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.