terms. Of the ultimate source of desires and impressions, and of the relation of the resulting flux of impulses to the inner check in that union which we call ourselves, we are darkly ignorant. These are the final elements of self-knowledge - on the one hand multiplicity of impulses, on the other hand unity and cupiditatum oblivio, alta rerum quies. Consciousness, the more deeply we look into ourselves, tells us that we are ceaselessly changing, yet tells us also that we are ever the same. This dualism of consciousness, it seems, is the last irrational fact, the report behind which we cannot go, the decision against which there is no appeal, the reality which only stands out the more clearly the more it is questioned. If a man denies this dualism of consciousness there is no argument with him, but a fundamental difference of intuition which will follow into every view of philosophy and criticism.

The attempt to resolve the irrational paradox by asserting that there is an absolute consciousness which embraces the two elements of a lower consciousness can only fall into endless regression. Thus, let A and B represent the two elements of consciousness. If a man asserts that there is a third element, C, which is conscious of A and B as mere aspects of one and the same mental activity, then for the original dualism he establishes a new-dualism in which C is one element while A and B together form the other element. And so on without end. The difficulty arises here from attempting to treat the so-called self-knowledge of consciousness as if it were the same intellectual process as knowledge which requires a subject and an object, a knower and a thing known, or, in our mental life, a present and a past. We do not know the flux by the inner check, or the inner check by the flux, or either of these by some other element of our being, but we are immediately and inexplicably conscious of both at once - we are both at once.

Reason, which is our instrument of analysis and definition, is itself an organ of the flux.

If you seek to depend on Reason, you're fluxed.
Posted by orrinj at 6:19 AM


Federal judge partially lifts Trump's latest refugee restrictions (Yeganeh Torbati, 12/24/17, Reuters)

Robart ruled that the administration could carry out the security review, but that it could not stop processing or admitting refugees from the 11 countries in the meantime, as long as those refugees have a "bona fide" connection to the United States.

As part of its new restrictions, the Trump administration had also paused a program that allowed for family reunification for refugees, pending further security screening procedures being put into place.

Robart ordered the government to re-start the program, known as "follow-to-join". Approximately 2,000 refugees were admitted into the United States in fiscal year 2015 under the program, according to Department of Homeland Security data. [...]

Robart, who was appointed to the bench by Republican former President George W. Bush, emerged from relative obscurity in February, when he issued a temporary order to lift the first version of Trump's travel ban.

9th Circuit rules against Trump's third attempt at travel ban (MAX GREENWOOD, 12/22/17, The Hill)

A panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Friday ruled against the third iteration of President Trump's travel ban, saying it goes against federal law.

"We conclude that the President's issuance of the Proclamation once again exceeds the scope of his delegated authority," the court said in its ruling.

Supreme Court Allows 'Grandparent' Exemption To Trump Travel Ban (Merrit Kennedy, 7/19/17, NPR)

The Supreme Court has upheld parts of a lower court order that had widened the definition of which citizens from the six Muslim-majority countries covered by the Trump administration's travel ban are still eligible to travel to the U.S.

The order issued Wednesday leaves in place the action of a U.S. District Court judge in Hawaii who broadened the definition of close family to include categories such as the grandparents and cousins of a person in the U.S.

Posted by orrinj at 5:54 AM


The strange reinvention of Icelandic (The Economist, 12/24/17)

IT IS hardly surprising that Icelanders have names for the many different fish that abound in their surrounding waters--the various types of cod, herring and so on which they have been catching for centuries. It is rather more surprising that they have not just one word for the coelacanth, but three. After all, the living fossils of the Indian Ocean's depths hardly impinge on their Atlantic way of life--and if an Icelander found a pressing need to talk about them, why not just use the Greek word, as other nations do? But Icelanders are keen namers of things--and would never dream of simply adopting a transliterated version of someone else's word. So they call the coelacanth skúfur, which means "tassel". Or skúfuggi: tassel-fin. Or sometimes forniskúfur: "ancient tassel" [listen to a spoken pronunciation here].

Icelanders are fiercely proud of their tongue and stay actively involved in its maintenance. On Icelandic Language Day they celebrate those among the population of 340,000 who have done the most for it. They love the links it gives them to their past. Ordinary Icelanders revel in their ability to use phrases from the sagas--written around eight centuries ago--in daily life. The commentator who says that a football team is bíta í skjaldarrendur ("biting its shield-end") [spoken] as it fights on in the face of great odds, is behaving quite normally in borrowing an image from ancient tales of Viking derring-do (one of the castles in the British Museum's 12th-century Lewis chess-set records the metaphor in walrus ivory).

Posted by orrinj at 5:49 AM


How Putin became a problem for Russian oligarchs (Roman Dobrokhotov, 12/24/17, Al Jazeera)

On November 22, Russian oligarch and senator Suleiman Kerimov (net worth of $6.3bn) was arrested in Nice and now stands accused of money laundering.

On December 13, the premises of the Dutch subsidiary of Russian Alfa Bank were searched and its assets frozen; the bank is owned by Michael Fridman, Pyotr Aven, Alexey Kuzmichev and German Kahn (combined net worth of $35.6bn).

On December 13, as well, a Daily Beast investigation revealed that Mikhail Prokhorov (net worth of $8.9bn) had 23 accounts in the Cyprus branch of the now closed FBME bank. The bank lost its license and the accounts of its clients were frozen after the US accused it of facilitating money laundering.

Gennady Timchenko (net worth of $16bn), a close friend of Putin's, and his company, Novatek, are still under US sanctions. Russia's richest man, Leonid Mikhelson (net worth of $18.4bn), who is also Timchenko's partner and co-owner of Novatek, is threatened with sanctions.

Russia's largest private oil company, Lukoil, owned by Vagit Alekperov (net worth of $14.5bn) and Leonid Fedun (net worth of $6.3bn), is also still on the sanctions list. There are other Russian oligarchs who might get slapped with sanctions, including Dmitry Rybolovlev (net worth of $7.3bn) and Viktor Vekselberg (net worth of $12.4bn). 

Proximity to Putin, which used to be considered most important for capital growth in the Russian oligarchic system, is now becoming a considerable risk.
In other words, approximately half of Russia's biggest oligarchs are having troubles abroad; the other half might start having them in February 2018, when the US expands its sanctions list.

The oligarchs most likely to get on that list, of course, are the ones closest to the Kremlin. A number of Russian opposition leaders are actively cooperating with the US authorities, who are consulting them on this issue.

Proximity to Putin, which used to be considered most important for capital growth in the Russian oligarchic system, is now becoming a considerable risk.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM

ACORN! (profanity alert):

Bannon reveals open hostilities with Ivanka Trump, Kushner (STUART WINER, 12/24/17, Times of Israel)

Bannon also scorned Ivanka's attitude towards Republican candidate for the US Senate, Roy Moore, who faced accusations of sexual misconduct with teenagers during an ultimately failed campaign to win the seat for Alabama.

Although her father supported Moore, as did Bannon, Ivanka had declared: "There is a special place in hell for people who prey on children."

"What about the allegations about her dad and that 13-year-old?" Bannon said, referring to a claim by a California woman that Trump raped her when she was a teenager.

Posted by orrinj at 5:42 AM


North Korea slams new UN sanctions as 'act of war' (Al Jazeera, 12/24/17)

North Korea has slammed the latest round of UN Security Council (UNSC) sanctions against Pyongyang as "an act or war" and vowed to consolidate its nuclear programme.

December 23, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 PM


2,300 years later, Plato's theory of consciousness is being backed up by neuroscience (Olivia Goldhill, June 18, 2016, Quartz)

In 2008, neuroscientist Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Sleep and Consciousness put forward his "integrated information theory," which is currently accepted as one of the most compelling explanations about what consciousness is.

One of the central claims of the theory is that, for consciousness to exist, it must have "cause-effect" power on itself.

Neurologist Melanie Boly, a resident at UW's School of Medicine and Public Health who has worked with Tononi, explains that for anything to exist, it must be able to have an effect; it must be able to make some small difference to something else.

"Consciousness exists for itself and by itself," says Boly. "Thus it should have cause and effect on itself."

Posted by orrinj at 2:21 PM


At Year's End, Conservatives Are Winning the GOP Civil War (But character is still destiny, and storm clouds are on the horizon. (David French, December 22, 2017, National Review)

In the days after Donald Trump beat Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States, a number of friends asked me what concerned me the most about a Trump presidency. The answer was comprehensive. I had concerns about Trump's character, his associates, and his policies.

Those concerns were well-founded. Our temperamental, impulsive, and inexperienced president began his his first term taking advice from the likes of Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn. His ideologically incoherent campaign had at various times cast doubt on our NATO alliances, advocated withdrawal from Afghanistan, argued that U.S. forces should commit war crimes, advocated an economically ruinous form of protectionism, and promoted a starry-eyed view of Vladimir Putin that was utterly at odds with reality and American interests.

Indeed, when elements of the Trump coalition said "burn it all down," they truly meant "all" -- not just the Obama/Clinton Democratic establishment, not just the McConnell/Ryan Republican establishment, but the post-World War II economic and military order. They wanted a revolution, and Trump was the man they chose to bring it about.

What a short, inglorious revolution it turned out to be. Fast-forward eleven months. Flynn's out. Bannon's out. Our NATO alliances are firm. We've rushed missile-defense batteries to South Korea. We've reinforced Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Though elements of ISIS endure, we've defeated its caliphate in conventional combat without resorting to any war crimes. We've seen Trump's first major legislative victory, a thoroughly Republican tax plan that delivers on long-desired hopes for cuts in corporate rates. [...]

In short, if there is a GOP civil war, conservatives are winning it. 

Posted by orrinj at 2:19 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


US to send anti-tank missiles to Ukraine (TARA PALMERI CONOR FINNEGAN,  Dec 23, 2017, ABC News)

If the president formally signs off, the plan will be presented to Congress for a 30-day review period where it would need to be approved before the State Department can implement it.

The sale of anti-tank missiles, which could possibly include the U.S.-made Javelin system, provoked a strong reaction from Russia on Saturday, saying it "crossed the line," and could threaten to derail Trump's calls for better relations with Moscow.

The total defense package of $47 million includes the sale of 210 anti-tank missiles and 35 launchers. Additional supplies will need to be purchased, according to a senior State Department official.

"We have nothing to announce at this time," National Security Council spokesperson Marc Raimondi told ABC News.

In a statement, State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert told ABC News: "The United States has decided to provide Ukraine enhanced defensive capabilities as part of our effort to help Ukraine build its long-term defense capacity, to defend its sovereignty and territorial integrity, and to deter further aggression. U.S. assistance is entirely defensive in nature, and as we have always said, Ukraine is a sovereign country and has a right to defend itself. The United States remains committed to the Minsk agreements as the way forward in eastern Ukraine. We have no further comment, at this time."

Gotta love the anti-Russian Deep State trying to force this on the Pro-Putin president.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM



Late to his own meeting and waving a sheet of numbers, President Trump stormed into the Oval Office one day in June, plainly enraged.

Five months before, Mr. Trump had dispatched federal officers to the nation's airports to stop travelers from several Muslim countries from entering the United States in a dramatic demonstration of how he would deliver on his campaign promise to fortify the nation's borders.

But so many foreigners had flooded into the country since January, he vented to his national security team, that it was making a mockery of his pledge. Friends were calling to say he looked like a fool, Mr. Trump said.

According to six officials who attended or were briefed about the meeting, Mr. Trump then began reading aloud from the document, which his domestic policy adviser, Stephen Miller, had given him just before the meeting. The document listed how many immigrants had received visas to enter the United States in 2017.

More than 2,500 were from Afghanistan, a terrorist haven, the president complained.

Haiti had sent 15,000 people. They "all have AIDS," he grumbled, according to one person who attended the meeting and another person who was briefed about it by a different person who was there.

Forty thousand had come from Nigeria, Mr. Trump added. Once they had seen the United States, they would never "go back to their huts" in Africa, recalled the two officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss a sensitive conversation in the Oval Office.

As the meeting continued, John F. Kelly, then the secretary of homeland security, and Rex W. Tillerson, the secretary of state, tried to interject, explaining that many were short-term travelers making one-time visits. But as the president continued, Mr. Kelly and Mr. Miller turned their ire on Mr. Tillerson, blaming him for the influx of foreigners and prompting the secretary of state to throw up his arms in frustration.

Donald was raised a racist, but General Kelly commanded American soldiers of every ethnicity; he has no excuse.

Posted by orrinj at 1:55 PM


Was the Steele Dossier the FBI's 'Insurance Policy'? (Andrew C. McCarthy, December 23, 2017, National Review)

Was it the Steele dossier that so frightened the FBI?

I think so.

There is a great deal of information to follow. But let's cut to the chase: The Obama-era FBI and Justice Department had great faith in Steele because he had previously collaborated with the bureau on a big case. Plus, Steele was working on the Trump-Russia project with the wife of a top Obama Justice Department official, who was personally briefed by Steele. [...]

[T]he FBI and DOJ liked and trusted Steele, for what seem to be good reasons. As the Washington Post has reported, the former MI-6 agent's private intelligence firm, Orbis, was retained by England's main soccer federation to investigate corruption at FIFA, the international soccer organization that had snubbed British bids to host the World Cup. In 2010, Steele delivered key information to the FBI's organized-crime liaison in Europe. This helped the bureau build the Obama Justice Department's most celebrated racketeering prosecution: the indictment of numerous FIFA officials and other corporate executives. Announcing the first wave of charges in May 2015, Attorney General Loretta Lynch made a point of thanking the investigators' "international partners" for their "outstanding assistance."

At the time, Bruce Ohr was the Obama Justice Department's point man for "Transnational Organized Crime and International Affairs," having been DOJ's long-serving chief of the Organized Crime and Racketeering Section. He also wore a second, top-echelon DOJ hat: associate deputy attorney general. That made him a key adviser to the deputy attorney general, Sally Yates (who later, as acting attorney general, was fired for insubordinately refusing to enforce President Trump's so-called travel ban). In the chain of command, the FBI reports to the DAG's office.

To do the Trump-Russia research, Steele had been retained by the research firm Fusion GPS (which, to repeat, had been hired by lawyers for the Clinton campaign and the DNC). Fusion GPS was run by its founder, former Wall Street Journal investigative journalist Glenn Simpson. Bruce Ohr's wife, Nellie, a Russia scholar, worked for Simpson at Fusion. The Ohrs and Simpson appear to be longtime acquaintances, dating back to when Simpson was a senior fellow at the International Assessment and Strategy Center. In 2010, all three participated in a two-day conference on international organized crime, sponsored by the National Institute of Justice (see conference schedule and participant list, pp. 27-30). In connection with the Clinton campaign's Trump-Russia project, Fusion's Nellie Ohr collaborated with Steele and Simpson, and DOJ's Bruce Ohr met personally with Steele and Simpson.

Manifestly, the DOJ and FBI were favorably disposed toward Steele and Fusion GPS. [...]

Page, a top-of-the-class graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy with various other academic distinctions, traveled to Moscow for a three-day trip, the centerpiece of which was a July 7 commencement address at the New Economic School (the same institution at which President Obama gave a commencement address on July 7, 2009). The New York Times has reported, based on leaks from "current and former law enforcement and intelligence officials," that Page's July trip to Moscow "was a catalyst for the F.B.I. investigation into connections between Russia and President Trump's campaign." The Times does not say what information the FBI had received that made the Moscow trip such a "catalyst."

Was it the Steele dossier?

Well, on July 19, Steele reported that, while in Moscow, Page had held secret meetings with two top Putin confederates, Igor Sechin and Ivan Diveykin. Steele claimed to have been informed by "a Russian source close to" Sechin, the president of Russia's energy conglomerate Rosneft, that Sechin had floated to Page the possibility of "US-Russia energy co-operation" in exchange for the "lifting of western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine." Page was said to have reacted "positively" but in a manner that was "non-committal."

Another source, apparently Russian, told Steele that "an official close to" Putin chief of staff Sergei Ivanov had confided to "a compatriot" that Igor Diveykin (of the "Internal Political Department" of Putin's Presidential Administration) had also met with Page in Moscow. (Note the dizzying multiple-hearsay basis of this information.) Diveykin is said to have told Page that the regime had "a dossier of 'kompromat'" -- compromising information -- on Hillary Clinton that it would consider releasing to Trump's "campaign team." Diveykin further "hinted (or indicated more strongly) that the Russian leadership also had 'kompromat' on TRUMP which the latter should bear in mind in his dealings with them."

The hacked DNC emails were first released on July 22, shortly before the Democratic National Convention, which ran from July 25 through 28.

In "late July 2016," Steele claimed to have been told by an "ethnic Russian close associate of . . . TRUMP" that there was a "well-developed conspiracy of co-operation" between "them" (apparently meaning Trump's inner circle) and "the Russian leadership." The conspiracy was said to be "managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate's campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy adviser, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries."

The same source claimed that the Russian regime had been behind the leak of DNC emails "to the WikiLeaks platform," an operation the source maintained "had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team." As a quid pro quo, "the TRUMP team" was said to have agreed (a) "to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue," and (b) to raise the failure of NATO nations to meet their defense commitments as a distraction from Russia aggression in Ukraine, "a priority for PUTIN who needed to cauterise the subject."

Late July to Early August 2016

The Washington Post has reported that Steele's reports were first transmitted "by an intermediary" to the FBI and other U.S. intelligence officials after the Democratic National Convention (which, to repeat, ended on July 28). The intermediary is not identified. We do not know if it was Fusion, though that seems likely given that Fusion shared its work with government and non-government entities. Steele himself is also said to have contacted "a friend in the FBI" about his research after the Democratic convention. As we've seen, Steele made bureau friends during the FIFA investigation. [...]

Even though the FISA warrant targeting Page is classified and the FBI and DOJ have resisted informing Congress about it, some of its contents were illegally and selectively leaked to the Washington Post in April 2017 by sources described as "law enforcement and other U.S. officials." According to the Post:

The government's application for the surveillance order targeting Page included a lengthy declaration that laid out investigators' basis for believing that Page was an agent of the Russian government and knowingly engaged in clandestine intelligence activities on behalf of Moscow, officials said. 

Among other things, the application cited contacts that he had with a Russian intelligence operative in New York City in 2013, officials said. Those contacts had earlier surfaced in a federal espionage case brought by the Justice Department against the intelligence operative and two other Russian agents. In addition, the application said Page had other contacts with Russian operatives that have not been publicly disclosed, officials said.

I've emphasized that last portion because it strongly implies that the FISA application included information from the Steele dossier.'s not helpful to demonstrate that MI6, investigative journalists, Senators, the Justice Department and the Federal courts all found his work compelling. 
Posted by orrinj at 1:43 PM


America teams up with Russia, China, to pass strict new economic sanctions on North Korea (The Week, December 22, 2017)

The United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to put some of the heaviest sanctions yet on North Korea, including limiting oil exports strictly to their current levels and ordering North Korean workers abroad to return home within two years, The New York Times reports. Friday's 15-0 vote marks a significant step in the process because the United States was joined by Russia and China, which historically have hesitated on escalating sanctions against the regime.

One of those difficult things for the Trumpettes to process is that a president collaborating with enemies to achieve our ends is just normal foreign policy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:28 PM


Tax Bill Hysteria (Bret Stephens DEC. 22, 2017, NY Times)

"Our current corporate tax system is outdated, unfair and inefficient. It provides tax breaks for moving jobs and profits overseas and hits companies that choose to stay in America with one of the highest tax rates in the world. It is unnecessarily complicated and forces America's small businesses to spend countless hours and dollars filing their taxes. It's not right and it needs to change."

That was Barack Obama in 2012, with a proposal to cut rates to 28 percent. Other prominent Democrats who have previously called for cutting corporate taxes include Tim Geithner, Ms. Pelosi, and Chuck Schumer.

Maybe the current bill cuts the rate too far -- or, as I think, doesn't cut it far enough. Maybe the argument that companies will use additional revenues to hire more workers is too optimistic, if only because the United States is already close to full employment. Maybe they'll reward their shareholders instead -- which, however, probably means you, assuming you have an I.R.A.

And maybe there's something to be said for Google parking several billion dollars in profits in a Bermuda shell company, just to take advantage of the islands' zero rate. It's delightfully devious coming from the well-heeled apostles of "Don't Be Evil."

But the suggestion by senior Democrats that it is now a moral abomination to enact the very type of tax reform they themselves favored until quite recently smacks of partisan dishonesty, if not ideological hysteria. Many developed countries, including Germany, Sweden and Britain, have all slashed their corporate rates in recent years. Lo, the sky did not fall.

Now to the bad politics. Democrats think it's politically smart to oppose the bill because some 58 percent of Americans were against it, according to a recent poll.

A Times analysis of the poll also found that half of the people who will get a tax cut under the bill don't think they're going to get one, likely out of distrust for the president.

But nothing is so splendid in life or politics as a good surprise, and Democrats have positioned themselves to be on the wrong side of it. In 2018, according to the Tax Policy Center, 91 percent of middle-income filers will get a tax cut, averaging close to $1,100. That's real money, or at least enough to give Donald Trump and congressional Republicans a good opening for a "we told you so" moment.

The cuts also coincide with some of the most robust economic growth in over a decade.

The bill is too trivial to justify their reaction, which only serves to shift credit for the economy in coming years to the GOP.

Posted by orrinj at 9:49 AM


Mattis: U.S. Ready for War With N. Korea (Robert Burns, 12/22/17, AP)

 "Storm clouds are gathering" over the Korean Peninsula, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declared on Friday. And as diplomats try to resolve the nuclear standoff, he told soldiers that the U.S. military must do its part by being ready for war. [...]

Mattis' comments came as the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved tough new sanctions against North Korea, compelling nations to sharply reduce their sales of oil to the reclusive country and send home all North Korean expatriate workers within two years.

Such workers are seen as a key source of revenue for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's cash-strapped government. that the "humanitarian" course is always to starve millions of innocent victims rather than resort to the "barbarity" of destroying the oppressors.

Posted by orrinj at 9:35 AM



The AdS/CFT duality connects a theory of gravity in a space-time region called anti-de Sitter space (which curves differently than our universe) to an equivalent quantum field theory describing that region's gravity-free boundary. Everything there is to know about AdS space--often called the "bulk" since it's the higher-dimensional region--is encoded, like in a hologram, in quantum interactions between particles on the lower-dimensional boundary. Thus, AdS/CFT gives physicists a "holographic" understanding of the quantum nature of gravity.

That's the idea that space-time and everything in it emerges like a hologram out of information stored in the entangled quantum states of particles. [...]

What do you see as the relationship between math and physics?

I prefer not to give you a cosmic answer but to comment on where we are now. Physics in quantum field theory and string theory somehow has a lot of mathematical secrets in it, which we don't know how to extract in a systematic way. Physicists are able to come up with things that surprise the mathematicians. Because it's hard to describe mathematically in the known formulation, the things you learn about quantum field theory you have to learn from physics. [...]

The other night I was reading an old essay by the 20th-century Princeton physicist John Wheeler. He was a visionary, certainly. If you take what he says literally, it's hopelessly vague. And therefore, if I had read this essay when it came out 30 years ago, which I may have done, I would have rejected it as being so vague that you couldn't work on it, even if he was on the right track.

You're referring to Information, Physics, Quantum, Wheeler's 1989 essay propounding the idea that the physical universe arises from information, which he dubbed "it from bit." Why were you reading it?

I'm trying to learn about what people are trying to say with the phrase "it from qubit." Wheeler talked about "it from bit," but you have to remember that this essay was written probably before the term "qubit" was coined and certainly before it was in wide currency. Reading it, I really think he was talking about qubits, not bits, so "it from qubit" is actually just a modern translation.

Don't expect me to be able to tell you anything useful about it--about whether he was right. When I was a beginning grad student, they had a series of lectures by faculty members to the new students about theoretical research, and one of the people who gave such a lecture was Wheeler. He drew a picture on the blackboard of the universe visualized as an eye looking at itself. I had no idea what he was talking about. It's obvious to me in hindsight that he was explaining what it meant to talk about quantum mechanics when the observer is part of the quantum system. I imagine there is something we don't understand about that.

In the Beginning was the Word...

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


Donald Trump wrong that his tax plan is biggest cut ever (Louis Jacobson, October 26th, 2017, PolitiFact)

And here are the tax laws ordered from highest to lowest as a percentage of GDP:


Tax bill

Percentage of GDP

Economic Recovery Tax Act of 1981

2.89 percent

Revenue Act of 1945

2.67 percent

Revenue Act of 1948

1.87 percent

American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012 (enacted in 2013)

1.78 percent

Revenue Act of 1964

1.6 percent

Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010

1.31 percent

Current tax proposal

0.8 percent-1.2 percent

Revenue Act of 1978

0.8 percent 

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


FBI Deputy Director Confirms Trump Pressured Comey For "Loyalty" Before Firing Him (Matthew Chapman, December 23, 2017, National Memo)

According to CNN, McCabe told the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday that he could vouch for a key claim in the memo that Comey wrote before his dismissal. Specifically, McCabe indicated he could corroborate Comey's account of Trump telling him that he "expects loyalty":

The testimony suggests McCabe could corroborate Comey's account, including Trump's ask that Comey show him loyalty, which the President has strongly disputed. Comey previously testified that he briefed some of his senior colleagues at the FBI about this conversation with Trump.

Following the interview with McCabe -- the details of which could not be disclosed for national security reasons -- Rep. Elijah Cummings, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee, had only blistering criticism of GOP lawmakers who are trying to waste resources on another partisan Clinton investigation.

"Just like Benghazi, we know the Republican playbook," Cummings said in a statement. "They admitted that their whole goal with Benghazi was to bring down Hillary Clinton's poll numbers. Here they are trying to undermine confidence in the Special Counsel's investigation."

December 22, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 PM


Iraq once again controls own economy, free of UN sanctions (Adnan Abu Zeed December 22, 2017, Al Monitor)

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) has agreed to lift sanctions imposed on Iraq when the country invaded Kuwait 27 years ago. [...]

Iraq has long suffered the consequences of the sanctions, which were enforced militarily any time Iraq posed a threat to international peace. The country was economically cut off from the world, and its sea, air, land and communications links were severed. Its diplomatic relations with other states were cut, and it lost control of its financial resources and oil exports, which were placed under UN supervision under the oil for food program. A significant proportion of its revenues were used to pay states harmed by its Kuwait invasion.

"Iraq paid reparations to the states that were environmentally and economically harmed by the war, including Israel and Jordan," but its reparations stalled in 2014 because of the fall in oil prices, according to legal expert Tareq Harb. "The government's deal with Kuwait to pay the remainder of reparations in the form of gas exported via Basra prompted Kuwait to report to the UN that Iraq was fulfilling its obligations, resulting in a resolution in Iraq's favor." [...]

Iraqi parliament member Jassem Mohammad Jaafar, who is close to Abadi, gave Al-Monitor more details on the deal. "Before the sanctions were lifted, Iraq was not even able to open foreign bank accounts in the name of the government, and its economic and financial contracts and commercial activities were conducted through intermediaries in order to avoid lawsuits. That cost the Iraqi treasury enormously," he said.

"From now on, Iraq can manage the legal and technical aspects of its financial resources itself -- along with everything relating to deposits and foreign real estate holdings -- and dispose of its own affairs," he said. "Other countries will no longer hesitate to invest in Iraq, and foreign firms will be encouraged, as Iraq is an oil-rich country and also has major gas reserves and swathes of agricultural land that could be very profitable."

Liberated peoples can not morally be held liable for the odious debt of their prior regimes.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Trump Promised to Protect Steel. Layoffs Are Coming Instead. (ANA SWANSON, DEC. 22, 2017, NY Times)

The layoffs have stunned these steelworkers who, just a year ago, greeted President Trump's election as a new dawn for their industry. Mr. Trump pledged to build roads and bridges, strengthen "Buy America" provisions, protect factories from unfair imports and revive industry, especially steel.

But after a year in office, Mr. Trump has not enacted these policies. And when it comes to steel, his failure to follow through on a promise has had unintended consequences.

That surge of imports has hurt American steel makers, which were already struggling against a glut of cheap Chinese steel. When ArcelorMittal announced the layoffs in Conshohocken, it blamed those imports, as well as low demand for steel for bridges and military equipment.

Posted by orrinj at 1:46 PM


Trump Hurries to Sign Tax Bill Because the TV Told Him To (Adam K. Raymond, 12/22/17, New York)

Trump told the press that he initially planned to sign the bill in early January at a "big formal ceremony," but changed his mind after watching TV this morning. "I watched the news this morning they were all saying, 'Will he keep his promise? Will he sign it by Christmas.' And I called downstairs and I said, get it ready, we have to sign it now," Trump said.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Trump Administration Might Start Separating Undocumented Parents and Children (Caroline Bankoff, 12/22/17, New York)

The Trump administration may add some particularly draconian elements to its already harsh approach to immigration. As first reported by the Washington Post, the Department of Homeland Security is considering separating parents and children who are caught entering the United States illegally.

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Rouhani: No one above the law, not even Prophet Muhammad (Al-Monitor, December 21, 2017)

During his speech, Rouhani called for more transparency in the country and for Iranians to hold government institutions accountable. Rouhani stressed the importance of applying the law impartially to all, saying, "No one, not even the prophet of Islam, is above the law." Rouhani recalled how the founder of the Islamic Republic, former Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, used to insist on the law being applied equally, saying, "Everyone must act according to the law. This is what citizens' rights are, citizens' rights means everyone acting according to the law."

Rouhani said in terms of transparency, "Everyone must know what is happening and what decisions are being made. This is why I gave the Cabinet instructions, and it is being implemented now," that every policy that a ministry is considering or adopting "be published publicly on the website." 

Rouhani also praised Iranians on social media for discussing and criticizing his Cabinet's budget proposal on Twitter and Telegram. "You do not know how happy I have been lately," he said. "You might not believe it if I told you how happy I am that when our budget went to parliament, the next day on social media there was a storm. How beautiful. Everyone came on the scene, they gave their opinions and criticized. They criticized the budget, the administration and the president." He called on the people to not let go of their criticisms and continue to keep a critical eye on the budget and the various government-funded institutions and how they are spending their money.

Posted by orrinj at 6:07 AM


Catalan separatists win vote, thwarting Rajoy's bid to solve crisis (Sonya Dowsett, Sam Edwards, 12/22/17, Reuters) 

Separatists looked set on Friday to regain power in Catalonia after voters rejected Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy's attempt to neuter the independence movement to defuse Spain's biggest political crisis in decades.

December 21, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:42 PM


A Conservative Nonprofit That Seeks to Transform College Campuses Faces Allegations of Racial Bias and Illegal Campaign Activity (Jane Mayer, 12/21/17, The New Yorker)

Turning Point touts its close relationship with the President's family. The group's Web site promoted Don, Jr.,'s appearance for weeks, featuring a photo of him raising a clenched fist. Its promotional materials include a quote from the younger Trump praising Turning Point: "What you guys have done" is "just amazing." Lara Trump, the wife of Don, Jr.,'s brother Eric, is also involved with the group. In West Palm Beach on Wednesday, she hosted a luncheon promoting Turning Point's coming Young Women's Leadership Summit. The group's twenty-four-year-old executive director and founder, Charlie Kirk, told me that he counts Don, Jr., as "a personal friend." [...]

As Turning Point's profile has risen, so has scrutiny of its funding and tactics. Internal documents that I obtained, as well as interviews with former employees, suggest that the group may have skirted campaign-finance laws that bar charitable organizations from participating in political activity. Former employees say that they were directed to work with prominent conservatives, including the wife of the Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, in aid of Republican Presidential candidates in 2016. Perhaps most troubling for an organization that holds up conservatives as the real victims of discrimination in America, Turning Point USA is also alleged to have fostered an atmosphere that is hostile to minorities. Screenshots provided to me by a source show that Crystal Clanton, who served until last summer as the group's national field director, sent a text message to another Turning Point employee saying, "i hate black people. Like f[***] them all . . . I hate blacks. End of story."

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Trump shows that a scandal doesn't have to be secret to be scandalous (Brian Klaas, December 4, 2017, Washington Post)

What if Richard Nixon had gone on national television, looked into the cameras and urged a loyal henchman to break into the Watergate building to steal documents that could damage his opponent?

What if Nixon had followed that admission by publicly praising the criminals who committed the break-in, openly calling them "very smart" while also discussing, at length, why they shouldn't really be punished?

What if Nixon's son had acknowledged publicly that one of the people who broke into Watergate had offered him "high-level," "sensitive" dirt on his dad's opponent, quickly responded "I love it!" and then held a meeting at their campaign headquarters to get it?

Would we think those actions were any less sinister because they were done out in the open?

Americans expect scandals to be conducted in the shadows. Plots hatched in secret backrooms seem far more insidious than conspiracies discussed on television or Twitter. This cognitive bias we tend to have -- where we equate nefarious activity with activities conducted in secrecy -- has caused millions of Americans to wrongly dismiss the seriousness of the Trump-Russia investigation. "Surely, they couldn't have been so stupid to openly admit wrongdoing on television and then tweet about it!" they say.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Trump's stock market growth vs. past presidents (Dan Primack  Chris Canipe, 12/21/17, Axios)

Posted by orrinj at 5:41 AM


A Modest Suggestion: Perhaps Things Aren't That Bad : You wouldn't know it to read the hysterical coverage of 2017, but Americans have a lot to be thankful for. (Heather Wilhelm, December 20, 2017, National Review)

Let's forget our overflowing grocery stores, technological miracles, medical advancements, and the general prosperity we often take for granted. Setting the cheerful heresy of Taylor Swift aside, a majority consensus seems latent among today's media and cultural elite: Everything is terrible, all the time. Since Donald Trump's inauguration day, many pundits and reporters seem permanently and stubbornly jammed into one of three gears: quiet despair, mild panic, or borderline-reckless hyperbole.

Remember net neutrality? It seems like eons ago, but last week, the end of this relatively new regulation (it was formed in June of 2015) was greeted with hysteria, predictions of general web-based doom, and panicked declarations that we were witnessing the "end of the Internet as we know it." Lo and behold, the deed has been done, and here we are, still easily downloading songs to ease our trauma!

Perhaps things aren't really all that bad.

Then there's the GOP tax bill, which, according to the left-leaning Tax Policy Center, will give 80.4 percent of Americans a tax cut in 2018 -- with the average cut estimated at a whopping $2,140. Well, never mind. The bill will literally kill countless Americans, we are told. Nancy Pelosi calls it "the worst bill to ever come to the floor of the House." According to a new Monmouth poll, half of Americans think their tax burden will go up under the bill, likely thanks to hysterical media coverage. They'll be in for a pleasant surprise come April.

Perhaps things aren't really all that bad. 

Donald was handed an economy that was so strong, the only way he could screw it up was to enact anything he ran on.  The Deep State prevented that, so the boom continues.

And the tax bill is so trivial that, not only will it do nothing to impede economic growth, by convincing themselves it will cause a recession, Democrats are poised to run against a vibrant economy.

December 20, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 PM


US invokes Magnitsky Act as it sanctions Putin ally and Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov (Deutsche-Welle, 12/20/17)

The United States slapped sanctions on Chechen strongman Ramzan Kadyrov on Wednesday, accusing Russian President Vladimir Putin's key regional ally of personal involvement in repression, torture and murder.

US officials accused Kadyrov of overseeing "an administration involved in disappearances and extrajudicial killings," and that "one or more" of his political opponents were killed at his direction.

Kadyrov was added to the US Treasury's blacklist along with Chechen security official Ayub Kataev and three Russians linked to the corruption case uncovered by deceased tax lawyer and whistleblower Sergei Magnitsky.

Posted by orrinj at 6:55 PM


How Sistani has strengthened Iraqi government's hand against militias (Mina Aldroubi, December 18, 2017, The National)

The Hashed Al Shaabi, or Popular Mobilisation Units, comprises militias formed in 2014 after Mr Al Sistani, Iraq's top Shiite cleric, urged citizens to take up arms against ISIL militants who had swept aside government forces and seized control of much of northern Iraq.

In a sermon delivered through his representative on Friday, Mr Al Sistani praised the militias as a vital element of the Iraqi state, and one that the country should continue to benefit from, while insisting the groups should be kept within the judicial framework of the country's security services.

Michael Rubin, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank in Washington, said Mr Al Sistani's call was positive for Baghdad.

"One of the key issues heading into next year's elections is the status of the Hashed Al Shaabi, and Sistani's statement has the effect of strengthening the central government versus any militia," Mr Rubin told The National.

Although it played an important role in defeating ISIL, the Hashed remains deeply divisive and has been accused of abuses against Iraqi minorities in areas recaptured from the extremists. There are also concerns about its links to Iran, which has trained and armed many of the militias.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


Breitbart EIC claims they backed Moore to protect Trump (Axios, 12/20/17)

Breitbart News editor-in-chief Alex Marlow told CNN that his website's attempts to discredit the sexual assault allegations against Roy Moore aimed to protect President Trump against similar claims.

Posted by orrinj at 9:33 AM


Hillary Clinton's favorability rating hits 25-year low (Melissa Quinn, Dec 19, 2017, Washington Examiner)

Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, has a favorable rating of 36 percent, according to the poll from Gallup released Tuesday. Sixty-one percent of adults have an unfavorable view of Clinton, a new high.

The current favorable rating for the former secretary of state is a new low, and the worst it's been since 1992 when Gallup first began tracking the public's image of Clinton just before she became first lady.

If she'd just used her government email we'd have avoided this whole mess. She deserves all the opprobrium.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


U.S. Voter Economic Outlook Hits All-Time High, Quinnipiac University National Poll Finds; But Voters Disapprove Of Trump's Handling Of Economy (Quinnipiac University Polling, 12/19/17)

A total of 63 percent of American voters say in a poll released today the nation's economy is "excellent" or "good," while 34 percent say it is "not so good" or "poor," the highest positive rating for the economy since the Quinnipiac University Poll began asking the question in 2001. 

A total of 76 percent of voters describe their own financial situation as "excellent" or "good," as 23 percent say "not so good" or "poor," the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe- ack) University Poll finds. 

President Barack Obama is mostly responsible for the state of the economy, 45 percent of voters, including 29 percent of Republicans, say, while 43 percent say President Donald Trump is responsible. 

In fact, voters disapprove 51 - 44 percent of the way President Trump is handling the economy.  [...]

"Confidence in the economy is eclipsed by profound doubts about the president's level headedness, honesty, empathy for fellow Americans and handling of foreign policy," said Tim Malloy, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll.  [...]

Fifty percent of American voters, including 59 percent of women and 41 percent of men, say President Donald Trump should resign because of sexual allegations against him. 

And that's just the stuff he's admitted.

Posted by orrinj at 6:17 AM


Putin Using Trump Like An 'Asset:' Former Intel Chief (Zachary Fryer-Biggs, 12/20/17, Newsweek)

Clapper was discussing calls between Trump and Putin in recent days, when the two discussed North Korea and a foiled terrorist plot in St. Petersburg.

"This past weekend is a great demonstration to me of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is," Clapper said on CNN. "He knows how to handle an asset and that's what he's doing with the president.

"You have to remember Putin's background," Clapper added. "He's a KGB officer. That's what they do." that Donald is an asset to them.

Posted by orrinj at 5:38 AM

FOR THE 60%:

Who are we as a country? Time to decide (Sally Q. Yates, Dec. 19, 2017, USA Today)

What are the values that unite us? You don't have to look much further than the Preamble to our Constitution, just 52 words, to find them: 

"We the people of the United States" (we are a democratic republic, not a dictatorship) "in order to form a more perfect union" (we are a work in progress dedicated to a noble pursuit) "establish justice" (we revere justice as the cornerstone of our democracy) "insure domestic tranquility" (we prize unity and peace, not divisiveness and discord), "provide for the common defense" (we should never give any foreign adversary reason to question our solidarity) "promote the general welfare" (we care about one another; compassion and decency matter) "and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity" (we have a responsibility to protect not just our own generation, but future ones as well).

Our forefathers packed a lot into that single sentence. Our Bill of Rights is similarly succinct in guaranteeing individual liberties -- rights that we have come to take for granted but without vigilance can erode and slip away, such as freedom of speech (our right to protest and be heard); freedom of religion (the essential separation between how one worships and the power of the state); and freedom of the press (a democratic institution essential to informing the public and holding our leaders accountable).

Our shared values include another essential principle, and that's the rule of law -- the promise that the law applies equally to everyone, that no person is above it, and that all are entitled to its protection. This concept of equal protection recognizes that our country's strength comes from honoring, not weaponizing, the diversity that springs from being a nation of Native Americans and immigrants of different races, religions and nationalities.

The rule of law depends not only on things that are written down, but also on important traditions and norms, such as apolitical law enforcement. That's why Democratic and Republican administrations alike, at least since Watergate, have honored that the rule of law requires a strict separation between the Justice Department and the White House on criminal cases and investigations. This wall of separation is what ensures the public can have confidence that the criminal process is not being used as a sword to go after one's political enemies or as a shield to protect those in power. It's what separates us from an autocracy.

And there is something else that separates us from an autocracy, and that's truth. There is such a thing as objective truth. We can debate policies and issues, and we should. But those debates must be based on common facts rather than raw appeals to emotion and fear through polarizing rhetoric and fabrications.

Not only is there such a thing as objective truth, failing to tell the truth matters. We can't control whether our public servants lie to us. But we can control whether we hold them accountable for those lies or whether, in either a state of exhaustion or to protect our own political objectives, we look the other way and normalize an indifference to truth.

December 19, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:59 PM


It wasn't Trump but this general's elite soldiers who defeated ISIS (Peter Bergen, 12/15/17, CNN)

It was the storied "Golden Division" of Iraq's Counter-Terrorism Service, the Iraqi version of US Special Operations Forces, that did much of the fighting and dying to defeat ISIS.

Saadi leads the Golden Division. A tall, thin man with deep, dark circles under his eyes that are a testament to his fight against ISIS for the past three years, Saadi, 54, was dressed in a black leather jacket, black shirt and black trousers when he sat down to discuss the campaign against ISIS over a cup of tea in Baghdad. [...]

Saadi said American logistical and intelligence support and US airpower accounted for "50% of the success of the battle" against ISIS. American bombs inflicted heavy casualties on ISIS and were a morale booster for Saadi's troops.

Saadi led the Golden Division into battle in key phases of the war against ISIS, liberating first Iraq's key oil refineries in Baiji in June 2015, and then significant Iraqi cities such as Fallujah, Ramadi and Tikrit.

When he was fighting to liberate Tikrit the general tore off the three stars on his epaulettes denoting his high rank, he told me, saying to himself, "I don't deserve this rank if I don't free my fellow citizens from the grasp of ISIS."

The general leads from the front. "I have to be in the front line. Number one it is for the morale of my soldiers, and second I want to make sure no one mistreats civilians," Saadi said. As a result, the general has narrowly escaped death repeatedly, showing this reporter a scar on his chin where he says a sniper's bullet grazed him during the battle of Baiji.

It was above all his role in the fight for Iraq's second city, Mosul, that cemented Saadi's reputation among Iraqis.

The fight for Mosul was never going to be easy. A city of 2 million people, the old section of the city in western Mosul is a warren of narrow medieval-era streets and buildings.

The battle for Mosul lasted nine months -- in part, Saadi said, because Iraqi forces didn't want to level the city: "We were very careful to preserve the infrastructure and also the lives of innocents remaining in the city."

The fight was also complicated in Mosul because ISIS deployed more than 1,000 "VBIEDs" --vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices -- cars and trucks driven by suicide bombers. These VBIEDs were greatly feared by the Golden Division troops.

Also many of ISIS' most competent fighters, numbering around 10,000, decided to make their last stand in Mosul where ISIS' self-styled caliphate was first proclaimed in 2014 by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the elusive leader of ISIS.

Mosul finally fell to Iraqi forces in July.

Reflecting on the anti-ISIS campaign, Ben Connable, a political scientist at the RAND think tank, who served in Iraq for three tours as a Marine Corps officer said, "I have never been more optimistic about Iraq than I am today. They finally feel like they own their security."

Posted by orrinj at 6:35 PM


This Chinese startup's electric SUV is a lot cheaper than Tesla's (Michelle Toh, December 18, 2017, CNN)

Shanghai-based startup NIO is the latest Chinese company to try to get in on the action. It unveiled a 7-seater electric SUV at a glitzy launch event in Beijing over the weekend.

Starting at 448,000 yuan (about $68,000), the NIO ES8 is nearly 50% cheaper than Tesla's Model X, which sells for 836,000 yuan (about $127,000) in China.

Posted by orrinj at 6:20 PM


Iraq's PMU leaders 'resign' in preparation for elections (Ali Mamouri, December 19, 2017, Al Monitor)

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi announced Dec. 15 that his government had begun implementing its policy to bring all weapons in the country under state control, following a statement by the premier days earlier declaring the "end of the war" against the Islamic State (IS). 

Abadi's announcement came just hours after the speech that Abdul Mahdi al-Karbalai -- spokesman of Iraq's Supreme Shiite leader Ali al-Sistani -- gave on the same day, in which he called for the need to integrate "volunteers" (in reference to fighters of the Popular Mobilization Units, or PMU) "into the constitutional and legal framework that limits [the possession of] weapons to the state" so that the PMU fighters "are not exploited for political objectives."

Abadi welcomed Sistani's call to "not use PMU volunteers and fighters politically," adding, "The government is working to organize the PMU in accordance with the state's legal framework."

PMU factions had already begun to disengage from their internal organization and hand over their fighters and weapons to the prime minister as commander in chief of the armed forces.

The leader of Asaib Ahl al-Haq, Sheikh Qais al-Khazali, said Dec. 13 that his forces were under the direct control of Abadi. Prior to that, Al-Abbas Combat Division had dissolved itself and handed over its fighters and weapons to the Iraqi government.

The Iran-backed Badr Organization, the largest PMU faction, followed suit, handing over its troops and weapons to the Iraqi government. Badr leader Hadi al-Amiri told his fighters Dec. 14 to "follow the orders of the commander of the armed forces and cut off all contacts with the group's political wing."

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:12 PM


Synagogues Across Canada Get Hate Mail Saying 'Jewry Must Perish' (JTA, 12/19/17)

At least three synagogues in Canada received hate mail warning that "Jewry must perish."

Posted by orrinj at 5:00 PM

A HAUNTING INSTANCE OF WHICH... (self-reference alert):

When a used book has an inscription, it's like a visit from a ghost of Christmas past (Danny Heitman, DECEMBER 19, 2017, CS Monitor)

I have on my desk right now a first-edition copy of "Any Number Can Play," a delightful 1957 collection of essays from Clifton Fadiman. Fadiman was a big deal back then; his roles as a radio and TV personality, book critic, and general man of letters had endeared him to thousands as a great explainer of high culture to the broad middle class. He's all but forgotten now, although "The Wine Lover's Daughter," a charming new memoir by Anne Fadiman, has helped renew her father's profile.

In 1957, Clifton Fadiman would have been a hot commodity, his latest book a prized present to tuck under the holiday tree. My copy was once presented by "The George Cornelsmans" - that's the way married couples often identified themselves back then - to Annette Dickens as a gift on "Xmas 1957." Or so I see by the dedication, inscribed in blue ink, across the flyleaf.

It's odd to own someone's else's Christmas present, but Fadiman himself, who died in 1999 at age 95, was familiar with the phenomenon. In "Enter Conversing," his 1962 collection of essays, Fadiman offers a few words on Leigh Hunt, a now-obscure English critic and essayist that Fadiman enjoyed through an old edition inscribed "C.M. Baker, Dec. 25, 1892."

...was this.

Posted by orrinj at 4:39 PM


Trump Doesn't Seem to Buy His Own National Security Strategy (PETER BEINART, 12/19/17, The Atlantic)

If you oppose Donald Trump's new National Security Strategy, take heart. Apparently, he does too.

Fifteen minutes into his speech unveiling the strategy on Tuesday, Trump butchered it in a revealing way. In its fourth paragraph, the strategy declares that the Trump administration will pursue a "strategy of principled realism." But Trump mangled the phrase, declaring instead that, "Our new strategy is based on a principle, realism."

Although likely unintentional, Trump's goof was telling. "Principled realism" probably appeals to Trump's establishment-minded foreign-policy advisers because it adds a moral patina to America First. That ethical gloss is necessary because one of the National Security Strategy's main themes is that Trump--unlike his predecessors--recognizes that the United States faces a new era of great-power rivalry with Russia and China. It paints this looming competition in intensely moralistic terms. America's battles with China and Russia, the strategy announces, are "contests between those who value human dignity and freedom and those who oppress individuals and enforce uniformity." Thus the importance of the adjective "principled." It suggests that Trump's sovereignty-obsessed nationalism--unlike the versions peddled by Moscow and Beijing--aims to create not simply a richer America, but a freer world.

This depiction of a globe divided along ideological lines--between white-hatted American democrats and black-hatted Russian and Chinese authoritarians--sounds more like John McCain, Mitt Romney, or Marco Rubio than Donald Trump. Which may be why Trump largely abandoned it in his speech.  

The strategy has nothing to do with Donald.
Posted by orrinj at 3:41 PM


Pelosi slammed by GOP for calling tax bill 'Armageddon' (Matt Richardson, 12/04/17, Fox News)

Approached for comment on the sweeping legislation -- worth roughly $1.4 trillion - Pelosi declared the legislation "the end of the world."

She added, "This is Armageddon."

Five years later, what did the stimulus bill accomplish? (PBS, Feb 17, 2014)

Half of the total fiscal support for the economy, or about $689 billion, from the recovery act and subsequent measures was in the form of tax cuts directed mostly at families. 

Obama signs tax-cut bill (GLENN THRUSH and ABBY PHILLIP 12/17/2010, Politico)

President Barack Obama celebrated the spirit of compromise Friday as he signed a controversial $858 billion tax cut and unemployment insurance extension into law -- but warned that bipartisan comity could be fleeting.

The bill, the result of a deal Obama cut with Senate Republicans over the objections of many Democrats, was a major victory for a White House that spent much of the past two years battling a unified GOP on the stimulus and health care reform.

Obama's payroll tax cut victory is official: Senate and House pass two-month renewal Friday  (JOSEPH STRAW, 12/23/11, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)'

A jubilant President Obama finally signed a stopgap payroll tax extension into law Friday, telling Congress it's time to spare America another partisan spectacle in the new year.

"When Congress returns, I urge them to keep working, without drama, without delay, to reach an agreement that extends this tax cut as well as unemployment insurance through all of 2012," Obama said, addressing reporters briefly before departing to spend Christmas in Hawaii with his family.

Obama said the government has to create an environment where "if you work hard you'll be rewarded. The kind of economy where everybody does their fair share, where everybody plays by the same set of rules, everybody has a fair chance, and everybody's acting responsibly -- including those of us here in Washington."

He didn't take any questions and was careful to thank Congress for doing the right thing by passing the two-month extension earlier Friday.

But despite Obama's subdued, conciliatory demeanor, he left little doubt he understood he has emerged from the payroll slugfest firmly atop the political high ground on an important issue.

"Thank you, guys. Aloha," he said as he exited the briefing room.

The new deal calls for a House-Senate conference committee to convene in January to negotiate a full-year extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut, which saves the average worker about $1,000 per year. Extending the cuts was a key part of Obama's jobs plan.

After weeks of hard-nosed political combat that showed the usual partisan-divided Washington, the House and Senate acted by unanimous consent, which short-circuits the normal legislative process and allows almost instantaneous results.

President Obama signs massive spending bill, tax measures into law (Mary Troyan,  Dec. 18, 2015, USA Today)

President Obama signed a huge tax and spending package into law on Friday following congressional votes that avoided a year-end showdown over the budget and ended legislative business until lawmakers return in 2016.

The Senate's 65-33 vote approved both the $1.1 trillion catch-all spending bill and a $622 billion series of tax breaks. The House earlier passed the two pieces separately by solid majorities -- the tax package Thursday and the spending bill Friday morning.

Lawmakers generally viewed the legislation as an imperfect but acceptable compromise between conservative and liberal priorities.

"Congress can now move into 2016 with a fresh start," House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said.

The tax package permanently extends the enhanced child tax credit and earned income tax credit that were boosted by the 2009 economic stimulus, and extends through 2019 a popular corporate tax break that allows companies to more quickly depreciate the value of new equipment.

Obamacare Tax Subsidies: Bigger Deficit, Fewer Taxpayers, Damaged Economy  (Paul Winfree, 5/24/11, Heritage)

Obamacare's tax subsidies are available for certain households who purchase federally approved coverage in the newly created state health insurance exchanges. Households below 400 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for the subsidies unless they are eligible for Medicare or Medicaid or they can receive coverage through their employer that meets standards established in Obamacare.[3]

The tax subsidy is structured to cap the percentage of family income that these households pay for health insurance with an actuarial value of 70 percent, equivalent to a "silver" plan in the exchanges.[4] The percentage is based on a sliding scale, so the subsidy decreases as household income rises. Households at 133 percent of the FPL will receive a tax subsidy that limits their out-of-pocket premium contribution to 3 percent of gross income. Households between 300 percent and 400 percent of the FPL will receive a tax subsidy that limits their premium contribution to 9.5 percent of household income.[5]

Besides income, the tax subsidy is determined by the premiums people would expect to pay for a "silver" plan in the exchanges, adjusted for the person's age. Since Obamacare allows premiums to reflect the fact that older individuals are more likely to have higher health care expenses, older individuals receive a more generous tax subsidy.[6]

When it takes effect in 2014, the Obamacare tax subsidy will become the largest tax subsidy that many families receive. Currently, the two largest tax credits are the child tax credit ($1,000 per child per year) and the earned income tax credit (EITC), which can be worth up to several thousand dollars. [...]

The CBO estimates that the subsidies will add $100 billion to the deficit by 2018, growing more expensive thereafter.

Posted by orrinj at 10:50 AM


Disney Criticized For The Creepy Trump Robot They Placed In 'The Hall Of Presidents' (Kayla Cobb, Dec 19, 2017, Decider)

Here's the non-controversial speech Disney has managed to pull from Trump:

From the beginning, America has been a nation defined by its people. At our founding, it was the American people who rose up to defend our freedoms and win our independence. It was why our founders began our great constitution with three very simple words: we the people. Since that moment, each generation of Americans has taken its place in the defense of our freedom, our flag, and our nation under God.

These are the achievements of the American spirit--the spirit of a people who fought and died to bring the blessings of liberty to all our people. Above all, to be an American is to be an optimist, to believe that we can always do better and that the best days of our great nation are still ahead of us. It's a privilege to serve as the president of the United States, to stand here among so many great leaders of our past, and to work on behalf of the American people.

However, the animatronic version of Trump has been gaining attention not for his speech but for his appearance.

Posted by orrinj at 10:46 AM


McMaster Says Russia's 'Destabilizing Behavior' Needs To Be Countered (Radio Liberty, 12/19/17)

White House national security adviser H.R. McMaster says Western countries need to counter Russia's "destabilizing behavior," saying that Moscow is running "a very sophisticated campaign of subversion" to undermine free and open societies.

In an interview with the BBC that was posted online on December 19, McMaster also said Russia's alleged meddling in the U.S. presidential election last year was "certainly" a national security threat.

No wonder Comrade Donald wants to fire him.

Posted by orrinj at 10:39 AM


Rouhani urges Iranians to speak out to defend their rights (Middle East Online, 12/19/17)

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday called on people to speak out to defend their rights, as he took aim at the country's powerful security apparatus.

"The people are right, not the government," the moderate cleric said, in a speech marking one year since he launched an Iranian bill of rights.

"We must work to make the rights of citizens a culture," Rouhani said, urging the youth and social media users to air their grievances if rights are not "implemented".

Rouhani's landmark bill of rights is meant to guarantee freedom of speech, protest, fair trials and privacy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:12 AM


Trump says he won't fire Mueller, as campaign to discredit Russia probe heats up (Philip Rucker, Josh Dawsey and Sari Horwitz December 17, 2017, Washington Post)

Advisers who have spoken recently with Trump about the Russia investigation said the president was sharply critical of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, as well as Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein, who oversees the Mueller operation -- but did not broach the idea of firing Mueller.

"I think he realizes that would be a step too far," said one adviser, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a private conversation.

Rather, Trump appeared to be contemplating changes in the Justice Department's leadership. In recent discussions, two advisers said, Trump has called the attorney general "weak," and complained that Rosenstein has shown insufficient accountability on the special counsel's work. A senior official said Trump mocked Rosenstein's recent testimony on Capitol Hill, saying he looked weak and unable to answer questions. Trump has ranted about Rosenstein as "a Democrat," one of these advisers said, and characterized him as a threat to his presidency.

In fact, Rosenstein is a Republican. In 2005, President George W. Bush nominated him to be U.S. attorney in Maryland.

...neither Republicans nor Democrats are going to be more loyal to him than to the Constitution, which is what he desires.

Posted by orrinj at 5:56 AM


FBI warned Trump in 2016 Russians would try to infiltrate his campaign (KEN DILANIAN, JULIA AINSLEY and CAROL E. LEE, 12/19/17, NBC News)

The briefings were led by counterintelligence specialists from the FBI, the sources said. They were timed to occur around the period when the candidates began receiving classified intelligence, the officials said, which put them at greater risk for being targeted by foreign spies. Trump's first intelligence briefing as Republican nominee was Aug. 17, 2016, sources told NBC News at the time. [...]

Still, the revelation that the Trump campaign was warned about spying threats from Russia and other adversaries, which has not been previously reported, casts a new light on the Trump campaign's dealings with Russians in the months before the November election. [...]

Trump would have been told, "If you see these kinds of contacts please let us know about them so we can keep you updated on the threat picture," said Frank Montoya, a former FBI counterintelligence agent and supervisor who retired in 2016.

The situation was complicated by the fact that the FBI had already become aware of contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russia, and was beginning to investigate further. Former CIA Director John Brennan has said he told the FBI about a pattern of contacts the CIA observed between members of the Trump team and Russians, and former FBI Director James Comey said the bureau then began investigating in July 2016.

Posted by orrinj at 5:50 AM


Trump talked about rescinding Gorsuch's nomination (Washington Post, 12/19/17)

[E]arlier this year, Trump talked about rescinding Gorsuch's nomination, venting angrily to advisers after his Supreme Court pick was critical of the president's escalating attacks on the federal judiciary in private meetings with legislators.

Trump, according to several people with knowledge of the discussions, was upset that Gorsuch had pointedly distanced himself from the president in a private February meeting with Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), telling the senator he found Trump's repeated attacks on the federal judiciary "disheartening" and "demoralizing."

The president worried that Gorsuch would not be "loyal," one of the people said, and told aides that he was tempted to pull Gorsuch's nomination -- and that he knew plenty of other judges who would want the job. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


How quantum computing will change the world : We are on the cusp of a new era of computing, with Google, IBM and other tech companies using a theory launched by Einstein to build machines capable of solving seemingly impossible tasks (PHILIP BALL, 12/17/17, New Statesman)

In 1972, at the age of ten, I spent a week somewhere near Windsor - it's hazy now - learning how to program a computer. This involved writing out instructions by hand and sending the pages to unseen technicians who converted them into stacks of cards punched with holes. The cards were fed overnight into a device that we were only once taken to see. It filled a room; magnetic tape spooled behind glass panels in big, grey, wardrobe-sized boxes. The next morning, we'd receive a printout of the results and the day would be spent finding the programming faults that had derailed our calculations of pi to the nth decimal place.

There was awed talk of computer experts who worked at an even rawer level of abstraction, compiling programs (no one called it coding then) in the opaque, hieroglyphic notation of "machine code". Those were the days when you had to work close to the guts of the machine: you thought in terms of central processing units, circuit diagrams, binary logic. If you wanted to play games, you had to write them yourself - by the 1980s, on a BBC Micro or Sinclair ZX Spectrum with less graphical sophistication than an ATM.

I was reminded of those clunky, makeshift early days of public access to computers when, in September, I saw one of IBM's quantum computers at the company's research labs in Rüschlikon, a suburb of Zurich. On a hill overlooking Lake Zurich, in the early autumn sunshine, the labs have a laid-back air that is more Californian than Swiss. In the past several decades, they have been the incubator of Nobel Prize-winning scientific innovations. Things grow here that affect the world.

This computer has the improvised appearance of a work in progress. It's a sturdy metal cylinder the size and shape of a domestic water-heater immersion tank, suspended on a frame of aluminium beams reaching to the ceiling and brought to life by a dense tangle of wires that lead to a bank of off-the-shelf microwave oscillators. The "brain" - the component in which binary ones and zeros of data are crunched from input to output - sits deep inside this leviathan, on a microchip the size of a baby's fingernail.

The last time I visited IBM's Zurich centre, in 2012, its head of science and technology, Walter Riess, talked about the company's plans for an imminent "post-silicon" era, after the silicon-chip technology of today's computers had reached the physical limits of its ability to offer more computing power. Back then, quantum computing seemed like a far-off and speculative option for meeting that challenge.

Now it's real. 

December 18, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 3:21 PM


Trump's judicial nominee withdraws nomination after viral video (Alayna Treene  Khorri Atkinson, 12/18/17, Axios)

Matthew Peterson, the Trump judicial nominee who couldn't answer basic legal questions during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing last week, has withdrawn his nomination, a White House official told AP.

Based on the understanding of the law he demonstrated, he's likely the new White House counsel.

Posted by orrinj at 2:03 PM


Federal Judge Retires Following Sexual Harassment Allegations (NPR, December 18, 2017, NPR)

Alex Kozinski, a distinguished federal appeals court judge, announced his retirement Monday, effective immediately, after sexual misconduct allegations continued to dog the once-respected justice.

Posted by orrinj at 1:42 PM


Syria's Assad Meets Russian Official, Calls U.S.-Backed Militias 'Traitors' (Radio Liberty, December 18, 2017)

"When we talk about those referred to as 'the Kurds,' they are in fact not just Kurds. All those who work for a foreign country, mainly those under American command...are traitors," the statement quoted Assad as saying. [...]

Kurds account for an estimated 15 percent of Syria's population, and their forces currently control a large part of the country.

They are loyal to their nation

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Why The Last Jedi has divided Star Wars fans (Lili Loofbourow, Dec. 18th, 2017, The Week)

For many people who didn't like The Last Jedi, the fact that Johnson's Star Wars was more "democratic" -- and consequently indifferent to the aristocratic Skywalker bloodline or its transmission -- means, paradoxically, that it's also less interested in the rituals of samurai training that made Star Wars so satisfying. Becoming a great Jedi warrior used to be serious work; it demanded talent and skill and time. Later it seemed to require an aristocratic bloodline as well (what with the midi-chlorians, etc.). Now it just demands talent and no study -- Yoda even burned down the Jedi library! If you loved the Skywalker legend, then the news that the Force is independent of Skywalker-ness isn't a relief. If you loved the training element, that's gone. The new democracy also means that anyone (like Rey) can just come along and be better at the Force for no apparent reason. What was the point of Yoda? Do the sages have nothing to tell us? Did they ever?

Rey seems to be a genius. For some fans, that's completely thrilling. For others, it ruins a lot of what was exciting about Star Wars.

The idea of destiny that used to power Star Wars was kind of monastic and straightforward: Basically, there were Chosen People who were destined for great things.  

Americans aren't Darwinist.  That's why they had to drop the midi-chlorians to begin with.

Posted by orrinj at 7:25 AM


The Partisan, Nihilist Case Against Robert Mueller (David A. Graham, Dec. 11th, 2017, The Atlantic)

When Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller in May, the announcement drew varied conservative reactions. For some people, the special counsel's probe was unnecessary, a validation of a preposterous conspiracy theory about Donald Trump's presidential campaign colluding with Russia. Others argued that the appointment of a special counsel was constitutionally dubious. But some Trump backers welcomed Mueller's appointment, seeing the former FBI director as a man of integrity who would finally clear the president. Newt Gingrich was one notable example:

Gingrich was right about Mueller's reputation in Washington: He was a celebrated former FBI director, a longtime Republican, and an appointee of both Democratic and Republican presidents. And Rosenstein, who appointed him, was another example of a lifelong Republican, appointed by Trump, who had an impeccable reputation for fairness. (Incredibly, Trump would later disclaim Rosenstein and suggest he was a Democrat.) In an environment of hyper-polarization, Mueller seemed to be one of the few people in D.C. who had the gravitas and reputation to satisfy both sides.

In hindsight, this was hopelessly naive. Trump's black-hole-like gravity is such that it overwhelms even reputations for probity and impartiality built up over decades. Not for everyone--many people retain their previous impression of Mueller--but another group quickly jettisoned it. That group is not defined ideologically--in no meaningful way is there a specifically and broadly held small-c conservative critique of Mueller. (Almost no one is still questioning the authority to appoint him.) Nor is there really a universally Republican critique of the probe. Senator Chuck Grassley, for example, is demanding answers about Strzok while also saying Mueller's probe should be allowed to do its work.

The opposition to Mueller is partisan, but not in that it pits Republicans against Democrats. Its partisans are loyal first and foremost to President Trump. 

Just as during the Cold War, one wing worships Russia and hates federal investigators of American/Russian collusion.

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM



It was a rare solution to the massive problem of conventional higher-education institutions that largely operate at a 19th-century pace trying to keep up with the fast-changing demands of 21st-century employers -- and an example of how tech companies and some businesses in other industries, impatient with the speed of change, are taking matters into their own hands by designing courses themselves.

The intervention is a direct response to the fact that the shortage of data and computer scientists "isn't being handled" by universities and colleges, said Charles Eaton, executive vice president for social innovation at the Computing Technology Industry Association, or CompTIA.

"The industry would be very satisfied if higher education was taking care of it," said Eaton. "I don't think there's a desire to get into this space, other than that it's not."

Employers should train employees; schools should train citizens.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


'Shared market' could benefit both UK and EU post Brexit, think tank says (Karthick Arvinth, December 18, 2017, IB Times)

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) has called for the creation of a new customs union within which the UK would be able to opt out of EU rules in specific areas such as goods, services and state aid.

Under the scenario, Britain would also be able to opt out of the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, which would be replaced by a joint UK-EU court.

The proposal will be presented to Brexit Secretary David Davis on 18 December.

IPPR director Tom Kibasi told Bloomberg that the proposal is for the 70% of people who wanted a sensible deal, built on precedents, that would work for the whole country.

"This isn't a proposal for the 15% of extremists on either side," he said.

...but it need not be abandoned.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 AM


Just Say 'Yes' to Prosperity : The need for benign neglect (Kevin D. Williamson, December 17, 2017, National Review)

I've been to the Taj Mahal, Mount Rushmore, and St. Paul Outside the Walls. ("The alabaster columns were a gift from Muhammad Ali," the priest showing us around said. "The real Muhammad Ali.") And each lives up to its reputation -- none disappoints. But spare a thought for the everyday miracle of the Walmart Super Center, which contains within its walls a selection of worldly riches and exotic treasures that Cleopatra would have blushed to contemplate. A 60-inch flat-screen television was, until the day before yesterday, a token of wealth. You can buy a good one from Samsung for less than $300, or just a couple of bucks over what a minimum-wage worker earns in a 40-hour week. The best minds of Silicon Valley and the most efficient manufacturers around the world work tirelessly and ceaselessly, producing mind-bending innovations, to put goods on the shelves of a store dedicated to satisfying the demands of ordinary people, many of them relatively low-income. And not to go all "I, Pencil" on you (again), consider the vast enterprise that supports that process: the global container-shipping network, the bankers and insurers, the companies that produce the energy and raw materials, the logistics experts, the engineers and architects -- it is so complex as to be literally incomprehensible, and it is all organized around the whims and desires and interests of ordinary schmucks like us.

Not for free, of course. Jeff Bezos, the man behind Amazon, began his career as a seller of books in the electronic marketplace and has become the world's wealthiest man and a pretty good candidate for real-life Bond villain by out-Walmarting Walmart. I was looking at a possible Christmas present on Amazon a couple of days ago and the question came up: Would you like this delivered the day after tomorrow? The item was in Japan, and I am in Texas.

The notable thing about the technology economy is that it is a peerless machine for turning intelligence into money. Sure, there are physical inputs for a company such as Apple, and warehouses and forklifts and such for Amazon, but what those companies really do is apply intelligence. Brainpower in, splendid products and services out, and what is most certainly literal tons of money produced for investors, workers, and shareholders. Nobody really planned that, and nobody is in charge. Even Bill Gates, one of the great tech-business minds of his time, was slow to grasp the economic importance of the Web. In its earliest days, Web commerce was more or less dismissed as a bunch of nerds messing around in their garages, which it was. A great deal of what's best about the modern world is the result of nerds messing around in their garages: Google, the modern automobile business, rock 'n' roll. Thank goodness nobody took it seriously enough to try to regulate it, manage it, and direct it -- which would only have deformed it.

Instead, it transformed every aspect of commercial life. Walmart may have big stacks of tires and mountains of socks stashed away somewhere in Arkansas, but it is a high-tech business, too, and a great deal of modern inventory management was invented in its back rooms and fluorescent-lit offices.

The British Empire spent shocking sums of money maintaining a navy whose principal task was keeping the shipping lanes open to enable world trade -- like many island nations, the United Kingdom has always understood the value of trade. The Romans before them went to extraordinary lengths, expending untold quantities of blood and gold, to ensure that Roman consumers had access to the rich grain producers of Northern Africa. Great feats of engineering such as the Suez and Panama canals were undertaken in the service of enabling and expanding that trade. And we still have to do some of that, of course: The world is a dangerous place, and it's more dangerous if you have something worth stealing. But Julius Caesar would have been shocked by how little we really pay to protect a system -- and it isn't really a "system" at all -- under which all of the manufacturers and farmers and innovators of the world compete ruthlessly to lay the very best of all that mankind produces at our feet, for our use and enjoyment.

All we have to do is to let it happen. that it would be cheaper to store your belongings in a shipping container and keep them on cargo ships than it is to rent a shed at the local storage place. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:00 AM


The EPA Hired a Major Republican Opposition Research Firm to Track Press Activity : It promises "war room" style media monitoring. (REBECCA LEBER, ANDY KROLL AND RUSS CHOMADEC. 15, 2017, Mother Jones)

Using taxpayer dollars, the Environmental Protection Agency has hired a cutting-edge Republican PR firm that specializes in digging up opposition research to help Administrator Scott Pruitt's office track and shape press coverage of the agency.

According to federal contracting records, earlier this month Pruitt's office inked a no-bid $120,000 contract with Definers Corp., a Virginia-based public relations firm founded by Matt Rhoades, who managed Mitt Romney's 2012 presidential campaign. Following Romney's defeat, Rhoades established America Rising, an ostensibly independent political action committee that works closely with the Republican National Committee and Republican candidates to mine damning information on opponents. Other higher-ups at Definers include former RNC research director Joe Pounder, who's been described as "a master of opposition research," and senior vice president Colin Reed, an oppo-research guru billed as "among the leaders of the war on [Sen. Elizabeth] Warren."

Information wants to be free.  Whether taxpayers want to pay to free it is separable.
Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


A Forgotten American Socialist's Indictment Of Russian Communism That Shaped American Policy (SPYRIDON MITSOTAKIS, December 17, 2017, Daily Wire)

Spargo offers a stinging indictment of Bolshevik values:

The Bolsheviki did not want the ideals of the Revolution to be realized, for the very simple reason that they were opposed to those ideals. In all the long struggle from Herzen to Kerensky the revolutionary movement of Russia had stood for political democracy first of all. Now, at the moment when political democracy was being realized, the Bolsheviki sought to kill it and to set up something else -- namely, a dictatorship of a small party of less than two hundred thousand over a nation of one hundred and eighty millions. There can be no dispute as to this aim; it has been stated by Lenin with great frankness. "Just as one hundred and fifty thousand lordly landowners under Czarism dominated the one hundred and thirty millions of Russian peasants, so two hundred thousand members of the Bolshevik party are imposing their proletartan will on the mass, but this time in the interest of the latter." (The New International, April, 1918)

Lenin's figures probably exaggerate the Bolshevik numbers, but, assuming them to be accurate, can anybody in his right mind, knowing anything of the history of the Russian revolutionary movement, believe that the substitution of a ruling class of one hundred and fifty thousand by one of two hundred thousand, to govern a nation of one hundred and eighty millions, was the end to which so many lives were sacrificed? Can any sane and sincere person believe that the class domination described by the great arch-Bolshevik himself comes within measurable distance of being as much of a realization of the ideals of the Revolution as did the Constituent Assembly plan with its basis of political democracy, universal, equal, direct, secret, all-determining suffrage?

We do not forget Lenin's statement that this new domination of the people by a ruling minority differs from the old regime in that the Bolsheviki are imposing their will upon the mass "in the interest of the latter." What ruling class ever failed to make that claim? Was it not the habit of the Czars, all of them, during the whole revolutionary epoch, to indulge in the pious cant of proclaiming that they were motived only by their solicitude for the interests and well-being of the peasants?

This analysis strips the Bolsheviks of even the vaunted "good intentions" that so endeared them to intellectuals who were viewing the events in Russia from a distance.

Spargo would return to the topic many times, including in his 1920 book Russia as an American Problem, which contained insights like "there could be no more complete confession of the bankruptcy of Bolshevism" than a "communist Utopia parasitically dependent on the capitalist enterprise of other nations!"

Russia as an American Problem accomplished two things. First, it pissed off Lenin, who complained about it in a secret speech. But more importantly, it caught the eye of Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby. He wrote to Spargo: "Your reasoning is as tight and close as that of a first-class lawyer, and your use of citations gives your chapters the power of a brief."

Spargo responded with a series of policy recommendations for the Woodrow Wilson administration to adopt toward Russia. To Spargo's surprise, his declarations were adopted almost word-for-word. It's key principal -- the refusal to recognize the Communists as the legitimate rulers of Russia -- became United States policy, and remained so until Franklin Delano Roosevelt recognized Stalin's regime in 1933 (on the advice of the infamous Walter Duranty of the New York Times).

Perestroika was supposed to allow Soviet dissidents their chance to criticize Stalin openly, the way the Party leaders already had.  Instead, they went after Lenin and delegitimized the entire Revolution. After that, the regime could not be saved except by violence, which he haplessly attempted.

December 17, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 4:55 PM


Mohammed bin Salman's ill-advised ventures have weakened Saudi Arabia's position in the world (Patrick Cockburn, 12/17/17, The Independent)

The Crown Prince is focusing Saudi foreign policy on aggressive opposition to Iran and its regional allies, but the effect of his policies has been to increase Iranian influence. The feud with Qatar, in which Saudi Arabia and the UAE play the leading role, led to a blockade being imposed five months ago which is still going on. The offence of the Qataris was to have given support to al-Qaeda type movements - an accusation that was true enough but could be levelled equally at Saudi Arabia - and to having links with Iran. The net result of the anti-Qatari campaign has been to drive the small but fabulously wealthy state further into the Iranian embrace.

Saudi relations with other countries used to be cautious, conservative and aimed at preserving the status quo. But today its behaviour is zany, unpredictable and often counterproductive: witness the bizarre episode in November when the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri was summoned to Riyadh, not allowed to depart and forced to resign his position. The objective of this ill-considered action on the part of Saudi Arabia was apparently to weaken Hezbollah and Iran in Lebanon, but has in practice empowered both of them.

What all these Saudi actions have in common is that they are based on a naïve presumption that "a best-case scenario" will inevitably be achieved. There is no "Plan B" and not much of a "Plan A": Saudi Arabia is simply plugging into conflicts and confrontations it has no idea how to bring to an end.   

MbS and his advisers may imagine that it does not matter what Yemenis, Qataris or Lebanese think because President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and chief Middle East adviser, are firmly in their corner. "I have great confidence in King Salman and the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, they know exactly what they are doing," tweeted Trump in early November after the round up and confinement of some 200 members of the Saudi elite. "Some of those they are harshly treating have been 'milking' their country for years!" Earlier he had tweeted support for the attempt to isolate Qatar as a supporter of "terrorism".

But Saudi Arabia is learning that support from the White House these days brings fewer advantages than in the past. The attention span of Donald Trump is notoriously short, and his preoccupation is with domestic US politics: his approval does not necessarily mean the approval of other parts of the US government. The State Department and the Pentagon may disapprove of the latest Trump tweet and seek to ignore or circumvent it. Despite his positive tweet, the US did not back the Saudi confrontation with Qatar or the attempt to get Mr Hariri to resign as prime minister of Lebanon.

Posted by orrinj at 4:07 PM


Dick's Sporting Goods Funds a Youth Immigrant Soccer Team in This Emotional Holiday Spot (Lindsay Rittenhouse, 12/13/17, Ad Week)

In the five-minute documentary-style spot titled "reVision FC: A Holiday Assist," viewers meet a Houston-based youth boys soccer team comprised of African immigrants who, before coming to the U.S., were afflicted by violence and poverty. One teen reveals his eight-year stay in a refugee camp. "All around us was suffering," another says in the video.

The young immigrants explain that they came to America for a second chance at life. Unfortunately, their lives were upended again after Hurricane Harvey flooded Houston in August.

As we see in the Anomaly-created spot, Dick's stepped in to provide aid for these boys, donating $120,000 in equipment, funding their soccer team and promising to sustain the larger reVision program for the next several years. The immigrants, who say they played soccer barefoot and used plastic bottles as balls in their home countries, were overwhelmed by the generous act.

As the boys explained in the video, after Harvey left many of the boys with nothing and the reVision program without funding, they went to their team for refuge and aid.

"At Dick's, we know the importance of giving gifts that matter during the holidays," said Lauren Hobart, president of the company and the Dick's Sporting Goods Foundation. "We believe giving the gift of sport brings people together, and can provide some sense of normalcy to kids whose lives have been turned upside down."

Posted by orrinj at 12:15 PM


How Iran, the Mideast's new superpower, is expanding its footprint across the region - and what it means (Scott Peterson, DECEMBER 17, 2017, CS Monitor)

"If there were no Iranian weapons, then ISIS would be sitting on this couch," says Hashem al-Mousawi, a spokesman for Nujaba, gesturing toward an overstuffed sofa as an aide serves chewy nougats from Iran.

"Our victory over ISIS is a victory for all humanity," says Mr. Mousawi.

And also a victory for Iran, which has emerged from the anti-ISIS battlefields in Iraq, Syria, and beyond as an unrivaled regional superpower with more hard- and soft-power capacity to shape events in the Middle East than it has ever before experienced.

Until now, Shiite Iran had met with only limited success trying to expand its influence across the mostly Sunni Islamic world, despite the call decades ago to "export the revolution" by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

But today - on the back of years of Iranian military intervention to fight ISIS and bolster its allies abroad, years of diminishing US leadership, and repeatedly outsmarting and outmuscling its chief regional rival, Sunni Saudi Arabia - Iran has emerged as the dominant power in the region.

One narrative of the modern Middle East is of potentates trying to stamp their imprint across these often volatile states. From Egypt's Pan-Arabist Gamal Abdel Nasser, to Iraq's Saddam Hussein, to the theocrats in Tehran today, the region has served as the world's premier crucible for rulers to forge geopolitical hegemony, often with failed results. This is to say nothing of the intrusive meddling of the US, Russia, and other outside powers over the decades.

But now Iran has achieved milestones of leverage and influence that rival any regional power in the past half-century. While there are limits to how far it can extend its authority, Tehran's rapid rise poses new challenges to the US, Israel, and Saudi Arabia as it undermines their previous dominance. In a region already reeling from multiple wars, the residue of the Arab Spring uprisings, and a deepening Sunni-Shiite divide, the fundamental question is this: How far can Tehran extend its reach?

Ironically, the first steps of Iran's ascendancy came as a result of American actions. 

Every step of the WoT has favored self-determination against Salafi authoritarianism/totalitarianism, which is why America and Iran have acted in concert, intentionally or not.  Indeed, Iran has been on the right side of every misstep we've made--all of which have involved not embracing victories by Islamist democratic parties (in Palestine, Egypt and Lebanon).

Posted by orrinj at 11:29 AM


Will Your Taxes Go Up or Down? : A Calculator for the New Tax Bill (ADAM PEARCE, QUOCTRUNG BUI, BEN CASSELMAN and BLACKI MIGLIOZZI DEC. 17, 2017, NY Times)

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


New Bird Species Arises From Hybrids, as Scientists Watch (Jordana Cepelewicz, December 13, 2017, Quanta)

In 1981, Peter and Rosemary Grant, the famous husband-and-wife team of evolutionary biologists at Princeton University, had already been studying Darwin's finches on the small Galápagos island Daphne Major for nearly a decade. So when they spotted a male bird that looked and sounded different from the three species residing on the island, they immediately knew he didn't belong. Genetic analysis showed he was a large cactus finch (Geospiza conirostris) from another island, either Española or Gardner, more than 60 miles away -- too great a distance for the bird to fly home.

Tracking the marooned male bird's activity, the Grants observed him as he mated with two female medium ground finches (G. fortis) on Daphne and produced hybrid offspring. Such interbreeding by isolated animals in the wild is not uncommon, though biologists have usually dismissed it as irrelevant to evolution because the hybrids tend to be unfit. Often they cannot reproduce, or they fail to compete effectively against established species and quickly go extinct. Even when the hybrids are fertile and fit, they frequently get reabsorbed into the original species by mating with their parent populations.

But something different happened with the hybrids on Daphne: When they matured, they became a population distinct from Daphne's other bird species by inbreeding extensively and exclusively -- siblings mating with siblings, and parents mating with their offspring.

In short, an incipient hybrid species, which the researchers dubbed the Big Bird lineage, had emerged within two generations. Today, six generations have passed, and the island is home to around 30 Big Bird finches. "If you were a biologist none the wiser to what had happened," said Leif Andersson, a geneticist at Uppsala University in Sweden and one of the study's co-authors, "and you started studying these birds, you'd think there were four different species on the island."

Instead, the fact that all finches can easily interbreed shows that they don't speciate.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Here's How Your Job Will Transform in a Post-AI World : Repetitive positions will become extinct (Molly St. Louis, November 30, 2017, Ad Week)

[A]rtificial intelligence is streamlining sales and marketing departments by using AI assistants to perform the time-consuming, mind-numbing task of customer outreach. Once the AI has identified a customer who is ready to buy, a human steps in and closes the deal, creating an optimally efficient system.

"Artificial intelligence will also eliminate jobs that are physically harmful or dangerous to humans," Drake noted. That's good news for factory workers who breathe in toxic chemicals, or bomb disposal experts, who place their lives on the line.

We've seen evidence of this happening in recent years as Chinese factory Changying Precision Technology replaced 90 percent of their workers with robots. The factory now uses automated production lines to build cell phone parts, which are overseen by only three human workers. The robots produce almost three times the amount a team of over 600 human workers used to and the defect rate decreased from 25 percent to less than 5 percent. [...]

Technology is changing at such a rapid speed that workers wanting to stay ahead of AI may benefit more from learning in real time, rather than getting an advanced degree, according to a recent study by Genpact.

Given the prohibitive costs of college, some are educating themselves through free or very low cost methods like, that teaches coding, SEO and graphic design, or even edX, which offers an online college-level education in data science, cyber security and other emerging jobs.

"I firmly believe that AI could free humans to dedicate more time to activities that really matter, enabling us to go back to a more balanced lifestyle where work (some of which is repetitive and de-humanizing) is not all there is," said Massimiliano Versace CEO of Neurala. "Perhaps AI will be the technology that will help us break free and pursue the activities that the modern lifestyle has taken from us in the past few decades."

Posted by orrinj at 11:08 AM


Exploring the Bonds of Judaism and Conservatism (Peter Berkowitz, December 08, 2017, Real Clear Politics)

For their part, American Jews have much for which to be grateful. A people accustomed since antiquity to life on the margins in the best of circumstances and, in ordinary times, to vicious persecution as a daily menace, Jews have prospered spectacularly in America. Emancipated from legal liabilities and social opprobrium, they have risen to the top of most every profession. The age-old scourge of anti-Semitism has been largely relegated to the fringes of American society (though the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement on American campuses lends credence to the supposition that anti-Zionism is the new guise of anti-Semitism). 

Nevertheless, American Judaism is rent by division and discord. It has long comprised three movements -- Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox -- with a fourth, the ultra-Orthodox, steadily growing in size and influence. The movements disagree, and sometimes bitterly, about the legitimacy of intermarriage, the laws of conversion, and the status of women in religious ritual and public life. 

Over the last few decades, moreover, a perilous rift has opened among American Jews on the question of Israel. More and more Reform Jews are estranged from the Jewish state because it continues to control approximately 3 million West Bank Palestinians. In contrast, Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews tend to think that the territories they call by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria rightfully belong to Israel and are crucial to the country's ability to defend itself from the jihadist threat that surrounds it. 

The co-chairs of the Conference on Jews and Conservatism -- Roger Hertog, president of the Hertog Foundation and chairman of the Tikvah Fund (I teach for both); Eric Cohen, Tikvah's executive director; and Aylana Meisel, Tikvah's director of strategic initiatives -- are acutely aware of the challenge. They believe, however, that the ties that bind the traditions present a golden opportunity. As Cohen and Meisel argued in a 12,000-word manifesto in Commentary magazine that launched the movement, "Like Judaism itself, conservatism still honors the importance of fidelity to tradition, communal obligation, and the role of religion in sustaining a moral society." 

The conference's major speeches and policy breakout sessions reflected the fledgling movement's core principles. These include the embrace of individual freedom, human equality, and civic responsibility along with dedication to the preservation of a distinctively Jewish way of life and the celebration of the achievements of Jewish civilization. In addition, the JLC seeks to protect religious liberty for all. It aims to defend parents' right to educate their children in schools that reflect their religious beliefs. It undertakes to bolster enduring marriages and strong families built around the gift and responsibilities of raising children. And it champions Israel as the sovereign nation-state of the Jewish people and as America's strategic and moral ally. 

While much of that is worthwhile, the notion that sovereignty can be based on racial identity is neither conservative nor American. Indeed, a state of Israel that remained democratic even as Jews became a minority would retain its sovereignty, while one that abandoned democracy would not.

Posted by orrinj at 10:54 AM


A sneak peak of Prince Harry's interview with former US president Barack Obama has been released (Hatty Collier, 12/17/17, Evening Standard)

Harry told his interviewee that if he used long pauses between answers he would probably get "the face".

Mr Obama said: "Do I have to speak faster because I'm a slow speaker?"

Harry replied: "No, no, not at all."

Smiling cheekily, Mr Obama then said: "Do I need a British accent?"

Harry quipped back: "If you start using long pauses between the answers, you'll probably going to get the face."

Laughing, Mr Obama said: "Let me see the face."

When Harry showed him what he meant and adopted a stern expression, Mr Obama said: "I don't want to see that face."

Harry later said: "You're excited about this and I'm nervous about it, that's what's quite funny."

Mr Obama replied: "It's fun. I'll interview you if you want."

The prince responded laughing: "No, no, let's keep it this way I'd much prefer that."

While the left hated W's politics and the right the UR's, we indisputably enjoyed 16 years of governance by eminently decent men.  

Posted by orrinj at 10:38 AM


Iowa Supreme Court justice blocks Register's use of court records (Clark Kauffman, Dec. 15, 2017, Des Moines Register)

The Dec. 11 order prohibits the Register, at least temporarily, from publishing information from court records that were sealed from public view after the Register obtained copies.

"Pending further order from this court, the defendants shall not disclose or share, other than with legal counsel, any information in the defendants' possession that was obtained exclusively from the reports," the order says.

Gregg Leslie, the legal defense director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, called the court order "very unusual."

"Prior restraint should be a measure of last resort. In this case, we have these publicly obtained documents that were accessed without violating any rule or order," Leslie said. "There seems to be no justification at all for imposing prior restraint on your reporting."

The Register's attorney, Michael Giudicessi, has asked the Iowa Supreme Court to vacate the order, arguing in court filings that "the United States Supreme Court has never approved imposition of a prior restraint against the news media and the court has suggested it would consider doing so only in dire situations, such as matters of national security when the country is at war."

Giudicessi wrote that the order is "an impermissible prior restraint of the press barred by the Iowa and federal constitutions. ... The order unmistakably functions as an injunction directed to the Des Moines Register newspaper and its news reporter, Clark Kauffman, enjoining them from publishing the contents of court records."

Kathleen Richardson of Drake University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication said prior restraint is "the most disfavored form" of government-imposed regulation of speech.

"It is hardly ever found constitutional," she said. "The law is filled with cases in which the courts established that publication of true, newsworthy information, legally obtained, especially from public records, is protected by the First Amendment."

If you want it to be private don't bring it to a public venue.
Posted by orrinj at 10:30 AM


Trump Is Letting In Fewer Refugees, So Jewish Aid Group Is Forced To Cut Back (Ben Sales, 12/17/17, JTA)

HIAS, the Jewish refugee aid agency, will be closing resettlement programs in several cities due to a sharp reduction in the total number of refugees let into the country in the next fiscal year. [...]

"This is Trump's America, really limiting the number of refugees that will be allowed into this country," Hetfield said. "These are sad times for refugees, a sad time for America."

It's always amusing when the nativists claim they only oppose illegal immigration and would support more orderly immigration from a more diverse group of places....

Posted by orrinj at 9:41 AM


Trump's newest enemy: Gravity (David Von Drehle, December 15 , 2017, Washington Post)

You'd think a billionaire would know what every investment prospectus preaches: Past performance does not guarantee future results. And you'd think a TV star would understand the need to add layers and complexity to a protagonist over the course of a long-running series. Yet Trump persists in his one-dimensional role: rebel without a pause button.

A fascinating -- and, for patriotic citizens, dispiriting -- account of life inside the Trump White House by the New York Times recently disclosed that the amped-up monotony of this presidency is entirely intentional. From the start, Trump conceived of this drama as a relentless serial. "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."

However, he forgot to make the audience root for the star. In Trump's confrontations with multiple women who allege that he sexually harassed or assaulted them, most Americans are with the women, according to Rasmussen. In Trump's rivalry with special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, a majority of Americans back Mueller, according to a Post-ABC poll. Overall, Trump's Gallup approval rating has not been above 40 percent since early summer and lately has been hovering in the mid-30s.

If his presidency were truly a TV drama, it would be canceled.

Or it would be relegated to a niche cable channel or streamed on YouTube for an especially grumpy, iconoclastic audience. And this is exactly the problem. Trump and his so-called strategist Bannon (after the Moore debacle, Trump may finally stop taking his calls) appear to have learned their politics from cable and the Internet. Conduits such as Bannon's Breitbart and the Sean Hannity show can be very powerful in a partisan primary, but their business model involves pandering to a minority. They don't need a big audience as long as they mesmerize a small one.

Posted by orrinj at 9:32 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Key Officials Push Back Against Trump Campaign's Claim That A Federal Office Illegally Turned Over Emails To Special Counsel (Chris Geidner, 12/17/17, BuzzFeed News)

In a phone interview with BuzzFeed News on Saturday night, Loewentritt -- whose LinkedIn represents that he has worked at the agency since 1972 -- disputed the claims made in the letter sent by the Trump campaign.

"Beckler never made that commitment," he said of the claim that any requests for transition records would be routed to the Trump campaign's counsel.

Specifically, Loewentritt said, "in using our devices," transition team members were informed that materials "would not be held back in any law enforcement" actions.

Loewentritt read to BuzzFeed News a series of agreements that anyone had to agree to when using GSA materials during the transition, including that there could be monitoring and auditing of devices and that, "Therefore, no expectation of privacy can be assumed."

Loewentritt told BuzzFeed News that the GSA initially "suggested a warrant or subpoena" for the materials, but that the Special Counsel's Office determined the letter route was sufficient.

As to whether the Trump campaign should have been informed of the request, Loewentritt said, "That's between the Special Counsel and the transition team."

Asked about Langhofer's letter and Loewentritt's statements -- and after publication of this story -- a spokesperson for the Special Counsel's Office, Peter Carr, told BuzzFeed News, "When we have obtained emails in the course of our ongoing criminal investigation, we have secured either the account owner's consent or appropriate criminal process."

Posted by orrinj at 9:15 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:11 AM


Mueller has obtained 'tens of thousands' of Trump transition team emails (Sonam Sheth , 12/16/17, Business Insider) 

"Of course Mueller obtained emails from a third party," wrote former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. "Prosecutors in most white collar criminal investigations do that. It's not 'inappropriate' or even unusual. Anyone who claims otherwise has no idea what they're talking about."

He added that it seemed like Trump's lawyers were just "playing politics," but that the development was nevertheless a "bad sign" for them.

Jeffrey Cramer, a longtime former federal prosecutor who specialized in white collar cases, echoed that point. 

"This is not a problem," he said, referring to the way Mueller's team got a hold of the emails. "The server owner, in this case GSA, properly has the emails and can turn them over if there was a subpoena or court order," in the same way that internet providers and banks can provide emails and records about clients to law enforcement.

More than that, Cramer added, the special counsel's team may not even have needed a subpoena to obtain the emails. An administrative request -- a legally authorized and judicially enforceable demand for records issued by a government authority -- may have sufficed, he said. 

The transition team lawyer's letter to Congress appeared to confirm that Mueller's office obtained the emails via an administrative request. 

"Specifically, on August 23, 2017, the FBI sent a letter (i.e., not a subpoena) to career GSA staff requesting copies of the emails, laptops, cell phones, and other materials associated with nine [transition team] members responsible for national security and policy matters," the letter said. 

In response to Langhofer's claim that some of the emails could be "susceptible to privilege claims," Georgetown University national security law professor Phillip Carter tweeted that there was no "legal privilege" that applied in this case. "Just putting a 'privilege' legend on something, or asserting the privilege in a letter after the fact, doesn't make it so."

Posted by orrinj at 9:06 AM


NBC Made Payment To Staffer After Sexual Harassment Claim Against Chris Matthews (Amber Athey, 12/16/2017, Daily Caller)

An MSNBC spokesman confirmed Saturday the company made a separation-related payment to one of Chris Matthews employees after the woman complained about sexual harassment.

Two sources familiar with the situation told The Daily Caller that Matthews paid $40,000 to settle with an assistant producer on his show, "Hardball with Chris Matthews," in 1999 after she accused him of harassment.

Posted by orrinj at 8:31 AM


Men charged in terror plot to kill Muslims want Trump voters on their jury (Derek Hawkins December 13, 2017, Washington Post)

Three Kansas men accused of plotting to massacre Somali-Muslim immigrants have asked a federal judge to make sure that jurors from parts of the state that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump are included in their upcoming trial.

December 16, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 PM


How Fox News and President Trump create an anti-Mueller 'feedback loop' (Brian Stelter, December 16, 2017, CNN)

The right-wing commentary and President Trump's criticism of the FBI are part of a vicious circle. The TV hosts encourage Trump, then Trump supplies sound bites for their shows, and then the hosts are even more emboldened.

With Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election reaching closer to Trump's inner circle, Fox hosts like Sean Hannity continue to demand Mueller's firing. Every night, Hannity tells millions of viewers that Mueller's probe is a corrupt plot to take down Trump and reverse the outcome of the election. Trump is a big fan of Hannity's show, and the two men speak on a regular basis.

"The anti-Mueller rhetoric in conservative media right now is part of a feedback loop," Nicole Hemmer, the author of a book about conservative media, "Messengers of the Right," told CNNMoney.

"Conservative media personalities know Trump hates the investigation and wants it shut down," she said in an email. "They bash the investigation and Mueller, and when Trump sees that happening (say, on 'Fox & Friends') it reinforces his belief that the investigation is illegitimate and that he should do something to end it. The likely consequence is that this increases the odds of Trump attempting to fire Mueller."

Then, living in the loop, they think everyone must see only the same stories they do and become mystified by reality.  That said, one does hope he fires Mueller, just to speed his own demise.

Posted by orrinj at 7:24 PM


Harassment Politics Grip Washington and Spur Fear in Both Parties (Kim Chipman, 12/16/17, Bloomberg)

Chatter in Washington around the rising tally of lawmakers toppled by sexual harassment allegations has shifted from "who's next?" to "how does this end?"

How about folks treat others with respect?

Posted by orrinj at 2:51 PM


In 'highly unusual' move, DOJ secretly invited reporters to view texts sent by ousted FBI agents (Natasha Bertrand, Dec. 13, 2017, Business Insider)

The Justice Department invited a group of reporters to its offices on Tuesday night to view private text messages sent during the 2016 campaign by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, former investigators on the special counsel Robert Mueller's team, Business Insider has learned. [...]

It is "highly unusual" for the DOJ to release private correspondences that are the subject of an ongoing investigation to Congress, let alone to the press, a source on one of the congressional committees investigating Russia's election interference told Business Insider on Wednesday.

The source emphasized that none of the leaks came from Capitol Hill, which obtained the texts from the DOJ separately on Tuesday.

"It's appalling behavior by the department," said Matthew Miller, a former DOJ spokesman. "This is an ongoing investigation in which these employees have due-process rights, and the political leadership at DOJ has thrown them to the wolves so Rosenstein can get credit from House Republicans at his hearing today."

One source close to the process who requested anonymity to discuss internal DOJ deliberations said the texts were given to reporters in case they did not leak in time for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein's public hearing on Wednesday morning.

"It is at least debatable whether it was appropriate to turn them over to the Hill in the middle of an ongoing investigation," Miller said. "Under no circumstances was it appropriate to leak them to the press."

Of course, the point was to get ahead of the story and leak them selectively, because in their entirety they're meaningless.

Posted by orrinj at 2:08 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:05 PM



U.S. Customs and Border Patrol agents are arresting undocumented immigrants along the Southwest border at levels not seen since the end of Obama's administration, signaling that President Donald Trump is falling short on his promise to keep undocumented immigrants out.

The agency released a report Friday that found that about 39,000 people were detained while trying to make their way into the U.S. hitting a level only seen under Former President Barack Obama. The number is up 12 percent from October and the highest it has reached since President Donald Trump's inauguration.

The least of the challenges that people seeking a better life face is Donald.

Posted by orrinj at 1:52 PM


How Will "Hamilton" Play in England? (Daniel Pollack-Pelzner, 12/16/17, The New Yorker)

The more pertinent question may be how a musical that celebrates America, in the words of a dying Hamilton, as "a place where even orphan immigrants can leave their fingerprints" will resonate in post-Brexit Britain more broadly. As in the U.S. productions, the U.K. cast features black and Asian actors in the leading roles, except for that of King George, who is played by the white actor Michael Jibson. The role of Hamilton went to Jamael Westman, a recent graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art whose mother was born in Ireland and whose father came from Jamaica. (A recent piece in a right-wing tabloid felt the need to clarify that the historic Hamilton, however, was "in fact white.") When his political rivals catch Hamilton in a scandal, they mock his origins with a faux-Caribbean patois that recalls the xenophobia of the Brexit campaign: "An immigrant embezzling our government funds . . . ya best g'wan run back where ya come from." And Miranda's hybrid score, bridging the Beatles with Beyoncé and Biggie Smalls, may play, right now, as the sonic analogue to Meghan Markle's engagement to Prince Harry, which has been treated in the tabloids as a progressive fantasy and a reactionary nightmare. "Harry's girl is (almost) straight outta Compton" ran an absurd headlinein the Daily Mail.

In some ways, though, "Hamilton" is surprisingly British in its sensibilities. Miranda grew up on the spate of U.K. imports that ruled Broadway in the nineteen-eighties--"Cats," "Phantom of the Opera," "Les Misérables." (The producer who brought those shows to New York, Cameron Mackintosh, is also the one taking "Hamilton" to the Victoria Palace Theatre, not far from other long-running Broadway transfers like "The Lion King," "Wicked," and "The Book of Mormon.") Andrew Lloyd Webber's "Jesus Christ Superstar" helped give Miranda the idea for a sung-through historical pop opera narrated by the hero's nemesis. (The original casting description for King George called him "Rufus Wainwright meets King Herod.") Miranda's George Washington gives a shout-out to Gilbert and Sullivan, dubbing himself "the model of a modern major general, / The venerated Virginian veteran whose men are all / Lining up, to put me up on a pedestal."
And it's entirely possible that "Hamilton" will end up like "Les Mis"--playing endlessly, embraced around the world for its stirring romance, battles, and ballads, with little sense of the specific history it stages. (Off the top of your head: Which French revolution do Marius and his comrades join?) After Miranda's first musical, "In the Heights," opened in London and became a moderate success, he said that the story of Puerto Rican and Dominican immigrants in gentrifying Manhattan could transfer to the West End because "the specific problems of this community feel universal"--although the musical's book writer, Quiara Alegría Hudes, told me that the absence of a Puerto Rican diaspora community in London made that production feel like a story more about class than race. It could seem like a diminishment of "Hamilton" if its specific ideas--its redefinition of patriotism as pluralism, its elevation of hip-hop to the status of national chronicle, its championing of urban Hamiltonian federalism over louche Jeffersonian agrarianism--faded into generic universality. But, then, one could argue that that's what happens with Shakespeare, too: questions of leadership, nationalism, and military morality in "Henry V" still resonate in heightened, punchy verse, even if we can no longer tell the Earl of Westmoreland from the Duke of Exeter.


Posted by orrinj at 1:48 PM


United Nations 'appalled' by mass executions in Iraq as it cites flaws in the country's justice system (Nick Cumming-Bruce, 12/16/17, Independent)

The United Nation has said that it is "appalled" by a mass execution of prisoners in Iraq and called for an immediate halt to the death penalty in the country, citing flaws in the country's criminal justice system.

Iraq's Ministry of Justice said 38 prisoners were executed on terrorism-related charges in the southern city of Nasiriyah earlier this week, but it gave no details of the prisoners' identities or the offences for which they were sentenced to death. [...]
Iraqi courts are dealing with thousands of prisoners, including foreigners and hundreds of children, some as young as 13, who were detained in the past two years because they were suspected of being Isis fighters or supporters.

Gruesome accounts of summary executions and the brutal torture of detainees suspected of being Isis fighters underscore the powerful impulse for revenge against the militants, who carried out atrocities in the areas they seized after 2014.

UN human rights officials have said that speeding up the execution of accused militants could result in the deaths of innocent people. They warn that perceptions of injustice risk deepening the antagonism between Sunni and Shiite Muslims, and lay the foundation for another cycle of sectarian violence.

Thursday's executions raised the number of people believed to have been executed this year to 106, Throssell said, but the actual number could be much higher.

14 years late.

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


Why Republicans Are Depressed : A culture of victimization? (NOAH ROTHMAN, DEC. 15, 2017, Commentary)

Reasonable conservatives who take the Trump presidency as a whole have observed that there is a lot to like about this administration. On the domestic front, the Trump White House has either allowed hundreds of onerous regulations to expire or it has never implemented them in the first place. In concert with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the administration has aggressively confirmed conservative judges to federal judicial appointments. The administration is dismantling Obama-era abuses, ranging from the deconstruction of ObamaCare to the abandonment of Orwellian Title IX tribunals on American campuses. And Donald Trump's foreign policy is a laudable one, mostly because the president abandoned his populist blustering about the supposed costs of maintaining America's alliances and free-trade obligations.

It isn't just the "Never Trump" right that has avoided introspective rumination on these particulars. The pro-Trump media world seems utterly bored by them. Unremarkably, the pro-Trump media landscape has devoted its attention to Donald Trump's chief concern: real or imagined slights to his ego.

Average conservative voters have spent 2017 observing the arbiters of discourse on the right focus on the alleged wiring of Trump Tower by pro-Obama forces in the "deep state." They've bristled at the impunity with which Trump administration officials were supposedly "unmasked" by Obama officials like Susan Rice to achieve political ends. They've marveled at the injustice of allowing untold millions of illegal immigrants to steal the popular vote from Trump in 2016. They've been consumed with the nefarious conspiracy by Democrats, the press, foreign officials, and political consultants to misuse intelligence products to shackle the president. The FBI, the Department of Justice, the CIA; all are in on the plot to undermine the Trump presidency from within. Establishment Republicans who have criticized Trump for threatening his Department of Justice or failing to condemn white nationalism with proper zeal are eager to see the president fail.

Trump officials administer these agencies that are supposedly engineering these egregious violations of the public trust, and these agencies are overseen by GOP-dominated congressional committees. Why would any Republican be moved to vote for more Republicans if these are the results? These intractable obstacles in the way of Trump render their vote meaningless. A conservative might be tempted to wallow in despair.

Of course, one could argue that Donald Trump cannot simultaneously be a successful president and be the victim of a remorseless campaign of sabotage orchestrated by Maoist insurgents weaving silently in and out of the bureaucracy. It's also not illogical to suggest that a competent president can overcome a bureaucratic culture arrayed in opposition to Republican policy objectives; it has been done before. For whatever reason, though, these arguments do not energize the pro-Trump conservative commentariat. After all, being buffeted by events beyond your control is, in a way, comforting. There is a perverse kind of freedom in lacking agency.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


Glowing Auras and 'Black Money': The Pentagon's Mysterious U.F.O. Program (HELENE COOPER, RALPH BLUMENTHAL and LESLIE KEAN, DEC. 16, 2017, NY Times)

The Defense Department has never before acknowledged the existence of the program, which it says it shut down in 2012. But its backers say that, while the Pentagon ended funding for the effort at that time, the program remains in existence. For the past five years, they say, officials with the program have continued to investigate episodes brought to them by service members, while also carrying out their other Defense Department duties.

The shadowy program -- parts of it remain classified -- began in 2007, and initially it was largely funded at the request of Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat who was the Senate majority leader at the time and who has long had an interest in space phenomena. Most of the money went to an aerospace research company run by a billionaire entrepreneur and longtime friend of Mr. Reid's, Robert Bigelow, who is currently working with NASA to produce expandable craft for humans to use in space.

On the other hand, it was as useful as a navy.
Posted by orrinj at 12:59 PM


POLL: Majority of Trump voters would support him even if he colluded with Russia (Brennan Weiss , 12/16/17, Business Insider)

A majority of President Donald Trump's supporters believe he should continue to serve as president even if it's proven that he conspired with Russia to sway the 2016 election, according to a recent survey conducted by the left-leaning Public Policy Polling (PPP).

Posted by orrinj at 12:49 PM

HOW ELSE DO YOU KNOW WHAT TO READ? (self-reference alert):

Are you still using an RSS reader? (Adi Robertson, Dec 16, 2017, The Verge)

[R]SS is now competing for my time with Twitter, Reddit, internal Verge chats, and other news sources. It's still an important place to check in on specific sites, but it's not where I see the pieces everyone else in my field has been reading and sharing. 2017 has highlighted the downsides of this sort of curated news, though. I'm not talking about the much-discussed ideological "filter bubble;" I probably encounter more ideas I disagree with on Twitter than in Feedly. But social curation (as well as automated algorithmic shuffling) tends to let a few big stories take up more space than I'd like. I need niche, non-important-seeming raw material in my media diet, and RSS is perfect for that.

Even after all these years, I love Feedly. But it no longer feels like a space that I organize. It feels like just another feed.

I also know that my situation is fairly unusual, though. Most people aren't scanning Twitter like a Bloomberg terminal for several hours a day, looking for news. As my colleague Dieter Bohn wrote all the way back in 2013, RSS is far more important for users who want to take in the equivalent of a digital newspaper at the end of the day, something that's difficult or impossible to do with a service like Twitter. So I'm curious -- how many people are still fully invested in the format, and how many have stopped tending their feed gardens?

Pretty nearly every story we post here comes either from our RSS feed or, more recently, Twitter.  It allows you to stream thousands of stories a day from innumerable sites and cherry pick what's of interest.

Posted by orrinj at 12:45 PM


What if America Won a War and No One Cared? : The momentous news of ISIS's defeat was greeted, in large part, with silence. Why? (David French, December 14, 2017, National Review)

The announcement came on Saturday. Just three days before the Alabama special election that transfixed the nation, and on the same day that President Trump fact-checked the Washington Post's Dave Weigel, Iraq's prime minister declared victory in the war against ISIS. Iraq -- with indispensable American help -- has regained control of its cities and its border with Syria. ISIS has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.

The victory isn't confined to Iraq. American-allied forces control ISIS's former capital in Syria, and the world's largest jihadist army is gone. Bands of insurgents still prowl the countryside, and ISIS cells exist across the world, but the war against the "caliphate" is over. It's been won.

So why does no one seem to care?

For the Right, it's embarrassing how easily the UR won a war they were hysterical about. For the Left, it's painful to admit that W's Iraq led the fight.

Posted by orrinj at 9:30 AM


For GOP, tax bill's most visible win may be averting failure (Alan Fram, 12/16/17, AP) 

Republicans hope that would overshadow their embarrassing failure to repeal President Barack Obama's health law. Another flop would have infuriated GOP backers and donors already enraged by the Affordable Care Act debacle, fueling hard-right primary challenges against Republican incumbents or encouraging conservatives to stay home in November.

The deranged claims for it and hysterical reactions to it mean that a few rather trivial tweaks to tax law can--if played right--garner the GOP some undeserved credit for the robust economy they inherited and deprive Democrats of same.   It's reverse Obamacare.

Posted by orrinj at 8:59 AM


1 Out of Every 20 Americans Is Now a Millionaire: Report (Rob Wile, November 14, 2017, Yahoo)

In its annual report on the state of global wealth, Credit Suisse says 1.1 million new millionaires were created in the U.S. in 2017. That brings the total number of millionaires in the U.S. up to approximately 15,356,000, or about one in every 20 Americans.

The rise in the stock market is the biggest reason for the gains, which in turn were driven by both stronger underlying economic conditions and the prospect of lower taxes and deregulation, Credit Suisse reported.

Posted by orrinj at 7:04 AM


The Real Russia Scandal (Bret Stephens DEC. 15, 2017, ny tIMES)

 In The Washington Post on Thursday, reporters Greg Miller, Greg Jaffe and Philip Rucker offer a stunning description of the president's curious incuriousness when it comes to the question of Russian interference in our elections. That's followed by a catalog of all the many ways in which the American president sought to appease the Russian dictator. [...]

Presented with this list, the president's craven apologists insist he's right to try to find common ground with Russia. These are the same people who until recently were in full throat against Barack Obama for his overtures to Putin. More measured apologists say he's merely naïve, just as Obama and Bush were at the beginning of their terms. Yet the alleged naïveté never quits: Just this week, he asked for Putin's help on North Korea.

The better explanations are: (a) the president is infatuated with authoritarians, at least those who flatter him; (b) he's neurotically neuralgic when it comes to the subject of his election; (c) he's ideologically sympathetic to Putinism, with its combination of economic corporatism, foreign-policy cynicism, and violent hostility to critics; (d) he's stupid; or (e) he's vulnerable to Russian blackmail.

Each explanation is compatible with all the others. For my part, I choose all of the above -- the first four points being demonstrable while the last is logical. But let's have that conversation at another time. There's no need to obsess about electoral collusion when the real issue is moral capitulation.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Alabama's Unlikely Rebel (HOWELL RAINES, DEC. 15, 2017, NY Times)

 In 1968, Paul Davis, an ace political reporter and my colleague at The Tuscaloosa News, sniffed out that former Gov. George Wallace, bored with life as "senior adviser" to his wife, then Alabama's governor, was pondering a run for president. He was pressuring two local Democratic lawyers, Richard Shelby and Walter Flowers, to fly to California to sue the state for ballot position in its presidential primary. The dangling carrot, as for every Alabama law firm then, was the right to represent the state in highway condemnation proceedings.

"I wouldn't do it," Mr. Shelby, now the state's six-term senator, told me by telephone from Washington on Thursday.

Mr. Shelby, who switched to the Republican Party in 1994, rebelled again last Sunday when he said on CNN that he would not vote for Roy Moore, the deeply flawed Republican candidate in the Alabama Senate race won by the Democratic dark horse, Doug Jones. [...]

"I did what I needed to do," the senator said in his soft drawl. "I've known Roy Moore for a long time." Mr. Shelby had been warned that the candidate was considered unsound by "die-hard Republicans" in Gadsden, the town where the 30-something Mr. Moore allegedly cruised the mall for teenage girls. "When the story of the 14-year-old girl came out, I thought, 'my gosh,'" Mr. Shelby said. "That was kind of the tipping point for me." He added, "We wanted that Senate seat above everything, but there are some things we don't need in Alabama."

Or in Washington. "I thought Roy Moore would be radioactive," Mr. Shelby said. "That theme ran right through the Republican caucus in the U.S. Senate. They were all concerned about him coming here."

"I took principle over politics," he added. "There comes a time when you have to stand up and I did and I hope I made a difference."

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


'Get Christie Love': Kylie Bunbury To Star In ABC Reboot From Courtney Kemp & Vin Diesel (Nellie Andreeva, December 14, 2017, Deadline)

The project, a co-production between Lionsgate Television and Universal Television, is inspired by the cult 1974 blaxploitation-themed TV movie Get Christie Love! and subsequent short-lived series, which also aired on ABC. With the big commitment and casting of Bunbury, the project is inching closer to a green light.

December 15, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:25 PM


'I Love WikiLeaks!': Trump's Acceptance Of Russian Help Hides In Plain Sight (S.V. Date, 12/15/17, Huffington Post)

Even before Trump took office in January, questions arose about the numerous links between his campaign and Russian officials. Prosecutors working for special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees are reportedly investigating whether campaign officials sought out cooperation with Russia or accepted offers of cooperation. Among the areas under scrutiny: whether the campaign secretly helped Russian "trolls" target specific voters with propaganda attacking the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, in misleading Facebook ads and fake news stories.

Yet out in the open and indisputable the entire time was Trump's daily praise of WikiLeaks in the final weeks of the campaign, starting right after the Oct. 7 release of the "Access Hollywood" tape that seemed capable of sinking his candidacy. That tape contained his boast that he could grab women by the genitals because of his celebrity. WikiLeaks began releasing a new batch of damaging-to-Democrats emails within an hour after the tape story broke, and Trump began talking up those emails in his campaign speeches days later.

"WikiLeaks! I love WikiLeaks," Trump proclaimed at a Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, rally on Oct. 10, 2016.

"You see so much from these WikiLeaks," he told a Panama City, Florida, audience the next day.

"This WikiLeaks stuff is unbelievable," he said the following day at an Ocala, Florida, rally. "You've got to read it!"

In total, Trump referred to WikiLeaks by name 137 times in public appearances and media interviews between Oct. 10 and Election Day, according to PolitiFact. There were another two dozen times when he referred to the emails but did not name the entity.

During that whole time, Trump had access to U.S. intelligence stating that WikiLeaks was acting as an agent of Russian spy agencies, which had stolen the material from Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta and the Democratic National Committee.

Trump to look at recognizing Crimea as Russian territory, lifting sanctions (TYLER PAGER 7/27/16, Politico)

Donald Trump said Wednesday he would consider recognizing Crimea as Russian territory and lifting the sanctions against the country if he's elected president.

Trump urges Russia to hack Clinton's email (MICHAEL CROWLEY and TYLER PAGER, 07/27/2016, Politico)

Donald Trump invited Russia to hack Hillary Clinton's emails on Wednesday, asking one of America's longstanding geopolitical adversaries to find "the 30,000 emails that are missing" from the personal server she used during her time as secretary of state.

"I will tell you this, Russia: If you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," the Republican nominee said at a news conference in Florida. "I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press."

Trump's comments set off an immediate uproar from the Clinton campaign, which blasted the remarks as a threat to national security.

"This has to be the first time that a major presidential candidate has actively encouraged a foreign power to conduct espionage against his political opponent," Hillary for America policy adviser Jake Sullivan said in a statement. 

Russia revels in Trump victory, looks to sanctions relief (Andrew Osborn, Christian Lowe, 11/09/16, Reuters) 

"Clearly the chances of sanctions being lifted on Russia have risen substantially," Charles Robertson, Renaissance Capital's global chief economist, said. "That would improve the investment climate for Russia."

Russia's rouble currency and stocks gained on the Trump election victory. Ukraine's dollar-denominated bonds tumbled to multi-month lows, reflecting pessimism about what a Trump presidency means for the divided and indebted country.

The Kremlin had been bracing for fraught relations if the White House had been won by Hillary Clinton - a politician Putin once accused of stirring up protests against him and who state media portrayed as an anti-Russian warmonger.

Trump was portrayed in a more positive light. Putin described him as "very talented" and in Kremlin-backed media he was cast as a plucky political maverick.

Still, few in Moscow had believed the Republican candidate would win, apart from a group of Trump-supporting nationalists who gathered in a Moscow bar decorated with a triptych of Putin, Trump and French Front National leader Marine Le Pen.

Once it became clear he had won, Russia's parliament erupted in applause and Putin told foreign ambassadors he was ready to fully restore ties with Washington.

Inside the day that set in motion Michael Flynn's guilty plea (Michael Kranish, 12/08/17, Washington Post)

It was Dec. 29, 2016, and President Barack Obama had just imposed sanctions against Russia for that country's alleged interference in the election. [...]

Ruddy said in an interview that he had a prior conversation in which Trump was "very excited" about the prospect of resetting relations with Russia. The issue didn't come up that day. Trump seemed relaxed, Ruddy said, and returned to the library, where he met with health care executives.

That night, Trump stood with King and greeted reporters in the doorway of Mar-a-Lago's ornate stone entrance. He rejected the idea there was a need to punish Russia, saying, "I think we ought to get on with our lives."

The next morning, the Obama White House announced it was imposing the new sanctions on Russian entities and individuals and ordered 35 Russian diplomats to leave the country.

Russia "intended to influence the election, erode faith in U.S. democratic institutions, sow doubt about the integrity of our electoral process, and undermine confidence in the institutions of the U.S. government," the White House said in a statement.

Many of Trump's top advisers were absent as the president-elect absorbed the news. The president-elect's son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, was on vacation in Hawaii with his wife, Ivanka Trump. Vice President-elect Mike Pence, who was in charge of the transition, was at home in Indiana and did not call into the foreign policy briefing on that day, a spokeswoman said.

McFarland was slated to brief Trump, according to a schedule of his day provided to reporters. It is not known what they discussed.

Like Flynn, McFarland supported the idea of resetting relations with Russia. A former foreign policy and Pentagon aide in the Nixon, Ford and Reagan administrations, she wrote in a 2013 Fox News commentary "Vladimir Putin is the one who really deserves that Nobel Peace Prize," referring to Russia's role in Syria at the time.

At some point on Dec. 29, Flynn called McFarland to strategize a plan about what to tell Kislyak about the sanctions, according to court documents and people familiar with her role. The two "discussed that the members of the Presidential Transition Team at Mar-a-Lago did not want Russia to escalate the situation," according to court filings.

Flynn then immediately called Kislyak, urging Russia "not escalate the situation," according to the documents. After he spoke to the Russian ambassador, he called back McFarland and briefed her on the discussion.


President Donald Trump's administration moved quickly to try and lift economic sanctions on Russia and other punishments former President Barack Obama had put in place as soon as it took office in January, according to multiple sources who have spoken with Yahoo News.

"There was serious consideration by the White House to unilaterally rescind the sanctions," according to Dan Fried, who retired in February as Coordinator for Sanctions Policy at the State Department.

Fried told veteran investigative journalist Michael Isikoff, a former national investigative correspondent for NBC News and Newsweek alumnus, that in the early weeks of the administration he got several "panicky" calls from U.S. officials. They asked: "Please, my God, can't you stop this?"

Flynn told associate Russia sanctions would be 'ripped up' early in Trump presidency (BRETT SAMUELS, 12/06/17, The Hill)

President Trump's former national security adviser Michael Flynn told a former business associate that sanctions against Russia would be "ripped up" early in the new presidency, according to a whistle-blower's account made public on Wednesday.


On Thursday The New York Times revealed that over the summer Trump urged members of the Senate--including those leading the Senate Intelligence Committee's Russia investigation--to wrap up their investigations. [...]

Writing about a rare private meeting between the president and his top law enforcement official in February, Comey said Trump tried to pressure him into "letting Flynn go." The request came after Flynn misled Vice President Mike Pence about contact he had had with the Russian ambassador. Trump made a similar request to him in a phone call, Comey said.

During closed testimony before Burr's committee and in separate interviews with Mueller's legal team in June, two top Trump administration intelligence officials said the president approached them to defend him publicly against the investigations, multiple sources told CNN.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers said Trump asked them to state publicly that his campaign did not work with Russia to interfere in the election. A report by The Wall Street Journal in June cited sources who said Trump also called Rogers to state publicly that there is no evidence his campaign colluded with Russia.

Officials who spoke with The Washington Post in June said that Trump applied pressure to CIA Director Mike Pompeo in March when he kept Pompeo and Coats behind after a meeting to complain about Comey's handling of the Russia investigation. Coats reportedly told other officials that Trump had asked for an intervention. It is not known whether Trump asked Pompeo directly to intervene.

Trump's request came after Comey testified before Congress that the FBI was investigating whether Trump's campaign worked with Russia during the election campaign.

"Who believes at this point he didn't obstruct justice?" former Department of Justice public affairs director Matthew Miller‏ wrote on Twitter Thursday.

Posted by orrinj at 6:19 PM


Trumpism never existed. It was always just Trump. (Jane Coaston, 12/15/17,

"Making America Great Again" became a sort of Rorschach test in 2016. Some voters looked at "Trumpism" and saw a means of getting better health care, or better trade deals, or keeping their jobs. Some even looked at Trump and saw a pro-LGBTQ candidate in the same man evangelical Christians viewed as a hero in waiting. His opponents worried about the potential power of Trump's populist appeal, too. David Frum wrote in the Atlantic earlier this year that a populist agenda -- massive spending on infrastructure, combined with massive tax cuts and a heavily restrictionist immigration policy and economic protectionism -- would ensure Trump a second term in office.

But Trump's own "Trumpism" seemed to die a rapid death when Trump entered office. While doing markedly little abroad to earn his campaign reputation as a foreign policy "dove," President Trump has supported a markedly unpopular health care policy and a tax bill aligned with long-standing GOP priorities while doing very little on trade. As Trump has jostled with journalists and black athletes on Twitter, the long-promised massive infrastructure investment has yet to take place, NAFTA remains intact, and China has yet to be named a currency manipulator. (And, of course, the wall remains unbuilt.)

The "Trumpism" of the 2016 presidential campaign was thus largely imaginary, a selling point rather than an overarching policy.

...just her. Any other Republican would have won the popular vote and any reasonable Democrat would have won the electoral vote, not just the popular.

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The Trump Organization sees fortunes fall (Aaron Elstein , 11/15/17, Crain's)

Not only are the Trump Organization's plans to develop a hotel here going nowhere, but prices are slumping for condos at Trump Tower and the Trump International Hotel and Tower.

And golfers are shunning the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx, where revenue through mid-September had fallen by more than $1.1 million in the past two years, to $5.7 million, amid a 16% drop in rounds played.

In addition, the Trump Organization, a perennial leader on the Crain's list of largest privately held companies, has fallen steeply in the rankings, to No. 40 from No. 3 last year, following the president's disclosures to federal regulators that revealed the organization's revenue is less than a 10th of what the firm had reported since at least 2010. [...]

In addition to grappling with a crowded hotel and condo market and hostile political atmosphere here, several Trump Organization leaders are dealing with federal investigations. Executive Vice President Donald Trump Jr., who runs the family business with brother Eric, has been questioned by Congress over Russian interference in last year's election.

Michael Cohen, a top Trump Organization lawyer, also was called to appear before Senate investigators about the Russia matter. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller reportedly wants to interview Rhona Graff, a Trump Organization senior vice president and the president's longtime personal assistant.

Graff was the executive who typically reported Trump Organization revenue figures to Crain's, which relies on companies to self-report for the list. Last year's $9.5 billion in revenue reported by the organization looks preposterous in light of federal filings made by the president in the past year

Posted by orrinj at 5:08 PM


U.S. Says Iran Supports Rebels Fighting in Yemen (Missy Ryan and Kareem Fahim, 12/15/17, The Washington Post)

The United States has provided military support to Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition of Arab states that entered the war in March 2015 to beat back what Saudi Arabia said is an Iranian proxy force. While analysts said at the outset of the conflict that the Saudi claims were exaggerated, most agree the war has driven Shiite Iran and the Houthis toward greater cooperation.

"Most people agree at this point that the Saudis are facing a legitimate security threat and that Iran is part of the problem," said April Alley, a Yemen researcher at the International Crisis Group.

The Houthi should be using our weapons against the Salafi.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


FBI Agent 'Scandal' Revealed to Be Even More Stupid Than Previously Known (Jonathan Chait, 12/15/17, New York)

The main problem with this pseudo-scandal is that nobody has ever previously expected FBI agents not to privately express political viewpoints. Indeed, to prosecute liberal bias at agencies that lean rightward and kept the Republican nominee's very serious investigation private while publicizing the trivial investigation into the Democratic nominee is perverse in the extreme.

There turns out to be another flaw in the "scandal." The main agent in question also wrote text messages criticizing Democrats, reports Del Quentin Wilber. His messages included calling Chelsea Clinton "self-entitled," and mocking Eric Holder. He wrote, "I'm worried about what happens if HRC is elected." Of course, we don't know the context of that any more than we know it for the other texts. If the administration had leaked these texts instead or in addition, the narrative would have been completely different.

If they were part of the 20% who wanted Hillary or the 20% who wanted Donald one would worry about them serving in government.

Posted by orrinj at 1:29 PM


Lebanon's central bank governor says crisis boosted confidence (Middle East Online, 12/15/17)

 Lebanon's ability to survive the crisis sparked last month by the premier's now rescinded resignation has increased confidence in its economy, the governor of the country's central bank said Friday. [...]

"The liquidity to fund the economy remained available because we maintained monetary stability during this crisis and even I think that after this crisis there will be more confidence," Riad Salameh said in an interview with AFP.

December 14, 2017

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Fill the gaps in the tax bill with a carbon tax and expanded benefits for working families (Aparna Mathur and Adele MorrisFriday, December 8, 2017, bROOKINGS)

A carbon tax is shorthand for a tax on emissions of carbon dioxide (or, in the case of fossil fuels, their carbon content before combustion) and other greenhouse gases. Such a tax is appealing because it serves the dual purpose of benefitting the environment and generating significant revenue to use to achieve other goals. According to a 2016 analysis by the Congressional Budget Office, a greenhouse gas tax could yield $977 billion in revenue over a 10-year period, nearly equal to the JCT deficit estimate. Our own work with colleagues estimates that a carbon tax starting at about $25 per metric ton of CO2, rising at 5 percent per year over inflation, would gross over $110 billion the first year and over $1 trillion over 10 years while reducing U.S. CO2 emissions by over 50 percent by 2040 relative to a business-as-usual emissions projection. The policy would also reduce harmful air pollutants like sulphur dioxide, mercury, particulate matter, and nitrogen oxides.

One concern with the carbon tax is that it is regressive, meaning lower income households bear a larger burden of the tax as a fraction of their income than higher income households do. However, good policy design can offset this regressivity. In a recent paper, we model how the revenues from a carbon tax could be used in part to fund an expansion of the EITC, thus using a regressive tax to fund a progressive benefit. The EITC program has bipartisan support, is well-targeted to low- and moderate-income households, and is shown to strengthen work incentives. The EITC is a powerful anti-poverty tool, credited with reducing the number of people in poverty by 16 percent, and the number of children in poverty by 30 percent.

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By Endorsing Moore, Trump Sank the U.S. Presidency to Unplumbed Depths (George Will, December 13, 2017, National Review)

Elation is in order because a gross national embarrassment has been narrowly avoided. But curb your enthusiasm because nationally, as in Alabama, most Republicans still support the president who supported the credibly accused child molester. Alabama, however, has perhaps initiated the inevitable sorting of Republicans who retain a capacity for disgust from the Vichy Republicans who have none. After the president's full-throated support of the grotesque, he should be icily shunned by all but his diehard collaborators. For example: When the president stages a signing ceremony for the tax legislation, no etiquette requires any Republican to be photographed grinning over his shoulder. Stay away.

By basking in the president's approval, Moore became a clarifier. Henry Adams, great-grandson of the second president and grandson of the sixth, was unfair to the 18th when he wrote, "The progress of evolution from President Washington to President Grant, was alone evidence enough to upset Darwin." By joining Steve Bannon's buffoonery on Moore's behalf, the 45th president planted an exclamation point punctuating a year of hitherto unplumbed presidential depths. He completed his remarkably swift -- it has taken less than eleven months -- rescue of the 17th, Andrew Johnson, from the ignominy of ranking as the nation's worst president.

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Lebanon approves bid for oil, gas exploration (Middle East Online, 12/14/17)

Lebanon on Thursday approved a first bid from an international consortium including France's Total, Italy's ENI and Russia's Novatek to explore for oil and gas off the country's Mediterranean coast.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


White House Ousts Staffer Who Bragged Of Good Relationship With Louis Farrakhan (Aiden Pink, 12/14/17, The Forward)

White House staffer and former reality TV star Omarosa Manigault-Newman announced her resignation on Wednesday in a departure that turned dramatic when she was forced to deny that she was fired and escorted off the premises by the Secret Service.

Manigault-Newman, who worked on African-American outreach for President Trump, her former "Apprentice" boss, had been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League for bragging of close ties with Louis Farrakhan, the African-American leader who has been accused of anti-Semitism for decades.

Omarosa Tried to 'Storm the Residence' in Reality TV-Style Ouster (LACHLAN MARKAY & ASAWIN SUEBSAENG, 12.13.17, Daily Beast)

Multiple sources with knowledge of the incident recounted a "ruckus" on Tuesday night involving Omarosa, the reality TV villain turned the communications director of the White House's Office of Public Liaison. One White House official said she had even tried to "storm the residence" after learning that she was being forced out less than a year into Trump's White House tenure. She was ultimately thwarted by staff. Reports later emerged that she had to be escorted from the campus on Tuesday.

"It was actually the closest thing to reality TV [I'd experienced] since getting here," a White House official told The Daily Beast.

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."

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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.

Posted by orrinj at 5:57 AM


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.

Posted by orrinj at 9:20 AM


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.

Posted by orrinj at 9:04 AM


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

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


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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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

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 PM


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.

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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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Posted by orrinj at 5:19 PM


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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Posted by orrinj at 5:31 AM


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

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


Start at
Posted by orrinj at 5:36 PM


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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Posted by orrinj at 9:14 AM


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.

Posted by orrinj at 6:54 AM


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...
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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.