January 17, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Higher Education Is Drowning in BS : And it's mortally corrosive to society (Christian Smith, JANUARY 09, 2018, The Chronicle Review)

BS is the university's loss of capacity to grapple with life's Big Questions, because of our crisis of faith in truth, reality, reason, evidence, argument, civility, and our common humanity.

BS is the farce of what are actually "fragmentversities" claiming to be universities, of hyperspecialization and academic disciplines unable to talk with each other about obvious shared concerns.

BS is the expectation that a good education can be provided by institutions modeled organizationally on factories, state bureaucracies, and shopping malls -- that is, by enormous universities processing hordes of students as if they were livestock, numbers waiting in line, and shopping consumers.

BS is universities hijacked by the relentless pursuit of money and prestige, including chasing rankings that they know are deeply flawed, at the expense of genuine educational excellence (to be distinguished from the vacuous "excellence" peddled by recruitment and "advancement" offices in every run-of-the-mill university).

BS is the ideologically infused jargon deployed by various fields to stake out in-group self-importance and insulate them from accountability to those not fluent in such solipsistic language games.

BS is a tenure system that provides guaranteed lifetime employment to faculty who are lousy teachers and inactive scholars, not because they espouse unpopular viewpoints that need the protection of "academic freedom," but only because years ago they somehow were granted tenure.

BS is the shifting of the "burden" of teaching undergraduate courses from traditional tenure-track faculty to miscellaneous, often-underpaid adjunct faculty and graduate students.

BS is states pounding their chests over their great public universities even while their legislatures cut higher-education budgets year after year after year.....

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Owning An Electric Car Is Twice As Cheap As Owning A Gas Vehicle (BEN SCHILLER, 1/17/18, Co.exist)

Electric cars are generally more expensive to buy than conventional vehicles. The suggested retail price for a 2018 Nissan Leaf, the world's best selling EV, is about $30,000 in the U.S. You can pick up a new Honda Civic 2018 for less than $19,000 (though this excludes the still-available federal tax credit for new EVs, worth $7,500).

But running an EV is almost always cheaper-sometimes dramatically so. A new analysis shows EV costs are on average 2.3 times lower than for gasoline vehicles nationally, though the numbers vary a lot state to state. In Washington and Oregon, where electricity is relatively cheap, EV drivers have a third of the energy costs of conventional drivers.

Posted by orrinj at 6:46 PM


Kelly calls some of Trump's campaign pledges on immigration, wall 'uninformed,' meeting attendees say (Ed O'Keefe, January 17, 2018, The Washington Post)

White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly told Democratic lawmakers Wednesday that the United States will never construct a physical wall along the entire stretch of the U.S.-Mexico border and that some of President Trump's campaign promises on immigration were "uninformed." [...]

Kelly's comments, made in a closed-door session at the U.S. Capitol with members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), also show that senior administration officials know that Trump will not be able to fulfill two key campaign promises  -- the construction of a wall along the southern border that is paid for by Mexico.


Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


The Patriots' Super Bowl Path Is The Easiest In Modern NFL History (Neil Paine, 1/17/18, 538)

For one thing, the AFC was exceptionally weak this year. In inter-conference play during the regular season, NFC teams went 41-23 against their AFC counterparts, which was the second-best record for one conference against the other in a season since 1990. (Only the 2004 season, in which the AFC went 44-20 against the NFC, saw a wider split.) As a result, the AFC playoff field contained only two teams with more than 10 regular-season wins, as opposed to five in the NFC. That meant a path was already forming for the top-seeded Pats to sail through to another Super Bowl.

Then a few key upsets boosted New England's advantage. First, the Tennessee Titans toppled the Kansas City Chiefs in the wild-card game, setting up a huge divisional-round mismatch at Gillette Stadium. According to Elo, the Pats were favored by 12, since Tennessee rated at 1499 -- below the league average rating of 1505 -- even after knocking off K.C. That made it the third-most lopsided divisional matchup since 1990, trailing only the Pats vs. the Tim Tebow Broncos in the 2011 season and Minnesota vs. Arizona in 1998. The Titans hung with the Pats for about a quarter, but New England eventually dropped 35 unanswered points on Tennessee and rolled to victory.

The next day, another upset further cleared the way for New England. The Jaguars went into Heinz Field and took a quick 28-7 lead over the stunned Pittsburgh Steelers, then hung on for a 45-42 win. Elo had only given the Jags a 24 percent chance of winning -- even lower than Tennessee's chances at Kansas City -- and it still only ranks Jacksonville as the 12th-best team in football, below five teams that were knocked out of the playoffs and three that didn't even make it to the playoffs.

Just like that, the two AFC teams Elo thought had the best chance of beating the Pats going into the playoffs -- the Chiefs and the Steelers -- were gone, and in their place were a below-average team and another that doesn't rate much higher. According to Elo, New England is a 10-point favorite to beat Jacksonville, with an 81 percent chance of winning the Lamar Hunt Trophy yet again.

If we multiply together the Patriots' pregame odds of beating the Titans (85 percent) with that of the Jaguars (81 percent), we could say they had a staggering 69 percent chance of making the Super Bowl before they ever played a game. (This is assuming we'd somehow know that both of their opponents would pull off the upsets they did.) That's easily the best number for any conference title-game participant since 1990.

...that the "difficult" path would have required only beating Andy Reid and Mike Tomlin, which Rich Kotite might manage.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


The C.I.A.'s Maddening Relationship with Pakistan (Nicholas Schmidle, January 12, 2018, The New Yorker)

By 2015, the C.I.A. had begun to run out of Al Qaeda targets in Pakistan; there were ten drone strikes reported in Pakistan that year, compared to a hundred and twenty-two in 2010. "The center of gravity for Al Qaeda was in the process of a fundamental shift from Pakistan to Syria," Joshua Geltzer, the former senior director for counterterrorism on Obama's national-security council, told me. And though the Trump Administration has presented its new policy as a correction to America's past failings in Pakistan, current and former national-security officials said it was the C.I.A.'s counterterrorism successes there, and Al Qaeda's corresponding weakness in Pakistan, which have enabled Trump to take a harder line. In short, Al Qaeda's operation in Pakistan just does not represent the threat it once did. The former C.I.A. director Michael Hayden declined to comment on, or even acknowledge, the C.I.A.'s drone program, but he told me that he applauded Trump's decision, and said, "He may be confident enough that we have sufficiently shaped the environment that the downsides are manageable."

Al Qaeda, however, is not the only terrorist group in Pakistan. Militants based there, particularly the Haqqani network, continue to carry out deadly attacks on civilians and Afghan and American forces in Afghanistan. White, the former South Asia adviser, said, "The outstanding list of Al Qaeda-affiliated figures is small. But the Haqqani list is moving in the other direction." And when American officials have asked the Pakistani military and intelligence officials to pressure the Haqqanis, White said, "They were at times minimally responsive, but we always hit a wall."

Trump's national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, has endorsed a harder line against Pakistan as part of a plan to reinvigorate the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan. Last year, McMaster saw a report by Lisa Curtis, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, and Husain Haqqani, the former Pakistani Ambassador to the U.S. (and of no relation to the Haqqani network in North Waziristan), titled "A New U.S. Approach to Pakistan." In it, Curtis and Haqqani argue that the Trump Administration should "stop chasing the mirage" that Pakistan might change its approach to confronting certain terrorist groups without the threat of withholding aid. "Pakistan is not an American ally," they write.

McMaster asked Curtis--an experienced Pakistan analyst who had worked at the C.I.A. and the State Department--to join the national-security council as the senior director for South and Central Asia. The paper she co-wrote with Haqqani has become the "blueprint" for Trump's Pakistan policy, according to a source familiar with the Administration's deliberations. After last week's suspension of aid, the question is, what next? In their paper, Curtis and Haqqani propose that the U.S. might threaten to designate Pakistan a "state sponsor of terrorism," which could cause a near-total rupture in relations between the two countries and, perhaps, even the sanctioning of current and former Pakistani officials.
Pentagon and State Department officials have resisted the new hard-line approach, citing the risk that Pakistan could cut off the land and air routes that the U.S. uses to supply American forces in Afghanistan. State Department officials were also reportedly blindsided by Trump's tweets last week. (Defense Secretary Mattis has repeatedly discouraged other Administration officials from issuing ultimatums. A senior defense official told me, of Mattis, "He's still making his case.") The senior Administration official disputed claims that the Defense and State Departments were not part of developing the new approach, and the characterization of Curtis and Haqqani's paper as the "blueprint" for the policy change. "There is a robust interagency process," the official told me. "There are many people involved in the policy process. There is a deliberative process."

More importantly, the official said, last week's announcement reflected the Trump Administration's "broader strategy" in Afghanistan: a political settlement between the Afghan government and the Taliban. But, the official added, "We believe that so long as the Taliban and the Haqqani network feel they have a safe haven in Pakistan, they will be less motivated to come to the negotiating table."

Taliban leader approved Islamabad meeting on Afghan peace talks: sources (Sami Yousafzai, 1/17/18, Reuters) 

A delegation approved by the Taliban's supreme leader visited the Pakistani capital this week for exploratory talks on restarting peace negotiations to end Afghanistan's 16-year war, two senior officials in the movement said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Desperate ISIS fanatics forced to use FAKE terror images in new budget 'Photoshop jihad' as fanboys pine for 'the good old days' (The Sun, Jan. 9th, 2018)

ONCE upon a time ISIS' propaganda unit was a slick operation, pumping out professionally produced snuff videos to scare the world - or recruit psychos to their ranks.

But now the terrorists are currently in the middle of a media crisis after losing their main media in the centre in the brutal battle for Raqqa last year.

Efforts to produce their gruesome murder videos have been curbed and they are now reduced to "crowd sourcing" new ideas for Photoshopped propaganda.

In a frantic recruitment bid on Telegram, sicko supporters are encouraging members to fake images to drive fear into the West in an attempt to "freak out the kuffar (non muslims)".

Jihadis believed to be in New York, claim they will now fake images as part of "Photoshop jihad".

The group's terror output has plummeted since Raqqa - their terror capital and media hub - was captured by Kurdish led forces.

Several key members of the terrorists' media team are believed to have perished in the downfall of the regime.

Sun Online previously reported how ISIS supporters shared an image of a man on a snowy New Yorks street claiming he was a member of the terror group.

Nowadays propaganda from the embattled state is now peppered with spelling mistakes - including one which vowed to "cuddle necks".

Posted by orrinj at 10:44 AM


Syrian opposition joins condemnation of US 'border force' (Middle East Online, 1/17/18)

The exiled Syrian National Council opposition group, in a statement, condemned the "US plan for a border force" and said "it was unacceptable" for areas liberated from IS to fall under Kurdish control.

The Kurds have sought to remain neutral in Syria's nearly seven-year-old war between rebels and the government.

With US backing, the YPG, the main element of the SDF, has seized swathes of territory in northern and eastern Syria from IS and established semi-autonomous rule in those areas.

The US-led coalition insists the border force would be responsible for stopping a resurgence of IS.

Posted by orrinj at 7:28 AM


How Michael Wolff Got Into the White House for His Tell-All Book (Jennifer Jacobs, 1/17/18, Bloomberg)

He called it "The Great Transition: The First 100 Days of the Trump Administration." And in part due to that title, Wolff was able to exploit an inexperienced White House staff who mistakenly believed they could shape the book to the president's liking.

Nearly everyone who spoke with Wolff thought someone else in the White House had approved their participation. And it appears that not a single person in a position of authority to halt cooperation with the book -- including Trump himself -- raised any red flags, despite Wolff's well documented history. His previous work included a critical book on Trump confidant Rupert Murdoch, the Twenty-First Century Fox Inc. co-chairman. [...]

Wolff's entree began with Trump himself, who phoned the author in early February to compliment him on a CNN appearance in which Wolff criticized media coverage of the new president.

Wolff told Trump during the call that he wanted to write a book on the president's first 100 days in office. Many people want to write books about me, Trump replied -- talk to my staff. Aides Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks listened to Wolff's pitch in a West Wing meeting the next day, but were noncommittal. 

Several aides said Hicks later informally endorsed talking with Wolff as long as they made "positive" comments for the book, which they said Wolff told them would counter the media's unfair narrative.

It wasn't until late August that alarm bells were raised in the White House -- when Hicks, Jared Kushner and their allies realized that fellow aides who had spoken with Wolff, especially Bannon, may have provided damaging anecdotes about them.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


Sens. Cotton and Perdue are outed for lying on Trump's behalf (Jennifer Rubin January 16, 2018, Washington Post)

There is no honor among anti-immigrant advocates and liars, I suppose. After dutifully lying on behalf of the president regarding his abhorrent language ("shithole countries"), Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and David Perdue (R-Ga.) were outed by the White House. The Post reports:

Three White House officials said Perdue and Cotton told the White House that they heard "s[***]house" rather than "s[***]hole," allowing them to deny the president's comments on television over the weekend. The two men initially said publicly that they could not recall what the president said.

Not only did these two repeatedly lie, but Cotton also impugned the integrity of Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), who told the truth. Asked whether the accusation that Trump spoke the offending words or the sentiment was phony, Cotton lied, "Yes." He went on to say, "Senator Durbin has misrepresented what happened in White House meetings before, and he was corrected by Obama administration officials by it."

Honorable men would resign after such a remarkable revelation of their crummy character; neither Cotton nor Perdue will. 

One of the more Trumpbot moves was to try and make it about Senator Durbin.  By their methods do we know them.
Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Steve Bannon Will Tell All to Robert Mueller, Source Says (Betsy Woodruff, 01.16.18, Daily Beast)

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon broke some bad news to House investigators Tuesday, announcing that the White House had invoked executive privilege to keep him from answering many of their questions.

But executive privilege--the president's right to keep certain information from the public so he can have frank conversations with aides--will not keep Steve Bannon from sharing information with special counsel Robert Mueller's team, according to a person familiar with the situation.

"Mueller will hear everything Bannon has to say," said the source, who is familiar with Bannon's thinking.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 AM


Chamber of Commerce To Push Gas Tax Increase (John Wagner, 1/16/18, The Washington Post)

With President Donald Trump and Congress turning their attention to infrastructure in the coming weeks, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is preparing for an uphill battle: a push to raise the federal gas tax by 25 cents per gallon to help pay for the initiative.

The proposal by the nation's largest business lobby, which will be formally unveiled later this week, is part of a series of principles it will offer in a bid to help shape the debate over upgrading the nation's roads, bridges, airports and other critical infrastructure.

Posted by orrinj at 5:47 AM


Democrats Pick Up Wisconsin State Senate Seat in District Trump Won by 17 Points (Margaret Hartmann, 1/17/18, New York)

Thanks to predictions of a Democratic wave in 2018, a record number of House Republicans have announced they're retiring, and some likely candidates have opted not to run. The year's first contests, a handful of statehouse special elections held on Tuesday, seemed to confirm that they made the right call.

The biggest news is an upset in Wisconsin's 10th Senate District, where Democrat Patty Schachtner, a medical examiner, beat Republican Adam Jarchow, a member of the state Assembly, by 9 points.

The rural district's voting history did not suggest an easy win for Democrats. For the last 17 years, the seat was held by Republican state Senator Sheila Harsdorf, who stepped down in November to serve as Governor Scott Walker's agriculture secretary. In the 2016 election Harsdorf won by 26 points and Donald Trump won by 17 points; Romney easily took the district in 2012, though Wisconsin went to Obama.

Posted by orrinj at 5:39 AM


Why We Are a Republic, Not a Democracy (Walter Williams, Jan. 17th, 2018, Daily Signal)

In Federalist Paper No. 10, James Madison wanted to prevent rule by majority faction, saying, "Measures are too often decided, not according to the rules of justice and the rights of the minor party, but by the superior force of an interested and overbearing majority."

John Adams warned in a letter, "Remember democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet, that did not commit suicide."

Edmund Randolph said, "That in tracing these evils to their origin, every man had found it in the turbulence and follies of democracy."

Then-Chief Justice John Marshall observed, "Between a balanced republic and a democracy, the difference is like that between order and chaos."

The Founders expressed contempt for the tyranny of majority rule, and throughout our Constitution, they placed impediments to that tyranny. Two houses of Congress pose one obstacle to majority rule. That is, 51 senators can block the wishes of 435 representatives and 49 senators.

The president can veto the wishes of 535 members of Congress. It takes two-thirds of both houses of Congress to override a presidential veto.

To change the Constitution requires not a majority but a two-thirds vote of both houses, and if an amendment is approved, it requires ratification by three-fourths of state legislatures.

Finally, the Electoral College is yet another measure that thwarts majority rule. It makes sure that the highly populated states--today, mainly 12 on the east and west coasts, cannot run roughshod over the rest of the nation. That forces a presidential candidate to take into consideration the wishes of the other 38 states.

January 16, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 PM


Confrontation between Rouhani, hard-line clerics heats up (Al-Monitor, January 16, 2018)

[R]ouhani has come under attack for his remarks that no one is above criticism, not even the 12th Shiite imam, the Mahdi.

Twelver Shiite Islam holds that the Mahdi is in a state referred to as the "greater occultation" and is waiting to reappear to rule the world. 

In a speech believed to have been influenced by the protests across Iran, Rouhani sought not to dismiss the protesters, saying Jan. 8, "Everyone should be criticized and there is no exception [to this principle]. All the officials in the country can be criticized. No one in the country is infallible. If one day the Hidden Imam [Mahdi] reappears, then we can criticize [him] too. ... The Prophet [Muhammad] allowed [others] to criticize him. We don't have anyone above the prophet in history."

Following these remarks, hard-line clerics said that criticizing Shiite imams, who are deemed infallible, would in effect mean that they are not in fact infallible. Rouhani's defenders, however, said the president was trying to say that people can question imams in order to get an answer, just as the president and other officials in Iran can be questioned. Moderate Ayatollah Mohsen Gharavian said Jan. 15, "The goal of Mr. Rouhani in his recent remarks involving the critique of the infallible imams wasn't equivalent to rejecting them, but rather meant the possibility of questioning them."

In marked contrast, the influential Society of Seminary Teachers of Qom, headed by powerful cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, issued a statement Jan. 14 saying the rejection of Muhammad and the imams' infallibility "is in explicit opposition to Islam and the Shiite faith. ... We strongly recommend that some officials refrain from entering issues related to [people's] beliefs in their speeches."

Ayatollah Mohammad-Taghi Mesbah Yazdi, considered to be the spiritual father of the hard-liners -- including conservative cleric Ebrahim Raisi, who lost to Rouhani in the 2017 presidential election -- tweeted Jan. 15, "They are saying that people can criticize the infallible imams. ... They said this not in [a distant country] but in the capital of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Now, with the presence of such [figures on the public stage], how much more should the Hidden Imam [Mahdi] suffer?"

Posted by orrinj at 2:22 PM

LAUGHINGSTOCK (profanity alert):

Constituents laugh out loud at GOP Senator Joni Ernst's defense of Trump (Tommy Christopher, JANUARY 15, 2018, ShareBlue)

At the otherwise friendly "Coffee with Joni" event, constituent Barb Melson confronted Ernst about "the damage that Trump is doing to our neighbors around the world with his white supremacy talk."

Ernst insisted that Trump enjoys support from other world leaders.

"He is standing up for a lot of the countries," Ernst told the crowd.

Ernst was then asked to "name a few."

Her response drew a big laugh from the crowd.

"Norway," Ernst replied unironically.

Posted by orrinj at 2:17 PM


Trump says he wants more immigrants from 'everywhere' (Reuters, 1/16/18) 

U.S. President Donald Trump, asked whether he wanted more immigrants from Norway, said on Tuesday that he wanted the United States to draw immigrants from nations around the world.

The nativist folks who claim this always follow that be discussing how few we should take from everywhere.

Posted by orrinj at 1:41 PM


If We Ever Get to Mars, the Beer Might Not Be Bad (KENNETH CHANG JAN. 12, 2018, NY Times)

Here's an interplanetary botany discovery that took college students and not NASA scientists to find: Hops -- the flowers used to add a pleasant bitterness to beer -- grow well in Martian soil.

"I don't know if it's a practical plant, but it's doing fairly well," said Edward F. Guinan, a professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Villanova University. [...]

Martian soil is very dense and dries out quickly -- perhaps better for making bricks than growing plants, which have trouble pushing their roots through. That includes potatoes, the savior food for the fictional Mark Watney in "The Martian," the book by Andy Weir and later a movie starring Matt Damon about a NASA astronaut stranded on Mars.

For the most part, the students chose practical, nutritious plants like soy beans and kale in addition to potatoes. Some added herbs like basil and mint so that astronauts could enjoy more flavorful food on thesolar system's fourth world.

And one group chose hops.

"Because they're students," Dr. Guinan said. "Martian beer." (He vetoed marijuana.) [...]

One group of students hypothesized that coffee grinds could similarly be used as a filler to loosen up the soil. They figured the astronauts would be drinking coffee anyway, and coffee would also be a natural fertilizer. "Also, it may help acidify Martian soil," said Elizabeth Johnson, a Villanova senior who took the class. Mars soil is alkaline, with a pH of 8 to 9, she said, compared to 6 to 7 on Earth.

"We think the coffee has a lot of potential," Ms. Johnson said.

Her team's carrots, spinach and scallions sprouted quickly in the mix of coffee grounds and Martian soil, initially growing faster than even plants in a control planter full of Earth potting mix.

Posted by orrinj at 9:26 AM

LAUGHINGSTOCK (self-reference alert):


A prominent Zambia tourism website appears to have been inspired by President Donald Trump, launching an ad that invites tourists to "visit ****hole Zambia."

The ad, posted on the Zambiatourism.com's Facebook page, features a stunning sunset vista and the slogan: "Visit ****hole Zambia ... Where the only stars and stripes you'll have to see are in the sky and on a zebra." 

Zambiatourism.com, which operates independently of the official Zambia Tourism Board, also advertised the country as a destination "where beautiful vistas and breathtaking wildlife are our trump card!"

The Wife and younger two kids went last year, to work with the Circus Zambia, which helps kids from the Chibolya slum in Lusaka, and one of the performers has stayed with us.  They'd all love to move here, but the family was overwhelmed by the welcome they received in the midst of grinding poverty too. The more of this human capital we could transfer here the richer we'd be.

Zambian Circus Artists Build Links to Upper Valley (David Corriveau, 7/20/16, Valley News Staff Writer)

The first time he watched the six members of Circus Zambia walking over each other's heads and shoulders and abdominals, somersaulting over each other in single bounds and otherwise defying gravity and credulity this summer, Barry Lubin noticed two things.

"They came with a huge vocabulary of acrobatics," Lubin, whom fans of the Big Apple Circus might remember as the clown Grandma, said during the Tuesday afternoon session of the Van Lodostov Family Circus camp at Marion Cross School. "They also came with a sense of humor."

For the tour of their show, "Discover Home," Gift Chansa, Amos Malokwa, Benard Kaumba, John Mwansa, Thomas Banda and Patrick Chikoloma also brought a sense of mission to the Upper Valley this summer -- to learn life skills as well as additional circus tricks and showmanship before returning to Zambia's capital city of Lusaka to teach them to kids in the slums where they grew up.

The ensemble's visit is part of a budding exchange between two unlikely hotbeds of circus education: the Upper Valley and Chibolya, a Lusaka slum. Students from the Upper Valley performed in Zambia in February, and their Zambian counterparts arrived here June 19. This is circus with a social, as well as physical uplift. The Zambian acrobats perform this afternoon at 3 at Lebanon's Colburn Park.

"It's so much to take in," the 24-year-old Chansa, who cofounded Circus Zambia with Malokwa and Kaumba, said between a tutoring session in math and bookkeeping with local volunteers and working with Van Lodostov campers. "But we have to take whatever opportunity we find and take it back home.

"We want to allow young people to dare to dream."

As children, Chansa, Malokwa and Kaumba rarely dreamed about exploring beyond the mean streets and alleys of Chibolya -- which in the Nyanja language means "abandoned" -- while daring each other to outdo their impromptu acrobatic feats.

Then their vision broadened, with an invitation to sharpen their skills with Lusaka's Barefeet Theatre Company. That opportunity led to a year of training at an acrobatics school in China, and eventually to the re-creation late in 2015 of Circus Zambia as a non-governmental organization, with a British-born logistics manager, a Dutch program manager -- and Northern Stage founder Brooke Ciardelli as its producer in the United States.

"They're really grabbing the bull by the horns, taking every opportunity they have," logistics manager Charlie Hall said at Marion Cross School on Tuesday. "Not only to learn the physical skills, but to learn all kinds of life skills that they can pass on to the younger kids."

This past February, Ciardelli, who previously did producing work for Barefeet Theatre, and Van Lodostov founder Ted Lawrence led a delegation of 15 Upper Valley teens and adults to Zambia for a youth circus exchange.

"That was an eye-opener," Lawrence said on Tuesday at Marion Cross, while Mwansa pedaled a bicycle on which campers balanced on the front axle. "How little resources they have, and how much they've accomplished, is incredible."

To help the Zambians build a circus school beyond its current programs for children ages 6 and older, the families who visited Chibolya in February arranged for the Circus Zambia members to come to the Upper Valley and stay with local families this summer while they learn language and math skills, teach circus skills, raise money and fine-tune their own act.

"It keeps getting better and better every time we do a show," said Chikoloma, at 17 the company's youngest member. "Every day we learn things, and do something new."

Posted by orrinj at 9:03 AM


Revenge of the Unduly Reprieved (NOAH ROTHMAN, JAN. 15, 2018, Commentary)

Neither Joe Arpaio nor Chelsea Manning deserved their reprieves. The legitimacy these two blights on the American political ethos enjoy today is a product of the most reckless, self-indulgent impulses of the presidents who gave them clemency. They are funhouse mirror reflections of their respective party's base voters. These candidacies are not aberrations; they are the wages of a partisan political culture that values provoking adversaries over substantive engagement. It's up to responsible voices within both parties' political establishments to ensure that these candidacies aren't harbingers of things to come.

The singular legislative achievement of the UR was passing the Heritage Foundation's health care plan, of Donald, a corporate tax cut that the UR proposed and Hillary planned to enact.  The parties are divided by partisanship, not policy.

Posted by orrinj at 8:56 AM


Edward Lansdale and America's Vietnam Demons : A new book explores a legendary advisor who may have had the secret to success in Vietnam -- and in winning today's forever war. (CARTER MALKASIAN, JANUARY 16, 2018, Foreign Policy)
Max Boot's newest book chronicles the life and impact of Edward Lansdale, the famous American advisor and CIA officer sometimes hailed as the "Lawrence of Asia." A near-legend alternately seen as a kingmaker or an oddball, Lansdale helped trailblaze one American approach to fighting communist insurgents during the early days of the Cold War -- an approach that was soon scorned by policymakers at the top. Deeply researched and evenhanded, The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam is a superb scholarly achievement.

Boot, a historian and columnist for Foreign Policy, comes at Lansdale having already written two major books on small wars and counterinsurgency, a solid foundation that he takes to a new level here with rigorous research and dogged investigation into little-known corners of Lansdale's life. He taps the most up-to-date scholarly sources, such as Lien-Hang Nguyen's Hanoi's War and Fredrik Logevall's Embers of War, and his own primary research is most impressive. He conducted more than 20 interviews with people who knew Lansdale and visited more than 30 archives, including in the Philippines and Vietnam. He makes use of the most recently declassified material. And Boot is the first author to gain access to the letters Lansdale wrote to his wife and his Filipina lover (and future second wife), which reveal copious details about his thinking and motivation.

The thrust of Boot's argument is that the United States missed an opportunity for a less traumatic outcome in Vietnam, and again in today's long wars, by neglecting Lansdale's example. Eschewing Lansdale's deep local knowledge, trust with leaders, and skepticism of the value of large numbers of troops on the ground is, for Boot, the "road not taken."

The argument is relevant both for America's revisiting of Vietnam and for how it handles strategy today. Boot's takeaway is that skilled advisors with a bias toward democratic reforms could have yielded better results not only in Vietnam but also in America's more recent wars.

It's the lesson W should have learned before occupying Iraq and rejecting elected Islamists in Palestine, the Lebanon and Iran.

Posted by orrinj at 8:48 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:33 AM


The good news about Hawaii's false alarm : As failures go, what happened in Hawaii was a success. (Daniel W. Drezner January 16, 2018, Washington Post)

First, and most important, was that Hawaii did not descend into chaos. The Atlantic's Alia Wong focuses on the sheer terror the alert created, but also noted that, "As of Sunday, there haven't been any official reports of deaths or injuries attributed to Saturday's emergency alert." Think about this for a second: residents of an entire state were told by authorities that the world as they knew it might be coming to an end. It is extraordinary that this account from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser contains the worst breakdown of law and order that I have seen from the event:

Celeste Russell was driving near the 7-Eleven in Waimanalo.

"There was a red light and people were beeping their horns for people to go through it, instead of stopping, because obviously, they wanted to get home themselves. So it was bad," she said.

That's actually not that bad!! This was partly due to the time of the alert (a little after eight in the morning on a weekend), partly due to the lack of supporting evidence for an actual attack (no air-raid sirens). Still, there was no breakdown in social order. No grocery stores or hardware stores or any stores whatsoever appear to have been looted.

This is important to stress, because it represents a sharp contrast with how situations like this tend to be fictionalized. As someone who has argued that certain genres have exaggerated the fragility of society, it is a nice piece of confirming evidence.

A related piece of good news is that, in contrast to Fisher's concerns, there is no evidence that North Korea was provoked by the Hawaii alert. This might be due to luck. It might be due to the recent thaw in North-South Korean relations. It could also be that the alert was not offensive in nature. Or it could mean, as Michael Horowitz and Elizabeth Saunders have argued, that the Korean peninsula is not quite the hair-trigger situation that yours truly some have suggested.

The most important piece of good news, however, is that this mistake will lead to improvements in the system.

Posted by orrinj at 8:27 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:08 AM

THE WOGS START AT 1630 (profanity alert):

Of Course Most Immigrants Come from [S***house?] Countries. So What? : The whole point of America is that it doesn't matter where you come from. It matters what you do when you're here. (Nick Gillespie|Jan. 12, 2018 , Reason)

The promise of America, since before its founding as a country, is precisely that you can start over here. Even within the country, the ability to strike out for the territory and begin again motivated many of our most mythic figures, from Natty Bumppo to Sam Houston to Huck Finn to Pa Ingalls in the Little House books. I apologize for dragging my family history into every goddamn post I write these days, but their experience speaks directly to the current nativist moment. When my grandparents left Ireland and Italy in the early 20th century, they were leaving [S***house?] countries if such things have ever existed. They weren't starving because they worked on farms and in fishing towns, but they had no future and not much of a present in those places. Like millions of others, they left farms in the old country and packed themselves like sardines into cities in the new. That was 100 years ago and, as every yahoo on Twitter has seen fit to tell me in the past 24 hours, Things were different back then! No welfare state! Those countries were part of the "West," which is best!

Well, there was a welfare state, at least as it pertains to what today's immigrants (legal and illegal) qualify for, which is basically school for your kids and emergency medical care. Since the mid-1990s, when Bill Clinton was re-elected partly on the strength of his promises to end illegal immigration, illegals don't qualify for transfer payments (to the extent that immigrants, legal or otherwise, manage to cadge food stamps and the like, it's a rounding error in federal and state budgets). My mother, the daughter of Italians, didn't speak English until she went to public school (for free!) in Waterbury, Connecticut. My father, the son of Irish immigrants, went to St. Augustine's in Brooklyn for free because the Catholic order running the place during the Depression had a glancing familiarity with the New Testament and Christ's injunctions to help the poor and downtrodden. More important, the whole argument about the welfare state being overloaded is a regular laff riot, isn't it? The mostly conservative types who are anti-immigrant are always (and often rightly) bitching and moaning about welfare suddenly become its biggest defenders when a goddamn Haitian or Salvadoran shows up here to work long hours pulling Slurpees at the local 7-11. And that Milton Friedman chestnut about how you can't simultaneously "have free immigration and a welfare state"? He was, uncharacteristically, wrong, as a matter of fact and on principle. Lots of countries have both.

Then there's the argument that runs along the "but your grandparents and parents came from Europe and a tradition of limited government and soap and Winston Churchill and didn't vote Democrat..." Let's be clear: America has always been highly ambivalent about immigration, at least since Ben Franklin fretted that German-speaking Catholics could never really fit in to the culture of colonial Pennsylvania. I imagine that native Americans, including and maybe especially Squanto, who met the Mayflower and greeted them in English(!), felt this disquiet even earlier. In my family's case, being Catholic in pre-World War II America was not a point in their favor, because being Catholic meant that you worshiped the Whore of Babylon, ate fish on Friday, and practiced ritual cannibalism while having a lot of brats (all true). Catholics are the single-largest religious affiliation in the U.S. now but back then they were scary enough to "real" Americans in the 1910s and '20s that the Ku Klux Klan reformed in large part to fight against their willingness to booze it up and ball like rabbits in increasingly mongrelized cities (read The Great Gatsby again!). Prohibition, supported by the Klan and other WASP elites, was as much about keeping the Catholics--the wops and the micks especially--down. Italy sent only anarchists and wasn't even a real country until it became a dangerous imperial power under Mussolini, right, and for god's sake, Ireland was run by a bunch of potato-snorting apes prone to violence and singing and bomb-throwing.

Oh, and one more thing: The wretched refuse washing up on the East Coast had it easy compared to the Asians flooding the West Coast. The very first broad-based (which is to say racist) immigration restrictions were leveled against Chinese migrants in 1882. Back then, euphemisms were less common so a complete ban on Chinese people coming here to work was simply called The Chinese Exclusion Act. Anti-Chinese animus was virulent enough that it underwrote the single-biggest mass lynching in American history, which took place in Los Angeles in 1871. It was followed by less overt but no less sweeping legislation to keep Japanese out. Long before they became "model minorities," Asians were barred from coming here. They persisted, though, and America is a better place for their willingness to route around racism and attempts to keep them out.

Posted by orrinj at 8:02 AM


The Lessons of the First Gulf War Still Linger 25 Years on (Kenneth T. Walsh, Jan. 17, 2016, US News)

Bush sat down on Dec. 31, 1990, New Year's Eve, and wrote an emotional letter to his five children reflecting a father's desire to reassure his children about the rightness of what he was about to do, and a commander in chief's worries about those he was about to send into battle.

Addressing the letter to "Dear George, Jeb, Neil, Marvin and Doro," he wrote (with his customary disregard to spelling and grammar), "When I came into this job I vowed that I would never ring my hands and talk about 'the loneliest job in the world' or ring my hands about the 'pressures or the trials.'

"Having said that I have been concerned about what lies ahead. There is no 'loneliness' though, because I am backed by a first rate team of knowledgeable and committed people. No president has been more blessed in this regard."

President Bush added: "We have waited to give sanctions a chance, we have moved a tremendous force so as to reduce the risk to every American soldier if force has to be used; but the question of loss of life still lingers and plagues the heart.

"My mind goes back to history: How many lives might have been saved if appeasement had given way to force earlier on in the late '30s or earliest '40s? How many Jews might have been spared the gas chambers, or how many Polish patriots might be alive today? I look at today's crisis as 'good' vs. 'evil' - yes, it is that clear." [...]

Political scientist Al Felzenberg in his 2008 book "The Leaders We Deserved (and a Few We Didn't): Rethinking the Presidential Rating Game," summed up the pros and cons. "After Iraq invaded the kingdom of Kuwait," Felzenberg wrote, "Bush preserved Kuwait's independence through his brilliant execution of Operation Desert Storm. His masterful use of multiple international contacts he had made during previous service in diplomatic and intelligence posts created the appearance and the reality of a truly multinational endeavor to enforce a U.N. resolution. But the military victory Bush obtained, which allowed Saddam Hussein to remain in power, assured that the United States would continue to engage with Saddam militarily. Furthermore, Bush did little to press the liberated Kuwait, or the kingdom of Saudi Arabia which requested American arms and troops to defend it, to improve their human rights record, adopt democratic institutions, or reduce their support for Islamic extremists."  

If GHWB had been able to process what he wrote, he never could have left genocidal evil in place.  If the Left and Right could process it, they would understand why W liberated the Shi'a.

Posted by orrinj at 7:37 AM


Trump's Latest Target Is No Puppet for the Democratic Party (Dana Milbank, 1/15/18,  The Washington Post)

This is the same Journal editorial page that repeatedly praised Simpson's work when he was bringing down Democrats. It hailed "enterprising reporters such as the Journal's own Glenn Simpson" for exposing the hypocrisy of the Clinton fundraising operation.

Also attempting to paint Simpson as a leftist contract killer is Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, and his Judiciary Committee staff. The newly released transcript of the staff interview with Simpson is full of suggestions that Simpson was politically motivated. Grassley has suggested that Fusion's work is "dirty," not "reliable" and "Russian propaganda."

But surely Grassley knows that Simpson spent years probing Clinton money scandals as a journalist and at Fusion, looking into whether they took official actions in exchange for contributions and whether the Clintons (and the Obama administration) abused EB-5 visas, which essentially allow wealthy foreigners (and potential contributors) to buy U.S. citizenship.

If Grassley doesn't know this, he might want to check with Jason Foster, Grassley's chief investigative counsel, who has received information Simpson dug up during Foster's time on Judiciary and Foster's previous stint as an investigator for Republican Rep. Dan Burton's House Government Reform Committee. [...]

David Bossie, a conservative activist who worked with Foster on the Burton committee, praised Simpson to Bill O'Reilly back then for exposing that McAuliffe protected himself from probes by giving "a lot of information to reporters." Simpson had shown how McAuliffe "cashed in" on labor ties.

Simpson's foreign-money investigations infuriated politicians of all stripes. With Jill Abramson (later top editor at The New York Times), he helped break key stories about John Huang, Webb Hubbell and overseas Asian interests giving big campaign gifts to Democrats.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Simpson probed terrorism financing. Then he went to Brussels under Journal bureau chief Peter Fritsch (now his Fusion partner) and became fascinated with Russian money. In March 2007, he wrote to Paul Manafort with a prescient inquiry, saying he had "credible information" that the future Trump campaign manager represented Ukrainian official Viktor Yanukovych without registering as a foreign agent. A decade later, Robert Mueller indicted Manafort over exactly that.

At Fusion, Simpson has investigated political money for clients of all persuasions, including a hedge-fund manager and more than a few Trump supporters. So it follows that when conservative Paul Singer's Washington Free Beacon webiste and then the Democrats wanted Trump research, Simpson used his intelligence contacts from Brussels to probe Trump's financial ties to Russia.

I don't share Simpson's interest in journalism for hire, nor do I approve of his willingness to take distasteful clients.

But I do know he's a dogged gumshoe with one overriding ideology: distrust of all politicians.

Gotta love when the capitalist party thinks it's a black mark against Fusion that everyone wants to hire them at top dollar.
Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


US-purchased cranes arrive at Yemen rebel-held port (Middle East Online, 1/16/18)

Four mobile cranes purchased by the United States arrived Monday at a rebel-held port in Yemen, the United Nations said, after months of delays imposed by the Saudi-led coalition.

The cranes will boost the capacity of the Huthi-controlled Hodeida port to receive food, fuel and medical supplies as Yemen remains on the brink of famine after nearly three years of war. [...]

Coalition planes destroyed the cranes at Hodeida in a 2015 attack and Saudi Arabia has for months held up the delivery of the new cranes, which had been kept at a Dubai storage depot.

Posted by orrinj at 7:07 AM


'Oh Happy Day' singer Edwin Hawkins dies at 74 (Deutsche-Welle, 1/16/18)

Edwin Hawkins, who helped launch the gospel and inspirational music scene during the turbulent era of the late 1960s and went on to win four Grammys, has died from pancreatic cancer at the age of 74.

A composer, keyboardist, arranger and choir master from Oakland, Hawkins had been performing with his family and in church groups since childhood. In his 20s, he helped form the Northern California State Youth Choir, which released its first album, "Let Us Go into the House of the Lord," in 1968.

Radio stations in the San Francisco Bay area picked up one of the album's songs, the call-and-response style "Oh Happy Day," and a crossover hit was born. Featuring the vocals of Dorothy Combs Morrison, the song was released as a single credited to the Edwin Hawkins Singers in 1969 and sold more than a million copies.

Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Inside the tense, profane White House meeting on immigration (Josh Dawsey, Robert Costa and Ashley Parker January 15, 2017, Washington Post)

When President Trump spoke by phone with Sen. Richard J. Durbin around 10:15 a.m. last Thursday, he expressed pleasure with Durbin's outline of a bipartisan immigration pact and praised the high-ranking Illinois Democrat's efforts, according to White House officials and congressional aides.

The president then asked if Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), his onetime foe turned ally, was on board, which Durbin affirmed. Trump invited the lawmakers to visit with him at noon, the people familiar with the call said.

But when they arrived at the Oval Office, the two senators were surprised to find that Trump was far from ready to finalize the agreement. He was "fired up" and surrounded by hard-line conservatives such as Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), who seemed confident that the president was now aligned with them, according to one person with knowledge of the meeting.

Trump told the group he wasn't interested in the terms of the bipartisan deal that Durbin and Graham had been putting together. And as he shrugged off suggestions from Durbin and others, the president called nations from Africa "s[***]hole countries," denigrated Haiti and grew angry. [...]

At one point, Graham told Trump he should use different language to discuss immigration, people briefed on the meeting said.  [...]

Trump was not particularly upset by the coverage of the meeting and his vulgarity after it was first reported by The Washington Post, calling friends and asking how they expected it to play with his political supporters, aides said.

"Everyone was saying it would help with the base," which would agree with his characterization, one person who spoke with the president said.

By Thursday evening, many White House aides were concerned that the story was exploding beyond the usual level for a Trump controversy, but they carried on with their plans for the night: a send-off for deputy national security adviser Dina Powell, a former Goldman Sachs executive and ally of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Nearly every top official ducked into the exclusive Italian restaurant Cafe Milano in Georgetown to toast Powell. There was little effort to significantly push back on the story that night because aides knew that Trump had said it and that the president wasn't even too upset, according to people involved in the talks.

Then Friday morning, Trump appeared to suggest in a tweet that he had not used the objectionable word at all: "The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used."

Three White House officials said Perdue and Cotton told the White House that they heard "s[***]house" rather than "s[***]hole," allowing them to deny the president's comments on television over the weekend. The two men initially said publicly that they could not recall what the president said.

by their belief that hole or house is what matters in Donald's racism

Posted by orrinj at 6:57 AM



Trump supporters, or "believers," fell from 22 percent to 18 percent over the last year, according to the poll. [...]

Sixty-seven percent said they felt Trump was "working against me."

You know he's in trouble when he can't even maintain that anti-immigrant/anti-Muslim core that supported him no matter what.

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 AM


"Red-Faced" Pence Humiliated By Trump's Racism At Church Service Honoring MLK (Matthew Chapman, January 16, 2018, Shareblue.com)

After calling Trump's rhetoric "hurtful, dehumanizing, visceral, guttural [and] ugly" Watson proclaimed, "I stand today as your Pastor to vehemently denounce and reject any such characterizations of the nations of Africa and of our brothers and sisters in Haiti."

"Whoever made such a statement, and whoever used such a visceral, disrespectful, dehumanizing adjective to characterize the nations of Africa, whoever -- do you hear me, Church? --whoever said it is wrong, and they ought to be held accountable."

To those from Haiti and Africa, Watson said, "I, as your Pastor, and your Metropolitan family, will stand shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart, and breast to breast with you as we acknowledge your worth, your dignity, your humanness."

"I think the best way to honor Dr. King's legacy," Watson said, "is to speak up for, and stand up for, the values for which he spoke and stood. And the main value Dr. King stood for is the value of love." [...]

According to WUSA9, "The Vice President reportedly became visibly red-faced at times throughout the speech."

Meanwhile, other worshippers in the church "rose out of their seats in support."

Faced with the real lessons of King's uplifting use of his Christian faith to call for equal justice in America, and Watson's righteous condemnation of Trump's hateful rhetoric, Pence had no response but shamed silence.

January 15, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:23 PM


Aspiring agents learn from mistakes of FBI's 'shameful' investigation of Martin Luther King Jr. (Del Quentin Wilber, 8/11/16, LA Times)
Dressed in plainclothes to blend in with tourists at the National Mall, a few dozen FBI agents in training fanned out across the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial on an unusual mission. 

Their months-long training at the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va., covers target practice, boxing, surveillance and self-defense.

But these trainees were dispatched on a more personal quest at the Washington memorial: pick the most inspirational King quote among those etched into stone slabs and then share their insights during a brief, touchy-feely rap session in the shadow of the slain civil rights leader's statue. 

The field trip capped one of the newest exercises added to the training for aspiring agents and analysts. It's a daylong dive into the FBI's questionable investigation into King, including a surprisingly frank review into improper wiretapping, harassment, abuse of power and racially motivated double standards.

The training is the brainchild of FBI Director James B. Comey, who in 2014 began mandating this institutional introspection into what he called the "shameful" probe of King by former FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, including delving into King's sex life and secretly trying to destroy his reputation. 

FBI trainees already received other forms of cultural-sensitivity training, such as a visit to the National Holocaust Museum to examine the role German law enforcement played in one of humanity's greatest crimes. 

But Comey felt that didn't adequately address issues of power and corruption in a way "that would hit home," said Cynthia DeWitte, a curriculum manager at the FBI academy. By directly and openly confronting the agency's own struggles against racism, Comey hoped to prevent the FBI from repeating its past mistakes.

"We wanted to provide a lesson of what happens when power is abused and the responsibility that comes with being in the FBI," DeWitte said. "We wanted this to be more than a field trip."

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Airbus may stop A380 production as orders dry up (Deutsche-Welle, 1/15/18)

Airbus's decision in 2007 to pursue the 853-seat A380 was diametrically opposed to Boeing's bet on the Dreamliner, marketed as a more efficient plane that could be used for both medium and long-distance flights.

Despite Airbus's insistence that larger planes costing 535 million euros ($437 million) were the best way to tackle higher oil prices and environmental concerns, the A380's order book has always been lacking. [...]

Abandoning the superjumbo would be a disappointing defeat for the Toulouse, France-based firm, which spent many years and many billions developing the behemoth, while forcing airports to build longer runways to allow it to land.

Posted by orrinj at 4:14 PM


Altering A Species: Darwin's Shopping List (JIMENA CANALES, 1/15/18, NPR)

Charles Darwin was in such awe of breeders who could alter flora and fauna in the span of 30 or 40 years that he used the word "plastic" to describe the extreme pliability of reproductive species. "Breeders," he wrote in On the Origin of the Species, "habitually speak of an animal's organization as something quite plastic, which they can model almost as they please."

During Darwin's time, husbandry was more of an art than a science. Making perfect matches concerned the haute bourgeoisie as much as the breeders who worked for the landed gentry.

Could Darwin push nature's plasticity further than they had by approaching it scientifically?

"The pear," he wrote, "though cultivated in classical times, appears, from Pliny's description, to have been a fruit of very inferior quality." Since ancient times, the fruit had been slowly bred to become much more juicy and savory. Botanists plumped up the gooseberry over generations, created many admirable varieties of strawberries, and enhanced the beauty of cultivated flowers. According to his biographer Janet Browne, Darwin looked at nature as would an "all-seeing farmer in the sky."

The masters of this ancient art sold their genetic wonders at a pretty penny. Their very livelihood depended on keeping the secrets of their practice out of scientific journals.

Darwin speculated about the possible existence of a being who could produce even more wonderful creations than those so far created by European breeders. This being could adapt "living beings to his wants -- may be said to make the wool of one sheep good for carpets, of another for cloth." Darwin offered few details about how such a talented being would go about his business, since no one, not even he, knew the precise laws governing genetic inheritance. "Your imagination must fill up very wide blanks," he told the American naturalist and Harvard professor Asa Gray, with whom he discussed this possibility.

The worm at the core of Darwinism was that he based it on the processes of breeders.

Posted by orrinj at 1:20 PM

Posted by orrinj at 10:18 AM


New alarm among Republicans that Democrats could win big this year (Michael Scherer, Josh Dawsey and Sean Sullivan January 14, 2018, Washington Post)

In the Camp David presentation, House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) described scenarios to the president ranging from a bloodbath where Republicans lost the House "and lost it big," in the words of one official, to an outcome in which they keep control while losing some seats.

McCarthy outlined trends over recent decades for parties in power and spotlighted vulnerable Republican seats where Hillary Clinton won in 2016. Eight years ago, before the 2010 midterms swept the GOP to power, he had drafted a similar presentation with the opposite message for his party.

Republicans hold the advantage of a historically favorable electoral map, with more House seats than ever benefiting from Republican-friendly redistricting and a Senate landscape that puts 26 Democratic seats in play, including 10 states that Trump won in 2016, and only eight Republican seats.

But other indicators are clearly flashing GOP warning signs. Democrats have benefited from significant recruitment advantages -- there are at least a half dozen former Army Rangers and Navy SEALs running as Democrats this year, for example -- as Republicans struggle to convince incumbents to run for reelection.

At least 29 House seats held by Republicans will be open in November following announced retirements, a greater number for the majority party than in each of the past three midterm elections when control of Congress flipped.

The president's own job approval, a traditional harbinger of his party's midterm performance, is at record lows as he approaches a year in office, according to Gallup. Polls asking which party Americans want to see control Congress in 2019 show a double-digit advantage for Democrats.

"When the wave comes, it's always underestimated in the polls," said a conservative political strategist who has met with GOP candidates. "That is the reason that Republicans are ducking for cover."

The GOP won last year be ignoring Donald and dragging him over the line in their wake.  They need to restore Haley-like distance ASAP.

Posted by orrinj at 9:53 AM


Jews and Their Jokes (Joseph Epstein, Jan. 12th, 2018, Weekly Standard)

The Old Testament, to put it gently, is not notable for humor. As Dauber notes, the first of its paucity of laughs is given to Sarah, wife of the 100-year-old Abraham, who informs her she is to have his child. Dauber early considers, and frequently harkens back to, the book of Esther, which he cites as "the first work to feature the joyful celebration and comic pleasure that comes with an anti-Semite's downfall and the frustration of that form of persecutory intent." After a recent rereading, I must report that the book of Esther is less than uproarious. But the book does record a resounding Jewish victory, and such victories, until the advent of the Israel Defense Forces, were only slightly less rare for the Jews than Super Bowl appearances for the Cleveland Browns.

Humor has not been without its dreary analysts and theorists. Along with so much else, Freud got the impulse behind comedy wrong, arguing that a joke is chiefly an act of aggression. 

The estimable Mr. Epstein is wrong on both counts there: (1) Humor is nearly always an act of aggression, and, (2) the Old Testament is a comedy, beginning at least with Genesis...:

And the Lord God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?

...if not earlier:

And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good.


Posted by orrinj at 9:46 AM


Hezbollah's popular support jeopardises Lebanon's alliances (Nicholas Blanford, 1/15/18, Arab Weekly)

Lebanon enters 2018 enjoy­ing a period of relative un­accustomed stability over the past year that has al­lowed the government to act normally, a parliament to func­tion unhindered and long-awaited legislation to be passed.

The reason for this rare harmo­ny among Lebanon's traditionally fractious politicians is, paradoxi­cally, down to Hezbollah and its al­lies having triumphed over a rival Sunni, Christian and Druze parlia­mentary bloc, known as the March 14 coalition. The Hezbollah victory ended a power struggle that po­litically and economically crippled the country for more than a decade and in 2008 came close to trigger­ing a civil war.

The March 14 coalition has crumbled and its political leaders have cut unilateral deals to suit their respective interests, having accepted, reluctantly in most cas­es, that Hezbollah is too powerful a force to confront. [...]

Lebanon is to have elections in May, the first nationwide vote since 2009. Political parties are mulling potential electoral allianc­es with former political opponents. Lebanese media reports claimed that Hariri's Future Movement was in talks with two Christian parties that are allied with Hezbollah.

Regardless of what alliances eventually emerge, there is a broad belief that the election will result in Hezbollah and its allies increas­ing their share in the 128-seat par­liament.

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 AM


At an Underground Harvard Lizard Colony, Scientists Study Speciation  (GEOFFREY GILLER JANUARY 08, 2018, Atlas Obscura)

THE SMALL PROPELLER PLANE VIBRATES alarmingly as it takes off from the main airport in the Bahamas. It's carrying unusual cargo: besides the eight human passengers, there's a large white cooler, over three feet long. Inside, in dozens of round plastic deli containers, are 120 live lizards, collected over the previous days on another Bahamian island. They range in size from less than three inches long (the smallest adult females) to over seven inches, including the tail, for the biggest males, and are varying shades of rust, brown, beige, and gray. These are lizards in the Anolis genus--Anolis sagrei, to be exact, also known as brown anoles--and ultimately they're bound for a large, underground room full of specially made acrylic tanks at Harvard University that houses hundreds of other lizards.

One of the goals of that lizard colony--and the reason for expeditions like this one to bring back live anoles--is to quantify an especially tricky aspect of evolutionary biology: How do you determine when two groups of similar animals are becoming separate species?

Posted by orrinj at 6:18 AM


I watched a 17-hour broadcast of a train crossing Australia. It didn't disappoint (Naaman Zhou, 14 Jan 2018, The Guardian)

In the three-hour version, my favourite bits were the historical facts which pop up above the scenery, telling the story of Indigenous history and early European and Asian immigration. How Australia's first mosque was built in the 1860s, by the tracks in Maree, for Muslim cameleers from Pakistan, India and Iran. Or Port Pirie's short-lived Mussolini-inspired fascist group, founded by Italian residents in the 1920s.

But in the longer version, the rate of facts is slowed, coming maybe twice an hour. I feel bereft. For some reason, the train driver appears about 10 times in one hour. I have decided he is the villain of the piece. He does nothing, and does not seem to move, even as the landscape does. I did not sign up for this.

After an hour though, my laments have given way to a slow sense of creeping beauty and small changes. I see the hated ovals slowly turn to redder dirt, and buildings I don't recognise, which are small joys.

Time really does seem to pass quickly. At two hours, I decide to take a nap, but when I go to turn off the TV I realise we are passing some kind of farm - an arrangement of small, mysterious fruit-bearing shrubs in a perfect and monotony-breaking pattern. The ground looks different. I immediately turn it back on to watch a little more. This is how it gets you.

Viewed occasionally as something to pop in and out of, slow TV is relaxing, inoffensive. Viewed intensely, it becomes a journey of highs and lows, more stark the closer you zoom in. If you engage with it, it pushes back. As the timeframe approaches infinity, the odds of something becoming interesting becomes certain.

I decide to go to sleep, which has the sensation of stepping off a treadmill. Everything seems to keep gliding forwards for a little while.

After five hours, I wake up to Port Augusta. The sky is a beautiful dark bruised purple - the land too, like milled jacaranda flowers. It matches my sunrise. The show is in sync with my circadian rhythms. It is unlike anything I have seen, or will see for the next 12 hours. At the very least, the beauty of slow TV is that I could fall asleep for three hours and still not miss the moment.

One of the best Alexa skills is you can fall asleep to train sounds.

January 14, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:58 PM

HE IS CURIOUS ORANGE (profanity alert):

The Porn President : It takes a Wolff to know a wolf. (Kevin D. Williamson, January 14, 2018, National Review)

Trump sold himself as a nationalist-populist. What Trump is, in fact, is the porn president.

Melania Trump, asked whether she would have attached herself to Donald if he weren't wealthy, scoffed at the question and frankly acknowledged the transactional nature of their relationship: "If I weren't beautiful, do you think he'd be with me?" Trump, for his part, has been equally frank at times about the instrumental role Melania plays in his life: She's a good advertisement for his brand. "When we walk into a restaurant, I watch grown men weep," he said. It is worth keeping in mind that the Third Lady was an employee of Trump's modeling agency before their marriage. Business is business.

Trump appreciates the power of fantasy. Con artists sell their too-good-to-be-true stories with such great ease because people want to believe them. The eagnerness to believe is what make's a con artist's mark a mark -- the mark always participates in his own deception. Bernie Madoff ripped off a lot of well-off and financially sophisticated people and institutions who really should have known better than to trust his unwavering above-market returns, but they wanted to believe. Every basically literate person who goes to Las Vegas knows what the odds are, that past results are no guarantee of future returns, and that the stripper isn't really in her last year of nursing school and doesn't really think you're a really interesting guy.

Pornography works in precisely the same way. It is an invitation to insert yourself into the fantasy of your choosing. (The migration of pornography to the Internet has made all sorts of data about our sexual fantasies readily available, and the results are not encouraging.) And that is the secret to Trump's success both in marketing and in politics -- which are, in the end, the same thing. With his phony gilt Louis XV chairs, his casinos and beauty pageants, and his succession of prom-queen-jerky paramours, Trump has spent his career performing, and the role he has chosen is that of a poor man's idea of a rich man. He went so far as to create an imaginary friend, John Barron, to lie to the New York press about his sex life. He claimed, falsely, to have been involved with Carla Bruni, a fantasy the former first lady of France publicly ridiculed. He boasts in his memoirs about his involvement with "top women," writing: "Oftentimes, when I was sleeping with one of the top women in the world, I would say to myself, thinking about me as a boy from Queens, 'Can you believe what I am getting?'"

Who is "you" in that sentence? Marks. The people to whom he wants to sell ugly polyester ties and third-rate condos, with his name on the building in big gold letters.

To his credit, the persona he adopted obscures how unsuccessful he's been in business.

Posted by orrinj at 4:06 PM


In Which World Would You Rather Live? (DON BOUDREAUX, JANUARY 14, 2018, Cafe Hayek)

 While saving and investment are not sufficient for economic growth and mass flourishing - market-tested innovation is indispensable, as is security of property rights - saving and investment are among the many necessary conditions.  And I believe that, among all of the many necessary conditions, savings and investment are especially important to emphasize given the man-in-the-street's naive, Keynesian conviction that the great driver of economic prosperity is consumer spending.

For non-rich people it's a blessing, not a curse, that rich people save.  Saving (rather than consuming) releases resources to be used, among other ways, to produce capital goods, to refurbish factories and stores, and - importantly - to fund and sustain research and development and other innovative institutions and efforts.  It is simply untrue that the economy "slows" or otherwise suffers insofar as money is not spent buying consumption goods and services.

So here's a mental experiment, one that probes cases that, while admittedly extreme, are instructive.  Ask yourself in which world would you prefer to live: Smithworld or Keynesworld?

These two worlds are remarkably like each other except for one feature.  In Smithworld, many people save, while in Keynesworld no one saves. 

This is why we will eventually tax only consumption and will fund universal HSA/SS/O'Neill accounts.

Posted by orrinj at 3:58 PM


Business leaders are hopeful for rebounds in Iranian economy despite uncertainty from US (Agence France-Presse, January 14, 2018)

The real problem in Iran right now, everyone in the international business community agrees, is uncertainty. 

That was not helped by Trump's announcement on Friday that he would waive nuclear-related sanctions, but only once more and that Europe must work with Washington to "fix the deal's disastrous flaws, or the United States will withdraw".

"No one has any idea what's going on. Trump has introduced so many layers of uncertainty," a Western trade official in Tehran said on condition of anonymity.  "That's not necessarily negative. Things could actually improve if Trump pulls out of the deal. The Europeans could stay and the EU could provide protections for its industries against US sanctions."

"Or things could get even worse. We just don't know," he said.

On the surface, Trump's vitriolic stance appears disastrous for the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers, which lifted many sanctions in exchange for curbs to the country's nuclear program. 

Even as he confirmed the waiver of nuclear sanctions on Friday, Trump added yet more sanctions related to human rights and Iran's missile program, adding to a vast web of restrictions that have scared off many Western companies.

Major foreign banks have been particularly cautious of re-entering Iran, dreading a repeat of the record-breaking $8.9 billion penalty leveled on France's BNP Paribas for breaching US sanctions on Iran and other countries. 

There seems little hope of hitting the government target of $50 billion in foreign investment per year, with the government saying less than  $3.4 billion was achieved in 2016. 

Posted by orrinj at 3:54 PM


With Trump in power, emboldened Israelis make move to expand Jerusalem's boundaries (Loveday Morris & Ruth Eglash, 1/12/18, The Washington Post)

His settlement is around four miles east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank. Most of the international community considers its construction to be illegal, built on land captured during the 1967 war.

Still, it has steadily grown from what began as a cluster of prefabricated buildings erected by 23 families in the 1970s into a burgeoning satellite city of Jerusalem. Palm trees line the wide roads of what looks like a Florida suburb. Red-roofed houses and high-rises are home to 42,000 people, who are served by all of the accoutrements of a modern city: schools, restaurants, cafes and a shopping mall.

Expansion here is particularly contentious because it could cut off Arab areas of East Jerusalem from other Palestinian territory and hobble the creation of a viable Palestinian state. Still, Maale Adumim keeps growing. In the industrial park on its outskirts, already home to 360 businesses, ground has just been broken on "Design City," a nearly 600,000-square-foot, 160-outlet interior-design retail mall.

While previous U.S. administrations called settlements an obstacle to the peace process, the Trump administration has been more restrained in publicly criticizing them, a clear break from the frequent censure under President Barack Obama of Israeli settlement activity.

Emboldened by a more supportive White House, Israeli leaders have proposed a flurry of bills and resolutions that, in part, would annex areas of the West Bank and re-engineer Jerusalem's demographic balance by redrawing the city's map to exclude Arab neighborhoods and include Israeli settlements.

Posted by orrinj at 3:48 PM


Buy Off Trump With the Wall (Rich Lowry, Jan. 12, 2018, JWR)

There is a very easy way for Democrats to get major concessions from President Donald Trump on immigration: Give him his Wall.

This is the key to a deal codifying the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the Obama-era de facto amnesty for a segment of so-called Dreamers. All it takes is giving Trump a plausible start to the Wall that the president can then, in his inimitable way, promote as the greatest structure built on a border since Hadrian began his famous handiwork at the northern limit of the Roman Empire in 122.

Posted by orrinj at 3:39 PM


Instead of 'Infrastructure Investment,' How About Killing Davis-Bacon? (Larry Elder, Jan. 4, 2018, JWR)

The Davis-Bacon Act, a Depression-era measure, was designed to thwart black workers from competing against white workers. It requires federal contractors to pay "prevailing union wages." This act sought to shut out black workers from competing for construction jobs after white workers protested that Southern blacks were hired to build a Veterans Bureau hospital in Long Island, New York -- the district of Rep. Robert Bacon, one of the bill's sponsors. It is remarkable the Davis-Bacon still lives despite its racist intent and its discriminatory effect -- to this day -- on black workers. Passed in 1931, two Republicans teamed up to sponsor it.

In a labor market dominated by exclusionary unions that demanded above-market wages, blacks, at the time, competed by working for less money than the unionists. Davis-Bacon stopped this by requiring federal contractors to pay prevailing local union wages, causing massive black unemployment. Lawmakers made no secret of the law's goal.

In the House of Representatives, Congressman William Upshaw, D-Ga., said: "You will not think that a Southern man is more than human if he smiles over the fact of your reaction to that real problem you are confronted with in any community with a superabundance or large aggregation of Negro labor." Rep. Miles Clayton Allgood, D-Ala., supported the bill and complained of "cheap colored labor" that "is in competition with white labor throughout the country." Rep. John J. Cochran, D-Mo., stated that he had "received numerous complaints in recent months about Southern contractors employing low-paid colored mechanics getting work and bringing the employees from the South."

Davis-Bacon adds as much as 20 percent more to the cost of any federal project. And most states have enacted local Davis-Bacon laws that similarly jack up the price of those government construction projects.

Posted by orrinj at 1:16 PM


Unheralded defensive trio delivers in Patriots' playoff victory (Adam Kurkjian, January 14, 2018, Boston Herald)

Back when the local temperatures were sweltering hot, Adam Butler, Ricky Jean Francois and Marquis Flowers were busy being left off media-projected 53-man rosters or suiting up for other teams.

But as has been the case for years now under Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the snow comes, the wind whips thermometers at or below 0, and his team's defensive standouts crystalize from outside the casual fan's view to ice opposing offenses. [...]

The three players are known quantities by now, but Butler is an undrafted rookie free agent. Flowers was acquired in a trade with the Cincinnati Bengals in August and largely a special teams player until late in the season. Jean Francois has been cut five times by three different teams -- including once by the Patriots -- since March. [...]

Yet as was the case with the likes of cornerback Malcolm Butler and linebackers Akeem Ayers and Jonathan Casillas three years ago, or any number of surprise standouts in a season, it doesn't matter when, how or from where the players arrive in Foxboro. If they learn a spot, they'll earn one, and that can change from week to week.

"Everybody on the roster's going to have a role," Adam Butler said. "Your role might be different the next week. Your role might change. There's not definite spots for each position. Anybody can go."

Two of the things that hamstring organizations are giving endless opportunities to high draft picks, highly-paid players and "stars," because cutting them is somehow embarrassing and not giving larger roles to marginal guys who earn them because they are "nobodys." 

Posted by orrinj at 1:09 PM


The willingness of senators Cotton and Perdue to lie for the racist-in-chief because they oppose immigration too tells you all you need to know about the souls of his supporters: they're for sale.
Posted by orrinj at 10:22 AM


California's Brown Raises Prospect of Pension Cuts in Downturn (Romy Varghese, 1/14/18, Bloomberg)

California Governor Jerry Brown said legal rulings may clear the way for making cuts to public pension benefits, which would go against long-standing assumptions and potentially provide financial relief to the state and its local governments. [...]

That would be a major shift in California, where municipal officials have long believed they couldn't adjust the benefits even as they struggle to cover the cost. They have raised taxes and dipped into reserves to meet rising contributions. The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the nation's largest public pension, has about 68 percent of assets needed to cover its liabilities. For the fiscal year beginning in July, the state's contribution to Calpers is double what it was in fiscal 2009.

Across the country, states and local governments have about $1.7 trillion less than what they need to cover retirement benefits -- the result of investment losses, the failure by governments to make adequate contributions and perks granted in boom times.

It's not fair to wait for a downturn.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


How economic theory explains the Tim Hortons wage debate (MICHAEL FARREN, 1/10/18, THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

Over the past few months, the minimum wage has risen in nearly every province, with Ontario's 23 per cent increase since September - up to $14 per hour - the largest. Now the controversy surrounding the changes has resurfaced, thanks to a number of Tim Hortons franchises telling employees they will cut benefits in response.

Many have condemned the franchise owners for putting profit before employee welfare. However, we should not be the least bit surprised: Economic theory predicts this exact result when the government mandates a wage increase.

Economists call it the "law of demand." As the price of something rises, the quantity demanded tends to fall. And much like the law of gravity, the higher you go, the harder you hit the ground.

Most of the time, the minimum wage's effect is hard to see. It's usually hidden in shorter employee hours and increased workloads, price increases and cost-cutting by reducing the quality of service provided. In this case, however, the company that owns Tim Hortons limits franchise owners' ability to raise prices and hasn't lowered the cost of the supplies that franchises have to purchase.

So instead, franchisees' short-term alternative is to push down labour costs.

Was I the only one who assumed the point of the $15 minimum wage campaign was to force the replacement of human labor by machines and, thereby, drive higher productivity and profits?  It's a simple matter of taxing what you don't want.

Posted by orrinj at 10:01 AM


Mueller's obstruction of justice case against Trump looks damning : This should worry Trump even more than allegations of collusion. (Zack Beauchamp, 1/10/18, vox.com)

[T]here's another kind of case against the president -- the argument that his various attempts to undermine the Russia investigation, like firing FBI Director James Comey, constitute criminal obstruction of justice. If Mueller feels he has enough evidence, then he could seek permission to indict and prosecute Trump. It's not clear that charges can actually be brought against a sitting president, but Mueller's findings could nevertheless be turned over to Congress -- and serve as the centerpiece of any impeachment proceedings against Trump.

That means it's obstruction, not collusion, that poses the biggest legal and political threat to President Trump.

"If Trump exercises his power -- even his lawful power -- with a corrupt motive of interfering with an investigation, that's obstruction," says Lisa Kern Griffin, an expert on criminal law at Duke University. "The attempt is sufficient, and it seems to be a matter of public record already."

There are basically two reasons Griffin and other legal observers believe Mueller has such a good case obstruction case. First, the evidence of obstruction is, from what we know publicly, far stronger than the evidence that Trump himself was involved in with Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election. Second, the crime of obstruction is legally straightforward, whereas it's not obvious which laws Trump would have violated by accepting Russian assistance during the election.

The public, obviously, doesn't know everything Mueller does. It could be that the collusion case is a lot clearer, or the obstruction case a lot murkier, than it appears from the outside.

But what we do know suggests that Mueller is taking the obstruction charge seriously, and that his chances of making his case are quite good -- unless Trump decides to fire him or his boss.

...but alleged that he can't be held accountable for it, a view which both Democrat and Republican Congresses have dismissed:

Articles of Impeachment Adopted by the House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary (July 27, 1974)


In his conduct of the office of President of the United States, Richard M. Nixon, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his consitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice...

H.Res.611 -- 105th Congress (1997-1998)

Article I: States that in his conduct while President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has willfully corrupted and manipulated the judicial process of the United States for his personal gain and exoneration, impeding the administration of justice, in that William Jefferson Clinton swore to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth before a Federal grand jury of the United States. States that contrary to that oath, William Jefferson Clinton willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony to the grand jury.

Article II: States that in his conduct while President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has willfully corrupted and manipulated the judicial process of the United States for his personal gain and exoneration, impeding the administration of justice in that William Jefferson Clinton willfully provided perjurious, false and misleading testimony as part of a Federal civil rights action brought against him.

Article III: States that in his conduct while President of the United States, William Jefferson Clinton, in violation of his constitutional oath faithfully to execute the office of President of the United States and, to the best of his ability, preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution of the United States, and in violation of his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, has prevented, obstructed, and impeded the administration of justice, and has to that end engaged personally, and through his subordinates and agents, in a course of conduct or scheme designed to delay, impede, cover up, and conceal the existence of evidence and testimony related to a Federal civil rights action brought against him in a duly instituted judicial proceeding.

Posted by orrinj at 9:47 AM


Q&A: Tunisia's protest leaders vow to keep up pressure (Jillian Kestler-D'Amours , 1/14/18, Al Jazeera)

Rallies have been held in Tunis, the capital, and elsewhere across the country, led by the civil movement "Fech Nestannew" (What are we waiting for?). Nearly 800 protesters have been arrested, according to United Nations figures, including 200 people between the ages of 15 and 20.

A 2016 deal between Tunisia and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) is a large reason behind the austerity measures, critics say. The four-year, $2.8bn IMF loan is tied to a promise by the Tunisian government to carry out economic and social reforms.

The government's 2018 budgetary law, which came into effect this month, has been the focus of protesters' anger, as it brought price hikes to basic goods, such as food and gas, and the value-added tax.

...they wouldn't have made such a mess of it in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 9:36 AM


Asian Immigrants in the United States: On average, Asian immigrants are more educated and have higher household incomes than the overall immigrant and U.S.-born populations  (Jie Zong and Jeanne Batalova, 1/06/16, MPI)

Migration from Asia to the United States rose dramatically with passage of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act, which removed national-origin quotas established in 1921 barring immigration from Asian and Arab countries and sharply limiting arrivals from Africa and eastern and southern Europe. The number of Asian immigrants grew from 491,000 in 1960 to about 12.8 million in 2014, representing a 2,597 percent increase. In 1960, Asians represented 5 percent of the U.S. foreign-born population; by 2014, their share grew to 30 percent of the nation's 42.4 million immigrants.

As of 2014, the top five origin countries of Asian immigrants were India, China, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Korea. The migration motivations and demographic characteristics of Asian immigrants have varied greatly over time and by country of origin, ranging from employment and family reunification to educational or investment opportunities and humanitarian protection. While the size of the Asian immigrant population in the United States continues to increase, the population's growth rate has slowed since 1980. Between 1970 and 1980, the number of Asian immigrants grew 308 percent from 825,000 to 2.5 million, then by 196 percent to 4.9 million in 1990. From 65 percent in the 1990s, the growth rate dropped to 37 percent in the 2000s and 12 percent from 2010 to 2014 (see Figure 1). Asia is the second-largest region of birth (after Latin America) of U.S. immigrants. As immigration from Latin America has declined in recent years--with China and India overtaking Mexico in flows of recent arrivals--Asian immigrants are projected to comprise a greater share of all immigrants, becoming the largest foreign-born group by 2055, according to Pew Research Center estimates. [...]

Asian immigrants have significantly higher incomes than the total foreign- and U.S.-born populations. In 2014, the median income of households headed by an Asian immigrant was $70,000, compared to $49,000 and $55,000 for overall immigrant and native-born households, respectively. Households headed by Indian ($105,000), Taiwanese ($91,000), Filipino ($82,000), and Malaysian ($80,000) immigrants had the highest median income among all Asian immigrant groups, while Saudi ($22,000), Iraqi ($27,000), and Burmese ($38,000) households had the lowest median incomes.

Posted by orrinj at 9:23 AM


Posted by orrinj at 9:16 AM


Iran unblocks Telegram messenger service shut down during country-wide protests (Deutsche-Welle, 1/14/18)

President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, reportedly pushed back against demands to block Telegram indefinitely, arguing that doing so would undermine citizens' rights and exacerbate job losses associated with the restrictions.

Rouhani favored open access before the protests, saying in December: "We will not seek to filter social media. Our telecoms minister promises the people he will never touch the filtering button."

Posted by orrinj at 9:13 AM


Porn Star: Donald Trump and Stormy Daniels Invited Me to Their Hotel Room (MARLOW STERN & AURORA SNOW, 01.12.18, Daily Beast)

"Stormy calls me four or five times, by the last two phone calls she's with Donald [Trump] and I can hear him, and he's talking through the phone to me saying, 'Oh come on Alana, let's have some fun! Let's have some fun! Come to the party, we're waiting for you.' And I was like, 'OMG it's Donald Trump!' Men like him scare me because they have so much power and this was way before his presidential nomination. So I bailed on them and turned my phone off."

Evans said she talked to Daniels the next day, apologized for bailing, and asked her how the night went. "She tells me, 'All I'm going to say is: I ended up with Donald in his hotel room. Picture him chasing me around his hotel room in his tighty-whities.' I was like, 'Oh I really didn't need to hear that!' 

Even the most salacious stuff in the Dossier is likely.

Posted by orrinj at 8:44 AM


Government to resume processing DACA renewals, citing judge's ruling (RICHIE DUCHON, 1/14/18, NBC News)

The Department of Homeland Security announced Saturday it would resume processing renewal applications for young undocumented immigrants seeking protection from deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. [...]

The White House and President Donald Trump initially blasted the decision. But in a statement Saturday, DHS said: "Until further notice, and unless otherwise provided in this guidance, the DACA policy will be operated on the terms in place before it was rescinded on Sept. 5, 2017."

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Secret Money: How Trump Made Millions Selling Condos To Unknown Buyers (Thomas Frank, 1/14/18,  BuzzFeed News)

More than one-fifth of Donald Trump's US condominiums have been purchased since the 1980s in secretive, all-cash transactions that enable buyers to avoid legal scrutiny by shielding their finances and identities, a BuzzFeed News investigation has found.

Records show that more than 1,300 Trump condominiums were bought not by people but by shell companies, and that the purchases were made without a mortgage, avoiding inquiries from lenders.

Those two characteristics signal that a buyer may be laundering money, the Treasury Department has said in a series of statements since 2016. Treasury's financial-crimes unit has, in recent years, launched investigations around the country into all-cash shell-company real-estate purchases amid concerns that some such sales may involve money laundering. The agency is considering requiring real-estate professionals to adopt anti-money-laundering programs.

All-cash purchases by shell companies do not by themselves indicate illegal or improper activity, and they have become more common in recent years in both Trump buildings and other luxury home sales across the United States. Developers such as Trump have no obligation to scrutinize their purchasers or their funding sources.

But federal investigations "continue to reveal corrupt politicians, drug traffickers and other criminals using shell companies to purchase luxury real estate with cash," Treasury's former financial-crimes chief Jennifer Shasky Calvery said at a Capitol Hill hearing in 2016.

Treasury's Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) broadcast that concern in an August 2017 advisory to the real-estate industry warning that all-cash real-estate purchases by shell companies are "an attractive avenue for criminals to launder illegal proceeds while masking their identities."

Neither the White House nor the Trump Organization responded to repeated requests for comment. A former longtime Trump Organization official who asked not to be named said that all-cash shell-company purchases are common among rich buyers, particularly foreigners trying to put their money in safe investments.

Trump condo sales that match Treasury's characteristics of possible money laundering totaled $1.5 billion, BuzzFeed News calculated. They accounted for 21% of the 6,400 Trump condos sold in the US. Those figures include condos that Trump developed as well as condos that others developed in his name under licensing deals that pay Trump a fee or a percentage of sales.

Some of the secretive sales date back more than three decades, long before recent worries that Russians tried to influence Trump by pouring millions of dollars into his businesses.

But a months-long BuzzFeed News examination of every Trump condominium sale in the US shows that such sales surged in the late 2000s and early 2010s, when some Trump businesses were in financial trouble and when Donald Trump Jr. made his now-famous remark about the Trump Organization seeing "a lot of money pouring in from Russia."

Posted by orrinj at 8:39 AM


The Chosen People and American Exceptionalism (Ian Lindquist, January 14, 2018, Free Beacon)

Americans are exceptional in many ways but perhaps their greatest exceptional characteristic is their neighborliness. Americans are a private people dedicated to the proposition that all homes are created equal no matter the customs, rituals, and beliefs that guide and comprise them. In dealing with his neighbor, the American follows the rule: Be cheerful and helpful, be polite, and leave my neighbor alone to his home.

But in leaving one's neighbors alone, Americans don't simply forget about them. If those strange customs, rituals, and beliefs enrich and cultivate a neighbor's home, then they are worthy of respect, even if we know nothing about them. Our neighbor might dance round the fire with his young children nine times each night before bed or eat a birthday cake every day while running five miles each morning. This might even worry us a bit and make us clutch at the curtains or peer out the window (for Americans, though private, are not incurious). But if the fire-dancers and the cake-eaters appear in public, shake hands, and treat us and our family fairly, their homes are worthy of not only privacy but also respect. What strange things my neighbor does is not my business--yet I respect his strange business because I respect him, and I defend his privacy to conduct it.

The American Neighbor's attitude derives from a fundamental tenet of America, held since its founding: Americans are united through difference. Going further, Americans are united not by simply tolerating the differences of others but by embracing them and thereby protecting the ability and right of one's neighbor to bring precisely what makes him strange to me into the public square. America made each man the guardian of his neighbor's strangeness and thereby turned strangers into neighbors without destroying or whitewashing what makes each man strange to another. This was an innovation, a new solution to one of the oldest, most fundamental political challenges in man's history and the heart of American exceptionalism.

Opponents of immigration believe whiteness to be the only exception worth defending.

Posted by orrinj at 8:23 AM


Why potential investor says Jeter plan is badly flawed and will fail (BARRY JACKSON,  January 11, 2018, Miami Herald)

New Marlins CEO Derek Jeter slashed payroll largely because investors were assured they would not be asked to cover losses. Jeter also cited the fact Miami hasn't been to the postseason since 2003.

But one investor who was asked to join Jeter's group and decided against it said Jeter's plan has a fatal flaw.

He said Jeter made a miscalculation by trading popular players including National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton, angering many of the team's fans and believing he could nevertheless increase attendance by 4000 per game in 2018 and by an additional 3000 in 2019, as one version of his Project Wolverine business model projects.

"The Derek Jeter plan all along was to crush payroll to reduce expenses and somehow magically have ticket sales go up," the Northeast-based businessman said. "Can't happen. This is entertainment. Fans come to see players they identify with, not Triple A players.

"Ticket sales will collapse even more under this plan. Nobody [in his group] really looked at this. It shows lack of business acumen. You will still need to rebuild with top players at some point and they will be more expensive and harder to bring to Miami, especially under this new management team and the reputation" established during cost-cutting.

The plan--getting rid of your best young players--only makes sense if you're destroying interest in the team so you can move it.  They were basically just two starting pitchers away from being a playoff team, which might have kept them from losing money in the first place.

Posted by orrinj at 8:15 AM


Hiring Remote Workers Made My Entire Team More Productive : One CEO explains how surprised he was to find the remote teams he hired reshaping his company's in-office work culture for the better. (DAN SINES, 1/14/18, Fast Company)

We didn't want to lose excellent talent based on location, so eventually we decided to give remote workers a shot. It was a risk considering the culture issues we were already dealing with onsite, but it paid off-and then some. Here's how.

We started slow at first, by hiring our first CTO into a remote role. This led to the hiring of another remote developer, and another. Many of our hires came through referrals, so they had ties to the company already. And to our surprise, integrating them was incredibly easy.

In fact, we realized after a few months that hiring remote workers helped lessen our office divide. The remote workers we hired displayed high levels of self-motivation and responsibility, and were generally less antagonistic and better team players. Over time, those traits ended up rubbing off on other team members. (Of course, it doesn't hurt when you can measure an applicants' personality before hiring them; we build a product that lets us do exactly that.)

Productivity is a top concern for companies considering remote workers. But we found that they actually made us more productive overall. For starters, we're forced to use Slack to its maximum potential to make that sure our team members, whether they're in the office or around the country, feel like they're sitting next to each other all day. While Slack can be a distraction, it can lead to fewer interruptions if your whole team uses it properly (i.e. not for every single thing). For instance, we have a policy that if an update requires more than a quick Slack message or email, we get on a video call. Facetime makes it feel similar to being in the same room as your colleagues, but it forces the requestor to think about priority level (Is it urgent? Can it wait until my colleague says she's free?) and ultimately boosts efficiency.

There are challenges, too. If you're not sitting across from someone, you can miss nonverbal communication like body language, facial expressions, eye contact, and posture, all of which build camaraderie and trust. But we've worked to mitigate that risk by planning team off-sites, work-away trips, and occasional company-wide gatherings, which we hope to make more frequent over time.

There's ample evidence that it is precisely these things--communication generally, informal communication, working on discrete projects, etc.--that make groups more productive.

Posted by orrinj at 8:11 AM


'Every era gets the Boswell it deserves' (Nausicaa Renner and Pete Vernon, JANUARY 5, 2018, CJR)

Access journalism, at its best, does not replace other forms of journalism--it augments it. And one could argue that Wolff never could have written his book without the hard work of journalists over the past year; the fire he catalogs was often fueled by stories from mainstream reporters.

Wolff deserves credit for producing a thoroughly readable portrait of the Trump administration's chaos and lack of preparedness.

Journalists in 2017 experienced, in many ways, a boom period and also an incredibly unusual one. Times reporters--and many others at outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, Axios, and The Daily Beast--have become something like celebrities. The top levels of the mainstream press have enjoyed far more money and attention than in recent history. Trump's attacks are a badge of honor for those trying to hold him accountable. Maggie Haberman, the breakout star of the Trump era, was characterized as a snake charmer by Slate.

Access journalism is often disparaged because of the compromises it requires, but concerns that Wolff's access to Trump would result in pulled punches have proven unfounded. Switch out the name of the subject, and the venerable media critic David Carr's begrudging approval of the author's 2008 biography of Rupert Murdoch could be printed today: "Much was made of Wolff's alliance with Murdoch, that it would lead to complicity and sycophancy, but Wolff remains true to his nature, which is joyously nasty."

Wolff deserves credit for producing a thoroughly readable portrait of the Trump administration's chaos and lack of preparedness. He appears to have played a monster hand of access journalism poker, bluffing his way into the good graces of the administration by attacking mainstream reporters for critical reporting in the early months of the Trump presidency only to rake in the pot by producing a devastating account of those who considered him a sympathetic observer. He's going to gain a lot of notoriety and make a ton of money.

But he also played a nefarious role in discrediting real reporting by hardworking journalists through his self-interested critiques. Just after the 2016 election, Wolff lambasted the entire industry, telling Digiday, "The media hasn't done its job. It's abdicated its responsibility, has lost itself somewhere." After Trump's inauguration, he wrote a column blaming journalists for abandoning basic principles, and followed that up by going on CNN and calling Brian Stelter, "quite a ridiculous figure." In that same conversation, Wolff admitted he was "sucking up a bit to get access." That brown-nosing seems to have paid off, as Wolff acknowledges in a passage describing Kellyanne Conway and Hope Hicks confiding in "a journalist they regarded as sympathetic."

It is because he does not have to cover the Oval on a daily basis that he could compromise his sources so flagrantly.  He's done with them. Beat journalists have to get the next story, so they end up compromising themselves to some degree. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Republicans are pretending Trump's 's--thole' doesn't stink (MAX BOOT, 1/12/18, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS)

It's hard to be truly angry at Trump because he hasn't made any secret of his white supremacist views. In the years before his presidential campaign, after all, he was America's leading "birther," spreading the conspiracy theory that our first African-American President wasn't born in this country. And when he did announce his run for the presidency, the very first thing he did was to denounce Mexican immigrants as rapists and murderers.

Trump was unrepentant and unapologetic about his racist views long before he hired white nationalist Stephen Bannon to run his campaign, tried to ban Muslims from coming here, praised white supremacists in Charlottesville as "fine people,: pardoned racial-profiling sheriff Joe Arpaio -- and before he described Haiti and African countries as "s--tholes." No one has been alive the last two years could have any reasonable doubt about whether he is a racist.

GOP, Dem senators confirm Trump used racist language at meeting
White supremacists like David Duke and Richard Spencer have been outspoken in praising Trump for normalizing their repugnant views. Those who denied Trump's racism were either willfully blind or, more likely, disingenuous.

Yet to his base, it didn't matter. Some voted for him because of his racism, others despite it. Either way they were accepting the unacceptable.

This is the most racist president that nativists and Islamophobes can ever hope for, so they're with him to the bitter end, but no one else is.

January 13, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 4:41 PM


Posted by orrinj at 2:42 PM


Trump criticism dominates Chuck Grassley town meeting in rural Iowa (Jason Noble, Jan. 12, 2018, Des Moines Register)

"Are you not personally concerned about his fitness to serve? If not, why not? Because I'm very concerned," Mary Mikels, a retired 67-year-old from nearby Portsmouth, asked Grassley.

Grassley deflected that question, saying he wasn't qualified to make a psychiatric assessment, but Mikels persisted.

"He gets on Twitter and says the last thing that Fox News told him to say," she said. "That's not presidential. It's concerning. Are you personally concerned?" [...]

It was a striking scene, not least because of where it was playing out: in a rural western Iowa county where Republicans outnumber Democrats nearly two-to-one and where Trump carried 65 percent of the vote in 2016.

And in contrast to the crowds that packed into lawmakers' town meetings last year, the anti-Trump contingent was not obviously organized. There were no young clipboard-carrying organizers from political groups, and none of the attendees carried the red-and-green agree-disagree signs made famous by the liberal Indivisible movement. They appeared, by and large, to be from Logan and the small communities immediately surrounding.

Sheila Ryan, a 72-year-old nurse from Underwood, challenged Grassley for "sliding" on the Russia investigation. Grassley, as chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is overseeing one of several congressional inquiries into how Russia meddled in the 2016 election and whether there was collusion between Russian interests and the Trump campaign.

Sen. Chuck Grassley held a town meeting in Logan, Iowa, Friday morning. Several questioners asked about President Trump and his fitness for office. Zach Boyden-Holmes/The Register

"I think you're protecting the president and protecting his game about shifting the attention away from Russia," Ryan said, noting Grassley's call for a criminal investigation into a private investigator who compiled a now-famous dossier on Trump.

Posted by orrinj at 12:01 PM


Our Nine Elms US embassy is the most advanced we've ever built (ROBERT JOHNSON US Ambassador , 1/13/18, Evening Standard)

Designed by Philadelphia architects KieranTimberlake, the new embassy is not just bigger, it is better and capable of meeting the complex challenges of the 21st century and beyond. It is the most secure, hi-tech and environmentally friendly embassy that the United States has ever built. Purchased and built from the sale of our London properties, the new embassy did not cost the US taxpayer a cent. Yet is one of the most advanced embassies we have ever built.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Proud to Live in a Nation of Holers (Bret Stephens JAN. 12, 2018, WSJ)

America is a nation of holers. It is an improbable yet wildly successful experiment in the transformation -- by means of hope, opportunity and ambition -- of holers into doers, makers, thinkers and givers. Are you of Irish descent? Italian? Polish? Scottish? Chinese? Chances are, your ancestors did not get on a boat because life in the old country was placid and prosperous and grandpa owned a bank. With few exceptions, Americans are the dregs of the wine, the chaff of the wheat. If you don't know this by now, it makes you the wax in the ear.

Donald Trump is the wax in the ear.

Some of the fury -- and most of the apologetics -- surrounding the president's alleged remark about "all these people from s[***]hole countries" concerns the nature of the countries themselves. Liberals can be squeamish about calling poor countries bad names, while conservatives such as Mark Steyn chortle that "nobody voluntarily moves to Haiti." Which, let's be real, is basically right.

Yet that's beside the point. We are not talking about Haiti, El Salvador, Nigeria or any other country on the president's insult list. What counts are the people from these countries, both those who are already in the United States as well as those who wish to come. Why should the president think they are any less fit to become Americans than the Norwegians he seems to fancy?

The obvious answer is racism, the same "textbook" case that Paul Ryan spoke of in June 2016 after Trump called a federal judge's fitness into question on account of his ethnic heritage.

Posted by orrinj at 11:49 AM


Lock Your Doors (SafeHome.org)

We surveyed over 1,000 people across the U.S. to find out. Keep reading to see who keeps their most cherished things behind closed - and locked - doors.

Posted by orrinj at 11:40 AM


Puerto Rico is taking a big step toward revamping how it gets power -- and it could be a model for the rest of the US (Erin Brodwin, Jan. 13th, 2018, Business Insider)

Sonnen's batteries capture and store the power made by solar panels when the sun is shining so that it can be used later when it's cloudy or dark. 

Richetta and a handful of Sonnen staff set up half a dozen solar microgrids in communal areas in some of Puerto Rico's hardest-hit neighborhoods, in partnership with a company called Pura Energia.

In Humacao, a blacked-out province where people were using bacteria-infested streams for washing and laundry, Sonnen and Pura Energia helped set up washing machines powered by the sun. In another part of the island, the companies used the microgrids to set up cellphone-charging stations so that people could attempt to reach out to loved ones on other parts of the island or in the mainland US.

Microgrid systems are already helping provide some coverage to various parts of the mainland US -- but most of these projects are still in the early stages.

In Southern California, a company called Advanced Microgrid Solutions is spearheading a project that involves replacing the energy that was once provided by a large (now decommissioned) nuclear power plant with a series of solar arrays and batteries that AMS can turn on and off based on when the prices for conventional energy are low and when there's the most demand.

"We take hundreds of buildings -- picture entire city blocks -- and each building has a battery. We get the information from each battery, each building, and operate the whole fleet of buildings like one virtual power plant," Manal Yamout, a vice president at Advanced Microgrid Solutions, told Business Insider.

The AMS system is still connected to the wider grid, and it isn't designed to provide stand-alone power. But it could.

Islanded microgrids -- systems that can run independently of the wider grid -- can power entire communities.

Ta'u Island in American Samoa is one example of this. There, Elon Musk's energy company, Tesla, has built a network of 5,328 solar panels and 60 Powerpack batteries that supply the entire island with clean energy. On the Hawaiian island of Kauai, a Tesla solar farm accounts for a fifth of the island's peak energy demand.

The way Yamout sees it, it's less about various individual projects and more about a bigger movement towards a cleaner, cheaper, and more balanced grid. 

Posted by orrinj at 10:21 AM


Too much business travel can lead to depression, anxiety and trouble sleeping, study says (Hugo Martin, 1/13/18, LA Times)

[A] study from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health confirms that people who travel for business two weeks or more a month are more likely to report symptoms of anxiety, depression and trouble sleeping than those who travel less than one week a month.

And if you drink, extensive travel is likely to lead to alcohol dependence, the study found.

The study was based on the health records of 18,328 employees who underwent checkups in 2015.

thus, the State Border Rule.

Posted by orrinj at 10:17 AM


Feds indict Dragon Distillery owner for international financial crimes tied to previous business (Cameron Dodd,  Jan 12, 2018, fREDERICK nEWS-pOST)

Lambert, who owns Dragon Distillery in Frederick, is the former co-president, along with Daren Condrey, of a Maryland-based nuclear fuel transportation company. The company, referred to as Transportation Company A in the indictment, provided logistical support for transporting nuclear materials in the United States and to foreign clients.

In the indictment unsealed Friday, prosecutors allege that Lambert and others concealed corrupt and fraudulent payments with fake invoices, offshore bank accounts and shell companies in Latvia, Cyprus and Switzerland, the release states.

Authorities believe that from at least 2009 to October 2014 Lambert and other company executives conspired to bribe Vadim Mikerin, an official at the Russian State Atomic Energy Corporation subsidiary JSC Techsnabexport (TENEX), in order to secure contracts for transporting nuclear fuel, according to the Justice Department release.

TENEX, which supplies uranium and uranium enrichment services to international companies, wholly owned a U.S.-based company called TENAM Corporation, according to the indictment.

The case is being investigated by the Office of the Inspector General for the Department of Energy and FBI.

Around 2009, Lambert and Condrey began working with a third, unnamed executive at Transportation Company A to bribe Mikerin, according to the indictment. In exchange, Mikerin would help steer contracts to the transportation company.

At last, the Uranium One chickens are coming home to roost...

Posted by orrinj at 8:53 AM


The American middle class is absolutely better off now than it was decades ago (James Pethokoukis, January 10, 2018, AEIdeas)

I wanted to highlight another bit from my recent interview with Bruce Meyer, a visiting scholar here at AEI and a professor at the University of Chicago's Harris School of Public Policy, on inequality and poverty.

In this exchange, we discuss whether US living standards have really been stagnant for decades as some researchers claim:

Pethokoukis: When people talk about inequality, usually in the next breath they'll say, "Listen, that top 1% is now getting a lot of the income, and at the same time, incomes for the middle class have been stagnant for 30, 40, maybe 50 years." Those two facts are used together, I think, to show a relationship between the two. Is that right? Because to me it seems intuitively, how could that possibly be right that the median American is no better off than he was sometime in the 1960s?

Meyer: I think you're right to not believe it, I think that statistic is wrong. If you look at the consumption of the median household, it's gone up a lot over the last 30 years. Part of the explanation for the difference between what I am saying and some of the conventional statistics that you might see from the census bureau is that we often use a way of adjusting for price changes that overstates the extent of inflation. So it makes it look like we are not doing well in the middle of the distribution even when we are.

There are very tangible things that you can look at to see that people in the middle of the distribution are better off than they were 20, 30 years ago. For example, if you look at the share of people in the middle of the income distribution that have central air conditioning, or maybe only a couple of room air conditioners, or have a dishwasher, or a washer and a dryer in their house or apartment -- those numbers for the middle look like the numbers for the top 20% as of 20 or 30 years ago. So there's been quite dramatic improvements if you look at tangible things like what kinds of appliances have in the house. You can also look at the size of people's houses or apartments -- square footage, number of rooms -- those things have gone up quite sharply for people in the middle of the distribution.

Posted by orrinj at 8:38 AM


Bring on the Conservative Debate for Immigration (BRADLEY J. BIRZER,  January 12, 2018, American Conservative)

As Christians around the world celebrated the arrival of the Three Kings--the Magi of the Orient--on Epiphany, the president of the United States called for $33 billion to shore up America's borders with $18 billion for the wall.  

Would the Magi have been admitted in 2018? "Excuse me, Balthasar, but I need to see that your papers are in order.  Oh, I'm sorry, but your gift of myrrh exceeds our 3.2 ounces of liquid allowed."  

Perhaps, President Trump simply chose his timing poorly, but it would be impossible for the Christian to miss the irony.

As a professor of the western canon, the Great Ideas of the West, and the western tradition, I find it nearly impossible to claim that there is a long tradition of excluding those who "aren't us." Even the most cursory examination of the issue reveals that the best of western thinkers have considered political borders a form of selfish insanity and a violation of the dignity of the human person.  The free movement of peoples has not only been seen as a natural right throughout much of the western tradition, but it has also been seen as a sacred one.

Props to American Conservative for an essay antithetical to its founding.

Posted by orrinj at 8:26 AM


Republicans Are About to Lose an Election About Values (NOAH ROTHMAN, JAN. 12, 2018, Commentary)

As of this writing, the United States is embroiled in two concurrent international incidents that have almost nothing to do with American policy or U.S. interests. On Friday morning, President Trump canceled a scheduled trip to the United Kingdom, America's closest and most pivotal ally, because he simply wasn't welcome. Trump offered a variety of unconvincing explanations for his scrapped visit, but the truth is that his reckless tweeting promoted some of the U.K.'s most racist elements, sparking a feud with Prime Minister Teresa May. His presence simply couldn't be tolerated. Likewise, the president apparently (according to the non-denials of his communications staff) used an ugly expletive to describe half of the world. Many of the slighted countries are now issuing bristling protests and requesting formal clarification as to whether the leader of the free world views them as "shitholes."

At home, the controversy over Trump's latest verbal evacuation is once again sucking up all the available oxygen. Cable news is consumed with the debate over whether or not Trump was right to declare some 54 nations fetid cavities on the global landscape. More crippling for the president, the national-media landscape is equally enlivened by the debate over whether Trump's comments--in which he apparently contended that "skilled" migrants could only come from European nations and not the developing world--represent rank bigotry. Whatever the GOP agenda was yesterday is once again derailed by Trump's big mouth.

Trump-friendly Republicans will convince themselves that these are distractions that are of interest only to a hopelessly biased political press, but they're not. Not to voters. According to polling over the course of the last month, registered voters would prefer to see Democrats retake Congress by anywhere from a 7- to 18-point margin. The number of House Republicans looking for the exits in 2018 outpaces events in both 2010 and 1994, two wave years when the party in power suffered a drubbing.

What's driving this kind of anti-Republican sentiment? It's not foreign affairs. Despite Trump-instigated diplomatic furors, the world is at relative peace. The ISIS threat has receded dramatically, and U.S.-led sorties are being reduced accordingly. It's not the economy. Unemployment is at a 17-year low. The labor market is tightening, and wages in sectors like manufacturing are up. The economy is growing at a sustainable 3 percent, and near daily new stock market highs ensure that retirement investments are seeing a substantial return. Republicans who think voters are going to fall on their knees in gratitude to the GOP when they see a tax code reform-related 2 percent withholding reduction in their paycheck come February are kidding themselves.

The driving force behind the coming backlash is Trump, the man, more so than Trump, the president.

Donald's values are not America's.

Posted by orrinj at 8:16 AM

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Take it from this conservative: Trump is unfit for office and always has been (Quin Hillyer, Jan 12, 2018, Washington Examiner)

Yes, I know the gorilla story was satire, but it almost rang true. It was semi-believable because it, along with the real set of concerns about President Trump that it satirizes, is par for the Trump course by now.

I missed nothing by paying little attention for two weeks and needed no journalistically iffy new book to explain our president's multitudinous deficiencies. I already knew -- all of us, if we are honest with ourselves, already knew -- that Trump is and always has been unfit for office. Not just unfit in a 25th Amendment "mental capacity" way (although he may well be that, too), but emotionally and temperamentally unfit, experientially unfit, and morally unfit as well.

We already knew Trump was a dishonest businessman, shortchanging contractors as a matter of course and deliberately using bankruptcy laws multiple times to walk away from debts to literally tens of thousands of small-business contractors, vendors, and workers -- people he never even tried to "make whole" after he recovered his financial footing enough to boast a (supposed) $10 billion fortune.

We know Trump oversaw a bogus "university" that bilked participants of thousands of dollars each. We know Trump failed at an airline business, a steak business, the casino business, at vodka sales and necktie sales and a mortgage brokerage and pro football team ownership. We know he used illegal workers at big construction projects and then lost numerous court rounds for years in a lawsuit quite credibly alleging that he shorted worker pay and benefits.

We know that Trump is a serial adulterer. We know from his own admission (or boasts) and the highly believable accounts of numerous others that he has ogled teenage girls and insulted, harassed, and even assaulted numerous women. We know that he has made bigoted comments about blacks, Jews, Hispanics, and Native Americans; that he had to be browbeaten for days before agreeing to denounce former Klan leader David Duke; that he has retweeted white supremacist garbage and given verbal cover to neo-Nazi marchers; and that he has repeatedly encouraged violence at his own rallies.

Trump traffics in bizarre conspiracy theories and incontinently spreads falsehoods with either knowing or reckless disregard for technical accuracy or underlying truth. He feigns a faith he clearly does not even begin to understand, belittles American prisoners of war, mocks the disabled, and repeatedly praises international thugs and dictators.

He is self-indulgent; he has bad judgment, little (or no) intellectual curiosity, no apparent self-control, and not a shred of discernible empathy for others. He chooses plenty of poor staffers and drives good staff away; he barely understands even the basics of key legislation; and he stabs allies in the back and torpedoes his own legislative agenda.

Trump has horrid temper tantrums, demands toadyism from his aides, rarely reads anything, is grossly ignorant of history and of the Constitution, insults American allies, and scares just about everybody with his casual comments about nuclear weapons -- even asking, rhetorically, why we have them if we don't intend to use them.

Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


The Tragedy of Laura Ingraham's LifeZette (Mark Judge, 9/06/17, Splice Today)

As reported by the Daily Beast, LifeZette, the website founded and run by conservative radio host and author Laura Ingraham, is in trouble. Several staffers have complained about sexually inappropriate comments by the site's chief executive Peter Anthony. Traffic is minuscule. There are complaints of not getting paid.

LifeZette's troubles are especially tragic because Ingraham is a brilliant commentator who understands popular culture, and her failure will only reconfirm that conservatives are incapable of providing decent coverage of arts and culture--the things that, as Andrew Breitbart noted, feed politics.

It didn't have to be this way. In the summer of 2015 I was contacted by an editor who'd just been hired by LifeZette, which was about to launch. He wanted to know if I was interested in writing for them. I was. We met in Georgetown for lunch and he showed me the LifeZette offices, which were gorgeously housed in a modern building right off the C & O canal. They were even building a radio studio for Ingraham. You could see there was money behind LifeZette--specifically, the multimillionaire T. Boone Pickens, who, staffers have claimed, is funding Ingraham's venture.

More than once, the editor mentioned The New Yorker as a guide. Of course, LifeZette would be a conservative site and have conservative blogs and articles. But they wanted to produce noteworthy journalism. More and more it seemed like a dream come true. I've long complained about the lousy nature of conservative coverage of the arts, from the obsession with the 1960s and Lena Dunham to the terrible movie reviews of John Podhoretz and Ben Shapiro's tone-deaf dismissal of Kurt Cobain. Here was a chance to blast the Hollywood left when they inevitably did or said something stupid, but present real journalism--to interview actors, screenwriters and directors. Ingraham had gotten a BA from Dartmouth and gone to law school at UVA. Surely she would be receptive to not only trashing Alec Baldwin, but also talking to him.

A couple of weeks after our meeting, I got a call from the friend who had offered me a job. He was leaving LifeZette. Ingraham was a tyrant, and there was no freedom to do any of the things we had talked about. He was out, and I'd be wise to stay away.

Then LifeZette launched. It was awful.

Conservative media should, above all else, be funny (Andrew Ferguson is the archetype).  Existence supplies us with endless material.  Instead, it's mostly just as hysterical and apocalyptic as leftwing media.

Posted by orrinj at 7:53 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM

ALL RACE, ALL THE TIME (profanity alert):

Trump's history of breaking decorum with remarks on race, ethnicity (VIVIAN SALAMA, 1/12/18, NBC News)

A career intelligence analyst who is an expert in hostage policy stood before President Donald Trump in the Oval Office last fall to brief him on the impending release of a family long held in Pakistan under uncertain circumstances.

It was her first time meeting the president, and when she was done briefing, he had a question for her.

"Where are you from?" the president asked, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the exchange.

New York, she replied.

Trump was unsatisfied and asked again, the officials said. Referring to the president's hometown, she offered that she, too, was from Manhattan. But that's not what the president was after.

He wanted to know where "your people" are from, according to the officials, who spoke under condition of anonymity due to the nature of the internal discussions.

After the analyst revealed that her parents are Korean, Trump turned to an adviser in the room and seemed to suggest her ethnicity should determine her career path, asking why the "pretty Korean lady" isn't negotiating with North Korea on his administration's behalf, the officials said. [...]

At a March meeting with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, Trump asked the elected officials if they personally knew just one member of his incoming cabinet -- Ben Carson -- according to two people in the room.

Carson, the only black member of Trump's Cabinet, had never served in Congress and spent his career as a surgeon. Trump found that surprising that no one said they knew him, the attendees said.

During that same meeting, a member relayed to Trump that potential welfare cuts would harm her constituents, "not all of whom are black." The president replied: "Really? Then what are they?"

Posted by orrinj at 7:11 AM


Check out this web game where all you do is dunk on Donald Trump over and over again (Nick Statt,  Jan 12, 2018, The Verge)

One brave soul went ahead and distilled the United States' new national pastime into a simple web game in which you slam dunk over President Donald Trump over and over again until you simply lose interest in the activity.

We need an add-on where Bob Mueller is Kermit Washington.

Posted by orrinj at 7:10 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:01 AM


Africa Is Sending Us Its Best and Brightest : Simple economics explains why the U.S. can accept many more migrants from poorer countries. (Tyler Cowen, January 12, 2018, Bloomberg)

One of the most striking facts about immigration to the U.S., unbeknownst even to many immigration advocates, is the superior education of Africans coming to this country. If we consider adults age 25 or older, born in Africa and living in the U.S., 41.7 of them have a bachelor's degree or more, according to 2009 data. For contrast, the native-born population has a bachelor's degree or more at the much lower rate of only 28.1 percent in these estimates, and foreign-born adults as a whole have a college degree at the rate of 26.8 percent, both well below the African rate.

How about high school degrees? About one-third of immigrants overall lack this credential, but only 11.7 percent of African-born migrants don't have a high school degree. That's remarkably close to the rate for native-born Americans, estimated at 11.4 percent.

Or consider Nigerian-Americans, Nigeria being the most populous nation in Africa. Their education levels are among the very highest in the U.S., above those of Asians, with 17 percent of Nigerian migrants having a master's degree.

In addition, about three-quarters of African migrants speak English, and they have higher than average rates of labor force participation. They are also much less likely to commit violent crimes than individuals born in the U.S.

That's all good news of course, and it implies we could accept more African immigrants with mutual benefit. Subjectively, I would also note sub-Saharan Africa is the region where I encounter the least anti-American sentiment. That's broadly consistent with these poll results.

As a resident of the Washington, D.C., area, I live alongside an especially high number and proportion of African immigrants. It is well known in this region that African immigration outcomes in terms of education, starting new businesses, safety, and assimilation are quite positive.

"They're not sending us their best people" is a claim I hear from Trump in his speeches and news conferences. Yet that's the opposite of the truth when it comes to Africa.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 AM


At UN, diplomats are watching potential White House candidate Haley : Envoys say star of Trump administration is playing to a domestic audience as she positions herself for presidential bid in 2020 or 2024 (CAROLE LANDRY/1/13/18, Times of Israel)

Over the past year, she has pushed through three new sets of sanctions against North Korea, bringing China and Russia on side to tackle what Trump sees as his administration's number one security threat.

Those sanctions won the unanimous backing of the council, where finding common ground with Haley is testing diplomatic skills.

The daughter of Indian immigrants, Haley is hawkish on Iran, fiercely pro-Israel and a strong advocate of cost-cutting at the United Nations.

That those three signature issues play well with the US Republican voter base is not lost on most diplomats.

"What matters above all are perceptions internally, in the US," said another council diplomat, who like many declined to be quoted.

Haley was among the first administration officials to take a hard line on Russia, declaring that sanctions over Crimea would remain in place until Moscow gave the territory back to Ukraine. [...]

For months, Haley had been tipped as a possible replacement to US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, whom she has upstaged with her media appearances and statements that at times appear to break new ground.

In October, she put that speculation to rest, telling reporters that she wasn't interested.

"I would not take it," Haley told reporters on a trip to the Democratic Republic of Congo. "I want to be where I'm most effective."

She is seen as a possible vice president to Mike Pence, should he take over the presidency.

Author Michael Wolff, whose book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" has become a national sensation, claims Haley has set her sights higher and is eyeing the presidency.

According to published excerpts, Haley began positioning herself as Trump's heir after concluding in October that he was a one-term president.

Developing foreign policy chops while staying out of the dumpster fire in the Oval demonstrates genuine nous and separates her from the other 2020 contenders.

January 12, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 PM

Posted by orrinj at 6:32 PM



In October 2016, President Donald Trump's lawyer arranged a payment of $130,000 to former adult-film star Stephanie Clifford, the Wall Street Journal reports. The payment was part of an agreement that Clifford, who performed under the name Stormy Daniels, would refrain from making public comment about an alleged sexual encounter she had with Donald Trump at a celebrity golf tournament in 2006, according to the Journal.

Posted by orrinj at 4:19 PM


Spy Bosses Helped Trump Draft Tweet Backing Surveillance Program (RYAN LUCAS, 1/12/17, npr)

CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and national security adviser H.R. McMaster all convened in the Oval Office with the president to urge him to row back his criticism. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., also joined in by telephone.

The men helped coach the president in wording the conclusion of a thread that began with a condemnation of the law that the president's administration supports.

Posted by orrinj at 7:43 AM


Television Is Showing Us the Dark Side of Trying to Play God (Noah Berlatsky, 1/11/18, The Washington Post)

In each of these shows, a powerful creator sets up a complex plot to torment humans for sadistic entertainment. This metaphorical setup presents television as a complicated and intricate act of creation, requiring a divine spark. But it's a divine spark that panders to humanity's worst impulses.

The divine plan, as seen on TV, is a world in which God designs fiendish plot arcs to eviscerate us all. Michael tells Eleanor and her friends that they're cockroaches: Small, disgusting creatures that he delights in exterminating.

Religion used to provide society with a shared communal point of reference -- a common well of stories and ethical examples. Now, that point of reference largely comes through popular entertainment in general, and television in particular.

The Good Place is a comedy, but it takes the ramifications of television as moral landscape seriously. Eleanor's efforts to become less selfish and kinder seem straightforward, but other characters get into more intricate ethical issues.

Chidi, for example, ends up in the Bad Place because he's so obsessed with being a moral person that he's paralyzed with indecision. He's so absorbed in doing the right thing that he can't take the time to be kind, or even marginally humane, to others. Ethics without love is still sin -- which is why, as Michael gleefully informs Chidi, all the philosophers from Kant to Foucault are in hell. (That's an insight Christian author C.S. Lewis might have appreciated.)

But while The Good Place tries to take on religious themes, it's also hesitant about its ability to do so. Michael, the architect, is a demon, and an incompetent demon at that. If God's a showrunner, The Good Place says, we're all in a lot of trouble -- which, in fact, we are.

There is hardly a more enduring theme in Western literature (and sadly in human reality) than that attempts to create utopia end in dystopia. Television and film repeat the trope because it's a Puritan Nation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:51 AM


A Bad Idea on Immigration (John Kasich and Jeb Bush Jr., JAN. 11, 2018, NY Times)

Regardless of your views of the underlying legal arguments in the case, the image of a small, frightened boy being pulled from the arms of a sheltering adult by a team of heavily armed federal agents remains seared in the minds of many people as a low point in the immigration debate.

Brace yourself for the possibility of seeing this kind of scene again.

As Republicans, whose party has consistently and rightly advanced policies to support the essential role of families in America, we are deeply troubled by the harm that is about to be done to hundreds of thousands of families that have legally called America home for more than two decades.

In the wake of the 2001 earthquake in El Salvador that claimed more than 1,000 lives and destroyed 100,000 homes, the United States allowed hard-hit families to live and work in America. This merciful act was one of many that America took to relieve the suffering of a natural disaster in one of the hemisphere's most troubled, impoverished nations.

Now, after almost two decades, the nation that showed that kindness is poised to revoke it and force approximately 200,000 Salvadorans to leave the United States, even those whose children are American citizens. (Together, they have about 190,000 American-born children.)

It is wrong to potentially break up so many families that have for so long made the United States their home -- legally and at our invitation.

Posted by orrinj at 5:48 AM


Trump to extend Iran sanctions relief, keeping nuclear deal intact: source (Steve Holland, 1/12/18, Reuters) 

U.S. President Donald Trump will extend sanctions relief granted to Iran under its 2015 nuclear deal with the United States and other world powers, leaving the accord intact for now, according to a person familiar with the decision.

Posted by orrinj at 5:45 AM


What the Iran Protests Were Not  (VALI NASR  JAN 10, 2018, The Atlantic)

The important factor in the recent protests, and why they did not resemble the fight against tyranny Trump tried to portray in his tweets, is the dog that did not bark. The urban dissident voices did not join the populist call for economic justice. Why? First, urbanites, as note by the economist Djavad Salehi-Isfahani, have been the main beneficiaries of President Hassan Rouhani's economic liberalization policies, like his talk of moderation, and have been the main backers of his pursuit of a nuclear deal. They had expected that the deal would end Iran's international isolation, yield economic benefits, and also improve the political climate at home.

They saw in Rouhani an orderly path to change. Many among these urbanites actually feared that the protests could lead to chaos, or tilt Iranian politics in favor of their nemesis, the populist demagogue and former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Without Tehran joining the protests, they never really posed an existential threat to the Islamic Republic.

This is the time to accelerate the economic reintegration of Iran into the world economy, in exchange they could insist on elections in Alawistan.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


French told not to say 'smartphone' in ongoing battle against English (The Local, 12 January 2018)

After banishing the likes of "email", "hashtag" and "dark web", to much hilarity -- and without much success it must be said -- they have now turned their attention to the "smartphone".

The body known as the Commission d'enrichissement de la langue française, which works alongside the famously proud and often grouchy Academie Française, is urging French speakers to use the word "mobile multifonction" instead. 

It takes a lot of work to keep a language as ugly as French.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 AM


Trump cancels London trip amid threats of mass protests (AFP and TOI STAFF, 1/12/18, Times of Israel)

US President Donald Trump said late Thursday he no longer plans to attend the opening of a new US embassy in London.

January 11, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:47 PM


GOP's crazy Russia probe conspiracies are crushed in Fusion GPS transcript (Tom Nichols, Jan. 11, 2018, USA Today)

Let's start by piecing together, as best we can, what various critics of the investigation, including the most vociferous Trump supporters, think is going on. 

By now we're all familiar with the "Steele dossier," a raw -- in every way -- report from a British spy who was engaged by an opposition research firm called Fusion GPS. It makes sensational claims about years of Russian operations against President Donald Trump. 

If not for Steele's file, the GOP reasoning goes, the FBI would never have started down the path of investigating Trump, which would never have led to FBI Director James Comey approaching Trump about the file; absent this, Comey would never have been fired, there would be no Mueller probe, and all would be right with the world.

But what about Trump officials meeting with the Russians during the campaign? Indeed, in the telling of at least some Trump defenders, these were the result of orders issued from Clinton's volcano lair for Fusion to lure Donald Trump Jr. and others into a room with shady Russians for meetings that were unwise -- or even "treasonous," if banished Trump advisor Steve Bannon is to be believed. Somehow, after all this slick tradecraft, Clinton's people never saw it coming when the Russians betrayed them and hacked the DNC anyway.

Think about the size of the claim here: the Clinton campaign, which was convinced it was going to beat Trump in a landslide, funded an espionage-laden high-wire act with a firm whose clients included some unsavory Russians themselves, in which a highly experienced British spook got suckered by the Democrats into weaponizing some Russian disinformation. (Steele could outplay the Russians, but he couldn't outplay Robby Mook?)

There are other variations on this theme, but central to all of them was the idea that without Fusion there would be nothing, and that we would know this if only we could know what Simpson said to the Senate investigators. But since the Senate intelligence committee wouldn't release the transcript, we couldn't know just how much Simpson had spilled his guts.

So now we know, and none of it supports the rickety Jenga pile of Republican conspiracy theories. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 PM


Putin Charges U.S. Is Backing Navalny Bid For Russian President  (RADIO lIBERTY, January 11, 2018)

Russian President Vladimir Putin alleged that anticorruption crusader Aleksei Navalny was being supported by the United States in his election bid.

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


U.S. envoy erred in comments about Muslims in Netherlands: State Department  (Reuters, 1/11/18) 

The new U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands made mistakes and feels great remorse for falsely saying two years ago that Muslim migrants had "burned" politicians and created "no-go zones" in Holland, a State Department official said on Thursday. [...]

Hoekstra, who was born in the Netherlands, said during a recorded panel discussion sponsored by the right-wing David Horowitz Freedom Center in 2015 that "the Islamic movement is now gotten to a point where they have put Europe into chaos."

"Chaos in the Netherlands - there are cars being burned. There are politicians that are being burned and, yes, there are no-go zones in the Netherlands," he added.

In December, Hoekstra denied making the 2015 remarks, telling the Dutch television program Nieuwsuur it was "an incorrect statement ... fake news." Later, after being played a recording of his comment, he denied calling it fake news.

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:04 PM


The Boston Celtics Might Be Unprecedented : Given how rarely in NBA history a team this young has been this competitive, it's not a stretch to argue that these Celtics could finish as the best young team in league history (Zach Kram  Jan 11, 2018, The Ringer)

The Celtics aren't just an anomaly this season, though; as a team this young and competitive, they're a historical aberration as well. Before this season, 142 teams since the advent of the shot clock played with a weighted average age younger than 25, and they were generally awful, finishing with an average .365 winning percentage, which translates to a 30-52 record.

Few were anywhere near as good as these Celtics, with only 21 of those 142 teams finishing with a winning record, and only four winning at least 50 games: Milwaukee with 56 in 1969-70, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's rookie season; Portland with 54 in 2008-09, Brandon Roy's peak; and Oklahoma City with 50 in 2009-10 and 55 in 2010-11, pre-James Harden trade. [...]

Several factors interact to produce this potentially unprecedented result. An outlier team starts with an outlier player, and the Celtics' youngest, 19-year-old Jayson Tatum, has played with the panache of a seasoned veteran. The no. 3 pick in the 2017 draft looks like he's been scooting by NBA defenders for years, and he's shattering teenage efficiency records, with a 62.6 percent true-shooting mark that's more than 5 percentage points better than every other qualified teen in league history. Tatum isn't a perfect player -- look at his ratio of 57 assists to 54 turnovers -- but it's hard to imagine a smoother start to his NBA career. He's in the 98th percentile in points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler, and his shooting exploits have exceeded all reasonable expectations. After ranking fifth on his own college team in 3-point percentage (34.2) last year, he ranks fourth in the NBA in long-range accuracy (46.2) halfway through this season.

His predecessor as the no. 3 overall pick, teammate Jaylen Brown, is 21 years old and producing nearly identical per-game totals to Tatum. Tatum averages 13.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 1.3 assists each night in 31.1 minutes; Brown averages 14.1 points, 5.7 rebounds, 1.3 assists, and 31.3 minutes. The sophomore wing has managed the tricky double of increasing his efficiency and usage rate in tandem, and his stalwart involvement on both offense and defense has helped fill the void left by Gordon Hayward since the prized summer signee broke his leg and dislocated his ankle five minutes into the season.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 PM


Trump attacks protections for immigrants from 's[***]hole' countries (Josh Dawsey January 11, 2018, wASHINGTON pOST)

"Why are we having all these people from s[***]hole countries come here?" Trump said, according to these people, referring to African countries and Haiti. He then suggested that the United States should instead bring more people from countries like Norway, whose prime minister he met Wednesday.

Posted by orrinj at 5:04 PM


Trump lauded delivery of F-52s to Norway. The planes only exist in 'Call of Duty.' (Alex Horton January 11, 2018, wASHINGTON pOST)

Posted by orrinj at 4:54 PM


Trump says 'probably' has a good relationship with North Korea's Kim: WSJ (Reuters, 1/11/18) 

U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday he "probably" has a very good relationship with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Posted by orrinj at 12:58 PM


House Passes Bill to Renew NSA Internet Surveillance Program (Dustin Volz, 1/11/18, Reuters) 

The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday passed a bill to renew the National Security Agency's warrantless internet surveillance program, overcoming objections from privacy advocates and confusion prompted by morning tweets from President Donald Trump that initially questioned the spying tool.

The legislation, which passed 256-164 and split party lines, is the culmination of a yearslong debate in Congress on the proper scope of U.S. intelligence collection--one fueled by the 2013 disclosures of classified surveillance secrets by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Senior Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives had urged cancellation of the vote after Trump appeared to cast doubt on the merits of the program, but Republicans forged ahead.

This is what happens when a partisan president and justice apparatus use surveillance to expose a plot by our enemies and collusion by their opponents...

Posted by orrinj at 12:50 PM


Dreamers Should Stay, American Voters Say 8-1 (Quinnipiac University Polling, 1/11/18)

Undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, so-called "Dreamers," should be allowed to remain in the U.S. and apply for citizenship, 79 percent of American voters say in a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today. Another 7 percent say Dreamers should be allowed to stay but not apply for citizenship, and 11 percent say Dreamers should be required to leave the U.S. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:31 PM


A sign from GOD? Christians claim divine intervention saved bible in church arson attack : CHRISTIANS believe they have seen a "sign from God" after their church was destroyed in a firebomb - but an open bible escaped without any fire damage (CHLOE KERR, Jan 11, 2018, Daily Express)

Posted by orrinj at 12:11 PM


SF cop who hunted Zodiac killer dies. Dave Toschi was 86 (Kevin Fagan, January 10, 2018, SF Chronicle)

His penchant for bow ties, snappy trench coats and the quick-draw holster for his .38-caliber pistol drew the attention of Steve McQueen, who patterned his character in the 1968 movie "Bullitt" after Toschi. Clint Eastwood's "Dirty Harry" character was also partially inspired by him.

But it was the Zodiac case for which Toschi was best known. He worked the clues until 1978, when he was taken off the case after admitting he sent fan notes with fictitious names to then-Chronicle writer Armistead Maupin praising himself. Toschi told the San Francisco Examiner that the notes were an "ill-advised indulgence."

In the brouhaha that resulted, there were suspicions that he might have also written a letter to The Chronicle that purported to be from the Zodiac. However, nothing was proved, Toschi denied it and he remained with the department as a homicide inspector until his retirement. He was portrayed by Mark Ruffalo in the 2007 movie "Zodiac."

"I always looked up to him because he was this Italian guy who got this crazy case," said Gianrico Pierucci, who retired in November after being the latest in a long line of homicide inspectors to head up the still-alive Zodiac investigation. "He was a good cop. He said he was always happy to get up and do his job."

Of the Zodiac case, Pierucci said: "Dave did the best he could. He was always very pleasant and charming, and dapper, and Zodiac is a tough case."

Posted by orrinj at 11:59 AM


U.S. producer prices fall; jobless claims up for fourth straight week (Lucia Mutikani, 1/11/18, Reuters) 

U.S. producer prices fell for the first time in nearly 1-1/2 years in December amid declining costs for services, which could temper expectations that inflation will accelerate in 2018.

Central banks are following ideology, not reality.

Posted by orrinj at 11:57 AM


Tunisia protests: Another heavy dose of austerity (Max Gallien, 11 January 2018, Middle East Eye)

Protesters are rallying against rapidly rising prices, high unemployment and the austerity policies of the Tunisian government. The primary demand is the revision of the new finance law, which came into power on 1 January, and is primarily held responsible for the recent dramatic increase in prices.

A group of young Tunisians launched the campaign فاش_نستناو "what are we waiting for". The group did not call for protests during the past few days, however, they are calling for a new protest on Friday in Tunis.

The law is an unfortunate climax of the economic policies that have shaped Tunisia's post-revolutionary era. Largely driven by the demands of the International Monetary Fund, of which it has historically been a dutiful student, Tunisia's government has been pursuing a strategy of economic reform geared towards cutting government expenditure and devaluing its currency.

There's a high cost for historic misgovernance.

Posted by orrinj at 11:30 AM


GOP may skip budget, kneecapping 2018 ambitions : Lacking the votes and fearing political blowback, Republicans are unlikely to deploy powerful budget procedures to enact their agenda. (RACHAEL BADE and SARAH FERRIS 01/10/2018, Politico)

Republican leaders are considering skipping passage of a GOP budget this year -- a blow to the party's weakened fiscal hawks that would squash all 2018 efforts to revamp entitlements or repeal Obamacare.

Posted by orrinj at 11:19 AM


Trump bashes FISA bill, then supports it, in baffling Twitter tirade (Jeva Lange, 1/11/18, The Week)

President Trump on Thursday appeared bewildered by his own administration's goals, tweeting out his disapproval of a House bill reauthorizing the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) -- a contradiction of the White House's official position -- before tacking his support back onto it an hour and a half later.

Posted by orrinj at 8:19 AM


The Digger Who Commissioned the Trump-Russia Dossier Speaks (John Cassidy, Jan. 11th, 2018, The New Yorker)

 In "May or June of 2016," Simpson recalled, he engaged Christopher Steele, an old associate of his, who was the former head of the Russia desk at the British foreign-intelligence agency, MI6. He and Steele, who was by then running his own intelligence consultancy in the U.K., shared an interest in the Russian kleptocracy and in organized-crime issues, Simpson said.

Asked about the methods Steele used to compile his reports, Simpson said that, rather than visiting Moscow himself, Steele relied on "a network of people, sources" that he had in Russia, which gathered information for him. "What people call the dossier is not really a dossier," Simpson said. "It's a collection of field memoranda, of field interviews, a collection that accumulates over a period of months . . . . He'd reach a point in the reporting where he had enough to send a new memo; so he'd send one." In response to a question about whether Steele paid any of his sources, Simpson said that he hadn't asked him that question.

In any case, when Steele sent in his first memorandum, which was thirty-five pages long and dated June 20, 2016, it contained some explosive allegations, including claims that the Russian regime had been carefully cultivating Trump, and that the F.S.B., the Kremlin's domestic-intelligence agency, had "compromised TRUMP through his activities in Moscow sufficiently to be able to blackmail him." The memorandum also quoted Steele's "Source A . . . a senior Russian Foreign Ministry figure," as saying, "the Kremlin had been feeding TRUMP and his team valuable information on his opponents, including Democratic presidential candidate Hillary CLINTON, for years."

It was about this time, Simpson said, that Steele first contacted the F.B.I. In Simpson's telling, taking this step was Steele's idea. Shortly after filing his first memo, Simpson recounted, "Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national-security threat and said he wanted to--he said he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government, in our government, about this information. He thought from his perspective there was an issue--a security issue about whether a Presidential candidate was being blackmailed." Simpson said that he didn't agree or disagree with Steele's suggestion, but said he'd think about it. "Then he raised it again with me. I don't remember the exact sequence of these events, but my recollection is that I questioned how we would do that because I don't know anyone there that I could report something like this to and be believed, and I didn't really think it was necessarily appropriate for me to do that. In any event, he said, 'Don't worry about that, I know the perfect person, I have a contact there, they'll listen to me, they know who I am, I'll take care of it.' I said O.K."

It was in early July, 2016, that Steele spoke with his F.B.I. contact and relayed the Russia allegations, Simpson said. After that, Steele continued his work for Fusion GPS, which led to more memos, including one that addressed the activities of Carter Page, a foreign-policy adviser to the Trump campaign. To Simpson's chagrin, however, neither Steele nor Fusion GPS heard anything more from the F.B.I. for months. During that time, Simpson pointed out, the hacking of the D.N.C. was revealed, the Republican Party's platform was changed to be friendlier to Russia on the issue of Ukraine, and Trump continued to speak positively about Vladimir Putin. "So I vaguely recall that these external events prompted us to say, I wonder what the F.B.I. did, whoops, haven't heard from them. . . . That was basically the state of things through September," Simpson said.

Finally, Steele informed Simpson that the F.B.I. had contacted him again. At that stage, Simpson told the questioners, "I was very concerned because Chris had delivered a lot of information and by this time we had, you know, stood up a good bit of it. Various things he had written about in his memos corresponded quite closely with other events, and I began, you know, to view his reporting in this case as, you know, really serious and really credible." Simpson said that Steele told him he would have to go to Rome to meet with someone from the F.B.I. "I said O.K. He went to Rome. Then afterwards he came back and said, you know, 'I gave them a full briefing.' "

Simpson also said Steele told him that the F.B.I. already had another source on Russia, one inside the Trump campaign. This is important because some of Trump's defenders have been suggesting that without the dossier there wouldn't have been any Russia investigation. "My understanding was that they believed Chris at this point--that they believed Chris's information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing, and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump organization," Simpson said. The New York Times reported on Tuesday evening that Steele, "after being questioned by the F.B.I., came to believe that the bureau's human source was George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign foreign adviser. In fact, the source was an Australian diplomat who had spent a night drinking in London with Mr. Papadopoulos in the spring, and then shared with American officials what he had learned from the Trump aide." Two weeks ago, the Times reported that it was the tip-off from the Australian diplomat that prompted the F.B.I. to open its investigation, in June, 2016.

The transcript also provides new details of the dealings that Fusion GPS and Steele had with journalists before the election. During the summer of 2016, Simpson said, he spoke with reporters about "alleged connections between the Trump campaign and the Russians," adding: "Some of what we discussed was informed by Chris's reporting." A lawyer for the Republican members of the committee then presented Simpson with an affidavit from Steele's lawyers, which had been presented in a lawsuit filed against Steele and his firm, and which said that, at the end of September, Steele, "at Fusion's instruction," had briefed journalists "from the New York Times, the Washington Post, Yahoo News, The New Yorker, and CNN."

The lawyer went on to quote the affidavit saying that Steele "subsequently participated in further meetings, at Fusion's instruction, with Fusion and the New York Times, the Washington Post, and Yahoo News, which took place in mid-October, 2016. In each of those cases the briefing was conducted verbally in person. In addition, and again at Fusion's instruction, in late October, 2016, (Steele) briefed the journalist from Mother Jones by Skype."

When Simpson was asked if the affidavit from Steele's lawyer presented a "full and accurate account of all the news organizations with which Fusion and Mr. Steele shared information from the memoranda," he replied, "I'd say that's largely right," but added that he thought the broadcast network was ABC News rather than CNN. The lawyer also asked Simpson if Fusion GPS had disclosed any hard copies of Steele's memoranda to journalists. At this point, Simpson's lawyer interrupted and said he wasn't going to answer that question.

From Simpson's perspective, it seems fair to assume, these behind-the-scenes media briefings didn't have their desired effect. The Mother Jones reporter David Corn was the only journalist to publish a big story based on Steele's research before the election, and most of the mainstream media didn't pick it up. 

Posted by orrinj at 8:04 AM


Something's gone badly right with the world economy (The Spectator, 13 January 2018)

It is only a few months since gloomy economic commentators were confidently predicting that the world was about to plunge into a dark era of protectionism. Yet the global economy begins this year in its healthiest state ever, growing faster than any time since 2011. There has been a change in political rhetoric, but not in the willingness of people around the world to trade with each other. According to the OECD's most-recent projection, made in November, world trade grew at 4.8 per cent last year. Something seems to be going badly right.

Negative sentiments about the world economy echo those which have hung over Britain's economy ever since the Brexit referendum. A month before that event, it should never be forgotten, a Treasury paper signed by George Osborne forecast that 'a vote to leave would cause an immediate and profound economic shock', causing a recession with half a million more on the dole. Instead, employment has risen by almost 400,000 -- and a lack of workers has become one of the UK economy's biggest problems. Britain's biggest jobs website says vacancies are up 20 per cent year-on-year, while unemployment sits at a 40-year low. These are the conditions for pay rises to accelerate.

People tend to think the worst. As a species, we have evolved to focus on what is wrong. We are forever telling ourselves that something dreadful is about to happen, whether it be economic Armageddon or climate catastrophe. As the foreign secretary points out on page 20, mankind has never been richer, healthier or less inclined to fight wars. If you could choose any time to be born, not knowing your social position or even nationality, you would choose now.

...that we will come to appreciate the world-altering magnitude of the September 25, 2008 deal and the pivotal roles played by just three men: W, the UR and Ben Bernanke.

Posted by orrinj at 6:21 AM


Expanding cosmos hints at new physics (Paul Rincon Science editor, BBC News)

To calculate the Hubble Constant, Prof Riess and others use the "cosmic ladder" approach, which relies on known quantities - so-called "standard candles" - such as the brightness of certain types of supernova to calibrate distances across space.

However, a different approach uses a combination of the afterglow of the Big Bang, known as the Cosmic Microwave Background (CMB), as measured by the Planck spacecraft and a cosmological model known as Lambda-CDM.

The Hubble Constant obtained using these data is 66.9 kilometres per second per megaparsec. (A megaparsec is 3.26 million light-years, so it follows that cosmic expansion increases by 66.9km/second for every 3.26 million light-years we look further out into space).

The gap between the two is now at a confidence level of about 3.4 sigma. The sigma level describes the probability that a particular finding is not down to chance. For example, three sigma is often described as the equivalent of repeatedly tossing a coin and getting nine heads in a row.

A level of five sigma is usually considered the threshold for claiming a discovery.

However, Prof Riess said that at the three sigma level "this starts to get pretty serious I would say".

"In fact, in both cases of measurements, these are very mature measurements... both projects have done their utmost to reduce systematic errors," he added.

Indeed, a recent measurement of time delays in quasars that is completely independent of the cosmic distance ladder data gets very similar results to Prof Riess's late Universe Hubble Constant. For the early Universe, a 2017 analysis using the density of baryonic (normal) matter in the cosmos yields a very similar value as the one obtained by the Planck team.

What this all suggested, he said, was that the Universe is now expanding 9% faster than expected based on the data - a result he described as "remarkable".

Posted by orrinj at 6:16 AM

PLUS THE HR's....:

KEEPING SCORE : 'The Last Thing You Want to Do Is Hit the Ball to Center Field' (Benjamin Hoffman, Jan. 10, 2018, NY Times)

Glavine, a fairly old-school player with an affinity for traditional statistics like wins and saves, made a surprising suggestion: Perhaps the number-crunchers of the game could build an argument for Jones.

"I think he's one of those guys that you really have to start to take a look at how he impacted the game on the defensive side of the ball," Glavine said. "How the Hall of Fame voting committee goes about doing that, I don't know, but there are certainly all kinds of sabermetrics in today's game that I think could be applied to Andruw."

Glavine is right that analysis of defense has been refined in recent years. The most precise measure is a statistic called defensive runs saved, which was devised by Sports Info Solutions. The company uses game data and video to assess the quality and value of a fielder's plays. For example, did he make a diving catch of a sinking line drive or did he break the wrong way, then trap a ball that he should have caught easily?

Jones's defensive peak, from 1997 to 2002, came just before Sports Info Solutions started tracking that statistic. While the number of runs Jones saved during those years is unknown, it is a testament to his excellence that from 2003 to 2007, as he began to decline, Jones still saved 67 runs. In the same time period, the second- and third-best defensive outfielders in baseball, Torii Hunter and Willy Taveras, combined for 68 (Hunter had 39, Taveras 29). Even after he had slowed down, Jones put a Babe Ruth-like distance between himself and his defensive competition.

In another effort to assign a numeric value to a player's defensive contributions, Baseball Reference created a formula for defensive WAR. The statistic has been tracked to 1871 -- five seasons before the National League was created. By Baseball Reference's assessment, Jones is the best defensive outfielder in history, his 24.1 defensive WAR trumping Paul Blair's 18.6 and Mays's 18.1. He led all players, regardless of position, in defensive WAR in 1998.

Although runs saved has become a critical component of defensive WAR's formula, John Dewan, the owner of Sports Info Solutions and the author of "The Fielding Bible," said the best statistic for comparing players across eras was Bill James's fielding win shares. It is part of James's system of measuring a player's contribution to his team's wins, and it relies on a consistent formula through the years. By that measure, Jones ranks fourth among outfielders with 85.5 career fielding win shares, trailing only Tris Speaker (117.8), Mays (103.6) and Max Carey (94.8).

Jones led the majors in the statistic for five consecutive seasons, from 1998 to 2002, and he was in the top six for fielding win shares 10 times in 11 seasons.

For his part, James, regardless of what his statistic indicates, has publicly stated that he does not feel Jones's defense has been proven to be worthy of Hall of Fame consideration, but Dewan came to a different conclusion.

"There is no question that Andruw Jones was one of the best defensive outfielders of all time," Dewan said.

Posted by orrinj at 5:29 AM


Israel Isn't The Only One That Blacklists 'Enemy' Critics -- Russia And China Do Too (Josh Nathan-Kazis, January 11, 2018, The Forward)

A new entry ban for the leaders of 20 international not-for-profit organizations puts Israel in the company of a group of mostly authoritarian nations that are cracking down on foreign nongovernmental organizations.

Posted by orrinj at 5:28 AM


Germany logs biggest growth in 6 years (Deutsche-Welle, 1/11/18)

Europe's largest economy expanded by 2.2 percent in 2017, the Federal Statistics Office (Destatis) reported Thursday.

The figure was up from the 1.9-percent growth rate recorded for the previous year, despite a lower number of working days in 2017.

January 10, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:40 PM


A new study says much of the rise in inequality is an illusion. Should you believe it? (Dylan Matthews, 1/10/18, vox.com)

Gerald Auten and David Splinter, economists at Congress's Joint Committee on Taxation and the Treasury Department's Office of Tax Analysis, used the same IRS tax data as Piketty, Saez, and Zucman. They found that the top 1 percent's share of after-tax income rose from 8.4 percent in 1979 to 10.1 percent in 2015 -- an increase less than a third as large.

What looks on paper like a big increase in inequality in the 1980s and onward, Auten and Splinter argue, is really just money being shuffled around in response to Ronald Reagan-era changes to tax law. In 1980, the top individual income tax rate was 69.13 percent; by 1989, it had fallen by more than half, to 28 percent.

In the 1960s and 1970s, companies usually reinvested their profits rather than giving raises to executives -- the high tax rates meant those salaries would be largely taxed away. Reinvesting the money ultimately benefited shareholders in the company by increasing the company's value, and benefiting shareholders means benefiting rich people. Owning corporate shares was much rarer for middle-class people in the '60s and '70s before the rise of 401(k)s and IRAs.

After the tax cuts, companies started directing more money to raises. Rather than exploding actual inequality, Auten and Splinter write, the Reagan tax changes mostly shifted money that used to go to rich people through stocks so that it instead went to rich people in the form of salary.

That looks like a big increase in the rich's slice of the pie on paper, because the higher salaries show up on tax returns, but the increasing value to shareholders doesn't, at least until the shares are sold.

Auten and Splinter argue that the salary boost is largely an illusion. These compensation changes and other measurement issues, they find, account for 85 percent of the apparent rise in the top 1 percent's share of after-tax income since 1960.

...as we universalize and broaden stock ownership, should we bring back confiscatory rates at some threshold?

Posted by orrinj at 7:36 PM


Israel is paying its citizens to help deport asylum seekers (Rosie Perper , 1/10/18, Business Insider)

Israel will offer a cash reward to civilians who temporarily join a new government unit created to deport its asylum seekers, Haaretz has reported.

The Population and Immigration Authority published a notice on Sunday that it will offer up to a 30,000 shekel bonus ($8,700) to citizens who become "inspectors" for the unit that manages asylum requests. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:32 PM


Posted by orrinj at 6:53 PM


ISIS Declares War on Hamas, and Gaza Families Disown Sons in Sinai (IYAD ABUHEWEILA and ISABEL KERSHNER, JAN. 10, 2018, NY Times)

The video exposed new levels of enmity between Hamas and the Sinai branch of the Islamic State, injecting another layer of instability into an already volatile region. And it has roiled Gaza, prompting two families whose sons are shown in the video to disown them.

The video accuses Hamas of betraying Palestinians by imprisoning extremists in Gaza, failing to prevent the American recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, and being supported by Iran.

It urges attacks on Hamas's members, courts and security positions, as well as on Shiites and Christians in Gaza, according to the Washington-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors Islamic State propaganda.

Tensions have long simmered between the two groups, even as common interests have led to cross-border cooperation in the past, particularly in arms smuggling, according to officials and experts in the region. But in declaring war against Hamas, the Sinai group has surrounded itself with enemies -- Egypt, Israel and now Hamas -- and given Hamas a common cause with Israel.

One of Hamas's main crimes, Islamic State argues, is its participation in Palestinian elections, which the Islamic State views as putting man-made law above God's law.

...was failing to comprehend the difference between Islamicists and Islamists, the latter being democratic political movements and the inevitable governors of Muslim societies.

Posted by orrinj at 6:49 PM


Mueller adds veteran cyber prosecutor to special-counsel team (Matt Zapotosky, 1/10/18, Washington Post)

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III has added a veteran cyber prosecutor to his team, filling what has long been a gap in expertise and potentially signaling a recent focus on computer crimes.

Ryan K. Dickey was assigned to Mueller's team in early November from the Justice Department's computer crime and intellectual-property section, said a spokesman for the special counsel's office. [...]

Mueller's work has long had an important cybersecurity component -- central to the probe is Russia's hacking of Democrats' emails in an effort to undermine confidence in the U.S. electoral system and help Trump win. The original FBI counterintelligence probe was launched in part because a Trump campaign adviser was said to have told an Australian diplomat that Russia had emails that could embarrass Democrats, and in July 2016, private Democratic messages thought to have been hacked by Russia began appearing online.

Mueller also is in possession of information from Facebook about politically themed advertisements bought through Russian accounts.

Legal analysts have said that one charge Mueller might pursue would be a conspiracy to violate the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, if he can demonstrate that members of Trump's team conspired in Russia's hacking effort to influence the election.

Posted by orrinj at 1:36 PM


Trump Is Intelligent, But Not Fit Or Level-Headed (Quinnipiac University Polling, 1/10/18)

President Donald Trump is intelligent, American voters say 53 - 44 percent, one of his lowest scores since Inauguration day, but voters say 69 - 28 percent that he is not level-headed and 57 - 40 percent that he is not fit to serve as president, according to a Quinnipiac University National Poll released today.  [...]

President Trump's grades on most character traits are down significantly since his first post-inaugural poll January 26, 2017, as voters say:

63 - 34 percent that he is not honest;
59 - 39 percent that he does not have good leadership skills;
59 - 38 percent, that he does not care about average Americans;
59 - 39 percent that he is a strong person;
65 - 32 percent that he does not share their values.

...wealth is not a function of intelligence.

Posted by orrinj at 1:21 PM


U.S. import prices barely rise (Lucia Mutikani, 1/10/18, Reuters) 

U.S. import prices recorded their smallest increase in five months in December and underlying imported price pressures were muted amid declining costs for food and consumer goods.

Posted by orrinj at 6:50 AM


The ideological roots of Israel's troubles (Ryan Cooper, January 10, 2018, The Week)

As Tony Judt wrote over a decade ago, the idea of a particularly Jewish homeland is rooted in nationalist ideology from the late 19th and early 20th century. This ideology that has been progressively discredited since that time. The modern nation-state often retains some nationalist flavor, but the standard basis of nations today today is citizenship defined through membership in national institutions, not ethnicity, religion, or race. "Israel, in short, is an anachronism," he put it. [...]

The major problem with Israel is the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. It is a tyrannical domination of a subject population, the source of endless conflict, and arguably the greatest long-term threat to Israel's security (despite its military superiority). If the problem can't be resolved, the international animus it inspires will continue to fuel the pressure for boycotts and sanctions, and will someday probably lose Israel free access to America's United Nations Security Council veto.

In all the territory controlled by Israel, there are over 6.2 million Palestinian Arabs, and about 6.5 million Jews. The Israeli birthrate is high, but the Palestinian birthrate is higher. Someday soon, Arabs will outnumber Jews in Israeli-controlled territory.

This leads directly to the dilemma of liberal Zionists: If Israel wants to remain democratic, it can either divest itself of the occupied territories, and thus retain its Jewish majority, or it can become one single state that is half Jewish and half Arab. The former is all but impossible to imagine, given the total collapse of the peace process. The latter would mean abandoning the idea of a particularly Jewish nation.

If Israel continues the occupation without giving Palestinians full citizenship, it will have abandoned democracy. This seems the most likely outcome. Indeed, by most definitions of the term Israel has been a de facto apartheid state for decades now -- in the 2015 election campaign, Benjamin Netanyahu overtly promised that he would prevent the formation of a Palestinian state while he was prime minister. The demographic balance tipping to an Israeli minority would merely check one of the last boxes on the apartheid checklist.

Ignoring your friend's problem doesn't make it better.

January 9, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:41 PM


Mashhad's Rebuke to Rouhani (Mohammad Ali Shabani, 1/08/18, CEP)

Mashhad is also home to Ahmad Alamolhoda, a hardline cleric hand-picked by the Supreme Leader to preside over the Friday prayers in the city. When the longstanding custodian of al-Ridha's shrine passed away in March 2016, the conservative camp--still soul searching with only one year until Hassan Rouhani's expected bid for reelection--saw an opportunity to appoint as its head Ebrahim Raisi, a conservative cleric largely unknown to the public, and who just so happens to be Alamolhoda's son-in-law. Showered with coverage from conservative outlets, he suddenly shot to fame. Just over a year later, having coopted fellow Mashhad-born Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, the longtime mayor of Tehran, Raisi presented a serious challenge to Hassan Rouhani. Though he lost the election, Raisi did get close to 16 million votes, a real feat considering the deep divisions among the conservatives. 

Entering his second term, Rouhani had no intentions of giving his rivals a free pass. When he addressed parliament about next year's budget bill on December 10, he pulled no punches. He spoke openly of unaccountable centers of power in an animated tone, attacking their grip on everything from real estate to the foreign currency market. This seems to have been the straw that broke the (conservative) camel's back. 

With U.S. President Donald Trump decertifying the nuclear deal in October and threatening to refuse to issue sanctions waivers, the duo from Mashhad and some of their conservative allies are said to have smelled an opportunity. Although there is no concrete evidence, in Tehran, everyone seems to "know" that Alamolhoda, his son-in-law and some of their associates plotted to undermine and embarrass Rouhani by instigating protests planned to build up to Dey 9 (December 30), the official anniversary of the "defeat" of the 2009 Green Movement. 

They oppose reform for the same reason western Shiaphobes do.
Posted by orrinj at 7:38 PM


New rechargeable batteries that use iron instead of cobalt could be a game changer for electric cars (Irina Slav, 1/09/18, OilPrice.com)

The idea of using iron in batteries isn't new, but so far, attempts to substitute the cheap metal for costlier cobalt and other metals have ended in disaster. Christopher Wolverton, professor of materials science and engineering at Northwestern University, had two problems to solve to make his battery work. First, replace cobalt with iron. Second, trick oxygen into taking part in the reaction that moves the lithium ions from the anode to the cathode and back again as the battery is charged and discharged.

The second challenge was the bigger one. The widespread opinion in science circles is that using oxygen in the reaction taking place in a rechargeable battery makes the concoction inside unstable and oxygen escapes, making the reaction irreversible and the battery non-rechargeable. That's why Wolverton and his team first made the battery on a computer to see if it would work. Surprisingly for all, it did--and better than the most popular lithium-ion batteries.

The iron battery uses four lithium ions instead of just one like current batteries do. For now, it can only utilize one of these, but there's potential for making use of all four, considerably increasing the battery's efficiency.

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 PM


The Ghan: three-hour train epic on track for ratings record but some viewers rail against 'slow TV' (Naaman Zhou,  9 Jan '18, The Guardian)

The experimental SBS documentary The Ghan divided opinion on its way to nabbing half a million viewers across the country.

Marketed as Australia's first foray into the Norwegian genre of slow TV, the program followed the famous passenger train on its 3,000km trip from Adelaide to Darwin, and has been so popular SBS is planning to release an extended 17-hour cut.

Aired on Sunday night without ad breaks, the documentary showed a driver's seat view of outback scenery, train tracks and text explaining the local history of each new area - with a focus on Indigenous history and early European, Chinese and Afghan immigrants.

It became SBS's highest-performing program of the past 12 months, according to the station's director of TV and online content, Marshall Heald.

Posted by orrinj at 6:41 PM


Who is attacking Russia's main base in Syria? A new mystery emerges in the war. (Liz Sly, January 9, 2018, Washington Post)

In the most recent and unusual of the attacks, more than a dozen armed drones descended from an unknown location onto Russia's vast Kmeimim air base in northwestern Latakia province, the headquarters of Russia's military operations in Syria, and on the nearby Russian naval base at Tartus. [...]

"They thought the base was secure, but now it seems it is vulnerable," he said. Among the questions being asked in Moscow, he said, are whether the Russian military had adequately secured the base and whether it had failed to detect the acquisition of new technology by its adversaries.

The attacks also raise questions about the sustainability of Russia's gains in Syria, said Jennifer Cafarella of the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War. In December, Putin visited the Khmeimim base and said Russia would start to wind its presence down because the war in Syria is essentially over.

The events of recent days are a demonstration "that whoever conducted these attacks can still penetrate regime areas and impose costs on the Russians," she said. "The gains the regime has made are not secure and are at high risk of being temporary."

Perhaps the biggest question of all, however, is who was responsible. What makes the attacks especially unusual is that there has been no claim, triggering a frenzy of speculation in the Russian and Syrian news media over who may have carried them out.

Russia's Defense Ministry on Tuesday appeared to accuse the United States for supplying the technology for the drone attack, saying that assault required a higher level of expertise than any armed group in Syria is known to possess. Compounding the suspicions, the ministry said in a statement on its Facebook page that a U.S. Poseidon reconnaissance aircraft was in the skies above the area for four hours during the drone assault.

Posted by orrinj at 6:39 PM


Posted by orrinj at 5:40 PM


Trump Plans to Attend the World Economic Forum in Davos (MAGGIE HABERMAN and MICHAEL D. SHEAR, JAN. 9, 2018, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's planned appearance at an event that is synonymous with wealth and elite prestige comes as he enters the second year of a term he won on a message of economic populism.

Presidents have rarely attended the forum in Davos, in part out of a concern that it would send the wrong message to be rubbing shoulders with some of the world's richest individuals.

Mr. Trump won the 2016 election in part by attacking elites in the United States and promising to "drain the swamp" in Washington of lobbyists, corporate influence and members of the establishment -- the very description of those who regularly attend the Davos forum.

The event in Switzerland is a global symbol of everything that Mr. Trump's former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, railed against during the presidential campaign and the first seven months in the administration.

But Mr. Trump has also spent a lifetime as a real estate mogul and television personality seeking to be accepted by the financial and media elite in New York and around the world. His decision to travel to Davos as president may represent his desire to prove that he has achieved that goal.

Some of Mr. Trump's advisers were befuddled by his planned trip, coming a year after his team decided not to send a representative to the 2017 gathering.

It's only the 9th and this is the most hilarious year in the history of the presidency already. Hopefully, he brings that glowing ball the sheiks gave him, so he can be illuminated with the Illuminati.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 PM


Trump Holds Meeting to Show He's in Charge, Instead Proves Opposite (Jonathan Chait, 1/09/18, New York)

Michael Wolff had reported that Mitch McConnell said of the president, "He'll sign anything we put in front of him." (The line, intentionally or not, echoes a joke about Will Ferrell's clueless, pompous Ron Burgundy character: "Anything you put on that 'prompter, Burgundy will read.")

During the meeting, Trump put on full display his lack of interest in, or understanding of, public policy. The meeting centered on Trump's signature policy issue, immigration, which his staff no doubt considered safe. (Imagine if they had to talk about something like health care.) At one point, Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein proposes that they pass a bill to formalize deferred action for child arrivals (DACA). Trump gives his enthusiastic ascent.

This promise so alarms his fellow Republicans that House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy is forced to interject with an explanation that, actually, Trump doesn't like this idea at all.

At another point, Trump echoes McConnell's assessment by saying he will sign anything they put before him...

Posted by orrinj at 5:30 PM


From Sea to Shining Sea : Why have conservatives abandoned the coasts? (Kevin D. Williamson, January 7, 2018, National Review)

In 2018, our politics isn't about policy. It's about Kulturkampf, which means it is about enemies. For contemporary Republicans, especially those of the Trump-oriented persuasion, that means the people they denounce as "elites" and "globalists." Trump denounces "elites" and "globalists," and his partisans find this satisfying. He also spent his first year in office giving those "elites" and "globalists" practically everything they wanted in terms of his policy agenda, including a very large corporate tax cut and the imposition of a territorial tax system -- two proposals near and dear to the pinstriped hearts of multinational executives around the world but of relatively little interest to pissed-off underemployed white guys in Garbutt.

The self-respecting nationalist-populist might ask why it is that Lloyd Blankfein got his tax cut before they got their wall -- if politics were about policy. But it isn't. The self-respecting nationalist-populist might wonder why Trump is talking about how great the stock market is doing when 2017 saw the weakest growth in jobs since 2010. They might wonder why two of the most important figures in Trumpworld -- Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and recently exiled consigliere Steve Bannon -- both are products of Goldman Sachs and Hollywood, detestable coastal elites if ever there were any.

Oh, but let's talk about Rosie O'Donnell . . . 

Politics can be about policy, and the Democratic-dominated parts of the country could use a dose of good conservative thinking when it comes to improving their terrible public schools, reducing crime, sorting out their pension messes, and improving the standard of living for non-billionaires in high-priced coastal states. The cities need Republicans, and Republicans need the cities -- assuming that they do not want to be a political party that dominates only those parts of the country where the people aren't. Some will say: "California -- let it burn!" Considering the cultural excesses of the tech industry, my colleague Heather Wilhelm suggested in these pages last week that we "Wall Off Silicon Valley." She was being funny, but not everybody is joking.

The "Real American" sneering at New York and California is tied up in silly and romantic notions about virtue. Not that virtue is silly or that venerating it is romantic. Far from it: Virtue is essential to the healthy and peaceful functioning of a free republic. What's silly is the notion that virtue cannot be found, practiced, or taught in Los Angeles, and what's daftly romantic is the notion that it somehow sprouts up out of the ground wherever corn and wheat do. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:25 PM


As Electric Cars' Prospects Brighten, Japan Fears Being Left Behind (JONATHAN SOBLE, JAN. 9, 2018, NY Times)

Japan is scrambling to ensure it has a future in an electric-car world. Toyota, the country's largest automaker, pioneered gasoline-electric hybrids but has long been skeptical about consumers' appetite for cars that run on batteries alone. Now, under pressure from foreign rivals like Tesla, the company says it is developing a batch of new electric models.

The Japanese government has made managing the shift to next-generation vehicles a priority, but critics say its approach lacks focus. It has bet big on hydrogen fuel cells, an alternative technology to plug-in rechargeable batteries that is struggling to win widespread support.

The fear is that, once again, Japan will miss a big technological shift.

In the consumer electronics sector, the transition to new products like flat-screen televisions and digital music players undermined once-ubiquitous Japanese brands. Innovation in the digital era became the domain of Silicon Valley, while mass production shifted to China.

As a result, some storied names in the world of technology -- Sharp, Toshiba, Sanyo -- have either disappeared or no longer resonate with the world's consumers the way they once did.

"What really puts Japan on the defensive is the idea that the tech revolution is coming to the car industry," said James Kondo, a visiting professor at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo who has worked with technology companies in the United States and Japan.

"The industry is at the center of everything, not just economically but psychologically, and it's facing fundamental change," he added.

Cars that don't burn gasoline or diesel account for a tiny sliver of the world market today, but their prospects are looking brighter.

Batteries are becoming more powerful even as their prices tumble. China, the world's biggest automobile market, is betting big on electric cars. France and Britain have announced they will phase out fossil-fuel-burning vehicles in an effort to fight climate change.

Posted by orrinj at 5:22 PM


Fusion co-founder: Dossier author feared Trump was being blackmailed (Jeremy Herb, Manu Raju and Marshall Cohen, 1/09/18, CNN)

Simpson's testimony was released Tuesday by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, who posted the transcript of the August 2017 Senate Judiciary Committee interview that took place behind closed doors.

Feinstein issued the transcript of the 10-hour interview without the support of committee's Republican chairman, Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who had argued the committee needed to temporarily protect certain information while an investigation was ongoing.

Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy said that Feinstein released the transcript without consulting Grassley and suggested it could jeopardize the committee's ability to interview future witnesses.

"Feinstein's unilateral decision was made as the committee is still trying to secure testimony from other witnesses, including Jared Kushner," Foy said in a statement. "Her action undermines the integrity of the committee's oversight work and jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony relating to the independent recollections of future witnesses."

The transcript is likely to provide Democrats a counterargument to the Republican charges that the dossier was a political document paid for by Clinton's presidential campaign and the Democratic National Committee.

In a statement, California's senior senator said she was releasing the transcript with the support of the committee's Democrats.

"After speaking with majority and minority committee staff for 10 hours, Glenn Simpson requested the transcript of his interview be released publicly. The American people deserve the opportunity to see what he said and judge for themselves," said Feinstein. "The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public."

In a statement, Fusion GPS said it "commends Sen. Feinstein for her courage. The transcript of Glenn Simpson's lengthy responses to the Senate Judiciary Committee's questioning speaks for itself."

It's our nickel; all the testimony should be public.

Posted by orrinj at 5:14 PM



The coal industry says that thousands of miners will lose their livelihoods and hundreds of thousands could lose their pensions and healthcare, thanks to a ruling by an obscure energy panel that defied President Donald Trump.

The Federal Energy Regulation Committee, a group of regulators comprised mostly of Trump appointees, rejected a request by the Department of Energy to prop up coal and nuclear power plants with a new rule that would underwrite some fuel costs.

Hard to believe we could find a more status quo president than the UR, but we managed it.

Posted by orrinj at 5:09 PM


The Decline of Anti-Trumpism (David Brooks, JAN. 8, 2018, NY Times)

The anti-Trump movement suffers from insularity. Most of the people who detest Trump don't know anybody who works with him or supports him. 


Posted by orrinj at 5:06 PM


Putin's road from Damascus: After the "victory," what? (Pavel K. Baev, January 8, 2018, Brookings)

It was somewhat incongruous, therefore, that Russian President Vladimir Putin decided to declare Russian victory in Syria last month--Russia hasn't even met the very narrow definition of "victory" as ensuring the survival of the Bashar Assad regime. He ordered the withdrawal of the main part of Russia's military grouping, and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu reported that 38 planes and some support units had returned home. The thing is: This amounts to less than half of total Russian forces there, not even counting the private contractors. The planned expansion of Russian air and naval bases demands more troops for keeping them secure, and it is necessary to increase the number of Russian advisers if the Syrian army aims at launching new offensives, for instance against the Idlib enclave.

Russia remains stuck in the Syrian trap and at best, its perceived success will gradually fade into a stalemate. Meanwhile, the variety of bad options is rich, and the worst-case scenario of a sudden collapse of the Assad regime is not far-fetched.

Greatest War Ever.
Posted by orrinj at 4:56 PM


The perfect MLB GIF for every occasion  (Ted Berg, January 9, 2018, For the Win)

Posted by orrinj at 4:40 PM



Dossier Allegation: Russia sought the lifting of U.S. sanctions imposed in the aftermath of Russia's 2014 invasion of Ukraine. According to the Dossier, multiple Russian individuals discussed "lifting of western sanctions against Russia over Ukraine."

Subsequent Reporting: In January, Felix Sater and Michael Cohen reportedly delivered a plan to Michael Flynn under which the United States would lift its sanctions against Russia in exchange for Russia temporarily withdrawing its forces from Crimea pending a Ukrainian referendum on whether to "lease" Crimea to Russia. Furthermore, the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya who attended the June 9 meeting in Trump Tower alleges that Donald Trump, Jr. suggested that a future Trump administration would consider lifting the sanctions placed on Russia under the Magnitsky Act. Since becoming president, Trump has repeatedly undermined U.S. sanctions against Russia, both by questioning the utility of sanctions already in place and by delaying the implementation of newly passed legislation.

Moscow Project assessment: Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: Russia was behind the DNC hack. In July 2016, Steele reported that a source "acknowledged that the Russian regime had been behind the recent leak of embarrassing e-mail messages, emanating from the Democratic National Committee (DNC), to the WikiLeaks platform."

Subsequent Reporting: The U.S. intelligence committee publicly detailed its conclusion as to the provenance of the emails in January 2017, several months after Steele first reported on it.

Moscow Project assessment: Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: One proposed quid pro quo for Russian email hacking was the Trump campaign's removal of support for lethal weapons to Ukraine in the GOP platform.  Steele wrote that "the operation [to leak emails via WikiLeaks] had been conducted with the full knowledge and support of TRUMP and senior members of his campaign team. In return the TRUMP team had agreed to sideline Russian intervention in Ukraine as a campaign issue and to raise US/NATO defense commitments in the Baltics and Eastern Europe to deflect attention away from Ukraine."

Subsequent Reporting: In his recently-unsealed plea deal with the FBI, George Papadopoulos says that "the Professor" informed him that the Russian government possessed thousands of emails that would be potentially damaging to Clinton, a fact Papadopoulos relayed to multiple senior campaign officials. In his testimony before Congress, Carter Page appeared to confirm that the Trump campaign successfully lobbied to soften language in the Republican Party platform regarding lethal assistance to Ukraine, which the campaign had previously denied. Trump, meanwhile, has repeatedly questioned the U.S.'s financial commitment to NATO both during the campaign and during his administration.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: Carter Page met with an official in the Russian presidential administration. The dossier claimed that an official who was close to Sergey Ivanov told a colleague that Igor Diveykin, Putin's deputy chief for internal policy, had secretly met with Page in Moscow; the dossier alleges that during this meeting, Diveykin claimed he wanted to give the Trump campaign kompromat on Clinton.

Subsequent Reporting: In his testimony, Page denied meeting with Diveykin but did admit to a "chat" with a different high-ranking Russian official, the deputy prime minister Arkady Dvorkovich.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: The Russian government's efforts to cultivate Trump involved his business. Along with the offer of opposition research on Clinton, Steele reports that "The Kremlin's cultivation on TRUMP also had comprised offering him various lucrative real estate development business deals in Russia ... However, so far, for reasons unknown, TRUMP had not taken up any of these."

Subsequent Reporting: The Washington Post reported in August 2017 that the Trump Organization pursued a deal to develop Trump Tower Moscow during his run for president. According to The New York Times, the real-estate developer Felix Sater wrote to the Trump Organization lawyer Michael Cohen, "I will get Putin on this program and we will get Donald elected." CNN later reported that the Trump Organization signed a letter of intent to develop the project, but ultimately pulled out of the deal.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: Manafort and Page served as key conduits to Russia. The dossier notes that the "well-developed conspiracy of co-operation between [the TRUMP campaign] and the Russian leadership ... was managed on the TRUMP side by the Republican candidate's campaign manager, Paul MANAFORT, who was using foreign policy advisor, Carter PAGE, and others as intermediaries."

Subsequent Reporting: In July 2017, Manafort was identified as one of three high-level Trump campaign officials (along with Jared Kushner and Donald Trump, Jr.) to attend the June 9 meeting in Trump Tower, which was described in an email setting up the meeting as "part of Russia and its government's support for Mr. Trump." Page has admitted that he met with Russian Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich on his July 2016 trip. Manafort also reportedly suggested to his longtime deputy Konstantin Kilimnik that they set up secret campaign briefings for the Russian oligarch and known Putin associate Oleg Deripaska.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: Carter Page met with Rosneft. The Dossier claimed that a source close to Putin ally Igor Sechin reported on a secret meeting between Sechin and Page in July 2016, during which they discussed U.S. sanctions on Russia. It also claimed that Sechin offered Page the brokerage fee for the sale of 19% of Rosneft, in exchange for lifting sanctions. 

Subsequent Reporting: Page admitted to having met with Andrey Baranov, the head of investor relations at Rosneft; he denied discussing sanctions with Baranov, but said that Baranov "may have briefly mentioned" the Rosneft sale. Page denies meeting with Igor Sechin and no further reporting has contradicted his statements.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Dossier Allegation: Along with Trump, the Russian government engaged with "several high profile US players, including [Jill] STEIN, [Carter] PAGE and (former DIA Director Michael Flynn), and fund[ed] their recent visits to Moscow."

Subsequent Reporting: By the time of Steele's report, Michael Flynn and Jill Stein had already attended the RT Gala in December 2015, where they sat at the same table as Russian President Vladimir Putin; Carter Page's July 2016 trip to Moscow was also public knowledge. Whether the Russian government paid for their trips remains unknown. Documents released to the public in March 2017 revealed that Flynn was paid by Russian government-linked entities in 2015. Stein also frequently appeared on the Russian propaganda news channel RT during the 2016 election.

Moscow Project assessment: Partially Corroborated.

Posted by orrinj at 4:20 PM


The Secret to Understanding Kamala Harris : And why it's making her a flash point in the Democratic Party. (JAMILAH KING, JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2018, Mother Jones)

Harris has long tried to bridge the tricky divide between social progressivism and the work required as a prosecutor--sometimes more successfully than others. As San Francisco's district attorney, for instance, she steadfastly refused to seek the death penalty against a man accused of killing a police officer, but later, as California's attorney general, she defended the state's right to use capital punishment. In 2012, she helped win a massive, $25 billion settlement with Wells Fargo and other financial institutions for foreclosure abuses, but a year later she declined to prosecute Steven Mnuchin's OneWest Bank for foreclosure violations. In 2014, she co-sponsored a bill to outlaw the so-called gay-panic defense in California, a legal strategy that often shielded perpetrators of violent crimes against LGBT people from serious punishment, but a year later she sought to block gender reassignment surgery for a transgender prison inmate.

As a woman of color, she embodies two key Democratic constituencies, and she is beloved by the wing of the party that broke for Hillary Clinton. But among those on the far left, including many die-hard Bernie Sanders supporters, she's an object of disdain, a Hillary-bot with weak progressive credentials. While that segment of the left might oppose anyone who isn't one particular septuagenarian, the Week summed up this critique when it slammed Harris for her "rather Hillary Clinton-esque tendency to say the right thing but not follow through."

The contradiction boils down to this: Harris is not interested in crusading from the outside; her mission is to reform the system from within. And no chapter of her life better reveals this dynamic than her days as a newly elected district attorney in San Francisco, working to get one radical program off the ground. [...]

In 2004, after Harris defeated two-term incumbent Terence Hallinan to become San Francisco's district attorney--the first woman and the first person of color to hold the position--she approached Simon about joining that office.

"I never wanted to work for The Man," Simon says. "And she was like, 'You'd be working for this black woman.'" When Simon demurred, Harris made her case more plainly: "You can bring your advocacy into the office, but do you forever want to be on the stairs yelling and begging for people to support you, your cause? Why can't you fix it from the inside?"

It's a Democratic party where she lacks Bernie's street cred.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Hamas Co-Founder Accidentally Shoots Himself In The Head (Aiden Pink, 1/09/18, The Forward)

One of the founders of the Palestinian terror group Hamas has been hospitalized after being shot in the head while inspecting his gun.

Posted by orrinj at 2:23 PM


Fusion GPS Founder's Senate Judiciary Testimony Released (TIM MAK, 1/09/18, NPR)

The former British intelligence officer who authored the infamous Russia dossier wanted to show it to the FBI because he was concerned that then-presidential candidate Donald Trump was being "blackmailed."

Christopher Steele told the political research firm that hired him, Fusion GPS, that what he uncovered from Russian sources was serious enough to bring to the attention of U.S. law enforcement authorities, according to a transcript released on Tuesday.

The transcript, of an interview that Fusion GPS founder Glenn Simpson did with the Senate Judiciary Committee, was released on Tuesday by the committee's top Democrat, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California.

Steele went to the FBI with the initial reports that would later form the dossier on alleged Trump-Russia ties as early as late June or early July of 2016, Simpson testified.

"Chris said he was very concerned about whether this represented a national security threat and said ... he thought we were obligated to tell someone in government," Simpson told the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"He thought from his perspective there was ... a security issue about whether a presidential candidate was being blackmailed."

Simpson said he neither encouraged nor discouraged Steele about going to the FBI.

"This was like, you know, you're driving to work and you see something happen and you call 911," Simpson told investigators. He likened the sense of responsibility he said Steele felt to the professional duties that attorneys have in some cases to report a crime if they learn of one.

Steele eventually met with an FBI legal attache in Rome in September 2016, more than two months after the initial outreach.

Steele later told to Simpson that he believed the FBI would consider his information credible because the Bureau had corroborating intelligence, including from a human source within the Trump organization.

Posted by orrinj at 11:33 AM


The Steele Dossier in 2018: Everyone's Favorite Weapon (John Sipher, January 9, 2018, Just Security)

At first glance, there is not a lot of new information since I last wrote to help us come to a definitive conclusion.  However, continued patterns of behavior by the Trump team and leaks of information over the past few months have added a bit more credibility to the dossier, particularly with respect to the overarching narrative of collusion.  Mr. Steele himself was quoted in a book by Guardian journalist Luke Harding, offering his assessment that 70-90% of the dossier is accurate.

At the same time - and this point deserves special emphasis - there is nothing new to disprove the allegations.  As far as I'm aware, nobody has produced any serious evidence besmirching Mr. Steele or Orbis.  Aside from instances such as personal protestations by Carter Page and Michael Cohen and comments that Mr. Steele had made spelling mistakes in his reports, there has yet to be any proof that the events described in the dossier did not happen.  Efforts to ascribe personal bias to Mr. Steele are undercut by an understanding of the basics tenets of clandestine intelligence collection.  Raw intelligence reports, like those produced by Mr. Steele, are not finished analytical products or a means to share commentary or personal views.  The reports are merely efforts to accurately pass on information from sources with direct access to the information.

A few have suggested that the material might be part and parcel of a Russian disinformation and deception campaign.  I personally find it plausible that at some point in 2016 the Russians could have become aware Mr. Steele was fishing for information and, concerned with what he was finding, successfully seeded some material to his sources.  However, I find it highly unlikely that they could have controlled the entire effort from the start.  The Russians are very good at these "wilderness of mirrors" games but they are not ten feet tall.  A more robust discussion of that issue will have to be left for another time.  At the very least we need to ask ourselves why would the Russians attempt to mislead Steele unless they thought he was onto something?

More Recent Revelations

So, what new information do we have to evaluate the dossier?

On the side of adding credibility to the Orbis reporting, the Papadopoulos revelations, the Harding book, and Fusion GPS op-ed provide additional context that bolsters Mr. Steele's reporting.  We learned that Mr. Steele's sources were not paid, and that he felt so strongly about the information he uncovered, that he chose to go directly to the FBI.

As I mentioned in my previous piece, I take seriously the fact that Mr. Steele chose to share his work with the British and U.S. intelligence community.  The Harding book and the Simpson and Fritsch op-ed confirmed that it was Steele who approached the FBI in an effort to report his concerns and validate his reporting.  From my experience, there are a lot of groups providing some form of business intelligence.  However, very little of their information would stand up to serious scrutiny by professional intelligence services with access to legal collection tools and worldwide scope.  Most would probably only stand behind their material to a limited extent.  However, the fact that Mr. Steele was more than willing to expose his reporting to scrutiny and accountability by the best in the world, suggests that he was confident in his sources.  If there was nothing there, the FBI would gladly send him packing.

Jared Kushner's failure to turn over to Senate investigators an e-mail exchange - with the subject line "Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite" - also hinted at possible efforts by the campaign to collude with Russia.  Although Kushner initially told campaign staff to turn down a request from Putin crony and alleged criminal Alexander Torshin to meet with then-candidate Trump, Donald Trump Jr. ultimately met the Russian at a May 2016 NRA dinner event.  Again, we only learned this only after Kushner was confronted with previously withheld material.

What's more, Harding's book reports that Mr. Steele utilized several of the same sources that he had relied on for previous work in support of clients in Ukraine and the FBI's FIFA investigation, which led to high-profile indictments.  The fact that these sources had demonstrated reliability in significant prior cases is important.  Orbis' record of success with clients depended on accurate reporting, and a proven track record is part of the process involved in validating and vetting sources.  Of course, we still don't have enough information on Steele's sources to have confidence in their reliability and their access to information on the Kremlin, but their having reported accurately over time provides us greater confidence than we had previously.  Steele's faith in his sources is probably why he himself attributes a high level of confidence to the dossier.

While the new information is only a sliver of what we would need to reach any conclusive assessments, it nonetheless helps to refute those partisan critics who claim that Mr. Steele's work is essentially contrived.  If he invented information from his sources, or his sources invented information, it follows that he also likely did so in his previous work with the FBI on the 2015 FIFA investigation.  Since that relationship led to the successful indictment of 14 leaders of the world soccer governing body for money laundering and collusion, it is hard to conclude that he is a swindler.

The Steele information first proved useful as a means to understand the now well-known June 2016 meeting between senior members of the Trump campaign and the Russian team including the lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya.  It provided some context to Russian intelligence efforts to seek a quid-pro-quo with the Trump team.  While we do not have many more details about the meeting since my earlier piece, we have more input from key players who ascribe a level of concern to the meeting.  The offer of stolen or comprising material on Ms. Clinton that was downplayed by the Trump team, was nonetheless seen in a wholly different light by some associates.  Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has called the meeting "treasonous," and, in terms of demonstrated loyalties, both Mr. Steele and the Australian government approached the FBI when they became aware of Russia's possession of derogatory information.  Again, it is not proof, but it bolsters the possibility that Mr. Steele got wind of a possible "conspiracy of cooperation" before it was public knowledge.

The revelation that Donald Trump Jr. was engaged in communication with Wikileaks also supports this thesis.  As I noted in a separate article, Trump Jr.'s communication with Wikileaks can be read as yet another means to support a conspiratorial relationship with Russia.  If the Russians had stolen material and the Trump team was interested in weaponizing it, Wikileaks was a ready vehicle to provide both sides with plausible deniability.  At the very least, it is troubling that Donald Trump Jr. was willing to engage with WikiLeaks even though it had known ties to Russia, and the Director of National Intelligence and the Department of Homeland Security had only recently implicated the organization in aiding the dissemination of stolen material from U.S. persons and institutions in the election.

While there is less information arguing against the dossier, it is impossible to be confident in many of the allegations in the reports.  We still don't have enough information on the sources, their level of access and reliability, and how Mr. Steele gathered the information.  While he was trained in the tools of clandestine collection, he no longer had access to the powerful capabilities of the British or American intelligence agencies.  He could not travel to Russia and meet sources without finding himself under heavy surveillance (even if he could get a visa).  As a private citizen, he was unlikely to travel in alias.  E-mail and electronic communication in and out of Russia is heavily monitored.  I suspect that Mr. Steele used cut-outs to contact his sources, or met them when they traveled outside Russia.  In any case, we just don't have nearly enough public information to validate his sources.

Instead, we have to do all we can to look at the allegations themselves.  As noted in various reports, some of the allegations have proven to be true, or at least likely.  At the same time, a large portion of the information is yet unverified.  Of course, this is not surprising because we do not have the tools of professional investigators that can help run the leads to ground (travel and phone records, access to foreign partners, eavesdropping or means to compel cooperation).  More importantly perhaps, we cannot uncover the information because it was part of a secret effort by a hostile foreign intelligence service in the first place.

In any event, at this point it's less about using public information to validate the dossier, than it is the complete inability of Trump supporters to provide an alternate narrative. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Michael Wolff: Trump 'Aware Of Who's Jewish In A Way That Feels Creepy' (Aiden Pink, 1/08/18, The Forward)

The author of the bombshell new book exposing the inner workings of the White House said in an interview on Monday that President Trump is "aware of who is Jewish in a way that feels creepy." [...]

When asked by host Katy Tur whether he thinks Trump is anti-Semitic, Wolff demurred, saying that former White House chief advisor Steve Bannon -- himself accused of anti-Semitism -- thought Trump was a racist but not an anti-Semite.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 AM


Nervous Trump Lawyers Worry He'll Commit Perjury In Front Of Mueller (Eric Boehlert, January 9, 2018, Shareblue.com)

Mueller is also reportedly investigating whether Trump tried to obstruct justice when he fired then-FBI Director James Comey. Trump quickly announced on national television that he fired Comey because of his handling of the Russia investigation.

That occurred last May. Since then, Trump's aides have not allowed him to sit down for a one-on-one interview with a legitimate TV news reporter since he blurted out his reasoning for firing Comey.

In other words, that's likely what Trump's lawyers are trying to avoid with a Mueller interrogation -- Trump accidentally telling the truth, or Trump simply making stuff up.

TRUMP: A TRUE STORY : The mogul, in a 2007 deposition, had to face up to a series of falsehoods and exaggerations. And he did. Sort of. (David A. Fahrenthold and Robert O'Harrow Jr.,  August 10, 2016, Washington Post)

For the first of many times that day, Trump was about to be caught saying something that wasn't true.

It was a mid-December morning in 2007 -- the start of an interrogation unlike anything else in the public record of Trump's life.

Trump had brought it on himself. He had sued a reporter, accusing him of being reckless and dishonest in a book that raised questions about Trump's net worth. The reporter's attorneys turned the tables and brought Trump in for a deposition.

For two straight days, they asked Trump question after question that touched on the same theme: Trump's honesty.

The lawyers confronted the mogul with his past statements -- and with his company's internal documents, which often showed those statements had been incorrect or invented. The lawyers were relentless. Trump, the bigger-than-life mogul, was vulnerable -- cornered, out-prepared and under oath.

Thirty times, they caught him.

Trump had misstated sales at his condo buildings. Inflated the price of membership at one of his golf clubs. Overstated the depth of his past debts and the number of his employees.

That deposition -- 170 transcribed pages -- offers extraordinary insights into Trump's relationship with the truth. Trump's falsehoods were unstrategic -- needless, highly specific, easy to disprove. When caught, Trump sometimes blamed others for the error or explained that the untrue thing really was true, in his mind, because he saw the situation more positively than others did.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 AM


Kellyanne Conway Disappears Amid 'Fire And Fury' (Eric Boehlert, January 9, 2018, Shareblue.com)

[C]onway was one of the key Trump aides who helped secure Wolff's exclusive access to the White House in the first place. In other words, Conway helped Wolff write a book that completely trashes Trump.

Appearing on "Morning Joe" on Monday and speaking with Mike Barnicle, Wolff confirmed that it was Conway and Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon who opened doors for him:

BARNICLE: Who was the original contact for you to get you into the White House?

WOLFF: Beyond Trump himself who was completely, you know, "Sure." It seemed like he didn't care that much. But then it was Bannon and Kellyanne.

This isn't surprising. "He was seen having lunch at the fading Manhattan media power lunch joint Michael's with special counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway, which turned heads even at a restaurant known for star sightings," Buzzfeed reported last winter, when Wolff was angling for White House access.

As for the contents of the finished book, Wolff did Conway no favors either, portraying her as someone who was privately aware of the Trump administration absurdities, but who publicly cheered them on:

In private, in the Off position, she seemed to regard Trump as a figure of exhausting exaggeration or even absurdity--or, at least, if you regarded him that way, she seemed to suggest that she might, too. She illustrated her opinion of her boss with a whole series of facial expressions: eyes rolling, mouth agape, head snapping back. But in the On position, she metamorphosed into believer, protector, defender, and handler.

At times, Conway's fulsome defense of Trump last year was too much even for some top aides to take, according to Wolff, and she was temporarily taken off the air.

...and replace them with this insert on the Conway Scenic Railway...

Posted by orrinj at 6:47 AM


Google and Others Are Building AI Systems That Doubt Themselves : AI will make better decisions by embracing uncertainty. (Will Knight  January 9, 2018, MIT Technology Review)

The most powerful approach in AI, deep learning, is gaining a new capability: a sense of uncertainty.

Researchers at Uber and Google are working on modifications to the two most popular deep-learning frameworks that will enable them to handle probability. This will provide a way for the smartest AI programs to measure their confidence in a prediction or a decision--essentially, to know when they should doubt themselves.

Deep learning, which involves feeding example data to a large and powerful neural network, has been an enormous success over the past few years, enabling machines to recognize objects in images or transcribe speech almost perfectly. But it requires lots of training data and computing power, and it can be surprisingly brittle.

Somewhat counterintuitively, this self-doubt offers one fix. The new approach could be useful in critical scenarios involving self-driving cars and other autonomous machines.

 "You would like a system that gives you a measure of how certain it is," says Dustin Tran, who is working on this problem at Google. "If a self-driving car doesn't know its level of uncertainty, it can make a fatal error, and that can be catastrophic."

The work reflects the realization that uncertainty is a key aspect of human reasoning and intelligence. 

Posted by orrinj at 6:36 AM


Is Liberal Zionism Dead? (Michelle Goldberg, JAN. 8, 2018, NY Times)

[T]he alternative to a two-state solution is one state, a greater Israel that includes the occupied territories. That state can be Jewish or it can be democratic, but it cannot be both. Trump's embassy decision was thus another nail in the coffin of liberal Zionism. [...]

[I]f the possibility of Palestinian statehood is foreclosed, Israel will be responsible for all the territory under its control. There will be one state; the question is what sort of state it will be. Some on the Israeli right foresee a system in which most Palestinians will remain stateless indefinitely, living under a set of laws different from those governing Israeli citizens. Yoav Kish, a Likud member of Parliament, has drawn up a plan in which Palestinians in the West Bank will have limited local administrative sovereignty; rather than citizens they will be "Residents of the Autonomy." Supporters of Israel hate it when people use the word "apartheid" to describe the country, but we don't have another term for a political system in which one ethnic group rules over another, confining it to small islands of territory and denying it full political representation.

The word "apartheid" will become increasingly inescapable as a small but growing number of Palestinians turn from fighting for independence to demanding equal rights in the system they are living under. "If the Israelis insist now on finishing the process of killing the two-state solution, the only alternative we have as Palestinians is one fully democratic, one-state solution," Barghouti says, in which everyone has "totally equal rights."

Needless to say, Israel will accept no such thing. Though demographics in the region are as contested as everything else, Palestinians are likely to soon become a majority of the population in Israel and the occupied territories. If all of them were given the right to vote, Israel would cease to be a Jewish state.

But most of the world -- including most of the Jewish diaspora -- will have a hard time coming up with a decent justification for opposing a Palestinian campaign for equal rights. Israel's apologists will be left mimicking the argument that William F. Buckley once made about the Jim Crow South. In 1957, he asked rhetorically whether the white South was entitled to prevail "politically and culturally, in areas in which it does not predominate numerically." The "sobering answer," he concluded, was yes, given the white community's superior civilization.

It's impossible to say how long Israel could sustain such a system. But the dream of liberal Zionism would be dead. Maybe, with the far right in power both here and there, it already is.

Posted by orrinj at 5:37 AM


Trump Ends U.S. Status for Salvadorans (Franco Ordonez And Anita Kumar, 1/09/18, McClatchy)

The Trump administration is ending a special immigration status for about 200,000 Salvadorans who were allowed to live and work legally in the United States since the 2001 earthquakes that killed 1,100 people and displaced more than 1 million.

The Department of Homeland Security said the conditions in El Salvador that had been used to justify the special protections, known as Temporary Protective Status, are no longer applicable.

The benefit will be extended 18 more months until September 2019, to give Salvadorans time to prepare to return home.

The tighter the noose gets the more red meat he needs to feed his nativist core to keep defending him.

January 8, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Economist James K. Galbraith isn't celebrating Dow 25,000 (Market Watch,  Jan 8, 2018)

The Fed seems to be stumped by the lack of inflation.

There hasn't been inflation in the economy since the early 1980s. It collapsed with the end of the Soviet Union and with the rise of China as a supplier for consumer goods. So the Fed has been patting itself on its back for decades [of] holding back a phenomenon that doesn't exist. [The Fed is like] the little Dutch boy with the finger in the dike who never troubles himself to look over the levy to see that the lake is dry. Economists have fed into that with this completely made-up view that it is the central bank that drives the inflation process -- it is not.

The Fed is trying to inch up interest rates. It this wise in your view?

What they're doing now, I think, is driven by their sense that it is historically normal to have a higher short-term interest rate. The problem is that having had the short rates low for such a long time, the long rates have come down. So what was historically normal before is no longer relevant. As they raise the short rates, they are going to cause trouble. The main trouble they've been causing is the rise of the dollar with respect to everything else. And that is going to make imports cheaper, exports harder. It is going to diminish the internal competitiveness of the economy, diminish internal employment. I suspect the Fed will be reluctant to cause too much chaos because they recognize that, once you have a very flat yield curve, you destabilize the financial markets. But to the extent that they pursue this particular line, they are going to run into that difficulty.

The central bank thinks the long-term unemployment rate is 4.6%.

There is no Phillips Curve, and there hasn't been for decades. The supply of labor is not a constraint. If you wish to pay people higher wages, you could lure people back out of retirement. Net immigration has basically stopped. If you needed more workers, it would start up again. So we don't have a real labor-force constraint. We are not going to get inflationary pressure from the labor markets. It has been 40 years. Economists are slow learners, and central bankers are a slow-learning subset. They should recognize that things did change in the 1980s.

Workers cannot bargain for higher wages?

There is none of the bargaining power that existed in the 1950s and '60s when you had a union-driven manufacturing sector that could negotiate steady increases in wages. That hasn't existed since the 1980s.

Posted by orrinj at 5:53 PM


Bannon group shopped anti-Trump document in 2015 (Sara Murray, Evan Perez and Jeremy Diamond, 1/08/18, CNN)

A conservative watchdog group led by Bannon tried to discredit Trump in the early stages of the 2016 Republican presidential primary by shopping a document alleging that Trump had ties to mobsters, according to conservative sources and a copy of the document reviewed by CNN.

The anti-Trump opposition research was the work of author Peter Schweizer for the Government Accountability Institute, which he cofounded with Bannon in 2012. It described years of alleged business connections between Trump companies and organized crime figures, allegations that have circulated among Trump detractors for years.

The New York Times reported on the document on Friday.

The GAI is backed by the Mercer family, one of the largest benefactors for Trump's campaign. Rebekah Mercer, the daughter of hedge fund billionaire Robert Mercer, is listed as the group's chairwoman on its website. But in 2015, when the document was produced, the Mercers were backing the campaign of one of Trump's rivals, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, and Bannon had not yet joined the Trump campaign.

In early 2016, at the height of the Republican primary fight, Cruz cited possible mob ties as one reason for Trump to release his taxes. Cruz and his campaign cited published news accounts at the time as the basis for making the charge.

The document offers a glimpse at behind-the-scenes efforts by conservatives to derail Trump's presidential bid. The document is similar to opposition research produced for both Republicans and Democrats targeting Trump. The best known of those is one produced by the Washington firm Fusion GPS alleging ties between Trump and Russians, which now has helped spawn a broad investigation led by special counsel Robert Mueller.

"We research political figures from all political parties and our basic premise is follow the money. That's what guides our research approach," Schweizer told CNN.

Posted by orrinj at 5:34 PM


If You Find Yourself Automated Out Of A Job, Blame The New Tax Plan (BROOKS RAINWATER, 1/08/18, Fast Company)

Tax policy will now make it easier and cheaper to invest in software, automation, and robots, rather than all of us. Before, capital investments had to be depreciated over a series of years, but now businesses can write them off right away. Imagine a warehouse owner in Southern California is faced with increased demand and must hire to meet those needs. They now face a choice to immediately buy a tax-advantaged robot or instead hire a human to make sure they can ship out more kitchen sinks and ramen noodles. With the tax plan in place, it shifts the balance and makes it a much easier choice to invest in a new robot that can slide goods across the floor. Should a business that does not want to pay a competitive wage to attract employees be incentivized to do so by the government through tax policy?


Posted by orrinj at 5:32 PM


In states that didn't expand Medicaid, hospital closures have spiked (CASEY ROSS, JANUARY 8, 2018, STAT)

In recent years Obamacare's Medicaid expansion has created a financial fault line in American health care. Hospitals in states that enacted the expansion got a wave of newly insured patients, while those in states that rejected it were left with large numbers of uninsured individuals.

A new study released Monday reports a crucial consequence of that divide: Nonexpansion states have suffered a significant increase in hospital closures. States that expanded benefits, on the other hand, saw their rate of closures decline. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:26 PM


When a North Korean Missile Accidentally Hit a North Korean City (Ankit Panda and Dave Schmerler, January 03, 2018, The Diplomat)

What happens when a North Korean ballistic missile test fails in flight and explodes in a populated area? On April 28, 2017, North Korea launched a single Hwasong-12/KN17 intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) from Pukchang Airfield in South Pyongan Province (the Korean People's Army's Air and Anti-Air Force Unit 447 in Ryongak-dong, Sunchon City, to be more precise). That missile failed shortly after launch and crashed in the Chongsin-dong, in North Korean city of Tokchon, causing considerable damage to a complex of industrial or agricultural buildings.

According to a U.S. government source with knowledge of North Korea's weapons programs who spoke to The Diplomat, the missile's first stage engines failed after approximately one minute of powered flight, resulting in catastrophic failure. The missile never flew higher than approximately 70 kilometers. The location of the missile's eventual impact was revealed exclusively to The Diplomat and evidence of the incident can be independently corroborated in commercially available satellite imagery from April and May 2017.

Do them now.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 PM


US conveys 'concrete' steps for Pakistan: Pentagon (AFP, January 8, 2018)

The United States has told Pakistan what it must do if it wants Washington to resume paying out hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid, the Pentagon said Monday.

"Our expectations are straightforward," Pentagon spokesman Colonel Rob Manning told reporters.

"Taliban and Haqqani leadership and attack planners should no longer be able to find safe haven or conduct operations from Pakistani soil."

It's not really their soil though.  No one exercises sovereignty there.

Posted by orrinj at 3:44 PM


The Company of Trump's Pick for Health Secretary Tested Cialis on Kids (Gabriella Paiella, 1/08/18, The Cut)

On Tuesday morning, Alex Azar -- President Trump's nominee for Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) -- will appear before the Senate Finance Committee for his confirmation hearing. In advance of this, Politico brings us a fun fact about Azar: his old drug company once tested Cialis, the erectile dysfunction medication known for those weird bathtub commercials, on children.

Posted by orrinj at 3:36 PM


Seattle's sugary drink tax nearly doubles cost of Gatorade (Travis Pittman , January 08, 2018, KING5)

Jason Mercier from Washington Policy Center, which opposed the tax, shot a photo from inside a Seattle Costco that showed the price for a Gatorade 35-bottle variety pack was $15.99. That is until you add the new tax, which bumps it up by $10.34 for a total of $26.33. [...]

The city says the tax is expected to raise $15 million in its first year.

Posted by orrinj at 3:32 PM


Don't believe Michael Wolff's book about Trump if you want the truth (SEBASTIAN GORKA,  01/08/18, The Hill)

[W]hen I met Michael Wolff in Reince Priebus' office, where he was waiting to talk to Steve Bannon, and after I had been told to also speak to him for his book, my attitude was polite but firm: "Thanks but no thanks." Our brief encounter reinforced my gut feeling that this oleaginous scribe had no interest in being fair and unbiased.

When you attack the underling but strike the boss.

Posted by orrinj at 3:26 PM


WikiLeaks Steals Michael Wolff's Book (Martin Longman, January 8, 2018, Washington Monthly)

As a writer and editor, I am appalled that WikiLeaks decided to publish Michael Wolff's new book Fire and Fury. If you want to do the right thing, you'll go buy it rather than stealing it from the WikiLeaks link. It isn't a suppressed piece of government information of vital interest to the public. It's a book that is for sale, and offering it to everyone for free is not Julian Assange's decision to make. He's a crook, and he should be prosecuted for doing this.

This is a way for Assange and his patrons to strike back at Wolff and send a message to any publisher who thinks they'll make a lot of money selling tell-all books from inside TrumpWorld.

The three of them don't understand how information works very well.

Posted by orrinj at 3:17 PM


House Intelligence Committee's Section 702 Bill: Surveillance Expansion and No Meaningful Reform (Robyn Greene, JAN. 8, 2018, New America)

On Thursday, the House of Representatives will likely vote on a stand-alone measure to reauthorize and expand Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is set to expire on January 19, 2018. The bill to be voted on is a modified version of the FISA Amendments Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 4478; now S. 139), which was reported out of the House Intelligence Committee on a party line vote, with at least four members voting "no" because of privacy concerns. OTI and a coalition of dozens of leading privacy groups strongly oppose the bill. The modifications to this bill reflected in the draft posted to the House Rules website are wholly insufficient to address the many concerns it raises.

Although its proponents seek to sell the bill as a reform measure, it contains no meaningful reforms to Section 702, and in several respects, it expands surveillance authorities and codifies the worst intelligence community practices rather than reforming them. As a result, this bill is worse than a clean reauthorization with a sunset.

Posted by orrinj at 3:05 PM


It's time for Democrats to take this drastic step on Trump and Russia (Greg Sargent January 8, 2018, Washington Post)

Democrats need to ensure that the transcripts of testimony delivered to Congress by the co-founders of the firm that commissioned the so-called Steele Dossier are made public. Hardball procedural tactics toward this end do exist: A Democratic senator can try to make the transcripts public by reading them into the congressional record on the floor.

This morning, two Democratic senators on the Judiciary Committee -- Richard Blumenthal (Conn.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) -- sent a letter to GOP committee chair Charles Grassley demanding the release of the transcripts. A Democratic leadership aide tells me that if the GOP majority refuses, Democrats will escalate calls for the transcripts' release in coming days.

The entire notion that it matters how Justice found out Donald and Vlad were colluding is inherently odd.  All that matters is that the campaign didn't inform authorities themselves.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Racing the Machine (ROBERT SKIDELSKY, 12/22/17, Project Syndicate)

Economists have always believed that previous waves of job destruction led to an equilibrium between supply and demand in the labor market at a higher level of both employment and earnings. But if robots can actually replace, not just displace, humans, it is hard to see an equilibrium point until the human race itself becomes redundant. [...]

[T]here is the assumption running through the report that automation is not just desirable, but irreversible. Once we have learned to do something more efficiently (at lower cost), there is no possibility of going back to doing it less efficiently. The only question left is how humans can best adapt to the demands of a higher standard of efficiency.

Philosophically, this is confused, because it conflates doing something more efficiently with doing it better. It mixes up a technical argument with a moral one. Of the world promised us by the apostles of technology, it is both possible and necessary to ask: Is it good?

Is a world in which we are condemned to race with machines to produce ever-larger quantities of consumption goods a world worth having? And if we cannot hope to control this world, what is the value of being human? These questions may be outside McKinsey remit, but they should not be off limits to public discussion.

It is Mr. Skidelsky's assumption that seems off the mark here; that the fundamental purpose of an economy is to create jobs.  He carries this mistake so far as to suggest that we might want to reduce efficiency to maximize employment, which was quite literally the original demand of the Luddites.

It seems more accurate to say that the point of an economy is to create wealth.

And while that could be cast as a technical discussion, consider this: if you ask people whether they prefer more work and less wealth or more wealth and less work, which do we think they'd choose? 

Posted by orrinj at 5:44 AM


African migrants in Israel face mass deportation - or imprisonment (Tania Krämer, 1/08/18, Deutsche-Welle)

"It is very frightening and many people are simply panicking," says Ghebrihiwet Tekle. He comes from Eritrea, has applied for asylum in Israel and is now volunteering in the office of the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, an Israeli NGO based in Tel Aviv. The 37-year-old works here as a Tigrinya translator, a language spoken in Ethiopia and Eritrea. The mood is gloomy: A few days earlier, the Israeli immigration and border authorities launched a controversial campaign. The aim is to either get Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers to go to a third country or to imprison them indefinitely.

Posted by orrinj at 5:23 AM


Will Iran's Protests Help the Hard-Liners? (NAZILA FATHI, JAN. 8, 2018, NY Times)

Even more than the Green Movement of 2009, the recent protests -- and the reaction to them -- recalled those of the early 2000s. Both then and now, moderate political forces controlled Iran's presidency and its Parliament. And in both cases, the country's conservatives deployed intimidation, violence and deceit to undermine the moderates.

The question now is whether the conservatives will succeed in dominating politics and crushing the Iranian people's desires for reform. This time, they have some help on the world stage -- from an American president with a prolific Twitter account. But they also face a persistent challenge: The people seem more determined than ever. [...]

The recent protests seem to have been started in the city of Mashhad by conservative opponents of the reformist President Hassan Rouhani to undermine his government. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:17 AM


After spat over Trump book, White House adviser said ousted from CNN by security (SUE SURKES, 1/08/18, Times of Israel)

US President Donald Trump's special adviser Stephen Miller was escorted off a CNN set by security after he refused to leave the "State of the Union" studio following a fiery interview with host Jake Tapper, the Business Insider reported Monday.

Good idea; practicing his perp walk.

January 7, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:30 PM


What's the Cure for Ailing Nations? More Kings and Queens, Monarchists Say (LESLIE WAYNE, JAN. 6, 2018, NY Times)

From the comfort of his country estate in Oxford, a distant relative of the Russian literary giant Tolstoy says he has the perfect solution for what ails the United States.

America, he declares, needs a monarchy.

In fact, Count Nikolai Tolstoy says, more kings, queens and all the frippery that royalty brings would be not just a salve for a superpower in political turmoil, but also a stabilizing force for the world at large.

"I love the monarchy," Count Tolstoy, 82, said as he sat in his lush garden behind an expansive stone house. "Most people think the monarchy is just decorative and filled with splendor and personalities. They do not appreciate the important ideological reasons for a monarchy." [...]

A recent study that examined the economic performance of monarchies versus republics bolsters their views. Led by Mauro F. Guillén, a management professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, the study found "robust and quantitatively meaningful evidence" that monarchies outperform other forms of government.

Far from being a dying system, the study said, "monarchies are surprisingly prevalent around the world." They provide a "stability that often translates into economic gains"; they are better at protecting property rights and checking abuses of power by elected officials; and they have higher per-capita national incomes, the study said.

Mr. Guillén says he was "shocked" by the results, which have not yet been published. "Most people think monarchies are something anachronistic," he said. "They think that modern forms of government are superior and have trouble accepting that monarchies have advantages."

When he presents his findings, "there is more skepticism in the room than with the average paper," said Mr. Guillén, who is not a monarchist. "It's been an uphill battle."

His findings come as no surprise, however, to monarchists, who aim to preserve existing monarchies and to support royals who live in exile. They believe that countries with exiled royals should return them to the throne, and that nations without monarchies should consider a switch.

"We support the retention and restoration of monarchies anywhere in the world," Count Tolstoy said. "Our goal is to persuade people."

History books, of course, are replete with examples of monarchies that became symbols of repression and rapacious, cloistered wealth. Some were ousted by bloody rebellions (the American and French Revolutions) or collapsed in ruins (the Hapsburg Empire), and many have ruthlessly marginalized whole classes of people.

But Count Tolstoy insists that monarchists are not pining for the days of absolute rulers and the divine right of kings, when Henry VIII of England could order up the execution of unwanted wives and political foes.

Instead, his group advocates constitutional monarchies, in which a king or queen is head of state and the real power rests with an elected Parliament -- much like those in Belgium, Britain, Denmark, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway and Spain (although demonstrators in 2014 demanded a referendum on the Spanish royal family after King Juan Carlos abdicated).

All of those countries, the monarchists note, have relatively strong economies.

The usefulness of a monarchic republic is obvious in a situation like ours, where the king could dismiss Donald and order a new presidential election.

Posted by orrinj at 4:52 PM


The Book That Incited a Worldwide Fear of Overpopulation (Charles C. Mann, January 2018, SMITHSONIAN MAGAZINE)

Ehrlich, now 85, told me recently that the book's main contribution was to make population control "acceptable" as "a topic to debate." But the book did far more than that. It gave a huge jolt to the nascent environmental movement and fueled an anti-population-growth crusade that led to human rights abuses around the world. [...]

Consider the opening scene of The Population Bomb. It describes a cab ride that Ehrlich and his family experienced in Delhi. In the "ancient taxi," its seats "hopping with fleas," the Ehr­lichs entered "a crowded slum area."

The streets seemed alive with people. People eating, people washing, people sleeping. People visiting, arguing, and screaming. People thrust their hands through the taxi window, begging. People defecating and urinating. People clinging to buses. People herding animals. People, people, people, people. . . . [S]ince that night, I've known the feel of overpopulation.

The Ehrlichs took the cab ride in 1966. How many people lived in Delhi then? A bit more than 2.8 million, according to the United Nations. By comparison, the 1966 population of Paris was about 8 million. No matter how carefully one searches through archives, it is not easy to find expressions of alarm about how the Champs-Élysées was "alive with people." Instead, Paris in 1966 was an emblem of elegance and sophistication.

Parisians were white.

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Nikki Haley downplays Trump's suggestion of negotiations with Kim Jong Un (Bonnie Kristian, 1/07/18, The Week)

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Sunday downplayed the import of President Trump's Saturday indication he is willing to directly negotiate with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un if certain prerequisites are met.

"There is no turnaround" in Washington's position on North Korea, Haley said in an interview on ABC's This Week.

Refusing to even acknowledge Donald's existence and staying away from Washington is keeping her the only one untainted by the moral cesspit. 

Posted by orrinj at 12:26 PM


Negativity is Natural but Life is Amazing : As a species, we are willing to believe in doomsday scenarios that virtually never materialize. (Marian L. Tupy, 1/07/18, FEE)

The Harvard University psychologist Steven Pinker has noted that the nature of cognition and nature of news interact in ways that make us think that the world is worse than it really is. News, after all, is about things that happen. Things that did not happen go unreported. As Pinker points out, we "never see a reporter saying to the camera, 'Here we are, live from a country where a war has not broken out.'" Newspapers and other media, in other words, tend to focus on the negative. As the old journalistic adage goes, "If it bleeds, it leads."

To make matters worse, the arrival of social media makes bad news immediate and more intimate. Until relatively recently, most people knew very little about the countless wars, plagues, famines and natural catastrophes happening in distant parts of the world. Contrast that with the 2011 Japanese tsunami disaster, which people throughout the world watched unfold in real time on their smartphones.

The human brain also tends to overestimate danger due to what psychologists call "the availability heuristic" or a process of estimating the probability of an event based on the ease with which relevant instances come to mind. Unfortunately, human memory recalls events for reasons other than their rate of recurrence. When an event turns up because it is traumatic, the human brain will overestimate how likely it is to reoccur.

Consider our fear of terror. According to John Mueller, a political scientist from the Ohio State University, "In the years since 9/11, Islamist terrorists have managed to kill about seven people a year within the United States. All those deaths are tragic of course, but some comparisons are warranted: lightning kills about 46 people a year, accident-causing deer another 150, and drownings in bathtubs around 300." Yet, Americans continue to fear terror much more than drowning in a bathtub.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


When it comes to walking in a park or down a city street, a study finds not all exercise is created equal (Stephen Schmidt, January 07, 2018, PRI)

New research, though, that was published earlier this month in The Lancelet suggests that, in fact, not all walks may produce the same benefits when factoring where the walk is taking place and the state of health of the participant before he or she went for the walk.

For the study, a team of researchers -- mostly based out of England -- monitored 135 volunteers, all of whom were over the age of 60, between October 2012 and June 2014. Out of those people, 40 were categorized as being healthy, 40 had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and 39 had ischaemic heart disease (in which a blockage in the coronary arteries reduces blood supply to the heart muscle).

The participants were then randomly assigned to walk for two hours either in London's highly trafficked Oxford Street or the city's Hyde Park, which would be an equivalent to New York City's Central Park.

By looking at a wide spectrum of physiologic factors -- vascular function, in particular -- the researchers found that those participants who walked in the park all showed increased beneficial effects regarding the function of their arteries from walking. Those who strolled down the busy street, though, had weakened effects. In some cases, the benefits were even reversed.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Is everything you think you know about depression wrong? : In this extract from his new book, Johann Hari, who took antidepressants for 14 years, calls for a new approach (Johann Hari, Sun 7 Jan '18, The Guardian)

We all know that when you take selfies, you take 30 pictures, throw away the 29 where you look bleary-eyed or double-chinned, and pick out the best one to be your Tinder profile picture. It turned out that the drug companies - who fund almost all the research into these drugs - were taking this approach to studying chemical antidepressants. They would fund huge numbers of studies, throw away all the ones that suggested the drugs had very limited effects, and then only release the ones that showed success. To give one example: in one trial, the drug was given to 245 patients, but the drug company published the results for only 27 of them. Those 27 patients happened to be the ones the drug seemed to work for. Suddenly, Professor Kirsch realised that the 70% figure couldn't be right.

It turns out that between 65 and 80% of people on antidepressants are depressed again within a year. I had thought that I was freakish for remaining depressed while on these drugs. In fact, Kirsch explained to me in Massachusetts, I was totally typical. These drugs are having a positive effect for some people - but they clearly can't be the main solution for the majority of us, because we're still depressed even when we take them. At the moment, we offer depressed people a menu with only one option on it. I certainly don't want to take anything off the menu - but I realised, as I spent time with him, that we would have to expand the menu.

This led Professor Kirsch to ask a more basic question, one he was surprised to be asking. How do we know depression is even caused by low serotonin at all? When he began to dig, it turned out that the evidence was strikingly shaky. Professor Andrew Scull of Princeton, writing in the Lancet, explained that attributing depression to spontaneously low serotonin is "deeply misleading and unscientific". Dr David Healy told me: "There was never any basis for it, ever. It was just marketing copy."

I didn't want to hear this. Once you settle into a story about your pain, you are extremely reluctant to challenge it. It was like a leash I had put on my distress to keep it under some control. I feared that if I messed with the story I had lived with for so long, the pain would run wild, like an unchained animal. Yet the scientific evidence was showing me something clear, and I couldn't ignore it.

So, what is really going on? When I interviewed social scientists all over the world - from São Paulo to Sydney, from Los Angeles to London - I started to see an unexpected picture emerge. We all know that every human being has basic physical needs: for food, for water, for shelter, for clean air. It turns out that, in the same way, all humans have certain basic psychological needs. We need to feel we belong. We need to feel valued. We need to feel we're good at something. We need to feel we have a secure future. And there is growing evidence that our culture isn't meeting those psychological needs for many - perhaps most - people. I kept learning that, in very different ways, we have become disconnected from things we really need, and this deep disconnection is driving this epidemic of depression and anxiety all around us.

Let's look at one of those causes, and one of the solutions we can begin to see if we understand it differently. There is strong evidence that human beings need to feel their lives are meaningful - that they are doing something with purpose that makes a difference. It's a natural psychological need. But between 2011 and 2012, the polling company Gallup conducted the most detailed study ever carried out of how people feel about the thing we spend most of our waking lives doing - our paid work. They found that 13% of people say they are "engaged" in their work - they find it meaningful and look forward to it. Some 63% say they are "not engaged", which is defined as "sleepwalking through their workday". And 24% are "actively disengaged": they hate it.

Most of the depressed and anxious people I know, I realised, are in the 87% who don't like their work. I started to dig around to see if there is any evidence that this might be related to depression. It turned out that a breakthrough had been made in answering this question in the 1970s, by an Australian scientist called Michael Marmot. He wanted to investigate what causes stress in the workplace and believed he'd found the perfect lab in which to discover the answer: the British civil service, based in Whitehall. This small army of bureaucrats was divided into 19 different layers, from the permanent secretary at the top, down to the typists. What he wanted to know, at first, was: who's more likely to have a stress-related heart attack - the big boss at the top, or somebody below him?

Everybody told him: you're wasting your time. Obviously, the boss is going to be more stressed because he's got more responsibility. But when Marmot published his results, he revealed the truth to be the exact opposite. The lower an employee ranked in the hierarchy, the higher their stress levels and likelihood of having a heart attack. Now he wanted to know: why?

And that's when, after two more years studying civil servants, he discovered the biggest factor. It turns out if you have no control over your work, you are far more likely to become stressed - and, crucially, depressed. Humans have an innate need to feel that what we are doing, day-to-day, is meaningful. 

Labor was a punishment from God, and that was productive labor.  Your make-work job in the modern economy is the last place you should look for meaning.

Posted by orrinj at 11:09 AM


Why 2017 Was the Best Year in Human History (Nicholas Kristof, JAN. 6, 2018, NY Times)

A smaller share of the world's people were hungry, impoverished or illiterate than at any time before. A smaller proportion of children died than ever before. The proportion disfigured by leprosy, blinded by diseases like trachoma or suffering from other ailments also fell. [...]

Every day, the number of people around the world living in extreme poverty (less than about $2 a day) goes down by 217,000, according to calculations by Max Roser, an Oxford University economist who runs a website called Our World in Data. Every day, 325,000 more people gain access to electricity. And 300,000 more gain access to clean drinking water.

Readers often assume that because I cover war, poverty and human rights abuses, I must be gloomy, an Eeyore with a pen. But I'm actually upbeat, because I've witnessed transformational change.

As recently as the 1960s, a majority of humans had always been illiterate and lived in extreme poverty. Now fewer than 15 percent are illiterate, and fewer than 10 percent live in extreme poverty. In another 15 years, illiteracy and extreme poverty will be mostly gone. After thousands of generations, they are pretty much disappearing on our watch.

Just since 1990, the lives of more than 100 million children have been saved by vaccinations, diarrhea treatment, breast-feeding promotion and other simple steps.

Steven Pinker, the Harvard psychology professor, explores the gains in a terrific book due out next month, "Enlightenment Now," in which he recounts the progress across a broad array of metrics, from health to wars, the environment to happiness, equal rights to quality of life. "Intellectuals hate progress," he writes, referring to the reluctance to acknowledge gains, and I know it feels uncomfortable to highlight progress at a time of global threats. But this pessimism is counterproductive and simply empowers the forces of backwardness.

Posted by orrinj at 11:05 AM


Palestinians in Kufr Aqab: 'We live here just to wait' (Jaclynn Ashly , 1/07/18, Al Jazeera)

Piles of rubbish cover roadsides in Kufr Aqab and overflow from dumpsters, growing larger each day as residents wait for the municipality's infrequent rubbish collection services.

Munir Zaghayer, who heads Kufr Aqab's neighbourhood committee, remembers when Kufr Aqab was a scenic and upscale Jerusalem neighborhood. "We used to have a beautiful life here," he said.

Zaghayer moved to Kufr Aqab from Jerusalem's Old City in 1962. Before the wall was built, the population in Kufr Aqab did not exceed 12,000, he said.

However, when Israel constructed the separation wall, the neighbourhood started transforming. Israel had implemented policies more than a half-century ago that would determine Kufr Aqab's fate.

In 1967, when Israel occupied and subsequently annexed East Jerusalem, Palestinians in East Jerusalem were not granted Israeli citizenship, but were instead issued Jerusalem residency status.

Palestinians with Jerusalem IDs must consistently prove to Israel that Jerusalem is the centre of their life, or else face the revocation of their residency. Almost 15,000 Palestinians have had their Jerusalem IDs revoked since 1967, according to Human Rights Watch.

Following its takeover of East Jerusalem, Israel reduced the land zoned for Palestinian construction to some 13 percent, most of which was already built up. A housing crisis in Palestinian neighbourhoods ensued, followed by routine Israeli demolition campaigns carried out on Palestinian homes and structures, as residents were forced to build without permits.

But in Kufr Aqab, Israel ceased enforcing its municipal regulations once the wall was built, making home demolitions extremely rare. Coupled with the cheaper cost of living, this prompted tens of thousands of Palestinian Jerusalem residents to flock to the neighbourhood. Since Kufr Aqab is still within Jerusalem's municipal borders, Palestinians moving there can maintain their Jerusalem residency.

Yet the municipality fails to provide basic services to the neighbourhoods beyond the wall, including education, waste removal and road maintenance. The residents receive just two days of running water a week, despite paying municipal and other taxes.

Odeh says Israel's neglect has reached a "discriminatory" level, noting that as of 2015, the entire budget for improving infrastructure in Jerusalem was 880 million shekels ($256m) - but Kufr Aqab and Shuafat refugee camp were allocated just 800,000 shekels ($233,000) between them.

Posted by orrinj at 11:00 AM


Chiefs, somehow, found a new way to break your heart: 'This one's for real' (SAM MELLINGER, JANUARY 06, 2018, Kansas City Star)

Chiefs fans don't deserve this, and that's not really a compliment to Chiefs fans, either. Nobody deserves this. Not the guy who cut you off in traffic, not the lady who wouldn't hold the elevator door for you, not even the punk kid who won't stop kicking your seat on the plane.

Sports are supposed to be fun. They're supposed to be a reason to get together with your family, or call a friend you haven't talked to in a while, or just forget about your bills and your problems and that weird noise your car is making.

They're not supposed to kick you in the teeth. They're not supposed to make you hurt, and make you wonder why the hell you put up with it. They're not supposed to mock you for caring, for investing in a team that's done nothing but let you down for 48 -- wait, nope, make that 49 -- years.

The Chiefs are an original franchise, their founder an irreplaceable part of NFL history, and the one thing they've done better than anyone is find new ways to stomp the joy from your heart.

You have to give them credit, though. Even for the Chiefs, this 22-21 blown ball of shame loss to the mediocre Titans in a wild-card playoff game on Saturday was expert-level teeth kicking.

You never know exactly how the Chiefs will let you down. You just know they will, and it will hurt.

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Taiwan isn't China, and Taiwanese aren't Chinese (Jeff Jacoby, 1/07/18, The Boston Globe)

On the rare occasions when Taiwan attracts media attention in the United States -- for example, when then-president-elect Donald Trump made a point of taking a congratulatory phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, Taiwan's president -- there is always much talk of the "One-China" policy, the old dogma that Taiwan and the mainland are inextricable elements of a single country.

The Communist regime in Beijing clings fiercely to that claim, in effect maintaining that Taiwan is a renegade Chinese province and not a unique country. During the decades when Taiwan was an authoritarian state under Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalist Party, Taipei's government echoed the "One-China" fiction, claiming that it was the sole rightful ruler of all China.

Taiwan abandoned that delusion when it became a democracy in the 1980s. But relations with China still cast a giant shadow over Taiwanese politics and society. Beijing goes to great lengths to blackball Taiwan in international forums, reacting menacingly to any suggestion that Taiwan be treated as sovereign. At times China has resorted to naked intimidation: In 1995 and 1996, as Taiwan prepared to hold its first freely contested presidential election, China launched missiles at Taiwan's shores -- a warning to voters not to support the pro-independence Democratic Progressive Party.

At the same time, China and Taiwan are economically intertwined. China is Taiwan's biggest trade partner, absorbing 40 percent of the island's exports. Some 2 million Taiwanese live and work in China, and Taiwan's foreign direct investment in China has surpassed $10 billion a year. Moreover, millions of tourists from the mainland visit Taiwan each year.

But neither China's military threats nor its economic pull -- nor the fact that 95 percent of Taiwan's population is ethnically Han Chinese -- induces my dinner companions to describe themselves as anything but Taiwanese. None feels any emotional affinity for China. None wishes to see China and Taiwan reunited. All three reject the "One China" posture.

There's no such thing as race.

Posted by orrinj at 9:50 AM


50 Reasons We're Living Through the Greatest Period in World History  : Everyone should be thankful for how far we've come. (Morgan Housel,  Jan 29, 2014, Motley Fool)

39. The average American car got 13 miles per gallon in 1975, and more than 26 miles per gallon in 2013, according to the Energy Protection Agency. This has an effect identical to cutting the cost of gasoline in half.

40. Annual inflation in the United States hasn't been above 10% since 1981 and has been below 5% in 77% of years over the past seven decades. When you consider all the hatred directed toward the Federal Reserve, this is astounding.

41. The percentage of Americans age 65 and older who live in poverty has dropped from nearly 30% in 1966 to less than 10% by 2010. For the elderly, the war on poverty has pretty much been won.

42. Adjusted for inflation, the average monthly Social Security benefit for retirees has increased from $378 in 1940 to $1,277 by 2010. What used to be a safety net is now a proper pension.

43. If you think Americans aren't prepared for retirement today, you should have seen what it was like a century ago. In 1900, 65% of men over age 65 were still in the labor force. By 2010, that figure was down to 22%. The entire concept of retirement is unique to the past few decades. Half a century ago, most Americans worked until they died.

44. From 1920 to 1980, an average of 395 people per 100,000 died from famine worldwide each decade. During the 2000s, that fell to three per 100,000, according to The Economist.

45. The cost of solar panels has declined by 75% since 2008, according to the Department of Energy. Last I checked, the sun is offering its services for free. 

46. As recently as 1950, nearly 40% of American homes didn't have a telephone. Today, there are 500 million Internet-connected devices in America, or enough for 5.7 per household.

47. According to AT&T archives and the Dallas Fed, a three-minute phone call from New York to San Francisco cost $341 in 1915, and $12.66 in 1960, adjusted for inflation. Today, Republic Wireless offers unlimited talk, text, and data for $5 a month.

48. In 1990, the American auto industry produced 7.15 vehicles per auto employee. In 2010 it produced 11.2 vehicles per employee. Manufacturing efficiency has improved dramatically.

49. You need an annual income of $34,000 a year to be in the richest 1% of the world, according to World Bank economist Branko Milanovic's 2010 book The Haves and the Have-Nots. To be in the top half of the globe you need to earn just $1,225 a year. For the top 20%, it's $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10% with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of $70,000. America's poorest are some of the world's richest. 

50. Only 4% of humans get to live in America. Odds are you're one of them. We've got it made. Be thankful. 

Posted by orrinj at 9:28 AM


Canada's Unemployment Rate Lowest in 4 Years (Theophilos Argitis, 1/06/18, Bloomberg News)

Canada's unemployment rate plunged to the lowest in more than 40 years, suddenly raising the odds of a Bank of Canada rate hike this month.

The jobless rate fell to 5.7 percent in December, Statistics Canada said Friday in Ottawa, the lowest in the current data series that begins in 1976. The number of jobs rose by 78,600, beating expectations and bringing the full-year employment gain to 422,500. That's the best annual increase since 2002.

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In Winter, More Raccoons Fall Through Ceilings (Karin Brulliard, 1/06/18, The Washington Post)

Nov. 23 was not a typical workday at one Toronto-area office building. When employees showed up, there was a gaping hole in the ceiling above one desk. Underneath the desk, near the legs of a red chair, sat a masked intruder looking remarkably relaxed.

It was a raccoon, and it had crashed through the ceiling.

For Brad Gates and his team, the event was a typical workday. The wildlife control company he's run for three decades fields such a call -- about a raccoon plummeting through a ceiling, stunning the people below -- about every month, making this little fellow a usual suspect, if a bit heftier at 40 pounds. Also, Gates recalled, because it was morning, the nocturnal animal was "fast asleep under the desk."

Such incidents occur year-round. But wildlife professionals say they are a bit more common in the cold of winter, when raccoons, which are adept at locating and squeezing through even small crevices in buildings and houses, cozy down in nooks of human shelters for longer stretches of time. Squirrels love attics, too, but when testing the load-bearing limits of ceilings, raccoons have a weight disadvantage. That is particularly true in commercial buildings, which often feature dropped ceilings meant to hide infrastructure, not serve as raccoon terrain.

"They may have been living in the building for a long period of time and may have found the one tile that wasn't set in as it should be," Gates said. "And everything just comes tumbling down under the raccoon."

Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Trump Campaign Digital Director Throws Jared Kushner, Eric Trump Under The Bus (Caroline Orr, January 7, 2018, Shareblue.com

Brad Parscale, digital director for the Trump campaign, took to Twitter Friday to hit back at claims made by author Michael Wolff in the book "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," an explosive new tell-all about the Trump administration. But while Parscale was trying to defend Donald Trump, he ended up throwing two members of Trump's own family under the bus instead.

"Jared Kushner and Eric Trump were joint deputy campaign managers" whose approval was needed before any decisions were made about the campaign's operations, Parscale said in a tweet.

"Nobody else. Not one person made a decision without their approval," he wrote.

These cats are using this bus at this point:

Image result for mad max bus

Posted by orrinj at 8:37 AM


Spinning the hits: quantum radio comes one step closer : How do you communicate in environments that radio waves can't penetrate? By harnessing the power of magnetism. (Andrew P Street , 1/07/18, Cosmos)

We take easy communication for granted in our globally-connected world, but there are plenty of places where the environment hinders the straightforward use of radio signals: under water, for example, or underground, or in areas of high electromagnetic interference. This also poses challenges for mapping the oceans or inside mines, where GPS cannot penetrate.

The issue is that the higher the radio frequency, the less good the signal is at penetrating matter. This is why your phone cuts out while you're driving in tunnels, while the lower frequency FM radio reception gets patchy but the even lower frequency AM radio continues to be reasonably audible.

A solution, however, may be at hand. Researchers at the National Institutes of Standards and Technology (NIST) in Boulder, Colorado, US, have managed a proof-of-concept for "quantum radio", manipulating the magnetic field of rubidium atoms to send digital signals. The work is described in the journal Review of Scientific Instruments.

Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Suspected alien probe turns out to be lump of rock : An unusual asteroid thought by many to be evidence of ET has been identified as natural in origin. (Andrew Masterson, 1/07/18, Cosmos)

Nup, still not an alien craft. That's the central finding of a review of a near-Earth asteroid first sighted in 1991 and which has been sparking stories of extraterrestrial fly-bys ever since.

The 20 metre-diameter object, dubbed 1991 VG, was first spotted by US astronomer James Scotti in November of that year. It immediately attracted a lot of attention for two reasons. First, it was awfully close to Earth - astronomers calculated that within a few weeks of discovery it would pass just 450,000 kilometres from the planet.

Second, it exhibited a heliocentric orbit very similar to that of Earth, which was unusual, not to say unprecedented. 

At the time, these observations led to a flurry of theories attempting to explain its appearance and behaviour. Some astronomers considered that 1991 VG was simply a newly discovered type of small asteroid, but others weren't convinced.

Scotti himself suggested that based on its orbital pattern it might be a spacecraft returning to Earth. Other researchers looked at its light curve - the way light reflected off it in multiple images - and concluded that it may well possess reflective side panels. It was possibly a tumbling satellite, they suggested.

From there, it was only a short narrative distance from the possibility of a human-made satellite to an alien-made one, and theories that 1991 VG was an extraterrestrial probe emerged. They have proven remarkably resilient.

The object disappeared from earth orbit in 1992. Based on its trajectory, however, astronomers were confident it would return at some point in 2017. When news of its expected arrival surfaced in 2015, all the old alien theories were dusted off and received a surprising amount of coverage in rather a lot of publications, some wackier than others.

Posted by orrinj at 8:29 AM



THE NAVIER-STOKES EQUATIONS capture in a few succinct terms one of the most ubiquitous features of the physical world: the flow of fluids. The equations, which date to the 1820s, are today used to model everything from ocean currents to turbulence in the wake of an airplane to the flow of blood in the heart.

While physicists consider the equations to be as reliable as a hammer, mathematicians eye them warily. To a mathematician, it means little that the equations appear to work. They want proof that the equations are unfailing: that no matter the fluid, and no matter how far into the future you forecast its flow, the mathematics of the equations will still hold.

Posted by orrinj at 8:13 AM


The Russia Investigations: Sessions On Edge, Bannon Exiled And Internecine Combat (PHILIP EWING, 1/06/18, NPR)

An explosive New York Times scoop revealed that Sessions tried to smear then-FBI Director James Comey before he was fired. The report, by Michael Schmidt, also said President Trump ordered White House counsel Don McGahn to lean on Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia probe, and when Sessions did recuse, the president fustigated him. Sessions offered to quit but Trump said no.

So not only is Sessions persona non grata with the president -- that's been the case for months. Now the public and people inside the Justice Department know Sessions was actively trying to undermine his own FBI director, as part of a pattern of conduct directed by Trump -- who himself had asked Comey to lay off then-national security adviser Mike Flynn, then fired Comey, etc.

All this could make life very uncomfortable for Sessions inside DOJ and with the FBI. A small but vocal coterie of House Republicans has already been calling for Sessions' head. (They have no vote but they do keep the anti-Sessions drumbeat going inside the conservative sphere.)

Plus Trump did not invite Sessions to a retreat he's holding over the weekend at Camp David. Plus EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt felt comfortable enough with this state of play to wink and nod to Politico about how he'd be interested in becoming attorney general ... if the job were open.

January 6, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:06 PM

OUR GODFATHER (self-reference alert)

The Moral Conservatism of Nathaniel Hawthorne (Russell Kirk, Imaginative Conservative)

That part of the American past which was his especial province, Puritan New England, exerted an influence in the long run substantially conservative. Though born of a stern dissent, Puritanism in America soon displayed a character more demandingly orthodox, according to its own canons, than the comparative leniency from which it had fled. In The Scarlet Letter, retrospectively in The House of Seven Gables, in many of the Twice Told Tales and Mosses from an Old Manse, that Puritan spirit is described with inimitable perspicacity: fiercely censorious, resolute, industrious, allied with free political institutions, introspective, repressive of emotion, seeking after godliness with a zeal that does not spare self-pity or even worldly ambition. The Puritan character, for all its lasting influence upon the American mind, stands poles apart from the common aspirations and impulses of modern American life. Suspicious of alteration and expansion, repressive of self, Puritanism detests the hedonistic appetites that predominate. Puritanism is moral conservatism in its most unbending form: and of all the varieties of mutiny that the modern world suffers, moral revolution is the most violent. Because of Hawthorne, America has not been able to forget wholly the Puritans, either their vices or their virtues.

Yet this achievement, magnificent in a lesser man, is merely incidental to Hawthorne's chief accomplishment: impressing the idea of sin upon a nation which would like to forget it. Hawthorne was never mainly an historical romancer; his burning interest was morality. Writing such artful moral allegories as had not been produced since Bunyan, he chastened American optimism by declaring that sin, in quality and in quantity, is virtually constant; that projects of reform must begin and end with the human heart; that our real enemy is not social institutions but the devil within us; that the fanatical improver of mankind through alteration is, commonly, in truth a destroyer of souls.

Belief in the dogma of original sin has been prominent in the system of every great conservative thinker--in the Christian resignation of Burke, the hard-headed pessimism of John Adams, the "Calvinistic Catholicism" of Newman, the stern vigour of J. F. Stephen. With Hawthorne the contemplation of sin is his obsession, almost his life. "True civilization," wrote Baudelaire in his journal, "does not lie in progress or steam or table-turning. It lies in the diminution of the marks of original sin." Though so radically different in mind and heart, Hawthorne and Baudelaire were close together in this view. By heroic effort, Hawthorne suggests, men may diminish the influence of original sin in the world, but this struggle requires nearly their undivided attention. Not that Hawthorne is a true Puritan, or perhaps even a strict Christian. His novels are not tracts. He dissects the anatomy of sin with a curiosity insatiable and even cruel. In The Scarlet Letter, and again in The Marble Faun, he suggests that sin, for all its consequences, may be an enlightening influence upon certain natures: although it burns, it wakens. Perhaps our regeneration is impossible without sin's agency. "Is Sin, then--which we deem such a fearful blackness in the universe--" he makes Kenyon speculate in The Marble Faun--"is it, like Sorrow, merely an element of human education, through which we struggle to a higher and purer state than we could otherwise have attained? Did Adam fall that we might ultimately rise to a loftier paradise than his?"

But whatever sin affects, we must reckon with it as the greatest force which agitates society. In The Blithedale Romance, as in a half-dozen short stories, Hawthorne describes the catastrophe of well-intentioned humanitarianism between moral blinkers. He did not convince America of the necessity for taking sin into every social calculation. It remains merely an uncomfortable theory to men of the twentieth century, and an age that has beheld human beings consumed in the furnaces of Auschwitz or worked to death like old horses in the Siberian arctic, still pretends that it is no more than a theological sham. Even a critic like Mr. R. C. Churchill, often astute, an inheritor of the old English Liberal tradition, writes doggedly (in his recent Disagreements) of "the barbarous, pre-civilised notion of Original Sin"--although a Fabian like Mr. Grossman now admits its reality. Hawthorne did not make the doctrine of sin popular, but he left a good many people uneasily mindful that it is possibly true. This is his powerful conservative achievement.

"A revolution, or anything that interrupts social order, may afford opportunities for the individual display of eminent virtues," wrote Hawthorne in his sketch The Old Tory; "but its effects are pernicious to general morality. Most people are so constituted that they can be virtuous only in a certain routine." This is Burke's mind, through and through. Hawthorne returns to this theme of moral conservatism throughout his works, but his most lengthy analysis of the destroying power of sinful impulse, once revolutionary moral precepts are practised, is The Blithedale Romance. In that novel, he turned his back, with good-natured contempt, upon the idealists and radicals of Brook Farm, upon Emerson and Alcott and Ripley and Margaret Fuller and "all that knot of dreamers." For they had forgotten the sinfulness of man, and with it, the proper functions and limits of moral action. When the story is done, the fanatic reformer who is its chief character, Hollingsworth, is grimly resigned to attempting the reformation of one criminal only--himself. "The besetting sin of a philanthropist, it appears to me," Hawthorne says through the mouth of Coverdale, "is apt to be a moral obliquity. His sense of honour ceases to be the sense of other honourable men. At some point of his course--I know not exactly when or where--he is tempted to potter with the right, and can scarcely forbear persuading himself that the importance of his public ends renders it allowable to throw aside his private conscience."

The kerfuffle over Leon Kass and Hawthorne's story The Birthmark was the proximate cause of this blog. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:02 PM


This town voted for Trump and welcomes hundreds of refugees (Salena Zito, January 6, 2018, The New York Post

Erie, Pa . -- After taking his oath of citizenship late last year, Fidel Bahati walked straight out of the Erie federal courthouse and into the offices of the Army Reserves to enlist.

"God bless America. I am an American now, and I will now serve my country who has provided me so much opportunity to better myself," he said.

Bahati, who arrived in this northwestern Pennsylvania city seven years ago after spending nearly five years in a refugee camp in Kenya, will now serve the Army part-time while studying for a degree in electrical and computer-engineering technology at Penn State's Behrend campus. "It's a double major. It is hard. My first semester I had a 4.0, my second semester the same, this time I might only get a 3.9," he said.

His dream? "Work at General Electric of course," he said of the company that has been Erie's largest employer for over 100 years.

Bahati's work ethic, drive to succeed, connection to community and willingness to assimilate and serve his country are all linked to the virtues of American exceptionalism. Seven years ago he spoke not a word of English. Born in the Congo, his family was taken by rebels and disappeared before his eyes. He had never left Africa, rode on a plane, been to a foreign country or even seen a snowflake until he moved to Erie in 2010 when he was 21, chosen by a local resettlement program.

Last week there were snowflakes piled nearly six feet high all around him. "Erie is my hometown now. Many people try to encourage me to go big cities like New York, but I don't want to. I have roots here, the people here are family, they have treated me well," he said, beaming with pride.

Erie County seems like a contradiction to many outsiders. It voted by 17 percentage points for Barack Obama in 2012 and then turned around four years later and supported Donald Trump in 2016. It's also home to the one of the largest refugee populations in Pennsylvania, which took in 3,219 refugees in 2016 -- ranking ninth among all states in the union. [...]

Sitting in his office, located in a former synagogue, Ferati explains how he knows he has truly made it in his new homeland. "I am a Muslim, working in a Jewish synagogue, in a majority Catholic town, with much of my education coming through Catholic schools, who is married to an Albanian Russian.

"You know what I think about that? Two words. It's American, very American."

Posted by orrinj at 6:03 PM


An Eyelash-Freezing 'Icy Hell': The One Spot That Could Feel Like Minus 100 (JESS BIDGOOD, KATHARINE Q. SEELYE and JACK HEALY, JAN. 5, 2018, NY Times)

The moment you step out into the frozen air on the way up Mount Washington -- one of the most frigid spots in the lower 48 -- the icy wind steals your breath and freezes your eyelashes. You can't blink. The cold stabs your face and numbs your earlobes to rubber.

"It's an icy hell," said Amy Loughlin, 50, who was visiting from Austin, Tex., and scaling the mountain, the highest in the Northeast, in the back of a SnowCoach -- a van retrofitted with tanklike treads to handle the blowing snow and treacherous roads.

With much of the Northeast and Midwest feeling like a block of ice, the temperature here in the high peaks of New Hampshire's White Mountains was forecast to drop to 40 degrees below zero overnight Friday. The wind chill could make the air feel as cold as 100 below zero. That is not a typo. Negative. 100. [...]

The temperature on Mount Washington had plunged to 26 below on Friday afternoon -- 70 degrees below with wind chill factored in. The wind had gusted up to 122 miles per hour. 

Posted by orrinj at 5:59 PM


Trump, Defending His Mental Fitness, Says He's a 'Very Stable Genius' (PETER BAKER and MAGGIE HABERMAN, JAN. 6, 2018, NY Times)

Mr. Trump's self-absorption, impulsiveness, lack of empathy, obsessive focus on slights, tenuous grasp of facts and penchant for sometimes far-fetched conspiracy theories have generated endless op-ed columns, magazine articles, books, professional panel discussions and cable television speculation. [...]

"These amateurs shouldn't be diagnosing at a distance, and they don't know what they're talking about," said Allen Frances, a former psychiatry department chairman at Duke University School of Medicine who helped develop the profession's diagnostic standards for mental disorders.

Dr. Frances, author of "Twilight of American Sanity: A Psychiatrist Analyzes the Age of Trump," said the president's bad behavior should not be blamed on mental illness. "He is definitely unstable," Dr. Frances said. "He is definitely impulsive. He is world-class narcissistic not just for our day but for the ages. You can't say enough about how incompetent and unqualified he is to be leader of the free world. But that does not make him mentally ill."

Posted by orrinj at 3:50 PM


Donald Trump Goes Full Fredo (DAVID FRUM, 1/06/18, The Atlantic)

"I can handle things. I'm smart! Not like everybody says, like dumb. I'm smart and I want respect!"

This morning's presidential Twitter outburst recalls those words of Fredo Corleone's in one of the most famous scenes from The Godfather series. Trump tweeted that his "two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart," and in a subsequent tweet called himself a "very stable genius."

Trump may imagine that he's Michael Corleone, the tough and canny rightful heir--or even Sonny Corleone, the terrifyingly violent but at least powerful heir apparent--but after today he is Fredo forever.

There's a key difference between film and reality, though: The Corleone family had the awareness and vigilance to exclude Fredo from power. The American political system did not do so well.

...but this week has been pure joy.

Posted by orrinj at 11:41 AM


Posted by orrinj at 11:34 AM


Can Washington Be Automated? : An algorithmic lobbyist sounds like a joke. But it's already here. Here's who the robots are coming for next. (NANCY SCOLA January/February 2018, Politico)

Hatch's varied career is the longest ever for a Senate Republican; he's been a video-game critic and an advocate for the "Ground Zero Mosque," and in his four decades on Capitol Hill he has championed hundreds of bills and taken thousands of votes both obscure and important. Figuring out Orrin Hatch isn't a trivial job, even for a seasoned D.C. hand. But FiscalNote has all that data distilled, analyzed and weaponized. The display tells us that Hatch is formidable not just for his seniority, but because he's in the top 3 percent of all legislators when it comes to effectiveness--or at least he was, before he announced his impending retirement. When he throws his weight behind a bill, it's likely to become law. What's more, his effectiveness varies: It's high when the topic is health, but drops some on tech issues.

The software drills deeper. One immediate surprise it delivers is that the lawmaker most similar to Hatch's interests and patterns is Louisiana's John Kennedy, a 66-year-old Republican who's been on Capitol Hill all of 11 months. Then, with a few more clicks, it's crunching the woeful record of a shall-remain-nameless member of Congress who occupies the bottom third of legislators in the house, and who, the software dryly notes, is "fairly ineffective as a primary co-sponsor."

There's more. Much more. Hwang's system analyzes interests, not just people, and quickly summarizes everything knowable about who is trying to pass what kind of rules about the most obscure topic I can come up with on the spot: "dairy." A couple more clicks after that, and we're looking at a summarized version of a bill tackling cybersecurity that the software has considered and rendered a judgment on, when it comes to the probability that it will become law. We're not talking a rough estimate. There's a decimal: 78.1 percent.

This kind of data-crunching might sound hopelessly wonky, a kind of baseball-stats-geek approach to Washington. But if you've spent years attempting to make sense of the Washington information ecosystem--which can often feel like a swirling mass of partially baked ideas, misunderstandings and half-truths--the effect is mesmerizing. FiscalNote takes a morass of documents and history and conventional wisdom and distills it into a precise serving of understanding, the kind on which decisions are made. Here, the software is telling us that if we're looking for an up-and-coming Republican to get on board a health bill Hatch is pushing, Kennedy's a good bet. Want it bipartisan? The system will suggest likely Democratic backers, too.

If you're an aide, one of the people walking on the street outside from a power breakfast to a meeting on the Hill, there's another way to think about what FiscalNote is doing: It's doing your job.

Posted by orrinj at 11:31 AM


Did Trump Obstruct Justice? (BARRY BERKE, NOAH BOOKBINDER and NORMAN L. EISENJAN. 5, 2018, NY Times)

We now know, for example, that the president took aggressive steps to prevent Attorney General Jeff Sessions from recusing himself from the Justice Department's investigation because he needed Mr. Sessions to protect and safeguard him, as he believed Eric Holder Jr. and Robert Kennedy did for their presidents. This shows that from the outset the president was concerned that he needed protection from the impact of any investigation. In fact, when the president's efforts were unsuccessful, he purportedly responded by saying, "Where's my Roy Cohn?" perhaps suggesting that Mr. Trump wanted the attorney general of the United States to act as his personal criminal defense lawyer -- a startling view into his state of mind.

Equally significant are new revelations that the president had drafted a letter to the F.B.I. director at the time, James Comey, describing the Russian investigation as "fabricated and politically motivated." Those disclosures support that the president's statements to the press and the public in connection with firing Mr. Comey were misleading. The president, of course, publicly claimed that Mr. Comey was fired because of his handling of the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails. This matters because attempts to cover up the truth are classic indicators of a culpable state of mind under the obstruction statutes.

In this same vein, the Wolff book claims that the president's lawyers believed that his efforts aboard Air Force One last summer to shape his son Donald Jr.'s statement about a meeting at Trump Tower with Russians was "an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation's gears." Mr. Wolff also asserts that one of Mr. Trump's spokesmen quit over the incident because of a concern that it was obstruction of justice. That was a wise move. If the president knowingly caused his son to make a false statement to interfere with the investigations or cover up the facts, that alone could constitute obstruction of justice.

Another ominous note for the president is The Times's reporting that the special counsel, Robert Mueller, has substantiated Mr. Comey's narrative of his dealings with the president, including through notes maintained by members of the White House staff. Whatever one may think of some of Mr. Comey's decisions, he has a spotless reputation for candor. The president's reputation is the opposite. But in a swearing contest between two witnesses, a responsible prosecutor looks for independent corroboration no matter who those witnesses are. It seems Mr. Mueller is finding it.

Posted by orrinj at 11:23 AM


Causes behind Iran's protests: A preliminary account (Ali Fathollah-Nejad, 1/06/18, Al Jazeera)

Since March 2016, Iran has seen 1,700 social protests, according to the Islamic Revolution Devotees Society (Jamiyat-e Isargara-e Enqelqb-e Eslami), a conservative party of which Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a founding member. Over the course of 2017, hundreds of protests took place by workers, pensioners, teachers, and students. Labour protests continued due to unpaid salaries, neoliberal economic policies and resistance towards labour organising, which were confronted with harsh repression by security forces and sanctioned by arbitrary layoffs.

The Right and Left don't want Rouhani to Westernize.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


US Trade Deficit Rises To Near Six-Year High On Record Imports (Reuters, 1/05/18)

The U.S. trade deficit increased more than expected in November as imports of goods surged to a record high amid strong domestic demand, making it likely that trade will subtract from economic growth in the fourth quarter.

The Commerce Department said on Friday the trade gap widened 3.2 percent to $50.5 billion. That was the highest level since January 2012 and followed an upwardly revised $48.9 billion shortfall in October.

Posted by orrinj at 8:46 AM


Fire and Fury Is Much Ado about Nothing New (Jonah Goldberg, January 5, 2018, National Review)

As for Trump himself, Wolff describes the president as an easily bored narcissist with a hair-trigger attention span and a thin-skinned ego.

But this has been reported countless times already. Last month, the New York Times described a president who spends, daily, somewhere between four and eight hours "in front of a television," albeit sometimes with it muted.

You can call such things "fake news" -- as the president himself often does. But even a normal citizen can follow Trump's Twitter feed or listen to him speak and see that he is, by any conventional standard, obsessed with TV coverage. We've known for years -- and the White House has never denied -- that the only print-news clips the president regularly reads are the curated stories about himself.

Similarly, if you've watched or read virtually any interview with the president -- never mind listened to him at a rally -- you've observed how the president struggles to complete a line of thought without being distracted. Diagramming his sentences often requires a grammatical Rube Goldberg machine to connect verbs and nouns, subjects and predicates.

In short, even discounting for hearsay and exaggeration, the Trump in Fire and Fury seems utterly plausible save for those who have chosen not to believe their own lying eyes.

...is that the Gorilla Channel story was indistinguishable as satire.  If it weren't for the dehumanizing on immigrants,. the comedy alone would make this presidency worthwhile.

Posted by orrinj at 8:30 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:21 AM


Posted by orrinj at 8:12 AM


THE LOST LADY 'Inconsolable' Melania Trump couldn't cope with marriage to 'chronically unfaithful' President according to shocking White House book Fire and Fury (Grant Rollings, 6th January 2018, The Sun)

DISTRAUGHT and broken, Melania Trump told her husband  she simply could not bear the pressure of being First Lady, according to the sensational  book that has laid  the White House bare.

"Is this the future?" the "inconsolable" ex-model reportedly asked mogul Donald after the publication of nude pictures taken early in her career.

She then told him she "wouldn't be able to take it", according to the explosive work, Fire and Fury: Inside The Trump White House, by author Michael Wolff.

But Trump, who the book claims was "chronically unfaithful", calmed her down, assuring  her that what she saw as a nightmare would be over soon.

At that stage he was still just running for the top office and he made his wife "a solemn  guarantee: There was simply no way he would win".

According the book, he urged: "Just a little longer . . . it would all be over in November."

Posted by orrinj at 8:00 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:50 AM


Trump's Recusal Directive Adds to Obstruction Questions (Eric Tucker and Chad Day, 1/05/18, Associated Press)

President Donald Trump's effort to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a vocal and loyal supporter of his election bid, in charge of an investigation into his campaign offers special counsel Robert Mueller yet another avenue to explore as his prosecutors work to untangle potential evidence of obstruction.

The federal investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia already includes a close look at whether Trump's actions as president constitute an effort to impede that same probe. Those include the firing of FBI Director James Comey, an allegation by Comey that Trump encouraged him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the president's role in drafting an incomplete and potentially misleading statement about a 2016 meeting with Russians.

The latest revelation -- that Trump directed his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to tell Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation -- is known to Mueller's investigators, who have interviewed many current and former executive branch officials. It adds to the portrait of a president left furious by an investigation that he has called a hoax and suggests that he worked through an intermediary to keep the inquiry under the watch of an attorney general he expected would be loyal.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


U.S.'s Embattled Surveillance Program Proves Resilient (Evan Halper, 1/25/18, Chicago Tribune)

"We need every tool and every authority we've got to keep people safe," FBI Director Christopher Wray said at a House Judiciary Committee hearing earlier this month. "I would implore the committee and the Congress not to begin rebuilding the wall that existed prior to 9/11."

The Trump administration has signaled that even if Congress fails to act, an obscure legal ruling could allow it to keep the program in place for at least several months. Those negotiating the issue on Capitol Hill say the most likely action by Congress will be to grant a two-year extension of the status quo.

That extension could be tacked on to the budget bill Congress must pass once again in January to keep government agencies open. Lawmakers would have little choice but to approve it, backers of the extension hope.

The best bit is is this : "The tech industry worries that American government snooping will motivate clients to move their business abroad."  At that point you wouldn't even need unmasking since all the communications would be from abroad.

Posted by orrinj at 7:44 AM


Trump Loses Many Staffers (Jonathan Lemire and Zeke Miller, 1/06/18, Associated Press)

Already setting turnover records, President Donald Trump's White House is bracing for even more staff departures and an increasing struggle to fill vacancies, shadowed by the unrelenting Russia probe, political squabbling and Trump's own low poll numbers.

Entering a grueling year that is sure to bring fresh challenges at home and abroad, Trump faces a brain drain across a wide swath of government functions, threatening to hamstring efforts to enact legislation or conduct even basic operations. Some departures are expected to come from senior ranks -- the staff churn that makes headlines -- but more are likely among the lesser-known officials who help to keep the White House and Cabinet agencies running.

In Trump's first year, his administration's upper-level officials have had a turnover rate of 34 percent, much higher than any other in the past 40 years, according to an analysis by Kathryn Dunn-Tenpas, a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. The study found that 22 of the 64 senior officials she tracked have resigned, been fired or reassigned.

Anecdotal evidence among more junior officials -- the White House wouldn't release data -- suggests similar departure rates, and White House aides acknowledge difficulty filling roles in the administration.

The goal all along has been to keep him from doing anything until we can replace him an orderly, constitutional manner.  

Posted by orrinj at 7:42 AM


Posted by orrinj at 7:39 AM


Michael Wolff's Withering Portrait of President Donald Trump (John Cassidy, January 4, 2018, The New Yorker)

As Wolff tells it, Trump is, ultimately, a self-fixated performer rather than a politician, and his primary goal is to monopolize public attention. ("This man never takes a break from being Donald Trump," Wolff quotes Bannon as saying.) This depiction probably understates Trump's devotion to making money, as well as his racism and nativism, both of which go back decades. But, in any case, even performer-Presidents have to make some decisions, and Wolff devotes a good deal of space to the most fateful call Trump has made so far: the firing of the F.B.I. director James Comey, last May. Whether Trump's firing of Comey amounts to obstruction of justice is a central focus of the investigation being conducted by the special counsel, Robert Mueller, into the President's behavior.

In Wolff's account, the battle lines inside the White House were clearly drawn. Bannon, Reince Priebus, who served as chief of staff before Kelly, and Donald McGahn, the White House counsel, were adamantly opposed to firing Comey. "McGahn tried to explain that in fact Comey himself was not running the Russia investigation, that without Comey the investigation would proceed anyway," Wolff writes. In an Oval Office meeting, Bannon told Trump, "This Russian story is a third-tier story, but you fire Comey and it'll be the biggest story in the world."

Ranged on the other side of the issue, according to Wolff, were some of Trump's cronies outside the White House, including Chris Christie and Rudolph Giuliani, who "encouraged him to take the view that the DOJ was resolved against him; it was all part of a holdover Obama plot." Even more important, Wolff goes on, was the concern of Charles Kushner, Jared's father, "channeled through his son and daughter-in-law, that the Kushner family [business] dealings were getting wrapped up in the pursuit of Trump." As the President considered whether to get rid of Comey, Jared and Ivanka "encouraged him, arguing the once possibly charmable Comey was now a dangerous and uncontrollable player whose profit would inevitably be their loss."

But "Fire and Fury" also stresses that the prime mover in the firing of Comey was Trump himself. In the end, the President cut almost all of his advisers out of his final decision-making process:
Jared and Ivanka were urging the president on, but even they did not know that the axe would shortly fall. Hope Hicks . . . didn't know. Steven Bannon, however much he worried that the president might blow, didn't know. His chief of staff didn't know. And his press secretary didn't know. The president, on the verge of starting a war with the FBI, the DOJ, and many in Congress, was going rogue.

Eight days after Trump fired Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to take over the Russia investigation. Although the findings of Mueller's probe aren't yet known, and Trump's lawyers insist that the probe will clear the President of any wrongdoing, Wolff was surely right to stress the momentousness of the decision to get rid of the "rat"-- Trump's term for Comey. Wolff recounts near the end of the book that, five months after Comey's firing, Bannon was predicting the collapse of Trump's Presidency. Speaking in Breitbart's headquarters, which Bannon refers to as the Breitbart Embassy, Bannon told people there was a 33.3-per-cent chance that the Mueller investigation would lead to Trump's impeachment, a 33.3-per-cent chance that Trump would resign, "perhaps in the wake of a threat by the cabinet to act on the Twenty-Fifth Amendment," and a 33.3-per-cent chance that he would "limp to the end of his term. In any event, there would certainly not be a second term, or even an attempt at one. 

Posted by orrinj at 7:21 AM


Manfred Weber red-faced over 'final solution' gaffe (Deutsche-Welle, 1/06/18)

Addressing asylum policy, as the most senior European politician in the CSU, Weber said that the key EU effort in 2018 would be finding a "final solution (finale Lösung in German) to the migrant question."

Posted by orrinj at 7:18 AM


Alex Jones Declares War On Steve Bannon (Cristina Lopez G., January 6, 2018, MediaMatters)

Infowars and Jones are currently exploiting the commotion to position themselves to fill the void Breitbart's weakening and Bannon's fall from grace might create. Now, nearly a year and a half after Infowars reporter and host Roger Stone bragged that he advised candidate Trump to hire Bannon, Jones is focusing his rage on the beleaguered Breitbart chairman, claiming he "stabbed the president and America in the back" and accusing him of being "at the heart of the attempt to take [Trump] down." During other comments in the January 4 broadcast of The Alex Jones Show, Jones lobbed insults at Bannon (saying "Mr. Dandruff" has "big giant red swollen eyeballs that look like an owl on PCP that you poured 14 bottles of scotch on top of" and is a "pile of feces") and suggested he be investigated for espionage. On Twitter, he attacked Bannon's initial lack of response to Trump's rebuke and praised Trump's anti-Bannon statement.

The MAGA base has come to expect specific things from its news content, which Breitbart provided in relentless streams: a strong anti-establishment stance that included targeting the media and both major political parties, and a penchant for "triggering the libs," a phrase used to ridicule progressive stances on cultural and social issues. Those are the elements that Trump weaponized to help him achieve victory.

After Trump took the White House, and following a year of reported chaos within the administration, the audience's ethos now also includes unapologetic Trump loyalty, a defense mechanism that serves as a validation of their electoral choice. If Breitbart's readers ultimately side with Trump and flee the website, Alex Jones' Infowars seems like a prime candidate to pick up the disgruntled MAGA crowd by providing those readers the fix they're looking for.

The fact is that Infowars has fewer constraints than Breitbart because it's a financially independent outlet reportedly grossing close to $10 million a year -- not from advertisers, but from selling nootropic supplements and other merchandise. 

Those poor cretins in the bubble, less oxygen to their brains every day.

Posted by orrinj at 7:13 AM


Excerpts from 'Fire and Fury,' the best-seller Trump has been trying to suppress (AFP, 1/06/18)

- And the comb-over: explained by Ivanka -
"She often described the mechanics behind it to friends: an absolutely clean pate -- a contained island after scalp-reduction surgery -- surrounded by a furry circle of hair around the sides and front, from which all ends are drawn up to meet in the center and then swept back and secured by a stiffening spray. The color, she would point out to comical effect, was from a product called Just for Men -- the longer it was left on, the darker it got. Impatience resulted in Trump's orange-blond hair color."

January 5, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:22 PM


'Fire and Fury' paints strange picture of Trump family ties (Deutsche-Welle, 1/05/18)

"An absentee father for his first four children, Trump was even more absent for his fifth, Barron, his son with Melania."

As for his elder children, the book makes no mention of Tiffany, Trump's daughter with his second wife Marla Maples, and his two other sons are portrayed as comical figures with little agency of their own.

"Don Jr., thirty-nine, and Eric, thirty-three, existed in an enforced, infantile relationship to their father, a role that embarrassed them, but one that they also professionally embraced."

According to Wolff's sources, the pair had entertained hopes of being involved in their father's administration as closely as their sister Ivanka.

"Don Jr. and Eric - behind their backs known to Trump insiders as Uday and Qusay, after the sons of Saddam Hussein - wondered if there couldn't somehow be two parallel White House structures, one dedicated to their father's big-picture views, personal appearance and salesmanship, and the other concerned with day-to-day management issues."

The two eventually became subjects of ridicule - not the least because of Donald Jr.'s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer in Trump Tower, a move Steven Bannon infamously dubbed "treasonous" in an interview with Wolff.

Posted by orrinj at 3:01 PM


Former New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne Dies At 93 (SCOTT NEUMAN, 1/05/18, NPR)

Former New Jersey Gov. Brendan Byrne, who presided over the legalization of casino gambling in Atlantic City and nearly lost re-election after establishing the state's first income tax, has died at age 93.

....five things really annoyed Jerseyans: property taxes, car insurance rates, the DMV, toxic waste sites and the naming of Brendan Byrne Arena.  On the other hand, the two they loved? : Ronald Reagan and Tom Kean.

Posted by orrinj at 2:46 PM


Fewer teens are having sex as declines in risky behaviors continue (Lenny Bernstein, January 4, 2018, Washington Post)

The number of high-school-age teens who are having sex dropped markedly over a decade, a trend that includes substantial declines among younger students, African Americans and Hispanics, according to a new government report released Thursday.

The survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed especially steep declines in the past two years. It adds to evidence about ongoing progress in reducing risky behavior by teenagers, who are becoming pregnant, smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and using marijuana at rates lower than younger people before them, according to public health surveys.

Posted by orrinj at 2:41 PM


Trump's first-year jobs record was strong. Just not as strong as Obama's last year (Chris Isidore, 1/05/18, CNNMoney)

Trump wasn't in office yet when the Labor Department collected the data used in January 2017 jobs report, so for the sake of comparison it makes sense to exclude the first month of the year. But in the remaining 11 monthly jobs reports, employers added 1.84 million jobs, according to the December jobs report released Friday. That compares to 2.09 million jobs added in Obama's last 11 months in office.

Even if you just look at full-year numbers, the 2.06 million jobs added in 2017 falls short of the 2.24 million jobs created in 2016, Obama's last full year in office.

The most useful numbers in the most recent report are probably that the boom continues uninterrupted with the record 87th consecutive month of job growth but that the employment participation rate was unchanged for all of 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 2:38 PM


Iran's State Broadcaster Uses Telegram -- To Hail A Ban On Telegram (Frud Bezhan, 1/05/18, Radio Liberty)

The country's state broadcaster, Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting (IRIB), has used the banned messaging app Telegram to hail the authorities' ban on that very same app.

Posted by orrinj at 2:34 PM


Morality TV: why characters on screen are more anxious, guilty and self-hating than ever : From Search Party and The Good Place to Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Bojack Horseman, characters are more concerned with their status as good or bad people than ever before. (ANNA LESZKIEWICZ, 1/05/18, New Statesman)

I've never committed a murder. But throughout Search Party's dark, painful, hilarious, anxiety-inducing second season, I identified so disproportionately with Dory, Drew, Elliott and Portia that their predicaments gave me nausea. I willed for them to do the right thing as each made worse and worse decisions. Against my better judgement I prayed they'd evade exposure. When Elliot screeches, "I'm so ashamed!" or Portia whispers to her only confident, "I'm so scared that you're going to think I'm bad," I felt I'd been there.

I think, for me, it all started with Roald Dahl's The Twits. I remember reading it as a child and coming across the book's most memorable page, complete with Quentin Blake illustrations of a dark-haired, skinny woman getting spottier and messier and grumpier. "If a person has ugly thoughts," Dahl explains, "It begins to show on their face. And when that person has ugly thoughts every day, every week, every year, the face gets uglier and uglier until it gets so ugly you can hardly bear to look at it." Beneath it was a drawing of a blonde, smiling, fat woman with wonky teeth. "A person who has good thoughts cannot ever be ugly."

This is often quoted as a sweet, touching passage that reminds children and adults alike of the importance of inner beauty. When I read it, shame crept up the back of my neck. I had ugly thoughts. Every day, every week, every year. I already looked more like the dark-haired girl than the happy blonde woman, and soon I would be truly ugly - and worse, everyone would know why. They'd see my ugly thoughts, and they'd know I was bad inside.

Search Party isn't the only show full of questionable, anxious, self-loathing characters agonising over their own moral status. The Good Place offers us a vision of heaven and hell - The Good Place and The Bad Place - and forces its characters to reflect with panic over where they belong based on their past actions. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend's Rebecca cuts herself off from those who have known her at her worst and relocates from New York to California with dreams of being a sunnier, better person - but struggles to hide a shameful secret and remains, in her own words, "a horrible, stupid, dumb and ugly, fat and stupid, simple, self-hating bitch". Bojack Horseman's title character is in possession of a particularly violent self-flagellating inner monologue that in no way helps him to improve himself. Of course, morally ambiguous characters, presentations of guilt, and questions of personal ethics have persisted in fiction since the dawn of time - but TV, especially TV comedy, feels infused with a reflexive anxiety that feels more intense than ever, and somehow reflective of our larger cultural and political concerns.

There is no other meaningful cultural question than whether we are decent Christians.  That, indeed, is the Culture.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


'Fire and Fury': Trump too overwhelmed to consider Europe (Deutsche-Welle, 1/05/18)

For those left baffled by Trump's flip-flopping attitudes on both the European Union and NATO, Wolff's book offers a possible explanation. "Fire and Fury" depicts a president who is too overwhelmed, concentrated on problems within his administration and not competent enough to take care of crucial relationships abroad. [...]

According to Wolff, who spent months conducting interviews and watching the routine inside the White House, Trump had hoped that his 24-hour visit to Brussels in May would cement "the line between Western-alliance-based foreign policy, which had been firmly in place since World War II, and the new America First ethos."

Unfortunately for Trump, his short trip to Europe was overshadowed by coverage of the investigation into collusion between his presidential campaign and Russian agents being conducted by Robert Mueller.

A second chance to build ties presented itself in July, at the G20 summit held in the German city of Hamburg. However, according to Wolff, Trump and his team spent most of the time trying to figure out how to deal with revelations that Donald Trump Jr had met with Russian lawyers at Trump Tower during the campaign, as well as the president's son-in-law Jared Kushner having financial ties to Russian businesses.

Posted by orrinj at 2:09 PM


Warren Buffett Won a Decade-Old $1M Bet (Mark J. Perry, 1/05/18, AEIdeas)

The chart above shows the annual returns on the S&P 500 index and the average annual returns on a comprehensive index of thousands of hedge funds maintained by Barclay over the period of Buffett's bet: From January 2008 through December of 2017. A $100,000 investment at the beginning of 2008 would have more than doubled to about $225,586 at the end of last year, compared to only about $148,000 invested in the average hedge fund.

Posted by orrinj at 1:06 PM


D.C. Treats Midnight Release of Wolff's Book on Trump Like 'Harry Potter' Event (Conor Beck, January 5, 2018, Washington Examiner)

Despite a wind chill of -3 degrees, Washington, D.C.'s political junkies lined up at Kramerbooks on Thursday night for the midnight release of journalist Michael Wolff's book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, which blew up the nation's capital this week.

"This is a D.C. moment, and I wanted to be a part of it," fifth-grade teacher Steve Dingledine told the Washington Post at the DuPont Circle bookstore cafe.

Dingledine and other D.C. residents braved the frigid weather to be there for the midnight release. They also mobilized quickly: the publisher of Wolff's book, Henry Holt, only announced hours earlier that the release date would be officially moved from the original on-sale date, next Tuesday.

"People have been calling about it all day," a 19-year-old bookstore employee told the Post. "So we've been taking bets in the store about who will actually be here."

"It's like Harry Potter for adults," one person in line said.

Kramerbooks had 75 copies at midnight. It took 15 minutes for them to sell out.

Posted by orrinj at 9:24 AM


White House Staff Forced to Act Out Michael Wolff Book for Non-Reading President (Andy Borowitz, January 4, 2018, The New Yorker)

Posted by orrinj at 9:18 AM


Trump's legal threats backfire as Wolff book surges (Mike Allen, 1/05/18, Axios)

President Trump is so furious about Michael Wolff's book, "Fire and Fury," that some aides are just trying to avoid him. Key aides tried to talk him out of legal threats against the author and Steve Bannon, the key source.

Lawyers laughed: Does Trump really want to give discovery to Michael Wolff?

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 AM


Neo-Nazi Terrorist Tried To Derail Amtrak Train (Newsweek, January 5, 2018)

A 26-year-old white man who attempted to commit a terror attack on an Amtrak train in rural Nebraska also attended the doomed "Unite the Right" rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last August on the white supremacist side, according to a court document.

January 4, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 8:43 PM


Obstruction Inquiry Shows Trump's Struggle to Keep Grip on Russia Investigation (MICHAEL S. SCHMIDT, JAN. 4, 2018, NY Times)

President Trump gave firm instructions in March to the White House's top lawyer: stop the attorney general, Jeff Sessions, from recusing himself in the Justice Department's investigation into whether Mr. Trump's associates had helped a Russian campaign to disrupt the 2016 election.

Public pressure was building for Mr. Sessions, who had been a senior member of the Trump campaign, to step aside. But the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, carried out the president's orders and lobbied Mr. Sessions to remain in charge of the inquiry, according to two people with knowledge of the episode.

Mr. McGahn was unsuccessful, and the president erupted in anger in front of numerous White House officials, saying he needed his attorney general to protect him. Mr. Trump said he had expected his top law enforcement official to safeguard him the way he believed Robert F. Kennedy, as attorney general, had done for his brother John F. Kennedy and Eric H. Holder Jr. had for Barack Obama.  [...]

The special counsel has received handwritten notes from Mr. Trump's former chief of staff, Reince Priebus, showing that Mr. Trump talked to Mr. Priebus about how he had called Mr. Comey to urge him to say publicly that he was not under investigation. The president's determination to fire Mr. Comey even led one White House lawyer to take the extraordinary step of misleading Mr. Trump about whether he had the authority to remove him.

The New York Times has also learned that four days before Mr. Comey was fired, one of Mr. Sessions's aides asked a congressional staff member whether he had damaging information about Mr. Comey, part of an apparent effort to undermine the F.B.I. director. It was not clear whether Mr. Mueller's investigators knew about this incident.

Mr. Mueller has also been examining a false statement that the president dictated on Air Force One in July in response to an article in The Times about a meeting that Trump campaign officials had with Russians in 2016. A new book, "Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House," by Michael Wolff, says that the president's lawyers believed that the statement was "an explicit attempt to throw sand into the investigation's gears," and that it led one of Mr. Trump's spokesmen to quit because he believed it was obstruction of justice.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 PM


Trump attorney sends Bannon cease and desist letter over 'disparaging' comments (JOHN SANTUCCI, Jan 4, 2018, 1ABC News)

Trump attorney Charles J. Harder of the firm Harder Mirell & Abrams LLP, said in a statement, "This law firm represents President Donald J. Trump and Donald J. Trump for President, Inc. On behalf of our clients, legal notice was issued today to Stephen K. Bannon, that his actions of communicating with author Michael Wolff regarding an upcoming book give rise to numerous legal claims including defamation by libel and slander, and breach of his written confidentiality and non-disparagement agreement with our clients. Legal action is imminent."

Posted by orrinj at 6:13 PM


Posted by orrinj at 1:45 PM


Bannon goes back to praising Trump (Alayna Treene, 1/04/18, Axios)

...the Trumpbots have no choice but to grovel before him and himiliate themselves on his behalf.

Posted by orrinj at 1:38 PM


'The Crown' on Netflix: Why Are Americans Still So Obsessed With British Royalty? (Neal Pollack, Jan 4, 2018, Decider)

Didn't we fight a war so Americans didn't have to bend a knee to the Queen? Yet we still do it, either in person (like Meghan Markle) or on the telly (by worshipping The Crown). Every time you hear "that's such a good show" or "I love the clothes" or "the settings are spectacular," it's a subtle wish for kings, a denial of democracy, a longing for the return of our colonial masters.

England, it need hardly be pointed out, is a democracy.  Americans just recognize that it improves upon our by retaining the monarchy.

Posted by orrinj at 1:17 PM


"You Can't Make This S--- Up": My Year Inside Trump's Insane White House (Michael Wolff, 1/04/18, Hollywood Reporter)

Part of that foolishness was his inability to deal with his own family. In a way, this gave him a human dimension. Even Donald Trump couldn't say no to his kids. "It's a littleee, littleee complicated ..." he explained to Priebus about why he needed to give his daughter and son-in-law official jobs. But the effect of their leadership roles was to compound his own boundless inexperience in Washington, creating from the outset frustration and then disbelief and then rage on the part of the professionals in his employ.

The men and women of the West Wing, for all that the media was ridiculing them, actually felt they had a responsibility to the country. "Trump," said one senior Republican, "turned selfish careerists into patriots." Their job was to maintain the pretense of relative sanity, even as each individually came to the conclusion that, in generous terms, it was insane to think you could run a White House without experience, organizational structure or a real purpose. [...]

Reigning over all of this was Trump, enigma, cipher and disruptor. How to get along with Trump -- who veered between a kind of blissed-out pleasure of being in the Oval Office and a deep, childish frustration that he couldn't have what he wanted? Here was a man singularly focused on his own needs for instant gratification, be that a hamburger, a segment on Fox & Friends or an Oval Office photo opp. "I want a win. I want a win. Where's my win?" he would regularly declaim. He was, in words used by almost every member of the senior staff on repeated occasions, "like a child." A chronic naysayer, Trump himself stoked constant discord with his daily after-dinner phone calls to his billionaire friends about the disloyalty and incompetence around him. His billionaire friends then shared this with their billionaire friends, creating the endless leaks which the president so furiously railed against. [...]

There was, after the abrupt Scaramucci meltdown, hardly any effort inside the West Wing to disguise the sense of ludicrousness and anger felt by every member of the senior staff toward Trump's family and Trump himself. It became almost a kind of competition to demystify Trump. For Rex Tillerson, he was a moron. For Gary Cohn, he was dumb as s[***]. For H.R. McMaster, he was a hopeless idiot. For Steve Bannon, he had lost his mind.

Most succinctly, no one expected him to survive Mueller. Whatever the substance of the Russia "collusion," Trump, in the estimation of his senior staff, did not have the discipline to navigate a tough investigation, nor the credibility to attract the caliber of lawyers he would need to help him. (At least nine major law firms had turned down an invitation to represent the president.)

There was more: Everybody was painfully aware of the increasing pace of his repetitions. It used to be inside of 30 minutes he'd repeat, word-for-word and expression-for-expression, the same three stories -- now it was within 10 minutes. Indeed, many of his tweets were the product of his repetitions -- he just couldn't stop saying something.

As telling, with his daughter and son-in-law sidelined by their legal problems, Hope Hicks, Trump's 29-year-old personal aide and confidant, became, practically speaking, his most powerful White House advisor. (With Melania a nonpresence, the staff referred to Ivanka as the "real wife" and Hicks as the "real daughter.") Hicks' primary function was to tend to the Trump ego, to reassure him, to protect him, to buffer him, to soothe him. It was Hicks who, attentive to his lapses and repetitions, urged him to forgo an interview that was set to open the 60 Minutes fall season. Instead, the interview went to Fox News' Sean Hannity who, White House insiders happily explained, was willing to supply the questions beforehand. Indeed, the plan was to have all interviewers going forward provide the questions. [...]

Donald Trump's small staff of factotums, advisors and family began, on Jan. 20, 2017, an experience that none of them, by any right or logic, thought they would -- or, in many cases, should -- have, being part of a Trump presidency. Hoping for the best, with their personal futures as well as the country's future depending on it, my indelible impression of talking to them and observing them through much of the first year of his presidency, is that they all -- 100 percent -- came to believe he was incapable of functioning in his job.

At Mar-a-Lago, just before the new year, a heavily made-up Trump failed to recognize a succession of old friends.

...as our desire to dismiss him as merely senile or mentally ill.

Posted by orrinj at 1:04 PM


American Ideals Beat the USSR. Why Aren't We Using Them Against Russia? (JEFFREY MANKOFF, 1/04/18, Defense One)

Because the USSR was credibly portrayed as the negation of the United States' ideals (acting as what David Fogelsong called the United States' "dark double"), besting the Soviet Union came to provide a raison d'être for United States foreign policy from the late 1940s to the early 1990s. Whatever else they disagreed on, Democrats and Republicans were united in their belief that Moscow posed an existential threat not just to the U.S. homeland, but to the very ideals on which the United States was founded. That shared perception formed the basis of a longstanding bipartisan foreign policy consensus that emphasized U.S. support for liberal values, multilateralism, and resisting the spread of Communism.

Today, that consensus is in tatters, as a war for the soul of both parties rages between internationalist and isolationist wings. With the original Cold War a distant memory, Washington's commitment to the institutions of the liberal order it created is in question in a way it has not been since the Second World War.

Russia, among other revisionist powers, benefits from this uncertainty. 

The Right--as the Left before it--despises our multi-ethnic/multi-confessional liberal democracy.

Posted by orrinj at 9:51 AM


Senate Judiciary Chairman: Comey May Have Leaked Classified Info To The NY Times (HANK BERRIEN January 4, 2018, Daily Wire)

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley is investigating the timing of the memos former FBI Director James Comey wrote memorializing interactions between himself and President Trump, because it is possible that when Comey supplied copies to Columbia Law School Professor Daniel Richman, who transmitted at least one memo copy to The New York Times, one of them contained information that is now marked as classified.

The classification system is an open joke. Open Source it all.

Posted by orrinj at 6:31 AM


Pence Says U.S. Is 'Natural Ally' For Iranians Seeking Freedom (RFE/RL, 1/04/18)

In an interview at the White House with Voice of America on January 3, Pence said "the American people stand with freedom-loving people in Iran and around the world, and I think this is a very hopeful moment."

So let's help the Reformers grow the economy.

Posted by orrinj at 6:28 AM


Russia denies report that 7 planes destroyed in Syria attack - TASS (Reuters, 1/04/18)

At least four Su-24 bombers, two Su-35S fighters and an An-72 transport plane, as well as an ammunition depot, were destroyed by the shelling, Kommersant said on its website, citing two "military-diplomatic" sources.

In the single biggest loss of military hardware for Russia since it launched air strikes in Syria in autumn 2015, more than 10 servicemen were wounded in the attack by "radical Islamists", the report said.

Posted by orrinj at 6:26 AM


Trump abolishes controversial commission studying alleged voter fraud (John Wagner, January 3, 2017, Washington Post)

President Trump on Wednesday announced that he is disbanding a controversial panel studying alleged voter fraud that became mired in multiple federal lawsuits and faced resistance from states that accused it of overreach.

The decision is a major setback for Trump, who created the commission last year in response to his claim, for which he provided no proof, that he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 because of millions of illegally cast ballots.

...who swallowed this fraud nonsense whole.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 AM


Q&A: 'This is a fight among Iran's ruling factions' (Saeed Jalili, 1/04/18, Al Jazeera)

Rouhani's landslide victory came after a bitter campaign against hardline candidates Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Tehran's powerful mayor at the time, and Ebrahim Raeesi, head of the massive state-conglomerate Astan Qods Razavi, which is headquartered in Mashhad.

The protests first erupted in Mashhad, Iran's second-largest city, which is also where Raeesi's father-in-law, Ayatollah Ahmad Alamolhoda, leads the Friday prayers.

The ongoing protests are the most recent challenge to Rouhani, whose ministerial picks turned many of his reformist supporters into critics.

Last month, the government submitted a budget bill for the next fiscal year. Part of its plan to carry out partial economic reforms, including increasing fuel prices and reducing subsidies, the budget generated discontent among low-income Iranians.

The bill revealed the huge costs incurred by religious bodies, whose budgets had been largely unknown prior to that point, sparking further anger and criticism.

These incidents are not unrelated, says senior Iranian economist Saeed Laylaz, a professor at Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.

Laylaz, who is considered sympathetic to Rouhani, was an adviser to Iran's former reformist President Mohammad Khatami and an outspoken critic of his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Al Jazeera spoke to him about the reasons behind the widespread protests and their potential impact.

Al Jazeera: It looks like there is a consensus that Iranian hardliners ignited the protests. What do you think?

Saeed Laylaz: Alamolhoda, Raeesi and Qalibaf started it and Ahmadinejad is extending it. It is, I think, a fight among the factions inside the establishment.

Part of it is to take revenge after the election and part of it is about the succession [to the supreme leader].

We're not facing a protest by the people alone. We're dealing with specific groups. In small cities, they attack to capture police stations. Does a [low-income] teacher, for instance, do that?

Al Jazeera: Is this related to Rouhani's budget bill as well?

Laylaz: It is.

Posted by orrinj at 5:24 AM


China's 'Saxophone Capital,' a Factory Town Transfixed by Kenny G (JAVIER C. HERNÁNDEZ, JAN. 3, 2018, NY Times)

SIDANGKOU, China -- By day, the factory workers pound sheets of brass into cylinders and slather metal buttons with glue. By night, they take their creations to the street and begin to play.

The soothing melodies flow through cornfields, street markets and public squares. They interweave with the shouts of street vendors hawking tofu and men playing mah-jongg.

This is the music of Sidangkou, a northern Chinese village of 4,000, where one sound rules above all else: the saxophone.

Farmers take the instrument into fields to belt out patriotic tunes against the sunset. Children play in all-saxophone bands at school. Shopkeepers set their ringtones to the wistful songs of Kenny G.

The saxophone has never had a large following in China, in part because it was long associated with jazz, individuality and free expression. After the Communist revolution of 1949, officials denounced the instrument for producing the "decadent music of capitalists."

But here in this town, the saxophone is king.

Sidangkou, which calls itself China's "saxophone capital," produces about 10,000 saxophones per month at more than 70 factories, according to Chinese news media. The village exports nearly 90 percent of them, primarily to the United States, where they are sold for more than $100 each.

"It's vibrant and delightful," said Wang Yuchun, the president of one of the largest producers, Tianjin Shengdi Musical Instrument Co. "It's part of our lives now."

For more than a century, the region around Sidangkou has been a hub of musical instrument manufacturing, including traditional Chinese instruments like the sheng, a reed pipe, and the di, a bamboo flute. Factories in the region now produce thousands of oboes, trumpets and tubas each year.

Yet nothing seems to have captured the imagination of people here like the saxophone.

....once they've heard Kenny G.

January 3, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:01 PM


Trump administration eases penalties against negligent nursing homes (Jordan Rau, 1/03/18, Kaiser Health News)

Reversing guidelines put in place under former President Barack Obama, the Trump administration is scaling back the use of fines against nursing homes that harm residents or place them in grave risk of injury.

Posted by orrinj at 5:58 PM


We Were Wrong about Stop-and-Frisk (Kyle Smith, January 1, 2018, National Review)

Like many conservatives, I had grave concerns about curtailing the New York City police department's controversial tactic of stopping and frisking potential suspects for weapons. I was inclined to defer to the police when they protested that they needed the option to stop, question, and frisk New Yorkers on a mere reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing instead of probable cause that the targeted person had committed a crime. Restricting the tactic, I thought, would cause an uptick, maybe even a spike, in crime rates. Mayor Bill de Blasio, who made ending stop-and-frisk the centerpiece of his successful 2013 campaign for mayor, struck me as a man who was cynically willing to tolerate an increase in crime if he thought it to his political advantage to amplify leftist voters' core belief that policing was out of control.

Today in New York City, use of stop-and-frisk, which the department justified via the 1968 Terry v. Ohio Supreme Court ruling, has crashed. Yet the statistics are clear: Crime is lower than ever.

Kudos, Mr. Smith.

Posted by orrinj at 5:46 PM



THE BEAUTY OF evolution lies in two complementary forces: simplicity and complexity. From a simple rule--survival of the fittest--comes the astonishing array of critters that populate Earth. It doesn't matter if you've got two legs or four legs or no legs at all, there's no one right way to be on this planet.

Same goes, as it happens, for robotics. You and I are living on the verge of what you might call the Cambrian Explosion of robotics. Just in the last year, robots have been escaping en masse the factory and the lab to walk and roll and fly among us. Humanity has unleashed its own version of "life" on Earth, a sui generis genus that is evolving in ways that are fascinatingly similar to biological organisms.

Roboticists are honing their robots by essentially mimicking natural selection. Keep what works, throw out what doesn't, to optimally adapt a robot to a particular job. "If we want to scrap something totally, we can do that," says Nick Gravish, who studies the intersection of robotics and biology at UC San Diego. "Or we can take the best pieces from some design and put them in a new design and get rid of the things we don't need." Think of it, then, like intelligent design--that follows the principles of natural selection.

Posted by orrinj at 5:27 PM

THE MAN AT THE END OF THE CHAIN (profanity alert):

Donald Trump Didn't Want to Be President : One year ago: the plan to lose, and the administration's shocked first days. (MICHAEL WOLFF, January 3, 2018, New York)

On the afternoon of November 8, 2016, Kellyanne Conway settled into her glass office at Trump Tower. Right up until the last weeks of the race, the campaign headquarters had remained a listless place. All that seemed to distinguish it from a corporate back office were a few posters with right-wing slogans.

Conway, the campaign's manager, was in a remarkably buoyant mood, considering she was about to experience a resounding, if not cataclysmic, defeat. Donald Trump would lose the election -- of this she was sure -- but he would quite possibly hold the defeat to under six points. That was a substantial victory. As for the looming defeat itself, she shrugged it off: It was Reince Priebus's fault, not hers.

She had spent a good part of the day calling friends and allies in the political world and blaming Priebus, the chairman of the Republican National Committee. Now she briefed some of the television producers and anchors whom she had been carefully courting since joining the Trump campaign -- and with whom she had been actively interviewing in the last few weeks, hoping to land a permanent on-air job after the election.

Even though the numbers in a few key states had appeared to be changing to Trump's advantage, neither Conway nor Trump himself nor his son-in-law, Jared Kushner -- the effective head of the campaign -- ­wavered in their certainty: Their unexpected adventure would soon be over. Not only would Trump not be president, almost everyone in the campaign agreed, he should probably not be. Conveniently, the former conviction meant nobody had to deal with the latter issue.

As the campaign came to an end, Trump himself was sanguine. His ultimate goal, after all, had never been to win. "I can be the most famous man in the world," he had told his aide Sam Nunberg at the outset of the race. His longtime friend Roger Ailes, the former head of Fox News, liked to say that if you want a career in television, first run for president. Now Trump, encouraged by Ailes, was floating rumors about a Trump network. It was a great future. He would come out of this campaign, Trump assured Ailes, with a far more powerful brand and untold opportunities.

"This is bigger than I ever dreamed of," he told Ailes a week before the election. "I don't think about losing, because it isn't losing. We've totally won." [...]

Few people who knew Trump had illusions about him. That was his appeal: He was what he was. Twinkle in his eye, larceny in his soul. Everybody in his rich-guy social circle knew about his wide-ranging ignorance. Early in the campaign, Sam Nunberg was sent to explain the Constitution to the candidate. "I got as far as the Fourth Amendment," Nunberg recalled, "before his finger is pulling down on his lip and his eyes are rolling back in his head." [...]

Murdoch suggested that taking a liberal approach to H-1B visas, which open America's doors to select immigrants, might be hard to square with his promises to build a wall and close the borders. But Trump seemed unconcerned, assuring Murdoch, "We'll figure it out."

"What a f[***]ing idiot," said Murdoch, shrugging, as he got off the phone.

Maybe the most comedic news day in presidential history.  
Posted by orrinj at 4:13 PM


How high-tax states may try to get around the new SALT deduction cap (Jeanne Sahadi, 1/03/18, CNNMoney)

The thinking is if filers can't deduct the state and local taxes they pay in excess of $10,000 on their federal returns, states like New York, California, New Jersey and Illinois may try to let them get the full deduction anyway -- just by different means.

And those means involve using loopholes created by the hastily passed law.

Allowing filers to make charitable contributions to their states

One possible strategy that tax experts expect states to consider is letting filers make a charitable contribution to their state in exchange for a tax credit and then deduct that contribution on their federal return, since the new law doesn't cap deductible charitable contributions unless it exceeds 60% of your adjusted gross income.

A basic way it might work is this: Say you pay $30,000 in state income and property taxes in 2018. You may only deduct $10,000 of that on your federal return. To help you preserve the deduction for the remaining $20,000, your state government lets you make a $20,000 charitable contribution to the state in exchange for a $20,000 tax credit on your state tax return.

Posted by orrinj at 4:12 PM


Mitch McConnell had the wickedest response to the very public blow-up between Trump and Bannon (Jeva Lange, 1/03/18, The Week)


Posted by orrinj at 4:00 PM


THE BIGGEST SECRET : My Life as a New York Times Reporter in the Shadow of the War on Terror (James Risen, January 3 2018, The Intercept)

THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION was successfully convincing the press to hold or kill national security stories, but the government had not yet launched an aggressive campaign to hunt down whistleblowers and target reporters. That all changed with the Valerie Plame case.

In December 2003, the Justice Department appointed Patrick Fitzgerald, then the U.S. attorney in Chicago, to be a special counsel to investigate allegations that top Bush White House officials had illegally leaked Plame's covert identity as a CIA officer. Critics claimed that the Bush White House had sold her out to the press as retribution against her Iraq war critic husband, former U.S. diplomat Joseph Wilson.

Anti-Bush liberals saw the Valerie Plame case and leak investigation as a proxy fight over the war in Iraq, rather than as a potential threat to press freedom.
Without thinking about the long-term consequences, many in the media cheered Fitzgerald on, urging him to aggressively go after top Bush administration officials to find out who was the source of the leak. Anti-Bush liberals saw the Plame case and the Fitzgerald leak investigation as a proxy fight over the war in Iraq, rather than as a potential threat to press freedom.

Fitzgerald, an Inspector Javert-like prosecutor whose special counsel status meant that no one at the Justice Department could rein him in, started subpoenaing reporters all over Washington and demanding they testify before a grand jury.

There was hardly a murmur of dissent from liberals as Fitzgerald pressed one prominent reporter after another for information. Only Judy Miller went to jail rather than cooperate. (She eventually testified after she received a waiver from her source, I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, a top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney.)

Fitzgerald became famous as a tough, no-nonsense prosecutor, and the fact that he had run roughshod over the Washington press corps didn't hurt his reputation. He went on to become a partner in one of America's premier law firms.

The Plame case eventually faded away, but it had set a dangerous precedent. Fitzgerald had successfully subpoenaed reporters and forced them to testify and in the process, had become the Justice Department's biggest star. He had demolished the political, social, and legal constraints that previously made government officials reluctant to go after journalists and their sources. He became a role model for career prosecutors, who saw that you could rise to the top of the Justice Department by going after reporters and their sources.

White House officials, meanwhile, saw that there wasn't as much political blowback from targeting reporters and conducting aggressive leak investigations as they had expected. The decades old informal understanding between the government and the press -- that the government would only go through the motions on leak investigations -- was dead. [...]

I thought Barack Obama's election would end the case. U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema seemed to think so, too. In July 2009, she issued a brief ruling noting that the grand jury in the case had expired, meaning my subpoena was no longer valid. I was surprised when Obama's Justice Department quickly told Brinkema they wanted to renew the subpoena.

In hindsight, this was one of the earliest signals that Obama was determined to extend and even expand many of Bush's national security policies, including a crackdown on whistleblowers and the press.

The reality of war is that we neither mind torturing a few terrorists nor squeezing a few journalists for their sources.  The reality of peace is that it generally turns out not to have been worth it.

Posted by orrinj at 3:37 PM

NIGHT OF THE LITTLE FINGERS (profanity alert):

Trump Tower meeting with Russians 'treasonous', Bannon says in explosive book (David Smith,  3 Jan '18, tHE gUARDIAN)

Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon has described the Trump Tower meeting between the president's son and a group of Russians during the 2016 election campaign as "treasonous" and "unpatriotic", according to an explosive new book seen by the Guardian.

Bannon, speaking to author Michael Wolff, warned that the investigation into alleged collusion with the Kremlin will focus on money laundering and predicted: "They're going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV." [...]

He is particularly scathing about a June 2016 meeting involving Trump's son Donald Jr, son-in-law Jared Kushner, then campaign chairman Paul Manafort and Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya at Trump Tower in New York. A trusted intermediary had promised documents that would "incriminate" rival Hillary Clinton but instead of alerting the FBI to a potential assault on American democracy by a foreign power, Trump Jr replied in an email: "I love it."

The meeting was revealed by the New York Times in July last year, prompting Trump Jr to say no consequential material was produced. Soon after, Wolff writes, Bannon remarked mockingly: "The three senior guys in the campaign thought it was a good idea to meet with a foreign government inside Trump Tower in the conference room on the 25th floor - with no lawyers. They didn't have any lawyers.

"Even if you thought that this was not treasonous, or unpatriotic, or bad s[****], and I happen to think it's all of that, you should have called the FBI immediately."

Bannon went on, Wolff writes, to say that if any such meeting had to take place, it should have been set up "in a Holiday Inn in Manchester, New Hampshire, with your lawyers who meet with these people". Any information, he said, could then be "dump[ed] ... down to Breitbart or something like that, or maybe some other more legitimate publication".

Bannon added: "You never see it, you never know it, because you don't need to ... But that's the brain trust that they had."

Bannon also speculated that Trump Jr had involved his father in the meeting. "The chance that Don Jr did not walk these jumos up to his father's office on the twenty-sixth floor is zero."

The comedy is nearly worth the presidency.

Posted by orrinj at 3:31 PM


Iran Revolutionary Guard chief announces 'end of the sedition' (ERIC RANDOLPH, 1/03/17, AFP)

Iran's Revolutionary Guards chief announced the "end of the sedition" Wednesday as tens of thousands rallied in a show of strength for the country's Islamic rulers after days of deadly unrest.

General Mohammad Ali Jafari said the Guards only intervened "in a limited way" against fewer than 15,000 "trouble-makers" nationwide, adding that a large number had been arrested.

Posted by orrinj at 3:27 PM


Why New York crime has plunged to record lows (Harry Bruinius, JANUARY 3, 2018, CS Monitor)

For the 27th straight year, crime is down again in the nation's largest city - and once again to record-setting, jaw-dropping lows. In 2017, there were only 290 murders all year, officials estimate, smashing the previous record low of 333, set in 2014 - and an 87 percent decline from 1990, when there were nearly 2,262 murders.

In the United States as a whole, murder and violent crime have generally fallen by half since the 1990s, according to FBI statistics. That rate even falls up to 77 percent, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics, which surveys unreported crimes as well.

And while cities like Chicago and Baltimore contributed to a troubling uptick in the nation's violent crime rate in 2015 and 2016, preliminary numbers indicate that overall crime in the US likely fell to near-record lows in 2017, compared with 25 years ago, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University's School of Law. The number of murders in Chicago, though still high, dropped 16 percent last year, from 771 in 2016 to 650 in 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 10:59 AM


Huge pro-regime rallies in Iran (Middle East Online, 1/03/18)

Even reformists, who backed the last major protest movement against alleged election-rigging in 2009, condemned the violence and the support the demonstrations have received from the United States.

But they also urged the authorities to address economic grievances that have fuelled the protests.

"Officials must acknowledge the deplorable situation of the country as the first step to hearing the protesters," tweeted Mohammad Taghi Karroubi, whose father Mehdi Karroubi has been under house arrest for almost seven years for helping lead the 2009 demonstrations.

Many have been turned off by the violence, which has contrasted with the largely peaceful marches in 2009.

But on the streets of the capital, there is widespread sympathy with the economic grievances driving the unrest, particularly an unemployment rate as high as 40 percent for young people.

"The poorer section of society is really under pressure," Sakineh Eidi, a 37-year-old pharmacist in Tehran, said. "But I don't think it will continue."

"Even those who maybe acted emotionally, vandalising things and setting fire to public property, know that the smoke will get into everyone's eyes and that insecurity in the country is not in anyone's interest."

This is the time to offer even greater economic integration on behalf of the Iranian people.

January 2, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:16 PM


Velodyne Just Cut the Price of Its Most Popular Lidar Sensor in Half (STEPHEN EDELSTEINJANUARY 2, 2018, The Drive)

Velodyne is slashing the price of what the company describes as its most popular lidar sensor, the VLP-16 Puck, in half. Given that lidar is among the most expensive components of self-driving cars, the price reduction could help facilitate widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles.

When it first went on sale in 2016, the VLP-16 Puck retailed for around $8,000, so customers will now pay about $4,000 for one. A single VLP-16 can scan 360 degrees around a vehicle, at a range of up to 100 meters (328 feet). Even before the price cut, the VLP-16 was positioned as a more cost-effective alternative to Velodyne's higher-performance VLP-32 Ultra Puck, HDL-32 and HDL-64, both of which offer more capability. The HDL-64, for example, emits four times the number of lasers as the VLP-16.

Posted by orrinj at 6:52 PM


Russia probe grand jury looks like 'a Black Lives Matter rally,' says witness (Richard Johnson January 2, 2018, NY Post)

The federal grand jury handing down indictments for special counsel Robert Mueller doesn't appear to include any supporters of President Donald Trump, according to one witness who recently testified before the panel.

"The grand jury room looks like a Bernie Sanders rally," my source said. "Maybe they found these jurors in central casting, or at a Black Lives Matter rally in Berkeley [Calif.]"

Posted by orrinj at 6:45 PM


The Hunt for Clinton's 33,000 Deleted Emails (Martin Longman January 2, 2018, Washington Monthly)

On July 2nd, 2016, Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas suggested that the Russians should be asked to obtain the 33,000 emails. On July 27th, Trump followed Cotton's advice and made a direct appeal to the Russians for the 33,000 emails. This past May, GOP operative Peter W. Smith committed suicide not long after the Wall Street Journal questioned him about his efforts to obtain the 33,000 emails from the Russians.

The Journal stories said that on Labor Day weekend last year Smith assembled a team to acquire emails the team theorized might have been stolen from the private server Clinton had used while secretary of state. Smith's focus was the more than 30,000 emails Clinton said she deleted because they related to personal matters. A huge cache of other Clinton emails were made public.

Smith told the Journal he believed the missing emails might have been obtained by Russian hackers. He also said he thought the correspondence related to Clinton's official duties. He told the Journal he worked independently and was not part of the Trump campaign.

Smith let it be known that he was working in tandem with Michael Flynn and his son, Michael Jr.

I couldn't understand why there was this widespread belief that the 33,000 emails were not only other than what Hillary Clinton had claimed (non work-related, private correspondence), but that they were already in the Russians' possession, or easily obtainable to them. There is, after all, no indication that Clinton's server was ever compromised.

New revelations about George Papadopoulos may solve the mystery:

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 [April 26, 2016], 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.

Let's look at an article that Judge Andrew P. Napolitano wrote for Fox News on May 12th, 2016. This is a period of time in between April 26th, when Papadopoulos was told about stolen emails, and the incident three weeks later in the Kensington Wine Rooms where an inebriated Papadopoulos blabbed about the theft to the Australian ambassador. See if you can figure out why I'm citing this piece.

While all of this has been going on, intelligence community sources have reported about a below the radar screen, yet largely known debate in the Kremlin between the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Intelligence Services. They are trying to come to a meeting of the minds to determine whether the Russian government should release some 20,000 of Mrs. Clinton's emails that it obtained either by hacking her directly or by hacking into the email of her confidante, Sid Blumenthal.

Posted by orrinj at 6:37 PM


Exclusive: Mitt Romney planning to run for Senate if Orrin Hatch retires (Bryan Schott, 9/11/17,  Utah Policy)

Sources tell UtahPolicy.com that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is preparing to run for Senate in 2018 if Sen. Orrin Hatch decides to retire.

Sources close to Romney say the two-time presidential candidate will jump into the 2018 Utah Senate scrum if Hatch opts not to.

Too bad Mitt deep-sixed his own presidential candidacy by running as a Trumpie.

Posted by orrinj at 6:34 PM


Reformists keep distance from unrest on streets of Iran (Saeid Jafari, January 2, 2018, Al Monitor)

As protests continue in various Iranian cities, Reformists are asking people to show restraint in expressing their discontent. The protests, originally economic in nature and later expanded to include other grievances, have not been welcomed by Reformists inside Iran.

Having initially targeted the conduct of the executive branch, protesters gradually targeted other pillars of the establishment as verbal attacks against the Reformists and the person of the president subsided. 

The protests started Dec. 28 in the northeastern cities of Mashhad and Neishabur; this led some analysts to suggest that President Hassan Rouhani's main rival in the May 2017 elections, Ebrahim Raisi, and his father-in-law, Ahmad Alamolhoda, were behind the organization of these protests, with the aim of putting pressure on the administration. Raisi is the custodian of the Astan-e Quds Razavi charitable foundation in Mashhad, and his father-in-law is the Friday prayers leader there. The suggestion that Raisi and Alamolhoda were involved became more plausible when Iran's first vice president, Eshaq Jahangiri, said the protests were organized by those opposing the administration. [...]

Although Reformists have accepted that difficulties do exist and have defended the people's right to protest in the streets, all also seem to believe that continuing the current path of protests is pointless and will only result in crippling the country and making the situation worse.

On Dec. 29, Hamidreza Jalaeipour, a prominent Reformist political analyst and university professor, wrote on his Telegram channel, "The Reformists were criticized for having encouraged the people to vote and were accused of only knowing how to bring people to voting booths. My answer is that we will continue to do the same thing. Voting is the civil and responsible thing to do. If we didn't have informed participation in society, we would be worse off than Pakistan, Egypt and Syria. Let me frankly tell you that the Reformists do not look for the solutions to the problems of society in the streets."

Posted by orrinj at 6:30 PM


White House: Trump doesn't think "entire" Justice Dept. is Deep State (Erica Pandey, 1/02/18, Axios)

Press Secretary Sarah Sanders responded to a string of President Trump's tweets from Tuesday morning. [...]

On Trump's "Deep State" tweet: "Obviously the president does not believe the entire Justice Department is part of that [the Deep State]."

All three branches, the Press and the American people are the Deep State, which is why he's been held in check so comprehensively.

Posted by orrinj at 5:52 PM


Snubbing FCC, States Are Writing Their Own Net Neutrality Laws (Sean Captain, 2/02/17, Fast Company)

 "We all agree that in an ideal world it should be handled at the federal level," says California state senator Scott Wiener. "But if the federal government's going to abdicate, then we need to take action, and I'm glad that a number of states are looking at this."

Along with pursuing lawsuits over irregularities in the FCC process (like millions of fake citizen comments being submitted), several states are crafting their own net neutrality laws, which they will start debating as new legislative sessions commence this month. They would prohibit internet service providers from blocking or hindering access to legal online content sources, or from offering premium-bandwidth "fast lane" deals to others. Washington State was first to act, with Democratic and Republican state representatives debuting nearly identical bills back on December 13 and 14.

Posted by orrinj at 2:18 PM


The Risks and Rewards of Welfare Reform (Michael D. Tanner, 12/20/17,  National Review (Online)

[O]ur current welfare system is a bureaucratic nightmare. There are at least 70 different programs that provide benefits to individuals and more than 30 other anti-poverty programs, all with different rules, eligibility requirements, management, and oversight. At the same time, the system increasingly provides payments not to the poor themselves, but to an industry of landlords, doctors, grocers, and others who serve the poor. Only about 21 cents of every dollar spent on welfare is actually paid in cash to recipients. It is almost as if the system was set up to benefit everyone except the poor.

A guaranteed income for every American (Charles Murray, 6/03/16, WSJ)

The great free-market economist Milton Friedman originated the idea of a guaranteed income just after World War II. An experiment using a bastardized version of his "negative income tax" was tried in the 1970s, with disappointing results. But as transfer payments continued to soar while the poverty rate remained stuck at more than 10% of the population, the appeal of a guaranteed income persisted: If you want to end poverty, just give people money. As of 2016, the UBI has become a live policy option. Finland is planning a pilot project for a UBI next year, and Switzerland is voting this weekend on a referendum to install a UBI.

The UBI has brought together odd bedfellows. Its advocates on the left see it as a move toward social justice; its libertarian supporters (like Friedman) see it as the least damaging way for the government to transfer wealth from some citizens to others. Either way, the UBI is an idea whose time has finally come, but it has to be done right.

First, my big caveat: A UBI will do the good things I claim only if it replaces all other transfer payments and the bureaucracies that oversee them. If the guaranteed income is an add-on to the existing system, it will be as destructive as its critics fear.

Second, the system has to be designed with certain key features. In my version, every American citizen age 21 and older would get a $13,000 annual grant deposited electronically into a bank account in monthly installments. Three thousand dollars must be used for health insurance (a complicated provision I won't try to explain here), leaving every adult with $10,000 in disposable annual income for the rest of their lives.

People can make up to $30,000 in earned income without losing a penny of the grant. After $30,000, a graduated surtax reimburses part of the grant, which would drop to $6,500 (but no lower) when an individual reaches $60,000 of earned income. Why should people making good incomes retain any part of the UBI? Because they will be losing Social Security and Medicare, and they need to be compensated.

The UBI is to be financed by getting rid of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, Supplemental Security Income, housing subsidies, welfare for single women and every other kind of welfare and social-services program, as well as agricultural subsidies and corporate welfare. As of 2014, the annual cost of a UBI would have been about $200 billion cheaper than the current system. By 2020, it would be nearly a trillion dollars cheaper.

Start it at birth, but don't allow access until they're 21.
Posted by orrinj at 2:14 PM



THE TRUMP ADMINISTRATION has either failed to complete or is keeping from the public more than half of the reports that President Donald Trump assigned to the administration through his early and prolific use of the executive order. Of the reports it did complete, many were turned in well past the assigned due date and only "complete" in the sense that they consist of words on paper.

In his first year in office, Trump ordered 95 separate reports, performance reviews, instructions, or other activities to be carried out by executive branch agencies. The Intercept has been reviewing these orders for the last year. We found that 48 of the 95 actions were completed, in many cases after the due date stipulated in the order. Federal agencies have yet to complete another 20. In 27 cases, the agency was unresponsive to our requests for information.

The executive orders were intended to form the building blocks of Trump's governing strategy. They covered everything from defeating the Islamic State, to instituting signature policies on immigration and cybersecurity, to fashioning the administration's position on regulatory reform and energy independence. That the executive branch has completed just half of the tasks the president had ordered suggests that the administration isn't running like the "fine-tuned machine" Trump has boasted about. If federal agencies cannot do the basic block-and-tackling work of writing a progress report, their ability to operate in a crisis is highly questionable.

The administration's track record also reinforces the incredible secrecy within the Trump government. Only 19 of the 48 completed reports were publicly released.

Posted by orrinj at 2:11 PM


Trump accuses Justice Department of being part of 'deep state' (CATHERINE LUCEY and DARLENE SUPERVILLE, 1/02/18, Times of Israel)

The whole point of the Deep State is it can't be subverted by a banana Republican.

Posted by orrinj at 1:47 PM


Most of the U.S. will be below freezing all day Tuesday (The Week, 1/02/18)
Many parts of the Midwest rang in the new year with record-low temperatures on Monday, and Tuesday won't provide much relief. The National Weather Service has issued wind chill advisories from Texas to New England on Tuesday, and temperatures in more than half of the U.S. won't get up to 32 degrees, CBS News meteorologist Danielle Niles reports. 

32?  How about up to zero.

Posted by orrinj at 1:18 PM


Posted by orrinj at 7:56 AM


Trump's war on immigrants (Shikha Dalmia, January 2, 2018, The Week)

The Trump administration's malice toward immigrants isn't only evident in harsh deportation and other enforcement policies. You can also see it in the White House's acts of gratuitous pettiness. Case in point: the recent declaration that it plans to revoke the work authorization of spouses of foreign techies on H-1B visas.

Unlike almost every other visa category, spouses of H-1Bs, 90 percent of whom are women, receive H-4 visas that allow them to live in the country but, until recently, not work or start a business. Spouses of diplomats, investors on E visas, and intra-company transfers on L visas have never faced such restrictions.

This didn't make any sense. But it didn't matter all that much when transitioning from H-1Bs to green cards took only a couple of years. But in the last decade, average wait times have ballooned to six years. And for tech workers from China and India, wait times are now approaching two decades. This means that Chinese and Indian H-1B spouses are effectively frozen out of the U.S. labor market during their most productive years. Currently, about 1.5 million H-1B families are stuck in green card limbo land.

Posted by orrinj at 5:35 AM


How America is Transforming Islam (Emma Green, Dec. 31st, 2017, The Atlantic) 

American culture often presents two opposing paths for young Muslims. On one side are people like President Donald Trump, who retweets unverified videos purporting to show Muslim violence; says things like "I think Islam hate us"; and claims there's "no real assimilation" among even second- and third-generation Muslims in the U.S. On the other are movies like The Big Sick, which depicts the autobiographical love story of Kumail Nanjiani, a Muslim comedian who rejects religion and falls in love with a white woman, devastating his immigrant family.

In reality, most Muslims are somewhere in between. U.S. Muslims--roughly 60 percent of whom are under 40--are going through a process that's quintessentially American: finding new, diverse, self-constructed identities in their faith, ranging from fully secular to deeply pious. The contours may be particular to Islam, but the story is one shared by Catholics, Jews, and even the Puritans. Muslims are creating distinctively American forms of their religion.

As a group, Muslims are extremely diverse, and their experiences reflect that diversity. Some young Muslims care deeply about their religious and cultural identities, but choose to prioritize other parts of life. Others self-define new, non-traditional ways of engaging with their faith. Immigrants understand the country differently than people who have been in the U.S. for generations; black Muslims encounter distinctive kinds of discrimination and have particular communal needs. Converts face questions from family members who might not understand their new religion, and have to navigate the sometimes-unfamiliar cultures of new friends and partners. And some Muslims don't feel accepted by their own community, for reasons of race, gender, or sexuality.

As in other American religious groups, a tiny minority of young Muslims take their religion to an extreme, including in the context of love. Jaelyn Young and Muhammad Dakhlalla offer one such story--two Mississippi college students convicted in 2016 of conspiring to join the Islamic State. According to the Center on National Security at Fordham University's School of Law, young Muslim converts are particularly common among those involved in ISIS-related cases in the U.S.

But for the vast majority of Muslim parents, teachers, and imams, the worry is the opposite: that the young will drift away from their faith. "The people [who] are anxious about [assimilation] are the people who are white-knuckling it, holding onto tradition, worried that they're going to lose it," said Zareena Grewal, an associate professor at Yale University. Imams will often compare young Muslims and Jews, she added, wondering whether their religious organizations will also be hurt by widespread disaffiliation. "They're like, 'Oh, the rabbis are panicking, so we should also be panicking.'"

January 1, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 7:00 PM


Too much screening has misled us about real cancer risk factors, experts say (SHARON BEGLEY, JANUARY 1, 2018, STAT)

The problem is especially clear in prostate, breast, and thyroid cancers, all of which are scrutiny dependent.

Men whose relatives developed prostate cancer are more likely to get PSA and other screening tests, either because they request them or because their physicians, noting their family histories, order them. Men with no such family history are less likely to be screened. Some men who get screened for prostate cancer and who are found to have elevated PSA levels undergo a prostate biopsy; some of those biopsies find cancer. (More than half of such cancers are so slow-growing that they don't affect health or longevity.) Men who don't get screened are less likely to have biopsies and so are less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer -- not because they develop the disease at a lower rate but because they get screened at a lower rate. What you don't look for, you don't find.

"If we biopsied men without a family history of prostate cancer at the same rate that we biopsy men with a family history, we'd find more prostate cancer in them as well," Welch said. "Family history influences how hard we look for prostate cancer and therefore how much we find. The risk factor becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy."

A 2016 study of increased prostate cancer screening in men with a family history of the disease concluded that the risk due to family history has been overestimated by nearly half. "The risk factor of family history is spuriously strengthened because men with a family history are exposed to greater scrutiny," write Welch and Dr. Otis Brawley, chief medical officer of the American Cancer Society, in the Annals report.

"There is a flaw in this logic" of identifying risk factors "on the basis of how many cancers we find," agreed Dr. Peter Albertsen of UConn Health, an expert in prostate cancer.

In breast cancer, women who live in neighborhoods with the highest 20 percent of education and income are twice as likely to be diagnosed with that disease, a 2017 study found. That seemed to confirm reports of breast-cancer hot spots in some of America's wealthiest areas, leading the government and others to spend tens of millions of dollars to find out why. Those studies came up empty: they found no association between rates of breast cancer and proximity to a hazardous waste site or pesticide exposure, for instance.

Wealthier, better educated women are, however, more connected to the health care system and therefore get more mammograms, breast ultrasounds, and MRIs. The more scrutiny, the more likely that harmless cases of breast cancer are found. (The idea of "harmless" breast cancer sounds like an oxymoron, but an estimated one-half of breast cancers detected by screening would never cause problems even if undetected and untreated.)

Breast tumors found by imaging are much more likely to be harmless than those discovered by women or their physicians finding a breast lump. Income and education are therefore less likely to be a true risk factor for breast cancer and more likely to be a "risk factor" for undergoing screening. If poorer, less educated women were screened for breast cancer at the same rate as wealthier, better educated women, the socioeconomic risk factor would likely vanish.

Posted by orrinj at 6:56 PM


Joe Hockey discussed Alexander Downer's Russia revelations with FBI (David Wroe, 1/02/18, SMH)

The ambassador to the United States Joe Hockey personally steered Australia's dealings with the FBI on explosive revelations of Russian hacking during last year's presidential campaign in a sign of how politically sensitive the Australian government regarded the bombshell discovery, Fairfax Media understands. [...]

Mr Hockey is believed to have been involved in discussions with the FBI, indicating the Australian government was keenly alive to its political sensitivity, given it raised the possibility that one side of a presidential campaign was colluding with a foreign power against the other side.

Former officials and experts have said Australia dealt with the fraught situation correctly and had little choice but to share information of this nature with its closest ally.

Posted by orrinj at 6:51 PM


Can the Economy Keep Calm and Carry On? (Paul Krugman JAN. 1, 2018, NY Times)

[I]f we could find an economist who didn't know that there was an election in 2016, and showed her the economic data for the past couple of years, she would have no clue that something drastic happened:

For that matter, economic developments in the U.S. during Trump's first year were remarkably similar to developments in other advanced countries. Europe, in particular, has at least for now emerged from the shadow of the euro crisis, and is steadily growing - if you take its lower population growth into account, it's doing a bit better than the US:

So we're living in an era of political turmoil and economic calm.

It's almost like the global economy doesn't care that much about your feelings.

Posted by orrinj at 3:30 PM


Nobody died in a commercial jet crash in all of 2017 (jEVA lANGE, 1/01/18, tHE wEEK)

No commercial jets fatally crashed anywhere in the world in 2017, making it the safest year on record for the aviation industry, The Independent reports.

Posted by orrinj at 12:27 PM


Iranians still waiting for dramatic economic change (Megan O'Toole, 30 Apr 2017, Al Jazeera)

The Grand Bazaar in Iran's capital bustles with shoppers strolling past stacks of gold brocade pillowcases, rows of gleaming coffeepots and bins filled with red barberries.

The din of afternoon chatter echoes off the bazaar's high ceilings. But inside Mohsin Daliri's small shop, only one or two customers linger to inspect his piles of lush Persian carpets; they eventually leave without a purchase.

Daliri tells Al Jazeera that despite expectations of a swift economic recovery after Iran's landmark 2015 nuclear deal, many businesses are continuing to suffer.

"There have been no tangible changes in the market. There was hope upon hope that things would get better, but in reality, it stayed the same. My business is suffering from stagnation. There is no positive impulse in the market," he says, noting that despite the lifting of sanctions, some Western countries were still not importing his wares.

"After Nowruz [the Iranian new year], business was really bad. Many merchants haven't reopened their stores and have even laid off staff ... People believe the nuclear deal was fake," Daliri adds. "All we got were three aeroplanes and nothing else. Banking transactions, the use of credit cards - none of this was fixed, and this is very important for moving the market forward."

The implementation of the nuclear deal in early 2016 was hailed by President Hassan Rouhani as a turning point for Iran's economy. "The nuclear deal is an opportunity that we should use to develop the country, improve the welfare of the nation, and create stability and security in the region," Rouhani said at the time, citing a "golden page" in the country's history.

Indeed, there have been signs of improvement: According to a February report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the lifting of sanctions and consequent rebound in oil exports spurred growth in Iran, with expectations that it would reach 4.5 percent over the medium term. However, "banking system weaknesses, structural bottlenecks, and hesitation by foreign banks to re-establish financial links have held back expansion of non-oil activity", the IMF noted.

And with unemployment in the country of 80 million people surpassing 12 percent last year, many average Iranians feel they have not personally benefitted from the nuclear deal.

Posted by orrinj at 12:23 PM


The President Can't Kill the Mueller Investigation (Jack Goldsmith, January 1, 2018, LawFare)

One of most remarkable stories of 2017 was the extent to which President Donald Trump was prevented from executing his many pledges--both on the campaign trail and in office--to violate the law. As predicted, courts, the press, the bureaucracy, civil society, and even Congress were aggressive and successful in stopping or deterring Trump from acting unlawfully.* [...]

 I believe that what we learned in 2017 should give us confidence in 2018 that Trump will not be able to terminate the Mueller investigation.

Begin with how well the system has worked thus far. Attorney General Jeff Sessions infuriated Trump when he followed DOJ rules and recused himself from the investigation. Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein infuriated Trump when he followed DOJ rules and appointed Robert Mueller as special counsel after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. These men took the proper steps despite the allegiance that political appointees typically feel toward the president who appointed them. They did so because they are embedded in and charged with running an institution with rules and norms that they feel personal and professional responsibility to abide by and uphold. This is a key point, to which I will return.

The Sessions recusal, which set the Mueller investigation in motion, was especially remarkable in light of the attorney general's decades in politics and special fealty (at least at the time) to the president. Ever since the Mueller investigation began in May, Trump has, in a truly unprecedented and vicious fashion, bashed Sessions, Rosenstein, Mueller, the department for which they work, and Mueller's "witch hunt." And yet, despite clear opposition from the man ostensibly in charge of the executive branch, the Mueller investigation has proceeded aggressively and without interruption. It has proceeded, moreover, through the transition atop the FBI from the man Trump fired (Comey) to the man Trump chose to replace him (Chris Wray). Wray shows every indication thus far of working closely with and fully supporting Mueller.

In short, the political appointees in the Justice Department who are connected to the Mueller investigation have shown that they follow the rules and norms of the department despite the president's wishes otherwise. This is all an amazing (though widely unappreciated) testament to DOJ's independence and the rule of law. I think the mechanisms that worked so well in 2017 will keep working to see the investigation through, no matter what steps Trump takes to stop it.

If Trump wished to stop the Mueller investigation, he couldn't just tweet a declaration that it is over. The investigation is guided by a set of Justice Department regulations that Rosenstein deemed "applicable to the Special Counsel" in his appointment Order. (The regulations give control over the Mueller investigation to the attorney general--who, because Sessions is recused, is Rosenstein, the acting attorney general for this purpose.) Rosenstein in theory could, under 28 CFR 600.7(b), order Mueller not to pursue "any investigative or prosecutorial step," but only if Rosenstein concluded, after giving Mueller's views "great weight," that Mueller's proposed step was "inappropriate or unwarranted under established Departmental practices." Rosenstein could also in theory remove Mueller from office under 28 CFR 600.7(d), but only for "misconduct, dereliction of duty, incapacity, conflict of interest, or for other good cause, including violation of Departmental policies." If Rosenstein took either course, he would need to justify his actions in writing to Congress.

...is their delusion that Mueller or any of his staff matter.

Posted by orrinj at 12:16 PM


Why Trump's War on the Deep State Is Failing--So Far (Benjamin Wittes, January 1, 2018, lawFare)

In the near-year he has been president, he has done or tried to do all of the things I flagged:

He has demanded substantive outcomes from investigations.

He has demanded investigations of political opponents.

He has raged against the norms that prevent these wishes from being fulfilled.

He has attacked--publicly and by name--people who have acted honorably to defend those norms.

He fired the redoubtable FBI director whom I flagged as an inconvenient bulwark--for precisely the reason that James Comey was functioning as an inconvenient bulwark.

He has harassed Comey's management team and demanded publicly their replacement.

He has made the environment for those assistant U.S. attorneys committed to their jobs so uncomfortable that one literally sat in my office and told me that he was going to resign because "I don't want to stand up in court any more and say, I'm [his name] and I represent the United States."

He has appointed an attorney general he specifically intended to protect him and go after his opponents.

This is banana-republic-type stuff.  One year into Trump's term in office, his character has not changed. The president of the United States--as John Bellinger warned as early as December 2015 and as I elaborated on in March of 2016--remains the principal threat in the world to the national security of the United States. His aspirations are as profoundly undemocratic and hostile to the institutions of democratic governance as they have ever been. He announces as much in interview after interview, in tweet after tweet. The president has not changed, and he will not change. Whether he has grown or will grow is not even an interesting question.

The interesting question, one year in, is how the apparatus of democratic government is weathering his onslaught. The answer to this question is complicated but, I think, ultimately encouraging.

Posted by orrinj at 12:09 PM


ORDER FROM CHAOS  : The year in review: Counterterrorism (Daniel L. Byman, December 29, 2017, Brookings)

Setting aside the fall of the caliphate, the counterterrorism picture looks positive from the perspective of U.S. homeland security. In 2017, nine people died on U.S. soil from jihadist terrorist attacks (a security guard killed in Denver, two Americans and six foreign tourists, killed during the car-ramming attack in New York City). That's nine too many but it should not obscure that the overall number is low. This low number probably stems from a mix of strong U.S. counterterrorism measures abroad, aggressive investigations and better defenses at home, and the overall weakness of jihadist networks in the United States.

Europe remains worse off than America, but here too the picture may be brightening. In 2015, jihadists killed 150 people in Europe and 135 died in 2016. As 2017 winds to a close, however, that figure fell to less than 60. Europe is even more threatened than America by returning foreign fighters and HVEs, but it too has improved counterterrorism practices, and the decline of the Islamic State, which had previously inspired over thousands of Europeans to travel and fight with the group since the Syrian civil war broke out in 2011, also bodes well for Europe in the long-term.

Al-Qaida too has taken hits. In particular, al-Qaida recently suffered a major loss when its Syrian affiliate, Hay'at Tahrir al Sham (HTS, or Organization for the Liberation of the Levant and formerly known as Jabhat al-Nusra), split from the al-Qaida core in an acrimonious divorce. As Syria remains the most important theater of jihad, the al-Qaida core's setback--and HTS' apparent determination to focus on the Syrian theater rather than the global targets that al-Qaida favors--hinders its ability to threaten the west and raises questions about its overall relevance under Ayman al-Zawahiri's leadership.

Posted by orrinj at 12:04 PM


WILDERNESS OF MIRRORS (Jefferson Morley, January 1 2018, The Intercept)

VETERAN CIA OFFICER Cleveland Cram was nearing the end of his career in 1978, when his superiors in the agency's directorate of operations handed him a sensitive assignment: Write a history of the agency's Counterintelligence Staff. Cram, then 61, was well qualified for the task. He had a master's and Ph.D. in European History from Harvard. He had served two decades in the clandestine service, including nine years as deputy chief of the CIA's station in London. He knew the senior officialdom of MI-5 and MI-6, the British equivalents of the FBI and CIA, the agency's closest partners in countering the KGB, the Soviet Union's effective and ruthless intelligence service.

Cram was assigned to investigate a debacle. The Counterintelligence Staff, created in 1954, had been headed for 20 years by James Jesus Angleton, a legendary spy who deployed the techniques of literary criticism learned at Yale to find deep patterns and hidden meanings in the records of KGB operations against the West. But Angleton was also a dogmatic and conspiratorial operator whose idiosyncratic theories paralyzed the agency's operations against the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War, and whose domestic surveillance operations targeting American dissidents had discredited the CIA in the court of public opinion.

In December 1974, CIA Director William Colby fired Angleton after the New York Times revealed the then-unknown counterintelligence chief had overseen a massive program to spy on Americans involved in anti-war and black nationalist movements, a violation of the CIA's charter. Coming four months after the resignation of Richard Nixon, Angleton's fall was the denouement of the Watergate scandal, propelling Congress to probe the CIA for the first time. A Senate investigation, headed by Sen. Frank Church, exposed a series of other abuses: assassination conspiracies, unauthorized mail opening, collaboration with human rights abusers, infiltration of news organizations, and the MKULTRA mind-control experiments to develop drugs for use in espionage.

The exposure of Angleton's operations set off a political avalanche that engulfed the agency in 1975 and after. The post-Watergate Congress established the House and Senate intelligence committees to oversee covert operations. The passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act required the CIA to obtain warrants to spy on Americans. And for the first time since 1947, the agency's annual appropriation was slashed.

Cram's mission -- and he chose to accept it -- was to soberly answer the questions that senior CIA officials were asking in their private moments: What in the name of God and national security had Jim Angleton been doing when he ran the Counterintelligence Staff from 1954 to 1974? Did his operations serve the agency's mission? Did they serve the country?

With his porkpie hat and trenchcoat, the portly Cram bore a passing resemblance to George Smiley, the fictional British spymaster as played by Alec Guinness in the BBC's production of John le Carré's classic "Smiley's People." There was some professional similarity as well. In le Carré's novels, Smiley is introduced as a veteran counterintelligence officer called on by his superiors to assess a covert operation gone disastrously wrong. He is drawn into a hunt for a mole in the British intelligence service.

Cram's task in 1978 was to investigate a covert career that culminated in a disastrous mole hunt. Like Smiley, Cram was a connoisseur of files, their connections and implications, their deceptions and omissions. Like Smiley, he embarked on a Cold War espionage odyssey that would fill more than a few volumes.

When Cram took the assignment, he thought his history of the Counterintelligence Staff would take a year to write. It took six. By 1984, Cram had produced 12 legal-sized volumes about Angleton's reign as a spymaster, each running 300 to 400 pages -- a veritable encyclopedia of U.S. counterintelligence that has never before been made public. With professional thoroughness, Cram plumbed the depths of a deep state archive and returned with a story of madness that the CIA prefers to keep hidden, even 40 years later.

Posted by orrinj at 8:55 AM


Confessions of a Columnist (Ross Douthat, DEC. 30, 2017, NY Times)

I was not the fiercest of deficit hawks, not a hard-money type or an inflation-panicker. But as a non-economist staring at Congressional Budget Office projections and at examples of fiscal crisis from Greece to California, it seemed reasonable to make deficit cutting a near-term priority from 2010 onward, to offset the surge of Great Recession spending with a period of belt-tightening.

But now I think this reasonable view was wrong. Not completely, in the sense that many of the deficit-reducing policies I supported -- means-testing entitlement programs, eliminating tax breaks for the wealthy and upper middle class -- I still support, because I think the money involved is presently misspent. But I was wrong in the priority that I gave the deficit relative to other issues, wrong to discern a looming "fiscal precipice," wrong in some of the criticism I leveled at both George W. Bush and Barack Obama for failing to care enough about balancing the nation's books.

The best time to make deficit reduction a priority is when the inflation rate and the bond market give you some indication that you are headed for a dangerous inflationary spiral. Such indicators were conspicuously absent eight years ago, but many people I talked to (including people in the Obama White House) argued that it was important to reduce deficits pre-emptively, because the spiraling could happen too quickly for policymakers to effectively respond. At that point I believed them; now I think they had overlearned lessons from the 1970s that did not apply in 2010.

Instead, in hindsight the most important economic argument of the early Obama years was between two schools of thought that agreed we should put more money into the economy and only disagreed about how to do it -- the Keynesians who wanted massive government spending and the market monetarists who favored looser monetary policy. Today, both sides of that debate look far better than the strict fiscal and monetary hawks, and the endless arguments about Bowles-Simpson look like an interesting exercise that did not deserve so much swarming attention from politicians and the press.

Deficits/debt can only be made to look like an existential problem when taken in a vacuum. Expand outward to look at our national net worth or consider that the $25 trillion (beginning of 2017) of stocks that we own have returned over 15% the last five years and then try to explain why we would be better off withdrawing out money from those stocks to balance the budget than we are borrowing the money at such significantly lower interest rates? 

Posted by orrinj at 8:40 AM


Why experts believe cheaper, better lidar is right around the corner (TIMOTHY B. LEE, 1/1/2018, Ars Technica)

Some experts believe the key to building lidar that costs hundreds of dollars instead of thousands is to abandon Velodyne's mechanical design--where a laser physically spins around 360 degrees, several times per second--in favor of a solid-state design that has few if any moving parts. That could make the units simpler, cheaper, and much easier to mass-produce.

Nobody knows how long it will take to build cost-effective automotive-grade lidar. But all of the experts we talked to were optimistic. They pointed to the many previous generations of technology--from handheld calculators to antilock brakes--that became radically cheaper as they were manufactured at scale. Lidar appears to be on a similar trajectory, suggesting that in the long run, lidar costs won't be a barrier to mainstream adoption of self-driving cars.

Posted by orrinj at 8:32 AM


Oil Production Booming in U.S. (Thomas Heath, 12/31/17, The Washington Post)

Shale oil drills can now plunge deep into the earth, pivot and tunnel sideways for miles, hitting an oil pocket the size of a chair, Verrastro said.

The United States is so awash in oil that petroleum-rich Saudi Arabia's state-owned oil and natural gas company is reportedly interested in investing in the fertile Texas Permian Basin shale oil region, according to a report last month.

That is a far cry from the days when U.S. production was on what was thought to be an irreversible downward path.

"For years and years, we thought we were running out of oil," Verrastro said. "It took $120 for a barrel of oil to make people experiment with technology, and that has been unbelievably successful. We are the largest oil and gas producer in the world."

Shale oil drillers have spawned a revolution using high-pressure drilling, coupled with a mixture of water and sand, which breaks open -- "fractures" -- hard-to-reach oil pockets trapped in rock.

The United States exported 2.13 million barrels a day of oil in the week through Oct. 27, the first time the nation has crossed the 2 million-barrels-per-day mark.

Posted by orrinj at 8:25 AM


Anger against regime grows, but Iran protests still driven by economics (ERIC RANDOLPH, 1/01/18, Times of Israel)

Though they started over high living costs, they quickly spread across the country and turned against the Islamic system as a whole, with chants of "Death to the dictator" and attacks on symbols of the regime lending them a revolutionary air.

But analysts say the protests are still rooted in bread-and-butter issues as patience runs thin with officials for failing to improve livelihoods.

"It can be an uncomfortable idea for some people to treat Iran the same as other countries," said Esfandyar Batmanghelidj, an analyst and founder of the Europe-Iran Business Forum.

"But what brings Iranians out on the streets most consistently are normal economic problems -- frustration with the lack of jobs, uncertainty about their children's future," he told AFP.

Posted by orrinj at 8:18 AM


I Win All My Ebola Bets (Bryan Caplan, 1/01/18, EconLog)

Back in 2014, Ebola was national - and global - news.  Even in Africa, fears ultimately turned out to be overblown.  The WHO's official tally was about 11,000 fatalities.  The true figure is almost certainly higher, but not grossly so.  This is far short of the hundreds of thousands of deaths so many predicted.  Brad DeLong, for example, opined: "Ebola will not become the biggest public health problem in West Africa unless deaths reach the high seven figures - which they may: it is highly likely that deaths in the six figures are now baked in the cake." [...[

Rather than fruitlessly argue with a maelstrom of passion, I publicly proposed the following bet in October, 2014:

$100 says that less than 300 people will die of Ebola within the fifty United States by January 1, 2018.

Four noble souls took the other side.  Since today is January 1, 2018, I am pleased to announce that I have won the bet.  (Since all prepaid, we're already settled up).

Part of the reason deaths were mercifully low, no doubt, is that health workers took the danger seriously.  But of course, that's one of the variables wise bettors will factor into their decisions.  And despite angry Congressional calls for travel bans, Obama went with the moderate expert consensus.  Domestically speaking, little was done.  And domestically speaking, even less happened.

How the Ebola Crisis Helped Launch Donald Trump's Political Career (STEVEN HATCH, APR. 3, 2017, Mother Jones)

In July 2014, as the largest Ebola outbreak in history was ravaging West Africa, Donald Trump took to Twitter to complain that two sick American health workers were being flown back to the United States for treatment. "Ebola patient will be brought to the U.S. in a few days--now I know for sure that our leaders are incompetent," wrote the future leader of free world. "KEEP THEM OUT OF HERE!" Over the months that followed, Trump would tweet about the outbreak more than 50 times.

Trump's social-media outbursts were among the earliest shots fired in the political war over Ebola. The timing of the Ebola outbreak could not have been more propitious for Republicans, many of whom echoed Trump's calls for a temporary travel ban.

Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


Economists Are Saying We Will Have A Happy -- Really Happy -- New Year (Marilyn Geewax, 1/01/18, NPR)

The key reason for such optimism is the growth happening around the world. After a crushing global financial crisis that started in 2008, many parts of the world have taken a long time to bounce back. For example, Europe, which was hit hard by the recession, bounced back in 2017 and is on track to expand at a decent 2.2 percent in 2018, thanks to "falling unemployment, a competitive euro helping exports and a supportive policy backdrop," Behravesh said.

When Europeans are in better financial shape, they buy more U.S. goods and services. And emerging markets are perking up too. Overall, global growth should hit a healthy 3.2 percent in the new year, he predicts.

Besides continued global growth, economists often cite these factors in their upbeat outlooks: tame inflation, low interest rates, low unemployment, tax cuts, pent-up demand for homes, productivity growth and improved consumer confidence.

For Behravesh, this is the bottom line: "Risk of recession remains low."

Are there clouds anywhere in the sky? If one thing gives analysts pause, it's the still-slow growth in wages. Consumers have perked up in attitude, but their income growth has continued to be restrained.

All of the factors driving global growth--free movement of goods and people, technology, adoption of free markets domestically, decline in armed conflicts--are deflationary, so how would wages grow strongly?