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.